Open Thread

This is our monthly place to discuss relevant topics that have not appeared in recent posts.

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  • NickW

    Veblen thought of conspicuous leisure and conspicuous consumption.

    We know of conspicuous consumption as preference for either quality (luxury good vs normal good) or quantity.

    Conspicuous leisure refers to anything that can only be obtained by allocating time away from productive work, such as spending time learning a language rather than working for a living.

    The problem is you can’t advertise conspicuous leisure as well as you can consumption, even though conspicuous leisure is a better indication of status and class. The queen of England speaks French, but I didn’t know that until recently. Conspicuous consumption is more useful in cities and other places where people can judge you without meeting you or knowing you. However, you can charge a credit card, borrow, or work really hard to finance conspicuous consumption.

    My point…

    Facebook is so popular since it makes it easy to broadcast conspicuous leisure. Facebook turns conspicuous leisure into conspicuous consumption.

    • adrianratnapala

       Yes.  But speaking languages works better than you indicate.  Not everyone might know about it, but those in your circles do.

    • V V

       “Conspicuous” means “easy to notice, obvious, attracting attention”.

      So if a type of leisure is not easy to notice, it is not conspicuous leisure by definition.

  • Samuelblakerosen

    What are the differences between “coolness” and “status”?

    • officer_fred

      One hypothesis: coolness is micro-scale status, so the larger the status-conferring power structure, the less likely we are to see a person who has high status within that structure as cool. A high school principal is high-status but not cool, while someone who makes most decisions in a small group of friends and wins them over by persuasion is cool. The principal has power due to a distant government, while the charismatic friend has power due to the consent of the small group.

      • Steven

         Status is far, cool is near?

      • endril

        You might say that a certain rock band is cool, Batman is cool, dinosaurs are cool, or Nike shoes are cool.  How is that related to small groups?  Or is it a different use of the word?

    • ShardPhoenix

      My guess is that someone is cool if we see them as both high status and (near-mode) worthy of personal emulation.

  • S Philips

    I would like to see consistency in capitalisation of post titles.

    Robin: “We Can Do Low-Treewidth Combinatorial Prediction Markets!”

    Kajta: “Fragmented status doesn’t help”

    Robert: “Good friends can make bad business partners”

    • officer_fred

      No way, man. Rigid enforcement of post-title capitalization norms would suffocate the radical, free-thinking style of this whole community. You take your fascist crap back to Marginal Revolution where it belongs.

      (In case it’s not obvious, I’m kidding).

    • Christopher Chang

      Possibly an inadvertent feature rather than a bug: this makes it easier to identify Robin’s posts in an RSS feed.

  • Luke Parrish

    How resistant should one be to the notion of reincarnation?

    I find memory-free transfer of consciousness ludicrous. However it’s at least not incoherent to speculate that memories might naturally be copied sometimes, by chemical means, or transfered during the migration of nervous-system-endowed parasites from one host to another. How implausible is this?

    • V V

       Maybe I didn’t correctly understand what you are talking about, but it doesn’t seem to make any sense.

      Memories are encoded in the spatial structure of the brain. There is no natural mechanism that can convert them to a transferable form.

      • Luke Parrish

        Are you saying memories don’t naturally transfer from one neuron to another, or from one area of the brain to another? Or are you saying the entire structure of the brain is somehow involved in the storage of each memory? Either way it seems like remembering something involves forming new memories from old ones, which in turn seemingly implies that a parasite jacked into the system could access old memories and form them (with limited complexity) within its own nervous system.

        I’m not saying I find it likely, just that it seems coherent and the kind of thing I’d reach for if I thought I had a confirmed case of a child remembering things from a dead adult. I wonder why reincarnation believers are not prone to this kind of speculation, and are instead prone to believe in supernatural explanations like soul migration?

      • V V


        Are you saying memories don’t naturally transfer from one neuron to another, or from one area of the brain to another?

        As far as I know, they don’t.

        Or are you saying the entire structure of the brain is somehow involved in the storage of each memory?


        Either way it seems like remembering something involves forming new memories from old ones,


      • Luke Parrish


        Because a memory is a copy of the subjective experience of an event, and because recalling something is itself a subjective experience with attributes mapping directly to the original event.

      • V V

         But remembering that you remembered X is generally different that remembering X.

    • Guest

      It seems very implausible biologically. Memories are probably complex in implementation, so parasites would very probably only have this feature if it were an evolved function, and even that is probably not easy to evolve into. And I don’t see the adaptation value for the parasite.

  • Marcos

    It seems to me that charter cities would be a good place to experiment with futocracy. Since the the city itself would be considered an experiment, its population and the governments involved might be more open to the idea. 

    • V V


      • Marcos


  • V V

    Lord Anthony of the House Stark has developed a technology to create copies of people.
    He offers you to make 99999 copies of yourself, in exchange you and your copies will have to become his serfs and live the rest of your lives as medieval subsistence farmers.

    1) Do you accept his offer?

