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Bad Horse


Good stories defend us from bad philosophy.

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Jul
14th
2015

On the value of higher education · 3:32am Jul 14th, 2015

I've been posting something every Monday and Thursday evening for a few weeks now. Are you more likely to read my posts if they come out on a regular schedule? Did anybody even notice?


When I was in college, I routinely took 6 or 7 courses a semester, and I was a full-time student for 15 years. I have degrees in math, computer science, and bioinformatics, and minors in writing, linguistics, neuroscience, psychology, and cognitive science. I also studied a lot of molecular biology.

These degrees led to jobs in math, computer science, and bioinformatics. Yet, by a series of coincidences, I never used anything that I learned in a college class except for Unix. Which I didn't actually learn in any class. I had to teach it to myself for classes. I don't know if that counts.

After maybe 15 years of working, this week for the first time, I used something I might have learned in a college class. The financial software I was working on needed to figure out which transactions from a single user had been added together to get a total, or as near to it as they can get.

This is the 0/1 knapsack problem. I studied that! Maybe. Okay, I don't remember studying it, but it seems like something I would have studied. I knew what it was, anyway.

I knew they teach a slick dynamic programming method for it in college. But it was a memory hog, so I hacked something up that was mostly brute-force but optimized away permutations when there were duplicate values, and cut the run-time to the square root of the naive algorithm by splitting the input set in half, finding the sums of subsets in each half, and looking for pairs that added up to the desired sum. It performed great! Everybody was happy.

Then I thought, I really should do the slick dynamic programming algorithm to prove that I learned something in college. So I spent a day coding it up and tried it out.

It was useless. It requires time and space proportional to the input set size times the sum you're looking for, which must be expressed as an integer. I thought it would be mostly useless; I didn't realize it would be almost completely useless, as any time the sum you're looking for is small enough to use the dynamic programming approach, the input set size is probably small enough to use brute force. I experimented with a lot of different problems, and found few cases where the dynamic programming approach was as fast as my pseudo-brute-force approach and didn't run out of memory.

So, basically, what I got from 15 years of college was one day of my time wasted.

EDIT: I lied. To be strictly truthful, these were courses I forgot about but did use: Discrete math, differential equations, numerical approximation. I also took a statistics course, but forgot everything in it by the time I needed it years later.


In other news, a few months ago a doctor told me I should have a test, an angiogram, just to be safe. How much would it cost? The doctor had no idea. Nobody had any idea. If I wanted I could call up my insurance and be put on call waiting for half an hour to finally be told they had no idea. But, hey! Everybody wants to be safe, right?

Today I got the bill. Turns out it cost $7300. Who knew?

I'm not complaining that the test is too expensive. They had a big room with bright lights and computer monitors and machines going "ping!" Machines that go "ping!" cost money. I am complaining that I would have had to file a subpoena to get a ballpark figure for what it would cost. I was like, "Is it over $1000? Is it bigger than a breadbox?" Nobody knew.

How do they not know this stuff? Do they just make the numbers up afterwards?

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Comments ( 101 )

I believe the actual value of a higher education is the following:

0) A line on a piece of paper saying you've gone through higher education, to present to the sort of unimaginative holder of capital for whom such things matter.

1) Developing patterns of thought. Learning how to learn is a skill with genuine lifelong utility.

Colleges don't directly teach this because it would essentially put them out of business. But if you're smart and take a lot of classes, or if you have a good teacher willing to buck the system, you might pick it up by implication.

2) Seeding your brain with a large depth of knowledge.

Humans are pattern-finding machines. If you learn a lot, you start tracing connections between those things. If you learn a great deal in a single field, you can specialize and push the limits of that field. If you learn a shallow sampling across a broad base, you become a writer.

Colleges do this pretty well. It's a useful survival strategy for the colleges. It seems fairly certain that teaching people deep and specialized knowledge is useful for the species overall. I'd have to think a lot harder about the benefits to the species (or the individual) of the Renaissance approach, because the subject hits a lot closer to home; a writer arguing that writing is good seems pretty self-serving, so I'd want to make certain that I'm arguing honestly.

Edited to add: Re posting schedule, I think the benefit of having a schedule is allowing people to anticipate your writing. I haven't been more likely to read your posts yet because they basically just come up on my feed whenever I happen to check it; but knowing that you're posting regularly I certainly might check your userpage on those days, even if I'm avoiding my feed because there's 40 notifications and I only have a few minutes.

I believe they do make the cost up afterward, they set the price higher if you don't have insurance and then factor in any financial aid you may qualify for. if you do have insurance they check what company and how much of a discount that company has negotiated, then what plan you have and how much of the test is covered, then they send you a bill for the remainder. It requires info from at least 2-3 sources to nail down a figure and none of them like working together, so good luck getting an estimate. :pinkiecrazy:

Maybe someday we'll get a not-crappy socialized single payer insurance system and astronomical medical bills will be a thing of the past.

Also wow that is a lot of college.

I noticed the schedule. I was actually thinking about it the night before last, and meant to ask you if you had an offsite blog. (And if not, to tell you that you should, because I think you could attract a more interesting audience that way, if not necessarily a larger one.)

Regarding the test, it sounds to me like another instance of the old doctor-ordering-expensive-tests-to-avoid-malpractice-suits racket. But I'm probably too cynical.

Frequently, the price charged by doctors is nearly a fantasy. If you *ever* have to have a medical procedure done without insurance, call up the billing office first and tell them, flat out, that you will be writing a check and you will be calling other hospitals for quotes. Just not having to deal with insurance gotchas and weaseling will often get you a deal better than the insurance companies get. Not all the times, but often.

The whole point of higher education is to get a diploma. Of course it is absurdly overpriced to get a piece of paper, but the issue would seem to be that if you attempt to obtain a less expensive piece of paper, it will not have an appropriate name for the location you got the piece of paper from on it.

In other news, I have determined that any professor who holds a degree in education is utter shit and does not know how to teach, but this may just be anger at the fact that I can't get a single competent professor in any of the required, non-major-related courses my school forces me to take. Hoo-ray for University Foundations 100.

I would suggest that your time in college wasn't completely wasted, insofar as It got you the Magic Sheepskin(tm), which is basically a union card allowing HR departments to consider you for jobs above the level of ditch-digger or disposable office temp.

Of course, I'm a bitter, cynical old curmudgeon and this colors my perceptions and my thought processes, so...

How do they not know this stuff? Do they just make the numbers up afterwards?

Yes. Yes they do.

EDIT: As far as stuff I learned in college in real life, I use my statistics courses reasonably frequently, and have, on a few occasions, used some calculus.

And I've gotten to tell stories to people about my college classes. That's something, right?

I went to some college! Never got the piece of paper though. I took all kinds of humanities and social sciences, and learned a lot of neat trivia! Most of it I've come to suspect is incorrect (or at least misleading,) but I learned it in college so I'm gonna keep quoting it in casual conversation, damn it.

