Open Thread

This is our monthly place to discuss relevant topics that have no appeared in recent posts.

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  • Hm. I can’t think of anything.

  • wumpus

    The epistemology of Women’s Studies departments.

    • wumpus

      What I mean is: the taboos, the evidence evaluation practices, the dogmas… What are the dynamics in a social-environment replete with taboos?

      • A focus on status and gaining status by not violating taboos and by compelling others to lose status by violating taboos either by putting them in desperate situations or by making up taboos that only serve to reduce the status of those who violate them.

        Examples of the first; bullies often taunt their victims until the victim does something to which the bully can retaliate for to defend the “bully’s honor” and beat the shit out of the victim.

        Examples of the second; slut shaming, making drugs illegal, proclaiming masturbation to be a sin, making contraception and abortion illegal, taboos against gay marriage, interracial marriage, inter-ethnic marriage, inter-religious marriage.

        Pretty much every social status hierarchy is only there to serve those at the top of the social power hierarchy. The patriarchy is the most well known one. Social status through wealth is another. Social status through religion is another. Social status through political power is another.

  • Sid

    Came across this fascinating hypothesis by Nicholas Humphrey about the placebo effect. His idea: placebo works because it cues the body to mobilize extra resources to heal itself. It gives ‘permission’ to heal.


    • This is correct. I have written about it too.

      • Dave

        In reference to your reply below: Whew!! Now I know why we need metaphors. However your explanation is still metaphysical. If symptoms disappear,that does not connote healing. In many cases symptoms disappear after sham surgery at the same frequency as active structural modification. Your comments still refer to unobserved, inferred phenomena.

      • How do you want to define “healing”? By any reasonable definition, placebos “work”, but inconsistently.

    • ChristianKl

      I don’t see a real hypothesis.
      Scientific hypothesis are something that you can test through an experiement.

      I can’t imagine an experiment that would test whether “Placebo gives ‘permission’ to heal.” that not about “does placebo work?”.

      I would rather call it a metaphar.

      • Whether placebos work or not is a question of data. The data says that they do work, but inconsistently.

        If placebos do work, they must work via physiology, there being no such thing as “magic”.

        We know that physiology directs the utilization of resources and that the resources available are finite. Finite resources are limited and resources used for one thing cannot be used for another.

        We know that organisms can run themselves to death while being chased by a bear. That tells us that physiology can allocate resources away from survival to running away from a bear.

        We know that “stress” and being in a “fight-or-flight” state reduces the rate of healing.

        Healing is a complex process of myriad steps involving cell-to-cell signaling, DNA transcription, protein synthesis, etc. A complex process requires a complex control system.

        When healing is slowed via exposure to stress, healing still occurs and still produces a high fidelity restoration of function indicating that the complex process of healing is still operating at high fidelity.

        A complex process operating at high fidelity requires a complex control system operating at high fidelity. The rate of that high fidelity process does not alter the requirement that the process is controlled with a control system of high fidelity.

        If something simple accelerates healing, it can only do so by modifying the rate of the high fidelity process that is controlling healing.

        Presumably the slowing of healing while running from a bear is due to the allocation of resources away from healing so as to improve survival by escaping from the bear.

        Presumably anything that allocates resources back to healing would accelerate healing.

        Entering a “fight-or-flight” state is a whole-organism response. The whole organism must receive signals (an image of a bear on photosensitive cells in the eye) which are interpreted as threat and which trigger the whole-organism response of entering the “fight-or-flight” state. Leaving a “fight-or-flight” state must also be a whole-organism response. Signals must be received which are interpreted as the “all clear” signal and which then trigger the leaving of the “fight-or-flight” state.

        When the “all clear” signal is received, the organism can reallocate resources to healing and healing is accelerated.

        What about that is metaphor?

  • dWj

    Is there any plausible estimate of the results of the following exercise? If you look at just the health care spending in the US that is, by reasonable ex ante assessment, above $100,000 per QALY (or negative), what’s the total, and how does it break down by Medicare, Medicaid, group private insurance, individual/family private insurance, and individual out-of-pocket?

