Stupid Questions September 2015

by polymathwannabe1 min read2nd Sep 2015175 comments


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This thread is for asking any questions that might seem obvious, tangential, silly or what-have-you. Don't be shy, everyone has holes in their knowledge, though the fewer and the smaller we can make them, the better.

Please be respectful of other people's admitting ignorance and don't mock them for it, as they're doing a noble thing.

To any future monthly posters of SQ threads, please remember to add the "stupid_questions" tag.

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How long before driverless cars will be for sale in the U.S. outside of big cities? I'm thinking of getting a new car but wondering if I should wait or lease because of the possibility of getting a driverless car in a few years.

8Tripitaka5yBoth sources are from 2015, the first one from january, second from last week. I think it unlikely (<10%) that they are going to overperfom by more than a single year, and very likely (70%) to take at least a year longer. Remember, its not only a technological problem, but the inertia in a vast system. Insurance+lawmakers etc need to finish their side as well. Elon Musk, someone who can reasonably called domain expert on innovative car systems, gives the same range: Note that I only looked up Musks opinion after I wrote the first part.
2Lumifer5yDepends on how long is your "few", but note that you'll need for the driverless cars to not only become available to the public, but also stop being bleeding-edge expensive. Look at Teslas -- they are available to the public, but they are not cheap.
2ChristianKl5yWhy not buy a used car anyway? New cars often lose a lot of their value the moment you buy them.
1James_Miller5yI should look into this. But if cars quickly lose value for rational reasons, such as people only selling recently bought cars if they are defective, than I don't necessarily gain by buying a used car.
1moridinamael5yRental car companies will sell cars that are fairly new for "no good reason" other than rebalancing their inventory and renewing their fleet with new cars.
1gjm5yI would certainly want a good explanation of why a very-nearly-new car was being sold, and indeed I think rather few used cars are very nearly new. For a car that's at least a couple of years old, though, there seems little need for extreme suspicion, and so far as I know (note: I have no statistics on this) most used cars are not horribly defective, suggesting that hugely reduced price relative to new cars can't be mostly about the risk of such defects. (If the used car is half the price of the new one, it would need something close to a 50% chance of being completely worthless for defect risk to justify the price difference. Somewhat less than that, of course, on account of inconvenience and the fact that an unknown defect is worse than a known one, but I think not hugely less.) I suspect (with no evidence beyond casual observation) that it's mostly a combination of: Risk aversion. If you buy a new car, you can be pretty confident that it's in good working order (and have recourse if it turns out not to be). If you buy a used car, usually it's fine but there's a nonzero chance that you get screwed. It seems to me that most people are too risk-averse, in the sense that if they were able to disvalue risk less then (1) most would be happier overall and (2) aggregate happiness would be greater. If you are less risk-averse than most, you might value used cars higher relative to new ones. Laziness. Reducing the risk of buying a lemon requires effort (and maybe getting help from someone else more expert). If you don't value your time at hundreds or thousands of dollars per hour, you should probably not see this as a compelling reason for buying a new car. Signalling. If your car is intended (on some level) as a signal of what a nice car you can afford to drive, then a shiny new one is a better signal than a used one. If you care less about signalling, or want to signal other things than willingness to spend, you might value used cars higher relative to new ones.
1Jiro5yNo, it would not. Part of the price difference is just depreciation; the car isn't going to last as long, will need repairs sooner, etc. simply because it is older, and older cars are like that. The further price difference on top of that is the price difference that actually needs to be explained by the increased risk.
0gjm5yI think you've misunderstood me; my apologies for not being clearer and more explicit. I'll try to fix that below. The question I was trying to address was: How much of the explanation can defect risk be? And my answer was: Not much more than the expected cost of the defects, which in turn is probably rather less than Pr(serious defects) * value of car without defects, which for not-very-old cars is empirically quite a small fraction of the cost of the new car. (The "used price = new price / 2" case was just an example.) Since the difference between new and used prices is a large fraction of the cost of the new car, therefore, it seems unlikely that defect risk is most of the explanation -- as I said, The context was James Miller's suggestion (if I understood him correctly) that defect risk might in fact be a large fraction of the explanation for the big difference in price between new cars and used-but-not-very-old cars.
0Jiro5yI don't think that's wrong, but I have another suggestion: Car prices may be subject to a variation of Goodhart's Law []. Defects may not be that likely in used cars, but attempting to act as though they are not likely would create incentives that would make them become likely. This might require precommitment or superrationality on the part of the consumers, but a lot of "irrational" consumer behavior can be modelled as rational precommitment, even if the consumer doesn't consciously realize that's what it is.
0gjm5yThat's a very interesting idea. I'm pretty sure it's too sophisticated to be consciously part of the reasoning of more than a tiny fraction of car buyers, so if it's an important part of the explanation it must be (as you suggest) unconscious -- presumably as a result of some general-purpose unconscious tendency to over-penalize risks of that general sort. This suggests some interesting psychology experiments; I wonder whether they've been done.

Is there any good nonfiction books on cryonics? All I could find is this one . I started to read it but it is more historical and autobiographical. Also, do you think there would be demand for a well researched book on cryonics for general audiences?

What is the best way to handle police interaction in countries you don't live in? In the US it is generally considered pretty wise to exercise your right to be silent extensively. Now obviously in some really corrupt places your just going to have to go along with whatever they want. But what about the different countries in Europe? My instinct would be to respectfully tell the officer I would like to call my embassy (and have that number with me!).

4ShardPhoenix5yI've never been in this situation, but one question I'm confused about is how both sides arrive at an appropriate-sized bribe. What's the stop them taking everything you have?
3ZankerH5yThere's usually an informal standard that's large enough to represent a significant boost to a police officer's income, but small enough that it's worth it for most people to pay rather than risk more fines or worse. There's not much negotiation involved.
[-][anonymous]5y 3

My mum says eating raw oats is unhealthy. I like to sprinkle half a cup of raw oats on yoghurt. I looked it up and apparently raw oats can cause malabsorption of nutrients due to some chemicals that grains tend to have. I'm skeptical considering lots of nutritional research is sketchy. Should I avoid raw oats?

