89: Rationality with Jacob Falkovich

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Hosted by
Will Jarvis

In this episode we talk with Jacob about rationality, dating, the hot hand fallacy and more. Jacob blogs at https://putanumonit.com/

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 than 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, Jacob, how are you doing this afternoon?

Jacob 0:44
Then? Great. Thanks for having me on.

William Jarvis 0:46
Absolutely. Thanks for coming on the show. I really appreciate it. Do you mind giving us a brief bio and some of the big ideas you’re interested in?

Jacob 0:54
Sure. I’m a Russian Israeli. So I was born in the Fagan Soviet Union. I grew up in Israel, I studied math and physics. Just almost by default by inertia. I served the Israeli army working some cool secret projects. But then once that was done, Canada wasn’t really sure what to do with my career. And so I came to the US for Business School, which both made it possible for me to come to the US and get a job. But also, in business school, I realized I’m like the only math nerd there. And we were learning things like, you know, the correct answer doesn’t matter. You just got to be confident and send yourself. And I was like, Man, this is kind of weird. Is this like everything in the US. But this set me up to discover the rationality community, and less wrong, which happened about almost 10 years ago? Basically, since then, I’ve been really one of the last people who that proudly wears the brand of being the rationalist. Is everybody else has given up as a post, right? Everyone has to be a hipster? Absolutely. And yeah, now I live in New York. I have three and a half week old daughter. Maybe she will add some ambience to this podcast recording the room?

William Jarvis 2:12
Definitely. We’re big pronatalist here so that it would be Yeah.

Jacob 2:15
So there’s some questions about that. That yes, the quiz I’m interested in. So I think the dichotomy of foxes and hedgehogs are further you know, many things shallowly are one thing deeply an extreme Fox, which means that I will never write a book in my life, but I’m very good on Twitter. And so now you bully Academy here, because you read my blog, which is somewhere in the middle. But they do kind of become obsessed with something different every two weeks, and then try to write about it before I have it figured out. And then once I have a move on, some are very happy. I’m not in the academia, because this is really bad for academia, it’s really good if you’re just a generalist. A couple of things that, you know, I’ve been obsessed with for more than two years, I think about this might be like a real, real love is rationality and how to expand it. I think a lot of people treat it, you know, the sequences in the early writings, is this finished product? Or just something to assemble the community? Like no, no, this is the test to be step one, is a clearly so much more to do and to figure out about the brain and consciousness significant about that a lot, especially once we discovered what predictive processing is, and how to think of the brain is a Bayesian machine that learns everything from scratch, and hallucinates the world probably the other thing I’ve been consistently writing and thinking about is dating. In particular, it’s a fascinating kind of topic to look at generally systematically, and also because they tell us that it’s really fun and important to me. So I may as well put some thought into the matter.

William Jarvis 3:51
Definitely, I love that. I want to jump off the outline if that’s okay, and ask you some questions about predictive processing and in Carl Freston, you know, how much do you buy? You know, for since theory around predictive processing? Do you think it is explanatory? And do you have any big critiques of the theory?

Jacob 4:10
I’m not sure. So I’m not as familiar with the particular history of who came up with what. So for instance, summon semi famous for basic art with the idea that predictive processing in the brain, so you can think of the brain is just, you know, you have this collection of neurons. And you can explain everything the brain does by just trying to predict its own state, which means because it’s connected to the outside world, you know, that some of your neurons are happened to be hooked up to your retina. And the react to light means, you know, you have to start predicting your own inputs and to predict your own inputs you need, basically to either become or to have a model of the outside world now first and says, Oh, this is just part of a more general principle called Free Energy minimization. I think I have a kind of tenuous grasp of what it means. It Traveling means something like, if you want to persist to something recognizable, right, but when or maybe you’re just a single celled organism floating somewhere, for you to persist this yourself is this close thing, it’s not being just torn apart by entropy. To do that, you kind of have to basically take advantage of your environment, right? They kind of find yourself in places where there’s more food and less toxins and stuff like that, which means that your internal structure has to, in some way, model the outside world. And in some sense, you know, if you just had like a simple flipper, that you can, like swim this way, or that way, where you can look at it and say, Oh, this is a model of the world, because the flipper is always going to point you know, towards food and away from the poison. And so basically, by virtue of you persist in generally, you have to minimize free energy. And you know, what does it mean? In the case of the brain, it means, minimizing how much you’re surprised. And I think a lot of really smart neuroscientists looked at this, and because kind of a more general theory, like a different level of abstraction, I’m sure it has a lot to tell about the brain specifically. Which is maybe why a lot of neuroscientists were confused. So just a couple things. If you’re like a car mechanic, you’re working on a great, you know, car engine. And then you didn’t know about some law thermodynamics, that applies to like, literally any transfer of energy anywhere. Now, somebody tells you like, okay, cool. I’m sure that my engine is not going to violate the second law of thermodynamics. But also, it doesn’t actually help me here.

