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20170730 From bacteria to Bach and back

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The main idea of this book is to provide summary of philosophical position based on Darwinian approach, but at the same time seriously discussing Cartesian ideas, which put consciousness outside of material world. Probably the most important here is an attempt to trace development of ideas from Theistic Intelligent Design through Darwinist development both biological and cultural and all the way to humanistic Intelligent Design. One of the most important ideas here is the idea of us humans being only an intermediate step in development of more and more comprehensive intelligence and that future contains some complex and unknown development that would lead to such superior intelligence either in form of human – AI symbiotic coexistence or some other form that we cannot even comprehend, but still based on codependency and coevolution of humans and technological environment they create. To put it in other and very brief form: coevolution of genes and memes.


Part I


1.Introduction: Welcome to the jungle; Bird’s-eye view of the journey; The Cartesian wound; Cartesian gravity;

This is an introduction to the book and brief description of how author wants to cover the development of live and human mind. Here are milestones:

1.Darwin’s strange inversion of reasoning

2.Reasons without reasoners

3.Competence without comprehension

4.Turing’s strange inversion of reasoning

5.Information as design worth stealing

6.Darwinism about Darwinism

7.Feral neurons

8.Words striving to reproduce

9.The evolution of the evolution of culture

  1. Hume’s strange inversion of reasoning

11.Consciousness as a user-illusion

  1. The age of post-intelligent design

This follows by discussion of application of Cartesian philosophy and demonstration of dependency of perception on the internal state of perceiver.

2.Before Bacteria and Bach: Why Bach? How investigating the prebiotic world is like playing chess

It starts with reasoning why Bach is a good example of the summit of human intelligence development then somehow meander between feminism, political correctness and usefulness of memes. This follows by discussion of prebiotic world, its non-evolutionary character and a bit of teleology with stress on “Panglossian paradigm”. The most important point is that we still have no clear picture of origin of live that actually started evolution.

3.On the Origin of Reasons: The death or rebirth of teleology? Different senses of “why”; The evolution of “why”: from how come to what for; Go forth and multiply;

This starts with the reasoning of why live exists and develops, going back to Aristotle with his idea of purpose for everything, eventually overthought by Darwin’s rejection of purposes and meaningful ends. It follows by discussion of deep meaning of asking “why”. Eventually author points to two districting meanings” “how come” and “what for”, the first one pretty much reasoning for specific results of interactions between time and objects, while the second one assumes some purposeful intentionality. Actually author stresses not just difference between these meanings, but evolutionary character of their relation: “what for” is product of evolution of “how come”. From here author goes into discussion of evolution as algorithm with details of meaning of algorithms and how they work using non-live processes like development of stone circles.

4.Two Strange Inversions of Reasoning: How Darwin and Turing broke a spell; Ontology and the manifest image; Automating the elevator; The intelligent designers of Oak Ridge and GOFAI;

The inversion here is kind of change of paradigm of understanding of the world. Darwin moved it away from believe that every complex system, including humans, had to be consciously put together by some creator to the notion that complex systems are developed via evolutionary mechanism. Correspondingly Turing come up with idea that computer could solve computational problem without having any consciousness whatsoever by just following some algorithm. From here author moves into the brief discussion of ontology and then to automation of elevator as example of substitution of complex set of rules for smart humans by relatively simple algorithms for ignorant machines. The final part is discussion of actually existing intelligent design, which is done by humans designing everything by using GOFAI (Good Old Fashioned AI)

5.The Evolution of Understanding: Animals designed to deal with affordances; Higher animals as intentional systems: the emergence of comprehension; Comprehension comes in degrees

This is discussion of how different creatures deal with environment and survival. The first author looks in parallel at animals and computer’s development. It is complicated with animals because of the long process of evolutionary development when lots of intermediate steps occurred to fit to environment that we really not familiar with, which makes reverse engineering of animal all but impossible. As example of much more simple development of computer code demonstrates that even in this case when everything is recent and transparent, it still practically impossible to untangle some piece of “spaghetti code”. After that author moves to the problem of comprehension and how it comes into existence.

Part II


6.What is Information? Welcome to the Information Age; How can we characterize semantic information? Trade secrets, patents, copyright, and Bird’s influence on bebop

This is discussion about nature of information starting with Shannon definition that was agnostic of content and then following into semantic information that is content only, eventually ending with a bunch of examples such as patents, secrets, and such.

7.Darwinian Spaces: An Interlude: A new tool for thinking about evolution; Cultural evolution: inverting a Darwinian Space

Here author first looks at spatial representation of Darwinian evolution:

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He then reviews a couple of applications such as Darwinian space for bottleneck development and Darwinian space for origin of live. How core idea is to present inverted Darwinian space that linked two generally contradictory approaches to understanding the world: Darwinian and Intelligent Design:

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This link per author is used not just to demonstrate connection, but rather represents progress of human existence going from random evolutionary (Darwinian) development to Human controlled and conducted Intelligent design of human existence.

8.Brains Made of Brains: Top-down computers and bottom-up brains; Competition and coalition in the brain; Neurons, mules, and termites; How do brains pick up affordances? Feral neurons?

