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In the long run, we're all Dad (astralcodexten.com)
282 points by impish9208 6 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 157 comments

> Parents are supposed to teach their children the skills they need to navigate the world. This already feels somewhat obsolete - where are the Google programmers who were taught Python by their fathers, or the Instagram influencers who learned content creation on their mother’s knee? Soon it will be completely hopeless. Where we’re going there are no roads.

This was a clear presentation of a thought that has bothered me a lot. It's easy for me to get engaged and keep teaching my children specific techniques, so I have to occasionally stop and remind myself to teach them things like falsification, self-monitoring, incorporating feedback, noise filtering, pattern recognition, and other meta-skills that they can use to build far more skills than I could ever teach them.

The skills I try to instill in my kids are things like: empathy, self-regulation, effective communication, personal boundaries, autonomous decision making, high-level planning, and the basics of adulting. The biggest one I think is adapting to change, because their world will be even more mercurial than the one we are navigating now.

I’m an expert software developer but have not spent time teaching these skills to my 10 year old son. He can get that from literally a hundred other places, and while I am a decent teacher, I’d rather spend our time together focusing on the things I place value on that I don’t think he is likely to get through other sources. I sometimes feel like a full-time therapist for my 12 year old daughter, what good is another A on her middle school report card when she is doing herself in trying to mold herself to meet others’ expectations? She needs an advocate more than a trade skill.

Great point! I guess I haven't thought of some of those things as teaching, but you're right about their importance.

Communication and emotional awareness in particular are two areas where I have had to grow immensely myself first in order to be a useful guide to my children.

I disagree with the premise of the quote. Parents are tasked with instilling the VALUES needed to successfully navigating the world. Knowing when to persist and when to quit an endeavor is a values-based calculation, not a skill. Yet it is incredibly important to know.

Instill values. The skills will come naturally.

Thank you for this comment. I very much appreciate your and flatline’s take on parenting

You don't have to teach them any of those things, you just have to live them. They're smart, they'll figure it out.

Looking at many of the adults around me, I'm not so sure. It seems to me that these are things that don't come naturally to most people.

When it comes to influencing, that stuff really does get passed from parent to child in the form of family blogging. Especially because there’s no legality around it yet, you’re free to teach your child from infancy to attract attention in front of the camera from anonymous strangers.

Well that's my point. People learn character and wisdom by being shown, not being taught, and nobody was showing them.

I see your point and disagree a little less. I still think (and the Oxford Handbook of Expertise backs me up here) most people benefit from active instruction. If nothing else because it gives them a language in which they can discuss the skill with other people. Very helpful when one desires feedback.

I guess I think that that's true for skills, but not for aspects of character, and at some level skills like "incorporating feedback"... are really more like "virtues" than "skills"? And things like "noise filtering" and "pattern recognition" are sorta in a grey area between the two. Like, yes, at some level, pattern-recognition is a skill, but to actually learn to do it comes from (a) seeing somebody else do it well and realizing what's possible and (b) being corrected when you mess it up. In either case it's more of something that a good teacher shows instead of teaches. An academic lecture on pattern recognition wouldn't do much; one learns it from going out and engaging with the world and learning from their initially-naive mistakes.

Somewhat related example from my life: you can take as many piano lessons as you want, but there's really no substitute for hearing someone play music that moves you and trying to figure out how to recreate that feeling. Many students of piano have never had that experience and as a result piano lessons will simply never work on them.

Good writing advice says that each sentence has a single goal. The goal is to draw the reader in, and convince them to read the next sentence.

This article does it masterfully. The title drew me in. The opening sentence finished the job. Well done.

Scott Alexander is not for everyone (as I've learned by unsuccessfully foisting him on friends for years) but for people who are even remotely interested he is probably the greatest internet writer alive.

I'd love to hear alternative GOATs.

Going back a bit: Hilzoy, from Obsidian Wings, springs to my mind. I'm still sad that she stopped writing (at least publicly, under that name).

But Scott's also great, etc etc.

For me, Sam Kriss takes that title by a large margin:


I read a couple of articles and he seems to blur line between truth and fiction. I couldn't tell when he's making things up. Did he really write about Taylor Swift for four months? Is anything he wrote about Swift true? Did he actually go to a protest where they started chanting "from the river to the sea?" (Soon after, it’s obviously fiction.)

When I have to read something else to find out what actually happened, I think the writer is being too clever and too obscure for me.

Then again, there are people here who clearly don't get Scott Alexander and it's clear to me when he's joking, probably because I'm a long-time reader. So I guess it's all context-dependent.

thank you thank you! i clicked in and gave it a read.

he's a curmudgeon with love in his heart. and style. i'm laughing my head off. love it, thanks!

