Open thread, 9-15 June 2014

If it’s worth saying, but not worth its own post (even in Discussion), then it goes here.

Notes for future OT posters:

2. Check if there is an active Open Thread before posting a new one.

3. Open Threads should be posted in Discussion, and not Main.

4. Open Threads should start on Monday, and end on Sunday.

• Here’s an interesting application of elementary probability theory.

Syria recently held an election, in the midst of a civil war. Dr. Bashar Hafez al-Assad wins post of President of Syria with sweeping majority of votes at 88.7%.

The elections were a sham. The vote counts are completely fraudulent. And you can learn this just from the results page linked above, without knowing anything about Syria or its internal politics. How?

The results are too accurate.

“11,634,412 valid ballots, Assad wins with 10,319,723 votes at 88.7%”. That’s not 88.7%, that’s 88.699996%. Or in other words, that’s 88.7% of 11,634,412, which is 10,319,723.444, rounded to a whole person.

The same is true about all other percentages in this election. In one of the results there’s even a bad rounding error: 4.3% cast for Al-Nouri is 11,634,412 * 0.043 = 500,279.716 votes which is rounded down to 500,279 votes in the results instead of the closer 500,280. As a result, the total number of all alternatives (three candidates + incorrect ballots) differs from the total number of valid ballots by 1 (442,108 + 10,319,723 + 500,279 + 372,301 = 11,634,411 and not 11,634,412. If they were rounding correctly, their fake numbers would’ve looked better. In either case, it’s evident that someone took the total vote count, calculated the percentages and rounded.

(why is this an application of elementary probability theory? You can calculate the probability of such an exact percentage of votes occurring by chance).

(to the best of my knowledge, this was first noted in this Russian-language Facebook post. Recently there had been an identical case with a sham referendum in a Ukrainian province controlled by separatists, which is what got people interested in looking at vote counts).

• I have no idea how likely it is, but an alternative explanation is that the vote counts were first converted to percentages to one decimal place, then someone else converted them back to absolute numbers for this announcement.

• Nice work. I tend to take high-profile election results over 66% or so in favor of one option as prima facie evidence of election fraud (maybe 75 if there’s some exceptionally strong reason to vote one way or another, like if one of the candidates is dead), but this is certainly damning.

You’d think that the perpetrators of electoral fraud would realize this sort of thing—but I suppose the most likely explanation is that (dons Robin Hanson glasses) elections in these cases aren’t about legitimacy, but rather about proving that one party has enough power to enforce a clearly illegitimate result.

• Very nice! I love this kind of mathematical detective-story—I’m reminded of Nate Silver’s consideration of the polling firm Strategic Vision here and here—but this is far, far more blatant.

• This is the universe’s occasional reminder to you that you should be keeping backups of your files: https://​​plus.google.com/​​103530621949492999968/​​posts/​​cpydtJGE5e6

• Note that this is one (dramatic) example of why you should keep offline backups; that is, backups which some or most of the time are not attached to any operating computer. This protects them against any failure-to-function-as-you-intended of the computer which deletes or corrupts everything whether it’s a backup or not. Incorrect commands, ransomware, lightning strikes...

• I have to say that there is a definite cyberpunk feel in the US government auctioning off purely virtual assets that it obtained cracking down on a marketplace located at a hidden cyberspace address.

• I am thinking about forming a non-profit organization called “Thalassocracy Now”. The sole purpose of this organization will be to convince the Singaporeans to set up a confederation of coastal charter cities in various impoverished places bordering the Indian and South Pacific oceans (east Africa, India, the Persian Gulf, southeast Asia, etc). The cities will be ruled by the draconian but honest and efficient Singaporean government. They will be linked together by trade routes, naval and air power, and a common legal and administrative framework. The inhabitants of the cities will have some minor influence over their own city’s government, but no broader political power; the basic bargain will be: if you don’t like it here, leave.

Okay, just kidding, I am not actually planning to do this. But I think someone should.

• I remember reading in Lee Kuan Yew’s autobiography that China asked him to set up a Singapore in China, but Lee said this wouldn’t be possible.

More practically, let’s get a copy of Lee’s DNA and when the technology becomes available make a few thousand clones of him that in 20 years can be made mayors of major cities.

• You might have problems reproducing his upbringing. ;)

• Does Paul Romer count?

• The Gulf is impoverished?

Besides, isn’t Dubai just a better version of Singapore?

• I was thinking of Yemen, Oman and Somalia, though now that I look at a map I see they’re not technically on the Persian Gulf.

I’ve heard good things about Dubai, but not enough to do a serious comparison between it and other countries.

Ideally, Dubai and Singapore would both set up thalassocracies, competing in a friendly way for trade and citizens. Their cities could be adjacent to one another, kind of like Burger King and McDonalds.

• Interestingly, one of your proposed colonial sites, Oman, already followed your plan, several centuries ago. They set up thalassocracies all down the coast of East Africa, and even moved their capital to Zanzibar, out-competing the incumbent Dutch and Portuguese thalassocracies. Those cities were indeed linked by trade routes, naval (but not air) power, and a common legal and administrative framework. Consider the career of Ibn Battuta, or indeed the entire Hadramawt.

What’s to stop your proposed thalassocracies being displaced in exactly the same way, by other, less capitalist, imperialists, or by violent nativist sentiment?

• I’ve heard good things about Dubai, but not enough to do a serious comparison between it and other countries.

(To do so would be a category error, because Dubai is in fact a city—and, unlike Singapore, not an independent one. The country it’s in is called the United Arab Emirates.)

• As your own link says, Dubai is something equivalent to a principality. It seems to empirically cluster closer to Singapore than to, I don’t know, Istanbul.

• You seem to be missing the point, which is about its political subordination to a larger entity. What I was attempting to correct was (possible) ignorance of the existence of the UAE.

Here are the first two sentences of my link (emphasis added):

Dubai (/​duːˈbaɪ/​ doo-by; Arabic: دبيّ‎ Dubayy, IPA: [dʊˈbæj]) is the most populous city and emirate in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and the second largest emirate by territorial size after the capital, Abu Dhabi.[3] Dubai is located on the southeast coast of the Persian Gulf and is one of the seven emirates that make up the country

For all that an “emirate” may be similar to a “principality” (or, dare I say, a “count-y”), the fact remains that the political status of Dubai is different from that of e.g. the principality of Monaco, in the sense that Monaco is an independent country, and Dubai isn’t.

Dimensions along which Dubai is more similar to Singapore than Istanbul aren’t relevant to this point. (If someone pointed out that California was part of the United States, you wouldn’t argue with them by saying that it’s the seventh largest economy in the world [or whatever] and therefore “empirically clusters” with countries rather than states.)

• In some legalistic sense Monaco may be more independent than Dubai. But in practical terms like “how different are its laws from France/​UAE” I’d say it’s the opposite. My point about empirical differences wasn’t about economy, it’s that Dubai is much more like a sovereign city than like an ordinary city in a country, even in purely governmental terms like taxes and courts and so on.

• Let’s pause for a moment for a meta-level reflection. You’re engaging in metacontrarianism, with the relevant uneducated/​contrarian/​metacontrarian triad being:

Dubai is a country /​ No, Dubai is part of the UAE /​ Dubai has a lot of power and autonomy within the UAE.

The trouble with metacontrarianism is that metacontrarians often seem to forget that even if they’re right—that is, even if the third level of the triad is true—the first level is still wrong. In some sense, you have to pass through the second level in order to legitimately claim the mantle of the third. (Here, “pass through the second level” means not “go through a stage of being at the second level” so much as “understand why, and in particular that, the second level is an improvement over the first”.)

I submit to you that if Alice thinks Dubai is a country because she’s never heard of the UAE, and Bob thinks that Dubai is the UAE’s version of Istanbul, Bob’s model of the political geography of the Arabian peninsula is still better than Alice’s, even if Carol, who thinks that Dubai is so different from the rest of the UAE that it “might as well” be a country in its own right, has a better model than Bob.

Now, to return to the object level, I don’t actually see why Carol’s model is better than Bob’s. I don’t know that much about the internal politics of Turkey, but I assume that Istanbul, being a major city, is culturally and demographically different from most of the rest of the country, wields a lot of influence in the country’s politics, and has governmental policies that most other parts of the country don’t have. For that matter, the same is true of New York City, whether regarded as a part of New York State or of the United States. In neither of these cases do I see any need to give up the model that has these cities being politically subordinate to the nation-states (or states) that contain them, and I don’t see how the case of Dubai within the UAE is any different (or, anyway, different enough). And, conversely, even if Monaco is heavily influenced in its policies by neighboring France, I don’t see that as sufficient reason to remove from my model the notion that Monaco is an independent state, because otherwise we might as well say that Canada is part of the U.S., et cetera.

• Dubai is a country /​ No, Dubai is part of the UAE /​ Dubai has a lot of power and autonomy within the UAE.

At this point in a discussion one would have to dissolve the word “country” and ask what properties of Dubai are important to the discussion. A glance at a few Wikipedia articles indicates that the UAE is a federation of kingdoms, in which all powers not explicitly granted to the federation are retained by the members, each of which has absolute sovereignty within its borders under a hereditary king. Before the UAE was created, the emirates were absolute sovereign entities (i.e. “countries”). After it was created what were they? Well, “are” the members of the EU “countries”? Yes. “Are” the states of the US? No. “Is” Dubai? Doesn’t matter, look instead at the question of substance, which was:

Ideally, Dubai and Singapore would both set up thalassocracies, competing in a friendly way for trade and citizens.

Dubai might want to first informally square things with the other members of the UAE (or at least, the one other member that matters, Abu Dhabi), but establishing overseas colonies, er, charter cities, would not necessarily be an activity that would officially concern the UAE federal entity.

• At this point in a discussion one would have to dissolve the word “country” and ask what properties of Dubai are important to the discussion.

I never intended to enter the discussion in the first place; my original comment was parenthetical. I was simply pointing out a verifiable, objective, yet quite possibly tangential matter of fact that some participants (or readers) may have been unaware of.

Whether Dubai is a country or a part of a country is not a question that there’s any ambiguity about. It’s not a subject of dispute, as in the case of e.g. Taiwan. It’s a simple matter of looking the answer up in Wikipedia. If you want to question the answer you find there, fine, but then you have to question the notion of “country” in general, and acknowledge that you’re doing so, otherwise you’re not being intellectually honest.

• if Alice thinks Dubai is a country because she’s never heard of the UAE, and Bob thinks that Dubai is the UAE’s version of Istanbul, Bob’s model of the political geography of the Arabian peninsula is still better than Alice’s, even if Carol, who thinks that Dubai is so different from the rest of the UAE that it “might as well” be a country in its own right, has a better model than Bob.

I’m not trying to be metacontrarian. I disagree with this point. I think Bob’s model is less good than Alice’s in that it will make less accurate predictions of empirical facts (and potentially dangerous ones, given that e.g. alcohol is legal in some but not all of the emirates).

• I think Bob’s model is less good than Alice’s in that it will make less accurate predictions of empirical facts (and potentially dangerous ones, given that e.g. alcohol is legal in some but not all of the emirates).

Forgive me, but this is preposterous. Neither model makes predictions about policy differences among the emirates, except insofar as Alice’s model predicts that the other emirates don’t exist. Different parts of a single country can have different policies, on alcohol or anything else, and do all the time. U.S. states have all kinds of differing laws. In California it’s illegal to have a pet gerbil; in other states it isn’t. You wouldn’t for one moment cite this as an argument that California is a country. Or would you?

On the other hand, here is an empirical question where the models do in fact differ: Alice’s model predicts that Dubai is a member of the UN and that the UAE (being nonexistent) isn’t, while Bob’s model predicts that the UAE is a member and that Dubai (being part of the UAE) isn’t. Which model’s prediction is more accurate?

Or how about this: which entity has embassies in other countries? Also an empirical fact. Which model predicts it correctly?

I suspect you know the answer as well as I do. I therefore don’t believe you when you say

I’m not trying to be metacontrarian....I think Bob’s model is less good than Alice’s

• In California it’s illegal to have a pet gerbil; in other states it isn’t. You wouldn’t for one moment cite this as an argument that California is a country. Or would you?

Whether we ultimately consider California a country or not is just an argument about the meaning of words (and the practical answer is that we have the word “state”, which usually means a country but also means California). But I’d certainly say that the US is a very noncentral example of a country, and I’d warn people travelling there that the states of the US have some of the properties of countries and therefore it’s important to e.g. check state laws in a way that you wouldn’t do for subdivisions of more typical countries.

