The Voluntary Life: 274 Imaginary Teams

19 December 2016

274 Imaginary Teams

Personal freedom comes from individual choice and individual responsibility, as opposed to collective identity and collective responsibility. This week's episode is about an idea that I find helpful in achieving personal freedom: Don’t join imaginary teams. Listen to the episode to find out more!

Show Notes:
Listen To Episode 274


  1. Hi Jake!

    Not directly the topic you discussed but somewhat related: Would you also argue there is no useful information to be gained from statistical descriptions of outcomes and behaviors for groups - for your personal actions?

    A couple of examples:

    1) I made a big study which shows that 99% of men called Jake get prostate cancer at age 40, but 0% of men named Boris get prostate cancer at age 40. Would you then also say that because the group is imaginary, you are not going to get tested if your name is Jake. You didn't choose to be called Jake, therefore all statistical descriptors for the group are irrelevant.

    2) There is a group X, and there is data available that shows that 50% of members of group X have committed at least 1 childrape in their lifetime, on average. You find out that your new neighbor is going to be from group X, but you have a chance to vet whether of not he is allowed to move in. There is no reliable way of gathering any further information, the only thing that you know that he has the characteristics that all other members of X also have.
    Would you then argue that group X is imaginary, and he did not choose to be a member of group X voluntarily, so no decision can be made based on him belonging to group X? Remember you have a child.

    3) in general, your time and resources in life are limited and countless times you will have to make a decision about interacting with an individual while only having information about statistical averages for sets to which the idividuals belong - would you also argue that for the sake of political correctness it is necessary to ignore all the available data describing probabilities of behaviors for given individuals

    I know this is not the topic you talked about in this episode, but I would like to hear your honest opinion about this aspect of groups.

    1. I think the comment above is worth to answer. In my opinion there are 4 misconceptions there:

      * Causality: People called "Jake" may be statistically correlated with anything. But "correlation does not imply causation". They are independent events. And if there is no causation, any conclusion is random, irrelevant.

      * Prejudices: Anonymous suggests that, in case of lack of information, in case there are not enough facts to take a decision, we should accept preconceptions and prejudices. I think this is inappropriate and against rationality.

      * Opportunity cost. If the group X of people have statistically a high rate of Y, what is the probability of Y given another group Z of people? Very likely, considering that they both are human beings, have similar probabilities of Y.

      * Misuse of statistics. Statistics is very important in order to extract information from a complex world, but it has to be applied properly. If we have 2 people, one being wealth and owning 2 chicken, and another being poor and owning nothing, we could conclude than in average they both are happy because they have a chicken each to have dinner tonight. But this is incorrect, it is misuse of statistics, one has everything and the other has nothing. The "average" may not be the proper tool to describe a situation.

      Anyway, thank you Jake for your audio and to Anonymous for asking insightful questions.