A List of Open Questions


106 points | by wrinkl3 283 days ago


  • egypturnash 283 days ago

    > what and why are furries?

    You know how some kids like to pretend to be animals? Furries never quit doing that once they grew up.

    > When did furries become a thing? I have yet to run into a clear reference to them before the 1980s and they may primarily postdate even that

    If you want to be aggressively inclusive you can go all the way back to the earliest recorded myths about talking animals. If you want to limit yourself to "people who called themselves furries" then it started somewhere in the mid-seventies to early eighties.

    https://en.wikifur.com/wiki/History - be sure to check out the external links at the bottom, Patten's history is pretty good, though I advise skimming once the "Burned Furs" come up.

    > Is this true, why are furries so rich and well-funded, and why tech, specifically?

    A confluence of the timing of the growth of the Internet and the growth of the furry scene. You needed a certain amount of technical acumen to hang out on Furrymuck and roleplay as an animal person; as the Internet started being an important thing, it was not uncommon for someone whose day job was in tech to pass job opportunities on to their friends who were looking for excuses to get the hell out of Middle America.

    There are also plenty of broke furries, for what it's worth.

    • ndnxhs 283 days ago

      Yeah furries are not rich. The majority of them are about 18 years old and have as much money as your typical highschool/uni student.

      I also think its become a much more diversified group. Still a lot of furs working in tech but probably less than 40% of furs work in tech now.

      • selimthegrim 283 days ago

        Given that I’ve seen 1980s and before published books at used book sales where you yourself are put in the role of a cat (sometimes solving a mystery, sometimes not) I think the publishers knew there was a market out there

      • aasasd 283 days ago

        > Does listening to music while working serve as a distraction, or motivation?

        There was a study which determined that people do mundane, routine work equally well with music or without it, but if the work required creative thinking, music lost to no music. A possible conclusion is that music engages the regions of the brain which are required for creative thinking.

        That's just one study, however, and I doubt that I would be able to find a link to it now.

        Personally I find that if I turn on “Techno Live Sets”[1] when mashing the buttons, I'm risking doing all the work that's to be done, in one day. On the other hand, some neo-prog post-industrial breakbeat doom would regularly steal my attention. But I've already listened to months if not years of techno cumulatively, while I'm very much in the market for some post-industrial breakbeat doom.

        Also, I have a distinct thing about voice in music: the clearer the words, the less suited the music is for the background. Mumbling to complex hip-hop rhythm ok, clear and loud declamation not ok.

        Most notably, I can mostly turn off my attention to words in English, which is the second language for me, while my native language gets straight into my brain's speech recognition centers—I've been suffering from this quite a lot when around TV or pop music. Inane lyrics in my language immediately throw me into stupor of trying to find any sort of reason behind them, while I'm comfortable with any random drivel in English until I explicitly try to decipher it. I've also noticed that I can consume text in my native language pretty fast without any conscious effort, while I can't really skim text in English—I have to pay attention or I drift off. It seems like for the second-language English, parts of the brain that transform it into meaning have to be consciously engaged, while the native language gets the treatment on the subconscious low level.

        [1] recommended! https://www.techno-livesets.com/

        • aasasd 283 days ago

          (Actually, I'm in the market for any breakbeat metal at all that is more than some vague fuzz attempts over the beat―for some reason, the genre is pretty much nonexistent, with Amon Tobin's "Player - Angel of Theft" being the only solid example, outside of Phantomsmasher/Atomsmasher who is great but too far on the grindcore side. You'd think that with decades and dozens of well-known bands of jazzy breakbeat, someone would think of doing that with distorted guitars.)

          • virtualized 283 days ago

            IMO it goes more like this: Music makes you happy, being happy makes you more productive. Don't overthink this too much.

        • aasasd 283 days ago

          > Why does writing in the morning (anecdotally so far) seem to be so effective for writers, even ones who are not morning persons? While programmers, which seems like a similar occupation, are invariably owls?

          I frankly didn't read the whole linked article, but do the writers, by any chance, do the writing in the morning, but not editing? Because personally, I regularly have a sorta-confused rush of ideas and notions early after sleep, that subsides after a couple hours―after which I may find the morning ideas stupid, or sometimes discover a gem among them, but almost always I find that calm logic of the day doesn't produce such wild reaches. It's pretty much how creativity on drugs is usually imagined. I would also guess that if I have a solid sleep and then a sharp cutoff instead of lingering in bed, the effect is more pronounced―and this behavior is more of a larkish thing, I think.

