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---
title: On Really Trying
description: The true limits to motivation, with examples
tags: transhumanism, politics
...
> "_Student_: How can one realize his Self-nature? I know so little about the subject.
>
> _[Yasutani](!Wikipedia)_: First of all, you must be convinced you can do so. The conviction creates determination, and the determination zeal. But if you lack conviction, if you think 'maybe I can get it, maybe I can't', or even worse, 'This is beyond me!' - you won't awaken no matter how much you do zazen."^[pg 126, _[The Three Pillars of Zen](!Wikipedia)_, ISBN 8070-5979-7]
When I came across this quote, I was struck by its relevance to one of [Eliezer Yudkowsky](!Wikipedia)'s 'beisutsukai' posts about finding the successor to quantum mechanics, ["The Failures of Eld Science"](http://lesswrong.com/lw/q9/the_failures_of_eld_science/).
I meant to write an essay on how interesting it is that we intellectually know that many of our current theories must be wrong, and even have pretty good ideas as to which ones, but we still cannot psychologically tackle them with the same energy as if we had some anomaly or paradox to explain, or have the benefit of hindsight. The students in Eliezer's story know that quantum mechanics is wrong; someone with a well-verified observation contradicting quantum mechanics knows that it is wrong (replace 'quantum' with 'classical' as you wish). They will achieve better results than a battalion of conventional QMists.
But nothing quite gelled.
> " - for over thirty years," Jeffreyssai said. "Not one of them saw it; not Einstein, not Schrödinger, not even von Neumann." He turned away from his sketcher, and toward the classroom. "I pose to you to the question: How did they fail?"
>
> Brennan didn't jump. He deliberately waited just long enough to show he wasn't scared, and then said, "Lack of pragmatic motivation, sensei."
>
> "The Manhattan Project," Brennan said, "was launched with a specific technological end in sight: a weapon of great power, in time of war. But the error that Eld Science committed with respect to quantum physics had no immediate consequences for their technology. They were confused, but they had no desperate need for an answer. Otherwise the surrounding system would have removed all burdens from their effort to solve it. Surely the Manhattan Project must have done so - Taji? Do you know?"
>
> Jeffreyssai chuckled slightly. "Don't guess so hard what I might prefer to hear, Competitor. Your first statement came closer to my hidden mark; your oh-so-Bayesian disclaimer fell wide... The factor I had in mind, Brennan, was that Eld scientists thought it was acceptable to take thirty years to solve a problem. Their entire social process of science was based on getting to the truth eventually. A wrong theory got discarded eventually - once the next generation of students grew up familiar with the replacement. Work expands to fill the time allotted, as the saying goes. But people can think important thoughts in far less than thirty years, if they expect speed of themselves." Jeffreyssai suddenly slammed down a hand on the arm of Brennan's chair. "How long do you have to dodge a thrown knife?"
--- They didn't *know* that they were looking for a better theory.
The students in this story have the incredible advantage that they are starting from a wrong theory and know this for certain, and not merely suspect or hold as a general philosophy-of-science principle 'there's probably a better theory than the current one'. This gives them several things psychologically:
1. the willingness to scrap painfully won insights and theories in favor of something new and
2. saves them from spending all their time and effort patching up the old theory.
I know in the past when I've tried my hand at problems (logic puzzles come to mind) that I am far more motivated and effective when I am assured that there is in fact a correct answer than when I am unsure the question is even answerable.
And a quick note to those who think I'm echoing Brennan: I am, here, but my point differs in that I don't think it was a matter of 'training'.
I think if you abducted all the old greats, gave the necessary experimental data, and gave them a few months to produce the new theory before they were dragged out to the shed and shot, then they could do it just as well as these students. It's all about motivation.
It's not a matter of competency at paradigm shifts, if you will; it's accepting that one needs to happen *now* and you are the one who needs to do it. But there's no normal way to convince a scientific community of this; isn't it true that most new paradigms fail to pan out?
From ["Class Project"](http://lesswrong.com/lw/qt/class_project/):
> Jeffreyssai took a moment to look over his increasingly disturbed students, "Here is your assignment. Of quantum mechanics, and General Relativity, you have been told. This is the limit of Eld science, and hence, the limit of public knowledge. The five of you, working on your own, are to produce the correct theory of quantum gravity. Your time limit is one month."
>
> Ordinarily, at this point, I would say: "Now I am about to tell you the answer; so if you want to try to work out the problem on your own, you should do so now." But in this case, some of the greatest statisticians in history did not get it on their own, so if you do not already know the answer, I am not really expecting you to work it out. Maybe if you remember half a hint, but not the whole answer, you could try it on your own. Or if you suspect that your era will support you, you could try it on your own; I have given you a tremendous amount of help by asking exactly the correct question, and telling you that an answer is possible.
<http://lesswrong.com/lw/qr/timeless_causality/>
<http://www.coordinationproblem.org/2010/04/neurological-freaks-and-the-drive-to-excel.html>
> "[Claude Shannon](!Wikipedia) once told me that as a kid, he remembered being stuck on a jigsaw puzzle. His brother, who was passing by, said to him: "You know: I could tell you something."
>
> That's all his brother said.
>
> Yet that was enough hint to help Claude solve the puzzle. The great thing about this hint... is that you can always give it to yourself."
--[Manuel Blum](!Wikipedia), ["Advice to a Beginning Graduate Student"](http://www-2.cs.cmu.edu/~mblum/research/pdf/grad.html)
> "One of the characteristics of successful scientists is having courage. Once you get your courage up and believe that you can do important problems, then you can. If you think you can't, almost surely you are not going to. Courage is one of the things that Shannon had supremely. You have only to think of his major theorem. He wants to create a method of coding, but he doesn't know what to do so he makes a random code. Then he is stuck. And then he asks the impossible question, "What would the average random code do?" He then proves that the average code is arbitrarily good, and that therefore there must be at least one good code. Who but a man of infinite courage could have dared to think those thoughts? That is the characteristic of great scientists; they have courage. They will go forward under incredible circumstances; they think and continue to think.
