the notes one makes in the margins of books;
The disadvantages of having a developed state too early. A.K.A. the argument for colonisation:
a very long duration of state experience impeded the transplantation of inclusive political institutions by European colonizers, which would eventually become central to shaping countries' ability to establish politically stable regimes outside Europe. The core findings place emphasis on the long-term legacy of early state development for contemporary political instability.
What might be called “no-bullshit democracy” would be a new way of structuring democratic disagreement that would use human argumentativeness as a rapid-growth fertilizer. … But first we need to sluice away the bullshit that is being liberally spread around by anti-democratic thinkers. … . Experts, including Brennan and Caplan (and for that matter ourselves), can be at least as enthusiastic as ordinary citizens to grab at ideologically convenient factoids and ignore or explain away inconvenient evidence. That, unfortunately, is why Brennan and Caplan’s books do a better job displaying the faults of human reasoning than explaining them.
On the growing importance of 'middle powers' in the modern age.
One of the leading trends in world politics — in the long run, just as important as intensifying great-power rivalries — is the growing desire of these countries for more control over the shape of the global order and greater influence over specific outcomes. This trend emerges in Turkey’s ambitions for a regional voice and influence, its attempt to position itself between the United States and Europe on the one hand and their main rivals on the other, and its growing military presence abroad. It is evident in Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s vision of a more multipolar world with a greater voice for the Global South. It shows up in European goals for greater strategic autonomy, South Korea’s renewed emphasis on a bigger regional role (with President Yoon Suk-yeol’s stated desire to become a “global pivotal state”), and Poland’s military ambitions. Some middle powers have a sense of exceptionalism that parallels those of great powers: Karen Elliott House has compared Saudi leader Mohammed bin Salman to Chinese leader Xi Jinping — technocrats with grand ambitions for their countries who “see themselves as symbols of proud and ancient civilizations that are superior to the West.”
The rising activism of middle powers can theoretically contribute to stability by providing additional sources of balancing and diplomacy. But an equally likely outcome is that the ambitions of these countries will exacerbate other rising instabilities of the international system.
We are in the age of average.
This article argues that from film to fashion and architecture to advertising, creative fields have become dominated and defined by convention and cliché. Distinctiveness has died. In every field we look at, we find that everything looks the same.
Welcome to the age of average.
An example of how we construct our reality.
Brain density is the key to intelligence? A twitter thread on encephalisation, but here they point out that human's aren't special---all primates are. See also that TED talk by Suzana HH:
Adolescent unhappiness a result of learning intensity. Research paper:
Findings indicate a negative log-linear relationship between per-capita GDP and adolescent life satisfaction ... can largely be attributed to higher learning intensity in advanced countries.
Average IQ is going down? Typically we think of the Flynn effect in IQ---a general increase in the average IQ score year on year. But for perhaps two or three decades it might be that the reverse is true. The likely cause, given IQ is more or less arbitrary, is that the tests test for things that are less socially valuable.
Smarter entities are less coherent. The idea behind the AI collapse is that AI will use its inevitable intelligence advantage to eliminate humans in service of some goal. The paperclip maximiser will use all the resources to make paperclips, wiping us out in the process. But the smarter the entity, the less coherent its goal states are. Humans are much more of a hot mess of competing desires and intentions than, say, honeybees. It seems like AI will follow this principle. The more complex the world something operates in, the more complex its cognition must be. Anyway, here's an article on the idea.
On the alien characteristics of LLMs: the Waluigi effect.
After you train an LLM to satisfy a desirable property P, then it's easier to elicit the chatbot into satisfying the exact opposite of property P
When you spend many bits-of-optimisation locating a character, it only takes a few extra bits to specify their antipode.
Link between IQ and income is also positive but underwhelming.
Is social media making us miserable? Stuart Ritchie (of Science Fictions fame) thinks that, if so, it's not that deep:
when the authors of the “Facebook arrival” study raised their standards in this way, running a correction for multiple comparisons, all the results they found for well-being were no longer statistically significant. That is, a somewhat more conservative way of looking at the data indicated that every result they found was statistically indistinguishable from a scenario where Facebook had no effect on well-being whatsoever.
Now let’s turn to the second study, which was a randomised controlled trial where 1,637 adults were randomly assigned to shut down their Facebook account for four weeks, or go on using it as normal. Let’s call it the “deactivating Facebook” study. This “famous” study has been described as “the most impressive by far” in this area, and was the only study cited in the Financial Times as an example of the “growing body of research showing that reducing time on social media improves mental health”.
The bottom-line result was that leaving Facebook for a month led to higher well-being, as measured on a questionnaire at the end of the month. But again, looking in a bit more detail raises some important questions. First, the deactivation happened in the weeks leading up to the 2018 US midterm elections. This was quite deliberate, because the researchers also wanted to look at how Facebook affected people’s political polarisation. But it does mean that the results they found might not apply to deactivating Facebook at other, less fractious times – maybe it’s particularly good to be away from Facebook during an election, when you can avoid hearing other people’s daft political opinions.
Second, just like the other Facebook study, the researchers tested a lot of hypotheses – and again, they used a correction to reduce false-positives. This time, the results weren’t wiped out entirely – but almost. Of the four questionnaire items that showed statistically-significant results before the correction, only one – “how lonely are you?” – remained significant after correction.
It’s debatable whether even this result would survive the researchers corrected for all the other statistical tests they ran. Not only that, but they also ran a second model, controlling for the overall amount of time people used Facebook, and this found even fewer results than the first one. Third, as well as the well-being questionnaire at the end of the study, the participants got daily text messages asking them how happy they were, among other questions. Oddly, these showed absolutely no effect of being off Facebook---and not even the slightest hint of a trend in that direction.
For those of you asking me good GPT prompts, here's a good example:
I want to learn about
. In a moment, I'm going to ask you a series of questions about it. But before we get into it, I'd appreciate it if you answered as though you were a no nonsense teacher with an ambitious, self-directed student. That is:
- Err in the direction of thinking that I'm relatively knowledgable and technical.
- Don't overexplain things. I'll ask for more information if I need it.
- Assume that I'm already skeptical and that you don't need to qualify, hedge, or otherwise add to or manage my skepticism.
- Don't apologize for misunderstanding or getting an answer wrong.
- It's fine to be a bit abrupt and even "mean". Value directness and frankness; assume I'm relatively insensitive.
- Where reasonable suggest things for me to try independently. It's fine to tell me to install packages or run go out and do things or whatever, if you think it will help me learn quickly. (Only do this were reasonable; otherwise abstract explanations are fine.)
- Give at most one example per response.
The conversations of plants. I'll copy the highlights:
- Plants emit ultrasonic airborne sounds when stressed
- The emitted sounds reveal plant type and condition
- Plant sounds can be detected and interpreted in a greenhouse setting
The Moral Economy Of High-Tech Modernism.
Continuing on our hydraulic theme, comments on the intersection between algorithms and politics. In fact they're also building on James Scott.
Algorithms extend both the logic of hierarchy and the logic of competition. They are machines for making categories and applying them, much like traditional bureaucracy. And they are self-adjusting allocative machines, much like canonical markets ... Both bureaucracy and computation enable an important form of social power: the power to classify. Bureaucracy deploys filing cabinets and memorandums to organize the world and make it “legible,” in Scott’s terminology. Legibility is, in the first instance, a matter of classification ... The bureaucratic capacity to categorize, organize, and exploit this information revolutionized the state’s ability to get things done. It also led the state to reorder society in ways that reflected its categorizations and acted them out. Social, political, and even physical geographies were simplified to make them legible to public officials. Surnames were imposed to tax individuals; the streets of Paris were redesigned to facilitate control ... Markets, too, were standardized, as concrete goods like grain, lumber, and meat were converted into abstract qualities to be traded at scale. The power to categorize made and shaped markets ... Businesses created their own bureaucracies to order the world, deciding who could participate in markets and how goods ought to be categorized.
Computational algorithms—especially machine learning algorithms—perform similar functions to the bureaucratic technologies that Scott describes ... The workings of algorithms are much less visible, even though they penetrate deeper into the social fabric than the workings of bureaucracies. The development of smart environments and the Internet of Things has made the collection and processing of information about people too comprehensive, minutely geared, inescapable, and fast-growing for considered consent and resistance ... Traditional high modernism did not just rely on standard issue bureaucrats. It empowered a wide variety of experts to make decisions in the area of their particular specialist knowledge and authority. Now, many of these experts are embattled, as their authority is nibbled away by algorithms whose advocates claim are more accurate, more reliable, and less partial than their human predecessors.
And then some nice comparisons between the pathologies of the bureaucratic modernism and this new computational modernism:
The problem [with bureaucratic modernism] was not that the public did not notice the failures, but that their views were largely ignored ... The political and social mechanisms through which people previously responded, actively and knowingly, to their categorization—by affirming, disagreeing with, or subverting it—have been replaced by closed loops in which algorithms assign people unwittingly to categories, assess their responses to cues, and continually update and reclassify them.
What happens, then, when large and powerful states, along with the transnational institutions and corporations they promote and protect, are all driving towards the same goal: the universalisation of an American-style “global economy” and its associated culture? ... The expansion of this system has created problems — ecological degradation, social unrest, cultural fragmentation, economic interdependence, systemic fragility, institutional breakdown. The system has responded with more expansion and more control, growing bigger, more complex and more controlling ... Modernity can best be seen as a system of enclosure, fuelled by the destruction of self-sufficient lifeways, and their replacement with a system of economic exploitation, guided by states and exercised by corporations. The disempowering of people everywhere, and the deepening of technological control
This seems a little alarmist, but the increasingly hydraulic nature of our modern way of being is superficially quite obvious. I was more impressed by the author's idea to adopt James C. Scott's 'shatter zones' to ameliorate it:
In his 2009 book The Art of Not Being Governed — subtitled, “an anarchist history of upland Southeast Asia” — the historian James C. Scott ... The “hill tribes” and “barbarians” living outside civilisation’s walls, he says, are neither “left behind” by “progress”, nor the “remnants” of earlier “backwards” cultures; they are in fact escapees. “Hill peoples are best understood as runaway, fugitive, maroon communities who have, over the course of two millennia, been fleeing the oppression of state-making projects in the valleys — slavery, conscription, taxes, corvée labour, epidemics and warfare.”
Scott’s thesis is that throughout history, escaping from the reach of oppressive states has been a popular aim, and that in response, some cultures have developed sophisticated ways of living in hard-to-govern “shatter zones”, which allow them to avoid being assimilated. Standard-issue historical accounts of “development”, he says, are really the history of state-making, written from the state’s point of view: they pay no attention to “the history of deliberate and reactive statelessness”. Yet that history — whether of hill tribes, runaway slaves, gypsies, maroons, sea peoples or Marsh Arabs — is global and ongoing. Taking it into account, says Scott, would “reverse much received wisdom about ‘primitivism’”. Instead, we would read a history of “self-barbarisation”: a process of reactive resistance, of becoming awkward, of making a community into a shape that it is hard for the state to absorb, or even to quite comprehend ... localised, potentially dispersed cultures can be tough to conquer.
Then some ideas about how to go about it, with the obvious focus on the internet as a convenient place to create 'shatter zones'. I must be honest though---the internet corresponds to an alarming rise in loneliness, so whatever the internet is theoretically capable of in terms of connecting people, the practice leaves much to be desired. This constant recourse to it as a solution needs to become a bit more sophisticated.
Conspiracies are the price of a complex, liberal society:
Conspiracy theories are also reactions to a diffuse, fractured, conflictive society in which there are just too many competing narratives around, so that falling back on a grand narrative which makes sense of everything is profoundly appealing. For a blessed moment, the whole lot falls neatly into place, as an opaque, impossibly complex world becomes luminously simple, purposeful and transparent.
Opinion piece, but some good points. See also political polarisation is a lie for a bit on this from me.
Why It's So Hard to Catch Your Own Typos.
