Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login

If your definition is not simply equivalent to social outcomes, there should be an experiment that can potentially measure power absent social outcomes. If so, what is it?

I.e., suppose a group has good outcomes but low power or vice versa. How can I find out?




You can't measure power without its effects just like you can't measure energy (at the very least, it will have to affect your measurement device), but you can often tell whether the effect was due to power or not. Sometimes -- like with the case of potential energy -- you might be able to deduce its existence once you've learned how it works for a while. But, you can often see powerful people fail (say, a billionaire dies in a plane crash, or loses all his money when the market crashes), and powerless people thrive (a homeless man wins the lottery). But power, like force in physics, is the main thing driving human interaction. It is certainly the only mechanism of any interesting social dynamics, but it is not trivial, as power -- like energy -- takes many forms.

So, to me, your question sounds a bit like, "how do we know when the planets in the solar system move by gravity, and when they move by something else?", to which the answer is that the planets almost always move by gravity, except very rarely, when, say, hit by a particularly large asteroid; how doe we know when that happens? We look. Same here, if a group has good outcomes and low power and vice versa -- while very rare (as power is at the core of the mechanism), you can either study the case carefully (which is what historians do), or compare it with power's known outcomes to see if it's one of those flukes. But, you'll say, I can isolate gravity and test it in a lab to make sure I'm certain this is how the planets move. Well, experiments like that are harder in the social sciences, but they are done quite regularly. Two very famous experiments in power are the Milgram experiment (testing authority power) and the Stanford prison experiment (testing authority power as well as its effect on those who have it). Many dictator games are experiments in other forms of power.

Besides, I don't see what exactly you're driving at. Thousands of studies have uncovered some mechanisms at the very core of human society. The mechanisms behave similarly enough to warrant a name (kinetic energy, potential energy etc.), and that concept seems to be at the heart of what drives most of society. Not only that, it induces a quantifiable (if sometimes only roughly, or even in theory) property. That mechanism, along with its quantifiable trait is called power. It was found to be roughly "the ability to bend others to your will", and has produced interesting, useful models (qualitative -- not quantitative). You want to give it another name? Fine, call it X. But 100 years ago we did not know about X as much as we do now. If you want to identify X with something that you think has been known for a long time -- you'll be wrong; if you want to identify X with something you think is still a complete mystery -- you'll be wrong again. You want to argue with scientists about the names they choose and then quote someone who says arguing about names is futile -- great. What is it that you're saying?

The concept of power conveys a lot of knowledge that has been gathered over decades. Your responses seem to be like those of someone who's just heard of energy, and says, "If energy is what moving things possess, why not just call it speed? Oh, a ball at the top of the hill also has energy, why not just call it height? Oh, fire has energy too? So energy is everywhere, and if it's everywhere then it doesn't mean anything!" Either that someone decides to learn basic physics, or decides to stay ignorant. But if he decides to stay ignorant, I think you would agree it would be foolish of him to continue arguing.


Actually, since you keep talking about energy, you brought to my mind a critique of some textbooks by Feynman: http://www.textbookleague.org/103feyn.htm

I turned the page. The answer was, for the wind-up toy, "Energy makes it go." And for the boy on the bicycle, "Energy makes it go." For everything, "Energy makes it go." Now that doesn't mean anything. What they should have done is to look at the wind-up toy, see that there are springs inside, learn about springs, learn about wheels, and never mind "energy."...Now that doesn't mean anything. Suppose it's "Wakalixes." That's the general principle: "Wakalixes makes it go."...It's also not even true that "energy makes it go," because if it stops, you could say, "energy makes it stop" just as well.

I claim that this critique applies equally well to your use of the word "power".

And your comparisons to real sciences are quite inapt - again, as I've pointed out to you before, a discussion with tptacek on crypto or kasey_junk on high speed trading results in the aforementioned posters being very specific while their critics are vague. Kind of the opposite of what is happening here.

Note that you still haven't actually provided an experiment or measurement that could identify a successful yet powerless group (if such a thing existed), or vice versa.


You keep saying "your use of the word power" as if power is not a well known, well studied concept. It is not "my use of the word power" but simply power. You did the same thing when we discussed sexism, which is an academic term invented relatively recently by feminist scholars, which you insisted on treating as some obscure, ill-defined notion. This tone shows a misplaced contempt to a vast scholarly endeavor.

In any case, I don't see how that critique applies to power at all, because, yet again, some of the mechanics involving power are well known and well documented. Nobody says "power makes it so". It's just that explaining the power dynamics of racial neighborhood segregation or sexism in tech would take dozens of pages.

It is not simply that "power is what drives women participation in tech down". I can trace a process -- some documented and some hypothesized -- starting with "classical" gender roles, through the massive transition in gender roles and general separation between the sexes that occurred in Victorian times (they had rooms in houses meant to serve men and rooms for women) and shapes society to this day, through the history of women in computing (starting with the transition of switchboards from being seen as a job for women to one for men), with the more general association of which jobs are for men and for women. That would take me about 50 pages, I guess. But power is the central mechanism. I'm not saying "power did it"; I can show how. Just not here.

