Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Parable of the Polygons – a playable post on the shape of society (ncase.me)
357 points by pyduan on Dec 8, 2014 | hide | past | favorite | 86 comments

This is fantastic! We were just noticing how segregated our own neighborhood near Boston is, and wondering what drives that and what could be done about it. You can see the same thing all over the city -- neighborhoods that are much more white than average right next to neighborhoods that are much less white than average.

Really interesting that this could be self-generated with very little bias (setting aside that there's definitely still some intentional housing discrimination in Boston). And really interesting that it could potentially be reversed if people started to avoid neighborhoods that are highly segregated in their "favor."

I wonder if integration could be advertised as a benefit of certain properties on real estate sites like Zillow. What would happen if home listings had a "well integrated neighborhood" indicator for neighborhoods that have about the same racial balance as the larger area, the same way they have indicators for good schools and public transportation and so on? Would that be appealing to actual buyers the same way it's appealing to the Polygons in the model?

The risk is that an index like that could be used to encourage segregation instead -- but I'm hopeful that, on average, we're better than that at this point.

Here's one census map if you want to check out your neighborhood:


You can show racial data under "Change Data." We also found it helpful to change "Show data by: Tract" to "Block group" (more fine-grained), and to use quantile cutpoints under the color palette menu.

> You can show racial data ...

It is interesting that you applied the squares/triangles model to racism.

For me, given the 50%/50% rate of squares/triangles, I was thinking more about men/women and the places being workplaces rather than living places. (or teams within a workplace, or girls/boys within sports or school activities)

I see this as an indicator that the "parable of the polygons" is applicable to many aspects of society.

Good point, although this particular metaphor is originally derived from racial segregation - the authors cite a landmark study on racial segregation in US cities as their motivation for the site.

The sandbox at the end has a slider to change the ratio so you can tune it to simulate race instead of gender (although having more than two shapes would be nice, and also other dimensions than shapes to observe intersectional interactions).

[edit] ... and someone did add a shape: http://dncnmcdougall.github.io/polygons/

Anecdotally, I can say living near Boston I've heard plenty of families justify their choices to move to certain suburbs or neighborhoods on the basis that they prefer the diversity over a more homogenous subdivision. Of course, equally I've met people who live in a whitebread suburb and praise its diversity because of the number of Asian doctors' kids in the schoolsystem.

I think that suggests the flaw in this simulation - sure, segregation decreases overall if -everybody- is a little more tolerant of diversity. But how does it work out if some people prefer a diverse neighborhood, and some people don't? My guess: you get a new kind of segregation between homogenous neighborhoods, and diverse ones. Kinda like you do round Boston...

Here's the actual data collected by a Code for America chapter: http://codeforboston.github.io/ungentry/index.html

IANAL, but I'm pretty sure that for legal reasons you can't say "well integrated neighborhood" on real estate listings - the absence of that on a listing could then be construed as saying "not well integrated", which would violate fair housing law.

(That being said, I'm someone that would want to live somewhere integrated, and if I were buying a house I'd be finding that data elsewhere. But I'm probably more into demographic data than most people.)

Here's another great map to explore two dimensional Geo-Ethnic dynamics, I found this one a bit easier to parse:


I think one of the problems with the "avoid neighborhoods with segregation" solution is that it's more or less the same idea as affirmative action. As soon as you choose not to rent an apartment because "there are too many white people and not enough black" you're effectively practising reverse racism.

Living in rural Maine, I've watch the deleterious effect this has on a rural community as young white people flock to Portland or Boston looking for black people for their kids to grow up near.

In the meantime, there are 20 other non-race related variables in your community that you're ignoring, like age, health, wealth, gender, sexual orientation, language, education, technological proclivity, Meyers-Briggs results etcetera and so forth.

Race, while a dominant segregator in our society, is not he only one, nor, perhaps, the most pervasive here in 2014.

Sometimes we have to look at questions in a hard, unflinching way, and prepare ourselves for the answers that come.

It could be that "too much" focus on diversity could create "reverse racism" where there are somehow institutional oppressions exerted over white people. That seems very unlikely in any place where white people are a racial majority and also control all institutions of social or political power.

