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share link   physics (5)    philosophy (22)   

Consider a DVD of the movie Fight Club. If someone placed it in a DVD player, they'd see that Ed Norton punches Brad Pitt in the face. If they don't put the DVD in the player, it's still true that Ed punches Brad. If all DVD players in the world were destroyed, but we retained the DVDs, it would still be true that in Fight Club, Ed punches Brad. The absence of the players don't invalidate the truth about that movie.

If all the DVDs were destroyed, people would still remember that Ed punches Brad. There would be no proof, and one could say that if we were to go back in time, we would find that indeed it is the case. This thought experiment could go further and further, asking questions like, "What if everyone's memory was erased?" Which begs the question, Is the medium of an event's existence necessary for the event's existence? Can existence be solely predicated on information, or do zeroes and ones have to be etched into a disc?

Likewise, it's possible that we are in a similar movie, a movie that isn't playing anywhere. It doesn't exist in the memory of any being, but it's simply what happens in this particular, abstract, and grand, sequence.

share link   philosophy (22)    gender (7)    politics (13)   

Entelechy, or the principle that the purpose of things inhere in the design of things, leads to a tyranny of the majority. People have to agree to the purpose and the design of something, and therefore the most popular opinion prevails. If one takes a pluralistic view, that everything has multiple purposes and multiple designs, then minority uses of the human body, such as the homosexuality, wouldn't be suppressed.

share link   evolution (39)    society (41)   

The Olympics only makes sense in areas where human universality can be displayed. That the best runners run roughly the same speed is critical to making a compelling game. Physical skills that only 10 people on Earth have would never be tested. Even in a game like basketball, there aren't freakishly tall people who are 10 feet or 20 feet tall. If there was, the sport would be dead or the super-tall players would be forbidden. Superpowers are therefore obscured on behalf of fair fights.

share link   psychology (26)   

The first achievements I had as an adolescent filled me with an incredible rush. Upon learning I had won something, I shot my fists into the air, jumped out of my chair, and felt electricity throughout my body. As I got older, the adrenaline rush faded, but I still sought new achievements. The promise of that rush drove me forward. Chasing the promise became the new pleasure. I never visualized a spike or the pumping of fists in the air anymore, I just went for it.

Likewise, people often don't simulate the pleasure of eating; They just crave. It's like that old Buddhist story about elephant training. When the trainers tie the elephant to a pole, it starts kicking and screaming. But after the elephant settles down and accepts it, the trainers remove the pole, and the elephant stays in one place on its own. Likewise, in moving from adolescence to adulthood, the actual good feeling from our goals fade, and all that is left is the journeys. By that point, we have become trained.

share link   futurism (63)   

People think that what they want from the future is better living through technology, but what they actually want is to be surprised all the time. They don't want flying cars because it's a more efficient and convenient method of getting from A to B. They want it because it's novel. The common folk statistic is that technological changes in the last 10 years have outstripped changes in the previous 90, but the flip side is that changes that would have blown people away 90 years ago elicit a mild shrug now.

share link   evolution (39)    anthropology (5)    society (41)   

The advent of birth-control is balanced by the proliferation of alcohol and other drugs, which prevent people from making rational mating choices. Perhaps "balance" is the wrong word, because these are all just options. Birth-control is an option, and so is the ability to reach for a chemical to suppress rational thinking. The evolution of mankind is the evolution of freedom. From freedom of diet, to the free use of our hands, to the free use of tools, we are driven by the expanding and exploiting of our infinite choice.

share link   economics (12)    society (41)   

If GDP growth is constant and unending, then utopia is imminent. Optimistic futurists imagine that as technology continues to reduce the cost of producing food, clothing, and shelter, then all of mankind will eventually be free to live lives of leisure and creativity. And even though these futurists are not naive to assume a uniform GDP distribution, they assume that even with conservative estimates of trickle-down economics, the widespread end of long-standing human ailments is at hand.

And yet the most visible result of this GDP growth has appeared on the high-end. Now we have bikeable cities, complex prosthetics, lavish vacation packages, and smartphones. And these perks are concentrated among technocrats and their support class, which includes lawyers, accountants, architects, and city planners. So for a certain group of people in certain locales, utopia is already here and GDP growth could simply exist to compound their pleasure ad infinitum.

share link   religion (12)   

Dawkins popularized the notion of memes, which are like genes but for the mind. Different ideas use our brains as hosts to propagate themselves, as can be seen with viral media. Memes combine together into memeplexes, which are like organisms, with smaller memes (such as one for Heaven or one for God) developing a symbiotic relationship (such as a religion). The reason the Bible is such a good memeplex is best understood through a metaphor of a piano. Every verse in the Bible is like a key on the piano, and preachers are like musicians, building chord progressions into songs—i.e. verses into sermons—to justify whatever their message is.

The Bible is simultaneously "what we make of it" and absolute. It's paradoxically strict and flexible, so flexible that it has led to myriad varieties of Christian sects, such as ones that emphasize populism, hard work, "speaking in tongues," and polygamy. It's strictness is then of a higher order. The infallibility is more of a matter of tone. No matter what Christian sect you belong to, the Bible chastens you about the nature of good and evil, and it's that chastening that is eternally useful to spiritual leaders.

share link   technology (28)    futurism (63)   

Technology is progress in the sense that it advances human aims. And yet, progress has a bad reputation because of progress traps. A progress trap occurs when a technological breakthrough that is useful on a small scale becomes catastrophic at a larger scale. For example, advances in fishing technology are a boon to the individual fishermen, but ruinous for the world when they all use it.

But what if the pace of technological change speeds up so much that it solves secondary or tertiary problems before they happen? Perhaps innovations in fishing net design do trigger progress traps, but then a new method for increasing the fecundity of fish arrives a year or two later, or a new system for monitoring and regulating fishing boats is invented.

At this point, the most noticeable breakthroughs in technology will be when patterns and ceilings formerly inherent in technology become broken. One-by-one, all cautionary tales will become moot and history will truly end.

share link   linguistics (1)   

The rapper 2 Chainz sings the following in the chorus of "Birthday Song" (2012): "They a' me what I do and who I do it for." In this context, a' is an abbreviated version of either aks or ask. This pronunciation is not consistent with all rap songs, but it may be in Atlanta where 2 Chainz is from. It's an example of linguistic drift that is currently happening in African-American Vernacular English (AAVE), and because that drift is so easily noticeable, it may indicate that AAVE is drifting quickly.

Do dialects have intention? Some dialects sound "snobby" and some more "down-to-earth." A study on waitresses in Texas indicated that they speak in more rural or "folksy" accents when talking to working-class customers, but switch to a more formalized-sounding, mainstream accent when speaking with white-collar customers. The customers themselves presumably don't change their accents.

If individuals modulate their accents as the situation demands, do groups do so as well? If one group of people consistently has a certain relationship with another group, will their dialect reflect a desire to maintain a certain distance? Is AAVE trying to get away from mainstream English?

share link   philosophy (22)    evolution (39)    gender (7)   

Robert R. Reilly makes the case against gay marriage by citing the principle of entelechy, which states that the purpose of things inhere in the design of those things. One can look at the design of a man and the design of a woman, and see that they are clearly built for procreating together. But can the principle of entelechy address the bigger design question: What is the purpose of procreation?

Procreation produces creatures that are a genetic mix of their parents to attempt new and better ways of surviving in the world. But the attempt to create newer and better ways of surviving doesn't have a purpose. It's not trying to create a more perfect human. Rather, procreation is an end in of itself. It is simply to be. If the ultimate ends are pointless, then in a way, the subordinate ends are too.

share link   evolution (39)    education (2)   

It wasn't until we learned the science of things that we could stop imagining that the sun was a god on a chariot racing across the sky. And yet, even though we know the science of how the eye works and we know the science of evolution, a large portion of the American population still would prefer to see an intelligent designer behind it all. Books have been written speculating on the actual evolutionary steps necessary to get to the eye, but most people haven't internalized it. People don't have a gut feeling that it was all random natural selection.

Simply knowing how things work won't be enough. We have to know how to copy nature to eliminate the mystery. Until we can evolve an eyeball in a laboratory, it will always seem like the eye is too complex to be possibly explained by the random drifting of genes over billions of years.

share link   science (4)   

Carl Sagan or Buckminster Fuller would suggest we adopt the mindset of a child who looks at the world in wonderment. Such a mindset leads us to stare at the night sky and dream about worlds beyond. But what isn't mentioned is that children also have an unusual capacity for boredom. They can be ferried across the Seven Wonders of the World, only to look up occasionally and apathetically from their portable video games. But is there a wisdom in bored inquiry? It's wonderment that drives the quest to zoom the microscope further and further down to figure out what particles truly constitute reality. But it's disillusionment or dispassion that has the capacity to reason that maybe there is nothing magical about existence at all. Wonderment is what drives people to look at the complexity of an organ like the eye and conjure an intelligent designer behind it. But it's a cool skeptic who sees wonderment as yet another human bias to be triumphed and then wonders, "What if it's all just random mutation and natural selection?"

share link   gender (7)   

The argument that men and women are naturally different is often justified by the fact that boys overwhelmingly love toy cars, and that girls prefer dolls. But is it possible that this is the result of trial-and-error by toy makers? "Ah-hah!" the toy maker said to themselves, "I found a toy that boys consistently love." But perhaps boys and girls only share slight differences in their preference for amusements, and it's just that popular gendered toys dominate the marketplace.

