Trade, War, and China with Brendan Cooley

In this episode, we discuss trade, war and China with Brendan Cooley. Brendan is a Senior Data Scientist at Big League Advance. He recently finished his Ph.D. in Politics at Princeton. In this wide-ranging discussion, we cover the different schools of international relations theory, building ideal trade policy, and just how likely a great power shooting war is in the 21st century. You can check out more of Brendan’s work at

Show notes:

  1. William Williams, Tragedy of American Diplomacy
  2. Albert Hirschman, National Power and the Structure of Foreign Trade: 
  3. Thomas Schelling, Strategy of Conflict
  4. A few good China shock papers:
  5. Congressional voting on China, trade and foreign policy
  6. The Wisconsin School

Karl Popper with Jon Guze

Jon Guze is the Director of Legal Studies at John Locke. Jon is an expert on Karl Popper, the law, and governance. In this episode, we talk about Popper’s theory of knowledge, civil asset forfeiture, and eugenics in North Carolina.

Show notes:

Jon’s recent work

His work on:

Rafe Champion’s “Karl Popper Web”:

“Our Karl Popper” homepage:

Finally, just in case you ever decide you want to go into the practical implications of Popper’s theory of knowledge in more detail, you can find a paper Jon wrote a few years ago here.

Vaccine Distribution in North Carolina, an Abject Failure. 

Some problems, like building the first atomic bomb, are hard. 

Other problems, like distributing vaccines, are not. 

Currently, in North Carolina, there are more than 300,000 doses of life-saving vaccines, sitting in freezers, and not where they should be (in people’s arms). 

This is not a hard problem, and from a country that went to the moon 5 years after we decided we wanted to, it’s simply inexcusable. 

Bureaucratic procedures, rules, and concerns about fairness have superseded saving lives. Unfortunately, the Cooper administration appears to value rule-following more than it values life.

With a new, more virulent strain of COVID-19 already present in the United States, we should be racing to get these vaccines into people. Each person vaccinated reduces the spread of the virus, yet our state government can’t get them out of their warehouses blaming “logistics problems.”

Cumbersome logistics aren’t required. In fact, a class of kindergartners has the mental horsepower to get the vaccine distributed quickly. Get a truck, put the vaccine in a truck, drive to the nearest hospital, start injecting doses as quickly as humanly possible. Don’t have enough trucks? Rent a Uhaul! Need people? Ask for volunteers! Worried someone will get it who isn’t on your coveted list? Don’t be!

The crucial understanding missing, is that having vaccines in humans and not in warehouses, is the only thing that matters. Instead, we’ve decided to plan, take our time, and let our elders die, drowning in their own respiratory mucus. 

A Practical Plan

North Carolina is struggling to distribute vaccines. Governor Cooper has broad executive power to fix this. In fact, that’s why we have a governor at all. In times like these, in emergencies, a strong central response is required. Anything less is an embarrassment. 

Currently, there are 1600 troopers that are under the governor’s direct control. 1600 people that report directly to him. Governor Cooper should immediately have each trooper go to the nearest warehouse with vaccines. Have each trooper take approximately 20 vials. As each trooper comes in, you send out each one to a different hospital or long term care facility. This information is readily available and could easily be managed with a simple Google doc.   As we have witnessed, the word will spread,  people will come to the hospitals and reduce the length of the supply lines. Each trooper, with about 190 vaccines, should be able to distribute them in a period of two days of hard work, maybe three if things go poorly. 

Objections to this are primarily focused on the second dose. How do we find folks to give them the second dose? It may be better for an individual to have two doses, but we know that some protection is conferred with one dose, and that for herd immunity, it is more effective to have more people with one dose, than less with two.

The revealed preference is that process is more important than saving the lives of our loved ones, and our fellow North Carolinians. America has become a farce, a simulacrum of a working country. If COVID can’t snap us out of our decadence, what can?

Venture Research with Donald Braben

In this episode, we talk with Don Braben, PhD.

Donald Braben is a scientist and author. From 1980 to 1990, he led British Petroleum’s Venture Research program, for which he developed a radical, low-cost approach to finding and funding researchers whose work might redefine their fields. Of the dozens of projects supported by the program, many led to transformative discoveries. I think Don’s concept of Venture Research is essential to saving our stagnating society.

You can buy his book, Scientific Freedom: The Elixir of Civilization, here. (Note, this is an affiliate link, buying the book helps support our work here at Narratives).

A quick note, the conversation with Don starts about 21 minutes in. We give an intro before that.

W. H. R. Rivers, Polymaths, and the Disappearance of Useful Arts

In this episode, we discuss whether or not there are more, or fewer polymaths today than in the past, using the example of W. H. R. Rivers, an English anthropologist who also made contributions in neurology, and psychiatry.

Mentioned in this episode:

Disappearance of Useful Arts by WHR Rivers.

Secrets of our Success, by Joe Henrich (affiliate link-we get a cut if you buy this book on amazon with this link. It helps us make awesome shows like this one!).

Innovation Systems with Ben Reinhardt

In this episode, we talk with Ben Reinhardt about different innovation systems, how to create more sci-fi technology a reality, and why our research institutions are not as effective as they used to be. You can check out Ben’s work at

Some things mentioned in the episode:

Studies on Slack

Don Braben


Ben’s Twitter

Bertrand Russell, Simulacra Levels, and Rationality with Quinn Lewandowski

In this episode, we have Quinn Lewandowski on to discuss his favourite thinker Bertrand Russell, the simulacra levels concept, and how our norms around each level have changed over time. We also discuss why people today have less belief in their ability to solve difficult and complex problems, and what we can do to change that.

NOTE: There’s an audio error at about 36:13 where we drop off and drop back on for a second or two. Apologies in advance!

Links: continental philosophy, and analytic philosophy.

Bertrand Russell.


well hey folks we’re sitting here on a front porch here in wake forest north carolina it’s kind of a chilly day but due to covered precautions we thought it was best to meet on the front porch and and go from there um today on the podcast i have quinn lewandowski did i pronounce your last name right yeah but every most people get it wrong so it doesn’t matter how do people get it wrong i’m curious lewandowski lewandowski you know it’s i know what they’re trying to say so it doesn’t really matter too much yeah gotcha that’s cool so uh quinn how are you doing tonight i think i’m doing pretty good happy to be here talking with you definitely and uh just to preface i i wanted to mention that quinn is is probably one of the smartest people i’ve ever met in my life so i wanted to want to add that there as a reason why i think listeners should should pay attention you’re an extraordinarily good friend oh thank you no i i i’m just you’re also really really really smart oh thanks no no not in the same league but but i do appreciate it i do appreciate it uh so quinn i wanted to get started and i wanted to talk about a topic that we have touched on before you and i talked to zv master wits about it um i may have butchered his last name again but sorry sv if you’re listening so what is a simulacra this term it’s funny i first encountered this as in in an english class yes in college uh beaudry art yes um i know him by reputation uh most of it is not uh recommended that you take the good ideas and leave the rest particularly in factly in this case he’s a um continental philosopher the iraq war didn’t happen that was yeah that was one of his eye one of his ideas i want to say or something like that yeah well very um from the continental school so there’s a whole cluster of uh qualities that you see um there’s less of an emphasis on clarity and there’s less of an emphasis on precision and and before we we dive into that so there are two schools of philosophy yes in the west there’s there’s continental philosophy and there’s analytic philosophy yes and so analytic philosophy tend to think of england i suppose and the united states and then continental philosophy on the continent as one would imagine um and yeah so some of the defining characteristics you just mentioned are continental philosophy so let’s name a couple continental philosophers fraps and analytic philosophy camus and sartre definitely uh nietzsche usually gets thrown in there he’s interesting perhaps uh i think so yeah he definitely my brain categorizes him as continental gotcha and so beaudriard you just mentioned uh how about analytic bertrand russell my personal favorite uh jon stewart mill voltaire david hume uh emmanuel kant who i’m not sure they would have automatically classified him because i don’t find him always entirely clear and i think partly the problem is with me but not completely gotcha that’s a good point that uh so yeah kant maybe less clear yes uh analytic is is traditionally what one would think of as at least for me philosophy so uh i guess i was just raised in america so perhaps that that goes along with it but nozick uh who else i like him a lot yeah all the stuff i’ve read i ought to read more john rawls like actually you know trying to think through logically all kinds of different problems and continental seems to be more almost of a i hate to say this of a writing style yeah i i know people get a lot out of continental philosophy yes i like well i enjoy random correspondences uh they were not random more like partial metaphors so you can uh you don’t take it completely seriously i think of it like the difference between the um the myers-briggs personality test which seems to capture regularities that people care about that isn’t statistically grounded so it’s not cleaving reality of the joints anyway the correspondence i use just the sort of male suitcase handle is the sort of cliche idea of the left brain and the right brain okay continental philosophers are dreaming in a non-derogatory sense of that term they’re going into a very subjective place and this makes it much they’re harder to read and they’re it’s much easier for them to make really catastrophic mistakes that they don’t correct and so i totally respect lots of the people i respect just stay the hell away from that whole cluster i think there actually are valuable things to find but you do have to dig through them uh and you know if you go in and you accept everything they say that is not going to go very well for you right right so my classic example i think is uh i had a professor in college i absolutely loved and got a ton of value from and he was a german professor uh and he he talked political science and he uh you know one time i went to his office hours and i was talking to him and he focused on the european union which is great we could talk about that later it’s a whole fascinating subject and he you know he was a political scientist by trade and i was asking him for materials to read beyond the class you know what would he recommend and he said well there’s this philosopher named nicklos lumon and he said he’s you know incredibly popular in germany but no one really reads them over here you know i would start there i think you might get a lot of value from it so i went and i got one of his books one of the translations from the library it was just incredibly dense and and it was it’s it’s on systems theory and it was impossible for me to penetrate and i was left with this feeling that you know perhaps there’s something there but also perhaps this is just language difficult language is used to occlude yes and and it’s like yeah it definitely is i see continental philosophy as

providing some useful space to people who are actually truth-seeking but being incredibly abusable yes and because it’s incredibly abusable you find lots of people abusing it right that that’s a really good point so i i guess we circle all the way back around to uh what is a simulacra well um in beaudilard’s definition uh it relates to profound reality which is not very uh entirely clear what he means but it seems to relate to what we would think of as object level reality if uh tsv’s example if there is a lion across the river that’s either true or it’s false that statement corresponds to an animal that could be across the river could be elsewhere or it could be a different animal

so i’m actually i think i’m sort of going to skip over belgium lord’s original language if that’s okay yeah definitely

it was adapted um and i think you could argue about how faithful the adaptation was it wasn’t a blatant trance i have read uh excerpts from both of our large essays about it to try to audit whether there was more good stuff there but basically it’s a way of looking at symbols and language and their relationship to reality

uh when zv was on here he focused uh his definition on motivations which i can’t really fault i’ve tended to go out more in terms of its structural relationship to reality okay like um there’s the object level reality there’s the uh the world out there then there are the words that we would use to communicate about this i remember uh when i was a child um this was my model of language i was very small i didn’t understand lying for a while so you said things because they were true then being true combined with you wanting our people to know that they were true was the motivation for saying them so how could you say something that was false right uh where would you even start it was like those old proofs that nothing heavier than air could fly yeah those were level two around off to lying but it’s really uh making statements with indifference to the truth um so if

