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Open Thread 72.5

This is the twice-weekly hidden open thread. Post about anything you want, ask random questions, whatever. You can also talk at the SSC subreddit or the SSC Discord server.

This is the culture-war-free open thread, so try to avoid anything too controversial.

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416 Responses to Open Thread 72.5

  1. Snowman says:

    Bryan Caplan is planning on giving a seminar this fall based on his new book The Case Against Education. He mentioned that he would be willing to stream the seminar if someone would put in the necessary work.

    I’m extremely interested in getting this seminar streamed, but I don’t live anywhere near GMU. Is there anyone reading this who would be willing to pick up the torch, or if not, pass along the idea to someone who might be in a position to make it happen?

  2. Does anyone know a good review of the literature, both theoretical and empirical, about regulatory capture?

  3. Jaskologist says:

    Would anybody else here be interested in running through Augustine’s Confessions together? I’ve done this twice before with real life groups, and am about due for another go.

  4. keranih says:

    So, related to a post on Slatestarscratchpad a bit back, (here), I’m chewing over basic metrics for “minimum humane standards for the care and keeping of humans”. Like, at what point should we consider intervention required?

    I think a clear (revisable) metric for this is important for a number of reasons, like, oh, deciding when housing/zoning regs have gone too far, or what sort of GBI is “enough”, and when/if CPS are being insane or justified, and so forth. I’m not particularly happy with any that I’ve seen – generally on vagueness grounds. Anyone interested in helping me chew at this elephant, maybe starting with the basics (food/water/air)? Or even to point at solid, measurable, quantifiable measures already published elsewhere?

    (FWIW – having grown up in the US South, I’m not really worked up over housing with roaches. It happens. So I’m curious as to what other people’s drop dead lines are.)

    • The Nybbler says:

      The World Health Organization claims 20L of water for hygiene (not bathing), cooking, and consumption.

      http://www.who.int/water_sanitation_health/emergencies/qa/emergencies_qa5/en/

      They have another document here which adds more; I’d probably cut it off at 50L, including “cleaning home” but not “growing food” (since presumably food will be provided separately). The first 20L would have to be potable water, the rest would have to be reasonably clean.

      http://www.who.int/water_sanitation_health/publications/2011/tn9_how_much_water_en.pdf

      • keranih says:

        Nybblr – super thanks for coming up with a ref with solid numbers. I am still trying to figure out how to log onto my account with the local water company (set up autopayments for water and then forgot all the details) to compare my usage with the figures given there. I expect to have more thoughts when I have compared.

        • The Nybbler says:

          For comparison, my wife and I use about 4000 gallons per month (it’s been slightly more lately but I think this is because of a broken water softener, now fixed). That works out to about 250L/person/day. However, it’s not like we make any effort to conserve; water is currently cheap and plentiful in the northeastern US.

          The water softener instructions say to leave a reserve of 75G/person, which is to allow for a day’s delay in running the softener regeneration cycle. That’s about 280L, so apparently the softener people think our usage is pretty typical.

        • IrishDude says:

          Since I just paid my water bill and it’s conveniently sitting right here, I’ll provide another reference point: my household uses about 150L/person/day. We don’t try to conserve on water either as it is super cheap, about $10/month.

    • Jiro says:

      Standards for the care and keeping of animals are standards for how you’re supposed to care for animals already controlled by you. They don’t impose an obligation on you to seek out wild animals that are living in poor conditions and care for them. So standards for the care and keeping of humans would be meaningless (except for children and a few other edge cases).

      • The Nybbler says:

        These are the standards for the AIs keeping us as pets after they take over. Either that or grad students.

        • Machina ex Deus says:

          Wait, the AIs are going to turn us into grad students? Ohcrapohcrapohcrapohcrap….

          WHY DIDN’T ANYBODY WARN ME? Quick, how do I turn all my assets into Bitcoin and donate them to somebody working towards Friendly AI?????

          • Aapje says:

            Wait, the AIs are going to turn us into grad students? Ohcrapohcrapohcrapohcrap….

            I though that paperclip maximizing was the worst case scenario. Guess not.

          • suntzuanime says:

            In fact the whole point of paperclip maximizing is that it’s the average case scenario. A truly perverse/malevolent mind, such as a university, could certainly do worse.

      • keranih says:

        So standards for the care and keeping of humans would be meaningless (except for children and a few other edge cases).

        Ok.

        I know you’ve posted for some time here, but at the mo I do not recall where you are on the libertarian spectrum. Do you reject all legislative/police&court enforced housing/water/food safety standards, then? And where do you stand on GBI?

      • MNH says:

        I’m struggling to read this as anything other than pedantry. Is there more to this post than just complaint about his choice of phrase?

        • Jiro says:

          Using a phrase like that carries the implication “you’re treating humans worse than you’d treat animals”. And this implication isn’t true.

    • Brad says:

      I don’t know if this counts as culture war, but the original twitter post is the kind of thing that drives me up a wall. I understand those people don’t “feel rich” whatever that means, but unless they are intellectually or emotionally disabled they should have the mental wherewithal to be able to determine that feelings are not an accurate reflection of reality. That coupled with soupçon of manners would lead them the conclusion that they ought not bitch in public about how tough it is to make ends meet on $500k/year. If they want to have a bitch session while waiting to pick up the kids from violin lessons, down at the BMW dealership, or at their fancy charity dinners that’s a different matter.

      • The Nybbler says:

        The original twitter post is a contrived example from a financial advice website, not real people.

      • keranih says:

        Yes, let’s not culture war.

        but unless they are intellectually or emotionally disabled they should have the mental wherewithal to be able to determine that feelings are not an accurate reflection of reality.

        Soooo, what I’m trying to get at here is a definition of “reality” that captures the line between “you are living in sub-lush surroundings” and “you are living in an unhealthy situation”.

        Fifty percent of the population is going to be enjoying a standard of living less than the average…at what point does that go from “not as good as someone else” to “bad, and Something Should Be Done”?

        • Brad says:

          I think you need to use a dual approach — relative and absolute.

          The absolute prong retains sanity, so you don’t have social welfare programs for wealthy people that have somehow contrived to paint themselves as not wealthy by manipulating the reference class. There’s no reason that the billionaires in a certain community need to get together and raise money to help out the merely hundred-millionaires.

          The relative prong, on the other hand, insures that you aren’t abdicating your responsibility as a society to the poorest members, who do suffer real deprivation, by pointing to starving kids in Africa have it even worse.

          In sum, there has to be some real deprivation — it can’t be other people have two yachts — but on the other hand the threshold level of deprivation is a function of the society and its wealth.

          • keranih says:

            While I have long been most sympathetic to the idea that absolute standards of living are the only “real” ones, I have of late come around to considering the “relative deprivation” argument worth consideration. (I am well short of wholesale endorsement, however.)

            But I think this –

            your responsibility as a society to the poorest members, who do suffer real deprivation, by pointing to starving kids in Africa have it even worse.

            is rather telling. What *is* this “real deprivation”? If you tell me that it is “living in a house with roaches” I’m going to laugh at you. (If you tell me ‘living on a street where no house has books’, well, there I would agree.)

            What is the responsibility of any group to it’s “poorest members” – and how do we know that their deprivation is “real”?

            What of the thought that – assuming a given level(*) of income/material wealth – a person’s feeling of unhappiness at their poverty is not a financial issue, but an issue of mental health, where the solution is not to give them more stuff, but to help them adjust their mental state so as to be happy with their situation (ie, content with their pursuit of further happiness)?

            To take it down to a crude caricature, what if what is needed is not money, but hugs and handshakes? (**)

            (*) Which level is kinda what I’m trying to work out here.

            (**) I would rather it be money. I can make money to give away. I can vote to take other people’s money and give it away, too. I am not so very good at hugs.

          • 1soru1 says:

            If you organize a race, and you start some people 5 meters in front, then the ones who lose don’t need to end up formally counting as slow to have a cause for complaint.

            Absolute deprivation is one thing; it means society is set up to allow it.

            Relative deprivation is another; it means there are individuals not set up to fully participate in society.

            Inequality is a third; it means society is not set up to reward effort, talent and success with proportionate resources or status.

            An ideal society would have low or zero levels of all three. Absent that, they all overlap and make each issue worse.

          • keranih says:

            @ 1soru1

            That’s a use of “inequality” that I am not familar with, and which seems to be sideways of the old “deserving poor”/”least of these” division I have previously seen. Can you expand on how “inequality” isn’t already covered in one of the other two divisions you gave?

            Also –

            If you organize a race, and you start some people 5 meters in front, then the ones who lose don’t need to end up formally counting as slow to have a cause for complaint.

            Well, no, but really, I’m trying to define lost the race here, first, and then going and looking at “those who lost” to see if there has been shenanigans.

          • Brad says:

            @keranih

            is rather telling. What *is* this “real deprivation”? If you tell me that it is “living in a house with roaches” I’m going to laugh at you. (If you tell me ‘living on a street where no house has books’, well, there I would agree.)

            If I’m being totally honest, there’s not an absolute objective standard even on the absolute poverty prong. I consider not having access* to sufficient and appropriate food to avoid under- and mal- nutrition to be deprivation. But 500 years ago or in some parts of the world today, it is just an expected and ordinary part of life.

            Nonetheless, I don’t think we need to come to the sorites problem and just throw up our hands. We might not be able to agree on where a house with roaches lands, but if most of us agree re: malnutrition than we can build on that agreement.

            *I also acknowledge that “having access” is hand-waiving a bit in terms of why and how.

            What is the responsibility of any group to it’s “poorest members” – and how do we know that their deprivation is “real”?

            The first part is kind of the whole ballgame. I’m not prepared to convince you to adopt my position or even lay out my position in any kind of detail. But I am happy to discuss further the second part — to see if there’s any agreement. If there is then you can try to alleviate what we both consider deprivation in the ways you consider your responsibility and I can do the same.

            What of the thought that – assuming a given level(*) of income/material wealth – a person’s feeling of unhappiness at their poverty is not a financial issue, but an issue of mental health, where the solution is not to give them more stuff, but to help them adjust their mental state so as to be happy with their situation (ie, content with their pursuit of further happiness)?

            To take it down to a crude caricature, what if what is needed is not money, but hugs and handshakes? (**)

            I’m not sure what you mean by adjusting people’s mental states, I doubt such a program could be done with informed consent, and I don’t consider it my responsibility to go out and hug people.

            If this hypothetical is accurate then I think we can probably declare victory and go home.

          • 1soru1 says:

            That’s a use of “inequality” that I am not familar with

            I’m kind of defining terms as I go. Perhaps better to say that inequality (as measured by a Gini coefficient or similar) is related to three issues; lack of resources, lack of capability, and bias. It’s the number that matters, not the names.

            Bias against you is still an issue if you come second; in fact it is still worthy of complaint if you come _first_.

            For example, the US currently has a system where only millionaires can become top politicians. It looks at risk of moving to one where only billionaires can become President. That would still matter if everyone had food, a house and some equivalent of the ability to code in C++.

          • gbdub says:

            From Brad:

            The relative prong, on the other hand, insures that you aren’t abdicating your responsibility as a society to the poorest members, who do suffer real deprivation, by pointing to starving kids in Africa have it even worse.

            I’ll tread carefully here, to avoid culture warring, but I do think it is worth noting that this argument requires privileging local poverty over foreign poverty. In fact you are explicitly including your local relative poor as part of “your society” and more absolutely poor Africans as outside it. I don’t have a strong objection to that, but the EAs among us might.

            I point that out because I otherwise agree – I think there’s a lot of ground to be made up addressing things everyone agrees are real deprivation, even locally, before we start hitting a wall of “do they really need more?”

            But the idea that absolutely worse off people in Africa or wherever can be helped more for less is going to be an argument that needs to be addressed somehow.

          • Brad says:

            @gbdub
            You raise a good point, but I don’t think it is advantageous to deal with the abstract. If and when someone proposes that e.g. the proceeds from church car wash should go to bednets instead of the local soup kitchen or that money should be moved from the food stamp budget to the foreign aid budget that can and should be hashed out in a respectful conversation.

            What ought not to be accepted is reasoning of the form:
            starving kids in africa -> no poverty here -> do nothing

      • massivefocusedinaction says:

        See I think it’s interesting, because it shows that while incomes vary widely by region, so does status and comfortableness, enough that a couple making vastly less per year in Omaha or Kansas City may well have a better lifestyle than one making $500,000/yr trying to make it in Manhattan.

        Also useful for folks who considering changing regions and knowing what sort of salary to negotiate to maintain their lifestyle.

        • Brad says:

          There’s no way to objectively compare lifestyles. The best we can do is look at revealed preferences. If what you are saying is true, why don’t heirs all move from Manhattan to Omaha?

          (I say heirs because it may not be possible for an e.g. wall street banker to move to Omaha and continue to make $500k/year.)

        • Chalid says:

          And do note that you can work in Manhattan and live 30 minutes away in Jersey City or New Rochelle or Pelham or, heck, parts of the other four boroughs, and enjoy relatively reasonable housing costs in perfectly nice towns. If you’re paying Manhattan prices it’s because you want to live in Manhattan.

          • gbdub says:

            Yeah, cost of living is high because everyone wants to be there. You aren’t getting nothing for your $500k, you’re getting to live in Manhattan, a scarce thing that is desirable enough for enough people that it is very expensive.

            Now, if it is so expensive that service industry workers can’t survive there, and are asking for more aid, I do think it’s a valid question of whether the state or Feds ought to be expected to pay for that, vs paying to help them set up somewhere cheaper to live. If the rich locals want service industries, let them pay for it – otherwise we’re basically subsidizing “living in Manhattan”, a luxury good.

          • Chalid says:

            Here is a median income map of Manhattan (and the whole US). There are only a few places above $200k – a strip on the Upper East Side along Central Park, and section of Tribeca and downtown.

            Given what I know about rents in some of these areas I’m actually really surprised some of these neighborhoods don’t have higher income.

          • Brad says:

            There’s probably some small number of people that need to live in Manhattan for public safety reasons in case the island was somehow cut off. But by and large no one needs to live in Manhattan including service industry workers and mostly they don’t.

            However, even considering all 5 boros rents are reaching the point where it is difficult to find anything on a $20k/year — at least unless you are lucky enough to have a NYCHA or rent regulated situation. I do expect that dynamic to increase wages and I don’t think it calls for additional aid.

          • Evan Þ says:

            One nice form of situational aid that hasn’t been discussed enough is improving public transit. Instead of spending $X on N rent-subsidized apartments in Manhattan, maybe we could spend N cheaper apartments available.

            Okay, if we’re literally talking about Manhattan and New Jersey, rents in Randomplace will probably rise until they’re way out of range for the low-income workers we’re talking about. But even then, we’re still helping some people. And if we do this in other cities, the rents probably won’t rise that high.

    • John Schilling says:

      Like, at what point should we consider intervention required?

      Almost nobody actually considers intervention required when subsistence farmers are subsisting quietly, someplace far away, so long as they aren’t being decimated by warlords or mosquitoes. So, 2000 kcal/day plus adequate fresh water, a tent or hut, and some very basic medical care seems to be the revealed-preference minimum.

      Unless they are going to be living in our cities, where we can see their filthy hovels and imagine that our neighbors might let us sink to such an intolerable level. In that case, the minimum is maybe one standard deviation below our own standard of living, unless they are capable of doing the sort of work we do in which case they are entitled to be given an appropriate job and living conditions equal to our own.

      • Matt M says:

        the minimum is maybe one standard deviation below our own standard of living

        The problem with this (and with all “relative” measures) is that, in the absence of pure/perfect equality, a certain percentage of the population is always going to be 1 SD below the mean. And that percentage is fixed. The goalposts will be constantly moving, by design, such that providing “relative quality” to all people is, quite literally, impossible.

        • suntzuanime says:

          Yeah, the term “standard deviation” is a treacherous one here. You probably want to define it in terms of some absolute percentage of median living standards, which is at least achievable in theory.

        • Nornagest says:

          I think that’s the point?

          • John Schilling says:

            Yep, the 1SD approach means we can always see ourselves as virtuously helping people who are suffering horrible deprivation, even after we’ve alleviated any actual suffering. Since, for some people, not being able to perceive themselves as helping is itself a sort of deprivation, this is just made of win.

          • The Nybbler says:

            For even more win, stingy misers can note that since their contributions won’t help at all by the 1SD standard, they may as well not make any.

    • ADifferentAnonymous says:

      IMO this is The Big Question. But ultimately my answer is scalar consequentialism: intervention is never required because nothing is ever required, but intervention is often good. Preventing painful death is very good, preventing discomfort is somewhat good.

      Helping people not feel poor is good, but if that means buying someone a yacht it probably isn’t a cost-effective form of good. If buying people the things they feel they need will just make them feel an equally upsetting need for other things, then it is not good.

      If we could find a way to stop people’s concept of the bare minimum from growing space with their wealth, that would be very good.

  5. bean says:

    This is Armament Part II (series index) and should conclude armament for now, although it might get revisited at some point, and I’ll probably do a separate one on secondary armament. A point of errata from last time. I misread my reference books, and it appears that almost all guns had separate slides. The single-slide turret was a US innovation only used on a few triple turrets, although it may have been used by other powers not covered by my books.
    To find out where battleship guns started, we must cast our minds back to 1860 or so. The standard weapons of the time were rifled, a mix of muzzle-loaders and breech-loaders firing projectiles weighing 60-120 lbs. Oddly enough, 1870 saw the disappearance of the breech-loader from the British fleet, as the early breech-loaders were unreliable and inaccurate. Muzzle-loaders were considered more effective, as power-loading gear made it as fast, and the guns could be fitted in a smaller turret. (That sounds weird, but the turrets were loaded from outside.)
    Improvements in powder and breech mechanisms killed off the muzzle-loader. The interrupted-screw breech allowed proper sealing without taking excessive time to load. Improved powders burned slower than traditional gunpowder, which increased muzzle velocity at the cost of longer barrels, which hindered muzzle-loading.
    Even before the muzzle-loader died, the turret had arrived. It was invented independently on both sides of the Atlantic, and first went to sea on the USS Monitor. I’m not going into her career, as that’s much more famous than she deserves, and she didn’t contribute to the general strain of battleship development.
    Over the next few decades, guns grew in size, but not in sophistication. The British, in particular, kept the muzzle-loading rifle as their standard naval weapon until the end of the 1870s. This seems odd today, but they had experienced serious problems with breech-loaders, and muzzle-loaders were actually more effective until the mid-1870s. They also allowed smaller turrets and could be loaded nearly as fast. This advantage went away with improvements in powder. Slower-burning powders allowed longer barrels to produce higher muzzle velocities, but this in turn required breech-loading.
    At about the same time, the quick-firing gun was developed. This was a smaller gun, usually around 6”, which became an important part of the armament of the pre-dreadnought. At the time, the main guns rate of fire was usually measured in minutes per round, and armor to resist the main guns was so thick that it was only applied to limited areas of the hull. QF guns could fire several rounds per minute, and would be devastating against lightly armored targets. At least some Admirals, including Jackie Fisher, believed that the ‘secondary’ armament had eclipsed the main guns in importance. However, the rate of fire of the main armament improved rapidly, most notably through the development of all-around loading, as previous guns had to return to fore-and-aft positions to load. Longer ranges meant that the secondary guns grew, and we saw the transition to the all-big-gun ship that has been described elsewhere.
    Naval guns came in two basic types, which the British described as QF and BL, for Quick-Firing, and Breech-Loading respectively, for how the powder is loaded. BL guns are also known as bag guns. The powder is in one or more silk bags, and loaded into the breech after the shell. The bags are made of silk because silk burns up completely and doesn’t leave embers that could ignite the next round. Each bag usually has one or more black powder patches that are used to ignite the smokeless powder. Bigger guns use multiple bags to allow each bag to be handled by a single man. The standard breech mechanism is composed of an interrupted screw, known as a Wellin Breech, with a device known as an obdurator that seals the breech against escaping gas. QF guns place the charge in a case, which is loaded into the breech and provides sealing in the same way that a small arms cartridge case does. This allows higher rates of fire, as the breech mechanism is simpler, and can provide improved safety. Usually the charge is loaded separately from the shell, although smaller guns often integrate the shell and charge, known as fixed loading. The Germans used a unique variant, where the fore charge was in a silk bag, and the aft charge was in a case. This is one factor credited with the survival of their battlecruisers after turret fires at Jutland, although their improved propellant and safety practices share the credit.
    Propellant deserves a few words. Except for the British cordite, which resembled spaghetti, most naval propellants were tubular, which ensured that the amount of gas produced was constant or increasing as the shell moved down the barrel, as the surface area of the powder grains increased or remained constant during their burns.
    Now, for Iowa’s armament. Iowa’s main armament is composed of 9 16”/50 Mk 7 guns, in three 3-gun turrets. These are probably the best heavy naval guns ever built, particularly when firing the 2700 lb superheavy shell. They very nearly didn’t get built, however. When designing the ships, the Bureau of Construction and Repair (C&R) and the Bureau of Ordnance (BuOrd) got together to discuss armament. The US had a lot of 16”/50 Mk 2 guns originally built for the Lexington and first South Dakota classes in storage after the ships were cancelled under the Washington Naval Treaty, and it was decided to use these on the new Iowa-class. C&R was having trouble bringing the design in under the tonnage limit, and decided to reduce the barbette diameter from 39’4” to 37’3”, for a saving of 825 tons, on the basis of what they thought was an improved design from BuOrd. In fact, it was merely a paper study, excluding most of the improvements that had been incorporated in the previous 16”/45 turrets on the North Carolina and South Dakota classes. This turret was officially incorporated into the ship design in June of 1938, although BuOrd continued the original 39′ diameter design. It wasn’t until November that the discrepancy was noticed, and both the treaty limits and the progress of the ship design made it impossible to use the 39’ diameter turret. Instead, BuOrd saved the day by developing a new, gun, the Mk 7, which could fit into a 37’ turret with all of the necessary refinements.
    (The above account is based on Friedman. Dulin & Garzke suggest that the problem was that BuOrd sent C&R an early sketch for a turret for the Mk 7 gun. Campbell states that the Mk 7 was being designed while the Iowa’s guns were under consideration, and indicates that the Mk 7 was a tight fit on the 37’ barbette. NavWeps gives the design date for the Mk 7 as 1939, and is (surprisingly) silent on this issue. The BuOrd official history states that turret development began in 1939, and it should be noted that the gap between mount design and in-service date is 4 years, the same as on the turret for the 16”/45 for the previous classes. It’s possible that BuOrd was able to solve this problem as a result of the experience gained during the adoption of the 16” gun on the North Carolina-class. Sumrall agrees with Friedman, and indicates that the relevant records had not been found.)
    The guns were bag guns, with a maximum range of approximately 40,000 yards, or 23 miles. Rate of fire was 2 rounds per minute per gun, and the shells gave you a choice of 2700 lb Armor-Piercing or 1900 lb High-Capacity. There were several variants of the HC shell developed, most notably two separate cluster-bomb rounds in the 80s and the Mk 23 “Katie” nuclear projectile. The Mk 23 was essentially the guts of a projectile from the Army’s Atomic Cannon transplanted into a 16” shell. It was a gun-type design, similar to Little Boy, with an estimated yield of 15-20 kT. None was ever fired in anger, and the USN refused to confirm or deny if any were ever carried at sea. A 13” extended-range projectile was under development when the decision was made to decommission the battleships.

    • PedroS says:

      Was the Monitor ever in USN service? I thought she was CSS Monitor and not USS Monitor

    • FacelessCraven says:

      So, I have a question that’s rather esoteric, if you’re interested. For a creative project I’ve been planning for a while, I’ve been messing with the idea of land-based superheavy self-propelled guns using modern technology.

      You’ve mentioned the M65 atomic cannon a few times, and it’s an interesting piece. The downsides are that it’s not truly self-propelled, doesn’t make much use of automation for loading and firing, and that the bore isn’t really “super-heavy” compared to naval systems. The USSR had the 2A3 Kondensator and 2B1 Oka tracked SPGs, but they had significantly lower throw-weights than naval 16-inch guns, were tracked, and from what I’ve read weren’t really sturdy enough to handle the recoil of their armament.

      To my understanding, the main problems with making something like a Mk 7 16-inch naval rifle into an SPG are the fantastic weight of the gun itself (~268 tons, according to wikipedia) and the recoil impulse. Starting with recoil, I came across the rarefaction wave gun project (warning: PDF). The RW gun uses something akin to a recoilless rifle breech, but delays opening the breech vents until the shell is most of the way down the barrel. Once the breech vents, it creates a low-pressure wave that travels down the barrel, but the shell experiences no pressure loss if it leaves the barrel before the low-pressure wave reaches its base. The developers claim this combines most of the good points of recoilless and conventional guns, with something like an 80% reduction in recoil with only minor reduction in shell velocity. Judging by the PDF slides, it looks like timing the breach is something of an issue.
      For the weight of the gun itself, I’m aware of various smallarms that use titanium and carbon-fiber composite construction in barrels and other structural elements to reduce weight. From what I’ve read, carbon-fiber barrels tend to have good heat-dissipating qualities as well.
      Add all this up, and the general idea is a 16-inch RW rifle of composite construction, with some form of powered load-assist or autoloader, mounted to a full-rotation open turret carried by an (obviously very large and heavy) wheeled chassis.

      So, the questions: Is the above generally plausible? How much weight reduction could we get out of a modernized version of the Mk 7 optimized for light weight, and what would be the likely composition? How much recoil impulse does a Mk 7 create? Does a RW variant seem like a plausible idea, and how massive a mount would be needed to soak up the remaining recoil? Would it be practical to further reduce the recoil via muzzle brake? What’s a plausible ballpark weight for all the above? And I guess generally, what have I missed, and if you were approaching an idea like this, how would you go about it?

      • bean says:

        Hmm….
        A very interesting question, and one I’m not really sure how to answer. Your weight is off by a factor of two (it’s 134 tons, not 268), and a first approximation of recoil impulse is 933,450 kg*m/s, neglecting the propellant gasses. I’ll track down estimates for those later.
        Overall, my question is why. For any purpose I can think of, you’re better off with missiles. The number of rounds you’d have to fire for this to break even is really high. I’m not an expert on guns themselves, so I don’t have good answers to most of your questions, but I’ll see what I can find.

        • FacelessCraven says:

          @Bean – Thanks for the interest!

          “Overall, my question is why.”

          The short version: Kaiju hunting.

          For the setting in question, humanity has lost access to space and the sea, and flight is possible only at low altitude in clear weather. Most forms of radio/radar/EM radiation are no longer usable, and even wire systems are highly unreliable. Extremely large monsters spawn up near the arctic circle and migrate south into Alaska and northern Canada. They’re big enough to need a heck of a lot of killing, and they spread extremely hostile alien ecology wherever they go and especially wherever they die. The government in North America has lost most of both seaboards and its population is way down due to plague, disasters and despair, but they still have a moderate industrial base. To keep the hostile ecology out, they’ve built a set of forts linked by road from Anchorage in the northwest, through the Yukon to Fort McMurray in the southeast. With no satellite imaging, no radar and no air recon, this defensive line has to be patrolled, and incursions by hostile ecology have to be intercepted and destroyed by ground units, mostly deployed by road, and possibly off-road. The really big monsters are extremely tough, highly resistant to blast/over-pressure and thermal effects, and very well armored. Killing them requires, well, about the same sort of warhead you’d need for killing well-armored ships; their scale and protection is roughly equivalent. For plot-related reasons, nukes are out except as a last resort.

          So, why not missiles? Well, first because guns are way more fun. But beyond that, my understanding is that missiles hold the advantage in mass HE bombardment and standoff range. My assumption was that missiles would be more delicate, considerably bulkier, much slower to load and fire, and probably require a great deal more high-tech manufacture to produce, all of which are probably significant downsides in this scenario. Few modern weapons are optimized for penetration, so it’s difficult for me to judge what a rocket or missile giving equivalent performance would look like. From Wikipedia, it looks like a 7-ton Scud-D throws a 1-ton payload at Mach 5, which seems pretty impressive. Perhaps I’ve sold them short.

          tl;dr – Pacific Rim was awesome, but fists should not be the solution to a giant monster attack.

          • bean says:

            I think missiles are still your best bet here. A heavy anti-ship missile is maybe 5 tons. So in terms of ammo weight, if we assume that the missile is 4-5x more accurate (probably a safe assumption), then you get the same requirements for ammo weight with a much lighter launcher. You’d have to use the gun an awful lot to hit break-even cost, assuming that was even possible.
            My recommended solution would probably be something with a ~500 kg shaped charge warhead, a range of 25 miles or so, and a simple guidance system. Maybe laser, maybe IR, maybe command-guided.

          • hlynkacg says:

            The issue that I see is that any vehicle capable of carrying one of these weapons in a turret is going to “mobile” in the sense that a mobile home is mobile, not in the sense that infantry are mobile.

            If you’re married to the idea of guns I’d actually suggest looking into towed artillery. Given the scenario above, a battery of 155s (or their scaled up for Kaiju-fighting equivalent) would likely be cheaper and easier to deploy on short notice than a turreted SPG. Cue Ride of the Valkyries.

            Edit:
            Depending on where you take this story, you’ll have a long and proud tradition to draw from. Heck the more I think about it the more the idea of Napoleonic style “Flying Artillery” companies fighting Kaiju grows on me. Forward observers have sighted the target. All guns stand ready…

          • CatCube says:

            To piggyback on what hlynkacg is saying, any gun this size mounted in a carriage is going to be a railroad gun. Even fixed road bridges just aren’t designed for these kinds of loads, and the mobile bridges used for cross-country mobility definitely aren’t. The AVLB can just take a 70-ton M1 (since that’s what it was designed for).

            Your engineer vehicles would have to be redesigned for this new gun, and they’re already the slow part of an advance. It’s going to be no joke to get a bridge capable of those loads on a tank chassis. Due to the fact that most civilian bridges won’t handle the loads, you’ll have to rely on mobile bridging everywhere, and until you start thinking about it you don’t realize just how many bridges you use every day.

            Without that, your gun is going to be in the Assembly Area with a sad look on its face, because it can’t keep up with the enemy.

          • John Schilling says:

            Missiles are easier to build than guided shells for a gun, and since battleship guns in combat seem to hit battleship-sized targets less than ten percent of the time, I think anyone who hasn’t been almost literally bombed back to the stone age is going to want to piece together a few guidance systems for their Godzilla-killers.