This is discussion of nature of human brain vs. computers with probably the most important statement that author understand analog nature of human brain and its profound difference from digital nature of computers.

9.The Role of Words in Cultural Evolution: The evolution of words

Looking more closely at words; How do words reproduce?

Here author moves to nature and use of words as key part of cultural evolution. He provides a nice tree of language evolution demonstrating that the development and evolution of languages is not that different from the similar process for species:

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10.The Meme’s-Eye Point of View: Words and other memes; What’s good about memes?

This is quite detailed discussion of memes and ideas of memetic evolution occurring similarly to genetic evolution. Here author goes back to one of the core ideas of this book that competence and comprehension are two separated notions and it is not just conceivable, but actually typical development for development to be independent in both areas.

11.What’s Wrong with Memes? Objections and Replies: Memes don’t exist! Memes are described as “discrete” and “faithfully transmitted,” but much in cultural change is neither Memes, unlike genes, don’t have competing alleles at a locus; Memes add nothing to what we already know about culture; The would-be science of memetics is not predictive; Memes can’t explain cultural features, while traditional social sciences can; Cultural evolution is Lamarckian

This is look at critics of memetic ideas starting with non-existence of memes, then following with their easy changeability that makes them radically different from genes, and finally ending with doubt in memes usability as explanatory tool for cultural evolution and lack of explanatory power.

  1. The Origins of Language: The chicken-egg problem; Winding paths to human language

This is about complexity of figuring out origin of language. The first author discusses usability of language: Communicative utility, Productivity, Digitablity or in other words – ability to correct to the norm, Displaced Reference, and Ease of acquisition. Finally author discusses here path from pre-linguistic utterances to fully blown and comprehensive human language.

13.The Evolution of Cultural Evolution: Darwinian beginnings; The free-floating rationales of human communication; Using our tools to think; The age of intelligent design; Pinker, Wilde, Edison, and Frankenstein; Bach as a landmark of intelligent design; The evolution of the selective environment for human culture

The final chapter of this part is going into the nature of Cultural evolution, how it started with Darwinian approach postulating improvement in evolutionary fitness via development of more and more sophisticated communications, eventually moving humanity from left bottom point of Inverted Darwinian space where everything happens randomly to upper right side of our space where everything happens intelligently and were Bach resides.


Part III


14.Consciousness as an Evolved User-Illusion: Keeping an open mind about minds; How do human brains achieve “global” comprehension using “local” competences? How did our manifest image become manifest to us? Why do we experience things the way we do? Hume’s strange inversion of reasoning; A red stripe as an intentional object; What is Cartesian gravity and why does it persist?

This chapter is about consciousness, work of human mind, and its similarity and/or uniqueness comparatively to minds of other animals. The main point here is that we are conscious about ourselves because we talk about it all the time, which no other animal does. The second point is that conscious seems to develop necessarily from communication needs. It is not possible communicate and cooperate effectively without conscious separation of self from others and from environment. Actually other organisms also have some rudimentary notion of self, but none other develops and uses it so extensively. Finally author discusses phenomenon of free will and our limited access to reasons for our own thinking and acting.

15.The Age of Post-Intelligent Design: What are the limits of our comprehension? “Look Ma, no hands!” The structure of an intelligent agent; What will happen to us? Home at last

This is a look at language and human ability to pose questions, find answers, and consequently comprehend reality. It is a bit of polemic with Chomsky’s argument from Cognitive Closure and conclusion that so far no limits were found or even postulated believably. This follows by discussion on technological enhancement of our abilities to comprehend existing material world and/or theoretical speculative construction of the world of ideas. Obviously it is a good place to discuss AI and all these potential consequences of its development. At the end author is trying to look in the future that author thankfully understand is not really possible concluding with very wise statement: “Evolution is smarter than you”.


Being a very simple man I do not see a lot of complexity in all these ideas. It is obvious for me that Darwinian algorithm of Intergenerational transmission of information either in form of Genes or Memes with modification and consequent filtering by environment is probably the most general natural process of diminishing entropy and proving inapplicability of the second law of thermodynamics to complex systems. As far as current implementations of AI and dramatic changes in humanity both biologically and culturally, I do not think that humans would ever move to creation of superior Intelligence that would substitute them. I believe that humans will try to play with it, but will be deeply disappointed because they will find out that to get consciousness one need to provide experience and, while it is possible, all that one would get will be another human even if it will be based not on proteins, but rather on silicon. More important is that not everything that can be done, will be done and while it is quite possible that AI pretty soon would sing Annie Oakley song to humans: “Everything you can do I can do better” one thing that humans do will never be transferred to machines: deciding what to do, what goals to set, and what objectives to achieve in pursuit of human happiness – one and only one objective that makes at least some sense.

20170723 – The Confidence Game

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The main idea of this book is to review the confidence games (cons in commonly used abbreviation), their methods, and psychological foundation discovered in recent years via extensive scientific research using contemporary experimental technics and machinery. It is illustrated by a multitude of real live examples.



