An observable characteristic of p-zombies

In case you’re not familiar with this concept: p-zombies is short for philosophical zombies. This does not mean zombies who are interested in Aristotle. It means biological robots who are human in every respect except that they have no consciousness. They are not self-aware, just very sophisticated robots made out of flesh. The concept is used in philosophy, neuroscience, etc. as a foil for thinking about consciousness.

The standard view of p-zombies is that they’d be observationally indistinguishable from humans as we know them. This is because, if we take a purely materialist view of consciousness, consciousness does not actually do anything; it’s just “along for the ride” as they say. All the neural structures that support cognition can do so without requiring that there be any subjectivity involved. (That’s one theory, anyway.) So p-zombies would talk, laugh, do mathematics, have sex, fight, etc. There just wouldn’t be anybody home inside their skulls.

But I was thinking about this recently because I’ve been reading Jaynes’s Bicameral Mind (due to the fact that Severian at Founding Questions has been talking about it). And it occurred to me…

There is something normal humans do that p-zombies wouldn’t: Talk about consciousness. P-zombies can talk about anything that’s empirically observable in the classic positivist sense of observable, e.g. they can say “red” when electromagnetic radiation of a certain wavelength hits their eyes. But there is no consciousness in a world of p-zombies. There’s nothing for them to observe, no empirical phenomenon to provoke any kind of response from their nervous systems. No talk about consciousness could occur on a planet inhabited by such beings.

If, by assumption, there is no consciousness, then there is no analogue of “light of a certain wavelength” for p-zombies’ nervous systems to respond to.

This is not like saying that p-zombies couldn’t talk about centaurs because centaurs don’t exist. Sure they could; they could combine the ideas of horse and a person. But a notable feature of consciousness is that it’s not observable (in a classical positivist sense). Consciousness is not like centaurs.

(Consciousness is sui generis; that’s why there’s a philosophical and scientific problem of consciousness but no philosophical and scientific problem of centaurs.)

The situation is fragile, though. A planet inhabited by nothing but p-zombies could never invent the term “consciousness,” but it would only take one normal human to exist and start saying things like “I have a subjective consciousness” to get the p-zombies to start uttering similar sentences by imitation. So the very existence of word-concepts like “consciousness” is proof that somewhere, somewhen, there has been at least one self-aware human. Paraphrasing Heinlein from The Moon is a Harsh Mistress: “Are humans self-aware? Well, I don’t know about you, tovarisch, but…”

“I Fucking Love Science!”

(1) People who fancy themselves “rationalists” or “lovers of science,” or, to use an older and now dorky-sounding term, “secular humanists,” wanted to join a community of rational people who would get everything right. Or at least, they’d get everything rightER over time, because they were committed to the right methods—logic, the scientific method, etc.—and that’s what matters, yes? Their notion was “We’ll shed horrors of the past like (literal) witch hunts based on ignorant religious beliefs” and they’d obtain all the benefits of keeping up with the latest discoveries in nutrition, etc. And— whether they admitted this to themselves on a conscious level or not— at the same time they’d receive the emotional and social benefits of joining a church. And all this while exorcizing the demons of irrationality! Awesome!

But that’s not what happens. What happens is that the minnow swallows the whale. What happens is that humans are humans, and so the demons of irrationality assimilate the “rationalistic pursuit of truth” so that that becomes just another empty slogan. The slogan is more-or-less immediately turned toward vicious witch hunts.

Instead of pointing at people and screaming Witch! “scientific rationalists” now point at them and scream Mask denier!

This may require some reminders about rhetoric from February and March 2020 which turned out to be politically inconvenient and so has been memory-holed. In case you’ve forgotten: In February and March 2020 the standard leftist line on masks was that masks were somehow a fascist plot of then-president Trump. The argument was never made coherent, but the basic structure was clear:

1. Trump might support masking.

2. ?

3. Therefore, Fascism.

Soon after that the left executed one of its impressively disciplined U-turns, from declaring on date X that anyone who supported masking was a fascist to declaring on date X+2 that anyone who did not support masking was a fascist.

My point: If any of these people who claimed “I fucking love science!” actually cared about science they would have taken to heart the traditional rhetoric of science, which declares that all knowledge is provisional, subject to future revision, etc. (Whether this is literally always true doesn’t matter; it’s true at least a large fraction of the time.) Thus they would have been less quick to accuse pro-maskers of being Trumpian fascists in February 2020, and would have been hesitant about declaring anti-maskers to be Trumpian fascists in April.

Which episode demonstrates that…

If you make science your religion substitute you don’t get a “rational belief system.” You get all the worst aspects of religion assimilating the intended rationality.

Why the worst? (Why not the best?) Because traditional religions have been around for hundreds or thousands of years and (a) have had their most destructive moral fires burn out long ago, and (b) have learned certain lessons about real-world humans over time. Thus they’ve accumulated brake pedals, negative feedback mechanisms, procedures for cooling down excessively fervent new converts, etc. New religions, whether of “pure reason” or Marxism, etc., don’t have any of that. They’re pure moralistic assholery, which is why they do things like murder people by the tens of millions in the name of peace and enlightenment.

You cannot have a religion, or religion substitute, based on science or rationality.

Fundamentally, trying to have a religion based on (the search for) pure truth is a category mistake: It’s like expecting that taking a music class will give you big muscles or that lifting weights will teach you about music. And that category mistake, in which all that happens is that your hopes are disappointed, is the best-case scenario. The worst-case scenario is worse, oh so much worse. See: the French Revolution, the entire twentieth century, etc., etc.

(2) Suppose you could get people to take the pursuit of truth seriously. Humans being humans, a holiness spiral would start on that, sooner or later. (Translation: Sooner.)

Think you can’t holiness spiral on the value of truth?