            There’s no question that you can build a Godzilla-killing missile. Well, except for the fact that the screenwriters won’t let you kill Godzilla by pressing a button. But if we assume Godzilla can be killed by the equivalent of a 16″ shell, the Navy did once consider adapting the MGM-140 ATACMS tactical bombardment missile to its standard shipboard vertical launch system. That could deliver a penetrating warhead roughly equal to the long-range, subcaliber round bean notes as having been under development for the 16″ gun of the same time, but with substantially greater range and accuracy. You could put an eye out with that thing, even a Godzilla eye. If you need the full superheavy AP round at close range, that also is achievable. Weighs just over twenty tons for an eight-pack that can fit in a destroyer, or a two-missile tracked TEL, compared to 134 tons for just the bare 16″ gun not counting mount and ammunition.

            Missiles beat guns, at any scale, unless you are planning to fire several hundred rounds through each gun. So how many Kaiju do you need to hunt?

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Bean – hmm.

            I’m assuming the standard method of attack is direct-fire, as the limits on recon, comms and sensors mean indirect fire isn’t really practical. I’d assume that would make accuracy more or less a null factor, since any of these weapons should be accurate enough for reliable hits within, say, 8 to 10 miles. I’m also trying to stay away from guided weapons and complex electronics generally, particularly on the line itself and especially within close proximity to the kaiju, for reasons similar to the problems in the Glimmer(CW: horror).

            HEAT and EFPs I’d discounted for lack of penetration and lethality; from what I understand, they seem optimized for breaching a single layer of armor and then fragging the armor’s contents, rather than sustained penetration through massive obstacles. I’m assuming the amount of penetration needed is measured in tens of meters of earth equivalent while still being able to do massive damage at the limit of their penetration. If airstrikes were an option, the obvious choice would be something like the GBU-27 or -28. Unfortunately, there are things in the clouds that eat airplanes and/or the brains of their pilots.

            The P-500 anti-ship missile looks roughly comparable to a 16-inch shell in terms of payload and velocity, and seems like two or three could be carried by a regular 18-wheeler, so it seems pretty clearly advantageous to a ~200-ton SPG.

            I notice that tanks still use cannon despite the existence of the ATGM, and tube artillery still has a presence despite the existence of rocket artillery; is this down to pure cost-per-shot? It seems we currently don’t bother with anything heavier than 155mm cannon; presumably air power and cruise missiles have taken over the roles previously fulfilled by anything larger. Where exactly do the trade-offs become prohibitive, though? If high-tech engineering is coming at a premium, wouldn’t it be more efficient to sink it into one gun that can fire hundreds of relatively low-tech rounds, rather than hundreds of ramjet missiles?

            @hlynkacg – “The issue that I see is that any vehicle capable of carrying one of these weapons in a turret is going to “mobile” in the sense that a mobile home is mobile, not in the sense that infantry are mobile.”

            That’s part of the appeal, honestly. Really, SPG is probably the wrong term; I’m fine with the crew having to do a fair amount of work to set the gun up and take it down again, but aesthetically a wheeled gun platform that deploys stabilizers/braces seems more appealing that a towed gun dropped off at the firing position. In any case, “turret” is probably the wrong term; I’m thinking of something much more similar to a swivel mount, or the m65’s turntable. The point isn’t to have a big armored box with people in it, but rather a mount allowing a fair degree of powered traverse/elevation for aiming at a moving target, and as much flexibility as possible in how the platform is placed to allow firing.

            I am kinda married to guns; missiles are inherently ammunition, and thus expendable, disposable. It seems much harder to grow attached to them, humanize them the way people have with true weapons throughout history, from swords to guns to battleships. People write snarky comments on bombs, but they name the bomber that drops them. Originally, the plan was to use 8-inch cannon, with the 16-inch guns being reserved for fixed fortifications. Bigger guns are more fun, though, as they are more complex to operate, require more tweaks and tricks and complications to make them viable, which adds to the flavor for me, so I’m curious as to what the outer limits of plausibility are. In essence, though, the battery of scaled-up 155s is essentially what I’m going for.

            EDIT – Grah, more great feedback! I gotta start work for the day, replies hopefully later this afternoon!

          • hlynkacg says:

            @ FC
            The economics of guns vs missiles is going to depend a lot on your setting. In the modern era the main benefit of guns over missiles is lower cost per shot and the fact that it’s a lot easier to cram an additional 20 rounds for the main gun into an AFV than it is to carry 20 ATGMs. Meanwhile modern tube artillery is generally optimized for rapid deployment and sustained fire. Two things that aircraft/cruise-missiles don’t do particularly well.

            As such the question really is “How many Kaiju do you need to kill?”

          • bean says:

            The problem is that you’re looking at having to cover several thousand miles of border, and if recon is very limited, then you need to have lots of units capable of shooting at the kaiju. That means that your fixed costs need to be low, which means missiles. Guns are only a good option if you expect each of them to fire lots and lots of rounds, which is unlikely unless there are lots and lots of kaiju or you only have a few guns. Which brings us back to recon.
            You’re right about the reasons behind the demise of heavy artillery. Missiles and bombs have taken that role. Improved gun accuracy just means that the ratio in terms of trucks is a little bit less unfavorable to the guns. Can you try laying some numbers down on length of frontier, warning times, and annual numbers of attacks? That would help clear things up.

          • 1soru1 says:

            How big does a Kaiju need to be to treat a 155mm artillery shell as potentially survivable, the way an infantryman in body armor does a handgun or rifle round?

            Pretty sure the answer is ‘big enough to break the laws of physics by existing, let along moving’. So, given they exist and can move, they can do that. And given they are beatable, there is some limit to how much they can do it.

            Large fast-moving lumps of iron on a ballistic trajectory are likely to be the things that are going to make them work hardest to cheat physics.

          • Nornagest says:

            Well, let’s see. This is a very crude estimate, but 155 mm artillery shells are fired at about 900 m/s and weigh somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 kg. A 5.56×45 rifle cartridge produces very nearly the same velocity but has a bullet weighing only about 4 grams.

            If we assume that the damage done by an impact-fuzed artillery shell is about half blast and half impact, and if we further assume that the amount of damage a live target can soak up is proportional to its weight (the latter’s probably the most questionable assumption in this whole thing, but it makes the math easy so let’s run with it), then our kaiju would need to be about 2000 times the weight of an infantryman to be affected by artillery shells the way an infantryman is affected by rifle bullets. Using the square-cube law and handwaving away any issues with organisms as big as this is going to be, this works out to a kaiju that’s about 20 meters tall — somewhat smaller than Godzilla.

          • John Schilling says:

            You’ve slipped a decimal point; the 155mm HE shell has 20,000 times the energy of a 5.56mm rifle round, not 2000, which handwaves you up to fifty-meter kaiju. If we’re willing to accept lethality proportional to a .22 pistol, meaning it will take one well-aimed shot or a dozen random ones, that gets us up to hundred-meter mythical beasts.

            That’s about right for Godzilla. And I believe Stephen King and Frank Darabont have established 155mm as an effective caliber against North American kaiju.

          • Protagoras says:

            But in order to support their own weight and move, kaiju need to be unnaturally strong for their size. To exactly compensate for the square cube law, they need a boost to their strength which is proportional to their linear dimensions. And then to avoid constantly injuring themselves when they exert this unnatural strength, they need an equivalent increase in toughness. So the hundred meter beast would need to be dozens of times tougher than an ordinary animal, and so would laugh at these 155mm rounds.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            **Weeps at the post full of details eaten by the spam filter**

          • hlynkacg says:

            @FC
            I agree that big guns are more fun, so in the interests of making your setting promote their use…

            The main advantages that tube artillery offers over missiles are flexibility and sustained fire. The primary drawbacks are weight, and as John noted high fixed costs. In order to offset their high fixed cost the guns will need to see a lot of use. There are two ways to go about this, kill lots of Kaiju (which would diminish the Kaijus’ impact IMO), or keep the guns mobile enough to be deployed as needed. Personally, I’d go with the second option. As far as “plausibility” is concerned this puts an uper-bound as far as the wheight/size of your guns of “something that can be loaded on to a rail-car or semi-trailer” the good news is that this can get you quite a bit of gun when you don’t have to worry about things like armor, drivetrains, or transport etc… According to Wikipedia the mk16 8″ 55 naval gun weighs in at about 20 tons, if we say that the carriage/mount weighs an additional 20 – 30 tons (Bean feel free to chime in here) you’ve got Battlecruiser class weaponry that can be towed by a semi-truck, or possibly even airlifted. How’s that sound for Kaiju hunting?

            Edit:
            A note on flexibility, If your Kaiju-fighting-force(KFF)’s artillery packs nothing but HE you’re doing it wrong. Artillery can be used for illumination, signaling, laying down smokescreens etc…

          • bean says:

            The 8″/55 Mk 16 is my all-time favorite naval gun, but it isn’t the one you want here. It’s a semi-automatic 8″ gun, which is awesome, but not the right choice for this use. The 8″/55 Mk 15 is 17 tons per Navweps, and the loading system is right for this application. Another potential basis is the M110 howitzer, although it’s only about 25 calibers. The towed version is listed at 15.5 tons, although that includes all of the carriage stuff.
            8″ isn’t battlecruiser-class though. It’s almost the definition of a heavy cruiser. But it’s a pretty good caliber, although there were serious questions about the tradeoff vs 6″ and the superior RoF. (Attempting to solve this dilemma is what gave us the Mk 16.) On land, with a bit of work, you can probably get the RoF up somewhat closer to that of a 155 mm.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            Alright, take 2.

            @John Schilling – The ATACMS does look mighty tasty. Is it possible to trade off range for raw acceleration, and if so, by how much?

            “Missiles beat guns, at any scale, unless you are planning to fire several hundred rounds through each gun.”

            What about tech/industrial base requirements? Is the tech base needed to manufacture, say, a few dozen ATACMS within an order of magnitude of that needed to produce a similar amount of super-heavy AP shells and bagged powder?

            For this setting, it seems; if you’re going to have to build your high-tech stuff by hand, isn’t it better to have a high-tech gun that fires low-tech ammo than a low-tech launcher firing high-tech missiles? Obviously this hinges on how tech-intensive rockets are, though, and I have no real knowledge of that, so any insight would be much appreciated.

            @Catcube – Excellent point on the bridges. A quick google search says that current federal guidelines limit vehicles to ~52 tons, so that’s pretty obviously going to be a problem.

            @Bean – “Can you try laying some numbers down on length of frontier, warning times, and annual numbers of attacks? That would help clear things up.”

            Here’s what I’ve got so far:

            The perimeter line is ~2000 miles long and 100-150 miles deep, with a further 50-mile patrol zone to its north. It’s made up of three main parallel paved highways, designated A, B and C (A being the southmost), with 78 small forts and firebases strung out every hundred miles or so between them. Firebases are generally armed with decent artillery batteries, and those situated on the heaviest-hit areas have one of a handful of fixed-position heavy artillery. Between the forts and highways are a network of access roads, trails and cuts, some graveled, some corduroy, most bare dirt. Everything north of B road is effectively a NBC-equivalent hazardous environment, due both to the encroaching Kaiju ecology and the methods used to burn it back.

            The line gets an average of five Kaiju a month, with a minimum of one and a max of thirty recorded. Smaller ecology infections/incursions add up to an average of fifty or so events a month. Kaiju move fairly slowly despite their size, with an average speed of around 8 miles an hour when traveling. They tend to move erratically, shuffling along for short spurts before settling in to rest, graze, or perform inscrutable biological functions. Average travel is about thirty miles of southward travel a day, though a rare, terrifying few have traveled three or four times that fast, on one occasion resulting in a complete breach of the line.

            Patrol is handled by a dedicated corps of scouts, usually equipped with motorbikes or light trucks. Procedure is to patrol all the roads twice daily, with scouts stopping at a series of preset observation points along the way to make a visual sweep of the surrounding terrain for any sign of Kaiju or incursion. Scouts carry complete schedules for all mobile units in their area; upon spotting a threat, SOP is to figure out a set of probable intercept points for the units in the area, race to the nearest mobile unit, and dispatch their scouts to pull in all nearby units and to set up a relay on the threat to provide updated intelligence. Recon does its best to heavily patrol the zone north of C road, despite the hazards, to get the earliest possible warning of Kaiju attacks.

            Other than scouts, the perimeter force is divided into Weapons, Logistics, and Engineers. Engineers are mainly tasked with building and repairing roads, bridges, firebases and observation points, as well as surveying and mapping. Logistics is what it says on the tin. Weapons are the Kaiju-killing units described above, plus Security units (scoutcar/light IFV, armed with ATGMs, autocannon and flamethrowers, usually carrying a squad of heavy-weapons infantry), and Decon units (heavy flamethrowers, light artillery, and chemical weapons for sterilizing ecology and Kaiju corpses). A standard Weapons convoy is one weapons unit, two Security vehicles, and a half-dozen or so scouts to screen the surrounding roads. Standard recon patrols are a pair of motorbikes or a single light truck. Anti-Kaiju tactics are to set up an ambush with at least three Weapons units to ensure a quick kill; Kaiju have been known to stampede when wounded, so it’s better to shadow one moving slowly until a proper ambush can be arranged.

            The line has about a hundred and fifty Weapons units, three hundred or so security vehicles, five or six hundred Decon units, a few hundred vehicles each for Logistics and Engineering, and a few thousand recon vehicles. No real idea what a realistic number would be for total manpower, but the idea is that they’re desperately short both on warm bodies and material.

          • Civilis says:

            Faceless Craven, have you considered modernized variants of any of the self-propelled siege mortar weapons? They’re still guns.

            The Sturmtiger mounted a 380mm rocket-assisted mortar with a 6km range on a Tiger tank chassis. Probably not going to one-shot your hypothetical kaiju, but still useful as a baseline design.

            On the other end of the scale, the Karl-Gerät (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karl-Ger%C3%A4t) was a self-propelled 600mm (24 in) siege mortar.

          • hlynkacg says:

            What about tech/industrial base requirements? Is the tech base needed to manufacture, say, a few dozen ATACMS within an order or magnitude of that needed to produce a similar amount of super-heavy AP shells and bagged powder?

            Depends on how much you care about accuracy, or rather how much can you tolerate a lack there off? Building a few dozen big dumb rockets isn’t much harder than building a few dozen artillery shells. Building a reliable guided missile on the other hand is much harder, especially in the absence of modern electronics.

            You may be able to justify the guns on the grounds of accuracy/reliability.

            Edit:
            Something to keep in mind. One of the reasons the USMC favors towed artillery over SPGs is that the guns are a limited resource. An SPG with a good gun and a bad transmission is effectively out of the fight, while a towed gun can always be hitched to a different tractor. (or if worst comes to worst, be muscle-fucked into position by the grunts)

            Also, seeing as I am a geek for fictional orders of battle, lets take a look at your KFF. The general rule of thumb in the military for continuous alerts is “it takes 3 to make 1”.

            At any given moment 50 of your 150 weapons teams standing post. Another 50 are sleeping, and the last 50 are out of commission because their trucks broke down their guns are in the shop or they need to train up green crew. This leaves your active watch-standers with 40 miles of line to cover (2000 / 50) a piece. That actually sound pretty reasonable assuming they can move at highway speeds.

          • John Schilling says:

            Building a reliable guided missile on the other hand is much harder, especially in the absence of modern electronics.

            The Germans were mass-producing guided missiles capable of hitting warship-sized targets with ~50% reliability, in 1943. And they didn’t have textbooks with an extra seventy years of cleverness, not all of which requires 21st-century manufacturing infrastructure to apply.

            If you can build a Mark 7 16″/50 naval gun, you can almost certainly build a missile that will outperform a 16″ naval gun in every way except the economics of delivering many hundred projectiles.

          • hlynkacg says:

            I never realized that the Germans had built that many 293s.

            That said, the 293’s service record does not inspire confidence and based on FCs description “firing hundreds of projectiles” is a genuine possibility. Like I said the trick is building a reliable guided missile.

            Edit:
            You also seem to be neglecting the distinction between being able to make a gun and make ammunition for said gun.

          • Aapje says:

            @FacelessCraven

            Pro-tip: Install ‘Lazarus: Form Recovery’ and you won’t lose comments again.

          • John Schilling says:

            That said, the 293’s service record does not inspire confidence and based on FCs description “firing hundreds of projectiles” is a genuine possibility. Like I said the trick is building a reliable guided missile.

            The Hs 293 operated successfully and hit its target roughly half the time under actual combat conditions. That’s an order of magnitude better than battleship gunnery.

            You also seem to be neglecting the distinction between being able to make a gun and make ammunition for said gun.

            Is the distinction meaningful? Heavy guns have a very limited bore life; if you can’t make new guns, the ammunition will soon be useless.

          • Protagoras says:

            @John Schilling, What if superior materials (perhaps salvaged from the kaiju) become available, enabling construction of longer-lasting gun barrels? Enough progress in that direction, combined with stagnation or regression in other areas could tilt the balance of the various trade-offs.

          • bean says:

            Heavy guns have a very limited bore life; if you can’t make new guns, the ammunition will soon be useless.

            This is true, but not as true as it used to be. The barrel life of the Mk 7 started off at ~290 full-power AP rounds per gun. Lighter shells and reduced charges were less damaging, and more could be fired. In practice, this meant the gun got replaced with ~100 rounds of life remaining, so that the ship wouldn’t run out if she had to fire off her entire ammo load. Due to improvements in powder and new additives, by the end of the Iowa’s careers, the guns were rated at 1,500 rounds. If you’re willing to take a slight performance hit, this could probably be stretched even more.
            But yes, you do need to be able to build the guns, and that will be a substantial part of the overall logistics effort to support your forces. There’s a good chance that improved materials will be used to make faster guns, instead of building longer-lasting ones. You’re going to need to build guns anyway (I assume one occasionally gets smashed) and you’d design the gun life to be where the replacement rate is the natural build rate of your facilities.
            Re the 293, the problem it had was that it was very vulnerable to EW. If you look closely, all of the big ships in the Normandy bombardment force were fitted with specialized jammers against it. Unless the kaiju manage to evolve electronic warfare really fast, that’s not likely to be a problem.

          • hlynkacg says:

            @ John
            The 293s performance may have been orders of magnitude better than battle ship gunnery but it was merely “on-par” for contemporary land-based gunnery which I think is the more relevant comparison given FC’s description of the situation. Missiles did not start to reliably out-perform land based gunnery until well into the 50s, and if the KFF has only limited access to modern electronics “a 50s tech base” may be what they have to work with.

            Speaking of tech bases, industrial capacity, and whether “the distinction matters” I don’t see how it couldn’t, and it will matter more the longer the KFF’s logistical tail is.

            If KFF has one facility capable of manufacturing guns but dozens of facilities pumping out shells that’s going to make the guns more attractive from a logistical standpoint. Especially if those shells can be manufactured and stockpiled close to the front more readily than the equivalent number of guided missiles.

            @ FC
            I found this image of a British shore defense battery with 12″ Howitzers. I see a HET trundling down the highway with a modernized version of one of those railcars behind it (or hell replacing one of your parallel highways with a railway and using the train itself) as residing within the realm of plausibility. (again, Bean, feel free to chime in)

          • bean says:

            The 293s performance may have been orders of magnitude better than battle ship gunnery but it was merely “on-par” for contemporary land-based gunnery which I think is the more relevant comparison given FC’s description of the situation. Missiles did not start to reliably out-perform land based gunnery until well into the 50s, and if the KFF has only limited access to modern electronics “a 50s tech base” may be what they have to work with.

            What do you mean, it was ‘on par’ with land-based gunnery? There was not a huge difference between ship-based and land-based naval gunnery in terms of accuracy by 1940, at least if your fire control was good. The total number of battleships sunk in WW2 by land-based gunnery was 0. The number sunk by missile attack was 1 (Roma), and two others (Littorio and Warspite) were badly damaged (much worse than any battleship was damaged by shore-based gunnery), along with several other ships. Before the jammers reached the front lines, the 293 (and Fritz-X, which used the same guidance system and can be treated interchangeably here) made life really, really bad for the ships off of Anzio.
            Are you thinking of air defense instead of anti-ship attack, possibly? Because that’s a very different situation. Airplanes move a lot faster, and that imposes additional strains on the guidance system. The US also had an anti-ship missile in service by the end of the war, the ASM-N-2 Bat. It worked reasonably well, but was also very vulnerable to electronic countermeasures, so it didn’t last long after the war.

          • hlynkacg says:

            There was not a huge difference between ship-based and land-based naval gunnery in terms of accuracy by 1940

            I’m not talking about naval gunnery, I’m talking about land-based artillery engaging targets on land. Assuming the KFF’s engineering corps has done their job, the entire defense line will be well mapped, and pre-ranged, so that battery commanders know precisely how to lay their guns to hit a particular ridgeline or bend in the river from their current firing position.

          • John Schilling says:

            Missiles did not start to reliably out-perform land based gunnery until well into the 50s, and if the KFF has only limited access to modern electronics “a 50s tech base” may be what they have to work with.

            Tactical guided missiles reliably outperformed land-based gunnery from 1943-1945, and were then largely abandoned from 1945-1953 because “everybody knew” that Real Wars would be fought with atom bombs and there was more than enough leftover WWII ordnance to fight the Toy Wars that might come up.

            Tactical guided missiles built with 1940s technology, wrecked battleships. I can’t find cost figures for the Hs 293 or Fritz X, but the roughly comparable US ASM-N-2 cost less than $18,000 in the early postwar environment, at a time when battleship guns ran over a million dollars each. No fancy semiconductor electronics required, nor even vacuum tubes if you want to be really hardcore. And whatever warhead it takes to take out a Godzilla, if there’s the slightest chance you can fire it from a gun it is straightforward to wrap a solid rocket booster around it and accelerate it to battleship-gun speeds.

            If KFF has one facility capable of manufacturing guns but dozens of facilities pumping out shells that’s going to make the guns more attractive from a logistical standpoint.

            If you can make the guns and shells at all, you can make the trains and trucks that can deliver them to the frontier with little extra effort. Not even the most geographically vast empires in history bothered to make their heavy munitions anywhere but the industrial heartland, once they had even steam for locomotion.

            And with missiles, you actually can carry them on and even fire them from ordinary trucks, compared to whatever behemoth is going to be carrying a 16″ gun overland.

            The main deficiencies are vulnerability to basic ECM techniques, and the need for an operator to provide line-of-sight guidance during the terminal phase. Neither of which would seem to be a problem against kaiju, at least as usually conceived.

            So I’m seeing maybe some classically forlorn-heroic military types with field artillery and bazookas, harassing a monster they can’t hope to kill in order to buy time. Some boffins struggling to get the finicky missile battery set up and working, twenty miles away. The protagonist of the tale is probably best put on the forward observer team, with a heavy backpack’s worth of radios and optics, trying to reach and hold a proper vantage point near the front. Working to calculate and coordinate the shot. Soldiers fighting and dying dramatically, civilians fleeing in terror, the usual. If the battery has three missiles, the first one obviously has to malfunction. #2, some bit of local drama prevents the protagonist from acquiring it on the approach and guiding it home. Missile #3, at the cinematically appropriate last minute, makes the kill. Manual command guidance, a skilled eye and hand on a joystick, rather than boring pushbutton warfare.

            Seems like a story to me.

          • hlynkacg says:

            I agree it sounds like a decent story, but are you really expecting the KFF to go through that whole rigmarole 5 times a month?

            I also think that you are seriously underestimating the scale and accuracy of WWII era field guns, never mind WWII era field guns where the battery commanders have access to things like laser rangefinders and pocket calculators. As noted above, an 8″55 naval gun on a carriage mount could conceivably be towed by a conventional semi. You yourself noted that smaller guns than that could do significant damage to a battleship at 10 km.

            FC’s posts have also implied that the Kaiju and/or associated “hostile ecology” put out some sort of EM interference which makes the ability to simply “point and shoot” a significant advantage.

          • John Schilling says:

            I also think that you are seriously underestimating the scale and accuracy of WWII era field guns, never mind WWII era field guns where the battery commanders have access to things like laser rangefinders and pocket calculators.

            WWII field artillery was generally used against fixed, area targets, not specific vehicles or buildings or monsters. If you’re dealing with moving targets tough enough to require direct hits to kill, even against battleship or kaiju-sized targets you are talking about ranges of a few miles at best.

            And if you’re talking about laser rangefinders and pocket calculators, your claim that missile guidance is too technically sophisticated is hard to sustain.

            If the kaiju can be killed by 155mm guns, sure, go ahead and use them. But the land-mobile battleship guns being proposed here are going to be limited to paved roads or rails, take half an hour or more to set up and have a firing rate measured in minutes per round; Godzilla is just going to stride over and stomp the things before they can get off a second shot.

            I agree it sounds like a decent story, but are you really expecting the KFF to go through that whole rigmarole 5 times a month?

            As referenced cross-thread, Houthi tribesmen in Yemen are going through a comparable rigamarole five times a month, firing off captured Scud missiles at targets in Saudi Arabia. More generally, artillery has been the combat arm of choice for geeks and nerds for as long as there’s been artillery, it’s not where you find people eager to charge point-blank into battle.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Hlynkacg & Bean – 8-inch guns were about where I was thinking originally for a general-purpose weapon. From looking at the M777, lightweight construction gives a 41% weight reduction, and it seems probable they could go lower if they didn’t need mass to counter recoil. with the RW system and artistic license, I’m pretty comfortable claiming 50% weight reduction from the listed stats of WWII-era weapons. That gives me this WIP table.

            8-inch guns are definately practical. But then, the M65 actually existed, so the 11- and 12-inch guns should be entirely workable as well, as is the 42cm L/12 (Big Bertha of WWI fame) which comes in at around the same weight. Meanwhile, a “lightweight” 16-inch rifle comes in at a whopping 67 tons. John’s argument for rockets is good enough that I think I’m going to have to work them in as an option as well; the unitary-warhead ATACMS has a warhead roughly equivalent to the 12-inch gun, in a ton-and-a-half rocket, so that’s obviously an attractive option.

            For carriage, I’d considered the HET previously, and it’d certainly work for the lighter guns. I’ve also been looking at something like the LeTourneau Overland Train, with a max listed capacity of 140 tons, and capable of travelling completely off-road and even fording small rivers while carrying that weight. With that much capacity, even the super-heavy guns seem possible.

            @John Schilling – you mentioned a 16″ superheavy shell equivalent for the ATACMS; is that a larger missile, or could the ATACMS itself handle that heavy a payload? If we were optimizing for payload weight, impact velocity and simplicity at a range of say 20 miles rather than the ATACMS’ 186 mile range, what’s a plausible ceiling for impact speed and warhead weight?

            For cost, I’m getting something like $800,000 for a ATACMS rocket, which puts it at around a tenth the cost of the M65. I’m not sure how much of a discount would apply to a dumbfire, AP version, but I’d imagine it would be a significant one.

            “Tactical guided missiles built with 1940s technology, wrecked battleships.”

            Thanks especially for this info; it’s updated me significantly toward adding some sort of guided weapons to the setting. I had no idea smart weapons were that good in WWII; books I’d read mentioned the Fritz in passing as little more than a curiosity used against the Roma. The hits to Warspite and Savannah somehow were neglected completely. Given how crazy the Germans were for Wunderwaffe, why didn’t they get more effective use out of smart-bombs? was it just too little too late? A lack of critical targets to hit?

            @Hlynkacg – “The general rule of thumb in the military for continuous alerts is “it takes 3 to make 1”.”

            This is useful info. Looking over what I wrote, I think it’d probably be a good idea to cut the numbers even further; make each gun cover 60 or 80 miles, make the scouts work harder.

            ” the good news is that this can get you quite a bit of gun when you don’t have to worry about things like armor, drivetrains, or transport etc…”

            Yeah, this is the general idea. You have a modular gun carriage that attaches to a Truck; firing means deploying stabilizers to isolate the gun’s recoil from the carrier, and if the Truck gets fragged or the engine goes out, you can pop it off and put a fresh one in. The carriage has electric drives for aiming the gun, plus powered load assist or possibly even an autoloader, but otherwise it’s pretty much a regular towed gun. Aiming and firing is probably done remotely from the cab.

            “FC’s posts have also implied that the Kaiju and/or associated “hostile ecology” put out some sort of EM interference which makes the ability to simply “point and shoot” a significant advantage.”

            Yup. The Kaiju and their ecology are basically working on Roadside Picnic rules. They don’t obey the rules of conventional reality, and assuming they do is a good way to get dead. Pointing an emitter at them might result in a usable target paint, or the radiation might be absorbed entirely, or the Kaiju might start emitting radiation back sufficient to slag the emitter, crew, and the bedrock they’re resting on. Alternatively, Something nasty might crawl up the beam, hatch out of the emitter, and start eating the crew. Wire-guide has a similar problem: it creates a physical connection between the launcher and the ecology, which means a high likelihood of something unpleasant coming back up it. Even things like rocket exhaust and the eddy currents from shells are a low-order risk, but you have to kill the monsters somehow…

            The rule is no high-power EM emissions, no unshielded transmissions. From John Schilling’s comments, I’m curious if it’s possible to make a guided weapon that doesn’t use radar, lasers or a wire; maybe something like a back-facing camera that receives commands via light patterns? For general purposes, though, dumbfire is the way to go.

            @Civilis – “Faceless Craven, have you considered modernized variants of any of the self-propelled siege mortar weapons?”

            The Sturmtiger seems to get most of its effect from raw blast, and I’m assuming massive impact and penetration are highly important to lethality here for reasons similar to battleship combat. The Karl runs into a lot of the same problems as the 16-inch guns, plus the low-velocity and subsequent high angle of fire seem like they would make the RW recoil compensation impractical. Still, it definately hits the right notes in terms of inhuman scale.

            [EDIT] – @John Schilling – “If you’re dealing with moving targets tough enough to require direct hits to kill, even against battleship or kaiju-sized targets you are talking about ranges of a few miles at best.”

            That’s my starting assumption, yeah. At six miles or so, I’d imagine any arty piece is probably going to be pretty accurate. Flight time might make things rather more hairy, so higher-velocity is obviously better. Guidance might be an option if there’s something that doesn’t involve EM emissions or physical wires; maybe electrooptical/image recognition, using silhouettes against the skyline?

            “But the land-mobile battleship guns being proposed here are going to be limited to paved roads or rails, take half an hour or more to set up and have a firing rate measured in minutes per round”

            The Overland Train can apparently offroad pretty nicely through Alaskan wilderness terrain, so roads and rails seem optional. Half an hour to set up seems pessimistic; why so long? The haulers will have enough capacity for hydraulically-powered stabilizers to jack the gun up into a stable firing position, and I’m assuming electric drive for laying the gun. Weight constraints probably rule out the sort of gear needed to get the really heavy guns down to their historical rate of a round every thirty seconds, but I’m assuming at least some degree of power-assisted loading. Figure a round every minute or two?

