l'esprit de l'escalier

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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

You’re listening to your libertarian friend roll through his usual routine about the brilliance of Ayn Rand, and then all of a sudden he announces his support for progressive taxation. Or you think you’ve mastered the basics of evolutionary theory, and then someone makes a passing reference to some subfield of Darwinian thought that you’ve never encountered-spandrels, say, or the prisoner’s dilemma. Your brain suddenly stands at attention: “Hey, what was that?” You can see this mechanism captured in the wonderful French expression l’esprit d’escalier-literally, “the wit of the staircase”-that the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations defines as follows: “An untranslatable phrase, the meaning of which is that one only thinks on one’s way downstairs of the smart retort one might have made in the drawing room.” We haven’t thought of the smart retort in the drawing room because the barb we’re responding to surprised us, caught us off guard. We have plenty of good retorts handy for predictable comments; it’s the ones that come out of the blue that perplex us.

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specific emotions empathy encoding audio reverse visual visual, endogenous chemicals endorphins natural high of painkilling effects of energy enkephalins environments adaptation to internal predator-rich epilepsy EST estrogens eugenics evolution brain love and see also psychology, evolutionary exercise: memory mental weight training expressions happy memorizing of reading of Expressions of the Emotions in Man and Animals, The (Darwin) extrasensory perception (ESP) extroversion eyebrows eye-reading test eyes communication with emotion expressed through gleams in information received through movement of reading of studying images of see also gaze monitoring; vision faces: contortion of expressions on neurological damage of reading and study of recognition of Fallahpour, Kamran fear alert clarity in amygdala and bodily response to brain pathways of conditioning of genetic origins of memories of personal history and rational vs. irrational sound and triggers of “working through” Feldt, Ken feminism fight-or-flight response fingerprints flashbacks flying, fear of focus/execute skills Fouts, Roger free associations Freud, Sigmund core concepts of influence of works of Freudian slips frontal lobe “Funes the Memorious” (Borges) GABA Garcia, Sergio gaze monitoring genes genius, musical glucocortocoid glucose glutamate glycogen Godard, Jean-Luc Golden Bowl, The (James) golf Google Gould, Stephen Jay grins suppression of guilt hallucinogens Hamburger, Victor hand gestures happiness smiling and laughing as signs of Harvard University head injuries hearing heart rate acceleration of regulation Hebb, Donald Hebbian learning hedonism heights, fear of heroin hippocampus Hirsch, Joy hormones sex stress see also specific hormones HPA system human species: biology of shared characteristics of as social primates struggles and drives of survival and reproduction of humor in conversation dark laughter and see also jokes Huxley, Aldous hyperventilation hypothalamus hysterics id ideas identity crisis imagination imaging technologie see also specific technologies immune system antibodies Impressionism incest incestuous amplification Insel, Tom insomnia inspiration instincts bonding decisions made by gut feeling high speed corridors of protective sexual social tending intelligence Internet introspection intuition IQs testing of irritation James, Henry James, William jealousy Johnson, Samuel jokes response to Jokes and Their Relationship to the Unconscious (Freud) Kafka, Franz Kandel, Eric Keats, John Klein, Robert Kramer, Peter language brain and female skills in music and origins of processing of written see also speech laughter contagiousness of conversation and evolution of humor and social instinct of uncontrollable Laughter: A Scientific Investigation (Provine) “law of seven,” learning: amygdala and conditioned experience and Hebbian synaptic LeDoux, Joseph l’esprit d’escalier light limbic system Listening to Prozac (Kramer) lithium logic long-decay theory Lou Gehrig’s disease love bonding and capacity for chemistry of evolution and falling in gazes of romantic sex and smiling and transformative power of uniqueness of LSD McGaugh, James Maclean, Paul magic magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) manic-depression Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, The (Sacks) marijuana Marx, Karl Maryland, University of mathematical skills Matrix, The mechanical systems Mechanism of the Human Physiognomy (Duchenne de Boulogne) medial frontal gyrus meditation deep transcendental Memento memory, memories aging and amygdala and blocked formulation of childhood “chunking” data and declarative emotions and encoding and enhanced of fear flashbulb forming of lapses of long-term muscle novelty and surprise recorded in number of pain perception of present and photographic procedural reactivating and rewriting of reliving of repression of short-term, loss of social spatial storage of stress and testing of trace transformative nature of traumatic working memory game mental illness migraines Miller, George mind: distracted states of exercise of illusions and tricks of opening of perceptiveness of mindblindness mind-expansion movements mind reading emotional expression recognition and evaluation of self and others in eye-reading and impairment of literary example of quantifying skills of simulation theory of transformative power of mirrors miscarriage modules monkeys monogamy mood congruity moods blue changes of electrochemical triggers of perception of morphine Morrison, Van motion detection mouths Mrs.


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!

