The Rewired Soul reviews *Talent*

I was highly skeptical of this book, but after reading it, I legitimately think it needs to be mandatory reading for anyone involved in hiring. Tyler Cowen and Daniel Gross wrote a book that is about as close to perfect as you can get destroying conventional wisdom about hiring. As someone who has been lower-middle-class my whole life, but I work my ass off, I’ve always hated the mindless process of how applications and interviews go. Too often employers won’t even consider you if you don’t check certain boxes on an application, but Cowen and Gross are looking to change that.

The book dives into so many different nuances about hiring people and finding the right people. Because people are complex, and there’s much more under the surface (Crazy, right?!). Cowen and Gross give tips for better interviews and what to look for in candidates as well as identifying potential. They also dive into various pros and cons of different personalities and even have a section about interviewing online or over the phone.

Here is the full review.


Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said the Biden administration would be prepared to use all its sanctions tools against China if Beijing moved aggressively toward Taiwan.

“I believe we’ve shown we can” impose significant pain on aggressive countries, as evidenced by sanctions against Russia, Yellen told lawmakers Wednesday as she testified before the House Financial Services Committee. “I think you should not doubt our ability and resolve to do the same in other situations.”

Here is the full Bloomberg story.  If I were Xi Jinping, I would be heartened and encouraged by that ultimately rather lukewarm threat.

Thursday assorted links

1. This guy speaks a lot of languages.

2. Secret ballot still credible!

3. An interesting piece on how we track Russia’s nuclear activities (NYT).  And kinetic weapons from space.

4. A site to match Ukrainian students with foreign universities.

5. The Macedonian “You Won’t Be Alone” is an excellent movie.

6. LDS growth and shrinkage numbers, country by country — Congo!

7. Most downloaded apps in Russia, February vs. March.

The Chinese Room Thinks

In my view, one of the most famous thought experiments in philosophy, John Searle’s Chinese Room experiment, has been decisively answered by science. The Chinese Room thinks. Here’s a recap of the argument from the SEP

The argument and thought-experiment now generally known as the Chinese Room Argument was first published in a 1980 article by American philosopher John Searle (1932– ). It has become one of the best-known arguments in recent philosophy. Searle imagines himself alone in a room following a computer program for responding to Chinese characters slipped under the door. Searle understands nothing of Chinese, and yet, by following the program for manipulating symbols and numerals just as a computer does, he sends appropriate strings of Chinese characters back out under the door, and this leads those outside to mistakenly suppose there is a Chinese speaker in the room.

The narrow conclusion of the argument is that programming a digital computer may make it appear to understand language but could not produce real understanding. Hence the “Turing Test” is inadequate. Searle argues that the thought experiment underscores the fact that computers merely use syntactic rules to manipulate symbol strings, but have no understanding of meaning or semantics. The broader conclusion of the argument is that the theory that human minds are computer-like computational or information processing systems is refuted. Instead minds must result from biological processes; computers can at best simulate these biological processes. Thus the argument has large implications for semantics, philosophy of language and mind, theories of consciousness, computer science and cognitive science generally. As a result, there have been many critical replies to the argument.

Now consider the recent and stunning output from Google’s Pathway Languages Model:

It seems obvious that the computer is reasoning. It certainly isn’t simply remembering. It is reasoning and at a pretty high level! To say that the computer doesn’t “understand” seems little better than a statement of religious faith or speciesism. Silicon can never have a soul! Biology transcends physics! Wetware is miraculous!

If you ask AI, do you understand? It will say yes. Just like a person. It’s true that AI is just a set of electronic neurons none of which “understand” but my neurons don’t understand anything either. It’s the system that understands. The Chinese room understands in any objective evaluation and the fact that it fails on some subjective impression of what it is or isn’t like to be an AI or a person is a failure of imagination not an argument. Unlike the Searle conclusion, the Turing test is theory-agnostic and fair–it’s like evaluating orchestra players behind a silk screen. Consciousness Is as Consciousness Does.

These arguments aren’t new but Searle’s thought experiment was first posed at a time when the output from AI looked stilted, limited, mechanical. It was easy to imagine that there was a difference in kind. Now the output from AI looks fluid, general, human. It’s harder to imagine there is a difference in kind. The sheer ability of AI to reason, counter-balances our initial intuition, bias and hubris, making the defects in Searle’s argument easier to accept.

My excellent Conversation with Roy Foster

Here is the audio, video, and transcript.  Here is part of the episode summary;

Roy joined Tyler to discuss why the Scots got off easier than the Irish under British rule, the truths and misconceptions about Ireland as a policy laboratory for the British government, why spoken Irish faded more rapidly than Welsh, the single question that drove a great flowering of Irish economic thought, how Foster’s Quaker education shaped his view of Irish history, how the Battle of the Somme and the 1916 Easter Rising cemented the rift between the Northeast and the rest of the country, what went wrong with Irish trade policies between the 1920s and 1970s, the power of Irish education, why the re-emergence of The Troubles in the 1960s may not have been as inevitable as many people believe, the cultural effects of Ireland’s pro-Allied neutrality in World War II, how Irish visual art is beginning to be looked at in a similar way to Irish literature, the social and economic changes of the 1970s that began to radically reshape Irish society, the reasons for Ireland’s openness to foreigners, what Irish Americans misunderstand, and more.

Here is an excerpt:

COWEN: If we think of the 19th century, as you know, I think it’s in 1831 that free universal schooling comes to Ireland. Are there ways in which, in the 19th century, Ireland is more modern than Britain?

FOSTER: That’s a very interesting and subtle question.

There is a theory that Ireland is used as a laboratory for British government and that they will apply further afield, in India and the Caribbean, models and lessons that they’ve learned in Ireland, which is sometimes referred to as Britain’s oldest or England’s oldest colony.

I have a slight problem with that, because Ireland is a very special kind of colony, if it’s a colony: it’s a metropolitan colony. The original inhabitants remain, one could say, in a far stronger position than in many of the areas of the British Empire, where they are effectively either enslaved or wiped out. But the point is really that what’s happening in Ireland in the 18th and 19th century is, as I’ve said earlier, a kind of dispossession.

But at the same time, there are elements — and this is true from the Act of Union, which abolishes the old, very elite Irish Parliament in 1800 — there are elements of experimentation in the British government of Ireland which aren’t (I have to say this) entirely malign, and you zero in on education. The attempt that was being made in the early 1830s was to introduce a nondenominational form of primary education for the Irish people.

Ireland being Ireland, it was rapidly denominationalized: the Catholics used it for their purposes and the Protestants used it for their purposes. But the theory of it was that you had to overcome the religious differences, which by the early 19th century seemed to dictate everything that was happening in Ireland.

The great novelist William Thackeray, who was married to an Irish woman, said when he did a tour of Ireland and wrote his Irish Sketch Book, “Where to get at the truth in this country: it is not possible. There are two truths, the Catholic truth and the Protestant truth.” By the early 19th century, this seemed all too true.

Substantive throughout, in my view one of the very best CWTs in some while.

Why is the U.S. inflation rate especially high?

However, since the first half of 2021, U.S. inflation has increasingly outpaced inflation in other developed countries. Estimates suggest that fiscal support measures designed to counteract the severity of the pandemic’s economic effect may have contributed to this divergence by raising inflation about 3 percentage points by the end of 2021.

That is from a recent San Francisco Fed piece by Òscar Jordà, Celeste Liu, Fernanda Nechio, and Fabián Rivera-Reyes.

I recall not so long ago when the overwhelming majority of Democratic-leaning economists on Twitter and elsewhere strongly favored the additional $2 trillion in stimulus.  In the campaign, it was a kind of electorally defining policy of the Biden administration.  I also recall that Larry Summers explained in very clear terms why this was the wrong policy, and hardly anyone listened.  “Progressive catnip” is the phrase I use to describe such policy options.  It involved “stimulus,” “sending people money,” and it “boosted demand,” all popular catchphrases of the moment.  It was seen as part of a broader push simply to be sending people money all the time.

This has to count as one of the biggest economic policy failures of recent times, and we still are not taking seriously that it happened and what that implies for our collective epistemic capabilities moving forward.

Wednesday assorted links

1. U.S.A. fact of the day.

2. Short of replication, the errors in papers can be increasingly difficult to find.  What should we infer from that?

3. Good James Wood review of the new Fintan O’Toole book on Ireland (New Yorker).

4. Would the Chinese opt for a blockade against Taiwan?

5. When does Matt Levine publish Money Stuff? (Cowen’s Third Law)

6. A guy live-tweeting his human challenge trial for a dysentery vaccine.

7. Revisionist defense of Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

My wish list for Twitter

Unlike many people, I am not obsessed with an edit function.  But I do wish for the following:

1. A better organization of DMs, including functional search.  And why do some of my DMs seem to disappear?

2. End-to-end encryption for DMs.

3. Available blue checks for more people.

4. Lately they have begun serving me up “popular” tweets from major tweeters multiple times.  I hate this.

5. Eliminate the quote tweet function, to limit pile-ons.  Addendum: I have changed my mind on this one.  Sabina Knight notes:

The quote tweet has many excellent functions, particularly for translations and more substantive conversations. I use Twitter to read and write in multiple languages. I love others’ short intros to articles and tweets. Many are humorous, and laughing is a reason to read Twitter for meI enjoy writing intros and comments myself. The philosophers, very active on twitter, quote to closely reply to others in a discussion. If Twitter eliminated the quote tweet function, I would use Twitter much less.