you cannot pick pretty much any politician i think and you’ll almost certainly with you know a couple of exceptions both of which to my knowledge are dead um the fact that they say something is not a reason to think that it’s true it doesn’t really bear on the question very much um they might be embarrassed to be caught out in the lie but uh if there was no way to verify it if um so embarrassment wasn’t an issue they’re not intrinsically motivated to tell you things that correlate with the truth gotcha um and it’s interesting to think about where that motivation comes from it certainly has a moralizing tinge a lot of the times when we talk about it but i think for us to get to morality we have there has to be some structure underneath there uh it was pointed out to me once that lying is very computationally expensive because you need your mental map of the world and you need your map of someone else’s map and you need your record of their divergences between what they believe the world is like and your mouth of what you believe the world is like and you need to track that so that you don’t uh give away that the world is like the way you believe it’s like and it’s sort of an ongoing computational drain as long as you interact with them and you don’t want them to find out right um

at level level one and level two make sense to me intuitively the reason i’m so fascinated by this the place where it really gets interesting is level three and level three is a statement that everyone knows is a lie or everyone knows it’s not true but where there isn’t uh common knowledge where not everyone knows that everyone knows and so it’s not really out in the open that’s not uniformly understood so um

could you give an example of this because we talked about you know the four levels yes you know i’ve gotten some feedback well it was really interesting but it was perhaps like not broken down enough to be super understandable and it’s a cop it’s a complex thing right after the uh financial crisis yeah uh there was a politician who said in public that the fundamentals of our economy were strong and he was embarrassed by that it was bad for him um because the fundamentals of our economy were not strong apparently so he’s like so the federal reserve train chairman i i think was ben bernanke he might not been but he’s trying to instill confidence yeah so people don’t go take all their money out the banks and everything collapses i think it was john mccain john mccain interesting but he said um

i think he wasn’t expecting people to go wait what are the fundamentals of our economy are they strong um he was operating at level three and the reason we can tell it was three and not four is that it was bad for him when it came out that it wasn’t true i mean not even when it came out that wasn’t true but people point out that it wasn’t true and that was embarrassing for him it was a way to score points against and so i mean i could be misdiagnosed in any given particular example a lot of the times with level three it’s where people stop um really paying attention to does the statement correspond to reality i might just be lacking the skill to interpret it but most things most politicians say um seem very information-like they don’t seem like an honest attempt to explain how they’re thinking both how they’re modeling the world and what principles they use to act i don’t um have the sense they have with bertrand russell or david friedman or scott alexander or that i’ve seen the heuristics they’re actually using to make decisions right um and pointing this out does not uh it seems like this is sort of generally known like a while ago there was a politician who said something and people were saying that she had violated a social taboo on one of the isms and i spent like half an hour trying to figure out whether she had or not and i decided that it was different than other people i’d heard accused of it because i had no idea what she meant i could not translate the statement she had made into any kind of empirical proposition or even really attitudinal you could get a feeling from it but i love it yes and level four is where it’s common knowledge and it’s open and i go back and forth in my own head about um

whether that actually gets achieved in a relevant sense i think beat poetry would be an area where no one expects that at least some beat poetry that the words actually are intended to communicate anything but i think maybe when we talk about we may be looking at gradations of level three politicians uh going closer to level four but not quite making it gotcha interesting yeah i don’t um i have trouble intuitively understanding why common knowledge is so powerful that everyone knows that everyone knows that everyone knows i’ve read some of the stuff about and at this point i’m willing to accept on not even really on faith because i’ve seen the examples but it’s hard for me to wrap my head around why common knowledge is so important yeah as opposed to mutual knowledge gotcha um if everyone knows and everyone suspects that everyone knows intuitively feels like that should get you most of the way there right but it seems like it there’s some sort of phase transition like water turning into ice that happens when um everyone knows that everyone knows that everyone knows that everyone knows ad infinitum gotcha

that’s really interesting sorry gears are spinning yeah so

what do you think you know we talked with v about this for a while do you think there has actually been a phase transition over time around how people talk i think it has changed i’m not sure it’s that kind of wire into ice really clear thing um perhaps it’s more subtle yeah nixon uh president nixon was accused of involvement in the break-in and it was huge and i talked to my parents and yeah i talked to some other i have i’ve talked to some other people who are around and they say it really was huge they weren’t pretending to be outraged they didn’t believe that the president was involved in break-ins crime

that’s a little bit hard for me too i mean there might be context i’m missing but i’ve read about and i don’t think there is um it sort of assumed um when i grew up that people in power were probably doing some shady stuff behind the scenes right and a lot of it was probably technically illegal and you know really illegal in the sense that if you weren’t the president you probably would not be well advised to be doing it right and that seems like something that really um has changed well and we also see this in the media right do you ever watch old movies sometimes yeah have you ever noticed that

they can be really on the nose yeah does that make sense like yes in a way that’s very direct like movies today i’m just thinking like uh tenet or you know these that are commonly watched and everyone sees i feel like it would really blow people’s minds back then i don’t know there’s a clarity to i’ve seen quite a bit of hitchcock and stuff from the 60s and 70s i wasn’t quite sure how old you were talking about uh yeah not a lot of silent movies um although i have seen a couple to sort of evaluate the form yeah try to understand what people are doing um but it’s very the dialogue in psycho covers ground um it feels less murky and i’m not even sure that that’s a there are some very murky movies i think are wonderful artistically yeah um i sort of wonder

but yeah i see it and um there’s also a movement into meta references of references of references which is not necessarily a bad thing i i love my humor i really am it pokes me someplace

but uh we do seem to have moved this is a cliche and i’m repeating it partly because it’s a cliche and because it’s a cliche i’ve heard from people i trust not to repeat things just because they’re cliches right um but we seem to have moved into sort of ironic detachment

there’s less um

maybe less straightforward emotion i’m not totally sure that there’s less genuine emotion but it’s more tied up in layers of meta an ironic distance gotcha uh

i think

some of this probably goes to uh john nursed everything stays the blog everything stays he writes about um how in the ancestral environment uh i don’t think i’m butchering this but uh i apologize to him if i am in the ancestral environment um you had physical reality and you had social reality but everyone you knew you’d known for your life and they knew you for your life and it’s this very closed environment and so unless something was actually a secret that only you knew or maybe only you and your best friend knew it was common knowledge you could um his he’s talking about uh christmas in this context some people uh and he says that we used to be able to assume that everybody celebrated christmas and now lots of people still celebrate christmas but not everyone celebrates christmas and that changes things in a way that so i think partly um

our brains sort of almost by default treat aspects of social reality the way they treat physical reality um the taboos that will get you stoned aren’t very different from the laws of gravity right except and increasingly we’re in a very a multicultural society and we’re encountering people who don’t take those things for granted and this is fascinating i mean we have a lot to learn from it but it’s also really disquieting for a lot of people right and i think um i don’t know i’ve got i’ve got two thoughts there yeah uh one thought so i i live kind of between two worlds a little bit so you know i’m from deeply rural eastern north carolina yeah and i went to a you know i went to the university of north carolina chapel hill and then and now i’m kind of been transformed into you know culturally into this other social class right yeah um like what you would call the american elite so to speak right yeah like to a certain extent um that might be a big you know coastal elites like they’ve got all these different words for them right um well and that’s so i go back and forth between these circles every once in a while and it’s amazing it’s a it really is amazing because culturally they seem so different now and i don’t think this was always the case yes uh perhaps it is um and no i think it’s do you think it’s a real phenomena yes um and and i i want to bring up this example of trump and truth yes okay so i think this is incred i think this is really important yeah uh so

i go and i talk to everyone um that lives in this metropolis right we live in and uh you know everyone’s like you know trump he lies all the time he’s always lying and you know he says things that are not true like he says things on our trade like you know we can pull he could pull up counsel as examples um but he’s very you know someone had a campaign speech late in the late in the campaign right before election that illustrated this perfectly and i can’t quite remember it but the gist of it was you know and then i go back to eastern north carolina in these different circles and you know they’re like well trump he’s like he’s he’s so true to himself yes so there’s like the there’s truth as in matching the territory right and then there’s truth as in he is like in some really weird sense so true he’s like the most true person to himself right yes like there’s no executive function or like i don’t know what it is benjamin hoffman has a blog post that yeah i it’s awkward when you think you know what someone’s talking about and you get it wrong and i want you to tell me if i get it wrong sure he says um he is not a fan of trump so he’s probably not phrasing this charitably but he’s not being hyperbolic i mean needlessly hype yeah i have a category for that where you’re not making an effort to be charitable but you’re also not saying trump eats babies when there’s no reason to think he needs babies um clinton voters think honesty is reciting a list of literally true statements trump voters territory yeah he calls that the perjury standard trump voters think honesty is poor impulse control because they don’t trust that you would actually recite the true statements if you have the chance to think about that right i’m not sure i blame them for that i mean if you actually go sense by sentence they’re not meeting by a standard i mean i worry that i harp on that too much and i’m irritating everyone but the last politician i know of to actually

meet either the literal accuracy or the good faith communication thing you know the way that i would look for someone to do it if they were someone i would have a you know beer west right right was bertrand russell and he never got elected right they called him uh his donors called him into the back room early in his campaign and asked if it was true that he didn’t go to church and he said yeah that’s true this was uh i think in the 30s yeah definitely well before the 50s because

and they asked if he would be willing to start and well no that would be dishonest and you know i don’t

i really don’t mean that to be a christian non-christian thing it’s it’s about not um that would be dishonest so i’m not going to do it right and that is something you would see in a comedy today i mean it’s not in the hypothesis space it’s not um it isn’t just that they’re trying to meet that standard or fail and failing or pretending to try and meet that standard and suddenly not doing it right we don’t have that standard on and i doubt russell was typical for the time but um i yeah that’s really interesting i also wanted to the second point i wanted to cover was have you heard of jim flynn you know the philosopher jim flynn he has this idea that we’re just getting better abstraction capability yes um and so like because more of the things we do are abstract like it’s just like something we’re getting more used to and more used to do you think that plays into it like increasing attraction levels uh throughout our society and in everything we do i think so yeah i mean i mean that’s a complaint right like yes you know there’s like this abstraction from used to be the guy who made the violin yes you make one part of it or something alienation from labor which i think is a real not a fan of marx but i think that’s a real psychological effect it’s probably wonderful

but yeah um yeah it really feels like that’s on to something uh increasing abstraction increasing symbolic manipulation and the other half of it in the simulacra model is that at levels three and particularly for you’re not looking at the physical world at all so

covet is the best example i hope we will have in our lifetimes of something that

you know you can’t talk to it you can’t persuade it is totally totally immune to any kind of social manipulation um it’s just ground level reality right which doesn’t mean that people aren’t doing the social manipulation on top of that