          Meanwhile, I can't code in that state until I wear it off with articles from HN and such stuff. But I can code when I should've been in bed many hours ago and may keel over at any minute.

          (BTW, dunno if it's just me, but: I don't ever remember dreams from the deep phase, however I have vivid and lucid dreams if I briefly wake up and then drift off again, i.e. after an optimistic alarm. Notably, if I'm imagining music in this state, it's best stuff I've heard, way off usual patterns and genre clichés, and it comes effortlessly, while in the day I have trouble coming up with anything like that.)

          • techstrategist 283 days ago

            >Because personally, I regularly have a sorta-confused rush of ideas and notions early after sleep, that subsides after a couple hours―after which I may find the morning ideas stupid, or sometimes discover a gem among them, but almost always I find that calm logic of the day doesn't produce such wild reaches.

            I think sleep clears out working memory, and starting the day writing lets your brain express some things that had been cached previously. I find that writing in the evening after reading / web surfing / normal daily activities results in output that is derivative or responsive to what I've read that day.

          • hyperpallium 283 days ago

            > [abuse] why does it appear in the biographies of so many people who achieve greatness, often middle/upper-class?

            Because other people don't write autobiographies?

            • mannykannot 283 days ago

              There are enough unconfirmed assumptions in this claim that the first open question is "are the author's assumptions justified?"

            • alasdair_ 283 days ago

              >Why did it take until the late 20th century for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu to develop and the Gracie family crush almost all other unarmed martial arts at the start of MMA, when humans have engaged in unarmed combat for millions of years and every major country has long lineages of specialized competitive martial arts and tremendous incentive to find martial arts which worked and quick feedback loops?

              I suspect the most obvious answer is the same as the issue with other forms of grappling and wrestling - they are very good in structured 1v1 combat where there is a guarantee that a friend of your foe won't come along while you are both on the ground and bash you over the head with a large rock.

              • zerogvt 283 days ago

                Millions of years? That's an exaggeration. We've been around for much less: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_human_evolution

                • cetico 283 days ago

                  MMA is new, historically speaking.

                  BJJ is the best fighting style that fits the rules of MMA. Change the rules a bit and a different style will work better.

                  • nafey 283 days ago

                    Whats the minimal change in the rules that will bring a striking based martial art to the top?

                    • abdullahkhalids 283 days ago

                      I would guess, the following rule changes will help a lot.

                      * Increase the minimum size of the wrist padding and gloves. Which makes it much safer to throw punches. Additionally, the design of the gloves can be regulated so grabbing someone is harder than it is now.

                      * Perhaps, add rules about how long you can stay on top of someone on the ground without doing significant damage. A lot of matches end up with a takedown at the start of a round followed by 3 minutes of light pounding and no serious attempt/success at a submission hold. A 20-30 second limit on no serious on the ground action will go a long way.

                      * Finally, we can directly change the judging criteria to make it easier to win rounds via striking dominance instead of grappling.

                      • aidenn0 282 days ago

                        One of the more famous Royce Gracie wins was against a western wrestler (Severn) who maintained control on top for almost all of the 15 minute match before being caught in a triangle choke.

                      • lostdog 283 days ago

                        Allow kicking or kneeing someone in the face when they're down?

                        • abdullahkhalids 283 days ago

                          I am not sure if such is allowed in another martial arts league. But from my experience in fighting, kicking someone anywhere on the body while they are on the ground will quickly and inevitably result in serious injuries. Standing up, you can "elastically catch" the kick and reduce the damage it does. On the floor, you will absorb the full force.

                          • garmaine 283 days ago

                            Which is why the rules exist, and why MMA is wrestling/boxing, not a martial art. Either you are training to score points within a rule system, or you are training to kill/maim/incapacitate. Don’t confuse the two.

                        • jugglebird 277 days ago

                          Allow for more than one attacker.

                    • nthompson 283 days ago

                      The question about Gracie jiu-jitsu is not so interesting anymore: In the early 90’s, there were simply very talented jiu jitsu practitioners who were close to the UFC. Now we’ve witnessed many strategies used successfully in MMA, like American college wrestling (Ben Askren, Matt Hughes), Thai clinches (TJ Dillashaw), kickboxing (Holly Holmes), and Judo (Ronda Rousey). In fact very few fights end with an interesting jiu jitsu submission anymore, the armbar and the tear naked choke are the most common. These techniques were never unique to jiu jitsu.

