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20191229 – The Evolution of The Sensitive Soul

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MAIN IDEA:

Authors define the main idea of this book as attempt to answer the question: “How did minimal animal consciousness originate during animal evolution?”
. This attempt is based on identification of a marker that indicate transfer from preconscious to conscious animal. Overall authors define three levels from self-maintaining activities to complete consciousness: “nutritive soul” – plants, “sensitive souls” – animals, and “rational soul” – humans. Authors define this marker the following way: ”the evolutionary-transition marker for consciousness is unlimited (open-ended) associative learning (UAL). This, we argue, was the phylogenetically earliest manifestation and driver of the evolution of sustainable minimal consciousness. UAL refers to an organism’s ability to attach motivational value to a compound, multifeatured stimulus and a new action pattern and to use it as the basis for future learning. We argue that UAL is a good transition marker because the features that neurobiologists and philosophers regard as essential for consciousness are also required for UAL. If UAL is accepted as a transition marker, one can identify this capacity in different taxa and provide an account of the distribution of consciousness in the animal world—a major issue with important biological and ethical implications.“

DETAILS:

Introduction to Part I: Rationale and Foundations

Here authors discuss main ideas of the book and present brief descriptions and objectives for each part and chapter of the book.

  1. Goal-Directed Systems: An Evolutionary Approach to Life and Consciousness

Here authors describe their evolutionary approach and provide nice picture of Aristotelian approach to differentiation of all things living:

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After that authors discuss some epistemological issues of defining life and present table of history for this in XX century:

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2. The Organization and Evolution of the Mind: From Lamarck to the Neuroscience of Consciousness

In this chapter authors go through work and thinking of outstanding researches: Lamarck, Spencer, Darwin, William James, Pavlov, and Skinner reviewing developments up to the recent time.

3. The Emergentist Consensus: Neurobiological Perspectives

Here authors review contemporary status of the field and identify areas of consensus. Here is the graphic representation:

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Authors link UAL to consensus of seven properties characterizing consciousness:

  1. Global activity and accessibility of information
  2. Binding and unification
  3. Selection, plasticity, learning, and attention
  4. Intentionality
  5. Temporal thickness
  6. Emotions, goals
  7. Embodiment, agency, and a notion of “self”

At the end authors suggest:” that UAL is the transition marker for consciousness has obvious implications for the distribution question. Discovering whether or not UAL occurs in different groups could provide an answer to the question about which animals can positively be said to possess minimal consciousness.”

Introduction to Part II: Major Transitions in the Evolution of the Mind

Authors start by presenting 8 levels of genetically supported information processing in living objects identified by John Maynard Smith and Eörs Szathmáry:

(1) From replicating molecules to populations of molecules in compartments (protocells);

(2) From independent genes to chromosomes;

(3) From RNA as both an information carrier and catalyst to DNA as the carrier of information and proteins as enzymes;

(4) From prokaryotes to eukaryotes;

(5) From asexual clones to sexual populations;

(6) From single-cell eukaryotes to multicellular organisms with differentiated cells;

(7) From solitary individuals to colonies with nonreproductive castes

(8) From primate societies to human societies with language

Then they discuss their approach to research as development-oriented (evo-devo), in which they identify 5 research themes:

  • First, using the comparative method, it is developmental processes from the fertilized egg onward that are being compared, rather than the biological features of adult animals.
  • Second, there is a strong focus on the effects of genetic variations on embryonic development and recognition that some variants can have large, saltational outcomes.
  • Third, the role of developmental plasticity—the ability of the same genotype to generate different phenotypes in different environmental conditions—and the primacy of developmental responses in evolution are highlighted.
  • Fourth, the generation of developmental variations and their maintenance and inheritance within and between individuals—play a role in evolutionary explanations.
  • Fifth, physical, chemical, and cybernetic constraints on the direction, mode, and tempo of development, and their role in evolution, are emphasized.

Then they discuss role of phenotype in selection and model of exploration – stabilization perspective on selection.

Authors also provide here brief description of remaining chapters of the book.

6. The Neural Transition and the Building Blocks of Minimal Consciousness

Authors start this chapter “with the building blocks of learning, provide an overview of the transition to neural animals, and discuss the molecular and behavioral components found in cnidarians, from which simple forms of associative learning, and later UAL, probably evolved. Authors link the evolution of the nervous system with the evolution of mobility and muscles. They also stress the problem mobility opened up: once moving macroscopic animals had evolved, they had to distinguish between the sensory effects of their own movements and those that were independent of their own actions, a difficulty that led to the evolution of new modulatory interactions between sensory and motor neural centers.”

7. The Transition to Associative Learning: The First Stage

In this chapter authors ” describe the evolution of limited associative learning and the problem that this great adaptive innovation brought about—the problem of overlearning. This stumbling block was partially overcome by restricting learning to surprising, newsworthy discrepancies between expectations based on what has been learned and the actual, current effects of a new stimulus.”

Here is graphic comparison of authors’ model with previous:

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8. The Transition to Unlimited Associative Learning: How the Dice Became Loaded

“Building on the discussion in the preceding seven chapters, this chapter considers the transition to UAL and to minimal consciousness. Authors describe the functional neural architecture that constructed UAL, which, they argue, is the architecture underlying the simplest mental representations, and describe the different realizations of this architecture in vertebrates, arthropods, and mollusks. UAL led to a great increase in adaptability, but like limited associative learning, it also led to a severe problem of overlearning, which was evolutionarily solved by modulating the animals’ memory and their responses to stress.”

Authors also discuss UAL in Bayesian terms, somewhat linked to AI developments and provide nice graphic presentation of functional evolution:

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9. The Cambrian Explosion and Its Soulful Ramifications

Here authors position their “evolutionary proposal within an ecological context. They suggest that the evolutionary emergence of limited and unlimited associative learning had dramatic effects, acting as an adaptability driver of the Cambrian explosion. Once in place, the evolution of UAL led in some lineages (notably, birds and mammals, but also in the very different cephalopods) to the emergence of “Popperian” animals, creatures endowed with imagination.”

Here is general presentation of author views on Cambrian:

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10. The Golem’s Predicament

In this final chapter authors “discuss the continuity between life and consciousness, examine the possibility (and implications) of constructing artificial conscious beings, and outline a further stage in the evolution of consciousness: the transition to the human “rational soul,” to human symbolic-based cognition, and to human abstract values. This last chapter takes the form of a dialogue, with a critical reader who questions authors’ interpretations and who wants to understand the implications of our proposal for neural and cognitive consciousness studies, for the philosophy of mind, and for ethics.“

Here is the table authors compiled to present totality of development from non-living materials to rational (human) consciousness:

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MY TAKE ON IT:

This is very well researched, logically constructed, and very convincingly presented view on evolutionary development of rational beings. I pretty much agree with authors approach and I think that presented understanding of interaction between genotype and phenotype is very plausible and probably quite close to reality. The limitation of this book to sensitive soul and especially final discussion shows authors understanding, that I fully agree with, of necessity of expanding research into group functionality in order to fully understand evolutionary meaning of rational soul. I really hope that authors will move into this direction and produce as well researched and analyzed book on this next step, as this one.

 

20191222 – Upheaval

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MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is that a crisis that occurs in lives of individuals and history of countries is an important and difficult process with unpredictable outcome. The response to such crisis requires mobilization of all individual and societal strength and abilities to overcome successfully. From detailed analysis of history of countries in crises author is trying to derive some rules how to handle crises successfully and then suggests ways to deal with what he considered current and/or potential crises in USA and the World.

DETAILS:

Prologue: Legacies of Cocoanut Grove

Two stories—What’s a crisis? – Individual and national crises—What this book is and isn’t— Plan of the book

Here author refer to tragic fire in dancing hall in 1942 Boston that killed some 492 people. This tragedy caused multiple people, either survivors or relatives of victims to undergo difficult psychological crisis, which not all of them were capable to overcome. Here is how author defines crisis: ”one can think of a crisis as a moment of truth: a turning point, when conditions before and after that “moment” are “much more” different from one another than before and after “most” other moments.”  After that author expands this notion of crisis from individuals to societies, providing as example history of Rome: ”a historian of ancient Rome might apply the word “crisis” to only three events after the foundation of the Roman Republic around 509 BC: the first two wars against Carthage (264–241 and 218–201 BC), the replacement of republican government by the empire (around 23 BC), and the barbarian invasions leading to the Western Roman Empire’s fall (around AD 476).”  At the end of prologue author presents plan of the book, which is mainly discussion of historical crisis in several countries and look at the future for USA and the World.

PART 1 INDIVIDUALS

Chapter 1. Personal Crises

A personal crisis—Trajectories—Dealing with crises—Factors related to outcomes—National crises

Author begins this chapter with personal crisis story that he successfully overcame with the help of his father. Then he provides kind of algorithm of how to deal with crisis and discusses each item in his list:

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PART 2.NATIONS: CRISES THAT UNFOLDED

In this part author reviews history of several countries where severe crises occurred and then connects these histories to factors that he provided in the table.

Chapter 2. Finland’s War with the Soviet Union

Visiting Finland—Language—Finland until 1939—The Winter War—The Winter War’s end – The Continuation War—After 1945—Walking a tightrope – Finlandization—Crisis framework Chapter

Here author retells the story of Russo-Finland winter war of 1940 and its continuation until 1945. Finland lost this war but not until it inflicted severe casualties on the USSR and caused serious ideological and psychological damage, eventually resulting in Stalin’s decision to tolerate its limited independence. Author makes point here that overcoming crisis took difficult steps of accepting Soviet humiliating demands and learning not to irritate this powerful neighbor.

