OT118: Threadgorian Calendar

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, but please try to avoid hot-button political and social topics. You can also talk at the SSC subreddit or the SSC Discord server – and also check out the SSC Podcast. Also:

1. Comment of the week is by Liskantope, who is not buying the story (the conspiracy theory?) that supercentenarian Jeanne Calment was a fraud.

2. Did you go to a secular Solstice celebration this year? Did you like the music? Raymond Arnold, the composer of most of the Solstice songs, has a crowdfunding campaign to get an album out. It’s finishing tomorrow, so if you’re interested make sure to take a look ASAP (sorry!) Campaign is over, you can still support/purchase at this link.

3. Somebody determined that the Report Comment button works on https but not http. If you have trouble using the button, try using it on https. And if you understand these things and have a good idea how to make it work on http, let me know.

4. If you’re hosting an SSC meetup and want it to show up in the Upcoming Meetups section of the sidebar here, remember to fill in this form (it’s linked on the sidebar) and to tag the meetup with “SSC”.

5. Some new ads up. One is for GiveDirectly, a charity which directly transfers money to needy people in Africa. The other is for Charity Entrepreneurship, a Y-combinator-esque incubator for people who want to start non-profits. Remember, I do give free advertising to EA charities and organizations – though you might want to wait a little while, right now I’ve got a higher free-to-paid ad ratio than I’m used to.

6. The survey is still open, so if you haven’t done it yet and you’re reading this post, please take the 2019 Slate Star Codex survey. If you’ve already taken it and you want more surveys, user RavenclawPrefect has put together a supplemental survey of all the questions that didn’t make it in to the main one.

7. Happy New Year, everyone!

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359 Responses to OT118: Threadgorian Calendar

  1. johan_larson says:

    Slate.com has an article assessing the chances of seven Democratic candidates who may be running for president in 2020.


    Joe Biden
    Bernie Sanders
    Elizabeth Warren
    Beto O’Rourke
    Kamala Harris
    Cory Booker
    Amy Klobuchar

    I wonder who’ll be stepping up from the Republican side. It wouldn’t be too surprising if Trump faced a Republican challenger in the primaries, even as the sitting president. Assuming he doesn’t rage-quit first.

    • John Schilling says:

      Seven names, none of which are Hillary Clinton and no explanation as to why. I think it highly unlikely that Hillary will run in 2020, but to assume that it goes without saying that she will sit it out is a bit much. Sloppy writing, indicative of sloppy thinking, not to even address the issue.

      Also, the “liabilities” list for Sanders and Biden really needs to include “octogenarian”, which they would become during their hypothetical presidency and would be pushing during a rigorous campaign. That shouldn’t be an outright disqualifier, but it is a serious consideration.

      • Protagoras says:

        They mention age in the Warren liabilities section, and say that obviously it also applies to Biden and Sanders. But they could have given it more attention; I do think it should rule out the top three names on the list. Of the remainder, I can’t stand Harris and am very concerned that she seems like the frontrunner at this point. O’Rourke is inexperienced, and I don’t know much about Booker. I have no problem with Klobuchar (I have a lot of Minnesotan friends, and they all speak highly of her), but I don’t see her as having much of a chance. So I hope more options present themselves.

        • Nick says:

          What’s wrong with Harris? I don’t know anything about her; I just remember her from the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings.

          • Protagoras says:

            My sense of her is that she is an even more extreme publicity hound than a typical politician. This sometimes puts her on the right side of issues, but sometimes on the very wrong side. There are many things not to like in her history as a prosecutor (e.g. the persecution of backpage), and while there’s less in her history as a senator (she hasn’t been a senator all that long), nothing has made me think she’s changed any.

      • BBA says:

        They don’t mention Harold Stassen either. Sure he’s a Republican and he’s dead, but that doesn’t make him any less likely to run than Hillary is.

        • John Schilling says:

          See, you’re at least willing to spend a sentence explicitly asserting that Hillary won’t run. In an article on prospective Democratic candidates in 2020, that would deserve at least a few more sentences of support, and really even in a blog post it’s a bit odd to see the assertion made wholly unsupported, but you at least made the assertion. Voorhees needed to do more, not less.

    • Mr. Doolittle says:

      I can’t see a meaningful challenge on the Republican side. Trump has a pretty good hold on the voters, and anyone who can get enough institutional support to fund a major attempt is going to struggle with the voters that they need. I can imagine a different candidate in Trump’s mold that aims for the populist vote with less inflammatory aspects, but how can they convince the money (Establishment) to support them over Trump? Anyone that can’t challenge Trump’s populism is just throwing money out the door (Jeb Bush). I can’t name a populist candidate that could get enough institutional support to gain name recognition. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but it really doesn’t seem like the best time to try.

      The Democratic ticket is much more interesting, but I can’t say that I like any of the candidates on this list.

      As mentioned, the top three are very old. They’re not much older than Trump, so they stand a chance, but a whole bunch of things make that a harder sell than even younger versions of themselves. If age is less of a factor, I think Biden can win the primaries and the presidency, so we’ll have to see how that plays out. Warren can win the primary, maybe, but her standing is shaking and I think people are going to want a way out. Sanders splits his own party in a way that leadership doesn’t like, and he’s got some flaws that will come out more against a Republican (like all the people who may not like Republicans but are firmly against Socialism).

      Beto has ties to big money and a checkered past. I find it frustrating that the Democrats seem to like him so much, since he’s many things that they really shouldn’t like. I expect him to flame out at some point long before NH.

      Kamala Harris could probably win a primary, but she’s very CW and off-putting to centrists. Watching her success or failure might be a great barometer for how much the party values a good fighter verses a more centrist leader.

      I don’t know much about Cory or Amy, which is probably bad news for them on name recognition, but I can’t say disqualifying since I don’t really know them. I feel like Cory overplayed his hand the few times he’s been in the national spotlight, so I would expect some serious flubs to knock him out by mid-primaries, after a weak to moderate start.

      As for other candidates, there are a fair number of possibilities. The most obvious is Clinton, and I think she’s feeling things out now with the intention to run. That said, if she has any political instincts at all, she will realize that she doesn’t stand a chance anymore. If she doesn’t, then she’ll see it quite quickly when she gets trounced by a party that has already moved on.

      • albatross11 says:

        ISTM that ambitious younger Republican populists are likely to want to run as Trump’s successor rather than take him on in a primary battle in 2020. In 2024, Trump can’t run (and will be very old anyway), but being seen as his natural successor, maybe getting a few kind words from the old guy[1], that might be a workable strategy. Being seen as the guy who cost Trump re-election in 2020 (by some combination of draining his campaign coffers and attack ads that stuck with the voters) is a pretty bad way of getting the Trump voters to support you in 2024.

        [1] But this is a high-risk strategy, since Trump might say absolutely anything and can’t stand to be upstaged.

        • John Schilling says:

          ISTM that ambitious younger Republican populists are likely to want to run as Trump’s successor rather than take him on in a primary battle in 2020.

          Trump’s successor is almost certainly going to be a Democrat, and if not is probably going to be Trump’s second-term VP and/or Javanka. Regression to the mean and voter fatigue are both things, meaning US presidents are generally only succeeded by a member of their own party if they achieved broad support during their administration; being loved by half the country and hated by the other half means the haters get a turn. And the presidents who do have sufficient support to pass the torch, tend to be succeeded by their own Veeps or other administration insiders.

          A Republican who wants to be POTUS in the politically forseeable future, needs to be aiming at the possibility of Trump crashing and burning by 2020, or at taking the White House back from the Democrats in 2024/28/32. And in 2024, having run a primary challenge in 2020 will probably be a plus.

      • johan_larson says:

        I’m thinking the play on the Republican side isn’t to copy Trump, but to try to appeal to the other side of the party, the richer and more traditional side, meaning the establishment. This means running on the idea that Trump is an embarrassment to the nation and the party, and it’s time for the adults to get back in charge before he wrecks anything permanently. To be sure, the candidate would need to acknowledge the roots of the blue-collar discontent that put Trump in the White House, but fundamentally that’s not who this sort of candidate is trying to appeal to.

        • Mr. Doolittle says:

          I just don’t see a non-populist Republican getting enough traction. I’m not sure how much visibility you have into real and true Trump supporters, but they often hate the Paul Ryan and Jeb Bush Republicans. They don’t see Trump as a repudiation of Democrats so much as a repudiation on both parties. I can imagine a less volatile populist that takes the reins and makes a more serious go at being coherent. That keeps the populists interested and is less alienating to the Establishment. I’m having trouble seeing an Establishment candidate that doesn’t alienate the rank and file who are seriously disgruntled with Washington.

        • albatross11 says:

          If there’s a backlash to Trump on the Republican side, then several people are well-placed to take advantage of this–Mitt Romney, for example. And you have someone like Nikki Haley whose interaction with the Trump administration gives her enough distance not to be sucked down by scandals or outrage from some huge disaster, but still some credibility with Trump supporters as an establishment type who served in Trump’s administration and apparently supported his agenda during her time at the UN. Assuming Trump isn’t taken down by some unforseen thing before the 2020 elections[1], neither is likely to run in 2020, but both are reasonably well positioned for 2024. Similarly, Ted Cruz has kissed and made up with Trump, with all the sincerity of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. In 2024, he may also be in a good position to run.

          [1] The most likely thing to take him down is Muller’s investigation finding something extremely damning. But Trump’s also quite capable of creating his own blow-up via some unwise tweets and public statements. And he’s an old man in a really high-stress job, so you can imagine age and a lifetime of the playboy lifestyle catching up with him. (On the other hand, he seemed healthier and more robust than Hillary in the 2016 campaign–maybe that playboy lifestyle conditioned him for the rigors of campaigning better than Hillary’s routine, which probably involved a lot of long nights sitting around reading policy briefs over a glass of wine.)

          • idontknow131647093 says:

            Even if there is an anti-Trump backlash, the people who benefit will not be people like Romney, Kasich (or any candidate Bill Kristol likes). It will be a guy who says, “Trump is ineffective and I will get the things done that he promised.” That could be Cruz or Nikki Haley. I suppose various billionaires could try to pull a Macron in the general election, but I think that just results in a Trump 40 state landslide as the “moderate” will be perceived (mostly correctly) as a leftist anti-Trump.

          • johan_larson says:

            Romney is pretty clearly keeping his options open for 2020. Check out the article he just wrote for the Washington Post:

            To a great degree, a presidency shapes the public character of the nation. A president should unite us and inspire us to follow “our better angels.” A president should demonstrate the essential qualities of honesty and integrity, and elevate the national discourse with comity and mutual respect. As a nation, we have been blessed with presidents who have called on the greatness of the American spirit. With the nation so divided, resentful and angry, presidential leadership in qualities of character is indispensable. And it is in this province where the incumbent’s shortfall has been most glaring.

      • I think it’s worth considering the possibility that Trump won’t run, for two reasons:

        1. He’s odd, does unconventional things.
        2. Someone I know was told by someone who knows Trump that he is not enjoying being president, might not run.

        I think the odds are less than even, but still significant.

        If he doesn’t run, the obvious role for Trump is as kingmaker. Find a charismatic Republican who is willing to be identified with Trump, tell Trump’s fans to support him, hope he can get enough voters who wouldn’t vote for Trump to win.

        • Mr. Doolittle says:

          In this scenario I think Pence becomes the de-facto candidate. That is, unless Trump decides to very obviously disavow him for some reason, which is really quite possible given past experience with Trump. He’s got lots of positive points from Trump voters since he was an early and consistent Trump supporter. Him remaining in the background may make it more plausible that he can garner Establishment support as well, if he can quietly assure them that he isn’t Trump 2.0 (which shouldn’t be too hard). His quietness can also mean a million other things which could get him stuck between Trump’s core and the rest of the party as well, so I wouldn’t be too confident making a prediction there.

    • T82 says:

      One political commentator I consider pretty credible is Styxhexenhammer666. He’s a long-haired freaky person who makes videos on politics and the occult, and he predicted Donald Trump’s 2016 win in detail as early as super Tuesday (outlining the rust belt going red, the polling being overall flawed, and the electoral map in general not looking like 2012). Although he doesn’t hold back with his personal views on politics, he makes the difference clear between what he wants to happen and what he predicts will happen.

      He’s made a video on this topic here (some NSFW language).

      The executive summary is that he considers Joe Biden likely to run, and that he could well drown out more further-left candidates as well as those who just aren’t as nationally established or recognizable. Which would be basically everyone. However, he sees Joe Biden’s essentially neoliberal platform as outdated and unpopular when going up against Trump’s more fresh hybrid populist/paleoconservative platform, citing Hillary Clinton’s 2016 loss to Trump as she used a neoliberal platform.

      I happen to agree with that assessment.

      I personally am hoping the Democrats in 2020 look like the Republicans in 2016 – a 19-man battle royale freakshow where somebody interesting who breaks with the party orthodoxy comes up and wins the nomination. It would be entertaining, at least. Perhaps Ron Wyden would run – he’s probably my favorite Democrat.

  2. Bugmaster says:

    Speaking of puzzles, here’s one that I’ve been unable to solve — at least, not in the manner that it was intended:

    The number N can be written down in base 7 as “pqrs”, where p,q,r,s are single digits, and p and q are non-0. The same number is “qrsp” in base 9. What is N in base 10 ?

    This problem is pretty easy to solve by brute-forcing; it is also relatively easy to solve by writing out the system of equations (I have done both). But I was led to believe that there was some easy trick to solving it without applying too much algebra. Is that true ?

    • RavenclawPrefect says:

      Interesting puzzle!

      I tried doing some iterative constricting of the range on N, which kind of worked, but I was still left with a few hundred options. I also tried some clever tricks with divisibility rules, like sums and alternating sums of digits giving modular congruences mod 6/8/10, but even combining these two (which is way more work than just using casework on the system of equations) I was left with a mess. Aargh. I’ll keep thinking about this.

      [I’m not ruling out a good solution – that’s very hard to ever do – but I’m usually pretty good at finding cute approaches to elementary puzzles like this, so count it as some evidence against a nice way to solve the problem; I’d expect to find a good solution to a question like this if it existed in at least half of possible worlds.]

      • Jiro says:

        N is between (P * (7^3)) and ((P+1) * (7^3)), and also between Q * (9^3) and (Q+1) * (9^3). 7^3 is not very close to 9^3 so this is a considerable restriction. We also know that all the digits exist in base 7, so the possible pairs of (Q,P) are (1,3), (1,4), (2,4), (2,5), (2,6), (3,6).

        I can’t get any farther, though.

    • The Nybbler says:

      I got as far as Jiro plus eliminating q = 3, before calling on the Internet.

      They do it by writing out the equation, plus some guessing. Search for ‘171p’ (or the correct answer).

    • Skivverus says:

      I went and resorted to the linear algebra because that seemed like a natural fit; whether or not that counts as “elegant” is a matter of taste I suppose, but things were fairly straightforward after that; didn’t have to break out a calculator or anything (though if your arithmetic’s rusty it’ll still help).

      Gur ahzore va onfr gra zhfg or n gubhfnaq sbhe uhaqerq naq friragl bar.
      Fgneg ol erpbtavmvat gung gur ahzore va onfr frira vf guerr uhaqerq sbegl guerr c, cyhf sbegl avar gvzrf d, rg prgren; qb gur fnzr sbe gur ahzore va onfr avar jvgu frira uhaqerq gjragl avar gvzrf d, rvtugl bar gvzrf e.
      Fhogenpgvat gur gjb ercerfragngvbaf gb trg na “rdhnyf mreb”, lbh trg guerr uhaqerq sbegl gjb c, zvahf fvk uhaqerq rvtugl d, friragl sbhe e, naq rvtug f.
      Gur cnve bs guerr qvtvg pbrssvpvragf ner cerggl boivbhfyl zngpurq, bar orvat gur qbhoyr bs gur bgure. Fb c V’z cerggl fher vf gjvpr d.
      Gur bgure gjb qba’g zngpu, naq fvapr jr’er fghpx va gur yrff-guna-frira enatr sbe qvtvgf, friragl-sbhe vf evtug bhg. Fb e zhfg or mreb.
      Ynfg, f unf gb znxr hc gur qvssrerapr orgjrra c naq d; vg’f unys gur qvssrerapr, fcrpvsvpnyyl, fb fvapr vg pna’g or n senpgvba gung ohzcf c naq d gb or ng yrnfg sbhe naq gjb, erfcrpgviryl (naq fvapr jr’er gnyxvat onfr frira urer, c naq d pna’g or rvtug naq sbhe vafgrnq). Guvf znxrf f bar.
      Fb, erpnccvat n ovg, gur ahzore va onfr frira vf erirnyrq nf sbhe gubhfnaq gjb uhaqerq bar, naq va onfr avar nf gjb gubhfnaq sbhegrra (cebonoyl gur lrne gur dhrfgvba jnf hfrq va n zngu pbzcrgvgvba). Guvf pbairegf gb bar gubhfnaq sbhe uhaqerq friragl bar va onfr gra.

      • The Nybbler says:

        Gur cnve bs guerr qvtvg pbrssvpvragf ner cerggl boivbhfyl zngpurq, bar orvat gur qbhoyr bs gur bgure. Fb c V’z cerggl fher vf gjvpr d.

        I don’t think this is justified.

        • Skivverus says:

          Probably not strictly logically, but from a perspective of “none of the numbers are going to be more than seven times each other” it does fine as an estimate.
          Besides, d vf qrsvarq gb or abamreb, naq lbh pna’g pngpu hc gb fvk uhaqerq rvtugl jvgu fvk gvzrf nalguvat yrff guna n uhaqerq, zhpu yrff nalguvat jvgu gur jebat fvta (v.r., e’f pbrssvpvrag).

  3. johan_larson says:

    Over the holidays, I’ve been pondering an intellectual puzzle. I’m not sure the problem has enough information in it to make a rational choice, but perhaps I am missing something.

    A person you trust offers you a proposition. He has written down a number in a secure place. He asks you to name another number. If your number is less than or equal to his, you get your number of dollars. If your number is greater than his, you get nothing. What number should you name?

    The best answer I can come up with is to estimate the largest amount this trustworthy person could possibly give you. If they’re fairly ordinary, perhaps you think they could come up with $100,000 if they really tried. Then name half that sum, in this case $50,000. This minimizes the amount of money you could be leaving on the table.

    But this says nothing about likelihood. I know people who could make me this offer for seven-figure sums. But I’d be shocked to find them playing intellectual games with more than say $10,000 at stake. So I’m inclined to name a much lower sum.

    • anonymousskimmer says:

      What’s the largest amount of money that you wouldn’t mind missing out on, given your current financial situation and life goals? Name that number +$0.01 (as a thought experiment).

      Winning that amount yet losing out on the opportunity for a greater amount would still result in a shifting of your priors. Now after those prior have shifted, what’s the largest amount of money that you wouldn’t mind missing out on? Name that number + the original number + $0.01 (for real).

      For me the final number is about 50% – 75% of my current outstanding student loan debt (after taxes). I wouldn’t mind if it’s not all paid off, and losing out on ~25% of it wouldn’t shift things enough for me to be more than annoyed, but I’d be pretty bummed at losing out on about half of it.

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      I name the smallest amount of money that I could do something useful and fun with that would require major budgeting. For me, that’s about $500. If I miss out on $10K, at least I got something nice out of it, and if I get nothing, I know that the amount of money I could have won isn’t anything to cry about losing.

    • bullseye says:

      I only trust people I know, and I can’t imagine anyone I know putting more than $10 or so behind this. So I’d pick $5.

  4. dndnrsn says:

    Hello and welcome to the seventeenth installment of my Biblical scholarship effortpost series. Last time we talked about three poetic books in the Ketuvim. This time, we’re considering the ancient Near Eastern genre of “wisdom literature” and the best example of wisdom literature in the Hebrew Bible, Proverbs.

    Wisdom literature was widespread across the ancient Near East. It was instructional writing: practical advice on how a person should act to live properly. Prudent and proper behaviour is characterized as “wisdom”, so the genre as a whole is “wisdom literature” – someone who behaves in a way that is proper for them, for those around them, and for their god, gods, or God, is wise; someone who does not is foolish. By the basic wisdom “lens” for looking at the world, the wise prosper, while the foolish come to grief; therefore, be wise rather than foolish.

    One question regarding wisdom literature is that of the degree to which it is “folk wisdom.” One possible source for wisdom literature is the sort of folk saying that would get passed down, as we’ll see when we look at Proverbs. For a more modern (late 18th century, according to a quick search) sort of folk saying that orients with the sort of themes one finds in ancient wisdom literature, consider “waste not, want not”: if you don’t waste stuff, you won’t be in the position of needing something but not having it because you wasted it. It’s pragmatic, somewhat moralistic advice, and this characterizes much of wisdom literature. A fair bit of wisdom literature is, or may be, a recording of this sort of saying, that would originally have been passed down orally.

    On the other hand, in the ancient Near East, wisdom literature was associated with scribes. Especially in Egypt (where we have sources dating from the third millennium BCE to the Hellenistic period) wisdom literature was copied out by scribes in training. The documents they copied fit the basic wisdom model very well: they consist of advice, pragmatic but with a moralistic element, on how to act in life in order to succeed, to do good and do well. A high value is placed on self-control, especially with regard to how men should behave around women.

    Ancient Israel produced its own wisdom literature. Some of it ended up in the Jewish canon, and some of it didn’t: for example, the book of Sirach (also known by some other names, notably Ecclesiasticus) didn’t end up in the Jewish canon, but some Christian denominations include it in theirs. Compared to other ancient Near East wisdom traditions, scholars think that Proverbs, if not all ancient Israel’s wisdom literature, bears the greatest similarity to that of Egypt – including possibly some direct dependence.