                      • aidenn0 282 days ago

                        Don't forget also that the Gracie family had significant Vale Tudo experience, and those rules were very similar to UFC.

                        Also, BJJ grew out of early Judo, which was less calcified when it was brought to Brazil. Helio Gracie was manhandled by the Judoka Masahiko Kimura, despite home-field advantage[1].

                        Catch wrestling also had similar rules, but had a culture of secrecy, so was not going to spread in a similar way to Judo.

                        Yet another reason is simply the fact that weapons were invented many thousands of years ago, so unarmed combat has been unimportant since at least the bronze age.

                        1: Of note, the Gracies thickened the padding of the mat used because Kimura's throws were known to be capable of concussing people; after throwing Gracie around like a ragdoll for the entire first round, he switched to trying for lock submissions, which he eventually did get (and BJJ names the shoulder lock used the "Kimura" even today).

                        • andrewstuart 283 days ago

                          I feel that jiu jitsu makes UFC / MMA less interesting.

                          I'm more interested in of the stand up combat sports like kickboxing.

                          I reckon UFC is missing out by not having a pure standup division, without the wrestling/bjj.

                          I know a former world champion kickboxer who says "Ground and pound? Where's the honor in that?". I thought about it a bit and realised he is right - where is the honor, sportsmanship in beating the heck out of someone on the ground.

                          • ALittleLight 283 days ago

                            Why is there more honor in beating someone while standing?

                            The reason to include wrestling is that it makes the contest more closely approximate a real fight. In a real fight your opponent does have the option to go to the ground.

                            • lmm 283 days ago

                              Depends what you consider a "real fight". E.g. I remember a Taekwando instructor saying that BJJ would always beat Taekwando in a UFC match, but he'd never want to rely on their techniques in a bar fight where there might be broken glass on the floor.

                              • tomhoward 283 days ago

                                I think they mean a more traditional "real fight" - in ancient/prehistoric times, on soil or sand rather than concrete with broken glass.

                              • garmaine 283 days ago

                                > The reason to include wrestling is that it makes the contest more closely approximate a real fight. In a real fight your opponent does have the option to go to the ground.

                                And be immediately killed by anyone nearby, who need merely step on their windpipe or something. Going to the ground gets you killed in a “real fight.”

                                • thaumasiotes 283 days ago

                                  How likely is a real fight to be one-on-one, just you and the guy you're trying to kill?

                                  • ALittleLight 283 days ago

                                    Probably more likely than that it's a one on one fight where you both agree not to wrestle.

                                    • thaumasiotes 283 days ago

                                      By definition, an unrestricted one-on-one fight is more likely than a specific subset of one-on-one fights, since the first possibility includes the second.

                                      But neither is likely at all.

                                      Also unlikely: picking a fight with someone who weighs about the same amount you do.

                                      • ALittleLight 283 days ago

                                        I don't think your logic follows. Unrestricted fights and restricted fights are both subsets of the set of fights, but restricted fights aren't a subset of unrestricted fights. By definition, unrestricted fights are distinct from restricted fights.

                                        Either way, I regret pursuing this topic and won't comment on it further since I feel this is a discussion not worth having, reading, or writing. I don't write that to be rude, just as an attempt to hold myself to some standard for discourse.

                                        • thaumasiotes 283 days ago

                                          I expressed myself poorly. The unrestricted class "one-on-one fights" includes the restricted class "one-on-one fights where both parties agree not to wrestle".

                                    • mmirate 283 days ago

                                      For some martial-arts, it may be necessary to account for the likelihood that bystanders will actually be close enough to be able to intervene before the fight has concluded.

                                • nthompson 283 days ago

                                  Awesome list of questions, btw.

                                • hyperpallium 283 days ago

                                  >Why did Jean Calment live so many more years than other centenarians, breaking all records and setting a life expectancy record which decades later has not just not been broken, but not even approached?

