Some people are highly motivated. They will curate their information sources and follow whoever provides the most value. That will likely include some independent writers (maybe “good” ones or maybe “bad” ones).
But most people aren’t all that motivated. They just want to get information quickly and go live their lives. So they get their information in three ways:
~ “Dynomight” from, https://dynomight.net/copypasta/
Whenever “the Internet” comes up (including discussion of anything that runs via the Internet, without the Internet itself getting a specific mention) I trot out this handy aphorism: The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing us that anything related to the Internet was easy to understand. In this article, the anon-/epon-ymous “Dynomight” goes deep into why the mainstream (read: online media platforms that gets all the traffic) winds up being this solidly middling quality of content. To get there, there’s a deep dive involving tourists finding restaurants and a you-must-not-miss mention of Gell-Mann amnesia.
“The problem is…”, is such a great phrase. When I hear it, I begin to smile. Unless I just said it, in which case I twitch and remind myself that the really hard part [of anything you want to discuss] is defining exactly what the problem is. A well-defined problem is such a difficult and rare thing. And here’s a fun article from “Dynomight” that plays with just how hard it is to figure out what the problem actually is, Candidate Final Bosses.
Just to be clear: We’re talking about “final boss”, as in the video game context meaning of the phrase. In the classic, journey-of-adventure towards some goal, video game, things get harder and harder and harder until… you have to face the final boss, in the final battle.
After all, why do you want to marry someone hot? Evolution made you that way because hotness is a proxy for good genetics. Your genes want you to reproduce with someone hot so that you will produce lots of kids (who will have lots of kids). Your parents care who you marry because evolution tuned them to help you reproduce your genes (which are also their genes).
~ “Dynomight” from, https://dynomight.net/hotness/
I truly love when someone does the deep dive trying to figure out “people.” Or dating or marrying or mating… somewhere there’s a popcorn meme. You know, where something is about to happen, and you just know it’s going to be an entertaining train-wreck— wait, why would a train-wreck be entertaining. Let’s go with: …and you just know it’s going to be entertaining to see someone learn just how complicated people are.
Reminder: “Love ya’! You’re one in a million!” …implies there are 8,000 other, equally awesome people that are interchangeable. Although I’d argue you should probably cut that in half based on biological distribution of gender. So, yes, you’re one of 4,000 . . . fine. Fine! I’m heading for the guest room.
However—fourth—over the last century there’s a huge relationship between how rich a country is and the variance in growth. The richest countries have low variance: They all stubbornly keep growing at around the same 1 or 2%. However, middle-income countries vary enormously.
~ “Dynomight” from, https://dynomight.net/gdp/
There’s several different interesting threads in this article. But this point about variance leapt out at me. I’m reminded of how just the other day, a piece about statistics that I mentioned was talking about variance (if you clicked through and read the article.) Variance feels like a sort of second-order thinking that I probably should be doing more often.
Here’s something I’ve noticed about myself: If I read something great, I’ll sometimes write a short comment like “This was amazing, you’re the best!” Then I’ll stare at it for 10 seconds and decide that posting it would be lame and humiliating, so I delete it go about my day. But on the rare occasions that I read something that triggers me, I get a strong feeling that I have important insights. Assuming that I’m not uniquely broken in this way, it explains a lot.
~ “Dynomight” from, https://dynomight.net/internet-writing/
I too have this tendency. In recent years I’ve been actively working on my own version of “See something. Say something.” as part of my changes to achieve results. My version is that nice things must be said out loud. No more sitting on the positive thoughts; Yes, I need to squish my incessant critical commentary. Dial that down, please. But I also need to practice letting out the good stuff too. Nice shirt. Smooth movement. This food is delicious. It’s so insanely comfortable here. Thank you for making this come together. If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.
You’ve probably heard this scenario before. It originally comes from Derek Parfit’s 1984 book Reasons and Persons, where he actually answers the question. (Though you may not like the answer.) To answer it, he has to go though a set of even weirder scenarios. Here’s most of them, edited aggressively.
~ “Dynomight” from, https://dynomight.net/no-self/
This article turns a number of complicated thought experiments into a disorienting dash through a hall of mirrors. I’ve not read Parfit’s book, but I’ve encountered these sorts of thought experiments before. On one hand I’m drawn to thinking about them because I feel I should be able to have some foundational, (although not necessarily simple,) principles that I can use to answer them. Which is a working definition of, “I want to be rational.” Until I start really digging into the experiments and things get really complicated. Why, it’s as if being a limited-in-resources mind forced to interact with in an intractably complex world, may not be something with a clear, correct, let alone singular, solution.
It’s the relative appeal of the two paths that determines which one you take. You can equalize these by improving the intended path (making public transit better), obstructing the desire path (making driving worse), or a combination.
~ “Dynomight” from, https://dynomight.net/paths/
This article starts with a simple concept and then iteratively goes far into the weeds to see where else it can be applied. I love minds which explore that way. I have so many habits, idiosyncrasies, and ancient brain quirks that it’s a miracle I ever get anything done. Everything figuratively within my reach is wearing down and coming undone, (entropy wins in the end.) I’ll take any opportunity—as this article suggests—to tip things towards my desired path.