On the other hand, here is an empirical question where the models do in fact differ: Alice’s model predicts that Dubai is a member of the UN and that the UAE (being nonexistent) isn’t, while Bob’s model predicts that the UAE is a member and that Dubai (being part of the UAE) isn’t. Which model’s prediction is more accurate? Or how about this: which entity has embassies in other countries? Also an empirical fact. Which model predicts it correctly?

Well of course the model that contains the correct the international-law technicalities is the model you’d want to use if you wanted to predict international-law technicalities. Just like if you want to predict where to find a tomato in a biology textbook, you should model it as a fruit. But if you want to know what to cook with it, you’re better off modelling it as a vegetable.

• Whether we ultimately consider California a country or not is just an argument about the meaning of words

However, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have an answer. The stopsign “that’s just an argument about the meaning of words” is useful in cases where a genuine ambiguity about the meaning of a word has caused a discussion to be diverted from its main topic, which was something else. But here, the meaning of words is the topic (as I noted in my reply to RichardKennaway, I entered this thread exclusively to point out the official political status of Dubai), and there’s no ambiguity about what the answer is. Indeed, there’s not even any argument. Rather, what we have is me pointing out a certain fact, and you (and others) evidently seeking to justify ignorance of that fact. To the extent there is any argument, it’s about how important the fact is, not about whether the fact is true.

The answers to semantic questions, when they exist, may not be ultimate or necessary or fundamental or even important, but they are still real.

But I’d certainly say that the US is a very noncentral example of a country

Well, I suppose that depends on your point of view. For me, the US is the central example of a country, because it’s the one I live in and am a citizen of. I would in fact be curious to know what your idea of a “central” country is. One that’s smaller? Okay, but smaller countries still have political subdivisions (as indeed, do U.S. states themselves), and the whole point of political subdivisions is that policies may differ among them. France has a lot more centralization of policy than the US does, but I’ll still bet you that the municipal code of Paris is non-identical to the municipal code of Marseille. Spain’s “autonomous communities” definitely have differing laws from each other: Catalonia, for example, has banned bullfighting, which would be unthinkable in other parts of the country. Do you doubt that one could multiply such examples at will?

Well of course the model that contains the correct the international-law technicalities is the model you’d want to use if you wanted to predict international-law technicalities. Just like if you want to predict where to find a tomato in a biology textbook, you should model it as a fruit. But if you want to know what to cook with it, you’re better off modelling it as a vegetable.

“International-law technicalities” include things like what embassy you have to go to to get a visa to travel to the place. I dispute your implicit marginalization of these “technicalities”, just as I would dispute any notion that a tomato’s biological status as a fruit is mere pedantry. Biology is important, and so is international law.

But I didn’t intend to get into an argument about that, because I didn’t expect it to be controversial.

• The answers to semantic questions, when they exist, may not be ultimate or necessary or fundamental or even important, but they are still real.

Language is a tool for communication. Daniel_Burfoot’s original post was clear (and “compare Dubai with other cities” would have been misleading); while a formulation like “compare Dubai with other zones where a particular legal and administrative system applies” might be technically more correct, I don’t think the difference justifies the verbosity.

Well, I suppose that depends on your point of view. For me, the US is the central example of a country, because it’s the one I live in and am a citizen of.

I think we could form a reasonably uncontroversial ranking of countries by “how distinct their political subdivisions are”, and the US would be close to one end of the scale (though not quite as far along as UAE). Do you disagree?

France has a lot more centralization of policy than the US does, but I’ll still bet you that the municipal code of Paris is non-identical to the municipal code of Marseille. Spain’s “autonomous communities” definitely have differing laws from each other: Catalonia, for example, has banned bullfighting, which would be unthinkable in other parts of the country. Do you doubt that one could multiply such examples at will?

A typical country has some minor variations within the country (though perhaps not if we restrict ourselves to law rather than administrative codes), sure. But I think the scale of variation seen in the US is very much atypical.

• [The] original post was clear (and “compare Dubai with other cities” would have been misleading)

Here is more of the context:

I was thinking of Yemen, Oman and Somalia...I’ve heard good things about Dubai, but not enough to do a serious comparison between it and other countries

In the above, “the UAE” should replace “Dubai”. If the UAE is so heterogeneous a country that greater specificity is required, then it should read “the UAE (particularly Dubai)”, just as someone might write “the USA (particularly New York)”.

The set {Yemen, Oman, Somalia, Dubai} is “wrong”, for the same reason that {plane, train, boat, driver’s-seat-of-car} is; they should be respectively “corrected” to {Yemen, Oman, Somalia, UAE} and {plane, train, boat, car}.

I think we could form a reasonably uncontroversial ranking of countries by “how distinct their political subdivisions are”, and the US would be close to one end of the scale (though not quite as far along as UAE). Do you disagree?

Mildly, but that disagreement is tangential. Even if the UAE has the most distinct political subdivisions of any country in the world, it is still a country, and its political subdivisions are still political subdivisions.

The distinction between a country and a non-country is pretty sharp as far as human societal constructs go. We have established institutions for adjudicating this question (such as the UN, international treaties, diplomatic relations, etc.), and the results they present on the specific case of Dubai vs. the UAE are pretty unambiguous.

A typical country has some minor variations within the country (though perhaps not if we restrict ourselves to law rather than administrative codes), sure. But I think the scale of variation seen in the US is very much atypical

I doubt it is, when adjusted for size (of both territory and population).

I must admit that your model of a typical country seems very strange to me. It seems to correspond not even to (my model of) a US state, but to a smaller subdivision like a county or municipality. (That’s the level on which you find differing policies about alcohol, for instance.)

• The set {Yemen, Oman, Somalia, Dubai} is “wrong”, for the same reason that {plane, train, boat, driver’s-seat-of-car} is

Again, I disagree; it’s a useful set for practical purposes, in the same way as {lettuce, cucumber, tomato}.

I must admit that your model of a typical country seems very strange to me. It seems to correspond not even to (my model of) a US state, but to a smaller subdivision like a county or municipality. (That’s the level on which you find differing policies about alcohol, for instance.)

Again, very much a US peculiarity. A quick look suggests India and UAE are the only other countries where alcohol is banned in some regions but not others, as opposed to over a dozen countries with national bans.

• To be explicit about something I wasn’t explicit about in my other reply:

The set {Yemen, Oman, Somalia, Dubai} is “wrong”, for the same reason that {plane, train, boat, driver’s-seat-of-car} is

Again, I disagree; it’s a useful set for practical purposes

There is an ambiguity here, but if what you are claiming to disagree with is the analogy to {plane, train, boat, driver’s-seat-of-car} (as opposed to merely the “wrongness” of either), then you genuinely do not have a good understanding of, or are stubbornly refusing to acknowledge, the relevant political geography, and I would suspect you of having heard of Dubai before you had heard of the UAE (probably as a result of journalists’ ignorance), and anchoring on this fact.

But I can’t be sure to what extent we really have differing models of how the world works, as opposed to at least one of us going out of our way to signal something (willingness to disregard official politics in your case, familiarity with the Middle East in mine).

• But I can’t be sure to what extent we really have differing models of how the world works, as opposed to at least one of us going out of our way to signal something (willingness to disregard official politics in your case, familiarity with the Middle East in mine).

If your goal was to signal your familiarity with the Middle East, you’ve utterly failed since it appears you didn’t know how the UAE was organized. You come across as one of those people who memorizes lists of countries and capitals and possibly shapes but has no idea how the map does (or does not) correspond to facts on the ground.

• I am having a hard time understanding your motivation for vigorously defending ignorance of the UAE’s existence from my attempt to correct it. As far as I can tell, you’re worried that someone who thought Dubai was a country and knew that alcohol was legal there might, upon learning the indisputably true fact that Dubai is inside a country called the UAE, conclude that alcohol was legal in the rest of the UAE also—apparently on the assumption that products cannot be banned at any lower level of government than the national, in any country in the world. But anyone who makes such an assumption is likely to be suffering from a model of governance too fundamentally broken for this discussion to even matter to them. Furthermore, it’s hard to imagine how a situation where someone practically benefited from ignorance of the UAE’s existence would even arise. After all, it would be unlikely for a foreigner to end up in Dubai without learning about the UAE in the very process of getting there. (If, as a result of this discovery, they hatched a plan to take alcohol from Dubai to some other emirate where it wasn’t legal, perhaps they would have been better off not knowing that the latter was in the same country; but it would be too late.)

Given this, I really don’t understand what the harm is in educating people about the existence of the UAE in a context like this, a discussion of hypothetical geopolitics on a sophisticated website. I didn’t even claim the fact was terribly important; the parentheses in my original comment were intended to be the functional equivalent of labeling the comment a “nitpick”. I do think that it is the kind of fact that readers of this site ought to know, if they don’t already. It’s not as if the cost of learning it were high.

A quick look suggests India and UAE are the only other countries where alcohol is banned in some regions but not others, as opposed to over a dozen countries with national bans.

This is once again tangential, but what matters here is not whether policy contingently happens to be uniform throughout a country (because all localities agree on the correct policy), but whether the uniformity necessarily holds because localities don’t have the power to make their own policy. For example, the fact that alcohol is legal throughout Australia is presumably a mere consequence of the fact that none of the states or territories have chosen to ban it, even though they theoretically could if they wished. (EDIT: Actually, Australia does have dry zones, though this seems to refer to public or outdoor consumption.) It goes without saying that alcohol policy variations are not limited to outright bans; for instance, in the Netherlands, it is apparently true that

Drinking in public places is not banned by national law, but many cities and towns prohibit possession of an open container of an alcoholic beverage in a public place

(emphasis added). The point here is that practically-important policy is very often made at non-national levels of government, all throughout the world.

• I submit to you that if Alice thinks Dubai is a country because she’s never heard of the UAE, and Bob thinks that Dubai is the UAE’s version of Istanbul, Bob’s model of the political geography of the Arabian peninsula is still better than Alice’s, even if Carol, who thinks that Dubai is so different from the rest of the UAE that it “might as well” be a country in its own right, has a better model than Bob.

The difference is that the various Emirates of the UAE (including Dubai) have far more internal autonomy then even US states to say nothing of Istanbul.

• That is not a response to the paragraph quoted. (It is arguably a response to the paragraph following the one quoted.)

• Same applies to (say) Hong Kong and yet I can’t recall anyone calling Hong Kong a country.

• I can’t recall anyone calling Hong Kong a country.

Well ICANN for starters.

• Having a top-level domain doesn’t make an entity a country. Lots of indisputably non-countries have top-level domains. Nobody thinks the Bailiwick of Guernsey is a country, and yet .gg exists.

• Nobody thinks the Bailiwick of Guernsey is a country, and yet .gg exists.

Well, it’s sufficiently independent of the UK to function as a tax haven. It’s definitely one of those entities that’s on the fuzzy boundary between country and non-country, along with Hong Kong and (in a slightly different way) Dubai.

• Nobody thinks the Bailiwick of Guernsey is a country

A couple days ago I did see an article somewhere calling Jersey a country, though.

• political subordination to a larger entity

Belgium is more subordinate to the EU than Dubai is to the UAE.

• Belgium is more subordinate to the EU than Dubai is to the UAE.

So what? Dubai is still more subordinate to the UAE than you would have thought if you didn’t know the UAE existed.

• If you follow your definition, rather than intellectually dishonestly changing definitions in every comment, you should stop calling Belgium a country. Or start calling Dubai one. If your point is merely to point out the existence of UAE and its small effect on the relative country-ness of Dubai, your original statement should not have been absolute.

You appear to be using as your definition of country “member of the UN.” If you want a canonical list of countries, that’s about all you can do. But I don’t trust authority to list countries just as I don’t trust authority to list poisons.

• You appear to be using as your definition of country “member of the UN.” If you want a canonical list of countries, that’s about all you can do. But I don’t trust authority to list countries just as I don’t trust authority to list poisons.

We differ on that point, then. The concept of “country” as I intend it here is more or less entirely a matter of what authorities list (in contrast to the concept of “poison”, which involves the question of whether something kills you). The authorities here aren’t epistemic ones pointing to empirical facts, but are rather political ones making declarations that they intend to enforce.

“Member of the UN” is at least a sufficient condition for countryhood, and the sense of my original comment is approximately the same as if it read:

You’re talking about Dubai in a way that suggests you might be under the impression that it’s a member of the UN. But it’s not; instead, it’s part of a member called the UAE.

• I was thinking of Yemen, Oman and Somalia

Well, in practical terms “setting up” a thalassocracy in such places would have to start with landing a pretty sizeable army on the shore and fighting it out with the locals. Kinda like the US experience in Afghanistan (and the Russian experience there before, and the British experience there before that...).

