Plato’s reading suggestions, episode 72

Here it is, our regular Friday diet of suggested readings for the weekend:

‘Brand consultant’? ‘PR researcher’? Why the ‘bullshit jobs’ era needs to end.

Hypocrisy is a limited measure of moral failing, we need better ones.

Critical thinking instruction in humanities reduces belief in pseudoscience.

How Aristotle created the computer (well, okay, indirectly of course).

A very bizarre article about how science will chemically “improve” love and relationships.

The Academy’s (alleged) assault on intellectual diversity.

229 thoughts on “Plato’s reading suggestions, episode 72

  1. Daniel Kaufman

    I don’t think that people here regard themselves as anti-science, but the knee-jerk freaking out when anyone links the biological to the social is a hallmark anti-science attitude common among post-modernists, blank-slaters, those who argue that gender and sex are purely social constructions, and similar anti-science attitudes).

    = = =

    Just so anyone here doesn’t confuse this slander with any sort of truthful characterization of Massimo and myself … it doesn’t.

    Sounds like people on the right characterizing leftists as communists, druggies, gay lovers, etc. But, I guess if you don’t understand what you are talking about and are so blinkered and narrowly educated that you don’t understand what anyone is saying to you, unless its Science! this is what you wind up with.

    Like

  2. brodix

    Pretty much all of human progress has been finding ways to do things a little easier and safer. The problem is that while we have this linear quest for the ideal, nature is still cyclical and reciprocal. Consider steroids as a useful comparison; Taken in moderation, they are probably fairly healthy and give bigger muscles without nearly as much effort. Yet the larger social aspects create problems, such as the sports completion requiring everyone to then have to take them and in ever larger doses.
    Consider humanity at large, in our ability to create ever more pleasant, middle class lives and extend those lives as long as possible will eventually reach some Malthusian tipping point and the house of cards starts crashing back down. Though we are more likely to crash that house through our exponential expectations of infinite wealth siphoned out of the system, in order to save for a future that will prove to be reciprocal, not linear.
    So arguing the details with people who resolutely avoid the bigger picture is to play by their rules. Unfortunately the only solution, because debate does revolve around details, to sit back and wait for the consequences to become evident, doesn’t solve many problems either.
    So we follow linear, logical sequences, but it always seems the discussions go in circles. Hmm. Go figure.

    Like

  3. brodix

    Interesting article on gods as social constructs;

    https://aeon.co/essays/why-god-knows-more-about-misbehaviour-than-anything-else

    “Viewing gods as kinds of organisational strategies helps to explain the relatively benign aspects of the traditions I’ve focused on in this essay, but it also helps us explain the ludicrous racist, sexist, homophobic and war-mongering appeals that get shrouded in religious rhetoric: find a vulnerable or outsider group, demonise them by declaring that the gods hate them, cite authoritative sources, appeal to vague and mysterious concepts (immortality, freedom, martyrdom, jihad) and the bonds between your constituents will strengthen.

    Because social and natural environments are always shifting in form and intensity, the concerns of gods ought to shift accordingly. And we can see it happening right now. If you do an internet search for the burgeoning field of ‘eco-theology’, for instance, you might see the re-branding of the Abrahamic God into an eco-deity as a predictable outcome of the increasingly pressing concern for environmental collapse. This January, Pope Francis officially associated the Vatican with action against climate change. If we think of religions as organisational strategies, the effectiveness of gods as tactics to regulate and justify behaviour is utterly impressive. Perhaps that’s why we’re so obsessed with the minds of gods – even when we recognise them as figments of our evolved imaginations: they work. So-called ‘religious’ conflicts are conflicts of competing strategies.”

    Like

  4. Massimo Post author

    Coel,

    It is well accepted in biology that the human genome cannot code anywhere near what would be necessary to “program” detailed behaviors, or, in fact, even normal emryiological development. As I said, the genes are not a blueprint. Comple behaviors emerge from interactions between simple gene-influenced behaviors and the environment, in a continuous non-linear loop.

    That is a major reason why cultural evolution is largely (though obviously not entirely) decoupled from biological evolution. There is a large literature on the topic, this isn’t just a guess.

    Like

  5. wtc48

    Massimo: “That is a major reason why cultural evolution is largely (though obviously not entirely) decoupled from biological evolution. There is a large literature on the topic, this isn’t just a guess.”

    This may be well accepted by biological scientists, but I think the term “evolution” is generally used very loosely to apply to any changes in the environmental culture as if they also applied to the genome. I have used the expression “born on third base and thought he’d hit a triple” to characterize this confusion, which leads to an unrealistic view of human nature and human history. This is a particular interest of mine that I have been exploring the last couple of years, and I would appreciate leads that would get me further into the literature on the subject.

    Like

  6. wtc48

    This is way off topic, but it’s so astonishing that I had to bring it to more attention. These are the final four paragraphs from today’s column by Charles Krauthammer, a card-carrying conservative Republican:

    “A broad national consensus is developing that health care is indeed a right. This is historically new. And it carries immense implications for the future. It suggests that we may be heading inexorably to a government-run, single-payer system. It’s what Barack Obama once admitted he would have preferred but didn’t think the country was ready for. It may be ready now.

    As Obamacare continues to unravel, it won’t take much for Democrats to abandon that Rube Goldberg wreckage and go for the simplicity and the universality of Medicare-for-all.
    Republicans will have one last chance to try to convince the country to remain with a market-based system, preferably one encompassing all the provisions that, for procedural reasons, had been left out of their latest proposal.

    Don’t be surprised, however, if, in the end, single-payer wins out. Indeed, I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if Donald Trump. reading the zeitgeist, pulls the greatest 180 since Disraeli dished the Whigs in 1867 (by radically expanding the franchise) and joins the single-payer side.

    Talk about disruption? About kicking over the furniture? That would be an American Krakatoa.”

    Nearly 50 years ago, on (I think) March 31, 1968, I watched Lyndon Johnson announce, at the end of a televised address, that he would not be a candidate for re-election. At the time, I thought it must be some kind of April Fool joke. But it wasn’t, and I don’t think this is either.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Coel

    Hi Massimo,

    It is well accepted in biology that the human genome cannot code anywhere near what would be necessary to “program” detailed behaviors, or, in fact, even normal emryiological development. As I said, the genes are not a blueprint. …

    Sure, of course not, no-one thinks they are. It’s not a list of “in situation A do X, in situation B do Y …”, which would be hugely information hungry. What it is is a developmental recipe. And humans are not very good at estimating how much information is needed to specify a developmental recipe since that is not how humans tend to build things.

    That’s why the argument that there isn’t enough information content for enough to be left over to have an effect on human psychology is unconvincing. Let’s see the actual calculation of how much is needed for bones, the liver, kidneys et cetera. If people cannot do that — which they can’t — then the argument is little more than an appeal to gut feeling, which is likely to be hugely unreliable on this topic for the reason in the previous paragraph.

    That’s why I prefer the argument, from basic principles of evolution, that unless human decision-making and behaviour was to a large extent influenced by genes, then our very large brains could not have evolved, given how expensive they are in evolutionary terms.

    At the least, there is a strong argument that everything that is common to typical human nature in typical human societies over the last ten thousand years is largely genetic. Additionally, a large chunk of the variation among humans will also be genetic (as twin studies show).

    Like

  8. SocraticGadfly

    Saphsin: I vote Green most times a candidate of theirs is available (though not always), as they’re the best — and often the only — available party of left. And, no, Democrats are NOT a party of the “left,” folks. And, also, in case there’s other myth floating out there — Stein is not an antivaxxer, and the party platform, though problematic on alt-med/pseudo-medicine, does not have an antivaxxer plank.

    Like

  9. Coel

    As an alternative to considering drugs that alter emotions such as love, let’s consider taking modafinal to boost exam performance. There is plenty of anecdotal evidence that it does, at least in some people, and some studies support that idea.

    (E.g.: “Oxford University and Harvard Medical School looked at 24 studies into modafainil and have concluded that it really does improve thinking skills, particularly in long complex tasks. It was also found to help with planning, decision making, flexibility, learning and memory, and creativity.”)

    Now this is likely to prompt the usual ridicule from the usual suspects: “oh you silly people, exam performance is all about developing ones knowledge and understanding by studying over long periods, fancy thinking that one can not study at all, and just turn up at the exam taking a few pills, and get a good grade, how ridiculous, blah blah blah”.

    And of course that is not the suggestion. Of course studying is important. But, the evidence is that — at least in some people — modafinal used in conjunction with proper studying can boost exam performance and indeed performance at similar intellectual tasks.

    Like

  10. Michael Fugate

    re the Kipnis article. Does she really believe that a policy banning professor-student relationships infantilizes students? She can’t be that naive, can she? I see one big reason for the over-the-top behavior from students is that the crimes against them have been ignored since women were allowed on campuses.

    Like

  11. Daniel Kaufman

    College students are adults. I see nothing good coming from treating them like children. All that we’ve accomplished is ensuring that today’s twenty somethings are the most immature twenty-somethings in the history of our culture.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Scott Layton

    EJ:

    Fair enough. I didn’t mean to appear as an unabashed proponent of medicine in general, or psychiatry in particular. An ideal treatment outcome assumes a “trifecta”: 1) a particular medicine, 2) “optimal” dose (start low, go slow and titrate to effect), and 3) a knowledgeable and sympathetic provider. And even then, significant clinical response is not guaranteed. Those parameters leave a lot of room for disappointment and less than optimal experiences. I apologize for any and all “scabs” I may have excoriated. Best to you and this side-thread is topic is closed.

    Like

  13. SocraticGadfly

    I have got THE comfort food easy late Sunday lunch for you guys. (Food is aesthetics, right?)

    Smoked kippered herrings. Rye bread. Artichoke pesto. Oakwood-smoked cheddar. Accompanied by one of Massimo’s Italian sodas, Tomarchio brand, blood orange flavor.

    Like

  14. Michael Fugate

    College students are adults. I see nothing good coming from treating them like children. All that we’ve accomplished is ensuring that today’s twenty somethings are the most immature twenty-somethings in the history of our culture.

    Then let’s take college students seriously when they report crimes. Or would that be too much?

    Like

  15. Daniel Kaufman

    I agree with Kipnis about sexual paranoia on campus and that the social justice mentality more generally has been taken to the point of near total madness today. And no, I don’t think this has anything to do with not taking crimes sufficiently seriously.

    College students today are far safer than their counterparts out in the society at large, and crime rates overall are the lowest they’ve been since the 1960’s, something that is easily demonstrated by federal crime statistics.

    Like

  16. Thomas Jones

    WTC, that sounds like Charles Krauthammer, articulating a point that most have been making and implementing for decades outside the US and to a lesser extent inside it. A link to the article would be nice. I can’t believe he said this on Fox, so it must have been in a print article.

    For me, the question whether a single payer or “free” market based solution best serves our health care is no longer even arguable. I do consider universal health care a right and think a single payer system is the way to implement that right. I tune out all discussions where “affordable choices and options” come up.

    Liked by 3 people

  17. SocraticGadfly

    Agreed, Dan. Before I got downsized out of my previous newspaper job, I lived 35 miles from Nacogdoches, Texas and Stephen F. Austin State University. There’s emergency phone call boxes with very visible blue lights at the top of poles all over the place, outside, including in their very nice arboretum. I’ll venture there’s emergency phones in most dormitories, possibly every floor.

    Like

  18. Bunsen Burner

    wtc48, Thomas Jones:

    I’ve never understood the US reluctance to implement on of the defining features of a modern nation – universal healthcare. After all, in Europe it wasn’t simply a worker victory, firms were on board as a way of getting a healthy workforce. Even Obama wasn’t moved to create your Obamacare out of the goodness of his heart but due to years of lobbying by manufacturer groups who were tired of paying their workers health insurance. Why is it such an uphill battle?

    Like

  19. Massimo Post author

    Coel,

    Sorry, but no. The idea that genomic complexity is insufficient to explain phenotypic complexity is not only pretty much universally accepted in biology, it’s trivial. There are orders of magnitude more neuronal connections, for instance, or antibodies that can be generated by a healthy human being, then there is info specificied in the genome. Besides, specifying that sort of traits is simply not what genes do.

