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The Fall of Rome, III: Progress Did Not Exist

I don't necessarily agree with your depiction of the Romans as being "parasitic". Just because they did not produce food, does not mean that they were not valued.

The Romans were interested in math, its just that most of them weren't located in Italia. Just look at the various mathematicians who lived in Alexandria, Athens, or Constantinople, and invented the fields of trigonometry (among others).

Rome had almost completely absorbed Greek culture and academics, to the point where many prominent Romans often read and wrote in Greek. Unless you were Cato the C... (read more)

2ForensicOceanography9moThe immediate cause for the fact that "lead pollution in 200 AD was lower than lead pollution in 1 AD" is that "the extraction from Rio Tinto mines in 200 AD was lower than the extraction from Rio Tinto mines in 1 AD". Now, according to Diodorus Siculus (Bibliotheca historica, V, xxxvi-xxxvi), the Carthaginians used mechanical and hydraulic technology for exploiting the Rio Tinto mines (they probably also employed chemical acids). According to Bromehead, this impressive technology was initially expanded by the Roman conquerors; but eventually the Romans switched to using large masses of slaves (as described by Pliny), becuse they were not able to keep the mechanical drainage systems running. By "parasitic" I mean that Rome imported a lot and exported no products; but you are right in pointing out that the "military services" exported by Rome (and the common market) had probably a great economic value for the provinces. Still, do you agree that Rome was not self-sufficient? I challenge you to name one mathematical treatise, written between 100 BC and 500 AD, which is on the same tier as the work by Archimedes, Ipparchus or Apollonius (the difference in quality is so big that it is not subjective []). If you with "Roman" mean "anyone living in the Roman Empire" then yes, some Roman were interested in higher math. But the mathematics in the Imperial age was a shadow of what mathematics was before the Roman conquest. Trigonometry was first developed in Alexandria when Egypt was an independent Hellenistic kingdom; then in 146 BC the Romans installed a puppet king in Egypt, who proceeded to persecute the Greek èlites and to annihilate every intellectual opposition (he literally appointed a spearmen officer as the new director of the Library of Alexandria). To escape the persecution, many Greek intellectuals (including the mathematicians) escaped; some of them went to India, where they founded a school which continued
The Fall of Rome, III: Progress Did Not Exist

While the lack of fuel was a serious concern to the Romans (even during the time of Augustus), I don't think either the population pressures or the lack of fuel had much of an effect on the decline of the Empire.

After the 3rd century, Rome was more likely to face under population than overpopulation. It was estimated that the Crisis of the 3rd Century led to the deaths of about 1/3 of the Empire. Afterwards, (particularly in the West) the severe lack of people led to the development of the patronage system. That was one of the reasons why Rome couldn't def... (read more)

1LukeOnline9moThe European wars of religion [] included among others the Thirty Years War which killed one-third of the German population. It's mentioned as a period that caused a lot of human suffering, but not as something that seriously harmed the long-term development of Europe. To the contrary, this happened during Europe's ascendancy as a global superpower. Crisis, war and mismanagement is certain in nearly all periods of human history. They're not sufficient causes of long-term decline. "Full", "empty" and "population pressure" are very relative terms. New technological inventions, new systems of agriculture and new organizational forms constantly change the balance. That makes it very hard to assess the actually "felt" pressure at a certain moment in time. I've heard that some coal was used by Romans, but also that it was always a very niche activity. Do you have sources about coal being used by blacksmiths 'often'? As the title states, I don't think "progress" existed (exists?). Not as a monolithic thing that simultaneously boosts population size, population density, economic activity, individual well-being, intellectual development, real-world power/dominance/influence and cultural legacy. Think of the internet today. 20/25 years ago, it was a niche activity for highly educated, relatively wealthy tech experts. Nowadays, it's used by the masses. The average IQ of the average internet user has probably declined significantly. Better technology and years of development have given us new possibilities; tech monopolies and bad habits like declining attention spans and polarization have made other things worse. The internet of 2021 is not superior or inferior to the internet of 2001 in all aspects. I believe the Europe of 1000AD was significantly more densely populated than the Roman Europe of 1AD (or 300AD). This led to fuel scarcity and an enormous decline in fuel-intensive luxuries like bathhouses, concrete, brick
The Fall of Rome: Why It's Relevant, And Why We're Mistaken

Yeah, I think that they both had their individual strengths and weak points. I would say that Rome was overall better if you lived in an urban area or valued peace, while Medieval Europe was a more "fair" (in relative terms) society for the rural folk.