The introduction starts with description of adventures of some aristocrats of crime such as Joseph Cyr who successfully pretended to be a surgeon and actually did surgeries without any education and experience whatsoever. This is a good example of confidence man with no trace of self-doubt whatsoever. This follows by other examples of elegant, self-assured, and convincing con men that succeeded in the art of swindling people. This book is a psychological analysis of how it is done.


The grafter and the mark are probably two the most important parts of any con. The main characteristics are: the personality of the con man and his ability to correctly identify the mark (the person who could be conned effectively). The analysis starts with look at the very effective con man Frank Demara who serves as one of the most prominent examples in this book. The key features discussed are pretty much features of psychopath: low sympathy to people and high levels of empathy in terms of understanding other people. Two features stand out as necessary for success: Narcissism and Machiavellianism, which author discusses in detail. Obviously not all people endowed with these features become con men, but combination of predisposition and opportunity could lead to a grafter to be born. Author also discusses deception and lies everywhere including animals and then how it could be recognized via catching micro expression, specific language, and its use not only in direct, but also in written communications. As to the victim of con the most typical victims are honest people who used to and expect honesty from others, but much more important – people in urgent need of something that con artist promise to provide be it material or psychological. One example provided is a rich mother paying millions to psychic who promised transfer soul of her dead son into another boy’s body. However there is no one size fits all approach in this game. Different people are prone to different cons. Another group quite often becoming victims are conmen themselves, when they are trying to con somebody, consequently opening gates for successful counter con.

Chapter 2 THE PUT-UP

The put-up is about choice of victim. It is often based on intuitive judgment of people that everybody does instantly, but con artists are especially proficient in doing. Author discusses works of psychologist Nicolas Epley who extensively explored process of intuitive judgment. Then author moves from personal evaluation to discussion of psychology of phishing attacks and their victims. An important point here is that repetition generate familiarity, which nearly automatically converts into trust. Another point here is that successful put up includes emotional, time, or situational pressure. Finally author discusses self-selection of victims and even their persistence in believing, even if actual deceiver issues disclaimers.

Chapter 3 THE PLAY

The chapter on the play starts with the story of Australian girl who successfully pretended to be a victim of human trafficking, in process obtaining help and publicity. This brings us to review of work of Robert Zajonc who studied human emotions for decades. One of the most important findings: emotions come first, thinking – second. So the main task of con artist is to generate positive emotions in the mark even before any thinking process would occur. As usual an important part is the story. Author refers to work of Jerome Bruner who identifies two ways to frame experience: propositional and narrative. The former is based on thinking and is dry and difficult demanding logical processing that does not comes naturally, while the second produces the story, which could be easily incorporated into mark’s mind and would generate emotions helpful for con artist. Author provides a number of supporting stories and specifically discusses technic of “wishful identification” when mark tricked into believe that somebody is very successful so he identifies to the point of trusting with money and other resources. This works especially well with investors. Overall the play on emotions by using the stories, especially such emotions that are considered rewarding, but bad like lust, greed, and such helps con artist subdue any skepticism of the mark and succeed.

Chapter 4 THE ROPE

This starts with the story of political campaign when candidate was convinced by swindlers to run and invest only to see his bank account disappear. Author uses this example to define the rope: alpha and omega of confidence game where alpha is increasing appeal of something and omega is decreased resistance surrounding something. This leads to discussion of process of persuasion work of Robert Cialdini. One of the most interesting points is that somebody who agreed provides a small favor will be more likely to provide a bigger one – kind of increasing the stakes. This opens opportunity for roping technic: one person – roper asks for a small favor, and then the second player comes in with the real request. It is also called “foot in the door” approach. Author discusses various technics of roping such as “confuse and reframe” like with pennies turned into dollars, scarcity of access as in Madoff case, promising more and more starting with a small one, and others.

Chapter 5 THE TALE

This is about another tool in con artist toolbox – create a compelling tale of events that lead mark to believe that his actions would lead to achieving self-affirmation and self-actualization. As example author reviews a story of physics professor who was used for drug trafficking by a woman who successfully played his arrogance and sense of exclusivity and superiority. It is called Lake Wobegon effect when everybody considers himself or herself better then average. Author also touches here on another phenomenon when people fail to recognize their prejudices believing that they are above it.


This is about somewhat opposite technic when con artist instead of using inflated self-confidence of mark, inflates his own value overstating abilities, history, and what not, eventually becoming an idol for his marks. This works especially well with investors, art collectors, and other rich people who are looking for somebody with superior skills to entrust their wealth for enlargement. Author provides such examples with con investor overstating return and arts connoisseur who provided her patron with false art.


This chapter is about the con coming to the end when victim begins developing doubt that everything is fine, mainly due to accumulated evidence that it is not. Here author discusses cognitive dissonance between expectation and reality that victim begins to experience and how con artist uses it to delay discovery of the con. For illustration author uses a story with failed investment when con artists managed to continue con even when victim already understood its nature, but still was unwilling to believe. As usual author refer to psychological research and some well known historical events such as Mesmer and commission on mesmerism.


