Philosophy

…cetacean brain size, relative to body size, increased substantially about thirty-eight mill years ago when the odontocetes evolved from the ancient archaeocetes…

What drove these changes? It does not seem to have been the transition to an aquatic existence itself as that occurred about fifty-five million years ago and brains stayed at roughly the same relatively small size relative to body weigt as the archaeocetes made their gradual entry into the ocean.  A better hypothesis is that the increased brain size of the odontocetes thirty-eight million years ago was driven by the evolution of echolocation.  The early odontocetes had inner ear bones that were good at picking up high frequency sound, which suggests that they had developed a form of sonar.  Lori Marino thinks “that echolocation came on line and then got co-opted for social communicative purposes.”  In this scenario, the odontocete brains increased in relative size to deal with the acoustic information itself, as well as, perhaps, a new perceptual system based on the data from the returning echoes.  But…the change may have been even more profound: “This may indicate that the large brains of early odontocetes were used, at least partly, for processing this entirely new sensory mode [echolocation] that evolved at the same time as these anatomical changes and perhaps for integrating this new mode into an increasingly complex behavioral ecological system.”

That is from the new and notable The Cultural Lives of Whales and Dolphins, by Hal Whitehead and Luke Rendell, previously covered on MR here.  And here is my earlier post on the economics of dolphins.

Robin Hanson reports:

My last post got me thinking about the liberal vs. conservative slant of different jobs. Here are two sources of data.

Consider some jobs that lean conservative: police, doctor, religious worker, insurance broker. These seem to be jobs where there are rare big bad things that can go wrong, and you want to trust workers to keep those from happening. That explanation can also makes some sense of these other conservative jobs: graders & sorters, electrical contractors, car dealers, truckers, coal miners, construction workers, gas service station workers, non-professor scientist. Conservatives are more focused on fear of bad things, and protecting against them.

Now consider a set of jobs that lean liberal: professor, journalist, artist, musician, author. From these you might focus on the fact that these jobs have rare but big upsides. So the focus here might be on the small chance that a worker will be come a rare huge success. This plausibly seems the opposite of a conservative focus on rare big losses.

But consider these other liberal jobs: psychiatrist, lawyer, teacher. Here the focus might be just on people who talk well. And that can also make sense of many of the previous list of liberal jobs. It might also makes sense of another big liberal job: civil servant.

I’m not suggesting these are the only factors that influence which jobs are liberal vs. conservative, but they do seem worth exploring.

Which other factors might help explain the distribution of conservative vs. liberal jobs?

An old piece of mine from the early 1990s now seems to have come on line, the introduction to the piece is this:

Although non-Paretian approaches to welfare economics receive considerable attention outside of mainstream economics, they have not received much critical scrutiny. Non-Paretian welfare frameworks, while not necessarily wrong in their present form, are seriously incomplete. I will discuss whether a non-Paretian welfare economics can avoid collapsing into Paretianism, and still serve as a promising model for policy analysis. I warn the reader in advance that no definitive conclusions will be offered.

The pointer is from Adam Gurri, who also thanks Eric Crampton.

There are many good bits, here is one of them:

…I have a slightly different cut on the Snowden revelations. I think it shows the NSA more as the Keystone Cops than as Big Brother. What is striking to me is how little James Bond-like stuff was going on and how little they did with all this information. That’s why I think, in some ways, the NSA is more in this anti-technological zone where they don’t know what to do with the data they find. So they just hoover up all the data, all over the world. I think it was news to Obama that he was tapping into [German Chancellor Angela] Merkel’s cell phone.

One way to think about this is that if the NSA bureaucracy actually knew what they were doing, they would probably need way less information. What’s shocking about Snowden is how much information they had and how little they did with it.

Read the whole thing.

Because they sound mighty interesting:

Bousso is not interested in what goes on outside the causal diamond, where infinitely variable, endlessly recursive events are unknowable, in the same way that information about what goes on outside a black hole cannot be accessed by the poor soul trapped inside. If one accepts that the finite diamond, “being all anyone can ever measure, is also all there is,” Bousso said, “then there is indeed no longer a measure problem.”

