Open Thread

This is our monthly place to discuss relevant topics that have not appeared in recent posts.  Any requests for future posts?   Seconds, etc. of such requests?

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  • burger flipper

    I’d like to see a post on what does affect health. From reading the blog, I know status is a big factor. Looking at your syllabus, it looks like maybe air quality as well.

    Is the assigned book “Overtreated” a good overview of the case against meds?

    • nazgulnarsil

      I too have been looking for a condensed source of info on healthcare. I’ve been citing out of Healthy Competition by the Cato institute and I’m not 100% confident in some of their citations.

    • Nym

      1) Don’t eat what you flip
      2) Exercise regularly
      3) Don’t live in a city if your anxious about pollution

      c ii) Good luck.

    • Floccina

      “The Last Well Person” by Nortin Hadler is an interesting book on the subject. I thought it more scientific than “Overtreated”.

  • Joe Combs

    What’s up Robin? I’ve been lurking quite a bit lately. I sometimes have questions I file away to ask you. These are the two topics I can remember:

    1.) What do you intend to do with your assets if you become frozen? Will you set up a trust for yourself to return to (which would, ideally, invest in the non-wage sectors of the future economy)? If you would keep them for “yourself”, how broken would your brain have to be in the death scenarios (god forbid) to give them to someone else?

    2.) What do you think of the persistence of the BA? Is college education a bubble? If it is, how long can the status game prop it up? Are status games, in your opinion, the only things that keep the entire academy going? What, if any, economic paths do you see to the bursting of the bubble (again, only if it exists)?

    (I apologize in advance if you have already written on this stuff. feel free to link me as answers)

    • Buck Farmer

      Seconded for (2).

      Do we have historical examples of positional economies of the size of the academy collapsing? What does the aftermath look like, what’re the effects on the rest of the economy (i.e. all of a sudden a ranking people becomes more expensive for employers, no?)

      First one that jumps to mind is the abandoment of the Civil Service Examinations in late Qing Dynasty China….they also abandoned the exams a few times prior, so you might be able to separate out the effects of European economic encroachment.

    • Not sure why you think status markers are “bubbles.” They can remain in equilibrium for a long time.

      • Buck Farmer

        Fashion’s a very frothy non-equilibrium status marker.

        Maybe too frothy for analysis, but it definitely seems to go through periods of obsessive exhuberance about a new style followed by a complete rejection of it. Also, it seems primarily to be a status marker.

        The introduction of the Modern Greats at Oxford versus the Greats, the 1909 Tripos reform at Cambridge, President Lowell’s reforms at Harvard introducing the major system and his integration of the college’s socio-economic classes…all might be worth examining.

  • Here is a topic that I think is important and ignored:

    When discussing schooling people seem to focus on test scores and attempts to increase intelligence. We have little evidence that what the test that we judge schools by test anything important and relevant and we have little evidence that school beyond a few grade or school earlier than age 6 increases intelligence. Therefore I think that it would be better for us to focus on what we teach and make sure that is useful to most people beyond school.

    When ever I hear that people in some country need more education, I think what knowledge and skills do they lack and what is the most efficient way to get them the that knowledge and skill to them.

    • Buck Farmer

      Seconded with follow-up:

      To what degree does education improve productivity for workers vs. simply sorting which workers get access to more capital (whether financial or through control of other workers)?

      Following-up on that…how much would a stronger education system just shift workers from one economic sector to another? Given the declining marginal productivity of the target sectors, how can we figure out the optimal number of workers to shift to that sector. Is there a cheaper way of reaching this optimal cross-sector allocation than a broad-based U.S.-style (i.e. liberal arts) education system given uncertainty about what the optimal allocation is?

  • nawitus

    I’d be interested in a post on how the validity of x is weakened if the belief and arguments for opposite-of-x is made illegal (the actual real life case so far is holocaust denial which is illegal in many countries).

  • Robin, in One Book to Save Them, you (rightly) castigated William Grassie’s fuzzy-headed recommendation for rebuilding society after a collapse, because it ignored short-term needs and because a book like Maps of Time doesn’t meet long-term needs either.

    I think you’ve addressed the first issue before, by recommending safe retreats stocked with food and other supplies — and combined the whole thing with prediction markets.

    As a thought experiment though, I find the second issue fascinating. What books go on the How to Reboot Civilization bookshelf? Do you combine them with time-tested religious traditions, as in A Canticle for Leibowitz, or do you avoid “superstition” at all costs?

