According to a research paper accepted for publication in the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society, extraterrestrials are sleeping while they wait. In the paper, authors from Oxford’s Future of Humanity Institute and the Astronomical Observatory of Belgrade Anders Sandberg, Stuart Armstrong, and Milan Cirkovic argue that the universe is too hot right now for advanced, digital civilizations to make the most efficient use of their resources. The solution: Sleep and wait for the universe to cool down, a process known as aestivating (like hibernation but sleeping until it’s colder).
The universe appears to be cooling down on its own. Over the next trillions of years, as it continues to expand and the formation of new stars slows, the background radiation will reduce to practically zero. Under those conditions, Sandberg and Cirkovic explain, this kind of artificial life would get “tremendously more done.” Tremendous isn’t an understatement, either. The researchers calculate that by employing such a strategy, they could achieve up to 1030 times more than if done today. That’s a 1 with 30 zeroes after it.
I have lived in Haiti my whole life, there is no demonic energy. Instead i believe Haiti is filled with mystical energy and its clear with the vibrant culture we hold dear to our hearts. ALSO Voodoo is not a demonic religion. To give thanks to your ancestors is beautiful
From Gharad Bryan, James J. Choi, and Dean Karlan:
We study the causal impact of religiosity through a randomized evaluation of an evangelical Protestant Christian values and theology education program delivered to thousands of ultra-poor Filipino households. Six months after the program ended, treated households have higher religiosity and income; no statistically significant differences in total labor supply, consumption, food security, or life satisfaction; and lower perceived relative economic status. Exploratory analysis suggests that the income treatment effect may operate through increasing grit. Thirty months after the program ended, significant differences in the intensity of religiosity disappear, but those in the treatment group are less likely to be Catholic and more likely to be Protestant, and there is some mixed evidence that their consumption and perceived relative economic status are higher. We conclude that this church-based program may represent a method of increasing noncognitive skills and reducing poverty among adults in developing countries.
Empirical evidence on contemporary torture is sparse. The archives of the Spanish Inquisition provide a detailed historical source of quantitative and qualitative information about interrogational torture. The inquisition tortured brutally and systematically, willing to torment all who it deemed as withholding evidence. This torture yielded information that was often reliable: witnesses in the torture chamber and witnesses that were not tortured provided corresponding information about collaborators, locations, events, and practices. Nonetheless, inquisitors treated the results of interrogations in the torture chamber with skepticism. This bureaucratized torture stands in stark contrast to the “ticking bomb” philosophy that has motivated US torture policy in the aftermath of 9/11. Evidence from the archives of the Spanish Inquisition suggests torture affords no middle ground: one cannot improvise quick, amateurish, and half-hearted torture sessions, motivated by anger and fear, and hope to extract reliable intelligence.
See the sign? “Thou shall not kill anymore”.
Interesting throughout, here is the audio and transcript. Here is the summary:
Paul Romer makes his second appearance to discuss the failings of economics, how his mass testing plan for COVID-19 would work, what aspect of epidemiology concern him, how the FDA is slowing a better response, his ideas for reopening schools and Major League Baseball, where he agrees with Weyl’s test plan, why charter cities need a new name, what went wrong with Honduras, the development trajectory for sub-Saharan Africa, how he’d reform the World Bank, the underrated benefits of a culture of science, his heartening takeaway about human nature from his experience at Burning Man, and more.
I liked the parts about charter cities and the World Bank the best, here is one excerpt:
COWEN: How optimistic are you more generally about the developmental trajectory for sub-Saharan Africa?
ROMER: There’s a saying I picked up from Gordon Brown, that in establishing the rule of law, the first five centuries are always the hardest. I think some parts of this development process are just very slow. If you look around the world, all the efforts since World War II that’s gone into trying to build strong, effective states, to establish the rule of law in a functioning state, I think the external investments in building states have yielded very little.
So we need to think about ways to transfer the functioning of existing states rather than just build them from scratch in existing places. That’s a lot of the impetus behind this charter cities idea. It’s both — you select people coming in who have a particular set of norms that then become the dominant norms in this new place, but you also protect those norms by certain kinds of administrative structures, state functions that reinforce them.
COWEN: If you could reform the World Bank, what would you do?
