All of Salemicus's Comments + Replies

No, I didn't leave that part out.

the closer the real Paul Bunyan hews to the Bunyan of the stories, the smaller the mystery

Of course magic makes everything else more mysterious i.e. P(magical Jesus) is infinitesimal. But P(non magical Jesus) is not low. We do ask JK Rowling what non magical boy inspired Harry Potter.

I guess you mean that we could and it wouldn't be obviously silly, with which I agree. But, for what it's worth, it never crossed my mind to assume that Harry Potter was based on any specific non-magical boy. The characteristics he has that aren't essentially dependent on story-specific things (magic, being the prime target of a supervillain, etc.) seem pretty ordinary and not in any particular need of explanation. I wouldn't be astonished if it turned out that there was some kid Rowling knew once whom she used as a sort of basis for the character of Harry Potter, but I'd be a bit surprised. And if it did, I wouldn't expect particular incidents in the books to be derived from particular things that happened to that child. In particular, I wouldn't say that the simplest (still less the most likely) explanation for the Harry Potter stories involves there being some non-magical child on whom they are based. I don't think any of this has much bearing on whether the simplest explanation for stories about Jesus, Muhammad, the Buddha, Zeus, etc., involves actual historical characters on which they're based. The answer to that surely varies a lot from case to case. (FWIW I'd say: historical Jesus of some sort likely but not certain; historical Muhammad almost certain; historical Buddha likely but not certain; historical Zeus-predecessor very unlikely. But I am not expert enough for my guesses to be worth anything.)
Interestingly, after looking over Wikipedia a bit, apparently there may have been a Paul Bon Jean on whom the earliest Paul Bunyan tales could have been based... a big lumberjack, but with "big" being more like six to seven foot and less like sixty to seventy foot.

Would you say the origins of other religions become more mysterious if there never were whatever magical beings those religions posit?

Yes, of course.

The least mysterious explanation of Paul Bunyan stories is that there really was a Paul Bunyan. And the closer the real Paul Bunyan hews to the Bunyan of the stories, the smaller the mystery. P(stories about Bunyan | Bunyan) > P(stories about Bunyan | !Bunyan).

But just because a story is simple, doesn't necessarily make it likely. We can't conclude from the above that P(Bunyan | stories about Bunyan) > P(!Bunyan | stories about Bunyan).

You left out the 'magical' part of my question. If magical beings exist(ed), then everything becomes more mysterious. That's partly why we don't pester JK Rowling about what extra-special boy Harry Potter was based on. We don't even suspect comic superheros like Batman, who has no magic, to have been based on a real-life billionaire. We certainly don't have scholars wasting time looking for evidence of 'the real Batman.' Modern stories of unlikely events are easily taken as imaginings, yet when people bucket a story as 'old/traditonal', for some people, that bucket includes 'characters must've been real persons', as if humans must've been too stupid to have imagination.
Hmmm. To mess around with equations a bit... what can we say about P(Bunyan | stories about Bunyan) and P(!Bunyan | stories about Bunyan), given P(stories about Bunyan | Bunyan) > P(stories about Bunyan | !Bunyan)? Let's genaralise it a bit (and reduce typing). What can we say about P(A|B) and P(!A|B) when P(B|A) > P(B|!A)? Consider Bayes' Theorem: P(A|B) = [(P(B|A)*P(A)]/P(B). Thus, P(B) = [(P(B|A)*P(A)]/P(A|B) Therefore, P(!A|B) = [(P(B|!A)*P(!A)]/P(B) Now, P(!A) = 1-P(A). So: P(!A|B) = [(P(B|!A)*{1-P(A)}]/P(B) Solve for P(B): P(B) = [(P(B|!A)*{1-P(A)}]/P(!A|B) Since P(B) = [(P(B|A)*P(A)]/P(A|B): [(P(B|A)*P(A)]/P(A|B) = [(P(B|!A)*{1-P(A)}]/P(!A|B) Since P(B|A) > P(B|!A) [(P(B|A)*P(A)]/P(A|B) > [(P(B|!A)*P(A)]/P(A|B) Therefore: [(P(B|!A)*{1-P(A)}]/P(!A|B) > [(P(B|!A)*P(A)]/P(A|B) Since probabilities cannot be negative: [{1-P(A)}]/P(!A|B) > [P(A)]/P(A|B) .[1-P(A)]*P(A|B) > [P(A)]*P(!A|B) ...which means that either (1-P(A)) > P(A) or P(A|B) > P(!A|B), and quite possibly both; and whichever of these two inequalities is false (if either) the ratio between the two sides is closer than the inequality that is true. To return to the original example; either P(Bunyan | stories about Bunyan) > P(!Bunyan | stories about Bunyan) OR P(!Bunyan) > P(Bunyan). Also, if P(Bunyan | stories about Bunyan) > P(!Bunyan | stories about Bunyan) is false, then it must be true that P(Bunyan|stories about Bunyan) > P(Bunyan).

Neither sufficient nor necessary:

  • The origins of Christianity become more mysterious, not less, if there never was a Jesus.
  • We don't need to tie ourselves to a fringe hypothesis to posit non-supernatural origins for the Gospels.
Would you say the origins of other religions become more mysterious if there never were whatever magical beings those religions posit? Would you think it likely that Guanyin was real human of unknown gender? Do the origins of fictional stories become more mysterious if there never were the fictitious characters in the flesh? Did Paul Bunyan exist, as there were similar lumberjacks? You're not supposed to tie yourself to any hypothesis, even if mainstream, but rather update your probability distributions. Bits of the NT weren't written until long enough after the supposed death of Jesus that people wouldn't have been like, 'Who you talkin' about?' And I doubt they would've cared whether the character existed, like no one cares whether Harry Potter existed, because it's the stories that matter.
Your second point is clearly true. The first seems false; Christianity makes much more sense from a Greco-Roman perspective if Jesus was supposed to be a celestial being, not an eternal unchanging principle that was executed for treason. And the sibling comment leaves out the part about first-century Israelites wanting a way to replace the 'corrupt,' Roman-controlled, Temple cult of sacrifice with something like a sacrifice that Rome could never control. Josephus saw the destruction of that Temple coming. For others to believe it would happen if they 'restored the purity of the religion' only requires the existence of some sensible zealots.
Broadly speaking, I agree, and Jesus mythicist Richard Carrier would also agree: But reading some of his stuff made me upgrade the idea that there was no historical Jesus from "almost certainly false" to "plausible". (Carrier has written a couple books on this -- Proving History: Bayes's Theorem and the Quest for the Historical Jesus and On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason for Doubt -- but I haven't read those, only some stuff available on the web.) * Carrier: * Carrier: * (To make the following paragraph more concise I'll omit hedge phrases like "according to Carrier". And even Carrier doesn't regard this as certain, only more likely than not.) The writings about Jesus that come the closest to being contemporary with his putative lifetime are Paul's seven or so authentic letters. Paul, who converted to Christianity after Jesus came to him in a vision sometime around 33 CE, never claims to have met the historical Jesus, and never unambiguously talks about Jesus as a human who lived on Earth. (E.g.: Paul talks about about Jesus being crucified, but this crucifixion took place in some celestial realm not on Earth. Paul mentions "James the Lord's brother", but this means not that James was a literal brother of Jesus of Nazareth but that James is a fellow Christian, the way a modern Christian might refer to their "brothers and sisters in Christ".)

One possible answer is to look at how the then-state-of-the-art models in (say) 1990, 1995, 2000, etc, predicted temperature changes going forwards.

The answer, in point-of-fact, is that they consistently predicted a considerably greater temperature rise than actually took place, although the actual temperature rise is just about within the error bars of most models.

Now, there are two plausible conclusions to this:

  • Those past mistakes have been appropriately corrected into today's models, so we don't need to worry too much about past failures.
  • This is like
... (read more)
It's not as simple as that. Most models give predictions that are conditional on input data to the models (real rate of CO2 production, etc.). To analyze the predictions from, say, a model developed in 1990, you need to feed the model input data from after 1990. Otherwise you get too wide an error margin in your prediction. True. As I said, this is definitely evidence towards the suitability of the models, and certainly seems to be counter to the claim that "there is no evidence that climate models are valuable in predicting future climate trends. That's definitely a possibility, but it's reasonable to think that the mathematics and science involved in the climate models stands on a firmer basis than economical analysis, and definitely a firmer basis than Samuelson's analysis.

Stock markets. I am using them continuously (if passively).

As usual, Nietzsche got there first:

The heaviest burden: What, if some day or night, a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: ‘This life, as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and sigh and everything unutterably small or great in your life must return to you, all in the same succession and sequence — even this spider and this moonlight between the trees and even this moment a

... (read more)
I don't know about "first". Buddha is much older than Nietzsche.

I am a big fan of the Ideological Turing Test, and applying it to different domains, and I was happy to participate in this one. However, I wonder whether this is an appropriate domain.

I think the ITT works best when there are coherent and well-defined opposing positions, of roughly equal size and intensity. The abortion debate is a good example - while there are differences in emphasis and gradations of support, it is clear what the two sides are. Other good examples are the minimum wage debate, the global warming debate, and the debate. The ITT works wor... (read more)

US prohibition was very successful at its goal of reducing alchohol consumption, and you are right that this is insufficiently appreciated. But it also resulted in massive organised crime. Your linked article is extremely unpersuasive on this point.

