Theology, philosophy, math, science, and random other things

A record of the total solar eclipse on 2024-04-08

Everyone who has actually seen totality is unanimous in how awesome it was. None of them even use any kind of reserved or qualifying language: nobody says that it was "kinda nice", or "pretty cool", or "quite pretty". No, their descriptions are always in the superlative form: "incredible phenomenon", "so beautiful", "10/10", "absolutely amazing". One man actually described today's eclipse in such terms to me, then only afterwards mentioned - almost in passing - that he had proposed to his girlfriend during totality.

How do you help those kinds of people?

Today is Christmas. I once tried to help a homeless person, in a pretty major way. It was hard, and It didn't go well. Let's just say that in some ways, it might have been better if I didn't try at all. Of course, homelessness is well-known to be a difficult problem. It's pervasive in […]

Impressions from my trip to Ukraine during the war

(All the pictures in this post can be seen at their full resolution here, and my post about the whole trip in a larger context, including Norway and Moldova, can be found here.) So, how did I end up going to Ukraine during the war? I assure you this was initially not my own idea, […]

A quick update on my trip to Svalbard

If the movie "Frozen II" takes place in fantasy Norway, then Svalbard would be the location of Ahtohallan. Glaciers are rivers of ice, and I never understood that as much as I did when I took this picture:

What do we want? Reflections on AI and morality

Essentially, these AIs solve all kinds of "how" problems for us. We now know how to play a good game of chess or go, how to reply to any text prompt, and how to create an image from just a text description. This leaves us with the "what" problem. What do we want? What do we value? This is a hard question. Can an AI answer it for us? No, I don't think so. At least not any of the AIs as we have them today. Remember, the fundamental function of all the AIs we've discussed is to take in data, and give us what we said we wanted. So it seems that there's some kind of bootstrapping step missing, in that we have to give the AI "what we want" as an input, but expect "what we REALLY want" as an output.

From "Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri" (1999)

As the Americans learned so painfully in Earth's final century, free flow of information is the only safeguard against tyranny. The once-chained people whose leaders at last lose their grip on information flow will soon burst with freedom and vitality, but the free nation gradually constricting its grip on public discourse has begun its rapid […]

A moral evaluation of abortion

Roe v. Wade was recently overturned. I think this is an opportune time to organize and express my thoughts on abortion. This is my honest attempt to understand the issue. I chose to tackle a controversial topic, take an unpopular position, then moderate it with nuance. I have no illusions about any benefits or harms I may acquire as a result. My only defense is that this is what I really think, after a genuine attempt to get as close as I can to the truth.

The Dividing Moment

The frozen blizzard was standing still in the air, allowing Anna to glance back at Kristoff one last time. But she quickly turned around, for her mind was already made up. Elsa was her sister! She was in danger! She had to go to her! Anna felt the icy curse on her heart starting to burst out. Her limbs were becoming rigid and numb. She knew she was in imminent danger of freezing completely. But none of it mattered. The choice to protect Elsa wasn't really hers to make; her heart had made the choice for her a long time ago - perhaps when their parents died, or perhaps back in their childhood.

What's going on with Gamestop: a simple explanation

This first started as just some market maneuvering around a rising stock, but quickly became much more. It became a story of David vs. Goliath, of little individual investors taking on the big hedge funds. It attracted an international audience and became mainstream news. People spoke of taking on the corrupt financial systems, and discussed the powers and dangers of social media like reddit. Politicians and industry titans got involved. All this attention brought on new stock buyers, driving its price even higher.

Love your enemies

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction. So when Jesus says "Love your enemies," he is setting forth a profound and ultimately inescapable admonition. Have we not come to such an impasse in the modern world that we must love our enemies - or else? The chain reaction of evil - hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars - must be broken or we shall be plunged in to the dark abyss of annihilation.
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