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20171124 – Civil Wars- A History

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The main idea of this book is to review the very notion of civil war from various prospectives starting from historical, then moving to philosophical and legal approaches, and finely completing it with contemporary political analysis. Probably the most important inference here is that civil wars are way too complicated and mainly depend on participants’ ideas about themselves, their group, and their opponents therefore it should be treated as the great opportunity for historical approach, rather than legal or philosophical.


Introduction: Confronting Civil War

It starts with somewhat interesting complain that a lot of history research dedicated to wars, but very little of it to civil wars, while in reality civil wars, especially over the last 70 years after the end of WWII, are much more common than wars between states. Author discusses cruelty of civil wars that often goes way beyond cruelty of wars between states, especially in relation to non-combatants. However the main stress is not on this, but rather on the “generative” role of civil wars that author puts under investigation, claiming that this is a book “in ideas”. It makes sense because ideas are usual drivers of Civil Wars, unlike territorial and political conquest that drives regular wars. Author defines development of ideas about civil wars based on three points:

  • Difference between civil war and revolution
  • Legal meaning of civil war
  • Proxy wars of Cold War period, including decolonization wars when external power played significant roles in internal conflicts.

Part I: Roads from Rome

1: Inventing Civil War: The Roman Tradition

The first place the author goes to – Rome, which he considers inventor of civil war. It came from Roman tradition to call wars by the name of opponents so then opponent belongs to the same civic community the war becomes civil. After that author goes into details of Roman and Greek notions of internal conflict: for Greeks political war was inconceivable, but for Romans it became nearly routine. Author allocates a lot of space to Roman internal conflicts because they often had clear character of class war for political power.

2: Remembering Civil War: Roman Visions

Here author refers to idea that “forgetting is the best defense against civil war”, then proceeds to discuss civil war between Caesar and Pompey. This was practical consequence of lack of civilian control over military leaders who managed to build personal loyalty of troops to themselves that was exceeding loyalty to the Rome. Author points out the story of Cicero’s promotion of military leaders and attempts to define differences between various types of internal conflict. This follows by more or less retelling of history of Roman conflicts.

Part II: Early Modern Crossroads

3: Uncivil Civil Wars: The Seventeenth Century

This chapter starts with discussion about influence of Roman writings related to civil wars on development of European culture. They popularized notions of civil strives and variety of forms of control over society somewhat different from what was usual at the time. In process it probably created intellectual environment susceptible to raising weapons against other members of the same society. By seventieth century it all moved from domain of history and literature into domain of law and actual implementation. As examples, author discusses Hobbes ideas and actual civil war of British Parliament against the king.

4: Civil War in an Age of Revolutions: The Eighteenth Century

This is about comparing civil wars and revolutions. Author believes that the difference is that civil wars are contained within a nation, while revolutions tend to expand all over the world like communist revolutions. He also notes that overall revolutions have some positive connotation, while civil wars are ugly beasts. Author reviews a works of a few historians and then looks in details at XVIII century writer Emer Vattel, the influential thinker on laws of wars and revolutions. After that author moves to American Revolution and controversy about extent of it being civil war between patriots and loyalists as much as revolution. Finally, discussion moves to Burke and his analysis of American and then French revolutions / civil wars.

Part III: Paths to the Present

5: Civilizing Civil War: The Nineteenth Century:

This starts with American Civil war and Gettysburg Address and, more interesting, with General Order 100 drafted by Francis Lieber that defined legal code for the conduct of war 6 months before Gettysburg. Author discusses the legal and philosophical meaning of civil war in XIX century when ideas of Enlightenment become dominant in the Western world. Author points out that Confederacy never accepted that it was Civil war. For them it was war of Northern aggression not different from any other wars between different polities. Eventually the range of attitudes in emerged in Western civilization goes from the notion that all wars are civil wars because of humanity being a whole, to infinite variety of non-civil wars between citizens of different entities: national, religious, territorial, and any others that do not accept each other as members of the same group.

6: Worlds of Civil War: The Twentieth Century:

Both trends fully matured in XX century when on one hand some perceived WWI and WWII as civil wars within mainly western society, while on the other hand any diverse entity came under pressure from inside when groups small and big demanded independence and initiated wars of divorce. Author reviews this development, especially its diplomatic and legal details using example of Yugoslavia and Serbia civil wars that outgrew into international conflict. The second part of the chapter is about philosophical approach to war with lots of attention paid to Rawls and his classification of wars:

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Conclusion: Civil Wars of Words

In conclusion author discusses contemporary implications of wars designation as Civil or International conflicts that could and do create not only different psychological attitude, but also often lead to international involvement, including military, on one or another side of conflict.