Although organized crime flourished under its sway, Prohibition was not responsible for its appearance, as organized crime’s post-Repeal persistence has demonstrated.

Ha! And lest anyone thinks I'm being unfair, that is literally its only discussion of the massive increase in organized crime caused by Prohibi... (read more)

Pre-commitment needs to be credible, verifiable and enforceable. If you're playing chicken, pre-commitment means throwing the steering-wheel out of the window, not just saying "I will never ever swerve, pinky-swear."

What is the relevant pre-commitment mechanism here, and how does it operate?

If anything, I would say large dealers are more vulnerable.

Affiliation to a powerful criminal organization, that can kill you if you rattle or can bail you out if you cooperate. Basically, the suckers at the bottom get caught while those who deals for the Mob face less competition. In the most powerful flavor of Italian Mafia affiliates call themselves "man of honor".

With my omnivore hat on:

I don't know what you mean by "suffering." Google defines it as "the state of undergoing pain, distress, or hardship." But just because you're going through pain and hardship, doesn't mean you'd rather be dead. You can be suffering in some ways, and still have a net-positive life - indeed, this is the normal meaning of suffering. Do you deny that the inhabitants of the Syrian refugee camps are suffering? Do you think they'd be better off not to have been born?

Do factory farmed animals sometimes suffer? Surely. Is their life such a constant torment that non-existence would be preferable? Surely not.

They're not in 'constant torment', I think. But 'unhappy most of the time', yeah. Not the animals you see outside in pastures, those are probably pretty content a lot of the time; but the ones that spend all their life in a cage, definitely. The Syrians I don't know. Anyone in a refugee camp must be very unhappy, surely. But maybe they were happy before they had to go to those camps, and hopefully they'll get a chance to be happy again sometime. You'd have to ask the people themselves. But I think most people's lives are net negative, not just the ones living in camps. Just go sit in a mall or something, and look at people's faces, and listen to what they're saying to each other, and in what tones. And it stands to reason. First you have to go to school, and you'd need to be pretty darn happy later in life to make up for that. And then you have to work, which most people hate. You're lucky if your job is just boring and you like your co-workers. Sure, in your free time you get to do stuff that's more fun, but you also get physical and emotional pain, and sickness.

Oh, I thought we were talking about reality. EMH claims to describe reality, doesn't it?

Yeah, but you wanted "a scenario where everything is happening pre-tax, there are no transaction costs, we're operating in risk-adjusted terms and, to make things simple, the risk-free rate is zero. Moreover, the markets are orderly and liquid." That doesn't describe reality, so describing events in your scenario necessitates a toy model.

In the real world, it is trivial to show how you can lose money even if the EMH is true: you have to pay tax, transaction... (read more)

Fair point :-) But still, with enough degrees of freedom in the toy model, the task becomes easy and so uninteresting. I know. Which means you need proper risk management and capitalization. LTCM died because it was overleveraged and could not meet the margin calls. And LTCM relied on hedges, not on diversification. Since deep OOM options are traded, there are people who write them. Since they are still writing them, it looks like not a bad business :-)
  1. Who says this risk is diversifiable? Nothing in the toy model I gave you said the risk was diversifiable. Maybe all the X-like instruments are correlated.
  2. No, I'm not saying that selling deep OOM options is a free lunch, because of the risk profile. And these are definitely not diversifiable.
  3. I am not arguing that EMH is wrong. I have given you a toy model, where a suitably defined investor cannot make money but can lose money. The model is entirely consistent with the EMH, because all prices reflect and incorporate all relevant information.
Oh, I thought we were talking about reality. EMH claims to describe reality, doesn't it? As to toy models, if I get to define what classes of investors exist and what do they do, I can demonstrate pretty much anything. Of course it's possible to set up a world where "a suitably defined investor cannot make money but can lose money". And deep OOM options are diversifiable -- there is a great deal of different markets in the world.

The annotated RichardKennaway:

This is a quote from Henry IV part I, when Glendower is showing off to the other rebels, claiming to be a sorceror, and Hotspur is having none of it.


I can call spirits from the vasty deep.


Why, so can I, or so can any man

But will they come when you do call for them?

Second, when you say they are "a poor investment in terms of expected return", do you actually mean expected return? ... A lottery can perfectly well have a positive expected return even if your chance of getting a positive return is very small.

Yes, I mean expected return. If you hold penny stocks, you can expect to lose money, because the occasional big wins will not make up for the small losses. You are right that we can imagine lotteries with positive expected return, but in the real world lotteries have negative expected return, because th... (read more)

By itself, no. But this is diversifiable risk and so if you short enough penny stocks, the risk becomes acceptable. To use a historical example, realizing this (in the context of junk bonds) is what made Michael Milken rich. For a while, at least. This certainly exists, though it's more complicated than just unwillingness to touch skewed and heavy-tailed securities. In real life shorting penny stocks will run into some transaction-costs and availability-to-borrow difficulties, but options are contracts and you can write whatever options you want. So are you saying that selling deep OOM options is a free lunch? As for the rest, you are effectively arguing that EMH is wrong :-) Full disclosure: I am not a fan of EMH.