>
> ...So before I left, I told all my friends that when I come back, that book was going to be done! Yes, I would have it done - I'd have been ashamed to come back without it! I used my ego to make myself behave the way I wanted to. I bragged about something so I'd have to perform. I found out many times, like a cornered rat in a real trap, I was surprisingly capable. I have found that it paid to say, "Oh yes, I'll get the answer for you Tuesday," not having any idea how to do it. By Sunday night I was really hard thinking on how I was going to deliver by Tuesday. I often put my pride on the line and sometimes I failed, but as I said, like a cornered rat I'm surprised how often I did a good job. I think you need to learn to use yourself. I think you need to know how to convert a situation from one view to another which would increase the chance of success."
--Richard Hamming, ["You and Your Research"](http://www.cs.virginia.edu/~robins/YouAndYourResearch.html)
> "During race, I am going crazy, definitely," he says, smiling in bemused despair. "I cannot explain why is that, but it is true."
>
> The craziness is methodical, however, and [Robič](!Wikipedia "Jure Robič") and his crew know its pattern by heart. Around Day 2 of a typical week-long race, his speech goes staccato. By Day 3, he is belligerent and sometimes paranoid. His short-term memory vanishes, and he weeps uncontrollably. The last days are marked by hallucinations: bears, wolves and aliens prowl the roadside; asphalt cracks rearrange themselves into coded messages. Occasionally, Robič leaps from his bike to square off with shadowy figures that turn out to be mailboxes. In a 2004 race, he turned to see himself pursued by a howling band of black-bearded men on horseback.
>
> "Mujahedeen, shooting at me," he explains. "So I ride faster."
>
> His wife, a nurse, interjects: "The first time I went to a race, I was not prepared to see what happens to his mind. We nearly split up."
>
> The DVD spins, and the room vibrates with Wagner. We see a series of surreal images that combine violence with eerie placidity, like a Kubrick film. Robič's spotlit figure rides through the dark in the driving rain. Robič gasps some unheard plea to a stone-faced man in fatigues who's identified as his crew chief. Robič curls fetuslike on the pavement of a Pyrenean mountain road, having fallen asleep and simply tipped off his bike. Robič stalks the crossroads of a nameless French village at midnight, flailing his arms, screaming at his support crew. A baffled gendarme hurries to the scene, asking, Quel est le problème? I glance at Robič, and he's staring at the screen, too.
>
> ... Over the past two years, Robič, who is 40 years old, has won almost every race he has entered, including the last two editions of ultracycling's biggest event, the 3,000-mile Insight Race Across America (RAAM). In 2004, Robič set a world record in the 24-hour time trial by covering 518.7 miles. Last year, he did himself one better, following up his RAAM victory with a victory six weeks later in Le Tour Direct, a 2,500-mile race on a course contrived from classic Tour de France routes. Robič finished in 7 days and 19 hours, and climbed some 140,000 feet, the equivalent of nearly five trips up Mount Everest. "That's just mind-boggling," says Pete Penseyres, a two-time RAAM solo champion. "I can't envision doing two big races back to back. The mental part is just too hard."
>
> Hans Mauritz, the co-organizer of Le Tour Direct, says: "For me, Jure is on another planet. He can die on the bike and keep going."
>
> And going. In addition to races, Robič trains 335 days each year, logging some 28,000 miles, or roughly one trip around the planet.
>
> Yet Robič does not excel on physical talent alone. He is not always the fastest competitor (he often makes up ground by sleeping 90 minutes or less a day), nor does he possess any towering physiological gift. On rare occasions when he permits himself to be tested in a laboratory, his ability to produce power and transport oxygen ranks on a par with those of many other ultra-endurance athletes. He wins for the most fundamental of reasons: he refuses to stop.
>
> In a consideration of Robič, three facts are clear: he is nearly indefatigable, he is occasionally nuts, and the first two facts are somehow connected. The question is, How? Does he lose sanity because he pushes himself too far, or does he push himself too far because he loses sanity? Robič is the latest and perhaps most intriguing embodiment of the old questions: What happens when the human body is pushed to the limits of its endurance? Where does the breaking point lie? And what happens when you cross the line?
>
> ...
> Winners [of the RAAM] average more than 13 miles an hour and finish in nine days, riding about 350 miles a day. The ones to watch, though, are not the victors but the 50 percent who do not finish, and whose breakdowns, like a scattering of so many piston rods and hubcaps, provide a vivid map of the human body's built-in limitations.
>
> ...
> The final collapse [of RAAM competitors] takes place between the ears. Competitors endure fatigue-induced rounds of hallucinations and mood shifts. Margins for error in the race can be slim, a point underlined by two fatal accidents at RAAM in the past three years, both involving automobiles. Support crews, which ride along in follow cars or campers, do what they can to help. For Robič, his support crew serves as a second brain, consisting of a well-drilled cadre of a half-dozen fellow Slovene soldiers. It resembles other crews in that it feeds, hydrates, guides and motivates — but with an important distinction. The second brain, not Robič's, is in charge.
>
> ... His system is straightforward. During the race, Robič's brain is allowed control over choice of music (usually a mix of traditional Slovene marches and Lenny Kravitz), food selection and bathroom breaks. The second brain dictates everything else, including rest times, meal times, food amounts and even average speed. Unless Robič asks, he is not informed of the remaining mileage or even how many days are left in the race.
>
> "It is best if he has no idea," Stanovnik says. "He rides — that is all."
>
> ...
> In all decisions, Stanovnik governs according to a rule of thumb that he has developed over the years: at the dark moment when Robič feels utterly exhausted, when he is so empty and sleep-deprived that he feels as if he might literally die on the bike, he actually has 50 percent more energy to give.