It could also be that focusing on such things leads to the death of communities in rural Maine.

But what do we care about more: creating a world where black youth are not gunned down by police officers on a literally daily basis for either absurdly petty crimes or literally no reason (like Oscar Grant, for example), or preserving rural Maine?

Personally, I don't care at all if rural communities die. I'm living in a rural "community" in New England myself right now, and it's honestly torturous. I'm glad people are moving to Portland or Boston to raise their children because, frankly, it seems abusive raising a child in this environment. There's no Uber, basically no other apps, very few amusements, and virtually zero culture beyond what the majority in the area (old white people) prefer. The lack of competition in general means that there are very few new things, and lots of old, crappy things. Raising children in this area deprives them of stimulation that will literally mean their brains are less dense and less able to fluidly adapt to new situations.

I doubt very much that rural Maine, like my own area, has very much diversity in terms of any of the other factors you've listed (I exclude the MBTI because each MBTI axis is effectively randomly distributed, because the test is based on Jungian psuedoscience that means it has no correlation to the real world -- all areas are diverse in MBTI because all areas are diverse to a random discriminator variable). It is not a bad thing for these areas to die. In the near future, I can easily see the area I'm in dying off as well, and it'll be great for all the people who don't have to live here anymore.

It hard to keep track of who to hate. Apparently it is OK to hate old people. Or maybe just old white people. Or is it just old people who live in rural areas? And also apparently we should hate those who aren't serviced by Uber. And those whose culture we don't like.

It's funny you read 'hate' into my comment. I certainly don't like living in a place where people who are actively trying to perpetuate a society of domination along class, race, and gender divides dictate the culture, but that doesn't imply that I hate them.

The actual hate, and worse, the cold, seemingly-benign, hate, is in your attacks (you seem to have created this account exclusively to do this) on progressive politics on Hacker News.

Maybe this is actually 'hot' hate. Maybe you truly think that non-whites have no great books of 2014 or no cultural contributions for you. But I don't think so.

I think it's more likely that you just see any divergence from the status quo you grew up used to as "going too far." Because you somehow think that a thousand years of liberatory struggle ended in 1985.

That is a thing worth hating. People will die because of that. The longer we allow white supremacy to exist, the more black children will be gunned down in the streets.

Personally, I don't think areas that are the equivalent of a white rice diet are good areas to raise a child, because I'd think it was cruel to raise a child on a diet of nothing but white rice. But it's a stretch to say that I hate old white people in the country because of that. Plenty of them are fine.

It's just you who isn't.

>It's funny you read 'hate' into my comment.

It is not so funny, because you could make a very minor tweak to your comment, and even you can see it is unacceptable:

"Personally, I don't care at all if urban Detroit dies. I'm living in an urban "community" myself right now, and it's honestly torturous. I'm glad people are moving to away to raise their children because, frankly, it seems abusive raising a child in this environment. There's no Uber, basically no other apps, very few amusements, and virtually zero culture beyond what the majority in the area (old black people) prefer. The lack of competition in general means that there are very few new things, and lots of old, crappy things. Raising children in this area deprives them of stimulation that will literally mean their brains are less dense and less able to fluidly adapt to new situations."

That is not a minor tweak, it changes the entire meaning of that statement.

It's also factually wrong, because Uber has launched in Detroit, plenty of other apps have launched in Detroit, and Detroit is a cultural nexus. Virtually all of electronic music has origins in Detroit house and techno. Detroit is still a center for cultural innovation along multiple axes. And it's a city dominated by the young.

You are:

1. Not understanding my point in a factual manner

2. Implying that you if you swap "black" and "white" or "men" and "women", sentences retain any meaning, even though you've totally changed the context in which they exist

3. Very literally a white supremacist apologist, because every one of your HN comments is attacking progressivism.

Please leave HN and the tech community. Racists are not welcome here.

This is not Tumblr, we allow difference of opinion and even disagreement with your politics.

We allow people who can come up with something other than as hominem attacks, which you seem unable to do.

The only racist person in this thread is you. And progressivism is a morally bankrupt enterprise whose existent is justified to cure the problems it creates.