The Fall of Rome: Why It's Relevant, And Why We're Mistaken

I would also include Charlemagne, Otto II, and Justinian onto that list.

For West Africa, I need to read more on the topic, but I believe that a couple empires came and left (Mali and Ghana?), but their descendants eventually split into various small kingdoms and polities. Although, I guess you could include the French as being one unifier.

The Fall of Rome: Why It's Relevant, And Why We're Mistaken

Oh yeah, sorry, I was mostly replying to the OP. I don't really know much about Jewish history so sorry for any inaccuracies. In my point I was mostly talking about the Republican Era (before Caligula and Vespasian) when Crassus (?) first conquered the area. I've heard that at the time, the governors were pretty lenient, up to (and maybe including, depending on your religious sect) Pontius Pilate.

You're 1000% correct however in saying that the Emperors after Tiberius were very bad to the Jews. However, the time before this --- including the time of Jesus, ... (read more)

The Fall of Rome: Why It's Relevant, And Why We're Mistaken

Oh yeah for sure. Europe is very unique in this regard, only really sharing it with West Africa. I don't have any definitive reasons why Europe specifically tends towards disunity, but I would say it is mostly culture.

The Frankish Empire got very close to dominating the entirety of the West (I feel like that's close enough), but then Charlemagne died, and it was split into three due to succession laws. Later, the Holy Roman Empire got close again (around the time of Otto II), but castles and the ratio between the ease-of-building and the defensibly prompte... (read more)

2lsusr9moI think we're on the same page. Three more people who came close to dominating the region include Napoleon Bonaparte, Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin. I think there are good arguments for both sides to the argument of whether Europe's disunity comes from culture or geography. I didn't know West Africa is like Europe in this regard. That is interesting.
The Fall of Rome, II: Energy Problems?

This is an interesting theory (one I would love to read more about) but this neglects that the vast majority of people in Rome would not have had access to many of these energy sources. About 75-90% of people lived in rural areas, never seeing the famous baths or mud-bricks. Many who would go into the army came from these areas, only every seeing the glory of Rome itself in a preceding triumph. But I think this theory might hold for energy efficiency in agriculture.

Rome went through many different systems throughout its history: first the small-scale farme... (read more)

1LukeOnline9moThanks! I definitely don't want to imply that the average Roman lived in an awesome villa built out of bricks. But in regards to for example bathhouses: And the army, with its advanced equipment, was open to the average citizen as well. They would not have profited equally from all Roman luxuries, but it seems clear that the Roman civilization as a whole was more prosperous than the Early Medieval one, at least in a lot of material aspects.
The Fall of Rome: Why It's Relevant, And Why We're Mistaken

I agree with you as a whole on the fact that Rome expanding into the Levant helped cause the rise of Christianity, but for the most part, Rome didn't impose polytheism onto the Jews. I'm not familiar with Jewish history, but Rome mostly allowed the Jews to practice their religion; one example is how the Emperors (before Vespasian) sponsored the Second Temple and the practices there.

Secondly, we shouldn't forget survivorship bias. There were many different "cults" all vying for their share of followers (my favourite being Epicureanism and Manicheanism), it ... (read more)

4lsusr9moIt sounds like you are concerned about the rise of Christianity in Rome. Is your comment intended toward guy_from_finland? My comment is about Roman geography and the pre-Christian geopolitics of Judea under the Roman occupation. It is true Rome didn't outlaw Judaism. But I don't think that matters. My reference point for this is when Gaius Caligula tried to get a statue of his likeness built in the Jewish temple. He failed. But an attempt to insert a statue of the emperor into a monotheistic temple is an attempted imposition of polytheism. More importantly, conflicts between Rome and the Jews produced three major Jewish rebellions. They resulted in the destruction of the Jewish polity and a Jewish exodus. The reason Jews don't do sacrifices anymore is because they're required to do so in a specific temple the Romans destroyed in 70 CE. Saying "Rome mostly allowed the Jews to practice their religion" is like razing Mecca and then claiming you allow Muslims to practice their religion because you built them a new city. This is my crux when it comes to Roman treatment of the Jews. My main point is that Jesus was a Jew rebelling against Roman occupation. Jesus wouldn't have rebelled against Rome if Rome hadn't conquered Judea.
The Fall of Rome: Why It's Relevant, And Why We're Mistaken

I think another thing that made Alaric successful was that by 410, Rome was not located in Rome. For the most part, the Western Empire was not as rich as the East, and the city of Rome itself was becoming less and less favoured by emperors (especially after the 3rd century crisis). Alaric was able to capture Rome in part because they had lost the culture of warrior-farmers, but also because Rome was like Philadelphia: Once a great city and capital, but now a medium-sized town with no real attractions (except the Pope, but even then, the Patriarchs were more powerful at the time).

