Steven Pinker

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pages: 262 words: 66,800

Progress: Ten Reasons to Look Forward to the Future by Johan Norberg

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agricultural Revolution, anti-communist, availability heuristic, Bartolomé de las Casas, Berlin Wall, British Empire, business climate, clean water, Daniel Kahneman / Amos Tversky, demographic transition, desegregation, Donald Trump, Flynn Effect, germ theory of disease, Gini coefficient, Haber-Bosch Process, Hans Island, Hans Rosling, Ignaz Semmelweis: hand washing, income inequality, income per capita, indoor plumbing, Isaac Newton, Jane Jacobs, John Snow's cholera map, Kibera, Louis Pasteur, Mahatma Gandhi, meta analysis, meta-analysis, Mikhail Gorbachev, more computing power than Apollo, moveable type in China, Naomi Klein, open economy, place-making, Rosa Parks, special economic zone, Steven Pinker, telerobotics, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, transatlantic slave trade, very high income, working poor, Xiaogang Anhui farmers

We tend to think about new or current conflicts, like the civil war in Syria, but we forget the conflicts that ended in countries such as Sri Lanka, Angola and Chad during the same time. We often think of the recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, which have killed around 650,000 people, but we rarely talk about the conflicts in those countries between 1979 and 1989, which killed more than two million people. War and violence used to be the natural state of humanity. The cognitive scientist Steven Pinker, on whose exhaustive research on the history of violence I draw heavily in this chapter, writes that the dramatic reduction in violence ‘may be the most important thing that has ever happened in human history’.2 A tour through our cultural heritage, our myths, proverbs and even our language reveal how much of an everyday occurrence brutal violence was. The old folktales that the Grimm Brothers collected and retold in the early nineteenth century were filled with murder, cannibalism, mutilation and sexual abuse.

Torture and mutilation have been regularly applied in all great civilizations, from the Assyrians, Persians and Chinese to the African kingdoms and the Native American tribes, but the medieval Christian culture was more creative than most, and some of that era’s best minds were occupied with coming up with ways of inflicting as much pain as possible on people before they confessed or died. As Steven Pinker summarizes it: Torture was meted out by national and local governments throughout the Continent, and it was codified in laws that prescribed blinding, branding, amputation of hands, ears, noses and tongues, and other forms of mutilation as punishments for minor crimes. Executions were orgies of sadism, climaxing with ordeals of prolonged killing such as burning at the stake, breaking on the wheel, pulling apart by horses, impalement through the rectum, disembowelment by winding a man’s intestines around a spool, and even hanging, which was a slow racking and strangulation rather than a quick breaking of the neck.5 We know that torture is practised today as well, especially in dictatorships, but even in some advanced democracies like the United States.

In a world of sudden early death, violence and hunger, it was easy to assume that the gods were bloodthirsty, and if this was the case, why not try to appease them by sacrificing someone else rather than wait for them to take you? But human sacrifice was also abolished in all cultures, often at first replaced by animal sacrifice. It could be that knowledge of history and other cultures provides evidence to counter such beliefs. It could be that greater wealth, along with longer and more predictable lives, erodes fatalism and generally leads people to value the lives of others more. According to Steven Pinker’s sources, the average annual rate of violent death for non-state societies – and this includes everything from hunter-gatherer tribes to gold rush societies in California – is 524 per 100,000. If we add all the deaths from wars, genocide, purges and man-made famines in the twentieth century, we still don’t get a rate higher than 60 per 100,000 annually.6 The first step in the pacification process was associated with the early agricultural civilizations.


pages: 661 words: 187,613

The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language by Steven Pinker

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Albert Einstein, cloud computing, David Attenborough, double helix, Drosophila, elephant in my pajamas, finite state, illegal immigration, Loebner Prize, Maui Hawaii, meta analysis, meta-analysis, natural language processing, out of africa, P = NP, phenotype, rolodex, Ronald Reagan, Saturday Night Live, speech recognition, Steven Pinker, theory of mind, transatlantic slave trade, Turing machine, Turing test, Yogi Berra

., 58–60, 468 X-bar theory, 99–105, 124, 127–129, 239, 289, 432, glossary Xhosa, 168 Yamanashi, M., 168, PS14 Yiddish, 56, 170, 253, 263, 378 Yourcenar, M., 135 Yngve, V, 457 Zurif, E., 321 P.S. Insights, Interviews & More… About the author Meet Steven Pinker About the book On Writing The Language Instinct Frequently Asked Questions The Language Instinct Today Read on Author’s Picks: Suggested Reading Have You Read? More by Steven Pinker Notes to P.S. Material References to P.S. Material About the author Meet Steven Pinker © 2005 by Rebecca Goldstein THE LANGUAGE INSTINCT is dedicated to my parents, “who gave me language”; the ambiguity between nature and nurture was, of course, intentional. As someone who believes that nature has been underestimated in intellectual life, I must begin my life story not with the supportive environment they provided me but earlier, with the kind of people they are.

Steven Pinker The Language Instinct How the Mind Creates Language for Harry and Roslyn Pinker who gave me language Contents Preface 1. An Instinct to Acquire an Art 2. Chatterboxes 3. Mentalese 4. How Language Works 5. Words, Words, Words 6. The Sounds of Silence 7. Talking Heads 8. The Tower of Babel 9. Baby Born Talking—Describes Heaven 10. Language Organs and Grammar Genes 11. The Big Bang 12. The Language Mavens 13. Mind Design Notes References Glossary Searchable Terms P.S. Insights, Interviews & More… About the Author Praise Other Books by Steven Pinker Credits Copyright About the Publisher Preface I have never met a person who is not interested in language.

A history of the world through the history of its languages. Maryanne Wolf, Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain (2007). Last-minute addition: another excellent book on the science of reading. Have You Read? More by Steven Pinker WORDS AND RULES: THE INGREDIENTS OF LANGUAGE How does language work, and how do we learn to speak? Why do languages change over time, and why do they have so many quirks and irregularities? In this original and totally entertaining book, written in the same engaging style that illuminated his bestselling classics, The Language Instinct and How the Mind Works, Steven Pinker explores the profound mysteries of language. By picking a deceptively simple phenomenon—regular and irregular verbs—Pinker connects an astonishing array of topics in the sciences and the humanities: the history of languages; the theories of Noam Chomsky and his critics; the attempts to create language using computer simulations of neural networks; what there is to learn from children’s grammatical “mistakes”; the latest techniques in identifying genes and imaging the brain; and major ideas in the history of Western philosophy.


pages: 369 words: 80,355

Too Big to Know: Rethinking Knowledge Now That the Facts Aren't the Facts, Experts Are Everywhere, and the Smartest Person in the Room Is the Room by David Weinberger

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airport security, Alfred Russel Wallace, Amazon Mechanical Turk, Berlin Wall, Black Swan, book scanning, Cass Sunstein, corporate social responsibility, crowdsourcing, Danny Hillis, David Brooks, Debian, double entry bookkeeping, double helix, en.wikipedia.org, Exxon Valdez, Fall of the Berlin Wall, future of journalism, Galaxy Zoo, Hacker Ethic, Haight Ashbury, hive mind, Howard Rheingold, invention of the telegraph, jimmy wales, John Harrison: Longitude, Kevin Kelly, linked data, Netflix Prize, New Journalism, Nicholas Carr, Norbert Wiener, openstreetmap, P = NP, Pluto: dwarf planet, profit motive, Ralph Waldo Emerson, RAND corporation, Ray Kurzweil, Republic of Letters, RFID, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Ronald Reagan, semantic web, slashdot, social graph, Steven Pinker, Stewart Brand, technological singularity, Ted Nelson, the scientific method, The Wisdom of Crowds, Thomas Kuhn: the structure of scientific revolutions, Thomas Malthus, Whole Earth Catalog, X Prize

., Continental Philosophy of Science (Wiley-Blackwell, 2005), pp. 211–223, http://www.alcoff.com/content/foucphi.html. 49 See Juan Carlos Castilla-Rubio and Simon Willis, “Planetary Skin: A Global Platform for a New Era of Collaboration,” March 2009, http://www.cisco.com/web/about/ac79/docs/pov/Planetary_Skin_POV_vFINAL_spw_jc_2.pdf. 50 Interview with Juan Carlos Castilla-Rubio, March 17, 2010. 51 Interview with Timo Hannay, February 12, 2010. 52 Interview with John Wilbanks, December 14, 2009. 53 Richard Rorty, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (Princeton University Press, 2009). 54 Richard Rorty, Consequences of Pragmatism (University of Minnesota Press, 1986), p. xvii. 55 “Climate of Fear,” Nature 464, no. 141 (March 11, 2010), DOI:10.1038/ 464141a, http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v464/n7286/full/464141a.html. 56 See Mary Elizabeth Williams, “Jenny McCarthy’s Autism Fight Grows More Misguided,” Salon, January 6, 2011, http://www.salon.com/life/feature/2011/01/06/jenny_mccarthy_autism_debate. 57 Steven Pinker, “Mind over Mass Media,” New York Times, June 10, 2010, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/11/opinion/11Pinker.html. For a rebuttal, see Nicholas Carr’s blog post, “Steven Pinker and the Internet,” June 12, 2010, http://www.roughtype.com/archives/2010/06/steven_pinker_a.php. 58 David Quammen, The Reluctant Mr. Darwin: An Intimate Portrait of Charles Darwin and the Making of His Theory of Evolution (W. W. Norton, 2007), p. 84. 59 Ibid., p. 76. 60 Ibid., p. 141. 61 Ibid., p. 137. 62 Ibid., p. 162. 63 Ibid., p. 172. 64 Jean-Claude Bradley, “Dangerous Data: Lessons from My Cheminfo Retrieval Class,” January 2, 2010, http://usefulchem.blogspot.com/2010/01/dangerous-data-lessons-from-my-cheminfo.html. 65 “Eggs Good for You This Week,” The Onion, April 28, 1999, http://www.theonion.com/articles/eggs-good-for-you-this-week,4144/.

The new network makes that truth unavoidable. 6. Hyperlinked science If electronic media were hazardous to intelligence, the quality of science would be plummeting. Yet discoveries are multiplying like fruit flies, and progress is dizzying. Other activities in the life of the mind, like philosophy, history and cultural criticism, are likewise flourishing.57 So wrote cognitive scientist Steven Pinker in an op-ed in the New York Times in the summer of 2010. It would be difficult to find scientists who would disagree with this assessment overall, although every scientist would likely point to some pain point: lack of funding, government ineptitude, media sensationalism.... Still and all, this is a great age for science. But on paper (so to speak) it shouldn’t be. Not only are we overwhelmed with data, the filters that kept bad ideas on the fringes are failing.

Indeed, the final product of science is now neither final nor a product. It is the network itself—the seamless connection of scientists, data, methodologies, hypotheses, theories, facts, speculations, instruments, readings, ambitions, controversies, schools of thought, textbooks, faculties, collaborations, and disagreements that used to struggle to print a relative handful of articles in a relative handful of journals. So, Steven Pinker is right: Science is doing better than ever thanks to the Net. There is more information than ever. More of it is available than ever. Computers can discover patterns that humans would never have noticed. Commons are forming from clouds of Linked Data. Collaborative tools allow scientists to work together across all boundaries. Because of all this, we are able to investigate entire systems of nature—including simple cells—that were beyond us even a few years ago.


pages: 271 words: 77,448

Humans Are Underrated: What High Achievers Know That Brilliant Machines Never Will by Geoff Colvin

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Ada Lovelace, autonomous vehicles, Baxter: Rethink Robotics, Black Swan, call centre, capital asset pricing model, computer age, corporate governance, deskilling, en.wikipedia.org, Freestyle chess, future of work, Google Glasses, Grace Hopper, industrial robot, interchangeable parts, job automation, knowledge worker, low skilled workers, meta analysis, meta-analysis, Narrative Science, new economy, rising living standards, self-driving car, sentiment analysis, Silicon Valley, Skype, Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, Steven Levy, Steven Pinker, theory of mind, Tim Cook: Apple, transaction costs

Now Google translates written language for free . . . See https://translate.google.com/. Regarding Skype, see “Skype Update Translates English and Spanish in Real Time,” Christian Science Monitor, 15 December 2014. Economists Frank Levy and Richard J. Murnane . . . Levy and Murnane, The New Division of Labor: How Computers Are Creating the Next Job Market (Princeton University Press, 2004). Steven Pinker observed in 2007 . . . Steven Pinker, The Stuff of Thought: Language As a Window Into Human Nature (Penguin Books, 2007). Yet iRobot soon thereafter . . . For product descriptions, see www.irobot.com. And yet, in 2014, when I asked Dominic Barton . . . Personal interview, 24 September 2014. Judges make parole decisions . . . The research is described in Dan Ariely, Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions (HarperCollins, 2008).

Other anthropologists investigated and found that the Samoans, New Guineans, and !Kung San were as bloodcurdlingly violent as any culture you’ve ever heard of. Years of research by psychologists, anthropologists, neuroscientists, and others has pretty well sunk the blank-slate view. The full scope of the argument is beyond our needs here (it is elucidated brilliantly in the Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker’s The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature), but it’s worth our while to examine a list of “human universals” compiled by the anthropologist Donald E. Brown and published in 1991. These are, Brown said, “features of culture, society, language, behavior, and psyche for which there are no known exceptions.” They show up in every culture on earth. Some are highly relevant to our subject: Empathy is universal.

Hubert Dreyfus of MIT, in a 1972 book called What Computers Can’t Do, saw little hope that computers could make significant further progress in playing chess beyond the mediocre level then achieved; but a computer beat the world champion, Garry Kasparov, in 1997. Economists Frank Levy and Richard J. Murnane, in an excellent 2004 book called The New Division of Labor, explain how driving a vehicle involves such a mass of sensory inputs and requires such complex split-second judgments that it would be extremely difficult for a computer ever to handle the job; yet Google introduced its autonomous car six years later. Steven Pinker observed in 2007 that “assessing the layout of the world and guiding a body through it are staggeringly complex engineering tasks, as we see by the absence of dishwashers that can empty themselves or vacuum cleaners that can climb stairs.” Yet iRobot soon thereafter was making vacuum cleaners and floor scrubbers that find their way around the house without harming furniture, pets, or children, and was also making other robots that climb stairs; it could obviously make machines that do both if it believed demand was sufficient.


pages: 286 words: 90,530

Richard Dawkins: How a Scientist Changed the Way We Think by Alan Grafen; Mark Ridley

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Alfred Russel Wallace, Arthur Eddington, bioinformatics, cognitive bias, computer age, conceptual framework, Dava Sobel, double helix, Douglas Hofstadter, epigenetics, Fellow of the Royal Society, Haight Ashbury, interchangeable parts, Isaac Newton, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, John von Neumann, loose coupling, Murray Gell-Mann, Necker cube, phenotype, profit maximization, Ronald Reagan, Stephen Hawking, Steven Pinker, the scientific method, theory of mind, Thomas Kuhn: the structure of scientific revolutions, Yogi Berra

Professor, Department of Zoology, and Principal, Jesus College, Oxford University; former chairman, Food Standards Agency. Marek Kohn, Visiting Fellow at the School of Life Sciences, University of Sussex, author of A Reason for Everything, As We Know It: Coming to Terms with an Evolved Mind, The Race Gallery, and other books. Randolph M. Nesse, Professor of Psychiatry and Professor of Psychology, University of Michigan, author of Why We Get Sick and other books. Steven Pinker, Johnstone Family Professor, Department of Psychology, Harvard University, author of The Language Instinct, How the Mind Works, The Blank Slate, and other books. Philip Pullman, author of His Dark Materials trilogy, Ruby in the Smoke, and other books. Andrew F. Read, Professor of Natural History, Edinburgh University. Matt Ridley, writer and former journalist, author of Nature via Nurture, Genome, The Red Queen, and of a forthcoming biography of Francis Crick.

Thus the knowledge-laden structures are big, in the multiverse, while many of the objects, such as galaxies, that have large-scale structure in any one universe, have little or none in the multiverse. It is only the ‘neo-Darwinist’ version of evolution theory that has turned out to illuminate other fields in this way. That is smoking-gun evidence of a good explanation. Deep commonalities between life and mind Steven Pinker US television talk-show host Jay Leno, interviewing a passerby: How do you think Mount Rushmore was formed? Passerby: Erosion? Leno: Well, how do you think the rain knew to not only pick four presidents—but four of our greatest presidents? How did the rain know to put the beard on Lincoln and not on Jefferson? Passerby: Oh, just luck, I guess. I am a cognitive scientist, someone who studies the nature of intelligence and the workings of the mind.

To live, we need to cooperate with others; we need to coordinate with others, and to coordinate without being exploited by freeloaders and shysters too severely. So we need to be able to read the intentions and emotions of others. We need to be, and are, superb intuitive psychologists. Poor psychologists would rarely have got to be parents of further inept judges of character, emotion, intention. Many of the typical problems of human life are demanding in similar ways, yet we respond effortlessly and successfully to most of those challenges. Steven Pinker and his allies suggest that we can do this because we have evolved a collection of special purpose cognitive machines, each of which is innately equipped to solve demanding but repeated and predictable problems of human life; he develops this view in his How The Mind Works.2 As Pinker reads the human story, we are good intuitive psychologists because we have built into our minds a human psychology program—a system designed to read the thoughts and intentions of others—on which we rely as we navigate our way through the storms of our social world.


pages: 481 words: 125,946

What to Think About Machines That Think: Today's Leading Thinkers on the Age of Machine Intelligence by John Brockman

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3D printing, agricultural Revolution, AI winter, Alan Turing: On Computable Numbers, with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem, algorithmic trading, artificial general intelligence, augmented reality, autonomous vehicles, bitcoin, blockchain, clean water, cognitive dissonance, Colonization of Mars, complexity theory, computer age, computer vision, constrained optimization, corporate personhood, cosmological principle, cryptocurrency, cuban missile crisis, Danny Hillis, dark matter, discrete time, Elon Musk, Emanuel Derman, endowment effect, epigenetics, Ernest Rutherford, experimental economics, Flash crash, friendly AI, Google Glasses, hive mind, income inequality, information trail, Internet of things, invention of writing, iterative process, Jaron Lanier, job automation, John von Neumann, Kevin Kelly, knowledge worker, loose coupling, microbiome, Moneyball by Michael Lewis explains big data, natural language processing, Network effects, Norbert Wiener, pattern recognition, Peter Singer: altruism, phenotype, planetary scale, Ray Kurzweil, recommendation engine, Republic of Letters, RFID, Richard Thaler, Rory Sutherland, Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, self-driving car, sharing economy, Silicon Valley, Skype, smart contracts, speech recognition, statistical model, stem cell, Stephen Hawking, Steve Jobs, Steven Pinker, Stewart Brand, strong AI, Stuxnet, superintelligent machines, supervolcano, the scientific method, The Wisdom of Crowds, theory of mind, Thorstein Veblen, too big to fail, Turing machine, Turing test, Von Neumann architecture, Watson beat the top human players on Jeopardy!, Y2K

DEDICATION To Marvin Minsky CONTENTS DEDICATION ACKNOWLEDGMENTS PREFACE: THE 2015 EDGE QUESTION MURRAY SHANAHAN Consciousness in Human-Level AI STEVEN PINKER Thinking Does Not Imply Subjugating MARTIN REES Organic Intelligence Has No Long-Term Future STEVE OMOHUNDRO A Turning Point in Artificial Intelligence DIMITAR D. SASSELOV AI Is I FRANK TIPLER If You Can’t Beat ’em, Join ’em MARIO LIVIO Intelligent Machines on Earth and Beyond ANTONY GARRETT LISI I, for One, Welcome Our Machine Overlords JOHN MARKOFF Our Masters, Slaves, or Partners? PAUL DAVIES Designed Intelligence KEVIN P. HAND The Superintelligent Loner JOHN C. MATHER It’s Going to Be a Wild Ride DAVID CHRISTIAN Is Anyone in Charge of This Thing? TIMO HANNAY Witness to the Universe MAX TEGMARK Let’s Get Prepared!

I suspect we won’t find out how to answer this question until confronted with the real thing. Only when more sophisticated AI is a familiar part of our lives will our language games adjust to such alien beings. But of course by that time it may be too late to change our minds about whether they should be brought into the world. For better or worse, they’ll already be here. THINKING DOES NOT IMPLY SUBJUGATING STEVEN PINKER Johnstone Family Professor, Department of Psychology, Harvard University; author, The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the Twenty-First Century Thomas Hobbes’s pithy equation of reasoning as “nothing but reckoning” is one of the great ideas in human history. The notion that rationality can be accomplished by the physical process of calculation was vindicated in the twentieth century by Alan Turing’s thesis that simple machines can implement any computable function, and by models from D.

We don’t yet know how to program human-level intelligence and creativity into these computers, but in twenty years desktop computers will have the power of today’s supercomputers, and the hackers of twenty years hence will solve the AI programming problem long before any carbon-based space colonies are established on the moon or Mars. The AIs, not humans, will colonize these places instead, or perhaps take them apart. No human, no carbon-based human, will ever traverse interstellar space. There’s no reason to fear the AIs and human uploads. Steven Pinker has established that as technological civilization advances, the level of violence decreases.2 This decrease is clearly due to the fact that scientific and technological advance depend on free, nonviolent interchange of ideas between individual scientists and engineers. Violence between humans is a remnant of our tribal past and the resulting static society. AIs will be “born” as individuals, not as members of a tribe, and will be born with the nonviolent scientific attitude, otherwise they’d be incapable of adapting to the extreme environments of space.


pages: 319 words: 95,854

You Are What You Speak: Grammar Grouches, Language Laws, and the Politics of Identity by Robert Lane Greene

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anti-communist, British Empire, centre right, discovery of DNA, European colonialism, facts on the ground, haute couture, illegal immigration, Mahatma Gandhi, Mikhail Gorbachev, Ronald Reagan, Steven Pinker, Yogi Berra

Recursion is the ability to fit one kind of syntactic unit into another of the same type; “the cat” is a noun phrase, and “the cat in the hat” is a noun phrase that has noun phrases (“the hat” and “the cat”) within it. But though once upon a time everyone in linguistics seemed to be responding to the dominant “classical” Chomskyan paradigm, today the minimalist program has put the titan himself into a smaller, more controversial camp, against, for example, his fellow “innatist” (a believer that some elements of grammar are wired in the brain), Steven Pinker. All this should dispel the notion that descriptivists don’t believe in rules. But they see their role as discovering, not pronouncing, them. Some (like Pullum) use real-world evidence. Others (like Chomsky) construct artificial examples to illustrate their points. But what neither does is sit in a chair saying “This is how it is, by Jove, and anyone who doesn’t know this rule is a fool.” Remember our analogy of linguistics to social science.

Boroditsky points out that groups living near the Kuuk Thaayorre, in nearly identical conditions but without this feature in their languages, also lack the ability to stay constantly oriented. Boroditsky’s work puts her in a camp of neo-Whorfians. She strongly believes that different languages train the mind in different ways. Boroditsky rejects the notion—prominently expounded by Noam Chomsky, Steven Pinker, and others—that human language is fundamentally a single phenomenon, with interesting surface variations but much deeper universals. But the neo-Whorfians argue that language steers—it does not govern—what we perceive and think. Some languages, such as Chinese, have no word for “brother,” only “older brother” and “younger brother.” These languages surely force people to pay more attention to birth order.

Patel in London will think of himself primarily as an Indian, a British citizen, a Hindu, a Gujarati-speaker, an ex-colonist from Kenya, a member of a specific caste or kin-group, or in some other capacity depends on whether he faces an immigration officer, a Pakistani, a Sikh or Moslem, a Bengali-speaker, and so on. There is no single platonic essence of Patel. He is all these and more at the same time. —ERIC HOBSBAWM Steven Pinker, in his book The Stuff of Thought, has a fascinating chapter about metaphors. “The Metaphor Metaphor” is about cognition itself: some people think that to think is to think in metaphors or that metaphorical thinking is a metaphor for thought. It is a powerful idea. He begins with the famous first paragraph of the Declaration of Independence and finds it rife with metaphors: to “dissolve … the bands which have connected them with another” is a metaphor: alliances are bonds.


pages: 416 words: 106,582

This Will Make You Smarter: 150 New Scientific Concepts to Improve Your Thinking by John Brockman

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23andMe, Albert Einstein, Alfred Russel Wallace, banking crisis, Barry Marshall: ulcers, Benoit Mandelbrot, Berlin Wall, biofilm, Black Swan, butterfly effect, Cass Sunstein, cloud computing, congestion charging, correlation does not imply causation, Daniel Kahneman / Amos Tversky, dark matter, data acquisition, David Brooks, delayed gratification, Emanuel Derman, epigenetics, Exxon Valdez, Flash crash, Flynn Effect, hive mind, impulse control, information retrieval, Isaac Newton, Jaron Lanier, John von Neumann, Kevin Kelly, mandelbrot fractal, market design, Mars Rover, Marshall McLuhan, microbiome, Murray Gell-Mann, Nicholas Carr, open economy, place-making, placebo effect, pre–internet, QWERTY keyboard, random walk, randomized controlled trial, rent control, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman: Challenger O-ring, Richard Thaler, Schrödinger's Cat, security theater, Silicon Valley, stem cell, Steve Jobs, Steven Pinker, Stewart Brand, the scientific method, Thorstein Veblen, Turing complete, Turing machine, Walter Mischel, Whole Earth Catalog

George Church Non-Inherent Inheritance We are well into an unprecedented new phase of evolution, in which we must generalize beyond our DNA-centric worldview. Paul Kedrosky Shifting Baseline Syndrome We don’t have enough data to know what is normal, so we convince ourselves that this is normal. Martin Seligman PERMA The elements of well-being must be exclusive, measurable independently of one another, and—ideally—exhaustive. Steven Pinker Positive-Sum Games In a positive-sum game, a rational, self-interested actor may benefit the other actor with the same choice that benefits himself or herself. Roger Highfield The Snuggle for Existence Competition does not tell the whole story of biology. Dylan Evans The Law of Comparative Advantage At a time of growing protectionism, it is more important than ever to reassert the value of free trade.

We think of the Bloomsbury Group in London during the early twentieth century. We think of the New York intellectuals who wrote for little magazines like Partisan Review in the 1950s. The most influential thinkers in our own era live at the nexus of the cognitive sciences, evolutionary psychology, and information technology. This constellation of thinkers, influenced by people like Daniel Kahneman, Noam Chomsky, E. O. Wilson, Steven Pinker, Steve Jobs, and Sergey Brin, do a great deal to set the intellectual temper of the times. They ask the fundamental questions and shape debates outside of their own disciplines and across the public sphere. Many of the leaders of this network are in this book. They are lucky enough to be at the head of fast-advancing fields. But they are also lucky enough to have one another. The literary agent and all-purpose intellectual impresario John Brockman gathers members of this network for summits.

For each of the anniversary editions of Edge, I have asked contributors for their responses to a question that comes to me, or to one of my correspondents, in the middle of the night. It’s not easy coming up with a question. As the late James Lee Byars, my friend and sometime collaborator, used to say: “I can answer the question, but am I bright enough to ask it?” I’m looking for questions that inspire answers we can’t possibly predict. My goal is to provoke people into thinking thoughts they normally might not have. This year’s question, suggested by Steven Pinker and seconded by Daniel Kahneman, takes off from a notion of James Flynn, intelligence researcher and emeritus professor of political studies at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand, who defined shorthand abstractions (SHAs) as concepts drawn from science that have become part of the language and make people smarter by providing widely applicable templates. “Market,” “placebo,” “random sample,” and “naturalistic fallacy” are a few of his examples.


pages: 412 words: 115,266

The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values by Sam Harris

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Albert Einstein, banking crisis, cognitive bias, endowment effect, energy security, experimental subject, framing effect, hindsight bias, impulse control, John Nash: game theory, loss aversion, meta analysis, meta-analysis, out of africa, pattern recognition, placebo effect, Ponzi scheme, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, risk tolerance, stem cell, Stephen Hawking, Steven Pinker, the scientific method, theory of mind, ultimatum game, World Values Survey

This study was a joint effort at every stage, and Jonas’s involvement was essential to its completion. In addition to my dissertation committee at UCLA, several outside scholars and scientists reviewed early drafts of this book. Paul Churchland, Daniel Dennett, Owen Flanagan, and Steven Pinker read the text, in whole or in part, and offered extremely helpful notes. A few sections contain cannibalized versions of essays that were first read by a larger circle of scientists and writers: including Jerry Coyne, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Owen Flanagan, Anthony Grayling, Christopher Hitchens, and Steven Pinker. I am pleased to notice that with friends like these, it has become increasingly difficult to say something stupid. (Still, one does what one can.) It is an honor to be so deeply in their debt. My editor at the Free Press, Hilary Redmon, greatly improved The Moral Landscape at every level, through several stages of revision.

—Ian McEwan, author of Atonement and winner of the Man Booker Prize for Amsterdam “A lively, provocative, and timely new look at one of the deepest problems in the world of ideas. Harris makes a powerful case for a morality that is based on human flourishing and thoroughly enmeshed with science and rationality. It is a tremendously appealing vision, and one that no thinking person can afford to ignore.” —Steven Pinker, Professor of Psychology at Harvard University and author of How the Mind Works and The Blank Slate “Beautifully written as they were (the elegance of his prose is a distilled blend of honesty and clarity) there was little in Sam Harris’s previous books that couldn’t have been written by any of his fellow ‘horsemen’ of the ‘new atheism.’ This book is different, though every bit as readable as the other two.

While the possibilities of human experience must be realized in the brains that evolution has built for us, our brains were not designed with a view to our ultimate fulfillment. Evolution could never have foreseen the wisdom or necessity of creating stable democracies, mitigating climate change, saving other species from extinction, containing the spread of nuclear weapons, or of doing much else that is now crucial to our happiness in this century. As the psychologist Steven Pinker has observed,21 if conforming to the dictates of evolution were the foundation of subjective well-being, most men would discover no higher calling in life than to make daily contributions to their local sperm bank. After all, from the perspective of a man’s genes, there could be nothing more fulfilling than spawning thousands of children without incurring any associated costs or responsibilities.


pages: 511 words: 148,310

Winning the War on War: The Decline of Armed Conflict Worldwide by Joshua S. Goldstein

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Albert Einstein, Ayatollah Khomeini, Bartolomé de las Casas, Berlin Wall, Black Swan, colonial rule, cuban missile crisis, Doomsday Clock, failed state, immigration reform, income inequality, invention of writing, invisible hand, land reform, microcredit, Mikhail Gorbachev, purchasing power parity, RAND corporation, Steven Pinker, Tobin tax, unemployed young men, Winter of Discontent, Y2K

Then again, besieging armies often did not allow surrender on terms, since they “stood to lose all they might gain by loot from a storm attack.” All in all, medieval warfare was not a model of civilized chivalry compared with today’s barbarous warfare—quite the opposite. ANCIENT WARFARE Catch the time machine back to the ancient empires. They lived by war. In fact, for most of human history, writes Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker, “unexceptional features of life” included human sacrifice, slavery, conquest, genocide, assassination, rape as a spoil of war, and “homicide as the major form of conflict resolution.” Pinker concludes that “violence has been in decline over long stretches of history, and today we are probably living in the most peaceful moment of our species’ time on earth.” In 143 B.C., after conquering Carthage, the Romans burned the city to the ground, slaughtered 150,000 inhabitants out of a total of 200,000, and sold the rest into slavery.