The smaller database limited Ultra Hal’s range of responses, but improved the speed of those responses. In Medeksza’s view, speed proved the decisive factor. “[Cleverbot’s larger database] actually seemed to be a disadvantage,” he told an interviewer after the event. “It sometimes took [Cleverbot] a bit long to answer a judge as the computer [couldn’t] handle that amount of data smoothly.” I think of the great French idiom l’esprit de l’escalier, “staircase wit,” the devastating verbal comeback that occurs to you as you’re walking down the stairs out of the party. Finding the mot juste a minute too late is almost like not finding it at all. You can’t go “in search of” the mot juste or the bon mot. They ripen and rot in an instant. That’s the beauty of wit. It’s also the beauty of life. Computability theory is staircase wit. Complexity theory—satisficing, the timely answer, as correct as possible—is dialogue.


pages: 662 words: 180,546

Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste: How Neoliberalism Survived the Financial Meltdown by Philip Mirowski

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Andrei Shleifer, asset-backed security, bank run, barriers to entry, Basel III, Berlin Wall, Bernie Madoff, Bernie Sanders, Black Swan, blue-collar work, Bretton Woods, Brownian motion, capital controls, Carmen Reinhart, Cass Sunstein, central bank independence, cognitive dissonance, collapse of Lehman Brothers, collateralized debt obligation, complexity theory, constrained optimization, credit crunch, Credit Default Swap, credit default swaps / collateralized debt obligations, crony capitalism, dark matter, David Brooks, David Graeber, debt deflation, deindustrialization, Edward Glaeser, Eugene Fama: efficient market hypothesis, experimental economics, facts on the ground, Fall of the Berlin Wall, financial deregulation, financial innovation, Flash crash, full employment, George Akerlof, Goldman Sachs: Vampire Squid, Hernando de Soto, housing crisis, Hyman Minsky, illegal immigration, income inequality, incomplete markets, invisible hand, Jean Tirole, joint-stock company, Kenneth Rogoff, knowledge economy, l'esprit de l'escalier, labor-force participation, liquidity trap, loose coupling, manufacturing employment, market clearing, market design, market fundamentalism, Martin Wolf, Mont Pelerin Society, moral hazard, mortgage debt, Naomi Klein, Nash equilibrium, night-watchman state, Northern Rock, Occupy movement, offshore financial centre, oil shock, payday loans, Ponzi scheme, precariat, prediction markets, price mechanism, profit motive, quantitative easing, race to the bottom, random walk, rent-seeking, Richard Thaler, road to serfdom, Robert Shiller, Robert Shiller, Ronald Coase, Ronald Reagan, savings glut, school choice, sealed-bid auction, Silicon Valley, South Sea Bubble, Steven Levy, technoutopianism, The Chicago School, The Great Moderation, the map is not the territory, The Myth of the Rational Market, the scientific method, The Wisdom of Crowds, theory of mind, Thomas Kuhn: the structure of scientific revolutions, Thorstein Veblen, Tobin tax, too big to fail, transaction costs, War on Poverty, Washington Consensus, We are the 99%, working poor

Many people who rushed to read them in 2009–10 have ended up feeling less informed than before they started. Furthermore, as if that weren’t bad enough, no one volunteers to relive a nightmare; what they want is to be rousted back to the comforts of consciousness. The latter-day appeal of these crisis books seems to have become limited to those who harbor a penchant for crunch porn. By 2012, it seems most people had begun to tune out most serious discussions, and flee the tsunami of l’esprit de l’escalier. There was a short interlude when editorial cartoonists and TV comedians tried to turn the whole thing into a joke, portraying how buffoon bankers bemoaned that the restive public just could not understand that they were the only ones who could clean up the godawful mess they had made, and proved petulant and unrepentant when Uncle Sam unloaded truckloads of money to pay them to do just that.


pages: 1,079 words: 321,718

Surfaces and Essences by Douglas Hofstadter, Emmanuel Sander

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affirmative action, Albert Einstein, Arthur Eddington, Benoit Mandelbrot, Brownian motion, Chance favours the prepared mind, cognitive dissonance, computer age, computer vision, dematerialisation, Donald Trump, Douglas Hofstadter, Ernest Rutherford, experimental subject, Flynn Effect, Georg Cantor, Gerolamo Cardano, Golden Gate Park, haute couture, haute cuisine, Henri Poincaré, Isaac Newton, l'esprit de l'escalier, Louis Pasteur, Mahatma Gandhi, mandelbrot fractal, Menlo Park, Norbert Wiener, place-making, Silicon Valley, statistical model, Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, theory of mind, upwardly mobile, urban sprawl

The French speaker might even start, at about this stage of the game, to feel a frustrating sense of French’s “vacuum” in this part of conceptual space, not unlike the slight sense of vacuum created by the lack of a familiar phrase corresponding to English’s “sour grapes”. Here, we would like to even up the score by giving English speakers the chance to experience the just-described feeling of vacuum, and to do so we will cite a typical French idiomatic phrase, often attributed to the philosopher Denis Diderot, that has no good English counterpart (and of course this one isn’t unique; there are hundreds of others) — namely, “avoir l’esprit d’escalier”. What does this mean? Well, translated literally (in the manner of Jean-Loup Chiflet’s books), it means “to have the spirit of staircase”, but as an idiom it basically means “to come up with the ideal retort to an annoying remark right after one has left the party and is heading down the stairs”. In other words, to put it a bit more pithily, “to have staircase wit”. Although it is a frustrating thing to find the perfect parry only when it no longer counts, it is also a fairly widespread phenomenon in life, and so you would think that the famously rich English language would offer its speakers a stock expression that gets efficiently at this notion, but no.