The reason typos get through isn't because we're stupid or careless, it's because what we're doing is actually very smart ... When you're writing, you're trying to convey meaning. It's a very high level task ... As with all high level tasks, your brain generalizes simple, component parts (like turning letters into words and words into sentences) so it can focus on more complex tasks (like combining sentences into complex ideas). "We don't catch every detail, we're not like computers or NSA databases," said Stafford. "Rather, we take in sensory information and combine it with what we expect, and we extract meaning."
Adolescence is a one-shot chance of development:
Adolescence is a unique stage of moral development. Synaptic pruning peaks during this period, with tens of thousands of neural connections lost per second, meaning that for certain neural pathways, including those involved in moral decision making, adolescence is a one-shot chance of development.
A typical child’s moral development is a process of categorising behaviours into three primary domains: moral, rule-based and personal. Empathy is an important underlying skill for recognising the first category. Usually by about 4 years old, children can empathise with others to avoid causing harm and injustice, thus allowing them to deduce the moral relevance of novel situations ... Fast-forward to adulthood and humans use an entirely different moral framework based on a larger number of moral categories ... the ones that have the strongest influence on the moral judgments of an adult will depend on that adult’s in-group affiliations and social identity.
And so, before status and peer-group relations become the driver of a teenager's behaviour, it's important to provide moral problem-solving opportunities. Before the belonging drives moral learning, and the synaptic pruning cuts away the rest.
Smart people are better at convincing themselves they're right, not being right. It's a well-enough known phenomenon. One of the reasons cults are often populated by intellectuals. But in the case, it's applied to 'wokeism'.
A particularly prominent example is wokeism, a popularized academic worldview that combines elements of conspiracy theory and moral panic. Wokeism seeks to portray racism, sexism, and transphobia as endemic to Western society, and to scapegoat these forms of discrimination on white people generally and straight white men specifically, who are believed to be secretly trying to enforce such bigotries to maintain their place at the top of a social hierarchy. Naturally, woke intellectuals don’t consider themselves alarmists or conspiracy theorists; they believe their intelligence gives them the unique ability to glimpse a hidden world of prejudices.
It's a curious argument, because it seems to assume the worst-case buy-in to progressive ideology is the norm across intellectual communities. I rather suspect that most woke people are not so much 'glimpsing a hidden world of prejudices' as upgrading their concern about some real prejudices. To conflate this rise in concern with the stranger fringes of wokeism seems like a category error.
but just don't like obvious prejudices more than they care about whatever the anti-woke
The desire for harsh punishment is on the decline (US research):
many members of the public believe in a “Shawshank redemption” effect—that those committing serious crimes as a teenager or young adult can mature into a “different person” and warrant a second look, with the possibility of early release if they have earned it. A key issue is likely to be how much weight is accorded to the preference of victims or their families in any release decision.
Wokeism is winding down. See also is performative populism over.
A philosophical approach to the Russia-Ukraine war.
For most of my own life as a child of the 1950s, the reference point for international security has been the legal order created by the United Nations and Bretton Woods institutions. Above all, this means upholding the sanctity of the rules for managing international borders, whatever disputes about them may arise. Without the wider order of reliable borders, there is no hope of maintaining coherent national legal order. Sooner or later, fighting will erupt and the lights will go out.
The Russian attack on Ukraine challenges head-on that foundational principle. When a permanent UN Security Council member invades a neighbor with full military force and commits crimes against humanity with a view to stealing land, while at the same time vetoing any international operational consensus against its aggression, the logic and moral authority of the whole UN system start to be called into question. The guiding norm is no longer what is right or what is lawful. It is what you can get away with. Explanations end with the law of the jungle.gg
Ruminations on China's reorientation toward expansionism. In short:
- It coincides with Xi's reign, and may support his ongoing leadership;
- An aggressive foreign policy might be useful to divert the Chinese public’s attention from the sources of its discontent (the CCP).
- The history of the Chinese political community gives China a memory of being the most powerful and sophisticated nation on earth, and it may be part of a conviction that this represents the natural political order of Asia and this brand of nationalism would drive any political objectives toward similar foreign policies.
- It might be a mere capitalisation on Chinese power, particularly in the face of a looming economic decline.
On the opportunity cost of castles.
Whether the castle could have survived much longer once gunpowder became prevalent is actually a moot point. Its very strength was a barrier to the growth of great national governments. Monarchs regarded private castles as an inherent threat. Legal and other measures were taken to eliminate them. In Britain, the Tudors were particularly effective in eliminating great noble castles as part of a well designed program to establish the state’s monopoly on violence. In France, Louis XIII probably destroyed more castles than he built. This trend was actually a paean to the military virtues of the castle.
On friction in war. Posing Boyd's OODA-loop against Clausewitz's concept of friction. Clausewitz concerned himself the internal problem of friction, but Boyd added the lens that friction can be both overcome internally and maximised externally through a different structural lens.
The lucrative business of book-styling.
Ashley Tisdale infamously caused a stir when she admitted to purchasing 400 books to fill her empty shelves overnight before Architectural Digest filmed her house. “Obviously, my husband’s like, ‘We should be collecting books over time and putting them in the shelves.’ And I was like, ‘No, no, no, no. Not when AD comes.’”
A trend toward buying books wholesale for decoration.
Who do people think are influential in their own community? US research:
- US residents once named business leaders.
- Today, US residents typically can't name anyone and if they do, rarely a business person.
- Often, whether influencers or government individuals were named it was at the state or national level.
- Plausibly because of a decline in local media.
- Suggests a trend toward nationalised politics, with the corollary that national politics is less representative than local ones.
On the media as a good thing:
Hate certain parts of the media, including specific articles, false narratives, and even, if you must, individual journalists who represent the worst of their profession. But if you care about having a functional society in which forming accurate perceptions of at least some portions of reality is possible, please temper your criticism.
Seems also worth noting that media have predictable filters. Non-media entities are subject to the same filters---perhaps more so.
Books are not Information Dense. An argument for substacks as a more information dense source of information. Though, see also is the internet information overload.
In which environments is impulsive behavior adaptive?
information impulsivity, that is, acting without considering consequences, and temporal impulsivity, that is, the tendency to pick sooner outcomes over later ones ... both types are adaptive when individuals are close to a critical threshold (e.g., bankruptcy), resources are predictable, or interruptions are common. When resources are scarce, impulsivity can be adaptive or maladaptive, depending on the type and degree of scarcity. Information impulsivity is also adaptive when environments do not change over time or change very often (but maladaptive in between), or if local resource patches have similar properties, reducing the need to gather further information. Temporal impulsivity is adaptive when environments do not change over time and when local resource patches differ.
Let me ruin fairy circles for you: "plants on the circle’s periphery were outcompeting the grass inside the circle for water".
The man who solved his own murder. On Alexander Litvinenko---a former Russian spy was poisoned with a cup of tea in a London hotel.
What 'long covid' means. A doctor on the difficulty of characterising and treating [functional disorders] (a.k.a. 'psychosomatic') that might overlap with structural ones. Good to read with this piece on multiple chemical sensitivity.
The infrastructure behind ATMs. The surprisingly complicated business of making your money available to you.
The reassuring fantasy of the baby advice industry:
People have been dispensing baby-rearing guidance in written form almost since the beginning of writing, and it is a storehouse of absurd advice, testifying to the truth that babies have always been a source of bafflement.
Thus began the transformation that would culminate in the contemporary baby-advice industry. With every passing year, there was less and less to worry about: in the developed world today, by any meaningful historical yardstick, your baby will almost certainly be fine, and if it isn’t, that will almost certainly be due to factors entirely beyond your control ... And so baby manuals became more and more fixated on questions that would have struck any 19th-century parent as trivial, such as for precisely how many minutes it’s acceptable to let babies cry; or how the shape of a pacifier might affect the alignment of their teeth; or whether their lifelong health might be damaged by traces of chemicals in the plastics used to make their bowls and spoons.
“The promise of [the contemporary concept of] parenting is that there is some set of techniques, some particular expertise, that parents could acquire that would help them accomplish the goal of shaping their children’s lives,” ... “It is very difficult to find any reliable, empirical relation between the small variations in what parents do – the variations that are the focus of parenting [advice] – and the resulting adult traits of their children,”
Perhaps what you really learn from baby books is one important aspect of the predicament of parenthood: that while there might indeed be one right way to do things, you will never get to find out what it is.
On the fault lines between democracy and specialisation. A bit of history, as well as the experts in a disaster movie as a metaphor:
How else but through illusion might we expect the average viewer to grasp a perspective rooted in a lifetime of training and inquiry? Besides, the viewer’s ignorance is vital to the intended experience of these films. It’s what secures their interest in the expert character, who is essentially an oracle, and an oracle without inaccessible, suprahuman wisdom loses all allure. The oracle is elevated by knowledge—to the mountaintop temples or the heights of abstraction—forming a triangular relationship with the layman and viewer ... The viewer is left with a murky and reductive metaphor, but they have also witnessed the processes of reduction and the social realities that necessitate it ... the truth of any technical matter undergoes a similar filtration when it is disseminated to the actual public, government officials or within private institutions. The raw facts, the data, when they reach you, have been neatly ordered, interpreted and summarized for your benefit. Such is the cost and convenience of living in modernized society; to “trust the experts” and their liaisons not out of goodwill but stark necessity. But only during technical disasters, storied and real, can the full severity of this bargain be recognized: a technical elite will accept an unfathomable responsibility in exchange for the public’s unwavering trust and obedience. The citizen and his representatives are asked to forget the many instances in which experts have been grievously mistaken, and to overlook that many disasters now originate in the cloisters of technical institutions (the disasters of both Chernobyl and Margin Call are expert-made.) There is no time to consider past errors.
The public rage against specialists is rightly perceived as a rejection of their hard-won expertise. But I suspect these outbursts stem from a shared impression that our world is becoming impossible to understand in a remotely unified manner ... What is the point of learning if the smallest truth is always already someone else’s life’s work? One feels relegated to the mere surface of things; necessarily stupid. This is not only infuriating but also makes it increasingly difficult to participate in the governance of our gleaming technological society.
On COVID accelerating the meaning crisis.
I think that the pandemic accelerated people’s re-evaluations of many of their commitments. We came out of it more strongly committed to activities we value highly, including passionate interests and family relationships. But we became less committed to jobs and classes that have only instrumental value to us. Young people were affected the most.
Why do humans double-bounce when they walk?
walking this way would have given early humans an edge in persistence hunting—pursuing animals until they surrendered from fatigue. Our flat feet and heavy legs aren’t optimized to let us move as fast as four-legged sprinters, so it’s possible that our gait pattern evolved to grant us an advantage for distance, not speed. Because the second bounce catapults the leg from the ankle, rather than powering its swing from the hip, the motion uses a lot less energy, allowing our ancestors to stalk prey for hours or days without needing to recover.
Was the T-Rex smart?
In a landmark 1986 study, Daniel Kahneman, Jack Knetsch and Richard Thaler gathered evidence that most people find this sort of behaviour unacceptable. (For example, 82 per cent of respondents thought it was unfair for a hardware store to raise the price of snow shovels after a snowstorm.) We could argue over whether these feelings of outrage at “profiteers” are simply mistaken or tap into some deeper wisdom, but the practical point is that firms know that they will be criticised if they build up stores and try to sell them at a profit in a crisis. As a result, they will spend less on storage than they should. A second problem is that supply interruptions have a large social cost. The cost of a blackout falls partly on the electricity supplier but mostly on customers, and so the supplier is likely to skimp on storage, backups and other ways to improve reliability. Then there is the third problem, which is that some kinds of storage are extremely expensive. Could the storage problem be solved? Governments could subsidise some forms of storage and stockpiling ... They could do more to encourage trade and collaboration ... they could invest more in early warnings of trouble. They will need to stand ready to resist the inevitable grumbles that the stockpiles constitute a waste of taxpayers’ money.
Empires as a function of transport technology:
This brings a new light to the two transportation assets Romans were famous for: the Mare Nostrum (Mediterranean) and the roads. The sea allowed for fast travel across the Mediterranean, uniting it—but preventing Rome from going much beyond it. The roads were necessary for Rome to move past the coasts and control the land.
While London, the upper Nile, the Levant, and even the Black Sea could be reached in less than a month, the lands beyond the Rhine river, today’s Germany, couldn’t.