This starts with the story of mass sale of fake paintings and then continues to another story about engineering negligence that led to Teton Dam failure. Both cases illustrate one of the most important tools in the arsenal of con artists: human difficulty with accepting loss, also known as the problem of sunk costs. In other words the more value invested already into something, the less critical people tend to be to this something makes them to invest more and more, even when it become clear that this is a loser.


This starts with another worldwide schema: Francis Drake inheritance, which is used to illustrate a very important for many con enterprises feature: social connectivity and conformism to the groupthink. Author discusses results of research in this area and various strategies of interaction with optimum being tit for tat. From here author moves to multistep games modeling long-term interaction and importance of reputation. For con artist the reputation could be the best tool possible because it opens people to change their game strategy from cautious and reliable to trusting and vulnerable. If the con artist painstakingly built stellar reputation for honesty, the value of possible scam grows in geometrical proportion to reputation. Another important side effect is that in many cases victim’s reputation is so important that the victim decides to keep the fact of being swindled in the secret, ironically providing support to the con artist. Author also discusses value of personification either it is for the purposes of extracting more charitable donations that would go to cute poor child, but not to invisible statistical child or supporting con artist’s claims by his trustfully appearing confederate who provides assurance of schema’s previous success.


The final chapter is about religious cons one of the most effective, popular, and ancient methods of separating people with their resources. At the end author states that after all con artists are actually a necessity of live because they often give ideological meaning to it, especially in situations of some cult and its followers when “one man’s con artist is another man’s spiritual leader”. Author even stated her believe that it is not only oldest profession, but it is the superior profession to all other that it still will be around when all others known professions had faded away.


From my point of view it is a nice review of technics used in con games, which provides for better understanding of human behavior in many other areas besides swindling. Especially interesting would be a review of application of these technics in politics either written large like presidential election or small bureaucratic politics of cheating other people into supporting one’s bureaucratic career. I think that it would also be interesting to apply analysis of con artist’s methodology to giant con jobs of contemporary world such as socialism, global cooling/warming, environmentalist, racialist, and feminist movements. The huge scale of these con jobs moved hundreds of million people, transferred resources from their producers to ideologues many of which where nothing more than con artists, and actually caused tremendous amounts of pain, suffering, loss of live, and waste of resources. I think that extensive education in methods of con artist should be one of the most important part of school curriculum, teaching young generation to recognized when they are a subject to con artist’s attack, either it is with objective to sell Ponzi schema investment or obtain their support for some socialist political measure.


20170716 Complacent Class 

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The main idea of this book is that America is currently in process of losing its economic dynamism, risk taking, mobility, and other features that made it an exceptional and the most prosperous country in the world. Author supports this idea with statistics about mobility, risk taking, decrease in innovation, and increase in segregation of Americans into smaller grouts of matching individuals who do not care and even are somewhat hostile to other groups. All these developments are taken together created environment of complacency and decay that bound to decrease quality of live, slow down or even stop improvement in all areas of live, and eventually could potentially lead to complete destruction of society or at least to dramatic internal conflict.


  1. The Complacent Class and Its Dangers

This chapter is about current structure of American society that seems to be stabilized and is supported by overall complacency of majority. The breakdown looks like this:

  1. Privileged class in America: well educated, influential, and high earning people fully satisfied with existing arrangements
  2. Those who dig in Middle class and are more or less satisfied, but not really that confident their wellbeing is assured.
  3. Those who stuck in the low quality of life and see no way out.

However the most attention author directs at people who are mostly complacent with current situation discussing roots and results of this compliance, which are presented by attitudes of NIMBY and similar acronyms starting with Not In My… Author sees sources of this in the new culture of matching when people find match for everything and do not care about externalities, preferring to have safety and calm.

  1. Why Have Americans Stop Moving, or Is Your Hometown Really So Special?

Starting with this chapter author looks it signs of compliance as it shows itself in statistics. Here it is about Americans significantly decreasing their residential mobility. This had important economic consequences because highly mobile workforce supports optimization of geographical resource allocation consequently increasing overall economic output. Some very important reasons for those developments are practically closed areas where cost of living artificially made so high that they become inaccessible for individuals with regular income.

  1. The Reemergence of Segregation

Similar processes led to reemergence of segregation this time not that much by race enforced by laws as by education and culture enforced by cost of living with race still important, but mainly a secondary factor.

  1. Why Americans Stopped Creating

This is about decrease in innovation, which author believes underperformed since early 1970s. Author discusses the reason in some details, but overall feeling is that it is result of monopolization of economy and dramatic increase in regulations that put everything new at disadvantage. Another source of negative impact of increased statism of American society on innovation is concentration of resources on some grandiose projects such as democratization of Iraq or Obamacare. Even dramatic improvement of information technology related to Internet does not compensate enough for lost dynamics of American Innovation.

  1. The Respite of the Well-0rdered Match: Love, Music, and Even Your Dog

This is about impact of contemporary information technology that allows everybody to get whatever his heart desires, whether it is specific type of music, art, books, games, dating or anything else. The point is that such massive matching makes live both more satisfactory because it is possible to find perfect match to one’s needs and wants, but also more difficult because of constantly growing multitude of offers. This matching extends also into productive areas of live like jobs, business interactions, and so on. The second part of the chapter is about winners and losers of the multitude of matching processes. Winners are matchers – individuals who are looking to find a good match and succeed, while losers are strivers – people who are looking to win rather than to match and wind up suffering from underachieving because the playing field is not a limited locality where one can be winner among limited number of players, but the whole world where number of players is in billions.

  1. Why Americans Stopped Rioting and Legalized Marijuana

This chapter goes back to 1960-70s when baby boomers were rioting. Author poses question why this rioting spirit disappear and was substituted by relative calm. The reason he provides is bureaucratization of society, obsession with safety, and much more sophisticated and scientific policing that suppresses rioting in the bud.

  1. How a Dynamic Society Looks and Feels

Here author bring in example of China as contemporary dynamic society and lists a number of Chinese entrepreneurs who achieved huge wealth starting at such levels of poverty that Americans would have a hard time to imagine. Americans on other hand have it too good so they often forfeit struggle and just live their nice comfortable lives, which they do not want to put at risk even for potential of big gains. One final reason of American compliance is casualization of everything so it is not that much psychologically beneficial to acquire expensive staff and show off when richest people in the world have casual closes eat in casual places and despise show off the wealth.

  1. Political Stagnation, the Dwindling of True Democracy and Alexis de Tocqueville as Prophet of Our Time

The chapter on political stagnation points to small range between American left and right. It seems that both sides generally support big bureaucratic welfare state with limited market economy and nobody really trying to blow society apart and rebuild it on completely new principles like communists of yesterday. Author goes back to Alexis de Tocqueville and his ideas that static society and democracy not really compatible because different states would achieve stasis in different conditions and would become incompatible so the country would fall apart. It kind of happened with Civil War when instead of peaceful separation, one part of the country suppressed another one.

  1. The Return of Chaos, and Why the Complacent Class Cannot Hold

The main point of this chapter is that current situation cannot continue for much longer. Author lists a number of signs of growing unwillingness of American to remain complacent: Renewed racial riots in some cities, failure of establishment of both parties to stop Trump, instability on campus, and growing crime rates. Even more important is dysfunction of government and its failures in both international and domestic affairs. Author stresses idea of the Black Swan and its implication for regular Americans: the change could be sudden, tremendous, and with unpredictable results. Theoretically author moves to express preference for cyclical idea of history over progress idea, meaning that instead of continuing growth and improvement of quality of live we may be on the brink of disaster comparable to previous massive societal disasters from the fall of Roman Empire to the fall of Soviet Union.



I think this is a very good analysis of the current conditions of American society and ongoing bitter political strife of left’s resistance against American democracy. This struggle provides lots of factual support to ideas presented in this analysis. I also think we are on the brink of serious upheaval, but I do not think it is the consequence of complacency, decrease in mobility, or separation of Americans into subgroups of matching individuals. I think it is a natural process of obsolesce of current method of production caused in main by increase of productivity to the level when human labor become increasingly redundant, leaving more and more people without meaning in live and limiting their ability to achieve objectives planted in their minds by currently prevalent model of socialization. I am sure that this model will be changed over the next 30 to 50 years, but I afraid this change would be quite painful.

20170709 – How Emotions are Made

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The main idea of this book is to dismantle traditional view of emotions as something hardwired by evolution in our brain and substitute it with the new paradigm of continuing concept acquisition, prediction of the future, and dynamic construction of emotions resulting in actions that increase probability of successful survival and procreation. For humans and other group dependent animals these concepts of constructed emotions and appropriate actions are supplemented by the notion of somewhat artificial socially created environment where emotions and actions occur.


Introduction: The Two-Thousand- Year-Old Assumption

The assumption is about emotions that they are instinctive, natural, and just barely controllable by higher parts of the brain. Author claims that scientific research demonstrates that it is just not true and she proposes the new theory of constructed emotions that claims emotions being just a typical part of human repertoire of behavior that is developing culturally as a part of individual’s maturation and socialization. It is not only emotions, but overall human personality is a construct based partially on genetic endowment and partially on accumulated experiences of interaction with environment and other people.

  1. The Search for Emotion’s “Fingerprints”

This chapter discusses idea of emotions being genetically predefined method of human reactions to environment common for all. The research however does not support this idea, which circumstance directed author to the finding that emotions are different depending on cultural environment and in actuality are formed during development and socialization. Moreover usual idea allocating emotions to specific part of human brain-amygdala failed to obtain of experimental confirmation. On the contrary, the finding demonstrated that emotions as well as practically all other activities involve multiple parts of brain’s neural networks. The brain analysis using its division into cubic areas (voxels) and statistical analysis of higher level of activation for each voxel found “no brain region contained the fingerprint of any specific emotion”. Author believes that this finding falsifies the idea of emotions as specific inborn functionality of a part of the brain.

