Some anomalies/questions which are not necessarily important, but do puzzle me or where I find existing explanations to be unsatisfying.
2018-10-17–2021-07-18 finished certainty: possible importance: 3
A list of some questions which are not necessarily important, but do puzzle me or where I find existing ‘answers’ to be unsatisfying, categorized by subject (along the lines of Patrick Collison’s list & Alex Guzey; see also my list of project ideas).
Obesity Epidemic: Why do humans, pets, and even lab animals of many species kept in controlled lab conditions on standardized diets appear to be increasingly obese over the 20th century? What could explain all of them simultaneously becoming obese? (Is it literally something in the water?)
Alcohol Hormesis: Does moderate alcohol or wine consumption have any health benefits, or not?
Boogers: what are dried nasal mucuses, or boogers, made of? What are all their types? Why do they vary so much in color, appearance, structure, and taste? If they are just dried mucus, why are there big ones deep inside the nose where drying out would seem to be difficult? Are they connected to lymph nodes, or play a role in the immune system? If unrelated to anything immune, why does it change so much during infections? If they are, what is it that regular excretory mechanisms can’t handle?
And then what about picking noses or eating boogers? Eating them is almost universal, although taboos make estimates from the one survey WP cites (Jefferson & Thompson 1995) unreliable and even more dramatically so in Andrade & Srihari 2001’s survey (so how universal?); is this harmful, harmless, or useful in a way similar to the appendix? How many other animals pick their noses? We don’t know any of this. After looking at Google Scholar, I have to conclude we know less about boogers than Professor Boogers.
Jeanne Calment holds the verified record for human longevity at ~122.5 years at her death over 22 years ago: Calment is history’s first & only 122 year old; and also the first & only 121 year old; and also the first & only 120 year old. No challenging centenarian has come close to her record, and arithmetically, they will not for years to come: she will have held the record for a minimum of 3 decades, despite countless countervailing factors. Some statistical simulations suggest that Calment-like record gaps are not expected from the distribution of human life expectancies, and as time passes, her record becomes increasingly anomalous.
This truly remarkable longevity raises the question of whether Calment’s longevity is due to the same factors as all other centenarians: did she benefit from some unique factor like genetic mutations, or, as accused in late 2018 of being, is she, in fact, merely a fraud which has fooled previous verification?
Why did Jeanne Calment live so many more years than other centenarians (to 122 years & 164 days), breaking all records and setting a life expectancy record which decades later has not just not been broken, but not even approached? As of 2019-08-17, the oldest person record is held by Kane Tanaka, then age 116 years, 227 days (2,128 days less than Calment), who would have to survive until 2025-06-14 to match Calment; in other words, even if Tanaka turned out to be the first person to break Calment’s record, Calment’s record would have stood from ~1995 to 2025, a remarkable minimum of 30 years.
Which is extraordinary considering that she smoked & loved her port wine & chocolate (the secret to longevity‽), medicine has continuously advanced, the global population has increased, life expectancy in general has increased, and the Gompertz curve implies that, with mortality rates approaching 50%, centenarians should die like flies and ever closer in age to each other and not have occasional enormous permanent >3 year gaps between the record setter (Calment) and everyone since then. (I did some Gompertz curve simulations, and Calment-like records do not easily fall out of a .) curve
It isn’t necessarily odd that the first well-validated longest-lived person might exceed previous records from sparse poorly-kept datasets by a large margin (much as it is not odd now to see Olympics sports or weather records shattered by large margins1), but it is odd that decades are passing and still no validated centenarians have reached, much less surpassed, Calment’s record. (I had a similar question about the “Dream Market” darknet market, as its longevity was extremely anomalous, especially when one looks at how Type 1 DNM life expectancies appear to be.) Typically, if one looks at record datasets such as the mile run world record progression, as one would expect from order statistics, the ‘gap’ between each successive record holder is smaller and smaller, particularly as the number of ‘competitors’ increases; in running, the number of runners has increased dramatically over time, it has become a major sport/profession with concomitant improvements in training and so on, and this resulted in records being regularly set but by smaller intervals each time, as the extreme of what is humanly possible is approached. Similarly, with longevity, we should see early on large gaps between successive verified record holders as a small number of reasonably-reliably verified super-centenarians from the most industrialized & bureaucratized countries (as opposed to the enormous number of frauds/errors pre-documentation: Young et al 2010/Newman 2019) reach the longevity frontier, with gaps regularly shrinking as the rest of the world ‘comes online’ with proper documentation, hundreds of millions of people start competing for the record, improved medicine pushes out the average life expectancy & makes it much more probable to reach an extreme, there is greater scientific & public interest in tracking the extremes, and so on. Instead, what we see is this steady order statistic effect of shrinking record breakers—except for Jeanne Calment, who smashes the record and continues to hold it despite decades of challengers from an exponentially growing population.
The easiest answer is that she is a fake like so many supposed centenarians, but against that, she doesn’t fit the usual fake profile of existing only like paper like the fraudulent Japanese centenarians, being male, or being in a Third World illiterate country where old age is extremely culturally valued, dates exhibit blatant age heaping, no contemporary paper records exist or their paper trail only began late in life, etc; she was female, born in Third Republic France in a highly bureaucratic well-organized well-documented literate society which did not especially value extreme old age, was apparently fairly social & not an unknown recluse, was known for longevity in her lifetime (as opposed to afterwards), was vetted by the GRG & others, etc.
