Doggo

Sorry it’s been so slow around here. It’s August, when I always take it easy a bit — but I’ll confess that I’m also getting a little spooked by the extent to which we are all (and I’m no exception) living more and more of our lives online.

Our attention, which is more precious than gold, and the one thing we must master if we are to have any hope at all of inner development — is increasingly spent in a virtual world created, manipulated, and harvested by a few increasingly powerful companies. (Note that we “pay” attention, a usage that captures quite precisely the crucial fact that attention is a finite and valuable resource.) Our words, our wishes, our habits, our movements, are noticed, tracked, sifted, and analyzed — and remembered. (If you have a Google account, try going to https://myactivity.google.com/myactivity on a logged-in browser.) Meanwhile the human world, once so vast and cool, has now been compressed into a tiny hot space in which everything is brought into immediate contact with everything else. As I wrote in the essay linked just above:

In short, the smaller and hotter the world is — in other words, the more likely it becomes that any two “particles” will impinge on each other in a given time — the more volatile, reactive, unstable, and “twitchy” it becomes. As volatility and the rate of change increase, it becomes more and more difficult for systems and institutions that operate at a constant pace — the legislative processes of large democracies, for example — to respond effectively to innovations and crises.

As we adjust to this accelerating impingement, our attention, constantly interrupted and diverted, becomes harder and harder for us to control, even as we become more and more deeply addicted to being peppered with (mostly useless) information. To lose one’s smart-phone — in other words, to lose a thing that never existed in all of human history until just over a decade ago ago — is now a crisis requiring immediate action. Imagine really cutting yourself off: no cell-phone, no Google, no Amazon, no YouTube, no Facebook, no Twitter, no email, no texting, no Google Maps, no Wikipedia. Just a land-line, the radio, basic TV, and books. (Just like it was until I was in my forties.) Could you do it?

Let’s put it this way: whether you think you can or not, I bet you won’t. I bet I won’t either.

Something very big is happening to us, and it’s happening very quickly. Some days I really don’t want to look at the computer at all. So that’s why it’s been quiet here.

OK! Having said all that, here are a few links:

First up, a new way of looking at what the brain does, using algebraic topology.

Speaking of brains, it appears that IQ may be on the decline in the West — fourteen points since Victorian times. (Why that might be, I leave as an exercise for the reader, for now at least.)

Meanwhile, here’s Heather Mac Donald on a spirited defense of ordinary virtues by a pair of academics, and the cataract of bile it has earned them.

Finally, a detailed look at the cooling oceans, and the lengthening rhythm of interglacial cycles (don’t forget that we are in a warm spell in the middle of an Ice Age). We used to get interglacials every 41,000 years; now they come much less frequently. Learn more here.

Related content from Sphere

9 Comments

  1. Issac says

    “Speaking of brains, it appears that IQ may be on the decline in the West — fourteen points since Victorian times. (Why that might be, I leave as an exercise for the reader, for now at least.)”

    I think this has been fairly accurately attributed to dysgenic breeding patterns. Middle and upper class families were the large ones into the Victorian period. That general pattern has slowly reversed.

    Combine that with lower overall infant mortality, marked declines in criminal sterilization or execution, the proliferation of social welfare systems, and you’ve got yourself an idiocracy machine.

    And all of that is before you consider the effect of immigration policies that prioritize populations that are much lower IQ than the native.

    Posted August 30, 2017 at 1:33 am | Permalink
  2. redan says

    “Imagine really cutting yourself off: no cell-phone, no Google, no Amazon, no YouTube, no Facebook, no Twitter, no email, no texting, no Google Maps, no Wikipedia. Just a land-line, the radio, basic TV, and books. …Could you do it?”

    Sure, you just described my first Afghanistan tour in 2002 – minus the land-line and the basic TV…

    Posted August 30, 2017 at 8:05 am | Permalink
  3. Malcolm says

    redan,

    2002: fifteen years ago. And there we still are.

    Thank you for your service, sir.

    Posted August 30, 2017 at 10:31 am | Permalink
  4. Malcolm,

    Your musings remind me of my own occasional “What’s it all about?” interludes. During such interludes, AKA “the blahs”, I generally conclude that one should not “ask what the meaning of life is” but, rather, “ask if there is any meaning”.

    Maybe life is just a temporal reprieve from the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

    Posted August 30, 2017 at 11:31 am | Permalink
  5. Issac says

    “What’s it all about?”

    To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women.

    Obviously, there’s a good deal of nuance and nihilism built on top of that, but the above is evolutionary bedrock. If you don’t grok that, your genes are not long for this world and will therefor not be party to whatever life is about.

    Posted August 30, 2017 at 3:45 pm | Permalink
  6. JK says

    https://noiszy.com/

    Posted August 30, 2017 at 5:44 pm | Permalink
  7. Issac,

    I thought your assertion was something I had read in the Torah, but Google tells me it’s from Conan’s paraphrasing of a (disputed) quote from Genghis Khan. It sure sounds like something Genghis would have said, though not about “the meaning of life”, but about the “greatest joy for a man”.

    I suppose many men might claim it’s the same thing, however.

    Posted August 30, 2017 at 5:48 pm | Permalink
  8. Malcolm says

    Henry,

    Yes, I get those too.

    Posted August 30, 2017 at 11:24 pm | Permalink
  9. Malcolm says

    JK – very interesting. Might sign on for that.

    Posted August 30, 2017 at 11:24 pm | Permalink

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