What Seemed Like Perfect Reasoning Utterly Failed

photograph by Dingske
Does warm water sometimes freeze faster than cold water when placed in the same conditions? "Absolutely no way," I said, a mere minute after I heard the claim. "People sometimes claim that NASA faked the moon landing too," I thought to myself. I pointed out why this claim is impossible. As warm water cools it must eventually reach the same temperature that the cool water started at. From that point on, the warm water will behave just like the cool water, but it will have taken the warm water a ...

Convincing Your Future Self

Your future self
You have control over yourself for the next eight seconds. Maybe even the next three minutes. Right now you can choose to go to the gym right now. Right now you can choose to start something difficult (but valuable) that you've been putting off for a long time. But right now you can't choose to go to the gym tomorrow. You definitely can't choose to quit your job a year from now. Because tomorrow if you don't feel like it, you're not going to go to the gym, regardless of what the you of today dec...

What is the REAL effect of circumcising men?

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Those who grow up in the U.S. are often surprised to find out that in many European countries almost no men are circumcised. In the U.S., where the majority of men have had the procedure performed on them, it is pretty common to hear people say that foreskin is unclean, ugly, or even unhealthy. On the other hand, Europeans tend to find the idea of circumcision bizarre. "Why would you cut off a healthy part of your body?", they wonder. And "How would you feel about a culture that cut off their ch...

How much should you actually tip doormen in New York City for the holidays?

If you live in a building with doormen or doorwomen in New York City (Manhattan, Brooklyn, etc.), you are probably confused right now about how much you are expected to tip them for the holiday season. Nobody I've spoken to seems to really be confident in their answer to this and articles give conflicting advice on what a reasonable bonus is. That's why I made this little program to help solve the problem. Just click below, and answer a few quick questions in order to get an estimate of how muc...

When should you seek criticism?

A while ago I wrote a post about the incredible value of seeking criticism. Today, someone asked me how we should decide when to seek criticism. Or, as he put it, when should we expect other people to have a better understanding of us than we ourselves do? Here are some rules of thumb. It’s generally a good idea to seek criticism from others when: You care about having an accurate understanding of how others perceive you. It is easy to go for decades without realizing that your posture ma...

Which Risks of Dying Are Worth Taking?

First, click here to figure out your chance of dying tomorrow. Is it worth taking a 1 in 100,000 chance of dying , in order to experience the novel thrill of sky diving? Is a 1 in 500,000 chance of death worth it to go bungee jumping? It's hard to know whether these risks are reasonable, because numbers like 100,000 or 500,000 feel so abstract to us. To think more clearly about these numbers, it helps to get our intuitions engaged. We can start by figuring out the daily risk of dying that...

Do Your Methods Reliably Lead You to the Truth?

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Would you be satisfied believing merely what it's trendy to believe? If so, you can adopt the beliefs of the people of your country, city, and friend group. But if you want to reliably have truer beliefs, you're going to have to use different methods than most people do. Selecting which "epistemic methods" to rely on may be one of the most important decisions you make. Your epistemic methods may determine the career you choose, the political party you vote for, the God or Gods you worship, wh...

Why We Overvalue What We No Longer Have: The Psychology of Loss

We over value the things we have, overreact when we can't have something anymore, and resist change. In other words, we hate loss. But because loss is frequent and inevitable, our hatred of it guarantees that we suffer. Let's take a look at the psychological mechanisms that make us act this way. The Endowment Effect Suppose that Nathan and Mae are two students at the same school. It is randomly determined that Mae will be given a school mug, which she gets to keep. Mae then writes down the le...

How Can We Explain Tiny Startups Crushing Huge Tech Companies?

Suppose that mega-corp, a large corporation, has hundreds of employees, hundreds of thousands of customers, tens of millions of dollars of cash, a recognized brand, and an experienced CEO. Tiny-upstart, on the other hand, is just two twenty-five year olds with an idea, no funding, no users and no business experience. If mega-corp and tiny-upstart are in the same line of business, then by any reasonable stretch of the imagination tiny-upstart will lose the fight. So how is it that tiny sta...