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Astral Codex Ten Podcast

Aug 19, 2022

1: Maximum Limelihood Estimator writes:

I firmly believe that cycles don't exist and never have existed. This is my shitposting way of saying "I have never, once, in my years of experience modeling human behavioral time series, come across an honest-to-god cyclical pattern (excluding time of year/month/week/day effects)." And yet for some reason, every time I show a time series to anyone ever, people swear to god the data looks cyclical.

I called this “a cyclic theory” to acknowledge my debt to Turchin, but you may notice that as written it doesn’t repeat. Just because disco was cool in the 70s and uncool in the 80s doesn’t imply it will be cool in the 90s, uncool in the 00s, and so on forever. It will probably just stay uncool.

The cyclic aspect, if it exists, would involve the constant spawning of new subcultures that rise and fall on their own. So disco begets dance music, dance music has its own golden age and eventual souring, and then it begets something else. The atheist movement begets the feminist movement begets the anti-racist movement begets and so on.

What about the stronger claim - that no (non-calendar-based) cycles exist? I think this is clearly false if you allow cycles like the above - in which case the business cycle is one especially well-established example. But if you mean a cycle that follows a nice sine wave pattern and is pretty predictable, I have trouble thinking of good counterexamples.

Except for cicada population! I think that’s genuinely cyclic! You can argue it ought to count as a calendar-based cycle, but then every cycle that lasted a specific amount of time would be calendar-based and Limelihood’s claim would be true by definition.