ROMER: Oh, that’s an interesting question. I think the Bank is trying to serve two missions, and it can’t do both. One is a diplomatic function, which I think is very important. The World Bank is a place where somebody who represents the government of China and somebody who represents the government of the United States sit in a conference room and argue, “Should we do A or B?” Not just argue, but discuss, negotiate. On a regular basis, they make decisions.
And it isn’t just China and the US. It’s a bunch of countries. I think it’s very good for personal relationships, for the careers of people who will go on to have other positions in these governments, to have that kind of experience of, basically, diplomatic negotiation over a bunch of relatively small items because it’s a confidence-building measure that makes it possible for countries to make bigger diplomatic decisions when they have to.
That, I think, is the value of the World Bank right now. The problem is that that diplomatic function is inconsistent with the function of being a provider of scientific insight. The scientific endeavor has to be committed to truth, no matter whose feathers get ruffled. There’s certain convenient fictions that are required for diplomacy to work. You start accepting convenient fictions in science, and science is just dead.
So the Bank’s got to decide: is it engaged in diplomacy or science? I think the diplomacy is its unique comparative advantage. Therefore, I think it’s got to get out of the scientific business. It should just outsource its research. It shouldn’t try and be a research organization, and it should just be transparent about what it can be good at and is good at.
And toward the end:
COWEN: Last question thread, what did you learn at Burning Man?
ROMER: Sometimes physical presence is necessary to appreciate something like scale. The scale of everything at Burning Man was just totally unexpected, a total surprise for me, even having looked at all of these pictures and so forth. That was one.
Another thing that really stood out, which is not exactly a surprise, but maybe it was the surprise in that group — if you ask, what do people do if you put them in a setting where there’s supposed to be no compensation, no quid pro quo, and you just give them a chance to be there for a week. What do they do?
For purposes of contrast, here is my first Conversation with Paul Romer.
That is a recent book by Ahmet T. Kuru, published in August. All books should have a (non-Amazon) abstract, and here it is for this book:
Why do Muslim-majority countries exhibit high levels of authoritarianism and low levels of socioeconomic development in comparison to world averages? Ahmet T. Kuru criticizes explanations which point to Islam as the cause of this disparity, because Muslims were philosophically and socioeconomically more developed than Western Europeans between the ninth and twelfth centuries. Nor was Western colonialism the cause: Muslims had already suffered political and socioeconomic problems when colonization began. Kuru argues that Muslims had influential thinkers and merchants in their early history, when religious orthodoxy and military rule were prevalent in Europe. However, in the eleventh century, an alliance between orthodox Islamic scholars (the ulema) and military states began to emerge. This alliance gradually hindered intellectual and economic creativity by marginalizing intellectual and bourgeois classes in the Muslim world. This important study links its historical explanation to contemporary politics by showing that, to this day, the ulema–state alliance still prevents creativity and competition in Muslim countries.
I don’t really have my own view on these issues, and due to various duties and also the slowness of my on-line reading, I have read only a segment of this book. I can report it is clearly written, to the point, and well argued, and I am happy to recommend it to anyone interested in these issues.
I think I will use MR today to catch up on some “book news,” after that back again to coronavirus for a while.
We do another CWT, here is the audio and transcript (link corrected), a very good installment in the series. Here is part of the summary:
Ross joined Tyler to discuss why he sees Kanye as a force for anti-decadence, the innovative antiquarianism of the late Sir Roger Scruton, the mediocrity of modern architecture, why it’s no coincidence that Michel Houellebecq comes from France, his predictions for the future trajectory of American decadence — and what could throw us off of it, the question of men’s role in modernity, why he feels Christianity must embrace a kind of futurist optimism, what he sees as the influence of the “Thielian ethos” on conservatism, the plausibility of ghosts and alien UFOs, and more.
A welcome relief from Covid-19 talk, though we did cover Lyme disease. Here is one excerpt:
COWEN: Does the Vatican have too few employees? There’s a Slate article — it claimed in 2012, the Roman Curia has fewer than 3,000 employees. Walmart headquarters at the time had 12,000. If the Church is a quite significant global operation, can it be argued, in fact, that it’s not bureaucratic enough? They don’t actually have state capacity in the sense that state capacity libertarianism might approve of.