>
> ...
> In this dual-brain system, Robič's mental breakdowns are not an unwanted side effect, but rather an integral part of the process: welcome proof that the other limiting factors have been eliminated and that maximum stress has been placed firmly on the final link, Robič's mind. While his long-term memory appears unaffected (he can recall route landmarks from year to year), his short-term memory evaporates. Robič will repeat the same question 10 times in five minutes. His mind exists completely in the present.
>
> "When I am tired, Miran can take me to the edge," Robič says appreciatively, "to the last atoms of my power." How far past the 50 percent limit can Robič be pushed? "Ninety, maybe 95 percent," Stanovnik says thoughtfully. "But that would probably be unhealthy."
>
> Interestingly — or unnervingly, depending on how you look at it — some researchers are uncovering evidence that Stanovnik's rule of thumb might be right. A spate of recent studies has contributed to growing support for the notion that the origins and controls of fatigue lie partly, if not mostly, within the brain and the central nervous system. The new research puts fresh weight to the hoary coaching cliché: you only think you're tired.
>
> ...
> Researchers, however, have long noted a link between neurological disorders and athletic potential. In the late 1800's, the pioneering French doctor Philippe Tissié observed that phobias and epilepsy could be beneficial for athletic training. A few decades later, the German surgeon August Bier measured the spontaneous long jump of a mentally disturbed patient, noting that it compared favorably to the existing world record. These types of exertions seemed to defy the notion of built-in muscular limits and, Bier noted, were made possible by "powerful mental stimuli and the simultaneous elimination of inhibitions."
>
> Questions about the muscle-centered model came up again in 1989 when Canadian researchers published the results of an experiment called Operation Everest II, in which athletes did heavy exercise in altitude chambers. The athletes reached exhaustion despite the fact that their lactic-acid concentrations remained comfortably low. Fatigue, it seemed, might be caused by something else.
>
> In 1999, three physiologists from the University of Cape Town Medical School in South Africa took the next step. They worked a group of cyclists to exhaustion during a 62-mile laboratory ride and measured, via electrodes, the percentage of leg muscles they were using at the fatigue limit. If standard theories were true, they reasoned, the body should recruit more muscle fibers as it approached exhaustion — a natural compensation for tired, weakening muscles.
>
> Instead, the researchers observed the opposite result. As the riders approached complete fatigue, the percentage of active muscle fibers decreased, until they were using only about 30 percent. Even as the athletes felt they were giving their all, the reality was that more of their muscles were at rest. Was the brain purposely holding back the body?
>
> "It was as if the brain was playing a trick on the body, to save it," says Timothy Noakes, head of the Cape Town group. "Which makes a lot of sense, if you think about it. In fatigue, it only feels like we're going to die. The actual physiological risks that fatigue represents are essentially trivial."
>
> ...
> Fatigue, the researchers argue, is less an objective event than a subjective emotion — the brain's clever, self-interested attempt to scare you into stopping. The way past fatigue, then, is to return the favor: to fool the brain by lying to it, distracting it or even provoking it. (That said, mental gamesmanship can never overcome a basic lack of fitness. As Noakes says, the body always holds veto power.)
>
> ...
> The theory would also seem to explain a sports landscape in which ultra-endurance events have gone from being considered medically hazardous to something perilously close to routine. The Ironman triathlon in Hawaii — a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and marathon-length run — was the ne plus ultra in endurance in the 1980's, but has now been topped by the Ultraman, which is more than twice as long. Once obscure, the genre known as adventure racing, which includes 500-plus-mile wilderness races like Primal Quest, has grown to more than 400 events each year. Ultramarathoners, defined as those who participate in running events exceeding the official marathon distance of 26.2 miles, now number some 15,000 in the United States alone. The underlying physics have not changed, but rather our sense of possibility. Athletic culture, like Robič, has discovered a way to tweak its collective governor.
>
> ...
> "I find motivation everywhere," Robič says. "If right now you look at me and wonder if I cannot go up the mountain, even if you are joking, I will do it. Then I will do it again, and maybe again." He gestures to Mount Stol, a snowy Goliath crouched 7,300 feet above him, as remote as the moon. "Three years ago, I got angry at the mountain. I climbed it 38 times in two months."
>
> Robič goes on to detail his motivational fuel sources, including his neglectful father, persistent near poverty (three years ago, he was reduced to asking for food from a farmer friend) and a lack of large-sponsor support because of Slovenia's small size. ("If I lived in Austria, I would be millionaire," he says unconvincingly.) There is also a psychological twist of biblical flavor: a half brother born out of wedlock named Marko, Jure's age to the month. Robič says his father favored Marko to the extent that the old man made him part owner of his restaurant, leaving Jure, at age 28, to beg them for a dishwashing job.
>
> "All my life I was pushed away," he says. "I get the feeling that I'm not good enough to be the good one. And so now I am good at something, and I want revenge to prove to all the people who thought I was some kind of loser. These feelings are all the time present in me. They are where my power is coming from."
>
> ...
> Robič talks about his plans for the coming year. He talks about his wife, whose job has supported them, and he talks about their son, who is starting to walk. He talks about how he will try to win a record third consecutive RAAM in June, and how he hopes race officials won't react to the recent fatalities by adding mandatory rest stops. ("Then it will not be a true race," he says.) In a few months, he'll do his signature 48-hour training, in which he rides for 24 hours straight, stays awake all night, and then does a 12-hour workout.
--["That Which Does Not Kill Me Makes Me Stranger"](http://www.nytimes.com/2006/02/05/sports/playmagazine/05robicpm.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all), _New York Times_
> "Don't tell me what you can't do. You don't want to. That's understandable; it's crazy, asking strangers you've only just met for money. But don't confuse what you're unwilling to do with what's impossible to do. If you want to go, raise your voice and ask them, 'Who's willing to give me money to go to the next seminar?' Or sit down."