>The only racist person in this thread is you

>progressivism is a morally bankrupt enterprise


Thanks for pointing that out, another_sigh. I just wish my comment hadn't been buried while being argued against. And my point had nothing to do with the merits of rural life, but pointing out the over simplification of proposing intentional integration as a way to beat human psychology game theory. Like we haven't tried intentional integration before.

Additionally, I had a an unpleasant and almost visceral reaction to the notion that anyone would hope for community diversity death. As though the world would be a better place if we all just had access to Uber and curated art museums and such.

Sigh. I wasn't expressing a fear of institutional oppressions of white people. All I'm saying is that in a desperate attempt to integrate white and black people, you're missing a myriad other -isms.

For my sake, your final paragraph is horribly misguided. I'm sorry you're unhappy where you live, but I can honestly say that there is an ass-load of wealth, education and age segregation where I live.

You can wish for everyone to move into a large urban conglomeration like in some shitty si-fi novel, but the reality is that as long as there is land, people will live there. As they say in real estate, they're not making any more of it.

And back before you hijacked my point to rant about how you don't like where you live and wish others didn't either, I would simply restate my original point that trying to seek out integrated neighbourhoods will most likely lead to unintended consequences as we fail to appreciate that perhaps wealth disparity is more of an issue in 2014 than simply being black or white.

And the only reason I brought up Maine was that friends of ours moved down to Portland looking for black and Hispanic people to expose their children to. What they found was a shitty neighbourhood full of fairly uneducated folks with whom they shared almost no culture touchstones and as a result they had a miserable time.

That may not be everyone's experience, but mashing together black and white people != automatic peacefulness and equality.

Is it possible that at some level humans will always segregate themselves based on what is culturally important to themselves?

Sometimes we have to look at questions in a hard, unflinching way, and prepare ourselves for the answers that come.

I think New Englanders have it worse than most other American regions because their culture is so bland and denialist because of the Puritanical influences that still roam unchecked. It's probable that Mainers would hate Portland just because it's a place where people have fun.

But you seem to be using "culturally important touchstones" as a way to be racist by proxy, so I'll stop this interaction here. I hope you get better.

Sweet. I'm actually from inner city Chicago. I just like the coast of Maine more than being surrounded with shit I don't want and people I should envy. My problem, I know but it's real, and a lot of people are affected by it.

I was just being honest about shit a lot of people don't like to talk about. Sure, I could move to Compton and make a go of it with folks not like me, but the whole point of the article is that folks like folks who are like them. The odds of me finding someone in Compton who wants to come over and play Pandemic with me is pretty low compared to a relatively affluent community on the coast of Maine. And there in lies the segregation that most people don't see. Black, white, Hispanic, Chinese, etc ... pretty obvious. But wealth, education and such, that shit is also a problem and much less obviously.

Also, please don't call me racist by proxy while insulting an entire region of people who, most likely, don't even all share the same cultural heritage because Americans move around a lot.

It's true that there are more factors than race, but people's Meyers-Briggs classification is generally not as visible as people's race, and in neighbourhoods, racial segregation has a disproportionately large impact.

What this experiment basically shows, is that some degree of affirmative action is necessary. White people need some encouragement to live in black neighbourhoods, and black people need some encouragement to live in white neighbourhoods.

But wealth is absolutely also a big factor. Even if they're mixed, it's not good to have a poor ghetto and a rich ghetto. In Amsterdam, people actively complain when a new neighbourhood doesn't have a mix of cheap rentals and more expensive homes for purchase. The city actively tries to get diverse neighbourhoods, and with good reason.

I really don't believe that is a significant factor in why young people leave rural Maine for Portland and Boston.

I have direct experience with numerous friends, some with families and others unmarried, moving to urban areas hoping to be exposed to more racial and cultural diversity.

Sometimes they find it, sometimes they don't, but it certainly does happen.

The "no fucking jobs" effect also plays a role.

I also live in small-town Maine and can safely say that these metrics: "age, health, wealth, gender, sexual orientation, language, education, technological proclivity" are all much better optimized by living in the city.

And you can also get tortillas that aren't garbage.

Holy shit. There's only like 700,000 of us. We're probably related.