I got two pieces of paper in 4 years that...well, actually, I would argue I still use a lot of what I learned in college. I can see lots of indirect benefits to the things I picked up there. That said, the direct benefit is vaguer, but...societally, we have a discussion we need to have about said value, because the gatekeeping mechanism is silly (Though I do get it; the degree is basically the 'You have passed boot camp' for the real world).

3236347

Or in other words, to reply to here - The job I'm at gets hundreds of applications whenever an opening, well, opens. While excluding random apps without degrees may miss us the absolute best candidate, screening to find the absolute best candidate is time prohibitive. The thing is that it's not about finding the absolute best, but rather the best you can get in the time you can dedicate to finding them. And if you don't go through the college grist-mill, then there are other avenues you can pursue; college degrees are basically a letter of recommendation you can carry forward in perpetuity to hand off to strangers.

One of the benefits of higher education, is that you are supposed to be able to use that fancy degree to negotiate a higher pay in your field, as you have the knowledge to back it up.

It seems that one problem is no one wants to pay for educated workers, so people who have less education end up getting the jobs now.

So, not much of a benefit at all, really.

Well, I read everything you post pretty much when you post it so... I did notice, but it made no difference. But in a good way. :twilightsmile:

I have degrees in math, computer science, and bioinformatics, and minors in writing, linguistics, neuroscience, psychology, and cognitive science. I also studied a lot of molecular biology.

...hanging out with you and Bradel is profoundly bad for my self-esteem. Between the two of you, I think you may have all the degrees.

So, basically, what I got from 15 years of college was one day of my time wasted.

I feel I've actually learned things in college, I think, though on reflection I think it's more that I was placed in situations where I had to teach myself things in order to do an exam or something. I do use things I've learned in college pretty much every day though I wouldn't like to sign a statement to the effect that they were actually on the syllabus.

What I certainly did learn—or was made to—was the intellectual fortitude to sit down at an unknown subject and hit my head against it sharply for months at a time until I get it. Sort of a learned intellectual masochism. Useful skill, especially if you are as tragically dim as I am.

And as for the knapsack problem (I studied that too! Can't remember a bloody thing, but I know I did.) why not use that really fast approximation thing? I mean currency values are stored with a fixed precision anyway... right? Possibly? (ignore me)

Today I got the bill. Turns out it cost $7300. Who knew?

?!?!?

First and foremost, are you okay?

Second and, uh, secondmost(?), I had an angiography of my eyes done a while back and they charged me about $400 for the privilege. Now, you may say that the doctors in Redactedstan are worse than their American counterparts, but are they eighteen times better? I don't know what you did an angiography of, but I checked online for the more common types and in Redactedstan and five-slice CT thoracic angiography costs on the order of $400. That's one hell of a difference in cost.

Third, how can they not know?!

3236557 I may have learned about the normal distribution in college. That would count for sure. Calculus would count, but I studied it in high school, not college. In college I studied math I don't use: set theory, topology, complex variables, real analysis, group theory. I think I took a discrete math course in college. I must have used that. I guess I lied.

In my senior year I had a choice between An Introduction to Statistics, and Elementary Linear Algebra which turned out to be neither elementary nor linear nor algebra.

I've always wished I'd taken Statistics. Nobody's ever tried to lie to me with an eigenvector.

15 years of college... wow. I'm nearing my 6th year, and I thought THAT was long. We have a different system as far as degrees go, but converted, I'll end up with biochemistry, biophysical chemistry, microbiology and minors in organic chemistry and plant physiology.

I'll probably be able to use some of that knowledge in the chemical or pharmaceutical industry, but apart from that, the knowledge shaped my view of the world. There's quantum mechanics that radically showed me the boundaries of abstract thought. The iron/sulphur world theory that showed me how abiogenesis could have happened... who does NOT want to know how life could have come into existence? There's the study of metabolic pathways, that enables me to retrace the effect of certain foods, instead of having to believe someone when they say "high-fructose corn syrup is bad, mkay?". Just to name a view things. I think reducing the value of education to applicability in a job is pretty sad.

3237012

I think reducing the value of education to applicability in a job is pretty sad.

It is also sad to spend a large portion of your life preparing to do interesting and exciting things, and then never get to do any of them.

3237018 I'm sorry you feel that way. Do you not find value in understanding things about psychology or molecular biology in your daily life?

As for me, my studies were less about acquiring skills and more about learning principles. I started out to learn about reality. There are some things I had to do that I won't be needing in any way, like dissecting rats, but that wasn't one of my favourites anyway. I'm also actually quite happy my life won't involve solving Schroedinger equations on a regular basis.

I was gonna be all, "Fifteen years! Even I don't know if I could handle that!" Then I counted, and it looks like I'm currently on fourteen, and likely to do two more.[1] Though to be fair, two of those years I wasn't a full-time student. Anyway, that still seems like a long time—or at least it does until my mental defenses kick in and try to convince me I'm not a crazy person myself.

Have I ever used any of the things I learned? Well, that's a tough question since I'm academic-track and this stuff is probably my permanent job anyway—so the statistics, yeah, I use pretty much all of it, and constantly. I occasionally have to do some higher-level calculus, so I guess those courses were reasonable. The rest of my non-analysis[2] math courses were pretty much just teasers to show me subfields, and I've rarely had to do anything complicated in them, though. Most of my degrees/coursework just give me good stories to talk about and (like 3237012 and 3236347 discussed) clever ways of viewing the world.

I'm really disappointed in the sentiment a lot of folks are expressing here, though—namely that education is all about getting a diploma / getting a job. I can understand that sentiment, and I used to share it, but increasingly I feel like the cynicism there does us all a disservice. Clearly, increasingly corporatized university administrations put most or all of their focus on the "provide money, receive paper" system. And clearly, this is the main line that's getting pushed to high school and undergraduate students. "Go to college and get a degree so you can get a better job." But commoditizing education like this does the whole thing a great disservice, I think. Education should be about learning to appreciate the world in a deeper way, learning to recognize patterns in life that you wouldn't have discovered on your own, learning how to advance the species. It ought to be a goal in its own right, not a proxy for employability. And what bothers me about the "do it for the degree" attitude is that it tacitly cedes the argument to the folks trying to make education a for-profit venture: money can be exchanged for goods and services. That's not ground I want to fight on. A nation (and a species) has a vested interest in providing education to those who want it, and individuals have an interest in trying to improve their own quality of life by pursuing it.[3]


[1] Also, my list includes degrees in psychology, math/CS, Japanese language and society, and statistics; with minors or significant other work in history, film studies, and French.

[2] Real analysis is bread and butter to me. I really ought to learn some Fourier analysis sometime, because I've got the impression it can come in handy and I've never really seen it in my own coursework.

