716 Comments

It’s Thursday and open threads seem to begin to die about now. Plus we have permission to do political so I’m linking to a British writer who captures my feelings about 45 better than I could ever do.

Some British folk don’t like DT. Why? Well to begin with

“For instance, he has no class, no charm, no coolness, no credibility, no compassion, no wit, no warmth, no wisdom, no subtlety, no sensitivity, no self-awareness, no humility, no honour and no grace.” …

“Plus, we like a laugh. And while Trump may be laughable, he has never once said anything wry, witty or even faintly amusing – not once, ever. I don’t say that rhetorically, I mean it quite literally: not once, not ever. And that fact is particularly disturbing to the British sensibility – for us, to lack humour is almost inhuman. But with Trump, it’s a fact. He doesn’t even seem to understand what a joke is – his idea of a joke is a crass comment, an illiterate insult, a casual act of cruelty. ”

https://londondaily.com/british-writer-pens-the-best-description-of-trump-i-ve-read

Really. I don’t understand why anyone could like such a toad. I can at least see the other side on almost all scissor issues. Not this one. Some might say this is unimportant now that he is gone. Except he is not. He is still here and still dangerous.

Expand full comment

Anyone know if there are therapies for schizotypal personality disorder? Or cluster A generally? This is not for use with a real client, it’s for an assignment, but research is coming up short. So far I basically have “social skills training, and maybe risperidone or olanzapine.”

Expand full comment

For the meditation\mindfulness as therapy people. Free Compassion in Therapy Summit

https://www.compassionintherapy.com/

Expand full comment

I've heard that markets typically overreact to headlines. Is this true, and if so, is there enough of a pattern for people to make money from it?

Expand full comment

https://www.wired.com/story/tracers-in-the-dark-welcome-to-video-crypto-anonymity-myth/

Content warning: This is about the Feds tracking a large child abuse/child porn ring by investigating bitcoin transactions. The child abuse is rough to read about.

I think it also implies that the promised privacy from bitcoin isn't there unless people in a network are meticulous about security, and you can't count on that.

Expand full comment
Apr 13, 2022·edited Apr 13, 2022

This is about the education gynecologists in America get. You'd think a gynecologist would be up-to-date on important studies on atleast female hormones. Apparantly not. Something as trivial as, "Does hormone replacement therapy increase risk for heart disease?", and they have no idea that current research says a clear no. There was a recent (2 years old) Economist article, saying the previous "yes" answer to this question was a mere confusion about the data. Multiple gynacs refused to comment on the article. They said their position was simply yes.

Expand full comment
Apr 13, 2022·edited Apr 13, 2022

So I listen to the Bari Weiss podcast occasionally even though it feels like mostly Scott regurgitated. The latest episode with Jonathan Haidt on the evils of social media (which once again doesn't say much surprising to an ACX reader) got me thinking: What if we banned social media? How would such a ban look in practice, and would much of value be lost?

The less interesting question of how such a ban would look in practice, I'm painting a scenario where the EU, US and China come together and decide to heavily fine anyone caught doing target advertising online. Say it's for data protection reasons, a GDPR 2.0. I would guess that this would destroy the business model of Facebook, Google et al, though small fish might get under the radar as to small to fry.

The more interesting question is what would happen with the big social media giants gone. Would we revert to a golden internet age of email threads, blogging and cat photos, without any viral mobs and outrage everywhere? There would be slightly more friction for the average Joe who wants to share cat pictures online, but they could buy a blog for a couple of bucks and get going. And lot o tech talent could do better things than making people click adds more. More likely there would be a brave new internet unlike what we have seen so far, anyone want to take a shot at envisioning it?

To end on a broader note: If you were given broad powers to regulate the internet, what rules and laws would you put in place?

Expand full comment

I am trying to understand the economics of sports stadiums. New York State recently approved funding for a new stadium for the Buffalo Bills, which was of course accompanied by the usual grumbling, primarily from parts of the state far from Buffalo. I have read some number of reports claiming that sports stadiums are "bad investments" with varying definitions of "bad investment", although I think some of that is just normal imprecision on the part of journalists and commentators. I am trying to understand these claims, and, particularly if my current understanding is correct, understand how they can be true.

One divide in analyses is whether they assume the team will stay without a new stadium. The claim that funding for a new stadium that is not necessary to keep a team seems likely to be true and is less interesting to me. On the other hand, if it is assumed that the team will move without a new stadium then it seems like the stadium funding will bring a significant enough return to merit further inquiry.