so i think well it almost makes sense like the i remember scott alexander had blog post about them race cars the myers race car i think about how if you optimize a race car to go really fast it’s not going to be very comfortable oh wow as as the mechanics say uh uh in in eastern north carolina you can make it go fast or make it last a long time you know like pick one of them right yes yeah exactly so if people’s brains are better at manipulating abstract symbols that aren’t attached to physical reality yeah they’re worse at looking at physical reality um someone unless wrong i forget exactly who this is another one of those correspondences that’s exact but they theorized that human brains had sort of two different modes um one designed to not get eaten by lions in all the physical world and one designed not to get thrown out of the tribe where you will get eaten by lions which manipulates the social rights social world yeah yeah that’s really well put and these trade-offs are are very real yeah you know that joe henrich and i’d like i need to look up his pronunciation his name because i mentioned him so much but uh he wrote secrets of our success and he talks a lot about how you know language development yeah certain regions of the brain like broca’s region i believe uh you know they get bigger and other regions get smaller to compensate and like there are these real trade-offs yeah and it would make sense there’s a trade-off here as well yes i think so um i can’t figure you may want to cut this part

i’m conflicted i don’t like level three

yeah uh lies that everyone knows your lies bigger

i don’t like level three and i grew up with it and level four does not seem to me like it would be stable you couldn’t run a society like that right and so every i guess you’re really rich yes perhaps yes as you can well you can’t for a while yeah yeah i ruined the nation yes absolutely so i have a little bit of a

a lot of the i think accelerationism is a failure mode i see a lot of smart people falling into and it almost never works but i am kind of a little bit yeah let’s you know lennon let’s make things worse so that people will be motivated to make them there but if level four wouldn’t be stable um it might be better to accelerate it but i have a male level heuristic warning me that that’s a very hazardous train of thought i think people tend to overrate how much people put up like they under sorry they underwrite how much people put up with yeah in that sense right so like yes we will push to failure so that we can start again right but yes but like

what’s the saying you know the market will stay solid yeah longer market will stay rational longer than you can stay solvent yes i think that’s a real effect yes um i even had a i had fancy uh i had concept um i had this idea that we think unless i heard we didn’t have it nailed down but we think that you empathize with other people by telling your brain to emulate theirs you take yourself as a jumping off point and you modify it and so i had i was calling it nudge theory but that turned out to be something else called nudge theory yes so i think i’m going to call it shove theory or something that there’s this temptation to when someone else is being different than you in a way that’s irritating um and it’s not you know obviously physical like their leg is broken you think if you just give them a shove they will slip back into the normal default way of being which is the way you are yeah and you know we can see why that would be tempting out proportion to actually working right um

so i think that’s probably part of it that you imagine you give the system a good hard shock other people start to see things the way you say things right and um which is also i’m sort of skipping over all the ethical issues involved partly because i don’t have any power i mean it’s one of the nice things about not having a whole lot of power is you can actually think about what you want to happen without worrying that you’re going to be able to do it right well don’t underwrite your uh your power there quinn thanks it’s uh perhaps you know perhaps this is just an irrational christian morality i have but i do believe you know everyone is everyone does have intrinsic value and by god i have the shame for it very very strong the same feeling yeah um except like maybe literally brain dead people yeah perhaps i always list the exceptions so i can sincerely say that yes but no doubt uh yes i i definitely see what you’re saying

it’s interesting right things that and i look back at things that have actually gotten let’s say our act together let’s just say the us here okay well george washington after the articles of confederation perhaps you know and then probably fdr yeah with world war ii yes and like all these things were like really pretty horrible yes you know and like even like covid likes v said not not a big enough shelf right yeah so like

it seems like the level is so high right i mean how many people died in world war ii like that’s the it’s incredible and the destruction and just like the horrific human cost i don’t know it was a huge shelf i mean and it was yes world war one was a huge shelf yep

a choice

which is i

certainly hope not to see that again yeah well you know humans getting this weird we get these weird equally you know inadequate equilibrium to speak where you know these horrible horrible horrible things can happen and you know you and i you helped me with this i wrote a piece and it detailed a path forward for uyghur persecution in western china like they’re and part of that is my belief you know i i wonder how much of our current malaise is like people just not believing yes anything you can do anything and i and i got a lot of pushback on on the internet some from chinese bots which must mean i’m on the right path right yeah but that uh that it really is not possible and that why would you ever try that would be stupid but my thought is like man like that seems to be the consensus views like well you can’t really try this is too difficult to do anything about and then nothing gets done and then self-fulfilling there’s also a pattern i think it’s a useful pattern some of the time but every time i almost every time i know i said i

you propose doing something right but your proposal has a flaw i don’t mean you’re specifically i mean in general yes absolutely and so you can’t do anything and we should stop trying right and you know that’s just that’s not how we’ve accomplished practice you go down the blind alley yeah and it seems like there are people who

i can’t figure out if their heuristic is if your proposal isn’t literally perfect you stop there or if they’re looking for a reason to stop there

but there’s a very strong

i say this with people playing around with scientific hypotheses on the internet um someone will suggest a hypothesis a way the world could be and start trying to think of tests and other people will say you shouldn’t say that you have no proof right and that’s not how science works you think of the hypothesis and then you do the tests and it took seeing people do this when people were literally talking about how to do the tests right and people saying stop talking about how to do the test because we can’t prove that’s true which is what the tests are for


i i really liked that thing you wrote i liked um

i think on an emotional level believing that it can fix the problem is beyond me but the idea of propagating a culture where people try to do that stuff um

the idea that it could set things into motion that would cause the problem to be fixed is not beyond me right and i i want to interject hold the thought um that’s actually i’ve been working on writing the mission for like okay what is this like media project we’re doing here with narratives and i think it’s it’s that for me for me it’s like just trying to reinforce the people that big things are possible yes and that because like you know maybe this hail mary pass we’ve put together won’t work we hope it does absolutely and we’ll try as hard as we can to make it work but perhaps if everyone was doing that yeah you get to better equilibrium yeah i mean first i mean there’s just there’s the comparatively unromantic but um flat fat tails that lots of things are worth doing even if they probably won’t work and there’s also there’s this almost virtue ethic sense of if you try to do things you’ll become the kind of person who does things and eventually some of those things will succeed right exactly and and there’s this weird statistical and you know we’re both in the rationalist community you could say so like it’s uh um this is a weird thing for me to to say but it’s it’s almost like a lot of these problems can’t be looked at exactly in statistical terms and like uh so i was talking to my friend eric you know we worked on the startup together it’s been like four years and it was like this crazy hard journey yeah and we counted you know and he’s a statistician and we’re sitting there and we counted like 12 different times where there was like a 75 chance we wouldn’t make it to the next week and you start like multiplying out the probabilities that you ever get where you are and it’s like nothing right and it’s something about like well you know you just got to keep showing up and keep trying and if you do believe there will be a positive outcome and uh sometimes you can make it happen i guess um hold on i’m gonna drink a little bit just get amped up i love it

and back on without breathing i love it that’s awesome so again i feel free to tell me if i’m off yatkowski on facebook i’m so less you know visible right right it says that people do this that sometimes they um add up a bunch of probabilities and say all these things have to happen and they don’t pay any attention to disjunctive probabilities then there’s more than one way for x to happen so he says you can um that there’s a rhetorical trick you can do where you drive the probability to anything almost zero just by listing apparently essential steps that aren’t actually essential ah interesting

so yeah that’s a really good way of way of thinking about it

yeah i do think trying to think in statistics sometimes that we sometimes have hardware that works better than when we try to formally model stuff figuring out when to use which is a hard problem but right right and some of these things are so complex it’s just like if you took the time it would be impossible uh and i wanted to also talk about this issue it seems like the rationalist community is especially bad there was an article on les wrong a while back where it’s like why have okay if like if rationalists are better at seeing like all the cognitive biases like why aren’t they more successful than they are right and and i i wonder if some of this like plays into that right yes i think so i think this and

we may be thinking of the same article um scott has an article where he says that and he says um that uh most humans are actually pretty optimal at getting the things they really care about which are things like status

so he says we can expect efficient charity to be able to make big improvements because most charity isn’t really about altruism so people trying to clear up cognitive biases will find a ton there but we shouldn’t expect rationalists to necessarily very strongly outperform people uh in high competition areas where people are actually trying to do the thing this kind of ties into the secret of our success stuff i mean cultural evolution i think a lot of people aren’t modeling explicitly but they still learn to do the thing right

which i think is um you know i guess it’s i have the sense that was really depressing for people who were in the rationalist movement before i was but when i came in it was kind of already known so it’s hard to really feel it as a loss right that that’s a good point that’s a really good point do you uh do you remember the peter thiel talk i sent you yeah with uh oh god with reagan’s speech writer who was pete robinson i remember the talk i may not have all the details okay there’s this one line that i remember this one anecdote where it’s like well you know if you go to a modern rationalist and you come out of the meetup and you’re thinking oh like man i’m really a rational person and like i could remember that uh you’ve somehow gotten the wrong message yes just like if you go to a uh evangelical bible study and you come out you’re like wow i have no sin and i’m a great person you face somehow gotten the wrong message yes um there’s this pattern where there’s a group that’s decade to doing acts and the movement sort of i think chapman touches on this with geeks mobs and sociopaths or um the gervais principle the group becomes sort of diluted and it becomes more about the stuff that most groups are about which are not bad things to be about yeah but it does leave you out in the cold if you really cared about the original thing um i left a i had very bad social anxiety as a teenager so i wasn’t actually talking to them but i was reading this libertarian website and mentally identifying with the community and i left when i figured out that this particular website i am not generalizing just the people in this community um when they said skeptical they meant were critical they meant people who had come to the conclusion that government was bad and it didn’t matter how terrible the reasoning was i mean you can absolutely have terrible reasoning for a true conclusion right um but and it wasn’t just that they wanted people who agreed with them it was that you know you shouldn’t say you’re doing critical thought if your argument is terrible right i mean so there is i guess that was a free association on my part a part of one just um groups claiming to be about one thing and sort of not even it bugged me that they were using the word i mean unless wrongly talk about null 101 space how sometimes you need everyone to accept the ai as possible to talk about what to do about ai to have the next conversation and i believe in that but i don’t think you should say you’re using critical thought when you’re not right i mean and just very blatantly not i’m realizing i can’t really put into words how bad the arguments were without going into detail but there’s a difference between this is a cell flaw you might not have noticed this is an obvious vlog that might not be obvious to you and this has the sort of glaring flaw that now looking back i’m guessing was there on purpose to signal in-group affiliation right exactly