You work in the lab searching for truth 17 hours a day. I say everyone should be forced to work in the lab 18 hours per day!

You only found the mass of the electron out to 11 decimal places! I say we should never rest until we’ve figured it out to 12 decimal places! A thousand decimal places!


(3) A certain amount of social coordination might require some false statements. I’m not sure about this; it’s just a hypothesis.

But suppose it’s snowing out and I say “It’s snowing out.” You say, “Yes, indeed it is.” We’re not doing anything but noting a fact.

Suppose I say, “Snow isn’t white; it’s orange with green polka dots.” If you say “Yup, it sure is,” something else is going on. Plainly we don’t have this exchange to note a fact. I’m basically saying “I’m a member of the Orange Snow Cult” and you’re saying, “Hey, me too!” This is a social function that has nothing to do with sharing observations about empirical reality.

And it’s a really strong signal of shared group membership precisely because its so obviously false.

Comprehension quiz: Why does Catholic doctrine say the bread is actually, literally, not metaphorically the body of Christ? Why is it not an important aspect of Catholic doctrine, or any ideology, that snow is cold? (Explain your answer, 10 points.)

If we’re going to create a world with a sane public ideology/ religion/ cohesiveness-fostering memeplex, we need to consider this aspect of communication verbal behavior. I haven’t yet given up on the idea that a state religion could consist solely of (a) prescriptive statements (“Don’t steal”), (b) empirically true statements (“Snow exists”) and (c) safely meaningless statements (“The Transcendental is infinite.”) But it’s possible that we’re going to need some flagrantly false ones too, to facilitate social cohesion. In fact history rather strongly suggests that’s the case. (Fuck me sideways, but humans are weird.) If it is necessary, then we should devote some thought to blatantly false statements that are harmless. Something like “Snow is orange with green polka dots.”

We’ll have to navigate between a Scylla and Charybdis: We want to avoid statements like “Men and women are equal” that stupid people might take seriously, or evil people might pretend to take seriously. But at the same time, “Snow is orange with green polka dots” plainly won’t do: it’s not nearly grand-sounding enough. We need something that sounds important like “Men and women are equal”—something which, if it were true, would be important. At the same time it can’t actually be important because then it lends itself to being taken seriously and holiness spiraled. On the other hand, “Snow is orange with green polka dots” does not lend itself to being holiness spiraled, because it’s obviously fanciful, but for that very reason it won’t win any hearts and minds. No 17-year-old is going to become a fervent Orange Snower the way they become fervent Christians or Marxists or Objectivists etc. We need something that’s grand-sounding like “The Transcendental is infinite” but less vague. It must sound like it might actually mean something.

In the Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series some aliens have a problem. Billions of years ago they created an enormous computer to find the Ultimate Answer, the answer to the question of Life, the Universe, and Everything. After calculating for a long time, it comes up with the answer, which is 42. However, it doesn’t know what the question is. The two aliens who are supposed to convey the Ultimate Answer to the rest of their species try to just bluff their way out of this by making up a question.

“The only thing we can do now,” said Benjy, crouching and stroking his whiskers in thought, “is to try and fake a question, invent one that will sound plausible.”

“Difficult,” said Frankie. He thought. “How about, What’s yellow and dangerous?”

Benjy considered this for a moment.

“No, no good,” he said. “Doesn’t fit the answer.”

They sank into silence for a few seconds.

“All right,” said Benjy. “What do you get if you multiply six by seven?”

“No, no, too literal, too factual,” said Frankie, “wouldn’t sustain the punter’s interest.”

Again they thought.

Then Frankie said: “Here’s a thought. How many roads must a man walk down?”

“Ah!” said Benjy. “Aha, now that does sound promising!” He rolled the phrase around a little. “Yes,” he said, “that’s excellent! Sounds very significant without actually tying you down to meaning anything at all. How many roads must a man walk down? Forty-two. Excellent, excellent, that’ll fox ’em. Frankie, baby, we are made!”

We need a “How many roads must a man walk down?” The challenge is that we are not writing comedy SF but trying to design a workable state religion. We must be cynical and not cynical at the same time. We must be cynical because we are trying to design a state religion that will work for actual humans. And we must not be cynical because we’re the good guys and we’re trying to design a state religion that is sane and good.

Well… no one can accuse us of insufficient ambition in our goals!

If the Pandemic Is Still Ongoing, Booster Shots Are Redundant

If the COVID virus is still prevalent then post-vaccine booster shots are not necessary: If the virus is prevalent then we’re constantly being infected with it in everyday life anyway.

On the other hand, suppose the pro-booster crowd’s response to that is that you need a booster because you probably go 6 months without encountering the virus. Well, if the average person goes 6 months without encountering the virus, the virus has disappeared; the pandemic is over.

Darwin, Hayek, Nash

On my About page I have this:


Former libertarian. Establishment libertarianism completely lost me over one issue: Immigration.


Charles Darwin + Friedrich Hayek + John Nash.

That is,

We live in, or if shocked away from are always heading toward,

Stable equilibria (Nash) of decentralized interactions (Hayek) of multiple self-interested agents (Darwin, Hayek, Nash), which are not optimized for rationality or “utility maximization,” but reproductive success (Darwin).

To elaborate…

The Basic Ideas

You know who Charles Darwin is. Evolutionary psychology is the only way to make sense of human behavior, just as evolution in general is the only way to make sense of biology in general.

After all, what is evolution? It is simply a combination of ingredients which, taken individually, no sane person denies: Cause and effect, probability, the inheritance of certain characteristics, and the fact that reproductive success is a function of (among other things) inherited characteristics. I have never (literally never) met a human being who denied the reality of any one of those facts, taken in isolation. Creationists deny their combination, strangely. And CURRENT-YEAR leftists… I don’t know what their position on evolution in general is. The left used to love talking about evolution but they seem to have gone quiet on that lately. But bring up evolutionary psychology and you’ll find their position is crystal clear; give any credence to it and you’re a misogynistracistnazifascist.