“Nation-building” in the Middle East and environs has been a pretty miserable failure so far.

• To be clear, I am definitely not advocating large scale military invasion and occupation. The external power would take over a tiny bit of land—say 1000 km2 - to set up a city.

Let’s do a quick comparison between Yemen and Singapore:

• Land area (Km2): Yemen 5e5, Singapore 7e2

• Population: Yemen 2.4e7, Singapore 5.4e6

• Population density (person/​km2): Yemen 4.4e1, Singapore 7.5e3

• GDP (nominal \$) : Yemen 3.6e10, Singapore 3.3e11

The point is that Singaporean institutions are vastly more efficient at turning land area (an intrinsically scarce commodity) into liveable and economically viable polity.

One way to formulate the goal of political development is to attempt to maximize the number of people living under good, efficient, non-corrupt governments. The thalassocracy concept is a way of implementing that goal without major political upheaval (e.g. revolution, war, massive immigration, etc).

• I am definitely not advocating large scale military invasion and occupation. The external power would take over a tiny bit of land—say 1000 km2 - to set up a city.

So, a small-scale military invasion and occupation??

The issue isn’t land you will be taking over, the issue is people. Some of them (probably a lot) will not want your thalassocracy. Some of them (and in Yemen, pretty much all of them) will be adept with weapons.

without major political upheaval (e.g. revolution, war...

You want to come into the Middle East, set up an enclave completely different (politically, culturally, etc.) from anything around it and you don’t expect war? Um, may I suggest you ask the Israelis about how well it works X-/​

• Kinda like the US experience in Afghanistan

The difference is that the US attempted to establish democracy, i.e., hand over power to the locals as quickly as possible, I believe Daniel’s plan would avoid this.

(and the Russian experience there before, and the British experience there before that...)

The problem both the Russians and British had was interference by rival powers, the US and Russia respectively. The Russians also had the problem that the economic system they wanted to impose being dysfunctional.

• The difference is that the US attempted to establish democracy

I don’t think it mattered what the US attempted to establish and, actually, I don’t think it tried any such thing anyway.

In any case, you seem to be arguing for old-style colonialism based on crushing military superiority. Even leaving aside whether it will work in our times, I am pretty sure that’s not what OP has in mind.

• actually, I don’t think it tried any such thing anyway.

They held elections and put the people who got majority into positions of power.

In any case, you seem to be arguing for old-style colonialism based on crushing military superiority.

Old-style colonialism wasn’t based on crushing military superiority, during the British Raj the number of British born troops in India was a tiny fraction the the native troops. Thus the British relied on the cooperation of large numbers of Indians and Indian troops.

Even leaving aside whether it will work in our times,

What do you mean by this? Are you saying that the laws of nature somehow changed over the past century?

• They held elections and put the people who got majority into positions of power.

Elections are no big deal. Mugabe holds elections, Putin holds elections, hey, even Assad recently held elections.

Old-style colonialism wasn’t based on crushing military superiority

Yes, it was. Certainly, it wasn’t just military superiority, especially once the colonies were established, and the British, for example, became masters of control through political and financial means as well. However the military strength was the underlying bedrock.

Are you saying that the laws of nature somehow changed over the past century?

Which particular laws of nature do you have in mind?

• Elections are no big deal. Mugabe holds elections, Putin holds elections, hey, even Assad recently held elections.

Well, the US forces actually attempted not to rig them.

However the military strength was the underlying bedrock.

Disagree. Military strength was based on a bedrock of competent management.

Are you saying that the laws of nature somehow changed over the past century?

Which particular laws of nature do you have in mind?

Whichever laws you invoked when you said implied that “old-style colonialism won’t work in our time” is a reasonable hypothesis.

• Well, the US forces actually attempted not to rig them.

No need to, the locals can do everything necessary. The US forces just provided the money and prevented the “undesirables” from playing.

Whichever laws you invoked when you said implied that “old-style colonialism won’t work in our time” is a reasonable hypothesis.

I did not invoke any laws of nature. I think that in the current social, political, informational, military, etc. global environment the old-style colonialism is highly unlikely to work. No laws of nature are involved in this assertion.

• I think that in the current social, political, informational, military, etc. global environment the old-style colonialism is highly unlikely to work.

Can you be specific about what you think is the relevant change?

• After watching a bunch of videos at 2x, speed, I’m pretty sure my internal monologue has increased in speed. Huh.

• Hello, emic-and-etic. You’ve spent nearly five solid hours so far making a post every few minutes consisting primarily of chunks copypasted from elsewhere, mostly Wikipedia, and few expressions of your own thinking. How about introducing yourself and passing the Turing test?

• Sure, thank you for your invitation. I tend to copy and paste from Wikipedia cause I’m aweful at writing unambiguously. Ummmm I have OCD and basically spend a large amount of the last few years reading wikipedia pages compulsively. I’m starting to recover and the in the process I’ve started to actually understand some of the things I’ve been reading—but not in any systematic way. So I’m here to better understand things and clarify my own misconceptions and also challenge a few of the things here. You guys want more contrarian participants so what’s more contrarian than mental illness!

• You guys want more contrarian participants so what’s more contrarian than mental illness!

The more useful contrarians are those who tell the truth, because it is the truth, even if everyone else disagrees or disapproves. Merely telling things that others disagree with ignores the crucial issue of being right (and noticing when you’re not).

• Commitment begins with the earliest choices. The development of topics of discussion—the framing of future topics is a seperate issue to their truth.

• http://​​i.imgur.com/​​xY5UbCh.jpg Whiteboard at Future of Humanity Institute (Oxford University) giving several individuals’ estimates for:

P(Disaster kills >50% of humans in next century) P(We’re in a computer simulation created by an advanced civilization) P(Humanity goes extinct in next century)

Loving the forename, forename, BOSTROM, forename, forename!

• The odd thing about that graph, to me, is the large number of estimates in the middle of the scale for P(simulation). I’d have expected more people to accept the simulation argument (and rate it very high) or reject it outright (and rate it very low).

I guess we might be seeing uncertainty over whether or not to accept the argument, or some kind of computationally bounded simulation argument where the root universe can only handle a relatively small number of simulations. I don’t quite think I buy the latter, though.

• I sure know that in my brief considerations of the matter, the paths of thought have consisted of a lot of ‘Well if this is true, then that is almost certainly true’ and lots of meta- and meta-meta-uncertainty. E.g. ‘Well, if X and Y (meta)epistemological/​(meta)metaphysical propositions hold, then it seems like P(Simulation) is zero/​is a half/​is one. But I’m not sure if I’m overlooking some class of cases that weaken the implication, so maybe it merely seems like P(Simulation) is that high under those propositions, but actually it’s not’.

That immediately leads to lots of cases arising as X, Y, and ‘seems like’ are variously true or false or not applicable. So it wouldn’t surprise me at all if uncertainty over arguments gave rise to the middling estimates.

I also wouldn’t buy the latter. It wouldn’t have occurred to me as an explanation.

Given he’s the expert on the simulation argument, I was pretty disappointed that there wasn’t an estimate by BOSTROM for it.

• Both Nick B’s have their surnames listed.

• I frequently see parents stressing out and forcing their kids (3+) to eat or eat enough, when the kids don’t want to eat. So which one is it? Do kids really lack the capacity start eating before it becomes unhealthy and need to be coerced.… or are parents doing something irrational?

• Before the Industrial Revolution, people ate when they were hungry. Our insistence on meals at fixed times is a modern effect of accurate watchmaking and the introduction of work shifts.

• That seems… less than obvious to me. One could as easily say that modern food-preservation technology (refrigeration, sealed containers, chemical preservatives) enabled snacking, and that preindustrial people would have had a stronger incentive to eat preplanned meals. That’s a just-so story, granted, but most of the preindustrial cooking methods I’m familiar with would have taken hours and produced food for many people: not exactly conducive to eating individually as a response to hunger.

Of course, eating at precisely 7:00 or whatever is enabled by modern timekeeping, but my understanding is that the concept of a noon or an evening meal has been around for a long while. (Breakfast in the modern sense is more recent, though.)

• Click through to the page on medieval diet and it presents a two-meal structure based on grains and alcohol, with the main meal around noon and a lighter one in the evening. Which is about what I’d have thought. Also some interesting moralism around meal timing.

Though it does say that snacking was common (if disapproved-of by the church), so I guess my wild-assed guess there was wrong.

• My point was that the technology of the time did not prevent snacking on prepared food. Not that people actually did so. Probably should have actually said that instead of just giving a bare link.

• preindustrial people would have had a stronger incentive to eat preplanned meals

I suspect that there was/​is a big difference between foragers and farmers in that respect.

Snacking also doesn’t require modern food-preservation technology. It’s easy to snack on apples, berries, bread, cheese, etc.

• It’s easy to snack on apples, berries, bread, cheese, etc.

Which unfortunately means that even refraining from buying junk food doesn’t completely stop me from eating before dinner! :-(

• I mostly agree with you, but let’s not take this “reversing stupidity” too far. Centuries ago, many people died in their child years, so this is not as strong evidence as it would be in a hypothetical universe where people ate when they were hungry and all children survived.

I mean, maybe with 90% of children, letting them wait until they are hungry would be okay, but with 10% it would be harmful. Such hypothesis can only be proved or disproved by someone with detailed knowledge, not by simple comparison with eating habit of our ancestors.

• It may also be a matter of convenience for the parents—if you let the child stop eating when they feel like it, they might be hungry in a half an hour, when you were hoping to do something else.

I’d want to see some cross-cultural work on how much parents control the amount small children eat.

• 9 Jun 2014 21:53 UTC
8 points

What do you do when you have nothing to do? I mean no phone, book, etc.

I like to kill time by just multiplying numbers or trying to ROT-x words, but it’s kinda dull.

• Daydreaming is nice.

• I tend to daydream while in this situation but here are some other ideas: meditate, try to train yourself to count seconds accurately (requires a watch or other timepiece to score yourself with), ask yourself the miracle question.

• Mostly I think about questions and ideas.

If I don’t think I meditate or do something more physical like practicing dance steps.

• Think about my coding and/​or writing plans for that evening.

• Worldbuilding for when I start writing fiction again (one of these days, I swear).

Planning my next week(s) in fractal detail.

Trying to solve a pet decision theory problem. If I don’t have one, I can try to find one.

Doing posture exercises /​ stretching—or if there’s more space and not too many people, regular exercises.

Daydreaming.

• these days I’m often trying to consider the ramifications of x or y in stories I’ve been recently reading.

• Introspection is easier without distractions, though less useful without some way of writing notes to my future self.

• Debugging/​exercising understanding of recently learned/​revisited concepts/​proofs in math.

• Trying to solve problems that interest me in math, decision theory, programming, etc.

Imagining words, pictures, music, scenes.

Quietly listening to my own emotions.

• I try to always have a pen and paper and a smartphone with Anki, so it doesn’t happen often. Otherwise, I sometimes recite poetry I’ve memorised years ago (mostly Tolkien, Kipling and Blake).

• I buy a new phone, because the only way I get into that situation is if my phone was stolen or broken.

• When my mind is on idle I tend to go into anxiety cycles, which is bad. As such I’ve got into the habit of carrying my smartphone and headphones with me at all times, and playing podcasts and audiobooks continuously, often at double speed.

I also have a mental calming exercise where I go through the integers in order and work out their prime factors (or if they are prime) in my head.

• For me, having nothing to do is a luxury. When I find myself in this mode, I take long walks, let my mind drift and think about whatever it feels like (usually it chooses to think about one of my ongoing projects, big unsolvable world-scale problems, future, lack of moral progress, or sex), read long-form stuff (mostly Kindle books on my phone) and generally relax and recharge, assuming that I can find a relatively quiet environment.

• GHash.io reaching 51% is somewhat surprising. It seems that one of three unlikely-sounding situations hold:

• The controllers of GHash.io don’t think this will have a strongly negative effect on the value of Bitcoin

• The controllers of GHash.io don’t mind if this has a strongly negative effect on the value of Bitcoin

• The controllers of GHash.io are somehow unable to think clearly enough or act with enough coordination to protect their own self interest.

Any guesses?

• Not that surprising—I recall people were worrying about this when they were at 45%.

Mostly I’m seeing Bitcoin enthusiasts upset that Bitcoin now has a central bank—that it’s no longer decentralised and therefore the point is gone.

How’s this on the issues?

• Some inconvenient truths (well, “facts”) from the quotes in the latest slatestarcodex post (see the sidebar):

• The most reliable way to create a lasting community is basing it on shared religion AND costly personal sacrifices. Secularity doesn’t cut it, even if demanding sacrifices.

