RE #4: I strongly prefer reading via email because Substack is slow and unresponsive (scrolling down has a lag of 1-3 seconds, and as I'm writing this comment, the letters don't appear until 3 seconds after I've typed them).

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Hi Scott,

I was feeling about my thinkings today, and I felt of you. I hope you're good.

If you need to reach me, just say the word ;)

See you then!

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deletedFeb 12
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How do you stop being bad?


You stop being BOTH kinds of bad ;)

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deletedFeb 12·edited Feb 12
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The trick is to keep it simple!

You can only be two things;

(Too bad), and (not bad enough).

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deletedFeb 12
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I guess the question is, do we win when we sin as little as possible? Or do we win when we sin EXACTLY the right amount ;)

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I just talked to someone I know who's a long time employee of the CDC (nothing COVID related). He said that the leadership was clearly clueless and that morale was low and that everyone he knew who was old enough to retire was planning to retire soon. I'd heard him gripe about work before, but never anything like this, and it was pretty depressing to hear.

Most of it sounded like regular office politics and bureaucratic nonsense, but at one point he also said "It's clearly coming from the White House". And he's a Democrat, so this isn't just Gray Man Bad either.

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I work for a different part of the federal government.

Before COVID we were working from home two or three days a week. Then they switched us to full-time working from home. Last month we switched back. No one's happy about it. Rumor has it that big-city majors pressured Biden into doing it so they'd have people downtown again.

Apart from that I haven't seen any major changes since I started work about ten years ago.

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One story he mentioned was that they had a great candidate who's in Brussels, but HR is insisting that there can't be any remote hires and they'd have to go into the office 4 days a week, which is especially stupid because the people they'd work with are never in the office anyway.

Apparently, everyone is nominally supposed to be going into the office three days a week right now, but a lot of high level employees live in different states and only visit the office once every other week (and so lower level employees obviously feel no need to go to the office either), and RTO is not enforced at all.

He's also skeptical that RTO is even a good idea in the first place, complaining about HR just doing what they feel like with no good justification, but that's a separate discussion.

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I'm an Israeli, and there's a prevalent belief here that's encoded in our country's narrative - There's no other place for Jews to live since the world is rife with antisemites who hate us. Granted, this was an understandable attitude in the 40s when the country was born.

This is obviously an oversimplification that has varied over time and between different groups within the country, but you'll find it all over the place. Since the start of the war, given the massive criticism against Israel, this idea has become stronger even among the more leftist/liberal Israelis I know. In my own social circle nowadays, I barely know anyone other than myself who doesn't think that moving abroad would be problematic/dangerous due to rampant antisemitism everywhere. The claim is that the anti-Israel sentiment is just a thin facade covering a deep-seated hatred of Jews.

This view doesn't fit my model of the world at all. It seems that all minorities in all countries deal with at least some form of prejudice, and being Jewish abroad is probably no different. If I look at the USA, it's probably one of the easier minority experiences, all things considered. Moreover, in most cases where I see Israelis accuse others of antisemitism, they are really just pointing to cases of political opinions with which they disagree. I see this as just another case of Jewish exceptionalism: believing that there is something unique about us and that the world (a pretty big place!) just won't let us be. An understandable collective trauma following the holocaust, but one that I don't think is relevant today.

But this view is so widely held all around me, and actively affects people who might otherwise have chosen to move abroad, that I would like to critically investigate it. There does seem to be a rise in blatant antisemitism, although I again don't really trust the sources to distinguish between actual racism and just people who don't agree with us: https://www.adl.org/resources/press-release/adl-reports-unprecedented-rise-antisemitic-incidents-post-oct-7

I also heard from Israeli friends living in the USA that they feel unsafe since the beginning of the war, and are sometimes harassed for speaking Hebrew. So maybe there is some grain of truth to this whole belief.

I'd be happy to hear from rationalist Israelis (and anyone else) their thoughts on the subject, as well as suggestions on how to test the hypothesis that it's dangerous/unpleasant for Jews and Israelis to live outside Israel.

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Not a Jew, but I do think there's a lot more volatility in antisemitism than there is in most other sorts of anti-minority sentiment. In the United States, there's a lot of people who really don't like e.g. Hispanic immigrants and wish there were a lot less of them around. But that's a constant baseline; it may become more or less politically salient at any time, but the raw numbers don't change very much. Which means that while there are political fights about border control, there's no significant consistency for "round them all up, even the 2nd-generation citizens", and send them home / to the camps" and there's not going to be.

Antisemitism has a much higher variance, as your US friends have noticed. And that's not just the United States. Germany in the late 19th / early 20th century was a pretty good place to be a Jew. And then there's this list: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Expulsions_and_exoduses_of_Jews ; I don't think many other ethnicities could come up with anything like it. Places where Jews were welcome, until suddenly they weren't.

I have some somewhat speculative guesses as to why that may be. But regardless, if the discrimination against your ethnicity is characterized by low baseline but high variance, that's going to be a rational argument for having your "go bag" constantly at the ready. And having to have a "go bag", is a rational argument for wanting there to be a place you can reliably go and not have to worry about whether they also are due for an outbreak of Maximum Antisemitism when you show up.

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For something I am writing, I'm looking for examples of poems set to music where the words have been tweaked to change the message. The example I started with was a setting of Kipling's "A Pilgrim's Way" where the refrain line has been changed from "Thy people, Lord, thy people, are good enough for me" to "The people, oh the people, are good enough for me," thus eliminating the religious reference. I disapprove of that, have been thinking of why, and am looking for more examples.

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Would you still disapprove if you agreed with the new message more than the old one?

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Compare Carter Family songs with Woody Guthrie songs.

Carter Family - Storms are on the Ocean (1927) --> Woody Guthrie - Who's Going to Shoe Your Pretty Feet (1944)

Carter Family - When the World's On Fire (1930) --> Woody Guthrie - This Land is Your Land (1944)

Just two that I happened to notice. With old folk songs, sometimes the originals are lost to history, so it's hard to know who changed the lyrics. Maybe there was some original version that Woody Guthrie copied faithfully, and the Carter Family had changed it to be more religious? But it seems more likely that Guthrie took old religious folk songs and updated them to fit his message.

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I guess there's the opposite direction, where Johnny Cash covered "Hurt" and changed "crown of shit" to "crown of thorns", adding a religious reference where there wasn't one before.

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Not actually a poem, but there was talk around the Grammys about Luke Combs changing Tracy Chapman's lyrics to "Fast Car" ever so slightly at the end, from:

> You got a fast car

> Is it fast enough so you can fly away?


> You got a fast car

> Is it fast enough so we can fly away?

Although he did keep unaltered the line about "I work in a market as a checkout girl".

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To be fair the we was implied. Tracy wanted to go with the car guy in the first case.

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I kinda got the feeling it was more ambivalent in the original? **shrug**

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There is also a large stream of evidence that Hamas uses civilians as human shields, and fights from among civilians while wearing civilian clothing. Between Hamas's inhuman combat doctrine, and the gigantic anti-Israel propaganda machine that wants to portray Israel as targeting civilians, I am not surprised that there is such a large stream of evidence. I still think most of it should be discounted, at least until further investigation sheds light on which parts are true and which parts are fake. Otherwise, you end up with more cases like the media frenzy from the Gaza hospital explosion in mid-October.

This is not to deny the genuine violations of protocol by soldiers on hair-trigger alert (and a few extremists out for revenge for Oct. 7). To me, the most tragic such case was when IDF soldiers shot three escaped hostages by mistake. I think that the IDF does actually investigate such cases, and not just for PR.

More evidence in general that Israel does not have a policy of targeting civilians: the order to evacuate northern Gaza, the fact that well over 99% of the Gazan population is alive even after months of fighting, and the fact that Israel has the capabilities to kill many more Gazans and it refrained from using them. There is also the fact that Israel opened Gaza's borders for humanitarian aid. Admittedly, this involved international pressure, but consider that similar pressure was exerted on Israel for more militarily important concessions like a ceasefire, and Israel refused to budge. If Israel wanted Gazan civilians to die, it could have similarly refused to budge under pressure to let food and fuel and medicine in.

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(It looks like you meant to reply to someone in the containment thread, but this wound up at the top level instead.)

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Will we get a "My California Ballot 2024" from Scott this year? I really enjoyed the previous editions.

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Setting up a new Windows laptop. Open Edge to download Chrome and Bing search says I don't need another browser. I think I'll download it anyway. Duckduckgo too.

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Feb 9·edited Feb 9

I finally gave up on Windows and went completely over to Linux when I got a new laptop last year. It's still clunky, although that's partly my fault for using an out-of-the-way distro, and at least I don't have to put up with any of that kind of *%#$%*#.

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Feb 8·edited Feb 8

What about Teams, the Window which refuses to be closed or even minimised when Windows 11 starts? Microsoft are obviously trying to push Teams literally in our face. But using it with multiple sites is like trying to knit chain mail, in that one must painstakingly log out of one session and into another, which then fails as often as as not because it obstinately remembers the previous one via its ham-fisted use of cookies. Give me Zoom or Slack any day!

Talking about PC frustrations, another of my major issues with Substack is that one can't save a comment page to disk. Something stops it in its tracks, and the save fails, on both Firefox and Chrome.

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To stop Teams from loading on startup (at least in Windows 10), go into Task Manager and then the Startup tab. You can set it to Disabled there.

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Yeah, Mozilla recently published a paper on shady behaviour in Win11/Bing.

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I have to go to a city office in person because they are being utterly non-communicative about some confusing utility bills. The website says that they are committed to giving easy access to information. Well, frankly that feels insulting given that I will probably have to walk through the rain and then wait in line to speak to a surly bureaucrat.

Naturally this got me thinking about charter cities and special economic zones. So anyway, why wasn't anyone talking about Pronomos Capital in the recent posts on charity vs capitalism? They funded Prôspera, and have a portfolio of several charter cities and SEZs. When I searched those pages for the terms "Pronomos" and "Prospera" I found no hits for the former and very little discussion of the latter.

Is this because Pronomos is not investing well and everyone already knows it? Are they getting beaten by competitors? Is there some other major problem with them?

Because if the answers are all no, then I'm surprised that there has been almost no mention of them in 1000 comments comprising 45,000 words.

Personally, I'm feeling the temptation to start advertising Pronomos to my EA friends unless and until someone talks me out of it.

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I'm not culturally libertarian, but this is my take: none of these charter cities promise to me the full muscular backing of rule of law through an impartial court system. As a human being who has been the victim of at least one violent crime and one white-collar scam in my life, from what I have read (including official material that might count as an advertisement), I *am not convinced* that it is worth risking my life or livelihood by living in such a place.

Keep in mind I'm a college-educated STEMlord. I have it pretty fucking good in the US as a normal citizen. I understand the problems these charter cities purport to solve, but *those problems do not affect me* and I don't see how they are ever going to succeed without buy-in from comfortably normal people.

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The ironic part is that any place which is desperate enough to try a charter city is also a place desperate enough that you wouldn't want to live there.

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There's something to this sentiment--isn't Honduras one of the most murder-heavy countries in the world? But IIRC, the beach resorts neighboring Prospera don't have too much trouble attracting customers, even though their crime rate is not 0. Point taken about the white collar crime though. Seems reasonable to worry about the lack of court precedence. Perhaps the next step would be for Pronomos to somehow learn this and make an attempt to solve the issue.

The amount of discussion about Pronomos & Prospera (again, out of 1000 comments!) still seems low to me.

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The circular path of the proposed new supercollider at CERN will be almost tangential to that of the existing one - See image of proposed route at https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-024-00353-9

Wouldn't it make sense to make it actually tangential, so the existing one could get particles up to high speed and then route them onto the new one to boost their speed further?

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My guess is that one does not simply reroute high speed particles, you'd need to turn giant electromagnets on and off within... what, picoseconds?

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Wouldn't a shortish bit of extra track connecting the two rings also work?

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In view of Melvin's plausible objection, I guess one would need at the very least a spiral path, of decreasing curvature, from the smaller ring to the larger. So it might be more trouble and expense than it is worth!

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Couldn't it be a straight line along a common tangent? Curvature is sort of the enemy in these kinds of installations. It's why they make them so big in the first place.

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Did y'all see this? https://twitter.com/ESYudkowsky/status/1754770076841226499

A cool 60% failed a basic economics question. A simple one, too. The number of things this explains is just huge.

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The correct answer to this "basic economics question" is "please define literally any of your terms."

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The entire point of competition is that they can't charge just what the customer is willing to pay, because their competitor is charging that minus a few cents. So you end up pricing the thing lower than people would pay in a vacuum, because people don't aim to pay the value of the product they aim to pay as little as they can.

The actual correct answer is "all of the above".

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Worth to the end user is highly ambiguous. That sounds like an emotional attachment.

The use of Capitalism rather than market muddies the waters - meaning that many left leaning people will just assume they are being fleeced by capitalists, which to be fair is true in near monopoly conditions.

