Historical Entanglement

Scientists don’t pay enough attention to history, and we need to fix that.

Don’t get me wrong – scientists pay a lot of attention to historical scientists. Our collective worship of Einstein, Darwin, Curie, Hodgkin, & al is plays to the point of obsession. We care also about the history of science; how the specific details of how our disciplines were forged. These compelling stories all offer familiar anchoring points for what essentially amounts to our shared legend of creation. But that’s not enough.

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From the jaws of victory.

I am a failure.

Well, I could just leave it there I suppose. Still, I imagine you were expecting a little elaboration.

I’m a qualified failure.

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Unsafe Spaces

There’s a particular trope among certain parts of Twitter discourse which involve the supposed sensitivity of my generation of University students. We’ve all heard the “snowflake” trope, we’ve all heard how millennials are awful. I find this trend stupid, but mostly harmless. Let old people be angry at the young – they have few better things to worry about, it seems.

But of the “I’m so comfortably middle class I’m worrying about the attitudes of students whom I don’t even know” starter pack, there’s one element which really grinds my gears. It really gets my goat. You could say that it “triggers” me[1]. It is the concept that Universities shouldn’t implement adequate social policies because they have a “responsibility to challenge students”.

Snowflake Morphology2

[1] – …and you’d be an arsehole.

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“The leopard doesn’t change its shorts”

What with one thing and another recently, it seems to me that society’s collective blood pressure is reaching a critical point. Aside from the white supremacy, political absurdity at home and abroad, online ragestorms from a variety of sources, &c, I see microcosms of hate, fear, and intolerance play out on the individual level. I am left shocked, astounded, miserable, depressed, desperate. A small and old part of my psyche feels vindicated that people are indeed gratuitously, unashamedly horrible after all.

Most of me doesn’t want to believe that. By and large, I think that people are fundamentally capable and willing to do good things, and that these good things outweigh the bad. At least, they try to. But in the modern world of social media, negativity spreads much faster than its more desirable counterpart. I am left asking: why do these things add up so fast? How have we raised each others’ hackles to the point of cardiac arrest? What is our collective failing, and what collective good can help us fix this?

My answers stem, of course, from my personal philosophy. At my core, I think that there is a limited set of core beliefs which people hold. These beliefs dictate how we respond to threats, society, happiness, and other people. They might very well be contradictory, factually incorrect, or incomplete. But here is the key part: beliefs affect our response to the world, and the world likewise affects what we believe. Beliefs are what make us who we are, and whether we allow them to change a lot or a little makes the difference to our lives. One of my beliefs is that we must be conscientious arbiters of how strongly we let our beliefs change. Beliefs are supposed to change, but it is our responsibility to filter out the noise of our experiences so that we can effectively adapt. Belief without change is faith, but with too rapid change it is mere reaction.

Not only do I think that consciously re-evaluating beliefs is good for us, I understand that the outside world has an effect upon how easy it is for us to change our beliefs. In many ways this draws me to seek out contradictions to my beliefs, but it has another important effect, which at last leads me to my point: I must always allow other people to change their beliefs, too. Too much effort is made to shame racists who are reforming. Too many words have been wasted on politicians who are actually trying to change their minds away from intellectually bankrupt ideologies. Too many ideologues are mired in their rhetoric because others insist they haven’t, nay cannot change. We should all take more responsibility for positively encouraging others to curate and examine their collection of beliefs.

I shall forever remember a speech at my wedding, where the audience was encouraged to recognize the way that small negative interactions accumulate.

these bonds [of love] are not unbreakable; love doesn’t necessarily conquer all, as the great romantics might suggest. But rather, every tiny aggression or barbed remark, every insult, every argument, and every indifference we suffer from those we care about, erodes those bonds. In a wider sense, every tiny human tragedy chips away at that ability to empathise with one-another; at the sense of our common humanity. You don’t have to look far today to see just how strained our collective understanding has become.

At a time I was expecting to feel overjoyed, I was utterly humbled, and that day I allowed my beliefs to change. These words ring especially true in the age of the internet, where we have artificially created barriers to examining our own beliefs (hello, Reddit) while paradoxically lowering the barriers to harassment (what’s up, Twitter), thus preventing others from effectively curating theirs. This self-imposed tribalism prevents our human brains from acting as they evolved to: to learn, adapt, refine our models of belief. We are neural networks with over-specified training data, and we are incrementally forcing each other back into our old tired patterns. No wonder our collective pulse is steadily rising.

A human is the sum of their gradual changes of heart, and the best humans have learned how to change their hearts effectively. But the key part is that they have been allowed to do so by those who surround them – their surroundings have helped them to become, gradually, great people. In doing so, they return the favor to those around them. Just by allowing others to change their beliefs, we exemplify the best of our species. You can do that, too.

If we can’t solve these self-imposed problems, I await the heart attack with a healthy dose of trepidation… and a pinch of schadenfreude.

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The Establishment – And why you should read about it.

As we begin, ponder for a moment: what is the difference between a controversial understanding of the world, and a conspiracy theory?

I imagine that – if you thought much about it – you might reasonably uttered the single word “evidence”. But what constitutes evidence, and are you a good judge of the quality or truth of any evidence you are presented with?

Here is a thing I have been pondering since reading Owen Jones’ book The Establishment (And how they get away with it).

Moneybags

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Heroes Two Point No

Heroes2p0Banner

My last post tried to make a constructive discussion from something which some people thought was “entitlement” on the part of a gaming subreddit. I think I did a pretty good job! What’s ne-

SOlidJAke

Challenge accepted.

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Critiquing a Book’s Paragraphs

When was the last time you heard or saw people arguing about how a book’s paragraphs could be formatted? What about camera maintenance for this movie? How to make the high-hats better on a music track? What type of brush a painter should use to finish off their latest project?

… and how about people arguing over how to code something in a game?

RedditArgument

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