Similarly, sociologist Evan Luard excludes from his grand survey of war all past wars in Asia and Africa, since they are probably not proper wars and information is “in any case inadequate to provide a proper record or basis for comparison.” But then in his conclusion Luard declares that wars in these places are more costly now than in the past. He “assumes that the modern events he knows about are larger and more frightening than past events of which he is not aware.” Chapter 2 described these actual trends; the point here is the importance of chronological bias. Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker adds that we miss long-term declines in violence because “the decline of violent behavior has been parallelled by a decline in attitudes that tolerate or glorify violence.... From a contemporary vantage point, we see [today’s atrocities, mild by historical standards] as signs of how low our behavior can sink, not of how high our standards have risen.” Payne also notes that various groups have vested interests in portraying the world as more violent than it really is.

An observer who points out that violence is declining “seems to lack moral concern” and seems “insensitive, implying that the wars and genocides . . . weren’t all that bad and that we shouldn’t worry about a repetition. . . .” And thus “peace organizations obey the same imperative: if they report that the world is getting more peaceful, they make their mission seem less necessary, and donations to them will slack off.” As journalist Gregg Easterbrook puts it, “Most contemporary fund-raising turns on high-decibel assertions that everything’s going to hell. It is not. . . .” Steven Pinker adds, “No one ever attracted followers and donations by announcing that things keep getting better.” In addition, people have trouble thinking realistically about war trends because war is so traumatic and horrible. Psychological trauma interferes with the ability to measure and compare information accurately. Traumatic memories are frozen in isolated snapshots that do not connect with the metrics of daily life.


pages: 222 words: 53,317

Overcomplicated: Technology at the Limits of Comprehension by Samuel Arbesman

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3D printing, algorithmic trading, Anton Chekhov, Apple II, Benoit Mandelbrot, citation needed, combinatorial explosion, Danny Hillis, David Brooks, discovery of the americas, en.wikipedia.org, Erik Brynjolfsson, Flash crash, friendly AI, game design, Google X / Alphabet X, Googley, HyperCard, Inbox Zero, Isaac Newton, iterative process, Kevin Kelly, Machine translation of "The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak." to Russian and back, mandelbrot fractal, Minecraft, Netflix Prize, Nicholas Carr, Parkinson's law, Ray Kurzweil, recommendation engine, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman: Challenger O-ring, Second Machine Age, self-driving car, software studies, statistical model, Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, Steven Pinker, Stewart Brand, superintelligent machines, Therac-25, Tyler Cowen: Great Stagnation, urban planning, Watson beat the top human players on Jeopardy!, Whole Earth Catalog, Y2K

the writer Scott Rosenberg notes: Scott Rosenberg, Dreaming in Code: Two Dozen Programmers, Three Years, 4,732 Bugs, and One Quest for Transcendent Software (New York: Three Rivers Press, 2008), 6–7. “suddenly become opaque and bewildering”: Homer-Dixon, The Ingenuity Gap, 186. 100 billion sentences: Actually, to avoid duplicate sentences, it’s really 10,000 nouns × 1,000 verbs × 9,999 nouns. It would still take more than 30,000 years to go through these sentences. from the linguist Steven Pinker: Steven Pinker, The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language (New York: William Morrow, 1994; repr. HarperPerennial, 1995), 205. “This is the cheese”: Quoted in Ray Kurzweil, The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence (New York: Penguin, 1999), 95. Consider Kant Generator: Program via Mark Pilgrim, Dive into Python: Python from Novice to Pro, updated 2004.

It’s silly to say that language allows for an arbitrarily large number of embedded clauses: that may be technically feasible according to the rules of grammar, but our brains simply can’t parse that much recursion. As much as we would like our languages to be infinite and variegated, we can’t handle sentences with a recursion depth of much more than two or three. Here are some sentences from the linguist Steven Pinker that not only are hard to understand, they don’t even look syntactically correct: The dog the stick the fire burned beat bit the cat. The rapidity that the motion that the wing that the hummingbird has has has is remarkable. Each of these has only a small amount of nesting. For example, the first sentence means that the dog—the one that was beaten by a burnt stick—bit the cat. It is constructed by modifying “the dog”—of “The dog bit the cat”—with a description of the stick.


pages: 339 words: 112,979

Unweaving the Rainbow by Richard Dawkins

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Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, Arthur Eddington, complexity theory, correlation coefficient, David Attenborough, discovery of DNA, double helix, Douglas Engelbart, I think there is a world market for maybe five computers, Isaac Newton, Jaron Lanier, Mahatma Gandhi, music of the spheres, Necker cube, p-value, phenotype, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Ronald Reagan, Solar eclipse in 1919, Steven Pinker, Zipf's Law

This follows by extrapolation from Wolpert's observation that 'there are many more molecules in a glass of water than there are glasses of water in the sea'. Newton's law that objects stay in motion unless positively stopped is counter-intuitive. So is Galileo's discovery that, when there is no air resistance, light objects fall at the same rate as heavy objects. So is the fact that solid matter, even a hard diamond, consists almost entirely of empty space. Steven Pinker gives an illuminating discussion of the evolutionary origins of our physical intuitions in How the Mind Works (1998). More profoundly difficult Eire the conclusions of quantum theory, overwhelmingly supported by experimental evidence to a stupefyingly convincing number of decimal places, yet so alien to the evolved human mind that even professional physicists don't understand them in their intuitive thoughts.

The compatibility of guanine with cytosine, the glove-like fit of adenine with thymine, and especially the intimate mutual twining of the left spiral around the right, all speak to us of loving, caring, nurturing relationships...' Well, I'd be surprised if it quite came to that, and not only because the double helix model is now very unlikely to be disproved. But in science, as in any other field, there really are dangers of becoming intoxicated by symbolism, by meaningless resemblances, and led farther and farther from the truth, rather than towards it. Steven Pinker reports that he is troubled by correspondents who have discovered that everything in the universe comes in threes: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; protons, neutrons and electrons; masculine, feminine and neuter; Huey, Dewey, and Louie; and so on, for page after page. How the Mind Works (1998) Slightly more seriously, Sir Peter Medawar, the distinguished British zoologist and polymath whom I quoted before, invents a great new universal principle of complementarity (not Bohr's) according to which there is an essential inner similarity in the relationships that hold between antigen and antibody, male and female, electropositive and electronegative, thesis and antithesis, and so on.

But 'typically' is not the same thing as 'universally', and the scientific truths that men and women eventually discover (albeit there may be statistical differences in the kinds of research that they are drawn to) will be accepted equally by reasonable people of both sexes, once they have been clearly established by members of either sex. And no, reason and logic are not masculine instruments of oppression. To suggest that they are is an insult to women, as Steven Pinker has said: Among the claims of 'difference feminists' are that women do not engage in abstract linear reasoning, that they do not treat ideas with skepticism or evaluate them through rigorous debate, that they do not argue from general moral principles, and other insults. How the Mind Works (1998) The most ridiculous example of feminist bad science may be Sandra Harding's description of Newton's Principia as a 'rape manual'.


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The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why It Matters by Rose George

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American Society of Civil Engineers: Report Card, Anton Chekhov, Celtic Tiger, clean water, glass ceiling, indoor plumbing, informal economy, job satisfaction, John Snow's cholera map, joint-stock company, land reform, New Urbanism, Potemkin village, Report Card for America’s Infrastructure, Steven Pinker, urban planning

The diminished power of “damn” explains why the climax of Gone With the Wind is always a bit of a puzzle. When church influence weakened, the products of the body—which Puritan influence has successfully turned into a foul, shameful thing—stepped in instead to give us our worst words. There must be something wrong with it, after all, when all we do is get rid of it as fast as possible. Meanwhile, a plentiful supply of euphemisms can serve as linguistic stand-ins. The cognitive scientist Steven Pinker lists a dozen categories of euphemism, including taboo (shit), medical (stool, bowel movement) and formal (feces, excrement, excreta, defecation, ordure). The category that’s missing is “conversational.” There is no neutral word for what humans produce at least once a day, usually unfailingly. There is no defecatory equivalent of the inoffensive, neutral “sex.” I wish that “shit” didn’t shock.

Not in society, not quite out of it. Needed but rarely demanded. A place where all sorts of human needs and habits intersect: fear, disgust, conversation, grooming, sex. It’s an ambiguous space that is not quite in the public eye, though the public uses it. A place of refuge and sociability, of necessity and criminality. How we are allowed to behave in a public necessity even influences everyday speech. Steven Pinker, in his explanation of taboo words, quotes a spectrum of excreta-related swearing. Shit is less acceptable than piss, which is less acceptable than fart. And so on through to snot and spit, “which is not taboo at all. That’s the same order as the acceptability of eliminating these substances from the body in public.” To be uninterested in the public toilet is to be uninterested in life. In the absence of academic curiosity, I will ask the experts.

Thomas J. Borody, “Flora Power: Fecal Bacteria Cure Chronic C. difficile Diarrhea,” American Journal of Gastroenterology 11 (August 1995): 3028–29. You don’t ever see or smell a thing Megan Levy, “Grandma Saved by Daughter’s Poo,” Daily Telegraph, November 29, 2007. Once people got talking about bathrooms “Examining the Unmentionables,” Time, May 20, 1966. A dozen categories of euphemism Steven Pinker, The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature (London: Allen Lane, 2007), p. 351. Without talking frankly about shit WSSCC, Listening (Geneva: WSSCC, 2004), p. 44. [Humanity’s] wiser course Freud quotes from the last scene of Faust, where the “more perfected angels” lament “Uns bleibt ein Erdenrest/zu tragen peinlich/und wär’ er von Asbest/er ist nicht reinlich” (We still have a trace of the Earth, which is distressing to bear; and though it were of asbestos, it is not cleanly).


pages: 379 words: 108,129

An Optimist's Tour of the Future by Mark Stevenson

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23andMe, Albert Einstein, Andy Kessler, augmented reality, bank run, carbon footprint, carbon-based life, clean water, computer age, decarbonisation, double helix, Douglas Hofstadter, Elon Musk, flex fuel, Gödel, Escher, Bach, Hans Rosling, Internet of things, invention of agriculture, Isaac Newton, Jeff Bezos, Kevin Kelly, Law of Accelerating Returns, life extension, Louis Pasteur, mutually assured destruction, Naomi Klein, packet switching, peak oil, pre–internet, Ray Kurzweil, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Rodney Brooks, self-driving car, Silicon Valley, smart cities, stem cell, Stephen Hawking, Steven Pinker, Stewart Brand, strong AI, the scientific method, Wall-E, X Prize

But the big elephant in the room for this kind of AI research is that Elephants Don’t Play Chess (this being the title of a paper Brooks wrote in 1990), but they do do any number of ‘common-sense’ things that machines can’t – as can dogs, cats and preschool children. Sure Deep Blue can occasionally beat grandmasters (and no doubt elephants) at chess, but it’ll never be able to find shade or express its political views on Vladimir Putin. So, does Deep Blue think? Well, sort of. A bit. But we still haven’t got anything like Star Wars’ C-3PO, the multipurpose smart machine that we consider a real personality. Or as Steven Pinker, Johnstone Professor of Psychology at Harvard University, wrote: The main lesson of thirty-five years of AI research is that the hard problems are easy and the easy problems are hard. The mental abilities of a four-year-old that we take for granted – recognising a face, lifting a pencil, walking across a room, answering a question – in fact solve some of the hardest engineering problems ever conceived.

The world is getting less violent? Have you seen the news? But the figures speak for themselves and they speak volumes. It’s an astonishing and underreported fact that violence is declining and has been for centuries. This goes against popular sentiment that the past was somehow safer and simpler – a time without nuclear weapons or helicopter gunships, with no violent movies or 18-rated computer games. Steven Pinker sums up this misconception when he describes it as ‘the idea that humans are peaceable by nature and corrupted by modern institutions.’ In the last thirty-five years, anthropologists like Carol Ember and Lawrence Keeley have been scouring the archaeological record and studying tribal cultures with results that seriously question the idea that the trappings of civilisation corrupt us toward violence.

Recent research by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation in Washington and Harvard Medical School suggests that in some cases war deaths may be three times more than WHO estimates. All that said, the long view is that the underlying trend in violent deaths is steeply downward. Even if we double, triple or quadruple the recorded rates of slaughter for the last century we’re still killing far fewer people per capita than our ancestors. As Steven Pinker says, ‘We must have been doing something right. And it would be nice to know what, exactly, it is.’ My hunch is that one of the things we’re getting right is becoming increasingly connected, and being so we find it harder to kill each other. It’s a popular view and one that seems to make instinctive sense. I’m conscious, though, that belief and truth should never be confused. I call some notable academics to see if there is any research that proves or debunks the theory.


pages: 322 words: 88,197

Wonderland: How Play Made the Modern World by Steven Johnson

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Ada Lovelace, Alfred Russel Wallace, Antoine Gombaud: Chevalier de Méré, Berlin Wall, bitcoin, Book of Ingenious Devices, Buckminster Fuller, Claude Shannon: information theory, Clayton Christensen, colonial exploitation, computer age, conceptual framework, crowdsourcing, cuban missile crisis, Drosophila, Fellow of the Royal Society, game design, global village, Hedy Lamarr / George Antheil, HyperCard, invention of air conditioning, invention of the printing press, invention of the telegraph, Islamic Golden Age, Jacquard loom, Jacquard loom, Jacques de Vaucanson, James Watt: steam engine, Jane Jacobs, John von Neumann, joint-stock company, Joseph-Marie Jacquard, Landlord's Game, lone genius, megacity, Minecraft, Murano, Venice glass, music of the spheres, Necker cube, New Urbanism, Oculus Rift, On the Economy of Machinery and Manufactures, pattern recognition, pets.com, placebo effect, probability theory / Blaise Pascal / Pierre de Fermat, profit motive, QWERTY keyboard, Ray Oldenburg, spice trade, spinning jenny, statistical model, Steve Jobs, Steven Pinker, Stewart Brand, supply-chain management, talking drums, the built environment, The Great Good Place, the scientific method, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere, trade route, Turing machine, Turing test, Upton Sinclair, urban planning, Victor Gruen, Watson beat the top human players on Jeopardy!, white flight, Whole Earth Catalog, working poor, Wunderkammern

Because music has such a long history in human society, some scientists believe that an appetite for song is part of the genetic heritage of Homo sapiens, that our brains evolved an interest in musical sounds the way it evolved color perception or the ability to recognize faces. The question of whether music is a cultural invention or an evolutionary adaptation has been a contentious one in the last decade or so, a debate initially triggered by Steven Pinker’s best-selling manifesto of evolutionary psychology, How the Mind Works. Pinker is famous for seeing the mind as a kind of toolbox with a set of specific attributes shaped by the evolutionary pressures of our ancestral environments. But music he considers to be a cultural hack, designed to trigger circuits in the brain that evolved for more pressing tasks. In one of the book’s most controversial passages, he compared music to strawberry cheesecake: We enjoy strawberry cheesecake, but not because we evolved a taste for it.

My brilliant new editor, Courtney Young, widened the scope of this book—and its cast of characters—in many significant ways. And I’m also very grateful to Helen Yentus and Ben Denzer for what may well be my favorite jacket design of all of my books. A number of people were gracious enough to read the book (or sections of it) in draft form. I’m deeply indebted to the comments, corrections, and encouraging words from Alex Ross, Ken Goldberg, Stewart Brand, Steven Pinker, Mike Gazzaniga, Filipe Castro, Jane Root, Fred Hepburn, Chris Anderson, Juliet Blake, Angela Cheng, and Jay Haynes. As always, my wife, Alexa Robinson, read every word—but only improved every other word—with her wisdom and line-editing mojo. Thanks to Franco Moretti for introducing me to the kleptomaniacs of Paris more than two decades ago. And thanks to Jay Haynes, Annie Keating, Alex Ross, and Eric Liftin for so many conversations about music and the mind over the years.

“avenues of horror”: Quoted in Malcolm Gladwell, “The Terrazzo Jungle. Fifty Years Ago, the Mall Was Born. America Would Never Be the Same,” The New Yorker 15 (2004). “Southdale was not a suburban alternative”: Ibid. “The service done by the Fort Worth”: Quoted in Hardwick, 181. “giant shopping machine”: Quoted in Hardwick, 211. Chapter 2. Music “We enjoy strawberry cheesecake”: Steven Pinker, How the Mind Works (New York: Norton, 1999), 535. “The presence of music”: Nicholas J. Conard, Maria Malina, and Susanne C. Münzel, “New Flutes Document the Earliest Musical Tradition in Southwestern Germany,” Nature 460:7256 (2009), 739. Others take the sexual conquests: A fine overview of the arguments for the evolutionary roots of music can be found in Daniel J. Levitin’s This Is Your Brain on Music: Understanding a Human Obsession (London: Atlantic Books Ltd., 2011).


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Why Information Grows: The Evolution of Order, From Atoms to Economies by Cesar Hidalgo

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Ada Lovelace, Albert Einstein, Arthur Eddington, Claude Shannon: information theory, David Ricardo: comparative advantage, Douglas Hofstadter, frictionless, frictionless market, George Akerlof, Gödel, Escher, Bach, income inequality, income per capita, invention of the telegraph, invisible hand, Isaac Newton, James Watt: steam engine, Jane Jacobs, job satisfaction, John von Neumann, New Economic Geography, Norbert Wiener, p-value, phenotype, price mechanism, Richard Florida, Ronald Coase, Silicon Valley, Simon Kuznets, Skype, statistical model, Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, Steven Pinker, The Market for Lemons, The Nature of the Firm, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, total factor productivity, transaction costs, working-age population

Iris and Anna are the biggest sources of strength in my life, and even if they don’t actively help me bleed ink on paper, I owe it all to them. NOTES INTRODUCTION: FROM ATOMS TO PEOPLE TO ECONOMIES 1. In this context, the word atom is used to refer mainly to discrete particles, which could be either atoms or molecules. 2. Two great books describing the interaction between evolution and behavior are Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), and Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature (New York: Penguin, 2003). 3. Information theory also has a quantum version, known as quantum information theory. The existence of quantum information theory, however, does not invalidate the claim that classical information is a concept that works at a range of scales that is unusual for other theories. 4. Friedrich Hayek, “The Use of Knowledge in Society,” American Economic Review 35, no. 4 (1945): 519–530. 5.

In general, the existence of social learning speeds up other learning—it is faster to learn from experts. The point here is that the need for social learning slows down knowledge accumulation because it is hard for individuals to find the social learning opportunities they require to acquire each specific chunk of knowledge. 10. A great book eloquently describing the role of genes on human behavior is Steven Pinker’s The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature (New York: Penguin, 2003). 11. During the last couple of decades the political scientists and biologists working in the field of genopolitics have amassed an impressive amount of evidence connecting political preferences and genetics. These studies have hinged largely on exploiting data on identical and nonidentical twins, which they have matched with voter records and political party affiliations.

There, Hayek identified money as an information revelation mechanism that helped uncover information regarding the availability and demand of goods in different parts of the economy. 18. J. C. Scott, Seeing like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1998). 19. M. Pagel, “Human Language as a Culturally Transmitted Replicator,” Nature Reviews Genetics 10, no. 6 (2009): 405–415. 20. Ronen Shahar, Bruno Goncalves, Kevin Hu, Alessandro Vespignani, Steven Pinker, and César A. Hidalgo, “Links That Speak: The Global Language Network and Its Association to Global Fame,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, (10.1073/pnas.1410931111(2014)). 21. G. F. Davis, Managed by the Markets: How Finance Re-shaped America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009). 22. L. P. Casalino et al., “What Does It Cost Physician Practices to Interact with Health Insurance Plans?

Raw Data Is an Oxymoron by Lisa Gitelman

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collateralized debt obligation, computer age, continuous integration, crowdsourcing, Drosophila, Edmond Halley, Filter Bubble, Firefox, Google Earth, Howard Rheingold, index card, informal economy, Isaac Newton, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, knowledge worker, Louis Daguerre, Menlo Park, optical character recognition, RFID, Richard Thaler, Silicon Valley, social graph, software studies, statistical model, Stephen Hawking, Steven Pinker, text mining, time value of money, trade route, Turing machine, urban renewal, Vannevar Bush

Guides differ, but usage authorizes both, and analogy to parallel Latin loan words gives no unambiguous guide.8 Indeed, it seems preferable in modern English to allow context to determine whether the term should be treated as a plural or as a collective singular, since the connotations are different. When referring to individual bits or varieties of data and contrasting them among one another, it may be sensible to favor the plural as in “these data are not all equally reliable”; whereas, when referring to data as one mass, it may be better to use the singular as in “this data is reliable.” According to Steven Pinker, in English today, the latter usage has become usual.9 The fact that a standard English dictionary defines a “datum” as a “piece of information,” a fragment of another linguistically complex mass noun, further strengthens this intuition.10 As Pinker argues, however much priggish pleasure professors may take in pointing out that the term data in Latin is plural, foreign plurals may be deployed in English as singulars.

On the usage of “data” in contemporary English, see American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 3rd ed. 37 38 Daniel Rosenberg Technical literature on the subject includes the following: Chaim Zins, “Conceptual Approaches for Defining Data, Information, and Knowledge,” Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology 58, no. 4 (2007): 479–493; Carter A. Daniel and Charles C. Smith, “An Argument for Data as a Collective Singular,” Business Communication Quarterly 45, no. 3 (September 1982): 31–33;Walter E. Meyers, College Composition and Communication 23, no. 2 (May 1972): 155–169. 9. Steven Pinker, Words and Rules: The Ingredients of Language (New York: Basic Books, 1999), 178. 10. Oxford Dictionaries Online, “Datum,” http://oxforddictionaries.com (accessed February 10, 2012). See also Geoffrey Nunberg, “Farewell to the Information Age,” in The Future of the Book, ed. Geoffrey Nunberg (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996), 103–138. 11. Pinker, Words and Rules, 55. The eighteenth-century usage question revolved mainly around the propriety of using foreign suffixes to create plurals for naturalized loan words.

In this vast literature, see, for example, Nicholson Baker, The Double Fold: Libraries and the Assault on Paper (New York: Vintage, 2002); Robert Darnton, The Case for Books (New York: PublicAffairs, 2009). 16. Jean-Baptiste Michel, Yuan Kui Shen, Aviva Presser Aiden, Adrian Veres, Matthew K. Gray, The Google Books Team, Joseph P. Pickett, Dale Hoiberg, Dan Clancy, Peter Norvig, Jon Orwant, Steven Pinker, Martin A. Nowak, and Erez Lieberman Aiden, “Quantitative Analysis of Culture Using Millions of Digitized Books,” Science 331 (2011), published online ahead of print: December 16, 2010; Erez Lieberman, Jean-Baptiste Michel, Joe Jackson, Tina Tang, and Martin Nowak, “Quantifying the Evolutionary Dynamics of Language,” Nature 449 (2007). See also http://www.culturomics.org. 17. Patricia Cohen, “Analyzing Literature by Words and Numbers,” New York Times, December 3, 2010; idem., “In 500 Billion Words, New Window on Culture,” December 16, 2010; idem., “Five-Million-Book Google Database Gets a Workout, and a Debate, in Its First Days,” December Data before the Fact 21, 2010; idem.; Ben Zimmer, “The Future Tense,” New York Times, February 25, 2011.


pages: 486 words: 148,485

Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error by Kathryn Schulz

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affirmative action, anti-communist, banking crisis, Bernie Madoff, car-free, Cass Sunstein, cognitive dissonance, colonial rule, conceptual framework, cosmological constant, cuban missile crisis, Daniel Kahneman / Amos Tversky, dark matter, desegregation, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, lake wobegon effect, Ronald Reagan, six sigma, stem cell, Steven Pinker, Tenerife airport disaster, the scientific method, The Wisdom of Crowds, theory of mind, Thomas Kuhn: the structure of scientific revolutions, trade route

Yet one without astronomical knowledge can readily reenact much of the drama of human error in gaining a knowledge of the universe, by going into the open on any clear night and looking into the vault above him.” the fix favored by Protagoras. Almost the entirety of Plato’s Theaetetus is dedicated to dismantling Protagoras’s theory of knowledge, but for the issues I’m addressing here, see especially pp. 12–50. Keeler also provides considerable background on what the Sophists, Plato, and other early philosophers thought about the problem of errors of perception. (See especially pp. 1–21.) Steven Pinker. Steven Pinker, How the Mind Works (W. W. Norton and Company, 1997), 8. David Brewster. David Brewster, Letters on Natural Magic (Chatto and Windus, Piccadilly, 1883), 91. I tracked down this text after reading about it in Sully’s Illusions. Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin. The story of Robert-Houdin in Algeria can be found in Jim Steinmeyer’s Hiding the Elephant (De Capo Press, 2004), pp. 145–146. I’ve reproduced both illusions in the endnotes (FN).

Actually, it’s not your eyes that are telling you this; it’s a handful of interpretative processes of the kind I just described. These processes are in play because, when it comes to determining the color of objects around us, our visual system can’t afford to be too literal. If it were, it would do nothing but measure the wavelength of light reflecting off a given object. In that case, as the psychologist Steven Pinker has pointed out, we would think that a lump of coal sitting in bright sunlight was white, and that a lump of snow inside a dark house was black. Instead, we’re able to correct for the presence of light and shadow so that the coal still appears fundamentally black and the snow still appears fundamentally white. One way we do this is through local contrast. In nature, if something is lighter than its immediate surroundings, it’s probably light in an absolute sense, rather than just because of the way the sun is or isn’t striking it.

In everyday life, we use phrases like “I know” to indicate that we don’t feel any uncertainty and phrases like “I believe” to indicate that we do—distinctions that are extremely helpful, and that we cannot jettison without resorting to the notoriously impractical and unpalatable option of complete capital-S Skepticism. My point here is only that knowledge, as a category, has limitations and assumptions we should come to understand—and that error is predicated on belief, which is, accordingly, a more useful conceptual tool for a book about wrongness. Justice William Douglas. Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature (Penguin, 2003) 265. the brain mistakes an idea in the mind…for a feature of the real world. Specifically, scientists think that denial of disease arises when a part of the brain called the supplementary motor area remains unaffected by a brain injury. The supplementary motor area is responsible for mental simulations of physical actions; it’s what you use when you lie in bed at night picturing yourself raising your hands in triumph as you cross the finish line of the New York marathon.


pages: 405 words: 117,219

In Our Own Image: Savior or Destroyer? The History and Future of Artificial Intelligence by George Zarkadakis

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3D printing, Ada Lovelace, agricultural Revolution, Airbnb, Alan Turing: On Computable Numbers, with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem, anthropic principle, Asperger Syndrome, autonomous vehicles, barriers to entry, battle of ideas, Berlin Wall, bioinformatics, British Empire, business process, carbon-based life, cellular automata, Claude Shannon: information theory, combinatorial explosion, complexity theory, continuous integration, Conway's Game of Life, cosmological principle, dark matter, dematerialisation, double helix, Douglas Hofstadter, Edward Snowden, epigenetics, Flash crash, Google Glasses, Gödel, Escher, Bach, income inequality, index card, industrial robot, Internet of things, invention of agriculture, invention of the steam engine, invisible hand, Isaac Newton, Jacquard loom, Jacquard loom, Jacques de Vaucanson, James Watt: steam engine, job automation, John von Neumann, Joseph-Marie Jacquard, millennium bug, natural language processing, Norbert Wiener, On the Economy of Machinery and Manufactures, packet switching, pattern recognition, Paul Erdős, post-industrial society, prediction markets, Ray Kurzweil, Rodney Brooks, Second Machine Age, self-driving car, Silicon Valley, speech recognition, stem cell, Stephen Hawking, Steven Pinker, strong AI, technological singularity, The Coming Technological Singularity, the scientific method, theory of mind, Turing complete, Turing machine, Turing test, Tyler Cowen: Great Stagnation, Vernor Vinge, Von Neumann architecture, Watson beat the top human players on Jeopardy!, Y2K

Dubbed ‘FOXP2’, it also became known as the ‘language gene’. Steven Pinker, the renowned MIT psychologist, has called the finding the smoking gun for the relationship between genes and language.18 The gene exists in other mammals too, including chimpanzees, but seems to have undergone a significant mutation in humans around 200,000 years ago, a period that roughly coincides with the advent of H. sapiens sapiens. The discovery of FOXP2 provides some validation of the language theory proposed by Noam Chomsky, about the connection between genes and language. Chomsky observed that children are born with an innate knowledge about language and grammatical structure, which had to be biologically determined. According to his language theory, we are hardwired for language, a notion shared and supported by Steven Pinker and other neurolinguists.

He writes: ‘… it is comparatively easy to make computers exhibit adult level performance on intelligence test or playing checkers, and difficult or impossible to give them the skills of a one-year-old when it comes to perception and mobility’.30 Although computational methods can reproduce high-level reasoning – as demonstrated in the case of expert systems – research in robotics has shown that sensorimotor skills remain a huge challenge. Coding cognition has proved to be an easy problem. The really hard problem in AI is coding sensing and action. According to cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker, this is the most significant discovery about AI.31 It suggests that in the second machine age, while lawyers and doctors may struggle on social benefits, gardeners and janitors will remain in business and thrive. But why is this so? Many AI researchers, including former MIT professor and current robotics entrepreneur Rodney Brooks, point out that human sensorimotor skills are not related to cognition but are the product of millions of years of evolution.32 Despite the success achieved in AI by approaching the problem of intelligence from a different angle (the ‘aeroplane’ way), one would really need to reverse-engineer evolution in order to reproduce the full capabilities of a human brain including self-awareness and high-levels of consciousness.

It would be impossible to list all of them, but I would like to acknowledge in particular the contribution of my research supervisor, Ewart Carson, at City University, London and Janos Sztipanovits at Vanderbilt University, Nashville, where I validated my expert system and learned to love America; as well as acknowledge those whom I met at the Consciousness Conferences in Tucson, including Stuart Hameroff, David Chalmers, Daniel Dennett, Steven Pinker, John Searle and Christof Koch. In my years in Athens I was invited to participate in a very special circle of discussions about the mind at Athens University led by neuropsychologist Andrew Papanicolaou (currently based at the University of Tennessee). The circle included psychiatrists, clinical psychologists, philosophers of science and neuroscientists. It felt as if I were back in classical times – with the added advantage of hard scientific facts; a very enjoyable and productive experience indeed, for which I remain most grateful.


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Globish: How the English Language Became the World's Language by Robert McCrum

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Alistair Cooke, anti-communist, Berlin Wall, British Empire, call centre, colonial rule, credit crunch, cuban missile crisis, Deng Xiaoping, Etonian, failed state, Fall of the Berlin Wall, Francis Fukuyama: the end of history, invention of movable type, invention of writing, invisible hand, Isaac Newton, jimmy wales, knowledge economy, Livingstone, I presume, Martin Wolf, Naomi Klein, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Republic of Letters, Ronald Reagan, Scramble for Africa, Silicon Valley, Steven Pinker, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, Thomas L Friedman, trade route, transatlantic slave trade, transcontinental railway, upwardly mobile

So the Lord intervenes in the project, like the most disruptive shop steward, to ‘confound their language that they may not understand one another’s speech’. Even more vengeful, in best Old Testament style, He ‘scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of the earth: and they left off to build the city. Therefore is the name of it called Babel, because the Lord did there confound the language of all the earth.’ This ancient tale is a timely reminder that the world remains a patchwork of some 5,000 separate and competing languages. As Steven Pinker reminds us in The Language Instinct, we are wise to concede Noam Chomsky’s perception that, aside from mutually unintelligible vocabularies, ‘Earthlings speak a single language’. Nonetheless, the conspicuous differences between English and some of its obvious rivals, like Russian or Japanese, only serve to emphasise the differences, not the similarities. In this situation, the role of Globish in the twenty–first century can never be more than to provide a default position, a language for those who wish to communicate globally, regardless of good times or bad.