William Jarvis 6:41
Right. So so maybe it’s something like it’s a good theory, but like practically might few practical applications. And that’s why neuroscientists kind of gloss over it a little bit.

Jacob 6:52
Yeah, I don’t know, I’ve had people over try actually tried to figure out just by looking bunch of people and some beers, or coffee forever, one day and spend some time on it. If you look at the Wikipedia article for the free energy principle, kind of has a closed mathematical form. But again, I’m not sure that’s very useful, right? Just because as a physicist, so you can, you know, we’re just gonna describe this thing with this Greek letter and put inside an integral. And so you know, your persistence over time is like, you know, minimizing the integral of your surprisal over your expected lifetime. Okay, that’s. And I’m thinking like, I’m trying to write an essay right now. But our babies learn concepts. Right? Like my newborn doesn’t read. She doesn’t know like awards. I don’t think she like knows the external world exists. She patches herself in the nose, because she doesn’t know her arm belongs to her. How do you get from there to somebody who can read the blog post? About some term like that in the culture? Toxoplasma be like, Oh, this explains things. And I’ve seen the world differently. So that kind of processes are free energy principle is super applicable here. But can I talk too much about Alfriston because I haven’t really tried to get deep. There’s a couple of parties where a couple of people got really drunk started really going on. And like batshit stories during the collusion, conspiracy theories, and how everything is connected. And almost everybody who goes on a rant like that tosses in CalFresh than eight minutes in. So that’s really strong.

William Jarvis 8:31
Right? Absolutely. That’s great. That’s great. Jacob, I want to ask you this. This is awesome. Outline. So I apologize. But it just popped in my head. You know, you went to Kenan Flagler business school. Is that correct? Yeah, that’d be cool. So I went to Kim Flagler as well. And if I imagined business school, it was an undergrad. But if I mentioned business school, and I had to typify it, it’s something like the anti rationalist community, to some extent, is super smart people are super X, like incredibly extroverted, like the most extroverted people. And it just seems like in some sense, the inverse of it in some ways, do you? Do you agree with that characterization? And if so, like, Why do you think that is?

Jacob 9:18
Well, as I mentioned, it’s kind of West for me, but also, like, I don’t think it’s the exact polar opposite, right? It’s not like chakra school. Right? And in some sense, you know, the Russians are supposed to win, right? You’re supposed to operate in the real world. And not like the limits of various models and some business school you learn a lot of models like oh, right, you know, how does a company finance itself? Well, we have this formula called cap M between debt and equity. No actually cares about that, right? You look, look at actual companies, what they do, it’s gonna be driven by whatever kind of local considerations seem to be happening. And so Like you can extract a lot of rationality from it. Right? Is that the general mathematical rules? You’re gonna learn them in finance class, you forget about the no one cares. The important thing to learn is that okay, what are people’s goals? What are people trying to do? And then, you know, to be agreeable, and like slightly ambitious, but not too much. And, and just be willing to think about money a lot.

William Jarvis 10:25
Right? Right. Those kind of requirements.

Jacob 10:28
Like other words, different business goals, I do recommend Kenan Flagler to people because it’s one of the least academically rigorous business schools out of the top 24 MBA. Okay, actually really wanted to get into the business school in Virginia. And in the end, this actually was me and another Israeli guy, and we were both on the waitlist and you kind of get to know each other. And then Kenan Flagler accepted me and told me though, even they gave me a scholarship. So I actually emailed Virginia instead, look, hey, I’m taking myself off the waitlist, because I need to give Carolina an answer. And I’m going there. Also, you should accept this other guy. He’s great. Trust me, that whatever. No, they would care. The next day, they accepted him. And he had a horrible experience, because he stayed up until 2am. Every night doing homework. And it doesn’t make sense because even academically rigorous business schools aren’t rigorous, academically, you don’t actually learn. The like, descriptive knowledge there is important as a Kenan Flagler, which is a lot more friendly and a lot more about going to building relationships and having some fun and living in a great college town. There’s a real knowledge there. And you can look pick up rationality, you know, between the cracks, if you ignore the professor say, and I mean, you know, it quintupled my salary from the point I was making in Israel before Business School. And the first job I got in the US after. So anti rationality. Right, right. Not quite kicking yourself with a rock in the head is anti Russian, right?

William Jarvis 11:58
But it’s maybe 170 degrees. It’s not like it’s up all the way around, but it’s close.

Jacob 12:03
Yeah, especially not with the agnostic. Gotcha. That makes sense.

William Jarvis 12:07
Sense. I’m gonna take another left hand turn here. Can you steal man polyamory?

