45: Hierarchy with Quinn Lewandowski

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Hosted by
Will Jarvis

In this episode I’m joined by Quinn Lewandowski to discuss the concept of hierarchy, how our approach to it has changed over time, and a whole lot more. 


Will Jarvis 0:04
Hey folks, I’m William Jarvis, along with my dad, Dr. David Jarvis. I host the podcast narratives. narratives is a project exploring the ways in which the world is better than it has been the ways it is worse in the past or making a better, more definite future. I hope you enjoy it.

If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe. You can get on our mailing list, find show notes, transcripts, as well as videos at Nerdist podcast.com. Thanks. I think we’re good to go. Well, Quinn, how’s it going? Man? Great. Good. You. Doing good doing good. It’s great to have you back on.

Quinn Lewandowski 0:52
Oh, thank you. It’s really nice to be back on. Yeah,

Unknown Speaker 0:54

Will Jarvis 0:56
Well, we’re sitting here, it’s a sunny day, Wake Forest. Again. I wanted to get started. We thought a lot about and we’ve been talking about a lot. hierarchy. Yeah. And I just wanted to get started on that topic. You know? What are some general thoughts you have on the subject?

Quinn Lewandowski 1:18
Well, I’m just, I’m moving into. It’s interesting. I’m moving into training is the object of analysis rather than as foreground to considering some specific type of hierarchy? Gotcha. So I’m used to like thinking about military complex, and you assume the military has a hierarchical structure. And you think about why that would make sense in terms of winning with conflicts. But you’re still thinking about the winning the conflicts is the thing in the foreground, and right hierarchy is a means to that end. And I’m moving into thinking about independently. I mean, as something that people have emotions about independently from whether it achieves goals or has bad side effects necessarily,

Will Jarvis 2:11
gotcha. So something like hierarchy as the object of what you’re looking at. And like, that’s the main thing. Kind of forgetting about everything else, like in this specific case, or anything like that.

Quinn Lewandowski 2:24
Yeah. Gotcha.

Will Jarvis 2:25
That’s really interesting. I, I like it. hierarchy is, I get the sense before we jump into it too much that different people have different kind of attitudes toward hierarchy.

Quinn Lewandowski 2:39
Yes, I was seeing a really interesting discussion on this web form. I used to read between anonymous poster who said that he had a strong preference for hierarchy, and someone else who has strong preference against it. And what was neat about it was that they were both doing a really good job of distinguishing having the preference for the thing, inherently, from thinking that has good consequences. Because this sort of thing usually works is if you like hierarchy, you are good, that helps us win more wars. And if you don’t like hierarchy, you are good. That doesn’t help us win that many wars. And you don’t address. So that was the lightbulb that made me think okay, people care about this thing for itself. And not just because it gets us these things, but has these bad side effects, richer thing, you know, like, um, I think knock on wood. I think tariffs are an example of something that I always use rhetorically on tariffs, why need something that doesn’t stimulate emotions, but has policy? People care about tariffs? Because the second order effects but just about no one has deep and powerful first order effects about tariffs?

Will Jarvis 3:56
Got it? No. Yeah, you’re exactly right. You’re exactly right. People tend not to. So it does seem that you know, people have some inbuilt preference around hierarchy. Yeah. And, Mary, should we define hierarchy? Is that too tautological to just go ahead?

Quinn Lewandowski 4:17
No, I don’t think it’s too tall, logical? I’m not sure that I haven’t tried before. Yes. So it’s difficult. Um, I tend to think of it first in terms of the structure, nodes can come in, okay, two other notes, sort of tree like structure. Got it. So non hierarchical structure. all the nodes have equal relationships to each other node and the hierarchical structure. They usually have to go through other nodes to get there. But I’m not sure that that’s the core of it. Maybe it’s something like sometimes like if we’re

Will Jarvis 4:58
so maybe, maybe it’s like in contract. to like, you know, there’s hierarchy. And then there’s like a. So maybe there’s like a plate like egalitarianism, yeah. It’s just, everything’s level. And then hierarchy, you know, is the fact that sometimes, you know, you need to order people or people are ordered. Sometimes they have different varying levels of skills or something like that, or whatever it is. Yeah. Or levels of anything.

Quinn Lewandowski 5:27

Will Jarvis 5:30
So it does seem like the current may lose like the current like, as like Geist is very anti hierarchy. You think this is the case?

Quinn Lewandowski 5:40
Yeah, that is my sense of it. That a gala terian ism, I think you get strong resonance for that being good and itself. And I think it’s rare to find people who will come out and say they think hierarchy is good and self. But I’m curious how deep that goes, right? There’s this, um, there’s this recurrent pattern where I’m not sure I can quite describe it. But where I’m, in this case, it would manifest as people who feel that the hierarchy is legitimate, don’t call it a hierarchy. So um, I think I first noticed this when we were talking about power. Legitimate power doesn’t count as exercising the power of God, because power is what we say about that exercises of power. Gotcha.

Will Jarvis 6:33
is coming to spirit, this real distinction? Why do you think there has been a tilt towards egalitarianism? Is it? Is it just like this byproduct of getting richer over time?

Quinn Lewandowski 6:49
I think that’s what Robin Hanson thinks. And I, I at least don’t discount him lightly. Yeah, I think there might also be a game theoretic aspect, um, because there are a lot of possible hierarchies, right. And so it sort of makes sense there are people who want hierarchy would be divided between among themselves about which hierarchy to get and people who want no hierarchy might end up being the largest coalition, just because there’s only one way to have no hierarchy. There are many different ways to advise.

Will Jarvis 7:26
Right, right. Definitely. Which is interesting. Yeah. If we’re gonna map it the left and right, I’m assuming, you know, we would think more left leaning people would be definitely anti hierarchy, like the father left you when

Quinn Lewandowski 7:43
I hear that, yeah. Um, I never know I’m quibbling too much, or I, I used to think that that was a really good candidate for the underlying difference in intuitions if we were gonna pick one, right, because we, I think, a modification that I at least I devote some bandwidth to is that the right Pike’s formal hierarchy more, and the left lifes in formal hierarchy may be based on prestige, or influence. I think a lot of people on the left have a very strong intuition that, for instance, if it were to come up, the police should not treat Dr. Fauci and a homeless vagrant the same way. But they have a very strong aversion to formalizing that. Oh, interesting. I’m seeing some people who I don’t think are actually anti hierarchical in the sense of being a gala. terian ism, but really don’t like formalism.

Will Jarvis 8:55
That’s interesting. That’s really weird. So and that almost makes it sound like it’s a case where like, you know, maybe. Yeah, is it a case where maybe it is they you know, the farther left less of a preference you have for hierarchy? So you want to kind of deny this aspect of how humans work. Is that set, you know, if you order people any different way, some people are going to be a top some people are the bottom, like height? Yeah, that height, like some people be taller than the others. And if you have a preference against that, you don’t want to formalize you don’t want to reinforce it in any way. Yeah, trying to escape it. But if you’re on the right, you’re like, well, maybe we need to, you know, formalize this in a more robust way?

Quinn Lewandowski 9:38
Yeah, I think so. It’s complicated. It’s very complex. There’s a perspective, I’m not seeing as much as I would have expected. And I’m not sure I really want to adopt the perspective as well. But I feel like it deserves a seat at the table, which is sort of like let’s have hierarchy but let’s have a targeted. So I used Fauci seems like a great sort of generic, good generic example of a high status person definitely knows more than I do about biology. Yeah, I don’t see a lot of evidence that he knows more than I do about philosophy. Gotcha. I should definitely defer to him in marriage of biology. Right. This doesn’t have very strong implications at all for why should whether I should defer to him in matters of philosophy.

Will Jarvis 10:36
Right? Absolutely. Do you think? In some sense the world has gotten?

Like, okay, so the more people you have competing in a globalizing world, the lower you can end up in any given hierarchy?

Quinn Lewandowski 11:01
Yes. One bigger pond? Right. That’s cool. I hadn’t bought that. But yeah,

Will Jarvis 11:08
it’s interesting. Do you think that man, do you think that plays into

Quinn Lewandowski 11:18
bed does?

Will Jarvis 11:22
It’s interesting? I don’t I don’t have fully formed thoughts on that at all.

Quinn Lewandowski 11:25
Oh, if you have more status systems than just about everyone can be high status and one of those systems and treat that as the important system. Yeah, I think we interviewed David Friedman. He said that when he was in college, it was very much like that, that you had subcultures. And each subculture had its own status system, in each subculture regard that as obviously the important stats, if you can win in one, yeah, good.

Will Jarvis 11:56
Yeah. It does seem like a real problem. Yeah, these things are all tied up with status. And yeah, and that. It is, you know, hierarchy is inherently zero sum. I mean, you know, what we just described kind of like, a special case. It’s kind of a Jason, it’s like, well, if there’s more, you know, more hierarchies, you can participate in maybe you can find one where you can excel at

Quinn Lewandowski 12:23

Will Jarvis 12:25
But it does seem to be a real problem that, you know, okay, globalizing world, there’s more and more people competing in each game. It used to be if you’re in your small town, you could be, you know, the smart person in x way, or do something impressive. If there’s only 1000 people, it’s a lot easier than if there’s, you know, a billion

Quinn Lewandowski 12:43
Yeah. Well, it’s, it’s interfacing with Dunbar’s number, I think, I mean, people only have so many slots. So, right. You’re competing with people you’re not going to meet? Yeah, that’s a different thing.

Will Jarvis 12:57
What’s Dunbar’s number just,

Quinn Lewandowski 12:58
um, it’s at least theoretical limit on how many people you can mentally simulate in depth, how many people can be real to you? Because in the ancestral environment where humans evolved, there wouldn’t have been that many people, and you would. So um, I think it sort of explains why if you meet a friend you haven’t talked to in 10 years, things are awkward. It’s probably not the only explanation. But if you’ve reused that spot for to stimulate someone else, it can be hard to transition back until, right? Because it’s usually thought to be like around 150 people. And I’m pretty sure I’ve empathized with way more fictional characters than that. So we have to be capable of reusing slots.

Will Jarvis 13:49
That’s it? Yeah, that makes sense. So maybe there’s a look alike? Like how many different kinds of broad archetypes are there people? Yes. into it a little bit? Probably.

Quinn Lewandowski 13:59
I think, probably pretty strongly. Whatever a broad archetype of a person is. I

Will Jarvis 14:03
don’t know. Exactly.

Quinn Lewandowski 14:05
Yeah. I think it explains why. When I visualize bringing all the people together, it doesn’t seem like the shooting parently result in more people being lower status. I think Dunbar’s number explains why it might, that if you’re in a small town, and you’re the guy who knows everything about fish, every Ben’s gonna look to you. But whereas if we combine all the small towns, there’s only going to be one guy in all of them. Who knows everything about fish. So if people have the bandwidth to track that you’re the 490/5. Guy, fish ranking.