Also, my point had nothing to do with optimization and everything to do with segregation. I would continue to argue that rural Maine struggles with age, education and wealth segregation even though we're racially not very diverse.

I was surprised to find that this was partly done by the incomparable Vi Hart. But why should that have been a surprise: she has a distinctive knack for presenting mathematical concepts in a way that makes them understandable.

This one is incredibly fascinating, even though it is simplified. One thing to keep in mind is that even if you exclude racial biases, you will maintain segregation if people have other - correlated - biases or limitations on their ability to move:

In many countries, poverty is highly correlated with race, for example. This is certainly the case with the US, but also elsewhere. I live in London, and you see interesting effects of this.

The inner city boroughs are quite segregated, both by race and wealth.

Meanwhile, some of the outer boroughs are showing the reverse effect, where property price points appears to be a driver for mixing. E.g. Croydon, where I live, is one of the most mixed in London - it's at a price point that creates both young professionals of all races, and more established families of all races who are united in finding the inner boroughs either too expensive or too poor.

But overall: Imagine that nobody had a racial preference, but had a wealth preference - and limitations.

Now to overcome segregation, you face a near insurmountable barrier: Wealthier people would need to be willing to settle for housing and an environment of a much worse standard than they can afford, and poorer people would be unable to find housing that makes much difference.

This is one of the biggest problems. The recent US situation with demonstrations over police killings, the race aspect has been blown out of proportion: You don't solve anything by focusing on the race issue, because so much of the violence is correlated more strongly with poverty than with race. You want to solve racial issues, start by addressing poverty. You'll still have race issues at the end of it, but it will turn out vastly smaller than what it appears, and you'll have removed a substantial source of excuses for racial biases.

> _"Wealthier people would need to be willing to settle for housing and an environment of a much worse standard than they can afford, and poorer people would be unable to find housing that makes much difference."_

That is actually very easy to manage: don't make all houses in a neighbourhood the same. Make some to the standards of wealthy people, and others to the budget of poor people.

The apartment building I live in has some houses that are rentals, and others that are purchased. Some are bigger, others smaller. As a result, we've got reasonable diversity (though still whiter than the rest of the neighbourhood).

Of course addressing poverty is still a good idea, for this and many other reasons.

It's easy to manage in newbuilds. Many places the property replacement cycle is 100+ years.

Matter of fact, at least over here (NL), people aren't even allowed to live in low-rent housing if they earn more - there's even a movement that wants to raise low-rent house prices if the people living in them are earning more than they did when they moved in. Of course, that is also so that the cheaper houses become available for people moving into a house of their own for the first time (young families).

But at the same time it causes the wealth-based segregation as you state, with all the associated side-effects.

Wow! Not only an educational game about social diversity, but also: agent-based models, phase transitions, irreversible thermodynamics. And, last not least - cute shapes.

I am definitely adding it to my educational game recs: https://hackpad.com/Science-based-games-J0X4MSberlM

Thanks for sharing the list; I'm saving it and will check out some of those games after work!

However, I'm a bit surprised that Kerbal Space Program didn't make it. It's extremely fun and playable, and captures the "parts of real scientific phenomena" known as orbital mechanics (orbiting, docking, landing, interplanetary transfers, etc.), aerodynamics (at least with FAR mod) and bits of structural engineering (aka. how to make rockets that don't tip over or disassemble themselves upon launch).

Yesterday I spent like 3 hours figuring out how to assemble a skycrane and then used it to land a rover on the moon ;).

Another thing that maybe could fit on that list is "Fate of the World" game from few years ago, in which you play as international government to fix climate change, world hunger, poverty, lack of education, etc. Sadly, it doesn't seem to be updated or to have any active community around it.

"Fate of the World" is on the list (though, the link is now dead).

By no means I am omniscient - thanks for letting me know about "Kerbal Space Program". Or even better - feel invited to add it to the list.