Consider penny stocks. They are a poor investment in terms of expected return (unless you have secret alpha). But they provide a small chance of very high returns, meaning they operate like lottery tickets. This isn't a mispricing - some people like lottery tickets, and so bid up the price until they become a poor investment in terms of expected return (problem for the CAPM, not for the EMH). So you can systematically lose money by taking the "wrong" side, and buying penny stocks.

Does that count as an example, or does that violate your "risk... (read more)

Yes, we have to be quite careful here. Let's take penny stocks. First, there is no exception for them in the EMH so if it holds, the penny stocks, like any other security, must not provide a "free" opportunity to make money. Second, when you say they are "a poor investment in terms of expected return", do you actually mean expected return? Because it's a single number which has nothing do with risk. A lottery can perfectly well have a positive expected return even if your chance of getting a positive return is very small. The distribution of penny stock returns can be very skewed and heavy-tailed, but EMH does not demand anything of the returns distributions. So I think you have to pick one of two: either penny stocks provide negative expected return (remember, in our setup the risk-free rate is zero), but then EMH breaks; or the penny stocks provide non-negative expected return (though with an unusual risk profile) in which case EMH holds but you can't consistently lose money. My "risk-adjusted terms" were a bit of a handwave over a large patch of quicksand :-/ I mostly meant things like leverage, but you are right in that there is sufficient leeway to stretch it in many directions. Let me try to firm it up: let's say the portfolio which you will use to consistently lose money must have fixed volatility, say, equivalent to the volatility of the underlying market.

For Omnivores:

  • Do you think the level of meat consumption in America is healthy for individuals? Do you think it's healthy for the planet?

America has an obesity crisis, but I don't see any reason to think that meat specifically is a major part of it. I'm far more worried about the sugar consumption. If, as part of a general reduction in calorific intake, the meat consumption fell, that would be a good thing, but I worry more about people too poor to afford steak.

Regarding planetary "health" - the damage seems to me to be caused by a lack of pr... (read more)

This is such a weird argument to me. It seems to me self-evident that happy animals > animals not existing > suffering animals. Or don't you think that factory animals are suffering?
I really like this entry. Don't forget to PM me your actual opinion so I can give feedback to the judges and see how you do. ^_^

Birds have a ZZ/ZW system where the male is the homogametic sex.

Yes, birds have testosterone. Mind you, women have testosterone. It's the elevated quantity of testosterone that leads to masculinity.

Woman is the biological default. That's why women have redundancy on the 23rd chromosomal pair, whereas men have a special "Y" chromosome - leading to much higher rates of genetic disorders in men. That's why in infant male humans, the testicles have to descend. And so on. Both from an encoding and from a developmental point of view, a man is a woman altered to be masculine. And testosterone is what does that altering.

Yes, it could have been different. We can imagine a species with a neutral default, which then gets altered to be either masculine or feminine by different sex-encoding hormones. But that's not how humans came about.

We don't have to imagine. We can look at birds, where the sex chromosomes are the opposite. I haven't looked at them, so I don't know how much is a consequence of the chromosomal structure. But, for some reason, I'm skeptical that most people who pontificate their role have looked either. The points about hormones and development are more reasonable.
You could with equal sense (i.e. very little) summarise the same empirical observations as "a woman is an incompletely developed man."
I am not convinced that "is the biological default" is a meaningful concept. If (a) then b else c is the same thing as if (!a) then c else b

A capitalist employer selects an accountant from a pool of 100 applicants. A feudal lord would groom a serf boy who has a knack for horses into the job of the adult stable man.

A capitalist employer grooms a management trainee for a future role, while a feudal lord selects a mercenary from those applying for the job.

My vote is for "false dichotomy." There has been a rise in selection (because the world is freer and more connected) but there is still plenty of grooming too. Note that even in your stable boy example, there was selection.

Cicero wasn't Greek and is most known as a jurist and politician, not as a philosopher.

Although I am momentarily embarrassed, " I am one of those who are very willing to be refuted if I say anything which is not true, and very willing to refute any one else who says what is not true, and quite as ready to be refuted as to refute-I for I hold that this is the greater gain of the two, just as the gain is greater of being cured of a very great evil than of curing another."

Would it be fair to summarise your post thus: "aid to the poorest people on earth is an ineffective way to create utils, it is better to invest in western businesses" ?

The first half of your "summary" is a utilitarian framing, and the second half is a recommendation of investment in the West. Neither are anywhere in the post. So no, this is not a fair summary.

