From the paper:
“Because we began by putting forward a theoretically derived hypothesis and calling its viability into question on the basis of experimental data, it behooves us to listen carefully to what that data has been trying tell us and to draw together plausibly the various strands of evidence. The most parsimonious inductive explanation for our cumulative findings, we contend, is that automatic attitudes are asymmetrically malleable. That is, like creditcard debt and excess calories, they are easier to acquire than they are to cast aside. Thus, when people construe an object for the first time, their conscious fondness or antipathy for it is swiftly supplemented by an automatic positive or negative reaction. However, once people have acquired an attitude toward the object, attempts to subsequently undo it are differentially successful at different levels of the mind and lead its automatic component to lag behind its conscious one. Thus, Devine’s (1989) key prediction—that automatic attitudes will be generally be [sic] harder to shift that their self-reported counterparts — may be correct after all, not under the boundary conditions that we initially proposed but under a new set of boundary conditions that our data have subsequently suggested. […]
We contend that automatic attitudes operate like rapidly established perceptual defaults: although they can initially be engendered by conscious cognition, they later become relatively resilient to its influence.”
So, there might exist a variety of perhaps even non-overlapping reasons why one might be interested in stuff like this. I’m interested because I believe that some of the automatic attitudes I have implicitly come under the influence of are attitudes which does not make me happy, which is why I feel that I at the very least should try to understand them better. Understanding might make it easier for me to successfully challenge them. Though I’m not optimistic about that. I should specify that the automatic attitudes I have in mind here are perhaps of a somewhat different kind than the ones described in the study; but it doesn’t seem like a lot of stuff is written about how to overcome biological imperatives, and you need to take what you can get.
Human males my age – not only human males my age, but also human males my age – are ‘supposed to’ look for a mate to have children with, and if they can’t find one they are supposed to work towards gathering power and resources so that once someone is there to be found, they can compete more successfully with the other available males in the bidding war that will ensue, and perhaps win the right to have offspring. The male brain has not yet caught on to the fact that contraception has changed everything, in a way that means that power and resources no longer matter all that much when it comes to reproductive success. As Kanazawa put it in this paper; “men’s wealth still translates into their greater reproductive success had it not been for modern contraception, which men’s brain, adapted to the ancestral environment, has difficulty comprehending.”
To the Paleolithic brain, sex = offspring. The whole ‘offspring’-part is why sex feels good. Most (/non-ignorant?) males (/and females) know that the reason why sex feels good is because sex is nature’s (/your genes’) way of tricking you into having offspring. Just as the reason why chocolate cookies taste good is because they contain a lot of fats and sugars, i.e. calories; and calories are good if you want to avoid starving to death, a risk our ancestors spent a lot more time worrying about than we do. But whereas people are quite open about how it’s probably a bad idea to eat too many cookies, because it will make you fat and unhealthy, and thus people do not eat all that many chocolate cookies, there are, to put it bluntly, certainly a lot less people who seem to be open about drawing the conclusion that partnership and children is not worth it and that they ‘refuse to be slaves of their biology’. At least in that area of life…
I have this strange feeling that a lot of male (/and female) behaviour today might look completely crazy to someone who’s not as invested in the underlying ideals of the Paleolithic Era as are (all?) (/fe)males today. For a male, it looks like this: ‘The way to be happy/the good life is to find a fecund-looking female, court her and then have sex with her a lot, have babies and provide for them, die.’ A slightly more elaborate version would also include ‘convince your partner on an ongoing basis that you’re the best male available (by doing all kinds of weird things that signal to the female that you are there for the long haul, even if you’re not – and by golly, the modern economy/-world has certainly increased the number of insane-looking jump-through-the-hoops signals a (self-identified?) high-quality female can demand of her partner..)’, as well as ‘try to cheat on her as often as you can get away with – so that you can have more babies – but try your best to hide the cheating from her so as not to incur significant switching costs.’
The bidding wars these days in the partnership setting relates far more to the quality of the offspring than to the number of offspring. The Paleolithic fecundity markers are more or less completely out of whack with reality today. Today it is mostly preferences – which are to a very large degree driven by socioeconomic factors, religion, culture and societal norms more broadly – and not biological factors (waist-hip ratio etc.) which decide how many children a female is likely to/willing to have. Kanazawa (see above) found that resource access is pretty much irrelevant too. However the lives of most males and females continue to follow the age-old recipe, to some degree. To be happy you need to find a mate and have children. For a male, in order to get the best possible female you need access to resources, you need power. So you need money, which means that you need to work hard, both to obtain access to resources and incidentally also to actually convince the high-quality female that you’re the most suitable partner available. It’s not that these ideals seem completely true to everybody; it’s more that when you defend a different version of the good life, my impression is that you most often will have a hard time making that defense sound credible, even to yourself. People often reject some of the defining characteristics of the traditional partnership equation, like the idea that a partnership necessarily needs to involve children, that it makes sense to look for ‘the one’, that romantic relationships need to involve members of both genders, or perhaps that a monogamous relationship is the best way to deal with the romantic stuff in your life; but how many people openly reject the idea of having a relationship as a major life goal in favour of the alternative in the (‘semi’…, see my remarks below regarding the commitment issues here)-long run, for no other reason than that they think that they will be probably end up happier in the long run if they do? Surely only a person who has no chance in the dating market would do such a thing, right?
I assume the standard narrative will not work for me. It seems like too much hard work that you just know that you’re only undertaking because your Stone Age brain is trying to trick you into undertaking it, just like it’s trying to trick you into eating too many chocolate cookies – and with not too dissimilar consequences. I will probably not be willing to work hard enough to find a long-term partner who would not reject me in favour of someone more suitable, given the amount of competition. And if I do find someone, I will still have major problems trusting her, because I’ll assume that if she follows the standard narrative here, she’ll also follow the Paleolithic recipe later on. Which tells me that she’ll be more likely than not to leave me when I start getting really sick. Yeah, I may not get really sick and a potential she may not leave even if I do, but in expected terms this needs to be taken into account; as does my loss aversion at that point.