I will start with the naive view. An NFL team is worth over a billion dollars (the Bills are regularly valued at or near the bottom of the league and they sold for $1.4B). It spends roughly $200M, or rather slightly less, on player salaries for year (a rough estimation based on the current salary cap). It also has a host of other employees ranging from coaches and executives who can make 7 or 8 figure salaries down to various low-wage jobs and interns. We can set aside the amount of salaries taxed out of state for away games by saying it is roughly offset by the amount of out-of-state salaries taxed in-state for home games. Thus, we get income tax on roughly $200M per year. This is a very rough estimate with lots of places for potential error, so I don't love it but it sums up a lot of background assumptions I have just from following football.

The simple counterargument is that sports revenue is mostly money that residents would have spent on other local entertainment. There is of course some out of state money, from people who travel to watch a game and the like, but it is negligible. The problem with this analysis is that sports teams, particularly NFL teams, make much of their money through national deals such as sponsorships and TV deals. The latest number I can find for national revenue sharing was $309M. I have yet to see an explanation for how this money could be replacing local spending. There are vague gestures that this money is less likely to stay in the community, but I haven't yet seen any quantified claims of this. And of course from a tax revenue standpoint, the portion of that money that gets taxed is tax revenue that would not likely have been in the local economy. One explanation is that much of the definitive work on the subject was done in the 1990s. My understanding is that national shared revenue was a smaller portion of sports team income at that time. However, I have been trying to look at more recent analyses.

So far I have read numerous accounts from news media and commentators. I have gone through the following papers, and found myself with more questions than answers:

https://coles.kennesaw.edu/econopp/docs/Bradbury_Cobb_report_March2022.pdf

https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract id=4022547

https://www.mercatus.org/system/files/Coates-Sports-Franchises.pdf

As far as I can tell, there appears to be a consensus that there exist benefits from local teams, but those benefits are characterized as small. I am not sure what "small" is measured relative to, however.

I plan to continue to run down more of the cited works, but for now this is where I am.

Does anyone have any thoughts on the matter? Any papers or articles that do a particularly good job of explaining things? Explanations of what I've missed? General opinions on state funding of public works in the periphery?

Expand full comment
Apr 12, 2022·edited Apr 12, 2022

I sometimes find a plum in Hilaire Belloc's writings, and here's one from a 1923 collection of essays. This one is on footnotes. Here's how we start:

"It is pleasant to consider the various forms of lying, because that study manifests the creative ingenuity of man and at the same time affords the diverting spectacle of the dupe. That kind of lying which, of the lesser sorts, has amused me most is the use of the footnote in modern history."

And then he goes after Gibbon:

"A first-rate example of both these tricks combined in Gibbon is the famous falsehood he propagated about poor St. George, of whom, Heaven be witness, little enough is known without having false stories foisted upon him. You will find it in his twenty-third chapter, where he puts forward the absurd statement that St. George was identical with George of Cappadocia, the corrupt and disgraceful bacon-contractor and the opponent of St. Athanasius.

This particular, classical example of the Evil Footnote is worth quoting. Here are the words: "The infamous George of Cappadocia has been transformed into the renowned St. George of England."

And here is the footnote:

This transformation is not given as absolutely certain, but as extremely probable. See Longueruana, Tom. I, p. 194."

But the problem is, I am left here hanging by a thread. Who was this corrupt bacon-contractor? What was so bad about bacon-contracting? And how on earth did St. Athanasius get dragged in?

And a nice sample of how pop culture history gets started, and why you have to go back to the original sources (which reminds me, I must chase up the wicked bacon-contractor of Cappadocia):

"But I myself have had a similar experience (as the silent man said when his host had described at enormous length his adventure with the tiger). I was pursued for years by a monstrous piece of nonsense about some Papal Bull forbidding chemical research: and the footnote followed that lie. It was from Avignon that the thing was supposed to have come. It seemed to me about as probable as that Napoleon the Third should have forbidden the polka. At last — God knows how unwillingly! — I looked the original Bull up in the big collection printed at Lyons. It was as I had suspected. The Bull had nothing whatever to do with chemical experiments. It said not a word against the honest man who produces a poison or an explosive mixture to the greater happiness of the race. It left the whole world free to pour one colourless liquid into another colourless liquid and astonish the polytechnic with their fumes. What it did say was that if anybody went about collecting lead and brass under the promise of secretly turning them into silver and gold, that man was a liar and must pay a huge fine, and that those whom he had gulled must have their metal restored to them — which seems sound enough."

EDIT: Okay, that George was an Arian bishop, which explains why he was an opponent of St. Athanasius. He also seems to have mingled his clerical role with business, though I'm still not sure where the bacon comes in: "He showed himself a keen man of business, "buying up the nitre-works, the marshes of papyrus and reed, and the salt lakes".

Expand full comment

How insane is it on a scale of 1 - 10 that the medication changing the chemistry in my brain is prescribed by my psychiatrist in scribbly ink instead of helvetica 14 font?