DOUTHAT: Right. State capacity libertarianism would disapprove of the Vatican model. And it reflects the reality that media coverage of the Catholic Church doesn’t always reflect, which is that in Catholic ecclesiology and the theory of the institution, bishops are really supposed to be pretty autonomous in governance. And the purpose of Rome is the promotion of missionary work and the protection of doctrine, and it’s not supposed to be micromanaging the governance of the world Church.
Now, I think what we’ve seen over the last 30 years — and it’s been thrown into sharp relief by the sex abuse crisis — is that the modern world may not allow that model to exist; that if you have this global institution that has a celebrity figure at the center of it, who is the focus of endless media attention, you can’t, in effect, get away with saying, “Well, the pope is the pope, but sex abuse is an American problem.”
And to that extent, there is a case that the Church needs more employees and a more efficient and centralized bureaucracy. But then that also coexists with the problem that the model of Catholicism is still a model that was modern in the 16th century. It’s still much more of a court model than a bureaucratic model, and pope after pope has theoretically tried to change this and has not succeeded.
Part of the reality is, as you well know, as a world traveler, the Italians are very good at running courts that exclude outsiders and prevent them from changing the way things are done. Time and again, some Anglo-Saxon or German blunderer gets put in charge of some Vatican dicastery and discovers that, in fact, the reforms he intends are just not quite possible. And you know, in certain ways, that’s a side of decadence that you can bemoan, but in certain ways, you have to respect, too.
Definitely recommended, a very fun CWT with lots of content. And again, here is Ross’s (recommended) book The Decadent Society: How We Became a Victim of Our Own Success.
Here is the link, from a few weeks ago, far-ranging, but includes cultural predictions about the coronavirus. And this:
I’d love to see a study measuring the decisions people who identify as rationalist make in their romantic personal lives, for example — how rational those decisions are, compared to other individuals. I suspect they’d come out slightly below average.
Some people will say, “I’m spiritual but not religious.” I would sooner say, “I’m religious but not spiritual.” My cosmology is maybe agnostic, tending not to believe that there’s a God as commonly understood, but I have this core American idea that you have values, you go out, you build things, you do things. You take on projects, and those projects should help other people. You’re very committed to this, you see it through. I’m a big believer in that…
Obviously each religion is different and contains many strands, but it’s not an accident that those are the stickiest ideas, right? Those are what carry culture more effectively than, say, political philosophy or the great books of the ancients.
There is much more at the link, and at the end I make the case for optimism.
Here is the transcript and audio, here is part of the opening summary:
Garett joined Tyler to discuss his book 10% Less Democracy, including why America shouldn’t be run by bondholders, what single reform would most effectively achieve more limited democracy, how markets shape cognitive skills, the three important P’s of the repeated prisoner’s dilemma, why French cuisine is still underrated, Buchanan vs. Tullock, Larry David vs. Seinfeld, the biggest mistake in Twitter macroeconomics, the biggest challenges facing the Mormon church, what studying to be a sommelier taught him about economics, the Garett Jones vision of America, and more.
Here is one bit:
COWEN: But let’s say it’s the early 1990s. Eastern European countries are suddenly becoming free, and they ask you, “Garett, what electoral system should we have?” What do you say?
JONES: What I really would go for is presidential systems, if you can handle it, something like a first-past-the-post system, where those people elected from local districts focused on local problems — which have less of a free-rider problem involved — go up to the parliament and actually argue their case. The presidential element is less important than the parliamentary idea of the single-district voting. I tend to think that creates more accountability on the part of the government.
COWEN: For the United States, what is the most effective way, in your view, that you would want us to have 10 percent less democracy? What’s the one thing you would change?
JONES: I would change the House of Representatives to a six-year term. I picked that because it’s not outside the range of plausibility, and because I think people would instantly understand what it accomplishes — not because it has the highest payoff, but because it balances payoff with plausibility in a democracy.
And on boosting IQ:
COWEN: But what’s the key environmental lever? Whatever Ireland did [to have induced an IQ rise], it’s not that people were starving, right? That we understand.
JONES: No, true.