A few more interactive things to add to that list:

Interactive tutorial on sequent calculus: http://logitext.mit.edu/logitext.fcgi/tutorial

Math and Physics applets, mostly on wave mechanics (Java) http://www.falstad.com/mathphysics.html

Ancient Greek Geometry http://sciencevsmagic.net/geo/

Dragonbox (iPhone game to teach algebra to kids) http://archive.wired.com/geekdad/2012/06/dragonbox/


However, in this list I tried to focus on actual games:

- capturing parts of a real scientific phenomena,

- AND actually playable (you can play for fun, not "for classroom only").

[OK, maybe "Parable..." is here a stretch, but I could not resist adding it.]

(And, for example consider Falstad's applets as one of my biggest inspirations ever - especially the Ripple Tank and the 1D Quantum Mechanics; but also electric circuits are very nice, and inspired things like iCircuit!)

I wanted to point out one of their conclusions in particular:

> 1. Small individual bias → Large collective bias.

> When someone says a culture is shapist, they're not saying the individuals in it are shapist. They're not attacking you personally.

This is a really important point that gets a lot of arguments hung up on nonproductive "not all men"-type fooforaw lately. If someone says that e.g. gamer culture is sexist, or even if they (perhaps inadvisably) use shorthand and say "gamers are sexist," they are not saying that I and every other single person who plays games is personally sexist.

Yeah, one of the first things I noticed was that while the obvious analogy was race in a neighborhood, there was another fairly easy analogy for gender in a workplace.

They are saying that, and they are acting like that.

Asking people to agree that they are not is simply a shibboleth.

> They are saying that, and they are acting like that.

This is trivially false, since most of the people saying that gamer culture is sexist are themselves gamers.


For the math and game theory links, make sure to go all the way to the bottom. The post is based off the work of Nobel Prize winner Thomas Schelling and the style is inspired by Bret Victor's Explorable Explanations. There's more in the post, of course.

On the third board (the first one with a slider), setting the bias to 100%, segregation stays under 10% (I've run it for a bit and the max was 8%). Obviously we need to tell everyone be act like "I'll move if less than 100% of my neighbours are like me"! ;)

This is just because when a piece moves, the destination is random. If you allowed the bias to affect the choice of destination and not just the decision to move or stay put you'd get the result you expect.

Right, but you can't demand more realism for the results you don't like and accept the conclusions for those you do like.

For example, in a more realistic scenario people move for all sorts of reasons: leaving parent's house, changing jobs, marriage and divorce, etc. This stirring may lead to decreased segregation for slight decreases in bias, unlike what this more static model suggests.

Right, but you can't demand more realism for the results you don't like and accept the conclusions for those you do like.

The article is just showing why segregation is possible even if people have a very slight bias towards being near people like them. It doesn't prove this is the reason that any place is segregated, and it doesn't attempt to emulate every possible reason why a place would or would not be segregated.

In fact, at the bottom of the article you can see it says Schelling's model is a convincing demonstration of how innocent-seeming rules can create very undesirable outcomes, but of course real-life situations are more complicated. You might enjoy taking a closer look at real data in reference to Schelling's model. W.A.V. Clark's 1991 paper Residential Preferences and Neighborhood Racial Segregation: A Test of the Schelling Segregation Model has a lot of interesting data in it.

If you want more complete answers, look at that. This article is just demonstrating one concept.

This is not intended to be an accurate model of what actually happens in the real world. It's only supposed to test the hypothesis that minor but widespread individual bias can result in large-scale segregation.

...which is then treated, in the remainder of the text, as though it were an accurate model of what happens in the real world.

No, it is not. You may want to reread it. Including the part where they explicitly state that the real world is a lot more complex, and where they give references to more in depth treatments.

This is because everyone at the border moves away - both the majority and the minority. When the majority at the border moves away, that exposes more border to move into.

Bias near 2/3rds segregates hard, since even in the presence of interlopers, the border gets defended.

There are far more boards which are mixed-up than boards which are segregated. There are only a few ways to segregate a board, but there are many many different arrangements, so the vast majority aren't segregated.

You can get it up there if you move the slider in small increments and rearrange to a stable state each time. If you do too big a jump, it becomes too chaotic.

In the real world, the result would be a pogrom. It's happened plenty of times.

The flaw of the model is that the polygons don't kill each other.

