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earthwormchuck163 comments on Welcome to Less Wrong! (2010-2011) - Less Wrong

42 Post author: orthonormal 12 August 2010 01:08AM

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Comment author: earthwormchuck163 11 December 2011 01:57:33AM *  13 points [-]

I'm bad at this.

Oh well here goes.

Hi there! I'm Erik. I'm 20 years old.

I am a pure math major at the University of Waterloo. I am half way through my third year here.

That being said, I am largely an autodidact, which I gather is pretty common around these parts. Up until age 13 or so I was primarily interested in physics. In the course of trying to learn physics, I inevitably had to learn some math. So I did, and I never looked back. I can actually pinpoint the exact moment, all those years ago, when I became sure that I would spend the rest of my life doing math. But I won't bore you with such an excessively personal story.

My mathematical interests are fairly broad. My single greatest fear is that I will probably have to specialize at some point, to learn truly focus on one subject area; To think that I could ever actively decide not to want to learn all the things. I plan to delay this for as long as possible.

I tend to lean towards what I consider to be a pragmatic form of ultrafinitism. Other mathematicians tend to punch me when I talk about that though. A favourite pet problem of mine is to try to work how to recover things like eg real analysis without having to talk about infinity. That's a pretty tame example, but try doing this for all the math you know and it gets pretty interesting!

I also have a few interests outside of math and physics.

I like anime; A few of my recent favourites include Redline, Mahou Shojou Madoka Magica and Nichijou, all from this past year.

I like video games. My usual approach here is to play a few games very deeply. My all time favourite game is Super Smash Bros Melee, which still has an amazing competitive scene today. I am also a big fan of, and occasional participant in, TASing. I used to speedrun Super Metroid a lot, and I started working on TASing it back in 07 for a while. That proved to be too tedious for me though, so I mostly just watch the runs these days.

I listen to a pretty broad range of music as well. I've tried learning to play both piano and guitar, but never got past the "embarrassingly bad" stage.

In terms of rationalist origin story... Uhh not much interesting really to say here. My parents aren't religious, so I never had that influence. And I've been surrounded by and versed in physics and the sciences more generally for literally as long as I can remember. I have an old habit of periodically taking a piece of knowledge that I catch myself taking for granted and forcing myself work out exactly why I know that thing. An easy example: How do you know how far away the sun is? Or a little trickier: How do you know that everything is made out of atoms, and how do you know how small they are? I think I formed this habit because it saved me from having to ever remember very much; I figured out pretty early on that keeping my belief web as connected as possible would save me a lot of effort. I think this is also related to my fear of specialization.

I had a brief period when I was very vocal about atheism. I got tired of that pretty quickly though. For the most part the community just seemed pretty boring: Yep. We still don't believe in God. GO TEAM.

LW stands out as something special though. It's not just a lot of people who also don't believe in silly nonsense. It's not just about bring everyone up to some baseline of sanity. It's about striving for an as-of-yet unimagined level of rationality. That's just awesome and I want to be a part of it.

Comment author: cousin_it 11 December 2011 02:16:42PM 10 points [-]

An easy example: How do you know how far away the sun is?

Terry Tao has a really cool presentation on that topic: The Cosmic Distance Ladder.

Comment author: Nornagest 11 December 2011 11:45:15PM 2 points [-]

Parallax effects are a surprisingly good reason to reject heliocentrism. Wrong, of course, but it does seem to fail the sniff test -- and about all the Greeks had to work with were sniff tests of varying sophistication.

Although now I kind of wonder how Aristarchus' critics explained his observations.

Comment author: gwern 11 December 2011 11:21:12PM 1 point [-]

That was long, but very good. People underestimate the ancient Greeks - it's awesome to see the whole set of calculations laid out. (This reminds me guiltily of a post I keep meaning to write doing something similar for Atomism.)

Comment author: wedrifid 11 December 2011 02:04:42PM *  1 point [-]

I'm bad at this.

First thing you can do to become better at this: Don't start by telling people you are bad at it. If it was really important that we know that you are bad at it we could probably figure it out for ourselves!