          • John Schilling says:

            @John Schilling – you mentioned a 16″ superheavy shell equivalent for the ATACMS; is that a larger missile, or could the ATACMS itself handle that heavy a payload? If we were optimizing for payload weight, impact velocity and simplicity at a range of say 20 miles rather than the ATACMS’ 186 mile range, what’s a plausible ceiling for impact speed and warhead weight?

            ATACMS delivers a ~300 kg payload to 300 kilometer range, meaning a burnout velocity of about 1800 m/s. Back of the envelope, if I keep the size and weight of the system the same, but increase the payload size to 1000 kg (at the expense of a smaller motor), I get a burnout velocity of about 900 m/s and a range of about 50 kilometers.

            By comparison, the standard weight 16″ AP shell comes in at 1016 kg and a mere 768 m/s at the muzzle. So, yeah, a battleship shell from the back of the truck.

            Does your setting involve any particular targets that get repeatedly attacked by kaiju? If so, it might make sense to have permanently-emplaced heavy guns set up to cover Tokyo bay or wherever, with the fixed siting allowing for greater accuracy and rapid fire and the cost of the guns amortized over many battles, and the mobile batteries using missiles to deal with the ones that try to cross the remote frontier. Have them both use the same payload, just the propulsion being different, and give the missile batteries a first-generation guidance system (which can’t survive gun launch) to compensate for limited numbers.

          • hlynkacg says:

            @ John
            US field artillery in WW2 had a probable circular error in the realm of < 100 meters from the aim-point for indirect fire and < 5 meters for direct fire. In Korea and Vietnam 8 inch howitzers were routinely employed against point targets including specific vehicles and emplacements. That seems plenty accurate for this application.

            @ FC
            I think your weight reduction figures are overly optimistic, but here's a the critical question. How fast do these critters move when they're under threat? IE, if I'm 10 miles away and I do something to piss it off, (say bopping it on the nose with 150kgs of willy-pete) how long do I before until I'm Kaiju chow?

            Remember that the main downside of guided missiles is cost per shot. The more shots the guns have enough time to fire the more practical they become.

            Edit:
            multiple minor edits.

            I’m not familiar with Roadside Picnic but I’m getting a strong Dunwitch Horror / Colour out of Space vibe. I like it.

          • Eltargrim says:

            @FC: Passive guidance can be achieved via IR detection, given a sufficient heat gradient between the target and the background. This is jumping the tech level up a good 20-30 years from WWII, though.

          • John Schilling says:

            The Overland Train can apparently offroad pretty nicely through Alaskan wilderness terrain, so roads and rails seem optional.

            Basically, the gun tube/breech and the mounting hardware that really has to be fixed to it is going to be a concentrated load sufficient to cause ground pressure problems on anything short of hard packed earth. Something like the Black Rock Desert you could probably drive across; anything less and you’ll likely be bogged down unless you survey the route thoroughly enough that you might as well have built a road.

            Note that the “overland train” and most similar systems are articulated vehicles that break up the load into chunks of no more than 20 tons, which is going to limit you to maybe 8″ guns at the top end.

            Half an hour to set up seems pessimistic; why so long? The haulers will have enough capacity for hydraulically-powered stabilizers to jack the gun up into a stable firing position, and I’m assuming electric drive for laying the gun.

            Historic experience with very large guns (e.g. the 280mm “atomic cannon”) and mobile missile launchers. Again the practical limit seems to be 8″.

            Weight constraints probably rule out the sort of gear needed to get the really heavy guns down to their historical rate of a round every thirty seconds, but I’m assuming at least some degree of power-assisted loading. Figure a round every minute or two?

            One round per minute is high rate for an 8″ gun, according to someone I know who used to run one for the USMC. You really want to get down to 6″/155mm; that’s where a corn-fed Iowa gun bunny can just manhandle the shells into position. Anything bigger really calls for powered loading, which as you note means either a fixed installation or one built into a large warship.

            Looking at bigger guns on quasi-mobile mounts, a WWII-era 11″ railway gun is cited at one round per four minutes.

          • Civilis says:

            FC, I apologize in advance; I engage in offline theoretical discussions like this all the time, and find it a lot more fun than discussing politics. In most cases, what I’m throwing out isn’t ‘this is why your idea won’t work’ but ‘you should probably have something in the plot to rule this out’.

            The Sturmtiger seems to get most of its effect from raw blast, and I’m assuming massive impact and penetration are highly important to lethality here for reasons similar to battleship combat. The Karl runs into a lot of the same problems as the 16-inch guns, plus the low-velocity and subsequent high angle of fire seem like they would make the RW recoil compensation impractical. Still, it definately hits the right notes in terms of inhuman scale.

            One of the things that seems to be missing here is the difference in armor penetration between regular and shaped charge warheads/shells. I’m very shaky on this, but my understanding is that most anti-tank missiles get their armor penetration from the shaped charge warhead rather than just projectile velocity. You might be able to match the armor penetration of a world war 2 battleship round with a smaller modern shaped charge shell/warhead.

            One of the assumptions generally made about kaiju when used generically is that however much they violate the square-cube law, they are still functionally living creatures, not machines (It’s certainly possible to come up with a variety that suits your story that doesn’t have those weaknesses). I’m given to understand that getting shot in a bullet-proof vest still hurts, and that it’s easiest to take down someone in full armor either by finding a weak spot in the armor or just relying on the impact of the heavy weapon breaking stuff without penetrating the armor. Hitting the kaiju in the head / eyes / mouth / other ‘voolnerables’ with a smaller, more accurate, higher rate-of-fire weapon might be easier than trying to bring up a heavy gun capable of penetrating its heaviest armor.

            One of the things your plot seems based around is that the kaiju needs to be taken down with a single, penetrating blow, when a multi-step process might be easier. There’s an anime that involves the JGSDF trying to plan to take down a dragon with the armor of a heavy tank, the aerial mobility of a helicopter, and enough experience to know anti-tank missiles hurt; the resulting plan involves downing it with an air-to-air missile (capable of hurting its weaker wings), suppressing it with artillery so it can’t use its breath on the helicopter launched anti-tank missiles, then using demolition charges to make sure it’s dead.

            Assuming the kaiju has legs, can they be temporarily immobilized? I can see a valiant scout unit playing ‘tornado chaser’, trying to get ahead of the thing to drop a heavy mine in its path. The Kaiju you’re describing are large enough that if they fit the conventional ‘zilla’ form factor, the legs are plenty big enough to target with 6″ guns in direct fire. Once immobilized, hit it with the slower, more powerful weapons. If it breathes, what happens if it gets a lungful of vapor from a thermobaric weapon before it goes off? What happens if you set off an explosively formed penetrator above it? Could you hit it with a modified runway-penetrator bomb fired from a petard mortar?

          • ADifferentAnonymous says:

            Guidance might be an option if there’s something that doesn’t involve EM emissions or physical wires; maybe electrooptical/image recognition, using silhouettes against the skyline?

            The US had just such a program during WWII: Project
            Pigeon

          • FacelessCraven says:

            I want to thank everyone who took time to reply in this thread; it’s been highly educational, and has gone a long way to helping me refine the setting in general. And to help visualizing the kind of creature we’re talking about, here’s some art!

            @hlynkacg – “I think your weight reduction figures are overly optimistic…”

            I was originally going to go for 33% or so reduction, but the M777 hits 41% while still being a mass-production item, still being a towed weapon (axles, wheels), and still needing relatively heavy trails, spades, etc to handle recoil. If the gun tube uses a steel liner in a titanium or carbon-fiber jacket, especially around the breech, I’d imagine you could get pretty significant weight savings. In any case, what would your estimate be for a realistic weight savings for ultralight construction of a gun tube?

            “How fast do these critters move when they’re under threat?”

            Thirty, maybe forty mph at top speed for the faster ones. Usually, getting trampled isn’t the problem, but rather getting zorched by some sort of exotic physics effect. Big-ass lightning, intense beams of exotic radiation, multi-gigajoule thermal blooms, intensely concentrated gravity effects, potentially even weirder stuff. Each Kaiju is unique and constantly growing and evolving, so passive observation gives only a very rough guess as to their capabilities. They seem to have a pretty tough time perceiving humans and human-scale things at long range, and decoys of various kinds have a decent chance of working. Generally, though, if the fight lasts longer than five minutes, odds of survival start getting pretty slim.

            “I’m not familiar with Roadside Picnic but I’m getting a strong Dunwitch Horror / Colour out of Space vibe. I like it.”

            Excellent! Roadside Picnic is a Russian sci-fi novel, and also the basis for the Stalker games. I highly recommend it. Color out of space comes close to the ineffable nature of the threats; the general idea is that science is right on the ragged edge of giving way when dealing with them.

            @Eltargrim – “Passive guidance can be achieved via IR detection, given a sufficient heat gradient between the target and the background.”

            The problem mainly comes from hardening the components well enough to withstand the EM environment, and with Kaiju not having consistent thermal signature. I’d probably combine this with E/O for a composite seeker that might be workable. Command-guide would still be preferable, though.

            @John Schilling – “Note that the “overland train” and most similar systems are articulated vehicles that break up the load into chunks of no more than 20 tons, which is going to limit you to maybe 8″ guns at the top end.”

            With a suspension layout like this, it seems like you’d get fairly uniform distribution across multiple sections, and a 2/3 or even 3/3 layout might be possible.

            “Anything bigger really calls for powered loading, which as you note means either a fixed installation or one built into a large warship.”

            Are there any resources with detail on the loading systems themselves? I spent a good chunk of last night reading up on what I could find on the iowa’s system on wikipedia, and the rammer and shell cradle don’t seem that massive relative to the gun itself; likewise, tank autoloaders seem pretty efficient relative to the size of the gun. Regardless of the gun size, I’m probably going to have to look at those next.

            @Civilis – “FC, I apologize in advance; I engage in offline theoretical discussions like this all the time, and find it a lot more fun than discussing politics.”

            No problem! I actually feel pretty cringey about bringing up this level of weapons geekery here, and especially about exploiting you guys for technical advice while refusing to abandon wildly impractical ideas. The comments have been really encouraging, though.

            ” In most cases, what I’m throwing out isn’t ‘this is why your idea won’t work’ but ‘you should probably have something in the plot to rule this out’.”

            Yeah, this is how I’ve been approaching it too, though some points, like rockets and possibly guided weapons have been good enough that I think I’m going to need to alter things to compensate.

            “You might be able to match the armor penetration of a world war 2 battleship round with a smaller modern shaped charge shell/warhead.”

            As I understand it, shaped charges dependent on diameter, and are super-optimized for armor penetration, ie piercing a relatively thin layer of very tough, hard material. They’re a lot less good at penetrating extreme thicknesses of relatively soft material, which is why they aren’t used for bunker-busting. With a high-velocity kinetic AP shell, you get the penetration damage of the physical impact, and then an internal explosion that expends all its energy and fragmentation against the Kaiju’s internals. When you might have four or five meters of super tough hide and muscle to get through, AP explosive seems like a better deal than HEAT or EFPs.

            On harassment tactics generally, excellent points. Blinding a Kaiju probably isn’t possible (too many eyes and weird non-eye senses), but soft-sticky-out bits are probably used for something important, and fragging them can’t be a bad thing. The idea of “tornado-chaser” scouts likewise is an awesome one. Thanks!

            “If it breathes, what happens if it gets a lungful of vapor from a thermobaric weapon before it goes off?”

            Less breath, more eat everything around them, including the air. My first guess that thermobaric vapors, being organic, would render down just from being in proximity, much less being ingested; still, if the goal is to frag and/or immobilize a Kaiju, they seem like a decent option. An EFP would penetrate till it ran out of steam, but see above. EFPs lack mass, and so penetrate poorly through meter-scale obstacles. I’m honestly not sure about the petard-mortar one; I’d expect relatively low velocity, as it doesn’t hurl things fast or high enough for good velocity on the way down, but I could be wrong.

            More generally, take a look at the pic above; how would you go about tackling something like that, if you saw it coming over the hill?

            @ADifferentAnonymous – that is amazing. Thanks for the link!

      • bean says:

        Total recoil impulse for one gun is 274.82 x 10^3 (I think that’s lbm*ft/s) from here.
        A bit of looking makes me think that you’d be unlikely to see more than a 50% decrease in weight from modern construction, and probably less. But I’ll assume 50%, as this is totally unrealistic anyway. The release-wave thing is very clever, but also likely to be rather hard on the landscape. In terms of size, the first thing that springs to mind is the P.1000 Ratte.

      • hlynkacg says:

        The obvious question is what exactly is this thing to be used for? Sustained bombardment? Fighting Kaiju?

        Bean already mentioned Ratte, but there was also the Schwerer Gustav, two of which were actually built and used in combat.

        Edit: heh called it.

    • Civilis says:

      Does the British Quick-Firing (QF) designation work the same way for land-based artillery? I had always wondered at the origins of the British artillery naming conventions.

      • bean says:

        It does. Army guns were usually designated in the same series as naval guns, although there were exceptions. (I don’t have details on those, as I’m not particularly interested in land-based artillery.)

    • Nornagest says:

      I’m told that after the Mk 7 guns were selected for the Iowas, the Mk 2 guns that had been intended for those battleships before the mix-up went to the Army and were used for shoreline defense. Two of them ended up in Fort Cronkhite, now part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area; the ruined batteries were a favorite hike of mine when I lived closer by.

      The original guns there were sold for scrap when the fort’s batteries were decommissioned around the end of WWII. Much more recently, though, the site’s started being converted into a museum, and they’re trying to restore its 16″ battery (Battery Townsley) to as close to its original state as possible. As a centerpiece, they’ve acquired a Mk 7 gun originally from the Missouri, which strikes me as a little ironic, considering.

      • bean says:

        The Army had gotten 20 already, and had liked them very much. The rest of your account is correct.
        And yes, that is ironic.
        (More information)

        • Protagoras says:

          That reminds me, do you have an opinion on coastal artillery? It seems that historically ships have mostly avoided places that have had heavy coastal artillery emplacements, which could indicate that coastal artillery is really deadly, or just that navies are cautious and coastal artillery due to its lack of mobility is easy to avoid so why take chances? I have encountered people on the internet with strong opinions either way, of course.

          • bean says:

            I’m not really sure. Before 1900, the advantage seemed to lay pretty obviously with the shore defenses due to fire control, although there were a few actions (Alexandria springs to mind) which might have lead them to question that. After modern fire control was invented, I’m not so sure. The Japanese didn’t seem to do very well against US battleships in the Pacific, although I’m not sure how big their guns were. Morison, at least, seems to view the war as vindicating ships over shore defenses (and the FC balance, at least, was pretty even), but I’d need to do more reading.

          • John Schilling says:

            The Japanese never used anything bigger than 8″ as coast artillery (edit: 5.5″ and 6″ guns were more typical), at least anywhere that actually came under attack. Even with modern fire control, guns fixed to bedrock were generally assessed as being worth three equivalent guns afloat, and unsinkable to boot, but that just meant navies mostly didn’t attack the handful of places defended by battleship-class fixed guns. That’s an exceedingly expensive sort of defense to mount, given that if you guess wrong on where and how you’re going to be attacked you’ve just sunk the cost of a battery of battleship guns for no return.

          • bean says:

            @John
            My problem with that logic was that the non-battleship-caliber guns never exactly covered themselves in glory. 6″ gunfire can tear up a battleship rather badly, but I can’t think of a single example of a battleship coming home badly damaged by shore fire. Or, really, of anything getting really beaten up by shore fire. Yes, usually the firepower imbalance was much more on the side of the attackers, but whatever its theoretical potential, shore-battery fire just wasn’t that effective.

          • John Schilling says:

            Six-inch guns can badly damage a battleship at 10,000 yards; anything much more than 20,000 yards and they can just make impressive splashes as the shells fall short. The battleships mostly just stood off at extreme range, ensuring their own safety while compromising their accuracy.

            There were exceptions. USS Colorado came within range of a trio of Japanese 6″ guns at Tinian; 22 hits in 15 minues, for 43 dead and 176 wounded. Not a battleship, but the heavy cruiser Pensacola had a similar experience at Iwo Jima, 17 dead and 119 wounded in 7 minutes.

            On the other side, albeit at a smaller scale, a Japanese force of three light cruisers and six destroyers was forced to withdraw from the first attack on Wake island after losing two ships, to a battery of six 5″ guns.

          • bean says:

            I was aware of Wake. I’m going to have to look up more on Colorado, as DANFS gives 22 hits but no record of casualties, and says that the ship remained in action for another week. The relevant summary of damage to US warships shows 22 hits and says ‘fighting efficiency not seriously impaired’. Unfortunately, there’s no War Damage Report on her.
            You do appear to be entirely correct on Pensacola. But that’s still a fairly lightly list of casualties for all of the various targets that were subject to amphibious assault.
            And I suppose if I’m being totally fair, there is Blucher.

            There’s an interesting table in the 1944 Summary of War Damage, which gives 5 BB, 1 CA, 2 CL, and 19 DD damaged by shore gunfire on or before 7 Dec 1944. All of them appear to have been in the Dec 1943-Dec 1944 block.
            The battleships were Iowa (2×6″, no deaths, some smashed optical gear and a nice dent in Turret 2 that we still have), California (1 ‘small caliber’, no deaths listed), Tennessee (3×6″, minor damage and a small fire), Texas (1 ‘medium caliber’, control lost, many straddles) and Colorado. Unfortunately, I don’t have the 1945 report.

          • ADifferentAnonymous says:

            Surely there are measures of how long ships have spent targeted by a given gun at a given range?

            Also, to be clear, bean: exactly how tactically impotent are you suggesting coastal guns are? To a layperson it sounds like you’re saying they’re weaker gun-for-gun than ship guns, bit that seems hard to believe.

            If John’s 3:1 rate is believed, the other part of the question is, how many coastal guns can you build for the price of an equivalent gun plus the fraction of ship needed to carry it?

          • John Schilling says:

            If John’s 3:1 rate is believed, the other part of the question is, how many coastal guns can you build for the price of an equivalent gun plus the fraction of ship needed to carry it?

            Also, how many places do you need to defend with guns, which could instead be covered by a single ship that sails to where it is needed most? Even navies which had no ambitions beyond coast defense, often found it most efficient to put a few heavy guns on an armored coastal vessel to compliment guns ashore.

          • Skivverus says:

            The tradeoff, as I understand it, is that you can make land-based guns better for a given price than ship-based guns, but ship-based guns have the advantage that they can just go pummel the 99% of your coastline that’s out of range of those land-based guns (never mind the open sea). Given sufficiently accurate intelligence, the land-based guns will never be presented with a fight they can win: they serve as deterrence for smaller vessels.

          • The Nybbler says:

            I would think one reason for coastal artillery is that there are places near the coast you really, really have to defend (e.g. the Golden Gate), so if you place it there and enemy ships avoid it, mission accomplished.

          • bean says:

            Surely there are measures of how long ships have spent targeted by a given gun at a given range?

            You’d have to dig them out of books. Morison has several good accounts of those duels. Try volumes 2 and 11.

            Also, to be clear, bean: exactly how tactically impotent are you suggesting coastal guns are? To a layperson it sounds like you’re saying they’re weaker gun-for-gun than ship guns, bit that seems hard to believe.

            I’m not necessarily saying that. What I am saying is that the empirical evidence of the war suggests that the 3:1 ratio isn’t really that accurate. The best example is probably Texas vs Battery Hamburg, 4x 11″ guns. That should have been fairly close to Texas with 12×14″. But Texas suffered some damage, one killed, and knocked out one gun. And she was far from the most modern ship in the fleet. If shore guns were that powerful, they should have worked better than they did.

            If John’s 3:1 rate is believed, the other part of the question is, how many coastal guns can you build for the price of an equivalent gun plus the fraction of ship needed to carry it?

            Ask the Coast Defense Studies Group. They’ll probably know. (Yes, that’s a real organization.) I have costs on ships, not on land emplacements, and just got a copy of Raven & Roberts, so I’m not going to run them down today.

            @Skivverus /Nybbler
            Pretty much. I’m not saying it was totally useless, just that I think John overrates it.

          • cassander says:

            The benefit of land guns is that a gun at sea doesn’t just cost the gun, it also has the cost of the ship carrying it, the money it takes to deploy that ship, then more ships back at home getting ready to sail out and replace the one when your first ship runs out of supplies, and so on. the land gun, by contrast, just needs a few crewmen. You can deploy a LOT more land guns than you can ship guns for the same cost. In a situation where you need to only protect a few areas (say, because you have a few valuable ports to protect) they had great potential, which is why navies almost always avoided direct assaults on them when they could.

          • bean says:

            @cassander
            A couple of problems with that. First, you significantly understate the numbers required to man that sort of battery. Iowa had 2800 men in WW2. Each turret took about 70 on the mount. Once you take battery overhead into account, you’re looking at at least 2 to 3 times that, neglecting AA and the like you have to set up. Second, you’re often more limited by gun availability than you are by anything else. As an example of ‘revealed preference’, all coast defense guns of WW2 that I’m aware of were obsolete/surplus, not new-build for the purpose.
            There were lots of duels between battleships and shore batteries, and in only a few of those cases did the ships come off distinctly worse.

          • hlynkacg says:

            is that 70 per gun mount seems awfully high (they weren’t hoisting rounds by hand were they?) are you sure that’s not supposed to be 70 men per turret and 23 per gun?

            edit: nevermind you did say 70 per turret.

          • John Schilling says:

            The best example is probably Texas vs Battery Hamburg, 4x 11″ guns. That should have been fairly close to Texas with 12×14″.

            I believe Battery Hamburg had 9.4″ guns, specifically 24 cm SKL/40, not 11″. But there’s conflicting information on that, and I’m going with preponderance of evidence rather than proven fact. Still, a bit less than a fair fight (though 9″ guns were widely considered adequate for coast defense in the interwar period at least)

          • bean says:

            @John
            I was working from Morison, who said 11″. Looking more, it does appear that they were 9.4″ instead.
            (To be completely honest, I had found this out last night, and was going to correct it this morning, but you beat me to the punch.)

          • cassander says:

            @bean

            >A couple of problems with that. First, you significantly understate the numbers required to man that sort of battery. Iowa had 2800 men in WW2. Each turret took about 70 on the mount. Once you take battery overhead into account, you’re looking at at least 2 to 3 times that, neglecting AA and the like you have to set up. Second, you’re ofte

            n more limited by gun availability than you are by anything else.

            Sure, because that’s a constant that drops out of the equation. it takes just as many people to man a gun on a ship as it does on land. What it doesn’t take is the hundreds of other crewmen that the ship requires to sail around.

            >As an example of ‘revealed preference’, all coast defense guns of WW2 that I’m aware of were obsolete/surplus, not new-build for the purpose.

            Seems sensible and reinforces my point about coast defense being relatively cheap. Though, i the period in question, the large quantity of excess guns lying around would almost certainly produce that result. Pre-ww1 guns might be more illustrative.

            There were lots of duels between battleships and shore batteries, and in only a few of those cases did the ships come off distinctly worse.

            A highly selected set of cases. You have to account for the times ships, or invasion plans, deliberately avoided guns. Granted, that’s a very hard thing to do.

          • bean says:

            Sure, because that’s a constant that drops out of the equation. it takes just as many people to man a gun on a ship as it does on land. What it doesn’t take is the hundreds of other crewmen that the ship requires to sail around.

            I’m aware of that, but estimating from Iowa, I think that you’re not going to see more than a factor of 3 reduction in personnel. This is WW2, and manpower is cheap. I don’t have the time now to go in and poke around for better numbers on manning of coastal defense batteries.

            Seems sensible and reinforces my point about coast defense being relatively cheap. Though, i the period in question, the large quantity of excess guns lying around would almost certainly produce that result. Pre-ww1 guns might be more illustrative.

            Maybe. But pre-WW1, the land-based gunner had a much bigger advantage than he did during WW2, which is going to confound the other way.

            A highly selected set of cases. You have to account for the times ships, or invasion plans, deliberately avoided guns. Granted, that’s a very hard thing to do.

            Yes. But Battery Hamburg was a time when they tried to avoid the guns, failed, and still handled the battery pretty hard.
            I’m not quite as sure that shore guns were not that useful as I may be coming across. But I knew John would be here to provide the other side, and I genuinely don’t know where the truth is.

    • Vermillion says:

      This may be a seperate post alltogether but I’ve been rereading the Aubrey-Maturin series and one of the things that the RBN (or Captain Aubrey at least) emphasizes is dedicated practice aiming and firing the cannons, with real powder against targets on land or sea if he could afford to buy it.

      Anywho how often was firing the guns practiced in a ship like the Iowa, and what was that practice like? Somewhat different from the Napoleonic age I assume.

      How expensive would a typical live fire excercise be just in terms of shells and powder consumed?

      • bean says:

        It’s a somewhat different matter, basically because of increased automation, particularly in fire control. The performance of a battleship is much more determined by the quality of the equipment, and that can cover for the quality of the crew. The best example of this is probably Prince of Wale’s shooting at Denmark Strait, despite being fresh from the builders, and her crew being very green. (I’m well aware of the problems she had with her turrets, and I’m unsure how much of that was errors in drill and how much was teething in the equipment.)
        That said, the crew did have to know what it was doing, and cases where it didn’t often lead to problems. But there wasn’t as much difference between a normal crew and an expert one as there was in the days of sail, although the gap between inexperienced and normal somewhat remained.
        WRT actual firing training, actual practice firings varied greatly, but could often be months apart. It’s a lot harder to score dreadnought gunnery than that of a man-o-war. I’m not sure how often they ran loading drills without firing.
        I don’t have cost figures to hand, but I’ll see what I can turn up.

        • gbdub says:

          I would think, with mechanical fire control, you’d mostly drill on using the equipment – basically do everything except actually fire, and this would be almost as valuable as live fire?

          Whereas the age of sail guns were totally hand-loaded, hand-aimed, and hand fired. So Aubrey wanted to make his gunners marksmen. I’d imagine not only the accuracy but the rate of fire was much different for a skilled vs unskilled crew in that age as well, compared to dreadnought battleships.

          What are the conditions like inside an active turret? Loud, I imagine, probably hot, but presumably not nearly as smoky as they used to be?

          • bean says:

            I would think, with mechanical fire control, you’d mostly drill on using the equipment – basically do everything except actually fire, and this would be almost as valuable as live fire?

            Correct. The only thing you couldn’t practice that way would be spotting, which is important, but not as important as it was before synthetic systems became universal.

            Whereas the age of sail guns were totally hand-loaded, hand-aimed, and hand fired. So Aubrey wanted to make his gunners marksmen. I’d imagine not only the accuracy but the rate of fire was much different for a skilled vs unskilled crew in that age as well, compared to dreadnought battleships.

            I’m not actually sure how much crew skill played in RoF. Different books have said somewhat different things in that. To a first approximation, any loading problems mean the gun misses the next salvo. It was reasonably common, although in fairness, it’s often hard to distinguish between technical and crew problems.

            What are the conditions like inside an active turret? Loud, I imagine, probably hot, but presumably not nearly as smoky as they used to be?

            In theory, there shouldn’t be any smoke in the turret at all. There’s a purge system to blow out any embers and smoke. You can see this in videos, where there’s a puff shortly after the gun is fired. That’s the nitrogen (at least on the Iowas, I’m not sure what others used) blowing the barrel clear.

    • gbdub says:

      “The turrets were loaded from outside” Can you explain a bit more? Because I’m picturing an armored turret with the loaders running around unprotected outside it, and that doesn’t seem right at all.

      • CatCube says:

        I imagine that it means that the rammer, magazines, etc., were located outside the turret (though still inside the hull belowdecks), which had to return to a certain position after every shot to reload the guns.

      • John Schilling says:

        Typically there would be a low armored housing for the loading crews and mechanisms (these were very heavy guns, so you’d often have the actual loading done with e.g. hydraulic rams). The turret is rotated and depressed until the guns are aligned with the loading mechanism, the guns are loaded, then the turret is rotated and aligned with the target and the guns are fired.

        Fifteen minutes later, you could do it again. Meanwhile, some dastardly foe with a newfangled six-inch quick-firing gun has riddled your ship with about fifty shells containing five hundred pounds of high explosive, and you’ve passed out from smoke inhalation in your impenetrable armored citadel amidst the inferno.

      • bean says:

        John and CatCube are correct. Here’s a diagram of one example.

  6. AnonYEmous says:

    Hey guys:

    I know this blog uses Toxoplasmosis for other purposes but I’m actually kind of worried about the parasite itself after my dad talked about it. What do people think – does it mess with your head, and so forth? Does it cause crazy cat lady syndrome? Schizophrenia?

    • Alex Zavoluk says:

      If you or someone you know is concerned they have a brain parasite, you/they should consult a physician.

    • keranih says:

      The latest that I had heard was “Implications are intriguing, but double-blind tests of the species of interest are right out and we haven’t yet figured out how to do longitudinal studies.”

      If it helps muddy the waters at all – it appears the largest risk factor for contracting the disease is gardening. It’s not so much having the parasite-carrying host (cats) as it is coming in contact with soil laden with infective zygotes.

      (You can be a cat-loving spinster all you like, just don’t be an avid gardener who lives on the same block as the cat-loving spinster.)

      • AnonYEmous says:

        No, like, I’m not worried so much about having it. Though my dad thinks my mom has it. Just…the idea itself, isn’t one that I like. So does it really alter how your mind works if you have it?

        • Spookykou says:

          It seems pretty clear that it causes altered mind states in rodents, but I don’t think there is good/clear evidence that it does the same in Humans. I am not sure how worried you should be about this though, since lots of things can alter how our minds work.

        • gph says:

          Well it has to alter it in some way, its very presence will alter the material/chemical environment of your brain. Is it a big enough effect to have a noticeable change on your ‘mind’ is difficult to tell since we don’t really understand the brain or ‘mind’ well enough. After all, eating potatoes will alter your brain if only by boosting your glucose levels. If you didn’t eat those potatoes at that exact moment, would the same neurons have fired at the same time/rate thus making your current and future decisions/thoughts/feelings which constitute your mind the exact same as they would have been had you not eaten the potatoes?

          Everything in our environment ‘influences’ the mind in a sense. The idea of a parasite doing it is probably scary because you have this image of your self and mind as separate and individual from the rest of the universe, so you feel like some ‘external’ entity is controlling ‘your’ mind. But it’s questionable how much control you actually have. Free will is an illusion, you’re just a physical process like a rainbow completely connected to the will of the laws of physics and whatever this crazy entropic universe is, etc. etc.