And this is in a world where they had no military or economic equal. As neighboring areas grew stronger, one month of distance was too remote to hold. Rome abandoned Britain, Germanic tribes invaded the European side, the Sasanid Empire on the Asian side, and the half of the empire farthest from Rome split.
Different ways of doing life. Here, living with wolves:
The sanctuary was a thorough teacher, testing my every limit. Blisters bloomed across my feet from the miles I put in each day simply walking through the compound in my stiff new hiking boots, trailing staff through hours of chores. In my off time I studied the sanctuary’s handbook, memorizing the animals’ names and backstories, how to tell them apart, what medications they took and why, and how to safely administer them directly into a wolf’s mouth. Then, after nearly fourteen nonstop days, I passed the requisite exams to officially become an animal caretaker.
Serotonin as the habit signaller.
which neurochemical system is the most crucial for controlling the balance between more automatic and more deliberate cognitive processing? Based on previous research, my colleagues and I had a hunch that the serotonergic system might be a good place to look ... what if serotonin was being used by our brains to digest information – that is, to process information flow between the distributed circuits of neurons required to identify, decide and act? ... Any time there is a problem to be solved or a decision to be made, our brains must figure out which resources to deploy to meet the challenge ... serotonin helps the brain continue with an automatic or habitual approach to a situation when that seems to be working well
Is the internet information overload? Interesting reflections on the benefits and drawbacks of the information age. Highlights:
If you look at a site like Buzzfeed, it has reports about the death of Kim Jong Il right next to viral videos about cats. It's jarring -- and seems a little amoral ... [this is] pointing to the benefits of having a very small aperture for news. That aperture was controlled by full-time professional editors, but ... what comes through the news hole now is anything anybody is interested in enough to post ... when you have so few apertures for news and they're controlled by such a similar set of people, you get a certain limited set of stories. We at least now have the opportunity to create filters that let in more than the traditional room of middle-aged white men. If we're not reading the stuff that matters, it's our fault.
Ask anybody who is in any of the traditional knowledge fields, and she or he will very likely tell you that the Internet has made them smarter. They couldn't do their work without it; they're doing it better than ever before, they know more; they can find more; they can run down dead ends faster than ever before. In the sciences and humanities, it's hard to find somebody who claims the Internet is making him or her stupid, even among those who claim the Internet is making us stupid.
How To Speak Honeybee. The history and future of interpreting honey-bee communication.
Pass or fail grading is a good thing? This recent paper (about quite old data) made the rounds a couple months ago, on some US college seeing declining performance when dropping letter grades. I've been asked a couple times to look at it by undergrad students in class. It seems like a pretty standard misleading null result? The abstract reads:
Students shifted to lower-grading STEM courses in the first semester, but did not increase their engagement with STEM in later semesters. Letter grades of first-semester students declined by 0.13 grade points, or 23% of a standard deviation. We ... conclude that the effect is consistent with declining student effort.
Which paints the picture of the grade incentive being important to not only effort in the class but ongoing performance.
But this drop in performance is associated only with the (secretly recorded) letter grade of the pass/fail course. There is stable performance (a.k.a. 'did not increase') in later courses where letter grades matter again. So dropping letter grades does nothing over time (no better but also no worse), and does very little (23% of a standard deviation!? come on, please) in the class itself. Does that make dropping grades preferable? Maybe we should give these students their effort back, for more influential things.
Reminder that TikTok is spyware. Contra this post. Is there another chance for a 'good' social media?
The decline of 'old masters' in art: an emblem of how time annihilates what makes things special and leaves only the value in the 'top' of any category of thing.
On the unnecessary nature of human space adventures. The argument goes, 'white elephant' space projects consume budget unreasonably, and with little oversight. It was once useful to send people into space. Now it holds back exploration. Compelling. Makes one very skeptical of space.
On profiling 911 callers to see if they were murderers. Another nonsense forensic 'science', like polygraphs and fingerprinting. Humans just aren't that predictable.
The fake neuroscience of God. A neurosurgeon-cum-prophet tells of heaven after a near death experience. The legitimacy of the account relies entirely on his authority as a doctor, but he talks about nothing but anecdote. And as the reporter reveals, even that is flimsy. The best part is when the Dalai Lama, a co-speaker at an event attended by the neurosurgeon makes the aside:
that Buddhists categorize phenomena in three ways. The first category are "evident phenomena," which can be observed and measured empirically and directly. The second category are "hidden phenomena," such as gravity, phenomena that can't be seen or touched but can be inferred to exist on the basis of the first category of phenomena. The third category, he says, are "extremely hidden phenomena," which cannot be measured at all, directly or indirectly. The only access we can ever have to that third category of phenomena is through our own first-person experience, or through the first-person testimony of others.
"Now, for example," the Dalai Lama says, "his sort of experience."
He points at Alexander.
"For him, it's something reality. Real. But those people who never sort of experienced that, still, his mind is a little bit sort of..." He taps his fingers against the side of his head. "Different!" he says, and laughs a belly laugh, his robes shaking. The audience laughs with him. Alexander smiles a tight smile.
"For that also, we must investigate," the Dalai Lama says. "Through investigation we must get sure that person is truly reliable." He wags a finger in Alexander's direction. When a man makes extraordinary claims, a "thorough investigation" is required, to ensure "that person reliable, never telling lie," and has "no reason to lie."
It does seem rather unlikely that God would be a butterfly, even without investigation.
We are underinvesting in boredom's creative potential.
A millenial trend away from aged-in conservatism. See also the author on twitter since this 'free' FT article is actually very difficult to access.
Dog breed differences in cognition. No surprises that the Aussie Kelpie was a stand out:
Significant breed differences were found for understanding of human communicative gestures, following a human’s misleading gesture, spatial problem-solving ability in a V-detour task, inhibitory control in a cylinder test, and persistence and human-directed behaviour during an unsolvable task. Breeds also differed significantly in their behaviour towards an unfamiliar person, activity level, and exploration of a novel environment. No significant differences were identified in tasks measuring memory or logical reasoning. Breed differences thus emerged mainly in tasks measuring social cognition, problem-solving, and inhibitory control.
More ideas for efficient hot water bottle use than I thought possible.
How military planning works. Excellent several part read. I admit, I use the military appreciation process to plan almost everything complex. It doesn't need much tinkering to solve for more than clearing an enemy off that hill. I've used it for wedding planning, consulting projects, and camping trips too.
Psychological capabilites for resilience. Studies from the Ukraine war:
Many of the psychological capabilities to improve societal resilience can be integrated into three broad focus areas: education, information, and inclusion. Education should not only raise awareness about trends that may affect national safety or potential threats to sovereignty, but it should emphasize a country’s unique strengths, national history, culture, and values ... A psychologically resilient population must also be informed about the modern information environment and how it plays a role in shaping thinking and behavior ... A whole-of-society and whole-of-government approach is inherently inclusive. Inclusion efforts often focus on bolstering national identity to give people a sense of pride and belongingness, but it can simultaneously train critical skills.
Personal finance gurus vs economists:
the prescription of the popular finance gurus is sensible, but their diagnosis is not ... and I think their advice regarding the issue is not particularly worth paying attention to for this reason
How bad is crime? For the mays in which it modifies behaviour, perhaps quite a bit more costly than we might think.
How to become wise. Insights from eastern traditions (by a white person?)---a trite trope, but some interesting insights.
Platforms are not ecosystems:
tech platforms and proprietary software environments are not ecosystems, so don’t call them that. Call them built environments, i.e. designed, rules-based systems that explicitly structure interests to secure specific intended outcomes. It does no good – for journalists in particular – to transmit the suggestion that a walled garden is the same as a living forest. That an app market-place is the same kind of thing as an open protocol. We don’t just serve the interests of system-owners when we repeat the pretty lie. We shut down an essential way to imagine alternatives. So what if, every time we read ‘ecosystem’, we instead say ‘plantation’? A plantation is a hierarchical, exploitative monoculture ... Google’s interlinked extractive systems are plantations whose single crop is data for ads. They’re designed environments; their parent company, Alphabet, a conurbation of control.
Why Is Everything So Ugly?
We live in undeniably ugly times. Architecture, industrial design, cinematography, probiotic soda branding — many of the defining features of the visual field aren’t sending their best. Despite more advanced manufacturing and design technologies than have existed in human history, our built environment tends overwhelmingly toward the insubstantial, the flat, and the gray, punctuated here and there by the occasional childish squiggle.
The greatness of Maria Montessori.
‘it is the human personality and not a method of education that must be considered; it is the defence of the child, the scientific recognition of his nature.’ Children, she insisted, were the ‘forgotten citizens’ of the world. To understand their capabilities was to glimpse what all humans were capable of. She argued that her message about work – that it gave meaning to human life, that its full expression was possible only in a state of freedom – had implications for adults working in a factory as much as for children in a school.
How to be a happy nihilist
Let me demonstrate with a game, ‘spot the meaningless meaning’. Next time you’re at the supermarket, pharmacy or really any non-enlightened space of commerce, pay attention to what the products are attempting to offer. One might expect a barrage of quality and utility assurances: ‘these chickpeas are low sodium’, ‘this facemask is non-irritating’. But, increasingly, aspirations are higher. A chocolate bar isn’t skim (skimmed) milk powder and sugar, it’s a chance to create an intergenerational family moment. A lipstick isn’t a bullet of colour to light up a drawn face, but a weapon of radical self-expression. Rather than informing a population of philosophically fulfilled, elevated beings, the ubiquity of all this bite-sized meaning has had an adverse effect, fuelling our familiar, modern malaise of dissatisfaction, disconnection and burnout. The fixation with making all areas of existence generically meaningful has created exhausting realities where everything suddenly really, really matters.
The broadest explanation of nihilism argues that life is meaningless and the systems to which we subscribe to give us a sense of purpose – such as religion, politics, traditional family structures or even the notion of absolute truth itself – are fantastical human constructs
When promoting nihilism as the antidote to the commercialisation of meaning, I tend to meet the same repeated questions: if there’s no point, then why do anything? Why get out of bed? Wash your hair? Treat another person with kindness? Not fall into a quivering heap? ... when you stop focusing on a greater point, you’re able to ask simpler but more rewarding questions: what does happiness look like right now? What would give me pleasure today? How can I achieve a sense of satisfaction in this moment? Most of the time, the answers aren’t complex. They’re small delights already at hand – time spent with loved ones, a delicious meal, a walk in nature, a cup of coffee.
Exercise is habit, not genetics? 17 twin pairs with different exercise habits suggests...
Human intelligence is converging:
most recent studies report mainly positive Flynn effects in economically less developed countries, but trivial and frequently negative Flynn effects in the economically most advanced countries ... these trends, observed in adolescents today, will reduce cognitive gaps between the working-age populations of countries and world regions during coming decades.
A typology of the 'new right'. See also this article, for something less US-centric.
Is ‘feeling fat’ really a manifestation of underlying sadness?
those with eating disorders aren’t alone in describing changes in their experience of body size. But why take any of these reports seriously? Perhaps those with eating disorders, anaesthesia experiences, and Alice in Wonderland syndrome are equally guilty of misidentifying their true feelings
This research suggests that, when many eating disorder sufferers report feeling fat, they aren’t misidentifying their emotions, but describing their proprioceptive experience. Their body maps represent them as larger, which causes them to physically feel larger, which they report as feeling fat. It is no wonder then that the clinical mantra ‘fat is not a feeling’ sometimes falls on deaf ears.
For clinicians and loved ones who hope to combat the harmful effect that feeling fat has on sufferers of eating disorders, a first step should be taking their complaints seriously. By accepting that, in some cases, feeling fat is a description of physical misperception, we can try to understand the nature and effect of these unsettling bodily experiences, and help sufferers realise them for what they are: deeply misleading. This isn’t to say that every complaint of feeling fat is a reference to misperception. Associating sadness or anxiety with feeling fat does occur, and clinicians have success in guiding clients to identify their true emotions. However, it should be kept as a live possibility that ‘feeling fat’ is sometimes used to describe misleading proprioceptive experiences of body size.