Expand full comment

Does intermittent sleep deprivation (vigils) increase the efficiency of the effects of sleep as intermittent fasting increases the efficiency of metabolism and digestion?

Expand full comment
Apr 12, 2022·edited Apr 12, 2022

A few months ago I read that a person who has had their brain hemispheres severed is able to function, but the two hemispheres behave as if they are separate agents. The right hemisphere might believe in God while the left hemisphere is an atheist. They might prefer different food, different music, different movies, etc. (You can get different answers from a split-brained person by having them write with different hands.)

So does that mean a normal-fused brain is essentially two agents which are able to cooperate through communication, giving the appearance of one agent? Or is it one agent that has been multiplied by two after surgery?

These questions got me wondering if it is possible that the human brain has hundreds or thousands of separate agents within it which are entirely conscious but we aren't aware of them because they don't have a way to communicate articulately with the outside world. For instance, maybe the part of our brains which regulate our blood pressure and heart rate is a conscious agent, as wide awake as you or I, although it thinks to itself in a language we wouldn't recognize, experiences sensations we are unaware of, and to the extent it signals other parts of the brains, themselves separate agents, it does so in a manner we wouldn't recognize as articulate communication, yet it gets across the point it needs to to other parts of the brain which work with other parts of the body.

Expand full comment

If AGI is our creation and it is superior to humans, then we should want it to exist. If it kills all the humans as a consequence of its superiority, what's the problem? We should want our children to bury us and to be better than us.

The real danger is alien AGI not created by humans which could potentially destroy our AGI progeny.

Expand full comment

What's going on with that Metaculus prediction: 36% up in the last 5 hours on Russia using chemical weapons in UKR. I can't find anything in the news, that would correspond to such a change.

Not sure if better to post this here or under the newest Monday post - let's see.

Expand full comment

San Francisco 11-month sublet available 👇

I will be subletting 3 bedrooms in a 4bd/1bath victorian apartment in NOPA (near Golden Gate Park, Alamo Square, & Divisadero). Available May 1st. Longer commitments preferred (available up to 11 months starting May 1). Ideal situation for a 3 singles, or a couple (or thruple?) that each want their own office. 4th bedroom will occasionally have my roommate in it but generally no more than 1-2 nights/month with notice. Below market rate.

Expand full comment

Did anyone tried to fight inflation via differential taxes on consumption? I.e. taxing various non-essential consumption items (of course, definition of what is non-essential would have to be specified) in order to induce people to save money without forcing them to cut on essentials? Why it wouldn’t work?

Expand full comment

So have you heard about the Unitarian Ku Kluxers who have been going around burning question marks?

Expand full comment

If you play them, what are your biggest strategy/simulation/rpg game user interface pet peeves?

Maybe you want to do something in CK3 or DW2 and you have to check multiple different menus/windows to find all the relevant info and then click back, sometimes many clicks and sometimes moving around the map?

Stuff like that.

Expand full comment

FWIW I like the mantic / model city / machine alignment stuff.

Expand full comment

So, with the impressive progress that is DALL-E 2 -

(and with an ongoing *really* open attempt to copy it in the form of *cannot remember what it's called right now*)

, how long before reCAPTCHA -

(you know, where you have to identify vehicles on real photographs)

- stops being able to stop bots ?

Expand full comment
founding

I owe the comments section an apology. "Wrong answers only" is a dangerous game to play in the comments. To my complete and utter surprise, Elon Musk did something on Twitter while I was playing the game "wrong answers only: what is Elon Musk doing on Twitter". As he had done a dozen things on Twitter already over the weekend, perhaps I should not have been surprised he did one more. But I was surprised.

Anyhow: "Wrong answers only" is leaving the comments section at this time. So long, farewell, etc.

Expand full comment

There ought to be statues of Gorbachev's bff Alexander Yakovlev (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_Yakovlev) who was instrumental in ending the USSR's oppression, but as far as I can tell there aren't any. I've been trying to find a copy of his book Digging Out for years but it's impossible to find anywhere. There's an out of stock stub on Amazon and a previewless stub on google books, but it's not in any local libraries, 130 online bookstores, libgen, zlibrary, ebay. The Library of Congress' catalog doesn't even know it exists. Does anyone have any tips on finding extremely rare books?

Expand full comment

What if someone says "the mind doesn't follow physical laws", you respond, "not true, we know from physics that everything works the same way", and they say, "well no, actually there is an entirely new set of laws of mental stuff, we just don't know them because we don't conduct physical experiments with human brains. If you did build an atom-based simulator of the brain, you'd realize that it makes wrong predictions..."

