Stupid questions thread, October 2015

post by philh · 2015-10-13T19:39:52.114Z · score: 3 (4 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 223 comments

This thread is for asking any questions that might seem obvious, tangential, silly or what-have-you. Don't be shy, everyone has holes in their knowledge, though the fewer and the smaller we can make them, the better.

Please be respectful of other people's admitting ignorance and don't mock them for it, as they're doing a noble thing.

To any future monthly posters of SQ threads, please remember to add the "stupid_questions" tag.

223 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2015-10-14T14:12:22.852Z · score: 13 (15 votes) · LW · GW

Would an AI necessarily have something like a system 1/system 2 distinction? Might it have additional layers?

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-10-14T17:35:36.603Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Even for human's system 1/system 2 are models. Asking whether there are additional layers misses the point because the model is build to have two categories.

comment by gjm · 2015-10-14T16:01:18.334Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Someone downvoted the question above. What the hell? (My guess: it's VoiceOfRa doing his downvote-the-enemy thing again.)

To the actual question: first of all, I think it's entirely possible that we have additional layers (sys1 means "fast heuristic", sys2 means "slow deliberate reasoning"; we surely have a big bag of heuristics, and I bet there are cases where we have extra-fast heuristics, fastish heuristics, and slow deliberate reasoning); and it seems like one could envisage an AI with (1) nothing like sys1 at all because its "proper" reasoning is cheap enough to be used all the time, (2) a human-like bag of heuristics that get used when circumstances allow, producing much the same distinction as we have, (3) smoothly varying how-much-approximation knobs that adjust according to how valuable quicker answers are, interpolating continuously between "system 1" and "system 2", and probably (4) all sorts of other things I haven't thought of.

The sort of provably-safe AI that MIRI would like to see would presumably either be in category 1, or be designed so that in some sense sufficiently consequential decisions always get made "properly". The latter seems like it would be hard to reason about. (Er, or it might be in category 4 in which case by definition I have nothing to say about it.)

comment by [deleted] · 2015-10-15T06:53:51.102Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Is retributive downvoting on other forums, or is it just a LW thing? Do we have more retributive downvoting than other sites? Can anyone think of some relationship between rationality and vindication? I feel like if anything we should be above that and have far less...

comment by MathiasZaman · 2015-10-15T09:14:16.057Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Is retributive downvoting on other forums, or is it just a LW thing?

Reddit also had it. I don't frequent other forums that use voting, but a forum I used to be part of had a user that would delve into the history of people he disagreed with and report year-old comments to get those people banned.

Given that it's an easy way to hinder "opponents" I very much doubt it's LW exclusive.

Can anyone think of some relationship between rationality and vindication?

Apart from willingness to use tools others would think immoral, no. I also don't think we need to go that far as an explanation. You only need one person doing it in a community as small as this one for it to become noticeable.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-10-15T12:48:43.053Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Ya know the funny thing is, I instinctively came here to upvote your reply. I suspect I would have done that even if you're reply was of poor quality. Perhaps that could be construed as a form of retributive upvoting, in gratitude for the courtesy of replying. In that case, I would intuit that it is not of good practice, since it would equally skew the karma system (unless everyone is doing it, I suppose). Though, karma isn't ahhh...can't remember the economic term...replaceable by another unit of karma. There is a marginal value to karma and very different signals for negative/positive karma.

comment by satt · 2015-10-15T18:26:41.294Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

karma isn't ahhh...can't remember the economic term...replaceable by another unit of karma

Fungible?

comment by gjm · 2015-10-15T09:02:18.535Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I think it's not so much a LW thing as a "one particular person on LW" thing, in which case there needn't be any particular connection with rationality or rationalism or anything else about LW apart from whatever circumstances led to us acquiring that one particular person. I expect (but have no evidence) that larger fora have occasional people doing pretty much any weird thing you might care to speculate about, including retributive downvoting. Maybe they get squashed by moderators or something. Maybe it's usually a small enough fraction of voting activity that no one cares.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-10-15T12:50:14.355Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Hhmm, I wonder we as a community should volunteer a set of guidelines and norms about karmic behaviour as to aid the interpretation of karma. On the other hand, perhaps an intuitive system has its own charm.

comment by gjm · 2015-10-15T17:17:41.014Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

There have been discussions of this before. I think the reason why we don't have anything like official guidelines is that most of what one can say about how to vote is either obvious or controversial.

Here are my own principles:

  • Vote things up when they are particularly good (i.e., LW would be improved by having more things like them) and down when they are paricularly bad (i.e., LW would be improved by having fewer things like them).
  • Vote sparingly (think of my opinion as quality signal plus random noise, the noise depending on my own personality quirks, taste in writing style, etc.; vote only when the signal is significantly above the noise).
  • Vote to correct badly underrated/overrated things, but with even more circumspection (if this is done often, either the rating something ends up with depends strongly on the order in which different people see it or else you get multiple people revisiting each thing and changing their votes endlessly).
  • In cases of mere disagreement with a generally reasonable other party, prefer vocal disagreement to downvoting. Downvoting is better suited to cases where persuasion is unlikely to succeed.
  • Be especially reluctant to downvote things on account of political disagreement.
  • Vote according to the (de)merits of the thing being voted on, not its author.
  • For good or ill, many people find being downvoted personally hurtful (more so, I think, when their comment or post is rated negatively afterwards; going from 0 to -1 hurts more than going from +2 to +1). Accordingly, be just slightly more reluctant to downvote than to upvote at a given level of (positive or negative) quality.

I think almost everyone would agree with the first principle. The second and third seem obviously debatable, and in particular I know that some people think one should never take earlier votes into account when deciding what to do with a post or comment. The fourth and fifth seem more often agreed with than disagreed with in public, but it seems clear that not everyone acts that way and politically charged topics seem to attract more opinion-based voting. Almost everyone agrees with the sixth. I'm not even sure whether I agree with the seventh.

comment by MathiasZaman · 2015-10-15T17:37:54.982Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

There's no real way to enforce that. Even with those guidelines you'll mostly end up with an intuitive system that's maybe influenced by the guidelines.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-10-15T15:09:04.609Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Can anyone think of some relationship between rationality and vindication?

Sure, it's straightforward humans-are-big-white-rats Skinnerian behaviourism. If you see behaviour you don't want, apply pain until the behaviour stops. In a less crude form you'd call it "setting up an incentive system".

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2015-10-14T18:06:05.875Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I was wondering about VoR and that downvote.

Now that I think about it, we do have a range of speeds, including the occasional sudden revelation (as when an addict realizes that they really can and must stop).

comment by SilentCal · 2015-10-14T21:56:27.633Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I'd expect MIRI to build the "proper reasoning" layer, and then the AI would use its "proper reasoning" to design fast heuristic layers.

One example of a very-hard-to-avoid layering would be if the AI were distributed over large areas (global or perhaps interplanetary), there would probably have to be decisions made locally, but other decisions made globally. You could say the local processes are subagents and only the global process is the real AI, but it wouldn't change the fact that the AI has designed trustworthy faster less-accurate decision processes.

comment by Dagon · 2015-10-14T23:42:01.976Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I really like Ian Banks's depiction of Culture Minds (ships and habitats), and their ability to carve off temporarily-independent pieces of themselves for various purposes. This, along with ability to simulate fairly complex systems like smaller intelligences, may end up vaguely similar to our own blend of habits and heuristics somewhat distinct from reasoned action.

But only vaguely. Not least because the two-system description doesn't fit humans all that well, compared to a 20-system model with different kinds of reactions, habits, willpower, and choices.

comment by shminux · 2015-10-14T16:19:25.267Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

An AI designed to be friendly/aligned probably would not. Having a layer not available for extensive introspection is a big risk. On the other hand, if you just let a neural net run wild, then all bets are off.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2015-10-14T18:07:22.256Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It depends on how you define system 1. An AI might have a system 1 for fast reactions, but also have more ability to observe and change their system 1 than humans do.

comment by philh · 2015-10-13T20:05:50.160Z · score: 12 (12 votes) · LW · GW

I have an intuition that if we implemented universal basic income, the prices of necessities would rise to the point where people without other sources of income would still be in poverty. I assume there are UBI supporters who've spent more time thinking about that question than I have, and I'm interested in their responses.

(I have some thoughts myself on the general directions responses might take, but I haven't fleshed them out, and I might not care enough to do so.)

comment by OrphanWilde · 2015-10-13T20:31:43.430Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

The goal of a UBI isn't necessarily to eliminate poverty - which, given that poverty is relative, is impossible anyways - but rather to shift welfare from a complex set of rules with many hazards and pitfalls to a simple set of rules with few if any, while simultaneously permitting a simplification and flattening of the tax system without disproportionate adverse effects on the poor.

comment by philh · 2015-10-13T22:04:06.257Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I get the impression that some people, including on rationalist tumblrsphere, do think a UBI will eliminate (or at least severely reduce) poverty.

Though it occurs to me that that's quite likely an oversimplification of their views. So I'm also interested in clarification on what people think the effects of UBI on poverty will be.

comment by Viliam · 2015-10-14T10:27:25.396Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Well, UBI will probably eliminate poverty for some definition of "poverty", and not for the new one which will appear soon afterwards. Some people will keep updating the definition to mean "below the (new) average".

But if we taboo the word, we can hope that UBI will remove e.g. starvation. And it will be done without having to employ a greater army of bureaucrats. Maybe the money saved on the unnecessary paperwork will be a significant fraction of the costs for removing starvation.

So if you give me a budget and ask me whether I would rather spend it paying people to create and process unnecessary paperwork or feeding people who starve, I guess the answer is obvious for most people, regardless of their other political opinions.

(Okay, some people would call it a false dilemma, and say we should neither feed the hungry nor pay the bureaucrats, but use the money in some other way; maybe not even collect it. But when you take into account the mainstream opinion, and what choices are realistic, this one is an obvious improvement. Well, depending on technical details, of course.)

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-10-14T10:56:24.564Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

The core question is whether you pay burocrats to keep taps on whether the people who starve write job applications and attempt to get in work or whether you don't require people to apply for work.

comment by Viliam · 2015-10-16T12:25:50.491Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

What exactly happens when a bureaucrat tells you: "you will only get money if you can prove me you try to apply for a work"?

If you really want the money and don't want a job, you can go to a job interview and make a really bad impression. Like, wear some old smelly clothes, pretend to be slightly retarded or drunk. They will reject you on the spot, and then you can go to the bureaucrat and give them a certificate that you applied for a job but were rejected. Doing this once in a month is more or less what they require from you to keep the money flowing.

The only people who get punished by the system are those who play fair. Ironically, the less time you spend unemployed, the less likely you are to get the unemployment benefits if it happens to you, because you don't know how to play the game. Also, your education works against you, because the better education and work experience you have, the less credible it seems that you can't find a job.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-10-16T15:27:56.654Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The only people who get punished by the system are those who play fair.

The system's goal -- at least the official, declared goal -- is to get people off welfare and into jobs. Therefore if the system forces someone into a job, it counts as a success.

If you just want to keep on receiving free money, your goals are in opposition to the goals of the system -- you are adversaries. In this context, I'm not sure what "playing fair" means. In an adversarial situation if you play by your opponent's rules, you will lose.

comment by bogus · 2015-10-16T16:55:39.459Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

But what if that's an unrealistic goal. The whole point of UBI is that it's a lot easier to get people into jobs if you let them keep their 'welfare' at the same time, albeit with some phase-out. (I.e. the people who are actually getting money on net are those with low-value jobs)

comment by Lumifer · 2015-10-16T17:17:10.774Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

what if that's an unrealistic goal

I don't understand what that means. You'll never be able to get everyone off unemployment into a job; you'll surely be able to get some people off unemployment into a job.

The whole point of UBI is that it's a lot easier to get people into jobs if you let them keep their 'welfare' at the same time

This is entirely not obvious to me, given that the motivation to go get a job will be less.

comment by OrphanWilde · 2015-10-16T17:40:15.845Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

This is entirely not obvious to me, given that the motivation to go get a job will be less.

Given the way welfare is set up in the US right now, I'd argue, quite strongly, that the motivation to go get a job would be more, given, under many circumstances, that you have to reach upper-middle class levels of income before you reach the same standard of living achievable on welfare. (I'm a staunch libertarian, mind. UBI isn't my ideal, far from it, but it's a hell of a lot better than what we have right now.)

I strongly recommend anybody opposing the UBI on general principle grounds run a google search on "Welfare Cliff", and research exactly how terrible the existing system is. Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the better.

comment by bogus · 2015-10-16T18:04:25.771Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Yup. Much of the advocacy for UBI can be rephrased as "let's get rid of welfare cliffs!" given that mostly any sane (cliff-less) welfare system can be rephrased as a UBI plus a marginal tax/phaseout schedule. (Sometimes these are dependent on other factors like the presence of children, but you could also account for such variations in a UBI-based system if you really wanted to.)

comment by entirelyuseless · 2015-10-16T22:04:35.936Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

If I understand the current US system correctly, if you are a single person who is able to work and simply chooses not to do so, you may not qualify for any welfare whatsoever. If that is correct, a UBI would surely decrease your incentive to work.

comment by bogus · 2015-10-16T22:23:06.856Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, this is the least convenient case. But UBI can still be a win in the longer run since it obviates the case for minimum wages and a lot of onerous regulation in the labor market. And let's be honest, if there are single folks who would be induced to exit the labor market under a (realistic) UBI, they're probably not getting much done at work in the first place!

comment by bogus · 2015-10-16T17:46:57.254Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

This is entirely not obvious to me, given that the motivation to go get a job will be less.

