40 episodes

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.
Bribes, suggestions, love-mail and hate-mail all welcome at incrementspodcast@gmail.com.

Increments Ben Chugg and Vaden Masrani

    • Society & Culture
    • 5.0 • 7 Ratings

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.
Bribes, suggestions, love-mail and hate-mail all welcome at incrementspodcast@gmail.com.

    #39 - The Enigma of Reason

    #39 - The Enigma of Reason

    The most reasonable and well-reasoned discussion of reason you can be reasonably expected to hear. Today we talk about the book The Enigma of Reason by Dan Sperber and Hugo Mercier. But first, get ready for dogs, modern art, and babies!

    *We discuss *

    Reason as a social phenomenon
    The two roles of reason: To justify our actions, and to evaluate the reasons of others
    Reason as module of inference, and how that contrasts with dual-process theories
    The "intellectualist" vs the "interactionist" approach to reason
    Nassim Taleb's notion of "skin in the game"
    The consequences of reason having evolved in a particular (social) niche
    The marshmallow test and other debunked psychological findings


    The interactionist approach, on the other hand, makes two contrasting predictions. In the production of arguments, we should be biased and lazy; in the evaluation of arguments, we should be demanding and objective— demanding so as not to be deceived by poor or fallacious arguments into accepting false ideas, objective so as to be ready to revise our ideas when presented with good reasons why we should.
    EoR (pg. 332)

    In our interactionist approach, the normal conditions for the use of reasoning are social, and more specifically dialogic. Outside of this environment, there is no guarantee that reasoning acts for the benefits of the reasoner. It might lead to epistemic distortions and poor decisions. This does not mean reasoning is broken, simply that it has been taken out of its normal conditions.
    EoR (pg. 247)


    Dan Sperber's talk at the Santa Fe Institute
    Image credit: https://www.theguardian.com/culture/charlottehigginsblog/2009/oct/20/classics-barack-obama

    Social media everywhere

    Follow us on Twitter at @IncrementsPod, @BennyChugg, @VadenMasrani
    Check us out on youtube at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC_4wZzQyoW4s4ZuE4FY9DQQ
    Come join our discord server! DM us on twitter or send us an email to get a supersecret link

    Send a reason, any reason, any reason at all, to incrementspodcast@gmail.com.

    • 1 hr 1 min
    #38 (C&R Series, Ch. 2) - Wittgenstein vs Popper

    #38 (C&R Series, Ch. 2) - Wittgenstein vs Popper

    We cover the spicy showdown between the two of the world's most headstrong philosophers: Ludwig Wittgenstein and Karl Popper. In a dingy Cambridge classroom Wittgenstein once threatened Popper with a fireplace poker. What led to the disagreement? In this episode, we continue with the Conjectures and Refutations series by analyzing Chapter 2: The Nature of Philosophical Problems And Their Roots In Science, where Popper outlines his agreements and disagreements with Mr. Ludwig Wittgenstein.

    We discuss:

    Are there philosophical problems?
    Why are scientific disciplines divided as they are?
    How much of philosophy is meaningless pseudo-babble? (Hint: Not none)
    Wittgenstein's background and feud between him and Popper
    Wittgenstein 1 and 2 (pre and post Tractatus)
    The danger of philosophical inbreeding
    Two of Popper's examples of philosophical problems:
    1. Plato and the Crisis in Early Greek Atomism
    2. Immanuel Kant's Problem of Knowledge.
    Musica universalis
    The Problem of Change
    How is knowledge possible?


    My first thesis is that every philosophy, and especially every philosophical ‘school’, is liable to degenerate in such a way that its problems become practically indistinguishable from pseudo-problems, and its cant, accordingly, practically indistinguishable from meaningless babble. This, I shall try to show, is a consequence of philosophical inbreeding. The degeneration of philosophical schools in its turn is the consequence of the mistaken belief that one can philosophize without having been compelled to philosophize by problems which arise outside philosophy—in mathematics, for example, or in cosmology, or in politics, or in religion, or in social life. In other words my first thesis is this. Genuine philosophical problems are always rooted in urgent problems outside philosophy, and they die if these roots decay.

