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Yearly Archives: 2023
20230528 – Against Democracy
The author of this book argues that representative Democracy with equal rights for all is significantly flawed and does not work that well. The examples are Trump, Brexit, and the overall quality of political power used in democratic societies. The author defines the leading cause of this as the participation of too many people in voting and decision-making. The author places all people into the specter, from “Hobbits” to “Hooligans,” with “Vulcans” somewhere in between. “Hobbits” – low-information individuals that are easily manipulated and incapable of participating in decision-making. “Hooligans” – high-information, but firmly committed to some ideology and prejudices individuals, which are incapable of sober and responsible decision making because of it. Finally: “Vulcans are an ideal type—perfectly rational, high-information thinkers with no inappropriate loyalty to their beliefs.”. So, to remedy the flows of Democracy, the author suggests switching to another form of society, called Epistocraticy. The author defines it this way: “Epistocratic forms of government retain most of the normal features of republican representative government. Political power is widespread rather than concentrated in the hands of the few. Powers are separated. There are checks and balances. But, by law, epistocracies do not automatically distribute fundamental political power evenly. Rather, by law, in some way or other, more competent or knowledgeable citizens have slightly more political power than less competent or knowledgeable citizens.”
MY TAKE ON IT:
From the guardians of Plato’s “Republic” to the present-day elitist thinkers, the societal elite always promotes the idea that regular people cannot maintain the effective functioning of society and therefore need leaders who would be in control and ensure such effective functioning. Implemented in many forms, from God-anointed kings to Dear Leaders and General secretaries, it always leads to the misery and suffering of regular people from wars, economic disasters, and whatnot. I think the very approach to the problem of power as being dependent on the quality of people in power is incorrect. The problem is not in the quality of people, but in the power structure. Any society where power is concentrated on the top and distributed down according to the wishes of those at the top will always work poorly. The reason is simple: human ability is limited, and people’s variety of needs and wants are infinite. Therefore, no solution to any problem could be satisfactory for everybody, even if it is satisfactory for the majority. So, the real key is also simple: the power should go from the bottom up, decreasing its scope at every level. Here is how it could work:
- Everything related to the individual and having little impact on others should be decided by the individual using whatever resources this individual has as private property. It includes the ability to move this body to any place in space not occupied or controlled by others, the production and consumption of any form of information, the use of any substances, and so on.
- Everything related to a group of individuals and having little impact on other groups should be decided by members of this group, with consequences of the decision equally applied to all. The hierarchy of such groups could be multilayered from family to local powers to the world as a whole, with a constant decrease in the scope for higher levels of hierarchy. Unreconcilable contradictions between group members should be decided by the ability of individuals or smaller minority groups to move out and take resources of their property with them.
The key feature of this solution is private property; therefore, all resources should be the property of individuals. In case when some resources are not divisible, the exit of individuals from any group should include such compensation that would be considered just.
In short, normal people do not need the elite, so individuals who make decisions for a group should always be in this position for a limited time and deprived of any possibility of extracting more benefits from these decisions than other group members. How individuals get into this position, whether via majority vote, random assignment by lottery, getting through complex examinations, and so on, is not that important. The power flow from the bottom up, limitations of power at each level, and regular change of individuals in control are the only fundamental tools to ensure the effective functioning of a society.
20230521 – The Hour Between Dog and Wolf
This book combines the author’s experience as a trader routinely experiencing stress and his interest in the biology of stress. The main point is that it is a complex chain of multiple feedbacks between high stress environment and its impact on body that results in specific behavior, which in turn causes environmental changes. Here is one of the author’s main points:” Normally stress is a nasty experience, but not at low levels. At low levels it thrills. A nonthreatening stressor or challenge, like a sporting match, a fast drive, or an exciting market, releases cortisol, and in combination with dopamine, one of the most addictive drugs known to the human brain, it delivers a narcotic hit, a rush, a flow that convinces traders there is no other job in the world.”
MY TAKE ON IT:
This book is one more book that confirms my understanding of the wholeness of mind/body when everything is interconnected and works as one complex system. The working of this system includes:
- Receiving multiple signals from the external environment and internals of the body
- Building a distorted image of the situation in such a way that it optimizes body functions to support actions necessary for survival
- Implementing these actions on the environment
- Analyzing results and going back to a.
One of the most interesting parts of this book for me was describing some of the body parameters such as heart rate variability, that I was unfamiliar with. Another example of helpful information from this book is the graph of feedback loops timing between the brain and other parts of the body:
20230514 – Human Compatible
This book is about intelligence. It explores the idea of intelligence in humans and machines. The main point is that humans must find a way to control AI, even when it acquires superior functionality in processing existing information and generating new one, such as ideas, technology, and art.
MY TAKE ON IT:
This book is a pretty good presentation of the concept of intelligence as a more or less abstract idea. It also includes detailed descriptions of current debates and provides some suggestions for dealing with AI. I think the whole problem is a bit overblown because of the dominant concept of humans as purely biological objects as we are now and have always been. However, if one looks at a human as a self-directing information-processing object deeply embedded into the network of interactions with other humans, the problem kind of disappears. Humans are all different from each other in their DNA, cultural background, and behavior. So, why is it a problem if humans create a silicon-based self-directing information-processing object with all human characteristics except for the biological base? I do not think it will happen because nobody needs it, maybe except for some controlled experimentation. Beyond that, AI will be used as all other machines: to process materials and information to satisfy biological humans’ material and intellectual needs. The key here is the notion of SELF, which no AI computer could obtain without being “raised” in the same way as human beings are. Surely, it could be done much faster, but the nature of the process has to be the same.