In democracies, policies are correlated with public opinion, but why? The obvious explanation is that people choose representatives, and those representatives give them what they want. But maybe the causal arrow points in the other direction—maybe elites choose policies, and the public gradually figures that since that’s how things are, it must be right.
~ “Dynomight” from, https://dynomight.net/death-penalty/
The death penalty is usually a third-rail—touching it means instant, well, death to reasonable discussion. In this case, the death penalty happens to be a rare topic for which good data exists, and is one upon which nearly everyone has a strong opinion. That combination enables the discussion in that article. It’s not about the death penalty being right, wrong, good, nor bad. Rather, the discussion is asking: Who indeed is really in charge in a democracy.
Since around 2009, methamphetamines have been made with phenylacetone (P2P). Is there a chemical different causing schizophrenia?
~ “Dynomight” from, https://dynomight.net/p2p-meth/
As I was reading those two sentences, my world was just fine… until that very last word. I was ready for death, overdose, addiction, and there are probably a dozen more words that I don’t expect would fit there, but which wouldn’t make me go, “wait wat?” So i started reading…
I quickly realized this article is basically the science behind Breaking Bad. There’s also an enormous amount of “this is not good” information in there. For example, an apparently exponential-function graph of deaths is never a good thing. There’s also a bit of industrial chemistry, and a large scale sewerage treatment plant data collection . . . well, it’s worth the read.
What I learned from reading about writing…
~ “Dynomight” from, https://dynomight.net/2021/02/07/writing-as-a-craft/
This was a fun read and is mostly not the usual titles one sees suggested to read on writing. Among many things, I am a writer. I enjoy learning what appears—in others’ view—to be the right way to do things. The more I read, write, and read on writing, the more I’m convinced it’s just like any other mastery practice: The only rule is that there really are no real rules. Understand the best, accepted practices, (often labeled “rules” to get the newbies to start in the correct direction,) and then later move on to do whatever you please.
I don’t know if you like parties. I don’t know if you’re organized or punctual. But I bet you don’t like rotting smells or long swims in freezing water. That is to say: People are different, but only in certain ways. What’s the difference?
~ “Dynomight” from, https://dynomight.net/better-personalities/
This article is about personality types, and it goes down the rabbit hole, (in a good way.) We’ve all learned about the theory of evolution, and there are countless examples where it’s used to explain—or at least to try to imagine—how some specific feature of ourselves came to be so.
Way down in that article he mentions in passing that we—us, the people—might not currently be in equilibrium with the current selection pressures. This was a startling thought for me. Evolution can be fast—a gene mutation leading to a significant change in one generation—but I’ve always had the impression that it is most often slow and steady. I’ve always imagined a big-ship with a small-rudder metaphor. And I’ve always had the impression that who we are genetically, (the big ship) has its rudder set for straight-ahead. I’ve imagined that at some point in our distant past, selection pressures made us who we are as a species, and that was then. This is now, when we’ve been on a stable, no-changes evolutionary course for all of recorded history.
What if, let’s say around the time of the invention of the transistor and computers, the social pressures changed drastically. That is to say: Suppose that introduced a major change in the rudder’s position? Suppose we, the big ship with the big pile of DNA-encoded information, are right in the middle of a slow course change. What if right now, important and noticeable features of our biology and psychology are being strongly differentially selected?
Do conversations have known best practices? How much do they improve the odds of landing on the truth?
~ “Dynomight” from, https://dynomight.net/2020/09/29/doing-discourse-better-stuff-i-wish-i-knew/
I hate this terrific article. It’s completely stuffed with great ideas and great questions… and exactly zero answers. It starts talking about the particular type of conversation where two people acting benevolently are trying to find the truth about something under discussion. (Here I snicker at all of humanity, and myself, because we’ve been having conversations for like a gazillion years and we don’t yet know how to do it well.) It then narrows down to discussing just online conversations. Said narrowing feels like a great idea because there are a lot of online conversations and it feels like something we should be able to be good at. (Again here, snickering is warranted.) Anyway, at least some people are trying. Maybe, just maybe this is the epoch we get it sorted out?
That even though we evolved as ruthless replication machines, we’ve somehow risen out of the muck and we currently find ourselves running cultural software that’s way out of sync with what game theory would dictate, and perhaps we can seize the moment and build a civilization that can tame the brutal dynamics that created us.
~ “Dynomight” from, https://dynomight.net/about.html
Eliding a long explanation, I’ll just say: I hope that’s still accessible by the time you read this. Also, my normal routine is to bookmark stuff and to later—often much later—write a blog post around it. But not this time. This one caused me to drop what I was doing and blog about it… before even having finished reading it.
You’ll instantly see (once you go there… why are you still here?) why it appeals to me. You’ll be way ahead of the average level of science knowledge if you just skim the list. But the big take-away for me is: It’s not at all hard to find things to be thankful for, and I don’t just mean insanely technical things like that which are on that list. No, I mean…
All you have to do is look around, and start imagining changes. Completely realistic changes. Small changes even. And every single thing that we think, “oh, that’s nice,” becomes something to be thankful for.