Sebastian Zearing

how to be progressive without being a stupid liberal


Welcome to my blog! My pen name is Sebastian Zearing, and I think about a lot of things. This is a good post to read if you’re thinking about following my blog so please continue!

My tagline currently reads “how to be progressive without being a stupid liberal.” I feel that deserves an explanation. I also may change the tagline in the future, so I’ll try to write this post so that it won’t be obsolete if I do.

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Social Constructs and Social Wrappers

Gender is a social construct, they say. And race/ethnicity. And lots of other things that most people can stare at and say, “but but… these distinctions obviously exist and are real!” And they would be right, except that they’ve failed to understand what a construct is (though that may be the fault of either intentional or unintentional obfuscation on the part of the “social construct” advocates). I think the term “social construct” leads to these kinds of misunderstandings for two reasons. One, the word “construct” itself connotes “not real” even though it definitely doesn’t denote that (here’s where the obfuscation comes from). Two, the term doesn’t imply any kind of connection to something objectively real, even though there often may be an actual connection. The term as it’s most often used should be replaced with “social wrapper.” But what is being wrapped? Well here’s a list:

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Climate Change Revisited

I wrote a post over a year ago about climate change where I gave a brief ontology of the climate change debate and my place in it. This post explains my position as a climate change slight-luke-warmer. I think the human release of carbon dioxide is leading to warming in the atmosphere. Still, I think the negative feedbacks must necessarily be stronger than the positive feedbacks, and so whatever the equilibrium temperature response is to a doubling of CO2 without feedback (estimates of 1-2ºC), the real-world response will be smaller.

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The Intersubjective

The intersubjective is a fascinating concept which I first found here. I will describe how I think of the concept, but I encourage all readers to visit that page.

The objective and the subjective are ordinary notions of how to categorize the epistemology of claims. Claims like “vanilla ice cream is better than chocolate ice cream” or perhaps occasionally “the photograph depicts a white and gold dress” are understood to be claims about the relation between the psychology of an individual and things in the world. Subjective claims such as these can be false, like if I actually did like chocolate ice cream more than vanilla, but the truth or falsehood can only be ascertained by those with direct access to that individual’s psychology, i.e. only the claimant. Consequently, most people are content spending very little time figuring out the truth of subjective claims. Claims like “chocolate ice cream contains more antioxidants” or “there is a peak in the reflective spectrum of the dress at 483 nm,” on the other hand, are not claims about the relation between the psychology of an individual and things in the world, but rather about things in the world themselves, and so can be measured and reported directly.

The intersubjective adds a third category. It asserts an epistemological category characterized by relations among many separate psychologies and/or among many separate psychologies and things in the world. You can jump straight to the examples, or continue with a strong caveat to all of this that stems from the difference between epistemology and ontology.

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Statistical Invariances and Hierarchical and Dimensional Variation

Look around you.

How many repeating things can you find? In my room, I can count several dozen individual blinds over the window, two windows, several dozen buttons on a remote control, several dozen keys on my keyboard, thousands of carpet threads, six guitar strings, several dozen books, four pillows, and a partridge in a pear tree [kidding]. Interestingly, if I had the right equipment, I could tell that all of these things are made from 10^bignumber electrons, quarks, and pions, though if I go back to using my eyes, I’m only interacting with these subatomic particles through photons. These subatomic particles make atoms and ions in exceedingly regular ways. These in turn make molecules in slightly more complicated ways. These molecules in turn make bulk materials in even more complicated ways (or sometimes the pattern jumps straight from atoms to bulk materials, as with most metals). And then these materials go to make all kinds of different things. We can also take a detour through biology, where the molecules, in breathtakingly complicated ways, make cells, which then make tissues, which make organs, which make bodies. So we have a world replete with all kinds of different things, the vast majority of which are not unique, isolated things but rather similar to other things.