  1. Emotions Are Constructed

This chapter starts with demonstration of partial picture unrecognizable from outset, but easily recognized as a bee after individual sees complete picture at least once. This indicates that mental representation of the picture is not direct proportional replica of visual perception, but rather mental construct based on available, even if often incomplete, information combined with preexisting patterns of activation of the neural networks. Author describes “gross food” experiment when individual provided with good, tasty food presented as something disgusting. In this case even if smell, visuals, and taste tells that it is a good piece of food, people still have difficulty because of the presentation. Author uses this experiment as another demonstration of construction of emotion in this case disgust for perfectly good food due to presentation. Another example is the projection of internal well being on external objects. Author recalls her negative attitude to a date that she later understood was not caused by the date, but rather by the condition of her body inflicted by cold. Author uses kitchen metaphor where emotions are cookies prepared in the kitchen (brain) from ingredients already present in it in form of previously developed neural networks and their susceptibility to activation.

  1. The Myth of Universal Emotions

This chapter is about emotions being construct of human experience rather than universal hardwired characteristics of humanity. It starts with analysis of recognition of pictures representing emotions by people from different cultures, demonstrating that previously commonly believed results showing universal recognition is actually incorrect, coming from purely designed research. It discusses specific studies with African tribes demonstrating that facial representation of emotions is culturally dependent.

  1. The Origin of Feeling

This is the first of four chapters going into details of author’s theory of constructed emotion. It starts with discussion of brain’s functionality and structure of its 86 billion neutrons. Somewhat unusually author looks at the brain as not that much a reaction and control tool, but rather as future prediction tool, which constantly builds short, medium, and long term predictions based on previous experience and perceived data flow from human electromagnetic, acoustic, and other censors. Here is a nice presentation of this process:

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Author specifically discusses brain’s predictions as powerful method in body resource allocation. It constantly regulates energy flow inside the body, data from environment, and produces decisions what body should do next. To simplify author divides brain functions into body-budgeting and primary interoceptive, meaning sensations within the body. Each time action is defined the brain develops prediction of future perception both from environment and from the body and regulates the body system to act as required. The actual perception is used to produce the next prediction and so on. The experience defines affective niche and author provides a nice graph to demonstrate what it means:

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Human are constantly make decisions depending on gut feeling, which is actually just an internal representation of affective condition. Consequently we live within a bubble of affective realism created by combination of our internal condition and environment signals and our experience based reading of these signals at any given moment. A very important point here is that all this information is processed by the brain so we really do not have access to raw information and actually feel what our brain believes. This idea is defined as affective realism. One interesting inference is that what we hear and see is highly dependent on our internal condition.

The final note here is that typical presentation of human brain as layered organ with lower layers developed by evolution earlier then upper layers and kind of compete between them for control is incorrect. Here is graphic presentation of this typical, but wrong idea:

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Author claims that in reality all decisions and actions based on interoception and affect, so rational thinking is just an illusion. Our environment as we perceive it does not really exists, it is what our brain build based on experience and current signals.

  1. Concepts, Goals, and Words

This chapter is about relation between objective reality and its presentation in human mind and communications between humans. It starts with the nice example of rainbow, which is objectively just a range of electromagnetic frequencies, which different parts got names of colors. Interestingly enough it is culturally dependent so there are 7 colors in Russian, but only 6 in English. This follows by the discussion about conceptualization, objects, and goals. Here is representation of these notions:

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After that author applies these notions to emotions and discusses how they are developed and how they constantly impact body functions and our behavior.

  1. How the Brain Makes Emotions

This chapter is about how brain uses concepts to build emotions. It starts with discussion of infant’s brain developing ability to predict via trial and error process that is based on training neurons and developing neural networks that respond to combination of internal and external signals. The general idea is that formation of concepts is similar to coding and compressing visual information, while prediction is similar to unpacking and application of this information. Here is visual representation:

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  1. Emotions as Social Reality

This starts with discussion of idea that even simple signals such as sound of falling tree or colors of a flower are really construction of the brain build on incomplete bits and pieces of information. Similarly emotional reaction is a construct that used by the brain to define what emotion needs to be activated and then produces corresponding activities in the body. Then author expands this to wider notion of social reality that only tangibly connected with objective reality. Author provides a very charming example when Andy Warhol’s painting named $200 and picturing exactly that was sold for $300,000. Finally author discusses language and words as communication tools used to exchange concepts in order to cooperate or just interact.

  1. A New View of Human Nature

This is about the inferences that follow from the new theory of constructed emotions: humans are much more in control of their experiences than usually thought because they are not passive recipients of external information that automatically activate emotions, but rather active interpreters of incongruent data flow, active constructors of emotion, and implementers of action that they believe would lead to achievement of more or less identified objectives. How exactly this construction occurs, depends on complex interplay of individual genetic endowment, cultural environment, and previous experiences of individual. Another point is that construction theory decisively shifts responsibility for action to acting individual because it defines brain as predictive rather than reactive tool, making it clear that action follows conscious or subconscious decision to act. This chapter also includes critic of essentialism, which obviously is not compatible with emotional construction theory, including Broca’s ideas of brain area specific emotional configuration. The final part of the chapter is about history of research and prevalence of ideas of construction in 1930 that nevertheless was pushed out by essentialism.