Notably, feminists say that a woman under the influence of alcohol can’t consent to sex, and thus concede that chemicals in the body can affect judgment and behavior…but they deny that testosterone or estrogen could affect judgment and behavior. I guess. Again, it’s hard to figure out what they “believe” here, because they cannot afford to acknowledge the existence of such questions for longer than it takes to shout “misogynistracistnazifascist!”

(If you’re doing anthropological field work to study leftists and need to blend in with that tribe, just remember: Evolution stops at the neck. From the soles of the feet to the clavicle, natural selection is a valid, though somewhat vulgar, topic. But the brain is magic; it has an exception to phenomena like cause and effect that makes it immune to evolution.)

Friedrich Hayek was a 20th century writer in political science, economics, and the theory of law. He didn’t invent the phrase “spontaneous order” but he did more than anyone else to popularize it. In the social sciences, spontaneous order is the emergence of ordered patterns that are the result of human action but not human intention. The emergence of natural languages is one example of jillions. Spontaneous order is not confined to human interactions; e.g., in biology, evolution is an example of spontaneous order.

Another major aspect of Hayek’s thought is the immense complexity of modern societies and the limitations of our knowledge about them. We’d need a million? a billion? times more information than we actually have in order to “plan” society as socialists want to, or even to regulate it in a way that avoids the Law of Unintended Consequences.

John Nash is the father of game theory. He came up with the basic concept of equilibrium that converted game theory from an ad hoc collection of unconnected examples to a field of study with structural coherence and unity. How? He saw that the appropriate equilibrium notion is simply mutual best responding. That simply means— take a 2-player game for example— that your move is your best response to my move, while my move is at the same time my best response to your move. If both those things are true, then neither of us has any incentive to change his behavior, so that pair of moves is an equilibrium. The concept easily generalizes to any number of players.

This concept is radiantly useful. There are now maybe a dozen refinements of it tailored to specific types of games, but they all have some notion of mutual best response at their core. It’s now called “Nash equilibrium” in Nash’s honor.

In general a given game can have any number of Nash equilibria; none, one, more than one, or indeed infinity. However, Nash proved that under general conditions, a game has at least one equilibrium, if you broaden the things that players can do from just choosing moves to choosing probability distributions over moves. In other words, if you let players be random to prevent other players from predicting what they’ll do. Because the players use a mix of possible moves in this kind of equilibrium, it’s called a mixed strategy equilibrium. Nash proved that unless the game is screwy, in technical terms, there is at least one mixed strategy Nash equilibrium.

Example: About an hour before writing this I was watching some baseball on TV. The pitcher doesn’t want the batter to know what pitch he’s going to throw, obviously. So we must use mixed strategy game theory to analyze what’s going on.

If we’re studying strategic interactions we must start with Nash. But we can’t stop there: Nash and conventional game theory by themselves are necessary but not sufficient to understand a broad set of social phenomena.

Why don’t they suffice? Because conventional game theory-cum-Nash equilibrium takes the game as fixed and known to the players. But in real-world adversarial interactions we often want to burst outside the game as our opponent understands it and do something they didn’t even think of as being possible. The development and use of the first nuclear weapons in World War II is an example.

Summing all this up…

We need Darwin to understand and predict people’s preferences and moves, noting that their “preferences” may not be consciously held in their minds, but more like evolutionarily instantiated behavior patterns.

We need Nash to make sense of and predict what happens when such evolutionarily engineered creatures interact with each other.

But we also need Hayek to remind ourselves that predictability is limited, a limitation on knowledge that applies to both us and our adversaries. And sometimes the very unpredictability is one of the main points. For example: Immigration. Once immigrants and their sympathizers are 51% of the voters, they are not going to vote to eject themselves from the country, so allowing in a flood of immigrants is an irreversible decision with unknown consequences.

(It’s hard to believe that any human being could be stupid enough to advocate rolling the dice on an unknown outcome that’s irreversible. Yet observe the politics of CURRENT YEAR. By the way, one might say, “The consequences of not having immigration are also unpredictable.” Sure, but: That decision is reversible. If we don’t let immigrants in now, we can always let them in later. But if we let them in now, we can’t eject them later. Not easily. Not without something like total war. Which we are far from guaranteed to win, and will be immensely costly even if we do win it.)

And, now that the left is taking things totalitarian, breathtakingly quickly, [Nick Fuentes being forbidden from flying:] we also need Nash as one of the things to help us think about the looming civil war. By the way, we’re already in the civil war, if you hadn’t noticed. It doesn’t always have a clear sign. In this case it was kind of like an astronaut’s crossing of a black hole’s event horizon: the astronaut himself doesn’t notice it. (Though future historians will likely settle on some event like the mostly-peaceful protests of January 6 for convenience.)

All of this is a more detailed exposition of the simplified statement on my About page,

“We live in, or if shocked away from are always heading toward,

Stable equilibria (Nash) of decentralized interactions (Hayek) of multiple self-interested agents (Darwin, Hayek, Nash), which are not optimized for rationality or “utility maximization,” but reproductive success (Darwin).”

Some Applications

(1) Why is war unavoidable? Why has there never been a microsecond on Earth during which the entire planet was at peace? Why is it almost entirely men who fight wars?

Evolutionary psychology (Darwin) explains who fights and why. Men fight with each other because uteruses are scarce and they are valuable— in reproductive terms, from a man’s point of view, infinitely valuable. They are worth fighting over. (Men want pussy, but obviously evolution designed us to want pussy because pussy is the gateway to uterus.) Women do not fight because they don’t have to – women can get access to sperm extremely easily. That’s because fucking a chick is low-cost for a man. Men are sexually available to women. In contrast, pregnancy is costly and risky for a woman, and was even more costly and risky in the evolutionary environment that shaped our sexual preferences. It makes sense for a woman to be very picky about who she has sex with. Thus men’s demand for pussy is much higher than women’s demand for cock. Thus men fight for pussy; women do not fight for cock. Men are evolved to be warlike.

So Darwin explains who fights, and ultimately why.

Nash explains why fighting always exists, and unfortunately probably always will, even though it’s costly for both sides. To see this, imagine the contrary – we’re going to do a kind of proof by contradiction. Here we have a wonderful world with no physical conflict! No wars, not even any fistfights. Fantastic! Alas, this situation is not stable – it’s not a Nash equilibrium. Why not? Because if there is no physical conflict then there is no need for defensive measures. No one owns a firearm, no one trains in fighting, no one is alert for the threat of violence. E.g. no one takes care to avoid isolated areas at night, etc. And on longer, evolutionary timescales, no one needs cognitive modules like the ability to model opponents’ intentions, or emotions like anger that help you to make credible threats of retaliation against violence.

In this world with no countermeasures against violence, violence is extremely effective and low-risk. Amoral assholes look around and see a bunch of easy targets with no mental preparation for resisting violence and no weapons that would help them resist it. (Picture those fat immobile people on the Axiom spaceship in the movie Wall-E.) So they use violence to easily get what they want (whether it’s money or pussy or whatever).

Violence increases until countermeasures against it appear to an extent that makes an increase in violence not worthwhile. That is, we have the world as we know it – there is neither zero violence nor infinite violence. And that, sad to say, is the only Nash equilibrium.

(2) Why is an unbiased media impossible? Why is an unbiased educational system impossible? For the answer we look to Nash.

Again, consider the contrary: Suppose all news media and educational institutions are completely unbiased. So we trust what they say without bothering to verify it. But if we trust what they say without verifying it, it’s very easy to deceive us by infiltrating the news media and schools and lying to us. So malign actors do so. Ergo, in the long run we cannot have unbiased information-conveying institutions. It’s not a Nash equilibrium.

(3) Why do male and female voting patterns on immigration differ? Darwin tells us.

Women have a reproductive interest in mating with strong males. (Interpret the word strong broadly; this is mostly not about muscle mass.) A strong male can defend her against threats and is more likely to conquer than be conquered. As I noted here,

The instinct to play “Let’s you and him fight” is deep in the female psyche. Time and again we see it play out, and not only with humans. There’s a species of duck, e.g., that my high school Bio teacher told us about, where the females do this. A female will sidle up to a male and get him to follow her. Then she’ll swim over to the vicinity of another male, so that the two males fight. Then she mates with the victor. This female behavior pattern has an ancient evolutionary history; it goes back even to pre-human animals.

There is no reason for men to want immigration (unless it’s 95% hot foreign chicks, which it isn’t). There is a reason, in terms of evolutionary psychology, for women to want it: It creates a game of “Let’s you and him fight.” Women also have a preference for their own population group, which is why more than half of white women voted for Trump in 2016. But note that more white men than white women voted for Trump.

(Prediction: In every nation in the world, a higher proportion of women than men support immigration.)

(4) Why does socialism always cause economic disaster? Why do even attempts to regulate society, short of total socialism, so often end in disaster? Gas price controls, busing, public housing, etc. This one is all Hayek.

The problem is that planning an entire economy requires much, much more information than the government could ever have about consumer preferences, available resources, production technology for turning resources into products, etc. The hubris of thinking one could do this!

In contrast, market economies work because they’re decentralized: each small unit— person, household, firm— only has to deal with a relatively small piece of the economy. So production and most other social processes generally work better if they develop at the local, self-organizing level.

Elaborations here.

And that is why we need Darwin (evolutionary psychology), Nash (game theory), and Hayek (the social science of limited information and spontaneous order) to understand society.

Political Philosophy and the Theory of Martingales

My political philosophy is the theory of martingales.

A martingale is a dynamic stochastic process which— don’t fucking freak out. “Dynamic” simply means changing over time and “stochastic” means having a random component. In other words, dynamic stochastic processes are Life, the Universe, and Everything.

Anyway, a martingale is a generalization of the concept of a random walk, a dynamic stochastic process which has an expected change of zero. That’s all, no biggie. If you can’t handle this go look at some funny cat videos on YouTube and I’ll see you for my next post. Besides, I’m shuffling some ignorable technical asides off to the footnotes.(1) Maybe that will get this published in USA Today; they fucking love the theory of dynamic stochastic processes.

It’s trivially easy to prove that the evolution of a rational person’s beliefs over time is a martingale.(2) Basic idea: If you’re rational you’ll have anticipated all future events that are anticipatable, so the only thing left over to change your beliefs over time is events that weren’t anticipatable. That is, you cannot predict the future evolution of your own beliefs.

The more precise statement of this explicitly mentions events’ probabilities, but it’s the same idea.

Sample path: Rational agent’s belief over time in 2-space.

I briefly discussed some implications that this fact has for politics in one of my first posts, The Mind Cannot Foresee Its Own Advance, and I want to return to this theme. Despite the opening sentence of this post, my entire political philosophy is not really the theory of martingales; I just wanted to open with a strong statement. Like Beethoven’s famous duh duh duh DUH.

Now the human race (SPOILER ALERT) is not rational, but we are learning over time in way that involves paying attention to data. (Some of us are, anyway.) This is true at least for subjects that aren’t too politicized, e.g. astronomy, and for pretty much all subjects in investigations and discussions outside of our formal institutions (which are hotbeds of reality-hating dogmatism).