My two-sentence summary would be:

Effective methods rely on a tight feedback loop between action and results, which is best provided by a market. Wealth is a function of produ

... (read more)

The OP suggests that colonization is in fact a proven way to turn poor countries into productive ones.

Nope. Provide a quote or retract.

What I actually said was that nothing short of colonisation is known to work.

When you say "Nothing short of X can get you to Y", the strong implication is that it's a safe bet that X will at least not move you away from Y, and sometimes move you toward it. So OK, I'll rephrase: The OP suggests that colonization is in fact a proven way to turn at least some poor countries into more productive ones.

So you're doubling down. Ok, whatever.

No, I have nothing to say about the rest of your comment. I think productive discussion normally requires that both participants feel the other is arguing in good faith. I don't feel that.

You also don't provide an argument that Harvard has a high use for marginal dollars.

My argument is precisely the opposite. My argument is that Harvard is so rich that it has very low use for marginal dollars, but at the same time it has a credible commitment to its future state, so large donations to Harvard will serve to swell its endowment. And also that Harvard has demonstrated the ability to manage its endowment well. Therefore funds donated to Harvard are likely to be invested indefinitely - and therefore to provide increasing amounts of economic tools that will benefit mankind, both now and in the future.

Good usage of marginal dollars is one of EA principles. Of course you can argue that those principles are wrong, but it's makes no sense to expect the EA community to defend people who don't follow their principles. They lost 8 billion of it in 2008.

Unfortunately, most of the funds invested to finance people like Norman Borlaug turned out not to be financing Norman Borlaug.

Sure, I wasn't suggesting that Borlaug's work was replicable.

Still, if you want to generalize from that example, feel free.

When did I generalize from that example? I was merely refuting the crass claim that giving money to a starving woman and child (note the incidental misandry!) must be better than creating economic tools.

But you didn't refute it, because "give the money to someone who will do as much good as Norman Borlaug" is not an instruction anyone is in a position to follow. "Give the money to someone engaged in plant-breeding research" might be, but the example of Borlaug gives only very weak reason to think that this will be effective. Likewise for "Give the money to a government-funded research institute", "Give the money to the Mexican government", "Give the money to someone called Norman", etc. I don't see any misandry there. There would likewise be no misogyny if Benito had written "... a father and child starving to death". In either case, you could argue that there's some sort of misplaced gender asymmetry going on, but I don't see that it's misanythingy. Regardless, is there some point you were making ("people who want to give money to poor people in Africa are sexists!" or something), or was this just a tactical shot aimed at making someone who disagrees with you look bad?

That's true. But conditions in sub-Saharan Africa have improved by a lot less than in other regions that were extremely poor 50 years ago, such as China and South-East Asia. For most of that period, growth in Africa was slower than growth in the West, despite the fact that catch-up growth is much easier. Indeed, sub-Saharan Africa continues to fall further behind China (growth rate of 4.24% versus 7.7%, both for 2013) despite the fact that catch-up growth should favour Africa.

This is not a success story.

This is not obvious to me; should it be? If so, why? (It seems to me that a lot of the factors that could make a country extremely poor would also make it harder for it to improve. A few examples: Shortage of natural resources; severe internal conflicts; endemic corruption; absent or badly deficient infrastructure; cultural traditions hostile to education, trade, etc. Or, to take an example I suspect you will find more likely than I do to be a large part of the picture, genetically-based mental inferiority.) You might hope that a country that's further behind can be helped along by relatively cheap low-hanging fruit that other countries have already picked -- e.g., if even the most basic infrastructure is lacking, then provide the cheap most-basic infrastructure. But (1) the long history of roughly exponential economic growth suggests that actually returns may as well be accelerating as diminishing, and (2) if a country lacks even the most basic infrastructure that everyone else has had for ages, that's probably because something makes it harder to get that infrastructure in place there than elsewhere. That's a nice cherry-picked statistic. Some pages at the World Bank website list recent and (predicted) near-future GDP growth figures for various regions. Indeed, "Sub-Saharan Africa" comes out behind "East Asia and Pacific" (including China, but several other countries in that region have similar figures) -- but ahead of "Europe and Central Asia", "Latin America and the Caribbean" and "Middle East and North Africa", and a little behind "South Asia". (That's the complete list of regions there. In every case it's specifically the lower-income countries that they're looking at, which I guess is why e.g. there's no "North America" category.) Sub-Saharan Africa seems to be improving reasonably fast, as troubled regions of the world go. In particular, I'm not seeing evidence that it's doing so badly as to discredit the idea of trying to help it out.

I am astonished by this comment, and even more so that it has been upvoted. I wrote (and it's clear for all to see):

Providing cash transfers to [the people there] mostly merely raises consumption, rather than substantially raising productivity.