I enjoyed playing with the graphs and everything, but I question whether this model has much relevance to the real world. Is there a strong reason to believe that these effects would survive a model of "I want to move" that is not solely based on "too many people unlike me live near by" and/or "not enough people unlike me live near by"? Indeed, is there a strong reason to believe that a binary modality of "I'm happy/unhappy," (the post gestures in the direction of a third mode, "I'm neither happy nor unhappy," but in fact in their simulations that third mode is indistinguishable from "happy") is a good abstraction of people's moving decisions?

The data paper they posted a link to suggests that there is unlikely to be an equilibrium, contra the message of this post.

It seems like it's more an explanation of a mathematical model and a prescriptive political position, rather than a description of anything real in society.

Sociological studies have found this to happen pretty often. A (very readable) study of tipping points can be found in There Goes the Neighborhood (http://www.amazon.com/There-Goes-Neighborhood-Tensions-Neigh...).

The point of the model is to demonstrate that all else being equal, very tiny biases can explain continued segregation.

It's mainly a counter to the idea that enough people not caring about the racial makeup of where you live will lead to diversity in the face of even tiny amounts of bias in other parts of the population. If people want diversity, the only way it will happen is to actively promote it.

Of course other effects come into play too.

Certainly it's a model but you can work up to more complex models. Check out NetLOGO, which comes with a huge library of simulations and a fairly friendly IDE for creating your own agent-based simulations.

I think that as it's presented, the authors are suggesting that it's a model that is necessary and on some level sufficient to understand the dynamics of self-segregation in housing.

They subtitle the post "This is a story of how harmless choices can make a harmful world." Reading it, I get the powerful impression that the authors think that this model has the basic answers for all self-segregation in housing.

But obviously an even slightly more complicated model undermines many of their points. Like, they make a big deal of the idea that if you have a fairly high level of "shapism" and thus get a fairly segregated society, and then you lower the level of "shapsim," nothing changes unless you actively reverse your bias and move if your neighborhood is not diverse enough.

But clearly people don't only ever move for diversity reasons. Sometimes you move because you got a job or a SO that's far away. Sometimes you move because you can afford more or less living space. Sometimes you move because you have a child now and want to get into a good school zone. Or whatever. And if your preferences are now, compared to when you last moved, more tolerant, that WILL reduce the level of segregation of your society.

In fact, people probably move for economic or family reasons far MORE often than they move for diversity reasons.

I mean, that's not a small difference from their model. It's one of their major points! That, once segregated, societies won't become less segregated unless people actively work on it.

And, honestly, I don't think that the model holds at all unless you understand that people probably mostly use economic proxies for race over primarily making decisions based on race. For the most part, I don't think people are saying, "I don't want to move there, there's too many black people." They're saying, "I don't want to move there, it's too poor or too crime-ridden" or whatever. And yes, they may be exaggerating the extent to which it is poor or crime-ridden because they have internalized racist ideas about whether majority-black neighborhoods are poor or crime-ridden. But the point is, you can't really address this segregation by telling people to prefer mixed neighborhoods: you need to address the complex relationships of economics and race and how economic class affects neighborhoods and whatever.

But they're not saying that people only move for diversity reasons. They're saying that one simple metric at a fairly low level could nevertheless give you drastic results, which is a counter-intuitive conclusion - most people expect output factors to be proportional to input factors.

Don't get hung up on the explanatory power of the model for real conditions - for the same reason you would not get hung up on the simplistic assumptions of most economic models, which often involve two variables and all other factors being held equal ('ceteris paribus'). People sometimes dismiss all economics because micro starts out from these extremely simple foundations rather than being fully reflective of the real world, but that's a bit like dismissing math because arithmetic is so basic.

There's no particular reason to desire an equilibrium, though. Actual desires should shift, which will naturally disrupt any equilibrium that appears, and this will probably happen faster than any equilibrium could be approached.

Yes, but a major point of the article is that a durable equilibrium is reached and then that equilibrium does not shift as attitudes shift. If it's not true that an equilibrium is reached, then one of their three major wrapping-up points is not true.

That's not a conclusion I draw from it.