Jacob 12:14
Sure. You want to start with steel Manning? monogamy? Yeah,

William Jarvis 12:18
absolutely. Do you want me to try? Are you

Jacob 12:23
well, that was a bit tongue in cheek. I think probably kind of a statement of polyamory is it’s kind of an idea that from Esther Perez book, which isn’t really about polyamory, but to me seem to convey strongly made the case for it, which is the kind of this mainstream model of monogamy where your partner, his class was, like, fulfill a lot of needs for you. Where like, the expectations people have of their partners look much higher than they used to. But if you’re solid 19th century, you will like most people are farmers. You’re like, Hey, can you work on this farm? And can you have like four Healthy Kids, right? But you need to be more confident, and you need to be like my exclusive sexual partner. And you also need to be my best friend, and also to help you manage the family household and stuff. And people are a lot of people, you know, they’re gonna live away from their families, because they like going to school and eliquid to some city for a job, they don’t have that much support network and kind of your partner has to do all this stuff. And also, everyone’s identity is very strongly tied to it. Before we will acquire a carpenter, and then yeah, also, like I have a wife. Whereas now, like, the idea that you’re not a perfect husband, or not a perfect wife is like, so scary. Basically, that completely destroys your identity, and your self image, and is the reason to panic and try some desperate therapy and stuff like that. It’s clearly something’s not working. People aren’t marrying, and like, if they are divorcing more, and they’re just gonna seem unhappy, in the summer can have contradictions that are just very hard to resolve. Right? Like, if you need your spouse to provide a lot of security and dependability. That’s just not sexy. Like, it’s very hard for that person to also be the subject of your hottest sexual fantasies, because you don’t fantasize about dependability. Right? And so it seems okay, you need to like break out of this mainstream model and come up with something new, that actually works for you. And if you start rethinking things from scratch, I think a lot of people will arrive at the point where they’re like, ah, actually, you know, maybe like, I felt some jealousy and they realize that my jealousy, you know, isn’t like actually telling me about how the world is. It’s maybe a vestige of some people’s psychology, which doesn’t matter anymore, because it’s not like my wife’s gonna get pregnant with another man’s kids, and they won’t know about it, right. We have like birth control in genetic testing. You know, maybe I get like, maybe if you leave me, if you meet someone else, maybe I have evidence that you don’t. And so if you don’t assume that your jealousy is always truthful, and you kind of don’t assume that you just need to go with the mainstream model, since it seems to be failing, you might end up in all kinds of arrangements. So I don’t know, married, my wife is the most important partner to me, we’re really committed to each other for the long term, he also date other people. And there’s people that way more undecided relationship anarchy that refused to you know, make any commitments to anyone or even put labels. And then there’s like, monogamish people are like, okay, no, if you’re traveling for a war conference, you made out with someone, like, it’s fine. You know, make sure I don’t find out about it.

William Jarvis 15:47
Right. So there’s, there’s a lot, there’s a wide spectrum here. But it does sound like, you know, you are married. And so do you think marriage, like as a repeated game is valuable in itself.

Jacob 16:03
I mean, there’s some things that you kind of can only achieve, if there is someone who you kind of see as your equal, both in terms of their ability and just how much you care about them. And like satisfying the preferences mean, they’re happy, who’s, you know, it doesn’t have to be a few that to us apart, but there’s no clear and line, Mexicans kind of whatever, like, you know, length of future, you can plan for yourself, you can plan it with two people. And it’s not just in order to have a child, you kind of need to people has a biological constraint, right, that’s going to sperm donors and stuff like that. But just in general, plan a career for two people. You know, stuff that I’ve been writing a lot about is that it’s very useful to have somebody who’s smart and insightful, just kind of looking at you and trying to figure out, you know, what your problem is, whether you actually want to the sort of things you’re trying to figure out about yourself. Like, you have like one extra person who’s really smart and really, like, pays attention to you, who can help you with it, it is great. But for them to like actually be honest and help you. I think it is important to be committed to each other long term. And, specifically, what a wedding does is you will, okay. It’s a signal to outsiders and a bit to yourself, be like, please put social pressure on us to like act as if we are committed to each other indefinitely. And like, give us share if we’re breaking this promise, and it’s very useful, right? We all live in societies. Right?

William Jarvis 17:34
Yeah. That makes it that makes a lot of sense. It’s a very, the model. Yeah, it explains a lot about why we do these things. You know, it’s like, you know, we have our communities, they encourage us to continue this repeated game. And because we do it in public, there’s, there’s much more pressure to to maintain these relationships in a robust manner.

Jacob 17:56
I mean, ideally, in the marriage, that repeated game has been you think, okay, look, I have my interest, and there’s this other person, but because we’re going to be playing this indefinitely, I should cooperate instead of defection. I think in a romantic relationship, we can actually, you know, get beyond that point, and get to a point where you can think of the two of you as one agent, nice. Where can I have to, like ask the other person where they want you to look, I’m just gonna make the decision that’s kind of best for the sum total of both of us, and maybe get it wrong, and then you tell me, then I’ll improve my model for you. But you’re actually not trying to see like, Okay, where can I still win? It’s not gonna piss off the partner too much. Right? Like I said, do what’s good for both of us? It’s quite relaxing and nice.

William Jarvis 18:40
Definitely, definitely, definitely. No, that’s, that’s good. That’s good. I want to take a left hand turn here and talk about political polarization in the West. Do you see a way out of you know, this current crazy tribal environment we have? Do you think? Or do you think things just kind of generally get worse and worse and worse? Or is there kind of a way back? And was that way back look like if it exists?

