You’ve been through it, or know someone who has. The two of you can’t choose from among the zillion end tables, or you can’t remember the name of the one you settled on, or you can’t make sense of the cartoon instructions … here’s an explanation of where the disagreements come from, and some tips on how to avoid the biggest dangers.
“Over time I think we will probably see a closer merger of biological intelligence and digital intelligence,” Musk told an audience at the World Government Summit in Dubai, where he also launched Tesla in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). “It’s mostly about the bandwidth, the speed of the connection between your brain and the digital version of yourself, particularly output.”
Is quantum entanglement real, or is Einstein’s skepticism about quantum physics justified? Turns out that Einstein may be right. “The universe might be like a restaurant with 10 menu items, Friedman said. ‘You think you can order any of the 10, but then they tell you, ‘We’re out of chicken,’ and it turns out only five of the things are really on the menu. You still have the freedom to choose from the remaining five, but you were overcounting your degrees of freedom.'”
You can speed up YouTube videos, Audible books (this is especially useful for those ponderous history readers), podcasts and more. And maybe you should. “It’s a clever adaptation. In an age where more and more information arrives as multimedia, we’re reinventing the noble art of skimming.”
Sure, many of them are religious – but so are the medieval Christian ‘philosophers’ we study, including Thomas Aquinas. They believed in the Quran, but also “engaged in detailed disputes over such central philosophical issues as free will, atomism and the sources of moral responsibility, and debated such technicalities as the inherence of properties in substances, or the status of non-existing objects.”
“We tend to think of creativity as something artistic—the quality that produces masterpieces. But it’s actually an important part of just getting everyday stuff done. It’s what allows a programmer to complete her first line of original code, a product manager to identify a new market for an existing product, and an elementary-school teacher to find an entertaining way to teach subtraction. And when it comes to situations as different as these, constraints seem to improve our performance.”
Jay Griffiths lays out how the ideas and propaganda techniques of the early-20th-century movement can be heard and seen in the words and actions of Steve Bannon, Milo Yiannopoulos, Nigel Farage, and Donald Trump. (Her thorough conflation of libertarianism with the alt-right and fascism is less convincing.)
Worrying actually serves a sort of purpose for most people – figuring out how to solve a problem or avoid a danger or deal with the aftermath of a disaster. “That’s not to say that anyone really enjoys the process – just that it can feel like a productive use of time, rather than a waste of it. … What separates the pathological worriers from the rest of the pack isn’t that they see a point to worrying, but that they have better follow-through.” (Oh, great, Mom.)
Confronting this tendency toward the commodification of persons, and counteracting it with effective cultural strategies for ‘re-humanisation’, will pose one of the most important moral challenges of our time.
Cark Erik Fisher: “As a practicing addiction psychiatrist and an assistant professor of clinical psychiatry, I’ve become increasingly skeptical about the very concept … More fundamentally, the common, monolithic definition of willpower distracts us from finer-grained dimensions of self-control and runs the danger of magnifying harmful myths.”
The experience of time, that is. “As we converse with and consider one another, we step in and out of one other’s experience, including the other’s perceptions (or what we imagine to be another’s perception, based on our own experience) of time. Not only does duration bend, we are continuously sharing these small flexions among us like a currency or social glue.” Alan Burdick explains how this works.
“The world is full of mundane, meek, unconscious things materially embodying fiendishly complex pieces of mathematics. How can we make sense of this? I’d like to propose that sea slugs and electrons, and many other modest natural systems, are engaged in what we might call the performance of mathematics. Rather than thinking about maths, they are doing it.”
Basically, the MTM Show was about – and a harbinger of – gentrification.
Financial constraints, educational culture budgets slashed, and people staying away from the money-suck that is London – “the same economic pressures that have uprooted politics around the world are destroying the aspirations we express when we go to galleries. There is nothing more aspirational than visiting a museum or art gallery. It is an expression of hope.”
“In recent years, there’s been evidence that sleep is important not just for remembering relevant stuff, but also for forgetting irrelevant things. Perhaps the mass-downscaling of synapses is part of that ‘smart forgetting.’
While the term “think tank” is modern, it can be traced to the humanist academies and scholarly networks of the 16th and 17th centuries. The Oxford English Dictionary defines think tank as a “body of experts, as a research organization, providing advice and ideas on specific national or commercial problems.”
