A speculation on Near and Far Modes

post by MichaelVassar · 2010-07-21T06:24:56.684Z · score: 14 (21 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 71 comments

Katja's recent post on cryonics elicited this comment from Steven Kaas,

"If cryonics is super-far and altruism is seen as more important in far mode, why isn’t buying cryonics for others seen as especially praiseworthy?  Your list of ways in which cryo is far-mode seems too much of a coincidence unless cryo was somehow optimized for distance."

...a comment which finally caused the following hypothesis to click into sharp resolution for me.

My guess is that it's cryonics advocates who are optimized for distance.  Most people are basically natives of near mode, using far mode only casually and occasionally for signaling, and never reasoning about its contents.  Even those who reason about its contents usually do so and then ignore their reasoning, acting on near mode motivations and against their explicit beliefs.  Children, however, actually need to use far mode to guide their actions because they lack the rich tacit knowledge that makes near mode functional.

Some people get stuck in a child-like behavioral pattern, probably due to a mix of neurological bugs which prevent near-mode from gelling (aspergers and schizotype) and internalization of explicit (far mode) rules condemning near-mode (obsessive compulsive personality disorder).  They become Shaw's "unreasonable men" and push for the universal endorsement of far-mode ideas.  Since other adults don't care about the contents of far mode much anyway except to avoid being condemned for saying the wrong things, others go along with this, and there's a long-term drift towards explicit societal endorsement of altruistic norms with an expanded circle.  This does matter, in the long run, because such norms provide convenient nuclei for the emergence of forms of mostly-arbitrary identity markers. 

Unreasonable men also develop artificial ways of reasoning, methods of rationality, which work even when the minds innate tendencies towards reason aren't engaged by near mode.  These methods don't necessarily suffer from the bugs that near-mode reasoning suffers from.  Once the right set of methods, most importantly math, science, nation-states, cosmopolitan liberalism (actions permitted by default rather than banned by default) and capitalism, are developed, they enable scientific and technological evolution to jump over low memetic fitness regions of the memetic fitness landscape and discover higher fitness technologies on the other side rather than leveling off at the 'golden age' level of Hellenistic Greece, Tang and Song China, the Roman late republic and empire, the Abbasid and other advanced Caliphates, Minoan Crete and probably many other pre-industrial civilizations.

Unfortunately, as civilizations reach a higher level of development, more effort is available for indoctrination, and the indoctrination methods are based on the introspection and intuitions of these 'unreasonable men', and are thus ineffective on normal people, who simply snap out of their indoctrination when they become adults.  As the unreasonable men become further indoctrinated, they become less able to make effective use of near-mode reasoning, which their morality condemns, but the methods that make far-mode reasoning rational don't make it an adequate substitute for near-mode when dealing with situations where subtlety, competition or energy are required.  Ultimately, the civilization systematically destroys the ability of its unreasonable men to compete for the slots in the society where rationality is required to maintain the society's energy and the society looses the ability to respond coherently to threats and collpases. 

Cryonics is a canary in the coal mine.  At a certain stage of collapse, there has to be some idea that is transparently correct when one uses valid reasoning to analyze it but which is roundly rejected by everyone with near mode and is only accessible to people in extreme far mode.  Once the far mode people are too ineffective to promote their ideas to the status of even verbal endorsement by the general population this idea will never rise to prominence. 

I'd love to see your thoughts.

71 comments

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comment by [deleted] · 2010-07-21T12:52:51.365Z · score: 16 (16 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

"Why not buy cryonics for others?"

I think cryonics advocates should consider this, not as a rhetorical question about society, but as a strategy for themselves.

Consider the history of vaccination. Like cryonics (for the moment I assume that cryonics works, though I personally am not sure about that) vaccination was a new technology that helped people live longer but met with popular resistance. Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, after almost dying from smallpox, had her son inoculated in the Turkish method and wrote many letters to her friends in England, promoting and explaining the practice, and had many of her relatives inoculated. That's the stage cryonics is in today. A few individuals -- generally open to the idea because they're particularly well-educated and often because they've been touched by tragedy -- try to promote the practice by getting it done to themselves and perhaps also to relatives.

After Edward Jenner developed the smallpox vaccine, though, the landscape changed. He got grants from Parliament to continue his work, and founded a charitable organization -- the Jennerian Institution -- to promote vaccination. In other words, he made it a public health issue. Vaccination was no longer something that a rich, eccentric lady might buy for herself, but something respected scientists under the auspices of the government would offer to all. I think that making vaccination charitable made it respectable.

It is hard to appeal to someone's idealism by asking him to buy himself a useful item. Cryonics, as yet, is solitary and individual, not communal and charitable. A few people, like Mary Montagu, for some reason really do want this life-extending procedure for themselves and their relatives. But if they ever want it to catch on more broadly, they should set up their institutions so that they're mostly giving it away rather than consuming it. The public will sympathize better with someone trying to save lives than with someone trying to save her own life.

comment by ata · 2010-07-21T18:51:40.281Z · score: 14 (14 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

But if they ever want it to catch on more broadly, they should set up their institutions so that they're mostly giving it away rather than consuming it. The public will sympathize better with someone trying to save lives than with someone trying to save her own life.

I support that. I posted (or was going to post? Can't remember if I did) a comment to that effect on one of Hanson's recent posts on cryonics, suggesting a charity offering cryonics to people with terminal illnesses, perhaps children especially. Something like the Make-A-Wish Foundation when the wish is to live. That would rate highly on both fuzzies and utility — indeed, when it comes to cryonics, the two are pretty intertwined for the time being, because the high level of antifuzzies currently associated with it prevents it from having the humanitarian impact it otherwise could. Reframing it as a lifesaving medical procedure that will give dying children a chance to live to see the future could do a lot toward making it seem like an acceptable, obvious decision.

comment by Roko · 2010-07-21T16:15:26.208Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think cryonics advocates should consider this, not as a rhetorical question about society, but as a strategy for themselves.

I strongly agree.

comment by JGWeissman · 2010-07-21T17:50:53.269Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

How would the effectiveness of cryonics as charity compare to supporting SENS?

comment by Roko · 2010-07-21T18:05:26.952Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Cryonics actually works (probably), and is cheap (definitely). SENS, on the other hand, is speculative, and needs $ hundreds of millions at the minimum to get to work.

I'd say that the marginal utility of money for the first $100M would be better spent almost entirely on marketing cryo.

After that, then maybe some exploratory work on SENS... though it would be an uphill battle against both a fiendishly hard scientific problem, AND public opinion. Cryo, on the other hand, you just have to sell it. (And that might be relatively easy, i.e. 1 million signups for $100M in promotional work)

On the other hand though, I think that if SENS actually worked, it would make a lot more of a difference to the world than if we successfully marketed cryo to a million nerdy-types.

So actually, maybe SENS is the better investment, if you have big money and you're an altruist.

With smaller money and more egoism/desire to save those who are more like you, cryo-marketing.

comment by Mitchell_Porter · 2010-07-22T20:02:34.736Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

SENS, on the other hand, is speculative, and needs $ hundreds of millions at the minimum to get to work.

If you're talking about the cost of R&D, I don't think so. A lot of the work of SENS is just to find the important developments amid the mass of biological research happening every day in thousands of universities and companies. Certainly, once you grasp that big picture, you can spot gaps and call for them to be filled with specific new research, and that costs money. But I see SENS as mostly an exercise in providing a coherent strategic vision for rejuvenation research (and that's a vision that needs constant updating).

comment by Roko · 2010-07-22T22:00:19.344Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

But what do you do once you find the important developments? You have to either fund it yourself, or somehow convince a skeptical and chaotic community to do lots more of it! And that costs money. Just because you know the answer... ... doesn't mean that you can just tell it to people and expect them to obey.

comment by daedalus2u · 2010-07-25T18:57:08.907Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I would really like an answer to this question because it is the predicament that I am quite sure I find myself in. I can't get people to pay enough attention to even tell me where I am wrong. :(

comment by cousin_it · 2010-07-21T08:03:17.307Z · score: 13 (13 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

"Near mode people" vs "far mode people" sounds just like packers vs mappers, sons of Hermes vs Apollo's children, or any number of other distinctions that people invent to feel better about themselves.

Cryonics isn't a canary in the coal mine anymore than feminism or abolitionism were. All "far-mode" movements have a hard time gaining acceptance. So I don't think you've made a strong case that intelligentsia's ability to convince the masses is fading, but I'd be glad if it were true, because I live in Russia.

comment by MichaelVassar · 2010-07-21T13:29:28.459Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's quite hard for me to see how this is an attempt to feel better? It does correspond to low vs. high openness or to N vs S in MBTI, among other things, but so what? Feminism and abolitionism are political claims that needed mass movements. Cryonics is a technology ready for adoption.

comment by Kingreaper · 2010-07-22T00:28:33.575Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Cryonics is a technology ready for adoption.

Feminism was (and is) a set of behavioural patterns ready for adoption.

The difference doesn't seem that big to me.

comment by cousin_it · 2010-07-21T16:05:16.678Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Feminism and abolitionism are political claims that needed mass movements. Cryonics is a technology ready for adoption.

Yes, but what does this distinction prove? They're all unfamiliar ideas that people have to evaluate in far mode, so they need time and effort to reach the masses. Cryonics could be a religion instead of a technology and still face the same hurdle. Many technologies that were ready for adoption never caught on.

comment by xamdam · 2010-07-21T16:30:40.311Z · score: -2 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Cryonics is a technology ready for adoption.

It's ready for adoption when they unfreeze somebody, or at least something (animal).

As a side note, I do not even see research efforts in this area. I googled.

Edit per Vlad's suggestion: I am not arguing on value of cryonics, but on the definition of "ready for adoption" as seen by general public.

comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2010-07-21T17:26:34.874Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

You are not saying anything everyone doesn't already know, so you can't expect anyone to change their mind. By bringing it up like this, you are creating noise, and no progress. Write up a top-level post summarizing the argument if you still consider it strong, but don't dilute the discussion with repetition.

comment by xamdam · 2010-07-21T17:41:37.249Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I was replying in the sense of

That word "Ready for adoption", I do not think it means what you think it means.

I think highly original people need feedback of how their notions are received by (more) general public, specifically when they pertain to the general public.

I should mention that I am PRO cryonics, I just think the technology carries a level of uncertainty that general public is not used to, hence it's not "ready for adoption" for general public and people who want to promote cryonics will do better addressing this issue (either directing resources to solving the problem and making people more comfortable with the uncertainty) than wishing it away.

comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2010-07-21T17:52:37.331Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

In this case, stating in the original comment that you were disputing definition of a word would make the point of the comment much clearer. (Although I don't see how this revelation translates into an improvement of signal/noise.)

comment by steven0461 · 2010-07-21T20:25:08.410Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I worry that this kind of analysis tends to overestimate how many things have explanations in general human psychology. The main explanation for cryonics being unpopular could just be that it's associated with ideas, people, and cultural groups that for contingent historical reasons happen to be unhip. That's certainly the impression I get when I read stuff like this.

comment by Mitchell_Porter · 2010-07-21T07:52:33.458Z · score: 8 (10 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'd love to see your thoughts.

First, your conclusion sounds very off-base. You are not only saying that society at large is failing to evaluate cryonics rationally, you are saying that this is a symptom of an incipient civilization-ending comprehensive failure of rationality, brought on by processes endogenous to cultural and institutional development.

I think we would agree that certain foreseeable future technologies are a civilization-ending threat in themselves. So what am I to make of your idea that on top of this, we are also facing, a la Spengler or Toynbee, doom from within? It could be an excessive gloomy supposition by someone depressed at society's failure to deal with the imminent concrete existential risks. It was always going to be difficult to deal with those technologies, on account of their complexity and historical novelty. There is no particular need to postulate unusual systemic blockages to rational innovation that are peculiar to the present.

Do you see what I'm saying? You're embracing an unnecessarily pessimistic perspective on the world's rationality - namely, that it's in a radically downward cycle, destroying itself, losing its "ability to respond coherently to threats" - and I think this is motivated largely by your own status as a mostly ignored advocate of certain innovative concepts. It's a little like people who think the world is ending because they personally are dying. Huge innovations never happen easily and there is no need to posit that today's big innovations are struggling because they're in a milieu of civilizational decline. There surely are phenomena specific to the present which are degrading collective rationality, but I don't believe that's one of them.

I also have some problems with this whole near-mode, far-mode theory (it's called "construal level theory", if anyone wants to look it up). It seems like it's partly a theoretical construct (a grouping of disparate tendencies under a single name), rather than a completely objective psychological reality.

comment by MichaelVassar · 2010-07-21T13:27:45.431Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

For what it's worth, I don't see this as a tiding of doom. On net, it's probably a good thing because it gives us more time until AGI. It is a general-purpose argument for contrarianism over majoritarianism, of the sort that an extreme contrarian like myself might propose as a unifying principle.

I used to think construal level theory didn't ring true, but practically everything in psychology is a 'theoretical construct'. So, of course, are atoms in physics and heliocentricism in astronomy.

comment by khafra · 2010-07-21T16:00:12.283Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

In the comments on Safety is not Safe, I saw little disagreement with the thesis that civilization-ending threats lurk everywhere, and we lack the mental tools to perceive them; let alone avert them; that, in fact, every previous civilization has had the same defect and been brought low by it.

This doesn't sound substantially different from "an incipient civilization-ending comprehensive failure of rationality, brought on by processes endogenous to cultural and institutional development." If we proceed from the conclusions of Safety is not Safe, The remaining questions are whether natural far-mode thinkers decreasing their relative fitness is one of these problems, and whether society's failure to grasp cryonics is a sign of this problem.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2010-07-21T12:47:19.790Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

A lot of these near mode/far mode claims would make me feel much better if they resulted in concrete, testable claims. If your hypothesis about why cryonics is not popular is correct, what predictions would you make that would be different from other a world where other proposed hypotheses are correct? (The general apparent lack of precise predictions from the near-far mode has been bugging me for a while so this isn't a problem unique to you)

Some people get stuck in a child-like behavioral pattern, probably due to a mix of neurological bugs which prevent near-mode from gelling (aspergers and schizotype)

The remark about Aspergers and schizotypal personalities seems implausible given that there's a fair bit of evidence that autism and schizophrenia are opposite ends of the same spectrum. See for example this paper in PNAS. If this notion of near mode/far mode has any validity, then this sort of claim is much more plausible for autism than for schizotypal disorders.

comment by MichaelVassar · 2010-07-21T13:18:58.063Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think the autistic/schizophrenic spectrum looks like a calibration spectrum for one's near-mode tolerance of type 1 and type 2 errors. Deviation from the mean in either direction causes near mode to be substantially less useful.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-02-10T21:41:04.136Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

"I think the autistic/schizophrenic spectrum looks like a calibration spectrum for one's near-mode tolerance of type 1 and type 2 errors. Deviation from the mean in either direction causes near mode to be substantially less useful."

Brilliant idea. Why it received so few upvotes begs for analysis.

comment by daedalus2u · 2010-07-25T13:47:50.736Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think this idea is essentially correct, but instead of near-mode vs far-mode, I think the balance is more between a "theory of mind" and a "theory of reality" which I have written about.

http://daedalus2u.blogspot.com/2008/10/theory-of-mind-vs-theory-of-reality.html

The only things that can be communicated are mental concepts. To communicate a concept, the concept needs to be converted into the communication data stream using a communication protocol that can be decoded at the other end of the communication link. The communication protocols that convert mental concepts into language (and back) is what I call the “theory of mind”. A good ToM is necessary for communication, but it can only be used for communicating with a ToM that matches it. If the two ToMs don't match, then they can't be used for communication.

comment by daedalus2u · 2010-07-25T13:48:25.687Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

When the ToMs don't match, I think it triggers xenophobia.

http://daedalus2u.blogspot.com/2010/03/physiology-behind-xenophobia.html

Effectively when people meet and try to communicate, they do a Turing Test, and if the error rate is too high, it triggers feelings of xenophobia via the uncanny valley effect. If you allow your ToM to change to accommodate and understand the person you feel xenophobia for, then the xenophobia will go away. If you don't, then the feelings of xenophobia remain. The decision to allow your ToM to change is what differentiates a non-racist from a racist.

comment by steven0461 · 2010-07-21T20:21:13.966Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I wonder what this sort of model makes of the similarities between Asperger and Schizoid personality disorder specifically.

comment by Liron · 2010-07-21T08:01:24.529Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Speaking of rationality litmus tests, how about choosing your baby's sex? It's ridiculous that most people act as if the expected utilities of the two sexes are close enough together that the inconvenience of screening makes it worth leaving the decision to chance.

comment by Alicorn · 2010-07-21T08:11:29.616Z · score: 3 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I can't tell: do you think it would make sense for most people to pick a particular sex for their child, which sex has an obviously superior utility; or do you just mean that to any given set of parents, they are sufficiently non-indifferent to the sex of the child that it should be worth it to them to screen?

That is, do you think the correct scenario is more like, "Gosh, everybody wants girls, we're going to have to start introducing legal sanctions or at least invent egg-egg fertilzation if we don't want to go extinct, but look at all the utility!", or like "Me and Joe want a little girl so we can name her after his mother, but Liz and Todd down the street are having a boy so they'll have one of each"?

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2010-07-21T09:52:55.086Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

To me it seems obvious that the intended meaning is "most parents are sufficiently non-indifferent in some direction".

comment by Liron · 2010-07-21T18:23:46.428Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yup

comment by xamdam · 2010-07-21T15:26:14.190Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I am not sure about this as a litmus test, because of Rule Rationality - if everyone goes with their preference the demographic ratio will be skewed in a way that's bad on average. (I am also not sure about the Rule Rationality theory itself, it clearly does not work in cases like Tragedy of Commons)

comment by Liron · 2010-07-21T18:39:09.781Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Come on, this is the same kind of irrelevant point that an anti-cryonicist would cleverly think up, rather than actually considering their actual preferences like they do when they're trying to get the best deals on amazon.com.

The people who preferred a white iPhone 4 waited an extra month to get it.

If a couples has had two boys, and now prefers a girl, then why mess around with Y-type sperm at all? It's because society says you're not allowed to use the "help yourself to what you want" pattern when the domain of your utility function is too biological.

Conflict between utility function maximization and cognitive conformity = rationality litmus test.

comment by Alicorn · 2010-07-21T18:56:32.292Z · score: 3 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well... attempts at sex selection (via abortion/infanticide/giving kids away) are leading to very skewed populations in China. This may be just because of an interaction with yi jia yi hai (the one child policy), but seems like a legitimate concern based on empiricism anyway.

comment by Liron · 2010-07-21T19:51:35.842Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Even if there were a huge tragedy of the commons at work (and there really isn't, since I'm sure a lot of Chinese parents wish they had had a girl in light of the current sexual marketplace)...

...it's still a rationality fail to thwart your own preferences for the sake of adhering to sound group-level behavioral policy if there is no logical connection between your actions and the degree to which others adhere to the group-level policy.

If your brain is running a rational decision algorithm for picking child sex, then it shouldn't even be raising this kind of irrelevant point. No one bothers to cleverly debate the group-level dynamics of amazon.com purchase decisions.

comment by orthonormal · 2010-07-22T23:20:45.903Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm sure a lot of Chinese parents wish they had had a girl in light of the current sexual marketplace

Citation really needed here. I understand that this would be the case if there were an efficient and fungible market in romance in modern China and if parents' incentives aligned with their future child's. But neither of those strike me as remotely true, and on the other hand raising a girl in a society of mostly men could be more costly and anxiety-inducing than raising a boy.

comment by Liron · 2010-07-23T03:52:53.560Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I inferred my claim from the premises:

  1. People want grandchildren
  2. Sex partners are scarce
comment by orthonormal · 2010-07-23T15:16:23.653Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's quite possible that parents would in retrospect, 20 years later, regret picking a boy over a girl, if so does everyone else. However, given that the sex imbalance persists in Chinese kids born now (whose parents are aware of the gender imbalance, but are perhaps overconfident due to survivorship bias† or focused on other factors), I'd say that a tragedy of the commons is quite possible. If the technology were cheap and universally available, I suspect you'd see something like 3 boys to every girl.

† That is, of course their little boy will successfully find a wife when the time comes, just like his daddy did!

comment by Blueberry · 2010-07-21T19:11:38.150Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The people who preferred a white iPhone 4 waited an extra month to get it.

But now they get a free case, instead of having to buy one...

comment by Liron · 2010-07-21T19:40:11.787Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Current owners can get the free case too.

comment by Blueberry · 2010-07-21T20:01:28.611Z · score: -3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Right, but they either had to buy a case already or suffer from reception problems. Even if Apple is refunding money for people who bought a case (I don't know if they are), they're out the inconvenience of having to buy the case and deal with getting the rebate. ;)

comment by RobinHanson · 2010-07-21T15:32:22.973Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Math/analytic reasoning is near mode; far mode is more creative/analogy. Nevertheless, there may be some people who get more in the habit of applying analytic reasoning about typically far topics, and this tendency may depend on the type or level of "indoctrination", which might well change with time. Still, "may be" is pretty weak evidence.

comment by LucasSloan · 2010-07-21T21:23:43.706Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Is it true that the correlation between social skill and IQ tops off at about 120? If so, this theory explains why most elites are about that smart and no smarter, despite what should be the obvious benefits in achieving that status that e.g. being able to develop new technology to found a company would bring.

comment by steven0461 · 2010-07-21T20:18:34.819Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

On OB you mentioned you think cognitive reflection is largely inherited; how closely does high cognitive reflection correspond to being mostly in far mode?

comment by Roko · 2010-07-21T12:28:22.202Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Cryonics is a canary in the coal mine. At a certain stage of collapse, there has to be some idea that is transparently correct when one uses valid reasoning to analyze it but which is roundly rejected by everyone with near mode and is only accessible to people in extreme far mode.

Haven't there always been such transparently correct ideas that were widely derided?

I lack sufficient historical knowledge to be sure. Maybe someone can help me out. Was there ever a civilization that listened to reason over near-mode intuition? Maybe 18th and 19th century Britain listening to its engineers and scientists? But then we ignored the gifts they bestowed upon us in the two utterly key cases: Darwin and Babbage were ignored, and we failed to capitalize on either the computer or evolution; Silicon Valley is in California, and Craig Venter is in San Diego.

Maybe the founding of America is the example you were thinking of?

comment by JoshuaZ · 2010-07-21T12:58:11.265Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Maybe 18th and 19th century Britain listening to its engineers and scientists? But then we ignored the gifts they bestowed upon us in the two utterly key cases: Darwin and Babbage were ignored

Neither was ignored. Babbage was given much attention and sponsorship by rich people. The main problem was the expense and precision required in making his machines. Darwin was not ignored at all. He was considered a first-rate scientist in Britain, and his theory of evolution while controversial, gained general acceptance in Britain. It is true, that natural selection as the primary means of evolution did not become accepted until the 1920s, but post-Darwin all people thinking seriously about these issues acknowledged that evolution had occurred and that natural selection was the most likely hypothesis (and even then the nature of the mechanism was an issue among scientists not just the general public). It isn't at all an accident that Darwin got buried in Westminster Abbey.

comment by MichaelVassar · 2010-07-21T13:34:37.714Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

My impression was that the problem with Babbage was largely that he was a terrible manager (like Einstein and many other scientists) and thus failed to deliver what he promised even though it was a reasonable proposition given the tech of the day (as Myhrvold demonstrated).

comment by rebellionkid · 2012-03-30T23:41:41.834Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

He was also horrific at politics. Nobody with half a political brain writes this: http://books.google.co.uk/books/reader?id=3bgPAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&output=reader

comment by Roko · 2010-07-21T13:01:16.176Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I didn't know that. So you would say that maybe Victorian Great Britain was one of the societies that actually listened to the far-mode people?

comment by JoshuaZ · 2010-07-21T13:04:18.494Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm not convinced that the far-mode/near-mode distinction is well-defined. I do however think that Victorian Great Britain did a very good job listening to their scientists, better than Great Britain or the United States does today. And I do think that both Darwin and Babbage were listened to quite a bit.

comment by Vladimir_M · 2010-07-23T02:58:42.967Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

JoshuaZ:

I do however think that Victorian Great Britain did a very good job listening to their scientists, better than Great Britain or the United States does today.

The trouble nowadays is not that governments are not listening to scientists (in the sense of people officially and publicly recognized as such), but that the increased prominence of science in public affairs has subjected the very notion of "science" to a severe case of Goodhart's law. In other words, the fact that if something officially passes for "science," governments listen to it and are willing to pay for it has led to an awful debasement of the very concept of science in modern times.

Once governments started listening to scientists, it was only a matter of time before talented charlatans and bullshit-artists would figure out that they can sell their ideas to governments by presenting them in the form of plausible-looking pseudoscience. It seems to me that many areas have been completely overtaken by this sort of thing, and the fact that their output is being labeled as "scientific" and used to drive government policy is a major problem that poses frightful threats for the future.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2010-07-23T03:08:10.915Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

That's a very valid point. I could point to anecdotal evidence that suggests that there's a real failure to listen to science, but that evidence would be very weak. primarily B and C list celebrities saying stupid anti-science stuff. Clearly, a lot of the problem is just confusion about what constitutes science.

comment by MichaelVassar · 2010-07-22T05:50:58.766Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes

comment by MichaelVassar · 2010-07-21T13:21:06.554Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Compare investment in railroads in the 19th century to investment patterns today. As Eliezer once said, that sounds like the sort of problem a financial system would solve. Too bad our society doesn't have a financial system.

The civilized world wasn't ever rational enough to develop AGI safely. It just used to be rational enough to plug holes in the Gulf of Mexico, to build Levees that worked, and to avoid rapid successions of speculative bubbles.

The ultimate test, IMHO, is GDP growth rate, but then again, I don't believe the official numbers for that, so...

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2010-07-21T15:06:20.949Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

What would a financial system look like?

comment by James_K · 2010-07-22T10:05:34.465Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It just used to be rational enough to plug holes in the Gulf of Mexico, to build Levees that worked, and to avoid rapid successions of speculative bubbles.

1) My understanding is that historically there weren't any holes in the Gulf of Mexico that were as hard to plug as the one that is currently a problem.

2) Bubbles are most likely becoming more frequent as a result of more liquidity in financial markets. Fortunately the best evidence on bubble behaviour suggests that this trend is self-defeating, once a significant proportion of traders have been exposed to bubbles, we should see a decline in bubble activity, at least for a while cite

3) The New Orleans levy failure looks like a run of the mill bureaucracy SNAFU to me, I think it says more about our government institutions than our wider culture. Basically we like our government to be more risk averse than it was in the past, and that means it takes longer to do anything.

The ultimate test, IMHO, is GDP growth rate, but then again, I don't believe the official numbers for that, so...

Out of curiosity, what are your concerns with official GDP statistics?

comment by Douglas_Knight · 2010-07-22T05:49:51.016Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Compare investment in railroads in the 19th century to investment patterns today

Many people say that railroads are quite comparable to the internet bubble. The investors did badly. Maybe Victorians were better at deploying capital to useful endeavors, but that's not the same as being good at investing. Also, one example doesn't demonstrate it. You've complained about the slow spread of farm tech [McCormick?].

comment by James_K · 2010-07-22T09:56:32.565Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I agree, the 19th Century railroad surge was most likely bubble driven. Some bubbles drive investment in capital goods (these tend to have some positive spillovers for non-investors) and some don't. In recent times the tech bubble was a capital good bubble and the housing bubble was pretty much a consumption bubble. In the 19th Century the railroad bubble was a capital bubble and the tulip bubble was consumption good based.

comment by Douglas_Knight · 2010-07-22T13:40:22.318Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

FWIW, the tulip bubble was in the 17th century. The South Seas bubble was in the 18th.

comment by James_K · 2010-07-22T18:58:32.434Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

That's what happens when I try to comment from memory. I think the basic point stands though. Bubbles of different kinds have existed since financial exchanges have existed and I don't think there's a pattern toward particularly destructive ones.

comment by MichaelVassar · 2010-07-22T18:41:27.197Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The Victorians had a MUCH higher rate of return on capital than we do, in inflation adjusted dollars. Fair point about slow farm tech.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2010-07-21T09:55:35.572Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

As usual, I'm not sure that an intellectual schema has covered all the possibilities.

My first thought was that you're leaving out the effects of home schooling, which is itself a side effect of liberalism as you define it. [1] Home schooling should mean that indoctrination isn't fully universal, so there will still be far mode thinkers.

Also, you're an interesting example of using far mode thinking to acquire near mode skills-- I don't know if you or anyone can make that a more common choice, but it's a conceivable path.

[1] I was shocked to find strong opposition to home schooling on the left, but maybe every movement has an illiberal side, no matter what it says on the label.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2010-07-21T14:13:48.284Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I was shocked to find strong opposition to home schooling on the left, but maybe every movement has an illiberal side, no matter what it says on the label.

Homeschooling is opposed on the left in the US for a variety of reasons. One is simple influence in the Democratic party by the teachers unions. But there are also good arguments to oppose homeschooling. First, It is very difficult to tell whether kids being homeschooled are actually getting good educations. Some parents simply don't teach well even if they try to cover all the standard material. Second, many people who homeschool use it as an opportunity to push all sorts of religious and social agendas often to the detriment of science. For example, Christian homeschooling is very common and often includes a lot of creationism. Indeed, in some parts of the country it is difficult to find science textbooks that are geared to homeschooling that are not creationist.

Part of the issue with attitudes towards homeschooling is the tension between the concern we have for children as opposed to the general value of letting parents raise their children as they see fit. These values often come into conflict.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2010-07-21T15:03:17.987Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I agree that there are reasons to oppose home schooling-- one that I haven't seen discussed is that it means children with abusive parents could be trapped full-time with them.

What shocks me is not that I've seen left-wingers opposed to home-schooling not because it can go bad, through either parental abusiveness or incompetence, but that they are opposed to it by stereotype (assuming that all home schooling is done by religious loonies, and refusing to hear that there are a number of reasons for and styles of home schooling) or in ill-thought out principle (believing that conventional, coerced schooling is the only way to make children actual members of the society).

comment by MichaelVassar · 2010-07-23T15:56:58.276Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I would usually assume that every movement, regardless of the label, is mostly illiberal.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2010-07-23T19:14:29.003Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

You may well be right. There are things about leftish politics which suit my temperament well enough that I was surprised at a sharp divergence.

comment by MichaelVassar · 2010-07-21T13:30:25.621Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Agreed that home schooling should help a lot, especially if repeated for multiple generations.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2010-07-21T14:57:36.482Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I can't imagine anything that would stop home schooling other than existential threats (in which case we have other problems) or it becoming illegal.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-02-15T22:48:15.927Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It already is in some countries, e.g., Germany and Sweden.

comment by wedrifid · 2010-08-12T12:40:22.078Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Some people get stuck in a child-like behavioral pattern, probably due to a mix of neurological bugs which prevent near-mode from gelling (aspergers and schizotype) and internalization of explicit (far mode) rules condemning near-mode (obsessive compulsive personality disorder).

I'm interested in your thoughts on the Schizotypal personality 'bug' and how you consider it related to near mode. The phenomenon you mention appears accurate as far as my intuitive understanding goes and yet there relationship isn't as obvious as it is with Asperger's. I have got the impression from your past discussions on interpersonal relations that your insights on related areas(including 'near mode') are worth paying particular attention to.

comment by Mass_Driver · 2010-07-22T02:44:16.612Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

This is a fascinating and worthy subject; there are some links in your reasoning that I would like a more rigorous explanation of.

jump over low memetic fitness regions of the memetic fitness landscape and discover higher fitness technologies on the other side rather than leveling off at the 'golden age' level of Minoan Crete [or] the Abbasid and other advanced Caliphates

So, two questions here:

  • What does it mean to 'level off' at a golden age rather than leap over a valley? I feel like there must be more than two dimensions here, and I'm having trouble visualizing your mixed metaphor.

  • What are the relevant feature(s) that Minoan Crete holds in common with the Abbasid Caliphate? Do these two cultures really belong to a discrete area of culture-space? Why?

as civilizations reach a higher level of development, more effort is available for indoctrination

Sorry, what? Who is indoctrinating whom? With which resources? Why do we think these resources are disproportionately available in more-developed civilizations? Which avenues of development promote this kind of indoctrination? Might other avenues of development counteract the indoctrination? Do we have any reason to expect those other avenues to develop more slowly or less effectively?

Ultimately, the civilization systematically destroys the ability of its unreasonable men to compete for the slots in the society where rationality is required

Systematically? Really? Are there people affirmatively trying to wreak this sort of destruction, or does civilization just naturally destroy the political competitiveness of unreasonable people at such a uniform, high level as to have systematic effect?

Also, which slots in society require disproportionate amounts of rationality? Obviously, some jobs are more important than others, and some jobs carry so little autonomy that rationality is difficult to exploit, but wouldn't rationality be more or less equally useful as a fraction of the usefulness of the job in, e.g., real estate sales, a pediatrician's office, the US Senate, a police captain's desk, and the purchasing division of a global hotel chain?

comment by MichaelVassar · 2010-07-22T18:49:22.173Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

There seems to be a general stage where civilizations have widespread trade networks, highly varied luxury goods, sometimes running water and/or printing, complex mechanical toys, large cities etc. The more ancient civilizations at this rough stage always have less advanced metal-working and animal&plant domestication than the later ones, as metal and genes advance relatively continuously.

More advanced civilizations have more wealth per-capita, though not more median wealth. Much of that excess wealth is used for more religion, which includes education. Cosmopolitanism might push towards more independence of thought, but not likely towards fewer hours of training.

My post was a hypotheses as to how civilization tends to destroy the competitiveness of a certain type of person, basically by pushing them to eschew near-mode thought through the explicit endorsement of far-mode and denouncement of near mode (http://www.overcomingbias.com/2010/06/school-is-far.html#comment-448720) . Rationality tends to be negatively useful in sales. It's critical in policy analysis jobs, royal advisers and the like. Otherwise, agreed.