Results for “ostrom”
59 found

Bold claims about time asymmetry

…given self-indication we should expect to be in a
finite-probability universe with nearly the max possible number of
observer-moment slots.  Such universes seem large enough to have at
least one inflation origin, which then implies at least one (and
perhaps infinitely many) large regions of time-asymmetry like what we
see around us.  And if, as it seems, most observer-moments in such universes are in
such regions, then we have explained why we see what we see.

That’s from Robin Hanson, one of the least evil people I have met.  I do not have the background to judge this claim but it makes sense to me.  The question is whether you are willing to bite the bullet when you realize the other implications of what Robin is postulating, namely that you start dealing with expected values of infinity, most of all in ethics

By the way, via Andrew Sullivan, here is new evidence for dark energy.

What I Haven’t Been Reading

1. Red State Blue State: Why Americans Vote the Way They Do, by the consistently impressive Andrew Gelman.

2. Global Catastrophic Risks, edited by Nick Bostrom and Milan M. Cirkovic; so many smart, virile young men, all writing about destruction.

3. Prosperity Unbound: Building Property Markets with Trust, by Elena Panaritis.  An update on the debates on Hernando de Soto and the associated land and property issues.

4. The Mirrored Heavens, by David J. Williams.  A science fiction story for people who take the idea of space elevators for granted.

5. The Household: Informal Order Around the Hearth, by the noted law and economics scholar Robert C. Ellickson.

If I’m not reading them, it’s because I’ve been spending my time with Dreiser’s Sister Carrie and Norris’s McTeague, both for my Liberty Fund conference in Cleveland.

The Fermi paradox revisited

I am still thinking about Nick Bostrom’s stimulating essay (and Robin Hanson’s precursor essay).  Nick of course is worried about finding signs of alien life, which would suggest that life has arisen many times, leading to the question "where are they?" and the fear that life dies out pretty easily.  For Nick it is cheerier, from our point of view at least, to think it is very hard for life to get underway in the first place.

In pondering the Fermi question, I often wonder if I am not simply missing the party, so to speak.  Most people already *do* think they see signs of an alien presence of some kind, of course defining that concept broadly to include The Gods.  So how can we say we don’t see "them"?  Maybe I, the agnotheist, don’t see "them" (Him?) but surely most other people think they do.

Doesn’t that make the Fermi paradox go away in a snap?  No one cites Blind Boy Blake and screams "He doesn’t see them!".

Another way of putting it is to say we don’t take David Hume’s Dialogues on Natural Religion seriously enough.  We really have just one data point, so who can say what "they" look like, or what kind of "display" they would have made for us?

Alternatively, I am struck by the tension between the Fermi paradox with the "We are probably living in a simulation" claim.  Both are popular with the same group of people because they are nerdy ways of making you believe something weird; in reality the two conundrums don’t fit together.  If you take the simulation option seriously, you again see the creators all around you, albeit in disguised or cloaked form.  Of course you had to use Bayesian inferential reasoning to see them, but what’s wrong with that?  Better than a telescope, some would say.  And since most people believe in God, the creators might even consider their artwork to be already "signed."  (I’ll note rapidly in passing that the arguments against the simulation hypothesis also strike at the Fermi worries, but establishing that would take lots of work.)

Either way, it seems we see "them," or ought to think we see them, even if that turns out to be a visual mistake of sorts.

Addendum: I liked Michael Goodfellow’s point:

After that first species gets control, it makes all the rules.  If it shells over all the stars, no other life can even develop, since all the planets are frozen solid.  If it wants to let biological evolution continue, it can do that, by avoiding stars with fertile planets.  It can prevent any other technology from arising (by monitoring all the planets where life is evolving.)  It can guide or change any life that it does find.

This may seem horrible to you — little robots putting all the stars out!  Spreading like a weed and killing or preventing any new life from developing.  But you’re looking at it the wrong way…The first species out there gets to decide the future, for every species that follows.  For lack of any other evidence, let’s hope it’s us.

Splendid, but I part company at the last sentence.  There is some other evidence (of the Bayesian sort) and I think the most logical assumption is — whether you believe in God or space aliens — to think of ourselves as their product, one way or another.