> ...
>
> He swallowed, thinking it over. I don't know what would have happened if he'd sat down; I'd like to say that the seminar leader would have said, "You made an honest choice" and walked away, but probably not. It was, after all, about the money. But no, Salesman Guy said, in a wavering voice, "Will anyone give me money to go to the next seminar?"
>
> There was a long, uncomfortable silence. Then someone reached for his wallet. "I'll give you $10 towards it."
>
> That broke the ice. Next, a woman got her purse open and said, "I've got $20 to spare." And lo, once asked, the entire room started pulling out cash until he had enough to go, all fully donated, and wham, he was in. And then the next person who wanted to go but was even broker than Salesman Guy stood up and asked, and the next person had to go out into the hall and ask est employees and volunteers for cash, which was even more embarrassing, but they got it.
>
> Everyone who wanted to go got their cash that day. (And a lot of people remained seated, or just said "no.")
>
> I was both squicked and enlightened. Because the cash clearly went towards est's benefits - but the guy was also absolutely right about reasonable efforts. We live in a culture so bound by what most people are willing to do that we often take them as hard limits - "I can't do more than that," we say. "I've done the best I can." But it really isn't. It's just the best we're willing to do for right then.
>
> When I was running and got my side-stitch, I really thought that I'd put 100% into it. But the truth was that I hated running, and I hated exercise, and I was putting maybe 20% of myself into it. If I was being chased by a bear, suddenly I'd find new reserves within me. And though I hated math homework, and thought that the grudging half an hour I did was really balls-out for math homework, I'd forget how many hours I'd spend memorizing PAC-Man patterns.
>
> After that, I realized where my real limits were - they were way up there. And maybe I could stop telling myself and others that I did my best. I didn't. Not even close. I did what I thought was reasonable.
>
> Sometimes you don't want reasonable.
--["On Reasonable Efforts"](http://theferrett.livejournal.com/1587858.html), Ferrett Steinmetz
<http://lesswrong.com/lw/uo/make_an_extraordinary_effort/>
<http://lesswrong.com/lw/un/on_doing_the_impossible/>
<http://lesswrong.com/lw/2p5/humans_are_not_automatically_strategic/>
# Useful child abuse
Repugnant Hansonian idea:
We know that child abuse is strongly correlated with a wider standard deviation in adult accomplishment (TODO: what's the long-term longitudinal study about this? Not the Harvard one?) (it can destroy the kids, but also spur them on to great achievements). This is a little odd, since one might expect child abuse to be purely destructive and not grant intrinsic motivation. But since great achievements are so much more valuable than mediocrity (one genius can 'make up for' thousands or even millions of gutless wonders), this suggests that if we just care about utility, and we can't shift the whole bell curve over to the right hand side (to greater achievement), then we want to widen the standard deviation as much as possible. Given that child abuse is one such widening, then this suggests that we as a society taking the long view do not want to interfere with child abuse. Another consideration is Nick Bostrom's 'status quo bias', which suggests that the current status quo may be incorrect; if something in the air caused a 1% increase in child abuse and this gave us, say, 10 extra Nobel Prizes' worth of work a year, (TODO: is this plausible based on the motivation research? Crunch the numbers), and we would permit this, then we ought to be willing to cause such a 1% increase as well as permit it.
Possibly relevant links:
- <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/01/07/bill-zeller-dead-princeto_n_805689.html>
- <http://www.mindingthecampus.com/originals/2010/10/imber.html>
- <http://www.newsweek.com/2010/07/10/the-creativity-crisis.html>
- <http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/22/books/review/Tanenhaus-t.html>
- <http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/26/health/26zuger.html>
- <http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/06/magazine/06Soccer-t.html>
- <http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/08/100804151456.htm>
- <http://www.slate.com/id/2250078/pagenum/all/>
# On the absence of true fanatics
> "A few honest men are better than numbers."^[[Oliver Cromwell](!Wikipedia), letter to Sir William Spring (September 1643)]
The famous [Tueller drill](!Wikipedia) reports that a knife man can cover 21 feet & stab in just 1.5 seconds - faster than most trained people can draw and shoot a gun. While victims always fight back, they are still dispatched in seconds[^fbi].
[^fbi]: Steve Moore, ["The Mountain of Missing Evidence"](http://www.injusticeinperugia.org/FBI2.html) while writing on the [Amanda Knox](!Wikipedia) case:
> "When I was on an FBI SWAT Team, we had an exercise designed to teach us the dangers of trying to fight off a knife attack. A red magic-marker played the part of a knife, and an “assailant” would attempt to attack another member of the SWAT Team with it. We did this in white t-shirts and open sleeves so we could see the wounds. Within seconds, the assailant had usually dispatched the victim with stabs and slashing attacks to the neck and torso, as the victim fought back desperately. Without exception though, the attacker was “cut”. Always. And almost every time on the hands or fingers. This is because the victim, in attempting to fight off a knife, reaches for the hands, which deflects the knife into fingers or other parts of the hands. In addition to the “cuts”, there were bruises and lacerations simply from elbows and arms flying. Also, folding knives have no ‘hilt', a perpendicular piece between the knife handle and blade to keep your hand from sliding forward when using the knife for stabbing. When this happens, the attacker usually receives slash injuries to his finger just below (or in the vicinity of) the second knuckle. Amanda could not have known that. She had no such cuts. Rudy Guede, when arrested had such cuts across three of his fingers. One piece of evidence used against O.J. Simpson in his stabbing/slashing murder trial was that he had a severe cut on his finger, likely inflicted during a stabbing motion when his hand slid over the blade. In the FBI, I have been involved in several physical altercations, including a couple of attempts to take a knife away from a person. Each of those events ended in all parties having bruises and/or cuts. And these people weren't fighting for their life; they were just fighting to keep from being arrested. Meredith had 46 wounds consistent with a fight for her life. Rudy had just such cuts on his hand. If Meredith had been attacked by three people, is it plausible that in all of Meredith's fighting that she was unable to inflict a single scratch or a bruise on either of her other two attackers? Not really."