2spkoc9moI agree, but keep in mind just the city itself was like twice the size in the later period. Population wise 2nd Punic war Rome was around 3-500k, 410 Rome was around 8-900k. Presumably the greater southern Italian region was also way more populous, tho also less able/interested in coming to the city's aid. Different comparison: [] Late Roman armies were crippled by a loss of 75k men, despite similar losses being overcome by just Rome's Southern Italian coalition centuries earlier.
The Fall of Rome: Why It's Relevant, And Why We're Mistaken

Western historians traditionally view the collapse of the Western Roman Empire as a deviation from normalcy. I think about the rise of the Western Roman Empire as the anomaly and its collapse as a return to normalcy.

I don't know if Rome is the anomaly for most civilizations. When looking at Europe, Rome was the only civilization to unify (most of) the continent, while others couldn't --- though many tried. But when looking at human civilizations as a whole, most centres are unified, and then stay so.

For the Middle East, that was the Assyrian and Achaeme... (read more)

2spacecadet9moThe lack of an empire to supplant the Romans was recently discussed by Walter Scheidel in Aeon. In most cases the bureaucracy of empire survived when power was supplanted by an invader, and so some semblance of the the social structure of empire continued. When Rome collapsed the empire totally fragmented. It is a very interesting read:
2lsusr9moI meant that the Roman Empire was an anomaly within European-Mediterranean history. It is unusual for the European-Mediterranean region specifically to be unified.
The Fall of Rome: Why It's Relevant, And Why We're Mistaken

One thing to note here is the automatic assumption that Rome was "greater" than Medieval Europe. This is anecdotal, but if you look at technological progress from 200BCE (the Punic Wars) and 200AD, you find that not much has happened, except the expansion of trade networks.

Meanwhile, the 400 years from 476CE to 876CE saw the growth of the Frankish Empire, the subsequent Holy Roman Empire, the invention of the heavy plow (note that Rome had been in control of Gaul for 520 years, and never invented it) and further discoveries by Catholic monks. In fact, anal... (read more)

2ForensicOceanography9moWhile this may be true, it overlooks the fact that many technologies that were developed in the precedent period (for example, the lighthouse, the cog and the gear wheel) were lost during the Roman age, not to be recovered until the Renaissance - or later. Heron describes many artifacts that require tiny metal lives to be built, copying from previous Hellenistic sources, but at his age nobody knows anymore how to make tiny metal lives (he only describes a way to make big, wooden lives). In the Imperial age the derivative was negative, but the technological and cultural level was obviously superior to the High Middle Ages. Between 500AD and 1000AD the urban society in Europe had become practically non-existent.
1LukeOnline9moI definitely agree that it is wrong to assume that Rome was superior to Medieval Europe in all ways! I think they definitely outclassed Medieval Europe in a lot of aspects - but also that Medieval Europe outclassed Rome in a lot of other aspects.
What will GPT-4 be incapable of?

That's fair. Depending on your stance on Moore's Law or supercomputers, 400 trillion parameters might or might not be plausible (not really IMO). But, this is assuming that there's no advances in the model architecture (maybe changes to the tokenizer?) which would drastically improve the performance of multiplication / other types of math.

7hogwash910moGoing by GPT-2's BPEs [] [1], and based on the encoder downloaded via OpenAI's script [], there are 819 (single) tokens/embeddings that uniquely map to the numbers from 0-1000, 907 when going up to 10,000, and 912 up to 200,000 [2]. These embeddings of course get preferentially fed into the model in order to maximize the number of characters in the context window and thereby leverage the statistical benefit [] of BPEs for language modeling. Which bears to mind that the above counts exclude numeric tokens that have a space at the beginning [3]. My point here being that, IIUC, for the language model to actually be able to manipulate individual digits, as well as pick up on the elementary operations of arithmetic (e.g. carry, shift, etc.), the expected number of unique tokens/embeddings might have to be limited to 10 – the base of the number system – when counting from 0 to the largest representable number [2]. [1] From the GPT-3 paper [], it was noted: [2] More speculatively, I think that this limitation makes extrapolation on certain abilities (arithmetic, algebra, coding) quite difficult without knowing whether its BPE will be optimized for the manipulation of individual digits/characters if need be, and that this limits the generalizability of studies such as GPT-3 not being able to do math []. [3] For such tokens, there are a total 505 up to 1000. Like the other byte pairs, these may have been automatically mapped based on the distribution of n-grams in some statistical sample (and so easily overlooked).
Don't Sell Your Soul