Should I put my elephants in RAID 5, or should I just go with RAID 0, since they never forget?

1Lumifer5yIt will eventually become an elephant graveyard, anyway, so use zfs :-P
0Baughn5yThere's a good chance you'll have a second elephant failure while the first one is giving birth to a replacement, so at least use RAID6. Or ZFS RAIDZ2. That's also great.

Is it useful to think about the difference between 'physically possible' i.e. obeying the laws of physics and possible to engineer? In computer science there is something like this. You have things which can't be done on a turing machine (e.g. halting problem). But then you have things which we may never be able to arrange the atoms in the universe to do, such as large cases of NP-hard problems.

So what about in physics? I have seen the argument that if we set loose a paperclip maximizer on earth, then we might doom the rest of the observable universe. ... (read more)

1Houshalter5yWe know, and can formalize, what the upper limits of computing are. We have no idea what the upper limits of physics are. Even if we assume we know all the things there are to know about physics, that doesn't mean clever engineering can't come up with a way of doing it. Even if you only move at a fraction of the speed of light, you could reach all the stars in a galaxy in a few million years. In the 1960s engineers came up with a way of travelling 1-10% of the speed of light using nuclear bombs. There was another proposal IIRC that used a giant collector in the front to grab hydrogen molecules, and could somehow reach 70% of the speed of light. If you have nanotech, you can shoot millions of very tiny, pin sized or smaller, spacecraft at significant speeds. Even if only a tiny fraction reach their destination, the nanotech on board could self replicate, and create trillions more.
2taygetea5yTo correct one thing here, the Bussard ramjet has drag effects. It can only get you to about 0.2c, making it pretty pointless to bother if you have that kind of command over fusion power.
0Strange75yColonizing the galaxy is a political problem, not a question of engineering possibility. A sufficiently zealous world government could jump-start asteroid mining with an Orion Heavy Lifter, construct mirror arrays near the sun, and start lobbing around interstellar VNMs, all with relatively simple refinement and application of existing technologies. Problem is, the best way of putting a complete industrial base into orbit runs afoul of certain atmospheric nuclear test ban treaties. Without a reactionless drive there's no point sending a colony ship faster than about 60% of the speed of light. Gotta save some remass to decelerate.

Can we use the stock market itself as a useful prediction market in any way? For example can we get useful information about how long Moore's law type growth in microprocessors will likely continue based on how much the market values certain companies? Or are there too many auxiliary factors, so that reverse engineering anything interesting from price information is hopeless?

2James_Miller5yYes, look at the ratio of a stock's price to it's current earnings to get a good prediction of how the company's earnings will change over the next decade.
0gwern5yI don't think I understand how that is consistent with EMH. You mean that P:E predicts high variance but the mean is still priced in correctly so one can't make a profit just by looking at P:E? A high P:E meaning something like the market saying 'this company's earnings will either go way up or way down but I don't know which'?
3James_Miller5yImagine that the stock prices of companies A and B were equal. Last year Company A had low earnings per share while company B had high earnings per share. EMH implies that the market expects that in the future Company A's earnings will increase relative to Company B's earnings. EMH implies that stock prices, not profits, follow random walks. Say both of our businesses made $1 million this year. Everyone expects your profits to increase but mine to decline. We have the same number of shares of stock outstanding. Your company's stock price will be a lot higher than mine, giving you a much greater price/earnings ratio reflecting the market's expectations of increases in your future profits.
0CellBioGuy5yReally? Given the massive bubble in tech stocks and the US stock market in general?
1James_Miller5yIt's very hard to know if you are in a bubble.
-1AspiringRationalist5yCitation needed.
1Vaniver5yDo you want a citation for that P/E ratios reflect market expectations about future value (and thus earnings), or do you want a citation for the claim that the market is good at predicting what earnings will be in the future?
0AspiringRationalist5yThe claim that the market is good at predicting future earnings. It probably is, but economics does not yet have the empirical grounding to give me high confidence in its theories (the way I would be for fields like physics or chemistry; I still think economic theory has a strongly positive correlation with reality).
2Vaniver5yThis is conceptually very easy to test; get historical stock price and earnings data, compute P/E ratios at each snapshot, compute earnings growth across snapshots, and then look at the relationship between the two. Vanguard ran the numbers here [] (page 7), and two ways of calculating the P/E ratio were the strongest two factors. (As one would expect, 1-year returns were very difficult to predict at all, and they were mostly useful for 10-year returns.)
2gjm5yIf I've understood that document correctly, they aren't saying anything about predicting performance of individual companies, they're looking at some sort of averaged P/E ratio and relating it to future performance of the stock market as a whole. One way for that to work would be for individual stocks' P/E ratio to be indicative of their future performance, but there are others; e.g., maybe overall economic conditions influence both investors' attitudes and future performance. In the latter case, P/E ratio might be less useful (or outright useless) for comparing companies at a single time.
1Vaniver5yAgreed. I went with the first Google search result that was at all close to the question at hand; I recommend anyone more interested in the subject collect the data and run the numbers themselves. In particular, one might want to compare residual P/E ratios--that company's P/E minus the S&P 500's P/E or the total stock market P/E--to future earnings growth in order to try to remove some of the time-dependent effects and specifically judge the market's ability to guess the earnings growth of individual companies. One could, if they knew historical industrial groupings, judge the market's ability to price the overall market, industries, and individual companies. It seems like we would expect the first to be better than the second, which is itself better than the third. This is both for the raw statistical reason that the sample being averaged over is smaller as we go down, making the range of reasonable numbers larger, and the financial reason that forces on larger scales may be more visible or predictable than forces on smaller scales.
1AspiringRationalist5yThat's very useful info. Thanks for the link.
-1[anonymous]5yHere you go:
1Lumifer5yYes, of course, though it depends on what you consider "useful".
0Douglas_Knight5yNo, companies are too complicated. To address your particular example, Intel has three advantages over its competitors. One is that it pushes the boundary of Moore's law, the one point you are interested in. But the other two are that it is probably the best in the world at arranging transistors and that it has close to a monopoly on the 386 architecture, and thus inertia. Even if Moore's law did break down, it is not clear how long it would take for the competitors to catch up.