Not sure what you mean. If you can have a paying job and some of your 'welfare' on top of it, the incentive is obviously greater than if getting a paying job meant giving up all welfare. This matters, especially for low-paying jobs which are the kinds welfare recipients are most likely to get.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-10-16T19:28:12.513Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

If you can have a paying job and some of your 'welfare' on top of it, the incentive is obviously greater than if getting a paying job meant giving up all welfare.

Not at all. If the UBI is meaningfully large (there is really no point in something like $100/month), you would be able to live on it. If you can live on UBI, the incentive to find a job is less because the alternatives are MUCH more pleasant.

The carrot is slightly larger, but the stick becomes almost non-existent.

comment by bogus · 2015-10-16T19:42:51.402Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Are you comparing UBI recipients to people who get no subsidy/welfare at all? I'm not sure that's a meaningful comparison. And one can structure the UBI amount such that utility of income is still steeply increasing at the margin - or, phrased differently, such that folks will most likely want to supplement their UBI by doing some work on the side. It's a lot harder to do that if the premise is that you're "looking for work at this time" but not actually getting market income.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-10-16T19:59:13.054Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Are you comparing UBI recipients to people who get no subsidy/welfare at all? I'm not sure that's a meaningful comparison.

UBI recipients, by the virtue of that "U", are also known as "the entire population". I am a bit confused which "comparing" are you talking about.

one can structure UBI such that utility of income is still steeply increasing at the margin

Can you demonstrate? If you increase the marginal utility of earned income at some level, you will by the same token decrease that marginal utility at some different level. Unless you want UBI to monotonously increase with the amount earned, of course...

people will want to supplement their UBI by doing some work

Humans are satisficers. If UBI is sufficient to pay for a room, an internet connection, and enough pizzas, why should I work? Work takes an awful lot of time, is often unpleasant, the bosses are not the nicest people, etc. Much easier to spend time in front of a screen or hanging out with your friends.

And by the time your low-motivation teenager figures out that money is useful and that advancing in life could be worthwhile, he is in his late 20s and basically unemployable -- not only because of lack of skills, but also because of lack of work ethic.

comment by bogus · 2015-10-16T20:22:50.074Z · score: -3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not talking about phaseouts or things like that, I'm just saying that the UBI amount can be set at a level where looking for some work on the side has a high utility at the margin.

Humans are satisficers. If UBI is sufficient to pay for a room, an internet connection, and enough pizzas, why should I work? Work takes an awful lot of time, is often unpleasant, the bosses are not the nicest people, etc.

Well, by working, you can pay for a nicer room, a faster connection, and better pizza toppings. Yes, many jobs are unpleasant, but some are not. Especially as the UBI would make things like minimum wages obsolete, so folks would be free to seek better work conditions in exchange for some combination of higher skills and giving up some pay.

comment by Nornagest · 2015-10-16T18:55:28.002Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

There are factors pointing both ways here. If getting a job means giving up benefits for the unemployed, or means-tested welfare that you'll become ineligible for, that's a disincentive to get a job. But utility isn't linear in money, and so a job paying N dollars will always be more attractive to someone making zero dollars than the same job is to someone on UBI worth K dollars -- and increasingly so the higher K is. That's also a disincentive.

Which of these disincentives is bigger depends on the sizes of N and K and the specifics of the welfare system. I think I'd usually expect the incentive landscape on the margins to be friendlier under UBI, but it's by no means a certainty.

comment by Jiro · 2015-10-16T14:37:37.910Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The only people who get punished by the system are those who play fair.

The only people, out of the people who act optimally, who get punished by the system are those who play fair.

Many people don't act optimally. The type of person who doesn't want a job is likely to be lazy in a general manner, which will also lead him to not go to interviews at all rather than go to them drunk. Going to an interview drunk in order to keep the money coming in is psychologically difficult to such people for the same reason that actually getting a job is--they act based on a very short time horizon and really don't want to be doing something that is immediately distasteful for a benefit slightly later.

comment by Riothamus · 2015-10-16T15:26:58.867Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

You have oversimplified to uselessness.

A common counter-example is people who do not want this job, for example because it pays less than their current lifestyle costs to support. It isn't lazy, it is making the smart economic decision.

You are also assuming that the trouble of traveling to and from an interview is where the stress and effort lies. I would only credit that as the case if they had a high-demand skill set and were traveling across the country for the in-person interview, which is highly unlikely to apply to someone drawing unemployment benefits. The stress and effort stems from preparation before and performance during an interview, neither of which apply if the goal is to fail at it.

comment by Jiro · 2015-10-16T16:00:35.257Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

A common counter-example is

A counterexample is useful to rebut a generalization. But I didn't say that all people who are punished are people who don't play fair; I said that some people who are punished are people who don't play fair. You can't use a counterexample against a point which says "there are some examples of X"; it's perfectly consistent for there to be some examples, and some other cases that are not examples.

You are also assuming that the trouble of traveling to and from an interview is where the stress and effort lies.

I am assuming that that stress is enough to discourage some lazy people. It needn't be a large percentage of the total stress to discourage lazy people; it could be that deliberately failing an interview is only 10% of the stress of a normal interview, but a sufficiently lazy person is unwilling to undergo even 10%.

comment by Riothamus · 2015-10-16T20:20:25.038Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Ah - I appear to have misread your comment, then.

Would I be correct in limiting my reading of your remarks to rebutting the generalization you quoted?

comment by Lumifer · 2015-10-14T15:23:37.831Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

we can hope that UBI will remove e.g. starvation

There is no starvation in Western countries.

comment by Vaniver · 2015-10-14T15:53:51.850Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

There is no starvation in Western countries.

Well, there is some. A better way to put this is something like "there is no starvation left that could be treated by government programs."

comment by Ben Pace (Benito) · 2015-10-15T23:09:24.982Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Not perfectly true in Britain, as far as I can tell. Families are using food banks in masses, and one kid got scurvy as I recall.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-10-14T16:17:24.699Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

A better way to put this is something like "there is no starvation left that could be treated by government programs."

So you are saying that there is no starvation that could be treated by government programs, but there is starvation that could be eliminated by UBI?

Errr....

comment by Vaniver · 2015-10-15T02:28:37.107Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

So you are saying that there is no starvation that could be treated by government programs, but there is starvation that could be eliminated by UBI?

Would UBI be a government program?

I was taking your overbroad and incorrect claim--that no one in Western countries starves--and replacing it with a narrowly targeted claim--that there is no starvation left that can be fixed by government programs. The last time I looked, most starvation was caused by negligence on the part of legal guardians, deliberate self-harm (as in anorexia), or being out of the system (many homeless people have difficulty collecting food stamps). But all three of these issues will still be problems under UBI, and all three of them are being approached by specialized programs that are probably about as effective as one can expect a government program to be.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-10-15T14:51:11.638Z · score: -2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Would UBI be a government program?

What other alternatives are there?

I was taking your overbroad and incorrect claim--that no one in Western countries starves

Nothing like adding a bit of straw to, erm, fill out the opponent's argument :-P I, of course, did not say "no one". I said "there is no starvation" which, given that we're discussing social programs in the context of society-wide policy proposals like the UBI, means that there is no starvation as a social issue in the West, in particular one which the UBI might fix.

In the same sense I feel justified in saying that there is no slavery in the West, even though I'm sure some individuals are effectively slaves. The social-policy context and the nit-picking context are different.

So, I'll stick with my claim and continue to consider it narrow enough to be correct. Constructing straw extensions to make it incorrect is, of course, always possible.

comment by Jayson_Virissimo · 2015-10-15T22:56:59.035Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

What other alternatives are there?

Certain altcoins, like uCoin, purport to be a kind of currency with built in nongovernmental UBI.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-10-16T14:49:03.102Z · score: -3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Huh? UBI is, basically, an unconditional grant of economic value. Moreover, it's guaranteed to be there next month. You don't get to create economic value out of thin air (and guarantee it will be there next month) just by making another altcoin.

comment by MathiasZaman · 2015-10-14T19:18:47.748Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

UBI means every citizen gets a sum of money in their account each month. Current government programs means people need to jump through multiple hoops in order to get food. I don't think UBI is a panacea, but I don't think it's a stretch to say it'll reach people who aren't being helped by the current welfare systems.

comment by Gunnar_Zarncke · 2015-10-14T06:15:05.405Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

And also to stimulate consumption and thus economy.

comment by OrphanWilde · 2015-10-14T13:04:29.583Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

That line of reasoning falls somewhere between the worst elements of Reaganomics and Keynesian economics. It's wishful thinking about something somebody already supports.

comment by Gunnar_Zarncke · 2015-10-14T20:44:19.977Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

OK, I admit that maybe I did pass on this lore too quickly. It was one bit I took away from a discussion about basic income grants some time ago. But I can't find evidence for it online. The evidence I can find seems to argue against it (except the dubious Nigeria case) but then all evidence also includes assumptions about labour supply and demand that do not seem to hold in an age of machine mass production.

comment by gjm · 2015-10-14T16:04:19.357Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

That seems like a lot of conclusions to be drawing about Gunnar_Zarncke's thinking, on the basis of very slender evidence. Would you care to unpack your own reasoning a bit?

comment by OrphanWilde · 2015-10-14T16:14:14.590Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The first question you should ask is whether or not consumption should be stimulated. This "stimulation" concept is where Reagonomics and Keynesian economics collide - the idea that the macro economy's ideal (efficient?) state is higher than what it currently is, and needs to be adjusted. It's worth noting that profit is the difference between consumption and production - in a generalized sense, and also in the trivial sense of mere net flow of dollars. What does stimulated consumption do? What does profit mean, on a global scale?

The second question is whether consumption can be stimulated.

comment by gjm · 2015-10-14T22:06:36.988Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Those are very reasonable questions, but how do you get from asking those questions to concluding that Gunnar_Zarncke is engaging in reasoning "somewhere between the worst elements of Reaganomics and Keynesian economics" and in "wishful thinking"?

It's true (as I understand it) that Reaganomics and Keynesian economics both tend to approve of "stimulus" to the economy. That seems like a quite different (and much weaker) claim than that approving of economic stimulus partakes of the worst of those two views of economics.

comment by OrphanWilde · 2015-10-15T18:43:07.824Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

In case you didn't gather, I consider the "stimulus" aspect (and the related ideas) to be the major problem with those two economic views. If the answer to the question of whether stimulus is a good idea is "No" - a question neither school of economics truly addresses, assuming the answer to be "Yes" - and both schools of economics fall apart.

comment by gjm · 2015-10-15T20:43:37.066Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, I understand that. What I don't understand is how you get from "Gunnar approves of economic stimulus and I don't" to "Gunnar is engaging in wishful thinking". Nor for that matter why you pick out Keynesian and Reaganite economics in particular, since so far as I can tell liking the idea of economic stimulus is pretty much universal. (Though clearly you don't share it.)

comment by OrphanWilde · 2015-10-15T21:00:46.414Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think Gunnar is doing either of those things, and didn't when I wrote that. I said the idea exhibits those properties.

comment by gjm · 2015-10-15T22:45:14.800Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Wishful thinking is (necessarily) a thing people do, not a properties of ideas themselves. But I take it what you mean is that when you wrote, in response to Gunnar's comment, "That line of reasoning falls somewhere between the worst elements of Reaganomics and Keynesian economics. It's wishful thinking about something somebody already supports." you meant not that Gunnar in particular was engaging in wishful thinking, but that ... some unspecified other people advocating UBI for the sake of economic stimulus are engaging in wishful thinking.

Fair enough. It might have been worth making it clearer, but of course hindsight is always 20/20.

comment by CellBioGuy · 2015-10-16T03:26:08.814Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

It seems reasonable to me that the marginal spending of money given to those of low incomes will be higher than the marginal spending of money given to those of high incomes.

comment by OrphanWilde · 2015-10-16T04:09:02.186Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

And if we mandated by law that all durable products be slightly less durable than they are now, more people would be employed replacing or repairing the damaged old ones, and demand for labor would rise, and wages would rise, and we could make products even less durable. There's no limit to the prosperity we could achieve.

That value you're trying to maximize? You might want to consider what it's measuring, before you try to maximize it.

comment by Unnamed · 2015-10-16T19:59:50.083Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

If you want information on how increased income due to UBI would affect people's spending on food, you can look at the data that we already have on the relationship between income and spending on food. Three stylized facts:

As income goes up, the proportion of income spent on food goes down.

As income goes up, the total amount of money spent on food goes up.