it’s interesting and i wonder i wonder how our experience is different than like you know everyone on the west coast and it’s mostly you know because like i i get all this like feedback i guess well not all this but you know i’ve talked to people and they’re like oh you know like the rational community is like this like anybody that reads slaves and you know i was like wow like my experience has been completely different but then again there’s like five of us here in north carolina and uh we’re all pretty cool yeah you know i’ve learned a ton from these people and no one’s like got these presumptions or yeah if that makes sense and things and i wonder if because the groups are so small in comparison to the rest of the population you get a certain sense of like group identity perhaps and like you can have these real conversations and be open because the groups aren’t huge yes i think so dunbar’s number yeah and being able to model having few enough people that you can model their positions in detail that’s really good um i think that helps and i think we don’t have a lot of stuff to steal uh at least here in raleigh there isn’t a chapman’s geeks mops and here’s this model again may be butchering this i don’t think i am but the geeks set up in the subculture orient around doing something that the geeks are into that attracts mops members of the public who are not geeks about it but enjoy consuming it and the mops are resources i mean they can be you can make use of mops because they’re less fixated on the thing and that attracts sociopaths the sociopaths take over the organization and use it to drive social capital and ends up not having very much to do with what the geeks originally said you have to do yeah and you know we actually had this discussion yes probably a year ago i remember this i think you were there we were talking about and it was like uh you know like should we advertise should we publicize yeah and my conclusion was no i don’t think so yes i think i agreed with you i think things are like an optimal number right because when things get too big what you just described always seems different yes yeah it always degrades and you like and likes v said you know good founders can maybe slow that down or maybe maybe reverse that but it’s very difficult i remember this conversation i very strongly agreed with you i was trying to i remember trying to figure out how to communicate they very strongly agreed without you know feeling pressured or right and but if it sounds weird it sounds exclusionary almost to a certain extent well it it’s not arbitrarily exclusionary i think a lot of the time a lot of things are prices yeah yeah so i don’t know if this applies here but maybe being exclusionary is bad but it’s not literally worse than anything else that can happen so sometimes it will be worth doing it to get to some other goal and i think it’s a sort of um it’s what bertrand russell means sometimes when he says democratic there isn’t like a set of ironclad laws that exclude people and right there isn’t really you know a dictator crossing their names off a list right um it would never say no if anybody wants to come yeah so it you know it is open in that sense it’s just not we’re not evangelical yes perhaps yeah which i think you know

i don’t think that would be a good strategy at least for the stuff i’m trying to get out of it right exactly i think i think it would be it would not be optimal um you mentioned bertrand russell tell me a little bit about him why you find him valuable and why people should read more well partly is um i always start by acknowledging the you know the less the biases kind of so i had a collection of quotes as a child and i went through and highlighted all of the quotes attributed to that name because i loved all of them um and then i bought my mother bought me one of his books as i um we went to a bookstore and i read it and it’s difficult which one it was yeah it was uh why i am not christian it was very uh anti-religious in a sense but it was i read it and i read sam harris’s letter to a christian nation and you know i’m fine with sam harrison i think he has some valuable stuff to say kind of the new atheist the thing that really stood out was there were so much in the it was the process of reasoning in the russell buck and it was the general models that were he had the set of mental heuristics that i value in rationalists he valued logic and reason he was prepared to i learned about charity and i didn’t know that i didn’t use that scott’s word for it i don’t think you know exclusive to scott but i learned that he would often and i learned how useful charity can be as persuasion he he did this trick the zv martial it does this trick too i’ve been noticing them where you make very literally precise statements and you make positive charitable assumptions and you give breathing room and so you’re going along technically and precisely and carefully and not jumping to any conclusions and not engaging in any hyperbole and then you say something that sounds incredibly hyperbolic and the reader not me i want to say okay that’s obviously an exaggeration but you realize it’s not it’s not it’s literally true right um this is stuff about our handling of the coronavirus is a because what’s actually happened is

terrible i mean and it’s um i i don’t really have a good our handling of it has been incredibly inept um in the literal sense of incredibly so if you just tell people why is i think i think what i had was a system that categorized any sufficiently extreme statements is hyperbole and russell could get in behind that because he was so obviously not being hyperbolic right and scott alexander does this too um i want to make it sound more malicious than it is uh i don’t think it would work if they didn’t have some drive to get to the truth right um so i feel like i kind of dodged the question russell was uh incredible he um made very important discoveries in philosophy of mathematics which i’m mostly not very educated about um relative to his other stuff he attempted to ground mathematics in formal logic which is more difficult than it sounds he published a 200-page logical proof that i think it was one and one is two and i have been two and two is four but he managed to get into formal logic but didn’t he uh was politically active and he wrote essays such that even when i disagree with his points i still find value in the logic um he actually commissioned what we know today as the peace sign as the symbol for his command for nuclear disarmament he was incredibly extroverted such that if you know anyone interested in the same sort of stuff as him yeah you google it and there’s a connection there which is nice he was childhood friends with uh a.a milton who wrote the way the poo books for instance um and you know so he pops up in the strangest places he also ran a progressive children’s school for 16 years as the headmaster um he was very he resembled scott alexander in that he was interested in literally everything and he tried to integrate everything with everything else okay i value i really respect it as a school master sorry to cut it yeah um did he write anything about that some um i think he’s written quite a bit but i haven’t read i’ve read some parts of it um i gather that he was incredibly permissive he has a early section where he says that you can’t let children do literally whatever they want to do because if you do that the very small ones will eat pens um i think he was speaking kind of brian kaplan i think just wrote a thing arguing for unschooling with math because math is something you really need to think about a lot of stuff and it’s not fun to learn um russell wrote a lot about what the school the mainstream schools were like and i actually think this there’s this weird dynamic with awful history um it seems like there’s some historical images uh auschwitz for instance that get repeated again and again and again and we fixate on and then there are things we do that they’re viscerally terrible to read and so nobody reads them and i’m not saying that’s a bad thing i mean it hurts but um

so i am

i’m pretty sure that what he was doing was a significant improvement at the time lecture that it was literally optimal but that goes to what we were talking about earlier right that a lot of the times you can do better without exactly um

which was uh

but for me he was the he taught me a lot of mental habits and i think he validated a lot of mental habits that i had that i’d find in our people afterwards but not for a long while very cool what else what’s the most valuable piece of knowledge you’ve gotten from bertrand russell that would be valuable you think to most people to to hear wow

that’s a tough question i know yeah it does many there’s many levels to that question

there’s a lot of is sort of implicit which means you can drag it out and i’m going to try to but there’s a section in a book he wrote about chinese history for him where he’s talking about i think it’s china and japan but i’m not sure it might be china and russia i’ve forgotten the other and they have this peace talk and it breaks down and this is happening in 1920 so we don’t have video of it breaking down we don’t have records the chinese say one thing and i’m going to say the japanese the other people say something else and russell says well we don’t have any sort of direct evidence there’s no way to in terms of our records or so people who are sympathetic to the chinese will tend to believe the chinese and people who are sympathetic to the japanese will believe the japanese and for my part i believe the chinese and what he was saying was um well i got out of it was sort of priors that he thought the chinese story was more plausible um i don’t think he was being sarcastic i think he was pointing to the gap between what you would do as what today i would call a bayesian and what you would do if you’re using evidence to convince other people he just admits that the evidence to convince other people isn’t there if they have different priors um but one reason i said that sort of implicit is

that when i say just that quote it sounds like he’s being sarcastic or euphemistic or um one of the things i notice reading him he has a reputation for being uh witty and sort of people say the word sarcastically and i noticed that he almost never is in the technical sense of the word he uses understatements he uses um

he uses biting turns of phrase but he almost never does that thing where you say the opposite of almost everything he says is literally true and important and relevant it’s just framed in a sardonic binding sort of way and i really appreciate that because in text being sarcastic can be very difficult yes you know like it’s like on twitter you just come across poorly and you know some people i really respect on twitter that are oftentimes sarcastic and it’s just it’s impossible for people to tell yeah well or it’s difficult and i i think it’s a poor habit in in written form we are figuring out i see people using a little bracket with sarcasm after it sometimes that’s great it’s culture i mean it’s involving the yeah that’s cool so what else about bertrand russell you know where would you recommend people start with virginia well i um

there is a very very very good chance that he has written about something that interests you i don’t mean one of the various things that interest you i mean if there’s something that interests you and they existed at all in his own day um there is a very good chance that he has at least an essay about and maybe a bulk i have no idea how he wrote that much i really don’t um he wrote a uh

introduction to the philosophy of mathematics during the three months he was in prison for protesting world war one really yeah that’s cool um but i think i might look at um

type his name and quotes into i mean i started with quotes from him in the book find a quote you like and then read the thing it’s from because the thing it’s from will be very good um and the quotes let you sample a lot of different things and if they put ellipses in the quotes the parts they’re leaving out are probably pretty significant he didn’t when he was a young boy he used to uh do this game with himself he was very lonely and very isolated he used to try to phrase a sentence to use as few words as possible while still communicating all of the information and so he doesn’t list words pretty cool that’s important to keep in mind well quinn yeah thank you so much for coming on oh thank you for having me we’ll definitely have

well that’s our show for today i’m will jarvis and i’m will’s dad join us next week for more narratives

The Past, Present, and Future of Personal Computing with David Smith

This week on the podcast, we have David Smith. David Smith is a computer scientist who created the very first 3D interactive game, The Colony. He has also worked with Michael Crichton, Tom Clancy, and James Cameron, and helped found Red Storm Entertainment. He is currently the CEO at Croquet, where he is building the future of collaboration on the internet.

Show notes/links:

Alan Kay

The Mother of All Demos

Augmented Reality

Simulacra Levels, Moral Mazes, and COVID-19 with Zvi Mowshowitz

In this episode, we are joined by Zvi Mowshowitz. We discuss simulacra levels, moral mazes, and our civilizational response to COVID-19. Zvi writes the blog Don’t Worry About the Vase

Links/more reading:

