Science is Not Democratic – 7 Takeaways No. 127

An opinion being dropped into a voting box labelled "science".

(If you’re having difficulty viewing this in email, visit in your browser. If a link to a source below leads to you a paywall or is otherwise inaccessible, please read my note on the topic: Paywalls.)

1. “One believes things because one has been conditioned to believe them.”

Brave New World – Aldous Huxley – (ebook)

I mentioned last week that I’d be re-reading Brave New World. I thought I’d read it in school, but nothing in the book felt familiar, so I must have been mistaken. It’s certainly a memorable read.

I was less impressed by the writing than I expected (it felt disjointed), but the ideas were well ahead of their time, and the social issues prescient. Not bad for a nearly 100-year-old classic.

Every discovery in pure science is potentially subversive; even science must sometimes be treated as a possible enemy.

While the exact mechanisms used in the books feel antiquated, the concepts of controlling the masses via preoccupation and the manipulation of social norms feels all too familiar.

Do this: Before you point the finger at how others are being manipulated, question your own conditioning.

2. “Science is not democratic”

Addressing common misconceptions about science – Melanie Trecek-King – (Thinking is Power)

There are no absolutes. Nothing is proven. There’s only “a preponderance of evidence”, to use the legal term. And yet, anti-science folks love to take even the smallest crack of “you could be wrong” to turn it into “well, then you don’t know everything, and I must be right!”. I’d be tempted to point them at this article, if I had any faith they would be open to understanding or even reading it.

The process of science is an attempt to understand reality as it is, not how we want it to be. Achieving consensus in science is time-consuming and requires significant evidence and argumentation, and is never the result of feelings or popularity. The best explanation is the one that works the best, and has survived repeated attempts at disproof, not the one that’s most popular.

Do this: Think. Encourage others to do the same. (Consider following the site … there’s good stuff there.)

3. “Creativity is an inefficient, nonlinear process.”

Here’s How AI Will Come for Your Job – Charlie Warzel – (The Atlantic)

This is a very negative essay. Warzel lays out a future where AI content generation and related tools have a largely negative impact on today’s information and other workers.

Here’s the thing. Much of what he’s concerned about is valid, without a doubt. It’s worth understanding, watching for, and, if possible, avoiding.

However, he completely overlooks what often happens when new landscape-shifting technologies become mainstream: work doesn’t go away, it changes. His concerns about the impact on existing jobs and workflows are legitimate, but completely overlooks the unpredictable future of new forms of work and new workflow styles. The future won’t be more or less, it’ll just be different.

Just as the assembly line changed the nature of manufacturing — for both better and worse — it’s quite possible that generative AI will have a similar impact — both better and worse. Let’s not overlook that both sides are not just possible, but likely.

Do this: Keep a balanced outlook.

4. “2,048 ninth great-grandparents”

Ancestral Mathematics, Fail to Grow, & More – Sahil Bloom – (Curiosity Chronicle)

This was making the rounds this week. “Ancestral math” means taking the progression from two parents to four grandparents to eight great-grandparents, and so on, back a few generations. In theory (yes, there are exceptions, of course) we each have 2,048 ninth great-grandparents, and something like 4 thousand total ancestors at that point. (The original has a great graphic for it as well.)

How many chance encounters or low probability events had to “click” for this moment to ever occur?

That sentiment — the number of completely random things that had to happen for you and I to be exactly here doing exactly what we are doing — is a tough concept for many. Coincidentally, it applies to more than ancestors, but to the entire universe as well. (It even plays into some explanations of the Fermi Paradox, also making the rounds this week.)

Do this: Thank your ancestors for your very existence. Smile

5. “Loneliness isn’t any worse than it was before”

The loneliness epidemic is a myth – Kevin Dickinson – (Big Think)

Counter-intuitive, given all the headlines we’ve been reading (and I’ve been quoting), but it’s an interesting perspective. It really boils to this alternative:

Instead, it seems that we have uncovered the depths of a problem that has been with us for some time, and the reason is that we’re paying more attention to mental health and caring more about the risks certain marginalized groups face. A problem we should solve? Yes. An epidemic? No.

Regardless of its origin, loneliness — epidemic or not — can explain much human behavior.

And it also sucks.

Do this: Remember we’re all social animals.

6. “If your website (or app!) is full of assholes, it’s your fault.”

The Immortal Myths About Online Abuse – Anil Dash – (Medium)

As they said in the intro to The 6 Million Dollar Man: “We have the technology.” And to steal from, bastardize, (and spoil) Soylent Green: People. The answer is people.

In this essay, Dash lays out many of the common objections to why preventing online abuse is an unsolvable problem and why each is simply not true. The fact is, we know how to manage it; we know how to prevent it. The question is, do we have the will (or backbone) to make it happen?

Our communities are defined by the worst things that we permit to happen. What we allow tells the world who we are.

Some communities allow some pretty awful things. And they don’t have to. And there are some wonderful communities that get it right.

Do this: If you manage a community, get it right. (Looking at you, almost all social media.) If you participate in a commuinty, hold the managers accountable.

7. “The overwhelming temptation to violate the copyright laws”

Business Adventures: Twelve Classic Tales from the World of Wall Street – John Brooks – (ebook)

The reason this caught my eye is simply that this specific problem — concerns about copyright violations — is as old as the Xerox machine, and perhaps older. The ‘tale’ I’m reading, entitled “Xerox Xerox Xerox Xerox”, chronicles the development of the copy machine in the 50s and 60s, a device we now take for granted (and with current technologies has almost faded into disuse).

Another observation I found interesting:

… communication between people by whatever means, far from simply accomplishing its purpose, invariably breeds the need for more

Bolding mine. Does this sound familiar? Easier communication breeds more communication, to where it’s all overwhelming.

As it was even sixty years ago.

Do this: Remember that not all problems are new problems.

More links & thoughts

  • You Are Entitled to Your Opinion But not absolution from the consequences – Resurfacing this because I ran into a situation where someone seemed surprised that there were consequences.

What I’m Reading

In progress:


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