Thanks for the detailed thoughts Alex! An incomplete reply:
I agree that “human well-being as the standard of value” leaves a lot open. That's deliberate because I think that not everyone in this movement agrees on how exactly we should interpret, measure, etc. human well-being. Utilitarianism is one but not the only approach. It is an important topic for us to work out.
Agree with you about philosophy of risk / philosophy of safety. These are issues I am thinking about. For one preliminary, narrow case study see “How factories were made safe.”
I disagree tha... (read more)
Sure, here you go: https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/cTCxMjjTcR525o4X6/descriptive-vs-prescriptive-optimism
Interesting, how does Oslo do it? What are the infrastructure changes required?
Since writing this, I've run across even more examples:
I'd like to write these up at some point.
Related: The poetry of progress (another form of celebration, broadly construed)
One thing I've learned since then: I now think this is wrong:
To my (limited) understanding, this does not produce a significantly different immune response than injecting the antigen directly.
My understanding now (which is still quite limited) is that there is an improved immune response. If I have it right, the reason is that in a traditional vaccine, the antigen only exists in the bloodstream; with an mRNA vaccine, the antigen originates inside the cell—which more closely mimics how an actual virus works.
Thanks. Yeah, it's an overloaded term: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Humanism_(disambiguation)
Yeah, I had to pull the data into a spreadsheet and look at the annual absolute and percent increase
I think it's still a pretty good proxy. Quantitatively, correlation between energy usage and GDP is pretty high, even at higher income levels. Qualitatively, many things that would greatly improve quality of life would also use lots more energy: supersonic air travel, nanotech, flying cars, etc.
For electricity, I don't think production and consumption are that different? Certainly not for the US
If you look at the second-to-last chart, energy production was growing exponentially 1950–73, then about linearly 1973–2005, and then not growing at all after that.
I don't think there's more of it than in good times—there's less. But you don't need to get all the way to zero bread for a famine.
That's possible, although she had ways of getting information. For instance, she would stand outside at an easel, painting, and eavesdrop on conversations.
We should totally bring this back.
This is a modern example I like: https://mathwithbaddrawings.com/2013/07/04/a-fight-with-euclid/
True, but it's not that hard to imagine that a cast-iron stove could still be working a century later. It's pretty simple as far as I understand it… pretty much just a metal box with doors and a stovepipe.
I think the point is not that interdependence is inherently safer, but rather that, all things considered, industrial civilization is both safer and more interdependent than the pre-industrial world. The electric grid, for instance, makes us much more interdependent than tallow candles or kerosene lamps, but it's also much safer than using flames for lighting inside the home. The added risk from interdependence is more than compensated for by other factors.
How does the conspiracy survive when each individual member has a motivation to defect? (Not saying it can't, I just don't understand the dynamics.)
I don't think any conspiracy is necessary, just information asymmetry. For example, suppose modern stoves are controlled by microchips, and microchips can be programmed to self destruct after X hours of use. The manufacturer can choose any value of X, and the consumer has no way to determine the value of X. Since every broken stove represents a new potential customer, (and especially when the largest "competitor" is stoves that are already installed and the user is happy with rather than new competing products,) each manufacturer has an incentive to choose... (read more)
I haven't researched planned obsolescence; are there any good examples of this?
If extra durability/lifespan (beyond the ~15 years that things already last) were possible with a small increase in cost, why wouldn't manufacturers compete on this axis? I imagine that individual homebuyers don't care that much, but, say, a landlord of a large apartment complex who was making a major purchase of stoves would probably want to optimize for 15 vs. 20 or 25-year lifespans. They would have someone doing the calculation.
The Phoebus Cartel
The cartel’s grip on the lightbulb market lasted only into the 1930s. Its far more enduring legacy was to engineer a shorter life span for the incandescent lightbulb. By early 1925, this became codified at 1,000 hours for a pear-shaped household bulb, a marked reduction from the 1,500 to 2,000 hours that had previously been common. Cartel members rationalized this approach as a trade-off: Their lightbulbs were of a higher quality, more efficient, and brighter burning than other bulbs. They also cost a lot more. Indeed, all evidence points
Problems do have to be solved case-by-case, but your basic premises and values—philosophy—guides what kind of solutions you will seek, how you evaluate them, and what you will accept.
For instance, to address climate change, how do you feel about seeking abundant, cheap, clean energy via nuclear/solar/geothermal? Carbon capture? Geoengineering? Degrowth? Those are very different approaches.
I think the relationship between the philosophy of progress and actual progress is reciprocal. When people believe in progress, they do more of it; and when they see it working, they believe in it.