This is backed up by the paper, which notes that just 39% of the cash transfers boosted assets (see pg 12 and Table1), meaning that 61% of the transfer had been consumed. The productivity effects were similarly modest. And note that these figures were taken just one year after the transfer, and so likely overesti... (read more)

You misquoted me

I didn't quote you at all (aside from the very opening bit, which was verbatim, and a few words later in quotation marks), I paraphrased you. It wasn't my intention to paraphrase inaccurately, and I'm sorry if you consider that I did.

On the substantive question: first of all, there is a difference between what you say ("just 39% of the cash transfers boosted assets") and what the paper actually says (on average, assets were boosted by 39% of the cash transferred), and I think it's an important one. Secondly, we are talking here... (read more)

I think you are confused. You say I don't suggest an alternative, but then you correctly identify my suggested alternative in the very next sentence.

To be clear: None of the top recommended charities on GiveWell, including Give Directly, are aimed at famine relief, so if your top concern is starvation, your complaint should be directed at them. But if you want specific examples of such tools, I would certainly say that the funds invested to finance Norman Borlaug 's research were better spent than wasting them on aid, because that investment created the economic tools to prevent future famines, as opposed to temporary relief. See the Maimonides quote at the top.

Unfortunately, most of the funds invested to finance people like Norman Borlaug turned out not to be financing Norman Borlaug.

Still, if you want to generalize from that example, feel free. The conclusion would be that would-be effective altruists should be sending their money to the Mexican government, which is what was paying Norman Borlaug to do the work that led to his discoveries. We could generalize further and suggest supporting government-sponsored research. But I don't think there's any credible way to get from Norman Borlaug to saying that the best way to help the world's poorest people is to invest in the stock market or to send money to elite US universities like Harvard, which were your preferred options.

To expand on what OrphanWilde wrote:

The Just World Hypothesis can be summarised as "you reap what you sow." If you wish to argue that you don't "deserve" to reap what you sow (perhaps because you didn't have access to better seeds), or that it's not "just" to reap what you sow (because everyone should reap in rough equality, regardless of how they sowed), or similar, that's fine, but you aren't arguing against the Just World Hypothesis.

So when we see the fruit, the Just World Hypothesis tells us: that's probably how the person... (read more)

This is mostly true. One example of unjust happenings is the following: Bob was being good, i.e., acting in a way that benefits the community, and he was punished for it even though the community benefited.

Excellent post.

Related: It only takes a small extension of the logic to show that the Just World Hypothesis is a useful heuristic.

I don't see it, how is it useful?

You will pay extra, as in you will pay more than the ring is worth. If you buy a diamond ring, turn around and try to sell it back, they'll give you something like 30% for it.

This has always struck me as such a strange argument against buying a diamond ring, because it's true about every retail purchase. If you buy a chair, then turn around and try to sell it back to the store, you'd be lucky to get 30%, but no-one thinks that's an argument for sitting on the floor. You buy a chair because you want to sit on it, not as the start of a complicated chair-r... (read more)

Biology may include studying traditions of behaviour, but biology is not itself a tradition of behaviour.

Regarding the question of what ancient Greeks meant by "the good," I'd start with the SEP.

I have no idea about anthropological data from non-Western cultures.

This is a very old argument. Certainly anyone familiar with Nietzsche or Strauss will have seen one version of it rehearsed. But it's not entirely persuasive (there are some excellent counter-arguments already in this thread), and there are reams of literature on it.

The truth is, we do not know for certain what Plato or Aristotle really meant, and these philological arguments don't - can't - settle the matter.

Would you have any good summary or review articles on the debate to recommend? It certainly feels like there'd be plenty of other data to help judge the question besides just Plato's and Aristotle's writings - e.g. other writings from the era or anthropological data from non-Western cultures (e.g. it was already mentioned that "distinguishing right and wrong" has been documented as a human universal by one anthropologist).

That's possible. It's also possible, as Thiel says, that people shy away from unpopular truths out of conformity bias. Which is the bigger bias?

In Thiel's view, (and mine), the chief problem is not that people are overconfidently proposing answers to that question. The chief problem is that people have no answers at all to that question, and can't think of any ways to generate them. You are right that it's a hard question, because you can be mistaken, and reversed stupidity is not truth, and so on. But it's not an impossible one.