Are index funds still a good idea if you don't live in the US? In Australia for example, due to differences in things like capital gains tax rates, the existence of franking credits, tax exempt options like your main residence, and whatever else I'm not aware of, I'm not sure.

2James_Miller5yYes, buy index funds on U.S., EU, and Australian stocks. The ideal index fund would invest in every single asset class in the world in proportion to that asset's relative size in the world's economy.
0Lumifer5yThat's an interesting set. What, no Japan or China? No emerging markets whatsoever? Why would an Australian want exposure to domestic equity when, most likely, he is already exposed to Australia's economy?
1James_Miller5yYou are right about Japan. I'm not sure about China as it might be too corrupt for passive investing to work. To help mitigate the currency risk of investments? (Although I'm not sure about this answer.)
1Lumifer5yThat's an interesting offhand comment. Does that imply that EMH doesn't apply to financial assets in corrupt economies, specifically to external (foreign) investors who can come and leave as they want? Also, while China's official economic numbers are highly suspect (see e.g. this []), it looks very likely that it is one of the three world's biggest economies (along with USA and EU). Can a passive investor afford to ignore it? Well, it doesn't mitigate the risk, it just partially avoids it. You are right in that investing in foreign countries brings with it FX risk and while it's easy to hedge a lot of people are not going to bother. Another interesting thing here is that the currency markets do not fall under EMH, both empirically (they are clearly not a random walk) and theoretically (the preconditions for EMH do not hold).
2AspiringRationalist5yCan you please elaborate on that? Do you mean the prices themselves are not a random walk or do you mean the prices are not a random walk after adjusting for interest rate differences? And what preconditions don't hold for currency markets?
2Lumifer5yThe currency rates are not a random walk (it's easy to verify that emprirically) either before or after adjusting for the interest rate parity. What makes currency markets different is that they have huge powerful players -- central banks -- which are not driven by the profit motive.
1James_Miller5yYes, although with China you can't necessarily leave when you want as the government might restrict sales. No, but by investing in U.S. firms that do business in China you are not ignoring it.
1Larks5yUS firms? Your main China exposure is going to come from your Aussie mining exposure.
1Lumifer5yWe are talking about index funds. I don't think a US equity index will give you any meaningful exposure to specifically China (as opposed to, say, some global factor like risk appetite).
1banx5yI don't know for sure, but the answer is very probably yes. I recommend searching [] for Australia-specific info.
[-][anonymous]5y 3

What's a minimalist, free, personal finance software to keep track of what I own, possess, am in invested in, spending my time and budgeting?

5gwern5yIs there some reason punching 'minimalist free personal finance software' into Google did not help you out?
1philh5y [] is minimalist in some dimensions, I think less so in others.
1Risto_Saarelma5ySeconding this. I use the hledger [] variant.
1Lumifer5yWhatever Open/Libre Office calls their spreadsheet. Not sure how minimalist you want to go, though. A shell and a filesystem are sufficient, if you want to be really minimalist :-/
0moridinamael5yI use to great effect. It's free, it allows you to track all your bank accounts and investments and any property you care to keep track of. It also lets you set budgets. It doesn't do anything for tracking time. If you use it you will inevitably find shortfalls. For example, you will inevitably wish that you could apply this month's budget assumptions to previous months in order to test out the budget's performance, and you'll realize that you can't do that. But all software has limitations.
0Elo5ypocketbook; YNAB (you need a budget)
0OrphanWilde5yNotepad/TextEdit. If you want a few more features than that, MySQL. If you want a few more features than that, []
[-][anonymous]5y 3

Has anyone in the world published their 23andme data openly?

5gwern5yYes; informal and crowdsourced ones where you can download and use without restriction include: * [] * [] * [] * [] * you can probably also dig up some non-included ones using good old search engines and searching for phrases unique to a 23andMe or other genotyping data export file, eg [] Probably a lot of overlap between them, though, so you would need to de-duplicate. Various scientific/professional genome datasets are available; for example, [] makes their 1k genomes available (but lacks any phenotype data). I don't have a complete list of those and probably a lot of them would put a lot of barriers in the way of access. You could look at [] but don't expect much: privacy and 'medical ethics' and 'publish or perish' are why we can't have nice things, and why there's only a few thousand public genotypes even though we must be well past the million mark by now, considering 23andMe has done 700k+. (I compiled this list of open DNA sources because I was curious about the possibility of checking for dysgenic trends by downloading all of them and then correlating the Rietveld SNP hits with reported age; as they have some of the largest effects and there's 7+ of them now, I figure that if the postulated dysgenics effect of the better educated reproducing less was true, then it almost surely has been decreasing their
3Jayson_Virissimo5yHere [] is mine.
2Pfft5yYes: []

Is the "Spark of Intelligence" in somebody's eyes a meaningless phrase, or a description of an actual phenomenon?

(Personally I'm inclined to say it's an actual phenomenon; I have face blindness and have observed it, which before I made the connection to the literary phrase, described to others as a "light behind the eyes", with a thus-far 100% correlation with high intelligence.)

2Lumifer5yI consider it an actual phenomenon, but I'm not sure it's a phenomenon of somebody's eyes (facial expressions, technically speaking) or of my own perception. Essentially, it's a snap judgement of whether a person is bright or dull and, in my experience, it works out quite well.

Could we ever get evidence of a "read-only" soul? I'm imagining something that translates biochemical reactions associated with emotions into "actual" emotions. Don't get me wrong, I still consider myself an atheist, but it seems to me that how strongly one believes in a soul that is only affected by physical reality is based purely on their prior probability.

1TheAncientGeek5ySounds like epiphenomenalism.
1[anonymous]5yIsn't that how it works right now? I mean, we actually "feel sad" and we actually "have thoughts".
1Luke_A_Somers5yIn a sense, that's what ordinary materialists believe in: Oh look, here's this system which happens to be an instance of conscious thought! That's part of a soul! It's just pattern-recognition, but that's all a read-only soul is.
[-][anonymous]5y 1

How does a rationalist determine the value of helping other people they don't know, i.e. why is QALY something worth maximizing? Is it an efficient and sustainable way of improving one's own quality of life because (a) humans have empathy built-in and (b) philanthropy is a socially rewarded meme?

2banx5ySome people may make arguments for morality based on things similar to Coherent Extrapolated Volition. I don't find those arguments convincing. I help people I don't know because when I think about the alternatives, I prefer the world in which one fewer person is suffering to the one where I'm better off in whatever way (e.g., I have more money in my bank account) because I didn't help. That preference is based on empathy, which was evolved, but I don't particularly care where it came from. At some point that preference gets outweighed by selfish preferences, which is why I haven't given all of my money away. I don't think maximally helping others is a particularly good way to maximize your own quality of life unless you already want to do that. Both (a) and (b) are true, but if your goal is maximizing your own quality of life you're almost certainly going to do better if you focus on that directly. At least, in my particular case, there's some amount of warm fuzzies I get from helping people and from identifying as someone who tries to effectively help people. So in that way my quality of life is improved. But I think that if I wanted to I could get that amount of fuzzies at a lower cost.
0[anonymous]5yPerhaps there is also an intrinsic motivation associated with it. If you make the world better, it's just nicer; perhaps just as cleaning your desk or backyard or sharpening a box of pencils. These examples are certainly also motivated by social status, but there is also certainly an intrinsic element to it, which expresses as OCD in its extreme.
0banx5yAt least, this is the way I make sense of my behavior. Maybe I've got it wrong.
0Strange75yIt's an investment. When you have some asset that you don't immediately need, and somebody else would be able to make better use of it, renting it out or giving it away enriches the whole system. Then you get to live in that richer system and enjoy the benefits. Your quality of life is better when you live somewhere with reliable electricity, uncensored internet, and trivial access to potable water, right? A fancy car isn't much fun without fuel or decent roads. Helping somebody on an altruistic basis is just another transfer of resources toward where they'll be used more efficiently. It's less directly profitable to the donor than sale or rent, but reduced transaction costs and targeting explicitly based on need means the net societal benefit can be greater. Maximizing overall QALYs may be, in itself, a less efficient way to improve the society you live in than slanting toward helping your immediate social circle, municipality, or nation, but it's easier for everyone to agree on, and every dollar or man-hour spent on arguments is one less to spend on getting the actual work done. Besides, we live in a world where more of the mercury contaminating fish in Lake Michigan comes from industry in China than from local sources. You never know whose problems might land in your back yard, so just go ahead and solve all of them. All that social stuff, instinctive empathy and cultural expectations alike, is secondary. It developed so people can do the right thing without needing to understand why it's the right thing.
3Lumifer5yThe "uncensored internet" part is going to be hard for places like UK and Australia, but anyway, you seem to be arguing that it is the propensity for charity (or altruism) which drives economic progress. Charitable populations live in rich systems and uncharitable ones continue to wallow in poverty. That's an... interesting viewpoint. Are you sure you thought it through? That doesn't seem to be true at all. Do you? Or you are so unfocused you solve none of them?
0Strange75y"Let's help everyone equally, or in proportion to their needs or something" is easier to agree on than "let's devote the entire GDP of Russia to my personal enjoyment, and maybe my friends and allies in proportion to their loyalty." With the former, people quibble over definitions and in-groups and details of implementation; the latter, even Putin dares not propose openly. I'm not claiming that propensity to charity or altruism causes, or even particularly correlates with, economic development. I'm just saying that economic development is good, and that it's marginally better for the world economy when some excess food goes to a human who'll eat it, rather than sitting in some warehouse until it rots, even (perhaps especially) if the human in question can't afford to buy food at the going market rate. When rational people see something being squandered, they prefer to throw that resource into charity, where it will do some good, rather than preserve the wasteful status quo. You start with the especially vast, horrific problems which can be sorted out cheaply, like scurvy and polio and malaria, then proceed to more complicated, less severe stuff as returns begin to diminish. That's the whole idea of evaluating medical interventions in terms of dollars-per-QALY, isn't it?
1Lumifer5yNo need to propose it openly and Putin does it openly enough -- and still gets 80%+ approval ratings :-/ So you are not insisting on the "get to live in that richer system and enjoy the benefits" claim? As a general claim, that's complicated. The main problems go by the name of "moral hazard" and "instilling dependency" and they are not just theoretical. I don't have links at hand, but I believe it was shown that, for example, massive shipments of used clothing from the West into Africa ("rather than throwing it into trash give it to someone who can use it") basically decimated the local clothing industry. I am not saying "never give anything to anyone", I'm saying that the situation is much more complicated than you make it look like and it's not hard to do more harm than good by giving out free goods.
0[anonymous]5yYour last point strikes me as a truism and distraction. The question is what motivates overall QALY maximization. Parent's point was that resources should be used where they can most effectively increase QALY, and that possibly comes down to both intrinsic motivation (I don't need it, they need it, it just fits nicely) and extrinsic motivation (direct reward through hard-wired empathy and social reward through philanthropy meme).
1gjm5yThis is uncomfortably reminiscent of this Monty Python sketch [].
1drethelin5ya couple of obvious problems with this worldview 1: THIS IS NOT INVESTING. If there is no profit, if there is no business or outcome you're specifically getting paid to achieve, you have no guarantee of making the world better in any concrete way. When you invest in a factory, and that allows the factory to buy a new widget-maker which increases profits and pays you dividends, you are causally and concretely part of making the world a better place. When you give money to a hobo, no matter how sympathetic he looks or how convincing his cardboard sign is, maybe he's increasing his quality of life for the next 10 minutes by buying a sandwich, but he's NOT decreasing worldsuck in any systematic way. 1. "so just go ahead and solve all of them." This is moronic. Paying for bednets in Africa, the most obvious EA QALY maximizing frontrunner or whatever, has no impact on mercury in Lake Michigan! You have to pick and choose what you do because you CAN'T do everything.
0[anonymous]5yOne could perhaps argue that it helps stabilizing the world which can be beneficial for yourself with small probability (which would be sort of an investment) or beneficial for your children with slightly greater probability (which would be sort of an investment with offspring empathy reward as a strong proxy).
1drethelin5yHow do you know that it helps stabilize the world? This is a trick question: You have no idea. You just think and hope that it does! This is why it's not INVESTING. You're comparing putting money into a quantifiable profitable enterprise with putting money into a dream. How do you know it's beneficial to your children? You know what's REALLY beneficial to your children? Paying for them to have access to good healthcare and living in an expensive neighborhood.
[-][anonymous]5y 1

Is a major advantage of capitalism that it gives people who are naturally born sociopaths (but highly functioning such that they'll gain considerable influence over people) something do in a game that has at least some rules.

7James_Miller5yYes, it's Adam Smith's invisible hand at work creating incentives for highly self-interested people to take actions which better society.
0[anonymous]5yCan't tell whether this is sarcasm.
1James_Miller5yNo sarcasm intended.
3drethelin5yCapitalism sets up rules based on practicality and repeated interactions between people, which means that they actually make sense to follow even if you are purely selfish. In a system where the rules are based on empathy or ideology, the psychopath will have ZERO desire to follow the rules if they won't get caught, but because interacting peacefully in trade with people actually pays off they get incentivized not to just do whatever they might impulsively want.
3NancyLebovitz5yAnother advantage of capitalism is that it limits some of the local power of sociopaths who are heads of families and landowners and such. Money is less entangled in systems of obligation than a more personal set-up.
2Zubon5yAnd, going with Viliam's comment, market power is less threatening than political power, which includes criminal justice and the military. Channel your sociopaths towards dollars, not guns.
0lmm5yI'd say it's not so much following rules as being productive. The value of capitalism is that embezzlement, bribery and the like are less often the most personally profitable course than they are under other systems.
0Lumifer5yWhy would they feel bound by the rules of capitalism but not by rules of other types of societies?
2drethelin5yBecause choosing to bind yourself by the rules of capitalism is profitable to them. Just like a psychopath can decide to cooperate in an iterated prisoner's dilemma purely out of self-interest, they can decide to lawfully run a business.
0Lumifer5ySo why can't they decide to lawfully run a barony under feudalism? Or be a lawful satrap/pasha/governor/whatever?
1drethelin5yBecause you don't generally get to DECIDE to be a baron? You can inherit one, in which case a psychopath can to a large extent do what he wants with it without suffering repercussions, you can be granted one by the king (which is at least SOME sort of incentive system), or you can get a bunch of random guys together, start and army, and take one. At which point you can usually do whatever you want with it. Of course rich guys can do a lot with the power they have once they have it, but the path to getting it is far more likely to involve helping a lot of people if it needs you to convince a bunch of different people to give you money for your services.
0Lumifer5yThe original question was why would sociopaths bind themselves by the rules of capitalism, but not by rules of other socioeconomic systems. That's a different question than whether sociopaths' climb to the top can be made useful for others.
1OrphanWilde5yBecause capitalism rewards such compliance, whereas other socioeconomic systems at the least incentivize breaking the rules, and at the worst punish compliance. You don't rise to barony by following the rules in feudalism.
0Lumifer5yI don't think so. What you would actually prefer to do is to blow up your competitors and establish a monopoly -- not much different from, say, poisoning your political enemies and acquiring the loyalty of some capable troops in pre-capitalist societies. In all systems you can ploddingly follow the rules and expect some modest success; or you can break the rules and go for a lot of power/wealth -- at the risk of death/disgrace.
2OrphanWilde5yAnd yet people don't go around blowing up their competitors - except perhaps in the black market, where such behavior, while not exactly routine, also isn't entirely unheard of. There's an incentive structure to deal with that, too, you see, and the risk/reward payoff strongly favors following the rules. Especially if you're the sort of person who -could- take over an entire country in the first place. It's a bit like democracy and civil war; if you can win the civil war, you'd be better off just winning the election.
0Lumifer5yI don't know -- do you think the rate of blowing up your competitors in, say, XIX century USA was much different from the rate of poisoning your enemies in e.g. XVII century Persia? Yep, and there were incentive structures to deal with that in the pre-capitalist societies as well. Polities where everyone is free to poison anyone don't last long...
0OrphanWilde5yWithout restricting the method of murder to poisoning, yes, quite significantly. Polities where everyone is at least plotting to murder everyone else (in the aristocracy) were largely the norm throughout most of history.
0Lumifer5yDo you have data?
0OrphanWilde5yI have some data on the enemies-murdered column in 17th century Persia. A particularly nasty case is the shah Abbas I having all three of his surviving sons executed, blinded (a custom which translates more or less to disinheritance), or left to die in prison. The heirs in question were only three of a series of executions of potential rivals that would have made Ivan the Terrible feel like a bit of an underachiever; it began with a mass-execution after a rebellion by two puppet rulers installed by the shah in question, although we can't count their numbers, since they weren't, for our purposes, political enemies. Then there was Shah Safi's reign, who made Abbas I look pleasant by comparison. How many people murdered business rivals in the 1800's in the US? Hell, the US didn't even execute confederate generals and politicians.
0Lumifer5yThe comparison isn't to murder -- you only need to drive the competitors out of business. How many people set fire to a competing business? Hire gangs to intimidate competitor's employees? Arrange some industrial "accidents"? We're not debating moral equivalency, we're talking about whether sociopaths under capitalism are significantly more law-abiding ("bind themselves by the rules of the game") than under non-capitalist systems. The only reason that I can come up for that is that under capitalism, generally speaking, the rule of law is stronger, often much stronger, and so it's harder to go against it. I'm not sure it's sufficient for the conclusion we're talking about, though -- the risks are higher, but there's less competition for the rewards :-/ One can probably make an interesting argument that modern societies are more totalitarian in that avoiding "the system" is much harder than in the Middle Ages, for example, but I don't know if that can be laid at the feet of capitalism...
0OrphanWilde5yAlright. So... how many times did this happen? And if you're not sure, would you expect this to happen frequently, given the dangers of retaliation? (Your rival losing his factory is a slight gain for you, as you don't gain all of his market share. His retaliatory strike burning -your- factory down is a -major- loss for you.) The long and short of it is this: In capitalism, "Cooperate" has a higher average long-term rate of return. In other economic systems, "Defect" has a higher average long-term rate of return. Quibbling about law and "the rules of the game": At this point, the economic system in the US isn't capitalism, but a capitalism-like metagame (crony capitalism) revolving around redefining the law (the rules of the game) to advantage yourself, all the while pretending the rule changes have some noble purpose, such as helping the poor.
0Lumifer5yI don't know, but I expect that some data exists -- there were enough books and studies of the robber-baron capitalism and such. The dangers of retaliation are the same in every era. I am quite unconvinced of that. Note that Adam Smith's invisible hand is NOT cooperation. And take, say, socialism of the USSR and Mao's China variety -- do you think it encourages to cooperate or defect? Or how about the Roman Empire? That's a different topic, but it seems to me to be mostly about the definition of "capitalism". I don't think "pure" capitalism ever existed anywhere.
0OrphanWilde5yDead enemies don't retaliate. For the limited purposes I am discussing, yes it is. Just because the payoff matrix favors cooperation doesn't make it not-cooperation. The USSR encouraged defection; just look at how, whenever food production was particularly problematic, the USSR would briefly swap over to a semi-capitalist system for a few years, and miraculously food production would increase. The farmers routinely defected under the soviet economic system, hiding whatever they could to sell on the black market, and meeting the bare minimum for the quotas, where they didn't get the quotas reduced for hardships which were always somehow worse when they didn't own the product of their labors. Same thing with Mao's China. Can't say much regarding the Roman Empire, as I haven't studied its economic system to any degree. I am heading off a common line of debate before it happens, because I've had this particular argument many, many times before, albeit never in quite these terms.