Note that the idea of progress arguably began around the time of Bacon, which was more than a century before the Industrial Revolution.
Didn't the philosophy of progress fade when technological innovation started producing dangers and destructions that were more obvious and dramatic and story-friendly, and hit people where they live on a daily basis?
Yes, but. Hist... (read more)
To be clear, you're quoting a sentence from a paragraph that I described as “one possible narrative”, in a section where I described two opposing narratives and then explored which aspects of each seemed to be supported by this story.
I do think that safety measures could have begun earlier. See my reply to jpsmith: https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/DQKgYhEYP86PLW7tZ/how-factories-were-made-safe?commentId=wAPgdiJNHsYewmrzi
I think of “externality” as roughly equivalent to “you hurt someone and you didn't have to pay for it.” If a workplace is neglectful of safety, and the worker gets hurt, and the employer doesn't have to pay, that seems like an externality?
I don't think it would have significantly slowed things down. I think the costs to employers went from like a fraction of a percent of payroll to a few percent. It was a big relative increase, but still a fairly small cost overall. But it was just big enough to make them say “we should have a safety department.”
I'm not sure if there was a specific more-radical proposal on the table, or if that was just a general concern of the businesses. If there was one, I haven't encountered it.
Again, the labor unions actually were originally for the less-radical proposal of simply reforming the tort system (taking away some employer protections) without going all the way to a no-fault system.
The workers themselves seem mostly focused on pay, hours, and other more tangible things.
Did you read all the way to the end? I feel this was addressed in the last few paragraphs.
(Incidentally, many if not most businesses were in favor of the workers' comp law, even though they knew it would raise their costs. In part that was because they thought it would improve labor relations, although it also may have been because they thought some reform was inevitable and they wanted something moderate to pass before something radical came along. Re labor unions, many of them were actually against workers' comp at first, although Samuel Gompers of the AFL then changed his mind and became for it.)
I think there is a clear line. If you take the job at 20 hours/day, you know what you've signed up for. You didn't sign up to be injured in an accident. The liability for that needs to fall somewhere.
(You could argue that workers signed up for certain risks, and this is exactly what employers used to argue in many cases. And I'm not 100% sure that's wrong. So I am still slightly ambivalent about this.)
Here you go: https://rootsofprogress.org/history-of-factory-safety
I don't think the data is cherry-picked, but you could argue with some of his statistical analysis. He lays it all out pretty clearly though, so the book is valuable to read even if you disagree in the end.
He covers violent crime (which would include bar fights) as well.
I haven't covered it yet, but Works in Progress magazine did something on ozone: https://www.worksinprogress.co/issue/how-we-fixed-the-ozone-layer/
I've recently been studying the history of factory accident rates and factory safety, hope to have something on this soon.
Sure, a crucial question is whether (and to what extent, and in what way) progress in science, technology, industry, and the economy leads to human well-being. That is at the core of what any philosophy of progress should address
I think the starting point is to examine the moral progress that's been made so far in history, and try to figure out how it happens. The best stuff I've read on this so far is from Pinker (The Better Angels of Our Nature and parts of Enlightenment Now).
We need understanding, yes. As to whether we need optimism, that depends what kind of optimism you're talking about. I've distinguished between descriptive and prescriptive optimism: https://rootsofprogress.org/descriptive-vs-prescriptive-optimism
Descriptive optimism is contingent: it's an assessment about the world (or a part of it), and so it's only warranted when it's true. There are many aspects of the world that I am descriptively pessimistic about.
But prescriptive optimism is an attitude, a choice. It says that we're going to work hard to solve probl... (read more)
It's true in the past, that many scientists and engineers were independently wealthy (and yes, often though not always through inheritance). Others had patrons or got jobs as assistants to other scientists. More here: https://rootsofprogress.org/funding-models-for-science-and-innovation
Today there's a set of institutions to support science and a whole career path based on them. What remaining important work is there that's not being rewarded? I don't know off the top of my head. My guess is that it's something that most people don't think about and ... (read more)
But there are two kinds of “vision of the future”. One is a descriptive/predictive vision: where are we going, what direction are we headed? That kind of vision ought to be accurate.
The other is a prescriptive/aspirational vision: what should we work towards? What would be ideal? That's the kind I meant when I said “hold up a positive vision of the future”.
First, I started the research back in ~2017. I'm not writing from a position of total ignorance here.
Look, there are some times where a tough situation means that the rational choice is to accept hardship in order to avoid a worse outcome. Covid is a good example: isolation/“lockdown” measures made sense at least in the early part of the pandemic, despite the hit to the economy and to people's lives.