., p. 133. 266 Bhagat’s latest novel: Guardian, 10 October 2008. 267 ‘In China it was bloody, but India needs to learn’: ibid. 268 ‘India’s entertainment industry is growing rapidly’: Observer, 5 July 2009. 269 Glenny’s catchy title: author interview, 7 October 2008. 270 ‘English has emerged as a backbone for growth and development’: ‘Rwanda’s decision to ditch French for English is yet another blow for the most wonderful language’, Guardian, 15 October 2008. 271 When the world’s press arrived in Nuuk: See New York Times, 22 June 2009. 272 ‘There is this naive belief’: interview with Lee Kuan Yew, in Robert McCrum, William Cran and Robert MacNeil, The Story of English (London, 1986). 273 ‘Speaking good English does not mean’: Mark Abley, The Prodigal Tongue: Dispatches from the Future of English (London, 2008), p. 66. Epilogue: ‘A Thoroughfare for All Thoughts’ 275 Consider the powers of the earth: see Stephen Pinker, The Language Instinct (London, 2004). 275 ‘the whole earth was of one language’: Genesis 11: 1-9. 276 According to the British Council: reported in The Economist, 16 December 2006. 276 ‘As Steven Pinker reminds us’: Pinker, ibid., pp. 231-61. 277 ‘a thoroughfare for all thoughts’: in The Letters of John Keats 1814-1821, ed. Hyder Edward Rollins (Cambridge, Mass., 1958), vol. 1, p. 193. 279 ‘There are more people’: Chris Patten, What Next? Surviving the Twenty-First Century (London, 2008), p. 427. 283 ‘to be born an English-speaker’: Sunday Times, 5 October 2008. 284 ‘when you are leading the world’: Serge Michel and Michel Beuret, China Safari: On the Trail of Beijing’s Expansion in Africa (New York, 2009), p. 11. 286 A new belief system is emerging: see James Boyle, The Public Domain (Yale, 2009). 287 Taha Mahmoud, a twenty-five-year-old computer programmer: reported in the Guardian, 30 July 2007.

Barack Obama, Dreams from My Father (New York, 2004). George Orwell, The Collected Works, 20 vols., ed. Peter Davidson (London, 1998). —, Nineteen Eighty–Four (London, 1949). George D. Painter, William Caxton (London, 1976). Patrick Parrinder, Nation and Novel: The English Novel from its Origins to the Present Day (Oxford, 2006). Chris Patten, What Next? Surviving the Twenty–First Century (London, 2008). Steven Pinker, The Language Instinct (London, 2004). David Reynolds, In Command of History: Churchill Fighting and Writing the Second World War (London, 2004). Mordechai Richler, Oh Canada! Oh Quebec! (London, 1992). Miri Rubin, The Hollow Crown (London, 2005). Donald Sassoon, The Culture of the Europeans: From 1800 to the Present (London, 2006). Simon Schama, Rough Crossings: Britain, the Slaves and the American Revolution (London, 2005).


pages: 372 words: 101,174

How to Create a Mind: The Secret of Human Thought Revealed by Ray Kurzweil

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Alan Turing: On Computable Numbers, with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem, Albert Einstein, Albert Michelson, anesthesia awareness, anthropic principle, brain emulation, cellular automata, Claude Shannon: information theory, cloud computing, computer age, Dean Kamen, discovery of DNA, double helix, en.wikipedia.org, epigenetics, George Gilder, Google Earth, Isaac Newton, iterative process, Jacquard loom, Jacquard loom, John von Neumann, Law of Accelerating Returns, linear programming, Loebner Prize, mandelbrot fractal, Norbert Wiener, optical character recognition, pattern recognition, Peter Thiel, Ralph Waldo Emerson, random walk, Ray Kurzweil, reversible computing, self-driving car, speech recognition, Steven Pinker, strong AI, the scientific method, theory of mind, Turing complete, Turing machine, Turing test, Wall-E, Watson beat the top human players on Jeopardy!, X Prize

But all the while the world we feel and live in will be that which our ancestors and we, by slowly cumulative strokes of choice, have extricated out of this, like sculptors, by simply rejecting certain portions of the given stuff. Other sculptors, other statues from the same stone! Other minds, other worlds from the same monotonous and inexpressive chaos! My world is but one in a million alike embedded, alike real to those who may abstract them. How different must be the worlds in the consciousness of ant, cuttle-fish, or crab! —William James Is intelligence the goal, or even a goal, of biological evolution? Steven Pinker writes, “We are chauvinistic about our brains, thinking them to be the goal of evolution,”1 and goes on to argue that “that makes no sense…. Natural selection does nothing even close to striving for intelligence. The process is driven by differences in the survival and reproduction rates of replicating organisms in a particular environment. Over time, the organisms acquire designs that adapt them for survival and reproduction in that environment, period; nothing pulls them in any direction other than success there and then.”

For a historical perspective on how far we have advanced, I suggest people read Thomas Hobbes’s Leviathan (1651), in which he describes the “life of man” as “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” For a modern perspective, the recent book Abundance (2012), by X-Prize Foundation founder (and cofounder with me of Singularity University) Peter Diamandis and science writer Steven Kotler, documents the extraordinary ways in which life today has steadily improved in every dimension. Steven Pinker’s recent The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined (2011) painstakingly documents the steady rise of peaceful relations between people and peoples. American lawyer, entrepreneur, and author Martine Rothblatt (born in 1954) documents the steady improvement in civil rights, noting, for example, how in a couple of decades same-sex marriage went from being legally recognized nowhere in the world to being legally accepted in a rapidly growing number of jurisdictions.4 A primary reason that people believe that life is getting worse is because our information about the problems of the world has steadily improved.

Then in the morning, let your mind go again as you review the strange ideas that your dreams generated. I have found this to be an invaluable method for harnessing the natural creativity of my dreams. Reader: Well, for the workaholics among us, we can now work in our dreams. Not sure my spouse is going to appreciate this. Ray: Actually, you can think of it as getting your dreams to do your work for you. Chapter 4: The Biological Neocortex 1. Steven Pinker, How the Mind Works (New York: Norton, 1997), 152–53. 2. D. O. Hebb, The Organization of Behavior (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1949). 3. Henry Markram and Rodrigo Perrin, “Innate Neural Assemblies for Lego Memory,” Frontiers in Neural Circuits 5, no. 6 (2011). 4. E-mail communication from Henry Markram, February 19, 2012. 5. Van J. Wedeen et al., “The Geometric Structure of the Brain Fiber Pathways,” Science 335, no. 6076 (March 30, 2012). 6.


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The Future of the Brain: Essays by the World's Leading Neuroscientists by Gary Marcus, Jeremy Freeman

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23andMe, Albert Einstein, bioinformatics, bitcoin, brain emulation, cloud computing, complexity theory, computer age, computer vision, conceptual framework, correlation does not imply causation, crowdsourcing, dark matter, data acquisition, Drosophila, epigenetics, Google Glasses, iterative process, linked data, mouse model, optical character recognition, pattern recognition, personalized medicine, phenotype, race to the bottom, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Ronald Reagan, semantic web, speech recognition, stem cell, Steven Pinker, supply-chain management, Turing machine, web application

The microarray revolution dramatically increased our ability to profile genes by hybridizing many gene probes on a single gene chip. Today rapid digital sequencing technology can count individual RNA fragments that can subsequently be mapped back to the genome once it is known for an organism. In 2001, Paul Allen, cofounder of Microsoft, assembled a group of scientists, including James Watson of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and Steven Pinker, then at MIT, to discuss the future of neuroscience and what could be done to accelerate neuroscience research. During these meetings the idea emerged that a complete 3D atlas of gene expression in the mouse brain would be of great use to the neuroscience community. The mouse was chosen due to the wealth of existing genetic studies and for practical reasons. Of the potential possible techniques, the project chose a technique for mapping gene expression called in situ hybridization (ISH) (automated by Gregor Eichele of the Max Planck Institute and colleagues), which uses probes that bind to mRNA within sectioned but intact brain tissue and thereby preserves spatial context (see color plate 1).

But molecules and morphology are not enough to explain neuronal responses—a major role is played by neuronal connections, the synaptic links that tie neurons together into vast networks. Take away a neuron’s connections and it becomes deaf and mute, cut it off from inputs and it becomes unable to exert any influence whatsoever. The power of neurons derives from their collective action as part of brain networks, bound together by connections that allow them to interact, compete, and cooperate. “Brain cells fire in patterns,” as Steven Pinker once put it when challenged on the Colbert Report to explain brain function in five words. And these patterns are orchestrated by connections. Although we have known for a long time that neurons are connected into circuits, and that it is this circuit activity that drives all perception, thought, and action, I would argue that modern concepts of networks add an important new dimension. The more traditional way of thinking in terms of circuits is based on the notion of highly specific point-to-point interaction among circuit elements with each link transmitting very specific information, much like an electronic or logic circuit in a computer.

Then, like so many fads in psychology (Freud’s psychodynamic theory and Skinner’s behaviorism), neural networks begin to fade away, never quite making the transition from proofs of concept on toy problems (which were abundant) to realistic models of mind or brain. In the 1990s, journals and conferences were filled with demonstrations that showed how it was supposedly possible to capture simple cognitive and linguistic phenomena in any number of fields (such as models of how children acquired English past-tense verbs). But as Steven Pinker and I showed, the details were rarely correct empirically; more than that, nobody was ever able to turn a neural network into a functioning system for understanding language. Today neural networks have finally found a valuable home—in machine learning, especially in speech recognition and image classification, due in part to innovative work by researchers such as Geoff Hinton and Yann LeCun.


pages: 370 words: 94,968

The Most Human Human: What Talking With Computers Teaches Us About What It Means to Be Alive by Brian Christian

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4chan, Ada Lovelace, Alan Turing: On Computable Numbers, with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem, Bertrand Russell: In Praise of Idleness, carbon footprint, cellular automata, Claude Shannon: information theory, cognitive dissonance, complexity theory, crowdsourcing, Donald Trump, Douglas Hofstadter, George Akerlof, Gödel, Escher, Bach, high net worth, Isaac Newton, Jacques de Vaucanson, Jaron Lanier, job automation, l'esprit de l'escalier, Loebner Prize, Menlo Park, Ray Kurzweil, RFID, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Ronald Reagan, Skype, statistical model, Stephen Hawking, Steve Jobs, Steven Pinker, theory of mind, Turing machine, Turing test, Von Neumann architecture, Watson beat the top human players on Jeopardy!

I wonder if part of this is a kind of “notation bias”—I use a website to keep track of the books I read and when, in case I need to go back and reference anything, and it specifies a list of “Read” books and books I’m “Currently Reading.” If instead there was simply one list, called “Books I’ve, at the Very Least, Begun,” my life might be easier. 7. Barging In Listeners keep up with talkers; they do not wait for the end of a batch of speech and interpret it after a proportional delay, like a critic reviewing a book. And the lag between speaker’s mouth and listener’s mind is remarkably short. –STEVEN PINKER Spontaneity; Flow “Well, I mean, you know, there are different levels of difficulty, right? I mean, one obvious level of difficulty is that, you know, ‘be yourself’ would be an injunction in the first place, right, which suggests, of course, if you have to be told to be yourself, that you could in some way fail to be yourself.” Bernard Reginster, professor of philosophy at Brown University, chuckles.

Whereas Plato argues in The Republic that “the fairest class [of things is] that which a man who is to be happy [can] love both for its own sake and for the results,” Aristotle insists in The Nicomachean Ethics that any element of instrumentality in a relationship weakens the quality or nature of that relationship. 29 Philip Jackson, personal interview. 30 Sherlock Holmes, directed by Guy Ritchie (Warner Bros., 2009). 7. Barging In 1 Steven Pinker, The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language (New York: Morrow, 1994). For more on how listener feedback affects storytelling, see, e.g., Janet B. Bavelas, Linda Coates, and Trudy Johnson, “Listeners as Co-narrators,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 79, no. 6 (2000), 941–52. 2 Bernard Reginster, personal interview. See also Reginster’s colleague, philosopher Charles Larmore, who in The Romantic Legacy (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996), argues, “We can see the significance of Stendhal’s idea [in Le rouge et le noir] that the distinctive thing about being natural is that it is unreflective.”

(New York: Springer, 2008). 19 Hava Siegelmann, personal interview. 20 George Orwell, “Politics and the English Language,” Horizon 13, no. 76 (April 1946), pp. 252–65. 21 Roger Levy, personal interview. 22 Dave Ackley, personal interview. 23 Freakonomics (Levitt and Dubner, see below) notes that “the Greater Dallas Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse has compiled an extraordinarily entertaining index of cocaine street names.” 24 Harold Bloom, The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry (New York: Oxford University Press, 1973). 25 Ezra Pound’s famous battle cry of modernism, “Make it new,” comes from his translation of the Confucian text The Great Digest, a.k.a. The Great Learning. 26 Garry Kasparov, How Life Imitates Chess (New York: Bloomsbury, 2007). 27 Sun Tzu, The Art of War, translated by John Minford (New York: Penguin, 2003). 28 The phrase “euphemism treadmill” comes from Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate (New York: Viking, 2002). See also W. V. Quine, “Euphemism,” in Quiddities: An Intermittently Philosophical Dictionary (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap, 1987). 29 The controversy over Rahm Emanuel’s remark appears to have originated with Peter Wallsten, “Chief of Staff Draws Fire from Left as Obama Falters,” Wall Street Journal, January 26, 2010. 30 Rosa’s Law, S.2781, 2010. 31 “Mr.


pages: 347 words: 99,969

Through the Language Glass: Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages by Guy Deutscher

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Alfred Russel Wallace, correlation does not imply causation, offshore financial centre, pattern recognition, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Silicon Valley, Steven Pinker

Rather, serious researchers have looked for the consequences of the habitual use from an early age of certain ways of expression. For example, does the need to pay constant attention to certain aspects of experience train speakers to be especially sensitive to certain details or induce particular types of memory patterns and associations? These are exactly the questions we shall explore in the next chapters. For some critics, such as Steven Pinker, the fact that our mother tongue constrains neither our capacity to reason logically nor our ability to understand complex ideas is an irredeemable anticlimax. In his recent book, The Stuff of Thought, Pinker argues that since no one has ever managed to show that speakers of one language find it impossible, or even extremely difficult, to reason in a particular way that comes naturally to the speakers of another language, then any remaining effects of language on thought are mundane, unsexy, boring, even trivial.

And as this habit of mind will be inculcated almost from infancy, it will soon become second nature, effortless and unconscious. The causal link between language and spatial thinking thus seems far more plausible than the case of language and hair color. Still, plausibility by no means constitutes proof. And as it happens, some psychologists and linguists, such as Peggy Li, Lila Gleitman, and Steven Pinker, have challenged the claim that it is primarily language that influences spatial memory and orientation. In The Stuff of Thought, Pinker argues that people develop their spatial thinking for reasons unrelated to language, and that languages merely reflect the fact that their speakers think in a certain coordinate system anyway. He points out that it is small rural societies that rely primarily on geographic coordinates, whereas all large urban societies rely predominantly on egocentric coordinates.

On the similarity between ancient Greek and Hanunoo, see also Lyons 1999. page 93 From brightness to hue as a modern theory: MacLaury 1997; see also Casson 1997. the acquired aptitudes of one generation: Gladstone 1858, 3:426. “progressive education”: Gladstone 1858, 3:495. Naturalness in concept learning: See Waxman and Senghas 1992. Yanomamö kinship terms: Lizot 1971. The innateness controversy: The most eloquent exposition of the nativist view is Steven Pinker’s The Language Instinct (1994). Geoffrey Sampson’s The “Language Instinct” Debate (2005) offers a methodical refutation of the arguments in favor of innate grammar, as well as references to the voluminous academic literature on the subject. 5: PLATO AND THE MACEDONIAN SWINEHERD The flaws of the equal-complexity dogma: For a fuller argument, see Deutscher 2009. “You really mean the Aborigines have a language?”


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What the F: What Swearing Reveals About Our Language, Our Brains, and Ourselves by Benjamin K. Bergen

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correlation does not imply causation, information retrieval, pre–internet, Ronald Reagan, statistical model, Steven Pinker

For the most part, though, language researchers steer clear of studying profanity, even if it’s potentially fascinating, for fear of what will happen when their institutional review board evaluates their experimental materials or when a committee of their peers reads their publications during tenure deliberations. Nevertheless, a small cabal of researchers has been toiling away on profanity. With several exceptions, most notably psychologists Timothy Jay2 and Steven Pinker,3 they’ve largely done their work without much public attention. At least until recently, they’ve been practitioners of a secret science of swearing. But things have started to change, in large part because of changes in public language norms. The highly regulated public airwaves don’t carry the bulk of public communication as they once did. First cable television and then the Internet have created a Wild West for words, where the true will of the people has its way.

This circuit fills a vital evolutionary function for social beings, allowing an individual to transmit a signal identifying its internal emotional state readily and efficiently to conspecifics. If analogous circuitry is indeed responsible for reflexive human swearing, then it provides privileged access to emotion in the brain, laying bare a speaker’s covert internal experiences unmediated by rational and deliberate planning. But there’s a caveat. This older, emotion-driven circuit doesn’t behave the same way in humans as it does in other animals. As both Timothy Jay and Steven Pinker have pointed out, the vocalizations we produce when spontaneously swearing are conventionalized—they’re the product of socially driven learning.27 Swearwords are a different beast from shrieks or growls in that they have a specific learned form—you swear specifically in English or Chinese or ASL, whereas a monkey just shrieks in Monkey. # $ % ! The ramifications of these brain facts are manifold.

Broken dish? Flep! Another red light? Flep! As Paul Bloom reports, however, it was a total failure. Whenever the Blooms cried out flep! their kids looked at them like they were out of their flepping minds.3 Once they reach a certain age, kids actually learn most of their language from peers and older children, and they do a very good job of ignoring what they hear from their parents, as psychologist Steven Pinker points out.4 As a consequence, kids often come home with words that their parents don’t use and often don’t even know. They also come home using words the parents do know in ways that the parents would never imagine. Profanity is especially likely to be learned from peers, not only because it’s more likely to be said on the playground than at the dinner table but also because of what kids use it for.


pages: 339 words: 95,988

Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by Steven D. Levitt, Stephen J. Dubner

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airport security, Broken windows theory, crack epidemic, desegregation, Exxon Valdez, feminist movement, George Akerlof, Joseph Schumpeter, mental accounting, moral hazard, More Guns, Less Crime, oil shale / tar sands, peak oil, pets.com, profit maximization, Richard Thaler, school choice, sensible shoes, Steven Pinker, Ted Kaczynski, The Chicago School, The Market for Lemons, Thorstein Veblen, War on Poverty

See Judith Rich Harris, The Nurture Assumption: Why Children Turn Out the Way They Do (New York: Free Press, 1998); for a Harris profile that also provides an excellent review of the nature-nurture debate, see Malcolm Gladwell, “Do Parents Matter?” The New Yorker, August 17, 1998; and Carol Tavris, “Peer Pressure,” New York Times Book Review, September 13, 1998. / 141 “‘Here we go again’”: See Tavris, “Peer Pressure.” / 141 Pinker called Harris’s views “mind-boggling”: Steven Pinker, “Sibling Rivalry: Why the Nature/Nurture Debate Won’t Go Away,” Boston Globe, October 13, 2002, adapted from Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature (New York: Viking, 2002). SCHOOL CHOICE IN CHICAGO: This material is drawn from Julie Berry Cullen, Brian Jacob, and Steven D. Levitt, “The Impact of School Choice on Student Outcomes: An Analysis of the Chicago Public Schools,” Journal of Public Economics, forthcoming; and Julie Berry Cullen, Brian Jacob, and Steven D.

“The public may be forgiven for saying, ‘Here we go again,’” wrote one reviewer. “One year we’re told bonding is the key, the next that it’s birth order. Wait, what really matters is stimulation. The first five years of life are the most important; no, the first three years; no, it’s all over by the first year. Forget that: It’s all genetics!” But Harris’s theory was duly endorsed by a slate of heavyweights. Among them was Steven Pinker, the cognitive psychologist and bestselling author, who in his own book Blank Slate called Harris’s views “mind-boggling” (in a good way). “Patients in traditional forms of psychotherapy while away their fifty minutes reliving childhood conflicts and learning to blame their unhappiness on how their parents treated them,” Pinker wrote. “Many biographies scavenge through the subject’s childhood for the roots of the grown-up’s tragedies and triumphs.


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The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined by Steven Pinker

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1960s counterculture, affirmative action, Alan Turing: On Computable Numbers, with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem, Albert Einstein, availability heuristic, Berlin Wall, Bonfire of the Vanities, British Empire, Broken windows theory, California gold rush, Cass Sunstein, citation needed, clean water, cognitive dissonance, colonial rule, Columbine, computer age, conceptual framework, correlation coefficient, correlation does not imply causation, crack epidemic, cuban missile crisis, Daniel Kahneman / Amos Tversky, David Brooks, delayed gratification, demographic transition, desegregation, Doomsday Clock, Douglas Hofstadter, Edward Glaeser, en.wikipedia.org, European colonialism, experimental subject, facts on the ground, failed state, first-past-the-post, Flynn Effect, food miles, Francis Fukuyama: the end of history, fudge factor, full employment, ghettoisation, Gini coefficient, global village, Henri Poincaré, impulse control, income inequality, informal economy, invention of the printing press, Isaac Newton, lake wobegon effect, libertarian paternalism, loss aversion, Marshall McLuhan, McMansion, means of production, mental accounting, meta analysis, meta-analysis, Mikhail Gorbachev, mutually assured destruction, open economy, Peace of Westphalia, Peter Singer: altruism, QWERTY keyboard, race to the bottom, Ralph Waldo Emerson, random walk, Republic of Letters, Richard Thaler, Ronald Reagan, Rosa Parks, Saturday Night Live, security theater, Skype, Slavoj Žižek, South China Sea, statistical model, stem cell, Steven Levy, Steven Pinker, The Bell Curve by Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, theory of mind, transatlantic slave trade, transatlantic slave trade, Turing machine, ultimatum game, uranium enrichment, V2 rocket, Walter Mischel, WikiLeaks, women in the workforce

Table of Contents Title Page Copyright Page Dedication Epigraph Preface Chapter 1 - A FOREIGN COUNTRY Chapter 2 - THE PACIFICATION PROCESS Chapter 3 - THE CIVILIZING PROCESS Chapter 4 - THE HUMANITARIAN REVOLUTION Chapter 5 - THE LONG PEACE Chapter 6 - THE NEW PEACE Chapter 7 - THE RIGHTS REVOLUTIONS Chapter 8 - INNER DEMONS Chapter 9 - BETTER ANGELS Chapter 10 - ON ANGELS’ WINGS NOTES REFERENCES INDEX ALSO BY STEVEN PINKER ALSO BY STEVEN PINKER Language Learnability and Language Development Learnability and Cognition The Language Instinct How the Mind Works Words and Rules The Blank Slate The Stuff of Thought EDITED BY STEVEN PINKER Visual Cognition Connections and Symbols (with Jacques Mehler) Lexical and Conceptual Semantics (with Beth Levin) The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2004 VIKING Published by the Penguin Group Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, U.S.A. • Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4P 2Y3 (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.) • Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London WC2RoRL, England • Penguin Ireland, 25 St.

Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2, Ireland (a division of Penguin Books Ltd) • Penguin Books Australia Ltd, 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia (a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty Ltd) • Penguin Books India Pvt Ltd, 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi—110 017, India • Penguin Group (NZ), 67 Apollo Drive, Rosedale, Auckland 0632, New Zealand (a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd) • Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty) Ltd, 24 Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196, South Africa Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R oRL, England First published in 2011 by Viking Penguin, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. Copyright © Steven Pinker, 2011 All rights reserved Excerpts from “MLF Lullaby,” “Who’s Next?,” and “In Old Mexico” by Tom Lehrer. Excerpt from “It Depends on What You Pay” by Tom Jones. Excerpt from “Feel Like I’m Fixin’ to Die Rag,” words and music by Joe McDonald. © 1965, renewed 1933 by Alkatraz Corner Music Co. LIBRARY OF CONGRES CATALOGING -IN-PUBLICATION DATA Pinker, Steven, 1954– The better angels of our nature: why violence has declined / Steven Pinker. p. cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN : 978-1-101-54464-8 1. Violence—Psychological aspects. 2. Violence—Social aspects. 3. Nonviolence—Psychological aspects.

Wilson, Margo Wilson, Woodrow Wimer, Christopher Winfrey, Oprah Wirth, Christian witchcraft Witness (film) Wollstonecraft, Mary Wolpert, Daniel women: and abortion Amazons in American West antiwar views of attitudes toward competition for and domestic violence feminism feminization genital mutilation of in harems and Islam as leaders male control of as pacifying force peace activists postpartum depression as property rape of, see rape rights of self-defense for “Take Back the Night,” torture of violence against violence by violence over; see also sexual jealousy World Bank world government World Health Organization (WHO) World War I and antiwar views and influenza pandemic as literary war and nationalism onset of poison gas in and World War II World War II causes of destructiveness of and ethnic cleansing London Blitz in and Pearl Harbor and poison gas Wotman, Sara Wouters, Cas Wrangham, Richard Wright, Quincy Wright, Robert Xhosa people Yamaguchi, Tsutomu Yanomamö people Yates, Andrea Yemen Young, Liane Young, Maxwell Younger, Stephen young men: African American aggression of in American West in bachelor cults and code of honor and crime in criminal gangs and dominance and drug culture homicides by in prison socialization of terrorists tribal elders defied by Yugoslavia Zacher, Mark Zambia Zebrowitz, Leslie Zelizer, Viviana zero-sum games Zimbardo, Philip Zimring, Franklin Zipf, G. K. Źiźek, Slavoj Zola, Émile ALSO BY STEVEN PINKER Language Learnability and Language Development Learnability and Cognition The Language Instinct How the Mind Works Words and Rules The Blank Slate The Stuff of Thought EDITED BY STEVEN PINKER Visual Cognition Connections and Symbols (with Jacques Mehler) Lexical and Conceptual Semantics (with Beth Levin) The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2004 Table of Contents Title Page Copyright Page Dedication Epigraph Preface Chapter 1 - A FOREIGN COUNTRY Chapter 2 - THE PACIFICATION PROCESS Chapter 3 - THE CIVILIZING PROCESS Chapter 4 - THE HUMANITARIAN REVOLUTION Chapter 5 - THE LONG PEACE Chapter 6 - THE NEW PEACE Chapter 7 - THE RIGHTS REVOLUTIONS Chapter 8 - INNER DEMONS Chapter 9 - BETTER ANGELS Chapter 10 - ON ANGELS’ WINGS NOTES REFERENCES INDEX ALSO BY STEVEN PINKER Table of Contents Title Page Copyright Page Dedication Epigraph Preface Chapter 1 - A FOREIGN COUNTRY Chapter 2 - THE PACIFICATION PROCESS Chapter 3 - THE CIVILIZING PROCESS Chapter 4 - THE HUMANITARIAN REVOLUTION Chapter 5 - THE LONG PEACE Chapter 6 - THE NEW PEACE Chapter 7 - THE RIGHTS REVOLUTIONS Chapter 8 - INNER DEMONS Chapter 9 - BETTER ANGELS Chapter 10 - ON ANGELS’ WINGS NOTES REFERENCES INDEX ALSO BY STEVEN PINKER


pages: 846 words: 232,630

Darwin's Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life by Daniel C. Dennett

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Albert Einstein, Alfred Russel Wallace, anthropic principle, buy low sell high, cellular automata, combinatorial explosion, complexity theory, computer age, conceptual framework, Conway's Game of Life, Danny Hillis, double helix, Douglas Hofstadter, Drosophila, finite state, Gödel, Escher, Bach, In Cold Blood by Truman Capote, invention of writing, Isaac Newton, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, John von Neumann, Murray Gell-Mann, New Journalism, non-fiction novel, Peter Singer: altruism, phenotype, price mechanism, prisoner's dilemma, QWERTY keyboard, random walk, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Rodney Brooks, Schrödinger's Cat, Stephen Hawking, Steven Pinker, strong AI, the scientific method, theory of mind, Thomas Malthus, Turing machine, Turing test

On the contrary, {355} instead of just dutifully passing on their messages, correcting most of the typos as they go, brains seem to be designed to do just the opposite: to transform, invent, interpolate, censor, and generally mix up the "input" before yielding any "output." Isn't one of the hallmarks of cultural evolution and transmission the extraordinarily high rate of mutation and recombination? We seldom pass on a meme unaltered, it seems, unless we are particularly literal-minded rote learners. (Are walking encyclopedias hidebound?) Moreover, as Steven Pinker has stressed (personal communication), much of the mutation that happens to memes — how much is not clear — is manifestly directed mutation: "Memes such as the theory of relativity are not the cumulative product of millions of random (undirected) mutations of some original idea, but each brain in the chain of production added huge dollops of value to the product in a nonrandom way." Indeed, the whole power of minds as meme nests comes from what a biologist would call lineage-crossing or anastomosis (the coming back together of separating gene-pools).

That attitude, at any rate, has often surfaced in these controversies, and Chomsky has been a primary source of authority for it. {384} 2. CHOMSKY CONTRA DARWIN: FOUR EPISODES Chomsky, one might think, would have everything to gain by grounding his controversial theory about a language organ in the firm foundation of evolutionary theory, and in some of his writings he has hinted at a connection. But more often he is skeptical. — STEVEN PINKER 1994, p. 355 In the case of such systems as language or wings it is not easy even to imagine a course of selection that might have given rise to them. — NOAM CHOMSKY 1988, p. 167 A sizeable gulf in communication still exists between cognitive scientists who entered the field from Al or from the study of problem solving and concept-forming behavior, on the one side, and those who entered from a concern with language, on the other....