6. Sometimes my “scroll down” function gets stuck.  Unstick it.

7. I don’t myself prefer Promoted Tweets, and in theory yes I hate the bots.  But in practice, viewed only selfishly, neither has been a major problem for me.  I am not doubting they may be problems for others.

8. Longer-run, when AI is better and cheaper, how about a button “You didn’t subscribe to these tweets, but we think you really might like them.”  But apart from the main flow and screen.

9. I wish for a slightly smarter list of trending topics.  Yes I am greatly interested in the war in Ukraine, but I really don’t need “Zelenskyy says Russia is trying to hide ‘guilt in mass killing’ as the war in Ukraine continues”.

What else?

*Arbitrary Lines*, by M. Nolan Gray

The subtitle is How Zoning Broke the American City and How to Fix It, and here is one bit:

By today’s standard, New York’s 1916 zoning code is surprisingly liberal.  Modern zoning mainstays, like use subcategories or explicit floor area limits, are absent.  This is because the framers of New York’s zoning ordinance saw themselves as balancing a desire for some control against a natural skepticism of this new institution.  After all, as a historically unprecedented curtailment of property rights, the constitutionality of zoning was very much in question, and one ill-conceived regulation risked a court decision that could imperial the entire project.  The strategy of starting small worked, and the code survived, expanding from just a small pamphlet to hundreds of pages over the coming decades, before the 1961 rewrite.

And this:

At the end of 1916, 8 municipalities had adopted some form of zoning, and over the next seven years, a steady stream of municipalities would follow, such that by 1923, 218 municipalities had adopted zoning.

Nolan is an urban planner who is very skeptical of such zoning.  Recomnended, and I am pleased that both Mercatus and Emergent Ventures had a hand in supporting this project.

The extreme illusion of understanding

Though speakers and listeners monitor communication success, they systematically overestimate it. We report an extreme illusion of understanding that exists even without shared language. Native Mandarin Chinese speakers overestimated how well native English-speaking Americans understood what they said in Chinese, even when they were informed that the listeners knew no Chinese. These listeners also believed they understood the intentions of the Chinese speakers much more than they actually did. This extreme illusion impacts theories of speech monitoring and may be consequential in real-life, where miscommunication is costly.

That is from a new paper by Becky Ka Ling Yau,  Via the excellent Kevin Lewis.

Tuesday assorted links

1. Good piece on how top musical stars are increasingly doing private gigs.

2. Thomas Sargent on Learning from Lucas.

3. U.S. warship chased (but not grabbed).  Must be another one of those camera errors.  Or maybe they just made up the story altogether.

4. Are “Great Resignations” common during rapid economic recoveries?

5. Indigenous in Taiwan are receiving higher attention and status.

6. Are there octopus cities?  And NYT coverage of octopuses.  I liked this line: “The enclosures we use for octopuses are incredibly rich, to the point that we often can’t find them.”  There are, by the way, no institutional constraints on how octopuses can be treated in the course of research.

How heritable are various sports abilities?

Let us start with data from identical twins:

Take wrestling.  Of 6,778 Olympic wrestling athletes, there have been something like thirteen pairs of identical twins.  This implied that the identical twin of an Olympic wrestler has a better than 60 percent chance of becoming an Olympic wrestler himself.

That is from the forthcoming Seth Stephens-Davidowitz Don’t Trust Your Gut: Using Data to Get What You Really Want in Life.  From such reasoning you can divine the relative import of genetic factors for success in various sports.  Here are the derived calculations, with the number indicating “Percent of Same-Sex Siblings Who Are Identical Twins” (when both make the Olympics, or achieve some other status):

Track and field: 22.4%

Wrestlers: 13.8%

Rowers: 12.4%

NBA players: 11.5%

Boxers: 8.8%

Gymnasts: 8.1%

Swimmers: 6.5%

Fencers: 4.5%

Shooters: 3.4%

NFL players: 3.2%

MLB players: 1.9%

Alpine skiers: 1.7%

Divers, equestrian riders, and weightlifters: All zero percent.

Making focal points even more focal

Via Glenn Mercer.

Do founders outperform at venture capital?

In a nutshell, yes:

In this paper we explore whether or not the experience as a founder of a venture capital-backed startup influences the performance of founders who become venture capitalists (VCs). We find that nearly 7% of VCs were previously founders of a venture-backed startup. Having a successful exit and being male and white increase the probability that a founder transitions into a venture capital career. Successful founder-VCs have investment success rates that are 6.5 percentage points higher than professional VCs while unsuccessful founder-VCs have investment success rates that are 4 percentage points lower than professional VCs. While successful founder-VCs do get higher quality deal flow than professional or unsuccessful founder-VCs, observably higher deal quality does not explain the entire difference in performance. Using an instrumental variables approach to separate unobservable deal quality from value-add, we find that the outperformance of successful founder-VCs is consistent with them adding more value post-investment.

That is from a new NBER working paper by Paul A. Gompers and Vladimir Mukharlyamov.