[3] Also, to be honest, I want to clear some of the intellectual chaff out of our universities—students who I can't imagine would have ever decided to go there if they didn't feel like they needed a college degree to get a decent job. I'm involved with teaching 220-person intro stats classes about twice a year (I do secondary instruction for about half of each class), and I've run across a lot of students who shouldn't have graduated high school, much less been admitted to university. My favorite story involves working with one student during office hours. I walked the student through a problem, and we established that the answer she needed was 1/2, I think. Except she needed it in decimal form. The student tried to pull out her calculator to solve the problem—the 1 divided by 2 problem. I told her to put the calculator away, because she didn't need it. She argued, but eventually conceded. Then she stared at the "problem" for about fifteen seconds, and had no idea how to do it. At which point I let her use her calculator.

I have other stories. I wish I didn't. We're sending a lot of people to college who have no interest in learning, and who just want a fancy piece of paper they can frame. In my mind, these people are just as much of a problem as the profit-motivated administrators. I'm happy, ecstatic even, to teach anyone who wants to learn. I spent the last year tutoring a guy who sucked pretty hard at math, helping him get a stats minor, and I did it because I loved statistics and wanted to learn, even though he was often terrible at it. That's the kind of student I want to see. Students who aren't actively interested in learning shouldn't be taking resources away from students who are. I know this attitude makes me elitist and potentially obnoxious, but dear God I don't want to have to deal with some of these students. At least the 1/2 woman came to office hours.

3237112

I've run across a lot of students who shouldn't have graduated high school, much less been admitted to university

This. What's worse is that I feel the system is changing to accommodate those students. What's the one thing you just need time but no intellectual abilities for? Learning shit by heart. More and more courses are exactly that. I had fellow students who could recite papers on x-ray scattering word for word, but if you asked them why the sky was blue they were rendered completely helpless. The fact that people like this get straight As most of the time makes studying increasingly frustrating for people that actually belong there.

3236627
We could potentially save a lot of money by making there be multiple levels of high school diplomas, which actually measured competency. Some combination of standardized testing, passing standards, ect. would get you a more prestigious degree which basically said "this person is smart and can get their work done", which, let's face it, is the real point of a number of college degrees.

Oregon actually tried this at one point, but never fully implemented it because too many people were failing. The sad thing is, that probably indicated that it was actually doing what it was supposed to do.

3237112
The real issue is a value proposition; is this worth $80,000-160,000 (or more!) to people?

How many universities would we have if we actually acknowledged the reality that most of what we do there is for personal edification rather than practical?

I don't think that the money I spent on my education was wasted, but I'm a nerd, and the fact that I'm unlikely to use a lot of the knowledge I accumulated at Vanderbilt in the "real world" doesn't especially bother me. Learning about how the world works is a good thing, I think, and it has made me a better citizen and a better person, and let me understand why things are the way they are.

And I think all of that is valuable. And frankly, I think a lot of people are made more valuable citizens by college, even if they don't directly use what they're learning, because they come to understand more about how the world functions in various ways, and thus come out the other side less confused by the world. A lot of people are, frankly, bewildered by reality.

That being said, I still encounter plenty of people who went to college who are still bewildered by reality, and that's a problem. And I'm not sure that goes away if we stop pretending, because - let's face it - there are university professors who are bewildered by reality.

If we sell higher education as "making better citizens", I don't have any particular issue with it. But we really don't.

And I do understand Bad Horse's annoyance at the fact that he isn't getting to use a lot of the stuff he spent 15 years learning.

If our goal really is to try and sort people out by merit via college - which I think it is, to some degree - then we could do massive cost savings by, as I noted above, implementing another type of high school degree which says "This person is competent and capable". If our goal is to make better citizens, then college needs to be cheaper, because it is, in essence, a service for the public good - having a bunch of people who are more knowledgeable about how the world works running around in our democracy will (hopefully) improve our decision-making process.

But at present, I'm not sure that the cost/benefit analysis of going to college/university is reasonable unless you're getting substantial scholarships or are upper-middle class or above.

3236831
Because they really do make it up, and you're actually expected to challenge and bargain down every substantial medical bill in the US.

3237112

I would agree with you, however, college is far too expensive to be thought of anything(as a high-schooler myself.) but a choice to further a persons professional life. The eye-opening portion is a second factor in my opinion, but quite an important one.

3237825
I agree that college is unreasonably (even insanely) expensive at this point, and that's one reason why I want fewer people going to college. I don't think it's a worthwhile expense for many of them. Consider how much you could do with an idea for a small business and $100,000 in startup money. Or even how much practical experience you could get in a job field of interest with $100,000 set aside to allow you to do 3-5 years of unpaid internships.

The costs weren't always like that; in fact, they weren't like that until fairly recently. I spent five years as an undergrad, and I think my total bill came to something like $60,000—which includes textbooks, room and board, food, and everything else I needed to live for those five years. And that was only about a decade ago. And this is another one of those things I find troubling. University budgets in the US used to be tied much more closely to state funding, and students weren't on the hook for nearly as much of them. Privatizing education seems to me to have been an abject failure where education is concerned, although perhaps a success where profit-making is concerned. Almost exactly like what happened with the healthcare industry 20 years before, really. Healthcare used to be packed with non-profits. They all got driven out in favor of a for-profit system, costs skyrocketed, outcomes didn't improve, people went bankrupt, and here we are.

Anyway, if you're looking to improve your career prospects right now, college looks like a pretty stupid choice to me, unless you know in advance you'll be going into one of the disciplines where it can actually pay off (i.e. STEM fields).[1]

I largely agree with 3237651 about the idea of graduated high school diplomas, except that I suspect you can get those results even more easily than that. From my industrial psychology grad work, one of the big takeaways was that we've basically pinned down how job performance works. It's primarily determined by three things: motivation, conscientiousness, and job knowledge—and job knowledge is gained through intelligence. If you want to hire new people into a field, you ought to look for motivation, conscientiousness, and intelligence. College degrees work as a proxy for this, but I suspect their value is going down considerably as college degrees become de rigeur (dumbing down the motivation aspect) and grade inflation lets more students pass (dumbing down the intelligence aspect). College degrees remain, however, a pretty good conscientiousness proxy, since they demonstrate long-term task engagement. Anyway, my point here is, I suspect you could do better on the job front by just trying to gauge motivation, conscientiousness, and intelligence directly, than by looking for some weak, accepted proxy for all three.


[1] The current costs of an undergraduate education in the US just don't justify going into the humanities, not unless your family is independently wealthy, you're on scholarship, or you just plain don't care about career prospects. And I think that's a shame. I'm happy to rail against certain groups in the humanities because I think they're filled with incompetent fucking morons, but I do think the world is well-served by people having an appreciation for art and culture.

3237112
Honestly, I think what will go the furthest to solving most of those problems is universal basic income. (Not to mention, we're such an automated society — and the trend is only increasing — that pretty soon it's going to be unavoidable falling into either that or the grim meathook future. Naked capitalism simply breaks when capital can produce automated labor better than humans can produce it.)

Once the basic necessities of life are secured, the people who actually value education can spend as much time as they'd like on it without worrying about little things like starvation or homelessness. The result might look more like an intellectuals-of-FIMFiction style confab than an actual academic institution, but based on the fact that we all love this sort of stimulation enough to be typing here about it for free, maybe this is what we'd rather have than a set of scheduled classes anyhow.

