THE JOYFUL REDUCTION OF UNCERTAINTY

OT101: Threadversarial Collaboropen

This is the bi-weekly visible open thread (there are also hidden open threads twice a week you can reach through the Open Thread tab on the top of the page). Post about anything you want, ask random questions, whatever. You can also talk at the SSC subreddit or the SSC Discord server. Also:

1. There will be an South Bay SSC meetup on Saturday May 12 at 2 PM. Location is 3806 Williams Rd, San Jose, CA (a private home). David Friedman will definitely be there, and I will try to be there.

2. Two new sidebar ads. Mixtiles is a tech startup “revolutionizing how people put photos on walls”; they’re looking for a remote senior data analyst. Bubble is a tech startup working on a drag-and-drop framework that helps people create software without programming skills; they’re looking for NYC-based software engineers.

3. And one old sidebar ad renewed and switched to an affiliate system: Triplebyte is a company that helps programmers find jobs. You sign up, take some coding assessments, and if you pass they do everything from sending your name out to appropriate companies, to fast-tracking you to the final interview stage, to representing you in salary negotiations, to even paying for your flights and hotels while you interview. It is free for you; if you get hired; your company pays them for finding you. FAQ here. Aside from the fact that I am getting paid to shill them, I really do think they’re great; they represent exactly the kind of resume-blind, credential-blind, demographics-blind hiring I think everyone should be aiming for, and they’re helpful for the sort of low-executive-function people who couldn’t handle a job search well on their own.

4. Comment of the week is AlexScrivener on early arguments against socialism. I said on the Fabian post that it was really hard to argue against socialism in the 1800s; Alex proves me (somewhat) wrong by collecting quotes from a whole lot of people who tried.

5. If you’re involved in effective altruism, consider taking the 2018 Effective Altruism Survey (estimated time cost: 10 – 20 minutes). If you’re interested, after you’re done you can find the results from 2017 survey here (see links to related posts at the bottom).

6. The adversarial collaboration contest is coming together. Two people have offered to increase the prize money, so assuming everyone comes through (no guarantee), we’re now looking at a first prize of $2000, a second prize of $500, and a third prize of $250. These are estimates and may change with circumstances. Please see description and rules here. I notice there are some potentially really interesting collaborators who don’t officially have partners yet, like Salim Furth on urban economics, Freddie deBoer on communism, and plenty of other people; if you’re interested, get in touch with those people or discuss it here. The teams I currently have registered are:

1. MP and TW on ability grouping and other educational issues
2. M and M on mandatory childhood vaccination
3. C and Z on Ray Blanchard’s transgender taxonomy
4. JV and CC on sexism in STEM
5. M and AR on puberty blockers for transgender children
6. C and N on the effects of low-skill immigration
7. DS+SE and JL on AI timelines
8. JB and CF on Islam and democracy
9. JRM and TB on heroin legalization
10. F and D on the impact of tokens and ICOs
11. TW and PJIQ on central planning causing dictatorship
12. A and M on the psychological effects of pornography
13. S and S on gun control
14. T and A on social media and political polarization
15. D and E on Caplan’s signaling theory of education

Registration continues to be open right up until the end of the contest, so if you find something you and a friend want to work on, please email me at scott[at]shireroth[dot]org and register. Please also feel free to advertise this among your non-SSC reading friends or elsewhere in the Internet (in a tasteful way).

Right now I am setting the due date for people to have emailed me their results as July 15th. I’m expecting to use the two other people who have donated money to the prize fund as co-judges (if they accept), and we’ll figure out exactly how that works later.

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907 Responses to OT101: Threadversarial Collaboropen

  1. toastengineer says:

    I feel like I’m taking a lot more than I give around here. Is there anything I can, yanno… do?

    • paranoidfunk says:

      The trash hasn’t been taken out in months; oh, and the toilet upstairs hasn’t been flushing…

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I’m trying to figure out why this comment seems so weird to me.

      I think there’s an old model where people paid money for information in the form of newspapers, magazines, etc, and so if someone gave you information for free they were doing you a service.

      But this is the 21st century. Attention is the currency. People work really hard to build up a following for their blog or Twitter account or Instagram or whatever. Sometimes this is about converting it to ad revenue, but other times it’s just nice to be heard.

      As far as I’m concerned, you’re doing me a favor by being here. You could be taking your hard-earned clicks to Vox or Reddit or Popehat or Ribbonfarm or any of a million other people. Instead you’re here, boosting my ego, raising my ad revenue, and helping me inject my memes into the noosphere. You’re good. Just keep doing what you’re doing.

      I think this is probably true as far as the top commenters go, in terms of them appreciating your providing them with attention. But if you want, I think if, when someone wrote a really good comment, you just replied with “yeah, that was a really good comment, thanks”, and maybe said some particular things you liked about it, then it would go a long way.

      • JohnBuridan says:

        Thanks for the informative comment, Scott. :p

        It was very helpful to me because it made clear what your expectations of good readership entail, as opposed to your excellent age old expectation of what we should avoid. In the future, I will try to remember to write thank you’s for good comments.

        On FaceBook, I only click thumbs up on the type of material I would like to see more of. With comments on SlateStar, I figured that making a thank you comment would just get in the way of discussion clogging up already long threads.

      • bean says:

        I think this is probably true as far as the top commenters go, in terms of them appreciating your providing them with attention. But if you want, I think if, when someone wrote a really good comment, you just replied with “yeah, that was a really good comment, thanks”, and maybe said some particular things you liked about it, then it would go a long way.

        Very much this. I’ve gotten better at not feeling the need for constant affirmation, but particularly in the early days of Naval Gazing, it was really nice when someone would just tell me how much they enjoyed the series. That kind of stuff feeds starving writers.

        • Randy M says:

          Whenever someone responds to me with “hmm, interesting point” or something similar, I think “Hey, that’s going on the resume!”
          I don’t say that because it sounds passive aggressive, and because I don’t want to increase the noise even further, but I do genuinely feel the appreciation.

        • pontifex says:

          I love the Naval Gazing series. Thanks, bean!

          The only thing that could make it better for me is a chart or some graphics, when describing some of the battles.

          Great research, great series, though.

          • bean says:

            The only thing that could make it better for me is a chart or some graphics, when describing some of the battles.

            The problem is that my graphics skills are pretty mediocre, so I have to rely on what I can find. (Although if there’s a fan who has good graphics skills and wants to work on stuff, I’d be delighted to have the help.) That said, I found a pretty good source for Jutland, and that series kicks off on the 27th.

      • toastengineer says:

        It’s just that there’s a little light in my head that’s been flickering a bit when I say anything here that’s labeled “INSUFFICIENT CONTRIBUTION – INCREASE USEFULNESS TO THE COMMONS – OSTRACISM IMMINENT.” Usually my social-processing wetware just blinks “RUN AWAY” at me all the time so whenever it says something specific I try to take it seriously. Maybe all I need is reassurance that I’m not pissing everyone off (and indeed that no-one has any idea who I am.)

        • BBA says:

          See, I feel this way a lot. But then when I try to contribute and get chewed out by more prominent regulars, I figure “now I’ve done it, I’ve gotten myself banned for sure.”

          My problem is I tend not to speak unless I’m contributing something new to the discussion. If I just agree with everyone who came before me, there’s no point in my saying anything at all. But (in other spaces more than here) disagreement is increasingly dismissed as trolling, so when I disagree with anyone, I also tend to keep quiet unless I feel like I’ve build up enough social capital to get away with it. But you can’t build up social capital if you never say anything, so I’m stuck.

          Though I bet having a recognizable avatar helps, dood.

          • Clocknight says:

            Though I bet having a recognizable avatar helps, dood.

            Avatar halo is a real thing. In every forum that I’ve participated, other members started talking and liking me more when I used an avatar (rather than none/the default image).

            Especially when it’s gaming/anime related (such as your Prinny avatar). But I guess that has more to do with the places that I go, rather than some objective superiority of those types of avatar.

        • Aapje says:

          @toastengineer

          Maybe all I need is reassurance that I’m not pissing everyone off

          This is a safe space for people with high disagreeability & high openness 🙂

          So, acceptance of disagreement is fairly high.

          • pontifex says:

            A safe space for people who don’t like safe spaces?

          • Nornagest says:

            It’s probably not going to happen, but I’d nominate that for the tagline.

          • CheshireCat says:

            This is a safe space for people with high disagreeability & high openness 🙂

            This is such a brilliant way of putting it. The first time I really dove into a SSC argument I remember thinking “Damn, that was a great point. Damn, that was ALSO a great point. Why are these people being so reasonable? I can’t pick a side. I can’t even tell which tribes they’re from. This is kind of inconvenient.”

      • Vosmyorka says:

        This comment has inspired me to register and comment for the first time! I discovered this blog around mid-summer 2017 and went on an archive binge, reading all posts (unless something was skipped by mistake) going back to the blog’s creation. I’ve been following it with a great deal of attention since, but haven’t commented.

        Not sure what to say beyond “Great job!” Some of your posts have been really influential in my thinking, and it was also reading some of the posts here that convinced me to go ahead and give psychedelics a shot.

        Good blog!

        • Nesasio Solomonensis says:

          This could be me except for the psychedelics part, and I don’t think I’ve read every post. I was thinking the 100th OT would be a good place to start, but didn’t end up doing it.

          Good blog, and I look forward to having something to contribute in the future!

          Oh, and I’m running NoScript, is sharethis.com the one that records clicks to give you ad revenue?

      • mrthorntonblog says:

        “Hard earned clicks” is amusing. I can’t speak for other people, but I often feel an urge to contribute (do something) after I’ve read good blogs and comments and so on. Perhaps it’s a feeling of indebtedness. What if I can’t offer reflected reciprocity? Paint portraits or clean?

      • J Mann says:

        @toastengineer – good question! @ScottAlexander – insightful comment! Thanks to you both.

        Speaking as a reader, there are some commenters who are both (a) very insightful and (b) whose interests overlap substantially with mine. Thank you, congenial and insightful commenters!

        Speaking as a commenter, I appreciate it when people respond to me, either to improve my ability to communicate, to educate me, or to confirm that I’ve said something that interests people.

        There’s a tension on this commenting system, which is that if every comment got buried in 50 “good post” responses, it might be hard to find the comments that interest me. Probably there’s a norm that more than one or two applause posts is redundant, and that’s good.

        • Antoine says:

          Why not add a button on each post that would allow people to express their liking the post (akin to the “Like” button on Facebook for instance)?

          • J Mann says:

            I would love to have liking, disliking and an ability to sort based on reaction. (Basically, reddit). My understanding is that that’s harder than it sounds.

          • bean says:

            I would love to have liking, disliking and an ability to sort based on reaction. (Basically, reddit). My understanding is that that’s harder than it sounds.

            I’d really rather not. That kind of system tends to turn into status races, tribal voting, and so on. Leaving aside the technical difficulty, I don’t see it helping the community here.

          • dodrian says:

            I think having facebook/twitter/reddit style reactions on this board would be an overall negative. It encourages people to say things that will be liked, not to contribute for a good discourse. Scott touched on this a little in today’s “Varieties Of Argumentative Experience” article.

            Even though the upvote/downvote system on reddit is ostensibly for upvoting good contributions, in practice it takes an exceptional argument for an unpopular opinion to be upvoted more than a pithy joke against an outgroup.

            It would be nice if there were a different way show that you’re spending the modern currency of attention on someone’s post though. At the moment the best way to do this is to engage thoughtfully with the post, and the second best is a small ‘thanks for writing this’ reply, but only by one or two people so as not to fill the board.

            Scott does do ‘top comments’ for replies to his main articles, and once every two weeks for the open threads. We could potentially take this on as a community, and have a regular top level post on the .0 threads for people to share their favorite comments from the past two weeks. We sort of did that last time when Scott didn’t choose a top comment.

            I think that would be a good way to highlight some of the best posters, but without most of the nasty incentives that can come from a like/upvote system.

          • Iain says:

            I agree with bean and dodrian. Low-effort feedback mechanisms encourage low-effort posts.

          • JulieK says:

            Do you think it would work better if you could only upvote one comment per post (or per day)?

          • Iain says:

            Better than reddit-style upvoting, certainly.

            Better than the status quo? Unclear. I don’t think this is a problem that needs a coordinated technical solution. It just needs people to feel a little more free expressing their appreciation for good comments.

            Be the change you want to see in the world.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            Chiming in to agree with others here. If you want to signify approval of a comment – whether you found it illuminating, informative, funny, or simply agreeable – it’s probably better to express that with a written reply, particularly on a forum like this where discourse is especially valued. If you feel it’s not worth your time to write such a reply, then I submit that you didn’t like that comment enough. “Like” clicks are cheap.

            (I could see clicks being useful if you’re trying to poll readership opinion, but in that case, we need an actual polling mechanism.)

          • Nornagest says:

            Old-school Less Wrong had the Reddit suite of controls, and it wasn’t much worse than the SSC comments, but it wasn’t much better, either. And it was more exploitable: one of the big things behind its decline was one guy deciding to use the voting system (and as many sockpuppets as he could get away with) to push his political line.

      • cuke says:

        Thank you for saying this. I read the lineup of collaboration topics above and thought wow, what a fantastic list, I’m interested in reading what people have to say about all of these topics, and I’m grateful for your making this happen, along with all the people who will be doing the collaborating.

        I don’t have the energy/capacity for any of this original work, but I am an appreciative reader, and I do have energy to do more vocal appreciating. I too didn’t want to take up space in the comments just appreciating, but I can see how it might shift some of the tone here if we all did that a little bit more.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      I think it’s generally and necessarily true that most people here get more than they give, and this might be a good thing how hard it is to keep up already.

      This being said, are there any topics you might want to write effort posts about?

      • toastengineer says:

        There’ve been topics, but I feel like posting anything I wrote here would be more taking than giving.

      • A Definite Beta Guy says:

        This being said, are there any topics you might want to write effort posts about?

        Man, I think about this sometimes, but then I feel like I don’t know enough about ANYTHING to write a good effort post. I have some history and economics knowledge, but there’s a lot of people here who are more qualified and could do it wayyyyy better. I think I’d just piss them off by posting something inaccurate or glossing over something important.

        • bean says:

          Don’t sell yourself short. Your stuff on accounts receivable is still my go-to for what a good effort post should be. It made a topic that was previously something I would have avoided learning about at all costs interesting. I usually write in easy mode. Battleships are inherently interesting. Accounting? Not so much.

          • Deiseach says:

            Ditto on the accounts receivable posts! I have no accountancy knowledge, don’t want to get any, find myself handling (even at a lowly peon level) basic accounts, and your posts helped me make sense of what the heck is going on with the systems.

            (I’m now in the toils of dealing with a hell-system whereby everything is done by phone menu, I can’t get a human being to interact with, we’re disputing a large bill for a closed account, and the only way to navigate the phone menu is ‘punch in your account number’ *do that* ‘sorry we don’t recognise that account number’ *that would be because it’s a closed account!* *get human somehow* ‘oh yeah I can’t help you, try this number’ *gives me original phone menu number* – rinse and repeat!)

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Thanks guys, I am glad you enjoyed the A/R effort posts! I’m always interested in what other people actually DO for work, so I enjoyed putting those together.

            I might be interested in doing a short primer for corporate life or economics or something, but I am assuming I am not going to have anything like enough time to construct them in my new position.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            Hopefully you’ll be struck hard enough by the creative muse to write a paragraph or two about corporate life, in between actually living it. Then, after a few weeks, you’ll have enough prose to forge an article from it for posting.

            Having co-founded a startup (that ultimately failed), I know some of it, but having more of it fleshed out helps.

    • tayfie says:

      Report bad comments.

      It seems like since the great verbal battle of Gupta v. Dieseach a few threads ago, where Scott didn’t ban those who rightly should have been banned, the community norm of civility has weakened and not recovered. Scott has given multiple warnings when there should have been action instead. If it is worth warning, it is worth banning.

      Reporting bad comments increases Scott’s confidence to ban when something really has crossed the line. I get the feeling the community sees something borderline, defaults to not reporting out of either charity or apathy, and the borderline shifts a little lower. I am guilty of it myself, and I wish it would change.

      This is a plea to you, to Scott, and to everyone. Report bad comments.

      • rlms says:

        Reported.

      • beleester says:

        I do report bad comments, but the Report button gives me a “Cheating, huh?” response whenever I click it, so I have no idea if my reports are going through.

        This has happened on both Edge and Chrome, on multiple computers.

        EDIT: I reported my own comment. Scott, if you see this, can you tell me if the report went through?

        • Nornagest says:

          This is a known issue, but can be temporarily worked around by logging out and back in.

        • Scott Alexander says:

          No, it didn’t. I hate this comment reporting system.

          • tmk says:

            I see two links next to each other: one “Report” which gives the “Cheating, huh?” popup (quite insulting), and one “Report comment” which gives a confirmation dialog “Are you sure you want to report this comment?”

          • Glenn says:

            It seems like you have two completely separate comment reporting plugins installed. I see two report buttons, the left one apparently broken and coming from a plugin called ‘Crowd Control’. I can’t tell what plugin the right-hand “report comment” link (which seems to be the one that works) is coming from.

          • beleester says:

            The one with the confirmation dialog doesn’t work any better. It just makes the words “Cheatin’ uh?” appear in the comment box after I click “Yes.”

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            Scott, is there an alternate way to reach you about comments that would bypass these mechanisms if they happen to malfunction, and that wouldn’t prohibitively burden your time?

            ETA: in the meantime, I see little problem with replying to bad comments with another comment with the appropriate admonishment. “Less of this, please.” works if you know the commenter has been around long enough to know better. Something a bit more elaborate works for newer commenters.

            Don’t let the comment culture degrade. The more bad comments are left unchallenged, the more daring / intellectually lazy newcomers might be encouraged.

  2. littskad says:

    Quiz time! Each of the lists below consists of ten words. Your task is to remove one letter from each of the words, and anagram the remaining letters to form ten members from some category. For example, if a list had the words “dear”, “ruble”, and “energy”, you could get “red”, “blue”, and “green”. As a hint, the categories are given at the end, rot-13’ed, but it’s more fun to try to figure them out on your own.

    A:
    1. ably
    2. aegis
    3. methyl
    4. munich
    5. alibis
    6. mutagen
    7. studfarm
    8. lampreys
    9. calliopes
    10. doctrinal

    B:
    1. chafe
    2. mohel
    3. crave
    4. fight
    5. throat
    6. candle
    7. jinxed
    8. recited
    9. gallican
    10. dithyramb

    C:
    1. lyre
    2. narco
    3. crime
    4. atoms
    5. plates
    6. wealth
    7. alltime
    8. dryable
    9. homburgs
    10. triplicate

    D:
    1. rake
    2. groan
    3. croad
    4. fiance
    5. opaqued
    6. nonswim
    7. pinewoods
    8. spherules
    9. poriferan
    10. warrantydeed

    E:
    1. elfin
    2. cooing
    3. region
    4. lovage
    5. unyoke
    6. unsaid
    7. romanza
    8. wholely
    9. armoury
    10. superheats

    F:
    1. tapir
    2. caves
    3. along
    4. photic
    5. catlike
    6. reached
    7. reenact
    8. trickers
    9. enthalpy
    10. fiefdoms

    G:
    1. darts
    2. bistro
    3. theorem
    4. peonage
    5. polenta
    6. plurals
    7. especial
    8. idolaters
    9. headfirst
    10. upstreaming

    H:
    1. yeast
    2. whatif
    3. rhymers
    4. sidearm
    5. barytons
    6. imbalmed
    7. excerpts
    8. cameraman
    9. tradename
    10. ceratopsid

    A: Ureof naq Fcvprf
    B: Glcrf bs Pneqf
    C: Prerny Tenvaf
    D: Svpgvbany Fuvcf
    E: Znwbe Eviref
    F: Fbppre/Sbbgonyy Grezf
    G: Nfgebabzl Grezf
    H: Ovyyobneq Ahzore Bar Fbatf jvgu Bar Jbeq Gvgyrf

    • JohnBuridan says:

      This is awesome. I will to come back to this later.

      • jgr314 says:

        Yes, wow, what a puzzle! While I enjoy the quizzes, because they reveal how little general knowledge I have, this structure is more fun.

    • Charles F says:

      A:
      1. onl
      2. fntr
      3. gulzr
      4. phzva
      5. ???
      6. ahgzrt
      7. zhfgneq
      8. cnefyrl
      9. nyyfcvpr
      10. ???

    • The Nybbler says:

      Some of these are hard! So far:

      N: Ureof: Onl, Fntr, Gulzr, Phzva, Onfvy, Ahgzrt, Zhfgneq, Cnefyrl, Nyyfcvpr, Pvynageb

      P: Tenvaf: Elr, Pbea, evpr, Bngf, Fcryg, Jurng, Zvyyrg, Oneyrl, Fbetuhz, Gevgvpnyr (gunax lbh Ze. Purxbi)

      R: Eviref: Avyr, Pbatb, Avtre, Ibytn, Lhxna, Vaqhf, Nznmba, Lryybj, Rhcuengrf

    • The Nybbler says:

      Q: Svpgvbany fuvcf (fbzr ner nyfb erny): Nex, Netb, Q’Nep (be cbffvoyl Bepn), Pnvar, Crdhbq, Zvaabj, Cbfrvqba, Urfcrehf, Cvansber, Qnja Gernqre

    • mrthorntonblog says:

      A5 seems off

    • b_jonas says:

      I’m solving these with technological help: I search a dictionary to find the most common possible words that can be the solution for some of the ten words listed.

      A. gur pngrtbel zhfg or fcvprf orpnhfr: 3. gulzr, 4. phzva, 5. onfvy, 6. ahgzrt, 7. zhfgneq, 8. cnefyrl, 10. pvynageb. gur erfg ner yrff boivbhf orpnhfr zl Ratyvfu ibpnohynel va fcvprf vf fbzrjung ynpxvat. 1. ybbxvat hc, “onl” vf nccneragyl gur Ratyvfu anzr bs onoée. 2. “fntr” zrnaf mfáyln. 9. “nyyfcvpr” zrnaf fmrtsűobef.

      B. cebonoyl fbzrguvat eryngrq gb srfgvir bppnfvbaf fhpu nf jrqqvatf, ohg V pna’g svther bhg zbfg jbeqf. 10. zhfg or “oveguqnl”, naq 4. “tvsg”, 5. “gebgu”, 6. “qnapr” ner fhttrfgvir

      C. bu! V xabj guvf bar orpnhfr V fcrpvsvpnyyl ybbxrq hc nyy gur Ratyvfu ibpnohynel erpragyl, naq fhzznevmrq vg ng uggcf://ra.jvxvcrqvn.bet/jvxv/Hfre:O_wbanf#Glcrf_bs_prerny . Vg’f prernyf. 1. elr, 2. pbea, 3. evpr, 4. bngf, 6. jurng, 7. zvyyrg, 8. oneyrl, 9. fbetuhz. Vg’f 9. gung ernyyl tnir vg njnl. Jung ryfr jbhyq lbh tebhc fbetuhz jvgu? V unq gb ybbx hc 5. fcryg naq 10. gevgvpnyr.

      D. and E. no idea for either. I guess the dictionary search doesn’t work because most of these are proper nouns, which aren’t in the dictionary. that, or they’re types of fish. there seem to be a ton of short words in English that mean some type of fish.

      F. zhfg or fbzr grnz fcbeg: 2. fnir, 3. tbny, 4. cvgpu, 5. gnpxyr, 6. urnqre, 7. pragre, 8. fgevxre, 9. cranygl, 10. bssfvqr. fbppre, nzrevpna sbbgonyy, ehtol, vpr ubpxrl, naq eryngrq fcbegf hfr irel fvzvyne ibpnohynel, fb V pna’g gryy juvpu bar guvf vf sbe, ohg zl thrff vf fbppre.

      G. nfgebabzl. 1. fgne, 2. beovg, 3. zrgrbe, 4. ncbtrr, 5. cynarg, 6. chyfne, 7. rpyvcfr, 8. nfgrebvq.

      H. no idea.

    • Deiseach says:

      I’m being lazy and only doing the first one, but once I got the first two the category clicked into place:

      1. onl
      2. fntr
      3. gulzr
      4. phzva
      5. onfvy
      6. ahgzrt
      7. zhfgneq
      8. cnefyrl
      9. ?
      10. ?

      • Randy M says:

        Only doing the first two tripped me up, I saw “Yno” and “Fntr” and thought it was study related.

    • Zeno of Citium says:

      I’m apparently terrible at this so no answers right now, but this is great and I’m coming back to it.

    • Iain says:

      1. Fcvprf (onl, fntr, gulzr, phzva, onfvy, ahgzrt, zhfgneq, cnefyrl, nyyfcvpr, pvynageb)
      2. Pneqf (snpr, ubyr, enpr, tvsg, gnebg, qnapr, vaqrk, perqvg, pnyyvat, oveguqnl)
      3. Tenvaf (elr, pbea, evpr, bngf, fcryg, jurng, zvyyrg, oneyrl, fbetuhz, gevgvpnyr)
      4. Svpgvbany obngf (Nex, Netb, Bepn, Pnvar, Crdhbq, Zvaabj, Cbfrvqba, ???, Qnja Gernqre)
      5. Eviref (Avyr, Pbatb, Avtre, Ibytn, Lhxba, Vaqhf, Nznmba, Lryybj, Zheenl, Rhcuengrf)
      6. Fbppre (gevc?, fnir, tbny, cvgpu, gnpxyr, urnqre, pragre, fgevxre, cranygl, bssfvqr)
      7. Fcnpr (fgne, beovg, zrgrbe, ncbtrr, cynarg, chyfne, rpyvcfr, nfgrebvq, erq fuvsg, fhcretvnag)
      8. I could tell after brute forcing the first few clues that I wasn’t going to get this category. After peeking, I stand by that assessment.

    • littskad says:

      Here are the solutions, rot-13’ed:

      N: Ureof naq Fcvprf
      1. onl
      2. fntr
      3. gulzr
      4. phzva
      5. onfvy
      6. ahgzrt
      7. zhfgneq
      8. cnefyrl
      9. nyyfcvpr
      10. pvynageb

      O: Glcrf bs Pneqf
      1. snpr
      2. ubyr
      3. enpr
      4. tvsg
      5. gnebg
      6. qnapr
      7. vaqrk
      8. perqvg
      9. pnyyvat
      10. oveguqnl

      P: Prerny Tenvaf
      1. elr
      2. pbea
      3. evpr
      4. bngf
      5. fcryg
      6. jurng
      7. zvyyrg
      8. oneyrl
      9. fbetuhz
      10. gevgvpnyr

      Q: Svpgvbany Fuvcf
      1. Nex (Trarfvf)
      2. Netb (Terrx zlgubybtl)
      3. Bepn (Wnjf)
      4. Pnvar (Gur Pnvar Zhgval)
      5. Crdhbq (Zbol Qvpx)
      6. Zvaabj (Tvyyvtna’f Vfynaq)
      7. Cbfrvqba (Gur Cbfrvqba Nqiragher)
      8. Urfcrehf (Gur Jerpx bs gur Urfcrehf)
      9. Cvansber (UZF Cvansber)
      10. Qnja Gernqre (Gur Iblntr bs gur Qnja Gernqre)

      R: Znwbe Eviref
      1. Avyr
      2. Pbatb
      3. Avtre
      4. Ibytn
      5. Lhxba
      6. Vaqhf
      7. Nznmba
      8. Lryybj
      9. Zheenl
      10. Rhcuengrf

      S: Fbppre/Sbbgonyy Grezf
      1. genc
      2. fnir
      3. tbny
      4. cvgpu
      5. gnpxyr
      6. urnqre
      7. pragre
      8. fgevxre
      9. cranygl
      10. bssfvqr

      T: Nfgebabzl Grezf
      1. fgne
      2. beovg
      3. zrgrbe
      4. ncbtrr
      5. cynarg
      6. chyfne
      7. rpyvcfr
      8. nfgrebvq
      9. erqfuvsg
      10. fhcretvnag

      U: Ovyyobneq Ahzore Bar Fbatf jvgu Bar Jbeq Gvgyrf
      1. Fgnl (1960 – Znhevpr Jvyyvnzf naq gur Mbqvnpf)
      2. Snvgu (1988 – Trbetr Zvpunry)
      3. Fureel (1962 – Gur Sbhe Frnfbaf)
      4. Qernzf (1977 – Syrrgjbbq Znp)
      5. Fgneobl (2016 – Gur Jrrxaq sg. Qnsg Chax)
      6. Qvyrzzn (2002 – Aryyl sg. Xryyl Ebjynaq)
      7. Erfcrpg (1967 – Nergun Senaxyva)
      8. Znpneran (1996 – Ybf qry Evb)
      9. Znarngre (1982 – Unyy & Bngrf)
      10. Qrfcnpvgb (2017 – Yhvf Sbafv sg. Qnqql Lnaxrr)

      • b_jonas says:

        No wonder I couldn’t solve B if it references such obsolete concepts as “pnyy pneqf” that I’d heard of only from old novels, and “qnapr pneqf” that I’d never heard of until now. Why didn’t you include more modern concepts that people are familiar with? Although it might be difficult to find proper clues for chapu pneqf naq gryrcubar pneqf. 🙂

        • littskad says:

          Yeah, I understand. I tried to have a variety of things when I made these. Some things that would be good answers had to be rejected because I couldn’t come up with a good anagram with an additional letter. Thanks for the feedback.

    • littskad says:

      Is there interest in having more of these sorts of things occasionally? Any comments or suggestions about them?

      • crh says:

        I don’t have useful suggestions but I had a lot of fun with this and would love to see more. I’m very fond of trivia-ish things that don’t have the “you either know it or you don’t” feeling of a lot of trivia. This was a great entry in that category.

      • JustToSay says:

        I enjoyed it. I only did A, but I’m saving the others for later.

  3. fredtwilight says:

    Just wanting to gauge interest here, I’ve been considering a chess effort post for a while.

    I’ve noticed that I have generally had a great deal of success when talking about it in person. There are a lot of misconceptions about how the game is played, and what it involves from people who don’t play it seriously. I enjoy explaining why I find the game so interesting.

    I think it should of interest to SSC readers in large part because I would like to focus on some the more ‘meta’ aspects of the game:

    – How chess player actually breaks down the board in the mind.
    – The role of abstraction. (Map and territory distinctions in chess, ect).
    – A history of modern chess and it’s playing style, how computers and “ai” have changed the way we play.

    This isn’t necessarily how the posts are going to be structured; I’ll need to think a little more about that, the list is just what came to mind as “Things non-chess players find new and interesting”.

    My credentials:
    Been playing for two years, currently at a national rating that would correspond to ~1800 FIDE, but I’ve managed multiple 2100+ performance ratings in that time, so I think I probably still slightly underrated.

    If you’re not a chess player and/or familiar with elo:
    I can probably beat you easily without having to look at the board (blindfold).
    This does not make me a chess prodigy. This makes me a slightly above average tournament player.

    • JohnBuridan says:

      Interested!

    • Shion Arita says:

      Very interested! especially as someone who is trying to learn chess as an adult.

    • Well... says:

      I’m interested too, especially if the sample topics you listed are going to be typical.

    • dndnrsn says:

      I would be interested in this, although I know next to nothing about chess. A couple question that are definitely on the “meta” level that I would be particularly interested in:

      What’s the competitive lifespan like for top chess players? Can it be likened to a sport where the players are half-dead by their early 30s, held together with duct tape, or is it like a sport where they hit their stride a bit later and can keep going into their 40s if they stay healthy?

      Is chess something where the standard has risen, so a good-but-not-great international competitor would smash the heroes of yesteryear, or is it something where the greats of a generation ago could still do as well as they did were a clone of them in their prime to walk into a tournament?

      • Squirrel of Doom says:

        It’s mostly a young man’s sport, though some people do play top level chess into their forties.

        I think the standard definitely has risen, mostly because of computers and the internet gives people top level opposition (and coaching) 24/7.

        And about that “young man” phrase, it remains very much a male game. Only 1 woman is ranked among the top 100 players. Though to me, when Judit Polgar peaked at 8th in the world, that proved that a woman *could* become world champion one day.

        • John Schilling says:

          “Woman”, “Abomination of Mad Science“, tomayto, tomahto.

          Of course, the Polgar sisters do seem to be very nice, well-adjusted abominations of mad science. But I’m pretty sure Laszlo didn’t run his experimental procedures past anything resembling an IRB, and I’m glad he didn’t train his daughters in e.g. politics, war, or crime.

      • ohwhatisthis? says:

        I have a hard time guessing what age peak human chess brain is. I have boundaries, but its several decades.

        I’m more interested in the mathematics and structure of the programs that play chess well, frankly.

    • secret_tunnel says:

      That sounds really cool!

    • bpgbcg says:

      I’d be interested; I’m probably only about 100-200 points worse than you so I’d probably know a good portion of what you’re saying but I’d be curious what you would write anyway.

    • Julius says:

      This interests me as well, but I’d like to add a post from the SSC reddit about chess. Maybe it can give you additional inspiration: https://www.reddit.com/r/slatestarcodex/comments/8gbet4/is_there_a_book_about_what_separates_chess/

    • Lambert says:

      I would like to learn to not suck at chess.
      I have a good working memory, but no idea how to systematically analyse a board.

    • MrBubu says:

      Interested!

    • fion says:

      This sounds very interesting. I play chess regularly, but not competitively. I’ve read a couple of books, but I tend to find them rather dull, and I’m not that driven to improve my own playing. But hearing the thoughts of an enthusiastic, SSC-inclined expert sounds like something I’d love to read.

      (Of course, from reading the comments preceding me, it sounds like you’ll have quite a broad audience, from people almost as good as you to people who don’t play chess. Good luck! 😀 )

    • rlms says:

      Also interested. I played quite a lot in my early teens although I was never that good.

    • degrews says:

      I would love to read something like this!

    • Morgan Redding says:

      Interested. Would appreciate it if you posted it on the subreddit 🙂

    • tayfie says:

      There has been no room for tournament play in my life for several years, and I would like to hear your thoughts.

    • SamChevre says:

      I would find this interesting, especially point #1. I have played recreationally since I was a child, but have never really learned to play in a systematic way, or to analyze anything beyond point count for captured pieces.

    • BlindKungFuMaster says:

      I’ve been playing tournament chess for … oh, it’s actually half my life now. I would definitely be interested in your post, if only to disagree with everything ;-). I’m somewhat blown away by the interest your proposal is getting, great to see so many people interested in my greatest addiction.

  4. hapablap says:

    One of the problems trying to train people for jobs that are occasionally extremely stressful (pilots, police, soldiers, oil rig workers, etc. ) is that the training scenarios will not produce a stress response that the trainee will experience when he finally ends up in a shootout/fire in the cockpit. Special forces get around this by trying to make the training as stressful and realistic as possible, with live rounds and explosions. Eventually they become desensitized to the stress response or learn to function through it.

    For pilots though, you can’t set the cockpit on fire in the simulator. Some flight examiners or instructors will try and induce stress by insulting and harassing the trainee, or just inducing task saturation. And flights can be inherently stressful. But is there a way to induce a stress response with drugs, such that you could put a pilot in the simulator, give him an emergency to deal with, and chemically induce a strong stress reaction?

    Has this ever been tried before for training purposes?
    What drugs would you use?
    Asking for a friend.

    • Incurian says:

      Sleep deprivation might work, possibly combined with high doses of caffeine.

    • ohwhatisthis? says:

      Its not the same. Tell him to stop being a puss and sign up for a variety of dangerous real world activities.

      • hapablap says:

        Dangerous activities could help desensitize but they will never be as good as being in a sim and going through the actual emergency procedures under stress.

        • Fossegrimen says:

          Note entirely certain that is correct; Handling stress well seems to be a distinct and separately trainable skill from piloting etc, though I can speak only from personal anecdata.

          • AG says:

            Only related, but analysts have continued to find that there is no such thing as clutch hitters in baseball. This seems to imply that while people could be trained to operate under stress without a decrease in performance, to increase in performance due to stress is a myth.

          • crh says:

            What’s the definition of “clutch” here? If most players got a bit worse in stressful situations, would maintaining your baseline level of performance be considered clutch? Or is it only clutch if you actually get better when the stakes are high?

          • hapablap says:

            I did consider HUET (helicopter underwater escape training) as a way to practice emergency procedures under stress. Suggestions for similar things would be welcome as well.

          • AG says:

            @crh: Part of the fun about these analyses is that each study tries adjusting the definition of “clutch” situations. “What’s their batting average/on-base percentage when their team is down and it’s the last two innings, etc.” That would seem to assume a simple positive-negative metric independent of their performance outside of the clutch, but I haven’t examined each study to check.
            Another aspect is that these studies are often comparing to the conventional wisdom of who are considered clutch players. This metric found that Player A who is considered clutch by the people does not meet the metric, but Player B who is not considered clutch by the people is clutch according to the metric, etc. But they don’t necessarily take a stand on if this difference from intuition invalidates the metric or intuition.

    • ilikekittycat says:

      Drug potentiation and stress response are frequently related but ultimately independent. You can give someone a drug that will skew their perception and mess up their vital signs, but you can’t guarantee they’re gonna have a bad trip about it

      • hapablap says:

        What if you hooked them up to an IV and pumped in some adrenaline at the right time? A pill that increased the stress response would be easier…

    • Doesntliketocomment says:

      I don’t think this would work simply because the amount of hormones released during stress isn’t necessarily consistent between different individuals. There are chemical stressors used for cardiac studies, but they are intravenous and done in a hospital setting. I would suggest loud noises and cold water, and let the body make it’s own response.

    • SamChevre says:

      I’m not aware of any studied use of drugs for this purpose; however, I am familiar with some with some of the training and testing methodologies designed for this sort of thing.

      Stress does two relevant things: it screws with muscle control, and with judgment. For the first, the traditional shooter’s drill is to exercise aggressively beforehand–hence biathlon, the sprint and shoot events in practical pistol, and so on. For the second, the traditional substitute is exhaustion.

    • Dog says:

      Bit late with this, but there are a number of drugs that specifically cause anxiety / fear, which is often a big component of high stress situations. GABA antagonists in particular are used in medical research to cause anxiety. DMCM is an example: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DMCM , or see here for more: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anxiogenic

  5. JohnBuridan says:

    Does anyone have a favorite recreational math book?

    • hapablap says:

      Simon Singh’s Fermat’s Enigma, about the incredible history of the attempts over the centuries to prove Fermat’s Last Theorem
      Simon Singh’s The Codebook, about the history of codemaking and codebreaking

      Both have a bit of math involved but would still be entertaining for the right lay-person.

      • 2irons says:

        Just wanted to second these as great choices. I’ve had good feedback when I recommended them to a friend.

    • shakeddown says:

      How recreational? For very little math, the man who loved only numbers is good. For a bit more math, Scott Aaronson’s Quantum Computing Since Democritus.

    • theBearwithThrust says:

      It kinda depends on your definition of ‘recreational’ and ‘math book’.
      I would recommend What Is Mathematics by Herbert Robbins and Richard Courant, which was, quite recreational for me when I read that.
      Another thing you can try is Proofs from THE BOOK by Martin Aigner.

    • ohwhatisthis? says:

      The four volume series
      “The World of Mathematics” is golden, and absolutely recommended.

      For problem solving, anything by the Art of Problem Solving.

    • Anatoly says:

      Do people still read Martin Gardner’s puzzle collections? I grew up on their Russian translations (and I think scientists past a certain age have shared fond memories of reading them in the Scientific American of the 60s and the 70s).

      In a similar vein, Raymond Smullyan’s logical puzzle books are really good. He has a knack of starting with some easy knight/knave puzzles and leading you to a formulation of Godel’s undecidability, all through interesting puzzles.

      • Nick says:

        I’ve got a Martin Gardner book I like—Wheels, Life, and Other Mathematical Amusements. Cambridge is actually releasing new editions of all the old books, so maybe a new generation can be introduced to them.

      • beleester says:

        Seconding Raymond Smullyan. The one I have is “What is the Name of this Book?”.

        Although that book is basically nothing but increasingly elaborate knights-and-knaves puzzles, so you may not like it if you crave variety.

      • Nornagest says:

        I grew up on his Aha! collections, but he seems to have fallen out of nerd culture in the last couple decades.

        • Paul Brinkley says:

          A shame. I read Aha! Insight as a kid, several times.

          And there’s another book I forget the title of (I might still have it somewhere), in which I learned of the three types of liars from the classic liars / truthtellers island riddle, and a question one could ask with the highest chance of getting past all three…

          • Nornagest says:

            I think that was in Aha! Gotcha.

          • But did you learn the real solution to the riddle? If you ask some complicated double reversed version of “which road leads to the village” the local will interpret that as the simple version and answer, truthfully or falsely, accordingly.

            Instead you ask him if he has heard that they are giving out free beer in the village, ignore his answer, and follow him.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            Sounds like David read the book. 😀

            The incentive set up by that question should have occurred to me as one he would find especially amusing, given the joke he likes to tell of the Mexican bank robber…

    • WashedOut says:

      The Unexpected Hanging and Other Mathematical Diversions by Martin Gardner.

      Book of mathematical paradoxes and puzzles given in story form. One of my favourite books as a child.

    • quaelegit says:

      Does Logicomix count? 😛

    • beleester says:

      The Chicken From Minsk. A wide variety of puzzles in both math and physics, going from classic logic puzzles to obscure physics problems, with an enjoyable layer of Russian humor.

    • Gossage Vardebedian says:

      Prime Obsession by John Derbyshire. Explains the Riemann Hypothesis and throws in some history. I reread it every couple years.

      Also second Fermat’s Enigma and The Codebook.

      Fractals, Chaos, Power Laws by Manfred Schroeder is very interesting. I also enjoyed Gamma: Exploring Euler’s Constant by Julian Havil. Both of these are meatier than those above.