In short, although Gould has heralded Chomsky's theory of universal grammar as a bulwark against an adaptationist explanation of language, and Chomsky has in return endorsed Gould's antiadaptationism as an authoritative excuse for rejecting the obvious obligation to pursue an evolutionary explanation of the innate establishment of universal grammar, these two authorities are supporting each other over an abyss. In December 1989, the MIT psycholinguist Steven Pinker and his graduate student Paul Bloom presented a paper, "Natural Language and Natural Selection," to the Cognitive Science Colloquium at MIT. Their paper, which has itself subsequently appeared as a target article in Behavioral and Brain Sciences, laid down the gauntlet: Many people have argued that the evolution of the human language faculty cannot be explained by Darwinian natural selection.


pages: 74 words: 16,545

Free Will by Sam Harris

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Steven Pinker

The value of believing in free will: Encouraging a belief in determinism increases cheating. Psychological Science, 19(1): 49–54. 20. R. F. Baumeister, E. J. Masicampo, & C. N. DeWall, 2009. Prosocial benefits of feeling free: Disbelief in free will increases aggression and reduces helpfulness. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 35: 260–268. 21. J. Diamond, 2008. Vengeance is ours. The New Yorker, April 21, 2001, pp. 74–87. 22. Steven Pinker, personal communication. INDEX actions: brain and, 69n freedom to reinterpret meaning of, 40 modification of, through punishment or incentives, 59–60 past, free will and, 6, 39–40, 77n as products of impersonal events, 27 seen as “self-generated,” 27–29 voluntary vs. involuntary, 12–13, 31–32, 41–42 see also intentions agency, sense of: experimental manipulation of, 24–25 free will and, 23–26 attention, directing of, as conscious act, 31–32 backward masking, 70n bacteria, in human bodies, 23–24 behavior, see actions brain: causal states of, 34 disorders and tumors of, 50, 51, 53–54, 55–56 dual systems in, 9, 32, 69n–70n medial prefrontal cortex of, 50, 58 as subject to laws of nature, 11–12 subliminal presentation of stimuli to, 70n–71n see also neurophysiology brain activity, as preceding consciousness of intent, 8–11 brain scans, 8–11, 24, 69n–72n chance, 27–28 see also luck change, possibility of, 62–63 child abuse, 3–4, 50, 51 choice: as causal brain state, 24 importance of, 34–35 as product of prior events, 34, 43–44 seeming spontaneity of, 6, 37 stories as explanations of, 35, 37, 43–44 see also intentions Clark, Tom, 20–23 cognition, 69n Cohen, Jonathan, 73n–74n compassion, 45 compatibilism, 15–26 free will as defined by, 16–17, 39–40, 74n moral responsibility and, 18 consciousness: delayed sensory feedback and, 73n as dependent on working memory, 72n free will and, 6, 26 intentions as appearing but not originating in, 8 unconscious origins of, 5, 7–14 Consciousness Explained (Dennett), 74n conservatives, free will and, 61–62 Coyne, Jerry, 76n criminals, criminal behavior: causes of, 3–5 as dangers to society, 52–53, 56 deterrence of, 56, 58–59 empathy for, 45–46 free will and, 17–18, 53 incarceration of, 53, 54, 58 moral responsibility and, 3, 17–18, 49–52 punishment of, see retribution rehabilitation of, 56, 58 Daniel (New Guinea highlander), 57 deliberative thinking, role of, 32–33 Dennett, Daniel, 20–23, 25, 33, 71n desires: mutually incompatible, 18–19 pathological, 18 determinism, 15, 74n fatalism vs., 33–34 moral responsibility and, 48–49 scientific validity of, 16, 29–30 DNA, mutations of, 29 Edelman, Gerald, 72n EEG (electroencephalogram), 8 Einstein, Albert, 75n–76n emotion, brain and, 69n emotional words, subliminal presentation of, 70n–71n empathy, 45–46 entitlement, sense of, 45 evolution, 29 existentialism, 40 experimental psychology, 69n–72n, 74n–75n fatalism, 46 determinism vs., 33–34 Ferriss, Tim, 36, 37 forgiveness, 45 fMRI, see functional magnetic resonance imaging freedom: as ability to act on beliefs, 38–39 sense of, as enhanced by loss of belief in free will, 46–47 social and political, 13 free will, as concept: as basis of justice system, 1, 23, 48, 54 compatibilist view of, see compatibilism consciousness and, 6, 26 conservatives and, 61–62 criminal behavior and, 17–18 determinist view of, see determinism hating and, 53–54 hypothetical requirements for, 13–14 as illusion, 5–6, 11, 22, 53 liberals and, 61 libertarianism and, 15–16, 74n luck vs., 4, 38, 53, 54, 61–62 past actions and, 6, 39–40, 77n rethinking justice system reliance on, 54, 56 retribution as dependent on sense of, 1 scientific validity lacking for, 6, 64–65 sense of agency and, 23–26 subjective validity lacking for, 6, 65 success and, 1 free will, sense of: chance and, 27–28 conceptual understanding of self vs., 22–23 as felt experience, 15, 22–23, 26 moral responsibility as dependent on, 16–17, 23, 27 as mystery, 64–65 as resulting from ignorance of unconscious origins of intentions, 13, 32, 60 seen as necessary illusion, 45–47 functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), 8 Greene, Joshua, 73n–74n hating, free will and, 53–54 Hayes, Steven, 1–4 Heisenberg, Martin, 27 Holocaust, 57 illusion: free will as, 5–6, 11, 22 necessary, sense of free will seen as, 45–47 incarceration, of criminals, 53, 54, 58 intentions: as appearing but not originating in consciousness, 8 brain activity as preceding consciousness of, 8–11 as causal brain state, 34 to do harm, 52–53 external and internal restraints on, 41–42 as product of prior events, 5–6, 19–20, 34, 60 soul and, 12 subjective mystery of, 13, 37–38, 39–40 unconscious origins of, 7–14 see also actions; choice ion channels, 27 justice system: and distinction between voluntary and involuntary actions, 31, 56 free will as basis of, 1, 23, 48 rethinking of reliance on free will, 54, 56 retribution and, 1, 48, 56 Komisarjevsky, Joshua, 1–4 laws of nature, 40 brain as subject to, 11–12 laziness, 62 liberals, free will and, 61 libertarianism, 15–16, 74n Libet, Benjamin, 8, 73n luck: free will vs., 4, 38, 53, 54, 61–62 moral responsibility and, 54 see also chance materialism, 11, 74n meaning, of actions, freedom to reinterpret, 40 medial prefrontal cortex, 50, 58 Meditations on Violence (Miller), 43–44 Miller, Rory, 43–44 moral responsibility, 48–60 and brain disorders, 50, 51, 53–54, 55–56 compatibilism and, 18 of criminals, 3 degrees of, 49–52 as dependent on sense of free will, 16–17, 23, 27 determination of, as dependent on overall complexion of mind, 49 determinism and, 48–49 and distinction between voluntary and involuntary actions, 31, 41–42 and fear of retribution, 58–59 luck and, 54 murder, 3–4, 12–13, 17, 18, 55, 57 mystery: origins of intentions as, 13, 37–38, 39–40 sense of free will as, 64–65 Nahmias, Eddy, 41–42 neuroimaging, 8–11, 24, 69n–72n neurophysiology, seen as part of the self, 20–22, 75n New Guinea, 57 New Yorker, 57 New York Times, 41–42 past actions, free will and, 6, 39–40, 77n Petit, Hayley, 2–3 Petit, Jennifer, 2–3 Petit, Michaela, 2–3 Petit, William, 2–3 philosophical materialism, 11, 74n philosophy, free will and, see compatibilism; determinism; libertarianism politics, 61–63 priming, 69n psychopaths, 51 punishment, see retribution quantum indeterminacy, 27, 29–30 rape, 3, 17, 46 rehabilitation, of criminals, 56, 58 religion, 18, 56 retribution: as dependent on sense of free will, 1 as deterrent, 58–59 human need for, 57–58 justice system and, 1, 48 religion and, 56 as resulting from ignorance of underlying causes of behavior, 55 Schopenhauer, Arthur, 75n–76n self, seen as comprising both conscious and unconscious processes, 20–22, 75n sensory feedback, consciousness and, 73n sin, 48, 56 soul, 56 intentions and, 12 libertarianism and, 16 stimuli, subliminal presentation of, 70n–71n stories, as explanation of choices, 35, 37, 43–44 Strawson, Galen, 74n, 75n success, free will and, 1 Supreme Court, U.S., 48 synaptic vesicles, 27 theology, 18, 56 unconscious, seen as part of the self, 20–22, 75n United States v.


pages: 273 words: 83,186

The botany of desire: a plant's-eye view of the world by Michael Pollan

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back-to-the-land, clean water, David Attenborough, double entry bookkeeping, double helix, Francisco Pizarro, invention of agriculture, Joseph Schumpeter, Maui Hawaii, means of production, paper trading, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Steven Pinker

Their hypothesis can’t be proven, at least not until scientists begin to identify genes for human preferences, but it goes like this: Our brains developed under the pressure of natural selection to make us good foragers, which is how humans have spent 99 percent of their time on Earth. The presence of flowers, as even I understood as a boy, is a reliable predictor of future food. People who were drawn to flowers, and who further could distinguish among them and then remember where in the landscape they’d seen them, would be much more successful foragers than people who were blind to their significance. According to the neuroscientist Steven Pinker, who outlines this theory in How the Mind Works, natural selection was bound to favor those among our ancestors who noticed flowers and had a gift for botanizing—for recognizing plants, classifying them, and then remembering where they grow. In time the moment of recognition—much like the quickening one feels whenever an object of desire is spotted in the landscape—would become pleasurable, and the signifying thing a thing of beauty.

What good, from an evolutionary standpoint, could it do a creature to consume psychoactive plants? Possibly none at all: it’s a fallacy to assume that whatever is is that way for a good Darwinian reason. Just because a desire or practice is widespread or universal doesn’t necessarily mean it confers an evolutionary edge. In fact, the human penchant for drugs may be the accidental by-product of two completely different adaptive behaviors. This at least is the theory Steven Pinker proposes in How the Mind Works. He points out that evolution has endowed the human brain with two (formerly) unrelated faculties: its superior problem-solving abilities and an internal system of chemical rewards, such that when a person does something especially useful or heroic the brain is washed in chemicals that make it feel good. Bring the first of these faculties to bear on the second, and you wind up with a creature who has figured out how to use plants to artificially trip the brain’s reward system.


pages: 293 words: 81,183

Doing Good Better: How Effective Altruism Can Help You Make a Difference by William MacAskill

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barriers to entry, Black Swan, Branko Milanovic, Cal Newport, Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty, carbon footprint, clean water, corporate social responsibility, correlation does not imply causation, Daniel Kahneman / Amos Tversky, David Brooks, effective altruism, en.wikipedia.org, experimental subject, follow your passion, food miles, immigration reform, income inequality, index fund, Isaac Newton, job automation, job satisfaction, labour mobility, Lean Startup, M-Pesa, meta analysis, meta-analysis, microcredit, Nate Silver, Peter Singer: altruism, purchasing power parity, quantitative trading / quantitative finance, randomized controlled trial, self-driving car, Skype, Stanislav Petrov, Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, Steven Pinker, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, universal basic income, women in the workforce

His answer is a grand vision to make giving, volunteering, spending, and working more worthwhile.” —Adam Grant, New York Times bestselling author of Give and Take “Effective altruism—efforts that actually help people rather than making you feel good or helping you show off—is one of the great new ideas of the twenty-first century. Doing Good Better is the definitive guide to this exciting new movement.” —Steven Pinker, Johnstone Family Professor of Psychology at Harvard University and author of The Better Angels of Our Nature “Doing Good Better is a superb achievement. Will MacAskill, a leader of the effective altruism movement and a rising star in philosophy, now displays his talent for telling stories that pack a punch. This must-read book will lead people to change their careers, their lives, and the world, for the better.”

(the death tolls from disasters form a fat-tailed distribution): A comprehensive overview is given by Anders Sandberg, “Power Laws in Global Catastrophic and Existential Risks,” unpublished paper, 2014. (Nassim Taleb describes these as Black Swans): Nassim Nicholas Taleb, The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable (New York: Random House, 2007). most people who’ve died in war have died in the very worst wars: Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined (New York: Viking, 2011). This is what the Skoll Global Threats Fund focuses on: “About Us/Mission & Strategy,” Skoll Global Threats Fund, http://www.skollglobalthreats.org/about-us/mission-and-approach/. GiveWell is currently investigating these sorts of activities: Alexander Berger, “Potential Global Catastrophic Risk Focus Areas,” GiveWell Blog, June 26, 2014, http://blog.givewell.org/2014/06/26/potential-global-catastrophic-risk-focus-areas/.


pages: 525 words: 116,295

The New Digital Age: Transforming Nations, Businesses, and Our Lives by Eric Schmidt, Jared Cohen

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3D printing, access to a mobile phone, additive manufacturing, airport security, Amazon Mechanical Turk, Amazon Web Services, anti-communist, augmented reality, Ayatollah Khomeini, barriers to entry, bitcoin, borderless world, call centre, Chelsea Manning, citizen journalism, clean water, cloud computing, crowdsourcing, data acquisition, Dean Kamen, Elon Musk, failed state, fear of failure, Filter Bubble, Google Earth, Google Glasses, hive mind, income inequality, information trail, invention of the printing press, job automation, Julian Assange, Khan Academy, Kickstarter, knowledge economy, Law of Accelerating Returns, market fundamentalism, means of production, mobile money, mutually assured destruction, Naomi Klein, offshore financial centre, peer-to-peer lending, personalized medicine, Peter Singer: altruism, Ray Kurzweil, RFID, self-driving car, sentiment analysis, Silicon Valley, Skype, Snapchat, social graph, speech recognition, Steve Jobs, Steven Pinker, Stewart Brand, Stuxnet, The Wisdom of Crowds, upwardly mobile, Whole Earth Catalog, WikiLeaks, young professional, zero day

If anything, we’re more peaceful than we’ve ever been, with the amount of violence in human societies declining precipitously in the past several centuries due to developments like strong states (which monopolize violence and institute the rule of law), commerce (other people become more valuable alive than dead) and expanded international networks (which demystify and humanize the Other). As the psychologist Steven Pinker explains in The Better Angels of Our Nature, his excellent and comprehensive survey of this trend, historical exogenous forces like these “favor our peaceable motives” like empathy, moral sense, reason and self-control, which “orient [us] away from violence and toward cooperation and altruism.” Once conscious of this shift, Pinker remarks, “The world begins to look different. The past seems less innocent; the present less sinister.”

Our gratitude to all our friends and colleagues whose ideas and thoughts we’ve benefited from: Elliott Abrams, Ruzwana Bashir, Michael Bloomberg, Richard Branson, Chris Brose, Jordan Brown, James Bryer, Mike Cline, Steve Coll, Peter Diamandis, Larry Diamond, Jack Dorsey, Mohamed El-Erian, James Fallows, Summer Felix, Richard Fontaine, Dov Fox, Tom Freston, Malcolm Gladwell, James Glassman, Jack Goldsmith, David Gordon, Sheena Greitens, Craig Hatkoff, Michael Hayden, Chris Hughes, Walter Isaacson, Dean Kamen, David Kennedy, Erik Kerr, Parag Khanna, Joseph Konzelmann, Stephen Krasner, Ray Kurzweil, Eric Lander, Jason Liebman, Claudia Mendoza, Evgeny Morozov, Dambisa Moyo, Elon Musk, Meghan O’Sullivan, Farah Pandith, Barry Pavel, Steven Pinker, Joe Polish, Alex Pollen, Jason Rakowski, Lisa Randall, Condoleezza Rice, Jane Rosenthal, Nouriel Roubini, Kori Schake, Vance Serchuk, Michael Spence, Stephen Stedman, Dan Twining, Decker Walker, Matthew Waxman, Tim Wu, Jillian York, Juan Zarate, Jonathan Zittrain and Ethan Zuckerman. We also want to thank the guys from Peak Performance, particularly Joe Dowdell and Jose and Emilio Gomez, for keeping us healthy during the final stages of writing.

“What defeats terrorism is really two things”: General Stanley McChrystal, interview by Susanne Koelbl, “Killing the Enemy Is Not the Best Route to Success,” Der Spiegel, January 11, 2010, http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/spiegel-interview-with-general-stanley-mcchrystal-killing-the-enemy-is-not-the-best-route-to-success-a-671267.html. With more than four billion videos viewed daily: Alexei Oreskovic, “Exclusive: YouTube Hits 4 Billion Daily Video Views,” Reuters, January 23, 2012, http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/01/23/us-google-youtube-idUSTRE80M0TS20120123. CHAPTER 6 THE FUTURE OF CONFLICT, COMBAT AND INTERVENTION “orient [us] away from violence and toward cooperation and altruism”: Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined (New York: Viking, 2011), xxv. “The world begins to look different”: Ibid., xxvi. deliberately excludes some 2.2 million ethnic Roma: Amnesty International (AI), “Romania Must End Forced Evictions of Roma Families,” press release, January 26, 2010, http://www.amnesty.org/en/for-media/press-releases/romania-must-end-forced-evictions-roma-families-20100126.


pages: 479 words: 144,453

Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari

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23andMe, agricultural Revolution, algorithmic trading, Anne Wojcicki, anti-communist, Anton Chekhov, autonomous vehicles, Berlin Wall, call centre, Chris Urmson, cognitive dissonance, Columbian Exchange, computer age, Deng Xiaoping, don't be evil, European colonialism, experimental subject, falling living standards, Flash crash, Frank Levy and Richard Murnane: The New Division of Labor, glass ceiling, global village, invention of writing, invisible hand, Isaac Newton, job automation, Kevin Kelly, means of production, Mikhail Gorbachev, Minecraft, Moneyball by Michael Lewis explains big data, mutually assured destruction, new economy, pattern recognition, Peter Thiel, placebo effect, Ray Kurzweil, self-driving car, Silicon Valley, Silicon Valley ideology, stem cell, Steven Pinker, telemarketer, too big to fail, trade route, Turing machine, Turing test, ultimatum game, Watson beat the top human players on Jeopardy!

Humans are masters of cognitive dissonance, and we allow ourselves to believe one thing in the laboratory and an altogether different thing in the courthouse or in parliament. Just as Christianity didn’t disappear the day Darwin published On the Origin of Species, so liberalism won’t vanish just because scientists have reached the conclusion that there are no free individuals. Indeed, even Richard Dawkins, Steven Pinker and the other champions of the new scientific world view refuse to abandon liberalism. After dedicating hundreds of erudite pages to deconstructing the self and the freedom of will, they perform breathtaking intellectual somersaults that miraculously land them back in the eighteenth century, as if all the amazing discoveries of evolutionary biology and brain science have absolutely no bearing on the ethical and political ideas of Locke, Rousseau and Thomas Jefferson.

Gilbert, ‘The Future of Antibiotics and Resistance’, New England Journal of Medicine 368 (2013), 299–302. 20. Losee L. Ling et al., ‘A New Antibiotic Kills Pathogens without Detectable Resistance’, Nature 517 (2015), 455–9; Gerard Wright, ‘Antibiotics: An Irresistible Newcomer’, Nature 517 (2015), 442–4. 21. Roey Tzezana, The Guide to the Future [in Hebrew] (Haifa: Roey Tzezana, 2013), 209–33. 22. Azar Gat, War in Human Civilization (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), 130–1; Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined (New York: Viking, 2011); Joshua S. Goldstein, Winning the War on War: The Decline of Armed Conflict Worldwide (New York: Dutton, 2011); Robert S. Walker and Drew H. Bailey, ‘Body Counts in Lowland South American Violence’, Evolution and Human Behavior 34:1 (2013), 29–34; I. J. N. Thorpe, ‘Anthropology, Archaeology, and the Origin of Warfare’, World Archaeology 35:1 (2003), 145–65; Raymond C.

‘Evolution, Creationism, Intelligent Design’, Gallup, accessed 20 December 2014, http://www.gallup.com/poll/21814/evolution-creationism-intelligent-design.aspx; Frank Newport, ‘In US, 46 per cent Hold Creationist View of Human Origins’, Gallup, 1 June 2012, accessed 21 December 2014, http://www.gallup.com/poll/155003/hold-creationist-view-human-origins.aspx. 2. Gregg, Are Dolphins Really Smart?, 82–3. 3. Stanislas Dehaene, Consciousness and the Brain: Deciphering How the Brain Codes Our Thoughts (New York: Viking, 2014); Steven Pinker, How the Mind Works (New York: W. W. Norton, 1997). 4. Dehaene, Consciousness and the Brain. 5. Pundits may point to Gödel’s incompleteness theorem, according to which no system of mathematical axioms can prove all arithmetic truths. There will always be some true statements that cannot be proven within the system. In popular literature this theorem is sometimes hijacked to account for the existence of mind.


pages: 734 words: 244,010

The Ancestor's Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution by Richard Dawkins

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agricultural Revolution, Alfred Russel Wallace, complexity theory, delayed gratification, double helix, Drosophila, Haight Ashbury, invention of writing, Louis Pasteur, nuclear winter, out of africa, Peter Singer: altruism, phenotype, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Ronald Reagan, Spread Networks laid a new fibre optics cable between New York and Chicago, Steven Pinker, the High Line, urban sprawl

It makes no more sense (and no less) to aim our historical narrative towards Homo sapiens than towards any other modern species -- Octopus vulgaris, say, or Panthera leo or Sequoia sempervirens. A historically minded swift, understandably proud of flight as self-evidently the premier accomplishment of life, will regard swiftkind -- those spectacular flying machines with their swept-back wings, who stay aloft for a year at a time and even copulate in free flight -- as the acme of evolutionary progress. To build on a fancy of Steven Pinker, if elephants could write history they might portray tapirs, elephant shrews, elephant seals and proboscis monkeys as tentative beginners along the main trunk road of evolution, taking the first fumbling steps but each -- for some reason -- never quite making it: so near yet so far. Elephant astronomers might wonder whether, on some other world, there exist alien life forms that have crossed the nasal rubicon and taken the final leap to full proboscitude.

What else, they ask, could account for such a sudden change? It is not as silly as it sounds to suggest that language arose suddenly. Nobody thinks writing goes back more than a few thousand years, and everyone agrees that brain anatomy didn't change to coincide with anything so recent as the invention of writing. In theory, speech could be another example of the same thing. Nevertheless, my hunch, supported by the authority of linguists such as Steven Pinker, is that language is older than the Leap. We'll come back to the point a million years further into the past, when our pilgrimage reaches Homo ergaster(erectus). If not language itself, perhaps the Great Leap Forward coincided with the sudden discovery of what we might call a new software technique: maybe a new trick of grammar, such as the conditional clause, which, at a stroke, would have enabled 'what if' imagination to flower.

His ribs, and the small size of the portholes in the vertebrae through which the nerves pass, suggest that he lacked the fine control over breathing that seems to be associated with speech. Other scientists, studying the base of the skull, have concluded that even Neanderthals, as recently as 60,000 years ago, were speechless. The evidence is that their throat shape would not have allowed the full range of vowels that we deploy. On the other hand, as the linguist and evolutionary psychologist Steven Pinker has remarked, 'e lengeege weth e smell nember ef vewels cen remeen quete expresseve'. If written Hebrew can be intelligible without vowels, I don't see why spoken Neander or even Ergaster couldn't too. The veteran South African anthropologist Philip Tobias suspects that language may pre-date even Homo ergaster, and he may just possibly be right. As we have seen, there are a few who go to the opposite extreme and date the origin of language to the Great Leap Forward, just a few tens of thousands of years ago.


pages: 329 words: 85,471

The Locavore's Dilemma by Pierre Desrochers, Hiroko Shimizu

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air freight, back-to-the-land, British Empire, Columbian Exchange, Community Supported Agriculture, edge city, Edward Glaeser, food miles, Food sovereignty, global supply chain, intermodal, invention of agriculture, inventory management, invisible hand, Jane Jacobs, labour mobility, land tenure, megacity, moral hazard, mortgage debt, oil shale / tar sands, oil shock, peak oil, planetary scale, profit motive, refrigerator car, Steven Pinker, the market place, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, Thomas Malthus, trade liberalization, Upton Sinclair, urban sprawl

My parent’s generation is living proof that what militaristic people thought they could only achieve by force can be accomplished much more effectively and successfully through free trade and peace. And, just as important, globalization affords people all kinds of possibilities. About half a century ago, my parents never imagined how abundant and affordable their future food supply would turn out to be (let alone that one of their children would marry a foreigner and move to Canada). As the Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker observes in The Better Angels of Our Nature, we may be living in the most peaceful time in our species’ existence. This blessed state of affairs, though, was a long time coming and was only made possible through the worldwide exchange of products, resources, ideas, and culture. Despite our current economic woes, we have almost vanquished famine. Most of us live longer, healthier, safer, and more enjoyable lives than previous generations.

Human Action: A Treatise on Economics Chapter 34: The Economics of War: War and Autarky http://mises.org/humanaction/chap34sec3.asp . 54 Adam Smith. 1776. An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations Vol. 1, Book 4, Chapter 2: Of Restraints Upon the Importation from Foreign Countries of Such Goods as Can Be Produced at Home. .http://oll.libertyfund.org/?option=com_staticxt&staticfile=show.php%3Ftitle=237&chapter =212333&layout=html&Itemid=27. 55 For much evidence in this respect, see Steven Pinker. 2011. The Better Angels of our Nature. Viking. 56 Dennis T. Avery. 2000. Saving the Planet with Pesticides and Platics, 2nd edition. Hudson Institute, pp. 383–384. 57 We are not concerned here with rationing schemes, price controls, regulations and subsidies. This list was mainly derived from Karl Brandt (with Otto Schiller and Franz Ahlgrimm). 1953. Management of Agriculture and Food in the German-Occupied and Other Areas of Fortress Europe.


pages: 379 words: 109,612

Is the Internet Changing the Way You Think?: The Net's Impact on Our Minds and Future by John Brockman

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A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace, Albert Einstein, AltaVista, Amazon Mechanical Turk, Asperger Syndrome, availability heuristic, Benoit Mandelbrot, biofilm, Black Swan, British Empire, conceptual framework, corporate governance, Danny Hillis, Douglas Engelbart, Emanuel Derman, epigenetics, Flynn Effect, Frank Gehry, Google Earth, hive mind, Howard Rheingold, index card, information retrieval, Internet Archive, invention of writing, Jane Jacobs, Jaron Lanier, Kevin Kelly, lone genius, loss aversion, mandelbrot fractal, Marshall McLuhan, Menlo Park, meta analysis, meta-analysis, New Journalism, Nicholas Carr, out of africa, Ponzi scheme, pre–internet, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Rodney Brooks, Ronald Reagan, Schrödinger's Cat, Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, SETI@home, Silicon Valley, Skype, slashdot, smart grid, social graph, social software, social web, Stephen Hawking, Steve Wozniak, Steven Pinker, Stewart Brand, Ted Nelson, telepresence, the medium is the message, the scientific method, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, theory of mind, trade route, upwardly mobile, Vernor Vinge, Whole Earth Catalog, X Prize

Dennett The Rediscovery of Fire: Chris Anderson The Rise of Social Media Is Really a Reprise: June Cohen The Internet and the Loss of Tranquility: Noga Arikha The Greatest Detractor to Serious Thinking Since Television: Leo Chalupa The Large Information Collider, BDTs, and Gravity Holidays on Tuesdays: Paul Kedrosky The Web Helps Us See What Isn’t There: Eric Drexler Knowledge Without, Focus Within, People Everywhere: David Dalrymple A Level Playing Field: Martin Rees Move Aside, Sex: Seth Lloyd Rivaling Gutenberg: John Tooby The Shoulders of Giants: William Calvin Brain Candy and Bad Mathematics: Mark Pagel Publications Can Perish: Robert Shapiro Will the Great Leveler Destroy Diversity of Thought?: Frank J. Tipler We Have Become Hunter-Gatherers of Images and Information: Lee Smolin The Human Texture of Information: Jon Kleinberg Not at All: Steven Pinker This Is Your Brain on Internet: Terrence Sejnowski The Sculpting of Human Thought: Donald Hoffman What Kind of a Dumb Question Is That?: Andy Clark Public Dreaming: Thomas Metzinger The Age of (Quantum) Information?: Anton Zeilinger Edge, A to Z (Pars Pro Toto): Hans Ulrich Obrist The Degradation of Predictability—and Knowledge: Nassim N. Taleb Calling You on Your Crap: Sean Carroll How I Think About How I Think: Lera Boroditsky I Am Not Exactly a Thinking Person— I Am a Poet: Jonas Mekas Kayaks Versus Canoes: George Dyson The Upload Has Begun: Sam Harris Hell if I Know: Gregory Paul What I Notice: Brian Eno It’s Not What You Know, It’s What You Can Find Out: Marissa Mayer When I’m on the Net, I Start to Think: Ai Weiwei The Internet Has Become Boring: Andrian Kreye The Dumb Butler: Joshua Greene Finding Stuff Remains a Challenge: Philip Campbell Attention, Crap Detection, and Network Awareness: Howard Rheingold Information Metabolism: Esther Dyson Ctrl + Click to Follow Link: George Church Replacing Experience with Facsimile: Eric Fischl and April Gornik Outsourcing the Mind: Gerd Gigerenzer A Prehistorian’s Perspective: Timothy Taylor The Fourth Phase of Homo sapiens: Scott Atran Transience Is Now Permanence: Douglas Coupland A Return to the Scarlet-Letter Savanna: Jesse Bering Take Love: Helen Fisher Internet Mating Strategies: David M.

In the thirteen years since I finished graduate school, the Internet has steadily and incontrovertibly advanced the argument that computer science is not just about technology but about human beings as well—about the power of human beings to collectively create knowledge and engage in self-expression on a global scale. This has been a thrilling development, and one that points to a new phase in our understanding of what people and technology can accomplish together, and about the world we’ve grown to jointly inhabit. Not at All Steven Pinker Johnstone Family Professor, Department of Psychology; Harvard University; author, The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature As someone who believes both in human nature and in timeless standards of logic and evidence, I’m skeptical of the common claim that the Internet is changing the way we think. Electronic media aren’t going to revamp the brain’s mechanisms of information processing, nor will they supersede modus ponens or Bayes’s theorem.


pages: 193 words: 98,671

The Inmates Are Running the Asylum by Alan Cooper

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Albert Einstein, delayed gratification, Donald Trump, Howard Rheingold, informal economy, iterative process, Jeff Bezos, Menlo Park, natural language processing, new economy, pets.com, Robert X Cringely, Silicon Valley, Silicon Valley startup, skunkworks, Steve Jobs, Steven Pinker, telemarketer, urban planning

These subjects were highly educated, mature, and rational individuals, and they all strongly denied being emotionally affected by cognitive friction, even though the objective evidence was incontrovertible. Harvard cognitive neuroscientist Steven Pinker corroborates this thesis in his remarkable book, How the Mind Works. He says, "People hold many beliefs that are at odds with their experience but were true in the environment in which we evolved, and they pursue goals that subvert their own well-being but were adaptive in that environment."[3] [3] Steven Pinker, How the Mind Works, W.W. Norton & Company, 1997, ISBN 0-39304535-8. I absolutely love this wonderful, eye-opening, literate, amusing, readable book. Chapter 11. Designing for People In previous chapters, I described personas and emphasized the importance of goals over tasks.


pages: 339 words: 88,732

The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies by Erik Brynjolfsson, Andrew McAfee

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2013 Report for America's Infrastructure - American Society of Civil Engineers - 19 March 2013, 3D printing, access to a mobile phone, additive manufacturing, Airbnb, Albert Einstein, Amazon Mechanical Turk, Amazon Web Services, American Society of Civil Engineers: Report Card, Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, autonomous vehicles, barriers to entry, Baxter: Rethink Robotics, British Empire, business intelligence, business process, call centre, clean water, combinatorial explosion, computer age, computer vision, congestion charging, corporate governance, crowdsourcing, David Ricardo: comparative advantage, employer provided health coverage, en.wikipedia.org, Erik Brynjolfsson, factory automation, falling living standards, Filter Bubble, first square of the chessboard / second half of the chessboard, Frank Levy and Richard Murnane: The New Division of Labor, Freestyle chess, full employment, game design, global village, happiness index / gross national happiness, illegal immigration, immigration reform, income inequality, income per capita, indoor plumbing, industrial robot, informal economy, inventory management, James Watt: steam engine, Jeff Bezos, jimmy wales, job automation, John Maynard Keynes: Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren, John Maynard Keynes: technological unemployment, Joseph Schumpeter, Kevin Kelly, Khan Academy, knowledge worker, Kodak vs Instagram, law of one price, low skilled workers, Lyft, Mahatma Gandhi, manufacturing employment, Mark Zuckerberg, Mars Rover, means of production, Narrative Science, Nate Silver, natural language processing, Network effects, new economy, New Urbanism, Nicholas Carr, Occupy movement, oil shale / tar sands, oil shock, pattern recognition, payday loans, price stability, Productivity paradox, profit maximization, Ralph Nader, Ray Kurzweil, recommendation engine, Report Card for America’s Infrastructure, Robert Gordon, Rodney Brooks, Ronald Reagan, Second Machine Age, self-driving car, sharing economy, Silicon Valley, Simon Kuznets, six sigma, Skype, software patent, sovereign wealth fund, speech recognition, statistical model, Steve Jobs, Steven Pinker, Stuxnet, supply-chain management, TaskRabbit, technological singularity, telepresence, The Bell Curve by Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray, The Signal and the Noise by Nate Silver, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, total factor productivity, transaction costs, Tyler Cowen: Great Stagnation, Vernor Vinge, Watson beat the top human players on Jeopardy!, winner-take-all economy, Y2K

As the roboticist Hans Moravec has observed, “It is comparatively easy to make computers exhibit adult-level performance on intelligence tests or playing checkers, and difficult or impossible to give them the skills of a one-year-old when it comes to perception and mobility.”27 This situation has come to be known as Moravec’s paradox, nicely summarized by Wikipedia as “the discovery by artificial intelligence and robotics researchers that, contrary to traditional assumptions, high-level reasoning requires very little computation, but low-level sensorimotor skills require enormous computational resources.”28* Moravec’s insight is broadly accurate, and important. As the cognitive scientist Steven Pinker puts it, “The main lesson of thirty-five years of AI research is that the hard problems are easy and the easy problems are hard. . . . As the new generation of intelligent devices appears, it will be the stock analysts and petrochemical engineers and parole board members who are in danger of being replaced by machines. The gardeners, receptionists, and cooks are secure in their jobs for decades to come.”29 Pinker’s point is that robotics experts have found it fiendishly difficult to build machines that match the skills of even the least-trained manual worker. iRobot’s Roomba, for example, can’t do everything a maid does; it just vacuums the floor.