3238236

grim meathook future

Oh, I think I know there that charming phrase came from... :twilightsmile:

Just about none of the facts or mathematical techniques that I learned in college are useful in my career. Granted, that's partly my fault because I took computer science engineering as a major and a physics minor and then went into a job which had nothing to do with said minor or any of the involved math (there's very little math and the math that does exist is slanted towards materials science majors so I still don't understand the science).

But what I did learn was techniques, or more maybe best practices. I could look up SQL syntax and learn it on the fly (in fact, I still do look it up whenever I need something more complicated than the simplest query), but I know on a deeply internalized level what a well-structured database looks like. Even though I forgot all the official terms for the levels of well-organizedness I will probably never in my life design a database that doesn't meet one of the higher of those levels. I could look up the syntax for any programming language I choose (and had to learn a new one when I got here), but I know how to properly take advantage of object-oriented design in a way that very few of my coworkers do (mostly because they grew up on old-ass programming languages, and I'm stuck using them most of the time too and letting that modern technique languish). I... ok, I can't actually think of a third example. Maybe those four years weren't super helpful, but I did learn something at least.

And, yes, they gave me a chance to get pieces of paper proving how smart I was, and those pieces of paper got me a job.

3237651 I have a four-year degree in anthropology (which is really a humanity despite being in the social science building) with a minor in political philosophy - theoretically, I'm a better citizen for that, but damn near all of my professional and usable life skills came from the first major job I had after college (selling vacuum cleaners door-to-door.) Those things being hard work, persuasion, charm, endurance, business sense, employee relations, training (how to train), contract reading, accountability, and the best way to trust (verify afterwards). This stuff got me pretty much everything I have right now, and I use those skills every damn day. It's teachable stuff, but no college course that I know of covers it (that includes business classes, since they tend to ignore the fact that people are human). I use my knowledge of how the US government works and how elections actually work on an almost annual basis.

I don't exactly blame my professors for not teaching that stuff, it was never their job, but some people (myself included) are not well cut out for the college environment even if they have the curiosity to make the most of the information a college environment is supposed to be transferring. While college might be a good way to make some people better citizens, I think the return on investment can only justify a cost that's a tiny fraction of what we currently charge.


3238236 I used to like the idea until someone pointed out a small problem: job hunting is scary.

For a lot of people, especially ones who've never had a job or haven't had to look for a job in a long time, job hunting is a frightening prospect. And it probably should be, seeing as it's very difficult to control your results: interviews rely on an uncommon skillset (how to get people to like you in about one minute), rejection is vastly more common (and rejection hurts), and even in a good economy with a worker shortage it tends to take time unless you are the very best at what you do.

Now imagine a world where job hunting was ultimately optional: you would benefit from finding a job, but if you don't, you stay where you are. Or, put another way: getting a job involves leaving your comfort zone, though it could be beneficial. While a logical, rational person would be looking for work almost all the time, and actual, human person will simply get very good at making excuses for why they don't have one.

I think a very large (and statistically significant) portion of the workforce would look for a job halfheartedly every once in a while, but would likely also give up relatively quickly if they don't find one. Or, in more behavioral terms: a lot of people wouldn't be willing to suffer all that much in order to potentially benefit from a job unless the job was highly rewarding and not difficult.

Unless you reached a truly post-scarcity society (like Star Trek levels of post-scarcity-ness) a full UBI would likely not be a good idea.

On the other hoof, a NIT would be a good idea for anyone who is either actively working, collecting from social safety nets legitimately, or a veteran (military or other public service).

3238206
Is there a good way to quickly gauge motivation and conscientiousness, though, apart from actual experience doing long-term stuff?

3238236
Predictions of future mass unemployment are extremely questionable; if you live in the US, you already live in a post-industrial society. The reality is there are still massive amounts of work to be done. We have gone from the limitation being food, to the limitation being stuff, to the limitation being services. It isn't like agricultural work or industrial work have gone away, we just do more with less. As transportation becomes increasingly automated, we'll have fewer need for transportation workers as well, and will make do with fewer of those.

In any case, it wouldn't work anyway; there are limits to how cheap stuff can possibly get, and time - labor - is always going to be a scarce resource. You need workers, and you need workers to provide for those who cannot/should not work - the young and the infirm. You can't go below a certain ratio without disaster. The service industry or infrastructure is where they have to go - you can't just have them not contribute, it creates problems.

Moreover, from the standpoint of your society's success, you don't actually want your best and brightest to spend forever getting smarter - they're the people who produce the most value. In fact, they're the people who make up for the losers in your society.

The end point is that those who are not engaged in "useful" pursuits spend their time on producing entertainment - indeed, you already see the beginnings of this on the internet, where people can be like "Hm, I want to get this story written or this drawn" and you can go and find someone who will do exactly that. If you want to commission someone really awesome, they cost a lot more money than the merely okay. Entertainment is a near-bottomless well as far as custom work goes, at least potentially.

If we really do have a future where the minimum requirements for any real job puts us in the position where half of society is unable to contribute meaningfully to it, then the meathooks are, I suspect, inevitable. Reciprocal altruism is an ESS; pure altruism is not. Pragmatically, there is no reason for society to value the worthless, and people who are worthless to society are the ones who are least likely to respect civilization and the most likely to set stuff on fire. It is hard, after all, to spend all night rioting if you have a job you need to get to in the morning.

So if you think that grim meathook future is inevitable if a lot of people are worthless to society, you'd better start figuring out how to make those people useful, cause otherwise I'm going to have to start get busy polishing and setting up grates.

3238236 The problem with Universal Basic Income (and various variations on the theme tried throughout history) is that this money has to be taken from somebody, most likely somebody who works very hard for it, and then given to somebody else who is *not* working for it. You encourage what you should discourage and vice versa, water doesn't flow uphill on its own, etc... Eventually, you wind up with the old Russian joke: We pretend to work, and they pretend to pay us.

3238206 Having a college degree in something that doesn't have the word 'Studies' in it is (more or less) proof that the bearer is able to take assigned tasks, work on them, and complete them to the satisfaction of the assign-er. It's a reasonable indicator of the ability of somebody to be an employee, but not necessarilly an indication of somebody's ability to be an employ-er or business person (See Steve Jobs, Rush Limbaugh, et al...)
3237966 My wife got all the way through her Electronic Engineer Technician degree, looked at me and said "Whew, now I can start work on my teaching degree.
Me: What? Huh?
Her: Well, I wanted to be a teacher, but I had all these credits that would have just been wasted...
Me: (pounds forehead against wall)

3237654 Not all of them. Generally, if you ask what the Blue Cross Blue Shield reimbursement on a procedure is, and then mention you were planning on writing a check directly, they get fairly cooperative fast. Billing takes up a huge proportion of their staff.
3237112 Seven here. Six for a degree, one for graduate level classes, and then a semester where they seemed awfully angry that I had found a way to take graduate level classes and get graduate level credit without paying the graduate school their vig. Got my present job the day my wife told me she was pregnant, and I've been working there ever since. Wonderful timing.

