Srdjan Miletic


How do you keep track of your own learning?

It's worth noting that assessing your own learning is far easier in domains where there are practical tasks gated by knowledge. E.g: When learning.a programming language, I can measure the learning by my ability to do tasks of increasing complexity with it.

I imagine that for textbook learning you could try exams. That certainly works for maths although it has a failure mode in that it only verifies that you've memorized passwords whereas what you want to do is to develop a deep and intuitive understanding.

Strength, not courage, is the second component of goodness
  • Wholeheartedly agree that having the capacity to cause good outcomes is important. I'm not sure it's part of being a good person. Let's say you have two people. Both have the same personal amount of Wisdom and Courage. Both choose to do good. One person is born poor and the other is born with 100 billion dollars in inheritance. The richer person is undoubtedly more powerful and can do more good but does that mean they're a better person?

  • Maybe "ability" or some other word is better here than power. For me power implies being able to force other agents to do/not do things. Ability suggests being able to do something, even when that something doesn't involve other agents.

Unrefined thoughts on some things rationalism is missing vs religions

Putting it forward as a religion-substitute would probably turn people off

I agree this is a risk. Both due to culty vibes and people not wanting a religion. I'm not sure in practice whether growing rationalism as a core identity would lead to less or more rationalists. I'm also not sure how far non-core and core identity rationalism are mutually exclusive. (Just like a lot of people are vaguely christian without belonging to a church, so maybe a lot of people would be vaguely interested in rationalism without wanting to join their local temple)

Third, we should ask ourselves (and I'd be curious to hear your answer) what kind of future we're planning for in which the religion-ification of rationalism becomes relevant

I don't think there needs to be a specific, world-altering plan in order for a rationalist religion to be something worth pursuing. If you believe as I do that rationalism makes people better human beings, is morally right and leads to more open, free, just and advanced societies, then creating and spreading it is good pretty much irrespective of social circumstances.

At some point (perhaps already past), all of those people who can be persuaded will be. This will only comprise a small fraction of the population, but they will cling to the "rationalist community" with a near-religious zeal

So I think I depart quite strongly from the lesswrong consensus here. Lesswrong has about, what, 200 active members? The broader group of people who would consider themselves rationalists or rationalist adjacent is probably less than 10'000. The world has a population of 600 Billion people. Even assuming only a tiny proportion of people are naturally inclined towards rationalism, I really don't think we're anywhere close to addressing the full market. A few things to bear in mind:

  • Rationalist content is mostly in english. Most people don't speak/read english. Even those that do as a second language don't consumer primarily english sources
  • Rationalism is niche and hard to stumble upon. It's not like christianity or left/right ideology in the west. Whereas those ideologies are broadcasted at you constantly and you will know about them and roughly what they represent, rationalism is something you only find if you happen to just luck out and stumble on this weird internet trail of breadcrumbs.
Unrefined thoughts on some things rationalism is missing vs religions

I feel a similar way to you in that rationalism is part of my core identity. Why do you think talking about rationality/rationalism will make you loose social status? I've often broached the topic with people in work, my friendship groupm, debating etc and have never had any problems.

Curated conversations with brilliant rationalists

Wonderful. Thanks for creating this. One small tip: when doing remote interviews consider sending your guests a cheap mic or headset. Even a $30 mic/headset can drastically improve sound quality and would really improve listening experience for some of your episodes.

Networks of Trust vs Markets

So I think it's interesting that the market seem so expensive for these tasks. It makes sense for the carpenter case due to the information asymmetry but I don't see what there aren't more affordable moving companies in your nation.

As for markets vs trust a few thoughts:

  • You seem to be of the view that most consumers (irrationally) go to markets for most of their transactions when they could be relying on trust instead. Is that really true? Many of the goods I get, relationships, conversations, essay feedback, sex, childrearing, etc... I get through non-market trust based mechanisms. Isn't it the case that we just don't think of non-traded things as goods?
  • You seem to be of the opinion that trust is massively more cost effective than markets in many cases? Again I'm somewhat sceptical. I think your selection procedure is to take things you do on the market and find the few of them that are far more effective when done outside of the market. This leads to a biased sample because you're selecting specifically for things the market does badly.
  • Another thing to consider is the cost of trust based networks vs markets. Specifically, you're limited to in-network people and hence to only a very small subset of goods/services.

(By the way, still think the "trust can really help with transactions" gist is super interesting and useful. Even outside of laws and just in terms of cultural norms, living/working in a low-trust culture can be a shocking experience to anyone accustomed to a western european country)

The Fall of Rome, III: Progress Did Not Exist

So I think that the explanations for the gradual spread of ever more intense agriculture are:

  • The population growth explanation: people gradually adopted more intense agriculture because population density rose, meaning they had to or they would starve.
  • The technological diffusion model: intensive agriculture was highly complex and non-obvious. The tech for it was developed in a few places and then gradually diffused. The causal link between pop and intensive agriculture is that intensive agriculture caused higher, more concentrated populations rather than being caused by it.

Why do I tend towards the latter hypothesis? A few reasons:

  • In pre-modern civilizations, population growth is exponential or at least very rapid. This means that if it indeed was pop density growth driving agriculture, we would expect to see far rapider adoption of it in, say, non costal europe where it took close to a thousand years after the greeks had it.
  • Related to the above, most pre modern societies were at the malthusian limit due to unrestrained population growth. Famines were common and starvation was a real risk most people would face multiple times in their lives. Hence I don't think people in these societies lacked an incentive to grow more food more efficiently, even if doing so was hard. I think they just couldn't.
The Fall of Rome, III: Progress Did Not Exist

This sequence was incredibly interesting while also being very short and to the point. Thanks a great deal for writing it.

Generally speaking i think your hypothesis is interesting and plausible.

A few questions

  • For the narrow vs wide glass metaphor for population, does it really line up with the multi-century timelines involved? If populations can grow 2x every 20 years in these societies, wouldn't europe have filled up with people much faster? Isn't the fact that it didn't down to a lack of technology (complex agriculture and settled states able to defend agriculture)?
  • How much evidence is there that concrete production fell due to lack of fuel as opposed to, say, economic collapse and constant civil wars drastically reducing demand for very expensive high-grade building materials?
  • Your model of intensive agriculture seems to be "everyone knows what it is but people won't do it until it's necessary". Is this true? Isn't intensive agri a super advanced tech which took centuries to develop and diffuse? Isn't every pre-industrial society pretty much permanently at the malthusian limit, meaning everyone would already have an incentive to do intensive agriculture if possible.
  • Do you think the greeks developed so quickly because they were land bound and hence had to resort to intensive agriculture? Why not other hypothesis like them being next to the sea = hugely more mobility + trade = hugely more wealth = higher pop densities and more specialization in complex good creation.
The EMH is False - Specific Strong Evidence

Out of curiosity, why a US tracker fund instead of a global one like FTSE all-world?

The EMH is False - Specific Strong Evidence

Hmmm. So I don't think more global exposure = more diversified. What you should be aiming for is investing in each country/region in proportion to it's share of the market.

Consider the following situation

  • The USA is 30% of global markets
  • A global index fund invests in world equities, putting 30% of it's money in the US market
  • The US market is actually also 50% invested abroad
  • Hence the index fund is really only putting 15% (30/2) in the US and is underweighted towards the US
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