• Being religious signals trustworthiness: “The highest levels of wealth …[is]… created when religious people get to play a trust game with other religious people.”

• ″ religion in the United States nowadays generates such vast surpluses of social capital that much of it spills over and benefits outsiders.”

• Liberals are the least accurate in modeling the views of other political groups (moderates and conservatives).

Note that this is all based exclusively on the US data.

• The most reliable way to create a lasting community is basing it on shared religion AND costly personal sacrifices. Secularity doesn’t cut it, even if demanding sacrifices.

What kind of secular communities was used in the research? The “secular community” without further specification feels a bit like a non-apple.

Maybe this is because religious communities try to solve all aspects of their member’s lives, while secular communities usually have a single purpose. Single-purpose communities can fall apart when their members focus on some other aspect of their lives. For example, yesterday they wanted to save the whales or start the proletarian revolution, today they want to start a family. A religious community can satisfy a wider range of needs. Also, your relatives are often part of the same religious community.

Being religious signals trustworthiness

I imagine this is because religion has a clearly defined set of rules, and members are punished by other members if they break them. I can imagine that a christian who would steal from many people, would be unpopular within their own community. On the other hand, when a social justice warrior would steal from many people, their victims would be probably told to check their privilege, and called sexist /​ racist /​ …phobic for trying to avoid them. Okay, I exaggerate a bit here to illustrate the point.

Being a member of a group is an evidence of a trait if the group tries to change or avoid people who lack the trait.

• What kind of secular communities? This question is answered in the linked post. The answer, for both secular and religious is: nineteenth century American communes. The paper is here.

• Being religious signals trustworthiness

Not quite—for a counterexample consider whether being a highly religious Muslim signals trustworthiness in the contemporary US.

I think in local terminology this can be generalized as an observation that high-cost precommitment to avoid certain behavior provides a convincing signal :-)

Looking at the whole thing from 10,000 feet I am impressed by how much the high-trust societies are more productive than low-trust societies.

• This is a good point, being a member of the dominant religion signals trustworthiness, and most Americans probably assume religious means Christian.

• being a member of the dominant religion signals trustworthiness

I think being a member of the same religion as you signals trustworthiness. The position of Orthodox Jews in the diamond industry was quoted as an example—Judaism isn’t a dominant religion (in Amsterdam and New York), but Orthodox Jews trust *each other*.

• for a counterexample consider whether being a highly religious Muslim signals trustworthiness in the contemporary US.

Doesn’t it? It might not win you many friends, but I’d think it will still make you a popular business partner.

• I’d think it will still make you a popular business partner.

Why would being a highly religious Muslim make you a popular business partner?

• Because it would indicate that you are a person of strong integrity, whose moral convictions mean a lot to you, and thus someone to be trusted.

• Because it would indicate that you are a person of strong integrity, whose moral convictions mean a lot to you

Interesting. So do you, then, buy into the popular perception of atheists as people without moral convictions and lacking integrity?

There is also the empirical reality of a lot of visibly highly religious people turning out to have serious problems with integrity and honesty.

And, of course, being really religious means the subordination of the mundane life to the pursuit of religious goals. You can trust such a person to be who he is, but you may be mistaken about the ranking of his values :-/​

• Interesting. So do you, then, buy into the popular perception of atheists as people without moral convictions and lacking integrity?

It’s more that I’d think of non-practicing religious or “spiritual but not religious” folks as that. Serious, committed atheists, those who sacrifice popularity, time and money for the sake of their atheism, I would accord the same trust (and for the same reasons) as the committed Muslims.

• The most reliable way to create a lasting community is basing it on shared religion AND costly personal sacrifices. Secularity doesn’t cut it, even if demanding sacrifices.

Cialdini’s Influence presents a pretty strong case for Sacrifice being a very powerful method for ensuring group cohesion all by itself. For example, Fraternities and Hazing or indigenous peoples and coming-of-age rituals.

The first reason I would think of that religion does a good job of holding groups together is that it’s an interest that you’re “not supposed to” grow out of, unlike things like drinking/​partying and playing sports.

• I should try taking one of these ideological Turing tests some time.

I listen to a lot of conservative talk radio, and I find myself able to predict their arguments with some regularity; on the other hand, I’m probably just falling prey to confirmation bias. Also I’m not certain I’m a liberal. :-/​

• Also I’m not certain I’m a liberal. :-/​

Probably closer to a libertarian: fiscally conservative, socially “progressive”.

• I… don’t know. I don’t identify with the self-identified libertarians in my peer group.

EDIT: Just scored −6.62 (Leftist) and −6.21 (Libertarian) on the political compass. So I suppose I am. Weird.

• What the political compass calls “Libertarian” would more accurately be described as “Socially Progressive”. Actual libertarianism is the political compass’s bottom-right quadrant.

• I think the use of “libertarian” to refer to right-libertarian specifically is a mostly US thing.

• Once there was a confusion about what “liberal” really means, so some people decided to call themselves libertarians instead. Now there is a confusion about what “libertarian” really means.

Seems to me we have some kind of ideology-name treadmill here, which works like this:

• start a political movement

• become popular

• many people will use the name of your movement, even if they disagree with a few (or later: many) points

• at some moment those people will complain that you want the definition to include you, when you are obviously merely a fringe member of this movement

• And it’s not even universal in the US. Or at least, it wasn’t at some point. Noam Chomsky has often referred to himself as a libertarian, and he is certainly not a right-libertarian. Glenn Greenwald is also sometimes called a libertarian, and he doesn’t have right-wing economic views either.

• Hurrah for increasing self-knowledge!

• Strong communities tend to have a shared religion but this doesn’t tell us which way the casual arrow points. Given that trustingness is heritable, I think its likely that trustingness increases both religiosity and the ability to form a community. The sacrifice result seems a bit more robust since it was done with both religious and secular groups.

About liberals, they are the least accurate in modeling how other political groups describe themselves. However, this could mean that other groups are less genuine in their self description: for example conservatives that think that gays are gross will probably appeal to “family values” rather than being honest. And really all this tells us is that other groups are harder to understand. This doesn’t tell us if they are right or not.

• Sometimes I come up with scenarios where nothing seems to be wrong yet something still bugs me.

Say there is an economy of two people, Alice and Bob. Bob has an object, say a monthly newspaper, that he personally values at \$5. Alice values the newspaper at \$7 and thus they are willing to exchange the object at some price strictly between \$5 and \$7. Now Charlie, who values the newspaper at \$10, comes along and is willing to bid a higher monetary amount than Alice, taking her opportunity to make an economic surplus of less than \$2.

Did the mere presence and values of Charlie hurt Alice? In this scenario I’m inclined to say yes. Does this mean Alice has a claim to be compensated by Charlie (and Bob)? I’m inclined to say no.

• BTW, the term for that concept is “pecuniary externality”.

• Try to find actual examples. See if you can find two examples where your intuition as to which way is correct are different.

• Did the mere presence and values of Charlie hurt Alice? In this scenario I’m inclined to say yes. Does this mean Alice has a claim to be compensated by Charlie (and Bob)? I’m inclined to say no.

Why is this a problem? The mere presence of a bunch of people who are trying to use the road at the same time as I do hurts me. That doesn’t mean I have a claim against them. Or just look at any markets.

The general rule is that for Alice to assert a claim against Charlie, Charlie must have some sort of legally recognized duty towards Alice. Just showing loss is not sufficient.

• I guess that you would also find it equally vexing if Daisy comes with a newspaper and newspaper valuation of \$3 and “damages” Bob by trading with Alice.

Also note that if Bob has two newspapers he just sells to both Alice and Charlie. Is it now Charlie that complains about 3\$ of damages or Alice that doesn’t get the newspaper because Charlie sets a price over 7\$ while there would have been enough newspapers to go around? (I guess Bob could also complain if he only gets 2*\$7 while the average valuation would have been higher).

Suspecting that there is a “trade is good” or “trade is fair” assumption for certain sense of “good” and “fair” that just doesn’t hold. Most likely you are treating market value as property. The value is not in the object to be traded but also in the needs of the peoples using it.

• This is a big issue, the root of protectionism vs. free trade.

My first example is the National Energy Program from the 1970s to 1980s in Canada. Left Canada (Alice) legislated the prices Right Canada (Bob) could sell their oil to Alice while the World (Charlie) was offering higher prices.

The second example is a little more convoluted but have a look at the Canada–United States softwood lumber dispute. In this case Bob and Alice are producing newspapers for \$5 and \$7 respectively. Charlie is a newspaper distributer wants to protect Alice who is his sister, so he charges the buyers an extra \$2 for Bob’s papers to keep things fair.

Edited for spelling.

• Don’t you mean free trade? Fair trade is about ensuring a non-poverty compensation to workers in poor production countries which wouln’t be that opposed to protectionism.

• Yep, absolutely Alice is injured. In many market scenarios this is true. Usually, of course, Alice is both a producer and a consumer so broad protectionist laws will hurt her. But sometimes, the “pure buyer” idea is true. So, for instance, incumbent renters have a strong incentive to advocate rent control; otherwise, a frothy real estate market will force them to find new housing.

• Request: can someone please reply to this post, and then immediately edit their reply? I’m curious whether the version in my inbox will remain the non-edited version. (I’d give ~80% that it will, 10% that the message doesn’t get sent until after a short window, and 10% that the message gets edited after being sent.)

• Regular reminder that, yes, there really have been some pretty smart philosophers in previous eras: http://​​en.wikipedia.org/​​wiki/​​Ramsey%E2%80%93Lewis_method

Frank P. Ramsey seems to be generally regarded as a prodigy. But I have a vague impression that Lewis has a mixed reputation and some even think he’s outright crap. But everything of his I’ve seen mentioned seems at worst merely plausible and important to consider, and at best maybe decades ahead of its time. Does anyone know why he might have a bad reputation with some?

• David Lewis is generally regarded as one of the most formidable philosophers of the last century in terms of sheer intellectual firepower. I’m not aware of anyone who thinks he’s outright crap. His papers are incredibly well-written—dense, but very well argued and lucid. On topics of interest to LW: he made significant contributions to causal decision theory, the interpretation of probability, the compatibilist account of free will, physicalism about the mind, and the counterfactual analysis of causation.

However, he has been criticized for too often directing his impressive abilities towards an ill-conceived task—the revival of armchair speculative metaphysics. I think this is a fair criticism. Lewis was very adept with logic and mathematics, but he was, as far as I can tell, insufficiently familiar with the sciences, and this shows in his metaphysics.

That said, the idea for which he is most often criticized—his modal realism—is now making somewhat of a comeback in the form of Tegmark’s Level IV multiverse hypothesis. It’s still a fairly fringe and very controversial idea, of course, but its now being taken seriously in at least some non-philosophical circles. It also appears to have some currency among some of the people working on new decision theories here at LW.

• That said, the idea for which he is most often criticized—his modal realism—is now making somewhat of a comeback in the form of Tegmark’s Level IV multiverse hypothesis.

Isn’t modal realism much, much more dramatic a thesis than a mere multiverse? For example, modal realism should entail that there exists a world in which there is no multiverse, even if there is one in our world.

• Well, to relate the vocabularies of two theories you need the appropriate translation manual. The manual I’m considering here would equate a “possible world” in Lewis’s terminology to a “universe” in Tegmark’s terminology. According to Tegmark, all mathematically possible universes are real in some sense, and according to Lewis all metaphysically possible worlds are real in some sense (and Lewis’s conception of metaphysical possibility seems pretty close to mathematical possibility). Lewisian worlds are spatio-temporally isolated from one another, as are Tegmarkian universes. The two theories do seem almost, if not exactly, equivalent.

On the proposed translation schema, the appropriate Lewisian analogue of Tegmark’s multiverse would be the entire landscape of all possible worlds. And so, on this translation, modal realism does not entail that there exists a world in which there is no multiverse. That would be equivalent to saying that there exists a world in which modal realism is false (i.e. the landscape of all possible worlds does not exist), which modal realism cannot entail if it is coherent.

• Well argued, and fair enough. I guess the question comes down to this:

and Lewis’s conception of metaphysical possibility seems pretty close to mathematical possibility

I suppose I’m under the impression that the space of metaphysical possibility is much broader than the space of mathematical possibility. Would the two spaces be identical of a reduction if mathematics to complete and consistent logic had worked out? Does Tegmark take himself to be making an empirical claim, in asserting a multiverse?