But (to continue the analogy) the harm to human life from permanent lockdown would be so vast that it doesn't make sense to entertain until you've tried everyt... (read more)
That's very interesting, I didn't know that this was covered in Fukuyama or that he also identified the world wars as a turning point. Will have to bump that up in my reading list, thank you.
Whoops! Correct, I meant the other way around, will fix
It was just a cheeky headline, wasn't meant seriously
I'm not sure that's really different from the polio story. The world knew that polio vaccines were under development. They knew a big clinical trial was underway starting in 1954. There was a date announced ahead of time when the results of the trial would be announced (April 12, 1955). This seems similar to there being an announcement in the news of the first results of a covid vaccine trial.
Taking a machine around to different farms did actually happen, once portable machines were made (which was not always trivial). See my reply to @ChristianKl
Good question. I think what happened instead is that farmers with threshing machines would rent them out to those without, or people would bring portable machines around to farms—see my reply to @ChristianKl.
Why did it happen that way? Not sure. Maybe transportation costs, which were high. Grain is much more compact and high value-density than unthreshed bundles of wheat. Makes more sense to thresh it on-location before transporting it anywhere.
Oh, also—farmers used the straw! For animal bedding, to mix with manure, etc. It really doesn't make sense to transport stalks to a central location, and then send the straw back.
Yeah, it was a pithy tweet-length opener. To be precise, it's unnecessary to have a perfect model of the future / predict it with anything near 100% accuracy, or to have any appreciable degree of accuracy on the long-term future.
Historically, something somewhat different happened: if one farmer owned a threshing machine, other farmers might bring their grain to him and rent time on the machine.
Or, when portable threshing machines were built, someone would travel around to different farms and thresh there for a fee, then move on.
(But a portable machine was nontrivial, especially when the machines were horse-powered, check out this diagram [from this source]—a horse was hooked up to that harness at letter H on the diagram, so you can get a sense of how big that thing was. That model... (read more)
In practice, I don't think it worked that way. If the machine broke, it was not at all easy to repair; you couldn't just factor in a maintenance cost. And if the machine damaged or lost grain, it was worse than useless.
Good question about looms/mills, I don't know. Before the 1800s or so, I think looms were mostly owned by weavers who worked from home. There was no “specialist on site”. But I don't think they broke much, because there weren't high forces involved. (In the late 1800s, when large power looms were set up in factories such as those at Lowell, ... (read more)
See my reply to @johnswentworth re other benefits of the threshing machine, beyond labor-saving, and evidence that farmers were keenly interested in it.
For looms, rather than comparing loom to no loom, compare the frame looms available in 1700 to the weighted vertical looms or back strap looms from long before. For the printing press, I don't see how this is different. Books were not impossible to make; scribes made them by hand. Again, it was an efficiency gain.
You might be right that something like the spinning wheel, for example, had a stronger economic incentive than a threshing machine. I just don't think that's the main explanation for why it took ~50 years for the technology to diffuse rather than say 20–30.
This doesn't match with what I've read by and about farmers, at least not in the place and time of interest (Britain and US, late 18C on). Farmers were quite interested in improving yields and efficiency. There were many journals devoted to it and many experimental machines and techniques being tried. Capital was a limitation, but many farmers had nonzero capital.
Good thoughts. You're right that a threshing machine only applies to a portion of agricultural labor, for part of the year. (Then again, weaving is only a portion of the textile manufacturing process, and printing is only a portion of the book-making process.)
My first reaction is that there is lots of evidence of farmers being actively interested in threshing machines. See that block quote from McClelland about how many things George Washington tried. Farmer's journals have lots of stories about them. They got exhibited at fairs. When the compilation of Th... (read more)
Well, people could barely get computers working with electromechanical parts in the 1930s, and those machines weren't very practical. Just seems impossible on the face of it that you could get something serious working 100 years earlier.
The Difference Engine, as you correctly point out, was much more feasible, and Babbage probably could have finished building it, if he hadn't fumbled the project.
Re Hero's Engine, that's an interesting reference. Is there any evidence that this was ever built? (Old inventors drew up a lot of plans that were never implemented and may not even have worked.)
Re Babbage: The Difference Engine was not a computer. It was a calculating machine, but it was not programmable or general-purpose. (The Analytic Engine would have been a computer, but Babbage never even finished designing it.)
Not exactly, although neutron flux is a way to measure radiation
Note that lead-208 is at a “double magic number”, with a complete shell of neutrons and also of protons. Beyond that you don't get the extra stability from completing a shell