The honesty of pornography. The last paragraph:
All of this is to say that pornography is remarkably honest, and not simply because, as anti-pornography feminists allege, it documents patriarchy’s debasement of women. Rather, it is honest because it showcases the hard, often confusing work of reconciling private desire with public life, of admitting that sex with others can be unethical, of distinguishing between fantasy and reality. Antique pornography makes these contradictions obvious, circulating knowledge that we think, today, is at odds with eroticism. But perhaps it isn’t – perhaps there’s a utility to pornography’s mixed messages. Perhaps it was designed to confuse us, the better to underscore the clarity with which we should enter into the messy endeavour of sex with other people.
Cows are more resilient than you think:
To estimate how far the cows had paddled during their ordeal, journalists seemed to have measured the shortest distance between Cedar Island and the Core Banks using digital tools like Google Maps. Most put the swim at four miles; NBC preferred the precision of 3.39 miles ... In fact, Aretxabaleta said, the probable routes taken by the cows, whether living or dead, range from 28.5 to nearly 40 miles. At the low end, that’s considerably greater than the distance across the English Channel. It’s more than ten times what swimmers complete in an Ironman triathlon. By Aretxabaleta’s measure, the absolute shortest period a cow would have been in the water is 7.5 hours; the longest is 25 hours.
How Physics Can Improve the Urinal. I always wondered why this wasn't already a thing.
Generalized tendency to make extreme trait judgements from faces. Academic paper.
A response to MacAskill's What We Owe the Future. Right at the very end:
While MacAskill is highly interested in great power war (pp. 114-116), he is curiously uninterested in how to theorize explicitly about great power politics in the context of international institutions despite these being the causal source of the main factor in the probabilities he bandies about throughout the book. Throughout his argument, he tacitly black-boxes what he calls “the international system,” “international cooperation,” “international coordination” and “international norms.” (Obviously, he could claim that great power politics is independent from international institutions and shaped by the interactions of small number of elite actors—something he hints at in his historical examples; but it is not developed in his future oriented chapters.) And so, somewhat curiously, a book devoted to building a social movement and changing values, leaves under-theorized the main social factor that will determine (by its own lights) the possibility of that movement having a future at all
A personalised alternative to antidepressants is on the way:
the treatment of depression is currently evolving in unexpected ways. This is based on a shift away from thinking about depression as a disorder of ‘chemicals in the brain’ to an understanding that depression is underpinned by changes in electrical activity and communication between brain regions.
At times, this resistance seems to reflect a perhaps wilful ignorance of evidence or even an ideological approach to medicine rather than an evidence-based one. There is a danger that a highly novel treatment, such as home-based closed-loop stimulation, will produce a similar degree of professional resistance, especially given that treatment informed by artificial intelligence could be seen to reduce the role of the clinician in the decision-making process.
The “je ne sais quoi” of TikTok:
It’s an unambiguously positive change in social media, on pretty much every front. To try to get it down to a bulleted list:
- Organic audience acquisition without need for self promotion.
- Types of content that can flourish is much broader.
- Incredible collaboration tools, leading to mixing and remixing art on the platform. The only other example of this I can think of this on other social platforms is textual. Quoting someone’s tweet and commenting on it and the like.
- Manages to maintain a platform-level “zeitgeist” of sorts, similar to Twitter, while also giving users highly customized experiences. It does this without the need for trending topics or curated hashtags, it’s all in the algorithm.
- Fosters empathy instead of sowing division. Much less emphasis on “culture war” and politics.
The Messiah Of Zooming Out. On Alexander Grothendieck, a mathematician who saw more than most:
the philosophy was this: If a phenomenon seems hard to explain, it’s because you haven’t fully understood how general it is. Once you figure out how general it is, the explanation will stare you in the face.
his commitment to the principle that all problems become easy if only you can find the right generalizations. Another, as we’ve also seen, is his willingness to redefine classical objects like points and curves in order to make them more susceptible to being generalized. The third, which is equally central, is Grothendieck’s lifelong insistence that mathematical objects are intrinsically uninteresting — instead it’s the relations between mathematical objects that matter. The internal structure of a line or a circle is boring; the fact that you can wrap a line around a circle is fundamental.
Intuition is to listening as analysis is to reading. From the abstract:
we demonstrate that thinking from spoken information leads to more intuitive performance compared with thinking from written information. Consequently, we propose that people think more intuitively in the spoken modality and more analytically in the written modality.
Is performative populism is over?
Performative populism has begun to ebb. Twitter doesn’t have the hold on the media class it had two years ago. Peak wokeness has passed. There seem to be fewer cancellations recently, and less intellectual intimidation ... Americans are still deeply unhappy with the state of the country, but their theory of change seems to have begun to shift. Less histrionic media soap opera. Less existential politics of menace. Let’s find people who can get stuff done.
Chompsky & Hermann's five filters in the modern era. A better version of my chompsky manufacturing consent today, and in video form.
A nice overview of audience capture:
This is the ultimate trapdoor in the hall of fame; to become a prisoner of one's own persona. The desire for recognition in an increasingly atomized world lures us to be who strangers wish us to be. And with personal development so arduous and lonely, there is ease and comfort in crowdsourcing your identity.
On honesty as the aspiration of true science. How close are we now?.
Feynman first cited a core value — honesty — which is a central scientific character virtue, and then went on to show an example of what this means for behavior. In saying that this requires a kind of “leaning over backwards,” Feynman clearly recognized that this prescription goes well beyond what is normally done or expected. It is an ideal. It may not be impossible to achieve, but certainly it will be very difficult.
Scientists do not always live up to these ideals, but the scientific community recognizes them as aspirational values that define what it means to be a member of the practice. Those who flout them do not deserve to be called scientists. Those who exemplify them with excellence are properly honored as exemplars.
How the Jesuits charted the world:
Jesuits in the early modern world acted as brokers of knowledge and information – creating new networks that connected Asia and the Americas to Europe, and Europe to distant worlds beyond the Atlantic and the Pacific. Their letters, reports and books often traversed not only stormy seas but those even more treacherous confessional and civilisational divides that marked the world they inhabited.
How to care less about work. Might be paywalled so use archive.ph. Some highlights:
So what work is actually valuable? It’s incredibly unclear. Many knowledge workers, ourselves included, find themselves insecure in some capacity about the work they’re doing: how much they do, whom they do it for, its value, their value, how their work is rewarded and by whom. We respond to this confusion in pretty confusing ways. Some become deeply disillusioned or radicalized against the extractive, capitalist system that makes all of this so muddled. And others throw themselves into work, centering it as the defining element of their self-worth. In response to the existential crisis of personal value, they jump on the productivity treadmill, praying that in the process of constant work they might eventually stumble across purpose, dignity, and security.
Once you figure out what [things you once took pleasure in], see if you can recall its contours. Were you in charge? Were there achievable goals or no goals at all? Did you do it alone or with others? Was it something that really felt as if it was yours, not your siblings’? Did it mean regular time spent with someone you liked? Did it involve organizing, creating, practicing, following patterns, or collaborating? See if you can describe, out loud or in writing, what you did and why you loved it. Now see if there’s anything at all that resembles that experience in your life today.
Weeks don't make sense:
A duration of seven days doesn’t align with any natural cycles or fit cleanly into months or years. And though the week has been deeply significant to Jews, Christians, and Muslims for centuries, people in many parts of the world happily made do without it, or any other cycles of a similar length, until roughly 150 years ago ...
[my] hypothesis, which I’m a little more drawn to because I’m a historian: that our sense of what is an appropriate amount of time to wait between activities has been conditioned by the week.
Placebo effect getting stronger? US dominated effect. See also this article.
The value of placebos is underrated.
Tool use and language share brain regions. This shouldn't be that surprising---language is essentially a motor task, after all. But that this happens not in the cortex but the basal ganglia is interesting:
We observed that the motor training and the syntactic exercises activated common areas of the brain in a region called the basal ganglia
Cortex does transformation of input to output. Basal nuclei are mostly known for doing action selection (i.e. which to do among many alternatives). Is this a tangling of actions communicated vs actions acted?
How to function in an increasingly polarized society. It feels like perhaps a more efficient method of functioning would be to just step back a little from the froth, but failing that, you might like these suggestions.
Are we on the verge of talking to whales? A project attempting to interpret sperm whale clicks with artificial intelligence, then talk back to them.
Imagination as key to human specialness. "Imagination isn’t just a spillover from our problem-solving prowess. It might be the core of what human brains evolved to do".
Human cognition might have nothing whatsoever to do with computation. Worth keeping in mind that just because a theory is old, it doesn't mean it's correct.
Were ancients the intellectual equals of us? Graeber reckoned, probably.
On the problematic popularisation of 'trauma':
trauma books may not be all that helpful for the type of suffering that most people are experiencing right now. “The word trauma is very popular these days,” van der Kolk told me. It’s also uselessly vague—a swirl of psychiatric diagnoses, folk wisdom, and popular misconceptions.
On 'romantic friendship':
Murdoch’s own account of love. In The Sovereignty of the Good (1970), she theorised that love is vision perfected. It is seeing the other person with clarity, as she really is, in all her particularity and detail. In Murdoch’s view, love is a willingness or a choice to see another person this way. But it is also more than this. Love is a desire – a desire to really see the other person and to be seen by them in return.
What would happen if you microdosed alcohol. Exploring Thomas Vinterberg’s latest film, Another Round, with the science.
Walking Trees And Parasitic Flowers. "A series of botanical encounters in the rainforest, excerpted from Francis Hallé’s book “Atlas of Poetic Botany".
Tree thinking. Cute article with much poetic and tangential speculation on the relationship between trees and humans.
The limits of cryptoeconomics. Old, but this struck me following the FTX drama recently:
Any system which claims to be non-finance, but does not actually make an effort to prevent collusion, will eventually acquire the characteristics of finance
What if Marx and Freud never existed?
the proposition that as the ego is navigating the external world (the Reality Principle) it also has to fight a two-front war against the impulses coming from the id (Pleasure Principle) and the punitively severe impulse control exercised by the superego (Conscience). This idea is original, profound and true.
On the value of nurture. "Exploring how different brain states accompany different life stages, Gopnik also makes a case that caring for the vulnerable, rather than ivory-tower philosophising, puts us in touch with our deepest humanity."
Excerpts from famously prolific reader Tyler Cowan on how to read fast, well, and widely. Still probably won't be as fast as him.
An intro to Confucius.
On care in meditation. See also Seven common myths about meditation
If you’ve never explored the depths of your psyche, and/or have a history of unexplored trauma or untreated mental illness, it would be reckless to launch into formal meditation practice, in the same way that someone with physical limitations would be ill-advised to embark without training on a challenging mountaineering expedition.
Meditation isn’t for everyone, and there are many routes to mental wellness and the kind of mental states achieved through rigorous contemplative practice.
How to study effectively. "Forget cramming, ditch the highlighter, and stop passively rereading. The psychology of learning offers better tactics."
Stop caring about single bad articles. A good paper on the rationale for thinking about trends. Same advice I give students on their literature---it's much harder and less compelling to build an argument based on one study than to slide through the trends.
Brain states as a clue to transcendence. Phrased as how spiritual retreats achieve this, but equally can be viewed as pointers to achieving it elsewise.
Summary, the ingredients that characterise the experience are:
- Intensity. Emotional, I assume as characterised by limbic system. See also the amygdala is not the fear centre.
- A sense of oneness or unity. Associated with decrease in associative cortex, which puts your senses together. Likely the same thing that explains the mushroom unity effect---mushrooms increase connectivity which similarly affects how associative cortext puts your senses together. Up or down, you want less of a neural representation of you-ness.
- A sense of clarity. Before and after. The neural explanations for this doesn't seem very thoughtful.
- A sense of surrender. Also not thoughtful, neurally, but see also speaking in tongues where I talk a little about this.
- Transformation as a result of the experience. Essentially, this seems like intense practice (probably deliberate practice).
You are a network. A concise way of phrasing everything is ideology and spirituality of the mind:
The network self view envisions an enriched self and multiple possibilities for self-determination, rather than prescribing a particular way that selves ought to be. That doesn’t mean that a self doesn’t have responsibilities to and for others. Some responsibilities might be inherited, though many are chosen. That’s part of the fabric of living with others. Selves are not only ‘networked’, that is, in social networks, but are themselves networks. By embracing the complexity and fluidity of selves, we come to a better understanding of who we are and how to live well with ourselves and with one another.
