An open letter to prospective and past attendants of the Junto

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    Victor Niederhoffer

    During several Juntos over the past 40 years, a contingent of followers and acolytes of the speaker attends. On those rare occasions that I as moderator don’t believe that the speaker is carrying his point, and building a foundation for his talk, I interrupt.

    I interrupted Robin Hanson in this way at the last meeting of Jan 7 because I felt his charts were very misleading. it wasn’t clear that his scenario  was not one that he predicted, that he claimed that all economic theories corroborated that his world of robots would look like his vision, that his idea that there would be quantum jumps in the future was based on two or three data points over a thousand years, and his failure to note (which he later agreed to be the case) that the size, existence or timing of the jumps was completely uncertain.

    Thus we were dealing with a hypothetical situation that had uncertainty upon uncertainty in it, and a hypothetical scenario among 100s of others that might accompany same when and if it occurred. In probabilistic or predictive terms, we were dealing with a one in a trillion hypothesis. Many of our attendees are not versed in economics or computer science, and I felt an obligation to our attendees to clarify that issue in the first 15 minutes by getting some feedback from the audience before the talk wound even more improbable science fiction.

    When I asked for questions I was met by vociferous “let him continue” by  several in the audience, including those who play an important part in the running of the Junto when I don’t run it (Mr. Epstein and I will be splitting the odd and even Junto months with our own particular style of moderating the Junto this year).

    I would ask that all who attend the Junto when I moderate in the future to realize that when I as moderator believe that a lecturer isn’t carrying his point that they refrain from raucous , bellicose and impolite reactions.

    I have often stressed that the Junto is like a dinner party — one that Franklin created and considered his most important motivator to do good in life.

    I have been host for this dinner party for more than 40 years, month after month never missing a meeting and supporting the meeting with millions of dollars of actual expense and great quantities of time and effort.

    It is an elementary rule of a dinner party not to be discourteous to the host, as well as not to proselytize views about religion or mistresses.

    Please anyone considering attending the Junto in the future, do not attend if you wish to hear a lecturer give a talk (as is the English way) without interruption or guidance from the floor.

    I would like to continue the Junto into its 41st year, and I am happy to say we still have regular attendees from all these years, and your understanding the spirit of the Junto will enable it to endure.


    A letter from Victor Niederhoffer to Robin Hanson

    Dear Robin,

    Thanks for your note. Everything you did was very appropriate and invigorating. The only thing I would change is the scale of some of the charts which tend to violate statistical rules for presenting information . You are a teacher with many followers and it was good for them to attend. Many of them had not been to the Junto before and it was natural for them to wish to hear you speak uninterrupted. They had no way of knowing that the reason that the Junto has survived with many disparate audience members who are not expert in the subjects talked about is that the moderator tries to illumine the issues so that the audience can follow it. Indeed, we usually have a few experts in the audience (I am reminded of the time we had a discussion of Japanese growth versus US, and 5 people from the audience who had written books about it came up). I wrote the following note after your talk, and please feel free to comment upon it, and to defend your theses, especially the size, duration, timing, and likelihood of the quantum jumps.


    A reply from Robin Hanson to Victor Niederhoffer

    Well if you will give me a chance to say a few after yours in whatever context they will appear, I’d say:
    I am grateful to Victor Niederhoffer for allowing me to speak at Junto, especially given his strong reservations about the plausibility of my theses. I enjoyed the experience, including the refreshingly different format. I support Victor’s stance; since he has long and consistently supported the group in maintaining its unusual format, then once he has made that point clear audience members should accept that format or leave.

    On the plausibility of my claim of faster future growth, I offer two lines of evidence. First, the long term history of economic growth clearly shows a huge overall increase in growth rates, clearly broken into a handful of eras of nearly constant growth punctuated by jumps to faster rates. We can project this pattern forward to a new jump to a faster era, though this inference can’t be made with much confidence given how few are the data points. Second, many observers find it plausible that we will eventually make machines that do almost all jobs cheaper than humans. Economic theory clearly predicts that our economic doubling time would then be less than the time for a factory to make a mass of product equal to its own mass. Today that is typically a few months.

    Robin Hanson

    A letter from Gene Epstein

    Vic, I repeat again my promise that I will not join others in objecting publicly to the way you run Junto meetings of which you are in charge. Again, I am sorry I did not follow that rule the other night.

    I do think, as stated, that if you tell the speaker in advance to structure the talk in chapters–with the first running no more than 30 minutes, or even 25 if you prefer–then you can take notes on points you wish to make and questions you wish to pose once the initial chapter is over.

    Advantages of this approach include: a) you may find your question or objection has been anticipated and adequately addressed within the 25 minutes, b) you may find your question or objection has not been addressed, but refers to a matter of small importance in light of the speaker’s main points, c) you will avoid rattling the speaker.

    Of course, that’s when the format is a talk. I gave Charles Murray the choice between a talk and a one-on-one interview with me, and he chose the latter option. I’ll be following the usual pattern of breaking up the interview into chapters, with questions and comments from the audience. Yours are always appreciated, so please take notes.

    Cordially, Gene



    In my seven year experience at Junto, styles vacillated between the questioning during the presentation and questions at the end. There seemed a moderate trend toward “during questioning” that lasted a few, maybe six or seven meetings, then switched to at the end questions. Rarely was there one then the other then back again in some random walk.

    Regardless of that, principles and rules of conduct and thus expectations can continually be reinforced for regular order…while leaving understanding for the more spirited and good faith passion that is part of the life of reason.

    The practical offering I might make, after hearing Sam Harris lose it with some blabber mouth is or are:
    1. Consider the option for the same people who record the presentations to use a time clock similar to those used by time chess. This way, the speaker can be assured the promised time and interruption time can be measured as a reference data point for consideration in the direction of any meeting.

    2. This can be used to control blabbermouths on their own high horse riding roughshod over the meeting purpose and principles to make some dull point. They just get so much time then…good-bye.

    3. If non of these work to control or measure or intervene in weird situations, consider singing a John Phillips Sousa march like..”Don a nona donna nat nah” … and simply announce the person has used all their time, marched on in their own parade, or needs to get their own show or Junto. This tends to quiet or exasperate the other outrageous participant without lowering the self or moderator to their pit and pitiable state.

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