In the past few weeks, I’ve learned two ways to think about online sneerers that have been helping me tremendously, and that I wanted to share in case they’re helpful to others:

First, they’re like a train in a movie that’s barreling directly towards the camera. If you haven’t yet internalized how the medium works, absolutely terrifying! Run from the theater! If you have internalized it, though, you can sit and watch without even flinching.

Second, the sneerers are like alligators—and about as likely to be moved by your appeals to reason and empathy. But if, like me, you’re lucky enough to have a loving family, friends, colleagues, and a nigh-uncancellable career, then it’s as though you’re standing on a bridge high above, looking down at the gators as they snap their jaws at you uselessly. There’s really no moral or intellectual obligation to go down to the swamp to wrestle them. If they mean to attack you, let them at least come up to the bridge.

47 Responses to “Sneerers”

  1. Topologist Guy Says:

    Did you have any encounters with online sneerers in the past couple weeks that inspired these thoughts? Or has this been in the back of your mind since the summer incident?

    I hope you don’t consider me a sneerer! I’ve submitted one or two nasty-ish comments here (I remember castigating you for ignoring the Intercept article). It’s not personal, I’ve just become very frustrated by the authoritarian left (especially since I had my own brutal encounter with the Woke Mob).

    I’m curious if you have any thoughts yet on my last couple comments, regarding the DHS thing and woke man-shaming being socially mainstream now.

  2. manorba Says:

    “There’s really no moral or intellectual obligation to go down to the swamp to wrestle them.”

    Finally! 😉

  3. gentzen Says:

    “There’s really no moral or intellectual obligation to go down to the swamp to wrestle them.”


    I already thought about suggesting that you let the “Shtetl-Optimized Committee of Guardians (SOCG)” try to do its “wonderful job at talking” you out of your perceived intellectual obligation.

  4. Noah Motion Says:

    Both of these feel very Buddhist/Stoic to me. This is very likely because I’ve been reading a lot of Buddhist and Stoic philosophy recently, but it’s pretty striking here.

    The film train analogy is about, on the one hand, how what we perceive can diverge dramatically from what is actually true, and, on the other, how what we perceive drives our initial thoughts and feelings and, if we’re not careful, our respinses.

    The alligator analogy is about our spheres of control and the ways in which we can choose to (not) let things outside of this sphere harm us. I’m happy to grant that “a loving family, friends, colleagues, and a nigh-uncancellable career” help make the bridge more obvious, but I would argue that each of us always has the option to build such a bridge, as suggested by your statement that “There’s really no moral or intellectual obligation to go down to the swamp to wrestle them.”

  5. manorba Says:

    Noah Motion #4 Says: Both of these feel very Buddhist/Stoic to me…

    Because they are, as you explained 🙂 and they are also taoist and epicurean if you want.
    It is also a straightforward rational realization once you succeed in putting emotions and feelings aside. I guess that’s the whole point.

  6. fred Says:

    But it’s so much fun when you know how to deal with them

  7. Scott Says:

    fred #6: That’s a crocodile; does it work for alligators too? 😀

  8. Lizard King Says:

    I think it’s wonderful you’re able to separate yourself from the discourse which goes on around your (very public) public statements on this popular blog

    I think it would be better for everyone, including you, if you were to not characterise your critics as “alligators” who are in some way out to get you personally

    A bunch of people find your persona distasteful, and they’re commenting on that, it’s obviously inconsistent of you to selectively condemn them for not treating you with more empathy while you characterise them as alligators simply for not wanting to be friends with your persona

  9. Craig Says:

    The more successful your public persona becomes, the more sneerers you will get. Be happy you haven’t reached the level of success of Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg. At that level they accuse you of genocide or treason.

  10. I Says:

    Gentzen #3: Seconded. Scott, what on Earth made you finally internalize how bullies/sneerers behave? It really did seem like you were a lost cause, doomed to waste much of your valuable time dealing with what would charitably be called trolls instead of thinking up beautiful things to share with everyone else.