As income goes up, the proportion of one's food budget spent on restaurants goes up.

These trends generally hold if you are comparing different countries with each other, or if you are comparing different people within a single country, or if you are looking at a single country over time as it gets richer. I don't see any strong reasons to think that they wouldn't also apply to people whose income went up due to receiving a new UBI.

So if a household was making $20,000 per year and spending 20% of it ($4,000) on food, and UBI increases their income to $25,000 per year, then we can predict that they will spend somewhere between $4,000 and $5,000 per year on food, and some of the increased spending will go towards increased quality & convenience (such as eating out). You could probably make more precise predictions if you tried to put numbers on the three stylized facts.

More generally, the model here is: UBI affects the distribution of 'income after taxes & transfers', and the distribution of 'income after taxes & transfers' affects other things like prices & spending habits. So if you want to predict how UBI will affect something like prices, then study how 'income after taxes & transfers' affects prices, and combine that with your estimate of how the UBI will affect the distribution of 'income after taxes & transfers'.

comment by twanvl · 2015-10-13T20:28:57.620Z · score: 7 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Why would the price of necessities rise?

There are three reasons why the price might go up:

  1. demand increases
  2. supply decreases
  3. inflation

Right now, everyone is already consuming these necessities, so if UBI is introduced, demand will not go up. So 1 would not be true.

Supply could go down if enough people stop working. But if this reduces supply of the necessities, there is a strong incentive for people on just UBI to start working again. There is also increasing automation. So I find 2 unlikely.

That leaves 3, inflation. I am not an economist, but as far as I understand this shouldn't be a significant factor.

comment by MrMind · 2015-10-14T07:34:55.625Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Right now, everyone is already consuming these necessities

Uhm, no? I mean, those poor enough who cannot get those necessities are not partecipating in that market. If they suddeng gain the power to do so, you would have an increase in demand.

That leaves 3, inflation. I am not an economist, but as far as I understand this shouldn't be a significant factor.

I guess it depends on where the money for UBI comes. If you just redistribute the money that is already spent elsewhere, then yes, inflation is not an issue.
Instead if you just print bonds to keep up with the extra expenses, then it might become a problem...

comment by Tem42 · 2015-10-16T01:54:30.041Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Some people do die from poverty, so there we might expect an increase in purchases following UBI.... but this isn't a big number,and therefore not a big increase, iff we are assuming that 'necessity' means food, water, enough shelter that you don't die.

In fact, UBI might decrease some costs, for example, medicine is often a necessity, and if people choose to get health insurance (or better health insurance) with their new funds, this may have the effect of reducing overall costs (Obamacare is banking on this effect, on a larger scale).

However, UBI might be expected to raise some prices, for example, for apartments, used cars, and other inflexible markets. But remember, most markets like having lots of customers, so if new cars go up in price, the car manufacturers will be happy to make more cars next year to meet demand at the original price -- in fact, unless all the car manufacturers collude, they will have to increase production / reduce price in order to stay competitive. Otherwise, one smart company will lower prices while the others don't and corner the market.

You can see why the most popular goods are likely to be of the mass-market, easy-to-produce-more type. Truffles are not popular, not because they are not delicious (or so I've heard), but because they can't be too popular -- there aren't enough of them. iPhones, McDonald's, and puppies are popular because they can be enjoyed by anyone with a moderate amount of money. And if those things went up in price, Android, Wendy's, or Leroy down at the puppy mill would be happy to fill the void.

I would see apartments as being the big worry; if millions of people move out of their parent's basement, decide they don't want roommates, or stop living in their cars, then apartments go up in price. But that only means that many of those people will not, after all, be able to move out of their parent's basement, etc. (and that the rest of us have higher rents).

comment by MrMind · 2015-10-16T07:03:49.983Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I agree with everything you say, indeed the increase in demand is only the first movement of market in search for a new equilibrium. Surely at higher prices markets become more attractive, and those which has a lower cost of entry will attract new supplier, and price goes down, and so on. It is difficult to predict a new equilibrium, although I share your view that the main problem is going to be houses.

comment by Viliam · 2015-10-14T10:39:29.270Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

if this reduces supply of the necessities, there is a strong incentive for people on just UBI to start working again

Technically, there is a danger that the tax rate for the working people may become so high (imagine e.g. 99%) in order to support the UBI, that when a person finds out they are unable to survive on UBI alone, they are screwed anyway.

It may happen to some people sooner than to others because not everyone has the same expenses. For example people with health problems may need to pay extra for medicine. We can get situation where UBI allows you to survive without work if you are healthy, but if you are sick even UBI plus heavily taxed salary will not be enough to survive.

I am not sure how realistic this is... I am just trying to imagine the worst possible scenario (while aware that people are often insufficiently pessimistic at predicting what could go wrong).

EDIT:

It would also be better, I think, if the first dollar gained above UBI is more or less untaxed. Less incentives for gray market. (Otherwise I expect at least 5-10% of population living on UBI + some undocumented income.) Which implies some kind of progressive taxation. (Which has its own bad incentives.)

comment by OrphanWilde · 2015-10-21T20:26:54.271Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It would also be better, I think, if the first dollar gained above UBI is more or less untaxed. Less incentives for gray market. (Otherwise I expect at least 5-10% of population living on UBI + some undocumented income.) Which implies some kind of progressive taxation. (Which has its own bad incentives.)

The ideal, at least as I approach it, is the combination of the UBI with a flat tax, wherein the flat tax applies to the UBI as well as all additional income. You use the UBI to offset the flat tax's regressive tendencies.

This has an additional nicety in that everybody is equally affected by taxation and government spending, so you don't up with moral hazards where the people voting for stuff aren't the people who have to pay for it.

comment by bogus · 2015-10-21T20:43:54.542Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The actual research into welfare-maximizing tax systems argues for a UBI plus roughly U-shaped marginal tax rates, i.e. relatively high phaseout rates on the UBI itself, then low but mildly progressive rates for folks making more than the breakeven point. The point, I think, is that this strongly incents folks to become net contributors, since at that point they will be paying lower marginal rates. Your point about whether the UBI should be taxed is interesting. Of course at any given time it's a wash, but you might be right that taxing the UBI itself (say, depending on tax revenue as a fraction of GNP) is a good institutional choice.

comment by OrphanWilde · 2015-10-21T20:53:21.229Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

You could just adjust the UBI payout to achieve precisely the same result? Or is there another variable being maximized there relating to, say, household size? (Or is it just psychological?)

comment by bogus · 2015-10-21T21:12:36.982Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The point of taxing the UBI itself (even before earned income enters the picture) is precisely to adjust the amount in a predetermined way - in this case, it's supposed to be proportional to the fraction of GNP that's not affected by government taxation, so that, as you put it, "everybody is equally affected by taxation and government spending". One issue with this is that it may make the UBI too volatile, which is bad as you want it to be as small as possible on average (because redistribution is very costly, even with the best system you can think of).

comment by DanielLC · 2015-10-14T00:38:51.825Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Taxes would increase to pay for the Universal Basic Income. You could do it using the money we currently spend on welfare, but that includes things like medicare. Either we need to keep that, or we need to give them extra money to pay for medical insurance.

Supply of labor could decrease. This is a necessary consequence of any effort to help the poor. But since we already have a welfare system, it's just a question of which causes labor to decrease less.

comment by AspiringRationalist · 2015-10-14T00:49:23.075Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Supply of labor could decrease. This is a necessary consequence of any effort to help the poor. But since we already have a welfare system, it's just a question of which causes labor to decrease less.

For things like welfare (and almost certainly for UBI, though I doubt there's enough empirical evidence either way to be sure), yes.

Things like education subsides (assuming they subsidize professionally relevant education rather than just signaling, which admittedly is a somewhat dubious assumption) and the EITC (basically a negative income tax for the working poor in the US) could very well increase the labor supply.

comment by DanielLC · 2015-10-14T02:32:47.292Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

basically a negative income tax for the working poor in the US

That would increase incentive to work for the poor, but decrease the incentive to work hard enough to stop being considered poor. They can't have the income tax be negative for everyone.

comment by OrphanWilde · 2015-10-14T13:36:06.608Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The idea is that you're taxed on the UBI, as well, so your tax rate remains flat (or flatter than the current system) regardless of your income.

The big divergence is with the way welfare works now, when, depending on state, every dollar you can make, on average, costs you $1.50 in benefits, up to ~$70,000 for a single mother. That is, working makes you actively worse off. (Google "Welfare Cliff" for more information on this phenomenon, if you're interested.)

One of the big things which happened during Clinton's administration was a systematic adjustment of welfare cut-off points to reduce the gradient of the various welfare cliffs; this resulted in a labor boom, which coincidentally coincided with the .dot boom. Over time inflation ate away at the gradients, and further adjustments raised the cliff face, and we're now worse-off than before in that regard.

So you can very much have a system in which the government is providing more welfare and yet people have a stronger incentive to work. That just seems bizarre in our universe, where every increase in welfare actively -destroys- people's incentive to work, since their receipt of welfare is more or less conditional on their not working.

comment by philh · 2015-10-13T21:58:35.493Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Also not an economist.

The simple model would be: everyone needs a certain minimum amount of food. If everyone is getting $300 a month and spending $200 a month on food, and if the price of food suddenly jumps to $300 a month, people will start to spend $300 a month on food. So we'd expect the price of food to increase, so retailers can extract everything they can from customers.

I'm not sure that prices rise because of inflation, so much as inflation being the name we give to the phenomenon of rising prices. I'd be moderately surprised if economists could accurately (and precisely) predict the effects of UBI on inflation.

comment by satt · 2015-10-13T23:55:20.391Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Also also not an economist, although I took economics classes once.

I had a go at translating the simple model into one of those supply 'n' demand scribbles. For parsimony I assumed a straight line for the supply curve. For the demand curve I assumed no one bought more than the subsistence level of food, and that if the price was too high to reach that level, everyone simply bought as much food as they could with a constant budget.

That makes the status quo

and after a universal jump in income to relax everyone's budget constraint, the non-vertical part of the demand curve rises:

At both times the intersection of S and D determines the equilibrium price. The intersection stays in the same place, so, in this incredibly simplified model, the equilibrium price is unaffected by everyone getting more money.

Being so primitive, this graphical model does not remotely prove that the price would stay the same in real life. But in trying to figure out why the graphical model disagreed with the verbal model, I managed to put my finger on why the two differ, and I think it's a hole in the verbal model.

The verbal model observes that if people have $300/month, all of the retailers could jack the price of food up to $300/month, and everyone would be compelled to pay that. But that assumes coordination/cooperation/collusion between retailers rather than competition. If every food retailer raised their price to $300/month, any one of those retailers could swoop in and steal the others' custom by cutting their own price to $299/month. And then another retailer could cut their price to $298/month, and so on. By the obvious inductive argument, the equilibrium price would wind up at the same $200/month it was before.

comment by philh · 2015-10-14T10:08:03.590Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

My main reaction to that graphical model is that it would be surprising if the intersection point was currently exactly on the cusp in the demand curve, unless there was something keeping it there. To the extent that that model works, I'd expect our current situation to have a shorter vertical bit on the demand curve (there are in fact people going hungry), so that the intersection is somewhere in the slopey bit, at lower price than your first picture. Then UBI could bring us to the second picture, where the price has risen, but food is still more widely available than the status quo. (This is one of the directions I was looking at.)

With competition, it seems to me that retailers currently have margins that competition could eat into, but doesn't. If one of the factors keeping margins above epsilon is the amount of money people are willing to spend, then an increase in that would presumably also increase margins.

comment by satt · 2015-10-16T00:35:18.367Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I guess I ruled out the possibility that the status-quo intersection was on the slopey bit because then everyone would be going hungry (from the assumptions that everyone were spending $200/month on food and that everyone shared the same subsistence level). However, I don't have an argument for why the status quo would be on the cusp rather than below it; I just had a hunch which I should (with hindsight) probably have ignored.

comment by Tem42 · 2015-10-16T02:13:16.823Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Remember that retailers are in competition. If Food Lion raises it's prices and Aldi does not, then Aldi magically gets more customers. Neither grocery store is motivated to become the High Cost Loser.

comment by philh · 2015-10-16T09:28:23.638Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I addressed that below:

it seems to me that retailers currently have margins that competition could eat into, but doesn't. If one of the factors keeping margins above epsilon is the amount of money people are willing to spend, then an increase in that would presumably also increase margins.

Also consider that retailers do in fact have different prices. Instead of Sainburys raising prices, we might find Sainsburys starting to get edged out by Waitrose. (This feels sketchy to me, especially since it's least likely to happen in poor areas, and I'm not about to argue for it specifically. But I do want to suggest that prices can rise from factors other than "retailers decide to raise prices".)

comment by shminux · 2015-10-14T16:36:36.213Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Logic can only take you so far, actual data is essential:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basic_income#Pilot_programmes

comment by Val · 2015-10-15T18:57:47.199Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I would take such data as evidence if it was peer-reviewed (and not just a report by the organizers who claim that "we introduced it and it's great"), and, more importantly, if we had information about its long-term effects. All of these projects are very recent. What will happen after a year? The initial enthusiasm might prompt people to spend the money wisely, but what will happen if they grow used to take it for granted? What will happen after ten years? Or after a whole new generation grows up?

I'm living in Eastern Europe, where, although no "basic income" was introduced, the changes in the last few decades led to a situation similar to basic income. And it had a disastrous effect. I'm not exaggerating with the word "disastrous", because this region was invaded, looted and burned regularly during its history, by Mongols, Ottomans, Russians and others, and it was always rebuilt. The last few decades brought a greater devastation than any war from which it might never recover, with abandoned villages, destroyed culture, and a general hopeless mood despite a more comfortable living people in this region ever had.

Please let me elaborate. In the past, people had to work very had just to survive. They had no other choice. Still, as everyone was almost equally poor and had to work equally hard, they were relatively happy. This I can attest from all the cultural artifacts which remain from that period, beautiful clothes, handcrafting, made by simple villagers and decorating every house, cheerful folk songs, and childhood memories of my grandparents who had to work on the fields even as children, walked barefooted most of the time, but still have very happy memories. I know, there might be some bias in those happy memories, but still, the society as a whole survived and even prospered. If an army devastated the village and burnt the houses down, the survivors rebuilt everything without any outside help from the government, and life went on. Today, although the economic situation is quite bad, especially when we compare it to the rich Western Europe, you can get away with not working. You can get away with being irresponsible, and you can get away with being an alcoholic. You will not starve. Life might be hard for you, but basic food is cheap enough, basic clothing is almost for free, and there are plenty of opportunities for survival even for the very lazy and very uneducated people. They can do some seasonal jobs for a short while, receive some financial aid, then loiter around for months. They might live uncomfortably, but they won't starve to death. Life is much easier, compared to what was the norm for many centuries. But as the rich West is nearby, people are depressed. They are depressed that they only make 5 times as much as their grandparents did, and not 50 times as much, like they do in the West. Although in the past the villages were mostly self-sufficient, and they worked even the hardest fields on the mountainsides, today there are vast fields with good quality soil on the plains, most of which are abandoned. Corruption is rampant, in many villages people were first used to not being required to work from morning till evening because they got a little financial aid, and now they bribe the doctors to put them on disability pension. And there are opportunities for working, there are a few motivated people who start again with mostly self-sufficient agriculture, but for most people the low wages are not attractive. They rather loiter, barely surviving, instead of going to work for just a little bit more money as what they can get without having a stable job. Of course, if the wages were higher, that would motivate more people, and of course, the low wages can be partly responsible form many people to choose welfare instead of work, but the biggest problem is that the damage to culture is already done. And such a trend is very hard to be reversed, if the majority of society is used to something. The point is, that in the past people didn't have the possibility to choose this lifestyle, as they would have starved to death. These psychological changes happen through decades, not over a few moths. This is why I would be very careful in evaluating the "basic income" projects too soon.

Sadly, all this will remain anectodal evidence, because the region is not interesting enough to be featured in any English-speaking media, besides very one-sided and politically-motivated rants about racism against Gypsies. And speaking of Gypsies, you will not find it in the media, but if you come here, 100 people out of 100 will be able to testify that since they started getting financial aid (which they didn't get back before the fall of communism) they are poorer (and work less) than before. Human advancement is (and always was) motivated by need. If you take that need away, you will take the motivation away.

And sadly, in this ever-faster world people don't see the side-effects of very slow social changes, which will be measurable only after several decades. Maybe they don't even care, because the next election is in 4 years, not 40.

comment by Viliam · 2015-10-16T12:45:43.038Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Speaking about the Gypsies, here is a problem that frequently happens:

There is a group of people, culturally and otherwise related, who have a strong preference for living close to each other. Also, most people in the group are unemployed. What happens?

The costs of living are different in different places. Usually the proximity of good job opportunities drives the prices up. So, if you are unemployed and almost all your friends and relatives are unemployed, it makes economically a lot of sense to move -- together -- to a location without job opportunities. You can sell your old small appartment and buy a new larger house, and you will still have some money left. The problem is, now you are effectively locked in the unemployment.

Even worse, your children are also locked. Even if they would like to get a job, they can't. They live in a location without job opportunities. And they won't move to a better place, because they are part of a culture that has a strong preference for living close to each other, and all their friends and relatives live in a place without job opportunities. Even if a few of them leave, most of the group will stay where they are, and the problem remains for generations.

The lesson for the basic income is the following... if you allow too many people to live without having jobs... so we would not be talking about unemployed individuals, but about whole communities where unemployment is a norm, then their children who might want to have a job could have a problem finding one simply because there is none in the area.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-10-16T15:03:26.433Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

The same mechanism is at work in many American Indian communities.

The problem is exacerbated by ongoing evaporative cooling: people (mostly young) with energy, talent, motivation all leave. What's left behind in the community is usually not pretty.

comment by bogus · 2015-10-16T16:47:09.106Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

The problem is exacerbated by ongoing evaporative cooling: people (mostly young) with energy, talent, motivation all leave. What's left behind in the community is usually not pretty.

It may not be pretty, but that's most likely because they either don't have any money, or can only get it under onerous conditions ('welfare'). If you just pay everyone the same amount, it doesn't take much to improve these folks' living standards until they're at least tolerable. (Since their local area is so cheap.) And once you have some money flowing in the area, local job opportunities would also spring up. (This is basically the principle GiveDirectly relies on, although they apply it to some of the poorest people in the world, as opposed to Roma or Native Americans.)

comment by Viliam · 2015-10-17T11:14:15.850Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Money is a part of the problem, or maybe the origin of the whole problem, but at some moment there is a culture that perpetuates itself, and from that point giving more money does not help.

For example, in a group of poor people it makes sense to reduce the concept of private property. To make a mutual treaty of "if someone from our group is starving, and others have food or money, they are obliged to share". At some moment this treaty benefits everyone, so it becomes a part of the culture. But in a long term... as soon as the first job opportunity appears, you would have to be an idiot to take it. It means more work and less free time for you, while your wage is shared with everyone. But you can't go against the whole culture. Except if you leave the group. This is a reason why the motivated people leave; they simply cannot live the new lifestyle within the old group.

Okay, this is too complicated topic to be discussed as a sidenote in a "stupid questions thread". Just wanted to say that "a poor community surrounded by rich communities" is a different dynamics than "a poor community surrounded by poor communities". The difference is the easiness of just going away for all motivated people.

comment by bogus · 2015-10-17T12:44:12.936Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

To make a mutual treaty of "if someone from our group is starving, and others have food or money, they are obliged to share". ...

Interesting point. Still, it would be interesting to see whether UBI can affect this dynamic. After all, the whole point of UBI is to provide social insurance (i.e. make sure that nobody is starving, at least in a literal sense) more effectively than any arrangement within the poor group.

comment by Val · 2015-10-26T04:42:38.870Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

make sure that nobody is starving, at least in a literal sense

The point is, that it's already done without an UBI, by a much lesser scarcity than in previous generations, augmented by a very meager but existing aid system, that nobody is starving in the literal sense, and this allows them to choose a less responsible lifestyle. And it is very hard for those who try to break out of this lifestyle, they have to literally flee their peers. I know of Gypsies who did successfully try to break out and become medics or engineers, and they (especially, but not exclusively, girls) were bullied by their own families: "how dare you think you are better than us!"

comment by bogus · 2015-10-16T17:31:02.979Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I'm living in Eastern Europe, where, although no "basic income" was introduced, the changes in the last few decades led to a situation similar to basic income

Well, this is one point of view obviously, but UBI supporters might disagree about how "similar" it is. Some of the things you mention, wrt. family farms being abandoned in favor of urban lifestyles, are happening literally across the world; the unfavorable comparison with the West is also not something that basic income could affect either way. And ISTM that widespread abuse of things like disability is even worse than most 'welfare' in making people disinclined to work. But this is something that UBI aims to correct, while still making life easier for the folks who receive it.

comment by shminux · 2015-10-17T16:27:54.447Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I wonder what slatestarcodex would make it this.

comment by Kaj_Sotala · 2015-10-16T19:10:57.704Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

The basic income scheme that I've seen proposed in Finland would not increase people's incomes: it would simply be a less bureaucratic way of giving people on welfare the same amount of money that they're already entitled to, but with less hoops to jump through and fewer welfare traps. People who earned enough to not be eligible to welfare today would still receive the money from the UBI, but the tax rate on their other income would be slightly increased to compensate, for an approximately zero change in net income.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-10-16T19:40:05.334Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

the same amount of money that they're already entitled to

In Finland, today, can I just say "I don't feel like working" and get welfare for life?

comment by Risto_Saarelma · 2015-10-17T11:49:28.905Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

In Finland, today, can I just say "I don't feel like working" and get welfare for life?

(Not an expert on this stuff, but here's my rough understanding.)

You get a couple years of pretty straightforward welfare if you quit your job, then it looks like they will start doing means testing (tarveharkinta) on your savings and will stop paying you if it doesn't look like you're living hand-to-mouth. After you've gone through all your savings that the employment office is aware of, I think you can go on living in some sort of rental apartment and get food. There's also a spectrum of make-work programs from "send your application to this poorly matching open job we picked for you" to "attend this useless training course" to "rehabilitative labor activity" which can end up looking sort of like the American prisoner labor thing. The welfare will be suspended as a sanction if you refuse to attend, but I'm not quite sure how easy it is to end up actually homeless if you keep diligently pestering the social services and refuse to cooperate with anything work-like.

One problem is the diligent pestering of the social services part. Many of the actual unemployed are ill or have some mental problems, and they might not be that good at working the bureaucracy. So it probably helps if you're reasonably energetic and smart enough to navigate the systems of regulations if you want to become a lifestyle unemployed. Also, you need to make sure to spend your time in an economically unproductive way. Starting any kind of small business will wipe out all welfare eligibility instantly.

comment by bogus · 2015-10-17T12:58:32.178Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

then it looks like they will start doing means testing (tarveharkinta) on your savings and will stop paying you if it doesn't look like you're living hand-to-mouth. ... There's also a spectrum of make-work programs from "send your application to this poorly matching open job we picked for you" to "attend this useless training course" to "rehabilitative labor activity" which can end up looking sort of like the American prisoner labor thing.

Now here's why these are really, really dumb policies: they amount to a capital levy and a corvée that are selectively applied to low-income folks who would otherwise qualify for welfare. Needless to say, there's a reason we don't use capital levies and corvées anymore, and limiting them to low-income folks does not change that assessment much.

comment by Kaj_Sotala · 2015-10-17T16:49:37.554Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

If you're willing to live on a rather low budget and spend a bunch of energy gaming the system, yes, but that low of an income tends to stress most people out (especially since the system is known to do "fun" stuff like noticing that your insurance company compensated you for your bike getting stolen, and then count the insurance claim as income to be directly subtracted from your welfare payments).

Similarly, as rsaarelm mentioned, if you do anything that the system might consider "work" (sometimes including stuff like volunteering at an event for no pay), you might be denied your payments.

comment by Dagon · 2015-10-13T23:20:28.670Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Some prices would likely rise, but not uniformly and new equilibria are very hard to predict generally, nigh-impossible without specifying a bunch of implementation specifics (including where the money comes from, how it's distributed, what limits there are on qualifying or using the money, and how it's indexed to change over time).

I suspect we'd redefine poverty such that roughly the same percentage of people would be in poverty, but it would be a (slightly) different set of individuals, and likely a much more pleasant poverty than without. Much like has happened dozens of times already in modern civilization. I call it "progress".

comment by [deleted] · 2015-10-13T21:51:18.605Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

This essay has overlap with your question...

http://www.la-articles.org.uk/ec.htm

I am advocating reading this essay. I am not advocating for or against this organization or its positions.

comment by CAE_Jones · 2015-10-13T20:23:26.395Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

My general expectation is that either you're right, people will complain loudly until food and water stay cheap, or prices will avoid inflating because the people who produce need the people living on UBI to buy their stuff.

I have no general idea on which is more probable. I like the last one because it is the most convenient, but I'm not convinced it has any more probability than the first two.

comment by Thomas · 2015-10-13T20:48:21.226Z · score: -4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I have an intuition that if we implemented universal basic income, the prices of necessities would rise to the point where people without other sources of income would still be in poverty.

I think you are right.

comment by Rukiedor · 2015-10-15T17:00:26.232Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

What does 'difficulty concentrating' feel like for you? I often find that value words, like 'good', 'bad', 'difficult', 'happy', 'sad', mean different things for me than for most people.

I spend much of my free time working on a game that I intend to sell at some point. The indie game community talks a lot about focusing, overcoming difficulties concentrating, etc. But I've never seen someone describe in detail what 'difficulty concentrating' or 'difficulty getting to work' feels like. I find myself wondering if they are talking about what I think they are talking about. It's possible that their tips don't often work because we are thinking about different things.

Akrasia gets talked about a lot here, as well as ways of improving productivity, and I'm really curious what akrasia or difficulty concentrating actually feels like for other people. Taboo the words 'akrasia', 'procrastination', 'distraction' and other similar words, and tell me what it feels like.

Here's what 'difficulty getting to work' typically feels like for me: I look at my list of tasks and I get a strong feeling of despair. Starting work on the list feels like I'm chaining myself to an assembly line in a grey factory in a grey world making grey featureless joyless objects, and I'm going to be there for the rest of eternity. It's strange because I actually feel like what I'm producing is colorful, beautiful and interesting. I'm not sure if it is related to the length of the list. I thought it was perhaps due to nebulous definition of the task leaving uncertainty as to what the finished task was supposed to look like, but I've had the same problems even with well defined tasks.

Here's what 'difficulty concentrating' feels like: Imagine that you've got a good sized dog, and you're trying to make it look at something. You grab its head and hold it down to look at whatever it is, and the dog fights you the whole time. Sometimes this will pass if I start with a simple task and get going. Other times it feels like every line of code I write is a continual struggle to hold the dog's head in place. Or imagine that you've really got to go to the bathroom, and you're trying to ignore it and just work. There's a pressure that demands release. It's almost like there's a voice in my head (not an actual voice, it's not schizophrenia) screaming for me to turn off my brain and play a video game or do something else that requires no brain power.

I would estimate that I have difficulty with these feelings at least 30% of the time I try to sit down and work. Sometimes these bother me at my day job, but they show up most frequently when I'm working in the evenings and weekends.

So what does it feel like for you?

I imagine someone will ask about this at some point: I have been diagnosed with Bipolar Type II, I currently take lamotrigine, quetiapine, and bupropion to manage it. I've had problems like this at least since my early teens.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-10-15T20:21:40.968Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Difficulty concentrating feels like a pressure in my forehead that builds the more I fight it. Thats when it's strong, other times, I just find myself doing or thinking about something else.

Difficulty getting to work more often takes the second unconscious form. I don't dwell on it, I just find myself not doing the work. However, sometimes it feels like an empty, hollow chest area and the more I think about the work, the more hollow it feels. However, the more I don't do the work, the more weak/hollow my arms feel.

I find it interesting how my kinisthetic intuitions match up with your visual intuitions.

comment by Rukiedor · 2015-10-16T13:52:11.100Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

That is interesting. Your experience sounds very similar to mine. I find myself wondering what affects the way that concentration difficulties and akrasia feels.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-10-15T17:19:01.924Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I've also another kind of 'difficulty concentrating', which feels like a fog in my brain, a not-unpleasant feeling of floating without direction.

comment by OrphanWilde · 2015-10-16T14:15:56.237Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Difficulty concentrating: A mental slipperiness, like trying not to think of something, or clench water in your fist. The harder I attempt to concentrate, the more prone my mind is to go zipping off in another direction entirely. I tend to be most productive when I have a large number of potential tasks to work on, and one critical one - I'll get all my lesser tasks done in no time at all, as my mind careens off the critical task over and over again. I'm least productive when I have a single task to work on, particularly if it's trivial to do. Indeed, the faster I can get it done, the harder it is to do it.

Curiously, I have -zero- problems with difficulty concentrating when extremely tired, and if there's something I really need to do that I'm making no progress on, I'll generally do it around 3:30-4:30 AM.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-10-16T14:47:14.622Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Curiously, I have -zero- problems with difficulty concentrating when extremely tired

Not sure it's uncommon, I have a similar mode when I'm exhausted and still need to finish something. It's a kinda "you're not going anywhere until this is done" mode and when I'm tired my speed goes down, but my ability to focus goes up.

comment by Tem42 · 2015-10-16T23:53:57.713Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I find that it is much easier to enter a state of flow late at night. This does not equate, in my case, to being able to concentrate on undesirable tasks, but does help with tasks that are simply boring.

comment by MathiasZaman · 2015-10-15T18:11:53.095Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Disclaimer: I've been diagnosed with ADHD.

difficulty concentrating

This XKCD is a fair visualization of what difficulty concentrating feels like. I can be doing an activity (even a pleasurable one), but I get a lot of other stimuli coming in that link to different activities that also need doing or would also be fun or pleasurable. Or while doing an activity or trying to think about one specific thing, my mind jumps to other (often related) topics and this has a tendency to escalate. Think about the way people describe going to tv-tropes. You start out reading about the film you just saw, and before you know it, you're browser is filled up with dozens of tabs (all of which have links that you'll probably also click).

akrasia

Akrasia feels, to me, a lot like inertia. Sometimes in a very physical way. It's a feeling of "being stuck" and often translates to physically being stuck, without anything specific holding you physically in place. It's like the space between thinking "Doing X would be a good idea right about now" and actually doing X is a steep, uphill climb.

comment by Tem42 · 2015-10-16T02:47:06.035Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

[Note; this was written before reading anyone else's comments, to reduce memetic contamination. My apologies if it doesn't add anything new or useful].

Difficulty concentrating: I have thousands of things that I could and should do. I can't even begin to keep track of them. When I look at my computer, I see a collection of things to do. Some of them will send me off to do other tasks, and when I start on those other tasks, I see piles of papers and random notes reminding me of work that need to be done. Work, life, and everything is a tangled web of random tasks. I don't even try to stay focused unless something is really important -- it doesn't matter if I'm writing a post but suddenly get distracted by paying bills and then by doing the dishes. All that matters is that all of those things get done "soon enough". It feels like being a pinball, but without the obnoxious dings and buzzes. Usually it is a good feeling... until you miss a deadline, and then it starts of a minor (or major) panic. But I am much more productive, in terms of work done, when I don't have to stay focused on one task until completion. As long as I have my checklists on hand and keep them updated, everything is fine.

Difficulty getting to work: A burst of unwant, a wall of apathy towards a task, and a desire to bounce onto a more interesting task. Kind of like jumping into cold water, there's no point in worrying about it or planning of ways to heat up the lake. Just shut your brain off and start. There's not much feeling involved, other than "yuck" and then "meh".

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-10-15T21:13:19.438Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think there a single feeling that corresponds to "difficulty concentrating". If I'm very tired then I have difficulty concentrating, but that's very different than the feeling of my mind being distract by topic A when I want to think about topic B.

comment by Bryan-san · 2015-10-15T02:28:43.505Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

What traits do you look for when making friends?

Also, what clues or tells do you use to identify these specific traits?

comment by [deleted] · 2015-10-15T16:11:56.899Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

They know what they love, and it's more than money, sex, and relationships.

comment by Bryan-san · 2015-10-15T16:19:06.011Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

This is an interesting heuristic! Has it led you to any unexpected situations or conclusions?

comment by [deleted] · 2015-10-15T20:15:22.688Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Well, the unexpected thing was how many people it screened out. I started asking "What do you love" as a conversation starter as a way to bring out the best side of people as quickly as possible - but I was surprised to see how many people didn't have a satisfactory answer.

Pretty quickly, I found that those people tended to be the people who I didn't enjoy

comment by Jiro · 2015-10-15T20:37:44.451Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Living in society requires being able to tell white lies, especially in cases where absolute truth is not expected. Someone asked that question who couldn't figure out what to say was probably trying to figure out what kind of lie appropriate social behavior requires him to tell.

Conversation between actual human beings is not there just for the truth value of the conversational statements. Don't treat it like it is; asking that question and expecting that you can treat the results as sincere and truthful shows that you don't understand people.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-10-16T01:40:09.350Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Conversation between actual human beings is not there just for the truth value of the conversational statements. Don't treat it like it is; asking that question and expecting that you can treat the results as sincere and truthful shows that you don't understand people.

I'm actually not asking the question for the truth value. It's about changing the energy of the conversation (which is EXACTLY what conversation is about). When people begin to talk about things they love, it brings them into a completely different headspace, and totally changes the dynamic.

A lot of this is about my energy as I approach the question, if they can see I'm being sincere and non-judgemental, they'll feel open to reciprocating that energy.

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-10-15T21:15:20.766Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Someone asked that question who couldn't figure out what to say was probably trying to figure out what kind of lie appropriate social behavior requires him to tell.

Filtering out those kinds of people when you seek friends is useful.

comment by Jiro · 2015-10-15T21:33:33.990Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

But "those kinds of people" here means "people with social skills".

comment by [deleted] · 2015-10-16T01:44:19.580Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

That doesn't mesh with my experience. Someone with social skills will usually ask me to clarify, or say "hmm, that's an interesting question" then give a really interesting answer.

If they don't have anything they really love (or it's a socially unacceptable answer, like one of the ones I gave) then they'll deflect gracefully, at which point I'll talk for a bit more then end the conversation.

One's without social skills who have something they love will often give a short answer, and then I'll have to ask a few more probing questions or relate it to what I love before they really start to open up about it.

Ones without social skills who don't have anything they love will say so, and again I'll talk for a bit more then end the conversation.

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-10-15T21:44:03.288Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

But "those kinds of people" here means "people with social skills".

Not in the social circles in which I move and that includes a bunch of people who make money with coaching and social skill training.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-10-15T15:12:47.536Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

What traits do you look for when making friends?

  • Common interests
  • Has functioning brain cells
  • Broadly compatible in temperament and e.g. energy levels
  • Passes some basic filters (e.g. is not annoying/creepy/etc.)
  • You just like him/her
comment by MrMind · 2015-10-15T07:53:50.130Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Clearly some commonality of value and at least a shared interest, but also, after some negative experiences of friends crashing at my house uninvited, a high degree of independence.

I usually meet new friends when attending at new hobbies, so the first two are easily checked, but I remain on the fences for the third trait for some months before lowering my guard...

comment by cgag · 2015-10-17T01:47:54.499Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'd be interested in hearing your answer if you're willing to share.

comment by username2 · 2015-10-14T04:32:29.251Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Are there any common superstitions that are scientifically plausible?

comment by drethelin · 2015-10-15T09:16:55.175Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Astrology is close: time of year you are born in has big effects on your life, although this may be an artifact of the modern school-year. For example, being older than kids in your same "year" of school helps you get onto sports teams.

comment by MarsColony_in10years · 2015-10-16T02:47:25.867Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

After the first three words, I assumed you were going to point out that the entire planet gets much hotter and colder as the zodiac shifts each year. The rising and setting of the sun has a similarly large effect, and the moon is also connected with tides.

Historical astrology was the precursor to modern astronomy, and was highly complex. There was likely a relatively strong tie to the course of history. If an astrological event associated with regime changes occurs, people are much more likely to revolt, because they are much less worried about being punished for a failed revolt.

comment by drethelin · 2015-10-16T08:17:51.187Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I was mostly thinking about modern astrology, since I don't really think of ancient things as "common superstitions".

comment by CellBioGuy · 2015-10-16T15:24:50.080Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

As ive said before, much alternative medicine probably boils down to avoiding slegehammertastic interventions with side effects when you can actually heal on your own and invoking placebo effects, which are real and matter and come from the close integration of our nervous system with pretty much everything, with greater reliablity and strength than just taking a sugar pill.

comment by Tem42 · 2015-10-16T02:29:34.210Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, but also no.

By definition, a superstition that is valid is not a superstition. "Red sky in the morning, sailor take warning" is usually not called a superstition, because it is a good heuristic. "13 is unlucky" is called a superstition because it is not useful.

Things that might be a 'useful superstition' include:

  • An apple a day keeps the doctor away.
  • Garlic protects from evil spirits [if read 'sickness'].
  • After receiving a container of food, the container should never be returned empty.
  • Meditation makes you healthy and wise.
  • Going to church makes you a good person. [networking, community, charity]
  • Being bad will send you to hell.
  • Being bad will reduce your chances of Santa bringing you toys.

Obviously, the truth value of these is variable and often requires a generous interpretation. Also, some (all?) of these are only useful to people who want easy rules, indicating that they aren't really LessWrong types.

comment by Gunnar_Zarncke · 2015-10-14T06:12:33.250Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Superstitions seem to sprint from biases and as these are basically reasoning heuristics they are conceptually plausible but missed. Google for "biase superstition heuristics".

One hit: https://deisidaimon.files.wordpress.com/2008/01/trond-bounded-rationality-biases-and-superstitions.ppt

comment by philh · 2015-10-13T19:49:51.932Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I have a feeling which seems related to satiety, in that I get it after eating and it makes me disinclined to eat more, but I experience it in my upper throat/back of my mouth rather than in my stomach. It's not exclusive with hunger in my stomach.

Does anyone recognise the sensation I'm describing, and know anything about it?

Possibly relevant details, but I haven't been keeping good track so maybe don't take them too seriously: I first noticed it, I think more than a couple of months ago, but less than three years ago. I associate it with chips (fries, but moreso thick-cut ones), but I definitely don't always get it from them. Also to some extent with bananas. Those might be a red herring, because I think I'm mildly allergic to them - if they're not sufficiently ripe they can give me a burning sensation in my throat, but possibly also separately the sensation I'm describing now. I have it currently, the last thing I ate was cuppasoup, about three hours ago. I eat cuppasoup most days and don't think I usually get this sensation from it.

comment by OrphanWilde · 2015-10-13T20:34:34.542Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I'd guess the experience is, in fact, allergic reactions, and what you're feeling is a mild swelling of the tissues affected. Your banana allergy, given that it's particularly common with unripe bananas, is probably a latex allergy; kiwi, mango, guava, avocado, and a few other fruits also contain natural latex and should be avoided.

Chips, I'm less certain of, unless you're associating it with chips you happen to be dipping in guacamole.

ETA: Oh. English chips. That could be the oil they're cooked in; do you have any other food allergies you're aware of? (That burning sensation? Pay attention to it when you eat. I'd describe the flavor of allergic reaction as being like copper needles poking into your tongue - a spicy metallic taste. Personally I find it delicious.)

Also ETA: Try taking a Benadryl and see if the symptoms subside, provided you're not sensitive to it (dipenhydramine hcl, if looking for generics).

Also also ETA: Cup-A-Soup contains celery, which is listed as a moderately cross-reactive food for latex allergies.

http://latexallergyresources.org/cross-reactive-food - includes celery and potatoes. Thin-cut fried potato might have all the proteins in question destroyed by the frying process.

comment by philh · 2015-10-13T21:38:16.307Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

This sounds plausible, thanks!

The main things that don't seem to fit are

  • apart from banana, I don't think anything else gives the burning sensation

  • it only seems to come from food, and in particular I haven't noticed any issues with latex condoms

  • I've eaten many of the cross reactive foods, and regularly eat some of them, and don't associate it with any of them

But I wouldn't be surprised if none of those are actually surprising, and I could easily fail to notice if other things were associated.

No other food allergies that I know of. Benadryl seems to mean something else in the UK, but I'll try to pick up some diphenhydramine.

comment by OrphanWilde · 2015-10-14T13:15:07.692Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Latex condoms have bothered me exactly once, and I used them for several years. The one experience was sufficient to put me off of them, though.

Kiwi hits me every time. Banana, only if it's unripe, and then again only some of the time. Avocado, I get the feeling about 30% of the time. With avocado, it appears to be a variance in me, rather than the fruit; I can sometimes eat guacamole (which contains multiple avocados), and sometimes not. I hate celery, but have never reacted to it. AFAIK potatoes and carrots have never bothered me, nor tomatoes. And an unidentified legume in a split pea soup once hit me, but I've never figured out which legume it was. (Powdered peanut butter, but not peanuts or "normal" peanut butter, weirdly enough.)

Short of it - nope. Not surprising at all. Allergies behave in mysterious ways, AFAICT, and extremely inconsistently. A doctor might be able to tell you more.

comment by Tem42 · 2015-10-16T03:06:47.573Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

It is possible that some amount of soft foods are sticking in your throat -- probably your epiglottic vallecula; this might be more apparent when you are having a mild allergic reaction, making that area of your throat more sensitive. (Wiki fails to mention that one of the functions of your vallecula is to catch bits of food that might be trying to fall into your windpipe).

It is also possible that one of your epiglottic sphincters, or the peristalsis in your epiglottis, has gone wonky, and food is having trouble making it to your stomach in a timely manner. As TezlaKoil says, in many cases this is accompanied by acid reflux. If you feel pain, see a doctor. Otherwise, don't worry too much, but eat sitting up straight and take a swallow of water when you have this feeling.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-10-16T11:55:39.354Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Since you know something about these things, may I ask you a question? (I have consulted doctors, they didn't find anything, and it's just an annoyance really, but I don't know what it is.)

Sometimes, after I have lowered my head forward, or pillowed my neck on my arm, or just tightened my scarf too much, I straighten (or not) and am unable to talk or swallow. I breathe fine, only my throat (lower forward) pains a bit and feels as if it has bent backwards. I rotate my head from sides and massage my Adam's apple, and it goes away.

It's mostly just inconvenient, but sometimes scary, too:( (when I think that it might happen when I'm asleep.)

comment by Tem42 · 2015-10-16T21:35:46.695Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

So, some disclaimers: 1. you have not given nearly enough medical history for me to say anything certain in any case; 2. this is not my area of specialty (I am an SLP, but do not work with swallowing disorders); 3. I obviously cannot do any tests to back anything up; and 4. seriously, do not read this link and panic.

But, my first guess would be a mild case of esophageal dysphagia. That sounds like a specific diagnosis, but it is not; it just means that you have trouble swallowing, and the problem is probably in the area of the esophagus. This would explain the fullness in your throat, and would explain the pain appearing during those times that you change position so that gravity is no longer helping keep the food down. Your vocal folds and throat muscles are going into panic mode in case any food tries to go down your windpipe, so speaking would be unwise (I would bet that you could say 'ahh' if you tried, but don't try). You can't swallow because the food is in the wrong place -- coming up instead of going down.

If you want to solve this, you will probably want to go to a speech-language pathologist; you should select one that specializes in swallowing -- if you go to the hospital, they will pick the right one for you. The odds are that they will tell you to sit up during meals and not to recline for 30 minutes after eating, or something like that. If heart burn is a significant factor, they may give you medication for that.

While I do not think that the symptoms you describe are enough that I would recommend further testing, it is important to note that if there are other symptoms that you did not mention, this could be something that needs checking out. For example, if you had symptoms of an esophageal diverticulum, that would be something to get checked out.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-10-17T07:03:28.037Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Thank you! (It has, so far, nothing to do with eating, it just happens once in a while. I swallowed something sharp several years ago with food, which cut some small vessel in my throat, and I do not remember this to happen before that, but the doctors I talked to said it's probably not connected. Anyway, I'll be sure to check this now I have at least a formed question to start.)

comment by TezlaKoil · 2015-10-14T08:56:58.797Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

In my experience, acid reflux can cause similar sensations.

comment by Rukiedor · 2015-10-13T20:46:05.985Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I used to get a feeling in my upper throat/back of throat that sounds similar to what you are feeling. It has been several years since I've felt it. It seems like the only time I ever had it was when eating thick cut fries. It felt like I had a wad of food stuck in the back of my throat or upper throat, even though I didn't. I usually found it to be uncomfortable and it seems like it was often accompanied by a slight sensation of heartburn. It didn't typically last long though, no more than ten minutes, possibly less if I drank a lot of water. But aside from having felt something similar, I have no further light to shed on the subject unfortunately.

comment by OrphanWilde · 2015-10-13T20:53:43.262Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Was there also excess saliva production/thick-feeling saliva?

comment by Rukiedor · 2015-10-13T21:09:21.366Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It's been a while, but if I recall correctly, my mouth felt pretty dry, definitely no excess saliva. I may have to buy a big bag of fries and conduct research.

comment by SodaPopinski · 2015-10-16T21:05:07.363Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Where can I find the most coherent anti-FOOM argument (outside of the FOOM debate)? [That is, I'm looking for arguments for the possibility of not having an intelligence explosion if we reach near human level AI, the other side is pretty well covered on LW.]

comment by [deleted] · 2016-01-10T08:15:23.609Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Robin Hanson and Eliezers "AI Foom Debate"

comment by Lumifer · 2015-10-16T15:21:11.734Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

The recent talk about alien constructs and so Dyson spheres got me wondering.

Assuming their existence, why do we expect to see Dyson spheres in other star systems? A new Dyson sphere (that is, the star + Dyson sphere system) would not emit much anything and so would be invisible. Of course, the energy has to go somewhere and even superadvanced aliens -- assuming they haven't developed all new superadvanced physics -- will have a lot of waste heat. That heat, we expect, would be dumped into surrounding space as some sort of radiation and so we would see it.

That leads me to two stupid questions (note that we are talking at the star-system scale):

  • Can you dump waste heat directionally? If you built a Dyson sphere and became invisible at interstellar distances, can you radiate your heat signature as a beam and continue to avoid being seen?

  • If you have a handy black hole around, can you dump the waste heat into a black hole? What that would look like?

P.S. If the Dyson sphere functions only as an energy source it would be invisible, seems to me. Imagine a scenario where aliens come to a star system, build a Dyson sphere around the star, and then arrange for all that energy to be narrow-beamed to neighbouring star systems where it will be collected and used. The point is that the energy is used elsewhere, so the Dysoned star emits very little and unless you're in the beam you don't see it. Would that work?

comment by IlyaShpitser · 2015-10-16T16:11:46.869Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Not sure it makes sense thermodynamically to deal with waste heat that way (if you are transmitting "waste heat" in a narrow beam, you are basically just transmitting energy in a narrow beam, and so it's not waste heat anymore -- you can get useful work out of it).


edit: I suppose the question is: what % of the star's outgoing energy can we harness in principle, such that waste heat is hard to tell apart from background, and we completely hide that the star is there. For example, in the limit, if you just used a little of the star's energy to redirect all the rest into a black hole, will the waste heat just from the redirection effort be detectable? If so, we can't hide a star, the best we can do is not use too much energy, so the star looks like a normal star with no life in the system (but evil aliens can still come and check it out, since they know a star is there). If not, maybe we can harness some bigger % on the way into the black hole. If so, what % is physically possible? I don't know.


I feel like physicists already worked out that you can't hide stars, but I don't know the literature.

comment by CellBioGuy · 2015-10-17T21:37:20.559Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I suppose the question is: what % of the star's outgoing energy can we harness in principle, such that waste heat is hard to tell apart from background

You can never have the temperature of outgoing radiation indistinguishable from the cosmic background, since energy is being generated by the star and in equilibrium more energy must leave than enters from the background.

The CMB reads as ~2.76k. Let's say you wanted to radiate the entire energy output of a star at 3.76 k. That means the flux out equals the star's flux plus the CMB flux in. For a star like the sun, the surface area of material required comes to a sphere a fifth of a light year (13000 AUs) in radius to dissipate a solar luminosity of energy (divide quantity of radiator material by the fraction of the solar luminosity you want to use, but keep in mind having the radiators closer than a 5th of a light year would probably be pointless since they'd be heated up by the sun) (also keep in mind such an object would look as large as the full moon 44 light years away and as wide as Jupiter in our sky 2,000 light years away). For ten kelvin, a sphere 0.025 light years or 1560 AUs in radius. For 50 kelvin, 62 AUs (twice as large as Neptune's orbit).

Of course, there's also the starlight flux of all the other nearby stars, which makes this worse for very low temperatures.

(Calculations done using energy out = energy in from CMB + solar flux, and the definition of blackbody radiation)

EDIT: I should go over some astronomy papers and figure out what amounts of material typically produce observable infrared excesses.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-10-17T09:22:21.624Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

What does it mean to hide a star? Would it not be 'visible' by having gravity?

comment by RichardKennaway · 2015-10-17T19:41:19.575Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

What does it mean to hide a star? Would it not be 'visible' by having gravity?

That explains dark matter — vast alien civilisations that leak nothing but gravity. And the microwave background.

comment by CellBioGuy · 2015-10-17T20:52:17.763Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

No it doesn't. Microwave background intensity is uncorrelated with imputed dark matter density in a given direction.

comment by CellBioGuy · 2015-10-17T21:11:50.993Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

If you dumped waste heat directionally it would act as a photon rocket.

If you somehow reflected all the light of a star in one direction, the momentum change in the light would produce thrust on the reflector (much less than is needed to move a star), and since no substance is 100% reflective the huge amount of surface area would nonetheless heat up and be visible in the infrared due to its vast surface area. The same is true of any substance directing waste thermal radiation - you can shunt most of it in some direction the material will definitely reach an equilibrium temperature warmer than the cosmic microwave background anyway.

Furthermore, all the energy would eventually get absorbed/used SOMEWHERE and become heat. Local conversion of energy to other forms would also always involve waste heat production.

As far as I am aware, black hole surface gravity is analogous to temperature and surface area is analogous to entropy when you start digging into their thermodynamics. Dumping waste thermal radiation in will make them bigger and they will eventually re-radiate thermal radiation via the Hawking mechanism in the far future.

comment by VoiceOfRa · 2015-10-19T03:46:39.201Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

As far as I am aware, black hole surface gravity is analogous to temperature and surface area is analogous to entropy when you start digging into their thermodynamics. Dumping waste thermal radiation in will make them bigger and they will eventually re-radiate thermal radiation via the Hawking mechanism in the far future.

Black holes have negative specific heat, i.e., dumping energy into them makes them larger, hence colder. In particular, a black hole whose temperature is colder then the microwave background will just keep absorbing energy, and hence get even colder.

comment by CellBioGuy · 2015-10-19T14:23:33.737Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Indeed! Their surface gravity (temperature) is inversely proportional to mass and their surface area (entropy) is proportional to the square of mass.

In a non-expanding universe where the background radiation is not being perpetually redshifted to oblivion, over timescales that are so large they make the age of our universe infinitesimal eventually whatever emitted the radiation would cool down and eventually all the radiation would be absorbed by the holes, cooling the background. They would then emit radiation, and holes smaller (hotter) than the average temperature of the new background emitted by the holes would evaporate while those larger (cooler) would grow. I'm not sure if in all cases this eventually leads to complete evaporation of holes as the average size rises until you only have one huge hole which has to evaporate, or if in a universe of non-expanding size you could reach an equilibrium of mass/energy/heat evenly distributed in an unchanging way between low temperature radiation and huge black holes.

In our expanding universe, not only does the primordial background perpetually redshift approaching absolute zero over time, any radiation emitted from black holes at cosmological distances apart redshifts to oblivion the further apart they are. Therefore, in an expanding universe eventually the background falls below the black hole temperature and they will eventually be hotter than the background, emitting their entire mass via Hawking radiation back into the universe.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-10-19T15:37:45.888Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

the huge amount of surface area would nonetheless heat up and be visible in the infrared

Unless you're spending some of the energy the Dyson sphere is collecting to actively cool that surface area.

all the energy would eventually get absorbed/used SOMEWHERE

Sure, but if you point it at another galaxy, it will take a very very long time for something to happen (and in a galaxy far, far away, too).

comment by RichardKennaway · 2015-10-17T19:38:48.893Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

That heat, we expect, would be dumped into surrounding space as some sort of radiation and so we would see it.

That explains the microwave background!

comment by CellBioGuy · 2015-10-17T20:50:28.297Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

No it doesn't. Photons travel until they hit something in straight lines. The microwave background comes uniformly from all directions behind stars and galaxies.

comment by VoiceOfRa · 2015-10-19T03:51:16.288Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

If you have a handy black hole around, can you dump the waste heat into a black hole? What that would look like?

More-or-less like a black hole, gravitational signature but no light emitted.

Imagine a scenario where aliens come to a star system, build a Dyson sphere around the star, and then arrange for all that energy to be narrow-beamed to neighbouring star systems where it will be collected and used.

That doesn't work. The emitted energy must have higher entropy content than the initial energy of the star, so it would be less useful to the destination star. In fact, if the original destination star can extract useful work from it, so could the original star.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-10-19T15:45:18.272Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

so it would be less useful to the destination star.

Sure, but I don't see a problem here. If you have a particular attachment to a star system, you may want to supply it with energy from other stars instead of moving to them.

The point is that since the energy will get "consumed" elsewhere, the waste heat at the origin will be minimal and so the Dyson sphere will remain relatively cold (though higher than the background temperature, to be sure).

comment by VoiceOfRa · 2015-10-20T01:03:51.904Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

However, the destination star would emit large amounts of heat, i.e., infrared.

comment by CronoDAS · 2015-10-22T15:51:56.788Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I sometimes get mild headaches. Is it best to take acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or aspirin when this happens?

comment by Lumifer · 2015-10-22T16:17:44.888Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Whatever actually works on your headaches. Humans are different.

comment by CronoDAS · 2015-10-22T17:44:16.186Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

As far as I can tell, they all work. Are any of these more hazardous to long-term health than others?

comment by Lumifer · 2015-10-22T18:21:55.721Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

If you take them often enough you should research this, but off the top of my head acetaminophen (Tylenol) damages your liver while aspirin is recommended to the elderly as a long-term "maintenance" drug to reduce cardiovascular problems. On the other hand, it's an overdose of acetaminophen that kills your liver, while aspirin can cause things like internal bleeding.

As usual, you pick from a menu of risks and you choose what's best for your particular situation.

comment by iarwain1 · 2015-10-14T01:00:29.480Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I'm having a hard time understanding the following article, from Ben Levenstein at FHI on the epistemology of disagreement. I know it's a bit long but it seems pretty important and I want to make sure I understand it correctly. It's just that I'm having a hard time following the math and formal notation. Can someone summarize it for me? Thanks.

https://www.academia.edu/1997967/With_All_Due_Respect_The_Macro-Epistemology_of_Disagreement

comment by Bound_up · 2015-10-13T23:51:04.957Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I've been through the free will sequences a second time now, and I'm trying to figure out how to apply it to my life.

See, even that sounds weird, because applying to my life...trying...figure out...whether I do or not is inevitable, right?

Speaking from the naive standpoint, how does the determinist viewpoint affect your decisions? How do you think about it, incorporate it? Do you compartmentalize and pretend you're in control, or what?

comment by JEB_4_PREZ_2016 · 2015-10-14T02:39:36.642Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I think my "no free will believing self" causes me to model my future self more pessimistically, albeit more accurately, than my "free will believing self" used to.

More specifically, I now pretty much by default see my future self as destined to fail at achieving my current goals due to hyperbolic discounting and, among other things, unexpectedly low willpower striking at random times and lasting for random periods. So, my focus is mainly on continual massive upfront investment during the good times (the rare days when I've got an abundance of willpower) in order to mitigate these willpower failure risks and keep my productivity much more stable and higher in the long-run.

This probably isn't necessary for most people, but I suspect it is a good tactic for those who, like me, are extremely volatile in terms of day-to-day willpower stores and who fail miserably at achieving their goals if they try to just "power through" at all times and 'believe in the belief' of free will.

comment by Daniel_Burfoot · 2015-10-14T13:04:34.418Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

... you sound like a smart guy, but you are going to have a hard time being taken seriously here with that username.

comment by OrphanWilde · 2015-10-14T13:28:11.173Z · score: 1 (7 votes) · LW · GW

That says more about the people who have trouble taking him seriously than it does about him, however.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-10-14T15:08:16.851Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Not necessarily. Sure, some people will just jerk their knees, but the fact of choosing that username is indicative of something. The first two obvious alternatives are "is a troll" and "is politically mind-killed".

comment by OrphanWilde · 2015-10-14T15:28:42.530Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Sure. But what it's indicative of is colored by which way you jerk your knees, as you inadvertently demonstrate.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-10-14T15:34:06.102Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Of course -- every interaction provides information on all participants :-)

P.S. "is a troll" is not because of specifically Jeb -- s/Jeb/Hillary/ and nothing would change -- but because of choosing a politically polarizing symbol.

comment by OrphanWilde · 2015-10-14T15:52:48.436Z · score: -2 (8 votes) · LW · GW

He chooses a username that invites ad-hominem, such as you're engaging in - that is the direction you jerk your knees, not political alignment - in a forum which works to move past such biases.

If his username isn't appropriate here, it's not because it's not fundamentally clever, but because the audience hasn't been paying attention to, or learning from, their lessons.

If his username affects your judgment of what he has to say, and you realize this, then you've just learned something about yourself, and you should thank him, instead of condemning him. He's just done you a favor.

Of course, people don't actually want their own biases to be shown to them, nor to admit to them so that they can get past them. They'd rather the cause of the bias go away than have to confront it.

Granted, he could just be making a political statement, or be a troll. Thank him anyways.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-10-14T16:12:03.916Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

ad-hominem, such as you're engaging in

I am? Quote me.

If his username isn't appropriate here

The question is not of "appropriateness". Choices you make provide information about you. The more idiosyncratic choices you make, the more information these choices provide.

A username of "Bob" doesn't provide much. A username of "XXXpretty77XXX" provides some. A username of "I_will_fuck_you_all_with_my_big_dick" provides a lot.

If his username affects your judgment of what he has to say

His username is evidence that (among other things) forms my opinion of him. I don't see how it can be any different.

comment by OrphanWilde · 2015-10-14T17:35:10.699Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I am? Quote me.

You mistake what ad-hominem, as a bias, is. It is a characteristic of an argument or reaction that is focusing on the person making the arguments, rather than the arguments themselves; the validity of an argument is independent of the person making that argument. Anybody modifying the credibility of an argument because of its source is engaging in ad-hominem. In laymen terms, the term is used to describe an argument against a person, but it is broader than that, as a bias.

The question is not of "appropriateness". Choices you make provide information about you. The more idiosyncratic choices you make, the more information these choices provide.

Yes. But it provides information about the source of an argument, not the argument itself.

His username is evidence that (among other things) forms my opinion of him. I don't see how it can be any different.

Where does your opinion of him, as a person, become relevant? That's the key question.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-10-14T17:59:19.511Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

ad-hominem

I notice you didn't quote me. :-/

Your mistake is that you treat the situation as if I'm attacking some arguments by JEB_4_PREZ_2016. I am not. We are not discussing an object-level issue, we're discussing the consequences of choosing an unusual username.

Where does your opinion of him, as a person, become relevant?

In forming priors about his posts.

To give an example, if I develop an opinion that Alice tends to post incoherent wall-of-text ramblings with zero interesting content, I will stop reading her posts. Or, say, if I observe that Bob is obsessed with the destruction of Carthage and turns every post of his into an argument that Carthage must be destroyed, I will discount his posts (and maybe stop reading them, too).

comment by OrphanWilde · 2015-10-14T18:52:29.099Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Your mistake is that you treat the situation as if I'm attacking some arguments by JEB_4_PREZ_2016. I am not. We are not discussing an object-level issue, we're discussing the consequences of choosing an unusual username.

Your mistake is assuming I am making that mistake, and arguing as if that were the case. You've started following a script; you think I've accused you of an ad-hominem, and are looking for the ad-hominem you made. A person comes before the Roman Senate wearing nothing but sandals, and presents a marvelous case on a currently discussed issue. The ad-hominem there took place before one of the senators, who disagreed with him, complained that he wasn't properly attired; it took place in the mind of the senators who were already discounting what he had to say, without having said a word against him.

In forming priors about his posts.

If that wordplay was deliberate, kudos.

And yep. So do you think ad-hominem is useful, then? (Of course it is. I'd rather read Scott Alexander's thoughts on something than Aaron Clarey's.)

Is it important that we notice it in a relatively controlled environment, so that, if it is in fact in error, we can correct for it when the heuristic leads us astray?

I'd say the answer is equally obvious.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-10-14T23:24:56.626Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

it took place in the mind of the senators

Ah, so a precrime thoughtcrime ad hominem? :-D

I have a feeling you're extending the definition of ad hominem into places it wasn't meant to go. It is, basically, an invalid method of refuting an argument. It says nothing about which arguments to pay attention to, for example. Calling even a "useful" ad hominem something like considering the reputation of a speaker before deciding whether to allocate your valuable attention to his speech is a stretch, I think.

comment by OrphanWilde · 2015-10-15T18:32:43.698Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Ah, so a precrime thoughtcrime ad hominem? :-D

No. A bias you haven't noticed in the formation of your opinions of an argument is, however, an ad-hominem. Thoughtcrime is the refusal to think certain classes of thoughts; it's more useful to be able to analyze your own thoughts for faulty patterns, so that you can correct for them, than pretend they don't exist.

I have a feeling you're extending the definition of ad hominem into places it wasn't meant to go. It is, basically, an invalid method of refuting an argument. It says nothing about which arguments to pay attention to, for example. Calling even a "useful" ad hominem something like considering the reputation of a speaker before deciding whether to allocate your valuable attention to his speech is a stretch, I think.

Say what you mean. You disagree with my definition.

It's not a stretch, however. You can ad-hominem in your mind - if you think the words "This person is an [x], so I don't have to listen to them" as a reason for ignoring an argument you should be listening to. The failure to express this thought, but acting as if you have, is no less the same class of problematic behavior - more so, for your refusal to acknowledge the reason for your dismissal.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-10-15T18:55:05.153Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

No.

That wasn't an entirely serious sentence :-)

You can ad-hominem in your mind - if you think the words "This person is an [x], so I don't have to listen to them" as a reason for ignoring an argument you should be listening to.

I certainly do that -- it's just that I don't think this activity can be usefully labeled "ad hominem". There is a tricky part in your sentence, though -- what is that "should be listening to" and where does it come from? How do I know what I should be listening to?

comment by OrphanWilde · 2015-10-15T19:21:48.585Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I certainly do that -- it's just that I don't think this activity can be usefully labeled "ad hominem". There is a tricky part in your sentence, though -- what is that "should be listening to" and where does it come from? How do I know what I should be listening to?

How do you know what you shouldn't be listening to? Or, to put a finer edge on it - you're already using a criteria for deciding what you shouldn't be listening to, the criteria you refuse to call ad-hominem. Why did you choose that criteria?

comment by Lumifer · 2015-10-15T19:38:24.294Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Why did you choose that criteria?

Past experience, general considerations, inferences, all the usual stuff.

In the Internet age you decline much MUCH more content than you accept. The opportunity costs are noticeable and you pretty much have to prefilter your information flow if you don't want to be standing with your face in front of an operating water canon.

Given all this, the selection process is going to be noisy, slanted, and very much imperfect. I suspect that opportunities to improve it are going to revolve around more filtering, not less. That's a complicated and hugely influential process. Sticking an ad hominem label somewhere in there seems.. not the best idea.

comment by OrphanWilde · 2015-10-15T21:00:06.122Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Sticking an ad hominem label in there is accurate. More importantly, it lets you improve your filters with information on when ad hominem is generally correct - as opposed to incorrect. Throwing out the label because it offends your sensibilities limits your ability to use the information associated with that label.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-10-15T21:22:21.663Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

That label does not offend my sensibilities which are pretty hard to offend, anyway. It's inappropriate, not useful, serves only to confuse, and just plain wrong :-P

comment by AspiringRationalist · 2015-10-14T00:59:06.695Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Do you compartmentalize and pretend you're in control, or what?

I think the main takeaway is that you shouldn't worry too much about questions of free will. Basically, the fact that your free will is made of physics doesn't mean it makes sense to make poor choices or not take responsibility for yourself and then blame physics. Also, don't go looking for magical explanations of free will existing "outside of physics".

comment by Riothamus · 2015-10-16T16:13:41.732Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I find it most relevant to planning and prediction. It helps greatly with realizing that I am not an exception, and so I should take the data seriously.

In terms of things that changed when my beliefs did, I submit the criminal justice system as an example. I now firmly think about crime in terms of individuals being components of a social system, and I am exclusively interested in future prevention of crime. I am indifferent to moral punishment for it.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-10-13T21:53:16.602Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

In an infinite universe is it not the case that all possibilities have at least one instance where their probability is equal to one?

comment by Baughn · 2015-10-13T23:43:58.881Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Maybe.

Determining which possibilities this is false for in our particular universe would take some time, and depends on the exact form of the laws of physics (which we don't know), so let's use a simplified example.

Take the Game of Life. While simple, it is in fact turing-complete; this was demonstrated by implementing a turing machine on it, which is the best way to demonstrate that sort of thing. (It's fun to put one cell out of place and watch it disintegrate.)

Take an infinitely large game of life. Start it in a random state, and leave it to evolve for an infinite amount of time. As you'd expect, a lot of things happen; in a universe that large, you will indeed see, for example, all possible simulations of Earth. So in that sense, "all things happen"...

But there are some states of the world which you will never see, no matter how long you wait. These are called Garden of Eden states).

There's a very good chance that there are also garden of eden states for this universe. They're likely to be states such as "The universe is tiled with a mandelbrot pattern of black holes"; states which are simply so unstable that they cannot naturally arise. There may also be less exotic states of that sort, but I feel less secure about claiming that...

And the Garden of Eden theorem, if it is applicable to our universe, states that it has Garden of Eden states of and only if time is non-reversible. As physics does indeed appear to be time-reversible, that's a bit of a problem. However, I don't know how applicable it is to our non-cellular physics.

comment by MrMind · 2015-10-14T07:25:03.401Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Not necessarily. It pretty much depends on dynamics laws of the universe: you can have states that are consistently and forever missed. There are theorems for the eternal returns in both general relativity and quantum physics, that elucidate these questions.

comment by pianoforte611 · 2015-10-14T03:44:48.038Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Isn't it pretty established that the universe is not infinite?

In any case, I don't think so. Even in an infinite universe there is the possibility of loops or repetitions. Also you can have an infinite but not comprehensive set of events even if those events are all unique.

comment by entirelyuseless · 2015-10-14T13:20:03.194Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It hasn't been established that the universe is not infinite, and in fact it seems to be the more common opinion that it probably is.

comment by pianoforte611 · 2015-10-14T14:12:31.332Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I didn't know that the Big Bang was compatible with an infinite universe, I learned something today.

comment by SodaPopinski · 2015-10-16T20:59:41.314Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

If we obtained a good understanding of the beginning of life and found that the odds of life occurring at some point in our universe was one in a million, then what exactly would follow from that. Sure the Fermi paradox would be settled, but would this give credence to multiverse/big world theories or does the fact that the information is anthropically biased tell us nothing at all? Finally, if we don't have to suppose a multiverse to account for a vanishingly small probability of life, then wouldn't it be surprising if there are not a lot of hugely improbable jumps in the forming of intelligent life?

comment by [deleted] · 2015-10-23T10:08:25.790Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Could there be some analogue of placebo-related genes in non-primate mammals, and how would that influence studies of drugs on highly inbred mice lines?

(I don't think it really would, but - stupid questions are stupid.)

comment by [deleted] · 2015-10-15T06:52:00.444Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Interviewer: So Mr. Larity, you seem like a great fit for this job so far, do your values align with those of our company?

Clarity: (hmmm, I remember reading about values on the LessWrong wiki) ...

It is not known whether humans have terminal values that are clearly distinct from another set of instrumental values. Humans appear to adopt different values at different points in life. Nonetheless, if the theory of terminal values applies to humans', then their system of terminal values is quite complex. The values were forged by evolution in the ancestral environment to maximize inclusive genetic fitness. These values include survival, health, friendship, social status, love, joy, aesthetic pleasure, curiosity, and much more. Evolution's implicit goal is inclusive genetic fitness, but humans do not have inclusive genetic fitness as a goal. Rather, these values, which were instrumental to inclusive genetic fitness, have become humans' terminal values (an example of subgoal stomp).

Humans cannot fully introspect their terminal values. Humans' terminal values are often mutually contradictory, inconsistent, and changeable.

Interview: Carlos, I was asking you about values?

Clarity: Oh yeah, I reckon I have those values, so yeah, I'd make a great fit...

How do you communicate in the instrumental rationality real world when your mind is immersed in the epistemic rationality world, if that makes sense? Hopefully the situation I've described illustates what I'm trying to say

comment by MathiasZaman · 2015-10-15T09:52:29.767Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Answer the question the interviewer means, not the question as you'd break it down on Less Wrong. Or more broadly: adapt your communication to the intended argument and goal.

In this particular example, you should know the values of the company before you end up at the interview, so this answer should be: Yes, followed by one or two examples show that your values match those of the company.

comment by Nornagest · 2015-10-15T20:06:20.191Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

If you find yourself so engrossed with abstract epistemic considerations that you can't deal with concrete ones, it may be time to start wondering how much instrumental rationality your approach to this epistemic rationality thing is buying you.

The best players of any game usually do a lot of systematizing, but there is such a thing as too much meta.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-10-16T04:33:05.465Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Where your mind is is based on your mindset going into the interview. If you're thinking all this when the interviewer asks the questions, you definitely haven't practiced enough, and you didn't spend the time before the interview getting into the right mindset.

comment by Fuglinnavon · 2015-10-14T14:19:21.377Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Is the human kind made to live in such big societies ?

comment by MathiasZaman · 2015-10-14T19:35:26.301Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

(Is "Are big societies optimal for human happiness/quality of life," a fair rephrasing of your question?)

I've been asking myself similar questions lately. As pointed out "made to live" implies things that never happened, in that humans weren't created, nor were the current societies/civilizations ever consciously designed or created. They just sort of happened.

Since both humans and societies got to where they are through mostly unthinking processes, it's easy to see how things didn't end up optimal.

Humans were hunter-gatherers for most of their existence. It's hard to intuitively grasp how long a time that is, but I find this quote helpful (source):

If the history of the human race began at midnight, then we would now be almost at the end of our first day. We lived as hunter-gatherers for nearly the whole of that day, from midnight through dawn, noon, and sunset. Finally, at 11:54 p. m. we adopted agriculture.

Without wanting to get into bad evolutionary sciences, I think it's reasonably fair that even modern humans are mostly adapted for the hunter-gatherer life, with a couple of more modern modules thrown in. It's also reasonably fair that humans were mostly "made" to live in small tribes, hunting and gathering.

Agriculture (and later writing, the printing press, the Industrial Revolution, computers...) gave us reasons to not be hunter-gatherers any more and my naive assessment is that a good number of those reasons are good ones. It's just that our bodies and brains haven't caught up.

So where am I going with this? I'm not sure. What I'm trying to say is that I think it's better to say that (our) big societies weren't made for humans (at least, they're not optimal for humans), rather than saying that humans weren't made for big societies.

comment by SilentCal · 2015-10-14T22:20:41.247Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I like your post, but I'd reverse your punchline: humans were indeed not made for big societies, but big societies were made for humans. The problem is that our societies are a retrofit to try to coordinate humans at scales we were never meant for, hence the non-optimality.

comment by Fuglinnavon · 2015-10-15T20:24:24.400Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Thank you for your answer i was thinking the same way ! And yes it was the meaning of my question thank you !

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-10-15T21:25:04.812Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

(Is "Are big societies optimal for human happiness/quality of life," a fair rephrasing of your question?)

That's again a pretty trival answer. No society isn't optimal. We don't live in utopia.

Since both humans and societies got to where they are through mostly unthinking processes

Nation states are created via human made law and a lot of the ways humans interact with each other socially in modern society got thought up by humans as well.

Without wanting to get into bad evolutionary sciences, I think it's reasonably fair that even modern humans are mostly adapted for the hunter-gatherer life, with a couple of more modern modules thrown in. It's also reasonably fair that humans were mostly "made" to live in small tribes, hunting and gathering.

What does that mean? That modern humans have a lower lifespan than they would have in a hunter-gatherer life? That happiness is higher?

comment by Dagon · 2015-10-14T23:30:36.454Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Others have pointed out that you're asking an incoherent question. I'd like to state that even if you refine it to something like "can modern humans be very happy in a big society" (or whatever you do actually mean), you still have the problem of "compared to what"?

Even if you conclude "the average and median human was happier 10000 years ago", you'll face the (Mere Addition Paradox/ Repugnant Conclusion)[https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mere_addition_paradox]. You'll have to figure out how to compare over 7 billion just-OK lives in big societies against a few tens of million pretty-good lives for hunter-gatherers.

comment by Bryan-san · 2015-10-14T16:25:09.735Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

http://slatestarcodex.com/2015/03/05/a-cascade-of-dunbar-numbers/ https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunbar%27s_number Those links may interest you

comment by Fuglinnavon · 2015-10-14T17:32:07.353Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Woaw thank you very much !

comment by SilentCal · 2015-10-14T21:57:50.353Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Also might want to take a look at http://squid314.livejournal.com/340809.html

comment by shminux · 2015-10-14T16:16:48.558Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Depends on what you mean by "made to live". We certainly gravitate toward them.

comment by Fuglinnavon · 2015-10-14T17:27:23.861Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Yeah but even if it's known that the human kindis a "social kind" i don't think such big societies are very necessary ...

comment by shminux · 2015-10-15T06:51:25.185Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

What do you mean by "necessary"? They certainly grow organically.

comment by Fuglinnavon · 2015-10-15T20:47:58.372Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I wanted to mean that even if they grow, they're becoming too big for the humans and a small or medium group of persons or at least a very small society is maybe more adapted to us

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-10-14T17:33:22.811Z · score: -4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

This might be the stupid questions thread but at the same time I don't think it belongs here. "Made to life" implies a designer with a purpose which is not a basic stable of LW.

To be a proper question, define exactly what you want to know instead of appealing to ill-defined concepts to make a point.

comment by SilentCal · 2015-10-14T22:12:33.890Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I'd prefer we err on the inclusive side when determining fitness for the stupid questions thread, and I don't think this is such a bad question. It strikes me as the sort of thing where even if it's a wrong question, dissolving it would be valuable.

comment by Fuglinnavon · 2015-10-14T18:11:52.579Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Yeah sorry in fact i'm french and the expression to say that is "fait pour vivre" and i translated it literally . I just wanted to ask if the humans are biolocally and mentally very able to live in a big society like ours and if it's a product of the evolution.

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-10-14T18:19:56.206Z · score: -5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Yeah sorry in fact i'm french and the expression to say that is "fait pour vivre" and i translated it literally

That not the issue.

I just wanted to ask if the humans are biolocally and mentally very able to live

Human very obviously live in a society like ours. We know that because we can observe that we live, that we are humans and that we are in our society. It's a quite easy logical deduction.

comment by Fuglinnavon · 2015-10-15T20:32:02.111Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Are you serious lol ? You understood what i meant don't be like that ! We can observe too that humans who are very very happy in such big societies are not many and the proportions of unhappy people is growing while societies grow too ; so i was wondering if a big society is the best way to live for an average human and you understood me well!

comment by [deleted] · 2015-10-14T06:42:07.317Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

What was your most exciting takeaway from the quantum physics sequence?

comment by Viliam · 2015-10-14T10:50:47.888Z · score: 9 (11 votes) · LW · GW

That it all "adds up to normality".

So I can finally ignore all those articles shared on social networks about how conscious observers magically cause things to happen. Without the nagging doubt that I may be preserving my peace of mind by ignoring some existing aspect of reality.

comment by shminux · 2015-10-14T16:20:40.861Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

That's probably the most useful and least controversial part of it.

comment by iarwain1 · 2015-10-15T15:41:22.201Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Is it still somewhat controversial? Meaning, are there respected physicists who think that conscious observers do magically cause things to happen?

comment by shminux · 2015-10-17T16:23:09.590Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Roger Penrose is very respected.

comment by Good_Burning_Plastic · 2015-10-18T10:33:48.034Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

But "conscious observers do magically cause things to happen" isn't a good description of his hypothesis.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-10-23T10:12:19.612Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Could it be that 'qualia' are simply paths in the brain, evolved before language so that the brain-carrier would recognize, for example, edible from poisonous? Ancient people would not go around describing leaf shapes and margins in detail, but they would remember the crucial features, even if they had no names for them.