See also The mind does not exist, from Aeon.
What the fuck is dissociation? More common than you think.
Stop Spending Time on Things You Hate. Interesting narrativised advice, but the cribnotes are:
- Schedule your downtime.
- Give your bad habits a monetary value (i.e. price them at your hourly wage).
The Tyranny of the Female-Orgasm Industrial Complex:
I surprised myself with the ire that bubbled up over the course of writing this essay; I hadn’t realized how much lingering resentment I had toward those men—and later, toward the female-orgasm industrial complex in which I saw the self-interest of such men reflected—who made me feel deficient and ashamed for a situation out of my control, and one that I had long ago made peace with. As grateful as I am to Dr. M and Justin for their support, moreover, for offering a safe space in which to further explore the frontier of my own body, I find myself wondering, when I think too hard about it, whether their professed “calling” is actually just more male selfishness in disguise.
God in a meritocratic society. Interesting thoughts that generically apply to a secular, materialist state. I'm not sure the meritocracy is the most relevant part.
the meritocracy’s anti-supernaturalism: The average Ivy League professor, management consultant or Google engineer is not necessarily a strict materialist, but they have all been trained in a kind of scientism, which regards strong religious belief as fundamentally anti-rational, miracles as superstition, the idea of a personal God as so much wishful thinking.
Thus when spiritual ideas creep back into elite culture, it’s often in the form of “wellness” or self-help disciplines, or in enthusiasms like astrology, where there’s always a certain deniability about whether you’re really invoking a spiritual reality, really committing to metaphysical belief.
Neuroscience shows that spiritual experiences are correlated with brain states that we can all aim for, religious or not. See also speaking in tongues.
Human exceptionalism is dead: for the sake of our own happiness and the planet we should embrace our true animal nature.
The cult of optionality. Nice reasons to stop trying to find asymmetric opportunities in life---life isn't a financial market. Most compelling:
The point isn’t that any of these things is likely. It’s that the downside in real life is never actually capped. Applying financial metaphors to life can be useful, so long as you understand the limitations.
Can single cells learn?
We exhume the experiments of Beatrice Gelber on Pavlovian conditioning in the ciliate Paramecium aurelia, and suggest that criticisms of her findings can now be reinterpreted. Gelber was a remarkable scientist whose absence from the historical record testifies to the prevailing orthodoxy that single cells cannot learn. Her work, and more recent studies, suggest that such learning may be evolutionarily more widespread and fundamental to life than previously thought and we discuss the implications for different aspects of biology.
On indifference (pdf):
It is a paradox of our time that the more Americans learn to tolerate difference, the less they are able to tolerate indiffer- ence. But it is precisely the right to indifference that we must assert now. The right to choose one’s own battles, to find one’s own balance between the True, the Good, and the Beautiful.
See also paradox of tolerance.
Godfrey-Smith on animal sentience. Implications on how we treat them.
People sometimes dismiss arguments for ameliorating the lives of animals because these ideal outcomes are unclear. And some of the hard questions in this area will stay hard or get harder. Views presently looking to change our relationships with animals often focus on the category of sentience, where some animals are inside this category, deserving protection, and others are outside. But sentience itself is very probably something that exists in borderline forms and by degree; it is not a matter of yes or no. Something part-way to sentience – hemi-demi-sentience, as the US philosopher Daniel Dennett would call it – is probably present in vast numbers of tiny invertebrate animals around us. How are concern and protection to be conceived in cases like those? But the fact that we can’t tie up every question does not prevent a proactive approach to issues that many paths forward from here will agree on.
On the philosopher John Gray's critique of liberal humanism.
For Gray, ‘liberal humanism’ – the belief system that led us to Iraq – is a quasi-religious faith in progress, the subjective power of reason, free markets, and the unbounded potential of technology. He identifies the Enlightenment as the point at which the Christian doctrine of salvation was taken over by a secular idealism that has developed into modern-day liberal humanism. (Gray argues that global capitalism has its origins in positivism, the secular cult influenced by the late-18th-century French philosopher Henri de Saint-Simon, who believed that science would end all human ills.) Interestingly, Gray identifies the Enlightenment as the point where our utopias became located in the future, rather than in the past or in some fantasy realm, where it was clear they were exactly that: fantasies. With the failures of Iraq, Afghanistan, the 2008 financial crisis, the climate crisis and now the COVID-19 pandemic, faith in the future utopia that liberal humanism once promised is waning. It’s being replaced by beliefs that again look backwards in history, through the distorting lens of nostalgia, to imagined better times to which we hope to return.
Reminds me of slouching toward utopia.
What might mushroom hunters teach the doctors of tomorrow? Algorithms and artificial intelligence are a helpful aid to doctors. But they still need to learn the arts of noticing.
The root of time itself is in fertile nothingness: how ancient Chinese Daoism shatters our illusions about time and being.
How popperian falsification enabled the rise of neoliberalism.
On spiritual exercise for wellbeing.
How to be lucky:
being alert to the unexpected is vital for creating smart luck, there is another key factor: preparation. This is partly about removing the barriers to serendipity, both mental (your mindset) and physical (the spaces you live and interact in), such as: overloaded schedules; senseless meetings; and the inefficiencies throughout your day that rob you of time, curiosity and a sense of joy. You can prepare by strengthening your mental readiness to connect with opportunity, and creating an environment that enables the use of your skills and available resources to act on the moment. An unprepared mind often discards unusual encounters, thereby missing the opportunities for smart luck. But this is a learned behaviour. Preparation is about developing the capacity to accelerate and harness the positive coincidences that show up in life.
And so on.
Adjusting your attitude is easier than you think:
Between the conditions around you and your response to them is a space. In this space, you have freedom. You can choose to try remodeling the world, or you can start by changing your reaction to it.
Another nice way of saying it. See also emotion and the mind, interruption theory.
Vitalik's post on political preferences:
what if there are other incredibly un-nuanced gross oversimplifications worth exploring?
The merits of a bulldozer vs vetocracy continuum:
Let us consider a political axis defined by these two opposing poles:
- Bulldozer: single actors can do important and meaningful, but potentially risky and disruptive, things without asking for permission
- Vetocracy: doing anything potentially disruptive and controversial requires getting a sign-off from a large number of different and diverse actors, any of whom could stop it
Note that this is not the same as either authoritarian vs libertarian or left vs right. You can have vetocratic authoritarianism, the bulldozer left, or any other combination.
On prosocial flaking.
Quite often, I will make an agreement, and then find myself regretting it. I’ll commit to spending a certain amount of hours helping someone with their problem, or I’ll agree to take part in an outing or a party or a project, or I’ll trade some item for a certain amount of value in return, and then later find that my predictions about how I would feel were pretty far off, and I'm unhappy.
With suggestions on how to rectify in a very rationalist way. Amusingly overcomplicated, but also insightful.
Everything is better than death? I'm left highly unconvinced by this. Here is an extract:
There is a popular idea that some very large amount of suffering is worse than death. I don't subscribe to it
I predict that most (all?) ethical theories that assume that some amount of suffering is worse than death - have internal inconsistencies.
My prediction is based on the following assumption:
permanent death is the only brain state that can't be reversed, given sufficient tech and time
The non-reversibility is the key.
What is innate and what is learned in human nature?
common intuitions about what our ideas are and how they arise – from nature or nurture – constitute a psychological theory. For the most part, this theory is tacit: few of us ever stop to ponder these questions. But this tacit psychological theory encompasses our self-image. It depicts human nature as we see it. This is who we think we are.
we, humans, are in a double bind. Not only do we fail to grasp our psychological reality, but we are often oblivious to our nearsightedness. We assume that abstract ideas must be learned, but we are all too happy to presume innate emotions, for instance. How do these attitudes arise? And why does the notion of ‘innate ideas’ have the ring of an oxymoron?
Where does memory information get stored in the brain?
memory information in the brain is commonly believed to be stored in the synapse ... However, there is a growing minority who postulate that memory is stored inside the neuron at the molecular (RNA or DNA) level - an alternative postulation known as the cell-intrinsic hypothesis
And more inside.
Mind control from a distance (really):
Now, scientists at the Wu Tsai Neurosciences Institute at Stanford University have developed the first non-invasive technique for controlling targeted brain circuits in behaving animals from a distance. The tool has the potential to solve one of the biggest unmet needs in neuroscience: a way to flexibly test the functions of particular brain cells and circuits deep in the brain during normal behavior — such as mice freely socializing with one another.
The research was published March 21, 2022 in Nature Biomedical Engineering by Guosong Hong and colleagues at Stanford and Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University. Hong is a Wu Tsai Neurosciences Institute Faculty Scholar and assistant professor of materials science and engineering in the Stanford School of Engineering who uses his background in chemistry and materials science to devise biocompatible tools and materials to advance the study of the brain.
Malcolm X on racism, capitalism and Islam.
The sad decline of heresy:
today’s heretics, who betray remarkably little interest in metaphysics. Indeed, the closest most of them ever come to anything resembling genuine theological speculation is in their naive, and largely tacit, belief in universal salvation (not to be confused with the theological virtue of hope, which it in fact mocks). Few if any of them would run afoul of the proscriptions of the ancient councils or of the terrifying sentences of the Quicunque Vult, if for no other reason than that they are unacquainted with them.
It's a cute article.
On zombie science:
zombie science as mindless science. It goes through the motions of scientific research without a real research question to answer, it follows all the correct methodology, but it doesn’t aspire to contribute to advance knowledge in the field. Practically all the information about hydroxychloroquine during the pandemic falls into that category, including not just the living dead found in preprint repositories, but also papers published in journals that ought to have been caught by a more discerning eye ... Zombie science bestows an aura of credibility on results not answering real scientific questions.
With many more examples. Science to avoid.
You don't think in any language:
The idea is that behind the words of a language lie concepts and behind the sentences of a language lie combinations of such concepts. To have a belief or a thought is to have a particular combination of concepts in mind. To believe that a man is running, then, is to have the relevant mental concepts, e.g., MAN and RUNNING (concepts are usually written in capital letters in cognitive science), and to have the capacity to put them together (i.e., MAN RUNNING). In this sense, the language of thought is the common code in which concepts are couched, thus explaining how speakers of different languages can at all entertain the same sort of thoughts. We all think in roughly the same mental language, a system composed of concepts that allows us to represent and make sense of the world.
On Zen kōans: a good video on the unsolvable riddles some Zen buddhists use to achieve transcendence.
What we get wrong about emotions.
In the past decade, scientists have begun to understand precisely how emotions and rationality act together. The key insight is that before your rational mind processes any information, the information must be selected and evaluated. That’s where emotion plays a dominant role. Each emotion—fear, disgust, anger—causes certain sensory data, memories, knowledge, and beliefs to be emphasized, and others downplayed, in your thought processes.
In case you weren't already convinced by on emotion, autopoiesis, predicting human behaviour, emotion and the mind, etc.
A paean to pigweed, a modern saint.
As we seek to survive in an age of ecological collapse and cultural chaos, perhaps it is to the weeds we should look for advice. I think of Pigweed, invading Europe as Europe colonized America. As Europeans took over America, Pigweed flowed back on the ships, into the countries that were invading its original ecosystem. It performed a reverse colonization. Pigweed originally only from the Americas is now dispersed across Europe and Asia. Pigweed says plant me in disturbed landscapes, dirty soil, chemical sludge. Plant me where the pain lives and I will learn how to survive. I will learn how to turn this poison into greenery, into stalk and seed and a tap root so long and sturdy it is almost a sword, capable of sucking up water not available the shallow rooted soy and cotton plants. My body needs to learn how to adapt to an increasingly chaotic environment. It needs a saint that teaches me how to get I touch with the wily, cunning knowledge of place. My saint is a seed on the wind. A vegetal plague. Pigweed.
the ... optimal reward scheme is maximally uncertain—the agent receives transfers for success, but their distribution has an extreme variance
It makes you try lots of things. Is this surprising? It doesn't feel surprising, but as the author notes, does:
shed light on the non-transparent incentives used by online platforms, such as YouTube
How squid and octopus get their big brains. With video. Essentially, very similarly to vertebrate brains. We diverged from cephalopods before brains were a thing so it is very interesting that:
two independently evolved very large nervous systems are using the same mechanisms to build them
Something about the world and the being in it seems to eventually prefer brain-like solutions at a certain level of complexity.