Slippery Stairs,” December 11, 2006, http://giz modo.com/220771/honda-asimo-vs-slippery-stairs?op=showcustomobject&pos tId=220771&item=0. 27. Hans Moravec, Mind Children: The Future of Robot and Human Intelligence (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1988), p. 15. 28. “Moravec’s Paradox,” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia, April 28, 2013, http://en.wiki pedia.org/w/index.php?title=Moravecpercent27s_paradox&oldid=540679203. 29. Steven Pinker, The Language Instinct (New York: HarperPerennial ModernClassics, 2007), p. 190–91. 30. Christopher Drew, “For iRobot, the Future Is Getting Closer,” New York Times, March 2, 2012, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/03/technology/for-irobot-the-future-is-getting-closer.html. 31. Danielle Kucera, “Amazon Acquires Kiva Systems in Second-Biggest Takeover,” Bloomberg, March 19, 2012, http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-03-19/amazon-acquires-kiva-systems-in-second-biggest-takeover.html (accessed June 23, 2013). 32.


pages: 523 words: 111,615

The Economics of Enough: How to Run the Economy as if the Future Matters by Diane Coyle

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accounting loophole / creative accounting, affirmative action, bank run, banking crisis, Berlin Wall, bonus culture, Branko Milanovic, BRICs, call centre, Cass Sunstein, central bank independence, collapse of Lehman Brothers, conceptual framework, corporate governance, correlation does not imply causation, Credit Default Swap, deindustrialization, demographic transition, Diane Coyle, disintermediation, Edward Glaeser, Eugene Fama: efficient market hypothesis, experimental economics, Fall of the Berlin Wall, Financial Instability Hypothesis, Francis Fukuyama: the end of history, George Akerlof, Gini coefficient, global supply chain, Gordon Gekko, greed is good, happiness index / gross national happiness, Hyman Minsky, If something cannot go on forever, it will stop, illegal immigration, income inequality, income per capita, invisible hand, Jane Jacobs, Joseph Schumpeter, Kenneth Rogoff, knowledge economy, labour market flexibility, low skilled workers, market bubble, market design, market fundamentalism, megacity, Network effects, new economy, night-watchman state, Northern Rock, oil shock, principal–agent problem, profit motive, purchasing power parity, railway mania, rising living standards, Ronald Reagan, Silicon Valley, South Sea Bubble, Steven Pinker, The Design of Experiments, The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid, The Market for Lemons, The Myth of the Rational Market, The Spirit Level, transaction costs, transfer pricing, tulip mania, ultimatum game, University of East Anglia, web application, web of trust, winner-take-all economy, World Values Survey

Jonathan Haidt has identified five of these universal moral themes: avoidance of doing harm, due respect for authority, striving for cleanliness or purity, loyalty to group or community—and a sense of fairness.6 The last two of these have been specifically identified by evolutionary scientists as aspects of reciprocal altruism. This theory about the willingness to help others in the valid expectation of being helped by them in turn originated in 1971 with an article by biologist Robert Trivers entitled “The Evolution of Reciprocal Altruism,”7 and was further elaborated in 1976 by Richard Dawkins in his classic, The Selfish Gene.8 As Steven Pinker explains it, reciprocal altruism is not a calculating, selfish thought process but the outcome of a set of human emotions: “Sympathy prompts a person to offer the first favor, particularly to someone in need for whom it would go the furthest. Anger protects a person against cheaters who accept a favor without reciprocating, by impelling him to punish the ingrate or sever the relationship. Gratitude impels a beneficiary to reward those who helped him in the past.

See http://fpc.state.gov/documents/organization/99496.pdf and http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/row/RL34314.pdf. 14 Spilimbergo et al. (2009). 15 Lipsky (2010), Speech by First Deputy Managing Director, International Monetary Fund, at the China Development Forum. 16 Kobayashi (2009). 17 This will occur as long as the inflation is either partly unexpected, so savers and investors haven’t been able to safeguard against it, or there is incomplete indexation of wages, interest rates, etc. to inflation. 18 Napier (2009). 19 Jorgenson and Stiroh (2000). 20 Olson (1996). 21 UN (2006). 22 Reinhardt and Rogoff (2010). 23http://www.imf.org/external/np/speeches/2010/032110.htm. 24 See data at http://laborsta.ilo.org. NOTES TO CHAPTER FOUR 1 Hobbes (1651), Rousseau (1754). 2 See for example Camerer et al. (2003) for a scholarly survey, or Ariely (2008) for a popular introduction. 3 See Smith (1982) and papers in Bardsley et al. (2009), for example. 4 Levitt and List (2009). See also Levitt and Dubner’s Superfreakonomics (2009). Besides, as Steven Pinker has written: “When psychologists say ‘most people’ they usually mean ‘most of the two dozen sophomores who filled out a questionnaire for beer money.’ ” Pinker (2008). 5 List (2008). 6 Haidt (2006). 7 Trivers (1971). 8 Dawkins (1976). 9 Pinker (2008). 10 De Waal (2008), 18. 11 Ibid., 162. 12 Sigmund et al. (2002). 13 Hume (1739). 14 Sala-i-Martin (2002a, b). 15 Heshmati (2006). 16 Milanovic (2005). 17 Bourguignon and Coyle (2003). 18 Milanovic (2005). 19 These updated figures convert local currencies to dollars (so they can be compared) at purchasing power parity exchange rates, which differ significantly from earlier estimates, and the effect is to reduce the figures in “PPP dollars” for incomes in countries such as India and China.


pages: 294 words: 86,601

Mind Wide Open: Your Brain and the Neuroscience of Everyday Life by Steven Johnson

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Columbine, double helix, epigenetics, experimental subject, Gödel, Escher, Bach, James Watt: steam engine, l'esprit de l'escalier, pattern recognition, phenotype, Steven Pinker, theory of mind

To include biological perspectives in a discussion of human society by no means eliminates the validity of other kinds of explanations. What people like E. O. Wilson have proposed is not biological determinism, but rather biological consilience: the connecting of different layers of experience, each with its own distinct vocabulary and expertise, but each also possessing links up and down the chain. Steven Pinker describes it wonderfully: Good reductionism (also called hierarchical reductionism) consists not of replacing one field of knowledge with another but of connecting or unifying them. The building blocks used by one field are put under a microscope by another. The black boxes get opened; the promissory notes get cashed. A geographer might explain why the coastline of Africa fits into the coastline of the Americas by saying that the landmasses were once adjacent but sat on different plates, which drifted apart.

He refers to these emotional cues as “somatic markers”-hints from your emotional subsystems that help you navigate complicated situations without having to process everything consciously: “trust this person,” “be on the lookout in this neighborhood.” 38. “I asked Baron-Cohen”: interview conducted January 2003. 39. “unable to detect fearful expressions”: Damasio, 1998, 65. 40. “both were seeing”: James, 89-90. 41. “cultural achievements of art”: This is one place where I think Steven Pinker and E. O. Wilson have it wrong. Here’s Pinker from The Blank Slate: “Modernism certainly proceeded as if human nature had changed. All the tricks that artists had used for millennia to please the human palate were cast aside. In painting, realistic depiction gave way to freakish distortions of shape and color and then to abstract grids, shapes, dribbles, splashes, and, in the $200,000 painting featured in the recent comedy Art, a blank white canvas.


pages: 323 words: 95,939

Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now by Douglas Rushkoff

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algorithmic trading, Andrew Keen, bank run, Benoit Mandelbrot, big-box store, Black Swan, British Empire, Buckminster Fuller, cashless society, citizen journalism, clockwork universe, cognitive dissonance, Credit Default Swap, crowdsourcing, Danny Hillis, disintermediation, Donald Trump, double helix, East Village, Elliott wave, European colonialism, Extropian, facts on the ground, Flash crash, game design, global supply chain, global village, Howard Rheingold, hypertext link, Inbox Zero, invention of agriculture, invention of hypertext, invisible hand, iterative process, John Nash: game theory, Kevin Kelly, laissez-faire capitalism, Law of Accelerating Returns, loss aversion, mandelbrot fractal, Marshall McLuhan, Merlin Mann, Milgram experiment, mutually assured destruction, Network effects, New Urbanism, Nicholas Carr, Norbert Wiener, Occupy movement, passive investing, pattern recognition, peak oil, price mechanism, prisoner's dilemma, Ralph Nelson Elliott, RAND corporation, Ray Kurzweil, recommendation engine, Silicon Valley, Skype, social graph, South Sea Bubble, Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, Steven Pinker, Stewart Brand, supply-chain management, the medium is the message, The Wisdom of Crowds, theory of mind, Turing test, upwardly mobile, Whole Earth Catalog, WikiLeaks, Y2K

The key to any of this working was what became known as emergence—the spontaneous achievement of order and intelligence through the interaction of a myriad of freely acting individuals. Birds do it, bees do it . . . free market economies do it. And now we have the fractals with which to catch them all in the act. Scientists from across the spectrum leaped on the systems bandwagon, applying what began as a mathematical proof of market equilibrium to, well, pretty much everything. Linguist Steven Pinker saw in Hayek and systems theory a new justification for his advancement of evolutionary psychology and his computational theory of mind: “Hayek was among the first to call attention to the emergence of large-scale order from individual choices. The phenomenon is ubiquitous, and not just in economic markets: What makes everyone suddenly drive SUVs, name their daughters Madison rather than Ethel or Linda, wear their baseball caps backwards, raise their pitch at the end of a sentence?

László Méro, Moral Calculations (New York: Springer-Verlag, 1998). 10. See my book Life Inc. (New York: Random House, 2009). 11. Archibald MacLeish, “Bubble of Blue Air,” New York Times, December 25, 1968, p. 1. 12. Lenora Foerstal and Angela Gilliam, Confronting Margaret Mead: Scholarship, Empire, and the South Pacific (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1992), 126–27. 13. Steven Pinker, quoted in Nick Gillespie, “Hayek’s Legacy,” Reason, January 2005. 14. James Surowiecki, quoted in Gillespie, ibid. 15. See Manuel De Landa, War in the Age of Intelligent Machines (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1992). 16. Jeff Sommer, “A Market Forecast That Says ‘Take Cover,’” New York Times, July 3, 2010. 17. Philip E. Tetlock, Expert Political Judgment: How Good Is It? How Can We Know?


pages: 335 words: 104,850

Conscious Capitalism, With a New Preface by the Authors: Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business by John Mackey, Rajendra Sisodia, Bill George

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Berlin Wall, Buckminster Fuller, business process, carbon footprint, collective bargaining, corporate governance, corporate social responsibility, crony capitalism, cross-subsidies, en.wikipedia.org, Fall of the Berlin Wall, fear of failure, Flynn Effect, income per capita, invisible hand, Jeff Bezos, job satisfaction, lone genius, Mahatma Gandhi, microcredit, Occupy movement, profit maximization, Ralph Waldo Emerson, shareholder value, six sigma, Steve Jobs, Steven Pinker, The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, too big to fail, union organizing, women in the workforce

Consider the following: Until 150 years ago, slavery was widely accepted by a large number of people around the world and was the law of the land in many countries; 100 years ago, most people (including many women) thought it acceptable to deny women the right to vote; 75 years ago, colonialism was still widespread and generally accepted; 50 years ago, most people accepted racial segregation as a way of life; 40 years ago, few people knew much or cared about environmental issues; 25 years ago, communism was still seen by many as a viable way to organize our economic and political lives.8 One key indicator of rising consciousness is declining violence. As Steven Pinker documents in his recent book, the present era is “less violent, less cruel and more peaceful” than any other in human history. There is less violence in families, in neighborhoods, and among countries. The probability of dying violently, through war, terrorism, attacks by animals, or murder, is lower than any time previously. People are also less likely than in the past to experience cruelty at the hands of others.9 Values like caring, nurturing relationships, and compassion are ascendant throughout society.

GfK Mediamark Research & Intelligence, “Median Age, Household Income and Individual Employment Income,” GfK MRI Spring Technical Guide, www.gfkmri.com/mri/techguide/spr2011/med_age_hhi_iei_sp11.pdf. 8. Women were granted the right to vote in the United States in 1920. Shockingly, women did not have the right to vote in most of Switzerland until 1971; in 2010, a majority of Switzerland’s cabinet ministers were women. 9. Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined (New York: Viking, 2011). These examples illustrate that as we become more conscious, our ethical standards and practices evolve upward to higher levels. Lawrence Kohlberg and Carol Gilligan’s research provides evidence that our ethics tend to evolve over time up several distinct ethical levels or stages from “obedience to avoid punishment” at the first stage up to “universal justice and love” at the highest stage.


pages: 320 words: 96,006

The End of Men: And the Rise of Women by Hanna Rosin

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affirmative action, call centre, cognitive dissonance, David Brooks, delayed gratification, edge city, facts on the ground, financial independence, hiring and firing, housing crisis, income inequality, informal economy, job satisfaction, low skilled workers, manufacturing employment, meta analysis, meta-analysis, new economy, New Urbanism, Northern Rock, postindustrial economy, purchasing power parity, Results Only Work Environment, Silicon Valley, Steven Pinker, union organizing, upwardly mobile, women in the workforce, young professional

Questionnaires and studies measuring hostile acts show that men remain more likely than women to hit or yell or deliver what they believe to be electric shocks. Neuroscientist Lise Eliot explains the crude logic of this phenomenon in Pink Brain, Blue Brain: “You can’t face down a fierce opponent if you’re distracted by how he might be feeling.” In The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, linguist and cognitive scientist Steven Pinker attributes the historical decrease in violence partly to the feminization of culture. It’s not merely that men are vastly more likely to play violent games, vote for warlike policies, or commit violent crimes, or that women like to start pacifist organizations, he writes. What’s driving the change is a vast feminization of culture of the kind conservatives like to complain about, a swapping of the old manly codes of martial glory for a more feminine emphasis on justice and empathy.

global homicide statistics show that men:”2011 Global Study on Homicide,” United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, 2011, p.70. http://www.unodc.org/documents/data-and-analysis/statistics/Homicide/Globa_study_on_homicide_2011_web.pdf. Neuroscientist Lise Eliot explains: Lise Eliot, Pink Brain, Blue Brain: How Small Differences Grow into Troublesome Gaps—and What We Can Do About It (New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009), p. 260. attributes the historical decrease in violence : Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined (New York: Viking, 2011). Jesse Prinz points out in his recent influential article: Jesse Prinz, “Why Are Men So Violent?” Psychology Today, February 3, 2012. As best-selling crime writer Patricia Cornwell: Sam Tanenhaus, “Violence That Art Didn’t See Coming,” The New York Times, February 24, 2010. The share of women arrested for violent crimes: “Women in America: Indicators of Social and Economic Well-Being,” White House Council on Women and Girls, March 2011, p. 54. http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/rss_viewer/Women_in_America.pdf.


pages: 350 words: 96,803

Our Posthuman Future: Consequences of the Biotechnology Revolution by Francis Fukuyama

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Albert Einstein, Berlin Wall, bioinformatics, Columbine, demographic transition, Fall of the Berlin Wall, Flynn Effect, Francis Fukuyama: the end of history, impulse control, life extension, Menlo Park, meta analysis, meta-analysis, out of africa, Peter Singer: altruism, phenotype, presumed consent, Ray Kurzweil, Scientific racism, stem cell, Steven Pinker, The Bell Curve by Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray, Turing test

Wilson, “Moral Philosophy as Applied Science: A Darwinian Approach to the Foundations of Ethics,” Philosophy 61 (1986): 173–192. 16 Larry Arnhart, Darwinian Natural Right: The Biological Ethics of Human Nature (Albany, N.Y: State University of New York Press, 1998). 17 For a critique and discussion of Arnhart’s views, see Richard F. Hassing, “Darwinian Natural Right?,” Interpretation 27 (2000): 129–160; and Larry Arnhart, “Defending Darwinian Natural Right,” Interpretation 27 (2000): 263–277. 18 Arnhart (1998), pp. 31–36. 19 Donald Brown, Human Universals (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1991), p. 77. 20 See, for example, Steven Pinker and Paul Bloom, “Natural Language and Natural Selection,” Behavioral and Brain Sciences 13 (1990): 707–784; and Pinker, The Language Instinct (New York: HarperCollins, 1994). 21 For a critique, see Frans de Waal, Chimpanzee Politics: Power and Sex among Apes (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989) pp. 57–60. 22 The argument about time was made by Benjamin Lee Whorf with regard to the Hopi, while the argument about color was a commonplace in anthropology textbooks.

A31. 24 John Paul II (1996). 25 On the meaning of this “ontological leap,” see Ernan McMullin, “Biology and the Theology of the Human,” in Phillip R. Sloan, ed., Controlling Our Desires: Historical, Philosophical, Ethical, and Theological Perspectives on the Human Genome Project (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 2000), p. 367. 26 It is in fact very difficult to come up with a Darwinian explanation for the human enjoyment of music. See Steven Pinker, How the Mind Works (New York: W. W. Norton, 1997), pp. 528–538. 27 See, for example, Arthur Peacocke, “Relating Genetics to Theology on the Map of Scientific Knowledge,” in Sloan (2000), pp. 346–350. 28 Laplace’s exact words were: “We ought then to regard the present state of the universe [not just the solar system] as the effect of its anterior state and as the cause of the one which is to follow.


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The Post-American World: Release 2.0 by Fareed Zakaria

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affirmative action, agricultural Revolution, airport security, anti-communist, Asian financial crisis, battle of ideas, Berlin Wall, Bretton Woods, BRICs, British Empire, call centre, capital controls, central bank independence, centre right, collapse of Lehman Brothers, conceptual framework, Credit Default Swap, currency manipulation / currency intervention, delayed gratification, Deng Xiaoping, double entry bookkeeping, failed state, Fall of the Berlin Wall, financial innovation, global reserve currency, global supply chain, illegal immigration, interest rate derivative, knowledge economy, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Wolf, mutually assured destruction, new economy, oil shock, open economy, out of africa, postindustrial economy, purchasing power parity, race to the bottom, reserve currency, Ronald Reagan, Silicon Valley, Silicon Valley startup, South China Sea, Steven Pinker, The Great Moderation, Thomas L Friedman, Thomas Malthus, trade route, Washington Consensus, working-age population, young professional

Ted Robert Gurr and a team of scholars at the University of Maryland’s Center for International Development and Conflict Management tracked the data carefully and came to the following conclusion: “the general magnitude of global warfare has decreased by over sixty percent [since the mid-1980s], falling by the end of 2004 to its lowest level since the late 1950s.”1 Violence increased steadily throughout the Cold War—increasing sixfold between the 1950s and early 1990s—but the trend peaked just before the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and “the extent of warfare among and within states lessened by nearly half in the first decade after the Cold War.” Harvard’s polymath professor Steven Pinker argues “that today we are probably living in the most peaceful time in our species’ existence.”2 One reason for the mismatch between reality and our sense of it might be that, over these same decades, we have experienced a revolution in information technology that now brings us news from around the world instantly, vividly, and continuously. The immediacy of the images and the intensity of the twenty-four-hour news cycle combine to produce constant hyperbole.

It should be a place that is as inviting and exciting to the young student who enters the country today as it was for this awkward eighteen-year-old a generation ago. Notes 2. The Cup Runneth Over 1. Ted Robert Gurr and Monty G. Marshall, Peace and Conflict 2005: A Global Survey of Armed Conflicts, Self-Determination Movements, and Democracy, Center for International Development and Conflict Management, University of Maryland, College Park (June 2005). 2. Steven Pinker, “A Brief History of Violence” (talk at Technology, Entertainment, Design Conference, Monterey, Calif., March 2007). 3. Kevin H. O’Rourke, “The European Grain Invasion, 1870–1913,” Journal of Economic History 57, no. 4 (Dec. 1997): 775–801. 4. For a good, accessible discussion of the late nineteenth-century “positive supply shock,” see Gary Saxonhouse, “The Integration of Giants into the Global Economy,” AEI: Asian outlook, no. 1 (Jan. 31, 2006). 5.


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Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

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Antoine Gombaud: Chevalier de Méré, availability heuristic, backtesting, Benoit Mandelbrot, Black Swan, complexity theory, corporate governance, currency peg, Daniel Kahneman / Amos Tversky, discounted cash flows, diversified portfolio, endowment effect, equity premium, global village, hindsight bias, Long Term Capital Management, loss aversion, mandelbrot fractal, mental accounting, meta analysis, meta-analysis, quantitative trading / quantitative finance, QWERTY keyboard, random walk, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, road to serfdom, Robert Shiller, Robert Shiller, shareholder value, Sharpe ratio, Steven Pinker, stochastic process, too big to fail, Turing test, Yogi Berra

These evolutionary psychologists agree with the Kahneman-Tversky school that people have difficulties with standard probabilistic reasoning. However, they believe that the reason lies in the way things are presented to us in the current environment. To them, we are optimized for a set of probabilistic reasoning, but in a different environment than the one prevailing today. The statement “Our brains are made for fitness not for truth” by the scientific intellectual Steven Pinker, the public spokesmen of that school, summarizes it all. They agree that our brains are not made for understanding things but think that they are not biased, or only biased because we do not use them in their real habitat. Strangely, the Kahneman-Tversky school of researchers did not incur any credible resistance from the opinions of the economists of the time (the general credibility of conventional economists has always been so low that almost nobody in science or in the real world ever pays attention to them).

Courage or foolishness: For an examination of that notion of “courage” and “guts,” see Kahneman and Lovallo (1993). See also a discussion in Hilton (2003). I drew the idea from Daniel Kahneman’s presentation in Rome in April 2003 (Kahneman, 2003). Cognitive errors in forecasting: Tversky and Kahneman (1971), Tversky and Kahneman (1982), and Lichtenstein, Fischhoff and Phillips (1977). Utopian/tragic: The essayist and prominent (scientific) intellectual Steven Pinker popularized the distinction (originally attributable to the political scholar Thomas Sowell). See Sowell (1987), Pinker (2002). Actually, the distinction is not so clear. Some people actually believe, for instance, that Milton Friedman is a utopist in the sense that all ills come from governments and that getting rid of government would be a great panacea. Fallibility and infallibilism: Peirce (in a prospectus for a never written book), writes, “Nothing can be more completely contrary to a philosophy, the fruit of a scientific life, than infallibilism, whether arrayed in the old ecclesiastical trappings, or under its recent ‘scientific’ disguise.”


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The Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution by Francis Fukuyama

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Admiral Zheng, agricultural Revolution, Andrei Shleifer, Asian financial crisis, Ayatollah Khomeini, barriers to entry, Berlin Wall, blood diamonds, California gold rush, cognitive dissonance, colonial rule, conceptual framework, correlation does not imply causation, currency manipulation / currency intervention, demographic transition, Deng Xiaoping, double entry bookkeeping, equal pay for equal work, European colonialism, failed state, Fall of the Berlin Wall, Francis Fukuyama: the end of history, Francisco Pizarro, Hernando de Soto, hiring and firing, invention of agriculture, invention of the printing press, Khyber Pass, labour market flexibility, land reform, land tenure, means of production, offshore financial centre, out of africa, Peace of Westphalia, principal–agent problem, RAND corporation, rent-seeking, Scramble for Africa, spice trade, Stephen Hawking, Steven Pinker, the scientific method, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, Thomas L Friedman, Thomas Malthus, trade route, transaction costs, Washington Consensus

Male reproductive strategy maximizes success by seeking out as many sexual partners as possible, while the female reproductive strategy involves harboring the resources of the fittest male for her offspring. Since these strategies work at cross-purposes, the argument goes, there is a strong evolutionary incentive to develop capacities for outwitting the partner, in which language plays a large role.21 Another evolutionary psychologist, Steven Pinker, argues that language, sociability, and mastery of the environment all reinforced one another and created evolutionary pressures for further development.22 This then explains the need for increased brain size, since a very large portion of the neocortex, which is the part of the brain possessed by behaviorally modern humans but not by chimps or archaic humans, is devoted to language.23 The development of language not only permits the short-term coordination of action but also opens up the possibility of abstraction and theory, critical cognitive faculties that are unique to human beings.

: Reflections on the Uniquely Unique Species (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1990), pp. 4–7; Richard D. Alexander, “The Evolution of Social Behavior,” Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics 5 (1974): 325–85. 21 Geoffrey Miller, The Mating Mind: How Sexual Choice Shaped the Evolution of Human Nature (New York: Doubleday, 2000); Geoffrey Miller and Glenn Geher, Mating Intelligence: Sex, Relationships, and the Mind’s Reproductive System (New York: Lawrence Erlbaum, 2008). 22 Steven Pinker and Paul Bloom, “Natural Language and Natural Selection,” Behavioral and Brain Sciences 13 (1990): 707–84. 23 George E. Pugh, The Biological Origin of Human Values (New York: Basic Books, 1977), pp. 140–43. 24 For a compilation of evidence on the universality of religion, see Nicholas Wade, The Faith Instinct: How Religion Evolved and Why It Endures (New York: Penguin, 2009), pp. 18–37. 25 See, for example, Christopher Hitchens, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything (New York: Twelve, 2007); and Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006). 26 Mancur Olson, The Logic of Collective Action: Public Goods and the Theory of Groups (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1965). 27 See Wade, Faith Instinct, chap. 5. 28 This view is especially associated with Émile Durkheim.

Pugh, The Biological Origin of Human Values (New York: Basic Books, 1977), pp. 140–43. 24 For a compilation of evidence on the universality of religion, see Nicholas Wade, The Faith Instinct: How Religion Evolved and Why It Endures (New York: Penguin, 2009), pp. 18–37. 25 See, for example, Christopher Hitchens, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything (New York: Twelve, 2007); and Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006). 26 Mancur Olson, The Logic of Collective Action: Public Goods and the Theory of Groups (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1965). 27 See Wade, Faith Instinct, chap. 5. 28 This view is especially associated with Émile Durkheim. See The Elementary Forms of Religious Life (New York: Free Press, 1965). For a critique, see the chapter on Durkheim in E. E. Evans-Pritchard, A History of Anthropological Thought (New York: Basic Books, 1981). 29 See, for example, Steven Pinker, How the Mind Works (New York: Norton, 1997), pp. 554–58. 30 According to Douglass North, “While we observe people disobeying the rules of a society when the benefits exceed the costs, we also observe them obeying the rules when an individualistic calculus would have them do otherwise. Why do people not litter the countryside? Why don’t they cheat or steal when the likelihood of punishment is negligible compared to the benefits?


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The Science of Fear: How the Culture of Fear Manipulates Your Brain by Daniel Gardner

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Atul Gawande, availability heuristic, Black Swan, Cass Sunstein, citizen journalism, cognitive bias, cognitive dissonance, Columbine, correlation does not imply causation, Daniel Kahneman / Amos Tversky, David Brooks, Doomsday Clock, feminist movement, haute couture, hindsight bias, illegal immigration, medical residency, Mikhail Gorbachev, millennium bug, mutually assured destruction, nuclear winter, placebo effect, Ralph Nader, RAND corporation, Ronald Reagan, Stephen Hawking, Steven Levy, Steven Pinker, the scientific method, Tunguska event, uranium enrichment, Y2K, young professional

It doesn’t matter that she isn’t a threat to anyone else. This isn’t about safety. She must be punished. Evolutionary psychologists argue that this urge to punish wrongdoing is hardwired because it is an effective way to discourage bad behavior. “People who are emotionally driven to retaliate against those who cross them, even at a cost to themselves, are more credible adversaries and less likely to be exploited,” writes cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker. Whatever its origins, the instinct for blame and punishment is often a critical component in our reactions to risks. Imagine there is a gas that kills 20,000 people a year in the European Union and another 21,000 a year in the United States. Imagine further that this gas is a by-product of industrial processes and scientists can precisely identify which industries, even which factories, are emitting the gas.

“Cruelty as entertainment, human sacrifice to indulge superstition, slavery as a labor-saving device, conquest as the mission statement of government, genocide as a means of acquiring real estate, torture and mutilation as routine punishment, the death penalty for misdemeanors and differences of opinion, assassination as the mechanism of political succession, rape as the spoils of war, pogroms as outlets of frustration, homicide as the major form of conflict resolution—all were unexceptionable features of life for most of human history,” writes Steven Pinker. “But, today, they are rare to nonexistent in the West, far less common elsewhere than they used to be, concealed when they do occur, and widely condemned when they are brought to light.” We are, in a phrase, more civilized. This is very good news, indeed. Just don’t expect to hear about it on CNN. 10 The Chemistry of Fear "Our bodies have become repositories for dozens of toxic chemicals,” begins a report from Greenpeace.


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The Village Effect: How Face-To-Face Contact Can Make Us Healthier, Happier, and Smarter by Susan Pinker

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Atul Gawande, Bernie Madoff, call centre, cognitive dissonance, David Brooks, delayed gratification, Edward Glaeser, epigenetics, Erik Brynjolfsson, estate planning, facts on the ground, game design, happiness index / gross national happiness, indoor plumbing, invisible hand, Mark Zuckerberg, medical residency, Menlo Park, meta analysis, meta-analysis, neurotypical, Occupy movement, place-making, Ponzi scheme, Ralph Waldo Emerson, randomized controlled trial, Ray Oldenburg, Silicon Valley, Skype, Steven Pinker, The Great Good Place, The Wisdom of Crowds, theory of mind, Tony Hsieh, urban planning, Yogi Berra

., “Prospective Associations Between Early Childhood Television Exposure and Academic, Psychosocial, and Physical Well-being by Middle Childhood,” Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine 164, no. 5 (2010); Sylvain-Jacques Desjardins, “Toddlers and TV: Early Exposure Has Negative and Long Term Impact,” Forum (University of Montreal), May 3, 2010. 31. David Biello, “Fact or Fiction: Archimedes Coined the Term ‘Eureka’ in the Bath,” Scientific American, December 8, 2006. 32. Steven Pinker, The Language Instinct (New York: William Morrow, 1994). 33. D. A. Christakis et al., “Audible Television and Decreased Adult Words, Infant Vocalizations, and Conversational Turns: A Population-Based Study,” Archives of Pediatric Adolescent Medicine 163, no. 6 (2009). 34. F. J. Zimmerman and D. A. Christakis, “Children’s Television Viewing and Cognitive Outcomes,” Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine 159, no. 7 (2005): Tomopoulous et al., “Infant Media Exposure”; D.

., “The Cheater’s High: The Unexpected Affective Benefits of Unethical Behavior,” paper presented at annual meeting of the Academy of Management, Boston, 2012. 7. Drake Bennett, “Confidence Game: How Imposters Like Clark Rockefeller Capture Our Trust Instantly,” Boston Globe, August 17, 2008. 8. Edward O. Wilson, “Kin Selection as the Key to Altruism: Its Rise and Fall,” Social Research 72, no. 1 (2005); Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature (New York: Viking, 2011). 9. Jerome H. Barkow, Leda Cosmides, and John Tooby, The Adapted Mind: Evolutionary Psychology and the Generation of Culture (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992); Frans de Waal, The Age of Empathy (New York: Three Rivers Press, 2009); M. J. O’Riain and J.U.M. Jarvis, “Colony Member Recognition and Xenophobia in the Naked Mole-Rat,” Animal Behaviour 53 (1997). 10.


