Better People Than Scott Aaronson?

March 24, 2023 § Leave a comment

Reposting a letter sent to one of my Internet Heroes, whom I occasionally correspond with.

He is my Hero not because of his brilliant, thoughtful blog on quantum computing (though I do enjoy that), but his deep humility and public vulnerability.

Dear Scott,

who are undoubtedly better people than I am

For the record, no, they aren’t. 🙂 But the reason why is quite interesting!

My boss recently called me out for dunking on a coworker who was advocating the simulation hypothesis. We did eventually work it out, but what I realized is that the coworker in question:

  • took a strong position
  • based on inaccurate assumptions
  • about something vital to me
  • where I consider myself an expert

Put another way, it is easier to be charitable when you are less emotionally invested in something. 🙂

Not only is this useful for self-compassion, it also helps me understand why other people react so negatively to what I consider honest questions. It’s not that I am wrong in my critique; just insensitive and disrespectful to something they hold precious.

I suppose the positive lesson here is that if I properly appreciate other’s (and my!) emotional investments, I can take pains to address those issues gently, so as to avoid creating more heat than light.

I don’t know if this helps you, but it was useful for me to think through. I may post this on my own blog, but you are welcome to quote it as well if you want.

— Ernie P.

The one big difference is that many of the experts, who are undoubtedly better people than I am, extended a level of charity to Stoudenmire and Waintal (“well, this of course seems untrue, but here’s what it could have meant”) that Stoudenmire and Waintal themselves very conspicuously failed to extend to complexity theory.

Scott Aaronson

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