0Lumifer5yAt which point I no longer understand what do you mean by "cooperation". Huh? That, um, never happened except for once in the 1920s. I have no idea what are you talking about. I don't think that was as routine as you seem to think. If your farmers collective grows wheat, who do you sell it to? It's not like there were any millers to whom one could come with a sack of grain...
0OrphanWilde5y"Not defecting." I imagine defection is a clearer distinction in your mind? It happened multiple times. The 1920 were the initial collectivization period, which led to a famine. The mid 1930's had the first semi-capitalistic change, allowing privately-held sections of farmland. The Soviet government largely ignored the fact that most effort was concentrated on the privately-held sections initially, but gradually cracked down, causing harvests to decline again. In the 1950's, some of the privately-held sections were collectivized in a renewed collectivization effort (which also combined many of the farms), and immediately harvests started falling, so the Soviet government switched from "national" ownership of the farmers' products to a system in which the government paid the farmers for the harvests. Harvests went up again. The government, however, gradually reduced payments, which again, caused harvests to plummet. In the late 60's the privately held sections of farmland were expanded, and harvests increased again. In the 70's, a new system which was supposed to guarantee farmers a higher share of the profits for their work was instituted. Yeah, this happened constantly. Every new Party Leader wanted to make communism work, and would roll out a new communistic farming approach. This approach would fail, and they'd put some kind of capitalism back in place, and farming output would increase again. What makes you think there weren't? The black market in the Soviet States was all-encompassing. The millers you came to were millers for the state, even, who didn't mind getting a little bit of money on the side. Corruption, in the Soviet, was not merely a way of life, it was often necessary to survive.
0Lumifer5yThat implies the Prisoner's Dilemma context. I don't see how large and complex socioeconomic systems (e.g. capitalism) are -- or can be reduced to -- a Prisoner's Dilemma. Nope. The 1920's were a kinda-retreat from communism because Russia was uncertain it could survive -- see NEP []. The forced collectivization came afterwards, at the very end of 1920s. I don't see [] any retreat from the collectivization in the mid-30s. In fact, mid-1930s is the time of the Stalin's regime going into the full-paranoia mode and tightening the screws. Links, please. There was "re-collectivization" on the territories temporarily lost to the Germans, but I don't think that's what we are talking about. Again, links, please. And more links, please :-) There are enough Russians on LW, what are their memories and opinions on "privately held sections of farmland" and being able to find a miller to mill your sack of grain..?
0VoiceOfRa5yThat's not inconsistent with implementing a semi-capitalistic approach, it fact one theory I've herd is that the point of "tightening the screws" was to arrest any party official, how was indiscreet enough to point out that the new policy wasn't exactly communist. I don't know much about farm policy, my family lived in a big city. But the general "barter black market" certainly existed.
0Lumifer5yIt is because the freedom-control axis is very important to capitalism. Kinda, but it has nothing to do with capitalism. One of the traditional explanations for the purges of the 1930s was the necessity to get rid of "old bolsheviks" who were too idealistic and insufficiently obedient to fit into Stalin's Russia. That wasn't because Stalin was becoming a capitalist, that was because Stalin was becoming a dictator.
0OrphanWilde5y [] is the most comprehensive of the sources I used to refresh my memory of my studies of Russian History; it doesn't discuss the size of harvests or the tendency of new Party Leaders to repeat the same mistakes of their predecessors, nor the widespread black markets that underpinned the Soviet economy. I will try to find the five or six textbooks I studied from, however.
0Lumifer5yThe link doesn't support your claims. There was no "renewed collectivization effort" in the 1950s, what happened was that small kolkhozes were merged into big ones. And the increase in "private plots" is the increase of the size of personal gardens, basically -- don't think they can be properly called "privately held sections of farmland". People certainly used them to grow and partially sell produce, but everyone had to have a day job anyway. These private plots, as far as I know, always existed and post-WW2 only expanded. I don't think they were ever rolled back -- there was no back-and-forth waves. Is is true that the USSR gradually relaxed its grip on the peasants compared to mid-1930s, but, again, it was a continuous trend, there was no back-and-forth. Once the peasants got internal passports, they were not taken back. Once they started to be paid in money for the harvest, that continued and did not roll back, etc.
0OrphanWilde5yNo. It doesn't. Because, as mentioned, my primary source is study on the material using textbooks, which I am going to have to locate to reference for you, including some firsthand accounts of the era. I used the link, among others, as a refresher to remind me of the exact time periods things happened. Given your previous assertion that it didn't happen at all, I think you're generally taking a position much stronger than your evidence supports, which is to say, you're treating all of my claims as false until proven true. Consider updating on the possibility that I do have some idea what I'm talking about, in addition to updating on the specific points. Google "size of private kolkhoz plot", however, for a variety of sources. Yes, there was -considerable- back-and-forth. And yes, once they started paying money, they continued - but the amount of money -did- vary, and it frequently didn't cover the cost of production.
0Lumifer5yQuote, please. I think you're misreading me. Actually, the relevant possibility is that you know more than me, "some idea" is from the same ballpark as "know enough to get yourself in trouble" :-P
0OrphanWilde5y"I don't see any retreat from the collectivization in the mid-30s. In fact, mid-1930s is the time of the Stalin's regime going into the full-paranoia mode and tightening the screws." The ambiguous wording doesn't erase the fact that this is your rejection of the assertion you later accepted. I avoid any internal framing of my knowledge as being in competition with somebody else's, because then I might feel the need to try to "win", which is pretty much the only way to lose.
0Lumifer5yHuh? There is no ambiguity. I am saying (emphasis mine): ""I don't see any retreat from the collectivization in the mid-30s". Note: "in". What you are implying I said is that I don't see any retreat from the collectivization after the mid-30s. These are different sentences with different meaning. It's not a competition, but if you want to claim some authority ("I do have some idea what I'm talking about"), it would help to not bounce between claims that are wrong ("The mid 1930's had the first semi-capitalistic change") and claims that are not even wrong ("the USSR would briefly swap over to a semi-capitalist system for a few years").
0CronoDAS5yIndeed. If you can become Tony Soprano and intimidate potential competition into not going into business against you, then you make more money than you would otherwise...
-1tim5yEvery game has rules and every rule can be gamed. What makes you think that sociopaths are rendered less threatening when living in a capitalist society? If anything, it seems like capitalism would be a highly advantageous environment for a sociopath compared to a society where all important economic entities are mired in government oversight.
8Viliam5yIn a society where government controls everything important, all ambitious sociopaths will aim for government functions.
[-][anonymous]5y 1