    C&R p.95

    His question, we now know, or believe we know, should have been: ‘How are successful conjectures possible?’ And our answer, in the spirit of his Copernican Revolution, might, I suggest, be something like this: Because, as you said, we are not passive receptors of sense data, but active organisms. Because we react to our environment not always merely instinctively, but sometimes consciously and freely. Because we can invent myths, stories, theories; because we have a thirst for explanation, an insatiable curiosity, a wish to know. Because we not only invent stories and theories, but try them out and see whether they work and how they work. Because by a great effort, by trying hard and making many mistakes, we may sometimes, if we are lucky, succeed in hitting upon a story, an explanation, which ‘saves the phenomena’; perhaps by making up a myth about ‘invisibles’, such as atoms or gravitational forces, which explain the visible. Because knowledge is an adventure of ideas.

    C&R p.128

    If you were to threaten us with a common household object, what would it be? Tell us at incrementspodcast@gmail.com, or on twitter: @VadenMasrani, @BennyChugg, @IncrementsPod.

    • 1 hr 3 min
    #37 - Montessori Education w/ Matt Bateman

    #37 - Montessori Education w/ Matt Bateman

    We're joined today by Matt Bateman, one of the founders of Higher Ground Education, to discuss the Montessori method of education and how it compares to other teaching methodologies. Get ready for tiny furniture, putting on your jacket upside down, and teaching your toddler to make eggs benedict. We discuss:

    Maria Montessori
    What is a Montessori education (besides tiny furniture)?
    How Montessori classrooms differ from regular ones
    Why long periods of interrupted problem solving is important for a child's development
    How Montessori integrates with technology
    Drawbacks of traditional methods of testing and grading, and how they might be amended
    The importance of cultivating a love of work
    How Matt wants to reform high school education


    Matt is one of the founders of Higher Ground Education, a worldwide Montessori network. He runs Montessorium, Higher Ground’s think tank. He holds a PhD in philosophy from the University of Pennsylvania, where he focused on the philosophy of science. Make sure to follow him on twitter for some golden education nuggets


    Matt on the Where We Go Next (formerly New Liberals) podcast.
    Vocational Training for the Soul: Bringing the Meaning of Work to Schools
    Matt's History of Education Course

    Social media everywhere

    Follow us on Twitter at @IncrementsPod, @BennyChugg, @VadenMasrani
    Check us out on youtube at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC_4wZzQyoW4s4ZuE4FY9DQQ
    Come join our discord server! DM us on twitter or send us an email to get a supersecret link
    Special Guest: Matt Bateman.

    • 1 hr 21 min
    #36 - Analyzing Effective Altruism as a Social Movement

    #36 - Analyzing Effective Altruism as a Social Movement

    In what is hopefully the last installment of Vaden and Ben debate Effective Altruism, we ask if EA lies on the cultishness (yes, that's a word) spectrum. We discuss:

    The potential pitfall of having goodness as a core value
    Aspects of Effective Altruism (EA) that put it on the cultishness spectrum
    Does EA focus on good over truth?
    Ben's experience with EA
    Making criticism a core value
    How does one resist the allure of groupthink?
    How to (mis)behave at parties
    How would one create a movement which doesn't succumb to cult-like dynamics?
    Weird ideas as junk food

    Error Correction intro segment

    Scott Alexander pointing out that Ivermectin works indirectly via:

    There’s a reason the most impressive ivermectin studies came from parts of the world where worms are prevalent, he says. Parasites suppress the immune system, making it more difficult for the human body to fight off viruses. Thus, getting rid of worm infections makes it easier for COVID-19 patients to bounce back from the virus.