20230507 – How the War was Won
This book about WWII is highly unusual. Unlike nearly 99% of books about this war that focuses on battles and outcomes of these battles: their winners and losers, this book focuses on munitions production and logistics. The author points out that the munitions production and, even more critical, logistics led to the Allies’ victory and the defeat of Nazi Germany and Japan. The author reassesses the distribution of the credit for victory between the USSR and the Western Allies. USSR fought most battles, lost by far more people. It killed more soldiers than the USA and Britain. But the USA and Britain caused much more destruction and disruption to Germany’s and Japan’s abilities to produce munitions, deliver them to the battlefield, and use them effectively. The bottom line is that many more munitions were not produced or never used in the battle than were lost in battles.
MY TAKE O IT:
I always found it strange that many people manage to ignore the realities of industrialized war. After all, neither morale of troops nor their number could do much if the enemy had more munitions. The quality of munitions obviously also should be accounted for, so the accurate comparison must include all factors, including those not evident. For example, suppose the final battle ended with X1 soldiers in psychological condition X2 with X3 munitions winning against Y1 soldiers in psychological state Y2 with Y3 munitions. In that case, it always means that the totality of X is more than the totality of Y. So, in WWII, the effort of the Western Allies led to much higher levels of diminishing the fighting ability of the Axis than the Soviet effort. One example of invisibility would be the impact of a failed air raid by Allie’s bombers against a German production facility that could not cause any material damage whatsoever. It may show no killed or wounded personnel or destroyed building, but it kept workers of this facility spent time hiding in shelters rather than producing munitions. The result would be some munitions never made due to the waste of time that is not different from being destroyed on the battlefield. In either case, these munitions do not exist after the action, whether the action was a battle or failed air raid. The failure to understand the need for a holistic approach to force estimations led to many shortcomings of aggressors who counted only the visible components of the force potential. The ongoing demonstration of such oversight is the Russian-Ukrainian war currently underway.
20230430 – Language vs Reality
The main point of this book is that human language serves not as much as an instrument of accumulation and transfer of information but rather as a tool of social organization, which is necessary to coordinate the actions of groups of human individuals. From this point of view, the linguistic and ideological representation of reality has only tangible relation to the reality of the environment because this representation must be limited to the technical capacity of the human brain. The book describes how it is done and scientific experiments that demonstrate this process. It also provides some interesting examples from comparing different languages, proving how human perception of reality depends on the language. Finally, it reflects the manipulation of people applied by using “the power of framing, stories, and narratives in persuasion, sense making, and social cohesion.”
MY TAKE ON IT:
This book is quite a helpful tool for anybody who wants to be at least somewhat free and independent because it nicely demonstrates how others manipulate us all. This manipulation starts from birth and ends only at the point of death. It is done via language structure and use, the control of information flows, and the framing of individual mindset during culture acquisition and throughout the lifetime. From my experience, I could say that the ability to recognize such manipulation and act accordingly could be a defining factor in the quality of an individual’s life and even its quantity.
20230423 – Stolen Focus
This book is about human focus, which is the human ability and even the need to concentrate narrowly on some informational process, whether reading, problem analysis, communication with others, etc. The focus also means excluding everything else that is not in focus from human perception and thoughts, as if it just does not exist. The book discusses at length the necessity of focus for being productive in any area of human activity and technology that distract people from applying it effectively. The author also discusses the consequences of this distraction, which include the inability to deal with complex problems and adherence to simplistic solutions. Eventually, this inability to focus on effective problem solutions causes stress, illness, and a general failure to have a good life. In conclusion, the author offers six behavioral changes that could help manage attention and control focus.
MY TAKE ON IT:
It is a good review of the problem, with many references to psychological research and books. For me, the problem does not look too tricky to resolve, probably because I grew up in an environment where the primary news source was radio and one TV program, computers were mainframes not accessible to people, and books were available only within limits established by the totalitarian government. This was the environment of severe informational deprivation combined with the massive overflow of propaganda and disinformation in all forms conceivable. But on the other hand, this environment provided good training for setting up filters to select what makes sense and what does not, which tools help get things done, and which mainly distract one from doing this. So, I think the distraction problem will be resolved via training in setting similar filters from early childhood. In addition, such training should develop skills in consciously deciding what one wants to achieve, what information one needs for this, and which tools are best; after that, one can just cut off all this noise and even forget about its existence.
20230416 – Stalin’s War
The book is about the History of WWII. Unlike the thousands of other books about this period in History, this book offers a reality check on what then happened and how it happened. The typical narrative is that it was a good war in which forces of democracy and freedom fought and won over forces of Nazis’ totalitarian dictatorship, aggression, and genocide. This typical narrative also misses a small, inconvenient, but essential fact that on the side of democracy and freedom was the Communist totalitarian dictatorship of the Soviet Union that was as aggressive and genocidal as Nazis, if not more so. It also misses another inconvenient fact that in the first two years of WWII, from September 1939 to June 1941, totalitarian Germany and the totalitarian Soviet Union were allies, actively supporting each other politically and economically. They even had a formal diplomatic agreement with the secret protocol specifying details of the attack of this totalitarian alliance against Poland and the territorial division of this country. Finally, this book very convincingly demonstrates how the Roosevelt administration in the USA spared no effort to support the Soviet Union. It worked hard, bleaching out its image from all traces of seas of blood of its millions of victims, and successfully turned this monster of the country from a technological weakling into technologically advanced military power.