  11. Qwerty Says:

    This is a brilliant realization. The analogies will remain in your mind forever helping, helping you. Good vivid analogies are wonderful.

    The problem with an online presence where you discuss (at times) controversial topics is that you have to waste time explaining yourself to people. Your writing is unambiguous, and thorough, and I think it represents your brilliant, compassionate self honestly. Even when I disagree, it is persuasive because of its depth and honesty.

    Even when someone disagrees with a point, they’d have to see what a good place it comes from. And engage in good faith.. The rest, the insincere – who cares!

    Thank you for writing and taking the ensuing nonsense that is inevitable online.

  12. Scott Says:

    Topologist Guy #1:

      Did you have any encounters with online sneerers in the past couple weeks that inspired these thoughts?

    By now the pattern is clear: whenever a STEM nerd or someone adjacent to one is all over the news for some genuinely evil act—Walter Lewin, Jeffrey Epstein, now Sam Bankman-Fried—the alligators emerge from the water hungry. Having tasted fresh STEM nerd, they want more—innocent or guilty, it doesn’t matter to them. You can watch hundreds of them on Twitter, Reddit, and the other swamps where they live.

    What to do in this situation? One reasonable approach would be to, as it were, barricade myself in my house, and say: “as long as I don’t put myself directly in the alligators’ path, they won’t hurt me specifically.”

    The trouble is, I knew these alligators in back junior high and high school, and they knew me—well, not these specific alligators, but ones totally interchangeable with them. Like Captain Hook and his crocodile, they and I go way back. Because of that history, I can’t resist stepping out of my house and onto the bridge, letting the alligators see that I see them, and letting them jump and snap at me without being able to draw blood. This is indeed a weakness that I have.

  13. asdf Says:

    There’s really no moral or intellectual obligation to go down to the swamp to wrestle them. If they mean to attack you, let them at least come up to the bridge.

    This is usually abbreviated DNFTT, referring to a species other than alligators that traditionally lives under bridges.

  14. Scott Says:

    Lizard King #8:

      I think it would be better for everyone, including you, if you were to not characterise your critics as “alligators” who are in some way out to get you personally

    Oh, but I’m specifically talking about the ones who are out to get me personally, and who gleefully say as much!

    If people want to come to this blog and politely argue with me, that’s fantastic, and is exactly what this comment section is for. Say what you will, but I’ve never been like Elon Musk, who rage-fires his engineers for contradicting him. The worst I’ll do is argue back. I might even change my mind (it’s happened here 🙂 ).

    Meanwhile, if people “find my persona distasteful” and therefore don’t want to be my friend—that’s also fine; the feeling is surely mutual. Enough others have wanted to be my friend; it’s cool.

    But if they insist on neither ignoring me nor engaging my arguments, but “calling me out” as a misogynist, capitalist shill etc. etc. and wildly upvoting each other for doing so, in social media spaces that are readable by the world but that (ironically, and unlike this blog) instantly ban anyone who disagrees with them, and if they do so under cloak of anonymity, without my having done or sought to do anything similar to them—well, is “alligator” not a mild term for such a person?

  15. mls Says:

    “…lucky enough to have a loving family, friends, colleagues, and a nigh-uncancellable career”

    The important things for which to be grateful. Good job!

  16. Wilfrid Says:

    Replying to Scott 12:

    So I’m curious why you accept the narrative that Walter Lewin, for example, was a sexual harasser. Wasn’t he attacked by essentially the same woke feminist mob that bullied you after comment 171? If he was a nerdy guy who struggled with women, don’t you feel some empathy for him, and have at least some understanding of why he might seek some comfort and sexual release in the way that he did? Why, after everything the woke sneerers have done to you, do you still continue to defend their treatment of guys like Lewin?

  17. Sir Henry Says:

    At the risk of being dismissed as a “sneerer”, I’ll say that correlated errors seem like a huge liability in QC that is swept under the rug by the hive mind. This humdrum effect could totally prevent scaling, but 1000x more mental horsepower is devoted to analyzing clever tricks of questionable utility.