“Welcome to the strange science of malingering, a fancy word for faking illness in order to gain an advantage of some kind. It’s an area of psychological study that highlights the counterintuitive orderliness of insanity and also reveals that many people have no idea what it’s like to have a genuine mental disorder.”
“Giving a good answer to a ‘Why?’ question is not just a philosophical abstraction. An explanation has cognitive, real-world functions. It promotes learning and discovery, and good explanatory theories are vital to smoothly navigating the environment. In this sense, an explanation is what is known as a speech act, which is an utterance that serves a certain function in communication.”
These days, the term “critical thinking” has been overused to the point where it has almost ceased to mean anything in particular. It has become more of a popular educational catchphrase, so that even the people who use it often don’t know exactly what they mean by it.
“Academic life has become more professionalised. They write for each other, not for the general reader. Academic political philosophy today, for example, has zero influence on the practice of politics.” In the 1980s it was said that Margaret Thatcher was interested in Popper, Friedrich Hayek and Michael Oakeshott. “I doubt now,” says Gray, “whether any politician could name a leading academic philosopher. No one would know who they were.”
“For any company whose business model is advertising, or engagement-based advertising, meaning they care about the amount of time someone spends on the product, they make more money the more time people spend. These services are in competition with where we would want to spend our time, whether that’s our sleep or with our friends. There’s this war going on to get as much attention as possible.”
I can’t generally advise spending years on peyote or full-time isolation in a cave. The most practical examples of manipulating time perception come from the common observation that the more we think about time, the slower it goes. In his treatise The Principles of Psychology, William James wrote, “A day full of excitement, with no pause, is said to pass ’ere we know it.’ On the contrary, a day full of waiting, of unsatisfied desire for change, will seem a small eternity.”
Jessa Crispin: “It is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism. Certainly it’s more fun. Our imaginations are so overpowered and outmaneuvered by the toxic gravity of the global economy that we are happy to amuse ourselves watching the whole world burn instead of doing anything to keep that from happening.”
“First, in the era of popular services like Netflix and Spotify, it ignores that music industry revenues in 2015 saw “the biggest increases in the past two decades,” while the film industry has reported record-breaking earnings—all while piracy is at an all-time low. Second, it ignores the significant promotional benefits creators receive from hosting their work on free, ad-based platforms, and the ample evidence that more restrictive copyright law does not mean less piracy. And third, claiming stronger rules will “reward creativity” is highly dubious in a world where copyright is used to silence critics, prevent sports fans from filming a match, take downa video of a child dancing to Prince, or otherwise censor speech online.”
In a Q&A, physicist Carlo Rovelli explains why he thinks attempts at a unified theory are wrongheaded (at least for now) and why space and time don’t “really exist.”
“In philosophy, since Socrates (a troll before there ever was an internet), the answer has been ‘very bad.’ If you find you believe two inconsistent propositions you need to do something about it. You owe a theory. But theories themselves tend to be confusing, unsatisfactory or both.”
“In any parlance, the specific meaning of ‘normal’ has important consequences, especially if it is given a privileged position in the world. Anything that veers – from having green eyes or hearing voices to living with hydrocephalus – would be abnormal in one sense or another: uncommon, rare, atypical, potentially inadequate, suboptimal or deficient in some way – and in need of being brought back to some norm. Yet, it could be controversial, or just plain odd, to pathologise such variations; especially if they are functional in some way.”
“The virtues of digital turn out to be the vices as well. Having all the music on earth at your instant disposal turns out to be almost the same as having none; Spotify’s playlists show people picking the same tunes over and over. Digital life’s too self-absorbed—either we evolve quickly away from the social primates we have always been or else we will quietly suffer from the solipsism inherent in staring at ourselves reflected in a screen. It’s too jumpy; concentration, from which all that is worthwhile emerges, is the great loss.”
You may not know the term, but you’re familiar with “visual pareidolia” – it’s when you see an animal in a Rorschach blot or the Virgin Mary in a slice of toast. It happens with sounds, too – as when some parents heard in a Fisher-Price doll’s giggles and coos the sentence “Islam is the light.” Philip Jaekl explains how it happens.
Two cognitive researchers explain how people’s conceptions of what’s average or typical and what’s ideal bleed into each other and change what gets considered “normal.”