Jacob 19:03
So if you look at the historical context, we like really not that polarized, ah, race relationship, or as bad as they’ve ever been like, right? Have you seen the 1850? Also look in the global context. I think, you know, the American Millennials think, Oh, this looks so bad now. And then you tell me what’s going on in other countries, but there are those other countries relationships with their neighbors, and it like every part of the world know, from East Asia, South Asia, anywhere in Africa, anywhere in Latin America. So I’m not sure polarization is actually increasing. There is a sense in which the cannabis is stable equilibrium for wildlife to big narrative, right, like the blue and the red tribe. And they’re kind of controlled everything right across the newspapers are either red or blue or the TV channels were either red or blue. And everybody only had the newspaper Isn’t TV. And so everybody just had to pick the team. And you’re like, well, the other side is so wrong. So my side must be right. And there was an alignment thing people wrote about it that if you can look at the credit, the parties agree or disagree on different issues. So that maybe in the 60s, you know, a lot of voters had opinions that aligned with one party or another, there’s kind of a mix of both. And now pretty much everybody has all democrat or republican opinions, but they don’t think it’s because the other line opinions change, which is the parties that figured out how to do data science, and aligned around those things. So I actually don’t think we’re becoming much more polarized because I think the kind of those two big narratives are kind of collapsing. Gotcha, that people don’t actually watch red or blue type stuff. I don’t know that they listen to like Joe Rogan gets more listeners then cable news. What does he believe in? I don’t know Bigfoot is kind of polarizing because he touches on like, hot topics that are polarizing, like, right, you know, COVID vaccines, that’s a hot topic of the day. But he’s not like a culture warrior. He, the aliens that are doing this is a very good interviewer who’s kind of intellectually humble and has cool guests. So I don’t know, I suppose people splintering into our subcultures, or just kind of not caring about global narratives. And then, like, the partisans of the two narratives will keep like, you know, yelling at each other than Twitter can kind of just avoid them. Right?

William Jarvis 21:33
Is that

Jacob 21:34
keep track of like, What are the five words? I’m not allowed to like mention this week? This week, I can talk about the net, I can talk about trackers and I can talk about whatever boosts Okay, great.

William Jarvis 21:48
Is it is it something where like, it just feels very visceral, because the fights on Twitter are so nasty, but in reality, you know, things are just pretty, pretty calm, is that we think part of what Twitter

Jacob 21:59
does is like, like before, you wouldn’t really know what the other side thinks. Right? You kind of live in your own bubble, in that sort of geographical right. But like most people who are in Trump voters can have no zero Trump voters, right. But you live in some, you know, that you live in Brooklyn, is maybe like 80% Democrat, but those if you’re like an educated class person who works in a white collar job, that’s more like 95. Right. And the 5% Trump voters are not going to tell you. But you’re only going to find out about them because they’re on Twitter. Right? Whereas before, you know, they’d be having their own like, parties somewhere and just wouldn’t know the horrible stuff. They’re saying, right.

William Jarvis 22:41
But now everybody’s to see it on Twitter. Yeah. Like it’s an app. That makes sense. Do you think it’s possible to encourage people to have more kids?

Jacob 22:52
That’s my take on this, I wrote is actually the most controversial post I ever wrote that listen to really, like just direct hate have been getting a post called anti anti naturalism where I looked at the anti nationalist philosopher David Benatar. Yeah. Okay, critique some of his philosophical arguments, they just seem to be not very rigorous, or particularly convincing is even if you look at his greatly decoupled philosophy thought experiment, they did seems to require sort of negative utilitarianism that few people will actually endorse as being intuitive. And then there’s the economic argument of you know, the more people that are, the fewer stuff there is for every person, like less land, less water, you know, less T shirts. And I think that’s actually wrong in terms of how the economy works. And you know, how many people you need for specialization, right? And like this was shared, and the antinatalism Sovereign People called me horrible names. But then once I started looking at it, it seemed that nobody was really persuaded by that philosopher, but also nobody has really been persuaded by my blog post. And it seems that almost everybody I know, you ask people like, Hey, do you like your parents? Did you have a happy childhood? Are you happy now? And I give the answer to Yes. To all of those, those people are pronatalist. And if the answers are no, they’re anti. So it does seem to me that people’s kind of opinions about kids are somewhat downstream of those. So that’s what people are talking, like a conversation I get into this week. Like, a lot of young people are saying, well, I don’t want to have kids because of climate change, right? The planet is going to share, the seas are gonna rise, the crops are gonna dry out, like how can I bring kids into this world, it’s getting worse. And also me having more kids will make you know, they will consume resources and burn fossil fuel, fossil fuels and stuff like that. I think when people see this sort of really strongly assume that this thing is going to upstream. Like people read about climate change. Now they want to have fewer kids. And I’m not a good data on it, but at least I would At least relative to where common opinion is, I would assume it’s much more the other way. So people just feel, you know, kind unmoored, they look generally anxious, either because of the general situation or you know, just their own lives they, like, you know, far from their support systems, you know, the kind of careers unpredictable, they can find the date. And they’re like, Well, I can’t say that, you know, like, my life is to my stops, I don’t want to have kids because it seems a kind of scary, and I’ll get to play fewer video games. So Okay, is there some narrative I can reach for? Oh, yeah, you know, it’s about climate change, and that effect, make people happier, and their lives more stable, and external to everybody with liquid friends, and tell parents to like be nicer to their kids. You know, give them a longer leash. And give them less shit, then people might be happier to have kids.