So why was I reading the paper again? Because it seems to me at this point that the smartest thing for me to do would be to rewire my brain somehow, to make it like stuff it currently does not like as much as would be optimal, and to dislike stuff it currently seems to enjoy thinking about. To let go of a lot of the counterproductive narratives which were never about people like me in the first place. I’m perfectly well aware that this is all about rationalization, and Paleolithic mind has views about that stuff too. Given what I’ve previously said about the Stoics, naturally I’m not very optimistic about this whole endeavour. But it seems worth trying. Maybe my mind can actually outsmart my Paleolithic mind. In the eyes of most females, I probably won’t be proper partner-material for some time (because of ‘resources, power’) anyway – at least not for the kind of partner my Stone Age brain is trying to convince me I’d like to have. I know about the assortative mating-aspects of the college/university experience, but I also know that that part of the university experience is probably not likely to be relevant for me. Either way, I hope that I can obtain a state of mind such that my period of thinking about dating and similar stuff is over – at least for the time being. The only way not to lose the bidding war is not to play or think about playing.
Incidentally, I ought to at post a few remarks here about how this post relates to my commitment to change: I was writing this and publishing it here at least in part to more efficiently commit myself to this change. I know how strong ‘the opposition’ (‘the Paleolithic mind’ and all its friends and allies…) is, and I might give up on this idea before long. But writing this here can not hurt my chances much, and I’ve been thinking along these lines for a while now. I’ve found that it’s much easier to (knowingly) ‘rationalize’ not looking for a partner than it is to actually be perfectly okay with not doing it. And if it turns out to be impossible to obtain that mind state, it seems suboptimal in most scenarios to not be dating. I’m not trying to commit myself to not dating/finding a girlfriend; I’m trying to commit myself to thinking that I can be perfectly happy even though I don’t. It’s the thoughts in my head, not the behaviour they engender, which are central here. Interestingly enough, if I’m succesful it also probably means that long-run credible commitment to this state of mind is impossible (if preferences such as these can actually be changed over time, such changes can also be reversed later on), which should if anything make commitment in the short run easier, rather than harder, to achieve.
i. My birthday is in two months, so I’ll probably be sending out a wish list in a couple of weeks (the kinds of books I usually want have to be sent from other parts of the world and that takes a lot of time…). Which means that now is a good time for you to recommend books and other stuff to me.
After reading this article on ‘The Real War 1939-1945’, (it’s quite long, don’t start reading it if you have but 5 or 10 minutes at your disposal – and thanks for linking to it Gwern!) I decided to add this book to my list. The author died just 6 days ago.
iv. A paper on the effects of alcohol on behaviour which some readers might find interesting.
v. Another one of Steven Farmer’s pharmacology lectures – Antimicrobial Agents 1:
vi. I read two whole chapters in The Human Past today, as well as part of a third. It’s a textbook, so (2,3-2,4?) chapters corresponds to ~10 hours of reading or so (one of the chapters was quite short). I decided to just add some related links from wikipedia below, in no particular order. This is some of the stuff I’ve been reading about:
Domestication of the pig
Talheim Death Pit
Linearbandkeramik (LBK) / Linear Pottery Culture (LPC)
Lindow Man (featured article)
Ötzi the Iceman (people who read Razib Khan regularly will probably remember his posts on this one)
The climate-related stuff I found fascinating, but there’s only so much of that kind of stuff you can put into a book about ‘the human past’ so naturally the treatment of this subject was not as detailed as I’d perhaps have liked. Did you know that before the end of the last ice age, Japan wasn’t separated from the Asian mainland? Or that Tasmania was part of Australia? That you could walk from Britain to France? Do also read the articles on Sundaland and Doggerland and recall that not that long ago, you could walk from Asia to America… Also, “faunal evidence indicates the presence of domesticated cattle in the central Sahara by at least the 5th millenium BC. Only during the 3rd millenium BC did climate patterns change and the Sahara begin to take on the desert-like character it has today” (p.181) The world isn’t what it was, it’s very different, and you don’t actually need to go very far back in time to get very surprised at what has happened and how much things have changed.
Sorry for the infrequent updates.
Another one of Paul Graham’s essays. A very, very good read, so I’ve quoted extensively from the essay below:
“Let’s start with a test: Do you have any opinions that you would be reluctant to express in front of a group of your peers?
If the answer is no, you might want to stop and think about that. If everything you believe is something you’re supposed to believe, could that possibly be a coincidence? Odds are it isn’t. Odds are you just think whatever you’re told. […]
What can’t we say? One way to find these ideas is simply to look at things people do say, and get in trouble for. 
Of course, we’re not just looking for things we can’t say. We’re looking for things we can’t say that are true, or at least have enough chance of being true that the question should remain open. But many of the things people get in trouble for saying probably do make it over this second, lower threshold. No one gets in trouble for saying that 2 + 2 is 5, or that people in Pittsburgh are ten feet tall. Such obviously false statements might be treated as jokes, or at worst as evidence of insanity, but they are not likely to make anyone mad. The statements that make people mad are the ones they worry might be believed. I suspect the statements that make people maddest are those they worry might be true. […]
In every period of history, there seem to have been labels that got applied to statements to shoot them down before anyone had a chance to ask if they were true or not. “Blasphemy”, “sacrilege”, and “heresy” were such labels for a good part of western history, as in more recent times “indecent”, “improper”, and “unamerican” have been. […]
We have such labels today, of course, quite a lot of them, from the all-purpose “inappropriate” to the dreaded “divisive.” In any period, it should be easy to figure out what such labels are, simply by looking at what people call ideas they disagree with besides untrue. When a politician says his opponent is mistaken, that’s a straightforward criticism, but when he attacks a statement as “divisive” or “racially insensitive” instead of arguing that it’s false, we should start paying attention. […]
Moral fashions more often seem to be created deliberately. When there’s something we can’t say, it’s often because some group doesn’t want us to.
The prohibition will be strongest when the group is nervous. […] To launch a taboo, a group has to be poised halfway between weakness and power. A confident group doesn’t need taboos to protect it. It’s not considered improper to make disparaging remarks about Americans, or the English. And yet a group has to be powerful enough to enforce a taboo. […]
I suspect the biggest source of moral taboos will turn out to be power struggles in which one side only barely has the upper hand. That’s where you’ll find a group powerful enough to enforce taboos, but weak enough to need them.