                                  > she requested to be woken at 6:45 am and started the day with a long prayer at her window thanking God for being alive and for the beautiful day which was starting, sometimes loudly asking the reason for her longevity and why she was the only one alive in her family. Seated on her armchair she did gymnastics wearing her stereo headset. Her exercises included flexing and extending the hands ("a distinguished woman must have beautiful hands"), then the legs, https://ewikipedia.org/wiki/Jeanne_Calment#Daily_routine_at_...

                                  I don't believe in god, but I believe in prayer: meditation/mindfulness + appreciation + possibilities + supernatural aid (as in the Hero's journey).

                                  But perhaps not a blessing to outlive one's grandchildren.

                                  • jmcqk6 282 days ago

                                    I'm sure you probably realize this, but it's hard to believe that she would be the only one to have this type of routine. It seems fairly common...

                                  • garmaine 283 days ago

                                    > Why did it take until the late 20th century for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu to develop and the Gracie family crush almost all other unarmed martial arts at the start of MMA, when humans have engaged in unarmed combat for millions of years and every major country has long lineages of specialized competitive martial arts and tremendous incentive to find martial arts which worked and quick feedback loops?

                                    This one is easy. Because Gracie jujutsu (spell it right please) with its emphasis on ground technique is only effective when you are unarmored and your opponent is unwilling to use lethal force. In military and/or life and death situations it is a good way to get yourself killed by a trained opponent. It’s not surprising at all that Gracie/Brazilian jujutsu only developed after the popularization of MMA like sporting competitions with rules that the Gracie brothers learned to exploit.

                                    • jhallenworld 283 days ago

                                      >Why do humans have such a large mutation load..

                                      Modern technology?


                                      • Xophmeister 283 days ago

                                        > What happened to the famous genome sequencing cost curve after late 2012, which stopped price decreases, damaged genetics, and delayed the advent of whole-genome sequencing by perhaps a decade? Was it really just the Illuminati’s fault?

                                        Note that the Y-axis is logarithmic; so this is simply a matter of diminishing returns. The massive fall in 2007-2008 was due to the invention of so-called "next generation sequencing", but this is bound by technical constraints -- not least the sheer deluge of data -- that have basically been hit. Newer methods of sequencing, which are now starting to come online in anger, ought to start pushing the price down again; although note that the data/processing constraints haven't really gone away and this is now the principal bottleneck for analysis.

                                        • danieltillett 283 days ago

                                          > Why do humans have such a large mutation load on common genetic variants?

                                          This one is answerable. Two reasons.

                                          1. The human population is not in Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium since it has expanded so much in the recent human past (agricultural revolution and all that).

                                          2. The human population over the last 10,000 years has experienced very strong natural selection that has carried a lot of deleterious mutations along for the ride.

                                          What is more interesting is why we have so many chromosomal abnormalities - humans have something like 100x the rate of chromosomal abnormalities as other species.

                                          • craftyguy 283 days ago

                                            > Why do humans, pets, and even lab animals of many species kept in controlled lab conditions on standardized diets appear to be increasingly obese over the 20th century? What could possibly explain all of them simultaneously becoming obese?

                                            Because diet is only part of the equation. The other major factor being exercise/physical activity (and probably some genetics). If you eat 'well' but sit at a desk all day, calories in != calories out and you'll probably gain weight.

                                            Also, since this doesn't cite any sources for the conclusion presented here as a question, do we know that the 'conditions' were held constant? (hint: no, probably not)

                                            • hyperpallium 283 days ago

                                              That doesn't cover lab animals. I've also read that animals in the wild also weigh more.

                                              One explanation is higher global CO_2 levels, giving faster growth, which means more calories (and fewer other components). So, the same amounts of food now have more calories.

                                              There's also arguments for hormones in the general food supply. Possible global factors are pollution in general, and plastics in particular. (For wild animals, decrease in biodiversity may be a factor).

                                            • gnulinux 283 days ago

                                              I personally believe carbs are mostly to blame (as opposed to fats and protein). In the Western world there is this idea that fats are bad, carbs are good but somehow this idea coincidences with astronomic increase in obesity. We load everything with high-fructose corn syrup and kick fats out of our diet. There is not much research behind this and my claims aren't evidence based either. I'm more than happy to refuted if you can provide papers.

                                              • glastra 283 days ago

                                                Definitely. I don't understand why you're getting down-voted without actual refutals. I guess it generates some internal/psychological discomfort, but I expected better of HN readers.

