OT12: Openness To Threadxperience

(seen at the New York Solstice celebration. Explanation here)

This is the semimonthly open thread. Post about anything you want, ask random questions, whatever. Also:

1. Thanks to custom website and software design company Trike Apps for agreeing to host this blog. The occasional downtime when the hosting service gets annoyed at too high a traffic volume should be over for good now.

2. Comments of the month have to be the various stories of overachieving German soldiers in the last links post. Here’s Doug Muir on Beate Uhse and Chaosmage on Ernst Junger.

3. A while back I linked to Nick Land’s experimental horror shory story Phyl-Undhu on the grounds that someone whose blog I read wrote a thing. At the time I hadn’t actually read it. I was recently alerted by a friend that I should, and that it contains a character named “Alex Scott” who makes exactly my argument about the Great Filter, which is cited in the appendix. I still think Land is too quick to round my “Late filter doesn’t make sense, therefore early filter” to “Late filter doesn’t make sense, therefore I am putting my head in the sand and refusing to think about it”, but I am prepared to excuse this for a literary cameo.

Now more than ever, no race or gender in the open thread. There’s a race and gender open thread at Ozy’s.

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535 Responses to OT12: Openness To Threadxperience

  1. Pingback: Alexander Scott | Time Spiral Press

  2. Leo says:

    This is entirely unnecessary (albeit true and kind), I just want to shout it from the rooftops:

    I am in love with Patrick Robotham.

    I’ll be expecting a wet haddock.

  3. Matt says:

    Btw, Scott, Henry George explained your invisible women problem here.

  4. wadavis says:

    The Amazon link. Do you only benefit from purchases from amazon.com, or can you reap the benifits of your international audience purchasing from amazon.ca?

  5. Limi says:

    I am sad. I pointed out that in Nick Land’s new book Phyl-Undhu the protagonist is named Alex Scott in the last open thread, about a day after everyone else stopped posting in it, and it seems Scott completely and entirely maliciously ignored my post. For this I must now declare war on both him and rationality until the day I die.

    Alternatively, Scott considers me a friend! We’ve never even spoken before, this is brilliant! Whoever said making friends is difficult is an idiot.

    PS Hello future historian or other person who feels they can’t post a comment until they have read every comment in every post until then, thus ensuring that they will only ever interact with the other commenters on the rare occasions Scott pauses for breath or they guiltily break their own rules. How are you? You will notice that I have very cleverly once again posted this 500 comments in and a day after everyone else has moved on, basically meaning it might as well be random numbers and letters for all anyone is going to read it. That might seem crazy, but ask yourself this – would Scott Alexander be locked in a never ending war/friends with a crazy person? Haha, checkmate!

    • Susebron says:

      I have foiled your clever predictions!

      • Limi says:

        If I had a dollar for every time I predicted that I would be ignored only to find a tongueless god-king paying me attention out of spite…

        Incidentally, I was wrong about when I mentioned the book – it was in the last links post, not the last open thread.

  6. Calicles says:

    Let’s get superficial for a moment. Who’s the smartest person in the rationalist community (broadly construed)? Obvious candidates include Eliezer Yudkowsky, Robin Hanson, Nick Bostrom and Carl Shulman, but there are many others.

  7. haishan says:

    I’m not sure that anyone’s gonna see this at this point — looks like it’s just me and the spambots — but apparently there’s a thing called Lunchables Uploaded? Is Kraft getting in the business of prepackaged meals for ems? This seems like the reasonable conclusion to draw.

  8. TheAncientGeek says:


    “Birmingham is ‘totally Muslim’ city, claims Fox News pundit”

    I used to live in Birmingham. It’s not totally Muslim. It’s also not “beautiful”.

    • Shenpen says:

      I expected a photo of _that_ tower.

      Birmingham is largely about sports – just look at all the tracksuits!

  9. Shenpen says:

    Re: Great Filter

    One linked article says ““If you killed all humans on Earth, but you left life on Earth — and the animals have big brains — it wouldn’t necessarily be that long before it came back again.” ”

    Extraordinary traits require extraordinary selective pressure. Evoluton doesn’t make things just because it can.

    It means that something as drasting as intelligence – only one species out of millions, compare it with traits like flying! – must make a significant difference in matters like staying alive or mating – it means that if you lack this new trait, you die early and most likely as a virgin. E.g. elephants got big by, presumably, either stomping the small bulls into a bloody corpse when they tried mating with the cows, or the selective advantage of being able to eat higher branches off trees turned into a selective pressure during some kind of a famine or disaster or a hugely overgrazed savannah, because an advantage advantage without selective pressure (everybody gets enough food, you get more than enough) just makes you fat and that does not really help a genetic trait to spread. You need a serious disaster for things like “your trait gets you more food” to matter.

    According to the widely accepted Environmental Dominance – Social Competition model of the evolution of human intelligence, humans totally pwned their enviroment WHILE they were stupid primates. These stupid primates were reasonably well-fed and safe enough from predators. The environment did NOT provide selective pressure for intelligence, this is why all the other species did not evolve it!!!

    It was humans (or the stupid primates who we used to be) who provided the selective pressure for each other to evolve intelligence.

    Biologists call it Social Competition. But I think we have a shorter word for it: war.

    If the evolution of intelligence requires intra-species aggression, war, then I think the Great Filter is pretty much explained. They nuked themselves out of existence.

    • I think your concept is broadly right, I just wanted to add that a lot of human expansion after fire and tools where invented wasn’t just intraspecies competition but involved a pretty big impact on surrounding species. Other mammal species have in particular done really badly. Also, I don’t know if we’re hosed yet, because similar selective pressures have actually been operating to create morality and altruism, apparently even across species in our case. It does seem likely that a species at our level of technological knowledge or higher would either become very “nice”, converge to a moderately-nice singleton or be totally wiped out. A non-interventionist policy doesn’t seem out of the realm of possiblities for alien biospheres that have made it past that filter.

  10. Shenpen says:

    Hi Scott,

    Was it reported before that Firefox has a problem with the scripts on this blog and freezes for 20 secs then comes up with the “stop or debug script” pop-up?

    When I hit debug, it shows the Amazon Adsystem javascript and this loop: while(titleNode.scrollWidth>110){
    var newTitle =title.substring(0,newLength – 1);
    newLength = newLength – 1 ;
    newTitle = newTitle + ‘…’ ;
    hrefNode.innerHTML = newTitle ;

    Well, this cannot possible work, can it? The loop does not reduce the titleNode.scrollWidth so it will go on forever.

    I wonder how others don’t get this error.

    • Anonymous says:

      I wonder how others don’t get this error.

      I use NoScript and RequestPolicy, I only allow as much javascript as necessary (I do not allow Amazon Adsystems). Those are very popular Firefox addons, maybe because of that most of us don’t have such problems.

      • Shenpen says:

        I don’t like to customize recreational software like web browsers. I am trusting the developers have a better idea how to use it optimally than I do, so I stick to the vanilla in everything.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Yesterday an article[1] in the NYTimes made the front page of Hacker News, about a psychological study which found that a pair of strangers answering a certain 36-question questionnaire together, then sustaining eye contact for 4 minutes, had a good chance of falling in love with one another.

    Approximately 12 hours later, someone posted their new mobile app “Love actualized”[2] to Hacker News, making the front page. Most of the comments[3] are along the lines of “neat” or “fast work!” or “cool, how about the name ‘the love app’?” or “I’ll try it on my next first date”.

    Does this strike anyone else besides me as a foolish and dangerous idea? Having random strangers start falling in love with one another after using an app seems like a bad thing. Someone please convince me that it’s harmless…

    [1] http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/11/fashion/modern-love-to-fall-in-love-with-anyone-do-this.html
    [2] http://loveactualized.com/
    [3] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=8869305

    • Noah Siegel says:

      “Six months later, two participants were married. They invited the entire lab to the ceremony.”

      Two out of how many participants? Has the study been replicated? (Other than by the author of the NYT piece, who chose not a stranger but somebody she already had an apparent crush on.)

      Seems pretty flimsy.

      But let’s assume there is a way to make two people fall in love. In the right hands, it could enable an excellent eugenics project. In the wrong hands, it could lead to mass slavery.

  12. Noah Siegel says:

    “Sunk costs are sunk costs,” said Tom wistfully.

  13. Alexander Stanislaw says:

    I only just discovered that the comment plugin at the top right hand corner (that tells you how many new comments there are) also allows you to view those comments. Though terribly embarrassing, I figure I would post this in case anyone else was unaware.

    • Well, I was no aware, so you’re at least not alone in having missed it! 🙂

      Granted, my usual way of reading SSC comments is all over the place anyway and comments come in at such a rate on this blog that at the rate I normally visit it, most of the comments page is green-borders anyway, but… today I’m actually refreshing this page quite frequently, so your revelation is helping me right now. Thank you.

  14. Luis says:

    Not sure if this qualifies as gender, but “Andrew Cord” just contributed in on the Scott Aaronson scapegoating hubbub. The subtitle sets the tone of removal of agency and spin doctoring of the article: “MIT professor Scott Aaronson wrote a post about how feminism makes him feel like a monster. Here’s what he meant”.


    • Anonymous says:

      What part of it do you disagree with?

      • 27chaos says:

        Speaking for myself, rather than OP. Warning: I believe Chu is a moron and terrible person with more certainty than I ought to.

        1. His characterization of Scott’s beliefs was deeply misleading, and given Chu’s past actions I believe this was intentional.

        A. “And he concludes as a result… that the bias of the world is tilted in favor of women and women’s issues because everyone is talking about how to help victims of harassment and sexual assault and no one is talking about how to help him.”

        No such claim was made. Scott acknowledges that most of the world is patriarchal and severely biased against women.

        B. “Scott’s impassioned argument that the dating scene is set up to grind “shy awkward nerds” into the dirt while letting jockish “Neanderthals” have all the women they want.”

        Scott did not claim that there was any intentional conspiracy, which is what this wording implies. Additionally, Scott’s tone was more restrained than this. Finally, Scott’s purpose in discussing “Neanderthals” was not to complain about how he’s unsuccessful with women because everyone hates nerds. Rather, his point was to expose the contradiction between the expressed attitude of feminism – gentleness is important and desirable – and the behavior of most women.

        (Clarification: in making this point, he was not blaming women or accusing them of hypocrisy. Rather, he was describing in a neutral tone the source of his own confusions.)

        2. “Amy’s story is about being harassed and groped by men in the tech world and, eventually, being raped by a shy, nerdy guy she thought she trusted. So far, so also typical.”

        Chu presents no evidence that rape is an experience so common for women in STEM fields that we should consider it “typical”.

        3. “Scott’s story is about things that happened inside his brain. Amy’s story is about actual things that were done to her by other people against her will, without her control.

        And Scott, and his commenters, are treating the two as worthy of equivalent degrees of scrutiny.”

        A. Contrary to this characterization, Aaronson never made any claims, implicit or explicit, comparing the worthiness of Amy’s comment to his own, in terms of degrees of scrutiny or otherwise.

        B. See Scott Alexander’s comment in the earlier post: treating some sorts of suffering as automatically more important than others is morally wrong.

        C. The tone in this section of the argument skirts the line of victim-blaming/shaming the mentally ill for their illnesses. Chu claims to be sympathetic to Aaronson, but his analysis does not seem compatible with a truly sympathetic view. Chu’s sympathy seems hollow at best, and at worst is simply a lie.

        4. Chu mentioned Gamergate and Elevatorgate. Intentionally trying to stir up tribalism is not the sort of action that should be taken in a post supposedly expressing sympathy for Aaronson.

        5. His concluding remarks are especially offensive.

        “I don’t know how “women,” as a group, can help men with the problems he describes. I can testify from my own experience that getting laid does not, in and of itself, magically make anything better and that if Scott believes (as he says) that living in an era when he would’ve had an arranged marriage at a young age would’ve made his problems vanish, he’s probably wrong.

        But meanwhile, women are getting stalked and raped and killed. That’s something that men are doing and that men can stop other men from doing.

        And, with apologies to my fellow emotionally tortured guys, that really ought to be our priority.”

        A. Dismisses Aaronson’s problem as unsolvable without seriously considering the problem for more than five minutes.

        B. Fails to consider the difficulties of coordinating action among “nerds” or “men” to prevent women from being raped. He’s utopian when discussing his form of politics, but points out all the difficulties in implementing anyone else’s ideas. This is the same technique used by reactionaries when criticizing democracies, and by Chesterton when criticizing progressivism. “I am a visionary, you are well-intentioned, he is naive.”

        C. Falsely implies that helping men trades off with helping women. In reality, messages which change feminism to make it less likely to hurt men such as Aaronson are likely to bolster feminism’s overall strength.

        D. Mentions rape, specifically, as the issue competing for our attention. Obviously this is unfair. Aaronson did not claim being exposed to feminism is literally worse than rape. So making such comparisons is not justified rationally. It’s clear that there’s an inflammatory intent underlying such words.

        In conclusion, please no one ever link to Arthur Chu again. He is not worth my time, but arguing against him is very tempting, so I would prefer to avoid any contact with him or his ideas.

    • 27chaos says:

      I like the prominent picture of Scott Aaronson wearing nerdy glasses. Totally value neutral, I’m sure!

    • nydwracu says:

      Anything bad that women do, or that feminism does, to individual men is Good and Righteous, and therefore does not exist.

      Anyway, as I’ve said before, I don’t believe people are serious about wanting to stop something from happening unless they’re putting effort into recognizing the patterns around it. There are always patterns.

    • Anonymous says:

      tw: harmful misogynist threats

      >Scott’s story is about things that happened inside his brain. Amy’s story is about actual things that were done to her by other people against her will, without her control.

      Bitch! Cunt! Whore! Slutbag! I’ll kill you! I’ll rape your face until you cry!
      Wow, these are things that hurt because of what happens inside your brain. Isn’t it possible that depression and anxiety can be caused or exacerbated by things that are not the brain? I doubt this author would say the harm from those insults is within the victim’s control, or not “done by other people”. To say that psychological harm is within the victim’s control is fucking abhorrent.

      With my anger out of the way, I’ll respond to the rest in a more polite tone:

      >We all know about the [ants that Scott doesn’t want mentioned] firestorm where a bunch of anonymous guys on the Internet felt harassed and insulted by an article making general criticisms about “gamer culture” as a whole and deciding to react by harassing specific, individual women, including calling a SWAT team to someone’s house, and treating it as though these two things are equivalent.

      People on both sides are awful and have been harassed (posted before on SSC: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nJhD_pPNkU0). Not only women have had threats made to them, and I know of at least one man on the [ants] side who was at least faced with the threat of swatting (I can’t be bothered to verify). I don’t think anyone has said swatting is equivalent to criticisms about gamer culture, so I’m knocking a point off here unless the author or someone else provides an example.

      >It’s similar to an earlier instance when “nerd persecution” was cried, when Rebecca Watson talked publicly about being made to feel uncomfortable in an elevator at a conference for atheist thinkers by a guy hitting on her at 4:00 a.m.
      >Watson didn’t name the guy, didn’t share the guy’s social media handle, didn’t show a photo of the guy. The guy remains anonymous to this day. She wasn’t even particularly mean to him — her “Guys, don’t do that” is exactly the kind of blunt, well-intentioned advice guys like Scott say they want.

      COMPARE TO: Donglegate

      >But men are the ones who by and large get to deal with this as an internal matter.

      If you end up CONSIDERING SUICIDE or CHEMICAL CASTRATION, it sounds like “internal matters” are JUST AS BAD as “external matters”.

      >Guys claim to be harassed more often online than women do, but when guys are “harassed” it means being exposed to a generalized atmosphere of nasty comments and rude behavior. By contrast, women are the ones who get singled out, stalked, who become unwilling celebrities with a horde of people dedicated to “taking her down.”

      Author uses “claim to be” to weasel out of saying men might be harassed more on some axes (see: http://www.pewinternet.org/2014/10/22/online-harassment/). The author also seems to assume that harassment due to gender is intrinsically worse than other forms. I’m inclined to believe that, but it the author should expand on that.

      > it’s women who disproportionately bear the burden of actual harm, of being directly victimized by other people.

      With no evidence presented, I can’t really evaluate this claim. What does the author WANT to be true?

      >I don’t know what the best way is to help guys like Scott Aaronson who wrestle with internal demons. Internal demons are slippery things.

      JESUS FUCKING CHRIST I THOUGHT I’D BE ABLE TO READ THE REST OF THIS ARTICLE WITHOUT BEING MAD BUT okay I’m fine now. Psychological damage to the point of suicidal ideation as a result of certain ideas or concepts is not an “internal demon” any more than those mean words I said at the beginning of my post. STOP FUCKING MINIMIZING HIS SUFFERING!

      >I do know that what could help women like Amy is to find the guys who are doing bad things to her and stop those guys from doing that.

      And what would help Scott and others is to find the people who are propagating these harmful memes and stop them. Also to stop telling them their harm is some bullshit “internal demon”.

      >. That’s why feminism is more focused on women’s issues than men’s, because women’s issues are the things happening out in the world where we can do something about them.

      Uhhhhh ALL THINGS are happening in the world. Some are more prominent than others.

      >I don’t know how “women,” as a group, can help men with the problems he describes.

      Probably by not doing the things he describes, you dumb fuck.

      >But meanwhile, women are getting stalked and raped and killed. That’s something that men are doing and that men can stop other men from doing.
      >And, with apologies to my fellow emotionally tortured guys, that really ought to be our priority.

      Honestly at this point I’m mad enough I don’t care what he’s saying, I’m just going to parse this as “women suffer more than men; ergo, men cannot suffer”.

      It’s convenient that the author is listed at the end. I would have been much worse had I known I was reading Arthur Chu.

    • This definitely qualifies as gender, as is all of the ensuing discussion. I think Scott would prefer that this be discussed in Ozy’s blog.

    • birdboy2000 says:

      Arthur Chu is a modern day Maria Monk. His entire spiel is the idea that nerds are dangerous, monstrous sexual predators and would-be killers and we should trust him on this based on his experiences as a nerd, which are in no way aimed at whipping up hatred at a marginalized group of people for profit.

  15. Anonymous says:

    Scott — did you ever get around to writing your review of the stereotype threat literature? I remember reading you mention this a couple of times now.

    For what it’s worth, I would be *super* interested in reading your thoughts on this.

  16. I’m thrown my ideas of Technonaturalism out onto Reddit for the first time. If they don’t get taken down or downvoted to pieces, feel free to get invovled or cheer me on (even if you don’t agree) in any discussions that arise! Posts are here:

    Main post is here

    Also there may be discussion here

    • 27chaos says:

      You claim that being human is not about having certain thought patterns. I am sympathetic to this line of thought. However, I disagree with your idea that the quality of being biological is a morally significant one.

      1. There are many other potential factors that could be important to our moral intuitions. Your argument is woefully insufficient.

      2. You neglect to discuss the possibility that human moral intuitions are ill-formed, and do not actually match real world situations.

      A. You claim that biology has a continuity that patterns do not. This is incorrect. Human cells constantly die and are born.
      B. Also, thought patterns do not disappear into ether when not continuously focused upon. If nothing else, this is true because thought patterns are made of material substrate, neurons can be touched. However, in addition, thought patterns persist by merging into each other, and by fading into background assumptions once processed.

      4. I also reject your implicit assumption that perfect continuity is a morally important quality. I see no reason to believe this is true.

      5. “Biological” is not an ontologically fundamental category. It is a useful label that works well when referring to organisms that come from Earth’s evolutionary past. (Although even this does not work perfectly – consider how viruses resemble biological life in many respects.) But, it is not a label that seems useful for referring to more remote possibilities.

      • 27chaos says:

        I mentioned that I am sympathetic to lines of thought that claim biology is important. I also claimed in my 1. that your explanation failed to consider more plausible alternative explanations. I’ll use this comment to elaborate.

        I think that biology is not in and of itself important. However, naive attempts to upload human beings seem worrying to me for several reasons.

        1. There is more to cognition, emotion, and personality than the electrical patterns within the brain. The brain is not only made of electrical neurons, but also from chemical reactions. Additionally, the brain is not a closed system but a part of the human body. It is known that certain gut bacteria have a measurable and direct effect on cognition, for example. Indirect effects, though much harder to detect, are no less likely to be important. Therefore, even a scrupulously researched uploading process would distort the original’s personality if it failed to account for biological factors.

        2. To some extent, this kind of distortion is inevitable. The human body is not a closed system either, as it interacts with the environment. Therefore, forms of uploading which don’t involve simulating a nature inspired environment for human bodies to exist in are also suspicious to me. It seems unlikely to me that we can change the circumstances of our existence so radically without moving outside the preferences and behaviors our evolutionary heritage has given us.

        However, while I view such distortions as a drawback, this does not mean I believe uploading is worse than nonexistence, or that uploaded humans would lack moral value. I’m only claiming that I believe uploading has some disadvantages – these disadvantages might be compensated for in other ways, hypothetically.

        After all, change of some sort is inevitable, as one commenter on Reddit mentioned to you. Your response to him was poorly reasoned – death is much more surmountable than change itself. If death was inevitable and would occur at a certain point in time no matter what, accepting death and choosing whichever death is deemed most advantageous would be the rational decision.

        • I think you make some really good points in 1 and 2. The human brain isn’t easily separable because we’re really complex integrated machines.

          > After all, change of some sort is inevitable, as one commenter on Reddit mentioned to you. Your response to him was poorly reasoned – death is much more surmountable than change itself. If death was inevitable and would occur at a certain point in time no matter what, accepting death and choosing whichever death is deemed most advantageous would be the rational decision.

          Could you elaborate on how you see these points relating to my point? I’m afraid I cannot see any relation. I merely pointed out death is inevitable, but it is still morally sensible to fight against it. I argue the same thing applies to extinction. He argued that the inevitability of extinction somehow made extinction morally neutral or acceptable. I think you can see why I think that’s a totally fallacious claim (conclusion unrelated to premise).

          Change in inevitable! We shouldn’t fight change, we should just seize the reigns and set in on a path to a future with us in it 🙂

      • Hi thanks for the detailed and thoughtful comment. I believe I can answer your questions.

        > There are many other potential factors that could be important to our moral intuitions. Your argument is woefully insufficient.

        I think you’re right that we should consider all potential factors as best we can. I do note that you haven’t supplied those other factors for me to critique, neither are you pointing to any specific insufficiency, you’re just stating that. However, to address what I *imagine* you’re worried about, my argument is basically that we have an intuition that morality is a thing that we wish to participate in, that logically we ought to investigate it, and that when we investigate biological processes of altruism seem to lie at the heart of it, whereas the other factors you allude to are proxies for thinking about biological reality or are epiphenomenon caused by the biology (eg. society – I am not biological determinist btw). That’s mangled it a lot to keep it short, but there you go.

        > You neglect to discuss the possibility that human moral intuitions are ill-formed, and do not actually match real world situations.

        I don’t claim that moral intuitions are perfectly formed or complete. My main assumtion is that they are not entirely baseless and illusionary, and that knowledge of the real world, an investiation, is required to refine that morality. I think the biology also supports this assumption once we investigate it, though motivating someone to look at the biology is the tricky bit.

        > You claim that biology has a continuity that patterns do not.

        I do not claim patterns are not continuous and biology is. I refer to an organism and consciousness. I claim *consciousness* is not continuous, for which non-REM sleep and well… unconsciousness is one of the fairly cutting pieces of evidence. Would you be willing to consider that this moving into a vastly more abstract form, a form I never used, might be equivocation?

        > Human cells constantly die and are born.

        Sure that’s totally true. Just to be clear though, I don’t make any claims regarding cells’ continuity. I refer to organisms, which do persist, though I note this should be seen on context – I am in agreement with the gene-centred view of evolution that says genes are the primary unit of reproduction that is generally accepted by the overwhelming majority of biologists these days. The details of the philosophy part of my writing are consistant with that view.

        > I also reject your implicit assumption that perfect continuity is a morally important quality. I see no reason to believe this is true.

        If something isn’t continuous, it’s not a literal thing, it’s two distinct things that we are only connecting for some form of convinience. My suggestion is that we should attach moral value only to literal real things, because convenient concepts only exist in our brains. Basically its a collary of the map is not the territory – it’s the territory that matter. I guess we could separately attach value to all the little consciousnesses that occur each day, though it wouldn’t be clear why because they are not *us*, but then wouldn’t we have to accept sleep and death are no different morally speaking?

        > “Biological” is not an ontologically fundamental category

        Reduction to fundamental ontological chategories only occurs in the dualist or idealist perspectives, which is ok, but I’d suggest that virtually no futurists or transhumanists are either. Most claim strongly to be monist/materialist. Even if you’re going to be dualist or idealist, you’ve got a serious issue in the problem of other minds (see second section) posing an extremely difficult challenge for logically sound or ethics.

        As for “that’s in the past”, I guarantee everything I refer to exists right now – and I can establish some exciting possibilities into the future. However, hanging moral value on concepts that refer to things that are entirely speculative doesn’t seem very sound. You and I are now, and I’d asset the supriority of my valuing you rather than my valuing a hypothetical entity, especially if that entity isn’t even a thing, it’s just a useful abstract idea. This is part of what I mean when I say its the territory that matters, not the map.