    In ancient Israel, wisdom literature was strongly associated with Solomon. Just as psalms were associated with David, wisdom literature and especially Proverbs were associated with Solomon. His wisdom was considered to rank with that of the east and that of Egypt. Some scholars think that, even if (as we will see) wisdom material ascribed to Solomon originates with other authors, Solomon did play a major role in the propagation of wisdom literature in ancient Israel, by founding schools in Jerusalem where scribes were trained. This runs into the problem of there being relatively little archaeological evidence for Solomon’s building projects: Jerusalem may have been and remained a relatively small place at the time of his reign, and there’s limited evidence of significant literacy prior to the rule of Hezekiah. Still, this is an argument from silence, and sectarian issues today prevent archaeological excavations that might settle the issue one way or another. Interestingly, Solomon is said in First Kings to have married the daughter of a Pharaoh – if one takes this as factual, and takes as factual that Solomon did propagate wisdom literature, this could explain the apparent closeness between the wisdom literature of ancient Egypt and ancient Israel.

    Regarding the dating of wisdom literature in general in ancient Israel, we do know that there was scribally-produced wisdom literature by the early second century (Sirach, mentioned earlier, is wisdom literature produced by a Jerusalem scribe) and these scribes had to be trained somewhere. There were likely scribal schools associated with the royal court before the exile as well, based on material in Proverbs that suggests origin in a monarchical context: you don’t get that without a monarchy, and you don’t get scribes without scribal schools.

    Proverbs (the name in English is a misnomer; it includes more than proverbs alone) is ancient Israel’s major work of wisdom literature. It is an individual guide to living properly, on both a moral and a practical level: it is a guide to living an ethical, happy, successful life. To be virtuous by the lights of Proverbs is to be wise: to be honest, to work hard, to exercise self-control, and to “fear God” – to be humble, knowing that God is ultimately in charge of your fate. To be foolish is to be the opposite: dishonest, lazy, ruled by one’s desires, arrogant.

    The worldview in Proverbs is one where cause and effect reign: good behaviour naturally leads to good consequences, and vice versa. It preaches pragmatism, but not base opportunism; there is an idealistic element. Sometimes there’s material that clashes, especially when pragmatism and idealism collide (one example is how one should view the poor: are they to be treated with kindness, or are they lazy and getting their just deserts?) but Proverbs is as much or more a collection of individual sayings as a fully coherent whole. Proverbs does, however, have some structure. The first nine chapters are made up of relatively long poems. Chapters 10 through 29 are shorter sayings organized internally into four collections. Following this are a few longer poems.

    Whereas much of what we have seen before this involves divine revelation, wisdom in Proverbs is not revealed by God, but rather is established by humans using their God-given faculties, then handed down. Wisdom is not hidden or hard to acquire; rather, Wisdom (personified, as we will discuss later, as female) is quite easy to find: see the beginning of chapter 8, where she is described as raising her voice in places where she can be heard; while her words are “straightforward to the intelligent man”, those who are less intelligent can still get with the program.

    One interesting thing in Proverbs is the use of female archetypes. Wisdom is personified as female, and is described as having been created by God and as being involved in creation (for example, see 3:19 or 8:22). Foolishness, meanwhile, is also personified in chapter 9 as female: the “stupid woman” calls out in public, similar to wisdom (and echoing Wisdom’s call earlier in the chapter), but her teachings are bad and this leads her audience into ruin. There is also the image, repeated in the chapter, of the “strange woman.” She’s mentioned in chapters 2 (wisdom will protect you from the “strange” woman), 5 (she is sweet but ultimately bitter, she leads to death, “her course meanders for lack of knowledge”), and 7 (she seduces a young man and leads him into ruin). While scholars have come up with various different theories to explain who she is (drawing links to ancient Near Eastern myths, temple prostitution, or foreign women), the most likely explanation and the one that fits the context best is that she is another man’s wife. She symbolizes adultery, which is likely being taken as a synecdoche for deviation from the right path in general. As a finished book, Proverbs seems to be aimed at young men, to prepare them for successful lives as individuals and as part of the community, so the association of proper and improper behaviour with an attractive woman on the one hand and a seductive but dangerous woman on the other hand would make sense. At the end of the book, in chapter 31, there’s a description of the attributes of a strong woman who will make a good wife (they are much like the attributes of a wise man).

    What, then, is the provenance of Proverbs? As noted earlier, tradition ascribes some of it to Solomon, and internally some parts are linked to Solomon. However, the language and the content would not fit Solomon’s time. Proverbs, rather, is a collected work of wise sayings, and at least some of what it preserves is folk wisdom originating in everyday life rather than scribal training. Some of the material in Proverbs is preexilic (based, as noted earlier, on a monarchical context) but the book appeared in its finished form in the postexilic period. The material in chapters 10 through 29 is probably earlier than the material appearing before and after it; the sayings are shorter and seem more “oral” – and there are also those references to royalty. It is also possible that the more pragmatic material is earlier, with the more moralistic elements a later development, but this is rather speculative. Earlier I mentioned supposed dependence on an Egyptian source: Proverbs 22:17-23:11, largely concerned with the company one keeps and the treatment of the less fortunate, has parallels with the third millennium Instruction of Amenope.

    In summary: wisdom literature was common across the ancient Near East, and is basically rules for behaving and doing well. Israel had its own wisdom literature tradition, traditionally associated with Solomon, although the reality is a bit less clear. Proverbs is the quintessential product of Israel’s wisdom tradition. It teaches virtues that will enable a person (though it appears aimed at men primarily) to succeed and live correctly in relation to others and God. It probably doesn’t date to Solomon, but it certainly contains preexilic material.

    (If I’ve made any mistakes, let me know, ideally within around 55 minutes so I can edit.)

    • Nornagest says:

      It’s the furthest thing from Near Eastern, but anyone who’s into wisdom literature should read the Hávamál, one of the main subdivisions of the Poetic Edda. It’s about 2/3 cynical old-man wisdom and 1/3 Odin bragging about how cool he is.

      • Deiseach says:

        There is a somewhat similar small range of Irish texts, probably the most famous is the Instruction of Kings attributed to King Cormac Mac Airt, a 3rd century king (though the translator Kuno Meyer thinks from internal language that it was composed around the 9th century).

        ‘O grandson of Conn, Cormac,’ said Carpre, ‘what were your habits when you were a lad?’ ‘Not hard to tell,’ said Cormac.

        I was a listener in woods,
        I was a gazer at stars,
        I was blind where secrets were concerned,
        I was silent in a wilderness,
        I was talkative among many,
        I was mild in the mead-hall,
        I was stern in battle,
        I was ready to watch,
        I was gentle in friendship,
        I was a physician of the sick,
        I was weak towards the strengthless,
        I was strong towards the powerful,
        I never was hard lest I be satirised,
        I never was feeble lest I should have my hair stript off,
        I was not close lest I should be burdensome,
        I was not arrogant though I was wise,
        I was not given to promising though I was strong,
        I was not venturesome though I was swift,
        I did not deride old people though I was young,
        I was not boastful though I was a good fighter,
        I would not speak about anyone in his absence,
        I would not reproach, but I would praise,
        I would not ask, but I would give,

        ‘for it is through those habits that the young become old and kingly warriors.’

  5. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    I would eat labgrown meat if it were merely a pretty good imitation, but I’d still prefer eating meat.

    I can visualize a little, but not only is it not vivid or detailed, it’s a small part of my visual field. If you visualize, how much of your visual field does it take up?

    I went to high school in a suburb, not a city.

    Thanks for the survey.

  6. 10240 says:

    New problem with the Report button: there seems to be no confirmation window anymore. I just accidentally reported a comment.

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      I’ve done this twice now on maximally-nested comments, since the up arrow is smushed right up against the report button on my phone screen.

      For reference, pic. Removing the “report comment” text somehow would help a lot.

  7. dlr says:

    A while back in a post on THE ECONOMIC PERSPECTIVE ON MORAL STANDARDS, you described your efforts at trying to avoid eating meat, indeed animal products in general. I am a little confused on this subject. Why don’t you just eat free range meat? or game? or wild caught salmon, etc?

    Looking at it from the cow/chicken/turkey/pigs point of view, they have a moderately enjoyable time wandering around, enjoying life as much as a cow/chicken/turkey/pig is ever going to — then maybe a day or two of unpleasantness–being scared/disoriented while being shipped to the slaughterhouse, and then a relatively quick death. How is that cow/chicken/turkey/pig worse off than never having lived at all? I mean that is the other alternative. Suppliers work at the margin — if the demand for beef goes down, they cut down on their breeding stock, raise fewer calves and more rice. So by buying free range beef you are subsidizing calves frolicking about in a meadow somewhere. Your money is also being used to kill them when they are 6-8 months old, but, surely a short and pleasant life is better than never to have lived at all.

    Obviously you must have thought of this, so, what am I missing? Are free range animals really not treated well? Why is the correct choice ‘stop eating meat’ rather than ‘improve the animal’s living conditions’?

    • anonymousskimmer says:

      How is that cow/chicken/turkey/pig worse off than never having lived at all? I mean that is the other alternative.

      As a vegetarian this is the conundrum.

      However, what niches would exist if the land wasn’t ranch land, and what animals would exist in those lands (and for how large a percentage of their lives)?

      There’s always a trade-off. Why should juvenile livestock be the beneficiaries?

      • dlr says:

        well, the farmer probably isn’t going to turn the land into a nature preserve. If raising beef becomes unprofitable, he will switch over to raising corn or soy beans or rice or whatever.
        So, I see it as a lose-lose : Scott eats stuff he doesn’t like, the farmer is worse off too– or he would have already made the switch from beef to rice… Rice plants maybe feel joy too, maybe even as much as a cow does, hard to know, but, it doesn’t seem likely.

        Of course, I guess that the decrease in the global price of rice at the margin will make it easier for some one is some third world country to be able to buy more food for their kids. So, on the margin, or the happiness of some humans would go up, or even the number of humans would go up, population tends to grow when food is more readily available.

        So there is that. At the margin trading cows for people.

        • Deiseach says:

          Of course, I guess that the decrease in the global price of rice at the margin will make it easier for some one is some third world country to be able to buy more food for their kids.

          Sorry, you can’t have more rice because that will kill the planet! Rice growing accelerates global warming, see?

          So you shouldn’t eat meat and you shouldn’t eat rice, so I guess just perish?

        • albatross11 says:

          Life for wild animals in nature is also generally pretty hard and difficult and unpleasant.

    • AKL says:

      Why don’t you just eat free range meat? or game? or wild caught salmon, etc?

      Because in general product labeling does not carry enough information to verify that any particular animal product meets a reasonable ethical standard. I’m not aware of any labeling scheme / certifying organization / etc. that I trust to verify the claim “on net, the animal from which this product was sourced would have wanted to exist.”

      For instance, the USDA regulates the term free-range for poultry only, and the only requirement is “Producers must demonstrate to the Agency that the poultry has been allowed access to the outside.” Something tells me that large producers of eggs and poultry find ways to satisfy that definition that are, perhaps, less than bucolic.

      Other certification standards are even more laughable. The Whole Foods animal welfare ratings contain almost zero information:

      From Step 1 to Step 5+, each step has its own requirements that must be met before authorized, independent certifiers can assign a Step rating to the farm or ranch.

      Good to know that each step has it’s own requirements, I guess? But without looking at the color coded chart, which would you say is better: (a) No cages, no crates, no crowding or (b) Animal centered, entire life on same farm? If the best and worst ratings are indistinguishable, it’s not a very useful system…

      In practice, consuming only ethically (whatever that means to you) sourced animal products just isn’t easy. You could (a) buy only from farms you have visited yourself or (b) raise or hunt your own animals or (c) only buy products that it would be impossible to unethically source (wild caught fish, maybe?). But that’s a lot of work – certainly harder than “try to eat fewer animal products.”

      • Deiseach says:

        “on net, the animal from which this product was sourced would have wanted to exist.”

        Which is a rather impossible standard anyway; can you find a wild salmon to interrogate about “On net, you prefer to exist or would rather not?” “Hm, well, on net given that I exist only to struggle back to my spawing place, spawn, and then die wretchedly, perhaps not?”

        You can certainly set standards for humane conditions of keeping, raising and slaughtering. And sure, large scale producers will find a way around that if it hits the bottom line or is too inconvenient. But you can also doubt all food labelling of any product; how do you know that certified vegan mayonnaise really is vegan and doesn’t have any animal ingredients along the way? Unless you’re growing all your own vegetables in your back garden and buying nothing but salt and spices, you have to take it on trust somewhere along the line.

        All this though is window-dressing in a sense: the basic point of contention is “is it morally permissible to eat animals or not?” and there are a lot of people who are not going to give in on “no, because animals are in every way equal to humans morally, and even if we can’t precisely calculate how sentient is a trout, we can call them sentient and sapient”.

        Not helped by the fact that the “sentient and sapient” argument gets exploited by the emotionally involved whose main rationale really is “aw the cute fuzzy bunnies!” and so we end up with “mama cows crying when their calves are brutally wrenched away from them because cows have the exact same range of emotional responses and mental capability as a human mother” posts and campaigns.

        In practice, consuming only ethically (whatever that means to you) sourced animal products just isn’t easy. …But that’s a lot of work – certainly harder than “try to eat fewer animal products.”

        And here we get the call to live the evangelical counsels of perfection because they are compulsory not superogatory. If it’s too difficult and inconvenient to eat ethically, then merely eating fewer animal products isn’t enough – you could eat less meat but that meat comes from battery hens and farmed fish and so forth. Therefore, the only sure way to be ethical is to not consume any animal products at all, which is probably the main aim and goal for the end.

        Trouble is, that works just as well to drive people towards “Well fuck it, if it’s impossible to satisfy you people anyway, I’ll just keep eating what I’m eating and not even try to move towards more ethical or less suffering by reducing my consumption or bothering about organic/free range/cruelty-free products, because you don’t really care about that, you only care about getting me to turn vegan completely and I don’t want to because I am not convinced by your arguments.” In which case, nothing has been gained, resistance has been heightened, and the same amount of misery/suffering continues.

        If you tell people it’s impossible to do this thing ethically (even despite the attempts they make) because they can never be sure they are eating ethically because you can’t believe food labels and the oversight system is too crappy, then telling them “but hey eating less is much easier!” is not any good, since the obvious response there is “but even eating less I can’t be sure I’m eating ethically for the reasons you gave”.

        And then comes in the “well to be ethical you should then be completely non-consuming” and that may push some people to that conclusion, but is just as likely to push people to “well since it’s no good trying, I may as well not even try and just keep on as I’m doing”. (And if the matter is not one of ethics but reducing suffering by reducing consumption, hey you just told me that it’s not about ethics or morals so why should I worry about suffering?)

        Instead, I think it’s better to try even a little than an “all or nothing” approach, which the ethical conundrums you have raised facilititates because, as I say, you’re as likely to get “nothing” out of it as “all”.

        • AKL says:

          Which is a rather impossible standard anyway; can you find a wild salmon to interrogate about “On net, you prefer to exist or would rather not?”

          Difficulties in measurement don’t invalidate the approach conceptually, but if you prefer I’m happy to restate my personal standards as “on net, I would have wanted the animal from which this product was sourced to exist.” I don’t believe that formulation resolves any of the labeling issues I describe.

          But you can also doubt all food labelling of any product; how do you know that certified vegan mayonnaise really is vegan and doesn’t have any animal ingredients along the way?

          I trust food labels not to lie. Some claims, e.g. organic, have a very specific meaning. Other claims, e.g. natural do not. “Organic” means exactly what it means. “Natural” contains no information whatsoever. I claim that none of the labeling on animal products in the US contains enough information to guarantee that the product meets my personal standards (or what most people think of when they think of “humane” treatment). The issue is not that labelers are lying, it’s that they don’t have a way of making trustworthy claims because there is no organization (government or otherwise) that enforces meaningful labeling standards w/r/t animal welfare.

          the basic point of contention is “is it morally permissible to eat animals or not?”

          I don’t understand this. Scott said he wanted to eat fewer animal products. dlr asked why not just eat more ethically sourced animal products instead. I answered that that approach might work in theory but doesn’t really work in practice. No one framed the issue the way you describe.

          I’m not sure I follow the rest of your argument, but if your claim is “faced with the reality that we will be imperfect we should try to be more good,” I certainly agree.

          • Deiseach says:

            You raised a whole heap of objections to why it would be nigh on impossible to find ethically sourced meat to eat. That being so, why recommend simply eating less meat? If the motive for reducing meat-eating is not one of health or personal preference, then why bother?

            I can see “you were told to cut back on red meat so don’t eat it five days a week” as an argument, but given that Scott’s case is “I’d like to stop eating meat on ethical grounds but I need to eat some for health/being able to eat some kind of a meal reasons”, then your “ethical sourcing is too difficult” reasoning is not helpful.

            Discouraging someone with “well you can’t do it in practice so don’t even make the effort” is not helping. If I want to reduce meat eating on grounds of animal suffering or whatever, then “eat three portions not five, but the animals suffer just as much in the production” is not helping me out. “Try finding ethical sources of production” is helping. Do you see the point I’m trying to make?

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:


            “In the United States, organic production is managed in accordance with the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 (OFPA) and regulations in Title 7, Part 205 of the Code of Federal Regulations to respond to site-specific conditions by integrating cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity.[21] If livestock are involved, the livestock must be reared with regular access to pasture and without the routine use of antibiotics or growth hormones.[22]

            Processed organic food usually contains only organic ingredients. If non-organic ingredients are present, at least a certain percentage of the food’s total plant and animal ingredients must be organic (95% in the United States,[23] Canada, and Australia). Foods claiming to be organic must be free of artificial food additives, and are often processed with fewer artificial methods, materials and conditions, such as chemical ripening, food irradiation, and genetically modified ingredients.[24] Pesticides are allowed as long as they are not synthetic.[25] However, under US federal organic standards, if pests and weeds are not controllable through management practices, nor via organic pesticides and herbicides, “a substance included on the National List of synthetic substances allowed for use in organic crop production may be applied to prevent, suppress, or control pests, weeds, or diseases.”[26] Several groups have called for organic standards to prohibit nanotechnology on the basis of the precautionary principle[27] in light of unknown risks of nanotechnology.[28]:5–6 The use of nanotechnology-based products in the production of organic food is prohibited in some jurisdictions (Canada, the UK, and Australia) and is unregulated in others.[29][30]:2, section 1.4.1(l)”

          • AKL says:

            You raised a whole heap of objections to why it would be nigh on impossible to find ethically sourced meat to eat. That being so, why recommend simply eating less meat?

            Well I didn’t recommend anything. I just tried to explain Scott’s reasoning. But if I -were- making a recommendation… advising you to eat less meat is the right approach precisely because it is “nigh on impossible to find ethically sourced meat to eat.”

            If I want to reduce meat eating on grounds of animal suffering or whatever, then “eat three portions not five, but the animals suffer just as much in the production” is not helping me out.

            I disagree. 3 animal-lifetimes of suffering is better than 5 animal-lifetimes of suffering.

            Do you see the point I’m trying to make?

            Probably not, tbh.

            I think you view a person’s morality w/r/t animal product consumption as either good or bad, and that eating 1 unhappy cow is just as bad as eating 10 unhappy cows.

            I disagree, and I think that “eating 10 cows you think were happy” is just as bad as “eating 10 cows” because of the labeling issues I describe above. “I think the cow was happy because the label said free-range” does not mean “the cow was happy.”

      • albatross11 says:

        If you know some hunters you might be able to limit your meat to (say) deer from a few serious hunters plus fish you or someone you know catches in a local lake.

    • Anonymous says:

      Obviously you must have thought of this, so, what am I missing?

      I think what’s generally going over people’s heads is the nutritional requirements of humans. I think morality has no business entering into a question that’s largely a medical issue. So far we have only gotten up to “malnourished and possibly ill, but alive and mostly functional” in terms of nutrient supplementation for strict plant-based diets. Before B12 supplementation, plant-only diets were completely off the table, unless you wanted to commit a prolonged suicide. Nowadays it’s still a very poor idea, but at least you won’t die of neural degeneration if you know what you are doing.

      My take here is that Scott has the correct instincts, which tell him to eat meat, and skip the vegetables. Humans digest plant matter poorly, and only with the advent of cooking/food processing, and careful breeding of the plant species which weren’t *too* poisonous, did we manage to make plant foods a substantial and useful part of our diet – in terms of permitting large, settled populations, as opposed to health, which got worse with the transition to agriculture (what with the deletrious effect of high carbohydrate intake, inadequate protein and various chemical defenses that plants have against being eaten). But at least part of the dietary intake needs to be meat or some animal products like eggs or dairy, otherwise you run the risk of vitamin, mineral and protein deficiencies. In fact, if you are wealthy enough (working class or above), plants are completely optional.

      Animal products aren’t an unnecessary, cruel luxury. They’re an essential part of the human diet, which we exclude at our peril. I would suggest starting from this, and working out the morality of it from there.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Animal products aren’t an unnecessary, cruel luxury. They’re an essential part of the human diet, which we exclude at our peril. I would suggest starting from this, and working out the morality of it from there.

        It’s worth noting that the Hindu-Buddhist ethical concept ahimsa (harmlessness) counts you as morally pure if you eat eggs and dairy, unlike the concept of veganism that was invented last Tuesday.

        • Anonymous says:

          Yeah, the East Indian religions have been around for a very long time. If there were strict vegan strains of them, they must have gone the way of the Shakers, for similar reasons.