                                                Indeed, the only animals suffering from obesity and modern civilisation diseases (diabetes, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer's and other degenerative or systemic diseases) are humans and those animals of other species unfortunate enough to be fed by humans.

                                                Diet composition is obviously to blame, but not just carbohydrates (be them complex or simple, refined or "natural"). Omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids (and especially their ratio to omega-3's) in the diet lead to inflammatory responses throughout the body, which can, and do, wreak havoc on health.

                                                If you look at trends in modern nutrition, carbohydrate and omega-6 consumption are at their highest and have sky-rocketed in the past 60-70 years, as have rates of prevalence for various diseases. Of course, correlation is not causation, but many studies are coming out in the recent years showing the mechanisms through which all of this takes place.

                                              • matt-attack 283 days ago

                                                But bread had been a staple diet for quite some time. On London in the 19th century it was heavily regulated even to the point of how big a loaf of bread must be. It was literally the main diet for the working class.

                                                • thrower123 282 days ago

                                                  Bread even 100 years ago was a far different beast than it is now; historic bread flour was far less processed, and often was padded out with other cheaper grains.

                                                  On the other hand, the availability of corn and sugar has exploded. I wouldn't be surprised if the base metabolism of most people 100 years ago burned 1000 calories a day more than the typical westerner as well, just being on their feet, moving around and doing the work that was required for daily existence.

                                                • zaarn 283 days ago

                                                  That wouldn't explain the change with standardized diets though, which presumably did not change over time, yet the lab animals did gain more weight than before.

                                                • jhallenworld 283 days ago

                                                  My pet theory (at least for humans) is that this is due to better dental care.

                                                  • hammock 283 days ago

                                                    Care to elaborate?

                                                    • jhallenworld 283 days ago

                                                      Oral hygiene has been improving over time, see:


                                                      Perhaps people with the bad oral hygiene of the past had a different gut biome, had more stomach infections, or just had less pain when eating and this led to less calorie absorption.

                                                      • hammock 282 days ago

                                                        It's not obvious to me how more cavities leads to less calorie absorption - this is your pet theory can you explain it?

                                                        In regard to gut biome and stomach infections, there is a lot of evidence that fluoride actively destroys your gut - disturbing the microbiome, breaking down the gut barrier and promoting inflammation - so I'm not sure that part holds water.

                                                  • hazz99 283 days ago

                                                    > If you eat 'well' but sit at a desk all day, calories in != calories out and you'll probably gain weight.

                                                    How can this be true? Energy cannot be created - it has to come from somewhere.

                                                    • thecatspaw 283 days ago

                                                      they are saying that gaining weight is by taking in more calories than spending them, and that sitting all day lowers the calories out

                                                      • hazz99 282 days ago

                                                        Ah, I misunderstood. Cheers!

                                                  • ArchTypical 283 days ago

                                                    > Is there something qualitatively different about personal meetings, and if so, where is it? Is it eye contact? Body language?

                                                    Over 50% of our communication is nonverbal language. Body language largely, and no small part olfactory plus auditory (which video conferencing interferes or blocks). This is not an open question.

                                                    > when humans have engaged in unarmed combat for millions of years and every major country has long lineages of specialized competitive martial arts

                                                    Because combat wasn't formalized then funded to be inclusive and communicated to the world. This is not an open question.

                                                    I'm sure there's more on this list, but maybe someone can update it.

                                                    • vidanay 283 days ago

                                                      "Why do so few people in the United States exercise their right and privilege to vote?"

                                                      • craftyguy 283 days ago

                                                        "Why does nearly every political race for office in the United States come down to only two choices: turd sandwich or giant douche?"

                                                        • mmirate 283 days ago

                                                          That's easy, and the answer even has a googleable name: "first past the post".

                                                          • ninkendo 283 days ago

                                                            Because not enough people vote in the primaries? I get that you only really have a choice between two parties come the general election, but you get lots and lots of choices in the primary.

                                                            • dahart 283 days ago

                                                              Voting in the primaries would help. IMO, a ranked choice ballot would help even more.

                                                              I don’t need to choose between people who will make essentially the same policy decisions as much as I want to be able to vote for a third party without throwing away my vote.

                                                            • sverige 283 days ago

                                                              This one is actually easy: Those are the personality types who are drawn to running for office.

                                                              • vidanay 283 days ago

                                                                Also a good question, but not exclusive of the other one.

