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

Columbine, double helix, epigenetics, experimental subject, Gödel, Escher, Bach, James Watt: steam engine, l'esprit de l'escalier, lateral thinking, pattern recognition, phenotype, social intelligence, Steven Pinker, theory of mind, zero-sum game

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.

contemplation conversation group humor in internal irrelevant detours in laughter and processing of silent stilted with loved ones corpus callosum cortex auditory cingulate motor prefrontal sensory stimulation of thalamus link to visual corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF) cortisol cranium cravings crying cyclic AMP Damasio, Antonio danger avoidance of borderline sense of consciousness of, seefear Darwin, Charles Dawkins, Richard daydreaming deafness death drive decisions: rational unconscious depression Diamond, Jared divided self concept DMT DNA Donoghue, John dopamine Doppler radar images dorsal striatum Dostoyevsky, Feodor dreams drugs addiction to antistress “bad trip” paranoia and endogenous exogenous mood-altering narcotic overdosing on painkiller psychedelic recreational war on Duchenne de Boulogne, Guillaume Benjamin Amand Dungeons and Dragons ears inner musical training of Edelman, Gerald education EEGs EEG Spectrum ego Ekman, Paul electricity electric shock integrating other stimuli with electrodes email Emergency, Emory University emotions: chemical changes and eyes and expression of limbic system and memory and numbering of primary vs. secondary “rationality” vs. recognition and evaluation of remote study of subjugation of triggers of understanding of wide range of see also moods; 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: 239 words: 80,319

Lurking: How a Person Became a User by Joanne McNeil

4chan, A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace, Ada Lovelace, Airbnb, AltaVista, Amazon Mechanical Turk, Burning Man, Chelsea Manning, Chris Wanstrath, citation needed, cloud computing, crowdsourcing, delayed gratification, dematerialisation, don't be evil, Donald Trump, drone strike, Edward Snowden, Elon Musk, feminist movement, Firefox, Google Earth, Google Glasses, Google Hangouts, helicopter parent, Internet Archive, invention of the telephone, Jeff Bezos, jimmy wales, l'esprit de l'escalier, Marc Andreessen, Mark Zuckerberg, Marshall McLuhan, means of production, Menlo Park, moral panic, move fast and break things, move fast and break things, Network effects, packet switching, PageRank, pre–internet, profit motive, QAnon, recommendation engine, Saturday Night Live, Shoshana Zuboff, Silicon Valley, slashdot, Snapchat, social graph, Stephen Hawking, Steve Jobs, Steven Levy, Stewart Brand, technoutopianism, Ted Nelson, Tim Cook: Apple, trade route, Turing complete, We are the 99%, web application, white flight, Whole Earth Catalog

The increase of information about myself that I documented through the internet did not correspond with an increase in moments that were significant to me. Writing and photographing grew less precious and deliberate. I spun my existence into digital content in an act that was a way to preserve memories as much as it was a way to communicate with others and extinguish loneliness. It is either that there are no feelings of l’esprit de l’escalier on the internet or that the internet is all staircase wit. Social media on mobile had a different tempo and friction as users documented in the moment, rather than retrospectively. Posts to Instagram and Twitter were on the go, rather than composed with a moment of reflection. The formality of communication online went away; posting was no longer deliberate, like essay-writing, but casual, even when it wasn’t temporary.


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

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, commoditize, complexity theory, crowdsourcing, David Heinemeier Hansson, 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, Ronald Reagan, Skype, Social Responsibility of Business Is to Increase Its Profits, starchitect, statistical model, Stephen Hawking, Steve Jobs, Steven Pinker, Thales of Miletus, theory of mind, Thomas Bayes, Turing machine, Turing test, Von Neumann architecture, Watson beat the top human players on Jeopardy!, zero-sum game

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.


This Is Life by Dan Rhodes

l'esprit de l'escalier

She reflected that if Herbert really had been a rubber trial baby, she would have lost points for taking him outside bare-headed. Monsieur Simoneaux had missed a trick there – the built-in thermometer would have recorded her mistake. While she waited for the bus to come she felt her way through the baby’s bag in search of his hat, which she put on his head. As she did so, she was haunted by l’esprit de l’escalier: she would have saved a lot of bother if she hadn’t hidden Herbert from Old Widow Peypouquet, and had just told her that she was looking after the baby for a friend who was out of town for a few days. It would have made a lot more sense. The bus came, and they struggled on. It was still too early for the shops to be open, but she was going to head for Le Marais anyway. She wanted to get Herbert some slightly more normal outfits than yesterday’s effort, and she knew there were some children’s boutiques around there.