There is a lesson here. I take away this message: most people don't really care. The existentialists tell us we have tremendous power & freedom but we don't use it and we forget it except on occasion when we read with awe of prodigious feats by religious figures like [self-immolation](!Wikipedia) or [self-mummification](!Wikipedia "Sokushinbutsu") or the [Kaihōgyō](!Wikipedia)'s endless marathons. I agree that we have tremendous destructive powers, but this also implies that we have limited constructive powers. (Destructive powers don't interfere with each other, but they mean that it is far harder to create than to destroy. Anyone can destroy a DVD with ease, but to manufacture it, much less create whatever it stored, is much harder - a task fit for an entire country or civilization.)
Destruction can be useful though. Many people all over the political spectrum has expressed earnest desires in the last few years to destroy some group or institution. Terrorists come to mind.
But the odd thing is, very little destruction has happened. A nut with a gun has an average kill or destruction rate better than that of your average terrorist. A little effective planning, and a nut could do a *lot*. [Marvin Heemeyer](!Wikipedia) is a case in point. Despite unrelenting police opposition, he and his armored bulldozer destroyed 13 buildings worth $7 million. He was stopped by his own incompetence when he drove the bulldozer into a basement; he then committed suicide. (The police were requesting an airstrike from an Apache, but who knows how long that would have taken?)
I also point out a far more effective terrorist strategy than existing ones in my [essay on terrorism](Terrorism is not Effective).
A good answer for terrorists specifically is the social one; but what about everyone else? Why do they not pursue their targets with all the highly effective means possible?
> "If we were bees, ants, or Lacedaemonian warriors, to whom personal fear does not exist and cowardice is the most shameful thing in the world, warring would go on forever.
> But luckily we are only men - and cowards." --Erwin Schrodinger, _Mind and Matter_
The answer is motivation and values. We value ordinary comforts & life. The power is available to us only at the cost of everything else. Fruitful comparison might be made with idiot savants or autistics with obsessive interests, or less pathologically, subgroups like 'otaku' or '[anoraks](!Wikipedia "Anorak (slang)")'.
Fictional examples are also of interest. [Larry Niven](!Wikipedia) offers us the [Known Space](!Wikipedia)'s [Pak Protector](!Wikipedia) - a genius variety of human who are obsessed with protecting their kindred. Though described as super-intelligences, Niven, being an ordinary human himself, depicts Pak feats within reach of a motivated human. [Vernor Vinge](!Wikipedia) postulates 'Focus' in his _[A Deepness In The Sky](!Wikipedia)_: a [hyperfocus](!Wikipedia) or permanent state of being ['in the zone'](!Wikipedia "Flow (psychology)") - with the [monomania](!Wikipedia) that implies. (It is worth noting that studies of human genius frequently say that raw IQ and talent are not helpful past unexceptional levels like 130 IQ; what makes the difference is motivation and the 'drive to mastery'.)
Fanatics are frightening. Suicide tactics in even small quantities can be highly effective. The Jewish _[sicarri](!Wikipedia)_, or Japanese [kamikaze](!Wikipedia) are cases in point. Though small in number, they *were* more effective than conventional methods. (Kamikazes were neutralized by the end of WWII, but only by vast opposition - hundreds of defending planes, pickets stationed more than 50 miles away, improved artillery, etc.) That terrorists do so little enhances this point: one [9/11](!Wikipedia) was so effective that for a million dollars or two at most, it triggered the expenditure (and waste) of thousands of lives and literally trillions of dollars. 1 or 2 million dollars wouldn't even buy a dictator a worthless tank which the USAF could bomb! Compare this to something like [Occupy Wall Street](!Wikipedia), which has determinedly avoided violence, in a misguided attempt to shame the shameless[^disconnect] and inspire action. (The shame seems important; Gandhi succeeded with minimal violence on his part because he waged in essence a propaganda campaign against the British elite, who never before had trouble holding India, while it is often forgotten that Nelson Mandela was a terrorist, perhaps because the South African elites were unified and could not be simply shamed - so the ANC switched to international propaganda combined with long-term threats.) Moral suasion is neither sufficient nor necessary, and I suspect OWS will run into a similar fate as the [Bonus Army](!Wikipedia): burned out of their camps, dispersed, and ultimately as effective as the anarchists and socialists of yore (giants compared to their contemporaries).
[^disconnect]: The idea of elite cohesion and lack there of is an interesting one; what I wonder, as I watch modern politics, is 'are the current Anglosphere elites more or less cohesive than past cohorts, and if they are, is this due to free market ideologies and mechanisms which serve to punish dissidents and elevate those who are capable [sociopathic and intelligent enough to ['sparkle'](http://lesswrong.com/lw/ub/competent_elites/)?] and also who wish to defend and cleave to the status quo?' Some interesting quotes from ["Insight: The Wall Street disconnect"](http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/11/18/us-wallst-disconnect-idUSTRE7AH0Z620111118):
> 'Paulson responded by putting out a press release that described his $28 billion, 120-person fund as an exemplar of the American Dream: "Instead of vilifying our most successful businesses, we should be supporting them and encouraging them to remain in New York City." Other captains of finance like to portray themselves as humble entrepreneurs. One owner of a multi-billion-dollar hedge fund grumbled in the midst of the financial crisis that he has to worry not only about making trading decisions but also about "all the hassles that come with running a small business."..."I think everyone gets what the anger is about... But you just can't say, 'Well I want all debts forgiven.' That is not happening," says one West Coast trader, who like most still working in the financial services industry, declined to be identified by name in this article..."At first I had friends who were scratching their heads at the protests," says Ader...Thomas Atteberry, a partner and portfolio manager with Los Angeles-based First Pacific Advisors, a $16 billion money management firm, says his success "wasn't a gift" and he had to work hard to get where he is. Atteberry says he understands the frustration many feel about income inequality. But he said the problem isn't with those who are successful, but rather our "tax codes and regulations."...Many of America's well-to-do, not just Wall Streeters, say they don't feel particularly advantaged. A recent survey by marketing firm HNW Inc. found that half of the nation's richest 1 percent "don't see themselves as being part of that elite group." Also, 44 percent of those surveyed told HNW's pollsters they already pay too much in taxes...."I think Wall Street hasn't taken in how much anger there is out there and they haven't taken partial responsibility for the financial crisis," says Brookings Institution fellow Douglas Elliott, who was an investment banker for two decades before joining the liberal-oriented public policy group. "I think both sides - Wall Street and Main Street - misunderstand each other."