Most struggles, whatever they’re really about, will be cast as struggles between competing ideas. The English Reformation was at bottom a struggle for wealth and power, but it ended up being cast as a struggle to preserve the souls of Englishmen from the corrupting influence of Rome. It’s easier to get people to fight for an idea. And whichever side wins, their ideas will also be considered to have triumphed, as if God wanted to signal his agreement by selecting that side as the victor.
We often like to think of World War II as a triumph of freedom over totalitarianism. We conveniently forget that the Soviet Union was also one of the winners.
I’m not saying that struggles are never about ideas, just that they will always be made to seem to be about ideas, whether they are or not. […]
To do good work you need a brain that can go anywhere. And you especially need a brain that’s in the habit of going where it’s not supposed to.
Great work tends to grow out of ideas that others have overlooked, and no idea is so overlooked as one that’s unthinkable. Natural selection, for example. It’s so simple. Why didn’t anyone think of it before? Well, that is all too obvious. Darwin himself was careful to tiptoe around the implications of his theory. He wanted to spend his time thinking about biology, not arguing with people who accused him of being an atheist. […]
When you find something you can’t say, what do you do with it? My advice is, don’t say it. Or at least, pick your battles.
Suppose in the future there is a movement to ban the color yellow. Proposals to paint anything yellow are denounced as “yellowist”, as is anyone suspected of liking the color. People who like orange are tolerated but viewed with suspicion. Suppose you realize there is nothing wrong with yellow. If you go around saying this, you’ll be denounced as a yellowist too, and you’ll find yourself having a lot of arguments with anti-yellowists. If your aim in life is to rehabilitate the color yellow, that may be what you want. But if you’re mostly interested in other questions, being labelled as a yellowist will just be a distraction. Argue with idiots, and you become an idiot.
The most important thing is to be able to think what you want, not to say what you want. And if you feel you have to say everything you think, it may inhibit you from thinking improper thoughts. I think it’s better to follow the opposite policy. Draw a sharp line between your thoughts and your speech. Inside your head, anything is allowed. Within my head I make a point of encouraging the most outrageous thoughts I can imagine. But, as in a secret society, nothing that happens within the building should be told to outsiders. The first rule of Fight Club is, you do not talk about Fight Club. […]
The trouble with keeping your thoughts secret, though, is that you lose the advantages of discussion. Talking about an idea leads to more ideas. So the optimal plan, if you can manage it, is to have a few trusted friends you can speak openly to. This is not just a way to develop ideas; it’s also a good rule of thumb for choosing friends. The people you can say heretical things to without getting jumped on are also the most interesting to know. […]
Who thinks they’re not open-minded? Our hypothetical prim miss from the suburbs thinks she’s open-minded. Hasn’t she been taught to be? Ask anyone, and they’ll say the same thing: they’re pretty open-minded, though they draw the line at things that are really wrong. (Some tribes may avoid “wrong” as judgemental, and may instead use a more neutral sounding euphemism like “negative” or “destructive”.)
When people are bad at math, they know it, because they get the wrong answers on tests. But when people are bad at open-mindedness they don’t know it. In fact they tend to think the opposite. […]
To see fashion in your own time, though, requires a conscious effort. Without time to give you distance, you have to create distance yourself. Instead of being part of the mob, stand as far away from it as you can and watch what it’s doing. And pay especially close attention whenever an idea is being suppressed. Web filters for children and employees often ban sites containing pornography, violence, and hate speech. What counts as pornography and violence? And what, exactly, is “hate speech?” This sounds like a phrase out of 1984.
Labels like that are probably the biggest external clue. If a statement is false, that’s the worst thing you can say about it. You don’t need to say that it’s heretical. And if it isn’t false, it shouldn’t be suppressed. So when you see statements being attacked as x-ist or y-ic (substitute your current values of x and y), whether in 1630 or 2030, that’s a sure sign that something is wrong. When you hear such labels being used, ask why.
Especially if you hear yourself using them. It’s not just the mob you need to learn to watch from a distance. You need to be able to watch your own thoughts from a distance. That’s not a radical idea, by the way; it’s the main difference between children and adults. When a child gets angry because he’s tired, he doesn’t know what’s happening. An adult can distance himself enough from the situation to say “never mind, I’m just tired.” I don’t see why one couldn’t, by a similar process, learn to recognize and discount the effects of moral fashions.
You have to take that extra step if you want to think clearly. But it’s harder, because now you’re working against social customs instead of with them. Everyone encourages you to grow up to the point where you can discount your own bad moods. Few encourage you to continue to the point where you can discount society’s bad moods.
How can you see the wave, when you’re the water? Always be questioning. That’s the only defence. What can’t you say? And why?”