Will Jarvis 14:48
Good, dude, do you think? Well, maybe, maybe there’s also some trade off right where you get specialization? Yeah, you know, I don’t know. Like maybe you can be like the fish expert for trout or something. You know, I mean, Cuz you’re in a bigger pool, but I don’t think it like covers. I don’t think it it completely makes up for the fact that you could be, you know, the small group of people. Yeah, you can only keep so many people in your head at one time.

Quinn Lewandowski 15:12
Yeah. I think so. Yeah. I’m confused about how things don’t seem bad enough for it to be as zero sum as intuitively seems like they should be. I mean, people seem really tremendously motivated by status.

Will Jarvis 15:36
Or the money. Yeah, I think I think that this is like a super underrated fact. Right.

Quinn Lewandowski 15:41
Like I strong, strong, strong agreement. I think a lot of what looks like concern about money is concerned about status. A way of keeping score, I think a former president of ours said that once funny, yeah.

Will Jarvis 16:06
Is there is there any sense that you have that this is something that can be escaped or diminished? No one’s concerned about this kind of thing.

Quinn Lewandowski 16:15
A model I have in my head that I use, and I may have brought this up before, but I use it again, again, in different areas is the space program. Yeah. Because if you look at the space program from Niven, like a hunter gatherers perspective, but the perspective of anyone who hadn’t grown up hearing about the space program, yeah, we made a large heavy hunk of metal shoot straight up into the air. And so far up, it moved away from the earth. That is, it’s like we archetype, archetypal example of something that ought to be impossible. I mean, if you were going to look for a constant, something that’s true all the time, the laws of physics would be a good candidate. Yeah, absolutely. And if you want a good intuitive demonstration of that, you would go with heavy things fall down, exactly go up. So I think there is a recurrent thing that I would say intelligence does, or optimization ability, where you line up the loopholes just right, and you get an incredible result. And that becomes the new normal. We have planes now. I mean, right. So I think, um, I often look at whether there are loopholes, we can line up edge cases that will get out of a bad dynamic.

Will Jarvis 17:40
So is something like if you can create a new frontier,

Quinn Lewandowski 17:43
yeah, or in this case, it was hierarchies, mostly zero sum. But there are a couple of tiny little loopholes, then maybe we can parlay those tiny little loopholes into making it substantially not zero sum in the way that matters to humans. I mean, I think this really comes down to the idea of hitting tiny, tiny targets in optimization space, if you run a tornado through a junkyard, it will almost never assemble a car. But a human can get a car just about any time they want by threading that needle. And it’s tricky, because when you’re speculating, you don’t know if we can do that. I mean, the light speed limit on space travel might be absolute, right? So you never want to say we can definitely do this look at the space probe. Yeah. But I think the space program should give us permission not to assume that we’re being naive. If we look at something that seems impossible and go, maybe we could make that not impossible.

Will Jarvis 18:51
Right? And like, how can we one should be open to try and yeah, see finding things like that?

Quinn Lewandowski 18:59
Yeah. I think maybe we don’t adjust for the idea that you can combine in probabilities. So if heavy things mostly fall down, except for this weird edge case, and this weird edge case, and you combine those I don’t know, this may just be really incredibly basic, but I think a truly zero sum world is kind of really scary. Oh, yeah.

Unknown Speaker 19:32
I mean, horrifying. And it would be nice if we can find a way out of that. And by zero sum, we mean, someone like to win Someone has to lose.

Will Jarvis 19:42
Yeah, there could be no, but you know, I am Robin Hanson, super bearish on this. You know, he’s like, this is the fluke. We’re going back to, you know, feudalism long enough term.

Quinn Lewandowski 19:55

Will Jarvis 19:57
Do you think it’s something We can continue can continue to escape is like this, this reversion back to the zero sum Malthusian environment.

Quinn Lewandowski 20:11
I think

Will Jarvis 20:13
where you just make enough to cover your calories? Yeah, we’re barely?

Quinn Lewandowski 20:17
Well, I think that’s certainly it’s the high entropy situation. So well, it’s a high entropy situation, I think we probably can’t escape there being some sort of constraint, which we’re not meeting. But I’m hopeful that we can shuffle it to a constraint that doesn’t hurt as much as starving to death. Right. This actually,

Will Jarvis 20:53
this actually got me thinking, Well, perhaps we should think more about how we escaped it in the first place.

Quinn Lewandowski 21:00
Yes, I think that’s a really good idea.

Will Jarvis 21:02
Like, what the heck happened there like that is and in understanding why and how you keep that going. Seems like incredibly important. And this echoes like what Patrick Collison you know that posts in the Atlantic? About there needs to be like progress studies, we need to

Quinn Lewandowski 21:19
Oh, yeah, I remember that.

Will Jarvis 21:21
Like Jason Crawford’s kind of taking that mantle on. There’s a lot of good work happening, I think, but it’s a mystery. It does seem like very important to keep it

Quinn Lewandowski 21:34
Yeah. Again, tell me if this is too general. I’m seeing humanity do incredible stuff. So there’s a story you can tell where we are incredibly capable. Oh, yeah. And I’m seeing us fail. really basic stuff. For a while we were not we had vaccines, and we were not putting them in the arms. I was like, wow. And it seems like it would be useful to figure out if there was some sort of rule for when we’re going to fail at very basic stuff. And when we’re going to do incredible stuff. I’m not even necessarily. I’ve heard people argue that the space program was mostly a waste of money. Yes. I’m not arguing against that. I’m not saying it is great that we did it, I would have to study way more to know, I’m saying it would have looked absurdly improbable to someone. So the fact that we did demonstrates that we can sometimes do absurdly improbable stuff. And I think, part of thought a lot about when we’re going to be super capable and when we’re not. And I think part of it is realizing it’s improbable. The Space Program looked ridiculous, like going to the moon looked ridiculously hard. So we approached is ridiculously hard to write, when we expect it to be easy. And we’re wrong about that, then we keep trying the intuitive strategies that don’t work.

Will Jarvis 23:09
Yeah, it seems like you have to be very aware of, you know, I’d like you know, this, and I bring up this book, I think like every podcast, this example. And I’m only gonna bring this up, because I don’t know enough about space race to talk about why I’ve been reading this book, it’s by General groves. And he’s the guy who managed the Manhattan Project. Yeah. And he talks about at the beginning, how, you know, they weren’t exactly sure. Like, they were pretty sure it was possible. And they thought it was good enough chance it was worth trying. But you know, it was all these conscious efforts to try to, you know, how do we manage weigh risk in this area? You know, how do we manage away risk in this area? Like, what can we do to make it like, like, there’s this discourse about risks? Yeah, we need to take more risks. And I think that’s just like the wrong way to think about like, the way like he approached it was, how do I minimize the risk and each of these areas to the absolute minimum, you know, what are my bets? Like, what are the real bets I’m making, and I want to be very conscious about how I make those bets. But it seems like now, you know, you hear all these like, like that, that line? Like, we just need to take more risk seems like the wrong way to think about it.

Quinn Lewandowski 24:34

Will Jarvis 24:35
We don’t want to take risk we want to be

Quinn Lewandowski 24:37
yes. All right. Well, I um, yeah, it seems like cargo cult, selecting something that maybe correlates with doing like taking the right risks and then optimizing for that,

Will Jarvis 24:53
as best you can. Yeah. So it’s funny to thoughts. brolley generally Peter Thiel has this idea that like, one of the big problems with, like, what I just described, was people not thinking through things in robust ways. Do you think we’ve gotten less, we are worse at? Like, like, what’s it’s like a sociology thing where people would just get like, late, like, why would people you know, try less hard or like think less hard about things? Is it like something where if you’re not your life’s not only your line, if it’s not the Russian bear that’s going to come and these godless Soviets going to invade you just like not try that hard?

Quinn Lewandowski 25:39
I think it’s likely to be multifactorial. So I never want to do that thing where I spot a cause, and I hope inadvertently hold the app is the cause.

Will Jarvis 25:49
Why it’s so tough man.

Quinn Lewandowski 25:52
Part of it is Dunbar’s number, that I’m Dunbar’s number interface. And with communication technology, just about any decision we make is, any decision we make at a high enough level of policy is going to screw over a photogenic orphan somewhere. And it used to be that maybe you would read about these people in the newspaper. And now we have 4k video. Now, if you’re in a tribe of 150 people, and one of your policies screws over one member of the tribe, a sufficiently that’s kind of a problem, right? And we are not adjusted to this is happening to literally one in a billion people. We can’t process that. Right. So

Will Jarvis 26:40
because it’s in the context of Dunbar’s number, it’s like, well, this is probably like one and 150 or one or 200. Like that’s, which is pretty bad.

Quinn Lewandowski 26:48
I read people talking about the FDA. And thalidomide gets brought up again and again and again, which should make us a little just suspicious, that it’s always the same example. But it is, it was a drug that we approved. And which if taken bicycles, right, yeah. Yeah. Well, I think other things still, because I actually, I’ve read, I read somewhere that, um, some countries are still using it. And it’s perfectly fine when it’s used by anyone who’s not a pregnant woman. Gotcha. So the sensible thing would be to approve it for anyone who’s not pregnant, right. But if you take it while you’re pregnant, the fetus is very likely to have birth defects. So it’s an example of a place where we under regulated and where I gather, we regulated more than some European countries who had worse results. Again, this is hearsay, I haven’t. I’m pulling together stuff I’ve absorbed through osmosis, as opposed to like Kevin Scott Alexander post about where I’m pretty confident. I’m so it’s an example of why we need regulation. But it’s an example that affected a handful of people. Right. And regulation also has costs and at certain point, those costs vastly exceed the benefit. Right. And so it’s sort of weird. I think it points to something. Even if there were lots of other Even if my general bearishness on the FDA regulating things was wrong, and I knew that it would still be pointing to something about human thinking that we bring up the same example again and again and again, which is statistically almost nothing.

Will Jarvis 28:43
Right. Yeah, exactly. It’s like the, yeah, the example we keep bringing up. That’s very potent. And, yeah, there is some sense in which the, like, you know, I went through this program at UNC, you know, we talk about boatyard. You know, it’s very, like a lot of it, I think, was not very intellectually rigorous, rigorous, like, with some of it is true. There’s some, like, one of the big takeaways I have from Baudrillard was how important the spectacle is. Yes, you know, like that the spectacle really matters in weird ways. But like you said, like, you know, like, it’s very, like vivid, like, children.

Quinn Lewandowski 29:24

Will Jarvis 29:26
birth defects. Like it’s very vivid and like, that always destroys, like, that wins over statistics any any day.

Quinn Lewandowski 29:33
Yes. Which is interesting. Yeah. It’s certainly an obstacle sometimes if the statistics are pointing in the other direction. Right? I agree. It’s tremendously um, now know how much of that is people being low information and being easy for them to process examples versus thinking images, images to click Right. So they think the example proves the point. Which makes sense in Denmark sighs tribe

Will Jarvis 30:07
right? seems to work very well, in that sense. Like

Quinn Lewandowski 30:12
I haven’t ever read Baudrillard. I’ve read people talking about him.

Will Jarvis 30:17
Yes. A lot of it. It’s odd. I think his work is aged pretty well, surprisingly, because, you know, he’s writing right after the post boat Fukuyama stuff, you know, all this stuff he had, like, the end of history. Yes. And I think he does say some true things and has some interesting insights. But it is wrapped up in this. We’ve talked about this for the weird, the continental philosophy, where it can be very difficult to ascertain,

Quinn Lewandowski 30:49
yeah, what’s going on? I think they, my stereotype about Cardinals is that they very often have neat insights, but they have very ineffective error correcting mechanisms. Which means not only aren’t they I’m rigorous, but they have a very hard time reorienting, if they get bad idea in their head, they have a mechanism in place that will pull them around to know that turned out to be false,

Will Jarvis 31:17
right. Which is a bit of a problem.

Quinn Lewandowski 31:20
Yeah. That means you need to exercise care reading, which can be fun.

Will Jarvis 31:28
Definitely. This actually, so I wanted to circle back to one of the problems we were talking about. And Peter Thiel mentions this, and I feel this, and I see this. It’s where he describes how so we talked about the thinking thing, like maybe people are just not critically thinking and taking the time. And why that maybe has changed. And the second thing he talks about, which I think is interesting, he’s like, well, all of the people starting, you know, these big companies, but there’s a lot of profit involved. So you know, they found some something that other people are missing. They see the people that start they seem to be suffering from at least a mild form of Asperger’s? Yes. Which he describes as a change over time. Is there some sense in which like, people have just gotten too invested in in copying each other?

Quinn Lewandowski 32:25
My gut says, yes.

Will Jarvis 32:27
Has it changed? Like,

Quinn Lewandowski 32:30
I would expect some, I would expect one thing that sort of shakes people out of playing roles, is mortal danger. And there’s less of that. I don’t think that’s the whole story.

Will Jarvis 32:49
So it’s like, it’s not like we’re we’re like all dancing in this like, safe garden. It’s like, well,

Quinn Lewandowski 32:55
that’s got to be part of it. And maybe that’s the root of it. But I feel like I don’t feel like that’s all but maybe indirectly, maybe, um, we’ve always copied each other. But one of the behaviors to copy was oriented to the object level. And we’re seeing fewer people do that now.

Will Jarvis 33:16
Gotcha. I’m less cost associated.

Quinn Lewandowski 33:19
Yeah, I have a family member who was observing with people at her work, when we knew COVID was coming about. And she was surprised that a lot of the stuff they were doing did not seem to be in their interests. And I think she was thinking of them as maybe selfish, but not as essentially thinking on the object level, modeling COVID for themselves, and coming to their own conclusions. And so she was surprised when they were doing things that didn’t make a lot of sense. I think a lot of what people do is playing roles. And that’s maybe accelerated over time.

Will Jarvis 34:03
Yeah. Well, it it is disturbing that if something like COVID doesn’t work, I think we’ve talked about this with Wii as well. Yes. You know, like, What does work? Right? Like? It’s like, I don’t know, in some sense, maybe it wasn’t vivid enough. Maybe it’s, you know, mostly kills older people. Yeah. You know, it’s like, we’ve put those people away. We don’t really, yeah, it’s not like the ancestral environment where you had a lot of people around all the time, we’ve gotten quite atomized and

Quinn Lewandowski 34:31
I feel like um, she was imagined that they would see COVID coming before anyone they knew had died. And maybe you can’t when you’re in that state, right, something really bad has to happen. Yeah. Um, it’s one of those. I had something I wanted. I can’t remember why it was. It seemed important. I think there are a whole class of things there. It’s hard to talk about people not thinking critically, because it’s very blame adjacent. And one of the things, one of the hazards is that people will assume that you’re euphemistically saying something else. That’s also that’s emotionally aligned. So I kept talking to this family member and saying, they’re not thinking about this on the object level, they process social cues. And she was surprised that they weren’t thinking by on the object level, even when it was in their interest to do so. So it was like I was saying, they’re not thinking it through critically. And she was hearing that as they’re being selfish, maybe until she was surprised when they weren’t being effectively selfish.

Will Jarvis 35:57
Right? And then the second thing is like, Well,

yeah, like maybe they’re not really being selfless. Because like, there’s no real bid that like, there’s more like maybe social benefit to like not caring or something.

Quinn Lewandowski 36:17
Yes. I think this is probably one of those things that it’s a question of degree. But I think, for most of my life, I badly underestimated how little people are executing high level heuristics. We interviewed Zvi martial arts on this. And he goes farther than I do. He says, The people at the fourth simulacra level have lost the ability to think about the object level at all, that they can’t plan that they don’t have. Yeah, they have systems that they have heuristics, and they always execute those heuristics, right. But I’m also sort of dodging the question of why and if this has gotten worse over time, and intuitively, I really, really feel like as that I don’t have a great explanation for that. I actually think is the explanation.

Will Jarvis 37:22
Right? Well, it does seem like, a way you could get at this is to go somewhere, with a much lower standard of living than here in the US. And just like in do like, case studies, or just like, try and figure out, you know, how do people approach these problems? And like, what does that look like? And is it different?

Quinn Lewandowski 37:42

Will Jarvis 37:43
I don’t know.

Unknown Speaker 37:49
It’s very bizarre. Yeah. Maybe,

Quinn Lewandowski 37:55
maybe people in lower abundance societies, including our past society, looked like they were doing more object level thinking they were because the rate of change was slower. And so cultural evolution was able to adapt their heuristics faster.

Will Jarvis 38:13
Gotcha. They were talking about that a little bit. So it’s things like things are like relatively static, is low growth, so things don’t change.

Quinn Lewandowski 38:22
Yes. Well, in that environment, some some behaviors put you in a good place, and some behaviors put you in a bad place, and people can watch each other and copy the behaviors that put them in good place. So I think the, um, the text, the example people tend to go to is Minaya. I wish I could that herb. It has cyanide, but very low, low levels, but you don’t want you over time. And some primitive people. I wish I could remember exactly

Will Jarvis 38:56
where but I think it’s in Mexico. Yeah. It Yeah.

Quinn Lewandowski 39:00
Have culturally evolved elaborate preparation procedures, but they don’t know why they’re doing.

Will Jarvis 39:08
Or they tell you it’s like, well, because, you know, like, I don’t know if this is the case, but it’s something like, Well, you know, there’s bad spirits, or they’re starting to sound like religious or like, you know, the monster will come get you if you don’t prepare it like this or in reality.

Quinn Lewandowski 39:24
Yeah, we never say, we don’t know why we’re doing.

Will Jarvis 39:27
Right. You say you have a reason, but

Quinn Lewandowski 39:31
it’s not always. So I’m in a society changing very rapidly, the process that gets you there is going to have trouble. But as soon as I do, that’s not changing very rapidly. You could have a lot behaviors that look like they’re motivated by consequentialist reasoning. They’re actually the same process. We’re seeing now. Just works much better when there isn’t a rapid change data.

Will Jarvis 40:05
That makes a lot of sense. That makes a lot of sense. It doesn’t lead me to think that especially in the ancestral environment, there are severe consequences for for not falling traditions, breaking taboos, like, like we talked about, eat the food, and then the the I’ll prepare it right, like the stupid I know, there are spirits, and then, you know, you end up dying. And I do wonder, but you think you think there would be less of that in the modern world? Because the consequences are lower? Yeah, generally, I would feel like,

Quinn Lewandowski 40:50
you feel like people would have more Slack,

Will Jarvis 40:52
they would have, they’d have more slack to not just blindly follow in copies.

Quinn Lewandowski 40:58
And also, um, we have an i, this is gonna sound I’m sorry, but we have science. Now. I mean, to some extent more than we used to be of science. And that means that this, we’re doing more consequentialist reasoning what’s available, like, if the explanation is evil spirits, and everyone kind of knows. I don’t know, if everyone kind of knows that’s not the real explanation, right. But if it’s a fake explanation, then trying to do your own thinking is a really bad idea. If we’ve gotten better at articulating the actual reasons, then the advantage of doing your own thinking should have gone up some right. Maybe has I mean, yeah.

Will Jarvis 41:42
This actually, so this read, have you read any to lab?

Quinn Lewandowski 41:45
Um, just a couple of essays. So I wanted to, I want to, I want him to occupy one of my Dunbar slots. So I read enough for my brain to start parsing him as a person, but

Will Jarvis 41:57
gotcha. Any thoughts so far?

Quinn Lewandowski 41:59
I like his stuff on intolerant minorities. That actually, that seems like a really important contribution to Game Theory. Yeah. Because I think we do have an intuition that most people want to think that thing tends to happen. And I think we see that dynamic fail again, and again and again. And it’s really interesting. Why I mean, without judging whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing.

Will Jarvis 42:24
Gotcha. Before I did that, can you describe what intolerant minorities are?

Quinn Lewandowski 42:31
If a small group of people have a very strong preference, and it’s a very strong preference, or they’re somehow committed to not tolerating people who violate the preference, they’re able to get their way, way more than we would expect, even if it’s a very small minority. So he uses smoking and non smoking sections as an illustration, you can sit in the smoking section and not smoke and no one will have a problem. But if you sit in the non smoking section and smoke people will have a problem. Yeah.

Will Jarvis 43:13
Got it. Is this kind of like bootleggers and Baptists and like Mansur Olson and thinking about like

Quinn Lewandowski 43:19
it? I think so. Yeah.

Will Jarvis 43:22
Like concentrated minorities can really, like where, you know, if we all benefit, like a little bit from like, like, so I read this paper on car dealerships? Yeah, in college. It was like, you look at car dealerships, you know, they suck up all the profits, they add, they add, like a lot of costs to new vehicles, I can’t remember exact figures anymore. They add a lot, you know, like add, like 5% of the cost of new vehicles. Don’t really add anything versus just ordering it from the manufacturer. But the problem is, is like to for the all the manufacturers to get together and like, you know, just started delivering vehicles. And this is they’ve actually written laws where you can’t directly buy,

Quinn Lewandowski 44:01
yes. automobiles, yes.

Will Jarvis 44:03
from manufacturers, which is like it actually Tesla has, like, had to find a lot of this. And the question is like, well, like, yeah, it’s like, it’s cost me an extra 5% by a car. But I don’t really have like, you know, it’s not my livelihood. So I don’t have time to go, like, worry about this. But all the car dealers is their entire livelihood. They can spend a lot of money,

Quinn Lewandowski 44:26
yes. Really important dynamic. I mean, concentrations. You’re saying, I’m not telling you anything you don’t know. But concentrated interest groups end up having so much more power than we expect them to. And I think we attach fake explanations to that. I think very often. I’ve just I’ve had several conversations in the last two weeks that struck me from different angles, how much people are equating money and power and I think a lot of the time Do you have a concentrated interest group using their power to get money, then people point to the money is the root of the problem?

Unknown Speaker 45:08

Will Jarvis 45:09
It does seem like very, like money can be converted to like, small legislative tweaks. Yeah, like pretty pretty like roughly, I think.

Quinn Lewandowski 45:18
Yeah. And I think you might small legislative tricks point consistently, I think you might have great. I think this really suggests that one place that you’ll have much more success if you’re trying to use it to stop things from happening. Which makes sense if I think about, because everyone knows how not to do things. So you know, if you need people to not do things, you don’t have to find the people who know how to do them and ensure that they’re doing them. Well.

Will Jarvis 45:44
You just have to say no. So so maybe stopping things like small legislative tweaks that are stopping things? Yeah, seems to work well, for that. It seemed to work much less well, in terms of like, you’re like you look at ad spending, for politicians. And like, it doesn’t seem, let’s say, like, I think there was some paper I read, it’s like, once you get above a million dollars, you have to like double the amount of money to add, like some small percentage point. It’s like, they’re very, like marginal gains. And we even saw this, like, I think Hillary Clinton spent more than a billion dollars. Yes. And it didn’t work.

Quinn Lewandowski 46:20
It seems like, name recognition is important. And money buys that.

Will Jarvis 46:25
So once you get that past that bar,

Quinn Lewandowski 46:27
yeah. It doesn’t.

Will Jarvis 46:36
It doesn’t like one one transfer to like imposing your will? No,

Quinn Lewandowski 46:42
I think people um, well, actually, I think cultural evolution is doing something kind of wonky here for your money is very legible. It’s optimized to be legible. I mean, and so if you’re going to tell a story about say, a corrupt politician who was making bad decisions on purpose to get gains, you wanted to pick that politician being paid in money, because the audience will immediately understand that it will be Irelia ambiguous what’s happening. Now, for the same reason, if you’re an actual corrupt politician, you want to get paid in just about anything other than money. It’s way less legible, it’s way harder to get caught. It’s way more ambiguous what you’re doing. And so I think we’ve landed in a situation where just about, I think, I would say, over 90% of the people doing the thing that we mean, when we say corruption, or taking payment and things that aren’t money, and all of our stories to pick them getting paid in money. So people see the money as this huge problem.

Will Jarvis 47:43
Right, right. Yeah. Because it’s very, it’s very legible. Like you said, that’s, yeah, I think I think you’re right. I’m sorry, I kind of sidetracked us with that with it. I think that was that was really good. So getting back to to lab. You know, I’ve been reading one of his works at owner, Mr. Representative, because, you know, it’s complicated work. And there’s a lot going on in the book. It’s a great, it’s, well, it’s well written quite entertaining, which it’s an art form. But, you know, I’ve been reading anti fragile, and I find it’s quite interesting, you know, to live is very skeptical of humans ability to, like, rationally figure things out. And then get like, so here’s a big example, recently that in the book, drug discovery, yeah. You know, he goes through all these different, and he recommended a book on it. And I read the adjacent book on drug discovery, I can’t remember the name. And it goes through essentially every major medication we’ve discovered. And essentially, every single one, someone find some big effect. Yes, some huge effect, and then applies it elsewhere. Yeah. You know, like one of the first cancer chemotherapy drugs, and something related to some soldiers. In World War Two, we were trapped. We had a lot of transport ship, you know, and this was declassified relatively recently, because we had mustard gas on the show when we weren’t, you know, we’re supposed to do that.

Unknown Speaker 49:19

Will Jarvis 49:20
somehow, you know, it got shelled or something, and the mustard gas got released, and a bunch of soldiers got exposed to it. And somehow later, they found out there was like, either lower rates of cancer or someone with cancer on the boat, like, you know, and they were able to connect us back, but it’s not like we figured out okay, like, this is how cancer works. This is how we fix it. We find like, which, I don’t know, it seems like attention a little bit with like we were talking about about going to space.

Quinn Lewandowski 49:47
Yes, yeah.

Will Jarvis 49:49
Do you have any thoughts on that? Are these just like, completely discrete things that I don’t know, like, some processes work certain ways, and I don’t know.

Unknown Speaker 49:57
It’s exactly where I’m going with that.

Quinn Lewandowski 50:01
I think I think there seems to be, it’s important to keep a couple of things straight. Separate.

Unknown Speaker 50:14

Quinn Lewandowski 50:15
There seems to be I think there seems to be more reasons reasoning from first principles, then there is because that’s what we backfill when we find something. Right. So we might live in a world where we always claim that we got there partly from reasoning from first principles. I don’t think we literally always but and very often, that’s not what happened. And that’s distinct from the question of where reasoning from first principles is a good strategy going forward? You can have a situation where a particular strategy tends to produce good results, but very many people claim to abuse the strategy who happened? And so it’s simultaneously true that usually people haven’t actually thought it through from first principles and the to guide. Yeah.

Will Jarvis 51:10
Gotcha. So maybe we, it’s like the story we tell ourselves. Yeah. Like afterwards. Yeah, I tend to think I had this is the star is a fairly strongly held belief. I think the reasons people do things in general, like anything. It’s like, obscure and weird, and it’s not it’s very rarely, like someone sat down and thought about it. And, like, made a plan that concretely. But I think it’s important to do that. I do think it’s very important to do that and underrated. But generally, I think it’s like, but then we go back. And we we thought when when you ask someone why they did something they fill back in? Yes. Something like robust.

Quinn Lewandowski 51:50
Explicit reasoning. And people can sapling explanations, which your your right happens constantly

Will Jarvis 51:59
thinking about even see the survival in life. And it’s something I’ve really tried, you know, I make it like, I try and really fight it, because I think it’s a I do think it’s a bad thing, like you should try and, you know, have a plan and, and try and like, at least have indirect somewhere. Yeah, I think because otherwise, you just end up wherever. And I think most people just wind up wherever, because of like, really weird reasons that aren’t good. And it’s like, you try and fight that as much as you can.

Quinn Lewandowski 52:33
I don’t know. I agree. I’m not great about that.

Will Jarvis 52:40
I mean, it’s even a question of To what extent is it possible to do that, but I think it’s probably worth trying is the conclusion I’ve come through. I wanted to shift a little bit. It’s an odd question, but I think it’s a interesting question I’ve been wanting to talk to you about. Someone was talking about recently, this was more common with the new atheist movement. You know, like, a while back. But they were talking about, you know, the, the, how it’s very unlikely that there was there’s very little evidence of, you know, what made up Christ being resurrected or something like that, which actually got me thinking, what bar of evidence? Should we expect to have? If an ancient Sumerian man, yes, you know, yeah, like 2000 years ago, was resurrected? What evidence? Would we have to like, you know, yeah, it’s kind of like this, this, you know, thought it just the thought experiment, right. I’ve had a, I don’t know, like, what do you think about that? And, in the context of icy, you know, we have trouble in determining what happened, you know, where COVID came from?

Quinn Lewandowski 54:02
Yeah, I think people have a real tendency to emphasize thresholds in their beliefs, which are kind of our official. So we’re going to have a probability. Just about any time people start talking about burden of proof, it makes sense in a criminal trial that you need a threshold or probability to vote to convict, right, there’s a specific action, but most beliefs aren’t like that. You have a probability that they’re true. Yeah. I mean, even if you’re not thinking of it that way, explicitly.

Will Jarvis 54:39
There’s some sense in which Yeah.

Quinn Lewandowski 54:42
So historically, just sort of the Orthodox Bayesian thing would be we look at evidential fit, and prior probability and prior probability scenario where people I think that’s where they disagree. tend to happen. Gotcha. Although, I mean, they are never happened about evidential fair. And I see people, a lot of the time exaggerating evidential fit, because they’re very confident the prior probability. So they say something that’s very strong evidence of x, whereas, you know, it’s really very weak evidence of x, but they really believe x is true. Yeah, definitely. So I think is a, it’s an interesting question. That it’s going to vary. Some people are going to have different prior probabilities that happened. But I think you’re right that the evidential fit. I’m really looking at the society in which we live now. I am amazed that we have any remotely accurate records from the past.

Will Jarvis 55:56
Right? Like oh, my god. Yes. I mean, it’s interesting. Like I like to go back and read all the issues of the Atlantic. Yeah. Because the Atlantic, you know, started like, 1800 18. Oh, starting dressel

Quinn Lewandowski 56:11
wrote an article for them. What, right, at least one sign off? 1922? I think

Will Jarvis 56:17
that’s awesome. So yeah, yeah, it’s like, it’s super interesting to go back. And you can read these and like, because I read it now. It gives me a certain context. I’m like, okay, and it’s not the same. Exactly. But you get a view on like, what people were thinking, and how different it was. I really

Quinn Lewandowski 56:33
liked that about historical sources.

Will Jarvis 56:36
Yeah. But But there, and there’s something like even even special about it being something you consume now. Yeah. Yeah. It’s like somewhat similar. And then it’s like, okay, like, you can try and find that things that are really different and weird. Yeah.

Quinn Lewandowski 56:57
It is. It’s interesting that I’ve scattershot impressions of them. It’s generally favorable for things in that class, but I’m generally prayed down on things in that class. Yeah. But definitely some really good articles up today on definitely some really good articles historically.

Will Jarvis 57:18
It was quite interesting, just to get back and see it. Well, anyway, we’ve talked about a lot today. Yeah. hierarchy. Any any final thoughts you have on the subject? Currently?

Quinn Lewandowski 57:34
I don’t think so. I think it’s interesting. It would be interesting, and I haven’t done the metalwork they would need to start doing this. But there’s the question of status. And then there’s the actual structure of the hierarchy. And it’s interesting to think Sarah Constantine has a post where she notes the in birds pecking order and flight leadership on correlated, really. So you have decision makers who aren’t receiving on what who think of status rewards? I think there are probably some interesting insights about hierarchy as distinct from stats. And there are definitely some interesting insights about stats as distinct from hierarchy and the relationship. And whether the relationship could be different. I think it’s either as the martial arts or Benjamin Hoffman comments at one point that would be interesting to try to buy off the bad decision makers who care about status with status while reducing their actual impact on events.

Will Jarvis 58:43
Nice. That’d be wise. Yeah. A very wise. Yeah, I really like that. Well, I definitely think it’s an interesting subject. And I think it’s one that has his comparatively understudy. Yeah. And especially, Ari. It’s an important.

Quinn Lewandowski 59:02
Yeah. Just but it was

Will Jarvis 59:06
good. Well, good. Thanks for coming on.

Quinn Lewandowski 59:07
Thank you for having me so much. It’s hocutt.

Will Jarvis 59:11
Definitely will have it back on again. So yeah, I

Quinn Lewandowski 59:13
would really like that.

Will Jarvis 59:15
Awesome. Well, that’s our show for today. I’m Will Jarvis and I’m wills dad. Join us next week for more narratives.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

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