Suppose people angry at Goldman Sachs were *truly* angry: so angry that they went beyond posturing and beyond acting against Goldman Sachs only if action were guaranteed to cost them nothing (like writing a blog post). If they ceased to care about whether legal proceedings might be filed against them; if they become obsessed with destroying Goldman Sachs, if they devoted their lives to it and could ignore all bodily urges and creature comforts. If they could be, in a word, like Niven's Protectors or Vinge's Focused.
Could they do it? Could they destroy a 3 century old corporation with close to $1 trillion in assets, with sympathizers and former employees throughout the upper echelons of the United States Federal Government (itself the single most powerful entity in the world)?
Absolutely. It would be easy.
As I said, the destructive power of a human is great; let's assume we have 100 fanatics - a vanishingly small fraction of those who have hated on GS over the years - willing to engage even in assassination, a historically effective tactic[^bread] and perhaps the single most effective tactic available to an individual or small group.
[^bread]: All anecdotes like Lincoln or Kennedy or Archduke Ferdinand aside, statistical analysis seems to bear out that, as one might expect, assassinations do change things. From ["Hit or Miss? The Effect of Assassinations on Institutions and War"](http://ipl.econ.duke.edu/bread/papers/working/150.pdf), Jones & Olken 2007:
> "To implement this approach, we collected data on all publicly-reported assassination attempts for all national leaders since 1875. This produced 298 assassination attempts, of which 59 resulted in the leader's death. We show that, conditional on an attempt taking place, whether the attack succeeds or fails in killing the leader appears uncorrelated with observable economic and political features of the national environment, suggesting that our basic identification strategy may be plausible.
>
> We find that assassinations of autocrats produce substantial changes in the country's institutions, while assassinations of democrats do not. In particular, transitions to democracy, as measured using the Polity IV dataset (Marshall and Jaggers 2004), are 13 percentage points more likely following the assassination of an autocrat than following a failed attempt on an autocrat. Similarly, using data on leadership transitions from the Archigos dataset (Goemans et al., 2006), we find that the probability that subsequent leadership transitions occur through institutional means is 19 percentage points higher following the assassination of an autocrat than following the failed assassination of an autocrat. The effects on institutions extend over significant periods, with evidence that the impacts are sustained at least 10 years later."
[Julian Assange](!Wikipedia) explains the basic theory of [Wikileaks](!Wikipedia) in a 2006 essay, ["State and Terrorist Conspiracies" / "Conspiracy as Governance"](http://cryptome.org/0002/ja-conspiracies.pdf): corporations and conspiracies form a [graph](!Wikipedia "Graph (mathematics)") network; the more efficiently communication flows, the more powerful a graph is; [partition](!Wikipedia "Graph partition") the graph, or impede communication (through leaks which cause self-inflicted wounds of secrecy & paranoia), and its power goes down. Carry this to its logical extreme...
> "If all _links_ between conspirators are cut then there is no conspiracy. This is usually hard to do, so we ask our first question: What is the minimum number of _links_ that must be cut to separate the conspiracy into two groups of equal number? (divide and conquer). The answer depends on the structure of the conspiracy. Sometimes there are no alternative paths for conspiratorial information to flow between conspirators, other times there are many. This is a useful and interesting characteristic of a conspiracy. For instance, by assassinating one 'bridge' conspirator, it may be possible to split the conspiracy. But we want to say something about all conspiracies."
We don't. We're interested in shattering a specific conspiracy by the name of Goldman Sachs. GS has ~30,000 employees. Not all graphs are [trees](!Wikipedia "Tree structure"), but all trees are [graphs](!Wikipedia "Tree (graph theory)"), and corporations are usually structured as trees. If GS's hierarchy is similar to that of a [binary tree](!Wikipedia), then to completely knock out the *8* top levels, one only needs to eliminate 256 nodes. The top 6 levels would require only 64 nodes.
If one knocked out the top 6 levels, then each of the remaining subtrees in level 7 has no priority over the rest. And there will be $2^7 - 2^6$ or 64 such subtrees/nodes. It is safe to say that 64 sub-corporations, each potentially headed by someone who wants a battlefield promotion to heading the entire thing, would have trouble agreeing on how to reconstruct the hierarchy. The stockholders might be expected to step in at this point, but the Board of Directors would be included in the top of the hierarchy, and by definition, they represent the majority of stockholders.
We could in fact partition a binary tree in half just by assassinating the root node, the CEO, and this has become a revived strategy in this age of the corporation; [John Robb](!Wikipedia "John Robb (military theorist)"), ["Piercing the Corporate Veil"](http://globalguerrillas.typepad.com/globalguerrillas/2005/04/piercing_the_co.html):
> "CEO kidnapping isn't new. It is common practice in Brazil, Mexico, etc. The difference in Iraq is the motive. In Iraq, it isn't purely financial gain. It is being used as a way to unravel the fledgling Iraqi government. Here's why. America's second largest ally in Iraq isn't the UK. Not even close. Corporations like Halliburton provide almost as many trigger pullers and engineers as the US Army. They are the battalions of foot soldiers in Thomas Barnett's sys-admin force -- connecting Iraq to the US and the world. This role converts CEOs into generals/colonels in the US globalization machine (leaders of new entrants in the rapidly expanding long tail of warfare). They are now legitimate and highly prized targets.