    • Tatterdemalion says:

      Not a book, exactly, but my favourite sources of recreational maths are old BMO/IMO and Putnam papers – e.g. https://bmos.ukmt.org.uk/home/bmo.shtml or http://kskedlaya.org/putnam-archive/

    • rlms says:

      How has no-one mentioned Gödel Escher Bach yet?!

    • adder says:

      Everything and More by David Foster Wallace. It’s a history of the concept of infinity, not lacking in DFW’s distinctive funny and depressing writing style. The math is pretty impressive. With a B.S. in math, some of the material was over my head, but not much.

      Also Logicomix, a graphic novel about the 20th century project of trying to ground mathematics on firm logical foundations (and failing). It’s told from the point of vie of Bertrand Russell (and the comic artists themselves).

      • littskad says:

        When I read Everything and More, it was clear that the math was over David Foster Wallace’s head, too, unfortunately. There are better books on infinity. The London Review of Books has a combined review of Everything and More, Brian Clegg’s A Brief History of Infinity, and Robert and Ellen Kaplan’s The Art of the Infinite, which has this to say about Everything and More:

        As for Wallace’s book, the less said, the better. It’s a sloppy production, including neither an index nor a table of contents, and after a while his breezy style grates. No one who is unfamiliar with the ideas behind his dense, user-unfriendly mathematical expositions could work their way through them to gain any insight into what he is talking about. Worse, anyone who is already familiar with these ideas will see that his expositions are often riddled with mistakes. The sections on set theory, in particular, are a disaster. When he lists the standard axioms of set theory from which mathematicians derive theorems about the iterative conception of a set, he gets the very first one wrong. (It is not, as Wallace says, that if two sets have the same members, then they are the same size. It is that two sets never do have the same members.) From there it is pretty much downhill. He goes on to discuss Cantor’s unsolved problem, which I mentioned at the end of the previous paragraph. There are many different, equivalent ways of formulating the problem; Wallace gives four. The first and fourth are fine. The second, about whether the real numbers ‘constitute’ the set of sets of rational numbers, does not, as it stands, make sense. And the third, about whether the cardinal that measures the size of the set of real numbers can be obtained by raising 2 to the power of the smallest infinite cardinal, is simply wrong: we know it can. Any reader keen to gain insights into the infinite would do better to go back to Aristotle.

        • BlindKungFuMaster says:

          Yeah, I think he also mangles the proof of Cantor’s theorem, which is kind of the one neat trick you can show laymen to give them an understanding of infinity.

    • crh says:

      Carl Linderholm’s Mathematics Made Difficult is a riot, though sadly long out of print and thus hard to (legally) acquire.

    • BeefSnakStikR says:

      It’s not really math, but close: The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood by James Gleick. It covers some quantum cryptography stuff towards the end IIRC.

    • Ryan Holbrook says:

      Lewis Carroll’s Symbolic Logic. It’s as much fun as Alice in Wonderland.

      Here’s a problem Quine uses in his book. Draw a valid conclusion using all of the terms from the following premises:

      The only animals in this house are cats.
      Every animal is suitable for a pet, that loves to gaze at the moon.
      When I detest an animal, I avoid it.
      No animals are carnivorous, unless they prowl at night.
      No cat fails to kill mice.
      No animals ever take to me, except what are in this house.
      Kangaroos are not suitable for pets.
      None but carnivora kill mice.
      I detest animals that do not take to me.
      Animals, that prowl at night, always love to gaze at the moon.

      Solution: V nyjnlf nibvq n xnatnebb.

      Here’s more.

      • rlms says:

        Also weirdly racist, some of the syllogisms have premises like “All jews are greedy”.

        • Ryan Holbrook says:

          Yeah, I remember the publisher offering an apology similar to one in Agatha Christie’s unfortunately named book, except they decided not to change the racist parts. Oh well, our heroes can’t always be saints.

      • John Schilling says:

        Solution: V nyjnlf nibvq n xnatnebb.

        That conclusion, while valid, can be reached using only terms 1, 6, 9, and 3. And it would continue to be true if e.g. premise 7 were false (because xnatnebbf jrer pneaviberf). The solution therefore does not satisfy the “using all the terms from the following premises”

      • JulieK says:

        I love Lewis Carroll’s A Tangled Tale.
        It’s a series of story problems that were originally published in a magazine, and at the end Carroll discusses the various solutions sent in by the readers.

    • b_jonas says:

      Anatoly has already mentioned Raymond Smullyan’s books. I agree with that recommendation. Apart from four of those and the Chicken from Minsk, I have the following books on the bookshelf next to me that might count as recreational mathematics.
      – I have all three of Rényi Alfréd’s pop mathematics books (Dialógusok a matematikáról; Levelek a valószínűségről; Napló az információelméletről). These are each thin essay books, talking both about mathematics and the philosophy of its meaning. They’re also famous enough that they’ve been translated to multiple languages, including english, german, russian.
      – Gnädig Péter, Honyek Gyula, 123 furfangos fizika feladat. This one is technically physics rather than mathematics, but so is the Chicken from Minsk. It’s been translated to English. There are apparently also books with larger numbers instead of 123 in the title and an extra author, which are probably later extended editions of this.
      – ed. Hraskó András, Új matematikai mozaik (2002). This is an aggregation book of 18 chapters by different authors, all told in a nice popular way so it can be understood by people with not much mathematical knowledge in advance. I don’t know of translations.

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      Since no one has mentioned it yet: The Book of Numbers by John H. Conway and Richard Guy. That’s Conway of Game of Life fame. (That’s Game of Life of cellular automata fame.)

      Each chapter is an exploration of some domain of mathematics, from the way numbers are named in English, to “shape” numbers (triangular, hexagonal, etc.), to number sequences and how some of them pop up in nature, to Cantor ordinals, and more. Complete with nifty color illustrations.

  6. johan_larson says:

    One last quiz. This will be the last one I will post, at least for a while. If anyone wants to take up the role of quiz-master, they are most welcome.

    Today’s quiz is about the works of Isaac Asimov:

    1. His first novel about robots, a fixup of earlier short stories and essays.
    2. The third novel in the original Foundation trilogy.
    3. A novel in which a space station colony called Rotor is moved to the semi-habitable moon Erythro, where bacteria form a collective organism that is conscious and telepathic.
    4. A non-fiction book about the early history of the United States.
    5. A novelization of a movie about a submarine that is shrunk to microscopic size and sent into a patient’s bloodstream.
    6. A novel about an amateur detective trying to solve a murder at a trade show for the publishing industry.
    7. A non-fiction work in which the author estimates the probability of there being intelligent extraterrestrial civilizations within the Milky Way galaxy.
    8. His first juvenile novel.
    9. His third autobiography, published after his death.
    10. A collection of mystery short stories, featuring a fictional club of mystery solvers. First of six.

    • johan_larson says:

      And the answers:

      1. V, Ebobg
      2. Frpbaq Sbhaqngvba
      3. Arzrfvf
      4. Gur Ovegu bs gur Havgrq Fgngrf: 1763-1816
      5. Snagnfgvp Iblntr
      6. Zheqre ng gur NON
      7. Rkgengreerfgevny Pvivyvmngvbaf
      8. Qnivq Fgnee, Fcnpr Enatre
      9. V. Nfvzbi
      10. Gnyrf bs gur Oynpx Jvqbjref

    • quaelegit says:

      I only got #2 because I adore the original Foundation trilogy. I’m not actually sure if I’ve read any other Asimov novels… (lots of short stories though!)

  7. dndnrsn says:

    Every now and then there’s a kerfuffle at some university or another over some “world civilizations/great books” type survey course focusing far too heavily on western civilization, or on one particular part of it. I think, for the most part, this is a fair criticism, although I’d be more likely to assign the blame to laziness (professor saying “why not just keep the same book list? Why should I have to learn something new and change how I teach?”) and cheapness (admin saying “why do we have to hire more professors?”) than anything else.

    So, let’s say you’re in charge of overhauling one of these courses to better give a global survey. Assume the “western civilization” bit of it is already set: Greek philosophers, Bible (entirely western? Not really, but it’s already in the syllabus there), Shakespeare, yadda yadda yadda. That sets the tone. What are you going to be adding to that – what fills it out and makes it actually global? Assume that the reading list you have to define is mostly primary sources; secondary stuff is in there but what exactly it is is immaterial, and will mostly be used to introduce the primary sources.

    Assume for the purposes that length isn’t an issue: the more things you have on the syllabus, the more it’s just excerpts, and the more work the secondary sources and so forth do.

    Just thinking about this briefly – to me, the lowest-hanging fruit is probably Chinese philosophy and literature.

    Bonus points: is there any overarching theme, anything we can point to and say “yup, that’s the single truly common element of human civilization” and not be completely talking rubbish?

    • Aron Wall says:

      My alma mater, St. John’s College in Santa Fe, runs a Great Books program for undergrads, based primarily on discussion classes for primary sources, which has the following reading list for the main seminar course. (This list does not include the readings for the separate math, language, lab, and music tutorials).

      Rather than trying to cram in some non-Western Civ. books, they made a separate Eastern Classics masters degree, whose readings are here.

      • Protagoras says:

        A lot of the stuff that came to my mind was on that Eastern Classics reading list. Interesting that they went with Tale of the Heike instead of the considerably superior Tale of Genji.

    • Well... says:

      I don’t know how I’d answer your questions, but I always hated when people used false synecdoche in discussion of Africa. For example, using Swahili to represent “African language”: there are thousands of languages spoken in Africa, and Swahili’s not even in the top 10 in terms of number of native speakers. Something similar could easily happen when discussing “Xs (books? music? history? etc.) of Africa”, to where including two or three African Xs on a “great Xs of the world” syllabus would leave out so many other very different African Xs that it almost makes the syllabus less inclusive.

      Maybe it’d be better just to change the name of the course to make it explicitly Eurocentric.

      • aNeopuritan says:

        While treating Swahili as “the language of Africa” is obvious BS, its notoriety is in no way from its number of *native* speakers – it’s the most-spoken African language, and only slightly behind French (which is slightly behind English) in Sub-Saharan Africa. It’s also the only African language to clearly represent a sub-region of Africa – if East African Community efforts succeed, it might actually surpass French (probably not English, and many Swahili speakers will also speak the latter). In fact, a grievance of some African scholars is that it’s replacing, and voluntarily at that, many East African languages (which will, also, make it a language with a large number of native speakers). I say “let East Africa go through what made France and Germany”.

        With regards to “what to talk about in Africa”, if you can explain what goes on in this map, you’re set. Though “primary sources” are a serious problem for most of those places.

    • johan_larson says:

      How about something by Lee Kuan Yew? Lessons on how to build a successful country, straight from the founding father himself.

      Also something by Sayyid Qutb. If the Islamist movement had an intellectual father, he’s the man.

      • JohnBuridan says:

        I have the idea the whole discussion started in full force with Muhammed Abduh (1848-1905) who first framed the discussion concerning the adoption of western institutions in Islamic society from which emerged the three general trends of full adoption, moderate adoption, and rejectionism. His writing is quite extensive too, so I bet there is some good stuff still waiting to be translated.

        But I will have a stronger opinions by July.

    • arlie says:

      China. I’m no specialist, but you could easily fill several courses.

      India. Start with the Rig Veda (sp?). Something from the Upanishads. Bhagavad Gita. Introduce the amazing literary form where you use lack of marked divisions between words to say two different things at the same time. Writings from the Sikh founder. Find some devotional poetry. Find some love poetry. Etc. There’s lots of Buddhist literature, and it starts here; pick some. … Then get some modern writings. Gandhi? I’d throw in something from Bollywood, if it were my course, but you insist on it being about books.

      Other Asian countries. India and China were the local elephants, with neighbours drawing from one or both, but the neighbours somewhat went their own way. Be sure to sample Japan, Korea, and Tibet, among others.

      Middle East. Koran (of course). Major Arabic philosophers. Arabic science and proto-science. Sufis and other mystics. Ancient literature, dug up on clay tablets. e.g. the epic of Gilgamesh.

      Something Zoroastrian.

      Egypt, and don’t forget to start with papyri and/or inscriptions found by archaeologists.

      Have we got anything we understand from the Middle and South American civilizations? (I’m so far from a specialist that I don’t have clue 1 ;-))

      No idea what we have in writing from pre-conquest Africa (other than the middle east), but they had some interesting civilizations. Go find some. If there’s enough material, spend lots of time on it – a continent worth of time, not the obligatory single lesson, leaving people unable to distinguish Zulu from San 🙁

      I’m sure I’m just scraping the surface here. I don’t have the knowledge to create this syllabus, or even come close. and I’m also reasonably sure I’ve overweighted religious texts, simply because that’s the area where I personally have the most knowledge.

    • onyomi says:

      I think a big difficulty is that most universities are not well set up to encourage, facilitate, and reward team-teaching efforts.

      To actually teach a course like “survey of world literature” well you need a team of experts, one ridiculously smart person, and/or someone willing to teach a lot of stuff he doesn’t actually understand much better than the students. I, for example, don’t feel very comfortable teaching literature in translation from a language I can’t myself read at least somewhat (which fact caused me to learn some basic Korean).

      My initial reaction was to think “why can’t the students interested in English literature just take English literature course and the students interested in African literature can take African literature courses?” But this raises the question: if your university has enough faculty to offer individual courses on most of the major world traditions, why can’t it also coordinate those experts to team teach a course offered to those students without space in their schedule to take more than, say, a two-semester sequence on “great books of world lit”?

      The answer, I think, is that coordinating such a thing at most universities will be a difficult, largely thankless task. The professors won’t get paid more, they probably will be making a lot more work for themselves for little or no credit towards their teaching responsibilities, and, anyway, they’d rather be teaching the students who are interested enough in e.g. English literature or Indian literature to take a dedicated English or Indian literature course than the ones who are probably less interested in developing an organic, holistic knowledge of the commonalities across literary traditions than in fulfilling some sort of requirement.

      • Protagoras says:

        A lot of philosophy and literature also makes more sense if you know where it came from, what influenced it and what it is responding to. So I think a course covering multiple traditions together, while perhaps it can gain something by comparing them, loses a lot by making it harder to see the crucial connections. Not that there isn’t room for some courses devoted to doing that kind of comparison, but it seems to me that having the default be courses focused on one particular tradition at a time is a good system.

        • SamChevre says:

          I agree with this, strongly. The point of a “great books” type course is to see a tradition interacts and develop. Take the story of Abraham and the (near) sacrifice of Isaac/Ishmael. It’s been re-imagined and re-pointed over and over–all the way from the original to St Paul “his faith was counted to him for righteousness” to Owen “But the old man would not so, but slew his son/and half the seed of Europe…”

          There would be some things that could be added; I would say the easiest would be from the Arabic/Muslim tradition–Avicenna and Averroes are natural to a course that has a significant look at the Greek philosophers. But I think a “Great Books of China” course would make more sense than adding a couple Chinese great books to a great books course where most of the books are western.

    • ohwhatisthis? says:

      Yeah. I should take some courses on the History of China.

    • aNeopuritan says:

      I won’t talk about “common element of human civilization” because Americas. But one thing that comes close for Eurasia is Indo-European culture, Iranian in particular. You might find Empires of the Silk Road, A History of Iran: Empire of the Mind, and The Lost History of Christianity useful.

      With regards to sources (even primary) for Southeast Asia, you want to ask this guy.

    • sunnydestroy says:

      Two things that I read in university that it seems very few others have read: native american creation myths.
      The two I remember are:

      The Popul Vuh (Mayan creation myth) – Pretty long tale actually, I have it on my bookshelf right now and its about the length of a short novel.

      Dine Bahane (Navajo creation myth)

  8. Aron Wall says:

    I’m a physicist who studies black hole thermodynamics & quantum gravity, and a longtime reader of SSC although I don’t post much. I’m also an evangelical Christian who believes in miracles and accepts the Nicene Creed, although I’m not a fundamentalist (e.g. I think the opening chapters of Genesis obviously aren’t supposed to be literal scientific reporting).

    Ask me anything.

    I’ve just managed to get a good faculty position after many years applying, so one topic that’s particularly fresh in my mind is how the academic job market works, especially in the USA (although I’m headed to Cambridge this January).

    • melolontha says:

      Obvious and perhaps overly broad question, but: why do you believe? If you see a distinction between the justifications for your belief (why are you right to believe) and the causal factors behind it (what would have had to happen differently to cause you not to believe), I’d be interested in both.

      And as a follow-up, do you think that every fair-minded and intellectually curious person could/should come to share your beliefs, or (for example) do they depend on some very specific experiences or feelings that not everyone has?

      Finally, what level of responsibility do you feel to spread the word and encourage people to find God? (While I don’t enjoy being proselytised to, intellectually I find it hard to reconcile a) sincere belief in an afterlife, b) basic human goodwill, and c) the lack of interest in finding new converts demonstrated by many religious people. Though I guess one possible explanation is that it’s basically the same process by which sincere, kind utilitarians fail to become extreme effective altruists.)

      • Aron Wall says:

        @melolontha

        Overbroad question first:

        The biggest reason I’m a Christian is that I think there’s good historical evidence that the Resurrection of Jesus actually happened (in addition to other ancient and modern miracles, but that’s the most important one), if the primary sources are judged without a heavy a priori bias against the supernatural.

        I grew up in a Christian household (my Dad is relatively famous for his faith since he wrote the Perl programming language). It’s important to me that my beliefs be based on reality, so I wouldn’t identify as a Christian if I didn’t think the evidence was compelling. It’s always possible that bias has entered my views, but I have seen people convert to Christianity who were reluctant to do so, on the basis of the same evidence. So if the causal factors don’t match the evidential ones, it is in spite of my best intentions to try to keep them together.

        I don’t think that philosophical arguments should be given the same weight as historical ones, but I do think that the existence of life, and consciousness all point towards Theism, while the existence of evil points towards Atheism. If, however, you think that ethics is objective (so that calling something evil isn’t just a matter of our own tastes, but is a hint about the fundamental structure of reality), then there are ways of arguing towards Theism from that as well.

        The laws of physics have a number of fundamental constants that seem to take on very special life supporting values. The odds of this happening by chance in a single universe are very low, and for various technical reasons it seems extremely difficult to explain this with new physics at high energy scales. I think this strongly suggests that at least one of Theism or the Multiverse is true.

        As far as more subjective factors are concerned: I’ve had a number of religious / mystical experiences where it seemed like God was communicating with me. I also think that the ethics of Jesus (e.g. the Sermon on the Mount) is far more impressive than anything I find in a rival religion, or anything that I would have been able to make up on my own.

        • Shion Arita says:

          The laws of physics have a number of fundamental constants that seem to take on very special life supporting values. The odds of this happening by chance in a single universe are very low, and for various technical reasons it seems extremely difficult to explain this with new physics at high energy scales. I think this strongly suggests that at least one of Theism or the Multiverse is true.

          The existence of life is an emergent phenomenon that would be extremely difficult to predict a priori from the values of those fundamental constants. Is there any reason to conclude that it’s not possible that for other values of those constants, though reality would have a very different structure than our own, emergent phenomena just as complicated and interesting as our life could exist, and those phenomena are just as difficult to predict as life in our universe?

          • alef says:

            > I think this strongly suggests that at least one of Theism or the Multiverse is true.
            This seems fair (though if I had to pick I’d go with multiverse) but
            what about a simulation hypothesis? Or is that in your mind (and reasonably enough; I personally can’t see the difference) entirely
            identical to theism?

          • Aron Wall says:

            @Shion

            Good question. To clarify, I’m not asserting that constants close to our own are the only possible way to support life; there may be other islands of goodness in parameter space. I’m just claiming it’s rare within the total space of laws of physics looking roughly similar to our own but with different constants.

            I certainly agree that, in general, it could be a very difficult problem to look at a given set of laws of Nature, and decide whether they are compatible with some sort of (not necessarily carbon-based) “life” arising or not. In fact, the only reason I am sure that the Standard Model allows for life is that it actually exists!

            On the other hand, some universes are sufficiently boring that I think we can be pretty sure nothing as complex as life exists. Most notably, the Cosmological Constant seems to be fine-tuned to about 1 part in 10^120 (or 1 part in 10^60 if supersymmetry exists). The Cosmological Constant receives contributions from all quantum fields in Nature, and to get it that small, you need a very delicate cancellation between the positive and negative contributions. If it were as large as expected and negative, then the universe would recollapse in about 10^-43 seconds. If as large and positive, then any objects separated by more than about 10^-35 meters would be unable to ever send signals to each other again. In either case, it seems that the universe would be unable to support complex computations of any kind.

            There are some less impressive instances of fine tuning (a couple different things of order 1% or so) that are needed for things like stars and heavy elements to exist. It’s hard to imagine complex structures existing in a dark universe with no elements heavier than lithium, but I can’t say I know for sure nothing can happen.

          • Aron Wall says:

            @alef

            I should have also mentioned the Simulation Hypothesis, although I don’t personally find it very plausible.

            If you think we were created by life that evolved in some other universe, then there is the question of why that universe was life permitting, and that seems to raise the fine-tuning problem all over again. It also seems plausible that a finite being could only simulate a daughter universe of significantly lower computational power than the mother universe they live in. But the cosmos we live in does not seem to show signs of a limited-resource computation. (For example, if the goal was to simulate Earthlings, why make the universe billions of lightyears across?)

            To me, there is also a very significant religious difference between the God of Classical Theism (the fundamental source of existence, with infinite holiness, wisdom, and power) and a Simulator (some dude that came into existence and has finite goodness, wisdom, and power). Namely, that I consider the fomer entity worthy of worship, but not the latter.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            If you think we were created by life that evolved in some other universe, then there is the question of why that universe was life permitting, and that seems to raise the fine-tuning problem all over again.

            Not sure I see why this would be. You have no picture of what that universe might look like, what are its fundamental constants, etc. Our simulated universe might be an exploration of how common life is when it’s really, really hard. It might be that in the “real” universe, there’s nothing tricky at all about life — that a wide range of possible values for the constants would have enabled it.

            Of course, a believer in a universe such as that might note how friendly to life it was, and consider that as evidence for a Creator.

          • Aron Wall says:

            @Doctor Mist

            That’s a logically possible scenario. However, (excluding multiverse scenarios) it’s not like we know of any simple laws of physics which give rise to sufficiently complex behavior over a wide range of parameter values.

            For example, only a few cellular automata exhibit complex behavior (instead of chaotic or stable behavior). Even the complex ones (e.g. Conway’s “game of Life”) mostly aren’t suitable. Yes, in principle you can construct a universal computer, but one glider in the wrong place and it becomes a mess!

        • Dacyn says:

          [Edit: Replied to the wrong comment, reposting below]

        • Aapje says:

          @Aron Wall

          The biggest reason I’m a Christian is that I think there’s good historical evidence that the Resurrection of Jesus actually happened

          Even today, we still have cases where people are mistakenly thought to be dead. The biblical account seems very compatible with Jesus being pronounced dead by accident, being buried, then living for another 40 days, before dying.

          • Aron Wall says:

            Er, no, it’s not compatible with the biblical account at all, which I suspect you have not read recently. For example, it isn’t consistent with the spear thrust through the heart, the guards/stone at the tomb, the angels, the Resurrected Jesus’ ability to appear and disappear at will, the Ascension narrative, etc. Nor is it compatible with ancient Jewish burial practices which involved tightly wrapping the corpse with cloths and spices. You should also bear in mind that it was a capital offense for a Roman soldier to allow a vicitim of execution to get away alive.

            It’s barely compatible with Jesus being able to walk around at all, let alone impressing people with his victory over sin and the grave, since the Scourging & Crucifixion would have been an incredibly traumatic experience (the one ancient account we have of people being pardoned and taken down from the cross before dying and given the best medical treatment, 2 of the 3 still died). And at the end you’d have a corpse of Jesus which required respectful Jewish burial, which would sort of put the kabosh on the Resurrection thing.

            Perhaps you meant, that after discounting almost everything written in the text, it’s compatible with a couple things that remain?

          • J Mann says:

            Even today, we still have cases where people are mistakenly thought to be dead. The biblical account seems very compatible with Jesus being pronounced dead by accident, being buried, then living for another 40 days, before dying.

            I’m a believer myself, but it would be funny if it turned out that the people of Jesus’s time were just really bad at identifying when people were dead, so Jesus’s three resurrection miracles and his own return were just errors. (Also, we might imagine they were really bad at counting loaves, and at labeling which cask contained wine).

            But just to be clear, I vote miracle. 😉

          • Aapje says:

            @Aron Wall

            The Bible is pretty clearly not a very accurate collection of texts, since it has inconsistencies and contradictions. The stories were also orally communicated at first and only written down at least 50 years later, by people who had no first-hand knowledge (like Paul & John). The Bible is full of metaphors and as such, it does not focus on accuracy so much, but seems more intended to be a religious document to make people believe (more) in Jesus.

            For just the resurrection, we have conflicting stories about which women found Jesus missing (1, 2 or 3 women respectively). We have one angel rolling back the stone, no wait, two angels just sitting there, no wait, two men dressed like ‘lightning’, no wait, just one guy dressed in white.

            Given how stories about heroes tend to get embellished, I assume that most claims are greatly exaggerated or false. For example, of the various options above, maybe the one guy dressed in white is accurate. Perhaps he and some friends heard Jesus calling for help and they moved the stone, after which most left with Jesus to give him medical aid and one stayed behind to tell Jesus’s mates. There was probably one woman (Mary Magdalene) who then got told by this guy, but she was in shock and didn’t listen very well (studies that test how much information patients retain after they get significant news from the doctor shows that people generally retain little information).

            Simple story, makes sense. Is scientifically possible. Assume that Mary Magdalene didn’t listen very well and the disciples then filled in the blanks with some nonsense based on their faith. Add 50-100 years of embellishment that happens when stories are passed on orally and I can see you ending up with the Bible.

            For example, it isn’t consistent with the spear thrust through the heart

            Where in the bible does it say that his heart was pierced? John only mentions that Jesus’ side was pierced. Perhaps Jesus suffered from edema, due to the crucifixion and the soldier drained it.

            the guards/stone at the tomb

            Only in the Gospel of Matthew, which is a late text. In Matthew 27:62 you suddenly have priests going to Pilate and telling him that Jesus predicted that he would rise after 3 days. No earlier text said this, nor does even the Gospel of Matthew tell us that Jesus told his disciples or that they knew. Apparently Jesus told only his enemies, which makes no sense.

            But wait, in Matthew 28:15, we hear that there was a rumor in circulation that the disciples had stolen Jesus’s body from the tomb. Thankfully, just as we first hear of this rumor, we get new information from Matthew that makes the rumored story impossible. Such a happy coincidence. If you didn’t know better, you’d think that the writer of Matthew first heard the rumor and then made up a story to convince the doubters that the rumor is wrong…

            the Resurrected Jesus’ ability to appear and disappear at will

            This is not in the earlier texts, even up to 70 CE & then suddenly makes an appearance in 80–90 CE. This really speaks to the reliability of the things that you take for granted (and frankly, your bias to believe the Bible uncritically).

            If teleporting Jesus happened and was noticed by several, then it makes absolutely no sense that people would not write it down at the first written recount of the resurrection. Teleportation is pretty huge.

            Nor is it compatible with ancient Jewish burial practices which involved tightly wrapping the corpse with cloths and spices.

            How so? I’ve seen no evidence that this wrapping was so restrictive to not allow for survival and for the person to unwrap himself. Note that Jesus’s head was probably loosely covered with a face-cloth (aka sudarium). He could probably breathe fine if he were still alive (linen is very breathable anyway).

            You should also bear in mind that it was a capital offense for a Roman soldier to allow a vicitim of execution to get away alive.

            Yet the Bible explicitly says that they didn’t do what they normally do to ensure the death of a crucified person: breaking their bones (they stabbed him instead to check). So Jesus seems to have been treated exceptionally, which increases the chance that the guards made a mistake.

            It’s barely compatible with Jesus being able to walk around at all, let alone impressing people with his victory over sin and the grave, since the Scourging & Crucifixion would have been an incredibly traumatic experience

            The Bible notes many times that the disciples barely recognize him, which is quite consistent with someone who looks like shit due to being nearly crucified to death.

            the one ancient account we have of people being pardoned and taken down from the cross before dying and given the best medical treatment, 2 of the 3 still died

            I agree that this one event was somewhat unlikely, but Jesus didn’t perform very many other miracles that aren’t easily explained away as embellishment and regression to the mean ‘faith-healing.’

            There were other Jewish prophets at the time, it’s not strange for one to have experienced an unlikely event that can form the basis for a religion.

            And at the end you’d have a corpse of Jesus which required respectful Jewish burial, which would sort of put the kabosh on the Resurrection thing.

            After he truly died, the disciples could just have secretly buried him and made up a story about ascending to heaven to explain it. They clearly had motive to do so. Secretly burying a body is not a miracle.

            Perhaps you meant, that after discounting almost everything written in the text, it’s compatible with a couple things that remain?

            I understand that, as a believer, you put way more stock in the Bible. However, the fact remains that inconsistencies are rife and later texts come up with major new information, which is a very strong sign of embellishment (and remember, we only see the embellishment that happened later on, there is ~50! years where a lot of embellishment could have happened without us being able to see evidence for it).

            My personal opinion is that the Bible would have seemed a lot more trustworthy if they had hired a good editor like Rebecca Friedman to clean it up. She specializes in fantasy, so… 😛

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Oy. I think when looking at the miracles in the Gospels, you need to establish probability. Bayes! Remember him?
            If you start from the assumption that all Roman miracle stories are fake, or worse don’t know that the stories exist, it’s going to skew your priors way down. Note that Greco-Roman intellectuals who criticized Christianity never said “You made those miracles up”… they believed that miracles were well-documented and all it proved was that gods really liked someone, not that they were God Incarnate.

          • yaisaacs says:

            I take it that Aron’s point about Jesus’ putative ability to teleport was not to presuppose the veracity of the biblical narratives. Instead, I take it that his point was to say that naturalists must reject some aspects of the biblical narratives, and not merely offer alternative naturalistic interpretations of them.

            As far as timing goes, I should note that the crucifixion of Jesus is generally dated to somewhere from 30 to 33 AD. The gospel of Mark is generally dated to somewhere around 70 AD. So the the time gap between the crucifixion and the gospel narrative is, at most, 40 years rather than 50. I don’t myself think that decade would make an enormous epistemological difference, but others might well. (I should also note that dating Mark to 70 AD is, in the context of this sort of debate, more than a little tendentious. A substantial factor that places the date at AD 70 rather than earlier is that the temple was destroyed in AD 70, and thus naturalistic scholarship treats the apparent prediction of the temple’s destruction in Mark 13 as something which was either invented after the fact or somewhat daringly ventured once the destruction of the temple looked probable a bit before AD 70. A presupposition that prophecy is impossible is not germane to an investigation about the reliability of the gospel narratives. But these sorts of issues threaten to take us far afield, so I’m just gesturing at some of the pertinent issues in this parenthetical.) Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians is dated to around AD 50, and it takes Jesus’ resurrection as something its audience already accepts. Given this sort of timeline, I think that the more plausible naturalistic hypothesis is that the erroneous belief in Jesus’ resurrection emerged among Jesus’ followers shortly after his crucifixion rather than that the erroneous belief in Jesus’ resurrection developed out of accretions or misunderstandings of oral tradition or something else like that.

            As far as inconsistencies go, it seems to me that minor contradictions should be expected from human witnesses (at least given our evidence about how human witnesses behave). Agnosticism about the particulars that vary from witness to witness may be perfectly sensible without warranting a more widespread skepticism. For example, Plato’s rendition of Socrates has him offering to pay a fine of 30 minae (secured by his friends’ assets) whereas Xenophon’s rendition of Socrates has him refuse to suggest any punishment. It’s perfectly sensible to be agnostic about this aspect of Socrates’ behavior, but that’s no cause for skepticism that Socrates was convicted by an Athenian court in the first place. The precise number of women who found Jesus strikes me as being – at worst – a minor detail about which divergences should not be hugely unsettling. While I don’t think that the timeframe easily allows the development of a mistake about whether Jesus was resurrected, I do think that the timeframe easily allows the development of a mistake about how many women found Jesus (indeed, such mistakes need barely take time at all). And some other differences – such as that between two angels and two men dressed like lightning – strike me as more modest still.

          • Aron Wall says:

            Aapje,

            Can you say what you think the likelihood is of the complicated, accidental survival (with subsequent conspiracy by the disciples) you mention above? How many other people do you think have survived similar levels of trauma while appearing to be dead?

            As far as I can tell, you are saying that the first part of your story (Jesus surviving the cross and the spear and appearing dead, then reviving in the tomb) was just an accident that could have happened to anyone. Isn’t it kind of a weird coincidence that this really weird medical glitch just happened to happen to a charismatic religious leader who already had a reputation as a faith healer?

            As yaissacs has pointed out, your dates for the Gospels are off, even if you go by the more skeptical/liberal consensus. Personally, I don’t accept the wikipedia comments on dates and authorship as accurate. You might be surprised at how weak the evidence for these late dates is if you look into it.

            For example, it says that “Luke/Acts” is anonymous even though every early copy of the Gospels we have has the authors’ names on it, and the 2nd century writers were unanimous about the point. By that standard, most of the books on my bookshelf are anonymous.

            Yes, John never says explicitly that his heart was stabbed, but he does say that there was a “sudden flow of blood and water” suggesting the destruction of at least one fluid filled organ such as the region surrounding the heart. If someone is copiously bleeding it should be pretty easy to tell if they have a pulse or not (and if they do, they won’t for much longer).

            Breaking the legs was not the standard way to check that crucifixion victims were dead. It was specially done in that case to prevent bodies from being on the Cross during the Sabbath. The usual procedure was to keep the victims up until they expired, sometimes days later.

            I agree with yaissacs that apparent discrepencies should be expected for testimonial accounts. It would be far more suspicious if the accounts agreed identically on all trivial points, because that would suggest a greater degree of collusion.

            However, differing numbers of women / angels at the tomb is not in any case a contradiction, since the texts never say “And there were no more with them”. By that standard, anything other than identical testimony would count as a contradiction.

            I agree that this one event was somewhat unlikely, but Jesus didn’t perform very many other miracles that aren’t easily explained away as embellishment and regression to the mean ‘faith-healing.’

            I don’t think this is true at all, unless you mean that the stories are so distorted that basically all of the specific details are wrong. In the text, there are quite a few stories of Jesus instantly healing people from major bodily defects like blindness, deafness, lameness and (in 3 cases) death, sometimes at the request of others, and this is supposed to be entirely explained by regression to the mean and psychosomatism?

            Honestly, just say that the stories are completely made up, it would be so much simpler!

          • Aapje says:

            @yaisaacs

            Thank you for the correction on the time line.

            I agree with you that inconsistencies in the accounts are to be expected, also if Jesus actually resurrected. This uncertainty makes it easier to argue that the narrative is consistent with the narrative that Christians settled on, but also easier to argue that it is consistent with only naturalistic events having happened. My bias is to strongly default to the naturalistic explanation, given that I have never seen scientific evidence for miracles & because many/most people clearly have a tendency to (wildly) extrapolate beyond the available evidence and then to believe those extrapolations to be fact.

            The commonalities between the biblical accounts of the resurrection are fairly minimal IMO & the inconsistencies are quite severe. At the very least, this shows a large willingness to fill in the blanks with speculation. The commonalities seem quite consistent with a misinterpretation of naturalistic events that did happen. Furthermore, the witnesses already believed in Jesus’ divinity and ability to do miracles, so it seems likely that they would be especially prone to interpret events as miracles.

            Note that I am not doubting that Christians started believing in Jesus’ resurrection shortly after the crucifixion, based on having him recover after being falsely declared dead.

            The precise number of women who found Jesus strikes me as being – at worst – a minor detail about which divergences should not be hugely unsettling.

            I disagree. This speaks quite strongly to the quality of the evidence. The woman or women who found Jesus have the first-hand account. The people who listened to her/them have the second hand account, which is known to be far less reliable than already quite unreliable first hand accounts. Then we have the 3rd, 4th, etc hand accounts. That the sources can’t even settle on the number of first-hand witnesses, strongly suggests that we are dealing with narratives by people who are fairly far away from the event and who confidently state things that are inconsistent with each other, so most of these are wrong and must have been extrapolated. If this is extrapolated, then why not that Jesus was resurrected?

            And some other differences – such as that between two angels and two men dressed like lightning – strike me as more modest still.

            You forgot the one man dressed in white. So on the one hand, we have a claim that in itself is fully naturalist & on the other hand, we have various claims about the same event that are gradually more outlandish/supernatural. If it was just a guy in white, there are perfectly logical possible explanations why he would be there, without requiring divine intervention.

            Basically:
            – it was a (desired) feature of crucifixion that people would not die too quickly, but would suffer for many hours at minimum
            – it doesn’t seem strange that a gradually weakened person could have weak vital sins, that are easy to misinterpret
            – stabbing a person to check if they are dead seems to be a method that can sometimes fail
            – it doesn’t seem strange to me that being taken out of the sun and being put in a cool tomb, could let a person recover. A few years ago an old woman recovered while in cold storage in the morgue.
            – Jesus can plausible have called for help from the tomb and gotten some (non-Christian) passers-by to help him, both to remove the stone and with medical aid
            – the removal of the stone doesn’t necessarily require angels, since humans put it there in the first place
            – the rest of the narrative is quite consistent with a severely weakened Jesus living a short time longer and visiting a few people, while not actually looking good or being very lucid

          • Aapje says:

            @Aron Wall

            Can you say what you think the likelihood is of the complicated, accidental survival (with subsequent conspiracy by the disciples) you mention above?

            We don’t actually know exactly what trauma Jesus had* and we certainly don’t have modern data on survival rates, since we don’t crucify people anymore. However, we do know that people could survive for days on the cross and that Jesus lasted ‘only’ for some 6 hours before being taken down. Furthermore, it seems to have been common to hasten the death, so lots of crucified people could probably have survived for longer if they hadn’t been ‘encouraged’ to hurry up and die.

            It seems that it was uncommon for the condemned to be buried properly, so Jesus might have had a far better chance than others to survive being mistakenly declared dead. Perhaps the normal way to dispose the bodies was far less survivable than to gently be carried to and placed in a tomb?

            So the likelihood may be far higher than one would think, despite the lack of other similar stories, by virtue of Jesus being treated exceptionally.

            * For example, it is unclear how many lashes Jesus got and how much damage these did. Paul did brag in the bible of having survived 5 maximally nasty lashings, but by the Jews, whose punishments were presumably not the same as the Roman punishments.

            Isn’t it kind of a weird coincidence that this really weird medical glitch just happened to happen to a charismatic religious leader who already had a reputation as a faith healer?

            We are probably dealing with survivorship bias, where the very (perceived) unlikelihood of the events made it more likely that Jesus would be seen as the messiah (instead of the other Jews of the time who claimed the same). From the perspective of a lottery winner, the chance is incredible small that he will win. However, the chance that someone, somewhere wins the lottery and then that person or others being amazed how such an unlikely event could happen, is quite common.

            It’s also quite plausible that if Jesus hadn’t been believed to have resurrected, the Christian narrative would simply have been different. There is a reason why proper science tends to make predictions, rather than come up with a just-so story after the fact.

            You can look at the miracles of Muhammed to see an example of a prophet who didn’t resurrect, yet is considered holy because some wind blew sand towards the enemy during a battle, he removed some sand from his companion’s eyes with some spit, it rained during a drought and other ‘miracles.’ So from a skeptical point of view, it seems perfectly plausible that this event is taken as evidence for Jesus’ divinity because it happened, while if it hadn’t happened, he would still have been considered divine.

            Yes, John never says explicitly that his heart was stabbed, but he does say that there was a “sudden flow of blood and water” suggesting the destruction of at least one fluid filled organ such as the region surrounding the heart. If someone is copiously bleeding it should be pretty easy to tell if they have a pulse or not (and if they do, they won’t for much longer).

            I’m not a doctor, but my understanding is that people can have edema in various organs whose stabbing is fairly survivable (like the lungs) and that fluids can also accumulate outside of the organs, like in the belly. So some flow of blood and water seems possible for a very survivable stabbing.

            I don’t see any claim of “copious[ly] bleeding” in the Bible. It could just have been a very limited amount.

            Breaking the legs was not the standard way to check that crucifixion victims were dead. The usual procedure was to keep the victims up until they expired, sometimes days later.

            The Bible says otherwise:

            John 19:32-33 The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other. But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs.

            So apparently they would break the legs of the condemned to hasten death, but Jesus avoided this treatment, because he was declared dead. Perhaps Jesus fell in a coma quickly enough to avoid this treatment, which presumably would have been lethal. Perhaps the Romans mistreated Jesus so badly earlier, that he relatively easily fell into a coma once up on the cross & thereby they actually saved his life.

            In the text, there are quite a few stories of Jesus instantly healing people from major bodily defects like blindness, deafness, lameness and (in 3 cases) death, sometimes at the request of others, and this is supposed to be entirely explained by regression to the mean and psychosomatism?

            Sure, why not?

            Even today we have faith healers doing the same. If you gather a big crowd of the sick who seek healing, you will always have a percentage who are psychosomatic, who ‘heal’ by interpreting their limitations as a glass half-empty before the healing and a glass half-full afterwards, who regress to the mean, or such. Nowadays we have modern medicine and knowledge about the human body, but back then the situation was a lot different. People may have been even more susceptible to faith healing back then, especially since there was no good alternative.

            Honestly, just say that the stories are completely made up, it would be so much simpler!

            But this is a lot more fun! 🙂

          • Aapje says:

            I also want to point out that my possible explanation for the source of the resurrection story mostly actually sticks quite closely to the statements of fact in the Bible, aside from the stuff that has multiple inconsistent descriptions, where I pick the one that fits my explanation best.