  1. The Origins of Modern Japan

My Japanese connections—Japan before 1853—Perry—1853 to 1868—The Meiji Era—Meiji – Reforms—“Westernization”—Overseas expansion—Crisis framework—Questions

Here author reviews another crisis, this time from XIX century when Japan discovered that its traditional isolation stop working because Western military become so superior that it allowed force imposition of trade rules. Japan leadership successfully resolved this crisis by dramatically changing their behavior not only opening country, but also actively searching acquisition of knowledge and skills that consequently led to liquidation of military and industrial deficiencies, so within some 50 years Japan was able to win war against Russia in 1904.

Chapter 4. A Chile for All Chileans

Visiting Chile—Chile until 1970—Allende—The coup and Pinochet—Economics until “No! ‘— After Pinochet—Pinochet’s shadow—Crisis framework—Returning to Chile

This is review of another crisis, this time internal crises in Chile when socialist Allende, after being democratically elected, start moving to communist totalitarian regime. Chile’s society resisted, leading eventually to military coup. Author manages to maintain reasonably fair narrative retelling not only negatives, but also positive economic development that brought in relative prosperity to Chile after market reforms.

Chapter S. Indonesia, the Rise of a New Country

In a hotel—Indonesia’s background—The colonial era—Independence—Sukarno—Coup—Mass legacies—Crisis framework—Returning to Indonesia

This chapter is about another crisis, somewhat similar to Chile when leftist coup was stopped by military and consequential massacre of everybody even remotely on the left. This time the dictatorship was not able to move effectively to market economy and suppress corruption, so no happy ending occurred at the time. However author describes how he visited this country recently and found a lot less corruption and working economy.

Chapter 6. Rebuilding Germany

Germany in 1945—1945 to 1961—Germans holding judgment—1968—1 968’’s aftermath— Brandt and re-unification—Geographic constraints—Self-pity?-Leaders and realism—Crisis framework

This chapter about Germany concentrates on several crisis in this country and its post WWII history from division of the country to rise of Berlin wall to the fall of this wall. For some reason author pays lots of attention to students riot in 1968, but his main stress is on the change of this country from aggressive and highly militaristic to quite pacifistic.

Chapter 7. Australia: Who Are We?

Visiting Australia—First Fleet and Aborigines—Early immigrants

—Federation—Keeping them out—World War One—World War Two—Loosening the ties—The end of White Australia—Crisis framework

The final chapter of this part is about Australia, which did not have such tragic and bloody crises with wars or coups, just slow moving identity crises. This was pretty much recognition that Australia is not part of Britain any more and old mother country does not have neither resources nor will to provide protection and support. It was a slow process on both sides, but eventually Australia moved to practically complete independence, even if it still recognizes queen as formal head of the state.

PART 3 | NATIONS AND THE WORLD: CRISES UNDERWAY

In this part author moves to more consequential countries: Japan and USA and changes focus from looking back at historical crises to looking at ongoing crisis in these two countries, and what he believes could lie in the future not only for these two countries, but for the whole world.

Chapter 8. What Lies Ahead for Japan?

Japan today—Economy—Advantages—Government debt—Women—Babies—Old and declining—Immigration—China and Korea—Natural resource management—Crisis framework

This chapter is about what author believes is Japan crisis. The reasons are aging and decrease of population, debt, and not complete reconciliation with Korea and China after the war. He then moves through his list of crisis factors and checks pluses and minuses of Japan situation and crises handling.

Chapter 9. What Lies Ahead for the United States? Strengths, and the Biggest Problem The U.S. today—Wealth—Geography—Advantages of democracy—Other advantages—Political polarization—Why? —Other polarization

Chapter 10. What Lies Ahead for the United States? Three “Other” Problems

Other problems—Elections—Inequality and immobility—So what? —Investing in the future—Crisis framework

Similarly to analysis of Japan, only more detailed, is author’s analysis of USA that author provides in these two chapters. At the end he provides typical American summary:” What is going to happen to the U.S.? That will depend upon the choices that we make. The enormous fundamental advantages that we enjoy mean that our future can remain as bright as has been our past, if we deal with the obstacles that we are putting in our own way. But we are presently squandering our advantages.

Chapter 11. What Lies Ahead for the World?

The world today—Nuclear weapons—Climate change—Fossil fuels—Alternative energy sources—Other natural resources—Inequality—Crisis framework

Here author dutifully and obviously sincerely checks all the fears that academic class uses to scare people into agreeing for more taxes and more grants. He even provides very funny diagram describing how global warming works and a few numbers about resource depletion and population growth.

Epilogue: Lessons, Questions, and Outlook

Predictive factors—Are crises necessary? —Roles of leaders in history—Roles of specific leaders —what next? – Lessons for the future

Here author combines his two tables into one list and goes in details through each part at global level:

  1. Acknowledgment that one is in crisis
  2. Accept responsibility, avoid victimization, self-pity and blaming others
  3. Build a fence / selective change
  4. Help from other nations
  5. Use other nations as models
  6. National Identity
  7. Honest self-appraisal
  8. Historical experience of previous national crises
  9. Patience with national failure
  10. Situation-specific national flexibility
  11. National core values
  12. Freedom from geopolitical constrains.

At the end author discusses need for crisis for people to take situation seriously and do something to overcome it. He also stresses role of leaders, which importance could never be clearly identified.

MY TAKE ON IT:

It is a nice review of crisis situations, which nevertheless overestimates importance of crisis in many cases, underestimates human ability to handle them, and somewhat missing luck or lack thereof in crisis situations. I think that crisis situation itself is only indicator of how well entity, either person or nation, is adjusted to environment and how much resources, both tangible and intangible, this entity has for modification if needed. Author’s to do list is nice, but it would only work if both levels of adjustment and resource availability sufficient to overcome the crisis. Otherwise to do list is not going to help in the least. To take one of his many example at national level, the Japan Meiji success was possible only because it dealt with Western trading nations, which had no intention of conquest and subjugation while happily allowing Japan to acquire technology and know-how, the generosity for which these Western nations later paid a lot in lives and treasure during WWII. In case of Finland, its successful resistance in the winter of 1940 did not stop Stalin from winning this small war, but demonstrated that it would require resources for occupation and complete subjugation that Stalin, busy with Poland, Baltic States, and preparation for war, just was not willing to allocate. At the end of war Stalin decided that remotely controlled satellite placed within Western camp – kind of small trap door in Iron curtain, used as conduit for technology transfer and source of convertible currency would better serve his purposes than another soviet republic. In both cases success was not that much what was done by leaders of these countries, as what opportunities were open for them. Such opportunities were completely closed for others, like Poland or Baltic countries.

 

20191215 – The Coddling of American Mind

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MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is to demonstrate how contemporary American Academia violate or even trying completely eliminate the great Western tradition of free thinking and research, propagating untruths and hurting the young generation of students. It is also to demonstrate how this generation is already severally handicapped by development of super safe parenting, fear of exposure to reality, and social media that leaves young people with no experience of real social interaction by substituting it with remote electronic forms. The main idea also includes recommendations for how to move to wiser kids, universities, and eventually society by acting according to the rules and ideas of Western traditions that served well to create prosperous society that leftists are trying to destroy.

DETAILS:

INTRODUCTION: The Search for Wisdom

Here authors explore untruth that currently taught to the young generations:

This is a book about three Great Untruths that seem to have spread widely in recent years:

  • The Untruth of Fragility: What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker.
  • The Untruth of Emotional Reasoning: Always trust your feelings.
  • The Untruth of Us Versus Them: Life is a battle between good people and evil people.

While many propositions are untrue, in order to be classified as a Great Untruth, an idea must meet three criteria:

  • It contradicts ancient wisdom (ideas found widely in the wisdom literatures of many cultures).
  • It contradicts modern psychological research on wellbeing.
  • It harms the individuals and communities who embrace it.

Authors also discusses in introduction their experiences as leftist academics who observed changes in universities from 1970 till now and got scared by massive debilitating impact on the young generation of massive indoctrination, suppression of free speech and free thinking and isolation of student from exposure to Western culture and its values.

PART I: Three Bad Ideas

CHAPTER 1 The Untruth of Fragility: What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Weaker

Here author discusses correctness of usual wisdom:” What does not kill you makes you stronger”, even if it is not absolute and critic its opposite that is in vogue in colleges right now. They refer to Antifragility, which is normal product of evolutionary process human development and retell how it is undermined by Safetyism, implementation of Safe spaces, and such. Their conclusions are:

  • Children, like many other complex adaptive systems, are Antifragile. Their brains require a wide range of inputs from their environments in order to configure themselves for those environments. Like the immune system, children must be exposed to challenges and stressors (within limits, and in age-appropriate ways), or they will fail to mature into strong and capable adults, able to engage productively with people and ideas that challenge their beliefs and moral convictions. Concepts sometimes creep.
  • Concepts like trauma and safety have expanded so far since the 1980s that they are often employed in ways that are no longer grounded in legitimate psychological research. Grossly expanded conceptions of trauma and safety are now used to justify the overprotection of children of all ages—even college students, who are sometimes said to need safe spaces and trigger warnings lest words and ideas put them in danger.
  • Safetyism is the cult of safety—an obsession with eliminating threats (both real and imagined) to the point at which people become unwilling to make reasonable trade-offs demanded by other practical and moral concerns. Safetyism deprives young people of the experiences that their Antifragile minds need, thereby making them more fragile, anxious, and prone to seeing themselves as victims.