I'm ashamed to ask there a way I can do machine learning competitions on just copy pasting code?

6gwern5yWhat would you expect to get out of copy-pasting code to do a ML competition?
0[anonymous]5yUnderstanding how the techniques work and how they relate to outcomes on a particular kind of problem. That would help me understood where a particular technique can be applied for what particular problems. With that knowledge, I could hire someone to do the machine learning coding if and only if I could expect it to be worth our while. Actually doing the coding could be automated soon enough. There is already visual programming for machine learning. And I reckon the cohort of people doing machine learning are more likely to be skilled in automating programming procedures than computer scientists on average. So, I do not expect it worthwhile to learn the nitty gritty of data-science in depth, but rather the concepts in breadth.
1Houshalter5yLiterally every competition has people post code that gets ok results. Just search in the forum for "beat the benchmark". This is intended to help beginners get started.
[-][anonymous]5y 1

What are the 'best buys' in warm fuzzies?

I want to satisfice my urges for the least cost. Perhaps there's a kind of GiveWell for warm fuzzies out there.

I feel like 'purchasing status' is part of my warm fuzzies calculation, which complicates things.

Perhaps buying coffees for people in line around me?

6James_Miller5yWhen someone does something nice for you say "Thank You, that was very nice because...." and really mean it.
3gjm5yThis feels to me like something that could be very different for different people.
2NancyLebovitz5ySomeone I know on Facebook just did a "say something nice about yourself" thread, and the result has been warm fuzzies all around.
0[anonymous]5yThat's heartwarming. I look forward to looking into replicating or provoking replications of that and related iterations (e.g. say something you're grateful for)
1evand5yThat seems like a cheap experiment. Have you tried it? What else have you tried for purchasing warm fuzzies?
0Viliam5yGiveNice ;-)
-2Lumifer5yAka how to buy love cheap. Or is it self-love? X-) Will you be paying in dollars?
0[anonymous]5yHaha. I prefer to pay in dollars but that's negotiable.