    The number of critically-minded researchers who have a good grasp of both realistic noise and quantum error correction may be zero. Was the paper [Clemens et al., PRA 69, 062313 (2004)] ever disproven that concluded this?

    “We find that the presence of correlations can enhance the failure probability of traditional error correcting codes by several orders of magnitude for large codes and perfect correlations. This leads to a correlation-dependent threshold in the single-qubit error probability for concatenated codes, with the threshold going to zero for perfectly correlated noise.”

    Slapping on dynamical decoupling (DD), as citing papers do, is a questionable band-aid because DD will have already been used to reach the so-called fault-tolerant threshold and DD will introduce its own correlated errors.

  18. JimV Says:

    Bullying seems to be a trait evolution has fixed on, usually for the males of the species. Elephants handle it by ostracizing the adult males except during mating seasons. Chimpanzees handle it by having a hierarchy of bullies so at least everyone knows where they stand. (My high school used the chimpanzee system.)

    Meanwhile, I have not personally encountered a “woke mob” but it is credible to me that they exist and I take peoples’ words for it. However, I have seen “unwoke mobs”, such as the one on January 5, 2021.

    I suspect shorthand terms such as “woke” and “elites” and “unwoke” would be better replaced by specific, factual terms which better describe the people in question. For example, one person’s “woke” is another person’s “alert to injustice and discrimination in society, especially racism”. (The latter is in fact what I get from the Internet.)

  19. Scott Says:

    Wilfrid #16: After everything that happened in the aftermath, there are several things I’d rather do than relitigate the Walter Lewin affair, such as peel off my own skin. Briefly, though, what I couldn’t get past is that he never mounted any sort of public defense, and I couldn’t imagine doing the same in his shoes if I were fully innocent.

  20. Lizard King Says:


    Funnily enough, I actually thought better about leaving my comment, and trusted the big red letters in all caps when they told me that I had to click on the link in my verification email (I did not) for it to appear

    Evidently Scott had other plans, indeed I find it hard to imagine a Scott Aaronson who doesn’t in fact rather relish the opportunity to stick it to his haters

  21. Scott Says:

    Sir Henry #17: If I seem less than enthusiastic to debate, it’s only because we’ve already been over the exact same topic 50,000 times in the Shtetl-Optimized comment section. Briefly, though:

    (1) It’s actually really, really hard to invent a model of correlated noise that kills scalable QC—not merely in the weak sense of killing some specific fault-tolerance scheme, but in the strong sense that there’s then a polynomial-time classical simulation of your system. Gil Kalai, an excellent mathematician, has been trying to do this for 15 years, but as far as I can tell has completely failed.

    (2) If QC-killing correlated noise existed, and if it were impossible to get around it for fundamental physics reasons (as opposed to it merely being a hard engineering problem), then that itself would be a huge new discovery about physics. It would mean there was something of enormous importance we hadn’t understood about quantum mechanics itself, something that allows a “polynomial-time hidden variable theory.” Nobel Prizes would be in order. I and most of my colleagues would eagerly accept that as an outcome from QC research! 🙂

    (3) The quantum supremacy experiments, such as Google’s 2019 Sycamore experiment, specifically looked for the correlated noise you’re talking about and failed to find any. What they found, instead, was that the total circuit fidelity just decays like the gate fidelity raised to the power of the number of gates—the simplest scenario you could possibly imagine. That’s actually the single most important result we learned scientifically from these experiments, since if it continues to be true, then fault-tolerance should indeed be practical with just a couple more 9’s in gate fidelity. In any case, you no longer have the luxury of speculating about correlated noise in an empirical vacuum, as if these huge experiments weren’t just done!

  22. mls Says:

    JimV #18

    Sadly, the term “woke” has been politicized as had been a term I learned from watching Oprah Winfrey years ago — “ebonics.” The latter had been coined by an African-American to encourage moving away from “non-standard Negro English.” Now, of course, its benign origin has been perverted.