  1. Mastering Your Emotions

This is about a strong link between brain and the whole body and multitude of feedback loops between these entities. The key for success in live here is to maintain balanced body budget and develop a rich set of concepts. It follows by discussion of emotional granularity and also by a bit of practical advice how to improve ones emotional intelligence.

  1. Emotion and Illness

This is about connections between emotions and body conditions including illness. The main point here is that brain constantly tries to predict needs of body and direct different processes inside the body to meet these needs. This process is especially important for immune system. It works differently for each individual consequently making usual medical approach driven by symptoms outdated because the same symptoms could be produced by different causes in different people and successful treatment should concentrate of fixing causes. Even pain is not purely biomechanical process, but rather brain construct that needed to conduct actions of organism and author discusses research on how exactly it works. There is also discussion of purely psychological conditions such as depression and anxiety.

  1. Emotion and the Law

This is discussion on responsibility for actions when essentialist claims that action under influence of inherited emotion should not be punishable if individual acted under overwhelming emotional pressure. The emotional construction theory states that individual’s brain construct emotion and predicts results of actions in all circumstances consequently making individual responsible. Author also discusses unordinary value assigned to criminal’s remorse that is mainly unjustified. A very important point here is that emotions and their expression is not objective factors, but rather depend on culture and perception.

  1. Is a Growling Dog Angry?

This is discussion of emotions in animals and review of relevant experiments. The overall inference is that animals could not develop human concepts, but humans project their own notion of emotions on animal behavior. In reality animals just produce behavior to control bodily budget and necessary for survival based on 4 F: Fighting, Fleeing, Feeding, and Fucking.

  1. From Brain to Mind: The New Frontier

The final chapter is a bit philosophical, discussing brain – mind connection. The new brain imagining technology opened a window in its internal working and it pretty much made obsolete traditional ideas about dichotomy between animal body and spiritual mind. The experimental approach demonstrated unitary character of body-mind functionality with brain being an analog dynamically changing universe of neural networks that constantly develops concepts, construct emotions, and overall manage body’s actions necessary to survive and reproduce. There are no essences emotional or otherwise that are hardwired in the brain, rather the brain constantly construct emotions and behavior necessary to maintain body budget and produce actions necessary to survive based on predictions build on the bases of concepts and experiences many of which for humans come from social reality rather than from purely objective environment.


For me this book is a very welcome set of theoretical and experimental research generally supporting my believe that human brain is biological self-programming analog computer based on constantly forming and reforming neural networks containing billions of neurons, that constantly change their electro/chemical parameters and connections based on frequency and power of their activation/deactivation. On this terms we are dynamic creatures who constantly construct and reconstruct our memories, believes, emotions, and just about everything else, while maintaining some continuity, which is pretty far away from being absolute. The important inference from this is that we to a very large extent responsible for our condition and actions even if a lot of it happen at the unconscious level where prediction of future is constructed depending on universe of possible actions. However the choice of the specific actions from this universe is always ours.


20170702 The Great Leveler Violence

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The main idea here is that inequality is considered unhealthy for the society and it probably is, but history demonstrates that it is typically a product of peaceful and productive development of society, while decrease in inequality is typically consequence of some kind of disaster: war, revolution, pandemic, or collapse of society. There is also attempt to look at recipe for leveling without disaster, but it is limited to somewhat trivial taxation ideas.


Introduction: The Challenge of Inequality

The introduction starts with the notion that inequality is growing and it is dangerous because it creates tensions in the society and could even destroy it. However this book is interested not that much in equality, but rather in conditions when it decreased often dramatically. Author finds four typical occurrences when it happens: War; Revolution, Society Collapse, and Plague. Author looks at all of them in details, reviews alternatives, and finally discusses future of leveling.


  • The Rise of Inequality

As usual this starts with discussion of hunter-gatherers and their equality based mainly on very low productivity so there were not enough goods and services susceptible for accumulation. Even thou some burials demonstrate high level of variance in prestige in form of artificial decoration such as bids that required huge amount of labor to produce, the real inequality came with agriculture when increase in productivity and, most important, ability accumulate wealth or obtain it from others provided opportunity for its growth. With ability accumulate and transfer wealth came necessity for a state, which would protect one’s own wealth and, if military successful, would allow obtain wealth from others. Here is a nice picture of the structure of typical agrarian society:

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2 Empires of Inequality

After discussing generic characteristics of agrarian states, author briefly reviews 2 most successful empires: Chinese and Roman both of which provide ample data for inequality. Here is an estimate of Wealth at the top and population growth for Romans:

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At the end of chapter author discusses patterns of empire wealth circulation that typically occurred via violent redistribution among elite.

  1. Up and Down

This is somewhat high-level discussion of changes in inequality supplied with a bunch of interesting graphs:

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  1. Total War

This chapter is an analysis of equalizing impact of the total war using Japan as an example. Probably no other country reached such level of war effort by the totality of its population without being actual battlefield. The leveling results were truly dramatic:

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  1. The Great Compression

This chapter expands previous analysis to the whole world, clearly demonstrating that war destruction leads to more equality, even if it is equality in misery. This is achieved by dramatic decrease in private wealth, especially comparatively with resources controlled by the government:

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In short private wealth inimical to equality but beneficial for prosperity, while war is opposite: inimical to prosperity and beneficial for equality.