i. “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” (often, probably incorrectly, attributed Oscar Wilde)
ii. “People are happy to judge each other according to what they think of as standards, while thinking their own particular case is, well… particular. It’s different for you because you have reasons, everybody else just has excuses.” (found here)
iii. “We’re even wrong about which mistakes we’re making.” (Carl Winfeld, found here)
iv. “No matter how busy you may think you are, you must find time for reading, or surrender yourself to self-chosen ignorance.” (Confucius, from the same lw-thread)
v. “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” (disputed, often attributed Eleanor Roosevelt)
vi. “Never put off until tomorrow what you can do the day after tomorrow.” (attributed Mark Twain)
vii. “The man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read” (-ll-)
viii. “If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.” (attr. Haruki Murakami)
ix. “All marriage is such a lottery — the happiness is always an exchange — though it may be a very happy one — still the poor woman is bodily and morally the husband’s slave. That always sticks in my throat.” (Queen Victoria. If the source doesn’t surprise you…)
x. “The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it.” (attr. Flannery O’ Connor)
xi. “Think before you speak. Read before you think. This will give you something to think about that you didn’t make up yourself” (Fran Lebowitz)
xii. “I never met anyone who didn’t have a very smart child. What happens to these children, you wonder, when they reach adulthood?” (-ll-)
xiii. “Original thought is like original sin: both happened before you were born to people you could not have possibly met.” (-ll-)
xiv. “Our sympathy is cold to the relation of distant misery.” (Edward Gibbon)
xv. “We must trust to nothing but facts: These are presented to us by Nature, and cannot deceive. We ought, in every instance, to submit our reasoning to the test of experiment, and never to search for truth but by the natural road of experiment and observation.” (Lavoisier)
xvi. “People may flatter themselves just as much by thinking that their faults are always present to other people’s minds, as if they believe that the world is always contemplating their individual charms and virtues.” (Elizabeth Gaskell, Wives and daughters)
xvii. “We must not indulge in unfavourable views of mankind, since by doing it we make bad men believe that they are no worse than others, and we teach the good that they are good in vain.” (Walter Savage Landor)
xviii. “To be stupid, selfish, and have good health are three requirements for happiness, though if stupidity is lacking, all is lost.” (Flaubert)
xix. “Our ignorance of history causes us to slander our own times.” (-ll-)
xx. “As a rule we disbelieve all the facts and theories for which we have no use.” (William James)
xxi. “Properly speaking, a man has as many social selves as there are individuals who recognise him.” (-ll-)
xxii. “First, you know, a new theory is attacked as absurd; then it is admitted to be true, but obvious and insignificant; finally it is seen to be so important that its adversaries claim that they themselves discovered it.” (-ll-)
Main link here. Some of the data you can find at the link:
i. Have you ever wondered how the covariation between alcohol consumption and GDP looks like on an international level? Now you know (…more about it than you did before):
Each colour represents a different region (look at the map at the top right part of the image); for instance, orange is Europe + Russia/central Eurasia, blue is Africa, green is Middle Eastern countries etc.. Each dot is a country and the population size of the country determines the size of the dot. In general, it looks very messy and there’s a lot of weird stuff going on here! Not too surprising to me, it turns out that the most hard-drinking countries are Eastern European countries; the top 5 countries in terms of alcohol consumption are: Moldova, South Korea (though that one came as a huge surprise to me!), Belarus, Ukraine and Estonia. A little further down you have Czech Republic, Russia, Romania, Lithuania, Hungary as well as Uganda (also did not see that one coming!). Denmark is at roughly 12 liters/year/person, but long-time Danish readers of this blog already knew that.
ii. What about BMI and income? Are poor countries full of skinny people and rich countries full of fat people? Here’s the data:
In general, it seems that national BMI tends to grow with national income – this is the case whether you remove really poor regions like Africa and the Indian subcontinent or not, though the strength of the association goes down a lot if you do. This is best seen if you look at the direct association between income and BMI, not the association between log(income) and BMI (which is what is displayed above) – then it looks like this:
Remember that these are snapshots from 2008. At gapminder you can also look at the data over time, and when I did that it seemed quite likely to me that the most important weight-income effect is the one occurring at the point where most people start being able to consistently afford enough food to not go hungry at any point in time, and most countries fortunately have incomes which are well above that level. Compared to what happens after that, BMI seems to go up a lot before a country hits the $10.000/capita-mark.
But do remember to be aware of the fact that there’s a lot of variation here – for example, Jordan has a GDP/capita of ~5k and a mean BMI of 27, which is higher than that of, say, Sweden (~34k GDP/capita). Iraq has a mean BMI of 27. There are a lot of countries with mean BMIs above 25 and far from all of them are ‘Western countries’. A mean BMI above 25 is not the same thing as saying that half of the population is overweight (for that you’d need the median; the BMI-measure is for natural reasons skewed to the right), but it probably does mean that a lot of countries which are not normally thought of as ‘filthy rich countries’ will have to look forward to some perhaps quite significant issues with lifestyle diseases a few decades down the line. I know that I often mention this in these sorts of contexts, but it’s important also to note that a lot of variation is not captured by data which is gathered at the national level, because of aggregation; Much of Western China is still more or less purely agricultural and there are a lot of poor people driving down the average, but the developed parts look a lot more like the rest of the world than people are perhaps aware – you can google ‘China obesity epidemic’ or similar terms if you want to know more about this particular subject.
iii. What about broadband subscription and income? Well…
Looking at this variable is, I believe, a relatively good way to have a feel for some of that intra-country heterogeneity which is often hidden in other measures. According to these numbers (which are, perhaps, subject to gaming, but let’s pretend they’re not completely unreasonable), 6.3% of the Chinese had broadband access in 2008. This number was higher than that of Brazil (5.3%) and it’s comparable to Russia (6.5%). Mexico’s number was 7.1% and the number for Turkey was 7.8%. The Chinese 2008-number is higher than the broadband subscribing rates of France and the UK in 2003 (at which point the highest numbers were those of South Korea and Hong Kong).
iv. What about something like forest coverage? Here’s the data:
It looks very messy! And looking at the development over time doesn’t really help – in specific cases you can probably read more about the country in question and try to figure out what was going on (Uganda experienced income growth and forest coverage losses in most years during the 1990-2005 time period – the country seems to have lost something like one third of it’s forest area during the last two decades), but on the international level there’s no clear pattern here, as far as I can tell; a lot of the variation looks quite random. However I thought that the actual forest coverage numbers on their own were quite interesting.
Gapminder has a small ‘how to use’ menu/video you can watch if it’s not obvious to you how you do stuff you’d like to do, and it’s very easy to use this ressource. I encourage you to go have a look at some data yourself – there’s a lot of interesting stuff here.
“Before you can reason, you need to know.”
Razib Khan, in what is certainly one of his best posts this year. It also includes the related advice: “Whereof one does not know, one must be silent.” Go read the post if you haven’t already, there’s a lot of good stuff there.
Just for fun, I decided to very quickly run through a very reductionist version of my own views on politics as they are today:
i. Reality is what it is. Numbers are what they are. They ought to be relevant when it comes to peoples’ political views but most often they are not. Of course I agree with Razib’s quotes above.
ii. Anybody can make an implicit mental model of the world and through various processes fit the data at hand so that political ideas they like look optimal for people they like to convince, including themselves. Everybody do this.
iii. People almost never hold political opinions because they have thought long and hard about them; because they’ve read a lot of relevant stuff and know a lot about the subject matter. Political opinions are mostly just signalling mechanisms. Most people parrot what they assume to be the right answer given the social context. But the fact that they will often not utter a single original thought during the debate does not mean that they don’t care deeply about the subject; most people care a lot about political stuff. But few people care enough to use an at least semi-data-driven approach to manage their opinion-updating mechanism (if any updating takes place at all. People rarely change their opinion about political matters.).
iv. Political debates are not about sharing information and/or increasing knowledge. They are about winning. Winning is all that matters to almost everyone who voluntarily engage in such debates. Who is perceived to have won a debate and who has presented the strongest case, in terms of policy evaluation against the data, rarely correlate. Debating techniques matter a lot more than the strenghts of the specific arguments put forth.
v. Politics is in my mind the area of discourse containing the largest number of logical fallacies pr. argument.
vi. There are always some tradeoffs which apply/are relevant when political choices are made and evaluated. To repeat what I wrote in i.: They ought to be relevant when it comes to peoples’ political views but most often they are not.