On the other hand, Valery Novoselov & Yuri Deigin (1/2) & Nikolay Zak in 2018–2019 accused Calment of having been a fraud, specifically, having died and been replaced by her young daughter Yvonne Calment who supposedly died unexpectedly in 1934. The fraud theory originally postulated that the motive for the fraud would be evading the estate taxes which would have been due (on top of the estate taxes paid due to two deaths in the family just 3 years before) & Jeanne Calment’s later annuity (which would’ve been considerably underpriced since she was supposedly much older); aside from the observation that Calment is such an outlier and was remarkable healthy & youthful-looking for her ostensible ages (but more consistent with how old the daughter Yvonne would’ve been), Novoselov notes the suspiciousness of the Calment family archives being destroyed by them, some anomalies in Calment’s passport, oddities in family arrangements, apparent inconsistency of Calment’s recollections & timing of events & photos, facial landmarks like ear features not seeming to match up between young/old photos, and an obscure 2007 accusation in a French book that a French bureaucrat and/or the insurance company had uncovered the fraud but the French state quietly suppressed the findings because of Calment’s national fame.Robert Young has criticized some of the points, several claims like the estate tax motive have been abandoned by fraud theorists entirely, and there are considerable problems with the fraud theory now. (Presumably DNA testing offers a definitive answer, if the Calment family cooperates, and allows access to extant blood samples.)
Overall, the fraud theory seems highly unlikely to explain the Calment anomaly, but the renewed attention & attempts to vindicate her record have unfortunately also shed little light on what alternative explanations might be true.
While petting cats, I accidentally discovered are fascinated by the smell & taste of earwax, particularly that of humans, and this interest can last indefinitely. Dogs & humans, for comparison, are not. A number of anecdotes have reported this over the years, but no formal research appears to have been done on this. What makes earwax attractive to ? Pheromones? Some nutrient?
See Cats Love Earwax.
What happened to the famous genome sequencing cost curve around late 2012, which halted the exponential price decreases for years, keeping whole-genome sequencing prices high, and thus delaying whole-genome sequencing replacing SNP genotyping in genetics research by up to a decade (with untold medical consequences)? Was it just the Illuminati’s fault & a failure of anti-trust law?
Why do humans have such a large mutation load on common genetic variants? Common SNPs make up a large fraction of variance, even for traits which must be fitness-affecting. “Culture or technology slow down evolution” doesn’t wash when human fitness differentials are so large and so many people died young or as infants, and how did the many deleterious variants get pushed up to such high frequencies in the first place? Particularly given that my understanding is that almost all interesting SNPs date back many tens of thousands of years, possibly millions, and GWAS analyses indicate that causal variants are largely shared across all human races, undermining demographic accounts like genetic drift.
Why does the immune system so often surface as a genetic correlation or tissue enrichment in GWASes for many things not generally believed to be infectious, such as schizophrenia or Alzheimer’s disease? Are we missing an enormous range of infections directly causing bad things (or indirectly through autoimmune mechanisms), or is the immune system just sort of like intelligence in being a general health trait?
- Can actively undergoing dysgenics on domestication traits, contributing to vast feline suffering & mortality? be bred to be healthier & happier under modern conditions of pet life? Or are they neglected, and indeed
- Why does catnip response vary so much across countries in , and also across feline species, with no apparent phylogenetic or environmental pattern? It is so heritable in that a genetic reason is plausible, but if it’s adaptive, what is it doing when catnip doesn’t exist in the ranges of most tested species, and if it’s neutral why can so many closely-phylogenetically-related species respond to it in different ways?
- Hybrids: is it just me or are weirdly hybdridizable for a mammal? It seems like you can cross them with just about other Felidae aside from the big , despite speciations going back >5mya.
Where else besides genetics can we use behavioral genetics’s workhorse ofcomponents analysis to nail down the net contribution of entire classes of effects rather than the usual (and usually futile) approach of attempting to exactly estimate one or a handful of said effects? In many areas, researchers focus on futile efforts to estimate the exact contribution of each of a myriad of factors, despite lacking anywhere near enough data, and the resulting null results are uninterpretable: did those factors not matter, or were they just woefully statistically-underpowered?
What is “personal productivity” and why does it vary from day to day so much (eg Weinberger et al 2018)? And why does it not seem to correlate with environmental variables like weather or sleep quality (at least using my non-sleep-deprived logs), nor manifest as the usual kind of latent variable in my factor analyses? Is it something much weirder than the usual kind of variable, like a set of zero-sum measurements drawing on a generic pool of ‘energy’ or ‘mana’?
Does listening to music while working serve as a distraction, or motivation?
nicotine alternatives: there seem to be none, but why not?
Nicotine is one of the best stimulants on the market: legal, cheap, effective, relatively safe, half-life much less than 6 hours. It also affects one of the most important and well-studied receptors. Why are there no attempts to develop analogues or replacements for nicotine which improve on it eg by making it somewhat longer-lasting or less blood-pressure-raising, when there are so many variants on other stimulants like amphetamines or modafinil or caffeine?
(The one exception I currently know of is a biotech company, Targacept, which attempted to develop nicotinic receptor drugs for ADHD/depression/Alzheimer’s/bladder problems such as variants on mecamylamine, but their drugs failed in clinical trials and they were acquired in 2015. Given the highly risky nature of drug development, it’s unclear how much to infer from their failure about whether better nicotines exist—Alzheimer’s disease is where exciting drugs go to die, and a useful stimulant may not have so large a benefit as to be compelling in trials for ADHD or depression—I doubt or could justify large Phase III trials on the basis of their effects on !)
does modafinil build tolerance, or not? The academic literature’s consistent claim that it doesn’t completely contradicts the equally consistent anecdotes from most users that it does, and seems a priori implausible.
Why does writing in the morning (anecdotally so far) seem to be so effective for writers, even ones who are not morning persons? While programmers, which seems like a similar occupation, are invariably owls?
Richard Feynman made a famous critique of poor experimental controls in psychology exemplified by flaws/side-channels in mouse experiments, as demonstrated by a “Mr Young”; but who was Mr. Young & what research was it?. It’s not like to make things up, but all attempts to find the original research in question have failed and it’s unclear who Young was.
in 1935, the psychologist David Wechsler compiled a dataset of human performance on everything from running to punch-card processing, where absolute/cardinal measurements were possible (rather than ordinal ones like IQ) and observed that the absolute range of human capabilities is ~2–3× (best/worst out of 1000 healthy peoplem—which is consistent with general low levels of competence): The Range of Human Capacities. Looking through the rare citations of it, his generalization does not appear to have been meaningfully gainsaid since.
Since running across this in, I believe, Epstein 2013’s The Sports Gene, I have felt like this is a neglected observation that should tell us something important about human biology or genetics or intelligence—why only 3×? and so consistently 2–3×?—but nothing has ever gelled.
There are many cases of a (typically pubescent, typically female, similar to mass psychogenic illness) child or adolescent building such an intense fantasy-world that they wind up sucking in & convincing family/friends/classmates. J. R. R. Tolkien’s worldbuilding may not have started early enough to be an example of this as his cousins & his worldbuilding was almost exclusively linguistic, but the Brontë sisters are a clearcut famous case. They typically go unreported except in extreme cases (such as the Parker-Hulme murder case3, the Slender Man stabbing, the Manchester stabbing), often reported only in passing4, as background material5 or via anecdotes—I have been told of 4 cases (3 from acquaintances, one indirectly), all of which follow the same pattern of a young female teenager building up a fantasy world (with heavy input from dreams) and engrossing friends/classmates (with the exception of a male twin pair, see also cryptophasia).
But there doesn’t seem to be any recognized name for this pattern (“chuunibyou syndrome”? “Tlön syndrome”? “Terabithia complex”? folie à plusieurs) or discussion of epidemiology. Is it an expansion of maladaptive daydreaming? Is prevalence underestimated due to childhood amnesia (similar to how imaginary friends are not anomalous but may be had by the majority of children, though they forget as adults)? Being so extremely private & introverted & embarassing by nature, how many such shared paracosms never get mentioned, or hide under guises like D&D campaigns, fantasy (fan)fiction writing, micronations, occult hobbies like astral projection/“shifting” (likely actually lucid dreaming)? Are the dynamics the same as proto-religions (the ways in which the paracosms are extended, particularly by dreaming, bear a great deal of resemblance to the origins of religions like Christianity)?
speaking of dreams, a curious Internet subculture is tulpas: using imagination and meditative practices to envision & create an imaginary friend so strongly that one can hallucinate them & perceive them as acting autonomously (typically done to create a friend or advisor); one ‘tulpamancer’ I know remarked that success seemed to correlate with an above-average ability to engage in lucid dreaming or to be hypnotized, suggesting that tulpamancers are unusually able to dissociate. (Would daydreaming, or maladaptive daydreaming, be also more common?)
This immediately reminded me of Luhrmann’s 2012 When God Talks Back, which documents evangelical Christian and other cult practices which enable the believer to actually hear God’s voice and ‘befriend’ Jesus through a variety of auto-suggestive meditative practices. Are these believers engaged in literally the same psychological task as tulpamancers, and the practices effectively make a Jesus tulpa? (What would brain imaging scans show the neurocorrelates of hearing a tulpa vs hearing God, one wonders…)
What is with red color perception being so important that red is the first named color in pretty much every culture studied & the red / black contrast a favorite of designers for millennia, when humans actually see green (a vastly more common color) most easily?
what is the “afterglow effect” (1/2, / r / hangovereffect) where some people with -like symptoms report abrupt temporary relief during the hangover the next morning after consuming large amounts of alcohol & sleeping?
Why does sleep deprivation briefly treat depression (Boland et al 2017, Daghlas et al 2021)? This makes no sense under the usual theories of depression like chronic inflammation or risk-aversion or too-little brain plasticity, but the experimental effect appears well-established. (And how does ketamine work anyway?)
If child abuse and emotional neglect is so harmful and there is nothing more to it than that, why does it appear in the biographies of so many people who achieve greatness, often middle/upper-class? It may do this by increasing(offsetting, for the top end, decreases in mean outcomes), but how—why would any subset of children have better outcomes for any reason because of abuse/neglect? If it increases motivation and creates a ‘drive to mastery’, is there any way to capture the benefits without being evil?
what and why and when are “furries”?