Or to put it yet another way, what’s the principle of individuation here?  Isn’t "seeing us" and "seeing them" more or less the same thing?

Hail David Hume!

Robin Hanson is blogging

Sort of, check out, an on-line forum with posts on how to enhance our orientation toward truth-seeking.  Contributors include Robin and also Nick Bostrom, my favorite young philosopher.

This is a noble endeavor.  Virtually everyone thinks that the thought processes of others are laden with fallacies and bias.  Yet most of us — once you get past the obligatory lip service to self-doubt — believe that our epistemic procedures are relatively immune from such problems.  That can’t be right.

That said, I do not go as far as Robin in my desire to preach truth-seeking.  With all due respect to the truth, I find something Quixotic in such a quest.  I view Robin as believing in a kind of Archimedean point, from which we could be objective truth-seekers if only we had the will.  My view is closer to that of Pascal.  Yes we should seek self-improvement, but we are weak and in the dark no matter what.  An excessive attachment to "truth-seeking," might even divert us from the pragmatic, skeptical pluralism — laden with a healthy dose of ego to get the work done — most likely to lead society closer to truth.

Markets in deaf embryos

What do you think of this?  Consumer sovereignty anyone?

Several U.S. fertility clinics admit they’ve helped couples deliberately select defective embryos.  According to a new survey report, "Some prospective parents have sought [preimplantation genetic diagnosis] to select an embryo for the presence of a particular disease or disability, such as deafness, in order that the child would share that characteristic with the parents.  Three percent of IVF-PGD clinics report having provided PGD to couples who seek to use PGD in this manner."  Since 1) the United States has more than 400 fertility clinics, 2) more than two-thirds that answered the survey offer PGD, and 3) some clinics that have done it may not have admitted it, the best guess is that at least eight U.S. clinics have done it.  Old fear: designer babies.  New fear: deformer babies.

Of course Nick Bostrom will push us one step further and ask why the status quo bias?  Aren’t we all "deformed" compared to the Uebermensch of the future?

Philosophical implications of inflationary cosmology

Recent developments in cosmology indicate that every history having a nonzero probability is realized in infinitely many distinct regions of spacetime. Thus, it appears that the universe contains infinitely many civilizations exactly like our own, as well as infinitely many civilizations that differ from our own in any way permitted by physical laws. We explore the implications of this conclusion for ethical theory and for the doomsday argument. In the infinite universe, we find that the doomsday argument applies only to effects which change the average lifetime of all civilizations, and not those which affect our civilization alone.

Got that?  Here is the paper.  Here is brief background.

It seems if you count all possible universes (or call them parts of our multiverse, whatever) as normatively relevant, none of your actions matter in consequentialist terms. 

As to how our world, and our decisions, matter at the margin, we delve into the murky waters of infinite expected values.  With an infinity of alternatives out there, our little add-on doesn’t seem to make any difference for the grand total.  Why should even you raise the average outcome across universes?  (TC yesterday: "No, Bryan, we are not leaping up Cantorian levels of infinity, it is just one version of you getting another Klondike bar.")

One option is that only our universe, or some other "in-group," matters.  The other universes cannot count for less, rather they must count for nothing.  I recoil at such a thought, but it does avoid the mess of infinities.  Alternatively, we might embrace some version of Buddhism. 

On the bright side, philosophic talk about modality is no longer so problematic but rather refers to facts about other existing universes.  Since that problem threatened to bring morality to its knees anyway ("what do you mean, you "could" have done something different?  You did what you had to do."), maybe I don’t feel so bad after all.  And who should care if I do feel bad?  The other me feels fine.  Infinity has its benefits, and there are many worse problems.

You should lower your probability that God exists, since the Anthropic Argument will dispense with the Argument from Design.  Only the ordered pockets of the multiverse can wonder about why we are here and why things seem to run so smoothly.

That’s a lot to swallow in one day, but it seems the probability of all those propositions just went up.

Addendum: Have I mentioned that inflationary cosmology and its implications fit my crude, pathetic intuitions?  Since we have a universe, I feel it must somehow be a kind of cosmic "free lunch."  And once you open the door for free lunches, why stop at just one?  There is no good reason to rely on our locally-evolved common sense intuitions when doing philosophic cosmology.

Transhumanism: at what margin?

I tend to sympathize with transhumanist ideals, if only for the same reason that I do not hesitate to use antibiotics.  Furthermore I have never had huge hang-ups over the "identity" concept; I don’t celebrate St. Patrick’s Day and I find it embarrassing to admit that I root for the Washington Wizards.  "The Six Million Dollar Man" was one of my favorite TV shows as a kid, although even then I thought the price was too low.

That being said, the economist in me asks not "whether" but rather "at what margin"?  Is there any margin at which concerns of identity should cause us to reject otherwise beneficial transhumanist improvements?

Most people want their children to look like themselves, and to some extent to think like themselves.  We invest many thousands of dollars and many months of our time to acculturate our children.  Now let’s say your children could be one percent happier throughout their lives, but this would mean they were totally unlike you, the parent.  In fact your children would be turned into highly intelligent velociraptors and flown to another planet to live among their own kind.  How many of us would choose this option?  I can think of a few responses:

1. Transhumanism will bring improvements of more than one percent; we should forget about identity and let everyone become healthier and happier.  What’s wrong with uploads?

2. Governments should not restrict transhumanist innovation.  Let people and their children choose their degrees of identity continuity for themselves.  (Isn’t there a collective action problem here?  Everyone wants a more competitive kid but at the end humanity is very different.)

3. The parental analogy is not relevant for policy choices.  Parents should be partial across identities, but governments should be more neutral.  And surely uploads will still be allowed to vote, no?

4. Identity attachments are, very often, petty and small-minded to considerable degree.  We should be cosmopolitan across chimpanzees and intelligent velociraptors, not to mention enhanced humans.

I still favor laissez-faire for transhumanist innovation.  And all the listed arguments have force with me.  But I would feel better rejecting the critics if I had a framework that would simultaneously recognize the value of identity while giving it limited weight to override medical progress.

These thoughts were stimulated by reading the new and useful More than Human: Embracing the Promise of Biological Enhancement, by Ramez Naam.

Addendum: Here is an excellent Nick Bostrom essay, which argues human evolution may otherwise deteriorate.  He also wonders whether happiness and consciousness have evolutionary advantages in the long run.  Thanks to the Vassar family for the pointer.

Should theists accept higher risks of death?

The ever-provocative Will Wilkinson opines:

In a fit of Beckerite rational choice reasoning, I decided that
theists ought to have higher rates of death by accident. If I believe
that heaven is infinite bliss, then I should be quite eager to join my
maker. Suicide is a disqualification for paradise, but dying in a car
accident isn’t. So, one should expect that theists who believe in
perpetual Miami would take more risks than those who do not so believe,
and that thus, death-by-accident ought to be higher among believer than

My guess is that there is no difference in rates of
death-by-accident among believers and non-believers. If my guess is
correct, then there’s another reason to believe that many people don’t
really believe in God, even though they think they do. Or, at least, there’s a reason for rational choice economists to believe meta-atheism.

My take: Most of all, theists should have stronger reasons to live.  They have their own selfish reasons, plus whatever role they think they are supposed to be playing in God’s plan.  So they ought to take fewer chances; indeed the data suggest that both religious belief and religious participation are correlated with longer lifespans.  And even if theists believe death is paradise, that will come sooner or later in any case.  In other words, heaven brings an "income effect," not a "substitution effect."  We need of course two auxiliary assumptions.  First, theists, given their perceived roles in God’s plan, do not feel a strong impatience to arrive in heaven.  Second, the method of death under consideration should not affect the probability of heaven vs. hell.

That all being said, we don’t have a good theory of how to rank-order infinities (e.g., "infinity plus three" is not mathematically larger than "infinity").  So how can anyone who sees any chance of infinite utility satisfy standard choice axioms?  Even Nick Bostrom can’t answer this question.  (And should theists accept Tabarrok’s Offer?)  But I won’t blame this problem on theism per se.  As Nick argues, atheistic cosmologies can easily have problems with infinite expected values.  And arguably theism could be used to define limits on time, physical space, or the scope of possible worlds.  So both empirics and theory suggest that theists should be more eager to live, and less willing to die (now).