I very rarely argue politics, and I’ve actually made an implicit ‘vow’ to not engage my little brother in debates because he thinks it’s more or less fine to ignore data and that makes me angry. I still slip sometimes, but it seems perfectly obvious to me that my mind is better engaged elsewhere. I understand the reasons why people think about politics the way they do, and the reasons why they behave the way they do when they do think about politics, a lot better than I used to do.
A slightly longer version of my views would require many posts, and most of you have read at least some of them (because I’ve already posted them). For people who have not read Eliezer Yudkowsky’s ‘Politics is the Mind-Killer‘ sequence of blogposts on lesswrong: You should follow that link and start reading. It’s a while since I read that and I’m sure I don’t agree with everything he says, but his approach is quite similar to my own (read: his approach impacted my approach) and you’ll probably learn something.
i. British anti-invasion preparations of World War II. From the article:
“Any German invasion of Britain would have to involve the landing of troops and equipment somewhere on the coast, and the most vulnerable areas were the south and east coasts of England. Here, Emergency Coastal Batteries were constructed to protect ports and likely landing places. They were fitted with whatever guns were available, which mainly came from naval vessels scrapped since the end of the First World War. These included 6 inch (152 mm), 5.5 inch (140 mm), 4.7 inch (120 mm) and 4 inch (102 mm) guns. These had little ammunition, sometimes as few as ten rounds apiece. At Dover, two 14 inch (356 mm) guns known as Winnie and Pooh were employed. There were also a small number of land based torpedo launching sites.
Beaches were blocked with entanglements of barbed wire, usually in the form of three coils of concertina wire fixed by metal posts, or a simple fence of straight wires supported on waist-high posts. The wire would also demarcate extensive minefields, with both anti-tank and anti-personnel mines on and behind the beaches. On many of the more remote beaches this combination of wire and mines represented the full extent of the passive defences.
Piers, ideal for landing of troops, and situated in large numbers along the south coast of England, were disassembled, blocked or otherwise destroyed. Many piers were not repaired until the late 1940s or early 1950s.
Where a barrier to tanks was required, Admiralty scaffolding (also known as beach scaffolding or obstacle Z.1) was constructed. Essentially, this was a fence of scaffolding tubes 9 feet (2.7 m) high and was placed at low water so that tanks could not get a good run at it. Admiralty scaffolding was deployed along hundreds of miles of vulnerable beaches.
An even more robust barrier to tanks was provided by long lines of anti-tank cubes. The cubes were made of reinforced concrete 5 feet (1.5 m) to a side. Thousands were cast in situ in rows sometimes two or three deep.
The beaches themselves were overlooked by pillboxes of various types (see British hardened field defences of the Second World War). These were sometimes placed low down to get maximum advantage from enfilading fire whereas others were placed high up making them much harder to capture. Searchlights were installed at the coast to illuminate the sea surface and the beaches for artillery fire.”
I also thought this article, on British hardened field defences (pillboxes), was quite fascinating. It seems to me that at least a few of the models were not much more than poorly constructed deathtraps, whereas some others were remarkably well constructed.
ii. Bradford-Hill criteria. I was waiting a long time for these to be brought up (/mentioned?) during this lecture; they were never mentioned and along the way the lecturer made me start doubting whether he even knew the difference between a p-value and a correlation coefficient. Either way, the criteria are “a group of minimal conditions necessary to provide adequate evidence of a causal relationship between an incidence and a consequence” – here’s the list from the article:
- Strength of association (relative risk, odds ratio)
- Temporal relationship (temporality) – not heuristic; factually necessary for cause to precede consequence
- Biological gradient (dose-response relationship)
- Plausibility (biological plausibility)
- Experiment (reversibility)
- Analogy (consideration of alternate explanations)
Do have these in mind the next time you come across an article on reddit (or wherever) explaining how ‘drinking X two times a week will prevent cancer’ or how ‘doing Y will minimize your risk of getting disease Z’ (or whatever). Of course in 1965, when the criteria were formulated, people had never even heard about stuff like Granger causality tests, vector autoregressive models and instrumental variable models. Establishing any kind of reasonably strong argument for a causal relationship between two sets of variables is very hard.
iii. Minamata disease. Via mercury and mercury poisoning. It’s a horrible story and I think it’s pretty much certain that quite a few comparable disasters are unfolding right now elsewhere, e.g. in China. From the article:
“Minamata disease […] is a neurological syndrome caused by severe mercury poisoning. Symptoms include ataxia, numbness in the hands and feet, general muscle weakness, narrowing of the field of vision and damage to hearing and speech. In extreme cases, insanity, paralysis, coma, and death follow within weeks of the onset of symptoms. A congenital form of the disease can also affect foetuses in the womb.
Minamata disease was first discovered in Minamata city in Kumamoto prefecture, Japan, in 1956. It was caused by the release of methylmercury in the industrial wastewater from the Chisso Corporation‘s chemical factory, which continued from 1932 to 1968. This highly toxic chemical bioaccumulated in shellfish and fish in Minamata Bay and the Shiranui Sea, which when eaten by the local populace resulted in mercury poisoning. While cat, dog, pig, and human deaths continued over more than 30 years, the government and company did little to prevent the pollution.
As of March 2001, 2,265 victims had been officially recognised (1,784 of whom had died) and over 10,000 had received financial compensation from Chisso. By 2004, Chisso Corporation had paid $86 million in compensation, and in the same year was ordered to clean up its contamination. On March 29, 2010, a settlement was reached to compensate as-yet uncertified victims.
