Interview: Mostly Sealing Wax

Part II of my recent interview with James Miller is now up.

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39 Responses to Interview: Mostly Sealing Wax

  1. Anonymous says:

    Anyone care to write out a summary?

  2. MawBTS says:


    If anyone found the audio too quiet, here’s an amateur remaster with the volume at -2 dBFS and heavy compression to equalise the quiet and loud parts. This also made the background noise louder – not much I can do about that. Hopefully Greg and James don’t mind.

  3. Zenit says:

    Any chance for short summary like this for lazy ppl?
    View at

    • AppSocRes says:

      It would be great if Professor Cochrane would write out his sense of the distilled essence of this very long back-and-forth. I truly don’t have the time to mine this very long conversation for worthwhile nuggets. Edward Tuffte has pointed out on many occasions that the printed word – supplemented by appropriate illustrations – is by far the most efficient method of communication currently available.

      • Difference Maker says:

        I don’t think we needed the special contributions of Mr. Tuffte. Surely in our own travails in academics we understood what a time waster listening to people could be

    • I’ll do it over the weekend if no one else does

  4. vuzqk says:

    This is in order, I didn’t record timestamps and it’s a little terse:
    – conformity and Google, defense and spying (China prob knows a lot of our “secrets”)
    – in the past you could just find new things faster than people could reverse-engineer. part of the problem is that innovation is slowing down today (important for convergence by China/developing world).
    – introgression from archaics of various kinds
    – mutational load and IQ, wrath of khan neanderthal
    – trade and antiquity (not that useful besides ideas tbh), Roman empire, disease, smallpox
    – spices needed to be grown elsewhere, but besides that…
    – analogy: caste system in India, slavery in Greco-Roman times, new elite not liking getting hands dirty, low status of engineers, rise of finance
    – crookery in finance, hedge fund edge might be substantially insider trading
    – long-term wisdom of moving all manufacturing to China…?
    – economic myopia: British financialization before WW1 vis-a-vis Germany. North vs. South and cotton/industry, camels in Middle East vs. wagons in Europe
    – Western medicine easier to convert to science than Eastern, pseudoscience and wrong theories better than bag of recipes
    – Greeks definitely knew some things that were lost (eg, line in Pliny makes reference to combinatorics calculation rediscovered by German dude much later. think he’s referring to Catalan numbers?)
    – Indo-Europeans, Western Europe, Amerindians, India, British Isles, gender, disease, and conquest
    – no farming (Dark Age), then why were people still farming on Shetland Islands north of Scotland?
    – “symbolic” walls, bodies with arrows
    – family stuff, children learning, talking dog, memory and aging
    – Chinese/Japanese writing difficulty and children learning to read
    – Hatfield-McCoy feud: the McCoy family was actually a case study in a neurological journal. they had anger management issues because of cancers of their adrenal gland (!!).

    • Anonymous says:

      The lost Greek combinatorics result Cochran mentioned are the Schröder-Hipparchus numbers.

      • Zenit says:

        According to a line in Plutarch’s Table Talk, Hipparchus showed that the number of “affirmative compound propositions” that can be made from ten simple propositions is 103049 and that the number of negative compound propositions that can be made from ten simple propositions is 310952. This statement went unexplained until 1994, when David Hough, a graduate student at George Washington University, observed that there are 103049 ways of inserting parentheses into a sequence of ten items.[1][8][10] A similar explanation can be provided for the other number: it is very close to the average of the tenth and eleventh Schröder–Hipparchus numbers, 310954, and counts bracketings of ten terms together with a negative particle.

        • Jim says:

          The problem of determining the number of ways of inserting parenthesis in n symbols is equivalent to a problem in geometrical combinatorics solved by Euler. The Catalan numbers come up in quite a large family of combinatorial problems.

      • Zenit says:

        For more extreme ancient supremacism, check works of Lucio Russo
        TL;DR: Russo argues that ancient Greeks knew square-cube law of gravity, theory of evolution, discovered America and were generally on 18th century level in physics and maths, until the Roman bastards came and burned everything down ( it is usual to blame Christians (by the left) and homosexuals (by the right) for decline of ancient civilization, Russo knows Romans were the bad guys).
        Russo is professional physicist and mathematician, not “ancient alien” crank, if it matters.

        • Jim says:

          Aristotle made some well-known comments which can be taken as a crude theory of organic evolution.

          But Greek mathematics on the level of the 18th century? Archimedes’ famous quadrature of the parabola is equivalent to integrating x^2. But I don’t think that there is anything in Greek mathematics equivalent to integrating general powers let alone anything like the wealth of stuff in the 18th century. With some elementary calculus a student can do mensuration calculations which would have amazed Archimedes. Being on an 18th century level would have meant stuff like differential equations and the calculus of variations.