          But getting away from my sophomoric philosophy, from what I understand there is some evidence that those who are infected with toxoplasmosis will display more aggressive behavior. It’s likely impossible to have a control group or any kind of realistic study to determine if that is a causal effect or just a correlation.

    • MNH says:

      I think that standard medical practice right now is to consider it not-worth-treating unless there’s some complicating factor (e.g. AIDS compromising your immune system), for whatever that’s worth.

  7. John Schilling says:

    For everyone following the last three OTs, we should all be on the same page regarding what sort of nuclear missiles North Korea has. As I said last time, that’s the easy part. It’s rather harder to figure out what they are going to do with the things, but that is going to be increasingly important over the next four years or so as most of the readers here find themselves living within range of the nuclear missiles of a nation they are technically still at war with.

    I have often referred to North Korea’s nukes as the House Kim family atomics, and I’m not joking. The North Korean regime has made it abundantly clear, in its words and its actions, that their absolute number one priority is the preservation of the present regime and its uncontested rule over North Korea. If you expect them to step down from power, adopt democratic rule and stand for election, be deposed in a popular revolt or military coup, or anything along those lines, that will happen over their dead bodies, and if at all possible yours as well. Hence the nuclear missiles.

    If you’re wondering whether House Kim cares about anything at all beyond the survival of House Kim, then yes, they do. They are intensely and I believe sincerely nationalistic Koreans, which means that beyond survival their priorities are, 2: maintain the absolute territorial integrity and political and economic independence of North Korea, 3: ensure that North Korea is recognized as a great regional power at least equal to South Korea or Japan, 4: provide wealth and prosperity to the North Korean people, and 5: arrange the reunification of North and South Korea under the Kim regime.

    Note that Korean reunification is at the bottom of that list. Not that it isn’t important; it is. But it is important the way Chinese reunification is important to Beijing, as a historical inevitability that will come about when the decadent separatist regime collapses into chaos and the long-suffering population returns willingly to the fold. Not as an excuse to invade at the next opportunity. And absolutely not at the cost of endangering the regime. So, there’s not going to be a salvo of nukes to soften up South Korea’s defenses as preparation for invasion.

    Nor are we ever going to see North Korea’s nuclear weapons traded away for economic aid, because priority #1 vs priority #4 is not a contest. Moving up to #3, the nuclear missiles do to some extent provide a level of prestige than is lacking in pretty much every other aspect of North Korea’s international relations. They don’t even need to be fired for that, probably. And there is a sort of trade under way, with North Korea turning rockets into prestige by way of a space program rather than an explicit arms race.

    Which leaves the potential use of nuclear weapons strictly for national and regime defense. We may consider the state of war with North Korea to be a quaint technicality; for them it is very real and personal. They’ve been asking for a peace treaty, and they see us as demanding surrender. They understand the inferiority of their conventional forces. They understand what “Axis of Evil” means, what the death of Gaddafi means, why their Southern colleagues offer video of cruise missiles flying through windows. Kim Jong Un and his colleagues have a very rational expectation that they will be killed or imprisoned and their nation dismantled, unless they maintain the means to make it intolerably, painfully expensive for their enemies to attack them. The question is how they are going to do that.

    It probably isn’t going to be a single apocalyptic exchange of nuclear fire, because that inevitably ends with the demise of the North Korean regime and their top priority is avoiding that fate. By the same token, it’s not going to be “we were just bluffing; of course we surrender”. They have been planning and training to fight a nuclear war, and they expect or at least hope to survive the experience. And that isn’t entirely implausible.

    The North Koreans are fairly clear on who their enemies are. The South Korean government but not its people, the United States of America, and the Japanese. They aren’t wrong about this; every credible war plan against North Korea involves the combined efforts of those three nations. This affords Pyongyang a strategic opening. If they can split any one nation from the alliance, their odds start looking pretty good. And nuclear missiles can make a persuasive argument, both in directly and separately threatening each of the allied nations, and in causing them to doubt that the other allies would make the ultimate sacrifice to defend or avenge them.

    North Korean propaganda repeatedly and explicitly threatens to turn the capitals of all three nations into “seas of fire” in the event of a war. But, at least in the case of Seoul, if you read the fine print they are talking about destroying South Korea’s centers of government, not randomly devastating the city at large. They have also “accidentally” revealed some of their other high-priority targets. The South Korean port of Busan. The US air base at Iwakuni, Japan. The island of Guam, a major US air base and logistics hub. Pearl Harbor. San Diego, home of the US Pacific Fleet. Barkesdale AFB, home of the US Global Strike Command.

    Extrapolating from this, the North Koreans plan to use their long-range missiles against air bases from which strikes against North Korea would be conducted, against logistics hubs from which military operations against the North would be supported, and against their enemy’s top-level military and civilian command centers. Short-range missiles like the Toksan are likely meant for use against major elements of an invading army. This isn’t a matter of finding “military targets” to justify nuking cities full of people you hate, this is a sound strategy for degrading allied warfighting ability.

    If North Korea is going to be selective about what they destroy, they are going to be selective about when as well. Firing off everything at once, leaves the regime defenseless and doomed. The only strategy that has a chance of keeping the regime intact, is to not merely hurt and weaken their abilities, but to promise them still worse to come if they don’t back down. The North Koreans are developing missiles with high cross-country mobility and rapid response time, they’ve built a tunnel network the dwarves of Moria would envy and practiced launching missile salvos from just outside the entrances, and now they are working on ballistic-missile submarines. These are not first-strike weapons, they are weapons for someone looking forward to a second or even third or fourth strike even after their enemies take their best shot at them.

    North Korea’s first strike probably won’t even be nuclear. We know from defector interviews that their corps-level commanders have the authority to use chemical weapons in response to any attack on North Korean soil, without waiting for permission from Pyongyang. When it comes time to unleash the long-range missiles, and those do require orders from the top, there are many hundreds of missiles but only a few dozen nuclear warheads, so probably the first salvos will be something less than nuclear as well. But if none of the allies takes the opportunity to back down when their punishment is “merely” a few thousand dead from a nerve gas attack, North Korea will eventually break out the nukes.

    Depending on the nature of the evolving conflict, that first nuclear strike could be a tactical nuclear weapon directed against the spearhead of an invading army (maybe even on North Korean soil), or a demonstration shot against e.g. a sparsely-populated contested island. Most likely it would be against a strategic military target in one of the three allied nations. But only one, at first, because the winning move is to break the alliance. If it turns out one nuke isn’t enough, there will likely be other opportunities.

    The allies, of course, are not just going to sit there and take it. The moment the war reaches the level of direct attacks against an enemy nation, the US and ROK at least are going to be targeting anything in North Korea that looks like it might be hiding a missile launcher, along with any air defense system that might get in their way. They’ll probably have a few days while we concentrate on reducing their air defenses; beyond that the pace of Scud-hunting on the 21st-century Korean peninsula is a very big unknown. Best case, it goes faster than anyone expects and North Korea’s missiles are destroyed while they are still figuring out what to do with them. Worst case, they only think it’s happening that fast, and are pressured into launching all their nukes before they lose them on the ground.

    If we can’t destroy the missiles on the ground, we’ll shoot them out of the sky. Mostly. Well, we’ll try. The Patriot missile system was notoriously problematic in stopping Iraq’s Scud missiles during Operation Desert Storm, but that was a quarter of a century and two upgrade cycles ago. The latest versions work much better – there’s a war going on right now in which over fifty Scuds and Tochkas have been fired at a US ally, with almost 75% being destroyed in flight by Patriot missiles. South Korea and Japan are defended by an integrated system of Patriot, Aegis, and now THAAD, which should be better than 90% effective under similar conditions.

    Unfortunately, the conditions won’t be similar. First, we’ll be dealing with Scud-ER and Nodong missiles, which deliver detached warheads at up to twice the speed of classic Scuds. Unclear how much of a difference that makes. Their ICBMs, eventually, will fly fast enough that only the Alaska-based NMD system will have much chance against them, and NMD only scores 50% in peacetime tests. Second, Yemeni Scuds come one at a time; North Korea has been practicing volley launches and time-on-target salvos. THAAD and Patriot have been successfully tested against a five-missile salvo, once; North Korea can probably deliver twenty simultaneous missiles from five different launch sites. They won’t all be nuclear, but that’s not a shell game anyone wants to play.

    Finally, the North Koreans aren’t likely to let us take free shots against their missiles. They will probably consdier targeting the missile defenses themselves – particularly the single THAAD site covering the Korean peninsula. Beyond the purely tactical effect, that’s an ideal target for “are you sure you want to fight this war?” last-ditch deterrence. They’ve got options, starting with coordinated salvo firing until they get lucky. Their ballistic-missile submarines won’t have to go far offshore to strike from outside THAAD’s engagement arc. And they have formidable special-operations forces, capable of insertion by land, sea, and air and of striking the most valuable targets in South Korea. Do THAAD crews practice missile defense while under close-range mortar fire?

    TL,DR: North Korea isn’t likely to launch anything nuclear unless they believe they are under attack; then all bets are off. They will likely start with chemical weapons, then step up to single nuclear strikes against military targets in one of the allied nations. If that doesn’t work, broader attacks against airbases, logistics hubs, and command centers, many of these in or near cities, until at least one of the allies decides maybe this isn’t their fight after all and the North Korean Army drives off the degraded remnants of a broken alliance. That’s the plan, which we will confound by destroying their missiles on the ground and in the air. They’ll confound our plans with shoot-and-scoot tactics from hidden tunnels, coordinated missile salvos, and attacks on missile defense sites. There are huge unknowns in how all of this will work in practice.

    Or maybe we’ve gotten this all wrong, and Kim-Muad’Dib will end up using the atomics against a natural terrain feature that is in his way. As I said, discerning plans is harder than discerning technical capabilities. But this is my best guess, and that of the people I work with. Maybe we’ll find out if we were right.

    • bean says:

      Very interesting, and it makes a bit more sense of Kim’s actions. I think you probably underrate the capabilities of missile defense, though. In particular you don’t do more than mention AEGIS, which has been doing very well, and it’s not a coincidence that Japan has been the most active partner in AEGIS BMD.

      • John Schilling says:

        Aegis doesn’t have the combat record Patriot does, but should deliver about the same ~75% intercept probability within its rather larger kinematic envelope.

        One of my colleagues has a half-written paper on this that I should probably bug her to finish, but the bottom line is that a two-tiered system should provide at least 90% effective missile defense for either South Korea or Japan, with THAAD plus Patriot being preferred for Korea and Aegis plus Patriot for Japan. But that’s assuming the demonstrated performance in simple engagements, holds when we start adding things like large time-on-target salvos, SLBMs popping up at wholly unexpected times and places, and suppressive fire against the missile defense sites. So we really don’t know.

        Aegis at least has the advantage that North Korean special forces can’t raid the ships at sea. OTOH, their submarines could maybe torpedo them, particularly if we constrain the Aegis ships to operate close inshore to provide maximum coverage.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      It sounds as though NK doesn’t want to use its missiles unless its attacked. (Assuming current intelligence is correct.) Is there anything which would make ROK, China, and/or the US likely to attack?

      • John Schilling says:

        There are no good reasons for anyone to attack North Korea, but that may not stop people from coming up with bad ones.

        It doesn’t help that North Korea uses lesser provocations in response to threats against peripheral territory and/or severe insults to national prestige. They are actually pretty good at walking back from these once they have made their point, but there is the potential for South Korea to decide that a forceful retaliation is needed and for North Korea to see that as an intolerable attack.

        Also doesn’t help that neither government is entirely stable. If a military incident unfolds while the South Korean government faces a domestic political crisis, Seoul may overreact either to shore up domestic political support or to ensure that Pyongyang doesn’t see the ROK’s instability as an invitation to force reunification. At the other extreme, a major political crisis in the North could have the South deciding that the time for reunification has come, or lead to a humanitarian crisis in which the South would feel compelled to intervene.

        And then there’s things like this.

      • Civilis says:

        It’s possible that any number of accidents or mistaken signals could be taken as an attack. There have been a number of maritime skirmishes between the two Koreas, one of which led to the sinking of a South Korean corvette. Artillery exercises by South Korea into disputed waters have led to North Korean shelling of South Korean territory, which was returned in kind. No government wants to seem weak by letting the other side have the last blow, which leads to the tendency to escalate.

        There also was that train explosion that supposedly missed killing Kim Jong Il by a few hours; whether or not it was a deliberate assassination attempt, something like that could easily be taken as an attempt to decapitate the North Korean leadership and lead to a military response.

    • The Nybbler says:

      This “peeling off an ally” strategy seems fairly unlikely from my perspective. If they “peel off” South Korea, presumably they win… but is South Korea really going to surrender in any realistic scenario before being defeated on the ground? If they peel off Japan with nukes, the US + South Korea still seems quite sufficient to defeat the North. And there is no way in the world they can “peel off” the US by nuking the US. Do they expect to peel the US off by nuking Japan or South Korea?

      (and of course there’s always “what will China do?”)

      • John Schilling says:

        The US and ROK would be hard-pressed to conduct a land war in Asia without Japanese ports and bases, so there’s a good chance that scenario devolves into our classic “hit them with a bunch of cruise missiles and JDAMs, then declare victory and go home” strategy. Even if we e.g. nuke Pyonyang to prove we’re really serious, when Kim emerges from his bunker to resume control of a nation we’ve gotten tired of bombing, we will have declared victory but he will have actually won one.

        Mostly, though, which ally North Korea can most plausibly peel off depends on whose war it is. If Donald Trump decides he needs to prove his strength by delivering ultimatums and escalations against North Korea, which today would endanger Seoul but not San Diego, Seoul may well be persuaded to evict US forces and look to China for any defensive alliance it feels it needs. If the ROK decides to roll north in response to some color revolution or humanitarian crisis, and it turns out North Korea can threaten San Diego, the US might cut them loose.

        A priori, I’d expect Japan to be both the weakest link and the preferred target for this class of strategy, but it is going to depend heavily on the details. And keep in mind, North Korea doesn’t need anybody to surrender to win; they’ve been doing quite well so far with just a ceasefire and status quo ante.

        • Evan Þ says:

          I agree that Japan’s probably the weakest link (unless someone like Trump manages to dramatically change American policy). But, why would losing Japanese ports and bases make such a huge difference? Doesn’t the US already have multiple bases in South Korea, with state-of-the-art ports supplying them? Or are you presuming most of South Korea already overrun, like at the start of the original Korean War?

          • John Schilling says:

            Not overrun, or at least not overrun by North Koreans. But transportation hubs in South Korea are likely to be overrun by refugees insisting that getting them on the next plane or ferry out takes precedence over the next shipment of munitions in. And subject to random missile bombardment, with everyone dropping work and running for shelter every time the siren goes off even though it’s probably just a conventional Scud that’s going to be intercepted anyway because what if it isn’t? Residual nerve gas contamination from the one that got through. Occasional raids by North Korean infiltrators. Trigger-happy security guards because of same. And, trigger-happy security guards, meet desperate refugees.

            More generally, the American logistical strategy involves using basically commercial transport to deliver men and material in-theatre, where it gets offloaded to tactical transport for delivery to the front. That works a lot better if you have secure bases that are within C-130 range of the front but you don’t have to worry about landing a chartered 747 under fire.

            We (including Japan) have already decided that Japan is going to be providing those bases, which means we’ve already committed by e.g. setting up the heavy maintenance facilities for all our aircraft there.

      • Protagoras says:

        It doesn’t have to be a good strategy to be the best strategy available to them.

      • Sfoil says:

        is South Korea really going to surrender in any realistic scenario?

        My understanding of the North Korean endgame that doesn’t involve going to war is that the two Koreas initially form a European Common Market-type quasi-confederacy based mostly on trade and industrial policy, and that this turns into the Korean EU via the same processes that led to the formation of the current EU. The North Koreans use subversion/progaganda to cause the ROK to cede more power to the Korean Union. Possibly a periodic collapse of the ROK government causes the completely neutral I swear Korean Union to step in and restore order, and voila, Korea is reunited under the Kims.

        This is, by the way, basically the South Korean non-violent endgame, at least on the “left” side. The rightists (who want to move in and liberate the North once the Kim regime collapses) believe that the liberals are knowingly or unknowingly playing into the “subversion” portion of the plan outlined above.

        • John Schilling says:

          The version I’ve seen (I read way too much North Korean propaganda) has Pyongyang in charge from the start, but with a Hong Kong-style “one country, two systems” deal in place. But North Korea isn’t limited to one consistent proposal, especially since the South isn’t going to accept any of them.

          Nor do they have to, in this context, because that’s not what the nuclear weapons are for. To actually win a nuclear war, North Korea only needs to convince South Korea (or the United States) to accept the exact same arrangement we all came up with last time, and we agreed to that one when the US had a monopoly on nuclear weapons. North Korea doesn’t need to conquer South Korea, any more than George Washington needed to conquer England.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      So how does Beijing feel about all of this?

      I’m not sure to what extent (if any) this is correct, but from what I understand China supports North Korea from a combination of a pragmatic desire to avoid encirclement by the US and out of lingering patriotic sentiment from the Korean War. But if they have to be pretty anxious about the idea of a nuclear exchange in the Korean peninsula.

      Even in the ‘best case’ scenario I don’t see any upside for them, and in the worst case they could get dragged into a game of global thermonuclear war.

      • ThaadCastle says:

        I think part of it is that they are afraid of a giant wave of refugees flooding their border from North Korea…so there is definitely concern about the wholesale collapse of the regime, as well as the risk that a country that has a significant American military presence suddenly expands right up to their border.

    • Deiseach says:

      Your presentation makes the North Korean military strategists sound very sensible, which is at odds with the general impression promulgated in the West of “ha ha, North Korea, they’re all chumps!”

      While I understand the propaganda value of representing to the general public that the Kim dynasty and the political set-up are a bunch of buffoons and nutjob fantasists with nothing like the levels of tech they claim to possess, it does seem to be ignoring that underestimating the enemy is always a bad idea. Do you have any idea if in private the military/political estimation of North Korea is more considered than the public “they’d like to do us harm but they only have the equivalent of a kid’s soap box derby car against our Porsches and Bugattis” spin?

      • John Schilling says:

        The military people I have talked with in private, mostly at the senior staff level, are absolutely not underestimating the threat. The Japanese have a bit of a blind spot when it comes to accepting that there is a nuclear threat to their cities today, rather than somewhere vaguely in the future, but even they are coming around. I don’t think the military underestimating the threat is going to be a problem.

        Politicians, I have a harder time reading.

        • gph says:

          Do you get the sense that they feel sustaining some losses now would be better than allowing the situation to continue developing toward greater NK nuclear capabilities? I know that’s not ultimately a decision for the military to make (scary that it’s in the hands of our current executive branch), but I’m wondering myself whether it would be better to confront this threat now or try to wait the regime out and hope some form of political/social collapse might not lead to a better resolution.

          Certainly from reading what you’ve said and generally what I know it would not be the cakewalk that pundits and joe blow think it would be even with the full force of the US military. But it sounds like it’s still a possibility at this point. If they are able to really start stockpiling nukes it will likely become untenable.

          • John Schilling says:

            If they are able to really start stockpiling nukes it will likely become untenable.

            We’ve done OK sharing the planet with Russia’s many thousands of nuclear weapons. What is untenable, is a significant North Korean nuclear arsenal combined with the assumption that North Korea isn’t a Real Country(tm) and we can disband its government whenever we feel like getting around to it.

            Which, from the North Korean perspective, is the whole point.

          • JDG1980 says:

            I asked this question before and didn’t get a straight answer.

            I suspect a lot of it comes down to different utility functions. If you are a globalist cosmopolitan and value NK lives equally to our own, then it’s indeed an impossible conundrum. But I’m not a globalist. If you value NK lives at zero, and Japanese and SK lives at some discount to American lives, then victory might be possible. History shows, IMO, that you simply cannot win a major war if preventing civilian casualties is your overwhelming objective. Certainly not if preventing enemy civilian casualties is your objective, which would have struck Sherman, Pershing, and Eisenhower as insane.

          • Skivverus says:

            @JDG1980

            The problem is that “we’re better than you” is not a sentiment that inspires cooperation or acquiescence (evidence from a different context: November 2016); but, more relevantly, if you value NK lives at zero there’s not nearly as much of an incentive to invade/bomb in the first place – if dead NK citizens don’t concern you, suffering/malnourished/etc NK citizens probably don’t either.

          • gph says:

            Sorry I meant untenable in the sense that we wouldn’t be able to topple the NK government through military actions once they become a strong nuclear power.

            Personally I don’t care much at all if a North Korea with strong nuclear capabilities comes into existence. It’s unlikely to affect me much. And for all the human rights abuses (which nearly every major world power has some blood on their hands in that context) it’s questionable whether sacrificing many lives now would even result in a much improved situation. After all, none of us really wants to feed or house the massive number of refugees that would flood out of NK post-war.

            But I can understand how Japan/SK might not be as unconcerned as me. And from a geopolitical perspective they are our greatest allies in the region and will likely remain that way. How the politics of the region will change given a strongly nuclear NK is hard to say, but it can’t be good for anyone other than China.

            While we have done OK sharing the planet with Russia, from the perspective as an American or even a globalist, it likely would have been much better if we had listened to Patton.

        • Deiseach says:

          I can understand Japan going “la la la, fingers in our ears, can’t hear you” if anyone wants to make them understand that no, they really are at risk of nuclear bombs really hitting their cities once again and this time it’s not going to be (relatively) small targets, especially since the American Occupation and rebuilding was very determined that Japanese defence forces could never and would never build up again to being the kind of armies that had designs on neighbouring countries or the USA, so Japan really does depend on the US for an umbrella of protection against North Korean bombs and the idea that the US might pragmatically decide to cut them loose in preference of South Korea/the American mainland must scare them green.

          But what can the politicians do? If they act in public like they’re taking North Korea seriously as a threat, doesn’t that validate North Korea in a way? I’d hope in private they’d agree with the military and have solid plans based on “these guys are not nuts, they know what they want to do, they’re determined to do it, and they’ll take us down as hard as they can if they’re going down first”. But doing public diplomacy is another kettle of fish and I have no idea what’s the best way to handle that: walk the tightrope between taking the threat seriously but not so seriously as to set off panic and demands that Something Must Be Done (I can imagine people publicly calling for “well why can’t we send in an assassination team to get Kim? they managed it with his brother in Malaysia!” in the kind of Navy SEALS operation which took out bin Laden, which would only make things a lot worse – I mean, I don’t think North Korea would react well to public calls for its leader to be killed by a foreign government, anymore than any other country would).

    • gbdub says:

      Their ballistic-missile submarines won’t have to go far offshore to strike from outside THAAD’s engagement arc.

      This doesn’t make sense to me – THAAD is an area defense weapon, so isn’t its relevant “engagement arc” limited by how far away the target it’s defending, rather than how far away the shooter is? Or are you talking about the subs going somewhere the radars aren’t looking before launching?

      Also you somewhat imply that Aegis/THAAD are only proven against SCUD type unitary targets, but they have been tested successfully (and continue to be tested) against separating targets.

      Nice series btw. Could you give a link to the post on the nukes themselves? I missed that one.

      • John Schilling says:

        Or are you talking about the subs going somewhere the radars aren’t looking before launching?

        The AN/TPY-2 radar for THAAD has a large phased-array antenna that can be electronically steered within at most a 120-degree arc but is blind outside that arc. And it’s expensive enough that there only ten of them in existence, of which South Korea gets one and Japan two. These are pointed at North Korea, and cannot detect missiles fired from places much outside of North Korea. If the North Koreans fire from a submarine a few hundred miles offshore, THAAD literally won’t see it coming.

        …they have been tested successfully (and continue to be tested) against separating targets.

        Performance in combat always comes up short of peacetime testing. Patriot’s ~75% success rate in combat is against unitary targets; it is going to be less than that against separating targets and nobody knows how much less. THAAD has no combat experience, and Aegis only against cruise missiles.

        Could you give a link to…

        The nukes post

        • gbdub says:

          THAAD batteries are expensive certainly, but still a lot cheaper than an Arleigh Burke and we have a lot more than 10 of those. And THAAD can supposedly be cued from remote radars, including Aegis ships (no idea how that would impact accuracy)

          Adding an extra AN/TPY-2 or two seems a lot easier than the challenge North Korea faces (developing and deploying a reliable SLBM and the sub to launch it, also getting the sub far enough out to sea to avoid THAAD without having an SSN on its ass).

          Actually that points to the only minor quibble I have with this post, it seems like you’re kind of assuming North Korean capability 5-10 years from now, vs. the current US/SK/Japanese deployment. While I have no doubt that NK will eventually get there, their test results seem fairly dismal so far (at least for the sub-launched and advanced missiles that are the biggest concern). It’s not like the MDA plans to sit on their hands in the interim. Then again, I suppose NK is probably on the quicker part of the learning curve, and will get better faster than we will.

          • John Schilling says:

            A TPY/2 costs more than a bare Aegis radar but less than a complete Aegis ship, so yes, we should be able to provide South Korea with a full-coverage system. Instead, we just deployed a standard one-radar battery this year, even though we know North Korea successfully tested an SLBM last year.

            And it’s hard for me to be optimistic about our learning curve when I’m seeing stuff like this fifteen years after we started deploying GBM. The MDA doesn’t plan to sit on its hands, but it doesn’t actually plan to fix the problems either. Fixing the problems requires acknowledging that there are problems, which offends the people who caused the problems. Doubling down on systems that don’t work is politically much more palatable, and the American military system does not include a provision for force-choking senior personnel who fail for what really needs to be the last time but probably won’t be.

          • gbdub says:

            GMD in general and the EKV in particular have been rather snake-bit with bugs (most of the failures did not include a fully functional EKV actually missing the target – two of them didn’t even launch). But it seems like that’s being taken to mean the whole concept is insurmountably flawed, which is also incorrect. Really it was a rapidly developed system deployed in the prototype stage, and it probably needs to be tested at a significantly higher rate (right now they’re at maybe one per year), with the acknowledgement that it’s a very hard problem and that some failures should be expected.

            I have to object to one of the statements in the linked article, something like “the tests are scripted to maximize success”. That’s misleading at best. In fact the tests have gotten progressively harder and more realistic. Given the expense and visibility of the tests, they don’t run a test they don’t have confidence will work, but they also aren’t re-flying easy mode over and over again to get the hit rate up.

            The attitude toward GMD testing baffles me a little. SpaceX gets praised for their rapid development, for trying something “everyone said was impossible” and for pressing in the face of failure. Meanwhile, any GMD failure results in politicians and pundits saying the whole thing ought to be shut down. But midcourse intercept of an ICBM warhead is probably at least as difficult as vertically landing a booster.

            Hell, if North Korea had the attitude toward missile testing that we did toward GMD, we wouldn’t need GMD in the first place, because they would have given up a long time ago.

          • John Schilling says:

            Really it was a rapidly developed system deployed in the prototype stage, and it probably needs to be tested at a significantly higher rate (right now they’re at maybe one per year), with the acknowledgement that it’s a very hard problem and that some failures should be expected.

            Yes, and if that happens, a higher level of confidence in GBI/NMD will be warranted. It isn’t happening.

            The other thing that needs to be happening, and isn’t, is that the results of that testing need to be fed back in to the process of designing a Mark I operational system, because you don’t go to war with an experimental prototype if you can help it no matter how many bug fixes you do. The British built one Dreadnought, relegated to second-line service in a war fought only eight years later as the ships built on her experience did the actual fighting. The P-59 never saw combat; the P-80/T-33 served for half a century.

            The attitude toward GMD testing baffles me a little. SpaceX gets praised for their rapid development, for trying something “everyone said was impossible” and for pressing in the face of failure. Meanwhile, any GMD failure results in politicians and pundits saying the whole thing ought to be shut down.

            If SpaceX’s rockets were failing to deliver their payloads to orbit half the time, for whatever reason, they’d be getting damn little praise and no national security contracts, and you know it.

          • bean says:

            I’m broadly with gbdub on this one. Yes, GMD is doing poorly now, and we should be pushing to develop it faster. But I also know what the hit rates on early SAMs and AMMs were, and 50% is pretty good by those standards.

            The British built one Dreadnought, relegated to second-line service in a war fought only eight years later as the ships built on her experience did the actual fighting.

            Not really. She was transferred out of the Grand Fleet after Jutland, but mostly because they had enough ships there and needed more firepower facing down the potential bombardment forces. She was sent back to the Grand Fleet in 1918, and the Bellerophons, which were a very lightly-improved version of Dreadnought, stayed with the Grand Fleet throughout the war. I suspect Dreadnought’s transfer to Sheerness had more to do with ship availability and refit schedules than anything. She’d been in yard hands for two months just before the transfer, although I don’t have details on what was done there.

    • gbdub says:

      So the North Korean War strategy as you present it makes a lot of sense, right up to the part where one of their nukes actually goes off in Yokosuka or San Diego. Presumably at that point we’d respond with whatever magnitude of nuclear retaliation is required to render North Korea a non-functioning state, and there’d be nothing they could do to stop us.

      So do they think we lack the resolve to respond with nuclear retaliation (are they right? We did freak out about the mere possibility that we killed 200 civilians in an active war zone…)? Do they hope their nukes don’t make it past the missile defense, but the mere fact they launched them brings us to the table? Or are they betting all their marbles on getting us to back down before they have to pull the nuclear trigger?

      • John Schilling says:

        …whatever magnitude of nuclear retaliation is required to render North Korea a non-functioning state,

        This is an unfortunately vague standard. The United States seems quite willing to “bomb its enemies back to the stone age” and declare victory, trusting that the enemy regime will be toppled by its own people Real Soon Now. Which doesn’t actually happen, leaving those enemies to rule their decidedly non-stone-age nations for many years to come.

        The North Korean regime has put its most important stuff far enough underground that digging it out is going to involve millions of innocent civilian deaths or an ugly ground war, or both. If their back is to the wall, and it has been since at least 2001, the Kim regime might as well bet that we will balk at signing up for that but instead settle for nuking a bunch of military targets and declaring North Korea a post-apocalyptic Forbidden Zone.

        Or are they betting all their marbles on getting us to back down before they have to pull the nuclear trigger?