  • Buck Farmer

    What would be the implications of giving parents extra-votes for their children i.e. two guardians have two kids, they get two votes each, two guardians have three kids, they get 1.5 votes each?

    First-order, I see a shift of resources and policy to promote child-bearing, child-rearing, maybe education.

    Second-order, does this improve society’s welfare function assuming children are counted equally with adults and the elderly as individuals?

    • lemmy caution

      Parents are probably more conservative than the average voter.

      • gwern

        Parents are also limited upwardsly in age: few people care to give birth in their 50s. (I assume Farmer’s system is just a temporary electoral boost.) Since age is correlated with being more conservative…

  • I might not be all that well read in economics, but I was thinking the other day about the arguments people make against fiat currencies. Most commonly they argue for replacing them with currencies backed by something of “intrinsic” value, like gold. But really, the only thing that gives gold value is that it’s scarce and people want it. Plenty of things are scarce, though, but they have no “intrinsic” value because nobody wants them. What’s to keep gold from losing its value if people suddenly decide that they don’t want it? Aside from its value in manufacturing processes, the value of gold depends mainly on people wanting it, so the only thing it has that fiat currency doesn’t is natural scarcity, which as far as I can tell isn’t very desirable in a currency if you expect to be creating value.

    But if you want to avoid fiat currency, has there been much serious thought about basing the currency on something like calories, as in the fuel you need to run your body? I couldn’t find much on the subject that didn’t appear to come from crackpots, so I was wondering if Robin could take a look at it.

    • There are other backings of currencies. One of the most popular plans is using watts.
      “Kilowatt Cards are gift cards that pay for 10 kilowatt-hours of electricity
      There is the possibility of hyperinflation if someone creates a way to produce really really cheap electricity.

      But seconded its a good question.

    • George

      I read your comment and was reminded of this article by David Friedman.

      Friedman suggests a private currency could be based on a bundle of commodities. For example, a bank would issue notes that they could exchange into “a ton of steel of a specified grade, 100 bushels of wheat, an ounce of gold, and a number of other items.” With enough goods in the bundle, this would prevent production of the goods simply because of their value as currency.

      Also, I remember reading somewhere that the 19th century gold rushes would occur when the world economy grew relative to its money supply. When there was enough gold back in the system, the search for gold would slow. Hence, private gold diggers would help (far from perfectly) keep price levels stable.

  • Buck Farmer

    What’s your best argument for why or why not bayesian rationalists will win out evolutionarily?

    Or, will our distant progeny be more or less rational/biased than we are today? What mechanism and forces will lead to this?

  • Chuck

    Does marriage or monogamy create deadweight losses for society or the human species? If women choose less-than-optimal beta males in order to fit in with social norms, can that be considered an inefficient choice thereby creating a deadweight loss?

    • Buck Farmer

      On the flip-side, does the lack of destructive behavior by mated-betas or their increased productivity on net make monogamy a winner for society?

      As women gain more control over resources (see gender differential in employment during this recession), will tournement-style mating (alphaest alpha is kept as breeding stud by many women) appear in society or is monogamy more likely to be favored by women?

      • Violet

        Of course strict monogamy and one-man-multiple-exclusive-women are not the only ways that sexuality might develop in the future, so please don’t represent them as the only choices.

      • Buck Farmer

        Fair enough, Violet. Heinlein proposed a number of I believe novel arrangements like line marriages.

        These two just appear to be the choices with the most evolutionary forces pushing towards them.

        If we wanted to venture out a bit further, we could also explore how gender might change, become obsolete, multiply.

  • On the education front, my feeling is that we are trying to make a silk purse out of a sows’ ear. It is impossible.

    How about an education “system” that matches a Childs experience to their capacity to metabolize the information they are given, they will build a robust intuition.

    A better bullshit detector builds a better world.

  • Birds seem to be better at the Monty hall problem that humans
    birds adjusted their probability of switching and staying to approximate the optimal strategy. Replication of the procedure with human participants showed that humans failed to adopt optimal strategies, even with extensive training”

    How would you interpret humans not figuring out this problem?

  • Ted Sanders

    Two questions:

    Regarding cryonics: why is it optimal for some members of society to freeze themselves while others are dying of diseases that have vaccines? A childhood-vaccine endowment seems like it will save more human-years than a cryonics endowment, due the huge cost differences between them.