One of the core demographics of Patreon, by amount spent, is the “furries” subculture commissioning artwork & other things catering to their fetishes; furries are also well-represented on image boorus, providing some of the largest & best tagged databases (even larger than Danbooru), and historically were (along with fanfiction) one of the most extreme userbases of del.icio.us; further, furry conventions are surprisingly robust, catering, among other things, to fursuit makers selling extremely expensive (and often custom) fursuits; even further, furries appear to be extremely overrepresented among tech workers (an autism spectrum connection?). I’ve kept noticing furries within a few degrees of me (an artist acquaintance does SFW furry commissions, an online acquaintance learned English thanks to furries, another told me of furry IRC channels for just techies coordinating projects & trips & donations, yet another told me that it was not uncommon to see furries suited up in datacenters, the Damore lawsuit materials mention furry groups in Google along with ‘otherkin’6, and so on), public examples of furries like SonicFox are increasingly common, and I’ve begun to wonder. In general, furries seem to be bizarrely rich, well-connected, and capable—the Quakers of fetishes.
Is this true, why are furries so rich and well-funded, and why tech, specifically? When did ‘furries’ become a thing? I have yet to run into a clear reference to them before the 1970s–1980s, typically vaguely ascribed to convention dynamics, and they may primarily postdate even that (see WP & WikiFur & 2 Reddit discussions).
But it is not as if anthropomorphization or novels featuring animals or funny artwork of animals were only invented in 1970s or 1980; for example, the Playboy bunnies were 1960s, the Batman character Catwoman was 1940 (just barely preceding Cat People), Disney had centered around anthropomorphization since 1928, Japanese catgirls were 1920s (although one could trace it back to publishing in 1960s, assuming one didn’t tap into the general eroticization of which arguably goes back all the way to the Egyptian use of ‘miw’ for and then girls, and the fertility -goddess Bastet, serving along the way as a symbol of promiscuity, and Egyptian cartoons from thousands of years ago comically depict & rats, see Malek’s The in Ancient Egypt) and probably one could trace many examples much further back than 1970. So why did it come into existence then, rather than long before, and what has made it so common? Why does it follow the apparent demographic patterns it does? If it indeed did arise in the 1970s due to some generic combination of economic development, popularity of comic books, technology, or cultural shifts, did many other paraphilias arise in the same time period? Indeed, where do paraphilias in general come from?
Does low trace levels of lithium in drinking water (which would be quite cheap to increase) reduce violence/crime/suicide/mental illness/death, or not?
How concerned should we be about concussions / head-injuries / “traumatic brain injuries” (TBIs)? Are we crazy for not wearing walking / driving helmets?
What is the psychology of “collecting” and “collectibles”? Particularly from an evolutionary psychology perspective. Can it possibly serve any function, or what continuum is it a maladaptive extreme of?
Did Calhoun’s Mouse Utopia exist as described or replicate? One of the most famous animal experiments ever run, with dramatic political implications, Mouse Utopia turns out to be bizarrely under-documented with many tell-tale signs of the Replication Crisis: Calhoun published little, his publications lacked many details and seem to imply that the famous Mouse Utopia was merely one of many experiments (most of which did not deliver similar results), it did not replicate when others early on attempted it, and there are other possible explanations Calhoun did not have any interest in investigating & simply dismissed out of hand.
How does fetish economics work in general? Anecdotally, creators in fetishes (eg feet, furry, futanari) report it being highly lucrative despite them not enjoying it themselves—indeed, it’s lucrative because they don’t enjoy it and only do it for the money, requiring extraordinary premiums.
The imbalance is longstanding, and common to many fetishes. An absolute lack of supply is clearly not the reason, and a “risk premium” based on stigma appears inadequate for an imbalance that looks more like excess demand rather than extreme scarcity of supply. I suggest that fetishes do have high demand, as an inherent property of being extreme differences in preferences, and this uses up all fellow-fetish creators and then runs up into very high reservation prices from outsider creators, thereby resulting in unusual prices at the margin.
Furry art has a reputation for being easy money if you can tolerate the work, and more than one creator has anonymously reported that the commissions revolt them but there’s no way to make thousands of dollars a month as an illustrator as easily; I have heard about at least 2 computer game developers who marvel at the amount of money they can make off foot or other fetish games (often technically trivial, being visual novel-style games using free software like Ren’Py, requiring mostly artwork & writing), easily up to $4000/month. (In one case, they wrote a fic to mock the fetish, but the positive reactions—accompanied by demands of “take my money!”—convinced them to start making & selling actual games.) These disparities do not seem to be new or reflect trendy topics; there appear to be large increases in commissioned artwork, for example, but driven by innovations in market mechanisms & supply-side factors (eg the rise of Patreon, or 2-sided commission markets like Skeb.jp—which benefits from the huge progress in machine translation, and easier international payments). The demand was always there, but could not be easily tapped.
This sort of massive premium is a little odd on the face of it: why is supply & demand so imbalanced, and supply so inelastic? If a fetish is X% of the population, one would expect X% of programmers, artists, etc, to share that fetish. If there are a lot of people who want foot-based games, then one would expect there to be a smaller but still large number of people willing to supply such games, and the problem solves itself; if there are not many fetishists, they may go wanting, but there also won’t be all that much money in catering to them either, it would simply be an odd niche that perhaps some creators happen to occupy, but not strikingly lucrative.