In 2006, Bousso realized that his causal-diamond measure lent itself to an evenhanded way of predicting the expected value of the cosmological constant. Causal diamonds with smaller values of Λ would produce more entropy — a quantity related to disorder, or degradation of energy — and Bousso postulated that entropy could serve as a proxy for complexity and thus for the presence of observers. Unlike other ways of counting observers, entropy can be calculated using trusted thermodynamic equations. With this approach, Bousso said, “comparing universes is no more exotic than comparing pools of water to roomfuls of air.”

The article, by Natalie Wolchover and Peter Byrne, is interesting throughout.  I do sort of understand this sentence:

But as attempts to paint our universe as an inevitable, self-contained structure falter, the multiverse camp is growing.

The pointer is from the esteemed David Levey.

Here is the new paper by Michael Reay in Social Forces:

Analyses of the multiple cognitive structures and social effects of humor seldom look at why these tend to center on particular topics. The puzzle of how humor can be highly varied yet somehow constrained by its source “material” is explored using a corpus of over 600 incidents, not of deliberate jokes, but of the “wilder,” unplanned laughter that occurred during a set of interviews with economists—professionals who at the time (1999–2000) enjoyed an unprecedented degree of status and influence. The analysis finds that the source material for this laughter typically involved three kinds of socially structured contradiction: between ideals and reality, between different socially situated viewpoints, and between experiences occurring at different times. This illustrates how particular kinds of content can have a special laughter-inducing potential, and it suggests that wild laughter may at root be an interactional mechanism for dealing with social incongruity—even for members of relatively powerful groups. It is argued that this could not only help solve the larger puzzle of simultaneous variety and constraint in deliberate comedy, but also explain why the characteristic structures of humor are associated with a particular range of social effects in the first place.

Reading that abstract caused me to engage in some unplanned (silent) laughter.

For the pointer I thank the excellent Kevin Lewis.

Religion in China.  That was the topic of a recent excellent Economist article.  Here is one good excerpt:

It is hard even to guess at the number of Christians in China. Official surveys seek to play down the figures, ignoring the large number who worship in house churches. By contrast, overseas Christian groups often inflate them. There were perhaps 3m Catholics and 1m Protestants when the party came to power in 1949. Officials now say there are between 23m and 40m, all told. In 2010 the Pew Research Centre, an American polling organisation, estimated there were 58m Protestants and 9m Catholics. Many experts, foreign and Chinese, now accept that there are probably more Christians than there are members of the 87m-strong Communist Party. Most are evangelical Protestants.

Predicting Christianity’s growth is even harder. Yang Fenggang of Purdue University, in Indiana, says the Christian church in China has grown by an average of 10% a year since 1980. He reckons that on current trends there will be 250m Christians by around 2030, making China’s Christian population the largest in the world. Mr Yang says this speed of growth is similar to that seen in fourth-century Rome just before the conversion of Constantine, which paved the way for Christianity to become the religion of his empire.

In the 1980s the faith grew most quickly in the countryside, stimulated by the collapse of local health care and a belief that Christianity could heal instead. In recent years it has been burgeoning in cities.

Read the whole thing.  You will note that when individuals engage in a “portfolio” approach to religion, social evolution can occur much more rapidly.  Not everyone has to fully convert to Christianity, or to embrace Confucianism wholeheartedly, for those approaches to suddenly acquire much more influence.

Sendhil Mullainathan writes:

…we compared the polarization of 19- and 20-year-olds in an election year. Both age groups were eligible to vote, but only the 20-year-olds were able to vote in the previous election — and thus had a chance to formally commit themselves to candidates and ideologies.

We found that the 20-year-olds held stronger and more uniform views than the 19-year-olds. That wasn’t just a result of aging: When we looked at more age groups, we found that 18- and 19-year-olds, both of whom were ineligible to vote in the previous election, were similarly polarized; there were also no polarization differences between 20- and 21-year-olds, both of whom were able to vote previously. This and other evidence led us to conclude that exposure to the voting process more effectively committed people to a candidate or party…

A combination of neutrality and persistent voting would be ideal. But our psychologies are complicated. If they override our narrow self-interest and lead us to vote instead of free-riding, the very act of voting may make us more partisan. Sporadic voters can provide an antidote: Their previous lack of engagement may serve as a counter to partisanship.

There is a line between apathy and neutrality. People who sit out all elections provide little value to a democracy. People who sit out some elections, jumping in at crucial times, serve an important role as a reserve army of the uncommitted.

I once argued to Ashok Rao that public intellectuals and other influential persons should not vote at all for this reason.  By not voting, they will keep the quality of their influence higher.

It is time for Taylor Swift to drop the mic and take a bow because she has just accomplished the unthinkable. Swift hit number one on the Canadian iTunes chart this week with eight seconds of pure static.

A glitch in the Canadian version of iTunes released a track called “Track 3,” that looked like it could be a new track from her upcoming album 1989 but was actually just white noise. Nevertheless, the song soared to the top, beating out her new songs that are actually new music, including “Shake It Off,” “Welcome to New York” and “Out of the Woods.”

Haters might hate, but once a singer scores a chart-topping hit comprised solely of white noise, it’s hard to deny she’s an unstoppable musical force.

There is more here, via the excellent Mark Thorson.

The drunk utilitarian

by on October 28, 2014 at 2:36 am in Data Source, Food and Drink, Philosophy | Permalink

Here is a new paper by Aaron A. Duke and Laurent Bègue:

The hypothetical moral dilemma known as the trolley problem has become a methodological cornerstone in the psychological study of moral reasoning and yet, there remains considerable debate as to the meaning of utilitarian responding in these scenarios. It is unclear whether utilitarian responding results primarily from increased deliberative reasoning capacity or from decreased aversion to harming others. In order to clarify this question, we conducted two field studies to examine the effects of alcohol intoxication on utilitarian responding. Alcohol holds promise in clarifying the above debate because it impairs both social cognition (i.e., empathy) and higher-order executive functioning. Hence, the direction of the association between alcohol and utilitarian vs. non-utilitarian responding should inform the relative importance of both deliberative and social processing systems in influencing utilitarian preference. In two field studies with a combined sample of 103 men and women recruited at two bars in Grenoble, France, participants were presented with a moral dilemma assessing their willingness to sacrifice one life to save five others. Participants’ blood alcohol concentrations were found to positively correlate with utilitarian preferences [emphasis added] (r = .31, p < .001) suggesting a stronger role for impaired social cognition than intact deliberative reasoning in predicting utilitarian responses in the trolley dilemma. Implications for Greene’s dual-process model of moral reasoning are discussed.

The gated version is here.  The original pointer is from SteveStuartWilliams.

While American universities debate whether “civility” is an appropriate way to evaluate faculty members, a British institution has faced intense criticism for punishing a faculty member for sighing, unfriendly body language and the use of irony.

…Docherty’s suspension was revealed by Times Higher Education, which reported that the university said he was undermining the authority of his department head (who has since stepped down) by making “ironic” comments during job interviews, sighing and using negative body language. The suspension had Docherty banned from contact with anyone on campus, and even from writing a book preface.

Charges were just dropped, so could I request to be interviewed by this guy?  I think I would enjoy the experience.

Kevin Vallier, a philosopher, considers on Facebook the optimal journal submission strategy:

I was implicitly assuming the best strategy was to start with the best journals, receive rejections, and then work my way down, lest my piece get accepted by a sub-par journal first. But now I’m thinking it may make more sense to start from “the bottom” or at least mid-tier journals and work my way “up” if I can assume that my pieces will generally be rejected several times, even by the mid-tier journals. I think I was overestimating the risk of publishing my work in mid-tier journals and underestimating how much rejections can improve the quality of the paper. In light of this, I want to construct a “journal ladder” that political philosophers and political theorists can “climb” towards the best journals. 

Let’s put some numbers on this to see what makes sense. The expected utility from submitting to a high quality journal first is:

HighFirst = Ph* HV + (1 – Ph)*(Pl*mult)* 1

The first term, Ph*HV is the probability of acceptance at a high quality journal times the value of acceptance at a high quality journal. If the paper is rejected, which happens with probability (1-Ph), then you go to a low-quality journal where the paper is accepted with probability Pl times the multiplier which you get because of suggestions and comments from the referees at the high quality journal. The value of the low-quality journal is set to 1 so HV>=1.