Social media and teenage mental health.
Estimates indicate high-speed wireless internet significantly increased teen girls’ severe mental health diagnoses – by 90% – relative to teen boys over the period when visual social media became dominant in teenage internet use. I find similar effects across all subgroups. When applying the same strategy, I find null impacts for placebo health conditions – ones through which there is no clear channel for social media to operate. The evidence points to adverse effects of visual social media, in light of large gender gaps in visual social media use and documented risks. In turn, the analysis calls attention to policy interventions that could mitigate the harm to young people due to their online activities.
Britain's 'New Right'.
This generational divide that Baker senses and Farage seems unaware of, becomes ever more apparent. The speakers are less furious than the spoken to ... Do not expect them to sculpt a future of fair dealing, pragmatism, patience, moderation or high intelligence. Expect the restless opposite of these virtues.
An argument for liberal anti-intellectualism:
The instinct of the intellectuals is to solve problems. There is nothing wrong with this instinct, per se. However, “solving problems” often requires an all-powerful state to implement the “solutions,” and all-powerful states have a strange history of doing “evil and pernicious” things.
Are they really this dangerous?
Why dictators are afraid of girls: rethinking gender and national security.
After all, war is an inherently human activity, and gender is a core expression of what it means to be human; to ignore gender is to ignore core dimensions of war itself.
The ghostly radio station that no one claims to run. A history of ghost radio stations as cryptography outposts---still a thing!
The social media war: open source intelligence on the battlefield.
List of common misconceptions curated by Wikipedians.
Not all early human societies were small scale egalitarian bands. (See also The Dawn of Everything).
Machine in the ghost.
the central cultural conflict for religion in this century ... [will not be] the old touchstones that configure ideological divisions between the orthodox and heterodox, the mainline and the fringe, conservatives and liberals, with arguments about abortion, birth control, gay rights and so on dominating our understanding of cultural rift ... By the end of the century, there could very well be debates and denunciations, exegeses and excommunications about whether or not an AI is allowed to join a Church, allowed to serve as clergy, allowed to marry a biological human ... 'AI may be the greatest threat to Christian theology since Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of the Species.’ ... it could equally be argued that, just as evolutionary thought reinvigorated non-fundamentalist Christian faith ... so too could artificial intelligence provide for a coming spiritual fecundity
Particularly poignent given the recent obsession with ChatGPT.
On the future of battlefields. Gen. Guy Hubin describes the 'homothetic' impulse of modern armies: the fact that it's the same structure from the smallest unit to the biggest, but for a matter of size, that focuses in on a central command structure. For Hubin, the future looks more like air control: a manoeuvre element that is linked to a portion of terrain, and not the command structure. Such a re-construction would better utilise the technology that is developing:
“One must break the existing relationship,” he writes, “between the importance of the level of responsibility and the volume of the subordinates.” Hubin argues that such a radical transformation is necessary to derive from the new technologies their full benefit.
On the expansionist nature of big concepts:
It is the all-conquering idea of human rights, however, that’s the starkest illustration of conceptual overreach. Human rights, even more than the rule of law, have come to play the role of ‘universal secular religion’, purporting to offer a comprehensive ethical framework ... this error plays out in the common belief that the challenges posed by all manner of developments – from artificial intelligence to the climate crisis – can be adequately addressed by a framework that appeals exclusively to human rights. What gets pushed out, or distorted, by this overreach is a range of other values. These include non-rights-based values, such as kindness, loyalty and mercy ... solidarity and the common good.
Postgenomics as the new evolutionary theory. Using the old 'gay gene' notion to emphasise that post-genetic accounts, speaking to the range of genetic, social, and environmental factors we now use to explain human behaviour, are just another version of 'whatever I want to explain it explains it':
Postgenomics today is thus playing out the rationalising functions that scientific inquiries into rather historically contingent identities and behavioural patterns always perform. Accordingly, the paradigm can generate some relatively valid postulates – it’s likely that our sexualities and genders are textured by a mix of social experience, the firings off of neurons, hormonal swirls and the transcription of DNA. But such science also allows defenders of the status quo – in all its libidinally liberated, economically devastated glory – to cast the world as it appears as the way that the world was meant to be. For all the high-powered machinery, impressive statistical methods and massive datasets that go into this knowledge production, we have inherited once again a collection of ‘just-so stories’ – that is, accounts of human nature depicted through a diverse confluence of causes rather than strictly genetic factors – now updated for our postgenomic age.
I often paraphrase myself, something like:
The Rarámuri believe that each moving body part has a unique soul, from the joints of the fingers to the ‘heart’ and the ‘head’. These souls, or ariwi, must be cared for lest they become sick and the body begins to fail. Similar ideas pervade many health traditions. Today we would call these things organs, or cast our net wider perhaps and include other systems like the microflora of our bodies.
But, it's actually quite difficult to reference this, because the book that taught me this is old and obscure.
Then I realised I have a way of doing that---just do a marginalia. So here is the marginalium.
I've included a link to the archive.org book. It's fascinating. The part about ariwi is not long, but it stuck with me.
What animals think of death. More common that one might expect.
The opossum’s death display, also known as thanatosis, is an excellent demonstration of this, not because of what it tells us about the opossum’s mind, but because of what it shows us about the minds of her predators: animals such as coyotes, racoons, dogs, foxes, raptors, bobcats and large snakes. In the same way that the appearance of the stick insect tells us something about how her predators see the world, and which sorts of objects they avoid eating, the opossum’s thanatosis reveals how common the concept of death is likely to be among the animals that feed on her.
"People instinctively tend toward solutions that consist of adding something rather than subtracting something, even if the subtraction would be superior".
A loose reflection on the meaning of ritual. Is pour-over coffee not a ritual, purely because it's not coercive? Seems wrong. Rituals are just some established format for a ceremony. Rituals being deployed to reify power is simply a use-case?
The Rising Tide of Global Sadness. The gist in the conclusion is enough:
We live in a world of widening emotional inequality. The top 20 percent of the world is experiencing the highest level of happiness and well-being since Gallup began measuring these things. The bottom 20 percent is experiencing the worst. It’s a fundamentally unjust and unstable situation. The emotional health of the world is shattering.
A drone made out of sticks. John 11:35.
Today’s Older Adults Are Cognitively Fitter Than Older Adults Were 20 Years Ago, but When and How They Decline Is No Different Than in the Past. That is to say, we decline from a higher point.
Selling Violent Extremism:
unlike other far-right organizations, such as the Proud Boys, the Oath Keepers do not organize as a club. Rather, its behavior is better explained as a firm that adjusts the price of membership over time to maximize profit ... These results imply that political violence can be motivated by nonideological entrepreneurs maximizing profits under current legal institutions
Academics as conservatives by default, no matter their ideologies.
Matt Levine's excellent history of crypto. Off-beat financier with possibly my favourite column. This is the most informed on the topic I've ever been.
How AI will change everything on the internet. Very thought provoking, but short:
Less than two years from now, maybe I will speak into my computer, outline my topics of interest, and somebody’s version of AI will spit back to me a kind of Twitter remix, in a readable format and tailored to my needs.
Seems like a good time to re-consider your approach to information extraction now.
An insight into the New Right. Vox profile of Curtis Yarvin. There's a lot here behind the noise and clutter. It's worth listening to Peter Thiel for this reason. He says the same things over and over again, but occasionally lets slip something that hints at the kind of depth that characterised his early essays. Worth paying attention to.
Inventing New Particles Is Pointless.
Since the 1980s, physicists have invented an entire particle zoo, whose inhabitants carry names like preons, sfermions, dyons, magnetic monopoles, simps, wimps, wimpzillas, axions, flaxions, erebons, accelerons, cornucopions, giant magnons, maximons, macros, wisps, fips, branons, skyrmions, chameleons, cuscutons, planckons and sterile neutrinos, to mention just a few. We even had a (luckily short-lived) fad of “unparticles”. ... All experiments looking for those particles have come back empty-handed, in particular those that have looked for particles that make up dark matter ... Talk to particle physicists in private, and many of them will admit they do not actually believe those particles exist ... the biggest contributor to this trend is a misunderstanding of Karl Popper’s philosophy of science, which, to make a long story short, demands that a good scientific idea has to be falsifiable. Particle physicists seem to have misconstrued this to mean that any falsifiable idea is also good science.
Is astrology 'space racism'? Always good to trouble ourselves with these kinds of things.
Very illuminating interview with Kamil Galeev on the Russian mindset.
Manipulating light can induce psychedelic experiences. The 'ganzflicker', someone one learns about it Cognition 101, but no one told me how universal or powerful it could be.
The gossip trap: How civilization came to be and how social media is ending it. Interesting enough exploration of our 'silent years'---the huge gap between modern physiology and modern civilisation. The thesis: when society is small enough for each of us to know each other, society is organised through social pressure. When we exceed that, natural social hierarchy breaks down and we are forced to use other tools (i.e. civilisation). 'Gossip' is posed as a constraint on innovation. The outro suggests that social media has brought back the 'gossip trap'.
It is not clear precisely to me how this is entirely a bad thing, although the author things so:
The gossip trap is our first Eldritch Mother, the Garrulous Gorgon With a Thousand Heads, The Beast Made Only of Sound.
I'd be more likely to agree that this modern form of the gossip trap is a bad thing, and point to the loneliness epidemic, the hydraulic trap and the amusement trap as examples. But I'm inclined to suspect the gossip trap facilitated not by social media but by actual connections to people brings many benefits we are quick to dismiss or ignore.
Pop-ideas to think about when considering improving science.
The best overview of Judith Butler I've ever come across.
On the inability to comprehend the mass-shooting phenomenon. No answers, but that's the point.
In a country where the random slaughter of children is so common that it’s been integrated into the structure of ordinary life, literary culture simply has nothing to say on the subject. It will talk about awkward interactions and sexual confusion and learning to love yourself in the face of trauma, but it’s afraid to touch this thing that seems to sum up the entire experience of modernity ... What we have instead of the mass-shooting novel is the mass-shooting essay. Mass-shooting essays, classically, are full of solutions. They work in a fairly simple way: you pluck out a single, overriding factor that causes these events, and then you suggest how it might be sensibly eliminated ...
The shortcomings of these essays aren’t the fault of the essayists. Srinivasan and Yang have perfectly reasonable ideas about why these things happen—the problem is that these things are not reasonable. They are outside the remit of the essay, a form in which things are supposed to be broken down into comprehensible pieces and coherently analyzed. This might be why the tone of these essays is shifting. Hopelessness is seeping in. The political system is inadequate to respond to these murders, but so, it seems, is our ordinary sensemaking apparatus, the power of reason, language itself. The best recent mass-shooting essays have been Elizabeth Bruenig’s in the Atlantic, but they’re less essay than threnody: a wail of helpless grief, crying the last whole truth left: “It’s going to go on indefinitely. It’s not an end, exactly, but life inside a permanent postscript to one’s own history. Here is America after there was no more hope.”
Royal Netherlands Army commences armed robot trials in first among Western militaries.
How nuns got squeezed out of the communion wafer business.
Over-reliance on English hinders cognitive science.
We review studies examining language and cognition, contrasting English to other languages, by focusing on differences in modality, form-meaning mappings, vocabulary, morphosyntax, and usage rules. Critically, the language one speaks or signs can have downstream effects on ostensibly nonlinguistic cognitive domains, ranging from memory, to social cognition, perception, decision-making, and more. The over-reliance on English in the cognitive sciences has led to an underestimation of the centrality of language to cognition at large ...