                                                                • craftyguy 283 days ago

                                                                  True, but it may help explain some of the motivation behind the other one (e.g. if folks feel like the two options are terrible, they may be apathetic towards participating).

                                                                  For example, in this round I did not cast a vote for governor in my state because I felt the two candidates with any chance of winning were terrrible (though I did vote on ballot measures, and other local offices).

                                                              • rprenger 283 days ago

                                                                The more interesting question from an economics point of view is why does anyone bother voting. Since races almost never come down to one vote, your vote almost certainly doesn't matter. Nevermind the fact that more people voted for democrats for the senate and the presidency and still lost both.

                                                                The latest theory I've heard for why people vote is that being seen as a team player has social value.


                                                                The Freakonomics guys bring this up every so often.


                                                                Also I just wanted to let everyone know that I voted ;)

                                                                • throwawaymath 283 days ago

                                                                  From a mathematical perspective it's pretty silly to claim your vote doesn't matter just because it's not the tie breaking vote. You should give this a read: https://www.skishore.me/voting.html.

                                                                  Frankly this viewpoint has always puzzled me. Your specific claim that a vote almost certainly doesn't matter because elections don't come down to a single vote seems...unsupported, to put it politely. It might be more intuitively attractive to say your vote doesn't matter if you're not in a swing election, but it's not rigorously defensible. It's incorrect.

                                                                  It's like saying 4 and 5 are the same thing because they're both significantly smaller than 100,000. No, they're materially different quantities. If more people accepted this straightforward and uncontroversial truth - and acted on it - then more change might actually be effected. Instead this becomes a self-fulfilling and self-defeating prophecy with no rational basis. It's lazy cynicism, to put it bluntly.

                                                                  • matt-attack 283 days ago

                                                                    Bit logically where was he wrong? It seems like a bit of a paradox to me. You keep say it’s wrong but can you point out exactly where his reasoning is wrong? My vote yesterday simply didn’t change any of the outcomes. That is a fact. None of the races were won by a single vote.

                                                                    • glastra 283 days ago

                                                                      Or maybe it did, if you voted for the winning side. What if you ordered the winning votes and losing votes randomly, side by side, and eliminated pairs of opposing votes. You would be left with a set of winning votes, cast by individual people. You could attribute the victory to exactly those people.

                                                                      Now, to extrapolate this to all of the winning voters, simply "sample" reorderings, or average it, and you have a spread responsibility amongst all those people who voted for the winning candidate/party.

                                                                      In other words, votes cast for the winning side did decide the result, because of their collective behaviour. The effect of a single vote can be defined in statistical terms as being interdependent with the rest of the votes in the same direction. This means any winning vote cannot be said to lack all effect, meaning or power. If the vote is not without effect, then it must have some effect, albeit not absolute.

                                                                      Another way to look at this is that if the voting is won by a difference of exactly one vote, whose vote was it anyway? You would spread the responsibility of turning the election equally amongst all voters for that side.

                                                                      If we wanted to somehow quantify the "contribution" to winning that each vote has, we have to take into account how many votes were actually required to win. Let X be the number of votes in the winning side and Y in the losing side. Of all the X votes in the winning side, only Y+1 were actually necessary to win. So the contribution of each voter could be (Y + 1)/X, which is always <= 1 as Y + 1 <= X, measured in "decisive votes per person", or something along those lines.

                                                                      So if the voting is won by exactly one vote, all votes in the winning side are decisive: without any one of them, the voting would not be won.

                                                                      If, however, everyone voted for the same side, it would be 1/X, where you could remove all but one vote and still be short of removing a whole "decisive vote".

                                                                      • throwawaymath 283 days ago

                                                                        I pointed out the error in reasoning. You are repeating the intuitive heuristic, which is that a single vote doesn't change outcomes. I'll try to explain my point more fully, but there isn't much more ground to cover here. glastra made a good sibling comment covering the basic probabilistic points, so I'll try a different direction.

                                                                        If your bar for voting to have meaning is that your individual vote will change outcomes, you'll find that not a single model of democracy (much less implementation) is satisfying. That's an impossible, nonsensical bar. You can't possibly hope to swing a state to your party if everyone on the underdog side stays home because it seems unlikely to happen.

