Episode 54

#54 - Ask Us Anything III: Emotional Epistemology


September 18th, 2023

1 hr 18 mins 26 secs

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About this Episode

Back again with AUA #3 - we're getting there people! Only, uhh, seven questions to go? Incremental progress baby. Plus, we see a good old Vaden and Ben fight in this one! Thank God, because things were getting a little stale with Vaden hammering on longtermism and Ben on cliodynamics. We cover:

  • Is hypnosis a real thing?
  • Types of universality contained within the genetic code
  • Pressures associated with turning political/philosophical ideas into personal identities
  • How do emotions/feelings interface with our rational/logical mind? How should they?
  • Vaden's (hopefully one-off) experience with Bipolar Type-1 and psychosis
  • Is problem solving the sole purpose of thinking? Vaden says yes (with many caveats!) and Ben says wtf no you fool. Then we argue about how to watch TV.


  1. (Neil Hudson) Are there any theories as to the type of universality achievable via the genetic code (in BOI it is presumed to fall short of coding for all possible life forms)?

  2. (Neil Hudson) Wd be gd to get your take on: riffing on the Sperber/Mercier social thesis v. individual, if one is scarce private space/time then the need to constantly avow one’s public identity may “swamp” the critical evaluation of arguments one hears? Goes to seeking truth v status

  3. (Arun Kannan) What are your thoughts on inexplicit knowledge (David Deutsch jargon) and more broadly emotions/feelings in the mind ? How do these interplay with explicit ideas / thoughts ? What should we prioritize ? If we don't prioritize one over the other, how to resolve conflicts between them ? Any tips, literature, Popperian wisdom you can share on this ?

  4. (Tom Nassis) Is the sole purpose of all forms of thinking problem-solving? Or can thinking have purposes other than solving a problem?


Reach always has an explanation. But this time, to the best of my knowledge, the explanation is not yet known. If the reason for the jump in reach was that it was a jump to universality, what was the universality? The genetic code is presumably not universal for specifying life forms, since it relies on specific types of chemicals, such as proteins. Could it be a universal constructor? Perhaps. It does manage to build with inorganic materials sometimes, such as the calcium phosphate in bones, or the magnetite in the navigation system inside a pigeon’s brain. Biotechnologists are already using it to manufacture hydrogen and to extract uranium from seawater. It can also program organisms to perform constructions outside their bodies: birds build nests; beavers build dams. Perhaps it would it be possible to specify, in the genetic code, an organism whose life cycle includes building a nuclear-powered spaceship. Or perhaps not. I guess it has some lesser, and not yet understood, universality.

In 1994 the computer scientist and molecular biologist Leonard Adleman designed and built a computer composed of DNA together with some simple enzymes, and demonstrated that it was capable of performing some sophisticated computations. At the time, Adleman’s DNA computer was arguably the fastest computer in the world. Further, it was clear that a universal classical computer could be made in a similar way. Hence we know that, whatever that other universality of the DNA system was, the universality of computation had also been inherent in it for billions of years, without ever being used – until Adleman used it.

Beginning of Infinity, p.158 (emph added)


Send Vaden an email with a thought you have not designed to solve a problem at incrementspodcast.com


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