Re: Taking the billion? Re: Gedankenexperiments

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From: Dave Winer (
Date: Thu Aug 17 2000 - 02:17:53 PDT

What's the other guy saying? That there are things you can buy with a
billion dollars that give you happiness? What would that be? The
satisfaction of a job well done? I know a couple of billionaires. What would
you like to ask them?

They mostly don't seem to be happy people. They seem angry with the rest of
us. There's something they want us to do that we won't do for them. Which
must be frustrating to them because they were lied to when they were kids,
when it seemed like billionaires had it all. "Why isn't it working for me?"
the hapless billionaire says.

My own opinion is that if you have a billion dollars everyone you come in
contact with is an employee or prospective employee. Better to die and go to

Another thing. Above a certain, relatively low level, there's absolutely no
point in having more money. You can only buy things that you don't use. How
many bedrooms can you sleep in? How many cars can you drive? How many
ex-wives can you hate? (Sorry.) The more things you have the more employees
you need, and the more time you spend with employees. Ever hear the old line
about the posessions start owning you? It's true it's true!

Something to ponder, if it's so great being a billionaire why are there so
many miserable billionaires?


----- Original Message -----
From: "Jeff Bone" <>
To: "Gordon Mohr" <>
Cc: "FoRK" <>
Sent: Thursday, August 17, 2000 1:54 AM
Subject: Re: Taking the billion? Re: Gedankenexperiments

> Sigh. :-)
> > You keep coming back to, essentially, "I'm not listening to anyone who
isn't a billionaire talk
> > about the value of money."
> >
> > That is...
> >
> > (1) SILLY. If we held all of our conversations to a such a
> > standard, we'd always talk past each other. "I'm not listening
> > to you anymore about arguments, you're no Gerry Spence!"
> >
> Huh? Okay, let's say you tell me "Koh Pangang has the best beach in the
world." I say "really,
> you've been there?" You say, "uh, no, but I heard it was." How credible
is that? Or you say
> "yeah," and I ask "but have you been to all the other beaches?" You're
expressing an opinion, and an
> uninformed one at that. If you tell me "there's stuff that money can't
buy," and I say "really, have
> you ever been able to and tried to buy something, and weren't able to?"
and you say "uh, no, I've
> never had the financial freedom to test that hypothesis," how credible is
that? That's not a silly
> argument, that's common sense. You've got no proof, and no credibility.
You cannot prove that your
> inability to buy that thing wasn't a function of financial constraint,
rather than some inherent
> quality of "unpurchasability."
> > Many have suggested flaws in your conception of money's
> > value.
> In each case I (think I've) dealt with the proposal in some direct sense.
I've tried this
> "authority" tack as a means of avoiding an unresolvable infinite cycle of
> see below.
> I've never stated any particular conception of money's value, except that
to some extent money is an
> enabler of happiness. Money's not the *only* way to attain happiness,
however, and it's a mistake or
> sophistical trick in itself to infer anything about "my conception of
money's value" other than what
> I've explicitly said.
> Aside: Geege pointed out something very intriguing in a private e-mail;
her argument, basically and
> as I understand it, boils down to "money can't buy serendipity." That's
about the most compelling
> counter I've heard, but really just requires making the proposition more
explicit to exclude it.
> I'm not trying to excuse "myself" --- or my argument --- from criticism.
(Hell, if I didn't want the
> criticism, I wouldn't be sitting here perpetuating this bitch of a thread.
The criticism itself is
> the whole point at this point; I've got no stake in convincing anyone of
anything in this regard.)
> I just haven't heard anything yet, possible exception of Geege's example,
that convincingly
> demonstrates something that money truly cannot buy, or enable, or improve
one's odds at attaining.
> So, you want to paint that as a sophistical trick, go right ahead. I
really, truly, honestly am
> taking the position that I don't think you can have a meaningful argument
about what money can't buy
> unless you've had enough money to try to buy that thing you claim is
unpurchasable. Calling an
> honestly held position --- even if totally braindamaged, which it very
well might be --- a "sophist's
> trick" is itself a sophist's trick. Right back at ya. ;-)
> > defined competence on this topic as "having a billion dollars",
> > and called the opinions and reasoning of people who don't
> > meet this standard to be "amusing and pointless".
> Note, too, that I am including myself in that category of incompetence;
formulating that position as
> an attack by me on my "critics'" competence is rhetorical slight-of-hand
that inflames rather than
> informs. I'm claiming we're all in the same boat of ignorance on this
matter. Rather than using
> incompetence as an attack against my critics, the substance of the
argument is, really, what defines
> the level of competence needed to disprove the assertion? That's where
the disagreement is. I think
> logic and common sense, as pointed out above and below, lead one to the
inescapable conclusion that
> the only indisputable counter to my assertion would be some personal
experience to the contrary. I
> haven't heard that yet.
> > Well,
> > though I trust you when you report that *you* can't imagine
> > what it would be like to be a billionaire, note that others
> > feel up to the task. There's enough information available on
> > real-life billionaires, I know enough about my own preferences,
> > I can both extrapolate and predict where extrapolation wouldn't
> > apply. Of course, there would be surprises, but not so many
> > that discussion is "pointless".
> Well, that's all great. Let me point out something about big
discontinuities. They're BIG. They're
> hard to deal with. While you or I can imagine what it *might* be like, I
simply can't state with any
> certainty or credibilty whether or not having essentially unbounded
financial bandwidth would enable
> one to attain every possible desired happiness. Neither can you, or
anybody else who hasn't been in
> that unbounded financial state. We can state likelihoods, beliefs, and so
forth based on simulating
> that experience in our heads. But until it comes down to the wire, we
just can't know for certain.
> The discontinuity involved *in fact* forms a very dispersed sort of
experiential / existential event
> horizon. What's it like to be inside a black hole? Any answer to that
question makes just about as
> much sense as conjecture on the power of very large funds when you don't
in fact have that.
> > pointing out any specific authorities, or claiming yourself
> > to be an authority, you've asserted that the number of
> > trustable authorities present is "zero", so we can erase
> > everything inconvenient that's been said. That's "degenerate"
> > like a mathematical function with a zero factor.
> Okay, let's suspend the authoritative requirement momentarily. I make a
proposition, asserting that
> "there's nothing in life that money can't buy." Anyone can challenge that
assertion, saying "money
> can't buy X," "money can't buy Y," etc. In each of those cases so far
it's possible to say "well,
> no, look, you *can* buy X." (Serendipity aside, and perhaps it's useful
to constrain the phase space
> of the argument to goal-directed, intentioned behavior.) Or, at a
minimum, it's possible to argue
> "you *might* be able to buy X, there's no way to know unless you've
tried." We can continue on that
> path indefinitely, and you're right to point out that lack of counterproof
of my assertion is not in
> itself proof of my assertion. So rather than have that unresolvable
infinite argument, I simply
> observe that *a* definitive disproof of the assertion is for someone with
specific credibility to say
> "look, no, even with practically unbounded finances I was unable to buy
X." (I might make the
> observation that X is generally available for a nominal cost of around
$20. ;-) Such a personal
> counterexample would be absolutely indisputable. Once you agree with
that --- and you should ---
> it's a short inductive step to realizing that it's impossible to have an
indisputable disproof of the
> assertion other than by the means indicated, quod erat demonstrandum.
> Bottom line: my metaproposition here isn't the indisputable truth of my
original assertion per se
> but rather the observation that the only way to disprove the assertion is
by direct, empirical
> evidence to the contrary which none of us here can possibly have. This is
a totally well-formed
> argument, as far as I can tell.
> > Ask Ross Perot how much the U.S. presidency costs.
> He didn't have enough cash. ;-) I imagine the presidency could easily be
had by simply paying the
> general populace somewhere in the 5 to 7 figure range each for their
support. (Waitasec, is that
> legal? Surely not? Should it be? Interesting discussion. :-)
> > Or better yet,
> > the constitutionally disqualified Rupert Murdoch.
> >
> > Approach a billionaire and ask him if all his money can bring back
> > a beloved dead parent. (Be ready to be punched.)
> >
> Well, okay, let's get wacky for a second. Enough time and dollars can
hypothetically lead to
> technology capable of simulating reality to a level of detail
indistinguishable from "real" reality.
> Life is experience, and if experience can be credibly synthesized at some
cost, anything is possible
> if it can be afforded; this includes living four years in the White House
as well as talking to dead
> Uncle Dick, Pops, or whoever.
> >
> > - Gordon
> C'mon, Gordon, you can do better than this. ;-) Attack the substance, not
the form. (Badly, at
> that.) We can do endless counterexamples, but there's no entertainment
there... or you could simply
> create some sort of paradoxical logic bomb that follows from my assertion
and thus cast the whole
> thing into ambiguity and infinite recursive mumbling, thereby defusing the
whole thing. Not like you
> haven't sprung that one on me enough times before. :-)
> This whole thing's pretty silly, though; my original intent was just to
bait out any hypocrites who
> sanctimoniously and ignorantly disclaim all materiality and self-interest.
:-) Sadly, we don't
> appear to have any of THOSE people here. ;-) :-)
> jb

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