                                                                        Your vote has meaning even if you weren't personally the arbiter of political change. Aggregates are defined by their constituent parts. You're acting as though voting is worthless if your cause doesn't receive enough votes to pass a cutoff point. It's true that it won't pass, but that doesn't mean the vote didn't matter. Apply this model of thinking elsewhere: if you made 2 points in a basketball game and your team lost, were those 2 points meaningless just because you didn't win? Should you recuse yourself from playing because it's unlikely your team can win? How about raising money for a Kickstarter - was it a waste of time just because you didn't raise the goal and won't receive the funds? Should you not try to raise money and find as many donors as you can, just because there's a minimum cutoff for payout?

                                                                        Since analogies are imperfect it might be instructive to consider whether or not you can come up with a point at which you think your vote matters. If your vote is one of five, is that meaningless because two are on your side and three are not? How about one of 100? One of 10,000? One of 1,000,000? Can you - in a way that isn't arbitrary - come up with a point at which it stops mattering?

                                                                        The fundamental problem is that if one vote doesn't matter, two cannot possibly matter either, and so on. Unless you disagree with very straightforward math, you can clearly see a single vote has some inarguable meaning. At that point you're just haggling on how much meaning it has as an individual, not on whether or not it has meaning. From there we can continue to have a discussion about why you should take this knowledge and vote with it, because regardless of your party affiliation the 2016 election was won with fewer than 100,000 votes. 1/n != 0.

                                                                        On the other hand if you disagree with the basic math I probably can't convince you. But I can at least just tell you you're wrong without as much handwringing. There is no real paradox here. The only problem is that we as humans slip into intuition more than rationality. There is no perspective from which it is irrational to vote. It costs you nothing and can only have upside for your party affiliation. If you disagree we're separated by an axiomatic impasse, not a logical one.

                                                                        • aidenn0 282 days ago

                                                                          > if you made 2 points in a basketball game and your team lost, were those 2 points meaningless just because you didn't win?

                                                                          If your only goal is to win, then yes those 2 points are meaningless.

                                                                          > Should you recuse yourself from playing because it's unlikely your team can win?

                                                                          No because people play basketball for more reasons than just to win.

                                                                          > How about raising money for a Kickstarter - was it a waste of time just because you didn't raise the goal and won't receive the funds? Should you not try to raise money and find as many donors as you can, just because there's a minimum cutoff for payout?

                                                                          That is absolutely a waste of time, yes! A Kickstarter is significant effort and is done with the intent of funding. That's a major opportunity cost for the limited effort one has before giving up and working on something else.

                                                                          > There is no perspective from which it is irrational to vote. It costs you nothing and can only have upside for your party affiliation. If you disagree we're separated by an axiomatic impasse, not a logical one.

                                                                          There were something like 40 things to vote on for my ballot. I spent about 20 hours figuring out which way to vote. If I had spent that time consulting at $300/hr that's $6000 of my time. The fact that I would rather have spent that time on leisure activities means that I personally value that time at more than $6k. I literally only did it because I value my relationship with my wife any more and she was most insistent.

                                                                          Can we agree that the value of my vote is roughly equal to the odds that it influences the election times the value I place on that? We can debate the odds, but if this were a lottery, I would be called a fool for buying that ticket for $6k.

                                                                          • throwawaymath 282 days ago

                                                                            Based on your last paragraph, we're in (apparently violent) agreement. I would not call you a fool for playing a lottery where you pay nothing to have a nonzero chance of winning $6,000. Voting does not cost the voter anything, but it has a non-negligible chance of gaining the voter an upside.

                                                                            • aidenn0 282 days ago

                                                                              I think you missed my point. When I vote, I'm paying $6000 to play a lottery where I have a nonzero (but very small) chance of affecting policy.

                                                                              • throwawaymath 282 days ago

                                                                                When you put it that way, I don't think I understand your point. When you vote you actually don't pay anything.

                                                                                And if you have a nonzero chance of affecting policy with your vote, your vote definitionally matters. We're in agreement on this. We can quarrel about the normative of whether or not there's a marginal cost that outweighs the benefits of voting, but it's functionally free and materially meaningful.

                                                                          • mactrey 282 days ago

                                                                            What if the claim is not that my marginal vote is worth 0, but rather that the worth of my marginal vote is very small - so small that the marginal cost of driving to the voting booth and waiting in line is overwhelmingly higher. What mathematical or logical argument can you use to convince someone that is convinced by this weakened line of reasoning?