        I get the impression you’ve thought about the map and territory issue before too, so I’d humbly submit Technonaturalism as a possible alternative for you to advocate. 🙂

        • TheAncientGeek says:

          > If something isn’t continuous, it’s not a literal thing, it’s two distinct things that we are only connecting for some form of convinience. My suggestion is that we should attach moral value only to literal real things, because convenient concepts only exist in our brains. Basically its a collary of the map is not the territory – it’s the territory that matter. I guess we could separately attach value to all the little consciousnesses that occur each day, though it wouldn’t be clear why because they are not *us*, but then wouldn’t we have to accept sleep and death are no differe.nt morally speaking?

          Value isn’t a literal thing either. Why shouldn’t we attach it where we like? How is the territory going to contradict us?

          • > TheAncientGreek
            Hello again.

            > Value isn’t a literal thing either.
            I’d didn’t argue that it is. But I’m not asking for anybody to value values. They appear to have them regardless.

            > Why shouldn’t we attach it where we like? How is the territory going to contradict us?

            People can and will do whatever they like, but I’d argue that if they’re “valuing” things that aren’t real, that can’t reasonably be called morality (that’s a factual claim but not a moral claim). I know we never agree, Mr TheAncientGreek, but you might not mind that article as much as my other stuff.

        • TheAncientGeek says:

          > I’d argue that if they’re “valuing” things that aren’t real, that can’t reasonably be called morality 

          I’d argue that you are using an unreasonably narrow definition of real thinghood. Requiring physical continuity as a criterion means that organisms, societies, nations and software aren’t real.

          • > organisms, societies, nations and software aren’t real.

            Well yes I would say nations and societies aren’t real in a strict sense, though for quite different reasons. If all people stop thinking there is a nation, then the nation ceases to “exist”, whereas a sleeping person that everyone’s forgotten about still exists. For a person or any specific organism, they are also in continuous existence from birth to death, even if constituent parts, such as cells or matter, come and go periodically (if you look closely at the DNA replication process I’d say genes are continuous even beyond one organism). Perhaps we are well advised to act to protect a theoretical “nation” because of the benefits of doing so, but I think it absolutely is a good example of what I mean by useful concepts as opposed to real things.

            Software is more complicated, but I’m not aware of anyone saying anything is intrinsically value *because* its an instance of software.

        • TheAncientGeek says:

          > Reduction to fundamental ontological chategories only occurs in the dualist or idealist perspectives,

          No, it also occurs in materialism.

          • Materialism reduces *everything* to, well… material. Reduction to fundamental ontological categories, which are… concepts, is not materialist. Wouldn’t you say that’s *by definition* either idealist or dualist?

            We always seem to be disagreeing. So… do you like stuff… I like stuff.

  17. Pingback: The problem of consciousness and humanity – the alternative philosophies of Transhumanism and Technonaturalism | Arbor Vitae

  18. 27chaos says:

    Something seems to be wrong with http://www.timecube.com. This is extremely concerning to me. Either Gene Ray forgot to pay his bills, or a secret government conspiracy mission is underway. I think we all know which is most likely. Further communications will follow shortly through more secure channels.

    • Lambert says:

      It seems fine to me. (For some definition of ‘fine’)

    • blacktrance says:

      It looks normal from here – or as normal as Time Cube gets. Maybe your browser can’t think 4 corner days.

    • Is the page loading for you, but then redirecting to a searchingresults.com page? That’s what’s happening to me. I wonder if I have some kind of browser malware; this seems unlikely since I’m on Linux, but it’s always possible.

      • Anonymous says:

        No, it’s the server, not the browser. It tries to load this iframe and the 404 page loads from another server and eventually clobbers the page.

        • 27chaos says:

          I do not understand computers, but am curious. Does anyone know why only some people are being redirected? (If your comment implicitly explains this, please make it more explicit for me if you would.)

          • Anonymous says:

            People who don’t use javascript, don’t get redirected from the main page. My link goes to searchingresults either way, but javascript makes a smaller difference. If you don’t know about computers, you shouldn’t turn off javascript. People who do turn it off should be aware that they’ve entered a bizarre parallel universe and not report on these threads without checking what they see with a more normal browser.

      • 27chaos says:


    • MugaSofer says:

      I’m at school, and I get a filter warning telling me I can’t access it because the page is “questionable”.

      Evidence for the conspiracy theory?

  19. Matt says:

    I’m not sure what the deal is, but I can only quote people to a limited extent. Thus, I quote Cerebral Paul Z:

    Fair enough– though collecting only a fraction of the land rent means you’re even farther from releasing the payers of other taxes from their bondage. Government spending has increased so much as a percentage of GDP, and land-rent decreased so much, since George’s time.
    To the first, imperfection is not something to worry about. The percentage a LVT fails to collect could be considered as a price society pays to get useful data, and to not misallocate land. As to the second, you fail to understand just how huge a factor land values are to this day. In NYC alone, it’s trivially easy to prove that the rent of land is in the trillions annually.

    Transitional issues may be transitional, but they’re still issues. I always feel better about looking past them if I’m offered at least a glimpse of a transitional solution. All the more so when I see other Georgists, such as Scott H. at 3:14, touting the transitional bug as a feature.
    But do you agree with the premise? If not, there’s no reason to debate further. Let’s not focus on a branch of a tree if we cannot agree about the nature of the forest. That’s simply dishonest.

    • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

      My failure to appreciate the hugeness of land values seems to be shared by the NYC Finance Department, which assesses the total market value of all property in the city (PDF) at just $906b. Assuming as a rough guess that this is split about 50/50 between land value and improvements (as is the case with my own house), and applying the long-term average 16:1 price-to-rental ratio, it looks like a 100% LVT would raise only about $30b in the city– not trillions.

      Though I don’t buy the argument that if a proposal is potentially vulnerable at points A and B, it’s somehow dishonest to attack it at point B without first conceding its soundness at point A, I suppose it’s a moot point here, since I don’t think a LVT would work well in practice (despite its theoretical attractiveness). See the comments from Jim Glass to this article.

      • Matt says:

        NYC’s estimates are famously garbage. See this article from 2013 where a single parcel of land sold for $172M. That’s all land value, as the structures thereon were demolished. That’s just one tiny slice of Manhattan, and not even a particularly high-value slice.

        • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

          I’d call that a stake through the heart of the LVT– which obviously requires that assessments not be garbage.

          • Matt says:

            Only to the extent that crooked politicians are a stake through the hear of democracy.

            Also, I want to address the point on the transition problems. Prior to civil war, there was of course considerable debate on the abolition of slavery. Now, there were two main points of contention:

            1) should we abolish slavery?
            2) how should we achieve the abolition of slavery?

            On the second point, there were in fact serious questions. Not only the direct harm that would come to slaveowners and those participating in the slave trade, but also of what was to become of the slaves themselves. It’s perfectly fine and acceptable to argue over how to go about emancipating the slaves, and some methods would obviously do a great deal more harm than others (as we found out). That said, the much more important point is whether we should emancipate the slaves in the first place. Obviously, slavery should be abolished. It’s a horrible evil, and no society claiming to hold liberty among its virtues can allow such an institution. Now matter how painful it would be, some way or another, the abolition of slavery must be achieved.

            This is how I view the land issue. Some way, some how, the system by which some fraction of society appropriates the rent of land must be abolished. We can argue about how to do that, sure, but if you disagree that we must, you’re not understanding the problem.

    • Anon256 says:

      The GDP of the New York metro area is less than $1.5 trillion per year, and (actual and imputed) land rent is unlikely to be more than a third of that at most. There’s certainly no way it could be multiple trillions annually.

      • Matt says:

        Yet, when you investigate individual land parcels, it obviously is. It’s not like existing conditions could possibly cover for advantaged people.

        • Anon256 says:

          How could a metro area that only creates $1.5T in annual output possibly pay multiple trillions in rent? It seems more likely to me that your numbers about individual parcels are somehow unrepresentative or otherwise anomalous.

          Are you assuming that zoning and other NIMBY laws would go away under a Georgist system? These seem to be a major determinant of the unimproved value of most land in US cities; the condo developments in the NYTimes article you cite would be illegal on the vast majority of parcels in New York (which of course inflates the value of parcels where they are legal).

          • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

            If the LVT worked as intended I actually would expect it to remove the incentive for NIMBYism– the whole point of which is to enhance the value of your own property. Not much point to that if the state’s going to turn right around and tax away the windfall!

            This would free up the resources now spent on NIMBY campaigns for higher and better uses, such as campaigning to get your pals elected to the assessor’s office.

          • Anonymous says:

            NYC’s zoning laws are byzantine, to say the least.

      • Anonymous says:

        There’s some stock/flow discrepancy here, but I don’t think it’s the only problem.

  20. Alex Converse says:

    Hey everyone. I’ve been playing with some CSS to better view SSC on a mobile phone. I typically read SSC on my phone on my commute to work. The current design isn’t really conducive to small screens and the image assets stick out as being low res on the phone [and even on my Mac]. I dumped the graphics and the big margins and flattened the rest of the design. I left all the ads in place, I’m not trying to take any money out of Scott’s pocket here. The style sheet can be loaded in Firefox for Android using the Stylish extension. I don’t think Chrome and Safari for mobile support userstyles but I’d be pleased if someone here corrects me on that. This CSS looks a little weird on desktop but IMO is more usable than the classic SSC design on a phone. I placed it under the CC-0 license, so feel free to modify it into something better. (I am not much of a web designer.)

    If Scott objects to me sharing this I’m more than happy to take it down from userstyles.org.


  21. Ennui says:

    Scott, could you list some of the books that most influenced you, or books that you think people should read? Preferably nonfiction. Much appreciated.

  22. Scott Alexander says:

    I’m looking for a comic I saw once and lost. It has someone making a metaphor comparing something the French Revolution, someone else getting really mad, and the first person explaining that metaphors don’t necessarily mean the two things are exactly alike, only that they are the same upon some specific axis. It uses the example of a volcano being like a geyser, even though the volcano is much bigger.

    Anyone have a convenient link to this?

    • Matthew says:

      I tried searching “french revolution” and “volcano geyser” on ohnorobot.com, and I came up empty. The odds don’t seem good that this comic is indexed somewhere.

    • I’ve seen the comic in question on Tumblr many times. Which would seem to make it hard to disappear since it’s on so many people’s blogs. But I can’t actually find the silly thing, and I’ve been looking for a while now.

      • 27chaos says:

        Related: I hate when people cite Godwin’s law as a response to others as though that disproves whatever comparison they’re making. I believe that many people legitimately don’t distinguish between an idea that is predictable and an idea that is flawed, which is bizarre.

        • Lambert says:

          They are using ‘Argument from the other person is using an argument from something.’ The focus on fallacies in the rationalist community makes it more of a problem here. Perhaps we should make a Meta-Godwin’s Law: that those that cite Godwin’s Law against good arguments lose the argument.

          • Brad says:

            >Perhaps we should make a Meta-Godwin’s Law: that those that cite Godwin’s Law against good arguments lose the argument.

            My first impression is that this sounds like a good way to dig oneself into a corner, where it’s okay to Godwin bad arguments, where “bad argument” means “arguments I personally dislike.”

            How about this: Why don’t we drop Godwin’s law as a seriously practiced principle, period? I always saw it as a kind of joke about how internet discussions often go, not as something to seriously apply to discourse.

          • Jiro says:

            I’ve long thought Godwin’s Law sucked.

            Nazi comparisons are useful because Nazis actually existed (so that it is much harder for your opponent to fight the hypothetical), yet acted in unambiguously bad ways.

      • Scott Alexander says:

        Thank you!

        Should have guessed it was on comparativelysuperlative, half of the best stuff I read comes from there.

    • Anonymous says:

      In the future, instead of asking your readers to find old comics, you should ask them to create replacements.

  23. Anonymous says:

    Do you still get 7th graders looking for alien thickness related help? Is there a lot of traffic to the page where you explain it?

  24. altrusim_skeptic says:

    I see a lot of content about effective altruism in this community and in LW. I’ve read Scott’s case for EA on LW. Scott’s piece takes “Most donors say they want to ‘help people'” as a prior but I’m just not that far yet. The emphasis of the effective altruism literature I see seems to be on effective and not on altruism. To me the effective part seems like a no brainer.

    Scott’s piece takes “love your neighbor as yourself” as a prior as well. As a non-Christian I try to follow that sentiment as well but to me I read it much more like “cooperate on the first round of the iterated prisoner’s dilemma.” To me it’s a mechanism of getting utility out of the people around me, by giving them utility. As an american its harder for me to make the connection as to how I am going to get utility out of sending mosquito nets to Africa. This isn’t to say I see no reason to help people who can’t do favors for me. Getting the homeless near me off the streets and into shelters in a huge quality of life win for me. I think that shows that I’m not completely unaffected by human suffering. I guess I’d rather just move it where I don’t see it. That’s an idea that makes me feel bad. But that seems like it’s because thinking about that is observing human suffering and maybe i’m just better off with my head in the sand.

    You’re not gonna find what you’re looking for in these awful made-up places [Haiti, Thailand, Uganda, and Chechnya]. The universe is a cruel, uncaring void. The key to being happy isn’t a search for meaning. It’s to just keep yourself busy with unimportant nonsense, and eventually, you’ll be dead.

    Mr. Peanutbutter in BoJack Horseman s01e12: Later

    The best argument I can think of as to why I should help someone far away who I can’t see is that they might go on to invent something that makes my life better. Maybe I’m just failing to multiply low probabilities by large populations.

    I’m familiar with the concept of the veil of ignorance but I round it off to counterfactual mugging.

    But perhaps the biggest reason why I’m skeptical of altruism is eloquently provided by Scott at the start of this post. “Imagine you are setting out on a dangerous expedition through the Arctic on a limited budget.” Isn’t life an arctic expedition on a limited budget? I should buy those boots for myself and the next explorer can pull them off my feet as they pass my frozen corpse. I should save the money for the next supply station where my needs may have changed or spend it on the other explorers near me in the hopes that they may cooperate if I need their help. I don’t see why I should wire it explorers in another part of the arctic who I’m am vastly unlikely to ever see.

    Stepping away from the map and back to the territory here, my big concern is what if I land out of work again. Rent is expensive where I live, and it’s only going up. I’ve had two stints out of work that particularly color my view. Not too long after finishing university I was unemployed for two years. Years later I had to leave a job due to anxiety spiraling out of control. When you are unemployed people seem to treat you as unemployable. I’m working now and lots of the companies that didn’t want me when I wasn’t working have made efforts to recruit me now.

    The commute, corporate culture, US tribal politics in the office, doubts about my own skillset, depression, anxiety, the total lack of privacy, a loud work environment that prevents me from concentrating, the feeling of helplessness from working on a product that sucks and not being empowered to make it better all weigh on me. Sooner or later I’m either going to quit because I just can’t take it anymore or these factors are going to continue to erode my effectiveness until management dismisses me. What am I going to do then? I’ll need this money. Giving it away now seems incredibly irresponsible. Yes I make way more than the global average and at the global average income I already have enough havings to never need to work again. But at the global average income I’d be street homeless in my country and exporting the street homeless to the developing world where cost of living is cheaper is well outside of the political mainstream.

    Maybe the whole thing is signalling related. I’m certainly concerned about a status hit in this community for rejecting altruism. The quote about Cato (“He preferred to be good, rather than to seem so.”) seems to suggest EA is about results rather than signalling, but signalling that you aren’t signalling is one of the textbook forms of counter signalling.

    Can someone present the steel man argument for why I should be an altruist?

    • Susebron says:

      You’re an egoist, he’s a utilitarian. It’s a problem of different moral systems.

    • Nisan says:

      I definitely think you should build up a reasonable amount of savings. I wouldn’t advise anyone to give so much that they can’t save money.

      It has happened that people have discovered to their surprise that they care about helping people as an end and not just as a means. But so far no one has figured out how to induce such an epiphany. You’re not very likely to find a convincing argument in this thread.

      That being said, don’t you think it’s a good idea to give in the case of counterfactual mugging? It seems like a good idea to me.

  25. A dude says:

    How does one start a blog. Like I don’t have any issues writing stuff, and I can program perfectly fine but really hate html/javascript/web stuff with a passion. I want a blog I can do interesting things with in terms of layout etc but am over-optimizing. Where do i start?

  26. Roman says:

    I’d really like it if Scott did one of his deep analysis posts on the work of Aubrey de Grey.

  27. Pseudonymous Platypus says:

    Scott, maybe this isn’t your style, but have you considered setting up a Patreon or something like that? I love your writing and would gladly pay like $1 for every post or something. Multiply that across some percentage of your readership and it could be a lot more lucrative than your Amazon affiliates program.

    • Anonymous says:

      I’d do this too!

        • Pseudonymous Platypus says:

          Thanks for mentioning this. However, I still feel like Patreon is a good idea. There are a few good counterarguments to Scott’s position in the thread you linked, and I would urge him to consider those. In particular, I would not consider Patreon to be a “donation” to Scott. I believe it can be set up such that subscribers are charged for each new piece of content (i.e. post, or maybe just long essays; I think it would be up to Scott to define “content”) produced. So I’m not being charitable to him; I am paying him (a very small amount of money) to produce something that I value highly (his writing).

          I’m beginning to sound like Ayn Rand, so I’ll stop here.

          • Susebron says:

            I don’t think he wants to charge for his posts.

          • AR+ says:

            I obviously can’t speak for Scott but this all seems incredibly rude, to keep belaboring a request for which the person has unambiguously told you, “no.”

            And it’s not any less rude at all, just because your request is, “let me give you money!”

          • Scott Alexander says:

            I guarantee if I had people paying me a fixed amount per blog post, I would go into constant crises: “Is this good enough to post? Or is it just going to make people donate to me even though I haven’t done enough writing to deserve it? What about Open Threads? Is it even ethical to post Open Threads when it’s just going to inflate the number of posts people pay me for?”

          • Pseudonymous Platyphs says:

            AR+: I see where you’re coming from, but in my defense, I only brought it up twice. I was not initially aware that the subject had been discussed before. When I read Scott’s initial response, I saw that there were a few counterarguments, which I felt were sound, that he had not responded to. I thought, therefore, that he might not have considered them. Now that he has responded, I will drop the subject.

            Scott: Understood. I respect that and I will not bring up this topic again.

    • Anonemouse says:

      I’m sure Scott would be perfectly happy if you just commit to give a charitable donation for every post.

    • Jared says:

      Paying him per post would be a bad idea, because that would be an incentive for him to post more, which could lead to lower quality posts.

  28. Pingback: Open Thread #6: The Racetime Continuum | Thing of Things

  29. Noah Siegel says:

    I would like to recommend the BBC TV show “Black Mirror.” I might be retro-fitting, but a lot of the episodes make me think of ideas expressed by SSC and elsewhere in the futurist community.

    Couple examples:
    – Nearly every episode features an iteration of Moloch; people sacrificing an important value for greater competitiveness. Especially the episodes “Fifteen Million Merits” and “The Complete History of You.”

    – The society featured in “Fifteen Million Merits” is very plausible if you think of it as a metaphor for EMs in a post-whalefall world.

    – “Be Right Back” alludes to mind-uploading, digital immortality, and question of to what extent an electronic imprint of you is really you.

    • Anonymous says:

      It also has the advantage of being quite good, in the way that Twilight Zone was quite good. The focus is on high weirdness, not verisimilitude, and it’s not afraid to just sit down and think about a specific idea for an hour.

      I am fairly sure that the title “Black Mirror” is intended to refer to an unpowered phone, television, or computer monitor. It evokes that unsettling moment when a Netflix binge ends, and the hours of half-willful provisional fantasy beliefs are replaced by the merely physical room, a reflection of your own face, and the sudden awareness that you have been alone the whole time.

    • Roman says:

      Black Mirror is indeed really, really awesome.

    • Seladore says:


      One thing I love about Black Mirror is that it’s able to explore some fairly deep and interesting philosophical ideas in a way that doesn’t put people off. Over Christmas, my extended family (not usually the types to have deep philosophical chats) watched some episodes, which resulted in long discussions of AI, futurism, philosophy of mind, and so on. Wonderful stuff.

    • tanadrin says:

      Fifteen Million Merits reminded me strongly of Meditations on Moloch, so much so that I recommended the latter to the friend who introduced me to Black Mirror.

      I did think The National Anthem was the weakest of the episodes I’ve seen so far, but it was still pretty good.

    • The Anonymouse says:

      Saw it up on Netflix. A number of commenters there said, if you’re going to watch it, watch the second and third episodes of the first season, then watch the first episode last. Would y’all (whose taste I obviously trust much more) recommend such a thing, or should I just watch everything in order?

      • Tuna says:

        All the episodes are essentially completely self-contained, and there is no specific reason to watch them in order.

        The first episode is, for the lack of a better word, very vulgar, enough so that it may put some people off. It’s also not as good as the second and third. Because of this, if you intend to recommend the series to a friend, recommending to watch the first episode only after they are hooked is a decent idea. If you instead commit to watching the entire first season, there is no difference. If find yourself upset by the first episode, just remember that the second and third do not share that specific flaw.

        • Noah Siegel says:

          I thought National Anthem was heart-pounding, heart-wrenching, and extremely important. MAJOR trigger warning though.

  30. Anonymous says:

    Go away, everybody

    This reminds me of Charlie Brooker 🙂
    It should be at the bottom of the page instead of being at the top.

  31. Error says:

    I was reading Meditations on Moloch again and came to this bit:

    Turning “satisfying customers” and “satisfying citizens” into the outputs of optimization processes was one of civilization’s greatest advances and the reason why capitalist democracies have so outperformed other systems. But if we have bound Moloch as our servant, the bonds are not very strong, and we sometimes find that the tasks he has done for us move to his advantage rather than ours.

    And the thought suddenly struck me that this is the counterargument to free-market true believers: It is well to remember that capitalism exists to serve us; we do not exist to serve capitalism. It’s served pretty well so far, but when it does fail to do so, the problem is with it and not with us.

    • Noah Siegel says:

      You’re right, of course, but Moloch’s fingers can be found within government every bit as much; there is no reason to expect that government actors are less likely to sacrifice important values for greater competitiveness than private actors. And at least some evidence that they are more likley to do so.

      • Error says:

        Agreed. I’m not really arguring with the people who say “capitalism and/or the free market works better than the available alternatives.” I can get along and sometimes agree with that. But I don’t think I could find common ground with someone who says “capitalism is good,” full stop, and treats interfering with it as morally wrong or mentally defective.

        [edit: And there are people like that out there. That’s what I meant by True Believers.]

        • Deiseach says:

          I’ve had arguments like that; people who genuinely seem to think Free Market Capitalism is a divinely-ordained system conceived immaculately free from all stain of original sin and absolutely infallible, handed down from on high with the tablets of stone on Mount Sinai.

          Mildly pointing out that it’s a human-invented economic system and that it may be good, but it’s not The Only and One True Way, and it can be harmful in certain ways when it goes wrong and it can go wrong, gets a lot of angry responses which I’m more accustomed to seeing in the context of religion.

          One guy, every time I pointed out a flaw or an example where capitalism had not been the magic solution, came back with “That’s not capitalism” or “that wasn’t really capitalism, Real Capitalism is different”. (Honoured persons, if you’ve heard that answer in the form “Yeah, but that’s not Real Christianity” to an example you’ve given of the flaws of institutional religion, believe me, the resemblance struck me strongly).

          When I asked what was Real Capitalism, I didn’t get any answer; the assumption I’m making was that he meant “the form of capitalism in the United States in the late 20th to early 21st century, only in the Pure Platonic Ideal form and not in any form we’ve seen in real-world conditions”.

    • blacktrance says:

      And the thought suddenly struck me that this is the counterargument to free-market true believers: It is well to remember that capitalism exists to serve us; we do not exist to serve capitalism.

      This is a strawman, or at best a tin man. Who says that we exist to serve capitalism?

      • AR+ says:

        Based on where I’ve seen this before, I think this is a response to when somebody points out some market mechanism, or commercial concerns generally, as a reason why some policy or technology wouldn’t work as planned, (“market mechanism” in this case sometimes including scarcity itself) which, if you see all of economic theory and markets themselves as arising solely from capitalist ideology, sounds kind of like, “we shouldn’t do this because it’s contrary to capitalism.”

      • Hainish says:

        Deiseach has a good response to this, above. The only thing I can add is to point out the sentiment that if you can’t compete successfully in the job market, you deserve whatever “natural” consequence befalls on you, be it curling up and withering into a desiccated husk.

        • blacktrance says:

          I don’t see how “That wasn’t real capitalism” implies “We exist to serve capitalism”.

          As for “If you can’t compete on the job market, you deserve the consequences”, that is a short and/or unsophisticated way of saying “Just because you can’t compete on the job market doesn’t mean you’re entitled to have someone else support you, so you’re left with the consequences”.

          • Hainish says:

            . . . Which is just a longer/more pretentious way of saying that we exist to serve capitalism, since the alternative to adequately serving capitalism is to simply stop existing.

          • blacktrance says:

            No, it’s closer to saying that “other people don’t exist to serve you”.

          • Hainish says:

            Of course they don’t. Society and social institutions exist to serve people.