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The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins

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Albert Einstein, anthropic principle, Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, Ayatollah Khomeini, Brownian motion, cosmological principle, David Attenborough, Desert Island Discs, double helix, en.wikipedia.org, experimental subject, Fellow of the Royal Society, gravity well, invisible hand, John von Neumann, luminiferous ether, Menlo Park, meta analysis, meta-analysis, Murray Gell-Mann, Necker cube, Peter Singer: altruism, phenotype, placebo effect, planetary scale, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Schrödinger's Cat, Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, stem cell, Stephen Hawking, Steven Pinker, the scientific method, theory of mind, Thorstein Veblen, trickle-down economics, unbiased observer

Religion is a large phenomenon and it needs a large theory to explain it. Other theories miss the point of Darwinian explanations altogether. I’m talking about suggestions like ‘religion satisfies our curiosity about the universe and our place in it’, or ‘religion is consoling’. There may be some psychological truth here, as we shall see in Chapter 10, but neither is in itself a Darwinian explanation. As Steven Pinker pointedly said of the consolation theory, in How the Mind Works: ‘it only raises the question of why a mind would evolve to find comfort in beliefs it can plainly see are false. A freezing person finds no comfort in believing he is warm; a person face-to-face with a lion is not put at ease by the conviction that it is a rabbit.’ At the very least, the consolation theory needs to be translated into Darwinian terms, and that is harder than you might think.

And finally, as though all this were not enough, he declared that for every individual, such as you and me, for example, who does not believe either in God or in his own immortality, the natural law is bound immediately to become the complete opposite of the religion-based law that preceded it, and that egoism, even extending to the perpetration of crime, would not only be permissible but would be recognized as the essential, the most rational, and even the noblest raison d’être of the human condition.88 Perhaps naïvely, I have inclined towards a less cynical view of human nature than Ivan Karamazov. Do we really need policing – whether by God or by each other – in order to stop us from behaving in a selfish and criminal manner? I dearly want to believe that I do not need such surveillance – and nor, dear reader, do you. On the other hand, just to weaken our confidence, listen to Steven Pinker’s disillusioning experience of a police strike in Montreal, which he describes in The Blank Slate: As a young teenager in proudly peaceable Canada during the romantic 1960s, I was a true believer in Bakunin’s anarchism. I laughed off my parents’ argument that if the government ever laid down its arms all hell would break loose. Our competing predictions were put to the test at 8:00 A.M. on October 17, 1969, when the Montreal police went on strike.


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The Great Surge: The Ascent of the Developing World by Steven Radelet

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Admiral Zheng, agricultural Revolution, Asian financial crisis, bank run, Berlin Wall, Branko Milanovic, business climate, business process, call centre, Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty, clean water, colonial rule, demographic dividend, Deng Xiaoping, Dissolution of the Soviet Union, Doha Development Round, Erik Brynjolfsson, European colonialism, F. W. de Klerk, failed state, Francis Fukuyama: the end of history, Gini coefficient, global supply chain, income inequality, income per capita, invention of the steam engine, James Watt: steam engine, John Snow's cholera map, Joseph Schumpeter, land reform, low skilled workers, M-Pesa, megacity, Mikhail Gorbachev, oil shock, out of africa, purchasing power parity, race to the bottom, randomized controlled trial, Robert Gordon, Second Machine Age, secular stagnation, Simon Kuznets, South China Sea, special economic zone, Steven Pinker, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, Thomas Malthus, trade route, women in the workforce, working poor

More hopeful, in several countries in which oil has declined in importance, such as Mexico and Indonesia, democracy has strengthened. THE DECLINE IN CONFLICT AND VIOLENCE Hand in hand with the spread of democracy have come reductions in war, conflict, and violence. Most people have a hard time believing this fact, since the daily news provides a stream of stories of war, conflict, and violence. But while violence has not ended, there is much less of it. Much less. The Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker documented the decline in global violence during the latter part of the twentieth century and the early twenty-first century in The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined.13 He shows, with abundant data and examples from around the world, that despite the pessimistic views to the contrary, we live in the most peaceful time in world history. To give just one example, battle deaths per conflict per year from interstate wars have fallen from sixty-five thousand in the 1950s, to fifty thousand in the 1970s, to twenty-five thousand in the 1980s, to around three thousand in the 2000s.

Young, “The Institutionalization of Political Power in Africa,” Journal of Democracy 18, no. 3 (July 2007): 128, http://www.journalofdemocracy.org/sites/default/files/PosnerandYoung-18-3.pdf. 11. Larry Diamond, The Spirit of Democracy: The Struggle to Build Free Societies Throughout the World (New York: Times Books, 2008), p. 256. 12. Thomas Carothers, “The End of the Transition Paradigm,” Journal of Democracy 13, no. 1 (January 2002): 5–21, www.journalofdemocracy.org/articles-files/gratis/Carothers-13-1.pdf. 13. Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined (New York: Penguin Books, 2011). 14. Ibid., p. 302. The data are from figure 6.4, p. 304. 15. Uppsala Conflict Data Program, “UCDP/PRIO Armed Conflict Dataset, v.4-2014, 1946–2013,” June 12, 2014, Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden, www.pcr.uu.se/research/ucdp/datasets/ucdp_prio_armed_conflict_dataset. For the underlying research papers, see Lotta Themnér and Peter Wallensteen, “Armed Conflicts, 1946–2013,” Journal of Peace Research 51, no. 4 (July 2014): 541–54; Nils Petter Gleditsch et al., “Armed Conflict, 1946–2001: A New Dataset,” Journal of Peace Research 39, no. 5 (September 2002): 615–37. 16.


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The Confidence Game: The Psychology of the Con and Why We Fall for It Every Time by Maria Konnikova

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attribution theory, Bernie Madoff, British Empire, Cass Sunstein, cognitive dissonance, Daniel Kahneman / Amos Tversky, endowment effect, epigenetics, hindsight bias, lake wobegon effect, libertarian paternalism, Milgram experiment, placebo effect, Ponzi scheme, publish or perish, Richard Thaler, risk tolerance, side project, Skype, Steven Pinker, the scientific method, tulip mania, Walter Mischel

Each event is entirely independent of the one before, and will in no way affect the one after. Still, the gambler insists that the next one will be the lucky winner. It’s been a long time coming, but it’s right around the corner, in the next toss of the die, turn of the wheel, flip of the card. Life is not a casino, and often the gambler’s fallacy isn’t a fallacy at all. It’s an accurate adaptation to changing events. As Harvard University psychologist Steven Pinker notes in How the Mind Works, “It would not surprise me if a week of clouds really did predict that the trailing edge was near and the sun was about to be unmasked, just as the hundredth railroad car on a passing train portends the caboose with greater likelihood than the third car.” And so, when it comes to events that really are chance, from gambles on craps tables to gambles in stocks, and events that, while not completely chance, are governed by a high degree of uncertainty, like financial investments, our gambler’s fallacy (now properly fallacious) is all the more likely to persist: after all, at times it’s not a fallacy at all.

Thank you to Josh Rothman, to the indispensable fact checkers and copy editors who have worked to make my pieces what they are, and, of course, to David Remnick, for believing in my future as a writer. I’ve been lucky to have a number of incredible mentors, but I want to thank especially Katherine Vaz, who believed in me from the moment I stepped into her writing class as a confused eighteen-year-old; Steven Pinker, who has taught me so much of what I know and has been a constant source of inspiration; and Walter Mischel, for hours of wisdom, beautiful art, and always thought-provoking conversation. And a final, most heartfelt thank-you to the people who’ve had to put up with me the longest, and somehow still decided to stick around. The friends who listened to me moan over countless meals and bottles of wine—and despite my often less-than-stellar company still offered in-person deliveries of tea when I shut myself in for weeks at a time.


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My Start-Up Life: What A by Ben Casnocha, Marc Benioff

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affirmative action, Albert Einstein, barriers to entry, Bonfire of the Vanities, business process, call centre, David Brooks, don't be evil, fear of failure, hiring and firing, index fund, informal economy, Jeff Bezos, Lao Tzu, Menlo Park, Paul Graham, place-making, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Sand Hill Road, side project, Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs, Steven Pinker, technology bubble, traffic fines

by William Poundstone The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive, by Patrick Lencioni The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Business Law, by Constance Bagley Good to Great, by Jim Collins On Becoming a Leader, by Warren Bennis 179 180 APPENDIX C Information Rules, by Carl Shapiro and Hal Varian eBoys, by Randal Stross Fooled by Randomness, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb Compassionate Capitalism, by Marc Benioff Love Is the Killer App, by Tim Sanders Globalization The World Is Flat, by Tom Friedman Creative Destruction, by Tyler Cowen Globaloney, by Michael Veseth Money Makes the World Go Round, by Barbara Garson How “American” Is Globalization? by William Marling Intellectual Life The Blank Slate, by Steven Pinker The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, by Erving Goffman Reflections by an Affirmative Action Baby, by Stephen Carter Integrity, by Stephen Carter The Accidental Asian, by Eric Liu Mind Wide Open, by Steven Johnson Socrates Café, by Chris Phillips Self-Renewal, by John Gardner Public Intellectuals, by Richard Posner Psychology Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, by Robert Cialdini Flow, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor Frankl Biography/Memoir My Life, by Bill Clinton This Boy’s Life, by Tobias Wolff Swimming Across, by Andy Grove All Over But the Shoutin’, by Rick Bragg Personal History, by Katherine Graham Emerson: Mind on Fire, by Robert Richardson In an Uncertain World, by Robert Rubin The Year of Magical Thinking, by Joan Didion Religion End of Faith, by Sam Harris The Universe in a Single Atom, by the Dalai Lama APPENDIX C The World’s Religions, by Huston Smith The Bhagavad-Gita Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith, by Anne Lamott Under the Banner of Heaven, by Jon Krakauer Politics/Current Affairs Ghost Wars, by Steve Coll Running the World, by David Rothkopf Founding Brothers, by Joseph Ellis A Conflict of Visions, by Thomas Sowell Going Nucular, by Geoffrey Nunberg America at the Crossroads, by Francis Fukuyama Holidays in Hell, by P.


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Future Perfect: The Case for Progress in a Networked Age by Steven Johnson

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airport security, algorithmic trading, banking crisis, barriers to entry, Bernie Sanders, call centre, Captain Sullenberger Hudson, Cass Sunstein, cognitive dissonance, credit crunch, crowdsourcing, dark matter, Dava Sobel, David Brooks, future of journalism, hive mind, Howard Rheingold, HyperCard, Jane Jacobs, John Gruber, John Harrison: Longitude, Kevin Kelly, Kickstarter, lone genius, Mark Zuckerberg, meta analysis, meta-analysis, Naomi Klein, Nate Silver, Occupy movement, packet switching, Peter Thiel, planetary scale, pre–internet, RAND corporation, risk tolerance, shareholder value, Silicon Valley, Silicon Valley startup, social graph, Steve Jobs, Steven Pinker, Stewart Brand, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Tim Cook: Apple, urban planning, WikiLeaks, working poor, X Prize

Teen pregnancy: Between 1986 and 2006, the fertility rate per 1,000 U.S. teenagers dropped from 50 to 43. (Source: World Bank.) The two essential books on our strange unwillingness to accept the progressive trends around us are Gregg Easterbrook’s The Progress Paradox: How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse and Matt Ridley’s The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves. On long-term trends in human violence, see Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. I. THE PEER PROGRESSIVES For more on the history of the Legrand Star, see “The Longest Run: Public Engineers and Planning in France,” by Cecil O. Smith, Jr., published in The American Historical Review. The “legible” vision of state hierarchy is powerfully analyzed in James C. Scott’s Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed.


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50 Future Ideas You Really Need to Know by Richard Watson

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23andMe, 3D printing, access to a mobile phone, Albert Einstein, artificial general intelligence, augmented reality, autonomous vehicles, BRICs, Buckminster Fuller, call centre, clean water, cloud computing, collaborative consumption, computer age, computer vision, crowdsourcing, dark matter, dematerialisation, digital Maoism, Elon Musk, energy security, failed state, future of work, Geoffrey West, Santa Fe Institute, germ theory of disease, happiness index / gross national happiness, hive mind, hydrogen economy, Internet of things, Jaron Lanier, life extension, Marshall McLuhan, megacity, natural language processing, Network effects, new economy, oil shale / tar sands, pattern recognition, peak oil, personalized medicine, phenotype, precision agriculture, profit maximization, RAND corporation, Ray Kurzweil, RFID, Richard Florida, Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, self-driving car, semantic web, Skype, smart cities, smart meter, smart transportation, statistical model, stem cell, Stephen Hawking, Steve Jobs, Steven Pinker, Stewart Brand, strong AI, Stuxnet, supervolcano, telepresence, The Wisdom of Crowds, Thomas Malthus, Turing test, urban decay, Vernor Vinge, Watson beat the top human players on Jeopardy!, web application, women in the workforce, working-age population, young professional

Historically, our approach to AI has been brute force, but once parallel computing techniques become established (quantum or DNA computing, for instance—see Chapter 17) true AI could be achieved very rapidly. “The main lesson of 35 years of AI research is that the hard problems are easy and the easy problems are hard. The mental abilities of a four-year-old that we take for granted … in fact, solve some of the hardest engineering problems ever conceived.” Steven Pinker, psychologist, cognitive scientist and author Nevertheless, two big questions remain. First, is the human brain essentially just a machine with a bunch of wiring and some chemistry and electricity thrown in, or is there much more to it than that? If the human brain is simply a collection of atoms, then surely it can be only a matter of time before we design machines that can match and possibly exceed human capabilities.


pages: 236 words: 77,098

I Live in the Future & Here's How It Works: Why Your World, Work, and Brain Are Being Creatively Disrupted by Nick Bilton

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3D printing, 4chan, Albert Einstein, augmented reality, barriers to entry, book scanning, Cass Sunstein, death of newspapers, en.wikipedia.org, Internet of things, John Gruber, Marshall McLuhan, Nicholas Carr, recommendation engine, RFID, Saturday Night Live, Steve Jobs, Steven Pinker, Stewart Brand

Friends, Family, “The Book,” & The Internet The entire team at Random House, including Tina, Meredith, Jacob, Tara, Rachelle, and Jo. Emily Nussbaum, Jack Dorsey, Andrew Hearst, Joel Johnson, Dennis Crowley, Alex Rainert, Karen Bonna Rainert, Eric Beug, Dick Lipton, Naveen Selvadurai, Richard Nash, Brian Lam, Lux Alptraum, Nick Denton, Jonah Lehrer, Dan O’Sullivan, Nick Carr, Nicholas Felton, Kati London, Nora Abousteit, Bre Pettis, Tim Hannay, Steven Pinker, Dave Morin, Clifford Nass, Maria Popova, Red Burns, Tom Igoe, Anil Dash, Fred Wilson, Chloe Sladden, Max Whitney, New York University’s ITP students and alumni, Linda Stone, Gideon Lichfield, Andrew Ross Sorkin, Jack Shafer, Michael Caruso, Baratunde Thurston, Frank Rose, Joe Wikert, Jimmy DiResta, Dan Gillmor, Sarah Slobin, Marshall Kirkpatrick, Chris Anderson, Mathias Crawford, Noah Robischon, the ladies and gentlemen of the Academy, Paul Berger, Kevin Slavin, Deborah Auer, Lane Becker, Jennifer Rodriguez Thor Muller, Denise & Michael, Aida & Jorge, Nancy & Sylvia, Cathy, Monica & Franky, Lissa and Debbie, Katie Cotton, Deborah Estrin, Diane Sawyer, Gillian Reagan, Nate Tabor, Zach Klein, Gary Vaynerchuk, Alicia Gibb, Andrew Savikas, Rachel D.


pages: 83 words: 7,274

Buyology by Martin Lindstrom

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anti-work, Berlin Wall, Daniel Kahneman / Amos Tversky, Mikhail Gorbachev, Saturday Night Live, Steve Jobs, Steven Pinker

They also served to remind me, over and over again, that miraculously, human beings have “minds” that can puzzle over, speculate about, and explore in depth their own “brains” (just imagine if your foot could observe its own footness). In addition, Rita Carter’s cogent, entertaining Mapping the Mind (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999) clarified the geography of the brain for me even further. How the Mind Works by cognitive scientist Steven Pinker (New York: W. W. Norton, 1997) is also a masterful and hugely enjoyable synthesis of brain science. I cannot recommend all four books more highly. But there always comes a moment, after reading a book, when you want to but can’t ask the author a follow-up question that’s just occurred to you. Which is why my thanks go again to Dr. Gemma Calvert and Dr. Richard Silberstein and their research teams, who fielded every question I asked, no matter how naïve or dopey, with grace, intelligence, clarity, and good humor.


pages: 268 words: 75,850

The Formula: How Algorithms Solve All Our Problems-And Create More by Luke Dormehl

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3D printing, algorithmic trading, Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, augmented reality, big data - Walmart - Pop Tarts, call centre, Cass Sunstein, Clayton Christensen, computer age, death of newspapers, deferred acceptance, Edward Lorenz: Chaos theory, Erik Brynjolfsson, Filter Bubble, Flash crash, Florence Nightingale: pie chart, Frank Levy and Richard Murnane: The New Division of Labor, Google Earth, Google Glasses, High speed trading, Internet Archive, Isaac Newton, Jaron Lanier, Jeff Bezos, job automation, Kevin Kelly, Kodak vs Instagram, Marshall McLuhan, means of production, Nate Silver, natural language processing, Netflix Prize, pattern recognition, price discrimination, recommendation engine, Richard Thaler, Rosa Parks, self-driving car, sentiment analysis, Silicon Valley, Silicon Valley startup, Slavoj Žižek, social graph, speech recognition, Steve Jobs, Steven Levy, Steven Pinker, Stewart Brand, the scientific method, The Signal and the Noise by Nate Silver, upwardly mobile, Wall-E, Watson beat the top human players on Jeopardy!, Y Combinator

Whether we are looking for a spouse, a holiday or a new laptop, all of us make mental lists of the qualities we are searching for and then match up whichever potential offerings we come across with our checklist of minimum demands. If a potential relationship is deemed not attractive enough for us on some level, a holiday is too expensive, or a laptop won’t carry out the tasks we are buying it for, we dismiss it and move on to the next option. However, is this really the right way to think about love? In his book How the Mind Works, the experimental psychologist and author Steven Pinker poses a question very similar to the one asked in the Stable Marriage algorithm described at the start of this chapter: namely, how can a person be sure in a relationship that their partner will not leave them the moment that it is rational to do so? Pinker gives the potentially problematic example of a more physically attractive “10-out-of-10” neighbor moving in next door to us. The answer economists David Gale and Lloyd Shapley would give us is that we are in the clear just so long as this neighbor is already paired with someone more preferable to themselves than our spouse.


pages: 235 words: 62,862

Utopia for Realists: The Case for a Universal Basic Income, Open Borders, and a 15-Hour Workweek by Rutger Bregman

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autonomous vehicles, banking crisis, Bartolomé de las Casas, Berlin Wall, Bertrand Russell: In Praise of Idleness, Branko Milanovic, cognitive dissonance, computer age, conceptual framework, credit crunch, David Graeber, Diane Coyle, Erik Brynjolfsson, everywhere but in the productivity statistics, Fall of the Berlin Wall, Francis Fukuyama: the end of history, Frank Levy and Richard Murnane: The New Division of Labor, full employment, George Gilder, happiness index / gross national happiness, Henry Ford's grandson gave labor union leader Walter Reuther a tour of the company’s new, automated factory…, income inequality, invention of gunpowder, James Watt: steam engine, John Maynard Keynes: Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren, John Maynard Keynes: technological unemployment, Kevin Kelly, Kickstarter, knowledge economy, knowledge worker, Kodak vs Instagram, labour market flexibility, labour mobility, low skilled workers, means of production, megacity, meta analysis, meta-analysis, microcredit, minimum wage unemployment, Mont Pelerin Society, Nathan Meyer Rothschild: antibiotics, Occupy movement, offshore financial centre, Peter Thiel, post-industrial society, precariat, RAND corporation, randomized controlled trial, Ray Kurzweil, Ronald Reagan, Second Machine Age, Silicon Valley, Simon Kuznets, Skype, stem cell, Steven Pinker, telemarketer, The Spirit Level, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, Thomas Malthus, Thorstein Veblen, Tyler Cowen: Great Stagnation, universal basic income, wage slave, War on Poverty, We wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters, wikimedia commons, women in the workforce, working poor, World Values Survey

Obligatory reading for everyone worried about the wrongs of present-day society and wishing to contribute to their cure.” – Zygmunt Bauman, one of the world’s most eminent social theorists, author of more than 50 books “If you’re bored with hackneyed debates, decades-old right-wing and left-wing clichés, you may enjoy the bold thinking, fresh ideas, lively prose, and evidence-based arguments in Utopia for Realists.” – Steven Pinker, Johnstone Professor of Psychology, Harvard University, and author of The Blank Slate and The Better Angels of Our Nature “This book is brilliant. Everyone should read it. Bregman shows us we’ve been looking at the world inside out. Turned right way out we suddenly see fundamentally new ways forward. If we can get enough people to read this book, the world will start to become a better place.” – Richard Wilkinson, co-author of The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better “Rutger Bregman makes a compelling case for Universal Basic Income with a wealth of data and rooted in a keen understanding of the political and intellectual history of capitalism.

Cartesian Linguistics by Noam Chomsky

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job satisfaction, speech recognition, Steven Pinker, theory of mind, Turing test

But the 33 Cartesian Linguistics picture of a child as born with a mind that is largely unformed and plastic and of language as a set of ‘behaviors’ or linguistic phenomena outside the head and shaped to conform to ‘reality’ and the community still attracts the great majority of philosophers, psychologists, and cognitive scientists. It takes many forms: there are few acknowledged behaviorists left, though many functionalists and connectionists of various sorts. It is not clear why. Steven Pinker in The Language Instinct (1995, 406–7) illustrates the empiricist idea of a plastic mind in his discussion of what he calls the “standard social science model” by quoting the views of the anthropologist Margaret Mead and the psychologist James Watson. Mead had suggested that human nature must be infinitely malleable because people can be educated to such different roles, and Watson claimed that if he were given a child, he could, by training, turn it into whatever one desired – a fireman, banker, or revolutionary.

On Nature and Language by Noam Chomsky

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Alfred Russel Wallace, anti-communist, Berlin Wall, Bretton Woods, complexity theory, dark matter, Fall of the Berlin Wall, Murray Gell-Mann, Steven Pinker, theory of mind, Turing test

Thus, citing some of Darwin’s cautious speculations, he writes that “we thus learn two important lessons” about “human language evolution”: that “the structure and function of human language can be 78 Language and the brain accounted for by natural selection,” and that “the most impressive link between human and nonhuman-animal forms of communication lies in the ability to express emotional state.” Similarly, Steven Pinker “shows how a Darwinian account of language evolution is the only possible account, . . . because natural selection is the only mechanism that can account for the complex design features of a trait such as language” (my emphasis). It would be remarkable if something had been “shown” about the evolution of human language, let alone the vastly more ambitious claim cited; or if we could “learn” anything significant from speculations about the topic.


pages: 651 words: 180,162

Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

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Air France Flight 447, Andrei Shleifer, banking crisis, Benoit Mandelbrot, Berlin Wall, Black Swan, credit crunch, Daniel Kahneman / Amos Tversky, David Ricardo: comparative advantage, discrete time, double entry bookkeeping, Emanuel Derman, epigenetics, financial independence, Flash crash, Gary Taubes, Gini coefficient, Henri Poincaré, high net worth, Ignaz Semmelweis: hand washing, informal economy, invention of the wheel, invisible hand, Isaac Newton, James Hargreaves, Jane Jacobs, joint-stock company, joint-stock limited liability company, Joseph Schumpeter, knowledge economy, Lao Tzu, Long Term Capital Management, loss aversion, Louis Pasteur, mandelbrot fractal, meta analysis, meta-analysis, microbiome, moral hazard, mouse model, Norbert Wiener, pattern recognition, placebo effect, Ponzi scheme, principal–agent problem, purchasing power parity, quantitative trading / quantitative finance, Ralph Nader, random walk, Ray Kurzweil, rent control, Republic of Letters, Ronald Reagan, Rory Sutherland, Silicon Valley, six sigma, spinning jenny, statistical model, Steve Jobs, Steven Pinker, Stewart Brand, stochastic process, stochastic volatility, The Great Moderation, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, Thomas Malthus, too big to fail, transaction costs, urban planning, Yogi Berra, Zipf's Law

When randomness concentrates, we get the second type, the sneaky Extremistan. 5 Note that people invoke an expression, “Balkanization,” about the mess created by fragmented states, as if fragmentation was a bad thing, and as if there was an alternative in the Balkans—but nobody uses “Helvetization” to describe its successes. 6 A more rigorous reading of the data—with appropriate adjustment for the unseen—shows that a war that would decimate the planet would be completely consistent with the statistics, and would not even be an “outlier.” As we will see, Ben Bernanke was similarly fooled with his Great Moderation, a turkey problem; one can be confused by the properties of any process with compressed volatility from the top. Some people, like Steven Pinker, misread the nature of the statistical process and hold such a thesis, similar to the “great moderation” in finance. CHAPTER 6 Tell Them I Love (Some) Randomness Maxwell in Extremistan—Complicated mechanisms to feed a donkey—Virgil said to do it, and do it now The point of the previous chapter was that the risk properties of the first brother (the fragile bank employee) are vastly different from those of the second one (the comparatively antifragile artisan taxi driver).

Anecdotal knowledge and power of evidence: A reader, Karl Schluze, wrote: “An old teacher and colleague told me (between his sips of bourbon) ‘If you cut off the head of a dog and it barks, you don’t have to repeat the experiment.’ ” Easy to get examples: no lawyer would invoke an “N=1” argument in defense of a person, saying “he only killed once”; nobody considers a plane crash as “anecdotal.” I would go further and map disconfirmation as exactly where N=1 is sufficient. Sometimes researchers call a result “anecdotal” as a knee-jerk reaction when the result is exactly the reverse. Steven Pinker called John Gray’s pointing out the two world wars as counterevidence to his story of great moderation “anecdotal.” My experience is that social science people rarely know what they are talking about when they talk about “evidence.” BOOK III: A Nonpredictive View of the World Decision theorists teaching practitioners: To add more insults to us, decision scientists use the notion of “practical,” an inverse designation.


pages: 855 words: 178,507

The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood by James Gleick

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Ada Lovelace, Alan Turing: On Computable Numbers, with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem, Albert Einstein, AltaVista, bank run, bioinformatics, Brownian motion, butterfly effect, citation needed, Claude Shannon: information theory, clockwork universe, computer age, conceptual framework, crowdsourcing, death of newspapers, discovery of DNA, double helix, Douglas Hofstadter, en.wikipedia.org, Eratosthenes, Fellow of the Royal Society, Gödel, Escher, Bach, Henri Poincaré, Honoré de Balzac, index card, informal economy, information retrieval, invention of the printing press, invention of writing, Isaac Newton, Jacquard loom, Jacquard loom, Jaron Lanier, jimmy wales, John von Neumann, Joseph-Marie Jacquard, Louis Daguerre, Marshall McLuhan, Menlo Park, microbiome, Milgram experiment, Network effects, New Journalism, Norbert Wiener, On the Economy of Machinery and Manufactures, PageRank, pattern recognition, phenotype, pre–internet, Ralph Waldo Emerson, RAND corporation, reversible computing, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Simon Singh, Socratic dialogue, Stephen Hawking, Steven Pinker, stochastic process, talking drums, the High Line, The Wisdom of Crowds, transcontinental railway, Turing machine, Turing test, women in the workforce

.”♦ She explained the idea and the word this way: When I was a child, my mother used to read aloud to me from Percy’s Reliques, and one of my favorite poems began, as I remember: Ye Highlands and ye Lowlands, Oh, where hae ye been? They hae slain the Earl Amurray, And Lady Mondegreen. There the word lay, for some time. A quarter-century later, William Safire discussed the word in a column about language in The New York Times Magazine. Fifteen years after that, Steven Pinker, in his book The Language Instinct, offered a brace of examples, from “A girl with colitis goes by” to “Gladly the cross-eyed bear,” and observed, “The interesting thing about mondegreens is that the mishearings are generally less plausible than the intended lyrics.”♦ But it was not books or magazines that gave the word its life; it was Internet sites, compiling mondegreens by the thousands.