CHAPTER 2 The Untruth of Emotional Reasoning: Always Trust Your Feelings

This is about handling emotions and most important not to become slave of one’s emotions. One of expressions of emotional debility of contemporary students, especially leftist is disinvitation of speakers on campus. They provide nice graph for frequency of such idiocy:

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Here is summarization of this chapter:

  • Among the most universal psychological insights in the world’s wisdom traditions is that what really frightens and dismays us is not external events themselves but the way in which we think about them, as Epictetus put it.
  • CBT is a method anyone can learn for identifying common cognitive distortions and then changing their habitual patterns of thinking. CBT helps the rider (controlled processing) to train the elephant (automatic processing), resulting in better critical thinking and mental health.
  • Emotional reasoning is among the most common of all cognitive distortions; most people would be happier and more effective if they did less of it.
  • The term “microaggressions” refers to a way of thinking about brief and commonplace indignities and slights communicated to people of color (and others). Small acts of aggression are real, so the term could be useful, but because the definition includes accidental and unintentional offenses, the word “aggression” is misleading. Using the lens of microaggressions may amplify the pain experienced and the conflict that ensues. (On the other hand, there is nothing “micro” about intentional acts of aggression and bigotry.)
  • By encouraging students to interpret the actions of others in the least generous way possible, schools that teach students about microaggressions may be encouraging students to engage in emotional reasoning and other distortions while setting themselves up for higher levels of distrust and conflict.
  • Karith Foster offers an example of using empathy to reappraise actions that could be interpreted as microaggressions. When she interpreted those actions as innocent (albeit insensitive) misunderstandings, it led to a better outcome for everyone.
  • The number of efforts to “disinvite” speakers from giving talks on campus has increased in the last few years; such efforts are often justified by the claim that the speaker in question will cause harm to students. But discomfort is not danger. Students, professors, and administrators should understand the concept of Antifragility and keep in mind Hanna Holborn Gray’s principle: “Education should not be intended to make people comfortable; it is meant to make them think.”

CHAPTER 3 The Untruth of Us Versus Them: Life Is a Battle Between Good People and Evil People

This is about identity politics, which authors contrast with MLK’s common-humanity approach. Authors also discuss intersectionality and provide nice graph explaining this concept:

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Here is the summary of the chapter:

  • The human mind evolved for living in tribes that engaged in frequent (and often violent) conflict; our modern-day minds readily divide the world into “us” and “them,” even on trivial or arbitrary criteria, as Henri Tajfel’s psychological experiments demonstrated.
  • Identity politics takes many forms. Some forms, such as that practiced by Martin Luther King, Jr., and Pauli Murray, can be called common-humanity identity politics, because its practitioners humanize their opponents and appeal to their humanity while also applying political pressure in other ways.
  • Common-enemy identity politics, on the other hand, tries to unite a coalition using the psychology embedded in the Bedouin proverb “I against my brothers. I and my brothers against my cousins. I and my brothers and my cousins against the world.” It is used on the far right as well as the far left.
  • Intersectionality is a popular intellectual framework on campuses today; certain versions of it teach students to see multiple axes of privilege and oppression that intersect. While there are merits to the theory, the way it is interpreted and practiced on campus can sometimes amplify tribal thinking and encourage students to endorse the Untruth of Us Versus Them: Life is a battle between good people and evil people.
  • Common-enemy identity politics, when combined with microaggression theory, produces a call-out culture in which almost anything one says or does could result in a public shaming. This can engender a sense of “walking on eggshells,” and it teaches students habits of self-censorship. Call-out cultures are detrimental to students’ education and bad for their mental health. Call-out cultures and us-versus-them thinking are incompatible with the educational and research missions of universities, which require free inquiry, dissent, evidence-based argument, and intellectual honesty.“

Part II: Bad ideas in Action

In this part authors “show the Great Untruths in action. We examine the “shout-downs,” intimidation, and occasional violence that are making it more difficult for universities to fulfill their core missions of education and research. We explore the newly popular idea that speech is violence, and we show why thinking this way is bad for students’ mental health. We explore the sociology of witch-hunts and moral panics, including the conditions that can cause a college to descend into chaos.”

CHAPTER 4 Intimidation and Violence

Here authors move to contemporary left’s Orwellian ideas like “Words are Violence; Violence is Safety”. Here is authors’ summary:

  • The “Milo Riot” at UC Berkeley on February 1, 2017, marked a major shift in campus protests. Violence was used successfully to stop a speaker; people were injured, and there were (as far as we can tell) no costs to those who were violent. Some students later justified the violence, as a legitimate form of “self-defense” to prevent speech that they said was violent.
  • Hardly any students say that they themselves would use violence to shut down a speech, but two surveys conducted in late 2017 found that substantial minorities of students (20% in one survey and 30% in the other) said it was sometimes “acceptable” for other students to use violence to prevent a speaker from speaking on campus.
  • The “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in which a white nationalist killed a peaceful counterprotester and injured others, further raised tensions on campus, especially as provocations from far-right groups increased in the months afterward.
  • In the fall of 2017, the number of efforts to shut down speakers reached a record level.
  • In 2017, the idea that speech can be violence (even when it does not involve threats, harassment, or calls for violence) seemed to spread, assisted by the tendency in some circles to focus only on perceived impact, not on intent. Words that give rise to stress or fear for members of some groups are now often regarded as a form of violence.
  • Speech is not violence. Treating it as such is an interpretive choice, and it is a choice that increases pain and suffering while preventing other, more effective responses, including the Stoic response (cultivating nonreactivity) and the antifragile response suggested by Van Jones: “Put on some boots, and learn how to deal with adversity.”

CHAPTER 5 Witch Hunts

Here authors discuss history of witch-hunt and note that it happens when some ideologies came to dominate and then trying to retain this dominance forever. They provide graph demonstrating left dominance in universities:

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They also discuss some recent events and provide summary of the chapter:

  • Humans are tribal creatures who readily form groups to compete with other groups (as we saw in chapter 3). Sociologist Emile Durkheim’s work illuminates the way those groups engage in rituals—including the collective punishment of deviance—to enhance their cohesion and solidarity.
  • Cohesive and morally homogeneous groups are prone to witch hunts, particularly when they experience a threat, whether from outside or from within.
  • Witch hunts generally have four properties: they seem to come out of nowhere; they involve charges of crimes against the collective; the offenses that lead to those charges are often trivial or fabricated; and people who know that the accused is innocent keep quiet, or in extreme cases, they join the mob.
  • Some of the most puzzling campus events and trends since 2015 match the profile of a witch hunt. The campus protests at Yale, Claremont McKenna, and Evergreen all began as reactions to politely worded emails, and all led to demands that the authors of the emails be fired. (We repeat that the concerns that provide the context for a witch-hunt may be valid, but in a witch-hunt, the attendant fears are channeled in unjust and destructive ways.)
  • The new trend in 2017 for professors to join open letters denouncing their colleagues and demanding the retraction or condemnation of their work (as happened to Rebecca Tuvel, Amy Wax, and others) also fits this pattern. In all of these cases, colleagues of the accused were afraid to publicly stand up and defend them.
  • Viewpoint diversity reduces a community’s susceptibility to witch-hunts. One of the most important kinds of viewpoint diversity, diversity of political thought, has declined substantially among both professors and students at American universities since the 1990s. These declines, combined with the rapidly escalating political polarization of the United States (which is our focus in the next chapter), may be part of the reason why the new culture of safetyism has spread so rapidly since its emergence around 2013.

PART Ill: How Did We Get Here’?

In Part III authors “try to solve the mystery. Why did things change so rapidly on many campuses between 2013 and 2017? We identify six explanatory threads: the rising political polarization and cross-party animosity of U.S. politics, which has led to rising hate crimes and harassment on campus; rising levels of teen anxiety and depression, which have made many students more desirous of protection and more receptive to the Great Untruths; changes in parenting practices, which have amplified children’s fears even as childhood becomes increasingly safe; the loss of free play and unsupervised risk-taking, both of which kids need to become self-governing adults; the growth of campus bureaucracy and expansion of its protective mission; and an increasing passion for justice, combined with changing ideas about what justice requires. These six trends did not influence everyone equally, but they have all begun to intersect and interact on college campuses in the United States in the last few years.”

CHAPTER 6 The Polarization Cycle

Here authors discuss polarization between political parties:

  • The United States has experienced a steady increase in at least one form of polarization since the 1980s: affective (or emotional) polarization, which means that people who identify with either of the two main political parties increasingly hate and fear the other party and the people in it. This is our first of six explanatory threads that will help us understand what has been changing on campus.
  • Affective polarization in the United States is roughly symmetrical, but as university students and faculty have shifted leftward during a time of rising cross-party hatred, universities have begun to receive less trust and more hostility from some conservatives and right-leaning organizations.
  • Beginning in 2016, the number of high-profile cases of professors being hounded or harassed from the right for something they said in an interview or on social media began to increase.
  • Rising political polarization, accompanied by increases in racial and political provocation from the right, usually directed from off-campus to on-campus targets, is an essential part of the story of why behavior is changing on campus, particularly since 2016.