• I’ve not heard that Lewis (note for other readers: that’s David Kellogg Lewis, the mid-to-late 20th-century philosopher best known for modal realism, even though his dates don’t overlap with Ramsey’s) is regarded as “outright crap” by anyone of substance. But I’m not particularly well up on the internal disputes of philosophy. Who doesn’t like him?

Supposing that indeed some people do hold his work in low esteem, I’d guess it’s because of his modal realism, which is for sure a major bullet-biting exercise and might strike some as silly. (I suppose he might also be contemned in some quarters for “political” reasons—e.g., he was a fairly outspoken atheist, and I wonder what Alvin Plantinga thinks of him.)

• I majored in philosophy. The only full-time, tenured analytic in my department thought that 1) modal realism was ridiculous, 2) David Lewis was incredibly smart, almost as much so as… I forget who he thought was the absolute smartest in recent times, but I think it might’ve been Kripke.

• Thanks. I can’t remember the object-level dislike (i.e. who disliked him), my brain just held onto the meta of the fact that somebody trashtalked him, and indeed trashtalked him in a way that made it sound like their objections were shared by others. I also suspect it was because of his modal realism.

• Do figuring out why you think something is true and seeing if there’s some way to check on it (and, if cheap enough, checking on it) have names as rationality skills?

• Sounds like metacognition: the act of the mind watching itself think.

• It’s partly the mind watching itself, and partly the mind trying to improve its connection to the world.

• Are there any methods for selecting important public officials from large populations that are arguably much better than the current standards as practiced in various modern democracies?

For instance in actual vote tallying like Condorcet seem to have huge advantages over simple plurality or runoff systems, and yet it is rarely used. Are there similar big gains to be made in the systems that leads up to a vote, or avoids one entirely?

For instance, a couple ideas:

1. Candidates must collect a certain number of signatures to be eligible. A random selection of a few hundred people are chosen, flown to a central location, and spend two weeks really getting to know the candidates on a personal and political level. Then the representative sample votes.

1. Randomly selected small groups are convened from the entire population. They each elect two representatives, who then goes on to a random group selected from that pool of representatives, who select two more. Repeat until you have the final one or two candidates. This probably works better for executives that legislators, since it will have a strong bias towards majority preferences.

What other fun or crazy systems (that are at least somewhat defensible) are out there?

• There are several research communities working on this and related problems, generally under the headings: Computational/​Algorithmic Mechanism Design and Social/​Public Choice Theory

• Multilevel voting rounds have the problem that they end up representing elite interests to a very unhealthy degree—round one is likely to select representatives with impressive accomplishments and credentials. Which means the pool of voters for subsequent votes is now more or less entirely from the very top social strata, and as such is not likely to elect leadership responsive to needs of the people. This is not just theory- it has been tried, and the results were bad.

The one I would actually like to see tried is rotating sortition. Representatives are selected for five years terms at random, one year where they are non-voting observers, then 4 years of service. (to counter the inherent problem of throwing people straight into the job)

• Do you have any examples of multilevel voting that test whether they increase or decrease the concentration of power?

The only example I know is Venice, where they were introduced with the express purpose of decreasing it and they succeeded. Another example is American direct election of Senators and Presidents. I’m not sure what effect it had there. Plus it is confounded by the continual increase in the franchise.

• I read a very interesting book on election systems by William Poundstone called Gaming the Vote. His conclusion was that Score (aka Range) Voting was the best system on offer. A brief explanation can be found at rangvoting.org; it’s a rather simple and intuitive system. As to idea number 2, I had a similar idea a while back, I called it fractal hierarchy, and a few thoughts occurred to me. First, it need not be democratic at all levels. I was thinking that if you wanted to select for rationality then the entry levels might not be very good at this. This led me to realize that this was rather similar to how the US military is structured, and they are generally positively regarded and considered quite meritocratic, so it might be a good way to do things.

Another idea for legislative systems that I came across that is a merger between direct and representative democracy is called delegable proxy. The idea is that every member can vote on every issue, but they can choose to delegate their vote to a proxy voter, who can then choose to delegate all their votes to another voter, and so on, until you get a number of people with large chunks of votes. But for any issue, an individual can retract their vote(s) and vote how they wish. I think this system would allow for a lot of legislation to get passed, and would most strongly represent the popular will, but that is also it’s greatest weakness, in that you get the issue of tyranny of the majority and ignorance of the masses playing a greater role.

I am working on a project right now to put these and other ideas into practice, and will make a discussion post about it at some point in the future. If anyone is interested in helping me to better articulate my ideas before I post them, please let me know.

• Interesting. Wouldn’t Score Voting strongly incentivize voters to put 0s for major candidates other than their chosen one? It seems like there would always be a tension between voting strategically and voting honestly.

Delegable proxy is definitely a cool one. It probably does presuppose either a small population or advanced technology to run at scale. For my purposes (fiction) I could probably work around that somehow. It would definitely lead to a lot of drama with constantly shifting loyalties.

• There is some incentive to vote strategically, but depending on the range and the other candidate on offer you might be better off voting honestly. If there’s a candidate you dislike strongly, and a major candidate you only mildly dislike, you might give your favorite a 10, the mild dislike a 3, and the major dislike a 0, just to reduce the major dislike’s chances. The worst case scenario, which you describe, is called bullet voting, and is basically identical to our current system, but if even a small proportion vote honestly it can improve the results. The researcher who made the graph at the bottom of rangevoting.org ran computer simulations of voter preferences compared with candidate values, and found that something like 10% of voters given their honest preference can improve results. I do recommend the book if you want to know more.

I am very interested in delegable proxy, although it seems potentially dangerous and I think if it were implemented it would need to be tempered with some less democratic devices, but it could certainly make for some interesting drama.

• Wouldn’t Score Voting strongly incentivize voters to put 0s for major candidates other than their chosen one?

It seems like it would solve US 3rd party voting issues, e.g. if I prefer Libertarians to Democrats to Republicans, I could give the Libertarian candidate 1010, the Democratic candidate 1010, and the Republican candidate 010.

• You’d presumably plan to do that so long as the Republican was in first or second place, but if polling started to show the Republican candidate in third place, you’d want to switch the Democratic candidate’s score down to 0.

In the end, range voting boils down to approval voting, but with a trick to penalize people who are bad at math; and approval voting itself penalizes people who don’t closely follow election polling.

On the other hand, I’m not sure that voting weights based on mathematical aptitude and knowledge of current events are necessarily bad things, and even if they were they’re still probably not nearly as bad as the hysteresis effects of plurality voting.

• It would absolutely be an improvement on the current system, no argument there.

• This led me to realize that this was rather similar to how the US military is structured, and they are generally positively regarded and considered quite meritocratic, so it might be a good way to do things.

Huh? The US military is certainly not universally positively regarded and I am not too sure about being meritocratic either. But in any case, it has nothing to do with voting systems, it’s a strictly hierarchical organization where you shut up and do what your superior tells you to do.

• Well, highly regarded as far as US politics is concerned. A lot of people here like to see military service in a politician, and it’s considered to be somewhat above partisan politics. And doing what you’re told is a meritorious characteristic to have in the military, although I suppose it’s far less meritocratic than some other organizations, it’s ideal is that it is. Although you’re certainly right, I should have said my statements were framed in the context of the US politics.

• highly regarded as far as US politics is concerned

I don’t know about that. Quite a few of the people I know consider the US military to be the place where not too smart people go to learn how to obey and how to kill.

And doing what you’re told is a meritorious characteristic to have in the military

The topic of the discussion is voting systems.

• That’s probably a more sophisticated view, but I think popular opinion is with the military.

And the original topic was

methods for selecting important public officials from large populations that are arguably much better than the current standards as practiced in various modern democracies

And I think the military is similar in many ways to option two, sans the election part, which is why I brought it up.

• but I think popular opinion is with the military.

Jesus is considerably more popular than the military. So?

the military is similar in many ways to option two, sans the election part

“Sans the election part”, LOL. But I don’t see how it’s similar at all. Option two is a bottom-up approach where authority flows up. The military is a standard top-down command hierarchy where authority flows down. The privates don’t get a say in who their sergeant will be and lieutenants do not recommend majors for promotion.

• Yes, Jesus is popular than the military, and more highly regarded in US politics by a majority of people. The opinions of the majority being of significant importance in a democratic political system. And certainly, there are differences. The direction of authority, which is what elections provide, is one. And there are others I’m sure I’m not mentioning, but those related to elections and authority are the biggest. But if you can’t see how it’s similar at all then you aren’t being very charitable and aren’t trying very hard. Both systems are hierarchical, both involve the promotion of a small number from a small group to another small group which then promotes a small number and so on until there is a small number of people or a single person at the top.

• But if you can’t see how it’s similar at all then you aren’t being very charitable and aren’t trying very hard.

I am not very charitable and I don’t see any reasons to try very hard. Any metaphor can be made to work with sufficient pushing, stretching, and averting eyes, but the question is why. Do you feel that putting up the US military as an example of a certain kind of voting systems provides some insight, some perspective otherwise unavailable? Do tell.

• Well, the reasons to try hard are to be kind to others and to learn something yourself. Again, I never said it was an example of a voting system, what was asked for was a system of selecting public officials, and militaries are often public officials and it is not uncommon for them to change domains. The value is in taking a hypothetical system whose merits and weaknesses are difficult to evaluate, and comparing it to its closest analog in reality, which was my goal. I had come up with a system quite similar to the original query’s idea, and the thought that it might be more effective in a top down fashion occurred to me, so it was even less different from the military than his idea, and both ideas fit the criteria of

methods for selecting important public officials from large populations that are arguably much better than the current standards as practiced in various modern democracies

• what was asked for was a system of selecting public officials

There are a lot of political system where the power flows from the top down. Monarchies, dictatorships, etc.

Your example would be, I guess, a junta?

• What I had in mind was more a hybrid between feudalism and the democratic process originally described. Democratic, bottom up above a certain level, top down below a certain level. But the idea was promoting a single person from a small group to a small group of similarly promoted people and so on ad infinitum, concentrating power by either process. I’m thinking of a system that could be implemented in practice.

• I think Catholic Church works like this. The middle level is bishop—positions higher than this are (at least were at some point of history) more or less democratically voted, functions lower than this are like in the military, they have to obey completely.

• That’s a good point, I knew they elected the pope but I wasn’t sure about the middle positions, I was thinking more about the size of the groups being an important factor when I compared the other system to the military.. And the Catholic Church is another example of an effective real world analog to a system I was thinking about hypothetically.

• Multiple rounds of liquid democracy based voting. You first select the top 10 candidates. Then the top 5, followed by the top 2 and then you decide for the last candidate.

• In theory, if a small group of people can be trusted to pick a person among them who is at least slightly above average rationality of the group, you could add lots and lots of levels of voting for people who vote for people who vote for people who vote on the issues.

• For a millennium, Venice had a multi-layer system that alternated voting for voters and drawing lots for voters.

But they were probably more interested choosing a consensus leader who would be fair than a capable leader.

Edit: maybe only half a millennium. For the first half there were simpler elections.

• Didn’t this result in the election of Enrico Dandolo, who directed the 4th crusade to sack Constantinople, one of the most self-destructive acts of Western Civilization?

• Yes, Venice elected Enrico Dandolo. I’m not sure if “this” elected him, because he was of the intermediate period 1176-1268, but probably a multi-tier voting system.

It depends on your definition of “the West.” Some people insist that Byzantium is not part of the West. This is probably the point where Venice joined the West. But is “self-destructive” a natural category? Wars are destructive. Would it have been less barbaric for the Crusade to follow its original plan and conquer Muslims? What does it matter that you, a millennium later, see Venice and Byzantium as one? That didn’t stop Constantinople from enslaving its Venetian population in 1171.

Some people attribute the Renaissance to Greek manuscripts fleeing Constantinople when it fell a 250 years later. I imagine you condemn the sack because you think it lead to that fall. Was Constantinople doing anything with those manuscripts? They weren’t having their own Renaissance. My impression was that already in 1200 Venice was the greater center of learning.

Anyhow, Byzantium wasn’t his constituency. As I said, the voting system elected a leader with wide support who didn’t use the mercenaries to sack his local rivals. Also, it achieved what Coscott asked for: a highly capable leader, who saved his city from an idle army, improvised a use for it, and, as a blind centenarian, lead the army to great victories.

• I made the case for the likelihood of the Singularity here, and one of my favorite authors, John Wright, really didn’t like what I said. My response to him is here.

• I think your initial post was not the best /​ least-condescending way of talking about the singularity. But I think the main problem you encountered was that many of the commenters were religious and openly anti-materialist. If you think God created man in his image and that man’s consciousness and cognition are special and linked to a divine, immaterial element called a soul, it’s going to be hard to convince you of superhuman AI. Trying to start off with an argument for materialism conflated with an argument for extrapolating current scientific trends is just going to make them dig in further.