    See full post below and summary news article here

    Czechoslovakia was not a part of the USSR
    @lukeconibear pointing out some climate models and data are publicly available. See for instance

    Goddard Earth Observing System (GEOS) Chem model: https://github.com/geoschem/geos-chem
    Community Earth System Model (CESM): https://github.com/ESCOMP/CESM
    Energy Exascale Earth System model: https://github.com/E3SM-Project/E3SM

    @PRyan pointing out we were confused about the difference between economic growth, division of labour, and free trade

    Join the movement at incrementspodcast@gmail.com.

    Follow us on twitter at @IncrementsPod and on Youtube.

    • 56 min
    #35 - Climate Change III: Fossil Fuels

    #35 - Climate Change III: Fossil Fuels

    Come experience the thrill of the shill as we discuss the somewhat-controversial natural resource called "fossil fuels". In this episode, we drill deep into opto-pessimist Vaclav Smil's excellent book Oil: A Beginner's Guide, in what is possibly our only episode to feature heterodox Russian-Ukrainian science, subterranean sound waves, and that goop lady - what's her name? It's unbelievable, right?

    We discuss:

    The science behind fossil fuels: How they're made, found, processed, and used
    Energy transitions and the shale gas revolution
    Global oil dependence and human rights
    The environmental costs of fossil fuels
    Will we reach Peak Oil?
    Why natural resources aren't milkshakes
    The future of fossil fuels

    (Note to Big Oil: Please send shilling fees to incrementspodcast@gmail.com)


    Vaclav Smil: We Must Leave Growth Behind
    Vaclav Smil: Growth must end. Our economist friends don’t seem to realise that
    Oil: A Beginner's Guide
    Abiogenic petroleum origin - Wikipedia

    Social media everywhere

    Follow us on Twitter at @IncrementsPod, @BennyChugg, @VadenMasrani
    Check us out on youtube at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC_4wZzQyoW4s4ZuE4FY9DQQ
    Come join our discord server! DM us on twitter or send us an email to get a supersecret link


    Modern life now begins and ends amidst the plethora of plastics whose synthesis began with feedstocks derived from oil - because hospitals teem with them. Surgical gloves, flexible tubing, catheters, IV containers, sterile packaging, trays, basins, bed pans and rails, thermal blankets and lab ware: naturally, you are not aware of these surroundings when a few hours or a few days old, but most of us will become all too painfully aware of them six, seven or eight decades later. And that recital was limited only to common hospital items made of polyvinylchloride; countless other items fashioned from a huge variety of plastics are in our cars, aeroplanes, trains, homes, offices and factories.

    Oil: A Beginner's Guide, p.10

    A free market has not been one of the hallmarks of the 150 years of oil’s commercial history. The oil business has seen repeated efforts to fix product prices by controlling either the level of crude oil extraction or by dominating its transportation and processing, or by monopolizing all of these aspects. The first infamous, and successful, attempt to do so was the establishment of Standard Oil in Cleveland in 1870. The Rockefeller brothers (John D. and William) and their partners used secretive acquisitions and deals with railroad companies to gain the control of oil markets first in Cleveland, then in the Northeast, and eventually throughout the US. By 1904 what was now known as the Standard Oil Trust controlled just over 90% of the country’s crude oil production and 85% of all sales.

    Oil: A Beginner's Guide, p.32

    Photochemical smog was first observed in Los Angeles in the 1940s and its origins were soon traced primarily to automotive emissions. As car use progressed around the world al] major urban areas began to experience seasonal (Toronto, Paris) or near-permanent (Bangkok, Cairo) levels of smog, whose effects range from impaired health (eye irritation, lung problems) to damage to materials, crops and coniferous trees. A recent epidemiological study in California also demonstrated that the lung function of children living within 500m of a freeway was seriously impaired and that this adverse effect (independent of overall regional air quality) could result in significant lung capacity deficits later in life. Extreme smog levels now experienced in Beijing, New Delhi and other major Chinese and Indian cities arise from the combination of automotive traffic and large-scale combustion of coal in electricity-generating plants and are made worse by periodic temperature inversions that limit the depth of the mixing layer and keep the pollutants near the ground.