I think that the differentiation between civil and. international wars is important because it often defines level of savagery the war is conducted with. Except for some very specific cases when war was waged with purpose of annihilation of other, the civil wars are usually more savage that international. The wars are always between groups and humans are always belong to the multitude of groups from small group of their close family to the big group of their nation, to the huge group of their religion and/or philosophy. Therefore, any war’s character depends on what people are fighting for and what is breakdown of groups that are fighting each other. I would define the civil war as the war where significant groups of individuals belonging to one political entity, but irreconcilably diverse in their attitudes and believes fight each other with objective to suppress, eliminate, or expel their opponents. The good example would be revolutionary wars including decolonization when significant number of people are quite satisfied with existing situation and resist change while others could not tolerate status quo any more, like it was during American revolution when 1/3 of population were Patriots, 1/3 Tories, and 1/3 Neutral who eventually sided with Patriots due to deprivation brought on by British army. In this case the internal conflict between colonials with different approaches to relations with British polity, they all belonged at the time, outgrew into international conflict between two nations, when colonials formed the new American polity. Quite different development occurred during American Civil war when American polity containing diverse states developed into two groups of states with irreconcilable differences in all significant areas: economically, legally, philosophically, and politically, leading to armed conflict between them. There were no 1/3 of abolitionists on South and even if majority of Northerners were indifferent to slavery, tariffs, or any other disputes with South, they had strong enough support for Union to fight for it. Interestingly enough, end of formal conflict did not really end the war, but rather continued for another 10+ years in the form of irregular guerilla warfare waged by Southern Whites against Southern Blacks supported by transplanted Northern Abolitionists until more or less acceptable for all accommodation was achieved in the form of segregation. In this case the war that started as war between states within Union outgrew into the civil war of two racially and ideologically different groups living on the same territory under umbrella of the same state.

20171117 You brain is your time machine

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The main idea of this book is to review the notion of time in all its complexity from all possible angles: historical, psychological, physiological, mathematical, theoretical physics, and even mental time travel in literature.



1:00 Flavors of Time

It starts with presentation of variety of attitudes to the notion of time:

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After this author moves to describe history of time, or more precisely of its discovery, since the time not always was something that was consciously perceived by humans. Here author traces it from initial vague notions to mathematical perception of time as the fourth dimension of the space/time continuum. Author also looks at neuroscience of time understanding, eventually completing this chapter with philosophical understanding of time divided into the two contradictory camps: Presentism when only the present exists and Eternalism when all time dependent events exist exactly like other 3 dimensions of the space that is if we are only at one specific point at any given time, nevertheless any other point on time dimension also exists. Finally, author discusses plurality of time as used in language and human perception, positing that at the core is time as measured by clocks.

2:00 The Best Time Machine You’ll Ever Own

This is about imaginary time travel and human brain as the best time machine that is. It properly starts with H.G. Wells and touches on multitude of other images including mathematically sound 4D space. The characteristics of the brains as time machine are:

  • It remembers past in order to predict future
  • It tells time
  • It creates sense of time
  • It allows mentally travel in time back and forth.

Author also looks at the time as a teacher that teach us that cause and effect must be continuous in time and space; that cause must be before effect; and that time follow clearly defined direction that could not be reversed.

The next part of the chapter looks at human the brain and synaptic causes and effect that happen there.

3:00 Day and Night

This is about human perception of time periods of a day and circadian rhythms that control them. Author discusses multiple experiments with isolation when person has no way to identify time of the day. In such cases time seems to be shortening in the mind so 170 days feels like 150 or so. Authors discuses in details how it all works and how various cycles in body starting at molecular level influence perception of time with significant variance from astronomical time.

4:00 The Sixth Sense

This is also about subjective time perception, but it is more about such cases as dangerous situations when time seems to be standing still. One interesting part of it is variance between prospective and retrospective time perception. Author discusses the link of both types to the memory. When time is filled up with events it runs fast and posts a lot of information into the memory. Correspondingly if there are no events, just waiting for something, it moves slowly and leaves very little to recall. The contemporary perception of a long and short times usually changes when it becomes memory. Long, one-day delay at airport becomes barely recallable, but one day walking around of tourist attractions contains multitude of memories good enough for a few days. Author also discusses cause of slow-motion effects:

  • Overclocking – mobilization of organism causes all processes to accelerate, creating illusion that person thinks and moves faster than in reality
  • Hypermemory – this is an idea that slow motion is post factum illusion created by assigning the event very high value and import.
  • Metaillusion – since reality is always just a construction of brain, the slow motion is constructed on the top of normal perceptions with magnifying effects.

These illusions relate not only to time, but also to space and all other perceptions.

5:00 Patterns in Time

This starts with discussion of relationship between time and language when different timing defines meaning of speech including such low level as difference between P and B defined by time allowed for air release while speaking. Timing also plays a big part in defining emotional content of the speech example is “not” jokes. After that author goes to time relevant aspects of motherese, fully timing based Morse code, time length perception of sounds, songbirds, and music. The chapter ends with discussion of neuro mechanics of length of time perception for sounds and similar events.