A second outbreak of Minamata disease occurred in Niigata Prefecture in 1965. The original Minamata disease and Niigata Minamata disease are considered two of the Four Big Pollution Diseases of Japan.”
See also Patio process, a historically quite significant technique which improved the yields of silver mines in South America.
iv. Recovery position.
“The recovery position refers to one of a series of variations on a lateral recumbent or three-quarters prone position of the body, in to which an unconscious but breathing casualty can be placed as part of first aid treatment.
An unconscious person (GCS <8) in a supine position (on their back) may not be able to maintain an open airway as a conscious person would. This can lead to an obstruction of the airway, restricting the flow of air and preventing gaseous exchange, which then causes hypoxia, which is life threatening. Thousands of fatalities occur every year in casualties where the cause of unconsciousness was not fatal, but where airway obstruction caused the patient to suffocate. The cause of unconsciousness can be any reason from trauma to intoxication from alcohol.”
You never know when you need to know stuff like this.
“Cassava (Manihot esculenta), also called yuca, mogo, manioc, mandioca and kamoting kaoy a woody shrub of the Euphorbiaceae (spurge family) native to South America, is extensively cultivated as an annual crop in tropical and subtropical regions for its edible starchy, tuberous root, a major source of carbohydrates. It differs from the similarly-spelled yucca, an unrelated fruit-bearing shrub in the Asparagaceae family. Cassava, when dried to a starchy, powdery (or pearly) extract is called tapioca, while its fermented, flaky version is named garri.
Cassava is the third-largest source of food carbohydrates in the tropics. Cassava is a major staple food in the developing world, providing a basic diet for around 500 million people. Cassava is one of the most drought-tolerant crops, capable of growing on marginal soils. Nigeria is the world’s largest producer of cassava.
Cassava is classified as sweet or bitter. Like other roots and tubers, Cassava contains anti-nutrition factors and toxins. It must be properly prepared before consumption. Improper preparation of cassava can leave enough residual cyanide to cause acute cyanide intoxication and goiters, and may even cause ataxia or partial paralysis. Nevertheless, farmers often prefer the bitter varieties because they deter pests, animals, and thieves. The more-toxic varieties of Cassava are a fall-back resource (a “food security crop”) in times of famine in some places.”
Using the toxic varieties as fall-back ressources is of course not exactly optimal. It can actually, and has, lead to really terrible outcomes (here’s the study Rosling talks about, I have not been able to find a non-gated version):
vi. Solon. I’m sure that for most readers the name rings a bell, but what do you actually know about the guy? If you click the link, you’ll know more…
“An emulsion is a mixture of two or more liquids that are normally immiscible (un-blendable). Emulsions are part of a more general class of two-phase systems of matter called colloids. Although the terms colloid and emulsion are sometimes used interchangeably, emulsion is used when both the dispersed and the continuous phase are liquid. In an emulsion, one liquid (the dispersed phase) is dispersed in the other (the continuous phase). Examples of emulsions include vinaigrettes, milk, and some cutting fluids for metal working. The photo-sensitive side of photographic film is an example of a colloid.”
viii. Onomatopoeia. Included because that’s just a neat word for something I didn’t know had a name:
An onomatopoeia or onomatopœia […] from the Greek ὀνοματοποιία; ὄνομα for “name” and ποιέω for “I make”, adjectival form: “onomatopoeic” or “onomatopoetic”) is a word that imitates or suggests the source of the sound that it describes. Onomatopoeia (as an uncountable noun) refers to the property of such words. Common occurrences of onomatopoeias include animal noises, such as “oink” or “meow” or “roar”. Onomatopoeias are not the same across all languages; they conform to some extent to the broader linguistic system they are part of; hence the sound of a clock may be tick tock in English, dī dā in Mandarin, or katchin katchin in Japanese.”
(And now you know…)
ix. Chemokine. It’s a technical article, but you can’t read it and not at least get the message that the human body is almost unbelievably complex.
“It is well established that NCDs [noncommunicable diseases] are the leading cause of death in the world, responsible for 63% of the 57 million deaths that occurred in 2008 (2). The majority of these deaths – 36 million – were attributed to cardiovascular diseases and diabetes, cancers and chronic respiratory diseases. […] In most middle- and high-income countries1 NCDs were responsible for more deaths than all other causes of death combined, with almost all high-income countries reporting the proportion of NCD deaths to total deaths to be more than 70%. […]
Low- and lower-middle-income countries have the highest proportion of deaths under 60 years from NCDs. Premature deaths under 60 years for high-income countries were 13% and 25% for upper-middle-income countries. In lower-middle-income countries the proportion of premature NCD deaths under 60 years rose to 28%, more than double the proportion in high-income countries. In low-income countries the proportion of premature NCD deaths under 60 years was 41%, three times the proportion in high-income countries.”
From this WHO publication. Males are more likely to die early on from NCDs than are females:
A little more:
“In 2008, the age-standardized adult diabetes prevalence was 9.8% among men and 9.2% among women, reflecting an increase from 8.3% in men and 7.5% in women in 1980 (5). The number of people with diabetes increased from 153 million in 1980 to 347 million in 2008 (5). For raised blood glucose/diabetes, the estimated prevalence of diabetes was relatively consistent across all country income groups.
The prevalence of raised body mass index (BMI) generally increased with rising income level of countries, and rose across all income groups over the three decades. The prevalence of overweight in high-income and upper-middle-income countries was more than double that of low- and lower-middle-income countries.
More than half of adults in high-income countries were overweight and just over one fifth of were obese. In upper-middle-income countries, more than half of adults were overweight and a quarter were obese.
In lower-middle- and low-income countries the increase in prevalence of overweight and obesity over three decades was greater than in upper-middle and high-income countries, with rates of obesity doubling over the three decades between 1980 and 2008 (6). In lowermiddle-income countries obesity doubled during this period from 3-6%, and in low-income countries from 2-4%. Overweight increased from 15-24% in lower-middle-income countries during this period, among low-income countries it rose from 10-16%. In low-income countries women’s overweight and obesity showed the most dramatic increases and in 2008 were double those of men. In these low-income countries women’s overweight doubled from 9% in 1980 to 18% in 2008 and obesity more than doubled from 2-5%.”