What is best in life?

4SilentCal5yFlow. Love is pretty good too.
0johnjohn5y []seconded
3Gurkenglas5yInfinite holodeck time.
1buybuydandavis5yConan: Crush your enemies. See them driven before you. Hear the lamentations of their women.
1[anonymous]5yTaboo "best". What are you trying to optimize for?
1Lumifer5y"The greatest pleasure is to vanquish your enemies and chase them before you, to rob them of their wealth and see those dear to them bathed in tears, to ride their horses and clasp to your bosom their wives and daughters." The man who said that is suspected of being an ancestor of about 8% of all living Asians so you probably should listen to him :-P
2pragmatist5yYeah, but what does Genghis Khan's dad say? He is, remarkably, suspected of being a direct ancestor of even more living Asians than Genghis!
3Lumifer5yHe says not to eat food offered by Tatars.
0[anonymous]5yTraditional Tatar cuisine actually resembles current 'Western cuisine' in some things, like frying dough in large amounts of fat. (Chack-chack in particular, soaked in honey and studded with walnuts, can be eaten as a finger food and as a cake.) As to the horse flesh, well, tastes differ.
2roystgnr5yPatrilineal ancestor [] , not just ancestor. When talking about someone who lived 40 generations ago, there's a huge difference.
0moridinamael5ySomething as close as possible to living in the wild with a small band of kin and allies.* *Answer only valid if a posthuman overmind is ensuring the continuing safety and prosperity of the band, providing novel but conquerable challenges, and ensuring sufficient foraging materials such that the band has ample leisure time to engage in artistic and social recreation.
0RichardKennaway5yI'd rather be the posthuman mind, raising the wild creatures up to civilisation.
0JEB_4_PREZ_20165yWireheading seems like a perfectly reasonable [] answer to me.
-1[anonymous]5yThat entirely depends on your utility function / preferences; one could make general statements based on certain preferences that the vast majority of humans share in common, but that's not specific to you, nor does it say anything about non-human preferences. I suppose one could find certain irresistible trends in agent preferences that are constrained by game theory, but those would be completely generic goals like "get more resources", and probably wouldn't satisfy the complex psychology of a human.
-3James_Miller5yLook at how people who are rich, attractive, healthy, and smart spend their free time.
3drethelin5yTime to buy a yacht and convince some supermodels to hang out on it with me!
2Elo5yI will hang out if you have wifi.
1gjm5yAre you a supermodel?
-2Elo5yno... I swear it didn't say supermodel there when I commented. I suppose I can make supermodelling a goal of mine...
[-][anonymous]5y 0

Which probability do you assign to the big bang having actually occurred? After all, we are extrapolating from a single point in time and only in the visible part of the universe in which we see things flying apart. Perhaps the movement is much more complex than that (e.g. a pulsing motion).

2Luke_A_Somers5yA pulsing motion of what sort, and how tightly do you draw a line around 'big bang'? We can see by direct observation that things have been continually getting further apart for the past 13-odd billion years or so, and the earliest thing we can see is consistent with there not being a whole lot of structure before then. Even if the behavior in the very beginning is different than we usually expect, that seems like a big bang to me.
0[anonymous]5yWhat I have in mind is that it's just a local turbulence in a much larger structure, for example. It seems that we have very little data about a huge structure, so fitting any model to it at this point might give us a fairly large margin of error (especially since we extrapolate from a theory that we know that is incomplete). What are your thoughts on this finding: []
1MrMind5yIt's better to think about the Big Bang as an admission of failure: using our best stitching of the two best theories that we have about the universe, and extrapolating back the data at hand as further as we can, we arrive to a point where our description breaks down (the singularity). Will a better theory cast a brighter light on this point in space-time? I assign a 99.9% probability that it will. I think that only the most zealot between relativists bite the bullet that inside a black hole there's actually a point where the gravitational field reaches an infinite value. And given that the more time passes the more paradoxes we discover about black holes, I'd say that quantum gravity will revolutionize our understanding of singularities. So my probability to Big Bang actually happening is 0.1%
0CellBioGuy5yThat there was a finite time in the past in which all matter was squeezed tight and hot enough to undergo primordial nuclear reactions, and that the universe has expanded since, is pretty dang incontrovertible at this point. The nature of that event is still up for debate. Examining the fine details of light of different ages continues to reveal things, like the expansion appearing to initially slow followed by accelerating which is currently best explained by a dark energy model which is also favored for reasons relating to physical models of space I am unprepared to examine.
1[anonymous]5yCouldn't it still be just a local region that was temporarily squeezed as a result of an event on a much larger scale than the visible universe (sort of like a turbulence in a liquid like substance)?
1lmm5yIt absolutely could be. But we've seen no evidence that distinguishes such a scenario from the big bang theory, and so we prefer it by Occam's razor.
1MrMind5yThere's a similar scenario for explaining Big Bang in string theory: the ekpyrotic universe [].

In the U.S., what happens to people who cannot survive without assistance (like people without the dexterity to feed themselves, or even people without the ability to keep a job or fill out paperwork) who do not have a family or the means to trade for help? What, physically, keeps them from starving to death?

3James_Miller5yMost are elderly and are in nursing homes paid for by the federal government.
0Strange75ySome combination of Social Security Disability payments, caring friends and family, private-sector charities, and hospital emergency rooms that aren't allowed to check for ability to pay before providing treatment. It's a bad system with a lot of cracks to fall through, and a distressing number of poor people suffer miserable pointless deaths.
0[anonymous]5yThere's some sense of a social safety net that catches people. Sometimes it doesn't catch them and they die.