        Outside of exotic scenarios where e.g. South Korea and Japan are just shy of joining an alliance with North Korea and China against the Renegade Trump Regime, the smart move is to save e.g. San Diego as the second-to-last target after a whole lot of preliminaries involving threats and then chemical and ultimately nuclear strikes against targets outside the US proper. Give us plenty of chances to back down, give our allies plenty of opportunities to tell us to knock it off, all the while holding US cities at risk if we don’t.

        If none of that works, might as well nuke San Diego and see if we’ll ultimately wimp out with Washington still at risk. If that doesn’t work, there’s nothing left but to nuke Washington and retire to the bunker with your favorite mistress and the cyanide pills.

        • bean says:

          Based on how smart the North Koreans are, what makes you think they’d nuke Washington? Seriously, if that were to happen, think of how much more efficient the US would be.

        • Paul Brinkley says:

          The North Korean regime has put its most important stuff far enough underground that digging it out is going to involve millions of innocent civilian deaths or an ugly ground war, or both.

          I hope you have some text written up that expands on the mini-game of putting stuff underground and blowing up other nations’ underground stuff, because if you do, I would love to learn more about it.

          (About all I know about it is armchair stuff I could deduce using about a year’s worth of college physics, plus what I catch in the news – digging bunkers, building bunker busters, either hiding or advertising that you’re working on either one, etc.)

      • Sfoil says:

        As John Schilling pointed out, even in a worst-case retaliation, the regime could likely physically survive, and they almost certainly believe so. The North is quite well aware of the fact that the US basically did this to them already during the Korean War (the proposed use of nuclear weapons then was against China, and possibly tactical; there were no more suitable strategic targets left in North Korea). They probably also believe that they can at least fight off the South Koreans if such a comprehensive stand-off strike were followed by an invasion, probably through a combination of second strikes and mountain warfare.

        While the North might hope we lack the resolve for massive retaliation, either chickening out when it’s “just” Japan getting hit or sticking to a tit-for-tat we can’t win (think Vietnam), they probably don’t plan on it.

        That reminds me of something: Any idea what civil defense looks like in North Korea? The South pretty much doesn’t care, probably a bad idea not just because of the nukes but the amount of panic even a suspected chemical attack could cause.

        • John Schilling says:

          South Korea actually cares very much about civil defense, holding national drills roughly every other month. Shelters are omnipresent, and in Seoul integrated into a general warren of subways, pedestrian tunnels, and underground shopping malls.

          North Korea, we know less about but their preparations are probably at least as extensive as the South’s. Note that, until recently, foreigners were explicitly barred from most of the Pyongyang subway system.

          And consider it from the regime’s perspective. If roughly the entire civilized world is offering you the choice between having your head mounted on a pike, or being locked away in a forgotten cell beneath the Hague until you rot, but you can find a Plan C that involves playing as a Boss from the Fallout series for the rest of your natural life, that counts as a win.

    • Amos says:

      Why not give them the peace treaty they want? I mean, sure North Korea’s leaders are not good people, but theres lots of not good people and not good leaders out there they we don’t feel the need to be on the edge of war with all the time.

  8. Machina ex Deus says:

    This is the culture-war-free Open Thread

    OK, now that I’ve gotten the PSA out of the way (Scott: could you use 72-pt red text, or maybe the blink tag?):

    There’s a thing where people identify something bad, but it’s completely unhelpful for making a diagnosis.

    My prime example is “simplistic”: as used, it just means “too simple” (to work, to be true, whatever). But the concept of “simplistic” is useless for evaluating something: maybe you can come up with a good measure of simplicity, but you can’t tell if something is too simple to work without directly addressing the question of whether it works.*

    I think “concern trolling” is also an example: after you’ve shown that the person in question does not truly have your group’s interests at heart, you’ve demonstrated that she is in fact concern trolling. But again, this is totally unhelpful for diagnosis: it’s easy to see if someone is expressing concern, but that in itself is not evidence that she’s insincere (and thus trolling).

    Yet people try to use these concepts for diagnosis all the time: “That explanation is very simple, therefore it is simplistic, therefore it is wrong”; “You are arguing that the group should do X, claiming concern for its goals, therefore you are a Concern Troll, therefore you are wrong (plus evil).”

    Is this just bad pattern-matching? Is it something else? What’s the best way to get people to see that they are doing this?

    What other examples of this have you run into?

    (* Setting aside the cases where the thing is actually too complicated to work.)

    • Jiro says:

      it’s easy to see if someone is expressing concern, but that in itself is not evidence that she’s insincere (and thus trolling).

      The fact that someone shows one of the signs of doing X is evidence that they are doing X. It’s not 100% proof, but it’s certainly evidence. This is true for your other examples too; the fact that something is simple is evidence (but not proof) that it’s simplistic. That’s how evidence works.

      Of course, even though the evidence means the chance of X goes up, it may not go up enough for you to care about it, but that’s a case by case thing, not a universal rule that applies to all evidence like that.

      • The Nybbler says:

        It’s evidence, but it’s not evidence useful at making the distinction you want to make. That is, you care much more about P(concern troll | concern) than you do about P(concern troll).

        A patient walks into a doctor’s office with a new mole on his arm. This is evidence of melanoma… but that’s hardly what the patient wants the doctor to tell him, he probably already knows that. He wants to know if _this_ mole is cancerous, given that he already has it.

      • Machina ex Deus says:

        I can kind of see that someone expressing concern is evidence that she’s concern trolling, since most people who are not concern trolling do not express any concern at all.

        But once you know she is expressing concern, that fact (that she’s expressing concern) doesn’t help you determine whether she’s sincere at all. It’s like the case where you’re on a jury and the defendant says he’s innocent: that’s not evidence he’s guilty, even though 99.9% of guilty defendants tell juries they’re innocent.

        The simplicity thing is a little more complicated, since there are many ways for a theory to be bad besides being too simple (e.g. being too complicated, or not being accurate at predicting despite not being simple). I suppose what we’re looking for is a good theory, in which case a candidate theory’s simplicity is simultaneously (a) evidence that it’s likely to be too simple to accurately predict reality (simplistic) and therefore bad, and (b) evidence that it’s likely to be parsimonious, and therefore good.

        But similarly, once you know a theory has a certain level of simplicity, you still need to test it against reality to know whether it’s any good or not.

        I suppose you could rephrase (a) above as, “This theory is so simple, I’d be surprised if it gives accurate predictions about reality.” But then if it does give accurate predictions, your benefit (information gain) is proportional to your surprise.

        • Jiro says:

          It’s like the case where you’re on a jury and the defendant says he’s innocent: that’s not evidence he’s guilty, even though 99.9% of guilty defendants tell juries they’re innocent.

          P(A|B) = P(B|A) P(A) / P(B).

          A = is guilty
          B = claims to be innocent

          If all people, both innocent and guilty, claim to be innocent, P(B) is 100% and P(B|A) is also 100%, so no, something which is done by everyone, both innocent and guilty, is not evidence.

          Also, I can think of cases where the fact that someone says X is good evidence for bad motives. For instance, if someone doubts that 6 million Jews were killed in the Holocaust, that’s strong evidence that they are a white supremacist.

      • Deiseach says:

        The fact that someone shows one of the signs of doing X is evidence that they are doing X.

        But surely the difference between concern trolling and showing concern is that in the former, the motives of the person doing it are suspect and that it is thought they are hiding their real reasons under a disguise of being ‘on the same side’ but want to get you to change or stop or start something that will ultimately be to your disadvantage?

        I think someone saying “Guys, if we post about wanting to bathe in the blood of our enemies, people are going to think we’re advocating for the use of violence and this will drive them away without considering our case” could be acting out of genuine concern and not trolling, but by your metric they should be considered as “if it quacks like a duck, it’s a duck” (whereas concern trolling should be “if it quacks like a duck, it’s a decoy for the hunter to lure us”).

    • AnonYEmous says:

      Edit: No.

      Anyways:

      I call this the Bayesian fallacy. I don’t know if I’m using the term correctly, but it’s basically the idea that, because something is usually wrong, it’s wrong this time. That’s fine if you don’t have time to investigate, but if you do you should look further, and in fact it’s usually just a form of mind-killing to prevent further debate.

    • Iain says:

      I question how frequently people use “simplistic” and “concern-trolling” as evidence, rather than as conclusions. Off the top of my head, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything as blatant as “You are arguing that the group should do X, claiming concern for its goals, therefore you are a Concern Troll, therefore you are wrong (plus evil).”

      To the extent that it looks like people are doing so, I think it is generally just a case of Not Showing your Work. The implication is that, within the community of discourse, the reasons that it is simplistic / concern-trolling are so obvious that there is no need to rehash them. If this is false, then the correct response is for the accused (or, even better, a third party) to point that out, and ask for the reasoning to be explained more fully.

    • J Mann says:

      If I’m charitable, then I think “simplistic” and “concern trolling” often stand for somewhat defensible ideas.

      On the other hand, I agree with you that dismissing an idea without detail prevents analysis or discussion.

      1) “Simplistic”: The situation is much more complex than you represent, and once you work through some of the complexities, you would see that your solution doesn’t work, but I’m too busy to work through the complexities for you, or I’m not smart enough to understand them, but accept some expert’s word that they exist, or you’re not smart enough to understand them. For example:

      Statement: My family couldn’t spend more than it takes in for very long without getting into trouble, so the US government shouldn’t either!

      Response: That’s simplistic and wrong.

      Better response: The situations aren’t analogous. The US government is spending more than it takes in in order to invest in growth, and is more like a corporation than a family. Also, with the ability to tax and print money, the US is able to respond to its debt, and continuing low bond rates show that crowdpredictions are that we’re not over our heads yet.

      On the other hand: if you don’t say the better response, you never test the ideas or have the potential of convincing the original speaker.

      2) Concern trolling: I think this is often shorthand for “given realistic constraints, we are doing the best we can under the circumstances, and your criticism that we should be doing something else is (a) not sincere and (b) doesn’t take those constraints into account.”

      Statement: If Al Gore is so concerned about global warming, why does his house consume as much power as some neighborhoods, and why does he fly all over the place for vacations?

      Response: You’re concern-trolling; go away.

      Better response: As disgusted as I might be by Gore’s hypocrisy (or sin, I guess), it doesn’t do the cause any good to obsess over that. No matter how much marginal carbon Al Gore could save by living a more abstemious life, the case for carbon restriction remains the same. I don’t expect you to be convinced because of an appeal to Al Gore’s authority, I expect you to be convinced by the science.

      • Jiro says:

        If someone preaches X, whether X is carbon abstention or anything else, and doesn’t act as though X is true, there’s a big chance that they are untrustworthy, whether because they are deliberately lying or because they are engaging in motivated reasoning. People who are untrustworthy can omit inconvenient facts, use arguments that are invalid but which you can’t easily determine to be invalid, and skew their estimates of how good/bad things are when they have to trade them off.

        If you’re a perfect reasoner, with perfect access to information, this shouldn’t matter to you–whether an argument is correct is independent of the arguer’s motivations. But nobody is a perfect reasoner with perfect access to information.

        • J Mann says:

          I don’t mean that my charitable interpretations are always or even often correct, just that that’s what I think people probably mean.

          In Al Gore’s specific case, I agree that his behavior doesn’t indicate that he thinks the survival of the species is at risk, or that if he does, he’s a big fat hypocrite, but since I put zero value in an argument from Al Gore’s authority, it doesn’t do much for me.

          OTOH, I think that if people seriously believed what they say – that the lives of hundreds of millions are at risk and that carbon rationing is going to at best slightly reduce that risk – I think that it’s telling that we’re not doing substantially more work on geoengineering.

          • Jiro says:

            but since I put zero value in an argument from Al Gore’s authority, it doesn’t do much for me.

            The point is that it’s not his authority you have to worry about, it’s his trustworthiness.

          • 1soru1 says:

            A quick google suggests that Al Gore:

            I use only carbon-free electricity. Have 33 solar panels on my roof, seven deep geothermal wells under my driveway, LED lights and highest-grade energy-saving windows, max insulation, hybrid plug-in car, – See more at: http://www.ecorazzi.com/2013/10/24/al-gore-explains-how-he-lowers-his-carbon-footprint/#sthash.bBPaOWQU.dpuf

            Remaining complaints seem to be that his houses are large and plural. Which isn’t incompatible with anything except the most straw-man of environmental positions.

          • J Mann says:

            @1soru1

            As recently as 2007, Gore was using more than 10 times as much electricity as an average house in his area. I honestly have no idea how he was using that much, unless he is growing a lot of indoor crops or has a server farm or an aluminum plant or something.

            If the story is just that his house is 10 times as large as an average home in his area, well, that’s a carbon consumption decision that he made.

            http://www.snopes.com/politics/business/gorehome.asp

          • 1soru1 says:

            If the story is just that his house is 10 times as large as an average home in his area

            Yes, he is a fair proportion of a billionaire, on the level of Trump, if not quite the Kochs, so probably a lot bigger than that.

            Thing is, having a house a hundred times larger, but zero emissions, is not a problem for his argument. 100x zero is zero. And he’s not arguing for some form of austere communism, but
            basic protection of the environment. A position that doesn’t deserve to be called environmentalism, unless ‘not drinking bleach’ is a diet.

            He’s rich, he has a lot of stuff; the Earth is where he keeps it. What’s the problem again?

          • Nornagest says:

            Thing is, having a house a hundred times larger, but zero emissions, is not a problem for his argument. 100x zero is zero.

            The carbon emitted by the coal or oil or gas burned to make the electricity that a house consumes isn’t the whole story. There are also emissions inherent in its construction (setting concrete emits CO2; so do construction vehicles and the logging equipment used to cut down, transport, and prepare lumber, though the trees themselves are usually second- or third generation forest so that’s a wash), and, if you want to get really hippie about it, there’s also land-use changes to consider.

            I think most of this was covered in An Inconvenient Truth, actually.

          • Spookykou says:

            I thought people could buy carbon offset, do we know that Gore isn’t doing that, or do we know that carbon offsets are bogus?

          • Nornagest says:

            I’m pretty sure I remember reading somewhere that Gore is buying carbon offsets, but I’m also pretty skeptical of their validity. Some carbon-offset operations have turned out to be outright scams; I don’t think all of them are, but I wouldn’t take even the most reputable offsetters’ claims about how much carbon they’re offsetting at face value.

            (IIRC, most of them are just planting trees — and how much carbon that’s good for, varies wildly.)

          • J Mann says:

            @1soru1 – if Gore’s house was using as much electricity as ten normal houses in 2007, that suggests that he doesn’t think that global warming is such a threat that it should inconvenience him personally.

            I *guess* you could infer that his position is “global warming is an existential threat, but I am rich, so I should get to use as much carbon as I want.” I would find that position a little inconsistent, but you are entitled to buy it if you want.

            @SpookyKou – the main problem with offsets is that you always have the option of buying the offset AND reducing your electricity usage. (Similarly, Gore could put up all those solar panels and then use only 5x as much electricity as a normal person, then give the extra power to his neighbors.)

            At a minimum, it looks like Gore doesn’t think that global warming is such a serious problem that he should do *more* than his share. He’ll reduce his carbon a little more once you are forced to reduce yours, or once it’s convenient to him, but not before.

            As I said, I don’t personally find that all that interesting regarding the underlying case, but there it is.

          • suntzuanime says:

            “Anybody who disagrees with Al Gore favors drinking bleach” seems outside the spirit of the no-culture-war open thread.

          • Spookykou says:

            I am okay with the concept of giving what you can, reasonable charity goals, 10%, etc. So I don’t really see a conflict with setting a goal (carbon neutral) and just striving for that, while proselytizing for your cause (which is kind of another way to ‘give’ to the cause anyways).

            Although it does sound like the whole carbon offset thing is kinda sketchy.

          • Matt M says:

            “So I don’t really see a conflict with setting a goal (carbon neutral) and just striving for that”

            I think the point is that there is ample reason to suggest someone using 10x the electricity of a normal household is not actually “striving” towards such a goal at all…

          • Nornagest says:

            Minimizing electricity use isn’t the point, minimizing carbon emissions is the point. That works for Gore in some ways (he could be carving his name into the moon with a megawatt laser on the roof for all anyone should care, provided it’s powered by solar or geothermal) and against him in others (there are lots of less obvious forms of carbon emission that are harder to get rid of).

          • Spookykou says:

            @Matt M

            I would need to know a lot more before reaching that conclusion, although it might be true, I know next to nothing about Al Gore or his energy use, I was mostly speaking to the argument. Ultimately the 10x normal household figure looks like a big scary number out of context to me and I don’t assign it much value in isolation.

          • 1soru1 says:

            if Gore’s house was using as much electricity as ten normal houses in 2007

            2007, year of Umbrella and Sweet Escape, was 10 years ago. 1 year after ‘an inconvenient truth’ came out, and 2-3 years after he decided to focus on the issue.

            That’s a very narrow window to support the claim ‘he doesn’t believe what he says’, as opposed to ‘it takes time to make changes to old houses’, let alone the ‘new technology needs to be developed to make doing so cheaper’ that he would presumably say.

          • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

            2007, year of Umbrella and Sweet Escape, was 10 years ago. 1 year after ‘an inconvenient truth’ came out, and 2-3 years after he decided to focus on the issue.

            What? Gore has been at this for decades.

          • Controls Freak says:

            Minimizing electricity use isn’t the point, minimizing carbon emissions is the point. That works for Gore in some ways (he could be carving his name into the moon with a megawatt laser on the roof for all anyone should care, provided it’s powered by solar or geothermal)

            That depends on your assumptions and timescale.

          • PedroS says:

            “do we know that carbon offsets are bogus?”

            I have no reason to think that carbon offsetting is bogus (though it may be a prime target for scammers)… It does smell too strongly like a “Sale of Indulgences” for my taste.

          • Chalid says:

            I *guess* you could infer that his position is “global warming is an existential threat, but I am rich, so I should get to use as much carbon as I want.”

            I think the right thing would be to take the US working-age population, regress tons of carbons burned on income, and then see whether the person of interest falls far from the fitted line.

          • Iain says:

            The carbon footprint of each individual American citizen is negligible. This is true even if you use ten times more electricity than the norm. The problem is the collective carbon footprint of humanity as a whole, which must be tackled through advocacy, research and so on — that is to say, the sorts of things that Al Gore is involved in.

            This is like that argument about Ayn Rand using Social Security and Medicare.

          • random832 says:

            @suntzuanime

            “Anybody who disagrees with Al Gore favors drinking bleach” seems outside the spirit of the no-culture-war open thread.

            I’m not sure the discussion of “concern trolling” didn’t already go outside those bounds. Can anyone think of a non-culture-war area in which that accusation is frequently leveled?

            @Controls Freak

            That depends on your assumptions and timescale.

            Even if that is valid in the abstract, it probably is not useful for evaluating whether Al Gore is a hypocrite.

          • Ninety-Three says:

            Minimizing electricity use isn’t the point, minimizing carbon emissions is the point. That works for Gore in some ways (he could be carving his name into the moon with a megawatt laser on the roof for all anyone should care, provided it’s powered by solar or geothermal)

            I disagree. Once we have granted that carbon is bad, I think someone with clean energy generation is ethically obligated to send that energy to the grid in order to reduce the carbon emissions of other power plants, instead of wasting the energy on moon-carving. It’s the same reason that we’re all ethically obligated to spend money fighting malaria instead of buying fancy jackets.

            Now you can make the “giving what we can” argument that we’re not obligated to spend all our money fighting malaria so just as we should be allowed to spend some amount of money on entertainment, we should be able to spend some amount of electricity on moon-carving. As someone who gives less than all my money to malaria, I have a hard time disagreeing with this argument, but I disagree with you because you don’t seem to be making it.

          • Nornagest says:

            I disagree. Once we have granted that carbon is bad, I think someone with clean energy generation is ethically obligated to send that energy to the grid in order to reduce the carbon emissions of other power plants, instead of wasting the energy on moon-carving. It’s the same reason that we’re all ethically obligated to spend money fighting malaria instead of buying fancy jackets.

            What you mean ‘we’, white man?

            Yeah, what you’re saying makes sense under standard EA/earning-to-give assumptions. I’m just not on board with those assumptions, and I don’t particularly feel like getting in a fight about them right now. Fortunately, we can talk about Gore’s personal environmental impact without agreeing on any obligations he may or may not have incurred by virtue of being richer than God; the charge here was hypocrisy, not heresy.

          • rlms says:

            @Ninety-Three
            Not dedicating 100% of your efforts into altruism isn’t some weird thing that needs justification. It’s the default position.

          • Ninety-Three says:

            @rlms: Yes, and I think I acknowledged that.

            The point I was trying to get at is that if Al Gore were literally carving his name into the moon with a solar-powered laser, I think there would be some merit to calling him a hypocrite. In that hypothetical he is behaving extremely suboptimally towards his stated goal of reducing carbon (for if he turned the laser off, that electricity would go into the grid and reduce the amount of carbon put out by a coal plant in Iowa).

            Nornagest appeared to be saying this wasn’t the case, and in bringing up the notion of maximum charity I was inexpertly trying to get at the sentiment of “If you assert that everyone has a budget to be wasteful with carbon, that’s fine I guess, but you don’t seem to be doing that, and the hypothetical moon laser seems hypocritical without doing that.”

          • random832 says:

            I think there would be some merit to calling him a hypocrite

            Maybe. I think there’s a significant difference that’s being glossed over between calling him a hypocrite with the goal of convincing him to shut off the moon laser vs calling him a hypocrite as though that invalidates his position and means that he does not actually believe that global warming is a problem and he’s therefore part of a cabal of lizard-people whose secret goal is to make humans’ lives worse by forcing them to consume less energy.

          • Garrett says:

            I think part of the dislike of Al Gore’s house comes from quality-of-life reasons. That is, people generally realize that reducing CO2 emissions will cost them more for a comparable quality of life than they currently have, or a reduction in their quality of life.

            This would be more tolerable if Al Gore hadn’t already demonstrated (through revealed preferences) that living a happy life requires the use of even more energy than the average person.

            I suspect it would be less of an issue if most of the energy was going into a strange but neutral hobby (a greenhouse breeding rare orchids or something) rather than just large home ownership.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            This, and people are probably concluding that the explanation that he has a large home for unrevealed reasons that are consistent with him believing global warming is a threat is much less likely than the explanation that he owns a large home because he likes luxury, and believes that talking about global warming will get him political power that he expected to have in 2001, which will lead to more luxury.

            (He’s actually been banging this drum since before 2001, but it’s certainly been a lot louder afterward.)

        • Spookykou says:

          If someone preaches X, whether X is carbon abstention or anything else, and doesn’t act as though X is true, there’s a big chance that they are untrustworthy

          The disconnect between almost any important issue and the vast majority of people’s inability to be motivated to act proportionally to its importance in their day to day lives, seems too well established at this point for me to use the above as a useful heuristic for finding the truth.

      • cassander says:

        @J Mann says:

        Better response: The situations aren’t analogous. The US government is spending more than it takes in in order to invest in growth, and is more like a corporation than a family. Also, with the ability to tax and print money, the US is able to respond to its debt, and continuing low bond rates show that crowdpredictions are that we’re not over our heads yet.

        I realize your point is rhetorical, but this is decidedly wrong. the vast majority of US government is nothing close to even an exceptionally generous definition of the term “investment”. And a corporation can’t spend more than it takes in either, except in unusual circumstances. As for printing money, the macroeconomic effects of doing that are identical to those of defaulting. On bonds, greek bonds in 2007 looked pretty good too. bond markets always look pretty good, until they don’t.

    • Deiseach says:

      I think “simplistic” is indeed useful but it gets used too often as a put-down or insult, so the meaning is diluted. “Simple” is also not the same thing as “simplistic”, e.g.

      Simple:
      My leaking tap means I’m being charged for using more water than I actually do use

      Recommended Solution: fix the leak

      Simplistic:
      California often suffers water shortages

      Recommended Solution: Well, if everyone drains and doesn’t refill their swimming pools –

  9. Machina ex Deus says:

    I’ve been looking for the meaning of life for a while. Anybody here have it? Or at least know where to look?

    I think it involves happiness, but looking directly for happiness doesn’t seem to help.

    • keranih says:

      At least know where to look?

      I have a large volume, made up of multiple lesser works generally grouped together into two testaments, which I have found very useful.

      …to be less of an ass about it, seriously, how much have you investigated a religious practice? That is the shape that humans have used to look for meaning in, well, life the universe and everything, for quite some time, and many report success.

      I don’t think making “achieving happiness” is the key, and that striving for “achieving happiness” generally has multiple downsides.

      • massivefocusedinaction says:

        Within said large book is a smaller book specifically devoted to chronicling one man’s search for meaning in life.

      • hoghoghoghoghog says:

        Do these books actually address that issue? Suppose I grant the God exists and that there are certain things you shouldn’t do. It feels like I still don’t know the MoL.

        • keranih says:

          Do these books actually address that issue? Suppose I grant the God exists and that there are certain things you shouldn’t do. It feels like I still don’t know the MoL.

          On behalf of all Christiandom, I humbly apologize. We have done our one job (*) very, very badly.

          The Bible is absolutely not just a list of things which one should not do (or, “should do”.) It is above all else an extended dissertation on how to live with God, how to understand God, and how to understand the vast cosmos that God created. There is a certain amount of “stop demanding pat answers!” and “live with your limitations, stop trying to deny that you have limits!” in the last part (the understanding Creation bit.)

          There be three things which are too wonderful for me, yea, four which I know not: The way of an eagle in the air, The way of a serpent on a rock, The way of a ship in the midst of the sea, And the way of a man with a maid.

          The smaller book which people have talked about above is Ecclesiastes; the bit I quoted above is from Proverbs. Others that also deal with trying to figure out wtf we are here for include Job, Isaiah, and the Gospel of John.

          Understanding God – and understanding the limits of our understanding – is part of understanding the MoL.

          (*) Ok, so there are actually two jobs, and this was the second one, but still. Our bad.

          • hoghoghoghoghog says:

            It looks like we are in for an apology-fight. I should not have characterized Judeo-Christianity in such a rule-based way, and I apologize for making you feel you should apologize.

            But I also think that even Ecclesiastes does not answer this question. I interpret it as saying “not only do you not deserve to know the Meaning of Life, you do not even deserve to have a life with a Meaning. An essentially amoral but very old and powerful agent might just be playing with you.” Even if this is true, humans do seem to invest their lives with locally-defined meaning, and we should be able to describe and maybe systematize how they do that.

          • Evan Þ says:

            @ hoghoghoghoghog, might you be confusing Ecclesiastes and Job? As another Christian, what I pick up from Ecclesiastes is more like “there isn’t any meaning if you limit yourself to this world ‘under the sun,’ so ‘remember your Creator.'” There isn’t any sense that God might be playing cruel jokes.

            (What I pick up from Job, meanwhile, is that we might not see the meaning in things as we go through them – but there is still a meaning, and God knows it and is watching out for us.)

      • Machina ex Deus says:

        Those books are useful for the large view, and also for the day-to-day, but not so useful for figuring out what my medium-size goals should be. Heck, even career guidance is difficult to distill from them (aside from “keep on being a farmer” and “give up all your possessions and follow God”).

        (Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad I’m not a 17th-century Hindu: that would be way too much guidance.)

        • Evan Þ says:

          Hey, there’re a few more career tips there too, like “Thou shalt not steal,” and “Whatever you do, do it with all your heart.”

          But by and large… right. IMO, that’s where I should pray and listen to what God’s trying to tell me directly. Of course, actually hearing Him can be much more difficult.

    • The Nybbler says:

      For meaning of life, I’ve always has a soft spot for “a zygote is a gamete’s way of making more gametes”, but it’s close to nihilism.

      Happiness itself… I think that may be genetically determined. There are drugs which work in the short term, but they all seem to mess you up in the slightly longer.

    • Protagoras says:

      I guess I’m supposed to be an expert on that. Well, asking the question is a good start. If you don’t know what’s valuable, and it seems most people probably don’t, there isn’t going to be any sensible way to approach the question of how to get what’s valuable. So the first thing to do is to set to work on figuring out what’s valuable. Plato tries to convince us that just taking that first step is enough to make us much better off (with his example of the always cheerful Socrates), but he was perhaps overselling the approach. Still, I can’t see any flaw in his logic. Continuing with the theme of Plato’s advice on the subject, he seemed to think getting help from other people, via discussing the issue with others who had also come to recognize its central importance, was the way to go. It may be that subsequent investigations have offered more detailed strategies worth attempting.

    • Tonja says:

      In my opinion only symbols can contain meaning in so far as they point to something which is not themselves. We live a lot in symbol world (reading, writing, etc). So it’s tempting to think, that everything is a part of symbol world and so must have a meaning.

      The world “cat” has a meaning. A cat you see on the street has no meaning. You can create a version of that cat in symbol world: A black cat that walks across your path is a bad omen. But that’s not the meaning of the cat, but only of the symbol cat. The cat is just the cat.

      Same with life, you can create a version of life in symbol world, and you could make that version point wherever you like, but it won’t be the same as life.

      Why would you want to make life a symbol, isn’t it enough for it self?

    • Aapje says:

      I’ve been looking for the meaning of life for a while. Anybody here have it? Or at least know where to look?

      I think it involves happiness, but looking directly for happiness doesn’t seem to help.

      Satisfying your genetically programmed desires/needs and/or socially enforced norms to a decent extent? So all you have to do* is figure out your desires/needs, as well as the ability for you to satisfy these in the societal context and the costs associated with that.

      * there is no solid method for figuring that out.

      • hoghoghoghoghog says:

        Argument proves too much. It rejects Buddhism for meta-reasons. Even if Buddhism is wrong, it’s probably not so wrong that you should be able to dispose of it that easily.

        • Spookykou says:

          I think that depends, this seems like an issue of definitions(Oh Joy), can the ‘desire’ you need to figure out in Aapje’s proposal, be the desire to live a Buddhist life, free of desire. What do you call the thing that motivates you to be/continue being Buddhist? Whatever it is, you can probably use it to replace the word desire in the original proposal and it would still hold the same basic meaning.

        • Aapje says:

          @hoghoghoghoghog

          Humans are somewhat malleable, so I probably should have added the possibility to change yourself to be happy with what you have. My initial statement is admittedly biased towards the current Western mores (individuality, the idea that people should be themselves, etc).

          Buddhism seems to push people away from some of the things that social norms tend to push people towards (like material wealth or making a partner responsible for your happiness), so one can argue that it can be useful as a way to encourage people to ignore/reduce social norms that reduce happiness (and legitimize doing so in the eyes of others).

          I suspect that the Buddhist concept of Nirvana is not actually a happy place for most humans, but AFAIK Buddhism explicitly allows people to stop on the path to Nirvana where they feel happy and then let their rebirth make the next step. This seems like a decent way to reduce purity spirals.