  1. Preindustrial Warfare and Civil War

This chapter looks at history of preindustrial mass mobilization wars. From ancient times until recent occurrences and find some evidence that they had significant equalizing impact. Mainly it was result of need to obtain participation of low wealth masses as soldiers and supporters of military effort, which was paid by upper wealth class correspondingly decreasing their wealth. Overall the dispersion of equalizing was wide and dependent of character of the war. Similarly historically civil wars not necessarily decrease inequality often just moving wealth from one group to another, but it was highly dependent on character of war with high intensity was obviously decreasing overall wealth of the society.


  1. Communism

This chapter is about recent Russian and Chinese communist revolutions in which equalizing became one of the most important objectives. Since these revolutions included mass killing of higher wealth population, their achievement in formal equalization were unparalleled. However if one takes into account real control over society’s resources, this equalization become more than dubious.

  1. Before Lenin

This is similar look at French revolution, Taiping rebellion, and many other rural revolts, city revolts, and city-state revolts. Whatever leveling occurred during such events it usually was not very long lasting reverting back to inequality as soon as revolutionary period ended and more or less normal economic development would restart.


  1. State Failure and Systems Collapse

This is discussion of pretty obvious fact that when society collapses it’s hierarchical structure going down consequently removing all forms of enforcement of existing controls over resources, which leads to dramatic leveling. The cases author uses for collapse discussion are Chinese history of the end of Tang dynasty, Western Roman Empire, late Bronze Age Mediterranean and pre-Columbian America. It is nicely supported by archeological research represented by historical house size diagram in Britain:

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The final part looks at contemporary society collapse: Somalia, which is wide open for research now, providing researchers are well protected against multitude of local gangs (authorities).


10 The Black Death

Another powerful leveling process is epidemics, which kills lots of rich as well as poor. Author analyses leveling caused by the Plague in Medieval Europe. Interesting here is the fact that leveling occurred not only due to death, but also due to post epidemic dramatic growth of wages because of scarcity of labor. Here is a nice graph to support it:

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  1. Pandemics, Famine, and War

This is an expansion of previous discussion to cases when all 3 combined practically destroy society, bringing society to the lowest levels of inequality since the start of agriculture. It is done based on American history when European invasion brought both pandemic and destructive war. Author also looks at Justinian plague 541-750 CE and the Antonine plague in Egypt circa 165 CE. More detailed analysis based on well collected and preserved local data for the city of Augsburg during 30 years war presented by the graph below:

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Even more interesting is result for this city by numbers demonstrating that population loss was about 50%, but it fall disproportionally on poor. In other worlds it was not that much leveling, but shift when higher levels of income shifted down to lower levels, while population in two lowest income bracket was dramatically decreed by shifting out of live:

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  1. Reforms, Recession, and Representation

This is the look at possibility of leveling without massive bloodletting typical for war, revolutions, pandemic, or collapse. One such method is Land reform, another Debt relieve and Emancipation of slaves or serves. Even more peaceful leveling occurs during economic crises when loss of wealth obviously hit people in possession of this wealth. Finally democratic political system typically allows leveling via taxation and welfare state.

  1. Economic Development and Education

Here author discusses more positive way to decrease inequality: education and skills enhancement. This is unusually positive way because instead of leveling via decrease of overall wealth, it promotes wealth increase via increase in productivity of educated people.

14 What If? From History to Counterfactuals

This is a speculative discussion about what would happen if history were different than it actually had been.



  1. In Our Time

Here author discusses our time, relatively peaceful and prosperous, but with growing levels of inequality that gives jitters to many of intellectual. He provides a table and graph showing this growth with the most prosperous and wealthy country USA being also the most unequal:

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This is followed by discussion about market, power and related issues that lead to inequality growth: executive compensation, globalization, automation, and such.

  1. What Does the Future Hold?

Author obviously not sure about future, but he stresses growth of pressure caused by inequality and low probability of catastrophic events that would lead again to such leveling that occurred before. Author discusses a few recipes for equalization, which mainly come down to higher level of taxation and redistribution.


I do not think that inequality is the problem per se. The real problem and thread to society is perception of inequality as result of violation of rules of fair game. I doubt that any employee of a corporation would be upset by multimillion dollars payoff to CEO when corporation is doing great, employee’s job secure, salary is growing, and pension fund promises nice retirement. It is become an explosive problem when the same payoff coincides with company downsizing, employee loosing job, and pension fund going down the drain. It is obviously correct that all kinds of disasters cause leveling, but to look for disaster to heal inequality is like trying to rid of headache by putting bullet in the head – headache would go away, but so would live. In short I do not believe that taxation and welfare are good remedies either because government redistribute resources any inequality is magnified in minds of people, so inequality of getting 5 pounds of bread when everybody gets only one pound is much higher that inequality of CEO making a million when everybody else makes on average 50K. That’s how disasters of revolution start. The only known way to avoid it is implement relative equality of opportunity or at least promote believes that it exists.