>
> ...The corporation is a particularly bad organization for warfare. It is much too centralized. The institution of the CEO is a particular weakness (a [systempunkt](!Wikipedia) in global guerrilla lingo). The CEO's network centrality makes him/her a single point of failure for the entire corporate organism....
>
> - Financial trauma. The departure of the CEO from a public company can create substantial market volatility in the company's stock (see this [Fed study](http://www.newyorkfed.org/research/staff_reports/sr166.pdf) for more) for up to two years after the event. *Note*: This volatility offers the incentive of rapid financial gains to guerrillas with the foreknowledge of attacks through leveraged investments in options and derivatives...
>
> ...a CEO is an *excellent* strategic target as well as a tactical target. As a rule of thumb, I would consider all CEOs that reside/work within a nation-state at war with non-state guerrillas at risk. Under almost all measures of this new method of warfare, CEOs are better targets than government or military officials. Remember, in this *flat* world, it is easy to pull up a CEO's name, address, credit history, and even a satellite photo of his/her home from a Cyber Cafe in Peshawar."
(A worrisome counter-example is [Cantor Fitzgerald](!Wikipedia), which lost an entire office and 2/3 of its headcount on 9/11, but is still around. But this fits into the graph formalism well if we look at the details[^cantor] and notice that the damage was entirely confined to a single group in CF. An office is just a subgraph - losing an entire office meant that the hierarchy was preserved: one subtree was lopped off, and the main tree continued. Every survivor knew where they were in the hierarchy.)
[^cantor]: ["The Survivor Who Saw the Future for Cantor Fitzgerald"](http://dealbook.nytimes.com/2011/09/03/the-survivor-who-saw-the-future-for-cantor-fitzgerald/?ref=business&pagewanted=all), reveals many interesting details from the 'attack' point of view:
- Cantor was the linchpin of its business ("In 2001, more than 70 percent of all Treasuries were traded through Cantor."), a business which, thanks almost directly to 9/11 and the subsequent invasions of Afghanistan & Iraq with the continued deficits & war-spending, was about to boom:
> "...based on data released by the company and payouts to families, Cantor and eSpeed made about $150 million a year, on average, in the five years after the attacks. For all its losses and sorrows, Cantor actually had the wind at its back. eSpeed thrived in 2002 and 2003 thanks in part to the nation's ballooning debt. As the government sold more bonds to finance its deficit, the bond market grew and Cantor had more Treasuries to trade."
- the Cantor CEO *and* chairman, Howard W. Lutnick, worked in the NYC office yet by sheer luck happened to not be there
- Cantor had a London office and which was able to handle Cantor's main business:
> "Unable to reach Mr. Lutnick on Sept. 11, Lee Amaitis, the head of the London office and a close friend, began mapping out a plan. He helped reconfigure Cantor's trading systems so that trades could be processed through London, rather than New York. Mr. Lutnick and his remaining employees in New York soon decamped to a windowless computer center in Rochelle Park, N.J. Thanks to eSpeed, Cantor could clear its trades electronically. Forty-seven hours after the planes hit, as the bond market nervously reopened for business, so did Cantor."
- the aforementioned eSpeed was also crucial - the humans were not *that* necessary:
> "In 1999, he took public Cantor's electronic trading subsidiary, eSpeed. Some of his brokers feared that such electronic trading systems would eventually put them out of work. In fact, Mr. Lutnick's electronic push helped Cantor stay afloat after Sept. 11. Cantor lost almost all of its brokers — but eSpeed didn't need brokers. Without the new trading technology, Cantor might have gone under. “In a way, eSpeed saved them,” says Richard Repetto, an analyst at Sandler O'Neill, which itself lost 66 employees at the World Trade Center."
One could launch the attack during a board meeting or similar gathering, and hope to have 1 fanatic take out 10 or 20 targets. But let's be pessimistic and assume each fanatic can only account for 1 target - even if they spend months and years reconnoitering and preparing fanatically.
This leaves us 36 fanatics. GS will be at a minimum impaired during the attack; financial companies almost uniquely operate on such tight schedules that one day's disruption can open the door to predation. We'll assign 1 fanatic the task of researching emails and telephone numbers and addresses of GS rivals; after a few years of constant schmoozing and FOIA requests and dumpster-diving, he ought to be able to reach major traders at said rivals. (This can be done by hiring or becoming a hacker group - as has [already penetrated Goldman Sachs](http://money.cnn.com/2011/09/28/technology/hackers_goldman_sachs/index.htm) - or possibly simply by [open-source intelligence](!Wikipedia) and sources like a [Bloomberg Terminal](!Wikipedia).) When the hammer goes down, he'll fire off notifications and suggestions to his contacts[^cantorredux]. (For bonus points, he will then go off on an additional suicide mission.)
[^cantorredux]: This may or may not be a useful strategy. [Lehman Brothers](!Wikipedia) was reportedly savaged by its fellows, who smelled its financial weaknesses; but Cantor Fitzgerald was reportedly attacked after 9/11, yet has survived:
> "Such was Mr. Lutnick's reputation that in the days and weeks after Sept. 11, some of his rivals actually gloated over Cantor's devastation. They jumped at the opportunity to put an end to his firm, which pocketed many millions in commissions while enabling the great investment houses to trade bonds in relative anonymity."