MY TAKE ON IT:
In my opinion, this book should be required reading for any individual involved in the politics of democratic societies. Not only it provides in great detail information about History, but it also demonstrates how much distortion of History in service of the ideology of socialism impacts the actions of individuals in control and how it results in huge costs that people have to pay as a result of these actions. It is not only people under Soviet dictatorship who suffered these costs by having miserable lives of economic and intellectual deprivations. It was also the people of democratic states who had to suffer a decrease in well-being resulting from vast amounts of resources of these states directed to support the growing power of the USSR during WWII and then to maintain substantial military expenses to contain it. I would suggest looking at two historical events to demonstrate how they happened. One is from WWII – the Warsaw uprising again Nazis in 1944, and another is Russia’s current aggression against Ukraine.
The first event was when Stalin rejected all requests of the USA and UK to help the Polish resistance and allowed Nazis to destroy thousands of people, which could become an obstacle to his plans of control over Poland. It is described in chapter 30 of this book. It clearly demonstrates the ideological and moral weakness of the Western leadership of the time. Just imagine that instead of timidly asking for help, Roosevelt demanded it and warned that refusal to help Poland meant immediately suspending all lend-lease supplies. Stalin would have no choice but to comply because, without tremendous material support from the USA, Red Army would not be able to fight. The result of such assertiveness in this and similar cases would be the democratic Easter Europe, significantly diminished abilities of the USSR to initiate and conduct Cold War, and much better lives that generations of people elsewhere would have in the second part of the XXth century.
The second event, even if it started 77 years after WWII, is directly related to this war and its History distortion. Russian dictator Putin and other members of the contemporary Russian elite grew up in an environment where the USSR’s role in WWII was glorified, its material and military achievements magnified beyond any reasonable relation to factual reality, and the role of Western allies diminished to insignificance. This distortion became an inseparable part of these peoples’ worldviews. It also created the foundation for their strong belief in the superiority of their people and, therefore, Russian ability to generate military power superior to anything that could be generated by the West, despite the West’s enormous economic and technological superiority. Such belief will sustain Russian aggression as long as the West allows it by pretending that it does not happen before February 2022 and not providing sufficient weapons to Ukraine to win quickly.
If Western leaders truly learned the History of WWII, they would understand that choice is not fight or not fight. The option is what price to pay. Admission of Ukraine to NATO on February 21st of 2022 would save hundreds of billions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of lives. Correspondingly, the suspension of military support to Ukraine, if it happens, will lead not to peace but to spending trillions of dollars and millions of lives due to the expansion of this war. It remains to be seen what road they will choose.
20230409 – Not Born Yesterday
The author explicitly defines his intention in writing this book as rejecting the idea that regular people are too gullible and are an easy mark for cheating and manipulation by politicians, businesses, and other crooks. “The goal of this book is to show this is all wrong. We don’t credulously accept whatever we’re told—even if those views are supported by the majority of the population, or by prestigious, charismatic individuals. On the contrary, we are skilled at figuring out who to trust and what to believe, and, if anything, we’re too hard rather than too easy to influence.”
MY TAKE ON IT:
I think that the majority of people are gullible and often allow others to manipulate them to act against their own interests. There are quite a few reasons for that; the main probably is the cost of resources and attention that are required to resist. It is not the cost per se but a rather typical human inability to compare the cost of paying attention to the cost of not paying it. A typical example would be something like “global warming” manipulated into “climate change” when it became obvious that temperature is not going up that much. The cost of resisting this ideology, such as conflict with its noisy supporters, is very real and immediate.
In contrast, the cost of letting the supporters of this religion have their way in the legislature, culture, and other areas is remote and not obvious. This cost will come in price increases for energy, and consequently everything else, inability to do things that used to be trivial, suppression of speech, and an overall decrease in quality of life. Eventually, with the expansion of these costs, it will become intolerable and inevitably lead to fighting back. In a working democracy, it is a bit less difficult than in a dictatorship, but the price of this gullibility will still be pretty high.
20230402 – The Myth of American Inequality
This book is about widely spread misconceptions regarding enormous and still growing inequality in America. The authors use government statistics to demonstrate, and quite convincingly at that, that it is not the case. The point they make is that government transfers pretty much-eliminated poverty. Furthermore, the calculations demonstrate that government expenses on the poor, if counted as income, would firmly put these poor into the middle class. Here is a lovely table summarizing this point:
The authors also look at consumption and conclude that the poor in America consumes so much of everything that they hardly should be considered poor by comparing them with the poor in most other countries.
The authors also discuss inequality, the Gini coefficient, and how leftist economists manipulate data to arrive to preset conclusions. Finally, the authors demonstrate that, far from being stagnant, America has made significant progress, and the contemporary poor are much wealthier than the real poor in the 1960s.
MY TAKE ON IT:
It is a very interesting book with lots of excellent and relevant statistics. I believe that material well-being becomes secondary after people achieve some level of satisfaction with material needs. The problem becomes not economic but rather psychological. To achieve an acceptable level of self-esteem, a human need to be self-sufficient and effective in obtaining resources from the environment. Handouts and transfers of resources from others prevent such achievement. Hence, people try to compensate for this by the demand to increase transfers to the resource availability level of really self-sufficient people. The hope is that such an achievement of false equality would make the feeling of inadequacy disappear. An even more critical factor is the powerful forces of bureaucracy and government-supported layers of society that control resource transfers from productive people to unproductive, directing a significant share, if not the most, of resources to themselves. These forces include the teachers that produce illiterates after 12 years of schooling and paper pushers that make any business spend extraordinary time and effort complying with meaningless regulations. They also include politicians that create these regulations. Together with other members of the parasitic part of society, they represent a powerful force that would make the “struggle for equality” continue forever, regardless of actual resource availability for everybody in society.