Which one of their three wrapping-up points wouldn't be true? #1 simply asks you not to be offended. #2 states that it's always a work-in-progress. #3 is a call to action.

Perhaps you're misreading #2?

It's #2, and I'm not misreading it.

I mean, let's be clear: you can very reasonably hold the belief that one needs to actively work to overcome past bias. But in #2, they're calling out to their model, and specifically this part of this post:

"See what doesn't happen? No change. No mixing back together. In a world where bias ever existed, being unbiased isn't enough! We're gonna need active measures."

But that's only true because their model includes an easily-reached equilibrium (and also because it doesn't include non-diversity-based reasons to move). If it didn't, then past bias would not cause future segregation -- the (in that case never-stable) present state of the world would reflect current biases, not long-past one.

And this is what I'm saying: they have a very simple model. They have a few fairly laudable (though perhaps not actually very effective) personal and political prescriptions. But if the personal and political prescriptions do apply to the real world, they don't do so through the agency of that model.

So, if I've understood your point correctly, you're saying that the segregated state is the "easily-reached equilibrium", and that such a state is "unlikely" to come to pass in the real world? That doesn't sound right; I think I'm still misunderstanding you.

I agree with the last paragraph of what you've written here: models are always simplistic and they're definitely too hasty in their prescriptions: but I'm having trouble parsing the rest of what you're saying.

(Also, unrelated, how the fuck am I submitting too fast when I not only waited an hour but also changed computers and IPs in between comments? Is having a conversation no longer allowed on these fucking threads?)

Yes, the segregated state is the easily-reached equilibrium (you can tell it's an equilibrium because people stop moving). And, to be clear, it's an equilibrium because people have actually stopped moving -- you could imagine a dynamic state of constant move where at any given time it's still very segregated.

And indeed, that is what the data paper that the article links at the bottom (http://smg.media.mit.edu/library/Clark.ResidentialSegregatio...) suggests is true: Because in the real world, diversity preferences are not symmetric. That is, "triangles" may want to live with 3+ other "triangles" around them, but "squares" don't also want 3+ other "squares," they want, say, 1+, or indeed they want 3+ "triangles." That prevents the static equilibrium that the simpler model predicts, and means that people keep moving. The dynamic "everyone's always moving" may still be segregated, but the point is, it does not have the same property that the article highlights of "everyone moved to a state they can live with, and now even if they would be comfortable with a more diverse neighborhood, nobody's moving and so no diverse neighborhood ever happens." Because they are still moving.

I don't have the expertise necessary to critique the data collection or manipulation of that paper, so perhaps it's wrong, but I'm taking it as provisionally true that they are correct that no equilibrium exists.

Great post, though I'm missing a definition of how do they mathematically define segregation. (Checking from the JS code, it seems to be an average over the shapes of the proportion of neighbor shapes which are like them.)

Also, the title confused me a bit as I expected something related to Flatland.

By the way, one of the two people behind this is Vi Hart, which has also made some brilliant videos featuring math, music, and brilliant silliness: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4niz8TfY794&list=UUOGeU-1Fig...

> it's about deciding what we want the world to look like, and settling for no less

Perhaps it's about accepting people for who and what they are, even when they fail to satisfy your own biases, and building an understanding of the social world on that basis -- rather than being about privileging your opinion of how the world ought to be over your perception of how the world is, and bridging the gap between there and your thesis via the post hoc fallacy.

...nah. That would be stupid.


What biases are you disagreeing with, here?

Beautiful UI. Schelling's models of segregation is a great example of how simulation and data-vis can create insights in the humanities & social sciences.

I made a similar (though much less beautiful) simulation for a workshop in in computational philosophy last semester - but replaced intentional with random movement when uphappy.


Problem with this model. If you turn the bias way up (demand 80-90 percent of your neighbors be like you) the segregation drops to zero. That doesn't seem to make sense and I think it's because they're moving to random locations that have low probability of being "better" by the binary nature of the metric.

Right. If you make them super-racist, you get a chaotic state because the polygons move around constantly. I don't see it as a problem with the model. I think that it makes sense, because people who are extremely racist are (in addition to being morally in the wrong) impractical and chronically pissed off. However, you can get a very-segregated state by gradually turning up the racism (from 33% to 50%, then to 60%, then 70%). If you do it too fast (i.e. change the racist temperature too quickly) you get the chaotic state you're talking about.