    By the definition you obtained, I would be “woke.” It would hard to be otherwise when you have lived and worked in high-crime, gang-ridden neighborhoods of Chicago. Yet, no one who would self-identify as “woke” would identify with me.

    Anyway, videos of the George Floyd protests would certainly qualify as evidence for “woke” mobs.

  23. mls Says:

    JimV #18

    Regarding the George Floyd protests, I should also say that the protests in Chicago involved significant looting and vandalism. Obviously, the intended comparison with the January 6th fiasco was not meant to impugn legitimate assembly.

  24. Wilfrid Says:

    Scott 19: Okay, I think you’re somewhat missing my point here. I’m not really seeking to litigate the reality of the events that transpired. I’m not discussing the whole “innocent until proven guilty” aspect of this. Let’s assume that the allegations made against Lewin (this is just an example, put another STEM academic accused of sexual harassment in his place if you wish, there are countless to choose from) are completely true. My point is that, even if these allegations are true, not only do they not make Lewin a bad person, they don’t even justify formal sanctions against him. If you put yourself in the shoes of a nerdy guy who’s been deprived of sex, of love, of pleasure for most of his adult life, WHAT ELSE should you expect him to do but to seize whatever scarce opportunities there are for sexual release, EVEN if they involve, e.g., hitting on your own graduate students, seeking a relationship with a power imbalance, even trying to sext your undergrads? You can judge those actions all you want—but judge them in the context of the brutal sexual desert that many nerdy guys find themselves in. Is judging a man like this for sexual harassment not akin to, for example, judging a desperate homeless man for stealing a loaf of bread from the grocery store? Sure, making sexual overtures to the pretty undergrad in your class is “morally wrong,” like stealing a loaf of bread from the store is “wrong,” but the nerdy guy has to seek whatever opportunities there are for him to access female flesh, much like the homeless guy has to do whatever he can to eat. Sex is as basic a biological need as food, and those deprived of it, so cruelly, by the world can literally go crazy, and in my opinion, the desperation and loneliness that drives such actions constitute mitigating circumstances.

  25. Sir Henry Says:

    Scott #21:
    “It’s actually really, really hard to invent a model of correlated noise that kills scalable QC…”
    Maybe not as hard as building a useful QC though. Noise can be as correlated as Hilbert space is large.

    AFAIK, the Clemens et al. PRA I cited above discussed only two-qubit error correlations (I’m no expert though) and it almost killed their QC model. So they papered it over by adding a DFS, but real QCs would map information from the DFS into simple spin up/down qubits for gates, so the errors still occur then. Even if there were native DFS gates, higher-order correlations could kill them. If this has been disproven, I would appreciate a reference (in an honest “Thank You” way).

    Given the low fidelity of Google’s work, I’m surprised that anyone would view their statements about correlated errors as meaningful regarding the limits of QEC, which would need to beat raw errors down to unfathomably low levels to allow something like Shor’s algorithm. The Quantum Supremacy paper puts no numerical limit on correlated error magnitudes.

  26. Christopher Says:

    At some point I hope you let us do a crusade where we counter-troll them XD. At least once.

  27. Scott Says:

    Wilfrid #24: Your comment reads like a probable troll attempt—or attempt to bait me into saying something that could later be used against me.

    By all accounts, Lewin was not “deprived of sex”—quite the contrary, actually. And even if he had been, a relationship with a current student is always off-limits, no matter how consensual—if for no other reason than the unfairness created for all the other students. I agree that matters become more complicated when we talk about former students, students not under one’s supervision, etc—but if Lewin thought any of those considerations exonerated him, he could have and should have mounted a public defense.

    I regret that I won’t be hosting any further comments about this on this thread.

  28. C++ Guy Says:

    Hi Scott,

    I really don’t want to come off as a “sneerer” here. But I’m genuinely curious—how do you justify spending all your time on this blog attacking the “woke left” for being mean to you, when actual fascists are taking over America? Surely the problem of the “fascist right” taking away rights from women and transgender people is orders of magnitude more important than some sneerers being mean to you online—one might say, the woke left is just a “quantum correction.” So why don’t you ever post about the fascist takeover of America, with at least the frequency that you post about woke bullies? Is your struggle woth the sneerers comparable to the struggle of women and minorities right now? It’s like, please try to read the room man. Again, I’m not sneering or trying to be mean, just genuine advice, one CS guy to another.

  29. Scott Says:

    C++ #28:

      I’m genuinely curious—how do you justify spending all your time on this blog attacking the “woke left” for being mean to you, when actual fascists are taking over America?

    It strikes me that the best way to answer that question is just to walk through my recent post history.

    1. My most recent post, before the Bankman-Fried thing completely took over nerd social media, was, as it happens, about the midterm elections and the threat of resurgent fascism in the US and around the world. (While the post before that had been about quantum computing.)

    Out of a sense of historical obligation, I’ve written clearly and consistently for 7 years about the evils of Trump and the other neo-authoritarians. I’ve done so despite the fundamental drawback of that topic: namely, that virtually anything I can say has already been screamed daily by the NYT, Washington Post, Harpers, Atlantic, Slate, New Republic, Vox, and the entire rest of the mainstream press … for all the good it’s done at beating back the encroaching darkness.

    2. I then, for obvious reasons, blogged about SBF. This wasn’t, or shouldn’t have been, a “woke vs. anti-woke” topic at all. SBF’s dream, after all, had been to bankroll global health, the Democratic Party, and other left-of-center causes. And his apparent financial fraud was condemned by everyone from every part of the political spectrum.

    3. Next—please note the sequence of events!—a bunch of woke sneerers nevertheless attacked me (I won’t link), continuing their gleeful, years-long funhouse-mirrorization of everything I believe. Prompted by that, I decided to do a brief “self-help” post, sharing some techniques that have been helping me through these psychologically destabilizing events—once again completely apolitical and saying nothing about “woke vs. anti-woke.” I’d previously shared the exact same post on Facebook, where my woke leftist friends seemed to like it more than anyone else.

    4. But then commenters on this thread pressed me, and, as hard as I had tried to avoid “woke vs. anti-woke” stuff, it sometimes inevitably came up in the course of answering them.

    If you go through the archives of this blog, I submit that you’ll find something like the above sequence of events over and over and over. Namely:

    – When I’ve defended the liberal, anti-fascist, environmentalist, pro-gay-rights, pro-abortion-rights ideals that are shared by me and >90% of my social circle, that >90% yawns and doesn’t care at all. What avid engagement I get comes from various right-wingers, Trumpists, and conspiracy theorists who I have almost zero intellectual interest in arguing with.

    – Meanwhile, when I’ve blogged about the woke sneerers—what you called the “quantum correction,” albeit a correction that’s unfortunately had an order-1 effect on my life—it’s almost always been purely reactive, in direct response to a question, challenge, or attack that I felt intellectually obligated to answer. And then my answers led to more challenges that I had to answer, and so on in a chain reaction.

    Anyway, I hope that adequately answers your question!

  30. C++ Guy Says:

    Scott, you are completely and utterly missing my point. Yes, I’m a woke. A proud woke. I admit it. And yes, when I see rationalist bloggers minimizing the dangers of fascism, I sneer. The reality is, you haven’t posted anything about the true fascist threat—capitalist American imperialism. The “Democrats” are equally fascist because they support the white-supremacist capitalist corporatocracy of US imperialism. The only man standing in the way of the fascists is Vladimir Putin. Putin is fighting the true war against fascism—the war against the LITERAL Nazis of “Ukraine” (look up the Azov Battalion). The CIA propped up literal fascist cells after Maidan and Putin is fighting to liberate the land from CIA backed fascists and the puppet Zelensky. You are a pro-war, pro-imperialist, capitalist, Russophobic pig.

    My parents were both born in Russia. As an intersectional feminist I understand how Russian immigrants are systematically oppressed in American society. The Democrats unleashed racism and discrimination against Russian immigrants with their made-up Russiagate hoax. You sir are a Russophobe and a racist for believing these lies. I voted for Trump twice because he was the only man to stand up to the imperialist capitalist racist system, but the white patriarchy of America overthrew him to install their fascist puppet, and now they’re trying to spread their Empire to Russia. You, sir, do nothing but parrot imperialist capitalist US security state propaganda. I’m not afraid to admit that I’m a woke, “radical left” (is that what you call us?), socialist, intersectional feminist and I’m radical enough to unequivocally endorse the enemies of the capitalist racist state—Trump, Putin, and the proletarian freedom fighters on January 6, many of whom were people of color and women, fighting bravely to prevent the fascist takeover of America by BIG PHARMA (Pfizer $$$$$$$) and the other racist corporations. Sue me!

  31. Scott Says:

    C++ Guy #30: Permanently banned from this blog. Not for your bizarre and esoteric views (“we need to support Trump and Putin in order to stop the real right-wing fascists … the Democrats and Ukraine!”), but rather, for trollishly attacking the 99% of the planet that rejects those insane views, in clear violation of this blog’s comment policy. Your comment is a perfect example of why I instituted new policies in the first place. And anyone who wonders why I blog less than I used to, need look no further.

  32. Kvantumo Says:

    It’s a funny and truthful post!

  33. ike Says:

    one can’t resist the occasional urge to spit down the bridge.

  34. Scott Says:

    ike #33: Indeed one can’t.

  35. Scott Says:

    Sir Henry #25: Sorry, but as a general policy, I don’t drop all my other work to study obscure 18-year-old papers that a single anonymous commenter tells me overturn everything I think I know about QC. Experience has shown that the more I do it, the more it encourages other commenters to nerd-snipe me in the same way.

    In any case, your comment shows a fundamental misconception about Google’s experiment: their 2-qubit gate fidelity was about 99.5%. The only reason for the low (0.2%) overall circuit fidelity, was the sheer number of gates combined with the lack of error-correction. Which is exactly what any mainstream QC person would’ve predicted and hoped for! If there were significant effects from correlated errors, they would surely have depressed the LXEB score even lower than what was seen.

    Meanwhile, known fault-tolerance methods start working once you get the 2-qubit gate fidelity to ~99.9%, albeit with absurdly large overhead. Known methods start being practical once you get 2-qubit gate fidelity to ~99.99%. In which case, on a log scale, the distance the experimentalists have to go is “merely” comparable to the distance they’ve already gone since they started building these systems.

    Or maybe it will turn out to be much, much harder than the experimentalists expect. That’s possible. If, however, you think it’s impossible for a fundamental reason, then the burden is on you, to explain something that the QC community hasn’t already fully understood and assimilated.

  36. kjz Says:

    Just wanted to say, I’m really happy that you’ve had these realizations. I’ve seen in your past posts a lot of distress in response to sneerers, and have been sad at how much unnecessary power you give them over your peace of mind (which I’m sympathetic to because I’d probably react similarly to being attacked and mischaracterized). Anyway this new take seems like a much healthier outlook, and I hope it continues to bring you resilience!

  37. asdf Says:

    I guess this is a good thread in which to congratulate the Texas Legislature for protecting public morals with their anti-drag-queen law. According to someone on reddit (yeah I know I know), the text of the bill says a drag queen (or king as the case may be, I guess) is:

    “a performer exhibits a gender identity that is different than the performer’s gender assigned at birth using clothing, makeup, or other physical markers and sings, lip syncs, dances, or otherwise performs before an audience for entertainment”.

    Here is one of those terrifying performances that the TX Lege has thankfully protected our chilluns from! CONTENT WARNING, it contains cross-dressing, and lyrics about teenage sexuality!!! Call The Texas Rangers!!1!!

    (For those who don’t bother to click, it is a vid of the Israeli soprano Rinat Shaham performing the role of Cherubino, a young boy in Mozart’s opera The Marriage of Figaro, whose songs are written for soprano voice and therefore usually performed by women. This particular song has Cherubino asking the ladies in the Count’s court to explain the mysteries of love. The lyrics are on the screen…. shocking! Heh.)