GS claims to have offices in all major financial hubs. Offhand, I would expect that to be no more than 10 or 20 offices worth attacking. We assign 20 of our remaining 35 fanatics the tasks of building Oklahoma City-sized truck bombs. (This will take a while because modern fertilizer is contaminated specifically to prevent this; our fanatics will have to research how to undo the contamination or acquire alternate explosives. The example of [Anders Behring Breivik](!Wikipedia)reminds us that simple guns may be better tools than bombs.) The 20 bombs may not eliminate the offices completely, but they should take care of demoralizing the 29,000 in the lower ranks and punch a number of holes in the surviving subtrees.
Let's assume the 20 bomb-builders die during the bombing or remain to pick off survivors and obstruct rescue services as long as possible.
What shall we do with our remaining 15 agents? The offices lay in ruins. The corporate lords are dead. The lower ranks are running around in utter confusion, with long-oppressed subordinates waking to realize that becoming CEO is a live possibility. The rivals have been taking advantage of GS's disarray as much as possible (although likely the markets would be in the process of shutting down).
15 is almost enough to assign one per office. What else could one do besides attack the office and its contents? Data centers are a good choice, but hardware is very replaceable and attacking them might impede the rivals' efforts. One would want to destroy the software GS uses in trading, but to do that one would have to attack the source repositories; those are likely either in the offices already or difficult to trace. (You'll notice that we haven't assigned our fanatics anything particularly difficult or subtle so far. I do this to try to make it seem as feasible as possible; if I had fanatics becoming master hackers and infiltrating GS's networks to make disastrous trades that bankrupt the company, people might say 'aw, they may be fanatically motivated, but they couldn't *really* do that'.)
It's not enough to simply damage GS once. We must attack on the psychological plane: we must make it so that people fear to ever again work for anything related to GS.
Let us postulate one of our 15 agents was assigned a research task. He was to get the addresses of all GS employees. (We may have already needed this for our surgical strike.) He can do this by whatever mean: being hired by GS's HR department, infiltrating electronically, breaking in and stealing random hard drives, [open source intelligence](!Wikipedia) - whatever. Where there's a will, there's a way.
Divvy the addresses up into 14 areas centered around offices, and assign the remaining 14 agents to travel to each address in their area and kill anyone there. A man may be willing to risk his own life for fabulous gains in GS - but will he risk his family? (And families are easy targets too. If the 14 agents begin before the main attacks, it will be a while before the Goldman Sachs link becomes apparent. Shooting someone is easy; getting away with it is the hard part.)
I would be shocked if Goldman Sachs could survive even half the agents.
The reader will object that this is absurd. An intellectual game. Which it is. Where are 100 humans who would not flinch at such cold-blooded mass murder, who will devote unceasing years to the mission, who will live on $1 of bulgur pilaf a day to save money for bombs & bribes?
I have just laid out a scheme whereby agents extraordinary only in dedication have exerted world-shaking power. Similar scenarios are true of other sectors. (The Secret Service works hard, but can they protect the President against the 100 fanatics?) Destruction and offense is always easier than construction and defense, but it's hard to see why the fanatic advantage would be *completely* negated in constructive enterprises. (Small groups of programmers and engineers routinely revolutionize sectors of technology, without being especially fanatical.) But of course, we see very few such schemes in either direction. That is the point. There is a very large gap between what we *can* do and what we *will* do. Coordination is extremely hard (see [principal-agent problem](!Wikipedia)).
But the scary thought is - will things remain that way? I have been at pains to keep the agents ordinary. Is there any way now or in the future to create such agents? My thoughts, anyway, immediately turn to the famed Assassins, whose name supposedly comes from their use of *hashish* to delude their agents into more than usual religious zealotry, and who were quite effective in bad circumstances until finally extirpated by the Mongols. Yes, drugs are a worrying precedent; the cravings of addiction can make someone do anything, no matter how depraved. And what are drugs but chemicals which affect small parts of the brain? And if a chemical will affect the brain in such a way, are there chemicals with enhanced effects? Or another way of accomplishing the same effect, perhaps with electricity?
In short, is there any reason to believe [wireheading](!Wikipedia) will not work in humans like it works in mice? Wireheading is generally dismissed^[eg. in [Dan Simmons](!Wikipedia)'s _[Hyperion Cantos](!Wikipedia)_ or Larry Niven's Known Space] as a problem that neatly solves itself: someone with a electrode in their pleasure center will be like a drug addict with an unlimited supply - they will bestir themselves only enough to stay alive to keep activating the electrode, if even that. Darwin takes care of the problem. But some see wireheading as [potentially very useful](http://www.wireheading.com), and it is not hard to think of safeguards. For example, what if the electrode is not under the control of the subject? Someone else controlling it could use it to get useful work out of the subject, although the obvious reply here is that a wirehead is like an evil genie: they truly care only about the stimulation and getting control of it, and not genuinely serving the controller (eg. _[Ring World](!Wikipedia)_) and like all evil genies, susceptible to backfiring spectacularly on anyone trying to use them. That is one scenario. Here is another: the electrode is under the control of a program connected to metrics chosen by the subject, like going to the gym. (Related topic: [nicotine & habit-formation](Nicotine#habit-formation).) The incentives are much more closely aligned: the subject could gain control of the stimulation, but that would frustrate another goal of his (going to the gym). Imagine the program hooked up to a comprehensive plan for attacking Goldman Sachs; one rather doubts that an agent will break the plan and not eat bulgur pilaf if that means he is simultaneously sabotaging the plan and also depriving himself of pleasure.
Such a prospect is awesome, in both the negative and positive sense. A wirehead has such potential.
And the next logical step, an uploaded mind which has been patched and rewritten to not even need pleasure-center stimuli to carry out its chosen goals? That would be a Singularity in the Vingean sense that one truly cannot predict beyond - whether the world will end in fire or ice.
# See also
- [Terrorism is not about Terror]() & especially [Terrorism is not Effective]() <!-- TODO: when this essay is complete & titled On Really Trying, link back from these 2 essays -->
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