The publication contains some country-specific data for most countries in the world. A few Danish data: The publication estimates that NCDs account for 90 % of all deaths. Here’s a slightly more detailed version:
Do notice how little risk there is of dying of a communicable disease – in a historical context, that number is just incredibly low!
The estimated proportion of overweight males in Denmark is 57.8%, and 45.6% of males are estimated to have elevated blood pressure (‘aged 25+ with systolic BP ≥ 140 mmHg and/or diastolic BP ≥90 mmHg or on medication to lower blood pressure’). So yeah, a clear majority of Danish males in general are overweight. The numbers are better for females (46.2% and 36.7% respectively). Blood pressure used to be even higher and it has decreased significantly over the last 30 years; on the other hand both mean blood glucose and BMI have increased.
Improving your chess requires more than just being smart and playing a lot of games. To people who don’t already know: There are a lot of online ressources available.
I don’t know if the MSM have even mentioned this, but in case you didn’t know the World Chess Championship match between Gelfand and Anand is being played right now (third game is at move 20 now, so by ‘right now’ I do mean right now) and over the coming weeks. Playchess provides live coverage, as does Susan Polgar. Probably others as well.
No, they don’t need to be consistent with each other. And no, truth is not a 0-1 variable. Anyway…:
i. I got to where I am now because of my hard work (if you’ve done well). Even if I had worked very hard, it wouldn’t have made any difference (if you have not done well).
ii. People who talk badly about others behind their backs with me never engage with others in the same kinds of conversations about me.
iii. If data do not support my view of the world, it’s completely okay to disregard the data. But it’s not okay for other people to do that, unless they reach the same conclusions I do and/or we disregard the same data.
iv. I don’t care nearly as much about status and related matters as other people do.
v. ‘I don’t much care how she looks, because she’s just a wonderful person’ (male, about his partner). ‘I would love him just the same if his income were half of what it is today’ (female, about her partner).
vi. I’m a good person. What I did was justified. (If morality was based on what people thought about themselves, there’d pretty much be no evil). Most of the time people also hold this belief, at least implicitly: I’m a better/more deserving person than [other people].
vii. When I answer a question related to ethics, political principles and similar matters, I do not base my answer on what people I care about would like me to answer. If the answer is to a political question which relates to distributional tradeoffs, I don’t choose my answer based on what benefits me (rather than society) the most.
viii. Ageing and dying is something that happens to other people. Divorce and cancer as well.
ix. If you don’t know much about another person, you can nevertheless infer a lot of stuff about that person from the things that you do know.
x. I am less judgmental and prejudiced than the people I compare myself with.
xi. If people don’t understand me, they are the ones with a problem – not me.
xii. Admitting your faults is a sign of weakness and should be avoided. If a person does not try to hide one of his/her fault, I am allowed to think that I’m a better person than s/he is.
xiii. ‘My life will be much better/easier/simpler when I […]’. [… = am 18. … finally move away from my parents. … find a girlfriend/boyfriend. … get married. … have a child. … find a better job. … retire…] (related link)
xiv. The more time and emotion I have invested in X, the less likely I am to be wrong about X.
Some of them might just be me projecting.
Here’s what the profile looks like now:
The topics are (still) all mathematics-related, and there are currently 345 individual skills in which one can obtain mastery. So having 300 below the belt means that I’ve pretty much cleaned out most major sections (each of the 19 challenge patches above basically required complete mastery of all exercises in the given topic).
I find it interesting that the incentive system of Khan Academy apparently seem to be so effective on me, considering how hard it is for me on a general level to do what I’d consider ‘real work’. I’m still not sure how much of it is the badge/achievements system and how much is other stuff; but I do know that when I study ‘in real life’, I get zero feedback on my performance or skill level for months. Feedback is basically what you get after you’ve sat your exams – twice a year or so. Sometimes there’s a bit more than that, but not much. If it’s possible and realistic to do this somehow (I know that some people argue that it is; by involving other people as well, putting money on the line etc.), it seems like it would be optimal for me to set up similar incentive systems for other areas of my life.
On the other hand, part of what makes Khan Academy’s system work so well on me is probably exactly that doing nothing any given day has zero consequenses for me; the punishment element/aspect is completely absent, so I always feel a (/false) sense of achievement after I’ve done work there. But if I had a third hand, I’d probably add to that that I’ve not actually spent all that much time at the site (compared to how much time is required to put in to get through a normal semester at a university). So I’m likely overestimating the relevant effect sizes.
Either way, the people at Khan Academy have done a lot of things – succesfully, I’d add – to make learning new stuff fun. If you haven’t already, you should make a profile and start learning. I’m willing to bet you don’t know everything that’s covered on the site.
Perhaps some of these already apply to you, but probably not very many of them. I know I’ve mentioned a few of them before, but not too many of them. Try to imagine how your life would be like/-different if you were:
i. A foster child/an orphan.
ii. Unable to read.
iii. Able to read, but had never learned how to use the internet. Perhaps you also don’t know how to speak English.
iv. Of the opposite gender.
v. The child of muslim parents living in the Middle East.
vi. Deaf/blind/dumb (pick one, or any combination…).
vii. (/had been) Sexually abused by your parents when you were a child.
viii. The child of parents with a severe genetic disorder (Fanconi anemia, Huntington’s).
ix. Born somewhere where toilet paper is considered a luxury.
x. The child of multimillionaires living in the United States.
xi. The child of Chinese rice farmers living in the 7th century BC.
xii. Addicted to an illicit substance/alcohol (in some places alcohol is an illicit substance…)/smoking.
xiii. Born with only one arm.
xiv. Living in a country where there had been a civil war within the last couple of decades.
xv. An only child because your big brother/sister committed suicide while you were very young.
xvi. Married to a partner you no longer love.
xvii. Very rich because you’d just won the lottery.
xviii. Recently divorced after 20 years of marriage.
xx. Living in a country where one-third of all children die before the age of 5.
xxi. 15 centimeters taller/shorter than you are now.
xxii. Travelling around the world, working as a circus artist.
xxiii. 25 years older/younger than you are now.
xxiv. Forced (either by circumstances or the government) to work doing something you hate.