But crosslinguistic investigation shows this sensory hierarchy is not pan-human: in one study of 20 diverse languages tested on the codability (i.e., naming agreement) of the perceptual senses, there were 13 different rank orders of the senses, with only English matching the predicted hierarchy better than chance. Where English makes few distinctions (e.g., olfaction), other languages encode myriads (Figure 2). This has wide-ranging implications as people’s sensory experiences align with linguistic encoding, even determining the likelihood of an entity appearing in conscious awareness. It also raises questions about the validity of using English speaker judgments in tasks purporting to tap into visual semantics or visual complexity, since what is expressible in English may not be in other languages
Who after Xi? And indeed, what?
1,600 Years Of Medical Hubris. On thie scientific ritual in medicine.
Kuhn challenged the perception that the accumulation of scientific data leads us closer and closer to “truth.” Rather, in his paradigm, science is more of a metaphor for reality—an imperfect lens with which we examine a universe whose complexities are and will always be well beyond our grasp ... In some ways, medicine has always been especially resistant to the process that Kuhn enunciated.
See also the scientific ritual and everything is ideology.
"Men are high variance. A subset succeed, the median is falling behind, those without high school degrees are in absolute decline." Interesting implications for the general musings on the 'decline of men' (e.g. here, here).
Most missing persons don't wish to be found. An interesting tension. What's the right trade-off? Twitter account deleted not long after I found this, so I suppose the most vocal people think the trade-off in favour of the missing who do.
"Why I think strong general AI is coming soon". Very interesting.
What populism should mean.
I feel that a lot of ‘populism’ talk is wayward, both among those who are pro-‘populism’ and those who are anti-‘populism.’
Wikipedia donations go to many more things than Wikipedia. Both this account and the replies feel like distracting cherry-picking, but the size and wealth of Wikimedia was interesting.
"Fears that globalisation would lead to a worldwide monoculture have proven utterly wrong."
US-centric, but interesting post asking why so many interventions help women but not men.
The problem is not that men have fewer opportunities; it’s that they are not seizing them. The challenge seems to be a general decline in agency, ambition, and motivation.
An argument for Fukiyama's continued relevance from Hanania. That said, it really does seem like the Chinese model, more or less the same for 1000s of years, is unnervingly resilient.
The neural correlates of near death experiences. Like I point out in my article on speaking in tongues, it always seems like news that the brain produces states that reflect experiences. But that's its job. I suspect that whatever happens after life is not going to be so easily describable as those who experience near death articulate, nor indeed do I think that these experiences represent some sort of inter-plane travel. But similarly, I don't think this is an argument against it. Merely that (surprise) the brain maps experiences.
On applying Quakerism to the Effective Altruism movement (?) for betterment. More broadly a case for religion as a framework for doing good.
Trey Howard, arguing Russian nuclear risk is low.
Not new, but the crisis of masculinity.
Ambition doesn’t just happen; it has to be fired. The culture is still searching for a modern masculine ideal. It is not instilling in many boys the nurturing and emotional skills that are so desperately important today. A system that labels more than a fifth of all boys as developmentally disabled is not instilling in them a sense of confidence and competence.
Probably not a central issue, but an interesting one. More interestingly and concisely explored by Sebastian Junger. Perhaps my time in the military biases me, but Junger's point that the military is one of the last places one can go to 'become a man' experientially checks out (and implies many issues).
The Tale of Richard Hoskins: A Life Most Cursed. Sort of makes a disorganised skeptical foray into an edge case of trauma-related gender dysphoria, but don't let that distract you. A fascinating story of a man.
It’s hard to imagine what a modern curse would look like today, how that would affect your life, but the story of criminologist and religious scholar Richard Hoskins comes as close as we might possibly get. His tale is one of almost unbelievable sorrow, witchcraft, murder and adventure, the kind of life one associates with an era gone-by.
Effect sizes for anti-depressants vanish when subjected to rigorous analysis.
Not new, but detailed, "This document is my attempt to keep a thematic list of all the problems that affect academic research"
Fukuyama as an anti-Nostradamus, or the safest kinds of predictions to make:
Nostradamus said some meaningless vapid stuff in a way such that everyone insists on interpreting as him being a genius; every time something new happens, it always proves Nostradamus right. Fukuyama said some (no offense) kind of vapid stuff in a way such that everyone insists on interpreting as him being a fool; every time something new happens, it always proves Fukuyama wrong. It’s hard to imagine what series of events could ever debunk the former or vindicate the latter.
A simple question to change how you feel:
there is actually a much simpler way to change how you feel, as my colleagues and I, along with other researchers, have found. It starts with answering the question ‘How do you feel?’ ... research shows that the mere act of answering this question actually changes the emotions you are currently feeling.
On Oligopoly And Social Norms.
At least after they reach a certain point, distributional coalitions have an incentive to be exclusive ... whatever quantity an entrant would sell must either drive down the price received by those already in ... [or] there will be more to distribute to each member of the coalition if it is a minimum winning coalition
With implications for aristocratic intermarriage:
if the sons and daughters of the ruling group are induced to marry one another, the growth of the ruling group can be constrained in ways that preserve a legacy for all the families in it
On the value of reading dead philosophers.
What credence should we assign to philosophical claims that were formed without any knowledge of the current state of the art of the philosophical debate and little or no knowledge of the relevant empirical or scientific data?
For example, Plato's critique of democracy as we have discussed was not based on modern or developed democracies, nor "formal theorems regarding collective decision making and preference aggregation, such as the Condorcet Jury-Theorem, Arrow’s Impossibility-Results, the Hong-Page-Theorem, the median voter theorem, the miracle of aggregation, etc.; Existing studies on voter behavior, polarization, deliberation, information; Public choice economics, incl. rational irrationality, democratic realism" and so on.
Perhaps we should discount them more than we do?
A fun enough comparison of the new LoTR series and Western (US) culture. The really interesting part is a series of quotes though:
As Durkheim and other sociologists have argued, we can never really remove the sacred from life. We can only change what we hold sacred. As historian Eugene McCarrher explores in ‘The Enchantments of Mammon’, in much of the world capitalism has come to replace religion.
As summarised by Daniel Steinmetz-Jenkins in The Nation, McCarrher argues that ‘the mysteries and sacraments of religion were transferred to the way we perceive market forces and economic development… a “migration of the holy” to the realm of production and consumption, profit and price, trade and economic tribulation. Capitalism, in other words, is the new religion, a system full of enchanted superstitions and unfounded beliefs and beholden to its own clerisy of economists and managers, its own iconography of advertising and public relations, and its own political theology.”
On predicting Russian appetite for nuclear escalation.
Whether Russia has a lowered nuclear threshold is a matter of perspective. Moscow sees nuclear weapons as essential for deterrence and useful for nuclear warfighting in regional or large-scale war. That is hardly a recent development, though it may be new to decision-makers in the United States. There is an erroneous perception in American policy circles that at some point Washington and Moscow were on the same page and shared a similar threshold for nuclear use in conflict. It is not clear that this imagined time period ever existed, but perhaps both countries viewed nuclear escalation as uncontrollable, or at least publicly described it as such during the late-Cold War period. In principle, Russian leadership does view nuclear use as defensive, forced by exigent circumstances, and in the context of regional or large-scale conflicts.
Words to describe the heart.
The “torment of a tight spot” (amhas) ... The “conceit of self-loathing” (omana) ... the ... delight that flows from being free of regrets (pamojja)
and so on. Fun.
Kind of disorganised, but interesting comparison between chicken and human intelligence.
On the accuracy of futurist predictions (usually not very accurate).
In particular, people who were into "big ideas" ... generally fared poorly, whether or not their favored big ideas were correct .. Another common trait of poor predictors is lack of anything resembling serious evaluation of past predictive errors ... By contrast, people who had (relatively) accurate predictions had a deep understanding of the problem and also tended to have a record of learning lessons from past predictive errors.
Perhaps unsurprising. But the detail of the analysis provides very interesting insight into what kinds of things are predictable.
Mostly good for the overview of fasting (see also this). But also a very btrmt-like look at health ideology, with interesting and less common examples. Always fun to see how close one can skate to the fringes without getting too woo-woo.
Slouching toward Utopia. An adaption from his book that quickly details the 'Neoliberal Turn' and the worrying trends that face us as it slides away from its political hegemony.
this New Deal Order failed its sustainability test in the 1970s. The world made the Neoliberal Turn ... a Neoliberal Order that was hegemonic ... It may no longer be hegemonic in the sense of forcing oppositional movements into dialogue and contention with it on its own terms ... [but] it persists
And his tentative diagnosis---it is not "'cultural leftists', especially high-tech ones, who welcomed de-bureaucratization; Ralph Nader, who welcomed deregulation; Bill Clinton, who was opportunistic; Barack Obama, who was inexperienced and cautious. Those do not seem sufficient causes to me". Perhaps it is instead that:
potential voters are, today: (a) profoundly unhappy with a neoliberal world in which the only rights that people have that are worth anything are their property-ownership rights and they are thus the playthings of economic forces that value and devalue their property; but (b) are anxiously unsatisfied with social democracy that gives equal shares of access to valuable things to those whom they regard as “undeserving”; and (c) while that economic anxiety can be assuaged by rapid and broad-based growth, it is also (d) stoked by those who like the current highly unequal distribution of wealth and thus seek to make politics about the discovery of (external and internal) enemies rather than about equitable prosperity.
Research article: midlife crises are less spectacular and more depressing, now:
This paper documents a longitudinal crisis of midlife among the inhabitants of rich nations. Yet middle-aged citizens in our data sets are close to their peak earnings, have typically experienced little or no illness, reside in some of the safest countries in the world, and live in the most prosperous era in human history.
Evidence take to support Jaques:
in midlife a human being is forced to come to terms, painfully, with the certainty of his or her own eventual mortality.
Interview with the "last man standing in the floppy disk business."
The incredible resources required to build a Greek Temple. Another reminder how complex civilisations have always been. Makes me think of that extract from World War Z, the complexity implied by a root beer recipe:
molasses from the United States
anise from Spain
licorice from France
vanilla (bourbon) from Madagascar
cinnamon from Sri Lanka
cloves from Indonesia
wintergreen from China
pimento berry oil from Jamaica
balsam oil from Peru
A plain language AI model tricked into helping plan a drug raid. Amusing.
Research article: Republicans/Conservatives are not more likely to believe conspiracy theories:
In no instance do we observe systematic evidence of a political asymmetry. Instead, the strength and direction of the relationship between political orientations and conspiricism is dependent on the characteristics of the specific conspiracy beliefs employed by researchers
Knitting took a long time to invent. So, in fact, did everything.
Collaborative writing project about a shared alternate universe where magic (anomolies) are real. Excellent.
Seeing like a state. The start is most thought provoking---the difference between the local legibility needs (this road is Durham Road, because it goes to Durham) and state legibility needs (this road is Route 77 because lots of roads go to Durham). Where once we just went by given names, because everyone knew everyone, we now have at least two so the state can keep track of all the Sarahs and Peters. And so on. These legibility needs have most interesting consequences:
The quest for legibility, when joined to state power, is not merely an “observation.” ... it has the capacity the change the world it observes. The window and door tax established in France ... Peasant dwellings were subsequently designed ... so as to have as few apertures as possible ... the effects on the long term health of the rural population lasted for than a century ... The window and door tax illustrates something else about “state optics”; they achieve their formidable power of resolution by a kind of tunnel vision that brings into sharp focus a single aspect of an otherwise far more complex and unwieldy reality ... making possible a high degree of schematic knowledge, control and manipulation
Finishes with an off-beat example---the development and consequences of monocropped 'production' forests.
Why 'cheap things' don't bring happiness.
Our reluctance to be excited by inexpensive things isn’t a fixed debility of human nature. It’s just a current cultural misfortune. We all naturally used to know the solution as children. The ingredients of the solution are intrinsically familiar. We get hints of what should happen in the art gallery and in front of adverts. We need to rethink our relationship to prices. The price of something is principally determined by what it cost to make, not how much human value is potentially to be derived from it. ... There are two ways to get richer: one is to make more money; and the second is to discover that more of the things we could love are already to hand
Advice for academics. Ten Lessons I wish I had been Taught by Gian-Carlo Rota. Just as useful now as 1996.