  • I would like to hear people’s thoughts on the total nihilism of modern Western secular ideology — i.e. it’s apparent lack of any values, direction or “divine purpose” for civilization beyond vapid capitalism and material progress. What is the great promise of this ideology other than human obsolescence and extermination? I think you all need to take a hard look at the problems with your ideology if you want to understand why modernity is facing such aggressive threats and why a new Dark Age seems to be falling. If the techno-miracles, space colonization, immortality, transhuman transcendance, etc. don’t come soon as prophesied by Kurzweil and company, methinks this “enlightened” age is going to end soon and rather badly. Better get to work, ye utilitarian materialistic man, because the barbarians are inside the gates, and they grow restless….

    • Vaniver

      it’s apparent lack of any values, direction or “divine purpose” for civilization beyond vapid capitalism and material progress. What is the great promise of this ideology other than human obsolescence and extermination?

      My interpretation is that the value is along the lines of “be yourself” or “follow your dreams.” For people with firm selves or interesting dreams, that works out great- but many people actually feel better when someone is telling them what to strive for and what to do. It looks like another way where freeing everyone helps the right tail but hurts the left half.

      • Indeed. People seem to enjoy all believing in the same pretend story, and especially fighting against enemies who have a different pretend story.

        Liberalism imagines that all the pretend stories can be true, at least for each believer; but of course this is its own kind of pretend story, with its own kind of top-down enforced meta-value system (along the lines of “don’t force your pretend story on someone else”). But to the extent that the justification for not forcing stories on someone else is that their story is just as entitled to respect (or whatever) as yours, that’s an implicit recognition that none of the stories have much truth value.

        People have both an individual nature and a collective nature; societies tend to ignore one or the other. It may be that an individual without a group-enforced pretend story is like a disembodied organ trying to make it on its own.

    • Modernjan

      That’s just utter BS. Not believing in a sky god that watches naughty people doesn’t mean you don’t have morals (one can also question whether you’re really a moral person if you need the wrath of a sky god to keep you from doing bad things). Without secularism there would be no technology (remember Galileo), no personal freedom, no critical thinking, no equality for minorities and the last dark age was characterized by religious zealotry.

      If you can’t live without some overarching ideology, then turn to humanism, but don’t project your mental weakness on others.

  • Right, so no sense of collective purpose or destiny. I wonder if such an ethos has ever been attempted in the history of civilization, and what it’s chances of success are. How can any great project (for example, space colonization) be undertaken if there is no collective will to do it? It seems to me that the Western world suffers from an acute crisis of will and shared values, which will really start to become apparent when societies that do have those things (China?) start to really rocket past us.

    • Michael Wengler

      The west may have reached or surpassed the optimum level of “individuality” vs “collective.” Who knows. Certainly the west has had an overwhelming influence by now on the east or other non-western cultures. It seems the creativity that looks to be associated with inidividualtiy has been a major driver of that.

      I’d imagine the west will also adopt eastern and other values as time moves forward and as those values seem important. Whether it does or not, the future successful societies will mostly be an amalgam of the best (in a surviving-selection) sense of the cultures of today.

      Is your concern because you percieve yourself playing for the western team and so you want to exhort “us” to win faster?

  • Andre

    Elites and Hypocracy:

    Breaking rules is a sign of power:

  • mjgeddes

    I’m nominating ‘Daft Punk’ (French Electronica, known for sound-track to ‘Tron Legacy’) as the offical music of transhumanism.

    We may go down to uAI, but at least we’ll be listening to great music right up to the end. Have a listen to this re-mix of ‘The Grid’ for an example. Really good shit man. You should be playing this stuff all day as you code your AIs.

    Daft Punk – The Grid – Cystal Method Remix

  • I don’t know what to call this ability, but Robin is the type who can put meaningful, useful insights into a few words. It makes me wonder, why doesn’t he get a Twitters account? Wrong in-group signaling? No interest? Whatever.

    There’s a defunct parody Hanson, though.

  • Dremora

    Why don’t cryonics folk focus on innovations in brain scanning technology? It seems that a high-precision scan of the brain is far more promising in preserving the relevant connectome information than physical freezing of the organ, even if no current technology can make sense of the data.

    How far away are we from scanning human brains precisely enough to store the person’s individuality on digital media, e.g. for later reconstruction?