6:00 Time, Neural Dynamics, and Chaos

Here author moves to time measurement methods starting with regular clock and then moving to Supra and Infra period timing, the idea based on brain time processing, which is not necessary some kind of oscillator like in time measuring devices. This leads to a discussion of timing of the sequence of events such as rain drops and ripples generated by them and similar case of synaptic plasticity. It is connected to the idea of state dependent networks, which are basically core of processes in the brain discussed in the bulk of this chapter.


7:00 Keeping Time

Author starts here with introduction of idea of temporal telescopes that allow us to look into the past or future. At first it leads to the discussion of atomic structure of the brain, formation of neurons, and such, then author moves to various time related devices from calendars to clocks, pendulums, and other oscillators that are at the core of time measurement.

8:00 Time: What the Hell Is It?

Here author goes back to the meaning of time and links it to the meaning of existence referring to previously discussed notions of Presentism and Eternalism, whether it is arrow or double-headed arrow or some other notion developed from fancy ideas produced by physicists.

9:00 The Spatialization of Time in Physics

This is about theoretical physics approach to the time as just one of dimensions of continuum, relativity of time and its dependence on speed. Somewhat unusual trick here is an attempt to remove inconsistency between eternalistic presentation of time/space and human perception of time moving from past to future via current by claiming that it is just neurological illusion of existence of now. Author poses a funny question if the block universe is compatible with neuroscience, but could not provide a clear answer.

10:00 The Spatialization of Time in Neuroscience

This is a look at the time beyond physics from purely human perspective. Author finds that even here time is considered as a dimension of space, albeit somewhat strange because one can move along it only in one direction or, alternatively it is moving through. Here is a nice illustration of these approaches:

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At the end author kind of connects time perception to general human susceptibility to illusions.

11:00 Mental Time Travel

This is about relation between time and brain. The brain actually could be considered a tool for mental time travel that allow analyze past and predict future from primitive prediction of future spatial position of running animal to plan on achieving some specific objective many years in the future. Author cannot help but mention human tendency to allocate much more value to the close future than to the distant one.

12:00 Consciousness: Binding the Past and the Future

The final chapter is about human mind ability to connect past and future, calibrating one’s behavior based on known actions and result in the past, and ability to predict future results, making live somewhat predictable, but a lot less than everybody would want.


The time is an interesting notion that I somewhat straggled back some 40 years ago when I did my classes in theoretical physics. Somehow I could not connect the clear and simple mathematical concepts of theory of relativity with common sense and experience of everyday live. Author discusses this kind of problem in his presentation of philosophical dispute between Eternalists and Presentists and he seems to be inclined to support the Eternalists approach. I on other hand learned over all these years that when there is any inconsistency between theory and common sense the latter should be treated preferentially just because it’s analog character guaranties inclusion of much more relevant information, albeit at the expense of being imprecise. I guess, in other worlds, I am convinced Presentist, even if this view is not supported by theoretical models of speculative science. As to the neurological and psychological side of the time, I think that compression of the past is natural feature of human memory, while ongoing present leading to unpredictable future that one will have to live second by second is inevitably seems to be slow moving unless one is in process of psychological flow. In short the Externalist’s spatial model of time as dimension is good for mathematical modeling and useless for living one’s live. The latter activity would be done much better if time were treated as a limited resource spent carefully.


20171110 – America’s Great Depression

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The main idea of this book is that business cycle could be explained by analysis of government interventions that expand credit to unreasonable levels. It results in situation when business owners bound to make mistakes of investing out of sync with the future demand. When this overinvestment leads to decrease in profits they try to liquidate these investments causing panic, decrease in production and employment. However, if left alone, businesses quickly liquidate failed investments resulting in prices, especially of labor prices, going down and creating the new starting platform for efficient expansion. Correspondingly, the cause of the great depression were actions of Hoover administration that from Hoover down to nearly every lowly bureaucrat believed that they can and should engineer economy to avoid downfall. They did it by forcing businesses maintain high level of salaries and unproductive employment, expanding or at least maintaining the same high level of government expenses, creating public works program, inflating money supply, and cutting foreign trade. FDR actually just continued doing the same only on the ever-bigger scale.




The study of business cycles should be based on consistent economic theory. Only Misses’ theory meets this requirement.

Business cycles and business fluctuations

Here author discusses difference between cycles and fluctuations with fluctuations being a normal process of changes that constantly happen, while cycle is connected with general changes in money supply and therefore goes through clear phases of crises and depression.

The problem: the cluster of error

Unlike normal fluctuations, the cycle’s depression phase represents massive cluster of business errors happening in sync, so this synchronization requires explanation.

