This book offers a colossal synthesis of history, biology, philosophy, psychology and neurophysiology. Surprisingly, the latter is the least plausible region of the book (we still know too little about the brain). But by mixing historical facts and evolutionary theories and using a bit of logical thinking, Pinker comes up with great insights into human nature. Pinker synthesizes the work of (literally) hundreds of thinkers and researchers and draws his own original conclusions.
Doc Searls makes a great talk on the State of the Net in which he explains how we are reaching the personal data cloud. And also how, also this time, like in the past, with computers, mainframe, networks, mobiles, the corporate world is trying to control those data. And in doing so they limit their usefulness. What gets built outside always becomes more valuable than what is being built inside. Inevitably ending to support those corporations prefer to interface with what is outside than build their own walled gardens.
Most of the world’s genetic diversity lies in viruses. The longest living beings are bacteria. No wonder that these microscopic organisms kill more humans than any other dangerous animal. (Technicalities: viruses are not form of lives, since they cannot replicate without a host cell; bacteria are living organisms, perfectly able to replicate on their own, but they are limited to one cell).
Ultimately, the most structured society will be a society in which every action has to comply with some rules, i.e. its citizens will de facto be robots with no brains. Why does brain/mind want to get rid of brain/mind?
The moment one argues in favor of liberalizing drugs people accuse him of being a drug addict: i have not drugs, do not do drugs and do not intend to do drugs. I care for my brain. Just like i do not smoke because i care for my lungs and i do not eat junk food because i care for my heart.
The Missing Mutation: Are We Really Smarter than our Ancestors? Several innovations that happened in the Neolithic seem to provide no advantage and sometimes create problems instead of solving them. About 10,000 years ago the burial ritual lasted a lifetime and the living were supposed to give offerings to the dead that were not valuable. At some point the burial ritual became much simpler but the living were supposed to give offerings to the dead that were valuable (e.g., food at times of starvation). Neither attitude makes a lot of sense from a materialistic viewpoint: what is the adaptive advantage of wasting goods and food for dead people? At the same time the cult of the dead moved from underground to aboveground (temples, pyramids), again an incredible waste of resources.
Historians, scientists and poets alike have written that the human being strives for the infinite. In the old days this meant that it strives to become one with the god who created and rules the world. As atheism began to make strides, Schopenhauer rephrased the concept as a “will to power”. Nietzsche confirmed that god is dead, and the search for “infinite” became a mathematical and scientific program instead of a mystical one. Russell, Hilbert and others started a logical program that basically aimed at making it easy to prove and discover everything that can be.
The impact of technological progress on jobs has been the topic of countless books: most of them are forgotten because they were so wrong about it. Predicting the future has always been a lucrative business (Delphi’s Oracle, Nostradamus, George Orwell), but rarely a science. If all of them had been right, today we would all be unemployed and, in fact, extinct. Instead, guess what: humans are wealthier than ever in history, the world has never been so peaceful and we all buy machines by the millions. Pistono’s book is the refreshing exception: no, we are not doomed. That, per se, is a good reason to read it.
Is the World Wide Web and modern technology… replacing the human mind? Knowledge today is not a set of theories, but instead just Data, and the machine is a better place to store data than the human mind.
The democratic revolutions of the Middle East (Tunisia, Yemen, Egypt, Libya and now Syria) actually started in Iran in 2009 when supporters of opposition leader Mir Hossein Moussavi protested loudly against rigged elections “won” by incumbent president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Iran’s foreign minister dismissed Israeli threats of an imminent attack against its nuclear facilities because such a “stupid act” would provoke “very severe consequences.” But there are several reasons why an Israeli attack is more likely than ever.
There are alternatives to democracy… is the West too quick to dismiss and demonize them? Is democracy truly the best system, or does it just happens to be the one promoted by the current world power (the USA) and its allies (Western Europe), i.e. by the countries that control 60% of the world’s economy?
It was said that it takes at least a decade to figure out the effects of a major war. It probably takes a lot longer. It took a few decades to figure out that Britain had lost its empire by winning World War II and only now are we beginning to see that Germany was not defeated after all.
An armed madman, James Holmes, walked into a movie theater armed with weapons that any Islamic terrorist would love to have and killed 12 people. The difference between this madman and an Islamic terrorist is simple: this madman lives in a country in which it is legal to own a gun, and in fact it is encouraged.
There is widespread consensus among economists and politicians that the Eurozone needs to do more in order to help the countries that cannot repay their debts (that’s what it is, in simple words). Historians beg to disagree.
Asian economies managed to progress from starvation in the 1960s to the top tier of development and wealth. In 1981 East Asia had the highest poverty rate in the world, higher than Africa. In 2011 two of the top three economies in the world were from East Asia, and very soon they might have three out of four including the number one.
There is one country in the world that in December 2011 was keeping 97 journalists in prison, and it is not mainland China. It is a country with just a fraction of China’s population: Turkey. Turkey also ranks among the countries that exerts the strictest censorship of the World-wide Web: one million websites are banned in Turkey (including mine, http://www.scaruffi.com).