CHAPTER 7 Anxiety and Depression

Being teachers, authors constantly interact with the young generation and they notice dramatic increase in metal problems:

  • The national rise in adolescent anxiety and depression that began around 2011 is our second explanatory thread.
  • The generation born between 1995 and 2012, called iGen (or sometimes Gen Z), is very different from the Millennials, the generation that preceded it. According to Jean Twenge, an expert in the study of generational differences, one difference is that iGen is growing up more slowly. On average, eighteen-year-olds today have spent less time unsupervised and have hit fewer developmental milestones on the path to autonomy (such as getting a job or a driver’s license), compared with eighteen-year-olds in previous generations.
  • A second difference is that iGen has far higher rates of anxiety and depression. The increases for girls and young women are generally much larger than for boys and young men. The increases do not just reflect changing definitions or standards; they show up in rising hospital admission rates of self-harm and in rising suicide rates. The suicide rate of adolescent boys is still higher than that of girls, but the suicide rate of adolescent girls has doubled since 2007.
  • According to Twenge, the primary cause of the increase in mental illness is frequent use of smartphones and other electronic devices. Less than two hours a day seems to have no deleterious effects, but adolescents who spend several hours a day interacting with screens, particularly if they start in their early teen years or younger, have worse mental health outcomes than do adolescents who use these devices less and who spend more time in face-to-face social interaction.
  • Girls may be suffering more than boys because they are more adversely affected by social comparisons (especially based on digitally enhanced beauty), by signals that they are being left out, and by relational aggression, all of which became easier to enact and harder to escape when adolescents acquired smartphones and social media.
  • iGen’s arrival at college coincides exactly with the arrival and intensification of the culture of safetyism from 2013 to 2017. Members of iGen may be especially attracted to the overprotection offered by the culture of safetyism on many campuses because of students’ higher levels of anxiety and depression. Both depression and anxiety cause changes in cognition, including a tendency to see the world as more dangerous and hostile than it really is.

CHAPTER 8 Paranoid Parenting

This chapter is about paranoid parenting that become typical in America:

  • Paranoid parenting is our third explanatory thread.
  • When we overprotect children, we harm them. Children are naturally antifragile, so overprotection makes them weaker and less resilient later on.
  • Children today have far more restricted childhoods, on average, than those enjoyed by their parents, who grew up in far more dangerous times and yet had many more opportunities to develop their intrinsic antifragility. Compared with previous generations, younger Millennials and especially members of iGen (born in and after 1995) have been deprived of unsupervised time for play and exploration. They have missed out on many of the challenges, negative experiences, and minor risks that help children develop into strong, competent, and independent adults (as we’ll show in the next chapter).
  • Children in the United States and other prosperous countries are safer today than at any other point in history. Yet for a variety of historical reasons, fear of abduction is still very high among American parents, many of whom have come to believe that children should never be without adult supervision. When children are repeatedly led to believe that the world is dangerous and that they cannot face it alone, we should not be surprised if many of them believe it.
  • Helicopter parenting combined with laws and social norms that make it hard to give kids unsupervised time may be having a negative impact on the mental health and resilience of young people today.
  • There are large social class differences in parenting styles. Families in the middle class (and above) tend to use a style that sociologist Annette Lareau calls “concerted cultivation,” in contrast to the “natural growth parenting” used by families in the working class (and below). Some college students from wealthier families may have been rendered more fragile from overparenting and oversupervision. College students from poorer backgrounds are exposed to a very different set of risks, including potential exposure to chronic, severe adversity, which is especially detrimental to resilience when children lack caring relationships with adults who can buffer stress and help them turn adversity into growth.
  • Paranoid parenting prepares today’s children to embrace the three Great Untruths, which means that when they go to college, they are psychologically primed to join a culture of safetyism.

CHAPTER 9 The Decline of Play

This chapter is about necessity of play for development not only humans, but also animals and how American children now deprived of this necessity:

  • The decline of unsupervised free play is our fourth explanatory thread. Children, like other mammals, need free play in order to finish the intricate wiring process of neural development. Children deprived of free play are likely to be less competent—physically and socially—as adults. They are likely to be less tolerant of risk, and more prone to anxiety disorders.
  • Free play, according to Peter Gray, is “activity that is freely chosen and directed by the participants and undertaken for its own sake, not consciously pursued to achieve ends that are distinct from the activity itself.” This is the kind of play that play experts say is most valuable for children, yet it is also the kind of play that has declined most sharply in the lives of American children.
  • The decline in free play was likely driven by several factors, including an unrealistic fear of strangers and kidnapping (since the 1980s); the rising competitiveness for admission to top universities (over many decades); a rising emphasis on testing, test preparation, and homework; and a corresponding deemphasis on physical and social skills (since the early 2000s).
  • The rising availability of smartphones and social media interacted with these other trends, and the combination has greatly changed the way American children spend their time and the kinds of physical and social experiences that guide the intricate wiring process of neural development.
  • Free play helps children develop the skills of cooperation and dispute resolution that are closely related to the “art of association” upon which democracies depend. When citizens are not skilled in this art, they are less able to work out the ordinary conflicts of daily life. They will more frequently call for authorities to apply coercive force to their opponents. They will be more likely to welcome the bureaucracy of safetyism.

CHAPTER 10 The Bureaucracy of Safetyism

This is basically about people who benefit from all this – bureaucrats:

  • The growth of campus bureaucracy and the expansion of its protective mission is our fifth explanatory thread.
  • Administrators generally have good intentions; they are trying to protect the university and its students. But good intentions can sometimes lead to policies that are bad for students. At Northern Michigan University, a policy that we assume was designed to protect the university from liability led to inhumane treatment of students seeking therapy.
  • In response to a variety of factors, including federal mandates and the risk of lawsuits, the number of campus administrators has grown more rapidly than the number of professors, and professors have gradually come to play a smaller role in the administration of universities. The result has been a trend toward “corporatization.”
  • At the same time, market pressures, along with an increasingly consumerist mentality about higher education, have encouraged universities to compete on the basis of the amenities they offer, leading them to think of students as customers whom they must please.
  • Campus administrators must juggle many responsibilities and protect the university from many kinds of liabilities, so they tend to adopt a “better safe than sorry” (or “CYA”) approach to issuing new regulations. The proliferation of regulations over time conveys a sense of imminent danger even when there is little or no real threat. In this way, administrators model multiple cognitive distortions, promote the Untruth of Fragility, and contribute to the culture of safetyism.
  • Some of the regulations promulgated by administrators restrict freedom of speech, often with highly subjective definitions of key concepts. These rules contribute to an attitude on campus that chills speech, in part by suggesting that freedom of speech can or should be restricted because of some students’ emotional discomfort. This teaches catastrophizing and mind reading (among other cognitive distortions) and promotes the Untruth of Emotional Reasoning.
  • One recent administrative innovation is the creation of “Bias Response Lines” and “Bias Response Teams,” which make it easy for members of a campus community to report one another anonymously for “bias.” This “feel something, say something” approach is likely to erode trust within a community. It may also make professors less willing to try innovative or provocative teaching methods; they, too, may develop a CYA approach.
  • More generally, efforts to protect students by creating bureaucratic means of resolving problems and conflicts can have the unintended consequence of fostering moral dependence, which may reduce students’ ability to resolve conflicts independently both during and after college.

CHAPTER 11 The Quest for Justice

Here authors expand on leftist understanding of justice and provide timetable of events that impacted their perception of current situation. Here is their summary:

  • Political events in the years from 2012 to 2018 have been as emotionally powerful as any since the late 1960s. Today’s college students and student protesters are responding to these events with a powerful commitment to social justice activism. This is our sixth and final explanatory thread.
  • People’s ordinary, everyday, intuitive notions of justice include two major types: distributive justice (the perception that people are getting what is deserved) and procedural justice (the perception that the process by which things are distributed and rules are enforced is fair and trustworthy).
  • The most common way that people think about distributive justice is captured by equity theory, which states that things are perceived to be fair when the ratio of outcomes to inputs is equal for all participants.
  • Procedural justice is about how decisions are being made, and is also about how people are treated along the way, as procedures unfold.
  • Social justice is a central concept in campus life today, and it takes a variety of forms. When social justice efforts are fully consistent with both distributive and procedural justice, we call it proportional-procedural social justice. Such efforts generally aim to remove barriers to equality of opportunity and also to ensure that everyone is treated with dignity. But when social justice efforts aim to achieve equality of outcomes by group, and when social justice activists are willing to violate distributive or procedural fairness for some individuals along the way, these efforts violate many people’s sense of intuitive justice. We call these equal-outcomes social justice.
  • Correlation does not imply causation. Yet in many discussions in universities these days, the correlation of a demographic trait or identity group membership with an outcome gap is taken as evidence that discrimination (structural or individual) caused the outcome gap. Sometimes it did, sometimes it didn’t, but if people can’t raise alternative possible causal explanations without eliciting negative consequences, then the community is unlikely to arrive at an accurate understanding of the problem. And without understanding the true nature of a problem, there is little chance of solving it.

Part IV: Wising Up

In the final part authors “offer advice. We suggest specific actions that will help parents and teachers to raise wiser, stronger, more independent children, and we suggest ways in which professors, administrators, and college students can improve their universities and adapt them for life in our age of technology-enhanced outrage.“

CHAPTER 12 Wiser Kids

Here authors discuss how to raise kids to be ready for real world. It is mainly to provide knowledge of this real world, train to rely on sober analysis, rather than emptions and feelings, develop resilience to opinions and even hostility of others, avoid confrontation because good and evil are inside people not between groups of people. They also propose a practical measure: do service or work before college.

CHAPTER 13 Wiser Universities

For universities authors’ recommendations are: defend freedom of inquiry; pick more mature students; look for viewpoint diversity, and educate for “productive disagreement”.