The explanation: boom and depression

Author’s explanation defines boom as cause of cycle because it normally follows by bust and depression. The reasons for boom is government actions when it uses banks to pump money into economy, creating skewed environment where business bound to make mistakes in evaluating demand and consequently misallocates resources. Incorrectly allocated resources would not provide normal return on investment and therefore had to be liquidated, which happens during the bust phase.

Secondary features of depression: deflationary credit contraction

Here author analyses credit contraction as the secondary feature of depression because liquidation of failed investment causes increase in liquidity demand consequently pushing prices down. If not interfered, the liquidation happens quickly and, after losses flushed out, economy start growing again.

Government depression policy: laissez-faire

This process of adjustment after the failed boom is often interrupted by government intervention that prolongs life of failed businesses and artificially supports high prices, preventing the start of recovery. Correspondingly author’s recommendation for government is not to interfere.

Preventing depressions

However, preventing depression in the first place could be done via government interference, mainly by preventing banks from inflating money supply. The ideal method would be to forbid fractional-reserve banking.

Problems in the Austrian theory of the trade c cycle

Here author reviews some critical ideas proposed against Mises theory of depression such as:

  • Assumption of full employment,
  • No clear difference between Overinvestment and Malinvestment,
  • Lack of clear difference between Active and Passive banks
  • Recurrence of Cycles
  • Gold changes within Cycle

Assumption of full employment


Here author points out 2 criticisms from Keynesians:

  • Rejection of separation between savings and investments
  • The nature of consumption

The liquidity “trap”

This is discussion of Keynes idea of depressions being caused by withdraw of liquidity from market, which Misses reject because of its dependency on elasticity of demand. The reason for rejection is that this elasticity is not infinite.

Wage rates and unemployment

This is a critic of Keynes idea of downward rigidity of wages based on the notion that in free market it is not possibly because labor sellers need earnings to survive and therefore would accept wage decrease.


This is a critic of idea that other non-Austrian explanations for depressions are also valid

General overproduction

This is critic of overproduction – the idea, which author believes is irrelevant because it just means that business must sell below cost and incur losses. Such loses would quickly stop any additional production and shift resources to a profitable use.


Similarly, underconsumption would immediately lead to fall in prices to the level when consumption would move to equilibrium

The acceleration principle

The point here is that the increase in consumer demand leads to disproportional increase in producer demand for secondary goods with consequent overcapacity and inevitable drop in the following years.

Dearth of “investment opportunities”

This is about decrease in population growth leading to stable consumption and production with no need for the new investment. As other ideas, this one fails to take into consideration the pricing system, which would lead to decrease of cost of capital resulting in increase in consumption.

Schumpeter’s business cycle theory

This is critic of the idea that one can postulate 0 interest rate in analyzing depressions. This allows unabridged increase in credit to industries with the cluster of innovation at the time with consequent bust when innovation ends.

Qualitative credit doctrines

These is a cluster of theories that agree with Austrians about boom and bust being parts of the same process leading to depression, with boom being responsible for bust. However, these theories are different on causal analysis and author reviews how exactly it happens for a couple of them:

  • Banking school that claims that problem is credit allocation to long-term loans
  • Some other schools that emphasize credit allocation to wrong asset types
  • Still some other schools blaming financial trading on margins and derivatives

Overoptimism and overpessimism

The final peace in this chapter is about animal spirits such as unjustified optimism or pessimist that causes people to behave irrationally.



It starts with the claim that use of historical data to test economic theory is a mistake because every situation is unique and way too interconnected with multitude of causal effects interacting. As example author refer to 1920s boom, which often mistakenly called inflationary, even though prices were stable. However, this stability was result of two forces acting in different direction: price decrease due to dramatic increase in productivity with price increase due to monetary inflation. Therefore, historic data could only be only partially relevant. The point author makes is that unhampered market would not have booms and busts because of diversity of industries and complexity of economy where mini boom in one place would be compensated by mini bust in another. The depression can really be caused only by government, which by interfering with money supply would synchronize these processes.

The definition of the money supply

Here author discusses money supply and what is included or not included into it.

Inflation of the money supply 1921-1929

This is a look at actual money supply in US economy in 1920s:

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Generating the inflation, I: reserve requirements; Generating the inflation, II: total reserves; Treasury currency; Bills discounted; Bills bought-acceptances; U.S. government securities;

These sub-chapters represent detailed review of positions in American money supply.

  1. THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE INFLATION: Foreign lending; Helping Britain;

The main point of this chapter is that development of inflation occurred due to some very specific factors: FEDs purchases of silver, discounted treasury bills with low acceptance rates, open market purchases of government securities, lending to foreign entities, with government actively interfering. Finally, significant role was played by help to the British, which did occur despite the enduring myth of isolationism.