COWEN: So why don’t we do more of whatever they did, whatever was done to the East Germans, everywhere?
COWEN: But what is that lever? Why don’t we know?
JONES: I would say that thing is the thing we call capitalism.
COWEN: Capitalism is a big, huge thing. Not all of capitalism makes us smarter.
JONES: Yeah, that’s the thing — figuring out which things within capitalism — what is it about living in a free society with competitive markets where, at least in our youth and middle age, we feel a need to sell ourselves as valuable creators. There’s something about that that probably is what’s most valuable for boosting cognitive skills. It’s a sort of demand-side desire to try to use our minds in socially productive ways. And I think in communism, we can —
COWEN: So marketing makes us smarter?
JONES: That’s what I would say, yeah.
There is much more at the link, an excellent Conversation. Here you can order Garett’s book 10% Less Democracy: Why You Should Trust the Elites a Little More and the Masses a Little Less. You can read the introduction to the book on-line.
This 19th century French sociologist is worth reading, as he is somehow the way station between Pascal and Rene Girard, with an influence on Bruno Latour as well. Tarde focuses on how copying helps to explain social order and also how it drives innovation. For Tarde, copying, innovation, and ethos are all part of an integrated vision. He covers polarization and globalization as well and at times it feels like he has spent time on Twitter.
It is hard to pull his sentences out of their broader context but here is one:
We have seen that the true, basic sources of power are propagated discoveries or inventions.
The role of impulse and chance in the direction of inventive activity will cease to amaze us if we recall that such genius almost always begins in the service of a game or is dependent on a religious idea or superstition.
…contrary to the normal state of affairs, images in the inventor’s hallucinatory reverie tend to become strong states while sensations become weak states.
…When the self is absorbed in a goal for a long time, it is rare that the sub-self, incorrectly called the unconscious, does not participate in this obsession, conspiring with our consciousness and collaborating in our mental effort. This conspiracy, this collaboration whose service is faithful yet hidden, is inspiration…
He argues that societies in their uninventive phase are also largely uncritical, and for that reason. (Doesn’t that sound like a point from a Peter Thiel talk?)
He explicitly considers the possibility that the rate of scientific innovation may decline, in part because the austere and moral mentality of semi-rural family life, which is most favorable for creativity in his view, may be replaced by the whirlpool of distractions associated with the urban lifestyles of the modern age.
Attentive crowds are those who crowd around the pulpit of a preacher or lecturer, a lectern, a platform, or in front of the stage where a moving drama is being performed. Their attention — and inattention — is always stronger and more constant than would be that of the individual in the group if he were alone.
Tarde argues that desires are intrinsically heterogeneous, and economics makes the mistake of reducing them to a near-tautologous “desire for wealth.”
Not all of it hangs together, but I would rather read Tarde than Durkheim or Comte, the other two renowned French sociologists of the 19th century.
It was far-ranging, here is the opening bit:
Damir Marusic for TAI: Tyler, thanks so much for joining us today. One of the themes we’re trying to grapple with here at the magazine is the perception that liberal democratic capitalism is in some kind of crisis. Is there a crisis?
TC: Crisis, what does that word mean? There’s been a crisis my whole lifetime.
TC: I think addiction is an underrated issue. It’s stressed in Homer’s Odyssey and in Plato, it’s one of the classic problems of public order—yet we’ve been treating it like some little tiny annoyance, when in fact it’s a central problem for the liberal order.
AS: What about co-determination?
TC: There are too many people with the right to say no in America as it is. We need to get things done speedier, with fewer obstacles that create veto points. So no, I don’t favor that.
AS: John Maynard Keynes.
TC: I suppose underrated. He was a polymath. Polymaths tend to be underrated, and Keynes was a phenomenal writer. I’m not a Keynesian on macroeconomics, but when you read him, it’s so fresh and startling and just fantastic. So I’d say underrated.
AS: Slavoj Zizek, the quirky communist philosopher you debated recently.
TC: Way underrated. I had breakfast with Zizek before my dialogue with him, and he’s one of the 10 people I’ve met who knows the most and can command it. Now that said, he speaks in code and he’s kind of “crazy,” and his style irritates many people because he never answers any question directly. You get his Hegelian whatever. He has his partisans who are awful, but ordinary intellectuals don’t notice him and he’s pretty phenomenal actually. So I’d say very underrated.
