On abstractions and gods

December 29, 2022


New Articles

Abstractions as Gods

We can use abstractions to get a handle on complex features of the world. By personalising centres of purpose in the world, we can better connect them to ideologies. This permits the crafting of ever more graceful solutions to our complex world.

Obscuring Banalities

We often use complicated-sounding words to dress up simple ideas about the human experience. But this isn’t just self-indulgence. It’s also a desire to conform to the right ‘ways’ of knowing as well as a desire for something to point at—an enemy, so to speak.

Updated Articles

How we choose our psychic predators

Henry Farrell describes Donald Trump as a psychic predator. It’s an interesting concept that demonstrated (to me at least) how we choose certain kinds of pain for ourselves.

New Marginalia:

Links and my notes on interesting content from around the web:

“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).


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.


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.


Who after Xi? And indeed, what?


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.


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.

Attribution: Matt Levine Link

Academics as conservatives by default, no matter their ideologies.


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


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.


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.


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 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?


“People instinctively tend toward solutions that consist of adding something rather than subtracting something, even if the subtraction would be superior”.


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.”


Pop-ideas to think about when considering improving science.


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.


How nuns got squeezed out of the communion wafer business.


Royal Netherlands Army commences armed robot trials in first among Western militaries.


The best overview of Judith Butler I’ve ever come across.


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.


Very illuminating interview with Kamil Galeev on the Russian mindset.


Is astrology ‘space racism’? Always good to trouble ourselves with these kinds of things.


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


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.


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.


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.


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 book. It’s fascinating. The part about ariwi is not long, but it stuck with me.

Attribution: William L. Merrill, Rarámuri Souls Link


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That’s all from me! Enjoy.

Warm regards,

Dorian | btrmt.