useful, Big

8/10 - What's Next

Hey, happy Monday, enjoy the newsletter!


Articles to Read.

Let me tell you about a big number (10 minute video)

Link here—worth watching!

How Much Things Can Change

This post is about how much things can change in the world over a lifetime. I’m going to restrict my attention to science, though there are many parallels in technology, human rights, and social justice.

I was born in late 1954 so I am 65 years old. I figure I have another 30 years, with some luck, of active intellectual life. But if I look backward and forward within my family, I knew as an adult some of my grandparents who were born late in the nineteenth century, and I expect that both I will know some of my own grandchildren when they are adults, and that they will certainly live into the twenty second century. My adult to adult interactions with members of my own direct genetic line will span five generations and well over two hundred years from the beginning to the end of their collective lives, from the nineteenth to the twenty second century.

My oldest grandparent was born before the Michelson-Morley experiment of 1887 that established that the universe was not filled with aether, but rather with vacuum.

The Earth was thought to be just 20 to 40 million years old, and it wasn’t until after I was born that the current estimates were first published.

It was two months after my father was born that Edwin Hubble described galaxies and declared that we lived in one of many, in our case the Milky Way. While my father was young the possibility that some elements might be fissile was discovered, along with the idea that some might be fusible. He was an adult back from the war when the big bang theory of the universe was first proposed, and it is only in the last 30 years that alternatives were largely shouted down.

How to write usefully

What should an essay be? Many people would say persuasive. That's what a lot of us were taught essays should be. But I think we can aim for something more ambitious: that an essay should be useful.

To start with, that means it should be correct. But it's not enough merely to be correct. It's easy to make a statement correct by making it vague. That's a common flaw in academic writing, for example. If you know nothing at all about an issue, you can't go wrong by saying that the issue is a complex one, that there are many factors to be considered, that it's a mistake to take too simplistic a view of it, and so on.

Though no doubt correct, such statements tell the reader nothing. Useful writing makes claims that are as strong as they can be made without becoming false.

The Art of Not Thinking

Everyone has things they don't want to do. It's not limited to exercising. It can be anything from studying everyday for the entire school year to vacuuming the floor. Unless you can avoid that activity with no guilt or regrets, you usually have to do it. You know it will help in the long run, to study to prepare for finals and to have clean floors, but even with that in mind, it can still be incredibly hard to do those activities.

I realized that the hardest part of doing things I don't want to do is usually not the activity itself, but getting started. Once I get started, I get into a flow and rationalize that since I'm already doing it, I might as well finish.

Since humans instinctively reach for easier things, now you have not only dredged up all the negative points about your task, but also discovered easier alternatives that require an additional amount of energy to resist. In short, you have increased the minimum activation energy required to start the task.

You will also remember this awful internal debate, and associate these negative feelings with the task itself. Naturally, this does not bode well in the long run.

If you are temporally removed from the thing you don't want to do, it's easier to make a rational decision. By making the decision beforehand, you remove the effort needed to choose before doing your task. This reduces friction and removes one factor that could have led you to think about your task when you start it.

Alcohol as a social technology to check the trustworthiness of others

Ohhh, never thought of this hypothesis: that the act of getting drunk together might be a social technology that helps us verify the trustworthiness of others by inhibiting their higher cognitive functions and thus making it harder to consciously fake things. That would make sense.

> To enhance our natural thin-slicing abilities, humans have therefore also developed various cultural practices that make these instant assessments more reliable. These techniques take advantage of the fact that deception is fundamentally a cold-cognition act and relies on cognitive control centers. This means that if we can impair the cognitive control abilities of people we're trying to judge, we’ll do a better job of sussing them out: they will be less able to confuse our cheater-detection systems.

sweatpants forever

Even before the pandemic, the whole fashion industry had started to unravel. What happens now that no one has a reason to dress up?

'Paranoid about the pandemic': How COVID-19 brought the 'largest criminology experiment in history'

“Practically overnight, the entire country ceased or significantly reduced day-to-day travels, eliminating commutes from home to work, as well as leisure activities, shopping trips, social gatherings, the ability to dine out, and more.

“Across the United States and around the world, a positive byproduct of these unprecedented events is a dramatic drop in crime rates,” writes Felson, co-authoring with Ben Stickle, a professor at Middle Tennessee State University.

That drop in crime, though, has not been uniform across types of offenses. Some crimes rose while others fell. A dissection of the interplay of this rise and fall — at a time when human routines and activities are largely frozen — may be the key, he says.

More to Check Out: 
Drivers who keep their windows down are exposed to 80 percent more air pollution
Busted retailers use bankruptcy to break leases by the thousands
- How to become a GOOD Theoretical Physicist
Debt Collector Profits Soar With People Flush and Easy to Find
- An attempt to make a font look more handwritten

My Update:

  • Recovering from shoulder surgery is going smoothly (though forcing me to stay inside more than I’d like).

  • Writing a lot!

  • Working a lot!

  • Reach out if I can be useful with anything.

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