But note that crucial caveat: for subjects that aren’t too politicized. We need to keep the “politicize everything” crowd disempowered and at the margins of society so they can’t step on the human race’s ability to advance. Things must be kept as loose as possible so we can continually follow the unpredictable martingale of our evolving beliefs toward the truth.

I mentioned astronomy as a subject that’s not too politicized, but of course no subject is safe from the left. Apparently the USSR had a Marxist dogma about whether the universe is finite. I forget which way Marxist dogma landed on that, but the point is, the dogma didn’t come from data; it came from some notion about whether an infinite universe was consistent with dialectical materialism. (LOL, WTF?) And of course there was the Lysenkoist period, which— according to a Soviet biologist in the Gorbachev era— set Soviet biology back by at least a decade.

Obviously neither astronomy nor anything else is safe from the increasingly insane left, a mob that has decided that acronyms are racist and the statement that 2+2 = 4 is western cultural imperialism.

Not that further examples are needed these days, but an example of how this insanity affects hard science: Bill Nye the Science Guy used to have a video explaining how XY and XX determine a person to be male or female. Netflix censored that video. Nye himself, apparently quite the screaming pussy, disavowed reality and embraced “gender fluidity” theory around that time.

These are examples of the human race moving backwards, but it’s not enough to not regress; we need to advance. And no dogma can ever say “We’ve figured it out; no further intellectual innovations are valid,” because the future evolution of our beliefs is unpredictable.

This doesn’t mean you can’t hold the opinion that certain matters are for practical purposes settled. Often the probability of further significant revisions is small enough (based on current information) that that’s a reasonable belief. But it does mean that no person or group should ever be allowed the power to stop other people from investigating the allegedly settled subject.

Einstein sure as shit wasn’t predictable based on Newton. If future discoveries were predictable they wouldn’t be discoveries.

I’ll return again (probably ad nauseam) to a theme of this blog: The things that many of us used to believe about women were largely the exact opposite of the truth. God forbid that we not be allowed to revise our beliefs over time! I won’t get into specifics much— I rehash them enough— but let me mention that some of this body of knowledge about female psychology is relevant for a single man on the dating market and some of it is relevant from a point of view of “social policy.” (A lot of it is relevant for both.) An example: That a lot of women want to play a game of “Let’s you and him fight” between men, including groups of men at a societal level, has existential implications for the survival of our society. That’s something I never could have foreseen when I was 15, or probably when I was 25.

As Eliezer Yudkowsky said in a lucid moment: “Let the winds of evidence blow you about as though you are a leaf.” This is nothing but a poetic formulation of the martingale proposition.

Does all this imply that free speech absolutism should be non-negotiable? Actually, yes, in principle that’s exactly what it implies. But. We have seen in the last 75 years or so that that may not be a long-run stable situation. Total freedom of speech, as well as providing enormous benefits, also provides malign power-seekers unrestricted opportunity to coordinate and plan with each other. This is a problem because (along with 99 other reasons) when they acquire power one of their first moves is to crush all ideas they don’t like. So it’s possible that level-1 censorship might be necessary to prevent level-10,000 censorship. E.g. we might have to exclude communists from universities because if we let them in, they’ll soon take over and exclude everyone but communists.

Or maybe it’s not that simple. There are enormous practical problems with ceding anything to the idea of censorship because that abandons the clearest Schelling point on the issue. Maybe the best formulation of the problem is not “Choose zero censorship,” because that might not be a long-run tenable situation, but “Choose the minimum sustainable level of censorship.” Not to cop out, but: It’s complicated.

In any case…

The human race faces fearsome challenges, as it always has and always will. We must be free to have our beliefs changed unpredictably by new evidence if we are to learn, adapt, and overcome the tests.

Or to put it more tersely: Rational learners’ belief revisions are mean-zero, so kill all the censors!

(1) A martingale is a generalization of the concept of random walk because the only requirement for a variable to be a martingale is that it have an expected (mean) change of zero. A random walk, at least the versions that I’m familiar with, also typically assumes that the probabilities are symmetric about that mean and indeed, frequently assumes that the probabilities are Normal. It also assumes that the probability distribution governing the dynamics is constant over time. A martingale allows the probability distribution to mutate all it wants, provided that one feature, the mean-zero change, always holds. For example, a martingale needn’t have a constant variance.

(2) It’s an immediate consequence of the Law of Iterated Expectations. Here’s another way of seeing it: If you’ve ever studied Statistics, you’ll remember the obvious fact that a rational forecast algorithm has zero-mean forecast errors. So if you’re rational, then the mean revision to your beliefs as you correct your forecast errors will be… See? Not that hard.
By the way, note that if Joe has data that Jill doesn’t, then Joe can predict how Jill’s beliefs will change when she gets the data, but Jill can’t predict that. She has to wait until she gets the data.

(3) Invisible bonus footnote only for those who read the other two! If all this sounds vaguely familiar but you can’t quite place it, it might be because you once read about the Efficient Markets Hypothesis in Finance. Note the EMH assumes rational market participants. Its random walk implication is an example of the point I’m making in this post. I exposited this idea here.

Straightening out the “Anthropic Principle”


This is my second and presumably last post on the anthropic principle. The first one is here.

The anthropic principle per Wikipedia is the “philosophical consideration that any data we collect about the universe is filtered by the fact that, in order for it to be observable in the first place, it must be compatible with the conscious and sapient life that observes it.” In popular discourse, this notion often manifests something like this: “How is the outrageously unlikely fact of our existence explained? Well, if the universe weren’t consistent with human life, we wouldn’t be here to ask that question!” I have beaten this formulation with a big heavy stick before (see the foregoing link) and I’ve now figured out how to frame the issue in a different but equally clear way.