The crisis approaches

In the spring of 1928 FED initially tried to halt boom by reducing reserves, but banks managed to compensate for this by shifting from demand to time deposits. However, it failed due to the policy of unlimited buying of acceptances and eventually cheap money prepared economy for the bust.


This is about believes of economists in stable prices and ability of monetary policy to maintain such prices that led to their inability to see growing monetary expansion and unhealthy boom it caused. One interesting point author makes here is that despite appearing stability of prices, the wages in capital goods industry were growing disproportionally, while in consumer goods industry they remained the same, indicating overinvestment that counterweighted price decreases that should follow huge gains in productivity. Author supports the idea that this great experiment in price stabilization was one of the main causes of depression.



This is detailed and quite convincing retell of “the great engineer” Hoover’s attitude to economics that, while not “socialistic” was still pretty much in line with general thought that economy could be run as machine from the top. Probably the main difference between him and FDR was Hoovers’ compliance with constitution, laws of the country, and his oath of office, while FDR demonstrated complete contempt for all these “unnecessary niceties”. As result, while both were trying to do the same, being driven by poor understanding of economy and humanity, Hoover put pressure on business making them “voluntary” act against their interests, when FDR just issued unconstitutional directives.

The development of Hoover’s interventionism: unemployment; The development of Hoover’s interventionism: labor relations

These two subchapters describe how Hoover started “reconstruction program”, the first massive interference into economy, created management/labor conference, promoted collective bargaining, and pressed businesses into minimizing unemployment and maintaining salaries above the market, resulting in economy’s inability to rich bottom quickly, flash out inefficiency, and start growing.


This is a very interesting chapter because it looks at Hoovers’ role as the first president who considered it the government responsibility to manage economy. Until that economic condition of the country was pretty much perceived as independent from government intervention similarly to the weather. Sometimes it was good, sometimes not so good, but there was nothing one could do about it. Hoover believed that with his engineering background he could do a lot more. So here is a brief list of his actions:

The White House conferences

These were conducted with business leaders on the wide scale and served to force these leaders to provide more investments and maintain high level of wages to keep demand up.

Inflating credit

The monetary policy of FED was initially inflationary leading to quick expansion of credit and initially saving banks.

Public works; The New Deal Farm Program

Similarly, to the credit expansion, Hoover interfered into economy by pushing increase of public works. Corresponding effort in agriculture led to creation of farm subsidies program, which often mistakenly considered as FDR’s New Deal program. Author goes into some details of formation and political activities of farm block, which is even now, 80 years later still goes strong, consuming public resources at good pace.

  1. 1930

At the beginning of 1930 majority of public believed that Hoover and government got crisis under control. To assure the continuing “success” Congress authorize $915 million for additional public works in construction.

More inflation; The Smoot-Hawley Tariff; Hoover in the second half of 1930; The public works agitation; The fiscal burdens of government;

This list pretty much represents further continuation of seemingly successful policy of massive government intervention expanded into strong protectionist measures, continuing expansion of public works, and extensive use of government power in support of organized labor with Wagner act. All together it led to big expansion of government expenses and author points out that it grew quite dramatically as % of total economic activity. Author rightfully designates government economic activity as depredation since it occurred via use of force to confiscate resources from productive parts of economy.

  1. 1931- “THE TRAGIC YEAR”

This was supposed to be a year of recovery instead it was a year when crisis development accelerated. Author describes its development in Europe and makes point that FED’s attempts to support untenable credit positions of European countries was a serious mistake.

The American monetary picture; The fiscal burden of government; Public works and wage rates; Maintaining wages rates; Immigration restrictions; Voluntary relief;

Every small subchapter here demonstrates an increased intervention of government into economy and author stresses that this intervention was mainly counterproductive, preventing economy from self-adjustment and restoration of normal activity. Even the voluntary efforts for relief, became supplemented by Emergency committee to control it, turning it into bureaucratic enterprise

Hoover in the last quarter of 1931;

This is description of Hoover’s frantic attempt to start recovery by increasing push for “volunteer” compliance of businesses with his ideas, which pretty much come down to staunch rejection of laisses faire approach, creation of multitude of government programs that later become the “New Deal”, and attempts to pump more government money into economy.

The spread of collectivist ideas in the business world;

The final part of this chapter is especially interesting by analyzing mental state of leading individuals in business world, in economics and in public discussion. It clearly demonstrates the massive acceptance of collectivistic ideas with bend towards government planning and top down control of economy. These were not just ides, but also actions such as cartelization of oil industry, activization of union movement often with support of big business, and similar events.


This is another list of Hoover administration activities in their attempt to stop developing depression by using government power both direct and disguised as persuasion. Author presents Hoover program and then goes into details of its implementation.

The tax increase: It was massive and included just about everything from estate taxes for rich to increase in postal rates for poor

Expenditures versus economy: Government expenditures decreased, but a lot less than decrease in GNP resulting in proportional increase of spending to economy.

