Annotating Part 2 of the Greg Cochran interview with James Miller

May 25, 2017 · 6 min read

Part 2 of the conversation: listen to the podcast here.

Read annotation of part 1 here.

Disclaimer: In some parts I’m summarizing some very complicated science in population genetics, which I’m personally not that familiar with. Please point out any mistakes (which are my own).

0:05 — the difficulty of counterintelligence. Not being allowed to profile against who might be a spy. Teller’s solution: invent stuff so fast that the spies can’t use your stuff to catch up. But that’s less easy now that the pace of progress is slowing down.

0:07 Greg’s predictions. Got Neanderthal admixture right, felt good, but when he got Iraq right he felt bad. Also clarifies what it means to be 2% Neanderthal: (10 minutes in explanation). Discusses how there were multiple admixture events with archaic humans, first in ME (all non-Africans), second later common to Europeans and Asians, and a third only in Asians. Potentially some admixture in Africa with a third type of archaic human, non Neanderthal or Denisovian.

0:15 — Discusses HLA genes that might have came from Neanderthals as adaptive introgressions. But the Neanderthals also might have carried disease to humans, so they might have been the “poison and the cure.”

0:17 — Mentions Tibetans have adaptive gene to high altitude, possibly from the Denisovans, and how the adaptation is different for people in the Andes (deep chest, more oxygen-carrying hemoglobin).

0:20 — Brown fat as an example of archaic adaptive introgression. Keeps Greenland Eskimos warmer (pdf), also makes them shorter and broader.

0:21— Speculation: Genes involved with keratin filament formation are adaptive introgression. Might have something to do less curly hair found in non-Africans, possibly something to do with disease. He thinks Ethiopians might have gotten some altitude adaptations from archaic humans. Key idea: if these archaic humans were there for longer, they’d probably have better adaptations for dealing with the altitude.

0:25East Africa has gotten a lot of gene flow from outside of Africa. Also, apparently Bushmen managed to get 1–2% of Middle Eastern admixture thanks to population expansion.

0:28 — Why did we outlast the Neanderthals? Not sure. Disease maybe. James suggests we might morally owe them to bring it back. Greg: if we do it “wrong” by creating some with low levels of bad rare mutations (by averaging out), which might explain half of the heritability of intelligence, we might make super intelligent Neanderthals...

0:35 — Some stuff modern humans did better than Neanderthals: hunter gathering. Their population density was much higher. He’s not sure they had better weapons at the times when they overlapped with Neanderthals. Modern humans did more talking, maybe they banded together. Mentioned that trade actually existed up to the range of 200km in those times, but that it wouldn’t have been helpful spreading military technology — probably spread disease though.

0:41 — Roman sanitation: did water right, but small pox epidemics still wiped them out. Population often shrank during classical times, perhaps because trade or wars spread disease. Trade over land was extremely difficult and expensive so lots of the stuff sent that way was rich people stuff. Ricardian comparative advantage came much later.

0:48 — Why did we have to wait until a few hundred years ago for the Industrial Revolution? Classical Greeks invented gears, water mill. He thinks intellectuals in classical times believed working with your hands is slave stuff, and that kind of attitude is re-emerging. See here for a similar argument.

0:53 — Greg mentions Bernie Madoff was almost caught in 1992 guaranteeing 12% returns. It was an open secret that he was at least suspicious. Greg believes insider trading explains most of the ways hedge funds beat the market. Finance attracted too many smart mathematicians and physicists who should have been doing more socially useful work. [This section was personally painful to listen to — Elan] Argues the size of finance might be a reason for slowing growth in some sectors (inefficient allocation of human capital), e.g. British financialization vs. German manufacturing after London became the financial capital of the world.

