March 2015 news

topics: newsletter
source; created: 14 Feb 2015; modified: 20 Feb 2020; status: finished; confidence: log; importance: 0

This is the March 2015 edition of ; previous, .

This is a summary of the revision-history RSS feed, overlapping with & . This broadcast has been brought to you by my donors on Gratipay.


  • LLLT self-experiment finished: no effect (so earlier correlative results were grossly overestimated; I’m starting to expect this from anything non-randomized…)
  • an caused me a good deal of trouble
  • playing with inferring Bayesian networks for my Zeo & body weight data (powerful generalization of SEMs, but requires a lot of data before networks stabilize)





  • Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality
  • Liu’s The Three-Body Problem
  • Wildbow’s Pact (review)
  • The Accidental Space Spy (Thorsby; an earthling is accidentally impressed into chasing after an anthropologist and thrown into exotic (and deadly) alien cultures, where he struggles to understand their biologies & reproductive strategies & evolutionary pressures while staying alive. He does, most characters don’t. The art is best described as ‘dire but it may grow on you’, and the real joy is just the sheer variety of aliens on offer (a bit like Olaf Stapledon’s —both works throw away more fascinating alien creatures in one or two chapters than most SF series have in their entirety) and trying to figure out what evo biology scenario has been pushed to the max by the author—costly signaling of fitness, mate guarding, short-term memories, placebo effect etc. Some are pretty cool (I really liked the Invisibility Zone one), others not so much (placebo effect scenario less convincing than Robin Hanson’s).)
  • Hitmen for Destiny (Thorsby; TvTropes; this was good but not as good as The Accidental Space Spy, since the art remains as dire, Thorsby again indulges in an overly-long comedy-of-errors, and the monsters aren’t quite as fascinating as the aliens in Space Spy, although on the plus side, it still has everything that I like about Thorsby (eg I loved the Mexican standoff with 2 possibly-loaded guns towards the end) with a more coherent and meaningful story.)



  • :

    Thorough documentary on a 1970s scientific project in raising a chimpanzee as a human to get it to sign true language. The project was very well documented with photographs and footage, so with all the archival footage and retrospective interviews, we get a vivid sense of Nim and the people around him. Specifically, we get a vivid sense of everyone involved as having absolutely terrible judgment and the people involved as fanatical nurturists—why on earth would anyone expect such a thing to work? Why would chimpanzees have evolved true language when they never use that in the wild, and why would you expect any sort of objectivity from the involved personnel? Early on, the daughter of the foster-mother comments that “It was the ’70s!”; which does explain a lot.

    It goes about as terribly as one expects: there is bitter infighting over who are Nim’s ‘real’ parents, the footage of Nim ‘signing’ is quite weak (I know a little ASL myself, and I was deeply unimpressed by what we see Nim do—the teachers’ claims about Nim communicating seem to be a hefty heaping of anthropormorphizing, reading into random gestures, and wishful thinking; a nice example of which is how one male teacher comments how Nim loved to play with cats and would “quiver” with excitement holding it, while later on, we see this ‘quivering’ is actually Nim trying to dry-hump the cats, and the cats are eventually taken away lest he kill them). As Nim gets bigger, it’s less that he became human than his caretakers became chimpanzee: the original foster-mother and the new female teacher compete for who can play with & supplicate Nim the most in maternal instincts gone into overdrive, and Nim successfully dominates the two men involved while the women applaud & enjoy the dominance contests. (The project lead, Terrace, comments at one point that most of the staff turned out to be women.) The film-makers seem to try to draw a parallel by noting that Terrace slept with the first foster-mother before the project started and with one teacher during the project, but it doesn’t work too well since Nim clearly won their hearts long-term. Unrestrained, with no other males to keep him in check, it predictably starts going all wrong—the female teacher in question recounts how Nim put ~100 stitches into her (I counted her enumeration of the batches), and then the project shuts down after he tears open her face.

    After which, of course, he goes back to the primate colony. The documentary & people lay it on thick how Nim is being terribly treated in this, but they’re so compromised that it’s impossible to take them seriously; I was baffled when they described him being sedated, to transport him safely back to the colony in a plane as quickly as possible, as being “a nasty thing to do. Very deceitful.” Seriously‽ A growing male chimpanzee nearly killed his closest caretaker and that is your reaction to an entirely sensible measure, a completely irrelevant concern about deceitfulness, as if Nim were some sort of athlete whose competitor cheated? Similarly, a big deal is made of the locked collars on the chimpanzees at the colony… which turn out to be on the chimps so if one starts trying to chew your face off, you have a chance to defend yourself by grabbing the collar and holding them off! (Raising a chimpanzee is dangerous, but as it turns out, going to a chimpanzee facility can be just as dangerous, as the demonstrates.)

    While at the primate colony, Nim’s minimal signing skills seemed to degrade even further and the primates eventually start being used in medical experiments; rather than take it seriously and ask whether the medical experiments were scientifically & medically useful, the documentarians choose to simply show decontextualized injections. (With an approach like that, routine operations in a hospital would look like ghoulish crimes against humanity…)

    Finally, Nim winds up at a horse-rescue farm, where as a reminder of why Project Nim had to be terminated, we’re told how he casually killed a dog one day and how, when the original foster-mother visited she, apparently still under many illusions, enters the cage to visit him and is attacked—one interviewee commenting, “The fact that he didn’t kill her meant a lot, ’cause he could have.” Oh. I see. (See also the case of Travis the chimpanzee.)

  • The King of Kong: fascinating in part because the stakes are so low, and the skullduggery so calculated; the access of the filmmakers to key players is so thorough that at times you’re given a god’s-eye point of view and it feels fictional (eg when you watch both sides of a telephone conversation happen). It was not too surprising to me in 2018 that Mitchell’s records were voided for cheating, along with several others that Twin Galaxies had been in denial about for years.





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