pages: 385 words: 121,550

Three Years in Hell: The Brexit Chronicles by Fintan O'Toole

airport security, banking crisis, Berlin Wall, blockchain, Bob Geldof, Boris Johnson, British Empire, centre right, cognitive dissonance, congestion charging, deindustrialization, deliberate practice, Dominic Cummings, Donald Trump, Double Irish / Dutch Sandwich, Downton Abbey, Etonian, eurozone crisis, facts on the ground, Fall of the Berlin Wall, first-past-the-post, full employment, income inequality, l'esprit de l'escalier, labour mobility, late capitalism, open borders, Slavoj Žižek, South China Sea, technoutopianism, zero-sum game

There are people who don’t know what has happened and who, even if they did know, would not care. We know, we care and we have a right to say that we should be left alone to get on with the long process of accepting each other. 13 August 2019 Knowing how to make a grand entrance is all very well but, as the Brexit saga reminds us, the ability to make a dignified exit is even more important. There is a lovely French phrase, l’esprit de l’escalier, that signifies the moment at the bottom of the staircase when you think of what you should have said as you were leaving. The Brexiteers have not yet decided what it is they should have said before the decision to depart was made in June 2016. The words of Captain Lawrence Oates as he left the tent to walk into the blizzard near the bitter end of Robert Falcon Scott’s doomed expedition to the South Pole, seem to be as much as they can manage: we are going out now, and we may be some time.


Science Fictions: How Fraud, Bias, Negligence, and Hype Undermine the Search for Truth by Stuart Ritchie

Albert Einstein, anesthesia awareness, Bayesian statistics, Carmen Reinhart, Cass Sunstein, citation needed, Climatic Research Unit, cognitive dissonance, complexity theory, coronavirus, correlation does not imply causation, COVID-19, Covid-19, crowdsourcing, deindustrialization, Donald Trump, double helix, en.wikipedia.org, epigenetics, Estimating the Reproducibility of Psychological Science, Growth in a Time of Debt, Kenneth Rogoff, l'esprit de l'escalier, meta analysis, meta-analysis, microbiome, Milgram experiment, mouse model, New Journalism, p-value, phenotype, placebo effect, profit motive, publication bias, publish or perish, race to the bottom, randomized controlled trial, recommendation engine, rent-seeking, replication crisis, Richard Thaler, risk tolerance, Ronald Reagan, Scientific racism, selection bias, Silicon Valley, Silicon Valley startup, Stanford prison experiment, statistical model, stem cell, Steven Pinker, Thomas Bayes, twin studies, University of East Anglia

I’ve even published a ‘candidate gene’ study, using a method that I’ll lay into in Chapter 5. See Stuart J. Ritchie et al., ‘Alcohol Consumption and Lifetime Change in Cognitive Ability: A Gene × Environment Interaction Study’, AGE 36, no. 3 (June 2014): 9638; https://doi.org/10.1007/s11357-014-9638-z. I’ve also almost definitely engaged in hype: I’ve had several conversations about science with journalists where I’ve been too loose with language or, in l’esprit d’escalier fashion, I’ve later regretted not adding important cautions and caveats. And I’ve made the mistake of arguing that ‘there are hundreds of published, peer-reviewed papers on this topic’, as if that was some indicator of truth. And talking of peer review, there have certainly been occasions where I haven’t given a paper that I’m reviewing the time it deserves and might inadvertently have allowed errors to slip through.


pages: 662 words: 180,546

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

"Robert Solow", Alvin Roth, 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, business cycle, capital controls, Carmen Reinhart, Cass Sunstein, central bank independence, cognitive dissonance, collapse of Lehman Brothers, collateralized debt obligation, complexity theory, constrained optimization, creative destruction, credit crunch, Credit Default Swap, credit default swaps / collateralized debt obligations, crony capitalism, dark matter, David Brooks, David Graeber, debt deflation, deindustrialization, do-ocracy, 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, information asymmetry, invisible hand, Jean Tirole, joint-stock company, Kenneth Arrow, Kenneth Rogoff, Kickstarter, knowledge economy, l'esprit de l'escalier, labor-force participation, liberal capitalism, liquidity trap, loose coupling, manufacturing employment, market clearing, market design, market fundamentalism, Martin Wolf, money market fund, Mont Pelerin Society, moral hazard, mortgage debt, Naomi Klein, Nash equilibrium, night-watchman state, Northern Rock, Occupy movement, offshore financial centre, oil shock, Pareto efficiency, Paul Samuelson, payday loans, Philip Mirowski, 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, Vilfredo Pareto, 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: 687 words: 204,164

Back to Blood by Tom Wolfe

Bonfire of the Vanities, deskilling, Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, fear of failure, Honoré de Balzac, illegal immigration, industrial robot, l'esprit de l'escalier