          • albatross11 says:

            It’s interesting to me that when I eat vegetarian Indian food, I don’t miss meat. The cuisine evolved to be satisfying without it. By contrast, a lot of American vegetarian cooking feels like it’s missing something–the cuisine evolved in an environment of plentiful cheap meat, and it’s hard to get rid of that without messing up the food.

          • Anonymous says:


            Yeah, and there’s the problem of removing as much fat as possible due to the mistaken belief that fat is bad for you, which makes food taste like garbage… and prompts the addition of a ton of spices and sugar to save it.

          • theredsheep says:

            Yeah, it’s odd how “meaty” a samosa feels for a wad of potatoes and peas in pastry. My favorite fasting food–it’s technically not in obedience to strict fasting rules, since it has spiced clarified butter–is an Ethiopian lentil recipe. I don’t feel like I’m missing the meat at all, even without the dollops of Cabot Greek yogurt. I can’t say that for, say, vegetarian chili. Likewise a slapdash vegetarian curry of cauliflower, lima beans, and Mae Ploy curry paste. The coconut milk keeps it from feeling like a vegetable.

      • dodrian says:

        In fact, if you are wealthy enough (working class or above), plants are completely optional

        Does this nutritional advice still apply to a modern western diet, where the meat eaten is mostly muscle? As if heard it, if you want to subsist on a meat-only diet you need to include lots of the bits that you won’t commonly find in restaurants or pre-packaged at the supermarket.

        • The Nybbler says:

          I think adding liver is sufficient, and you can find that at the supermarket. No need for the stuff the USDA won’t allow for human consumption (e.g. lung).

        • Anonymous says:

          Does this nutritional advice still apply to a modern western diet, where the meat eaten is mostly muscle? As if heard it, if you want to subsist on a meat-only diet you need to include lots of the bits that you won’t commonly find in restaurants or pre-packaged at the supermarket.

          There are people who eat like that – like Shawn Baker, who reputedly eats just rib-eye steaks, and has been doing it for years. I don’t think it’s optimal, but it seems to be “good enough”. The major problem is that modern meats are chiefly lean meat – too little fat on it. You can compensate by eating a whole lot of meat (which helps with micronutrients, and meat is very compact, so you can eat like a kilo or two in a sitting without a problem) but that’s not cheap.

      • arlie says:

        So far we have only gotten up to “malnourished and possibly ill, but alive and mostly functional” in terms of nutrient supplementation for strict plant-based diets. Before B12 supplementation, plant-only diets were completely off the table, unless you wanted to commit a prolonged suicide.

        IIRC, that’s only true if you don’t consider seaweeds to be plants.

        In fact, if you are wealthy enough (working class or above), plants are completely optional.

        You plan on getting vitamin C from meats and/or dairy?

        Animal products aren’t an unnecessary, cruel luxury. They’re an essential part of the human diet, which we exclude at our peril.

        You certainly won’t get good nutrition by taking some existing diet that depends on meat/eggs/dairy, removing those and not replacing them. But humans are not obligate carnivores, unlike e.g. house cats.

        I’d like to see some solid reasearch backing up either your claim of “must eat animal products” (and by the way, are insects “animals” to you?) and your claim of “can get by with no plant food whatsoever”.

        Neither are consistent with what little I know about nutrition.

        • nkurz says:

          > You plan on getting vitamin C from meats and/or dairy?

          Many animal products contain sufficient Vitamin C, particularly if eaten raw or only lightly cooked. Here’s part of an article about why the traditional Inuit diet was sufficient to avoid scurvy:

          To settle the matter once and for all, Stefansson and a colleague lived on a meat-only diet for one year under medical supervision at New York’s Bellevue Hospital, starting in February 1928. The two ate between 100 and 140 grams of protein a day, the balance of their calories coming from fat, yet they remained scurvy free.


        • idontknow131647093 says:

          Eating any animal, fresh, will avoid scurvy. Vita C is one of the easiest to get. You can eat an all fish, chicken, beef, pork, lamb, etc diet and not get scurvy. The only issue is that C in natural products usually deteriorates.

        • Anonymous says:


          IIRC, that’s only true if you don’t consider seaweeds to be plants.

          I put seaweed in the same category as artificial supplements (and far less effective than actual supplementation). They’re not an obvious source of nutrition, and available naturally only in coastal regions. And *none* of the seaweed commonly eaten by people contain B12. One commercial brand has trace amounts. Considering seaweed a source of B12 is like considering mold to be a source of pennicilin. Technically true, but useless without modern technology to tell you exactly which specific species is useful.

          You plan on getting vitamin C from meats and/or dairy?

          As @nkurz and @idontknow131647093 mentioned, fresh meat contains vitamin C. This is fairly obvious – animals need vitamin C, too, and some even can synthesize it. Organ meats, particularly liver, contain concentrated vitamin C. Plus, since vitamin C competes with glucose for transporters, the less carbohydrates you eat, the lower your requirement for it. But even just eating fresh meat ad libitum should provide an antiscorbutic dose (determined for people on a diet rich in carbohydrates), even if you never eat any organs.

          But humans are not obligate carnivores, unlike e.g. house cats.

          That’s only true because we can use dairy instead of meat (usually not without side-effects, but we can). So we technically don’t need to eat meat. But aside from that? We totally need to eat meat, or we die from malnutrition within like 10 years, tops, depending on how nourished one is at the start.

          I’d like to see some solid reasearch backing up either your claim of “must eat animal products” (and by the way, are insects “animals” to you?) and your claim of “can get by with no plant food whatsoever”.

          Neither are consistent with what little I know about nutrition.

          (Yes, insects are animals. Not sure how well they would cover nutritional requirements of humans, though, since I don’t think any human community relied on them entirely.)

          Here’s an executive summary of the idea: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=isIw2AN_-XU
          Sources and transcript, if you are allergic to video: https://www.patreon.com/posts/21051373

          On B12 deficiency (has sources): https://www.pharmacytimes.com/publications/issue/2013/december2013/vitamin-b12-deficiency-serious-consequences

          And a nutrition comparison of plants vs animals (with sources): https://www.kevinstock.io/health/vitamins-and-minerals-plants-vs-animals/

  8. Nancy Lebovitz says:


    In particular, there are women who develop schizophrenia at around age 45 as they’re heading into menopause. There’s some evidence that low estrogen contributes to mental illness.

  9. soreff says:

    Synesthesia question:
    Is there a well-known minimal form that only shows up under very restricted conditions?
    When I’m in the process of dark-adapting, if I hear a sharp sound, I see a flash of light,
    but not under any other circumstances. Is there a name for this?

    • anonymousskimmer says:

      I found some interesting links googling “seeing light from sounds”.

      • soreff says:

        Many Thanks!

        Best wishes,

        • soreff says:

          Again, thanks for your suggestion.
          One of the pages that search found is
          which is just about identical to my experience

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            Googling the title of the post led to this Quora question: https://www.quora.com/While-falling-asleep-if-I-hear-a-sharp-loud-sound-I-get-a-flash-of-light-in-my-vision-Whats-going-on

            I don’t know if it’s true, but it’s a plausible sounding just-so story at least.

            Alex Duncan
            Answered Nov 16, 2018

            As you fall into deep sleep, millions of neurons in your brain effectively shut down, however this isn’t instant.

            If you are sharply awoken as this change is in progress the brain instantly re-awakens all the neurons. Some of the neurons already asleep are for processing light and some for sound.

            As some neurons are still active they detect all the other neurons coming back online and you can see/hear the result in a flash!

            Perfectly natural, it’s all about timing. 🙂

          • soreff says:

            Many Thanks!
            I appreciate the link, but also suspect that the real explanation is
            likely to be far more complex – even just considering that sleep has
            multiple distinct phases, that there is a _lot_ of brain activity in some
            of these phases, that different areas or circuits in the brain have
            different patterns of activation…
            I’m actually just curious as to whether this phenomenon is common,
            uncommon, or rare (say 10% vs 1% vs 0.1% frequency).

  10. Le Maistre Chat says:

    Now that the holiday is over and the Christmas movies have been watched, vote for the most theologically confusing:

    A, Santa Claus (1959): God’s Servant Claus lives in the fluffy clouds above the Moon (Heaven?) with Merlin and Vulcan, from where he directs a racially diverse group of child laborers to make the toys he distributes. On Christmas Eve, Lucifer orders the devil Pitch to corrupt all Earth’s children.

    B, He-Man & She-Ra Christmas Special (1985): The planet Eternia’s bumbling mage Orko crashes an experimental rocket on Earth. He finds Earth children Alicia and Miguel lost in the woods to chop down a Christmas tree without their parents and takes them back to Eternia when he’s rescued in a transporter beam. Skeletor and Hordak’s boss feels a new spirit of Good there and orders them to bring the children to him before they can contaminate other planets with, well, Christianity. The plan fails when Skeletor saves the children and a robot puppy because the Christmas spirit infuses him with irresistible goodness.

    C, a candidate I didn’t list.

    • Deiseach says:

      All movies about Santa Claus are theologically confusing, but The Santa Clause film series has to be particularly bad.

      Any kind of reference to religion with regard to the origins of the Bishop of Myra are dumped, so far so modern secular holiday. But now “Santa Claus” is a role, not a person, and you take on this role by wearing the Santa suit (which must be like the alien suit in The Greatest American Hero) and then the Santa/Christmas magic turns you into Santa for life.

      But wait, there’s more! In order to keep being Santa (which we thought was for life but now find is a temporary state) you have to get married. Why? Just because. Never mind that Mrs Claus is a modern invention (19th century American, of course it would be an American). And that being divorced with a still-living wife doesn’t count, because hey, divorced and she’s remarried and theology has nothing to say on that, right?

      And besides, now Santa is one of the Council of Legendary Figures, so it’s pure magic and nothing to do with religion. At least that’s honest.

      But wait yet again! Even though we thought putting on the suit made you Santa for life (but no) or getting married and having Mrs Claus made you Santa for life (but no) now there’s a way to get out of being Santa – just hold the magic snowglobe and wish you had never been Santa! Which would have been a really short cut to ending the first movie so why didn’t the guy – who started out not wanting to be Santa – hear about it? Those elves are really trickster shyster lawyer types, huh? Getting you to sign the contract without reading it through!

      By this stage the series is just grabbing any wintry archetypes it can and there’s no internal coherence, so arguing over its bad or missing theology is pointless.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Oh Tim Allen, you enemy of thought and reason.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        Never mind that Mrs Claus is a modern invention (19th century American, of course it would be an American).

        Just sayin’, if there were no Mrs. Claus, then Santa would be a “confirmed bachelor,” living all alone with a whole bunch of kids “elves” in an extremely remote compound. I think people would start asking questions…

        • Kyle A Johansen says:

          Such as, is Saint Nick Catholic?

        • Nick says:

          But then there’s the question why he doesn’t have kids of his own. Did Mrs. Claus marry late in life? And then the more pressing question, why the bishop of Myra is married at all!

          • theredsheep says:

            Well, he appears to be legendary to begin with, or a conflation of multiple saints. I don’t know at what point we started insisting on celibate bishops drawn from the monasteries, but St. Nicholas was supposed to have lived early enough that monasticism might not have been established as an institution yet. Wiki suggests that the requirement began around the sixth century, but doesn’t have a convenient cite. Given that we know nothing about him for sure, why not?

            Next question: why did he move to Ultima Thule and reinvent himself as an emblem of nineteenth-century knickerbocker class anxiety?

          • Nick says:

            Oh, good point, he’s probably older than the celibacy requirement.

            It’s plausible he converted and ministered to the northern elves, but there’s the question why he went there at all. There is apparently some debate over whether he attended the council of Nicea, and theory 2 is that no one wanted anyone to remember he was there. Perhaps there was some controversy, forcing him go as far away as he can—he had a scuffle with Athanasius over something other than Trinitarianism, maybe?

          • The original Mr. X says:

            AFAIK the requirement for episcopal celibacy came very early in the Church, and it certainly seems to have been established by the 4th century. (At any rate, I’ve never seen any references to the protagonists at Nicaea having wives or children.) The bit about getting bishops from the ranks of monks was, AFAIK, largely a result of most secular clergy (probably an anachronistic term, but whatever) in the East being married, so there simply weren’t enough suitable celibates among their number. In the West, where clerical celibacy had been the norm since at least Roman times (even if it didn’t become a requirement until the 11th century), there was a greater supply of celibate priests to choose from, so monks were less likely to get chosen (though, of course, there were still cases of monastics becoming bishops, particularly during the 9th to 12th centuries when most education was done in monasteries and most educated people were, therefore, associated with monasteries themselves).

  11. cmurdock says:

    I’m trying to find a short story I read online, probably somewhere within the vicinity of this blog. It was about someone getting a magical stone that frees you from all moral responsibility. The point was that the stone didn’t do anything: the protagonist killed a little girl’s puppy and she was still sad, and everyone still hated him and had good reason for locking him up despite the fact that, owing to the magical stone, he had broken no great cosmic moral law.

    Anyone know of it?

      • Hoopyfreud says:

        Right, well, I’m altogether upset.

        This seems to be written for platonists on the fence about physicalism, so I suppose my being upset only makes sense – but still, the presumption is hard for me to swallow. I posit that the premise makes no sense – how exactly is this magic rock supposed to work? I assume this assumes a Platonic paradigm given the mumbling about “metaphysical rules,” so does the stone alter the nature of platonic justice? Does it kill the person and replace them with a P-zombie with no consciousness? If it’s the former, why are other people still upset? If it’s the latter, why how are you?

        To flip this, let me ask: what if you found a magical switch that changed the platonic true value of pi in the world to 3? Can you even conceive of what that would be like? I can’t. And for the Platonist who is the presumptive target of this bit of reasoning, that’s essentially the premise of this parable. And if you reject the idea of a platonic true value of pi, you’re attacking this from altogether the wrong angle; Platonism (may it rot) is the only framework under which moral responsibility arises from universal law. It’s entirely possible to formulate a coherent idea of moral responsibility in other ways.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          If physicalism is true, utilitarianism is rampant nonsense because numbers are not real. Throwing a puppy-killer in jail because he made the little girl the puppy belongs to sad and he might kill again is viable, but you can never, ever justify it theoretically in terms of subtracting his suffering from losing his freedom from other people’s pleasure and coming up with a positive number. Only the physical would be real, not your (Dawkins) delusional (/Dawkins) numbers.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            I don’t think that’s true; you can define a physicalist utilitarianism in which goodness is equivalent to the satisfaction of (materially existing) preferences, or to “per capita dopamine,” or something like that. Less and more are physicalist concepts, so the utilitarian project is just the infinite pursuit of pareto improvements.

            A utilitarian calculus of utils, on the other hand, is probably nonsense, but I think that’s because utils are nonphysical, not because numbers aren’t.

            E: to clarify, nonsense within this framework. I think utilitarianism in general is nonsense, but for much more fundamental reasons.

          • L. says:

            @ Hoopyfreud

            Afaik utils doesn’t have exact definition, so couldn’t they then be defined to be something physical?

          • Hoopyfreud says:


            Misclicked and reported you by mistake.

            Yes, you can do that, which is what I suggested. But the util as a unit of moral currency – something that establishes a moral valuation of dissimilar phenomena without reference to an unambiguous single empirical measurement – is something I don’t think can survive. Which, to their credit, I think most physicalist utilitarians realize – the resolution of this dilemma is one of the appeals of preference utilitarianism for them, I think.

        • soreff says:

          To flip this, let me ask: what if you found a magical switch that changed the platonic true value of pi in the world to 3? Can you even conceive of what that would be like? I can’t.

          Nor can I.
          Maybe it is a moon of a planet where modus ponens is invalid? 🙂

        • edmundgennings says:

          The argument implied by the story is entirely unconvincing. There are a number of theories of a universal moral law. Under none of them, that I am aware of, does the idea of amulet freeing oneself from the constraints of the moral seem feasible and only in a few does it seem even possibly comprehensible. That our intuitions would break down in such bizarre almost certainly impossible situations is unsurprising.

          • beleester says:

            I think it would be very feasible under divine command theory or anything similar – if you believe that God wrote the moral law, you can also believe that he wrote in some exceptions. See also, Kierkegaard and his “teleological suspension of the ethical”, essentially saying that Abraham’s attempt to sacrifice his son was ethical because his faith overruled normal ethics.

            So imagine the Abraham story goes slightly differently – God asks Abraham to sacrifice his son, and he does, and God doesn’t stop him. Has he committed a sin? Would the fact that God approved of it stop him from feeling sad at the death of his son?

          • L. says:

            He just obeyed and thus gained the favor of the literally the most powerful thing in existence by sending his son to live forever in literal paradise – the fuck does he have to be sad about?

          • theredsheep says:

            The concept of the afterlife was not present in Judaism at Abraham’s time; even today, I gather Jews are agnostic about whether such a thing exists.

          • L. says:

            Everyone had/has something, so I’m pretty sure some version of it existed even back then.
            Even Buddhists managed to get one, and their whole shtick is they don’t even exist.

          • theredsheep says:

            At one point a couple of years ago, I got curious about Judaism, and checked out every intro to Judaism book the library had; every single one emphasized the this-worldly aspects of Judaism. A common note on Jewish attitudes towards life after death was something like, “many Jews believe such a thing exists, as implied by the existence of suffering in the world and God’s justice, but we refrain from dogmatizing about it. Our faith gives no definitive answers, and we feel others’ belief in such things has frequently deformed their moral priorities.”

            I’m not saying it doesn’t exist at all, but everything I’ve read on the subject indicates that Abraham would not have had strong reason to believe that his son would continue existing after death. You can see ideas of resurrection around the time of Jesus–IIRC the Pharisees believed in resurrection at the end of time, while the Sadducees didn’t, though I might be mixing the two up–but it’s worth noting that that was more than a thousand years after Abraham, after the Jews were exposed to a lot of other ideas from other cultures.

            God’s promise to Abraham was not “I will make you live after death” but “I will make of you a great nation.” Following this example, the end of modern Judaism is living a moral life in fear of the Lord and being blessed with children, who give you “immortality” in a different way. The sacrifice of Isaac was troubling, beyond the obvious reason that he’d have to do violence to his child and then never see him again, because God had promised Abraham that he’d have many descendants, and finally given him a son in extreme old age, and now God was taking him back again.

            Likewise we are never told that Job’s dead kids had a happy existence in the afterlife; Job is rewarded for his long trial by getting even more kids than he had before.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            IIRC, early Judaism did have an afterlife, but it was a rather dismal and shadowy place where the dead just kind of hung around feeling vaguely wistful about not being alive any more. Belief in a Heaven and Hell became widespread during the fourth century BC or so.

          • Forge the Sky says:

            Indeed; the word was ‘sheol,’ which has been translated in Christian bibles as ‘the grave’ or simply ‘death.’

            It’s difficult to reconstruct very old beliefs with certainty, but the idea seems to be that some shadow of your living self persists after death. Its existence is tied to your renown, descendants, and how well-remembered you are; as these ties with the living diminish, you descend deeper and deeper into shadow until you cease to exist entirely.

            This made one’s renown and descendants a very important thing; they literally determined the longevity of your afterlife. By this metric, Abraham was blessed indeed by Yahweh; basically uniquely among people living at his time, his name is still well-known, his deeds spoken of, his descendants known.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            It’s difficult to reconstruct very old beliefs with certainty, but the idea seems to be that some shadow of your living self persists after death. Its existence is tied to your renown, descendants, and how well-remembered you are; as these ties with the living diminish, you descend deeper and deeper into shadow until you cease to exist entirely.

            I guess that would explain why having lots of children was seen as such a good thing. And also why the Bible says (I think in the Wisdom of Solomon? Can’t remember off the top of my head, though) that it’s better to be righteous and childless than wicked with lots of children because God will always remember the righteous.

    • dark orchid says:

      A web archive link to the original (which doesn’t seem to exist anymore): http://web.archive.org/web/20140925003912/http://www.raikoth.net/consequentialism.html

  12. Bakkot says:

    Meta: the “link without comments” feature on posts was gone for a little while. It’s been reinstated after the permalink at the bottom of posts, which I know will be missed if not explicitly called out. It’s at the end of this block of text:


    Assuming you have JavaScript on, anyway. If you don’t your comment-reading experience here is significantly crippled; you may wish to enable it.

  13. Tenacious D says:

    Has anyone tried the social media sites that are on the blockchain (e.g. Minds and Steemit)? Thoughts?

    I signed up for a Minds account a few days ago. The interface is pretty decent. The pool of users–which is probably the most important part of social media–is somewhat limited. I haven’t gotten any tokens into my wallet yet, so I haven’t tried the micropayment features, although I’m intrigued to see if their model will work.

  14. Nancy Lebovitz says:


    Extended piece on the effects of being able to get good boots, and non-obvious difficulties related to knowledge as well as money that a lot of people have.

    Further discussion: https://www.metafilter.com/178495/The-Vimes-Boots-Theory-Further-Reflections#7598322

    Yet more discussion: https://www.reddit.com/r/slatestarcodex/comments/aawy5g/siderea_the_vimes_boots_theory_further/ Do the economic claims make sense if narrowly defined?

    So, what were you taught about buying for quality when you were growing up? I wasn’t really taught, my family was middle class or a bit on the upper side of middle class, and the idea seemed to be to just buy from good stores.

    • Aapje says:

      My mother looked and looks at Consumer Reports for more expensive items. For smaller products there was no clear heuristic.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Like Aapje, our family relied a lot on Consumer Reports, so definitely buying for quality. We were a white collar middle class family.