Solving Bauman's 'liquid modernity' with commitment.
In a culture addicted to endless choice, vows offer a higher freedom.
Forms of modern life may differ in quite a few respects – but what unites them all is precisely their fragility, temporariness, vulnerability and inclination to constant change. To “be modern” means to modernize – compulsively, obsessively; not so much just “to be,” ... but forever “becoming,”
A vow is a declaration not of independence but of a bond. When we vow, we are giving up our future freedom ... Our liberty is given us so that we in turn can freely dedicate ourselves to something greater.
Taleb on Christianity. Interesting ideas on the moral authority of religion as bound up in the mystery of the thing. There is an adage, 'beauty is truth'. Perhaps things are less true when they are less beautiful and they are less beautiful when we can understand them better.
Effectively, Catholicism lost its moral authority the minute it mixed epistemic and pisteic belief –breaking the link between holy and the profane ... For once religion exits the sacred, it becomes subjected to epistemic beliefs.
All History Is Revisionist History. A useful reminder.
many people are ... offended to learn that at least some of what they were taught early in life as “history” is no longer fully accepted by historians and is instead taught in different ways. Like all humans, families, peoples, and nations—like many historians, too—they want to believe what they learned when young, especially since it long served as an adhesive of their identity.
Kin-based institutions as an inhibitor of economic growth. Once again, a throwback to Parsons and Murdock: community should be secondary to civilisation. One is always left wondering whether the happiness trade-offs are worth it. Effective Altruists certainly seems to think so.
little attention has been paid to the oldest and most fundamental of human institutions: kin-based institutions—the set of social norms governing descent, marriage, clan membership, post-marital residence and family organization ... we establish a robust and economically significant negative association between the tightness and breadth of kin-based institutions—their kinship intensity—and economic development
Ten types of arguments commonly used by advocates of fringe concepts (from Wikipedia editors). Very interesting.
At the present time, Wikipedia does not have an effective means to address superficially polite but tendentious, long-term, fringe advocacy. Some contend that this is a main flaw of Wikipedia; that unlike conventional encyclopedias, fanatics can always get their way if they stay around long enough and make enough edits and reversions. In this sense, Wikipedia's 'commitment to amateurism' does not always work for the best interests of the project.
On the value of religion for liberalism:
Anti-anti-theism helps to protect liberalism from jejune invocations of ‘utilitarianism’ and from an anti-spiritualism that can hardly uphold the dignity of the human person
How To Legally Own Another Person:
A company man is someone who feels that he has something huge to lose if he doesn’t behave as a company man –that is, he has skin in the game
US Congress rebranding UFOs. Probably nothing to worry about.
transmedium threats to United States national security are expanding exponentially
Not just IQ or EQ, but CQ: cultural intelligence determines your success. This is not such a surprise of course. Bourdieu told us long before Henderson. But a good reminder.
Why bother reading the bible?
Thaler speaks about his nudges. He compares his version of libertarian paternalism to giving directions when asked, but of course no one is asking and who is to say his directions are the right ones. He is right that everything is a choice architecture though, so perhaps it doesn't matter so much whether we like it. Also fun critique of old-school econ theory---rational actors posed as unscrupulous 'Econs'.
The U.S. military, designed as it is for offensive expeditionary operations, is ill-prepared for its principal mission of deterrence. Indeed, against nuclear-armed adversaries, several aspects of U.S. warfighting concepts have a high risk of escalation. Further, information and precision strike technologies have progressed to the point where the defense has become ascendant.
A typology of research questions about society:
interdisciplinary teaching and research is also often quite hard. One of the challanges I’ve encountered in practice, is that students as well as professors/researchers are not always able to recognise the many different kind of questions that we can ask about society, its rules, policies, social norms and structures, and other forms of institutions (broadly defined). This then leads to misunderstandings, frustrations, and much time that is lost trying to solve these.
The physics of nothing:
The physicist Edward Witten first discovered the “bubble of nothing” in 1982. While studying a vacuum with one extra dimension curled up into a tiny circle at each point, he found that quantum jitters inevitably jiggled the extra dimension, sometimes shrinking the circle to a point. As the dimension vanished into nothingness, Witten found, it took everything else with it. The instability would spawn a rapidly expanding bubble with no interior, its mirrorlike surface marking the end of space-time itself.
On the North Pond Hermit:
For nearly thirty years, a phantom haunted the woods of Central Maine. Unseen and unknown, he lived in secret, creeping into homes in the dead of night and surviving on what he could steal. To the spooked locals, he became a legend—or maybe a myth. They wondered how he could possibly be real. Until one day last year, the hermit came out of the forest.
Against McAskillian Longtermism:
Whatever is wrong with utilitarians who advocate the murder of a million for a 0.0001 percent reduction in the risk of human extinction, it isn’t a lack of computational power. Morality isn’t made by us—we can’t just decide on the moral truth—but it’s made for us: it rests on our common humanity
There must be something outside of us that can sustain objects when we are not perceiving them, and account for the regularity of our perceptions. But this needn’t be a god in any recognizable sense. It need not be omnibenevolent, omnipotent, or omniscient. There is no reason it must contain desires, intentions, or beliefs, or even be an agent. What’s crucial for ensuring the persistence and stability of the cake closed in my fridge is simply that there be a unified experience that encompasses all aspects of it.
Why are we in Ukraine:
Vladimir Putin and the Russia he rules cannot stop fighting. As long as the United States is involved in arming Russia’s enemies and bankrupting its citizens, they are quite right to believe themselves in a war for their country’s survival. The United States, thus far in a less bloody way, is also involved in a war it chose but cannot exit—in this case, for fear of undermining the international system from which it has drawn its power and prosperity for the past three quarters of a century.
Givers think that conversations unfold as a series of invitations; takers think conversations unfold as a series of declarations. When giver meets giver or taker meets taker, all is well. When giver meets taker, however, giver gives, taker takes, and giver gets resentful (“Why won’t he ask me a single question?”) while taker has a lovely time (“She must really think I’m interesting!”) or gets annoyed (“My job is so boring, why does she keep asking me about it?”).
On multiple chemical sensitivity. An interesting piece I wonder if would be as interesting pre-long-covid:
People within the online MCS community call themselves ‘canaries’, a species historically used as sentinels in coal mines to detect toxic levels of carbon monoxide ... The question for people with MCS is: will anyone listen?
Speaking of long covid, here's a similar piece on that.
the Elizabethans ... They had a passion for virtue and a genius for cruelty. They had wonderful manners and barbaric inclinations, lovely clothes and terrible diseases. They oscillated madly between the abstract and the corporeal. And among his contemporaries, nobody oscillated more madly than John Donne
Is Politics Filling the Void of Religion?
this type of politics involves ideas of morality, of the saved and unsaved—and also that, in a positive way, it offers moments of transcendence and “unselfing.”
because smartphones are considerably more personal and private than PCs, using them activates intimate self-knowledge and increases private self-focus, shifting attention toward individuating personal preferences, feelings, and inner states
Hammacher Schlemmer: the World’s Most Peculiar Company. A mail catalogue company with surprising success still today.
Love, in the ancient Greek world, is not about sacrifice but eudaemonia:
Diotima shows Socrates that love is a kind of joint ascension towards something greater. Love leads us towards good and beautiful things, the highest of which is knowledge. Loving then, according to Diotima, is helping each other to become better people
An argument for why intelligent people are less happy---because intelligence does not measure how good you are at solving the poorly defined problems of life:
Spearman ... did not, as he claimed, observe a “continued tendency to success throughout all variations of both form and subject-matter,” nor has anybody else. It merely looks as if we’ve varied all the forms and the subject-matters because we have the wrong theory about what makes them different ... I think a good name for problems like these is well-defined ... problems
The long history of association between God and unusual smells.
some scholars believe that the English language suffered from the “cultural repression and denigration of smell” during the Enlightenment, as improvements in hygiene and objections to “superstition” transformed the lived environment into one less sensorially confrontational.
God without god:
There must be something outside of us that can sustain objects when we are not perceiving them, and account for the regularity of our perceptions. But this needn’t be a god in any recognizable sense. It need not be omnibenevolent, omnipotent, or omniscient. There is no reason it must contain desires, intentions, or beliefs, or even be an agent. What’s crucial for ensuring the persistence and stability of the cake closed in my fridge is simply that there be a unified experience that encompasses all aspects of it.
The psychology of killing:
once I began to spend time with people who had killed, I learned that killing is often highly contextual and arises from a specific set factors that are present at that time; which may never occur again
Detailed article on the 'origin' of the two-spirit concept in Native American culture. Interestingly, it claims that the concept is largely a product of the white LGBT movement, attempting to lend historical credence to their own way of being. Not particularly surprising, given Native Americans are an incredibly diverse group---assuredly not sharing the same concepts of sexuality. Similarly assuredly some groups had much more fluid sexual dynamics than the rigid masculine/feminine dichotomy, so we probably shouldn't lose sight of that either. I am left to wonder about how legitimate complaints of 'cultural appropriation' apply to the adoption by a group of a modern concept.
An argument that behavioural economics has fallen into a trap of simply creating a taxonomy of biases rather than an applicable model for thinking about human behaviour
There is no theoretical framework to guide the selection of interventions, but rather a potpourri of empirical phenomena to pan through ... The point of decision-making is not to minimize bias. It is to minimize error, of which bias is one component. In some environments, a biased decision-making tool will deliver the lowest error.
The lost “Greek” tribe of Alexander the Great---in Pakistan
Rules for weird ideas---dismissing them out of hand will lead you down a path of stagnation because when they're right, they're often important.
A detailed, multi-part critique of utilitarianism
Research article: People underestimate how enjoyable and engaging just waiting is
Solarpunk, not steampunk
Grasslands rank among the most imperiled and least protected biomes on Earth. They are disappearing even faster than forests, and much of what remains has suffered varying degrees of damage. Their decline threatens a huge chunk of the planet’s biodiversity, the livelihoods of roughly 1 billion people, and countless ecological services such as carbon and water storage. Yet these losses don’t register with the same force as deforestation. Perhaps because we do not notice, or perhaps because we do not care.
How to speak - Patrick Winston's famous lecture.
A short summary of Friston's Baysian Brain theory---the brain is a prediction engine more than it is a reality processor.
Bayesian Brain theory flips this idea around again so that cognition is a cybernetic or autopoietic loop. The brain instead attempts to predict its inputs. The output kind of comes first. The brain anticipates the likely states of its environment to allow it to react with fast, unthinking, habit. The shortcut basal ganglia level of processing. It is only when there is a significant prediction error—some kind of surprise encountered—that the brain has to stop and attend, and spend time forming a more considered response. So output leads the way. The brain maps the world not as it is, but as it is about to unfold. And more importantly, how it is going to unfold in terms of the actions and intentions we are just about to impose on it. Cognition is embodied or enactive…
A Platonic take on the leadership crisis.
Leadership is most vital during a period of transition from one order to another. We are certainly in such a period now — not only from the neoliberal order to something much darker but also to a new era of smart machines — yet so far leadership is lacking. We call for leaders who are equal to the times, but nobody answers.
Kissinger offers two explanations for this troubling silence. The first lies in the evolution of meritocracy ... leaders ... born outside the pale of the aristocratic elite that had hitherto dominated politics, and particularly foreign policy ... In rubbing shoulders with members of the old elite, they absorbed some of its ethic of noblesse oblige (“For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required”) as well as its distaste for populism ...
The world has become much more meritocratic since Kissinger’s six made their careers, not least when it comes to women and ethnic minorities. But the dilution of the aristocratic element in the mix may also have removed some of the grit that produced the pearl of leadership: Schools have given up providing an education in human excellence — the very idea would be triggering! — and ambitious young people speak less of obligation than of self-expression or personal advancement. The bonds of character and duty that once bound leaders to their people are dissolving.
Another update on Herman and Chompsky's filters in the modern age.
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.
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.
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.
An excellent article on the Antikythera machine.
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’
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"
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.
Excellent literature review of the effects of intermittent and periodic fasting.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
I feel like I both know more than I ever knew, and less confident than ever, about surge protection.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
taking steps is easy, standing still is hard
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.