    That means that a lot of the work is done by gene-environment (both external and internal environment) interactions, which in the case of humans and their behavior is for the large part cultural.

    The issue of the evolution of a complex brain is pretty much irrelevant here. I too think that large brains evolved for adaptive reasons, but that has little to do with the topic at hand. If anything, large brains allow an even further decoupling of genetic and cultural evolution.

    And no, there is no such thing as a strong argument that everything that is common to human nature is “genetic,” whatever that means. Unless you mean that all human proteins are coded for by genes. A point about which nobody disagrees.

    Michael,

    It seems to me that the entirely American idea that campuses are somehow special zones is seriously misguided. If a crime is committed, anywhere — on or off campus — then it’s a matter for law enforcement. If not, not. I find the concept of university administrators deciding what constitutes appropriate or inappropriate behavior on the part of adults old enough to volunteer for war both ibfantilizing and pernicious.

    Bunsen,

    yes, universal healthcare, single payer. There really aren’t any alternatives. The rest is just bullshit.

    Liked by 3 people

  20. Bunsen Burner

    So some people here have started talking about the information content of DNA. I always thought that this just a hand wavy expression but some people have provided quantitative figures. Does anyone have a good technical reference how this is calculated and the kind of models used? It can be reasonably advanced as i’m ok with information theory and have used in electronic circuits and algorithms. Published papers are ok too as I can order them through work.

    Like

  21. Coel

    Hi Massimo,

    The idea that genomic complexity is insufficient to explain phenotypic complexity is not only pretty much universally accepted in biology, it’s trivial.

    Sure, obviously. The claim is not that all phenotypic complexity derives 1-to-1 from a genetic blueprint of equivalent complexity, that’s obviously false. The claim is that human psychology is to a large extent heavily genetically influenced.

    That means that a lot of the work is done by gene-environment (both external and internal environment) interactions, …

    Agreed.

    … which in the case of humans and their behavior is for the large part cultural.

    But “gene-environmental interactions” are also for a large part genetic (as well as being environmental and cultural).

    The issue of the evolution of a complex brain is pretty much irrelevant here. I too think that large brains evolved for adaptive reasons, but that has little to do with the topic at hand. If anything, large brains allow an even further decoupling of genetic and cultural evolution.

    I would beg to differ. If, at the point where the brain was 75% the current size, the behaviour produced by the brain was no longer heavily influenced by the genes, then there could be no further evolution to larger brain size. Ditto for 80% size and 85% size and 90% size and 95% size and 98% size.

    I guess one could argue that human brains did indeed arrive at the fairly recent past under genetic control, and then very recently (in evolutionary terms) became de-coupled from genes, but this smacks of special pleading and is not particularly supported by evidence (presuming we’re talking about the basics of human nature and human psychology, and not the particular details of culture, which are of course cultural).

    Like

  22. SocraticGadfly

    You have begged wrongly.

    I would, in some alternative subself world, like to “beg to differ” that Jupiter has rings. But, I haven’t.

    And, both irony and hypocrisy concerns would prevent me from accusing a planetary astronomer of special pleading when he or she says Jupiter does have rings.

    Two special pleadings on rings wouldn’t make a right. (I see what I did there.)

    Like

  23. Daniel Kaufman

    It seems to me that the entirely American idea that campuses are somehow special zones is seriously misguided. If a crime is committed, anywhere — on or off campus — then it’s a matter for law enforcement. If not, not. I find the concept of university administrators deciding what constitutes appropriate or inappropriate behavior on the part of adults old enough to volunteer for war both infantilizing and pernicious.

    = = =

    Massimo, this should be on billboards on every college campus. Our students and many of the faculty and administration have become so deranged on these issues that the university has almost become like some sort of bizarre country.

    Part of the problem is that words like “harm” and “safe” have been redefined way beyond the boundaries of any traditionally liberal society, into outright Orwell territory. “Micro-aggression” could be a word straight out of the Newspeak dictionary, given that fully grasping it requires double-think, in light of the fact that it is semantically contradictory. It’s something that must be fought vigorously against, but the cost can be very high.

    Liked by 1 person

Comments are closed.