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.

[Read more…]

Guns, terrorism, and distortion

Generally I prefer not to comment on “news”, and I will continue that trend here. But we all know gun violence in the US is bad, right? You don’t need to pay attention to the news to know that! You can just read Wikipedia. (And I’m being lazy in my research to demonstrate just how easy it is to find this stuff.)

In 2013, there were 73,505 nonfatal firearm injuries (23.2 injuries per 100,000 persons), and 33,636 deaths due to “injury by firearms” (10.6 deaths per 100,000 persons). These deaths included 21,175 suicides, 11,208 homicides, 505 deaths due to accidental or negligent discharge of a firearm, and 281 deaths due to firearms use with “undetermined intent”.

This is vastly higher than it is in other wealthy countries, and it’s only gotten higher in recent years.  I used to think that the death rate by guns must be dwarfed by that of car crashes, but no, it’s actually quite comparable (although with a lower injury rate):

In 2010, there were an estimated 5,419,000 crashes, 30,296 deadly, killing 32,999, and injuring 2,239,000.

Here’s what’s not comparable: number of deaths by mass shootings. If you only pay attention to mass shootings in the news, this will vastly underestimate gun violence in the US.

[Read more…]

Link Roundup: August 2019


I wrote two essays for The Asexual Agenda:

Labels must be allowed to die – It’s about those really obscure orientation labels, some of which are used by more people than you think, and some of which are effectively dead.  I’m not against obscure labels, but I make the case against preserving dead labels.

Lisa Orlando, Author of The Asexual Manifesto (1972) – A historical account of an old essay written in the context of second wave feminism.  We first heard about the essay last year, and we were all wondering what was inside it.  We finally found the essay, and its author, and it’s so exciting.


The Cotton Ceiling: The best argument that TERFs aren’t feminists? – The “cotton ceiling” is about how people are unwilling to date trans women even when they like trans women.  It’s a reference the feminist concept of the “glass ceiling”, but TERFs seem completely ignorant of that fact.  Yeah, so I’ve argued that TERFs are feminists before, but their competency with feminism is pretty bad.  Just the other day, I saw on twitter a leading TERF philosopher claimed that trans lesbians only had the “chutzpah” to self-define into existence in the last 10 years.  She apparently wasn’t familiar with Janice Raymond, who dedicated a whole chapter to complaining about trans lesbians in The Transsexual Empire in 1979.

[Read more…]

What drives walking sims?

“Walking simulator” was originally a derisive term, coined in the days of gamergate, referring to a set of minimalist games where you simply walked around 3D environments. By now, a lot more games in this category have appeared, and while not universally beloved, they’re more or less accepted as a part of the video game landscape. And I find that I rather like this genre myself. I’ve played quite a number of walking simulators over the years, and still others I’ve watched on video or have seen critical discussions.

The question I’d like to ask today is, what is the appeal of walking simulators? What drives them?

I am thinking in analogy to drone and ambient music, which strips away many of the components that people conventionally enjoy in music. But what motivates drone/ambient music varies greatly depending on the work. Contrast Brian Eno’s Music for Airports, which wants to blend into the background, with Sunn O)))’s Monoliths and Dimensions, which wants to mesmerize. Walking sims are also a genre full of contrasts, and I’d like to identify several different goals that they may have.

[Read more…]

Origami: wobbly cube

Wobbly cube

Wobbly Cube, a one-shot design by me

This was one of my experiments in curved creases.  I basically cut out 12 identical S-shaped strips (with ruler and compass), and then creased them along their centers.  Then I quickly invented a scheme for secure attachment.  Not much more to say about that.  I like how it turned out.

First player advantage

People liked my article, “Chess involved luck, and other propositions“, so I’d like to add a bit more discussion on a related topic.

In turn-based games like Chess, there’s a slight asymmetry between players, in that one of the players moves before the other one does. And moving first seems to be an advantage. This has been demonstrated through statistical analysis of various chess tournaments and databases. Depending on which data are used, the first mover wins anywhere from 52% to 55% of the time.

First mover advantage can be considered as third factor, independent of either luck or skill. If you flip a coin to decide who goes first, then first mover advantage is one component of luck. But it’s the sort of luck that you can eliminate by say, choosing a tournament structure where players alternate white and black.

There’s apparently a lot of historical discussion of first mover advantage in chess, but at this point I may as well drop the pretension that I know anything about chess. The game that I’m a lot more interested in, is competitive Dominion. Dominion is a turn-based game, and also has a first player advantage. The community compiles a ton of statistics from games online, and the statistics show that in two player games among top players, the first player wins about 58.8% +/- 0.2% of the time (excluding ties).

[Read more…]

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.

[Read more…]