In the real world, this chaotic effect might be a negative (i.e. violent) interaction. Or, more hopefully, people might recognize such extreme bias as untenable and gradually find it undesirable to live in monoculture.

By the way, I was able to get 99% (ETA: 100%) segregation (because engineering racist dystopias is the point of this exercise? :) ) by altering the racism level to move around the patches and "attack" small enclaves of blue in the yellow area. If you think of it as abstractly playing with optimization parameters with a hand-controllable Lagrange multiplier, it feels less evil.

This is a fantastic visual demonstration of a simple, but surprising (if you haven't seen it before) effect! Congrats to Vi Hart & Nicky Case (I presume Nicky did the web/javascript side of things?).

This isn't just about race / skin colour either - you can see exactly the same effects in things like political viewpoints where people also tend to segregate into areas or simply social circles of people that share their own preferences. (pace the praphrased quote: "How could politician X win the election? Nobody I know would vote for them!")

I wonder how we could maybe put this idea to work as part of immigration reform or the much-discussed work visa topic. After all, moving is tough so not everyone can just up and move for diversity's sake, but if someone is already moving, maybe a requirement should be that they move to communities unlike them?

What does it say that anything over 75-85% "segregationism" leads to an almost completely desegregated community of shapes over time (though, they are constantly moving)?

"I'll move if less than 97% of my neighbors are like me" leads to less segregation because everyone is always moving...

Sometimes it feels like the open source web development environment I find myself in is all triangles.

That last sandbox taught me very small minorities make everyone unhappy.

Are mobile devices supported? I can't make the page do anything.

Brilliant. What else can I add?


reached maximum dillusion.

There are many settings for which this process doesn't converge. I consider it a feature rather than a bug.

For example, if you have the parameters at 33% and 100%, you converge on a racist/segregated state. However, at 33% and 95%, people keep moving around. You see the large contiguous regions that would otherwise be suburban enclaves hollow out. But you never get to a stable state, which is kinda like real life so it works.

Small individual bias → Large collective bias.

This is so incredibly true. I wrote about this. The blog post is specific to VCs, but I think the Racist Judges Problem is much more general. (http://michaelochurch.wordpress.com/2013/10/08/vc-istan-2-th...)

Let's say that we're having a cat beauty contest and, for the sake of argument and egregious simplification, that 35 states are completely non-racist and 15 states are extremely racist against orange cats. Let's also assume that beauty is uncorrelated to kitty-race and that there are only two colors: white (80%) and orange (20%). You'd expect that 7 contestants would be orange: a proportionate share from the non-racist states and none from the racist states. But you'll actually get very few, because the non-racist states still want their cats to win, so they'll be de facto racist for strategic reasons except for an occasional "weird" state (say, Minnesota) that nominates an orange cat and Fox News doesn't shut up about it being "political" in its "making a statement" (even if the orange cat from Minnesota was the most beautiful). Thus, when you look at the contestants and see 49-50 white cats, it creates a horrible and completely false perception that white is the standard of cat beauty and that no one finds orange cats beautiful.

In other words, small differences in preference, once they gain a certain social currency and acceptability, snowball into something a lot more horrible. This is also why it's so important to keep racism socially unacceptable, and why Stetson Kennedy's infiltration of the Ku Klux Klan (he exposed it as childish and ludicrous) was so powerful.

It plays with many variables to show the consequences of these choices, but never questions the basic assumption that shapes are happier in a diverse environment.

It then goes on to conclude "Demand diversity near you".

I know what they try to accomplish, but I still think it's a dishonest (or at least incomplete) approach.

If you read the base assumption naively as "white people are happier with a certain fixed percentage of black people around," then yes, it sounds silly. I think what you should be taking away as the basic assumption is: all other things being equal, an integrated society is healthier than a segregated society.

The target is those of us who are for diversity, but who have not realised how hard it is to achieve and maintain diversity in the face of even tiny biases.

Guidelines | FAQ | Lists | API | Security | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact