Halstead comments on How fragile was history? - Effective Altruism Forum

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Comment author: Halstead 02 February 2018 06:37:52PM *  2 points [-]

Genetics might be a constraint on ultra-fragility. If all of the most practically important traits are highly heritable, then one wouldn't expect the contingency of conception to produce as much variation in outcomes as in the state of affairs in which the contingency of conception has a very large effect on average individual traits. While it is true that the individual born is a highly contingent matter, the traits of the individual produced might not be. If my parents had an argument on the blessed night of my conception but overcame their disagreement the next day, then there would be some reason to think that a one day older version of me would be writing this comment.

Chaos also doesn't seem inimical to attempts to rationally steer the future. Notwithstanding the fact that the climate system is chaotic, pumping lots of greenhouse gases into it looks like a bad idea in expectation.

Comment author: Gregory_Lewis 02 February 2018 06:48:12PM 2 points [-]

That seems surprising to me, given the natural model for the counterpart in the case you describe would be a sibling, and observed behaviour between sibs is pretty divergent. I grant your counterfactual sibling would be more likely than a random member of the population to be writing something similar to the parent comment, but the absolute likelihood remains very low.

The fairly intermediate heritabilities of things like intelligence, personality traits etc. also look pretty variable. Not least, there's about a 0.5 chance your counterpart would be the opposite sex to you.

I agree even if history is chaotic in some respects, it is not chaotic to everything, and there can be forcing interventions (one can grab a double pendulum, etc), yet less overwhelming interventions may be pretty hard to fathom in the chaotic case (It's too early to say whether the french revolution was good or bad, etc.)

Comment author: Halstead 02 February 2018 07:15:46PM 1 point [-]

Yes my slightly flippant personal example doesn't illustrate the case well. But the high heritability of relevant traits does suggest that there would be less variation in outcomes in aggregate than if heritability was very low and each person's coital counterpart's traits were a random draw out of the human population.

Comment author: BenMillwood  (EA Profile) 09 February 2018 05:48:26PM *  0 points [-]

Not that it's obviously terribly important to the historical chaos discussion, but I think siblings aren't a great natural model. Siblings differ by at least (usually more than) nine months, which you can imagine affecting them biologically, via the physiology of the mother during pregnancy, or via the medical / material conditions of their early life. They also differ in social context -- after all, one of them has one more older sibling, while the other has one more younger one. Two agents interacting may exaggerate their differences over time, or perhaps they sequentially fill particular roles in the eyes of the parents, which leads to differences in treatment. So I think there are lots of sources of sibling difference that aren't present in hypothetical genetic reshuffles.

(That said, the coinflip on sex seems pretty compelling.)