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This is an idea that just occurred to me. We have a large community of people who think about scientific problems recreationally, many of whom are in no position to go around investigating them. Hopefully, however, some other community members are in a position to go around investigating them, or know people who are. The idea here is to allow people to propose relatively specific ideas for experiments, which can be upvoted if people think they are wise, and can be commented on and refined by others. Grouping them together in an easily identifiable, organized way in which people can provide approval and suggestions seems like it may actually help advance human knowledge, and with its high sanity waterline and (kind of) diverse group of readers, this community seems like an excellent place to implement this idea.
These should be relatively practical, with an eye towards providing some aspiring grad student or professor with enough of an idea that they could go implement it. You should explain the general field (physics, AI, evolutionary psychology, economics, psychology, etc.) as well as the question the experiment is designed to investigate, in as much detail as you are reasonably capable of.
If this is a popular idea, a new thread can be started every time one of these reaches 500 comments, or quarterly, depending on its popularity. I expect this to provide help for people refining their understanding of various sciences, and if it ever gets turned into even a few good experiments, it will prove immensely worthwhile.
I think it's best to make these distinct from the general discussion thread because they have a very narrow purpose. I'll post an idea or two of my own to get things started. I'd also encourage people to post not only experiment ideas, but criticism and suggestions regarding this thread concept. I'd also suggest that people upvote or downvote this post if they think this is a good or bad idea, to better establish whether future implementations will be worthwhile.
During lunch today, I had a conversation with my mother about the lives of my younger brothers. She mentioned to me that my brother, who is taking an SAT class, found the practice test he took to be extremely boring. I replied that I was sorry for my brother and that I felt very privileged not to find standardized tests boring. I went on to express my sorrow that I do not know how to inculcate in others the sublime joy I take in solving particularly interesting problems. Much later, I decided to spend an hour exercising, something that I very rarely do. It wasn't until about 45 minutes in that I realized the proper implication of what I had said to my mother - I have the natural advantage in test taking, but my brother has the natural advantage in exercise. The obvious solution was to find a way to find a similar sense of sublime joy in exercise, and make myself remember that I can find it in exercise. I played around with a few things I could do while on the treadmill, and found that rolling my head while walking felt awesome. I'm definitely going to do more of that in the future. It took me far too long to realize it, but when ever you wish you could help someone in some way, ask yourself if you could benefit from the same sort of thing.
I was saddened to learn of the recent death by suicide of Chris Capel, known here as pdf23ds. I didn't know him personally, but I was an occasional reader of his blog. In retrospect, I regret not having ever gotten into contact with him. Obviously, I don't know that I could have prevented his death, but, as one with mental-health issues myself, at least I could have made a friend, and been one to him. Now I feel a sense of disappointment that I'll never get that chance.
Having said that, I must say that I take his arguments here very seriously. I do not consider it to be automatic that every suicide is the "wrong" decision. We can all imagine circumstances under which we would prefer to die than live; and given this, we should also be able to imagine that these kinds of circumstances may vary for different people. And if one is already accepting of euthanasia for incurable physical suffering, it should not be that much of a leap to accept it for incurable psychological suffering as well.
Of course, as Chris acknowledges, this doesn't imply that everyone who is contemplating suicide is actually being rational. People may for instance be severely mistaken about their prospects for improvement, especially while in the midst of acute crisis.(Conceivably, that could even have been his own situation.) Nonetheless, I think many of the usual arguments that people use to show that suicide is "wrong" are bad arguments. For example, consider what is probably the most common argument: that committing suicide will inflict pain upon friends and family. It frankly strikes me as absurd (and grotesquely unempathetic) to suppose that someone for whom life is so painful that they would rather die somehow has an obligation to continue enduring it just in order to spare other people the emotion of grief (which they are inevitably going to have to confront at some point anyway, at least until we conquer all death).
Ironically, society's demonization of suicide and suicidal people has negative consequences even from the standpoint of preventing suicide itself, as Chris points out:
I passionately hate that all of the mental health people are obligated by law to commit me to an asylum if they think I’m about to kill myself. They can’t be objective. You know, if they could talk to me without such stupid constraints, they might have prevented this very suicide
It seems to me very possible that our society's fervor to prevent suicide may result in denying severely depressed people the compassion they need. This could theoretically be worth it if it prevented enough suicides that turned out to be worth preventing, but cases like Chris's raise doubt about this, in my mind. (From both angles: if Chris's decision was the right one for him, then the system is saving people it shouldn't be saving; if on the other hand it was the wrong decision, then we clearly see how the system failed him.)
Although I'm inclined to be sympathetic to Chris's view -- perhaps because I haven't always been maximally enthusiastic about my own existence myself -- there are some arguments that do worry me. Such as: if you think of future versions of yourself as separate agents, then suicide is a form of homicide. However, usually suicide is carried out on the belief that the future selves would approve of their nonexistence; and all of our decisions have consequences (often irreversible) for our future selves, so this is a general ethical problem that transcends the specific issue of suicide.
This post is a place to rationally discuss the ethics and rationality of suicide, as well as our attitudes (on an individual level, and as reflected in our institutions) toward suicidal people and, more generally, those suffering from psychological conditions such as depression.
I'm sad that Chris won't be able to participate.
Today I learned that you can toast marshmallows in the oven.
By "learned", I mean "I read a recipe which included as a step toasting marshmallows in the oven". I didn't have to try it out to realize that this would obviously work. It was plain as soon as I heard the idea. And it shouldn't have needed pointing out. I know how ovens work. I am familiar with the marshmallow species of food. I love roasted marshmallows while hating them in most other forms and often occurrently lament the difficulty of arranging open flames over which one may safely toast them. I routinely try new things in the kitchen to get results I want.
And yet I read it, and was surprised. And so were the people I reported this finding to. It needed pointing out.
What other facts need pointing out, although they are plain on inspection? What is the pattern behind these facts and a good way to find more?