84: The Moral Circle with Quinn Lewandowski

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Hosted by
Will Jarvis

In this episode I’m joined by Quinn Lewandowski to discuss the moral circle, and a whole lot more. 


William Jarvis 0:05
Hey folks, welcome to narratives. narratives is a podcast exploring the ways in which the world is better than in the past, the ways that is worse in the past towards a better, more definite vision of the future. I’m your host, will Jarvis. And I want to thank you for taking the time out of your day to listen to this episode. I hope you enjoy it. You can find show notes, transcripts and videos at narratives podcast.com. Well, Quinn are we doing today? Pretty good. Good. We wanted to get together and talk about the moral circle. I think this term comes from meters. Peter Singer. Yeah. I am not mistaken. Well, Bucky released in 1981. Yeah.

Quinn Lewandowski 1:05
I didn’t know that. I’m not surprised. I’ve certainly heard him use it.

William Jarvis 1:11
Right. Right. I guess the he’s probably the biggest utilitarian. Yeah. Out there. Perhaps we should define our term, we’ll get started. So the moral circle, what’s the law circle?

Quinn Lewandowski 1:26
Um, I think it’s this idea about about who you’re able to empathize with. And or, or maybe about the trade off between your how difficult it is to empathize. And I’m not sure that I’m doing this correctly. But that, um, in general, it’s easier to empathize with people who are more likely than with people who are different members of your tribe are members of moral concern. Members of our tribes may not be members of our species may be even harder than members who are tribes.

William Jarvis 2:05
Right. So something like the moral circle is who we deem worthy, or what we deem worthy of moral consideration.

Quinn Lewandowski 2:14
Yeah. And it seems sort of variable in terms of I think there’s a risk of conflating our endorsed concerned values at reflective equilibrium and our instincts. I’m not sure that that conflation is necessarily destructive in the moment that just watch certain patients generally.

William Jarvis 2:36
Definitely. Definitely. So it actually spurred me do for us to talk about this now, just this conversation. I was reflecting on a paper that you sent to me on this is a couple weeks later, he just been bouncing around my brain on differences in the moral circle, and moral preferences. From people across the political spectrum, yes. Yeah, yeah. The interesting finding in the paper, I guess I’ll just throw it out there. Conservatives. As we, the more conservative you got, the more family focused you were Yeah. So near? Can relationships matter the most? Yes. And the farther liberal you got the I guess the preferences went out further. Yeah. If I’m remembering correctly, so it was like a nonhuman animals.

Quinn Lewandowski 3:43
Yes. We’re really important. Yes. That was and it’s been a little bit since I read, but I think it was based on self report.

Unknown Speaker 3:52
That’s right. So remember, yeah.

Quinn Lewandowski 3:56
Just a good habit. I’m wishing I had the paper. Yeah. Could check. I’m remembering being very remembered the result being kind of extreme.

William Jarvis 4:09
It was very strange. Yeah. Which made it interesting, but it also could be a red flag. Yeah. Especially with here in the news recently. Dan Ariely.

Quinn Lewandowski 4:20
I don’t think I’ve heard

William Jarvis 4:21
you hear this. Apparently, he kind of, he claims that it was an honest mistake. And he didn’t do it but faked a bunch of data about trust and a rationality and had not heard cattlemen, Thinking Fast and Slow. Those guys apparently had something similar happen recently. Long story short, take all psychology, research, or perhaps research in general. Yeah, with a grain of salt.

Quinn Lewandowski 4:49
I think it’s good to think explicitly about what reasons you have to try to make that sale and I spent a lot of time thinking about About this as a teenager, I was reading Bertrand Russell again, I know people are probably sick of hearing me talk. But he wrote this 1000 page book that was the history of philosophy going back to Greece. Yeah. And that really, that was the first thing that made me really grapple with how big history was get on top level rather than just as a number, right. And I noticed the almost all of these societies were really, really wrong about how science worked. And almost none of them were correspondingly uncertain. So I had this, I’m careful about saying this because I think a lot of people stop there, they go to full epistemic relativist, we have no reason to think that our ideas about how the world work or a more valid than any our societies, and I don’t believe that’s true. But I do think it’s good to explicitly think about why we think they’re more valid. Because I think what the book convinced me of is that there’s a very natural human tendency to just basically believe what the people around you tell you about that stuff. Definitely, just without. And historically, that usually does mean you accept some stuff. That’s just not true.

William Jarvis 6:17
Right? Definitely. And I had this thought recently, we were talking about buy dog and God, oh, yeah, I remember the OG or God. It’s similar. Similar thought we had, you know, my dog had this. He had mange. Yeah, he had to get a bath. He really did not want a bath. It’s very painful for him. He really hated it, you know? And I thought about, you know, there’s no way for him to understand that this is good for him. And so, you know, we were talking about this in the context of problems suffering and things like that. But it’s also like there are things above our cognitive paygrade. Yes. Important. Keep in mind,

Quinn Lewandowski 6:57
really important to keep in mind. My dog always tries to climb me. She really likes being dried off. Nice. That’s good. That’s good. I realized that probably doesn’t address the important point. But

William Jarvis 7:18
no, I think it’s great. But it does remind me so like, the moral circle, like who we care about has changed. It does seem like it has changed over time. Yeah. In the context of our dogs. Yeah. I think dogs have definitely, you know, up to level within the last even 20 years, I would say, Yeah, since we’ve been alive. I think that that’s been a real shift. Like dogs is actually family members instead of? Yeah. Like they’re near kin instead of just like,

Quinn Lewandowski 7:51
Yeah, my mom talks about that. Oh, really? Yeah. Which I find comforting, because it means I don’t have to worry as much then, you know, inadvertently mistreating mine. Right? I would know that.

William Jarvis 8:07
Yeah. Absolutely. So in the context of utilitarianism, this matters a lot because we we, you know, the moral circle matters a lot. Because who we count in whatever calculus for when we decide whether to do something or not do something like cost benefit analysis like this all, you know, whether we do we count animals? Do we count people in foreign countries? Do we count people in other cities? Like, how do we decide where to draw these lines?

Quinn Lewandowski 8:45
It’s an important question. I definitely, disproportionately weigh the people I care about. And I expect other people to maybe disapprove of that decision, but not exactly going to apologize for it. Right. I decided when I was pretty young, that it was important to be honest with myself about my own motivations. And that sometimes means I can read arguments that I shouldn’t feel that way. But they don’t work.

William Jarvis 9:20
Right. That’s smart, I have much the same moral intuition that you know, near can matter. A lot. They matter more to me than other people. Broadly, you know, people in my country matter more to me than people in the world. That feels very taboo to say actually,

Quinn Lewandowski 9:45
just, I’m really I’m very thankful that you say I think I don’t have it about a country but I do have a about my subculture, and maybe the salsa feels taboo to say, but that feels, you know, fair, maybe people who are not so much people who are autistic so much as the larger set of people who will get called autistic by people who use that as a derogatory term. Gotcha. Which includes the people who are actually autistic. But both people with that high systematizing tendency, hey, that’s

Unknown Speaker 10:25
a really good way to describe it.

Quinn Lewandowski 10:30
I think I felt prey alienated from the default culture I was in growing up, which probably sort of conditioned me to detach from having it toward my country as a whole. And I’m not sure that that was psychologically healthy. I mean, certainly not brag about.

William Jarvis 10:50
That’s very interesting. And I think formative things like that matter a lot. Yeah. Like, really matter a lot. for one’s own beliefs, right. Like, you know, if you had a lot of terrible experiences with your fellow countrymen from Yeah, wouldn’t lend itself to. Yeah, this is quite interesting. I think this has broken down to like, I think. I think what I said that, you know, I’ve valued fellow countrymen more than citizens the world. Like, I think that used to be a much more common belief. Yes. Like that. We’re kind of in this all together and like, Yeah, but of course, like that did include black people. So you know, you gotta take these things with a grain of salt. I don’t know. It’s very interesting.

Quinn Lewandowski 11:46
It’s definitely changed. Um, I think in I can tolerate anything except the outgroup. To Scott Alexander. He says, he talks about the blue tribe and the red tribe. And he thinks the red tribe identify themselves more with America, which means the blue tribe have a conspicuous aversion to identifying themselves with America. So that was my thought I read that study that said this off. Oh, right. It’s that

William Jarvis 12:17
it’s super interesting. Yes, I think we talked about this before, but in group signaling, it’s really important. Yes, tremendously. And even more than even pastor and preferences like that matters a lot. And that can create some like, really weird people doing really weird things. Yeah. You know, like, we don’t like the vaccines. Because, yeah, it signals like we all take the vaccine because it signals we’re affiliated with some group.

Quinn Lewandowski 12:53
Yeah. That and interacts with simulacra levels, or with people seeing things. See, I’m really curious about whether the um, I don’t know if I’m remembering it accurately, but I’m remembering there being a group in that survey for whom there’s an actual alienness preference. They care more about people. Yes. I’m wondering if that is self report. I mean, if it’s, if it really accurately describes their gut level reaction, right? Or if they have the, the idea that that’s, that’s virtuous to endorse that preference, right. Um, and I really don’t know, I guess if I had to guess I would say a little of both, but, um, that’s a very weak prior.

