How and why fringe theories stack:

believing that Earth is flat essentially requires that you think that NASA’s achievements are part of an elaborate conspiracy: there is no ability to travel to the Moon, nor are the photographs of a globular Earth from space authentic.

Reminds me of the contrarian cluster.

The logical mystic---on Witgenstein's Tractictus:

Simply, the truly religious was outside of speech. It could only be “shown” – and, as he puts it in Tractatus, “what can be shown cannot be said.”

To call a religious belief or practice “false” is, to use a basic philosophical term, to commit a category error. Truth and falseness belong to the sorts of “facts” which make up the world, the meaningful propositions of language. Religious belief – the mystical – is not a fact of this sort, and therefore to submit it to the truth tests of propositional logic is incorrect.

My work consists of two parts; that presented here plus all I have not written. It is this second part that is important.

1977 study shows that science has always leaned into its rituals:

Experimental results showed that--contrary to a popular assumption--the reasoning skills o f the scientists were not significantly different from those o f nonscientists

he scientists in this study appeared to be strongly inclined toward early speculation with relatively little experimentation ... Both of these phenomena--the apparent pen- chant for quick speculation and tenacious fidelity to a hypothesismhave been observed as relatively common phenomena in the scientific culture

An article from the 60's on LSD and the 'third eye', or more accurately, the role of serotonin in psychedelic states.

the mystery of the LSD-serotonin antagonism persisted. Serotonin is not an unusual chemical in nature; it is found in many places--some of them odd, like the salivary glands of octopuses; others ordinary: it abounds in plants; bananas, figs, plums are especially rich in it. What was it doing in the brains of humans? What was its evolutionary history? In 1958 a Yale Medical School professor of dermatology named Aaron B. Lerner published a paper on the pineal gland which placed this elusive substance in some vague kind of historical perspective and provided for it a real functional role in the brains of mammals.

Ethical astrology:

Astrological forecasting tends to describe the future more thematically or archetypically than concretely, and the vast majority of astrological prediction today falls into this category ... Horoscopes work this way

Astrological prediction, wielded gently and skillfully, can help to “spot the meaning and the movement [going forward] by looking to what is different,”

The downside to the immense meaning-making potential of astrology? It renders the practice vulnerable to misuse by uncareful types with dubious commitment to honorable behavior.

An excellent article on the Antikythera machine.

On Ernst Junger and his war-time diaries and a descent into magic.

Ultimately, he was far too Right-wing to accept Nazism

Jünger comes uncannily close to Jung throughout the book: he records strange omens and premonitions, claims that certain generals of his acquaintance are imbued with the power of prophecy, records strange synchronicities and deploys obscure alchemical metaphors. As the diaries go on and Germany’s fortunes worsen, the magical element begins to predominate.

On the view that there is no fate worse than death:

There is simply nothing worse than permanent death - because it cannot be repaired. And everything else can be repaired, including the damage from any amount of suffering.

permanent death is the only brain state that can't be reversed, given sufficient tech and time ... The non-reversibility is the key.

An interesting perspective, but appears to assume human immortality. One does wonder if suffering that can't be reversed in a human lifetime, or suffering that takes generations to dilute away would still be preferable to a life lost for this writer.

On the Jesuit tradition---the creation of an "unparalleled network of knowledge which superseded religious tensions"

ssume that abstract ideas must be learned, but we are all too happy to presume innate emotions, for instance

If we believe that the mind is ethereal, distinct from the body, then ideas (notions such as ‘helping others is good’ or ‘objects are cohesive’) must be disembodied as well ... [unlike] the innateness of emotions, sensations and motor plans. Each of these psychological states can be linked to a bodily organ

[this] conspiracy ... [is] why we wrongly view affective psychiatric disorders as destiny, whereas cognitive disorders such as dyslexia seem only ‘in the mind’

there is nothing essential or inevitable about the ways we conceive of romantic relationships

Romantic friendships take some of the elements of a traditional romantic relationship – the desire for intimacy, the commitment to build one’s life around another person, and even sex – without having to take all of them at once

On the possibilities for secure digital personhood.

Land Acknowledgement as moral exhibitionism:

It is difficult to exaggerate the superficiality of these statements

"if [one is] going to acknowledge a debt, [one] should also pay it

We typically think of our idyllic past as one of egalitarian hunter gatherers. The truth is far more complex.