Peter Welch

Rob Beschizza.

Myself I closed the tab at the second sentence, so I can't attest to that.

And yet that first sentence was reason enough for you to leave a reply. In a way it did evoke something in you that probably most texts don’t do.

In this case, the hook effect was so strong that I immediately thought about that writing advice. It's one of the best examples of that working on me that I can remember.

I think it's more hacker news that I'm interested in, and how the article was representative of the crowd that gathers here.

Start-up founders are often of the age to start having children I guess. Even if having a child and a start-up at the same time is most definitely not a good idea.

The average age range of startup founders is 35-45. The average age of people having their first kid is 30.

That said, there's a lot more than startup founders here. Always was.

What about the median?

Because the second sentence mentions the Bible? Or some other reason?

If it’s the former, I’m a Christian but I don’t just close out articles if they’re written by Richard Dawkins or quickly proclaim that they’re an atheist. There’s still a very real chance that they have some wisdom to share. Just because people share a different religious view than me doesn’t mean I can’t learn from them.

As an atheist, mention or quotes from the bible are interesting to me because they help explain our current culture. I'm just challenging your proposal that (all) atheists are not curious.

Ah sorry for the confusion! I chose atheism because it seems diametrically opposed to Christianity in the US, but my intention wasn’t to single out atheists :) . The same sentiment I voiced in my first comment could be said about any religion or belief system: I won’t close an article with Buddhist, relativist, Muslim, etc views just because they mention their belief system.

I'm an atheist; I've read and studied the Bible as part of my catholic education 25 years ago.

Not that I'm strongly against it, but my attention is challenged by many things, and a man who starts an article about becoming a father with a clear sex-is-for-procreation Bible quote makes it sound like his experience of life is not relevant to mine.

You're behaving foolishly. If you spend just a moment looking at it you'd see the author isn't even taking the religious text he's quoting seriously! So your great fear of accidentally interacting with a religious individual is overblown.

Well, since you chose not to read it, and continue to choose thusly in similar situations, you'll never really be able to confirm or deny whether or not"his experience of life is relevant" to yours. Not sure what the point of engaging in discussion on an article you admit to refusing to read is...

So you are basically refusing to read this simply because the author is even willing to be aware of what's in the bible. What a bizarre and anti intellectual stance.

I've been seeing this strange kind of attitude more lately -- for example, I encountered a young person who refused to read books that were more than 20 years old "because they might have bigoted ideas in them since they're old"

But avoiding reading about the past because it scares you is a great way to remain stupid and cede control of the world to others without such hangups.

> God smote Onan, starting a 4,000-year-old tradition of religious people getting angry about wasting sperm on anything other than procreative sex.

I dunno. 'Ignorance is Bliss'. I only have so much brain capacity and attention, I'd rather direct it to what's important to me than leave it wide open to the sewage-infected firehose of incoming information that is life in the 21st Century.

An article who's title implies the inevitability of parenthood is probably not good mental fodder.

Oh, it didn't interest you enough to read? But it did interest you enough to comment!

I'm not "refusing" to read it. I just reacted on a comment.

Please don't comment on articles that you are unwilling to engage with beyond the headline alone. This is part of HN's rules to keep the discussion from being so superficial

In the paragraphs that follow he goes on to explain how people twisted their god's intent while writing the bible, at least on this particular topic.

> a man who starts an article about becoming a father with a clear sex-is-for-procreation Bible quote makes it sound like his experience of life is not relevant to mine

It's not like he believes any of it. He just quotes the bible because that makes for a funnier article.

I stopped when they grouped the NYT journalists with murderers and drug-dealers. Clearly someone biais, that also use the bible to make their points. No thank you.

It's because in Scott's recent past, an NYT journalist lied about wanting to write a positive article about him and being OK with using his pseudonym, then instead wrote a very negative article and doxxed him instead. The author is a psychiatrist with some unstable patients, and a blogger with some controversial opinions. It's a whole thing, I read that and chuckled at the tongue-in-cheek humor.

I don't agree with the grouping, but he is making a very specific, personal reference: <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slate_Star_Codex#New_York_Time...>. It's referenced elsewhere as well, as noted in this comment here: <https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=38734207>

That's a half-joke, for what it's worth.

You missed a great joke about provoking God to laughter.


It's a factual and verifiable statement though, no need for an ad-hominem based on... what exactly?

I always feel like the goal of every Scott Alexander sentence is to show how he is smarter and/or more rational than other people.

It might, but does it come off as pretentious or genuine? It doesn't read like he keeps a thesaurus next to him to sound smarter. Keep in mind he's been doing this for a very long time as well. Also he's well-versed on the subject of rationality, so I would argue that he's probably more rational than most people.