  38. ike Says:

    Scott #34:

    The spit is in a good place.

  39. mls Says:

    asdf #37

    The expression “public morals” can be interpreted as arising from cultural norms or regulatory stipulation. I am curious about how a free people remain free when morality is stipulated by statute.

    By teaching people to concern themselves with their own sins rather than those of others, the New Testament permits sinners to sin and relegates judgement to God. As I recall, it had been godless sociologists influenced by Marxian philosophy who confused government with God. And, the epistle of St. Paul teaches Christians not to turn to the government to resolve disputes.

    When I consider politics in relation to religious teaching, I conclude that people demanding freedoms are living by faith as opposed to those who demand obedience to Ceasar.

  40. Sir Henry Says:

    Scott #35 and #21: The enormity is underappreciated of wanting to build what amounts to an interferometer with millions of mutually interfering arms where the beam splitters are crazy-sensitive nonlinear elements that are also super-precise. Understandably, practitioners don’t want to look too carefully at the theoretical implications of correlated errors and noise. A competent engineering manager would make that a top priority. If 50,000 comments have raised the issue, it could be addressed in a FAQ, or better yet an accessible paper.

    QEC is supposed to push errors down by so many orders of magnitude. In this paper, effective CNOT error needs to be 5×10^-18 (Table III) to run Shor’s algorithm! Correlated errors are likely to bite at much higher infidelity, even if Google did not claim to see them in the 10^-2 errors of their quasi-CNOT gates. In fairness though, one could also view the contamination of *all* their iSWAP gates with a 1/6th CZ interaction as error correlation.

    Expecting a Nobel Prize for understanding why the quantum Rube-Goldberg machine won’t work involves highly circular reasoning.

  41. Scott Says:

    Sir Henry #40: If the immense literature that already exists on quantum fault-tolerance doesn’t do it for you, I don’t see why one more FAQ or review article would make a difference. I find it of much more interest to push forward and see what happens. Especially since, with the sampling-based quantum supremacy experiments as well as (e.g.) the cold-atom simulations of Misha Lukin’s group, there’s now actual success in doing things that classical computers have a hard time keeping up with—as we predicted and as you presumably didn’t.

    Among the numerous tells of your needing to learn this subject better is your reference to beamsplitters that are “crazy-sensitive nonlinear elements.” No, the entire point of the KLM (Knill-Laflamme-Milburn) breakthrough 21 years ago was that purely linear interferometers plus feedforward measurements suffice for universal QC.

    In the end, there is some truth about the computational power of the universe. Does it have the full power of BQP, as quantum mechanics seems to predict? Can it all be simulated in classical P? Is it something in between? Personally, I’ve always preferred to think of QC less as an engineering project than as a scientific quest to learn the answer to this question, whatever it is.

    You seem to think we’re inherently limited to P, although (as with all QC skeptics) you haven’t deigned to give a theory that would predict that — you’ve been mistakenly intellectually satisfied to point out what seems extravagant to you about various specific QC proposals. (Airplanes, classical computers, and nuclear weapons would’ve seemed equally extravagant before someone built them.) Meanwhile, almost all the theoretical physicists I know regard it as so obvious that one can achieve BQP that it’s not even an interesting scientific question. You can’t both be right! So why not try to build the devices and learn the truth about this central question for both physics and CS?

    Fortunately, that’s now happening: the worldwide quest to learn the answer, though spread among many companies, startups, and labs pursuing different approaches, is now on probably a larger scale than (say) the LHC or James Webb Space Telescope. It’s not all going to pause to await the approval of “Sir Henry” in the Shtetl-Optimized comment section. 😉

  42. asdf Says:

    Meanwhile, almost all the theoretical physicists I know regard it as so obvious that one can achieve BQP that it’s not even an interesting scientific question.

    I’ve still gotta wonder if they said the same thing about FTL travel in the pre-relativity era ;).