Moreover, with the approaching switch of a large part of the production of goods and services to automatic, AI-based processes, the number of people that cannot compete will grow, increasing the power of the parasitic part of society. This change could lead to an increase in the hierarchical structure of government expanding to include these people directly as educated bureaucrats doing meaningless “work” or indirectly as uneducated “poor” living off government transfers. The alternative to this unified hierarchy would be resource distribution via individual ownership covering the totality of the population and totality of available resources and designed to make such ownership permanent while dynamically adjusting it depending on individual actions and their success or failure. In my essay, I proposed a process for doing just this.
20230326 – The Extended Mind
In this book, the author argues that the usual perception of the brain as the sole organ where thinking occurs is incorrect. The author discusses the familiar analogies of a brain as a muscle or computer, which she believes are inaccurate. The author defines her position here:” For one thing: thought happens not only inside the skull but out in the world, too; it’s an act of continuous assembly and reassembly that draws on resources external to the brain. For another: the kinds of materials available to “think with” affect the nature and quality of the thought that can be produced. And last: the capacity to think well—that is, to be intelligent—is not a fixed property of the individual but rather a shifting state that is dependent on access to extra-neural resources and the knowledge of how to use them.” Another essential point that the author makes is that humans now have powerful tools for information processing, such as computers, that increase the processing power of the human mind, making it evident that it becomes an extended entity, most of which resides outside of the human head.
MY TAKE ON IT:
I think that idea of an extended mind is somewhat trivial. It was so long before computers were invented, and it is doubtful that anybody would argue that the concept of the duality of body and mind applies anywhere outside of philosophical discussions. However, the quality of the brain is the most important factor defining the quality of the mind. Based on a lot of research, I am pretty sure that the quality of the individual mind is highly inheritable. Hence, the idea that everybody could achieve anything if a proper environment is provided just by putting in 10,000 hours of practice is just not supported by human experience. However, the mode of application of the mind to a variety of problems is highly dependent on available tools, making the individual ability to use tools effectively much more critical than the ability to do a task without tools. For example, the prodigy capable of doing complex calculations in the head could be easily outclassed by any person with a calculator. This reality makes the whole idea of dividing people into more and less intelligent somewhat outdated. Instead, the division should be between individuals capable of achieving results in some specific area and those who cannot do it. The significant thing is that since just about any area of activity is complex and tools dependent, it is not possible to design tests that would perfectly predict individual performance. So, the best way would be to stop trying select people upfront and provide everybody with resources and access to the ability to act. Based on these actions’ results, only after that decide who should get the extended opportunity.
20230319 – The Neuroscience of Intelligence
This book is pretty much a scientific report on contemporary knowledge about human intelligence. It is not ideological and, based on recent technological achievements such as functional MRI, allows a look inside the brain when it is working, creating images of the process. The author provides such a definition of his effort:” Three laws govern this book: (1) no story about the brain is simple; (2) no one study is definitive; (3) it takes many years to sort out conflicting and inconsistent findings and establish a compelling weight of evidence.”
MY TAKE ON IT:
For me, this book provides a nice confirmation for my understanding of human intelligence as a tool, evolutionary developed for survival. Therefore, it presents a sufficiently broad set of characteristics that make individuals intellectually different. It contradicts the contemporary dominant pseudo-egalitarian ideology that demands equality of results and acceptance of scientifically unsupported claims of the infinite malleability of humans that would allow anybody to achieve anything. In my opinion, the diversity of human intellect is not a bug but an essential feature that increases the probability of adjustment to a rapidly changing environment. After all, in some cases, the group is better off if it includes Einstein. Still, in other situations, it is better off if it includes people on the other side of the intellectual spectrum.
20230312 – Taxes Have Consequences
This book is a pretty much detailed history of taxation in the USA in the XXth and the first 20 years of the XXIst centuries. It provides a thorough examination of taxes and their effectiveness or lack thereof. The author’s name is well known because it relates to the famous “Laffer curve.” He convincingly demonstrates that the tax rates, more often than not, are just political games that have little impact on what people at the top pay because these people have access to a great many loopholes and a massive industry of legal tax evasion. In addition to a laundry list of tax evasion methods, the author demonstrates how high taxes produce a negative impact on the economy by diverting efforts of the most productive people of the society away from active efforts to create more ideas, inventions, goods, and services to not less vigorous, demanding, but economically non-productive activity of saving what they already have from taxes.
MY TAKE ON IT:
Probably the most interesting point that the author makes is that actual tax rates for the rich remain the same regardless of the declarative tax rates. I always enjoy seeing this graph, which so nicely demonstrates how taxes work:
I think that the problem is not really with taxes and their rates. The problem is with the use of the state by the elite in control. Is it used as a valuable tool for prosperity or as a mechanism that negatively impacts the population’s life? I believe that the simple rule is this: a state is a machine of violence, and as such, it should be used exclusively for the prevention of violence, its suppression if prevention fails, and for retaliation against individuals that use it. All other uses of this machine always have one and only one main cause: the poor functional design of processes used for the generation and allocation of resources in the society, including non-material resources such as respect of individuals to each other and prestige of individuals in the eyes of others.
20230305 – How the Body Knows it’s Mind
This book is about complex processes outside the human mind that broadly define what is happening inside of this mind. These processes occur outside the brain in different human body parts. In addition, many processes occur outside the body, such as interactions with others and the environment. All these processes have some impact on the brain’s work, resulting in specific functions of the mind and, eventually, human actions.