Simulacra levels

Moral mazes

Efficient-market hypothesis


today on this episode we have zv moshowitz i’m also joined by my friend quinn i learned a lot talking with sv i hope you enjoyed this episode so hey folks today on the podcast we have zv zv writes the blog don’t worry about the vase which focuses on gaming rationality philosophy economics trading life optimization and a lot more he’s been a professional trader and market maker and he was the ceo of the personalized medical startup metamed and he’s also a member of the magic magic the gathering hall of fame which actually a lot of my friends are really excited about that fact which i think is cool um how was that bio anything else you’d like to add i think those are the highlights um i am currently making a digital card game so oh really cool yeah i hope to bring that to people sometime next year um we have a alpha and we are getting ready to make the game itself but you know that’s not something i’m ready to talk about yet uh it’s ready when it’s ready as we apologize very cool we’ll be on the lookout for that um so quinn you had a question about simulacra levels to get started would you like yeah i’m pretty interested in uh i’ve been following the blog for a while and uh that’s been a very helpful concept for me um it’s given me a vocabulary to talk about some stuff so i thought we would sort of uh maybe go over the basic concept because we’re on a podcast and uh then i have some questions about application uh if you’re watching them yeah so the the very simple uh the part of the problem is there are multiple different sources for the simulacrus and therefore there are multiple overlapping but subtly different definitions but uh the simplest one to get people started is level at level one uh symbols have meaning and everything is roughly accurate territory map uh relationships hold so when you say there’s a line across the river what you’re trying to do is communicate to someone else that there is in fact a lion across the river uh you may or may not have other reasons to choose to do that but that is how they will that is how they will interpret the statement that is how you expect them to interpret the statement that is how they expect you to amend the statement then you move to level two and people start saying there’s a line across the river because you will interpret it as meaning there is a line across the river not because there necessarily is a line across the river so we introduced lying basically and deception uh and now someone else’s model is not necessarily something you try to make accurate it’s something you try to make whatever is useful and that is a very different level of acting right like it’s a completely different mindset and whenever we it’s important to keep in mind whenever we do anything whenever we say anything we are acting on all the different levels and so we have to consider the consequences on all these different levels right how well are we updating this person’s map towards truth how are we obtaining this person’s map towards what we would find useful to what we would want to exist in the world those are two separate things you often have to consider both of them level three is where you consider what your statement says about um your affiliations associations what so the idea is that when you say at level three there’s a line across the river you mean i’m with the cool kids who don’t want to cross the river that like it is you know the position of the in-group that there is a line across the river it does not necessarily mean that there is a line across the river uh there are forces that pull people even at level three towards saying troops true statements more often than false statements if there is no countervailing force in a particular situation we have all the statements of all of all the animals that might be across the river if there’s a lion there you might as well say lying if what you want is someone not to cross saying tiger only creates confusion creates an opening and so on but so at level three you were concerned with coalitional politics uh often more often than anything else your concern of associations and status and impressions and then level four is where you consider that to be what is is this the relationship between four and three is the relationship between two and one so the idea is at level four you are doing something as a move on the chessboard in some sense in order to change what perceptions are about level three or the earlier levels but you’re not necessarily trying to impose a map so the idea is at level one everybody believes that you should have a map that corresponds to the territory and level two you believe that everyone has a map that’s trying to correspond to the territory and you can change that map and if they change their map they will change how they act because they believe the map at level three nobody really believes right the little three men level three mindset doesn’t believe the map corresponds to the territory it believes that it would be an important gotcha if someone’s map were to be demonstratively not corresponding to the territory because then the out group could say gotcha and could make you look bad and that would be bad so there is a relationship that ties it back but everybody you know there is a collective like you know you can’t creating common knowledge your map does not respond does not correspond to the territory is bad but your map corresponding to the territory is not something you inherently care very much about and you don’t expect anyone else to as well right you wouldn’t convince someone there was actually a line across the river if you wanted them to not cross the river unless you expected them believing there was a lion to stop them from crossing at level two you think that’s a good thing you think they would stop they wouldn’t cross because they understand that when they believe there’s a line across the river they don’t want to get eaten by a lion so they shouldn’t cross at level three you don’t necessarily believe this would stop anybody and that’s an important distinction and then at level right and then at level four all of these associations break down entirely and now there is no shame whatsoever there is no perception by anybody that the statements are corresponding to truth necessarily or to anything on the object level whatsoever they are moves in a game and people who are thinking on level four don’t even think like carefully with a map of the game because that is alien to the perspective of level four the whole idea that there is no there are troops and there aren’t maps means that they don’t have a map of how they are acting in the non-me the non-accurate map space in order to achieve an end what they are doing is they are acting on heuristics intuitions general systems that they’ve developed over the years that tend to move things in positive directions in general now you can then combine all four of these whenever you have an interaction in your life when we have this conversation right i have to think about what’s going to happen on all of these levels if you want to change the world if you want to have a real impact if you want to know what you’re saying to matter you have to think about all of these things right you can’t just cheat and like stay on level one act like well i didn’t know that that was something that the wrong people were saying i mean you can say it but it won’t carry any weight right yeah you can sometimes nurture relationships where one is a strong default uh my relationship with my parents has decades of precedent behind the uh which i’m not sure how to recreate that with strangers out in the world but i think it can be done it you’d definitely be done you can definitely create situations through a history especially and the shared trust where the expectation is other people perceive you on being primarily level one but it still doesn’t get doesn’t get you out of the the thing that like someone who was like sufficiently on the spectrum and just blissfully unaware that other people thought about levels two three and four would be and therefore just ignore the fact that it makes things weird things happen are happening at other levels uh more commonly what you have to do is you have to be very careful to cancel all those effects out and to make other statements that create sums to zero pretty much everywhere and to be very very careful to keep things on level one so like it’s actually much harder to not operate on higher levels in a world that we live in than it is to operate um on all the levels at once because that’s just the natural way of humans but like my view of the default is that the default is that most conversations are mostly about level one and this used to be even more true than it has to be in the world in order for everybody to successfully like you know have three meals and put on pants and like so on which they still mostly managed to do it’s worth noting right like a person who seems to act like a complete idiot is still doing the sensible thing 99 of seconds right any given second of the day unless they’re just talking right and maybe they’re talking nonsense but like they’re still doing reasonable individual actions almost all the time they are connected they have a map of the physical world in their brain if they didn’t things would be very very bad right that makes a lot of sense do you think this has changed over time yes very strongly yes i think that even over my lifetime so i was born in 79 i’m 41 years old and you can absolutely sense that like conversations that used to be on the first and second level or even on the first level are now primarily conducted on the third level and now increasingly on the fourth level as their primary mode right so you would never have a politician that didn’t know which side they were supporting when they made a statement in any age and they would a good politician would always be thinking about this the law you know the implications of everything that they were doing but you know there is this unmooring that has taken place recently between people’s statements and any real attempt to model the territory that it didn’t that it never happened before but the magnitude and frequency is completely new in our lifetimes and i believe this has been getting steadily worse for some time uh i think that it was the peak was sometime um the peak of the good thing was like sometime in the 19th or 20th century um but it’s very hard to know when gotcha and what causes do you think what do you think is going on is this just like more information technology driving this what do you think so i do think that there is a cyclic effect over the long term and and also locally in the short term uh so basically you can think of it as right you can think of a shorthand as four beat three beats two beats one beats four gotcha instead of orange sets or actually more accurately four beats three beats two beats one beat zero which is the actual physical world that people are manipulating which kicks four in the ass gotcha right like what happens is you sort of you have a physical world and people were trying to put on pants and hunt things with bows and arrows and otherwise like get through their day and then they figure out to communicate with symbols what’s happening and they do much better and then people get to lie to them and they do better than that people example coalitions and they beat the liars and then people manipulate those coalitions and they beat the coalitions and while they’re playing all these weird high-level semantic games barbarians come and sack the city right there’s still the real world right or like everybody you know everybody just suddenly gets covered 19 because like in all of your weird debates over exactly what symbolized what nobody actually did anything to protect themselves very effectively

so why is level three staple-ish i mean i get that it’s not long-term staple but you would think if no one actually cared about truth and this was mutual knowledge why would common knowledge be dangerous to that society i mean so right so the idea is that you need a certain kind of deniability where first of all like most people to be in the coalition convince themselves of the police of the coalition even if they are technically nonsense so like if you think about issues where like the left has one universe of beliefs and the right has one completely contradictory universal beliefs and you can i’m sure whoever you are think of at least one example where the other side’s beliefs you think are just completely off the wall bonkers and obviously false to one minute of examination regardless of which side you’re on i mean i’m confident this is true and if you’re off to the side you can think of examples where both either of the two sides as bonkers but certainly one of them and that doesn’t work if there’s common knowledge of what happened right you have to create plausible deniability you have to create and maintain doubt uh and in general like it is considered a basically one of the things that is most effective when there is you know an in-group and an out group and there’s a blue tribe and a red tribe when there’s us and them is they are liars is still a great coalitional move we have the truth and you are liars right right or we have the truth or you know it’s the it’s the irregular verb we have the truth you know you are listening he’s a liar uh but either way the idea is if i could demonstrate that they were lying in a way that they would have to accept that they were lying or that like everybody observing would know that they were lying unless i would have a very large majority or anything like that then they would their coalition would lose face right their colors would lose power would lose status uh it’s not necessarily about the fact that when i have the right map of this particular issue that we do better that we get to do better things in the world often the question is symbolic or implies group action that doesn’t actually help anybody in particular right so like if the two of you disagreed about you know something like climate change where like it’s not going to impact your life or your ability to wield power in any times horizon that anybody is actually worrying about it’s a question of what actions will cause what effects over a long term then like you can have whatever position you want be how your coalition is based the goal is to you know make it so that your coalition gets stronger because it is in a stronger rhetorical position and for you personally to indicate your support for your side and potentially to help your side be better rhetorically and therefore do better and because in general by default true things are easier to not get proven false than false things and also happen to have better supporting arguments when you haven’t looked because they happen to be true so on average a a level three battle right can still be sort of an ordinary decent political fight right where both sides want their side to win but we’re guided by the beauty of our weapons even so right the idea that the true side still ends up winning right so like i think this is a part of a lot of human behavior right the idea is that we spend you know 99 of our effort you know on positional conflicts and you know competitions and things that don’t matter but that’s because we only need that other one percent to actually figure what’s going figure out what’s going on or build the building or discover the cure or whatever it is we actually need there’s a lot of ruinonation there’s even more ruin in people like i mean i do almost nothing all day compared to just the number of minutes i have to do things if you just count useful things but i’m still an extraordinarily productive useful person compared to you know what i need to be in order to you know be an averagely producing member of society that keeps the lights on makes sense how do you think this plays in with with tech stagnation and you know it seems like we’re a lot better at it you know actually doing the thing right so it’s like we were able to get to the moon quickly we’re able to you know you know the manhattan project but how do you think that plays in right so the way we got to the moon was we put we got put ourselves in this we were put in a situation in which it would be very very valuable to get to the moon and it was not practical to pretend we got to the moon you either get to the moon or you don’t and so once kennedy says we’re putting a man on the moon even if he has no idea if we can or how by the end of the decade and we’re turning him safely to the earth now like our best coalitional move in our battle against the outgroup of the soviets is to actually put a man on the moon and actually return him safely to the earth because if we tried to fake it we would be caught and because the russians are actually like pretty good at figuring out that we’re faking it and pointing this out so we have to do it for real so we do it for real it doesn’t mean it’s just trivial because we have to do it we do it but it turns out that like there’s this thing in star trek where there will be a certain need for technology that has not been developed or a technique that has not been uncovered right in order to have people not die or so this new civilization this new world not collapsed or something awful not happen and within the next 15 minutes people will start saying words and come up with ideas and suddenly do the thing right and that was basically nasa for a number of years and at first i thought this was just nonsense and this was not a realistic thing that ever happens yeah and now i think it’s basically accurate that if you have a bunch of like properly trained you know in the relevant background smart people and they suddenly actually have to figure things out because they’re the ship is about to explode and it’s hard to shut up and do the impossible they actually reasonably often just will and the other half of that is that they will also blatantly ignore the implications of the thing they just developed almost every time right at the end of the episode it’s like well that could actually revolutionize shut up

right like who is the regulator behind the federation where like you solve aging again yeah don’t talk about it right like oh we could just like replace our transporters with this this is way better yeah yeah and and we are like that right like so like but in going to the moon we had to develop lots of these new physical things and because we were actually in a show off physical things competition with the soviets because the soviets big specialty was look at us we do physical things really well we will bury you in all the physical things and then we pointed out oh by the way no you don’t and you’re terrible like you’re good at like mass producing generic like low-level stuff through command economy and catch-up mode and that’s it and we’re gonna prove it to you basically by like not screwing things up too badly because we can’t afford to right now and then like the soviets were forced to shift to like oh but what about your social justice and then like we had a different set of conversations for a while but they’d already lost the material argument that’s what turned out to matter and eventually we won because they were out of stuff right like we just run the ball down their throat and they just right but the problem is the problem right the problem is now there’s no particular like until covert 19 hit us in the like kicked us in the ass right level zero kicking level four in the face we didn’t have a good we didn’t particularly have a reason why if we didn’t produce more and better stuff if we didn’t find more and better ways of interacting with the physical world that anything particularly bad would happen to us we could just be like we could be like you’re just not allowed to do new physical things in any way that matters to a first approximation and nothing that bad would happen to us because we kind of live in paradise right right right perspective yeah definitely and so we were able to essentially just devote all of the surplus to just fighting stupid you know positional good games and status conflicts and like rhetorical devices and everything just gets tied up more and more knots right and rent gets distracted more and more and as is lots of rent extraction and as the existing um corporations and governments and people of power rely on the current situation in order to continue extracting and have their goods be scarce that they possess so that they can have them have value like it is inherently bad when you are doing all those things and not producing anything new and not innovating and not being picky or useful if someone else goes out and does something somebody just starts doing things well that’s not good right for you because like i mean you already have all the things what do you want with more things like it doesn’t really help you very much and they’re a threat but they’re a threat to your position right like so there’s a lot of different ways to approach this a lot of different ways to explain the causal vectors and like just the way that this occurs to me out loud in the middle of this conversation is that there’s that and also sort of the idea that and i have this in this book long sequence that i’m actually working on turning into a book slowly um called the immoral mesa sequence the idea being that right so that so the core concept is that when you have lots and lots of levels of hierarchy and organization that organization has existed for more than a few minutes like continuously it will get more and more byzantine and the people who the people who favor advancing the people who favor um the people who play the game of advancing in the company cornell’s law yeah that but like will take over but the result of this right is really really toxic and the more levels of organization you have the more toxic it is and the longer it lasts the more the worse it gets and you basically can’t go backwards you can only get worse like the way right so essentially because because once the people who are one of the people who who you once the bureaucrats who favor more bureaucracy take over the bureaucracy you can’t really reform that bureaucracy in a useful way i mean someone like steve jobs can come in and take up the system because he’s a once-in-a-generation talent and maybe you put elon musk in charge of one of these companies he could do something but for the most part these companies don’t go backwards right normal people can’t make them go backwards even with the best of intentions and also they don’t hire the person with the best of intentions to be the new ceo they hire someone with the worst intentions because that’s what they want right that’s the system the system is perpetuating itself but even if you somehow got in charge it’s very hard to do anything about it right like if you if you somehow did have a hero who became the president of the united states and tried to reform the federal government’s problems like they just get nowhere basically right very very little they’d have to have so many supporters coming with them in so many different places and so much just uproar behind them and obviously be better off starting over more or less right and so the idea is the way that you get better is not like you take ibm and you reform ibm and make ibm a good company again no what happens if you found microsoft instead and you beat ibm and you take over from ibm and then microsoft can start over right and doesn’t and doesn’t have these inherent problems you started with a team of people who wanted to build software and offer value and then over time microsoft becomes the same as ibm right develops those problems because you know you can hold it back you can slow it down and for someone like okay right like bill gates can slow this down a bunch but like he’s not going to be in charge forever and eventually you’re going to slip and also once you get big enough like it takes increasingly heroic efforts to stop it from starting and then what happens is no you don’t you don’t get to just reset microsoft either right you get google and then google replaces microsoft like i mean it might be the wrong story but like you know the idea and then you know in theory someone else now replaces google right like at some point because google you know at first it was like these two guys have a search engine who were building a thing and then they tried extraordinarily hard to keep it a culture of producing stuff but increasingly i hear from people who used to be in google or who are in google or who relate to google and i look at google’s products and it’s clear that like they’re losing this battle right they’re not really particularly fast like they’re not they didn’t they quit themselves of honor they brought a lot of value to our society and still happy to own their stock but you know they’re not going to get better right this problem is not going to go away they’re going to collect their monopoly rents they’re going to use their unique position to like acquire things that other people build but like they were to keep making their own products worse because the incentives inside google are no longer to make things better rather than works they are to make things worse rather than better right and this is not to say that google is particularly unique right it just this is how it is and so the problem we have is that too big to fail has come to western civilization basically all right right and this seems particularly pernicious with governments because it’s a lot harder to found a new government and just replace one when they you know you have a monopoly on violence you don’t want to just you know it’s very hard to respect i mean you have a nice thing where like we have different groups and occasionally we switch between who’s in charge so you have somewhat of a small reset right like you sort of have at certain places you do kind of have a reset of you also kind of don’t have a reset if they’re both continuous and that helps navy a little but and like there are certain like physical checks or there used to be right like if you are if you have the things like like the the people will basically say if the government if the economy is bad if we can’t get jobs we can’t put food on the table we’re going to vote out the party in power and replace the people in the congress and replace the president and then smart people say but it’s not their fault they didn’t do anything the president couldn’t have changed that you know like trump is not very little to do with the current gdp right good or bad because it was more of it but you didn’t have any leverage right you could he could have yeah any and he probably couldn’t you probably like you know we’re not gonna get into exactly what counterfactuals could have happened but like the us was not to do south korea right like there’s no like world in which hillary clinton suddenly stays the day and we never have coveted like we’ve all been going to bars for the past six months indoors without worrying about it that just is not was never gonna happen like regardless of whether it’s better or worse but the idea being that they just say okay it’s a good heuristic to say when physical life is hard and bad you just throw the bums out and that way the bums have an incentive to try and make physical life better rather than worse and it’s like well if we tried to be careful and figure out exactly what you did and didn’t do we just get it wrong you just fool us we’re not very we’re not able to get close attention we’re not very smart you know you’re telling us different stories we don’t know who to believe it’s a very reasonable proposition to say well on the margin the people who are swingy just say well do we like what’s going on no who’s not in power that guy right we like what’s going on cool keep the guy we have right it’s much better than random and it keeps people honest and prevents the worst from happening in an important sense which is kind of like what you’re most afraid of right the problem being you know we have we don’t have these physical things staring us in the face the way we used to and the way that we and the way that when we’re scared of it happening we’re scared that this giant superstructure we built is kind of fragile right that like one big institution fails and a lot of things might come down with it right so we can’t let anything call and also because uh asset prices have gone up so high partly because we’ve prevented the creation of new assets but like those assets are are fueling lots and lots of people’s balance sheets that allow those people to not be bankrupt and there’d be a cascading bad a series of bad effect potentially and we don’t know what happens and maybe it’s okay but maybe it’s really really not okay and there’s a period in 2008 where it’s like well maybe if we don’t do this everything goes to hell in two days but we don’t policymakers are thinking this and maybe right and maybe it’s just good instead and we just don’t know but we don’t want to find out we’re not going to be the guys that blow it up right i think it was probably going to be really bad but like it could have you know they’re universities which is fine or like you have to do a little bit to make sure it’s fine but like not the thing you had to do but like you know they did the obviously you know correct and short term more hazard ignoring thing which is make sure the really bad thing doesn’t happen no matter what you have to do to make that happen but if you keep making decisions like that if you keep saving every big thing that’s in trouble effectively unless it’s clearly safe not to if you keep building up these relationships and regulations that bar entry and let more and more rent attraction occur even though we currently have more and more like rents to claim right like things are still like at least up until pretty recently we’re clearly just in my mind physically getting better and many things are still physically clearly much still getting better then you have this situation where you can’t get rid of this the mazes the symbol acro levels like basically you can’t let level zero kick the level four people in the face to wake up the system to like to make them go away and they get replaced by the new system which is operating at level one and then start the cycle over again like to a first approximation you’re just stuck so and then like one of the questions of covet is like does this kick us in the face efficiently right does this help us get kicked in

that’s the question that’s a millionaire he’s like right it clearly kept basically everybody with any kind of like authority or like reputation in the face right like it’s nobody comes out looking good with notably rare exceptions like bill gates probably comes out looking good right but like almost nobody like certainly like all the people who were like locked down lockdown lockdown like all the standard left all the standard blue tribe people said lots of things that weren’t true and advocated lots of things that didn’t they did a lot more harm than good and all the red truck people do the same thing and they all still are and like the people who weren’t trying to not be either nor didn’t really get it right either they just flailed around in different ways and we exposed how much we can’t do things like even like both by doing things and by not doing things like every time we every time there’s a thing to be done every result points out how bad it is right we made a vaccine right right in less than a year for basically no money yeah and they were like all the vaccine candidates were 95 were like 90 plus percent effective three for three so far it looks like we don’t know the oxford one is a little ambiguous but certainly the first two it’s a brand new type of vaccine that people were just toying around with for years and it’s not like we didn’t have other diseases we wanted vaccinations against and that like we just didn’t think it was that important right we just basically said it wasn’t worth it for us to authorize the ability to actually do vaccine research properly like operation warp speed done on just some other disease that we don’t like rather to get rid of would clearly have been super cost effective yeah and yet and yet we look at the timeline so like my dad is an immunologist he was he taught immunology of colombia and i i was talking to him really early about the the vaccine situation and among other things right and the testing situation so first of all the testing situation like literally he was able to give instructions to a research laboratory there was not a medical facility in any way they just wanted to stay open in order to keep doing medical research in order to keep doing research to develop new things and not have all of their stuff go bad for nobody can come into the office right and they were able to literally just run a covent test on every employee every day in march or they didn’t do it every day because they didn’t have to but like at least once a week they stopped testing everyone caught two positives sent them home nobody else got it right for effectively zero money running the test at the lab and the fda of course was like stop doing this this is illegal this is terrible you give people false information you’re corrupting the statistics you’re you’re doing all these horrible things but there was nothing stopping like he didn’t have any special skills he had ordinary scenes what’s called ordinary skill in the art right he just knew yeah how to create this test because everybody knows how to create the tests and like we could have just had every research facility in the country doing this and not just for themselves but for like a thousand times as many people outside we could just change what they’re doing to be primarily this and we could have solved the whole problem in april we just didn’t right right and like we just it’s like we both ramped up our testing really well compared to a world but we didn’t we’re now doing like 1.5 million 1.6 million a day and like but you see this just steady curve upwards a straight basically straight line you see it’s just a straight line graph like you just see like the x axis the y axis and then just a diagonal line through the zero point over time it’s like yep just yeah that’s how many tests we can run and like why some sort of regulatory barrier unclear why we’re writing all the other tests the fda said no the cdc says no like these people were just telling us no and they look at the vaccine so i asked about the vaccine he’s like i can create a vaccine in a day like again you know he’s not a coronavirus person yeah not a vaccine guy just a normal knowledge he’s like i can create a vaccine candidate like just just like all these that’s the only good accountant i can create this question in one day

it’s just about testing it to see if it works see if it’s safe if we had used challenge trials if we had not gone through step by step by step like why do we need i think i don’t understand why do we need to wait for three two months of safety data from phase three trials we already did a phase two safety trial can’t we use phase two to do safety yeah and that’s even assuming we can’t just do challenge trials can you challenge trials and also like yeah if we just if we did challenge trials again we could have had the vaccine candidates in march done challenge trials and safety trials in april at the latest had the tubal safety data in june be distributing the same thing by late june