I am not familiar with the author, and read it as genuine, examples where they exhibit humorous self-awareness and humility:

"If your brains are still too small to process such esoteric terms"

"It’s a crazy thing to try, when even your own local predictions are so far from perfect accuracy."

"I cannot quite remember why I thought this would be a good idea. I blame the pronatalist influencer conspiracy."

He's the Mike Judge of Rationalists.

I just feel like a genuinely smart and rational person would not want to describe his newborn kids as "engines" or robot AI's in training as OP does here. That's just ridiculously out of touch, it reads like satire of what some AI-obsessed founder or VC might post here to pitch their new startup. And OP has even written satire of his own about SV social attitudes, how could he possibly fail to see this?

It is, of course, intentionally satire, with a "maybe it's actually true?" cog-sci perspective. I found this piece very funny and charming.

I closed the tab at "cognitive engines." Overwrought balderdash masquerading as prose.

It is not 'balderdash', it is a reference to Scott's longstanding interest in Karl Friston & predictive processing paradigms in neuroscience & psychiatry. If you don't get the allusions, that's your problem, not his.

There's a segment on HN that comes out of the woodwork to poo poo artful writing. Parent commenter was not going to appreciate this article. I'd say it's a testament to the author's writing ability that they were able to pull parent commenter in a couple hundred words before they recognized it was "balderdash"!

When the writing sounds like something you'd hear on an episode of Frasier, it's overwritten. Reading Strunk and White would greatly benefit the author.

Oh, it is Scott's problem. I got the references and I still found them to be too much.

I saw the scrollbar and hit CTRL+W. Sleep deprived by an autistic 3 year old who can't speak but only cry all night. I have no energy to do anything. I am surprised I typed this long a response.

I also just wrote a subquery as a column instead of inner join or something. Dunno it might be right. It worked though.

I hope you find some time to rest soon.

I’m impressed this guy has time to write.

My wife and I raised four children. My wife was blessed to be able to be a “stay at home” mom during the early period. It was a lot of work. I often joke that after the first two weeks of our oldest, I had no recollection of what the first two years of marriage had been like. The child rearing experience is just so all consuming.

Four years ago, that oldest child got pregnant. And then discovered it was twins. We made plans to be there and help like is often the case. Holy crap. Two infants is so much more work than one. It doesn’t double the work load. It compounds geometrically. I think my wife spent the first three months there.

So, yeah, I’m impressed this guy has time to write. Next time you meet someone with twins, give them some cred for making it through the first few months. It is an astronomical effort.

He's told us how in a previous post.

"On the other hand, I know people who want to get good at writing, and make a mighty resolution to write two hundred words a day every day, and then after the first week they find it’s too annoying and give up. These people think I’m amazing, and why shouldn’t they? I’ve written a few hundred to a few thousand words pretty much every day for the past ten years.

But as I’ve said before, this has taken exactly zero willpower. It’s more that I can’t stop even if I want to. Part of that is probably that when I write, I feel really good about having expressed exactly what it was I meant to say. Lots of people read it, they comment, they praise me, I feel good, I’m encouraged to keep writing, and it’s exactly the same virtuous cycle as my brother got from his piano practice."


I agree. Children gave me a lot more time to read, surprisingly, but I have hands that are way too busy to write as much as I would like to.

When does that come? I’m the father of a (very) active 2 year old with another on the way. “Come on daddy, let’s play” is a refrain I hear probably 50 times a day.

Mainly in the first year, to be fair. My children would only sleep with active assistance (stroller, in my arms as I walk around) so I spent many hours walking and had an e-reader with me for that.

Now at 2 and 4 I have the same experience ad you. I hear it gets better!

>Modern academics have a perfectly reasonable explanation for all of this. If Onan had impregnated his brother’s wife, the resulting child would have been the heir to the family fortune. Onan refused so he could keep the fortune for himself and his descendants

That required "modern academics" to explain? It was already self-evident in the original telling, a couple of millenia ago... Sure, the other cases of condemnation of masturbation might not be so clear cut.

Congrats to him. I’ve seen stats that somewhere between 30-50% of all twins are born through IVF. So technically not a huge surprise on that result.

A little surprised on the 50% death rate for children before the age of 5 in 1800. It’s amazing how recent that is.

I kind of treat 1800 as old enough that I'm not surprised, but for me it's surprising to look at the huge 27% children death rate that we still had in 1950, as it's amazing how recent that is.

Keep in mind that was a global average in 1950. In the US it was like 3%.

> I’ve seen stats that somewhere between 30-50% of all twins are born through IVF. So technically not a huge surprise on that result.

It sounds like you think this was an IVF pregnancy? But Scott says it wasn't: https://www.astralcodexten.com/p/in-the-long-run-were-all-da...

