Plato’s reading suggestions, episode 81

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

Does talent matter, or does practice make perfect? (Or, more likely, both?)

The neuroscience argument against “living in the present.”

Putting off the important things? It may be for the wrong reasons.

Why the future is always, or at least often, on your mind.

David Hume, friendships, feuds, and faith.

The coming age of biological inequality.

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Categories: Plato's Suggestions

42 replies

  1. Commenting on the biological inequality article that I’m not very enthusiastic about, it was a bit rambling.

    “Globalisation has certainly benefited large segments of humanity, but there are signs of growing inequality both between and within societies. As some groups increasingly monopolise the fruits of globalisation, billions are left behind.”

    Which “large segments of humanity” is he talking about? He doesn’t say. (and Globalization is a funny description, it has nothing to do with global cooperation for industrial development. For example, when Thailand tried sending resources to Vietnam for agricultural development but the United States stopped them from doing so. That’s not called preventing globalization. But if international banks asks third world countries to open up their markets for investment and unfavorable trade policies, that is globalization.)

    “Even more ominously, as we enter the post-industrial world, the masses are becoming redundant. The best armies no longer rely on millions of ordinary recruits, but rather on a relatively small number of highly professional soldiers using very high-tech kit and autonomous drones, robots and cyber-worms. Already today, most people are militarily useless.”

    The increase in high military tech and ability to initiate warfare without the use of human lives is a disturbing development for unrestricted militarism. But the way he put this is kind off putting. Why would I want people to be militarily useful? I’m not an absolute pacifist and I don’t think we should completely do away with a military, but having people serve in a military is not something I want to defend as an ethical practice.

    “Throughout history, the rich and the aristocratic always imagined they had superior skills to everybody else, which is why they were in control. As far as we can tell, this wasn’t true. The average duke wasn’t more talented than the average peasant: he owed his superiority only to unjust legal and economic discrimination. However, by 2100, the rich might really be more talented, more creative and more intelligent than the slum-dwellers. Once a real gap in ability opens between the rich and the poor, it will become almost impossible to close it.”

    Interesting prospects. Though it’s true that the current rich have better resources to develop their capabilities and have unfair advantages & access to higher education and opportunities (mentioned a bit later in the article). Though that doesn’t mean that they’re smarter necessarily, education isn’t ideology & capacity to properly think. Elites are the most indoctrinated segment in the society actually and much more likely to be inegalitarian & self-serving in their politics.

    “For example, in the 20th century, people could use the technology of the industrial revolution – trains, electricity, radio, telephone – to create communist dictatorships, fascist regimes or liberal democracies. Just think about North and South Korea: they have had access to exactly the same technology, but they have chosen to employ it in very different ways.”

    Someone else mentioned in the comments here but this part was strange. I suppose he means that the North has access to the fruits of electronics for use of totalitarian governance. But they don’t have the same technology has the South, nor does the South have Nuclear Weapons.

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  2. wtc,

    I don’t see instinct and cognition as separable. The subconscious is instinctive. The more complex life gets, the more our instinct responds to it, otherwise it wouldn’t be vital. We all have different impulses, as well. Some are instinctively cautious, while some are instinctively aggressive, for instance.

    As I see it, instinct is a deep connection, or rootedness in one’s context, to the extent the feedback becomes seamless. We are integral to our reality.

    The problem is that we are skeptical about everything and are constantly questioning, reducing, sterilizing all those relationships and they shrivel up, leaving us feeling empty. Yet everything shrivels under a lot of scrutiny. Reality is a bit of an illusion. Thus philosophy.

    Political control is a matter of separating the group from the context, so that they are reliant on the leader and the system. Today, the monetary and media ecosystems we live in work to commodify and commercialize our connections and relationships, from organically contextual, to processed and mass produced. Yet we wouldn’t be debating this over the internet, if we were all stitching our own shoes, after running down the deer and stabbing it with a spear we made.

    The more we learn, the more we are defined by the framework of the system, language, culture, etc. We are like adult cells, not stem cells.

    While we are the apex of our own knowledge, there is that unknown unknowns issue. For example, I’ve raised a number of issues here that no one really wants to consider, but the pushback is mostly to claim authority, not debate the logic. Consider my point about time, that it is change turning future to past, rather than the point of the present moving past to future, which is codified in physics as measures of duration.

    Instinctively we think of time as that point of the present, moving past to future, because the very function of our conscious process is flashes of cognition. The sequence of events, perceptions, thoughts, feelings. Much of our culture and civilization is based on narrative, history, linear causality, etc.

    Yet I’ve have very few actually try to argue that, “Tomorrow becomes yesterday, because the earth turns,” is wrong.

    So, from my point of view, humanity is still significantly in the instinctive stage, rather than completely cognitively logical.

    Reading the news these days, emotions burn through the veneer of logic fairly regularly.

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  3. Massimo, this is primarily for the biologist side of you, but beauty is aesthetics. As a photographer, and birder of some sort, it caught my eyes for that reason, too. Have you seen this new book? https://www.amazon.com/Evolution-Beauty-Darwins-Forgotten-Theory/dp/0385537212

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  4. Cousin: If only the five actors had been cutting an ad for single-payer national health care!

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  5. No, Massimo, it’s not! It’s very >>>Gouldian<<< among other things. In the intro, he talks much about the “contingency” of evolution. His whole focus is to “rescue” sexual selection back to Darwin’s own original idea, he says. It’s thus perhaps somewhat controversial. The main thesis is that beauty has evolved for beauty’s own sake. Strong emphasis on female mate choice. Insistence that sexual selection is not subsumed by natural selection, but even gets at cross purposes at times.

    You might not agree with all of it (I’m on about page 50) but you’d definitely find it provocative, and stimulating in many ways.

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  6. I should caveat my previous comments a bit. Per reviews on Amazon, it is possible that Prum tells some “just-so” stuff about human sexuality in later chapters. But, even then, it’s clear the political angle behind that is not the same as the typical Ev Psycher. No Ev Psycher blurbs the book on its cover, but de Waal is among scientists who do.

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  7. As mentioned earlier, here’s “Rousseau’s Dog,” with my review: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/471527543

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