While we don’t know much about why paraphilias change over time or why a paraphilia may develop in the people it develops in, we definitely don’t know any reason to expect a fetish to be underrepresented in artists/programmers and overrepresented elsewhere. There probably are differences (simply on “everything is correlated” grounds), but we don’t know which (in the 3 Fs mentioned, artists/programmers do not seem underrepresented, if anything, perhaps the opposite), nor do we know that they are so large that they could drive these premiums.
A lack of generic supply is also a questionable explanation. “Those lucky vanilla heterosexual types have all the porn in the world and can go their entire lives without spending a cent, but you drew the short end of the stick.” Sure, if there were some dire shortage in absolute terms, like only a dozen pictures across the Internet of your fetish, you may find it worthwhile to pay for more yourself. But this is hard to reconcile with the facts. Can we really say that there is a dire shortage of each fetish when image boorus or porn video sites devoted to each type, like e621, can rack up millions of images/videos within years?7 ≪X%, accumulated over time worldwide, can still be vastly more than any individual can reasonably consume in a lifetime. None of these fetishes seems likely to have a true shortage, per individual, of simple spank material; if they feel themselves supply-constrained and having difficulty buying more, there must be more going on.
One possibility is that the premium is a risk premium, compensating for participating in a fetish regardless of how much one enjoys it. Perhaps even enthusiastic and talented foot fetishists are reluctant to do more than play footsie with that fandom, because it might get out and handicap them socially or financially. It is difficult to port a reputation in only one direction: if the Z fetishists, who are X% but are frustrated at getting ≪X% of total supply, know an artist offering commissions is mainstream artist Y, and want Y’s services because they can see Y does great work, and Y like that fetish and so doesn’t need to demand a premium due to the greater intrinsic costs, Y may still be worried about “Y does fetish Z” getting out and either demand a big premium or set up under brandnew pseudonym A (if they do at all—any good artist will worry about their art style being identified; ex ungue leonem), constraining output due to lack of reputation.
There is a definite hierarchy of how stigmatized fetishes are, and this seems like a highly plausible hypothesis. Feet aren’t too bad; models in interviews sound kinda nonchalant about it, taking an “it’s weird and I don’t really get it, but it sure pays the rent” perspective. Futanari is definitely weirder, and furries weirder still, having long been the butt of Internet status hierarchies. And it does seem like the supply problem gets more acute as you go down, which is consistent with the risk premium hypothesis. But is this a big enough effect to drive such wacky price dynamics? Are futanari or foot visual novels so discriminated against that all the creators flee and yet, one can pick up thousands of dollars by simply rolling their eyes and ignoring these stigmas with no visible consequence? (And if we believe most creators have fled, where do all those millions of images and videos and games come from? Just how many would there be if all of the creators stayed‽)
If you don’t find that adequate, what else could be going on? Since we are dealing with deviant individuals here (in both senses), we might look for generic distribution effects—in particular, our old friend, the tails. (Of distributions.) We might argue a priori about X% parity and proportional representation among each fetish or preference, which is a safe argument, but that doesn’t mean that the total distributions of those fetishes need look anything like each other In fact, it would be crazy for every sexual preference or fetish to be distributed equally, when we already know counterexamples like lesbianism vs male homosexuality, and the mere fact of differing stigmas would be expected to create differences.
Imagine a normal distribution of “willingness to pay for custom porn of Z”. For regular porn, it is a wide distribution centered around the population mean. But when it comes to, say, feet, there may be some willingness to pay among non-fetishists for images that happen to include feet (perhaps as part of some more general pose or scene), but the foot fetishists will be their own distribution with a mean shifted far to the right (and probably much narrower, with a smaller standard deviation)—many are still unwilling or unable to pay, but many will be, and because of tail effects, there will be, counterintuitively, multiplicatively many more.
This is another way of saying that fetishes tend to be intense. Such preferences, arising from whatever source, seem to be fairly discrete. There are not going to be terribly many people who feel lukewarm about a fetish and sorta find it hot but maybe not really. This correlates with the stigma: the further away a fetish is, the less everyone else can understand it. The intensity is where the disparity in demand comes from: the fetish may have their fair share X% of artists, but they are an intense minority which demands ≫X%. This demand eats up the X% instantly, and goes hungrily looking for more. And, since the fetish is intense and the remaining supply all tend to feel intensely the other way about the fetish (being all the way in the other distributions many standard deviations away from Z), suddenly, at the margin, the clearing price skyrockets. (As an extreme example, consider guro or crush.) Creating X−2% or X−1% of supply is relatively easy (even, free); creating X% is easy; but creating X+1%, that requires pulling in a lot of creators from elsewhere and that is increasingly and eventually extremely expensive. Personal preferences are rigid and come from mysterious unknown causes, so both supply and demand here are locked in place indefinitely, without the typical long-run effect where high demand elicits permanent supply increases. To the extent that risk premium reduces supply, this merely exacerbates the prices.
