Comment by Richard Horvath on The Fall of Rome: Why It's Relevant, And Why We're Mistaken · 2021-04-24T17:47:05.313Z · LW · GW

I would like to slightly argue with this proposition regarding the fall of Rome.

It is indeed true that the direct reason for the fall was the weakness of the late Roman armies compared to barbarian forces.
But Rome moved away from using farmer soldiers as the  backbone of the army with the Marian reforms in 107 BC. This did not stop the expansion of the empire nor weakened the army for several centuries. Q.E.D.

However, I think your speculation in the second part (transition of power) is actually a really good explanation for this decline of the Roman army. The Imperial armies often rebelled in the late period, trying to promote a new Emperor. To counter this, reforms were introduced that decreased the chance of a successful army rebellion, but they also greatly diminished their effectiveness:
"Under the Roman emperors, besides, the standing armies of Rome, those particularly which guarded the German and Pannonian frontiers, became dangerous to their masters, against whom they used frequently to set up their own generals. In order to render them less formidable, according to some authors, Dioclesian, according to others, Constantine, first withdrew them from the frontier, where they had always before been encamped in great bodies, generally of two or three legions each, and dispersed them in small bodies through the different provincial towns, from whence they were scarce ever removed but when it became necessary to repel an invasion. Small bodies of soldiers quartered, in trading and manufacturing towns, and seldom removed from those quarters, became themselves tradesmen, artificers, and manufacturers. The civil came to predominate over the military character, and the standing armies of Rome gradually degenerated into a corrupt, neglected, and undisciplined militia.."
(The link is to the first chapter of Book 5 of the famous Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith. I suggest reading it, it has really good insights on the nature of armies.)

Comment by Richard Horvath on The best frequently don't rise to the top · 2021-03-25T13:18:54.704Z · LW · GW

I agree that often the best don't rise to the top, but you have bad examples here.

You are confusing expertise in different domains: just because one is exceptional in something, it does not follow they are good at teaching it or making videos of it.
This is especially apparent in Bottura's channel. He might be the best chef in the world, but his youtube content is mediocre.

Comment by Richard Horvath on Birds, Brains, Planes, and AI: Against Appeals to the Complexity/Mysteriousness/Efficiency of the Brain · 2021-01-19T10:07:51.660Z · LW · GW

I like the bird-plane analogy. I kind of had the same idea, but for slightly different reason: just as man made flying machines can be superior to birds in a lot of aspects, man made ai will most likely can be superior to a human mind in a similar way.

Regarding your specific points: they may be valid, however, we do not know at which point in time we are talking about flying or AI: Probably a lot of similar arguments could have been made by Leonardo da Vinci when he was designing his flying machine; most likely he understood a lot more about birds and the way they fly than any of his contemporaries or predecessors; yet, he had no chance to succeed for at least three additional centuries. So are we in the era of the Wright Brothers of A.I., or are we still only at da Vinci's?

I personally think the former is more likely, but I believe the probability of the second one is a lot greater than zero.

Comment by Richard Horvath on What is going on in the world? · 2021-01-18T14:24:38.272Z · LW · GW

Almost all of these could have been said 50 years ago with no or minor (e.g. change Trump to Nixon) change with pretty much the same emphasis. Even those that not (e.g. Pandemic), could be easily replaced with other things similar in nature in absolute outcome (famine in China, massive limitation of mobility (and other freedoms) in the Eastern Block etc.).

Even 100 years ago you could make similar cases for most things (except A.I., that is a newer concept, yet there could have been similar issues in those times for which people had the same hope for that I am not aware of).

Yet, here we are, better off than before. Was this the expected outcome?

Comment by Richard Horvath on What is it good for? But actually? · 2020-12-17T09:11:58.845Z · LW · GW

Generally I am quite wary with explanations of evolutionary psychology, but I think a good point can be made that going to war oversees is very similar to going out to hunt mammoth for the tribe: a dangerous travel-adventure to kill things to help the tribe. I suppose people with such tendencies were more likely to reproduce.

Comment by Richard Horvath on Nuclear war is unlikely to cause human extinction · 2020-11-18T10:08:56.762Z · LW · GW

"Something that I hadn't considered before: would it be possible to move people into target areas (before attacks) or radiated areas (afterwards) by using conventional and/or area denial weapons?"

I don't think so. Generally if you want to increase casualties you would want to have people concentrated as much as possible, so move people into already large cities. However, people during wartime (and pandemics) usually tend to move out from such places, this is shown both by historical experience and to me seems to be the logical way to act (as cities are targeted due to critical infrastructure they contain and most services cities offer become severely limited).

Even if the countryside were targeted deliberately for this effect, conventional weapons cannot be used efficiently for this kind of area denial, for such nuclear weapons seem to be the most effective, maybe alongside with chemical weapons, but those have the same limitation (fallout directed by weather conditions, wind in particular) with far less power.

Comment by Richard Horvath on Top Time Travel Interventions? · 2020-10-27T23:12:49.058Z · LW · GW

I travel back in time to the 1170s and shoot Temüjin, aka Genghis Khan, before he could establish his empire.

Although there had been good policies he promoted (e.g., religious tolerance, trade), the probable upsides vastly outweigh this.

Just to name a few that I consider to be most important:

1. During the Mongol conquest tens of millions perished. This had been the approximately third bloodiest "conflict" in all human history. However, unlike e.g. the World Wars, where several large  belligerents existed without a single pivotal person (e.g., even without a Hitler, a bloody Second World War could have happened, just as a first one did in the same region between the same states) and almost all of it could have been avoided if the Mongol Empire is not formed at all.

2. As part of these conquests Baghdad and it's Grand Library was destroyed, which were the center of Islamic scholarship of that time. Most likely this had been a huge factor in the decline of secularism and scientific inquiry in the Middle East.

3. The mainstream theory regarding the spread of Black Death in Europe says it arrived via Genoese traders who fled from the Mongol siege of Kaffa, Crimea, where mongols catapulted infected corpses over the city walls. If really that was the source, avoiding this could have changed the prevented/delayed the spread of the disease and deathtoll might have been much lower.

As these all would have happened about 8 centuries ago, the long term effects would be even greater.

Comment by Richard Horvath on LessWrong FAQ · 2020-10-27T23:02:13.090Z · LW · GW


Comment by Richard Horvath on LessWrong FAQ · 2020-10-27T23:00:37.045Z · LW · GW


Comment by Richard Horvath on LessWrong FAQ · 2020-10-27T22:59:46.769Z · LW · GW

:::spoiler test 123 :::

Comment by Richard Horvath on LessWrong FAQ · 2020-10-27T22:57:54.693Z · LW · GW



Comment by Richard Horvath on LessWrong FAQ · 2020-10-27T22:57:10.476Z · LW · GW

I did not find a designated page, so I am going to test the spoiler function here.


>! test spoiler 123


Comment by Richard Horvath on Is Success the Enemy of Freedom? (Full) · 2020-10-27T18:30:35.716Z · LW · GW

This reminds me of Seneca.

Your modern parables give a better frame for some of his advises:

"Set aside a certain number of days, during which you shall be content with the scantiest and cheapest fare, with coarse and rough dress, saying to yourself the while: “Is this the condition that I feared?”"

Comment by Richard Horvath on How to reach 80% of your goals. Exactly 80%. · 2020-10-12T11:32:58.721Z · LW · GW

Good idea, I might actually try this one.

Some questions on implementation:

When do you set your daily goals? Are you doing this exercise each morning of the particular day, or are you setting these on the evening before?

Do you have specific time slots set to update the tracking or do you do that each time you complete a task?

Did you change something in the process since you started using it (e.g., something that seemed too arduous or ineffective)?