Now what about low first:

LowFirst = Pl*1 + (1 – Pl) (Ph*mult)*HV

if you submit to the low quality journal and are accepted you get Pl*1, if the low quality journal rejects which will happen with probability (1-Pl) you submit to the high quality journal which accepts with probability Ph*mult and if accepted you get HV.

Now let’s put some numbers on this. The probability of acceptance at a high quality journal is 5-10%. The rate at the AER in recent years, for example, has been about 7.5%. Let’s say 10% and for a low-quality journal 20%. These rates are conditional on being the type of paper that is submitted to the AER not any random paper. (These rates are also reasonable for philosophy journals.). What’s the value of HV, the high quality journal relative to the low quality journal? Let’s say between 1 (equally valuable) and 10. And the multiplier? 1.5 would be very generous. 1.1 might be reasonable on average, 1.2 if you are lucky. Given these numbers let’s consider LowFirst-HighFirst so positive numbers mean that the LowFirst strategy is better, negative numbers that the HighFirst strategy is better. Here’s what we get:

OptimalStrat

The way to read this is that if the multiplier is a hefty 1.5 then LowFirst is superior to HighFirst if a high quality journal has a value of at least 3.5 (relative to the low quality journal at 1). If the multiplier is 1.3, however, then LowFirst is optimal only if the high quality journal is more than 8 times as valuable as the low-quality journal. And for a multiplier of 1.2 LowFirst is never optimal.

Thus the LowFirst strategy is better the higher the relative value of a high-quality journal, the bigger the multiplier and also the lower the acceptance rate at the low quality journal . The lower the acceptance rate at the low-quality journal the lower the cost of submitting it there in order to earn the multiplier.

I conclude that the high-value first strategy is usually optimal. All the more so since there are good substitutes for submitting to a low quality journal. Namely, submit the paper to a conference, circulate the paper to friends, enemies (especially) and others to get comments. The multiplier with this approach will be at least as large as with the submission approach and the opportunity cost will be lower.

Charles Murray on Ayn Rand

by on October 19, 2014 at 7:30 am in Books, Philosophy | Permalink

Charles Murray has a good piece on Ayn Rand, critical in parts but especially insightful about why Rand’s books continue to be so inspirational and influential:

Ayn RandRand expressed the glory of human achievement. She tapped into the delight a human being ought to feel at watching another member of our species doing things superbly well. The scenes in “The Fountainhead” in which the hero, Howard Roark, realizes his visions of architectural truth are brilliant evocations of human creativity at work. But I also loved scenes like the one in “Atlas Shrugged” when protagonist Dagny Taggart is in the cab of the locomotive on the first run on the John Galt line, going at record speed, and glances at the engineer:

He sat slumped forward a little, relaxed, one hand resting lightly on the throttle as if by chance; but his eyes were fixed on the track ahead. He had the ease of an expert, so confident that it seemed casual, but it was the ease of a tremendous concentration, the concentration on one’s task that has the ruthlessness of an absolute.

That’s a heroic vision of a blue-collar worker doing his job. There are many others. Critics often accuse Rand of portraying a few geniuses as the only people worth valuing. That’s not what I took away from her. I saw her celebrating people who did their work well and condemning people who settled for less, in great endeavors or small; celebrating those who took responsibility for their lives, and condemning those who did not. That sounded right to me in 1960 and still sounds right in 2010.

Second, Ayn Rand portrayed a world I wanted to live in, not because I would be rich or powerful in it, but because it consisted of people I wanted to be around. As conditions deteriorate in “Atlas Shrugged,” the first person to quit in disgust at Hank Rearden’s steel mill is Tom Colby, head of the company union:

For ten years, he had heard himself denounced throughout the country, because his was a ‘company union’ and because he had never engaged in a violent conflict with the management. This was true; no conflict had ever been necessary; Rearden paid a higher wage scale than any union scale in the country, for which he demanded—and got—the best labor force to be found anywhere.

That’s not a world of selfishness or greed. It’s a world of cooperation and mutual benefit through the pursuit of self-interest, enabling satisfying lives not only for the Hank Reardens of the world but for factory workers. I still want to live there.

…In scene after scene, Rand shows what such a community would be like, and it does not consist of isolated individualists holding one another at arm’s length. Individualists, yes, but ones who have fun in one another’s company, care about one another, and care for one another—not out of obligation, but out of mutual respect and spontaneous affection.

Ayn Rand never dwelt on her Russian childhood, preferring to think of herself as wholly American. Rightly so. The huge truths she apprehended and expressed were as American as apple pie. I suppose hardcore Objectivists will consider what I’m about to say heresy, but hardcore Objectivists are not competent to judge. The novels are what make Ayn Rand important. Better than any other American novelist, she captured the magic of what life in America is supposed to be. The utopia of her novels is not a utopia of greed. It is not a utopia of Nietzschean supermen. It is a utopia of human beings living together in Jeffersonian freedom.

Also worth reading is this superb piece by Robert Tracinsiki, All an Ayn Rand Hero Really Wants is Love.

This is a fascinating Scott Alexander take on tribalism and how political issues are framed, starting with Ebola.  As Robin Hanson would say, “politics isn’t about policy.”  Here is the segment on how climate change issues might be marketed to the Right:

Global warming has already gotten inextricably tied up in the Blue Tribe narrative: Global warming proves that unrestrained capitalism is destroying the planet. Global warming disproportionately affects poor countries and minorities. Global warming could have been prevented with multilateral action, but we were too dumb to participate because of stupid American cowboy diplomacy. Global warming is an important cause that activists and NGOs should be lauded for highlighting. Global warming shows that Republicans are science denialists and probably all creationists. Two lousy sentences on “patriotism” aren’t going to break through that.

If I were in charge of convincing the Red Tribe to line up behind fighting global warming, here’s what I’d say:

In the 1950s, brave American scientists shunned by the climate establishment of the day discovered that the Earth was warming as a result of greenhouse gas emissions, leading to potentially devastating natural disasters that could destroy American agriculture and flood American cities. As a result, the country mobilized against the threat. Strong government action by the Bush administration outlawed the worst of these gases, and brilliant entrepreneurs were able to discover and manufacture new cleaner energy sources. As a result of these brave decisions, our emissions stabilized and are currently declining.

Unfortunately, even as we do our part, the authoritarian governments of Russia and China continue to industralize and militarize rapidly as part of their bid to challenge American supremacy. As a result, Communist China is now by far the world’s largest greenhouse gas producer, with the Russians close behind. Many analysts believe Putin secretly welcomes global warming as a way to gain access to frozen Siberian resources and weaken the more temperate United States at the same time. These countries blow off huge disgusting globs of toxic gas, which effortlessly cross American borders and disrupt the climate of the United States. Although we have asked them to stop several times, they refuse, perhaps egged on by major oil producers like Iran and Venezuela who have the most to gain by keeping the world dependent on the fossil fuels they produce and sell to prop up their dictatorships.

We need to take immediate action. While we cannot rule out the threat of military force, we should start by using our diplomatic muscle to push for firm action at top-level summits like the Kyoto Protocol. Second, we should fight back against the liberals who are trying to hold up this important work, from big government bureaucrats trying to regulate clean energy to celebrities accusing people who believe in global warming of being ‘racist’. Third, we need to continue working with American industries to set an example for the world by decreasing our own emissions in order to protect ourselves and our allies. Finally, we need to punish people and institutions who, instead of cleaning up their own carbon, try to parasitize off the rest of us and expect the federal government to do it for them.

Please join our brave men and women in uniform in pushing for an end to climate change now.

The piece is interesting throughout, hat tip goes to MR commentator Macrojams.

[China] must adopt a planned economy and social legislation to secure the livelihood and survival of every citizen, and it is imperative that we eventually accomplish the objective of “transforming [all] capital into state capital [nationalization of capital], and transforming [all] enjoyment into enjoyment of the masses.”

The answer is here.

That is from Morris L. Bian, The Making of the State Enterprise System in Modern China: The Dynamics of Institutional Change, p.205.  This book is useful for showing early Chinese moves in the direction of state planning and state-owned enterprises.