The tail effect model predicts that this situation will be stable long-term because it is rooted in human psychology. It further predicts that the premium will be due more to the personal level of disgust experienced by outsider artists than to fetish popularity or risk or stigma because the risk premium is confounded: the stigma will predict the premium, but not cause it, because both are caused by the same thing. Exogenously reducing the social stigma (without people changing their gut response) or reducing it in other ways like providing more anonymous ways to work may ease the supply situation a bit, but will not lead to any major changes in the market. (In comparison, improving mechanisms like market websites or assurance contracts, or automating artwork using neural networks, might well have large effects as it lets the demand more efficiently extract supply. Neural networks don’t care.)
Face-to-face meetings, even brief ones, appear to cement personal connections of trust and liking to an extent not achieved by even years of more mediated contact like phone calls or Internet text discussions / emails / chat; this appears to be true in almost every context, even ones like British inventors meeting their heroes (in a different field) just once, with large step functions in connections despite the apparent near-zero marginal information conveyed by a brief physical visit after long-term interactions & track records. (This might be related to “Bloom’s 2 sigma problem”8.)
Is there something qualitatively different about personal meetings, and if so, where is it? Is it eye contact? Body language? (It’s probably not pheromones.)9 Is it mere physical proximity and a certain “inability to suspend disbelief” about a technologically mediated person? Can large wall-sized TV screens for teleconferencing achieve the same effects as regular conferencing? Or do they need to be 3D? What about VR headsets, are they adequate already with avatars and hand-tracking gestural control, or do they require eyetracking, or facial expression mapping? How much is enough?
Given the crucial role of trust and shared interests in success stories like Xerox PARC or the Apollo Project or creative collaborations in general, why are there so few extremely successful pairs of identical twins, and relatively few examples of duos like the Winklevoss twins Cameron/Tyler Winklevoss? Even broadening further to siblings, there are not that many–famous families like the Kardashians, individually famous people but not many famous collaborations like the Chudnovsky brothers (profiles: 1, 2), or Hollywood’s Coen brothers & Wachowski brothers. The reader will struggle to think of more than a handful, or even any other examples (the Bee Gees, over half a century ago? some random football or baseball people?).
As identical twins are ~0.5% of the population, and a large fraction of the population has at least one sibling, and the benefits seems so clear (thus they should lead to not merely being common but enormously overrepresented among elites by the usual tail/order statistic effects)—where are they?
Identical twins should have collaborative superpowers, between shared genetics & upbringing, in their much-envied abilities to completely implicitly trust each other, predict what the other would agree to or be interested in, and so on (collaboration taken to the point of identical twins reportedly sometimes developing a private language or creole in childhood); siblings should also have similar (but much smaller) advantages in collaboration compared to working with strangers. Is the answer something relatively boring like “the slight health/IQ penalty for being an identical twin plus the low base-rate of identical twins plus their remaining meaning that one of the pair won’t clear various thresholds means you wouldn’t expect to see many and this is consistent with what we see” or is there some deeper lesson here about greatness/creativity/risk-taking? (The most amusing explanation, of course, would be “most successful people are in fact secretly identical twins”.)
The boring answer of remaining-log-normal pipeline/‘emergenesis’-like multiplicative rather than additive dynamics meaning that a little is just too little. Yes, identical twins are indeed quite similar on some traits like height or IQ, and so you do expect roughly proportional amounts of twin pairs which will be highly talented; but talent is merely the starting point.suggests this might be another case of
All models of elite accomplishment (as opposed to mere possession of talent) place great stress on the roles of interest & motivation (in addition to other factors like sheer luck). Someone who isn’t particularly driven to accomplish anything, probably won’t, and punching the clock 9-to-5 will rarely cut the mustard, particularly in any kind of competitive field. Such motivation is itself pretty weird and aberrant; you have to be a strange person to have a ‘rage to mastery’ for many things, like genuinely wanting to devote your life to hitting a small fuzzy ball around a concrete parking lot, or play a game meant for children for the rest of your life as your greatest achievement. One can argue that since motivations/interests/hobbies/leisure-pursuits/entertainment-references are all themselves heritable, but this overlooks that the heritability tends to drop the specific the trait you measure: interest in “literature” can be expected to be larger than interest in “Ancient Greek epic poetry”; there is also a base-rate problem, because it is common to be ‘interested in literature’ but the more you break it down, the tinier the base rate gets, and it is not helpful for identical twins to go from, say, a 0.01% probability of being obsessed with Greek poetry to a 0.5% probability, even if that corresponds to a rather large effect parameterized in odds or R2… There will still be basically zero pairs of identical twins both obsessed with the same thing. And if they are not obsessed with almost identical topics, there will be little scope for any genuine long-term collaboration. Even if they both go into the same field like mathematics, but one goes into probability theory and the other goes into, say, transfinite ordinal research, regardless of whatever ‘collaborative superpowers’ they may have, there just won’t be much to talk about professionally rather than at the dinner table, and their colleagues in that area will still be the most useful to seriously work with.
So in this model, we’d expect to see identical twins with similar-ish professional interests, yet, not so similar that they remain a single unit. That does strike me as consistent with what I see: it’s not that unusual for biographies to mention an accomplished sibling or identical twin (“famed physicist John Smith’s daughter Kate is a world-renowned marine biologist and his son a violinist…”), and there are many eminent families (can’t throw a stone without hitting one), but as predicted, it’s still relatively unusual for parent/child or sibling pairs to engage in the same work (like the Thompsons on acoustics, the Bachs on Baroque music, or the Bernouillis on probability & mechanics).
Small Groups: Why did it take until the late 20th century for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu to develop and the Gracie family crush almost all other unarmed martial arts at the start of MMA (or perhaps Xu Xiaodong), when humans have engaged in unarmed combat for millions of years and every major country has long lineages of specialized competitive martial arts and tremendous incentive to find martial arts which worked and quick feedback loops? (Regardless of whether the Gracies’ early achievements were overhyped, it still seems like MMA had a enormous impact on the practice of traditional martial arts and that MMA continues to resemble BJJ much more than most things pre-MMA.)
Is physical beauty relative or absolute and if the latter, is it objectively increasing over time? Photographs of exceptionally beautiful women from the 1800s or early 1900s, or nude/erotic paintings from before then, strike most people are being drab and unattractive. Given the stability and cross-cultural consistency of beauty ratings, it seems unlikely that it is merely a matter of shifting norms or preferences or fashion but represents a real ‘absolute’ gain in attractiveness.
What is going on? Has cosmetics and hairdressing really advanced that much or should we look at explanations like vastly superior vaccines, elimination of childhood disease, superior nutrition, elimination of hard (especially agricultural) labor10, poverty etc? (Large gains in means would not be unprecedented: when we look at photos of children or people from those time periods, one common observation is how short, scrawny, and stunted they look—and indeed, as an objective fact about an accurately-measured cardinal measure with absolute values, they were short & scrawny, and things really have improved that much.) If physical beauty is not zero-sum, how far can it go? Can we expect weird effects akin to ‘the tails come apart’ or the Spearman effect where after sufficient baseline gains, ‘beauty’ starts to diverge in orthogonal directions/specialized types? Or might, like the Flynn effect and height, we already be experiencing a reversal due to the obesity crisis or other factors like and we have already seen ‘Peak Beauty’ (at least for the average person, of course CGI/growing populations/cosmetic tech implies that models & actors will continue their evolution into superstimuli)?
What, algorithmically, are mathematicians doing when they do math which explains how their proofs can usually be wrong but their results usually right?
Is it equivalent to a kind of tree search like MCTS or something else? They wouldn’t seem to be doing a literal tree search because then there would almost never be mistakes in the proof (as the built-up tree of theorems only explores valid inferential steps), but if they’re not, then how are they handling ‘logical uncertainty’? Are they doing something like MCTS’s random playouts where lemmas are not proven but simply heuristically given a truth value to shortcut exploration and the heuristic is accurate enough to usually guess correctly and this is why the proofs are wrong but the results are right?
NN overparameterization: We can train large deep slow neural networks to human-level performance on many tasks, and we can then train small shallow fast versions of those NNs to save energy/enable mobile deployment, so why can’t we train small shallow fast NNs in the first place? And what would happen if we did figure it out?
Who invented the 2-of-2 NashX ‘exploding box’ Nash equilibrium for mutually-untrusting trade?
Whatever happened to Blake Benthall (“Defcon”) of Silk Road 2? In almost all other cases, arrested staff/operators have been extradited, tried, plea-bargained or convicted, and largely done with within a few years and were well-documented publicly throughout. In the case of Benthall, however, 4 years later, not only is the resolution of his case unknown, his PACER docket hasn’t updated since shortly after his arrest though the case remains open & charges pending. In May 2019 leaks finally indicated Benthall was still alive and it seemed like he would be prosecuted only for tax evasion‽ If he has been cooperating with LE, what on earth did he have to offer them all this time when the SR2 server was seized in its entirety, and SR2 quickly became ancient history for the DNMs and any personal connections or inside info have long since gone stale?
- On a similar note, how did the FBI really find the Silk Road 1 server in Iceland—which was so key to finding the Pennsylvania backup server and then Ross Ulbricht himself in SF? Agent Tarbell’s story never made sense (sounding suspiciously like an obfuscated SQLi attack, raising questions about legality) and he decamped bizarrely quickly for the private sector after what should have been a career-defining triumph, nor has the FBI ever gone into any detail about it (it did not come up at trial due to major strategic errors by the defense). It is also highly suspicious that some fake IDs bought to rent servers were intercepted & he was interviewed in SF by LE not long before the server was supposedly located—quite a coincidence in timing. The SR1 investigation was riddled with corruption and questionable actions, and the finding of the SR1 server smells like another case, of a rogue agent or perhaps parallel construction. What really happened in Iceland?
How does the advertising harm effect, where any advertisement on a website appears to reduce broadly-defined usage by ~10%, work when most users cannot be bothered to install adblock and don’t seem to care? Is there a subtle average effect on all users, who are simply unaware of the irritation or have never experienced the alternative and so are simply mistaken in claiming to not mind & not using adblock, or is there heterogeneity where a relatively small fraction of users do mind intensely, and that drives the effect?
returns to good design: what is the ‘shape’ of returns on investment in industrial design, UI/UX, typography etc? Is it a sigmoid with a golden mean of effort vs return… or a parabola where you want to pass the unhappy valley of mediocrity?
- Who committed the 2013 Metcalf sniper attack and why? Further, why have there been no similar attacks since?