> And your comparisons to real sciences are quite inapt

Well, I've been using metaphors, naturally. The intractable sciences are much more complex than physics, chemistry and even biology. There are no closed-form formulas in the social sciences; at least not yet.

> a discussion with tptacek on crypto or kasey_junk on high speed trading

Maybe they're just better communicators than me, and maybe HFT is more amenable to discussion in HN comments than the history of gender roles and the evolution of power in human society. However, if you have specific questions (and they would have to be more specific than "how come there are fewer women in tech") I could try to answer succinctly if it is at all possible. The problem is that these are things that are never even taught to first-year social sciences students (some are only taught in grad school), and unlike with HFT, I don't think you even have the basics.

For example, I don't know if you're at all familiar with the techniques used to study history or sociology, how historical documents are analyzed, how different societies are compared etc., and I really can't lay out an intro to social studies here (BTW, that Curtis Yarvin guy I told you about suffers from the same problem, except he considers himself knowledgable for some reason. His writings read like an Aristotelian scholar discussing quantum mechanics; he's completely ill equipped to handle the materials he's using, which is why he draws such ridiculous conclusions. Of the months spent teaching students simply how to approach reading documents, he doesn't even apply the very first lesson: classifying the genre of the document and identifying the intended audience and purpose)

Now, I'm sure that there are some introductory materials to gender studies that skip the basics of social science, but I doubt you'll find them convincing if you're not familiar with the methodology. If you are interested, I could try to find some online course in history or sociology that seems good, but my guess is that they won't get to gender roles in an intro course (and if they do, it will be by skipping the groundwork, which, again, will make it seem less convincing).

> Note that you still haven't actually provided an experiment or measurement that could identify a successful yet powerless group (if such a thing existed), or vice versa.

You still haven't provided an example of a planetary system whose planets revolve around a star due to a force other than gravity! Gravity is what makes planets revolve around a star, and power is the mechanism by which groups (and individuals) obtain success. Once in a while there are aberrations, to which I have provided examples: winning the lottery. Or, if California is covered by the ocean, then the very powerful people who live their might become extremely unsuccessful. Of course because that population is powerful, various disasters would probably be addressed by the government faster and with more rigor than in other parts of the US, but that may still happen.


You still haven't provided an example of a planetary system whose planets revolve around a star due to force other than gravity!

I asked for a measurement which could identify such a group, not a measurement that would. I can easily tell you experiments to test this in physics - solve Newton's law of motion and find a celestial body with motion that doesn't agree with it.

If I were advocating for the invisible roller coaster track theory of celestial motion, I couldn't provide such an experiment. The invisible roller coaster tracks are observable only by celestial motion - whichever way the moon moves, that's where the track is.

The only way to refute the theory would be via an alternate method of observing the position of the tracks and then observing whether the moon actually followed that track. If someone didn't provide that alternate method, I'd say he was not even wrong.

However, if you have specific questions...

Besides the one I repeatedly ask, you mean?


Well, there are numerous examples of groups that had little power that achieved success, but remember that there's a feedback loop here, as once you achieve success you obtain power. But everywhere you see social mobility, those are cases where people with little power slowly obtained success, which then turned to power.

Examples from the middle ages include grants of knighthood[1] as payment for some unusual service. While usually a knight would only come from wealthy or noble families (or at least a family with good connections) -- hence, from a position of some power -- sometimes knighthood was granted to brave foot soldiers -- i.e. people with little power. Sometimes, the title came with land (and the serfs that worked it, of course).

In non feudal societies, social mobility was usually achieved through money, although some classes were barred from obtaining any money whatsoever (slaves). You can see groups of immigrants, provided the host society did not block their steps too much, slowly gain money, and later recognition and connections. This process would often take several generations.

Analyzing those processes is helped by the fact that often you can observe power directly. Money and nobility titles are very conspicuous forms of power, easily measurable directly. More hidden forms of power such as connections can also be traced directly (a boy of low background would be taken to the home of a merchant as a gift to his parents in recognition of some service; this lets you trace connections across classes); charisma (which in the middle ages was a great way to attain power in religious circles) could be seen in some extraordinary ascetic acts[2] or visions[3]. The latter was one of the few ways women could rise to positions of power in medieval societies (see Joan of Arc), although others would be marrying, and surviving, a man of power. While it was often expected of widows to remarry, some medieval societies were surprisingly relatively accepting widows, recognized their independence, and allowed them to transact on their own.

[1]: http://www.lordsandladies.org/steps-to-knighthood.htm

[2]: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simeon_Stylites

[3]: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lucy_Brocadelli




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

Search: