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Comment author: dogiv 22 March 2017 09:43:12PM 7 points [-]

It does seem like a past tendency to overbuild things is the main cause. Why are the pyramids still standing five thousand years later? Because the only way they knew to build a giant building back then was to make it essentially a squat mound of solid stone. If you wanted to build a pyramid the same size today you could probably do it for 1/1000 of the cost but it would be hollow and it wouldn't last even 500 years.

Even when cars were new they couldn't be overbuilt the way buildings were in prehistory because they still had to be able to move themselves around. Washing machines are somewhere in between, I guess. But I don't think rich people demand less durability. If anything, rich people have more capital to spend up front on a quality product and more luxury to research which one is a good long-term investment.

Comment author: Tyrrell_McAllister 22 March 2017 11:24:43PM *  1 point [-]

Even when cars were new they couldn't be overbuilt the way buildings were in prehistory because they still had to be able to move themselves around.

Which is interesting corroboration in light of CronoDAS's comment that cars have been getting more durable, not less.

Comment author: CronoDAS 22 March 2017 07:54:49PM *  5 points [-]

Home appliances have improved on measures other than durability, though, such as energy efficiency. And cars are significantly more durable, lasting for roughly twice the mileage before requiring repairs that amount to rebuilding the car...

Comment author: Tyrrell_McAllister 22 March 2017 11:18:22PM *  1 point [-]

And cars are significantly more durable

That is an important counter-weight to the claims in the article I linked to.

ETA: Though maybe it's actually consistent in light of dogiv's observation that there were always limits on how much you could overbuild cars.

Comment author: denimalpaca 22 March 2017 09:46:50PM 1 point [-]

You should look up the phrase "planned obsolescence". It's a concept taught in many engineering schools. Apple employs it in it's products. The basic idea is similar to your thoughts under "Greater Global Wealth": the machine is designed to have a lifetime that is significantly shorter than what is possible, specifically to get users to keep buying a machine. This is essentially subscription-izing products; subscriptions are, especially today in the start up world, generally a better business model than selling one product one time (or even a couple times).

With phones, this makes perfect sense, given the pace of advancements in the phones, generation after generation.

While you would think that a poor person would optimize for durability, often durability is more expensive, meaning that the poor person's only real choice is a lower-quality product that does not last as long.

"Better materials science: Globally, materials science has improved. Hence, at the local level, manufacturers can get away with making worse materials." This doesn't really follow to me. There are many reasons a manufacturer would use worse materials than the global "best materials", including lower costs. It seems to me that your idea of 'greater global implies worse local' can be equally explained as a phenomenon of capitalism, where the need to make an acceptable product as cheaply as possible does not often align with making the best product at whatever the cost.

Comment author: Tyrrell_McAllister 22 March 2017 11:16:15PM *  2 points [-]

Planned obsolescence alone doesn't explain the change over time of this phenomenon. It's a static explanation, one which applies equally well to every era, unless something more is said. So the question becomes, Why are manufacturers planning for sooner obsolescence now than they did in the past?

Likewise, "worse materials cost less" is always true. It's a static fact, so it can't explain the observed dynamic phenomenon by itself. Or, at least, you need to add some additional data, like, "materials are available now that are worse than what used to be available". That might explain something. It would be another example of things being globally better in a perverse sense (more options = better).

Globally better means locally worse

3 Tyrrell_McAllister 22 March 2017 07:25PM

Home appliances, such as washing machines, are apparently much less durable now than they were decades ago.

Perhaps this is a kind of mirror image of "cost disease". In many sectors (education, medicine), we pay much more now for a product that is no better than what we got decades ago at a far lower cost, even accounting for inflation. It takes more money to buy the same level of quality. Scott Alexander (Yvain) argues that the cause of cost disease is a mystery. There are several plausible accounts, but they don't cover all the cases in a satisfying way. (See the link for more on the mystery of cost disease.)

Now, what if the mysterious cause of cost disease were to set to work in a sector where price can't go up, for whatever reason? Then you would expect quality to take a nosedive. If price per unit quality goes up, but total price can't go up, then quality must go down. So maybe the mystery of crappy appliances is just cost disease in another guise.

In the spirit of inadequate accounts of cost disease, I offer this inadequate account of crappy appliances:

As things get better globally, they get worse locally.

Global goodness provides a buffer against local badness. This makes greater local badness tolerable. That is, the cheapest tolerable thing gets worse. Thus, worse and worse things dominate locally as things get better globally.

This principle applies in at least two ways to washing machines:

Greater global wealth: Consumers have more money, so they can afford to replace washing machines more frequently. Thus, manufacturers can sell machines that require frequent replacement.

Manufacturers couldn't get away with this if people were poorer and could buy only one machine every few decades. If you're poor, you prioritize durability more. In the aggregate, the market will reward durability more. But a rich market accepts less durability.

Better materials science: Globally, materials science has improved. Hence, at the local level, manufacturers can get away with making worse materials.

Rich people might tolerate a washer that lasts 3 years, give or take. But even they don't want a washer that breaks in one month. If you build washers, you need to be sure that nearly every single one lasts a full month, at least. But, with poor materials science, you have to overshoot by a lot to ensure of that. Maybe you have to aim for a mean duration of decades to guarantee that the minimum duration doesn't fall below one month. On the other hand, with better materials science, you can get the distribution of duration to cluster tightly around 3 years. You still have very few washers lasting only one month, but the vast majority of your washers are far less durable than they used to be.

Afterthought

Maybe this is just Nassim Taleb's notion of antifragility. I haven't read the book, but I gather that the idea is that individuals grow stronger in environments that contain more stressors (within limits). Conversely, if you take away the stressors (i.e., make the environment globally better), then you get more fragile individuals (i.e., things are locally worse).

Comment author: Tyrrell_McAllister 21 February 2017 10:23:56PM 3 points [-]

Totally unrealistic.

Thorin was never in a position to hire mirthril miners. He had sufficient capital for only a very brief time before dying at the Battle of Five Armies.

Comment author: Thomas 04 January 2017 11:15:53AM 2 points [-]

While this is correct, something important is neglected.

If P implies Q which implies R ... and if I find a problem in R, I have to check back to Q and P. Modus tollens.

Rational thinking is a whole belief network's re-examinator, when used properly.

Comment author: Tyrrell_McAllister 04 January 2017 04:31:22PM 3 points [-]

You are emphasizing the truth-values at the nodes of the belief network ("check back to Q and P"). That is important. After all, in the end, you do want to have the right truth-values in the buckets.

But there are also structural questions about the underlying graph. Which edges should connect the nodes and, perhaps more deeply, which nodes should be there in the first place? When should new nodes be created? These are the questions addressed by Phil's and Anna's posts.

Comment author: Tyrrell_McAllister 04 January 2017 12:32:31AM *  1 point [-]

An enticing advert.

Possible typo: "life it out".

Comment author: Sarunas 03 January 2017 10:52:07PM *  1 point [-]

From doing this internet propaganda in the early years of the internet, I learned how to do propaganda. You don't appeal to emotion, or to reason, or anything. You just SHOUT. And REPEAT, and explain the position, and let the reader defend it for himself.

In the end, most readers agree with you (if you are right), but they will come up to you, much as you did, and say "While you are right, I see that, you are doing yourself a disservice by being so emotional--- you aren't persuasive...."

But I persuaded this reader! The fact is, I am persuasive, and maximally so. When there is a hostile political environment, if a paper is called "bullshit" or "pseudoscience", you need to first MOCK the idiots calling it that, so as to establish a level playing field. That means calling them "douchebag", "fuckwit", "turd-brain", etc, so that both you and the other person sound like children fighting in the playground, no authority.

Then you need to state the objective case (after the name-calling and cussing, or simultaneously), and then wait. If you are objectively right, people will sort it out on their own time, you don't have to do anything. The people who didn't sort it out will say "oh my, there's a controversy" and will keep an open mind.

It's classic propaganda techniques, and it can be used for good as easily as it can be used for evil. Of course, when calling people idiots for not agreeing with material that is called crackpot, you had better be careful, because if you are not right about the material, if it is crackpot, you are gone for good. The main difficulty is evaluating the work well, understanding it fully, and making sure that it is not crackpot, before posting the first cussword.

Ron Maimon

I have found it interesting and thought provoking how this quote basically inverts the principle of charity. Sometimes, for various reasons, one idea is considered much more respectable than the other. Since such unequal playing field of ideas may make it harder for the correct idea to prevail, it might be desirable to establish a level playing field. In situations when there are two people who believe different things and there is no cooperation between them, the person who holds the more respectable opinion can unilaterally apply the principle of charity and thus help to establish it.

However, the person who holds the less respectable opinion cannot unilaterally level a playing field by applying the principle of charity, therefore they resort to shouting (as the quote describes) or, in other contexts, satire, although just like shouting it is often used for other, sometimes less noble purposes.

To what extent do you think these two things are symmetrical?

Comment author: Tyrrell_McAllister 04 January 2017 12:23:11AM *  2 points [-]

Of course, when calling people idiots for not agreeing with material that is called crackpot, you had better be careful, because if you are not right about the material, if it is crackpot, you are gone for good.

But you aren't "gone for good". You will have your own tribe of believers who will still support you. Before they had been called "fuckwits" they might have deserted you when the evidence didn't go your way. But they're not going to desert you now, not when doing so would be tantamount to admitting that they were fuckwits all along.

Comment author: Tyrrell_McAllister 04 January 2017 12:09:57AM *  0 points [-]

If someone who wanted to learn to dance were to say: For centuries, one generation after the other has learned the positions, and it is high time that I take advantage of this and promptly begin with the quadrille—people would presumably laugh a little at him, but in the world of spirit [i.e., development of one's soul] this is [thought to be] very plausible. What, then, is education? I believed it is the course the individual goes through in order to catch up with himself, and the person who will not go through this course is not much helped by being born in the most enlightened age.

Søren Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling, III 96 (trans. H. V. Hong and E. H. Hong). Annotations are mine.

Buckets and memetic immune disorders

12 Tyrrell_McAllister 03 January 2017 11:51PM

AnnaSalamon's recent post on "flinching" and "buckets" nicely complements PhilGoetz's 2009 post Reason as memetic immune disorder. (I'll be assuming that readers have read Anna's post, but not necessarily Phil's.) Using Anna's terminology, I take Phil to be talking about the dangers of merging buckets that started out as separate. Anna, on the other hand, is talking about how to deal with one bucket that should actually be several.

Phil argued (paraphrasing) that rationality can be dangerous because it leads to beliefs of the form "P implies Q". If you convince yourself of that implication, and you believe P, then you are compelled to believe Q. This is dangerous because your thinking about P might be infected by a bad meme. Now rationality has opened the way for this bad meme to infect your thinking about Q, too.

It's even worse if you reason yourself all the way to believing "P if and only if Q". Now any corruption in your thinking about either one of P and Q will corrupt your thinking about the other. In terms of buckets: If you put "Yes" in the P bucket, you must put "Yes" in the Q bucket, and vice versa. In other words, the P bucket and the Q bucket are now effectively one and the same.

In this sense, Phil was pointing out that rationality merges buckets. (More precisely, rationality creates dependencies among buckets. In the extreme case, buckets become effectively identical). This can be bad for the reasons that Anna gives. Phil argues that some people resist rationality because their "memetic immune system" realizes that rational thinking might merge buckets inappropriately. To avoid this danger, people often operate on the principle that it's suspect even to consider merging buckets from different domains (e.g., religious scripture and personal life).

This suggests a way in which Anna's post works at the meta-level, too.

Phil's argument is that people resist rationality because, in effect, they've identified the two buckets "Think rationally" and "Spread memetic infections". They fear that saying "Yes" to "Think rationally" forces them to say "Yes" to the dangers inherent to merged buckets.

But Anna gives techniques for "de-merging" buckets in general if it turns out that some buckets were inappropriately merged, or if one bucket should have been several in the first place.

In other words, Anna's post essentially de-merges the two particular buckets "Think rationally" and "Spread memetic infections". You can go ahead and use rational thinking, even though you will risk inappropriately merging buckets, because you now have techniques for de-merging those buckets if you need to.

In this way, Anna's post may diminish the "memetic immune system" obstacle to rational thinking that Phil observed.

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