CONCLUSION Wiser Societies

In conclusion authors summarize the whole book in one small table:

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MY TAKE ON IT:

I find in somewhat charming and encouraging that authors, despite being leftists, nevertheless are capable to think, analyze, and understand the harm the current takeover of higher education by the left is causing not only to students and universities, but also to internal peace of the country. The eye opening for them came from situation when more extreme leftists attack less extreme the same way as they attack conservatives. It looks like something called self-preservation kicks in, making them more reasonable. This self-preservation expands also to their children and way of live because being smart people they seems to understand that combination of debilitating education based on primacy of emotion, denial of intellectual freedoms, and aggressive attempts to suppress others could lead to such powerful pushback from these others that would force them to lose their comfortable way of life. Certainly, being leftists, they comply with compulsory requirement to say some lies about Trump and express their hate, but to me it seems like they do not have real passion behind this. Anyway, I think in general it is great development and whatever these people can do, and they are really trying, to return American education back to traditions of Western civilization would be a valuable help in this struggle.

20191208 – How to lie with Statistics

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MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this small book is to demonstrate how by using various presentation methods and statistical tools, which are technically correct, one can nevertheless create false believes in the mind of user.

DETAILS:

Introduction

Author provides a brief narrative of his encounters with people being misled by either misuse of statistical tools or by intentional use of such tools for this purpose and then moves to specific examples.

  1. The Sample with the Built-in Bias

Here author looks at income statistics for “Average Yale man, class 24” and demonstrates how misleading is this statement because it contains a bunch of imbedded biases. He makes an important point: “To be worth much, a report based on sampling must use a representative sample, which is one from which every source of bias has been removed.”

After that author discusses another issue with selection of representative sample: “The test of the random sample is this: Does every name or thing in the whole group have an equal chance to be in the sample? The purely random sample is the only kind that can be examined with entire confidence by means of statistical theory, but there is one thing wrong with it. It is so difficult and expensive to obtain for many uses that sheer cost eliminates it. A more economical substitute, which is almost universally used in such fields as opinion polling and market research, is called stratified random sampling.
 Finally author demonstrates how difficult it is to meet these requirements.

  1. The Well-Chosen Average

The next point author makes is use of averages without clarifying what they mean. He provides a very nice graphic presentation for this issue:

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  1. How to Talk Back to a Statistic

The final chapter is about overcoming manipulation with statistics and presentations by asking a few very reasonable questions:

  • Who says so?
  • How does he know?
  • Did somebody change the subject?
  • Does it make sense?

MY TAKE ON IT:

This is a great collection of manipulation tools from some 50 years ago. It is funny that despite huge progress in information processing these methods did not change that much. Practically all these technics could be found now in books, news, and on Internet. Sometimes it requires some effort to recognize such manipulation, but usually it is very primitive and obvious to any even slightly educated person. Unfortunately after 12 years of high school and often even after additional 4 years of college the general level of mass education could be estimated as much less than slightly, which created the basis for mass manipulation of people. Consequently lots of politicians and bureaucrats make a great living out of this manipulation. I think that American society is pretty close to saturation with this lies because the net result is deterioration of quality of live, which at some point could create some serious push for a change, including massive improvement in education that would prevent manipulation or at least make it much more difficult.

20191201 – Global Crisis

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MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is demonstrate that “Little Ice Age” of XVII century had huge impact on human history. The global cooling caused significant decrease in agricultural productivity all over the world and consequently mass starvation in many places. The consequence was an increased fight for survival that included wars, revolutions, and political changes. Author clearly intent to caution everybody about direct link between climate and human affairs, which requires constant preparedness to handle similar crises in the future.

DETAILS:

Introduction: The ‘Little Ice Age’ and the ‘General Crisis‘

Here author briefly recount tragedies of XVII century: English Civil War, German 30 years religious war, French Civil war, Russian-Polish-Ukrainian struggle, Ming-Qing dynasty change in China, Mughal empire suffering from the draught, and so on. The only country that got away from this calamity relatively easy was Japan. Author links all this to climate change that had global character and provides nice table summarizing political consequences:

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PART I. THE PLACENTA OF THE CRISIS

1 The Little Ice Age

Here author retells adverse climatic events of the period and then discusses typical response of people highly consistent with the level of civilizational development: the Search for Scapegoats. Author also discusses agricultural productivity, its reliance on climate, and human need in food for survival. With humanity at the time being at the early stages of technological development it was not feasible effectively prevent decrease in food supply, which led to Malthusian solution: massive deaths and decrease in population. The problem was not only death, but also impact on physiological condition of population. As example author provides graph of average height of French males born between 1650 and 1770:

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2 The ‘General Crisis’

In this chapter author discusses how humanity responded to adversity: mainly by starting massive wars, which despite multiple disguises religious and otherwise, were pretty much straggle for resources. Here is well-documented example from Europe:

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At the second part of chapter author discusses how various absolutist monarchies of the time handled the crisis.

3 ‘Hunger is the greatest enemy’: The Heart of the Crisis

Here author reviews details of agricultural production in several countries and its marginal character. Combined with societal conditions of the time any variance in food production quickly led to variance in population. Author also discusses role of cities as “urban graveyard effect”, which occurred when people failed to live off the land and move to cities in hope to obtain sustenance there. Here is example:

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Author reviews this situation in multiple countries and their big cities, concluding that similar circumstances led to similar outcomes.

4 ‘A third of the world has died’: Surviving in the Seventeenth Century

Here author discusses various modes of destruction directly or indirectly caused by climate: massive suicides, increase in deadly diseases, infanticide and abortions, mass migration both voluntary and involuntary. Finally author stresses demographic effects that led to decrease in various cohorts of population.

PART II. ENDURING THE CRISIS

5 The ‘Great Enterprise’ in China, 1618-84; 6 The great shaking’: Russia and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, 1618-86; 7 The ‘Ottoman tragedy’, 1618-83;

8 The lamentations of Germany and its Neighbors 1618-88; 9 The Agony of the Iberian Peninsula, 1618-89; 10 France in Crisis, 1618-88; 11 The Stuart Monarchy: The Path to Civil War 1603-42; 12 Britain and Ireland from Civil War to Revolution, 1642-89

This part is country-by-country detailed history of crisis with all its famines, massacres, revolutions, wars, and tremendous suffering of people all over the world.

PART III. SURVIVING THE CRISIS

13 The Mughals and their Neighbors; 14 Red Flag over Italy; 15 The ‘dark continents’: The Americas, Africa and Australia; 16 Getting it Right: Early Tokugawa Japan

This part continues the history of the crisis, but moves to countries where it was somewhat less severe. It was still pretty bad, just a bit better than extreme cases. However one country: Japan was much more successful in handling it. Author provides a small table demonstrating this success by increase in population and harvests:

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Author explains this success by referring to a number of measures that allowed start up Tokugawa dynasty to achieve this result. The most important was what author calls “Industrious Revolution” – massive intensification of agricultural process that allowed increase in productivity and overall output, consequently preventing or at least alleviating severity of famines that caused so many problems in other countries. Another important achievement was Tokugawa’s success in ruling in feudal lords (daimyo) by forcing them to stay close to the center and provide hostages, which made for effective control over their actions.  Not a small part in this success was result of control over information flows, publishing, and religious activities. Author also stresses comparatively beneficial circumstances: Japan at the time was somewhat under populated so climate cooling had a lot less impact than in countries where previous period of population growth and expansion of agriculture to marginal productivity areas created potential for disaster, when harvest failed in these areas.

PART IV. CONFRONTING THE CRISIS

This part traces response to the crisis from different groups of population.  Author cites LU Kun – Chinese bureaucrat of Ming dynasty who identified four types of rebellious people:

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Then he follows on to discuss rebels breakdown along similar lines in different countries.

17 ‘Those who have no means of support’: The Parameters of Popular Resistance

At the beginning of chapter author provides table for France and graph for China that demonstrate massive increase in revolts during climate crisis:

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He provides narrative of such revolts and looks at deterring factors that demonstrated some preventative power:

  • First, the need to earn a daily wage formed a powerful restraint on rebellion: a family that did not work – whether because on strike, in rebellion, or unemployed – might not eat.
  • Second, the vertical links of kinship, friendship, faction, patronage and ritual in each community created ties between the dominant and the dominated that discouraged violent action.
  • Third, and paradoxically, any economic development within the community that increased social divisions also militated against collective action. Thus a shift towards producing crops (especially industrial crops) for export normally created groups of prosperous cultivators who, as long as strong demand for their goods lasted, remained largely insulated from the frustrations and sufferings of those still tied to subsistence farming; and this significantly reduced the likelihood of unified resistance.
  • Fourth and finally, in most farming communities of the early modern world, the poor often depended for their survival on deference and subordination. Better-off neighbors were more likely to provide relief in time of need to those who showed constant respect and obedience, whereas neglect or surliness might lead to denial of charity and even expulsion from the community. However much the poor may have resented their subordination and humiliation, their circumstances compelled them to conform: they might try to negotiate the terms of subordination, but they rarely dared to challenge it.

Author also looks at such details as role of clerics, etiquette of collective violence, place and time of rebellions, weapons and emblems, and, finally, at outcomes: whether it ended in Concession or Repression.