Looking at it in a purely monetary way, a soul (being an eternal representation of you and all) would have an asymptotically infinite value, while $10 is $10. Even if there is a 0.001% chance of a soul existing (e.g. God existing, or some sort of Matrix-like scenario), then the expected value of keeping your soul would be on the same scale as: . Unless you view the value of a soul as non-infinite, and/or the chance that it exists as exactly 0%, it doesn't make sense to sell it.

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1Slider10moI think it would be more standard to regard an item that is never sold as not being relevant for market mechanics. But on the other hand if one doesn't sell for any finite price one could argue that revealed preference would need to be infinite. I think iti s popular to assume that all items in a finite universe are within a single Archimedian class ie that for all items there is some finite R so that R x dollar triggers a voluntary exchange.
9gwillen10moThis seems like a classic Pascal's Wager, and as such probably not a great strategy to follow -- see "Pascal's Mugging" for a discussion of what happens if you start letting people push you around by declaring things to have infinite (or incredibly large) utility in some unlikely scenario. ... but I can't figure out how this comment got down to -9 points on that basis alone. I'm wondering if your username caused a bunch of people to assume -- as I did initially -- that you were a spambot, and thus downvote you extra-harshly after a bare skim of your actual comment.
What will GPT-4 be incapable of?

It would really depend on how many parameters the model has IMO, if the jump from GPT-3 to GPT-4 is something on the order of magnitude of 10-100x, then we could potentially see similar gains for multiplication. GPT-3 (175B) can do 2 digit multiplication with a ~50% accuracy, so 5-6 digits might be possible. It really depends on how well the model architecture of GPT scales in the future.

1Michaël Trazzi10moSo from 2-digit substraction to 5-digit substraction it lost 90% accuracy, and scaling the model by ~10x gave a 3x improvement (from 10 to 30%) on two-digit multiplication. So assuming we get 3x more accuracy from each 10x increase and that 100% on two digit corresponds to ~10% on 5-digit, we would need something like 3 more scalings like "13B -> 175B", so about 400 trillion params.
Strong Evidence is Common

They might have been talking about the total amount of people with the potential to become better than you at the specific thing rather than the pure percentage of people who would be if everyone tried.

2magfrump10moMaybe but the US number lines up with 1% of the population lines up with the top 1% figure; if people outside the US are ~50x as likely to be top-1% at various hobbies that's a bold statement that needs justification, not an obvious rule of thumb! Or it could be across all time, which lines up with ~100 billion humans in history.
4Ben Pace10moMeta: I would enjoy seeing growth in the number of users with everyday objects as names. I look forward to one day seeing the HDMI Cable, the USB-C Adapter and the Laptop Bag in conversation with each other.
How I Meditate

I've always been interested in meditating, and quite like it, but have never really had it click. Would you say that the ritual that you do for meditation helps solidify to your brain that you're in the "process" of meditation in any way? Also, when you described the "opening of the hands" motion in your mind, is that a concrete thing (for lack of a better word) that you think, or more of a phase transition from the not-meditating state to the meditating state?

4G Gordon Worley III1yI think so. Having a ritual around it helps with conditioning yourself that when you perform the ritual it's time to meditate. As I think of it, the ritual creates the space in which meditation can arise. So it's both a concrete thing I'm doing with my brain and something like a phase transition. Like, it both feels like a specific mental action that has a particular shape and feel to it, and it seems to precipitate a change into meditation away from regular patterns of thought. I don't know that it's of one type more than the other, but my guess, primed by this question, is that it's something like a concrete activity that, given the right conditions, catalyzes me into meditation.
Coincidences are Improbable

Some event  caused by both has been conditioned upon; new introductions have improbable attribute combinations because your friend seeks those combinations out.


This reads quite a bit like some sort of reverse-Barnum Effect, where instead of people trying to assign causality to vague descriptions / coincidences, they try to view linked (because of them) things as being coincidences.