And much like Bad Horse, my first day at work I found out that almost every single computer programming class I had taken was useless to my job *except* the one where I learned Unix.

Adam Smith goes on for a bit about learning on the job and the relationship between work and innovation. He also makes quite the case for competitive, private education. I had my own plans for a story about Rainbow Dash and Twilight Sparkle going on their own rather different paths through their institutions of formal education which will probably never come to be. I think Twilight would gag at the idea of education as signaling, whereas Rainbow Dash would wonder how anyone could think otherwise.

People mostly don't pay for their health care in any kind of direct way, so doctors and hospitals have no incentive to be "on the ball" with respect to having any sense of how much they charge for various services. The numbers are not made up; they just genuinely don't know them.

3238623
Motivation is tough, and I suspect it shows a lot of internal variation. When I was studying this stuff back in 2007 and 2008, I don't think anybody had a really good way of testing for it. I can imagine that it might be something you could actually pick up with an interview, though—especially if you confined yourself to just looking for motivation and any social deal-breakers like whether a candidate is a rapist or axe murderer. Or Mexican, if you work for a Trump subsidiary.

Conscientiousness is pretty easy to handle, actually. The results coming out when I was doing my I/O psych work (from the people I was working with, no less) seemed to demonstrate pretty conclusively that you could use standard personality tests to assess this and get a significant improvement on job performance modeling over intelligence alone (which correlates at about 0.6 for most jobs, IIRC—higher for more complex jobs, lower for less complex ones, and it actually winds up being just about useless for anything that could do with time-and-motion studies).

There's been a fair amount of literature claiming personality doesn't impact job performance, or there had been prior to 2007 anyway, but what the folks I was working with pulled out via meta-analysis was that there was an underlying problem in measuring personality. Intelligence measures are very nicely repeatable; personality measures much less so. But there's an easy way to boost the reliability on personality measures: add more questions. Basically, if you made personality tests obscenely long or (perhaps better yet) gave a few of them over different days and averaged the results, you'd get a pretty stable measure—or at least as stable as you can get, since personality does change over time. Upshot being, once you got decent reliability out of these tests, you saw a pretty significant effect.[1]

Point being, I think you can clearly do better than just using degrees-as-signalling. Degrees can have an added benefit as a proxy for job knowledge, but then again, like Bad Horse was originally emphasizing, it's not clear how much job knowledge you actually get from a university education.


[1] A little psychometric inside baseball here. The issue is test-retest reliability—in short, the correlation a psychometric test has with itself. Say you give someone an intelligence test tomorrow, and then another one the next day. The observed scores for those tests are likely to be different, but (if memory serves) on a population level they should show a correlation of about 0.9. Test-retest reliability is one of the big problems psychometricians focus on. Standard personality tests fare about as well as intelligence tests, I think—maybe a little worse. But here's the thing. Let's say we want to correlate your score on a psychometric test to your job performance, and let's say our measure of your job performance is gold-standard, i.e. completely without error. Then our observed correlation is going to show shrinkage because we're trying to correlate job performance with something that's 81% real measure an 19% junk noise. Job performance won't correlate with the noise (or it damn well shouldn't, anyway), but it's not like you can remove the noise from the psychometric measure, so your correlation is just going to drop. With the intelligence–job performance link, intelligence has such a strong effect that it's easy to pick up even so. The link on conscientiousness is smaller but important, but the shrinkage is enough to wash it out in most research that's been done. To estimate it well, you need to find a more reliable measure of conscientiousness—and doing multiple measures will do that for you; it's just a bigger time sink. When you get a more reliable personality measure in there, the importance of conscientiousness—and more importantly, its incremental importance above intelligence—shows up very clearly.

3238352
Incidentally, I think Uncyclopedia has the best explanation of the Grim Meathook Future.

3238777
Don't you pretty much have to disguise your personality/intelligence tests in the US to pretend like they're specifically applicable to your job (as opposed to just being plain old IQ/personality tests) for the purposes of hiring?

While I did use plenty of what I learned in University (OO and parallel programming, a smattering of cryptography and network protocols, and plenty of math), the real value I got from my education was knowing people. Besides some wide name recognition (my Uni, USP, is essentially South America Ivy League), I met plenty of professors willing to give valuable letters of recommendation or friends willing to point me towards good jobs.

Not sure if I would pay 100k USD for something like that, but having a place where like minded people are forced to meet is something that College can do.

3238976
Did some quick internet research on this, and looked at a couple case law examples. The takeaway seems to line up with what I learned, though I never focused on the legal side of things. (Our department chair, Dr. Paul Sackett, was big into that, though, I think.)

The takeaway seems to be that, essentially, your legal department needs to be able to back up the relevance and validity of the hiring procedure in court—and that the relevant issue you need to be able to tackle is that you're not discriminating on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin except inasmuch as you have valid reasons to be doing so. For example, Hooters has a pretty valid reason for not hiring men as servers. But there's more to this, which I'll get into (somewhat controversially) in a second.

So, two pieces: relevance and validity. That's not a legal quote there, but a good summary of the issue. You need to be able to show that what you're testing is important to the job you're hiring for, and you need to show that your tests are "professionally developed", i.e. they measure what you say they're measuring and not other things. From a cursory inspection, professional development seems to be the trap a lot of companies hit here—they're using some in-house product, or something they just found for cheap, rather than something like Raven's APM, or the Stanford-Binet (which I'm betting cost considerably more to use, especially outside educational settings—though I don't actually know this). If you're using an in-house measure, you probably need to make sure it has a lot of face validity (e.g. the questions look like they're job-relevant) to defend against a relevance challenge. If you don't have face-validity for the job in question, you need to be able to back up the relevance of your hiring system—which is pretty easy, as long as you can establish that you've got a valid measure of intelligence like APM or SBIS. Intelligence and job performance is very well established, and it's a piece of cake to cite relevant literature. All you'd need to bridge at that point is a decent job analysis that shows the position involves more than assembly line work.

Summary: IQ tests and other intelligence tests are not illegal, but you need to make sure they're well-studied and that you know how to defend your use of them in court.

Okay, so this raises a secondary question, which is something I think people really need to talk about more, and be more aware of, even though I may draw some serious hate for saying this out loud. Why do IQ tests keep getting challenged in court?

The reason for that is, using an intelligence test will disadvantage black job applicants, on average. Similarly, it'll also advantage people of Asian and European Jewish descent, on average.

I'm obviously talking about racial differences in intelligence here, which is a topic people do not like to talk about, but much like honest historical discussions of the Nazi's, it's a type of conversation I think we desperately need to have.

Here's the problem. African-Americans score poorly on intelligence tests, on average. I believe, population-level, they tend to fall about a standard deviation below "average", which basically just means your Tumblr reference class. On the other side, Asian-Americans' population mean is about half a standard deviation higher in score terms, and Ashkenazi Jews have a population average a full score standard deviation higher than "average". Hispanics show no appreciable effect, and there's no real gender difference. That's my memory of the research on this, which reflects what was known in 2007—but which was, I think, pretty well established, even if nobody liked talking about it, for fairly obvious reasons.