nothing was stopping us except we don’t have a will but like that’s the star trek thing right if we actually if this thing was instead of being one percent deadly 50 definitely you’re damned well we sure we would have had it right right it just we didn’t care enough this wasn’t good enough we would rather do the hamstonian thing of destroying our economy and people’s livelihoods and a year of their lives rather than authorize a bunch of challenge trials and a bunch of payments for safety data to be acquired quicker like if i was the president there would have been a freaking vaccine trial draft if there had you’re getting this out next week i don’t care what it costs the safety data starts coming in tomorrow exactly like i don’t care if i have to be on television being the first person to get it to show people that we’re serious i’m getting a skin in the game and we’re doing this thing yep because that’s what you do but that’s a that would be a civilization that cared right alternatively we could just automatically just do what south korea did or australia did and actually just use the stupid tools enough right just more like basically south korea was just like so you’re saying i could use more daca okay sure i’ll just use more daca and like a culture that actually listens to people who tell them what to do instead of just being you can’t push me around right exactly i mean there’s i’m not telling you anything you already know there’s more going on here than lack of will benjamin hoffman has some blog posts about i think it’s the engineer and the diplomat about people um fluidly effortlessly coordinating to prevent interesting conversations from happening and i’ve been reading your covet posts and i’m seeing people actively coordinating to prevent stuff from getting done it’s not just that they don’t care enough to do it it’s the oh yes but like yeah yeah sorry i just still don’t understand why i mean i have things i can say that sound like reasons but they don’t seem strong enough to predict the effect right so like the reason why i keep writing a 5 000 word column every week yeah it’s not because we need 5 000 words a week to tell people what to do about kovid in terms of their physical actions this week you don’t right that’s way overkill you need 500 maybe the reason why i do it is probably so i can have an excuse to organize my thoughts and keep on top of it partly and because other people find it useful interesting but largely because i want to get exactly that message across i want people to see you know to see what’s going on you know like i can see the matrix like i can see why that like this is not a failure like i say a failure of will right i simply mean if we carried enough in a positive direction to if we care enough and act if we wanted to do these things we could do these things very easily but it is not simply right like the idea that like well we actually need 10 units of caring and we only have one so let’s take it as 10 times as long as it needed to is not the right model the right model is actually 20 units of anti-pressure that actually wants to stop this from happening in any reasonable fashion and then the people who are slowly struggling to do it anyway eventually get it done that is a much more reasonable portrait of what is happening and there was there are quickly schizophrenic situations going on like with the vaccine there were a lot of people who actively just really really wanted a vaccine and then there were the regulators who actively didn’t want them to be able to break any of the standard rules and force them to go through all the normal procedures right and then there was everything about our society which is coordinating effortlessly and automatically to stop them from doing it and yes the question is why

um and this is where like you have to just show people the physical evidence that it’s happening over and over and over again and let them figure it out kind of on their own because it sounds completely insane to just say if you haven’t seen it with your own eyes in one form or another that like all of the people who have any ability to steer the conversation are to a first approximation not all of them but like most of them are silently effortlessly coordinating without talk without talking to each other without actually coordinating they’re implicitly coordinating without even being consciously aware of what they are doing most of the time to prevent anybody from doing anything useful to stop anything productive from happening right to stop interesting conversations taking place is the equivalent in the ben hoffman’s example but to prevent people from doing things that would be effective

because effective things like so one of the concepts in moral mazes is if you notice that somebody has a moral compass and we’ll do things because they are right and wrong and right and wrong does not mean good for my advancement and bad for my advancement it does not mean good for this division’s perceptions by the division above it or bad for this division of perceptions by the division above it it means you know makes more people happy right or lets more people not die or even makes the company more money right then if you notice that that is highly suspect right like i mean for example suppose you were running for office as a republican or a democrat or any right and somebody noticed that occasionally you realize that that your group but the in group’s position was kind of stupid or wrong on a particular fact or strategy and therefore you advocated something that was not part of the in-group well you wouldn’t merely say oh this person got this one wrong you would say this person is not a reliable ally this person’s this person’s priority is not to do all the things that our group does and to oppose all the things that their group does this person’s priority is to put food on people’s tables and to get people healthcare and to like allow the world to be a better place and that might be their position

right or may be completely different from either of our positions and it might be that they might think that i’m trying to stop that from happening any number of bad things could happen but most importantly they’re not going to back our play as well as somebody who didn’t care about that stuff right what you want is you want like so that obama has a quote in his memoir that he’s trying to sell mcconnell in theory he claims he’s trying to sell the at the white house on the benefits of some bill and yeah and the kyle says you’re talking to me as if i care right like literally because mcconnell is like you know capable in this context of just telling the truth of being like why are you acting as if i care about the consequences of the policies i’m trying to win a political fight and get power i don’t now the difference is because because it’s obama advocating position because the blue because because tribe won because the yeah because the out group was trying to pitch to the in group someone in the group support the out group he doesn’t care at all about whether the privacy would be good or bad he just knows he needs to oppose it but that’s different from if the if somebody in the in group proposes a policy right so suppose i say we should build more housing because then more people could live in houses where they want to live and houses would cost for less and life would be better right and the economy would grow and blah blah now this is highly suspicious because it might work right because if i’m advocating something if i’m not english if i’m not in glacis and advocating for building more houses because it would work that i’m not advocating for building more houses because it is the in-group position to build more houses and i might advocate for other not in group positions because they might work so i i am a pariah for even suggesting something that might work however if i suggest something that clearly doesn’t work the opposite happens right if i say we should shut down the playgrounds because of insufficient mass compliance thus forcing the kids to play indoors then anybody paying attention knows that i am saying the shippings of my side that i am supporting my side’s position i am playing a good level three soldier and that i support the coalition because i can’t possibly be saying that because i think that the children playing on the playground without mass is dangerous what kind of idiot am i there is no world in which i thought about this reached the conclusion for the physical world this was bad and therefore i should oppose it no so what’s going on is i see children that are four years old playing the playground in worldwick they don’t have a mask on if i think this is a bad thing i might not oppose it because then i might be suspected of opposing a bad thing because it was bad but if it’s a good thing then i know i’ll be rewarded for acting against it because i am now clearly calling out somebody to be scapegoated i am sacrificing to the gods by offering up this thing of value in the name of the thing that i am trying to raise in importance and status and to support my side so there is this bias right what i’m debating as the governor which things to shut down to shut down exactly the things that don’t help it is not merely that i don’t have sufficient incentive to figure out what helps it is not merely that we are incapable of running experiments right which we are because experiments might cause if you run an experiment you might learn what is good and bad and that might cause people to support what is good over what is bad despite being in your coalition and that is bad so we can’t let them run the experiment and get the information that would be bad and so you know there is the theory that it’s entirely possible that everything else that was done by the federal government since the beginning of the pandemic was actively acts of sabotage except for operation warp speed which helped get the vaccine there faster and that was a huge network potentially it could have been a huge net win despite every single other action being an active act of sabotage banditry or piracy there’s a period where they were literally engaging in benetry and piracy it’s worth remembering this yes

so when you talk about sacrificing to the gods the gods are the coalition for the symbols of the coalition or so the gods are like so the idea is that the gods are this you know this made-up thing that must be appeased by sacrifices yes uh so it’s not necessarily sacrificing to the coalition generating to the coalition itself would be a different thing it’s more we must engage in symbolic so sacrificing the gods is symbolic action that destroys value in order to demonstrate that you have destroyed value in the name of symbolic action which therefore leaves you not blameworthy because you did the destructive action but points but allowed you then blame others for not engaging in similarly destructive action in behalf of the same symbolic result so i basically i don’t think there’s much difference in terms of functionality between shutting down the playground for insufficient mass compliance and butchering a goat at apollo’s temple uh no i they’re a lot closer than us moderns would like to admit except the priests get to eat the goat that

that’s fascinating

gwen do you have a question i’m just putting things together it’s like the toxoplasma of rage but for policy rather than facts you know that scott post about on people backing deliberately weak cases because it’s a stronger in-group signal right it’s exactly the same phenomenon right because if you backstage if you backed a case because it was a good case it’s not a very strong signal of anything it’s also unlikely to get attention from the from the other side and get pushed back because it’s a good case but you don’t want to provoke the conflict in ways that will make it clear what everybody is doing and yes except that’s just about information that’s just about facts and i said the word just obviously doing a lot of work there but that’s not you know that that’s not the kind of horror you should actually be looking for and the true horror is trying to do maximally destructive things in the name of your side because it is much more to your benefit to destructive things rather than beneficial things and people have figured this out and they’re in like they don’t even think about it right like they don’t consciously think what can i do that will be destructive you think what can i do that people will like that will that will like help me accomplish my goals and their brains automatically have learned pick the thing that doesn’t work gotcha good lord oh you also have a post about asymmetric justice which seems like a application of the copenhagen interpretation of ethics yes right i directly i directly actually call out the copenhagen interpretation i believe like right at the beginning so that came out of the conversation actually ben hoffman and another person where we were we were talking back in new york we met in person back when that was allowed right before the pandemic it was kind of cool and we walked around and we talked about some stuff and it was clear that this person hated uh like most almost all large institutions especially and concepts like capitalism even because they caused specific harm that they because that wasn’t necessarily even like more likely or directly caused by them but more like they were interacting they were interacting with the problem it’s more like a you know copenhagen interpretation like level thing sometimes but also just directly like you know if you have winners and losers right you’re responsible for the losers that makes you a horrible person and i basically argued but what about the winners i asked the question right and the answer was don’t care right like you might be right there might be winners but i don’t care it’s horrible to create losers i mean there’s a certain amount of like you know you stop three yeah you you shoot one innocent person and suddenly your entire 20-year career as a policeman is forgotten helping people what’s up with that right like that doesn’t seem fair but when we understand why in that situation that’s that’s a reasonable thing to say but like if you think about it like if you are if you found a cup if you found a company and you sell a product you make a product for one dollar and you sell it for ten dollars the average person who buys it if they’re willing to buy it probably gets you know fifty dollars a hundred dollars of value out of that thing so you’re capturing and that’s if you’re lucky you’re capturing a very small portion of the net utility right like i get like if you think about it like when when when sergey brin right and when sergey and and and company founded google and larry page they created one of the world’s most valuable corporations but captured well if you had to guess what percentage of the value created by google right more or less more or less than one right like right but if someone has a specific harm against google they can sue and collect not only the damages but punitive damages on top of that and people will call them out for specific things that google did wrong and roast them in the press and call for them to be split up or regulated or attacked or whatever and the same thing is true for a person right like if you if i offered like advice one of the things that like um i will write in the column sometimes is this is not medical advice this is not but i don’t even say this is not investment advice sometimes right like i’ll just did that with anything like totally like just keep repeating not investment advice not invested advice that’s advice don’t do this don’t do this don’t do this and so obviously the point of conveying this type of information is so people can do better make better decisions and learn about the world but also make better decisions and obviously a lot of things i share are so that there is an implied piece of advice that if you just follow the logical conclusions of the things that i’m saying you would figure out what you probably should be doing and more likely i could do it but if i am giving advice then anybody whose life turned out badly because they did that advice instead of something else and anytime you invite someone to change their behavior in order to either make sure not to get covered or make sure not to let their life pass them by while avoiding covet that someone will either at some point get covered when they wouldn’t have or miss out on something when they wouldn’t have and their life would be worse and they could theoretically sue my ass right and that would be very bad and it’d be true even if every single person reading that made the right decision but they got unlucky