  43. Peter Shenkin Says:

    Sneerers… that’s something like schnorers, right?

  44. Topologist Guy Says:

    I’m unfortunate enough to have been a victim of the sneerers. In my case, they were actually people I knew at university, saying the cruelest things about me that you can imagine, on the university’s social media. The comments really got under my skin and affected my self-worth for a while. Only later did I understand how truly unfair they were. How do you cope with “sneerers” when you don’t have an established career and family to fall back on, and when the sneerers aren’t just anonymous accounts on r/sneerclub or whatever, but students at your (former) university?

    I’ll add that the rhetoric and themes they used were quite similar to the woke leftists on places like r/sneerclub.

  45. Thomas Lee Hutcheson Says:

    It’s kind of hard to believe that Scott Aaronson — THE Scott Aaronson — could be seriously troubled by on-line sneerer-diles. On the other hand, aside from the opportunity cost, I don’t see much downside in actually getting down in the river and slaying a few. They really are not crocodiles, just salamanders putting on airs. 🙂

  46. asdf Says:

    Someone just posted this on Hacker News ( under the title “Bertrand Russell predicted social media shaming in 1930”. Seems apropos.

    > When the newspaper chooses to make a scapegoat of some perhaps quite harmless person, the results may be very terrible. Fortunately, as yet this is a fate which most people escape through their obscurity; but as publicity gets more and more perfect in its methods, there will be an increasing danger in this novel form of social persecution. This is too grave a matter to be treated with disdain by the individual who is its victim, and whatever may be thought of the great principle of the freedom of the press, I think the line will have to be drawn more sharply than it is by the existing libel laws, and anything will have to be forbidden that makes life intolerable for innocent individuals, even if they should happen to have done or said things which, published maliciously, can cause them to become unpopular. The only ultimate cure for this evil is, however, an increase of toleration on the part of the public. The best way to increase toleration is to multiply the number of individuals who enjoy real happiness and do not therefore find their chief pleasure in the infliction of pain upon their fellow men.

  47. mls Says:

    Topologist Guy #44

    I am sorry to hear that that happened to you.

    I had attended the University of Chicago during the time when a paper of Gary Orfield about the Chicago Public Schools had become fodder for the Reagan Secretary of Education, Bill Bennet. Racially charged times, indeed.

    I had been branded a racist by my fellow students simply because I was from Chicago and because Chicago had been viewed as “the most racist city in the United States.” At one point, one of my roommates offered her friend lodging when her friend could not find a sublet. This friend, also a female, had written her bachelor’s paper on the history of public housing in Chicago.

    For two months, my life became absolute hell. Whereas my roommates had come to realize that my nuanced perspectives arose from direct experience working on housing projects (Cabrini Green, Loomis Towers, Stateway Gardens, Robert Taylor Homes, etc., etc.) this woman assailed me every time I walked into my own apartment.

    Toward the end of this period, I finally had a moment alone with my roommate who urged me to be understanding. As she explained, my nemesis grew up as a faculty brat whose father had been the dean of a law school. For the most part, her direct experience with African-Americans had been with domestic workers commuting into her neighborhood. This young lady had no conception of the diversity within the African-American community related to poverty and racial authoritarianism in government actions. I had simply been the target of her racial conscience.

    Ironically, I ran into this woman years later. Did she devote her life to curing racial injustices? I suppose one could make that argument if one compares the work of a corporate lawyer to the idea that suppressed human rights can be addressed with “trade.”

    I always find myself in awe of the people who can actually choose to live a principled life in any context. My FoxNews-watching neighbor who accepts Obamacare because she quit her job over mask mandates is not much different from your woke leftists. Nor are my gun-loving union brothers who take issue with union support for Democratic policies — they don’t need the union because they believe they would receive the same compensation in laissez faire capitalism. They are, after all, “worth it” (including the seasonal unemployment benefits they have “earned”).

    More often than not, “sneerers” are simply loudmouthed hypocrites. Right and left are irrelevant.

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