Martin Sustrik

Martin Sustrik's Comments

Anti-social Punishment

Author here.

In the hindsight, I still feel that the phenomenon is interesting and potentially important topic to look into. I am not aware of any attempt to replicate or dive deeper though.

As for my attempt to explain the psychology underlying the phenomenon I am not entirely happy with it. It's based only on introspection and lacks sound game-theoretic backing.

By the way, there's one interesting explanation I've read somewhere in the meantime (unfortunately, I don't remember the source):

Cooperation may incur different costs on different participants. If you are well-off, putting $100 into a common pool is not a terribly important matter. If others fail to cooperate all you can lose is $100. If you just barely getting along, putting $100 into a common pool may threaten you in a serious way. Therefore, rich will be more likely to cooperate than poor. Now, if the thing is framed in moral terms (those cooperating are "good", those not cooperating are "bad") the whole thing may feel like a scam providing the rich a way to buy moral superiority. As a poor person you may thus resort to anti-social punishment as a way to punish the scam.

Inadequate Equilibria vs. Governance of the Commons

Author here.

I still believe this article is a important addition to the discussion of inadequate equilibria. While Scott Alexander's Moloch post and Eliezer Yudkowsky's book are great for introduction and discussion of the topic, both of them fail, in my opinion, to convey the sheer complexity of the problem as it occurs in the real world. That, I think, results in readers thinking about the issue in simple malthusian or naive game-theoretic terms and eventually despairing about inescapability of suboptimal Nash equilibria.

What I try to present is a world that is much more complex but also much less hopeless. Everything is an intricate mess of games played on different levels and interacting in complex and unpredictable ways. What, at the first glance, looks like a simple tragedy-of-the-commons problem is in fact a complex dynamic system with many inputs and many intertwined interests. To solve it, one may just have to step back a bit and consider other forces and mechanisms at play.

One idea that is expressed in the article and that I often come back to is (my wording, but the idea is very much implicitly present in Ostrom's book):

All in all, it seems that organically grown institutions are a lot like Hayek's free markets. They are information-processing machines. They aggregate countless details, too small and numerous for any central planner to take into account, and generate a set of efficient governance rules.

Another one that still feels important in the hindsight is the attaching of a price tag to a coordination failure ("this can be solved for $1M") which turns the semi-mystical work of Moloch into a boring old infrastructure project, very much like building a dam. This may have implications for Effective Altruism. Solving a coordination failure may often be the most efficient way to spend money in a specific area.

The Missing Piece

Let me restate the question in a different way:

If we have just the compiler source code, we are missing some information (easily proven by showing that there's infinite number of such Xs where X(S)=X, whereas only one is "correct").

To find out what that information may be let's consider the case where both the source code of the compiler and the compiler binary are available, but there's no programmer that understands the language. Are we still missing said piece of information?

On one hand, we can assume that yes, the information in question is still missing. In that case it must be something that is in the head of the programmer, some kind of "interpretation" of the language. But if that is so, how does that apply to the biological case? What's the "interpretation" of DNA and whose head it resides in?

On the other hand, we can assume that no, with the compiler binary at hand there's no information missing. Therefore, there must be something in the binary that's not present in the source code. But given that the binary is just a transformation of the source code, what exactly that may be? Is it some kind of "interpretation" of the language, but encoded as machine code?

An unrelated though: Why is the Swiss/CAR case different from the other two? If one looks at how the reproduction is carried out in living organisms (not the high school biology version, but the real thing) then it is, given its complexity and distributed nature, much more similar to the working of a society than to a compiler. Maybe, after all, the biological and sociological cases are similar, and the compilers have nothing to do with the other two?

Recent updates to (2017–2019)

"On the Existence of Powerful Natural Languages": Have you read Umberto Eco's "The Search for the Perfect Language"? It's a pretty good history of the past efforts to create powerful artificial languages, from Raymon Lull to John Wilkins etc.

On the Nature of Programming Languages

AFAIU, your argument is that a super-human intelligence can look at the program as a whole, be aware that both hind legs need to be the same length and can modify the code at both places to satisfy the constraint.

While imaginable, in the real world I don't see this happening except for toy examples (say, an academic exercise of writing a toy sorting algorithm). Actual software projects are big and modified by many actors, each with little understanding of the whole. Natural selection is performed by a, from human point of view, completely mindless entity. Same for genetic algorithms and, possibly, ML.

The point I was trying to make that in such a piecemal, uninformed development, some patters may emerge that are, in a way, independent of the type of the development process (human-driven, evolution, etc.)

The Politics of Age (the Young vs. the Old)

A skin-in-the-game vote multiplier based on age

There are two opposing ways to think about it.

You can either, as you do, say that your skin-in-the-game is proportional to the amount of time you have in front of you. From that perspective it seems fair that children should have biggest say in shaping long-term policies.

Or you can say that your skin-in-the-game factor is proprotional to how much you've already invested in the status quo. If you've spent 50 years working towards a goal it seems unfair that a 16-year old know-nothing should be able, on a whim, to throw all of that away.

What makes people intellectually active?

Funny that I had exactly the same thought when writing the comment above: Isn't that just OCD? But if you look at concrete examples, it doesn't feel like that. Einstein? Incapable of accepting easy solutions? Yes. OCD? Probably not. Even van Gogh, despite the host of psychological problems, probably haven't had OCD.

What makes people intellectually active?

I think it has to do with intellectual honesty. There's a lot of highly intelligent people who are willing to accept the status quo, even if they are aware that it's broken, and just move on with their life. Then there are some people who are just psychologically incapable of such "ignore it and move on" attitude. Interestingly, this applies across broad spectrum of disciplines.

Science: A former kind of person does all the steps from a scientific method textbook and move on with their research. The latter kind of person won't be able to avoid thinking about why the method is as it is, whether its rationale matches their experiment, whether there are special circumstances that make the method inadequate and so on.

Engineering: The former type of person would just take existing tools and practices, glue them together and get a viable product. The latter kind of person will agonize over corner cases, whether there's a fundamentally different way of doing the same thing, whether the design is internally consistent and so on.

Arts: The former type of person is a mannerist. They use the existing expressive repertoire of their time and use it to create viable art. The latter kind of person cannot avoid seeing the problems with the current style, trying different ways of addressing them, getting back to basics and so on. Think van Gogh, for example.

Coordination Problems in Evolution: The Rise of Eukaryotes

Does that matter that much? The life had to originate somewhere and it, presumably, must have faced the same coordination problems along the way.

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