Public works agitation: This is a brief description of discussion about continuing expansion of public works with one side stressing need to fight unemployment while another pointing out that it froze both capital in labor in unproductive uses, therefore preventing recovery.

The RFC: RFC was providing massive influx of government capital into economy providing loans without real evaluation of their future performance and as one could expect become a serious case of massive corruption.

Governmental relief; The inflation program; The inflation agitation; Mr. Hoover’s war on the stock market; The home loan bank system; The bankruptcy law; The fight against immigration: Each of above is an area of Government involvement that caused more harm than good. Author very briefly touches each of these areas, providing factual account of what had been done. Regardless of actual result one can easily conclude that it was far from doing nothing and not interfering into economy.

  1. THE CLOSE OF THE HOOVER TERM: The attack on property rights: the final currency failure; Wages, hours, and employment during the depression

An interesting thing here is that Hoover sincerely believed that he did a pretty good job, was proud of his multiple interferences, and confident that doing nothing would be a disaster. However, Hoover remained more or less within bounds of his constitutional authority and rejected plans of very popular “economic fascism” similar to what come to pass with FDR administration.

Conclusion: the lessons of Mr. Hoover’s record

The main conclusion that author states is that all this government interference, especially inflationary activities were cause of the depression. Author believes that business cycles are caused by government’s expanding credit to unreasonable level that creates misallocation of resources during the boom, making it necessary to liquidate such misallocation during the bust. Such believe leads to conclusion that Hoover’s actions, caused by his rejection of laisses faire, made the depression all but unavoidable and the next great expansionist of government FDR only added to Hoover’s action more of the same delaying recovery to the WWII. At the end author provides some statistical information demonstrating level of the disaster that was the Great Depression and here is one example:

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I do not think that core idea of this book: a business cycle caused mainly if not exclusively by government intervention, is completely correct. The history demonstrated that there were business cycles as long as there were businesses. I would rather put generic cause of cycles to the human propensity to join crowd and run in the same direction as everybody, so contagious optimism could easily cause a bit of boom, while contagious pessimism would lead to a bust. Nevertheless, I fully agree with author that deepness and tragedy of the Great Depression was the product of engineering arrogance of Hoover and overall elite of western societies that had their heads spinning from technological achievements of XIX century. These achievements caused people to develop false believe that they could engineer complex systems based on human individuals as well as they can engineer some mechanical system based on nuts and bolts. Actually, it is not limited to the Great Depression. All evils of XX century: socialism, communism, fascism, genocide, and such came from this source. Unfortunately the idea of engineering and controlling society from above is still alive in minds of many an elite and it will probably take some more fighting to put it to rest.

20171103 – The Enigma of Reason

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The main idea of this book is that human reason is misunderstood as a feature of individual survival, when in reality it is the feature of group survival. As such feature the reason had recently came under attack as sloppy and ineffective due to various biases, failures of statistical and logical thinking. The attack came from psychological research that convincingly demonstrated all these deficiencies. Authors reject the idea of dual thinking: fast and sloppy vs. slow and accurate, as insufficient and propose argumentative theory of reason where biases and other failures serve as tools to include into consideration as wide range of opinions as possible and flash out evolutionary viable solution via argumentation between people with strongly held views.


Introduction: A Double Enigma

Given that humans are animals and as any other animals were shaped by evolution, why do they have such an expensive mechanism as reason and why only humans have such mechanism and no other animals? It is also interesting from another angle: recently psychologists found a lot of flows with human reason such as failures of logic, inability to think statistically, partiality of thinking and many others. So the double enigma is why we have this tool and why it is so flowed. Authors claim that the reason for this is that it is only one tool of many in arsenal of human thinking and provide graphic representation of its place as imbedded within other ways of thinking:

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The traditional Western dogma of reason as source of human superior abilities was shuttered by the last 50 years of psychological research and newly applied constructions such as “Fast and Slow” thinking or “Dual processing” could not meet explanatory requirements created by the data.

  1. Reason on Trial

In this chapter authors review multiple failures of human brain to correctly represent input from senses and/or solve simple logical problems from misevaluating levels of gray in 2 squares in the picture of checkers to producing inconsistent logical sequences such as A>B>C>A.

  1. Psychologists’ Travails

This chapter demonstrates that usual believe in inseparable combination of reason and logic is not really as strong as we want to believe. After using a couple tests that clearly demonstrate the case, authors move to describing idea of duality of thinking:

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Without going deep into the details authors discuss it as division of thinking into: “Mental Models” and “Mental Logic” with psychologists divided between supporters of one idea against another.


This part is about understanding Inference, its base mechanism and procedures.

  1. From Unconscious Inferences to Intuitions

This starts with two questions: Why and how we reason? First authors look at reasoning in animals, specific example they use is about ants capable to find way by memorizing and calculating the previous path. Then they look at human perception, demonstrating how brain reprocesses and modifies raw information from senses to constructing a meaningful representation of reality. As prove they use a couple of optical illusions like small monster pursuing a big one on the picture while in reality they are of the same size. Authors discuss not only sensorial illusions, but also nature of human memory and research demonstrating that it has not that much reproductive as reconstructive character. This follows by a piece on Intuitions that authors define as interpretation of inferences. In case of monsters the inference of their size and positions lead to intuition that one is running after another. The third process used is reasoning, which is slow, conscious, and sequential process based not only on perception and intuition, but also on the knowledge base available. Here is graphic representation of these processes in the framework of two systems:

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The final point here is Metacognition that is “cognition about cognition” that humans use to evaluate their own mental states.

  1. Modularity

Authors start this discussion with look at interaction between instinct and expertise. To clarify it they bring notion of instinct as “natural expertise” and “expertise as “acquired instincts”. After that they are going into mechanics of face, words, and norms recognition as examples of such acquired instincts. The final part of the chapter is about modularity of the mind, which authors define as biological modules with cognitive functionality. They reject notion of rigid innate modularity and support idea of cognitive functionality based on biological tissue, using reading as example.

  1. Cognitive Opportunism

Here authors discuss cognitive abilities through prism of evolution, rejecting in process the idea of mind as unitary and principled. They look at presentation and low-level procedures of mind’s working such as logical AND gate also know as conditional reflexes. However their overall assessment of logical and probalistical processing of the mind moves away from simplistic Aristotelian ideas to much more complex and chaotic processes that sometimes contradict formal logic, but seems to be beneficial for survival.

  1. Metarepresentations

This is about human attempts to understand how mind works via comparison with other animals and folk ontology that tend to assign reasoning and acting ability to just about anything including unanimated objects. Authors also discuss here mental representation versus public representations and high order presentations about presentation, which they define as metapresentations. They provide two similar sets of statements about representation of:Screen Shot 2017-11-05 at 7.29.28 AM


In this part authors are presenting their ideas about reason being a tool used by individuals to justify their actions, convince others in validity of these actions, and obtain their support, rather than develop a course of action.

  1. How We Use Reasons

Here authors are trying to provide support for their idea of reason as tool for explanation and justification of thoughts and actions after the fact. They start with the story of a man who killed stranded woman-motorist who was banging on the door of his house looking for help because he believed that he is under attack. They used this and a couple of similar stories to separate actual cause of actions not necessarily consciously understood and psychological reason that people create to justify their actions. Authors discuss experimental research supporting this idea and references to theoretical work supporting it. They also link it to previously discussed modularity of mind, presenting an idea that reason for subconscious control of action is that modules just do their own processing without necessary regard and coordination so eventually conscious mind left with need to find reasons to whatever subconscious made the body to do. The final part of the chapter discusses why there is need for reasons in the first place and concludes that it is for external social consumption.

  1. Could Reason Be a Module?

Here authors move to deeper discussion of the issue of reasons in both modes: retrospective and prospective. They provide a logical tree for this:

Screen Shot 2017-11-05 at 7.29.36 AM

After that they discuss reasons as product of inference from the perceived factual data and regularities of environment. Authors also present some research supporting ideas that people have intuitions about reasons and eventually propose an idea that reasons are product of separate module mainly used for justification and explanation, but practically not involved in decision making.

  1. Reasoning: Intuition and Reflection

Here author discuss nature of arguments and conclusions as components of reasoning as representation of processes conducted in the reason module and provide a small table to illustrate it:

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After that author discuss reliance of reason on language and use of logic as heuristic tool for reasoning.

  1. Reason: What Is It For?

This is an attempt to link authors’ understanding of reason’s use for justification to evolutionary need for cohesiveness of a group. They look at history of understanding of reason and discuss its various uses that improve fitness of individuals and their group from coordination to communication to argumentation


This part is an attempt to test hypothesis that reason serves not that much for decision making as for justification of already occurred actions.

  1. Why Is Reasoning Biased?

This is about reason being biased, which does not make sense if its function were to analyze facts and make decision that would lead to achieving objectives. However it makes a lot of sense if it is used mainly for justification. In this case any distortion of reality could be useful as long as it helps to achieve such justification. Authors look at advantages provided by a bias such as prevention of expensive investigation to identify truth and use cheap “good enough” solutions, also important is a part on complexity of science where real pursuit of truth lead to need in complex philosophical approaches such as falsification. Then they discuss a couple of typical forms of reality distortions such as confirmation bias and myside bias both of which make sense for justification, but not for correct way of actions.