18 ‘People who hope only for a change’: Aristocrats, Intellectuals, Clerics and ‘dirty people of no name’

Here author moves from the bottom to the near top of societies looking at such causes as crisis of Aristocracy, Education, that typically makes it difficult to accept low level station and lack of resources, and finally at people of “no name” who are practically situated outside of main society, but at some condition could invade it – good examples are Russian Cossacks (Stenka Razin) and Chinese pirates (Li Zicheng). Author also discusses in details legal and philosophical justification of Disobedience and violent revolts.

19 ‘People of heterodox beliefs … who will join up with anyone who calls them’: Disseminating Revolution

Here author looks at similarity between development of revolts and contagious diseases: both starting with some spark in local place, but then quickly expands when encountering large numbers of people without immunity and psychologically at the limits of tolerance. Author also discusses situation when fire moves across national borders, exporting revolution. Finally author looks in details on ‘public sphere’ in different countries meaning foundation of literacy, which is always instrumental in promotion of ideas, including revolutionary ideas. A very interesting note at the end of the chapter relates to the number of initial revolutionaries who in nearly all cases is exceedingly small, which is quite consistent with idea of spark causing huge fire.

PART V. BEYOND THE CRISIS

In this part author moves to aftermath of the crisis in late 1680s when despite continuing adverse climate effects well into XVIII century with continuing wars and revolts, wars and revolts decreased in frequency and intensity. Author rejects the idea that it was result of depopulation. He rather stresses human ability to adjust citing evidence of increased crises preparedness, new technological and organizational measures like quarantine that were applied and, most important, shift away from religious thinking to new way – scientific thinking that provided much better ability to handle adversity. The chapters of this part look at all these consequences.

20 Escaping the Crisis

Here author discusses personal reactions of contemporaries and kind of links it to what it would look like now: “ Many of those who lived in the seventeen century reacted to adversity and anxiety which they could neither explain nor avoid in much the same way as their descendants today: some killed themselves; others went to consult a therapist or a cleric; while others found solace in an absorbing pastime. All three categories are difficult to document, because they left few traces in the surviving sources.
. Author looks at each of these groups
reviewing escapist measures used from emigration to suicide, prevailing psychological mode of melancholy, how it was documented in multiple diaries and other documents and so on. Finally author discusses how it happened that Europe shifted from mass wars to peace as result of general exhaustion.

21 From Warfare State to Welfare State

Here author moves to resilience and recovery starting with notes about Germany that was probably the most devastated part of the continent. Then he reviews similar situation in China and other countries. Finally he reviews multiple technological and economic changes that he characterizes as “Agricultural revolution, Consumer revolution, containment of diseases, advancement and periodic renewal of cities, often after massive fires, and other economic changes that led to increased prosperity.

22 The Great Divergence

Here author analyses reason for divergence between Europe and other parts of the world, citing mainly intellectual changes: development of universities, decrease in power of religious thought controls, overall increasing use of scientific method in all areas of life.

Conclusion: The Crisis Anatomized

In conclusion author discusses who were winners and losers of the crisis, which were somewhat different in different countries generally with peasants and others in lower classes being losers and soldiers and governments being winners.

Epilogue: ‘It’s the climate, stupid’

This stresses human dependency upon climate and discusses in details various occurrences of extreme climate variations. Author laments calm attitude of population to global warming alarmism and presents in details how analysis of London potential floods led to preventive intervention in form of building barrier, which despite being very expensive did prevent massive damages afterword.

MY TAKE ON IT:

It is an interesting history clearly demonstrating human dependency on climate in XVII century when technology was primitive, understanding of environment even more primitive and hate, that was periodically exploding in violence between various nations, religious groups, and classes was just a normal condition of humanity. We now live in different world and current knowledge, scientific method, and technology allows not only much better understanding of climate, but also multitude of measures that could allow handling many a crises in effective way. For example such thing as famine due to cooling, could be easily prevented by shifting agriculture to wormer places, or even moving it to controlled environment, not even accounting for human current ability to modify plants or even produce artificial food. I think that alarmist approach is not supported by demonstrated levels of climate understanding and often driven more by power plays and greed of pseudo scientists who derive lots of money and publicity, than by actually demonstrated problems. In any case, it is typical for people who spend time outside of real business environment attempting to find universal solution for multitude of problems, when in reality problems should be resolved one by one as they clearly present themselves.

 

20191124 – Impossible to Ignore

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MAIN IDEA:

The main idea is to present and discuss in details 15 variables that author believes could be used to influence other people’s memory: “context, cues, distinctiveness, emotion, facts, familiarity, motivation, novelty, quantity of information, relevance, repetition, self-generated content, sensory intensity, social aspects, and surprise.

The end result should be ability of the reader to prepare and deliver memorable presentations that would have material impact on people.

DETAILS:

Author provided a nice summary at the end of each chapter, so I would just go with it. Here is a couple of key diagram around which author builds the narrative:

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CHAPTER 1: MEMORY IS A MEANS TO AN END Why Memory Matters in Decision-Making

  • People act on what they remember, not on what they forget
  • What matters most is what happens next. People need memory to predict their next move
  • Memory guides action toward maximum rewards.
  • To be on people’s minds, plug into their: Reflexes Habits Goals
  • Establish a framework, and then decide which items must stand out. Weaken their neighbors.
  • Consider the memory from the standpoint of proportions, not precision.

CHAPTER 2: A BUSINESS APPROACH TO MEMORY Three Steps to Influence Memory and Decisions

  • Prospective memory, which means remembering a future intention, has remarkable advantages for any business because it keeps us viable: we stay in business when people remember what we say and act on it in the future.
  • When people act on future intentions successfully, they complete these three steps, sometimes within fractions of seconds: they notice cues that are linked to their intentions; search their memory for something related to those cues and intentions; and if it is rewarding enough, they execute.
  • The effectiveness of cues depends on how strongly they are related to a desired intention and how salient they are to draw attention at the time of remembering. •   Memory, emotions, and motivation are influenced by the presence, absence, or termination of rewarding or punishing stimuli.
  • People execute on intentions according to the following variables tied to rewards: effort, time delay, risk, and social aspects.

CHAPTER 3: CONTROL WHAT YOUR AUDIENCE REMEMBERS Practical Ways to Avoid the Hazards of Random Memory

  • The forgetting curve hypothesizes that we lose information over time when we make no effort to retain it. We can lose as much as 90% after a few days.
  • Unless we take control of the metaphorical 10% message, an audience will remember things at random.
  • According to fuzzy-trace theory, people form two types of memories: verbatim and gist. Verbatim memories are word-for-word, accurate representations of what we’ve learned in the past. Gist memories include the general meaning of what has happened in the past, and they are less accurate and specific.
  • Determine what type of memories (verbatim or gist) you would like to place in people’s minds and in what proportions.

CHAPTER 4: MADE YOU LOOK How Cues Pave the Way to Action

  • When the cues you use to attract attention at Point A are similar to what people encounter later at Point B, the cues are more likely to signal action.
  • Physical properties of stimuli such as unusual colors, textures, size, motion, loud sounds, harmony, or orientation of objects can force people to look “despite themselves.” These types of cues work because they do not require much cognitive effort.
  • Create cues that are linked to existing habits (e.g., associating new information with a software application people already use) Attention driven by habits is potent because people can sustain it on their own, and once habits are formed, they do not require much cognitive effort.
  • Use cues to direct attention inward and prompt audiences to focus on habitual thoughts. When you engage your audiences in reflective attention, you promote long-term memory because of a process called elaborate encoding.
  • Link your message to people’s most important goals. Unlike reflexes or habits, goals require cognitive effort, but attention is still possible because goals are fueled by needs. Consider acknowledging that an audience may have conflicting needs, such as uncertainty versus structure, people versus privacy, and survival versus transcendence. •   Tie your message to a current but unfulfilled goal. People tend to pay greater attention to and remember more of what is not finished because the brain seeks closure.
  • Link cues to social desirability because impression management is a strong motivation driver. People tend to pay attention to what makes them look good in front of others.
  • Ensure that people have enough willpower to pay attention to you (e.g., present important messages early in the day).
  • Strengthen the association between cues, memory, and intentions.

CHAPTER 5: THE PARADOX OF SURPRISE The Price We Pay for Extra Attention, Time, and Engagement

  • Our audiences form expectations so that they can predict the next moment. When you give them something they expect, you satisfy a human need for accurate predictions, which generates pleasure.
  • Audiences form expectations automatically and mostly unconsciously based on what they pay attention to, memories of past experiences, motivations, emotions, and beliefs they form along the way. To get attention, tie your content to existing beliefs for a better future and provide effective tools they can use after consuming your content, such as checklists, how-to videos, or free software trials.
  • Too much predictability can lead to boredom. Offer your audiences something they expect (and can predict), as well as something that takes them by surprise. Use linguistic, perceptual, cultural, or social norms to break conventions.
  • Juxtapose seemingly unrelated but existing schemas to create surprise.
  • Continue elevating your content to ensure you are meeting your audiences’ ever-evolving palate for satisfying experiences.

CHAPTER 6: SWEET ANTICIPATION How to Build Excitement for What Happens Next

  • Use the word “imagine” to create anticipation and invite action. People don’t just think about the future; they feel the future, and emotion influences decision-making. •   People feel more motivated to take action with a boost of dopamine. The presence of dopamine increases the likelihood that people have enough motivation to not only notice cues but come and get the rewards we’re promising and return to us again. •   Dopamine is released when we help people anticipate a reward accurately, but also when we reserve room for some uncertainty. The area of the brain that predicts rewards is the same area that handles novelty.
  • Dopamine spikes in the face of unexpected events. In general, uncertainty makes us uneasy, which is why it is often referred to as “tension.” We can tolerate some tension as long as (1) we know its degree, (2) we are reminded about the importance of the final outcome, and (3) we can tolerate the amount of delay until that outcome is realized.
  • Unusual activities or performers with skills different from your teams’ are anticipation hooks and serve as strong cues that announce worthy outcomes.
  • If the delay before realizing a promised reward is brief, find the right words for the reveal and practice them.
  • Use foreshadowing, which means frequently giving signs of what will come next.

CHAPTER 7: WHAT MAKES A MESSAGE REPEATABLE? Techniques to Convince Others to Repeat Your Words

Criteria for repeatable messages:

  • Portable
  • Timeless
  • Simple syntax
  • Tied to long-term goals
  • Aspirational
  • Generic (no articulate prepositions or definite articles)
  • Appeal to self-interest (make us look good to ourselves)
  • Social currency (make us look good to others)
  • Universal

CHAPTER 8: BECOME MEMORABLE WITH DISTINCTION How to Stay on People’s Minds Long Enough to Spark Action

  • Distinctiveness is important for long-term memory because isolated items draw more attention and rehearsal time. In addition, isolated items come to the foreground, reducing interference with other items, and also appear in smaller numbers, which makes them easier to recall long term.
  • The more similar things are, the harder it will be to retrieve them later. However, similarity is important for the brain to detect distinctiveness.

  • The brain is constantly looking for rewards. In business, when many messages are the same, we can create distinctiveness, and therefore improve recall, by being specific about these rewards, which we can frame as tangible results.
  • If you’re not first to market, observe pockets of similarity in your domain and then strike with distinctiveness. Allow your audiences’ brains to habituate to similarity; it will be easier for your message to stand out.
  • The more an item differs from other items, the bigger its effect. Select a property you want to isolate and increase its distinctiveness by at least 30% compared with neighboring items.
  • Find opportunities to deviate from a reality your viewers have learned to expect. •  Create distinctiveness by thinking in opposites. This is helpful not only because it helps the brain distinguish some stimuli more strongly than others, but also because contrast is a shortcut to thinking and decision-making.
  • Enable self-generated distinctiveness.
  • Achieve distinctiveness with a human touch and deep meaning.

CHAPTER 9: “I WRITE THIS SITTING IN THE KITCHEN SINK” The Science of Retrieving Memories Through Stories

  • Memorable stories contain the following components: perceptive (sensory impressions in context and action across a timeline), cognitive (facts, abstract concepts, and meaning), and affective (emotion).
  • Something is concrete if we can perceive it with our senses. If we can’t perceive it with our senses, we are talking about an idea or a concept, which is abstract. Balance both in your communication and, to avoid habituation, break the pattern an audience learns to expect.
  • While abstract and concrete are opposites, generic and specific are subsets of each other, with generic being a large group and specific representing an individual item within that group. Zoom in on specific details based on your audience’s level of expertise (advanced audiences can handle abstracts better).
  • Text and graphics have the potential to be equals in memory. Make pictures easy to label and text easy to picture.

  • Pair abstract words with concrete pictures to ensure that your audience extracts a uniform meaning from your message.
  • Use visual metaphors to explain abstract concepts. Steer away from clichéd metaphors by either giving an old metaphor a fresh meaning or using unexpected metaphors.
  • Wrap abstract words in concrete contexts. Repeat information in the same context for verbatim memory. Vary the context for gist memory.
  • Appeal to the senses to activate multiple parts of the brain and create more memory traces. The more personal experiences you share, the more opportunities to include sensory details.
  • Avoid clichéd images. Instead, use vivid images to evoke tension, mystery, wabi-sabi, or nostalgia.
  • Use strong emotions by showing an audience how to: Move toward rewards: pleasure, happiness, elation, ecstasy, love, sexual arousal, trust, empathy, beauty.  Move away from rewards: frustration, indignation, disbelief, sadness, anger, and rage.  Move toward punishments: apprehension, disgust, aversion, fear, terror, unfairness, inequity, uncertainty, and social exclusion.  Move away from punishments: relief, liberation.

CHAPTER 10: HOW MUCH CONTENT IS TOO MUCH? How to Handle Content Sacrifice

  • Clarifying what an audience must remember and do helps to filter unnecessary content.
  • Keep it brief when an audience must identify with the content. Offer more when your listeners don’t have much information or context, and they must make an important decision.
  • Earn the right to provide more information by offering value.
  • If your content is long, alter your audience’s perception of time by offering visible signs of progress, shifting the audience’s focus frequently, and making the content aesthetically pleasing.

CHAPTER 11 HOW DOES THE BRAIN DECIDE? The Neurobiology and Neuroeconomics of Choice

  • If your audience has been performing a task for a long time, link your content to an existing habit. If there are no habits related to your products or ideas, present goal-oriented information. When you do it repeatedly, you help an audience form new habits.
  • Habits are formed by doing, not by not doing. Frame your messages in a positive way.
  • Decisions typically include four steps:
  1. Identify sensory stimuli: What are they?
  2. Select an action that will maximize a reward: What is it worth?
  3. Act on the intention.
  4. Evaluate the results: Did you predict the outcome well?
  • The values our audiences assign to different objects, people, and experiences can range from functional and concrete to something more abstract. People buy things because of emotional, epistemological, aesthetic, hedonistic, or situational value. Clarify these values for your audiences.
  • Even unattended stimuli influence choice. There is no break from greatness for the communicator who aspires to be influential, because everything you share has the potential to influence decisions.
  • Variables that have an impact on our choices include effort to get the reward (physical, financial, or mental), time delay until we get the reward, perception of risk in getting the reward, and social impact in relation to that reward.
  • If your audiences perceive a high amount of uncertainty in their interactions with you, consider heuristics, such as availability, familiarity, or authority, to help them make quick decisions.
  • Fast decision-making is also based on the perception of a stable environment and social factors.
  • A balance between desirability and feasibility leads to more persuasive content. This is because feasibility will help people with their own decisions, and desirability will help them in their transactions with others.
  • Develop content that hooks into rewards from the past but also provides sources for new rewards.

CHAPTER 12

THE RIGHT TO BE FORGOTTEN AND THE INTENT TO BE REMEMBERED How to Balance Accidental and Purposeful Forgetting

The final chapter is about memory management: need to correctly define what is one need to keep in and what dispose off memory. It is also about Black Swans and need to be prepared by continuously modifying understandings and assumptions. Here is graph that author provides to demonstrate this idea:

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MY TAKE ON IT:

I think it is a great tool to understand works of human perception, understanding, and memorizing of presentations. It well worth it to look through before any important presentation and ask question about how each part of it support or maybe not support the checklist provided and ideas presented in this book.

 

20191117 – Blueprint

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MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is that humans carry in them DNA based and evolutionary developed blueprint of their social behavior and that this blueprint had to be taken into account in all issues related to social engineering and societal changes. The neglect to do so could and did lead to dysfunction, sometime on the huge scale like WWI and WWII. So we would be much better off if we learn to understand it and comply with its requirements.

DETAILS:

Preface Our Common Humanity

Author starts his book about common humanity with personal experience being an outlier in the mob, as an American kid and later as teenager in the middle of Greek nationalist demonstrations with anti-American feelings. He then moves to his experience as doctor and scientist that clearly demonstrated human commonality among all the groups regardless of how they were defined: ethnic, religious, national, or whatever. After that he expresses believe in possibility to overcome divisions because: “The fundamental reason is that we each carry within us an evolutionary blueprint for making a good society. Genes do amazing things inside our bodies, but even more amazing to me is what they do outside of them. Genes affect not only the structure and function of our bodies; not only the structure and function of our minds and, hence, our behaviors; but also the structure and function of our societies. This is what we recognize when we look at people around the world. This is the source of our common humanity. Natural selection has shaped our lives as social animals, guiding the evolution of what I call a “social suite” of features priming our capacity for love, friendship, cooperation, learning, and even our ability to recognize the uniqueness of other individuals. Despite all the trappings and artifacts of modern invention—our tools, agriculture, cities, nations—we carry within us innate proclivities that reflect our natural social state, a state that is, as it turns out, primarily good, practically and even morally. Humans can no more make a society that is inconsistent with these positive urges than ants can suddenly make beehives.“
Chapter 1: The Society Within Us

Once again author starts this chapter with recollection of his childhood playing with kids from different ethnic groups. It followed by discussion of commonalities and formulation of what author calls the Social Suit:

 (1) The capacity to have and recognize individual identity

 (2) Love for partners and offspring

(3) Friendship

(4) Social networks

(5) Cooperation

(6) Preference for one’s own group (that is, “in-group bias”)

(7) Mild hierarchy (that is, relative egalitarianism)

(8) Social learning and teaching

The final point author makes here is that tremendous amount of variation between human groups generally is not coming from human genetic makeup, but universal commonalities, as they are expressed in Social Suit, do come from human DNA common for individuals in all groups.

Chapter 2: Unintentional Communities

This chapter is about unintentional communities that where created by unusual circumstances such as shipwreck leaving a number of individuals in isolation. Author analyses how ability or inability to self-organization had decisive impact on chances to survive in this circumstances. In order to support this point author reviews in details several such cases.