    Oil: A Beginner's Guide, p.50

    • 47 min
    #34 - Climate Change II: Growth, Degrowth, Reactions, Responses

    #34 - Climate Change II: Growth, Degrowth, Reactions, Responses

    In this episode Ben convinces Vaden to become a degrowther. We plan how to live out the rest of our lives on an organic tomato farm in Canada in December, sewing our own clothes and waxing our own candles. Step away from the thermostat Jimmy.

    We discuss:

    The degrowth movement
    The basics of economic growth, and why it's good for developing economies in particular
    How growth enables resilience in the face of environmental disasters
    Why the environment is in better shape than you think
    Availability bias and our tendency to think everything is falling apart
    The decoupling of economic growth and carbon emissions
    Energy dense production and energy portfolios

    And we respond to some of your criticism of the previous episode, including:

    Apocalyptic environmental predictions been happening for a while? Really?
    Number of annual cold deaths exceed the number of annual heat deaths? Really?
    Your previous episode was very human-centric, and failed to address the damage humans are causing to the environment. What say you?
    Are we right wing crypto-fascists? (Answer: Maybe, successfully dodged the question)

    Social media everywhere

    Follow us on Twitter at @IncrementsPod, @BennyChugg, @VadenMasrani
    Check us out on youtube at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC_4wZzQyoW4s4ZuE4FY9DQQ
    Come join our discord server! DM one of us on twitter, or send an email to incrementspodcast@gmail.com to get a link


    Two natural experiments on curtailing economic growth. Energy Crunch, and
    the effect of Covid-19 on developing countries (world bank)
    10x more cold deaths than heat deaths. Original study in the Lancet. Chilling Effect by Scott Alexander.
    Decoupling of economic growth and pollution by Zeke Hausfather of the Breakthrough institute.
    Air Pollution Trends data (EPA)
    Number of deaths from natural disasters (Our World in Data). Original data taken from the EMDAT Natural Disasters database.
    Increase in global canopy cover
    99 Good News Stories in 2018 you probably didn't hear about
    ...and 2019
    ...and 2020 (also sign up for the FutureCrunch newsletter!)
    The Environmental Kuznets curves


    On Degrowth

    This would be a way of life based on modest material and energy needs but nevertheless rich in other dimensions – a life of frugal abundance. It is about creating an economy based on sufficiency, knowing how much is enough to live well, and discovering that enough is plenty.

    In a degrowth society we would aspire to localise our economies as far and as appropriately as possible. This would assist with reducing carbon-intensive global trade, while also building resilience in the face of an uncertain and turbulent future.

    Wherever possible, we would grow our own organic food, water our gardens with water tanks, and turn our neighbourhoods into edible landscapes as the Cubans have done in Havana. As my friend Adam Grubb so delightfully declares, we should “eat the suburbs”, while supplementing urban agriculture with food from local farmers’ markets.

    - Samuel Alexander, Life in a 'degrowth' economy, and why you might actually enjoy it

    It would be nice to hear it straight for once. Global warming is real, it’s here, and it’s mind-bogglingly dangerous. How bad it gets—literally, the degree—depends on how quickly the most profligate countries rein in their emissions. Averting catastrophe will thus require places like the United States and Canada to make drastic cutbacks, bringing their consumption more closely in line with the planetary average. Such cuts can be made more or less fairly, and the richest really ought to pay the most, but the crucial thing is that they are made. Because, above all, stopping climate change means giving up on growth. That will be hard. Not only will our standards of living almost certainly drop, but it’s likely that the very quality of our society—equality, safety, and trust—will decline, too. That’s not something to be giddy about, but it’s still a price t

    • 55 min

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