Dawkins & Weinstein [Oct 2018]


Brett Weinstein & Richard Dawkins


BW: Both of them are evolutionary biologists, dyed in the wool

  • There are areas of notable difference, though

  • Disagree on specific areas of evolutionary theory

RD wrote The Selfish Gene at 35 years old

  • Still feels cutting edge, to BW

  • The current era has been much quieter, theoretically 

At first, BW thought RD + Fisher + co had run the table, closing most questions

  • Then realized there’s a lot of open questions still

  • e.g., why do males engage in elaborate displays before mating?

  • Why has progress slowed, given all the open questions that remain? 

  • And where are the biologists that can wield tools in the same bold way?

Darwin noticed the advertising capability of males e.g., peacocks

  • Darwin left it at aesthetic consideration 

  • Wallace, co-discoverer of natural selection, hated the simple explanation

  • The advertisement has to have some utility 

    1. Invoking taste, in Wallace's opinion, was bordering on mysticism 

  • One theory: the male is so fit, it can survive in spite of the ostentatious display

  • Less aggressive theory: it showcases parasite / malady resistance 

BW: if females are picking, based on good genes..

  • Then in a few generations, the need for display should disappear 

  • Female vigilance should drop, once genes leave the pool

  • Or, it should be oscillating; bad genes appear periodically, need to be sorted out

RD: This seems to be a matter of mathematical modeling

  • It’s an active field of research, nowadays

  • BW: Well, count me skeptical 

  • Math can spit out answers that aren’t feasible 

  • RD: Certainly the remedy is better models..

  • BW: Not so sure; math seems like a fallback option here 

BW: The current field seems to defer to these very powerful models/tools

  • And these have yet to predict or prove anything substantial

George Williams paper on senescence (feebleness of age)

  • Put forth a theory, and stated what we should see in nature 

  • BW is a fan of this sort of reasoning and inquiry 

  • It wasn’t simply that aging/deterioration is “good for the species"

  • Genes are modified by other genes

  • Things that kill you when you’re past reproductive age are favored

    1. Overwhelming genetic “pressure” is on genes that favor younger pursuit 

RD: Nationalism might be an even greater evil than religion

  • Might not be helpful to discuss in Darwinian terms 

  • There’s lots of complexity layered atop the base biological terms

  • BW: Disagree; think it’s vital to discuss in biological terms 

  • The complexity could be uniquely human, with social + genetic interplay 

    1. To confront the problem, we do need to confront who we are

  • BW: We need to look at “selfish replicators” 

  • To resist the will of the replicators, we need to stare straight into the motivations

We know there’s a genetic component to homosexuality 

  • BW: The older brother / right-hand rule

  • The more older brothers you have, the more likely you are to be gay - but only if you are right-handed

    1. Very odd; but suggests there’s some structure

Suicide: RD can think of psychological and mimetic reasons

  • BW thinks biology has instantiated a bad assumption

  • We’ve over-indexed on individual fitness, versus group fitness 

    1. The motivation might be for the familial continuity

  • RD: doesn’t seem helpful to couch this in Darwinian terms 

  • Suicide, nationalism et al are not instances of Darwinism

    1. They’re complex intertwining of sociology, psychology..

BW: So let’s dig deeper 

  • If Darwinian, then digging into their nature is essential to rectifying the problems 

  • e.g., understanding when the genocide program is “triggered”, genetically

  • RD: Still, the framing seems like a simplistic rationalization

  • You can acknowledge the relics of our genetic past 

  • BW: Agree we can get carried away with these logical traversals 

RD: Let’s think about the Nazi invasions to the east

  • You have layers of motivations; state-level, down to personal 

  • How can we make Darwinian claims across strata?

  • Even so, we can recognize phenomena like tribalism

  • Common motifs, played upon in common ways 

BW: Catholics contain a non-reproductive caste 

  • RD: Worker bees don’t reproduce

  • Alleges in Selfish Gene that celibacy in clergy is a failure of evolution

    1. Priests forego reproductive viability due to certain memes

  • BW: Person involved in failure or Darwinism is goading others to reproduce 

  • RD: His memes are spreading, if not his genes 

RD: Catholicism is a complex of mind viruses, yes

  • BW: We disagree on that

  • There’s lineage level adaptations, responsible for the spread of beliefs 

RD: Taking a step back: Darwinian natural selection is all about the survival of replicators

  • Memes are some; genes are others

  • Vehicles are bodies, brains

  • We unite the genome; but individual genes are like viruses

  • A set of independently tussling replicators 

    1. Some replicate by going in “gangs” ; others occupy lone vectors 

BW: Agree with most of what you’ve said

  • Genes are entrapped in shared fate at conception; this causes an organism

  • RD: The notion of an extended phenotype

  • e.g., beaver dams; bird nests - not part of the body, but genetically instigated 

    1. You can have genes that ultimately lead to consumption by a “terminal” host 

    2. The ecology is not functionally divisible from the organism, in this lens 

Supercomputers [The Computer Chronicles - 1984]

  • Computers that can do 100s of millions of operations per second 

  • Fastest computers in US and Japan 

  • Historically massive parallel architectures 

  • Magnetic fusion experiments at Livermore lab using lots of SCs 

    • Octopus network 

    • Lots of partial differential equations 

  • CRAY is one of the fastest commercially available 

  • Nuclear weapon design and analysis at Livermore 

  • Japan’s supercomputers heralded a new generation of speed and sophistication 

  • Vectorized compilers had to be built

    • Different than scalar computation 

    • Algorithms needed to be redesigned 

  • Commercial applications? 

    • Petroleum ; not clear what the goal is yet, but lots of simulations + exploration

    • Automobile industry; high-dimension simulations ; profitability analysis 

  • Grace Hopper nanosecond 

  • Speed of light is the fundamental limitation on computing


  • Hitachi was building SCs 

    • Part of public/private partnership to produce 10X faster super computer

  • “Science City” 60 miles north of Tokyo 

  • Very cold chip environments required 

  • Bit of an arms race mentality 

    • Fujitsu compiler looked really good, to Livermore 

  • Defense / dominance perspective

  • There’s material risk to losing that dominance in America 

    • Not as many visible super computer companies in America as you’d think 

Niall Ferguson - Rubin Report [May 2018]


Niall Ferguson + Dave Rubin


  • History departments have moved to the “monochrome left" , in his estimation

  • Definition of defeat in the culture war is that it’s imperceptible 

    • Often it’s a replacement problem

    • Conservative historians weren’t ever replaced

    • The left was good at succession; that was the important game

  • Stanford history department wanted no part of him; only Hoover affiliation

    • Unlike at Harvard; was a pariah at Stanford

    • Implicit rule that you don’t hire right-leaning historians or grad students

  • Students in a class he lectured in hadn’t considered the religious angle of 9/11

    • Howard Zinn’s books are most prominent; but just one perspective

  • IDW…such mystique and interest

    • How could he be part of it, when he’s been in establishments for so long 

    • Seemed disingenuous to put himself in same category as Brett Weinstein and others

    • But it’s not about denial of platform: about whether you’re seen to speak for those who feel that they’ve been silenced

  • Cowardice is the most powerful force in human history

    • Seen it with his wife, and those who hesitate to support her

    • Fear of getting targeted by jihad, or something

  • Biggest newspapers have cultures like colleges

    • NYT, FT..

  • The guilty until proven innocent model of current outrage..

    • It’s like a wheel of fate, medieval style 

  • Scots have a self-image of courage and boldness

    • Marching towards gunfire, bagpipes playing

  • When to NYU imminently after 9/11

    • Feels like it comes from his Scottish feeling of defiance 

  • Soviets recruited British sympathizers in academia 

    • Single most successful act of Russian espionage 

    • Very exclusive network infiltration 

  • Took the Remain position, due to friendship with Cameron, Osborne and others

  • Found arguments of Brexit advocates as unconvincing 

    • That you’ll recoup money and give it to domestic services

    • Immigration was the issue

    • Britain was subject to open borders, and inheriting Germany’s (or others) immigration policies 

    • Feels he was wrong initially; can admit that

    • Should’ve advised Cameron that he advocated for Brexit after there was pitiful progress on immigration across EU 

  • Not a fan of Theresa May 

  • In this weird scenario where Brexit is being implemented by those who really don’t want it

    • Disaster to be subject to rules of EU, through trade or whatever, without getting the top-tier upside

  • Thinks this whole fiasco can lead the way to Corbyn and totally leftist government 

Company Building in Crypto [Dec 2018]


Chris Dixon + Brian Armstrong


How did Coinbase start?

  • Armstrong Studied CS and Economics

  • Saw hyperinflation in Argentina 

  • Worked at AirBnB

    • Front row seat to international commerce at scale

    • Saw a lot of broken things 

  • 2010: read Satoshi’s white paper 

  • Decentralized protocol for moving value, along with information 

Even in 2011, felt like he might be too late 

  • Worked on Coinbase prototype on nights/weekends 

  • Got into YC

  • Andreessen felt he might’ve missed the internet revolution in ’93 🙃

Dixon considers himself an innovation maximalist

  • Thinks VR is about to come back 

  • Crypto feels like one of the big paradigms; few come along in a career

  • Time is tough, though

  • Nerd energy (nights/weekends) still funneling towards ML and Crypto 

A16Z invested in Coinbase in 2013 

  • Series of run-ups, and declines

  • Challenge for Armstrong in managing his psychology, his team’s psychology

  • Friends and family could be tough; “you’re working on the scam thing?” 

  • People who make companies successful need passion that transcends 2-3 years

  • Those initial years are full of setbacks; maybe you see success after 8-10 years

Most initial activity was in one protocol: Bitcoin

  • Scaling concerns started to bubble 

  • Realized that Coinbase couldn’t just be a Bitcoin company; might just be digital gold 

  • ETH, then expanded to 5.  More coming

  • Not going to be like TCP/IP, where it’s one protocol to rule them all

  • Handful will likely succeed; e.g. JPEG, PNG for images

    1. Traded risk for complexity in the landscape 

  • Aiming to be the most trusted, and easiest to use, in the crypto world 

Ethereum’s appeal

  • JS-like, Turing-complete language that’s relatively easy to use 

  • Enabled a new set of tokens; comprehensive smart contracts; etc

  • Half a developer maintained SSL; there was no money for funding it 

  • ETH has inspired a renaissance in protocol development

    • ..and maybe there’s a business model for maintaining them 

  • New design space unlocked, where you can't assume that you have total control over the distributed computer

Coinbase is a little over 500 people, now

  • Things like mission statements, OKRs start to feel necessary when you cross Dunbar’s number

  • Executive coaching has been really helpful 

  • Armstrong wants to run a big, public company someday

    • Keen to learn / professionally develop 

    • Does NPS feedback after every big meeting 

What is crypto useful for, beyond speculation?

  • Access to financial services in emerging markets

  • Recipients can verify payment with just math; not third party

  • Prediction markets

  • Wisdom of the crowds 

  • Social apps, decentralized 

  • Endorsements and up-voting resulting in payment

    • Can you reduce the friction with moving little amounts of money around?

    • Putting in a credit card is still very high friction

    • (Armstrong doesn’t know who PewDiePie is)

  • Dixon: the idea that we’re only 20 years into the internet and compensation modalities are done?

  • Feels short-sighted; ads not likely to be the end-all-be-all

  • Quality of crypto teams is a high quality as any other types that A16Z sees

A16Z’s initial foray into Crypto

  • 2013; was a contrarian move to dive in

  • Dixon was in the security space; has always found it interesting 

  • HashCash was interesting, in the context of surmounting spam 

  • You can always find reasons to be a detractor, but on net, there’s much to be excited about

Akira the Don / Jordan Greenhall [Rebel Wisdom 2018]


IDW - what’s the nexus?

  • We’re at some sort of juncture; they’re adding to the conversation 

  • Akira sees them as characters in a Marvel-esque universe 

  • JBP is sort of like Iron Man 

JG: We’re in “mythopoetic” times; archetypal times 

  • Always, but especially now, it seems 

Qualities showing up in the IDW

  • Courage; bravery 

  • We seem deeply attuned to this 

  • An unreasonable attraction to the truth

  • Even suffering through pain 

  • Calling out to the hero in the everyman 

To venture into the unknown is eternally scary

  • And preternaturally admired, at the same time 

The times seem to summon the speaker 

"A beautiful corpse"

  • e.g., Beatles on Ed Sullivan 

    • It’s received, en masse 

  • Now, responders / FLUPs are at parity

  • The end of the author

    • Parallel to Foucault’s birth of the author

High and low culture

  • They’re both evolutionary niches 

  • You can tailor content to an audience

There’s a flat surface, in media now; how do you play the game?

  • We’re figuring that out