So you really were in a lose-lose situation. But your response was solid; certainly better than the original case.

A better point many of those commenters make is the distinction between extrapolation and creation; even if I disagree that singularity predictions are optimistic navel-gazing, it’s still fair to say that the path to the singularity is not laid out in a concise and reasonable way (and pointing to Kurzweil’s charts is a poor response).

• So you really were in a lose-lose situation. But your response was solid; certainly better than the original case.

I thought it largely ignored the points and positions Wright made, and the counter-arguments weren’t great. (I like Bostrom, but when someone makes a laughable claim like materialism is associated with no great philosophers, that’s not a good time to bring him up; that’s a time to invoke Hume, the Atomists and Stoics, Dennett, etc.)

If one is going to respond at all (and given how intemperate his response was, I would personally feel no obligation to reply), one should try to do at least a decent job which doesn’t demonstrate one’s opponent’s claim that materialists don’t know “enough philosophy to argue with a freshman” and possibly fostering a back-fire effect. (Hopefully wittily, like quoting some of Wright’s bile and then sardonicly noting that Wright’s religious conversion after a heart attack is itself an excellent example of materialism.) Strawmen are common enough without becoming a living one.

• sardonicly noting that Wright’s religious conversion after a heart attack is itself an excellent example of materialism.

Chapeau!

• Your case was kinda simple and condescending. On the other hand I can answer Wright by saying “Phineas Gage”

• I don’t think anyone denies that brain states have a strong influence on conscious experience, which is the only thing that Phineas Gage proved. The real question is how mechanistic matter can create subjective experience. For example, someone who was completely colorblind from birth could never understand what it felt like to see the color green, no matter how much neuroscience that person knew, i.e., you could never convey the sensation of “green” through a layout of a connectome or listing wavelengths of light.

However, this doesn’t mean that there must be some magical substance which produces experience, and it does not mean that Whole Brain Emulation and AGI is impossible, which is the hasty conclusion reached by many non-materialists. Rather, it only poses problems for those who say that brain states are the same thing as conscious experience.

• For example, someone who was completely colorblind from birth could never understand what it felt like to see the color green, no matter how much neuroscience that person knew, i.e., you could never convey the sensation of “green” through a layout of a connectome or listing wavelengths of light.

• Also see orthonormal’s posts here (and accompanying discussion). I remember the point being similar to “I might know all about heroin and how I’d respond to it, but taking heroin means that certain neurons release chemicals in ways that I don’t have conscious control over, and it e.g. will cause memories to be formed that I could not form normally.”

• The real question is how mechanistic matter can create subjective experience.

Philosophy (which today is mostly a historical field—the study of old speculations) is not the right place to find the answer to this question. Computational neuroscience is.

Rather, it only poses problems for those who say that brain states are the same thing as conscious experience.

The ‘problem’ is overstated—the mindstate of observing green through information flowing from the retina through multiple layers of visual cortical processing is in a wholly different category than the congenital colorblind’s mindstate of thinking about green as an abstract linguistic concept.

The two mindstates are completely different and involve largely unrelated computations in functionally distinct minds.

• I fail to see how Wright’s answer is even remotely relevant. Let’s say that for some mysterious reason brains have a door that connects them to some metaphysical realm that silicon-based devices could never have.
Does this changes the fact that a properly programmed computer can beat any human at chess or checkers? Does this changes the fact that cars can self-drive successfully for thousands of miles? Does this changes the fact that right now a living organism is being simulated at cellular level?
The only thing that distinguishes the Singualirty scenario from a simple observation of the state of the world is the assumption that there is a point after which an AI can exponentially self-improve, and that will have an exponentially large effect on our society.

• The fact that Albert Einstein existed wouldn’t provide as much evidence for the future likelihood of science-doing AI if brains had such doors, although you are correct that this wouldn’t mean we sill could not develop such AIs.

• And you’re surprised? I haven’t read more than a five thousand words by or about Wright and I am not at all surprised.

What was your goal? Did you tune your pitch to this audience?

• My goal was to promote my book Singularity Rising. John Wright wasn’t the intended or expected audience, although I knew he worked with the author of the blog my essay appeared in.

I was surprised by the magnitude of his negative reaction.

• I just noticed the link to the pdf of the 2012 Winter Solstice Ritual is dead and I wondered if anyone had a mirror for it?

• I was trying to figure out how big 3^^^3 was, which led to the following interesting math result. How high would a power tower of 3′s have to be to surpass a googolplex raised to the googolplexth power? For what value of X is (3^^X)>(googolplex^^2)? I don’t have the full answer, but an upper bound for X is 16. A power tower of 3′s 16 high is guaranteed to be vastly larger than a googolplex raised to itself. And when you consider that 3^^^3 is a power tower 7.6 trillion 3′s tall… it’s way larger than I thought.

• In what follows, all logs are to base 3.

Definition: [a,b,c,d] := a^(b^(c^d))), etc.

Lemma: log [a,b,...,z] = log a^[b,...,z] = (log a) [b,...,z].

Definition: {n} := [3,...,3] with n 3′s.

Lemma: log {n} = {n-1}.

Definition: G := [10,10,100].

OK. So we want to know when {n} > [G,G]. Taking logs, this is the same as {n-1} > G log G = [10,10,100] log [10,10,100]. Taking logs again, it’s the same as {n-2} > log log [10,10,100] + log [10,10,100] which (unless it comes out amazingly close) is the same as {n-2} > log [10,10,100] = (log 10) [10,100]. Taking logs again, this is the same as {n-3} > log log 10 + log [10,100] = log log 10 + 100 log 10, which again is basically the same as {n-3} > 100 log 10, and now we’re in the realm of small numbers and we find that [3,3] is too small but [3,3,3] is way more than enough.

So I’m pretty sure the answer is that you need six 3s in your tower.

Since it’s easy to get this kind of thing wrong—which is why I introduced notation and lemmas intended to make the manipulations as simple as possible—I just did it again a different way (a couple of steps of algebra on paper, plus some ordinary floating-point arithmetic on a computer) and without the informal throwing away of much smaller bits. I can confirm that five 3s aren’t nearly enough and six 3s are way more than you need.

[EDITED to remove a definition and a lemma that I never actually used, and to add a little clarification.]

• By the way, here’s the handwavy heuristic version that gives the right answer.

When you are comparing two exponentials with really big exponents, only the exponent really matters even if the difference in bases is huge (unless it’s really huge or the exponents are really close). So the following should all be the same:

• 3^(n)^3 versus G^10^10^100 where G = 10^10^100

• 3^(n-1)^3 versus 10^10^100

• 3^(n-2)^3 versus 10^100

• 3^(n-3)^3 versus 100

• NB you can do all the foregoing in a single step: just cross out the 3 bottom levels.

and now we can see that 3^3 < 100 but 3^3^3 > 100, so n-3=3 and n=6.

If the detailed algebra in the parent isn’t enough to make “look at the exponent and ignore the bases” plausible, here’s another way to see it that happens to work neatly in this case:

(10^10^100) ^ (10^10^100) = 10^(10^100 . 10^10^100) = 10^10^(100 . 10^100) = 10^10^10^102

so the difference between 10 and 10^10^100 on the base is the same as the difference between 100 and 102 three levels up!

… EDIT, on happening to reread this days later: No, I slipped up in the calculation above and the result is actually a lot closer.

(10^10^100) ^ (10^10^100) = 10^(10^100 . 10^10^100) = 10^10^(100 + 10^100) = 10^10^10^(100+teenytiny)

because 10^100 + 100 is barely bigger than 10^100 at all. In fact it turns out that “teenytiny” is about 4 x 10^-99. So: the difference between 10 and 10^10^100 on the base is the same as the difference between 100 and 100 + 4e-99 three levels up.

• 15 Jun 2014 7:51 UTC
2 points

I’m hoping to get a quick reaction to the following situation: I’m leaving a job in Asia and want to look for work in my native US. I’ve been away for two years. First I thought that since the cost of living is much lower here, I should do the job search here and only return to the US after getting an offer. But based on “local candidates only” restrictions in job ads and some recent advice I got on Quora, I’m now thinking it might be best to show up soon in California with \$6K in savings, check in to a cheap hostel and look from there.

• Most prospective employers will want to interview candidates before making offers. If you are living in Asia, you will not want to be constantly flying back and forth to interviews. So you may have to have fewer (reducing your options) or schedule them all in a small number of blocks (also reducing your options since some prospective employers won’t have flexible enough schedules for that to be easy).

How much this matters depends on how tasty a prospect you are for employers, how much you care how good your first job is, what field you’re looking to work in, etc.

• I should do the job search here and only return to the US after getting an offer.

Most people will expect you to physically show up at an interview (or several). Videoconferencing isn’t going to suffice.

What kind of a job will you be looking for?

• Jobs with descriptions saying they’re hiring math grads with no related experience.

By the way, I thank everyone for the feedback. I have now committed to returning to the US to look for jobs.

• How is the spin going to look to the employer? Are you going to come across as uninformed and chasing a pipe dream, or as an ambitious self starter that any employer will want on their team?

• I have a hard time thinking of a likely scenario where you could only save 6K even though 1) you did it in a place with a low cost of living, and 2) you’re a LWer and want to move to California (which implies the tech industry, which is a high-paying field—and otherwise, moving to California is stupid).

(If you can only save 3K a year in a place with a low cost of living, how much are you going to be able to save when living in California?)

• Heh.

Prejudice against atheists is pervasive in the United States. Atheists lag behind virtually all other minority groups on measures of social acceptance. The sociofunctional approach suggests that distrust is at the core of anti-atheist prejudice, thus making it qualitatively different than prejudice against other disadvantaged groups. Accordingly, this research examined political bias against atheists, gays, and Blacks and the affective content accompanying such biases. Results indicated that atheists suffered the largest deficit in voting intentions from Christian participants, and this deficit was accompanied by distrust, disgust, and fear, thereby suggesting that the affective content of anti-atheist prejudice is both broader and more extreme than prejudice against other historically disadvantaged groups. Theoretical and applied implications are discussed.

source

• People sometimes say that it doesn’t really matter whether things like MWI are true (as opposed to the Copenhagen interpretation), since knowing whether it is correct or not wouldn’t affect your decision-making unless you are willing to kill yourself. I’ve been trying to come up with a scenario where you can exploit that knowledge without actually killing yourself and this is where I am at so far:

1. Say for the sake of argument that in a nuclear war big cities like London or New York have a much better chance of being nuked versus Sitka, Alaska or Swansea, Wales.

2. Furthermore, let’s say that you prefer being alive in a world where the Earth isn’t half-destroyed by a nuclear war versus one where it is.

3. Additionally, let’s say that you know MWI is correct in this scenario.

4. Under this paradigm If you live in London/​New York you will be less likely to find yourself in a world where a nuclear war has erupted, as you will likely be dead in those worlds. However, if you live in Sitka/​Swansea, you are more likely to survive some nuclear wars (as London/​New York would be destroyed in more wars) and it is thus more likely to end up in a world where such an event has occurred.

5. By combining 1-4, if you have a choice between living in Sitka versus living in New York, everything else being equal, you should choose New York to decrease the probability of waking up in a post-apocalyptic world.

Alternative scenario under the same paradigm for LessWrogners—if you don’t want to live in a world where FAI research stagnates, you might want to move to the Bay Area, so you can decrease the probability, that you’ll end up in a world where most of MIRI and friends are all dead. (yeah, I know—finally a reason for rationalists to move to the Bay Area)

• since knowing whether [MWI] is correct or not wouldn’t affect your decision-making unless you are willing to kill yourself

Almost no one who believes in MWI believes that it makes a difference even then.

• This fail-safe is only an actual net gain if you would rather die than see the aftermath of nuclear war, but don’t want to go through all the trouble of committing suicide manually.

The reasoning is fairly solid, though—looking back at the past, the lack of nuclear war is weaker evidence for human peacefulness if you grew up in Washington DC.

• This fail-safe is only an actual net gain if you would rather die than see the aftermath of nuclear war.

Well, not really if you see branching in MW the way that most people seem to.

• What is that way?

Here are 100 people. A few of them are really happy, but the rest are all fairly miserable. What to do? Kill all the miserable ones, then the average happiness shoots up!

That’s my view of quantum suicide, and just to spell it out, I think it’s pretty silly. That all 100 of the people are, in some sense, “you” does not change my view of it. Moving to New York in order to make sure that a nuclear war would kill you is like getting a DNR notice put on your bed in hospital. It may be a sensible thing to do, but if so is independent of MWI.

• Note: Math on infinite sets works differently than math on finite sets. Anyway, if you have a good argument as to why measure matters here, I’d love to hear it.

• I am familiar with infinite sets. As for measure, the entire QS argument is about the proportion of your measure in favourable scenarios. If you have a good argument as to why total measure does not matter but proportion of measure does, I’d love to hear it. Make sure that the answer is consistent with your implied view that total measure does matter on finite sets.

• I don’t have a very good argument for either side, which is why I am not discounting one or the other.

• If we want to talk about majorities, most people think quantum mechanics is too complicated to worry about. Smaller fractions think that quantum mechanics means humans have souls, quantum mechanics will let you be in two places at once, and that quantum mechanics fix quantum cars.

In a rare display of majoritarianism, the “don’t worry about it” demographic is probably right. Egan’s law—it all adds up to normality. “Quantum killed” is just a more complicated way of saying “normally killed,” because quantum mechanics is how reality has always been.

• Good job on arguing against majoritarianism, but you haven’t provided any arguments as to why the view that I attributed to a majority is wrong.

• If you had all the prerequisites, you would not need the argument. So I’ll give you a short overview of the point, and then just link you to some articles.

Quantum immortality is not fundamentally about quantum mechanics. It is about whether you can live forever by defining yourself as a person who doesn’t die. “You” can, but you can’t.

Links: You could learn some quantum mechanics. Then look into where the relative state interpretation (MWI) comes from, by reading Everett’s quite accessible paper. Key thing that you will understand after this: probability is a measure, and norm-squared measure is all there is. Look into the foundations of VNM decision theory, but maybe also temper it by reading Savage’s decision theory. Now you should understand how quantum mechanics fits into VNM decision theory by providing a measure. At this point it all adds up to normality—you make the same decisions using any interpretation of quantum mechanics.

Now on to definitions: A Human’s Guide to Words on why we have them. The Metaethics Sequence on what we’re talking about when we say “I want to live forever.” At this point, if not earlier, you should be able to conceive of an agent that actually does believe in quantum immortality, and acts accordingly—and also an agent that doesn’t believe in quantum immortality, and acts accordingly.

Experiment: Attempt to define yourself as a rock, thus increasing your lifespan. Did it work? Why or why not?

• Quantum immortality...is about whether you can live forever by defining yourself as a person who doesn’t die....Experiment: Attempt to define yourself as a rock, thus increasing your lifespan. Did it work?

The assumption of quantum immortality is that once some branches of “you” are gone, then you have to define “you” as the remaining branches. It’s about the impossibility of expanding the definition of “you”, not the possibility of expanding it.

• I think there are some additional assumptions required to get you to Tenoke’s example, of dying in a nuclear blast not counting as a downside of living somewhere, because of quantum immortality.

• Quantum immortality is not fundamentally about quantum mechanics. It is about whether you can live forever by defining yourself as a person who doesn’t die. “You” can, but you can’t.

That is just not correct, it is about how under some definitions of ‘you’, you don’t die, and some people use those definitions regardless of QM (pattern identity theory uses a definition compatible with quantum immortality for example).

The real issue with quantum immortality is whether measure matters, and as far as I know, this is an open question (although, I suspect there are plenty of good resources on the question which I haven’t seen)

• If you have a choice between living in Sitka and living in New York, isn’t that a choice that splits the worlds too? So in one world you’d be living in Sitka and in another world you’d be living in New York. In general, it would seem like “choose X so that I am in this set of worlds and not in that set of worlds” doesn’t work—you’re always still in the set of worlds where you made the opposite choice.

Even “choose X so as to increase my measure in this set of worlds and decrease my measure in that set of worlds” won’t really work. By definition, the whole set of worlds encompasses all choices. You can’t choose X so as to affect something about your situation with respect to the worlds. What would that mean anyway? Would there be a meta-set of sets of worlds, and there’s a branch of the meta-set where you chose X and increased the measure of part of the set, and another branch of the meta-set where you didn’t choose X and didn’t increase the measure of the same part?

• ‘Died from nuke in London’ is a vague thing, but even if you choose a boundary by which to delineate it, that partition does not carve reality at the joints. There would probably be intermediate states of some measure where you suffer but live for some time after the initial blast, and probably be states of lesser measure where you are unharmed or even gain from the blast.

It might still turn out that the measure/​probability/​whatever of the suffering states is low enough that it’s still worth leaving yourself open to being nuked, though. Like, maybe P(Alive|Nuked)=10^-5 and that’s an acceptable proportion of worlds where you live through the nuking since you do successfully die in the vast majority of worlds. But if you’re not sure, all else being equal, you’d want to pick the place within London that would be most likely to kill you if a bomb hit, rather than some obscure, heavily-sheltered place on the outskirts where you’ll just about live and suffer after the blast.

In general, it’s pretty suspicious if death seems to be the fundamental deciding factor in such matters (e.g. whether to live in London, whether MWI vs. Copenhagen matters); the reason people suspect so is anthropic—we can’t observe (parts of) worlds where we are dead. But since ‘I’ and ‘dead’ are going to be fuzzy notions that do not carve reality at the joints, we should not expect them to be fundamental to decision-making in multiverses, even if they are efficient shorthands. It’s important to bear this in mind with MWI and anthropics.

(yeah, I know—finally a reason for rationalists to move to the Bay Area)

lolol

• How would your decision be different if you evaluate possible worlds as opposed to Everett branches?

• Unless, I believe that all possible worlds are real, then I’ll make the opposite choice(Sitka/​Swansea), as I’d rather see half the world be obliterated instead of dying. If I believe that all possible worlds are equally real then no decision I make matters, so I wouldn’t even bother finishing this sen

• It was suggested I post here, but there’s a TV Tropes fork at https://​​allthetropes.orain.org/​​wiki . It uses mediawiki software and gets rid of the censorship at TV Tropes. (I suspect this one will never get rid of the strikeout tag for dubious reasons.)

• What do you mean by censorship here? Can you give examples?

• Twice they did massive content culls because Google Ads has a “family-friendly” policy. This is my go-to example for why anyone advocating ads on Wikipedia hasn’t thought the issue through sufficiently.

• They would not have pages about works that were primarily sexual, because the advertisers prohibited it.

• I recall them deleting/​jettisoning the “troper tales” (specifically, troper tales:fetish fuel) section of the site some time ago because some of the content was extremely disturbing.

(youtube search for people doing dramatic readings of them, some of them are pretty funny if you have a high cringe tolerance)

• Merely knowing about the confirmation bias helps to avoid it.

Or so I think. Ever since reading about the confirmation bias and taking some time to think of examples where I fell prey to it I catch myself following up a thought of this makes so much sense or this fits my exerience so well with a simple confirmation bias and thinking of alternative explanations or counter examples. The use for myself is not yet obvious and it is obvious I do not do this with perfect consistency. Another observation is that applying this debiasing takes conscious effort and time, so is ressource depleting, motivating it to use with care, not in all cases where it possibly won’t even matter.

To apply the debiasing to this observataion itself: An alternative explanation is that simple mental maturity and not reading about the confirmation bias lead me to recognise it. Maybe reading the label just allowed me to put it on things, as I know of examples from the past where I thought not necesseraly, it might be like this. Of course I can make nearly no statement about increased frequency or precision.

• I wonder if we could field test any arguments for beliefs commonly held on LW or by similar communities, but not within more anti-science communities whose typical members have very different backgrounds and worldviews than ours.

An interesting reddit post on anti-vaccine advocates, and how to (not) convince them they are mistaken: http://​​www.reddit.com/​​r/​​IWantToLearn/​​comments/​​27r44b/​​iwtl_how_to_make_my_mom_friend_understand_antivac/​​ci3lxqb

• When it has a higher expected utility, taking into account that you will optimize less well when you’re thinking less clearly.

• I’m about to start working with a remote writing buddy. We’re going to send each other emails for ‘clocking in’ purposes, but we also want to use some kind of screen-sharing or remote login software to keep tabs on each other. Does anyone have any good recommendations for software along those lines? My netbook is sufficiently slow and old that if I’m not careful even typing can get pretty laggy, so resource- or processing-light software would definitely be preferred.

• I’ve found Google Docs to be perfect for collaborative writing.

• I was going through (yet again) the quantum mechanics sequences. I got new perspective about being a mechanic of configuration spaces. I am still at a loss on what kind of mathematical entity a wave-function is and couldn’t compute anything with them. I guess they are somehow an animation of complex points in 3 real dimensions?

There was a lot of talk about splitting but I kinda gathered that there must be a counterpart ot it. If you can’t compute the next state of a “world” from how it looks now but have to look at the neighbours in configuration space doesn’t this mean that world evolution is inherently not a “private” fact? As in your viewpoint world could look exactly the same but depending on the neighbouring worlds state things would go different. Now usually those neighbouring worlds depend on the same past configurations as your world so they can’t be completely orthogonal. But on the whole the wave-function that when sampled collapses, does evolve in a very determined way. And in stationary wavefunctions while each individual wave moves outward the shape of the wave function is the same after one cycle. That is such wavefunctions don’t “shatter” and they have the quality of reforming the same shape. I don’t have a good detail to point to but it seems it must converge just as fast as it splits.

Woudn’t the “converging worlds” be us much of a big deal as “splitting worlds”? And wouldn’t it be quite possible that instead of looking like a tree or balloon on the macro level your world line would look more like a line. Not a classical one of pointlike width but one with actual width. Doesn’t the preservation of measure mean that worlds don’t “dissipate into ambivalence”. A common take on many worlds where each decision splits your world would in my mind imply such a dissipation. So there must be some mechanic where tracking an ensemble of worlds behaves differently than tracking each world separately resulting in an ensemble smaller than if each world would split into independent trees. I guess one suspect would be to arrive at the same state throught different paths? Ie instead of 2 states branching into 4 individual states they branch into 3 states one of which has double measure.

The bomb tester experiment reads to me as if you blow up the bomb in another world to gain info on the version in your world.

There was mention of mangled worlds and that similar states only meaningfully interact when close in configuration which usually means “until shielding fails”. However it didn’t seem like world-view implications were worked out. If my decision can affect my other fates making the spread of my measure have “connected fate” doesn’t this have very different impact to meanigfullness of decisions. I would like to believe that such effect would just affect random thermal noise. But it might be possible for there to be “quantum magnifying glasses” where insignificant details in many individual worlds contribute to have macroscopic effect in some of the future worlds. I would not like to be blindsighted by them!

• Here is an MWI perspective from an actual physicist: http://​​www.preposterousuniverse.com/​​blog/​​2014/​​02/​​12/​​the-many-worlds-of-quantum-mechanics/​​

A very thorough explanation of QM by Sean, much better quality than the QM sequence: http://​​preposterousuniverse.com/​​eternitytohere/​​quantum/​​

• I used the linked resources and didn’t come off much wiser, but I guess regoing over he basics is only good. I guess it hammered home that there is convergence on the double slit experiment. However in all these things it’s a scenario where you start off in one world split it into multiple and then coverge to a result world. However in my understanding pure states are hard to prepare. There are a multiple worlds where we run the experiment a little later or in a little diffferent conditions. Won’t those worlds also have a chance to effect our experiment in addition to the “intra branch” interference?

There was a side mention that in multiple worlds there is a “branching structure”. I guess it might be characterise long distance behaviour but in short range convergent interference can play a big role?

• You seem to dislike the QM sequence on LW. Besides those links (they’re quite short), is there anything else that you’d recommend to read instead of the QM sequence that would be as easy to understand for a layman and would offer significant insight on MWI position? In short, is there anything that would offer the same utility that the QM sequence offers, but in a better manner?

• You seem do dislike the QM sequence on LW.

Actually, there is a subsequence which is pretty good: {An Intuitive Explanation of Quantum Mechanics}(http://​​lesswrong.com/​​lw/​​r6/​​an_intuitive_explanation_of_quantum_mechanics/​​).

is there anything that would offer the same utility that the QM sequence offers, but in a better manner?

Well, Deutsch’s The Beginning of Infinity is consistently praised by practicing physicists and quantum information researchers, and it advocates MWI quite forcefully. There is a lot of speculative stuff there which is best read critically, just like in his first book, The Fabric of Reality, so it is a good exercise in recognizing when you are being fed a teacher’s password.

• I’ve seen FAQs, and even linked one that looked good, but I cannot find that post with the search function, and I don’t want to go back a year or so and find it manually. That said, don’t expect many good ones.

1) QM is, believe it or not, difficult (big surprise, right?)