                                                                            Even in my own state, which has a relatively convenient vote-by-mail system, there is still a cost associated to voting - educating yourself about the candidates and measures (the complementary booklet explaining measures and including for-and-against arguments is 50+ pages), filling out the ballot, and the cost of the stamp on the envelope, at least. It is also widely understood that my state is quite liberal, so that the democrat's victory is all-but-certain in most races. It's not hard for me to understand why the average resident would not even bother.

                                                                            • throwawaymath 282 days ago

                                                                              That's a bit different. I can buy on principle that it's possible the value of your time is so high it doesn't make sense for you to e.g. vote red in a blue state. But if we ground this back in reality, most people do not hyperoptimize their time based on marginal utilities because it would be nearly impossible to achieve that kind of efficiency. So I'll buy it principle, but I'd need some convincing it applies to any given person in particular.

                                                                              • mactrey 282 days ago

                                                                                It's not really hyperoptimization if the cost of voting is prima facie higher than the value. I think it's on the "get out the vote" side to prove that voting is worth it - and I don't think the average American would be swayed by a statistical argument proving that the value of voting is greater than 0.

                                                                                • throwawaymath 282 days ago

                                                                                  It is hyperoptimization, because most people do not do a rigorous cost benefit analysis of all their behavior based on the marginal costs and utility of their time. Most people barely do any kind of optimization, in fact. They might decide not to vote because they're cynical or lazy, but that's (strictly speaking) different from rationally choosing not to vote because you consistently avoid doing things which are a net negative in value compared to your time.

                                                                                  I've already proven for you that a single vote matters. You can reject that proof, just like you can reject a proof that the square root of 2 is irrational, but you wouldn't be doing so on a logical basis. That covers the positive question of whether or not your individual vote matters - any argument against this basically boils down to, "But I don't feel like it matters, because so many other individual people are voting."

                                                                                  As for the normative case of whether or not to vote - again, I'm open to your time being so expensive you shouldn't vote in principle. But in practice, I'd be pretty skeptical of most people trying to make that claim. If Jeff Bezos and homeless people alike are willing to vote, a plea to the value of your time isn't that compelling, even in the ivory tower of game theory. If such a person spent (cumulatively) an hour or two without deriving any productivity from their time on election day, they should have voted if they were otherwise capable of doing so.

                                                                      • stephen_g 283 days ago

                                                                        This kind of thing pops up in all sorts of different areas in any large society. There are plenty of things that don't make much difference if a few people do them, but make all the difference if a lot of people do or don't.

                                                                        But in my area at least, votes do occasionally come down to a couple of dozen votes. I'm not in the US though and we don't really have gerrymandering, nor do we have anyone trying to disenfranchise on racial or class grounds - (in fact, here voting is compulsory!).

                                                                      • egypturnash 283 days ago

                                                                        Turn it around:

                                                                        "Why are so many people in the United States denied their right to vote?"

                                                                        * prisoners and former criminals can't vote in many places - https://www.sentencingproject.org/issues/felony-disenfranchi...

                                                                        * (this just got a little better - Florida just passed an amendment that will give the vote back to 1.4mil former felons, which is a full 1/10 of the state's population and 1/5 of its African-American population, that should make their next elections a ton of fun)

                                                                        * slashing funds to the part of government that buys/maintains/runs the voting system means you have to go further to vote, which is much easier if you have a white-collar job that gives you paid time off and can afford a car (vote-by-mail helps fix this one a LOT, I live in Seattle and it only took me like a half hour sitting at home skimming election guides, plus putting it in the mail a couple days later)

                                                                        * aggressive campaigns of preventing "voter fraud" can make having sufficient ID expensive in both time and money, which are hard to come by when you're working two part-time jobs with erratic hours

                                                                        • AnimalMuppet 283 days ago

                                                                          As with everything, there's a false positive rate and a false negative rate. The less voter fraud you allow, the more voter suppression, and vice versa.

                                                                          And you don't even have to think illegals vote, ever, to still be concerned about voter fraud. Dead people definitely vote, even if illegals never do.

                                                                          • vidanay 283 days ago

                                                                            The apathy far outweighs the fraud.

                                                                        • laurent123456 283 days ago

                                                                          That's "Jeanne Calment".

                                                                        • zzzyfa 279 days ago