The genders are not defined by their mass marketability. Just because there are some signal products that most women want exclusively, such as lipstick, doesn't mean all male-female differences are signal. The differences could just be the loudest signals in the market which have drowned out all other data.

share link   history (22)    innovation (2)    society (41)   

Every generation has liberals, i.e. free-wheeling types who think they can get on without time-tested institutions like work, religion, traditional gender roles, etc. Just because we are moving towards greater liberalization does not mean people are becoming more liberal, but rather than freedom is becoming increasingly safer. An argument often made against atheists is that without God, people won't be able to tell right from wrong? The atheists counter-argue that people still know that murder is wrong, even without someone in a robe telling them so. But perhaps this is only true today. There must have been a tiny minority of atheists a thousand or more years ago who would have said the same things, but their atheist tribes didn't thrive due to violent in-fighting. We are vastly more educated than our ancestors, and so the benefits of freedom from religion are no longer outweighed by the costs.

In the world of economics, it appears we've made progress from a gold-backed currency to fiat, as if somehow we woke up one day and invented the concept. But fiat currencies have been tried throughout history, and it's only now with the right supporting institutions, such as centralized backing and electronic transactions, that it actually makes sense. Fiat isn't so much an enlightened new idea, as it is a retiring of an older structure that is no longer serving it's purpose.

We are proud of our liberal attitudes towards women, as if somehow we cultivated a more egalitarian worldview over time, but it may be simply that the costs of bearing children were too high, or the amount of income per household too low, or the alternatives for women—or anybody for that matter—too few. There must have been some egalitarian households, but they couldn't thrive in those time periods.

Every generation has a vanguard that looks at everything and asks, "Can we do without this?" Can we live without meat? Can we live without work? Can we live without neighbors? And sometimes the answer is yes, in which case that support is then retired from society. And sometimes the answer is no, leading the vanguard to be ridiculed, and enlightenment postponed till some future generation can bear it.

share link   society (41)   

Social disparity breeds creativity. A society that is concerned with class is concerned with tournaments of all types. The starving artist feeds off of the banker in the fresh suit who saunters into the coffee shop. "The dog will have its day," the artist thinks to themselves. And the junior banker feeds off of the branch head who walks into the meetings with a fresh tan and a gold watch. "I too will have my day," the banker thinks. And so on and so forth, until all underdogs are wracking their brains to find the one idea or the one turning of the screw that will turn the tables on everyone else.

share link   happiness (24)    evolution (39)    psychology (26)   

Humans have poor happiness simulators. Studies frequently show how often people are unhappier after having children despite how happy they think they will be. But having weak happiness simulators also works in the other direction: we often do things that make us unintentionally happy. For example, we often underestimate how much simple pleasures, like a bite of ice cream or the smelling roses will improve our happiness.

Happiness is only useful as a motivator, not an outcome. The prospect of happiness is what drives us. Once the happiness is received, then whatever carrot was at the end of that stick is no longer relevant. In a way, then, it's almost that having weak happiness simulators is what makes us human, keeping an incentive always mysteriously looming on the horizon, and thus driving the continuance of living.

share link   society (41)   

The current peak of popularity with zombie genres is likely to last. This has to do, in part, with our search for new enemies in a world that is becoming increasingly peaceful (as spelled out in Steven Pinker's The Better Angels of Our Nature). As violence declines, our fear of homicide transforms into a fear of mind-numbing people. The existence of anybody whose culture is contrary to ours becomes a violence against our humanity. The creepy feeling on the subway is now the dominant day-to-day fear.

Fascination with zombies must also align with an overall concern about mindlessness. It's hard to say whether or not people are more mindless than we were a twenty or forty years ago, but it's safe to say that people are more concerned about the mind-numbing aspects of technology or modern media. Whether it's video games, repetitive electronic music, formulaic pop chart mono-culture, droning rap music, or too many texts and screens, there is a general sense that we are becoming vacuous consumers glued to multimedia devices.

Paradoxically, the interest in zombies could also be due to cultural diversification. As the number of opportunities for individual self-expression increase, and the number of distinct subcultures explodes, everybody else starts to congeal into a single growing mass of unfamiliars, much like on the subway, even though everybody in that Other is as dissimilar to each other as they are to you, making them more likely to view you as a zombie just as much as you might view them.