On the other side pro capitalists might want to credit capitalism with producing goods very efficiently and other people are reading worth as being the value to the consumer being greater than the price.


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It might be ok to say that people misunderstood the question, but... they tend to use the same heuristic when doing a bunch of other stuff as well, some of them with a bit more consequence than a twitter poll. Voting, for example.

At which point we're not talking about an excuse, but about the mechanics of the error. They answer wrongly because they do pattern completion on the word "Capitalism", or because they don't have a good enough concept of "worth", or because they never spent any time ever thinking about demand and supply curves so they simply don't know the answer etc. These are all reasons they answer wrongly, and it's a good idea to think/talk about them. Doesn't make their answer any less of a mistake, or any less grave.

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I’m not that impressed with supply and demand curves myself. Not as presented anyway. Mathematically they are highly suspect.

> Doesn't make their answer any less of a mistake, or any less grave.

Of course it does. In any case the general assumption amongst economists that we are never screwed by capitalists because supply and demand always give the correct price signal is belied in many cases, admittedly most in non competitive markets.

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Price theory models non competitive markets too. Their existence and behavior isn’t strange or inconsistent with price theory.

What’s mathematically sus in price theory?

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There’s no all that interesting in price theory. Stuff sells at a price or you reduce the price. More demand than expected and you increase the price. This doesn’t mean people aren’t being gouged - see housing and Nimbyism.

What’s mathematically suspect about the standard econ101 supply demand graphs - amongst other things - is that the magical lines seem to stick to the positive axis. Mathematical lines don’t do that.

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How many widgets would I buy for $100 trillion each? About 0. How many widgets would I sell for -$25 each? Idk probably 0. In both cases I wouldn’t go negative. That’s why the graphs are positive.

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In some dystopia where unemployed people are executed, I could see wages going negative occasionally. In the real world, there's a bunch of factors outside the formal economy that keep this from happening.

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It doesn't seem a particularly basic question to me. I suppose there's an introduction to microeconomics answer which is obvious and definitional, but that's as far as it goes. "Capitalism" perhaps muddies the waters here. One might think of the question differently if "in a competitive or ideal market" is substituted perhaps.

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There is the cynical perspective that due to information asymmetry, psychological manipulation, monopolization, and/or genuine stupidity, consumers do often end up paying more than what the item is worth to them in practice. Look at it this way: do you trust the 60% that failed that question to make accurate judgements about what something is worth to them?

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Yes! Of course I trust them. Most people in a supermajority of contexts do reasonably sane things. Could they be "better" on a number of metrics? Of course. But in a common sense understanding of the word, most people don't regret most transactions on a daily basis.

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It's mostly just people not knowing what "worth" means in that context.

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Exactly. It's a basic question to people who have taken Econ 101; to pretty much everyone else it's a trick question because there are several common colloquial definitions of "worth" or "value" that do not match the Econ 101 version.

So, 60% of Americans have never taken Econ 101 (or read an equivalent text). No surprise there.

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And those who have taken Econ 101 will then rightly ask: but is the world like that? Because I don't immediately recognise myself or the businesses and markets I know in these abstractions and these accounts of people who are posited not real. Their teachers will then tell them no, the world isn't always like that but here is a useful framework to think about the complex mesh of reality

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Assume a can opener.


Use pizza slices to explain marginal utility and I’ll tell you I like cold pizza. Use sodas and I’ll tell you I’m prone to kidney stones so I always order ‘best value’.

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Oh yeah, Bluesky is open to the general public now. With Twitter kinda going to shit with all the bots everywhere and accounts getting frozen (Elon doing hard drugs doesn't help either), all the artists I follow seem to have collectively decided to evacuate to Bluesky.

Trying it out myself... well, it certainly looks like Twitter. Not sure what I expected. The whole Feeds system is very interesting though, basically giving you multiple customizable timelines. And the rules seem to be pretty lax: don't break the law, don't commit hate crimes, don't tell people to kill themselves.

I have no idea what they're trying to do with the whole decentralized protocol thing though. Are they trying to make some sort of super social media network that connects a bunch of different sites together...? Does anyone even want that?

All in all, Bluesky does seem like a decent replacement, and I do hope it succeeds. Mostly because the prospect of a moron buying a company only for its previous CEO to immediately make a competitor that bankrupts his old company is really, really funny.

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>I have no idea what they're trying to do with the whole decentralized protocol thing though.

I can't speak for everyone, but the purpose of decentralised protocols for me and many others is 1) the ability to choose the servers you use and therefore the rules you post under and 2) end-to-end security; Bluesky runs under the AT Protocol[1], which stands for "Authenticated Transfer" and does what the name suggests; everything is verified using asymmetric cryptography and hashes.

Bluesky/ATProto seems like you can achieve #1 if you self-host everything. But most people don't self host even DIDs[2], preferring to use their completely centralised did:plc (literally stands for "placeholder" but it's now permanent), and the dev team admit that it will be hard to host the "relay" component in particular.

>Are they trying to make some sort of super social media network that connects a bunch of different sites together...? Does anyone even want that?

Judging by the popularity of the fediverse[3] (my current profile is at https://social.fbxl.net/@Hyolobrika), I would say yes, they do.

[1] https://atproto.com/

[2] https://www.w3.org/TR/did-core/

[3] https://activitypub.rocks/

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Feb 11·edited Feb 11

The irony is ruined somewhat by the fact that Dorsey was a big investor in Musk's takeover as well though.

Unrelated: I just looked up Jack Dorsey and wow does he look different than I imagined. I always imagined him as looking like Alec Baldwin for some reason.

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On first scan, Bluesky read as an alternative spelling of a Polish surname.

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I've tried BlueSky a bit, but it just seems like a more boring version of Twitter.

Let's face it - whatever Elon says or does, or however much more the user experience undergoes enshittification, the reason people use Twitter is that they want the drama and the crazy stuff - to wallow in it, in fact - and thus any attempt to establish a "Twitter, expect without that" (either specifically through rules, or by attempting to cultivate a different user base) will eventually fail.

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...Is Bluesky even designed to get rid of drama? It's not like there's any rules against it. The site just fully launched yesterday, there just hasn't been enough time for any drama to happen.

Again, the reason people are leaving Twitter (or at least the people I follow) is because of all the "impression zombie" bots, the fact that people's accounts randomly get suspended for posting porn, and also because Elon is an unstable maniac that can't be trusted to keep the site functional.

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Not *designed*, but much of the crowd that I've seen leave specifically for Bluesky want a polite, drama-free experience, according to their own words.

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Right, but the people who want drama also want an audience. What happens when they notice that a big chunk of the audience went to Bluesky?

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If a big chunk of the audience goes to Bluesky, sure, the rest have to follow. Will it? Even in the category of "people searching for a Twitter alternative", there are other options, ie. Threads (seems to be more active re: Finnish ex-Twitter community than Bluesky) and Mastodon. Others, too, probably.

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So maybe all of those get a share of drama-fleeing Twitter refugees, and a proportionate share of Dramatic Tweeters seeking an audience. Then what? I'm not seeing a plausible mechanism to bring in the former without the latter following in trail.

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Feb 7·edited Feb 7

The dark upside of centralization and platform dominance is that they obey an important rule of the internet: no one wants to post on a dead board. Twitter will continue in some (more deranged) form for years, because traffic is still massive, if somewhat diminished from its peak. The comparative network effects (vs Bluesky) for creators still make X the more economical choice for a distribution channel.

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Been out of the blogging loop, but did this one announce the results of the survey predictions for '23?

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Charcuterie board planner - online beta

After you plan you get

- a shopping list

- an image made by Stable Diffusion


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TBH I was disappointed that it doesn’t actually plan the board for me.

Let me input just the number of people, maybe a couple of general preferences and the rest should be automatic. Why do I need to pick actual cheese types? I don’t know the first thing about cheese, I just know I want to impress my guests 😅

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Thanks for your helpful feedback. There is no wrong cheese. All selections are right. Factors such as cost, availability and personal preference are hard to take into account. I suppose I could add pictures and descriptions of cheeses.

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This is fantastic, but where are the sardines?

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Thanks! Do you really want sardines?

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I sincerely hope the product is better than the image, because those cucumbers and that apple look *very* dodgy based on my sample selection:


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good point!

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The selection of items do sound lovely, it's just the resulting image - not so much.

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fever dream partially dehydrated cucumber.

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For everyone who responded to my previous comment re: Anime Girl Profile Picture: I carefully considered my options, then started over when I learned about Statue Profile Pictures and decided I wanted some of that energy. Opting to split the difference, I made the only rational choice and selected Centurii-chan as my avatar. (In her maximally psychotic appearance, of course.)

Carthago Delenda Est.

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I say there's no free will and I also have tips for optimizing productivity: Paradox? Not at all!

"Free will denial is almost a movement now," said Scott Galloway--the famous investor, NYU marketing professor, and frequent guest on HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher--on his November 3, 2023 podcast

It is a movement. There's Sam Harris--celebrity atheist, meditation advocate, neuroscience PhD--who published Free Will in 2012, and there's Robert Sapolsky--primatologist, stress hormones expert, Stanford professor, and author of Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers, and of the bestselling, encyclopedic Behave--who has a new book, Determined: A Science of Life without Free Will, which came out in October 2023.

And there's me.

Arrayed against us is probably 95% of Americans and the vast majority of philosophers too. According to a 2020 survey of more than 1700 philosophy professors, only 11% denied free will. Daniel Dennett--another celebrity atheist--is probably the biggest defender of free will.

And yet...

Free will is an illusion.

"So what? What difference does it make?" you say. Here's why it's interesting.

Forget for the moment the potentially soporific arguments for and against free will. There is a different angle on this. I've been researching and writing up the psychological effects of denying free will on the person who denies it. Yes, that's right. You might prefer they'd spend their time curing cancer, but some scientists have conducted experiments to see how people's behavior changes when you "prime" them with a text denying free will.

These studies as a group overwhelmingly show (or seem to show) that if you "prime" experimental subjects with free will denial by having them read a deterministic argument, they are more likely--to a degree that was statistically significant--to lie, cheat, and steal in subsequent lab games or observed situations.

I can argue with you about whether or not we have free will. I'm prepared with all the arguments against and I know all the arguments for, which I'd have to rebut. Send them to me. But I'm already moving on--because it is interesting and is our future--to consider what free will denial would be like.

To read Part 2: What's it like to deny free will? Check out https://drdavedavidson.substack.com/p/i-am-mr-theres-no-free-will

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Since you're an actual philosopher and know all the arguments for and against, I'll tell you mine, and you can tell me its proper name!

Materialism posits that internal experience (including the experience of making free choices) is generated mechanistically by the body. My experience of being myself is a mere mechanical effect of the machine of my body interacting with the world.

Now imagine an identical copy of my body, perfectly the same, down to the atomic level. It's put in an environment identical to mine, a million miles away from me. Identical machines, given identical inputs, produce identical effects.

The effect in question is my feeling of what it's like to be myself right now. So materialism is obligated to make two statements about this thought experiment. First: My feeling of what it's like to be myself right now is generated mechanistically by my body. Second: My feeling of what it's like to be myself right now is generated mechanistically by a different body, a million miles away.

Under materialism, it's emphatically _not_ the case that the distant identical body produces somebody else's feeling of what it's like to be that other person right now. That's a different effect altogether. Somebody else's awareness is not what my body generates. Materialism's claim is that my specific, actual, subjective feeling of being myself is generated mechanistically by my body. Well, if it's generated mechanistically in one place, it can be generated mechanistically in two places.

This seems like a pretty hard bullet for a materialist to bite. "Yes, your experience of being yourself could be caused by a different body from yours, a million miles away." It's a little weird, and feels non-Newtonian, to assert that there exists an effect which can be produced by multiple distinct mechanical causes at the same time, at any distance whatsoever from each other. Yet, that seems to be precisely what materialism obligates itself to when it asserts that my feeling of what it's like to be myself right now is produced mechanically by my body.

But the alternative is that the different body _doesn't_ produce my consciousness; it produces somebody else's consciousness. In that case, you've lost causality, and opened the door to every spooky phenomenon. Identical mechanical causes producing different mechanical effects. Free will is no longer off the table, then.

There's also the possibility that I've tied myself up in language game knots. Like, maybe there's some internal incoherence in the idea behind the word "me" or "feeling", which a true materialist would deny. The materialist who wanted to make me aware of this would, of course, be able to substitute an alternative to that word, which more exactly matches the phenomena and doesn't permit dualist sleight-of-hand like what I'm trying to pull.

Am I copying somebody else's ideas, without knowing it?

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1. You keep eqiovocating between "free will" and "libertarian free will" and opposing free will to determinism. Thus ignoring compatibilism. Last I saw, the majority of philosophers were compatibilists, and the "libertarian" position wasn't much larger than the "no free will" one.

2. You also seem to be saying determinism is incompatible with moral judgement and blame, when I (and many compatibilists) would say it's necessary for it. See my reply to Deiseach.

3. Were the subjects in those experiments primed with "determinism" or "free will doesn't exist"? If the latter, you're basically just giving them an excuse to act immorally by telling them morality doesn't exist. It says nothing whatsoever about the benefits of believing in libertarian vs compatibilist freedom.

(And has anyone tested how people behave when primed with each of the latter two? I wonder if compatibilism properly described would make people more moral than libertarianism, since if they act badly it's not "I did a bad thing today" but "I am a bad sort of person".)

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Is free will a concept we should delete from our toolbox, like "phlogiston," or does it, like "life," point to a real underlying phenomenon despite being deeply misunderstood?

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I love this question! Why didn't I think of it?!

What Sam Harris says may be relevant. Starting with the libertarian definition that free will means you could have done otherwise than you in fact did do. If causal determinism is true (and even if we build in some randomness metaphysically not epistemologically because of quantum mechanics) then the LIB def of FW is false.

We might still want to keep the concept. It is understandable, where being nonsensical is often a main reason to revise a term out of existence. Also, we might keep it because so many people aver to experiencing free will even if it's non-veridical and actually an illusion.

But what Harris says--still with me?--what Harris says is that if we do not actually ever have the experience of "I could have done otherwise". He says this because of, well, meditation. He says if we pay proper or sufficient attention to experience we will see that we are not the author of our thoughts.

Now I need to do some more thinking since that is not necessarily equivalent to "coulda-done-otherwise". But if he's right and we do not even experience the so-called illusion then it would be up there with phlogiston perhaps.

BTW, Harris says he himself no longer feels like he could have done otherwise. This is in contrast, I'd say, to Sapolsky who admits that he quite often "regresses" and accidentally acts as if FW were true, as if he believed in it.

I describe it in a way philosophers won't like: he knows there's no free will but he does not always believe there's none. But that is because actually disbelieving free will is quite a strange experience. It's uncanny. It's dizzying. But it doesn't last. Our natural credence takes over as soon as we are no longer willfully keeping the thought in front of our minds that there's no free will.

The dizziness is for real but temporary and caused by thinking, so i call it "armchair vertigo". Except for Harris's professed experience it goes away as soon as we get out of the armchair so to speak and engage in the world of praise and blame and agency and voluntary action.

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Try to think about what "could-ness" actually means as part of human descision making algorithm. For what our minds actually use such category? There has to be some evolutionary reason why we have free will/illusion of free will/illusion of illusion of free will/etc, no matter how long you are going to pass the illusionary buck.

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"Try to think about what "could-ness" actually means as part of human descision making algorithm. For what our minds actually use such category? There has to be some evolutionary reason why we have free will/illusion of free will/illusion of illusion of free will/etc,"

And it could be that it's real. Yudkowsky's approach just doesn't show that the sense of free will is necessarily an illusion, only potentially.

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IMO there's a useful abstraction that it's pointing to, a certain shard of consciousness, but once the concept has been reified people use it in ways that can be outright counterproductive. E.g. crime and punishment, moral desert, etc.

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It’s looks, to maintain morality , that the denial of free will needs a God enforcing his will.

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For moral realism you mean, yes? Antirealism still needs moral agents in order to be meaningful, but there aren't a lot of preconditions on what that might minimally require.

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Thanks for the comment. But, I'm not sure I follow. Can you expand on the point you are trying to make please? The denial of free will needs God doing what and why?

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Many religions believe in determinism. Only the elect are chosen, but being part of the elect (the religious group which doesn’t believe in free will) is a necessary but not a sufficient condition. If you are even inclined to sin, or engage in it, then you are proving that you weren’t chosen. So obviously this form of determinism will not lead to people abandoning morality - or at least morality from the point of view of their religious beliefs. The opposite more likely.

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Thanks for clarifying

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Feb 6·edited Feb 6

This guy expressed the objection better than I could:

"In passing from this subject I may note that there is a queer fallacy to the effect that materialistic fatalism is in some way favourable to mercy, to the abolition of cruel punishments or punishments of any kind. This is startlingly the reverse of the truth. It is quite tenable that the doctrine of necessity makes no difference at all; that it leaves the flogger flogging and the kind friend exhorting as before. But obviously if it stops either of them it stops the kind exhortation. That the sins are inevitable does not prevent punishment; if it prevents anything it prevents persuasion. Determinism is quite as likely to lead to cruelty as it is certain to lead to cowardice. Determinism is not inconsistent with the cruel treatment of criminals. What it is (perhaps) inconsistent with is the generous treatment of criminals; with any appeal to their better feelings or encouragement in their moral struggle. The determinist does not believe in appealing to the will, but he does believe in changing the environment. He must not say to the sinner, "Go and sin no more," because the sinner cannot help it. But he can put him in boiling oil; for boiling oil is an environment."

The over-excessively 'kind' reaction to offenders (he can't help it, he's a victim of society and his genes and systemic racism and is not personally responsible for being a violent thug, abolish the school to prison pipeline!) will mean a reaction in the opposite direction, and if the idea is believed that "he can't help it, it's deterministic that he will be a violent thug" then of course you can't make any appeals to his 'free will' to consciously change. But you can be as harsh and even cruel in punishment as you like, along the lines of "this is how we train animals/we can condition a response of fear and aversion to doing crime for this as the punishment to crime".

I don't think that's better for us, as a society, in the long run to take on a model of excusing our vindictiveness and vengefulness as 'it's the only language they understand', even if we too can't help being vindictive and vengeful, it's all determinism.

See the discussion about genes versus environment on this very site with Scott's posts on schizophrenia etc. Even with the nice, poverty and stressor-free environment envisaged by Sapolsky after government intervenes to end all childhood poverty, there will still be people with genes selecting for more violent behaviour, less impulse control, and so forth. Those genes may not be expressed in an environment that represses them, but maybe they will break out in some cases. So if there's no free will, and we can no longer shift the blame onto "If you see someone with poor emotional regulation, deficits in executive function, and poor impulse control, you might be looking at someone in prison. And you might conclude they had an impoverished childhood... through no fault of their own" because Government Intervention Works, then what do we do with the people who do the naughty no-no things? What do we do with the future SBFs? After we've dismantled the criminal justice system root and branch?

I think we'd see the increase in vigilante justice, or the use of the mental health system as per the Soviet dissident treatment model: we can't put Sam in prison because prison is a no-no place that doesn't exist any longer, but Sam is a swindler and fraudster. Sam can't help being a swindler and fraudster so we can't ask Sam to stop doing that. We don't want to be swindled and defrauded either, though, so.... we dose Sam up on medication à la the 'chemical cosh' and/or lock him away in a nice (we're so nice, all things will be nice) 'treatment centre' where he will be so zombified, he hasn't the capacity to swindle and defraud.

Yes, so much more humane. Bring on the boiling oil.

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I'll confess to finding it odd how many people think morality, blame and punishment (and in your argument, persuasion and encouragement)* are incompaitible with determinism. The more normal assumption is that those things are incompatible with *indeterminism*. If determinism is true, then everything people do is reducible in theory to a set of intelligible reasons and conditions. And if people are doing bad things, we can improve their behaviour by altering those reasons and conditions: raising them well, providing peaceful means of resolving their grievances in society, encouraging them to act morally, and as a last resort using force or threat of force to scare them into acting morally.

But if things aren't determined, why bother with any of these things? You could raise someone perfectly, encourage good behaviours, reward good and punish evil etc, and they could still do bad actions for...no reason at all. And you could punish good and reward evil and they could still do good just because. It's all random, it's all unintelligable, there are no actual reducible *reasons* for why they act. So why bother with any of it?

And how does it make sense to "blame" someone for an evil act, if indeterministic (libertarian) free will is true? What does it *mean* that person A did an evil act? On libertarianism, it means that some irreducible, unexplainable..."fact"...occured, some incomprehensible "choice". "Mere hap" as I think Elizabeth Anscombe put it. There's no *reason* why they chose one way or another. They just did! What judgement can you make from this irreducible "choice" that happened because it did?

But on (compatibilist) determinism, person A acted freely if they acted according to their character, and not external compulsion. Simple. So if they were uncoerced and they did an evil act, you can judge them as having a bad, evil character. You can justify exiling or executing them, since their character is inferior and they don't belong in your community. You can rationally hate them and want to punish them for their evil character. And of course you can try to *improve* their character, teach them they did wrong and punish them to make them feel the harm they inflicted on another if they're unable to understand it. That's the theory and it's logical, even if it doesn't always work.

But all that only makes if people act for intelligible reasons, i.e. determined reasons.

(*And the same is true of God: incompaible with *indeterminism*, not with determinism as some people weirdly think.)

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"If determinism is true, then everything people do is reducible in theory to a set of intelligible reasons and conditions."

This is, if you will pardon the candour, why I think your entire argument is stupid. If we perfectly knew everything - but we don't. This is the old 50s SF argument about "now that we have the science of psychiatry, crime and mental disease will no longer exist in the Society of the Future".

Well, this *is* the future, and we've still got crime and mental illness, because people are not simply meat puppets. Why does one person in one environment turn to crime, and someone in the same environment does not? If it comes down to the determined "just a shift of inches in space makes a difference", then in order to perfectly understand the programming of the particular meat puppet we will need to understand the position of every particle in the Universe first, so we can perfectly plot out all the influences.

This is astrology by the back door.

"You could raise someone perfectly, encourage good behaviours, reward good and punish evil etc, and they could still do bad actions for...no reason at all."

People do bad things for reasons. Maybe the reasons are stupid, but they very seldom are "for no reason at all".

"And if people are doing bad things, we can improve their behaviour by altering those reasons and conditions: raising them well, providing peaceful means of resolving their grievances in society, encouraging them to act morally, and as a last resort using force or threat of force to scare them into acting morally."

And that last is the problem with the "no such thing as free will". We can't encourage anyone, since their character is fixed and unalterable. We can only coerce. It's a beautifully neat theory, but it will have problems when it comes to practice. Because if we don't fully understand the "set of intelligible reasons and conditions" as to why Rich, Well-Raised Johnny stole money and Poor, Badly-Raised Billy didn't, then how do we go about reforming Johnny? Anything we do may be useless, because if we don't have the entire chain figured out, then treating Johnny with method A may be as bootless as treating cancer like a migraine.

We can't blame Johnny for being a thief, because the dominoes that fell in orderly rows from the instant of the Big Bang meant that everything was pre-ordained to happen as it did and Johnny was foredoomed from the creation of existence to be a thief. This is as bad as Calvinism.

If we can't blame Johnny, then by what right do we punish him? Hatred alone - "You can rationally hate them and want to punish them for their evil character" - because we can't improve them. How can there be improvement, to a fixed chain of conditions? It's like saying we'll "improve" a mountain by getting it to stop being made of rock.

Your model of "improvement" involves a lot of force and coercion - the boiling oil environment, after all. "punish them to make them feel the harm they inflicted on another if they're unable to understand it". You talk about "Another good result of society-wide recognition that there's no free will would be that the criminal justice system would have to be dismantled root and branch" and then conclude here that if all else fails, eh, exile or punishment or lock them up forever. Just like the old ways and the old days, before the enlightened view of "there is no free will so there is no blame", then?

Of course they can't understand it because they're not capable of understanding it because they are not wired up to understand it; if they understood it, they would not have committed the offences in the first place. At least, that is the conclusion determinism comes to, so far as I can see.

You're making a very unwarranted distinction between "determinism means intelligible reasons and conditions for actions, indeterminism means doing things for no reason at all and we can never understand why". Holding to free will, I say we can understand why people do things, and why they don't run along grooves like a tram or trolley, and how it is possible to get people to change, to improve, to teach them better.

"What does it *mean* that person A did an evil act?"

It means A chose to do that act, for reasons which may indeed include how their character was formed by the environment and influences around them, and the way they were raised, and their particular genetics expressed in the shape of their intellect and mind. But at the end, they *chose* to do this thing; there is no 'since they are formed in this way, like a machine set up to do one action, they could not have done otherwise, they have no will and no choice'.

Determinism to me *is* the argument about external compulsion, because it postulates that there is no way of acting outside of the set of conditions that came about in a particular way because this is how the laws of nature work out because this is the long chain of causation from the Big Bang on down.

"If that is your question, I think Sapolsky's answer is that we do not punish, we quarantine. We quarantine and try real rehabilitation but if rehabilitation is unsuccessful we continue with quarantine. Free will deniers like Sapolsky and especially Greg Caruso have explicitly analogized to public health, where we do not necessarily blame people who are disease vectors but we nevertheless are occasionally justified in quarantining them perhaps against their will."

'Against their will'? I thought you had done away with the idea of "will". But how does Sapolsky reconcile rehabilitation (that is, getting people to shift grooves from 'do bad things' to 'do good things' or 'refrain from doing bad things') with his belief that he can't even choose his own shirt?

From your original piece:

"someone says to him, "You're dressed nice today," and, as Sapolsky tells it, "I say 'Thank you,' as if I had anything to do with it."