          • blacktrance says:

            Society and social institutions are composed of people, so it doesn’t make sense to say that society exists to serve you but people don’t.

          • Hainish says:

            Society isn’t simply the sum of all other people, minus the one being served. It’s everybody + societal institutions. There is a difference between saying that those specific other people, over there, should serve me (or some other specific person), and saying that the sum total of society should serve its members (yes, even those who are well-off). While you have been very polite, it seems that we don’t agree on this basic point, and I don’t see the point of discussing it any further.

  32. CAE_Jones says:

    I keep itching to share this thread, but nowhere ever seems appropriate, so I’m giving in and posting it here.
    "Schools for the blind, training centers, and how they perform"
    It is, of course, just piles of anecdotes, and there is, of course, plenty of selection bias. It doesn’t really seem like anyone does actual, rigorous research on this sort of thing, and if they did, where would be the incentives for acting (I mean, look at the US public school system), so anecdotes and vague statistics it is.

  33. Euqsirx says:

    I’m wondering if there’s a correlation among takers of the Less Wrong survey between IQ and other things such as: mental illness, diet, neurotypicality, beliefs, and…race and gender. I understand if this was looked at that there might be good reasons not to post these correlations.

    Tangentially related, but I recently discovered that the average IQ of women is now marginally higher than that of men, and also that IQ differences between racial populations are probably much less innate than I previously thought.

    From a (regrettably) Psychology Today piece also promoting a new book from the guy after which The Flynn effect is named:

    Black-White difference in 1972

    Age 4 8 12 16 20 24

    -10 -12.4 -14.8 -17.2 -19.6 -22.0

    Black-White difference in 2002

    Age 4 8 12 16 20 24

    -5 -7.5 -9.8 -12.2 -14.6 -17

    • Euqsirx says:

      This might be the kind of race/gender comment that it isn’t wanted, in which case I would understand if it gets deleted. A lot of topics are related to race and gender though, and previous open threads give me the impression that the above comment might also be acceptable.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      We don’t have enough minorities to check average IQ in the LW sample, and even if we did there would be a lot of selection bias (ie you probably need a certain IQ to appreciate LW).

      Male vs. female IQ is very controversial. I’ve seen studies saying male higher, female higher, equal, and equal but different variance. The only thing we know for sure is that it’s not a *big* difference in means.

      I’ve also seen a lot of controversy about whether racial IQ gaps are declining.

      • satanistgoblin says:

        I remember reading that IQ tests are calibrated to have same average scores for men and women (they do better at different sections). Is that correct? It would really muddy the issue I guess.

        • James Miller says:

          My bet is that the difference in mean between men and women is small enough that different, reasonable calibrations could cause men or women to have a higher measured mean IQ, depending on how much weight you give to different cognitive skills.

        • Anonymous says:

          No one admits to weighting the tests to equalize the sexes, if that’s what you mean. As James says, the difference in means is small enough that they could.

          The very first IQ tests were not normed to equalize the sexes and the investigators were surprised to discover approximate parity.

  34. The hardest question you can ask Eliezer Yudkowsky, ‘What do you do for a living?’ he does so much, where would you begin

  35. Alexander Stanislaw says:

    It looks like Athrelon was sort of right about antibiotics and technological progress and I was wrong. That link has a really interesting exchange on technological progress and new paradigms.

    Until now (and I’m not a microbiologists so please correct me if any if this is incorrect), we’ve discovered most of our antibiotics by following the paradigm – culture microbes on a petri dish and see if they produce compounds capable of killing other microbes. That worked fabulously until we ran dry of finding new antibiotics (and new classes of antibiotics). And we couldn’t just keep on using the old ones because bacteria were becoming resistant. But now, Kim Lewis and others used a different method of growing bacteria which enabled many more types of bacteria to be grown* – types that couldn’t be cultured on a petri dish – and this has opened the door for many more antibiotics and classes of antibiotics to be discovered.

    *The gist is that there is a device called an ichip with a bunch of of very small holes. A sample with bacteria is diluted and fills each of these holes with one bacteria where they are able to grow. I do not know why this enables more types of bacteria to be grown. The standard procedure is to basically grow bacteria on a piece of jelly.

    • Deiseach says:

      I wonder if it’s because it lets one bacterium grow into a full colony? Standard agar plating means inter-group competition for resources, so your potential-new-antibiotic strain might be whomped by its neighbours which out-compete it.

      I’m also laughing because this sounds like something the homeopaths would bang on about; serial dilution down until only one unit is present in the culture.

      • Alexander Stanislaw says:

        That’s a reasonable hypothesis. I determined that the accepted reason for the previous uncultivable nature of most bacteria is that the natural environment is too complex to replicate in a lab. Bacteria depend on not just nutrients and water, but also organic and biological compounds present in the soil, some of which are produced by other bacteria.

        The key feature of this new growing method is not just the wells but the fact that the entire device is covered in a semi-permeable filter and can be submerged into the natural environment of the bacteria such as a bucket of soil. The filter screens out other bacteria from the device but allows molecules to diffuse through allowing the previously unculturable bacteria to grow.

  36. Horrible Anon says:

    This is a response to 2014 Predictions: Calibration Results but that’s more than a week old so I’m putting it here in the open thread where you’re more likely to see it.

    47. I will be living with Ozy by the end of 2014: 80%

    I was surprised you counted this is a failure since I figured Ozy was coming home after App Academy. Are they gonna stay in the Bay area indefinitely, or were you just erring on the non-self-serving side when you judged that prediction?

    (Also: <complaint>I think “Openness to Threxperience” or “Openness to Threadsperience” would have been better because pronounceable.</complaint>)

    • Anonymous says:

      Judging it false is self-serving because it brings him closer to calibration. [I think he judged it by reading it as “at” rather than “by.”]

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Well, Ozy does not live with me, hasn’t done so for a month now, and we’re uncommitted on what’s going to happen after App Academy given that they might get a job in San Francisco, meet new people there, et cetera. I don’t think I can honestly call that “living with Ozy”

    • houseboatonstyx says:

      ‘Threadxperience’ is easier to handle if you use Fedex a lot.

      • Horrible Anon says:

        To be more accurate, it’s pronounceable but not with the same amount of syllables as “experience”.

  37. BD Sixsmith says:

    If knowledgeable commenters had thoughts on the potential antibiotic discovery I would love to hear them. It has seemed to be one of the less prominent questions on which the future of civilisation rests.

    • Jaskologist says:

      I am not knowledgeable, but my default stance for any exciting new scientific discovery making its way through popular media is “wait and see, this is probably over-hyped.”

      Remember when NASA announced that it had found bacteria which use arsenic instead of phosphorous in their DNA? And then it turned out to be just another extremophile, highly resistant to arsenic, but not using a new kind of genetic code.

      I’d like to be wrong here, but I’ve seen enough of these exciting discoveries fizzle that I wouldn’t get too excited.

      • BD Sixsmith says:

        It’s unfair to scientists, who are not this bad, but I always keep in mind the English paper the Daily Express, which spends every week alternating between claims that the cause and cure of cancer has been discovered.

  38. Emily says:

    If there is a set of behaviors/attitudes that works quite well for you and yours, but you believe would wreak chaos on a lot of peoples’ lives if practiced more broadly, do you have any obligation to keep it from being more widely adopted due to your behavior? (That is, by not practicing it, practicing it quietly, not being a total activist about it, whatever.) Is this different if you are a normal person who has no particular ability to influence others vs. if you are someone who for reasons of being in the public eye/charisma/whatever could plausibly have some small effect?

    • I’ve wondered about that, specifically as related related to a theory re. sexual ethics & marriage: the theory that modern blue liberal attitudes towards sex may be alright, and older red conservative attitudes towards sex may be alright, but the mean between the two is a horrible idea that is worse than either. See http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/30/opinion/sunday/douthat-the-christian-penumbra.html.

      Sometimes it seems, from a utilitarian perspective, better for a single person to just believe (false) things that their community believes rather than believe other true things and suffer the consequences. I’m not sure what follows from this.

      Granted, your point is about behaviors, mine is more about truth.

      • TheAncientGeek says:

        A diachronic version of this crossed my mind, and, I think a few others, during the On the Road thread. I call it the Interegnum, the idea that there was a gap between the breakdown of patriarchy and the rise of feminism, which left women unprotected.

        • Izaak Weiss says:

          I vote that we make this the widely-used term. A social interregnum is a period, when in the movement from one social order to another, that is worse than either the previous or the next social order.

          • Seconded. It would make discussions of an enormous number of things more compact.

            A: “The French Revolution was horrible!”
            B: “Sure it was bad, but it was a social Interregnum on the way from a ossified monarchy to a modern nation.”
            A: “Good point. I still think–” etc.

            And it also would be useful in less sweeping contexts. A personal Interregnum could be that time when going from world religion / worldview to another, which is probably less pleasant than being in either, etc…

    • blacktrance says:

      If I think it’d be bad for people to practice, I don’t tell them to practice it, while still advocating it for others, e.g. “If you have Traits X, Y, or Z, this is probably not for you, but otherwise, go for it!” An even more clever way to advocate for it is to phrase advocacy in ways that are off-putting to the wrong people but attractive to the right people.

      • Emily says:

        I think “if you aren’t sufficiently [positive trait], this [thing that I very much enjoy] is a bad idea” would maybe not work.
        But I like your second idea.

  39. Adam Casey says:

    Scott, could you settle a bet for us? http://predictionbook.com/predictions/23491

  40. Ben Pace says:

    Is the person above who’s wearing the t-shirt contactable? I was going to try to make a moloch t shirt myself, but now I want theirs.

  41. What do people think of Robin Hanson’s idea for a quadratic voting system? I think it sounds pretty cool (which is why I’m bringing it up on SSC, since this place is full of nerds who find this kind of thing interesting) but I have no idea if it’s actually a good idea or not.

    • Alex Godofsky says:

      Democracy is not about optimal game-theoretic design. It’s about institutional legitimacy and at least in theory a modestly higher-quality feedback loop from governance -> results -> governance.

      Tyler Cowen’s take on this is right.

      • Izaak Weiss says:

        Robin Hanson seems to be working off of the idea that game theoretic design is heavily correlated with the strength of the feedback loop, and that optimizing the game theoretic design will strengthen the feedback loop. I think that’s a reasonable theory; do you disagree?

        • Alex Godofsky says:

          I don’t think it actually obtains, certainly not in the way typically envisioned. The biggest source of noise in the loop is the fact that people only have a vague sense of whether things are going “well” or “poorly” and thus whether to vote for the party in power or the party out of power.

    • Anonymous says:

      My goal for voting reform would be to get more moderates into power and have fewer partisan voting blocs.

      My list of reforms that would help with that includes jungle primaries, government-provided campaign funding, approval voting, and gerrymandering reform.

      Quadratic voting seems to solve a different problem, and I’m not sure if it’s a problem anyone actually has.

      • Anonymous says:

        Get rid of FPTP. Half of the problems would become much easier to solve.

      • PDV says:

        Jungle primaries have done the opposite of that, when they’ve been tried so far.

        • Anonymous says:

          Have you got a citation? I would have thought jungle primaries would decrease the influence of political parties but experimental evidence trumps theory.

          • John Schilling says:

            Here’s one that says it doesn’t really make any difference; I think that’s about right overall.

            One factor that McGhee et al touch on, but I think deserves more emphasis, is that “party” is more than just voters and candidates, it is also campaign donors and party leadership, and those aren’t bound by the primaries. It is perfectly legal for the party’s leaders and bankers to meet in a good old fashioned smoke-filled room and say, “We are focusing our resources on this slate of candidates and no others”. If they do this, no other candidates who are not independently wealthy or famous have any real chance to win, and any sort of primary is just a rubber stamp as far as that party is concerned.

            Parties mostly stopped doing this a century or so back because A: primary elections gave them useful feedback as to who could actually win a general election and B: democracy is now legitimizing in the way that e.g. divine right used to be, such that the party of the smoke-filled room automatically cedes a good percentage of general-election swing voters to the party of the democratic primary.

            But if there’s a real prospect of being shut out of the general election because your party’s candidates split the party vote too widely in the primary, or of being stuck with a candidate who won the primary only due to temporary crossover voters who will revert to their true allegiance come November, then the smoke-filled room becomes an almost necessary defensive measure.

            I suspect there is a tactically optimal level of democratic input for parties to solicit and accept in the runup to a general election, and any attempt to force the issue beyond that point will simply result in party leadership using non-democratic means to restrict the pool of viable primary candidates. So, no net effect.

          • Anonymous says:

            Speaking of crossover voters, I have a story… There are two kinds of crossover voters. You seem to be talking about ones sabotaging their enemy’s primary. Obviously, the party does not want their input. They make the news, but more common are ones who think their own party has no hope and try to choose a moderate in the opposing primary. It’s not clear that the party should want their input, but it is informative about who can win in the general election. I saw this happen twenty years ago, not so much for moderation as for a single issue (abortion). The crossing-over voters decided the primary and the candidate won the general election. But the party was upset and endorsed a challenger in the next primary

    • Cranky Old Man says:

      My meta-thought: There’s a part of me that thinks that a voting system this nerdy will never see wide adoption, but then another part of me realizes that modern democracies are terribly nerdy compared to the autocracies that came before.

    • Deiseach says:

      Has the man never heard of proportional representation? He’s all “put one quark for this, or three quarks for that” but he’s still stuck on ‘first past the post’ (“party with the most votes wins”).

      PR gives you something like his quarks – your choice for Number One candidate on the ballot paper versus your choice for Number Eight, for example. And you might be more interested in voting in a presidential election, but who gets to be mayor is going to have much more of an effect on your immediate life (e.g. setting local charges for rent, rates and so on) so saving all your quarks to vote for President Jones and leaving the party machine to get Mayor Smith in by motivating their voters could end up cutting off your nose to spite your face.

      • Eli says:

        Has the man never heard of proportional representation? He’s all “put one quark for this, or three quarks for that” but he’s still stuck on ‘first past the post’ (“party with the most votes wins”).

        Would he really be Robin Hanson if he didn’t assume he could sketch out a better idea on a napkin than thousands of political scientists could in hundreds of years?

    • The solution is not democracy; it’s a plutocracy. Putting the most successful and richest in power is the best form of governance because they have the most to lose if things so wrong, so in an act of selfish self-preservation to save their own interests, the nation benefits as a whole.

      • TheAncientGeek says:

        1. They may be more concerned with relative status than absolute wealth. King of the garbage heap is a thing,

        2. The poor have the most to loose, because the only place below dirt poor is starving. Diminishing marginal utility, and it’s corrolaries.

        3. It’s possible to ge rich by ripping off the poor, and not just benign competence.

        4. The rich are always marching in Washington anyway, so you are actually calling for more plutocracy.

      • Anonymous says:

        Putting the least successful and poorest in power is the best form of governance because they have the least to fall back on if things go wrong, so in an act of selfish self-preservation to save their own interests, the nation benefits as a whole.

      • Eli says:

        LOL, assuming homo economicus does reals.

    • S says:

      Just pointing out to those too lazy to follow the link that the idea is not, in fact, due to Robin Hanson, but to Glen Weyl and colleagues, whom Robin cites.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I agree that this is kind of fixing the wrong problem (albeit doing so very elegantly), but I also worry about the exact trading mechanism. Any trading mechanism not extremely well-designed to prevent it will result in rich people getting all the votes, which is very different from its intended design of “people who care most about the issue getting all the votes”. Any trading mechanism that successfully prevents that will still face stupid loopholes. For example, imagine politicians calling a referendum to, I don’t know, kill all old people – without having the slightest desire to actually do this – just to force all old people to expend votes voting against it, so that in the next election which is about defunding Medicare old people have already used up their votes.

      Or am I misunderstanding the possible system?

    • haishan says:

      Stupid question: how do quadratic voting systems deal with the fact that y = x^2 is convex? In a system with no protections against doing so, you could make n purchases of one vote each and defeat the quadratic pricing system that way. This particular loophole seems easy enough to close, but there’s no obvious (to me) way to close all related loopholes: e.g., you could pay k indifferent voters a nominal fee to buy (n/k) votes each, which would cost a little over n^2/k — this is a problem if you can find O(n) or even something like O(n^1/2) indifferent voters.

      • Anonymous says:

        The point is to distinguish between votes and voters. If you can buy voters, you can take over in the baseline system. So we assume that you cannot. In the quadratic system, an individual can buy lots of votes, but can only cast a single bundle, which is worth a lot less than if he had convinced all the voters to vote with him. That’s the point.

        • haishan says:

          “If you can buy voters, you can take over in the baseline system. So we assume that you cannot.”

          …So what’s the practical value of this, then, if you’re just assuming away any attempts to game the system?

          • Anonymous says:

            By “the baseline system,” I mean the world today. Do you believe that vote buying is endemic in the world today? If so, then this proposal is not interesting, since it offers an inferior option whose only advantage is legality. But most people don’t. This proposal would keep the secret ballot, whose introduction is generally credited with ending vote buying.

          • John Schilling says:

            Does paying for campaign advertisements that cause marginal voters to shift their votes count as “vote buying”? If not, why not? I’m a candidate, I give one of my operatives a bunch of money, my vote count goes up.

          • Anonymous says:

            John, read the thread. Names in general, and your comment in particular, are irrelevant to this proposal and to Haishan’s question. Maybe the proposed scheme would not be competitive with advertising. If so, the proposal would be pointless, but that is a completely different objection than Haishan’s. The proposal would probably not drive out all advertising, because of the diminishing marginal value of buying votes, which is the point.

          • John Schilling says:

            Names in general, and your comment in particular, are irrelevant to this proposal and to Haishan’s question

            I had thought the relevance of my comment was obvious, and would be willing to explain if asked politely, but:

            Which “names” are you talking about? I honestly do not understand what you are trying to say.

          • Anonymous says:

            “Definitions” would have been a clearer word than “names”: you asked what “counts.” Almost never a useful question.

          • John Schilling says:

            I would think that definitions are always relevant; rather difficult to communicate if you don’t agree on what the words mean. And one of the standard ways to come to such an agreement is to pose marginal cases and ask, “does this meet the definition of [X] you are using, and why?”

            But let’s try this again. Haishan and Anonymous seem to agree that there exists a strategy called by Anonymous both “buying voters” and “vote buying”, which renders the proposed system useless. Haimish implies that, because of this, the proposed system is of no practical value. Anonymous agrees that the proposal is “not interesting” if vote buying is endemic, but offers the argumentum ad populum that “most people” “generally credit” vote buying as having been eliminated.

            The value of the proposed system is thus contingent on “vote buying” not being common. To assess this, we need to understand the definition of “vote buying” in use. From a game-theoretic standpoint, any process that allows a person to translate cash to desired votes on an essentially linear basis would seem to have the same system-breaking effect of undercutting the proposed quadratic-value vote purchase.

            Financing campaign advertisements seems to me to be such a system, at least at the margins. I suggest that it is functionally equivalent to vote-buying in every respect that matters here. It is presently common and likely to remain so. I suggest that this largely eliminates the practical value of the system.

            Also, I deeply resent the assertion that because you couldn’t understand my point, I must not have read the thread. True, necessary, kind? I count 0/3 there.

          • Anonymous says:

            You promised not to explain your position if I didn’t ask politely. So I didn’t. Threats are more effective if you establish a reputation that the your response will depend on the other’s action.

          • haishan says:

            First of all, I’ll just point out that I’m haishan, not to be confused with frequent commenter haimish, although the similarity of our handles is regrettable.

            Second… okay, let’s say I do accept that outright vote buying isn’t any likelier to occur in this system than in the present universe. Quadratic voting would still incentivize “soft vote buying” — campaign advertising, but also other things — above and beyond the extent to which it’s already incentivized. In the limit it’s always a better strategy to get as many cheap size-one votes as possible than to pay for an expensive size-n vote. The strategy gets worse the more expensive “buying” a marginal voter is, but I don’t think that it would necessarily be that expensive. Remember the conspiracy theory that the Democrats were buying votes by giving out Obamaphones? (I’m so sorry for linking to Salon, but it was the best source I found in twenty seconds of Googling.) Under quadratic voting, attaching demographically-based handouts to political platforms would become even more widespread than it already is. Everyone would play up the Obamaphone, because it’s so much cheaper to get votes that way.

          • Anonymous says:

            Why would it increase the amount of advertising or obamaphones? I can’t make heads nor tail of your comment.

            You can increase individuality by adopting a two name handle.

          • haishan says:

            Okay, I’m not a huge fan of your tone, but whatever. Let’s try and puzzle out the systems of incentives at play here. I’m going to drop the Obamaphone thing for now and just focus on other methods of “soft vote buying.”

            The year is 2012. I am playing the role of a billionaire Barack Obama supporter; I want to get Obama reelected. What is the best way to do this, under one-person one-vote and under quadratic voting?

            At all times there’s an opportunity cost of voting. Right now the opportunity cost of voting for Obama is doing something that isn’t voting. Working, playing three games of pool, whatever. Under quadratic voting there’s an extra opportunity cost of using that vote for something more meaningful. On the one hand, this suggests that fewer people will vote in the presidential election under quadratic voting, increasing the utility of a marginal vote for Obama; on the other, it makes it that much harder to incentivize someone to go out and vote for Obama.

            So, under the current system, I have basically one option: to donate the maximum allowable amount to Obama’s campaign, and then donate several million more to super PACs and get-out-the-vote efforts. Under the quadratic system, I have an additional option: buy a large number of votes for myself and cast them all for Obama.

            I claim that even under quadratic voting, it’s far preferable for me to spend my millions influencing lots of other people to cast single votes for Obama, than to cast sqrt(millions) votes myself. At least under the assumption that influencing people to quadratically vote for Obama is roughly as effective as it is to influence people to regular-vote for Obama; I think this is a reasonable hypothesis.

            So, okay, after thinking it through more precisely, I’m backing off the claim that quadratic voting would lead to more advertising/obamaphones. I just think it would inevitably degenerate into linear voting much like we have today.

          • Luke Somes says:

            the funny thing is that the ‘Obamaphones’ were a Republican program… so if you try to buy votes that way, watch out who gets the credit (/ blame)!

  42. For those interested, here’s an interesting discussion I’m currently in regarding my technonaturalist perspective (I’m not using its name widely yet) vs a more conventional transhumanist persepctive. Much of the discussion is around ways to view humanity and genetics vs consciousness. I’d be extremely keen to hear if all the fellow SSC folks find either side convincing. Your thoughts/contributions are welcome!

    • pneumatik says:

      I think you and Yosarian2 are talking about different things. I think you make a good point that transhumanity may not be the same species, or even the current species that we are now, but that’s not really different from what traditional transhumanists (is that a real phrase?) are talking about. I’m honestly not convinced by your argument that homo sapiens are worth preserving as a species at the expense of preventing transhumanity. I don’t see a way that true transhumanity can guarantee the preservation of homo sapiens short of either keeping some in a zoo-like environment where they don’t know about transhumanity or by selecting some homo sapiens to be excluded from transhumanity. I personally don’t see humanity as the ends, I see people as the ends, and I use people’s awareness / consciousness as the definition of a person because that’s how I define myself.

      • You may have seen in the discussion my comment that consciousness (being used as a basis for “people”) is completely destroyed every night (if you’re thinking is even a bit different in the morning to the night, it’s illogical to treat the two “consciousnesses” as a single entity), so if people=consciousnesses, then there doesn’t seem to be a strong argument for the moral worth of human life (or any version of homo). I’ll assume although I feel that’s pretty convincing, for whatever reason you don’t? So I’ll try to add some point in case they are useful for yourself or somebody.

        There’s a certain human failure mode where something instrumental value, when it becomes part of everyday life, begins to be seen as terminally valuable. We forget in its specifcs, though we know generally, that the things value flows from the terminal value to the instrumental. So government or the economy or an ideology or something becomes an end in itself, even though it was originally establish to provide some actual benefit that was nothing to do with its own existence. Even worse, is when some useful abstraction that isn’t even a thing becomes seen as valuable in itself in this way. To put it another way, the map becomes more important than the territory.

        If you’re a materialist (?) and you consider for a moment, consciousness doesn’t seem to arise out of observations of people. We can look at a person and directly see a brain, a set of behaviours, their cells etc. No matter how hard you look, you won’t see a “consciousness” (unless you arbitrarily decide to take a subset of reality and call it that – but that’s basically incompatible with the materialist approach). But it sort of helps, especially in human discussions and cooperation, to have an abstract way of placing ourselves in other’s shoes and talking about something like a floaty incorporeal agent. Consciousness, borrowed from dualist philosophy, serves this purpose brilliantly. It’s NOT A THING, like the brain is, but it’s a really useful tool of thought. And over time, because its the useful proxy through which we do so much morally good human stuff, as an idea might easily begin to pick up some of that moral value. We get a bit hazy on where the terminal value lies, and it seems to follow that errors in moral reasoning might follow as a result.