            For example, I accept that both the guards and Jesus’ followers believed that he was dead. I do not doubt that they saw a man with no visible vital signs. The step in going from seeing no vital signs to concluding that the person is dead, is where observation of fact is used to draw conclusions. My claim for that part of the story is merely that the conclusions may have been wrong. I’m quite confident that any doctor will say that laymen cannot be trusted to determine death, so doubting this conclusion doesn’t seem outlandish to me.

            Only the ascension of Christ, which as it happens is merely described by one author, is the part where one needs to deviate from the text substantially to make my theory fit.

          • Aron Wall says:

            @Aapje

            Just a few quick points for the moment.

            If you look at the previous verse in John 19 before the ones you quoted, it suggests that the procedure was (at least somewhat) unusual, done in order to appease the Jews about their upcoming holiday:

            31 Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jewish leaders did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down. 32 The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs…

            The woman who recovered from cold storage was not untreated for any apparently fatal wounds, she was merely found in a coma and mistakenly thought to be dead. And the fact that it made international news strongly suggests that events like these are extremely unusual.

            (But now would be a good time for Scott to chime in and say that, during his residency, people were waking up in the morgue all the time due to a variety of humorous bureaucratic mistakes!)

          • Aapje says:

            @Aron Wall

            If you look at the previous verse in John 19 before the ones you quoted, it suggests that the procedure was (at least somewhat) unusual, done in order to appease the Jews about their upcoming holiday

            That is a good point and it contradicts my earlier claim that they would typically hasten the death of the condemned.

            However, it still supports my overall point: that the procedure was irregular. Do you agree with me that irregular procedures are more likely to result in irregular results?

            And the fact that [a woman being falsely declared dead] made international news strongly suggests that events like these are extremely unusual.

            Yes, because modern medicine is pretty good. The period we are now discussing had far more primitive doctors.

            We know of quite a few devices that were used in the 18th and 19th century to allow people who were accidentally buried to escape or notify outsiders. Even as late as 1896, the Association for the Prevention of Premature Burial was founded in London.

            I don’t see how we can conclude that these kind of things were super-rare back when Jesus lived, just because they are very rare now.

            Furthermore, as I said before, the unlikelihood is not even a particularly strong argument against a naturalist explanation. Many rare events happen and we can presume that followers of prophets will interpret rare events as miracles. So from a skeptical point of view, we should probably consider P(rare event|prophet), rather than P(falsely declared dead|Jesus).

          • Jaskologist says:

            Survival is not enough. You need the guy who recently had nails stuck through all his limbs, a big gash in his side, and the lingering effects of a severe whipping to be so up and perky that it inspires all his follower to think “I gotta get me some of that.” Stepping gingerly while hallucinating due to a 106 fever isn’t going to cut it.

          • bean says:

            We know of quite a few devices that were used in the 18th and 19th century to allow people who were accidentally buried to escape or notify outsiders. Even as late as 1896, the Association for the Prevention of Premature Burial was founded in London.

            How much of that was due to ghost stories and the overheated immagination of the Victorian public. (Not that we’re much better now, we’re just overheated about different things.) Add in a dash of profiteering on other people’s fears, and you don’t need premature burial to be at all common for such things to spread.

            And crucifixion was incredibly brutal. I don’t see someone getting up and walking away from it, particularly not after they stuck the spear into his side.

          • johan_larson says:

            The case for the Swoon Theory (Jesus was crucified but didn’t really die on the cross) would be vastly stronger if there were other documented cases of people surviving crucifixion. Are there any?

          • Aapje says:

            @Jaskologist

            Why not?

            Resurrection is still considered so impressive by many Christians that they center their faith around it. Why would Jesus’ followers be unimpressed with a half-dead Jesus?

            Note that your claim that Jesus was nailed to the cross is poorly sourced. John claims that the risen Jesus has wounds on his hands, but doesn’t claim that these come from nails. Nowhere in the Bible is there any mention of nails. The Gospel of Peter has the first mention of nails, but it is non-canonical.

            The earliest mention of the appearances doesn’t give a timeline and the narratives of the appearances are quite inconsistent in general. So it seems to me that Jesus could have recovered for some time before showing his face. He had up to 40 days to recover.

          • Aapje says:

            @bean

            Again, I’m not a doctor, but I’ve heard many stories that suggest that the human body can sometimes survive major trauma. And we don’t actually know how much trauma Jesus actually had.

            It seems that many hospitals now try to let stab wounds recover without surgery, if no major organs/arteries were hit. We have no evidence that the stab wound was particularly nasty.

            Putting Jesus in a cool tomb, his body wrapped tight in linen with (antiseptic?) spices may be close to the optimal treatment that was available. Or not, dunno.

            @johan_larson

            The Life of Flavius Josephus / Vita:

            420 When I was sent by Titus Caesar… to a certain village… I saw many prisoners who had been crucified, and I recognized three who had been my close associates. My soul was grieved and with tears I went to Titus and said so. 421 He immediately directed that they be taken down and receive treatment with the greatest care. Alas, two of them died during treatment, but the third lived.

            Note that he does not describe how long these people had been on the cross.

          • John Schilling says:

            You need the guy who recently had nails stuck through all his limbs, a big gash in his side, and the lingering effects of a severe whipping to be so up and perky that it inspires all his follower to think “I gotta get me some of that.”

            If the alternative is being Completely Dead, being a bedridden invalid falls solidly into the “I gotta get me some of that” category. And if I actually do recover from being Completely Dead in a manner that leaves me bedridden for six months before I can take a few shuffling steps with a cane and a supportive friend, I’m guessing that a hundred years later the stories will have me dancing a jig as soon as I climb out of the grave.

            The miracle is the resurrection, the transition from Dead to Not Dead. Everything else is trivial by comparison.

          • Aron Wall says:

            @Aapje

            The thing about your theory is that it makes me feel like I do whenever I read other cleverly argued historical conspiracy theories: where each individual coincidence is made to look merely implausible by carefully selecting which parts of the data to emphasize, but where the whole series of coincidences required amounts to something staggeringly implausible. I am especially unimpressed by the fact that your theory, which begins with a merely accidental freak event, has to end with an act of deliberate fraud (secretly disposing the body) that is unrelated to any of the other implausible things in the theory. Surely, if the fraud hypothesis has to be introduced anyway, it would be more parsimonious to have the whole thing be a fraud from the beginning. (By the way, in the Jewish culture of the time, disrespecting the body of your beloved teacher would have been a majorly taboo act; almost unthinkably horrible.)

            It also fails to match the whole tenor of the Resurrection stories, which pretty much all (even if you discount the instantaneous nature of the appearences and disappearences) seem to involve Jesus appearing surprisingly to a various groups of people in various geographical locations (different locations in Jerusalem on Easter, Galilee on other occasions). If Jesus were mortally ill as you propose, surely the stories would have involved Jesus staying put in some fixed location (doubtless tenderly cared for by the female disciples), while the various groups of people went on pilgrimage to where he was.

            Many rare events happen and we can presume that followers of prophets will interpret rare events as miracles. So from a skeptical point of view, we should probably consider P(rare event|prophet), rather than P(falsely declared dead|Jesus).

            While I understand your point, I’m not sure “prophet” is the correct reference class since most prophets do not view themselves as being uniquely important divine figures whose death is redemptively significant (that Jesus believed this prior to the crucifixion seems about as certain as anything else in the texts, since the Eucharistic tradition is in all 4 Gospels and also in Paul, who claims to have received it from an even earlier source).

            If we instead take the reference class to be people who convinced at least some people to take them seriously as the Messiah (note that most of these people did not make claims of divinity), there are about 60 people mentioned in the list on Wikipedia (not sure how complete it is, though). This raises the interesting question of whether we would have any historical references to Jesus’ claims at all, if the Easter-event had not occured. Obviously there is no way to run the experiment, but I am inclined to think that this is a very close question. John the Baptist is the closest comparison I know, and he is mentioned in an extrabiblical text (Josephus).

            Anyway, is this the crux of the matter for you? That is, if at some future time you came to believe that (using only facts you think are true about Jesus’ life before Easter, plus anything else which is not causally downstream from his apparent Resurrection) Jesus was already, in some evidentially relevant ways, uniquely privileged among all other known Messianic candidates/”divine” men/religious founders/whatever, would you then believe that a miracle happened?

            Happy Ascension Day, by the way 🙂

          • Aapje says:

            @Aron Wall

            The thing about your theory is that it makes me feel like I do whenever I read other cleverly argued historical conspiracy theories: where each individual coincidence is made to look merely implausible by carefully selecting which parts of the data to emphasize, but where the whole series of coincidences required amounts to something staggeringly implausible.

            And yet from my perspective, it is still a lot more likely than divine intervention.

            Also, it seems to me that it is impossible to believe that the Bible is true without “carefully selecting which parts of the data to emphasize,” because the Bible has inconsistent narratives. Christians typically distill a consistent story out of this by “carefully selecting which parts of the data to emphasize,” so why can I not do the same?

            I believe that Matthew 7:5 may be applicable here 😉

            Surely, if the fraud hypothesis has to be introduced anyway, it would be more parsimonious to have the whole thing be a fraud from the beginning. (By the way, in the Jewish culture of the time, disrespecting the body of your beloved teacher would have been a majorly taboo act; almost unthinkably horrible.)

            First of all, there was no need to disrespect the body of Jesus in my narrative. They could have reburied him according to the religious rules, but merely not have told outsiders.

            Secondly, stories about heavenly ascensions were somewhat common at the time. For example, an ex-praetor claimed that Augustus ascended to heaven. So the disciples could simply have decided to respect Jesus by telling a similar story about him, rather than that he just fell over and died.

            So… my claim has precedent, as similar stories were told about others at the time. Do you believe that it was falsely claimed that Augustus ascended to heaven or do you believe that he ascended as well?

            If Jesus were mortally ill as you propose, surely the stories would have involved Jesus staying put in some fixed location

            I suspect that Jesus was one of those fellows who refuses to stay in bed when his doctor tells him. After all, he was sentenced to death for being stubborn in the first place.

            Anyway, is this the crux of the matter for you? That is, if at some future time you came to believe that […] Jesus was already, in some evidentially relevant ways, uniquely privileged among all other known Messianic candidates/”divine” men/religious founders/whatever, would you then believe that a miracle happened?

            No.

            I have a very strong prior against supernatural miracles and a strong prior against very old historical documents being reliable, especially those written by people with a motive to favor a certain narrative. It seems obvious to me that the followers of Jesus had such motive.

            Fact is that we have a whole lot of stories claiming various supernatural acts, like the ascension of Emperor Augustus, the miracles of Muhammed, continuing to the modern day. Yet in history, we have seen that what was claimed to be divine, has been explained by science time and again.

            Now, I agree with you that the Bible is more solid than a lot of historical documents of that time in history, but that is very faint praise, since most historical documents of the time are extremely unreliable.

            Happy Ascension Day, by the way

            You too.

          • Aron Wall says:

            [written before Aapje’s most recent comment appeared]

            One more point, since I want to push against the claim that the Easter accounts are full of contradictions. While I don’t claim they are 100% consistent about the exact order of events, I think the degree of contradictoriness is vastly overstated by skeptics due to an isolated demand for rigor (probably faciliated by the fact that they seldom calibrate their expectations by reading multiple documentary accounts of the same event in other, nonreligious contexts).

            The accounts are close to being compatible, once you accept that there were Resurrection appearences in both Galilee and Judea, and that each Gospel is giving a limited selection from these, given their space restrictions (copying documents was expensive). As Dorothy Sayers said, it is only necessary to make “a trifling effort to imagine the natural behavior of a bunch of startled people running about in the dawn-light between Jerusalem and the garden.”

            At a meta-level, one problem is that the more stupidly you read a text, the more apparent contradictions you see. So reading a text with the goal of looking for contradictions (in order to make an internet list) often leads to people making themselves less sophisticated readers than they would be in other contexts.

            I don’t want to clutter up the comments with a detailed harmony, so let’s just consider the question of how many women went to the tomb. Aapje seems to be claiming that the following verses are contradictory:

            When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body (Mark 16:1)

            After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary [the mother of James and Joses] went to look at the tomb. (Matthew 28:1, bracketed text supplied from 27:56)

            On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb… It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. (Luke 24:1,11).

            Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. (John 20:1)

            I see no contradiction whatsoever in these verses. They all agree that Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early in the morning and found it empty, while the Synoptic Gospels include a list of the women in the group who went with her. They are a contradiction only if you take each Gospel to have the unstated implication and there were no other women with them besides those named. I see absolutely no reason to make this assumption (and Luke explicitly denies it).

            Another example of hidden compatibility is in the number of men who went to the tomb. Luke said it was Peter, while John says it was Peter plus “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (traditionally taken to be John himself, but let’s not get into that dispute here) Since John came after Luke, this is obviously a transparent attempt to add an extra key witness to the scene to bolster the credibility of the story! Except that, if you read Luke very carefully, he implies in verse 24:24 that multiple men went to the tomb. So this actually proves that at least one Evanglist did not take “X went to the tomb” as implying “Nobody else did”.

            Similarly, verse 24:34 implies that Jesus had an individual meeting with Peter prior to meeting with the other disciples, which is in harmony with 1 Cor 15:4 where Cephas (= Peter) leads the list. A lot of these hidden congruences are the sort of thing you don’t notice until you’ve read the texts many times.

          • Aapje says:

            @Aron Wall

            Now try the harder ones, was the man in the tomb an angel or a man, or was the angel a man?

            Was the tomb already open, or was it opened by an angel in front of Mary Magdalene?

          • Aron Wall says:

            @Aapje

            I have a very strong prior against supernatural miracles and a strong prior against very old historical documents being reliable, especially those written by people with a motive to favor a certain narrative. It seems obvious to me that the followers of Jesus had such motive.

            If it is really true that you assign very old religious documents basically zero evidential value (!), then I don’t think there is any point in continuing this conversations about the texts. Our divergence in outlook goes too deep to be resolved by bickering over the details. And while I would argue the historical evidence is strong, I said earlier that I didn’t think it would persuade somebody with an extremely strong a priori bias against the supernatural.

            I am a little curious though how you justify such a steep prior. It seems to me that such a prior would have to be based on having an extremely high level of confidence about the right answers to tricky metaphysical questions about what the ultimate nature of existence is like. If there’s one subject where we ought to have a little bit of humility about our ability to confidently work things out from pure reason, it’s metaphysics. In LessWrong terms, it seems obvious to me that there are a much smaller number of bits of evidence available to us in philosophy, then in history (even ancient history).

            Even today we have faith healers doing the same. If you gather a big crowd of the sick who seek healing, you will always have a percentage who are psychosomatic…

            A minor point. While I obviously agree with you that such things happen, I also think there are legit faith healings in modern times (although that is conversation will need to be saved for ). I am therefore unwilling to use the general catefory “faith healers” as a control group to establish the naturalistic baseline. The category would have to be gerrymandered a little to exclude the ones I think are for real.

            Now try the harder ones, was the man in the tomb an angel or a man, or was the angel a man?

            An angel is supposed to be some kind of heavenly being, sent to earth to communicate a message to humans. (The Greek word for “angel” means messenger, and in some contexts can be used to refer to an ordinary human being carrying a message, although that is not the theory I am going to propose below.) Since the angel comes from outside of our own universe, presumably it either does not have a body, or if it does have one it isn’t one we can comprehend. So in order to communicate with a human, it needs to adopt a suitable material form and/or appearence. Frequently, but not always, the appearence chosen is that of a man. (Other times they appear in the form of animals or wheels or something else.) There are many stories in the Old Testement where somebody meets a person who at first seems to be human, but is later revealed to actually be an angel.

            Set against this background knowledge, there is no discrepency at all. The phrase “man dressed in white” describes the appearence of the angel, what it would have looked like if you were there. The word “angel” describes what the women and/or Gospel writers concluded that the being actually was.

            A similar thing happens in any sci-fi novel where you meet an alien creature. The writer might say either “She saw a man with the head of a fish emerge from the spacecraft” (describing what it looked like to a naive observer) or “She saw the Gzxborkian emerge from the spacecraft” (using the authorial voice to indicate what the creature actually is).

            Was the tomb already open, or was it opened by an angel in front of Mary Magdalene?

            The tomb was already open when she arrived.

            In Matthew 28:2, the author is backtracking in time slightly to describe what had happened just before the women arrived; what they actually saw when they got there was the final results of the events described in verses 2-4. Recall that the Evangelist claims in verses 11-15 to have inside knowledge of what the guards experienced, as well as what the women experienced. (One conceivable mechanism for this, is if one of the guards later became a Christian.)

            As for the reason for the backtracking in time, the Evangelist probably had already dictated verse 1 to his scribe, and then realized he needed to describe prior events to explain what the women saw when they got there. You have to remember that people didn’t have word processors back then! So he couldn’t just copy-and-paste to rearrange the order of the verses. He just did what any normal person would do in conversation, which is to break the flow of the narrative to supply the missing events, and then proceed onwards from there.

          • Aron Wall says:

            PS This building in Rome makes it clear that the other Romans didn’t think much of the ex-praetor’s story. Either that, or they interpreted it as a spiritual vision which was fully compatible with his corpse remaining to be interred in a tomb. But the author of Acts states multiple times that Jesus’ body did not remain behind on earth to see decay. So the parallel is not quite complete.

            But it is true that, as N.T. Wright argues in his book The Resurrection of the Son of God, the Christian resurrection claim was much more unique than the ascension claim.

          • Aapje says:

            @Aron Wall

            If it is really true that you assign very old religious documents basically zero evidential value (!), then I don’t think there is any point in continuing this conversations about the texts.

            I do assign greater than zero evidential value, but my position is that the evidence for supernaturalism has to be extremely strong, since it is such an extreme claim. For (far) less extreme claims, like the existence of Jesus as a person, I am willing to consider that quite likely based on the religious documents.

            I am a little curious though how you justify such a steep prior.

            I interpret evidence in a greater context of what science strongly suggests is true, as well as more subjective observations (including of human nature). I see a general tendency by many humans to substantially underestimate the randomness of life* & to come up with ‘creative’ explanations, which are often anti-scientific and sometimes religious. However, whenever scientific evaluations are done, the results are typically like this.

            * Or instead of randomness, one can call it complexity that is so high that the causal mechanisms at work are beyond understanding.

            If there’s one subject where we ought to have a little bit of humility about our ability to confidently work things out from pure reason, it’s metaphysics.

            My wordview is not built on pure reason. I try to ground my reasoning in fact. Of course when extrapolating from facts, the conclusions are less certain than the facts themselves.

            There are many stories in the Old Testament where somebody meets a person who at first seems to be human, but is later revealed to actually be an angel.

            In other words, angels are not actually distinguishable from people & we are supposed to believe that certain human-looking messengers are angels, based on faith, I guess.

            This is a good illustration of my point that I’ve been trying to get across. In this world, we have observations and we have have interpretations of those observations. What I’ve tried to do, is to point out that most of what you see as proof of the supernatural in the resurrection story are interpretations of the causal mechanisms that have led to certain outcomes. These same outcomes can also be explained differently, with non-divine causal mechanisms at play.

            Imagine that I find a nugget of gold. I can believe that God wanted me to have this nugget, I can believe that someone lost this nugget or I can come up with another explanation of why that nugget ended up where it did. However, all of these explanations are speculation, as I simply lack sufficient information. So I am heavily dependent on my priors, if I insist in guessing.

            To go back to the Biblical resurrection, we know with high probability that people can be and have been incorrectly judged to be dead. The evidence also suggests that this is correlated with the medical training of the person who makes the call. Furthermore, we know from people who were ‘brought back’ by human intervention, that a lack of oxygen of the brain causes deterioration which makes resuscitation have worse outcomes the longer someone’s brain has been deprived of oxygen.

            This kind of causal mechanism can be tested, we can explain how the mechanism works by zooming in and examining the human body in more detail, this knowledge can be used to make better choices, etc. Science is very useful.

            Religion doesn’t seem useful in that way, as far as I can tell. In so far that religion may work, it seems that this is at most at the meta level. Many believers may benefit from religion, because they have a need for spirituality and perhaps believing the rules makes them live a better life. However, none of that requires the existence of and the interventions of God.

            In Matthew 28:2, the author is backtracking in time slightly to describe what had happened just before the women arrived; what they actually saw when they got there was the final results of the events described in verses 2-4.

            So how does Matthew know what happened before there were any witnesses present? Was he speculating?

          • Aron Wall says:

            Judging from the abstract of the study you link to, some researchers randomly assigned cardiac bypass patients to multiple groups, and then asked God to heal the people in group A, but not the people in group B. (There was a 3rd group in the study, but it isn’t relevant at the moment.) For some strange reason God did not view this as a legitimate request. Considering that the request was made with complete insincerity, it’s not hard to see why. (The researchers’ request was clearly not motivated by any actual love for the members of group A specifically.) If this had worked, it would have proved something closer to magic than religion. You can’t do a triple blind test where you also blind God to the procedure and intentions of your study.

            They may as well have just asked God to strike the nearest tree with lightning to prove he exists, and then written up the results as a “scientific study”. It says something that God doesn’t usually indulge such requests, but dressing it up in the veneer of “Science!” doesn’t really add anything.

            In other words, angels are not actually distinguishable from people & we are supposed to believe that certain human-looking messengers are angels, based on faith, I guess.

            No, in the Old Testament stories I mentioned, the person is generally revealed to be an angel after they do or predict something miraculous, that human beings cannot do.

            So how does Matthew know what happened before there were any witnesses present? Was he speculating?

            As I indicated in my previous comment, the guards witnessed it, and later reported it to others.

            The women only saw the empty tomb, spoke to the angel who did it, and possibly also felt the earthquake.

          • Aron Wall says:

            Oh, and the nails are mentioned explicitly in the Bible in John 20:25. The nail marks also seem to be alluded to in Luke 24:39-40 (what other reason would there be to look at his hands and feet specifically?), while the act of nailing to the cross is mentioned (for its symbolic implications) in Col 2:14. I checked the Greek to make sure these verses contain legit references to nails, and not merely to crucifixion (although it would have been common knowledge that this was usually done with nails).

        • arlie says:

          Interesting discussion here. I don’t have anything useful to contribute, but I did want to say that.

        • vV_Vv says:

          The biggest reason I’m a Christian is that I think there’s good historical evidence that the Resurrection of Jesus actually happened (in addition to other ancient and modern miracles, but that’s the most important one), if the primary sources are judged without a heavy a priori bias against the supernatural.

          Can you summarize this historical evidence, please?

          The laws of physics have a number of fundamental constants that seem to take on very special life supporting values. The odds of this happening by chance in a single universe are very low, and for various technical reasons it seems extremely difficult to explain this with new physics at high energy scales. I think this strongly suggests that at least one of Theism or the Multiverse is true.

          Well, in an universe that does not support life, there is nobody pondering the question.

          As far as more subjective factors are concerned: I’ve had a number of religious / mystical experiences where it seemed like God was communicating with me.

          This is not evidence of the existence of a god external to your own mind.

          I also think that the ethics of Jesus (e.g. the Sermon on the Mount) is far more impressive than anything I find in a rival religion, or anything that I would have been able to make up on my own.

          This is not particularly strong evidence of Jesus being divine.

          • I also think that the ethics of Jesus (e.g. the Sermon on the Mount) is far more impressive than anything I find in a rival religion, or anything that I would have been able to make up on my own.

            This is not particularly strong evidence of Jesus being divine.

            I don’t know if the claim is true, but if it is true I think it would be strong evidence, although not proof.

            You have a project that many people have attempted. One person achieved it much more successfully than anyone else before or after. That person claimed to be more than human.

            Applying Bayesian reasoning, the posterior probability that the claim is true ought to be much higher than the prior probability, since the probability that a god could do what he did is much higher than the probability that an ordinary human could do it.

          • vV_Vv says:

            You have a project that many people have attempted. One person achieved it much more successfully than anyone else before or after.

            Many people tried, one happened to have done it better than anybody else, but not orders of magnitude better, Muhammad and Buddha come close by number of followers.

            That person claimed to be more than human.

            If I remember correctly, according to the Scripture, he didn’t even claim to be a god, this is a later interpretration.

          • bean says:

            If I remember correctly, according to the Scripture, he didn’t even claim to be a god, this is a later interpretration.

            That’s just nonsense. He may not have actually uttered the words “I am God”, but any understanding of Jewish idiom makes it crystal clear that he does make that claim repeatedly.

          • Aron Wall says:

            Can you summarize this historical evidence, please?

            Several people have asked me to do this, so I’ll try to pull something brief together. But the resources johan_larson linked to should at least give a rough approximation to what I’d say.

            Well, in an universe that does not support life, there is nobody pondering the question.

            Correct, but our existence still requires some sort of explanation.

            This is not evidence of the existence of a god external to your own mind.

            In Bayesian terms it is evidence, since it’s more likely to happen if an objectively (real) God exists than if he doesn’t. It may not be conclusive evidence, but it’s evidence. But there is a reason I’ve also mentioned external objective evidence like miracles.

            I do know of some examples of people that God spoke to even though they weren’t predisposed to expect it, and also at least one case of a person learning something important they seemingly couldn’t have known naturally.

            This is not particularly strong evidence of Jesus being divine.

            It’s not conclusive by itself, but if some person X does claim to be the unique incarnation of a perfectly holy and wise Deity, then “X is the most insightful moral teacher of all time” had better at least pass the laugh test. For the vast majority of people who have ever lived, including most religious leaders, this claim is absurd. And if most people would fail this test, then success counts as evidence. (Basically what David said.)

            If a person with a good claim to that also has one of the most impressive apparent miracles in history, then you should start to take them seriously. Surely you agree that Jesus is enormously more likely to be the Son of God, then say your neighbor next door?

          • yaisaacs says:

            I note that even if the putative caliber of Jesus’ ethical teaching isn’t particularly strong evidence on its own, it does not follow that such evidence can’t make a substantial contribution to an overall case. Put in very abstract terms, a Bayes factor that doesn’t produce much of an arithmetic difference in probabilities for a hugely improbable hypothesis can produce a substantial arithmetic difference in probabilities for a fairly improbable hypothesis. Let’s suppose that Aron’s esteem for Jesus’ ethical teaching is such that he thinks the probability of someone coming up with a system that good without divine inspiration is 1/100. Let’s also assume that his evaluations of moral systems are sufficiently coarse-grained that there’s no further information about his evaluation of Jesus’ ethical teaching and that he’s certain that someone with divine inspiration would produce this sort of impressive-seeming moral system. If the probability of Jesus’ divine inspiration were hugely low, then making it go up by a factor of 100 wouldn’t mean all that much arithmetically – the difference between 1 in 100,000,000,000 and 1 in 1,000,000,000 isn’t worth getting excited about. But if the probability of Jesus’ divine inspiration were initially around 1 in 10, then the move to probability 9 in 10 would be dramatic.

          • Aapje says:

            @Aron Wall

            If a person with a good claim to that also has one of the most impressive apparent miracles in history, then you should start to take them seriously. Surely you agree that Jesus is enormously more likely to be the Son of God, then say your neighbor next door?

            Of all of the people who claim divinity, there is always going to be one with the most impressive miracle, just like, of all the people who play the lottery, there is always going to be one who wins the biggest prize.

            It seems wrong to me to conclude that the biggest lottery prize winner is much more likely to have been chosen by God to have received that prize, since we gave perfectly good reasons to believe that the person just got lucky. In a scenarios where luck plays a major role, shouldn’t we put little stock in n=1 outcomes?

        • dndnrsn says:

          @Aron Wall

          You’ve already been asked what you think is the historical evidence supporting the resurrection.

          As far as more subjective factors are concerned: I’ve had a number of religious / mystical experiences where it seemed like God was communicating with me. I also think that the ethics of Jesus (e.g. the Sermon on the Mount) is far more impressive than anything I find in a rival religion, or anything that I would have been able to make up on my own.

          What do you think Jesus’ ethical teachings were? What was his overall message to his audience? For our purposes, let’s assume that the Sermon on the Mount was either delivered as written, or was a bunch of things the historical figure Jesus said, stitched together to have a better rhythm than “one time he said this thing, and this other time, he said this other thing”, and this stitching-together has not misrepresented the overall message.

          • Aron Wall says:

            What do you think Jesus’ ethical teachings were?

            Well you can read the Gospels too, but the key points seem to be this:

            God is a loving Father who provides for everyone, including sinners and those who do not acknowledge him; therefore we too should love everyone, including our enemies. Morality is a matter of the heart, so we need to be very careful about making our intentions right and not focus on external behavior or ceremonial matters. Religious people need to be particularly on the watch to avoid hypocrisy and legalism. If you want to become great, you should become humble like a small child, rather than trying to make yourself an authority over other people. God will take care of you so stop being so anxious about worldly things, instead give your wealth to the poor so that you will have treasure in heaven.

            What a summary like this doesn’t really get across is how he keeps on making shockingly extreme claims, that seem like common sense to him but seem like an incredibly high bar for the rest of us to clear. I can’t say this as well as Chesterton did.

            Of course, many aspects of Jesus’ morality presuppose Theism (as it should if Christianity is correct), and no element is entirely original (how could it be, if it is truly the right way for humans to behave?)

          • Aron Wall says:

            I should add that Jesus’ ethics of self-sacrifice even for enemies, also fits perfectly with the theology of what he actually did. You can’t talk about Jesus’ ethics without talking about the Crucifixion.

          • dndnrsn says:

            I have read the Gospels; I went to school for the general subject (the secular study of it more than the theology, although a decent chunk of secular-study people are themselves believers of one sort or another) back when. Scholars disagree over what, exactly, Jesus’ teachings were – different sorts of scholars have different disagreements, and it often comes down to hair-splitting.

            There’s broad acceptance of some things – your summary is pretty close to what median scholar would say about Jesus’ ethical message, although median scholar would probably then start talking about apocalypticism.

            The elephant in the room is the gap between the Synoptics and John.

          • Aron Wall says:

            I didn’t realize you were asking me to place my beliefs in the context of secular biblical scholarship.

            There, the game seems to be to reconstruct the “historical Jesus” by deciding that certain parts are what Jesus actually said, certain parts later interpolations.

            They use fairly silly critria for this, for example the principle of “Double Dissimilarity” which states that anything that sounds too much like other Jewish or Christian literature should be suspected of being an interpolation, as if it were unreasonable for the Jewish founder of Christianity to sound like Judaism or Christianity. A lot of it is based on circular reasoning, for example assuming that the parts with more “developed” theology must be dated later from the rest, but the scholar decides what is more developed based on their own presuppositions about what came first.

            I believe that the Gospels are basically historically accurate, so when I refer to Jesus’ teaching I mean the things actually printed on the page, including of course the apocalypticism.

            Yes there is a notable difference in style between Synoptics and John, but this is exactly what you’d expect given that the Gospels were written by different people who noticed different kinds of things. (E.g. Plato and Xenophan had very different takes on Socrates, but there can still be a common person who both are describing.) John seems to presuppose that the readers already know about the synoptic material, and he includes lots of extended conversations, which I assume give the gist of what Jesus and his interlocutors said to each other rather than being what would come out of a tape recorder. But the parts that are narrative seem extremely concerned with minor details in a way that strongly suggests to me an eyewitness source for the text (as it explicitly claims).

            But even if you reject John, there’s still plenty of testimony to the miraculous in the Synoptics, Acts, and in Paul (whose letters were actually written before the Gospels).

          • dndnrsn says:

            I didn’t realize you were asking me to place my beliefs in the context of secular biblical scholarship.

            So, I think the wall between secular and religious biblical scholarship is thinner than a lot of people think. Most “secular” biblical scholars I met were religious: liberal, but religious.

            There, the game seems to be to reconstruct the “historical Jesus” by deciding that certain parts are what Jesus actually said, certain parts later interpolations.

            They use fairly silly critria for this, for example the principle of “Double Dissimilarity” which states that anything that sounds too much like other Jewish or Christian literature should be suspected of being an interpolation, as if it were unreasonable for the Jewish founder of Christianity to sound like Judaism or Christianity. A lot of it is based on circular reasoning, for example assuming that the parts with more “developed” theology must be dated later from the rest, but the scholar decides what is more developed based on their own presuppositions about what came first.

            What’s funny is that a lot of secular scholars think that (usually past a certain point) doing this sort of thing is a blind alley, and one of the major works of the field basically concludes it’s a blind alley, but people still try.

            I believe that the Gospels are basically historically accurate, so when I refer to Jesus’ teaching I mean the things actually printed on the page, including of course the apocalypticism.

            Yes there is a notable difference in style between Synoptics and John, but this is exactly what you’d expect given that the Gospels were written by different people who noticed different kinds of things. (E.g. Plato and Xenophan had very different takes on Socrates, but there can still be a common person who both are describing.) John seems to presuppose that the readers already know about the synoptic material, and he includes lots of extended conversations, which I assume give the gist of what Jesus and his interlocutors said to each other rather than being what would come out of a tape recorder. But the parts that are narrative seem extremely concerned with minor details in a way that strongly suggests to me an eyewitness source for the text (as it explicitly claims).

            So, I think as historical sources, the Synoptics are pretty good. There’s a vigorous scholarly fight about John; I recall coming to the conclusion that the narrative source was legit, at a minimum. (Conversely, some people who go really hard on the “Thomas is the real-deal sayings collection” fall into a trap, because there’s some stuff in Thomas that is blatantly later insertions)

            But even if you reject John, there’s still plenty of testimony to the miraculous in the Synoptics, Acts, and in Paul (whose letters were actually written before the Gospels).

            Oh, certainly. You can’t take the miracles out. Jesus was clearly understood to be a miracle worker. In general, looking at this from the modern perspective is missing a lot – we tend to wall off “religious”, “not religious”, “natural”, “supernatural” in a way that a first century Jew or Roman pagan or whatever wouldn’t.

          • JohnBuridan says:

            N. T. Wright (Anglican theologian) has written some good stuff on the historical period in which the gospels and new testament were written. I highly recommend New Testament and the People of God , a good book, filled with primary sources on the topic Jewish culture in the Greco-Roman period and how the narratives about Christ relate to the period. His solid scholarship starts with what is definite and works its way to the conjectural. He also clearly explains framework he is using for understanding the gospels and new testament, i. e. understand the period and you will understand the gospels, the qumran scrolls, the gospel of thomas, Josephus’ Histories, and a variety of text from the 1st – 2nd century much better.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          Thanks for answering these questions, this is all very interesting. I just want to say it’s cool you’re Larry Wall’s son. I have always been a big fan of his. Say “thanks for Perl” to your dad for me.

        • rahien.din says:

          Random, post-Baptist Catholic here.

          The biggest reason I’m a Christian is that I think there’s good historical evidence that the Resurrection of Jesus actually happened (in addition to other ancient and modern miracles, but that’s the most important one), if the primary sources are judged without a heavy a priori bias against the supernatural.

          The laws of physics have a number of fundamental constants that seem to take on very special life supporting values. The odds of this happening by chance in a single universe are very low, and for various technical reasons it seems extremely difficult to explain this with new physics at high energy scales. I think this strongly suggests that at least one of Theism or the Multiverse is true.

          I have always found this to be a very weird kind of argument. What do you make of people who believe in Christ without needing to rely on that sort of thinking?

          Whenever you invoke evidence, you invoke falsifiability. But I don’t think you would allow your faith to be falsified – what sort of physical or historical evidence would have to prevail in order to reverse your views? I kind of don’t believe that your faith is based on a careful study of evidence.

        • Buckyballas says:

          Hi Aron,

          Thanks for the AMA. I’ve read Lewis’ Mere Christianity, Strobel’s Case for Christ, Tim Keller’s Reason for God, and a few other Christian apologetic works, and I have come away with a thought experiment which leaves me unable to accept the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection as sufficient for me to believe in its literal truth. That is, I imagined a scenario where a collection of eyewitness accounts was revealed today which are more or less identical to the gospel accounts except that they describe a the resurrection of a heretical Muslim itinerant preacher who claimed to be the son of God and was supposedly resurrected in 1940 in, say, Malaysia. There exist all the same claims as the gospels: the empty tomb, the eyewitnesses, the ascension into Heaven; as well as the circumstantial evidence: the martyrdom of the supposed eyewitnesses, the rapid growth of a persecuted sect, cultural idiosyncrasies, etc. Would you then convert to this sect based on the strength of the evidence? I do not think I would. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence and all that. Since I cannot accept this hypothetical account based on the evidence, I cannot accept the Gospel account either.

          In fact, if, in addition to the accounts, there existed grainy videos and photographs which purport to show this man’s death and his life after death, and testimony from contemporary intellectuals which corroborate the accounts, I would still hesitate to believe. It would still be easier (for me) to believe that everything is an elaborate ruse/delusion/misunderstanding/legend/exaggeration/mistranslation/justification than for me to believe that a person who was biologically dead got up 3 days later with no apparent serious injuries, and furthermore to believe that he is the son of an omnipotent deity (as well as walking through walls and ascending to the clouds and all that).

          What are your thoughts on this?

          • EchoChaos says:

            I would indeed believe that person was resurrected, FYI.

            That is necessary but not sufficient for me to consider joining their religion.

          • Protagoras says:

            Hume discusses a similar hypothetical involving imagined stories of Elizabeth I being resurrected in his famous discussion of evidence for miracles.

          • yaisaacs says:

            I think there are some potentially delicate issues with the heuristic you outline.

            It seems that Aron’s claim is that the historical evidence for Christianity is uniquely strong. If we hold the evidence for Christianity fixed and imagine adding in analogously strong evidence for this new religious movement, then that’s importantly different. The existence of two, inconsistent religions with the same evidential profile could well change our estimate of what that evidential profile amounts to. If some number comes up on my cell phone when someone calls me that strongly suggests that it’s their number. But if some number comes up on my phone whenever any of dozens of people call me, that strongly suggests that my phone is malfunctioning and thus that the number might not belong to any of the people calling me. So just adding another Christianity-like religion doesn’t seem like a viable test.

            On the other hand, one could change more. We can delete Christianity from our hypothetical, and instead have this alternative religion be uniquely well-evidenced. Then what should one think? But I’m afraid this also doesn’t seem like a promising question to me. If one imagines the alternative religion being different in relevant regards – suppose that this new religion seems to have a ludicrous ethic whereas one finds the ethics of Christianity substantially more plausible – then a difference in credulity is easy to justify. And if one imagines the alternative religion identical in all relevant regards, then it’s hard for me to see how the hypothetical gives any independent purchase on the issue. One might be worried that cultural context unfairly biases one towards some religions and away from others, but aside from such worries I’m not sure what the mental redescription of the case would do.

          • JohnBuridan says:

            Augustine, I think, basically agrees. He finds the “evidence for Christianity” not in Christ’s resurrection, but in the way that these people who aren’t educated philosophers like himself live. He marvels that their ethics are so similar and yet so far above those of the Stoics/Platonists.

            He has a good letter to one of his pagan friends about the evidence which has caused him to believe in Christianity. Interestingly, it is ethical and social. Christianity spread quickly, had a great message, and causes people to actually live better.

            Obviously, in 1350, I might not accept this as positive evidence. But if our Malaysian Savior from 1950 also preached Effective Altruism and his people pushed the dial so far that now whenever there is a natural disaster, war, or famine within a week the world pulls its resources together to protect those vulnerable people and help them rebuild, I would join, and at least consider it possible that the Malaysian Savior is a saint, an angel, a person inspired by Providence.

            Could he get me to reject Jesus Christ? Probably not. I would likely adopt some type of syncretism.

          • Jaskologist says:

            This was an especially big deal for Augustine, who was intellectually convinced of Christianity for a while, but didn’t have the willpower to actually commit to it and give up the pleasures of the flesh. The desert monks really bothered him, since they were far less educated than him, and yet far more virtuous.

            Hence his famous prayer, “Give me chastity and continence, but not yet.”

          • Buckyballas says:

            Thanks for your thoughts and the pointers to Hume and Augustine. yaisaacs, you raise a good point and thanks for getting me to think about that some more.

            Towards the end of your post you say

            One might be worried that cultural context unfairly biases one towards some religions and away from others, but aside from such worries I’m not sure what the mental redescription of the case would do.

            and I suppose that is partially (maybe mostly) what I am trying to do – separate my own cultural bias from the epistemic question. As I grew up in the US and was raised an evangelical Christian, I had this cultural bias in spades and also a lot of personal inertia which I worried was affecting my ability to assess the truth of the resurrection fairly. I suppose my thinking potentially introduces a negative cultural bias though, which is sort of annoying.

      • Aron Wall says:

        I think the objective evidence is strong enough that a “fair-minded and intellectually curious” person who investigates it, without a strong anti-supernatural bias, ought to come to believe as I do. However, I think very few people have the requisite degree of fair-mindedness; most people (on either side) use double-standards and are very reluctant to examine their presuppositions about what it means to be rational.

        But I try to assume that people are engaging in good faith until it becomes clear they aren’t. And I don’t rule out the possibility that some honest people with different presuppositions, may look at the same evidence and come to a different conclusion than me.

        Of course, from the Christian perspective, there is divine help available to assist those who really want to know the truth. “Ask, and you will receive; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you.” From the skeptical perspective, this is a bit of a stumbling block since you can’t know at the beginning if the being supposedly providing help is even real, but it probably does no harm to try asking anyway.

        I agree with you that your (a) & (b) imply the obvious duty to evangelize, and therefore I do feel responsibility to share the Gospel. In my case this mostly involves blogging and ocassionally trying to steer conversations with friends to spiritual topics. But equally obviously, being an asshole is not an effective strategy from either person’s perspective! One can be a catalyst, but at the end of the day you can’t control whether another person comes to God or not.