This difference has gotten written off as "test bias" a lot, that the observed population level score differences are not meaningful and just reflect things like question effects, but I believe research on this has pretty conclusively demonstrated that the observed differences between populations are valid—e.g. when you look at intelligence correlates like health, income, etc, there's no difference in how well those correlations hold for different populations. Observed differences in intelligence for these populations track with exactly what they're supposed to track with. And the story just gets more depressing the more you look at this stuff; for instance, these differences are clearly heritable in adoption studies.

This is the point where a lot of scientists get run out of town on a rail, because this sounds an awful lot like: "black people are stupid". And this is the reason I'll almost always discuss this topic in terms of Asian-Americans and Ashkenazi Jews if I'm going to use it as a class example, because people don't mind feeling better than average, but they get pretty unhappy if you say something that makes them feel worse than average. So let's dig into this a bit more and see if it can be improved a little.

(1) The biggest point to remember is that this is a population-level deal. It doesn't say anything about individuals. It's perfectly possible for black people to be exceptionally smart, and there are many, many examples of such. It's perfectly possible for Asians to be dumb as rocks, and believe me I've met a few of them, too. (This is important, but if you know what a Gaussian distribution is, and if you know that the variance for intelligence is essentially constant across genders, races, occupation classes, and everything else you could choose to look at, though, this still feels rather depressing.)

(2) Although the observed differences are heritable, it's not clear that they're genetic. This can be tough to wrap your head around, and I'm still more than a little nervous that this is just an out people are giving themselves to not feel godawful about this data, but it's pretty easy to tell stories here. For one, consider Asians and European Jews. Anybody who knows much about the culture of these groups can see how they've essentially had forcing functions for intelligence for centuries. Eugenics (another thing people hate) suggests they've probably bred some of these changes into the genepool at this point, though, so it's again not super clear how well the genetic argument holds. But let's take a look at the reverse in a much more modern context: African-Americans in the US. If you've read, or seen excerpts from, President Obama's biographies, you may have some sense of what it's like going to school as a black kid in America. I don't think anybody's going to deny that President Obama is pretty damn smart, but he's talked about how social pressures effectively encourage black kids to not be smart. That's a big problem in itself, but it's potentially a different shape of problem. (And as an aside, I cannot tell you how happy I was when Barack Obama got elected president, purely because I think he's probably done a lot to change this already, just by being a figure black kids can look to and respect.)

Okay, there are the two caveats I usually see mentioned. Now, why am I digging myself this phenomenal hole?

Well, here's the thing. Everybody reads Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as saying you can't discriminate in hiring practices on the basis of race (or other protected factors). That's only partially true. What it really says is that you need to hire people based on real criteria that relate to job performance—and if you don't, and a protected class gets disadvantaged, you're legally liable. But intelligence is a valid (and really, really important) predictor of job success, and African-Americans perform worse than other groups on intelligence tests, which means that in point of fact, Title VII enshrines racism in hiring practices, on this particular count. If you're picking who science says will be the best workers, you will be disadvantaging African-Americans. You may hire plenty of them, especially in a large corporation, but because of the population issue here, you're probably going to wind up with proportionally fewer than you'd find in the local general population.

This is why I, and a lot of people, support affirmative action in hiring and college admissions—because if you don't have it, and use Title VII the way it's constructed, you continue to discriminate against African-Americans. And this goes back to the whole cultural thing—in my mind, at least, what we should be doing here is trying to provide enough opportunity for success and advancement to black people that we can start to turn around some of the cultural pressures over the long run.

In the US, our political system is hugely stacked against black people. Just read up on minimum sentencing laws for drug offences if you doubt it, or the incarceration rates for various demographic groups. I think a lot of people want to pretend that everybody in this country exists on an equal playing field, because that's a comfortable delusion, but it's just not true. And I think ignoring things like racial differences in intelligence does everybody a disservice, because it's basically ignoring an issue that science pretty conclusively says exists, just because it makes you uncomfortable.

Racial differences in intelligence don't mean racial differences in intrinsic human worth. Judging people based on their intelligence is, to me, deeply uncool. Everybody deserves life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and all that jazz. But conflating intelligence with worth, or pretending that differences between races, or genders, or sexual orientations, or anything else—pretending those differences don't exist is anti-intellectual and, I think, actively harmful to human progress. We need to recognize how our world actually is, and if that doesn't accord with how we want it to be, we need to take steps to change it. Living in a dream world where we're already there helps no one.

3237112

I fully agree with most of this; again, a lot of what I learned in college isn't directly obvious in how it lets me work/function better, save that I can see myself applying it. I wasn't contending college SHOULD be the gatekeeping for jobs; merely that it has become so because it functions as a quick barometer that lets you weed out candidates, where the real problem here is that job openings have far too many people applying for them.

Frankly, the corporateization of education I do think is a bad thing; at the same time I am simultaneously jealous and...maybe vexed? At the idea, that is, of being a full-time post-high school student for a 14-15 year period. On one hand I'd love to do so, on the other hand there's that aspect of 'Okay, but what's the return we see on this?' because right now, unfortunate as it may be, on a societal level there's a need for as many people as possible to be channeling things towards, well, improving the human condition; and while study may be fulfilling, it doesn't in and of itself contribute to that. On the other hand I'd contend a TA/Grad student whose teaching courses isn't really a full-time student, so much as a student-teacher hybrid. Which is an important distinction.

3237651
I really like the second part of this, and by and large I agree. The main point of college to me is more about well-roundedness than it is about specialized education, as barring the STEM fields, at an undergrad level you are mostly focused in that well-roundedness. And, well, that is good for everyone as a whole. The big problem I feel is a lot of students hitting college aren't adequately prepared for it, and that comes down to needing to improve the pre-college system in dramatic ways. Which will require a degree of public investment we aren't (unfortunately) yet willing to make.

3238236
The GBI is a when-not-if in my eyes, and hopefully we realize the importance of it sooner rather than later.

3238511
Counterpoint : As the pool of job applicants decreases, the ease of job hunting will go up. Companies right now don't need to streamline the process because of a glut of applicants, whereas if we have an environs where people aren't in a 'I need a job, any job' environment we'd have less chaff applications needing to sift through, and more wheat.

3238627
You fix that because plenty of people will still want to work to do things like take vacations, buy better stuff, and so on. The idea of the GBI is 'You aren't homeless and starving', but it's not meant to go much beyond that.

3237651

We could potentially save a lot of money by making there be multiple levels of high school diplomas, which actually measured competency. Some combination of standardized testing, passing standards, ect. would get you a more prestigious degree which basically said "this person is smart and can get their work done", which, let's face it, is the real point of a number of college degrees.

Like they have in Europe since before I was born.

3238647

I think Twilight would gag at the idea of education as signaling, whereas Rainbow Dash would wonder how anyone could think otherwise.

Heh. Yes.

3238206 Privatizing education seems to me to have been an abject failure where education is concerned, although perhaps a success where profit-making is concerned. Almost exactly like what happened with the healthcare industry 20 years before, really. Healthcare used to be packed with non-profits. They all got driven out in favor of a for-profit system, costs skyrocketed, outcomes didn't improve, people went bankrupt, and here we are.

Comically, I consider the same events to be failures of government interference. College costs went up each time the US government made college loans easier and cheaper to get. Health costs went up because the US government forced employers to provide health insurance in a peculiar way, of a peculiar type, that gave people no incentive to care about the costs.

3237112 But commoditizing education like this does the whole thing a great disservice, I think. Education should be about learning to appreciate the world in a deeper way, learning to recognize patterns in life that you wouldn't have discovered on your own, learning how to advance the species. It ought to be a goal in its own right, not a proxy for employability. And what bothers me about the "do it for the degree" attitude is that it tacitly cedes the argument to the folks trying to make education a for-profit venture: money can be exchanged for goods and services.

No; paid-for education is a commodity, period. As long as you insist on using the same educational system for people who want education as a commodity and people who want to learn for shits and giggles, the people who want to learn for shits and giggles will have to pay an exhorbitant price for it, AND will not get the experience they want because they'll be mixed in with a bunch of average people.

If you want to learn, why go to college? What are you going to get out of college that you can't get out of a library? Even if you want to study physics, chemistry, or molecular biology, it would be cheaper to buy your own lab equipment than to go to college! (Except in the US, where they won't sell private citizens molecular biology equipment or chemicals.)

3237031 Do you not find value in understanding things about psychology or molecular biology in your daily life?

Not enough.

Sure, it's cool to understand things. But was it worth it? 15 years of my life, vast sums of money, having to work an extra 20 years to catch up? I missed out on my youth. I had little social life. Now I have no wife, no family, no house, and no career, because of college. I took a curriculum that was designed to train me only for jobs that no one graduating from the colleges I went to could possibly get. I look at my sister with her kids and her friends, and I'm supposed to be happy because I know L'Hospital's Rule? Fuck that. Fuck that hard.

Aside from that, I don't have much respect for people who want to learn for their own satisfaction. That's just playing. Masturbating. That ain't doing anything for anybody else. It just seems selfish and, I don't know, weird. What's the point of stuffing all that knowledge into your head and then dying?

3239111

Racial differences in intelligence don't mean racial differences in intrinsic human worth. Judging people based on their intelligence is, to me, deeply uncool. Everybody deserves life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and all that jazz. But conflating intelligence with worth, or pretending that differences between races, or genders, or sexual orientations, or anything else—pretending those differences don't exist is anti-intellectual and, I think, actively harmful to human progress. We need to recognize how our world actually is, and if that doesn't accord with how we want it to be, we need to take steps to change it. Living in a dream world where we're already there helps no one.

While I agree with most of this, I have to disagree with one thing:

Judging people based on their intelligence is, to me, deeply uncool.

Doing psychometric testing to determine someone's ability to perform a job is intrinsically judging people based on their intelligence. And I'd wager you personally judge people on the basis of intelligence - in fact, you've noted your frustration with people who, I would wager, are more likely than not to be below the average of the sort of person you want to associate yourself with.

Moreover, more intelligent people are just... better. At like, everything. Intelligence correlates positively with just about every positive metric and life outcome. Various measures of intelligence suggest that it increases your income considerably, among other things. Obviously it isn't the only metric which correlates with success (as you specifically noted), but it is one of the major ones. I think it is essentially impossible to pretend that intelligence (and motivation, and conscientiousness) don't correlate with our value, because they do.

And I think that much as we may say that it is not cool to discriminate based on intelligence, I'd rather be friends with smart people than dumb ones, or even average ones.

Anyway, because I am one of those idiots who likes kicking beehives:

(2) Although the observed differences are heritable, it's not clear that they're genetic. This can be tough to wrap your head around, and I'm still more than a little nervous that this is just an out people are giving themselves to not feel godawful about this data, but it's pretty easy to tell stories here.

It is both difficult to prove and people giving themselves an out. Honestly, given the behavior of the people on the environmental side, I'm pretty sure that most of them are desperately seeking some explanation other than a genetic one. That doesn't mean that they're wrong, though; I just think a lot of them are heavily invested in getting a certain result, which tends not to lead to the best science. And when there are suggestions that it might be caused by genetics, scientists are assailed as racists, which makes people reluctant to study it in the first place unless they're the sort of person who doesn't care about being called a racist.

Intelligence is probably a massively polygenic trait; we've done some research on the subject, but unfortunately, we've not had much success in isolating individual "smart genes". We know that intelligence is genetically controlled, but we don't know what the genes are. I've seen some papers suggesting that as much as 50% of the genome may influence intelligence.

This makes saying "the difference in intelligence between population groups is caused by genetic differences" extremely difficult, because there aren't any genes we can point to with different allele frequencies in various population groups with known influences on overall intelligence. It could, in principle, be environmental; we cannot rule it out. And indeed, at least some of the gap is almost certainly environmental in nature.

On the other hand, we know from things like twin studies that identical twins separated at birth end up with very similar IQs post adolescence, which suggests that whatever influence the post-womb environment is having on people's IQ is pretty small. We've spent several decades desperately searching for environmental factors which would cause the group differences in scholastic performance, intelligence tests, ect. After all, if they are environmental factors, we can fix them.

And we've failed.

There was a brief bit of hope back in the 1980s when the achievement gap narrowed somewhat (for reasons which are still unclear as far as I know, though it does suggest that at least part of the gap was historically environmental), but it has remained either constant or nearly constant since.

Of course, another problem is that African-Americans aren't actually a unified population group; the average African American is something like 20-40% white, and most of them are descended from people from West Africa, but some of them aren't. Africa is by far the most genetically diverse continent due to humanity originating from there, and consequently, pretending like "people from Africa" are a single population group is wrong, and is likely to lead to mistakes. Barack Obama, for instance, is half-white, and his father was from Kenya, which is in East Africa; that might be significantly different from someone who is a mixture of people from the Gambia, the Cote D'Ivoire, Ghana, and Cherokee. Lumping the two together in a study as members of the same population group may lead to bad results.

And that's ignoring some other factors as well. Most blacks in the US are descended from slaves, primarily people who were captured by various coastal West African tribes and kingdoms, and then traded to white slave traders in exchange for various goods. Many of the people then died on the journey over, and then they were enslaved in the US for somewhere between 3 and 8 generations before slavery was ended. All of this might have had an influence on what traits were selected for. Were all people equally likely to be captured in Africa by the slave traders, or was there some selective pressure on who was captured? What about the slave ships - were some genes selected for in who survived that horrible journey? What about once they were here in the US - were slaves with certain traits more likely to be killed for being troublemakers, or more or less likely to reproduce? And the whites who intermixed with their slaves here weren't randomly selected either. All of that could also have an influence on the allele frequencies of their descendants in the US, even aside from their ancestral distribution in Africa.