:::::: That kind of crude language Magdalena ordinarily didn’t allow even inside her head. But she was in the throes of Why didn’t I, that dreadful interlude when you’re walking upstairs to go to bed or speeding madly down Collins Avenue—after the party is over—and now you think of the comebacks you should have made… to obliterate that bastard who kept scoring points off you in conversation at dinner this evening… not that Magdalena knew the term l’esprit de l’escalier, but she was living it right now… furiously, uselessly ransacking her brain. Sergei was in such good spirits, he never noticed how silent and sunken in thought Magdalena was… and now he was off on the subject of Flebetnikov, the Russian who had invited them to the party they were heading for, at his mansion, estate, palace on Star Island—you really couldn’t give it too grand a name… and hadn’t she noticed that every Russian in Miami who lived in a big house was called an “oligarch”?


pages: 1,034 words: 241,773

Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress by Steven Pinker

3D printing, access to a mobile phone, affirmative action, Affordable Care Act / Obamacare, agricultural Revolution, Albert Einstein, Alfred Russel Wallace, anti-communist, Anton Chekhov, Arthur Eddington, artificial general intelligence, availability heuristic, Ayatollah Khomeini, basic income, Berlin Wall, Bernie Sanders, Black Swan, Bonfire of the Vanities, business cycle, capital controls, Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty, carbon footprint, clean water, clockwork universe, cognitive bias, cognitive dissonance, Columbine, conceptual framework, correlation does not imply causation, creative destruction, crowdsourcing, cuban missile crisis, Daniel Kahneman / Amos Tversky, dark matter, decarbonisation, deindustrialization, dematerialisation, demographic transition, Deng Xiaoping, distributed generation, diversified portfolio, Donald Trump, Doomsday Clock, double helix, effective altruism, Elon Musk, en.wikipedia.org, end world poverty, endogenous growth, energy transition, European colonialism, experimental subject, Exxon Valdez, facts on the ground, Fall of the Berlin Wall, first-past-the-post, Flynn Effect, food miles, Francis Fukuyama: the end of history, frictionless, frictionless market, germ theory of disease, Gini coefficient, Hans Rosling, hedonic treadmill, helicopter parent, Hobbesian trap, humanitarian revolution, Ignaz Semmelweis: hand washing, income inequality, income per capita, Indoor air pollution, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), invention of writing, Jaron Lanier, Joan Didion, job automation, Johannes Kepler, John Snow's cholera map, Kevin Kelly, Khan Academy, knowledge economy, l'esprit de l'escalier, Laplace demon, life extension, long peace, longitudinal study, Louis Pasteur, Martin Wolf, mass incarceration, meta analysis, meta-analysis, Mikhail Gorbachev, minimum wage unemployment, moral hazard, mutually assured destruction, Naomi Klein, Nate Silver, Nathan Meyer Rothschild: antibiotics, Nelson Mandela, New Journalism, Norman Mailer, nuclear winter, obamacare, open economy, Paul Graham, peak oil, Peter Singer: altruism, Peter Thiel, precision agriculture, prediction markets, purchasing power parity, Ralph Nader, randomized controlled trial, Ray Kurzweil, rent control, Republic of Letters, Richard Feynman, road to serfdom, Robert Gordon, Rodney Brooks, rolodex, Ronald Reagan, Rory Sutherland, Saturday Night Live, science of happiness, Scientific racism, Second Machine Age, secular stagnation, self-driving car, sharing economy, Silicon Valley, Silicon Valley ideology, Simon Kuznets, Skype, smart grid, sovereign wealth fund, stem cell, Stephen Hawking, Steven Pinker, Stewart Brand, Stuxnet, supervolcano, technological singularity, Ted Kaczynski, The Rise and Fall of American Growth, the scientific method, The Signal and the Noise by Nate Silver, The Spirit Level, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, The Wisdom of Crowds, Thomas Kuhn: the structure of scientific revolutions, Thomas Malthus, total factor productivity, union organizing, universal basic income, University of East Anglia, Unsafe at Any Speed, Upton Sinclair, uranium enrichment, urban renewal, War on Poverty, We wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters, women in the workforce, working poor, World Values Survey, Y2K

The student’s ingenuous tone made it clear that she was neither suicidal nor sarcastic but genuinely curious about how to find meaning and purpose if traditional religious beliefs about an immortal soul are undermined by our best science. My policy is that there is no such thing as a stupid question, and to the surprise of the student, the audience, and most of all myself, I mustered a reasonably creditable answer. What I recall saying—embellished, to be sure, by the distortions of memory and l’esprit de l’escalier, the wit of the staircase—went something like this: In the very act of asking that question, you are seeking reasons for your convictions, and so you are committed to reason as the means to discover and justify what is important to you. And there are so many reasons to live! As a sentient being, you have the potential to flourish. You can refine your faculty of reason itself by learning and debating.


pages: 1,079 words: 321,718

Surfaces and Essences by Douglas Hofstadter, Emmanuel Sander

affirmative action, Albert Einstein, Arthur Eddington, Benoit Mandelbrot, Brownian motion, 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, Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, Silicon Valley, statistical model, Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, theory of mind, upwardly mobile, urban sprawl, yellow journalism, zero-sum game

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.