    2) Do you believe that accepting the offer is moral, immoral, or morally neutral?

    • Guest

      1) No.

      2) Needs more information. As a person who can predict that his copies will hate life as a subsistence farmer, it would be immoral for me to accept. If I were a person who can predict that he will probably love it, or else be able to commit reliable painless suicide at any time, it would be moral.

      • V V

         Assume that living as a subsistence farmer is less desirable than your current life, but not as undesirable that you would wish to kill yourself.

      • Dremora

        That’s an unrealistic assumption. But accepting it, consider externalities, and if there are no negative externalities that would outweigh the net quality-of-life gain for your copies, accept the offer.

        (I was the guest btw, the browser hadn’t stored my usual nick as a default for some reason)

  • daedalus2u

    I would like to here other people’s analysis of the story of the lifeguard who was fired for leaving his assigned area to rescue someone outside his assigned area.

    On the one hand it is of course reasonable to fire  him because he left his assigned area.  On the other hand is it reasonable to simply watch while a man drowns just because he was outside his assigned area?  There could be liability either way.  

    Or is he being a chump in risking his life (and job) in rescuing someone he was not being paid to rescue, and is that the kind of generosity that non-chumps like to exploit and take advantage of? 

    • V V

      Outsourcing public services to private contractors, how nice….

      The company fired him because he provided the service for free.

      Or is he being a chump in risking his life (and job) in rescuing someone
      he was not being paid to rescue, and is that the kind of generosity
      that non-chumps like to exploit and take advantage of?

      No, because doing such things is (was?) typically considered high status.

      • daedalus2u

         So he was fired to knock his status down?  His boss only had status from being rich and owning the company. 

        The vicarious status the boss got from being the “superior” of the high status lifeguard wasn’t enough for the boss, so he fired the lifeguard, expecting that the boss would increase in status by putting the lifeguard down. 

        Or was he fired because the lifeguard did put human life ahead of the boss’s work rules?  So the boss needed to put  him in his place? 

      • V V

         He was fired because the company charges for each meter of beach they protect.
        By saving a person outside the area that was payed for, the lifeguard reduced the incentive the state has to buy the service, hence he damaged the company financial interests.

        According to his boss he was supposed to sit and watch a man die.

  • lightrdngguideamdg

    I recently read about 4 fascinating numbers which I have never seen discussed together. First, 30.  Steve Hsu reports that a comprehensive correction of each of the many gene expression nodes relating to intelligence would result, after each is flipped from adverse to positive in a particular individual, in a g level of 30 positive sigmas.  I would have guessed 7 or 8 at most. Second, 13,700. Poet and geometrician Shing-Tung Yau reports that recent telescopic observations have led experts to believe that, even if the universe curves with respect to itself (like a saddle or like the best dark and light balloon ever) it must be no less than the size of one thousand Hubble volumes of 13.7 billion light years.  I would have guessed 40 or 50. Third, ten to the tenth power to the one hundred and twenty second power (give or take a power or two).  Brian Greene, string theory professor,  reports that it is possible that there are an infinite number of potential fully separated cosmic horizons and that “the number of distinct possible particle configurations within a cosmic horizon is about … a 1 followed by ten to the 122 zeros” (I would have guessed, roughly,  a 1 followed by ten to the google zeros to the google zeros multiplied by a number ten to the google zeros larger than that). Fourth, 12,000.  Gerard t’Hooft, if I read him correctly, reports that the “theoretical minimum” to do useful creative work in physics involves prior knowledge of something roughly equivalent to (what I fairly or unfairly  extrapolate to be) twelve thousand pairs of pages of catalogued physics knowledge, assuming lots of helpful interspersed equations, pictures, and diagrams, and a comfortably large type face. I would have guessed 900 or so. Two quick questions. (A) Which of these numbers is most likely incorrect.  (B) Assuming each of these numbers is correct, and also assuming that materialism is “right” and theism is “wrong”, what is the point of trying to scientifically extend life by relatively small magnitudes of length? Why not wait for Steve Hsu’s 30 sigma souped-up-descendants who will plow through the theoretical minimum in a week or two in summer, or why not rely on the soothing and theoretically inevitable power of Brian Greene’s infinitely repeated configurations, to do the job of extending everything which is worth extending?  

    • daedalus2u

      The first number. There is no such
      thing as “g”. It is simply an artifact.

    • Oscar Cunningham

       Is a “dark and light balloon” a thing, or have I misparsed your sentence?

  • Eric_mcfadden41

    Hi Robin,
         I don’t know if this has been addressed yet.  The movie “Magic Mike” shows male strippers in an interesting light.  Do you have a take on this movie?  If you haven’t seen it yet I guarantee your wife wants you to take her to it and you will probably regret going.

  • sark

    I have a theory concerning the function of happiness. It says that happiness does not function as an incentive we pursue but serves to regulate our social behavior conditional on our social status. The general philosophy behind the theory seems favorable to what most people here believe. So I hope you might kindly offer me some feedback :)

  • Wonks Anonymous