How to read difficult books

Yes, today is the hundredth anniversary of “Bloomsday,” June 16, 1904, the day on which the adventures of Leopold Bloom (Ulysses) start. The book, long a favorite of mine, is not nearly as difficult as it is sometimes thought to be.

Here are a few tips for reading otherwise difficult works of fiction:

1. Try reading the last chapter first. Don’t obsess over the sequential.

2. Read through the first time, following each voice or character, skipping passages as you need to. Then reread the book as a whole in order. This works especially well for Faulkner.

3. Try reading the first fifty pages three times in a row before proceeding.

4. Don’t be afraid to skip over material and return to it later. This is necessary for the first fifty pages of Nostromo.

5. Read through without stopping, and then try the book again, but with some idea of where things are headed.

6. Read some of the secondary literature first. I don’t like CliffNotes, but in general don’t be afraid to go low when looking for help.

7. Read the book out loud to yourself or to others.

8. Simply give up.

I’ve found that some combination of these tricks almost always works.

By the way, here are some recent writings on Ulysses and the centenary.

Scarlet Letters (and Numbers)

In Ohio, drivers convicted of drunk driving will be issued special red on yellow license plates. From an economic point of view, fines are the best punishment because they benefit the punisher as they punish the violator and imprisonment is the worst punishment since it punishes the punisher as well as the violator.

Many people don’t like fines, however, because they seem to allow the rich to get away with anything so long as they pay the price (see Tyler on progressive fines). But in theory, if the fine is set equal to the expected cost of the crime, everyone should face the same fine irrespective of wealth and if the benefit of violating the law exceeds the fine then paying the fine and violating the law is the efficient solution. Economists think this argument is obviously correct but it leaves most people cold.

Fines do have another disadvantage if you don’t trust the government (i.e. take this disadvantage seriously). Precisely because the fine is a revenue to the government it encourages them to fine more. And precisely because imprisonment is costly we expect government to be more restrained in its use.

Social sanctions punish the violator, and are perhaps a better signal to others about the costs of crime than are fines, but have neither benefits nor costs to the punisher – thus they lie in-between fines and imprisonment. If fines are thought unfair or too dangerous and imprisonment is too expensive then social sanctions seem ideal. It’s surprising that we don’t see this form of punishment more often.

Addendum: Thanks to early reader William Sjostrom in Ireland (read his Atlantic Blog) and Stephen Laniel at Unspecified Bunker for reminding me about the disadvantages of fines and the signaling quality of social sanctions.

The economics of classical music

A search on yielded 276 distinct performances of Beethoven’s 5th symphony, many at bargain prices. Attendance at classical concerts is steady or slightly up. The classical share of the CD market is roughly constant at 3 to 5 percent. On the other hand, many orchestras are experiencing financial difficulties, and some are closing.

Complaints about the economic fate of classical music have been common for many decades. In fact parts of the 1980s and 1990s — not long ago — were a financial golden age for the classics, driven by The Three Tenors, Gorecki, and replacing albums with CDs. The entire story comes from the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, click here.

In my view, the biggest single dilemma is whether the next generation of philanthropists will have any loyalty to classical music institutions.

How about classical music on the radio?

Classical music stations have disappeared in many cities; one-third of the nation’s top 100 radio markets do not have a classical station. After 63 years, ChevronTexaco’s radio broadcast from the Metropolitan Opera House will be off the air next year.

I suspect that the future of classical music on the radio lies in satellite radio, read this article from today’s Washington Post. XM satellite radio has about one million subscribers and its classical stations are excellent, long pieces with high sound quality, not just another rendition of a Telemann shortie or a Boccherini guitar quintet.

Thanks to William Sjostrom for the pointer to the article.

Addendum: Kevin Brancato tells us that fewer than one percent of American symphony orchestras have gone bankrupt in recent years.