Hamming, MLK, Clearer Thinking and Ethics

Your weekly 5 things from the mind of Miles Lasater

Welcome to your Saturday! Here are your weekly five things from the mind of Miles.

  1. Hamming and MLK Questions. I’ve got Hamming Questions on my mind recently. No, I’m not asking about error-correcting codes.  I’m talking about: “what are the important problems in your field, and why aren’t you working on them?” or for personal life “what are the important problems in your life, and what is stopping you from working on them?” It pairs nicely with MLK’s “Life's most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?' ”

  2. Curious Learning.  May I offer one possible answer? I’m on the board of nonprofit Curious Learning where we leverage software to spread literacy. Curious Learning puts apps in the hands of children who would otherwise never learn to read. Please sponsor a learner today.  Through our new online tool, you can follow individual students and their results.

  3. Clearer Thinking Podcast Appearance. I was on the Clearer Thinking podcast talking about decision making in investing, the nature of innovation and the implications of power law thinking in venture capital. I’d be delighted to have your feedback on the ideas.

  4. Flipside. Daily email newsletter that explores one current event or topic from multiple US political perspectives.  Well put together and freemium. If you can’t stand the views of the “other side”, all the more reason to subscribe. If you don’t know the views of “the other side”, I recommend it even more strongly. 

  5. What’s New in Ethics? I thought pretty seriously about majoring in philosophy and/or ethics in college. I wanted to see the state of the field so I picked up a survey book Ethics: The Essential Writings. It’s about ten years old but still seems to be missing some interesting new stuff.  I’m curious if these will stand the test of time:

    1. Is Can Inform Ought. Sam Harris’ book The Moral Landscape makes a strong argument that if you take consequentialism seriously then ethics depends on empirical questions. It is a factual question: what are the consequences of a given moral choice?

    2. Moral Foundation Theory. Are there six “primary colors” of ethical reasoning? Does a descriptive account of how people may make ethical choices tell us which choices are “better”? Jonathan Haidt’s book The Righteous Mind is fascinating. 

    3. Ethics Evolve.  I’m probably due for a reread of Joshua Green’s book Moral Tribes. His suggestion that our evolved moral intuitions are helpful in-group but horrible for how to treat out-group individuals is a powerful personal guide. The general question of how ethics including altruism evolved, is also fascinating. I remember reading books like Nonzero on the topic.

    4. Do we Have Free Will? Most ethical systems depend on the concept that we freely choose our actions. As science continues to undermine our notions of free will what does it mean for ethics? I only got part way through Behave but hope to go back to it. Dennett writes a lot about this. 

    5. Averaging Across Ethical Systems. If an ethical system is a model and all models are wrong, could you somehow use all them at once? I’ve heard MacAskill talk about his theories here but have not yet read his book on the subject.  Should I?

As a reminder, my work projects are:

Until next week,

Miles