Increments

Increments

Vaden Masrani, a PhD student in machine learning at UBC and Ben Chugg, a research fellow at Stanford Law School, get into trouble arguing about everything except machine learning and law. Coherence is somewhere on the horizon. Love, bribes, suggestions, and hate-mail all welcome at incrementspodcast@gmail.com.

Episodes

July 19, 2021 61 min
Why do logic and mathematics work so well in the world? Why do they seem to describe reality? Why do they they enable us to design circuit boards, build airplanes, and listen remotely to handsome and charming podcast hosts who rarely go off topic? To answer these questions, we dive into Chapter 9 of Conjectures and Refutations: Why are the Calculi of Logic and Arithmetic Applicable to Reality?. But before we get to that, we touch...
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There are many overused internet keywords that could be associated with this conversation, but none of them quite seem right. So here's a poem instead: The Ogre does what ogres can, Deeds quite impossible for Man, But one prize is beyond his reach: The Ogre cannot master speech. About a subjugated plain, Among its desperate and slain, The Ogre stalks with hands on hips, While drivel gushes from his lips - August 1968, W H Auden...
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In a rare turn of events, it just so happened that one or perhaps both of your charming co-hosts spewed a bit of nonsense about Derek Parfit in a previous episode, and we had to bring in a heavy hitter to sort us out. Today we're joined by friend of the podcast Mr. Dan Hageman, immuno-oncologist by day and aspiring ethicist by night, who gently takes us to task for misunderstanding Parfit and the role of ethical theorizing, and...
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We often talk of explanation in the context of empirical sciences, but what about explanation in logic and mathematics? Is there such a thing? If so, what does it look like and what are the consequences? In this episode we sit down with professor of philosophy Mark Colyvan and explore How mathematical explanation differs from explanation in the natural sciences Counterfactual reasoning in mathematics Intra versus extra mathematic...
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May 11, 2021 73 min

This episode begins with a big announcement! Ben has officially become a cat person, and is now Taking Cats Seriously. Vaden follows up with some news of his own, before diving into the main subject for today's episode - Popper's Three Worlds. Click the link and read the essay, it's worth it. If you don't, shame on you. 

In this episode we discuss:

  • The TCS parenting movement 
  • Chesto's tweet to Deutsch
  • How Popper'...
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    We are joined by the great Sam Kuypers for a conversation on physics, philosophy, and free will. 

    Vaden spends most of the episode preparing for a huge debate on free-will, and Ben spends it worried about what alternate versions of himself are up to in parallel universes. Still, we manage to touch on a few topics: 

  • Realism and antirealist interpretations of quantum theory
  • The advisory styles of Dennis Sciama and John Wheeler and the s...
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    In this episode, we discuss Peter Singer's famous drowning child thought experiment, the role of moral theories, and the role of thought experiments in moral reasoning. From our perspectives, the conversation went something like this: 

    Ben's POV: Bravely and boldly trying to think through problems, Ben puts forward a stunningly insightful theory about the role of moral argumentation. Vaden, jealous of the profundity of Ben&...

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    After a long digression, we finally return to the Conjectures and Refutations series. In this episode we cover Chapter 1: Science: Conjectures and Refutations. In particular, we focus on one of the trickiest Popperian concepts to wrap one's head around - the problem of induction. 

    References:

  • Wiki on scientific laws https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientific_law
  • Hume's dialogues concerning natural religion  
  • Proof of the imp...
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    Hello and sorry for the delay! We finally got together with Fin and Luca from the excellent HearThisIdea podcast for a nice roundtable discussion on longtermism. We laughed, we cried, and tried our best to communicate across the divide. 

    Material referenced in the discussion:

    - 80k Hours Problem Profiles
    - Jon Hamm  imprisons us in an Alexa
    - The Case for Strong Longtermism
    - A Case Against Strong Longtermism
    - Nick Bostrom's semina...

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    February 1, 2021 90 min

    Back in the ring for round two on longtermism! We (Ben somewhat drunkenly) respond to some of the criticism of episode #17 and our two essays (Ben's, Vaden's) We touch on: 

  • Ben's hate mail from his piece on cliodynamics
  • Longtermism as implying altruistic portfolio shuffling
  • What the hell is Bayesian epistemology 
  • The Pasadena game
  • Authoritarianism and the danger of seeking perfection 
  • Arrow's theorem
  • Alternative decision t...
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    January 14, 2021 34 min

    Bit of a personal episode this one is! Ben learns how to be a twitter warrior while Vaden has a full-on breakdown during quarantine. Who knew work addiction was actually a real thing? And that there are 12 step programs for people who identify as being "powerless over compulsive work, worry, or activity"? And that mathematics can create compulsive behavior indistinguishable from drug addiction? Vaden does, now.

    People mentio...

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    December 18, 2020 90 min

    Well, there's no avoiding controversy with this one. We explain, examine, and attempt to refute the shiny new moral philosophy of longtermism. Our critique focuses on The Case for Strong Longtermism by Hilary Greaves and Will MacAskill.

    We say so in the episode, but it's important to emphasize that we harbour no animosity towards anyone in the effective altruism community. However, we both think that longtermism is pretty f...

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    Vaden comes battle-hardened and ready to debate and is met with ... a big soft hug from Ben. Ben repents his apocalyptic sins and admits that Vaden changed his mind. Again. God dammit this is getting annoying. To his credit, Vaden only gloats for 10 minutes.  Eventually we touch on some other topics: 

  • technology as filling niches
  • when is outrage appropriate? 
  • the upsides of social media 
  • conversation as a substitute for violence 
  • Much l...

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    Alright spiders, point this at your brain. Ben and Vaden do a deep dive into the recent Netflix documentary The Social Dilemma and have a genuine debate, just like the good ol' days.  Topics touched:

  • Why Vaden dislikes documentaries, and this one in particular
  • Is reliance on social media a problem?
  • The advertisement model
  • The relationship between social media and mental health
  • ... and political polarization
  • ... and outrage in general
  • ...
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    The third in the Conjectures and Refutations series, we cover Chapter 16: Prediction And Prophecy in the Social Sciences. There's a bit more Hitler stuff in this one than usual (retweets  ≠ endorsements), but only because he provides a clear example of the motherlode of all bad ideas - historicism. We discuss:

  • What historicism is and why it sucks
  • Prediction vs prophecy
  • Differences between the physical sciences and social sciences
  • T...
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    October 15, 2020 61 min

    Stephen is back for round two! In this episode we learn that Vaden wants to live in a panopticon and Ben in a high tech surveillance state. Also, we're all going to use Bing from now on. 

    Stephen Caines is a research fellow at Stanford law school's CodeX centre for legal informatics, where he specializes in the domestic use of facial recognition technology. He received a J.D. from  the University of Miami  with a concentrat...

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    In the lead up to the American presidential election, one of the largest and most consequential expressions of public opinion, Ben and Vaden do what they always do and ask: "What does Popper say about this?" The second in the Conjectures and Refutations series, we cover Chapter 17: Public Opinion and Liberal Principles.  Largely irrelevant and probably unhelpful, we touch 

  • A thesis that the far left and right are converging ...
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    September 16, 2020 89 min

    Vaden's arguments against Bayesian philosophy and existential risk are examined by someone who might actually know what they're talking about, i.e., not Ben. After writing a critique of our conversation in Episode 7, which started off a series of blog posts, our good friend Mauricio kindly agrees to come on the podcast and try to figure out who's more confused. Does Vaden convert?

    Mauricio studies political science, eco...

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    August 13, 2020 75 min

    Traditions, what are you good for? Absolutely nothing? In this episode of Increments, Ben and Vaden begin their series on Conjectures and Refutations by looking at the role tradition plays in society, and examine one tradition in particular - the critical tradition. No monkeys were harmed in the making of this episode.


    References:
    - C&R, Chapter 4: Towards a Rational Theory of Tradition


    Podcast shoutout:
    - Jennifer Doleac and Rob ...

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    The talented Stephen Caines punctures the cloud of confusion that is Ben and Vaden's conception of facial recognition technology. We talk about the development and usage of facial recognition in the private and public spheres, the dangers and merits of the technology, and Vaden's plan to use it a bars. For God's sake don't give that man a GPU.

    Stephen is a legal technologist with a passion for access to justice. He ...

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