- What happened to short stories? Short stories used to be one of the most dominant mediums, published in countless magazines, and making the fame (and fortune) of writers like F. Scott Fitzgerald. A newbie writer could easily write solid short stories in relatively small amounts of time, giving them feedback and money and a corpus and a reputation while gradually preparing them for the rigors of an extended novel, Particularly in SF/F, the classic career path was to publish several short stories, staple them together into a novel, and start a trilogy. One could even become a millionaire off sales to places like the Saturday Evening Post. All of that has completely vanished. Short stories are written for the love of it, and for academic purposes; the idea of reading shorts for entertainment is unfathomable. How did such lucrative economics just vanish?
And in the case of sports, we also know why it might not be odd if some records set in the 1960s–1980s haven’t been broken yet, and why Mark McGwire & Barry Bonds et al astounded sabermetricians by shattering records that had sometimes stood since Babe Ruth…↩︎
As distinguished from cases of extremely elaborate fantasizing like the case of Kirk Allen (“The Jet-Propelled Couch”: “Part I: The man who traveled through space”/“Part II: Return to Earth”, articles republished in The Fifty-Minute Hour, Lindner 1955; see also “Behind the Jet-Propelled Couch: Cordwainer Smith and Kirk Allen”, Elms 2002).↩︎
Perhaps more representative than outright murder is the loosely-inspired-by-Parker-Hulme Simpsons episode, “Lisa the Drama Queen”. (The psychological horror game Rule of Rose may be another example; it is interesting that the developers aimed to ‘capture the “mysterious and misunderstood” nature of girls’, and wound up writing a story about a pair of girls creating a twisted-aristocratic paracosm which ends in murder due to unreciprocated love.)↩︎
An example is Esmé Weijun Wang’s The Collected Schizophrenias:
As Wang narrates the Slenderman story, she revisits her own memory of a fraught childhood imagination. Her young mind has been captivated by the world of The NeverEnding Story, a 1984 film depicting a fantasy world that eventually includes its reader in the narrative. Wang describes convincing her best friend Jessica that their life, too, was just another thread in the story, crafting a complicated universe of rules to dictate their time together. “We’re just playing, right?” Jessica finally asks, bemused and a little frightened; Wang’s childhood self disagrees, telling Jessica that the imaginary world was, in fact, real: “With my every denial, she became increasingly hysterical while I remained calm. I watched her leave in sobs; I remained grounded in the world of my imagination.”
eg Silver Sisterhood coverage focuses on the commune/games although, as far as can be divined through their secrecy & pseudonymity & deception, their “Aristasia” sounds like a paracosm, and one which given the ages of the central women when they came to prominence in the 1980s & their reaction to the 1960s, likely started around adolescence and with a specific girl.↩︎
The general abundance of fetish commissions undermines any attempt to explain it as a furry-subculture-specific phenomenon related to OC/commissioning personal-avatar-related art; even for furries, browsing e621 shows that there would still be millions of images if all OC/personalization was removed, and much of that would be commission-related.↩︎
Although having become much more cynical about psychology and education in particular since I first heard of Bloom’s result back in the 2000s, I would suggest renaming it “Bloom’s 0.5 Sigma problem”…↩︎
Chemical pheromones have been suggested for many things in humans—Frank Herbert invokes them as a possible mob mechanism—but as far as I know, the evidence they do anything in humans is quite weak (the relevant genes are broken and it’s unclear if we even have a VMO), and some of the relevant-seeming hormones even weaker (like the oxytocin literature turns out to be badly afflicted by publication bias). Given the Reproducibility Crisis, can we really take seriously any of these n = 40 studies where “we had some female undergraduates sniff underwear and fill out a survey”? In animals, it’s impossible to mistake that scents/pheromones are an important thing, in a way that they are not in humans—any owner will have noticed the ‘Flehmen response’ or ‘gape’, even if they don’t know the name for it (and you don’t have to spend too long around horses to notice it there either).
And what are the testable implications? For example, meetings held in well-ventilated areas should be disastrous because any pheromone concentration would be diluted far below other meetings. Meetings where you notice body odor, indicating potent bodily output and little ventilation, should go great. Leaders would be well-advised to avoid using deodorant, as that reduces the direct route for pheromone emission. Direct interaction should be weaker than expected as a predictor of bonding/success, because the pheromones are omnidirectional. ‘Mere exposure’ effects should be substantial. People with lower smell acuity should be less affected by meetings as broken olfactory capabilities may break any downstream pheromone sensitivity; anosmics presumably would be entirely indifferent between virtual and real meetings. A (very clear) glass pane should eliminate meeting effects, while incremental improvements in latency, screen resolution, or audio quality would produce small or no gains over the baseline. Gas chromatography could probably identify pheromones and should be able to predict meeting success—while it’s true the hypothetical pheromones may be unknown, hormones/pheromones are frequently in the steroid family, and so my understanding is that it should be possible to measure a “total steroids” concentration in samples which would pick up on any social pheromone and be used in a regression.
Many of those have not been conducted, but some of them don’t tally with my own experiences. For example, one 2018 conference I attended was what prompted me to ask this—in several cases, I’d known people I met there for years online before, and yet, meeting them in person seemed to make a large difference in how much I trusted or liked them. Good—except most of it was held outside because the weather was so nice and there was a pleasant breeze; everyone got along despite the conditions being awful for any pheromone effects.↩︎
Nobody looks more prematurely aged than a subsistence agriculture peasant.↩︎