Robin Hanson has another interesting paper on human attitudes toward truth and on how they might be improved.
See also some related threads on the extropy-chat list here and here.
One issue that Robin raises involves disputes between us and future generations over how much we ought to constrain our descendants to be similar to us. He is correct that some of this disagreement results from what he calls “moral arrogance” (i.e. at least one group of people overestimating their ability to know what is best). But even if we and our descendants were objective about analyzing the costs and benefits of the alternatives, I would expect some disagreement to remain, because different generations will want to maximize the interests of different groups of beings. Conflicting interests between two groups that exist at the same time can in principle be resolved by one group paying the other to change it’s position. But when one group exists only in the future, and its existence is partly dependent on which policy is adopted now, it’s difficult to see how such disagreements could be resolved in a way that all could agree upon.
Book Review: Anthropic Bias: Observation Selections Effects in Science and Philosophy by Nick Bostrom
This book discusses selection effects as they affect reasoning on topics such as the Doomsday Argument, whether you will choose a lane of traffic that is slower than average, and whether we can get evidence for or against the Many Worlds Interpretation of quantum mechanics. Along the way it poses some unusual thought experiments that at first glance seem to prove some absurd conclusions. It then points out the questionable assumptions about what constitute “similar observers” upon which the absurd conclusions depend, and in doing so it convinced me that the Doomsday Argument is weaker than I had previously thought.
It says some interesting things about the implications of a spatially infinite universe, and of the possibility that the number of humans will be infinite.
It is not easy to read, but there’s little reason to expect a book on this subject could be both easy to read and correct.
The author has a web site for the book.
Tyler Cowen claims that market prices say the “demand for raw materials will continue to outstrip the supply”. But I don’t see the market prices saying that. Tyler seems to be extrapolating from trends of the past few years.
He seems to be ignoring what futures contracts for delivery several years out are saying. Here’s what I see for commodities with futures contracts several years out:
||Nearest future contract
||Farthest future contract
||$7.848 (Jul 2009)
||$42.41 (Dec 2011)
||$5.721 (Dec 2010)
||$1.255 (Dec 2006)
Gold and silver prices are expected (as usual) to maintain their purchasing power, while prices of other commodities that have had big run-ups recently are expected to fall.
I’ve been making some investments that are based on the belief that markets are underestimating Chinese/Indian demand over the next 5 years or so. But markets are clearly saying that the Hubbert Peak arguments are either wrong, or unimportant due to the likelihood of a switch to alternative fuels. And with metals, it sure looks like we are seeing merely a combination of asian demand and a weak dollar.
This book provides a moderately strong argument that the production of cheap oil is peaking, although it isn’t as conclusive an argument as I’d hoped for, and is only a little bit better than the brief summaries of Hubbert’s ideas that I’d previously seen on the net.
Much of the book consists of marginally relevant stories of his career as a geologist. He occasionally slips in some valuable tidbits, such as that Texas once had an oil cartel.
He does a mediocre job of analyzing the consequences of scarcer oil. He provides a few hints of how natural gas could replace oil, but says much less about the costs of switching than I’d hoped for. His comments on how to protect yourself are misleading:
In the past, a useful way of insuring major producers and consumers against the effect of a price changes was purchasing futures contracts. However, the ordinary futures contracts extend for a year or two. The oil problem extends for 10 years or more. The oil problem extends for 10 years or more. Anyone who agrees to supply oil 10 years from now, for a price agreed on today, very likely will disappear into bankruptcy before the contract matures.
At the time the book was first published (2001), crude oil futures contracts extended about 7 years out. They weren’t liquid enough to hedge a large fraction of consumption, but if a desire to hedge had caused them to say in 2001 that crude would be at $60/barrel in 2008 rather than saying it would be in the low twenties, that would both have signaled a need to react and reduced the risks of doing so. The idea that bankruptcy would threaten such futures reflects his ignorance of the futures markets. An oil producer who sold futures as a hedge will almost certainly not sell more futures than it has oil to deliver on. Speculators might lose their shirts, but futures brokers have the experience needed to ensure that the defaults are small enough for the brokers to absorb (see, for example, what happened in the gold mania of the late 70s).