and so this just keeps being the way things work over and over and over again if you act if you are seen as the one acting yeah then you are responsible for every little thing that goes wrong 100 or even more than 100 and you get credit for very little of the gains right like in the trolley problem right like what is the legal answer to the charlie problem i mean it’s complicated but like the legal equivalent of a non-a non-explicit or like a soft charlie problem if you go to jail right if you if you flip the switch you go to jail right like like if you push the fat man off of the off of the off of the bridge to stop the train and it works you sacrifice two lives to save five not one because you’re going to jail but we’re all worse off i’m not saying you should or shouldn’t do it i’m saying society will not look kindly upon this decision and you know this so act accordingly that’s wild you see that in a lot of a lot of large institutions where um and companies where after a period of time you know no one yeah very few people do anything and they try and avoid doing things because there’s downside risk to doing things right there’s also there’s also the fact that like realistically speaking

a lot of people not everyone but like at least half the people have essentially everything they could ever want to first approximation in some important sense right so like i have a family i have you know a few levels of savings basically you know slash the ability to earn whatever i need to whenever i need to i have all of the entertainments the world has ever created to a first approximation at my fingertips i have good friends and they basically like i have good friends they don’t live down the street but you know i’ve got the rest yeah yeah and and so you know if i try doing something and i destroy someone’s life i could lose everything something goes really wrong i can lose everything if i made a billion dollars that’s just more money more problems yeah it doesn’t right it’s only i mean i might want to like save the world you know create create friendly ai or immortality or whatever i might have big plans myself but for most people in most situations right the upside of being better than upper middle class or certainly better than lower upper class is basically zero right like i i eat exactly what i want whenever i want subject to restaurants being dangerous places to be right right like i i have all the material goods that i actually care about whenever i want them and i’m not that rich right the people who have a thousand times more money than me and you know have gold plated toilets and private jets and you know personal servants and all that are they better off a little maybe probably worse right like so in that situation why would i do anything right in some important sense right that had consequences right like in a world in which you know it used to be like you were king you’ve got a palace of a thousand virgins guarded by eunuchs like literally right and every now and you’d periodically go down there and try to fire as many children as possible because that was like how you won and points a genetic lottery and it was kind of you know so it made sense to try and be the king in some in some sense but in terms of your like today right like it makes you know do you think barack obama increases uh inclu is his inclusive survival fitness by running for president oh god no he got it it went way down right right it just it just you know he’s aging yourself by ten years yeah right like you know doesn’t help you

does this explain is does this at least partially explain why interest rates trend downward and why they you know are now negative to some extent

i mean it could be a little bit of it like but basically there’s just there’s no reason to ex it doesn’t supply and demand right to some real extent like if everybody wants to push their consumption forward yeah right then there’s no reason to charge interest but it’s like a there’s nothing to spend money on because you can’t do anything it’s a kind of really the one way to put it right like if if you suddenly let people do stuff then everybody’s like i want to build some i want to build housing can i borrow some money i’m going to build a factory build all this i wanna build a factory can i borrow some money i wanna do all this research can i borrow some money et cetera et cetera that’d be good investments you could invest this compete for capital the cost of capital would go up the returns would go up but like as it is yeah if you want safe return on capital you know what you can get nothing nothing here is your nothing your actual nothing 100 nothing

nothing at all that that’s that’s sort of interesting and i had one other question it’s unrelated but how do you think about the efficient market hypothesis i know you’re a trader you’re super smart guys it’s false it’s false really okay now that is super fascinating i’d love to dig into that a little bit i mean i didn’t qualify that it’s just false i mean keep in mind that like it is less false than you would think if you just came in with no knowledge of the if you never heard of the efficient market hypothesis or the idea that prices were accurate your model of the stock market and most markets would be much much worse than the person who believes the origin who believes the emh is strictly true if you believe the image is strictly true you have a useful map of the territory that is wrong but will let you do reasonably intelligent things in most situations for most people it’s not importantly wrong in many ways right but it is just wrong like it’s wrong like like like newtonian physics right like it’s just not how it works so think of it this way how does the market price reflect reality right this is sort of the conceptual reason why right why it’s obviously false so if you’re a trader and you look around and what are you looking for you’re looking for something that’s priced wrong right if everything was priced correct everything was priced correctly if the emh was holding everywhere you wouldn’t have a job right right because you’d be like i can make zero dollars by trading why would i do that like most would be off by the cost of executing the trade yeah to be like okay you know maybe it’s trading 38 cents at 40s you know 96.38 at 96.40 cents and it’s really worth 96.38 cents rather than 39 cents so it’s slightly mispriced right and like maybe i get a subsidy from trading on this particular exchange and i can like make like point zero zero three cents by like taking this and then market making to get rid of it and like i have this plan and yeah there are people who operate like that right they basically believe the amh yeah and they’re hyper frequency traders and they try to get a tiny tiny little living yeah but like the reason why it’s charged the reason why it’s the price is accurate is because it’s not right so the idea is that i see that the price is wrong and then i fix it so the reason why i’m wanting to go fix it is because i have a plausible theory that the price is often wrong and if the only people who were trying to fix this price were people who didn’t realize the prices were mostly accurate then they wouldn’t collectively have the intelligence to get the accurate price right right like if i’m a trader right realistically speaking i demand a return on capital that’s much much higher from an intelligent trader than the zero percent you can get in the outside world like when i was at you know jane street capital we had this call we had this concept called what’s the return on capital you need right now to make a trade right what’s the annual return on every trade that you make it’s as good as leaving the money in reserve for the next person to use that capital for the best trade that comes along tomorrow or the next hour or whatever and that number was never that low right like almost ever it was always good things to do that made us money interesting was the question of is this better than the other things we can do to make us money gotcha and it has to be that like again i’m not going to go in and fix a number that’s like maybe a tiny bit wrong unless i have a mathematical model that just on average is the tiny bit wrong i can just do this a billion times and make money right but there’s a lot of human elements in the right price of a stock right there’s a lot of things going on in the world that want to be factored into that price and the only way i’m going to incorporate those things is if the price is clearly wrong enough that i can go through the trade take on the risk tie up the capital unload the thing once people figure out what’s going on and make money if i have a long-term realization it has to be really wrong right like if i so as an example like i noticed that not at the guy that ring arena the new uh way to play the new way to play back the gathering yeah was a much was a much better product than people were realizing and was going to be played by more people than anybody in the stock market who didn’t understand we hadn’t actually just didn’t have the domain knowledge would know now i can choose to buy hasbro stock to reflect this opinion but what amount of error do i have to think is in hasbro stock from this mistake before i’m willing to do this before i buy hasbro instead of doing anything else with my money right i have to i think it’s a really big mistake right so how does that domain knowledge enter the price of hasbro well it enters the price of hasbro because people like me think the number is really wrong and that doesn’t happen unless after we’re done the number is still somewhat wrong gotcha right like when i buy it the stock and it goes from like 8501 to 8502 because i bought you know like a reasonable human person the amount of stuff yeah the price is not like suddenly accurate it’s just maybe it was supposed to be 80 89 right or 96 and if i thought the price was supposed to be 89 13 i wouldn’t have bought it i had better things to do right right i would have bought an index fund at that point why would i why would i risk the buy an individual stock for that little edge i’d either wait for a better opportunity or are you universified so you know the market can only be as accurate as it profits a man to fix that makes sense right and so that’s a limit on how accurate it’s going to be and that’s about how accurate it is it’s accurate enough that like if the opportunity is glaringly clear it’ll be taken until it’s not gotcha but if it’s not clear it’ll stick around right at random like sometimes it’ll be the other direction obviously there’s various forces going around um another way to look at it is there are people who do things for dumb reasons right and so i i sports i did sports gambling for a while right so like one way to one way to bottle sports game was you have your sharps and you have your squares right the startups are people who actually like know all the statistics and watch and like watch the games of a critical eye and like know who’s injured yeah and know the match-ups and have simulations and models that they run on their computers and they do all this stuff and they look at all the lines historically and they figure out what the odds are supposed to be and they have with a large amount of error especially in football but like there’s not huge amount of error they have an idea what the price is supposed to be and the squares are a bunch of fans right a bunch of partisans a bunch of idiots right you know they bet on the achieve exactly but you know they’ve been on the yankees they’ve been on the yankees more often because of the yankees yeah and the lakers because of the lakers they bid on favorites because favorites win and they like rooting for teams that win they’re only over instead of the under they do all these stupid stupid moves and they’re stupid because there’s a lot of squares and there aren’t anti-squares to the same extent right and so you can predictively know the price is wrong and what’s going on is that the the squares will move the price until they’ve created enough value for the sharks to be willing to commit enough capital to balance out the square’s action and the sharks include the sports books themselves that are booking the action right they notice they know who their sharks are they know the right side they’ll they’ll take a certain amount of extra square money and just book it for themselves but the idea being that like it has to add up it’s not going to end up at the fair price almost ever unless the squares happen to not care what the price is and be balanced or like the naive price happens to be correct like the nba sort of has a very very easy to calculate number it’s supposed to be that like the average fan in a bar could figure out what that number is on intuition if they’ve been like looking at numbers for a week right like and so if the number is seven it was supposed to be seven it’s probably just seven or the number just happens to be accurate today but if it’s seven it’s supposed to be if it’s supposed to be seven according to these idiots in the bar and you see a five take the five

right yeah i i actually like important like real tip if you need to make money this will actually work you take a printout of the lines of the nba right you go to a sports bar where they watch the nba and you say who do you like and you find that game where everyone likes the same side and it’s not the home team at that bar and you bet again you just do that every night all you have to do i wish i was kidding and i’m not that’s

fascinating that’s really cool super itching gwen do you have any other questions i don’t think so i have a lot of stuff to put together uh i did want to say thanks for the column it really is um it’s excellent it is and it’s uh you think clearly and that can be bomb sometimes just the um you can kind of relax reading it because things are going to make sense and if they don’t make sense you stare at and eventually it does make sense yeah it does not say that and then if it doesn’t after that you should probably just write a comment and say that didn’t actually make sense what’s going on and then like i’ll have to confront the fact that i didn’t communicate very clearly probably if nothing else right or i might have made a mistake so yeah no i it was weird because it was really scary because like at the beginning of the pandemic i felt like well i’m not a doctor i don’t know anything i just don’t want to say things because i’ll just get them wrong and i was like no actually i know some things that clearly like the doctors don’t know like i know that like it’s like early march and you should be freaking out and getting ready for this right and so i said some things and then i started saying more and more things and realizing that well actually i can make sense of this better than the other sources i know about and people seem to be appreciating this i should keep going and now i just don’t even notice right this idea that i can make that i can actually like think about these processes in real time week to week and make sense and occasionally someone will you know strike back with you know but experts but like they never have any content to their criticisms so i stopped worrying about it so yeah well thanks z uh where should people find your work is there anything you’d like to pub uh send people to so so my blog is uh let’s see t-h-e-z-v-i dot you can also find all of my posts on less wrong if you want to uh i prefer to engage in comments on my own blog i get notifications with them better and it’s sort of my space different norms um i’m sure to be much more open to just discuss whatever i want to discuss and so on uh but both you know feel free to access it how eat whatever way you prefer uh if you find the things useful you know sharing how people find it is always good uh beyond that nothing to pimp right now my hope is that i will have a game to pimp you know within a year but you know it’s been rough on all of us trying to make progress with provide and so you know it’s been slow going but uh you know hopefully soon great well we’re looking forward to it all right thanks v all right bye

well that’s our show for today i’m will jarvis and i’m will’s dad join us next week for more narratives