Look, a single quote like this is never going to prove, to the satisfaction of the sceptical, a controversial thesis. But whole sections of the book are dedicated to arguing in favour of what Thiel calls the "determinate" viewpoint (that what matters is vision, planning and execution, and "secrets") and against the "indeterminate" viewpoint (it's all social context, luck, insurance, EMH). See for example this lecture in the series on which the book was based. It's possible Thiel goes too far in some instances, but the point he... (read more)

Why put the quote here, if it is so short it can only serve to reaffirm people's preexisting beliefs? I feel like rationality quotes should not be about echoing political claims, especially contentious ones. Instead, it should be about providing clearly sensible advice for people. Thiel's quote is not only debatable, but also clearly targeted at a political group - the Baby Boomers. So it seems to violate most of the supposed norms of this website to me. I don't strongly disagree with the quote's claim so much as I just see no reason to believe it is true. You say the truth of the argument is obvious, but it's genuinely not obvious to me. I think you've bitten the mind projection fallacy here, it seems obvious to you because you have priors other people do not share. Since you have challenged me to make an argument, I'll point out that people who are born in third world countries are all but guaranteed to remain in poverty for all their lives. Even if it were somehow possible to improve the planning capabilities of all people in the third world simultaneously, I don't think this situation would change. The reason for third-world poverty is not that people make bad plans, it's that they have few opportunities to plan to achieve. When societies' coordination mechanisms are broken, it's not individual planning that is important. I agree planning is underrated in general, in countries like the US. But I don't think it's a major and ironic flaw of the Baby Boomers or anything like that. That sort of grandiose claim is way out of proportion to whatever evidence might exist on this question. All generations have problems with planning, irony is not important to truth-finding, other problems are much more significant. You seem to want to claim that Thiel's words should just be interpreted metaphorically, that their overall idea is okay even if the specifics of what he said aren't, but that smacks loudly of rationalization to me. And even using your charitable standards,

Err... I don't know. Proposing with a fake £10 ring sounds cheesy to me. You can always go shopping together for the wedding bands :-)

I agree it would be cheesy to propose with something fake-looking, but you can buy a really nice-looking ring for that price, that she is unlikely to realise isn't real (unless she's a jeweller). I proposed that way and afterwards when I told my fiancee that we had to buy a real ring, she was surprised that the ring wasn't real. Maybe I shouldn't have told her :)

The problem with non-GIA certificates is that because GIA is... (read more)

This is a perfect exemplar of something I really hate about this website. A poster asks for advice about how to buy a diamond, and instead he gets mostly replies saying "don't buy a diamond." I will try and actually be helpful.

My advice would be:

  • Your girlfriend probably has much stronger views than you do about jewellery, and after all she will be the one wearing it. Propose with a "fake" ring, then go shopping for the "real" ring together. I got a very nice-looking ring off Amazon for £10 to propose with. This minimises the
... (read more)
Well, it's hard to give actually useful advise in that category, but coming up with a reason not to buy a diamond is an easy way to signal your cleverness.

This is a perfect exemplar of something I really hate about this website. A poster asks for advice about how to buy a diamond, and instead he gets mostly replies saying "don't buy a diamond." I will try and actually be helpful.

Being pedantic, the original question was

I would like to propose to my girlfriend in the near future. For this I would like to use a diamond ring.

and your first suggestion was

Propose with a "fake" ring, then go shopping for the "real" ring together.

This seems like a reasonable suggestion. But ... (read more)

examples of reasonably pretty looking amazon rings gold plated: in the ~$100 range not the $5 range as above:
Meta: You raise an interesting point about not getting the answers you want. Being aware of the barrier to communication I can only say, "be specific". I have found similar problems when posting here and also in other critical-thought places. It led to my being specific in this recent discussion post twice over. I would not be blaming the community for this result; but rather the clarity of the way the question was asked. The top post can be edited if needed; or asked again and phrased differently if necessary. Also the original post did say indicating an awareness of alternative options and a willingness to go for alternatives.
How would you respond if a poster asked for advice as to how to best transfer money to Nigeria in order to receive a large amount of money in payment for this service?
Err... I don't know. Proposing with a fake £10 ring sounds cheesy to me. You can always go shopping together for the wedding bands :-) GIA and AGS certificates are both fine. EGS and IGL are more iffy in the sense that they will grade a diamond higher than GIA or AGS would -- downgrade their ratings one or two notches for comparison. Well, the first choice is between yellow and white -- some people want yellow (gold) jewelry. In white, do NOT buy white gold, it's rhodium-coated and the coating wears off. You are supposed to renew it every few years. Buy either platinum (expensive) or palladium (less so).

What important truth do very few people agree with you on?

Now, hold that thought, and consider that the most likely explanation is that you are wrong.

When unsavvy observers see a nonprofit organization with dozens of people on its board, they think: “Look how many great people are committed to this organization! It must be extremely well run.” Actually, a huge board will exercise no effective oversight at all; it merely provides cover for whatever microdictator actually runs the organization.

Peter Thiel, Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future

When Baby Boomers grow up and write books to explain why one or another individual is successful, they point to the power of a particular individual’s context as determined by chance. But they miss the even bigger social context for their own preferred explanations: a whole generation learned from childhood to overrate the power of chance and underrate the importance of planning. Gladwell at first appears to be making a contrarian critique of the myth of the self-made businessman, but actually his own account encapsulates the conventional view of a genera

... (read more)
Smacks of Deep Wisdom.