First note that probabilities from your point of view depend on how much you know. For example, there’s probability that it will rain on any random day in Boston, given no other information. Then there’s there’s probability that it will rain today in Boston, given that it rained yesterday. These are generally going to be different probabilities.

Stat folks say “conditional on” instead of “given that.” E.g. where a normal person would say “the probability that it will rain today, given that it rained yesterday,” a Stat person would say “the probability that it will rain today, conditional on the fact that it rained yesterday.” And the probability that it will rain on any random day, given no other information, is called the unconditional probability.

On the “anthropic principle”: When people ask things like, “How is the outrageously unlikely fact of our existence explained?” they are interested in the unconditional probability that the universe has properties that can support human life (and that human life actually did evolve, but let’s just stick with the first part). Whereas the “anthropic principle” answers the completely trivial question, “What is the probability that the universe can support human life, conditional on the observation that human life actually exists?” The answer to that utterly trivial question is 100%, obviously.

Literally no human being ever, in the history of the world, meant to ask, “What’s the probability that the universe can support human life, given that it actually does support human life?” Yet that is the question that the so-called “anthropic principle” answers. Seriously, here’s the Wikipedia formulation again: The anthropic principle is the “philosophical consideration that any data we collect about the universe is filtered by the fact that, in order for it to be observable in the first place, it must be compatible with the conscious and sapient life that observes it.” That is literally saying, “The probability that the universe can support life, given that there is life to observe it, is 1.”

So much for the “anthropic principle.”

So what’s the honest answer to the unconditional question? I don’t see how anyone could know, because to answer this we’d need to know the probability distribution from which the actual universe was drawn. We don’t know that. Of course one can put forth if-then propositions about it. A common one is, “Suppose all universes which are physically possible exist. (The many worlds hypothesis.) Then the probability of any particular universe existing (including ones with humans) is 1.” Sure. But we don’t know whether the many worlds hypothesis is true.

On the Possibility of Having True Beliefs

I vaguely recall a blog in which people were debating the role of self-confidence in pickup. (I forget whether it was a Game blog or a “rationalist” blog.) One person in the comments made the well-known point, a la Heartiste, that it’s better to be irrationally self-confident than rationally pessimistic, because with confidence you’ll do better with chicks.

Some doofus disputed this, saying it’s not good, because then “you’ll have beliefs that are demonstrably false.” Who cares, doofus? I’d rather have the false belief that I’ll score with 99% of chicks, which self-confidence leads me to score with say 20% of them, than have the belief that I’ll only score with 1%, if that pessimism would be a self-fulfilling prophecy and lead me to score with 1% of them. Or even worse, what if you had the belief that you’d score with zero chicks, and that became a self-fulfilling prophecy?!

The second commenter missed that while having true beliefs is good, there are other things that are also good. Like sex, for example.

Nietzsche: “Knowledge for its own sake”—that is the last snare laid by morality: we are thereby completely entangled in morals once more. The opening sections of Beyond Good and Evil engage with this in more depth. Old Fred was an interesting guy.

I could just stop right there, but I want to springboard from here to make a broader point about beliefs and outcomes. Consider general situations in which beliefs affect reality. For example self-fulfilling prophecies (SFPs) are common in economics, e.g. if enough people think a recession is coming, that can make them freak out and behave in ways— cutting back on consumer spending, laying off workers— that bring on a recession.

You can also have the opposite of an SFP. Example: I hear tell that chicks don’t like wearing the same dress as other chicks. Let’s suppose that every chick who’s going to a certain party tonight believes that lots of other chicks will be wearing a certain off-the-rack dress. Since they hate wearing what other chicks are wearing, none of them wears that dress. So the belief prevents itself from coming true.

In general beliefs can affect reality in ways more complex than self-fulfilling prophecies or self-blocking prophecies.

Here is my main point: In situations in which beliefs matter, it’s not at all obvious that there always even exist equilibrium beliefs, that is, beliefs that are both true and game-theoretically stable.

In math-speak, the item of interest is the mapping between beliefs and reality and the question is, Does that mapping even have a fixed point? That is, are there any beliefs that are self-confirming? It’s far from obvious whether the answer is always Yes.

(In the pickup example, a fixed point would be any SFP about your success rate. E.g. if you think you’ll score with 60% of chicks and that level of confidence causes you to indeed score with 60% of chicks.)

It’s possible that there are kinds of interactions in which any given belief is like the dress belief, in the sense that any particular belief will prevent itself from being true. In this kind of situation, hectoring someone because he has beliefs “which are demonstrably false” is even more idiotic, because it’s not even possible to have beliefs which won’t be demonstrably false!

(In theory an external observer— someone who’s not going to the party, in the dress example— could make correct predictions about the situation, but my focus here is the beliefs of people involved in the situation, e.g. you’re a guy going to a bar to try to pick up a chick and that’s what you’re forming beliefs about. By the way, even an external observer can’t form correct predictions without knowing all participants’ beliefs. That would require reading people’s minds, so no.)

On this claim that equilibrium beliefs may not be possible, people familiar with game theory may say “Ha! Nash’s Theorem, bitch!” But of course Nash’s Theorem makes certain assumptions about the environment, and uses a fixed-point theorem to prove the existence of equilibrium. If the mapping from beliefs to outcomes isn’t continuous, standard fixed point theorems don’t apply so that kind of proof doesn’t work.