Microdosing alcohol: A surprising and unpredictable way to boost creativity

Having a concept of death, far from being a uniquely human feat, is a fairly common trait in the animal kingdom

High culture now functions like a counterculture, entailing a conscious act of dissent from the mainstream ... it carries more social risk than reward. Preferring things that are old, distant, and difficult to those that are immediate and ubiquitous means alienating oneself from one’s community, in some cases from one’s own family. It is at best an inexplicable quirk, at worst a form of antisocial arrogance.

a number of studies indicating that frequent fasting cycles may ... increase side effects and even mortality ... daily fasting/TRF periods of approximately 12 hours appear to be associated with benefits without known negative effects

Excellent review of the effects of intermittent and periodic fasting. It looks like all of these are strategies (including the usual 14 or 16 hour daily fasts) best used regularly, but not ongoing, and the re-feeding period might be just as important as the fast. From the abstract:

[intermittent fasting] lasting from 12 to 48 hours and repeated every 1 to 7 days and [periodic fasting] lasting 2 to 7 days and repeated once per month

And from the conclusion:

the refeeding period that has more recently emerged as an equally important process involved in the regeneration, and possibly rejuvenation, of systems, including organs, cells and organelles.

The deterministic view of free will always seems to cause such furore, forgetting that whether free will exists or not, this world is so intractably complex that for almost all practical purposes, it doesn't matter.

at once an ethical retreat and an opportunity to recalibrate the economy ... ethics and exchange were logically linked, though the governing principle was reciprocity, not accumulation

Anthropological case study for the lockdown as a 'spiritual and economic reset' from an Indonesian community who would voluntarily retreat every couple of years. Similar ideas to this more modern-focused take

democracy need not be the teleological destiny of all countries. Means of stoking it from outside are often reckless (war) or patchily effective (sanctions). And if the west could not entrench freedom as the global standard when it was ascendant, it is hardly likely to as the balance of world power tilts increasingly eastward.

On the decline of global democracy since the misleading 'boom' following the Cold War.

Washington’s policy community has become, if not more friendly to, then at least more cognizant of the arguments for restraint in U.S. foreign policy. But it has not yet started to grapple effectively with the America First criticism of liberal internationalism ... McMaster’s dark vision of a world where “competition” and threat are endless could well open the door for an increasingly illiberal, unilateral, and militaristic U.S. foreign policy

On McMaster's new memoir. Obscured by Trump's less coherent public positions, it looks like the conservative 'isolationist' bent is taking on an increasingly hawkish character. Possibly a concern, given Biden's position as an 'orthodox' Democrat, heir to the so-called Clinton Doctrine.

“[Mischel] also didn’t think that any simple measure of individual differences was going to be very good at predicting behavior,” Benjamin continues. “Despite the popular perception that the marshmallow test is a crystal ball,” he clearly expected only to see only weak correlations with marshmallow test results in the latest study

The 'marshmallow test' has consistently failed the replication challenge. Even the author wasn't sold on it.

This blog, called 'Statistical Modeling, Causal Inference, and Social Science' has a 'Zombies' category, and it's great.

Game theoretic account of the differences between pre-modern European and Imperial Chinese autocracy. On this account, rulers are more powerful when there is a better balance between the ruled and the elite. Little counter-intuitive.

I feel like I both know more than I ever knew, and less confident than ever, about surge protection.

experienced well-being rises linearly with log income, with an equally steep slope above $80,000 as below it

A rebuttal to the conventional wisdom that income over $75,000 does not increase happiness. Possibly due to continuous experience sampling vs a dichotomous (yes/no) methodology. One wonders if that means people feel differently from moment to moment about happiness than when asked to evaluate happiness overall.

Matthew A. Killingsworth

On the origins of the philosophy of cynicism, and incredible influence of the shadowy Diogenes. I suspect he would have been somewhat less influential in today's world.

A frank exploration of the ways PR failed us during the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. In sum, people who thought they were smarter thought we would be dumber.

Vaccine hesitancy for COVID-19 is a portfolio of motivations:

  • dissent: not just anti-vaccine but a spectrum of dissenters from "highly educated parents who are interested in holistic, naturalistic child-rearing to conspiracy theorists who want to abolish vaccines entirely"
  • deliberation: "a time of watchful waiting ... a skepticism of a system that has consistently demonstrated that their health is not a priority."
  • distrust: "distrust regarding the entire government"
  • indifference: people who are "not concerned at all" about the virus.

Not quite sure what to make of this one. But some surprisingly convincing evidence for communicating with REM sleepers using various means, like facial twitches and eye movements.

it is hard to resist the conclusion that, whatever kernel of truth they might have, the stories told about him are an inextricable mixture of fact, exaggeration, willful misinterpretation and outright invention — largely constructed after his death, and largely for the benefit of the new emperor, Claudius.

Was Caligula depraved as Suetonius would have him? Or was he an example of what Hermann and Chompsky would call an anti-ideology. New archaeological evidence points us a little more to the latter than the former.

Mary Beard - SPQR

Maybe it's more convincing when an economist writes a book about it, but luck is at least in part an openness to opportunity. As Camus, "Let us not look for the door, and the way out, anywhere but in the wall against which we are living."