Captain Cook did fine in Australia. It was Hawaii that got him.

I know -- but it's a general hazard of going off to discover places populated by people with... different cultural norms X-)

The problem is that most of our modern methods rely on other technology that was also not available in the 13th century. So you need to be aware of disused practices, not modern ones. In your example, sterilisation would be useful, but also very expensive. Washing your hands would typically be counterproductive, because they often did not have access to clean water. Spreading cholera is bad! That is why people drank small beer rather than water.

Useful maps:

  • Crops require nitrogen, legumes fix nitrogen. Do Dutch-style crop rotation and anticipate the Agric
... (read more)
Sterilization is easy -- all you need is boiling water. As to diseases, what you need first of all is not washing hands, but rather separation of drinking water and human excrement (aka sanitation). Some basic military technology should also be highly useful to raise your credibility :-)

My own experience is in London and Cambridge.

I think your intuitions are steering you wrong if you'd expect this kind of thing among the "undereducated" (your word). That might be true in the US, but in Britain most people from those social echelons simply don't attend church, and haven't for generations, as an effect of urbanisation. Of course, there are relatively poor and uneducated people with that relation to religion in the Black Country, but they aren't Christians.

If you want to find devout Christians, you need to find educated, middle cla... (read more)

These pockets definitely exist in the UK. There are a fair number of devout Christians here, although they don't shout about it because mainstream society is so hostile to Christianity. They are also easily the nicest people I've met.

Physically where? I am moderately familiar with the Black Country area, having done some industrial projects, and it looks like a pretty undereducated area, which should correlate with this. Yet I have not seen any sign of it.

[Peer review] rejects far more than implausible/insane/unworthy ideas.

What else does it reject?

I see papers get rejected all the time for methodological disagreements and failure to cite papers the referee thinks important. More broadly, ideas that are perfectly plausible but contrary to current thinking in a field have a much higher threshold to publication than ideas consonant with current thinking.

But more generally, peer review is normally explicitly aimed at rejecting work judged to be non-novel or non-substantial. That boring replication attemp... (read more)

The purpose of peer review is just to make sure what's in the paper is plausible and sane, and worth being presented to a wider audience. The purpose is to weed out obvious low-quality material such as perpetual motion machines or people who are duplicating other's work as their own.

Maybe, but this isn't how actual peer review operates. It rejects far more than implausible/insane/unworthy ideas.

Real review of one's work begins after peer review is over and the work is examined by the scientific community at large.

I agree with this, if you'll conced... (read more)

What else does it reject? I think it's important to look at this on a per-discipline basis. Some disciplines have much higher standards of clarity, precision, and repeatability than others. That article you linked looks at statistical studies with a special focus on medical research, but then seems to make the critical error of generalizing this to all scientific research. Do the findings apply to physics? Math? Computer science?

Since a tradition of behaviour is not susceptible of the distinction between essence and accident), knowledge of it is unavoidably knowledge of its detail: to know only the gist is to know nothing.

Michael Oakeshott, Political Education.

On the other hand, nowhere is 'essence' and 'accident' more con-fused and intermingled than in biology, and it is certainly not true that to know gists in biology (what is more of a gist than the concepts of evolution and natural selection?) 'is to know nothing'.

Ah, but it is good to be light-hearted, light as a feather, floating on air, on cloud nine, to have a light touch, make light work or to tread lightly, whereas it is bad to be ponderous, heavy-footed, weighed down, find things heavy going, throw your weight around, make heavy weather, or to carry the weight of the world on your shoulders.

There is a great deal of linguistic tension between whether "heavy" or "light" is good, one that exists in many different languages. See also the lengthy discussion on "heavy" versus "light" at the start of The Unbearable Lightness of Being.

Is your point that property can be trade-like? That it exists not only because either you or the government has enough guns to chase away trespassers, but also because a tit-for-tat trade-like "I won't touch stuff you call yours if you promise the same" social agreement is seen as mutually beneficial, even without much of an enforcement?

Kinda. I would de-emphasise the "mutually beneficial" and "promise" bits and emphasise the notion of self-reinforcing equilibrium. After all, you do have to defend your property, because the... (read more)

I would argue with that. There is policeman: the yanks. Pax Americana, used to be Pax Britannica pre-1914 or so, which was a similar policing role, just more polite perhaps. There is also a quasi-democratic state-like thingy, the UN. It was anarchic before. Roughly before the "Anglosphere" became dominant. 18th century, for example. But today? Putin thought it is anarchic then found not being allowed to trade with about 80% of the GDP of the planet is not such a good deal. Wasn't like the whole point of having the UN is to stop it from being anarchic?
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