Here is the full interview, a podcast version is coming too.
This one is better than the other available conversations with Reid, here is the transcript and audio. Here is part of the CWTeam summary:
Reid joined Tyler to talk about all these leverage points and more, including the Silicon Valley cultural meme he most disagrees with, how Wittgenstein influenced the design of LinkedIn, mystical atheism, what it was like being on Firing Line, why he’s never said anything outrageous, how he and Peter Thiel interpret The Tempest differently, the most misunderstood thing about friendship, how to improve talent certification, what’s needed from science fiction, and his three new ideas for board games.
COWEN: If we think of Peter Thiel and Elon Musk, they could arguably, by the standards of many people, be called weird. I’ve reviewed all the books you’ve written and a lot of your public talks. I can’t recall you saying a single thing that’s outrageous in any way whatsoever. Why aren’t you weirder?
HOFFMAN: [laughs] Maybe I mask it better. That’s my Straussian element, that I hide my weirdness. I would say that a little bit of it comes down to a theory about what is the right way of evolving discourse.
I think I probably do have a variety of views that people would think is weird. I, for example, think of myself as a mystical atheist, which is neither the full atheist category nor any religious category, but some blend in the middle. Or the fact that I actually think that the notion of capitalism is one of the world’s leading interesting technologies, but it’s not a particularly good philosophy, and you’d think that’s odd for an entrepreneur or an investor, and so forth.
So I have areas where I would say groups of people would think I’m weird. I may not highlight it because I tend to always speak in a way to, how do I think I help us make the most progress? And I would only say the weird things if I thought that was the thing that would result from that.
COWEN: So there are weird things that are in your mind?
HOFFMAN: Yes, yeah.
COWEN: How did your interest in the late Wittgenstein influence the construction and design of LinkedIn? I’m sure they ask you this all the time in interviews.
HOFFMAN: [laughs] All the time. The question I’ve always been expecting. I would say that the notion of thinking about — a central part of later Wittgenstein is to think that we play language games, that the way that we form identity and community, both of ourselves and as individuals, is the way that we discourse and the way that we see each other and the way that we elaborate language.
That pattern of which ways we communicate with each other, what’s the channel we do, and what’s the environment that we’re in comes from insights from — including later Wittgenstein, who I think was one of the best modern philosophers in thinking about how language is core to the people that we are and that we become.
COWEN: What else from philosophy influenced the construction and design of LinkedIn?
Recommended. For help in arranging this Conversation I am very much indebted to Ben Casnocha.
There is now transcript and audio from the Holberg debate in Bergen, Norway, courtesy of the CWTeam, here is their summary of the event:
This bonus episode features audio from the Holberg Debate in Bergen, Norway between Tyler and Slavoj Žižek held on December 7, 2019. They discuss the reasons Slavoj (still) considers himself a Communist, why he considers The Handmaid’s Tale “nostalgia for the present,” what he likes about Greta Thunberg, what Marx got right about the commodification of beliefs, his concerns about ecology and surveillance in communist states like China today, the reasons academia should maintain its ‘useless character,’ his beginnings as a Heideggerian, why he is distrustful of liberal optimism, the “Fukuyama dilemma” we face, the importance of “empty manners,” and more.
COWEN: You know the old joke, what’s the difference between a Communist and a Nazi? Tenure.
ŽIŽEK: You mean university tenure?
COWEN: Yes. It’s a joke, but the point is you don’t need Communism. You are much smarter than Communism.
I would describe the proceedings as “rollicking,” including the segment about “smoking the prick.”
Ian Bremmer offers one account of all the wrongdoing, which I will not summarize here. In any case, many of you have asked me what I think of these recent events.
I do not at all favor replacing India’s secular democracy with “Hindu nation” as a ruling principle. For one thing, I believe in strong libertarian protections for minority rights against state power, including for Muslims. I also believe these moves will be bad for India’s economy. Nonetheless I find most of the extant commentary on Modi fairly misleading and/or naive.