Comment by Richard Horvath on Rationality and Climate Change · 2020-10-06T16:17:45.326Z · LW · GW
  1. Climate change is only negative insofar as it causes negative change in human welfare.
    1.  Human welfare in this framework is a function of natural environment (which includes climate) and all improvements added to this environment by human effort (e.g. roads, houses, electricity network etc.), which I will refer to as "capital".
    2. If the climate of an area changes to one that is better suited for human welfare (e.g. allows better crop yields, lessens the need of energy consumption for heating or cooling etc.), climate change has a positive effect.
    3. As capital needs to be replaced over a time period (e.g., infrastructure has to be repaired and maintained, which can be measured in a ratio of cost of maintenance/cost of  production, lets call this "replacement rate"), climate change will have a negative effect on human welfare if the change causes the replacement rate to increase (e.g., if expenses on air conditioning rise faster due to climate change then they drop on insulation from cold).
  2. For advanced civilizations climate change is inevitable.
    1. One cannot drain energy from a system without affecting it.
      Hence, the higher we are on the Kardashev scale the larger the impact of our energy consumption on our environment.
    2. Even if we change to other energy sources, the environment will still be affected. I do not see serious research into this. Even worse, it seems most people have the illusion that other energy sources might have zero effect on the environment. Large dams already show otherwise for hydroelectric, but it is not so clear on other sources.
      As a thought experiment: imagine we are living in a world where the ratio of fossil fuel and wind energy usage is exactly the opposite. As CO2 emission is 1-2% of our world's, we would not be able to find negative effect from this on climate. To me it is plausible that that is the same case with other sources of energy.
  3. We are bad at figuring out what climate will do in the future and what how consumption affects it.
    1. I am not very familiar with contemporary publications on this, but I am quite sceptical about our ability to make accurate predictions, especially as it is the local climate that mostly affects human welfare, global average temperature is a very weak estimation for this.
    2. In case of human consumption, all supply chain through the whole product lifecycle must be mapped if we desire an accurate top-down solution. I do not see this in the proposed solutions. I have the impression they are only dealing with CO2 production during operation, ignoring production and decomission and all other negative externalities.
  4. The climate change issue is a discussion of an externality problem with weak understanding of causal effects and very large number of participants.
    1. There is a classic economics example: 
      Two firms located on a river. Upstream firm pollutes the river, reducing output for the downstream firm.
    2. To modify this to climate change: replace the river with an ocean, increase the number of actors to 8 billion, allowing them to create non-fixed sets (e.g., companies, towns, families), have them all affect each other in a very small way, which if summed up changes the pollutedness in a specific direction but which still increase production is some beaches of the ocean, but we do not know to what extent exactly. (and here we haven't even elaborated on different jurisdictions).

As per above, it is a difficult question. However, even if we found a good solution, the issue has become so politicised that carrying out any plan without massive disruption by interest groups is unavoidable.

Comment by Richard Horvath on What hard science fiction stories also got the social sciences right? · 2020-10-02T16:00:38.859Z · LW · GW

Well, integrating all our best knowledge of social sciences for SciFi is hard. I am not sure if I can judge if it was successful or not in most cases. What I can point out instead is a couple of works where something like this had been attempted, as the author gave serious thought on how different technology and environment would affect society:

  1. Moon Is A Harsh Mistress by Heinlein
    I think the elaboration on how family structure is changed due to low female:male ratio and dangerous environment makes sense ( ), and the book contains a lot of good thought on other things like this.
  2. Revelation Space series by Alastair Reynolds
    In these books a lot of different social structures are listed that are possible due to technology, such as the Democratic Anarchism (quoting from the wiki):
    "The Demarchy functioned by means of a neural implant that constantly sought the user's opinion on aspects of Demarchist life. This constant prompting eventually faded away into the user's neural background, much like the ticking of a clock might fade away into background noise.
    Each core was tasked with collecting and processing votes, and also determining whether or not the elected decision was the best one in previous elections -- voters who continually made "good" decisions were rewarded by having their vote count for more than one standard vote."
    The second book ("Chasm City") also elaborates on how the crew of a small fleet of multi-generational interstellar ships would live and be organized until they reach their destination in the not-so-far future (so without neural links and magic gadgets).
  3.  We Are Legion (We Are Bob) by Dennis E. Taylor.
    This one is less rigorous on the "hard" part than the previous two. I really like some ideas, such as if  human minds can be uploaded and multiplied, we would could end up a whole industry being operated by the copies of a single expert.
Comment by Richard Horvath on Changes in Reality · 2020-09-07T21:44:31.142Z · LW · GW

Some comments:

  • Social systems are also part of reality and they influences economic and technological environment just like the other way around. E.g. the social change caused by modern contraception greatly influenced consumption habits, therefor causing changes in investments into research and production
  • I don't know if " technology/science have slowed down", this is hard to measure. Yet if it did I believe it is due to reaching a plateau in most fields where the returns are strongly diminishing. That is: no more low hanging fruits, loads of research needed for small improvement. Shovels and knives did not change too much in the past two millennia after all.
  • "but we will not have enough time to converge on a new social system " - what does this mean? Is this when social media started to be designed to cause dopamine loops? Or is it when millions starved to death in North Korea? Is this when the Soviet Union collapsed? Is this when the French revolution happened? Is this why the Cahokia civilization declined?
Comment by Richard Horvath on The US Already Has A Wealth Tax · 2020-08-21T14:57:55.573Z · LW · GW

I think you made a very good point on why Paul Graham's example in itself is not as strong as it may seem: there are already investors and founders who are paying something similar in the form of inflation and capital gains tax.

I think you also made a not entirely fair comparison: founders of companies and stock investors are not in the same position.

For a stock investor it might not be a such a great difference if you pay your tax in one portion after 15 years or if you pay the same distributed to 15 distinct tax years.*

However, for a founder of a not-yet-public-company this is not the case. Imagine if you own 10% of a startup after you receive venture capital of 100 M USD for 50% of all stocks. That gets your 10% valued at 10 M. Still, it is entirely possible that you have hardly any cashflow and and can barely make ends meet, yet now with a 0,5% wealth tax you owe 50,000 a year to IRS. You have to get that 50k for each year until your company goes public and you can actually sell your shares, which might be 5-10 years down the road, if you ever get there.

*of course, even as a public market investor you would face additional transaction costs of converting your assets to cash when tax payment is due.

Comment by Richard Horvath on On Systems - Living a life of zero willpower · 2020-08-17T20:13:23.971Z · LW · GW

Thanks for these great ideas.

I am quite confused by the concept of willpower, which is, as you put it, "fuzzy". On one side, I encounter a lot of advice like yours, where we are urged to preserve it, like a limited resource. On the other hand, there are other advice out there that supposedly help us increase our willpower, using the same concepts that we increase our physical fitness with. These usually involve doing uncomfortable tasks, like having cold showers or focusing on specific objects.

If I assume willpower works the same way as muscles, creating a very systematic life where one barely needs to use it would weaken it in the long term. Though, it is possible that we are actually overusing so much that using systems actually gives the same kind of rest our body needs after a workout before it could get stronger.

Is there a good reconciliation of the preserve vs. develop willpower debate?

Comment by Richard Horvath on The Atomic Bomb Considered As Hungarian High School Science Fair Project · 2020-08-16T10:50:52.569Z · LW · GW

Hi Scott,

First of all, thanks for the article. It's a great demonstration of how thorough investigation can falsify myths of simplistic explanation, such as attributing the creation of great minds to a single teacher or educational institution.

I do have some hypothesis regarding this topic:

1. Luck: Such extraordinary minds as Teller, Neumann and Wigner are produced by chance. We were just lucky that we got so many in that era and we are just fooled by randomness and our eagerness to find causal relationship everywhere.

2. Easier problems: I do not know much about contemporary physics, so I am probably wrong on this one, yet I think it shall be mentioned: These great minds were not as extraordinary as we believe. We have comparable people even nowadays, Teller's generation produced more results due to "low hanging fruits": the problems they solved were easier than the problems that remained, hence the lack of such great breakthroughs in contemporary physics.

3. Akrasia: As you mentioned, even before starting their formal education, these people were already extraordinary. Probably due to them being the first generation where their families could afford to have them study instead of contributing to their income. But hey, this is still true for subsequent generations! So why do we not have such great minds? I think this is due to circumstances talented kids in that era were raised: If smart kids wanted to entertain their minds the only thing they could do was studying complicated subjects. They had no TV, comic books, fantasy or science fiction, reddit, mmorpgs or social networks. They had nothing that would drain their attention so they could focus all their time and energy in mastering math, physics and other like subjects. In addition, as they already did this for fun when they were young, even later in their life they could easily focus on these as they did not attribute this activity to be "work" but something they were happy to do.

3.2 This all could have been enhanced by living in a community where being highly educated was a display of great social status, so their families were be motivated to spend a great fortune of tutors, books and to encourage the children.

I must admit, I did not research properly that era, so my assumptions might be wrong.