William Jarvis 25:58
Gotcha. So it’s less like, like, whatever they do in Hungary with, you know, we’ll get you a car, if you have six kids or something. It’s more just like, better social environments for people be nicer to people? And maybe I mean,

Jacob 26:09
they’ll be very curious to see. Right, look, well, Hungary is trying things, mostly economic incentives. And they do think, I mean, the economy probably matters to some extent in the margins. China’s trying different things that okay, you know, guys are not allowed to play video games, or like watch CC men, and video sites. So they’re like, need to be like much I don’t know. I guess if you gave like all men, testosterone injections, and all women, people will be like, more gender than more horny. That’d be like, curious to see if that stuff works. I could also imagine if, if in Hungary, like, I give the country’s just doing well, and people feel proud to be Hungarian, like they’re all in this together. And kinda like the rest of Europe hates them, but they believe in the future of the Hungarian people. And like the strong leader is in charge, this sort of just a sense of, you know, confidence and togetherness. I would kind of my sense is that that would have as big an impact on birth rates as giving people a tax break. Mix, I don’t know, I mean, maybe look, my biases is that I’m Israeli, which is a country that’s very optimistic, and there’s a lot of solidarity. And it’s in part because we’re kind of surrounded by enemies, while also being like, richer and more successful than all of them, just kind of the perfect place. And Israel is like the only OECD country. I think, currently, we’re, the fertility rate is way above replacement. It’s not just religious people, you know, I have to serve people. And like all my secular friends, whose you know, both parents are working siblings. And it seems to have more to do with that, at the birth rate, you know, the best predictor of it is a commonly people are unnecessarily wise, and not with the tax policies. So

William Jarvis 27:59
it makes it even a tougher challenge, though, right? Like if you’re, you know, policymaker, the West, like, what do you do then? Right. I mean, it’s just just very difficult.

Jacob 28:10
Yeah, I think, I don’t know how much it has to do with policy, or maybe more with culture. You know, maybe I don’t know if the US everybody feels like, Oh, we’re like a decadent empire in decline. And just as long as that’s kind of the prevailing atmosphere, people help your kids. But I think those things are quite open questions. I’m not really confident. I think it might be very different for different people, right? I have my own life story where come Israeli, but I’m also secular and most of polyamorous, but also, like, you know, from the moment that I hit my mid 20s, and started thinking about kids, I was never like, worried about go, I have money to pay for food this month. So I can totally imagine for other people, it’s actually driven by completely different considerations. I’m trying to encourage all my friends to have kids, my friends who are mostly successful and have good jobs and you know, have like great genes. They should like think that, you know, their kids are gonna turn out healthy and smart and happy. They seem reluctant to have kids, and then I’m trying to tell them how cool it is to be a dad.

William Jarvis 29:20
Did you think you’ve gotten a utility out of being a parent?

Jacob 29:24
So far? Yeah. I mean, I think most of the utility is backloaded gotcha. I think Brian Kaplan made the good point that, you know, when you’re 25, you think like, Man, I can maybe like be able to take care of half a baby. Right? So then when you’re 40, you think I can probably, you know, like, raise two kids. Then when you’re 70. You think, Man, I wish I had five kids did somebody would come to visit me right? Now, the trouble is you have to make the call when you’re 25 or 30. Right? So, you know, insofar as you can about your own future, you got to sort of average out throughout your life. You know, maybe you should have three kids and it’s going Make your early 30s a bit worse. And your 60s much whether that makes sense. In so far, it’s pretty cool. I mean, I’m like a month into parenthood, I can really recommend it. My wife was really enjoying it, how much you know, she kind of second drug, she became obsessed with the baby industry like enjoys just staring at her face. It’s pretty cool experience.

William Jarvis 30:24
A lot. That’s cool. That’s cool. My next question is, what’s the best way to spend money to increase your happiness?