As this outsider sees it, India’s secular democracy was never liberal. It had certain de facto liberal elements, but largely out of low levels of state capacity, necessitating a kind of tolerance but of course also leading to a very sub-par infrastructure. Furthermore, it has been commonly described by political scientists as a “democracy without accountability.” National voting has so much to do with religion, caste, and other particularistic principles that Indian democracy never enforced superior practical performance as it should have.
Then enter several forces at more or less the same time, including Modi, ongoing Indian economic growth, higher expectations and thus greater demands for state capacity, a rise in what is called “populism,” and also an increase in the focality of Islam and also terrorism around the world.
In essence that state capacity starts to be built and part of it is turned to wrong ends, in an attempt to appeal to the roughly 80 percent Hindu majority. Here is the NYT:
The Modi administration has also done a better job than previous governments in pushing big anti-poverty initiatives, such as building 100 million toilets to help stop open defecation and the spread of deadly disease.
In other words, the positive and negative sides of the story here may be more closely related than is comfortable to contemplate. The picture reminds me a bit of how parts of Renaissance Europe were often more anti-Semitic or racist than medieval Europe, in part because persecuting states had more resources and it was easier to mobilize intolerant sentiment, partly due to the printing press. I don’t however idolize medieval times as being so libertarian, rather the earlier ideology contained the seeds of the Renaissance oppressions, which in time turned into foreign imperialism as well.
Similarly, oppression and religious conflict is hardly news in India, for instance you may recall the Partition which in the 1940s killed at least one million people and displaced at least 10 million more.
None of this is to excuse any of these oppressions, whether in India or elsewhere. The libertarian rights still ought to apply, and should be written into the Indian constitution and laws more firmly.
(It is an interesting and much under-discussed result that the greatest violations of libertarian rights tend to come in periods of high delta in state capacity, not high absolute levels of state capacity per se. The Nazi government was not that large as a percentage of gdp, but it was growing rapidly in terms of its efficacy along certain dimensions.)
The moral and resonant message here is “libertarian rights for minorities truly are important and beware state power!” And somehow we need to think strategically, at a deep level, how that message can be combined with the inevitable and indeed desirable growth in Indian state capacity. The libertarians only make this their issue by eliding the need for growth in state capacity. So they moralize correctly about the situation, but they don’t see the underlying dilemma so clearly either.
Consider this NYT passage:
“Modi is not a normal politician who measures his success only by votes,” said Kanchan Chandra, a political scientist at New York University. “He sees himself as the architect of a new India, built on a foundation of technological, cultural, economic and military prowess, and backed by an ideology of Hindu nationalism.”
The real question here is — still mostly unanswered — “what else is the new ideology of state capacity supposed to be?” I am happy to put in my vote for Anglo-American liberalism, but still I recognize that probably will not command either a majority or even a plurality.
Here is one proffered alternative to Modi:
“Rahul Gandhi felt people would support the Congress on issues of farmers, youth, employment, inflation. But, the core issues were left behind and surgical strikes and nationalism were highlighted. The Congress was dubbed a Muslim party. Aren’t we nationalists?” Gehlot asked.
I am not so impressed. Or try this discussion “What is alternative to ‘Modi cult'”. Again, on the ideas front underwhelming, at least for this classical liberal. Maybe something good can come out of the current protest movement (NYT).
All the more, the “establishment media” just isn’t interested in framing the story in terms of individual rights and constraints on democracy. That narrative is too…well…libertarian and also anti-statist.
For one example, blame either Nilinjana Roy or the person who titled her FT column “Democracy in India is on the brink.” Last I checked, Modi was elected, then re-elected, and his party and its allies control almost 2/3 of the lower house. That is truly an Orwellian column title. It should not be so hard to write “The problem with Modi is the statism, and lack of respect for minority rights, sadly this is democratically certified and thus democracy requires real constitutional constraint of the powers of the government.” But so many people today are mentally and emotionally incapable of thinking and writing such thoughts, having spent so much time in their mood affiliation glorifying “democracy” (or what they take to be democracy) above all other values.
So we should be spending our time developing and publicizing a new (non-Modi) ideology for greater state capacity in India, combined of course with greater liberty.
And yes, please do restore, redefine, re-enforce or in some cases discover all of the required minority libertarian rights. Hundreds of millions of Indians and others are counting on it.