    • Poelmo

      Because a copy is a copy. It’s not immortality when they just make a copy of you and let you die.

      • Dremora

        This depends on your conception of personal identity. I’d count it.

  • Poelmo


    Apply the “afterlife test”. If there is an afterlife from which the dead look upon our world than me being alive means me walking around in this world and me being dead means me being in the afterlife looking down. If a copy is made of my brain after which my brain is destroyed than I’ll be looking down at a copy impersonating me, so clearly I’m dead, of course other people may not know I have been replaced with a copy, but I would know.

    • Dremora

      I don’t share your supernatural premises. But more importantly, if several concurrent copies of myself would be created in the future, then from my perspective before the split, I’d all count them equally as me. So assuming an supernatural afterlife as well as a digital reproduction of my connectome, I’d simply have two concurrent future perspectives that would both be me. I find it harder to predict how my future perspectives would see each other, as they exist simultaneously since that doesn’t occur in normal life. But I see any future version of me as a copy, even those resulting from the normal biological survival processes. When you eat food, you effectively force it to become a part of a future copy of yours. I include those in my identity concept.

      I am not aware of the scanning technologies, and how fast progress in this field could be. But there are multiple advantages over cryonics, including the option to scan people while they are still alive, store their information redundantly to avoid loss, and possibly easier storage due to the completely digital nature of the data. I don’t have spare money to invest in this field, but if I were a Bill Gates or Warren Buffet, or anyone with disposable income, this would be a promising field to greatly increase the odds for personal survival. From my layperson’s perspective, it seems entirely conceivable that we get the required resolution to save personal identity by 2030 or so.

      • Poelmo

        No supernatural premise is needed, I could just as well have said being dead would mean me going to oblivion. The point is that you still are not the one controlling the body of the copy.

      • Dremora

        The point is that you still are not the one controlling the body of the copy.

        The hidden complexity lies in the personal pronoun “you”, which you use as if it were well-defined, while it can, in fact, be defined in various ways. I contend that ordinary biological survival is equivalent to creating future copies, but you can define your own concept of personal identity almost arbitrarily. You can exclude digital copies, or you can exclude revival after brain death (ruling out the usefulness of cryonics), or you can exclude people who live on Mondays. It’s arbitrary. I count all my future biological versions, as well as digital versions that aren’t transformed to a point of unrecognizability.

  • Poelmo


    It’s not that difficult to figure out what I (as well as most people) mean by “you”/”me”. Suppose I let someone make a scan of my brain, and then store the data and create a copy of myself with it, a week later. Now there are two beings that look the same, one has one week of memories more, that’s the original, me. If you don’t believe that, then how about I, the one with more memories, kill the other being. Did I kill myself? Of course not, I’ll live to tell it and witnesses can confirm my memories of the week between the scan and the creation of the copy are true. If the copy kills me then he can still walk the earth and beyond satisfying my ego that wouldn’t do much good for my dead corpse.

    • Dremora

      Imagine you make a copy of yourself and then get a bump to the head and lose the memories of one week, while the copy retains them. Now there are two beings that look the same, one has one week of memories more, that’s the original, you.

  • John Maxwell

    Meant to share this link in another thread, but I only found it now. About differing fertility between educated and uneducated women in the United States:

  • Michael Wengler

    The fear of individual death, the high value we place on our own life, is almost certainly something we evolved to have. That is, our species is descended from those who had this feature, those who didn’t have this feature in sufficient strength died off.

    I am surprised that some of the rationalist community vaunts this fear of death to a supreme level. If it is just something we have because of genetic selection suitable to our ancestral environment, why organize things like cryonics around amping it to the nth degree. Isn’t it more likely, if there are some sort of “meta-values,” that we would want to de-emphasize the drives we have that were obviously put there for evolutionary purposes?

    An acceptance of cryonics is a sort of touchstone, secret handshake, “yes you have figured it out” thing among a lot of the rationalist community. To me, on the other hand, it seems similar to a bunch of people raised with doses of heroin in their mother’s milk, vaunting their acquisition of and dependence on heroin to a supreme level of importance in their rational calculations, because “obviously” rationality should serve volition and I really really REALLY want my next hit.