♦ “EVERY FORM IN WHICH A WORD”: “Writing the OED: Spellings,” Oxford English Dictionary, http://www.oed.com/about/writing/spellings.html (accessed 6 April 2007). ♦ “WHICH, WHILE IT WAS EMPLOYED IN THE CULTIVATION”: Samuel Johnson, preface to A Dictionary of the English Language (1755). ♦ WE POSSESS NOW A MORE COMPLETE DICTIONARY: John Simpson, ed., The First English Dictionary, 24. ♦ “WHAT I SHALL HEREAFTER CALL MONDEGREENS”: “The Death of Lady Mondegreen,” Harper’s Magazine, November 1954, 48. ♦ “THE INTERESTING THING ABOUT MONDEGREENS”: Steven Pinker, The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language (New York: William Morrow, 1994), 183. 4. TO THROW THE POWERS OF THOUGHT INTO WHEEL-WORK ♦ The original writings of Charles Babbage and, to a lesser extent, Ada Lovelace are increasingly accessible. The comprehensive, thousand-dollar, eleven-volume edition, The Works of Charles Babbage, edited by Martin Campbell-Kelly, was published in 1989.


pages: 460 words: 107,712

A Devil's Chaplain: Selected Writings by Richard Dawkins

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Albert Einstein, Alfred Russel Wallace, Buckminster Fuller, butterfly effect, Claude Shannon: information theory, complexity theory, Desert Island Discs, double helix, Douglas Hofstadter, epigenetics, experimental subject, Fellow of the Royal Society, gravity well, Necker cube, out of africa, phenotype, placebo effect, random walk, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Silicon Valley, stem cell, Stephen Hawking, Steven Pinker, the scientific method

Gould uses a human-chauvinistic definition of progress, measuring it in terms of complexity. This was why he was able to use parasites as ammunition against progress. Huxley’s tapeworms, using a parasite-centred definition of progress, see the point with opposite sign. A statistically minded swift would search in vain for evidence that a majority of evolutionary lineages show trends towards improved flying performance. Learned elephants, to borrow a pleasantry from Steven Pinker127, would ruefully fail to uphold the comforting notion that progress, defined as a driven elongation of the nose, is manifested by a statistical majority of animal lineages. This may seem a facetious point but that is far from my intention. On the contrary, it goes to the heart of my adaptationist definition of progress. This, to repeat, takes progress to mean an increase, not in complexity, intelligence or some other anthropocentric value, but in the accumulating number of features contributing towards whatever adaptation the lineage in question exemplifies.


pages: 358 words: 95,115

NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children by Po Bronson, Ashley Merryman

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affirmative action, Columbine, delayed gratification, desegregation, impulse control, index card, job satisfaction, lake wobegon effect, meta analysis, meta-analysis, randomized controlled trial, Steven Pinker, telemarketer, theory of mind

Jusczyk, “Infants’ Use of Synchronized Visual Information to Separate Streams of Speech,” Child Development, vol. 76, no. 3, pp. 598–613 (2005). Iger, Robert, Letter to Mark A. Emmert regarding press release concerning study on children’s language development and media viewing, Seattle Post-Intelligencer (Aug. 14, 2007). http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/local/327427_letter14ww.html Jackendoff, Ray, and Steven Pinker, “The Nature of the Language Faculty and Its Implications for Evolution of Language (Reply to Fitch, Hauser, and Chomsky),” Cognition, vol. 97, no. 2, pp. 211–225 (2005). Jusczyk, Peter W., “How Infants Begin to Extract Words from Speech,” Trends in Cognitive Sciences, vol. 3, no. 9, pp. 323–328 (1999). Kaplan, Peter S., Michael H. Goldstein, Elizabeth R. Huckeby, and Robin Panneton Cooper, “Habituation, Sensitization, and Infants’ Responses to Motherese Speech,” Developmental Psychobiology, vol. 28, no. 1, pp. 4S–57 (1995).


pages: 392 words: 104,760

Babel No More: The Search for the World's Most Extraordinary Language Learners by Michael Erard

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Asperger Syndrome, business process, business process outsourcing, call centre, complexity theory, European colonialism, pattern recognition, Skype, Steven Pinker, theory of mind

They said that there was no theoretical limit to the number of languages one could learn. Time, not cognition, seemed to be the limiting factor. “There’s really no limit to the human capacity for language except for things like having enough time to get enough exposure to the language,” said Suzanne Flynn, a psycholinguist at MIT who studies bilingualism and trilingualism. “It gets easier the more languages you know.” Harvard University psycholinguist Steven Pinker agreed. Asked if there is any theoretical reason someone couldn’t learn dozens of languages, he replied: “No theoretical reason I can think of, except eventually interference—similar kinds of knowledge can interfere with one another.” But there are real limits—ask hyperpolyglots themselves. Out of respect for Erik Gunnemark, I’ll count only the contemporary superlearners. Gunnemark, in a letter to Alexander, wrote that “if you read or hear that a certain person ‘can speak’ (or ‘speaks’) a large number of languages (for instance twenty or more) you should always be a little skeptical.”


pages: 349 words: 114,038

Culture & Empire: Digital Revolution by Pieter Hintjens

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4chan, airport security, anti-communist, anti-pattern, barriers to entry, Bill Duvall, bitcoin, blockchain, business climate, business intelligence, business process, Chelsea Manning, clean water, congestion charging, Corn Laws, correlation does not imply causation, cryptocurrency, Debian, Edward Snowden, failed state, financial independence, Firefox, full text search, German hyperinflation, global village, GnuPG, Google Chrome, greed is good, Hernando de Soto, hiring and firing, informal economy, invisible hand, James Watt: steam engine, Jeff Rulifson, Julian Assange, Kickstarter, M-Pesa, mutually assured destruction, Naomi Klein, national security letter, new economy, New Urbanism, Occupy movement, offshore financial centre, packet switching, patent troll, peak oil, pre–internet, private military company, race to the bottom, rent-seeking, reserve currency, RFC: Request For Comment, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Richard Stallman, Satoshi Nakamoto, security theater, Skype, slashdot, software patent, spectrum auction, Steve Crocker, Steve Jobs, Steven Pinker, Stuxnet, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, The Wisdom of Crowds, trade route, transaction costs, union organizing, web application, WikiLeaks, Y2K, zero day, Zipf's Law

The hero is not the one who escapes; he's the one who prevails. This is worth repeating because if cowardice were a successful strategy, it'd be sexy. The market is brutal about how it values genes with survival value. The hero in the zombie movie either stays and fights, or runs to save his family. Of course in most times and locations, life is not confrontational. Though we notice the wars, they are spaced with long periods of peace, and Steven Pinker has argued convincingly that over time society has become progressively more peaceful. The thing about violent confrontation is that it takes just one mistake to lose one's life. Peace is not risky, yet being too nice in a time of violence is the kind of mistake that wipes out entire genetic lines. I'd expect our genetic heritage to keep a knife-edge balance between too much and too little capacity for aggressive tribalism.


pages: 304 words: 88,773

The Ghost Map: A Street, an Epidemic and the Hidden Power of Urban Networks. by Steven Johnson

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call centre, clean water, correlation does not imply causation, Dean Kamen, double helix, edge city, germ theory of disease, Google Earth, Jane Jacobs, John Nash: game theory, John Snow's cholera map, lone genius, Louis Pasteur, megacity, mutually assured destruction, New Urbanism, nuclear winter, pattern recognition, peak oil, side project, Steven Pinker, Stewart Brand, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, the scientific method, trade route, unbiased observer, working poor

To the professors and friends who guided me then—Robert Scholes, Neil Lazarus, Franco Moretti, Steven Marcus, and the late Edward Said—thank you for steering me toward Broad Street with such intelligence and patience. I’m indebted to a number of people who read the manuscript and improved the book immensely with their thoughts and corrections: Carl Zimmer, Paul Miller, Howard Brody, Nigel Paneth, Peter Vinten-Johansen, and Tom Koch. A number of scholars were kind enough to comment on specific sections of the manuscript, or to answer my questions about the material: Sherwin Nuland, Steven Pinker, Ralph Frerichs, John Mekalanos, Sallie Patel, and Stewart Brand. My research assistant, Ivan Askwith, was once again an invaluable collaborator, as was Russell Davies, who came through with some last-minute additions from the streets (and libraries) of London. Whatever errors remain are mine alone. I’m grateful to the many libraries whose resources I drew on in my research: those of Harvard, MIT, and NYU, and the New York Public Library.


pages: 353 words: 91,520

Most Likely to Succeed: Preparing Our Kids for the Innovation Era by Tony Wagner, Ted Dintersmith

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affirmative action, Airbnb, Albert Einstein, Bernie Sanders, Clayton Christensen, David Brooks, en.wikipedia.org, Frederick Winslow Taylor, future of work, immigration reform, income inequality, index card, Jeff Bezos, jimmy wales, Khan Academy, Kickstarter, knowledge economy, knowledge worker, low skilled workers, Lyft, Mark Zuckerberg, means of production, new economy, pattern recognition, Paul Graham, Peter Thiel, Ponzi scheme, pre–internet, school choice, Silicon Valley, Skype, Steven Pinker, TaskRabbit, the scientific method, unpaid internship, Y Combinator

Yet the data remain clear that these assessments play to the strengths of kids raised in affluent (generally white and Asian) households.16 Average SAT Scores, by Race and Ethnicity, 2012 Group Reading Mathematics Writing American Indian 482 489 462 Asian American 518 595 528 Black 428 428 417 Mexican American 448 465 443 Puerto Rican 452 452 442 Other Latino 447 461 442 White 527 536 515 SAT: Student Affluence Test Average scores on each section of SAT (and combined) by parental income Sources: FairTest, College Board WSJ.COM17 As we’ve written elsewhere, we believe these patterns would evaporate if we had a way to test traits like resilience, resourcefulness, or perseverance.18 But, of course, you can’t rank-order character traits. So instead of focusing on characteristics that matter, we turn to narrow skills that can be tested. We’re a bit like the drunk who loses his keys at night in some distant location, but looks for them under a streetlight since it’s a place where he can see. And people who should know better, like Harvard professor of psychology Steven Pinker, argue that the sole criteria elite schools should use in selecting their incoming classes is standardized test performance.19 The standardized test industry has sprawled to include alternatives to the SAT (the ACT), subject-matter tests (AP, SAT subject tests), professional school admissions tests (LSAT, MCAT, GRE), and ubiquitous state standardized tests required by the No Child Left Behind Act—seeping into every nook and cranny of our schools.


pages: 317 words: 100,414

Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction by Philip Tetlock, Dan Gardner

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Affordable Care Act / Obamacare, Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, availability heuristic, Black Swan, butterfly effect, cloud computing, cuban missile crisis, Daniel Kahneman / Amos Tversky, desegregation, Edward Lorenz: Chaos theory, forward guidance, Freestyle chess, fundamental attribution error, germ theory of disease, hindsight bias, index fund, Jane Jacobs, Jeff Bezos, Mikhail Gorbachev, Mohammed Bouazizi, Nash equilibrium, Nate Silver, obamacare, pattern recognition, performance metric, place-making, placebo effect, prediction markets, quantitative easing, random walk, randomized controlled trial, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Richard Thaler, Robert Shiller, Robert Shiller, Ronald Reagan, Saturday Night Live, Silicon Valley, Skype, statistical model, stem cell, Steve Ballmer, Steve Jobs, Steven Pinker, the scientific method, The Signal and the Noise by Nate Silver, The Wisdom of Crowds, Watson beat the top human players on Jeopardy!

Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011), p. 209. 14. If you know cognitive psychology, you know that the heuristics-and-biases school of thought has not gone unchallenged. Skeptics are impressed by how stunningly accurately System 1 can perform. People automatically and seemingly optimally synthesize meaningless photons and sound waves into language we infuse with meaning (Steven Pinker, How the Mind Works, New York: Norton, 1997). There is dispute over how often System 1 heuristics lead us astray (Gerd Gigerenzer and Peter Todd, Simple Heuristics that Make Us Smart, New York: Oxford University Press, 1999) and how hard it is to overcome WYSIATI illusions via training or incentives (Philip Tetlock and Barbara Mellers, “The Great Rationality Debate: The Impact of the Kahneman and Tversky Research Program, Psychological Science 13, no. 5 [2002]: 94–99).


pages: 484 words: 104,873

Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future by Martin Ford

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3D printing, additive manufacturing, Affordable Care Act / Obamacare, AI winter, algorithmic trading, Amazon Mechanical Turk, artificial general intelligence, autonomous vehicles, banking crisis, Baxter: Rethink Robotics, Bernie Madoff, Bill Joy: nanobots, call centre, Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty, Chris Urmson, Clayton Christensen, clean water, cloud computing, collateralized debt obligation, computer age, debt deflation, deskilling, diversified portfolio, Erik Brynjolfsson, factory automation, financial innovation, Flash crash, Fractional reserve banking, Freestyle chess, full employment, Goldman Sachs: Vampire Squid, High speed trading, income inequality, indoor plumbing, industrial robot, informal economy, iterative process, Jaron Lanier, job automation, John Maynard Keynes: technological unemployment, John von Neumann, Khan Academy, knowledge worker, labor-force participation, labour mobility, liquidity trap, low skilled workers, low-wage service sector, Lyft, manufacturing employment, McJob, moral hazard, Narrative Science, Network effects, new economy, Nicholas Carr, Norbert Wiener, obamacare, optical character recognition, passive income, performance metric, Peter Thiel, Plutocrats, plutocrats, post scarcity, precision agriculture, price mechanism, Ray Kurzweil, rent control, rent-seeking, reshoring, RFID, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Rodney Brooks, secular stagnation, self-driving car, Silicon Valley, Silicon Valley startup, single-payer health, software is eating the world, sovereign wealth fund, speech recognition, Spread Networks laid a new fibre optics cable between New York and Chicago, stealth mode startup, stem cell, Stephen Hawking, Steve Jobs, Steven Levy, Steven Pinker, strong AI, Stuxnet, technological singularity, telepresence, telepresence robot, The Bell Curve by Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray, The Coming Technological Singularity, Thomas L Friedman, too big to fail, Tyler Cowen: Great Stagnation, union organizing, Vernor Vinge, very high income, Watson beat the top human players on Jeopardy!, women in the workforce

It might turn out that the essential catalyst for the Singularity—the invention of super-intelligence—ultimately proves impossible or will be achieved only in the very remote future.* A number of top researchers with expertise in brain science have expressed this view. Noam Chomsky, who has studied cognitive science at MIT for more than sixty years, says we’re “eons away” from building human-level machine intelligence, and that the Singularity is “science fiction.”8 Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker agrees, saying, “There is not the slightest reason to believe in a coming singularity. The fact that you can visualize a future in your imagination is not evidence that it is likely or even possible.”9 Gordon Moore, whose name seems destined to be forever associated with exponentially advancing technology, is likewise skeptical that anything like the Singularity will ever occur.10 Kurzweil’s timeframe for the arrival of human-level artificial intelligence has plenty of defenders, however.


pages: 370 words: 97,138

Beyond: Our Future in Space by Chris Impey

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3D printing, Admiral Zheng, Albert Einstein, Alfred Russel Wallace, Berlin Wall, Buckminster Fuller, butterfly effect, California gold rush, carbon-based life, Colonization of Mars, cosmic abundance, crowdsourcing, cuban missile crisis, dark matter, discovery of DNA, Doomsday Clock, Edward Snowden, Elon Musk, Eratosthenes, Haight Ashbury, Hyperloop, I think there is a world market for maybe five computers, Isaac Newton, Jeff Bezos, John von Neumann, Kickstarter, life extension, Mahatma Gandhi, Mars Rover, mutually assured destruction, Oculus Rift, operation paperclip, out of africa, Peter H. Diamandis: Planetary Resources, phenotype, purchasing power parity, RAND corporation, Ray Kurzweil, RFID, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman: Challenger O-ring, risk tolerance, Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, Searching for Interstellar Communications, Silicon Valley, skunkworks, Skype, Stephen Hawking, Steven Pinker, supervolcano, technological singularity, telepresence, telerobotics, the medium is the message, the scientific method, theory of mind, V2 rocket, wikimedia commons, X Prize, Yogi Berra

Elsewhere in Africa are several sites where complicated animal snares and traps were discovered. All three types of artifact date from about 80,000 years ago, and there are even earlier hints of abstract thinking. This evidence points to a gradual accumulation of knowledge, skills, and culture over several hundred thousand years, rather than a “Great Leap Forward.” Regardless of when we evolved these uniquely human capabilities, renowned psychologist Steven Pinker put his finger on a problem, the problem of why. He wonders, “Why do humans have the ability to pursue abstract intellectual feats such as science, mathematics, philosophy, and law, given that the opportunities to exercise these talents did not exist in the foraging lifestyle in which humans evolved, and would not have parlayed themselves into advantages in survival and reproduction even if they did?”


pages: 366 words: 87,916

Fluent Forever: How to Learn Any Language Fast and Never Forget It by Gabriel Wyner

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card file, crowdsourcing, en.wikipedia.org, index card, Kevin Kelly, Kickstarter, meta analysis, meta-analysis, pattern recognition, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Ronald Reagan, Skype, spaced repetition, Steve Jobs, Steven Pinker, Yogi Berra

Other linguists will point out that Europeans have made most linguistic observations, and that they’ve overlooked the tremendous diversity of non-European languages. If only they looked closer, they’d find hundreds of languages that defy the standard grammatical patterns. To fit all of these languages, we’d need language acquisition devices preprogrammed with an enormous amount of information. Perhaps kids are just good at inferring patterns. If you’d like to get a good feel for Chomsky’s side of the story, check out Steven Pinker’s wonderful book, The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language. New York: HarperPerennial, 2010. If you’d like to check out the other side of the debate, read Nicholas Evans and Stephen C. Levinson, “The Myth of Language Universals: Language Diversity and Its Importance for Cognitive Science,” Behavioral and Brain Sciences 32, no. 05 (2009): 429–448. 3 No amount of drilling a particular grammar rule … will enable a student to skip a developmental stage: Note that these developmental stages don’t prevent you from memorizing and using a few phrases with relatively advanced grammar.


pages: 295 words: 89,430

Small Data: The Tiny Clues That Uncover Huge Trends by Martin Lindstrom

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autonomous vehicles, Berlin Wall, big-box store, correlation does not imply causation, Edward Snowden, Fall of the Berlin Wall, land reform, Mikhail Gorbachev, Murano, Venice glass, Richard Florida, rolodex, self-driving car, Skype, Snapchat, Steve Jobs, Steven Pinker, too big to fail, urban sprawl

In no particular order I’d like to thank: Tony Tsieh, Jeff Weiner, Ryan Holmes, Deepak Chopra, Danny Sullivan, Tim Ferriss, Gary Vanyerchuk, Martin Shervington, Sarah Hill, Michelle Killebrew, Muhammad Yunus, David Edelman, Meg Whitman, Denis Labelle, Dr. Jane Goodall, Dharmesh Shah, Beth Comstock, Thomas Friedman, David Sable, Chris Brogan, Michael Hyatt, Jeff Bullas, Don Peppers, Charlene Li, Rand Fishkin, Pam Moore, Nicolas Bordas, Peter Shankman, Steven Pinker, Richard Florida, Mike Allton, Jay Baer, Brian Solis, Steve Rubel, Neil Patel, Mark Schaefer, Jonah Berger, Chad Dickerson, Josh Leibowitz, Erica Hill, Niall Ferguson, Lee Odden, Jonathan Becher, John Jantsch, Yifat Cohen, Robert Cialdini, Andrew Hunt, Matt Heinz, Joe Pulizzi, Joseph Stiglitz, Michael Brenner, Michael Gold, John Rampton, Shawn Collins, Chris Ducker, David Skok, John Lee Dumas, Lee Odden, Jonathan Salem Baskin, Brent Csutoras, Heidi Cohen, Bill Tancer, Anita Newton, Matthew Barby, Craig Rosenberg, Brian Massey, Jon Haidt, Tom Fishburne, Roger Dooley, Pamela Wilson.


pages: 1,104 words: 302,176

The Rise and Fall of American Growth: The U.S. Standard of Living Since the Civil War (The Princeton Economic History of the Western World) by Robert J. Gordon

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3D printing, Affordable Care Act / Obamacare, airline deregulation, airport security, Apple II, barriers to entry, big-box store, blue-collar work, Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty, clean water, collective bargaining, computer age, deindustrialization, Detroit bankruptcy, discovery of penicillin, Donner party, Downton Abbey, Edward Glaeser, en.wikipedia.org, Erik Brynjolfsson, everywhere but in the productivity statistics, feminist movement, financial innovation, full employment, George Akerlof, germ theory of disease, glass ceiling, high net worth, housing crisis, immigration reform, impulse control, income inequality, income per capita, indoor plumbing, industrial robot, inflight wifi, interchangeable parts, invention of agriculture, invention of air conditioning, invention of the telegraph, invention of the telephone, inventory management, James Watt: steam engine, Jeff Bezos, jitney, job automation, John Maynard Keynes: Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren, labor-force participation, Loma Prieta earthquake, Louis Daguerre, Louis Pasteur, low skilled workers, manufacturing employment, Mark Zuckerberg, market fragmentation, Mason jar, McMansion, Menlo Park, minimum wage unemployment, mortgage debt, mortgage tax deduction, new economy, Norbert Wiener, obamacare, occupational segregation, oil shale / tar sands, oil shock, payday loans, Peter Thiel, pink-collar, Productivity paradox, Ralph Nader, Ralph Waldo Emerson, refrigerator car, rent control, Robert X Cringely, Ronald Coase, school choice, Second Machine Age, secular stagnation, Skype, stem cell, Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, Steven Pinker, The Market for Lemons, Thomas Malthus, total factor productivity, transaction costs, transcontinental railway, traveling salesman, Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, Unsafe at Any Speed, Upton Sinclair, upwardly mobile, urban decay, urban planning, urban sprawl, washing machines reduced drudgery, Washington Consensus, Watson beat the top human players on Jeopardy!, We wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters, working poor, working-age population, Works Progress Administration, yield management

Homicide rates by state show a sharp geographical distribution, with New England joined by the northern states along the Canadian border west of Wisconsin all having very low homicide rates, while the highest rates were found in the southern tier of states, led by Louisiana.117 In 2007, African Americans were homicide victims at almost ten times the rate of whites, and both blacks and whites in the south were more violent than their counterparts in the north. Black-on-black homicides relative to white-on-white homicides in New York City rose from three times as many to thirteen times as many between 1850 and 1950. In Steven Pinker’s interpretation, democracy “came too early” to America, in contrast to Europe, where the state had long ago disarmed the people and acquired a monopoly on violence as a method of policing. The extreme was the American south, where a reliance on “self-help justice” to settle disputes and achieve retaliation was preferred to strong government-based policing. In turn, Pinker traces the southern culture back to the different origins of immigrants to the north and the south, where southerners in the mountainous frontier away from the coastal plantations mainly came from the Scotch-Irish, who arrived from the mountainous frontier of the British Isles.

The contribution of violence to mortality rates is today about an eighth that of accidents but still provides an integral perspective on Americans’ changing standards of living. The homicide rate exhibited cycles through the twentieth century, with peak rates between eight and ten per 100,000 population, both between 1921 and 1936 and again between 1970 and 1996 (see figure 7–8). The increase in murders in the 1970s and 1980s was accompanied by an increase in other less serious crimes, changing citizens’ perceptions of the world around them. Steven Pinker describes this change: The flood of violence from the 1960s through the 1980s reshaped American culture, the political scene, and everyday life. Mugger jokes became a staple of comedians, with mentions of Central Park getting an instant laugh as a well-known death trap. New Yorkers imprisoned themselves in their apartments with batteries of latches and deadbolts, including the popular “police lock,” a steel bar with one end anchored in the floor and the other propped against the door.


pages: 404 words: 134,430

Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time by Michael Shermer

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Albert Einstein, Alfred Russel Wallace, anesthesia awareness, anthropic principle, butterfly effect, cognitive dissonance, complexity theory, conceptual framework, correlation does not imply causation, cosmological principle, discovery of DNA, false memory syndrome, Gary Taubes, invention of the wheel, Isaac Newton, laissez-faire capitalism, life extension, Murray Gell-Mann, out of africa, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, Silicon Valley, Stephen Hawking, Steven Pinker, The Bell Curve by Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray, the scientific method, Thomas Kuhn: the structure of scientific revolutions

Because humans share a universal evolved architecture, all ordinary individuals reliably develop a distinctively human set of preferences, motives, shared conceptual frameworks, emotion programs, content-specific reasoning procedures, and specialized interpretation systems— programs that operate beneath the surface of expressed cultural variability, and whose designs constitute a precise definition of human nature. In his new book, How the Mind Works (W. W. Norton, 1997), Steven Pinker describes these specialized computational devices as "mental modules." The "module" is a metaphor, and is not necessarily located in a single spot in the brain, and should not be confused with the nineteenth century notion of phrenologists who allocated specific bumps on the head for specific brain functions. A module, says Pinker, "may be broken into regions that are interconnected by fibers that make the regions act as a unit."


pages: 696 words: 143,736

The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence by Ray Kurzweil

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Ada Lovelace, Alan Turing: On Computable Numbers, with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem, Albert Einstein, Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, Buckminster Fuller, call centre, cellular automata, combinatorial explosion, complexity theory, computer age, computer vision, cosmological constant, cosmological principle, Danny Hillis, double helix, Douglas Hofstadter, first square of the chessboard / second half of the chessboard, fudge factor, George Gilder, Gödel, Escher, Bach, I think there is a world market for maybe five computers, information retrieval, invention of movable type, Isaac Newton, iterative process, Jacquard loom, Jacquard loom, John von Neumann, Lao Tzu, Law of Accelerating Returns, mandelbrot fractal, Marshall McLuhan, Menlo Park, natural language processing, Norbert Wiener, optical character recognition, pattern recognition, phenotype, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Ray Kurzweil, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Schrödinger's Cat, Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, self-driving car, Silicon Valley, speech recognition, Steven Pinker, Stewart Brand, stochastic process, technological singularity, Ted Kaczynski, telepresence, the medium is the message, traveling salesman, Turing machine, Turing test, Whole Earth Review, Y2K

Bruce Bower, “Monkeys Sound Off, Move Out.” Science News 149, no. 17 (April 27, 1996): 269. 17 Washoe and Koko (male and female gorillas, respectively) are credited with acquiring American Sign Language (ASL). They are the most famous of the communicating primates. Viki, a chimpanzee, was taught to vocalize three words (mama, papa, and cup). Lana and Kanzi (female chimpanzees) were taught to press buttons with symbols.Steven Pinker reflects upon researchers’ claims that apes fully comprehend sign language. In The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language (New York: Morrow, 1994), he notes that the apes learned a very crude form of ASL, not the full nuances of this language. The signs they learned were crude mimics of the “real thing.” In addition, according to Pinker, the researchers often misinterpreted apes’ hand motions as actual signs.


pages: 598 words: 140,612

Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier by Edward L. Glaeser

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affirmative action, Andrei Shleifer, Berlin Wall, British Empire, Broken windows theory, carbon footprint, Celebration, Florida, clean water, congestion charging, declining real wages, desegregation, diversified portfolio, Edward Glaeser, endowment effect, European colonialism, financial innovation, Frank Gehry, global village, Guggenheim Bilbao, haute cuisine, Home mortgage interest deduction, James Watt: steam engine, Jane Jacobs, job-hopping, John Snow's cholera map, Mahatma Gandhi, McMansion, megacity, mortgage debt, mortgage tax deduction, New Urbanism, place-making, Ponzi scheme, Potemkin village, Ralph Waldo Emerson, rent control, RFID, Richard Florida, Rosa Parks, school vouchers, Seaside, Florida, Silicon Valley, Skype, smart cities, Steven Pinker, strikebreaker, the built environment, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, trade route, transatlantic slave trade, upwardly mobile, urban planning, urban renewal, urban sprawl, William Shockley: the traitorous eight, Works Progress Administration, young professional

Rising unemployment levels burden those services further, especially in the cities that are already poor. Yet our urban future remains bright. Even the Great Depression failed to dim big-city lights. The enduring strength of cities reflects the profoundly social nature of humanity. Our ability to connect with one another is the defining characteristic of our species. We grew as a species because we hunted in packs and shared our kills. Psychologist Steven Pinker argues that group living, the primitive version of city life, “set the stage for the evolution of humanlike intelligence.” We built civilizations and culture together, constantly learning from one another and from the past. New technologies from the book to Google have failed to change our fundamentally social nature. They’ve made it easier to learn some things without meeting face-to-face, but that hasn’t eliminated the extra edge that comes from interacting in person.


pages: 790 words: 150,875

Civilization: The West and the Rest by Niall Ferguson

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Admiral Zheng, agricultural Revolution, Albert Einstein, Andrei Shleifer, Atahualpa, Ayatollah Khomeini, Berlin Wall, BRICs, British Empire, clean water, collective bargaining, colonial rule, conceptual framework, Copley Medal, corporate governance, credit crunch, David Ricardo: comparative advantage, Dean Kamen, delayed gratification, Deng Xiaoping, discovery of the americas, Dissolution of the Soviet Union, European colonialism, Fall of the Berlin Wall, Francisco Pizarro, full employment, Hans Lippershey, haute couture, Hernando de Soto, income inequality, invention of movable type, invisible hand, Isaac Newton, James Hargreaves, James Watt: steam engine, John Harrison: Longitude, joint-stock company, Joseph Schumpeter, land reform, land tenure, Louis Pasteur, Mahatma Gandhi, market bubble, Martin Wolf, means of production, megacity, Mikhail Gorbachev, new economy, probability theory / Blaise Pascal / Pierre de Fermat, profit maximization, purchasing power parity, quantitative easing, rent-seeking, reserve currency, road to serfdom, Ronald Reagan, savings glut, Scramble for Africa, Silicon Valley, South China Sea, sovereign wealth fund, special economic zone, spice trade, spinning jenny, Steve Jobs, Steven Pinker, The Great Moderation, the market place, the scientific method, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, Thomas Kuhn: the structure of scientific revolutions, Thomas Malthus, Thorstein Veblen, total factor productivity, trade route, transaction costs, transatlantic slave trade, transatlantic slave trade, upwardly mobile, uranium enrichment, wage slave, Washington Consensus, women in the workforce, World Values Survey

A number of eminent historians generously read all or part of the manuscript in draft, as did a number of friends as well as former and current students: Rawi Abdelal, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Bryan Averbuch, Pierpaolo Barbieri, Jeremy Catto, J. C. D. Clark, James Esdaile, Campbell Ferguson, Martin Jacques, Harold James, Maya Jasanoff, Joanna Lewis, Charles Maier, Hassan Malik, Noel Maurer, Ian Morris, Charles Murray, Aldo Musacchio, Glen O’Hara, Steven Pinker, Ken Rogoff, Emma Rothschild, Alex Watson, Arne Westad, John Wong and Jeremy Yellen. Thanks are also due to Philip Hoffman, Andrew Roberts and Robert Wilkinson. All surviving errors are my fault alone. At Oxford University I would like to thank the Principal and Fellows of Jesus College, their counterparts at Oriel College and the librarians of the Bodleian. At the Hoover Institution, Stanford, I owe debts to John Raisian, the Director, and his excellent staff.


pages: 487 words: 151,810

The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement by David Brooks

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Albert Einstein, asset allocation, Atul Gawande, Bernie Madoff, business process, Cass Sunstein, choice architecture, clean water, Daniel Kahneman / Amos Tversky, David Brooks, delayed gratification, deliberate practice, disintermediation, Donald Trump, Douglas Hofstadter, Emanuel Derman, en.wikipedia.org, fear of failure, financial deregulation, financial independence, Flynn Effect, George Akerlof, Henri Poincaré, hiring and firing, impulse control, invisible hand, Joseph Schumpeter, labor-force participation, loss aversion, medical residency, meta analysis, meta-analysis, Monroe Doctrine, Richard Thaler, risk tolerance, Robert Shiller, Robert Shiller, school vouchers, six sigma, Steve Jobs, Steven Pinker, the scientific method, The Spirit Level, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, Thorstein Veblen, transaction costs, Walter Mischel, young professional

Sternberg and Karin Sternberg (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2006), 252. 37 Nearly a quarter of Americans Helen Fisher, Why We Love: The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love (New York: Henry Holt & Co., 2004), 5. 38 Craig MacAndrew and Robert B. Edgerton Craig MacAndrew and Robert B. Edgerton, Drunken Comportment: A Social Explanation (Clinton Corners, NY: Percheron Press, 2003). 39 couples having coffee Dacher Keltner, Born to Be Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., Inc., 2009), 195. 40 But if you bump Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature (New York: Penguin Books, 2002), 328. 41 Cities in the South Marc D. Hauser, Moral Minds: The Nature of Right and Wrong (New York: Harper Perennial, 2006), 134. 42 A cultural construct Guy Deutscher, “You Are What You Speak,” The New York Times Magazine, August 26, 2010, 44. 43 Her head was filled Douglas Hofstadter, I Am a Strange Loop (New York: Basic Books, 2007), 177. 44 They seem to be growing David Halpern, The Hidden Wealth of Nations (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2010), 76. 45 “Cultures do not exist” Thomas Sowell, Migrations and Cultures: A World View (New York: Basic Books, 1996), 378. 46 Haitians and Dominicans share Lawrence E.


pages: 462 words: 150,129

The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves by Matt Ridley

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23andMe, agricultural Revolution, air freight, back-to-the-land, banking crisis, barriers to entry, Bernie Madoff, British Empire, call centre, carbon footprint, charter city, clean water, cloud computing, cognitive dissonance, collateralized debt obligation, colonial exploitation, colonial rule, Corn Laws, credit crunch, David Ricardo: comparative advantage, decarbonisation, dematerialisation, demographic dividend, demographic transition, double entry bookkeeping, Edward Glaeser, en.wikipedia.org, everywhere but in the productivity statistics, falling living standards, feminist movement, financial innovation, Flynn Effect, food miles, Gordon Gekko, greed is good, Hans Rosling, happiness index / gross national happiness, haute cuisine, Hernando de Soto, income inequality, income per capita, Indoor air pollution, informal economy, invention of agriculture, invisible hand, James Hargreaves, James Watt: steam engine, Jane Jacobs, John Nash: game theory, joint-stock limited liability company, Joseph Schumpeter, Kevin Kelly, knowledge worker, Kula ring, Mark Zuckerberg, meta analysis, meta-analysis, mutually assured destruction, Naomi Klein, Northern Rock, nuclear winter, oil shale / tar sands, out of africa, packet switching, patent troll, Pax Mongolica, Peter Thiel, phenotype, Plutocrats, plutocrats, Ponzi scheme, Productivity paradox, profit motive, purchasing power parity, race to the bottom, Ray Kurzweil, rent-seeking, rising living standards, Silicon Valley, spice trade, spinning jenny, stem cell, Steve Jobs, Steven Pinker, Stewart Brand, supervolcano, technological singularity, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, Thorstein Veblen, trade route, transaction costs, ultimatum game, upwardly mobile, urban sprawl, Vernor Vinge, wage slave, working poor, working-age population, Y2K, Yogi Berra