The capitalist mindset lures us into the trap of thinking that unless we are positive, happy and moving we must be condemned as ‘negative’. But why would ... paying attention to ... sadness ... grief ... anger ... be called ‘negative’?

Emotion is informational and the ceaseless movement towards productivity does us no favours by ignoring the information space of negativity.

taking steps is easy, standing still is hard

Regina Spektor

Sedentary and hierarchical hunter-gatherers are not unusual. If anything, it’s the profusion of mobile, egalitarian bands that might be the historical outlier.

On the convenient origin myth of the egalitarian hunter-gathering past of humans. Atavism isn't the answer

extrinsic incentives such as money or grades to learn [make it] harder to learn new related information when that incentive is gone ... the learning outcome may be poorer due to the absence of reward

The continued failure of the economy of small pleasures.

Adding to the point of Genetics is Nurture, this article suggests the same thing but the other way around. An environment is specified often by the preferences of the organism (in this case that of the child by the parent). Thus, the environment is an extension of the genetic predisposition. Either way you argue it, the distinction between nature and nurture really doesn't exist in a meaningful way.

Beliefs may withstand the pressure of disconfirming events not because of the effectiveness of dissonance-reducing strategies, but because disconfirming evidence may simply go unacknowledged

A rebuttal to the classic 'cognitive dissonance' account of why believers continue to believe after the failure of a prophecy. In this case, the culture makes the failure less salient. One wonders whether this kind of surrender to a culture that protects you from dissonance is not simply another mechanism for reducing cognitive dissonance.

cults involve the social recognition of a leader’s charisma [which though it] can be sincere, it can also be hypocritical or deceptive ... cult artifacts make recognition of the leader’s charisma normative, and thus transform it into authority ... Insofar as people follow the social norm to worship or venerate the leader then the leader will have some charismatic authority, regardless of whether this recognition is sincere or not.

Successful prophets are successful when the people transform flattery into ritual. This is the basis of the cult leader's charismatic authority, not the actual charisma of the leader.

The microbial content of a sourdough starter depends less on location than the way it is made and maintained. I would suggest the same is true of other fermentations, though all this is confounded by the globalisation of food production (e.g. flour).

Having more or less resources available in a community group can create natural selection pressures that work over the course of as little as two generations.

Human beings aren’t pieces of technology, no matter how sophisticated. But by talking about ourselves as such, we acquiesce to the corporations and governments that decide to treat us this way. When the seers of predictive processing hail prediction as the brain’s defining achievement, they risk giving groundless credibility to the systems that automate that act – assigning the patina of intelligence to artificial predictors

On the slow, steady consumption of the behavioural sciences by the concept of the 'prediction machine'.

both experts and novices underestimate and overestimate their skills with the same frequency. “It’s just that experts do that over a narrower range,” he wrote

On the famous Dunning-Krueger effect. It's may not so much be ignorance that makes us overconfident as the contextual noise. An error in conclusion I've made myself

[you shouldn't] say “person with autism” ... This sends exactly the wrong signal. If autism is dimensional, we should think of it the same way we do height and wealth – and we say “tall person” and “rich person”. Saying “person with Height” or “Person with Richness” is strongly suggestive of “person with the flu” – it implies a binary class that you either fall into, or don’t. But that’s the opposite of what most research suggests, and the opposite of the thought process that will help you think about these conditions sensibly ... most mental disorders are dimensional variation rather than taxa a lot of people still want psychiatry to deliver the [binary]. It’s not going to be able to do that. If you hold out hope, you’ll either end up overmedicalizing everything, or you’ll get disillusioned and radicalized and start saying all psychiatry is fake.

Did you know Scott Alexander was back?

Unfortunately, the research we see today is of a different nature. In a section titled “Inventions originating from large corporate labs are different”, Arora & Belenzon enumerate the kinds of innovations we’ve lost in the shift towards university labs:

  • Corporate labs work on general purpose technologies
  • Corporate labs solve practical problems
  • Corporate labs are multi-disciplinary and have more resources

Interestingly, the growing unrest within and toward academia appears to have been the hallmark of the corporate world. Do we want corporations to save the ivory tower?

Via Applied Divinity Studies

The region has become an arena for power and for competition ... Climate change is melting the ice in the Arctic. Climate change is opening up a new polar transit route. Climate change is unlocking access to oil, gas, and critical minerals under the ice.

Between 1900 and 1956, women increased from a small proportion of public company stockholders in the U.S. to the majority ... before the rise of institutional investing obscured the gender politics of corporate control ... early-twentieth-century gender politics helped shape foundational ideas of corporate governance theory, especially ideas concerning the role of shareholders.

