Midpoint of history?

Robin Hanson (hanson@hss.caltech.edu)
Tue, 3 Dec 1996 13:14:30 -0800 (PST)

On Nov 14 Hal Finney wrote:
>> Note that this cause for concern has a different basis than the simple
>> statistical arguments of Gott [Gott 93] and Leslie [Leslie 96] that all
>> else equal we shouldn't expect many more future humans than there have
>> been past humans.
>I wonder if this argument makes sense to people. I apologize for discussing
>it without having read the original but hopefully I have the gist of it
>right. The idea is that, given a person chosen at random, chances are that
>he will be average in most ways. In particular, he will be about average
>in terms of when he lives in the grand scope of human history.

>First, I don't accept the notion that each person can view himself as a
>randomly chosen individual. There has been no selection procedure such
>as we normally think of in random choice. ...
>Looking at it in Bayesian terms, I am going to live out my lifetime here,
>this year, whether the human race self destructs in a few years or not.
>Both outcomes are equally consistent with my life experience. So I don't
>see how the knowledge that I am alive should cause me to change my
>estimate of the likelihood of these two outcomes.

In Bayesian terms, the fact that you see a certain population history
up to your moment in life tells you something. But what exactly it
tells you I'm not so sure. Neither Gott nor Leslie have put together
a precise Bayesian model which implies the conclusions they think that
their analysis implies. Leslie even thinks that Bayesian analysis
isn't up to this task. There is a good opening here for some careful

>What is the most interesting period to simulate? Why, the Transition,
>of course: those brief millenia when we went from being paleolithic
>cavemen to posthuman gods.

This assumes there is some asymptotic god level which we won't reach
beyond. What if we just keep on growing?

Robin D. Hanson hanson@hss.caltech.edu http://hss.caltech.edu/~hanson/