MY TAKE ON IT:
This book is a good review of the different interfaces between the human body and the human mind. It is well documented, and I believe it generally correctly represents such interfaces and how they work. However, the most interesting part is probably about using these interfaces to achieve some preferable condition of mind that could not be consciously achieved by just being willing to do it. The simplest example would be to change one’s emotional state by consciously imitating external manifestations of such a state. In short, the simple mechanical process of smiling, even when sad, makes the person less sad and more open to a brighter side of life.
Similarly, bodily mimicking another person could be a way to understand this person’s condition better. In short, the brain is not a separate, isolated place where the mind resides. It is instead a part of the whole body, and conditions of the entire body define states of the mind.
20230226 – The Network State
The author possesses highly developed communication skills, so he provides multiple definitions of the book’s central concepts in such a way that each definition expands on the previous from one sentence to the essay. For example, here is the second level of complexity definition:” A network state is a social network with a moral innovation, a sense of national consciousness, a recognized founder, a capacity for collective action, an in-person level of civility, an integrated cryptocurrency, a consensual government limited by a social smart contract, an archipelago of crowdfunded physical territories, a virtual capital, and an on-chain census that proves a large enough population, income, and real-estate footprint to attain a measure of diplomatic recognition”.
The author then proceeds to look in detail at this concept from all conceivable angles.
MY TAKE ON IT:
I think that all this is a nice exercise in the philosophy of the nation and state. Still, by its very definition, the network state could not possibly exist because it is distributed in space with nodes (individuals) of its network connected via communication channels. The state, whether small or big, requires the concentration of its members in close proximity because the state is always about violence and force. It could exist only on two conditions:
- There are people who are ready to kill and die for it
- These people are so close to each other that they are strong enough to suppress or eliminate all and any groups of individuals who for one reason or another do not want to accept the existence of the such state.
The world is divided between states, and history demonstrated that these states were created only by one of two processes: dissolution of bigger states due to the internal contradiction between groups of approximately equal power or as a result of merging smaller groups, usually when one conquers others. So the idea that any ruling hierarchy of any state would tolerate any individual living on their territory who profess loyalty to some distributed network state seems to me contradicts the whole history of humanity from it being divided into small bands with a few hundred members controlling a few square miles of territory to contemporary superstates with billions of people. So this nice dream is just a dream and nothing more than that.
20230219 – The World Before Us
The author’s description of the content of this book:” This book explores the Palaeolithic era (or Old Stone Age), a key phase of late human evolution from roughly 300,000 to 40,000 years ago; a period when we, Homo sapiens, became us. This area of research has changed dramatically over the last couple of decades, and what we know now about our own deep past is very different from what we once thought “. The recent critical findings that occurred due to discoveries in the Denisovan cave and technological breakthroughs that led to decoding ancient DNA samples prompted considerable changes in our understanding of human evolution. It turned out to be much more complex and interesting than people thought. It included multiple human species, previously unimaginable routes, timings of migrations, interbreeding, and many other complex occurrences. It is also a brief but excellent review of new technological advancements that allow the development of this new understanding. These technologies come from multiple areas, from satellite imaging to the biological processing of fossilized material.
MY TAKE ON IT:
Back just a few decades ago, it would be inconceivable to believe that DNA could be extracted and decoded from organic residues created long ago. Similarly, it would be hard to imagine that images from the satellite could lead to archeological discoveries. From my point of view, the new findings demonstrate that human evolution was not a straightforward process as people thought back in the 1970s but rather a complex and convoluted process with setbacks, the division of species into subspecies, and their merging back together. It also causes territorial expansion of humans and then contraction. However, all this does not change the main point of the human species’ development via evolution. It just demonstrates that the understanding of evolution as a directional process is plainly incorrect. The actual process is basically adjustable, so it is not from simple to complex or from lowly amoebas to noble humans. It is just an adjustment to various environmental niches that sometimes includes movement from simple organisms to more complicated, but sometimes from more complex to something simpler but better adjusted to environmental change. Amoebas are still existing in their niches and seem to be doing great. I hope the same can be said about humans for a long, long time in the future.
20230212 -Searching for a Memory
The main point of this book is that memory is not a passive process of retrieving information from a warehouse of information, but rather an active process of constructing the image of the past based on the condition of neural networks in the human brain. This condition changes dynamically, strongly impacting the results of this construction. The author provides a good metaphor for memory as a telescope pointed at the time. The author expands on this idea by discussing historical examples, experimental data from the use of technology, and referring to the usual behavior analysis methodology of people with damaged brains.
MY TAKE ON IT:
Like everything else in the human body, the brain’s work that generates memories is defined by evolutionary development. However, evolution is about survival and reproduction, not about the search for the truth and factually correct representation of events. So, the process of memory construction necessarily includes mainly unconscious adjustments to whatever relevant neural networks produce to the main objective of survival. The interesting part is that, being social animal, humans actually need both: truths about the past, which is necessary to provide effective interaction with the environment, and lies, which is required to maintain social cohesiveness. We are now at a very interesting point in human history when the demand for truth becomes more important than the demand for lies, whether these lies are noble or not, because technology has achieved such a level when denial of reality makes human survival questionable. A good example was the recent Covid pandemic, when usual bureaucratic manipulations and suppression of the factual data in the name of pseudo-science prevented effective handling of the epidemic, causing enormous economic and psychological damage to the population. Whether humanity can mature to the point when it can effectively handle memories and data soon enough to survive remains to be seen.