Chapter 3: Intentional Communities

This is analysis of different type of communities: intentionally created utopian and/or religious communities with well-documented histories such as Brook Farm, The Shakers, Kibbutzim, Walden, and finally Urban communities of 1960s.  Author provides detailed scientific analysis of human networks formed in isolated community of scientists working in Antarctic station.  The concise result comes to this: “In short, though the specific circumstances vary, two broad sorts of forces serve to promote the success of, or hasten the collapse of, communalist dreams to make society anew: intrinsic biological pressures and extrinsic environmental pressures. Pushed by the blueprint within us, and even if pulled by the forces around us, it is not easy, or feasible, to abandon the social suite.“
Chapter 4: Artificial Communities

The artificial communities in this case are product of social experimentation with use of Amazon Mechanical Turk. Author describes methodology of these experiments first in building Small societies, and then in use of Massive online games. Here are some graphic results:

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Then author discusses use of topology to systemize variety of shell forms using multidimensional space that opens possibility to define all conceivable forms, even if they do not exists. Author then applies this methodology to discuss societies:” To do this, we would have to define the key axes, just like Raup’s three parameters. One important axis might be the hypothetical size of the society, perhaps defined as the size at which people actually know the others in the group well, even if they are not close friends; this could range from, say, zero (meaning that no one knows anyone in our imagined society) to two thousand (each person knows two thousand other people intimately). In reality, most people have about four or five close social contacts and know roughly one hundred and fifty people well—well being defined as familiar enough that they can pick up a conversation where they left off after an absence. This latter number is known as Dunbar’s number. Another axis we might focus on is the cooperativeness of the society or some measure of its proclivity for intragroup violence, perhaps quantified as the chance that two people would cooperate with each other when playing a public-goods game (using a percentage ranging from 0 to 100, 100 percent being the most cooperative). In real human societies, the chance is typically about 65 percent, meaning that roughly two-thirds of people are inclined to cooperate with a stranger when it comes to sharing a possible reward. But the extent of cooperative behaviors can vary somewhat across societies. A third axis might be related to the structure of the social ties—for example, the number of connections people have or the likelihood that their friends are themselves friends with one another (this is known as transitivity in the network, and it ranges from 0 percent to 100 percent). An alternative parameter for the third axis could be a measure of hierarchy or equality in the distribution of some key resource. Once we chose and defined our various axes, we could put all our examples—and, indeed, all

known societies—into such a grid with three (or more) dimensions.

At the end of chapter author makes the point: “genes may have come to work outside our bodies, having their impact at some distance from their source—like fireworks exploding far from their origin—helping to shape the societies far above the genes themselves. They may do this by affecting the human tendency to cooperate with and befriend others, to care for others’ children, to value other people’s individuality, and to love one’s partners. Because of this, in all the seemingly strikingly different human cultures around the world, in all the repeated opportunities to make new societies, we see the same core patterns again and again. Even the social organization and function of political units, like tribal chiefdoms and modern nation-states, are grafted onto this ancient heritage, and they must respect the principles guiding the organization of smaller groups. Rapidly invented, deliberately designed, or wholly novel social systems that seek to abrogate the social suite cannot be as functional as organically evolved ones.”

Chapter 5: First Comes Love

Here author moves to area of love demonstrating how exceptions in societal behavior kind of reaffirm existence of rules. For this author uses kissing as expression of love. It is pretty much common for all humans except for Tsonga people and some others in southern Africa that just do not do this. It follows by discussion of variety of sexual behavior: monogamy, polygamy, polygyny, and their impact on corresponding societies.

Chapter 6: Animal Attraction

Here author compares all this with animal attraction, reviewing pair bonding in animals. Author reviews male and female strategies and behavior genetics research. As example author uses Prairie Vole and genetically close Meadow Voles. Due to the small genetic variation the former are strictly monogamous, while latter are not. The extension of such research to humans demonstrated that genetic component is present in mating behavior.

Chapter 7: Animal Friends

Here author looks at deeper roots of connectivity, first at animal to humans and then between primates. For this he uses massive amount of data collected by Jane Goodall. In addition he provides contemporary analysis of social networks for various animas from chimpanzees to dolphins.

Chapter 8: Friends and Networks

In this chapter author discusses human networks and their strength, starting with example of men who protected others with their bodies during mass shooting. He characterizes this as inherent tendency to include other into self. Here is graphic representation of this idea:

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After that author discusses patterns of friendship in 60 different societies. Based on research of genetic and fraternal twins author demonstrates inherited character of individual networking with others. Author also provides some statistical research data:” In 2009, we asked a national sample of households two key name generators (“Who do you trust to talk to about something personal or private?” “With whom do you spend free time?”), and we found that Americans identify an average of 4.4 close social contacts, with most having between 2.6 and 6.2. The average respondent lists 2.2 friends, 0.76 spouses, 0.28 siblings, 0.44 co-workers, and 0.30 neighbors in response to these questions. These numbers have not changed appreciably in decades, and we see similar results around the world.44 People have roughly four to five close social ties on average, typically including a spouse, perhaps a sibling or two, and usually one or two close friends. These numbers can change somewhat over the course of a person’s life (for instance, as people become widowed).“

The last part of chapter is about friends, enemies and universal bias to one’s own group, however defined.

Chapter 9: One Way to Be Social

This starts with example of failed human heart valves that contemporary medicine can substitute with valves from animals. Author uses it to demonstrate continuity of human and animal worlds. However after discussing similarities author moves to discussing individual variances in humans providing this nice illustration:

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Author characterizes individuality and recognition of Self as mainly human feature seldom existing in other species, at least based on Mirror test. Then author discusses link between identity and grief, which is also characteristics of human and very few other species. The final part of the chapter is about cooperation in humans and animals, teaching and learning and so on, with conclusion that humans societies are not that radically different from other species as usually thought.

Chapter 10: Remote Control

This is about Genes’ use of bodies to change the worlds, as author puts it. Author stresses role of evolution in formation of human network and societies and then reviews various animal artifacts as example of evolutionary development of complex systems. The point he makes is that practically everything was developed by this process, therefore networks and societies are also based on evolutionary developed DNA.

Chapter 11: Genes and Culture

Author starts this chapter with description of impact of technology on productivity and cumulative nature of culture. This is followed by discussion of complexity and unpredictability of cultural development and how it depends on size of population and length of history. The final and most interesting part is discussion of culture and genes coevolution, the process that created us and the environment we live in.

Chapter 12: Natural and Social Laws

Author starts this chapter with reference to old image of body-politics when different parts of society correspond to body parts, kind of Leviathan.  This follows by discussion of human societies link to nature and their separation in theological doctrines. Correspondingly industrial age views brought this link back to be dominant idea. Here is how author describes key change processes human ideologies: “It is not just the social sciences that are vulnerable to revision. New thinking and discoveries have upended many scientific claims, such as the number of chromosomes in human cells, the composition of the core of the Earth, the existence of extrasolar planets, the health risks of various nutrients, the efficacy of anti-cancer treatments, and so on. But the provisional nature of scientific discovery does not mean—cannot mean—that it is simply impossible to observe any objective reality. Over time, items of belief become formalized into hypotheses and then, after sustained testing and much experimental evidence, get widely accepted as facts: Cold, hard facts. The social sciences, like the natural sciences, advance. Their previous errors are not sufficient grounds for their present rejection. Especially in the social sciences, we need to determine whether it is the world that is transforming or just our understanding of it. For instance, just because the manner in which we understand certain core aspects of society is updated, (for example, if we invent new statistical methods or develop new theories and discard old ones) does not mean that those same aspects of society are somehow new. Some of these changes are even to be expected; the contingency we see in the social life of our species is in fact a contingency we evolved to be universally capable of manifesting. One of the ways humans differ from other primates, for instance, is in the variety of mating practices we adopt, albeit grafted onto the core practice of pair-bonding, as we saw.

The author moves to discuss philosophical Isms: Positivism, Reductionism, Essentialism, and Determinism. Then author returns to his idea of social suit, which is to significant extent genetically human behavior, but it is far from being deterministic. It rather defines general framework of humans’ existence, but not its details and it is what author calls “blueprint”. At the end of chapter author looks at new technology such as AI and concludes that humanity is moving to hybridization of humans with machines, retaining however the blueprint as foundational feature. He ends this book with a word of caution: “Humans have always had both competitive and cooperative impulses, both violent and beneficent tendencies. Like the two strands of the double helix of our DNA, these conflicting impulses are intertwined. We are primed for conflict and hatred but also for love, friendship, and cooperation. If anything, modern societies are just a patina of civilization on top of this evolutionary blueprint. There is another reason to step off the plateau and look at mountains rather than hills. A key danger of viewing historical forces as more salient than evolutionary ones in explaining human society is that our species’ story then becomes more fragile. Giving historical forces primacy may even tempt us to give up and feel that a good social order is unnatural. But the good things we see around us are part of what makes us human in the first place. We should be humble in the face of temptations to engineer society in opposition to our instincts. Fortunately, we do not need to exercise any such authority in order to have a good life. The arc of our evolutionary history is long. But it bends toward goodness.”

MY TAKE ON IT:

I think it is generally not completely correct approach to look at DNA as blueprint of anything. I would rather compare it to the typographical letters in drawers with moving type. One can build whatever text is fit to circumstances, but only if there is enough letters of required types. I would also add that it is time dependent. It other words DNA contains potential, but not a blueprint, however sketchy, of result. In any case it is an interesting book, only slightly skewed by author’s expectation for encountering resistance when he states something obvious, commonsensical, and not fitting into some racist and intersectional doctrine dominant in leftist academia. Normal people who are making living not from academic positions and government grants do not require too much supporting material when they see something clearly consistent with their common sense developed via real life experiences.