          • Deckin says:

            Actually it was the Pre-Socratic Empedocles who had a crude version of evolutionary biology. Aristotle rejected on purely empirical grounds: He could not find any evidence of the kind of random freaks Empedocles predicted.

        • Jim says:

          Because the Greeks had not developed analytic geometry their knowledge of higher geometry was very poor. They had no idea what an elliptic curve is. But elliptic curves begin to be extensively studied in Europe in the 17th century. Once analytic geometry is developed a huge amount of mathematics opens up to which the Greeks were totally blind.

    • Jim says:

      Yes it’s Catalan numbers. Amazing if Pliny knew of them. Although called Catalan numbers they go back at least to Euler.

    • Difference Maker says:

      I have memories from when I was less than two years old

  5. Glad this came out right before a long plane flight. Time for a fun listen.

  6. dearieme says:

    Tenuously relevant: at All Souls College, Oxford, the geneticist E B Ford suggested that they should elect chimpanzees to the fellowship rather than women because the former were just as closely related to males of homo sapiens as were the latter.

  7. masharpe says:

    Question related to the super Neanderthal…

    Regarding specifically what happens when removing all mutational load from a genome, does it matter that genes have evolved in a context where there’s always mutational load present? What I mean is, genes are selected against the background of a typical genome, and a typical genome has mutational load. Placing a gene in a genome without any mutational load means it’s now in a situation that is far outside what it would have encountered during evolution.

    That makes me think that, in principle, reducing mutational load to zero could actually result in some malfunctions, just because the genome now has way fewer errors than expected. But practically, I don’t know whether this would be a real problem.

    • dearieme says:

      “practically, I don’t know whether this would be a real problem”. Indeed: so let’s try it. If we don’t the Chinese will. Just imagine super Denisovan warriors advancing against us. Oooooh.

    • dearieme says:

      Collies are indeed clever, but a thousand words? Really? There are some humans whose vocabulary probably isn’t much bigger.

      • RCB says:

        As the article says, the dog also could id new objects by process of elimination. The researchers would put a new toy in a pile of familiar toys and ask the dog to retrieve it, with some name it had never heard. The dog deduced that the new name must refer to the new toy, and retrieved it. I recall seeing a video of this.

      • Jim says:

        In most spoken languages ordinary individuals typically have active vocabularies of a few thousand words. However those who are literate may recognize the basic meaning of many words which they do themselves use in speaking.

  8. Yudi says:

    Greg’s discussion of the wheel’s effect on human societies comes from Richard Bulliet, whose “The Wheel: Inventions and Reinventions” was released last year and is quite good.

  9. G.M. says:

    Yeeahh buoiee!!

  10. Pingback: Yet another Greg Cochran interview from James Miller | Entitled to an Opinion

  11. teageegeepea says:

    Why did we evolve to enjoy the taste of spice? It doesn’t seem like a fashion people change just for novelty’s sake, people continue using spices for long periods of time once they gain access to them.

    I know it’s been said that Rome never industrialized because status was so tied into owning land, rather than trade. It seems Greg would disagree with that give the nature of trade in ancient Rome. So the reason the Industrial Revolution occurred in northern europe is because of all the useful rivers for water-wheels?

    Do we have any idea when the cousins of the Andaman-islanders crossed over to the Americas? Might the climate have differed then compared to when the newcoming Amerindians reached Ontario?

    • Douglas Knight says:

      Did people evolve to like spices? Maybe it’s self-reinforcing conspicuous consumption? Different places have different cuisines. Some are spicy and some are bland. Why? Moreover, I am told that there are pairs of cuisines that both find each other too spicy. Americans find Indian food very spicy, but I am told that some Indians, from the right cuisine, find American food too spicy because it has too much black pepper.

      • dearieme says:

        Bland and spicy aren’t opposites. A black pudding with pickled onions and chips is neither bland nor spicy. It is delicious though, on a cool winter’s evening.

  12. RJW says:


    What do you make of the Younger Dryas impact hypothesis?

  13. dave chamberlin says:

    Dude, you can ramble better than most pundits can focus. Good show, as the English would say. One interesting comment stuck in my craw. You trashed talked the Less Wrong bunch with a astute comment. If you really think you are smart, well then accurately predict things. I like that, I like that a lot. Add up yonder a post on what predictions people have. i have made a few that came true, you have made a bunch.

    Onward and downward we march, tis a fine time to mock the status quo.

  14. Reziac says:

    Differences in fats in the brain from Neanderthals…. considering the strong correspondence between IQ and Neanderthal genes, I would bet money this influences intelligence.

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