James Mulholland

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Thoughts

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Here you can find a collection of my interests and beliefs. On the semi-anonymous internet, it's a way I can tell you a bit about myself.

I also track this page in git so that I have a log of how these evolve over time.

Last updated: 11/12/2020

Interests

Programming

Learning to code is the best example I know of a positive feedback loop: the more you learn, the more you want to learn. It is my favourite method for obtaining flow and is one of the most consistent tools I have for lifting my mood. I like getting better at all aspects of software development, whether that's learning new languages, new technologies, Vim (yes, you should learn it), or boosting my typing speed (honed to >100wpm with my touch typing app for developers, TypePerf).

AI

I first became interested in AI during my philosophy degree where I built my first neural network in order to better understand epistemological issues in deep learning, and researched decision-theoretic approaches to AI safety for my dissertation. I'm fascinated by AI's ability to be a fountain of ideas and hope one day to be able to turn some of these ideas into impactful projects. For now, I'm mostly enjoying learning lots of maths, messing around with projects in PyTorch, and building bots to beat my housemates at Articulate.

Design

As well as in a professional capacity whilst building web products, I have an interest in design more generally. I have a tendency to see a lot of life as a design problem that can be solved. Mostly, however, this simply involves getting angry about Norman Doors and poorly designed cycle lanes. My favourite designs are the Finnish drying rack/cupboard hybrid and Dieter Rams' 606 Shelving Unit.

Philosophy

I studied philosophy at university and I think of it as a fantastic lens through which you can view everything else in life. It is a foundation that prompts you to examine first principles and its methodology of precise examination feels infinitely applicable. There are instances where it is specifically and pragmatically useful (e.g. truth-tables making programming logic easier) and also when it helps improve broader skills (e.g. in the ability to construct a well-formed argument).

Effective Altruism

Tangental to Philosophy, I am keenly interested in the Effective Alturism movement (perhaps more as a mode of thinking than a community). If you haven't heard of EA, this article, this talk or this book are good places to start. If you're more interested in making an impact through your career, make sure to check out 80,000 Hours.

Meta-learning, Productivity, Tools for Thought

When I learned to code while simultaneously studying for my degree, I became increasingly interested in meta-learning (learning how to learn) and its power to exponentially boost all other skills. I am also continuously refining my productivity systems and am a big fan of Roam, PARA, and pomodoros. These are areas I am constantly working and I always seek new ways of improving focus, knowledge retention and skill-acquisition.

Art

Art is an area of my life that is infinitely valuable yet seems neglected in many tech circles. Here's a list of some of my favourite art forms and artists. Please send me any of your favourites as I find this the best way to discover new things I like!


Beliefs

I find the act of explicitly articulating your beliefs clarifies them and separates the important from the trivial. This list is an ongoing attempt to do that.

  • Most of your impact on the world is in the long-term future and this has profound, counter-intuitive consequences for the decisions you make.
  • Life is short, important, urgent and precious.
  • Good hard is fun, bad hard is terrible. Embrace the former, prepare for the latter.
  • Flow, remembering your own mortality, love, friendship and impact are all essential components of a meaningful life.
  • Politics is an ineffective vehicle for change for 80% of people. Of course, some people should be interested in politics but for most it serves only as a talking point on which action is never taken.
  • You should probably block news content. You're better off consuming higher-quality information like (good) books that will be useful for a longer period of time. If something is truly important news, you'll hear about it anyway.
  • You should live your life in an anti-fragile way.
  • Decision theory is (almost?) always a waste of time.
  • Free will is an illusion. I am a compatabilist about free will.
  • Utilitarianism is a very good heuristic for living your life by. I'm not completely sure on its foundations, however. I am currently less sure on even this belief. Currently under investigation so if you have any good meta-ethics/moral foundations/moral disagrement recommendations, please email me! I'm hoping that Reasons and Persons will magicaly sort this out for me.