Jun 28, 2015

2014-2015 year in review

I am preparing for a professional annual review, so I thought I would create a personal year-in-review in parallel. It has been almost a year since I moved to the Bay from Michigan, so the timing is fairly natural.

As with any exercise of this type, the following is incomplete and does not reflect the entirety of the past year. It isn't even designed to target the most interesting parts of the last year, so read with caution.

Skill set


  • Parkour-type exercises (quadrupedal movement, core-strengthening exercises, pull-ups, push-ups)
  • Motorcycling
  • Basic proficiency in HTML
  • Rudimentary understanding of fundamental concepts in probability and statistics
  • Rudimentary understanding of Python (mostly recognizing syntax and writing very simple programs)

Maintained or improved

  • Improved verbal communication, especially over the phone. (improved = more personable, more comfortable / less anxious when preparing for phone calls, more concise speaking style, less rambling)
  • Improved email communication. (improved = more reliably and quickly able to write courteous, concise, actionable emails)
  • Improved ability to parse papers in academic social science fields (especially those with quantitative or statistical components)
  • Prose writing ability maintained (or possibly improved, sort of hard to evaluate)
  • Better budgeting (creating more realistic budgets and sticking to them)
  • Running (form maintained, endurance improved)
  • Soccer (technique and endurance improved)


  • Ability to read and write sheet music
  • Piano technique (and fluidity)
  • Sailing technique and associated skills
  • Lifeguarding and basic first-aid
  • Backcountry skills and fieldcraft (making fires, obtaining potable water, making shelters, hiking endurance and comfort, climbing, etc.)
  • Bicycling (endurance and form)
  • Spanish speaking, reading, and writing ability
  • Latin reading and writing ability

Personal projects


  • Analysis of Understanding Power
  • More diverse, deeper meditation practice
  • Aikido


  • Learning to code
  • The blog you're reading
  • Pen pal correspondence with a prisoner in solitary confinement
  • Regular meditation practice
  • Parkour training
  • Learning statistics


  • Correspondence with friends
  • Loosely following the news


  • Learning to code (I'm double-counting projects I began and then paused)
  • Analysis of Understanding Power
  • Joining a sailing club
  • Parkour training
  • Daily journaling
  • Closely following the news
  • Regular piano playing

Beliefs and worldview
I'm not really sure how to evaluate or catalogue this. I decided to take the PhilPapers Survey to evaluate my current philosophical outlook, and to give short prose descriptions of other updates that fall into this category.

PhilPapers survey

A priori knowledge: yes or no?
Answer: yes
Level of confidence: low
Justification: Based on the ability of humans to learn languages, but only languages within a certain set of syntaxes, I'm guessing there is some knowledge "already there," or at least there prior to experience. I haven't looked at this closely though, and my understanding is that there is an open debate.

Abstract objects: Platonism or nominalism?
Answer: nominalism
Level of confidence: low
Justification: My current guess is that we use generalized terms to refer to family resemblances of objects in the world, and that Platonic forms of these objects do not exist. I haven't looked at this at all, really.

Aesthetic value: objective or subjective?
Answer: objective
Level of confidence: medium, but conflicted
Justification: From my experience with music and mathematics, some forms do seem to be aesthetically better than others, for reasons separate from my cultural viewpoint. But this is a tangled issue.

Analytic-synthetic distinction: yes or no?
Answer: yes
Level of confidence: very low
Justification: I don't know anything about this debate. My experience with math makes me think that some propositions are true without being related to the physical world.

Epistemic justification: internalism or externalism?
Answer: ?
Level of confidence: n/a
Justification: I don't anything about this, and a 3-minute scan of the internet didn't illuminate things for me.

External world: idealism, skepticism, or non-skeptical realism?
Answer: non-skeptical realism
Level of confidence: very low
Justification: I don't really understand the distinction between idealism and non-skeptical realism, but I'm not a skeptic, so I have some opinion here.

Free will: compatibilism, libertarianism, or no free will?
Answer: compatibilism, or maybe some form of pragmatic libertarianism
Level of confidence: low
Justification: A couple of my friends who know more about this than I are compatiblists, which makes me think I should be a compatiblist, or learn more about it until I know why I'm not. A couple of years ago I made an argument for something like pragmatic libertarianism (slogan: we certainly appear to have free will in our day-to-day actions, so for all practical purposes we are best off by operating as if we do).

God: theism or atheism?
Answer: atheism
Level of confidence: medium
Justification: Basically an atheist due to the irresolution of the problem of evil. However, this was the first year I could genuinely see myself adopting some form of theism in the future (likely as a guard against nihilism, possibly some form of Christian existentialism, but this is all speculative.

Knowledge claims: contextualism, relativism, or invariantism?
Answer: ?
Level of confidence: n/a
Justification: I don't know anything about this.

Knowledge: empiricism or rationalism?
Answer: rationalism
Level of confidence: very low
Justification: Answering "rationalism" to be consistent with above answers. I haven't thought a lot about this.

Laws of nature: Humean or non-Humean?
Answer: Humean
Level of confidence: low
Justification: I have difficulty imagining how prescriptive laws would arise, or how they would operate. The descriptive story seems much simpler.

Logic: classical or non-classical?
Answer: non-classical
Level of confidence: low
Justification: I don't really understand the distinction – maybe "classical" respondents think that non-classical forms of logic don't exist, or aren't coherent? They certainly seem to exist. I haven't thought about this very much.

Mental content: internalism or externalism
Answer: ?
Level of confidence: n/a
Justification: I don't know anything about this.

Meta-ethics: moral realism or moral anti-realism?
Answer: moral realism
Level of confidence: medium
Justification: I want to formulate some type of constructionist theory for morality, and I'm not sure how that falls on the realism/anti-realism question. I currently conceive of "real" morality in the same way I think of "real" mathematics – incorrect mathematical formulas can be conceived and manipulated, but they are different from "real" mathematics in a meaningful sense (i.e. they aren't coherent, don't follow from simple axioms, or something like that). There is more work to be done here.

Metaphilosophy: naturalism or non-naturalism?
Answer: naturalism
Level of confidence: very low
Justification: I parse this as – "is philosophy able to encapsulated by other fields of inquiry?" I haven't thought about this a lot, but the historical trend points to yes, and I don't see an obvious reason why not.

Mind: physicalism or non-physicalism?
Answer: non-physicalism
Level of confidence: low
Justification: I might be a dualist, or occupy some sort of moderate in-between. I haven't investigated this a lot – this belief might need to be revised.

Moral judgment: cognitivism or non-cognitivism?
Answer: cognitivism
Level of confidence: medium
Justification: I believe ethical statements contain meaningful content.

Moral motivation: internalism or externalism?
Answer: internalism
Level of confidence: medium
Justification: Moral claims which are not at all motivating do not seem to exist, or to be useful. I haven't read the arguments for the externalist position, so I'm uninformed here.

Newcomb's problem: one box or two boxes?
Answer: one-box
Level of confidence: medium
Justification: One-boxing made intuitive sense on my first read of the problem. I haven't done a lot of decision theory work, so I'm likely missing nuances here. Also, answers might be highly sensitive to the way in which the question is formulated.

Normative ethics: deontology, consequentialism, or virtue ethics?
Answer: virtue ethics
Level of confidence: medium, though conflicted
Justification: I could see myself identifying as some sort of broad consequentialist, but because all of the refined versions of consequentialism seem terribly fraught, I'll sign up for vaguely defined virtue ethics.

Perceptual experience: disjunctivism, qualia theory, representationalism, or sense-datum theory?
Answer: ?
Level of confidence: n/a
Justification: My first guess is that I'm something close to qualia theory, but I'm not sufficiently familiar with the issue.

Personal identity: biological view, psychological view, or further-fact view?
Answer: ?
Level of confidence: n/a
Justification: Probably further-fact, but I haven't thought about this at all.

Politics: communitarianism, egalitarianism, or libertarianism?
Answer: egalitarianism, though somewhat attracted to libertarianism
Level of confidence: medium
Justification: I have trouble separating out my views on specific political situations from the theoretical issue. I'm probably heavily biased in ways I don't yet appreciate.

Proper names: Fregean or Millian?
Answer: ?
Level of confidence: n/a
Justification: I have no idea what this is about.

Science: scientific realism or scientific anti-realism?
Answer: realism
Level of confidence: low
Justification: Science appears to pay dividends. This makes me think it's connected to the world in a meaningful way. I might be misunderstanding the question.

Teletransporter (new matter): survival or death?
Answer: survival
Level of confidence: medium-high
Justification: I have an intuition that the person would be the same person after being transported. This might be at odds with earlier answers. Also, this question might not be a very interesting one, see here.

Time: A-theory or B-theory?
Answer: B-theory
Level of confidence: medium
Justification: B-theory seems to be more consistent with my (very naïve) understanding of physics. However, it is a little unclear what "experiencing the present" means/is under B-theory.

Trolley problem (five straight ahead, one on side track, turn requires switching, what ought one do?): switch or don't switch?
Answer: throw the switch!
Level of confidence: high
Justification: I would also push the fat man onto the track, in the variant of the problem.

Truth: correspondence, deflationary, or epistemic?
Answer: correspondence
Level of confidence: low
Justification: Mostly because it intuits with me and appears to be the mainstream view. I haven't thought about this very much.

Zombies: inconceivable, conceivable but not metaphysically possible, or metaphysically possible?
Answer: metaphysically possible
Level of confidence: very low
Justification: Following my immediate intuition, and I don't see an obvious reason why they couldn't be possible. I haven't thought about this very much though.


This year, I was exposed to the rationality community, mostly by meeting a bunch of rationalists (and rationalist-type people who shun the identity), and reading things on the internet, on places like LessWrong and Slate Star Codex.

This exposure was a substantial development – I'm now thinking about a host of topics I wasn't aware of a year ago. I'm not a rationalist, but someone could now plausibly (and annoyingly) label me as one of the rationalist-type people who shun the identity.

Theology and spirituality

I've largely put my angsty investigation into Christianity on hold, though I am still corresponding with a friend about theology. This wasn't an intentional decision, more of a function of the people I am spending time around (more rationalist-types (almost all atheists), fewer Christian-types).

I've made some effort to deepen my study of Buddhism, by reading a small amount of Buddhist literature and going to a meditation group fairly regularly. I'm hoping this deepening continues over the next year.

Goals for the next year

  • Continue learning statistics
  • Apply statistical methods to problems I want to solve
  • Learn Python
  • Build something in Python
  • Understand how a computer works
  • Establish a stable living situation for the next 1-3 years
  • Perform well at work, and take on increasing amounts of responsibility
  • Deepen my meditation practice
  • Get a dog or a cat
  • Take a long motorcycle trip
    Categories I considered but ended up not using:
  • Daily routine (average schedule and variance)
  • Habits (+ frequency)
  • Assets
  • Social network
    [rereads: 1, edits: some tweaks]