Unknown Speaker 13:49
That’s very interesting. That’s very interesting. I want to I want to talk a little bit further.

William Jarvis 13:56
Because I think this can get us somewhere. Interesting. So your moral preferences you got to talk about if you don’t want to get this it’s like so first, probably near kin relationships. Yeah. Friends. Yes. So culture, pets, pets, pets. That’s right. It’s really important. subculture Yeah. What’s next?

Quinn Lewandowski 14:28
You mad? Yeah, gosh, you made me feel feels like there should be something else in that space. I guess people who I would associate with the subculture, even if they haven’t heard of the subculture, right. It actually feels like I saw this graph someplace once of how much you care are based on proximity. Oh, I feel Like, most of my in group loyalty got concentrated really close. So

William Jarvis 15:09
if you’re talking about like, I think this is in The Selfish Gene where Dawkins says like, you know, you’ll care for our cousin, like X amount, percentage, second cousin, and then like, you know, a little bit less, and so on and so forth.

Quinn Lewandowski 15:23
I care a lot about my family and friends. I don’t think I actually care about foreigners more than most people. But I don’t seem to have that intermediate step where I care more about country mainland foreigners. Gotcha. She’s interesting.

William Jarvis 15:39
That is interesting. That’s really interesting. So after humanity, what about animals? What’s your pets? Our special case?

Quinn Lewandowski 15:49
Yes. I was thinking. mammals and animals adapted to social relationships seem pretty different than that seems like I can, you know, I mean, dogs are social animals, right? They feel different than reptiles. And reptiles feel very differently. Insects. I don’t like insects. Yeah. I really don’t like insects

and arachnids and other things, and

William Jarvis 16:24
right. It’s very interesting. We’ve talked about this, I’ve got a, you know, I, people don’t talk about this when they talk about

you know, reducing, suffering and worrying about like, you know, what animals you eat, and things like that. And I’m gonna get, I will probably get canceled this in the next 100 years. You know, because I think these things are going to change soon, I believe, with a cultured meat, which I’m very happy about. Yeah. But I’ve got more of a preference to eat chickens instead of beef. And I do believe it’s some kind of kin relationship, like I’m closer related to cows and mammals seem to have more worth to me than chickens. Do.

Quinn Lewandowski 17:16
I make sense to me? I think I have a little bit of the same feeling.

William Jarvis 17:21
Yeah. I was went to work for a one of the big EA organizations a couple years ago. And then they interviewed, they actually asked me, you know, so like, you know, how do you think about animal lives in terms of human lives and things of this nature? And it’s kind of I felt weird saying it because it felt like out of out of the blue, but I was like, you know, it was in the context of pigs. And I was like, I think there’s no number of pigs. I would be willing to trade for human life. Yeah. Like, I just don’t think I don’t think he can get me there. Yeah. Which like, I don’t know, I kind of feel bad about that. But it’s a moral intuition I have.

Quinn Lewandowski 18:10
I’m really, really glad that we’re saying this stuff out loud. I value that a lot. I think it’s important to have a place to do that. Yeah. You know, there’s a I think that’s key. And I don’t know, I have a really hard time getting my ethical intuitions to attach to scope. I’d right I do have the idea that I have an ethical intuition that the scope matters. But it’s, it’s different than I have an ethical intuition to consider this. Right. And being good at considering. Yeah. I don’t

William Jarvis 18:54
I think the scope thing, I think that’s a great and I’m going to come back, they had a thought there. The scope thing. I think it’s important to think about for example, you know, I say that I just say that one of the real things I have is I was writing down the trail this morning. And there’s a millipede walking across the trail and milky Pete’s gonna get smashed, he doesn’t get moved. It’s I picked them up and I put them in in the woods. You know, I

Quinn Lewandowski 19:21
mean, really like that.

William Jarvis 19:23
And like, I don’t know, like, but then again, like how many insects what I you know, save in it for, you know, what’s the betray for human life and I just don’t think there is that ever works for me

Quinn Lewandowski 19:38
while we’re see I really want to reciprocate by saying things that will could let people cancel me. I think there are specific human lives that would definitely sacrifice to save a small amount X.

William Jarvis 19:54
Interesting. Are these like, really bad people? It’s a Yeah, I don’t think

Quinn Lewandowski 20:00
that necessarily destructive more like it probably fits the moral circle thing, people who are doing things for reasons that I can’t get my empathy to attach to. So I think mostly people working, not just people working with people who have totally mentally acclimated to a very high simulacra level. So I’m thinking of high level politicians. But if you look, historically, there are definitely some high level politicians who aren’t members of the reference class, right. And I’m not necessarily endorsing that impulse. But I do think that would be my revealed preference. Like just Yeah.

I have a sense that treating all human lives is having some baseline value is really important pieces, social machinery. Yeah. But I also part of my whole deal is trying to figure out what the truth is, and not lying to myself about Yeah, in fact, it includes my own installations.

William Jarvis 21:15
Definitely. It’s a no, it’s super important to level site, because that’s how you make progress with anything for the getaway, like, and then like, also, understanding where you are, I think is just valuable in itself. Yeah, it’s weird, man. I feel like we’ve got, oh, it’s so bizarre. I haven’t thought this out at all. So I’m just gonna float it out there and see if it sticks. I’ve got this weird sense that we’re like humanity. It’s kind of we should think about it as the FBI, this moral intuition, I should say, of humanity. As you know. Humans are deeply flawed. They have capability to do great things and good things. But they can also do really bad things. Yes. And for bad reasons. You know, like, there’s, this is weird, like, almost enlightenment idea I can encounter in a lot of people now that, you know, like, there are no bad people. Yeah. And they’re just like, and they’re just bad. Just incentivize badly. I do think there actually, there are some bad people. Yeah, I agree. And we probably all have that capacity to do some bad things ourselves. Which we should be aware of. But I have a feeling, you know, we’re all like, deeply complicated. We’re all in this spinning rock and space, you know, flying through the galaxy. And it’s kind of like it’s our job to try and take care of everybody as well as we can and keep things going. And I don’t know.

Quinn Lewandowski 22:52
I think it’s useful. It’s potentially useful. I’m gonna do it anyway. Nice to separate the epistemic question from sort of the, I guess the metaphysical question. It’s one thing to say people are so complicated that you shouldn’t write anyone off. Absolutely. Because you could be wrong. That’s a question about whether you know if they’re bad, right, and Scenario thing to say bad isn’t a valid category? Right?

Unknown Speaker 23:22
Definitely. That’s a really crucial distinction.

Quinn Lewandowski 23:30
I’m reminded of if task is this moral dilemma about where you have something very small and bad happened to a lot of people, or something large and bad happened to one person? Yeah. And part of his his opinion on the matter is, I think I can just apply it to garden variety, trolley problems. He thinks that there are that there’s a distinction between what you ought to do morally, and what produces the best result. And that that mostly comes from the state of your knowledge. Interesting. Yeah. So you know, there’s a variant on the trolley problem where you’re a surgeon trying to decide where to carve out people and use their organs on needy people. I think it cost you at least float the idea that you can never be sufficiently certain that this is actually going to lead to better results. So you need to deontological prohibition against doing but the deontological prohibition is instrumentally justified or metaphysically justified?

William Jarvis 24:46
I think it’s I want to make a mental point. Yeah. And if you Oh, yeah. In talking to you, I’ve got the sense that you know, I remember reading college you know, like All these different moral theories deontology and utilitarianism, you know, like, which one’s going to rule the roost? That was always the question that kind of the professor would would talk to you about, you know, I mean, and like, here are the strengths and weaknesses. It seems like it’s incredibly case by case. Yeah. You know, and it’s like, and they work at different levels. You

Quinn Lewandowski 25:19
know what I mean? Yeah, I do. There’s a Steven case, tweet analogizing them to nouns, verbs and adjectives. Like, if that’s correct. I think that fits really well. Yeah. Like they do work at different levels, to answer different kinds of questions, right? Yeah, and I see people trying to apply them at the wrong levels and getting confused, like arguing with someone’s behavior was really, really instrumental, destructive, and so bad, according to utilitarianism, and then using that as a, to determine that they’re therefore a bad person, which is a question about propensity, which doesn’t. I mean, doing something once is some evidence to have an propensity to do it. But right now, the scope of

William Jarvis 26:15
Yeah, and that I think this plays into a lot of our a lot of what people have been talking about recently. With Effective Altruism, yeah. Like, so your oven. He, so you know, he comes in, and he’s like, you know, we don’t care about the bugs clearly don’t care about the bugs, like, Why do you care about the bugs? Like, this is stupid. And this is kind of his complaint? i This isn’t a nutshell, this is not exactly. But broadly, what I do think is correct. Which I think he misses is it’s something like, okay, like, if you’re running down the trail, and you see a being you can help, you know, it would be a good thing to do to do that. Now, if you have a, a, but what I think is important about Effective Altruism is like, if you’re trying to do good, you want to do it in a manner that maximizes that, yes. You know, so like, if you can save, you know, like, you know, 100 people by doing one thing, and 50 people by doing the other and everything else is equal. You want to do the 100. Yeah, like, and I think, and then people like, I don’t know. Yeah. What do you think about that?

Quinn Lewandowski 27:41
I think maximizing it is really, really important. Yeah, I was, I think I was. There is a thing I’ve learned to expect, and I don’t want confidently accused me of doing the thing. But I’m very opposed to the thing seems to happen a lot. Yeah. Where the criticism is essentially, that caring about the bugs is really weird. Which is different than thinking emphatically that you should not do it. Right. I don’t think you should care about the box. Yeah. But I don’t think the fact LEDs really weird is a very strong argument against because I don’t think our society has been maximizing this particular thing. Right. So we should expect some some strategies that are very effective to seem very weird.

William Jarvis 28:38
Interesting. Yeah. That that’s a really good framing. Right? Well, he is like, he’s very conservative. And like, it makes sense. He has just high disgust. Yeah. You know, like high disgust react, like reaction to just like, This is disgusting. Like, and really that’s filling in for a lot of stuff.

Quinn Lewandowski 28:56
I’ll reiterate that. I don’t think we should care about the bucks. But I don’t like form of argument.

William Jarvis 29:06
No, yeah. I don’t think it’s good. Because what you know, like, I think it’s worth of course, it’s, it’s worth at least thinking about it. Yeah. Okay. Like, because what if the bugs are super Semyon and yeah, you know, it, they have a lot of pain or something. And it’s like, really terrible, actually, what we’re dealing with insecticides. And

Quinn Lewandowski 29:25
Caskey said once. The question. This is, I think, mostly related. Question about situation you’re never going to encounter is important only if you can’t answer it, because that tells you things about your own models and your own sense of the world. He says, It’s important where you would kill Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny only if it’s hard for you to decide. If it’s easy for you to decide. That’s not an important question because they don’t exist, right? If it’s hard for you to decide, and that’s like a bug report in your mental algorithm, right?

William Jarvis 30:03
No doubt. I love that. Yeah. It’s interesting. Yeah. People seem to have, you know, different preferences on what matters? Like who’s in the circle and who’s not? Yes. A lot of progress studies people I talk to, especially in like animal welfare, you know, think it’s like, there’s almost this Whig history view of things. Yes. Where, you know, it’s like, okay, like, we’re just gonna keep expanding this puppy. Until, like, we cover everything. Yes. What do you think about that?

Quinn Lewandowski 30:51
The most salient thing I think about that is it’s not going to work. People aren’t going to actually do it. Yeah. Which doesn’t mean we shouldn’t think about whether it was in some sense, because if they did that, asking them to is not going to work. We really are not wired for that. Right. Indefinite expansion. I’m not saying we couldn’t expand more. Yeah. That’s a complicated question. But there’s a Bertrand Russell, while I keep sending you where he says, I always think it’s maggots and diarrhea, and it’s lice. He says that he thinks the best role would be one where every being was full of pure love for every other being. But you can’t actually love lice. It doesn’t work, try and get you nowhere. It would be a bad idea to lie to yourself that you’re making progress toward love and life’s because that isn’t realistically going to happen. Right? And so the fact that it would theoretically be good if we could does not mean, you know, we shouldn’t be taking action toward that end. Yeah. I’m worried about there’s an old Scott Sumner article where he asked if there’s a conservation of bigotry. And he points out that graphs of parents who would be they asked them would you be upset if your child was marrying someone from a different race have gone down? Just about in lockstep with graphs of parents who would be upset if their child was marrying someone from a different political party?

William Jarvis 32:33
Oh, I was just about to say something very similar that So perhaps it’s just like, there’s there’s a finite amount? Yeah. You know, hear us fight about of caring we have, and we’ve got to kind of do it distributed as best we can.

Quinn Lewandowski 32:49
Yeah. I at least I think it’s really, it’s almost certainly finite. And

even if we could expand it, if the actual if we weren’t at the upper limit yet. I don’t know. It feels really dangerous to me. Like, partly, it’s the Copenhagen interpretation of ethics. Like it seems to slide over really quickly into either being angry at people or guilt and who helped because they’re not helping more. Right. I see that a lot.

William Jarvis 33:30
Yeah. And that’s one of your friends complaints actually about? Yeah, yeah. Message again here. Is that you know, like, if you expand it to the bugs, like, you can only take care of things in front of you. Yeah, very well. And things you really and like, if you try and take care of everything, you’re not going to be successful.

Quinn Lewandowski 33:57
And you’re not gonna be adjacent. If you’re not actually motivated to do the thing, then you’re giving yourself incentives to Goodhart yourself, right? That viscerally scares me. I’m putting the processes in my mind to work against each other. Right. But you it’s also true that you have way more information about the people close to you.

William Jarvis 34:31
That’s right. That’s a good point. There. There’s a there’s a hard information problem like so we talked about that paper. Do you think people there are people that have I wish we go out and like pull people should walk around the street in Raleigh with a microphone start asking, do you think people that there are people that have a preference that kind of evade a kind of localist Like, like where people actually care about the bugs? More than they care about their close friends or family or something like that?

Quinn Lewandowski 35:12
I would think that would be really rare.

William Jarvis 35:14
That’s kind of what I feel like.

Quinn Lewandowski 35:18
Yeah. Prior at being a signaling thing is always high.

Unknown Speaker 35:25
That’s kind of what I think. Right.

Quinn Lewandowski 35:30
I guess there are probably some people who hate their close friends and family, it’s for sure. Trying to think of exceptions.

William Jarvis 35:38
Well, that’s all this the thing where like, it almost feels like a special case. Yeah. Like,

Quinn Lewandowski 35:46
like family isn’t the same psychological concept? Even if you change? Yeah,

Unknown Speaker 35:53
yeah. Do you think going off that question, do you think

William Jarvis 36:05
there is anything other than, like, really, like, in a substantial way? Other than essentially, can? preference? You know what I mean? Like, do you think like, so? You could think of like the moral soccer as a it’s a line, like slipping downward and on, down into the right at the top left corner, we’ve got your your family, and then friends, you know, pets, things like that people are close to you. And then beyond that, it starts becoming more Kenna Jason, I feel like so it’s like, what’s all of humanity? That’s mammals that are close to humanity. Yeah. You know, chimpanzees. Yeah. Well, bonobos and chimpanzees, and gorillas are at an all day out. And then it’s like, I don’t know, it’s maybe reptiles or birds or something. And it feels

Quinn Lewandowski 37:04
more satisfied sweet to me. Because we do have pets. Yeah, I mean, and they are more detached from us. They are people that care about our specific beds more than random other people, right? So it feels more like you need something for your empathic instinct to grab on till Gotcha. Dogs have it? Yeah, cockroaches? I don’t think have

William Jarvis 37:29
Yeah. That’s what people do have them as pets. But that’s gone around that.

Quinn Lewandowski 37:35
Yeah. Well, I wonder. I mean, I did want to say, signaling is always a salient hypothesis. There probably are. If you’re asking Do they exist people with the psychological characteristics? There’s a lot of theories on this. Yes.

So it’s a separate question, right.

I really I don’t know. I mean, I think it’s, it has to be built on something like 10 selection. But grad that tation executes, not fiction, Max. Not I’m sorry. Not fitness maximizers, right?

William Jarvis 38:24
Do you? I see this calculus sometimes from EAS, like effective altruists, where they try and think about, like, you know, how conscious different animals are? Yeah, like so. You know, like, Oh, just a great example. Crows, corvids, like, are really smart, like, really smart. Like, to the point where, you know, they can be humans on like, the Monty Hall problem. Yeah, crap like that, like Holy mackerel, you know, like, this is kind of this is this is weird. It’s like an alien intelligence. Right? You know? Do you count them? More than, you know, crocodiles or something like that? And like, is that a useful metric? Like, does like neuron density matter? Or like something like that?

Quinn Lewandowski 39:16
Yeah. Or is it a proxy for what matters? I mean, maybe it marriage itself? Maybe it correlates with what matters? The hard problem of consciousness seems really relevant here. And that’s right.

William Jarvis 39:31
Yeah. Do you think it’s, well, first of all these things some things are more quote unquote, more conscious than others. That’s a really weird. Yeah, I’m not even sure that’s like a question. That

Quinn Lewandowski 39:48
that’s a great question. I think some things aren’t conscious. But my intuition of consciousness is more that Boolean but Maybe that’s

William Jarvis 40:00
what I feel like. Yeah. I guess let’s say that like, Okay, what is conscious? And what’s like, not conscious seems like rocks. Yeah, that’s probably not conscious. No. But so I can tell. Yes. Humans? Yes, we know as best as we know.

Quinn Lewandowski 40:20
Yes. Yes, except for Simon, Simon Brown. That one case study Scott Alexander found the guy who was he was in a scuffle. And he was a priest. So he interpreted in religious terms, but he describes suddenly not having conscious experiences anymore. And he’s very emphatic that he, he’s a priest in 100 150 years ago. He’s in a scuffle with a couple of thieves. He accidentally kills one. And then he recounts the he has lost his soul, which doesn’t seem to alter his behavior, other than claiming that he’s lost his soul. And when people ask him about he describes not having what we would currently say, is not experience and qualia anymore. There’s no record of an injury, but I keep wanting to say head injury, TBI. Yeah. Oh, that’s so weird. Those people are, I mean, dude, you’re so insanely variable. Yeah. Oh, yeah. Um,

William Jarvis 41:35
yeah, I don’t want to count it. But yeah, it’s just like, yeah. Well, and that goes more broadly to the hard problem of consciousness is like, really difficult to get one’s mind around?

Quinn Lewandowski 41:51
I think the redness, the experience of seeing red is the sort of like the stock example. Yeah. Purists can process information that I don’t think we think they’re conscious. Yeah. I don’t think we’re conscious.

William Jarvis 42:09
But the sense of being alive the sense of sense of sensing, yeah. Do you think it’ll be possible to, for AGI to be to be conscious?

Quinn Lewandowski 42:22
Yeah. I mean, I think, for consciousness to interact with physics, and it has to interact with physics and we can write papers about consciousness, right? It has to be able, you have to be able to get there through physics, maybe weird physics, maybe quantum physics, but there’s got to be a way,

William Jarvis 42:46
right? There’s a oh, there’s a wacky did I read this like, like in high school? Some guy who worked on the Large Hadron Collider, his PhD in physics? Maybe it’s Granada, Bernardo Castro. He’s never gotten any real traction. And he’s got some like, weird call followers. So like, caveat, like, I’m inserting a lot of epistemic, you know, caveats here. You know, one should be very careful. But he’s got this idea that consciousness, perhaps brains are something like consciousness receivers. Yeah. That’s neat. Yeah. So you know, it’s kind of like, you could think of like consciousness as a pool of water. Yeah. And then you can have like, if you have eddies in the water, like, you know, vortex water, and that’s kind of a brain like that’s, that’s one of the ways to talks about it. And I think that’s actually that’s a really interesting way to think about it. Right? Because, like, explain why TBI can alter consciousness Yes. Like that. Like, anyway, we’re results.

Quinn Lewandowski 43:55
Yeah. That makes that could be and not toward the cart was no lead to clocks theory. He says if you wind up to clocks, and put them in separate rooms, and turn to the same time, one clock will chime just when the other clock is chiming. But it’s not close, and we other clock to chime. And that was his theory about the same. The consciousness correlates with changes in the physical world, but those don’t necessarily cause changes to consciousness. He thought God had said that up which, you know, let you explain what seems like a pretty big coincidence. But there could be other I think looking to third causes causing both things is a way thanks could be.

William Jarvis 44:51
Yeah, definitely. Yeah, So we’re not sold on things being more conscious than others.

Quinn Lewandowski 45:05
Yeah, per se. I doubt that. Yeah, I don’t know. The saying, I don’t know it’s not helpful. So you sat down

Unknown Speaker 45:15

William Jarvis 45:24
do you have any instinctive thought on like, you know, fungi versus plants or anything like that, like when we go that far out?

Quinn Lewandowski 45:36
Don’t seem conscious to me. Instinctively,

William Jarvis 45:39
I guess that conscious, but just like their moral worth. Like, comparing the two

Quinn Lewandowski 45:47
feels pretty close to zero. I think I see him as more resources.

William Jarvis 45:52
Gotcha. There’s another question I had, I was talking to got a philosophy PhD student recently. And you’ve written this paper about you know, death and his death bad. And, you know, it’s clearly bad for the living because it’s like it alienates you from the dead. Yeah, which this is a that’s a bad thing. And I’m not really sure it’s anything that we can even really know. And that’s the I think that’s the real problem.

Quinn Lewandowski 46:44
I do have that sense, was tempted to say that about moral worth in plants. I mean, I am having a very strong temptation to point out that I don’t know. I don’t know if anyone knows, you asked about my intuition. Right. Trees are really pretty.

William Jarvis 47:02
Yeah. Yeah. And this, I guess, going off of that, we were thinking thing about death. You know, and, you know, how do you value? You know, he had so his essay he talks about, well, what if one day, we have sufficient technology? You know, we figured out some new kind of physics, and we can bring everyone back from the dead? And, you know, like, what’s worth more? You know, is it people who have died and already lived? Or is it people in the future who have not yet lived? And I think this, I just want to get broadly, your take on, you know, what do you think about humans in the future and how we should value their, their lives? And how should we think about them? Yeah, I mean, because this plays off the moral circle, right? Like, you know, like, how concerned are you about existential risks? Hundreds of 1000s of years in the future? Or like, you know, it’s very different if it’s 1000 years or 100 years, like,

Quinn Lewandowski 48:11
yeah, have that sense?

See, I have the sense. I’m bad at reasoning about this, but I’m not sure I’m actually worse than average.

William Jarvis 48:25
Yeah, this is probably, I think, I think. I don’t think anyone is good at it. But that’s for sure.

Quinn Lewandowski 48:36
I have the sense that if they were suffering horribly, that would be very bad. Yeah, I don’t have the sense that we have an obligation to maximize their numbers. Guidance, we all have an obligation to bring into being a marginal person in the future. I do have the sense that it would be sad if humanity went extinct altogether. It feels sad to think of them being very very small numbers. Right. But I don’t have the sense that any person who could be we’re doing bad by them by not bringing them in to being

Unknown Speaker 49:17
this is related to your alien comment earlier. Yeah. You know, do you find it odd that you know we appear to be the only

William Jarvis 49:30
you know, conscious life in the galaxy or anywhere else

Quinn Lewandowski 49:35
between somewhat hot and very odd? My under the big variable is how improbable it is conscious life. You know, I mean, if I were to take out a fear coin and flip it 10 times get heads three times and tail seven times. I wouldn’t found find that odd. If I flipped it 10,000 times and got heads every time I would find that very, very odd.

Unknown Speaker 50:13
Something’s wrong with your coin. Yeah,

Quinn Lewandowski 50:15
that’s why we’re. So the universe is so big that it seems very odd that we get life out of exactly once. You’re in exactly one planet. Right? And we’re not seeing what we think we would see if there were was like, far bunch of other planets. So yeah, it’s definitely at least somewhat odd. I wish I had better sense of how improbable it is to get life even once

William Jarvis 50:49
they’ve done some experience experiments on this, maybe seen this already, maybe like you tried to, you know, read, you know, you try to recreate the conditions of the primordial soup and see if you can get like something really simple, like, amino acids or something, whatever the the precursor is, you know, bumping around,

Quinn Lewandowski 51:08
happen. I find

William Jarvis 51:14
my sister was telling me about this. So this is a second order, and I haven’t read it. But it was something like, you know, they’re, they’re able to make it happen with some amount of takes a lot pretty random.

Quinn Lewandowski 51:29
So also touches on anthropic reasoning. Like we wouldn’t be having this conversation if life hadn’t come into being exactly once. I have a hard time reasoning about anthropic reasoning.

Unknown Speaker 51:44
You want to talk about that a little bit more?

Quinn Lewandowski 51:46
I think I mostly get from Nick Bostrom. Set talking about your ability to condition on your own existence. Gotcha. Me.

Unknown Speaker 52:21
pausing for a quick Google

Quinn Lewandowski 52:23
Yeah. There is a restrictive lower bound on how statistically probable our observations of the universe are. Given that we could only exist in the particular type of universe capable of developing and sustaining sentient life.

So I think Scott’s first essay for less wrong chronologically was an essay arguing lit animals are probably not conscious, because there are so many more animals than there are people that if they were conscious, you would probably be an animal and not person. Which, yeah, seems not. Yeah.

William Jarvis 53:11
Have you? What’s the oh, man, the, the equation where they try and reason out how improbable like, Drake? Is that the equation where

Quinn Lewandowski 53:31
they might be the name of it? I don’t know the equation.

William Jarvis 53:35
The one the aliens? Like, what are the probability given how much we’ve seen so far? With telescopes,

Quinn Lewandowski 53:44
I think great. Yeah. It’s really confusing.

William Jarvis 53:53
What’s your sense of how much we’ve seen versus you say? I’m saying? Yeah. Because that matters how weird it is. Right. Like,

Quinn Lewandowski 54:00
there’s a lot. I think. I think I think that question is being screened off partly by the fact that I would expect it to be very, very, very visible. Like if one of them mishandles AI, and built a paperclip? Maximizer. Yeah,

Unknown Speaker 54:21
you would say, Yeah, giant paperclip.

Quinn Lewandowski 54:24
Yeah. We’d be the giant paperclip, we

William Jarvis 54:27
would be the giant paperclip. That’s right. Do you think there is some some, what do you tend to think about these great filter arguments where like, there’s some hard constraint or you know, maybe you just end up like at some level organization. There’s too much entropy or something and it all just blows up. Like was was civilization

Quinn Lewandowski 54:46
dressing. It’s certainly clearly addressing something very puzzling, which is why we don’t see alien civilization, right. But the thing is, you have to assume that Right filter works. I mean, it would be surprising if there were like two other alien civilizations and they both got caught. So we’re thinking of something closer to a physical law than just a failure mode, civilizations can wander into sometimes. And it’s hard for me to see anything with a hard physical law.

William Jarvis 55:22
Yeah, and I don’t like I am somewhat skeptical is like that, that hard physical wall element of the Great Filter. It’s like, oh, you know, this is what happens. Because, you know, humans have agency. Yeah, we do. Like we, I mean, maybe no other aliens have agency. And that’s what, like, maybe there’s something weird going on there. But we do have the ability to if we can recognize problem, actually, we’re fairly good at managing solutions.

Quinn Lewandowski 55:56
It honestly feels like there’s a failure mode, I think people get into where there are a lot of phenomena they don’t understand. And so they put all the phenomena are under the same heading. And that feels like reducing the things they don’t understand to one factor. So I mean, if you’re in the middle ages, and you don’t know why any, you know, physics type stuff happens. Yeah, Newton hasn’t done this stuff yet. Yeah. You can explain all of it by saying God did. But you haven’t really explained it because you can’t make predictions. Right? That feels like, there’s just that one thing you haven’t explained yet. The Great Filter feels a little bit like that to me. Like we’re postulating something that works with astonishing regularity, right? We don’t know what could be.

William Jarvis 56:56
Yeah. That forever that reminds me of this anecdote I got from this lecture, Gerard gave. Yeah. And he talks about like, well, you know, like, like, how do we get science? You know, like, the idea is like, we got science, and then we stopped burning witches. But maybe we got science because we stopped burning witches.

Quinn Lewandowski 57:16
Yeah. Yeah. That would be neat. fits my I took the happy parts of my brain, right?

William Jarvis 57:28
Yeah, cuz yeah. What do you think the scapegoat? Is the reason why the crops fail? Yeah, you’re never gonna look for why that might not be the case.

Quinn Lewandowski 57:39
And I mean, and which burning environment, there’s a very strong incentive not to stand out, because someone can target you. And that’s gonna limit innovation. I think it might limit really quite a lot.

William Jarvis 57:56
Yeah. Well, that I mean, that’s a that’s a thought I have, you know, like allies, China unable to produce innovation like the US when they have like, if you look at the PISA scores,

Unknown Speaker 58:12
yeah. They’re like, a quarter of the human race. Yeah, yes. And the PISA scores are less scary.

William Jarvis 58:22
And that actually gives me a lot of hope for the US, in some sense. Like, it’s very chaotic. But you know, we don’t well, we are smashing that liars more. Yeah, we used to, which is a bad trend. But we still smash them much less. Yes. And actually, apparently, one of the big takeaways she had from getting a second head hand is gonna be false. But one of the big takeaways she had from the Cultural Revolution was it was to, you know, it was led by people on the ground, and that’s why it didn’t work, and we need to more centrally control everyone. And that’s the real answer. And I think that just not does not lend itself. I mean, that just makes your problems worse, right?

Quinn Lewandowski 59:07
Yeah. It does.

I’m not overly maybe I should be. I’m not. Intuitively it feels like we’re not going to have a long term problem out competing China. They have loads resources, but um, if we have a, I think even a 10% increase in innovation is gonna be decisive with the tech level we’re at now.

William Jarvis 59:45
You know, it worries me. They’re able to get our stuff really fast.

Unknown Speaker 59:53
Yeah. You know, like, we do have the ability To create this stuff like they cannot. But if they can get it in six months,

Quinn Lewandowski 1:00:04
yeah. And that does, I hadn’t been, they can always get in six months, and there’s nothing we can

William Jarvis 1:00:09
do about it. You know, maybe we can get better at preventing that from happening.

Quinn Lewandowski 1:00:17
Does I mean, if we’re not there at, then that does limit the upshot, the advantage of more innovation we’re not doing

and there’s a question is our ability at that drop? I’m pretty sure it has dropped, it has dropped. I think you’re absolutely right. If that’s a process that’s gonna continue. I mean, if we’re going to get worse than we are now, and that would be very concerning.

William Jarvis 1:00:48
Yes. Then it makes it just very difficult. Yeah, just very difficult. A little bit. I think we should talk more about China. Just why cuz I find it fascinating. Yeah. This is one of my big Xpress concerns. Is like I do think

China, you know, there’s a what a quarter or a third of the world’s population locked up. Yeah. Yeah, they just banned say, you can’t play more than an hour video games. Yeah, that’s a funny example. Yeah, it’s not particularly malicious. But it’s still like,

Quinn Lewandowski 1:01:30
yes. Oh, it raises, it raises two sorts of alarm bells for me. Um, the first is, I really like video games. Yeah. And maybe in a broader sense, little pleasures, stuff that it’s hard to make a movie about enjoying, I think account for a substantial percentage of what makes life worth living. You can give up a little pleasure. But if you’re being run by people who are looking over your life and seeing what pleasures that can justify things get miserable very, very fast. Yeah. And secondly, central planners suck for seeing what what’s actually necessary long term, right? I mean, it’s a very hard problem, but I think they actually probably do a little bit worse than chance because they’re trying to conserve their own ability to predict to manipulate the system. And things with very high upside tend to disrupt that train Russell called, I’ve never gotten the phrase, the ideal of the inpatient administrator. It’s great. Jazz. And if you have one of those random things, then, you know, you’re almost not allowed to do big impressive things that everything forward. Yeah.

William Jarvis 1:02:50
I do. And also, like, in beyond even what you said, I think there’s like, I think things can get really bad really fast. Yeah. And systems like that. Like, you know, like, it kind of works. Okay, like, things are terrible. But, you know, it turns into killing fields and things like that very quickly. Very quickly, especially with the succession problem. I mean, yeah, yeah. There’s, like, how do you solve the succession problem?

Quinn Lewandowski 1:03:19
We haven’t. I spent some time thinking about? Well, it’s been a few years. Yeah. I spent some time thinking about it. And it’s really, really hard. Yeah. And see, it’s hard. Because if you have a solution to the succession problem, that tends to put good people into power, and works most of the time, but it fails this one time, then you get Killing Fields fails badly enough. Until it’s both a difficult problem and a problem that partial solutions are sort of flatly not good enough.

William Jarvis 1:04:07
Yeah. And I’ve worried about it because you know, a lot a lot smart people, like you spent significant amount of time thinking about it. And God that, you know, I’ve been able to, but unable to find anything satisfactory.

Quinn Lewandowski 1:04:24
I’m hopeful about technology changes the landscape. Technology will generally changes the landscape. I think people don’t um, they think of technology as finding a way to solve a particular sandbox problem, right? A lot of the time it opens up whole new. So that is the sort of I mean, it’s almost rhetorically speaking that cheat to say maybe technology would solve that because you can always say that, but it’s also true

Unknown Speaker 1:05:04
Yeah, it’s interesting.

Quinn Lewandowski 1:05:08
You know, we just need not I’m doing that thing I was criticizing our people for doing. I was gonna say we need one new tool, but I’m moving all the difficulty of the problem on to that tool away. Yes. Right.

William Jarvis 1:05:25
It perhaps is just something we have to live with. Right? Yes. Yeah, I don’t know. China is deeply scary to me. Yes. You know, GE wants Taiwan. And he wants it before he’s gone. And we have you know, it’s weird. This is weird psychosexual thing. Yeah. Where Taiwan? You know, they, they could resist, and they could prevent this prevented from happening. Like, it’s, it’s, you know, like, it’s an island. Yeah, there’s a straight. You just need to blow those boats out of the water and guerrilla warfare. And that’s the answer. And sands are cheap. Yeah. You know, like surface to air missiles are like, really cheap. Like, there’s all these like kinds of things you can do. But I don’t think they believe they can win. Like, I don’t think they believe they can win in America doesn’t believe they can defend it. Yeah. Like, you know, strategically we don’t think it’s possible. And so we’re not going to try. And you know, they’re probably going to be able to get it. I think that’s the most likely scenario.

Quinn Lewandowski 1:06:45
I agree with that. I mean, you gave me some reason to rethink why I thought earlier, but I was meaning. I’m not too worried about the type of I’m not as worried about the type of civilization China is out competing with type of civilization. Oh, interestingly, been very worried about. I mean, in the short term, you have a bunch of people with a lot of power who don’t seem aligned with our interests. Right.

William Jarvis 1:07:17
That’s a really good point. We have been the type of civilization that could solve this problem. Yeah. It seems like more or less like that civilization. And perhaps that’s what we need to kind of solve things a little bit.

Quinn Lewandowski 1:07:33
Cowboys, cowboys. I love that quote that was did you want to repeat that quote, I think should be that quote. How it cued up but it was basically the cowboy. Well, I should be able to because it was Scott, wasn’t it?

Unknown Speaker 1:07:51
Yeah. So this is that from Scott’s what was the post was the postcard? The all Alzheimers drug. And you Medicare cap. Is that how you pronounce it? I

Quinn Lewandowski 1:08:04
have no idea how you pronounce it.

Unknown Speaker 1:08:07
We’ve only read it.

Quinn Lewandowski 1:08:10
That being a cowboy has moved from being complimentary term to being a much less competent rogatory. And that heralds bad things. I’m looking for it. But

Unknown Speaker 1:08:24
yes, it does.

Quinn Lewandowski 1:08:28
I may have. Yes. Who is tickled to hear Dr. Greer described Dr. Jennings is a cowboy because I’ve been trying to make the case that the point where cowboy used metaphorically to mean someone who is willing to take initiative went from complimentary to pejorative, mark the beginning of the end for our civilization, and we need to make a compliment again. He’s right, yeah.

William Jarvis 1:08:53
You know, this. Oh, this is reminds me there’s a great anecdote. So have you ever been to Chickamauga? No, this is one of the largest battles in the Civil War. And it was in Georgia, just south of Chattanooga, this massive battle. And, you know, I’m driving around the battlefield, checking things out, you know, I love to go check out history and stuff. Really nice National Park. And there’s a big hill and on the hill, there’s a monument to a union general with a general he’s like a colonel. And he observed that repeating rifles were much more effective than the traditional muskets that they’re using. Right? You know, you don’t have to let him like clearly please. But he could not convince the bureaucracy to buy these repeating rifles for like, clearly this is highly This is much more effective like and to any like, common sense person like this makes sense. Yeah. He had to go raise money in his hometown All the soldiers put up Personal Capital to get these weapons, these cult repeating rifles, and had to get a bank loan and things like that. And finally he was vindicated. But I think about that, like how things can just be like, clearly screwed up. There’s this $20 Bill lying on sidewalk. You can’t requisition any funds to do this, even though it’s clearly say it wasn’t expensive. And it was like clearly, massively, this massive advantage. Like and if you lose people that are willing to do that, and you said advanced eventually the whole regular army got them. Right. But you know, if you don’t have people that can do that, man, thanks. There’s just static.

Quinn Lewandowski 1:10:39
Yeah. Really with that? I reread Scott post about IR B’s the other night. Oh, yeah. Trying to do a very simple, very ethically uncontroversial study, basically just writing down results. Yeah. And they made it very, very, very difficult for him. I was thinking how it sort of goes beyond the usual. Like, they’re definitely trade offs related to bureaucracy, by making things legible and controllable. You drank a lot of flexibility, but you made things legible and controllable. A big upsides. I was thinking how hard it was to justify the behavior he was describing in terms of the trade offs that tend to come up. It was just not.

William Jarvis 1:11:28
Yeah. It’s swung so far. The other direction. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, even even Lincoln struggled with this. Yeah, immensely. And we think of him as like this near monarch president who’s actually able to really get things done. Yep. I’ve been reading a book on it. You know, McClellan was this kind of general for the Army of the Potomac, which was the main fighting force for the Union. The Federalists, and they were, and he was just unwilling to attack, even though he had doubled the number of troops. Thank you guys, just like, because he didn’t want to suffer defeat, like he was trying to avoid it at all costs. And Lincoln’s trying to get him to do it, and he just cannot get him to do it visually just has to fire. Yeah. It’s interesting how entrenched bureaucracy will just prevent anything from happening, because there is like incentive for them not to go out and allow things to have, like, there’s only downside if they allow Scott to go, yeah. Perform this study, which has very, it has no downside. Really, I mean, you know, maybe negative PR somehow. But that’s enough.

Quinn Lewandowski 1:12:47
Not good. No, it’s not good. Well, it’s it’s a huge problem. And I have no idea what to do about.

William Jarvis 1:13:01
It almost feels like it’s just one of these things. You just have to reset it every once in a while. Like that’s the only path forward

Quinn Lewandowski 1:13:06
could work. Move the headquarters just

William Jarvis 1:13:09
got to move. Yeah, that’s my that’s one of my favorite is just like you just moved the headquarters in a couple 100 miles one direction or the other and like everybody coming to work. You just get to reset it. You have to do this every 2030 years. Like that’s the timescale. They that’s what it takes. Yeah. That’s one thing I think about. It’s like a Chesterton’s fence argument. But I think yarns like way too confident. Yes. About like, like, monarchies not Yes. messing things up.

Quinn Lewandowski 1:13:50
Yeah, I. Yeah, it’s a rule of thumb. It works really well. For me, his critiques of the existing system or gut, his proposed solutions are much less good. There’s still some value there. But yeah. There’s a problem like, you know, what do you do? To make things more effective? Yeah. I don’t know. I don’t know either.

Unknown Speaker 1:14:21
Anyway, the moral circle.

Quinn Lewandowski 1:14:22

Unknown Speaker 1:14:24
Any other thoughts?

Quinn Lewandowski 1:14:25
No. No, it’s feeling a little daunted by the problem at the moment, actually. Oh, yeah. probably isn’t the best headspace to be on but you have to work through it.

William Jarvis 1:14:37
That’s right. I think the big takeaway for me from the conversation is one should be aware that our moral, like what we care about, is inherently limited. Yeah. And we only get to spend it in a couple places. So we should be, we should just I think being aware of that is important. Yep. I’m having a hard time articulating why exactly.

Quinn Lewandowski 1:15:12
Now it is, it’s really important to end up lying to yourself about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. You also, you have better information about the people closer to you, and your attempts to help them or, I mean, this varies a lot attempt by attempt. And I want to put everyone trying to help people far away in the same. But you know, in the worst case scenario, it’s less likely to end up like really great leap forward. Like, you know, massively backfiring, it’s hard to help your parents in a way that massively backfires in that same way.

Unknown Speaker 1:15:54
Yeah, you know, it’s that it’s such a good point. And this this comes full circle, a

William Jarvis 1:16:01
lot of things we’ve been talking about, like, clearly, a lot of things are broke. Yeah, a lot of things like things don’t work as well as they used to. And they need to be fixed. But there’s a failure mode. Which is the Great Leap Forward. Yes. You know, and how do you do things without the Great Leap Forward? happening? It’s something you should be very aware of.

Yeah, yeah. Have you read, it’s time to build by Marc Andreessen?

Unknown Speaker 1:16:42
No. Good. Interesting. Like, no.

William Jarvis 1:16:48
It’s essentially this essay, he right during the beginning of the band at MC. STEM come together. And we’re going to start building stuff again. You know, in this country, we’re gonna actually build stuff in the physical world and make things better. Kind of a call to action. Yeah. But, you know, then again, it’s hard to see how this is not necessarily true. But in general, I think building things. Maybe I need to caveat this more severely. It’s generally positive. Yeah, I think I think where you get in trouble is where you think certain people are the problem?

Quinn Lewandowski 1:17:35
Yeah. I don’t think you need to copy.

William Jarvis 1:17:40
But technology can be bad, you know, like, AGI Right? Like AGI could come paperclip us all. And that’s not good.

Quinn Lewandowski 1:17:47
It’s a good guideline, and that failure mode re decide that you need to. But I think it’s a two part failure mode. First, you decide that the current social institutions are in the way of your building thinks they need to be destroyed. And secondly, you use that as an excuse not to think not to do any of the actually difficult built to building better social institutions. Right. That never works.

William Jarvis 1:18:23
That’s that’s a great point. But it’s very difficult to Yeah, build new social institutions.

Quinn Lewandowski 1:18:32

William Jarvis 1:18:36
I do see, in some sense, though, probably to get this there. I feel there’s a certain circulation of the elite. That is not it’s not imminent. But and it’s not 100 years off. But maybe it’s 20 to 50 years off. You know, I just I see a lot of people who are very smart and capable. Who had no real power in the regime. Yeah. Who I think could perhaps do a better job. Yes. And, and, you know, thanks. What’s the Keynes line? Things can stay irrational a lot. They solve it. That’s my caveat there. But I do think there’s hope. I mean, it’s possible. There’s hope. Yeah.

Quinn Lewandowski 1:19:40
The control of the current elites is definitely fraying. I mean, and now Harvard, or the New York Times or even the ACLU. It doesn’t buy away you still.

William Jarvis 1:19:59
Yeah. It’s true. Yeah, you know, it’s interesting. I see. I was working on something I can’t talk about, right yet. But it talked, in a way I, in working on this thing, I encountered the breakdown of Harvard and MIT admissions. Yeah. And you know, only about 20 to 30% of the people that got in got in on, quote, unquote, merit, like so like, they’re really, they’ve achieved a lot in their educational lives. You know, they’re, you know, sad, scared that scores are awesome. You know, most of it is like, you play a really weird sport. You, your legacy admit there’s, you know, parents gave a lot of money. There’s all these weird proxies for it. Right? Yeah. There’s a great line of the Young Pope where he taught, they talked about, you know, one of the, one of the characters, she’s like, I went to Harvard. And the Pope says, I don’t care. You know, Harvard is decline. Yeah.

Quinn Lewandowski 1:21:12
It’s very interesting. Yeah. I think it’s more obvious on just the dumping what happened, I think. I think I was talking to my mom about Steven Pinker. Oh, nice. Your works are read by like, come a lot. She said that you liked them a lot. Yeah. Yeah. He seems good. Yeah. No, but you said but yeah. You know, I don’t know that. I actually think that Harvard isn’t anti signal at that point, at this point, but that was sort of my sense of it. But I guess you have to specify an eye signal. What I think of them is they’re not all about truth anymore.

William Jarvis 1:21:57
Yes. That this it’s about? I mean, it’s about it’s about power. Yeah. I mean, I think that’s what’s corrupt. Yeah. You know, it masquerades as being about truth. But it’s about power. Yeah. And you can’t have both. Yep. That That reminds me. Do you rip the old Scott post Harvard admissions board being wanted? Yeah. I love that post was really

Quinn Lewandowski 1:22:24
good. You know, and

William Jarvis 1:22:28
up until 19. Like the 30s, I want to say you’re in the right for the GI Bill. In the GI Bill. You could be the Harvard’s missions, right was was 90%. Yeah. Like you could you pass the test and get Harvard. Yeah.

Quinn Lewandowski 1:22:47
I went to the college, I went to a really high acceptance rate, and I thought I was much younger, and I didn’t know who Scott was. I was totally apart from so I thought that probably meant they weren’t good Harding. Trying to be elites, they were trying to learn about the world. Yeah. And that turned out to be a very, very bad prediction on my part.

Unknown Speaker 1:23:12
That’s right. You know, you’re you’re working with whatever, whatever you got. Yeah. Yeah. It’s tough to it’s tough to see this thing that ticker. No. Yeah.

William Jarvis 1:23:22
Yeah, I think that that shift of universities becoming like Power selection mechanisms, instead of, like, truth seeking institutions, like that’s why everybody wanted to go, right. Yeah. Like, you know, when it’s just like, Oh, we’re gonna sit around and try and figure out what’s true. It’s like the rationalist community. And there’s like, a couple of dudes, you know, in each city, you know, there’s like, 20 here, and that’s a couple million people. And

Quinn Lewandowski 1:23:52
that’s not really competitive. Yeah, that gate geeks mops sociopath. Smile looks really relevant to me. Universities used to be pretty much all geeks. Yeah.

Unknown Speaker 1:24:04
I’m keen to find this this theory.

Quinn Lewandowski 1:24:07
It’s a model of I think subcultures where geeks build stuff, because it’s neat. And they like, yeah. Attract mops, who also like clean stuff. Yeah. Can’t build oftentimes contribute in you know, otherwise. Right. The presence of the mops is a resource. It’s something that could be used to gain power, but the geeks aren’t trying to use it to gain power. Yeah. And so that’s, you know, money lying on the ground. For sociopath. Yeah, not necessarily in the clinical sense. But people who are motivated by power. They come in and modify the subculture to make it bury gaining power, which means it stops being good at doing what the geeks wanted to build it to do,

William Jarvis 1:24:51
right. Oh, that’s all either. My favorite examples this is from and there’s this story of Bill Clinton lot and I can’t remember name of this book he wrote, but in it as a side note, he wrote about a ton of things. But he describes the evolution of American football. Yeah. And you know, okay, like, you know, I love American football, I feel bad about it because the TBI thing, but you know, that’s a discussion for another day. But you know, American football was a game that you played at school, because they thought it would make you healthy, and you get to hang out. Okay. And now, and then they started playing it against each other, you know, Harvard and Yale would play. And now suddenly, you know, bops come in. So she has come in analysis. Yeah, billion dollar industry. And suddenly, you know, it’s not about fitness and camaraderie anymore at all right.

Quinn Lewandowski 1:25:50
That’s good example.

Unknown Speaker 1:25:52
It’s interesting. Is this inevitable? Do you think?

Quinn Lewandowski 1:26:01
It’s certainly a very strong attractor. So I think it’s one of those problems that we always have with us. But I do think it can be staved off sometimes. And delayed, and even the fact that it takes time to say, and, you know, I mean, is having children pointless, because eventually they will die? Right? I don’t think so. I think

it’s good to identify as a problem, I’m cards on the table, I’m feeling kind of it could be the weather, or I’m in a mood where things look more helpless to me now than they probably really are. Interesting. Now, just something that I think clarity helps, I think you could say I have a lot of faith in the creation of clara de at home. Or prays differently, I have a very strong default heuristic lid, creating clear your own problems helps even if you can’t see solutions, because once the problems are clear, maybe someone else can write, or people can get out. Yeah.

William Jarvis 1:27:17
Well, what’s scary to me is like, you know, you know, there’s a good there’s a good chance, like you are seeing things abundantly, clearly. And we, we do find ourselves at a very difficult place. I don’t wanna say helpless, because there’s always just like, whenever I watch American football, you know, my wife, you know, like, last night, we’re watching Carolina Tarheels first game season. And you know, we’re down a lot of points. Yeah. Just like we should just turn it off. Like you never turn it off. Yeah, yeah, always got to believe and united says stupid signaling tribal thing. Like, you know, you always, you always have to believe

Quinn Lewandowski 1:28:07
I’m alone. It’s almost a side thing. But me, it’s not stupid signaling. Signaling is one of the things people do. And it’s good to be able to talk about the, I don’t want to reflexively denigrate unless we have some reason why this particular piece of signaling is disruptive. Right. Now, that’s probably a whole other podcast.

William Jarvis 1:28:34
But you’re talking about what I will say about you being really worried about where we are. You know, I think you’re probably seeing it clearly. But what I will say, is being worried about it is a good thing. Because it means there’s there’s a chance, yeah, if you’re not worried about coming back. If you’re not worried about turning things around. You really don’t have any chance.

Quinn Lewandowski 1:29:01
No. being worried is a good sign.

William Jarvis 1:29:06
Big word is a good thing. Like, oftentimes, like Yeah.

I don’t know what more to say about but this is a, I think is actually an important thing. For people generally, if you ever if you’ve been through like a CBT book or anything like that.

Quinn Lewandowski 1:29:27
Dad’s a psychologist, so probably No, I don’t think I’ve ever actually sat down and read the whole book about.

William Jarvis 1:29:35
So I was curious. I read the one Scott recommends. Yeah, doing great. It’s very interesting. Most of it is reframing that, but I think it’s it’s actually true. Most of it is like a lot of people, you know, they get in bad places. And they feel bad about themselves or they’re they’re worried about things happening. And it’s actually it’s a positive quality. It truly is because if you’re like Honestly, if you don’t believe, like, if you’re not worried about something, if you’re not focused, and, you know, if something’s negative, and you’re worried about something negative happening, it’s not gonna be a positive emotion to focus on it. But it does give you a chance it and working it out.

Quinn Lewandowski 1:30:17
So great directs attention toward their problems, right?

Unknown Speaker 1:30:27
And you got to define it to be anywhere,

Quinn Lewandowski 1:30:31
it seems seems important to distinguish signaling and deceptive signaling. I’m not even sure and that turns a football game off is signaling but it feels like that’s part of like its meaning making, right? And if we stopped doing everything like that, we’d be in this sort of Disneyland with no children situation.

William Jarvis 1:31:07
Every thought at all about what meaning is

Quinn Lewandowski 1:31:10

It seems connected the narrative, and it seems connected to counterfactuals.

I don’t have firm conclusions. I did read, Kamil, you know, was supposed to be the meaning guy. And I feel like I’ve got some useful stuff out of that. But nice. I feel like we always once we’ve identified him as the meaning guy, we treat him as solving more than he really does.

Unknown Speaker 1:32:00
What were your takeaways from Camilla

Quinn Lewandowski 1:32:03
partly that I should stop thinking of the end goal as being placed with no more goals that it doesn’t necessarily my takeaway was, you don’t have to be pushing the same boulder up the hill, but your tie end up pushing something that useful to try to find gratification in that, that if gotcha, you can only be happy within states, you want to spend a lot of your life there. And that will stock some stuff that’s hard to define about creation of meaning. Play acting, people are trying to invest meanings and things in their own life. That didn’t work as well for me as he seemed to think it was going to but it didn’t work, you know, zero amount. We brought vejo games earlier. And you know, I drive some guys like the archetypal example of a meaningless hollow empty activity. But, you know, sometimes it really is enjoyable in a way that seems meaning adjacent. I’m very sympathetic. I don’t want to shut down people arguing. That’s ultimately bad for accelerationist reasons. That makes people less likely to do things that will bring them more meaning. But I do think it brings a nonzero amount meaning by itself. And so I would frame it as this thing is medium level good and keeps people from doing things that are more good, rather than this thing is bad.

William Jarvis 1:33:38
Yeah, well, I mean, it could also keep people from doing things they’re bad and meaningful.

Quinn Lewandowski 1:33:43
Yeah. My own experience has been that video games are a plus but I’m a mile confident. Typical there. Yeah. Partly they give me I can talk my sister about them or paint sometimes I’m playing around with the window opening to beautiful day outside and my dog has I keep a bed in the game room so she can curl up at my feet. Just it doesn’t feel like an entirely fake experience. Yeah.

William Jarvis 1:34:29
Well, I think part of that is like like why video games have gotten so important. It’s it’s part of this conversation we’ve had earlier where, you know, we’ve locked people out of really being able to do a lot of things. Yeah. That’s like Scott’s IRB thing. Yeah. He cannot go to this. Yeah, buddy, which would be helpful. It’s like really simple. It’s like man, we’ve just put so many brick walls in

Quinn Lewandowski 1:34:59
front of them. Yeah, we don’t. Yeah, it’s really difficult. Yeah. He has a post. Was it? It was on slate star Codex, so old, but it was self serving bias. Oh, yeah. He uses I think it was, I forget who it was maybe New Jersey was passing a law that would let customers do their own service and gas stations, oh, is Oregon laws. And he was using it as a jumping off point to talk about, you know, he needed a license to braid hair, a lot of states. That really does seem to have grown significantly. I think one thing I would set up if I had the power to be pushing things would be to aim for some kind of maybe say up so regulations expired unless they were renewed. Yeah, to make it you know, an active decision, make it easy enough to renew them, but ensure that someone has to go on record and say, Yeah, I think this is a good idea. And we should keep doing it. Because it’s what’s on the books and write some kind of on mag provision.

William Jarvis 1:36:13
Yeah. You know, occupational licensing. Yeah. She mentioned. You know, I thought about for a little bit, kind of talked about it with sparks. There’s kind of Koch brothers adjacent. Funded your nonprofit to work on that. Yeah. Yeah. They really work on that. I’m like, and I thought about, like, okay. It’s a real problem. Like it’s a serious it’s a serious problem. My worry with with work I didn’t end up doing it slams in here. But like, my worry with what they’re doing is it feels like some kind of crazy trench warfare. Yeah. Yeah, it’s like, man, you know? Yeah, they’re fairly right. Uh, Jason, don’t work with anybody. But that’s a very libertarian fairly libertarian position. And it’s just trench warfare. I mean, I just don’t know, like, if you can ever get anywhere, yeah, that kind of

Quinn Lewandowski 1:37:13
thing. People look at warfare historically, the losers tend to have a specific nation, and the winners tend to have a general sort of totalizing vision.

William Jarvis 1:37:28
I wondered, like, do you think? Like, like, why, why is it more important? Like for winning, to be focused on this, like, on that kind of vision? Do you see what I’m saying?

Quinn Lewandowski 1:37:43
Yeah. Not sure. Let me think. See, it doesn’t feel like a total opaque mystery, but it’s hard to get into.

I think it was Paul, who was there, Paul Graham or laser you Caskey says, if you’re gonna start a startup, you need a business plan. You will not follow the business plan. Yeah, reality won’t comport with the business plan. But you need the business plan to demonstrate that there is a conceptually possible way you can went on to concretize both your intuitions and the potential problems. Having a business plan lets you see, oh, this is an obstacle. You can’t like yourself, that’s not an obstacle or hope it will at least makes it harder to do that. Yeah. I think it might be like that. If you have a vision of the way the world works, when you when it makes it much easier to think about things. Even way. You’re likely to strategize more effectively than if you’re trying to cross that bridge when you come to. Yeah. I think that’s part of it. Scott has a post called the price of Glee in China. Or he’s looking at research itself report. And I’m particularly skeptical of self report in this area and pray skeptical of it. And yeah, but he’s looking at China doing better economically. And people giving similar reports on surveys about how happy they are. raises questions about does economic growth really make people happier? Yeah, I think there is.

Happiness is internal. I mean, I don’t wanna say it’s subjective, because you hear that as it’s arbitrary. But I don’t think it’s our we don’t have a way to if you ask people how many times have you got drunk and last month? They might like you, but if you asked them, how happy are you? They don’t really have a objective standard for evaluating. Wow, right. So even if they’re really trying to be honest, your results are still gonna bait. Right. very skewed. But it’s it’s an interesting question. Yeah, I have a very strong economic growth is good impulse

William Jarvis 1:40:18
you know what I think matters what I think really matters here actually. I think people can only feel slope. Yeah. Like I think the I think, for happiness and economic growth, it’s will things be better in the future? Like, I think that’s essentially all that matters. There is some like, I think there is real gains, like you know, we’re sitting in this nice, yeah. air conditioned house. Yeah. And that’s awesome. Yeah, that feels a lot better to be in the heat. Yeah. But then again, you know, if you’re outside in the heat for two weeks you start develop heat shock proteins, maybe it doesn’t bother you. I don’t know.

Quinn Lewandowski 1:40:57
Definitely something where, yeah, I don’t I haven’t intuition. I don’t know maybe there are micro slopes. My thing about being someone who has never set an ice or conditions house, yeah. And so I’m used to it. I imagine there being more distractions, more little moments of irritation that don’t really register. So I’m not sad that I’m not in icy air conditioned house, but maybe we’re having an interesting conversation like listen to butterflies in my I think that’s a big deal because it’s normal. Yeah.

William Jarvis 1:41:38
Yeah, I think it all fades in the background. Yeah. Like, are most of it’s like, I don’t know. This also reminds me, Sam Oh, Berea.

Unknown Speaker 1:41:51
No. A really

William Jarvis 1:41:54
great founder theory. No, oh, man should check out Sam. He’s on this like palladium kind of axis. Like governance feature ism, we should check out Sam has some interesting thoughts. But he had a tweet a couple of months ago. And it was he thought that people in the past were smarter than people today. And I just had like this kind of strong intuition against this.

Quinn Lewandowski 1:42:22
Yes. Nick, nutrition is much better to straight up. And protein. Yeah. I remember Scott are going ghosts with Neo reactionaries in 2014. Oh, yeah. And he definitely won that argument.

William Jarvis 1:42:39
Do you think did the Neo reactionaries think people are smarter in the past?

Quinn Lewandowski 1:42:42
Yeah, they had some suggestive test results, but it turned out to be pretty much all selection by us. Well,

William Jarvis 1:42:48
yeah, I mean, the only get the works of people who were Yeah, quite smart. Like that’s seems to be clearly. Yeah. Nutritional line. Yeah. the Flynn effect. I mean, like, we know that within the short the past 50 years,

Quinn Lewandowski 1:43:03
yes. I can see how this part would be a double edged sword. But I still think part of it is way sharper. Media, I mean, in an oral culture, all cultures, oral culture with the printing press. You can write things down and keep them in a culture where people can send you memes and video clips and stuff. It makes sense that still running on the same basis. I’m sure people in the 1700s had their own versions of memes. But I would expect us to actually gain something from having lewd pictures, variants on. It seems like that gives us access to more cultural knowledge. And some of that cultural knowledge is bad. But I would expect the general trend to be positive. Definitely.

William Jarvis 1:43:56
Yeah, I think you’re right. One last thought. Do you think there’s been moral progress? And in the real sense, you know, we talked about whether people are smarter. It’s getting back to our moral moral circle thought do you think? What would even more progress look like? That’s actually a better you better question.

Quinn Lewandowski 1:44:27
An external standard by which to measure. I’m the product of a society that produced me. And so I noticed that people’s values are coming closer to my values, which you would expect just entropically Yeah, I’m, on the other hand

there’s an attitudinal implication that um, a lot of the times when people say stuff like that they They’re implicitly saying you should take your own values less seriously. I think that’s really separate from the metaphysical question of how you measure them. Right? I mean, because saying you should take your values less seriously is also a value space statement. And there’s no reason to privilege it. Yeah. So I’m, I think I’m stressed now, partly because I’m not sure about the last 20 years. But I see the advent of the Enlightenment, as being a big step forward. And as getting some stuff

I think maybe giving us new social technology that lets us do stuff we weren’t necessarily doing before. Yeah. I still see that as positive. Bounce, and there’s a lot the universe to ask to be positive. Right. Well, and you know, we don’t we don’t burn witches anymore. Yes. That’s, that’s why I was going for. Right. Like, yeah, like,

William Jarvis 1:46:15
absolutely. I think you’re absolutely right. I think that’s a I mean, that’s a big shift. Yeah. The the scapegoat is in the set. Yeah. So it’s super important. Yeah. And I don’t say, we’ve been going for a while, so I don’t want to ever talk to you about Gerard at all.

Quinn Lewandowski 1:46:39
Almost not. Almost not he’s come up a few times. He had good essay in the politics and Apocalypse book you loaned me. Yeah. I need to get back. Got Gotcha. Like,

William Jarvis 1:46:51
I’ll send you an episode I did with Jeff shollenberger. And want to talk about it.

Quinn Lewandowski 1:46:55
Yeah. Oh, he really liked that. Oh, nice. Yeah, yeah. Yeah, that’s interesting. Well, Quinn, yeah. Thank you for taking the time. Thank you for asking me. She’s really neat. Do it again.

William Jarvis 1:47:16
Thanks for listening. We’ll be back next week with a new episode of narratives.

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