SSC Gives A Wedding Speech

[I gave a speech at Mike Blume and Hannah “Alicorn” Blume’s wedding on Sunday. Some of the guests suggested I post it here for more general consumption. Content warning: polyamory.]

I’ve been asked to give an impromptu speech. Specifically, I was asked six months ago, when Hannah messaged me and said “You need to give an impromptu speech at my wedding. You’ve got six months to get it sounding impromptu enough.”

But I’ve been thinking about this day for even longer than that. The first time Hannah and I talked about her wedding was…maybe three or four years ago. She was staying at my house in Southern California on her way to Anna and Carl’s wedding. And this was actually an Important Historic Occasion, because the next night when she stayed in San Diego, in order to save money she shared a hotel room with a certain Michael Blume and the rest is history. But at the time they weren’t together, and Hannah and I were – kind of half-dating, I don’t think we had actually started dating at the time, but we were flirting. And Hannah asked if I was going to go to the wedding the next day, and I said no, I couldn’t stand weddings, I hated weddings, I would do whatever I could to avoid them.

And she looked at me with big eyes and said “But…you’ll come to my wedding? Right?”

I said: “Mumble mumble maybe mumble try.”

Hannah wouldn’t take that as an answer and demanded to know my probability that I would come to her wedding.

I remember what I answered. It was something like “Fifty percent. Rising to ninety percent, if I’m the groom.”

And that didn’t work out, but I still find that now that the time is here I wouldn’t miss it for the world.

Hannah is still one of my favorite people. When I was out of a job and had no idea what I was going to do with my life, Hannah kind of saved me and gave me a place to live in Berkeley and threw me at her friend group so hard I have never been able to extract myself since. I have known her for five years now, I dated her for about three, I lived with her for one. And in the end, my only regret about attending her wedding was that it means I am visiting Berkeley on the ONE weekend that she’s not throwing a dinner party with her home cooking.

I’ve known Mike for a lot shorter, only about two years. Which is too bad, because it means that there were all these years of my life when I could have known Mike, but didn’t, which is a tragic waste. Mike is kind of like the Platonic ideal of the Good – to know him is to love him. I remember one Facebook thread where someone posted “Mike Blume is so nice and helpful and dreamy” to their wall, and it ended up ballooning to like a hundred likes and comments from people agreeing with the sentiment.

I was looking for that thread the other day so I could quote it, and I couldn’t find it. Part of the reason I couldn’t find it was that I kept asking people – “Do you remember who posted that Facebook thread praising Mike for being really nice and attractive and helpful?” – and they would say “Yeah, I think I was the one who posted that, it sounds like the sort of thing I would say.” And then they look and can’t find it, so I go to the next person, and they’re like “You know, I bet I was the one who posted that, it sounds like the sort of thing I would say…” annnnnnd I never did find the thread.

That is Mike.

So instead I hunted down something I once said about Mike once on my blog, which I would like to share with you today: “Hannah says Mike is her ‘happiness battery’, a source of emotional strength she can rely on to get her through difficult times. After living with him, I felt the same way, and he is at the center of so many social circles he might better be described as a giant happiness hydroelectric plant powering half of Northern California. The fact that flowers do not spring up everywhere he walks only proves that flowers are wrong.”

In fact, I took unfair advantage of this when I lived with Mike and Hannah to meet a steady stream of Mike groupies. That was how I met my current girlfriend Ozy – they dated Mike first. That was how I met my ex-girlfriend Kenzi, who officiated today – she dated Mike first. In fact, Mike and Kenzi were really good together. I used to wonder whether Hannah would marry Mike or Kenzi would marry Mike. I’m glad to see that they both married Mike, in different senses.

I’m trying to avoid using the phrase “emergent property” in a wedding speech, but I’ll say it – there is an emergent property to their relationship that makes them even better together than either one is alone. Their interactions with each other show such amazing mutual respect and love and complementarity that it adds new plausibility to the idea of soulmates. They are my model of how a good relationship ought to work. And one day, I hope some ambitious linguist will study their ability to communicate with each other entirely in adorable high-pitched noises (“eeeeeeeeeee!” “EEEEEEEEEEE!”)

I like Mike, and I like Hannah. But beyond either of them, I have a huge, huge crush on their relationship.

I want to marry their marriage.

I know my conservative friends tell me that we’re on a slippery slope, and soon people will be marrying animals, and trees, and rocks. And I can only hope that, somewhere at the bottom of that slope, someone legalizes man-relationship unions.

And when that happens, the rest of you, stay away! I called it first!

My friends got MARRIED!

