Intrinsic value of choice

I know that this question has practical and political implications, but for now, I’m treating it as a “just for fun” philosophical question.  Just wanted to be upfront.

What is the value of freedom of choice?  Does it have intrinsic value, or is its value purely instrumental?

A thing has “intrinsic value” if it is valuable in itself.  It has “instrumental value” if it is valuable because it is a means to get something else of value.  For instance, suppose we have a choice between mushroom and cheese pizza.  This choice has instrumental value, because it’s a means for people to have the kind of pizza they most prefer.  But does the choice also have intrinsic value?

Under an initial analysis, I thought the answer was “no”.  If I’m presented with a one-time choice between A and B, and I choose A, did the other option B do any good?  At least within a consequentialist ethical framework, it sure doesn’t seem like it.  After all, option B had no bearing on the consequences.

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Chess involves luck, and other propositions

I find the concept of luck vs skill in games to be fascinating, because the common intuitions are just so wrong. The common intuition is that some games involve more luck, and some games involve more skill. On the extreme end of luck, we have the lottery; on the extreme end of skill, we have chess. The orthodox view was best expressed by a Vox article/video, which included the following image:

An image depicting a continuum, with lottery and roulette being on the left "luck" end, and chess being on the right "skill" end. In the middle, we have hockey, football, baseball, socker, and basketball in that order. Each sport is depicted with an image of the ball/puck, and the name of an associated league.

The Vox image also shows several sports, and the position of each sport is based on the statistical analysis of Michael Mauboussin.  The details of analysis aren’t explicitly described, but it’s basically analyzing the national tournaments for each sport, and estimating how much of the variance in outcome is explained by luck or by skill.

Mauboussin did not analyze chess.  Vox added chess in themselves, pulling a claim out of their ass.  Without doing any analysis, I can guarantee that if you applied the same statistical analysis to chess, you would not find that chess was 100% skill.  The analysis will only show that a game is pure skill if the same people consistently win all their games.  I quickly checked the US Chess Championship winners, and while some names show up repeatedly, it is not 100% consistent, and therefore would not be deemed a pure skill game by this analysis.

So what gives?  Is the statistical analysis bogus, or is the claim that chess is 100% skill bogus?  Trick question.  Both of them are bogus.

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Measuring musical dissonance

An empirical approach

When we hear two musical notes played together (either in succession, or simultaneously), we often characterize those notes as “dissonant” or “consonant”. But instead of having a sharp dichotomy between dissonance and consonance, it might be more useful to speak of a spectrum between the two. Then, the question before us is how to quantify the dissonance of any pair of notes.

12tone is a cool music theory channel, and he recently published a video discussing the solution thought up by the 18th century mathematician Leonhard Euler. I include the video below, but be warned that I’m going to trash Euler’s answer. I believe that any measure of musical dissonance must, at some point, refer to empirical observations of dissonance. Euler’s answer relies on mathematical supposition, and thus I would deride it as numerology.

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Origami: Spiral creases

A square sheet of silver foil paper, with 4 spiral creases radiating from the center

Four 45 degree spiral creases

This is going to be one of those origami posts where I talk way too much about math.  But before I get to the math, I will explain how you can make one of these things entirely with ordinary arts and craft tools.

“Ordinary tools” is the relevant bit here, since my understanding is that experts in curved-crease origami don’t use ordinary tools, they use things like vinyl cutters.  When I first tried making these, I could not find any instructions for how to make these models using ordinary tools (I later found an article by Ekaterina Lukasheva), so when I finally figured out a method, I wanted to share it.

Making a template

Before we draw the creases directly on the paper, we need to make a template.  The template ensures that each of the four curves are identical to each other.

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What does a DW-NOMINATE score of zero mean?

In an earlier post, I talked about the asymmetrical polarization of US congress, and how DW-NOMINATE is used to quantify it. In this post, I’m going to discuss more technical details.  I’ll explain why I was initially skeptical, and why I came to accept the argument.

But before I get into the math, I should first emphasize that there are many arguments demonstrating that the US congress has become more polarized, and that the Republican party in particular is more extreme. I think those arguments stand on their own, with or without using any evidence from DW-NOMINATE. You can read some of those arguments here, or watch the Vox video I linked last time. It’s not just liberals who are saying this–one of the big proponents of asymmetrical polarization theory is Norman Ornstein, member of the conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute;

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The math behind political polarization

The asymmetry of US politics

Vox recently had a good video talking about “asymmetrical polarization”. Basically, this means that the two political parties in the US are moving further apart, and this is mostly driven by the Republican party, rather than the Democrats.

There are many aspects to this argument. Republicans have been more obstructionist than democrats, less likely to negotiate or compromise, and more likely to use filibusters. Their agenda has become more extreme over time. Democrats have also moved further left (despite complaints hereabouts that Democrats are too moderate), but in a way that trails the motion of the Republican party.

These many arguments stand on their own. But I want to address the very first argument that Vox presents, which comes from the following graph:

A plot showing the ideology of congress over time, on a scale from liberal to conservative. The two major parties are color coded, it is clear that the parties have moved further apart since the 50s.

Image credit: Voteview. I abridged the graph to only show history after 1900. Red dots represent Republicans, blue dots represent Democrats, and the solid lines represent party medians.

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More on the food truck game

In an earlier post, I was talking about the economics of entertainment media. As a way of starting that discussion, I introduced a very basic model which I called the Food Truck game. Several food trucks park along a single street, and each customer patronizes the nearest food truck. It’s a neat little problem, similar to the cake-cutting problem, but it’s not a very realistic model of entertainment media.

So I thought about it some more, and came up with some possible adjustments. With these adjustments, I hope to tease out some real implications. The question I want to answer is, what is it like to have fringe tastes in entertainment media, vs having mainstream tastes? How many businesses will cater to your preferences?  What prices will they charge you?

This also plays into a larger discussion I’ve been having, about the differences between capitalist systems, utilitarian systems, and fair systems.  Here I will show that each system leads to a different solution to the food truck game.

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