A common hypothesis posits that individuals strategically avoid information to hold particular beliefs or to take certain actions—such as behaving selfishly—with lower image costs ... We find evidence for other reasons why individuals avoid information, such as a desire to avoid interpersonal tradeoffs, a desire to avoid bad news, laziness, inattention, and confusion.

for many of those who self-identified as “evangelical,” it is not just about devotion to a local church, but to a general orientation to the world.

The article highlights the enmeshing of US conservatism and religiosity. But the trend of religiosity becoming more political than spiritual is a cycle as old as time. The Roman state, the Chinese mandate of heaven, the European wars. Why is it surprising that structured spirituality (how people should live) aligns with structured politics (how decisions are made about how people should live)?

Ethics are a means to outperform those who adhere to baser Hobsian instincts. Competition is a constraint too


But for survivors of sexual abuse, the argument over repression versus forgetting is largely beside the point. Most victims are primarily concerned with what they remember, not how.

On the origin of and dissolution of the FSMF. Again though, the 'thorny' topic of repressed memories usually misses the argument voiding fact that at least some 'repression' is the same thing 'directed forgetting', the terms are interchangeable, and that bad memories, real or fake, repressed or forgotten, all cause the same kinds of damage.

"only in very recent years that some people have begun to undermine the absolute prohibition on zoosexuality. Are their arguments dangerous, perverted, or simply wrongheaded? ... Do they have a ‘paraphilia’ ... Or are they just normal people who happen to have a minority sexual orientation? Given the fraught debates about consent in human-on-human sexual encounters, it is worth asking whether nonhuman animals can ever consent to libidinal relations with humans"

Consensus opinion certainly does not endorse having sex with animals. Bourke is right though that it is strange therefore that we're happy in the main to endorse factory farming and the conditions that come with it.

Joanna Bourke - Loving Animals

The Newton hypothesis; Is science done by a small elite?

"It may be easy to get the major world powers (China, USA, Russia) to denounce the use of infectious biological weapons. But arms control treaties only work when weapons are big, visible and expensive. Infectious pathogens are tiny and invisible. Genetic engineering is getting cheaper fast."

Reminds me of the recent mysterious Chinese seeds non-event. A simple mechanism for the delivery of a bioweapon, when so many are conditioned to open anonymous deliveries by e.g. Amazon. Made, ironically, more valid by habit formation during the SARS-COV-2 outbreak. Seems problematic.

Graduates have multiplied faster than the room at the top... The result is a stock of nearly-men and women whose relationship with their own class sours from peripheral membership to vicious resentment. If this coincides with a bad time for the general standard of living, there is an alliance to be formed between these snubbed insiders and the more legitimately aggrieved masses.

Professor Turchin notes that this marginalisation of certain segments of the elite class has a heavy hand in many of our modern problems, from Brexit to far-right populism to the most problematic aspects of 'woke culture'. No paywall.

Rising inequality, lower mobility, contempt for the poor and widespread celibacy — we're returning to the past

Remains of an ancient female big game hunter found: there's not a great deal of fidelity to our imagination about the paleolithic era, but that men hunted and women gathered berries often sits at the top level. As usual, this boring gendered notion appears to be, at least in part, a modern invention.

Low-cost sexual gratification (e.g. porn) might make us more likely to want to get married: it's old data, and only men, but the idea that cheap sex makes up less interested in long-term commitment might not be the only narrative worth thinking about.

Moral psychology hasn't moved much in recent decades. It is the common academic position that we should attempt to teach children some admixture of Aristotelian virtue ethics and more recent ideas about utilitarianism. Unfortunately these two things are impossible to measure, and impossibly to measure how well people are applying these ideas. So it's exciting when we think we've gotten a little better at it.

Radicalization isn't really the product of the 'radicaliser', but the culture the radicalised are opposed to.

Archive of textfiles. Twitter, but in the 1980s.

In mice and one person, scientists were able to reproduce the altered state often associated with ketamine by inducing certain brain cells to fire together in a slow, rhythmic fashion. "There was a rhythm that appeared, and it was an oscillation that appeared only when the patient was dissociating," says Dr. Karl Deisseroth

Not all sunk cost fallacies are fallacies.


The book of the Revelation of John, a messiah figure in his own right prior to his allegiance to Jesus, maps a pattern of predicted apocalypses that both preceded and succeeded him.

Christopher Alexander and his patterns.

The current global confinement has abruptly halted our blind and aimless rush, built into our irrational, materialistic culture ... We simply forget that, in the biological world, uniformity, narrow specialization, monocultures and loss of adaptive capacities have always implied extinction. In fact, we are living in the age of the fastest extinction of life forms, human cultures, languages and traditional ways of life.

SARS-CoV-2 as an opportunity to reflect.