Even if it wasn’t IVF they may have done other fertility increasing treatments, such as using Clomid and then possibly doing IUI.

It's possible he's not honest about that sort of detail. He's done it in the past.

That would be a surprising thing to lie about!

> I’ve seen stats that somewhere between 30-50% of all twins are born through IVF. So technically not a huge surprise on that result.

This sounds like some sort of confusion of the inverse.

The fact that most twins are borne through IVF does not imply that any conceptiin (assisted or not) can expect twins. They are still rare in both cases.

Just look at how much health care has improved since then though; back in 1800, while the existence of bacteria was known, their role in infections and the importance of sanitation wasn't known or acknowledged until 1859, and doctors only started to sanitize their hands in 1870. Interesting factoid is that they learned this from midwives (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ignaz_Semmelweis).

I recall my wife’s doctor saying that was because they used to implant multiple embryos during IVF, and they no longer do that, especially since the Octomom fiasco.

They no longer do it as a default, but they absolutely still do it with some couples. IVF is expensive, and miscarriages or lack of implantation is devastating.

If you visit a cemetery with still readable headstones from the 1800s (even the late 1800s), there will be an awful lot of kids there.

IIRC, 90% are farmers. Each farm can output enough food for five other people if all things go right (weather, health, etc). That’s horrible efficiency.

Stories of families with ten kids and even the little ones having adult responsibilities.

It was an all-hands-on-deck affair to prepare for the winter and without everyone’s help, someone probably dead.

> No, seriously, I’m not comfortable telling the Internet my kids’ names. I’ll let them get doxxed the usual way - by the NYT, the first time they express a problematic opinion.

Heh too true

> The engines heroically tested hyperprior after hyperprior to compress the data into something predictable.

Heh, which hyperpriors do exist is still a matter of debate.

> Your mother worked for a company synthesizing genetically engineered tooth bacteria that prevent cavities

Ah that part is actually surprising!

Sad to see "Jennifer" listed as a "newer name". Aside from that spelling being more than a century old, it's just a newer spelling of Guinevere, a name which dates back to at least 1100, when it started appearing in written Arthurian legends. The Welsh form, Gwenhwyfar, is attested before that.

That’s an interesting fact I didn’t know before that makes sense in retrospect.

I wish you hadn’t phrased it snarkily tho: is it really “sad” that someone doesn’t know an interesting fact that you do, or is it a fun opportunity for others to learn something?

FWIW I didn't read snark. I read "I am sad to see…", much as I might be sad to see the history of any other ancient thing forgotten.

A little bit of both, really. But thanks for the charitable reading.

The author took a position on the name’s newness, which implies he did some research.

Blog authors like this remind me of ChatGPT: they write with an affected authoritativeness completely disconnected from the actual value of their words.

This gains them a following in the same sort of way that Donald Trump, Joe Rogan, or Jordan Peterson gain a following.

That’s also sad to see.

> Sad to see "Jennifer" listed as a "newer name".

See also "The Tale of Tiffany" from CGP Grey:

* https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9LMr5XTgeyI

Don't forget the sidequest: https://youtu.be/qEV9qoup2mQ

That’s true, but there is no continuity with the old use of the name. Jennifer was presented to the UK and US as a strange name by George Bernard Shaw and gained popularity just because the play was popular on radio and the name sounds nice. Later use in TV made it a top name.

I would bet that there are more girls named Guinevere than girls named Jennifer for philologist reasons. :)

your fact is incontestable, but labeling this as 'sad' is.

Happy for your want to contest his claim of feeling sadness, but how do plan to do so? I expect you will come to realize it too is incontestable.

I'm happy you're happy. And happy to see Jennifer too. I'm just happy I guess. I'm happy I'm happy.

For those wanting to nitpick this or that point from the article:

A title like that should set the expectation that it’s not _entirely_ serious and there might, just maybe, be a joke or two buried within.

Isn't that an attempt to gatekeep the comments?

Pretty sure the definition of comment basically encircle "whatever the hell anybody wants to say".

The fact that we all interpret things differently is beautiful; we're not a hive mind even if it does result in all of our strife.

Completely wholesome ramblings of a new dad.

This is what I imagined my first dad post would have looked like if I had any writing talent ( or had any sleep in those times ). Chuckled most of the way.


I think he might still have a slight grudge against the New York Times.

Can't really blame him, though.

"There is a secret known only to parents of twins, medical residents, and Alexey Guzey: the human body does not actually need sleep. After 31 hours awake, you get an integer overflow in God’s database and go back to being well-rested again. Also you gain the ability to see angels."

LOL. Amaze.