      However, the magazine is now a shadow of itself; it used to have long discussions and lists of advantages, disadvantages, and comments. Usually with a few clear winners, and maybe one or two “Not Acceptable” entries. Nowadays it has a short discussion and items which are generally rather close in quality. I think branded consumer goods just don’t vary as much as they did, even in the 1980s.

      • Aapje says:

        Of course I was talking about the Dutch version and translated it for y’all.

        The Dutch version seems quite decent still, with lists of performance on various benchmarks. They specifically call out the best product(s) and the best buy(s), as well.

        Their ratings are ultimately subjective and presumably have suffered/benefited from improvements in quality, so the standards by which products are measured have gone up as well.

    • quanta413 says:

      My family was upper-middle to lower-upper class depending how you define it. My parents told me to use the kelly bluebook when buying a used car, but a lot of my shoes and clothes are/were bought at payless or target etc. I don’t believe that a typical outcome of spending 10x more is getting a product that is a net gain in monetary terms. I think that’s a weird outlier and normally you’re spending money to gain something else.

      Spending on food in particular has the opposite effect of the Vimes theory. It’s always consumed so you can’t get long term savings from an increase in quality. The richer people I’ve known have spent notably more on food. A minor example, I was always taught to buy generic brands in stores, but a not insignificant number of people I’ve known of roughly comparable economic class (or sometimes who grew up poorer) buy name brand.

      I think the boring theory that richer people are richer because they earn more money at their jobs because they tend to be (pick whatever subset of traits you like) more educated/more greedy/more persistent/more sociopathic/got lucky explains a lot more of the variance between people than long run savings due to clever consumption choices.

      • Aapje says:

        I don’t think that you can just look at cost in isolation, without looking what you get for the money.

        I would argue that there is often a sweet spot in the middle. Once you get to the real low end, you often start losing important features.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      I wasn’t really taught anything about “buying for quality” when I grew up. There was possibility some “learn through osmosis,” but I consciously rejected a lot of financial decisions my parents made, so that’s not really a valid interpretation from my POV. Based on what I’ve seen, my parents imparted a big preference for buying the newest thing with lots of different features, which have the side effect of lasting for a while and also overpaying for brand names and being near the bleeding edge of technology.

      OTOH, my Wife’s family, from the same social class, imparted a strong preference for buying the cheapest crap possible, and not replacing it when it inevitably broke, nor never upgrading. So they’ve had a crappy router that doesn’t service half their house for over a decade, they had a stove with 2 non-function burners for over a decade, they’ve had an oven that’s been cracked for over a decade, and they didn’t get a TV more advanced than a CRT until 2017.

      I think there’s social barriers to knowledge, but these are all surmountable, because people talk and SOMEONE in your friend group is going to know a way to save money. You can piss away a lot money on stupid stuff and still be in a decent life position, you just need to make decent money. And the problem with MAKING decent money can be compounded with transportation, but IMO the key social problems are cultural expectations. For instance, college is a strong gatekeeper to decent jobs, and in my upbringing, it definitely WAS expected that everyone would go to college. My high school friend bashed his head in for a long time, because he teaches in a Chicago public school, and the expectation there is that you will be on welfare. He sets different expectations for the students in the math team extracurricular he runs, and all of them apply to universities, so hopefully they will do better.

      Upper class people can also have problems, especially on the spending side, where they rack up massive debt Keeping Up WIth the Joneses.

      Basically, no, not Vimat Theory of Boots or whatever, much more Morlocks and Eloi.

      • A Definite Beta Guy says:

        Side point, spending at least a bit on foot-stuff seems to be a good idea. I used to buy some of those standard $50 dress shoes from Kohl’s or whatever, and those 3 pairs of socks for $10. The shoes start falling apart inside of 6 months even with minimal use, and the socks get torn within a month or two.

        My 3 pairs of Darn Tough socks are holding up decently well at over a year of service, though one pair has a hole in the ankle (probably from the way I folded them). I also got some Warfield and Grands from DSW for around $120 and they only started to slightly rip after 18 months, but that was in part because I started using them for walking to my job instead of using more sensible sneakers and then switching to dress shoes in the office. They are still holding up much better than those damn $50/shoes.

        I can’t justify the expense on Allen Edmonds, especially since I now wear steel-toes for the majority of the day.

        • Nick says:

          What are you folks doing to go through shoes so quickly??! I have literally never had shoes “fall apart” on me, and I wore the same very cheap dress shoes and sneakers through high school, and then the replacements lasted from the beginning of college until now. By coincidence, I went to Kohl’s literally yesterday to replace them, but they don’t even have holes or cracks or anything—they just look a bit trashed.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            This happens to mine within about 10 months: https://macgyverisms.wonderhowto.com/how-to/fix-worn-out-heel-linings-your-ragged-shoes-sneakers-macgyver-style-0146568/

            The outsoles also wear out within about 12 months (I walk alot), even the stronger solid rubber ones. The cost to replace an outsole is often greater than the cost of new cheap shoes. And not replacing the outsole (or entire shoe) has led to plantar fasciitis.

            So normal wear-and-tear for a heavy underpronator.

            I’m currently going with inexpensive Asics for everyday use, and don’t have dress shoes.

          • Plumber says:

            I’ve worn out many boots and shoes just from walking and standing.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Heel linins and sole lining get torn up really fast, soles separate from the actual shoe, tearing in the actual shoe canvas, and the dress shoes wrinkle up right quick, and in very unattractive fashion.

            My current dress shoes, which I’ve had for about 18 months, cost about twice as much as the Kohl’s pair, but they look better, and have the faintest separation in the toe. There’s some slight tear in the heel lining, but that’s my own stupidity.

          • Nick says:

            I have one of those holes in the heel lining of one of my sneakers like in anonymousskimmer’s link. I noticed it last year (err, I mean 2017) and didn’t think it was much of an issue. So that’s 1/4, I suppose.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            1) Those heel tears quickly become larger, though if you only just notice the issue after years perhaps “quickly” for you is on a different time scale.
            2) Those tears can start tearing apart socks and annoying ankles.
            3) For the shoes with padded heels eventually the stuffing starts coming off and the shoe doesn’t fit properly anymore.

          • Nick says:

            Ah, there was loose padding. I could see that becoming an issue over time. Still weird to me that I’m seeing this at least three years after buying them when it seems to happen to others’ after six months. =|

    • Plumber says:

      I have no memory of being taught to “buy for quality” at all.
      I just remember being taught to “don’t get ripped off” (overpay for something).
      My social class growing up varied depending on whether I was living with my Dad, my Mom, or my maternal grandparents, I experienced buying groceries with food stamps and hearing gunshots in the neighborhood, as well as living in a house with multiple bedrooms and bathrooms and then back again, while I didn’t have the words for it, I was conscious of and resentful of different “classes” from a very young age.

  15. Pingback: Rational Feed – deluks917

  16. Are there any examples of post-agricultural but premodern societies that are relatively egalitarian?

    • Lambert says:

      Hoe cultures?
      It’s agriculture, but not generally intensive enough to support much by way of urbanism, division of labour etc. And women are capable of hoe-farming, unlike plough farming.

      I suspect the invention of the plough had social impacts at least on the same order of magnitude as farming itself.

    • L. says:

      Hmm….never thought of America as egalitarian.

  17. Forge the Sky says:

    I’ve run into a few sources that tell me elevated CO2 levels cause an anxiety response, including this very blog.


    These all deal with more acute cases or the ‘suffocation panic’ mechanism becoming hypersensitive or otherwise going haywire. I’ve not been able to find much about how much CO2 could hypothetically cause a difference, at least perhaps in a vulnerable minority. Most of the science has people inhaling quite large amounts of CO2 to study the extremes of the effect, like this one:


    What I’m wondering is: atmospheric CO2 levels have increased dramatically in the past century. Anxiety levels have also increased dramatically in the past few decades. Could these two things hypothetically be correlated? I’ve not been able to find anything about what might happen if you breathe ~400ppm CO2 all the time instead of ~200ppm all the time like our grandparents did, rather than just YOLO’ing it in a lab and huffing 35% CO2 for an hour.

    I hope this isn’t an issue, because that would be a troubling trend.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      CO2 levels indoors are often 1000 ppm+, so if being indoors isn’t making people much more anxious, the changes in outside CO2 won’t either.

      • anonymousskimmer says:

        I was thinking of this but decided not to respond for two reasons:

        1) Increase in environmental CO2 is an increase in the total background – i.e. once this increase occurs it’s functional unfeasible for the vast majority to ever, during their lives, be exposed to less CO2.

        2) An increase in the background CO2 would have a consequent increase in indoor CO2 (all else held equal).

        Is the measured non-increase in anxiety relative to an absolute baseline, or a relative baseline? I was under the impression that it’s mostly a self-reported relative baseline, unless someone crosses the line to a panic attack.

        • soreff says:

          To enlarge on Scott’s point from a slightly different direction:

          Exhaled air is 4.0–5.3% carbon dioxide
          In other words, 40,000 – 53,000 ppm.
          The change in outdoor concentrations from 200 ppm to 400 ppm has many
          important climate, ocean acidity, and ecological effects.
          But as for _direct_ effects on human health, it isn’t anywhere in the ballpark.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            Except that 1000 PPM, less than 2.5% of what we exhale, does have measurable effects on human health.

          • soreff says:


            Except that 1000 PPM, less than 2.5% of what we exhale, does have measurable effects on human health.

            Ok, experiment beats theory.
            How well replicated are the effects?

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            Beats me, I read it on the Wisconsin department of health services site: https://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/chemical/carbondioxide.htm

          • soreff says:

            Many Thanks!

            Best wishes,

          • Forge the Sky says:

            in addition to @anonymousskimmer’s point, we exhale 4.0-5.3% carbon dioxide now. With a much lower baseline level of CO2 in the atmosphere, I imagine we may have been exhaling much lower levels.

            This is the sort of info I’m looking for. I’m not sure this is actually a counterpoint though; do we know how different CO2 levels in the atmosphere alter our exhaled CO2 levels?

          • soreff says:

            @Forge the Sky

            in addition to @anonymousskimmer’s point, we exhale 4.0-5.3% carbon dioxide now. With a much lower baseline level of CO2 in the atmosphere, I imagine we may have been exhaling much lower levels.

            This is the sort of info I’m looking for. I’m not sure this is actually a counterpoint though; do we know how different CO2 levels in the atmosphere alter our exhaled CO2 levels?

            The short answer is: no way that an extra 200 ppm of
            CO2 in the atmosphere will
            significantly alter our exhaled CO2
            The longer answer is:
            The exhaled CO2 is a product of our metabolism.
            (roughly 40,000 ppm, plus the negligible 400 ppm we inhaled)
            Very very roughly speaking, we oxidize sugar, using oxygen,
            producing CO2 and water to power our bodies.
            The total amount of exhaled CO2 per unit time is set by our
            metabolic rate. Unless our metabolic rates are substantially
            faster than those of people a century ago (doubtful!) the
            amount of CO2 we exhale now should be about the same as back then.

          • Forge the Sky says:


            Thanks! That makes good sense, I wasn’t really thinking about how CO2 was being made in the body.

            Think I’ll file this idea under ‘pretty damn unlikely, unless I learn something new.’

      • shakeddown says:

        Isn’t “spend some time outdoors” a common recommendation against anxiety though? (I know it works for me, though there’s a bunch of confounding factors).

      • Forge the Sky says:

        Thanks, relevant data! But two things: we are spending increasingly more time inside, and our indoor spaces are becoming better and better insulated from the surrounding atmosphere to increase heating/cooling efficiency.

        I’m not sure we know if more indoor air is making people more anxious or not. Lots of confounders, unfortunately. It might not be a bad place to start looking, however, if CO2 levels are that elevated indoors.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      I don’t know about anxiety levels going up. Source?

      What I have seen is hostility levels going up, which could be connected with increased anxiety– either could amplify the other.

  18. acp says:

    Does anyone have recommendations for books+ to learn more about Mary Wollstonecraft, William Godwin, Mary Shelly, Percy Shelly, and Lord Byron? (I’ve seen this biography but am particularly interested in books covering multiple members of the above group).

    Failing that, does anyone have recommendations for books about Ada Lovelace, for a computer scientist with a small-but-growing interest in history? All the ones I came across seemed to be either terrible or for kids.

    • SteveReilly says:

      Years ago I read The Monsters by Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler which covers the people you mentioned. I don’t remember well enough to give a mini-review, but I enjoyed it at the time. It was a quick-paced narrative that gave you the background of the people present at the creation of Frankenstein, as well as of Mary’s parents.

      As for Ada Lovelace, I don’t have a book recommendation, but have you read this lengthy blog post on her by Stephen Wolfram?

      • CherryGarciaMillionaire says:

        Much shorter, non-Wolfram piece, on Lovelace:

        Repurposing Ada: A Victorian countess is widely credited today as the first programmer — but historians say that doesn’t compute:

        It’s from the “Notes” that Ada’s “programmer” reputation comes. Together the “Sketch” and the “Notes” describe the Analytical Engine and how routines might have been run on it, had it ever been built. Is there an actual computer program tucked away in the “Notes”? In them, did Ada invent a programming language? Is Ada, then, entitled to wear the badge of “first programmer”?

        “Absolutely not,” says Betty Toole [author of “Ada, Enchantress of Numbers: Prophet of the Computer Age,” a collection of Ada’s letters and biographical notes which Wolfram credits in his post]. “Ada certainly did not invent a computer language.” Toole says Ada’s immediate and substantive contributions lay in differentiating the Analytical Engine from its predecessor, using easy-to-read tabular format, and adding indices much like those in a modern computer program…. Other scholars, like the University of Sydney’s Allan Bromley, won’t give Ada even that much credit. “All of the programs cited in her notes,” he writes, “had been prepared by Babbage from three to seven years earlier….”

        “It’s like Charles Lindbergh — did he invent manned flight?” [Bruce Sterling, co-author with William Gibson of the speculative “steampunk” novel, “The Difference Engine”] continues. “I don’t think so. He made one particular bold, headline-seizing adventure and was idolized forever after. I see Ada as being in that same sort of position. She happened to write the first ever documentation on what it meant to be [a] computer programmer.”

  19. Dog says:

    Those who completed the survey – on submission, were you taken to a “Thanks for Finishing” page, or back to the original page of the survey? I’m in an area with bad internet and I’m not sure if the form submitted or if my answers got eaten.

    • dodrian says:

      On the unofficial survey which I just completed, I got a ‘Submission complete’ page, but it included an invitation and link to ‘Submit another response?’

  20. bean says:

    Biweekly Naval Gazing Links Post:

    I’ve finished the series on electronic warfare with posts looking at ECM, the art of messing with your enemy’s systems electronically, and ECCM, techniques to counter ECM.

    I’ve been fortunate enough to visit Spot 1 on both Iowa and Massachusetts. This is the forward main battery director, a vital part of the fire control system, and the view is incredible.

    The saga of the Great White Fleet continues, with the tale of the fleet’s voyage from San Francisco to Australia.

    Information, Communication and Naval Warfare continues, looking at the development of techniques to handle all of the information sources available during WWII, most notably the combat information center (CIC).

    Lastly, I’ve posted part 4 of my ramblings on commercial aviation. This time, I covered the wonderful world of frequent flier miles and points.

  21. Silverlock says:

    “This thread could use some unsettling pen-and-ink drawings,” Tom said gorily.

    When I read the title of this thread, my head-innards converted it to “Edgorian Calendar” and I was mildly disappointed to see no artwork by Edward Gorey.

    • Paul Zrimsek says:

      “The next navigational instrument I build will have a sector of 60 arc-degrees instead of 72,” Tom said unrepentantly.

  22. Robert L says:

    It is obviously right to be sceptical about the Calment claim, but Liskantope’s attempted rebuttal gets nowhere. He says that ” The Calment case has long been considered the most thoroughly validated case ever, setting the gold standard for human longevity validations” which is right, but all the validations (that I am aware of) have been against counterclaims of the type “A claims to have been born in year n but was actually born in year n + x”, so none of them are in point against claims that A is actually B so A’s d.o.b. is irrelevant.

    On the stats, he says ” I don’t have a strong background in statistics, but this looks exactly like I’d expect the tail of a bell curve to look like.” Well, the joy of science is that we don’t have to rely on the expectations of non-scientists to settle scientific questions. So, somebody: is she on the bell curve or isn’t she?

    And there is a truly spectacular misunderstanding in point 4. here https://the110club.com/jeanne-calment-oldest-person-ever-t14396-s60.html#p40059804 by (apparently) “the head correspondent for Guiness World Records for validating age records” who thinks the claim being made is that the fraud was intended to divert an inheritance from Jeanne to Yvonne, whereas the actual claim is not about the destination of the money. Yvonne gets it anyway, but as Yvonne she gets it net of inheritance tax. As Jeanne she keeps the lot.

    • albatross11 says:

      Real-world stuff is often modeled pretty well by a normal distribution in the middle, but not so well out in the tails. So it’s not necessarily all that useful to know what the probability is of the oldest person surviving N years assuming a normal distribution.

      • Evan Þ says:

        In addition, we have so few well-documented women surviving over age 110 that – even assuming it’s a standard distribution – we can’t say whether she’s on the bell curve; she very well might have gone a few more standard deviations out by chance.

        • Robert L says:

          In fact there is no particular reason to think that age at death is a standard distribution, and anyway the argument fails because it is too universally effective – you can always counter “here’s the upper bound” with “but if you nudged it up 1 or 2 percent it would still fit my perception of the bell curve”.

  23. Jeffery Mewtamer says:

    Warning: Incoming Rant.

    Tried taking the SSC Survey, and I want to shoot Google Forms. From orbit. With the largest, densest hunk of metal that won’t do catastrophic collateral damage to the Earth and its biosphere.

    It’s bad enough that tabbing skips over the radio buttons, jumping straight from one text box to the next, but even when I use my screen reader’s quick navigation hotkeys to cycle through radio buttons specifically, they don’t respond to enter or space. I don’t know the first thing about css or javascript, but I’ve hand coded a functional html form before, and while I know most web devs don’t care about accessibility beyond government mandates, most at least get tabbing and selecting radio buttons via keyboard right, so I’m not sure how Google, one of the Juggernauts of the Internet manages to screw up so badly at making their services that aren’t their search engine(though even that becomes a headache if I turn on JavaScript) or Gmail(I use the basic HTML view, the Javascript version could likewise be a major pain without being able to use a mouse or touchscreen) friendly to keyboard users.

  24. johan_larson says:

    Hello again, Agent of the Time Police. This time, you have a chance to improve recent US history. You may replace any US president from Carter through Obama. His replacement will be whoever he beat in the election that put him in office. Two-term presidents get replaced by whoever they beat to win their first term.

    Who do you want to replace?

    • Plumber says:


      Hello again, Agent of the Time Police. This time, you have a chance to improve recent US history. You may replace any US president from Carter through Obama…”

      Oh that’s boring, I’d want to go further back and see what would’ve happened if Truman was replaced instead!

      “…His replacement will be whoever he beat in the election that put him in office. Two-term presidents get replaced by whoever they beat to win their first term.

      Who do you want to replace?”

      All of them, one by one to see how things may have been different.

      So have Ford win in ’76, then re-set and have Carter win in ’80, et cetera.

    • dodrian says:

      I don’t know enough about history (especially presidential candidates) to do anything other than wildly speculate, but here goes.

      George H. W. Bush.

      If we stayed out of the gulf war (would Dukakis have done that?), it gives us less incentive to go to war a second time (and George W. Bush probably wouldn’t have run either). The middle east might be less messy, or at least less our problem.

      But as I say – that’s wild uninformed speculation.

    • bean says:

      Hold on. Why am I not allowed to change the results of a second election? Because I’d be tempted to change 2012, for obvious reasons.

      • johan_larson says:

        No, it’s all or nothing. You can have Barack Obama for eight years or John McCain for eight years.

        • A Definite Beta Guy says:

          Ouch, man, ouch. I’d prefer Not Obama, but I also strongly like Not McCain. I’d most likely replace Obama with McCain within the realm of this question, but I wouldn’t be particularly happy about it, and this might be one of those “Devil You Know” things.

          • McCain was trigger happy. There’s a decent chance he would have gotten us in Iran and he almost certainly would have been more involved in Syria. Obama was definitely the better option.

        • Tatterdemalion says:

          Wait, the replacement has to serve out the whole term?

          In that case, I replace Reagan with Carter in 1980. In 1984, when the constitution requires him to leave office, he evidently annuls it and declares himself God-Emperor, which would be awesome to watch.

          More seriously, 1980 is probably actually a really good choice; the other obvious candidate being 2000.

      • Andrew Hunter says:

        They’re not obvious to me.

        • bean says:

          It’s not so much about 2012 as 2016, because if Romney’s the incumbent, there’s no GOP primary race.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            (sorry if this is too culture war)

            If McCain was the incumbent, would there have been a GOP primary race that featured Trump? Or would Trump have been campaigning in the Democrat primary race, as at that point Hillary would already have been beat twice (2008 and 2012) and it would be wide open?

          • Nornagest says:

            A Clinton vs. Trump (possibly vs. Sanders) Democratic primary is an interesting thought, but I think the most likely outcome there is that Trump goes the way of Sanders. The Democratic base wasn’t as pissed off in 2016 as the Republican base; I can’t see four years of Romney (who is about as offensive as vanilla pudding) counterfactually riling them up enough; and the Democratic primary process structurally favors elites more.

          • johan_larson says:

            What main-stream candidate from either party (other than Trump) understood and proposed to address the concerns of the pissed-off bluecollar voters who put Trump in office? Defusing that bomb would have been a very useful thing.