        If you don’t like being proselytised to, then maybe you shouldn’t have responded to my bait! 😉 But I would be honestly interested to hear why you’ve found the experience unpleasant, since it might conceivably help me to be less annoying to other people in the future! I’m not sure I fully understand it, since it doesn’t bother me when people from other perspectives try to proselytize me (which admittedly happens pretty seldom).

        Perhaps one reason why some people may feel annoyed when religious believers try to convert them, is that they feel like they’re being treated like tokens for a religious duty, rather than as actual people? I would argue that any concern for another person’s “soul” ought always to be placed in the context of caring for the whole person as a person (body and mind), which should normally involve at least as much listening as speaking.

        • skef says:

          I think the objective evidence is strong enough that a “fair-minded and intellectually curious” person who investigates it, without a strong anti-supernatural bias, ought to come to believe as I do.

          What, roughly, do you take to be the set of relevant evidence?

          • johan_larson says:

            I’m not the OP, but here’s an essay-length argument for the reality of the Resurrection, the linchpin of Christianity, if you’d like to have a look yourself.

            http://pleaseconvinceme.com/2013/the-minimal-facts-of-the-resurrection/

          • Wrong Species says:

            The majority of those references are to the Bible or people commenting about the Bible. That’s not convincing.

          • johan_larson says:

            As I understand it, arguments of this type tend to admit the four gospels as historical documents only, without any claim to sanctified accuracy. And considered as historical documents, the four gospels are apparently very good. They were written within a century of the events the describe, they agree broadly but not perfectly, and a lot of copies of them exist, so scholars have a lot to work with when trying to discern what the originals actually said. If Jesus had been a king or general, without much in the way of the supernatural attributed to him, documents like this would certainly be accepted as almost wholly reliable.

            I don’t find the arguments for the Resurrection entirely convincing. Really, what standard of proof should I use for claims about the supernatural? Very high ones, surely, higher than I would accept for an extraordinary but non-supernatural claim like an alien landing. And I don’t see that claims in four old books reach that high.

            But I must admit that the arguments presented are of higher quality than I had anticipated.

          • skef says:

            As I understand it, arguments of this type tend to admit the four gospels as historical documents only, without any claim to sanctified accuracy. And considered as historical documents, the four gospels are apparently very good. … If Jesus had been a king or general, without much in the way of the supernatural attributed to him, documents like this would certainly be accepted as almost wholly reliable.

            Even taking status of the gospels as broadly historically accurate as granted, and setting aside the supernatural nature of resurrection, the evidence seems to be equivocal at best. The kind of thing you might see if there was agreement after the fact that event X happened, without anyone having actually witnessed X or even getting their stories straight about the particulars of X.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @johan_larson

            As I understand it, arguments of this type tend to admit the four gospels as historical documents only, without any claim to sanctified accuracy. And considered as historical documents, the four gospels are apparently very good. They were written within a century of the events the describe, they agree broadly but not perfectly, and a lot of copies of them exist, so scholars have a lot to work with when trying to discern what the originals actually said. If Jesus had been a king or general, without much in the way of the supernatural attributed to him, documents like this would certainly be accepted as almost wholly reliable.

            What do you mean by “very good”? They’re very good as textual sources by the standard of the times: the gospels are very well attested; they’re very far away from “we have one copy of this, and it’s fragmentary”. Certainly, we have better evidence for Jesus than many kings or generals. We also have non-Christian sources, although there appears to have been at least a little tampering by later Christian copyists.

            On the other hand, the differences between the Synoptics and John are kind of a big deal, and it’s significant that Paul, writing a bit later, does not seem hugely interested in what modern scholars would call the “historical Jesus.” As a historical source to say “there was a Jewish peasant religious leader by this name, almost certainly an apocalypticist; he caused some kind of kerfuffle and was summarily executed by the Roman governor” certainly. One can even go a bit further and start talking about the specifics of his message – for which the Synoptics and some noncanonical stuff is useful; John (I use the name to refer not to a known author but rather to an unknown author, authors, editor, editors, etc) and Paul are not really. But the “we can say what Jesus said, and look, we’ve even put it back into Aramaic!” scholars are a wee bit overoptimistic.

            It must also be remembered that the standards of biography and history and so on were different in those times. A biographer might compose a speech that general so-and-so gave to his men, on the grounds that, well, it’s probably kinda like what he said. Matthew and Luke use stuff from Q and stuff from Mark in different orders, sometimes to make different points; presumably they did the same with their special sources, and Mark probably did the same with whatever sources he was working with. The most we have of what Jesus said is a collection of short, pithy sayings likely to be remembered. We know a lot more of what proto-Christians and Christians a little later thought and said about Jesus than what he himself thought or said.

          • johan_larson says:

            Thank you for your interest, folks, but ultimately I am not the right person to argue Christian advocates’ case for the reality of the Resurrection, since I don’t ultimately believe in it myself. Let me instead point you to a few sources by people who do believe in the case, and invite you to judge for yourselves.

            This page, which I linked to above, is a good summary of what is called the Minimal-Facts Argument for the Resurrection, at essay length:
            http://pleaseconvinceme.com/2013/the-minimal-facts-of-the-resurrection/

            This YouTube video features a similar argument made by a conservative Christian theologian (William Lane Craig) in a debate on the topic, “Is There Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus?”
            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vRTUrvTTRAQ

            Lee Stroble makes similar arguments in his book, The Case for Christ.

            And finally if you find Stroble a bit too middle-brow for your taste, you can get William Lane Craig making the case directly at book length, in Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics.

          • dndnrsn says:

            I studied this stuff back in school. The conclusion I came to, personally, was that the approach taken (eg in that first link) that leads to concluding historicity of the resurrection, or taking similar approaches, would lead to concluding historicity of various supernatural claims made by other religions.

            I’m interested in seeing what OP has to say; because another conclusion I made was that a lot of smart, wise, learned people, now and in the past, including plenty of people better off with those attributes than me, believed and believe in the resurrection. So it can’t be some idiot thing for idiots or some foolish thing for fools or some ignorant thing for the ignorant. At the same time, plenty of people smarter than me believed/believe in any given religion…

            A lot of claimed proofs for religion and religious claims seem to be happening in a vacuum, where there’s only one religion or claim being considered at any time.

          • fion says:

            @dndnrsn

            I think you make a good point about how other religions also have some evidence for various miracles, and other religions also have very wise adherents. The claims certainly shouldn’t be considered in a vacuum, as you put it.

            However, I do kind of wonder whether the rigour you’re demanding is possible. Can we compare the historical evidence of Jesus’s miracles with the historical evidence for other miracles in other religions? I don’t really know much about the way the study of history works, so I don’t know how people do things like this.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @dndnrsn

            Why would “other religions have miracles” be an sort of argument against Jesus’s miracles?

            You’re coming from an assumption that miracles can’t exist and that each religion is only claiming that theirs work, but that’s a pretty modern view, and not one that is supported by Christian doctrine.

            Christians have no problem believing that there are other powers capable of performing miracles.

            In Exodus 7:12, the Egyptian magicians are also capable of turning their rods into serpents, for example.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            Why would “other religions have miracles” be an sort of argument against Jesus’s miracles?

            Well, it’s not, exactly. But it seems like a reasonable counter to the argument that Jesus must have been divine because he could do miracles.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @Doctor Mist

            Jesus’s claim to divinity doesn’t rest on his miracles. According to the Bible and many other sources, dozens or hundreds of men performed miracles from the beginning of humanity to the present.

            It DOES support it, in that God wouldn’t allow someone who was preaching radical heresy to perform miracles in his name, which is why the Pharisees claimed that his miracles came from the devil.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @fion

            I think you make a good point about how other religions also have some evidence for various miracles, and other religions also have very wise adherents. The claims certainly shouldn’t be considered in a vacuum, as you put it.

            However, I do kind of wonder whether the rigour you’re demanding is possible. Can we compare the historical evidence of Jesus’s miracles with the historical evidence for other miracles in other religions? I don’t really know much about the way the study of history works, so I don’t know how people do things like this.

            The question is, “how good are the sources?” Answering that question, in whatever specific case, is the core of history, or in this case, biblical scholarship.

            @echochaos

            Why would “other religions have miracles” be an sort of argument against Jesus’s miracles?

            You’re coming from an assumption that miracles can’t exist and that each religion is only claiming that theirs work, but that’s a pretty modern view, and not one that is supported by Christian doctrine.

            Christians have no problem believing that there are other powers capable of performing miracles.

            In Exodus 7:12, the Egyptian magicians are also capable of turning their rods into serpents, for example.

            Bits of the Hebrew Bible are agnostic, so to speak, about “enemy powers” and so on. Some bits suggest that early on the God of the Bible, whose name is not supposed to be directly mentioned, was one of many. Here there appears to have been redaction – I think.

            (This is all going by stuff I recall learning in school years ago. If anybody wants, I can go flip through old books, just let me know)

            This was also an issue for the early Christians – meat that was eaten had often done double duty by being sacrificed to pagan gods – was it OK to eat that meat? Part of answering this question involved considering – are those pagan idols real, or are they delusions? What does eating meat sacrificed to them prior signify?

            Is it even true most Christians have no problem with admitting that? If you go into a liberal, a middling, a conservative church, and ask “say, are there other powers capable of performing miracles like Jesus did” what will they say? Can everyone cast Raise Dead?

            The views held by different groups using different collections of the books we call the Bible at different times vary. Some would be really shaken up by miracles or whatever performed in the names of other powers.

          • Wrong Species says:

            The Bible and the Quran can’t both be right. If being historical sources gives credence to their miracles, their miracles are used as evidence for the religions veracity and both religions directly contradict each other then that’s a serious problem for both the Muslim and the Christian.

          • Jaskologist says:

            @Wrong Species

            Just what miracles in the Quran did you have in mind?

          • JulieK says:

            God wouldn’t allow someone who was preaching radical heresy to perform miracles in his name

            “Performs miracles, preaches heresy” is basically the definition of a false prophet, as codified in Deuteronomy 13:2-4.

            “If there arise in the midst of thee a prophet, or a dreamer of dreams—and he give thee a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder come to pass, whereof he spoke unto thee—saying: `Let us go after other gods, which thou hast not known, and let us serve them’; thou shalt not hearken unto the words of that prophet”

          • JulieK says:

            that’s a serious problem for both the Muslim and the Christian.

            I had the impression that the Muslim would say that the miraculous Christian claims are true, but Christianity has been superseded by Islam – i.e. the same thing that the Christian would say about Judaism.

          • JulieK says:

            The conclusion I came to, personally, was that the approach taken (eg in that first link) that leads to concluding historicity of the resurrection, or taking similar approaches, would lead to concluding historicity of various supernatural claims made by other religions.

            Scott discussed this in a post on his old blog called “Mormonism: The Control Group For Christianity?”, comparing the historical evidence for the resurrection to the evidence for Joseph Smith’s golden plates.

            I don’t think anyone has found a control group for Judaism’s central claim, though: (Deut. 4:32-34) “For ask now of the days past, which were before thee, since the day that God created man upon the earth, and from the one end of heaven unto the other, whether there hath been any such thing as this great thing is, or hath been heard like it?
            Did ever a people hear the voice of God speaking out of the midst of the fire, as thou hast heard, and live?
            Or hath God assayed to go and take Him a nation from the midst of another nation, by trials, by signs, and by wonders, and by war, and by a mighty hand, and by an outstretched arm, and by great terrors, according to all that the Lord your God did for you in Egypt before thine eyes?”

          • Wrong Species says:

            @JulieK

            Muslims believe that Jesus was just a man, not a supernatural being. The claims made in the Bible clearly indicate otherwise. I chose my words carefully. I didn’t say that Jesus and Muhammed couldn’t both perform miracles. I said that if the Bible as historical evidence can be used to support Christianity, then the Quran can be used to support Islam and those are inherently contradictory.

            @ jaskologist

            Miracles of Muhammed. Includes splitting the moon

          • fion says:

            @JulieK @Wrong Species

            My Shia friend informs me that Jesus did perform miracles, but was never crucified, so the resurrection did not happen.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            EchoChaos:

            “which is why the Pharisees claimed that his miracles came from the devil.”

            Are you sure? I thought that in Judaism, Satan was God’s prosecuting attorney and presumably doesn’t have the power to do miracles.

          • Evan Þ says:

            @Nancy Lebovitz and @EchoChaos, see Matthew 9:34 where the Pharisees say Jesus “casts out demons through the prince of the demons.” Second Temple Judaism was a whole lot broader than Rabbinical Judaism.

          • JulieK says:

            @Nancy Lebovitz:
            The Christian Bible claims the Pharisees said so, but the Pharisees were their outgroup, so it may not be an accurate report.
            In any case, the question of “Are these Divine miracles or Satanic miracles?” would not even matter. As I said in my earlier comment about the concept of a “false prophet,” *even if* a Jew sees someone do a miracle, he should not follow this person’s instructions to violate Jewish law (e.g to start worshipping a human being, or to not do circumcision, or eat to non-kosher).

            @Evan Þ:
            “Second Temple Judaism was a whole lot broader than Rabbinical Judaism.”

            True, but the Pharisees are in fact the Rabbis of Rabbinic Judaism.

          • Aron Wall says:

            As it happens, I am currently composing a series of blog posts on Comparing Religions in which I plan to compare the evidence for the miracles (among other things) in different religions (including the Splitting of the Moon, which is in my opinion the strongest miracle claim in Islam, although apart from a very brief statement in the Quran the descriptions all come from the Hadith, i.e. later traditions.). However, I’m being a bit of a perfectionist about it so I haven’t even released the first post yet. But you can see a list of the relevant questions I would/will ask near the end of my post Theology: Less Speculative than Quantum Gravity. Note that most ancient religions do quite badly on questions 4-6 since the religious scriptures are frequently written multiple centuries or even millenia later than the events described. (And yes, if I thought there was a religion that, taking the a set of questions like these as a whole, seemed more plausible than Christianity, then I would probably convert to that religion.)

            fion,
            The reason your Muslim friend says that is because the Quran says it:

            That they said (in boast), “We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary, the Messenger of Allah”;- but they killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them, and those who differ therein are full of doubts, with no (certain) knowledge, but only conjecture to follow, for of a surety they killed him not:- Nay, Allah raised him up unto Himself; and Allah is Exalted in Power, Wise; (4.157-158)

            JulieK,
            If none of the rules are supposed to change, then how come Jeremiah prophesied that there would be a New Covenant? And aren’t many of the laws obviously inapplicable to a modern setting and/or future Messianic kingdom?

            I had a conversation with a Jewish guy about this a while back. If you’re interested, please see his original comment, my response “Is God allowed to update the Torah?”, and the discussion in the comments.

          • Aron Wall says:

            johan_larson wrote:

            If Jesus had been a king or general, without much in the way of the supernatural attributed to him, documents like this would certainly be accepted as almost wholly reliable.

            I want to highlight this. The standard approach of ancient historians is not to reject high quality source material because it contains apparent contradictions. Apparent contradictions are quite normal even in honest eye-witness testimony, as courts around the world know. This is basically equivalent to saying that you ought to assign a large Bayes factor to this historical evidence, i.e. that if you disbelieve it it is because of your prior probabilities, not because the posterior evidence is weak compared to other ancient historical documents.

            I also want to mention that, compared to many other ancient documents, the external (i.e. attribution by other authors) support for the authorship of the Gospels is quite strong. The authors’ names are also written on the earliest complete copies of the texts that we possess, and there is no evidence of earlier forms of the text circulating without these names. Furthermore there is a scholarly consensus on the Pauline authorship (and therefore the early date) of the description of witnesses in 1 Cor 15:1-9.

            There is also good historical evidence that certain key claimed eyewitnesses were (predictably) martyred for their faith: James the Apostle (Acts), James the brother of Jesus (Josephus plus a couple 2nd century writers), Peter and Paul in Rome (multiple sources plus relatively early holy sites). (As it happens I’ve seen the coffin where Peter is supposedly buried with my own eyes, even though it is not generally open to the public.) Actually tradition says 11 out of the 12 were martyred, but I am excluding from consideration the less reliable traditions. This is evidentially relevant for certain kinds of theories involving deliberate fraud.

            Really, what standard of proof should I use for claims about the supernatural? Very high ones, surely, higher than I would accept for an extraordinary but non-supernatural claim like an alien landing.

            It sounds like for you, the question comes down to the priors. You seem to be assuming that any supernatural belief should be assigned a lower probability than any naturalistic belief, regardless of how implausible the latter is. I don’t see why that should be, especially since I can think of arbitrarily implausible naturalistic beliefs.

            I don’t think the traditional arguments for the existence of God are anywhere close to watertight, but even if you think they are as full of holes as Swiss cheese, they are still good enough that the prior probability of Theism shouldn’t be taken to be infinitesimally tiny. (And therefore, neither should the prior probability of miracles since P(miracles|Theism) is order unity.)

        • Jiro says:

          Why would this not apply to Islam as well? Are Muslims all not fair minded and intellectually curious? (Clearly they don’t have an anti-supernatural bias.)

          • Jaskologist says:

            The intellectual climate in Muslim areas doesn’t exactly lend itself to fair-minded questioning of Islam.

          • In the Islamic case I think you have one absolutely indisputable “miracle”—the series of conquests by which the Arabs, who had been bit players in the regional geopolitical conflicts, conquered all of one of the great powers and half of the other in a period of about twenty years after the death of Mohammed.

            I can’t think of anything else that might compete with the resurrection as evidence, however. Most of the material on the very early history, as I understand it, is oral tradition written down a fair while later.

          • Dave92F1 says:

            @DavidFriedman

            In the Islamic case I think you have one absolutely indisputable “miracle”—the series of conquests by which the Arabs, who had been bit players in the regional geopolitical conflicts, conquered all of one of the great powers and half of the other in a period of about twenty years after the death of Mohammed.

            Isn’t that just selection effect? There were many tribes in history with their own religions. We only look at the ones that spread to become major world religions, thru whatever a priori wildly unlikely series of events (same goes for Christianity).

            It’s analogous to the fine-tuning argument for physical constants – if there are a large number of universes and physicists are only possible in 10^-100 of them, those physicists will be amazed at the “miracle” of fine tuning. But it’s just selection and the Law of Large Numbers.

          • Aapje says:

            @DavidFriedman

            The military conquests of the Mongols seem more impressive.

          • Protagoras says:

            @Aapje, The Mongols lost most of their best territory within a few generations; a majority of the valuable territory Islam conquered is still in Islamic hands today.

        • Dacyn says:

          Just as a point of data, I spent about five years trying to figure out whether the God of the bible exists before I came to the conclusion he probably doesn’t. I don’t think I was using double standards or reluctant to examine my presuppositions during that time, since I really didn’t know what I would end up believing at the end! (In fact if anything I think I was motivated to stay Christian, since it would have been easier from a social point of view as well as from the point of view of being able to give prepackaged answers to many questions rather than having to think about them…)

          By the way, the main things that eventually turned me away from Christianity were [in no particular order] (a) seeing the inconsistency with which people approach questions in the neighborhood of “does believing in God make you a good person?” and feeling unable to trust the reasoning of a system of thought that led to such an inconsistency, (b) eventually deciding that Eliezer’s “Kolmogorov complexity” formulation of Occam’s razor should be taken seriously as a fundamental epistemology, and (c) trying to do detailed research on many alleged modern miracles and finding that none of them were very solid and many of them were extremely dubious.

          [Meaningless text so that this doesn’t get flagged as a duplicate comment]

        • Dacyn says:

          Just as a point of data, I spent about five years trying to figure out whether the God of the bible exists before I came to the conclusion he probably doesn’t. I don’t think I was using double standards or reluctant to examine my presuppositions during that time, since I really didn’t know what I would end up believing at the end! (In fact if anything I think I was motivated to stay Christian, since it would have been easier from a social point of view as well as from the point of view of being able to give prepackaged answers to many questions rather than having to think about them…)

          By the way, the main things that eventually turned me away from Christianity were [in no particular order] (a) seeing the inconsistency with which people approach questions in the neighborhood of “does believing in God make you a good person?” and feeling unable to trust the reasoning of a system of thought that led to such an inconsistency, (b) eventually deciding that Eliezer’s “Kolmogorov complexity” formulation of Occam’s razor should be taken seriously as a fundamental epistemology, and (c) trying to do detailed research on many alleged modern miracles and finding that none of them were very solid and many of them were extremely dubious.

          [Random text so that this doesn’t get flagged as a duplicate comment]

          • Jaskologist says:

            Doesn’t the fact that Kolmogorov complexity is uncomputable sink it as a fundamental epistemology?

            For almost all objects, it is not possible to compute even a lower bound for its Kolmogorov complexity, let alone its exact value.

          • Dacyn says:

            So the way I think about it, what Solomonoff induction is saying is that you should only count something as a hypothesis to the extent that it could plausibly be cashed out as saying that the universe is run by a Turing machine, and if this is the case, then the plausibility of the hypothesis should be related to the complexity of this Turing machine. Sure, there is still the problem of not being able to enumerate all possible hypotheses, but this problem is not specific to Solomonoff induction.
            To put it another way, sure it’s possible that there is a short Turing machine that gives you the God of the bible (since there’s lots of short Turing machines that we don’t know what they do). But since there is no particular reason to believe that such a machine exists, you treat it as though there isn’t one.

          • Jaskologist says:

            Isn’t that just encoding the conclusion in the assumptions?

            1. Assume that everything must be implementable as a Turing Machine.
            2. Assume that God can’t be described as a Turing Machine.
            3. Therefore, there is no God.

            What actually justifies using this uncomputable metric as our rule of thumb?

          • Dacyn says:

            Yeah, so I hadn’t intended my comment to be a description of _why_ I eventually decided that Kolmogorov complexity should be taken seriously as a fundamental epistemology. But basically it is because the idea of a universe outputted by a Turing machine fundamentally makes sense to me as a kind of object that has internal coherence to it, whereas if you talk about a universe created by God and say that what you’re saying can’t be fundamentally reduced to Turing machines, then I’m not really sure how to make sense of what you say.
            To put it another way, the heuristic seems to be an accurate description of how I think, and it doesn’t seem helpful to ask whether it’s justified in some absolute sense.

          • Aron Wall says:

            With respect, (a) doesn’t really seem like an evidential argument to me. People are bad at giving clear answers to questions in general. It probably doesn’t help that there are about a dozen different ways to interpret the question.

          • Aron Wall says:

            Sorry, hit “post comment” too early and then couldn’t edit for some reason. The dozen questions was supposed to link here.

            With regard to (b), the Kolmogorov complexity is not just uncomputable, it also depends somewhat on your choice of programming language. This seems odd for a fundamental conviction about epistemology/metaphysics. There is also some arbitrariness in how fast you want your prior to fall off with the number of bits b (2^-b seems natural, but is not acceptable due to its unnormalizability.)

            While it may provide inspiration in certain cases, it also seems impossible to estimate in practice. Please tell me, how large you think the Kolmogorov complexity of GR is, and is it greater or less than the complexity of Newtonian gravity with point particles? Please provide actual numbers, although they may be estimates or guesses.

            Finally, it seems to me that there are some important questions which a Turing machine description of Nature is unable to answer even in principle. For example, questions related to consciousness/qualia.

            And is it really reasonable to assign a 0% prior probability to the possibility that the universe may be uncomputable in certain respects?

            With regard to (c), which alleged modern miracles did you investigate specifically? I’m certainly not claiming they’re all supported by evidence.

          • vV_Vv says:

            But basically it is because the idea of a universe outputted by a Turing machine fundamentally makes sense to me as a kind of object that has internal coherence to it, whereas if you talk about a universe created by God and say that what you’re saying can’t be fundamentally reduced to Turing machines, then I’m not really sure how to make sense of what you say.

            Unless God is actually the programmer of the Turing machine that implements the universe, which seems exactly what the many “rationalists” seem to believe when they talk about the “simulation hypothesis”, except that they avoid the word “God”.

            Anyway, I’ve read people claim both that Solomonoff induction implies Atheism, and that it implies Christianity. Both claims are nonsense. Solomonoff induction implies nothing about the world we live in, because we can’t compute it, or even approximate it in any meaningful sense.

          • Dacyn says:

            Regarding (a), it seemed to me like the inconsistency was mostly baked into the system of thought, not the result of particular people being unable to give good answers to questions. In terms of the numbered list that you link to, what I am worried about is the tension between #10 and #11. In order to get to heaven you’re supposed to have to ask Jesus to forgive you. But obviously it’s not fair for people who disbelieve through no fault of their own (and I have no idea why you think this is uncommon) to be penalized for it.

            My impression is that you are trying to resolve this difficulty by saying that although it’s “hard” to “put your trust in Jesus as the Savior sent by God” if you don’t believe in God, it’s still possible. I don’t see how it’s possible, it seems like the only reason that someone would think it is possible is if they noticed this inconsistency and were trying to resolve it. Incidentally, I think historically Christians were a lot harder on atheists, they were pretty sure that we were all going to hell, basically ignoring #11. But now that is whitewashed and their statements are reinterpreted to be consistent with #11.

            Regarding (b), I think using the phrase “fundamental epistemology” may have been a mistake. What I mean is that when I reflect on my intuitions for what kind of universe I expect to find myself in, they seem to correspond roughly to some sort of Kolmogorov prior. Obviously the details of that are a bit fuzzy, and Kolmogorov priors corresponding to different programming languages might line up better or worse with my intution. But I really just don’t have an intuition for what the world could be like if it wasn’t like a computer program. What is that supposed to be, exactly? Your comment about a Turing machine description being unable to answer questions related to consciousness/qualia seems to be pointing to the kind of fundamental confusion that I want to avoid by expressing everything as a Turing machine. I think Eliezer’s post on zombies gives a pretty good argument for why consciousness is just a property of the output of the algorithm computing the universe.

            I can imagine non-computable mathematical objects but my intuition pretty much says “no, you shouldn’t expect to find yourself in such a universe”. Maybe this is too dogmatic but it doesn’t have much to do with the point at hand anyway.

            Regarding (c), I don’t really remember that well right now, though I remember I looked at Lanciano and Fatima, and at some of Joe Nickell’s books. (Lanciano is not a modern miracle but there was a study of it in the 20th century that people make some extreme claims about, though the study itself doesn’t say much.) I realize there’s a bias here in that I was mostly investigating Catholic miracles (since I was raised Catholic). I don’t know much about miracles of other religions or denominations.

            I should probably note that biblical inconsistencies and genocide are also a part of why I don’t believe, though maybe it is better to stick to the topics I already mentioned.

          • Dacyn says:

            @vV_Vv: Sure, Solomonoff induction doesn’t rule out the simulation hypothesis. But that is not what most people are talking about when they talk about the God of the bible. If you want to link the two ideas up, can you explain why the simulators care about the things that the God of the bible cares about? And why do they seem suspiciously similar to the things that humans care about?

          • Doesn’t the Kolmogoroff/Solomonoff approach have the embarrasing side effect that it is unable to justify MWI?

          • Thegnskald says:

            Many theists regard God as infinitely simple, rather than infinitely complex. It is only from within our universe that the illusion of complexity arises.

            (Likewise, in response to Greek, MWI can be regarded as having a form similar to a fractal; a simple process giving rise to complex results)

          • vV_Vv says:

            @Dacyn

            If you want to link the two ideas up, can you explain why the simulators care about the things that the God of the bible cares about? And why do they seem suspiciously similar to the things that humans care about?

            I dunno, God is playing the Sims? 🙂
            The actual proponents of the simulation hypothesis (e.g. Nick Bostrom and Elon Musk) seem to believe that the Almighty God programmer does care about human affairs.

            @TheAncientGeekAKA1Z

            Doesn’t the Kolmogoroff/Solomonoff approach have the embarrasing side effect that it is unable to justify MWI?

            It is unable to justify anything, since humans can’t compute it. People who claim that, e.g. Solomonoff induction implies MWI are bullshitting.

          • Dacyn says:

            @TheAncientGeek: I’m not a big MWI fan. I’m not sure that it’s meaningful to ask whether MWI is true or not.

            @Thegnskald: Sure they assert God’s simplicity, but then they go on using the same human intuitions regarding God’s psychology, without giving any explanation of how such a psychology could arise in a simple being. Even those theologians that take great care not to anthropomorphize God still end up saying something like that God is all-good for some notion of goodness (even if it’s “not the human notion of goodness”) — and it’s not clear how a concept of goodness can be simple. If you really take the concept of simplicity seriously then you just end up with a deism that is functionally equivalent to saying that there is no God.

          • Dacyn says:

            @vV_Vv: God is playing the Sims? He takes charge of a random ancient civilization and intervenes a couple times to make them win against their neighbors, but most of the time he lets them lose to “teach them a lesson” about how they need to worship him. Then he puts an author-insert character which tells people they need to expand their circle of moral concern, and organizes the resulting religion so that people believe the author-insert character’s horrible death means that their God has “suffered the same things they’ve suffered”. I mean I guess he could have downloaded the memories of the suffering onto his real brain? Or he could just be lying. And why does he care so much about getting people to expand their circle of moral concern when he clearly doesn’t care about the people in his simulation in the first place? And if he is just after the thrill of getting people to worship him, why doesn’t he reveal himself to more people nowadays? Maybe it would be boring to have the whole world worship you, it is better to just do random stuff instead to make it interesting…

            Yeah, I mean I guess it sort of works. It seems like this simulator isn’t someone I want to get to know better, so I guess I should just be glad he doesn’t seem to have taken an interest in my life…

            I don’t know, I guess I never really took the simulation hypothesis seriously, it never struck me as the kind of thing you’re supposed to take seriously.

            By the way, are you just going to keep repeating yourself regarding uncomputability being an insurmountable obstacle for the Kolmogorov/Solomonoff approach, or are you actually interested in responding to the substantive remarks I made on the issue in previous comments? Not that I mind either way.

          • Thegnskald says:

            Dacyn –

            I think the philosophical mistake lays in assuming God is made up of the same sort of stuff humans are made of.

            Maybe Goodness is quite simple, it only gets complex when implemented by imperfect meatware operating on imperfect information.

            Likewise, knowledge could be quite simple, it is just that our universe makes it complex to acquire and store.

            (Mind, I am an atheist, and regard God as being about as relevant as platonic ideals. The idea of perfection is, to me, a fallacy; perfect for what? Which means the idea of God looks to me like the idea of a perfect chair; not impossible so much as meaningless, a referent to something that cannot be defined outside of a subjective and impossible.to communicate context.)

          • Dacyn says:

            So, the notion of goodness can’t be completely alien to us, since otherwise it’s not clear why we would call it “goodness” rather than something else. It’s pretty difficult to see how any of the things we usually call goodness could arise from any sort of simple principles. (E.g. a lot of the theory of morality depends on the concept of an agent, which does not appear to be a simple concept.)

          • EYs writings on zombies only argue against epiphenomenonalism, not for consciousness being computational.

            Arguments based on Kolmogorov complexity, and so, have a single-workd bias built in, because of they are framed in turns of a linear output.

            The fundamental problem of epistemology, coming to conclusions that are not just a reflection of the premises, remains unaddressed.

          • Dacyn says:

            I’m not sure what distinction you’re trying to draw between non-epiphenomenalism and consciousness being computational, but in any case it seemed like Aron Wall was taking an epiphenomenalist point of view.

            I’m not sure what you mean by a “single-world bias”. Is that a belief that only one universe “exists”? I tend to Taboo the word “exists”.

            Regarding “coming to conclusions that are not just a reflection of the premises”, isn’t that what Bayesian updating is for? If that’s not what you mean, then I’m not sure why you would want to do such a thing.

          • ’m not sure what distinction you’re trying to draw between non-epiphenomenalism and consciousness being computational,

            Do you doubt that there is one?

            Maybe you could answer the following questions:

            is everything a computer?

            Does everything have causal powers?

            it seemed like Aron Wall was taking an epiphenomenalist point of view.

            I didn’t see that, but I then don’t think non-computationalism is epiphenomenalism.

            I’m not sure what you mean by a “single-world bias”. Is that a belief that only one universe “exists”? I tend to Taboo the word “exists”.

            “We can already do MWI vs Collapse without being clear on F=ma. MWI is not even considered because MWI does not output a string that begins with the observed data, i.e. MWI will never be found when doing Solomonoff induction. MWI’s code may be a part of correct code, such as Copenhagen interpretation (which includes MWI’s code). Or something else may be found (my bet is on something else because general relativity). It is this bloody simple.

            The irony is, you can rule MWI out with Solomonoff induction without even choosing the machine or having a halting oracle. Note: you can’t rule out existence of many worlds. But MWI simply does not provide the right output.”

            https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/Kyc5dFDzBg4WccrbK/an-intuitive-explanation-of-solomonoff-induction

            Regarding “coming to conclusions that are not just a reflection of the premises”, isn’t that what Bayesian updating is for?

            Not as operated by finite minds.

          • Dacyn says:

            Look, let’s try to hug the query and not get caught up in definitional debates. I think Eliezer would agree with my take on Aron’s comment. I think Aron would disagree with Eliezer’s zombie post. If someone says to me that they agree with both Eliezer’s post and with Aron’s comment, then I feel like I don’t have a good grasp of what their position is. Are you saying that you agree with both? If so, can you explain your position further?

            I don’t think I can answer either of your next two questions, since I don’t know what you mean by “everything”. If you pick some category of things (like physical objects or events), then I might be able to answer. (Though maybe you should also clarify what you mean by “computer”, do you just mean the output of a Turing machine? I do think that the universe is the the output of a Turing machine.)

            Thanks for the clarification about single-world bias. As I said previously, I don’t see MWI vs Copenhagen as a meaningful question. Sure if you want to predict someone’s observations, in the end those observations will only come from one world. But it’s also only one person’s observations that you’re predicting. Do you say that Solomonoff induction has a solipsism bias? That seems to be a strange way of interpreting it.

            Your last remark is too cryptic for me…

          • Are you saying that you agree with both?

            More like disagree with both.

            I don’t think I can answer either of your next two questions, since I don’t know what you mean by “everything”.

            You are overcomplicating things. This is ELI5 stuff: in everyday terms , there are lots of things, physical objects, which aren’t computers, and they have causal powers.

            So, although
            “Not-epiphenomenalism” means “has causal powers”.
            it is not the case that
            “has causal powers” doesn’t mean “is a computer”.

            I do think that the universe is the the output of a Turing machine.

            That’s self contradictory.

            As I said previously, I don’t see MWI vs Copenhagen as a meaningful question.

            Would the existence of an invisible, non-interfering God matter?

            Do you say that Solomonoff induction has a solipsism bias?

            No.

          • Dacyn says:

            I don’t think this conversation is productive, I’m tapping out.

          • Aron Wall says:

            Just to clarify, I am disagreeing with Eliezer on zombies. As I wrote in a post on Consciousness and Falsifiability, I think the anti p-zombies argument is based on a misuse of Occam’s razor:

            Do you think would be absurd for p-zombies to actually exist? Good! I do too! But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist as a logical possibility. There is no limit to how complicated or absurd a logical possibility can be, as long as it is not self-contradictory.

            When we use Occam’s Razor, we are generally presupposing that we have already successfully identified the space of logical possibilities, and that we have already used ordinary logic to figure out what each hypothesis says. We can use the Razor to say “Hypothesis X is better because it is simpler and still logically implies observation Y”. But we shouldn’t use it to say “It is better to think that X logically implies Y (even if I can’t see how it does), because things would be so much simpler if it did imply Y than if it didn’t!” Whether or not X explains Y is a feature of the logical structure of X and Y, and that is not the sort of thing we ought to be applying Occam’s Razor to.

          • Dacyn says:

            Yeah, I’m not surprised 🙂 For the record, I think that the notion of logical possibility as it is understood by philosophers is also a confusion. Whether a particular sentence is logically possible depends entirely on how you cash out its terms, but the way that you cash out a term is not a matter of logic, but of linguistic interpretation. What I conceive Eliezer’s argument to be doing is showing that a particular conception of consciousness is incoherent, and pointing to a different conception of consciousness (i.e. one that says consciousness is computational) that doesn’t appear to be incoherent.

        • melolontha says:

          Thanks for this and for your other answer — I don’t have a lot of time right now, but I am interested in what you’ve said and will check back in on this conversation. I should clarify that I didn’t intend any kind of aggression or implied criticism of you personally (not that you seem to have taken it badly, but I realise I might have come across a bit sharply). I respect your approach here — the gentle but open approach is probably your best shot at converting people like me!

          I think my dislike of being proselytised to is partly a result of the specific ways it has happened — perhaps because (in my circles) there’s generally a mild social taboo against it, so the people who do it at all tend to be either rather fanatical or oblivious to/heedless of social niceties. But deeper than that, I think I often find it unsettling — sometimes I feel like there’s a wall between me and my interlocutor, with genuine communication almost impossible because of the giant gulf (if I may mix my metaphors) between our ways of seeing the world. And the fact that I agree with them that this is potentially the most important topic in the world only makes it more painful.

          Less intensely, I think sometimes it’s just frustrating, because the only ways I can see myself being talked into religious belief either involve deep and lengthy discussion of a kind that is often not a realistic possibility (e.g. if it’s inevitable that we’re only going to have a brief conversation, or if the other person seems unwilling or unable to engage me on my wavelength), or some kind of charismatic brainwashing that I would be better off without.

          And I should admit that there’s probably an element of fear, at least in some cases; even though I don’t find any religion plausible, I’m not actually a confident atheist, so there’s always room for doubt and perhaps it’s hard for me to completely discount any internally consistent belief system — and/or my superstitious side can take anything seriously, even if my mind shelves it as fiction.

          (Your thoughts about people being treated as ‘tokens for a religious duty’ seem plausible to me, though they don’t quite gel with my own (conscious) feelings.)

          Sorry if this is worthlessly sloppy and incomplete — I just wanted to give a quick initial response.

          • Aron Wall says:

            I didn’t read interpret your remarks as being critical.

            It sounds like for you, a lot of the discomfort is intrinsic to the subject, so maybe there’s nothing to be done to prevent it…

            It’s my conviction that courageous and intellectually honest people need to make time to examine these issues directly. However, it is also emotionally healthy to take breaks and try not to engage in a neurotic or superstitious way. It may be helpful to think, that if Christianity is true, then God loves you and isn’t out to trap you or trick you, so you can take your time and do things the right way at the right time.

            If at any point in the future, after the current conversation on SSC has settled down, you wish to have that “deep and lengthy discussion”, feel free to send me an email (or meet in person if you prefer and are able). But don’t feel obliged.

    • Shion Arita says:

      How do you reconcile the omniscience of God with the Principle of Locality?

      • Aron Wall says:

        The Principle of Locality is an experimentally observed fact about matter, but if there is something outside spacetime then it’s not clear why Locality would apply to it, or what it would even mean in this context.

        Also, God is not some old guy sitting in a throne room in heaven with a body and a brain, who needs to have signals come to his eye in order to process it. He’s the fundamental reality that sustains everything else in being. His knowledge is not a different thing from truth, it is identical to the truth. If he didn’t know about you, you wouldn’t exist.

    • Anatid says:

      As someone who studied physics I am super interested in this. Here are a bunch of questions, so feel free to ignore any you don’t feel like answering.

      1. What’s your preferred interpretation of quantum mechanics and why?

      2. What fraction of physics faculty do you think are religious? I guess we can look up stats but I’m interested in your impression. Do you think it varies by sub-field of physics?

      3. Do you see any tension between physical laws and miracles? If so how do you resolve the tension? If not, why isn’t there a tension?

      4. What’s your probability of the existence of intelligent extraterrestrial life? If there is intelligent extraterrestrial life, what are the religious implications?

      5. How big do you think the universe is (including the non-observable parts)?

      6. What are your classmates from grad school doing now?

      7. What’s your probability of the LHC finding physics beyond the standard model? Of any experiment in the next 20 years finding some?

      8. Are firewalls real?

      9. Does string theory describe our universe?

      10. How often do you think miracles occur today?

      11. Why doesn’t God make his existence more obvious?

      12. Do atheists go to hell?

      13. What do your colleagues think of your religious views?

      14. Would a sufficiently accurate computer simulation of a human have a soul?

      15. What’s your probability that any experiment will probe quantum gravity in the next 50 years?

      16. How much time did you spend doing post-docs?

      17. Do too many people get physics PhDs?

      18. Does the government spend too much or too little on theoretical physics research? Should the government fund quantum gravity research and if so why? Is it possible for mathematical or scientific research to be so remote from practical applications that it isn’t worth spending public money on it?

      • A1987dM says:

        15. What’s your probability that any experiment will probe quantum gravity in the next 50 years?

        People have already started to look for evidence for/against certain QG theories in gravitational wave detection signals.

        • Aron Wall says:

          Unless you’re talking about the attempt to measure tensor modes from inflation, most astrophysical QG tests are really measuring violations of Lorentz Invariance. That’s regarded as a long shot.

          But I can’t know for certain what you’re alluding to unless you provide a link.

          • A1987dM says:

            I can’t seem to find again what I think I saw on arXiv, so it’s quite possible I was remembering incorrectly.

      • Aron Wall says:

        First 1/2 of Anatid’s questions:

        1. What’s your preferred interpretation of quantum mechanics and why?

        That’s a really hard question. I hate MWI for several reasons, for example I don’t think it possible to derive the Born rule from the other postulates of QM. It seems like a contradiction to say that on the one hand every possibility with nonzero amplitude exists, but on the other hand the possibilities with greater (absolute) amplitude somehow are more real than the others. Existence isn’t the sort of thing that should come in degrees!

        But I don’t really have any clear alternative to give you. I’m sympathetic to the idea that QM is somehow a consistent deformation of Bayesian probability theory, but I don’t know how to reconcile this idea with the Kochen-Specker theorem.