On that note, I've heard some amazing things about the Snoo. It was banned from our house because of Luddit-ian reasons, but I still maintain you're not bonding with your baby at 3 am and parents should get that extra sleep and let a robot handle the near-robotic motions required to put a (< 6month old) baby back to sleep.

My employer got us a Snoo (rental) for each child. With our twins, they worked pretty well until 4 months or so. Our singleton wouldn't go for it at all.

I agree that there's no genuinely useful bonding happening in the dead of the night when you're so sleep deprived that you might be hallucinating. It's just base survival after a certain point. I used to run dual feedings overnight with bottled milk so my wife could keep resting as much as possible. I used to time myself and optimize the hell out of it so that I could get back to bed. I would set alarms to wake myself up, get the milk from the fridge, warm the bottles, get the twins out of the Snoo and into their tandem Boppy, soothe them, feed them, change diapers, re-swaddle, and then get them back to bed, clean bottles, make sure the next round of bottles is prepped. I could run all of that, when everything went right, in just under 30 minutes. If the twins were fussy, the dogs woke up and wanted to go out, etc., it could creep up to an hour. I remember my hands being so dry from washing bottles that my skin was cracked and bleeding. We eventually got rid of all of the fancy bullshit and opted for bottles, etc., that had the least number of parts. That entire first year with twins is still mostly a blur today, 4 years later.

I went through basic military training and spent some time overseas in war zones. I've gone through sleep deprivation training and the real thing overseas. With kids, though, you've got a physical, mental, and emotional component to it that nothing can really simulate. It's draining in ways that are hard to describe, even to other parents who are in the trenches around you. You learn a lot about yourself, and your partner, and friends and family, but I don't remember much bonding going on during those late night sessions. Just a lot of wishing and praying that everything goes right. But maybe that's just the holes in my memory.

Thanks for writing this. The second part makes me feel a bit better about my own life - my experiences are the same as yours. Having children exposes flaws in your life skills, mental health, and relationships that were previously invisible. It can be quite distressing, or at least it was for me.

"I still maintain you're not bonding with your baby at 3 am"

I'm not so sure about that. There's a lot happening beneath the surface both biologically and psychologically (on both sides) when a parent soothes a baby at 3am.

Well, the key differentiator is at 3am. I haven't seen any evidence that the bonding at those times is somehow special. I am assuming you are bonding with the baby at other times during the day.

I agree. I'd much rather sleep at night and bond both consciously and get whatever happens "beneath the surface", well-rested during the day.

The alternative is that I'm cranky both night and day and only get that thing that happens "beneath the surface" without the awsome beautiful conscious bit that I personally really care about.

But not all people get cranky from a lack of sleep, so this will vary between families!

The Snoo worked very well for us with baby #3 (#1 and #2 were before it was released). I'm optimistic that we will continue to make progress in this area and find something that works for a larger fraction of babies!

Our second baby didn't really like the Snoo (however, he's nearly a year and a half old, and he still doesn't sleep well), but for our first kid, we got the Snoo after going crazy from a month and a half of colicky baby screams. And—I'm not making it up—she slept through the night from nearly the first night. It wasn't consistent from there until she was older, but I'll never cease to praise the machine.

> LOL. Amaze.

Don't be too amazed though. What he states isn't the scientific consensus. Persistent sleep deprivation is harmful to human beings, and you don't "reset and go back to well-rested again". Some sleep deprivation can be endured though, as any parent will tell you -- I know I wasn't "well rested" afterwards. I mostly was grumpy and very slow to think.

The writing was “tongue in cheek.” He doesn’t actually mean it.

Oops. I misunderstood the tone. Maybe I need more sleep? ;)

Loved every bit of it. Congrats to the new parents. As a father of three, I think I got the biggest laugh out of:

"I cannot quite remember why I thought this would be a good idea. I blame the pronatalist influencer conspiracy."

Why do people flag this?

Edit: nevermind, not showing as [flagged] anymore, but I'm still curious...

As soon as the author starts getting into statistics, there are so many bad assumptions being made that the conclusions being drawn are just ridiculous. Just as a first pass, the fact that you are widely read does not mean you are a good writer. Secondly, it's obvious that genetics don't determine everything about someone's life (surely a writer would recognize that writing is not wholly an inherent skill?), so going off on a tangent about what it would mean if it were is not actually all that interesting.

Didn't get much further than that.

Same here. Couldn’t take anything much seriously after realizing this guy is pretty sold into ideas that are one step removed from eugenics.

But somehow, surprisingly, it’s what I’ve come to expect of most “rationalists”.

Very sweet. It doesn't require twins to make you feel as if you were being towed down the interstate on a skateboard. (The analogy occurred to me many years before a friend lent me Snow Crash.)