So a man who thinks he can't even make a choice of his own about what clothes he wears is going to sit down opposite a bank robber, murderer, or rapist, and rehabilitate them by teaching and persuading them to behave in better ways as though they could 'choose' to do this. Mm-hmm. Yes, I'm sure that will work.

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"This is, if you will pardon the candour, why I think your entire argument is stupid. If we perfectly knew everything - but we don't. This is the old 50s SF argument about "now that we have the science of psychiatry, crime and mental disease will no longer exist in the Society of the Future"."

I guess I should have emphasised the "in theory" part more. I'm not implying in any way that we can actually discover those reasons and causes in practice. To clarify, my argument is (practically) an entirely conservative one: all the stuff we're doing, like moral judgement, exhortation, blame and punishment makes sense and we should continue to do it (subject to minor arguments over how the details could be improved). Only as a matter of philosophical theory am I challenging the common belief that this is continuation in our practices requires us to disbelieve determinism. (And this is a somewhat conservative argument as well; as you observed, it's the Calvinist position).

With that clarified, what exactly do you object to in my position?

"People do bad things for reasons. Maybe the reasons are stupid, but they very seldom are "for no reason at all"."

This is...just restating determinism. If I act the way I do for a set of reasons, such that if those reasons were not present I would not act that way, then my act is determined by those reasons. No matter how stupid or sensible the reasons, they determine my act as long as they are a necessary and sufficient condition, i.e. a full explanation of my action.

The libertarian's challenge is to explain what it even *means* to act for reasons that are not determinative. How this differs from the act being ultimately random, and thus meaningless.

"And that last is the problem with the "no such thing as free will". We can't encourage anyone, since their character is fixed and unalterable. We can only coerce."

No, no, no, no, no! Determinism means your act is constrained by your character (as it is at the time of your act). It does NOT mean your character is constrained in the sense of being immutable or fixed. Your character can absolutely change, and will change according to meaningful reasons. This is a common misunderstanding it seems.

Determinism says you could (in fact would) have done otherwise *if the state of the world and yourself had been different*. It only denies that you could have done otherwise even if everything antecedent was exactly the same. Which, I contend, is not even a logically coherent concept.

"We can't blame Johnny for being a thief, because the dominoes that fell in orderly rows from the instant of the Big Bang meant that everything was pre-ordained to happen as it did and Johnny was foredoomed from the creation of existence to be a thief. "

Yes. We. Can. On determinism, we can blame Johnny for thieving, *because of what it shows about his character*: the reason he thieves is his thieving character, thus his act of thieving causes us to rationally attach the predicate of blame *to him* (not just to his act), and to attach the description of "thief" to him (meaning not just the trivial "one who has thieved" but also "one who is inclined to thieve"). On libertarianism, his act of thieving is an unexplained fact, with no necessary condition to who he is, and so what justifies attaching blame to *him* rather than just his act?

Just to hammer home the point: imagine Johnny grows up and cheats on his wife one time. If his wife is a libertarian, he can say say to her "hey honey, it's not that I don't love you, it doesn't say anything about me at all! It's just that the cosmic dice happened fall one way and I cheated; they could just as well have fallen the other way. Don't blame *me*, I had nothing to do with it!" Wheras if she's a determinist, she's not buying it. "No Johnny," she says, "your cheating proceeded from your character, which was a necessary and sufficient cause for it. By definition, either you don't love me, or your idea of 'love' does not involve the comittment I thought it did."

Determinist!Wife has eminently rational logic for either a divorce, or a "change your character, or we divorce" ultimatum. Libertarian!Wife gets stuck in a philosophical hole if she tries to reason this out. Or so it seems to me.

"This is as bad as Calvinism."

Well, without trying to re-litigate the Reformation...what's wrong with Calvinism? It has some huge theological and moral issues (but only, it would seem, because of the doctrine of damnation; that's the doctrine from which the moral horrors arise, not the metaphysical framework), but it's the only really coherent account of God's omnipotence and human action. Aside maybe, from atemporalism (God is outside time), which raises further major paradoxes. Otherwise, you either dispense with God, dispense with free will, or juggle metaphysical contradictions just out of sight (i.e. Molinism). Do you have an alternative?

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Feb 8·edited Feb 8

Thanks for this long reply, it's very helpful.

First, I think that the definitions of Determinism and Non-Determinism/Free Will we are using are talking past each other, and I think this is a large part of the difficulty.

"Determinism means your act is constrained by your character (as it is at the time of your act). It does NOT mean your character is constrained in the sense of being immutable or fixed."

Well, neither does free will think your character is constrained in the sense of being immutable or fixed, that's the whole point of it. You can make choices, you can change your mind, you can make decisions, you can alter behaviour by effort. The version of Free Will that other comments are going by, that "poof! out of nowhere!" people do things for no reason at all is not free will, and I think it's sort of a strawman in order to let the determinist principle stand as more logically consistent.

I'll also have to hold my hands up (and apologise to Doctor Dave the PhD in Phil) that the version of free will definitions I'm using are largely to solely based on religious principles, I'm not arguing the philosophical version which may be totally different (indeed, I think it must be). So that's another morass to bog down in.

Now, let's take Cheating Johnny. His determinist wife can indeed blame him, but she also then has to decide that if this is the way Johnny's character is formed, he's likely to cheat again, and so is it a good idea for her to continue with the marriage? If soft determinism* says that character can be changed, in response to circumstances - well, here I say "but that's free will in action". Johnny can choose "do I love my wife enough to accept the ultimatum to stop cheating or else she'll divorce me, or do I prefer to get novel sex where I can and so I'll accept the divorce?" The Determinist says "the external conditions have now changed; now Johnny's wife knows, where before she didn't, now there's the threat of divorce, where before there wasn't" and I agree with that. The crux of the disagreement here is "by what mechanism does Johnny choose?" How is he able to decide to change behaviour by going against (immutable, fixed, if we go the hard determinist/physicalist view) character? I say "he exercises the freedom of his will to choose because his character is not immutably fixed since the creation of the universe", you say - what?

*I'm imagining there must be a hard version of determinism, if that Sapolsky dude is joking about how he has nothing to do with the way he dresses, it's the cosmic pixies that pick out his clothes for him or something.

"What's wrong with Calvinism?"

Ah, here we get into the religious angle! 😀 Double predestination, as a defence of and consequence of, absolute Divine sovereignty is - as you say - a moral horror. It makes a mockery of the possibility of salvation, because that has already been decided. If you obey the evangelical command to "go make disciples of all nations", then you are only preaching to the already converted (and I think that it does involve a contradiction: if they are saved already and preaching the Gospel only gives them the opportunity to hear of their salvation, what happens if they are not preached to? Do they lose their salvation? Well, some strands of "eternal assurance" say that can't happen. Does God change His mind? Again, that's a problem there for foreknowledge because if God changes His mind then He can't know the future and that's a knock against omniscience).

Worse than that, God has chosen *you* to be damned and there's nothing you can do about it, even if you live what is considered a godly life and think you have saving faith, that is all illusion. No wonder James Hogg wrote "Confessions of a Justified Sinner".

EDIT: I agree that Calvin's views are beautifully logical, but he was so stuck on creating the beautiful logical clockwork mechanism that he didn't recognise he had turned God into a tyrannical sadist. Even the God of the Old Testament is willing to be bargained down to "but will you destroy Sodom and all in it if there are only fifty - forty - thirty - twenty - ten righteous men in it?" by Abraham.


That's the God that wants to exercise mercy if we only give Him the slightest chink to do so. As for absolute Divine sovereignty, He emptied Himself and assumed the form of a slave by taking on our mortal flesh, so I don't think is as bothered about His prestige as Calvin thought.

The Catholic view is different. Our will suffers, like all our faculties and powers, from the effects of Original Sin and the Fall, so that it is weakened and no longer rules our appetites perfectly. But we still have a will, and can exercise it, and can choose salvation or damnation:


"God created man a rational being, conferring on him the dignity of a person who can initiate and control his own actions. "God willed that man should be 'left in the hand of his own counsel,' so that he might of his own accord seek his Creator and freely attain his full and blessed perfection by cleaving to him."

Man is rational and therefore like God; he is created with free will and is master over his acts.

...Freedom makes man responsible for his acts to the extent that they are voluntary. Progress in virtue, knowledge of the good, and ascesis enhance the mastery of the will over its acts.

Imputability and responsibility for an action can be diminished or even nullified by ignorance, inadvertence, duress, fear, habit, inordinate attachments, and other psychological or social factors.

1736 Every act directly willed is imputable to its author:

'Thus the Lord asked Eve after the sin in the garden: "What is this that you have done?" He asked Cain the same question. The prophet Nathan questioned David in the same way after he committed adultery with the wife of Uriah and had him murdered.'

An action can be indirectly voluntary when it results from negligence regarding something one should have known or done: for example, an accident arising from ignorance of traffic laws.

An effect can be tolerated without being willed by its agent; for instance, a mother's exhaustion from tending her sick child. A bad effect is not imputable if it was not willed either as an end or as a means of an action, e.g., a death a person incurs in aiding someone in danger. For a bad effect to be imputable it must be foreseeable and the agent must have the possibility of avoiding it, as in the case of manslaughter caused by a drunken driver."

I think the part about 'responsibility can be diminished by ignorance, inadvertence, duress, fear, habit, inordinate attachments, and other psychological or social factors' is where Determinism (or soft determinism) and Free Will meet on common ground. These are the external factors which influence Cheating Johnny's character, says Determinism. As long as Johnny is operating under duress about not cheating or else divorce, he is less responsible if he lies about 'sure darling' in agreement, says Free Will, but he's still responsible for his actions if he then goes off to see his girlfriend afterwards.

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EDIT EDIT: As ever, we leave it up to Tommy A to do the heavy lifting on the technicalities:


"Article 6. Whether man chooses of necessity or freely?

Objection 1. It would seem that man chooses of necessity. For the end stands in relation to the object of choice, as the principle of that which follows from the principles, as declared in Ethic. vii, 8. But conclusions follow of necessity from their principles. Therefore man is moved of necessity from (willing) the end of the choice (of the means).

Objection 2. Further, as stated above (Article 1, Reply to Objection 2), choice follows the reason's judgment of what is to be done. But reason judges of necessity about some things: on account of the necessity of the premises. Therefore it seems that choice also follows of necessity.

Objection 3. Further, if two things are absolutely equal, man is not moved to one more than to the other; thus if a hungry man, as Plato says (Cf. De Coelo ii, 13), be confronted on either side with two portions of food equally appetizing and at an equal distance, he is not moved towards one more than to the other; and he finds the reason of this in the immobility of the earth in the middle of the world. Now, if that which is equally (eligible) with something else cannot be chosen, much less can that be chosen which appears as less (eligible). Therefore if two or more things are available, of which one appears to be more (eligible), it is impossible to choose any of the others. Therefore that which appears to hold the first place is chosen of necessity. But every act of choosing is in regard to something that seems in some way better. Therefore every choice is made necessarily.

On the contrary, Choice is an act of a rational power; which according to the Philosopher (Metaph. ix, 2) stands in relation to opposites.

I answer that, Man does not choose of necessity. And this is because that which is possible not to be, is not of necessity. Now the reason why it is possible not to choose, or to choose, may be gathered from a twofold power in man. For man can will and not will, act and not act; again, he can will this or that, and do this or that. The reason of this is seated in the very power of the reason. For the will can tend to whatever the reason can apprehend as good. Now the reason can apprehend as good, not only this, viz. "to will" or "to act," but also this, viz. "not to will" or "not to act." Again, in all particular goods, the reason can consider an aspect of some good, and the lack of some good, which has the aspect of evil: and in this respect, it can apprehend any single one of such goods as to be chosen or to be avoided. The perfect good alone, which is Happiness, cannot be apprehended by the reason as an evil, or as lacking in any way. Consequently man wills Happiness of necessity, nor can he will not to be happy, or to be unhappy. Now since choice is not of the end, but of the means, as stated above (Article 3); it is not of the perfect good, which is Happiness, but of other particular goods. Therefore man chooses not of necessity, but freely.

Reply to Objection 1. The conclusion does not always of necessity follow from the principles, but only when the principles cannot be true if the conclusion is not true. In like manner, the end does not always necessitate in man the choosing of the means, because the means are not always such that the end cannot be gained without them; or, if they be such, they are not always considered in that light.

Reply to Objection 2. The reason's decision or judgment of what is to be done is about things that are contingent and possible to us. In such matters the conclusions do not follow of necessity from principles that are absolutely necessary, but from such as are so conditionally; as, for instance, "If he runs, he is in motion."

Reply to Objection 3. If two things be proposed as equal under one aspect, nothing hinders us from considering in one of them some particular point of superiority, so that the will has a bent towards that one rather than towards the other."

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Hang on a second, I think you're mixing me up with "Dr. Dave F. Davidson". You're replying to things I said and things he said in the same comment, and I'm not sure if the replies to me are actually directed at me.