        It may be that part of the moral of QM is that somehow what’s really definite is the final outcome of any process. But I guess that only makes sense if there is a privileged basis at the end of time for measuring the universe.

        2. What fraction of physics faculty do you think are religious? I guess we can look up stats but I’m interested in your impression. Do you think it varies by sub-field of physics?

        Supposedly the statistics say that almost 40% of American scientists believe in a God who answers prayers. But my experience is completely different; only a small handful seem to be in any definite way religious (although I know of a couple closeted examples). I expect this is explained by a difference in culture between elite academic institutions, as opposed to industry/government, or liberal arts colleges.

        I don’t know about subfields, but I’m pretty sure that biology is more hostile than physics due to the Creation vs. Evolution wars.

        3. Do you see any tension between physical laws and miracles? If so how do you resolve the tension? If not, why isn’t there a tension?

        This is actually something that bothers me less now that I am a professional physicist. All known laws of nature are approximations to reality, that are valid only in some limited domain. For example, QED describes some things very accurately to many decimal places, but it doesn’t include effects from the weak force.

        In order to be a Christian I have to believe there are realities outside of the known universe (all of them ultimately originating from God) which sometimes cause effects within our own universe. But that doesn’t seem all that weird to me, it’s really the situation we’re always in when we understand some things well, and other things poorly.

        4. What’s your probability of the existence of intelligent extraterrestrial life? If there is intelligent extraterrestrial life, what are the religious implications?

        This is difficult to estimate, in part because there is deep controversy over how to correctly incorporate observer selection effects into Bayesianism. (This is one reason why I don’t know how to make predicitions if there is a Multiverse.) For example, does our own existence count as evidence that life is common?

        Since I don’t know how to answer the question properly, I’ll replace it with a different question and tell you that I’d certainly prefer to think that intelligent extraterrestrial life exists! It seems like the universe would be more interesting if it did.

        I think the religious implications are actually quite minimal, in the absence of further information about the alien species. Christians have always believed in the existence of intelligent life other than humans (that is, angels). Presumably intelligent aliens would have their own separate relationship with God, which might be quite different from our own. (If we actually met them and learned about their religions, it might provide evidence in one direction or another.)

        5. How big do you think the universe is (including the non-observable parts)?

        Well, at the largest distance scales it looks roughly homogeonous (the same everywhere) and isotropic (same in each direction). So it seems highly probable that at least for a ways outside the observable universe, it’s just more of the same. But at larger distance scales, it might be quite different, especially if inflation is true.

        (If inflation lasts forever to the future, this could potentially be the source of a Multiverse.)

        I sort of philosophically like the idea of a large but finite universe. It seems problematic if everything we observe is copied infinitely many times in different places.

        6. What are your classmates from grad school doing now?

        I’ve lost track of most of them (I graduated 7 years ago), and a lot of them have probably left academia. But Aleksey Cherman is faculty at U Washington, David Norris seems to be a postdoc at the Joint Quantum Institute, Ray Fermo seems to be a postdoc at U Alabama Huntsville, and my academic younger brother (i.e. my advisor’s next student who overlapped with me) Will Donnelly is a postdoc at Perimeter.

        7. What’s your probability of the LHC finding physics beyond the standard model? Of any experiment in the next 20 years finding some?

        At the moment, things are looking glum for new physics at the LHC. (A lot of physicists were expecting supersymmetry to help resolve the fine tuning of the Higgs field, but I thought it wouldn’t be there.) We are therefore faced with the depressing prospect of a Standard Model which must be incomplete, but which works well wherever we can test it.

        There’s probably at least a 25% chance we’ll manage to more directly detect dark matter sometime soon. There are low-energy experiments to measure if neutrinos are their own antiparticle or not. But if you want major new experimental data, I’d look for it in cosmology rather than high energy physics.

        Quantum gravity is in one respect more desperate since we don’t have any experiments, but in another way it’s better because there are deep conceptual/consistency conditions to help guide us. That’s part of why I work in that area.

        8. Are firewalls real?

        Deeply controversial, but after much heartache I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that they are. There must be some sort of quantum gravity phase transition which happens for sufficiently old black holes.

        The only sensible alternative seems to be to give up the usual linearity of QM when interpreting observables inside the event horizon. Either that, or admit that information is lost inside of black holes, but I believe it comes out because of Don Marolf’s “boundary unitarity” argument for the holographic principle.

        For a brief pop-description of the firewalls paradox, see here.

        9. Does string theory describe our universe?

        String theory seems to be mathematically consistent, but there’s no actual experimental evidence for it. Given this, I’m not comfortable assigning it a probability higher than about 25-30% of being right. The bulk of the remaining probability should be assigned to “something we haven’t thought of yet”.

        • Deiseach says:

          (old enough) black holes may actually be surrounded by a wall of fire which burns people up when they cross the event horizon

          HOW HAVE I NEVER BEFORE HEARD OF THIS AMAZING SUPER-COOL THING?

          And thank you for linking that!

          • Aron Wall says:

            Because it’s extremely new and incredibly controversial?

            Except wait a minute, in other areas of life, that’s a reason why you would have heard of it.

          • Deiseach says:

            I also think physicists have not really seized the opportunity here.

            “Firewall” to schlubs like me evokes the faint association of “oh yeah, like with PCs, right?”

            Whereas what you guys are really talking about is INESCAPABLE DOOM RINGS OF TOTAL INCINERATION, RAVENING MAWS OF ANNIHILATION, REDUCTION TO CALCINED ASHES, THE SIXTH CIRCLE OF HELL 🙂

            You know there’s only one song for this!

          • Nick says:

            I don’t know about Johnny Cash, but firewalls do sound like the sort of thing Natalie Wolchover would write about. 😛

          • Aapje says:

            Now I want to have this song:

            The hole, the hole, the hole is on fire!
            We don’t need no water—Let the motherfucker burn!
            Burn, motherfucker, burn!

            Although, it might be confused for a song about STDs.

        • A1987dM says:

          In order to be a Christian I have to believe there are realities outside of the known universe (all of them ultimately originating from God) which sometimes cause effects within our own universe. But that doesn’t seem all that weird to me, it’s really the situation we’re always in when we understand some things well, and other things poorly.

          What do you make of Sean Carroll’s argument that any currently-unknown physical interaction must be either too weak or too short-lived or both to have any non-negligible effect on human scales?

          • Aron Wall says:

            I replied to another, similar argument by Sean Carroll in a blog post about the afterlife:

            Now I actually agree with him that it is very implausible, if Materialism is true, for there to be any physical mechanism which preserves our mind after death! So nothing he said bothers me. Because I don’t think that the reason we will live forever is because we have some magical soul-particles in our brain (not yet discovered in the laboratory) which happen to have the property of being immortal.

            But if we exclude the supernatural and tricky philosophical questions about things like consciousness, I do agree with him that it is quite unlikely that we need to know anything about e.g. quantum gravity or beyond the Standard Model particles to understand the basic interactions of matter in everyday life.

        • Thegnskald says:

          I am considering learning string theory as a mathematical model for the universe, to hang a set of ideas I have upon, because I have an inkling it might be an easier mathematical model to implement a new idea on than the standard model. I have realized I have been utterly unsuccessful in conveying the idea in English, so mathematics seems the next logical step. However, the set of ideas is incompatible with string theory, in that it specifies a different reality than string theory, in something the same way relativity as a description of altered space-time coordinate relationships is incompatible with string theory’s description of reality as scalar (ish) relationships.

          Does this seem like a fruitless endeavor?

          • Aron Wall says:

            While string theory is a good playground for testing various kinds of ideas, to be frank when somebody outside of physics says “I have a great physics idea and I just need to learn the relevant math to implement it” it usually ends up being a crackpot idea. So I wouldn’t get your hopes up.

            relativity as a description of altered space-time coordinate relationships is incompatible with string theory’s description of reality as scalar (ish) relationships.

            I have no idea what this is supposed to mean…

          • Thegnskald says:

            Excellent. I will learn it, then.

            And I am not hoping to be right, exactly; I am hoping to build a toy model demonstrating a concept upon which the correct model can be built. But as far as I can tell, I have thus far failed to convey the core idea correctly to other people, so I have decided I need a mathematical demonstration of the idea in order to correctly convey it.

            Core idea in a nutshell: Scale, in the sense of a peanut is smaller than a planet, is relative, in the sense that an observer cannot determine a “center” of the scale of the universe. There is neither a largest nor a smallest particle, and there is absolutely nothing special about the scale we happen to exist at. The theory of everything should have a recursive or fractal element.

            The more specific idea is an attempt to create a model of reality which conforms to this principle. It is difficult to mathematicize, as it adds a waveform to relativity, and makes relativity self-interfering (if it wasn’t already, I have had trouble determining this), which is to say, the curvature of space-time is itself propagated across curved space-time. I can write a basic non-interfering formula, but am struggling to try to reverse-engineer the constants. (And adding self-interference is well beyond my understanding of manifold mathematics). Most of the explanation revolves around the relationship of this to real-world physics; trying to derive particles and electrical forces in terms of the model.

            Some weird stuff has popped out of it. Uncertainty, for example, which I hadn’t actually included, and which surprised me when it arose “naturally” from locality.

            ETA:

            But yes, it is probably a crackpot theory. At this point, however, it is no longer within my ability to evaluate, so I aim to get it into a form where other people can do so.

        • Thegnskald says:

          Possibly stupid question about black holes:

          New matter enters. Event horizon expands slightly. Doesn’t the firewall get eaten?

          (Isn’t it easier just to suppose the information is preserved as gravitational waves emitted by the matter and black holes as the matter falls in?)

          • Aron Wall says:

            (Isn’t it easier just to suppose the information is preserved as gravitational waves emitted by the matter and black holes as the matter falls in?)

            That’s what most people thought at first, but then the AMPS paper derived a logical contradiction between the information coming out, and the event horizon being in a nearly vacuum state for an infalling observer. So we have to deny some premise, and if we deny the latter premise, we get a firewall.

            If there is a Planck-energy-density firewall, it’s not clear there would even be spacetime on the other side of it.

            New matter enters. Event horizon expands slightly. Doesn’t the firewall get eaten?

            Nobody knows because there is no model of the firewall, just a logical paradox that says one of our assumptions is wrong. But because the paradox only arises for sufficiently old black holes, it seems possible that adding some more matter might freshen it up and make an interior exist again for a while.

          • Thegnskald says:

            I am just confused as to what the paradox is. In part it seems to revolve around whether or not the event horizon is a well-defined boundary, to which the answer seems obviously “No”, since a well-defined event horizon would violate locality by providing information about the location of the singularity, information which shouldn’t be able to escape the singularity in the first place. (This, to my mind, is where uncertainty arises from locality.). Thus, we get an echo effect where the probability distributions of the locations of the two black holes are sufficiently dense, implying some of the echoes might precede the “real” wave.

            But, eh, not really my area of expertise or interest, and maybe I am missing what makes the problem substantial out of ignorance.

      • Aron Wall says:

        10. How often do you think miracles occur today?

        Well in the Craig Keener book on Miracles, he estimates (I think based on surveys) that hundreds of millions of people claim to have seen miracles. Probably not all of them are legit. But as a regular churchgoer in a (non-Pentecostal) denominations that still believe in praying for healing, occasionally it does happen that people in the congregation are healed of a disease after prayer in a way that surprised their doctors. I also have a cousin-in-law who was born with twisted leg muscles so that it was impossible for him to run, and he and his parents told me he was instantly healed after prayer.

        Of course, if like me you already think miracles happen, then the standards for accepting another one should be considerably lower than the evidential standard for accepting your first miracle.

        11. Why doesn’t God make his existence more obvious?

        I wrote about this in a conversation with a friend.

        12. Do atheists go to hell?

        Some do, some don’t. See the previous link.

        I don’t think of damnation as some legalistic thing which God arbitrarily imposes on certain people he doesn’t like. Rather, damnation is a possible outcome if a person chooses to self-modify into a form where they are permanently closed off from the possibility of receiving truth and the forgiveness of sins. One possible way for this to happen is if a person decides (as some people have said to me, but I don’t know how seriously they meant it) that they would never accept God no matter how much evidence was presented.

        13. What do your colleagues think of your religious views?

        Wrong Species asked me this below, so I’ll reply there.

        14. Would a sufficiently accurate computer simulation of a human have a soul?

        I don’t see why not, but I don’t know for sure. Somebody asked me about “souls” below so I’ll go into more detail there.

        15. What’s your probability that any experiment will probe quantum gravity in the next 50 years?

        There’s a sense in which inflation involved quantum gravity effects, but semiclassical quantum gravity may be enough for this, so it’s not clear if it tells us about strictly Planck scale physics.

        My gut instinct says less than 1%, but historically it sometimes happens that people get weird ideas for experiments that pan out. A more sober assessment is maybe 3-5%.

        16. How much time did you spend doing post-docs?

        This is my 7th year. 3 years at UCSB, 3 years at the IAS, now 1 1/2 at Stanford.

        17. Do too many people get physics PhDs?

        Probably, since the number of permanent positions in academia is much smaller than the number of grad students. But its not too hard for physics PhDs to get jobs in industry or academia, so I think it’s not enormously far off.

        The situation in the humanities (e.g. philosophy) seems to be far more severe, since there aren’t a large number of jobs there outside of academia to absorb the extras.

        18. Does the government spend too much or too little on theoretical physics research? Should the government fund quantum gravity research and if so why? Is it possible for mathematical or scientific research to be so remote from practical applications that it isn’t worth spending public money on it?

        Speaking as someone who leans towards fiscal conservativism, I’m always a little suspicious of people who have very strong views that their own source of government funding is the most important thing. At the same time, I’m grateful that my government has chosen to support fundamental physics, and it seems like a shame that a lot of bright postdocs I know, who are only one rung down from me in their accomplishments, end up having to leave academia.

        I certainly don’t believe that government should only support research with so-called “practical” applications. “Man does not live by bread alone”—the human spirit wants arts and science. People think that fundamental physics is cool, and if they want to fund it, then that makes perfect sense. I figure I give back by explaining some of it to non-physicists.

        • Anatid says:

          Thanks for all the answers!

          “Man does not live by bread alone”—the human spirit wants arts and science. People think that fundamental physics is cool, and if they want to fund it, then that makes perfect sense.

          This is why I want to see fundamental physics funded. But in talking to people, I think non-physicists often support fundamental physics only because they imagine it will eventually lead to new technologies. IMO they are over-optimistic about that and maybe would be less enthusiastic about fundamental physics if they had a more realistic view of how likely it is to produce technology.

          • Aron Wall says:

            Well, whenever anyone asks me, I tell them that I think my work on quantum gravity won’t have any direct practical applications at all. Anything else would be dishonest.

            On the other hand, spin-offs do happen to some extent. For example, AdS/CFT is a duality relating quantum gravity to a nongravitational theory. These theories aren’t found in Nature, but because we understand them really well, it’s helped us to understand better some theories that do occur in Nature. So an idea that first arose in QG may eventually find its way to condensed matter physics, where people do experiments all the time. But it proceeds by analogy, not by patenting some machine that uses Hawking radiation from Planck scale black holes.

    • Wrong Species says:

      Do your colleagues ever comment on your beliefs. If so, what do they say?

      How do you choose which parts of the Bible to take literally and which ones are they?

      • zoozoc says:

        Not OP, but I believe I can answer your second question accurately since I also consider myself an evangelical Christian.

        For the most part, the Bible should be read in the way the author intended it. Now, it is obviously impossible to know 100% how the author intended something to be interpreted, but it is possible to get pretty close by studying historical sources and literary techniques of the books. So the Psalms is obviously poetry and isn’t literal (though there is some kind of actual event that is often triggering the writing of the individual psalms), but 1 and 2 Chronicles is written as historical records of the kings of Judah and is suppose to be taken literal. There is also a lot of tradition about the meaning of the books/passages that is useful to help arrive/understand the original author’s intent/meaning, but tradition isn’t authoritative in itself (I think this is a pretty evangelical understanding of tradition).

        There are also cases where previous writings are explained in later writings. This is basically true of the New Testament referencing the Old Testament. If one assumes that the NT is authoritative, then the NT helps shed light on many of the meanings of the OT prophecies. And looking at Jesus himself, he seemed to act and talk in such a way that He believed that the events of the OT actually occurred. He talks about Abraham, Moses, etc. as if they were real people.

        There is definitely differences of opinion, but I think most Evangelicals view the original author’s intent as the “true meaning” and are striving to find that. The only exception would be things like prophecy, where the author themselves didn’t necessary know when/how it would be fulfilled.

        • dndnrsn says:

          How do you deal with stuff that’s clearly intended to be historical, but the historicity of which is controversial? For example, Exodus. I don’t have my books at hand, but there’s something like 4 or 5 different scholarly theories, going from “it’s historical” to “never happened” with flavours of “it’s an interpretation of something else” in between.

          • bean says:

            My interpretation of inerrancy is that we treat it as historical if that’s what it’s supposed to be. God isn’t going to let his word become false. That would sort of defeat the purpose.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Do you mean “historical” as in “historically accurate; when Exodus said xyz, that means that if you got in a time machine and went back to the right time and place, you’d see xyz” or “historical” as in “it’s a historical document; the authors did not get Exodus 100% right in the same way that a book written today about the American Civil War or the Depression or whatever would not be guaranteed to get it right”?

          • Randy M says:

            How do you deal with stuff that’s clearly intended to be historical, but the historicity of which is controversial?

            Controversy implies there are multiple valid viewpoints. I think it is obvious what would be done in that case. In the case where historicity is implied but there is currently, not controversy but consensus opinion in the opposite direction that require reevaluation (which is not to say deciding in the direction of the consensus but certainly reconsideration if the text is truly intending to convey a record of a literal event).

          • dndnrsn says:

            Biblical scholars are a quarrelsome lot, and that’s even if you only include people whose intent is entirely secular. So it’s hard to say “this here is the consensus!”

          • bean says:

            Do you mean “historical” as in “historically accurate; when Exodus said xyz, that means that if you got in a time machine and went back to the right time and place, you’d see xyz” or “historical” as in “it’s a historical document; the authors did not get Exodus 100% right in the same way that a book written today about the American Civil War or the Depression or whatever would not be guaranteed to get it right”?

            Not a theologian/biblical scholar, but I think it’s more of the later. There’s a bit of historical license in the gospels (although well within the standards of the time, AIUI), and I don’t see why Exodus should be 100% time machine accurate if they aren’t.

          • hls2003 says:

            With the caveat that different denominations of Christianity have slightly different interpretive strategies, this is a general model that I think approximates how mainstream non-fundamentalists would approach that issue.

            (“Fundamentalist” is basically assuming that certain sects would simply respond that there is no controversy and any contradictory historical or scientific evidence is wrong. I would say it’s likely, for some items, that the “fundamentalist” position overlaps with the mainstream – there are simply disputes about the nature of the evidence and what to believe.)

            In general, assume as a starting point that all Scriptural text represents the words of God, as revealed by him to a human being embedded in a historical and cultural context, intended for multiple purposes and directed to multiple audiences. Scriptural authority is the starting point; interpreting Scripture in light of other Scripture is the primary interpretive canon. Other sources may certainly be considered as subsidiary methods for use in understanding the text. One notes that a lot of Biblical-era, especially Old Testament-era, historical research is necessarily going to be incomplete and challenging to piece together, absent a time machine. I would expect it to be fairly rare that there are clearly superior historical sources. But genre-assessment, as zoozoc notes above, is very important. A sonnet by Donne should not be read like a dictionary entry by Johnson.

            Various interpretive techniques apply to various parts of the whole, within the general framework above. Without knowing the specific controversy, it’s hard to have a single strategy of “how to deal” with historicity problems. For example, there is a post-Exodus battle with the Amorites in the book of Joshua wherein God is said to have stopped the sun. Knowing that daylight is the result of the earth’s rotation, one could interpret that to mean stopping that motion, then assess that there is no evidence of catastrophic multi-mile tidal waves in that era with oceans slopping across the land. However, knowing that the Israelites didn’t understand a heliocentric cosmology, it is enough to say that sufficient light and/or time was provided miraculously for the battle to progress; the Israelite inscribing the words would have understood or seen it as the sun stopping in the sky. Even though that source is clearly intended as historical – and thus interpretation calls for believing something supernatural happened – the inerrancy of Scripture principle does not require that it be a particular physical mechanism, nor that the actual mechanism have been fully explained to the inspired writer. As another example, presume some prophetic or historical reference to a foreign invader king who is attested, in other sources, to be dead by that time period (I don’t know of a specific example but I could imagine it to be the case – again, this is just example to elucidate the methodology). One can imagine that in context, the person receiving the revelation – or his audience – might not know the internal politics of an invading power. The immediate audience might not recognize the name. The intended message, then, to have effect, might reference a former king to help the audience understand what is at stake. So a name (e.g. “Nebuchadnezzar”) might, in that context, be more properly interpreted as “Nebuchadnezzarites” or “the terrifying successor who’s just like the familiar nemesis Nebuchadnezzar”. It would be kind of similar to talking about the disastrous effect of the Iraq War by saying “General Sherman marched from Kirkuk to the sea, burning all the way” with Sherman as a metonymy for America. (Again, I don’t think there’s much confusion on the Nebuchadnezzar front, I’m just positing the mechanism). Again, this would not violate an inerrancy principle – it was useful and meaningful to the immediate audience, but to a later audience (us) it means something else. Similarly, if an erroneous cultural tradition gets embedded into a target audience, it may be referenced even in historical contexts primarily to make a point. Like referencing George Washington’s cherry tree exploit – it has immediate meaning to an American audience even though it’s of extremely dubious historicity.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @bean

            Not a theologian/biblical scholar, but I think it’s more of the later. There’s a bit of historical license in the gospels (although well within the standards of the time, AIUI), and I don’t see why Exodus should be 100% time machine accurate if they aren’t.

            The Synoptics, at least, are within the standards of the time, yeah. John, maybe less so. Exodus, whether it’s slightly garbled history or outright fiction depends which hypothesis you like the most – eg, there’s one where it wasn’t so much them leaving Egypt, as Egyptian power retreating from where they were; this got combined with a story intended to tell them why they needed to be nice(r than the usual among communities of the time) to foreigners, strangers, etc. Or something like that; I’m trying to recall stuff I learned the best part of a decade ago.

      • Aron Wall says:

        They’re generally curious about how someone like me is religious, but I find it very difficult to get them to take seriously the idea that religion might be supported by actual evidence. On the other hand, most of them would probably say, if asked, that there’s no reason in principle why a scientist couldn’t be religious.

        I’ve encountered little hostility, and I don’t think I’ve ever been discriminated against (though I might not know if I were). On general principles I think it’s best to have a thick skin and not develop a persecution complex. (If I do ever get in trouble for my beliefs, I want it to be at the right time and for the right reason, not because I was oversensitive or being a jerk.)

        Regarding which parts of the Bible to take literally (and which more metaphorically): in addition to considering genre I also take into account that the central message of the Bible is Jesus and what he did. Without the Resurrection, there’s no point in being a Christian, but it’s okay if things are fuzzier around the edges. I do believe that the majority of Old Testament history probably happened approximately as described, but I don’t subscribe to their historical inerrency. It doesn’t seem important to me whether there are contradictions in irrelevant historical trivia.

        I also think that when describing spiritual realities outside of our own spacetime universe (e.g. God and heaven) that there is probably no way to give a fully literal description to humans, because things that go beyond our limited earthly senses can only be described with metaphorical language. So in such cases the biblical language about such things are symbolic by necessity, but I do affirm that there exist real entities, that these symbolic descriptions apply to.

        But this last point does not apply to historical descriptions of miracles, since these are things that could be seen by ordinary human sense-data.

    • Orpheus says:

      one topic that’s particularly fresh in my mind is how the academic job market works

      I am a grad student in math, and would love to hear any advice that would make my future job hunt easier.

      • Aron Wall says:

        In physics, the most important thing is publications (quality more important than quantity) and letters of recommendation from famous people. Work on at least some hot problems that other people say they are interested in, but (this is probably even more true in math) avoid directly tackling famous unsolved problems and instead work on something where you have a competitive advantage due to your training. Don’t be afraid to collaborate with others as needed, and have a little fun while doing so. Don’t be afraid to ask people “stupid” questions.

        Learn how to give fantastic talks. Aim them at the level of a beginning grad student; the faculty will be pleasantly surprised to actually understand your talk. Do not get bogged down in long calculations, instead be clear about the inputs, outputs, context, applications, and main principles at stake. I’ve seen people get postdoc positions by giving a talk that was easy enough to understand.

        Faculty positions at R1 universities are very competitive. To get such a position, you should have multiple letters from very famous people in your subfield. If your work straddles multiple subfields, find out which one is hiring, and try to write your application to convince them you’re what they’re looking for. Ask lots of people for advice and (mostly) take it. Be prepared to answer annoying questions like “Where do you see your research in 5 years?” and “What kind of problems would you assign to a grad student?”.

        • fion says:

          I think all of this is good advice, but I want to put forward a very slight caveat to “letters of recommendation from famous people”. Obviously it’s very useful, but I think there’s a slight US/UK difference (not sure about the rest of the world). My colleagues have rolled their eyes somewhat at Americans with glowing recommendations of eminent physicists. It feels like a bit of a cliche that American professors write absurdly glowing reviews about various students and colleagues and when judging American applicants for jobs or grants the best thing to do is to take it all with a very big pinch of salt.

          Of course, @Orpheus, if you’re American, as your use of language suggests, then I’m sure Aron’s advice about getting recommendations is perfectly sound. If not, it’s still *mostly* sound.

    • No signal says:

      Why not a Catholic?

    • Anon. says:

      What’s your view on how souls work? Does the soul perform any cognitive functions, or have any features related to “personhood”? Does the soul communicate with the brain, and if so how?

      • Deiseach says:

        Does the soul communicate with the brain, and if so how?

        Sort out for me first does the mind communicate with the brain, and if so how, and I’ll be over here waiting for you to stagger out of the fray with all your limbs attached after combat with the “there is no mind, you cretin! there is only brain, physical brain, not magic spooky special distinct separate thinky-thing!” side 😀

      • Aron Wall says:

        I don’t think the Bible uses the word “soul” in any particularly technical sense. The root meaning is just breath or life, and even if I weren’t religious I would think it perfectly appropriate to use the word “soul” to refer to a person’s essential self (which may be a fuzzily defined concept).

        The Bible does talk about animals as having souls. (An ancient Roman would have thought it pretty silly to deny that “Animals have anima”.)

        Philosophy of Mind is very tricky, but I don’t think that it is possible to deduce the existence of Consciousness from the laws of physics + brain facts alone (which rules out certain forms of physicalism), but I don’t think Cartesian dualism (the body and soul are two separate things that interact) is the best conclusion to draw from this. I’m more of a property dualist. That is, I think we are one entity, but we have two essentially different ways to observe the same entity (introspection & external observation), and each way gives us information we couldn’t have gotten from the other way.

        I’m not convinced the soul is inherently immortal; rather I think that the reason we’re going to live forever is that God has promised to make it happen. Since human persons consist of both body and soul (regardless of whether you think one reduces to the other, both are important) complete fulfilment of human nature requires Resurrection, not just some disembodied state of existence.

        Basically I follow St. Justin Martyr’s idea that regardless of which philosophical school is right about how the body/mind works, God is capable of putting us back together again properly. I have to trust that when I die, God knows which are the most important aspects of myself, that need to be preserved in the New Creation.

      • yaisaacs says:

        It’s worth noting that the measure problem presupposes a dubitable epistemology. The project of defining / discerning the right kind of relative frequency presupposes that relative frequencies matter epistemologically. Now I freely grant that epistemologies that don’t make that presupposition seem to have godawful entailments, but epistemologies that do make that presupposition seem to have some godawful entailments too. I really don’t mean to say that the standard approach of the measure problem is wrongheaded, only that the bafflement of the measure problem rests on top of a bigger epistemological bafflement.

    • b_jonas says:

      What do you think about Boltzman brains? The argument is that anything we observe will occur infinitely many times by chance after the heat death of the universe when the entropy of the universe is maximal, so from a Bayesian perspective, it is close to certain that we’re after the heat death and nothing we experience is meaningful. I haven’t yet read a satisfying enough resolution of this paradox.

      • rahien.din says:

        Was anyone wondering if Boltzmann looked exactly like the kind of guy who would sit around thinking about weird disembodied brains materializing in the depths of space and time? You’re in luck!

      • baconbits9 says:

        I thought the resolution to this type of paradox was simple, bounded infinities. There are an infinite amount of numbers between 1 and 2, but none of those numbers is 3, there is an infinite number of ways for particles to interact after the heat death of the universe but none of those is the formation of the earth orbiting around the sun.

        • Aron Wall says:

          baconbits9,

          While it’s logically possible for an infinite number of things to happen without everything happening, the problem is that (in most otherwise realistic seeming cosmological models), the thermodynamics of quantum fluctuations implies that every finite sized configuration of matter will eventually occur, and if time lasts forever, infinitely often.

          It seems crazy to think that we are probably a BB, but it also seems crazy to discard a cosmology that seems to accurately describe our own universe because it has weird behavior at late times.

          One solution might be to say that whether a supposed “brain” counts as a conscious observer, somehow depends on its relationship to the rest of the universe, and isn’t a strictly local thing.

          Of course as a Christian I believe that at some point in the future we get the Second Coming and a New Creation. But somehow I don’t think my other cosmologist friends are going to like that solution…

      • Aron Wall says:

        @b_jonas

        This is part of a much bigger question of how to take observer selection effects into account when doing Bayesianism. See for example the disputes between Nick Bostrom and Ken Olum. The fact is, I don’t know any general algorithm which doesn’t lead to horrible paradoxes in certain situations.

        Because of this, I don’t know how to reason about probabilities if there is a Multiverse (which is really bad, because I certainly don’t claim to know for sure there isn’t one). How do we use the Multiverse to make Bayesian predictions? Well, we could count the number of universes that look like ours, and then divide by the total number of universes. In eternal inflation models, we end up with Infinity / Infinity = undefined.

        That should probably make you sad.

    • xXxanonxXx says:

      When I was still a theist I believed God was at least theoretically within the bounds of scientific study. What do you think of attempts to explain things like miracles or intercessory prayer with physics?

      • Deiseach says:

        What do you think of attempts to explain things like miracles or intercessory prayer with physics?

        Like experiments watering plants with holy water versus tap water to see if they grow faster/better/more disease resistant; that’s not how it works at all, and if you triumphantly announce “see, there is no magic in holy water, the plants were the same!” then sorry but you have not proven anything at all nor delivered a crushing blow against religion.

        • xXxanonxXx says:

          Perhaps that’s not how it works in general. Though I’d retort nobody has ever given me a satisfying explanation as to how it IS supposed to work in general (a partial exception being [insert obscurantist lobster reference of your choice here]). In the specific case of the resurrection, which Aron Wall says happened, that is supposed to be how it works though. The laws of physics really did appear to be suspended.

          I’m curious as to whether or not he regards his profession and his religion as non-overlapping magisteria in that regard. Yes, the laws of physics were suspended. No, you won’t be able to figure out how even in principle. Put another way, when Frank Tipler starts explaining how miracles occur I quickly lose the plot, but that’s because I don’t understand the technical details. Do other physicists with the same faith think he’s on to something? Is he wrong in the particulars but correct in approaching it from that angle? Or is the whole thing misguided from the start?

          • Aron Wall says:

            I think it’s completely misguided. The whole point of a miracle is that it’s an act of supernatural power which shows that more than just Nature exists. If you found some new law of physics that said, look, under exactly these conditions water enters a new phase where it’s possible to walk on it, and these conditions just happened to form on the lake of Galilee during the first century (which seems incredibly unlikely), what would the religious significance of this be? And why would it have happened just as Jesus happened to be strolling by on top? No, sane people either deny that the event ever happened, or they accept it as what it is—an act of God to communicate some point to us.

            But I don’t think any two domains of study are completely non-overlapping magistria. There is only one world, and everything we say about it has to be compatible. I don’t believe in “sealing off” one piece of knowledge from evidence coming from other areas of life. But I do believe that principles which hold generally in one context, may fail in other contexts.

    • fion says:

      First of all, thanks for this. I’ve enjoyed reading the comments so far and I look forward to hearing more about your perspectives.

      Second, I’m an agnostic atheist. I’ve always been so and I’m of the opinion that it’s very unlikely indeed that any god exists. However, more than anything I want to believe what’s true. If there is a god then it’s very important that I believe in it. I’m also a physicist, which made your post all the more eye-catching to me.

      My question is about the relationship between faith and evidence. You said in one of the earlier comments that one of the main reasons you’re a Christian is that you think there is good historical evidence that Jesus died and was resurrected and you say also that you wouldn’t be a Christian if you didn’t think the evidence was compelling. From talking to other Christians, I get the impression that it’s important to have faith; that it’s not about weighing the balance of evidence. Do you think it’s important to have faith? Am I misunderstanding what faith is about if I interpret it as “belief without evidence”?

      There are so many other things I’d like to ask you, but most of them are of the form of “how do you respond to this atheist argument?” which I think would be less interesting on the whole. I’d rather take the opportunity to understand a mindset that seems somewhat alien to me.

      • Jaskologist says:

        Am I misunderstanding what faith is about if I interpret it as “belief without evidence”?

        This is a very modern definition of “faith,” and not how it was historically used. You’ll be much closer if you interpret it as “trust in God.”

        Luther put it thusly: “a living, bold trust in God’s grace, so certain of God’s favor that it would risk death a thousand times trusting in it.”

        • Randy M says:

          Faith is acting as if you believed 100% when you believe 60%.

        • fion says:

          So would you say faith is a meaningless concept for non-believers to even consider? Why would we trust in God if we don’t believe He exists?

          If a believer was questioning whether God existed, would their friends urge them to have faith?

          If a believer was questioning whether God was looking out for them (but still believed he definitely existed) would their friends urge them to have faith?

          • Nick says:

            Well, why are they questioning? There are all sorts of times we have doubts which aren’t rational. I think that is an excellent time for a friend to assure you to have faith, and for you to listen to them because you trust their judgment. But of course that’s very different than a situation where, say, you relied on a certain argument for God’s existence and then found it doesn’t work.

          • Randy M says:

            So would you say faith is a meaningless concept for non-believers to even consider? Why would we trust in God if we don’t believe He exists?

            Well, faith in God specifically. I don’t have faith in Vishnu, I don’t expect you to have faith in Jesus (until you have been convinced there is a decent possibility, that is).
            You may have faith in other things. Say, if you get married, and despite the non-negligible chance of divorce, you act as though you will be together until death, that’s an act of faith. If you collaborate with a new student that you don’t know because someone you trust vouches for them, that’s akin to faith.

            If a believer was questioning whether God existed, would their friends urge them to have faith?

            What the average believer would or wouldn’t say isn’t necessarily indicative of the theology of it; in other words, I don’t know what anyone would say. A blanket exhortation to have faith is not terribly useful. Describing their own moments of doubt in the past, or pointing to times that the questioner has their needs met unexpectedly, or pointing to some sort of evidence, or some scripture that is inspiring, etc. may be.

          • fion says:

            @Nick, @Randy M

            Thank you both for your responses. My questions weren’t particularly literal; I’m just trying to get a handle on the thing.

            My impression is that the idea that you can use historical evidence to show that it’s probable that Jesus was resurrected, and then everything else follows from that, is rather unique to evangelical Christians. I think it’s more common to say that the very act of questioning your belief is somewhat problematic. Or to invoke non-overlapping magisteria (although I accept this is quite a modern approach). Or to use philosophical arguments.

            I’ve asked so many Christians why they believe and heard the answer “I just do.” I think a lot of the time, belief isn’t about coming up with a map that matches the territory but about emotion or identity or politics.

            Perhaps that’s a tangent. To get back to faith, Randy, I don’t agree with you that I have faith in anything. I’m not married, but in all my relationships I’ve been aware of the possibility of them ending and prepared myself for that eventuality (one can argue this is a bad thing, but that’s beside the point). If person A vouches for person B and I trust them, it’s because person A has proved reliable in the past so I can expect a productive collaboration with person B. If person A was one of my unreliable friends then I wouldn’t have faith in them, no matter how much I loved them.

            Of course I’m sometimes overconfident or underconfident, and those can be phrased as faith, as you did in your reply to Jaskologist, but I’m never aware in a given situation that I’m over- or underconfident, and with hindsight I always view such situations as a mistake on my part.

          • Randy M says:

            To get back to faith, Randy, I don’t agree with you that I have faith in anything

            Well, I did say may; I was more trying to use analogies to illustrate the principle than to divine your particular mental state. 😉

            I think it’s more common to say that the very act of questioning your belief is somewhat problematic

            I don’t think this is a Christian view. I think times of doubt are common. Faith is in persevering in spite of it, of saying “I have been convinced, people I trust are convinced, I doubt right now, but I’m not going to turn my change my behavior despite the doubts at this point.

            Or maybe I have an idiosyncratic view of faith? I don’t know. But I don’t think it is so entirely about feelings or beliefs but also behavior. Think of what we mean when we say a “faithful husband”

          • bean says:

            Or maybe I have an idiosyncratic view of faith? I don’t know. But I don’t think it is so entirely about feelings or beliefs but also behavior.

            No, it’s not entirely idiosyncratic. I’m in agreement with you on this one.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            I’m pretty sure Lewis and/or Chesterton said that faith included sticking to what you believed in your better moments.

            Figuring out which moments are better might be a harder question than what they discussed.

      • Aron Wall says:

        Yeah, I’ve never heard that definition of faith from a serious Christian. Yet pretty much all atheists seem to be convinced that this is not just a good description of faith, but it’s very definition.

        Faith may involve believing without sight (direct sensory perception), but that is different from believing without evidence (things that indicate the source is reliable). Depending on who’s asking you to believe what, all 4 quadrants can exist: you can have rational trust, rational non-trust, irrational trust, and irrational non-trust.

        Faith in the religious sense means trusting God. If God exists and has the character described by Jesus, then he is always a reliable source, and therefore trust in him is rational. But of course you have to do work to establish that the premise is true.

        • fion says:

          I sometimes wonder if faith might be used by Christians as a motte and bailey. Like, they don’t admit that it means anything like “belief without evidence” and claim that it means trusting God, but whenever definitions aren’t being discussed directly, faith gets used as an excuse for not responding to difficult questions. Of course, I don’t accuse you of doing this. You are doing an admirable job of answering the difficult questions people are asking.

          Having said all that, I’m sure I’ve heard debates between Dawkins and various Christians, where Dawkins has defined faith in these terms and they haven’t really challenged it, so perhaps your “serious Christian” is a more narrow category than I realise.

          I will observe this more closely in the future. Perhaps I’ve just not been listening to people properly. The fact that three or four Christians have replied to me saying “I and those I know don’t use that definition” certainly makes me consider the possibility that I’ve been misinterpreting a whole class of argument before now.

          • Randy M says:

            Mother Theresa was one example of a Christian who famously had doubts.

            Some people are more mystically inclined and believe for reasons of personal revelations. Maybe these people never have doubts. I wouldn’t really know.
            But I think a lot of Christians can relate to the plea of this man in the New Testament.

            Like, they don’t admit that it means anything like “belief without evidence” and claim that it means trusting God, but whenever definitions aren’t being discussed directly, faith gets used as an excuse for not responding to difficult questions.

            This probably describes most people. Most people have probably not weighed all the evidence. It’s felt true to them, or they have heard one argument and held fast to that. Or they have heard persuasive arguments in the past but aren’t sophisticated enough to restate them. Or they’ve felt or seen things that they feel are supernatural but wouldn’t convince a third party.
            And, sure, there are differing definitions among different individuals or groups. And some of it may be bad argumentation, I’m sure there’s no shortage of it.

          • hls2003 says:

            I don’t want to “proof-text” but Hebrews 11 seems relevant in this discussion, as it purports to define “faith.” Verse 1 says “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” (NIV) It then goes on to list a number of examples of faith. They’re all pretty interesting, but take as a good example verses 7-11 with regard to the “believe with no evidence vs. trust in God” distinction. That cites the stories of Noah and Abraham. For Noah, “By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family.” For Abraham, several examples, including “By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. …And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise.”

            Going back to the Old Testament stories, which the author takes as a given, God spoke to Noah (“when warned”) and Abraham (“when called to go”), and Sarah’s conception of Isaac followed several miraculous appearances of the angel of the Lord to Abraham, including one where Abraham argues with God about God’s decision to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, following which they were in fact destroyed in spectacular fashion. So in each case, there was not “no evidence” on which they based their faith – one may disagree with the strength of the “spoke with God” evidence, but those people are clearly described as having actual experiences which were actual evidence for God’s presence and commands. However, for the specific things that they believed – that a flood was coming, that Isaac would come – there was no specific evidence; you had to rely on the promise. Based on prior evidence about who those people had experienced God to be (his power, his promises), they believed God’s further words. The writer describes this as “faith.” I think this more closely hews to the “trust in God” definition, rather than “believing anything with no evidence” definition.

          • fion says:

            @hls2003

            I’m not sure how relevant those sections are to present-day usage. Obviously Noah and Abraham believed in God; God’s existence was obvious in those stories – he regularly spoke to humans.

            In our lives, God is not obvious. He doesn’t level cities or cause global floods. He doesn’t even definitely talk to people. For Abraham to question God’s existence would have made about as much sense as me questioning the moon’s existence. So if Abraham “questioned”, he was questioning God’s decisions. If Abraham had “faith”, it was not in God’s existence but in his wisdom, justice etc.

            For modern Christians I think it is necessary to have faith even in God’s existence, because it is far from obvious that he exists.

          • hls2003 says:

            @fion

            Maybe I misunderstood your point, but your original statement was that “three or four Christians have replied to me saying [they use a different definition]”. My response is that they probably do, because Christians will more often tend to define their faith the way the Bible defines it, which could well be different from the modern definition.