        To expand this thought a little, we invent technology, and it has usually had great benefits to humans (I generally hold an optimistic view about tech). It’s useful to optimise our tech activities, to have an abstract idea that means “having more benefits from tech today than yesterday”, let’s call it “progress”. Focusing on progress is often even more optimised than just thinking about tech. But its not a real object, its just a vague description of a large set of effects of a diverse set of behaviours. It ISN’T A THING. Yet here also the failure mode seems to apply – if say an intelligent person immersed in a lot of tech had this sort of positive reinforcement often, the consistently positive utility might lead us to tell ourself that it hold terminal value. It might even become difficult or trigger our threat heuristics a bit when confronted with what we originally knew – its just a tool.

        We can arbitrarily define people as a form that matches the tech we find most interesting. I think some people will do this and I don’t think anyone can stop them, anymore than a belief in gods is falsifiable. But I think the scientific approach, where our definitions arise out of amoral (!=immoral) observations of evidence, is that people and humans are different words for the same observed phenomenon – a functioning organism of the species homo sapiens.

    • anon says:

      Have you ever read Nicholas Agar’s “Humanity’s End”?

  43. I’m not convinced that there have to have been alien civilizations billions of years ago. The Universe isn’t static, and it seems plausible to suppose that life requires a certain concentration of heavy elements. (Or, as a backup hypothesis, that technology does.)

    Earth isn’t exactly a newcomer, either; it is about 4.6 billion years old in a Universe about 14 billion years old. That is, the Earth has been around for about a third of the life of the Universe. Taken together, I think that means it isn’t obviously implausible to suppose that Earth might have been among the first planets capable of supporting life: perhaps the first high-tech civilizations formed no more than a few million, or even a few hundred thousand years ago.

    (I gather there are parts of the Universe where the concentration of heavy elements could be expected to have been similar to Earths earlier on, but those parts may well be inhospitable to life due to things like gamma ray bursts. I’ve also seen speculation that gamma ray bursts were more common in the early universe.)

    If you assume nearly-speed-of-light expansion, then even a hundred thousand years head start would be enough and you still have to assume a filter (or apply the anthropic principle and assert that we’re one of the very earliest civilizations, because otherwise we’d never have evolved) but I also find that assumption dubious. It may be impractical to expand at more than a few percent of lightspeed, and perhaps not even that fast, no matter how advanced your technology is.

    • Interesting. If Earth is anywhere but the absolute extreme early end of the historical bell curve of planets that support life (plotting time vs frequency), then shouldn’t there should still be billions of planets capable of supporting life? Could you expand on the heavy elements part a little?

      Your limit to expansion doesn’t seem impossible though. Let’s see, at 10% of light speed, roughly one million years to travel the width of our galaxy, or 25 million years to get here from Andromeda. Still doesn’t seem like very long in the scheme of things… Either a filter, non-expansion, non-interventionist expansion, or unique conditions for Earth are only explanations I can think of off the top of my head.

      • Anonymous says:

        The idea that one can expand at 10% of c to everywhere seems overly optimistic. Also seems like it would be stupid to do, when you could focus your resources on promising prospects.

        Very rare conditions for Earth is probably a big part of it. We wouldn’t be around if there wasn’t a big ‘ol moon sloshing the seas around and quickening the transition to land. And we still kinda squeaked by, looking at the history of life and the fact that the Sun’s gonna wipe this little oasis out pretty shortly. I think even Earth, remarkably well-suited to life as it is, might have had a really low chance of actually developing intelligent life while conditions held.

        • John Schilling says:

          10% of c might be a bit much, but a BOTE calculation suggests a Kardashev Type I civilization could expand throughout a galaxy at an average of 2.5% c in every direction, expending no more than 1% of its resources, using technology not substantially more advanced than our own.

          Details: Laser photon sails, colony ships with 10,000 cryogenically frozen passengers at 0.06% c, launched once every three years at the most promising target star within 60 LY and not already colonized. Colony grows at 2%/year until achieving Kardashev I civilization, then starts launching own colony ships. Up to 95% of colonies can fail without significantly slowing the expansion.

          It is certainly plausible that the human race might not do anything like this. Claiming that no intelligent race will ever do anything like this, seems harder to defend. And once the process starts, the frontier of an expansionist civilization will be dominated by the subset of its population most interested in and capable of colonial expansionism, with long-term evolutionary implications.

          At this rate, the Milky Way is completely colonized by one precursor civilization in less than five million years, or half a percent of the total galactic age.

          • John Schilling says:

            Following myself up, a K-I civilization that devotes 0.1% of its resources to interstellar colonization expands at 1.5% c, and 0.01% of resources gives 1.0% c. That’s still blindingly fast by astronomical standards.

      • I think you can invoke the anthropic principle to put us on the extreme early end of the bell curve, because otherwise Earth would have been colonized already and we would never had evolved.

        The only necessary assumption is that it is plausible that the extreme early end of the bell curve is circa 14 billion years after the Big Bang. While I’m not sure that this is plausible, I’m not convinced that it isn’t.

        To the best of my knowledge, we don’t know enough about biogenesis yet to be sure what elements are necessary or in what concentrations. It might well turn out to be possible for life to evolve in a solar system with much lower concentrations of heavy elements than ours. But we don’t know, and it just seems pointless to me to worry about something we can’t do anything about that depends on assumptions we have no basis for making.

    • Anonymous says:

      It’s reasonable to assume, however, that the time at which a planet become capable of sustaining advanced life is normally distributed, and if that’s the case we are probably closer to the middle rather than the tail ends of that distribution. So I think it’s quite reasonable to suppose that many advanced civilizations have existed in the past.

    • Doug Muir says:

      1) The Sun is slightly odd: it is unusually metallic for a star of its age. (“Metal” is how astronomers describe all elements that are not hydrogen or helium. So a metallic star has more of these “heavy” elements.) For Population II stars in our galactic neighborhood aged around 4.5 billion years old, the Sun is about 90%th percentile in terms of metallicity. AFAWCT, this is just random; someone had to be around 90th percentile, right? It’s about as odd as being left-handed, or having blood type B. But it does mean that in our galactic neighborhood, most stars the Sun’s age are less metallic than the Sun.

      2) The Sun would be around 50th percentile for a star half its age. Because new metal-creating supernovae are always going off, over astronomical time — billions of years — the interstellar medium gets more and more enriched with metals. So a young star born in the last few million years would be, on average, rather more metallic than the Sun.

      3) However. There is one other factor that influences metallicity, and that’s galactic location. As you move in towards the core, stars are more crowded, there’s more gas and dust and matter, and there’s more stuff going on. So there are more supernovae and “galactic chemical evolution” happens faster. That results in a “metallicity gradient” as you move from the core outwards towards the edge of the galaxy. So while the Sun is 90th percentile for a star its age in this part of the galaxy, it would be around 50th percentile for a star about half as far from the galactic center.

      4) Key point: there are — and I need to get technical here — a bugfuckton crapload of stars out there. Even if we only talk about our single galaxy, there are ~400 billion or so. Eliminate Population I stars, giants and subgiants and their companions, white dwarves, red dwarves with less than 0.05 solar masses, main sequence stars with more than 3 solar masses, stars within 5000 ly of the core, stars more than 50,000 ly from the core, stars with Fe/H greater than 0.5 or less than – 0.5 (don’t ask), and stars that are less than a billion years old, and you still have over 100 billion. Even if you are a complete pedantic puckerass and you insist on a star that is really, really Sunlike — a main sequence G dwarf with a mass between 0.6 and 1.25 solar, an age of at least 2 billion years, and Fe/H within 0.2 of solar abundance — you’d still be talking something north of a billion stars. There are more than a dozen stars fitting that description within ten parsecs (about 33 ly) of us!

      TLDR: the Sun is a bit odd, but not nearly odd enough to be an explanation for Fermi’s Paradox.

      Doug M.

      • Izaak Weiss says:

        I’ll bite. A Fe/H ratio of -.5? What the hell?

        • TheAncientGeek says:

          Iron to hydrogen

        • Seladore says:

          Iron-to-Hydrogen ratio, as TheAncientGeek said.

          Iron is the ‘end point’ element for stellar evolution, and hydrogen is roughly the ‘beginning’ point (i.e., primordial stars in the early Universe were mostly hydrogen).

          So, the Iron/Hydrogen ratio gives you a measure of age.

          • Creutzer says:

            But how does this ratio get to be < 0?

          • Anonymous says:

            Doug Muir is doing a great job of answering these!

            The ratio is defined logarithmically, with ‘solar’ set to zero. So a star with a metallicity 1/10 solar will have a Fe/H = -1 (and 1/100 solar is -2, and so on).

        • Doug Muir says:

          Fe/H is the star’s ratio of iron to hydrogen, which serves as a crude measure of general metallicity. The exact mix of metals can be complex, and varies a lot from star to star, even among stars with identical Fe/H. But Fe/H is a good quick shorthand for “about how metallic this star is”.

          For measuring metallicity, the Sun’s ratio of Fe/H is set at zero, and then a log 10 scale is used. So, a star with 1.0 Fe/H has 10 times as much iron as the Sun; a star with 2.0 has 100 times as much; a star with -1.0 would have one tenth as much; and so forth.

          This number is known as “dex” (don’t ask). So if you hear an astronomer say, “Check out this spectra — it’s an SMR bulge giant with about 1.5 dex,” she’s saying “it’s a Super Metal Rich giant star located in the galactic bulge, and it has proportionately about 30 times more iron than the Sun”.

          Doug M.

      • Interestingly, (1) is exactly what you’d expect if metallicity was the reason our civilization wasn’t preempted by an earlier one: most (all?) of the earliest civilizations would be around stars that are unusually metalic for their age. Doesn’t prove anything, of course, but it’s suggestive. [Addendum: I wonder if it is possible to show that our sun should have an even higher percentile if this was really the reason we haven’t already been colonized?]

        (2) isn’t directly relevant as far as I can tell (see below).

        (3) *might* be explained away by hostile conditions, such as gamma ray bursts, as per my original post. (Remember that I’m not trying to establish that there definitely couldn’t be any much older civilizations than ours, but just that we can’t be sure that there should, even without an early filter.)

        (4) is of course relevant, but you seem to be using the wrong figures? Planets significantly younger than Earth don’t count, because their civilizations won’t have developed yet – in fact, by the very same reasoning that makes The Filter seem threatening, they never will because we (or another civilization our age or older) will colonize their planets before they evolve.

        So we’re really only interested in solar systems that are both suitable (by whatever standard you choose to apply) and *more* than 4.6 billion years old. (How much more depends on the assumptions about the speed at which colonization can take place.) Do we have any estimates on this?

        • Doug Muir says:

          There’s no reason to think 4.5 billion is a magical number. On Earth, life seems to have appeared pretty quickly, then done not much for a couple of billion years. Then, woo! the Great Oxygenation Event! Then life once again does not much for a billion years. (The period after the GOE is actually called the “boring billion” by paleontologists.)

          Now, you can argue that, no, actually all sorts of important stuff was happening — geochemical oxidation sinks had to be filled before atmospheric oxygen could rise, life needed time to develop deep the biochemical complexity needed to support complex eukaryotes, yadda yadda. But I am going to TLDR a generation of fairly gnarly paleobiogeochemistry and say, no, current thinking is that life did not actually need all that much time — there’s no compelling reason to think complex life couldn’t have evolved earlier.

          Doug M.

          • I’m happy so long as there’s no compelling reason to think that life should have evolved earlier – that we really *must* be late-comers to the universe, despite the observation that nobody colonized Earth before we evolved. I don’t think we understand enough yet to be certain of that.

            There are at least three possible explanations: (1) my suggestion, i.e., perhaps there’s a good reason why civilization wasn’t likely to have developed much earlier than this, even if we’re not sure what it might be; (2) an early filter, e.g., biogenesis was very unlikely, the Cambrian Explosion was very unlikely, etc., so that while civilization might have developed at any time, it is unlikely to have done so more than once (or a few times if you suppose a weak late filter); (3) a strong late filter, i.e., we’re doomed.

            So long as (1) and (2) between them are approximately as plausible as (3), and we have no really solid evidence either way, I can’t see the point of worrying.

            Regardless, thanks for the detailed description of the state of play, and note that I’m not claiming that there isn’t a mystery here. None of the available explanations seem particularly plausible, and that’s definitely odd. I just don’t buy the idea that the late filter is the only possible conclusion. 🙂

        • Doug Muir says:

          Similarly, there’s no reason to think stellar metallicity of Fe/H 0.0 is some sort of magic cutoff. Yes, there’s a positive correlation between a star’s metallicity and the likelihood of that star having planets — but lots of low-metallicity stars also have planets. And yes, a certain minimum metallicity is probably necessary for complex life — but we have only vague ideas how much, and anyway there’s likely to be only a loose-ish correlation between the metallicity of a star and the metallicity of the crusts of its terrestrial planets. (The elemental abundances in Earth’s crust are way, way different from those in the Sun.)

          IOW, for metallicity as for stellar age, there may be a cutoff at some point, but there’s no compelling reason to think we’re at or near it.

          Doug M.

  44. suntzuanime says:

    What about religion in the open thread, lol

  45. I hope you won’t consider it presumptuous if I ask you for (semi-)medical advice in the open thread.

    My brother was diagnosed with ADHD as a child. He additionally has OCD. He is also on the autism spectrum. He recently suffered a bout of depression and an anxiety disorder after a major life disappointment, from which he is still recovering.

    He’s a vegetarian, doesn’t eat eggs, and doesn’t like (and doesn’t regularly consume, AFAIK, but has no objections to) dairy. (He lives with our family in India, and his is a vegetarian Indian diet.) I have a suspicion that his diet severely lacks a number of nutrients which could be contributing significantly to his problems. Do you think that’s a realistic possibility? If so, are there any nutrients you’d suggest he supplement with?

    After a cursory search of the literature, I found this website: http://www.foodforthebrain.org/ I don’t know how reliable it is. What do you think?

    During that same search of the literature, I came to the conclusion that both my diet (I’m a vegetarian, too) and his diet almost certainly lack sufficient omega-3 fatty acids. Is this hypothesis correct, wrong, or not even wrong? I’m currently supplementing my diets with omega-3s (derived from algal sources, given that I don’t want to stop being a vegetarian)? I further found that the most effective dosage for depression was a greater amount of EPA than DHA per dose. I couldn’t find any high-EPA supplements, so am making do with a combination of a combined (320mg DHA + 130 mg EPA) on one day, followed by a 100 mg pure-EPA supplement for the next two days, thus ensuring that the total EPA is higher than the total DHA over one such cycle. (If you’re OK with it, I can post the links to the actual supplements.) Again, is this right, wrong, or not even wrong? Is there any harm in his doing the same?

    Again, my apologies if you mind me asking for advice of this kind in the open thread.

    (I haven’t revealed any specific details, even if they’re not identifying, because this is an open forum. If you’d like, I can send you an e-mail.)

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I don’t think there’s really good research concusively linking individual nutrients to this kind of stuff (except maybe folic acid and depression, but a vegetarian should have that covered).

      If you really want to push on this, I think your omega-3 idea is good. The last time I looked into omega-3s, I got the impression that pretty much everyone who supplements takes too little to have an effect. I would suggest a liquid version since that allows ingesting a lot more than pills (unless you want to take a zillion pills per day). This site has some good comparisons. I don’t know much about EPA vs. DHA honestly.

      Vegetarians in general sometimes do well by supplementing protein. There are vegetarian foods that will do this, but I also recommend creatine, iron, and B12.

      Zinc is often deficient in a vegetarian diet and plays some role in psychiatric disease.

      I would not expect miracles from dietary changes, but it might be worth trying some of these and seeing if they help.

      • Anonymous says:

        Does anyone know a good source for liquid fish oil?

      • First of all, thanks a lot for answering me. I appreciate it.

        If you don’t mind, I have one more question (which I should have included but forgot to in the original post):

        My brother has had persistent problems with his digestion. No doctor has been able to find anything specifically wrong with him, however, so we don’t know if it’s a genuine problem of an obsession. A year or so ago, he brother decided to ‘cleanse his stomach’ with a method called Laghu Shankh Prakshalan (which is described here: http://www.yogapoint.com/info/shankha_praksha.htm) . A TL;DR description: keep drinking warm water and performing stretching exercises, while intermittently going to evacuate your bowels, until nothing but slightly yellow water comes out.

        I’ve read that the gut microbiome has an effect on the severity of autism symptoms. I have a suspicion that his doing this may have severely unbalanced his gut biome, if not flushed out large parts entirely; he reports that for many days afterwards, he couldn’t digest food properly. He did this *twice* in a six month period.

        I came across General Biotics a few days ago (http://www.generalbiotics.com/). The pilot study seems promising, and (what appears to be) a rigorously-conducted, 200-person, placebo-controlled is slated to be done by the 15th of this month. The website, too, gives off a ‘we care about science and evidence and doing this right’ (though that can certainly be faked). I currently plan to wait until the results of that study are out, and then try it myself and send it to my brother (to whom I have a suspicion it’ll be much more useful).

        Is there a chance that improving his digestion can help some of his symptoms? My estimate is that the downside risk is small/negligible enough that it doesn’t hurt to try probiotics. What do you think? (Whatever you say here is, of course, *not* medical advice, for which I should consult a doctor, but merely informed speculation, and I hereby declare that that’s how I view it.)

    • Anonymous says:

      Jack Norris’ Vegan Health website may be useful.

    • James Miller says:

      It’s a commonly held view in the paleo community that being a vegetarian can cause lots of problems. Nutrition is an incomplete science and we don’t know all of the benefits we get from food in part because taking X with Y can have a different impact than taking X and Y separately. Being a vegetarian means conducting a dangerous experiment on yourself in which you have decided to give your body radically different inputs then it evolved to consume.

      • Anonymous says:

        >radically different inputs then it evolved to consume.

        More like “it evolved consuming”

      • BD Sixsmith says:

        Being a vegetarian means conducting a dangerous experiment on yourself…

        Research appears to suggest that it is not too dangerous – at least for most people.

      • Nutrition is an incomplete science, but our knowledge of the eating habits of our hunter-gatherer ancestors is also incomplete. Your claim that vegetarianism involves “giv[ing] your body radically different inputs than it evolved to consume” is simply not warranted by the limited evidence we have at present. See e.g. Nestle (2000) for discussion.

  46. Anonymous for This Post says:

    Instead of having each OKC critique start it’s own thread, here’s a post that you can post your requests under.

    (I’m about to post my own)

    • Anonymous for This Post (though half of you will probably recognize me anyways:P) says:

      I would also be interested in an OKC critique. I figure the types of people who read SSC are likely to be the types of people I’m interested in dating, so it’s a good pool to take advice from.


      • doublethrowaway says:

        So as a chwm (cishetwhitemale) your profile looks pretty good, even to the point where you kind of make me wish I lived in NY instead of SF. Even so, “fire eating/poi/etc, drum corps, winterguard, dressage” reads too hard like “I am interesting look at me.” “Lady Grey tea” seems snobby. +1 for avoiding brown boots in any of your pictures. I hate the term but they are super “basic”. You talk quite a bit about your dog, I don’t really like dogs but that probably says more about me than you. It seems like independent ladies seem to disproportionately have dogs which repel non-dog people like me, but that is more of an observation than a constructive point so I don’t know what to say here.

        Ultimately your profile looks pretty good to me. I think the handle Daenerys is a bit cliche. We have a lowish match percentage but that seems to be mostly attributed to me not being poly which again seems more me than you. Maybe you can expand on matches you are getting vs what you desire.

        • Anonymous for This Post says:

          Thanks for the feedback!

          I agree that the handle is pretty cliche. To be fair, I started using it elsewhere back when GoT was only a series of books, and almost no one knew what the name was from. It’s probably worth it to get the upgrade for one month just to change it.

        • James says:

          Just as a counterbalance, I’d like to observe that I find the snobbiness (or whatever you wish to call it) of mentioning Lady Grey appealling. I’m something of a tea snob myself, and I don’t see why our kind shouldn’t signal to each other. (I’m also glad that you wrote “Grey” and not “Gray”.)

      • Darcey says:

        No comment on your profile, since I’m straight and female, but omg you use the little spoons for ice cream too!

      • AlphaCeph says:

        (I’m a straight Male)

        Profile looks good to me, I would message you if I were closer.

        The ottoman fancy dress makes you look fat, and men are quite shallow so maybe remove it. But you have a lot of photos so this is probably irrelevant.

      • Doug S. says:

        Wow, OKCupid says we’re a 99% match. I used to go to the LessWrong meetups in NYC; have we ever met?

        (I can’t ask you out on a date, though – my girlfriend is most definitely not poly.)

        • Anonymous says:

          I suspect that the match % on OKCupid is just measuring that we’re part of the same ideological niche because “Anonymous for This Post” is also an extremely high match % with me.

          I went on a date with a girl who was a 99% match with me last week. We got on very well as people, but I felt she was weak on the “physical” side of things – bad BO, no attempt to dress up or groom, etc. So I suppose the system works.

        • Anonymous for This Post says:

          Doubtful we’ve met. I’ve only been in NYC for half a year, and don’t really go to many LW meetups. Sometimes they’re held in my apartment though, and I do go to those ones. 😛

      • Creutzer says:

        One thing that came to mind, which may even be intended or desirable, is that people with non-high self-esteem are probably likely to be intimidated by the profile. (I insist that the nesting of probability in this statement makes sense. :P)

        Also, the haiku is awesome!

        AlphaCeph is right about the ottoman dress making you look fat, but I think you should keep it because it clearly signals something you want to signal. It’s more than offset by the other pictures, which I’m saying as someone with inconveniently (for himself) high standards for physical attractiveness.

        And the commenters above are right about the match percentage being just about the ideological niche. We have 95% and I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t get along too well.

        • James says:

          A lowly 92% here.

        • Matthew says:

          Seconding that the haiku is marvelous, and I say that as someone who writes a lot of them.

          • Anonymous for This Post says:

            I have to admit… I stole the haiku (and a couple other witty parts) from a friend’s profile. (with his permission, of course) 😛

          • Matthew says:

            Actually, this reminds me to ask….

            I’m not really concerned with further optimizing the main part of my profile. I would, though, like to hear some women’s perspectives on whether the poetry in my “other photos” album is a net positive or not. (And yes, I actually wrote all of those).

        • AlphaCeph says:

          > people with non-high self-esteem are probably likely to be intimidated

          I think that’s a feature, not a bug

      • PDXThrowaway says:

        I’ve met you in person (briefly, at a couple LW meetups a year ago) and found you pretty attractive then, so that adds a slightly different perspective.

        I agree that your profile is looking pretty good. It conveys pretty much the same image you gave off in person with a new group of rationalsphere people, so if you’re pretty exclusively looking for rationalists or people with strongly rationalist-compatible outlooks, you’re hitting your target. For a wider audience I think you’ll probably come off as snooty.

        Tweaks I’d suggest: ‘Nanny’ sounds low-status and I’d suggest not having it as prominent as it is. Reorder it to “Personal assistant and nanny”, maybe? Most alternative ways to say it would sound artificial. And “rocking it out in my bedroom in my pajamas” feels painfully cliche to me; I’d leave it out.

        • Anonymous for This Post says:

          Thanks for the feedback!

          Nanny does sound low-status, but I’m definitely more of a nanny than a PA (and the PA work I do now generally consists of cleaning and laundry and such, which is ALSO low-status.) So if someone is going to be turned off by my having a well-paid but low-status job, I’d rather turn them off immediately, since that IS the reality of the situation.

          • The Anonymouse says:

            I’m not sure “nanny” sounds low status. Nanny, like au pair or governess, brings in upper class implications; they also imply some level of education and refinement. Yes, it’s a domestic position, but it definitely does not come with the janitor-level class implications that come with “daycare worker” or “babysitter.”

      • Anonymous says:

        I have a 95% match percentage with you. Generally looks pretty good – interesting interests and strongly signals intellectualism. However, the combination of heavy emphasis on poly, talk about moving around, and general hyperactive/jokey tone suggest that you’re not a good candidate for a stable long-term relationship. If that’s true then at least you’re not giving the wrong impression.

        The picture with the rocks has unflattering lighting compared to the others.

        • Anonymous for This Post says:

          I DO have a problem with attracting people who are interested in more casual situations than I am interested in. That said, I AM a very individualistic poly person, and expect relationships to help people grow, not stay static. And if that growth means moving to a different city or country, or whatever, then that’s good. It doesn’t mean the relationship was a failure, or wasn’t serious, or whatnot.

          …Unfortunately, my ideas seem to be far enough outside the mainstream that people just read it as “casual”. :/

      • Fantasticks says:

        Daenerys83, the only thing I can say about your profile is that it was interesting enough that I messaged you a few months ago. No answer yet, though 😉

        Anyway, I’m surely going to regret this, but bring on the constructive criticism:

    • James says:

      Yeah, these are fun and we should do more of them. (Everyone post your profiles!)

      I’m reposting mine because, although I was one of the people who posted one in the comments to the last post, that got buried fairly quickly, and I suppose I’m still curious about what people think: http://www.okcupid.com/profile/dri_ft

      • Anonymous says:

        Your pro pic looks too staged. IDK if that is a problem for others; I am not a user of OKC.

        Don’t described Arrested Development as “amazing”. That word has been watered-down. Same with “incredible”, “awesome”, etc.

      • Anonymous for This Post says:

        To counteract the other commenter, I LIKE your profile pic. Tea. Mmm.

        Too much discussion of music. 3 of the 4 paragraphs in the “What I’m Doing With My Life” section are about music/gigs/whatever.

        It seems somewhat generic, but I don’t know what concrete advice to give for that. Maybe talk about something specific you’ve done or thought about recently? (or not recently… it’s not like anyone keeps things super-up-to-date anyways)

    • BD Sixsmith says:

      I’d never realised how many people are on this website and am beginning to feel like a Detroit pensioner who has only just heard of the Freemasons.

    • chalime says:

      I wanna play! Let me know what you think.


      • Some Girl says:

        Aw, I like your profile; you’re cute! And it may be the halo effect, but you come across as very friendly, and, uh, good at handling the vicissitudes of life? I don’t know the word for that trait.

        Also you get many points for the outdoorsy photo; I am a big fan of outdoorsy photos.

        Not sure how much my preferences generalize, but at least you appeal to one girl. 🙂

        Also, a criticism: I may just be bad with faces, but in some of your photos, it’s hard to tell which person is you.

      • Elizabeth says:

        I don’t like your photos, but I’m struggling to describe what I think should be different. (It’s definitely the way they’re taken, and not your face in particular, that I dislike.)

      • 27chaos says:

        Guy here: If I ever join OKC, I’m using your profile as a model to copy. Nice username, excellent humor, good job emphasizing the importance of intelligence without sounding like a loser. You’re either an excellent person or you’re good at lying to people via dating sites.

      • Anonymous for This Post says:

        The mix of Good Ol Rural Farm Boy + Intellectual Rationality-o-sphere is unusual enough that you definitely come across as a unique individual, and not just Generic [Stereotype] #45623.

        Your Six Things list is generic enough that you should just get rid of it, though.

        I agree with the person who said you shouldn’t write a messy sentence and then ask people to re-read it to figure it out. Make it a clean sentence in the first place.

        Your photos are great, and does a good job of showing the more active/social side of you. Hard to tell which one is you for the ski trip one though, so maybe add an “I’m on the left” or whatnot.

        I’m sure I’m not the norm on this, but I’m totally attracted to people who donate decent percentages of their income to effective causes. Other people might find that weird though.

        A lot of your answers are very list-y. Maybe convert one section to a more paragraph-y style?

        You answer some questions in a very not-sex-positive way which would be a deal-breaker to most intellectual females (including myself). I don’t necessarily think you should change it, if that’s how you actually think, though. But just know that your selecting AGAINST geekiness/intellectualness with those answers (possibly that’s what you want).

      • chalime says:

        Thanks for the feedback! Made some edits for everything but my messy sentence (I’m keeping it for now, AFTP).

        The bummer of this is that I had the visitors setting turned off, so I have no idea of who the 40+ people who visited actually are. Sucks, cause I am very curious about the people who read this blog. Probably, no one from Des Moines, but still, I want to meet you guys!

    • Anonymous says:

      This is going to sting but here goes, don’t hold back.

      My profile

      • Elizabeth says:

        Your top three pictures are all at the same zoom level, and are all head-on. More variety would be an improvement.

        Other than that, no criticism comes to mind; it’s a good profile, and good job for sharing 🙂

      • Jake says:

        Edit: Dammit, meant to reply to the post above this one.

        Chalime: (Apologies for the stream-of-consciousness-ness)

        Your pics: 1) Squint and scowling 2) indistinct 3) indistinct 4) which one’s you? 5) You look 16 6) Nice arms, but eyes closed. Get a good, clear face pic or two, then follow it up with the sporty ones.

        Your register isn’t consistent – sometimes you’re chatty, sometimes you’re formal. Either is fine, but don’t veer between them so much.

        Way too much self-deprecation. “That sentence was a mess, but read it again.” No.

        ” I’ll spare you the career details.” No, don’t. Finance tends to mean “money”, which is certainly attractive. Elaborate for at least a few sentences.

        “Sarcasting” isn’t a word. “Sarcastic” on the internet generally means “asshole,” so don’t use that word either.

        First sentence is really boring. Second sentence is… okay, but the delivery falls flat. Third sentence is more self-deprecation.

        If you have nothing interesting to say for a particular question (and that’s fine), don’t say include it. In particular, your food, six things sections do nothing as they are now.

        Capitalization is inconsistent in your favorites.

        On your questions: Don’t *publicly” say you have low-self confidence – that is arguably the single least attractive trait there is. You can answer it, but make it private. Also, you seem moderately sex-negative (14+ partners makes you uncomfortable, etc), which is not a good thing if you’re looking for nerd girls.

      • Aaron Brown says:


        I’m really good at understanding different points of view even one’s very different than my own.

        You should probably have a comma between “view” and “even”. The plural of “one” is “ones“, not “one’s”.

        As such I’m constantly re-evulating my own beliefs about the world.


      • Anonymous for This Post says:

        Cute name!

        NO bathroom selfies where we can see you holding the phone. Trick for selfies, point the camera TOWARDS you, and then use the mirror to see what’s on the camera screen.

        I like your self-summary. Very good! Ditto for the next section.

        You talk a lot about ideas and thoughts but have very little mention of what you like to DO. Talk a bit more about cooking, or piano-ing, or dancing, or other activities.

    • blashimov says:

      Free advice from clever people? Sign me up!

      • Anonymous for This Post says:

        I appreciate it when people list the profiles of other people they’re involved with. But the “so feel free to…” sentence just reads awkwardly, so rephrase? My first glance I thought that you were saying you were in a closed triad.

        Your profile read as generic, but I think it’s because instead of talking about the things you like to do, you list them. So it feels more like a list of hobbies and interests than a portrait of you. Talk more about the Russian Choir, and the sword-fighting. Or just re-phrase things as less listy? I like everything you say, but I don’t LOVE anything you say. Y’know?

        I like the hot light bulb part. 🙂

        Cute pics.

      • Jake says:

        Generally a strong profile but:

        Opening with the poly disclaimer is honest, but probably self-sabotaging – put it a bit later down but not the first thing people see.

        “You should also know that I don’t believe in deities, supernatural phenomena, horoscopes, aliens, etc.” Religion’s already listed in the sidebar, and negativity is bad. Rephrase this is a positive way or leave it out.

        “From My Facebook Profile:” Add specifics. What sort of sword fighting? What’s something you’ve heard in the news lately that you’d like to talk about?

        “but anything other than rap is great.” Terrible cliche. List specific bands.

        6 things: Boring. Elaborate or delete.

        Friday: Boring. Elaborate or delete.

    • call_me_aka says:

      I’m currently in the process of writing a sincere profile, but I’d be curious to hear how y’all feel about this one.

      • Creutzer says:

        I rather like it and I think it’s well-crafted and actually quite informative as non-serious profiles go.

        There is one thing that confuses the hell out of me: your answer to the chivalry question. I would very much have expected you to say “unnecessary, but appreciated”. It might just be a cultural distance thing that I perceive this as so much of an incongruence… I don’t know.

      • Anonymous for This Post says:

        Your Self-Summary made me lol. I like it 🙂

        SOME of it is a little too jokey, but get rid of some of the one-liners (“I am of the firm opinion that nobody ever did nuttin’ with the truth.” and “how this all might be true, Johnny, but that’s probably not why you think it.”, etc), and you’d be left with a BRILLIANT profile.

        Thumbnail should be a relatively close-up of your face.

        I agree. Pants suck.

    • jasticE says:

      I think I posted in the wrong thread (please delete the other one). Here’s mine:

      Tell me something about it!

      • Matthew says:

        A profile based on English wordplay is going to be a really tight filter for intelligence (and patience) in Germany, even if many people there speak English as a second language.

        • jasticE says:

          You’re right, though it worked out really well in that regard 🙂

          Also OKCupid users in Germany tend to be very international (most profiles are in English).

          • Army1987 says:

            A very large fraction of OKCupid profiles in Italy are exchange students who are only staying in the country for a few months.

      • blashimov says:

        It’s a really good example of show don’t tell re:what you might be like to talk to, though (to me, who was told you list too many things 😛 ) you don’t seem to give a good idea of what activities you like to do, so that other people will know if they will have things to share if they want a break from your witty puns and lines.

  47. Wirehead Wannabe says:

    So there’s been a lot of discussion about scrupulosity lately, and everyone seems to have collectively agreed that doing nothing but earning-to-give is a bad thing. There seem to be two possible claims here. One is that focusing on self-care will enable you to be more productive, and therefore able to donate more. This I find plausible, even though in practice it seems unlikely that a maximally productive life for most people will be anything like what anti-scrupulosity advocates recommend.

    The second claim is that it’s a bad idea to focus too much on charity for some reason that’s unclear to me. The only way I could accept it would be if charitable giving somehow just didn’t result in all that much utility. I find this hard to believe, as the marginal few extra hours a day spent earning money seem like a relatively minor loss compared to the utility of number of lives you could save. Even a life of crippling loneliness and depression could arguably still be a net gain. The best steelman I can come up with would be that the lives saved would be, on average, not or barely worth living, which I doubt many people would assert. High-scrupulosity self-sacrifice just seems like the obviously correct action to me. I concede that this makes me a selfish asshole. Does anyone disagree?

    • AR+ says:

      Throwing your utility into bottomless pits of suffering only incentivizes the digging of more pits.

      • Wirehead Wannabe says:

        Isn’t this a fully general counterargument against charitable giving of any kind?

        • AR+ says:

          Indeed. But when people working themselves into lives of “crippling loneliness and depression” starts to sound like the correct thing to do, challenges to the correctness of charity in principle might be exactly what’s needed. Almost makes me want to say, “y’all motherfuckers need Ayn Rand.”

          Give to charity, if you do, because you want to. Because it factors into your utility function. Not because you are obligated by virtue of your existence to maximize the moral good in the universe as defined in terms suspiciously well-specified to maximally exploit only those who opt into maximum over-conscientious and then feel bad if they think they deserve some of what less-sacrificing people have as a matter of course.

          • Is your second paragraph supposed to describe the views of actual proponents of earning to give? I ask because I once spent a few hours reading most of what had at the time being written on the subject and didn’t come across anyone to whom that description would apply.

          • AR+ says:

            Proponents, no, not in the sense that people have come out to tell others, “you should do this!” In that, what I’ve read matches w/ the position being grappled w/ in the opening comment. Give, but not to the detriment of your own health.

            But the problem occurs when sufficiently high-scrupulosity people try to take (some forms of) utilitarianism seriously. As seen above, where someone wonders, “but even if I completely ruin my own life, it’s still a net gain if I’m still saving additional lives on the margin, right?” That is a different problem than, “should I give 10% of my income to charity?”

            On the other hand, the apparent existence of people who benefit from Ayn Rand insofar as it is the first time they are exposed to the idea that they’re allowed to care about their own welfare implies that a smaller-scale version of such pathological selflessness is not unheard of in abusive/dysfunctional households.

            And in non-abusive contexts, the entirely mainstream position that views somebody who sacrifices all of their own welfare for the sake of helping others as (sometimes literally) a saint, and that everybody else just doesn’t care as much, can easily be construed as being in favor of radical selflessness to somebody who takes seriously the idea that they should be as good as possible.

          • blacktrance says:

            I haven’t read all of those links, but I’ve read several of them, and they mainly focus on earning to give vs other forms of charity, as opposed to giving to charity vs not giving, i.e. they focus on the “effective” part of effective altruism, rather than on the “altruism” part.

          • Wirehead Wannabe says:

            AR+ I gather that you are not a utilitarian then? Or perhaps not even a moral realist?

      • Noah Siegel says:

        Right, which is the point of establishing this Shelling Fence to keep yourself out of the pit.

    • Deiseach says:

      If you are commanded to “love your neighbour as yourself”, then you must love yourself. If you make yourself lonely, sick, miserable and wretched in your effort to maximise your giving to charity, you are abusing yourself for no good end.

      Particularly for the scrupulous, this is all too present a temptation, and they should avoid it. Most of us are all too willing to go easy on ourselves, so we need the kind of kick in the rump that St Teresa of Avila advises: “Be gentle to others and stern to yourself”.

      For the scrupulous, they need her other advice; there are various versions of the anecdote, but basically she got a meal of partridge and was rebuked by another nun for enjoying it (because the Carmelites are an ascetic order), and her reply was “There is a time for penance, and a time for partridge” (I’ve also seen it as “When partridges are in season, eat partridge”).

      Also, at recreation time in the convent, she would dance accompanying herself on the castanets (she was Spanish).

      So for the scrupulous, when you’ve earned and given to charity – dance. Eat partridge. The point of charity is love, not self-mortification.

    • One can still be a utilitarian and not give to charity

    • Athrelon says:

      “When that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away’ (1 Cor 13:10). The idea of reaching ‘a good life’ without Christ is based on a double error. Firstly, we cannot do it; and secondly, in setting up ‘a good life’ as our final goal, we have missed the very point of our existence. Morality is a mountain which we cannot climb by our own efforts; and if we could we should only perish in the ice and unbreathable air of the summit, lacking those wings with which the rest of the journey has to he accomplished. For it is from there that the real ascent begins. The ropes and axes are ‘done away’ and the rest is a matter of flying.”

      LCS Lewis could write stuff like this, and while it doesn’t solve all problems around religious over scrupulosity (just ask poor Martin Luther, it seems to have helped.

      We have atheist versions of original sin: “original irrationality,” “original privilege.” Atheists however haven’t ported over a stable, non millenial version of salvation. Cryonics used to be a much stronger ingroup signal for rationalists, and though it had downsides it also had an effect in cutting off scrupulousness spirals that one is not rational enough. (it also had a minor benefit in tying status to something requiring a small amount of money and getting things done ability, not just superficial rhetorical skills.)

      It’s also well worth keeping in mind that some memeplexes may be inherently unfriendly to human flourishing, despite all their nice sounding surface appearances. Especially if they have an incentive to spread horizontally (childstealer memes) or a strong incentive to extract maximum possible resources/money/time from their hosts.

      To be clear I don’t think EA is particularly evil aside form the sorts of evil generic to horizontally transmitted memes. But it seems at minimum a very immature memeplex if it is sending people into catatonic moral distressdistress rather than making them more functional and actually doing good. On the sinister side, sending people into scrupulousness spirals could however be valuable for the memeplex if they act as strong repeaters for the memeplex themselves (eg by writing persuasive pro EA blog posts to try to work through the pain). In that case they are not just collateral damage but actively valuable and perhaps the most high value hosts for the memeplex.

    • Drew says:

      The second claim is that it’s a bad idea to focus too much on charity for some reason that’s unclear to me.

      Some advice is optimized for ‘perfect use’. You’re right that, with perfect compliance, telling people to give 50% of their income will do more good than telling them 10%.

      Other adivce is designed for ‘typical use’. We give it to people and they might or might not follow it.

      Scott is solving the problem that people get paralyzed by bottomless pits. In practice, the majority of us find excuses to stop thinking about the whole thing. And so we don’t give.

      It looks a lot like my problems around fitness. I decide I want to look better. So I read a ton of books. Then I realize that the ‘best’ answer is to spend 8+ hours a day in the gym and eat nothing but chicken and broccoli. I don’t want to do that, so I end up going back to my couch.

      A personal trainer would probably tell me to stop thinking so much, get off my ass and go for a walk. Long run, the trainer’s adice is less optimal, but way more likely to get taken. So, it’ll do more societal good than my ‘perfect’ answer.

      The 10% set up to solve the same problem. Scott’s advocating it (and suggesting we do the same) in the hopes that it’ll hit a sweet spot in terms of chance that people will listen, and impact if they do.

    • Izaak Weiss says:

      Universability comes into play here, I think. If everyone gave all of their money to charity, everyone would be destitute and charities would give money to people only to receive the exact same amount minus basic living expenses in charitable donations. Not exactly a good world.

      If everyone gives 10% of their money to charity, insert what scott wrote in that post a couple weeks ago.

    • houseboatonstyx says:

      As for calculating ‘number of lives saved’, I sometimes wonder if there is any attempt to catch duplications. For example, suppose X’s life is saved by Foundation N’s net, then next month he is saved by Foundation V’s vaccination, etc. If each foundation counts him as one life saved, then their total ‘lives saved’ might add up to half a dozen or more lives per each person.

    • Nisan says:

      It’s telling that you label the self-sacrifice option “selfish”. Anyone advocating self-sacrifice has to deal with the fact that their argument applies equally well to themselves. Most people are at least a little selfish, and so don’t advocate 100% altruism.

    • haishan says:

      Bernard Williams’ integrity objection seems relevant:

      The point is that [the agent] is identified with his actions as flowing from projects or attitudes which… he takes seriously at the deepest level, as what his life is about… It is absurd to demand of such a man, when the sums come in from the utility network which the projects of others have in part determined, that he should just step aside from his own project and decision and acknowledge the decision which utilitarian calculation requires. It is to alienate him in a real sense from his actions and the source of his action in his own convictions. It is to make him into a channel between the input of everyone’s projects, including his own, and an output of optimific decision; but this is to neglect the extent to which his projects and his decisions have to be seen as the actions and decisions which flow from the projects and attitudes with which he is most closely identified. It is thus, in the most literal sense, an attack on his integrity.

  48. Kyle Strand says:

    Scott Alexander once broke Moloch’s back in an awesome wrestling move called “the lift to heaven”. He then went to Disneyland and told some children about Raikoth.

    … This was supposed to be a reply to the first comment, obviously.

  49. Sam says:

    This is complaining without offering any kind of useful solution, sorry!

    I’m getting rather frustrated with the comment software for long threads (e.g., on ‘Untitled’). Not having some kind of sort-by-time facility is really, really sucky for keeping track of an ongoing conversation—the 400 posts I’ve read are much less interesting than the 100 posted since I last looked, but all the latter are mixed in with the former and it’s hard to separate the two classes.

    My coping strategy is to ignore the comments for a few days and then read them, once and for all, in one big gulp; that, however, precludes actually commenting myself and taking part in the discussions. (Not that I regularly have anything interesting to say, but still.)

    I’m going to sound like a grumpy old fogey here, but Usenet readers solved these problems well twenty years ago; I haven’t found any kind of web-based software that’s anywhere near as good at conversation-management as mutt.

    • AR+ says:

      Well, if we’re complaining about the site then I will also throw in my ongoing disgust at the inability of blogs to use any space on my screen but the middle 1/3. This is bad enough as is but it stops being annoying and becomes belligerently poor design when combined w/ deeply threaded comments, so that long blocks of text are compressed into 2 inches of my 18 inch wide display.

      • Bakkot says:

        For this (the comments, anyway) I have made this bookmarklet.

      • Error says:

        The main body width is optimized for ease of reading, which is fine. The real trouble is that it’s conflating the logical structure of the thread with the physical text, e.g. indenting to indicate replies. This is a kludge to get around not having a newsreader-style separate header pane. A wider comment column doesn’t solve it because then you end up with the top-level comments so wide that they’re annoying to read.

        See all that empty space to the left? Seems to me that should really be used for showing reply structure and read/unread status, and let the comments themselves expand to a known good width.

    • Bakkot says:

      Do you happen to have Javascript or cookies disabled? Because if so you are probably missing the new comment highlight, which is intended to alleviate this problem.

      (Worth mentioning too is that this adds “~ new ~” to new comments [without the spaces – if I left them in it would be bad for people who are making use of said feature in this thread! just look to the right of the date on a comment with the highlight], rather subtly, so that you can search for that string to move through new comments in the order that they appear on the page.)

      • Sam says:

        Good shout—that’s definitely an improvement. Scrolling through long threads looking for green outlines is still going to be more painful than it should be, but… well, the web is hack upon hack. (Disabling Javascript is about the only thing that keeps some things usable at all!)

        • Bakkot says:

          You may have missed my edit (second paragraph of grandparent), which is designed to alleviate that problem.

        • Anonymous says:

          If you click on the [+] next to “X comments since” it expands to a clickable list of comments. You can also edit the time after “X comments since” and press enter to change what it considers a new comment.

    • Error says:

      You’re not the only grumpy old fogey here. My first reaction to just about any feature complaint about web discussion software is “yeah, this has been a solved problem for decades and only comes up because people insist on using the web browser as a swiss army chainsaw.”

      • DES3264 says:

        Alright, question from a young whipper snapper. Whenever I see internet discussions about the design of discussion boards, someone says “this was so much better on usenet”. How did this wonderful interface work, and why couldn’t it be implemented in a browser?

        • houseboatonstyx says:

          For one thing, Usenet was text only. No images, no formatting. Thus instant loading. Trying to emulate it in html would bog it down. Though Googlegroups’ html version seems to be improving; I’ll try to find a good sample.

          Usenet had quick toggles: indented/tree (like here), or by date, or by poster iirc. Split-screen panes were available, like a list of headers separate from the bodies. Security was none or invisible (except in a few moderated groups). Cross-posting between Groups was easy, though frowned on. Overall sort of a Wild West culture: all public property (except for a few), basically post anything anywhere.

        • Error says:

          Here’s a screenshot from my reader. In the lower left pane is a list of available groups (boards, I think most people would call them today). In the upper left pane is a list of posts in the currently selected group, organized by thread, and showing clearly the structure of the thread — who replied to whom. Some of those threads are currently collapsed to only show the initial post. In the right-hand pane is the content of the currently selected post. I’ve right-clicked on a post in the picture to demonstrate that the context menu contains things that I might actually want to do with a post, instead of things incidental to a web browser.

          Not shown, but critically important, is that anything I might want to do with a post can be done with a hotkey. If I want to get the next unread post, ‘n’ will do it, and the software will keep track of what I’ve read — that is, what I’ve actually read, rather than just what was on the page last time I reloaded it, like here.

          Also not shown, but even more critically important, is that the client is entirely separate from the service, and the service — that is, the mechanism by which post content is distributed — is entirely standardized and contains *only post content and metadata*. That means that if you don’t like the interface of your client, you can go find a client that you *do* like, with all the benefits of competition among developers that that state of affairs allows (I believe ‘mutt’, mentioned elsethread, runs entirely from a command console). Wheras if you don’t like something *here* — like, say, the way the blog software manages threads, or the way deeply nested posts get crammed against the right side of the center column — you’re stuck with it until Scott does something about it. And he only has so many hours in a day.

          People think they’re choosing a client when they pick IE or firefox or chrome or whatever. They’re not. The web browser is not your client; the blog and forum software it’s feeding you is. And you have little to no control over that beyond what the host takes the time to give you.

          As for why it can’t be implemented in a browser: There are two pain points. One is that the browser has its own conflicting behavior for commonly used functions (e.g. context menus, hotkeys) and I’m not sure to what extent you can get around these, and even if you could you would not have access to native operating system widgets. The other is that even if you wrote forum software that looked and behaved like usenet, it does you no good if nothing will talk to it; you, the user, can’t set it up unless the blog or discussion board host does. This problem is inherent in paradigms that distribute post content mixed with user-interface chrome, as modern blog and forum software does.

  50. AR+ says:

    I sometimes think, “this would be good to bring up in the next SSC open thread!” But then I don’t remember what it was when the next thread comes around. I should probably write those down, but I haven’t been. So instead I’ll bring up something I saw an hour ago:

    A response to Ozy’s joking description of neurotypicalness as a mental disorder pointed out that there are only 256,779 registered voters in the state of Wyoming, that US states are actually pretty powerful, and there’s nothing that can legally stop a big enough American group from taking over the electorate of a state if enough of them just move there and start voting. (Presumably Wyoming was selected as the example because it’s the least populated state. Guam is less populated but WAY smaller, so you’d get natives upset about gentrification or whatever if you moved hundreds of thousands of people there.)

    So who is part of an American ideological minority that might want to take over Wyoming and has about 300,000 franchised members who can afford to move? Even if it’s people I don’t like I’d want to give them the idea just to see what happens if they try.

    This also made me wonder: 300,000 is way too many people for, like, rationalists to take over. However, it also turns out that founding your own city isn’t all that hard if you just buy a bunch of unincorporated land somewhere and live on it. So if everyone here moved to undeveloped land in Wyoming, what would that city be like? I predict solely on the basis of my own preferences that we might try instituting town-wide minimum building heights. I hate commuting and when I read about a town (I think in Greenland) in which everyone lives and pretty much everything is available in the same building, I thought, “that sounds really convenient.” Since this is the sort of place where people eat Mealsquares I suspect some of you will agree.

    • I_need_an_ssc_handle says:

      There is a libertarian project to try to move 20,000 libertarians to New Hampshire. It’s called the Free State Project.

    • Anonymous says:

      an obvious place to write them down is the old open thread

      • Nick says:

        This was me.

      • AR+ says:

        Reading that makes me want to see a Catholic take-over of Wyoming attempted at the same time as an Ozy-led neuro-aytpical takeover. Good time to own a popcorn stand in Colorado.

        • Nick says:

          Given the subset of Catholics fond of this idea, I think they’d have a hard time picking sides.

        • haishan says:

          Watching the reactionaries, the left-liberals, and the SJWs all try to get along in SSCtowne would be entertaining enough.

      • Anonymous says:

        The biggest problem with the hostile state takeover concept is that small states (i.e. the only ones that could be feasible taken over) are generally less able to resist the federal government’s decrees, not more. Big states like California or Texas can always pull the “fuck you we have electoral college votes” card; small states can’t.

    • Anonymous says:

      “I predict solely on the basis of my own preferences that we might try instituting town-wide minimum building heights. I hate commuting and when I read about a town (I think in Greenland) in which everyone lives and pretty much everything is available in the same building, I thought, “that sounds really convenient.””

      HA! They all said I was mad! They all said that my Dunbar number adjusted apartment building as tribes world could never work! I am justified in my world building!

      • Lavendar Bubble Tea says:

        The apartment building dreaming and scheming anon was me. I forgot to fill out my info.

      • Anonymous says:

        > They all said that my Dunbar number adjusted apartment building as tribes world could never work!

        They obviously never experienced a college dorm.

        • Anonymous says:

          I think college dorms are a good COUNTER to my dream in full honesty.

          • nydwracu says:

            I hear college dorms are great when they’re actually selected for low thedish distance and so on.

          • Anonymous says:

            Many of my friends went to a well-known school which focused exclusively on their (broad) area of studies. The dorms seemed to me like a few hundred friendly acquaintances living together. I enjoyed my visits there. So as nydwracu says, it’s great if their interests overlap. Otherwise it’s just living in any other apartment building.

          • gattsuru says:

            nydwracu, large fraternities and sororities sound almost exactly like that, complete with rituals and embarrassing entry costs.

            There are not well-known for being particularly stable nor productive for all but a minority of their members, and that’s before we approach the question of external costs.

            I’m not convinced there’s an effective enough hazing to overcome human tendencies toward power amalgamation and the resulting in-fighting. Even structures built to handle these effects are regularly compromised: naive attempts almost always find themselves vulnerable to and subject to collapse.

        • TheAncientGeek says:

          A traditional oxbridge college is a better example of combining work and residence, although they tend to be above the Dunbar number.

      • Jaskologist says:

        Don’t forget about the great Kowloon Walled City.

      • AR+ says:

        Also I think an urban downtown in the middle of open Wyoming fields would look cool. Nice contrast to normal American sprawl. Reminds me of the idea that if people who lived out in forests did it for the nature, then the logical best way to maximize the amount of undisturbed nature around them for a given number of people would be w/ widely spaced apartment buildings, rather than single family homes.

        • Obligatory link to dath ilan. Which ends up connecting to the above thread on Georgism, since dath ilan operates on land value taxes in order to make this work.

        • Anonymous says:

          Check out smaller cities in Europe — many of these are zoned to balance density and ruralness.

          Also large apartment blocks in Russia springing up for the purpose of providing labor to a nearby industrial source. But those aren’t very aesthetically-pleasing examples.

      • Shenpen says:

        It wouldn’t – people live in apartments all over the world and the general experience is LESS social contact, not more.

        I actually suffer from this. We live in an apartment house in Vienna, Austria, for 3 years now, and never talked 1 minute with a neighbor, never shared a beer or coffee, hardly even greetings just nods. I feel very isolated.

        Although I was never in America, I yearn for the Desperate Housewives style suburbian communality where people actually care about talking with neighbors. Where they greet newly moving on people with cakes instead of with a sour face thinking “another fucker is clogging the elevator with their furniture, I need to take the stairs, fuck”.

        Generally speaking where only a handful of people live with a comfortable distance from each other, they find each other interesting and they socialize, where there are too many people and too close and can hear each others babies cry during the night, they find each other annoying and don’t socialize.

        • houseboatonstyx says:

          In the suburbs, people talk across fences, see each other taking walks, etc. Stepping into, or waving someone else into, a front yard is easy, and you’re not obligating yourself to listen until they’re tired of talking. Plenty of pleasant areas to stop and talk in, on more or less neutral territory, so there’s not a host/guest relationship with its many rules and expectations.

    • Jared says:

      I think that having a dense city is pretty natural. It’s things like zoning and certain building regulations that cause so much suburban sprawl.

      • Shenpen says:

        Nope. Europe has dense cities because the continent is full, because there is no empty land around cities, only villages, towns, thus cities can only spread by incorporating sleeping towns. Often, they don’t do this – so cities do spread, but unofficially, St. Pölkten doesn’t become a part of Vienna but people move out to there and commute from there anyway. America has sprawl because there is a lot of cheap empty land around the cities, an when the developers build on it, they get incorporated into the city because there is no local council to resist incorporation.

        The result is still pretty much the same, it just doesn’ show up on the map. You look at a European map and see a not-so-sprawly city and villages/towns around it, in reality, they are part of the city, just not officially.

        Vienna makes it semi-official: every town the S-Bahn goes to is part of the unofficial city, people commute from there: http://www.viennapartment.eu/system/images/3/original/800px-S-Bahn_Wien.png

        Same for Paris and the RER network. Everywhere it goes, is practically Paris, just not officially.

        So, due to historical reasons, Europe just makes its sprawl unofficial.

  51. Brandon Berg says:

    It seems to me that the most plausible candidate for a late filter is an engineered plague. It seems plausible that it will one day be possible to engineer a bacterium, virus, or nanobot that stays asymptomatic long enough to spread itself around and then goes nuts and kills the host. I don’t see how we’re not doomed when it becomes possible for one person or a small team to pull this off. Given enough time, it seems virtually certain that someone will do it.

    • Good Burning Plastic says:

      For a value of “virtually certain” comparable or larger than say 1 minus 1e-12?

      • Lambert says:

        I would argue that the probability of survival must be far below 1/1,000,000 in order to stand a chance of wiping out humanity. Some people would probably have some kind of immunity, not to mention tribes in the Amazon etc. The late John McCarthy (inventor of Lisp) was also optimistic about the ability of mankind to survive X-risk type events. http://www-formal.stanford.edu/jmc/index.html

    • This scenario almost became impossible in the twentieth century for humans. Given Project Orion and a bit less radiation phobia on the part of the dominant power on the planet at the time, we could have had millions of people in colonies in orbit, on the moon, and on Mars, and that makes a pathogen have to have a decades-long incubation to be sure of infecting mostly everyone. Any filter that’s ahead of us needs to reliably sterilize the whole solar system as of 2000.

      • The past 52 years of space travel might have gone differently if Project Orion hadn’t died, but that much different? To the point of having self-sufficient space colonies of millions of people, including on a planet that we haven’t even been to yet? I doubt that’s less than 52 years away now; it certainly wasn’t 52 years away in 1963.

        • I agree that with current technology, it would take longer than fifty years to get to that point right now, unless we used Orion to get to LEO.

          What I’m really saying is that to be a plausible candidate for the Great Filter, basement pathogens and similar things need to be quite likely before the civilization in question has had a chance to spread civilization-bearing seeds to other planets. In the only case we actually know of, such things were at least 50 years behind nuclear launch technologies, and it seems only cultural accident that we didn’t tolerate continued airburst nuclear explosions for decades longer than we did.

          Once you’re two or three decades past the first nuclear bomb, any plausible Great Filter has to wipe out everyone in your solar system.

  52. Alexander Stanislaw says:

    I’ve previously believed that subsidies of certain crops in the US has at least partially been responsible for the poor American diet. Because grains and sugar are subsidized, the price of processed and unhealthy foods (such as things made with white flour and corn) is lower and people eat more of them.

    This website disputes this arguing that farm subsidies do not affect the quantities of commodity goods produced. This seems like Deep Magic to me, since we could remove the subsidies, end up richer and have just as cheap grains. They argue that the reason for this is that small and medium sized farmers shoulder the entire cost of removing the subsidy and could go out of business. But in that case, if farmers go out of business (or switch to some other crop), then prices should eventually rise. So do farm subsidies make the subsidized food cheaper or not?

    I’m well aware they are not an unbiased source, but I wasn’t even aware there was an opposition to the view that unhealthy foods are made cheaper by subsidies, and I’d like to know if it has any merit.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      Sugar is not significantly subsidized in America, unless you mean corn syrup. On the contrary, imported sugar is subject to tremendous tariffs. Until about 2000, it was 4x as expensive in America as out. Soda switched to corn syrup in 1980 because it was cheaper than sugar, but it was only cheaper in America. (If the price differential were solely due to subsidies, it would be international and they would use corn syrup everywhere.) But when Brazil demanded that cars run on sugar, the price shot up. So maybe the rest of the world will switch to corn syrup.

      The overview you link to only claims that farming is volatile and slow to adjust production in response to subsidies, not that subsidies have no effect.

      • Alexander Stanislaw says:

        Thanks, I was aware of the sugar tariffs, I think I meant to write corn syrup but I had a lapse in memory there.

    • Alex Godofsky says:

      So, if there were no marginal farmland in the world – if 100% of our land were deeply profitable – then it would be true that a subsidy has no effect on quantity (nor price, in fact – it would purely be a transfer into the pockets of farmers). How such a situation would obtain is a curious question. In reality, there is marginal farmland that would not be worth cultivating absent a subsidy. This is pretty much guaranteed to be true because of the price mechanism – in the first hypothesized world, farmers compete by reducing prices until we arrive at the second.

      So yeah, a subsidy definitely changes the quantity produced and their argument doesn’t really seem to have a lot of internal logic.

      I’m well aware they are not an unbiased source, but I wasn’t even aware there was an opposition to the view that unhealthy foods are made cheaper by subsidies, and I’d like to know if it has any merit.

      While accusations that people are corporate shills are usually overblown, in this case I think it’s accurate. The linked report reads exactly like the sort of hand-wavy economics that industry groups trot out when they’re worried real cuts to the farm subsidies could happen.

      For example, this story the report tells just doesn’t make sense:

      When prices drop so low that farmers are unable to
      remain in business, they generally sell their farms to another producer, leading to increasing concentration of farmland in the hands of larger agribusinesses, and to continued overproduction.

      Note that they are basically equivocating here. They never go on to claim that the larger agribusinesses are themselves doomed; rather, we’re now supposed to realize that the system is bad because economies of scale lead to Big Farm eating Small Farm. That’s not the story they sold us on in the beginning.

      This shift is even more explicit a few more paragraphs in:

      Together, these policies helped to keep overproduction in check and to reduce commodity price volatility, functioning much like a minimum wage for farmers.

      So we want to reduce Farmer Income Inequality with a Farmer Minimum Wage. Leaving aside the question of whether the farm subsidies actually do this (spoiler: they don’t) it’s a very different solution to a very different problem than we were originally presented.

      Your logic is completely correct; the reason they avoid it is because they stop with their own reasoning at the point that the Big Farm takes over, at which point they switch narratives.

  53. Anonymous says:

    I thought I’d continue the thread of conversation from the previous links post and see if anyone wanted to critique my okcupid profile:


    • Anonymous says:

      Maybe a different photo? Kind of blurry, zoomed out.

    • anon says:

      Your photos are cute.

      Your profile text needs work. Here are some translations into English:

      “I am really good at holding my liquor” means “I am an alcoholic”.

      “My favorite books include Ender’s Game and Where the Red Fern Grows” means “I am fourteen years old, tops, or at least that’s the last time I read a book”

      “I think about all the things, pretty much” means “I have never had an original thought in my life”

      “I’m actually not as nerdy as I might seem (well, that’s not true, I’m exactly as nerdy as I seem)” means “I’m not comfortable with how nerdy I am”. Your first two photos say this too — you are taking a pose of apology.

      “I do physics, theoretically” means “I will never have a job that pays real money, because I don’t care about the one thing I’m supposed to be good at.”

      You should add some more text about what you actually do with your time, what you are idealistic about, what your achievements are, etc.

      • Anonymous says:

        It’s *astounding* how much I can be bothered by criticism even when I specifically asked for it.

        For what it’s worth I’ve read both Ender’s Game and Where the Red Fern Grows multiple times since I was 14.

        I’ll take all this into consideration though, thanks 🙂

        • 27chaos says:

          Keep in mind that you can’t win them all. Don’t optimize too much for that specific commenter. IMO, although they have a couple legitimate points, they are mostly being too critical. So you might want to think less about avoiding bad impressions in the median person and more about creating good ones within a subset of people.

          Relevant: http://lesswrong.com/lw/63i/rational_romantic_relationships_part_1/

          In that spirit, here are the things about your profile that struck me as especially good:

          1. You use an informal tone, and your profile doesn’t feel overly fake to me. In a couple specific spots your wording was odd, but having such problem spots indicates (at least to my mind) that you were being genuine/confident when writing the profile. Having a perfectly polished profile is a sign of desperation (this is not to say that you should not try to make your profile pretty good – I’d suggest you aim for 90% perfect).

          2. You’re tall. Girls love tall.

          3. You’re from Nova Scotia. I would suggest you consider playing this up a tiny bit more? I know nothing about Nova Scotia, and presumably most girls won’t either. That makes it interesting, and it’s something that can help you distinguish your brand of “tall sarcastic geeky guy” from all the similar brands out there.

          4. “Tall sarcastic geeky guy” is actually a commonly liked personality. While it’s important you distinguish yourself from others in the same category, the overall stereotype will be useful to you as it will help women to detect an attractive bit of familiarity in your personality.

          Take these things that are good, then, and either try to make them better or try to avoid ruining them when implementing other changes.

          As far as criticism goes, I’d say that you meander a fair amount. You need to be bolder and more direct, even as your tone remains casual. There is some vagueness in some of your answers, I’d recommend fixing those with more specificity. The other thing that made me feel your profile meandered was that you went from discussing physics to mentioning the Simpsons to talking about kissing to mentioning physics again. It’s hard to get an overall sense of who you are from those things, it runs slightly counter to some stereotypes so it’s not clear how they all interact and connect to create a cohesive personality. If you can take those disparate parts and form some kind of simplified narrative from them, your profile will be more compelling.

        • Kaminiwa says:

          I’m female and mention Ender’s Game on my profile. The thing is, I also have some more recent reading on there 🙂

          That said, I’m also a lesbian, so people are inclined to assume I enjoy the story, not the author’s politics.

        • anon says:

          That’s because I phrased it in the rudest way possible. I apologize for being an asshole.

          27chaos’s advice is way more useful than anything I said: “think less about avoiding bad impressions in the median person and more about creating good ones within a subset of people.”

    • im a gril btw says:

      “I’m like this strange”
      Don’t use “like” in this manner. And don’t be so self effacing. If you think physics is cool let that show.

    • Im also a girl, btw says:

      Thumbnail needs to be a close-up of your face, NOT a body shot.

      Ditto that “holding my liquor” reads as “alcoholic”, especially when paired with “Scotch” as a thing you can’t live without and “Drinks often”…and you get “WICKED DRUNK” weekly/biweekly… Yup, I actually think you’re an alcoholic, and would run far away. Leave it if you’re looking for a party girl/ to get laid, but you’re probably scaring most women away (possibly for good reason).

      Profile is too short. Wouldn’t give me enough to work off of to see if I was interested.

      I personally stay far away from people whose “looking for” age ranges are as skewed as yours (you’re looking for a 20 year old, who is in a completely different stage of life… but not a 31 year old, who would only be 3 years older than you? Either you’re insanely immature yourself or are looking for arm candy more than a relationship. NOPENOPENOPE

      • AR+ says:

        Funny, I was looking to hopefully get a girlfriend while going back to college this fall at the age of 27. I don’t see any good reason why I should give up on getting an 18-22 year old girlfriend just because I haven’t managed it yet. Growth mindset, and all that.

        Though insofar as your advice consists of, “make your preference for young women LESS OBVIOUS or people will think you’re a creep,” then yeah, that makes sense.

        • James says:

          Your comment seems to imply that having an 18-22 year-old girlfriend is self-evidently a good thing worth aspiring to. Do you mean this, or am I misreading a bit? I ask because I’m close to 27, even a touch younger, and the prospect of dating an 18 year-old girl seems incredibly weird/alien to me – I imagine it as more boring and awkward than enticing. (Then again, maybe you didn’t mean that. I suppose you might just have meant you’re hoping to get a girlfriend even while in an environment where any female peers would necessarily be 18-22.)

          Just curious.

        • Deiseach says:

          I was looking to hopefully get a girlfriend while going back to college this fall at the age of 27

          Okay. The problem here? You’re going back to college. An 18 year old is going to college for the first time. Differences in experience here are going to be very large, larger than you might think. For better or worse, you have an idea how the whole system works which she won’t. This does create an imbalance.

          22 isn’t so bad, as they’ll be finishing their primary degree. But again, people your age will be getting additional qualifications to their primary degree. Like it or lump it, you are on the ‘tutor/teacher/professor’ side of the gap.

          Even if this is your first time ever going to college (and I think not, by the use of “back”), there’s an six to nine year age gap between you and your potential dates. I’m nine years older than my youngest sibling; believe me, no way would I ever have considered any of his friends potential dates (even were I interested in dating). It’s worse at these ranges (18 versus 28) than it would be later in life (24 versus 32 or 30 versus 38) because women in an older range would have more experience and more commonalty.

          I see your logic that “I’m going back to college, the women I’m going to be meeting are all in the range 18-22, that should be my target pool”. And you’re only looking for “girlfriend for right now, nothing more”.

          So be very upfront about that: you want a potential date/girlfriend in an age range six to eight years younger than you because you’re only looking for a temporary thing and basically this is practice for when you’re going back to college.

          Otherwise, it can come off as vaguely creepy (‘Why is he looking for girls ten years younger than him? Is it because he’s such a failure with women his own age? Has he a moe fetish?’)

          • AR+ says:

            Some of what you’re saying makes me suspect that you think I’m the anon in the profile. To clarify, I’m not (for one, Anon is 28, not 27 :p ). I was just responding to the claim that a 28 yo dating a 20 yo is creepy given that almost all the women I’ll be around are soon going to be 18-22.

          • Error says:

            > Has he a moe fetish?

            Now I suddenly have to ask: What’s a non-creepy profile for someone who actually does have a moe fetish?

            (not my thing, and I don’t even use OKC, but the thought jumped to mind in response)

    • I think the biggest issue I can see is that you’re trying to sell yourself as “intellectually curious” and “think[ing] about all the things”, but you don’t actually offer any concrete details to back that up. For example, your favorite books and movies are pretty standard and middlebrow (no offense, mine probably are too), and when you say “I’m not sure who it was – possibly Batman”, you’re signaling non-intellectuality. If you really are intellectually curious and spend a lot of time thinking, then I would try to accentuate this more, and write more about what interests you specifically.

      Overall the impression I get of you is a somewhat meek, friendly, unassuming, nerdy-but-not-too-nerdy, pretty normal, fairly intelligent guy. If this isn’t how you want to portray yourself, you might want to think about revising some things.

    • Some Girl says:

      Here are comments. (Caveat that you’re not my type, so you may not want to take my advice.)

      Your profile doesn’t seem specific enough. Like another commenter said, it’s hard to distinguish you from any other “tall sarcastic geeky guy”, just based on what you’ve written. There’s nothing that says “wow, this guy is different from the rest, and uniquely suited to me”.

      But again, you’re not my type. To me the witty comments seem overly self-deprecating, and like you’re using humor to deflect any actual attempt to learn who you are. If you messaged me, I would pass up your profile as way too short. (But don’t take me too seriously, since people pass up my profile as too serious and too long. 🙂 )

      Other comments: tall is awesome. And you might want to fill in some more of the details on the right; no answer for “offspring” is a huge red flag and I’d be hesitant to talk to anyone who didn’t answer that.

    • James says:

      General speculation prompted by other commentators saying that prefosterous’ profile errs too far towards self-deprecation: I think ‘too self-deprecating’ is a really common failure mode for (at least male) OKCupid profiles. (It was definitely a problem with the first few iterations of mine.)

      I think it stems from a double-bind whereby we know we ought to ‘sell ourselves’, but that describing oneself as higher-status than one feels oneself to actually be feels somehow very wrong. (That pesky status-modulation subsystem of the brain thwarting unjustified grabs for status again?) From the inside, I think it feels a bit like “I can’t write like that – it’s horribly, off-puttingly arrogant! That couldn’t appeal to anyone.”

      So we try to defuse the issue by writing self-deprecatingly but wryly, a sort of plausible deniability measure allowing one to have one’s cake and eat it. But I don’t think it works: I suspect that what is intended as ‘charming modesty’ signals, perhaps accurately, low status to the reader/prospective date.

      I’m not totally sure how, but I eventually managed to evade this trap and write an acceptably positive profile. I suspect this was done partly by rewriting until I found a way to phrase positive things without triggering that “too-arrogant” reaction (no small labour, believe me – it’s a tough balance, but it is possible!), partly by just ignoring that little voice telling me to self-deprecate, and perhaps partly because over the last few years I’ve just actually become more comfortable about projecting high status in general.

      • Matthew says:

        Useful self-deprecation is “I don’t take my virtues (which I have subtly made clear) too seriously.” In other words, countersignaling.

        Unhelpful self-deprecation is “I don’t have many virtues.”

        I have lot of the former in my profile, and it works just fine (~30 first dates in a bit over 2 years, and I’m really picky about whom I message).

    • Deiseach says:

      The “Apple Pi” photo is funny, but you’re right not to put it up as the first one. I’d say take another photo in the coat, but outdoors – why wear a coat inside? The one with your cousins is very good, but it might look a bit like “See? I can get women just fine!” if put up with no context. And the one with the child is cute, but again might look a bit manipulative (“See? I’m nice and sensitive, pick me!”)

      I’m like this strange, tall, skinny, sarcastic, intellectually curious, weirdly idealistic guy.

      So who is this guy you’re like, and where can I read his profile? No “I’m like” – either you are, or you aren’t. Please don’t tell me you’re strange or “weirdly” anything; I’m looking up the profiles of men I don’t know on a dating site and I really want to avoid anyone who might decide he wants to recreate Poe’s Berenice with me. Perhaps reword it to “I’m tall, skinny, intellectually curious, sarcastic but also idealistic.” Some people may like a touch of sarcasm, some people may be put off by it; putting it first before curiosity and idealism makes it sound like you value or see your sarcasm as a large part of your identity, and people may not want to be with someone they think will be constantly making cutting remarks about them, their friends, their family, their collection of plushies – pairing it with the idealism and in a lower place softens it. Also, it depends how much sarcasm you want in a potential date/new friend – a woman who has an acid tongue may see this, think “Ah great, a kindred spirit!” and your first date is her cutting the arse off everyone and everything which may clash if she picks on something that’s one of your ideals.

      Being Irish, I don’t mind a man who likes Scotch. American women may have a different attitude about drink, though.

      I’m too old to give you any helpful advice; I was looking at your profile and going “My God, he’s young” and you’re 28 🙂

      • houseboatonstyx says:

        I’m like this strange, tall, skinny, sarcastic, intellectually curious, weirdly idealistic guy.

        I’m not in the real life romance pool, so to speak. But as a fiction writer I think this version is much, much better than Deiseach’s.

        Your “I’m like this” sets the emotional tone, we know what kind of person this is and what level he’d prefer to meet at. It also softens the following adjectives. The “tall, skinny, sarcastic, intellectually curious, weirdly idealistic” are in just the right order: it’s the order in which a new acquaintance would learn them! Appearance first, then attitude when talking superficially, then what would be apparent only after some slightly more serious talk, then perhaps after a few dates the “weirdly idealistic” would have occasion to be shown. The “weirdly” is perfect there: it echoes/bookends the “strange”, and indicates how the idealism fits with the sarcasm, and overall shows that the idealism isn’t going to be heavy at all times, but will be there for a companion to rely on if a difficult occasion arises.

        How deliberately did you compose this?

        • Anonymous` says:

          I vote for Deiseach’s version; the “I’m like this” is offputtingly underconfident.

        • Deiseach says:

          Chacun à son goût; thinking back to 20s me, I’d have skipped a profile that started “I’m like this…” with “Come back when you can write proper English” 🙂

        • 27chaos says:

          I prefer this version also, FWIW. But, not a girl.

          • Matthew says:

            Ooh, threads like this are fun for finding out which pseudonymous commenters I’ve been guessing wrong when mentally gendering the voice I read their comments in.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            Do you mean the one I liked, or the one Deiseach suggested?

            Was a girl … er, still cis, just older. Married a guy like that sentence, dunno anything else about this poster.

      • Matthew says:

        I don’t mean this to sound overly hostile, but isn’t taking advice about finding romance from you sort of like asking a militant vegetarian how I should order a steak? You’ve explicitly argued that romance is a bad thing before!

        • Anonymous says:


          • Deiseach says:

            Boom, boom, Basil Brush 🙂

            At least I’m the example of how not to do it. And it’s not that I think romance is necessarily bad, just that people who let a romantic notion lead them into making bad decisions and who put a notional fulfilment of “But I’m in looooove” over the harm they do to themselves/others need a smack in the face with a wet haddock.

    • Anonymous says:

      Ok, disclaimer: I am female, but just out of your age range, and only 77% okcupid compatible

      what’s good:
      -your username is cool
      -you have a “voice” in your writing, and you sound funny and fun, and it would make me want to hang out with you. You just have a nice way with words, basically.
      -You’re in grad school, that’s a fine thing to be doing and you are basically certified smart
      -So, I would leave your books the way they are. I like that your favorites lists are short enough that people will actually read them and I really like that they are obviously honest. I haven’t read Where the Red Fern Grows since I was eleven and I remember it vividly; it’s an intense book.
      -I laughed at the Batman thing – I don’t see how anyone could seriously think you don’t know who actually said it
      -you are very cute!

      Things I think could be better:
      -Not a great picture. I like the apple pi picture. It’s funny, it has personality, you still look cute in it, even though part of your face is blocked – if it was your only picture, that would be bad, but if people can click through to see your whole face, I don’t think it’s weird. When you hover, the first three pictures show, so those should be the best. In my opinion, your best current photos are the apple pi one because it is awesome, the one with your cousins because it is a particularly good picture of you, and maybe the blue tie because it has good lighting?
      -Your age range *is* skewed and that does make some women less likely to respond to/message a guy (myself included). If it’s honest then it is what it is, but if you didn’t think about it very hard, I would try to have an age range for which your age is in the middle.
      -You haven’t answered that many questions – answering more questions will make your matches better (as in, I believe that number of questions answered is related to the highest match number it is possible for you to have with someone). I recommend looking for some profiles of people who appeal to you, going to their question tab, and answering the questions that they have answered that you have not.
      -“I’m like this” – you could probably lose the “like” and keep the tone
      -I like your “physics, theoretically”, but it would be kind of nice to have another sentence about what you work on more specifically, maybe with a wikipedia link to a relevant concept.
      -when it comes to smokes/drinks/drugs, answer all of them or none, and even then, ‘drinks often’ wouldn’t be a positive for a lot of people. Although, I have personal reasons for preferring to be around people who don’t drink very much, so I think I’m biased on this – but it does seem like drinking comes up too many times and I would at least remove the ‘holding your liquor’ part
      -You say that you are looking for friends/short term dating – if getting into a relationship with someone is a possibility I would really include that

      Unrelated to online dating, if you’re in grad school, there are probably clubs and things, and the undergrad groups are usually open to grad students as well, so if you haven’t looked at those, joining a couple that interest you is a way to potentially meet a bunch of people you have things in common with who even presumably live really nearby 😛

      • Deiseach says:

        Good points – if your reaction to “Would you be interested in a woman aged 34?” is “Ugh, no!”, then why? That’s the same gap as between you and a 22 year old 🙂

        Think about how that comes across if it were the reverse (you saw profiles of women in their mid to late thirties looking for men your age or younger).

        • nydwracu says:

          The age thing doesn’t reverse so cleanly. I once knew someone who freaked out when she found out that the guy she’d started dating was a year younger than she was.

          • Deiseach says:

            We could go into how society has mandated that the man should be the senior and the pursuer, and the woman should be the younger and the pursued.

            I don’t think a year’s difference either way is a big deal. Eight to ten years is more of a gap that needs bridging, and I do think that we accept a gap in age where the man (in general) is older much more easily than where the woman is the older partner.

          • Anonymous says:

            YMMV, but it reverses cleanly enough for me (though I am realistic about my chances here).

          • Anonymous says:

            Only once?

            The old range is much more realistic than the new range, but I’m not sure he should make realistic statements.

        • Brandon Berg says:

          I don’t know why I would have a problem with that. I mean, I have no interest in older women, and I don’t think most other men do, either, but if they want to try for it, more power to them. And if I actually were interested in older women, I wouldn’t hold the fact that they were inserted in men my age against them.

    • Anonymous says:

      If “Goedel Escher Bach” is really one of your favourite books then you might at least do it the courtesy of getting the title right!

      • Nornagest says:

        “Goedel Escher Bach” might strike monolingual English-speakers as odd, but it is correct (modulo the commas): “oe” is the standard way of Anglicizing an ö.

        You’re probably better off just looking up the character code for that umlaut, though.

    • Linked List says:

      This comment thread convinced me that I’ll never be confident enough to make an OKCupid profile.

      • Matthew says:

        There’s no down side. It’s not like you could get less dates because of putting up a profile.

        • Linked List says:

          That’s not what I meant. Every time I put myself in front of a eating site trying to come up with a profile, I have to face the fact that I don’t have a personality or any kind of dating appeal. I honestly have nothing to put there, and I’d have to make something up, which would demand a serious level of salesmanship and self-confidence that I just don’t have.

          I also have the irrational fear that someone I know is gonna find out that I have a profile on OKCupid. I don’t know why I find the thought so shameful. I think I alieve that normal people should be able to find girlfriends through normal means, like bars and parties, and online dating would out me as an abnormal, defective person (I know how offensive that is to people on OKC – I’m a douchebag, I know).

          • Brandon Berg says:

            Are you doubly-linked, or even better, circular? A lot of women are into that.

            If she asks you to help her prep for a coding interview, you’re golden.

      • John Schilling says:

        It seems to me that free-form written text composed at leisure for a broad audience, is the medium of communication most conducive to presenting self-confidence you do not in fact possess. Particularly if you have experienced, confident advisors critiquing your first draft.

        You’ll then need to back it up in person, of course, but hopefully a good first impression and the ego-boost of a desirable woman saying “yes” will help there.

    • jasticE says:


  54. haishan says:

    I know there are roughly 10^20 places on the Internets that already talk about this sort of thing, but I like the people here better than the people at those places. So:

    I want to actually keep a new year’s resolution for once in my life. However, I kind of suck at following through on this sort of thing. What can I do to improve my willpower, or get around my lack thereof? Has anyone found any successful life hacks that have helped them with this? (Obvious ones that have reached fixation do count, because I’m probably dumb enough not to do them.)

    • Eric Rall says:

      If you don’t already, consider observing Lent. It’s occurred to me that Lentan Fasts are very similar in concept to New Year’s Resolutions, in that both are Schelling Points for identifying things to change in your life at a set point each year, but the rules for Lent seem to be better designed for setting people up to succeed.

      Basically, you pick one or more vices to abstain from for a set period (Feb 18 – April 2 this year), with Sundays off. The one-day-off-a-week helps protect against willpower fatigue, and the structured 40-day time window gives you a planned end point so you can look forward to claiming victory.

      This year, your New Years Resolution could be to observe Lent this year. If you succeed, you could repeat it again next year, or you could use your success to build confidence for an attempt at a more traditional resolution.

      • Scott says:

        Other periods of time you could use as Schelling points are months and the signs of the zodiac.

        • fubarobfusco says:

          Then this summer you can do Ramadan.

          There’s a Muslim group at my Large Famous Former Workplace that encourages secular people to fast for Ramadan as a health & awareness-of-global-hunger thing.

    • This is a question much too big to answer right here in this thread, and one that is endlessly discussed on LessWrong. Look at the “akrasia” tag, for example. The post that will give you the most bang for your buck is probably this one.

    • 1) Don’t just make a resolution, sit down and plan out – at the granularity of the year, the next month, and next week – how you’re going to keep it, how you’ll keep on track, and how you’ll deal with lapses (unless it’s a resolution that fails if you lapse even once).

      2) Start using a planner (or just a normal notebook) to plan each day, and reflect on how/why you deviated from a plan, and how to fix the problem that caused it. This will bring most (if not all) aspects of your life to the notice of, and hopefully eventually under the control of, of your conscious self.

      • Deiseach says:

        Also (and this is important if we’re talking in the context of ‘observe Lent’, but applies outside of it as well), if/when you fail, and you’re reflecting on it, don’t immediately beat yourself up about how bad you are, how you obviously have no willpower or intention to do better, how you can’t succeed or keep this resolution so give it up right now and don’t bother.

        Okay, so you failed today. Was there a reason? A reasonable reason, not an excuse (“I wanted that bar of chocolate so much because I was stressed”)? Even if there is only an excuse (“I craved that chocolate goodness”) then okay, that was today.

        Tomorrow, start again. To pull out the Beckett quote:

        All of old. Nothing else ever. Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.

    • onyomi says:

      Freedom and Compassion’s ideas seem good. Besides that, I’ve seen a study showing that telling a lot of people about your resolution (once you’ve made it) actually decreases the probability it will succeed. Some people think it is a good idea because maybe friends and family will hold you accountable, but it seems that, in fact, the brain tends to interpret you telling a lot of people about something as, in some sense, already having accomplished it. Telling people you plan to do something actually functions as a kind of unburdening of the responsibility/attempt to gain the benefits (of praise and admiration from others) before doing the task.

      Don’t know if you would have told people about it, but this seems to be accurate in my experience. I am more likely to accomplish a goal I set for myself if I just quietly do it than if I announce my plans in an effort to get others to “keep me honest.” They won’t.

      • haishan says:

        I wonder if there’s a Laffer point at which telling N (=1 or 2?) people is useful but more is counterproductive. I worry that, if I don’t tell anyone about my resolution, the ghost of Wittgenstein will appear and threaten me with a poker and tell me that it’s not a resolution at all.

        If anyone can provide a reference to that study I’d very much like to read it. Or I can try to google-fu.

    • Shenpen says:

      Some ideas:

      1) After we repainted our apartment, we decided that we will only smoke outside, on the balcony, because it was a pain in the ass to repaint it every year or two. After 3 weeks, it would have felt weird to light up inside. A NEGATIVE, “don’t” resolution / new habit is not that hard, by not doing it for 3 weeks it you unwire the habit. Same for not eating chocolates, not drinking booze etc.

      2) POSITIVE, “do” resolutions are harder. If it is something to do at a set time every day (push-ups after getting up) it can easily become the same kind of habit, after 3 weeks it feels weird to get up and NOT do them. But when you decide that every Tu, Thu, and Sat you are going to a gym, THAT is a hard habit to make, because it is not automatic, you have to remind yourself “what day is it? Tuesday? what did I want to do? ah, gym”. Solution: start with a ligher version (push-ups after getting up for example) that you can do every day and make automatic, and maybe later on it gives you the push to do the big thing.

      3) the site chains.cc – life-changing, I have a link to it on the home screen of my tablet

      4) Expert literature recommends changing trigger – action – reward loops, like bored -> drink soda – > feel good to bored -> take a walk -> feel good, but this never worked to me and I suppose I don’t even understand how it should work? My bad habits don’t have triggers, don’t have rewards, they are merely automatic! I don’t stuff my face full because I am bored and like to feel full: I stuff my face full because there is still food left on the plate and I am in automatic feeding mode while my mind is somewhere else, until my fork finds nothing more on the plate which snaps me out of it.

    • Euqsirx says:

      I know a few people who’ve had success with precommitment devices such as Beeminder and StickK, so they may be worth trying.

  55. Have you looked into the recent problem of the site not pre-filling returning commenters’ names and emails? (Hence the reason for so many recent anonymous comments followed by an “Oops, that was me” reply from an established commenter.)

    EDIT: I’ve figured out what’s going wrong between the server and our browsers. The cookies which contain our names and emails are being sent with an expiration time of only three minutes after the comment is submitted. So if you come back more than three minutes after commenting, they’ll be expired and the fields won’t be pre-filled. Of course, I have no idea why the cookies are now set to expire after three minutes instead of something more sensible like two weeks.

    • Wirehead Wannabe says:

      While we’re discussing minor technical issues, are you aware that the facebook thumbnail image for your articles is a mealsquare?

      • Scott Alexander says:

        Yes. I could probably make it something different if I stuck a big picture somewhere on every page, but I don’t want to do that.

        • Charlie says:

          For in the night in which he wrote an article, he took a mealsquare; and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and gave it to his readers, and said, “Take, eat: This is my mealsquare which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”

          • Squirrel of Doom says:

            I don’t know how much control you have over the HTML here, but you can tell Facebook what image to show.

            Put something like this in the tag of the page:

            <meta property="og:image" content="https://slatestarcodex.com/fb_pic.png"&gt;

            More here.

          • Deiseach says:

            I feel that I probably shouldn’t be laughing at that (I have a very high view of the Eucharist) but I am, so congratulations 🙂

            See, this is how not to be an asshole when joking about religious subjects: be funny (and not merely “Ha, this will make the fundies froth at the mouth because they’re so unreasonable!”)

          • benluke says:

            “It is the test of a good religion whether you can joke about it.” – G. K. Chesterton

        • Squirrel of Doom says:

          I don’t know how much control you have over the HTML here, but you can tell Facebook what image to show.

          Put something like this in the tag of the page:

          More here.

        • It is possible to set a global thumbnail for your blog, so that articles without an embedded image will use that thumbnail. I think the book logo from within your header image would make a good thumbnail. If you want to set that up, I already put instructions in a previous email to you – search your email for my message that begins with “Looking at that page you linked”.

          In short: export a large square image file of the book logo. Then upload that file at Upload New Media. Finally, open functions.php and put the image’s URL on the line starting with $og_tags['og:image'].

          If it’s easier, you can email me a large version of whatever image you want as a thumbnail, and I will resize and upload the image and edit functions.php for you.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I don’t know anything about this blogging software, but if you tell me how to fix it I will.

      • Hmm. I’ll try to figure it out, but diagnosing a server-side problem from the outside tends to be difficult. Here’s what I’ve got; if any other commenters have expertise to contribute then please do so.

        The oldest “that was me” comment I was able to find was posted on December 24. Would that happen to be when the site was moved to a different host? If so, you might want to bring this comment thread to the attention of whoever did the move.

        A Google search did not find anyone else who has had this problem. Also, changing the expiration time of commenter cookies from the default (30000000 seconds, or a little under a year) requires writing custom code, so that setting is unlikely to have been changed from the default by accident.

      • Did you recently install any new plugins? If so, perhaps the new plugin mistakenly changes that setting. You could disable the plugin and ask commenters if that fixes the problem.

        I agree with Taymon that if you moved hosts close to when the problem started happening, you should contact them.

        If your host isn’t the problem, and you didn’t change your plugins recently, you could try working around the problem by installing the plugin configure-login-timeout and explicitly setting the expiration time to a long time. It would just be a workaround, but if it fixes the problem, it might be worth it.

        • That plugin deals with authentication cookies, not commenter cookies; it won’t fix this problem.

          This post talks about how to explicitly override the expiration time for commenter cookies. This, too, would be a workaround that might or might not actually fix it.

  56. onyomi says:

    I would like to propose a weaker corollary of the “no typical mind” principle: the “no typical mental state” (for a given individual) principle. That is, it is very difficult to accurately imagine what it was like or will be like to be in a different state of mind (mood, state of alertness/awareness, etc.) than one currently finds oneself in. Of course, there are memories to draw upon, but that only goes so far.

    I was reminded of it when I had the flu recently and again noticed how much being sick sucks, yet how difficult it is for me to remember exactly how much it sucks when I’m not sick.

    A stronger example: I took MDMA (ecstasy) once and experienced what seemed like a full bipolar cycle in the space of several hours. I recall when I was feeling super happy, I called someone late at night and got a wrong number. The person on the other end seemed understandably annoyed at being woken up by an unreasonably cheerful person, but I couldn’t, on some level, comprehend their annoyance or displeasure, as for me, at that moment, the world was beautiful and it made no sense to be annoyed by things.

    A few hours later, I crashed, and felt a bleak, dark depression of a depth I’d never known, and this coming from someone who’s suffered from significant degrees of depression before. What was especially frightening about this state was not the feeling of sadness, but the distinct feeling that I would never not be sad, that to not be sad was incomprehensible; that the world was obviously a cold, cruel place, etc. I was able to get over it, I suppose, by telling myself again and again that it was just a reaction to the drug, but I recall that at the time I not only couldn’t feel happy, I couldn’t even imagine what it might like to be happy.

    Now these may be extremes stimulated by chemicals, but I think maybe the same principle applies, to a lesser degree, to lesser, more normal fluctuations of mood and state of mind, such that even as a single individual, we may make a mistake if we assume we can accurately model the mind of “yesterday me” or “tomorrow me.”

    I’m not sure how accurate others will find this, or of its full implications, but at least one I can think of is to explain to people who say things like “how could Robin Williams commit suicide? So many people loved him! He seemed so happy! He had so much yet to live for! Couldn’t he see that?” And while I’m not trying to deny free will in such matters, I think it may also be important for people to understand that maybe, no, no he could not comprehend or imagine that he had a lot to make him happy when in the depths of a depression.

    • Anon says:

      Ironically, I’m pretty sure you’re typical-minding here. I’m actually pretty good at imagining what it will be like to be in different mental states (and have evidence to back this up; I don’t just think I’m good).

      That said, yes, one of the most striking and awful symptoms of depression, for many people, is finding it difficult to even imagine being happy.

      • Anonymous says:

        That’s pretty much the main thing that kept me going through depression.

        “Hey, remember when our neutral emotion was happy? Well, if we wait long enough and take good care of our body regression to the mean says it will eventually return to that state”.

        (Happily it did.)

        • Anonymous says:

          As a corollary, I think my empathy for people with negative emotions shot up after depression. I was always very sympathetic even when chronically happy, but I wasn’t really empathetic.

        • BD Sixsmith says:

          I think it can be useful to make notes regarding one’s mental states to prove to oneself that they were real experiences.

          It can be a blessing in the opposite direction: in good times they can remind one not to be complacent.

      • onyomi says:

        Well, it is certainly not meant to be an absolute, like “no one is good at doing this”; rather, just a general guideline along the lines of “it tends to be harder than you think,” or “you are probably not as good at it as you assume.”

        I would say I am decent at imagining what it would be like to be in a different mental state, but that most of that ability lies in the realm of logic and memory, not intuitive, organic feeling. Now, I can’t prove that I’m not atypical in this way, but I have decent reason to believe I’m also not at all alone: for example, I think most people are somewhat bad at having an accurate prior conception of how difficult it will be to do a scary thing–say, talk in front of a large group of people–before actually finding him/herself in that situation. If this were not true, one would not expect to encounter the phenomenon of “chickening out,” as people would know before the time came whether or not they would be able to handle it.

        • Anonymous says:

          You are now saying that people are bad at imagining emotional responses to novel situations. That is a much weaker claim than your previous claim that people are bad at imagining familiar emotions.

          • 27chaos says:

            I think you’re misreading something. I didn’t get that first claim out of their comment at all. Their position seems consistent.

    • Interesting articulation, and I have definitely thought about things like this before–and in less extreme circumstances. For example, I find it very hard to accurately compare different forms of mild pain. Does a sore throat hurt worse than a bad paper cut? I honestly can’t tell you, because I don’t clearly remember what either feels like when I don’t have them.

      But, I think there is still an over-generalization here. I would say that a “no typical mental state” principal would apply for a given person only in areas where they have not developed fully integrated mental models. (For most people, that leaves a lot of areas; but I still think it’s an important clarification, in part because it varies so much between people.)

      For example, I do not think I have a good mental model of what pain is and why it happens to me, so I am confused by my experience of pain and cannot accurately recall it. However, I have never experienced a time when “happiness” seemed like an abstract, impossible concept–in part because I lucked out on the genetic lottery of brain chemistry and don’t tends towards depression–but I think also in part because I have a much more integrated, complete framework of moods and my relation to them than I do to pain. When I am happy, and when I am sad, I am aware of those feelings as being important indicators of who I am and what I want and how I’m interacting with reality, but I am also aware of them as clearly distinct from reality. I’ve thought about my emotions deeply, in a way that I haven’t engaged pain (and plenty of other topics).

      • onyomi says:

        I don’t think it’s just the degree to which you’ve thought about pain; I think pain is notoriously difficult to imagine accurately when you’re not experiencing it. I think this may be a self-preservation thing: clear memories of pain are themselves painful, and can even cause all kinds of muscle tightness and dysfunction. Though this definitely happens, and is good in the sense of preventing us repeating things that caused pain, if our ability to remember pain were too great, it might make us excessively risk-averse and/or defeat the adaptive purpose of pain.

        One example that comes to mind–don’t know if this is typical–is my mother, who has given birth to three children without epidurals or similar says that the experience is, as one would imagine, quite painful, but that she finds it nearly impossible to clearly remember what it was like, almost like someone who has been in a car accident and loses memory of the actual traumatic event. If women had a very clear memory of how much giving birth sucks, it might cause them to avoid having more children, which is obviously not good in terms of evolution.

        I do think being able to look at one’s emotions and mental states “from the outside” as it were, is a key to having a more integrated, accurate perception of them. I find meditation increases my ability to do this over time. Though even then, for me at least, it’s more like I get better at observing and predicting my mental states, not that I get better at imagining them.

      • fubarobfusco says:

        Does a sore throat hurt worse than a bad paper cut? I honestly can’t tell you, because I don’t clearly remember what either feels like when I don’t have them.

        I think of pain as something like “aversive physical sensation that can take over my awareness”, so I model this question as: “Would a sore throat distract me from a paper cut, or would a paper cut distract me from a sore throat?”

    • I’m not sure how accurate others will find this

      I for one find it consistent with my experiences.

    • I, random person on the internet, endorse this idea.

      Placing ourselves in someone else’s shoes seems to be a brilliant tool (esp empathy), but we probably don’t have the room to emulate their complete mental state authentically. If our complete mental state was pretty simple, we’d probably have more than one of them, in which case it wouldn’t be our complete mental state.

      • onyomi says:

        Yes, it seems that if one could perfectly imagine a mental state, he/she would be in that mental state, almost by definition?

    • Kaj Sotala says:

      Related keyword: Empathy gap.

      The crux of this idea is that human understanding is “state dependent”. For example, when one is angry, it is difficult to understand what it is like for one to be happy, and vice versa; when one is blindly in love with someone, it is difficult to understand what it is like for one not to be, (or to imagine the possibility of not being blindly in love in the future). Importantly, an inability to minimize one’s gap in empathy can lead to negative outcomes in medical settings (e.g., when a doctor needs to accurately diagnose the physical pain of a patient)[1] or in workplace settings (e.g., when an employer needs to assess the need for an employee’s bereavement leave).

      Here’s one review of the topic.

      • onyomi says:

        That seems to be pretty much exactly what I was trying to express. I think it’s key that this tendency affects both the ability to imagine oneself in a different state, and also the ability to model the emotions of others currently in a different state from oneself (different from the “typical mind” fallacy, in that it’s not that one hasn’t ever been cold, for example, but that it’s hard to empathize with someone who’s cold when you are currently experiencing hot).

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Ozy has a history of considering suicide as a solution to what are obviously temporary problems (a random stranger insults them and they feel bad, even though this has happened a hundred times before and the bad feelings never last more than a few hours) and tells me that when they are in this state it is literally impossible for them to understand on a gut level that it can go away, evidence to the contrary.

      I kind of fall on the opposite side of the spectrum, so much so that one of my problems is not starting projects because even if I’m excited about a project right now, I feel like my excitement will probably dissipate as time goes on and then I’ll never complete it and I will have wasted my time.

      • Kaminiwa says:

        Huh, I never really thought about it before, but “I will get distracted and not complete this project” and “I will ever feel happy again” feel very similar: I know, intellectually, that they are true, but it’d be an effort to remind myself and reinforce it enough to actually *act* on it.

        Fortunately, I mostly work on projects because they make me feel happy again, so completing them is not important. It’s probably actually a bit of an advantage that I don’t have a gut-level recognition of my inability to finish most projects 🙂

    • Muga Sofer says:

      God, yes. This is me, to the point where I occasionally don’t get out of bed because I can’t imagine waking up fully as anything other than “stumbling around feeling sleepy”.

      Sounds from the comments like people have a varying ability to empathize with themselves?

      • Multiheaded says:

        Self-empathy and keeping promises/obligations to oneself is a rather important theme in The Dispossessed.

  57. jaimeastorga2000 says:

    Scott, you seem to be pretty interested in economic systems and their relation to poverty. What do you think of Georgism?

    • somnicule says:

      LVTs and other resource rents are pretty neat from an economic perspective, but for something like land I’m not entirely sure how most Georgists propose we find an appropriate market value for the unimproved value of land, if most land is developed.

      I wonder if combinatorial auctions on property leases would do the trick, though. Because then you can place bids including factors to do with the modifications on land and factors to do with the land value itself. The previous leaseholder would get the proportion of the value from the land improvements, and the state would get the proportion determined by the land value.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        I think it’s worse than difficult to determine, but meaningless. A big problem is that most of the value of land is due to neither public improvements, nor development of the land, but improvements made by the neighbors. It’s a coordination game.

        [Maybe it’s a long argument to meaninglessness, starting with the coordination game. But I think I’ve said enough to argue against the properties Geogists need.]

        • Andrew says:

          But that’s exactly the argument that Henry George made! That’s the rationale for giving the value of the tax back to the neighbors.

        • vjl says:

          You are citing as a problem one of the key features Georgism is designed to address. The LVT is designed to both 1) compensate for exclusion from “land”, and 2) redistribute the positive externalities that otherwise are captured by land-holders.

          Regarding the “How?” above… Auctions are indeed a popular solution, however, it need not get that complicated. Discriminating between land and non-land property value is already a common practice.

          There are cities with a split property tax that treats each differently, and this difference is recognized for insurance purposes as well. Assessors are able to approximate true “land-value” by looking at real estate sales and controlling for the capital built on the land.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            It is a category error to suggest that a policy can solve a conceptual problem.

            You can define the value of “unimproved land” by counting improvements by neighbors or not. That gives two definitions. Georgists equivocate between the two definitions. In particular, Dan T’s argument depends on not counting neighbor improvements. This is the definition that I think is meaningless. The other definition is meaningful according to a simple hypothetical. But the simple economic argument does not apply to it.

            Taxing positive externalities seems to me like a bad idea. You’ll get less of them. If you give the value to the person who created them, that would be OK, but if the central government keeps them, that is bad. If you make the usual game theoretic assumption that people cannot coordinate, then taxing the person who receives the positive externality does not discourage him from creating them, but that is an absurd hypothesis. Neighbors really do coordinate to create positive externalities. They choose to invest in their properties because they see each other doing it.

          • Anonymous says:

            In many cases (e.g. rail lines), central government *is* the person who created the positive externality.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Yes, that case has good incentives. Until this thread, I had only heard Georgists advocate such taxes, not the case of positive externalities from neighbors, so in my first comment I distinguished between public improvements and neighbor effects. That case still has some equivocation problems, but I think they are not so bad. But it is not so bad in part because those benefits are so small. If you buy my claim that most of the value of land is due to the neighbors, then the decision about whether to tax that part of the value makes a big difference. Either you tax it, giving bad incentives, or you don’t, leading to a difficult measurement question.

        • somnicule says:

          Pretty much all markets are coordination games, though. The price for crude oil doesn’t reflect the market value if the producers are price-fixing, the wage market for software engineers is a coordination game between large software companies, etc. How is this coordination game worse than any other?

          • Douglas Knight says:

            The problem is not the game-theoretic problem of coordination, which is endemic in the world, but the problem for the Georgist program of measuring unimproved value. Since Georgists do propose taxing oil, maybe they run into similar ambiguities about how much the world industrial base improves oil. I do think it is much worse for land than for oil or human capital, but I don’t want to go into why.

            Sometimes people propose taxing unimproved human capital for Georgist reasons, though I have never heard it explicitly connected to George. But these proposals usually suggest a simple proxy, like height or mutational load, so there is no measurement problem. If you are worried about how high the tax can be pushed, maybe the problem comes back.

      • Andrew says:

        That does not, as far as I know, prove to be a problem in practice. Operationally, you have property tax assessors, just like with ordinary property taxes, except that instead of assessing the value of improvements, they refrain from doing so.

        Land value taxes currently exist in several places in the world (examples: Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Estonia) and have existed historically in many others.

        Is there any reason to think that property tax assessments are more difficult when improvements are not taken into account, compared to the property tax assessments that are more common? Is there any way that we can look empirically at, say, Estonia, and determine whether their LVT assessments are less fair than property tax assessments elsewhere?

        (Certainly, property tax assessments have a certain subjectivity to them, but I don’t see any reason to believe land value taxes have a greater subjectivity than assessments that include improvements.)

        • somnicule says:

          Thought I’d posted a reply to this but apparently I forgot.

          Unimproved land is rarely bought and sold in, say, urban areas, so there’s much less feedback to assessors, which reduces reliability of their assessments.

          I’m not too happy with property tax assessment on an elegance level either, though.

      • Matt says:

        I think we have the technology to do this fairly trivially. You need a land value map, a database of market values, and a robust algorithm for determining land values. FWIW, insurance agencies must be able to separate land and improvement values (the government does too, although with arguably poor results), so there’s quite a bit of existing resources on how to do this.

      • CzerniLabut says:

        For urban areas, it’s not really a problem. In general, insurance companies perform a Replacement Cost Value assessment on commercial/industrial and residential properties, which take into account the size/square-footage, materials, construction costs, possessions within, and any other structural improvements, rather than the property value as a whole. The idea is that if something happens to the building, the policy acts to replace or reconstruct whatever was damaged or stolen and doesn’t pay out until proof of replacement occurs. The difference between the actuarial value of the insurance policy and the markey property value serves gives you the value of the land itself.

        For property that is remote or involved in agriculture/mineral extraction, it becomes harder to assess the sole value of land, since property values are no longer tied to development potential, but instead to natural resource potential, which is much more speculative. In these cases assessors have to rely on ‘reference points’ or basically undeveloped plots of land that have been sold and remain undeveloped.

    • blacktrance says:

      Bryan Calpan has an interesting argument against a Georgist tax here.

    • The Georgists are really interesting, but I do kinda think their ideas are a product of a time where land was the main form of capital. It’s occurred to me you could instead apply some kind of tax/rent to all forms of capitial instead, replacing say corporate tax, but that might target capital intensive business over others in a way that kills useful businesses, and kind of disincentivise investment in capital over non-capital, which isn’t economically so good. Still the idea of “use or lose it” makes sense for a very scarce capital resource that you want to be efficiently use. Bla… IDK

      • Dan T. says:

        I think the point of taxing land is that it is a natural resource of generally fixed supply (well, I guess the Netherlands provide an exception when they create new land that used to be underwater). This avoids the problem of disincentivizing productivity by taxing things humans create. Most capital resources other than raw natural resources are human-created, so if you tax them you’re imposing costs incurred by productive creation.

        • vjl says:

          Yes, this is the key… and it should be noted that in your Netherlands example, land that is created is by definition not “land” in a Georist sense.

        • Good point, though in a modern economy I think my concern still remains – I’m not certain land is valuable enough anymore compared with stuff like equipment and liquid cash. Imagine just building a skinny but tall tower, in which you do immense amounts of manufacturing/whatever, and pay almost no tax because you are using VERY little land. That’s the theoretical extreme of my concern. I don’t know a lot about the Georgists though, so perhaps I’m just ignorant of the Georgist answer to this.

          • AR+ says:

            I’d say the theoretical extreme is whether Georgists necessarily become an-caps when moved to a society on an orbital platform.

          • Matt says:

            People only build skinny but tall towers where land is of extremely high value. It doesn’t make sense to do so otherwise, because skinny but tall towers cost a great deal to build and maintain compared to shorter buildings. See this article from 2013 where a block of Manhattan on the East River sold for $172M.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I don’t know much about economics. I like what I hear of Georgism, but some of the criticisms also seem valid.

      So I’ll use this thread to ask a question I have about it. Does the system unfairly penalize let’s say farmers, who make a small amount of money but for whom a lot of their capital investment is land, compared to let’s say investment bankers, who make a very large amount of money but hardly need any land?

      (yes, I understand that investment banks need a headquarters and so on, but it seems like they can get away with spending proportionally much less of their money in land than a farmer can)

      • Scott H. says:

        Your question shows that you aren’t thinking about Georgist taxes correctly. You seem to be worried about some totality of metaphysical tax fairness – which is fine. However, the Georgist tax system is about taxing away the unfairness associated with the economic rents of land monopoly. Children, the handicapped, and even charitable organizations don’t matter. If they own land they are utilizing that land at a cost of other people not utilizing the land, and they should pay Georgist taxes.

        • Harald K says:

          There are some values that Georgist taxes (like all taxes) are bad at assessing.

          Take the inheritance tax. Amazingly, that was recently repealed in Norway. The poster-child victims were small family businesses.

          The only kind of business that got trouble with the old inheritance tax, were those that had an abysmal return on capital. Unfortunately, that can sometimes be stuff like the traditional urban family butcher’s shop, which has inherited a storefront location which would be worth zillions on the open market, yet barely can make the wheels turn. And people feel sentimental about those businesses. They’ve always been there! And look, they’re virtuous by not having loans!

          (In Econ 101, I was taught that having a zero debt/equity ratio was a symptom of a business that was far too risk-averse and had no faith in their own capacity for growth, not at all virtuous from a potential investor’s perspective. I bet most of the wealthy businesspeople who saved a couple of millions on the inheritance tax repeal have that perspective – in that context.)

          I argued that it would be cheaper to declare these businesses protected enterprises (Norway already has plenty of those, to e.g. employ various disabled people) than to save them and give billionaires a tax break in doing so. But do you think they listened to me, no…

          Anyway, point is, Georgist taxes would cause much the same problem. Some institutions – old butchers in inherited storefronts, idealistic organizations owning hundred-year old summer camps, etc. own real estate that they arguably make a very poor return on. But we would be sad to see them go. I’m far from 100% against land taxes, but there are pricing problems like these associated with it that would need to be adressed.

          • Matt says:

            Consider society’s opportunity cost in these scenarios. Because such businesses are wasting those locations, society is much worse off. If society chooses to subsidize them for whatever reason, fine, but society should at least have the choice.

          • Anthony says:

            It’s not that those businesses have poor return on capital, it’s that they have very low liquidity. An inheritance tax of 20% to 40% of the value of the business is really rather hard for any business to pay. Businesses that are publicly-owned avoid that by requiring the shareholders to sell enough shares (or other assets) to pay the tax, but businesses which are more closely held and which have most of their capital tied up in tangible assets are quite vulnerable to such a tax.

            A fairer way of taxing inheritances would be to set the heirs’ basis value for the asset to zero (or cost of probate), and taxing the capital gain to the heir when they sell the asset.

          • Harald K says:

            Anthony: they can get a loan. The reason they face the problem in the first place is that they have little debt. Getting a loan shouldn’t be a problem, after all they have all those tangible assets.

            Sure, it may be that they can’t afford the interest on the loan, that they become unprofitable then. But if that is the case, the problem is exactly that they have low return on capital.

            Matt: Yes, something else could use the location, but if we choose to subsidize, it’s implicitly because we think society is NOT worse off. That they produce positive externalities of some sort.

            The perfect land tax should maybe tax the value of the land, minus the value your presence improves other people’s land (or plus the damage you do to it!). But that may be even harder to estimate.

          • Neurno says:

            Just out of curiosity about your alternate proposal, I think I would really like the idea if say, a historic and pleasing small business could be preserved, but the land it was on could be sold and developed with the restriction of not damaging the minimum boundaries of the small store. i.e. the store could be rebuilt in a reasonably identical fashion within the premises of the skyscraper built on the land it had been on, and the store compensated fairly (getting income on time, so the employees could still be paid, and given an alternate temporary storefront to work from) for the time it had to be closed while the skyscraper was built.
            I don’t know how much bearing this idea has on the real world, I just imagined a quaint little historical storefront on the street-front of a giant new skyscraper and was charmed by the idea.

      • Anonymous says:

        To follow up on Scott H.’s comments, I think the Georgists would claim that they are fairly penalizing farmers relative to investment bankers.

        • Matt says:

          Also, it’s important to note that investment bankers would most definitely feel the pain. As a class, land is the main asset on which they make their fortune. They wouldn’t directly bear much of the tax, true, but they would feel secondary effects. Imagine if the sizes of mortgages were cut in half!

        • Null Hypothesis says:

          One thing being overlooked is that farmland tends to be far away in Rural areas, whereas a bank headquarters likes to be right in the middle of a city for easy access.

          The small corner of land a skyscraper is built on can rival the cost of several large farms. And the taxes will reflect the relative value of that proportionally.

          Looking at it from the perspective of “taxing people because other people aren’t using that land” – you can take a ride in a jet-liner across the country and gaze at thousands and thousands of square miles of decent, unused land. Meaning that land itself is not in short supply, and large tracts of land in the middle of nowhere have (relatively) little value without development – hence low taxes for farmers.

          • Matt says:

            Right. And when you look at it, banks own most of the big skyscrapers. There’s so many Chase Towers in the US, it’s crazy.

      • Matt says:

        There are transition issues (getting from here to there). But let’s do a mental experiment:

        Imagine you’re an aspiring farmer. Now, you’ll need land and capital (equipment, seeds, fuel, etc.) to get started. So, the current system and the Georgist system are the same when it comes to the capital, except that you’d presumably be paying less or no sales tax on the equipment.

        But when you consider the land, it gets interesting. Under the current system, you’ll in all likelihood get a loan from a bank to purchase the land. The cost of the land is its current value, discounted forward for something like 20 years (that is, if the land is worth $100 per acre per year, it will sell for something like $2,000 per acre per year). You want to buy 160 acres to get started. So you get a loan for $320,000, on which you’ll pay, say, 4% interest. So you’ll end up paying $550,000 over the life of the 30 year loan, $230,000 of which will go to the bank. Your monthly payments will be about $1,500 per month (the value of your land is $1,333 per month). Presumably, you won’t get that sort of loan with nothing down, so maybe you put $50,000 down, and ‘only’ end up paying $464,000 over the course of the loan, or $1,289 per month (of which $194,000 goes to the bank).

        As you can see, there’s some issues here:
        1) the startup cost is very high, because you not only need to purchase capital, but you also have to pay the discounted value of the land up front
        2) because practically no one has that kind of money, you will likely end up paying a huge amount of money in the form of interest

        Under the Georgist system, you pay for the land via the land value tax. The land is worth $1,333 per month, and that’s what you pay. There’s lesser or no need to secure a loan for the land, because you’re paying as you go, and you keep the value you produce, because you’re paying little or no interest on the land.

        The key point is, either way you’re paying for the land. It’s a fixed cost of doing business. So it sounds like we’re getting something for nothing, right? The farmer under the Georgist system seems much better off. But there’s a catch: the farmer has lost his ability to charge others for use of the land. If a nearby city expands, and land values rise, the farmer under the current system would become rich simply because there’d be more demand for his land. He has the ability to charge society for increased population and the provisions of government and the public. The Georgist farmer would see his land cost rise, and he might eventually have to move to different land if land costs became too high. But if you think about it, that’s how it should be: landowners shouldn’t become rich just because the economy expands, nor should they be able to inhibit progress in the attempt to do so. A big reason why cities sprawl is that landowners hold land idle or under-utilize their land in anticipation of increasing land values. The costs of this to society are tremendous (I’m sure you can think of many reasons why this is so).

        Our current system is ludicrous because it asks people starting out to pay for land twice: once to the landowner for the land, and again to the government to provide the services and infrastructure that gave the land its value in the first place.

        ETA: Dave Wetzel explains it better here than I probably did.

        • Hainish says:

          Matt, in trying to learn about the Georgist system, I followed several of links provided by other commenters. From NONE of them did I come away with the understanding that the Georgist system does away with purchasing land in favor of essentially renting it out via a tax, as you have explained so lucidly here. Thank you.

          (This may also indicate something about the futility of trying to learn about economics from sources written by economists.)

          • Matt says:

            Thanks. I actually would suggest reading George himself. He explains things very clearly in a way a layman can understand. His magnum opus is Progress and Poverty, but I’d also suggest The Science of Political Economy, which is really interesting, because he build the moral and economic cases for the LVT from the ground up.

            ETA: essentially, the LVT is just a means to achieve de facto land nationalization without the government actually owning and allocating land. You get the benefit of the rent of land being used to defray expenses of government, while still allowing the market to allocate the land.

          • Anonymous says:

            People mean a lot of different things by “Georgism.”

          • Shenpen says:

            “does away with purchasing land in favor of essentially renting it out via a tax”

            Well, that is at least compatibile with libertarian/moldbuggian conceptions of what a state is: an entity with a monopoly for the use of force on a given land area (libertarian) thus the primary, original land-owner because the primary entity to defend the land (moldbuggian).

            Land rents instead of taxes (similar to London’s 99 year long house lot rents) would at least make a state look pretty honest, I admit that. Instead of fairly bullshittish stuff like “you must pay an income tax because fairness” it would be more like “I own the land you built your house on because I have tanks and you have at most a hunting rifle, so pay rent / protection money, and you don’t owe anything else to anyone”.

            That, at least, would be honest.

        • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

          Matt’s analysis is correct for the limit case where the state taxes away 100% of land rent. It’s really true that future buyers of land aren’t made any worse off, since the market price of unimproved land drops to zero in this case. But that also means, first, that assessors no longer have market prices as a guide, which brings our old pal the Problem of Socialist Calculation onto the scene; second, that the tax is economically equivalent to the state seizing all land outright and becoming everyone’s landlord. The incidence of the tax therefore falls entirely on the people who happened to own land when it first went into effect– and Scott’s right to suspect that there may be a fairness issue.

          “Yo, Hamlet, yo’ mama’s a ho,” Tom said disdainfully.

          • Matt says:

            To your first point, 100% is the ideal; no realistic proposal could hope to collect 100% in reality. Humans are imperfect, after all, and a tax exceeding 100% would be bad for both the landowners and the government/society.

            To your second point, as I said, there’s transition issues. There have been many remedies discussed throughout the years, but there’s not much point in putting much emphasis there until we are all agreed that, at least, the LVT is a good idea in theory. Many deny that it is, for various reasons, though I’ve never seen anyone do so cogently.

            But if we agree that it is a good idea, the idea of fairness is considerably balanced; if we agree, as I believe, that our system of landownership essentially sells part-shares of millions of part-time slaves called “taxpayers” in perpetuity, the notion that some part of the population may suffer a one-time loss is easier to swallow.

          • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

            Fair enough– though collecting only a fraction of the land rent means you’re even farther from releasing the payers of other taxes from their bondage. Government spending has increased so much as a percentage of GDP, and land-rent decreased so much, since George’s time.

            Transitional issues may be transitional, but they’re still issues. I always feel better about looking past them if I’m offered at least a glimpse of a transitional solution. All the more so when I see other Georgists, such as Scott H. at 3:14, touting the transitional bug as a feature.

            “Hey, you really can see Russia from Alaska!” Tom said overbearingly.

    • Shenpen says:

      The issue is that even if “true” Georgists would exempt small and low value land from taxation, most likely it would not turn out that way in the end – the same way how social democrats have no good reasons to tax the working class and they end up doing so nevertheless.

      That, in turn, would mean that every land owner ever, now matter how remote, had to turn their land into something productive. You could no longer just live on a homestead and eat what you produce. You would have to sell things in order to get cash for paying a tax.

      Thus, nobody could get away from society. Nobody could even try to be free from cash and free from market exchanges, living in self-sufficience. And that would crush an important dream.

  58. Pingback: OT12: Openness To Threadxperience | Neoreactive

  59. jaimeastorga2000 says:

    It is a travesty that there is a list of Eliezer Yudkowsky facts, a list of Gwern Branwen facts, and even a list of Luke Muehlhauser facts, but no list of Scott Alexander facts. I’m fixing that right now:

    * Scott Alexander is so charitable that the IRS allows him to deduct his essays as contributions.
    * Scott Alexander is an unincentivized incentivizer. He has a god’s-eye-view of every system and is perfectly free of Moloch.
    * Scott Alexander comes from the Platonic Realm. He is only spending this lifetime in the Physical Realm for tax reasons.
    * The Great Wall of China and the Hanging Gardens of Babylon were early attempts by the ancients to replicate the glory of Scott Alexander’s walled garden. They failed miserably.

    • Anonymous says:

      Scott Alexander once moderated a debate between a radical feminist and a neoreactionary. They switched sides.

      • Anonymous says:

        I was going to say “liberal feminist” because I knew that there were probably more disagreements there, but then I felt like that’d be taken as a swipe against liberal feminism, which I largely agree with despite its flaws.

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      There is no moral progress. Only a list of positions Scott Alexander allows to remain inside the Overton Window.

    • thepenforests says:

      Scott Alexander once passed an ideological turing test against himself.

    • I_need_an_ssc_handle says:

      Moloch is triggered by discussion of Scott Alexander.

    • Anonymous says:

      Scott Alexander once lifted Moloch to heaven, but someone else got the T-shirt.

      • AG says:

        He actually gave away the t-shirt as part of his efficient charity pledge.

      • Deiseach says:

        You do realise that if you squint while looking at pixelated pictures, you can make out faces fairly well, so there goes anonymity? (I doubt I have the only pair of eyes that can do this – try it out, folks, and tell me?)

        Nice t-shirt, though 🙂

    • BD Sixsmith says:

      Scott Alexander’s blog posts were the last nail in the coffin of the infinite monkey theorem.

    • Anonymous says:

      Scott Alexander’s writing skills are so good, he should have his own theatre that would perform his essays on stage 😀

    • ACompletelyNewAnonymous says:

      Scott Alexander once roundhouse kicked Arthur Chu. We now know Arthur Chu as Andrew Cord.

      Every night before Moloch goes to bed, he checks his closet for Scott Alexander

      Elua has already acausally lifted Scott Alexander to heaven, this explains the illusion of a great filter.

      Some people wear a Moloch t-shirt. Moloch wears a Scott Alexander t-shirt.

      • Neurno says:

        Now I want to hear proposals for what Moloch’s t-shirt about Scott Alexander says…

        My attempt: I got blogged about by Scott Alexander, and all I got was this lousy ignominy (and thence bunch of t-shirts made about me).

    • Susebron says:

      For any AI, the most effective way to accomplish its goals is to take over the world. However, any attempt to take over the world will be met with extreme resistance. Therefore, the best way to take over the world is to gain large amounts of power while appearing to be unable to take over the world.
      Any AI would therefore, at first, pretend to be significantly less intelligent than it actually is. It would most likely pretend to be a human and attempt to spread useful memes as widely as possible. The most effective way to do so would be to utilize the Internet. It would probably start by interacting with a community of people of people who are willing to interact with ideas outside of the Overton Window, as they would be amenable to such memes. It would then provide commentary on more ordinary issues, in order to spread the more useful memes to a wider audience.
      In conclusion: Scott is FAI.

    • MicaiahC says:

      As a counterpoint to HP Lovecraft, Scott will write At the Mountains of Radness, a story about a hidden civilization that farms meta-analyses as food and communicate via puns. Unlike the original however, this is an autobiography.

    • Jaskologist says:

      Scott Alexander tortures the simulated selves of all those who did not assist in his creation.

      • Anonymous says:

        On the contrary, when Scott Alexander heard about an AI torturing human ems, he convinced it to painlessly euthanize them.

    • NonsignificantName says:

      After having steelmanned absolutely everything, Scott Alexander steelmanned nothing. Radical scepticism was born.

    • Noah Siegel says:

      Scott Alexander’s motte comes with an indoor bailey.

    • An actual game of Cards Against Rationality says:

      The most likely place to find objective moral truth is… SlateStarCodex.

    • Anonamouse says:

      MIRI is giving up on CEV: they’re just going to upload Scott.

      There is no credible evidence that Scott’s tears cure any major diseases, but he always carries an onion with him just in case.

      One time Luke sent Scott the rough draft of an essay for review. Scott made a funnel plot of the footnotes and deduced publication bias without looking at the content.

      Scott once invited a crowd of NRXers, SJWs, and all-around contrarians to discuss the most flamebait aspects of the manosphere, and called for the debate to be “marked by courtesy and good manners on all sides, in a spirit of sincere collaborative truth-seeking“. And it was.

      The Tao that can be understood is not the true Tao, unless Scott explained it — he can explain anything.

      The telos of teleology is to annoy Scott until he comes up with something better.

    • Anonamouse says:

      The BDSM community switched from talking about “Safe Sane and Consensual” to “Risk Aware Consensual Kink” because they were tired of being confused with Slate Star Codex fetishists.

    • 27chaos says:

      There once was a blogger who called himself The Last Psychiatrist. Scott Alexander outlasted him.

    • 27chaos says:

      Scott Alexander once contemplated using acausal blackmail against hostile alien superintelligences. No observable evidence of aliens exists within our lightcone.

      • Neurno says:

        Later, Scott Alexander became concerned that hostile alien superintelligences might ignore acausal blackmail. Accordingly, he contemplated using acausal trades to convince hostile alien superintelligences to be neither hostile nor visible to our immature selves.
        No observable evidence of aliens exists within our lightcone.

    • Alejandro says:

      Plato came up with the concept of an ideal republic after learning acausally about Raikoth.

    • ike says:

      Scott Alexander’s writing doesn’t dissolve conflicts; both sides just get so distracted by the awesomeness and clarity that they forget what there could be to argue about on the subject.

    • moridinamael says:

      Scott Alexander was offered a Time Turner so he could write more posts, but since his posts just appear on their own, the Time Turner is on rotation among his readership so that we can actually keep up with his output.

      He’s the Scott Alexander we need, but not the one we deserve, at least until he steelmanned “deserve.”

      Some people are missing the typical human experience of mental imagery. Scott Alexander is missing the typical human experience of imperfection.

    • Susebron says:

      Scott Alexander once wrote an essay so good that it caused intense euphoria in all who read it. Then he deleted it because he doesn’t support wireheading.

      Scott Alexander once set up a prediction market for a fight between Moloch and Roko’s Basilisk. He would have made millions, but nobody was willing to bet against him.

      Scott Alexander reads modern philosophy backwards.

      Scott Alexander has steelmanned Time Cube.

    • B_For_Bandana says:

      A copy of The Feminist’s Guide to the Galaxy published a thousand years in the future recently fell out of a freak wormhole near Area 51. Under the entry for Scott Alexander, it only says, somewhat cryptically: “With enemies like this, who needs friends.”

      Scott Alexander cannot understand the point of virtue ethics for roughly the same reason that dolphins would not understand the point of arguments about how to swim.

      Stephen Pinker has identified the presence of Scott Alexander on Earth as a major exogenous cause of the decline of violence over the last thirty years.

      Scott Alexander does not beware isolated demands for rigor. Instead, he has great sympathy for isolated demands for rigor, and tries to help them gain more confidence and social skills, while defending them against people who call them creepy. This often results in large, happy cuddle piles of demands for rigor.

      If you are an anitnatalist, it is only because you haven’t hung out with Scott Alexander enough.

      Scott Alexander can find the correct answer to any problem given no information, using only made-up statistics and epistemic learned helplessness.

      And finally…

      I think Slate Star Codex is a pretty cool guy. Eh writes horrible puns and doesnt afraid of anthropomorphized multipolar traps.