(Note to nerdlingers: Nash’s Theorem deals with the continuity problem by letting agents’ moves be chosen probabilistically; this makes the relevant strategy sets continuous. But here, an agent’s “move” is his belief. The beliefs are about probabilities, but the beliefs are not themselves chosen probabilistically. There is a difference between (A) believing that a certain coin has a 0.5 probability of coming up heads, and (B) randomly switching between believing that it has a 100% probability and a 0% probability of coming up heads. If agents change their beliefs randomly, Nash’s Theorem might apply, but that’s not what we mean when we talk about beliefs, and certainly not rational beliefs. Changing your behavior with a random component can be rational, in adversarial games where you don’t want to be predictable, but changing your beliefs at random is not rational.)

The relevant mapping doesn’t even necessarily fill up the entire space. (Nerds: The mapping needn’t even be a surjective, i.e. “onto” mapping.) Indeed, there’s no man in the world who can be guaranteed to score with every woman in the world if he tries. Doesn’t matter if you believe you’ll have a 100% success rate; you won’t. So not all success probabilities are even in the range of the mapping.

“Damn it, Neuropoison; you’re really ass-raping my attention span here!” Okay sugar-tits, look at the pretty picture:

A mapping from believed probabilities (horizontal axis) to actual probabilities (vertical axis).

The diagram has the same variable on both axes, probabilities in [0,1]. Thus the entire admissible space is a 1 x 1 square, though I prefer to call it a “2-dimensional hypercube” as that helps me to score with intellectual chicks. Any point on the identity line is a fixed point, a self-confirming belief about the probability of some event. The issue is that the mapping from beliefs to reality is not continuous, so there isn’t a fixed point. That is, there are no self-confirming beliefs.

Just eye-balling it, it looks like if your belief is 100%, the reality is about 60%, and that’s as high as it gets. If this described your F-close rate with chicks, your best belief (if you could choose your beliefs purposefully) would be that you’d score with 100% of chicks you hit on, which would lead to a success rate of 60%. Obviously I just pulled these numbers out of my ass, but the point is, anyone who says, “Your beliefs are demonstrably false” should be given a wedgie for various reasons, among them there are no beliefs which will self-confirm as demonstrably true anyway.

Now that I’ve finished writing this I’m wondering whether it’s mathematically robust. It seems to be, but did I miss something? Is there some way to do a Nash on this and guarantee that everything is actually continuous in the relevant way, thus guaranteeing at least one fixed point? If not, it’s unsettling, as it illustrates that there can be situations in which having correct beliefs is not even theoretically possible.

UPDATE a few days later: It turns out I was right. Nerdlinger explanation: The reason you can’t “do a Nash” on this is that Nash’s theorem applies to game theory, in which all players are best responding to other players’ moves. (From now on I’m going to write playahs because that amuses me.) That is, each playah’s move is his best option given the other playahs’ moves. And “best responding” means optimizing, which (with other features of Nash’s setup) allows the Theorem of the Maximum to be applied. And that theorem implies the continuity of best-response mappings, which in turn implies the existence of at least one fixed point. But here, there is no optimization/best responding. You believe some probability, then cause and effect kicks in and results in some actual probability. There’s no other playah who is choosing the actual probabilities to optimize some goal function. Therefore, nothing prevents the relevant mapping from being discontinuous, so there is not necessarily a fixed point.

Miscellany 18: Love in the Time of Corona


Only the little people suffer at the hands of Justice; the creatures of power slide out from under with a wink and a grin. If you want justice, you will have to claw it from them. Make it personal. Do as much damage as you can. Get your message across. That way you stand a far better chance of being taken seriously next time. Of being considered dangerous. And make no mistake about this: being taken seriously, being considered dangerous, marks the difference—the only difference in their eyes—between players and little people. Players they will make deals with. Little people they liquidate.

Altered Carbon, Chapter 15

Well, they don’t always liquidate “little people,” no. But they do ignore them. They treat “little people” with contempt, with the smug disregard of someone whom it is safe to attack, someone who cannot fight back. We have to show them that if they provoke us—let alone attack us—they will suffer.

(2) Holy shit, even Scientific American acknowledges that sex differences are real and important:

Taking Sex Differences in Personality Seriously, by Scott Barry Kaufman, December 12, 2019.
Sub-heading: New approaches are shedding light on the magnitude of sex differences in personality, and the results are so strong and pervasive that they can no longer be ignored.

In a particularly devastating result for the “nurture” crowd,

“While there was cross-cultural variation in the effect, there was a general trend for more developed, individualistic countries with higher food availability, less pathogen prevalence, and higher gender equality to show the largest sex differences in global personality.”

[Emphasis in original.]

(3) Aidan Maclear on antinatalism:

“I must bulli, because there is no rational argument to be made with an antinatalist. It is as viscerally and obviously sick as a cult promoting suicide. You do not reason, you hit with stick.”

(4) Writer at the leftist Mother Jones belatedly notices the obvious, worries that “racism” rhetoric may have become counterproductive for the left:

With the exception of actual neo-Nazis and a few others, there isn’t anyone in America who’s trying to promote the idea that whites are inherently superior to blacks or Latinos. Conversely, there are loads of Americans who display signs of overt racism—or unconscious bias or racial insensitivity or resentment over loss of status—in varying degrees.

This isn’t just pedantic. It matters. It’s bad enough that liberals toss around charges of racism with more abandon than we should, but it’s far worse if we start calling every sign of racial animus—big or small, accidental or deliberate—white supremacy. I can hardly imagine a better way of proving to the non-liberal community that we’re all a bunch of out-of-touch nutbars who are going to label everyone and everything we don’t like as racist.

Ya think?! A decade or so too late on that one, dude.

(5) One Charlie Jane Anders is a tranny sci-fi author (So brave! See #7 below) who wrote a novel called The City in the Middle of the Night. The second paragraph:

As the two of us walk back toward campus, a brace of dark quince leaves, hung on doorways in some recent celebration, wafts past our feet. Their nine dried stems scuttle like tiny legs.

“Brace” means “pair.”

But the really awesome part is the dedication. It starts like this:

For my mom, who taught me about colonialism…

LOL. You really cannot satirize lefties any more.

(6) I don’t know what color pill this is, but it sure as hell isn’t blue:

“Sleeping with the enemy: An essay on mixed identity in the context of violent conflict.” Ralph Hartley, University of Nebraska at Lincoln. Social Identities, March 2010.

When competition between groups becomes violent the female of a mixed marriage and her offspring are often vulnerable to violence by not only the group from which her male partner is assigned but also to violent acts by members of the group with which she is identified. When the goal of an adversary is to eliminate manifestations of identity the role of the individual within a society, including children and other non-combatants, is of little consequence. Using the conflict in the former Yugoslavia and in Rwanda as a focus this essay takes a bio-social and cultural comparative approach in exploring the situational factors underlying genocidal behavior wherein the woman in a mixed conjugal union and her offspring are disproportionately vulnerable to violence. The possible co-evolvement of individual behaviors with group-level institutions is considered as worthy of more focused attention in an attempt to understand the intense vulnerability of some women and children in environments of lethal conflict.


The lesson as I think it applies to the current western world: White women who think that they are making themselves safe by marrying non-white men – because they’re staying on the leading edge of current SJW political moves – may be… misguided. They and their children may find that out, sadly, when our political situation goes from warming up to boiling over.

(7) Speaking of pills of various hues, Elon Musk tweets “Take the red pill” to his 34 million followers. Sweet. Ivanka Trump responds “Taken!” in re-tweeting it. The usual “I’m so offended” crowd says “I’m so offended.”

Bonus: in the Guardian link we learn that there’s something called “the Brave Space Alliance, an LGBTQ support centre led by black and transgender people.” Yes, they call themselves “brave.” I guess they don’t want to wait for us tell them, “So brave! Thank you for this.” However, I think you guys are too modest. You know how Wile E. Coyote upgrades himself from “genius” to “supergenius”? You guys should upgrade yourselves from “brave” to “superbrave.” Don’t let any bigots tell you otherwise!

Coronavirus death rate: Data from New York state


In New York state, the Democrat-dominated government’s study of a week or so ago implied a death rate of 0.5%. Note the decimal; that’s half a percent. This had the left in a state of alarm, trying to come up with reasons why the death rate is much higher.

“But there could be a lot of deaths we don’t know about!” they pouted.

Then New York tested another 4,500.

Among the implications of the total number tested in various locales in New York state:

A quarter (24.7%) of New York City’s population has antibodies to the coronavirus! According to the NY Post link above, that translates to 2.1 million people infected. And the number of deaths in NYC so far? 17,303. That makes the death rate 17,303/2,100,000 = 0.8%. That is, markedly less deadly than the figures bandied about earlier, like 4%.

CNBC on the statewide numbers: 2.7 million cases statewide, with 19,453 deaths attributed to the virus. So the implied mortality rate is 0.7%, again less than 1 percent.

As to the politics of all this, it’s working wonderfully in our favor. Trump, in saying he’s going to leave the re-opening decision to the states, destroyed the left’s plan to blame him either way. They are shrieking in outrage over this. They’re saying that Trump is “avoiding responsibility” and “passing the buck,” etc.

Why are they saying this?

Because their plan was to blame Trump for an increase in deaths, if he ended the shutdown and deaths rose, and to blame him for the costs of the shutdown if he kept the shutdown going. They were licking their chops, thinking they had him either way.

Then he said, “Let’s just leave it up to the individual states” – which, hilariously, was exactly what they were demanding that he do a couple of weeks ago, in the name of federalism, saying that he was a dictatorial fascist if he tried to make the call himself.

So he said, “Okay, have it your way,” and gave them an enormous case of political coitus interruptus. If Trump doesn’t make the call, no way to blame Trump! They are absolutely in agony and outrage over this, which is how we know he is doing the right thing politically.

Sweet, an opportunity to use my Epistemology tag!

Slate Star Codex:

“I’m increasingly uncertain that confirmation bias can be separated from normal reasoning.

Suppose that one of my friends says she saw a coyote walk by her house I know there are coyotes in the hills outside Berkeley, so I am not too surprised; I believe her.

Now suppose that same friend says she saw a polar bear walk by her house. I assume she is mistaken, lying, or hallucinating.

Is this confirmation bias? It sure sounds like it. When someone says something that confirms my preexisting beliefs (eg ‘coyotes live in this area, but not polar bears’), I believe it. If that same person provides the same evidence for something that challenges my preexisting beliefs, I reject it.”

No, you’re not wrong to do this; you’re using your beliefs for their proper purpose: making judgments about the world. The whole reason you have a belief that polar bears are extremely rare or non-existent in Berkeley is so that if you think you see a polar bear, you’ll look again more carefully, or that if your friend says “Polar bear!” you’ll consider that she might be playing a joke on you, etc.

The point of having beliefs is not just to have them. It’s to use them to guide yourself through the world. You use them to, e.g. make judgments about how likely it is that your friend is lying or playing a joke on you, etc.

Furthermore, it’s a known fact that people sometimes joke, lie, are mistaken, etc. What entitles you to dismiss that fact? If you believe your friend, you’re abandoning your well-founded belief that people sometimes say false things AND your well-founded belief that there are no polar bears in Berkeley. That’s a weird decision to make.

If you disbelieve your friend, you are retaining your well-founded beliefs that people sometimes say false things and that there are no polar bears in Berkeley. That seems sensible, given the monstrously large number of times humans are observed to say false things, and the large number of times you’ve failed to observe any polar bears in Berkeley.

If I said I saw gnomes dancing on my roof, what would you actually do? Slightly raise your probability that there are gnomes, or significantly raise your probability that I’m a jokester?