            You’re asking if it’s plausible Christians could have a different definition of “faith” than yours (even if yours is more common in the modern population). The answer is yes, because they are a self-selected group who will derive their definition from a decidedly non-modern source (the Bible) which differs from the general population.

            Your latest reply addresses whether this definition is wise or helpful. That’s a different question entirely from the word-usage question.

            Also note that the Bible contains the rather scornful fake-clap comment “So you believe there is one God? Good! Even the demons believe that – and shudder.” (James 2:19) This suggests that mere theism is not what defines an authentic Christian faith. I’m not disputing that some belief is required to say there is a God, but that is not what many (or most) Christians will define as “faith.”

          • fion says:

            @hls 2003

            Thanks for clarifying. I understand your point better now. I’m not quite sure about the distinction between Christians and “the general population”. Christians make up about half the population in the UK and Australia, about two thirds in Canada and about three quarters in America.

            I feel as though the definition Christians use should play a deciding role in the definition English-speakers in general use. My tentative conclusion would be that there is huge variation in how different Christians use it, with “belief without evidence” being a popular definition even among Christians.

            I have no idea how any of this maps over to non-English languages or non-Christian religions that have faith as an important virtue.

          • hls2003 says:

            @fion

            On the philological point, I suspect it’s a selection bias issue. Self-identifying Christians are a substantially larger group in the population than Christians who are likely to be shaping their word-usage based on Biblical exegesis. For example, the Pew survey on Biblical literacy indicates that only 50% of self-identified Christians can name all four Gospels. (See here). Not to cast aspersions, but I think it’s fair to say that a Christian who can’t identify four Gospels (or e.g. who Job is, or Moses, or Abraham) is substantially less likely to base their word usage on a carefully researched reading of the Bible. I would argue it’s going to be a very much smaller self-selected group more familiar with the Bible text (and perhaps more inclined towards abstract theological points) who might do so. That’s who I think you might have been encountering, since you’re a smart guy, you’re posting on SSC, and it wouldn’t shock me if your Christian interlocutors are also more textually inclined.

            To touch briefly on the non-philological point, I don’t disagree with you that there is some metaphysical element – call it belief, or faith, or inspiration, or what have you – involved even in basic theism. I think a lot of Christians have gone through, still go through, moments where the cosmos seem empty and God’s very existence undetectable and doubted. The Gospels report a man who cried to Jesus “I believe, help my unbelief!” I think many religious people feel that way sometimes. I certainly do. But I also find that to overcome those moments, one seeks to go back to evidence previously found persuasive, rather than to simply forego all evidence. For example, the existence of the cosmos; personal religious experiences and answered prayers; the truth value in the Scriptures; things like that. (Personally, one type of evidence I find persuasive is that the Bible’s description of reality has generally been an excellent predictor of human nature, human decision processes, and the resulting unfolding of events). It’s not the pillar of fire guiding Moses and the Israelites, true, but it is not purely evidence-free.

            Finding that evidence more persuasive than others, I think, involves some supernatural aid. I don’t claim that one can conclusively prove God’s existence in a scientific way; but neither is one given zero data and expected to postulate God therefrom. I hope I’m not mangling Plantinga’s Warrant and Function argument too badly to suggest that the ability to glimpse spiritual realities could be viewed as a special sense, granted by grace. I think that’s pretty close to where I come down on it – there is evidence there to be seen, mankind is often blind to it or misconstrues, but grace can be given to help glimpse the divine reality. And once that glimpse is given, faith is in trusting more broadly, outside direct experience, in the promises for which there is no evidence other than God’s word and character.

            So there’s a rather muddled hybrid definition for you! Some evidence, but also some belief in the as-yet-unseen.

        • Protagoras says:

          Kierkegaard is not a serious Christian?

    • cuke says:

      Fun! No physics background here, but my son and I just got into a conversation about time travel, in which he quoted me things off the wikipedia pages and I said things from my extensive knowledge of time travel TV shows and how they addressed various paradoxes. You can imagine it was a highly sophisticated conversation.

      What do the best minds in physics have to say about time travel? Can you give a sense of where time travel sits relative to other controversial subjects in physics? Do people spend careers studying it or is it seen as fringe-y?

      • Aron Wall says:

        As it happens, this is something I’ve worked on a bit.

        There are various theorems in classical GR that say (roughly) that it is not possible given reasonable initial conditions, and positive energy matter, to build time machines (or warp drives, traversable wormholes, and other sci-fi stuff).

        Quantum field theory, on the other hand, allows for negative energy densities in certain situations, as long as it is balanced by positive energy density somewhere else. But I’ve done some work arguing for principles which would imply that you can’t violate causality using quantum fields either.

        (Although I did write a paper with some guys at Harvard about the possibility of building traversable wormholes if you already have an interaction between the two sides. But it turns out you can’t use this for FTL travel. It’s like getting a bank loan, you can’t get one unless you can prove you didn’t need it.)

        Trying to prove theorems and/or looking for counterexamples is definitely within the mainstream of mathematical relativity, although it’s best to work on a variety of topics and not just weird stuff. On the other hand, there’s a faculty member at U Connecticut who is apparently trying to build a time machine to go back in time to save his father from dying when he was 10. I ended up deciding not to apply to that place…

        • b_jonas says:

          > On the other hand, there’s a faculty member at U Connecticut who is apparently trying to build a time machine to go back in time to save his father from dying when he was 10.

          Meh, many academic places have that one weird guy. Our department had one as well. For me, that alone wouldn’t be much of a reason not to apply. I’d just avoid interaction with them. I’m generally a conflict-averse person, I try to avoid talk with people when I know in advance that the conversation will be useless. That’s how I avoid getting into endless flamewars on the internet too, most of the time.

          But, yes, I totally agree with the object-level part that you can’t build a time-machine in your backyard, it’s a large project that requires lots of people working together and an impossible amount of funding, sort of like building a space-borne gravitational wave detector.

          • Aron Wall says:

            b_jonas,

            Yeah, but the other gravity guy there also seemed to be a bit crackpot, if less flamboyantly so.

            I’ve found it extremely helpful to work in a location with other smart people you can collaborate with, so a complete absence of such people makes it not attractive.

    • AdamOfCascadia says:

      Very interesting response thus far!

      Based on a previous response upthread, you went to a liberal arts college but then went on to get your Ph.D. in Physics. How was the transition from to grad school? Did you always know you wanted to do graduate level physics, and was it difficult to get into graduate school from a liberal arts college?

      Someone else asked “Why not Catholic?”, I thought I’d broaden that to “Why your specific denomination?”

      As a Catholic, I believe the Church has unique claims to historical legitimacy among Christians. I’m curious what your thoughts are as an evangelical.

      • Aron Wall says:

        @AdamOfCascadia

        I checked out a book about physics from the childrens’ section of the library when I was 7. Mostly it talked about boring seeming stuff like force and energy, but at the end it said that scientists had recently discovered subatomic particles were made of smaller particles called quarks. I’d never heard that before. It said the quarks came in 3 colors, and that the subatomic particles were made of 1 of each color. I went to my Dad and asked, “Does it mean at least one, or exactly one?” He couldn’t answer so he had me check out particle physics books, and that’s how my obsession started. Later I got into quantum gravity from reading John Baez’s website.

        I was a lazy student and I didn’t want to go to a college with a lot of busy work. I don’t do well in classes that assign lots of homework on material I already know. So I decided to wait for grad school to do physics. U Maryland knows about Johnnies because the other campus is in Annopolis, so they accepted me. Mostly they have people with weak backgrounds do some upper level undergrad classes to catch up, but because of all my independent study it wasn’t necessary.

        The main reason I can’t accept Catholicism is that I think Jesus was pretty clear in the Gospels that Scripture takes precedence over later religious traditions. He was very vehement about this in his arguments with the Pharisees (who claimed to have an “oral torah” coming from Moses in addition to the written one). It seems unlikely that after warning his disciples so sternly about this in the context of Judaism, he’d turn around to Chistians and say “but your traditions are infallible”.

        I grew up in the Church of the Nazarene (and am currently attending one now) but I’ve worshipped in a variety of different churches including a semester in an Antiochian Orthodox church (of course being a Protestant I couldn’t take communion there). Evangelicals don’t think of our denominations as rival candidates for the One True Church. I don’t think any single organization has a monopoly on grace or truth (Luke 9:49-50). So I can’t join one which requires me to agree with every single thing they teach, unless I actually do.

        • b_jonas says:

          > I checked out a book about physics from the childrens’ section of the library when I was 7.

          Oh wow, that’s lucky. I work in computer science, and I didn’t figure that out until much later. The book that has made the most influence on me, sort of like you mention above, is Donald Knuth’s TAOCP, and I didn’t meet that one until I was 9 or 10 years old. Though it’s possible that I wouldn’t have understood any of the book either while I was younger.

    • Ninety-Three says:

      How do you explain God’s decision to create sources of suffering like cancer? A lot of the problem of evil can be wriggled out of by mumbling something about free will, but disease seems much harder to explain.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Why do cells have to be deterministic rather than selfishly free willed?

      • JustToSay says:

        I don’t have the time or skill to do this justice, but I think it’s more like, “mumble mumble The Fall.” As in, when Adam and Eve sinned and man fell, there were significant effects that permeated through all of creation.

        • JulieK says:

          How are Adam and Eve regarded by those who don’t take Genesis literally?

          • JustToSay says:

            As one example, I gesture in the general direction of John Walton and his Adam-and-Eve-as-archetypes interpretation. His book on this is The Lost World of Adam and Eve: Genesis 2-3 and the Human Origins Debate. You can get an overview of his idea from the table of contents.

            If I recall, he does believe in Adam and Eve as literal, physical people, but not in the “biological progenitors” sense. And he thinks Genesis is primarily interested in them as archetypes instead.

            Of course you said, “by those who don’t take Genesis literally.” This doesn’t exactly meet those requirements. For one thing, he would say this is the literal interpretation of the text. And for another, while he doesn’t believe Adam and Eve have to be the very first people from whom all of humanity descend biologically, he does think they were actual people. I pretended you said, “by those who don’t take a fundamentalist literal view of Genesis that precludes evolution.”

    • Joseph Greenwood says:

      Aron Wells–by way of introduction, I am a Mormon mathematician. As such, I accept the divinity of Jesus Christ and the reality of miracles and revelation, but I reject the Nicene creed. I grew up in a devoutly Mormon family; I have had remarkable spiritual experiences and am well-versed both in Mormon apologetics. I am a Bayesian in the weak sense that I think “knowledge cannot be gained absolutely, only by degrees” but while I think subjective probability is a useful model I don’t think it is The One True Way to reason about the world (I am well-read in the decision-theoretic justifications for expected utility and Bayes’ rule, and I find them inadequate).

      A few years ago, I went through some difficult experiences that led me to doubt Mormonism for arational reasons. I decided to let some time pass so that I could consider my theology without being excessively prejudiced by emotions and resentment, and have been working on this project for the last few months. I have been reading your conversation with Aajpe with an eye towards justifying or refuting my confidence in the resurrection. I really appreciated your insights and perspectives. In LessWrong speak, if you consider Mormonism close to “mainstream Christianity,” or at least closer to such Christianity than to atheism, then your comments on this blog may have marginally increased the chance that I will accept salvation. In any case, you are a cogent and thoughtful writer, and I have enjoyed reading this conversation.

      So thank you.

      EDIT: corrected a typo.

  9. WashedOut says:


    Differences in generic nickname vocabulary between men and women

    I’ve noticed that men have dozens of generic nicknames for eachother in lieu of knowing/using their real name, but women don’t. For example:

    Men:
    Buddy, pal, mate, chief, boss, dude, bro, man, etc. etc… plus all the regional slang variants depending on country/province (squire, cobber, oldmate…) plus a slew of suffix-modifications that get applied to the names without permission or necessity such as Johnno, Mikey, Timbo, etc. etc.

    Whereas women don’t seem to have the equivalent list of non-name salutations. You don’t hear women calling each other “sis”, for instance, and the names used between men are very rarely used between women. What you do hear is women who are already friends calling each other ‘gorgeous’ or similar affectionate, positive descriptors in place of their name.

    I have one main idea as to how this developed, and one supporting nod to evo-psych.

    1. The slang-name vocab has been developed between men over the course of many decades of the shared experience of manual labour and military service, and functions as a) social cohesion under stress and b) a practical way of addressing someone you don’t know but need to get ‘on-side’ with straight away.
    The starkly different histories of work and war participation between the genders gives rise to this theory.

    2. Men are generally more assertive and less sensitive than women, which together provide the necessary precondition for taking a social risk in addressing a stranger/acquaintance by a generic pet-name.

    Is my basic observation correct, and if so do the above hold enough explanatory power?

    • Well... says:

      A lot of women (especially black women) call their female friends “girl” as a nickname. I think I’ve also heard “chica” among Latina women but that might just be in movies.

      If I’m onto something and the pattern you’re describing only really applies to white people, that fact is interesting too.

    • ohwhatisthis? says:

      >Men are generally more assertive and less sensitive than women

      Most murders are commited by males for trivial status offenses. Define “sensitive”.

      • Nornagest says:

        Where are you getting “for trivial status offenses”?

      • Well... says:

        I thought most murders (in the US) had to do with domestic violence and gang warfare. (I don’t know the actual numbers of the various motives, but “trivial status offenses” doesn’t seem right.)

        • The Nybbler says:

          As I recall, the #1 reason for murder is “unknown” and #2 is “argument over something other than money, property, or romance”.

          Yep, just checked. The data is in the FBI Uniform Crime Report supplement. Unknown is at 6075 for 2016, followed by 3208 for “other arguments”. Argument over money or property is pretty low at 202, romantic triangle at 114.

          • Well... says:

            Which motives on that list map to “trivial status offenses”, I wonder?

          • The Nybbler says:

            “Other argument” includes but isn’t limited to “trivial status offenses”; the data you want isn’t available.

    • mrthorntonblog says:

      Would looking at how this works across the devide help?

    • ilikekittycat says:

      As someone with recent experience of femoid interactions, I can report they use “queen” for that now. Like, all the time

      • aNeopuritan says:

        … by “femoid”, do you in fact mean “actual woman”?

        • Rick Hull says:

          I’d guess they mean: human being that presents as a woman and likely identifies as a woman, but out of respect for not assuming gender does not presume actual womanhood.

        • quaelegit says:

          My first guess was he meant drag queens or another very specific social group.

          Quick googling suggests that the term is related to incels, but I’m disinclined to click the links.

          I’ve never heard “queen” used in the context WashedOut is asking about, and given the google results, ilikekittycat might be trolling.

          • Barely matters says:

            Typically follows “Yaaaaas” in the wild. The girls who currently say it are a pretty specific subset within a tight age range, but I can confirm that the term sees regular use.

    • tayfie says:

      I think this is completely wrong and women have lots of names for each other. In my experience, women are more intimate with their friends and are more likely to assign pet names.

      I have personally heard women call each other: sugar, sugarcube, honey, honeybun, sweetie, sweetie pie, darling, dear, dearie, bestie, BFF, girl, girlfriend, amiga, rosy, pookie, schnookums, and toots.

      Those are the affectionate ones when not used ironically.

      I have never in real life heard a man call another man mate, chief, or boss. Dude, bro, and man are more like informal forms of address than nicknames. I call men about my age dude or bro sometimes to get their attention when I don’t know their real names.

      • WashedOut says:

        In my experience, women are more intimate with their friends and are more likely to assign pet names.

        Right, but that’s not what im curious about. I’m interested in how people address each other when they are either complete strangers or do not know their name.

        sugar, sugarcube, honey, honeybun, sweetie, sweetie pie, darling, dear, dearie, bestie, BFF, girl, girlfriend, amiga, rosy, pookie, schnookums, and toots.

        I’ve heard some variants used very rarely in, say, specific tones of friendly mockery or irony between already close friends, but I’ve never heard a woman say “Hi, honey” or “How’s it going toots?” to a woman they are getting introduced to or don’t know very well.

        Say you’re only the slightest bit aquainted with someone and need to address them in a casual, once-off kinda way. Do you find out their name or use a generic placeholder?

        • God's Hatter says:

          I live in London, where ‘mate’ is the predominant placeholder for men. Women who don’t know each other certainly do use ‘love’, ‘sweetheart,’, ‘darling’ – but these do have more of a sense of assumed closeness and so can be a bit forward; they’re also less common in the middle/upper classes. ‘Mate’ among men is a class marker too but is comparatively more acceptable between middle class speakers outside of formal situations.

          The default mode of address for a stranger is often to just use pronouns and avoid any direct term at all. This is common in both genders, but especially among women since there’s less of an alternative.

          My best armchair evo-psych for why direct terms of address are more common among men is that there’s more of a need to signal non-aggression when two men meet, since violence is more likely than among women. I’d be interested to hear if the same pattern is true in other languages though, or else it’s likely a cultural quirk of us anglophones.

          • j1000000 says:

            I like your armchair explanation, but it also seems like these words are not inherently positive or negative. Think of Ronnie from MTV’s Jersey Shore yelling “come at me bro!” or Dane Cook’s old “buddy/pal/chief” bit.

          • Deiseach says:

            Say you’re only the slightest bit aquainted with someone and need to address them in a casual, once-off kinda way. Do you find out their name or use a generic placeholder?

            In Ireland it’s much the same as God’s Hatter describes for London; amongst women a generic “Yerra girl, don’t be talking!” would be acceptable but it’s class-based (in a sense); very much more likely to be used by older/rural/lower-class townswomen than middle-class/upwardly mobile women. “Well boy/girl (depending on gender of person addressed)” would be a standard greeting round these parts, but considered usage of the low(er)-class rather than aspirational 😉 “Butty” is also a term used by men to address friends, again more used by/for commoners.

        • Doesntliketocomment says:

          Evidently you haven’t been to the South, because “Honey” or “Hon” is used all the time between women who have never met, as is “sweetheart” or “sugar”. Meanwhile calling some guy you don’t know “Bud” is dangerous territory.

        • tayfie says:

          It depends if the people in question expect to see each other again and how close they expect the relationship to be.

          If they expect to be close, they make introductions.

          If they expect not to be close, they use nicknames. The best example I can think of for women is a waitress or clothing store attendant who need to address lots of different women in a friendly and often informal way and it isn’t feasible to learn everyone’s name. “Honey” is something I’ve noticed commonly in the former case, often shortened to “hon”, and “girl” is more likely in the latter.

      • fion says:

        I have never in real life heard a man call another man mate, chief, or boss

        I’m guessing you’re from the US? In England I hear all of these often. Mate more than anything. (Australians famously use “mate” all the time. I think this is true, and not just a cliche.) “Man” is also common, but “dude” and “bro” are only used somewhat ironically, occasionally with a half-hearted American accent…

        • tayfie says:

          That’s correct.

          I’ve seen enough movies to be aware of the differences, but I’ve never been to either of those places and know movies aren’t always a good guide to different countries.

        • Nornagest says:

          West Coast American here. I hear “boss” occasionally, mostly from retail workers, though I think it was more common a few years ago. Though, yes, “man” is more common. “Dude” and “bro” are used unironically here but only within certain subcultures.

        • Tarpitz says:

          Unironic English “dude” user here.

      • As the other replies to this comment suggest, I suspect what is actually going on is that there is a lot of local variation in generic nickname usage norms, and in some places the men have more of the generic nicknames while in others the women have more (it may be that one of them has more overall, but that’s not a question which any one person’s anecdotes will be of much help to answer).

        • KG says:

          Basically this. My wife calls people “dude” and “buddy” not infrequently, regardless of gender, and I knew a girl who called people “pal” and “friend”.

    • ana53294 says:

      In Spain, it is common for women to address each other “tia” (in a very informal, colloquial manner; you would never use it with someone older/of higher status) and men “tio”. These words stand for “aunt” and “uncle”, and they are also use as a cross-gendered form of address (men to women, women to men). I have no idea how it works in South America, but my general impression is that they are much more respectful and less colloquial than the Spanish (for a person of equivalent social status).

    • BeefSnakStikR says:

      You don’t hear women calling each other “sis”, for instance

      First, the nicknames for men are also used by woman addressing men. So there are nicknames that women use to address women, and that men would also use to address women.

      Off the top of my head…sister (somewhat rare), girl (as in “you go girl”), and lady (usually disparaging, as in “move it, lady” in a traffic jam).

  10. bean says:

    Naval Gazing’s look at Russian Battleships continues with a detailed study of the first Russian dreadnoughts, the Ganguts.

  11. Squirrel of Doom says:

    I’ve been toying with some ideas for how to organize your parliament.

    I agree with the idea that you want to avoid a one chamber system, since a single parliament is a single point of failure, and you want at least one more center of power as a check on the dumb and/or corrupt decisions that come out of a single chamber.

    This is is the reasoning behind the US system, for example. Originally it was set up to have the House represent the people and the senate represent the states, but after the 17th amendment in 1913, it’s just another way to represent the people, and some say that was the start of the decline of the US 🙂

    Britain also has its House of Lords. Both these systems has democratic problems. In the US Californians are vastly underrepresented compared to Wyomingans. The British lords are even more glaringly problematic. So I wanted to think up fully democratic ways to have two parliamentary chambers that were meaningfully different.

    I have two ideas I like:

    – Genderbased chambers: All men vote for a male parliament and all women vote for a female parliament.

    – Age based chambers: The younger half of the electorate has one parliament, and the older another.

    Thought? Other crazy ideas? Any exotic real world systems I haven’t heard about?

    • arlie says:

      One aspect of the original American system was to give the members of each chamber a different time horizon. Members of the House face a new election almost immediately after they take their seats; this seems designed to make them take the short view. Members of the Senate get a 6 year term, allowing them to e.g. vote against today’s stupid fad, secure in the belief that it will have blown over and been forgotten by the time they next need to face the people.

      I’m not sure that these are the right time horizons; maybe a decade or two would be better for the longer term view, or even life membership (e.g. Canada’s appointed Senate). But I think there’s something to be said for the idea of short vs long views.

      • Doctor Mist says:

        And of course until 1913, Senators were not elected at all, but appointed by state legislatures.

    • shakeddown says:

      A second house where the representatives have one vote to cast per person who voted for them. Can’t do it with one house (since too many people harms negotiating ability and such), but works as a check on it.

      • Squirrel of Doom says:

        I do like the idea of being able to delegate my vote to someone.

        If I think Kelly McSmartass is the smartest and most trustworthy person I know, I can delegate my vote to them. Kelly can do the same, or vote on individual issues. If my vote starts getting used in ways I don’t like, I can reassign my vote, perhaps after a waiting period.

        You could imagine a system where people have to delegate until we’re down to a fixed number of people. Those people are our parliament, but each one has the votes of everyone who has delegated to them.

        This is more about addressing of the underinformed voter problem than what I brought up, but it’s still interesting.

        • Jiro says:

          If you can delegate your vote, someone can threaten you to in order to get you to delegate your vote, or buy your vote.

          • God's Hatter says:

            There’s probably a good cryptographic way to be able to lock your vote in to be the same as someone else, whilst maintaining plausible deniability about whether that’s what you did. I think e-voting is a pretty bad idea given the present ease of exploitation, but it’s a fun thought experiment 🙂

          • albatross11 says:

            Why is this different from threatening/buying your vote in the current system?

          • Jiro says:

            Because in the current system it is not possible for you to prove that you voted in a certain way, so the blackmailer or purchaser has no way to know that he’s succeeded.

          • John Schilling says:

            In the current system it is possible for the blackmailer to demand you show them your completed mail-in ballot right before you seal the envelope and drop it in the mailbox. Or, for that matter, that you simply give them the signed but otherwise blank ballot to fill in themselves. AIUI, in Colorado, Oregon, and Washington, all ballots are mail-in only, and California may be joining them in 2020. For convenience.

            There are logistical problems to organizing vote-buying schemes on a scale that would be significant in a national election, but only if the political climate is that such things are Absolutely Unacceptable and to be reported to the authorities on sight. Which is probably the case in the contemporary US, at least for explicit votes-for-cash schemes. But it wasn’t so in the past and isn’t guaranteed to remain so. And, for a softer version, I can easily and frighteningly see a polarized society adopting norms where, in order to hang out with the Cool People (possibly including your family and/or employer), you have to attend the election-night party where all the Cool People fill out their ballots together as a bonding ritual.

          • Squirrel of Doom says:

            In some current systems, your mail-in vote has to be made in a booth at a post office, precisely for this reason.

          • John Schilling says:

            In some current systems, your mail-in vote has to be made in a booth at a post office

            Can be made at a post office, certainly, but I’m skeptical about has to be. First, because I just checked and that specifically isn’t the case for the three US states to have gone for 100% mail-in elections. Second, because part of the reason for mail-in ballots in the first place is to accommodate people who aren’t physically in the state at the time, and trying to set up two separate types of postal ballot of which only one can be dropped in an anonymous mailbox a thousand miles away is just going to cause confusion and hard feelings.

        • Deiseach says:

          Delegation of votes to a single voter used to be a system, it was called rotten boroughs. How it worked as satirised in Blackadder.

          H: And now, finally, a word with the man who is at the centre of this bye- election mystery: the voter himself. And his name is Mr. E. Bla–
          Mr. Blackadder, *you* are the only voter in this rotten borough…?

          E: Yes, that’s right.

          H: How long have you lived in this constituency?

          E: Since Wednesday morning. I took over the previous electorate when he, very sadly, accidently brutally cut his head off while combing his hair.

          H: One voter, 16,472 votes — a slight anomaly…?

          E: Not really, Mr. Hanna. You see, Baldrick may look like a monkey who’s been put in a suit and then strategically shaved, but he is a brilliant politician. The number of votes I cast is simply a reflection of how firmly I believe in his policies.

          H: Well, that’s excellent. Er, well, that’s all for me — another great day for democracy in our country. Vincent Hanna; Country Gentleman’s Pig Fertilizer Gazette; Dunny-on-the-Wold.

          You could have a lot of people delegating their votes to a single voter, and forgetting all about it in gratitude that they didn’t have to bother turning up to vote and all that nonsense. It’s already difficult enough to get the electorate to turn out, I’m not really in favour of a system of “just sign here to authorise P. Artie Mouthpiece to vote on your behalf”, because it would be very strongly in the political parties’ interests to get organised at the grassroots levels to turn out ‘community organisers’ to go door-to-door and sign up the electorate on their behalf, and I would not trust as far as I could spit some person with a clipboard and a line of fast talk trying to persuade me to sign over my vote to a completely neutral representative who will vote according to my values and preferences.

          Never mind the opportunities for bribes, corruption and the likes of ‘walking around money’ to be funneled to local party organisation to get voters signed up to Preferred Representative Voter.

          For every one voter who will follow the results to make sure the Designated Representative really will be voting as they want them to vote, there will be a solid number of people who neither know nor care, and this means the parties can be even more hucksterish in vote-grabbing than they already are.

          • Dave92F1 says:

            @Deiseach I think the problem you describe doesn’t occur (or at least is vastly smaller) if people can re-delegate the votes they’ve received to others, indefinitely.

            So, instead of giving P. Arty Mouthpiece your vote (someone you don’t know and is vouched for only by the clipboard-wielding campaigner), you give it to your brightest friend, whose motives you trust. She only gets, say, 10 votes, but then she re-delegates those to her brightest friend, etc., until somebody ends up with enough votes to sit in Parliament.

            And, of course, each delegation should be secret and cryptographically secure.

    • infinull says:

      My idea, is to use to different voting techniques. (Coming from a US perspective, but I think this system would work OK for a parliament as well)

      we quintuple the number of reps in the house (while keeping districts the same size, so each district has between 3 and 9 reps), and then use single transferable voting.

      For the senate, use proportional voting based on party. Each party with at least 1% of the vote gets a senator. (would have to get rid of the filibuster…).

      Entire senate is re-elected every 4 years on the same year as the president (or if you were doing a parliament, this doesn’t matter as much), and house is re-elected every year. (not every 2 years).

      Some kinks to work out like whether house reps could be on the senate party list, leaning towards just no, but you could allow a rep to specify an alternate. (then is the alternate allowed to run for the House…)

      For a parliament, I think the leader of the party/coalition in the upper house (the senate) should be the Prime Minister, and not the lower house.

      And maybe if 1% or more of the populace voted for a party in the senate that got less than 1% of the vote, you could have a special senator for them. (perhaps chosen randomly from the party lists of all partys with <1%, though that would encourage parties to have long party lists even if they don't get very many votes, I suppose party lists can't be more than 100 people, so maybe this doesn't matter so much?)

      (Other democratic reforms would be needed to make this work… though I suppose working out the details of that is a little silly since none of this is ever going to happen in the U.S.).

      • Vosmyorka says:

        This is very similar to the system currently used in Australia, where the House of Representatives is elected from 150 single-member districts using STV (resulting in what is basically a two-party system, though there are more independents than there are in the United States), and the Senate’s 75 members are equally split up among the states and elected from a twist on a proportional system, where the candidates are still ranked but you only need a quota (1/(n+1), where n is the number of seats up for election) to win a seat. This results in a variety of third parties being represented in the Australian Senate (there are currently no less than 7), where the main parties need to rely on them to approve legislation, and majorities are very rare (though the right-wing Coalition — which is de facto one political party, Australia’s main right-wing one since its constituents have been in a permanent coalition in the 1920s — managed it in 2004, which was a decisive victory for them).

        The obvious failure mode in such a system is if the two houses were to be controlled outright by different parties, which hasn’t happened since the 1970s (when third parties were much weaker than they are now; between the demise of Democratic Labor in the 1974 election and the foundation of the Democrats in 1977, there really weren’t third forces other than independents in Australia’s Parliament, which is unthinkable today), but which essentially creates a constitutional crisis until such time as both houses aren’t at each others’ throats. The gridlock that creates is a lot worse in a parliamentary than presidential system, which is probably why most parliamentary systems have trended toward effective unicameralism, with the upper chamber becoming a relic.

    • BBA says:

      It’s questionable how much the pre-1913 Senate really represented the states. The fixed six-year terms mean any state’s senators were chosen by a previous iteration of the legislature, and were not bound by the interests of the state government once elected. (And that’s setting aside the Senate’s reputation as a “millionaire’s club” where seats were obtained through outright bribery.)

      In Germany the upper house consists of the minister-presidents of the German states, plus additional members of the state governments allocated proportionately by population. Seats are not elected on a fixed cycle, but change whenever the state governments change. Adapting this to another parliamentary country like, say, Canada is straightforward. In the US I don’t know how it’d work – you’d start with the 50 governors, sure, but then the majority leaderships of the state houses or members of the state cabinets or what? And that’s setting aside the odd case of Nebraska.

    • cassander says:

      You’re going to want a parliamentary system of government, because presidentialism is sub optimal in a lot of ways. Empirical evidence on this is weak, but consistent.

      This complicates things, because it means that one of your chambers is going to be dominant. Yes, there were systems like the 19th century british where PMs could come from either lords or commons, but I don’t think that’s sustainable in a purely democratic system. There are going to be party leaders, and they’ll tend towards the house that gives them the most leverage (both with voters and over each other).

      That said, if we’re discussing radical schemes, I want a house of repeals, that is a house that can only repeal legislation, not pass anything new. The incentives facing members of house than can only exercise power by reducing the quantity of legislation (and by threat of doing so with new legislation) are obvious.

      @bba

      It’s questionable how much the pre-1913 Senate really represented the states. The fixed six-year terms mean any state’s senators were chosen by a previous iteration of the legislature, and were not bound by the interests of the state government once elected.

      This point doesn’t get made nearly enough. If you want the states represented, then you have one senator per state serving at the pleasure of the state’s governor.

      • Squirrel of Doom says:

        The House of Repeals is the best new idea I’ve seen in this discussion!

        • Lambert says:

          Note that complete power of repeal also implies the power to stop new laws from passing, by insta-repealing them.
          Perhaps limit it to laws over a certain age. (Maybe give it power to delay and scrutinise new laws, like the House of Lords has.)

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          A legislative body which specializes in repeals is mentioned in Heinlein– as a possibility for the government of Luna, I think. The proposal also suggested that it should only take a 1/3 minority to repeal a law.

          Should the House of Repeals be able to repeal parts of laws rather than whole laws?

          Will it have a bias in favor of repeal so that it will look as though it’s doing its job, just as more conventional legislators have a bias in favor of more laws? At this point, I’m imagining politicians being required to serve double terms, one in a legislating body paired with another in a repealing body.

          Are there costs to having the laws be in flux? How high would that be?

    • alef says:

      > All men vote for a male parliament and all women vote for a female parliament.

      That’s a really bad idea, IMO. If no disagreement, it doesn’t matter. If disagreement, one gender gets to blame the other for imposing something undesired on the other. It supports the beliefs that we aren’t individuals, but representatives of factions. I don’t see a society surviving long if crude distinctions get institutionally reinforced even further than already so. IMO this whole line of thinking (special chambers depending your demographic characteristics) is silly.

      Checks on decision making by having factions designed/chosen to be motivated by different time frames – that seems more promising. But best to do that in ways that don’t promote factionalism. Weight (not segregate) voting power by expected time to live and number of children – that strikes me as wrong, too, but not nearly as fatal as parceling out the electorate into disjoint demographic groups.

    • WashedOut says:

      Parliament selected by random lottery, in much the same way as jury duty selection. Random parliamentarians would serve a paid, fixed term before being discharged from duties. The random pool would be supported by a small ‘core’ contingent of approximately policy-neutral experts in legislative procedure, selected on merit, who arbitrate and guide the process along the right legal tracks.

      • cassander says:

        this is precisely how you get Yes Minister, where long experienced civil service workers lead unknowledgeable members around by the nose because they have strong relationships with one another, deep experience, institutional solidarity, and industry connections.

        • Squirrel of Doom says:

          Some say that is already what’s happening in places with short term limits, like California.

          You should be able to mitigate this while maintaining the original idea. Longer terms, for one thing.

          I also don’t think it’s such a terrible thing if a cadre of professional civil servants have some stabilizing influence on long term governance.

          • cassander says:

            >You should be able to mitigate this while maintaining the original idea. Longer terms, for one thing.

            If there’s anywhere in the world where knowledge is power, it’s a legislature. And by that, I don’t just mean knowing the rules of parliamentary procedure. It’s having a bank of favors you can call in from other legislatures, knowing who can be swayed by which arguments, who is likely to support or oppose what, who trusts whom and knowing what has been tried and where bodies are buried. Getting that sort of knowledge takes years. Even if you had 8 year terms, by the time the legislators acquired it, they’d be on the way out the door in a year or two, and if they tried to deploy it they can just be stalled. You’d permanently be shifting power into the hands of unelected bureaucrats in a massive way even with fairly long terms.

            >I also don’t think it’s such a terrible thing if a cadre of professional civil servants have some stabilizing influence on long term governance.

            That’s only true if you think the interests of civil servants align with the interests of the population as a whole, which I don’t think is the case. I don’t think it’s in our interests to give CCPOA and AFSCME even more power.

          • albatross11 says:

            How much does that opinion depend on what policies you expect the long-term civil service to support?

            Pretty much everyone supports policies that make their jobs easier. For police, that means fewer restrictions on wiretaps and evidence and seizing property and questioning suspects and holding people in custody. For spies, that means less oversight and more budget and fewer constraints set by policy (say, forbidding assassinating foreign heads of state). And so on. It’s not at all clear to me that this is any kind of unalloyed good.

          • cassander says:

            @albatross11 says:

            How much does that opinion depend on what policies you expect the long-term civil service to support?

            Depending on how you mean that, either not at all or a whole lot. If you mean that the civil service is mostly blue tribe and will support blue tribe politics, it isn’t that. Well, emotionally it probably is a little, but intellectually it’s not.

            It’s that the civil service will support the power, wealth, and prestige of the civil service at the expense of everyone else. That’s not tied to any particular policy, just a tendency that the slope will slip down, and with no mechanism to correct it because as their power, wealth, and prestige grow, they’ll only become less accountable. It’s a system that’s guaranteed to run itself off a cliff eventually.

    • AlphaGamma says:

      The Irish system (or the way it works in theory at least) is interesting. The lower house is elected from multi-member constituencies (each electing between 3 and 5 representatives) via STV.

      The upper house, meanwhile, is selected by a range of methods (with terms the same as the lower house). Of its 60 members, 11 are directly nominated by the Prime Minister, 6 elected by the graduates of certain universities, and the remaining 43 from a system called Vocational Panels. These are supposed to be people with expertise or experience in specific fields, nominated by bodies like trade unions, learned or professional societies, or charities.

      • Deiseach says:

        The Upper House is meant to be an equivalent to the British House of Lords and a check on the lower house, but functionally the Seanad is useless since it is so reliant on vested interests; it gets stuffed with political appointees nominated by the government/party in power, a lot of ambitious wannabes start off in the Seanad to get experience before they go for the Dáil and real power and hence they are beholden to the political establishment, the university nominees do feck-all except be annoying (yes, I do mean you, David Norris) and the Vocational Panels suffer from the same strain of cute-hoorism as in mainstream Irish politics (and life, if it comes to that).

        I’m a tiny bit jaundiced, you might say. Any real power has been carefully constrained and stripped away by the Dáil so the Seanad can’t meaningfully interfere with it.

    • johan_larson says:

      My crazy idea: group voters by income, not by location. I bet I have a lot more shared interests with people who make about as much money as I do than I have with people who just happen to live nearby. Let the Honourable Member for the 7th Percentile Households debate tax policy with the Honourable Member for the 95th Percentile Households.

      • bean says:

        A couple potential issues:
        1. Households don’t all have the same number of voters. I don’t know for certain, but I suspect there’s at least a slight trend towards higher-income households having two voters (or maybe more, depending on how college students and such get counted).
        2. Your constituencies are going to change a lot election-to-election. My last raise moved me up 1.7 percentile points. This seems bad for stability of government.
        3. I’m not sure that the basic assumption that households of like income are more alike is good. College students, retirees, and people on welfare are all broadly similar in income. Their voting interests are very different. Much the same is true probably up into the 75th percentile, maybe higher. Single vs dual earner makes a big difference there, as does career stage.

      • Deiseach says:

        I bet I have a lot more shared interests with people who make about as much money as I do than I have with people who just happen to live nearby.

        Don’t people who make about the same money happen to live near one another? Or how many millionaires are living on council estates?

        On the other hand, if you are in the Fifty-Ninth Percentile Bloc you may be in dispute with others of your voting cohort if you live in Portcity and they live in Inlandopolis, and the matter in question is a bill to divert money towards dredging harbours; for you and the other cohorts in Portcity this is going to be something you feel is a benefit and indeed a vital contribution to the economy of your city where jobs will be retained or lost depending on shipping docking in the harbour, while Inlandopolis wants to use the money for street beautification projects instead.

      • Lambert says:

        Are yow aware of the Roman Assembly of the Centuries, a kind of income-grouped voting system?
        Of course, back in those days, it explicitly gave a disproportionate amount of power to the nobility and super-rich.
        Historia Civillis has a good video on it.

        • Protagoras says:

          The officers/cavalry, the nobility and super-rich, were only 18 centuries, while the heavy infantry (more like upper middle class, prosperous farmers) were 80 centuries. So it disproportionately favored the well-off, but the bias toward the super-rich wasn’t as great as someone might think from your comment.

    • bean says:

      I quite like Hong Kong’s Functional Constituency system for that. It groups people by actual occupation, and seems like a good way to counter the relentless tide of lawyers that we see in Congress today.

      • Dave92F1 says:

        @bean The Functional Constituency system is widely criticized as the Beijing government’s attempt to install a rigged sham democracy in Hong Kong.

        I don’t agree with that criticism (but then I’ve been fooled before, so discount my thoughts here appropriately).

        I think there are prominent quasi-scholarly elements in the CCP aware of the history of democratic reform demands emerging as countries get wealthier, who fully expect the same to happen in China. But they’re also aware of the failings of conventional democracies, esp. demagoguery and populist idiocies.

        (Of course this is mixed up with the usual desire to retain and exercise power for private advantage, but the CCP is aware of this problem too, tho unable to fully solve it.)

        So I interpret the Functional Constituency system as an experiment in “improved democracy” – something that addresses demands for popular input to government, provides a way to depose bad leadership bloodlessly, yet doesn’t suffer the usual problems of populism.

        I think it’s good that people are trying experiments in improved democracy. (I’m happy with the recent Maine experiment with ranked-choice voting for the same reason.)

        We need many more such experiments. I’d love to see a trial of Robin Hanson’s Futarchy.

        • bean says:

          It’s very possible that the current implementation is Beijing playing games. I know next to nothing about Hong Kong politics. I was mostly suggesting it as an idea for a different way to structure representation.

    • rlms says:

      One house with locally elected representatives and one house elected nationally with PR or something seems boring but obvious. It’s the current system in Paraguay and I assume some other places as well.

    • John Schilling says:

      Just a general response, but I’m seeing a lot of proposals based on dividing people up to arrange their representation on the basis of wealth or occupation or gender or age or, well, anything except geography, on the grounds that SomeOtherThing better represents their interests than boring old geography.

      First, I think these proposals vastly overstate the extent to which the world, or even just the Western world, is populated by cosmopolitan WEIRDs for whome mere geography is irrelevant. Lots of people still live their lives in meatspace, in geographically rooted communities, working in geographically rooted professions like farming and mining, having invested the bulk of their wealth in immovable real property, etc. Geography still matters.

      And second, even if you’ve correctly determined that geography now matters less than [other stuff], what makes you think you’ve identified the enduring best value for the [other stuff] by which humanity is to be broken up into convenient political chunks?

      Let people decide for themselves how they want to be represented. At-large proportional representation allows for representatives or parties devoted to the interests of geographic regions, of professions, of whatever people feel most important in this context. There will be legislators devoted to the interests of people who are and want to remain Rural West Virginians, and others devoted to the interests of WEIRD cosmopolitans who are stuck living among geographically-rooted rednecks who keep trying to vote their primitive values onto us.

      If you’re not willing to do that, probably best to leave it at the default setting of “geography”, because geography probably matters more than any other single thing you’d use to impose political divisions. If nothing else, actually enforcing whatever laws your legislature comes up with will be a lot easier if it is done on a geographic basis and if most people in the region agree with those laws.

      And understand that none of this matters, because almost everyone’s #1 political interest is that they don’t have any significantpolitical interests and want to stay out of the whole thing except, sigh, OK, I guess we have to stop the StupidEvil party from ruining everything so sign me up for whatever is the single most powerful force opposing the StupidEvils. With varying degrees of enthusiasm, but no nuance in policy goals and no willingness to deviate from the most effective AntiStupidEvil strategy. So does it matter that someone gets to vote for e.g. the AntiStupidEvil representative from Silicon Valley as opposed to the AntiStupidEvil representative from the Coder’s League?

      • albatross11 says:

        Maybe geography seems less and less important for governance as:

        a. More decisions are centralized at the federal government/federal court level.

        b. People become increasingly mobile, so that you don’t have such large differences in local culture/values.

        c. Businesses and media are nationwide or worldwide, and so tend to be less responsive to local differences.

        On the other hand, a huge amount of practical governance that matters in the US is regional/local–public transit, highways, schools, policing, etc., all are mostly run locally. That makes a case for giving the people of each locality a voice. It seems entirely reasonable that Montana and New Jersey might need different sets of rules w.r.t. gun ownership, speed limits, water rights, etc. [ETA] By giving each state/region/locality some kind of voice in the federal congress, you can avoid having those local differences get steamrollered.

      • Squirrel of Doom says:

        I’m happy to have one chamber based on geography.

        But if you want a second chamber based on something orthogonal, you have to get creative.

    • honoredb says:

      Various ways to have a Populist House and an Elitist House:
      – Elitist House doesn’t get paid a salary, forcing the members to be some combination of independently wealthy and “corrupt”/beholden to monied interests.
      – Populist House has term limits.
      – Voting power in Elitist House increases with tenure. For bonus points, it increases when a vote you made two years ago is declared retrospectively to be correct (via subcommittee vote or popular poll).
      – Elections in Populist House are made by picking a random ballot from each constituency, resulting in a mix of party-nominated candidates and people who wrote in their own name.
      – Elections in Elitist House are made using the system John Schilling describes in this thread. You can phase this in slowly by marking “the incumbent for your geographic area” on people’s ballots so that they’ll generally win.
      – Members of Elitist House are limited to one term. Votes and deliberation are secret under penalty of expulsion.
      – Members of Elitist House are elected for life but can be impeached by a supermajority in either house.
      – Candidates for Elitist House are chosen by party officials, not voters.
      – Members of Elitist House can only vote on them after personally passing a written, proctored test on the contents. Members of Populist House get lots of funding to hire staff to take the test for them, and can only vote once at least one member of their staff passes the test.

      One wacky scheme I’ve never heard talked about: deliberately create an Opposition House and a Loyalist House. Loyalist House consists entirely of the party that won a plurality in the last general election, Opposition House has everyone else. Loyalist House gets to name a Prime Minister and Cabinet, but otherwise their powers are identical and not much can be done without majorities in both houses.

    • SamChevre says:

      I think the key question is “what do you want your parliament to do?”

      The US system worked fine for its goals, pre-administrative state. The design goal was stability and “if you can’t agree on what’s do be done, don’t do anything.” It’s a terrible design for keeping an independent civil service and judiciary from taking over power, but a fine system for only doing things that have widespread agreement.

      Basically, there’s a trade-off. A system that can act quickly can do more, but will be less stable (multi-party parliamentary systems). A system that has many veto points can do less, but will be more stable (US system).

      If you can somehow ensure that power has to flow through parliament, not around it, then more stability will mean a less capable government; this may be a design goal or a flaw depending on what you want to accomplish.

      My question–related, but similar–is how do you keep the civil service, or the judiciary, from taking over from parliament or the other elected bodies as the key driver of policy (as has happened in the US and I understand in Europe as well.)

      • BBA says:

        The US system worked fine for its goals, pre-administrative state.

        If you set aside 1861-1876, sure, but that’s a pretty big asterisk. Throw in the previous secession threats of the Hartford Convention and the Nullification Crisis and the violence in the leadup to the Civil War, and that’s most of American history up until the administrative state began in 1887.

    • Garrett says:

      One chamber elected on a one person, one vote scheme.
      One chamber elected on a one net tax dollar, one vote scheme.

      Given that the majority of what the government does these days is transfer money around, it seems like a good way to provide a good incentive to keep the golden goose laying eggs.

      • bean says:

        Ooh. I like that. Although how do you handle people who are net negative? Do we make them vote, then chose the opposite?
        (The obvious answer is to just not let them vote, but I like the image here.)

      • Iain says:

        We do not need to incentivize making money. The incentive to make money is that you end up with money, which can then be exchanged for goods and services of your choice.

        • Nornagest says:

          We don’t need to incentivize making money, but it might be a good idea to disincentivize frittering Other People’s Money away. One way to do that is to make that money into a constituency.

        • John Schilling says:

          The incentive to make money is that you end up with money, which can then be exchanged for goods and services of your choice.

          Actually, most of the money that I nominally earn cannot be exchanged for goods and services of my choice. How this might incentivize me to act, I will leave to your imagination.

          • J Mann says:

            It’s a little interesting to argue that if we need to tax high earners more (because that’s where the money is), then we should have a counterbalancing incentive to earn money, so that we minimize dead-weight loss of taxation. If I ever write a puckish econ-based humor piece, maybe I’ll try it out. 🙂

      • Gobbobobble says:

        I wonder if that would successfully channel or wind up universally accelerating the usual means for converting money into political influence

      • Aapje says:

        @Garrett

        Given that the majority of what the government does these days is transfer money around, it seems like a good way to provide a good incentive to keep the golden goose laying eggs.

        What if the goose starts hoarding the eggs because the second chamber vetos most spending?

        From the perspective of ensuring that redistribution happens, you need both people making money, but also decision making that transfers part of that money to others.

    • Joseph Greenwood says:

      One parliament organized by regions, and another not? The former would be similar to the American House of Representatives–Californians, say, would vote for people to represent California; the latter would be like a ‘standard’ European parliament, where people vote for various parties and then those parties get seats based on the proportion of total electoral votes they get.

  12. Peter Shenkin says:

    Re. 4: I am reminded, reading the Leo XIII’s 1891 argument against socialism, how different the connotation of the word has become from what it meant then. My parents were socialists until FDR converted them to capitalism, and they always explained that the basis of socialism is public ownership of the means of production and some form of common ownership of all but quite personal property.

    You don’t see any such program in the Europe that the conservatives call “socialist”, nor in the platform of today’s self-proclaimed “socialists”, like Bernie Sanders. The word now seems to be used to describe any sort of government effort to provide more affordable services either to all (e.g., health care) or to the poor (e.g., housing).

    No doubt there is plenty to be said both for and against such efforts, but whether you are fer it or agin it, it ain’t socialism.

    • arlie says:

      Interesting. My parents (in the 1960s) made a distinction between communism and socialism, and would probably have classed “public ownership of the means of production and some form of common ownership of all but quite personal property” as communism. And I note that the arguments against “socialism” I saw in the early references seemed to be opposing what they would have called communism.

      • Peter Shenkin says:

        My parents were social democrats, and as socialists, strongly opposed communism, even before the Molotov-Ribbentrop agreement. (Whereas our equally Jewish Communist friends supported the Soviet Union through that unfortunate episode and many years later pretended that they hadn’t.)

        My parents distinguished their views from those of the communists by saying that all socialists believed in public ownership of the means of production, etc., but social democrats believed that it could come through democratic processes: voting, elections, etc., not violent revolution. They had voted for perennial Socialist presidential candidate Norman Thomas (Princeton graduate and Presbyterian minister). Communists, on the other hand, believed that only violent revolution would suffice. As a partly separate issue, my parents recognized early on that the Communist Party of the USA (CPUSA) was really just a front directly controlled by the Soviet Union for their own benefit; which was fine for the followers, as long as they believed that the Soviet Union was genuinely going to usher in a peoples’ paradise for all people. Which my parents didn’t buy.

        FDR convinced them that capitalism could have a human face, and they left all that other stuff behind when they got behind the New Deal.

        Not that I personally ended up adhering completely to their view of the world, either. When someone asks me if I had a religious upbringing, I always respond, “Yes. We were taught that there was one God and his initials were FDR.”

        • Aapje says:

          My parents distinguished their views from those of the communists by saying that all socialists believed in public ownership of the means of production, etc., but social democrats believed that it could come through democratic processes: voting, elections, etc., not violent revolution.

          This gradually changed over time, as communism failed so badly and a mixed solution worked quite well.

          So the definition of socialism changed to reflect this.

          • Peter Shenkin says:

            @Aapje

            I don’t think it did. Rather, the term lost meaning, just as “neoliberal” lost meaning. Neoliberal started out meaning what people use “socialist” to refer to now: a capitalist system where the government supplies a large proportion of basic services, like health care for all and housing for the poor.

            At this point, “socialism” is a label self-proclaimed radicals find it fashionable to boast of, whereas “neoliberalism” is a label they find it fashionable to rail despise.

            Self-proclaimed conservatives, of course, despise West-European capitalism, which fits the original definition of neoliberalism, and when they do so, they the self-proclaimed socialists call them “neoconservatives.”

            Neither term means a goddamn thing any more. This is just Gresham’s law at work in the realm of language.

          • Aapje says:

            Only if you believe that ideologies have to be ‘pure,’ but then you have to take issue with how many other words are used.

            Many people call themselves capitalists even though they believe in state-ownership of some means of production (for money, passports, etc). Are those people also posers who use a fashionable label?

            Are there any ideological labels that are not fashionable by your standard?

        • Mark V Anderson says:

          Ha! From your first post, I thought you meant your parents become capitalists in opposition to FDR because they saw how bad socialism was. Now I see you meant they became capitalists because they seemed to think that FDR was capitalist, but was a good guy despite that. Because he was an American president, that meant he was a capitalist?

          • onyomi says:

            Yeah, whenever I am tempted to label FDR “worst president ever,” I try to remind myself that he was US president at a time when most of the world was going communist or straight-up fascist, so if he provided a palatable alternative to those, maybe we should be glad, even if he set a lot of bad precedents.

          • Antoine says:

            I thought FDR was widely considered to be one of the best presidents ever, not one of the worst.

            However this is my perception from France (supposedly “socialist” country at times), so it might be biased.

            Any comments?

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            Historical polls and rankings among historians tend to put FDR in the top five consistently, even if they’re not of his party. I would guess that American liberals tend to like him because of the New Deal coalition and the recovery from the Great Depression, and American conservatives due to his leadership during WW2.

            Free market advocates, including ancaps like onyomi, are another story. I have heard there is evidence, although I haven’t looked at it myself, that the New Deal prolonged and deepened the Depression, and most of the reason the US came out so far ahead anyway was because it was the largest Western manufacturing base left standing after the war. Meanwhile, the New Deal expanded the government considerably, and the post-war boom so cemented its reputation as a net benefit that it rendered the case for free markets equivalent to arguing a counterfactual – hence why free marketers tend not to like FDR.

          • Paul sketches some of the reasons why some of us do not think well of FDR. One might also add that he originally got elected by complaining about what a big spender Hoover had been, then did what Hoover had done only more so.

            There is also the small matter of putting more than a hundred thousand Americans, none of them charged, let alone convicted, of any offense, in concentration camps.

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            I suspect that historians usually interpret such polls, whether or not they’re actually worded that way, as being about which presidents were greatest as opposed to best— i.e., they focus on which ones got the most done, with the question of whether it was for good or ill shunted to one side. Reagan has come out well in the polls I’ve seen despite the usual left-liberalism of historians.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            @Paul Zrimsek: you might be right about that. Which makes me wonder how historians of various political bents would rate them if they were asked to explicitly make the distinction.

    • Wrong Species says:

      One of my pet peeves is when people talk about capitalism and socialism without defining them. Nearly every single conversation about them is bogged down in people talking past each other.

      • Lambert says:

        Yeah. Maybe we should institute a norm of tabooing those words whenever discussion about them becomes non-trivial.

        • albatross11 says:

          Or at least define what you mean when you use the terms.

          • professorgerm says:

            I’ve taken to a Lemony Snicket-style sidebar, adding “a word which here means…” when I’m discussing something that I know is defined totally differently by different groups.

    • cassander says:

      >sort of government effort to provide more affordable services either to all (e.g., health care) or to the poor (e.g., housing).

      Healthcare is 10% of the economy or more. Housing is 15% or more. Socializing them isn’t “providing a few services”, it’s nationalizing a massive share of the economy. Socialists haven’t grown less ambitious with time, what’s changed is what they consider the commanding heights, not their desire to master them.

      • 1soru1 says:

        > Healthcare is 10% of the economy or more. Housing is 15% or more.

        Well, they would be a lot smaller share of the economy if they weren’t organised on a rent-maximizing basis.

        • cassander says:

          Yep, that worked out so well with grain in the Ukraine. Food production to almost zero percent of GDP!

          Snark aside, I will absolutely take for profit provision of essential goods over government any day of the week, and the idea that putting the government in charge of things makes them cheaper is not borne out by the evidence. Governments might not seek profit in the traditional sense, but that doesn’t mean the people who work for them magically become selflessly dedicated to the common good. They just take their profits in less transparent ways.

          • rlms says:

            Why are you bringing up grain in the Ukraine? Why not one of the many countries with (partially) nationalised healthcare and/or housing?

          • cassander says:

            I admitted that was snark, but the point was that sometimes you might not want the value of essential goods and services to shrink as a share of GDP. If you banned the creation of any new treatments, medical spending as a share of GDP would definitely start to decline, but that doesn’t mean we’re better off.

            As to countries with nationalised healthcare and/or housing, I can point to the colossal failures of high rise public housing in several so countries off the top of my head.

  13. userfriendlyyy says:

    This is the best criticism of Jordan Peterson I’ve seen. I highly recommend it.

    • Notsocrazy 24 says:

      I knew this was gonna be Contra before I even clicked lol.

    • Anatoly says:

      “…who got famous for sounding the alarm about how protecting transgender people under the Canadian human rights law shall surely lead to Stalinism”.

      Well, that’s a promising start.

      ETA: “So Jordan Peterson’s succeeded largely by drawing in audiences with fairly popular opinions: political correctness often feels stifling, student activists are sometimes inarticulate and overreactive, angry transsexuals are telling me what words to use and I don’t like it.”

      That’s not how Peterson became super-famous. That’s a standard right-wing message. There’s no
      shortage of people expressing it. This describes, I don’t know… Ben Shapiro?

      If you look at what people say they liked particularly in Peterson’s videos, it’s very very rarely
      the poltiical correctness and trans stuff. It’s a very small part of his book etc. It’s deeply uncharitable
      to present this as the main reason for his success.

      Then ContraPoints goes on to talk definitions over “Postmodern neo-Marxism”. This section of the
      video is basically a huge strawman. As an example, Marxism is a theory of a class struggle between the workers and the capitalists, and since “some professors believe in that, but zero corporate HR
      departments do”, that proves Peterson’s deluded. But there’s no shortage of explications from
      Peterson on what he means by “postmodern neo-Marxism”, and group identity politics certainly comes
      under that, and he talks about that *all the time*, that and equality of outcome. It’s a little hard
      to argue that corporate HR departments don’t care about group identity politics. Contrapoints claims to
      have listened to many hours of Peterson’s lectures (more than me then), but in characterizing his
      political views never mentions equality of outcome.

      Next, ContraPoints attacks the lobster stuff in the Cathy Newman’s interview by saying that the argument that lobsters have hierarchies can be used to justify any hierarchy, like monarchy (or slavery, I guess). That’s.. surprisingly not a bad argument, and the first such in this video, I think. Peterson would probably reply that his whole point was not merely that “lobsters have hierarchies”, but specifically that their brains are attuned to social status via the same hormone that we use (serotonin), and therefore there must be a continuity of *social hierarchies* in lobster and human “societies”. That is, social status is a phenomenon with biological underpinnings, which I think you’ll find plenty of people objecting to, contrary to ContraPoints’ claim that “no person on the left thinks that” (which may be true w.r.t. hierarchies in general).

      Next, Peterson’s use of “the West” is criticized as inaccurate, because it is “geographical chauvinism”, because Marxism is Western philosophy too. Finally,

      “The very idea of people requesting individual pronouns to suit their individual needs is exactly the kind of thing a person who values individual liberty over collective dogma should be on board with.”

      Note the dishonesty of the word “requesting” – of course “requesting” is not what Peterson (rightly or wrongly) railed against.

      And it’s over.

      • Anatoly says:

        So overall my impression from that video is similar to that from a few others by ContraPoints I watched. It starts with (A) objecting to unfair, misleading, uncharitable interpretations of the subject by some or many others on “her side”, and proceeds to (B) make some unfair, misleading, uncharitable interpretations of the subject of her own. Usually (A) is good, and not perfunctory – I think it’s done and presented honestly. Usually (B) is not nearly as bad as the worst examples (A) objects to, but still isn’t very good. Occasionally (B) is only very mildly – or not at all – misleading, and then I’d judge the video as good overall. This video on Peterson isn’t one of those times.

      • Deiseach says:

        Next, ContraPoints attacks the lobster stuff in the Cathy Newman’s interview by saying that the argument that lobsters have hierarchies can be used to justify any hierarchy, like monarchy (or slavery, I guess). That’s.. surprisingly not a bad argument, and the first such in this video, I think.

        I know nothing about lobsters (apart from how they’re caught and cooked) but my general opinion on this kind of example is that the people who used gay penguins raising chicks to argue for same-sex marriage and families (because look, it’s part of nature, this destroys the conservative argument about it being un-natural!) do not get to object to other people using examples from nature to bolster their arguments.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          Aristophanes mocked “appeal to nature, but only to support things I already agree with.”

      • userfriendlyyy says:

        Then ContraPoints goes on to talk definitions over “Postmodern neo-Marxism”. This section of the
        video is basically a huge strawman. As an example, Marxism is a theory of a class struggle between the workers and the capitalists, and since “some professors believe in that, but zero corporate HR
        departments do”, that proves Peterson’s deluded. But there’s no shortage of explications from
        Peterson on what he means by “postmodern neo-Marxism”, and group identity politics certainly comes
        under that, and he talks about that *all the time*, that and equality of outcome. It’s a little hard
        to argue that corporate HR departments don’t care about group identity politics. Contrapoints claims to
        have listened to many hours of Peterson’s lectures (more than me then), but in characterizing his
        political views never mentions equality of outcome.

        You should watch that part of the video over again. First she gives a guess as to what JP seams to imply when he says postmodern neo marxist then she breaks down the components of the term and shows how they don’t really fit together. Honestly the best line in the video is:

        Anyone with any experience in leftist circles knows that Marxists and Identity Politics Activists are constantly at eachothers throats. With Marxists accusing the activists of being Bourgeois dogs who want more female CEOs of color and disabled transgender drone pilots. While the activists accuse the Marxists of being a club of brocialists no more woke and gender and race issues than the average Jordan Peterson fan. Both of these accusations are correct because everyone is problematic and I disown them all.

        The point she is making is that JP has either a complete misunderstanding of the term or he is just trying to lump the left (Clintonite corporate shills and Sanders supporters who hate each other) into one convenient enemy by stapling together two words that pretty much mean the opposite of eachother. She does circle back and point out what JP apparently means by his frankenstein label.

        • Björn says:

          But the thing is, identity politics is influenced by marxism to a high degree. All the queer theory, post-colonial theory etc. is based on post-structuralist thinkers like Foucault, Derrida etc. In their theory, they present the idea that in the second half of the 20th century the oppression of capitalism has moved away from the classical “worker poverty” and has become indirect through culture. And they take the more paranoid angle of marxism where the main fear is the capitalists controlling EVERYTHING through sinister means, and make it even weirder.

          So I would say that Jordan Peterson is not wrong in calling the social activism based on post-structuralist theories “post-modern neo-marxist”. It would be nice though if he would use more accurate terminology like “marxist-influenced post-structuralist thinking”, and if he would make a clear argument why and how the social activism he hates so much is influenced by marxism, like I did in this post.

        • onyomi says:

          I am skeptical that the Marxists and the postmodern intersectionality theorists are really “at each others’ throats.” Some degree of outgroup homogeneity bias surely applies, but most of my professional contacts are in the academic humanities, and I don’t see it. Sure the (often white, male) Marxists would rather the postmodernists not get so distracted by race and gender, while the postmodernists don’t care so much about labor unions and critiquing capitalism as the Marxists, but at the end of the day, they all agree: capitalism, bad; identity politics for women and PoC, good. Peterson disagrees with both of these and rightly views them as not unrelated, for reasons Björn states above.

          Put another way, many academics preferred Bernie to Hillary, but when Hillary got the nomination, they all bit their tongues and voted for her (unlike some white, working class Bernie bros), as did all the many academics who are not actually Marxists or intersectionality theorists, but whose views almost universally fall between “far left” and “center left.”

          Contra’s characterization of cultural Marxism as a “Nazi conspiracy theory” is also completely inaccurate, even if nobody self-identifies as a “cultural Marxist” (as no one self-identifies as a “neoliberal”). The Nazis, I believe, were more worried about “cultural Bolshevism” in literal music and art.

          We had a debate over “cultural Marxism” before, and I seem to recall agreeing to stop using the term, but no one denies that the Frankfurt School is a real and influential thing.

          • Björn says:

            I wouldn’t compare classic communist marxism and post-structuralist influenced social activism to Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. Bernie and Hillary both offered actual policies, and one can see that Bernie wanted European style social democracy, while Hillary wanted a continuation of what Obama did. And I would say that both of them associated with socialists/identity people because they belong to the respective wings of the Democrats, even if they are annoying.

            In opposition to that, both the classical marxists and the post-structuralists offer only an nebulous fight against “the system”. That leads to the big difference between the marxists/communists and the social democrats, the social democrats want to give trade unions more power, higher minimum wage etc., while the marxists see this as an unholy alliance with capitalism. They just wanna smash capitalism.

            The post-structuralist social activism works very similar. I remember that there was a meeting between Hillary Clinton and leading Black Lives Matter people during her presidential campaign. Hillary asked them what policies (like more body cams, better persecution of police violence) they wanted to implement. The Black Lives Matter people had only symbolic/pointless ideas like “apologize for white supremacy”.

          • userfriendlyyy says:

            I am skeptical that the Marxists and the postmodern intersectionality theorists are really “at each others’ throats.”

            Oh boy ever are they. Here is an amazing essay that Marxist Mark Fisher wrote about how damaging the Identity politics people are before he got overwhelmed by it and killed himself a year ago January. His short book Capitalist Realism should be required reading for anyone that wants to debate left politics. It’s the perfect blend of theory and pop culture.

            If you don’t believe me I can point to numerous social media lynchings from the ID Pol left of anyone that would dare put class issues first.

          • Nornagest says:

            Everyone thinks their ingroup is barely holding itself together while their outgroup is united in malefic purpose. Falls more or less directly out of outgroup homogeneity.

          • userfriendlyyy says:

            Rereading the 86 page Capitalist Realism I had forgotten how much he talks about Capitalism’s effect on mental health. I think Scott would find it interesting. I hope he notices this comment and reads it.

          • userfriendlyyy says:

            @Nornagest
            No, see my other comment down thread. I have no trouble distinguishing the various factions on the right. There is no group I see as particularly unified except the ultra rich, who make sure that economic issues are the main focus of the GOP and an afterthought for Democrats. Most of them don’t much care about social issues because it isn’t an issue in their social circles.

        • Notsocrazy 24 says:

          From what I’ve experienced in leftist circles, purity tests, purging, accusing others of being Nazis/capitalists/brocialists etc. is just the norm regardless of actual ideological splits like IdPol activists and Marxists, although I only move in more low-brow leftist circles and not academic ones. I don’t know how much this is a sign of the times (everyone seems to agree we here in the U.S. at least are Really Divided) rather than a sign of leftism, but I think there’s a way in which the existence of such in-fighting doesn’t entirely negate JBP’s use of such a catch-all term for the types of people and/or thinking.

          The rest this will be me trying to argue that there’s something perhaps worth thinking about on a meta level going on when people on the left use catch-all terms that put variously Ben Shapiro, Richard Spencer, and Thomas Sowell in the same category and people on the right using catch-all terms that put the Evergreen protesters, Noam Chomsky, and Michel Foucault in the same category. But first let me just say that a) I feel pretty damn young and stupid on SSC so my confidence that I’m seeing anything new is low and b) yes I’m aware of the Red Tribe/Blue Tribe model and no I’m not confident I am just doing a bad job of fitting the tribalism model to the way people use these terms. So epistemic status is that I feel out of my depth but I’m trying to swim anyway.

          Okay so I think people don’t generally hold consistently and rigorously to ideologies. People are imperfect, biased, and irrational on the whole, so we love to pick and choose. Also, the aforementioned Red Tribe/Blue Tribe split, which seems relevant in the U.S. and Canada at least, if not the world over, groups a fairly wide range of ideologies together under the banner of political alliance, even if those ideologies are at odds in the purely philosophical realm. And of course as much as the left-wing identitarians and the Marxists dislike each other, they’ll still talk to each other and vote with each other against the conservatives and the right-wing identitarians.

          So because of the political groupings (and because of this to some extent the academic groupings), people tend to put together a sort of mixed ideology or political identity that groups together useful but inconsistent positions like postmodern skepticism of overarching classical liberal or conservative claims about freedom or whatever with Marxist overarching claims about class struggle. Or people take Marxist language of class struggle and apply it to race, gender, sexuality, or what have you even though that’s not really a Marxist thing. Or people combine libertarian/natural rights justifications for limited government but make a traditionalist moral argument against abortion.

          So maybe there is something to be said for libertarian nationalism or neo-Marxist postmodernism or whatever. Maybe those people really do exist in some capacity, because of the way that libertarianism and nationalism are more closely linked in our political situation and thus are influencing each other more. Perhaps the same is true for Marxism and postmodernism. Or maybe not, and Peterson is just name-calling across the Red/Blue tribe divide.

          • onyomi says:

            Agreeing with your post and qualifying my own above:

            I can point to lots of things I don’t like about the Reagan presidency, or important differences between Hayek and Friedman, but I can still understand why leftists would lump me in as part of the same, big “neoliberal” Hayek-Friedman-Reagan-Thatcher movement they don’t like, because ultimately, I’m pro-Reagan-Thatcher-Hayek-Friedman relative to the alternatives, and strongly influenced by that big tent of thinkers and politicians which includes Ayn Rand and Pat Buchanan, even though the latter two and their supporters would likely claim they’re worlds apart.

          • userfriendlyyy says:

            See that is frustrating to me. I am most definitely on the far left, but I am more than happy to spend time reading different right perspectives, some of which I freely admit to agreeing with. I’d say I have more in common with the average reader of The American Conservative than the average Hillary Clinton voter. (Yes, I’m that anti war, I would have voted for Trump if it would have mattered in my state).

            I actually find it rather disappointing that right leaning thinkers on this site aren’t willing to be as charitable with left ideas and subgroups. I support equal treatment of all minority groups (like I assume most of you do too) but I am no SJW. I think intersectionality is a neoliberal boondoggle that has done nothing but make class solidarity next to impossible.

          • J Mann says:

            @userfriendlyyy

            You write that you “find it rather disappointing that right leaning thinkers on this site aren’t willing to be as charitable with left ideas and subgroups” as you consider yourself to be.

            In my (unreliable) observation, engagement and empathy are fairly well distributed. There are a few people in all of the various ideological buckets who seem pretty good at reading others charitably and/or understanding them, but I don’t notice a particular concentration.*

            It’s possible that you’re exceptionally charitable and openminded when compared to both lefty SSC readers and righty ones – I’d be interested in a more rigorous comparison.

            * Scott’s done some extensive surveys of his readers, but I don’t know if the data would be relevant here.

          • userfriendlyyy says:

            @J Mann
            Fair enough, I certainly don’t claim to speak for all people on the left. But I can assure you that I enjoy reading diverse opinions. I enjoy and agree with the anti elitist parts of Breitbart. I’m with Tucker Carlson, Cernovich, and The American Conservative when it comes to our never ending pointless regime change wars. I go a long way on free speech (not doxing though), and I’m against deplatforming because it is as effective as shooting yourself in the foot.

            Where I disagree with the right is on economics. The current version of capitalism we are on is just awful in every way. Even the high priests of economics have pointed out that it relies on wildly inaccurate simplifying assumptions that don’t get relaxed, more dependant variables than equations that relate them, and jaw dropping oversights.

            All of that is used to perpetuate a system which has made work more precarious and life harder for all but the very rich (and if you want to tell me about global poverty reduction read that last link first). If as a species we want to have any chance of surviving climate change we can’t be intentionally destroying human capital with an inefficient system that tells people they are worthless if they can’t find a job while at the same time ensuring that there is less jobs than people who want them. We can’t afford to tell people who come out of prison that they have paid their debt to society and then make it next to impossible for them to find productive work. Those are not just random flukes, those are defining features of capitalism. It does not make for a cohesive productive society when people are constantly worried about making ends meet.

          • J Mann says:

            Thanks – I know it makes me a pedantic scold, but there’s a difference between (1) you have an eclectic collection of views and agree with people on both sides the classic “red tribe”/”blue tribe” dichotomy on various issues and (2) you’re unusually good at understanding people who disagree with you. (Of course, both can be true!)

            On your substantive point, I disagree with your take on economics as I understand it, and imagine we can have some fun discussions. To start with, I don’t agree that capitalism is incompatible with either a job guarantee program or with programs to increase post-prison employment. That doesn’t mean that any particular suggestion along those lines is a good idea, of course.

          • userfriendlyyy says:

            @J Mann
            IMO a Job Guarantee is an absolute necessity. The problem is that full employment is incompatible with capitalism. We had two decades after the war where the industrialized world targeted full employment to make socialism less appealing. Once socialism had been sufficiently associated with authoritarianism and not a threat to replace capitalism they engineered stagflation using oil shortages in the mid east leaving Reagan and Thatcher to end full employment targeting. The people with the money and the power care much more about the power than the money. Any capitalist system with full employment takes power away from bosses because they can’t fire people. It’s all spelled out rather simply here. If any of that were false we would have full employment because it is more profitable for everyone and the only people in the way are the people in power.

          • cassander says:

            @userfriendly

            The problem is that full employment is incompatible with capitalism.

            Why?

            Once socialism had been sufficiently associated with authoritarianism and not a threat to replace capitalism they engineered stagflation using oil shortages in the mid east leaving Reagan and Thatcher to end full employment targeting.

            Who on earth is they?

            Any capitalist system with full employment takes power away from bosses because they can’t fire people.

            Um, why not?

          • Aapje says:

            @userfriendlyyy

            Do you agree with me that some people are not very good employees? Like quadriplegics, people with severe anti-social behavioral problems, etc.

            Do you agree with me that employing these people can result in negative productivity?

          • J Mann says:

            Thanks, @userfriendlyyy – here’s my take, FWIW.

            Once socialism had been sufficiently associated with authoritarianism and not a threat to replace capitalism they engineered stagflation using oil shortages in the mid east leaving Reagan and Thatcher to end full employment targeting. The people with the money and the power care much more about the power than the money.

            That’s a pretty remarkable claim. I don’t believe anyone engineered stagflation or oil shortages in order to bring Reagan and Thatcher to power. My model is that well-intentioned actions of previous governments led to consequences that the voters didn’t like, resulting in some retrenchment. It’s hard to believe that Jimmy Carter and the British Labor party pre-Thatcher were intentionally acting to bring about a conservative swing. Principally, I’d say (a) I’m not aware of any evidence for that, and (b) once “they” had control of the US Democratic party and British labor party, the scheme seems needlessly complex.

            Any capitalist system with full employment takes power away from bosses because they can’t fire people.

            I understand full employment programs to be essentially a jobs guarantee – that the government would agree to provide a job of last resort to anyone who wanted it. Does it mean something different to you? Bosses could still fire people under that model.

            <a href="https://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2012/08/kalecki-on-the-political-obstacles-to-achieving-full-employment.html"It’s all spelled out rather simply here. If any of that were false we would have full employment because it is more profitable for everyone and the only people in the way are the people in power.

            Kalecki assumes that his full employment program would actually increase capitalist profits indefinitely, and therefore the only reason anyone could oppose a job guarantee is to maintain capitalist power. Is it also possible that some people disagree with Kalecki about the benefits and effects of a job guarantee program? Here’s the Cato Institute making the case that it would have harmful effects.

          • userfriendlyyy says:

            @cassander

            Who on earth is they?

            Militant anti communists like Henry Kissinger, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Lewis F. Powell and others.
            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1973_oil_crisis

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yom_Kippur_War#Events_leading_up_to_the_war

            And no, I don’t buy the whitewashed version of kissinger in wikipedia.

            Any capitalist system with full employment takes power away from bosses because they can’t fire people.

            Um, why not?

            Sorry, I meant it makes the consequences of getting fired much less severe. If you want your employees to have a stake in the overall welfare of the company I prefer the carrot (profit sharing) rather than the stick.

            @ Aapje
            Yes, which is why a JG is not intended to replace SSDI. Many other questions about a JG can be answered here.

            @J Mann
            Stagflation was caused by a huge jump in oil prices with the OPEC embargo, which the US gave it’s stamp of approval to.

            Attention soon focused on the oil-exporting countries. After the U.S. quadrupled its grain export prices shortly after the 1971 gold suspension, the oil-exporting countries quadrupled their oil prices. I was informed at a White House meeting that U.S. diplomats had let Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries know that they could charge as much as they wanted for their oil, but that the United States would treat it as an act of war not to keep their oil proceeds in U.S. dollar assets.

            The Yom Kippur war was the trigger but the oil embargo was no surprise.

            Neoliberalism had largely taken over the mainstream economics departments by the time Carter was elected. He appointed Volcker to the FED and really started us down the deregulatory path.

            Yes, Carter. It was the peanut farmer from Georgia who pushed the United States toward a market economy, not the one-time actor from California. Reagan certainly shared Carter’s vision on deregulation, embracing with bravado policies that Carter launched with grim solemnity. But Carter laid the groundwork for the United States’ transformation from the economic malaise of the late 1970s to the vibrancy of the following decades. More importantly, only someone with impeccable credentials as a Democrat could have started deregulation. If it took Nixon to go to China, it took Carter to embrace markets.

            (I don’t share the author’s sunny view of deregulation and markets)

            I understand full employment programs to be essentially a jobs guarantee – that the government would agree to provide a job of last resort to anyone who wanted it. Does it mean something different to you? Bosses could still fire people under that model.

            Yes, that was hasty writing on my part. While all the industrialized countries did target full employment (until Neoliberalism invented the NAIRU out of nowhere and focused entirely on preventing inflation) they didn’t have an explicit JG program.

            For a source on that, and an explicit rebuttal on the deficit scaremongering from that Cato link see this.

            On some other points Cato makes:

            In fact, some even paid more than $31,200 might consider leaving their jobs to pursue guaranteed roles if they perceive better working conditions or an easier worklife (asked under what conditions someone would be fired from such a role, the Levy Institute paper suggests that you would be sacked for failing to go to work, but that your performance would not be judged by “private sector ‘efficiency criteria’”, for example.) It’s not inconceivable then that over 25 percent of the labor force could find itself part of the scheme.

            Yes, that is part of the point, to ensure that if people are working they are paid a living wage. If a company can’t afford to pay a living wage than it doesn’t deserve to exist. They are well within their rights to increase prices to offer higher pay, which is why JG proposals note that upon implementation their would be a small (about 0.7%) one time bump in inflation. What they mean by not judging success by private sector measurements means that it shouldn’t be profitable. That is also how you address ‘crowding out’ making JG jobs ones that need getting done but that no one is paying for. See the FAQ I linked above. As far as disciplining employees goes, yes they can be suspended from the JG program. However, one of the real benefits of the JG is that it is designed to help people who have problems; it could direct people to rehab or counseling or address any other problems people have that are preventing them from working.

            But back to my main point, things like the Powell Memo are are exactly what happens when you have an empowered working class under capitalism, and why I doubt any JG program could be sustained without relentless attacks from the rich and powerful.

            I think every private business should be at least partially a co-op. If we believe in democracy I don’t see why that needs to end when we go to work. Give workers a say in the way their employer operates and a share of the profits and we would have a much fairer society. I am fine with some degree of inequality but when it gets this bad it is bad for everyone.

          • Skivverus says:

            Give workers a say in the way their employer operates and a share of the profits and we would have a much fairer society

            Er. Don’t co-ops already exist? And profit sharing, for that matter. They’re just not mandatory.

          • cassander says:

            Militant anti communists like Henry Kissinger, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Lewis F. Powell and others.
            And no, I don’t buy the whitewashed version of kissinger in wikipedia.

            there is so much here I hardly know where to begin. No one would call Henry Kissinger or Zbig militant anti-communists. Both presided over a period of detente! And I’m not sure which assertion is more ridiculous, that Kissinger was whitewashed, or that he arranged for a decade long rise in commodity prices brought about largely by inflation!

            Sorry, I meant it makes the consequences of getting fired much less severe. If you want your employees to have a stake in the overall welfare of the company I prefer the carrot (profit sharing) rather than the stick.

            As an employer I can tell you flat out that I do not give one shit about people suffering “consequences” after being fired, and neither does anyone else. If anything, the desire to avoid them suffering consequences leads to people avoiding firing low performers.

            Neoliberalism had largely taken over the mainstream economics departments by the time Carter was elected. He appointed Volcker to the FED and really started us down the deregulatory path.

            Carter de-regulated transportation. And the results were a staggering success.
            . The Fed had nothing to do with it.

            Yes, that is part of the point, to ensure that if people are working they are paid a living wage. If a company can’t afford to pay a living wage than it doesn’t deserve to exist.

            How comfortable a moral assertion to make, a pitty the tens of millions it leaves unemployed

          • J Mann says:

            @userfriendlyyy – thanks, this is a perspective I don’t normally get to read, so I appreciate it.

            For what it’s worth, my take is that your beliefs are sufficiently out of the mainstream that I would argue you should reduce your confidence in them.

            A lot of your beliefs in capitalist motivations and inner thought processes depends on your belief that left wing economics is so obviously correct that the only conceivable reason for opposing them is malice. I’d posit that maybe some people honestly disagree with the left wing economics you believe self evident. To be fair, I have evidence that you don’t, which is that I know that I personally disagree with those economic theories and I don’t believe myself to be motivated by the reasons you ascribe to capitalists, but only by actual intellectual disagreements on the underlying facts. I realize that I can’t convince you that I’m not a scheming capitalist lying about my intentions because I want to hold workers down, but I know I’m not.

            So I’d say instead that when you’re arguing that Wikipedia is whitewashed, that doesn’t mean you’re wrong, but it does mean that a lot of people disagree with you, which I think should lower your confidence that you’re as self-obviously right as you appear to believe.

            Thanks again!

      • SaiNushi says:

        “Next, ContraPoints attacks the lobster stuff in the Cathy Newman’s interview by saying that the argument that lobsters have hierarchies can be used to justify any hierarchy, like monarchy (or slavery, I guess).”

        His argument that lobsters have hierarchies doesn’t justify the existence of hierarchies, it just points out that they exist everywhere and you have to learn to live with them. Which is exactly what he says to anybody who ask him about that point justifying hierarchies.

        • Iain says:

          His argument that lobsters have hierarchies doesn’t justify the existence of hierarchies, it just points out that they exist everywhere and you have to learn to live with them.

          This part doesn’t follow.

          Let’s say I find a study about lobsters committing genocide against each other. That would be evidence that genocide exists everywhere, but it would not mean that you have to learn to live with genocide. At most, it can tell you that your fight to eradicate genocide will be an uphill battle.

          “Is” doesn’t imply “ought”.

          • lvlln says:

            Let’s say I find a study about lobsters committing genocide against each other. That would be evidence that genocide exists everywhere

            No it wouldn’t. Not unless there’s a mountain of other evidence you can point to that shows that lobster brains have some sort of “genocide circuitry” which works similar to circuitry in human brains, thus indicating similar genetic lineage. In which case it absolutely would follow that we’d have to learn to live with genocide, at least in the sense that such circuitry “understands” genocide (given the complexity of genocide, it seems plausible that our innate brain circuitry for genocide may be able to be subverted or falsely sated – it would have to depend on the details. One could even argue that we currently are living in that world, with our innate nepotism and tribalism being that “genocide circuitry” that we have to live with, by valiantly subverting it).

            The point isn’t that observing X in lobsters is enough evidence to prove that X is some unchanging eternal constant that all humans have to obey forever. Peterson hasn’t ever said that, and to whatever extent SaiNushi is presenting him as having said that, SaiNushi either is mistaken or is being misinterpreted. It’s that it’s a particularly notable example – notable for just how old our common ancestor is – from the mountain of evidence pointing to the concept of hierarchies being innate within our biology.

            Now, one could also still argue that just because it’s innate to our biology doesn’t mean we have to “live with” it. Which depends on what you mean by “live with.” If the argument is that, on net, even with all the hard work involved in forcing humans to suppress their innate psychology, a hierarchy-free society is still more desirable, well, the devil’s in the details. As someone who read Brave New World and was befuddled that people saw it as a dystopia rather than a utopia, I’m pretty partial to such arguments. I don’t know what Peterson would say, but he seems to have a strong bias against plans that rely specifically on suppressing innate psychology rather than channeling them in productive ways – it might be due to his profession as a clinical psychologist/psychology professor, or it might be his obsessive studying of 20th century history of Communism.

            Also should be noted that his argument can’t be used to justify living with any particular hierarchy (e.g. monarchy, slavery), and, as far as I can tell, he hasn’t ever justified any particular hierarchy based on this argument. He has defended the hierarchical organization of Western society on the grounds that it tends to do the job pretty well, or at least better than most other societies. But the full extent of his lobster argument ends at pointing out that human’s innate psychological need to live in – and thrive in – a hierarchy is something that society ought to meet, or else there will be lots of suffering by the members of that society.

          • Iain says:

            Here’s Jordan Peterson’s argument about lobsters, from his infamous interview with Cathy Newman (with minor edits to remove irrelevant crosstalk from Newman):

            And the reason that I write about lobsters is, because there’s this idea that hierarchical structures are a “sociological construct of the Western patriarchy”. And that is so untrue! That it’s almost unbelievable! And I use the lobster as an example. Because the lobster, we devolved from lobsters in evolutionary history, about 350 million years ago. Common ancestor. And lobsters exist in hierarchies, and have a nervous system attuned to the hierarchy. And that nervous system runs on serotonin, just like our nervous systems do. And the nervous system of the lobster and the human being is so similar, that antidepressants work on lobsters! And it’s part of my attempt to demonstrate that the idea of “hierarchy” has absolutely nothing to do with sociocultural constructions, which it doesn’t! [I]t’s inevitable that there will be continuity in the way that animals and human beings organize their structures. It’s absolutely inevitable! And there is one-third of a billion years of evolutionary history behind that! Right? That’s so long, that a third of the billion years ago, there weren’t even trees! It’s a long time! You have a mechanism in your brain that runs on serotonin. That’s similar to the lobster mechanism, that tracks your status. And the higher your status, the better your emotions are regulated. So as your serotonin levels increase, you feel more positive emotion and less negative emotion.

            I’m not saying there’s nothing we can do about it, because it’s like, … In a chess game, all right, there’s lots of things that you can do. Although you can’t break the rules of the chess game and continue to play chess. And your biological nature is somewhat like that, as it sets the rules of the game, but within those rules you have a lot of leeway. But one thing we can’t do is say that hierarchical organization is a consequence of the “capitalist patriarchy”. It’s like that’s patently absurd! It’s wrong! It’s not a matter of opinion! It’s seriously wrong!

            If you would like to substitute a more thorough exposition of the Lobster Argument, be my guest. This is the best I could find. Responding to this version of the argument:

            First: lobsters are a bad example. Here’s the study that Peterson cites, showing that serotonin increases aggression in lobsters. From the introduction of that paper:

            The amine serotonin has been linked to aggression in a wide and diverse range of species, including humans. The nature of the linkage, however, is not simple, and it has proven difficult to unravel the role of the amine in the behavior. In vertebrates, lowered levels of 5HT (endogenous or experimentally induced) or changes in amine neuron function that lower the effectiveness of serotonergic neurons generally correlate with increased levels of aggression, whereas in invertebrates, the converse is believed to be true .

            If the goal is to wow us with an appreciation for how deeply the connection between serotonin, hierarchy, and aggression is hardwired into our brains, it’s awkward that the effect is reversed between lobsters and humans. The claim of “continuity in the way that animals and human beings organize their structures” is misleading. Lobster brains and human brains use similar hardware — neurons, neurotransmitters, and so on. But you can’t conclude that the similarities in hardware must imply equivalent similarities in hardware.

            (While trying to find a better example of Peterson’s claim, I ran into this reddit post claiming that penguins are social but non-hierarchical. If true, this would obviously throw a wrench in the Lobster Argument, but I couldn’t find anything conclusive about penguin hierarchies one way or the other.)

            Second: let’s assume that we can patch up Peterson’s scientific claims. His argument still doesn’t work, because he’s attacking a strawman.

            To a first approximation, nobody actually holds the position that Peterson is attacking. Governments are forms of hierarchy. Corporate management is a form of hierarchy. Leadership roles in NGOs are a form of hierarchy. There might be a handful of anarchists who want to abolish all of those, but it’s certainly not a mainstream feminist position. It’s a big world. If you tried, you could probably find examples. But they’re neither representative nor important.

            Instead, what most people who yell about hierarchy want to do is abolish specific instances of it: patriarchy, say. You may disagree whether the phenomenon they’re attacking exists. You may disagree that it’s a problem. But those are questions that must be considered at the object level, not the meta level. As you say yourself, this argument can’t be used to justify any particular hierarchy. You aren’t going to figure out whether the gender pay gap is caused by innate factors by looking at lobsters.

            Do we have to “learn to live with” any particular hierarchy? I don’t know. I’d say it depends on the hierarchy in question. What I do know is that stories about lobsters aren’t going to be relevant.

          • lvlln says:

            If the goal is to wow us with an appreciation for how deeply the connection between serotonin, hierarchy, and aggression is hardwired into our brains, it’s awkward that the effect is reversed between lobsters and humans. The claim of “continuity in the way that animals and human beings organize their structures” is misleading. Lobster brains and human brains use similar hardware — neurons, neurotransmitters, and so on. But you can’t conclude that the similarities in hardware must imply equivalent similarities in hardware.

            Fair enough that the biological issue is rather complicated, and as a non-evolutionary biologist, I don’t have the expertise to defend or debunk his argument, and I fully buy the notion that he may be making a connection where one doesn’t exist. I don’t find that fact awkward in the least, though; it’s entirely plausible for serotonin to have opposite effects with respect to “levels of aggression” as mentioned in that intro while there being a continuity of genetic descent of the phenomenon of hierarchies. The sheer complexity of our bodies, our brains, and our social world, and how different those are to their “equivalents” in lobsters means that the fact that the same chemical is used to regulate similar sort of behavior is a pretty significant connection.

            And, again, it’s obvious that he’s only presenting the lobsters as an illustrative example from a mountain of evobio literature – he’s not presenting at some evobio conference, he’s answering an interview question in a mainstream news outlet. If you think the entire argument breaks down upon close evobio inspection, again, fair enough; I lack the expertise.

            Instead, what most people who yell about hierarchy want to do is abolish specific instances of it: patriarchy, say. You may disagree whether the phenomenon they’re attacking exists. You may disagree that it’s a problem. But those are questions that must be considered at the object level, not the meta level. As you say yourself, this argument can’t be used to justify any particular hierarchy. You aren’t going to figure out whether the gender pay gap is caused by innate factors by looking at lobsters.

            Do we have to “learn to live with” any particular hierarchy? I don’t know. I’d say it depends on the hierarchy in question. What I do know is that stories about lobsters aren’t going to be relevant.

            The issue here is that the when most people who yell about hierarchy say they want to abolish patriarchy, they’re not just attacking the idiosyncrasies of a particular hierarchy, they attack the very innate psychological impulses that led to that hierarchy and also label those impulses as part of that hierarchy. For instance, the fact that men tend to be more willing to sacrifice their free time and their health in order to pursue money and status is considered a part of the patriarchy, and the abolishment of patriarchy necessarily involves conditioning men such that they no longer desire to compete and thus thrive in hierarchies.

            His point is that this drive to fit oneself in and to get to the top of hierarchies is something that’s innate in human psychology and something that can’t just be wished away. Again, maybe the cost would be worth it. But the cost of conditioning people to deny their innate psychological impulses has to be acknowledged and dealt with seriously.

            One might argue that most people who yell about hierarchy actually suggest other hierarchies which they deem to be more just. I’d argue that those are just the examples of a lack of seriousness in dealing with the innate psychology that Peterson is calling out with his lobster story.

          • Iain says:

            Two points: first the narrow point, then the broad one.

            Narrowly:

            For instance, the fact that men tend to be more willing to sacrifice their free time and their health in order to pursue money and status is considered a part of the patriarchy, and the abolishment of patriarchy necessarily involves conditioning men such that they no longer desire to compete and thus thrive in hierarchies.

            Who says this? I’m sure that somebody somewhere has made this claim — it’s a big world — but the standard forms of this argument talk much less about abolishing the drive to compete, and much more about (say) gendered expectations around childcare that make it easier for men to make sacrifices for money and status without giving up on the hope of having a family. I challenge the claim that “most people who yell about hierarchy” fall into the category you describe.

            Broadly: I’m not actually interested in delving too much further into the specific debate in the previous paragraph, but I think it’s important to point out how much that debate hinges on the details of a specific situation, and how little it hinges on humans being biologically wired to recognize hierarchies.

            The Lobster Argument is just another motte and bailey. The motte is the uncontroversial claim that human brains are in some sense wired for hierarchy. The bailey is the implication that this claim is important in an actual contentious debate.

            Nobody — not even Peterson himself — seems particularly interested in defending that bailey. Until that happens, I feel pretty comfortable dismissing this entire argument as irrelevant fluff.

          • lvlln says:

            Who says this? I’m sure that somebody somewhere has made this claim — it’s a big world — but the standard forms of this argument talk much less about abolishing the drive to compete, and much more about (say) gendered expectations around childcare that make it easier for men to make sacrifices for money and status without giving up on the hope of having a family. I challenge the claim that “most people who yell about hierarchy” fall into the category you describe.

            I don’t have any citations at hand, so I may be wrong. Just basing it off my own experience of growing up and being taught these things. The idea that individuals’ competitive drive was merely the product of socialization by the patriarchy was basically the default belief, and that was why smashing the patriarchy necessarily also meant destroying capitalism, which only works with competition. I still see that a lot today in popular SJW culture, which reveres socialism over capitalism due to its lack of reliance on competition, which is, again, a socialized drive created by the patriarchy.

            But that’s all just my anecdote. Maybe it’s not most, though it seems to be the loudest, from my experience. Certainly, they’re loud.

            The Lobster Argument is just another motte and bailey. The motte is the uncontroversial claim that human brains are in some sense wired for hierarchy. The bailey is the implication that this claim is important in an actual contentious debate.

            It seems that the point hinges on how contentious a debate you think it is that people either are or aren’t in some sense wired for hierarchy. My experience has been that this is extremely contentious. Again, maybe that’s the “somebody somewhere” in this “big world” effect. I’d posit that the people that Peterson has experience with also probably fit that mold.

          • Nornagest says:

            There is a strain of thought which holds that the EEA — or a state of nature, or the primitive state of man, whatever you want to call it — was essentially non-hierarchical, with egalitarian social relations and weak or no concepts of property. Marx’s theory of history started with a version of this, “primitive communism”, but it shows up outside of Marxism as well. If we could show deep neurological foundations for hierarchy, especially ones which are more basal than H. sapiens, that’d make for a strong argument against this line of thinking.

            Though there are related but subtly different lines that it wouldn’t argue against. Interpersonal status relations don’t necessarily mean stable, formal hierarchy, for example — my intuition is that the EEA would have had no formal hierarchy but strong informal hierarchies, like high school or prison.

          • BlindKungFuMaster says:

            “The motte is the uncontroversial claim that human brains are in some sense wired for hierarchy.”

            My impression is rather not only that this is an extremely controversial claim, but that any kind of pre-wiring is blasphemy in leftist circles. Isn’t that what blank slate-ism is about?

          • Iain says:

            My impression is rather not only that this is an extremely controversial claim, but that any kind of pre-wiring is blasphemy in leftist circles. Isn’t that what blank slate-ism is about?

            I don’t think anybody argues for a maximally blank slate. People are pre-wired for vision. We’re pre-wired for language acquisition. We’re pre-wired to hold our breath underwater.

            When I say that humans are “in some sense wired for hierarchy”, I’m making a very weak claim. I’m not saying any particular hierarchy is wired in. I’m not even saying that a predisposition to formal hierarchies is wired in (to borrow Nornagest’s useful classification). I’m just saying that human beings are naturally social animals. The ability to perceive hierarchies and status comes built in to human brains, in a similar way to the ability to feel happiness or sexual attraction.

            Does anybody seriously disagree with that? My impression is that all the real disagreement comes downstream of that claim, arguing whether such and such a behaviour is or is not an immutable expression of our hardwired hierarchy.

            But note that the lobster argument can’t say anything useful about the downstream disagreement. All it can do is justify the claim that brains come pre-equipped with the ability to recognize hierarchy and status.

        • J Mann says:

          The lobster discussion is a little depressing. I think the thesis sentence from the Newman interview is:

          And [the lobster example is] part of my attempt to demonstrate that the idea of “hierarchy” has absolutely nothing to do with sociocultural constructions, which it doesn’t!

          I think Peterson goes way too far if the lobster story is supposed to be dispositive, but if it’s part of a larger stack of evidence, then I think it’s fine as one example in a sufficiently large pile.

          It’s an oversimplification to say that all critics of patriarchy think that hierarchy is something that men invented because they are mean or testosterone poisoned or whatever, but it’s a position that some people hold. It would be nice if we could just say “ok, and then what.”

          IMHO, the patriarchy critics argue that it’s possible to construct a society which is less hierarchical or which has a better hierarchy by the critics’ standards, even given our biology. So the answer to the lobster example is presumably:

          (1) Yes, but you don’t know if our biology predisposes us to THIS hierarchy or if some of it is socially constructed on top of our existing biology. Maybe we’re predisposed towards a bonobo style hierarchy rather than a chimp style one. More study is needed.

          (2) Ok, even if we’re predisposed to a chimp style hierarchy, that doesn’t mean we can’t steer the boat with societal interactions. We’re probably predisposed to a lot of stuff we don’t want people doing, and which we often successfully motivate people not to do.

          Now, Peterson may well have answers to those points, but at least then we’d be having a constructive conversation, not “look how dumb the lobster example is.”

          • Iain says:

            I agree with basically all of this.

            I would just add that, from where I’m standing, the set of feminists who say that we can construct a better hierarchy regardless of our biology is much larger than the set who say that men invented hierarchy to be mean, and the conversation would be better if Peterson engaged with the former instead of the latter.

            Much of the mockery of the lobster argument comes from people who perceive it, correctly or not, to be a response to the “better hierarchy regardless of biology” crowd. I don’t think it’s valuable to quarrel over who is responsible for that breakdown in communication, but Peterson is the person in the best position to repair it.

          • J Mann says:

            Yeah – IMHO, the problem isn’t that Peterson talks about lobsters, it’s that he says hierarchy has “absolutely nothing to do with sociocultural considerations,” which is such a strong claim that

            (a) it’s almost certainly false, and

            (b) is probably hyperbole and/or not the point Peterson was trying to communicate, in which case he should tell us what that point is.

    • fion says:

      Well that’s… not what I was expecting.

  14. Horse Rotorvator says:

    Robin Hanson mentions in his slate interview:

    “it should look roughly like a random walk, that’s how information processes change things”

    Where can I read more about this?

  15. doubleunplussed says:

    Scott do you have any way of making your website HTTPS by default, including RSS links?
    Bothers me slightly whenever I inadvertently click through to discussions containing many keywords no doubt of interest to my employer….

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I think someone might have tried to fix this before and it broke something.

      • doubleunplussed says:

        Looks like the ‘HTTS everywhere’ chrome extension can help me, I’ll just try leaving it on.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          Thank you for the obvious-in-hindsight recommendation! (Getting the plain HTTP version on occasion messes up all my cookies and reading order.)

    • Antoine says:

      Can you comment on what “many keywords no doubt of interest to my employer” means?

      This looks like a sentence you would read in a dystopian novel — but I don’t live in the US (I’m from France), maybe I’m not aware of certain practices…

  16. Erusian says:

    Hello Scott! PJIQ and I are working on UBI. (Also, I offered to collaborate with Freddie but he hasn’t responded.)

  17. ohwhatisthis? says:

    With the mass propogation of deep learning courses and worldwide experimentation, AlphaGo(with a surprisingly simple structure)AI labeling pictures with accurate commentary in it,who else has bumped down the general strong AI date from 2040 to…..2021 at the latest?

    • rlms says:

      Call me when someone beats the Winograd Schema Challenge.

    • arlie says:

      Most of the “AI” I see seems pretty close to fraudulent. It’s not intelligent in any meaningful sense, and while it may be successful in a statistical sense (gets e.g. 80% of cases not laughably incorrect) its blooper rate (not just errors, but laughable errors) is obvious and high. In general, the root cause of the problems could easily be interpreted as total lack of “common sense”.

      I’m a software engineer, but not in the AI field. I’m also frequently on one or other long tail of statistical curves, so when a “fits the middle 80%” solution is applied to me, the results generally range from maddening to hilarious.

      The problem seems to be that while it’s relatively easy to create an AI to solve a well constrained problem, including a general AI capable of training to solve many well constrained problems, that’s not what intelligent life forms are especially good at. General intelligence is hard. Many of the people writing about AI either have primarily a humanities background (= don’t understand that they are writing about), or have a financial interest in presenting a particular outcome (spokespeople and copywriters for companies producing AI products). Quite commonly they have both limitatios.

      That said, many of my colleagues disagree with me – they have a lot more confidence in AI than I do. Also, I have an interest in AI being limited, given the uses to which I expect it to be put. (I expect it to be primarily deployed to channel wealth and power to those already having more of both.) So there’s presumably some element of wishful thinking in my evaluation of the evidence.

      • Wrong Species says:

        I’m not sure if the lack of common sense is as damming as you think. Think of Watson playing Jeapordy. One time one of the questions was about an American city but it answered Toronto. It still wiped the floor with the competition. An AI could get common sense answers right only 50% of the time but its collection of specialized knowledge could be good enough to make it very powerful.

        • crh says:

          Also, cognitively normal humans commit laughable errors all the time, so “must not commit laughable errors” seems like a bad criterion for intelligence.

    • sandoratthezoo says:

      “At the latest”? That seems nutso and an opportunity for someone to profit at your expense. Does “2021 at the latest” mean that you’d take a 100:1 bet against it? Like I put $100 on the line, you give me $10,000 on 1/1/2022 if there isn’t a machine that I can have a normal conversation with?

      If 2021 is “at the latest,” when’s your 50:50 prediction for strong AI?

      • ohwhatisthis? says:

        Why is it nutso? You have the *entirety* of the world engineering machine learning algorithms, experimenting, and entire nations competing with each other now. Look at how utterly absurd the progress in the last 4 years has been. And its not due to moores law.

        I think its going to be here by 2021-2022, but under wraps by some scientists afraid to talk about their creation.

        There’s what watson was 7 years ago, now boosted with this giant deep learning algorithms.

        • sandoratthezoo says:

          This sounds to me like you’re furiously backtracking on your claims.

    • toastengineer says:

      Gotta taboo “strong AI.”

      AlphaGo Zero was the only thing that actually spooked me. Up until then all the most advanced AIs were taking massive amounts of human-generated content and boiling it down; proving the power of thousands of years of humans thinking about things, not the power of your system. AlphaGo Zero exceeded those thousands of years of thinking in like a week on its own from scratch.

      So I think “AI strong enough to be a real threat if someone gave it a robot army” exists currently. “AI that could replace entire jobs” is on the horizon.

      “AI I can have a genuine interpersonal relationship with” I don’t think will exist for centuries. “AI strong enough that it can in theory solve any solvable problem given sufficient computing resources and time” I imagine is at least >30 years off. Like, 99% it won’t happen in 10 years, 90% it won’t happen in 20, 80% that it won’t happen in 50, 60% that it won’t happen in 100.

      • albatross11 says:

        Once we get to AI strong enough that it can solve the problem of taking over the world and getting rid of/enslaving the pesky humans on it, I don’t think I care very much how long it takes to get to those other problems.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        But how different is war from the game of go? I’m not convinced that AlphaGo could defeat the US with an army of land and air stones. OTOH, it has convinced me that a computer that can win the game of war is foreseeable, and the computer could still be mindless rather than a tyrant angel.

        • cassander says:

          the hardest part of winning a war isn’t strategy, it’s finding a big enough supply of angry young men willing to fight for you, then keeping them fed and armed.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Yes, and any computer wargame you’d train Son of AlphaGo could simulate that. Ofc the map-territory distinction will bite him hard if young men refuse to obey a computer, but the parent comment did specify a robot army.

        • pontifex says:

          Didn’t the Cold War already give us “computers… that [could] win the game of war”? You had game theory, which said that mutually assured destruction (MAD) was the only stable equilibrium. You had operations research to tell you how to make tactical decisions and allocate resources. And control theory to guide the missiles. And humans with terrible haircuts and pocket protectors sitting around in faux-wood-paneled rooms to carry out the orders.

        • sandoratthezoo says:

          War is very different from the game of go. It is much, much, much less constrained with many more pieces and each piece having many, many, many more things it can do. The AlphaGo approach is obviously incapable of handling an unconstrained real-world war: how would you write a Monte Carlo search tree for simultaneous movements of hundreds of real-world divisions that can go anywhere?

          I feel like people continue to think that AlphaGo is like, “Oh, we threw some machine learning at Go and it won.” The machine learning part of AlphaGo is a supplemental part of it: the main algorithm is a Monte Carlo search tree.

          As pontifex points out, as soon as a computer could plausibly issue a go command for pre-existing nuclear strategies, it could “win” a war.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      Consciousness is still a mystery, so I’m 100% agnostic on “strong AI” at any time. Maybe a General Ultron who can beat humans at war even though it’s orders of magnitude more complex than go, but no way by 12/31/21.

    • BlindKungFuMaster says:

      Strong AI will come when when our machine learning models have the capacity to accurately model the world. If you look at efforts to model a somewhat open environment, including the relationship of the objects and agents within that environment, you’ll see that currently only toy problems can be tackled.

      The real world is just orders of magnitude more complex than any of the narrow domains that gave us some of the astonishing successes in recent years. If Deepmind creates something like AlphaZero for StarCraft and other computer games, i.e. an architecture that can be trained on any computer game to a superhuman level, maybe then we should start getting scared.

      Nvidia aims to accelerate GPUs by a factor of a 1000 over the next five years. It is hard to foresee what that kind of hardware will make possible, but my guess is that it will allow us video synthesis at a decent level. If you can synthesise realistic videos, you should have the ability to think ahead in real world scenarios. That could get us to the intelligence of some small animals.

      When I look at current research AGI doesn’t seem imminent. But in another 5-10 years all bets are off.

  18. Aapje says:

    This is especially relevant to David Friedman:

    Grassland plants react unexpectedly to high levels of carbon dioxide

    Plants are responding in unexpected ways to increased carbon dioxide in the air, according to a twenty-year study […]. For the first 12 years, researchers found what they expected regarding how different types of grasses reacted to carbon dioxide. However, researchers’ findings took an unanticipated turn during the last eight years of the study.

    “Because carbon dioxide is needed by plants to grow, we expected grasses that have the C3 photosynthetic pathway to grow more under elevated CO2, because these plants are known to be able to increase their CO2 capture as CO2 levels rise. We also expected that growth of grasses with the C4 photosynthetic pathway would not be affected by higher CO2 levels, because these plants are generally less able to capture extra CO2 as CO2 levels rise,” said University of Minnesota Professor Peter Reich. “While that held true for the first dozen years, that pattern changed.”

    Researchers found that during the last eight years of the study, C4 plant species grew more in an elevated CO2 environment than C3 plants. While it’s uncertain why this shift happened, these findings could have significant implications.

    “If mature grasslands worldwide behave like our experiment did, this could have long lasting impacts on how we think about the conservation and restoration of grasslands around the world,” Reich said. “Grasslands cover between 30 and 40 percent of land and play a key role in soaking up carbon dioxide released by burning fossil fuels.”

    Note that C4 carbon fixation is more efficient at extracting C from CO2, is more water efficient & is more efficient at higher temperatures than C3 carbon fixation, but at the expense of taking extra energy. These plants grow mainly in hotter regions. C4 plants represent about 5% of Earth’s plant biomass, but they account for about 23% of terrestrial carbon fixation.

    C4 plants include maize, sugar cane, millet, and sorghum. C3 plants include rice, wheat, barley, rye, oat and soybean. Researchers are working on creating a C4 variant of rice.

  19. Vincent Soderberg says:

    (originally posted in the classified thread, reposted here cause it fits better here)

    How much of willpower/motivation is genetic, how much is environmental, and how much is within the persons own control?

    I ask this because i kinda want to have an EA focused career, or a career in general, but i just hugely struggle with just applying for a job or doing proper planning most of the time. I do suffer from depression (take 60 mg fluoxetine which works generally really well) and i am high functioning autistic, but i dunno.

    I have several times gotten into really bad anxiety/panic attacks over this, twice this week (my chest still hurts from that one, tho i feel better now). It mostly feels like i get things done when it’s very Gamified, or i have my dad or county helper help me.

    Im fine having a normal, not very high impact life, but i feel very frustrated/stressed about this because one one hand, i know im smart. I like listening to high level podcasts, i like to be intellectual and that, and other people think im smart. I used to think i were just diligent in reading books or something, but im pretty sure im just smart.

    But its really stressing to both feel smart, and feel. like i really struggle to do anything, that when i accomplish things it’s mostly luck (something-in-my-brain-worked-properly-luck). I don’t know. I don’t know if there really is anything that properly motivates me and makes me organized beyond “feel smart and understand this, but can’t actually apply this”, food/hot showers/good fiction, and games.

    Im way more better off now then i was beffer my antidepressants, but this aspect doesn’t really feel like its going forward. I am learning things and growing, but im not sure i’ll ever manage to like. be truly intedepent.

    (it might be the case that im in a mood right now)

    Side note: Can stress cause naseua?

    • Dacyn says:

      Ha! This sounds pretty similar to me, not that I have any advice for you. (I mean, I suppose I could talk randomly about my life and about panic attacks, I don’t know how useful you would find that.) I think medical help is the main thing and it looks like you’ve done that. (Though I found psychotherapy to be more helpful than antidepressants.) Regarding willpower, I like Nate Soares’ expression that “A problem isn’t solved until it’s solved automatically, without need for attention or willpower”: http://mindingourway.com/productivity-through-self-loyalty/

      Anyway, good luck.

    • I feel that early differences and their usefulness in predicting success far later in life suggests its partly genetic:
      [Stanford Mashmallow Experiment](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stanford_marshmallow_experiment)

      Willpower and determination are generally shown to be better predictors of success that smarts once you pass into the above average intelligence area. Basically, genius without work means little.

      Keep in mind a couple of things. Even a strong genetic tendency leaves a lot of room for environment factors. Also, because our ancestors evolved being ‘eaten by lions’ and worrying about the neighbours getting stabby with their spears, I think there’s a lot of hidden stress-resilence in most people, including yourself. You have to work with the tools you have of course.

      It sounds like you’ve got a strength you can use to adapt challenges to suit your own style. Maybe gamifying your path to success could help?

      • JulieK says:

        I feel that early differences and their usefulness in predicting success far later in life suggests its partly genetic:
        [Stanford Marshmallow Experiment]

        That could also be interpreted environmentally, though. If the adults in a child’s life aren’t trustworthy, he’ll be less likely to trust the researcher’s assurance that he’ll get a second marshmallow, and more likely to fear that he might even lose the first if he doesn’t eat it right away.

        • Vincent Soderberg says:

          seems like a reasonable point

        • Iain says:

          This has been studied experimentally, and the effect size was huge:

          Children who experienced unreliable interactions with an experimenter waited for a mean time of three minutes and two seconds on the subsequent marshmallow task, while youngsters who experienced reliable interactions held out for 12 minutes and two seconds. Only one of the 14 children in the unreliable group waited the full 15 minutes, compared to nine children in the reliable condition.

          “I was astounded that the effect was so large,” says Aslin. “I thought that we might get a difference of maybe a minute or so… You don’t see effects like this very often.”

          In prior research, children’s wait time averaged between 6.08 and 5.71 minutes, the authors report. By comparison, manipulating the environment doubled wait times in the reliable condition and halved the time in the unreliable scenario. Previous studies that explored the effect of teaching children waiting strategies showed smaller effects, the authors report. Hiding the treat from view boosted wait times by 3.75 minutes, while encouraging children to think about the larger reward added 2.53 minutes.

          The robust effect of manipulating the environment, conclude the authors, provides strong evidence that children’s wait times reflect rational decision making about the probability of reward. The results are consistent with other research showing that children are sensitive to uncertainly in future rewards and with population studies showing children with absent fathers prefer more immediate rewards over larger but delayed ones.

      • Vincent Soderberg says:

        Im gonna chill for a while, then think about this more. thanks for the comment

    • Doesntliketocomment says:

      Have you been tested for ADHD? I only ask because I have struggled with it, and it led to anxiety and depression which were diagnosed long before the underlying issue was recognized. In general the main symptom was my inability to get anything done, especially things that were important to me. This led to a number of motivational problems (why start things you won’t finish?) and a lot of fear.

      In my case getting my drugs right has done a lot for increasing my motivation. It’s still on the lower side, but I can feel it improving over time as I start to accomplish things.

      • Vincent Soderberg says:

        I find it unlikely that it would be adhd: my best friend has adhd and we are very different, and i went to a pretty great primary school for disabled kids. But ill check it out anyway. it was a good question to ask

  20. I wanted to give a signal boost to a subreddit I stumbled on the other day, /r/Erisology.

    Eris is apparently the Greek goddess of strife and discord, and the idea of Erisology is to study specifically dysfunction that arises as a result of non-constructive disagreement, especially where two parties come away from a conversation without at least understanding the other’s point of view (let alone having progressed human knowledge).

    Given the theme on SSC often centres around civil, rational discussion between people with very different views, I feel like this might be of interest to many people on the site. It was mentioned briefly in a OT mid last year, and has been recently mentioned a bit on the SSC sub, but there’s been some further articles posted and I thought I’d raise it here in case people had missed it. The main guy running it seems very receptive to constructive comments and thoughts on the topic!

    For me the concept is great because it might help formalize and zero in on some of the warning signs that a conversation is going off the rails, as well as clarify key principles to keep it on track! I think most people have an intuitive sense of those things, but having simple clarity is really important in the middle of arguing some complex or emotive topic, because, well, the brain can only think of some much stuff at once.

    • casebash says:

      I’m pretty keen to see people using this term as well. I think that having a term for an area is a pre-requisite for allowing people in the rationalsphere to develop their skills in this to the level I’d like to see us reach.

    • quaelegit says:

      >Eris is apparently the Greek goddess of strife and discord,

      Probably most famous for her role in starting the Trojan War.

      I’ve heard of this subreddit before (maybe on here?) but haven’t checked it out yet, so thanks for the link!

      • b_jonas says:

        > Probably most famous for

        SSC readers might also have met Eris in http://slatestarcodex.com/2017/02/27/a-modern-myth/

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        There’s also Wilson and Shea’s Illuminatus!, but I think they cutesified her.

        • Nornagest says:

          Discordianism — tongue-in-cheek worship of Eris as a primary goddess — predates Illuminatus! by a few years, although that’s probably the book that popularized it.

          The foundational text, such as it is, is the wonderfully named Principia Discordia: Or, How I Found Goddess And What I Did To Her When I Found Her (Hill and Thornley, 1963). It’s been in print since the Seventies, in various editions.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          Speaking of cutesfying her, when I ran a Dungeons & Dragons campaign set in the first generation of Greek heroes, I had Eris show up at Harmonia’s wedding to Cadmus looking like Discord from MLP, just with a feminine voice.

    • SamChevre says:

      Another article referencing her and discordianism which I like is the Archdruid Report’s essay on Discordianism applied to international affairs, and on chaos, discord, and confusion.

      These are SSC-length posts, and more digressive–but well worth reading. Sample quotes:

      From the Discordian point of view, Hegel went wrong for two reasons. The first was that he didn’t know about the Law of Fives, the basic Discordian principle that all things come in fives, except when they don’t. Thus he left off the final two steps of the dialectical process: after thesis, antithesis, and synthesis, you get parenthesis, and then paralysis.

  21. johan_larson says:

    The discussion of incels and their grievances in the last OT got a bit heated. Would it make sense to consider this issue a part of “culture war” and as such agree to keep it out of the non-culture-war threads?

    • The Nybbler says:

      It’s clearly culture war, but I expect it will die down when something replaces Minnassian (or that facebook page proves to be a fraud, which will start a round of something different)

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      It’s pretty close to being a central example of a culture war topic. It combines mass murder, feminism, dating, race and a bunch of other stuff that would each on its own be prime culture war fodder.

      It’s also one of those topics that makes people’s brains go completely haywire because they see everything through the lens of policy. If government intervention is the default solution to any problem, then framing inceldom as a problem raises horrifying policy implications. One would have hoped that people would reevaluate that assumption in the face of problems clearly unsuited to policy solutions but that’s not really how people think.

      Finally it’s significant for SSC in particular, since a lot of the undersexed guys here already had reason to worry about ideological purges in tech even before people started publicly calling for the mass firing of male virgins.

      • Nick says:

        It’s pretty close to being a central example of a culture war topic.

        This. The topic seems to make up about two-thirds of the last open thread. I think that qualifies it for most virulent culture war subject yet on SSC, comfortably defeating Falling-down Rockboy, gun control, education, and a litany of other topics—although we’ll see if it has any staying power.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          “Falling-down Rockboy” conjures the mental image of Ben Grimm falling over furniture like Dick van Dyke. So now I imagine that’s what the said professor looks like entering class.

        • toastengineer says:

          I was about to say, I if one more big discussion in a row happens about this it’s going to end up going the way of the Lobster King of Toronto.

        • crh says:

          I have no idea what Falling-down Rockboy is, and googling isn’t helping. Can anyone clue me in?

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Jordan Peter son, requiring you to know the etymologies of the first two words.

          • crh says:

            Thanks. Not something I would’ve ever figured out on my own, I think.

    • J Mann says:

      As the OP of the last one, I think that’s a good rule. (And to be fair, the topic showed up in 100.25 and 100.75, but not 100.5, so people may be following it already). It’s also probably played out, unless someone has something new to say.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      I would think so. Incels are basically a side-step away from “SJW,” which are definitely culture war material.

    • Well... says:

      Talking about “incels” and any community of such probably should be considered culture war. But that should not preclude talking about guys who have serious chronic trouble with the ladies, which is both the same thing and not the same thing as “incels”.

  22. albatross11 says:

    I have a couple psychology questions which I hope someone can answer:

    First, what’s the current consensus (if any) among psychologists on repressed memories? (I have the vague sense that this was a big thing in Freudian analysis, but maybe isn’t so widely accepted now.) Are there people who repress memories of traumatic events for many years, and maybe remember them because of some trigger?

    Second, what’s the current consensus (if any) among psychologists about recovering those memories in therapy? I know there were some awful cases where “recovered” memories from children led to these crazy witch-hunt-like prosecutions for competely implausible crimes. But are there places where this sort of this seems to work–that is, yielding verifiable results, or helping people who survived some awful thing in their past become more functional?

    • cuke says:

      I don’t have my fingers on the pulse of consensus in psychology but I can say a couple of things as a therapist who works with people with trauma histories:

      1. I think it’s fairly uncontroversial that people can and do repress (or otherwise not remember for a time, without getting into “repression” as a verifiable thing) traumatic experiences and that memories can re-surface in other times and contexts. I don’t know how often it happens, but I think it’s generally acknowledged that it happens. There’s been a little research about the variable accuracy of those memories when they surface — ie, they’re not always reliable.

      2. There’s pretty good evidence that memory recovery is not necessary for trauma recovery. It’s possible to achieve relief from trauma symptoms by addressing the current presenting symptoms and what knowledge is consciously available to the person. Unearthing “the truth” is not necessary to treatment. That stance is controversial in the sense that some people will disagree with it, but there’s a fair amount of evidence that people who survived some awful thing, whether they remember the details of it or not, can become more functional without having to excavate all the details of the awful thing.

      • Aapje says:

        @cuke

        Is that repressing or forgetting?

        And if it is the latter, is it memory recovery or memory construction, where a narrative is created that matches the remaining memory & emotions, without necessarily being true?

        • cuke says:

          Forgetting seems like a more usefully straightforward word here since repression implies unconscious dynamics that are not verifiable.

          I imagine remembering always entails construction. My sense is most of our experience, even what’s happening right now, is mediated through our ongoing narrative.

    • Nietzsche says:

      Not a psychologist, but have done professional collaborations (publications) with them. I don’t think “repressed memories” are well-regarded. It’s a bit older now, but check out Elizabeth Loftus’s book The Myth of Repressed Memory.

  23. kaakitwitaasota says:

    I’m on a personal crusade to increase my productivity and stop wasting time, and I’m soliciting outside advice.

    Basically, I have an obscenely easy job (English teacher at a private high school in China) for which I am in the classroom for about ten hours a week. For an additional thirty hours, I am on campus but not teaching (office hours are Very Important in Chinese work culture, even if you’re not doing anything productive at all), and the rest of the time I am free.

    I have thus been given a golden opportunity to read, write, learn, and generally improve myself. Mandarin is unlikely to ever be of professional benefit to me, because the amount of time I would need to sink into it to get to professional-use level is simply massive (at least the next half decade; I’m 23 and have other plans after the summer of 2019). Thus my goal is to get to HSK 3-4 or so, so that I can operate in daily life and not be That Foreigner (a goal towards which I advance daily).

    I know what else I would like to work on during my free time: my reading knowledge of Greek and Latin, my German (shooting to start a master’s degree in the German-speaking world in a year and a half), a couple of research projects for which I have all the raw data I need to work with, and filling in the gaps in my literary education (there’s a lot I haven’t read). I really feel driven to work on this; e.g. I’ve stopped going to most expat meetups because they’re usually on weeknights and almost inevitably at bars (expats in China, particularly ESL teachers, tend to be young, single guys, and many of them drink more than they should), since I never get home before midnight and feel kinda zapped the next day (not a hangover–I don’t drink that much–but rather a lingering lack of energy stemming from too little sleep and a couple beers). To counter this, I am starting a Sunday-brunch meetup within my friend group so that I get at least some socialization in; I don’t have any real Chinese friends yet, and the language barrier is still an issue.

    That aside, however, the issue is simple: I have a lot of time, but I get easily distracted and have insufficient discipline. I have toyed with the idea of swearing off video games for the next decade, though I have yet to take the plunge; more broadly I feel like Current Year is really frickin’ distracting. There are too many devices and too many Skinner boxes running on them, and the devices are necessary and indeed useful (most of my books, research data, music, etc. is either on my hard drive or the Internet). Still, I feel like I’d be knocking it out of the park if it were 1975, and I’m not.

    It’s not really all that bad; I do pick up my Ovid and Herodotus a couple times a week each, I have been diligent with my Anki decks for Greek/Latin/Chinese vocabulary, and I’ve been reading a decent bit (most recently, at the suggestion of Scott’s best comment one Open Thread ago, Braudel’s Capitalism and Civilization, which everyone should go out and start reading right now). But I can’t help but feel like I could do so much better. For example, an undergraduate Greek professor of mine told a story about how one of his professors, when he was in college, had a competition with one of his fellow Classics undergrads to see who could memorize the Middle Liddell (a mid-sized dictionary of Greek) first. I’d like to do something like that, and I have more time right now than I’ll ever have again until I (if I) retire.

    (Rundown of lifestyle: I get up early, usually around 6:30 and try to go to bed early [by 10 if I can], another preference which inhibits expat socialization. I basically don’t drink [the odd beer with hotpot aside] unless I’m at a bar–another reason I don’t go to expat meetups too much, as I’m never at a bar unless I’m with expats, but can easily have three or even four beers if I’m at one. I bike about two miles a day for exercise, and don’t get much caffeine because coffee in China is rare and pricey–and coffee shops are never open before ten. I take melatonin before bed but am on no other medications or drugs, though I used to be on Zoloft for anxiety, which has mostly gone away. I should probably eat more fruits and vegetables, but get a decent number of them; my staples are wheat noodles [with eggs or a bit of meat] and oats, and I try to avoid too much white rice because, being a very simple starch, it zaps my energy [rather like the jellybeans in which I indulge probably more than I should].)

    I suspect SSC has a higher-than-average proportion of people who have memed themselves into ceasing to waste time, so I thought I might see if anybody has any advice. (Neither Adderall nor modafinil are options here). I feel like life’s too short to suffer my natural laziness to continue.

    • Nick says:

      My advice is just to start slow and ramp up until you find the pace you can’t manage, then scale it back a bit. When you feel yourself getting too comfortable, try ramping up again. Repeat.

      You said you pick up Ovid and Herodotus pretty regularly. Try going one more day a week, and if you can handle that one more day a week, and so on. If your anki decks are static, try adding cards regularly: you can start at just three new cards a day or something and ramp up from there. If you’re reading decently, try upping the amount of time you spend reading, or balancing one book with another so you never get tired of a particularly dry topic.

      The most important thing for me personally is avoiding burnout, which is always what sinks a project like this. My best runs of spaced repetition decks are still only a few months long; I’ve never been able to keep it up consistently for even a year. My reading list does better because I can set aside a book or a series for a while if I like. Your mileage may vary, of course.

      • kaakitwitaasota says:

        Yeah, I’m adding cards regularly to my Latin and Greek decks, though not always to my Chinese deck. I’ve decided to set things up so that I do Ovid and Herodotus on alternating days, which should avoid too much burnout. (Friday is the only day on which my work schedule isn’t leisurely–I have five classes, including three back-to-back after lunch–so I’m letting myself skip reading on Friday).

    • Deiseach says:

      Still, I feel like I’d be knocking it out of the park if it were 1975, and I’m not.

      Console yourself with this: were it 1975 it’s very unlikely you would be working as an ESL teacher in China and much more likely you’d be time-wasting keeping up with high fashion like this, cultivating your pornstache, and learning how to dance The Hustle 🙂

      • albatross11 says:

        That just makes it worse! Not only is he not reading the classics, he missed disco! Poor bastard.

    • Wrong Species says: