What am I up to now?

February 29, 2024

March, 2023

I’ll be in Oxford throughout this month, as revision begins to heat up for the April mega-exams. These three exams — micro, macro, metrics — are the most important procedural requirement for my PhD program. The bar is quite low — we only need to secure a Pass to move on, and everyone in the first class passed last year. None of us know, nor have the courage to ask, what happens if we don’t pass one of the exams.

In once sense, I haven’t studied for an exam since 2018; in a much more real sense, I haven’t studied for an exam ever.I probably studied most intensely for the GRE, which I found wholly unrewarding. My strategies at the moment are rather scattershot — I make Anki decks, I ask ChatGPT to prove the Bondareva-Shapley theorem using linear programming, I pester Qingyu until he explains LASSO estimators. From 10 March until the first exam about five weeks later, I’ll have to be more focused in my efforts. This will be helped by the lack of new material each week. Right now, revising feels like trying to swallow a bucket of water being refilled by a firehose.

Going through old material, ChatGPT has become embarrassingly invaluable. In lecture, I have a crippling inability to ask stupid questions, which can leave me floundering.Sure, maybe no one else knows what it means for a cooperative game to be ‘balanced,’ but they’re not asking, so I must be the dumb one. Better just stay quiet. But ChatGPT can’t judge! I’ve taken to keeping a ChatGPT tab open in lecture alongside the slides, and asking it about points of confusion.It’s helpful to ask ChatGPT to keep its responses shorter. Also, it writes very good quality LaTeX. Then, after a lecture, I’ll review my conversation and use it to fill in my notes. Last term, if I was confused about a definition or step in a proof, I’d mark the slide and come back to it later. This is much more efficient.

Out of some masochistic curiosity, I pasted a recent econometrics problem set into ChatGPT. It would have scored perfectly on all sub-parts of Question 1, and gotten partial credit on most of Question 2. Even when the LLM gets caught on some tangent — on Question 2a, ChatGPT completely mixes up the sample and the population quantities — it is able to provide insight into the structure of the problem. All of the results from 2a were useless, but the model “understood” the setting thoroughly enough to answer 2b,c,d correctly.Neither ChatGPT nor Joseph Levine had any chance on 2e. We both found the algebra irritating and deceivingly complex.

The existential dread from seeing an LLM do well enough to pass a PhD-level econometrics course was… underwhelming. I should be feeling a lot more something than I am. Most of my friends would advocate for “fear” or at least “apprehension.” I’m also confused by the shallowness of my curiosity about how the heck this works.Not that shallow, really. More coming on this soon (i.e., after exams).

I don’t have any opinions worth reading about Sydney not borrowed from Zvi. I have found PoE much more useful than ChatGPT for getting into the weeds of economic theory; PoE lies to me less and cites its sources better. But only being available for iPhone is a dealbreaker for the moment. ChatGPT remains my go-to.


  1. Reading
  2. Eating
  3. Listening


Especially-good books I read in February:

“The curve is just: whatever the curve god-damn needs to be, thank you. Or if that doesn’t work: screw the curve. I’m a no-curve dude. Going with my gut; with common-sense; with “what my body wants”; with that special, rich, heuristic wisdom I assume I bring to each decision. Metis, you know? Coup d’oeil.

“[T]his approach doesn’t allow for a very simple or compact description of your policy, or your “true values,” or whatever. The curve, if you draw it, seems over-fit; it’s not the sort of line we’d want to draw in stats class. And indeed: yes. But, um… who cares? […] Why would we import map-making norms into a domain with no territory?”

“[Moral Realists] admit the true morality could’ve been way better. They walked out of Plato’s cave and they were like: yikes. If they had their way, they’d go for Utopia, trust them. It’s just that duty (optimality, beneficence) calls.”

Monthly Le Guin

She Unnames Them (pdf) was published in the New Yorker in 1985.H/T ML. The story jumps off from Genesis 2:19:

19 Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. 20 So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals.

The eponymous She is Eve; the eponymous Them being Unnamed are “all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals.” Gender and language are central; the philosophy is classical Le Guin throughout — “the issue was precisely one of individual choice, and that anybody who wanted to be called Rover, or Froufrou, or Polly, or even Birdie in the personal sense, was perfectly free to do so.” Le Guin has few other forays with biblical themes; tho other works do touch on religious concepts, including The Word for World Is Forest, which includes themes of spiritualism and environmentalism, and “The Telling,” dealing with an alien but repressive religious culture.

The story is short, less than a page, so I don’t feel bad about spoiling it. Eve goes to Adam, and returns that which him and his father lent to her. Even 80s Le Guin can’t help sounding sarcastic when she writes:

It is hard to give back a gift without sounding peevish or ungrateful, and I did not want to leave him with that impression of me. He was not paying much attention, as it happened, and said only, “Put it down over there, O.K.?” and went on with what he was doing.


Lots of smoothies and tofu (not at the same time). I made pancakes three times in February, which felt like too few. I miss Mexican food.



February, 2023

December, 2022

November, 2022

October, 2022

September, 2022

August, 2022

November, 2021

October, 2021

September, 2021

July, 2021

June, 2021

May, 2021

What am I up to now? - February 29, 2024 - Joseph Levine