20230205 – The Great Demographic Illusion
The content of this book should put to rest both weird ideas that were derived from changing demography of the USA:
- Democrats hope that America is becoming a “minority/majority country,” meaning they will be in power forever
- Non-elite whites fear that they will become a minority and be treated as inferiors, which is already often the case implemented by the elite via affirmative action programs.
The author provides several arguments falsifying both these ideas. The main argument is that ethno/racial divisions are not really that rigid. The history of America demonstrated that people considered non-white and inferior such as Jews and Irish in the XIX century, became as white as they got by the second half of the XX century. Another point is that, since we all belong to one human species and therefore can interbreed, it’s what Americans do on a vast scale. There is explosive growth in multiracial and multiethnic children that makes all racist ideas plainly meaningless. The same history demonstrates that the newly arrived ethnic and racial groups change their political affiliation over time when their social and economic position rises to mainstream levels. Finally, the author discusses how government demographic statistics manipulate data to fit the dominant narrative and how it hinders the transfer of immigrants of diverse backgrounds into regular Americans, commonly occurring within 2-3 generations.
MY TAKE ON IT:
I think that all issues related to “race relations”, “majority/minority struggle for dominance”, “affirmative actions”, and so on are the product of the elite. The elite tries to maintain their status by dividing the non-elite population and busying them with intergroup fights. These fights leave no time and resources for the battle to assure meritocracy and alignment of elite interests with the general population’s interests. A good example would be “free trade” and “environment protection”. Currently, the elite’s interests are linked to their possession of assets, either capitalistic – control over businesses, or socialistic- a good position in a governmental or quasi-governmental hierarchy, such as a governmental bureaucrat or a university professor. Correspondingly these interests include a high return on material assets or a high level of virtue signaling by supporting strict environmental regulation. Both are satisfied by moving production to a third-world country where labor is cheap and ecological law is either non-existent or not enforced. This shift is clearly against the interest of non-elite, for which more affordable consumer goods do not compensate for job loss. Correspondingly, the worst nightmare for the elite would be concrete political action of non-elite demanding that all goods and services sold in the USA would be produced in full compliance with US laws. Obviously, the necessity to pay the American minimum wage and comply with US environmental regulations, however idiotic, anywhere in the world where goods are produced for US consumers would make the US the most efficient place to produce these goods and services. Alternatively, they will force US regulations to change if goods and services cannot be created under such conditions. The division of non-elite into racial and ethnic groups and their incitement to fight each other reliably distracts non-elites of all races from fighting for their common interests.
20230129 – The Journey of Humanity
This book proposes the unified growth theory that the author defines this way: “Unified growth theory captures the journey of humanity over the entire course of history, since the emergence of Homo sapiens in Africa nearly 300,000 years ago. It identifies and traces the forces that governed the process of development during the Malthusian epoch, eventually triggering the phase transition in which the human species escaped from this poverty trap into an era of sustained economic growth. These insights are essential for understanding the growth process in its entirety, the hurdles faced by poorer economies today in their transition from stagnation to growth, the origins of the great divergence in the wealth of nations in the past centuries, and the fingerprints of the ancient past in the fate of nations.” The author also links it to the math theory describing processes in complex non-linear systems. The author describes it this way:” The conceptual framework I devised in the past few decades to address this conundrum was inspired by insights from the mathematical field of bifurcation theory, which demonstrate how, beyond a certain threshold, minor alterations in a single factor may generate a sudden and dramatic transformation in the behavior of complex dynamical systems (as is the case when heat crosses a threshold and transforms water from liquid to gas). In particular, this research has focused on identifying the cogs that were whirring invisibly beneath the surface, wheels of change that were turning relentlessly throughout the epoch of the Malthusian equilibrium but which ultimately broke its hold and led to the emergence of modern growth – much like the rising temperatures in the kettle.” Finally, the “wheels of change”, defined as population size and population composition. The population composition here means the difference between resource allocation to the quantity of people in the next generation or the quality of these people. The author’s explanation of humanity’s and its resources explosive growth during the last few centuries is the switch from quantity to quality in this composition. The book describes in detail how this change occurred in the past and continues in the present.
MY TAKE ON IT:
This review nicely presents the logic and history of human development. I agree that the transfer from quantity to quality in forming the next generation is the driver of the acquisition of new technology, which leads to increased productivity, eventually resulting in a massive increase in the quality and quantity of human lives. However, my own understanding of the overall development, past, present, and future of humanity is based on the notion of the duality of human nature. On the one hand, it is defined by the individual need to survive, while on the other hand, by the need to ensure the survival of the group this individual belongs to. Consequently, the struggle for resources, material and psychological, such as prestige, between individuals within a group and the battle between the groups drives all processes and the overall development of humanity.
I see it as the sequence of five stages of humanity’s development:
- The long process of biological evolution took a few million years and produced contemporary humans as creatures qualitatively different from all other animals. This difference comes from the human ability effectively obtain, accumulate, and transfer complex information not only between individuals but also between generations of individuals. This feature of humans allowed a cumulative increase of knowledge, skills, and processes, which put humans out of complete dependency on the environment. It also turned them into hunter-gatherers with languages, cultures, religions, and traditions.
- Starting some 200,000 years ago, humans began expanding throughout the planet. The process was driven by many small wars between groups for more productive land. The losing group would leave, searching for another place to settle. Since the process was slow, on average a fraction of a mile per year, there was enough time for a bit of biological evolutionary adjustments, such as skin color depending on the amount of sunlight and development of the multitude of different cultures and people. During this long process, there was no need for an increase in productivity, except for accommodation in a slightly different environment. This stage of development was mainly completed when human hunter-gatherers populated the whole planet.
- The next stage started about 10,000 years ago. I would define it as Militaristic agriculture. Anthropological and archeological research shows that the switch to agriculture significantly decreased the quality of human lives. Unlike remnants of hunter-gatherers’ healthy bodies, agriculturalists’ remnants show signs of massive wear and tear, hard work, and diseases. However, agriculture provided a much higher population density and a larger, better-armed military. It also created the condition of using forced labor either as slavery or some process of limiting choice for people to either work under the control of others or get physically punished or deprived of resources. Generally, any military confrontation between hunter-gatherers and agriculturalists ended with the defeat and retreat of hunter-gatherers. This stage is still ongoing in some places where leaders and populations are stuck in an ideological and cultural dead end, incapable of understanding the meaningless of territorial acquisition and subjugation of other people when technology and trade made land and manual labor into commodities. During this stage, humanity also developed two main methods of interaction and cooperation between people: Hierarchy and Ownership. The Hierarchy is based on concentrating resources in one place and controlling from the top down, usually using violence and deception on a mass scale. Ownership means distributing resources between owners with exchange and cooperation mainly voluntarily, albeit with a good portion of fraud.
- The next stage – Industrialization started just a few hundred years ago. It led to the implementation of machines that significantly amplified human efforts in the process of generation and management of resources. Initially, this applied mainly to manual efforts and later to data management. This amplification produced a foundation for ideologies of freedom and democracy that supported a massive increase in owners’ productivity and created prosperity in societies where Ownership was, if not dominant, then at least significant. Due to the power of technology, societies with the dominance of Hierarchy mainly lost their ability to conduct profitable wars when victory could bring wealth, slaves, and moral satisfaction. WWI and WWII clearly demonstrated this. So contemporary Hierarchies are left with somewhat limited abilities to rob their own population via taxes and regulations. The current process features constant struggle in each country between Hierarchy and Owners. When the Owners win, the economy prospers, but because all humans are different, this prosperity is always unequal, causing unsatisfied individuals to explode the society with some kind of revolution. After that inevitably comes Hierarchy that concentrates resources, eliminates Owners, sometimes physically, which causes economic decline and general misery. Over time this misery causes the collapse of society with the restoration of some form of Ownership that once again produces prosperity and resentment from insufficiently prosperous people. Then cycle repeats in a somewhat different form.
- We are now at the beginning of a new stage of human development when machines and computers are increasingly capable of completely substituting human efforts in all areas, including the effort of highly qualified professionals. This new situation would inevitably lead to the complete restructuring of human society. As during the previous 10,000 years, it could be built either on the dominance of Hierarchy or dominance of Ownership. I believe that the latter outcome is much better than the former, and I wrote and published on Amazon a small essay describing how it could be done: https://www.amazon.com/OWNERSHIP-versus-HIERARCHY-Choice-Dominant-ebook/dp/B09KMBP6JG/ref=sr_1_5?crid=3NYE5ONTXE27G
20230122 – Conservatism A Rediscovery
The author is practically the founder of the new and powerful movement of National Conservatism, so the book explains what it is. The book also presents the author’s vision of how the new political paradigm of National Conservatism could substitute the currently dominant political paradigm of liberalism. Here is how the author presents the key points of these two paradigms:
MY TAKE ON IT:
I find both political paradigms presented by the author as alternatives not utterly consistent with reality. The Liberal paradigm is obviously unrealistic. First, individuals and even the same individual in different points of life have different objectives and abilities to achieve these objectives. Also, nobody asked individual’s consent to existing norms and rules of any society ever existed. On the contrary, any society, even the most liberal, uses coercion to enforce individual compliance with these rules. The National Conservative paradigm seems more realistic, but it is so much looking back in time that it does not notice that all this changed. People are not born into some relatively isolated family, tribe, or nation. They are born into a world where information, ideas, cultural patterns, and symbols from multiple political and cultural environments surround an individual. From all this, an individual picks and chooses whatever seems to be most beneficial for this individual’s well-being, which to a significant extent, is defined by the approval of other individuals in a close group. This circumstance undermined previously existing hierarchies, and there is no way back. Humanity is moving to one unified society because technology removed old restrictions of distances, languages, and other walls that separated people into subgroups such as nations and tribes. However, such a unified society could exist within a wide range of arrangements. The range could be from one unified hierarchy with top-down totalitarian control to a society where individual freedom is limited only when it interferes with the freedom of others. The voluntary sorting of people into political, philosophical, and cultural groups of compatible individuals would resolve this limitation. Ironically, being the currently dominant group, the “Liberals” are pushing toward top-down hierarchical control, while the “Conservatives” promote individual freedom. I guess this struggle between paradigms will continue for a while, so the “interesting times” will probably last for a few decades more.
20230115 – The Psychology of Totalitarianism
This book is about the psychological foundation of totalitarianism that the author calls “Mass formation”. The author is looking:” to understand the shocking behaviors of a “totalitarized” population, including an exaggerated willingness of individuals to sacrifice their own personal interests out of solidarity with the collective (i.e., the masses), a profound intolerance of dissident voices, and pronounced susceptibility to pseudo-scientific indoctrination and propaganda. Mass formation is, in essence, a kind of group hypnosis that destroys individuals’ ethical self-awareness and robs them of their ability to think critically. This process is insidious in nature; populations fall prey to it unsuspectingly.” The author links this process to fear that creates a scary event like a pandemic when losing control over their lives prompts people to seek external force to remove this fear and restore control. Since gods, ancestors, and other supernatural powers disappeared from human beliefs and were substituted by reason, people expect possessors of such reason – experts and government to resolve all problems. The author sees the source of totalitarianism in this:” Totalitarianism is not a historical coincidence. In the final analysis, it is the logical consequence of mechanistic thinking and the delusional belief in the omnipotence of human rationality. As such, totalitarianism is the defining feature of the Enlightenment tradition.” Here is the author’s recommendation for avoiding this outcome:” The fundamental task facing us as individuals and as a society is to construct a new view of man and the world, to find a new foundation for our identity, to formulate new principles for living together with others, and to reappraise a timely human capacity—speaking the truth.”