There's also the possibility that the explanation is in part due to transgenerational epigenetics (the transgenerational inheritance of the expression of gene function), a recent discovery which could mean that historical shifts in gene expression could continue to persist long after the stimulus for them has passed.

And to add further confusion, recent African immigrants to the US - as opposed to the descendants of slaves - have one of the highest high school and college graduation rates of any group, though that population is pretty heavily self-selected.

3239219

I really like the second part of this, and by and large I agree. The main point of college to me is more about well-roundedness than it is about specialized education, as barring the STEM fields, at an undergrad level you are mostly focused in that well-roundedness. And, well, that is good for everyone as a whole. The big problem I feel is a lot of students hitting college aren't adequately prepared for it, and that comes down to needing to improve the pre-college system in dramatic ways. Which will require a degree of public investment we aren't (unfortunately) yet willing to make.

It isn't a matter of money, though. We don't even know how to do it. In fact, we don't even know if we can.

Consider Head Start - a program for putting disadvantaged children into preschool.

We spend seven billion dollars on it every year.

Do you know what we found out?

Children who went through Head Start had no benefit after third grade; they had the same level of academic achievement as their peers who didn't go through the program but who were similarly disadvantaged. We spent billions of dollars on a program that does no good at all.

And people don't want to get rid of it because it would be cutting education, nevermind that it has been found to be worthless by scientific studies.

3239406

That doesn't necessarily mean it lacks no value; rather, one could counter-argue the benefits are rolled back because latter things suck. What you'd really need would be a head start equivalent the entire time to gauge it against. And then see if the benefits accrue relative to those not in it versus those entering late or leaving early, so on and so on.

3239312

Aside from that, I don't have much respect for people who want to learn for their own satisfaction. That's just playing. Masturbating. That ain't doing anything for anybody else. It just seems selfish and, I don't know, weird. What's the point of stuffing all that knowledge into your head and then dying?

I don't have any problem with knowledge-as-entertainment; the problem is when you pretend like it is something else.

I mean, let's face it, a lot of what NASA does is really cool, but I don't think that New Horizons is realistically going to improve people's lives in any substantial way. But it is entertaining, and I think that New Horizons will probably give us each in excess of $2.50 worth of knowledge entertainment.

The lie colleges tell people to get them to buy $160,000 English degrees, or spend 15 years doing something that doesn't benefit them, are both problematic.

3239417
Then cut the program everywhere that your new experimental program isn't so you can fund your experiment without raising the budget.

I don't have a problem with experimentation; I have a problem with "Well, if we spend even more money, then maybe it will make a difference!"

3239434

Most people aren't going to be willing to stick out for a 20 year longitudinal study of that magnitude. And we probably want other systems in place sooner. That said I agree mass creative chaos would be beneficial here, but good luck getting either party to support that. One will howl about the money being socialism, the other about it disadvantaging people.

3239312

Sure, it's cool to understand things. But was it worth it? 15 years of my life, vast sums of money, having to work an extra 20 years to catch up? I missed out on my youth. I had little social life. Now I have no wife, no family, no house, and no career, because of college. I took a curriculum that was designed to train me only for jobs that no one graduating from the colleges I went to could possibly get. I look at my sister with her kids and her friends, and I'm supposed to be happy because I know L'Hospital's Rule? Fuck that. Fuck that hard.

Aside from that, I don't have much respect for people who want to learn for their own satisfaction. That's just playing. Masturbating. That ain't doing anything for anybody else. It just seems selfish and, I don't know, weird. What's the point of stuffing all that knowledge into your head and then dying?

3239219

Frankly, the corporateization of education I do think is a bad thing; at the same time I am simultaneously jealous and...maybe vexed? At the idea, that is, of being a full-time post-high school student for a 14-15 year period. On one hand I'd love to do so, on the other hand there's that aspect of 'Okay, but what's the return we see on this?' because right now, unfortunate as it may be, on a societal level there's a need for as many people as possible to be channeling things towards, well, improving the human condition; and while study may be fulfilling, it doesn't in and of itself contribute to that.

If y'all will indulge me in a bit of late-night wangst...

Okay, so, what am I supposed to do with myself? 'cause I damn well haven't figured it out yet. Everybody keeps throwing money at me if I promise to keep learning things. The best I've come up with so far is to try to become a university professor and keep teaching people how to not suck at statistics—which has the added benefit of being a nice, cushy job if you can get it. "Wizard" has never seemed like a viable career choice; "wise old guy spouting wisdom" doesn't pay well; I don't have the balls to try to become a Catholic saint; I suck at self-motivating for writing, and I don't know if my stuff's even good enough to warrant trying that road; becoming a statistics popularizer sounds like a pain in the ass, plus most people seem to hate statistics with the passion they normally reserve for Pittsburgh sports teams; and I don't think I've come up with any truly revolutionary ideas in science or philosophy yet. I like learning for its own sake, want to improve humanity (and its chances of long-term success), and seem to suck at motivation.

Also, I relate on the wishing I'd spent my time doing "normal" things front. I'm 34 and just started dating for the first time this year. I'd probably feel crappy about this stuff all the time if it weren't for the fact that my entire real world circle of friends is apparently just as socially stunted as I am, if not more so. As it is, every time I have to deal with someone my age who has the real-world problems of a normal person, I'm overcome by a deep sense of malaise—usually some combination of "why can't I help?" and "why can't I relate?"

I would love to be making a productive contribution to society by either doing smart-person things or propagating smart-person genes. I'm still hoping to do both, but it'd be really great if I could figure out how to do either.

3239487
If we aren't willing to do it right, what's the point?

3239555

Better to fumble forward blindly than stand still.

3239549
I wish I had a good answer. For me, it was 'graduate, and then...nothing' for about 4 years. Then a chance opportunity came my way, I took advantage of it, and...it turned into what is becoming a career. One never knows what curveballs life will pitch our way, but as long as we're looking and open to them...well. It can be quite the change when it comes.

But yes. The system is sucky at sorting. I wish it were better. I don't know how to do so, sadly.

3239312

What's the point of stuffing all that knowledge into your head and then dying?

You can reject any position with that argument, and so I do not consider it a valid reason for anything.

3237018
[Large redacted post]

There are ways to get things done. Normally the rest of the world doesn't care to make good things just happen.

3239595

We are not yet post-scarcity. We cannot give everyone on Earth a new computer/car/etc every year. And without money a whooole lot of people who are working are going to stop and the whole economy comes crashing down. We are an ABUNDANT society, but that's it. There are a whole lot of goods that are still limited, and will be limited for the foreseeable future.

As for automating? It depends what industry you're in, but uh, that's happening everywhere. Part of my job is literally about automating a large segment of my company's workforce. There's, like, a...lot of complexity here and 'End money' would cause far more problems than it would solve, right now.

3239629

You can reject any position with that argument, and so I do not consider it a valid reason for anything.

No, you can't. Most notably, you can't so easily say, "What's the point of having children and then dying?"

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