The funnel of human experience

So humanity in aggregate has spent about ten times as long worshiping the Greek gods as we’ve spent watching Netflix.

We’ve spent another ten times as long having sex as we’ve spent worshiping the Greek gods.

And we’ve spent ten times as long drinking coffee as we’ve spent having sex.


It turns out that if you add up all these years, 50% of human experience has happened after 1309 AD. 15% of all experience has been experienced by people who are alive right now.

This should cheer you all up, yes indeed there is no great stagnation no wonder the rate of productivity growth has been so high:

FHI reports that 90% of PhDs that have ever lived are alive right now.

That is from eukaryote at LessWrong.  Hat tip goes to the always-excellent The Browser.


Did they actually worship the greek gods, or was it that they recognized someone they knew in each one. Oh that is like uncle Fred. Then figured it might be a good idea to throw in a pinch of incense just in case.

A couple of years ago Google released a study arguing that most of the photographs that have ever been taken were taken in the last X years, where I believe X < 10.

Can't find the specific study, but it seems likely that more photographs are now taken in a single year than in the entire history of pre-digital photography.

And taken with phones, no less.

Google Think Insights, The Engagement Project: Finding the Meaning in Memes: "We took 380 billion photos last year – that’s about 10% of all the photos EVER taken." The report has no date on it that I can see, but I posted it to my blog in 2013. Here's the report:

And now there are at least 5 times as many photos taken per year.

Seems likely, yes.

It's sad. Photography used to be an interesting and challenging hobby. You'd put a lot of effort into getting a single good shot cause film was expensive.

It's still interesting and challenging. The interest and challenge is in the photographer, not the camera or other equipment.

Productivity growth in the nonfarm business sector is down, not up, last I checked, 2 seconds ago, since 2007, when it was constantly increasing since WWII before then. See here:

As investment in productive capital has fallen in the U.S., so has productivity growth. Optimists argue that productivity growth hasn't fallen, it's just more difficult to measure. Surely all that investment in tech must generate productivity growth. After all, don't personal assistant apps make us more productive. Don't smart phones make us more productive by facilitating mobility, so we can be productive 24/7. Don't selfies make us more productive by promoting self-examination of our strengths and weaknesses. Don't social media make us more productive by facilitating sharing of knowledge. These are just a couple of ways tech has increased productivity, it's just that we don't know how to measure it.

Who cares how many PhDs are awarded? What does that number even tell us? How many useless PhDs in the social "sciences" are awarded? What a waste of resources. We should condemn those people to picking strawberries. Jayzuz Keeryste!

Let the market condemn them to the strawberry fields. There's a reason the joke is the best phrase for a philosophy major to learn is, "Do you want fries with that?"

This was a fun article, but then I have never been a stagnationist, and it does support my priors. I see tremendous innovation all around us, in all fields, from high tech labs down to garage hackers on YouTube.

Living people at the end of that "funnel" are very impatient though, and their attitude is is like "what did you do for me in the last five seconds?"

Really a lot is going on, and it will total up over the current generation.

IIRC, there was a post here recalling lack of innovation, that internet was invented back in the late 60s. I first used the internet in the 1990s. It makes me wonder how many things are being invented right now that I won't learn of until 2045.

I happened to be in an Apple Store and I saw their new video wall. I wanted one. I guessed that it might cost a hundred thousand, but I looked it up and each one of the things cost one and a half million dollars.

Still, if you are young you will probably have one.

Typical consumer TVs have already exceeded the size where a bigger screen doesn't actually improve anything. You just have to sit farther away to see all of it, so you need a bigger TV and a bigger house.

Why would I want a video wall?

I was trying to remember when video walls first started being simulated as special effects in the movies. Maybe not until the 1990s.

For what it's worth I thought the coolest thing was a moving wallpaper effect timed with music.

You could certainly do (live?) vistas of Yellowstone, but also Conway's Life or journeys through the Mandelbrot set.

Backcountry camping and mushrooms will do those better and cheaper.

And personalized. You won't ever have to worry that your fractal journeys are getting too 'airspacey'!


People have said that for years, and yet new displays seem to get consistently better and everyone agrees they are an improvement and nobody ever goes backwards voluntarily.

I think it's just marketing saying that whatever the state of the art is, that's the absolute pinnacle of human perception! And the middle of the line product is the best balance of features for the middle american with $1000 to spend! They don't want to say that five years from now it will be obviously out of date and look like you're watching the picture through a paper towel roll.

My guess is we're nowhere close to peak display and that there's decades of growth in size, resolution, and other features to come.

In reply to Dan1111.

Per capita, is human experience more valuable nowadays? Quantity not quality.

It's clearly better, and I'd say better human experience is more-valuable human experience. So yes.

During a cribbage game with an ancient Athabaskan friend I said, "Harry, you've seen everything from the stone age to the space age, what's the most impressive thing to come along in your life?"

His reply: "No doubt about it, insect repellent."

I am lousy with math, and this would be an area where my extrapolations would be wilder than some scribe's or editor's at The Atlantic, but:

if c. 15% of human experience is being experienced by those alive today, then we must anticipate that fully 15% of all humans ever to've lived will be dead--with billions of others, some of them "replacements"--by 31 Dec 2100. This 21st century will see the deaths of more people than ANY preceding century, far more than several recent centuries combined, no?

So (for these keen with math): if some twelve or fourteen billion human beings expire in this 21st century CE proper, more will have died than in how many preceding centuries combined--the past five (20th, 19th, 18th, 17th, and 16th)? the past four?

Historical demographer, anyone? --and what might economics of any brand say about the psychic consequences of survivors' witnessing so much death and expiration each and every year for the rest of this century?

Don't we always adapt? People will mentally adapt to this surplus just fine. That is, human life will be seen to be worth less than ever before, making a mockery of so many things our host and his pundit friends believe.

Also, it apparently takes 5 more minutes to drink a cup of coffee at a Waffle House?

And at the Waffle House you don't get the cops called on you for drinking coffee.

People had more sex before Netflix

Netflix xor chill

I spend too much time drinking coffee!

I am puzzled, why is better that 100 million people experience happiness than 100,000? Because that's 1000x more happiness deposited in the World Happiness Bank? Isn't the proportion of happy to unhappy more important? Why better that 100 million even live vs just 100,000? Does it add up in some sense? Or is it a meaningless abstraction?

Repugnant hypothesis?

I often wonder, how much more do network effects matter today compared to even the recent past? Also, do people today have a greater feeling that it's crowded everywhere?

I'm fully aware there's plenty of open space, but dang it, even out in the countryside there's just so many people.

I guess it depends on what you mean by countryside. In southern New England, sure. But I drove 50 miles across the San Luis Valley in southern Colorado without seeing

The number of stars viewed, the number of plants that could be named, the number of things fashioned by hand as a gift for another ...

I've never seen a "falling star" in the city where I live but camping in the desert recently, I would see one each time I grudgingly left the tent to trek to the bathroom.

"90% of the PhD's ever given are people now alive" has been true for the last 100+ years (since PhD's began). See Derek de Solla Price, Little Science, Big Science (1963) and H. W. Menard, Science: Growth and Change (1968).

1 Grothendieck=1 Einstein=1Gauß=1 Newton=1 Darwin=1 Mendel= x Mega(2018 PhD). Compute x.

I don't know. Mostly I'm impressed that you could find the beta character ("ss") on your keyboard.

Yummm... coffee...

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