MY TAKE ON IT:
In my opinion, this approach makes a lot of sense, except for the spiritual part, the author’s attempt to link it all to quantum mechanics, and his rejection of human intellect as “the guiding principle in life and society.”. I do not think the enlightenment and its promotion of human reason have anything to do with totalitarianism. Totalitarianism comes from a completely different source. It is based on the rejection of human reason as an attribute of every human individual. It believes that only some humans, experts, and politicians, possess superior reason and, therefore, should have the power to coerce others to submit to their will. The solution to the problem of mass formation and totalitarianism is in resource distribution between people as much as possible and elimination of coercion, including governmental force, from human lives. This solution would allow all individuals to build their lives as they wish, rather than being a subject of manipulation and coercion to be used to meet somebody’s objectives.
20230108 – The Case Against Reality
The main point that the author makes in this book is that humans do not really perceive the external world as an objective reality. Evolution formed human perception not based on the search for truth but on survival. The author even presents the formal definition of this idea:” “Fitness-Beats-Truth” (FBT) theorem, which states that evolution by natural selection does not favor true perceptions—it routinely drives them to extinction. Instead, natural selection favors perceptions that hide the truth and guide useful action.” After this very realistic and reasonable approach, the author deviates into the less reasonable discussion of the unreality of spacetime, the primacy of consciousness over matter, which he bases on some particulars of quantum mechanics and other fashionable stuff. Finally, the author presents the idea of conscious realism and defines its ambition and objectives this way:” Conscious realism makes a bold claim: consciousness, not spacetime and its objects, is fundamental reality and is properly described as a network of conscious agents. To earn its keep, conscious realism must do serious work ahead. It must ground a theory of quantum gravity, explain the emergence of our spacetime interface and its objects, explain the appearance of Darwinian evolution within that interface, and explain the evolutionary emergence of human psychology.
MY TAKE ON IT:
I wholeheartedly agree with the FBT theorem and find many examples of its application presented in this book quite interesting. However, in more complex situations that humanity encountered a few hundred years ago when it achieved limits of expansion within the natural environment, a more sophisticated approach had to be developed in order to overcome the Malthusian trap. This approach is called science, and it allows for overcoming human perception faults by implementing multiple sensor technologies and automated analysis of results. Consequently, science allows indirect perception of objective reality by putting human subjective perception out of the processing loop. However, I think it is just a misnomer to seek the existence of consciousness outside of the human head, either at the quantum level or as a product of social networks. The quantum part is mainly a meaningless exercise in complex mathematical modeling. At the same time, social consciousness is just an expression of refusal to accept the complexity of interaction between a multitude of human individuals, each of which thinks and acts in some distinctive way and, therefore, cannot be managed without direct violence of force or indirect violence of resource denial. Finally, the author’s discussion of religion and science leads to a typical attempt to combine two separate and incompatible approaches to modeling human life and the universe around it in some kind of all-inclusive intellectual construct. I think that it is just not needed. Humans are pretty capable of living with two separate models in their heads at the same time, using whichever better fit to support their needs at the moment. So, there is no problem with scientists effectively working with materials dated in millions of years and believing in the Bible that defines the universe’s age as 6,000 years. It creates cognitive dissonance only if one needs consistency between models. However, if one looks at these models just as a tool of life, then he would use science to do what it is good at: predict what will happen in the future based on conditions observable now while using religion to connect with others, overcome life’s challenges, and obtain the support of a cohesive group of co-believers.
20230101 Plomin, Robert – Blueprint
This book is about DNA and its impact on who we are as persons. It goes beyond the usual discussion on nature vs. nurture, stressing an essential point of feedback between these two factors: our nurture, or, in other words, the process of interaction with the environment , is defined by our nature. It is demonstrated very nicely by research on twins. Another interesting point is that there is hardly such a thing as gene/feature direct correlation. Any particular feature of a person is defined by a multitude of minor variations in many, often thousands of genes.
Yet another point is that human features are varied within ranges, so it is hard to define what is normal and what is not. The other, somewhat surprising, point is that many identifiable parameters of the environment, such as parents, school, and so on, have minimal impact on a person’s development, so everything is defined by the combination of DNA and unpredictable peculiarities of the environment. The final and astonishing point is that the role of DNA is increasing with age rather than decreasing, which one would expect because of increased exposure to the environment over the years.
MY TAKE ON IT:
I like the logic and presentation of this book. However, quite a few new research results and corresponding points are somewhat surprising to me, even if the moment I read about them these points become evident. One such point is the strong feedback connection between DNA and the environment. A simple example would be the naturally cautious person would never go into dangerous places where he would encounter a highly impactful experience that would become an essential part of the nurture of a less cautious person who went to such a place. In short, this book made me slightly change my understanding of DNA vs. Environment from 50/50 to something more like 70/30, but with high levels of non-linearity, making any such breakdown meaningless. In short, human personality is complex and develops in a chaotic environment, so, despite the important or maybe even dominant role of DNA, it remains unpredictable and, quite possibly, will always remain so.