Is it rational for a rationalist to want to be a parent, knowing that having a kid rewrite your utility function? (so said parent would accept sacrificing their life for saving the life of their child)

It looks like the futurama brain slug parasites that someone explained me about last time I asked: https://futurama.fandom.com/wiki/Brain_Slug

It's even less rational for a woman, given the many damages it causes to the body (something he discusses in the article)

I often see having a kid "creates a joy that couldn't be experienced before", but the same thing could be said about drugs: you want to preserve your utility function from such deep influences, so you try to avoid getting addicted to drugs.

If one wouldn't rationally chose to get addicted, why chose getting a child?

The only reason I see is in the title: as a psychological protection about death (the pun on "in the long run, we're all dead")

In case the person finds no other meaning in life, a cheap way out is to create one by reinterpreting the path-dependent set of random events (I wouldn't be here if my parents didn't have a kid, etc, and neither would the human race), choosing to continue this chain and call that "meaning"

I'm not convinced. The whole article seems like an elaborate rationalization (especially the part of lack of sleep and lack of free time) to try to convince the author and the followers as noted in the meta:

> I think it’s a conspiracy. All the pronatalist influencers get together and say that pregnancy isn’t so bad. Young women believe them, and so the human race survives another generation


> Is it rational for a rationalist to want to be a parent, knowing that having a kid rewrite your utility function?

You’re making an assumption that their desires (or, if you must, “utility function”) weren’t already in that direction to begin with.

As a personal anecdote, I can say that I remember myself wanting kids/a family as far back as elementary school. Now that I’m married and kids are plausibly on the horizon, I can’t say that’s really changed.

At the risk of speculating, I get the feeling you may not want kids, and are projecting those feelings onto other people.

> At the risk of speculating, I get the feeling you may not want kids, and are projecting those feelings onto other people.

Oh it's fine, I like to consider each possible alternative hypothesis! Speculation is the name of the game!

There's a risk I could rationalize.

There's also the possibility the desire to have kids is baked in the utility function.

If it's baked in, how much of that is mental/software based(cultural) and how much is biological/hardware based (ex: animals want to mate, without having the need a large brain to rationalize this, all they need is a pulse)

I think there's a large risk that having kids is a culturally defined "normal want", but one that serves the group yet goes against the interest of the individual, something that can be seen only if/when the individual has access to consciousness/culture/knowledge etc and also doesn't need "extra pairs of hands" to help on the farm (technological progress)

Animals can't see that, but humans can: then the declining birthrates globally would just be a "correction" by people realizing that having kids is not something they really want.

Yet societies want that (otherwise they'd stop existing) so they would push for whatever narrative or rationalization is serving society's purpose. Most individuals would internalize and accept that (like how most people accept and don't question the religion they're raised in)

It wouldn't take much people opting out for the population growth rate to become negative: anything less than 2 kids per couple on average, and the X (in X^N) goes below 1, meaning X^N decreases.

Now that more people see the rigged game, they opt out, causing a difference families having more than 2 kids (say very religious families or whatever) can compensate for.

It's funny how it's men bothering with that (the title is written to conviently exclude half the population): I guess it's easier to see something as a problem when you don't have to personally bear as much of the costs (in wear and tear of the body + risk of death a few centuries before)

>Is it rational for a rationalist to want to be a parent, knowing that having a kid rewrite your utility function?

I think that is only true if your utility function is a combination of self preservation and hedonistic needs.

We know this doesn't fit everyone, many sacrifice their health, safety, life and comfort for other values.

> All the pronatalist influencers get together and say that pregnancy isn’t so bad.

Many women have one kid, say they're happy they had a kid, but don't want another. However, plenty do elect to have more kids.

Overally though, I'd say for those in life that seek to minimize discomfort and maximize psychological safety, then yeah I think it doesn't make sense to have a kid. But if that doesn't fit someone, there are some great things about it.

Is it rational to do anything pro-social that might not have any direct benefit to oneself? If humankind is to continue and to reach new heights someone is going to have to reproduce, so at the very least it’s a service towards that goal.

Good for you, Scott!

Happy for him!

> Modern academics have a perfectly reasonable explanation for all of this.

It's only perfectly reasonable if you aren't familiar with the broader context.

Breaking the levirate marriage custom was not in itself considered an action worthy of severe punishment. Indeed, there was a well-defined ceremony, spelled out in Deuteronomy 25:8-10 [1], intended to humiliate a man who refuses to marry his brother's widow. But being given an embarrassing nickname is a far cry from being smote by God. And if you get to inherit your brother's riches, it might be a fair price to pay.

But Onan's sin is described as something he did, rather than something he failed to do. It is pretty clear, when you look at the text the way someone of that time would have looked at it, that Onan's offense was not merely that he was being selfish, but that he was employing a method that severed the procreative element of the sexual act. He could have refused to marry Tamar. He could have refused to have sex with Tamar. But instead he fulfilled the letter of the levirate marriage custom without fulfilling its spirit. He used her for his own sexual satisfaction, but then deprived her of the natural ends of that action.