They include: Bruce Ames, Terry Anderson, June Arunga, Ron Bailey, Nick Barton, Roger Bate, Eric Beinhocker, Alex Bentley, Carl Bergstrom, Roger Bingham, Doug Bird, Rebecca Bliege Bird, the late Norman Borlaug, Rob Boyd, Kent Bradford, Stewart Brand, Sarah Brosnan, John Browning, Erwin Bulte, Bruce Charlton, Monika Cheney, Patricia Churchland, Greg Clark, John Clippinger, Daniel Cole, Greg Conko, Jack Crawford, the late Michael Crichton, Helena Cronin, Clive Crook, Tony Curzon Price, Richard Dawkins, Tracey Day, Dan Dennett, Hernando de Soto, Frans de Waal, John Dickhaut, Anna Dreber, Susan Dudley, Emma Duncan, Martin Durkin, David Eagleman, Niall Ferguson, Alvaro Fischer, Tim Fitzgerald, David Fletcher, Rob Foley, Richard Gardner, Katya Georgieva, Gordon Getty, Jeanne Giaccia, Urs Glasser, Indur Goklany, Allen Good, Oliver Goodenough, Johnny Grimond, Monica Guenther, Robin Hanson, Joe Henrich, Dominic Hobson, Jack Horner, Sarah Hrdy, Nick Humphrey, Anya Hurlbert, Anula Jayasuriya, Elliot Justin, Anne Kandler, Ximena Katz, Terence Kealey, Eric Kimbrough, Kari Kohn, Meir Kohn, Steve Kuhn, Marta Lahr, Nigel Lawson, Don Leal, Gary Libecap, Brink Lindsey, Robert Litan, Bjørn Lomborg, Marcus Lovell-Smith, Qing Lu, Barnaby Marsh, Richard Maudslay, Sally McBrearty, Kevin McCabe, Bobby McCormick, Ian McEwan, Al McHughen, Warren Meyer, Henry Miller, Alberto Mingardi, Graeme Mitchison, Julian Morris, Oliver Morton, Richard Moxon, Daniel Nettle, Johann Norberg, Jesse Norman, Haim Ofek, Gerry Ohrstrom, Kendra Okonski, Svante Paabo, Mark Pagel, Richard Peto, Ryan Phelan, Steven Pinker, Kenneth Pomeranz, David Porter, Virginia Postrel, C.S. Prakash, Chris Pywell, Sarah Randolph, Trey Ratcliff, Paul Reiter, Eric Rey, Pete Richerson, Luke Ridley, Russell Roberts, Paul Romer, David Sands, Rashid Shaikh, Stephen Shennan, Michael Shermer, Lee Silver, Dane Stangler, James Steele, Chris Stringer, Ashley Summerfield, Ray Tallis, Dick Taverne, Janice Taverne, John Tooby, Nigel Vinson, Nicholas Wade, Ian Wallace, Jim Watson, Troy Wear, Franz Weissing, David Wengrow, Tim White, David Willetts, Bart Wilson, Jan Witkowski, Richard Wrangham, Bob Wright and last, but certainly not least, Paul Zak, who employed me as white-coated lab assistant for a day.


pages: 503 words: 131,064

Liars and Outliers: How Security Holds Society Together by Bruce Schneier

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airport security, barriers to entry, Berlin Wall, Bernie Madoff, Bernie Sanders, Brian Krebs, Broken windows theory, carried interest, Cass Sunstein, Chelsea Manning, corporate governance, crack epidemic, credit crunch, crowdsourcing, cuban missile crisis, Daniel Kahneman / Amos Tversky, David Graeber, desegregation, don't be evil, Double Irish / Dutch Sandwich, Douglas Hofstadter, experimental economics, Fall of the Berlin Wall, financial deregulation, George Akerlof, hydraulic fracturing, impulse control, income inequality, invention of agriculture, invention of gunpowder, iterative process, Jean Tirole, John Nash: game theory, joint-stock company, Julian Assange, meta analysis, meta-analysis, microcredit, moral hazard, mutually assured destruction, Nate Silver, Network effects, Nick Leeson, offshore financial centre, patent troll, phenotype, pre–internet, principal–agent problem, prisoner's dilemma, profit maximization, profit motive, race to the bottom, Ralph Waldo Emerson, RAND corporation, rent-seeking, RFID, Richard Thaler, risk tolerance, Ronald Coase, security theater, shareholder value, slashdot, statistical model, Steven Pinker, Stuxnet, technological singularity, The Market for Lemons, The Nature of the Firm, The Spirit Level, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, The Wisdom of Crowds, theory of mind, too big to fail, traffic fines, transaction costs, ultimatum game, UNCLOS, union organizing, Vernor Vinge, WikiLeaks, World Values Survey, Y2K

David Buss David M. Buss (2006), The Murderer Next Door: Why the Mind Is Designed to Kill, Penguin, 40. quite violent Steven A. LeBlanc and Katherine E. Register (2003), Constant Battles: Why We Fight, St. Martin's Press. David M. Buss (2006), The Murderer Next Door: Why the Mind Is Designed to Kill, Penguin. Bureau of Justice Statistics (1994), “Violent Crime,” U.S. Department of Justice. some argue Steven Pinker (2011), The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, Viking. kill in war Dave Grossman (1995), On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society, Little, Brown & Co. with other primates Lars Rodseth, Richard W. Wrangham, Alisa M. Harrigan, and Barbara B. Smuts (1991), “The Human Community as a Primate Society,” Current Anthropology, 32:221–54. Bruce M.


pages: 374 words: 114,660

The Great Escape: Health, Wealth, and the Origins of Inequality by Angus Deaton

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Admiral Zheng, agricultural Revolution, Branko Milanovic, BRICs, British Empire, call centre, clean water, colonial exploitation, Columbian Exchange, declining real wages, Downton Abbey, financial innovation, germ theory of disease, Gini coefficient, illegal immigration, income inequality, invention of agriculture, invisible hand, John Snow's cholera map, knowledge economy, Louis Pasteur, low skilled workers, new economy, purchasing power parity, randomized controlled trial, rent-seeking, rising living standards, Ronald Reagan, Simon Kuznets, Steve Jobs, Steven Pinker, structural adjustment programs, The Spirit Level, too big to fail, trade route, very high income, War on Poverty

The Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, www.eitc.org. 58. Kofi Annan, 2012, “Momentum rises to lift Africa’s resource curse,” New York Times, September 14, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/14/opinion/kofi-annan-momentum-rises-to-lift-africas-resource-curse.html?_r=0. POSTSCRIPT: WHAT COMES NEXT? 1. Jared Diamond, 2004, Collapse: How societies choose to fail or succeed, Viking. 2. Olson, Rise and decline of nations. 3. Steven Pinker, 2011, The better angels of our nature: Why violence has declined, Viking. 4. Kenny, Getting better. Index Page numbers for entries occurring in figures are followed by an f and those for entries in tables, by a t. AARP, 199 Acemoglu, Daron, 193, 216 advance market commitments, 321 Africa: commodity exports of, 286–87; democracy in, 304; economic growth in, 234–35, 283–84, 283f, 285–87, 328; foreign aid in, 284–86, 285f, 287–88, 296, 313; health care spending in, 120–21; health perceptions in, 122; heights in, 159, 161–62, 164; HIV/AIDS in, 25, 34, 40, 151, 154; life expectancies in, 108; mortality causes in, 151; population growth in, 250; poverty in, 46, 250, 251.


pages: 396 words: 117,149

The Master Algorithm: How the Quest for the Ultimate Learning Machine Will Remake Our World by Pedro Domingos

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3D printing, Albert Einstein, Amazon Mechanical Turk, Arthur Eddington, Benoit Mandelbrot, bioinformatics, Black Swan, Brownian motion, cellular automata, Claude Shannon: information theory, combinatorial explosion, computer vision, constrained optimization, correlation does not imply causation, crowdsourcing, Danny Hillis, data is the new oil, double helix, Douglas Hofstadter, Erik Brynjolfsson, experimental subject, Filter Bubble, future of work, global village, Google Glasses, Gödel, Escher, Bach, information retrieval, job automation, John Snow's cholera map, John von Neumann, Joseph Schumpeter, Kevin Kelly, lone genius, mandelbrot fractal, Mark Zuckerberg, Moneyball by Michael Lewis explains big data, Narrative Science, Nate Silver, natural language processing, Netflix Prize, Network effects, NP-complete, P = NP, PageRank, pattern recognition, phenotype, planetary scale, pre–internet, random walk, Ray Kurzweil, recommendation engine, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Second Machine Age, self-driving car, Silicon Valley, speech recognition, statistical model, Stephen Hawking, Steven Levy, Steven Pinker, superintelligent machines, the scientific method, The Signal and the Noise by Nate Silver, theory of mind, transaction costs, Turing machine, Turing test, Vernor Vinge, Watson beat the top human players on Jeopardy!, white flight

Convolutional neural networks, the current deep learning champion, are described in “Gradient-based learning applied to document recognition,”* by Yann LeCun, Léon Bottou, Yoshua Bengio, and Patrick Haffner (Proceedings of the IEEE, 1998). “The $1.3B quest to build a supercomputer replica of a human brain,” by Jonathon Keats (Wired, 2013), describes the European Union’s brain modeling project. “The NIH BRAIN Initiative,” by Thomas Insel, Story Landis, and Francis Collins (Science, 2013), describes the BRAIN initiative. Steven Pinker summarizes the symbolists’ criticisms of connectionist models in Chapter 2 of How the Mind Works (Norton, 1997). Seymour Papert gives his take on the debate in “One AI or Many?” (Daedalus, 1988). The Birth of the Mind, by Gary Marcus (Basic Books, 2004), explains how evolution could give rise to the human brain’s complex abilities. Chapter Five “Evolutionary robotics,” by Josh Bongard (Communications of the ACM, 2013), surveys the work of Hod Lipson and others on evolving robots.

The Panic Virus: The True Story Behind the Vaccine-Autism Controversy by Seth Mnookin

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Albert Einstein, AltaVista, British Empire, Cass Sunstein, cognitive dissonance, correlation does not imply causation, Daniel Kahneman / Amos Tversky, en.wikipedia.org, illegal immigration, index card, Isaac Newton, loss aversion, meta analysis, meta-analysis, mouse model, neurotypical, pattern recognition, placebo effect, Richard Thaler, Saturday Night Live, Solar eclipse in 1919, Stephen Hawking, Steven Pinker, the scientific method, Thomas Kuhn: the structure of scientific revolutions

The fact that for many people the threat of being afflicted with smallpox was not enough to overcome an innate resistance to having infected pus smeared on an open wound can likely be attributed in part to a phenomenon called the “disgust response.” In a 2001 paper, sociologists Valerie Curtis and Adam Biran speculated about a possible evolutionary explanation for what the cognitive scientist Steven Pinker has called human beings’ “intuitive microbiology”: “Bodily secretions such as feces, phlegm, saliva, and sexual fluids, as well as blood, wounds, suppuration, deformity, and dead bodies, are all potential sources of infection that our ancestors are likely to have encountered,” Curtis and Biran wrote. “Any tendency towards practices that prevented contact with, or incorporation of, parasites and pathogens would have carried an advantage for our ancestors.”6 Looked at from this perspective, it’s a testament to smallpox’s sheer hellishness that anyone willingly underwent the crude vaccination efforts of the early eighteenth century.


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Geek Heresy: Rescuing Social Change From the Cult of Technology by Kentaro Toyama

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Albert Einstein, Berlin Wall, Bernie Madoff, blood diamonds, Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty, Cass Sunstein, cognitive dissonance, computer vision, conceptual framework, delayed gratification, Edward Glaeser, en.wikipedia.org, epigenetics, Erik Brynjolfsson, Francis Fukuyama: the end of history, fundamental attribution error, germ theory of disease, global village, Hans Rosling, happiness index / gross national happiness, income inequality, invention of the printing press, invisible hand, Isaac Newton, Khan Academy, Kibera, knowledge worker, libertarian paternalism, M-Pesa, Mahatma Gandhi, Mark Zuckerberg, means of production, microcredit, mobile money, Nicholas Carr, North Sea oil, pattern recognition, Peter Singer: altruism, Peter Thiel, post-industrial society, randomized controlled trial, rent-seeking, RFID, Richard Florida, Richard Thaler, school vouchers, self-driving car, Silicon Valley, Simon Kuznets, Steve Jobs, Steven Pinker, technoutopianism, The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid, Upton Sinclair, Walter Mischel, War on Poverty, winner-take-all economy, World Values Survey, Y2K

I don’t mean to suggest that any significant part of the world is transcending into some sage-like state of pure altruism.48 Foreign aid programs have plenty of problems. And the desire for glory through activism can be just as strong as that for glory through wealth. Many activists put on a mantle of public service but still seek recognition or hero status.49 There are, however, hopeful signs. The recent rise of the creative class in the developed world is something never before seen. Gender disparities around the world are shrinking. And as psychologist Steven Pinker cataloged in his tour de force The Better Angels of Our Nature, rates of human violence have fallen across the long run of civilization.50 That more and more people are shifting their concerns to something other than corporate climbing, Wall Street riches, and selfish esteem suggests the dawn of a new aspiration. Further growth is possible, but it’s not assured. It’s not clear that a broadly compassionate world could ever be a reality.


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Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs by Johann Hari

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Airbnb, centre right, failed state, glass ceiling, illegal immigration, McJob, Naomi Klein, placebo effect, profit motive, RAND corporation, Ronald Reagan, science of happiness, Steven Pinker, traveling salesman, War on Poverty

., 142–43. 21 Clarke, Reign of Rothstein, 305. 22 Rothstein, Now I’ll Tell, 97. 23 Pietrusza, Rothstein, 198. 24 Daniel Okrent, The Rise and Fall of Prohibition, 221. 25 Jonnes, Hep-Cats, Narcs, and Pipe Dreams, 77. 26 Katcher, Big Bankroll, 238. 27 Valentine, Strength of the Wolf, 7. 28 Rothstein, Now I’ll Tell, 172. 29 Tosches, King of the Jews, 209. 30 Clarke, Reign of Rothstein, 5. 31 Ed Vuiliamy, Amexica, 4. 32 “Indict Arnold Rothstein: Charged With Shooting Two Detectives,” New York Times, June 7, 1919. 33 Tosches, King of the Jews, 288. Clarke, Reign of Rothstein, 6–7, 40–48. 34 Ibid., 52. 35 Rothstein, Now I’ll Tell, 130. 36 Pietrusza, Rothstein, 321. 37 Ibid., 323. 38 Reinarman and Levine, Crack in America, 68. Steven Pinker hints at this in his excellent book The Better Angels of Our Nature, in which he points out that “as drug trafficking has increased” in Jamaica, Mexico, and Colombia, “their rates of homicide have soared.” See page 89. Miller, Case for Legalizing Drugs, 67–68. 39 Clarke, Reign of Rothstein, 50. 39 Rothstein, Now I’ll Tell, 120. 40 Ibid., 34. 41 Ibid., 52. 42 Ibid., 34. 43 Ibid., 16. 44 Ibid., 31-3. 45 Katcher, Big Bankroll, 214. 46 Clarke, Reign of Rothstein, 32. 47 Ibid., 304. 48 Rothstein, Now I’ll Tell, 116. 49 Ibid., 238. 50 Ibid., 240. 51 Ibid., 241. 52 Ibid., 237. 53 Katcher, Big Bankroll, 1. 54 Sherwin D.


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Finance and the Good Society by Robert J. Shiller

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bank run, banking crisis, barriers to entry, Bernie Madoff, capital asset pricing model, capital controls, Carmen Reinhart, Cass Sunstein, cognitive dissonance, collateralized debt obligation, collective bargaining, computer age, corporate governance, Daniel Kahneman / Amos Tversky, Deng Xiaoping, diversification, diversified portfolio, Donald Trump, Edward Glaeser, eurozone crisis, experimental economics, financial innovation, full employment, fundamental attribution error, George Akerlof, income inequality, invisible hand, joint-stock company, Joseph Schumpeter, Kenneth Rogoff, land reform, loss aversion, Louis Bachelier, Mahatma Gandhi, Mark Zuckerberg, market bubble, market design, means of production, microcredit, moral hazard, mortgage debt, Occupy movement, passive investing, Ponzi scheme, prediction markets, profit maximization, quantitative easing, random walk, regulatory arbitrage, Richard Thaler, road to serfdom, Robert Shiller, Robert Shiller, Ronald Reagan, self-driving car, shareholder value, Sharpe ratio, short selling, Simon Kuznets, Skype, Steven Pinker, telemarketer, The Market for Lemons, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, Thorstein Veblen, too big to fail, Vanguard fund, young professional, Zipcar

But all these behaviors serve a common purpose as “bu ering mechanisms” to reconcile con icting interests. 14 De Waal wonders why patterns of limited aggression, in the context of the patterns of reconciliation that follow aggression, are not seen by more people today as a good thing, worthy of appreciation as promoting a stable and e ective society. Unfortunately, these patterns of aggression and reconciliation evolved in small groups, and they do not always function well on a national or international scale: human institutions must be built that exploit these behavior patterns in a constructive manner. Steven Pinker, in his 2011 book The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, reviews a number of studies showing that in the past few thousand years human society has evolved into one that makes better use of these built-in behavior patterns to reduce aggression, and that violence has dramatically subsided since the hunter-gatherer days of our species. He notes that the brain has built-in patterns of aggressiveness.


pages: 476 words: 148,895

Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation by Michael Pollan

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biofilm, bioinformatics, Columbian Exchange, correlation does not imply causation, dematerialisation, Drosophila, energy security, Gary Taubes, Hernando de Soto, Louis Pasteur, Mason jar, microbiome, peak oil, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Steven Pinker, women in the workforce

Thompson DUNCAN CAMPBELL-SMITH, Masters of the Post: The Authorized History of the Royal Mail COLIN MCEVEDY, Cities of the Classical World: An Atlas and Gazetteer of 120 Centres of Ancient Civilization HEIKE B. GÖRTEMAKER,Eva Braun: Life with Hitler BRIAN COX AND JEFF FORSHAW, The Quantum Universe: Everything that Can Happen Does Happen NATHAN D. WOLFE, The Viral Storm: The Dawn of a New Pandemic Age NORMAN DAVIES, Vanished Kingdoms: The History of Half-Forgotten Europe MICHAEL LEWIS, Boomerang: The Meltdown Tour STEVEN PINKER, The Better Angels of Our Nature: The Decline of Violence in History and Its Causes ROBERT TRIVERS, Deceit and Self-Deception: Fooling Yourself the Better to Fool Others THOMAS PENN, Winter King: The Dawn of Tudor England DANIEL YERGIN, The Quest: Energy, Security and the Remaking of the Modern World MICHAEL MOORE, Here Comes Trouble: Stories from My Life ALI SOUFAN, The Black Banners: Inside the Hunt for Al Qaeda JASON BURKE, The 9/11 Wars TIMOTHY D.


pages: 420 words: 143,881

The Blind Watchmaker; Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe Without Design by Richard Dawkins

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epigenetics, Eratosthenes, Fellow of the Royal Society, Menlo Park, pattern recognition, phenotype, random walk, silicon-based life, Steven Pinker

Helena Cronin’s beautifully written The Ant and the Peacock, and Matt Ridley’s equally clear The Red Queen would be bound to influence any rewriting of the chapter on sexual selection. Daniel Dennett’s Darwin’s Dangerous Idea would colour my historical and philosophical interpretations at all points, and his refreshing forthrightness would embolden my critical chapters. Mark Ridley’s magisterial Evolution would be an ever-open source of instruction for me and my readers. Steven Pinker’s The Language Instinct might have inspired me to tackle the subject of language from an evolutionary point of view, had he not already done it so well. The same applies to ‘Darwinian medicine’ were it not for Randolph Nesse and George Williams’s excellent book on the subject (albeit the title wished by the publishers upon the unfortunate authors is the perversely unhelpful ‘Why we get sick’).


pages: 405 words: 130,840

The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom by Jonathan Haidt

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crack epidemic, delayed gratification, feminist movement, Ignaz Semmelweis: hand washing, invisible hand, job satisfaction, Lao Tzu, meta analysis, meta-analysis, Peter Singer: altruism, placebo effect, prisoner's dilemma, Ralph Waldo Emerson, stem cell, Steven Pinker, telemarketer, the scientific method, ultimatum game, Walter Mischel

The cost of missing a cue that signals food is low; odds are that there are other fish in the sea, and one mistake won't lead to starvation. T h e cost of missing the sign of a nearby predator, however, can he catastrophic. G a m e over, end of the line for those genes. Of course, evolution has no designer, but minds created by natural selection end up looking (to us) as though they were designed b e c a u s e 11 icy generally produce behavior that is flexibly adaptive in their ecological niches. (See Steven Pinker12 on how natural selection designs without a designer.) S o m e commonalities of animal life even create similarities across species that we might call design principles. O n e such principle is that bad is stronger than good. R e s p o n s e s to threats and unpleasantnes s are faster, stronger, and harder to inhibit than responses to opportunities and pleasures. This principle, called "negativity bias,"13 shows up all over psychology.


pages: 565 words: 164,405

A Splendid Exchange: How Trade Shaped the World by William J. Bernstein

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Admiral Zheng, asset allocation, bank run, Benoit Mandelbrot, British Empire, call centre, clean water, Columbian Exchange, Corn Laws, David Ricardo: comparative advantage, deindustrialization, Doha Development Round, domestication of the camel, double entry bookkeeping, Eratosthenes, financial innovation, Gini coefficient, ice-free Arctic, imperial preference, income inequality, intermodal, James Hargreaves, John Harrison: Longitude, Khyber Pass, low skilled workers, non-tariff barriers, placebo effect, Port of Oakland, refrigerator car, Silicon Valley, South China Sea, South Sea Bubble, spice trade, spinning jenny, Steven Pinker, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, Thomas L Friedman, Thomas Malthus, trade liberalization, trade route, transatlantic slave trade, transatlantic slave trade, transcontinental railway, upwardly mobile, working poor

Baumol, "Productivity Growth, Convergence, and Welfare: What the Long-Run Data Show," The American Economic Review 76, no. 5 (December 1986): 1079. 17. Maddison, The World Economy, 363. 18. Denison, 262. 19. Those seeking a precise citation for this famous quotation will have difficulty. The sentiment permeates Bastiat's writings about trade but is never so succinctly stated. This phrasing may be the work of Cordell Hull, who was fond of quoting Bastiat. See Hull, The Memoirs of Cordell Hull, 1:363-365. 20. Steven Pinker, "A History of Violence," New Republic (March 19, 2007); World Health Organization, http://www.who.int/whr/2004/annex/topic/en/annex- 2-en.pdf, accessed March 28, 2007. 21. United States Census Bureau, "Historical Income Tables-People," http: //www.census.govlhhes/www/income/histinc/p05ar.html, accessed April 3, 2007. 22. Henry S. Farber, "What do we know about job loss in the United States?


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Bourgeois Dignity: Why Economics Can't Explain the Modern World by Deirdre N. McCloskey

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Admiral Zheng, agricultural Revolution, Albert Einstein, BRICs, British Empire, butterfly effect, Carmen Reinhart, clockwork universe, computer age, Corn Laws, dark matter, David Ricardo: comparative advantage, Donald Trump, Edward Lorenz: Chaos theory, European colonialism, experimental economics, financial innovation, Fractional reserve banking, full employment, George Akerlof, germ theory of disease, Gini coefficient, greed is good, Howard Zinn, income per capita, interchangeable parts, invention of agriculture, invention of air conditioning, invention of writing, invisible hand, Isaac Newton, James Watt: steam engine, John Maynard Keynes: technological unemployment, John Snow's cholera map, joint-stock company, Joseph Schumpeter, Kenneth Rogoff, knowledge economy, means of production, Naomi Klein, New Economic Geography, New Urbanism, purchasing power parity, rent-seeking, road to serfdom, Robert Gordon, Ronald Coase, Ronald Reagan, Scientific racism, Scramble for Africa, Shenzhen was a fishing village, Simon Kuznets, Slavoj Žižek, spinning jenny, Steven Pinker, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, Thorstein Veblen, too big to fail, total factor productivity, transaction costs, tulip mania, union organizing, Upton Sinclair, urban renewal, V2 rocket, very high income, working poor, World Values Survey, Yogi Berra

It was still influential after the Great War. It yielded then in places like Norway, Sweden, and the United States programs of compulsory sterilization which survived even their methodical application in Germany, 1933-1945, coming to an end only during the 1970s — by then three generations of imbecilic if scientific social policy were enough. But recently the eugenic idea has revived, as in the works of Steven Pinker and now Gregory Clark, greeted with enthusiasm by science journalists with a short historical memory and a weak grasp of social ethics. It introduces into the modern debate between status and contract a third possibility, genes. The eugenic reasoning declares that people are not what the society says they are (their status) or what they are able to arrange by persuading each other (their contract).

The Science of Language by Noam Chomsky

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Alan Turing: On Computable Numbers, with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem, Alfred Russel Wallace, British Empire, Brownian motion, dark matter, Drosophila, epigenetics, finite state, Howard Zinn, phenotype, statistical model, stem cell, Steven Pinker, theory of mind

Oxford: Oxford University Press. Hirsh-Pasek, Kathy and Roberta Golinkoff (1996) The Origins of Grammar: Evidence From Early Language Comprehension. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Hornstein, Norbert (2005) “Empiricism and Rationalism as Research Strategies.” In McGilvray (2005a), pp. 145–163. Hornstein, Norbert and Louise Antony (2003) Chomsky and His Critics. Oxford: Blackwell. Jackendoff, Ray and Steven Pinker (2005) “The Nature of the Language Faculty and Its Implications for the Evolution of Language.” Cognition 97: 211–25. Jacob, François (1977) “Darwinism Reconsidered.” Le Monde, Sept. 1977, pp. 6–8. Jacob, François (1980) The Statue Within. New York: Basic Books. Jacob, François (1982) The Possible and the Actual. New York: Pantheon. Jenkins, Lyle (2000) Biolinguistics: Exploring the Biology of Language.


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The omnivore's dilemma: a natural history of four meals by Michael Pollan

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additive manufacturing, back-to-the-land, clean water, cognitive dissonance, Community Supported Agriculture, double entry bookkeeping, Gary Taubes, Haber-Bosch Process, index card, informal economy, invention of agriculture, means of production, new economy, Steven Pinker, the scientific method, transaction costs, Upton Sinclair, Whole Earth Catalog

(Curiously, the one bodily fluid of other people that doesn't disgust us is the one produced by the human alone: tears. Consider the sole type of used tissue you'd be willing to share.) Disgust is an extremely useful adaptation, since it prevents omnivores from ingesting hazardous bits of animal matter: rotten meat that might carry bacterial toxins or infected bodily fluids. In the words of Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker, "Disgust is intuitive microbiology." Yet helplful as it is, our sense of taste is not a completely adequate guide to what we can and cannot eat. In the case of plants, for instance, it turns out that some of the bitterest ones contain valuable nutrients, even useful medicines. Long before the domestication of plants (a process in which we generally selected for nonbitterness), early humans developed various other tools to unlock the usefulness of these foods, either by overcoming their defenses or overcoming our own aversion to how they taste.


pages: 829 words: 186,976

The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail-But Some Don't by Nate Silver

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airport security, availability heuristic, Benoit Mandelbrot, Berlin Wall, Bernie Madoff, big-box store, Black Swan, Broken windows theory, Carmen Reinhart, Claude Shannon: information theory, Climategate, Climatic Research Unit, cognitive dissonance, collapse of Lehman Brothers, collateralized debt obligation, complexity theory, computer age, correlation does not imply causation, Credit Default Swap, credit default swaps / collateralized debt obligations, cuban missile crisis, Daniel Kahneman / Amos Tversky, diversification, Donald Trump, Edmond Halley, Edward Lorenz: Chaos theory, en.wikipedia.org, equity premium, Eugene Fama: efficient market hypothesis, everywhere but in the productivity statistics, fear of failure, Fellow of the Royal Society, Freestyle chess, fudge factor, George Akerlof, haute cuisine, Henri Poincaré, high batting average, housing crisis, income per capita, index fund, Internet Archive, invention of the printing press, invisible hand, Isaac Newton, James Watt: steam engine, John Nash: game theory, John von Neumann, Kenneth Rogoff, knowledge economy, locking in a profit, Loma Prieta earthquake, market bubble, Mikhail Gorbachev, Moneyball by Michael Lewis explains big data, Monroe Doctrine, mortgage debt, Nate Silver, new economy, Norbert Wiener, PageRank, pattern recognition, pets.com, prediction markets, Productivity paradox, random walk, Richard Thaler, Robert Shiller, Robert Shiller, Rodney Brooks, Ronald Reagan, Saturday Night Live, savings glut, security theater, short selling, Skype, statistical model, Steven Pinker, The Great Moderation, The Market for Lemons, the scientific method, The Signal and the Noise by Nate Silver, The Wisdom of Crowds, Thomas Kuhn: the structure of scientific revolutions, too big to fail, transaction costs, transfer pricing, University of East Anglia, Watson beat the top human players on Jeopardy!, wikimedia commons

I will start by buying the first beer for anybody on this list, and the first three for anybody who should have been, but isn’t. —Nate Silver Brooklyn, NY NOTES INTRODUCTION 1. The Industrial Revolution is variously described as starting anywhere from the mid-eighteenth to the early nineteenth centuries. I choose the year 1775 somewhat arbitrarily as it coincides with the invention of James Watt’s steam engine and because it is a nice round number. 2. Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined (New York: Viking, Kindle edition, 2011); locations 3279–3282. 3. Much of the manuscript production took place at monasteries. Belgium often had among the highest rates of manuscript production per capita because of its abundant monasteries. Relieved of their need to produce manuscripts, a few of these monasteries instead began to shift their focus to producing their wonderful Trappist beers.


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Why the West Rules--For Now: The Patterns of History, and What They Reveal About the Future by Ian Morris

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Admiral Zheng, agricultural Revolution, Albert Einstein, anti-communist, Arthur Eddington, Atahualpa, Berlin Wall, British Empire, Columbian Exchange, conceptual framework, cuban missile crisis, defense in depth, demographic transition, Deng Xiaoping, discovery of the americas, Doomsday Clock, en.wikipedia.org, falling living standards, Flynn Effect, Francisco Pizarro, global village, hiring and firing, indoor plumbing, invention of agriculture, Isaac Newton, James Watt: steam engine, knowledge economy, market bubble, Menlo Park, Mikhail Gorbachev, mutually assured destruction, New Journalism, out of africa, Peter Thiel, phenotype, pink-collar, place-making, purchasing power parity, RAND corporation, Ray Kurzweil, Ronald Reagan, Scientific racism, Silicon Valley, Sinatra Doctrine, South China Sea, special economic zone, Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, Steven Pinker, strong AI, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, Thomas Kuhn: the structure of scientific revolutions, Thomas L Friedman, Thomas Malthus, trade route, upwardly mobile, wage slave, washing machines reduced drudgery

Like the largest-brained species of several kinds of animals (whether we are talking about bees, dolphins, parrots, or our closest relatives, apes), humans seem to clump together instinctively. We are sociable. Maybe big-brained animals got this way because they were smart enough to see that groups have more eyes and ears than individuals and do better at spotting enemies. Or maybe, some evolutionists suggest, living in groups came before big brains, starting what the brain scientist Steven Pinker calls a “cognitive arms race” in which those animals that figured out what other animals were thinking—keeping track of friends and enemies, of who shared and who didn’t—outbred those whose brains were not up to the task. Either way, we have evolved to like one another, and our ancestors chose to exploit Earth’s movement up the Great Chain of Energy by forming bigger permanent groups. By 12,500 BCE it was no longer unusual to find forty or fifty people living together within the Lucky Latitudes, and some groups passed the hundred mark.