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Relevance Theory and the Communicative Spectrum

Relevance Theory claims that a “hearer/reader/audience will search for meaning in any given communication situation and having found meaning that fits their expectation of relevance, will stop processing.” Our worlds are very complicated. Thus, talking about them should be similarly complicated. Fortunately, most two individuals that might want to communicate share a lot of experiences (e.g. they generally share at least a language and a culture), and so communication can be drastically simplified by assuming a common base of information. And not only can this happen, it almost always does in normal human communication.

Your coworker gets to work 20 minutes late. “I hate the metro!” he exclaims as he dashes past your cubicle, flashing a flustered glance. What did he just communicate? I got to work late and can’t you see I’m sorry so don’t judge me because gosh darn it the metro in this city sucks and that’s why I’m late dontchaknow! Well obviously what was communicated had almost nothing to do with your coworker hating the metro. Imagine if instead he had exclaimed, “I hate pomegranates!” You probably would be very confused. Why does he hate pomegranates? More importantly, why is telling me this now? I’m trying to work! You might come to the conclusion that he was eating a pomegranate for breakfast, and as pomegranates do, it exploded all over his work clothes, forcing him to change into new clothes and setting him back by 20 minutes. Notice how this comes down to you assuming that your communicative partner is not wasting your brain’s computing power for no good reason. And given the circumstance of flustered tardiness, it probably has something to do with the flustered tardiness.

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Consolidating Blogs

I’ve consolidated my blogs therationalqueer and liberateandconserve with this blog and migrated all of their posts here, under their respective categories.

Essentialism is False

Essentialism, or the Platonic Theory of Forms, is the idea that entities in the world are imperfect instantiations of perfect exemplars that exist in metaphysical realms apart. The exemplars are known as “essences,” and the imperfections as “accidents.” Essentialism was instigated by mathematics, especially geometry. In geometry, one can imagine many kinds of entities, such as circles, lines, midpoints, etc, and these entities are understood to exist in some perfect sense. A circle is the set of all points at a constant distance (radius) from its center. We can try drawing a circle, and we quickly realize that we cannot do so. There is no such thing as real circle. All circles try to be perfect but fail. Tiny perturbations, imperceptible deviations—these all conspire to prevent perfect circles.

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Implicit v. Explicit Information

There is a paradox in physics that occupies itself with the arcane possibility that black holes destroy information. Basically, Hawking radiation from the surface of a black hole seems to be uncorrelated with the captured material inside which is evaporating away via that Hawking radiation, and so the state pre-evaporation is not recoverable even in principle. I don’t seek to elucidate the paradox in the slightest, except that the holographic principle seems to resolve it, but rather I’d like to copy and paste their definition of “information” for my term “implicit information.” Implicit information is information regarding the configuration of a [physical] system. I’m not satisfied with that definition, but I think it perhaps more useful to contrast it with “explicit information”: explicit information is information that is ready-to-use by an intelligent agent.

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Power Orientation

This post was originally published at

Power orientation is an aspect of one’s sexuality that is reminiscent of, yet decisively separate from, what is classically known as one’s sexual orientation. Sexual orientation demarcates the gender(s)/sex(es) one finds sexually arousing. Romantic orientation is also often bundled with sexual orientation, even though it relates to higher-level emotional arousal and attraction. Power orientation is, broadly, the degree to which one seeks to direct a sexual encounter. And just like sexual orientation, it can be paired with a higher-level orientation that relates to romance and pair-bonding, rather than just sex: one can enjoy (or be unaware that one might enjoy) directing or being directed in a relationship. Power orientation undoubtedly has many correlates, but the one most clearly bespoken by the gay community is penetration. Power orientation varies from dominant to submissive, where in the gay community dominant partners are very likely to be “tops” who are the insertive partners in anal sex and submissive partners are very likely to be “bottoms” who are the receptive partners in anal sex. Furthermore, an even larger portion of the gay population may very well be “versatile” and enjoy both aspects of penetration. (And of course some gay men refuse to engage in anal sex altogether.) Still, though the correlation between power orientation and penetration exists, they remain distinct things: one is a personality trait, the other a behavior.

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