Nerdy questions I’ve taken to asking new people I meet

Every now and then people come out to have lunch with us.  I feel there is no free lunch so to speak, so they should be put on the spot.  I have started asking some combination of the following:

1. What do you maximize?

2. Can you offer a simple model of yourself, using one a few equations or a paragraph or less?

3. What is it you hate?  (NB: My colleague Bryan C. suggests there are fine but important distinctions between hating, despising, mocking, and scorning.  I might add that I am not much of a hater.  More generally, many people’s hates are only "pretend hates," and what they hate is perhaps the fact that they don’t really hate their stated hates at all.  But I will settle for a "pretend hate" answer to this question.)

4. What is your most absurd view?

Many people find these questions difficult or disconcerting.  Especially the third one.  I’ll even say "Can’t you just make something up?"  Or "I’ll settle for a lie!"


Could you ethically share some of the more interesting responses?

Great questions.

I'm nearly a utility maximiser. It might be more accurate to say that I'm a precise one, but I'd like to think that I'm close. As a result, I'm quirky as all.

Let PC = Professional Contributions
PK = Professional Knowledge
SR = Social/Personal relationships
HA = Hobby Competence
U = U(PC, PK, SR, SR-dot, HA-dot)

The hate question is hard. Having my time wasted unnecessarily (especially due to someone else's incompetence or laziness) is probably high on the list. I'd like to say something loftier, but it wouldn't provoke as visceral a report.

Herr Cowen,

I hate excessive fear.

1. I'm a real human being, so I don't intentionally maximize anything. My actions probably don't unintentionally result in anything being maximized either.
2. A simple model of myself? Depends on the purpose of the model. In physics, they use multiple, contradictory (if taken as straightforward representations) models. I suppose I have multiple models of myself. Jason as philosopher is a different model from Jason the husband. I don't think there's any one good model for all the hats I wear. (I'm not deep, but I contain multitudes.)
3. I hate idealogues. I also hate idealogical skeptics.
4. My most absurd view may be a type of normative constructivism or perspectivism. Normativity exists within a practical perspective we are all basically forced to adopt even though this normativity appears nonexistent from the speculative perspective we can also adopt. The two perspectives may be irreconciliable, but it doesn't matter.

OK, I'll bite:

1. Freedom.
2. I am a creature of habit.
3. Racism.
4. Demand drive the economy.

It took me 10 minutes to figure out the answers. #2 was hardest, actually, for 9 minutes I settled for "there is no simple model" before I come to my senses. Now remind me, Tyler, what's the point?

How many people have answered No. 3 with "These questions?"

1) Equanimity, breadth and depth of skills, and mental flexibility. If I've got those, pretty much anything is in my grasp.

3) Certitude (about anything but mathematics and empiricals) coupled with moral preening. It's amazing how many people are sure of something that just happens to show they are a good person.

4) There will be a Vingean singularity within my lifetime.

Those questions are wonderful. There should be people lining up for lunch with you.

1. Adventure

2. Let X = deliberate absurdity.

x ---> x^2 x/0

3. Revealed preference theory. (Sorry.)

4. I'm tempted to take the correspondence theory of truth, but instead, I'll say that I'm disposed to believe those theories of free-will libertarianism that rely on hand-waving about quantum mechanics and indeterminacy. I take succor in John Conway.

#1 A combination of self-image, reputation, money and fun

#2 Max U(self-image, other's image of me, money, fun) subject to Time.

#3 I hate dogmatic, pretentious dumb people, and people who are obviously (to me) not as smart but think they are smarter than me.

#4 That I am a very, very smart and objective person.

It seems to me that money is an input into the production of, e.g., life expectancy and fun, rather than something that would be maximized along with them.


1. Expected Utility, where U = utility
2. U = f (own wealth, peers' wealth, status among peers)
3. Confident assertions that are obviously contrary to fact.
4. My assessment of the probability that my net contribution is or will be more than marginal.

"4. We are underfunding NASA and overfunding Social Security."

Expecting a major asteroid strike, eh?

1. I maximise nothing. I am a great believer in marginal utility. I have been known, though, to minimise SSEs.

2. Yes. An accurate model? No.

3. Coffee.

4. My belief that coffee is evil, not because of any concerns about its manufacture, but because of its taste.

1) Utility at the nuclear familial unit level. With different discount rates depending on the day of the week.

2) My utility is not defined as purely personal, but rather a summation of many beings' utilities, the weighting of said functions basically varying inversely with the square of said other beings' psychological distance from myself. Something funny goes on at very close psychological ranges, of course, with conditional weightings greater than that which I apply to my personal well-being and happiness. Other beings' psychological distances from myself appear to be normally distributed around some large number, with close family at one end, the handful of beings I could be truly said to "hate" at the other, and the mass of humanity at +-3 SDs from the mean. On an individual level, the utility attached to those farthest away is so low that the increase to my own utility to be obtained by their ceasing to exist outweighs it, and I'd be happy to see them disappear (i.e. somebody let me know when we incinerate OBL.)

3) I don't actually hate much. I just don't care very much about many, as described above.

4) That such weight as I give to people at medium (that is, less than mean but more than family-close) ranges is ultimately rational rather than a matter of path-dependency, history and hormonal accident.

Thought about this for a few hours.

1. I try to maximize three things; Education, Physical Fitness, Unified Understanding.

2. My life is F(Education, Fitness, Unified Understanding) With the contraints of intelligence, genetics, cultural norms.

3. I hate losing that which I want. Here mainly women. But in general failure is what I hate the most. My own failure.

4. My most absurd view is - I will find for myself a unified theory of existance with which I can live in harmony. I do believe in balance. I believe that humans have a flawed inclination towards good and this causes a need for greater evil.

1. I maximize time to myself.

2. I typically need more time to myself than I'm getting. On occasions when I've been getting enough time to myself, I will seek out other people and enjoy their company. On occasions when I've been getting far too little time to myself, I will summarily cancel engagements to avoid other people.

3. I hate the use of "as such" to mean "consequently." I also hate being forced to listen to other people's noise.

4. I tend to believe that the Bible is for the most part accurate.

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