1:04Camels replaced wagons in the Middle East, so they didn’t end up developing roads. The streets are narrower in ME cities because they just need to let camels pass through not wagons. This, along with cotton in antebellum South vs manufacturing in the North, is an example of getting trapped in a suboptimal development path (possibly a role for government to help us avoiding these?). Talks about “upgrade paths”, e.g. terrible Western medicine finally turning useful very late, because it’s easier to turn theoretical pseudoscience into science than just a bunch of recipes.

1:11 — Plutarch somehow knew the formula for the Schröder–Hipparchus numbers (roughly the number of valid ways to add parentheses to a group of symbols). So they probably knew a lot more than we think.

1:15 — Talk about contact between the Japanese and Native Americans. Two Japanese seamen got lost but survived at sea and drifted to British Columbia where they were immediately enslaved (See p. 9 here). They weren’t allowed back in by the Japanese. There’s also an unusual Y chromosome in Ecuador and maybe some pottery that looks Japanese. But doesn’t seem to have left a big footprint if there was contact.

1:18 — Ancient pre-history through DNA analysis. People in Northern Europe had some admixture with a Siberian population that split. One branch went east that are the ancestors of the American Indians. Hints of this through Y chromosome analysis. R1a vs R1b (found in Ireland, Southern Europe).

1:23 — Greg discusses the evidence that Indo Europeans expanded to India and imposing their languages. Explains why it’s not surprising that the descendants get the Y chromosomes from the horse-riding steppe warriors than the mitochondrial DNA. In parts of Europe they replaced the farmers who came from what is now Turkey (but not in the South). Barley farming in England just disappears for centuries. James asks: Genocide or spread of disease? Greg: Probably not as much disease, maybe bubonic plague, but they probably just “bashed their heads in.”

1:34 — The question of why people underestimate how bad and violent people were in the past: partly because it’s hard to find preserved ancient history, partly because it’s hard to blame European colonialism. Example: Eskimos engaged in genocide, even against the women — no admixture. But the “economics” of it makes sense, since wives in the arctic don’t help getting more food, so they’d just be an extra mouth to feed. Those Anatolian farmers weren’t the first wave of people in Europe replaced and we also see population replacements in American Indians.

1:43 — One small group of American Indians in Brazil shows a small amount of admixture a people most closely related to from Andaman Islands, near Myanmar. Hints of the groups of people who died out from SE Asia. They are short dark skinned people, who still appear in parts of SE Asia and may have arrived in Brazil. Greg thinks they got to the Americas first but were replaced by the main branch of Amerindians who came to Alaska ~15,000 years ago, because North American Indians don’t show so the admixture probably happened in the Americas. Example of them in the Philippines: Mayaman islands. “They’ve just been losing and losing and losing.”

1:50 — If this is all true, we’ll have to put a little casino inside all the Indian casinos.

1:51–1:56 — extensive discussion of Greg’s dog, which can speak.

1:57 — Discussion of reading and memory. Doesn’t believe that there’s some cutoff before which you can’t remember, but maybe on average. The average person’s crystallized intelligence peaks but doesn’t decline at a certain age. Greg says he can read at 700 wpm, his wife even faster. The studies that claim “no one” can speed read are probably just saying people of average intelligence can’t learn to. Average college educated person reads at 300 wpm. Claims that Chinese writing system is so complex that kids under 10 usually can’t read a story too easily.

2:11 — Coming up with new words. Greg’s son came up with one for lactose tolerance: “mampires.” Comment on Milk Twitter: they need to bring in the people from the Fulani empire who got the adaptive introgression from Europe.

2:14 — The nobility in many countries are more likely to be related to Genghis Khan. But the Hazara in Afghanistan (who are oppressed) are direct descendants, via Mongolian settlement nearby (pdf). Discussion of prehistoric Irish king Niall of the Nine Hostages, whom millions of people are descendants of.

2:22 — There is a genetic variant that causes mostly benign cancers, but it also causes an excess of adrenal hormones, which makes them irritable. About half of the famous McCoys extended family had this variant. Reporters seem uninterested in these kinds of facts.

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