Jacob 30:32
So I wrote a post about it, which, you know, can be looking at some analysis. I said, Oh, you know, there’s a lot of, like, you know, products that you don’t consume conspicuously. Right, like, if you buy a car, whatever, you can see which car you have, or which watch you wear, and as the Corolla doesn’t really do that much for you. And also, when somebody sees the command in a Lamborghini, they think, Oh, that’s a cool car, they actually don’t think that’s a cool man. by enlarge. Now, in terms of like, your happiness in general, okay, I think it’s a good idea, you know, to, like, buy the best barbecue sauce, and the most expensive soap. Because actually, you know, like, provide great value if you spent $15. And not five. I know, the overall you know, heavy lift much better. So is a huge impact on your happiness. I was in an Uber ride with this guy, and I, you know, asked him, you know, like, when he started this shape in the car, I’m like an hour 10 hour thing, even working overnight, this took 5am 10 hours in and I got to talk to them. He kind of mentioned basically like, he and his friends discuss him to spend all their money on fashion sneakers mostly. And then if somebody doesn’t buy the latest expensive fashion sneakers, and people make fun of him. And so they all kind of end up working way too much. Because they’re in this weird arms race. It’s mostly around like, rat fashion and fashion sneakers and stuff like that. So I think like, the biggest thing about like money and happiness is like, don’t make like, make sure your friends circle are not like making each other miserable by just status games. Like most of my friends are nerds who like can’t tell anything about any brands, they can tell $2,000 from a $50 one. And it’s mostly signal by like how much they donate to charity. Right. But also, the friends are grad students making 20,000. And some people who are, you know, Quonset hedge funds, entrepreneurs making millions doing crypto trading, and they kind of address the same. No one really cares how much money you make. And so it’s like, make friends don’t you know, push each other into competitive speakers consumption? That’s the good way to be miserable.

William Jarvis 32:52
Definitely. Definitely is a bad equilibrium. Really bad equilar? Yeah. Nice. Um, my question is, you know, why don’t big countries have the best soccer teams if they got the biggest pool of talent? Like, why doesn’t that average out in the end?

Jacob 33:06
Yeah, this is interesting. This is kind of a reference. My third blog post ever was about it since directly back in 2015. Like, as I mentioned, just getting interested in different things every two weeks. And bell curves isn’t really one of them. I had to go back and reread it. Okay, what the hell is happening there? What happens here? This is actually my initial idea for the blog is simulate counterintuitive results of mathematical models. So we can say, let me imagine that like soccer, talent is distributed, like normal distribution, like a bell curve. Like each country might have a slightly different average. And then the population of the country, just how many people are in the bell curve? You know, take a look, this might not be a very like rigorous assumption, we don’t actually know if it’s true, if that’s how its distributed. But then even if this model is not very accurate, it has some very counterintuitive consequences. So one of them is I think, people don’t have a good intuition of how the extreme tails of the normal distribution looks like, people get a sense that like, oh, there’s a sharp drop, and then it evens out around zero. But if you look at the relative height, the relative height actually like, keeps dropping faster and faster, the further out you go. So I think something like I don’t know, when you look two standard deviations out, then maybe kind of 5% or two and a half percent on each side. And once you go to three standard deviations out, it’s a bit less than 2%. So it drops by a factor of three or four, but then going from five to six drops by a factor of 250. So at five standard deviations, you have one in 4 million, and at six, you have roughly one and a billion. Now what that means is, let’s say you have a country of 4 million people, and so they have like one player who’s at like five standard deviations. If you double your population then now you have like two players for the set good. And if everybody in your country was just slightly better, like even just you know, half a standard deviation betters, you can move everyone to the right. Okay, now you have 10,000 players at that skill level difference. And so yeah, I think that some of the biggest countries like China or India, the average Chinese or Indian person, probably not as good at soccer, then like soccer correlates with height. And Indians are just shorter than Germans or people from Luxembourg. So Luxembourg has a soccer team, that’s about as good as India with a fraction of the population, because that’s our people, our father. It does the shopping a lot of other places not gonna and maybe soccer ability is one where it’s kind of more comfortable to talk about differences between groups, right? We can set notice in other places where small differences in average ability mean that the very extremes are just dominated by one group or another. But as you start noticing those things that can show up everywhere, definitely.

William Jarvis 36:09
The hot hand effect is it real

Jacob 36:16
sorry about the hot hand effect. So as a condition research about hot hands affecting basketball, basically is a player who you know, just hit a few shots in the road likelier to hit next one. And the initial paper kind of disproven it. And I call this is just an illusion. It’s a true was co authored by Amos Tversky. It’s kind of one of the founding fathers of behavioral economics, and someone who basically everybody has anything to do with behavioral economics they’d like, and there’s smart people around here. But even all the smart people think is the real genius. And that paper has the very basic mathematical mistakes completely invalidated. So, you know, they had some data they looked at, like the Boston Celtics, and then they just made some people, the Columbia University gym, should some jump shots. And actually put all the numbers in the numbers clearly show hot and effect analysis showed that there is no hot hand effect, because they just go so instead of averaging per shot, they like looked at the the average for each player is okay for each player, we’re going to see what’s the chance to hit after a make. And then so we’re going to take like one number for each person and average those out. But we shouldn’t you should really do is average per shot and not per player. So of course, the hothead means that like a few players got into really hot streaks, and hit like 10 shots in a row, and demonstrated the clear hot end. And so they kind of had a lot more shots in the sample, and you devalue them. Because you just use, you know, the one number for that person. Now, there’s been like more recent research that show that yes, there seem to be a sleight of hand effect. We will call cans explanations for it. Right? I don’t even know if like for basketball, it’s very important. Is it just that, you know, some players are better and some are worse. So you can see who gets to take shots? Is it really about confidence is it you know, it’s just easier to repeat the motion you just did. So if you hit the free throw, you’re likely to hit the second one because your brain doesn’t need to change, you just do the same thing. Actually don’t know about that. That’s very interesting. Defect isn’t very big. Just interesting that this paper came out with like a very basic, no mathematical mistake, right? And nobody noticed for 30 years. Yeah, a friend of mine, Joshua Miller, who’s an economist, I just noticed that in Africa with a toy example of if you’re flipping coins, you know, if you measure, you know, the coin flips the way they measured it. By averaging fair sequence of throws instead of for each throw, you get something like 45% of getting a tails after a heads when it shouldn’t be 50 you’re always going to underestimate streaks if you miss count this way.

William Jarvis 39:01
pressive Yeah, it’s quite disturbing that it would for so long, right? And it’s common knowledge that, you know, I’m in fact, not real. And it was all because of a basic mathematical mistake and paper.

Jacob 39:12
I don’t know if it’s common knowledge, right, like, I do remember a play in the NBA video game, that kind of no NDA 2011. The first one I got. And if you play his three shots in a row, there’s victory little flame around, and you try to pass it to them, and they’re more likely to make the next one. Because people who play basketball video games, they like 100% Now that the hot hand effect is real, and then announcer say while Steph Curry is on fire, right? So, I mean that academics have to feel smart for 30 years by saying like, look, we’re smarter. You know, we know that this is just an illusion. And basketball fans, you know, didn’t read behavioral economics papers. So they get to feel happy that Steph Curry is on fire. And I mean people didn’t like notice This this because no one really cares,

William Jarvis 40:02
right? It’s not not that important. That’s cool. That’s cool. Are you down for a round of overrated or underrated? Sure. So I’ll throw a turn out. Tell us whether it’s overrated or underrated and maybe a senator to why. So Kenan, Flagler overrated or underrated.

Jacob 40:20
Like I said, I think business schools in general are underrated by almost everyone who’s gonna listen to this podcast. So I’ve kind of can’t tell people, I’m an MBA, to give you like one of those dumb jokes. And stuff, right? Because all my friends are nerds, they probably all of yours, everybody who will listen to the actual podcast. I think business schools are great life hack, you can vacation for two years, and then you get a six figure job. It doesn’t really constrain you, if you went to law school, you kind of want to be a lawyer, if you went to business school, you can be whatever. And if you are going to business school and couldn’t flagger is just a great place to spend two years, I think which school you go to doesn’t really matter in terms of the jobs you’re gonna get. And so you may as well you know, stay in a warm college town, where everyone is friendly, and the beer is cheap. And so can the flag there really is that hard to beat?

William Jarvis 41:08
Definitely, definitely, highly recommend Chapel Hill, that’s great. Julian Jaynes, overrated or underrated?

Jacob 41:17
It’s a bit hard to tell exactly how rated is. I think the two kind of ratings of Julian Jaynes is either is that crank guy who thought that like ancient Greeks were unconscious? Or it’s okay, his book is kind of batshit. But it’s worth reading, even if you don’t believe it. I would say he’s underrated. I think the main thing I got from his book is he’s trying to make a case that language is a prerequisite for consciousness. You can’t really be conscious without work without words. And then the thing can a lot of evidence came out right after he wrote it, which seemed to go against it. And people were like, well, that turned out to be wrong. And now I actually think most people underrate how important languages for consciousness. There’s an excellent book I read recently called how emotions are made by Lisa Feldman Barrett, who made a pretty compelling case that you can’t really feel emotions until you learn the concept for them. That something like anger isn’t something innate, or something that’s the same for every individual. It’s a collective name for you know, this very complex mental thing that looks different in different people. And you can only really feel it when somebody points out to you when you’re a kid. Look, that person’s angry. And so I feel like kind of some of Gielan. Jaysus ideas are making a comeback. Even though you know, maybe no one’s going as far as to say like Bronze Age Greeks just hallucinated gods.

William Jarvis 42:43
Right. I love that. No, I think that’s a great, great analysis. Madden, overrated or underrated?

Jacob 42:51
So I assume you’re talking about the video game? Yeah, that’s right, Coach. Um, I think it’s funny. Think Madden is a video game. It’s extremely underrated by both the people who play it, and people who are just like video game critics. So my other simulated football, simulated football is pretty much the most fun, multiplayer video game you can have because it has so much depth. You have everything from the strategy of building your team to make like split, you know, second decision, like how to execute. And if you get into just like a very exciting and fun thing that also makes watching the NFL a lot more interesting because you like learn, you know, different coverages and schemes, and all the tactics and the moves and countermoves. People underrated because they release a new game every year and charge $70 for it. And the game is exactly the same as last year, updated rosters. And so if you think of it as like, Oh, I just paid for new video games of the new video game. It seems like a bad deal. If you think of it, oh, I’ve got another year subscription to play an online simulated football. That’s pretty fun. And also, I think people who are really into video games are not the people who are really into watching football. Right? Because the state of the people who play Madden Are you know, like, just guys smoking weed or African American teenagers. That’s probably true. But like, that’s great.

William Jarvis 44:19
Yeah, it’s got a lot of depth. You know, there’s this chess aspect to it where you

Jacob 44:24
know, who plays Madden multiplayer? Nice. So I’m an immigrant, you know, like educated persons whose kind of intellect narrative driven games. So yeah, I would love to single person I think they know in person has ever played it. We were kind of confused when they tell them about it. I love that. I love that.

William Jarvis 44:45
Next one is voting overrated or underrated?

Jacob 44:48
Yeah. So I wrote about kind of the impact of voting and like what actually happens in the country? In which case I think it has to be overrated because like the actual impact of your vote is literally the pretty much always no matter where you live, and, you know, if you’re going to swing state, you know, just the fact that, like, you can’t, you’re not going to be a better president than they are promised stuff, no one actually follows up on them. You can think that, you know, there’s like 100 million people in the US are eligible to be president. And some mysterious like, you know, forces beyond your can narrow it down from 100 million to five, then you get to the primary, you get towards the spine. And like, that’s not where it happened. Now, I don’t think that’s actually where people vote, I think people vote is because, in some sense, civil democracy is the state religion of the United States. And it’s not a very demanding one, but you know, demands some rituals. Like, you know, you can say that you don’t read the news or care what’s happening, right? Because then you’re not fulfilling your obligation to the gods. Right? And of course, you have to vote. That’s the main thing, the main ritual you have to participate in? Um, yeah, I’m not sure how exactly beneficial the state religion is. Like, there’s a clear look, one benefit of it is that, you know, people can believe in this sort of, like, made up narrative, it’s called the United States, right? Which seems to be important and good. So, right, like, if I could press a button actually make like know, most people not vote, and instead, like, save this half hour of their life every four years, I wouldn’t think that’s too much of a risk. And I generally like the US as is. But you know, if someone has accepted really important happen in election day, can I want to whisper to them, it’s okay. You know, Zeus is not going to get angry, the country’s not gonna go to hell, because you like, didn’t go cast your vote for this person or that person. Like, you can relax?

William Jarvis 46:55
Definitely. Empathy, overrated or underrated?

Jacob 47:00
Yeah, so the person who made the case against empathy, it was I think, Paul Bloom, and is it in I wrote about, and I made the difference between empathy is like being able to feel what the other person is feeling. And sympathy is just like having compassion for them. And he mentioned that just you know, like, being very, like, you know, very susceptible, just catching other people’s emotions might not be good, and might not be the most helpful thing to them. Yeah, so that’s kind of making the case against the sort of, like, you know, more about making the difference in empathy or not. Also, if you come from the business side of Effective Altruism, that tells you that empathy is just a very, very poor guide to useful philanthropy, because empathy is really designed to work in very near mode, the kind of people you know, or the party that you see in the street. Whereas actually, if you live in the rich country, the most impact you can do is on people who are far away from you either like in geography or in time, or just like in how much you know about them. And that seems to be kind of a backlash, like, for example, the general meme going around that if somebody calls themselves an empath, it means they’re a terrible person, who just like, you know, makes up stories about other people and then tries to shoehorn them into it. So, empathy in general seems to be quite lowly rated, so I’m not even sure if it’s overrated anymore. Maybe I thought it’s overrated for some reasons, but then everybody else gave up on it as even a thing to talk about or cultivate for completely different reasons. And now maybe we actually need some more of it.

William Jarvis 48:41
Maybe slightly underrated at this point, then. Yeah. Cool. Cool. Well, Jacob, thank you so much for coming on today. I really, really enjoyed the conversation. Where can people find you? Where should we send them?

Jacob 48:54
Um, people can find me I think probably the best way to stay in touch with everything me is on Twitter at Yash cough. They can read me it put an armani.com I want to ever create anything for a few weeks sort of want to have a big essay coming out? No. So LinkedIn essay I wrote about brains in a from a calculus. Also, I think probably the next thing I’m going to write is my resume and cover letter. Oh, really? Because, yeah, you’re asking that why write all this stuff for free. And I’m not really going to go into substack. But the way my writing can pay off for me is people you know, good enough, who I am and what I’m good at, then they might want to work with me. And so now I’m on parental leave with my baby, and I get a chance to like look at my career. And my job is kind of boring. So your listeners are one of my readers. You want to like you know, read a bit more about my career and decide that exactly the person they need in their startup or their project.

William Jarvis 49:55
Absolutely. Absolutely. We’ll get that out there. Well, Jacob, thanks so much for coming on. Really appreciate it. And we’ll put those links in the show

Jacob 50:03
notes. Yeah. Well, it’s been a pleasure. Thanks for having me on. Absolutely.

William Jarvis 50:14
Thanks for listening. We’ll be back next week with a new episode of narratives.

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