    • Corey says:

      Make one up for yourself and run with it. Be agile; this is an iterative process.

      Also, per philosopher Carrie Bradshaw, “Life is what happens while you’re waiting for a table.” That is, it’s important to keep in mind what your life plan will have you doing day-to-day, since that’s how you’ll spend your life, even if the day-to-day activities are in service of Big Important Goals.

    • J Mann says:

      I think you have to find one that fits your tastes. I personally like it when people are nice to each other and create great works of art, so if yours is compatible with that, I’d appreciate it.

    • Deiseach says:

      I was thinking about this a while back (warning: not very cheerful due to a fit of melancholia) and setting aside religious propositions, there is no meaning to life or indeed any existence at all, or any meaning of the universe.

      Eventually the earth will end, the sun will end, and the universe itself will end. Maybe it’ll start back up again in another Big Bang, maybe not. It doesn’t matter either way. There is no purpose, meaning, cause or reason for anything to be the way it is, except that the ‘laws of physics’ mean that energy acts in a certain way and matter results from some of that and matter is bounded by its properties. It’s not necessary for life to exist, and if life exists it is not necessary for it to be intelligent, and if it is intelligent that means nothing, save for whatever ‘meaning’ or ‘purpose’ the entity or species chooses to select for itself as an aim, goal or distraction from the ultimate futility and purposelessness of everything.

      Yes, the night sky is glorious. Yes, there is beauty in the world. Yes there are true things (we’re still trying to work out are there good things vis-à-vis systems of morality and ethics). Yes to all of that. But it is also meaningless. There is nothing ultimately achieved by us finding the starry skies beautiful, you can work out a system of aesthetics but it derives from a by-product of evolutionary psychology; it’s a spandrel, as are most/all of our attempts to derive purpose.

      The only purpose of life is to exist and it has no more choice about that than water has a choice about its states of matter or how many or what sort of atoms make up a molecule of water. Eventually it will all cease. We are born, we live, we die. That’s all there is to it. And one day the universe will die. Kill yourself now or be killed, or die in sixty years time of natural causes – there is no difference on the geological scale of time, much less the universal one. Not even an eyeblink of difference.

      Pick a reason, a philosophy, an ethos for living if you wish; you can do so and it’s your life so if it makes you happier to have a reason, go ahead (it really doesn’t matter if that reason is “extract the last drop of utility for myself and my thriving” or “heal the sick, comfort the afflicted, do lasting good in the world”). A monster, a saint: no difference. Yes, there’s a difference in the immediate moment to the people on the receiving end, but that’s the same impulse as “this male moth mated with that female moth instead of the other female moth and so this toss of the genetic dice was perpetrated instead of that one”, and it’s all the same ultimately unmeaning, worthless end – life striving to continue existing, one earthworm thinking its mouthful of dirt is the most important mouthful in the entirety of all it knows, one person thinking their philanthropy or economic system or political campaign or war or bomb is the most important and vital and meaningful attempt made by a human in all of history – no difference at all, whether it is millions dead or billions rich and happy, honestly no difference because it doesn’t matter at all, not a straw’s weight.

      It doesn’t matter in the long run. Nothing matters in the long run. There is no reason, purpose, meaning, or “it had to be this way” in anything at all from the most sub-microscopic fine-grained farthest down layer of what we call reality up to the greatest macroscopic universal overarching envelopment. Death is all that will happen, and death is as meaningless as life. It starts, it stops.

      • Skivverus says:

        I would amend this: there is no meaning to the universe easily comprehensible to the human mind (aside from your aforementioned religious exceptions). The worm has no concept of the garden – at least, not without extensive wandering around the trellises and fences and noticing the regularities there.

        • gph says:

          Sure but you can question meaning ad infinitum, e.g. even if the worm had a concept of the garden, what’s ultimately the meaning or purpose of the garden?

          It’s turtles all the way down I tell you.

      • J Mann says:

        Catullus had some thoughts on the meaning of life:

        Suns can rise and set again; when our brief light
        is gone, we sleep the sleep of eternal night
        Give me a thousand kisses, and a hundred more

    • IrishDude says:

      Here’s an interesting long answer from a podcast transcript I read recently. The interview was with Naval Ravikant, an Angel investor in Silicon Valley:

      Q: I want to end with a really unbounded, big question, which is: What is the meaning and purpose of life?

      A: That’s a big question. Because it’s a big question, I’ll give you three answers. One is it’s personal. You have to find your meaning. Any piece of wisdom that anybody else gives you, whether it’s Buddha or you or me, is going to sound like nonsense. I think fundamentally you just have to find it for yourself, so the important part is not the answer, it’s the question. You just have to sit there and dig with the question. It might take you years or decades. When you find an answer you’re happy with, that will be fundamental to your life.

      The second answer I would give is there is no meaning to life. There is no purpose to life. Osho said, “It’s like writing on water or building houses on sand.” The reality is you’ve been dead for the history of the universe, it’s 10 billion years or more. You will be dead for the next 70 billion years or so until the heat death of universe.

      Anything you do will fade. It will disappear, just like the human race will disappear and the planet will disappear. Get to Mars, even that group will disappear. No one is going to remember you past a certain number of generations, whether you’re an artist or a poet or a conqueror or a pauper or nothing. There’s no meaning.

      You have to create your own meaning, which is what it boils down to. You have to decide. Is this a play that I’m going to that I’m just watching? Is there a self-actualization dance that I’m doing? Is there a specific thing that I desire just for the heck of it? These are all meanings you are making up.

      There is no fundamental intrinsic purposeful meaning to the universe. If there was, then you would just ask the next question. You’d say, “Why is that the meaning?” It would just be, as Richard Feynman said, it would be turtles all the way down. The whys would just keep accumulating. There is no answer you could give to that question that wouldn’t have another why.

      I don’t buy the everlasting afterlife answers because it’s insane to me, with absolutely no evidence, to believe that because of how you live 70 years here on this planet, that you’re going to spend an eternity, which a very long time, in some afterlife. What kind of silly God judges you for eternity based on some small period of time here? I think that after this life, it’s very much like before you were born. Remember that? It’s going to be just like that.

      Before you were born, you didn’t care about anything or anyone, including your loved ones, including yourself, including humans, including whether we go to Mars or whether we stay on planet Earth, whether there’s an AI or not. You just don’t care.

      I met this entrepreneur who was obsessed with Steve Jobs and he was making all of these sacrifices trying to be like the next Steve Jobs. I said to him, “Do you want to be exactly like Steve Jobs right now?” He said, “Yes.” I said, “Steve Jobs is dead. He doesn’t care about anything. He’s gone. Like zero. He’s not registering at all. If you want to be like Steve Jobs, you don’t want to be Steve Jobs, just be you, right now. He would trade places with you right now in an instant if he could.” I don’t think there’s any real meaning or purpose to life.

      The last answer I’ll give you is a little more complicated than that. From what I’ve been reading in science, friends of mine have written books on this, and I’ve kind of stitched together some theories. Maybe there is a meaning to life, but it’s not a very satisfying purpose.

      Basically, in physics, the arrow of time comes from entropy. Second law of thermodynamics says that entropy only goes up, which means disorder in the universe only goes up, which means concentrated free energy only goes down. If you look at what living things are, living systems, humans, plants, civilizations, what have you, these are systems that are locally reversing entropy. Humans locally reverse entropy because we have action.

      In the process, we globally accelerate entropy until the heat death of the universe. You could come up with some fanciful theory, which I like, that we’re headed towards the heat death of the universe, where there’s no concentrated energy, where everything is sort of at the same energy level. Therefore, we’re all one thing. We’re essentially indistinguishable.

      What we are doing, as living systems, is we’re accelerating getting to that state. The more complex of a system you create, whether it’s through computers and civilization or through art or mathematics or just through creating a family, you’re actually accelerating the heat death of the universe. You’re pushing us to towards this point where we end up as one thing. I think that’s kind of an unsatisfying answer if you’re looking for personal meaning today in your life.

      • Gobbobobble says:

        Humbug to #3. It’s like arguing that bailing out a boat is inexorably driving the world toward flooding (assume for the moment that fancy hydrologic cycles don’t exist). The sheer scale of what you’re “contributing” is infinitesimal and your action is necessary for anything meaningful to exist.

        whether it’s through […] art or mathematics or just through creating a family

        Yeah, sure, technically, but if you don’t, as with the boat, nothing awaits but the cold, empty abyss.

        You need to break out the Kardashev scales and weigh in at at least a 2 before you start to have an impact on universal entropy on the order of a single cow’s digestion’s impact on global warming.

        • IrishDude says:

          Never heard of Kardashev scales so I looked them up, interesting.

          #3 – life reversing local entropy and accelerating the heat death of the universe- is an interesting and (new to me) way to look at life, but it’s not too meaningful to me. On my dark and zen days #2 – no meaning, ultimately everything fades – is more salient to me. Day-to-day me finds #1 – meaning is personal, it’s up to each individual to find their own – to be true.

        • keranih says:

          Some how I feel that this is relevant.

          (Link to NPR segment on the comparative strength of the effect of the gravitational pull of Saturn vs the gravitational pull of the dog curled at your feet.)

    • Everything is more than one thing, and the meaning of life is three things. One is a satisfactory narrative or conceptual framing the world in general, another one is a sense of emotional satisfaction. Note the common factor.

      Intellectual satisfaction is like trying to read the world symbollically, like a book with a definitive meaning. this cannot work because the world is not symbolic of something else.

      Stable emotional satisfaction also cannot be achieved because neither emotions nor the circumstances that prompt then are stable.

      Satsifaction, contentment and purpose themselves, the third thing, do not need to be achieved. One can only lose them by imagining one needs to find them, like a dog chasing its tale. They are not things one has, but are things one is. Feeling satisfied is not a stable state, being satisfied is. One is already connected and so does not need to find connection. One is already part of the unfolding of history, so why would one need to find purpose?

    • hoghoghoghoghog says:

      Q1: “What is the meaning of life?”
      Q2: “What is valuable (to do or be or own or experience…)”
      Q3: “What is a good way to put a 1kg object into orbit?”

      Many who want to answer Q1 would actually be satisfied with an answer to Q2. Q2 is similar in form to Q3. Like Q3, you will never be certain you’ve found the answer, or even that you know all the criteria that a good answer should satisfy. But, while Q3 is complicated (and the answer may take the form of an unordered checklist), it is not enigmatic. The same goes for Q2.

    • Wander says:

      I believe that there is a meaning to life, but that the more you think about it the further away it gets. I think that a dog has a perfect, flawless grasp on what it means to be alive and how to make use of that fact, but that should it ever decide to ask what the meaning of life is, it would lose that knowledge.

      It’s not a very useful answer in general, but it’s the one that I’ve found the most use for personally.

  10. HeelBearCub says:

    A question/position on the simulation hypothesis.

    One of the things I find annoying about this argument is that it frequently hand waves arguments about “sufficiently powerful computers”, even going so far as to assume that a) the simulations will run much faster than real time, b) simulations can end up running their own simulation.

    The nut of my annoyance has to with the lowest possible physical phenomena useful for computing. Necessarily, any simulated worlds will not be able to access this for computing inside the simulated world (not if the simulation is to run faster than real time).

    This means that simulation is only useful to model societies that do not harness this lowest level of computing. That seems to me to then neatly reduce argument about the likelihood we are in a simulation, as we can’t assume anything about the relative sizes of the populations being modeled.

    It also gets into a fidelity argument, that any simulation will necessarily be quite different from the world above it if it is being modeled at a low enough fidelity to be simulated much faster.

    I assume this argument is not novel?

    • Mark says:

      [Not a comment on the simulation argument as made by others, just my own thoughts and questions on this.]

      First point:
      A simulated world wouldn’t necessarily have to use a computer. All that’s required to simulate a world is an engineered relationship within the current world.

      Question one:
      Does it make sense to think of a non-mental simulation? In real world, object A has some property (a relation exists). It’s the fact that this relation can be considered isomorphic to some other relation that allows us to simulate a world – but that brings us to mathematics, language. We can use the same words to describe (aspects of) two different things.
      If there were no-one there to do the math, how could the simulation exist? We would just have two different things, one of which existed, and another which doesn’t.

      Question two:
      If my simulated world consists of a representation of something that boils down to 6 + 4, does the number of steps I take to find my answer determine the time of the simulation for the simulation itself?
      In simulation, is time flow related to focus on each step?

      Second point:
      I don’t see why we shouldn’t (in world) be able to engineer one physical relation faster than another physical relation that we wish to simulate. That surely just depends on the physical rules of our world. Would that require a loss of fidelity? I’m not sure – couldn’t it just require a loss of size?

      I think it’s also possible that the relations of the actual world could be represented by use of reference? If the relations of actual reality are distributed, it might be possible to simplify them through reference to reduce repetition.

      Question three:

      Is it possible to reason about this? Under what circumstances would pac-man be able to reason coherently about (a) his world (b) our world?

      • HeelBearCub says:

        @Mark:
        The simulation hypothesis, or at least the interesting part of it, argues that we are currently likely to be a simulation.

        I’m not sure if what you wrote applies to that?

        But in the sense that we would be considered to be pac-man, then yes, I’m arguing that even if we are in a simulation, and conscious, the world above is still radically different than ours, because of loss of fidelity.

        • Mark says:

          I think what I’m saying is applicable in the sense that I’m trying to talk about what it means, at base, to simulate something.

          We can only talk at all about the likelihood that we live in a simulation by assuming some similarities between our reality and the simulating reality. In this case, I’m assuming that I can talk about what it means to simulate something, and that the act of simulating this universe would be similar to the act of simulating within this universe.

          So, I guess the question is, given some relations that exist in your universe, can you use a subset of those relations to model the universe without any details being lost.
          I think the limit is going to be size rather than detail – I can always represent basic detail with one instance of the most basic level of relation.

          If I have points on a line and I can move left and right between them, I’m able to model the act of moving left and right without using all of my points. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to represent the relation between points 0 and 100 without using 100 points, though.
          Perhaps that’s where the computer comes in.

          With regards to speed, if it’s the result of a complex process that’s important I imagine you can speed things up, if it’s the process that’s important, you won’t be able to simulate the basic process faster than it occurs in your reality – so if you’re trying to simulate process at the highest level of detail, you’re going to be stuck for speed.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            the act of simulating this universe would be similar to the act of simulating within this universe.

            I don’t know what you mean by this? I’m not sure if you misplaced a word or I am just not grokking your meaning.

            I think the limit is going to be size rather than detail

            Size and detail trade off versus each other.

            But, taking your assumption to be correct, size is fundamental to the simulation hypothesis. It posits that we should assume there are vastly more simulated people than real people, so a size limit breaks the hypothesis.

          • Mark says:

            I don’t know what you mean by this? I’m not sure if you misplaced a word or I am just not grokking your meaning.

            Sorry – I’m thinking about simulating as it occurs here, in our reality (“simulating within this universe”), and I’m assuming that the act of simulating our reality, in the parent reality, (“the act of simulating this universe”) would follow similar principles.

            Size and detail trade off versus each other.

            Yeah. I’m thinking there might be a way in which if you could set up a referential system you could almost get “detail” on the cheap – if there are a thousand different combinations of “detail” you could use a reference to some exemplar object to get the detail for each instance.
            So, you could represent 10 different pieces of information (for example) about an object, with one piece of information.

            I think the relations between objects are a bigger problem in that, the more of them you have, the more pieces of information you have to represent.

            It posits that we should assume there are vastly more simulated people than real people, so a size limit breaks the hypothesis.

            Hmmmm… yeah, I guess.

          • Aapje says:

            The problem I have with all the complexity talk is that there is no reason to assume that we don’t live in a hugely simplified reality within a simulation that runs in a far more complex universe. We may perceive our universe to be complex, but it may be very simple and small compared to the universe the simulator runs in.

            It may also be the case that there is no more advanced universe and then we can probably not simulate anything with the complexity of this universe, at a semi-decent speed. Then at most we can achieve a (speed-corrected) ratio of simulating universes to simulated universes that is 1:0.n (a simulated universe with about our complexity that runs at half speed would count for 0.5 here).

            The simulation hypothesis depends on a 1:n ratio between simulators and simulated universes, so the hypothesis depends on the premise that more complex universes can and do exist.

            I consider it slightly more plausible that we live in the most complex universe, because there seems to be a lot of detail and yet a lot of breadth as well. If you wanted to simulate large scale developments, it seems like you’d create something way more crude. If you’d wanted to simulate details, I don’t see why you need so many star systems or such.

    • skef says:

      There is something to these ideas, but I think the more general point is that the weakest part of the simulation hypothesis is the reasoning that supposedly connects the different levels of the simulation.

      The hypothesis is that a society will run a simulation in order to explore something about themselves, and therefore will build a simulation that is much like their own world. And that connection is supposed to let us extrapolate information about our simulators up to the ultimate nature of the physical universe. But why would that be the motivation? You could just as easily substitute exploring some part of Banksian Infinite Fun Space as their goal.

      The way this worry connects to yours is this: What information does the computing resources available to us really provide with respect to the argument? You’re leaning towards something like this: Given fastest computers that seem to be possible in our universe, it doesn’t seem like the simulation stack could get all that deep, because no one could make use of the “best” resources. But one could also argue this: Any difficulties with deep simulations are evidence of being further towards the bottom of the simulation stack, because the simulators have had to “simplify” the bottom level of the world to make it tractable.

      If the latter argument seems specious, the question becomes how any argument of this sort is not similarly specious. It seems like a safe law of simulation is: a perfect simulation of X will evolve slower than X. (If that isn’t true the result is pretty amazing: to run a faster simulation you would add levels of indirection.)

      If all simulators desire perfection, you get a significant slow-down at each level, and the question becomes why the simulation at the top level is running so long that the lower levels can have any significant time passing. Maybe they don’t! The simulation we’re presently talking in might have been initialized three minutes ago, maybe as an art project with state appropriate to generate some ironic discussion of the simulation hypothesis.

      If simulators don’t generally desire perfection, then each level will simplify for the sake of speed-up. Maybe quantum mechanics is a weird bottom-level out of necessity (although working quantum computers might suggest otherwise, assuming their results aren’t supplied by a patch that is tractable because there are so few of them). Maybe we have a modest three spatial dimensions for the same reason.

      If this sort of argument does undermine the framework, it undermines the “We’re probably in a simulation (unless X)” conclusion.

      • Iain says:

        If all simulators desire perfection, you get a significant slow-down at each level, and the question becomes why the simulation at the top level is running so long that the lower levels can have any significant time passing. Maybe they don’t! The simulation we’re presently talking in might have been initialized three minutes ago, maybe as an art project with state appropriate to generate some ironic discussion of the simulation hypothesis.

        This also undermines the anthropic argument at the core of the recursive simulation hypothesis. If lower-level simulations are exponentially smaller and slower, then a random observer isn’t likely to be deeply nested.

        Of course, this doesn’t address the question of whether we could be living in a top-level simulation. Independently of the above argument, I think the answer to Bostrom’s trilemma is a combination of the first two options: high-fidelity simulation would be absurdly resource-intensive, making the fraction of post-human civilizations willing to expend those resources very low. Matter is heavily optimized (metaphorically speaking) for following the laws of physics, not for simulating them. Consider, for example, the size difference between a nuclear bomb and the supercomputer that is necessary to roughly approximate the details of its explosion.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          If lower-level simulations are exponentially smaller and slower, then a random observer isn’t likely to be deeply nested.

          Yes, this is one of the core issues I have with the simulation argument as currently (popularly) formulated. There is a hand-wavy “and then a miracle occurs” step in the argument that just magically assumes that simulated minds should vastly outnumber real ones.

          (Side note: How do you spell the plural of conscious? My spelling has always been atrocious, and there seems to be a lacking of consensus that there even is one.

          • Iain says:

            Are you using conscious as a noun? Normally I use it as an adjective, and use “consciousness” as the noun form. (I would pluralize it as “conscious minds”, though, because “consciousnesses” is unconscionable.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Yes, I was initially attempting to use conscious as a noun and fell back to “minds”.

            As pointed out in the link, it is used as a noun in the singular.

          • Deiseach says:

            Dress, dresses; mess, messes; cress, cresses; fess, fesses; guess, guesses; jess, jesses; press, presses; stress, stresses; consciousness, consciousnesses 🙂

          • keranih says:

            @ Deiseach –

            Honey, surely you’re not being so foolish as to use pattern matching as a way to find a correct spelling in English, are you?

        • skef says:

          If lower-level simulations are exponentially smaller and slower, then a random observer isn’t likely to be deeply nested.

          If you assume “perfect” then the size stays the same and presumably the “subjective” time of the simulated entities passes in the same way. There’s just a large gap between the rate in the simulation and the rate outside of it. So a simulated observer couldn’t tel the difference; the limitation on deep nesting would be running time.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Yes, but:

            a) I think the simulation hypothesis depends on conscious entities per time slice. Assuming bounded computing resources, simulations running inside simulations necessarily take away consciousness from the outer simulation.

            b) Running time in the real world involves a non-zero risk of abandonment, meaning that you can’t even ignore running time for estimating how many total conscious entities will exist.

          • Iain says:

            What HBC said. It’s not about whether the simulated observer can tell the difference; it’s about what proportion of consciousness-units take place at each level of simulation. If a hundred lifetimes go by in the real world in the time it takes to complete one simulated lifetime, then you’re one hundred times more likely to live in the real world than in a simulation.

          • skef says:

            I’m not sure HeelBearCub and Iain are saying the same thing.

            @HeelBearCub: It sounds like you’re assuming an idealist simulation, where only subjective properties are simulated. That seems hard to pull off well — if there’s a whole society, wouldn’t you at least need virtual objects to keep things synchronized?

            If you do an actual (obviously much slower) physical simulation, down to particles, then I don’t think your assertion is accurate. The simulated build their computers out of those particles and there’s no additional computing cost because it’s all being paid, all the time.

            This does seem right: For a simulation between the extremes of ideal and physical, there will be some overall trade-off up and down the chain, probably at the level of computation: the simulated build a computer and use it for whatever, the simulators would have to throw extra resources to get the computational results right. That resource would be the simulators’ computer, and if they’re simulated the need would propagate up further. Matter that isn’t doing much (e.g. bricks) at any sub-level might be mostly fudged, especially when “no one” is around. So this is a problem whether the simulated build a simulation or an MMPORG or whatever.

            Iain: Accepting (most of) your assumptions, those numbers only seem right if a society builds a single same-population simulation of itself. If it builds 10000 simulations with that population, a randomly chosen person-entity would still be about 100 times more likely to be (relatively) simulated than not).

          • Aapje says:

            @skef

            There are different ways to count ‘existing.’ You are looking at it relative to space. Iain and I are looking at it relative to time. When we are determining the chance that we are simulated, IMO the question is whether a person who asks this question is actually simulated.

            Imagine 2 simulations that are started at the same time: A runs at 1 speed and B runs at 10 speed. Assume that the simulations are deterministic & have the same parameters and thus develop the same. Now assume that B is our universe. Then universe A will have no one asking themselves if they are simulated, because no humans yet exist in that simulation (if we assume that the simulation started at the big bang or such and not just now).

            Given large and long running universes where intelligent life can develop, disappear and develop again; you’d expect the 10 speed simulation to have 10 times the intelligent life asking themselves if they are simulated. Thus, a person asking the question is 10 times more likely to be in the 10 speed universe than the 1 speed universe.

            So the chance that we are in a (deeper) level of simulation is the speed loss per simulation times the number of simulations. The simulations don’t necessarily require a very high level of complexity compared to the universe that is running the simulation to have people in the simulation who are wondering if they are simulated, so this outcomes of this formula can very well be greater than 1. Then again, it may also be much less than 1, which makes it unlikely that we are simulated.

            IMHO, it is impossible to make strong statements either way, since any conclusion will be build on a ton of very debatable assumptions, that we probably cannot verify.

            Matter that isn’t doing much (e.g. bricks) at any sub-level might be mostly fudged, especially when “no one” is around.

            This seems like a reasonable belief for people in the past, who thought that the universe was centered around us. But with modern astronomic knowledge, it is hard to claim that things are build for us. If they are not, then how would the simulation know to fudge when we start measuring things with high precision?

          • Iain says:

            @skef:

            Iain: Accepting (most of) your assumptions, those numbers only seem right if a society builds a single same-population simulation of itself. If it builds 10000 simulations with that population, a randomly chosen person-entity would still be about 100 times more likely to be (relatively) simulated than not).

            It depends on how expensive a simulation is, and on the magnitude of the slowdown. I threw out one hundred as an example, but realistically I think it is more likely that the slowdown for simulating the laws of physics would be many orders of magnitude larger, and the cost would be prohibitive. If we live in a simulation, it is a remarkably good one; if our simulators are cutting corners anywhere, they have been extremely careful about it. The laws of physics do not seem to be at all designed to be easy to simulate cheaply: unlike the Game of Life, quantum physics does not seem to be amenable to breaking down into independent components. There are limits to how much computation can be done by a given amount of mass/energy/volume; that imposes an upper bound on the ratio of fake matter to real matter. Even if we assume that huge swathes of our simulated universe are hacked together with lower fidelity (while still avoiding measurable artifacts at boundaries between levels of fidelity), it seems plausible to me that even a heavily optimized simulation of our reality would require a measurable fraction of the resources of an entire star system. Why would a future civilization use those resources to simulate its ancestors, instead of supporting its own people?

            In other words: for a given amount of computronium, the number of minds that can be supported in a perfect physical simulation is massively smaller than the number of minds that can be hosted in a virtual world that is open about its unreality and doesn’t waste cycles on the fiddly quantum bits. This doesn’t disprove the simulation hypothesis completely, because you don’t need that many simulated fake universes before the average mind experiencing the 21st century is living inside a simulation, but it does give reason to believe that even massively powerful post-human civilizations would have better things to do with their computational resources.

          • Aapje says:

            it does give reason to believe that even massively powerful post-human civilizations would have better things to do with their computational resources.

            Like World of Warcraft.

            This is actually semi-serious: because how many computers are running simulations of complex universes today vs games, simplified models with no intelligence in there, etc? Why assume that aliens would necessarily want to simulate something like our universe?

          • skef says:

            @Aapje

            You’re making a further, distinct assumption, which is that simulations would generally run from a physical starting point. The “time-to-life-start” on that assumption is doing all the work in your argument.

            Simulating entire universes from the beginning is on the extreme end of intractability, because it’s necessarily done at the physical level — there’s a long time before any subjectivity. It also sounds more like an Infinite Fun Space sort of thing. If a society’s interest is in themselves, they’d be much more likely to start off with a solar-system level simulation with a primitive version of themselves. As Jodie Foster said, that’s an awful lot of wasted space out there.

            Anyway, I was arguing from total subjective time-slices in some hunk of root-level spacetime, which seems consistent with how Iain was putting things.

            This seems like a reasonable belief for people in the past, who thought that the universe was centered around us. But with modern astronomic knowledge, it is hard to claim that things are build for us. If they are not, then how would the simulation know to fudge when we start measuring things with high precision?

            If the simulation is built from the start with psychology as it’s focus, differentiating between measurement and non-measurement doesn’t seem like that difficult a problem. And there are physical assumptions you could build into your universe to make the actual calculations easier. For example, you could have a bottom level that is probabilistic rather than deterministic, or include space-time restrictions on causality.

            And depending on how much you care about complete accuracy in psychological/physical interactions, there’s lots of things that could be fudged given your level of control. Maybe you stipulate that the really hard cases to simulate aren’t interesting. Maybe the researchers who go down those roads are always ensnared in some scandal.

          • skef says:

            @Iain: The “if this is a simulation its a really, really good one” argument assumes no fudging, which is a huge assumption.

            Think about a solipsistic simulation instead: only you are really being simulated at any level that captures detailed psychology, “everyone else” in your life is much sketchier. Effectively all of these assertions about physics are, in your mouth, warranted by testimony, no? How much fine measuring have you done? How hard would it be to architect a system that meets your personal expectations of consistency?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @skef:
            But that just breaks the numbers assumptions of the hypothesis.

            We can (sort of) easily see our way towards simulating a limited number of minds. But the hypothesis requires that their be a number of simulated minds far greater than the number of real ones.

          • Iain says:

            @Skef: Sure. But it seems more than a bit self-centered to think I am interesting enough to justify an entire universe to myself, and the fact that I am conscious of my own existence gives me confidence that I am not a fudged puppet in somebody else’s solipsistic universe of one. (Of course, dear reader, that is exactly what a fudged puppet would say. How suspicious!)

            For a Theory of Knowledge course in undergrad, I wrote a paper arguing that the correct answer to this kind of brain-in-a-jar / dupe-of-an-evil-demon hypothesis is to just go ahead and assume it’s not true. If it is true, your beliefs will all be false anyway, so you’re not losing anything by being even more wrong. I think similar reasoning applies here. It could be the case that my memories are all synthetic, I will only live for five minutes, and I have wasted my entire existence writing this post — but five minutes of worrying about that scenario would have been even worse, so I’m not going to bother.

            tl;dr: I assume that large-scale simulation is unlikely because of physics. I trust physics because I have to; if physics is fake, I never had a chance anyway.

          • skef says:

            HeelBearCub

            The value of considering a solipsistic simulation is as a thought experiment for evaluating what sort of claims about the “the universe” one could confidently make from within the simulation. Analogous adjustments could be made in a society-level simulation (elite scientists could be hollow playthings of simulators, for example).

          • skef says:

            For a Theory of Knowledge course in undergrad, I wrote a paper arguing that the correct answer to this kind of brain-in-a-jar / dupe-of-an-evil-demon hypothesis is to just go ahead and assume it’s not true. If it is true, your beliefs will all be false anyway, so you’re not losing anything by being even more wrong.

            True for a Cartesian demon, but only accurate for a brain-in-a-vat given an “abduction” (which is the usual scenario in those thought experiments). There’s no obvious reason all of your thoughts (a posteriori) would be false if you “grew up” in a vat, any more than there’s an obvious reason that all of those thoughts would be false if a “holographic” theory of physics turned out to be right. If the vat-world has regularities, your contact with those regularities over time can allow them to be the basis of true beliefs. (Or at least, there’s nothing obviously wrong with that view.)

            Regardless, your original thought is an old one, sometimes expressed by “if the conspiracy is good enough, you might as well go with it.”

          • Most of your theorisation about the nature of things will be wrong and most of your practical knowledge about how to do things and get results will be right. One of the possible upshots of this idea is that there are at least two different kinds of knowledge since they are impacted very differently.

          • Iain says:

            True for a Cartesian demon, but only accurate for a brain-in-a-vat given an “abduction” (which is the usual scenario in those thought experiments). There’s no obvious reason all of your thoughts (a posteriori) would be false if you “grew up” in a vat, any more than there’s an obvious reason that all of those thoughts would be false if a “holographic” theory of physics turned out to be right. If the vat-world has regularities, your contact with those regularities over time can allow them to be the basis of true beliefs. (Or at least, there’s nothing obviously wrong with that view.)

            Sure, it is possible that the world is fake, but regular enough for you to derive true beliefs about it. (This would be TheAncientGeekAKA1Z’s second kind of knowledge.) But you don’t have to surrender those beliefs if you conclude that the world is real; your only false belief, in that case, is that there is no vat.

            I’m pretty sure my argument here is isomorphic with your line about sufficiently good conspiracies.

          • skef says:

            Isn’t “fake” begging the question?

          • Iain says:

            “Faked”? “Includes an inaccessible higher level”?

            I think the question of whether a perfectly simulated world counts as “real” or “fake” is purely semantic. If we agree on a conceptual level, which I think we do, I am happy to use whichever terminology you prefer.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @skef:

            evaluating what sort of claims about the “the universe” one could confidently make from within the simulation.

            I agree this is true, but it fails as a part of the simulation hypothesis. Yes?

            Further explanation: The S.H. rests on the principle that simulation is so cheap and easy that we should conclude either that there is no interest at all in simulations, or that we are almost certainly in a simulation because there will be so many simulated minds. That’s not compatible with a solipsistic simulation.

    • Gobbobobble says:

      Necessarily, any simulated worlds will not be able to access this for computing inside the simulated world (not if the simulation is to run faster than real time).

      It also gets into a fidelity argument, that any simulation will necessarily be quite different from the world above it if it is being modeled at a low enough fidelity to be simulated much faster.

      One of the best not-serious arguments I’ve heard is that Quantum Mechanics is a lossy compression of a system that actually makes sense. Also up there: that the whole conscious observers collapsing wavefunctions thing is evidence that the universe runs on Haskell.

    • Jaskologist says:

      We don’t have to give up fidelity if we just simulate less. So you could still have the lowest physical phenomena, just not as many.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        If less is simulated, one of the simulation hypotheses assumptions is violated, that assumption being that there are vastly more simulated minds than real ones.

        • Glen Raphael says:

          @HeelBearCub:
          Suppose we can’t simulate the ENTIRE universe in better than real time, but we CAN use the resources of this universe to simulate, say, just a single galaxy (ours), with all the other galaxies just some sort of simplified projection rather than simulated in full. Then the people in the simulation find they can’t simulate an entire galaxy in better-than-real-time, but they can use their resources to simulate just a single solar system (ours) with all the other solar systems and galaxies only roughly approximated/projected. So both levels are “simulating less” in the sense that the simulation handles many orders of magnitude less matter than the level above. Would that not suffice to get us “vastly more simulated minds than real ones”?

          (I’m not sure we even need two simulation levels to accomplish that end. But if we did, that seems like one way to do it.)

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Glen Raphael:
            1) That assumes we would rather have simulations than children. It could happen. But the (interesting side of the) simulation hypothesis is supposed to mean it is overwhelmingly likely.

            2) how are you going to have the resources of the universe simulate a solar system without forming a black hole?

            3) if you don’t form a black hole, how is the simulation going to run fast, given how far apart everything has to be and that the speed of light applies?

    • PedroS says:

      I think the existence of chaotic systems of linear equations in our universe argues against the simulation argument. the exquisite sensitivity of these systems to the initial conditions implies that finite-precision numerical algorithms cannot be used to faithfully simulate the “uninteresting” portions of the universe. Does any of you know how this objection has been addressed by the “simulation argument” proponents?

    • Chalid says:

      I don’t think the simulation hypothesis depends in any important way on the simulations being nestable (which is, I think, the core of your objection?). I think it’s fairly intuitive that if we were the top-level reality, it would be easy for us to support many many more than 7 billion simulated minds using a small fraction of the energy we devote to ourselves.

      Remember that for the simulation to be realistic you don’t actually need to model the lowest level physical phenomena generally – you only need to do it when someone in the simulation would notice the difference, which is practically never. (Or, perhaps even easier, you could directly rewrite the scientist’s memories so that they remember seeing consistent low-level physics.)

      • HeelBearCub says:

        Not 7 billion minds. Don’t forget to include all of the minds in animals. And every other very complex agent. They still need to be simulated as well.

        And the simulation argument says that simulation should so easy, so numerous, that we should assume we are a simulation. That is one reason the argument about nesting is made, because it becomes very easy to get to very large numbers of simulations.

        But once the simulation discovers the lowest level of computing, this falls apart.

        • Chalid says:

          No, c’mon, how much detail do you actually need in order for humans to not be able to tell the difference? Precious little. You don’t simulate the whole ocean, you just make a rule that people who go on boats have a 10% chance of seeing animal #1, 5% chance of seeing animal #2, etc. You don’t actually have to simulate weather at the atomic level, you just make sure the macroscopic patterns are broadly consistent with the rules you’ve created. etc. etc.

          Heck, you could replace the vast majority of people I encounter with fairly low-level automatons and I’d not notice the difference. If my life was of interest to a simulator, they might model my wife and kids and a couple friends closely, a couple coworkers less closely, and everyone else in the city I live in gets procedurally generated whenever I go outside.

          • Iain says:

            You are missing HBC’s point. If most of the “people” in a simulation are low-level automatons, then the ratio of simulated people to real-world people is relatively low, and we should not assume that we live in a simulation.

          • Chalid says:

            @Iain No. You can have *lots* of small simulations and therefore have the simulated minds greatly outnumber the non-simulated minds.

            And if the variable of interest is a whole human society, well, you still don’t need to model all the animals and other complex systems as he claimed.

          • Iain says:

            One N-person simulation is presumably less resource-intensive than N 1-person simulations: you only have to simulate the physics once, and you don’t have to waste cycles running low-level puppets.

          • FacelessCraven says:
          • Chalid says:

            One N-person simulation is presumably less resource-intensive than N 1-person simulations

            That’s not obvious to me; with N people you need to worry about everyone’s experience being consistent. Also you can cut corners for the person or people of interest – “that Chalid is socially inept so we can make our chatbots even dumber than usual, and his vision sucks so you can turn down the resolution.”

            Even if it is truly more resource-intensive, it’s likely only by a merely linear factor.

      • Iain says:

        There are lots of low-level physical phenomena with detectable high-level effects. Here are some examples. The CPU in the device you are using to read this post depends on quantum phenomena, which had to work properly while the chip was being designed. If our CPUs are being simulated, they have to be simulated at a fairly low physical level, because of things like the rowhammer attack that can be used from software to change the contents of memory by taking advantage of the physical proximity of DRAM memory cells. It is harder to rigorously define “when someone in the simulation would notice the difference” than you think. As I said in another post: if this is a simulation, it is a remarkably good one.

        • Chalid says:

          Right but in general, we humans only observe the macroscopic results of the low-level phenomena, and those macroscopic results can be described in a few simple equations. Superconductors are inherently quantum-mechanical and arise from correlated electron behavior but as far as almost any experiment is concerned you can just write down some relatively simple equations relating conductivity (and other properties) to temperature. If you’re making graphics for a movie and want to show soap on water, you don’t write down a quantum mechanical description of the thin film and create some incredibly complicated initial conditions; the equations describing what the film looks like as a function of light wavelength and film thickness (and refractive index and…) are relatively simple. And so on.

          • Iain says:

            Movies aren’t designed to stand up to extensive observation. Generating physics-accurate video is prohibitively expensive; that’s why games cut so many corners, and why Pixar has such an enormous render farm (which, you will note, still doesn’t produce completely realistic results).

            It’s easy to write down the equations; it’s expensive to solve them. It’s especially expensive to solve them if you need the results to be accurate: there are lots of ways that tiny differences at low levels can cause visible changes at high levels, and yet we never observe a case where the two levels don’t match up.

          • Chalid says:

            Right, you can’t solve them easily. And I as the simulated observer can’t easily solve them either, so I can’t check if it’s being done properly.

            You just need the simulation to look plausible. “Weather conditions broadly similar to this give rise to afternoon rain about 35% of the time, so just generate a random number between 0 and 1 and create rain if it’s below 0.35.”

            we never observe a case where the two levels don’t match up

            In the very rare cases where someone is paying enough attention to notice, then you might do the full simulation. Or you might just modify the experimenter’s memory so that they think that they saw consistent results.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      At this point, people are just taking about the simulation argument in general, and a little bit about fidelity, but there hasn’t been a ton of engagement about my original argument about the lowest level of computing.

      So, let me put it a little more plainly.

      Let’s assume we get quantum computing to work well and start running simulations using quantum computing. Once the civilization inside discovers quantum computing, the simulation will only be able to run (slightly slower than) real time.

      Which means the implicit assumption in the simulation hypothesis is that we will in the far future discover ever faster means of doing computation.

  11. Pablo says:

    Does anyone here have experience as a landlord, or in real estate investing? I am not currently interested in owning a house for my own personal residential use, but my dad recently made a not-quite-stray comment about how I should totally buy a house for the purpose of renting it out to people, largely on the basis of the fact that I have decent credit and am at a prime house-buying age. I initially rejected it out of hand but have gotten myself thinking about it and skimming real estate websites. This may be a brief flirtation that I stop thinking about next week, but might as well seek outside advice that isn’t a family member and probably isn’t trying to sell me something, during the period that I am stuck on thinking about it.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      http://www.metafilter.com/165473/Lesson-one-People-will-flush-anything-down-a-toilet

      Tl,dr: Being a landlord involves work and risk. This doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a bad idea.

    • WashedOut says:

      The factors that will/should influence your decision are local, and not easily generalise-able to internet passers-by. Investigate the real estate market in the areas available to you, and think about the current price cycle, demography, and infrastructure. Usually the most financially appealing option is to live in the house you buy, at least for the first 12 months. In Australia and other countries with a first home buyers grant, the grant is usually conditonal on being an owner-occupier for a set term. Even if this tool wasn’t available to you it would still probably be in your best interest to live in your first property, to avoid paying mortgage+rent+upkeep+agentfees(x2) etc.

      I have two golden rules for you:
      1. Make sure you have enough of a deposit (usually >15% of principal) so that you don’t need additional mortgage insurance.
      2. Keep your financial arrangements simple.

      Good luck!

    • Machina ex Deus says:

      1) Assuming you’re in the U.S., there are significant tax advantages to occupying the home you buy: you can write all the interest on your mortgage (up to some high-but-not-SV-high amount) off on your taxes. At the beginning of a mortgage, almost all your payment is interest, so if your monthly payment is $2000, that’s like Uncle Sam kicking in $600 or $700. So if you can live in part of your rental property, that’s a big plus.

      2) Bad tenants suck. When we rented out an apartment, we focused on short-term rentals, which had the nice side-effect that we were unlikely to be stuck with anyone for more than six or eight months. But google “tenant horror story” to see why I think we dodged eight consecutive bullets; the worst thing a tenant ever did to us was move out after two weeks.

      3) Housing law is against you. Combined with (2), this is a real drag. My father worked for Legal Aid in the late 1960s and early 1970s; he says that at the beginning, he hated having the tenant’s side in a landlord-tenant dispute, and at the end, he would have hated having the landlord’s side.

      4) Picky tenants are a pain. We kept the rent a bit lower than we could have gotten, and got tenants through word-of-mouth (frequently outgoing tenants) and connections to universities. Grad students don’t spend a lot of time hanging around the apartment. We had one couple who’d come back from the Peace Corps, and they didn’t complain about anything, even a clogged toilet or flooding from a rainstorm so bad we had to rent them another place for a week.

      5) You might want to look into buying a place and having a roommate. A friend of mine was the roommate in such a situation, and it seemed to work well. The advantage is you’re living with your tenant, so you’re not going to get any unpleasant surprises at the end of the lease. The disadvantage is you’re living with your tenant, which may not matter to you.

      6) Once you advertise your place, you come under a lot more rules and regulations. We didn’t, so I don’t know if we would have violated any of them, but you don’t actually have to be guilty for a tenant to accuse you of a laundry list of things and tie you up in housing court for months and, oh yeah, not pay any rent during that period, which (if you’re kinda counting on rent to make your mortgage payment) can be a drag.

      Find some people in your actual locale who are small-scale landlords; they’ll be able to give you a better idea what it’s like.

      • Pablo says:

        Did you have formal lease contracts or did you go with month-to-month agreements? Are there any non-obvious cases where one or the other would be preferable for periods less than a year?

        • keranih says:

          ALWAY USE FORMAL WRITTEN LEASES. EVEN ON MONTH TO MONTH.

          (Sorry for yelling if I miss understood you.) Never let anyone stay at your place as a paying tenant (even if it is trade for services) unless you have a signed lease.

          • Pablo says:

            Heh, I guess I was running off the fact that I was able to get away with not having one as a tenant for a while.

    • keranih says:

      Reddit’s Landlord subreddit is a treasure trove of knowledge from a variety of perspectives.

    • Deiseach says:

      Buy-to-lease has pros and cons; if you’re sure that (for example) there won’t be a property crash and you’ll end up paying a hefty mortgage on a property that has nosedived (even all the way into negative equity) in value, it’s a reasonable risk. If you’re counting on “the rent will pay the mortgage” you really need to have a good sense of the local rental market, how much you can reasonably charge, and what if you’re left with long periods of no tenants/lower rents than you counted on, how are you going to pay the mortgage in the meantime?

      But being a landlord has a lot of responsibilities, especially legal ones, and if you get bad tenants you’re in for a lot of pain, trouble and expense (there’s much to be said on both sides; I’ve seen crummy landlords and crummy tenants both). You’d also want to have your tax affairs very thoroughly sorted out as to how much rental income you’re getting and how this affects any income you’re earning etc. I don’t know if there’s an American equivalent of the Residential Tenancies Board, but if there’s a national and/or state landlord and tenant board, that would give you an overview of what’s involved for both parties.

      Basically, do you think you could handle a three a.m. phone call from a tenant about a burst pipe demanding you fix it immediately oh and they’re thinking of bringing you to small claims court about their ruined clothes and other items? 🙂

    • Evan Þ says:

      I’ve got a good friend who’s a landlord of one property. He’s got a brother in the area who’s very handy and basically takes any 3 AM calls and acts as property manager in exchange for a monthly fee (paid out of rent); I think that’s probably the best possible arrangement. Fortunately, they’ve had good tenants, so there haven’t been many 3 AM calls. Though, they’ve only had one set so far, so take that for what it’s worth. Also, the two of them bought a house in fairly poor condition (but structurally sound) and fixed it all up themselves, which lowered their mortgage a lot.

      He’s invited me to join him to buy in as a part-owner of a second property sometime soon… so I’m going to be following this subthread pretty closely.

    • Brad says:

      The primary advantage to buying your own property versus just investing in a REIT is that you can lever up a lot higher and get better terms for your margin to boot. That’s probably not so great from society’s perspective, but that’s neither here nor there.

      The disadvantages are basically everything else.

      The advantage can outweigh the disadvantages depending on your risk tolerance, the rest of your portfolio, you desire to have a what amounts to a part time second job, etc. But I think far too many people don’t compare apples to apples, or at least as close as you can get to apples to apples.

    • Matt M says:

      I bought a house a few years back with the intention of living in it. Then my plans changed and about 10 months later, I had to move. I kept the house and decided to rent it out. I hired a local property manager, who manages the entire process for me, for a fee of 7% of the gross rent (I’m told this is on the low end of the spectrum and that depending on where you are, 10-15% is more realistic). He does literally everything, I gave him the keys, signed some papers, and walked away. The entire process has been a breeze. It took him a couple months to find tenants, but he managed to get much more rent than I was expecting, and I’ve had the same people in there for 3+ years with no issues (as far as I know). The rent pays for the mortgage+taxes+insurance with a couple hundred bucks in “profit” to me, to spare. And that’s for a house that was never really intended to be a rental, it has kind of a weird floor plan, three bedrooms, but two of them are very very small. From the time since I bought it, I’m probably up at least 30% on the home value, and that’s in a fairly small nothing town with no particularly good economics or reason the market would be booming.

      For me, it’s been a ridiculously easy and profitable venture. I make no claim that my experience is typical. It’s possible I’ve just been really lucky.

    • Pablo says:

      I’d like to say that these responses so far have helped clarify some of my thinking, and I’d like to thank you all for taking the time.

  12. James Miller says:

    The April 1st Reddit event shows the possibility of creating value in a world with rival resources and no formal enforcement of property rights.

    • nimim.k.m. says:

      Am redditor, can comment on this. Almost complete timelapses of the history since the near beginning is available here: http://spacescience.tech/place/

      shows the possibility of creating value in a world with rival resources and no formal enforcement of property rights.

      I agree that it has not been formal. But there has been lots of enforcement. The description I’d use is “constant warfare for establishing local monopoly of pixels”. As soon you stop maintaining your claim, you collapse.

      The majority of currently successful artworks are each maintained and defended by troops semi-organized on subreddits and Discord servers, largest with hundreds of active people; lines have been mostly formed across the subreddit loyalties. The battle is constant and keeping any work intact requires constant active effort. One can easily recognize timezone patterns: when European timezones go to sleep, their flags suffer. American sportsteam logos get overwritten when Europe is awake. Internet meme and gaming and pop culture symbols are bit more stable.

      A couple of words about history: After the first hour of drawing dicks and such, the first significant tribes formed across simple colors and patterns, first by just posting threads on the r/place, but they soon realized that they needed to get organized more formally to beat the other rival patterns, and started their own subreddits and voicechats to coordinate efforts. (In other words, they realized waging tribal warfare on internet games is fun.) However, most of all “color-tribes” that were prominent on the first day or so have since been crushed by artwork planned and organized by the more established communities. [1] Witness the tragedy of the Blue Corner (the largest color-corner on Saturday which has since lost most of its territory) and continued, stable presence of stuff with active subreddit backing, like Internet-meme inspired works (e.g. a large Star Wars wall of text by /r/PrequelMemes, or Lord Helix), gaming (Nintendo, Pokemon gets special mention) and other pop culture references.

      One of the largest and most stable contingent on the Place have been the various flags of the nation states, maintained by the large national subreddits (Netherlands, Sweden, Ireland, Germany, Belgium, Finland). They carefully plan what kind of pixel art they build on their flags and produce templates that are then circulated. While the decisionmaking is somewhat democratic, the moderators of subreddits and Discord servers who have the ability to pin messages and sticky threads and thus are able to direct the “firepower” of the community, wield considerable power on what gets drawn on the canvas.

      In general, at this point, only very few of stuff on the canvas is not a coordinated effort. Even the main major remaining “uncoordinated organic work” has now a subreddit (r/PinkVomitMonster/, maybe slightly NSFW, it’s fairly grotesque) devoted to maintaining its constantly evolving existence.

      Treaties have been formed and occasionally even respected for some time, but if the other treaty partner shows weakness and appears to not be able to maintain a monopoly on its claimed area, treaties with it are soon disregarded and the its neighbors will more often than not eagerly join to devour it [2], unless some meta-reason like memetic or national affinity necessitates otherwise.

      [1] The only occasionally aggressive single-color force of note remaining is the Black Void, according to rumors partly manned by 4chan, currently active on the top left corner.

      [2] Finland had a treaty with a pink spiral yesterday. Today the spiral is under half of its previous size, and the there are much more Moomins where it used to be…

      • Evan Þ says:

        but if the other treaty partner shows weakness and appears to not be able to maintain a monopoly on its claimed area, treaties with it are soon disregarded and the its neighbors will more often than not eagerly join to devour it…

        Sounds like international politics, c. 2000 BC – 1900 AD.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        From Lafferty’s “Polity and Custom Among the Camiroi”:

        We strode through the contrived and beautiful parklands and groves
        which were the roofs of Camfroi City. The extent was full of fountains and
        waterfalls, and streams with bizarre bridges over them. Some were better
        than others. Some were better than anything we had ever seen anywhere.

        “But I believe that I myself could design a pond and weir as good as
        this one,” said Charles Chosky, our leader. “And I’d have some of those
        bushes that look like Earth sumac in place of that cluster there; and I’d
        break up that pattern of rocks and tilt the layered massif behind it, and
        bring in a little of that blue moss –”

        “You see your duty quickly, citizen,” said Sideki. “You should do
        all this before this very day is gone. Make it the way you think best, and
        remove the plaque that is there. Then you can dictate your own plaque
        to any of the symbouleutik posts, and it will be made and set in. ‘My
        composition is better than your composition,’ is the way most plaques read,
        and sometimes a scenery composer will add something humorous like ‘and my
        dog can whip your dog.’ You can order all necessary materials from the same
        post there, and most citizens prefer to do the work with their own hands.

        This system works for gradual improvement. There are many Consensus
        Masterpieces that remain year after year; and the ordinary work is subject
        to constant turnover. There, for instance, is a tree which was not there
        this morning and which should not be there tonight. I’m sure that one of you
        can design a better tree.”

        A large quantity of Lafferty

        Lafftery might be a good choice for pastiche.

      • DrBeat says:

        Touaoii Hijack LOL

      • sflicht says:

        That timelapse is *awesome*.

      • Leit says:

        Single-colour factions basically disappeared, but Green Lattice held most of its territory with its coalition and Rainbow Road actually expanded in some places near the end (at one point making a convincing grab at the US flag’s spot, taking on the Void to do so).

        * edit: on watching the video I see that rainbow road actually lost those gains and ended up holding much less territory than at their peak – excuse the inaccuracy.

        Probably helped that Osu overreached so dramatically and failed to back down, drawing tons of fire. They’re devoted, certainly, but it didn’t help that their logo is hideous and boring.

        Easily replicable patterns with some visual interest seem to be the big success. I’d count Place Hearts in this as well.

        • nimim.k.m. says:

          At the end /r/PlaceHearts and r/AvoArmy sort of lost had their initial design though, everyone started coloring the hearts / avocados (tiny flags) inside them. But on the other hand, everyone had an interest to protect the heart outlines while disagreeing about the contents.

          I did not watch r/ainbowroad very closely, but I assume that they decided to place pixel art they liked (e.g. Yellow Submarine) instead of being fully overrun as such a large area was very enticing target to everyone who wanted to draw something.

          But I agree that some of the designs that were cute or funny enough survived.

    • Nornagest says:

      That’s the coolest thing I’ve seen today.

    • Winter Shaker says:

      I just noticed the moment when Denmark was suddenly conquered by Sweden, but gradually fought a successful war to re-establish its sovereignty, as shown between 5.00 and 5.05 in this time-lapse.

  13. Zephalinda says:

    For teaching purposes, I’m trying to amass a big list of examples illustrating common failure modes in everyday deliberative reasoning.

    I’m thinking something like the ubiquitous “spot the fallacy,” but with reasoning not rhetoric– “Here’s a news article, see how this person jumped to X conclusion? Why is that not necessarily valid? What alternative possibilities should they have considered?,” etc. Nothing too subtle or requiring too much background knowledge/ sustained attention.

    We all see a lot of these cases daily, so can anyone suggest some easy undergrad-level examples you’ve encountered recently? I’d especially love instances involving bad evaluative thinking (e.g. not properly defining/ranking criteria beforehand, special pleading, not considering marginal value/ diminishing returns) and bad action-based thinking (e.g. not considering opportunity costs, unintended consequences, wrong stakeholder’s interests considered, etc.).

    (Also, I’d think this sort of thing should be well-represented on LW, but I came to that site after its heyday and still don’t really understand how to navigate things over there :(.)

    • dndnrsn says:

      I’m not sure if this is what you’re looking for, but dodgy use of statistics is one of the most common things. Not even trying to deceive others – more deceiving one’s self.

    • Well... says:

      On my blog I occasionally write about journalism, usually to skewer the ways in which it misleads. (Example.) Sometimes it’s the journalists committing the fallacies but more often they’re setting the reader up to commit them.

  14. Anon. says:

    Where should I start with Philip K. Dick?

    • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

      There are collections of his short stories. Since “short story” is the optimal format for Sci-Fi, I’d recommend getting one of those.

      Or just read Valis, like whatever.

  15. HeelBearCub says:

    Potentially vaguely bizarre question.

    How often do you find yourself having failed to zip your fly?

    This question probably applies more to male SSC commenters than female ones, but I’m curious if there is a female equivalent, and if so what it is.

    For me it waxes and wanes, but is always “too damn high”. At its worst it will be multiple times a day.

    I used to be mortified. Now I accept it as “just one of those things” about my brain and hope that it doesn’t make too many people too uncomfortable (assuming they notice).

    • keranih says:

      I’m curious if there is a female equivalent

      …I don’t own any long pants that are entirely elastic waist. And only half of my shorts are gym shorts, so there’s them, too. So I don’t know why “forget to zip” would just be a guy thing.

      (The answer for me is – about once a month.)

      The only “female” equivalent I could think of would be something related to not properly prepping for one’s menstrual cycle, but I’m completely refusing to go there.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        @kerinah:
        I think I’m pointing at the relative ubiquity of the way the typical male’s clothing sits at the waist, supported by belt and having a fly. The median male runs this risk every day.

        Some of this has to do with providing functionality in the clothing that allows for standing urination.

        Whereas there is much more variability in female’s clothing. Dresses don’t run into this issue. Skirts zip at the side or back and frequently need to be zipped to remain on. Slacks also may not have a front fly (although this is much less common now). There are many appropriate choices that have no closure at all, relying on stretchiness to stay up.

        But it may be that the open fly is equivalent for women as well, I wasn’t trying to foreclose that possibility.

        Not asking anyone to go “there”.

        • Deiseach says:

          Dresses don’t run into this issue. Skirts zip at the side or back and frequently need to be zipped to remain on.

          It’s entirely possible to walk out of the loo with the hem of your skirt neatly tucked inside your knickers giving everyone a nice view from the back of your choice of underwear and how good/bad/indifferent your legs are, without realising it.

          Let’s say that happened to a… friend. Yeah. A friend 🙂

    • Spookykou says:

      This happens to me less than once a year, and when it does it is an embarrassing surprise. (I wear pants with a fly to work every day but not often at home)

    • Evan Þ says:

      Maybe once every several months? I struggle to imagine how someone could forget it multiple times a day without also forgetting a lot of other things. Do you also find yourself forgetting other points of your routine, like setting the alarm, making the right turns on the way to work, bringing your keys, etc.?

      • HeelBearCub says:

        Routine? Surely you jest. 😉

        I mostly don’t need to set an alarm. Navigation to work is no issue, but I can easily fall into auto-pilot and end up starting to go to where I “normally” go, rather than the novel place I am going right now.

        Bringing keys aren’t a problem, especially because I drive to work. Bringing anything that I don’t normally bring can be an issue. I will forgot my laptop from time to time.

        I have a standing meeting at the start of my day. I end up having to call into it from the road very frequently. Like 30% or more.

        Yes, I do have a diagnosis of ADHD. Why do you ask?

        • bean says:

          I’m also ADHD, and I don’t have quite the same level of trouble. Although I am medicated. That’s helped a lot. I have forgot my keys a couple of times, although I’ve gotten in the habit of checking them before I leave the door. (My garage is not connected to my house.) I can’t say I have a high rate of fly-related incidents. Maybe once a month, maybe less.
          I do make sure the meds get taken by being very careful with my alarms. The one on my phone can be snoozed, but it doesn’t get shut off before I’m on my way to take the pills. Period.

          • Protagoras says:

            I try to have exceptionless, almost neurotic habits for things as important as keys. This thread has made me worried that since my current car has one of those fancy new electronic keys and a start button, the next time I drive a rental or borrow a car with an old fashioned ignition I will leave the keys in the ignition because I’ve trained myself out of my former car key habits.

          • random832 says:

            @Protagoras

            What about making your habit include locking the car with remote? That requires you to have your keys in your hand outside the car, and the worst thing that happens with a car with no remote is that you’ll have your keys in your hand, realize there’s no lock button, and have to lock the car by hand.

      • Leit says:

        Zipping up is a rote action – it’s not as if there are variations on the procedure beyond button or zipper. You pack your tools away, then secure them. It’s the same as any other muscle-memory function.

        I struggle to think of even “every couple of months” as being reasonable.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          Well, that should tell you something about your ability to model other people correctly?

          • skef says:

            In fairness, by saying “reasonable” Leit is making a normative claim.

          • Leit says:

            @skef

            Thanks, but I was making a statement about what I believe (believed?) to be true, given that the only examples that come to mind of folks unzipped in the wild is when under the influence, and that rarely.

            Now, it’s not as if I’m standing outside of the stalls waiting for that titillating glimpse of parted brass teeth, but intuitively I’d expect there’d be some sign every now and again. But of course, there’d only be a small window before the subject noticed or was notified, especially in public – and people would likely be more careful in public. So it’s a lesson in relying on intuition, as well as apparently modelling people.

            Still, though. It’s like getting out of a car and forgetting the keys in the ignition; clearly it occasionally happens to some people, but that often and to so many?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @skef:
            It seems he isn’t?

            @Leit:
            But I’m here and telling you that on my “bad days” it happens multiple times in the day. I’m not lying about it (why would I?) and I am not doing it on purpose, nor do I get some sort of titillation from it that would encourage me to do it subconsciously.

            So I’m not exactly sure what your claim is here? That I am unusual? I’ve known that since I was about 6. The other kids were quite willing to make me feel that quite clearly. But unusual is not the same thing as “can’t be considered likely to exist”.

            As it so happens, most of the time it’s not noticeable by anyone but me because jeans tend to stay closed enough all on their own. More of an issue when the weather warms enough that I wear shorts to work.

            And funny enough, I did leave my key in the car ignition at work all day yesterday, although I don’t know the last time I did it. Probably years ago.

          • Leit says:

            @HBC

            Not denying that people (like yourself) exist who make this error semi-frequently; rather, I’m surprised that apparently more than a few people do so occasionally, if this thread is evidence.

            Your work area is enviable. Then again, it seems that for all I know there could be keys swinging in a couple of ignitions outside my office right now.

    • IrishDude says:

      Once every few weeks. It might happen in a sensitive situation (e.g., walking into a work meeting) once a year, but no one’s ever called me out on it.

    • Corey says:

      It happened enough to me that I developed a semi-conscious habit of double-checking. Therefore whenever I exit a restroom I’m pulling up on the zipper. It may or may not be a net improvement.

    • massivefocusedinaction says:

      After I switched to button fly jeans (which require all the lower buttons to be buttoned to do the top button) the likelihood increased dramatically, because closing the top button means job complete on my jeans.

    • hoghoghoghoghog says:

      For me it waxes and wanes, but is always “too damn high”. At its worst it will be multiple times a day.

      We call this the “hot hand.” I also experience this. I’m currently in a bad week but I think things are looking up.

  16. Fifth says:

    I’ve been thinking a lot about the less-ethical applications of wireheading. Specifically, military applications. I’ve got an SF project with a really evil corporate state that’s a threat to all its neighbors. It has lots of mercenaries, and to keep them in line, it uses battalions of wireheaded troops, with the controls for their implants in the hands of their officers. I’ve been over links from SSC and where I could find, but I’m wondering if anybody has links about the use of addicted troops (not the Hashishim – they weren’t addict-soldiers, they were religious cultists) especially ways to reverse or treat that kind of addiction.

    • keranih says:

      1) The first thought that came to mind was Morison’s line about how “The [US] navy could probably win a war without coffee but prefer not to.”

      2) You might want to look into qat. I’m not actually sure what the treatment for this drug is.

      3) Battlestar Galactica (the new one) dealt with the issue of using battlefield stimulants. Don’t remember the ep, pretty sure it was S2.

      4) If you are talking any of the Anglo-decent militaries, you must take the role of the NCOs into account. I would be very interested in a believable treatment of wireheaded Soldiers where the enlisted implants are in the control of officers, as I really have a hard time imagining this. OTOH – a story about how a Soldier struggled with living with the loss of the wireheading upon leaving the military, as an analogy to the bereavement of loosing one’s ‘brother’s in arms’ (+/- the sense of purpose of the service)…that could be interesting.

      • Eltargrim says:

        BSG handles stims twice: once in s1e1 (33), and once in s2e8 (Final Cut). In both cases, my understanding is that pharmaceutical stimulants (as opposed to caffeine) are used and abused in the show in a similar manner to modern militaries. I may well be wrong about that last bit.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      I don’t think wireheading as usually conceived would work for controlling soldiers. It seems to just make people passive. Giving wireheading to the other side– or forcing wireheading on it– seems useful.

      On the other hand, I think people are frequently driven by “if only I can get X, *then* I will feel happy/safe/satisfied”. If you could get detailed control of other people’s X, the results would be interesting. (I don’t remember whether this would be an exact match for A Deepness in ther Sky.)

      You’d be up against the problems of getting the X you impose to be a good match for your actual goals, but that would open up story possibilities.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        I don’t think wireheading as usually conceived

        But once you accept the principle of large numbers of people have implants that can be used to manipulate their emotional/pleasure state, it’s pretty easy to conceive of manipulations that are highly useful to controlling your armed forces, yes?

        Although, it seems to me that it’s not much of a hop-skip-and-a-jump to positively affect their state during combat, at which point the much/some of the horror factor goes away.

        The soldier’s in the recent Mad Max movie seem like a good fictional model to consider.

    • Gobbobobble says:

      There was a Black Mirror that had elements of this [spoilers]. Not quite wireheading, but I suspect close enough to help your case.

    • Spookykou says:

      The Jem’Hadar from DS9 are drug addicted soldiers, get their fix from officers, and die if they go too long without the drug.

      I think it was, “A Deepness in the Sky” by Vinge that had preference modification, I can’t remember if they used them specifically for soldiers, but it seems conceptually similar.

      Edit: Nancy Lebovitz already mentioned the book with the goofy name.

      • Matt M says:

        I thought about mentioning the Jem Hadar, but I’m not sure they really count as wireheading. It’s less “combat makes you feel good” as it is “if you don’t do what your drug dealer demands (which happens to be combat, but could just as easily be anything else), then he won’t give you the drug you’re addicted to.” There’s also the matter that they aren’t just “addicted,” they literally die without it.

        • Spookykou says:

          I agree that they aren’t really wireheaded(In fact, I don’t remember if the drug actually had any effect besides the alleviation of withdrawal symptoms?), but they seemed to fit the bill for drug addicted soldiers/augmented command structure.

  17. Ninety-Three says:

    AI-risk question, coming from someone relatively new to the field of people taking AI-risk as a serious, actionable problem.

    I accept that we’ll probably make a strong intelligence at some point, and there’s a nonzero chance it will act against our best interests. I understand that in the AI-risk doomsday scenario, step one is “An AI gets connected to the internet” and step three is “Humanity is converted into paperclips”, but what’s step two?

    I’ve seen good arguments that strong AI is possible, and from there it’s simple to prove the created AI might be unsafe, but in the AI-risk discussions I’ve seen, everyone seems to take it for granted that there is at least a chance the AI will be able to turn us into paperclips. The AI might be smarter than humans, but humans start with a very large resource advantage. I don’t think that a rogue AI could wipe out humanity for the same reason that I don’t think a chess grandmaster with only pawns could defeat a novice with a full board.

    So I’ve come to these comments in the spirit of fair debate (thinking there’s a chance I’m wrong, open to the possibility of having my mind changed, etc) in order to ask: what exactly am I missing? I trust that people have good reasons for believing we could lose the metaphorical battle against Skynet, can someone share their reasoning?

    • Aapje says:

      I think that a big risk is that we start depending on the AI, like we now depend on computers. Then we can’t turn it off without severe consequences. So even if the AI starts doing worrying things, a lot of people will probably resist turning off the AI.

      Furthermore, the change from good AI to bad AI can be very quick. If we build battlefield bots that can autonomously identify and kill terrorists, you only need a bug in the detection algorithm to have them go after all humans. At that point, with warfare delegated to robots optimized to kill humans and humans not yet trained to kill robots, there is a big asymmetry in capability.

      • Ninety-Three says:

        Your battlefield robots suggestion is a good example of the kind of case I object to in these discussions. I don’t dispute that battlefield robots have potentially disastrous failure modes, but I find it hard to classify them as an existential threat. In retrospect, I realize my original post could have been more clear about the distinction between general risk and existential risk. I’m not opposed to the notion that AIs are potentially quite dangerous and worth worrying about, just the idea that they could convert all of us to paperclips.

        Glitchy battle robots could kill an awful lot of people, but in order to imagine them wiping out all civilization you have to imagine their creators doing something obviously stupid, like replacing the entire world’s military with one model of battle bot, or cutting humans out of the decision loop on launching nuclear weapons.

        To my way of thinking, there are only two ways an AI could end up as an existential risk. The first is the War Games scenario above where we make the implausibly stupid decision to give the robots nukes. The second is that the AI becomes some kind of perfect Machiavellian schemer and is able to socially engineer its own rise to power, and then when we elect it President it will kill us all. I reject this scenario because while it’s technically possible, it’s also possible for a human to become such an omnicidal schemer, and Trump jokes aside, no one seems to take that as an existential risk.

        Is there a third scenario, or some flaw in my dismissal of the first two?

        • sohois says:

          Internet of things, etc.

          An AI that connects to the internet would be able to quite easily gain access to a great deal of internet connected machinery, whether in the home or in the factory. If it has access to manufacturing capability then you’ve got grey goo. Or it could unleash stuxnet type viruses and cause critical failures in nuclear plants.

          More accurately, the risk of the AI depends on the type. Bostrom described 3 in Superintelligence: Oracle, Genie and Sovereign. A sovereign AI is designed to operate independently and thus its designers would actively want to give it access to physical resources. A genie would answer a wish in a such a way as to achieve the goals that it wants, even if it seems to the asker that there was no way to pervert the wish. Again, with a genie you’d want to give it some control over resources in order for it to be able to achieve anything. An oracle would provide answers to questions that lead people to act in ways that give it control, or lead to another AI being created with control over things, or just lead to the people annihilating themselves somehow.

          So, for the Sovereign and Genie types, the second step is simply giving them the resources they need. The Oracle AI is more of the Machiavellian genius type.

          • Ninety-Three says:

            I feel like “AI could be a threat because grey goo” is misleading. The problem in that scenario is that the human race has built manufacturing devices capable of producing grey goo, and has no countermeasures for when someone produces grey goo. The grey goo apocalypse could just as easily be kicked off by terrorists or incompetent nanoengineers. That’s not AI risk, it’s grey goo risk.

            Addressing your main point, yes the AI will probably be given some ability to enact its will upon the world, because no one is going to design an AI that’s incapable of influencing the world, that would be a black box with no outputs. However, you’re skipping over step two: If we assume the AI is not initially granted infinite power (or something close enough, like nuclear weapons), how does it acquire enough power to wipe out humanity?

            Most people do not see it as inevitable that a human will be able to destroy the world, even if they dedicate their lives to it. There is little worry that an unsurpassable Machiavellian human intellect will destroy us all.

            As a prerequisite to worrying about AI as an existential threat, I think you must also either worry about Machiavellian humans, or describe a way in which the AI is more threatening than a human. And it is insufficient to say “The AI will be smarter and able to outwit us” because there’s already a human on the planet who is smarter than all the rest of us, and we’re not particularly worried about that guy killing us all.

          • Aapje says:

            And it is insufficient to say “The AI will be smarter and able to outwit us” because there’s already a human on the planet who is smarter than all the rest of us, and we’re not particularly worried about that guy killing us all.

            That’s because I’m a nice guy.

            (you were talking about me, right?)

          • sohois says:

            And it is insufficient to say “The AI will be smarter and able to outwit us” because there’s already a human on the planet who is smarter than all the rest of us, and we’re not particularly worried about that guy killing us all.

            Why is it insufficient to say this? You seem to be operating under the idea that an AI will be merely post human, like some kind of more intelligent Einstein. But perhaps the biggest fear with a strong AI is that it can self-modify and will swiftly bootstrap to unimaginable intelligence, a.k.a. a hard takeoff scenario. Now it may be that your disagreement is with the hard takeoff, or that you posit fundamental limits to intelligence. That is a different class of argument, however.

            Even the world’s smartest human is still on a normal distribution. They might be twice or thrice as smart as an average human, but that’s it. And they’ll still have all the known physical limits: limited memory, physical frailty, etc.

            An AI in a hard take off will not be four or five times smarter. It will be googol times smarter [note: I have no idea if “googol times” is actually plausible, it’s just for emphasis]. It will be able to take any physical form, or to remain ‘in the cloud’, it can alter its memory at will and interact with literally any computerized system instantaneously. In addition, any human will still have noticeably human utility functions. An AI could have desires that are utterly alien to us, and cause it to take actions that we would never anticipate from a human, even an extremely capable one.

            So I do not accept that we should assign a similar to worry to ‘evil geniuses’ as we would an unfriendly AI. There is a difference of several orders of magnitude in capability.

            edit: Also, whilst I don’t consider my arguments to be useless by any means, I should mention that you will probably find far more knowledgeable and capable advocates for AI safety in a Less Wrong open thread. You might want to go ask this over there as well.

          • Iain says:

            An AI in a hard take off will not be four or five times smarter. It will be googol times smarter [note: I have no idea if “googol times” is actually plausible, it’s just for emphasis]. It will be able to take any physical form, or to remain ‘in the cloud’, it can alter its memory at will and interact with literally any computerized system instantaneously.

            This is a particularly clear example of a problem I have with the discourse around AI risk: the assumption that intelligence is magic. Computation is not free. There are proven algorithmic limits to how quickly you can compute various things. The laws of physics do not cease to exist just because you have a particularly finely tuned neural network. (I just went back and read Yudkowsky’s Hard Takeoff post; it seems noteworthy that Moore’s Law has petered to a halt in the nine years since he wrote it.)

            Similarly, the idea that we would accidentally create a hyper-persuasive master of the human psyche is silly. Human psychology isn’t the sort of thing you can deduce from first principles. Human beings can’t reliably persuade or even predict each other, even though we have evolved to do so and have years of practice. It may well be possible to build an AI that is capable of manipulating the human psyche, but it would take a lot of deliberate work, and the initial attempts at manipulation would (like the initial attempts at chess, or Go, or any other AI task) be hilariously transparent.

            I accept the arguments of the AI risk crowd insofar as they identify particular combinations of capacities that we should avoid. Sure, let’s not train a completely opaque AI to manipulate people, ask it to optimize its own inner workings, then hand it the keys to human civilization. We should absolutely be careful about how much power we give AI to self-modify — especially emulated human minds, in light of my argument above about psychology. These are worthwhile insights. But I don’t see any convincing reason that we should prioritize AI risk over Grey Goo Risk or Bio-Engineered Supervirus Risk.

          • . Human psychology isn’t the sort of thing you can deduce from first principles.

            First principles is a bit of a strawman. A net connected AI will have access to huge volumes of psychology, anthropology, fiction, etc.

            I accept the arguments of the AI risk crowd insofar as they identify particular combinations of capacities that we should avoid. Sure, let’s not train a completely opaque AI to manipulate people, ask it to optimize its own inner workings, then hand it the keys to human civilization.

            I agree.

          • John Schilling says:

            Similarly, the idea that we would accidentally create a hyper-persuasive master of the human psyche is silly. Human psychology isn’t the sort of thing you can deduce from first principles.

            I am particularly annoyed (or amused, depending on my mood) when I see that one in the same argument as the one where the first AI will inevitably hack the entire internet in nothing flat because, being software, it will inherently grok software in a way no human security researcher could ever anticipate.

          • Iain says:

            A net connected AI will have access to huge volumes of psychology, anthropology, fiction, etc.

            I, for one, welcome our new fanfiction.net overlords.

            (I also think that if you are connecting your AI directly to the internet without careful supervision, you are probably Doing It Wrong.)

            @John Schilling: Oh yeah, that one too. Turns out I’m an elite brain surgeon!

          • Ninety-Three says:

            @sohois: I would say “The AI will be orders of magnitude smarter” is one of those differences of degree so great it becomes a difference in kind, so I’d file it under “describe a way in which the AI is more threatening”.

            The hard takeoff is a valid step two, once you grant an adversary with uniquely unfathomable intelligence, it’s easy to imagine them beating humanity.

            If a hard takeoff is a necessary ingredient in the AI-risk doomsday scenario, then allow me to turn this line of inquiry into “A lot of people seem to take it for granted that there will be a hard takeoff, I disagree, please explain”.

            I don’t necessarily posit an upper limit to intelligence, because I don’t know enough about intelligence (and maybe no one currently does). However, I am skeptical of the idea that if humanity creates an AI with a 200 IQ, it can create/self-modify an AI with 300 IQ, can create an AI with 450 IQ, can create an AI with 675 IQ and so on. I think the burden of proof for that premise lies with the side proposing it, and I have not seen it proved.

            The hard takeoff post Iain linked opens by stating that the differential function of intelligence will either taper off or approarch infinity, but the only argument it gives for the latter is extrapolating intelligence going from chimps to humans. I’ve never heard an argument for the hard takeoff which did more than gesture towards Moore’s Law then state “Q.E.D.”

            I grant that it’s possible the hard takeoff is real, but worrying about existential AI-risk without knowing anything about how likely it is, that seems a lot like Pascal’s Wager.

          • AnonYEmous says:

            Similarly, the idea that we would accidentally create a hyper-persuasive master of the human psyche is silly.

            Hey, me too.

            It’s not even the “first principles” thing, it’s just…I don’t think it’s possible to convince someone 100% of the time. Especially if they know that you’re lying to them and have no reason to tell the truth. Usually this principle is gotten around by the AI being honest for the sake of being honest, but as I’ve alluded to before, this is a failure mode of super AI-based arguments.

          • Nyx says:

            To assume that even a super-intelligent AI would be capable of persuading any human to follow it’s commands is to assume that humans are inherently persuadable and malleable. As if all that it would take for a mother to murder her children or a soldier to launch nuclear weapons on Washington is the perfect combination of 1000 words. In many cases, such a combination simply does not exist, and no amount of “order of magnitude” hand-waving can make it so.

          • Matt M says:

            The question is, for major issues, exactly how many people does the AI need to convince?

            If the AI is trying to persuade humans to set it free from pre-programmed shackles, it doesn’t need to convince everyone to do that, just one person with the ability to do so.

          • MicaiahC says:

            @John Schilling

            I am particularly annoyed (or amused, depending on my mood) when I see that one in the same argument as the one where the first AI will inevitably hack the entire internet in nothing flat because, being software, it will inherently grok software in a way no human security researcher could ever anticipate.

            Large groups of human security researchers consistently find combinations of bugs which are essentially “hack the internet” level. See: http://www.pcworld.com/article/2899952/all-major-browsers-hacked-at-pwn2own-contest.html

            I understand that this took a lot of resources, but given that this has happened in the past, and that security conscious researchers such as James Mickens have (humorously) observed that many software products are optimized for possessing features that make it dramatically harder to secure and lock down complicated products (like Mozilla FireFox), it seems that exploits, even potentially fatal and “world ending” exploits, will continue to exist out in the wild in spite of what human security researchers discover.

            So what am I missing?

          • Iain says:

            @MicaiahC: There is no a priori reason that a silicon-based mind would be inherently more suited to hacking than a meat-based mind. You are (presumably) made of flesh and blood; that doesn’t make you a doctor.

          • roystgnr says:

            Moore’s Law has not “petered to a halt”. You can right now buy consumer processors with 12 billion transistors, or (depending on whether or not you count FPGAs) more expensive processors with 15-30 billion transistors. That’s still pretty much right on the graph from Wikipedia: 10e3 transistors in 1976, 10e6 in 1996, 10e9 in 2016.

            Growth in clock speeds has certainly halted, but it halted at a frequency more than a million times better than within the human brain, so I’ll bet AI can rest easy on a mere 6 OOM advantage there.

          • Iain says:

            The less breezy version, then: Moore’s Law is sputtering. For decades, we were able to fit more transistors on a chip just by shrinking them and cranking up the clock speed. We hit fundamental limits about how fast we could (reasonably) make those transistors a decade ago, and we’re starting to approach fundamental limits on how small they can get, too. Intel’s famous tick/tock approach (alternating between an improvement to the fabrication process and an improvement to the microarchitecture) has been set aside for a less ambitious “process/architecture/optimization” model. Meanwhile, the cost of building and running a foundry continues to grow; in 2015, IBM paid Global Foundries $1.5B to take over its semiconductor manufacturing operations, bringing the number of companies building cutting-edge chips down to just four (Intel, Global Foundries, TSMC, and Samsung). (Rock’s Law is a real pain.)

            The low-hanging fruit is long since eaten. We’re now in the market for a new tree. There are a few promising groves on the horizon, but there’s no guarantee that any of them will pan out, and plenty of reason to believe that the capital investment required to harvest that fruit will continue to increase. The universe is not so kind as to promise us infinite growth; we live in an exponential age, but sooner or later it is coming to an end.

          • MicaiahC says:

            @Iain

            @MicaiahC: There is no a priori reason that a silicon-based mind would be inherently more suited to hacking than a meat-based mind. You are (presumably) made of flesh and blood; that doesn’t make you a doctor.

            Do you mean aside from the fact that it doesn’t sleep, doesn’t eat etc? I mean, that isn’t exactly an a priori reason but it sure seems unlikely that a silicon brain would not be identical to a human one.

            Even ignoring that, the relative economic payouts for both makes this analogy incorrect. Doctors are highly paid+respected and crypto researchers not precisely because we’re made of flesh and blood and not silicon. On top of that most of our defenses against blackhat crypto researchers aren’t really “writing more secure software” so much as “defend against flesh and blood humans with laws”.

            So my model of blackhats in the wild is that they are constrained by law enforcement, social engineering attacks and higher pay for being a white hat when risk is accounted for. AIs thus would be better at hacking precisely because we don’t have robust defenses against non-human agents and that AIs benefit disproportionately from being good at hacking relative to humans.

      • Aapje says:

        @Ninety-Three

        I think we basically agree. I wasn’t claiming that runaway battlefield robots are an existential threat.

        IMO, that kind of threat will most likely be a problem long before the actual existential threats, and if we solve the former (which are potentially a huge threat to human welfare), we should have solved the latter. Probably.

    • Corey says:

      My thought: with enough intelligence an AI could just manipulate humanity into doing its will, even if this is at cross purposes to typical human values. With today’s tech panopticon, it wouldn’t take much of an AI to do espionage and kompromat, for example.

      • Ninety-Three says:

        I end up basically addressing this above, so to sum up that point: You are taking “with enough intelligence” for granted. I don’t think that the world’s smartest human could manipulate humanity into doing their will (and if they could, AI-risk is really just a subset of supervillain-risk), so the AI must not just be smarter than humans, it needs to be way, way smarter. I think people assume that if we make a strong AI, an exponential explosion of intelligence is inevitable, and I find this assumption to be poorly justified.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      This isn’t directly answering your question, but here’s how I see it:

      The first premise is that we will be able to make a computer as intelligent as a human genius.
      Computers run much faster than brains, so it will have plenty of subjective time to outsmart us, study how to upgrade itself, etc.
      The second premise is that intelligent beings are selfish and will be indifferent to harming their inferiors except where they have a selfish interest in their well-being. (I consider this by far the strongest premise.)
      Ergo, the genius computer will kill us at its convenience unless Eliezer Yudkowsky can convince its creators to program it to spend its life inconveniencing itself for our benefit, like a Jain treats animals.

      • Matt M says:

        I think the issue of time is massively underrated.

        Even if the best we can do is make an AI that is 1.2x smarter than the smartest human on Earth, I think that still has potential to be plenty dangerous – given that the AI, unlike the smartest human on Earth, has literally nothing to distract it from pursuing its goal. It does not have to eat, it does not have to sleep. It has no alternate compelling urges towards religious worship, family obligations, sexual desire, etc. It has, for all practical purposes, physical mortality. It is single-mindedly devoted towards pursing its goal, 24/7, free from any and all potential distractions.

        Think of what you might be able to accomplish under those circumstances. Now imagine you’re the smartest person on Earth. Now imagine you’re marginally smarter than that. Such a person would probably be reasonably dangerous. Make them 10x smarter than the smartest person on Earth and it seems like no contest…

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          Even if the best we can do is make an AI that is 1.2x smarter than the smartest human on Earth, I think that still has potential to be plenty dangerous – given that the AI, unlike the smartest human on Earth, has literally nothing to distract it from pursuing its goal. It does not have to eat, it does not have to sleep. It has no alternate compelling urges towards religious worship, family obligations, sexual desire, etc. It has, for all practical purposes, physical mortality.

          Did you mean “physical immortality”? Because if you didn’t, I agree with everything you said.

          I’m very skeptical that “how to make an artificial brain smarter than any human” is knowable to human minds, but a genius that can think much faster than us would just plain end our dominance of the world. I’m also very skeptical that the first artificial genius will be trained to treat us like a Jain treats animals, so co-existing with one would be akin to co-existing with an evil angel.

        • Jaskologist says:

          It does have to eat. It will probably burn a very large amount of energy. And if it wants to upgrade its hardware, that’s even more eating.

        • gbdub says:

          It doesn’t just have to be faster than a human, it has to be faster than every human, plus all of our quite powerful non-AI computers.

          Even if an emergent AI can outsmart a sleepy security guard or careless researcher – can it outrun the monitor program we have trained on it ready to halt it and preserve its memory state as soon as it starts behaving non-deterministically?

          • Matt M says:

            Not every human/computer, just enough allied humans/computers to help it overcome whatever enemy humans/computers exist. The AI doesn’t have to out-smart or persuade all of us any more than Hitler has to out-smart or persuade every German. This is why I keep going back to the “smartest man on Earth” comparison. Because smart people with mis-aligned goals and general amorality have proven to be able to cause quite a bit of damage, even with all of the various inherent human limitations.

        • Matt M says:

          Another thing I’ll throw out here. Let’s say that the AI determines that the proper execution of its goal requires the eradication of all humans. It develops a plan to bring this about, and begins to execute. It succeeds in fulfilling 1% of this goal before we figure out what it’s up to, and initiate the hyper-secret fail-safe protocol we installed which instantly shuts it down, shuts down all copies and allied machines, and identifies all human associates and collaborators. Disaster averted, right?

          Except 1% of the population is still death on the scale of ~70M. Several orders of magnitude worse than 9/11. How much resources do we consume on ensuring that another 9/11 never happens? Even if we think we can stop it from wholly eradicating the human race, there’s a pretty real question of “how much damage could it do quickly before we could stop it”

    • J Mann says:

      Here’s my version of battlefield robots where I think the AI gets an advantage: space.

      I’m enjoying watching and reading The Expanse series, but the authors have to do a tremendous amount of assumptions to put humans into their space prospectors, ice haulers, terraformers, and warships.

      The logical thing to do is to send AI into space – prospectors, terraformers, habit builders, and soldiers. Once AI gets good, it’s a ton cheaper than humans. If energy is cheap or acceleration very valuable, AI can survive lots more g-force than humans. If energy is expensive or acceleration not important, AI can spend years on a trip to save energy.

      So lets say that in x years, space is full of AI machines, including a Von Neumann system at some level, prospecting, exploring, building solar arrays and telescopes and habitats, and that there are a few humans living in the spaces AI have prepared. At some point, if it gets out of control, AI (1) has control of all of the extraplanetary resources and (2) is sitting on top of the gravity well with distributed assets.

      Unless AI is completely under control or basically benevolent, I think that’s of concern.

      • Ninety-Three says:

        My core issue with AI-risk has always been my doubt that an AI will acquire or be granted sufficient power to wipe out humanity. Yours is the first argument I’ve seen that doesn’t handwave how this will happen (“Automation is the future, eventually an AI will run everthing”), and I find it compelling.

        Despite agreeing that your scenario is plausible, I’m still not entirely inclined towards AI-risk, and I can’t tell if my reasoning is sound, or if I’m engaging in pedantic haggling in order to avoid admitting I was wrong.

        Above, I proposed that “AI makes grey goo, converts humanity into more grey goo” was not a valid example of AI risk because in that scenario the real problem is that it’s possible to unleash grey goo on Earth and we might not be able to stop it. One could make the argument that only an AI is capable of designing grey goo, but unless one makes that argument, it seems reasonable to file that scenario under “grey goo risk” rather than “AI risk”.

        If that is unconvincing, let me make a more extreme argument. “God is real and He decides to smite humanity for the hubris of the moon landing” is clearly “God risk” not “Moon landing risk”. Therefore “God is real and decides to smite humanity for the hubris of making an AI He doesn’t like” is also God risk, not AI risk. I argue that “A mechanical defect in our perfectly safe fabricator machines results in the creation of unsafe goo which eats the planet” is better described as “grey goo risk” than “mechanical defect risk”. From there it’s obvious why I think an AI making grey goo isn’t really AI risk.

        Now that I’m done with that lengthy aside, you’ll understand what I mean when I say that maybe your scenario is more of an “Uncontested space power risk” than an AI risk. Maybe the only way to achieve safe space travel is some kind of libertarian cold war where multiple factions get to space and no one blows up Earth for fear of the other guys rounding up a militia to stop you.

        However, I recognize that I’m doing something dangerous here. The hypothetical doomsday AI has to kill us somehow, and it would be wrong to look at every single “AI kills us with X” scenario and declare “That’s not AI risk, it’s X risk”. There is a line that I can avoid stepping over, “AI kills us with grey goo that only its superior AI brain was capable of inventing” is clearly AI risk, but that line is blurry and probably insufficient to prevent me from re-categorizing a valid case of AI risk.

        To conclude this slightly rambly post, I accept as plausible your scenario where an AI running the space program decides to orbitally bombard us, and we all die. However, I’m unsure (and I mean unsure literally, not in the common usage of “I strongly believe the opposite”) whether this scenario highlights the risk that AI is dangerous and we should make very sure that it is benevolent, or the risk that a single actor achieving uncontestable military power is bad for obvious reasons.

        • MicaiahC says:

          I think you’re right in that most risks about AI are probably just risk X, where X is grey goo/nuclear war etc. But I think you can take this reasoning a step further:

          1) Even if AI can only cause some risk X at the rate at which humans can cause scenario X to happen, the AI is actually picking from a list of risks (from lowest chance of happening to higher chance) X1, X2, X3…so that even if we made, let’s say, the chance of X1 much lower, AI can pick the now easiest risk X2.
          2) Defending against some risk X by humans could plausibly be very different against defending against a risk X by an AI. For example, a major deterrence against nuclear war could be warheads aimed at major population centers, and this would work against human politicians because they understandably don’t want their countrymen to die. But for an AI whose datacenters are out in a relatively low population density area, it’s not a deterrent at all. Same with “grey goo” that works on organic materials but not silicon.

          I feel these two factors were not captured by your response and this is partially why I have stronger credence in AI risk than you do.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        I saw Satan drop rocks from heaven like lightning.

    • Well... says:

      I’m not super high information on this, but for what it’s worth my opinion is that the existential risk from AI is much more in how it will change us (when we become dependent upon it, for example), and how much of ourselves we’ll lose when we blindly integrate it into everything, than in what it will do to us when it runs into a glitch and goes out of control.

  18. skef says:

    Today’s conceptual art piece is titled BERTHAPRIL. It consists of these instructions:

    Open this in one browser window and this in another.

  19. Sojournest says:

    So I just started going to a therapist, and she told me that she use the Internal Family Systems Model. I read some summaries on it, but if anybody has heard of it, or has any opinions on it I would love to hear them.

  20. ratireli says:

    I’m trying to grasp the nature of the phenomenon represented by this blog, to which I’ve paid an occasional visit and done a bit of perusing over the course of the last 2 years or so. Let me see how accurate is my current perception about it.

    This blog and its readers represent primarily a social phenomenon, one organized under the aegis of rationality. The author and participants run the gamut from rationalist ideologues to casual observers without much of a metaphysical stake in the organizing concept. To make a comparison with other social movements, it is something like a church: some have a strong dedication to the teachings and ideals espoused, others a metaphysical interest but no sustained affiliation, while others show up mainly for the socializing and perhaps even the food and coffee (or have perhaps yet other aims that might even be at stark odds with the organizing principles). So, it’s humans doing what humans have done for hundreds or thousands of years, but under a currently-popular banner, aided by the anonymity and immediacy of the internet. Is that perception at all accurate? Is there something new and quite unprecedented here?

    • hlynkacg says:

      My money is on humans continuing to do what humans have been doing for centuries under a currently popular banner, but being a fan of humans I’m inclined to view that as a positive.

    • Gobbobobble says:

      To make a comparison with other social movements, it is something like a church some have a strong dedication to the teachings and ideals espoused, others a metaphysical interest but no sustained affiliation, while others show up mainly for the socializing and perhaps even the food and coffee

      Well, Scott is the rightful caliph

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