I'm a compatibilist, saying free will (along with moral agency, blame, punishment) is compatibile with, and in fact probably requires, determinism. He's saying free will doesn't exist (because it's *incompatible* with determinism) and that we should never punish people for anything, which I criticised above.

And he's the one using the American "z"s...

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Yeah, I realised that about half way through but I was so BEFOGGED IN A CLOUD OF EMOTIONALISM that I didn't want to stop and sort it all out.

Apologies to all concerned. I still think your "prison is horrible, death is better" stance and his "quarantine them and punish them to force to behave" stance are not reconcilable as to how to treat the irredeemable who, despite all the nice shiny clean no more poverty environment and Bestest Childraising Educating Methods still go out and do naughty things.

You're more reasonable to talk to, Doctor Dave The PhD in Philosophy is heavy on the theory and "leave us be ever so rational" but not so great about what will the theory look like once translated into practice.

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"I still think your "prison is horrible, death is better" stance"

Um, that wasn't me either that was anomie. I'll accept the blame for that since "I criticised above" could mean in reply to your second-level comment OR in reply to Davidsin's top-level comment (I meant the latter). And it could mean earlier or later depending on the comments are set to Newest or Chronological.

Now having cleared that up, I need to go to bed as it's 4 am in Victoria. I'll reply to the parts of your comment directed at me when I can.

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That long quotation from whomever that was was very hard to understand, ie unclear. But you made some interesting and good points after that. I will re-read and reply later. But the first thought that came to mind is we must make an effort not to be emotional about the imagined end of free will. It will be very tempting to defend free will merely because our emotions in favor of justice (and even revenge) and our emotions that want to punish bad deeds rise up and motivate our reasoning in favor of free will. "What are we going to do about XYZ terrible thing?!" That is a bit of evidence that emotions are at work and we ought to look again. More soon. Thanks!

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Trying to figure out how to deal with the end of free will is premature, since the non existence of free will isn't a fact.

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Feb 7·edited Feb 7

You don't understand clear English? I thought that passage was easy enough to follow. But then again, I'm not pretending to be any more elevated than I am as an ordinary person.

Doctor Dave, PhD. In Philosophy. Kind of you to slap your qualifications down on the table like that, so we lesser mortals can be properly put in our places.

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I agree. It’s fairly basic 19C or early 20C English. I wouldn’t take any notice of credentials on the internet either.

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You wrote: "Even with the nice, poverty and stressor-free environment envisaged by Sapolsky after government intervenes to end all childhood poverty, there will still be people with genes selecting for more violent behaviour, less impulse control, and so forth. Those genes may not be expressed in an environment that represses them, but maybe they will break out in some cases" .... And then you wonder what will we do then? Do you mean "how will we punish them if there's no FW and no MR?" If that is your question, I think Sapolsky's answer is that we do not punish, we quarantine. We quarantine and try real rehabilitation but if rehabilitation is unsuccessful we continue with quarantine. Free will deniers like Sapolsky and especially Greg Caruso have explicitly analogized to public health, where we do not necessarily blame people who are disease vectors but we nevertheless are occasionally justified in quarantining them perhaps against their will. (Although if they were rational they would see the merits in them being quarantined if they are disease vectors.)

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" I think Sapolsky's answer is that we do not punish, we quarantine."

Quarantine is being forced to live somewhere you don;t want to, and so is jail. The problem with the Harri/Sapolsky approach is that the resulting approach to criminal justice isnt different enough from a typical western society.

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Do you think locking people up in solitary confinement is any more humane? The system we have right now is that we put petty criminals in prison, knowing full damn well that prison is not going to magically rehabilitate them, and then let them out an arbitrary amount of time later, only for them to commit the same crime again (or worse) and they end up back in prison. This isn't about being "nice", this is about making the system actually work.

And free will not existing doesn't mean persuasion doesn't work, it obviously does. Humans clearly have agency, but there are clear limits to it. Reasonable people do not not commit crime because society is set up in a way so that there is a massive incentive not to commit crime. The people who commit crime anyways are either 1. stupid enough to think they can get away with it, 2. stupid enough to not even realize it's a crime, or 3. smart enough to see that the system is flawed enough that they actually can get away with it. The last one has the obvious fix of improving the system so that it isn't possible to get away with it, and the second one you might be able to fix by teaching civics better in school (though you can't expect all the kids to actually learn), but the first one doesn't have any obvious solution. Threatening greater punishment doesn't matter because the punishment isn't even being considered by them in the first place. And we currently do not have the means to cure stupidity. They are always just going to be a liability.

So what can we even do about this? Well, locking them up permanently is the usual solution, but that's both a waste of resources and needlessly cruel. Using them as slave labor is a bit more productive (and something the US does already). But the most ethical solution is just to put them out of their misery. The dead cannot suffer, after all.

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You've gotten a lot of pushback, particularly on your final two sentences, but I see the logic in the overall message, particularly in your description of the criminal mindset.

I even see the logic in your final paragraph, with a caveat that the "we" you mention should not be the state, but rather the individual targets of criminal attempts. There is no better time to permanently end the suffering of a criminal than *while he is actively engaged in crime* and there can be no possible mistake about it.

I think one of the issues in this thread is that most of the highly intelligent people who post on ACX are too intelligent to *accurately* imagine what it's like to be the kind of stupid that leads to criminal acts.

It's not their fault; the people writing comments here are almost universally living in highly intelligent "social bubbles" (https://slatestarcodex.com/2017/10/02/different-worlds/). They tend to have highly intelligent family, seek highly intelligent friends, and end up in careers which expose them to highly intelligent peers. They might not *consider* themselves to be highly intelligent - because they tend to socialize with highly intelligent people, they know people who are even smarter than they are - but nevertheless, they're highly intelligent and everyone they know pretty well is highly intelligent, and thus they instinctively model the minds of *everyone* from this perspective.

They can't *fully* model what it's like to be truly stupid; unobservant, incapable of dispassionate self-reflection, unable to accurately predict the consequences of a given action, unable to absorb information, unable to update priors. They can't model what it's like to have an entirely different set of motivational priorities based on an *inability* to think, and that's why so many of their suggestions about how to help and/or manage stupid criminals are ultimately unsuccessful.

I'm not nearly as intelligent as some folk here, but I'm (deliberately) underemployed in a job which provides long-term exposure to not only different classes, but wildly different levels of intelligence. I worked closely with a few low-IQ people for *years,* people who were only *just* intelligent enough to have a fairly simple job, and it took me years and *years* to fully understand and accept that they weren't merely under-educated or emotionally unbalanced, problems which might be corrected with enough resources.


They're simply...


Too stupid to choose to do better.

And these were stupid people who were just smart enough to be capable of keeping a job for multiple years! There's a whole bubble of people under them who are too stupid to even want to keep a job, much less actually manage to keep one.

You're right when you say, "Threatening greater punishment doesn't matter because the punishment isn't even being considered by them in the first place." I've seen that demonstrated over and over; my stupid coworkers would be confronted with a relatively simple problem, either at work or in their personal lives, and simply *could not solve it,* no matter how much informal education they received from me or others about it.

There is no cure for stupidity, and it is a liability, and woe unto the society who cannot recognize it.

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"The system we have right now is that we put petty criminals in prison, knowing full damn well that prison is not going to magically rehabilitate them, and then let them out an arbitrary amount of time later, only for them to commit the same crime again (or worse) and they end up back in prison"

That depends on who "we" are -- some systems are morerehabilitative than others.

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You were making good points and then you lost me at the end there.

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Feb 6·edited Feb 6

Well, what are you going to do with them? In the bright shiny 'no free will it's all determinism' future, we've done away with prisons and nobody is raised in a bad environment anymore.

And yet, oddly enough, there will be criminals still - since we have plenty of people raised in good environments today who engage in crime.

But they can't help it, poor dears, it's their genes and they can't even choose to change their behaviour, no more than Sapolsky can choose which pair of socks he puts on in the morning*

So. What. Then. Do. You. Do. With. Them?

I think the "poor dear" approach will fall out of favour as criminals continue to crim, and the "put 'em in boiling oil" element will predominate. Drugging people into zombies is as bad as solitary confinement. If we agreed even to pretend that people had free goddamn will, maybe we could do something to help them change, but since we're going to treat everyone as meat robots, there is no "helping" or "change", there is only "put the shock collar on them and jolt them with volts when they offend". That's a better outcome? I don't want to live in that world, thanks all the same.

Yes, let's just kill the inconvenient. Who would possibly object to the death penalty for "hmm, don't like the face he makes"? And when you yourself are judged inconvenient for someone or other, just step into the disintegration booth, there's a good meat robot.

Lord God in Heaven, I don't even support execution for murderers, but for "you can't help your genes, and you certainly can't do anything to fight against them because free will is an illusion, so we're going to kill you"?

*'He likes to tell a story about how, immediately after finishing a syllogism concluding in the falsity of free will, someone says to him, "You're dressed nice today," and, as Sapolsky tells it, "I say 'Thank you,' as if I had anything to do with it."'

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You wrote: "So. What. Then. Do. You. Do. With. Them? I think the "poor dear" approach will fall out of favour as criminals continue to crim, and the "put 'em in boiling oil" element will predominate. " I responded to someone else a few minutes ago in a way that I think is a good response to your point just quoted too. First, emotion seems to be in control of your reasoning (see an even earlier post tonight). Second, quarantine along the public health model. Not backwards looking deontological deserved blame-y punishment, but utilitarian forward looking harm preventing not based in desert/blame quarantine. Quarantine . That's what we do with them then.

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Here's some cold logic for you:

If you put a bunch of people with criminal tendencies into the same place, they are going to attack each other. If you allow it to happen, that makes it even more of a punishment; if you prevent it with solitary confinement, that makes it even more of a punishment; if you prevent it by hiring guards to keep order, you have reinvented prison.

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Oh, NO! Am I being EMOTIONAL????

Just like a woman with her empty little head which can't handle anything like cool, calm reason and logic of men, yes?

As you may gather from the rather heavy-handed sarcasm there, I gave up being terribly, terribly impressed by the "you're being emotional" argument a long time ago. I think that emotion does have a place in this discussion, when we are talking about people as meat puppets.

" Quarantine . That's what we do with them then."

So, prison, then. Nice prison, kind prison even, but still prison. So you and OP need to argue that one out (so logically and reasonably and non-emotionally) because they want to do away with prison entirely and would prefer to execute the offenders rather than confine them.

If blame is not deserved, then punishment is not deserved, either. We don't blame an oak tree for not being a willow. And undeserved punishment has no limits as to cruelty or how long it is inflicted.

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Feb 6·edited Feb 6

...It's just so sad. In an effort to appear "moral" and "humane", people end up creating a system that perpetuates far more suffering than one that simply operates pragmatically. Yes, of course there is genetic variance, the people who claim it doesn't exist are insane. And that ultimately means there are always going to be people born whose existence cannot be tolerated by society. It's obviously not their fault, but the reality is that they are going to cause more harm than good if they're allowed to walk free.

In a perfect world, gene editing would allow everyone to be made compatible with society, but that world doesn't exist yet. Civilization's existence is conditional on people actively working to perpetuate it, and some are just physically unable to do so. There is only so much slack that can be tolerated before everything falls apart. And for the record, if I am ever deemed a liability... I'm not going to complain. I don't particularly value my own life.

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"In a perfect world, gene editing would allow everyone to be made compatible with society, but that world doesn't exist yet."

The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.

This is a perfect example of how sentimentality leads to cruelty. Prison is so horrible! Let's avoid having to put people in prison by.... murdering them, the same way unwanted puppies are drowned. Except *shudder* drowning puppies? How barbaric! Getting rid of human dross, that's just hygienic, on the other hand.

I don't know whether to pray for Paperclip AI to come fast or not, before we get the post-free will 'utopia'.

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We are observers in the branched block universe, discovering the world (including ourselves) not changing it.

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Of one of the other theories.

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Anything non-blocky is not really compatible with relativity, spatially separated observers have different future lightcones, and the union of all of them is basically the block universe.

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You are supporting a branched cosmos as well, but you have no reason to believe that branching, by some QM mechanism, is compatible with GR .QM assumes a flat spacetime, GW assumes the opposite.

Also, the block universe thing isn't a straightforward implication of GR, as Rovelli argues here:-


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Read the link, and it's unusually bad. All sneery and without any clear description of "the third option". Expected better from Carlo Rovelli.

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If find this interesting and intriguing but you'll forgive me if I don't understand. Could you humor me and explain how relativity can be glossed as "spatially separate observers have different future lightcones" and also how all of them unified is the block universe? The block universe in my laymen's understanding was, I thought, a way of characterizing our universe as it would look to a being capable of standing outside of it, outside of space-time. Thanks!

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Sure, I'll try to explain it the way I understand it. So, relativity, among other things, means relativity of simultaneity. That is, at any spacetime point the spatial "slice", the surface in space where t=const depends on the observer's direction and velocity. If we take all possible directions and velocities at a given point, the union of these t=const surfaces will cover the spacelike separated parts of the observer's lightcone. So, imagine that X is the union of the past and future lightcones, and the observer is in the middle, then the constant time surfaces cover all but the top and bottom part of the X. Now, for a set of observers at a slightly different spatial point it will be a different lightcone, something like XX. With the lines, of course, extending infinitely far into the past and the future. If you take all possible observers, then the union of all the XXXXXXXX.... covers the whole spacetime, present, past and future. This is different from Galilean relativity, where all observers agree on the t=const slice, and you can have a Growing block universe rather than eternalist universe. Not so in Einstein's relativity, where there is no preferred spatial slice that can grow the universe from the past into the future. You are basically stuck with eternalism.

The situation is more complicated in quantum mechanics, especially if one subscribes to the version of it with unitary evolution without collapse (usually leading to the Many Worlds emergent branching due to decoherence and einselection). So the eternal universe is not just one connected block, but more of a tree, with infinitely many branches sticking out everywhere. But "from the outside" it still looks like a static object, just a rather intricately shaped.

Hope it makes sense. Please feel free to point out any errors you may notice.

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It's It's a bit misleading to imply 89% of philosophers are pro free will, when many of them are compatibilists , who are anti libertarian free will.

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I don't think it's misleading. But yes there are two different definitions of free will. Together they comprise 89% of philosophers. And while they both endorse "free will" they mean rather different things by it.

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I think both above comments are a mistake. Compatibilists and libertarians don't (in general) mean different things by "free will" - if that were the case they would not be competing views, which they are. They mean the same thing by "free will", but have different beliefs about it - in particular, about its relation to determinism.

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I do not agree. I read you saying X but I do not see a separate idea Y on offer as support for X.

They have two diff definitions. I laid them out. LIB is you could have done otherwise which is contravened by causal determinism. (This framing, by the way, is recognized as accurate by as disparate participants as Sam Harris, Dan Dennett, Josh Greene and co-author Cohen, most textbooks etc.) COMP says you COULD NOT have done otherwise because you are part of the causal chain, the casual chain of causal determinism, but you are free if you are caused in the right way, in a special way .(And then various COMPs have various descriptions of what kinds of causes are "constraining" and make us unfree and which kind of causes allow for free will of this COMP sort.

Could you expand please on what those beliefs are? Those about FW's relation to CD?

Here is how my framing goes.

The problem of FW is a prima facie conflict between an intuitive (inchoate and undefined) sense of FW and the truth of causal determinism. The various psble positions in logical space can be found by two questions.

1) Are FW and CD incompatible?

2)) If yes, which one obtains and which one doesn't?

You can answer #1 yes or no and then if yes we have one more degree of articulation to specify.

A. Incompatibilist Hard Determinism answers yes they are incompatible and the one that obtains is CD, FW is false. As a deductive argument for HD it's this.

P1. If CD then not-FW

P2. CD

Conclusion: Therefore, not-FW.

B. Incompatibilist Libertarianism says yes they are incompatible and then FW (defined as "could have done otherwise") obtains, CD is false. As an argument it's

P1. If CD then not-FW

P2. Not CD

Conclusion: Therefore FW is not ruled out.

Finally there is the position that says NO they are not incompatible, they're compatible. COMP does not have to answer which obtains as it says both do. But it is a sleight of hand (or "wretched subterfuge" as Kant put it) because while it says "both obtain" it has changed the definition of FW that obtains. How so? Because COMP affirms CD it thereby denies LIBFW. Because LIBFW contravenes CD. Interestingly, COMP agrees that LIBFW is contravened CD, so they are "incompatibilists" too. What they have done is say, like AJ Ayer does in Freedom and Necessity: LIBFW was always a dumb definition of FW, FW ought to mean not uncaused, but caused in the right way.

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". LIB is you could have done otherwise which is contravened by causal determinism. "

Which would be contravened by casual determinism *if it were true*. You keep taking the hypothetical to be categorical.

"COMP says you COULD NOT have done otherwise because you are part of the causal chain, the casual chain of causal determinism, but you are free if you are caused in the right way, in a special way ."

"Special" doesn't mean anything mysterious -- it's pretty much the legal definition of responsibility -- you are and adult, yo have a normally functioning brain, and you are not under external duress.

"But it is a sleight of hand (or "wretched subterfuge" as Kant put it) because while it says "both obtain" it has changed the definition of FW that obtains."

It changes the definition if the LIB definition was clearly the definition, but earlier you said the definition was "inchoate". ...so maybe it just was never clear.

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1) Compatibilists often do not agree that being part of a deterministic causal chain means you could not have done otherwise. One area on which there is debate is what the "ability to do otherwise" amounts to, and there are both compatibilist and incompatibilist accounts of this ability (See for example this section of the Stanford encyclopedia article on compatibilism: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/compatibilism/#CompAbouFreeDoOthe)

2) Your final paragraph is very confusing. It looks to me like you are making the mistake of inferring from the fact that compatibilists and libertarians disagree about what is included in or entailed by some concept (in this case FW), they are using the term "free will" with different meanings. That's a bad inference. In both the mouth of the libertarian and in the mouth of the compatibilist, "free will" can mean what you call FW, and their views are competing views about FW. Don't conflate people having different theories about some concept with them using a term with different meanings. By analogy, utilitarians and kantians do not (necessarily) mean something different by "right" - they are both using "right" with its ordinary meaning. They just have different theories about rightness.

The literature is of course a little messier than this, but I think the best way to understand the debate between libertarians and compatibilists is that they (and ordinary people as well) use "free will" with more or less the shared meaning "the kind of control over one's action necessary for moral responsibility and desert". Then they have substantive (not verbal!) disagreements about what this kind of control involves.

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"4.1 Compatibilism about the Freedom to Do Otherwise

The Consequence Argument (section 3.1) makes a strong case for the incompatibility of determinism and the freedom to do otherwise. Assuming that determinism is true, it states that:

No one has power over the facts of the past and the laws of nature.

No one has power over the fact that the facts of the past and the laws of nature entail every fact of the future (i.e., determinism is true).

Therefore, no one has power over the facts of the future.

Compatibilists who accept that alternative possibilities are necessary for moral responsibility must show what is wrong with this powerful argument. They also should offer some account of what John Martin Fischer (1994) has called regulative control—a form of control agents possess when they can bring about X and can refrain from bringing about X— that makes clear how it is possible even at a determined world. We will first consider three different compatibilist attempts to unseat the Consequence Argument. Then we will consider how some compatibilists, the so-called New Dispositionalists, explain regulative control, that is, how they might explain the freedom to do otherwise in a way that is compatible with causal determinism."

I have a job. Two actually. Where do you all find the time?! I will respond to all comments as soon as I can. This is fun. (Except getting screamed at. That gives me a stomach ache and is not appreciated.) But for now here is what I can say about that passage from SEP.

They need to show that CD does not contravene couldadoneotherwise.

But what Frankfurt shows is that “FW” (the intuitive folk notion, invariant necessary and sufficient conditions of proper use for which philosophers tease out the contours via thought experiment and the method of cases (I say all this because later I will say something about kludged concepts and experimental philosophy and Knobe/Doris's "variantism")) does not require that you could have done otherwise.

In other words and without that distracting paranthetical, all that Frankfurt shows is that the folk concept of FW does not turn, as some had thought, on couldadoneotherwise, it turns on whether or not the action was caused in the right way.

Frankfurt shows that what matters (ie what the folk concept of FW has built into it) is the nature of the causal chain leading up to the given action, ie was it your intention that caused you or was it the brain control chip).

This is still a version of what I’ve called COMP which is folks who endorse CD and endorse that CD contravenes “couldadoneotherwise/LIBFW” and thereby endorse that people could *not* do otherwise and yet might have “free will”... But by this account “free will” here no longer means “could have done otherwise” it means “caused in the right way” thus...as I've been saying... there are two definitions of FW out there. LIB and COMP.

I wonder if I think this because (or if those who disagree disagree because) of a take on stuff in the ballpark of experimental philosophy's attack on philosophical methodology. Ex-Phi has shown that people will say XYZ is a case of free will and ABC is not a case of moral responsibility etc depending on various experimentally manipulatable features of the case(s) like the extremity of violence in the act or the abstract discussion of causation or about norms like who gets to take pens for free and who doesn't.

Having reflected on that stuff I do not think there is a stable folk concept of FW to be discovered (there is not a description of it as necessary and sufficient conditions of its application across all possible scenarios). Thinking that there is nec-and-suff-cond etc is what Knobe/Doris call invariantism and it is classic in philosophy. But it's more likely that we have a kludged together set of propositions that could not be made internally consistent without "revising" away one of the intuitive judgments on edge cases.

But Frankfurt et alia are still going on as if the task is to tease out the true folk concept. So, right, they might not like to hear or not accept that there are two definitions out there LIB and COMP. .... Thanks! More soon as I can.

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Please don't do link-only emails. It breaks reading apps and makes it much harder to read articles offline.

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I prefer to read on web, and the current emails don't even have a link to the website anywhere on them. I end up having to go search for the article from scratch. That seems broken too, and is a baffling choice.

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They do - just click the title of the post (large font at the top).

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Feb 6·edited Feb 7

Here's a puzzle that combines some rather boring computer programming with a cute piece of maths.

What is the following snipped of C code (edited to fix several typos - good catch, those who spotted them) for?

int f (uint x)


n = __builtin_ctz(x);

return (((x>>n)-1)&0x7) || (n&1);


(Note: the question is "what is it for?", not just "what does it return?" - there's a reason you might want this function.)

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The first half of the or returns 0 only if the number in binary ends with 001 followed by any number of trailing zeroes. So 1,9,17,25,33... as well as any of those multiplied by a power of 2 (1,2,4,8..., 17,34,68..., 25,50,100...). Otherwise, it returns the last three digits before the trailing zeroes. The second half returns 0 if there's an even number of trailing zeroes (meaning the number is a power of 4), 1 otherwise.

So, it identifies numbers that are not powers of 4 or 1 more than a multiple of 8? I have no idea what that would be for.

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Besides, couldn't you simplify it to the following?

return ((x>>n)&0x6) || (n&1);

The whole thing smells like Mersenne primes and Euclid–Euler theorem.

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Is it to test if your compiler can detect imbalanced brackets?

Because it looks like you've got one more close than open.

In case it's a forum rendering issue, I'm seeing this for the last line: "return ((x>>n)-1)&0x7) || (n&1);"

In any case, that makes it much harder to figure out what the code is meant to be doing.

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Feb 6·edited Feb 6

Hm, so... chop off all the trailing zeros, flip the lowest (and possibly only) 1 to be a 0, and then ... bitwise-and the last three bits with 111? Why not bitwise-and with 110? I'm probably misunderstanding something; it's been quite a while since I worked at this level. Then return it if it's non-zero, or else return ... whether there was an odd number of trailing zeros? But why go base-16 for &0x7 but not for &1? I could easily be forgetting some arcane C behavior.

Anyway, I'm coming up blank. Probably I'm too rusty to figure it out.

(Did you mean "__builtin_ctz", with no 'g'? And is there a missing open-paren in the first half of the return? Also, since there's no explicit check, it's probably worth noting that this could have undefined behavior if the argument is 0.)

[Edit to remove rot13 since no one else is doing it.]

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Is this the first step in testing if a positive integer is a square? If x is a square, then f(x) is zero, and this lets you efficiently rule out most numbers. But that seems too trivial to be the actual use.

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Spot on. If, for example, someone sent you two files of numbers, one of which was mostly square, and you somehow garbled the top bits of each number, this would let you tell which were candidates for low bits of squares.

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I don't think that's true.

36 is a perfect square, 100100 in binary. N = 2.

(1001 - 1) & 111 || 10 & 01 = 100 & 111 || 10 & 01 = 100 || 0 = 100b, so f(36) = 4.

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No, (1001 - 1) & 111 = (1000 & 111) = 0, so f(36) = 0.

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That seems right. Hadn’t occurred to me that if x is odd, x^2 mod 8 is 1, but it sure is.

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The other side of the comparison isn't right, then. It checks if n (number of trailing zeroes) is even, not x.

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If we write x = 2^n * b, where b is odd, the function is zero iff n is even and b is 1 mod 8. x is a square iff b is a square and n is even. If b is a square, then b is 1 mod 8 (since it's the square of an odd number), so if x is a square, then the function is zero.

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White space is now back on my iPhone.

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I was having a similar problem on my browser.

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I'm interested to know your opinions on the recent ruling by Delaware Chancellor Kathaleen McCormick rescinding Elon Musk's last compensation deal with Tesla. I'm particularly interested in the opinion of anyone with no particular opinion of Mr. Musk himself (if such exist).

The ruling in full can be found here (https://courts.delaware.gov/Opinions/Download.aspx?id=359340), and there are plenty of media summaries out there, but briefly, as I understand it: this compensation deal was quite unusual in that it made very high compensation contingent on achieving commensurately difficult milestones. The deal was voted on and approved by the shareholders, but a lawsuit was filed (nominally by a shareholder) shortly thereafter, challenging that the shareholders had been misled and the deal was unfair to them. This ruling rescinds this deal six years later, after all the specified milestones have been achieved. It finds that the company had described members of the company's board as independent, who were too closely affilliated with Mr. Musk to be described that way. Consequently (based on Delaware law), the deal would have to be "entirely fair", and the defendants could not meet the burden of showing this.

It's important to note that all payments were contingent on large increases to the stock price, so there was no way for shareholders to lose money on this.

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One of the most relevant sticking points is this:

"The deal was voted on and approved by the shareholders, but a lawsuit was filed (nominally by a shareholder) shortly thereafter, challenging that the shareholders had been misled and the deal was unfair to them. "

The shareholders voted on the measures, but the proposal did not (according to judgement) include relevant and important details. This is tantamount to misleading shareholders . That's an enormously big sticking point, and is why the deal was later amended and struck down as unfair in this judgement. By any measure, it was and is, in the strict meaning of "fair" which means "agreed to in premise on mutual understanding of all concerns.

There is nothing particularly incorrect about compensating people involved in a business.

There is something incorrect about the means to doing so being pushed through by misguiding the shareholders of a public company by not informing them of the relevant factors behind a proposal. It fundamentally undermines the logic of shareholder capitalism.

There are other reasons why the deal in particular is dubious and certainly questionable, but the core logic of the ruling is simply the above[1, 2]. Any inquiry which finds that shareholders agreed to a proposal which was later found to have been submited for consideration on flawed premises is generally something the securites regulators of the largest financial market in the world takes rather seriously. It is more or less, err, the only way to have a functioning investment world.

[1] one example: Musk' compensation was based on market capitalization, not share price, and much of Tesla's gains has come from issuing vast amounts of new shares profitably scooped up by various interested parties which hae all been interested due to the high flying antics of Mr. Musk. This inflates the market cap, but might not be in keeping with the interests of any actual shareholders. There's dubious economic merit to the figurhead repeating that the company could be the most profitable one in the world and then pushing through issuing more shares. One might reasonably wonder if he means what he is saying, or if he is doing it because he knows that if it works, his gain will be enormous. It misaligns shareholder incentives with that of the figurehead.

[2] Logically, the proposal has an issue of coherency. Musk already owns and owned significant shares of Tesla at the time of the proposal. What further incentive is gained by paying him more money if the value of the enormous percentage of the company he already owns from increases in value? Significantly, a value that is so high as to be the highest in literal history? His increase in payout comes at the cost of non-controlling shareholders. In all senses of the word, that's their money too. Musk' proposal stipulates the ability to cash out in terms which will directly influence their share value. It misaligns the incentives of the shareholder and the figurehead.

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2. Re your second footnote: "Logically, the proposal has an issue of coherency. Musk already owns and owned significant shares of Tesla at the time of the proposal. What further incentive is gained by paying him more money if the value of the enormous percentage of the company he already owns from increases in value? Significantly, a value that is so high as to be the highest in literal history? His increase in payout comes at the cost of non-controlling shareholders. In all senses of the word, that's their money too."

Counterpoint: All the shareholders (himself certainly included) stand to gain from the work Mr. Musk puts into the company, but only he bears the cost of putting in this work. In all senses of the word, that labour is his. Why should he not be compensated for this investment into the company?

There's an appealingly precise and natural way to resolve the tension between these two points: given a figure that we could agree upon as a "fair price" for Mr. Musk's service as C. E. O. of the company had he no prior equity in it, we should then be able to multiply that figure by whatever share of the company he in fact does not own, to arrive at a similarly fair price for the case where he has an ownership stake. For instance, if he owned around 20% of the company (as was approximately the case in real life), it would be fair to pay him 80% of what he would be paid if he owned 0% of it. The increased value of the 20% share of the company he owns accounts for 20% of the value yielded by his efforts and 20% of his compensation therefor; the increased value of the remaining 80% of the company, which accrues to the other shareholders, is accounted for by 80% of the "fair" compensation were he not an owner at all.

To be sure, agreeing on said hypothetical price would be no trivial thing. Still, at least in principle, the breakdown I've outlined seems to me like the logically fair one. It sounds like you (and the judge) are suggesting, in principle, that the returns of a 20% stake in a company constitute 100% compensation for an investment in that company, which doesn't seem right to me.

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Your hypothethical here illustrates the point rather well. As you write, agreeing on it would be no trivial thing.

As demonstrated by the court proceedings extensive interviews with several of the board members involved in the negotiations with Musk, they did not even engage in an untrivial amount of things. The point of the argument against it isn't that people cannot agree to a process by which Musk is paid for his services. The point is that there was no such negotiation honestly taking place.

The whole grant lacks logical coherency. If Musk is sworn to stay with Tesla, for life, as he says, and he owns a significant fraction of Tesla, as he does, and he makes vast sums of money from Tesla increasing in share value, as he does, then what is gained by Teslas as an entity in paying Elon even more money, above and beyond the enormous amounts of money he would already be getting for doing the thing he says he is going to be doing?

Any negotiation based on these premises should account for those facts. But in this case, it seems this did not happen. To wit:

" The defendants also point to the duration of the process (nine months) and the number of board and committee meetings (ten) as evidence that the process was thorough and extensive. The defendants’ statistics, however, elide the lack of substantive work. Time spent only matters when well spent. Plus, most of the work on the compensation plan occurred during small segments of those nine months and under significant time pressure imposed by Musk. Musk dictated the timing of the process, making last-minute changes to the timeline or altering substantive terms immediately prior to six out of the ten board or compensation committee meetings during which the plan was discussed." (p5)


" That timeline envisioned that on July 7, the Compensation Committee would “[g]ain agreement on proposed approach, award size and metrics/goals” and “[g]ain preliminary approval of grant agreement[.]”208

The timeline reflected a reckless approach to a fiduciary process, given that the Compensation Committee had not yet discussed any substantive terms nor met concerning the Grant. Despite the break-neck speed contemplated by the timeline, Maron reported to counsel on June 18 that Ehrenpreis was “aligned on the plan and timing." (p41)


" Defendants emphasize that nine months passed after the initial April 9 call between Musk and Ehrenpreis until the Board approved the Grant. In reality, however, most of the work on the Grant occurred during small segments of that nine- month timeline and under significant time pressure imposed by Musk " (p129).


There's a lot of other general descriptions of a rushed negotation process, a lack of oversight and a seeming total inability to engage in the very thing your hypothethical requires: Negotiation as to a fair compensation for services rendered.

By not even engaging in the trivial things, let alone the non-trivial, the board directors in charge of working out the grant demonstrate a lack of fiduciarcy duty and basic governing competence.

So in that sense, the ruling is pretty spot on. That's why I brought up that that from any reading of the agreement, it's pretty understandable why a Court ruling would rule that there's some vast amounts of corporate government failures here.

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I disagree with you on a number of points. I believe that dealing with them in separate replies will be easier for both of us.

1. On the issue of fairness, before taking issue with your position, I'd like to make sure I've correctly understood it:

On the one hand, you write:

'By any measure, it was and is, in the strict meaning of "fair" which means "agreed to in premise on mutual understanding of all concerns.'

On the other hand, you describe the shareholders as "misguided" by the omission of "relevant and important details", and later describe the proposal as "submit[t]ed for consideration on flawed premises".

If the shareholders had an "understanding of all concerns", surely it follows that they were not ignorant of any details relevant to, let alone premises of, their approval! From your careful wording ("submitted for consideration" rather than "approved"), I infer that your position is as follows:

1. We can safely take it that the shareholders were aware of all relevant concerns, not withstanding any shortcomings in the presentation of the proposed compensation.

2. Nonetheless, the presentation *depicted* certain concerns as possibly relevant factors and mischaracterized those.

3. Even though this mischaracterization did not in practice affect the outcome of the shareholder vote, because it represented a bad practice that, if generally followed, would tend to harm shareholder interests, the vote based on this mischaracterization must be nullified.

Do I have this basically right?

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Fairness in these corporate rulings is a procedural and legal principle. This is why the ruling overview references "entire fairness". The ruling also goes to the length of specifying what fairness means in this legal context.

As the ruling states, the proposal put to vote ommited several key details. This makes it, by its nature as judged by the court, not fair to the shareholders. And is the grounds for its suggested recession of the deal at this time. One can probably appeal this ruling, though do note the ruling also notes that perhaps other options are available.

I think you have inferred a position quite... oddly. I don't really know how to respond to you in a way that is coherent, sorry. Without in any way wanting to be rude your 1) is nonsense and 2) and 3) are strange. I am not sure who you are talking to, what that position would even be, or how it makes sense.

Shareholders cannot be aware of all relevant concerns and simultaneously be subject to relevant information being withheld, omitted and not presented. That would make them, errr, unaware of relevant concerns.

Especially not when those same concerns make a vote on a proposal materially quite different. The ruling (you have linked!) makes the argument that had these concerns been presented to the shareholders, the deal struck with Musk would have been quite differently. Namely, it might not have been agreed upon, because materially relevant information was omitted.

It also comes within close distance of insinuating that Tesla's board of directors completely bungled the barest semblance of competent corporate governance, which, okay, yeah, I can see that. Like, I knew some details before reading this ruling but it's also kind of incredible what level of tomfoolery was going on, if we take the ruling as God's honest truth. But since that's not entirely what the ruling is about, its not so relevant at present.

You wanted an opinion, this is that. It looks like fairly standard corporate governance legal proceedings to me, made interesting by the involvement of Musk, the sheer amount of money involved and because the legal ruling makes the single greatest logical inference of all time:

" Colonizing Mars is an expensive endeavor." (p15)

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I'm sorry for inferring so oddly, but I couldn't make any better sense of your words than that. At any rate, now I say the key point where I misunderstood you. You wrote, "'By any measure, it was and is, in the strict meaning of "fair"..." which I read as something like "...conforms to the strict meaning of fair".

Now that you alerted me that you meant nothing of the sort, I've reread that bit more closely and realized those words meant "it was and is [unfair], per the strict meaning of fair". Sorry for misunderstanding at first.

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I saw where someone looked at it, and they thought the sticking point was the lack of negotiation. Like, just for example, even assuming the sheer amount of money is legit, and it quite well could be, wouldn't it be in Tesla's interest to at least **try** to get Musk to stop getting into Twitter fights? Which is to say, devote more attention to Tesla, but not at the expense of anything else actually useful like SpaceX. There's really nothing more that the board could ask of Elon Musk other than "keep up the good work"? They don't have any ideas themselves, and only rubber-stamp the deal that Elon Musk himself proposed?

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I highly object to any law that requires people to play more politics in business settings. Don't require companies to fight themselves, you'll just end up with stupid "queen's duck" chicanery. https://www.simplethread.com/looks-great-lose-the-duck/

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I believe that was also Musk and the board's argument, that they don't do that type of politics-for-show at Tesla. Alas, it may be required by Deleware corporate law, and I can't really argue against that because they've seen more corporate malfeasance than I ever will. And it's not like the whole "largest compensation package in history" thing wouldn't attract a bit of scrutiny no matter what.

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Highly uninformed on the issue, and Musk in general. Having said that, sounds dumb on Delaware's part.

At a core level, this seems like a really big deal for Tesla and Musk and 99% of the people involved were happy with the outcome given how well Tesla's stock did. Seems really dumb to mess with core features of a major company without, like, a good reason and it's not clear there was one.

Kinda curious whether the investors decide to reincorporate in Texas. I mean, ignore Musk, if you had a significant amount of money in Tesla, would you be happier in Delaware or some place like Texas or Nevada where the courts would have probably left this alone? And if the investors think their money is safer/better under Texas than Delaware for Musk, does that extend to their other investments.

But, honest, my gut says this was an iffy case that the judge decided based on CW stuff and if I was an active investor, that's...there's a risk there that's probably not worth the marginal benefit of incorporating in one state vs another. But I'm not an active investor and I'm curious what people with skin in the game do.

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If I read everything correctly, the argument comes down to:

Musk made $110 billion dollars from Tesla's increased market valuation, and an additional $50 billion dollars would be unfair to other stockholders, because Tesla got nothing extra for offering that additional $50 billion (as the $110 billion he gets regardless would be incentive enough).

Because this incentive is high enough, the plan is unfair to other stockholders, as Musk's behavior would not substantively change had the compensation plan not been in place - basically a counterfactual which, at its core, is saying what Musk's behavior would have been, had things been different. Which seems, uh, dubious. Relative to that counterfactual, the other shareholders do lose money - but I don't know that that is actually a reasonable counterfactual to stake a legal case on. (I'm not a lawyer, maybe this is standard practice, but I regard all rescission cases with a certain degree of skepticism - because they are almost always decided after new information has arisen, and you can't actually return the parties to their prior state, because the new information changes their relevant stakes - for example, would the case have even proceeded had Tesla begun losing value, instead of increasing twelvefold? Seems like there's no point in pursuing the case at that point - that there is even a case for rescission means that rescission cannot actually return the parties to their prior state)

That all said - the shareholder in question did raise the lawsuit almost immediately, and it's been going through the legal process over the relevant timeframe, so in a sense, Musk, being aware that the case might be lost, should have priced the possibility of losing into his personal investment in the company. So, in the universe we actually live in, as opposed to the counterfactual universes - Musk did choose to do whatever Musk chose to do with the knowledge that the compensation package might get struck down.

There are some legal particulars I'd be vaguely interested in, such as whether there was a shift in a disposition of the court at any point but most particularly as benchmark targets were met (that is, if there is meaningful evidence that the court's attitude towards the fairness of the compensation package depended on how it played out), but I expect they'll be raised in appeal, and if they aren't, well, I don't care that much.

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Not a lawyer, and the opinions I've read were not in this field. On the one hand, if the deal really was 33 times larger than the largest deal ever completed (which was to Musk, meaning he's previously agreed to a smaller package), I can understand ruling it unfair. On the other hand, with Musk controlling what I'm reading as only 21% of the company's voting power I think it's a stretch to say he strong-armed everyone in an unfair manner. And the guy who filed apparently had 9 shares of stock, that's ludicrous that he can bring a case like this. They're right to stop being incorporated in Delaware.

Otherwise, I'm amused by the footnotes including a citation of Star Trek. I've seen judges quote pop culture before but I don't think I've seen them cite it.

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"It's important to note that all payments were contingent on large increases to the stock price, so there was no way for shareholders to lose money on this."

This does not logically follow.

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How not? By the terms of the deal, if any money were paid to Mr. Musk, it would mean that the value of the company's shares had risen, hence the shareholders would have made money, not lost it.

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The value of the shares *in total* would have increased, but that doesn't mean that the value per share has increased and so it doesn't mean that any stockholder has seen a net gain.

Hypothetical, making up numbers out of thin air: There are a billion shares of Tesla each with a market value of $500. Tesla then issues 250 million new shares, also selling at $500 because everybody thinks they're buying in to what will soon be a 25% larger company with 25% more factories, etc. Tesla sees that its market cap has increased by $125 billion, and therefore pays Elon a $25 billion bonus.

The market notices that the company they were expecting to be 25% bigger on account of all that new capital is really only positioned to be 20% bigger. And nobody's sure what Elon will do next except that it probably has more to do with Twitter than Tesla, so maybe they hedge and assume a 15% larger Tesla with 25% more outstanding shares.

TSLA now sells at $460/share. Every Tesla stockholder has lost 8% of their investment, a total of fifty billion dollars. Elon got half of that, and probably a bunch of short-sellers got the other half.

You can understand why a Tesla shareholder would call shenanigans if that happened. Or even if it looked like Elon was setting up for that to happen and lying to them about it.

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Wouldn't diluting equity like that itself require approval by a vote of existing shareholders? If not, surely that would be the real root problem of the hypothetical you're describing, and it would be a problem with or without the compensation plan in question.

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Not going to dig into the Delaware Civil Code directly, put per an SEC summary there is not a general requirement under Delaware law for shareholder approval to issue new shares. It can be required in some circumstances, and of course a company can put such a requirement in its own bylaws - which would seem sensible but I'm guessing that Tesla specifically is structured to "Let Elon be Elon" to the maximum extent allowed by law.

But even if a shareholder vote is required, "Vote for this new stock issuance and we'll put the money into new Tesla factories, moar profitz for all!" while hiding the gargantuan cut Elon will take off the top, seems like it would be fraudulent and/or lawsuit-inducing even if the shareholders do vote Yes.

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Well, my narrow response to your example would be that if the compensation deal at issue damages shareholder interests only in case of a later "fraudulent and/or lawsuit-inducing event" damaging shareholder interests then it doesn't really damage shareholder interests in itself, and any damage you attribute to it should be incidental to the lawsuit resulting from that later event.

Still, you've helped me see that in principle, at some later point it might be in shareholder interests to issue new stock, diluting their ownership, so that the market cap target governing the C.E.O.'s compensation is hit, even if the shareholders have lost money. I don't know how likely a scenario it is, but I concede it's a possible one. Thanks!

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You're ignoring the possibility that the stock price could have risen without this deal and indeed without Musk at the company at all.

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By "lose", I meant "end with less than they started with".

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My take on rulings like this in general - that is, "rulings dealing with things that only high-profile public figures are able to do, so that a) there is very little precedent and b) there's high emotional/political valence" is that they are a weak spot of the western "frame laws in broad generalities and then leave it to judges to disambiguate them" model of jurisprudence.

I don't know enough of the details of this case to have an informed opinion either way, and it would be quite hard for anyone claiming to do so that they genuinely were motivated by knowledge of and concern for the law rather than strong pro/anti Musk feelings.

But I'd be surprised if the law and existing precedent were unambiguous enough that it wasn't possible to make plausible-looking cases in either direction, and if that's true then a) the judge will have essentially pulled this ruling out of her arse, b) that would be just as true if she'd ruled in the other direction, and c) pulling a ruling out of her arse was her official judicial responsibility, because there was no-where else to get one from.

(Of course, this is just idle speculation. It's entirely possible that there really is detailed enough law to resolve this one way or another. But the two ways I could come to know that are "read a vast amount of Delaware case law" (too much like hard work) or "trust experts on Delaware case law who are not letting their partisanship overrule their expertise" (I don't know how to distinguish them from the ones who are), so I'm afraid idle speculation is all I have to offer.)

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Just noticed Substack decided that new paragraphs in comments don't get spaces anymore. What a terrible decision. Especially since all these programs love to just chomp out empty spaces so you can't mitigate the damage they're doing. Change it back, idiots.

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I still see a space between paragraphs. Using Safari/iOs.

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They were gone for me earlier but are back now. I'm guessing someone broke something by accident but then fixed it.

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This is new, isn't it? It wasn't happening a few weeks ago.


I thought Substack was shit because of absent devs, but I was wrong. The devs are here and they actively hate us.

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"The devs are here and they actively hate us."

"It's that uppity bunch that write a million comments of 10,000 words each instead of being happy consumers on the mobile app just replying 'so insightful, dude, take my subscription', let's get 'em!" 😁

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"Look, you're the ones who wanted to remove 'likes' to encourage discussion. It's not our fault that you people are so wordy!"

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Just indent your paragraphs with nbsps

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I tried that. Extra spaces to indicate a new paragraph are deleted too.

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wut's nbsps

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more trouble than it's worth. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Non-breaking_space

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Feb 5·edited Feb 5

I recently watched a video essay on Youtube in which it was asserted that fourth-wave (current) feminism has morphed into a binary ideology of victim and oppressor. Either you are a victim (good), or you are not-a-victim, which equals oppressor (bad). There is no middle ground, and no agency.

I found the argument compelling. It explains such phenomena as university professors wearing face-masks, long after everyone else has given up. By wearing a mask, a professor is signalling that he is a victim, and therefore not an oppressor. By this means he hopes to avoid being cancelled, which is a salient risk for all authority figures these days, particularly those who work in universities.

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I thought we were on to fifth wave by now? Must update my references!


Me, I'm stuck in old second wave, you kids get off my lawn now, okay?

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Feb 6·edited Feb 6

Nth wave sticks around until it's popular (Time featuring an article is a sure symptom) and then it's off to N+1th wave (which contradicts Nth wave in a number of ways, how important those are is up to the viewer).

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This is sloppy thinking. You need to define the group more carefully. Do you mean members of NOW? Women's studies professors? And then you need to figure out what the claim is precisely. Ideally in a way that's falsifiable. Do they exhibit significantly different behavior from professors in comparable disciplines? If they do, what is the cause? How do you know this? Etc.

There's a certain kind of explanation that works by making something similar to the other group and explains what their beliefs are to you. This inoculates you against directly interacting with them. It's very effective politically (and used by both sides) but not a good way to actually model the world. In a practical sense it degrades your ability to predict what that faction will do.

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While I tend to agree with you, sometimes that approach actually works. You start looking at a group through a particular lens, and all of a sudden their previously-inexplicable behaviors make sense, and your predictions get a lot better. Although of course it doesn't remove the need for individual analysis of individual cases.

In this case, I'm kind of skeptical of the concept of "fourth-wave feminism" itself, although I admit that that's probably because I've been living under a rock and this is the first time I've heard the term. I'd tend to classify the phenomenon as a limb of "woke ideology", or whatever it's being called these days. It's like a borg drone, or maybe one of the lions that make up Voltron. Or better yet, one of the independent states that formed a union, and has been discovering that the feds keep gaining power, that more and more of their resources are sucked out and returned with federal strings attached, and that the very mention of "state's rights" is now anathema.

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Here's a really good rule for life: never base your ideas about how a group of people think on what people who dislike them say about them.

If you want to understand contemporary feminism and you're not spending at least as much time - and probably quite a lot more - listening to, reading and engaging with contemporary feminists as you are to summaries of their beliefs by people who don't share them, you're going to fail.

This kind of silliness is a classic example of why. Yes, it gestures - very, very broadly, with massive, uncharitable, misrepresentations and oversimplifications - at a genuine trend, but overall it's going to hamper rather than help your understanding.

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Which contemporary feminists do you recommend?

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For what purpose?

Contemporary feminists whom I personally read regularly include a bunch of authors at Vox (which I generally think quite highly of even when I disagree with it, although slightly less so for its arts/culture coverage) or the Guardian (good news coverage, lousy comment and analysis), or the twitter feeds of Helen Pluckrose and Emma Pierson.

But those very much aren't a representative sample of contemporary feminism, and probably won't give you a good understanding of the distribution of opinions and ways of thinking therein. If you want that, I'm afraid I'm not in a position to offer well-informed advice.

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> Here's a really good rule for life: never base your ideas about how a group of people think on what people who dislike them say about them.

I agree you shouldn't entirely. But do you actually apply this standard or is it special pleading for a group you're sympathetic to? For example, do you primarily base your view of pro-life groups on pro-life writings without significant reference to pro-choice writings? Do you spend at least as much time, if not more, reading and engaging with contemporary pro-lifers?

I don't do that with many groups. But I also wouldn't say that there's a general obligation to primarily base your opinions of a group on what their self-identification. Plenty of groups are highly self-deceived about what they actually are. You need to understand what a group believes they are. But you also need to accept those beliefs might have little, or no, basis in reality and privileging that self-conception reflexively is not a generalizable policy.

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>I agree you shouldn't entirely. But do you actually apply this standard or is it special pleading for a group you're sympathetic to? For example, do you primarily base your view of pro-life groups on pro-life writings without significant reference to pro-choice writings? Do you spend at least as much time, if not more, reading and engaging with contemporary pro-lifers?

Yes, yes, and no respectively. I read more pro-choice than pro-life articles, (although not that many of either - it's much less of a live topic here in the UK) but I attach very little weight to what they have to say about the motivations of those who disagree with them (for example, I don't believe for a second that the desire to control women is a major part of the motivation of most anti-abortion activists). If I cared more about the motivations of anti-abortion activists, I would read more of what they have to say.

I guess if I were trying to convict myself of special pleading, you could point to the fact that I do attach at least some weight to Matthew Yglesias's suggestion that a big part of the motivation of CEOs hyping up immigration as a crisis is that they want to help Republicans win election and get tax cuts, not just because they care about immigration, despite not having listened to many CEOs. But even there, while this seems plausible (but far from proven) in the case of e.g. Jamie Dimon, I have a harder time believing it of Elon Musk.

I absolutely agree that many groups misunderstand their own motivations, and present unduly charitable self-images, so you certainly shouldn't take their claims at face value. But I think that practically *every* group understands its opponents motivations worse, and is unduly uncharitable by a greater margin. I think the best way to get a picture of how people think is to listen to them, but with an ultra-critical, ultra-cynical mindset. Where arguments from people's adversaries come in valuable is in highlighting gaps in the logic of their arguments, not it identifying flaws in their motivations.

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> If you want to understand contemporary feminism and you're not spending at least as much time - and probably quite a lot more - listening to, reading and engaging with contemporary feminists as you are to summaries of their beliefs by people who don't share them, you're going to fail

Possibly, although contemporary feminists don't have much of an understanding of their own ideology either. Certain ideologies are so complex, ill-defined and all-encompassing that from inside it you can't see out. You ask a contemporary feminist to characterise an opposing position and you just get something like "Women should be rape-slaves". The ideology is an insatiable egregore (I only learned that word yesterday, I'm gonna overuse it this week) with a solid diamond motte every five feet and a bailey encompassing the entire universe. They can't characterise their own position because they think their own position is everything and everywhere.

Not every ideology is like that. If you ask a disestablishmentarianist and an antidisestablishmentarianist to characterise each others' positions on the relationship between the Church and the Crown then they can do it pretty well even if they disagree. A Sunni and a Shia can explain the difference between their beliefs much better than I can, even if they want to kill each other over it.

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An egregious egregore, even?

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