    I also have a human rationality puzzle that’s been stumping me. Why do women care about sharing their weight? If the goal of weight loss is to look attractive, then why would it matter if you share your weight with people who can already see how attractive you are? It seems like women who keep their weights secret are confusing the territory for the map, and altering behavior to affect an indicator of important data rather than the data itself (themselves?).

    • Buck Farmer

      Maybe because how attractive they are is widely-held but not common knowledge? Everyone knows how attractive they are, but not everyone knows that everyone else knows that.

      I suspect a lot of these puzzles rely on maintaining the polite fiction that your opinion is subjective and not grounded in an objectively-verifiable reality.

    • Violet

      Without a number there is a fuzzy sense of who is attractive and how much weight different people have.

      With a number there is a total ordering.

      The fuzzy way promotes more cooperation and less infighting.

  • Andy McKenzie

    Robin, in 2005 you wrote a paper saying that “we do not know why we now live so much longer,” referring to the increase in average human life span. That provokes two questions:

    1) Has your thinking or the consensus thought on the matter changed in the past 4.5 years?

    2) Should not having an answer to this question decrease our confidence in the techs that we are using to answer it?

  • mjgeddes

    Too much theory on LW/OB, not enough practical application. Anyone play the Betfair sports prediction markets? For probability theory, I can tell you there is no better eduction than gambling with your own money on real prediction makets and taking repeated beatings until you’ve learnt your lessons 😀

    Huge liquidity on Betfair horse racing markets, a typical UK horse race has between 1,000,000 – 2,000,000 pounds – that’s one to two million pounds per race – in matched bets wagered, and there are usually more than 30 races per day in the UK alone.

    The Betfair commission is only 2-5% (95-98% average return) so you only need to do slightly better than average in your chosen area to compensate for the commission and at least break even. Top traders in horse racing markets are making over 1000 pounds per day for only a few hours work. Check out the blog of this well-known trader:

    Adam Heathcote

    I’ve been playing the horse racing markets for a couple of years – took some horrendous beatings initially but think I’ve gradually (through a painful learning process) trying to claw my way to an edge (my target edge is about 7%).

  • londenio

    (Maybe this has been addressed in previous posts.)

    “Is there an optimal level of bias?” Too much bias can lead too often to the wrong decisions. But we need some bias to feel better about ourselves, about other people and about the world. In other words, biases may be linked to happiness. Another way of putting this question is “Is the optimal level of bias at zero?”

    • db

      Not only do we need bias to feel good (or bad), but feeling good (or bad) is a large part of our existence and decision making. The extent to which bias even can be overcome is another question, seeing as it is hard-wired into us (e.g. my nervous system is not your nervous system).

  • Andrew

    How about this?

    “I lean strongly in the direction of a warm bed and peace as opposed to a glass full of tinkling ice cubes and a room resonating with high-decibel blather. I suppose the parties wouldn’t be so bad if there was something original to be said, or if “you” had a genuine interest in “me” as opposed to “you,” but let’s face it folks, no one does. The only reason any of us really cares about cocktail conversations is to quickly redirect someone else’s stories into autobiographies that we assume to be instant bestsellers if only in print. If not, if the doe-eyed listener seems simply fascinated by what you’re saying, you can bet there’s a requested personal favor coming when you finally shut up. “Say Bill, I was wondering if you knew somebody at…that could…” Yeah right! But, as my chart shows, 90 seconds into a typical conversation, no one gives a damn about you and your problems – maybe those shoes and that dreadful eye shadow you’re wearing, but not anything audible coming out of your mouth.”

  • Joe

    I’d just like to share a link to a post by Scott Adams that might get a smile from Robin and his readers:
    Crazy or Disciplined

  • Aron
  • Cyan

    Quick question for Robin Hanson:

    Would you be in favor of truth-in-advertising laws? I find I can imagine Hansonian arguments both for and against.

  • Doug S.

    Why has Overcoming Bias been loading so slowly lately? It takes much longer than most other pages I read, and it’s been consistently slow for a couple of weeks now. I think that “sitemeter” thing might have something to do with it, because that’s what shows up at the bottom of my browser most of the time while I wait for this site to load.

    Has anyone else been having this problem?

    • Dave

      Yes ,on browser that has XP,but not the one with Windows 7.Same browsing comments.

  • I think Robin should comment on this from Will Ambrosini.

  • burger flipper

    good news for Many Worlds?
    “Scientists supersize quantum mechanics”