But I’m sorry to get into politics at a time like this. Let’s talk about something more relevant. Let’s talk about population genetics.

A Dr. Joseph Chang of Yale University, using sophisticated statistical techniques, determined that ancestry mixes surprisingly quickly across populations. I promise this will become relevant. He found that beyond a certain horizon anybody who’s the ancestor of anybody in a population is the ancestor of everybody. The exact length changes depending on some assumptions, but for a relatively mixed population like descendants of Eurasians, it’s probably around fifteen hundred years. Some tribes on remote islands way out in the Pacific might be longer. Anyone from Papua New Guinea here today? No?

Then everyone here today is a descendent of Socrates. Everyone here today is a descendent of Confucius. Everyone here today is a descendent of Mohammed. Even if you don’t look much like him. Queen Elizabeth’s official genealogy confirms a descent from Mohammed, and she doesn’t look Middle Eastern either.

We’re all descendants of Nefertiti. The patriarch Abraham. The Japanese imperial line. Charlemagne. Qin Shih Huang Di. And not just genetically. We learned values from our parents that they learned from their parents that they learned from their parents and so on to Socrates or Mohammed or Charlemagne sitting their kids down at the dinner table and trying to teach them right from wrong.

Mike and Hannah met through the Machine Intelligence Research Institute, through the Visiting Fellows program at Benton-that-was. A lot of people here today are involved with MIRI, or other organizations trying to ensure the survival of humanity a thousand or two thousand years from now. And there’s a lot of discussion, within those circles, about what such a future would be like.

And I was reading about this population genetics stuff six months ago, at the same time Hannah asked me to write an impromptu speech, and it made me think.

Whatever else we’re celebrating with the ritual of marriage, we’re also celebrating this. We’re marking this incredibly audacious act of taking a genetic and memetic payload and shooting it into the far future, where it will spread further and further with every generation and eventually rewrite humankind.

And if we make it another fifteen hundred years as a biological species, someday we will have a world where everybody alive is a descendent of Mike and Hannah. And where everyone has received their values from someone who received their values who received their values…from Mike and Hannah.

And that’s pretty high up there for me as a reason to be incredibly excited about the whole project.

So, a toast. To Hannah. To Mike. To their relationship. And to the future.

Congratulations, guys.

(No pressure.)

ADDED: Here is the text of the wedding ceremony itself, written by Hannah.

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69 Responses to SSC Gives A Wedding Speech

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Huh! I thought I checked that!

      Looks like his son didn’t have any kids, so my generation contention that no one alive is of the Buddha’s line is correct. I’ll edit the written version, and I hope I didn’t annoy any Buddhists in the audience during the spoken.

  1. Anonymous says:

    assuming that they have children

    • Paul Goodman says:

      I think that’s covered in the qualifier “anybody who’s an ancestor of anybody”.

      • James James says:

        Not just children — the children have to have children etc. The historical person has to have at least one ancestor alive today.

        Do we know that Socrates, Confucius, Mohammed, Nefertiti, or Abraham have descendants alive today?

        (Charlemagne probably does. I was able to follow his descendants on Wikipedia for quite a while before I got bored.)

        • Salem says:

          We know for a fact that the Prophet Mohammed has descendants, yes, because through Hassan and Hussein there are well-documented lines (e.g. the royal family of Jordan). However, there are also lots of people who claim descent from Mohammed who can’t adequately prove it.

        • Even if we’re not being very credulous of sacred claims about Abraham, it seems very likely that at least some of the people claiming to be children of Abraham are, in fact, children of Abraham, which means that by this time it’s very likely that they all are children of Abraham.

          • Corey says:

            Textual analysis shows that the Biblical Abraham is a syncretic pastiche; there probably was no single individual who did all the things Abraham is written of as doing in the Bible.

          • veronica d says:

            Fair enough, but for each of them, if that person has any descendants at all, we are their descendent. 🙂

            We are descendants of the Abrahams!

        • nydwracu says:

          They refused genetic testing, so who knows if they’re actually right, but it’s estimated that Confucius has three million descendants, and most of them are in China. Descendants of Confucius who left China would be unlikely to be tracked, of course.

        • James James says:

          “Charlemagne probably does. I was able to follow his descendants on Wikipedia for quite a while before I got bored.”

          That said, he doesn’t seem have that many descendants — many of the branches die out. Charlemagne lived 1200 years ago. 1500 years sounds a bit low even just counting Europeans.

        • Toby Bartels says:

          Queen Elizabeth is also descended from Charlemagne. (So am I, according to our family genealogy, although I haven’t checked the branch that’s supposed to go to Charlemagne.)

    • James James says:

      “And not just genetically. We learned values from our parents that they learned from their parents that they learned from their parents and so on”

      In fact probably not at all genetically. It is possible for someone to be the Most Recent Common Ancestor of all humans alive today, yet not to have passed on any genetic material at all. On sufficiently large timescales, the probability of this approaches 1.

  2. Matthew says:

    “Fifty percent. Rising to ninety percent, if I’m the groom.”

    Were you really this funny extemporaneously, or is this polished for the speech?

  3. Solveit says:

    Now I want a wedding speech like this…

  4. Slippery slope? It’s been done. In 1976, Jannene Swift of Los Angeles married a fifty-pound pet rock. OTOH, I doubt if there will be any descendants. Maybe that’s unimaginative of me.

  5. Nisan says:

    Awwww! That is so adorable!

  6. Daniel Speyer says:

    I know my conservative friends tell me that we’re on a slippery slope, and soon people will be marrying animals, and trees, and rocks. And I can only hope that, somewhere at the bottom of that slope, someone legalizes man-relationship unions.

    When you modify database schemata, the last thing you want to do is require two formerly unrelated primary keys to share the new namespace. But perhaps I’m taking the metaphor too seriously.

  7. Matt says:

    Beautiful! I don’t think I could have imagined a wedding speech that felt like one of your blog posts, while remaining triumphantly appropriate and heartwarming, but here it is.

    • RCF says:

      As I was not at the wedding, I’ll just have to imagine how the text-is-anchor-for-http-links manifested in the spoken version.

      And were there any “Death to Moloch!” toasts?

  8. Scott F says:

    For one heart-stopping moment, I was convinced that this was going to be a wedding speech in the same way that SSC Gives a Graduation Speech was a graduation speech.

    • ADifferentAnonymous says:

      That was my thought too. Though it wouldn’t have scared me if it weren’t right after Scott was actually at a wedding.

  9. Army1987 says:

    gosh that triggered my incest revulsion reaction

    • Corey says:

      Then you definitely don’t want to compare the canonical number of 28-times-great-grandparents with the world population of humans 30 generations ago…

  10. coffeespoons says:

    That is so lovely 🙂

  11. Stuart Armstrong says:

    Lovely 🙂

  12. Quixote says:

    Great speech! Congrats to the newly weds!

  13. Anonymous says:

    So what does this mean, 1/2^45 of the Queen’s genes are Mohammed’s. This is meaningless.
    Are there even enough genes in a person?

    (Congratulations to the newlyweds.)

    • Hainish says:

      It’s a meaningless or meaningful as saying that someone is the direct descendant of Charlemagne (which is to say, it depends on how much you care about that sort of thing).

      As to the second question, the relevant unit is DNA base pairs, rather than genes. There are ~6.4 billion base pairs in a typical human body cell. Since genes are made up of many base pairs, you can have inherited a portion of a gene from a particular ancestor. (Or, a portion of non-coding DNA.)

    • Eric Rall says:

      I usually oversimplify to likelihood of sharing a chromosome when I think about such things (neglecting crossovers, random mutations occurring since the common ancestor, and genes that are uniform throughout the human gene pool). By that standard, the expected genetic contribution shrinks below one chromosome after 6 generations (i.e. you have exactly 23 chromosomes from each parent, about 11.5 from each grandparent, 5.75 from each great-grandparent, 2.88 from each great-great grandparent, 1.44 from each great-great-great grandparent, and 0.71 from each great*4 grandparent).

      After 45 generations, I think that makes the Queen a homeopathic Sayyid.

      The sex chromosomes are a major exception to this, since it’s pretty easy to tell which of your father’s chromosomes you got. If you’re male, you share your Y chromosome with all of your male-line ancestors (modulo random mutations, crossovers, and inaccuracies in your recorded genealogy).

      • suntzuanime says:

        Interesting! Do you suppose this has anything to do with why inheritance has traditionally followed the male line?

        • Considering that chromosomes weren’t discovered until the 20th century and Y-linked genetic traits are quite rare, that strikes me as extremely unlikely.

        • Eric Rall says:

          Probably not, for the reasons Taymon mention. I think male-line inheritance was more driven by cultural gender roles: the concept of a married woman joining her husband’s family and the concept of rulership being in the male sphere combine to mean that passing your lands and titles to your daughter really means passing them to your son-in-law.

  14. naath says:

    Whatever else we’re celebrating with the ritual of marriage, we’re also celebrating this. We’re marking this incredibly audacious act of taking a genetic and memetic payload and shooting it into the far future, where it will spread further and further with every generation and eventually rewrite humankind.

    I suppose this might be a true and useful thing to say about this particular happy couple (I don’t know them, so I don’t know; but I assume you do know them and wouldn’t say things like this if you didn’t know that they are hoping to have children together) I find this notion that “marriage” is about celebrating “having children” because it is true neither that marriage implies the desire for children nor that having children (and sending our genetic and memetic payload into the future) requires marriage.

  15. kappa says:

    But I’m sorry to get into politics at a time like this. Let’s talk about something more relevant. Let’s talk about population genetics.

    Scott joke! 😀

  16. 27chaos says:

    I think I want you to wander around giving random lectures like a modern day Mark Twain or something.

    If you ever were to decide you want to join academia, by the way, I think you would be a very good teacher. Might be a good way to maximize your positive utility on the world, if you teach a bunch of students committed to doing the same. If nothing else, I hope you’re someday someone else’s equivalent of that genius psychiatry mentor you’ve mentioned here before.

    Lots of my books talk about the importance of finding a talented mentor. Anyone here smart about economics or statistics and interested in molding a vulnerable highly ignorant Economics undergraduate to their own nefarious design? Real life mentorships are also something I’m pursuing, but more is merrier. I’m willing to do a bit of slave labor (basic research) or favors and such, if desired. Might back out if I’m not capable of your requests, but would try to reciprocate whatever attention I was given. Not willing to break into Azkaban for you or anything like that, of course, but anyone whose reasonable and generous and potentially good at mentoring should feel free to contact me.

    • Nornagest says:

      Be careful. The last time someone did that, we made him drink poison hemlock.

      • 27chaos says:

        I am genuinely curious why there aren’t more mentorships in the world today. They seem to satisfy basic individual social needs and benefit society, you’d think they’d be incredibly popular and that everyone would have one or more. Friendships between peers exist, and relationships between bosses and co workers, but these are not the same.

        • veronica d says:

          My employer has a semi-formal mentorship program for new hires. It works pretty well. I adore my mentor. I’m pretty sure we’ll remain close for the duration.

          A couple of the subcultures I belong to (*) also use something akin to mentorship models, although we don’t necessarily call them that.

          (*) If I am vague, I mean to be vague.

        • Alexander Stanislaw says:

          I’m not sure, some possible clues:

          The mentorships that still exist happen in relatively professions that are either small or have small specializations that people identify strongly with like academia and medicine.

          I think that mentorship went into decline around the market revolution, when people started “going to work” for a set amount of time with a boss rather than working on their own time tending their farm or working in their forge etc.

          Currently, people usually work for many different companies over their lifetime. This is somewhat incompatible with mentorship which happens over a long period of time. But I think mentorship went into decline quite a bit before this pattern of work.

          • anon1 says:

            What made mentorships work in the first place? It’s not clear to me what the mentor is supposed to get out of it, so maybe that’s a key thing that’s been lost.

          • Alexander Stanislaw says:


            Strokes you ego, societal expectation. You want someone to succeed you in the case of tradespersons. Sense of pride in your field. TDT* reasons – you mentor someone because someone mentored you in the past.

            I think that people generally want to help other people – especially other people that are similar to themselves.

            *Timeless decision theory

          • Corey says:

            anon1: Protégés are allies. Humans like allies.

          • veronica d says:

            Plus few things mark status quite like having a young, amazing, hopeful talent that follows you. If your portage thrives, then you sit back and gather the accolades.

            Plus, when you are ready to retire, they hit the prime of their career. In patronage based cultures this can affect very much the quality of your life.

          • veronica d says:


        • Anonymous says:

          I’m currently in a PhD program and my advisor/PI very much fulfills the role of mentor to me and the other graduate students under his care. I tend to think of it as a science apprenticeship, though perhaps not as intensive as those of yore (I’m only in my second year, so I’m still taking classes and therefore has extra-lab academic things to do, but we meet for a couple hours a week to discuss my research, papers he’s had me read, etc.). There are over a million grad students in the US right now, and I don’t think my current setup is that uncommon among them, so mentorship may be more popular than you might think.

  17. Joe says:

    You have a great group of friends Scott. Awesome speech. Looks like a very happy couple. Congrats to them and many many years.

  18. 27chaos says:

    Does Mike Blume have a blog or at the very least a LessWrong account? Would love to read his writings, absorb his power, steal his skin, send his soul to the abyss as trade for my own, all in such a way as no one else would ever realize.

    (In other words, adopting role models is a good idea and I think he’d be a good one.)

    Also, I assume he’s no slouch intellectually.

  19. Sam Rosen says:

    Yay! Love! Happiness!

  20. Anonymous says:

    I’d marry Slate Star Codex

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