    • johan_larson says:

      Replace Dubya by Al Gore, maybe? I wonder how Gore would have dealt with the aftermath of 9/11. Might a Democrat have been a bit more restrained in expanding the national security apparatus, sparing us from the no-fly list and the TSA?

      • A Definite Beta Guy says:

        I don’t see this happening, there are plenty of Democrats that are big on the security state. Obama wasn’t exactly the kindest guy to civil liberties.

        Your big trade-offs are that Al Gore will most likely not approve large tax cuts and probably will not push to invade Iraq, and maybe Congressional Republicans are more likely to keep to PAYGO is Al Gore is in office. On the other hand, this is not the slam-dunk people might think it is, because in the alternate timeline Saddam Hussein is still in power when the Iranian nuclear program is discovered, and Saddam Hussein is not going to just let the Iranians bluff the world with nukes for 10 years and not restart his own programs, thus undoing any benefit you’d have to picking Gore over Bush, and President McCain is going to pass a lot of tax cuts and Medicare Part D anyways during his first term after the 2008 recession.

        Basically, given enough time, we just revert to something like our current situation anyways. Yay!

        • albatross11 says:

          If Saddam was still under heavy sanctions, it’s not clear that he could do much to restart his nuclear program.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Saddam is not going to be under heavy sanctions, those are going away after Hans Blix certifies Iraq has no WMD program and President Gore declares victory.
            This all changes in 2008 after President Gore cannot get Iran to agree to a nuclear deal, and no one has the appetite to reimpose tough sanctions on Iraq.
            Also, maybe Iraq won’t develop nukes, but they can certainly develop lots and lots of standard chemical weapons.

          • albatross11 says:

            How is that consistent with what actually happened w.r.t. Democrats in congress when the Iraq invasion was pushed forward by Bush?

      • Paul Zrimsek says:

        My recollection is that most of the impetus for the TSA came from Democrats, and that many Republicans would just as soon have left the job in the hands of the contractors who’d been doing it up to then. (Cynics on my side of the issue suggested that the principal motivation, aside from “this is something, therefore this must be done”, was to create a large number of prospective members for public-employee unions.) That said, the bill creating the TSA passed the Senate unanimously, as bad laws so often do. For what it’s worth, the 9 House votes against agreeing to the conference report were all from Republicans.

      • Protagoras says:

        Would 9/11 have happened under Gore? I recall seeing a lot of evidence that Clinton/Gore considered Al Qaeda a priority in a way that W initially did not.

    • First rule of time travel: Never, ever change the past. There was a great Star Trek about this.

    • Chalid says:

      This hypothetical is fun but it would be a much better fit for a CW-allowed thread.

    • SamChevre says:

      Too recent to do any good: what I want is to have Nixon win in 1960.

    • Jaskologist says:

      Bill Clinton is beat by his challenger Ross Perot. It’s enough of a wildcard that it might actually shove the timestream down a different path. I can’t promise it will be a better path.

      • Evan Þ says:

        Just what I was thinking. Among other benefits, it just might do away with the two-party system. More likely, it’ll give a boost to other third-party challengers which they can definitely use.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      Replace George W. Bush in 2000 with Pat Buchanan.

      I say 2000 Pat and not 1992 or 1996 Pat because Pat only competed in the primaries those years, but was on the ballot as the Reform Party candidate in 2000.

    • shakeddown says:

      Obviously Reagan (though that leaves 1984 kinda open). Aside from the direct benefits, might also prevent the GOP’s slide into extremism.

      • cassander says:

        The GOP has mostly stayed still or moved left from 1986, on all but one or two issues. Compared to today, military spending in 1986 was 6% of GDP, there was substantially less social welfare spending and regulation, and gay marriage wasn’t even laughable yet. How exactly have we moved to the right from there?

        • anonymousskimmer says:

          the holding of extreme political or religious views; fanaticism.

          It’s quite possible to be a fanatical political moderate.

          I can’t remember the names or find the links anymore, but I recall reading about the lessons learned during the 1980s used by the Republican party in the 1990s and afterward that led to the use of more extreme ‘sales pitches’ (for lack of a better term), such as the shutdowns during Clinton’s presidency and the drive for prosecution and impeachment.

          • cassander says:

            When one party is moving rapidly in a direction and the other is standing still, I find it hard to say with a straight face that the one standing still is becoming more extreme. It feels a bit like a kid complaining about his parents “going nuts” when he was doing something reckless.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            The GOP wasn’t standing still. They learned specific lessons from the elections in the 80s and began implementing those lessons, especially including the focus on evangelicals (focus on the family, moral majority, etc…).

            Tipper Gore was no GOP functionary, yet somehow the GOP became synonymous with morality while for the Democrats it was the exact opposite (prior to the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal revelations, and after Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill). This wasn’t a fluke, this was on purpose.

            I really wish I could remember those names and find those articles.

          • cassander says:


            Again, moving on what issues? Because as far as I can tell, the evangelicals have gotten nothing in the last 30 years except a series of glorious defeats while the progressives they’ve opposed have been moving goalposts rapidly leftward and still repeatedly scoring.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            Again, I’m not talking about issues. I’m not enough in to politics to count the issues either side has gotten.

            I’m claiming that the GOP has become more extreme in their politicking. Now it’s not anywhere close to as extreme as what happened in the 1850s, but that isn’t the baseline we’re measuring from.

            I could point to the various restrictions on abortion in certain states which didn’t exist in the 1980s. I could point to judicial appointments. But I can’t go into specifics on any of those topics, and I can’t even remember the names of the people I need to google to support my original point, so you can’t expect me to act as a foil for the point you are making.

            And since I just remembered this is a culture-war free thread I’m going to avoid it anyway.

          • Deiseach says:

            I could point to the various restrictions on abortion in certain states which didn’t exist in the 1980s.

            So do you think, in the hypothetical world where the Republicans didn’t go extreme, that today’s Democrats would be as gung-ho on abortion? Because you might end up with a world with some restrictions that didn’t exist in the 80s precisely because the Dems were also running on “safe, legal and rare” and not getting polarised on the topic against the moderate Republicans, things like late-term abortions never get passed, gay marriage is still under consideration, and trans issues are still classed under “mental disease” instead of “here’s our first trans Democratic party election winner in local race!”

            You can’t have one party becoming more extreme and the other party standing still, and the Democratic Party in the 80s was not the Democratic Party of today. Even if we accept your argument that the Republicans have been culture warring hard and harshly, the Democrats also would move to a more extreme position out of mere reaction and self-defence. If you have a moderate post-80s centrist Republican party, you equally have a moderate post-80s centrist Democratic party which did not go all-in on “dump the unions and go for the college-educated white vote; now we’re going for college white women we go all out for Planned Parenthood support; now we’re all globalists not protectionists in trade” etc.

    • Placid Platypus says:

      So is this just changing the result of one election and then history develops naturally from there, or is there some kind of “snap back” where later presidencies happen as normal? And is the replacement limited by the normal rules, or would replacing Reagan with Carter or Clinton with Bush I result in them serving three terms?

    • broblawsky says:

      Reagan, I think. I’m not sure who ends up winning in 1984 (Dukakis?) but I believe that would probably lead to some substantial long-term improvements in American culture.

      • Deiseach says:

        I think it would be more fun to consider “what if Y won the primary and ran as candidate instead of X”, mostly because I want people to imagine what it would be like today mid-way through the term of President Cruz 🙂

        For a start, would all the talk be “Beto who?” instead of “Beto shoo-in as Democratic president!”

      • nweining says:

        If Reagan loses in 1980, the likeliest possibilities for 1984 would be:

        — Walter Mondale, the obvious VP-to-P choice, much as GHWB was after Reagan and Gore after Clinton. Probably the front-runner in the primaries but a very weak and vulnerable candidate in the general, just as he was in real-1984, even with a presumptively successful second Carter term to give him coattails; like Gore only more so in that way. If Mondale for whatever reason didn’t run in 1984, the D left wing standardbearer would probably have been Mario Cuomo, also very strong in the primaries but weak in the general but for different reasons.

        — Gary Hart, who nearly got nominated in real-1984 and would probably have been a much stronger candidate in the general than Mondale (his scandals didn’t show up till the ’88 campaign). In many ways this would mean a Clinton presidency eight years early.

        — A more moderate R candidate: Jack Kemp or GHWB or Bob Dole. Any of these could probably beat Mondale but would lose to Hart.

  25. theredsheep says:

    (warning: self-serving pet theory by a layman, possibly somebody’s brought this up before)

    Is it possible that ASD is a largely modern phenomenon due to shifting evolutionary pressures? This is something I’ve wondered about for a while, since I heard a remark to the effect that teachers have been seeing a lot more autistic students over the past few generations, and if vaccines aren’t doing it something else must be. NB that I have no idea if the ostensible increase in autism is a real thing, it’s just what got me started.

    Until relatively recently, the traits associated with high-functioning autism would have been not just maladaptive, but extraordinarily so. The overwhelming majority of the population was engaged in agriculture, where the kind of methodical thinking aspies are good at was of little use, and lived in small, intensely cohesive settlements where a faux pas was far more crippling than today; wherever you were, you probably lived with the same tiny set of people for your entire life, and those people were unlikely to be broad-minded and tolerant of eccentricity. In the Christian world, there was a dedicated intellectual class, but in the West it was tiny, poorly selected, and encouraged to be celibate (even if that wasn’t strictly observed in practice), while in the East it was also poorly selected and usually guaranteed to be celibate by way of castration.

    But, starting at the tail end of the Middle Ages or so–rough estimate, I’m not well-versed in the real nitty-gritty sort of history that deals in economics–society began changing. Urbanization increased. The printing press was invented. States became more centralized, and developed a stronger need for people who could be really fussy with numbers. The idea of freedom of expression started floating around. Then came the agricultural revolution, freeing up the population for more specialized labor, followed by the industrial revolution which gave us OMG TRAINS (and lots of other phenomena which require engineering support)! And now being an aspie can earn you like $300K a year at Google or somewhere, whereas previously it was likely to get you a blasphemy trial or a job wearing a funny hat while rich people laugh and throw chicken bones at you.

    This doesn’t necessarily mean Asperger’s per se would be selected for, but if (as seems likely) it’s a confluence of many traits, some of those traits being selected for, or not being eliminated so aggressively, would make extreme cases more likely.

    • Aging Loser says:

      It’s always seemed to me that on the contrary aspie-traits are more of a liability today that they were in Olde Englande because today nobody really knows anyone else so people look for obvious superficial conformity-signs and punish those lacking them while in Old Englande people lived in villages and the villagers were just whoever they were and what they were like was what they were like. Even in the 18th Century people who would today receive an official Neuroscrewed diagnosis were called “eccentric” and were just part of the village scene. Poems and novels show us how widespread and how basically accepted what would now be officially diagnosed as a case of being Neuroscrewed was up until The Great War destroyed the West.

      • theredsheep says:

        Not having read said poems, etc., you have me at a disadvantage, but I would ask to what extent these people are mentally deviant in an innate way as opposed to, say, the senile elderly, parasites, ergot, brain damage from head trauma, malnourishment, etc. Of course, that raises the question of whether people with ASD would fit in, but given what Bedlam was like I don’t know that I’d generalize too far about tolerance.

        • Aging Loser says:

          The 18th Century examples from novels I’ve thought of since posting are both Uncle Toby and Mr. Shandy (Tristram’s dad) in TRISTRAM SHANDY and three characters in TOM JONES — the Philosopher, the Pastor (or whatever he is), and the Schoolteacher. I’m not familiar enough with pre-Romantic 18th Century story-poems to come up with character-examples (I guess I was just hopefully running my mouth off there) but both Blake and Coleridge seem very spectrumy to me (as does Hume). Also Samuel Johnson (based on Boswell). Going back to the 16th century — Spenser’s characters are all bizarre, and you could say, “Yeah, but they’re allegorical so they don’t count,” but in a strange way his world feels very realistic to me (more so than Shakespeare’s). Shakespeare’s Prospero (the Dad from THE TEMPEST?) seems to me like a spectrum-y guy too — all Renaissance alchemists and magicians were on the spectrum, don’t you think? What about Caliban, then? Not a neurotypical dude.

          • Jaskologist says:

            In Brothers Karamazov, some of the monks look to be schizo/delusional, constantly yelling at the imps they see running around everywhere. Stinking Lizaveta is also some sort of mentally ill, which does not go well for her, but things go badly for a lot of people in Dostoevsky books, so it’s hard to gauge. It seems like the villagers at least try to help her, but there’s also not much recourse when everybody suspects that the Karamazov father has raped her.

          • theredsheep says:

            I don’t think we get enough on Prospero to diagnose, beyond “bookish” or “educated.” Caliban isn’t remotely aspie; he mostly seems demented and resentful in addition to being ugly and wicked. And he’s not tolerated indulgently, he’s the enslaved offspring of a witch. Haven’t read the others.

            Also, I want to stress that we’re talking about evolution here, so the relevant factor is whether these people breed. Like I say lower down, who married, or even slept with, the village idiot?

          • Nick says:

            While we’re talking Dostoevsky, there’s also Lizaveta the sister of the pawnbroker in Crime and Punishment, who strikes me as a more likely case of ASD. ETA: Lizaveta didn’t have any kids in C&P, but there was a soldier, I think, who had a crush on her.

    • Robert Jones says:

      I don’t think that would work, because there’s insufficient time since “the tail end of the Middle Ages”. If the traits associated with high-functioning austism were extraordinarily maladaptive for the bulk of human history, those genes would have been eliminated from the gene-pool, and it’s not possible that a mutation as recently as a thousand years ago could have become prevelant by now, at least in the absence of overwhelming selective pressure (which does not seem to exist).

      If, which I think is more likely, ASD results from a combination of traits which are separately adaptive, then those traits will be at at least roughly the same proportions in the population now as 1,000 years ago, so children will be born with ASD at about the same rate and the only difference in the observed population level would be due to a changed mortality rate.

      My guess is the effect isn’t real, and people just notice ASD more now.

    • JulieK says:

      wherever you were, you probably lived with the same tiny set of people for your entire life, and those people were unlikely to be broad-minded and tolerant of eccentricity.

      I would have guessed the opposite. People who have known you your entire life will be used to your quirks.

      And now being an aspie can earn you like $300K a year at Google or somewhere

      Are most ASD children born to ASD parents?

      • theredsheep says:

        I know there’s something of a hereditary component; my own family attests to that. But assuming it’s hereditary at all, and not due to some weird environmental factor, it should be vulnerable to selection pressure. Like I said, total layman here.

        As for quirks … hmm. I could see it going either way. But as a general rule, past societies were much less individualistic than ours. The past was not a good time to be mentally ill, certainly.

        • The original Mr. X says:

          As for quirks … hmm. I could see it going either way. But as a general rule, past societies were much less individualistic than ours. The past was not a good time to be mentally ill, certainly.

          On the other hand, I could see less individualism being better for (at least some) people on the spectrum: clearer social rules make it easier to know what to do in a given situation, whereas today things are generally less clear and you’ve got to rely on intuition/people-reading skills more.

    • ilikekittycat says:

      My impression of history was that the marginal fringe of society was a lot more tolerated before the centralized state, professional armies and police, the Liberal sense of the rational individual, the carving of the world into scientific categories of Reason and Unreason, etc.

      “Gauche weirdo fascinated with narrow spheres of knowledge and ritualistic behaviors” barely moves the “this person is maladaptated” needle when any given one of your neighbors is nightly drinking and beating his children to forget the PTSD of driving a pike into a man’s head at melee range. The things that make Aspergers so crazy seeming to us vs. the “norm” now are a result of the Enlightenment/Victorian era

      • theredsheep says:

        It’s not clear to me that they would necessarily have had PTSD from such an experience; their sense of compassion was in all likelihood rather more restricted in scope than ours. Blood sport used to be immensely popular–even after the gladiators were banned, doing terrible things to animals was good fun–and exposure was the common method for dealing with unwanted infants. At any rate, drunken wife-beating is far from uncommon today.

        But many parts of ASD are maladaptive, or would be. Sensitivity to tastes, odors, and noises, for example, is a big disadvantage. Introversion is an even bigger problem. Weird behaviors could be seen as signs of the occult at work. Most crucially, without the ability to make money off obsessive tendencies, you’d be poor husband material.

        • bullseye says:

          Compassion for people you’re killing isn’t necessary for PTSD. A lot of people with PTSD are rape victims who never killed anybody.

        • bullseye says:

          PTSD does not require guilt over killing someone. Rape victims get PTSD too.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            Double post?

          • theredsheep says:

            Yes, but I’m objecting specifically to the idea that intimate familiarity with violence, even against other humans, must commonly lead to PTSD across cultures. Many tribal societies were quite casual about even the most horrifying violence towards their enemies; Plains Indians would torture captured enemies to death as a matter of duty. Maybe all of those people were actually traumatized after the fact when they cooked men over slow fires, but it doesn’t seem to have stopped the behavior.

          • bullseye says:

            It appears the anti-double-post system caused one.

            I replied to the wrong comment but caught it before hitting post. So I copied it into a new comment in the right place, which the system rejected as a double post. So then I wrote a new comment, but the rejected comment has returned.

        • Aapje says:

          Studies seem to suggest that traumatic experiences don’t always result in PTSD, today. The percentage that I’ve most commonly seen is 15%.

          Secondly, anecdotal evidence seems to suggest that it’s particular horrors that tend to really hit people hardest, like hurt(ing) children, seeing a friend suffer greatly or severely transgressing one own’s moral rules.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Also, I think that military-related PTSD tends to come about through long-term exposure to stressors (which is part of the reason why it first emerged in a big way during WW1). Back in the day, a military campaign generally consisted of marching around a lot, maybe camping outside a city or castle to besiege it, and perhaps one or two big battles lasting a few hours. There wasn’t much in the way of long-term combat exposure, which ought to make combat stress less likely.

            A couple of others things I thought of while I was typing the above sentence. Firstly, another risk factor for combat-related PTSD is, IIRC, a feeling of helplessness or lack of control over what happens to you, which would be less prevalent when fighting was generally done hand-to-hand and better skill at arms was a real help to staying alive. Secondly, religious beliefs might have helped as well: I’m just guessing here, but if you think that dead warriors go off to spend eternity feasting in Valhalla, you’re less likely to be traumatised by seeing somebody get cut down in battle.

          • Aapje says:

            Long term/repeated exposure probably plays a major role as well.

            However, archery or other artillery seems to have played a major part in much of the past and would have probably provided a feeling of helplessness or lack of control as well.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            IDK, archery was generally more of a nuisance than anything else; arrows are pretty light, meaning that even light armour is generally enough to stop them,* and wounds caused by arrows were usually survivable (unless they got infected, of course). As for artillery, that wasn’t very common pre-gunpowder, so the chances of ever having to deal with it in battle were low.

            * Fun fact: during the Battle of Leipzig, the Russians had a contingent of bow-armed Tartar irregulars. Their French opponents were very scathing about their killing power; apparently a standard-issue army greatcoat was thick enough to stop an arrow from penetrating.

          • albatross11 says:

            I’ve heard the claim that one of the most likely things to cause PTSD in combat veterans is killing civilians, especially kids. I gather this happens in urban combat from time to time–you’re shooting back at someone who shot at you, and then you come around the corner and see you’ve hit a pregnant mother and her four-year-old kid.

            It’s interesting to ask why PTSD exists. Greg Cochran pointed out in a awhile back that historically, awful traumatic things happened to our ancestors pretty routinely, and they had to somehow pull it together and keep functioning or they wouldn’t have left any descendants around. His claim is also that there’s not much evidence in historical writing for anything like PTSD in the ancient world, even though they definitely had all kinds of horrors of battle, sacking of cities, etc.

          • dndnrsn says:

            So, are we talking about short-term psychiatric casualties (I think the Brits and the Americans in WWII estimated that after 30 or 40 days of continuous combat, if a guy hadn’t been made a casualty some other way, he would generally be a psychiatric casualty after that point) and longer-term effects. The two are obviously linked but are divisible: a majority of combat soldiers will be in bad shape after a month or whatever of potentially very rough living conditions, lack of sleep, maybe not enough to eat, maybe shooting at people, maybe getting shot at, etc. I’m pretty sure that only a minority of combat veterans develop long-term psychiatric problems.

            Psychiatric casualties start being really noticeable about WWI, and are a feature of every war after that. Were they not happening, or just not being noticed? There’s stuff from the American Civil War and afterwards which makes reference to what in retrospect are probably psychosomatic symptoms from combat stress (“soldier’s heart”).

          • Aapje says:

            @The original Mr. X

            Tatar and other horse back bows are quite weak. They are for harassment and to draw the enemy into ambushes.

            Proper longbows are more powerful.

            Also, before antibiotics, many if not most war deaths seemed to have been due to infections and such, not direct kills.


            That’s a major reason why they started rotating units in and out of combat, to delay combat fatigue.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            This is from memory.

            David Levine argues that there’s a way of recovering from trauma which you can see in animals, and it’s going away and shaking for a while.

            People get PTSD if they don’t get a chance to do that– the threat is too continuous and/or “breaking down” and shaking isn’t culturally permitted.

            He also thinks simple movements (running, punching) can help with recovery if they were what would have been appropriate reactions to the trauma but not feasible at the time.

          • bean says:

            Psychiatric casualties start being really noticeable about WWI, and are a feature of every war after that. Were they not happening, or just not being noticed? There’s stuff from the American Civil War and afterwards which makes reference to what in retrospect are probably psychosomatic symptoms from combat stress (“soldier’s heart”).

            I think it’s a matter of exposure. This period marked a major change in how wars were fought. To slightly oversimplify, the life of a front-line soldier during the Napoleonic Wars consisted of a bunch of sitting in camp or marching around, with an occasional battle thrown in. A glance through the history of the Grand Armee shows an average of 4-5 battles/year, most lasting only a day or two. This is probably high for all historical armies, and given desertion rates and deaths from disease, you’re going to see a lot of people die or run away before they get PTSD.
            In WWI, you’re in a battle every minute you’re on the line. There’s artillery fire, and people waiting to kill you if you stick your head over the edge of the trench. So if it takes 30 days of combat to give someone PTSD, it’s going to take a minimum of 3 years of very active campaigning for someone in the Grand Armee, and 30 days at Verdun for his great-great-grandson.
            (I could see the gaps between battle helping men decompress, for that matter, which is going to make the problem even worse for the modern soldier.)

          • Aapje says:


            WW I also made the issue so prevalent that it could no longer be dismissed as mere cowardice, even though they tried.

          • Nornagest says:

            Back in the day, a military campaign generally consisted of marching around a lot, maybe camping outside a city or castle to besiege it, and perhaps one or two big battles lasting a few hours.

            This is true as far as it goes, but the marching-around phase would also include a lot of raids and “foraging”, which consisted mostly of stealing the enemy’s food and doing horrifying shit to his civilian population, being harassed by his inferior forces and/or running away from his superior ones. I’m not sure how this compares to being shelled for weeks on end, but it does seem like the kind of thing that’d leave a psychological dent.

          • dndnrsn says:


            Different countries accepted the existence of psychological casualties as real (as opposed to malingering) at different rates; I know that during WWII the Germans paid a lot less attention to it than the western Allies, and the Soviets even less. Both executed a lot more soldiers for cowardice (the Germans primarily later in the war) than Germany or Russia had in WWI, or than the western Allies did in WWII.

          • Mark Atwood says:

            I know pretty well two people with actual real diagnosed severe PTSD, one of them a combat vet, and the other having been an unlucky shop clerk in Oakland area.

            I have no doubt for either one of them, when in the middle of a triggered panic attack, they were given the commanded choice of physically going back to the triggering situation, or being executed by a firing squad, if they were even able to talk at all, would choose the firing squad.

            It’s my friendship with those two people that make me deeply truly utterly despise the people who overuse the word “trigger”.

          • Aapje says:


            Yeah, but it became rather obvious to fellow soldiers and family that many of the executed soldiers were not cowards before the war or early in their fighting career.

          • John Schilling says:

            IIRC, differential PTSD casualty rates in the World Wars suggest that “you will return to the front, right now, or we will put a bullet in your brain, right now”, was about 70-80% effective as a short-term symptomatic treatment. The other 20-30% suggest that Mark Atwood isn’t far off on how bad true PTSD can be. But if you absolutely, positively, need every man on the line right now, brutality usually works.

            If you understand that you’re still going to be fighting this war, or the subsequent peace, in six months, try talking.

            Also from WW1/WW2 experience, there does seem to be a consensus that mean time to PTSD is 150-200 days of combat or combat-adjacency. Since then, most professional armies have made a point of rotating soldiers out of direct combat assignments before then.

    • arlie says:

      My impression, having grown up as an undiagnosed Aspie many decades ago, is that many of the results of being Aspie have become more problematic as society liberalized, and as the scale of everything increased.

      As an example, I wore school uniforms. If I’d had sensory issues with their style and fabric, that would have been very bad – but since I didn’t, the net result was a big win – my lack of sense of what to wear wasn’t a problem. Small classes with enforced quiet etc. didn’t trigger any problems with noise. A smaller school meant less of a bullying problem – the staff was able to keep control more effectively. Schools were pretty regimented, which was nice for someone who craves predictability.

      Twenty years later my diagnosed niece was picked on about her clothing choices at school, etc. etc. – my sister wound up home schooling, which did nothing to help any of her Aspie children learn to deal with other people.

      I didn’t get along especially well with most of my peers – but adults loved me. (Lots of Aspie children act over mature for their age.) So I got useful opportunities.

      Moving into young adulthood, things changed again. But there were more jobs available where love of routine would be a big win – now they are automated, or out-sourced. Fortunately I instead followed my special interests into computing, along with half the undiagnosed Aspies I knew, and (at the time) precious few others.

      My possibly Aspie father worked in a factory. He was seen as weird for reading during his breaks, but did well enough. My undiagnosed Aspie mother worked as a bookkeeper, where her attention to detail made her extremely valuable and competent.

      All this is recent and anecdotal, of course. And it may be subject to selection bias – if my parents or I had totally cratered, I might not be here writing this. I’m sure we all shared the experience of being picked on more than average in childhood. But overall, my generation and earlier seems to have mostly done OK, Aspie or not.

      • theredsheep says:

        My Dad did pretty well as an analyst for NIH. His dad (whom I never met, dunno if he was spectrum) was a great scientist. Both lived well into the modern era, however. My father, as a medieval farmer, would have been much less happy and productive.

    • 10240 says:

      I don’t see what your theory has to do with apparent increasing prevalence of autism in the last few generations. That increase has happened long after society was mostly agricultural. Autism was only defined in the 20th century.

      My first guesses (as a layman) about the reasons of increasing diagnosis of autism would be (1) increased awareness of the disorder and increased likelihood that a kid would see a shrink, and (2) expanded definition and/or expanded interpretation of the definition, so milder cases are more likely to get diagnosed as autism (spectrum disorder). That is, before looking at causes, one should look at whether there is evidence that the prevalence of autistic traits (by a fixed definition) is actually increasing at all.

      • theredsheep says:

        It’s more me thinking that modern society is strikingly more autism-friendly. I’m not going to pretend that this is the result of serious scientific inquiry; it’s just me shooting a fun hey-what-if to people on the internet. With that said, for there to be any evolutionary effect it would need to be long-term, and you might expect aspies to show up (more frequently) as the result of long-term trends–we’d be the curve in the hockey stick graph, when all the little eccentricities start adding up.

        • albatross11 says:

          To what extent can autism-spectrum symptoms be suppressed/ignored by people facing sufficiently strict social pressure to conform or else? There’s obviously no amount of social pressure that’s going to make a severely autistic kid conform to social rules, but if acting weird routinely gets you beaten up by the neighborhood kids or by your parents, it’s quite possible that high-functioning ASD types manage to suppress a whole lot of weird behavior, and end up as weird people that can minimally implement the normal-person interface well enough to fit into their society.

          There’s a parallel here with tolerance for any other kind of weirdness–being gay, left-handed, ADHD, etc. Probably there’s some level of social pressure/coercion that will cause you to struggle mightily to implement the normal-person interface, in self-preservation. And quite probably most people will manage, more-or-less, while never having it quite work for them, like a lefty forced to write with his right hand.

    • anonymousskimmer says:

      you probably lived with the same tiny set of people for your entire life, and those people were unlikely to be broad-minded and tolerant of eccentricity.

      I’m with Aging Loser. I think you greatly underestimate what people are willing to put up with from others within a small community.

      The “village idiot” was a thing back then. And better a village idiot who could do some manual labor than poor Jack the thatcher who fell from a roof and broke his back. I’m sure there were many tedious tasks that various non-neurotypical people would have excelled at, such as fishing (the source of much of commoner’s protein).

      We have a grand surplus of people today (relative to necessary tasks, and relative to population replacement). This wasn’t the case until recent centuries.

      The depiction of Louis XVI in this 1938 movie struck me as possibly AS spectrum, and he had culturally appropriate and useful hobbies (which likely set him apart from most of the rich at the time; so if he would, why not other AS people?): http://www.tcm.com/mediaroom/video/701904/Marie-Antoinette-Movie-Clip-I-Cast-This-Pearl-Before-You.html

      The hobbies that AS people choose will always be dictated by what’s available. As arlie points out, much of what we now work with isn’t handled by people within the community, so many of the hobbies AS people choose (such as can sorting), is no longer of use within the community. This wasn’t necessarily the case in earlier times.

      • theredsheep says:

        The question would be how many people married the village idiot and had kids with him (even assuming he was autistic and not just a kid who walked behind a horse). At any rate, I envision something more like a gradual increase in somewhat-autistic traits in the population, only leading to prevalence of more extreme behavior in relatively recent time as the mass of traits accumulated. At the tail end of the eighteenth century, Louis XVI would be well on the way, even assuming he was an example of ASD.

        • acymetric says:

          I think the village idiot is just to point out that villages tolerated less than optimal people. I’m not sure that ASD types map well to “village idiot” types but rather to some other “unusual/eccentric villager” type.

        • anonymousskimmer says:

          That question is probably dependent on the sex of the idiot, and whether a war recently occurred (and marriage doesn’t matter, just kids).

          In the context of common disorders such as iodine deficiency, and as you say the person who walked too close behind the horse, would an AS person look that unusual as a mate?

          It may be only recently that AS became so relatively abnormal to be commented on: http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/d-brief/2018/11/06/ancient-humans-inbreeding-skeletal-deformities/

        • John Schilling says:

          The question would be how many people married the village idiot and had kids with him

          Well, if the village has a hundred men and a hundred women, and the law is that marriage is strictly limited to one man and one woman, and there is extremely strong social (and, for women, economic) pressure to get married, you do the math. Or find an aspie to do it for you, because applying math to social problems is apparently an aspie-specific thing.

          There is still room to quibble about how absolute those rules were in practice, but at least on paper it looks like our hypothetical village idiot had a better shot at reproduction in a medieval village than does his counterpart in a modern city.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            and there is extremely strong social (and, for women, economic) pressure to get married

            Whenever the shift happened that families predominantly took care of their elders rather than the tribe taking care of the elders the economic pressure was on both sexes (sure, an older man might not live as long on average as an older woman, but he has a higher likelihood of becoming a cripple). I’m sure nieces and nephews took care of spinsters, but probably not as well as they did their mothers.

    • nweining says:

      One could make predictions from this theory about expected greater prevalence of ASD among certain ethnic groups due to a long history of greater representation in “Aspie-friendlier” professions. It’s not clear to me from quick Googling that those predictions are actually borne out. Details omitted to try and stay away from CW, but you can probably guess what I mean.

    • Aapje says:


      And now being an aspie can earn you like $300K a year at Google or somewhere, whereas previously it was likely to get you a blasphemy trial or a job wearing a funny hat while rich people laugh and throw chicken bones at you.

      Only fairly high-functioning aspies with specific talents will earn $300K a year at Google. I think that you hang too much on there now being one very visible career path for aspies and are ignoring various other career paths in the past and present.

      • theredsheep says:

        Well, yeah, that’s one particular, glibly phrased example. But in general there’s a lot more opportunities for “technical” work today than there used to be. A lot of us do at least reasonably well as technical writers, mathematicians, clerks, or whatever, and people with minor aspie-like traits can do well too. There’s no reason to believe we’d be particularly good at driving a plow or planting beans, and some reason to believe we’d have difficulties, since village life requires continual social contact, often in extreme close quarters.

        • SamChevre says:

          Flipside: if you are autism-spectrum and DID NOT win the lottery of fascinations, it’s fairly easy to get through life when “regular work” requires neither social skills nor lots of mental attention.

          It’s one of the things I really notice being a professional but having spent years as a farm kid and laborer: I could think about what I wanted 7 hours a day when I was working construction–you can think about anything you want while carrying bricks from here to yonder as long as you keep moving; I can almost never do so as a professional.

          • theredsheep says:

            I think that’s fair–I enjoy mindless work, and didn’t really get a useful fixation out of my condition (unless you count a love for fantasy that I have to date failed to monetize)–but what strikes me as difficult here is not the work itself so much as the attendant circumstances. Getting away from people, let alone strong odors, is simply not an option in that kind of close-knit rural environment. If you have any neurotic or sensitive tendencies, you’re in trouble. Also, if you are deficient in social skills, navigating the ad hoc clustering of relationships that constituted late Roman or medieval society would be problematic. Life is much more rule-oriented now than it used to be.

        • Aapje says:

          since village life requires continual social contact, often in extreme close quarters.

          Your knowledge of farm life seems very limited. Farmers often didn’t live in a village. They often just lived on a farm with family. Now and then one or more of them went to the village to sell their goods and buy stuff.

          Having lots of contact with very few people seems way more aspie-friendly than interactions with many.

          As SamChevre already noted, it seems very likely that most aspies would do quite well with solitary, well-defined tasks such as planting, plowing, etc. Those tasks don’t require complex social interaction. When animals were used or raised, this presumably tends to be easier for aspies than dealing with humans.

          • theredsheep says:

            I’m referring to the farm patterns most common in medieval society, where (AFAIK) the manor farm predominated and each family had its own strip of dirt on the common field. Towns, where they occurred, were quite crowded due to the need to keep within the walls. In Byzantium, a similar arrangement prevailed in the form of the chorion or farm village community–until late in its history, when large magnate-run estates predominated, and were worked by people whose rank seems to have been some variant on “serf” or “slave.” Byzantine towns were likewise miserably crowded. Monastic farms would have been communally worked as well. I’m no scholar, but I’m not aware of significant numbers of independent farmholder families in Christian Europe in the period (but possibly Scandinavia? Don’t know about Scandinavia post-conversion). I know less about Rome, except that Italy itself tended to be dominated by the latifundia, very similar to the aforementioned late Byzantine estates.

    • DeWitt says:

      Is it possible that ASD is a largely modern phenomenon due to shifting evolutionary pressures?

      I doubt it.

      This is something I’ve wondered about for a while, since I heard a remark to the effect that teachers have been seeing a lot more autistic students over the past few generations, and if vaccines aren’t doing it something else must be.

      There are teachers even today who only vaguely know of autism and wouldn’t know how to look for it. Twenty-five years ago, let alone fifty, not a one teacher would know what to look for.

      NB that I have no idea if the ostensible increase in autism is a real thing, it’s just what got me started.

      Hard to find something you’re not looking for.

      More to the point, consider the following:

      1) ASD is at least somewhat genetic
      2) aspies et al still exist

      Unless somewhere in the 1800s a number of aliens slipped DNA into the genome of a select few humans, people with ASD clearly made it through history just fine, so you have to account for that, rather than it having to account for your image of history.

    • theredsheep says:

      All right, I’m getting the subtle message that people think this is kind of a dumb theory. I think I’ll just quit while I’m still behind.

      • Deiseach says:

        It’s not dumb, necessarily, it’s just difficult to decide between “is the higher incidece of autism today due to more people being autistic, or more/better diagnoses?”

        In my schooldays back in the period 1968-80, dyslexia was not a thing. If you didn’t get on well academically, you were simply stupid. Then dyslexia began to be recognised and tested for and diagnosed, and now it wasn’t that you were stupid when you said you couldn’t read the letters on the page of the text book, you were dyslexic.

        So: did more people become dyslexic over those twelve years, or was it simply that a condition moved out of “a condition only known by certain professionals in large cities” to “recognised as a possibility for the population at large” and thus now a consideration instead of “you’re not obviously retarded like Down’s Syndrome so it must be that you are just thick”?

        Anecdotes are not data, yes yes, but take my own family as an example: on the paternal side, I have strong suspicions that there’s a lot of ASD that was never diagnosed; there are family stories going back generations of certains cousins or what-not being “odd” (where the described behaviour sure sounds like it’s on the spectrum) but it’s only now, in the generation of “my first cousins’ kids” that diagnoses of learning disorders are being made.

        Did we magically become autistic in the third and subsequent generations while only being “odd” or “eccentric” in the generations before that, or is it that we were on the ASD spectrum all along but it’s only now that it’s getting diagnosed? If you looked at “raw numbers of diagnoses” it would look like “back in Great-Great Uncle Joseph’s time there wasn’t any autism but today there are three cases of it in the family” and so you’d ask “so how come there are more cases of autism today?”, but that is ignoring “and Great-Great-Uncle Joseph’s brother William was considered odd and strange because he used to do [this, this and this autistic behaviours but nobody called it autism because even the doctors hadn’t heard of it round here]”.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      My notion is that if you don’t have a lot of choice of people (either sparsely populated hunter-gatherers or agriculture with low mobility), you can’t throw people away nearly as cheaply as modern societies do. Throwing away doesn’t necessarily mean death– it can be imprisonment, institutionalization, or trapping people in relatively isolated/separated poverty.

      The older situation was that if a person could be even somewhat useful and/or people were attached to them, you kept them in the group. See small communities with a high genetic risk of deafness– they developed sign language, and being deaf was no big deal.

      As a bit of a sidetrack, I’ve seen a lot of framing of social pressure in earlier times as the use of ostracism, and I just don’t believe it. There was a high death homicide for men in the stone age (anyone have numbers for women), but that isn’t ostracism.

      I’m willing to bet that the big threat was bullying– to be unpopular was to be subject to constant harassment while still in the group.

  26. Jo says:

    I’d come to a meetup in Hamburg, if there is one.

  27. dark orchid says:

    Not sure how people are getting the http version, the server always redirects me to https if I try the other one, but here’s my hypothesis. The report button works with something called an “ajax call” which for security reasons is only allowed using the same protocol as the one that loaded the page (e.g. the https version can’t do ajax to the http one and vice versa).

    The URL to which ajax requests go is declared on line 30 of the main page:

    var ajax_object = {"ajax_url":"https:\/\/slatestarcodex.com\/wp-admin\/admin-ajax.php"};

    I’m not sure if this is dynamically generated or hard-coded but if it’s hard-coded, e.g. you get served the same line if you somehow manage to visit the plain http version, then the ajax call won’t work. If someone who can see the plain http version could do “View Source” (Control-U in chrome) and look at line 30ish and confirm that they see a “https:” there, then that’s the problem.

    P.S. I accidentally reported a post while testing this. Sorry.

    EDIT: just read the thread above and I see that we’re all being redirected to https now. That explains things.

  28. Alkatyn says:

    I’m looking into starting a blog/website about a moderately popular video game in the hope of making money from views. Can anyone recommend a platform/service?

    My default would be makin a wordpress.com or blogspot blog, but not sure how much money they make compared to other setups

    • johan_larson says:

      If you are presentable on camera, you should check out what streamers and vloggers make on YouTube and Twitch.

      You may need to adjust your expectations about making money, though. My impression is that you need quite a large viewership before you start making real money. The YouTube channel Tolarian Community College recently became a full-time job for one person, and gets around 200,000 views per video.

    • anonymousskimmer says:

      You’d want to monetize a blog with something other than ads.


      WordPress.com Cons
      – They place ads on all free websites. So your users will see ads, and you don’t make money from it. If you don’t want your users to see their ads, then you can upgrade to a paid plan (starting from $36 per year).
      You are NOT allowed to sell ads on your website. If you run a high traffic site, then you can apply for their advertising program called WordAds where you share revenue with them. Premium and Business plan users can use WordAds right away.

      https://smartblogger.com/blog-ads/ – 13 Reasons Why Blog Ads Suck for Monetizing Your Site (And What to Do Instead)

  29. Sanchez says:

    I’ve heard in multiple places that homosexuality is linked to having more older brothers. I also vaguely remember reading that there are results disputing this. I checked the wikipedia page and am now more confused. They mention several studies that show the effect in various contexts as well as a few that fail to show it, with Ray Blanchard dismissing the failures as due to “methodological problems” (a phrase that’s not very helpful to non-experts.) Its proponents seem to make strong claims about it, for example that the effect is present for right-handed men but not left-handed, to the extent that I’m skeptical.

    So what’s the current status of this idea? Is it anywhere near a consensus, or is it suggestive studies being overhyped, or is it bad statistics? Any takes?

  30. J says:

    Can anyone help me gain an intuition for magnets? I took engineering physics in college, but I don’t remember much. Specifically, I want to put magnets on a 1/8″ thick flat steel cutting guide to hold it on steel workpieces. If I just stick (say, a 1/2″ dia 1/8″ thick cylinder) magnet on top of the guide in the middle, I get very little force, and I’d like a better intuition for why. Further, I suspect if I drill a hole under where the magnet goes, I bet it’ll stick better, but I don’t have any intuition for how the hole size would affect it, and whether it would be better to make the hole the same diameter as the cylinder magnet and then somehow glue it in, vs. cutting a smaller hole and just centering the magnet over the hole.

    • toastengineer says:

      Is the workpiece thin? There’s a concept of magnetic saturation; if you have a relatively small amount of iron, then no matter how powerful your magnet is there’ll be a low upper limit on how much pull it will have, because it only has that much metal to pull on.

      I remember this from a Mythbusters episode where Adam was testing out a rig to magnetically climb a metal duct and he tried it on a steel door; it didn’t work and he explained that even though he had absurdly strong magnets, the door just wasn’t enough material for the magnets to work on in order to hold his weight.

      It may also be that you just have weak magnets.

      • J says:

        Fascinating! The magnets have plenty of pull force directly on the workpiece, so they’re strong enough on their own.

        • toastengineer says:

          In that case, the “drill a hole for the magnet and glue it in” plan should work; then the magnet will be directly in contact with the workpiece and should stick better.

          It was episode 54, for reference.

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      I suspect you’re talking about magnetic permeability – but the permeability of stainless steels and aluminum are close enough that I suspect that adding a hole will do nothing for you on that front, and may actually hurt you slightly, depending on how in fuck susceptibility and permeability interact in stacks of dissimilar materials – though I’m like 99% sure it doesn’t matter if your guide is nonmagnetic. However, permeability is going to be less important than your distance between the magnet and work part, as magnetic force is inverse-square (kind-of-not-really, because [dipole stuff]). For the latter reason, it’s probably better to do the same diameter size (though if you don’t have a mill to get the magnet out once it demagnetizes, or it’s not made of nice material to work with, I’d make a blind clearance hole and drop the magnet in – you could also do a counterbored hole with the magnet sitting in the bore if you’re worried about how to get it in without cracking it; you should just need a couple hundredths of an inch to support a magnet like that). As for how hole size will affect it, I’d guess that you can model the system as two different magnets with with a magnetic charge proportional to the shares of the areas with and without the hole and different permeability constants, adding the forces together, and get something that’s not egregiously wrong. Basically, the factor by which the magnetic force per area in each region of the magnet (over-hole vs not-over-hole) differs should be equal to the relative permeability of the material.

      That said, the strength of the magnetic force is always going to depend on the susceptibility of your work part. Mark your shit with the grades of steel this is guaranteed to work with, and for God’s sake don’t let someone try to use this with austenitic stainless steel (eg 2xx and 3xx stainlesses). In fact, tell everyone they are NEVER to use this setup with something not on a pre-approved list. Even if they’re using something else to secure it, the magnet could vibrate out of the bore and turn into shrapnel.

      Boilerplate: not a PE. If you are doing this in a production environment, check with someone who is, and the shop manager, and the operator. If you’re doing it in your garage, be careful and think before you act. Don’t get anyone hurt – the above are ideas, not advice.

  31. bullseye says:

    When I was a little boy, another little boy told me that if the devil ever learned God’s true name, the world would end. Anyone know where he got that idea?

  32. shakeddown says:

    A bit late, but I mentioned a while ago that you seem a bit more optimistic about rationalism these days. I think the “Culture as a branch of government” post is a good example of that – you’re back to throwing out theories modeling how important things about the world work (as opposed to just “everything is confusing and nothing really replicates”). I enjoyed it.

  33. Rock Lobster says:

    I just finished reading Affordable Excellence, by William Haseltine, a brief (and free) summary of Singapore’s healthcare system. Marginal Revolution readers may be familiar with it.

    This is well-trodden ground at this point, but conservatives often point to it as a successful laissez-faire system that is anything but. At the risk of oversimplifying, here is the elevator summary of the Singapore system:

    1) aggressive preventative health, nutrition, and exercise nudges for the populace;
    2) no first dollar coverage (so as not to promote a “welfare mentality”);
    3) mandatory health savings account contributions to pay for patient’s payment responsibility (Medisave);
    4) an opt-out catastrophic coverage plan for everyone (Medishield);
    5) a largely private network of primary care practices for humdrum outpatient medical issues (used by 80% of patients), partly subsidized, payed for out of Medisave balances; but a largely public hospital system for major, inpatient issues (used by 80% of patients);
    6) a dedicated fund to assist low-income Singaporeans with their expenses (Medifund).

    So while the Singapore system is not shy about utilizing market-ish incentives to prevent over-use and forcing people to fund and pay for their own run-of-the-mill care in a context of individual responsibility for preventative care, the system also resembles single-payer and NHS-style systems in key ways, and includes assistance for low-income people. They pay 4% of GDP for healthcare (vs. 18% for the US), of which ~65% is out of pocket[misleading].

    This was a very interesting read, and yet I find myself left unsatisfied. The backbone of the system is the public hospital system, but it’s never quite explained why Singapore’s is so great (vs. say, the U.S. hospital system or even the NHS) except that they have very competent people running it. There appears to be high price transparency at the public hospitals to serve as a check on the private ones. Nor do we get a handle on why the largely private outpatient and primary care system appears to be so cheap, available, and professional, even on an unsubsidized basis, compared to that of the U.S., except a reference to the U.S.’s nutty payor ecosystem. Perhaps that is beyond the scope of the book.

    • broblawsky says:

      What are the prescription drug costs like?

      • Rock Lobster says:

        There are no direct price controls, but the government acts as a group purchaser in a tender process. Drugs on a standard formulary are subsidized for patients depending on the setting in which they’re delivered. 18% of total healthcare expenditure is attributable to prescription drugs.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      Also, they have the government mandated price controls. Definitely not laissez-faire.

    • BBA says:

      The mandatory health savings accounts are government-run. In other words, it’s a single-payer plan cleverly disguised as individual accounts in order to convince patients to control their own costs.

      • quanta413 says:

        Yeah, but how much are people forced to pay out of pocket if they overspend their savings accounts only a little? And if they don’t spend as much as they are putting in, can they get money back out of the savings account or stop putting money into it?

        If either of these things are true, the system has pretty different incentives from a single-payer plan. And it’s not just a disguise for single-payer plan, it really is different.

        That said, I highly doubt the incentive system explains much of the difference in costs.

      • 10240 says:

        I don’t know how it works, but the fact that it’s your money makes a significant difference if the amount you have left in the account matters: e.g. if you can spend it on treatment that you would have to pay for if your Medisave account ran out, if you can withdraw it in some circumstances, or if your descendants inherit the remaining money.

        • BBA says:

          Is it really “your money” when it goes straight from your employer to the government? Everyone is required to enroll and I don’t think there’s any option to change your contribution amount.

          Now, whether it’s use-or-lose like an American FSA, or can be held indefinitely and rolled over into other savings arrangements like an American HSA, I don’t know, and that’s an interesting matter. But mostly I was playing on the viewpoint that the Social Security/Medicare trust funds are an accounting fiction, and they’re really welfare programs. It’s the same when other governments do it.

          • 10240 says:

            The Singapore savings thing isn’t a welfare program in the sense that people who’ve contributed to the account more have more money to spend (on healthcare) from that account, in proportion to the amount that went to it. I don’t know the American systems, but I suppose that’s not the case for Medicare.

            As for pension systems, in most countries pension is roughly proportional to the contributions. However, some pension systems (including the Singapore CPF) are actually backed by investments, while others are not backed by investments and payouts are made from fresh contributions (even if there are some fictional accounts). In the latter kind of system, the government is generally free to change the pension payment rules, and it’s likely that the expected value of pension payouts will actually be less than the contributions plus a reasonable investment income. Pension systems with individual accounts backed by investments have sometimes been expropriated by governments, however, this is less likely to happen where people actually feel like it’s their money, and they would protest it like any other expropriation. (Btw in the Singapore, AFAIK CPF pension savings can be withdrawn entirely at the age of 55.)

        • CatCube says:


          If it’s a cost to your employer for hiring you, I think it can fairly be called “your money.” Your employer only cares about the bottom line payout for hiring you, and doesn’t care if they have to pay that in salary, SS taxes, healthcare taxes, or providing free hookers and blow in the breakroom. Every little thing that the government tacks on a requirement for is less money available for your salary that you can spend on what’s important to you.

          That’s not to say that this is necessarily a bad thing. Minimum requirements to force people to save may have beneficial social effects, but the notion that any of these things are “free” must be fought rabidly.

          • John Schilling says:

            but the notion that any of these things are “free” must be fought rabidly.

            Also the notion that your greedy Scroogian employer is paying for these things with his money that would otherwise go into his giant moneybins of profit, but for the virtuous government making him do the right thing. As CatCube notes, your employer has agreed to pay a total of $X for the sake of having your labor at his service. That’s money your employer has already decided to part with, and they don’t care whether you or someone else takes it so long as you show up for work on time.

      • Rock Lobster says:

        The savings accounts are government-run but they are actual accounts, the balance of which is tied to you and not mixed together in a national pot. My sense is that the accounts are not really there to solve a purely economic incentive problem, but rather are there to solve the political economy issue of people not saving anything and then complaining that they can’t possibly afford any kind of copay or deductible for run-of-the-mill outpatient medical needs. This allows the government to keep the system locked up tight for most people and dedicate assistance to genuinely low income patients. Compare with the US system where stories about patients being unable to afford even minor expenses abound, and thus there is no politically feasible way for the government to let people manage their non-catastrophic care on their own. Prices remain nonsensically high due to the administrative omnishambles, and the vicious circle goes on.

  34. Pedestrian Force says:

    Scott, this is a note of thanks.

    There was a post a few weeks back on *Evolutionary Psychopathology* and its discussion of anorexia. The comment thread there changed my life. I’ve had issues since my teen years and the thread changed my thinking in a way nothing had before.

    I’m now making an attempt at recovery, with some help from online resources and family.

    Thanks again – I had written my case of as something to be managed. The post and comment thread shifted my frame enough to make me rethink that.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Thanks, and good luck with that.

      (and I’m curious what in particular changed your perspective, if you want to share)

      • Pedestrian Force says:

        One of the comments described starving people (dieters, stranded sailors, guys in the Minnesota study) having the same thoughts and rituals around food that eating disorder patients do, and that these disappear once weight is restored.

        Check out Guisinger 2003, which elaborates on the evolutionary story.

        Regardless of the causes, I always thought I’d have to have some big psychological insight and “want to change.” But flipping that around – “fix the starvation and the compulsions go away” was the thing that led me to start a recovery program.

  35. Plumber says:

    In another thread a question was asked that I answered along with a few others:

    @Conrad Honcho

    …what parts of America do you like? And it can’t be something about the way it’s changed. Or the geography. I mean the people or the culture. I’m not trying to be facetious or anything. I want to know what your favorite, say, top 5 things about ‘Merica are’

    Sure Conrad, but these are just me immediate thoughts, I’m sure if I thought about it longer I’d give different answers:

    1) The AFL-CIO (you probably already guessed that)

    2) Alabama style barbeque at Everett & Jones in Oakland, California. 

    3) Chuck Berry

    4) “Lift Every Voice And Sing

    5) That I, and my mother were born at all (that side of the family didn’t survive in Europe).

    I’m not going to stop at five!

    6) The MC5 (okay it’s another Chuck Berry song, just performed by someone else).

    7) “Casablanca” (the movie)

    8) “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (the film)

    9) “Two Sought Adventure” by Fritz Leiber

    10) “The Maltese Falcon” by Dashiell Hammett

    11) My local public library branch

    12) The W.P.A. paintings inside Coit Tower and two local post offices

    13) Sonic’s Rendezvous Band (yes it’s another Chuck Berry song performed by someone else. Deal with it!)

    14) The Moon landing

    15) My grandparents saving the world and building a more perfect union (I protest your rules, I’m including them!).

    16) Bo Diddley

    17) The Ramones

    18) Billie Holiday

    19) Carl Sandburg’s “Chicago

    20) Voting.

    Give me ten minutes and I’ll think of a hundred more. 

    So how about it?

    Please quickly name some favorite stuff about the culture of the nation-state you grew up in and/or reside.


    • robirahman says:

      I’m American and I love that we’ve stolen and merged the best elements of every other culture. I can go to any shopping center nearby and my dining options include pizza, kabobs, teriyaki, burritos, and fried chicken, all on the same city block. Oh and we’ve got universal suffrage and freedom of speech. I wrote a lot more but then deleted it because it was CW-adjacent, but see Bryan Caplan’s post on western civilization and Scott’s response on universal culture for more of what I’m talking about.

    • shakeddown says:

      Not top 5, but five random good things I thought of:

      1) Not having to belong. Belonging’s always nice, but it feels nice that you can go to a city with millions of people and kinda fit in from day one, because no one really fits in.

      2) The whole “sit around in coffee shops and work/chat/play boardgames” thing.

      3) American Christmas. This may be cliched and terrible, but I really like the whole “decorate your houses with lights and play Christmas songs for a month and a half” thing.

      4) The “last frontier”-esque literary culture (e.g. Jack London).

      5) Big-budget explody superhero movies. I just find them unironically fun.

      1) City planning. Don’t ask me how they do it, but the ability to have dense cities that are also beautiful and pretty quiet and have functional traffic is kind of miraculous.

      2) The transit system. Sure it doesn’t run on weekends, but other times you can get pretty much anywhere in the country (including “random intersection in the middle of the desert”) in a reasonable amount of time without a car (and it’s actually improving over time).

      3) Having a high-trust society. Strangers on the street will high-five you if you hold out your hand for a bit.

      4) Old-timey memorial day music. It’s incredibly sad and soulful, and still my favourite music ever. (example)

      5) Another cliche, but falafel stands. They’re common, cheap, fast, good food (that’s even vegan if you’re into that). Haven’t found anything in America that competes on all fronts.

    • sunnydestroy says:

      Likely to be a lot of Americans here. Also American here, maybe I’ll try to narrow some things down to California or the SF Bay Area.

      1. Craft Beer Culture – Specifically IPA popularity here. From the countries that I’ve traveled to in Europe, Asia, and Latin America, IPA’s are way more of a thing here than anywhere else. I enjoy a good herbal, hoppiness in my beer. I really enjoy some good citra hops in an IPA for that zesty, juicy, tangy zing. I also really like the newer Session IPA styles for good warm weather beer that doesn’t feel so heavy.

      2. Hip Hop – It’s just a deeply influential musical style on modern pop culture. And it’s nice to dance to. I might be giving this more weight because I feel the SF Bay Area has a great hip hop culture.

      3. Barbecue – Slow wood smoked meats on the grill, intensely flavored dry rub concoctions, finishing sauces that sing on your palate–one great thing America has contributed to the slow food diaspora. Pick a style too: Texas, Kansas City, Carolina, Memphis, Santa Maria, etc. I’m in California, so one thing I really like is a nice Santa Maria style tri-tip, though it’s more on the grilled side than barbecue.

      4. Easy Access to Nature / Outdoor Activities – There’s a lot of wilderness accessible fairly easily to me. I can go hiking, backpacking, rafting, camping, kayaking, snowboarding, surfing, whatever. California is nice for that.

      5. Access to Variety of Ingredients – The other day I wanted to make some tom yum soup from scratch. I needed galangal and kaffir lime leaf, fairly specialty type ingredients. To get those, I just drove to a Thai market 15 minutes from my house. I also have an addiction to dolmas–middle eastern rice wrapped in grape leaves–so I buy a huge 4 lb can at my local middle eastern market, also 15 minutes away. If I needed some garam masala to make a biryani, there’s an Indian market less than 5 minutes from my house. My location is actually very convenient to many things–there’s a Costco for bulk goods 8 minutes away, a Target for general household goods, a Mexican market when I’m in the mood for posole or tacos, 2 brand name discount retailers (Marshalls & Ross), a Safeway for more general American groceries, a Sprouts for produce/organic stuff, a Trader Joes for those tasty TJ exclusive products, etc. Most of these are 10 minutes or less by car. I might be a bit more spoiled because it’s the Bay Area–quite diverse plus plenty of farms around.

      • shakeddown says:

        You mentioned rafting/kayaking – where’s a good place in/near the bay area for trying that out?

        • sunnydestroy says:

          There’s some nice sea kayaking in Half Moon Bay. I believe there’s some kayak in only camping sites you can get to also.

          Rafting: I’ve only done the lazy booze rafting on American River in Sacramento and on the Stanislaus river. You can get a rental from a company that’ll fit a large group of friends and they’ll transport you back to the parking lot once you get down river. You throw a cooler in your raft filled with beer and alcohol, then have a fun-filled lazy day watching life pass by as you float down the river.

        • nweining says:

          The Point Reyes area has a lot of good kayaking; I’ve enjoyed the Blue Waters trips on Drake’s Estero.

    • fion says:

      I’m Scottish. I love our music, our dances, the country’s geography, the low population density… even the politics seems less depressing than it is in most parts of the world.

    • The wide variety of embedded cultures within it, signaled by last names, ethnic grocery stores, …

      The fact that, in my neighborhood, there are routinely lots of illegal 4th of July fireworks, including rocket displays that would not be out of place in a medium sized city’s official 4th of July fireworks display.

      The display of XMas light that various of my neighbors set up.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      America has:
      1. Good sports
      2. Good cars, good roads, good parking, and good gas prices
      3. A good job market
      4. Nice, big houses with lots of appliances
      5. Friendly people
      6. Lots of booze and different kinds of booze
      7. Fast food places everywhere, with plenty of other food options if you need them, and really good standard grocery store options
      8. Big Box Stores
      9. Low taxes and lots of people who thinks taxes should be lower
      10. Pop music and pop movies
      11. BBQ
      12. Lots of people who take their religion seriously
      13. Great universities and a lot of people who take their education seriously
      14. People who are actually at their jobs when I need them to be
      15. Good customer service
      16. Lots of really smart people who are at the top of their fields
      17. Amazon at its best
      18. Lots and lots of subcultures, so you can do pretty much whatever you like

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      The USA

      I love the continuous revolution. The fuck-you-tear-down-this-wall-ism. The refusal to compromise on issues that matter to people, and the sense that those issues ought to matter. I almost never agree with the people yelling, but I’m glad they are. I think it’s important. I’m sad that most of the yelling is, as far as I can tell, about stupid shit, but I’m glad that fire is burning.

      I love the visions of the future. Clarke and Asimov and Stephenson and Simmons and Bradbury and Straczynsky and Silverberg and Gibson and Herbert and Bear and Card and Dick and hundreds more. The Europeans might have dabbled in speculative fiction, but America gave it soul and beauty. Not for us the romanticism a vanishing past affords; no withdrawal of the beautiful into the West, no long-ago age of better men. Our visions are of distant suns, of strange and wondrous things just beyond our present reach, and of the power we may yet wield to reshape the universe in our image.

      I love the attitude of conservatorship towards nature. I’m sad that some people don’t have it – the sense that the land around them is theirs, and that they have an obligation to protect it. But I think that by and large it’s in good shape.

      I love American cinema. Not because of the blockbusters, but because of just about everything else. Other countries have produced works of comparable artistic merit, of course, but I maintain that the US’s independent and pseudoindependent (eg Fox Searchlight) film scene is utterly fantastic. So much stuff gets made and distributed here.

      I love bona fide American food. Clam chowder, buffalo chicken, pecan pie, New York pizza, apple fritters, crab cakes, barbecue of all sorts, fry bread with meat or honey, anything cajun at all, and much, much more. This might sound less impressive than the others, but I very sincerely rank it just as high. American foods are some real good stuff, and I get really sad whenever people shit on the American culinary tradition(s).

      • Jiro says:

        I love the continuous revolution. The fuck-you-tear-down-this-wall-ism. The refusal to compromise on issues that matter to people, and the sense that those issues ought to matter. I almost never agree with the people yelling, but I’m glad they are. I think it’s important. I’m sad that most of the yelling is, as far as I can tell, about stupid shit, but I’m glad that fire is burning.

        I think “I’m glad I can fight the other Americans in my outgroup” is against the spirit of the question.

    • Machine Interface says:

      France (no particular order):
      > Singer-songwriters of the late 20th century (George Brassens, Serges Gainsbourg, Claude Nougaro…)
      > Pierres Desproges and Coluche (late stand-up commedians who left a very strong impact on French comedic culture)
      > A wide variety of region specific food over a relatively small territory.
      > Food safety standard that are strong but accomodating of high quality and traditional food.
      > Social safety nets, free mandatory education, cheap secondary education, cheap healthcare.
      > Speaking the most successful (in terms of cultural and political prestige) Romance language, which also happens to have a fascinating internal history.
      > French literature from the 17th, 19th and early 20th century.
      > French-created board games and video games.
      > Wine and cheese culture.
      > Sharing borders with 9 countries which all are mostly good.
      > Extremely rich and historically deep building heritage.
      > Very strong secularism.
      > Very good public transportation in the cities and for long distance travel.
      > Very good and surprisingly popular public radio network with multiple thematic channels.
      > A relatively small but significant number of extremely good movies in the second half of the 20th century (Army of Shadows, A Man Escaped, Children of Paradise, The Trip Across Paris, The King and the Mockingbird, Quai des Orfèvres…) and associated actors (Lino Ventura, Jean Gabin, Jean Marais, Paul Meurisse, Louis Jouvet, Simone Signoret…)
      > Public museums have free admittance on the first sunday of each month.
      > Food and cooking culture, with both strong local traditions and openness to a wide variety of world food.
      > Low crime rate (compared to the world or even the European average).

      • nweining says:

        I know it’s tangential to the spirit of the original question, but as an American Francophile I would add:

        Classical composers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries (Berlioz, Gounod, Debussy, Poulenc, Messaien, etc)

        The vegetables in Provence. I have been to a lot of areas known for high-quality produce and a lot of fancy groceries, farmer’s markets, etc in those areas, and I have never seen anything to compare with Provencal produce.

        • Machine Interface says:

          Oh yeah, classical music splipped my mind, but definitely too. I’m quite fond of French baroque composers too, Couperin, Lully (Italian-born, but his entire career was in French and he completely embraced the French style), Marais, Rameau, Charpentier…

          The French baroque style had a number of interesting idiosyncracies, such as enthusiasm for folk instruments that normally didn’t have art music composed for them (bagpipes, hurdy-gurdy) or the practice of “notes inégales”, where “notes with equal written time values are performed with unequal durations, usually as alternating long and short” — a practice that is curiously similar to what would later become an essential feature of jazz music.

          Edit: and while I am adding stuff, France has a more-than decent and certainly prolific comic tradition as well (even if most of the famous French language comics are actually from Belgium), and hosts the Festival of Angoulême on a yearly basis, the third biggest comic festival in the world (behind the american Comic Con and the Japanese Comicket).

    • Lambert says:

      ‘An Englishman is conceited on the ground of being a citizen of the best-constituted state in the world.’

      Okay, maybe some of our state institutions have not been doing so well recently, but there are a few that are still better than most foreign equivalents. OS (cartography), RYA (sailing), BBC.
      All breads &c. and toppings thereof not surpassed by the Teutones, (crumpets, toast, marmite, marmalades and ginger conserve)
      Pies. (though the antipodeans seem to have surpassed us in this area)
      Fish and Chips
      Jermyn St.
      Pomp (see: the fact that the Queen’s Remembrancer still oversees the payment of Quit Rents of two billhooks: one blunt and one sharp)
      Half-timbering, red brick, regency architecture, castles
      General contributions to the arts
      Department Stores
      Drystone walls
      Influences from the Empire/commonwealth (Ska, curry etc.)
      The Landrover series/Defender
      ale, cider
      Pantomime, christmas crackers
      Suet puddings of all types
      Bread pudding
      Black pudding

      Update: Yorkshire pudding

    • psmith says:

      Millions of acres of empty public lands. Large-displacement naturally-aspirated V8 engines. Indoor plumbing, when desired.

    • Tarpitz says:

      Architecture up until the mid-19th Century or so
      Test match cricket
      The wistful literature of a dying empire – the feeling I think Hoopyfreud refers to above as the “withdrawal of the beautiful into the West” – Greene, Rattigan, Waugh

  36. SteveReilly says:

    Cracked.com recently had an article on “20 things that don’t make intutitive sense” or something of the sort. It was about things like the Monty Hall problem, and one was something I didn’t understand at all, and meant to come back to, but then forgot about, and now I can’t find the article. It was roughly to the effect that if an ant is walking on an elastic circle, and the circle stretched a meter every time the ant walked an inch, you might think the ant could never finish walking around the thing, but it would, in some time much larger than the age of the universe. I’m sure my details are wrong, but does anyone know the puzzle I mean?

    • RavenclawPrefect says:

      Yep! It’s this one:

      An ant starts to crawl along a taut rubber rope 1 km long at a speed of 1 cm per second (relative to the rubber it is crawling on). At the same time, the rope starts to stretch uniformly by 1 km per second, so that after 1 second it is 2 km long, after 2 seconds it is 3 km long, etc. Will the ant ever reach the end of the rope?

      The answer is yes, and the reason is because the ant gradually obtains the benefits of the rope-stretching (because there’s rope behind it as well). However, it does take a really long time for the ant to catch up.

      For me, the most intuitive way to think about this problem is to think about the fraction of the rope that the ant has traveled along. At first, it’s 0. After one second, it’s 1/100,000. After 2 seconds, we have all of our first progress (because the rope stretches uniformly), but we add 1/200,000 (because we’ve gone another centimeter along a now-2km-long rope). And so over time our total progress will be 1/100,000+1/200,000+1/300,000+….+1/(n*100,000) after n seconds, which it turns out is a sum that eventually reaches 1. (This is because of the divergence of the harmonic series.)

      • SteveReilly says:

        Ah thanks! Yeah that’s the one. I’m surprised that wikipedia page didn’t come up when I tried looking for the problem on Google. And thanks for the explanation.

  37. Taymon A. Beal says:

    Rather than fix the button on HTTP, you could just redirect all HTTP traffic to HTTPS; this is better practice anyway. If I recall correctly you’re on WP Engine, so follow these instructions.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Thank you, you are great as usual.

      Can other people confirm that they are now seeing the blog in https and that nothing has gone horribly wrong?

      • RavenclawPrefect says:

        Typing in the URL without further specification takes me to https, as do all links I’ve tried from the blog to itself, and trying to use http redirects me to https. Nothing seems to be obviously wrong, scrolling through some assorted posts and pages.

      • thevoiceofthevoid says:

        May have logged me out temporarily, testing if I can comment.
        Commenting works, looks like I can edit as well.

      • shakeddown says:

        Works correctly for me.

      • thevoiceofthevoid says:

        Is it just me or did the “Expand: All/New/None” options disappear?

        • shakeddown says:

          They’re there for me.

        • thevoiceofthevoid says:

          Weird, they’ve definitely disappeared for me. Logging off, using a different browser, doesn’t bring them back.

          • RavenclawPrefect says:

            They’ve disappeared for me, which makes sense since they only ever showed up for me on HTTP pages. Given shakeddown’s comment, it sounds like it’s possible to set them up from the HTTPS version, but I can’t remember where the link to set that up is and brief Googling doesn’t locate it.

        • CatCube says:

          The “XX comments since YY” and the “Expand: …” thing treat the http and https sites as totally different things, so when you switch from one to the other your new comments marker won’t be updated and if you haven’t installed the Expand options on the unused you won’t see it. It drives me bonkers, because I’ve always used the https sites when I surf here, but Scott always embeds his links as http, so when I click through it doesn’t have the right date.

          The Expand widget can be found here:

          Note that there’s one that will show the first line of the comment and one that won’t

          • thevoiceofthevoid says:

            Huh, whatever that cookie voodoo is worked. Expand menu is back up for me! (Is it supposed to be a default thing or is it still supposed to be a weird beta thing?)

          • Plumber says:

            I clicked the “opt in” link, and now at the top of all comments it has: Expand (default): All ()Active ()None (), but clicking inside any of them doesn’t seem to change anything, what is it supposed to do?

            What would be cool is something that would automatically “Hide” all not new comments but, while I’ve seen mention of thar feature, I’ve never seen it in action.
            Closing the browser and going back in does seem to change things now, still trying to see how it all works.

          • RavenclawPrefect says:

            Plumber: The way it works, to my knowledge, is that it will collapse comments according to the three options given (no expansion, total expansion, expansion of only those with new content inside).

            The sort of confusing bit is that “Expand (default)” is meant to indicate that in each block of three, the first piece of text executes that command, and the clickable button in parentheses sets that command as your default. So if you click the button in parentheses, you won’t see anything happen until you refresh, because then your default setting will execute. If you want immediate action, click on the underlined bits of text.

          • Plumber says:


            “…The way it works, to my knowledge, is that…”

            Thank you very much for trying to explain it to me, I appreciate it.

          • CatCube says:


            It’s still supposed to be a weird beta thing, so far as I know. It’s a piece of code specific to your computer, or at least to a cookie on it. I’ve had several computers need a reset/new browser/etc. that blew it up on my machine, so that’s why I bookmarked the page. I also post it periodically to make people aware of it, since I consider the comments section nearly unreadable without it. It’s amazing how much easier it is to read new comments with it.


            This widget does exactly what you want–it hides all not new comments. Edit: It uses the “XX comments since YY” box to determine “new,” so you can edit that and click the “Active” link to rehide all of the comments.

            The radio buttons set your default option for what you want the widget to do. It preclicks all of the “Hide” links on discussion threads according to rules for the default button you have clicked. “All” shows all threads. “Active” will do exactly what you want, and auto-hide all threads that have no new comments. “None” will hide all of the comment threads by default. You can expand any thread with the “Show” link as if you hid them yourself.

            Note that the words themselves are links. You use the radio button to set what you want the script to do by default when you land on the page, and you can click the links to execute that option this time only. It’s useful to hit the “All” link when you’ve been linked to a specific comment, because it’s likely the one you want to go to has been hidden, so you’ll have to expand all the comments then hit enter in the address bar again to go to the comment.

            One note that might be important for you: I’ve noticed that the script takes really long for a lot of comments, and I don’t know if it’ll work well on mobile due to that.

          • Plumber says:



            It’s working now and it’s AWESOME!

            I tried it before and didn’t notice any change when you previously posted the link to the link (maybe because I was using “Google Chrome” instead of “Brave” back then)..

            This and learning about what “comments since” is for besides sometimes blocking the upper right has been a big help!
            …And it disappeared, and I had to “opt in” again.

            Bookmarking the link.

          • CatCube says:


            It’s working now and it’s AWESOME!

            Yeah, I *hate* reading the comments section without it–it’s really a sea change in being able to follow the comments here, though you do need to figure out a few places it’ll trip you up like being linked to a specific comment that’s already been autohidden.

            You’ll need to opt in for each browser you use, and for http and https (https://slatestarcodex.com and https://slatestarcodex.com are treated as separate sites for the purposes of opting in). Though you should really only need to do it once for each. I *think* it works by putting a cookie on your computer that tells the site to give it to you, so if you’re having issues with them being stored that could explain why it goes away.

            The “Comments Since” window uses cookies to store the last time you visited so it autoupdates the date and time in the box. (That also treats http and https as separate sites) If you’re also having trouble with that date and time not automatically filling in (defaulting to 1969), then there might be a wider problem with cookies on your browser.

          • Bakkot says:

            Given that people are evidently still finding this useful, I should probably turn it on by default.

            I wish I knew how to make the UI more intuitive. Someone suggested having a dropdown for the default, rather than radio buttons, which I’ll probably do. Still taking feedback!

          • CatCube says:


            I’ve gotten so used to the interface and its terms that I don’t know if I can add too much, since it’s fine to me. Maybe a little (help) link to explain the function could work, but I figured it out just fine.

            One complaint that I have: When you have large numbers of comments, the script takes a very long time (~10-15s IIRC) to run, with the tab hung until it finishes and high CPU use. This has become expected behavior to me, and I only read here on desktop, so I just read another tab until the one for SSC is no longer grayed out, but this could be a big deal on mobile. I don’t know anything about the internals of the script, or if there are optimizations that could be made to avoid this.

          • Bakkot says:

            @CatCube hm, that definitely sounds like something I should fix. It never takes more than a quarter of a second for me. Are you up for helping me track down the problem? If you want to, send me an email (my handle @gmail), and let me know what browser you’re using.

        • Plumber says:


          Is it just me or did the “Expand: All/New/None” options disappear?

          I’ve never seen any “Expand: All/New/None” options ever in the months that I’ve been reading SSC comments, but would did used to exist and has now disappeared is the “Subscribe” options, much to my annoyance.
          Edit: I clicked on the “opt in” in the link from the link, and now do see the “Expand” options, now how do I get back “subscribe”?

      • anonymousskimmer says:

        Logged me out too.

        To other users: If you were logged out and can’t relogin (bad password), the SSC password is distinct from your wordpress.com password (it has been enough years I’d forgotten that).

      • Anonymous says:

        Both buttons seem to work. Just reported your post twice. 😉

      • fion says:


      • Placid Platypus says:

        Seems fine to me, but if it broke for someone they might not be able to be here to complain about it.

    • Adad64 says:

      Heh, went to suggest this or to make pmcc_ajax.ajaxurl switch to http on http site, but then found I couldn’t actually get to http any longer and it was already fixed.

  38. RavenclawPrefect says:

    If you haven’t taken the SSC survey yet: go take it!

    If you have taken the SSC survey, didn’t get enough, and want more: you’re in luck! As requested in the survey suggestion thread, I made a mega Frankensurvey with all the questions people suggested in the suggestion thread or the subreddit, plus a few others that I thought were interesting.

    The resulting survey is very long, and contains a lot of expositional material. As such, you are encouraged to skip anything you find boring. You can find it here.

    To reiterate: if you have the energy for one survey, make it the main SSC survey. However, if you really like answering peculiar questions and following weird directions, you’re in for a good time.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Thanks for doing this. I’ve linked you in the main post.

      Also,some of your questions don’t have clear machine-readable answers; I’m not sure if you’re planning to hand-code them all but you might want to give this some thought.

      • RavenclawPrefect says:

        Yeah, I’ve tried to compromise on the side of ease of filling out and accommodation of weird edge cases over perfect reliability and lots of complaints (perhaps to future-me’s annoyance, but he knows how to write a Python script and process the data – he’ll be fine). Most free-response questions have Google Forms-enforced validation or Schelling points for consistent formatting in the descriptions, at least.

        • Evan Þ says:

          FWIW, I didn’t get the Schelling points for the time and height questions; I answered in the format 7:00 PM and 5’10”, but I totally suspect other people would answer 19:00 and 5 feet 10 inches.

          Also, thank you very much for putting this together!

          • RavenclawPrefect says:

            Anything without forced numerical verification is probably going to involve some manual checking anyway, but I’m not expecting more than 10% of the main survey’s respondents at a conservative upper bound so it shouldn’t be more than 10-15 minutes to do any verifications that take a second or two. (In most cases I expect Python will handle all but a handful of edge cases, and this thing has enough selection bias already that throwing out a few weird ambiguous results won’t be the end of the world.)

            You’re very welcome! I’m glad people seem to like it.

    • Plumber says:

      That survey was long, confusing; and AWESOME!

    • anon9999 says:

      I checked the box saying “make all results public” because I’m generally in favor of making the data available for research, but after I closed the survey I remembered I had put a uniquely identifying sentence on there. Could you keep those unconnected from the rest of the survey so it’s at least a little harder for people to find potentially embarrassing things about particular individuals? Or if not, could you give me some way to contact you directly so you can find my survey and change my answer about what I would like made public?

      • RavenclawPrefect says:

        Yeah, looking at results here it seems like the amount of false positives with some of the sensitive data means it’s just not worthwhile to release any identifying sentences (which is a shame, because it’s a neat question, but necessarily very very doxxing). I might still do something with whether people supplied such a sentence, or how long they were.

        (I also reworded the privacy questions so they’re hopefully more clear, and put the “all results public” option at the end of the list so people will be reminded of each thing they’re saying yes to before checking it.)

        But if anyone wants to contact me directly, masked torah without spaces at gmail works just fine – you can also shoot me a PM on reddit at /u/HarryPotter5777.

        • anonymousskimmer says:

          how long they were.

          Word count vs letter count. Perhaps counting or ratioing the types of words too (noun, verb, etc…)?

        • anon9999 says:

          Thanks, I appreciate it. My only issue was that it was inherently uniquely identifying, and tied to all my other answers.

        • Tarpitz says:

          I found the identifying sentence question absolutely unfathomable. Specifically, the prohibition on uncapitalised categories like rationalist seems to me a fully general prohibition on literally everything. Clearly that can’t be what’s intended, but I don’t understand at all what is, so I left it blank.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            uncapitalised categories like rationalist

            These are what. They’re specifically a “what people”. You can open it up by saying you’re “a person who first tries to figure out the correct decisions to make via identifying priors and reasoning from them”, if you absolutely have to. And what’s nice about that kind of phrasing is it’s more specific, and far less ambiguous, than the term rationalist.

            Other than that, you still have where, when, why, how, etc….

            E.g. “Born in the city of brotherly love on the bicentennial of our nation, a graduate school acceptance moved me to the emerald city by train on the day the planes came crashing down.”

          • Tarpitz says:

            Nope, still 100% don’t get it. What does “lowercase words like “rationalist” that still pick out a particular group” have to do with “‘what’ terms”? Why are “what” terms banned but “where” terms not? How is “Emerald City” not a proper noun? How is “our nation” not banned by any attempt to preclude uncapitalised quasi-proper nouns?

            I do not understand the game at all.

          • Rachael says:

            I think it only really works if you, or someone you’re related to, has achieved or experienced something unique. Like “Fourth grandchild of discoverer of hundredth element” or “Downstairs neighbour of family of world’s largest newborn” or somesuch. I don’t have one in my own right, but my husband has one that’s about seven words long, so I can be that with “…’s wife” appended.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            Worse case scenario you can name off the positions of your scars, color of your eyes, etc….

            I realized after editing wasn’t allowed anymore that “Emerald city” may have been too much of a noun, but an alternative would be “the city nicknamed for a green jewel”.

            I don’t know what the point of the exercise is either, but since you’re banned from using common descriptors, can you come up with other descriptors not usually used to describe a person which uniquely describe you?

            “Our nation” has no meaning outside of a context, but is practically unarguable in meaning inside of that context. “Rationalist” does have a distinct definition regardless of context (though this definition may be argued over), and immediately points to groups of people who label themselves with that name.

            Put in more effort than “I’m the black, heterosexual, 5’8″, rationalist, with thinning hair, a 23.5 BMI at my first physical, who lives in a cottage on the southside of Manchester.”

            Whoever came up with this question can chime in from here.

          • Tarpitz says:

            Ok, I can narrow down my confusion.

            What property of the property “rationalist” makes it ban-worthy?

          • RavenclawPrefect says:

            @anonymousskimmer: The question’s originally from Eliezer Yudkowsky, first posed (so far as I know) in this Facebook post.

            From the comments, what I take to be the “point” of the question as EY intended it:

            Okay let me be blunt here, could you find your way back to your identity if your soul got lost?

          • Rachael says:

            I just realised one of my examples doesn’t count because it uses ordinal numbers larger than 3. Please pretend I wrote something like “Eldest grandchild of the inventor of game theory” or something. (It feels weird that you can’t easily give hypothetical examples without uniquely identifying someone, but in this case I have no idea who they are or if they actually exist.)

    • fion says:

      Fab. I look forward to doing it when I can find the time, hopefully in the next few days.

      Quick question: why is the anonymous identifier important/useful? I’m sure I had one last year, and just spent five minutes looking in all the likely places I might have stored it and failed to find it. I’m tempted not to bother, cos I know I won’t be able to remember or find it in a year’s time.

      • RavenclawPrefect says:

        I wrote that bit of the survey before this year’s came out sans identifier string, but I left it in just to offer the option (and because “have an identifier string” was itself one of the things people had requested be in the survey!) – eyeballing the results so far, few enough people are including it that I’m not sure the sample size will be big enough for any interesting data to come out of the results. If it’ll take you more than 5-10 minutes to find it, I’d say don’t bother.

        Though the survey does offer an option at the end to link your response with this year’s survey by manual identification, if you tell me some unique answer you gave for it; in the event that I do try to extract interesting results out of cross-survey data, I’ll put in at least a minute or two of effort for everyone who specifies results in this manner to see if I can link them to a respondent in the 2019 main survey.

    • Rachael says:

      Fun survey, thanks. I like that you had a field for comments and quibbles at the end of each section.

      Meta-comment: I didn’t realise the comment field applied to the whole of the first page until I’d already clicked Next. I thought it applied to the sub-section immediately before it.

      So the comments that I wanted to add about the earlier sections of the first page were:
      Asking people about their exercise habits over the past week seems a bad idea when the survey is published on New Year’s Eve. I’ve done basically no exercise this week but do some when I’m in my normal routine.
      Carnivore diet probably needs a note clarifying that it means meat only. People who haven’t heard of it will likely assume it means non-vegetarian. There were people in the comments thread of the main SSC survey making that assumption.
      I “follow” the standard American diet in the sense that it’s a closer approximation to what I eat than any other defined diet, but I don’t consciously choose to “follow” it in the server that someone might follow a vegan or paleo diet. I try to eat a bit more protein and veg and a bit less carbohydrate than the standard American diet recommendations, but don’t succeed very much due to practicality/laziness.

    • Kuiperdolin says:

      For time of meals, I answered for (most) workdays. Would be different on week-ends, vacations, sick days, etc.

      “For the next two questions: if you can’t figure out or be bothered to read the directions, just describe your siblings in plain text.” is not placed correctly

    • sty_silver says:

      The “how many random people would you let die instead of yourself” question was… certainly a question. It was a real thing. It was a thing in the survey.

      Props in general for the choice of questions. It certainly didn’t get boring.

      • Evan Þ says:

        It was a thing indeed. I can describe what sort of thing it was in a little more detail.

        When I answered, I imagined the situation as “Sufficiently Advanced Aliens come down and tell me they’ll either kill me or kill N random people.” That demands one sort of answer. Most real-world situations will engage a different part of my conscience… but then, I’m not sure what real-world situations put “random people” at risk?

      • anonymousskimmer says:

        That particular question wasn’t formulated well, as it demanded integers and the fewest number of others you could pick without being considered immediately suicidal was 1. For a 30-something this leads to obvious choices, but there are likely plenty of people 40+ years old who would pick 0 as they wouldn’t want someone statistically younger than themselves dying to preserve their own life, but who aren’t actively suicidal.

        • anonymousskimmer says:

          Mea culpa, it was formulated well I just misremembered it.

          • RavenclawPrefect says:

            Yeah, judging by the responses this seems to be a common misremembering / misreading – I added a clarificatory sentence trying to mitigate off-by-one errors here, but I’m not sure how to present things better than it currently does. Any suggestions (that don’t change the actual meaning of the question) welcome on that front.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            For next time I’d recommend rephrasing it along the lines of what’s the maximum number of randomly chosen people would you rather die in your place if you are scheduled to die within the next day. With the knowledge that this choice doesn’t merely postpone your death, it eliminates it until a completely unrelated event kills you, and ditto with the other people. (My answer = 0)

            Or “a certain number of truly randomly chosen people who are currently alive are going to die from an event, unless you choose to die instead of all them. What’s the minimum number of truly randomly chosen currently living people that you would exchange your life to save?” (My answer = 1)

            You don’t get the N+1 issue, and I think it’s clearer (though others may disagree).

          • Jiro says:

            That formulation also has action in one case, and inaction in another. That should affect people’s answers anyway.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            I know. Even though the end result is the same it would be interesting how people answered them. You could posit both scenarios and say there’s a 50/50 chance of either occurring, but you don’t know which, have one scenario on page one and the other on the final page, or have two versions of the quiz that people are randomly assigned to.

      • akc09 says:

        I’m trying to remember if the survey had any questions about whether you have kids & how old they are.

        After talking to a a few other people, I realize that my answer to the random-dying question is embarrassingly high, haha. But if you asked me at a different time in my life, when I didn’t have two small children (e.g. before they were born or after they were grown), it would have been lower by a few orders of magnitude. Such is life as a bipedal monkey, I suppose.

        Maybe other people have that same values-blip in their lives, or maybe I’m just uniquely monstrous. 😉

  39. robirahman says:

    My roommate and I are hosting a year in review meetup in Fairfax, Virginia, at 12pm on January 5th. We’ll be talking about Slate Star Codex posts from 2018, as well as how 2018 went and what goals we want to set for 2019. If you live in the DC area and need some witnesses to provide social commitment to stick to your resolutions, or want to brag to a crowd about how much you’ve accomplished in the last year, this is for you! To find our address, check the meetup directory or email me at robirahman94@gmail.com.