xxv. Sometimes hearing or seeing things which are not real, because of mental illness.
xxvi. A highly social individual who loves to hang out with people all the time and dislikes being alone.
xxvii. Extremely conceited about your own abilities.
xxviii. A homosexual/an asexual/unable to achieve orgasm.
xxix. Able to read the minds of others (/fly/move things with you mind/…).
xxx. Unable to distrust people with whom you’d never interacted in the past.
xxxi. One of those people who’ve never even heard about the concept of ‘cognitive biases’.
xxxii. A sincere believer in God/Yahweh/Allah/…
xxxiii. Unable to see colours (only black/white).
xxxiv. Sitting on death row, about to be executed.
xxxv. A person for whom conventional measures of status (money/power/…) is of the very highest importance.
xxxvi. 15 kilograms leaner/heavier than you are now.
xxxvii. 15 IQ-points smarter/dumber than you are now.
xxxviii. Unable to form new memories/remember anything from your life that happened before some recent traumatic event.
Given some of the scenarios, you have to do that anyway – but for added fun, try to combine some of them (i.e. ‘one-armed, orphan, illiterate, alcoholic, recently divorced, middle-aged, dwarf, circus artist’. It should not be too hard for you to come up with a less depressing combination.)
Mostly just links and mostly just to at least post something (I know it’s been a while). I’ll try to post something a little more substantive later this week.
i. Thomas Blood. A “noted bravo and desperado” who tried to steal the Crown Jewels of England. Unsuccesfully. He didn’t get the death penalty for that, which is perhaps even more remarkable. During his life he also tried to kidnap and later on -murder one of his enemies, the Duke of Ormonde.
iii. Polish–Soviet War.
iv. Iguanodon (featured).
v. Linear momentum. (the first stuff isn’t too hard and it’s quite instructive. But if all you have is HS math you should probably skip some of it, for example the section with the ‘more general derivation using tensors’ where Gauss’s divergence theorem is applied…)
vi. Shoaling and schooling. “In biology, any group of fish that stay together for social reasons are said to be shoaling […] and if, in addition, the group is swimming in the same direction in a coordinated manner, they are said to be schooling.” (it’s not a ‘good article’ according to the wikipedia community, but I thought it was. Lots of good stuff, good links at the bottom.)
Incidentally, this is post number 1500 ever published on this blog.
i. (click images to view them in full size)
ii. Ed Yong has written a good piece about Kawaoka et al.’s study on bird flu mutations. I think you’ll learn more from Ed’s piece than from the actual study, but I wouldn’t know as I have only but very briefly skimmed the study.
iii. Ben Goldacre: Battling bad science. Ben Goldacre’s TED talk.
iv. A quote by Mencius Moldbug: “in many ways nonsense is a more effective organizing tool than the truth. Anyone can believe in the truth. To believe in nonsense is an unforgeable demonstration of loyalty. It serves as a political uniform. And if you have a uniform, you have an army.” I seem to recall having said something very much along the same lines quite a few times in the past. But it’s worth repeating. Direct link here, via lesswrong.
v. So, lately I’ve been reading Heather. I know I should have long finished the book by now, but I don’t seem to have been able to put in more than a few hours here and there lately, and it’s a very long book so I’m not quite done yet. It doesn’t help that I’m actually studying the book, instead of ‘just reading’ it; I don’t seem to be able to achieve much more than 20-25 pages/hour. I really like it though, and I hope to finish it later this week. Here’s a good quote from the concluding remarks of chapter 6, on Franks and Anglo-Saxons:
“there are many ways in which Frankish and Anglo-Saxon migration illustrate and develop the main themes of this book. Transport logistics […] and active fields of information decisively shaped both, but perhaps above all it is again the interaction of migration and patterns of development, and the huge role played by prevailing political structures, that jump out of the evidence. Frankish and Anglo-Saxon migration can be seen as mechanisms by which unequal patterns of development were renegotiated. Despite its own economic transformations during the Roman era, non-Roman western Europe lagged sufficiently far behind adjacent areas of the Empire for the latter’s wealth to exercise a strong pull. […] The main way for most outsiders to access any of this wealth […] was to raid it regularly for movables, apart from a relatively few who made it big in the Roman army. Throughout the Roman period, this greater wealth was protected by armies and fortifications. As lowland Britain and north-eastern Gaul fell out of central imperial control at different points in the fifth century, however, the restriction these imperial institutions had imposed upon the capacity of outside populations to seize control of capital assets was removed, and raiding, after a time lag, turned into predatory migration, aiming at the seizure of landed estates.
Unequal development was ultimately responsible, then, for both flows of migration. But both the Frankish and the Anglo-Saxon versions were effect, rather than cause, of central Roman collapse. They played a major role in dismantling such structures of local Roman provincial life as remained upon their arrival in northern Gaul and Britain, respectively, but in both cases it was the failure of the imperial centre’s capacity to maintain enough force on its fringes that exposed these provincial Roman societies to immigrant attention.”
vi. Via Big Think, a few graphs and a few stats:
“Did you know that almost 90% of the world’s population lives in the northern hemisphere? And that half of all Earthlings  reside north of 27°N? Or that the average human lives at 24 degrees from the equator – either to its north or south?” (here’s a related post of mine)
vii. Romanization of Chinese.
viii. A Yale lecture – Demographic Transition in Europe; Fertility Decline:
x. The people at 23andMe (the name should be familiar to people reading gnxp) have made some videos on ‘human prehistory’ and on ‘genetics 101’ which are now available at Khan Academy. I’ve posted the ones on human prehistory below, you can watch the genetics videos here.
If you’re interested in reading about the ‘Out of Africa’ hypothesis and related matters, Razib Khan has written about this subject a lot and so have a few others at Discovermagazine. Go here for a lot of links to reading material about this (the last half of the links or so are written by RK). You can also go the textbook route. But if you don’t have the time or you’re not curious enough to justify spending many hours reading about this stuff, do at least watch the videos – they’re really quite good. Here are the rest of them:
If nobody clicks the link to the biology section above where one can watch the Genetics 101 videos, I’ll probably blog those too at a later point in time. I know that there are a lot of links in this post, but you shouldn’t miss those either.
xi. Binary star.
xii. Transform fault.