How would you respond to this? It sounds silly, but do we, in fact, have empirical proof that the brain works within the laws of physics? How does that proof look like?

Expand full comment

IMO, anyone who worries about an AI taking over the world should go look at how bad Youtube Music's recommendations are. If the best AI company in the world can't even get a basic thing like that right, it seems that strong AIs are quite far off indeed.

Expand full comment

People who believe that "AI" writ large is on a super-linear path: We've seen a clear slowdown in practical progress in self-driving cars over the last 7 or so years compared to the 7 years prior.

So, okay, fine, the curve isn't perfectly smooth, you say, there are fits and starts, but when you zoom out far enough, it looks super-linear. But the longer we can stay plateaued, the harder it is to jump back up to a super-linear path.

When's the point when you start revising your views and saying, "Actually, this is a pretty clear data point against the super-linear AI progress theory"? If we still don't have self-driving cars that are lots better than the ones today in two years? Five years? Ten years?

(I'm not talking about legal compliance, I'm talking about demonstrated real world competence, even if for compliance reasons there has to be a safety driver behind the wheel who doesn't do anything.)

Expand full comment

Quick question. Is the US a nation state?

(I don’t mean the US hegemon or empire, if you use those terms for US influence and power projection, outside the US itself. I do mean the US itself - is the US State a nation or an empire, or something else).

Expand full comment

I would be eternally grateful if someone would put the words "Philosophy Bear" into DALL-E 2. My immense love of bears, philosophy and interest in AI would make it just magical.

Expand full comment

I'm pretty open to the recent panic and excitement over machine learning progress being worthwhile, but I have had one niggling doubt. Two things that some people seem to expect are either the doom of humanity or massive, orders-of-magnitude economic growth in a very short period of time (or both). If this is a reasonable thing to expect, why haven't interest rates gone way up? Okay they've gone up a little, sure, but that's well-explained by inflation, and they're still way below the historical norm and even below where they were just in 2018. If I were confident the world were going to end or I would see any equity I had go up by a factor of 100, I'd be borrowing like crazy. Also, why haven't the firm's best poised to take advantage of this seen their share price explode?

Expand full comment
Apr 11, 2022·edited Apr 11, 2022

Is there a way to disable all substack notifications for other people replying to comments that are not mine? If I reply to a comment, and then somebody else replies to that same comment, I get a notification email in the form "User1 replied to User2's comment". The only option I've found is "Notifications-Likes and Replies to my comments" which I have turned on and would like to continue receiving; I just don't want to receive notifications for replies to other peoples' comments.

Expand full comment

Disclaimer: I'm 10 shots of bourbon to the wind.

I've been watching recent dall-e 2 developments with great interest, partially because I think I might be able to make someone with dall-e 2 access make me a new blog logo. But beyond that, it's because I look at some of the art D2: the AIghty Ducks does and realize it does satisfy a large amount of what I-the-uneducated-consumer wants from still images.

I often contemplate the fact that people read what I write. It's in some ways very weird that this is the case, because I have an extreme lack of education in the formalities of the English language. If you asked me what a preposition was right now, gun to my kid's head, I couldn't tell you. To the extent I can write words people want to read, it's mainly because of luck; my neurons fire in a certain way and my muscle memory is developed on certain pathways that make words people want to see. If I was a little less lucky I'd have zero subsribers.

To the extent I have subscribers/readers and I get to pretend to be a writer, it's because I did something like grinding out articles on the off chance that bigger voices linked out to them and I was able to "steal" some amount of their audience by a mechanism that looks suspiciously like luck. If I wrote enough articles, eventually I might get lucky and one might tickle the fancy of enough people that it becaue big.

I'm one of the lucky few for which this mechanism worked. I had a few articles (I think four in total) that were picked up by some larger outlet who then amplified my work. I say "work" with a little heavier weighting than a casual read might imply, because it really *was* work to produce them. An average article takes 4-8 hours to produce, and even then I'm cutting corners and hoping for the best when I hit publish.

This in turn led to big things. I have the first job I've ever had that pays decently. I was able to get into the homeownership game. There's a very, very outside chance that eventually I might "hop the curb" and get the blog big enough that writing is my job in that real sense where I write things I believe and like and people like them enough that I can just do that, full stop, and still provide for my family.

But now imagine a dall-e 2 type performance for writing - that you can say "give me an article about X", hit the generate button fifteen times and eventually get a pretty good article about X. Where does that leave the guys like me? Because overall I really do acknowledge I've been very lucky and very blessed to have the limited success I've seen so far. And to the extent I've seen that success, it's because I can produce a decent piece of writing almost every week.

When you can tell a computer "Produce an article on bottlecaps in the style of Resident Contrarian" and have it take 100 tries in five minutes, what chance does the actual Resident Contrarian stand?

Again, sorry, I've had an amount of liquor that could make a good sized horse reconsideri its life choices. But I do worry about things like this - it's hard to imagine a GPT-5 world where I'm still relevant.

Expand full comment

A psychoanalyst (and you thought they were extinct) argues that psychoactive drugs are a bad idea, because they keep us from dealing with the real issues that cause us pain:

"For Mental Illness, Make Medication a Last Resort" Psychiatrists and even internists are often far too eager to prescribe pills." By Erica Komisar April 4, 2022

https://www.wsj.com/articles/mental-illness-pills-antidepressants-medication-anxiety-depression-drugs-adhd-cbt-therapy-psychoanalysis-11649100243

"Doctors prescribe these medications as a quick fix. But the pills merely mask the patient’s emotional pain. "

"Medication can be a godsend in the right context. But it is risky and should be offered only after nonmedical options, such as psychoanalysis, have been exhausted. Why is therapy instead often a last resort for patients? In part because it is uncomfortable. Some patients temporarily become more symptomatic when they expose themselves to the origins of their pain. This temporary pain is necessary for long-term relief, but it’s easier to numb with pills."

"There are no shortcuts to treating mental illness. Insurance companies should be pressured into covering treatments that work. Patients have to be consumers and say no to medication as a first course of treatment unless their symptoms are severe. Doctors must acknowledge that medication can be risky and have severe iatrogenic effects. Medication should only be used for serious clinical conditions, or only after everything else has been tried and failed."

My own experience is that psychological insight can lead us to understand why we are depressed. But, it does not necessarily cure the depression. My life was little changed by psychoanalysis except for the time and money it cost. Zoloft made me feel better and sleep better.

Expand full comment

Normative determinism: Alcor Life Extension Foundation, one of USA's top cryonics organizations, is just outside of Phoenix, Arizona.

Expand full comment

If you were a scientist in Oregon in the 1960s who had just discovered the altered hemoglobin structures of embryos and fetuses, what would you call it to be far more exciting instead of Portland 1?

Expand full comment

Scott - it seems like a great leaders book club could be a very useful thing to have. What results in a Lee Kuan Yew, Deng Xiaoping, Park Chung hee, coming into power and then using that power to unleash market reforms for broad based prosperity? What are the conditions that allow these leaders to be who they were and do what they did?

Expand full comment

Anyone have thoughts on a good way to start reading Indian epics? Other than the Bhagavad Gita, I haven't read any. But they're pretty damn long and I'm not sure I'd get through a poem that's ten times the length of the Iliad and Odyssey combined. Any favorite abridgements or selections? Best translations? Thanks.

Expand full comment

There was a twitter thread on artbreeder that went relatively viral a few days ago with a lot of dramatic stuff about the destruction of art. Of course many had good responses about how the same was said of photography. There were also complaints about taking the food out of the mouths of artists.

I think a strong argument can be made that for several specific kinds of art, the value derived from artbreeder vastly outweights the cost to artists. Depending on how things go in the next few years.

Something like a library for software and video games on desktop that mimics the functions of the portrait section would be of immense value. A wide variety of game genres have portraits/icons as a key art asset. The kind of faces you can get from artbreeder are significantly superior to most "face generators" that you see in existing games. Having an open source face genetator that was as good as artbreeder would open up game development to a lot of people in those genres.

Paradox games like Crusader Kings or games like Star Dynasties and Alliance of the Sacred Suns would all benefit from cheap quality portrait generation.

Expand full comment

Google considers its own ML to be spam generators.

https://www.searchenginejournal.com/google-says-ai-generated-content-is-against-guidelines/

Is this a statement about deep values of what is "meaningful" content? An ephemeral statement on the current state of ML? A misleading comment where writer ML is currently better than filter ML and Google is looking to save resources? An internal fight spilling out into the public eye without context?

Expand full comment
Apr 11, 2022·edited Apr 11, 2022

A couple of months ago I asked the SSC community for thoughts regarding a centralized place to find interesting blog articles, and got positive feedback on the idea. I've created https://www.readsomethinginteresting.com to serve that purpose and would love to hear what y'all think.

Expand full comment

Does anyone have any blog recommendations that are similar to this or The Last Psychiatrist, but are about law?

Expand full comment

Anyone here a landlord? Is leasing real estate a big part of anyone's overall financial picture? I was always skeptical that being a landlord makes a great deal of financial sense, versus the opportunity cost of just putting that same amount of money into the stock market. I spent a few years when younger working for a real estate company in a major US city, sort of seeing how the sausage is actually made, and I came away thinking that on a risk-adjusted basis equities just make way more sense. (The landlord is basically always going to lose in court in a blue state!) The S&P 500 has come close to quintupling over the last 11 or 12 years, and averages 9% returns overall.

I am now entering middle age though, and I have been considering investing in real estate more as a diversification move, especially for retirement. Plus, of course, as an inflation hedge. I also have the lifestyle flexibility to do what the kids call 'house hacking'- buy & move into a 2-4 unit building on a 3% down FHA mortgage, live there for a year, then move back to my current place now controlling an investment property for little down. Then there's buying an SFH just for Airbnb rentals, which appear to be much more profitable....

Expand full comment

People's mental ability is a function of the size and structure of their brain to some extent. Children are notably less intelligent and have smaller heads because they are still growing. Their brains are not "fully formed." Could trying to teach children academic topics be very inefficient? In "Kids Can Recover From Missing Even Quite A Lot of School," Scott discusses the benezet experiment:

"In the Benezet experiment, a school district taught no math at all before 6th grade (around age 10-11). Then in sixth grade, they started teaching math, and by the end of the year the students were just as good at math as traditionally-educated children with five years of preceding math education. I interpret this to mean that a lot of education involves cramming things into the heads of very young students who would be able to learn it very quickly anyway when they were older. Certainly it doesn’t seem like a child missing math class in grades 1-5 should have much of a long-term effect."

I spent 6 years learning arithmetic in elementary school, but when I was in college, I learned multiple high-level math topics simultaneously. I don't think this is a particular feature of me but something that most people experience: when they are older, they can learn more. I imagine that if I was first exposed to arithmetic at age 18, I could learn it extremely quickly. This is just an intuition.

Could it be that it's not really necessary to teach children when they're young? Maybe we could spend a fraction of the time teaching them the topics we want to when we're older? Any strong pieces of evidence for or against this idea? It doesn't seem too farfetched to me.

Expand full comment
Apr 11, 2022·edited Apr 11, 2022

For my book project on "Discretion", about the people in charge of enforcing rules, regulations, laws, who have the power to ignore them, I'm trying to surmise what parts of government are ones where workers have the most discretion, and ones in which they have the least. My uninformed hypothesis is that where law is most vague and qualitative, workers have most discretion, like child protective services, and where law is most byzantine, people have the least, like tax collection/auditing. Do any of you have any guesses about this matter, both about which agencies/jobs have most/least discretion, and about correlations? I'm looking to embed myself inside such agencies for the research, so I want to pick good ones.

Expand full comment

Nobody's ever exchanged a wheelbarrow of *paper* money for toilet paper, right?

...Right?

Expand full comment

So, I need advice on navigating the medical field. I just got diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, which is my first time dealing with an, idk, “open ended illness” where there are more options than “get a cast and wait 4 months”

My insurance is thankfully very good, but the new pills they have me on have some annoying side effects (mainly I’m thirsty all the time). Now, I would like to not be thirsty all of the time, but am unclear as to whether I contact my doctor now, wait until my follow-up, or do something else. I also don’t have any idea for what my doctor will say if I am supposed to contact them.

Basically, this whole “trying different solutions, which will be varying degrees of effective and inconvenient” is new to me and I have no idea how the whole iterative process works. Any insight into this my fellow internet strangers?

Expand full comment

I'm here for Machine alignment Mondays 🤖🤖🤖

Expand full comment

Scott - if someone else were to fund it; would you be open to/have any interest in publishing a ~300-400 page "best of" SSC book to serve as an introduction to the SSC way of thinking?

I'm considering creating a new project where I will pay for anyone interested to receive introductory "view-quake inducing" books on important topics (ie Superforecasting, Doing Good Better etc.)

Introducing someone to SSC is probably the most high impact view-quake I could think if.

Expand full comment

Reading Scott's recent post on AI takeoff speed inspired me to set some time aside to read papers on AI alignment to see if I have a miniscule chance of contributing something useful. Where would be a good place to start?

My background: I am a math professor specializing in differential geometry, but I know almost nothing about machine learning and don't use numerical methods or computer simulations for my research (what I do is old style pen and paper pure math). Should I learn ML first (or some specific aspects of it) before I can understand any specific problems? Are there any problems where my math background could be helpful? Any suggestions would be appreciated.

Expand full comment

Can anyone recommend a good audiobook/podcast on Ancient Greek/Roman history?

Expand full comment

Looking for feedback and interest in collaboration on this essay (email me at protopiacone at gmail):

Life, on Earth, is not a miracle. It is a simple fact. Perhaps in the cosmos, where millions/billions of stars are lifeless, Earth's fecundity is miraculous. But to us terrestrial locals, the miracle of life is just a cliche.

Birds do it. Bees do it. Everything with a pulse does it. For most of history, most of us had no choice but to do it, as nature dictated and administered its laws via our DNA. To take credit for giving life is like getting congratulated for graduating from a school with a 100% graduation rate — hardly an exceptional feat.

So where did it come from, this "miracle of life" business? We can consider two sources, an internal and an external one. The internal being our emotions. The irrational machines that we are, subject to hormonal fluctuations, we cry when we see babies born. We can't help it. And we chalk our tears to some miraculous source.

The external source is marketing. It's the eternal Instagramming by the Joneses, who will gladly lie to you about the miracle of their plebeian achievements. Or, even more cynically, it's the marketing by big business, seeking to sell you everything you will ever need for your miracle to be extra miraculous. There are other sources, of course — religions, governments, etc., but let's move on.

Really, the only thing miraculous about child birth is how easy it is. It's an automated process, kicked off by the simplest/dumbest of pleasures: the orgasm.

There is, however, an exception to the miraclelessness of childbirth. It's rather a modern affect, whereby the childbirth is an anti-default — a pure choice.

There came a time in recent human history, where some of us humans got smart. These "smart ones" developed birth control and adopted its use. They flipped the script and neutered this supposed miracle that they really didn't want. And so, within these communities of smart humans, the default switched from secular fertility, to secular infertility.

In a smart/modern world, the null hypothesis is to live your best life/truth/whatever. Enjoy it. Do what you love. You do you. Consume, consume, consume, die. To create life, in such a world, is to sacrifice your time, your body, and your money for unknown and uncertain returns. It's not an entirely rational decision, and it's why we see it made less and less across the contemporary Western landscape. Those who do make the choice, in such circumstances, are either stupid, insane, or they are embarking on a faith-based pilgrimage that ends/begins with a miraculous genesis of somewhat biblical proportion. We, mortal humans, create little Adams and Eves.

And here is where the magic happens. In a world, where infertility is a default, and childbirth is a choice, those who choose childbirth are no longer just cogs in a proliferation machine, but instead, they are Gods who create life where there was none.

But it's still not quite as simple as recognizing all these humans who choose childbirth as Gods. For them to be Gods, and not just plebs, their choice must be their own. This choice must be unencumbered by the internal marketing fed to them by their own DNA. This choice must be unencumbered by the social pressures coming from their parents, their religions, the Joneses, and the Hallmarks. For even in our progressive societies, most who choose childbirth are assuming the choice of others, and not choosing for themselves. For them, the choice is not pure, and the result is far from miraculous.

How then do we distinguish the pure, miraculous choice, from the disguised, plebeian, coded algorithm that masquerades as choice? We demand proof, that's how.

The proof is easy to find, because it is quite rare. In fact, it can generally be gathered via a basic question: WHY? Why choose to create life? Why choose to be a God? What are your goals for your child of God? How do you plan to achieve those goals?

The better (the more robust, researched, considered) the answers, the greater the miracle. The stronger the imparitive to godliness, the loftier the vision for development that must follow the miracle. For the miracle of life is not an end. Nor is it a beginning. It is but the end of the beginning.

Expand full comment
founding

{CLOSED: wrong-answers-only} What is Elon Musk up to on his Twitter account?

Expand full comment
Apr 11, 2022·edited Apr 11, 2022

I just finished Vaclav Smil's: "Grand Transitions". Vaclav in all his books provides TREMENDOUS statistical detail on research he is discussing. Much of the book is about the ecological effects of human growth here on earth. I find it likeable that he tends to criticize both the alarmists who point to the end of the world in 20 years unless we stop emitting CO2 and also the very optimistic group who look at our progress and predict we will solve all of our ecological problems with future tech. Hans Rosling and Stephen Pinker are pointed at in that regard. I thought his last few paragraphs in the book said a lot so I will copy and paste it below.

"The most likely outcome will include an unpredictable mixture of components from the entire spectrum of possibilities. We do not know what lies ahead; even the best probabilistic assessments of specific outcomes are, despite their hedged nature, just matters of educated guesses. The notion that in 2020 we can anticipate the world of 2100 is utterly risible(laughable). Just look back to the world of 1940 and see what did not exist, and what was not anticipated, in that world. There were no antibiotics, no contraceptives, no nations with below-replacement fertility, no nationwide life expectancies above 60, and no countries where most adults were overweight or obese. When we move our focus from populations to agriculture and food, there were no herbicides, no high-yielding short-stalked cereals, no transgenic crops, no no-till cropping, no central animal feeding operations, no mass-scale greenhouses growing vegetables, no cultivation under plastic sheets, and (bananas aside) no intercontinental trade in fresh fruit. When we turn to energy, there were no giant open-cast mines, no Saudi oilfields, no offshore drilling (out of the sight of land or in deep waters), no hydraulic fracturing, no liquefied natural gas, no giant oil or LNG tankers, no gigawatt-sized turbogenerators, no widely deployed gas turbines, no flue gas desulfurization, no nuclear reactors, no high-voltage direct-current lines, no PV cells, no wind turbines. Economies had to do without any computers, satellites, jetliners, container shipping, and rapid trains; there was no steel produced in basic oxygen furnaces, no plate glass made by floating on molten metal, no centrifugal compressors in ammonia synthesis, no composite materials, no solid-state electronic devices and hence no Internet, no mobile phones, no essentially instant and free flow of information. And there were no concerns about acid rain, ozone layer or greenhouse gases; there was no photochemical smog, no antibiotic resistance, no pesticide residues, no mass-scale plastic waste. Contrary to many modeling dreams, the future remains unknowable, but we know that many options remain available, that choices of possible trajectories and effective alternatives have not been irrevocably foreclosed by our past actions. Grand transitions of population and economic growth, of energy use, and of environmental impacts have brought us to this point in human evolution when both promises and perils have reached their respective extremes exemplified by the claims of approaching singularity and equidistant apocalypse: both are “scheduled” by their proponents to take place before 2050, perhaps even by 2030. I do not believe that in such a short time we will face either an apocalyptic outcome or a care-free singularitarian future of boundless intelligence. The chances are that we will continue to deal with the coming transition to a civilization operating within the biospheric limits with a combination of aggressive inventiveness and inexplicable procrastination, of effective adaptability and infuriating failure to respond. Will we succeed? The answer hinges on the definition of success, but once all the gains and losses have been factored in, it would be surprising if transitions likely to be accomplished during the 21st century were less transformative than those experienced during the 20th century. Another epochal transition is unfolding and its outcome is not foreordained; it remains contingent on our choices. In that sense, at least, nihil novi sub sole . . . (nothing new under the sun or nothing novel in existence)"

Expand full comment
Apr 11, 2022·edited Apr 11, 2022

How impressive was John von Neumann's foresight on computers and WWII?

I'm reading a biography about John von Neumann called "The Man from the Future". One thing shown repeatedly throughout the book is how prophetic von Neumann was. He was able to see things coming to the extent that it makes me believe the future might be less difficult to predict than I had previously thought. Two examples of his foresight are on computers and on WWII.

In 1945 while he was simultaneously working on The Bomb and on some of the first computers, he said that relative to the atomic bombs, computers were 'going to become not only more important but indispensable.' In an early example of concern about AI risk, the book quotes "'We will be able to go into space way beyond the moon if only people could keep pace with what they create.' he said. And he worried that if we did not, those same machines could be more dangerous than the bombs he was helping to build."

Some of his prescient comments on WWII include:

- In 1935, he predicted there would be a war in Europe in the next decade, and that America would enter if England were in trouble

- In 1936, when asked about how much of a role France would play in the war, he said "Oh! France won't matter."

- The book doesn't state the year, but around this time he also feared the European Jews would face a genocide as the Armenians had under the Ottoman Empire

- In 1938 he said the Munich agreement would only postpone the next World war

- In 1939 his wife went to Europe to get their family members out, and on August 10 he told her to not to go to Budapest, and to make sure to be out of Europe before September (Hitler invaded Poland on September 1)

- In 1940 he predicted that Britain would hold Germany at bay and US would join the war the following year

I'm curious, especially for the WWII buffs in the comments. How hard was it to predict these things?

Expand full comment

Looking for reading recommendations for a dog diet.

We just got a yorkeepoo puppy; right now feeding him with standard dry food, but in the long run planning to cook at home. Any suggestions on a good guide for a balanced diet?

One specific question I'd like to learn more about: how much can we reduce meat before it starts adversely affecting his health?

Thank you!

Expand full comment

Anyone here work for Nueralink and willing to answer a couple questions ?

Expand full comment
Apr 11, 2022·edited Apr 11, 2022

I may be a touch late to the party, but is the opening setting of Unsong, with licensing megacorps, nonexistent marginal costs, and over importance placed on degrees by any chance an allegory for the modern medical profession and drug approval?

Expand full comment
founding
Apr 10, 2022·edited Apr 11, 2022

I love the now-'Monday' topics, but I think this ([3]) is a nice thing to do for those that don't.

Expand full comment

Is there a good effective altruist argument for humanistic education, not just in college, but as a way of life for post college adults

Expand full comment
deletedApr 12, 2022·edited Apr 12, 2022
Comment deleted
Expand full comment
Comment deleted
Expand full comment
Comment deleted
Expand full comment
deletedApr 11, 2022·edited Apr 11, 2022
Comment deleted
Expand full comment