Featured Note
evolution (14)

Why does learning about evolution often lead to life-affirming conclusions. When Darwin's Origin of the Species came out, people read into it an obvious purpose. They saw a never-ending passing-on of DNA as a contest for the survival of the fittest. Alas, everything we do is ultimately for the survival of the species! Survive, increase your intelligence, get stronger, have better children, create Supermen.

But what the Red Queen hypothesis shows is that many of the things we read into that make us "better" are ultimately founded on patterns that are life-dis-affirming. For example, human intelligence is actually just ornateness for impressing mates, similar to the way peacock feathers are for impressing mates. i.e. it's somewhat random or it's part of a runaway arms race. Survival of the fittest implies a contest with nature, Red Queen implies a contest with each other. We wouldn't have to do so many of these things if we weren't so busy destroying each other and competing for scarce resources.

Which goes to show that if a biological conclusion is inherently life-affirming, perhaps it's incomplete, not a good conclusion, or simply not science.

- Phil Dhingra
New Notes
finances (1)

Financial skills in one class don't transfer from one to the other. The skills that enable you to move from the lower-class to the middle-class won't necessarily get you from the middle-class to the upper-middle class. For example, let's say that in order to get to the middle-class, you focused on your studies and lived within your means. You listened to adults, such as your counselors, who urged you to consider going to a good school. You didn't think twice about getting a student loan because everybody was doing it, and it had the blessing of the adults in your life.

The people in your income class were nearly always broke, and so everything you bought was a core necessity. Your edge against your peers was that when you got a little extra money, instead of blowing it in a bar, you spent it on something you needed, whether it was to fix the radiator on your car or to buy schoolbooks. All of this helped keep you in school and out of trouble.

All of a sudden, upon graduating, you get a job as a junior paralegal at a law firm. Upon receiving your first paycheck, you then apply it towards all of the things you've been meaning to buy. Maybe a new car, maybe health insurance for once. You still live within your means, but you justify the new expenditures because these are the core things you need. However, after a few months, you find yourself living hand-to-mouth, because you never learned how to save.

What's worse, is that a whole new set of expectations have come up. Your peers are different and they all live in a different zip code. At a mixer you meet a real estate agent who encourages you that you should definitely buy now. Eager to reap the rewards of your newfound success and fulfill those dreams you always had, you get the largest house the bank is willing to lend you for. The numbers on these term sheets are so alien to you, that you just space out when you sign the paperwork. But you trust this process, because after all, you went through the same thing with student loans, and look how far that took you.

A housing crunch happens, or the job market unsettles, and now this fairy tale has a tragic ending. What people fundamentally don't understand is that growth and achievement is much like the cycle of scientific revolutions. Terms that were once measured in phlogistons no longer make sense in the theory of atoms. All the old science had to be thrown out. Likewise, going from one financial class to another often requires re-thinking every aspect of one's life, not just money. Even the notion of "financial goals" may only apply to people in a certain band of financial standing.

The same example could be applied to someone moving from the middle-class to the upper-middle-class. At that level of wealth, concepts from Ramit Sethi's I Will Teach You How To Be Rich, would no longer apply. Controlling your spending and maximizing your income don't quite make sense when you're dealing with $100K+ tax bills. All of a sudden you need advisors, but the ones pursuing you are often sharks. The Goldman Sachs of the world are constantly sharpening their knives, excited to skim from the nouveau fauna. Without the flexibility to adapt and re-invent oneself after a significant financial break-through, one may find themselves batted back down to where they started.

- Phil Dhingra
history (12) evolution (14)

The idea that northern countries are economically better than ones closer to the equator is commonly associated with the harsher climate making the northern peoples grittier. However, this assumes a short-sighted notion of history. If anything it must have been a cycle with northern breeds advancing evolutionarily, to the point where they become a distinct sub-species, and then invading the southern lands, taking advantage of the abundant resources, then re-conquering and decimating their former, northern populations.

Homo erectus vs. homo ergaster vs. homo neanderthalensis must played out with similar ebbs and flows of massive gentrification fights. One sub-tribe (nation) of a sub-species (race) must have had just one simple technological advantage (faster ships) and, given the scarcity of resources, were compelled the overcome anyone occupying "their" space.

- Phil Dhingra
society (16)

Perhaps reason isn't the ultimate conclusion of human intelligence. We need the ability to extrapolate from singular experiences, because there's so many things in life that we only get one shot at. For example, marriage and/or finding a child-rearing situation, was a once-in-a-lifetime decision. You mated, and mated for life, and all your children came from mating with one person. You can't figure out who to marry based on experience. Or rather, you can, but it's through not experience doing the exact thing you want to test. You could date, you could have pre-marital sex (things which in some cultures today, and many cultures past, didn't happen), to sort of pre-sort who you want to eventually be tied up with. But even without that, the decision of who to mate with comes from some experiences, but they are one-offs. You kissed a girl who was blond once on the playground, and for the rest of your life, you like blond girls. Or some guy with strong arms stopped an escalator belt from crushing you, and from then on, you always liked guys with strong arms.

It is for this reason, that cultural stereotypes are so fluid and harsh, because they are often generated by exposure to singular experiences.

- Phil Dhingra
creativity (1) society (16) history (12)

Everything comes back down to war. In the contest for scare resources, force is the final answer. The ability to remove an opponent, i.e. to kill members of the same species, is the ultimate use-case for all the tools that evolution has provided us. Perhaps in 99 years out of a 100, those tools are not necessary, because there is abundance of food, or simply that constant war is not efficient for a species. But it's in that 1 out of a 100 times that all that intervening 99 years of work comes into play.

There is often an underlying notion that the history of humanity of moving towards greater intelligence. Richard Florida's Rise of the Creative Class, for example, paints a picture of a world where everybody is individually expressing themselves through creative projects. That somehow, a world where everybody is creative is the ultimate fulfillment of mankind's destiny. That just around the corner we will achieve that glorious intellectual environment of Ancient Greece, like Raphael's The School of Athens.

However, this supposed glory days of Ancient Greece was built on the backs of a 50% slave population. Also, Ancient Greece was supplanted by Ancient Rome, which had some elements of anti-intellectualism. Cato the Elder, for example, was in favor of traditional Roman military values and plainspokenness.

Countries oftentimes go through intellectual purges and survive, possibly even thrive. We may yet see how China, post-Cultural Revolution, with its restriction on freedom of speech, will play out.

Creativity in America has led it to be the economic powerhouse that it is (combined with a great civic organization, hard-working people, diverse natural resources). The GDP bought from that innovation has given the country a military necessary to rule the world. But could a less creative and innovative nation have a greater military in the future?

The standard narrative is that America's continued pluck and innovation America will keep it ahead. But all that creativity is only important inasmuch as it can ultimately impact its war machine.

- Phil Dhingra

The criticism that someone is "irrational" seems to include a theory of rational philosophy that only has two dimensions, cost and benefit, while excluding a third one: time.

When choosing a mate, for example, which is probably the most important decision someone could make, some people make that decision within a few minutes, whereas others take a year or more to decide.

The former could be said to be irrational, being completely swayed by their emotions. But chance-mating is largely how many of us were created. Even though the stakes are incredibly high, oftentimes, to not make a snap decision and "hook-up" with someone, means you may never have a chance to hook-up with that person ever again. Maybe that's the best possible person you could've ever mated with, and because you tarried, you will miss out on a genetic recombination strategy that has proven effective over millions of years.

Likewise, in making a decision to buy a house, even very small decisions can make the difference between tens of thousands of dollars owed over the lifetime of the loan. For most people, nowhere else in their life will 1 hour of their time make that kind of a difference. The purely rational person could spend time according to their hourly rate, by comparison-shopping and optimizing as best as possible every single item on their mortgage statement. But most people wouldn't have a problem compromising that kind of detail-oriented work. They would determine how much effort to put into the search not based on the cost-benefit, but on the time they have to seize an opportunity.

- Phil Dhingra
history (12)

The mystery of civilization collapses is always the suddenness of it. Why couldn't the Mayans or the Easter Islanders simply reduce their populations to a more sustainable level? Perhaps these two civilizations are apples and oranges. In the case of the Easter Islanders, they ran out of resources all of a sudden. But in the case of the Mayans, there was weakness in trading partners and also deforestation, like the Easter Islanders, but surely they could have gradually slimmed down, to prior sustainable levels? But if that's the case, couldn't the Easter Islanders also have pared back when they lost nearly all their trees. Wouldn't they eventually have gotten their trees back over a handful of generations?

The problem has to do with the simple fact that population shrinkage is very difficult. If there is a resource crunch of only 10% for an island, those 10% of the population that have to die will not go down softly into the night. Even if a king decreed, "You can only have one child" it would be crushing for any ambitious member of the tribe to limit their offspring. And so war ensues, and that +10% over-farm is a constant state of affairs, maybe for a handful of generations, even as the resources dwindle to their breaking point. And the survivors continue to reproduce at their prior rate, because their grandfather had 3+ children, and their father had 3+ children, and they'll be damned if they're not going to push for the same.

And then the resources accelerate out of existence, to the point of apocalyptic and cataclysmic consequences, often coinciding with cannibalism.

This basic fact, that we refuse to die, is why we as a group, at some point, collectively die as we are trounced by a new civilization that starts the process all over.

- Phil Dhingra
art (9) society (16)

First there was indie. Then there was hipster. The next logical step is amateur. Indie was the secret power of the connoisseur who could find treasure beyond the radio and big music stores. The indie fan lived near independent record stores and coffee shops with local budding acts. Then Myspace gave indie access to anybody who was either bored with their current music selection or had some obsessive desire to deepen their cultural purview. But then Urban Outfitters and social media-savvy music labels commercialized and repackaged that access.

But the war for obscurity and cultural elitism soldiers on, and it will probably focus on amateur acts. The aficionado who is so interested in music that they have to get to its core—which is really just people sharing emotion with people—will spend their time at shitty open-mics or listen to tracks on SoundCloud from anybody with at least a thousand listens. There will be no buzz-following as the nerds seek their own serendipitous discovery.

Of course, this will then be co-opted by the first-wave imitators who in the previous generation, were hipsters. Faux amateurism in the form of willfully imperfect Etsy clothing will be the style. But then this will be commercialized and re-packaged so that perhaps the Rebecca Blacks of the world, the people who just shell out a few grand for their own vanity album, will dominate the airwaves.

- Phil Dhingra