[1] https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Deuteronomy%202...

> severed the procreative element of the sexual act

So by that reading it was only wrong because the understood purpose is the whole arrangement was to give Tamar a chance to have a child, which she was entitled to expect when Onan married her?

It therefore has no bearing on what consensual activities couples may engaged in where no such commitment has been made?

Well yes it's from literally biblical times. The social norms were rather different.

To be fair, historically it is our social norms that are more of an aberration.

Allowing a couple to get divorced simply because both want to didn't become universal in the USA until about a decade ago. Laws treating the rape of a wife as a crime against her husband were common in the 1960s. Laws prohibiting doctors from helping married couples have access to birth control lasted into the 1960s.

All of these were based on the idea that marriage was an institution ensuring the continuity of future generations to the family and society. Because the broader family and society had a vested interest in the results of the marriage, the people involved had a responsibility to those around them. This was a widely accepted social norm just a few decades ago.

I don't know why you're being downvoted, our current norms are without question far far better but they are the outlier for human history. Massive technological advancement came with massive social advancements in a really short timespan all things considered.

I'm glad that making lots of babies is no longer something that's necessary for the survival of society and the norms that pressure (force) everyone healthy enough to have children to do so have fallen by the wayside as a result.

I think that I was being downvoted because people found what I said unpleasant. A certain fraction of people assume that the reason for saying something unpleasant is that you must support that. Which makes it easy to incorrectly jump from my saying that history is full of a specific set of attitudes, to believing that I must support that set of attitudes.

For example, consider reading a biography of a scientist who studies links between IQ and racism. If the scientist finds weak links, most people will judge the scientist not racist. If the scientist finds strong links, most people will say that the scientist is racist. I encountered this example in https://press.princeton.edu/books/hardcover/9780691190808/th....

HN tends to be better about this error than most communities. But it is still not immune. Come to a conclusion that people don't like, and people tend to jump on you.

Expect to see some of those social advancements reverse as declining birth rates threaten the survival of some societies. I'm not saying this is a good thing, just that it will happen. We're already seeing that in places like Russia where the government is pressuring women to have more children.

I'm with Kurzgesaget on the interpretation here. Declining birth rates will be a problem, but it's not insurmountable.


I see 'no fault' divorce as an extension of islamic divorce law - in practical terms its not an aberration though - we'd been employing various legal fictions in divorce cases to grant pseudo no-fault divorce as far back as the 1840's - where yes 'fault' was meaningless in the context of the granting of divorce - it just had to exist.

Islamic divorce law allows for no fault, but is also highly asymmetric in how easy it makes it for men and women. A man can initiate a no fault divorce at any time. A woman can ask for a no fault divorce, but it is up to the husband whether to grant it.

Islam is not the only no fault divorce in history. For example ancient Rome allowed for no fault divorces, on more even terms than Islam later would. It's terms were closer to modern US no fault divorces than Islam's terms are.

Modern US laws are reasonably equal between men and women, and do not come from either of those sources. US law comes from the fact that in some frontier states, the uneven ratio between men and women meant that people saw no reason for an unhappy couple to remain married. If they don't want to be married, let them divorce. And let some other guy have a shot at the wife.

This specifically became an issue with Nevada, because Nevada only required a 6 month residency in the state before you could get a divorce. As travel became easier, people from other states routinely took advantage of this as the easiest way to get divorced. That lasted until changing attitudes during the Sexual Revolution caused other states to start adopting similar laws. See https://renodivorcehistory.org/themes/law-of-the-land/ for more on this.

Sure, what's your point? We like our new norms better (with some qualifications -- a lot of things are still changing and being figured out).

Whole lotta folks gonna be sad if your interpretation means the rhythm method of birth control is verboten in the eyes of the Canaanite pantheon.

Good thing we have modern birth control methods and everyone is cool with them.

> embarrassing nickname

Which one was that?

I am assuming GP is referring to Onan in Hebrew: https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/%D7%90%D7%95%D7%A0%D7%9F#Hebr...

Edit: possibly Halizah [0] instead? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Halizah

Further edit: didn't see the [1] in GP...whoops

For failing to click the source link in the top comment, your line shall be known in Israel as The Family of the Unsandaled. [1]

DINK life. I can’t understand why people consciously decide to have children. I really can’t.

I'm sure you could imagine, if not understand, some reasons.

In countries without social insurance people have children so the child will take care of them in their old age.

can you understand why people consciously decide not to have them?

Yes that part is very easy. I can’t understand why someone would choose to give up their prime years for a child. The entire idea of retirement is a direct consequence of this. You don’t need to retire if you can you know, just continuously enjoy your life the entire time.

I think there's a direct comparison to be made with the choice to devote one's "prime years" to building a startup. It's a meaningful project that materially impacts the world in a way that one has a decent degree of control over. And it can be fun, even in the same moments it is deeply difficult!

Not really because you can just walk away from a failing startup. A startup can also profit, or you can hire people to take responsibility away from you, or even sell the startup. A child to me is more akin to a jail sentence in that you can’t escape without getting in even more trouble.

OP points his finger at the protonatalist conspiracy.

I read of an inconsistent mindset.

God this. God that. "Natural selection didn't design" which is contradictory. Evolved murder monkeys. Happy to have babies.

Women are indeed saved by childbirth. Men too.

You haven't read Scott's blog enough :)

He's an atheist psychiatrist. However, he enjoys how natural selection, social dynamics and reputation can also be modeled by the moral rules of most religions. For example, going to therapy isn't that different from practicing confessions in a church.

Therapy is only similar to confession in a descriptive sense, from an external observer that doesn't believe in the religion in question. For the believer, it's a very different thing to be confessing sins to a representative of the divine.


He also wrote Unsong, a sprawling work of kabbalistic magical realism, full of deep references to Judaism and Christianity (and groan-inducing puns.) Highly recommend if you're a lapsed Catholic or a secular Jew.

> For example, going to therapy isn't that different from practicing confessions in a church.

Depends on the kind of therapy. Some are more dogmatic and one might even call them "religious" (overloading the word), while other forms of therapy are more grounded and based on empiricism -- the latter ones are far removed from religious confession.

> For example, going to therapy isn't that different from practicing confessions in a church.

If your therapist responds to your sharing by suggesting that straying from their advice, or some kooky ancient text, results in eternal damnation then run far away. Churches can be devastating to ones mental health. Do not recommend.

> Churches can be devastating to ones mental health. Do not recommend.

No issue with your first clause: indeed, churches can be devastating to one's mental health (as can ~anything). That observation does not support your second clause. Religiosity is generally associated with lower mental health problems [0]. Correlation is not causation, of course; difficult to do a prospective study in this field.

[0] E.g., https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8462234/

This is as silly of a strawman as creating a scenario where in the confession booth your priest goes over the BioPsychoSocial model and how their mental health is important for their overall well-being.

> I read of an inconsistent mindset.

Isn't everybody full of contradictions?

Yes. Rarely within the and sentence

> Women are indeed saved by childbirth. Men too.

saved from what?

Selfishness mostly.

Doesn't really follow from the removed comment I was replying to.

That was my comment. Removed?

Couldn't see the parent to my comment earlier when I replied.

To be fair I've been traveling so it could easily be user error.

Why the heck is this guy using AI robot technobabble like "surprisal-minimization engines" and "hyperpriors" to reference the birth of their kids. That's so fucked up, not everything in the world is about "tech" and VC-fueled bubbles for goodness' sake! I realize that we're on the orange site and VC is everything here, but still it's the first time I've seen anything remotely like this.

And regardless it can't possibly be a mentally healthy attitude for any new parent. Your kids are human beings with needs and a moral standing of their own, they're not frickin "engines" or robots for you to train as your minions.

Cynical view: to signal to other capital-R Rationalists that the author is still one of them, despite parenthood (which has a way of affecting people's rationality.)

Pragmatic view: that's the kind of analysis people like from Scott Alexander so where else should it go if not on his blog? If you don't like it, stay away from submissions with that domain name.

> Cynical view: to signal to other capital-R Rationalists that the author is still one of them, despite parenthood (which has a way of affecting people's rationality.)

It may be the most reasonable interpretation.

However, is it rational to want to have a futurama brain slug?


If you’ve been following this blog you’d know that this is a frequent subject of it.

This is similar to a programmer parent getting a “hello world” shirt for their baby.

He's using domain specific language, if you don't get it you're not at home in the domain and that's just fine. I'm sure there's a ton of meaning hidden in those complex looking words but I'm not at home in that specific domain.

Talk to a layperson about kubernetes and crypto-anarchy and you'll notice their eyes will glaze over as well.

This is literally a joke. A callback to an article called The Demiurge's Older Brother written many, many years before the current AI hype. Also, Scott has been beating the drum of surprisal minimization for years and years now, see articles like [1] and [2].

[0]: https://slatestarcodex.com/2017/03/21/repost-the-demiurges-o...

[1]: https://slatestarcodex.com/2016/09/12/its-bayes-all-the-way-...

[2]: https://slatestarcodex.com/2018/03/04/god-help-us-lets-try-t...

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