  1. Quality Control: How We Evaluate Arguments

This is about a quite special use of reason in argumentation when it is clear that generally decision-making is not involved and objective of convincing is pursued via interaction with various argument some of which are quite illogical such as request for prove of absence. Here authors look at support for their position in the fact of duality of reason use when different criteria used for one’s own reasoning and for other people reasoning:

Screen Shot 2017-11-05 at 7.29.54 AM

  1. The Dark Side of Reason

This is about human capability to find reasons to confirm opinion whether these reasons viable or not. The examples provided are for literature, but also from the story of Dreyfus when famous detective who was hard believer in Dreyfus’ quilt could not be moved from his position by any valid proves that Dreyfus was innocent. After that authors discuss an interesting question: if the main use of reason is for self and others deception, how come evolution created humans with lots of such features. Their answer is quite interesting: the reason’s distortion of reality does spell disaster for individual, but it is beneficial for a group when diversity of strongly held opinions could lead to the better overall decision making via argumentation when only strong argument would survive.

  1. A Reason for Everything

This is about human ability to find reasons for everything, even when it is clear that there is none like in experiment with selection between several perfectly similar items when strong reasons for selection after the fact point to non-existing variances between items. However authors also discuss quite a few experiments when requirement for reasoning imposed before making decision changes the way decision is made. At the end of chapter authors review a sunk cost fallacy that makes people to take into account quite strongly some events of the past that really have no weight on the future such as decision to go into storm to use prepaid ticket, but not to go if ticket was provided for free.

  1. The Bright Side of Reason

The final part of this chapter is pretty much praise of argumentation and support to the idea that the best way to make decisions is via rigorous argumentation between several people with diversity of strongly held views.


The last part of this book designed to go out of psychological laboratories and experiments with clearly defined limits into real worlds and look at the use of reason in the wild.

  1. Is Human Reason Universal?

Here authors discuss validity of results of psychological experiments with the WEIRD people. As the example of cultural dependency they use a simple task of getting 3 coins out of the box with many. It is a very easy task for nearly all people except for Piraha Amazonian Indians whose language includes only count to 2 with anything more than 2 practically non existent. Only 2/3 of Piraha were able to succeed, while they were pretty good in multiple other tasks that did not require counting more than 2. Authors also look at specifics of argumentation in East Asia, small-scale societies, and such. At the end of chapter they are trying to reconcile evolutionary, cognitive, and anthropological perspectives for reasoning.

  1. Reasoning about Moral and Political Topics

Here authors look at especially difficult for people topic of use of reason for rationalization in areas of politics and morals. They refer to research demonstrating how some mundane factors influence human behavior in areas that everybody consider hugely important. A nice example was provided by judges whose sentencing decisions turned out to be highly correlated with condition of their body with people sentenced after lunch getting lighter sentences than those who were sentenced by hungry judge just before lunch. This follows by discussion on reasoning and morality and digression into history of slavery and abolitionism.

  1. Solitary Geniuses?

The final chapter is about science as a method of somewhat organized reasoning and argumentation, which allows to achieve results in the form of understanding of the world significantly better than occurs in other areas, despite scientists being as biased, prejudiced, and limited by the dominant paradigm as everybody else. Authors seem to suggest that it occurs because of good combination of solitary thinking and peer group arguing that allow producing new ideas without pressure, but rigorously test them afterworld.

Conclusion: In Praise of Reason after All

In conclusion authors state that the Reason is only one module of inference among others and is highly specialized for its domain of competence as any of them. Authors define this domain as domain of social interaction and present it as “argumentative theory of reason”. They reject idea of dual, fast and slow thinking and argue that human biases, illogical conclusions, and such are not a bug, but rather a feature of effective problem resolution where problem solver is not an individual, but rather a group and solution is found via argumentation between strong, intellectually and experimentally diverse individuals, rather than via logically consistent, non-contradictory, and algorithmically defined thinking.


I think it is a great book and I inclined to agree with authors approach to reason as tool for argumentation, convincing, and justification, rather than tool for analyzing facts and planning future actions. However I would still maintain that reason as planning tool is also evolutionary useful, but require unusually hard effort to apply it effectively, that majority of people usually do only in the case of few instances when decision they are working on is complex and consequential. While agreeing with authors that regular use of reason applied mainly for argumentation and justification, I think that the current and even more future development would expand use of reason for planning and execution of human activities because it is and even much more will be supplemented by logically and statistically perfect reasoning using computers, which have none of human deficiencies in logical thinking. The human task in achieving effective solution will be shifted from intellectual processing for data selection to feed into computer for processing. As perfect as computers are in sequential formalized intellectual processing, they have no common sense of what, out of infinite amount of data, is relevant and what is not, resulting in well-known phenomenon of “ junk in – junk out”. Actually this does not diminish argumentative value of reason, it just moves it to more sophisticated level when computer models support both planning and argumentation.