2) what needs to be said really depends on the directions your thoughts bend when being exposed to it—covering every blind alley that could screw someone up would slow everyone down to a crawl, unless you go very formally, and then see point 1 even more so.

• I guess they are somehow an animation of complex points in 3 real dimensions?

A set of n entangle particles is a function from R^(3n) to C. It’s assigning a complex number to each configuration of particles. Since there are n particles, and each particle has three real dimensions, it comes out to 3n real dimensions.

If you can’t compute the next state of a “world” from how it looks now but have to look at the neighbours in configuration space doesn’t this mean that world evolution is inherently not a “private” fact?

It’s a local fact. Knowing just that point won’t work; it only gives you the positions of the particles, but having an arbitrarily small neighborhood will give you the derivative, which gives you the momentums of the particles.

And in stationary wavefunctions while each individual wave moves outward the shape of the wave function is the same after one cycle. That is such wavefunctions don’t “shatter” and they have the quality of reforming the same shape. I don’t have a good detail to point to but it seems it must converge just as fast as it splits.

In stationary waves, you’re dealing with something that only has a small set of states. It has to converge as fast as it splits, since there’s nowhere else to go. If you stick a particle in an infinite universe, there’s no stationary wavefunction.

Woudn’t the “converging worlds” be us much of a big deal as “splitting worlds”?

It doesn’t happen as much thanks to increasing entropy. Everything starts from the big bang, but it can end anywhere.

That’s not to say it doesn’t happen. The double slit experiment works because the universe where the photon passes through the left slit and the one where it passes through the right slit intersect again. It doesn’t work when you record which slit the photon passes through, since one universe now has a detector saying “left” and the other one has one saying “right”, so they’re not the same universe.

And wouldn’t it be quite possible that instead of looking like a tree or balloon on the macro level your world line would look more like a line.

As long as it’s stable it will. Once something chaotic happens, it will start splitting.

Doesn’t the preservation of measure mean that worlds don’t “dissipate into ambivalence”. A common take on many worlds where each decision splits your world would in my mind imply such a dissipation.

Imagine you’re putting a drop of dye into a pool. It doesn’t break down or otherwise stop being dye, but it does dissipate. It’s the same deal with quantum physics. The measure is preserved, but later on it’s just spread out more.

The bomb tester experiment reads to me as if you blow up the bomb in another world to gain info on the version in your world.

Also a good example of converging worlds. If the bomb doesn’t explode, the universes can converge again, causing destructive interference in places. If it does explode in one universe, they can’t converge, so those places that would have had destructive interference can still happen, and if they do, that proves the bomb exploded in another universe.

• A set of n entangle particles is a function from R^(3n) to C. It’s assigning a complex number to each configuration of particles. Since there are n particles, and each particle has three real dimensions, it comes out to 3n real dimensions.

But won’t the physcial underlying reality still be contrained to a fixed dimensionality space (if it is not R3)? That is can the function be composed as a R^(3n) function to R^3 to C? I thought particles are bumps in a field not that each bump makes it’s own field to contain it.

• But won’t the physcial underlying reality still be contrained to a fixed dimensionality space (if it is not R3)? That is can the function be composed as a R^(3n) function to R^3 to C?

I’m not sure what you’re trying to say here. Are you suggesting that it’s a function that maps a point on R^(3n) onto functions from R^3 to C? Like you plug in a point in R^(3n), and you get a function from R^3 to C?

I thought particles are bumps in a field not that each bump makes it’s own field to contain it.

If you have one particle, it can be in any position in R^3, so you have a function from R^3 to C. If you have two particles, then they can be in any combination of positions with their own values. For example, if one is a proton and one’s an electron, and there’s not enough energy in the system to split them, then either of the particles can be anywhere, but they still have to be close to each other. If they each had their own distinct wave function, that wouldn’t be possible. It works because the system as a whole has one wave function, and it’s close to zero for any configuration where the proton and electron are not close together.

Does that help at all?

• If they are of the same type then a point (A,0,0,B,0,0) would result in the same state as (B,0,0,A,0,0) I would understand this as those points mapping to a same R^3->C function. I thought there was no billiard balls and that the wavefunction has ontological priority? If I had two separate particles of different kinds in the same position I could tell from the R^3->C undulations on which kind of particle it is. I can understand it might be handy to order the undulations by their centers point-like shorthands. I thought that the real mechanics happen on the R^3->C and if there are mechanics on the higher dimensional structure they are an emergent consequence of that level.

Like I can index me throwing a rock on the lake by where my rock lands. However this kind of description can not describe any two simultanoues throws or things like throwing a stick sideways into the water. The wierder throws I make the more things I need to spesify. However if I somehow manage convey the shape of the water there is no way it can be inadeqaute picture of the wave (such as if I make a topographical map). And in no way of splashing can I add or remove water or make it do anything but go up or down. The quantum field takes on value of C so it has “more room” than simply going up or down. However in no way of taking on those C values does the lake change in volume or dimensionality.

• If they are of the same type then a point (A,0,0,B,0,0) would result in the same state as (B,0,0,A,0,0)

If they’re bosons. If they’re fermions it would be opposite state.

I would understand this as those points mapping to a same R^3->C function.

They map to the same (or opposite) C value.

I thought that the real mechanics happen on the R^3->C and if there are mechanics on the higher dimensional structure they are an emergent consequence of that level.

The real mechanics happen on the R^(3n)->C. If they’re not very entangled, you can separate it approximately into f(x,y) ~= (g(x),h(y)), where x and y are the positions of the points in R^3, f is a wave function from R^6 to C, and g and h are wave functions from R^3 to C.

Like I can index me throwing a rock on the lake by where my rock lands. However this kind of description can not describe any two simultanoues throws or things like throwing a stick sideways into the water. The wierder throws I make the more things I need to spesify. However if I somehow manage convey the shape of the water there is no way it can be inadeqaute picture of the wave (such as if I make a topographical map). And in no way of splashing can I add or remove water or make it do anything but go up or down. The quantum field takes on value of C so it has “more room” than simply going up or down. However in no way of taking on those C values does the lake change in volume or dimensionality.

I’m not sure what you mean by this.

• If you can’t compute the next state of a “world” from how it looks now but have to look at the neighbours in configuration space doesn’t this mean that world evolution is inherently not a “private” fact?

It’s a local fact. Knowing just that point won’t work; it only gives you the positions of the particles, but having an arbitrarily small neighborhood will give you the derivative, which gives you the momentums of the particles.

Even if I knew the neighbors in space in this configuration wouldn’t I still need to know the other configurations state? Depending on whether interference is enabled or disabled by monitoring the path in the double slit experiment I could be spatially close but far in configuration space in the middle receiving point. There is off course a linkage with the spatially close neighborhood as it too is influenced by the same offworlds. But isn’t it so that an event such as a bomb going off in another world will not have (perfect) precursor trace in this world but will have some point of first effect.

And in stationary wavefunctions while each individual wave moves outward the shape of the wave function is the same after one cycle. That is such wavefunctions don’t “shatter” and they have the quality of reforming the same shape. I don’t have a good detail to point to but it seems it must converge just as fast as it splits.

In stationary waves, you’re dealing with something that only has a small set of states. It has to converge as fast as it splits, since there’s nowhere else to go. If you stick a particle in an infinite universe, there’s no stationary wavefunction.

I was thinking off solid classical stuff that quantum mechanically still pulses. Like if I stick atom in a empty universe the electron will hang around the nucleus. I guess the direction of wandering of the whole atom would still spread. Does stuff not evaporating from your hands need a converging contribution from the environment? I find the idea a little spooky.

That’s not to say it doesn’t happen. The double slit experiment works because the universe where the photon passes through the left slit and the one where it passes through the right slit intersect again. It doesn’t work when you record which slit the photon passes through, since one universe now has a detector saying “left” and the other one has one saying “right”, so they’re not the same universe.

How come the effects of light on the air is not enough to “break the spell”? The splitting of worlds is not pointlike but I have very much trouble imagining what is “halfsplitting” like.

Doesn’t the preservation of measure mean that worlds don’t “dissipate into ambivalence”. A common take on many worlds where each decision splits your world would in my mind imply such a dissipation.

Imagine you’re putting a drop of dye into a pool. It doesn’t break down or otherwise stop being dye, but it does dissipate. It’s the same deal with quantum physics. The measure is preserved, but later on it’s just spread out more.

I was thinking if it more like oil that does form droplets as it is interacted with but sticks together instead of dissolving when left to it’s own.

• Even if I knew the neighbors in space in this configuration wouldn’t I still need to know the other configurations state?

I’m not sure I understand.

Are you saying that, in addition to knowing what the nearby universes are, you need to know the value of the waveform there?

I was just talking about the value of the waveform. You automatically know what the nearby universes are. They’re the ones just like yours, but with a few particles moved by epsilon.

Like if I stick atom in a empty universe the electron will hang around the nucleus.

In principle, the electron can go anywhere, but it’s being forced near the atom, so almost all of the waveform will be there. There’s not enough room for it to spread out.

How come the effects of light on the air is not enough to “break the spell”?

It interacts with nearby universes. The universe where the photon changes the direction of a molecule of air on the way to the sensor array interferes with a universe where the photon took a different path and the air was already going that direction.

This doesn’t happen with a sensor, because any sensor that’s likely to say the photon went through the left slit when it really went through the right one isn’t very good at sensing.

I was thinking if it more like oil that does form droplets as it is interacted with but sticks together instead of dissolving when left to it’s own.

You said that multiple splitting of worlds seems like it would reduce measure. I showed an example of something dispersing but not reducing, showing that dispersion does not imply reduction. The fact that there are many things that don’t disperse or reduce is irrelevant.

Placing oil in droplets results in the droplets sticking together, but this is due to the cohesive force of the water. It has nothing to do with conservation of oil.

• The wavefunction is the same object shared by all universes, correct? Thus a point’s spatial neighborhood in one universe is not the full neighborhood of the point. I would imagine (if it’s a coherent notion) taking a derivate only “within one universe” would have a different result than taking it with the full wavefunction.

Wouldn’t an air molecule already going one way need a separate cause to be going that way (as in something that pushes it that way (probably another air molecule))? And wouldn’t that put it simply further in configuration space (ie make interference less likely)? I have still trouble imagining when interference happens and when not. You need a path in configuration space to connect two points to have interference? And if the distance is big there are more chances for the intervening configurations to spoil the interaction?

It seems the air gets scrambled. I guess any device that could detect the scrambling would be as good as detecting the particle directly?

• The wavefunction is the same object shared by all universes, correct? Thus a point’s spatial neighborhood in one universe is not the full neighborhood of the point. I would imagine (if it’s a coherent notion) taking a derivate only “within one universe” would have a different result than taking it with the full wavefunction.

I meant the universe’s neighborhood, at taking the derivative of the universe’s wavefunction at that point.

Wouldn’t an air molecule already going one way need a separate cause to be going that way (as in something that pushes it that way (probably another air molecule))?

Since the wave function is continuous, if you look at a universe with a particle nudged just a little bit, the wave function won’t change much. It’s not like you’re moving that particle very far.

I guess any device that could detect the scrambling would be as good as detecting the particle directly?

No. If the air only ended up in that orientation if the particle went in a particular direction, then the system would decohere, and the detector would be unnecessary. Since the air can end up in the same orientation either way, there’s no way to detect it.

• Since the wave function is continuous, if you look at a universe with a particle nudged just a little bit, the wave function won’t change much. It’s not like you’re moving that particle very far.

If the photon is going through the other slit it’s several molecule lengths away. So the molecule just curves/​collides with empty space as if the photon was there? I don’t understand how it can touch the air and not decohere.

• The interactions are weak. If we had some super-sensitive air pressure detector that could tell which slit the photon had gone through, we’d get the same results as when we measure which slit the photon has gone through (that is to say, no interference). But actually such a thing is impossible; maybe a few air molecules close to the photon path will get their state entangled with the photon state, but they don’t interact enough with other air molecules for the entanglement to spread through the whole room. So you get a case rather like the one where you record which slit the photon went through but then destroy that information without reading it—and you do see the interference.

• There’s another universe where the air was already going in that direction. Since the photon isn’t going to nudge it much, it’s a really similar universe, so it has about the same wavefunction as the universe you were looking at to begin with.

• I just read an AI thriller by Greg Iles called ‘The Footprints of God’. Don’t want to spoiler it, so I’ll just say that it strikes me as singularity-lite.

Also, here’s an objectivist Harry Potter treatment.

• Downvoted for linking a memetic vaccine. (Yes, memetic immune reaction to memetic immune reactions.)