|burn||Burn any copy you find of this book, it is horrific.|
|mock||This book is awful. Don't read this book and mock anyone you see reading this book.|
|don't||Don't read this book.|
|desert||If you're on a desert island and are bored out of your mind, this book is okay to read.|
|fan||If you're a fan of this author / genre, this book is worth reading.|
|worth||This book is interesting, fun, entertaining, and thus worth reading. I would hand this book to a friend who asked for a _____ type book.|
|strongly||I strongly recommend this book|
|amazing||OMG, this book is amazing and/or life-changing, let me buy you a copy.|
I spotted this book in a Waterstone in Amsterdam, but couldn't find it locally. Public libraries FTW!
I was expecting in this book a list of here are things you can do to increase your intelligence. In an ideal world, it would include variations based on gender, age, and weight - something like "do this, this, and that and you'll be smarter." Of course, one's expectations should be kept to a minimum, as life has a way of being, regardless of expectations.
The first part of the book is about defining intelligence (which isn't that easy to do, and we haven't done it well), and the history of defining intelligence, in all its ugly forms of repression and genocide that resulted. We humans really do like to create an us versus them about everything.
After defining intelligence, there were the ethics of what to do with intelligence, is it morally okay to increase one's intelligence? Atheletes are banned from performance enhancing drugs, is the mental realm any different when attempting to get an advantage?
The book did have three suggestions for increasing intelligence: modafanil, electric brain stimulation, and transcranial magnetic stimulation (which is a different way of getting the same as the electrical stimulation, just with a different electricity-producing mechanism, what with moving magnetic fields creating electric currents and all).
Experiments with increasing intelligence suffer the same fate as pretty much all cutting edge science: the bad results are ignored, the good results are emphasized, no one knows if things really work, there are no control studies, people are all different enough that we'll always have warnings, and it's all the wild west with the experimenting.
The book had a lot of anecdotes, most of which were amusing and interesting. The book was a fun, easy read, if not exactly satisfying in its lack of do this, this, and that to be smarter.
Teachers in these new schools were stunned. Large numbers of their pupils appeared unable or unwilling to learn. These teachers were some of the first to wrestle with a social problem that has split the field of education ever since: how to teach a class of children of mixed ability, while not ignoring the different needs of the children at the top and bottom.
When school is mandatory, you will have people who don't want to learn in the school, making the classes difficult for those who do want to learn.
High IQ is linked to creativity, musical ability, securing patents and winning artistic prizes. The higher a person’s IQ, the less likely they are to hold racist and sexist beliefs. They are less likely to be religious and more likely to be interested in politics. They are less tolerant of authoritarian attitudes.
This could explain the United States really well right now.
It does explain one sibling at least.
It is better to believe intelligence can be increased. Those children who believe the opposite, that intelligence is fixed (called the entity theory), are more anxious about how much intelligence they have, and it not being enough for them to succeed. These children refuse opportunities to learn if they carry a risk of doing poorly. They conceal or lie about their weaknesses, rather than identify and improve them. And they indulge in what psychologists call self-handicapping –procrastination and watching television the night before a test instead of studying. This gives them a ready-made excuse if they score badly.
No idea who this could be describing.
While that might demonstrate that repeated use and practice of a set of mental skills can grow a specific brain region, the conclusion doesn’t really work the other way around: finding an enlarged hippocampus in a plumber from Aberdeen wouldn’t guarantee she could tell you the quickest route to drive from London Bridge to King’s Cross Station.
No, but it does demonstrate that repeated use and practice of a set of mental skills can grow a specific brain region. You might not know what those skills are, but you know they have been developed.
The most reliable group of people to sire intelligent children are, simply, intelligent adults (of all colours and nationalities), just as taller parents (of all colours and nationalities) tend to have taller kids. When it comes to intelligence, nature can be cruel and unsentimental, but it does not pick sides.
The irony is that the smarter a society is, the fewer kids they will have.
Implicit skills are harder to teach, because attention has to be deliberately drawn away from performance. Tennis players, for example, can be taught implicitly to read the direction of an opponent’s serve by being asked to judge the speed and not the direction of the ball. In doing so, they learn to identify and act upon the visual cues that indicate direction, without knowing or being able to explain how they do so.
I find this interesting, that artificially turning off the thinking brain can improve developing sports performance.
That’s a common feature of many forms of synaesthesia; people with the condition are often astonished to discover (and some discover it late in life) not everybody experiences the world the way they do.
Britain was a kinder place then, many said, and less willing to ridicule people who were proud of their talents and abilities.
When people say things like, ‘nearly half of Americans have an IQ of under 100’ as a criticism, they reveal more about their own intelligence than anyone else’s.
This cracked me up.
We have a curious relationship with intelligence these days. Rather than looking down on people with lower IQs, as was common when the feeble-minded were ridiculed, much public scorn is reserved today for those towards the upper end of the scale. Perhaps this is down to envy and jealousy, as the benefits of mental ability become more pronounced, or maybe it’s a reflection of a society that has fallen out of love with expertise.
With the Internet and answers immediately available, people have lost the ability to understand expertise, to understand the passion, to understand the effort involved with becoming an expert. They think oh, I can just look up the answer, instead of understanding the why of things.
Some surveys suggest as many as one in five girls and one in ten boys at secondary schools hide their ability at maths, chiefly to avoid being picked on and bullied.
The tone of the coverage of such cases is almost gloating, as if these young prodigies somehow made claims with their early high achievement that they could not justify; as if their unusual intelligence was a deliberate ploy to annoy the rest of us. Of all the sins of youth, cognitive precociousness seems one of the hardest to forgive.
People do love a fallen hero.
Common sense is typically described as a kind of practical intelligence.† It’s usually measured as a judgement on someone’s decision making, but the verdict on whether someone shows common sense or not seems to come down to whether or not the person doing the judging agrees with the particular decision made.
They simply can’t resist the temptation to continue to deploy their abstract problem-solving skills in even familiar situations, for which the best options have already been approved by the rest of the community. They are driven to find novel solutions, at the expense of the tried and trusted common sense. And many of these ideas are wrong, or worse, ridiculous.
This is the idea that intelligent people don't have common sense. That intelligent people want to improve things even when the rest of the community is okay with sufficient, is a good thing, not something to be scorned. But, hey, stupid people, they mock what they don't have.
‘Common sense,’ Einstein said, ‘is the collection of prejudices acquired by age eighteen.’
To think rationally is to act according to one’s goals and beliefs. But it is also to form and hold beliefs supported by available evidence.
Which is why any Republican who supports Cheetoh these days is clearly not thinking rationally.
One of the most important is the myside or confirmation bias –the way people gather and assess evidence tends to be in line with their existing opinions.
Most of us get a single shot at most opportunities to prove ourselves, and we have to live with the results.
Unearned privilege can be uncomfortable to associate with human value, for it carries too many reminders of the straitjacket of social stratification and the entitlement of the aristocracy. We prefer people to work for what they have, and expect rewards and status for those who do so.
Cognitive enhancement offers a new twist on this century-old argument. If intelligence, in whatever form, is something people have to work for, if cognitive ability can be trained and improved and released with effort, then it’s pretty simple to make the case that neuroenhancement undermines this effort and is cheating. If one person has access to a short-cut others do not, then the playing field is tilted in their favour. Yet if intelligence is an immutable quality spread across the population, with some landing more in the heads of a fortunate minority, then the playing field is already biased against the rest. Why shouldn’t those who lose out in the lottery of life have the chance to turn to technology to close the gap? Only when all have the identical chance and the baseline is levelled, can the performance of any human ability be truly said to reflect value, or more accurately, can the difference in performance be said to reflect higher or lower value.
Of all the books to stop a reading binge streak, this was not the one I would have expected.
I wanted to like this book.
I REALLY wanted to like this book.
I really wanted to like this book because I enjoyed Weir's The Martian a lot, what with the solid science and the omg-exactly-mine humour.
I didn't really like this book.
Instead, this book annoyed me. I suspect this book annoyed me because the main character Jazz is annoying. The frequent "What? You were thinking something else?" questions became tiresome very quickly. The self-referrals to her body that Jazz makes could be made only by a guy writing as a girl, thinking that's what we talk about all the time (hint: we don't).
The part that gets me the most, however, is the basic plot: that destroying the moon's source of oxygen could in any way shape or form be a Good Idea™, much less supported by seemingly rational people. Given how utterly perfect The Martian was with its science, this idea just doesn't fit.
So, yeah, if you're a fan of Weir's, which I am, go ahead and read this book. If you aren't, read The Martian, revel in the incredible story-telling and science of that book, and skip this one.
Now to read Rob's review of Artemis, which I haven't read yet... Okay, his review is better. Go read that one instead.
Nothing. He hadn’t noticed me come in and didn’t hear me speak. He’s like that. I smacked him on the back of the head and he jerked away from the microscope.
And let me tell you: there’s no one I hate more than teenage Jazz Bashara. That stupid bitch made every bad decision a stupid bitch could make. She’s responsible for where I am today.
I couldn’t get it completely out of sight, but at least it was partially occluded. I slipped the remote control into a holster I had strapped to my inner thigh.
Okay, if you're on a caper, you don't want until you're on location before you strap a something to the inner thigh. You do that before you leave.
My plan was working! I giggled like a little girl. Hey, I’m a girl, so I’m allowed.
Dad taught me to use a flint sparker because an electric one is “another thing to break.” It was just a piece of flint and steel grooves attached to a springy handle.
My dad also taught me how to use a flint sparker, so I did appreciate this detail.
The droplet trembled along the weld site, then finally seeped upward into the crack above it. My heartbeat returned to somewhere near normal. Thank God for surface tension and capillary action.
He tapped on his Gizmo. “There are no surveillance cameras on airlocks. We’re not a police state. But there is a security camera in the Visitors Center gift shop.”
I woke up the next morning with cramped legs and a sore back. That’s the thing about crying yourself to sleep. When you wake up, the problems are still there.
Food makes you comfortable. It’s how you recenter.
I stood from the bar and downed my Bowmore. I assume everyone in Scotland gasped in psychic pain.
It powered up and showed the familiar wallpaper—a picture of a Cavalier King Charles spaniel puppy. What? I like puppies.
What? I'm annoyed at all the "What?"s.
“Wow,” I said. “You really are all about economics.” “It’s what I do, dear. And in the end, it’s the only thing that matters. People’s happiness, health, safety, and security all rely on it.”
Okay, this is what caught my attention.
I frowned. “I can’t just stop being mad.” “No, but you can stop wallowing in it. And you can talk to me like a normal human being.”
“I’ve never pretended to approve of your choices, Jasmine. I have no obligation to. But I don’t try to control you either. Not since you moved out. Your life is your own.”
Very few people get a chance to quantify how much their father loves them. But I did. The job should have taken forty-five minutes, but Dad spent three and a half hours on it. My father loves me 366 percent more than he loves anything else. Good to know.
“Two cameras on your EVA suit, two on Dale’s, and I need a screen for diagnostics. That’s five screens.”
“Could have been windows on the same screen, though, right?”
“But have I covered every angle?” He shrugged. “No such thing. But for what it’s worth, you got everything I can think of.”
We both stripped down to our underwear. (What? I’m supposed to be demure around the gay guy?)
What? The What?s are annoying.
“Run another line, Jasmine,” he said firmly. “You’re not in any hurry. You’re just impatient.”
I couldn’t see the control room from my vantage point. The smelter was in the way. That wasn’t a coincidence, by the way.
I duct taped both the mask and goggles to my face—I needed an airtight seal this time.
This would be a bitch to remove.
She panted a few times and regained her composure. She was a little older and more weathered than the pictures I’d seen of her. Still, she was spry and healthy-looking for a fifty-year-old.
Okay, for the record, it is not difficult to be spry and healthy at fifty.
I am a fan of The School of Life, their mission, and their products. I've bought a number of their books, and checked a few out from the library.
I was disappointed, however, to realize they publish their books with an aggressive, not-really-enforcable, you-can't-share-this-book license/understanding in the book, which comes shrink-wrapped so you don't know about this license until you've already bought the book. The published license is a "you can't sell, lend, or give away this book without asking us first" policy, which is just strange and off-putting.
That said, their ebook highlight and quote policy is fantastic, 15% instead of the usual 10% that most publishers use.
I am unable to reconcile the disconnect between the two policies.
That said, this book is amazing. I want to give a copy of this book to every person who is marrying. I want to buy a copy for anyone in a relation that could become a long term relationship. I want a copy of this in every eighteen year old's hands. I might feel the same way about The Sorrows of Work if I read it, but I haven't read it yet.
Anyway, this book lists ten aspects of love that one just doesn't consider when one is in an early part of eros / infatuation / hormonal / passionate / physical love. Yet when a relationship matures, it changes and becomes romantic or companionate or fatuous love, it rounds out into less passion and more depth. That change, however, can mean emptiness, loneliness, a misunderstanding about what a relationship should be. We believe the hormones and the fantasy about what long term relationships should be without knowing what a relation really is.
This book does a fantastic job at listing, describing, and explaining the mistakes in the fantasy about what long-term love is, what it looks like, how it feels, what it means.
It tells us that our struggles aren't special, we all feel them in a long term relationshop. It tells us that there is beauty in that long-term relationship, it just looks different than the hormonal relationship.
It tells us we are normal.
Sometimes we need that validation.
This book is potentially life-changing in its revelations. Let me buy you a copy.
If things go to plan, we tend to become something akin to monsters in love. As Romantic Realism attests, we are likely to be significantly less kind to our partner than to almost any other human on the planet.
Asking someone to marry us turns out to be an impossibly demanding and therefore pretty mean thing to suggest to anyone we really want the best for.
A crush represents in pure and perfect form the essential dynamics of Romanticism: the explosive interaction of limited knowledge, outward obstacles to further discovery, and boundless hope.
Love begins with a hope of –at last –being able to tell someone else everything about who we are and what we feel. The relief of honesty is at the heart of the feeling of being in love.
We must all die alone, which really means that many of our pains are for us to endure alone. Others can throw us words of encouragement, but in every life, we will at points be out on the ocean drowning in the swell while others, even the nicest ones, are standing on the shore, waving encouragingly.
Claire recommended this book to me when I was stuck in a mental loop last October. She handed me her copy of her book and recommended it as a fun read when what one needed was a fun read.
She was right. This is a fun read.
It is a space opera of sorts, too short to be an opera per se, more like an operetta, a mini-saga if you will, of a wormhole puncher, a small vessel that punches through space and time to make travel routes for the rest of us.
World building is never an easy task. World building when you're trying to have plausable physics is harder. World building when you're trying to have plausible physics and plausible biology is even harder. Chambers does a great job, even if some of the "here, let me explain this to you" sections are a little forced. Having a new shipmate makes explaining things easier.
Ashby is the captain of the Wayfarer, and was nearly completely what I imagined Corey's Expanse's Holden to look like, really. Which isn't fair, as I think Ashby was supposed to be darker skinned. The rest of the characters had bits of other media parts spliced together for me: Kizzy was Firefly's Kaylee, Jenks was Song of Ice and Fire's Tyrion, Ohan was A Fire Upon the Deep's Tines. The amalgamation worked for me.
The book read like a series of episodes, which was actually nice, as the whole book made for a season arc.
I enjoyed the book. It's worth reading for anyone who enjoys a good science fiction read.
But with the last of her savings running thin and her bridges burned behind her, there was no margin for error. The price of a fresh start was having no one to fall back on.
After a life in her parents’ enormous home, full of furniture and knickknacks and rarities, the knowledge that she didn’t need anything more than what she could carry gave her a remarkable sense of freedom.
Similar to the advice a Lyft driver gave me last October when she said, "All I really need is what I can carry, everything else is nice."
The point of a family, he’d always thought, was to enjoy the experience of bringing something new into the universe, passing on your knowledge and seeing part of yourself live on.
Her [the AI] personality had been shaped by every experience she and the crew had together, every place they’d been, every conversation they’d shared. And honestly, Jenks thought, couldn’t the same be said for organic people? Weren’t they all born running the Basic Human Starter Platform, which was shaped and changed as they went along? In Jenks’s eyes, the only real difference in cognitive development between Humans and AIs was that of speed. He’d had to learn to walk and talk and eat and all the other essentials before he’d begun to have a sense of identity.
He slipped them off and stepped into a pair of sandals that never left the room. He found the idea of walking around in there with grubby, gunky shoes quite rude.
He is clearly not American.
Jenks spent a lot of time in the pit, even though his job didn’t require it, and going in there with boots on felt like kissing somebody in the morning without brushing your teeth.
I giggled at this.
Acting all sanctimonious while spouting bad info was a terrible way to win a debate, but a great way to piss people off.
Seems to be The American Way™ these days.
“That’s kind of hypocritical, isn’t it? We assume organic bodies are so awesome, everybody else must want them, then we go off to get genetweaks to look younger or slimmer or whatever.”
“The fact that you people have been playing this for centuries says a lot about your species.”
“Oh? What’s it say?”
“That Humans make everything needlessly difficult.”
Humans would’ve died out, too, if the Aeluons hadn’t chanced upon the Fleet. Luck’s what saved them. Luck, and discovering humility.
Not a known Human trait.
“I don’t know if I can explain this,” Ashby said. “I wish war didn’t happen, but I don’t judge other species for taking part in it.
“Maybe, but not like us. Humans can’t handle war. Everything I know about our history shows that it brings out the worst in us. We’re just not . . . mature enough for it, or something. Once we start, we can’t stop. And I’ve felt that in me, you know, that inclination toward acting out in anger. Nothing like what you’ve seen. I don’t pretend to know what war is like. But Humans, we’ve got something dangerous in us. We almost destroyed ourselves because of it.”
Honestly, what was it about that concept that was so difficult for others to grasp? She would never, ever understand the idea that a child, especially an infant, was of more value than an adult who had already gained all the skills needed to benefit the community. The death of a new hatchling was so common as to be expected. The death of a child about to feather, yes, that was sad. But a real tragedy was the loss of an adult with friends and lovers and family. The idea that a loss of potential was somehow worse than a loss of achievement and knowledge was something she had never been able to wrap her brain around.
To some Humans, the promise of a patch of land was worth any effort. It was an oddly predictable sort of behavior. Humans had a long, storied history of forcing their way into places where they didn’t belong.
“We have different philosophies, you and I, but I can understand where you’re coming from. Violence is always disconcerting, even if it’s only potential violence."
Nib nodded. “Some people knit, some people play music, I dig through dusty old facts and make sure they’re accurate.” He flopped back into a chair as the pixels in the central projector flickered to life. “I like knowing things.”
“Because people are assholes,” said Bear, dutifully keeping his head down. “Ninety percent of all problems are caused by people being assholes.”
“What causes the other ten percent?” asked Kizzy.
“Natural disasters,” said Nib.
There were few things Dr. Chef enjoyed more than a cup of tea. He made tea for the crew every day at breakfast time, of course, but that involved an impersonal heap of leaves dumped into a clunky dispenser. A solitary cup of tea required more care, a blend carefully chosen to match his day. He found the ritual of it quite calming: heating the water, measuring the crisp leaves and curls of dried fruit into the tiny basket, gently brushing the excess away with his fingerpads, watching color rise through water like smoke as it brewed. Tea was a moody drink.
The thoughts he was drumming up were old and safely kept. Kizzy had accused him once of “bottling up his feelings,” but this was a Human concept, the idea that one could hide their feelings away and pretend that they were not there. Dr. Chef knew exactly where all of his feelings were, every joy, every ache. He didn’t need to visit them all at once to know they were there. Humans’ preoccupation with “being happy” was something he had never been able to figure out. No sapient could sustain happiness all of the time, just as no one could live permanently within anger, or boredom, or grief. Grief. Yes, that was the feeling that Rosemary needed him to find today. He did not run from his grief, nor did he deny its existence. He could study his grief from a distance, like a scientist observing animals. He embraced it, accepted it, acknowledged that it would never go away. It was as much a part of him as any pleasant feeling. Perhaps even more so.
Rosemary’s hand went to her mouth. “I’m sorry,” she said. Such a quintessentially Human thing, to express sorrow through apology.
“We cannot blame ourselves for the wars our parents start. Sometimes the very best thing we can do is walk away.”
Rosemary started to nod, then shook her head. “That’s not the same. What happened to you, to your species, it’s . . . it doesn’t even compare.” “Why? Because it’s worse?” She nodded. “But it still compares. If you have a fractured bone, and I’ve broken every bone in my body, does that make your fracture go away? Does it hurt you any less, knowing that I am in more pain?” “No, but that’s not—” “Yes, it is. Feelings are relative. And at the root, they’re all the same, even if they grow from different experiences and exist on different scales.”
“Your father—the person who raised you, who taught you how the world works—did something unspeakably horrible. And not only did he take part in it, he justified it to himself. When you first learned of what your father had done, did you believe it?”
“I didn’t think he was capable of it.”
“Why not? He obviously was.”
“He didn’t seem like he was. The father I knew never could’ve done such a thing.”
“Aha. But he did. So then you begin wondering how you could’ve been so wrong about him. You start going back through your memories, looking for signs. You begin questioning everything you know, even the good things. You wonder how much of it was a lie. And worst of all, since he had a heavy hand in making you who you are, you begin wondering what you yourself are capable of.”
Rosemary stared at him. “Yes.”
"Given the right push, you, too, could do horrible things. That darkness exists within all of us. You think every soldier who picked up a cutter gun was a bad person? No. She was just doing what the soldier next to her was doing, who was doing what the soldier next to her was doing, and so on and so on."
She handed him the mug. “And I had Dr. Chef make you some of this awful stuff.” The smell hit his nose before he even brought the cup to his face. Coffee.
“I’m not sure that it happens a lot. But more often than for most, perhaps.”
“Enough for you not to be scared of it.”
“I never said that.”
“You did so.”
“I said I was familiar with it. That’s very different.”
"I never thought of fear as something that can go away. It just is. It reminds me that I want to stay alive. That doesn’t strike me as a bad thing.”
“You could’ve adopted.”
“I wanted my own flesh and blood. Proof that someone had loved me enough to create a new life with me.”
"But I’m scared. I’m starting to think maybe I wanted this so bad that I didn’t let myself acknowledge just how fucking dangerous it is.”
“Pairs are not inventors. They are too unfocused, too short-lived. Good for Navigating and discussing theories, but bad at building. Building takes many, many mistakes. Pairs do not like mistakes. They like staring out windows. But Solitary like mistakes. Mistakes mean progress. We make good things. Great things.”
“And for the first time ever, I didn’t want a brother anymore, because I finally had one. And there’s nothing better than brothers. Friends are great, but they come and go. Lovers are fun, but kind of stupid, too. They say stupid things to each other and they ignore all their friends because they’re too busy staring, and they get jealous, and they have fights over dumb shit like who did the dishes last or why they can’t fold their fucking socks, and maybe the sex gets bad, or maybe they stop finding each other interesting, and then somebody bangs someone else, and everyone cries, and they see each other years later, and that person you once shared everything with is a total stranger you don’t even want to be around because it’s awkward. But brothers. Brothers never go away. That’s for life.
Brothers you can’t get rid of. They get who you are, and what you like, and they don’t care who you sleep with or what mistakes you make, because brothers aren’t mixed up in that part of your life. They see you at your worst, and they don’t care. And even when you fight, it doesn’t matter so much, because they still have to say hi to you on your birthday, and by then, everybody’s forgotten about it, and you have cake together.”
Okay, seriously, what brother did Chambers have?
I really don't know why I picked up this book. There's a non-zero chance it was commended to me from Bob Diller, but it is just as likely to have come from one of the Twitter, Slack, or MB communities I'm in. I have no idea where I picked it up. It did, however, sit on my to-read pile for a good three months. Well, it sat in my Hold pile at the library, which is worse, because those I need to actually read in a timely manner when my loan happens.
Right. I did mention that my book reviews are really stories about how I came upon this book? I swear I did mention this at some point.
Okay, A Universe From Nothing. Here's the gist: in our mathematical understanding of the universe, there's a transition point from one state of matter to another state of matter by which two mathematical constructs appear seemingly out of nothing. These two particles then disappear, and we're left with a nicely solved equation at the end.
No one knows what's going on, where we started, where the universe is going. What we do know is that we're special in some way, this universe is special in that way, and that we are also not particularly special, as the only way we could exist is if the universe was this particular way.
Given we don't know where we came from and where we're going, some people need s super special thing, entity, supervisor, being, consciousness, something to keep them from being complete and utter assholes. We call these people Jewish, Muslim, and Christian, among others like, Ancient Roman and Ancient Greek, if we are to name some Western deities, ignoring all the Eastern and other ancient ones such as the Egyptians. These people who need a "God" to be kind and good to one another, to not kill, to not covet, to not be the epitome of a tragedy of the commons, tend to be uncomfortable with the idea that something can come from nothing, that the Big Bang could be a beginning, that the nothingness you had before life is likely the same as the nothingness after life and you didn't complain about that before so why are you complaining about that after, use "because God" is a cop-out for sitting with the discomfort and examining the world in around them in a scientific, repeatable, factful way.
Which is a bit less nice than the way Kraus said it.
Kraus goes into the quantum mechanics and history of astrophysics, with an eye to explaining that the universe came from nothing.
My difficulties with Kraus' writing is its defensive nature and sometimes backwards logic of his statements. A couple times he declares our mathematical models of the universe says this, the evidence supports it, so there if the models are correct. We know this not to be statement one can make, given the nature of quantum physics, the level of what we just don't know, and how physics as evolved over the last hundreds of years. We just don't know. I can, however, understand how saying, "we believe" each time could undercut the strength of his statements, but the backwards logic really annoyed me. While nothing might be unstable, Nature doesn't care one bit about our mathematical models or if they fit.
If you enjoy reading about quantum mechanics, science history, and some levels of philosophy thrown in, this is a good read. If none of those interest you, and you need to read this book for a book club or class, and you grab the audiobook, be sure to look at the diagrams in the books. They are useful. To everyone else, okay to skip this book. I'm glad I read it, I'm not sure I'd recommend it to anyone who doesn't enjoy reading science.
Hubble had earlier made a significant breakthrough in 1925 with the new Mount Wilson 100-inch Hooker telescope, then the world’s largest.
I just love this mountain. You can see it from school, hike it in day, drive up in a couple hours, and see the ocean on a clear day from the top. Just love it.
One of the most poetic facts I know about the universe is that essentially every atom in your body was once inside a star that exploded. Moreover, the atoms in your left hand probably came from a different star than did those in your right.
Science has been effective at furthering our understanding of nature because the scientific ethos is based on three key principles: (1) follow the evidence wherever it leads; (2) if one has a theory, one needs to be willing to try to prove it wrong as much as one tries to prove that it is right; (3) the ultimate arbiter of truth is experiment, not the comfort one derives from one’s a priori beliefs, nor the beauty or elegance one ascribes to one’s theoretical models.
Location 269 (yeah, I hate location instead of pages, too)
I usually never get that far in my discussion, of course, because data rarely impress people who have decided in advance that something is wrong with the picture.
This means that these supernovae are very good “standard candles.” By this we mean that these supernovae can be used to calibrate distances because their intrinsic brightness can be directly ascertained by a measurement that is independent of their distance. If we observe a supernova in a distant galaxy—and we can because they are very bright—then by observing how long it shines, we can infer its intrinsic brightness. Then, by measuring its apparent brightness with our telescopes, we can accurately infer just how far away the supernova and its host galaxy are. Then, by measuring the “redshift” of the light from the stars in the galaxy, we can determine its velocity, and thus can compare velocity with distance and infer the expansion rate of the universe.
Kepler derived his famous three laws of planetary motion early in the seventeenth century: 1. Planets move around the Sun in ellipses. 2. A line connecting a planet and the Sun sweeps out equal areas during equal intervals of time. 3. The square of the orbital period of a planet is directly proportional to the cube (3rd power) of the semi-major axis of its orbit (or, in other words, of the “semi-major axis” of the ellipse, half of the distance across the widest part of the ellipse).
the universe is big and old and, as a result, rare events happen all the time.
There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know. —DONALD RUMSFELD
But how can you measure the three-dimensional geometry of the whole visible universe? It’s easier to start with a simpler question: How would you determine if a two-dimensional object like the Earth’s surface was curved if you couldn’t go around the Earth or couldn’t go above it in a satellite and look down? First, you could ask a high school student, What is the sum of the angles in a triangle? (Choose the high school carefully, however . . . a European one is a good bet.) You would be told 180 degrees, because the student no doubt learned Euclidean geometry—the geometry associated with flat pieces of paper. On a curved two-dimensional surface like a globe, you can draw a triangle, the sum of whose angles is far greater than 180 degrees. For example, consider drawing a line along the equator, then making a right angle, going up to the North Pole, then another right angle back down to the equator, as shown below. Three times 90 is 270, far greater than 180 degrees. Voilà!
Well, whenever experimentalists find a new method to measure something with vastly greater precision than was possible before, that is often sufficient motivation for them to go ahead.
In astronomy, the most recent observations of the cosmic microwave background radiation allow us to compare with theoretical predictions at the level of perhaps 1 part in 100,000, which is remarkable. However, using Dirac’s equation, and the predicted existence of virtual particles, we can calculate the value of atomic parameters and compare them with observations and have remarkable agreement at the level of about 1 part in a billion or better! Virtual particles therefore exist.
The proton is intermittently full of these virtual particles and, in fact, when we try to estimate how much they might contribute to the mass of the proton, we find that the quarks themselves provide very little of the total mass and that the fields created by these particles contribute most of the energy that goes into the proton’s rest energy and, hence, its rest mass.
Indeed, in a strange coincidence, we are living in the only era in the history of the universe when the presence of the dark energy permeating empty space is likely to be detectable. It is true that this era is several hundred billion years long, but in an eternally expanding universe it represents the mere blink of a cosmic eye.
Lemaître’s conclusion that our universe had to begin in a Big Bang was unavoidable, but it was based on an assumption that will not be true for the observable universe of the far future. A
everything we know about the universe today, the future I have sketched out is the most plausible one, and it is fascinating to consider whether logic, reason, and empirical data might still somehow induce future scientists to infer the correct underlying nature of our universe, or whether it will forever remain obscured behind the horizon.
I should point out, nevertheless, that even though incomplete data can lead to a false picture, this is far different from the (false) picture obtained by those who choose to ignore empirical data to invent a picture of creation that would otherwise contradict the evidence of reality (young earthers, for example), or those who instead require the existence of something for which there is no observable evidence whatsoever (like divine intelligence) to reconcile their view of creation with their a priori prejudices, or worse still, those who cling to fairy tales about nature that presume the answers before questions can even be asked. At least the scientists of the future will be basing their estimates on the best evidence available to them, recognizing as we all do, or at least as scientists do, that new evidence may cause us to change our underlying picture of reality.
We are hardwired to think that everything that happens to us is significant and meaningful.
By forgetting that most of the time nothing of note occurs during the day, we then misread the nature of probability when something unusual does occur: among any sufficiently large number of events, something unusual is bound to happen just by accident.
Our universe is so vast that, as I have emphasized, something that is not impossible is virtually guaranteed to occur somewhere within it. Rare events happen all the time.
I want to stress this because, in discussions with those who feel the need for a creator, the existence of a multiverse is viewed as a cop-out conceived by physicists who have run out of answers—or perhaps questions. This may eventually be the case, but it is not so now.
After all, the world of our experience is not ten-dimensional, but rather four-dimensional. Something has to happen to the remaining six spatial dimensions, and the canonical explanation of their invisibility is that they are somehow “compactified”—that is, they are curled up on such small scales that we cannot resolve them on our scales or even on the tiny scales that are probed by our highest energy particle accelerators today.
After all, if one fundamental quantity in nature is actually an environmental accident, why aren’t most or all of the other fundamental parameters? Maybe all of the mysteries of particle theory can be solved by invoking the same mantra: if the universe were any other way, we could not live in it.
I don’t mind not knowing. It doesn’t scare me. —RICHARD FEYNMAN
Isaac Newton, perhaps the greatest physicist of all time, profoundly changed the way we think about the universe in many ways. But perhaps the most important contribution he made was to demonstrate the possibility that the entire universe is explicable. With his universal law of gravity, he demonstrated for the first time that even the heavens might bend to the power of natural laws. A strange, hostile, menacing, and seemingly capricious universe might be nothing of the sort.
We do not know for certain which of them actually describes our universe, and perhaps we shall never know. But the point is, as I emphasized at the very beginning of this book, the final arbiter of this question will not come from hope, desire, revelation, or pure thought. It will come, if it ever does, from an exploration of nature. Dream or nightmare, as Jacob Bronowski said in the opening quote in the book—and one person’s dream in this case can easily be another’s nightmare—we need to live our experience as it is and with our eyes open. The universe is the way it is, whether we like it or not.
Here I want to once again beat what I wish were a dead horse.
Indeed, I have challenged several theologians to provide evidence contradicting the premise that theology has made no contribution to knowledge in the past five hundred years at least, since the dawn of science. So far no one has provided a counterexample. The most I have ever gotten back was the query, “What do you mean by knowledge?”
Newton’s work dramatically reduced the possible domain of God’s actions, whether or not you attribute any inherent rationality to the universe.
While dispensing with this particular use of angels has had little impact on people’s willingness to believe in them (polls suggest far more people believe in angels in the United States than believe in evolution), it is fair to say that progress in science since Newton has even more severely constrained the available opportunities for the hand of God to be manifest in his implied handiwork.
Consider an electron-positron pair that spontaneously pops out of empty space near the nucleus of an atom and affects the property of that atom for the short time the pair exists.
There was potential for their existence, certainly, but that doesn’t define being any more than a potential human being exists because I carry sperm in my testicles near a woman who is ovulating, and she and I might mate. Indeed, the best answer I have ever heard to the question of what it would be like to be dead (i.e., be nonbeing) is to imagine how it felt to be before you were conceived. In any case, if potential to exist were the same as existence, then I am certain that by now masturbation would be as hot button a legal issue as abortion now is.
But plausibility itself, in my view, is a tremendous step forward as we continue to marshal the courage to live meaningful lives in a universe that likely came into existence, and may fade out of existence, without purpose, and certainly without us at its center.
Even well after the theoretical arguments about why the universe should be flat were first proposed, my observational colleagues, during the 1980s and even early 1990s, remained bent on proving otherwise. For, after all, in science one achieves the greatest impact (and often the greatest headlines) not by going along with the herd, but by bucking against it.
I would now like to describe how, if our universe arose from nothing, a flat universe, one with zero total Newtonian gravitational energy of every object, is precisely what we should expect.
This “negative pressure” implies that, as the universe expands, the expansion dumps energy into space rather than vice versa.
Science simply forces us to revise what is sensible to accommodate the universe, rather than vice versa.
These “quantum fluctuations” imply something essential about the quantum world: nothing always produces something, if only for an instant.
As a result, when it falls into the black hole, the net system of the black hole plus the particle actually has less energy than it did before the particle fell in! The black hole therefore actually gets lighter after the particle falls in by an amount that is equivalent to the energy carried away by the radiated particle that escapes. Eventually the black hole may radiate away entirely.
Scientists began to understand in the 1970s, however, that it is possible to begin with equal amounts of matter and antimatter in an early hot, dense Big Bang, and for plausible quantum processes to “create something from nothing” by establishing a small asymmetry, with a slight excess of matter over antimatter in the early universe.
Because once an asymmetry between matter and antimatter was created, nothing could later put it asunder.
These are open questions. However, unless one can come up with a good reason for excluding such configurations from the quantum mechanical sum that determines the properties of the evolving universe, and to date no such good reason exists that I know of, then under the general principle that holds everywhere else I know of in nature—namely that anything that is not proscribed by the laws of physics must actually happen—it seems most reasonable to consider these possibilities.
These issues have been debated and discussed for millennia, by brilliant and not-so-brilliant minds, many of the latter making their current living by debating them.
Either way, what is really useful is not pondering this question, but rather participating in the exciting voyage of discovery that may reveal specifically how the universe in which we live evolved and is evolving and the processes that ultimately operationally govern our existence.
As I have also argued, one person’s dream is another person’s nightmare. A universe without purpose or guidance may seem, for some, to make life itself meaningless. For others, including me, such a universe is invigorating. It makes the fact of our existence even more amazing, and it motivates us to draw meaning from our own actions and to make the most of our brief existence in the sun, simply because we are here, blessed with consciousness and with the opportunity to do so.
Afterword by Richard Dawkins
As Krauss and a colleague wittily put it, “We live at a very special time . . . the only time when we can observationally verify that we live at a very special time!”
If you think that’s bleak and cheerless, too bad. Reality doesn’t owe us comfort.
Virgil Flowers, Book 10, because, sure, why not?
Okay, I planned ahead.
Knowing I would be on a plane for eight hours, knowing that I am incapable of sleeping on a plane unless have the space of an entire row, knowing that once I was done with My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry I wouldn't be in any mood to read something thoroughly brain-engaging, and knowing at that point I would have been up for 20 hours, I chose to bring this book along.
I'd been enjoying the Virgil Flowers series for what it is, a non-difficult, entertaining, quick read. This one did not disappoint. I did enjoy it, but recall my brain was, well, awake for many more hours than it was used to being awake, so grain of salt and all that.
This book lacks the previous books' bantering, only one reference to f---in' Flowers, and it didn't make me laugh out loud. I did enjoy that there were no Prey references, there was little of the girlfriend, and that Flowers seems to be as confused as pretty much anyone else would be, given the murder situation that he encountered.
The book is a quick read. It's not a great read, but if you're a fan of the series, or Sandford as a writer in general, keep reading. If you're not a fan of either, start with the first book to get a feel before getting this far.
“I’m not talking about religion. I’m talking about God,” Virgil said. “I’m a Lutheran minister’s kid, and, believe me, there’s a difference between a religion and God. I sorta cut out the middleman.”
There wasn’t anything in particular, except awkward traces of the dead woman. It wasn’t the first time he’d been struck by the unexpected interruption of murder: you leave the wine bottles by the sink, thinking you’ll put them in the recycling in the morning, and a week later here they still are because you’re dead.
“That’s not the entire point here,” Griffin said. “We don’t only want them to stop, we want people to see that they get punished."
This is the third (and a half) book I've read by Fredrik Backman. With such a long title, I can't say I would have chosen to read it, even with liking Backman, but no, I'm kidding there, I would have read it if I had known about it. Fortunately, my family knew about it and let me know about it, and it's adorable.
Imagine having a cranky old grandmother who is just awful and awesome at the same time. Now imagine being seven, almost eight, and having a mind of your own and the enviornment where you can speak it. Okay, okay, you're considered weird, and are in trouble a lot, and the school kids pick on your ALL THE F'ING TIME, but Granny!
Okay, not really.
Anyway, smart kid, dying grandmother, a mystery to solve, and a life to unfold. As kids, we don't realize that the adults around us have a history before us. Backman writes that clouded view and gives us a child's view of navigating grief and anger and life.
I enjoyed this book. The storytelling slowed me down a few times, I had to reread parts, and skipped over small parts when I was tired and figured the details would come back later when I needed them. It's a cute story, worth reading.
She shouldn’t take any notice of what those muppets think, says Granny. Because all the best people are different—look at superheroes. After all, if superpowers were normal, everyone would have them.
“Stop fussing. You sound like your mother. Do you have a lighter?”
“How long are you going to use that as an excuse?”
“Until I’m not seven anymore?”
Granny has had nine different nurses since she was admitted. Seven of these she refused to cooperate with, and two refused to cooperate with her, one of them because Granny said he had a “nice ass.” Granny insists it was a compliment to his ass, not to him, and he shouldn’t make such a fuss about it. Then Mum told Elsa to put on her headphones, but Elsa still heard their argument about the difference between “sexual harassment” and “basic appreciation of a perfectly splendid ass.”
She sits reading Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix on the iPad for about the twelfth time. It’s the Harry Potter book she likes the least; that’s why she’s read it so few times.
It’s very difficult not to love someone who can hear you say something as horrible as that and still be on your side.
Having a grandmother is like having an army. This is a grandchild’s ultimate privilege: knowing that someone is on your side, always, whatever the details. Even when you are wrong. Especially then, in fact.
Granny says people who think slowly always accuse quick thinkers of concentration problems. “Idiots can’t understand that non-idiots are done with a thought and already moving on to the next before they themselves have. That’s why idiots are always so scared and aggressive. Because nothing scares idiots more than a smart girl.”
Words I wish my granny had told me, though now that I think about it, I suspect Scott tried.
They sit there in the sort of silent eternity that only mothers and daughters can build up between themselves.
People who have never been hunted always seem to think there’s a reason for it. “They wouldn’t do it without a cause, would they? You must have done something to provoke them.” As if that’s how oppression works.
Like all hunters, shadows have one really significant weakness: they focus all their attention on the one they’re pursuing, rather than seeing their entire surroundings. The one being chased, on the other hand, devotes every scrap of attention to finding an escape route.
“Sometimes the safest place is when you flee to what seems the most dangerous,” said Granny, and then she described how the prince rode right into the darkest forest and the shadows stopped, hissing, at the edge. For not even they were sure what might be lurking inside, on the other side of the trees, and nothing scares anyone more than the unknown, which can only be known by reliance on the imagination. “When it comes to terror, reality’s got nothing on the power of the imagination,” Granny said.
All fairy stories take their life from the fact of being different. “Only different people change the world,” Granny used to say. “No one normal has ever changed a crapping thing.”
Only then does Elsa realize that it actually couldn’t have had a chance to relieve itself for several days, unless it did so inside its flat. Which she rules out because she can’t see how it could have maneuvered itself into using a toilet, and it certainly wouldn’t have crapped on the floor, because this is not the sort of thing a wurse would demean itself by doing. So she assumes that one of the wurse’s superpowers is clenching.
Because not all monsters were monsters in the beginning. Some are monsters born of sorrow.
“Because when you love someone very much, it’s difficult to learn to share her with someone else.”
“I think your grandmother functioned so well in chaotic places because she was herself chaotic. She was always amazing in the midst of a catastrophe. It was just all this, everyday life and normality, that she didn’t quite know how to handle."
The walls of the office are covered in bookshelves. Elsa has never seen so many books outside a library. She wonders if the woman in the black skirt has ever heard of an iPad.
Oh, I love libraries, personal and public.
It’s strange how quickly the significance of a certain smell can change, depending on what path it decides to take through the brain. It’s strange how close love and fear live to each other.
“Never mess with someone who has more spare time than you do,” Granny used to say. Elsa used to translate that as, “Never mess with someone who’s perky for her age.”
It’s easier to get people talking about things they dislike than things they like, Elsa has noticed. And it’s easier not to get frightened of shadows in the dark when someone is talking, whatever they’re talking about.
If you don’t like people, they can’t hurt you.
“It’s hard to help those who don’t want to help themselves.”
“Someone who wants to help himself is possibly not the one who most needs help from others,” Elsa objects.
But she doesn’t want to disappoint him, so she stays quiet. Because you hardly ever disappoint anybody if you just stay quiet.
The mightiest power of death is not that it can make people die, but that it can make the people left behind want to stop living, she thinks, without remembering where she heard that.
Death was Granny’s nemesis. That’s why she never wanted to talk about it. And that was also why she became a surgeon, to cause death as much trouble as she could.
People in the real world always say, when something terrible happens, that the sadness and loss and aching pain of the heart will “lessen as time passes,” but it isn’t true. Sorrow and loss are constant, but if we all had to go through our whole lives carrying them the whole time, we wouldn’t be able to stand it. The sadness would paralyze us. So in the end we just pack it into bags and find somewhere to leave it.
Fears are like cigarettes, said Granny: the hard thing isn’t stopping, it’s not starting.
“Sometimes it’s hard to share one’s sorrow with people one doesn’t know."
“Don’t fight with monsters, for you can become one. If you look into the abyss for long enough, the abyss looks into you.”
“Granny always said: ‘Don’t kick the shit, it’ll go all over the place!’ ”
Looks like dads do when it suddenly dawns on them that something they used to do because it was important to their daughters has now become one of those things their daughters do because it’s important to their dads. It’s a very thin line to cross. Neither dads nor their daughters ever forget when they do cross it.
She hates that Mum has secrets from her. When you know someone is keeping secrets from you it makes you feel like an idiot, and no one likes feeling like an idiot.
“Most likely they told her a whole lot of damned things she wasn’t allowed to do, for a range of different reasons. But she damned well did them all the same. A few years after she was born they were still telling girls they couldn’t vote in the bleeding elections, but now the girls do it all the same. That’s damned well how you stand up to bastards who tell you what you can and can’t do. You bloody do those things all the bloody same.”
“Why are you so horrible to each other if you’re brothers?”
“You don’t get to choose your siblings,” mutters Alf.
Bowled over by this, Elsa looks at him and waits, because she knows that only by waiting will she get him to tell the whole story. You know things like that when you’re almost eight. She waits for as long as she needs to.
It’s snowing again, and Elsa decides that even if people she likes have been shits on earlier occasions, she has to learn to carry on liking them. You’d quickly run out of people if you had to disqualify all those who at some point have been shits.
Now and then Elsa would ask Granny why grown-ups were always doing such idiotic things to each other. Granny usually answered that it was because grown-ups are generally people, and people are generally shits.
Granny then said the real trick of life was that almost no one is entirely a shit and almost no one is entirely not a shit. The hard part of life is keeping as much on the not-a-shit side as one can.
Tell him that sometimes things have to clear a space so something else can take its place.
The problem is this whole issue of heroes at the ends of fairy tales, and how they are supposed to “live happily to the end of their days.” This gets tricky, from a narrative perspective, because the people who reach the end of their days must leave others who have to live out their days without them. It is very, very difficult to be the one who has to stay behind and live without them.
A funeral can go on for weeks, because few events in life are a better opportunity to tell stories. Admittedly on the first day it’s mainly stories about sorrow and loss, but gradually as the days and nights pass, they transform into the sorts of stories that you can’t tell without bursting out laughing.
“So why are you together, then?”
“Because we accept each other as we are, perhaps.”
“And you and Mum tried to change each other?”
Note to self during reading: Why did I start reading this book? My goodness, this book is powerful.
Okay, first up, this book made me cry. It goes in the rare amazing category of "this book is amazing and/or life-changing, let me buy you a copy" books.
I started this book today, and finished this book today. I wanted something slightly different than the yet-another-astrophysics book I was reading, and picked this one up. And didn't put it down.
And I cried. So much of this book is about the unfairness of life, how the good are cut down too soon, how life takes unexpected turns, how much of life is loss, how we all struggle, and how beautiful a life can be when it has a passion, has meaning.
I don't know. In some ways, it was yet another reminder of how much of my life I have done wrong. That makes it a good book, I'd say, a book that causes self-reflection. As Kalanithi asks, "If the unexamined life was not worth living, was the unlived life worth examining?"
I'm not spoiling anything by saying, hey, he dies in the end. We all die in the end. Not all of us go out gracefully, or so soon. Not all of us live as well or as intensely.
I will be rereading this book. It's amazing, let me buy you a copy.
I spent the next year in classrooms in the English countryside, where I found myself increasingly often arguing that direct experience of life-and-death questions was essential to generating substantial moral opinions about them. Words began to feel as weightless as the breath that carried them.
Moral speculation was puny compared to moral action.
The neatness of medical diagrams did nothing to represent Nature, red not only in tooth and claw but in birth as well.
I still had a lot of practical medicine to learn, but would knowledge alone be enough, with life and death hanging in the balance? Surely intelligence wasn’t enough; moral clarity was needed as well. Somehow, I had to believe, I would gain not only knowledge but wisdom, too.
By the end of the conversation, the family was not at ease, but they seemed able to face the future. I had watched the parents’ faces—at first wan, dull, almost otherworldly—sharpen and focus.
At those critical junctures, the question is not simply whether to live or die but what kind of life is worth living.
Because the brain mediates our experience of the world, any neurosurgical problem forces a patient and family, ideally with a doctor as a guide, to answer this question: What makes life meaningful enough to go on living?
Drowning, even in blood, one adapts, learns to float, to swim, even to enjoy life, bonding with the nurses, doctors, and others who are clinging to the same raft, caught in the same tide.
When there’s no place for the scalpel, words are the surgeon’s only tool.
I had to help those families understand that the person they knew—the full, vital independent human—now lived only in the past and that I needed their input to understand what sort of future he or she would want: an easy death or to be strung between bags of fluids going in, others coming out, to persist despite being unable to struggle.
To me, that hardness always seems brittle, unrealistic optimism the only alternative to crushing despair.
Openness to human relationality does not mean revealing grand truths from the apse; it means meeting patients where they are, in the narthex or nave, and bringing them as far as you can.
Those burdens are what make medicine holy and wholly impossible: in taking up another’s cross, one must sometimes get crushed by the weight.
While most scientists connived to publish in the most prestigious journals and get their names out there, V maintained that our only obligation was to be authentic to the scientific story and to tell it uncompromisingly.
He paused. “Paul,” he said, “do you think my life has meaning? Did I make the right choices?”
If boredom is, as Heidegger argued, the awareness of time passing, then surgery felt like the opposite: the intense focus made the arms of the clock seem arbitrarily placed.
Doctors in highly charged fields met patients at inflected moments, the most authentic moments, where life and identity were under threat; their duty included learning what made that particular patient’s life worth living, and planning to save those things if possible—or to allow the peace of death if not.
Death comes for all of us. For us, for our patients: it is our fate as living, breathing, metabolizing organisms.
Our patients’ lives and identities may be in our hands, yet death always wins. Even if you are perfect, the world isn’t. The secret is to know that the deck is stacked, that you will lose, that your hands or judgment will slip, and yet still struggle to win for your patients.
Part II: Cease Not till Death
It felt less like an epiphany—a piercing burst of light, illuminating What Really Matters—and more like someone had just firebombed the path forward. Now I would have to work around it.
“I think she likes you.” “And?” “Well, there’s that study that says doctors do a worse job prognosticating for patients they’re personally invested in.”
I began to realize that coming in such close contact with my own mortality had changed both nothing and everything. Before my cancer was diagnosed, I knew that someday I would die, but I didn’t know when. After the diagnosis, I knew that someday I would die, but I didn’t know when. But now I knew it acutely. The problem wasn’t really a scientific one. The fact of death is unsettling. Yet there is no other way to live.
Yes, all cancer patients are unlucky, but there’s cancer, and then there’s CANCER, and you have to be really unlucky to have the latter.
What patients seek is not scientific knowledge that doctors hide but existential authenticity each person must find on her own. Getting too deeply into statistics is like trying to quench a thirst with salty water. The angst of facing mortality has no remedy in probability.
If the weight of mortality does not grow lighter, does it at least get more familiar?
Years ago, it had occurred to me that Darwin and Nietzsche agreed on one thing: the defining characteristic of the organism is striving.
After so many years of living with death, I’d come to understand that the easiest death wasn’t necessarily the best.
The monolithic uncertainty of my future was deadening; everywhere I turned, the shadow of death obscured the meaning of any action.
Why? Because I could. Because that’s who I was. Because I would have to learn to live in a different way, seeing death as an imposing itinerant visitor but knowing that even if I’m dying, until I actually die, I am still living.
Moral duty has weight, things that have weight have gravity, and so the duty to bear mortal responsibility pulled me back into the operating room.
The tricky part of illness is that, as you go through it, your values are constantly changing. You try to figure out what matters to you, and then you keep figuring it out.
The way forward would seem obvious, if only I knew how many months or years I had left. Tell me three months, I’d spend time with family. Tell me one year, I’d write a book. Give me ten years, I’d get back to treating diseases. The truth that you live one day at a time didn’t help: What was I supposed to do with that day?
She had done what I had challenged myself to do as a doctor years earlier: accepted mortal responsibility for my soul and returned me to a point where I could return to myself.
I didn’t know. But if I did not know what I wanted, I had learned something, something not found in Hippocrates, Maimonides, or Osler: the physician’s duty is not to stave off death or return patients to their old lives, but to take into our arms a patient and family whose lives have disintegrated and work until they can stand back up and face, and make sense of, their own existence.
It featured a frustrated Jesus whose metaphorical language receives literal interpretation from his followers:
Not only that, but maybe the basic message of original sin isn’t “Feel guilty all the time.” Maybe it is more along these lines: “We all have a notion of what it means to be good, and we can’t live up to it all the time.” Maybe that’s what the message of the New Testament is, after all. Even if you have a notion as well defined as Leviticus, you can’t live that way. It’s not just impossible, it’s insane.
There we were, doctor and patient, in a relationship that sometimes carries a magisterial air and other times, like now, was no more, and no less, than two people huddled together, as one faces the abyss.
Most ambitions are either achieved or abandoned; either way, they belong to the past. The future, instead of the ladder toward the goals of life, flattens out into a perpetual present.
Epilogue by Lucy Kalanithi
Paul’s decision not to avert his eyes from death epitomizes a fortitude we don’t celebrate enough in our death-avoidant culture.
“Bereavement is not the truncation of married love,” C. S. Lewis wrote, “but one of its regular phases—like the honeymoon. What we want is to live our marriage well and faithfully through that phase too.”
Okay, I really don't know where I found the recommendation for this book, or why exactly I picked it up to read, other than it is a book on writing. Except that this is a book on writing non-fiction, and, well, let's be real, I write fiction.
Unsurprisingly, however, I enjoyed the book. I read it more slowly than I normally read books because much of the advice McPhee gives is embedded in the stories he tells. The format of the book is some varied order of story-lesson-example repeated, with the themes of structure, editors, checkpoints, and the like.
The book is such a great book for writers, not only because McPhee is a fun writer with an intelligent moustache (his joke, read the book to understand), but also because the structure of the book is as instructive as the lessons in it. The book is so much more enjoyable in the story-telling than it would be with only the lessons.
Which is, one would think, one of the points.
The last part of the book talks about the confidence of writers and how words, any words, down for the first draft, are often the hardest part of writing. I do so appreciate this part of the book a lot. Draft No 4 is usually the winner, YMMV.
I appreciated this book a lot, for the stories, for the structure, and for the lessons. I strongly recommend the book for anyone who writes non-fiction, but not necessarily of the technical sort.
Even more so, however, new pieces can shoot up from other pieces, pursuing connections that run through the ground like rhizomes. Set one of these progressions in motion, and it will skein out in surprising ways, finally ending in some unexpected place.
I had assembled enough material to fill a silo, and now I had no idea what to do with it.
Mrs. McKee made us do three pieces of writing a week. Not every single week. Some weeks had Thanksgiving in them. But we wrote three pieces a week most weeks for three years.
This ... is awesome.
To lack confidence at the outset seems rational to me. It doesn’t matter that something you’ve done before worked out well. Your last piece is never going to write your next one for you.
“You can build a strong, sound, and artful structure. You can build a structure in such a way that it causes people to want to keep turning pages. A compelling structure in nonfiction can have an attracting effect analogous to a story line in fiction.”
The white space that separated the Upset Rapid and the alpinist said things that I would much prefer to leave to the white space to say — violin phraseology about courage and lack of courage and how they can exist side by side in the human breast.
The procedure eliminated nearly all distraction and concentrated just the material I had to deal with in a given day or week. It painted me into a corner, yes, but in doing so it freed me to write.
Kedit’s All command helps me find all the times I use any word or phrase in a given piece, and tells me how many lines separate each use from the next.
Or, as Tracy Kidder wrote in 1981, in The Soul of a New Machine, “Software that works is precious. Users don’t idly discard it.”
"I don't know WHAT he is talkinga about," she thinks as she laments the loss of OSX 10.6.
Often, after you have reviewed your notes many times and thought through your material, it is difficult to frame much of a structure until you write a lead. You wade around in your notes, getting nowhere. You don’t see a pattern. You don’t know what to do. So stop everything. Stop looking at the notes. Hunt through your mind for a good beginning. Then write it. Write a lead.
Stop looking at the notes. Hunt through your mind for a good beginning. Then write it. Write a lead. If the whole piece is not to be a long one, you may plunge right on and out the other side and have a finished draft before you know it; but if the piece is to have some combination of substance, complexity, and structural juxtaposition that pays dividends, you might begin with that acceptable and workable lead and then be able to sit back with the lead in hand and think about where you are going and how you plan to get there.
... if the piece is not to be a long one, you may plunge right on and out the other side and have a finished draft before you know it; but if the piece is to have some combination of substance, complexity, and structural juxtaposition that pays dividends, you might begin with that acceptable and workable lead and then be able to sit back with the lead in hand and think about where you are going and how you plan to get there. Writing a successful lead, in other words, can illuminate the structure problem for you and cause you to see the piece whole—to see it conceptually, in various parts, to which you then assign your materials. You find your lead, you build your structure, you are now free to write.
In slightly altered form, I’m including them here. I would go so far as to suggest that you should always write your lead (redoing it and polishing it until you are satisfied that it will serve) before you go at the big pile of raw material and sort it into a structure.
All leads — of every variety — should be sound. They should never promise what does not follow.
A lead is a promise. It promises that the piece of writing is going to be like this. If it is not going to be so, don’t use the lead.
Morning Star one year, I was full of admiration for the way Evan S. Connell would briefly mention something, amplify it slightly fifteen pages later, and add to it twenty pages after that, gradually teasing up enough curiosity to call for a full-scale set piece.
What to include, what to leave out. Those thoughts are with you from the start. While scribbling your notes in the field, you obviously leave out a great deal of what you’re looking at.
Broadly speaking, the word “interests” in this context has subdivisions of appeal, among them the ways in which the choices help to set the scene, the ways in which the choices suggest some undercurrent about the people or places being described, and, not least, the sheer sound of the words that bring forth the detail.
I wanted the story of the voyage to begin in total darkness on the ship’s bridge at 4 a.m. in the southeast Pacific Ocean off Valparaiso, and to be given the immediacy of the present tense.
Of course, ValparaIso, Chile, not ValparAiso, Indiana.
Still, caught my attention.
Ending pieces is difficult, and usable endings are difficult to come by. It’s nice when they just appear in appropriate places and times.
If you have come to your planned ending and it doesn’t seem to be working, run your eye up the page and the page before that. You may see that your best ending is somewhere in there, that you were finished before you thought you were.
When am I done? I just know. I’m lucky that way. What I know is that I can’t do any better; someone else might do better, but that’s all I can do; so I call it done.
It dealt with tedium, and the yearning of people who go to sea to get off the sea.
Grass is always greener, etc.
Shawn edited the piece himself, as he routinely did with new writers of long fact, breaking them in, so to speak, but not exactly like a horse, more like a baseball mitt.
Love this analogy.
In discussing a long fact piece, Mr. Shawn would say, often enough, “How do you know?” and “How would you know?” and “How can you possibly know that?” He was saying clearly enough that any nonfiction writer ought always to hold those questions in the forefront of the mind.
The writing impulse seeks its own level and isn’t always given a chance to find it.
Young writers find out what kinds of writers they are by experiment. If they choose from the outset to practice exclusively a form of writing because it is praised in the classroom or otherwise carries appealing prestige, they are vastly increasing the risk inherent in taking up writing in the first place. It is so easy to misjudge yourself and get stuck in the wrong genre. You avoid that, early on, by writing in every genre. If you are telling yourself you’re a poet, write poems. Write a lot of poems. If fewer than one work out, throw them all away; you’re not a poet. Maybe you’re a novelist. You won’t know until you have written several novels.
I have long thought that Ben Jonson summarized the process when he said, “Though a man be more prone and able for one kind of writing than another, yet he must exercise all.” Gender aside, I take that to be a message to young writers.
As Confucius might say, You are what you can’t become, but you can see to it, for a time, that no one becomes what you are.
No one will ever write in just the way that you do, or in just the way that anyone else does. Because of this fact, there is no real competition between writers. What appears to be competition is actually nothing more than jealousy and gossip.
My advice is, never stop battling for the survival of your own unique stamp. An editor can contribute a lot to your thoughts but the piece is yours—and ought to be yours—if it is under your name.
Editors have come along who use terms like “nut graph” — as in “What this piece needs is a good nut graph” — meaning a paragraph close to the beginning that encapsulates the subject and why you are writing about it. That sort of structural formalism is a part of the rote methodology that governs the thought of people who don’t have better ideas.
Something something five paragraph essay something...
Writers come in two principal categories — those who are overtly insecure and those who are covertly insecure — and they can all use help. The help is spoken and informal, and includes insight, encouragement, and reassurance with regard to a current project. If you have an editor like that, you are, among other things, lucky; and, through time, the longer the two of you are talking, the more helpful the conversation will be.
If doing nothing can produce a useful reaction, so can the appearance of being dumb. You can develop a distinct advantage by waxing slow of wit. Evidently, you need help. Who is there to help you but the person who is answering your questions? The result is the opposite of the total shutdown that might have occurred if you had come on glib and omniscient.
We should just be hoping that our pieces aren’t obsolete before the editor sees them.
Frames of reference are like the constellation of lights, some of them blinking, on an airliner descending toward an airport at night. You see the lights. They imply a structure you can’t see. Inside that frame of reference—those descending lights—is a big airplane with its flaps down expecting a runway.
Frank wrote that he was wondering if all of us are losing what he felicitously called our “collective vocabulary.” He asked, “Are common points of reference dwindling? Has the personal niche supplanted the public square?” My answer would be that the collective vocabulary and common points of reference are not only dwindling now but have been for centuries. The dwindling may have become speedier, but it is an old and continuous condition.
It was a story told to me by John A. Wheeler, who, during the Second World War, had been the leading physicist in residence at the Hanford Engineer Works, on the Columbia River in south-central Washington, where he attended the startup and plutonium production of the first large-scale nuclear reactor in the world.
The Japanese called the balloons fūsen bakudan. Thirty-three feet in diameter, they were made of paper and were equipped with incendiary devices or high explosives. In less than a year, nine thousand were launched from a beach on Honshu. They killed six people in Oregon, five of them children, and they started forest fires, and they landed from Alaska to Mexico and as far east as Farmington, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit.
The worst checking error is calling people dead who are not dead. In the words of Joshua Hersh, “It really annoys them.”
An almost foolproof backup screen to the magazine-to-book progression is the magazine’s vigilant readership. After an error gets into The New Yorker, heat-seeking missiles rise off the earth and home in on the author, the fact-checker, the editor, and even the shade of the founder.
Block. It puts some writers down for months. It puts some writers down for life. A not always brief or minor form of it mutes all writers from the outset of every day.
That four-to-one ratio in writing time—first draft versus the other drafts combined—has for me been consistent in projects of any length, even if the first draft takes only a few days or weeks.
The way to do a piece of writing is three or four times over, never once. For me, the hardest part comes first, getting something—anything—out in front of me.
The difference between a common writer and an improviser on a stage (or any performing artist) is that writing can be revised. Actually, the essence of the process is revision. The adulating portrait of the perfect writer who never blots a line comes Express Mail from fairyland.
This makes me ponder if this is why podcasts are so difficult for me.
"...Who was I to take on that subject? It was terrifying. One falls into such projects like slipping into caves, and then wonders how to get out. To feel such doubt is a part of the picture—important and inescapable. When I hear some young writer express that sort of doubt, it serves as a checkpoint; if they don’t say something like it they are quite possibly, well, kidding themselves.”
The developing writer reacts to excellence as it is discovered—wherever and whenever—and of course does some imitating (unavoidably) in the process of drawing from the admired fabric things to make one’s own.
"... A relaxed, unself-conscious style is not something that one person is born with and another not. Writers do not spring full-blown from the ear of Zeus.”
It is toward the end of the second draft, if I’m lucky, when the feeling comes over me that I have something I want to show to other people, something that seems to be working and is not going to go away.
You draw a box not only around any word that does not seem quite right but also around words that fulfill their assignment but seem to present an opportunity.
I like this idea.
The dictionary definitions of words you are trying to replace are far more likely to help you out than a scattershot wad from a thesaurus.
The value of a thesaurus is not to make a writer seem to have a vast vocabulary of recondite words. The value of a thesaurus is in the assistance it can give you in finding the best possible word for the mission that the word is supposed to fulfill.
There can be situations, though, wherein words or phrases lie between the specific object and the clause that proves its specificity, and would call for the irregular restrictive “which.”
Today I became aware of the irregular restrictive "which," which I now love!
House style is a mechanical application of things like spelling and italics. In The New Yorker, “travelling” is spelled with two “l” s.
Oh heck yes.
Reading a sentence like “She didn’t know what happened to the other five people travelling with her,” they will see that what the writer could mean is that the traveller was one of eleven people on the trip.
This is high-alloy nitpicking, but why not?
There is elegance in the less ambiguous way. She didn’t know what happened to the five other people who were travelling with her.
To linger in the same thin air, what is the difference between “further” and “farther”? In the dictionary, look up “further.” It says “farther.” Look up “farther.” It says “further.” So you’re safe and can roll over and sleep. But the distinction has a difference and O.K.’ ers know what’s O.K. “Farther” refers to measurable distance. “Further” is a matter of degree. Will you stop pelting me with derision? That’s enough out of you. You’ll go no further.
Five years later, when I happened to be writing about lacrosse in Manchester, England, I worked in the word “Mancunian” three times in one short paragraph. It was the second-best demonym I’d ever heard, almost matching Vallisoletano (a citizen of Valladolid).
Writing is selection. Just to start a piece of writing you have to choose one word and only one from more than a million in the language. Now keep going.
At base you have only one criterion: If something interests you, it goes in—if not, it stays out. That’s a crude way to assess things, but it’s all you’ve got.
Never market-research your writing. Write on subjects in which you have enough interest on your own to see you through all the stops, starts, hesitations, and other impediments along the way.
Ideally, a piece of writing should grow to whatever length is sustained by its selected material—that much and no more.
Writing is selection. From the first word of the first sentence in an actual composition, the writer is choosing, selecting, and deciding (most importantly) what to leave out.
In other words: There are known knowns — there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns. That is to say, we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns—the ones we don’t know we don’t know. Yes, the influence of Ernest Hemingway evidently extended to the Pentagon.
This is from Rumsfield in 2002.
And this quote keeps coming up in the various books I'm reading, too.
The creative writer leaves white space between chapters or segments of chapters. The creative reader silently articulates the unwritten thought that is present in the white space.
When you are deciding what to leave out, begin with the author.
Creative nonfiction is not making something up but making the most of what you have.
And I give them the whole of the Gettysburg Address (twenty-five lines, Green 3). Memorization and familiarity have made that difficult, yes, but scarcely impossible. For example, if you green the latter part of sentence 9 and the first part of sentence 10, you can attach the head of 9 to the long tail of 10 and pick up twenty-four words, nine per cent of Abraham Lincoln’s famously compact composition:
9. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here
10. to the great task remaining before us …
Yes. Those two lines would flow better that way. But, Lincoln, so we keep it the same as it ever was.
Rob Whiteley recommended this book to me, mentioning that the book is short, yet profound when it comes to determining what bullshit is, and what it is not.
The book is an essay on bullshit. Given the title, this should be obvious. It should have taken me about a half hour to read. I spent much longer reading it, because some parts of it were worth rereading and sitting with, before continuing.
Key points include: bullshit is different than lying, bullshit is closer to bluffing than lying, bullshitting is more acceptable than lying, and, as Rob quoted to me, not all speech is intended to express reality. Intent is also a part of bullshit, as is truth (specifically, not necessarily caring what the truth is at the moment).
The book is, as Rob says, worth a read. Most libraries have it. I recommended heading over to your nearest, sitting down with a cup of coffee, and reading it during lunch.
Also as Rob says:
The idea behind it is subtle but powerful.
It is just this lack of connection to a concern with truth — this indifference to how things really are — that I regard as of the essence of bullshit.
What is distinctive about the sort of informal discussion among males that constitutes a bull session is, it seems to me, something like this: while the discussion may be intense and significant, it is in a certain respect not “for real.”
It does seem that bullshitting involves a kind of bluff. It is closer to bluffing, surely, than to telling a lie.
In fact, people do tend to be more tolerant of bullshit than of lies, perhaps because we are less inclined to take the former as a personal affront. We may seek to distance ourselves from bullshit, but we are more likely to turn away from it with an impatient or irritated shrug than with the sense of violation or outrage that lies often inspire.
Telling a lie is an act with a sharp focus. It is designed to insert a particular falsehood at a specific point in a set or system of beliefs, in order to avoid the consequences of having that point occupied by the truth.
Since they are told only on account of their supposed indispensability to a goal other than deception itself, Saint Augustine regards them as being told unwillingly: what the person really wants is not to tell the lie but to attain the goal.
This is book 3 of the Imperial Radch trilogy As such, given how much I enjoyed the last two, and was engaged with the universe Leckie created, I continued with this one (and, let's be real, the next one, too).
Much as the previous two, this book has a society commentary aspect wrapped inside the science-fiction part of the world. In particular, this commentary is about power, the use of power, the corrupting influences of power, and the collateral damage of power. Standing up to power, saying the right thing, doing the right thing, it puts one at a complete disadvantage. One needs to have an entire acceptance of one's small part of this universe, to have acceptance of the meaninglessness of everything, and to have acceptance that, well, this is going to hurt, this standing up for one's ideals.
It's an ugly, nasty mess. Most people lose.
Some become the monsters they fight.
I vaguely recall that Susan and Rob didn't like this book as much as the first. If this is the case, and I am not sure it is the case, I would guess the lack of world building is part of the reduced excitement compared to the first book. This book starts two weeks after the last book ended, so the first book is needed to understand what is happening in this book.
This book doesn't nicely wrap up everything in the book, but it does wrap up some parts of the origins and destinations of some characters. The universe created is definitely one that can linger for a good one or two dozen books.
I personally enjoyed this book, both for the science-fiction part and the power play part. Again, recommended.
“Military matters no doubt. And Citizen Raughd. Such a nice, well-bred young person.” Raughd Denche had attempted to kill me, mere days before Captain Hetnys’s untoward behavior. “Surely they’ll have had reasons for what they did, surely that should be taken into account!"
The Pigeon Hole Principle: we place people into categories some time during the first part of knowing someone. This placement is dependent on the person, what we know about the person's history, and our history. Once a person is in that category, we forgive what we believe is good about them, and hate what we believe has wrongly happened to them, even if the good and the bad are independent of reality.
Happened in ultimate all the time. "Oh, he had a bad day." No, he wasn't a good player any more. "Wow, she played above herself!" No, she's become a better player.
That, and the bringing to bear of the daily omen casting. I had met quite a few priests in my long life, and found that they were, by and large, like anyone else—some generous, some grasping; some kind, some cruel; some humble, some self-aggrandizing. Most were all of those things, in various proportions, at various times. Like anyone else, as I said. But I had learned to be wary whenever a priest suggested that her personal aims were, in fact, God’s will.
“Lieutenant,” I said, “I would hope that you would realize that I have no desire to govern here. I am perfectly happy to let the Athoeki govern themselves.”
And so will the Xhais, truth be told, but let them get the idea that any Ychana has somehow ended up with something she doesn’t deserve…”
“Sir,” said Tisarwat. “I understand—I think I understand—why you don’t want me to use them, even now. But, sir, she won’t hesitate to use them.”
“That’s a reason to use them ourselves, is it?” I asked.
“It’s an advantage we have, sir! That she won’t know we have! And it’s not like our not using it will spare Station anything. You know she’ll use those accesses herself! We might as well get there first.”
I wanted to tell her that she was thinking exactly like Anaander Mianaai, but it would have hurt her, and besides, she mostly couldn’t help it.
“May I point out, Lieutenant, that I am as I am now precisely because of that sort of thinking?”
“Lieutenant,” I replied, “I cannot possibly describe to you how unpleasant it is to have irreconcilable, conflicting imperatives forcibly implanted in your mind. Anaander has surely been before you—both of her. You think Station wants
“But since you mention it, do you think you can perhaps arrange things so that Station can’t be compelled by anyone? Not Anaander Mianaai, not any of her? Not us?” “What?” Tisarwat stood confused in the scuffed gray corridor on Athoek Station. She genuinely had not understood what I had just said. “Can you close off all the accesses to Station? So that neither Anaander can control it? Or better, can you give Station its own deep accesses and let it make whatever changes it wants to itself, or let it choose who has access and how much?” “Let it…” As it became clear to her what I was suggesting, she began, just slightly, to hyperventilate. “Sir, you’re not seriously suggesting that.” I didn’t reply. “Sir, it’s a station. Millions of lives depend on it.” “I think Station is sensible of that, don’t you?” “But, sir! What if something were to go wrong? No one could get in to fix it.” I considered asking just what she thought would constitute something going wrong, but she continued without pausing. “And what… sir, what if you did that and it decided it wanted to work for her? I don’t think that’s at all unlikely, sir.” “I think,” I replied, downwell, watching Translator Zeiat, now leaning precariously out the window, “that no matter who it allies itself with, its primary concern will be the well-being of its residents.”
“Have you thought about it? I mean, really thought about it. This wouldn’t just change things in Radch space. Sooner or later it will change things everywhere. And I know, sir, that it’s gone all wrong, but the whole idea behind the expansion of the Radch is to protect the Radch itself, it’s about the protection of humanity. What happens when any AI can remake itself? Even the armed ones? What happens when AIs can build new AIs with no restrictions? AIs are already smarter and stronger than humans, what happens when they decide they don’t need humans at all? Or if they decide they only need humans for body parts?”
Will you fight the tyrant with weapons she made, for her own use?” “We are weapons she made for her own use.” “We are. But will you pick up every one of those weapons, and use them against her? What will you accomplish? You will be just like her, and if you succeed you’ll have done no more than change the name of the tyrant. Nothing will be different.” She looked at me, confused and, I thought, distressed. “And what if you don’t pick them up?” she asked, finally. “And you fail? Nothing will be different then, either.” “That’s what Lieutenant Awn thought,” I said. “And she realized too late that she was mistaken.” Tisarwat didn’t
She drew in a shaking breath and then cried, “How can this be happening? How can there be any benefit at all? She tells herself that, you know, that all of it is ultimately for the benefit of humanity, that everyone has their place, their part of the plan, and sometimes some individuals just have to suffer for that greater benefit. But it’s easy to tell yourself that, isn’t it, when you’re never the one on the receiving end. Why does it have to be us?” I didn’t reply. The question was an old one, and she knew its various conventional answers as well as I did.
“As of three minutes ago. And I’m off meds. I told Medic I didn’t need them anymore.” “You realize”—I still kept a bit of attention for Tisarwat, herself cross-legged on her own bed, eyes closed, accessing the relay through Ship—“ that it’s the meds that make you feel like you don’t need meds anymore.”
“This isn’t new,” I said. I didn’t think she heard me, though. Blood was rushing to her face, she wanted to flee, but of course there was nowhere she could go and be away from herself.
“And so what’s the point, sir? What’s the point of talking about training and promotions as though it’s all going to just go on like it always has?” “What’s the point of anything?” “Sir?” She blinked, confused. Taken aback. “In a thousand years, Lieutenant, nothing you care about will matter. Not even to you—you’ll be dead. So will I, and no one alive will care.
“And that thousand years will come, and another and another, to the end of the universe. Think of all the griefs and tragedies, and yes, the triumphs, buried in the past, millions of years of it. Everything for the people who lived them. Nothing now.”
I smiled. “The point is, there is no point. Choose your own.” “We don’t usually get to choose our own, do we?” she asked. “You do, I suppose, but you’re a special case. And everyone on this ship, we’re just going along with yours.”
I said, “It doesn’t have to be a big point. As you say, often it can’t be. Sometimes it’s nothing more than I have to find a way to put one foot in front of the other, or I’ll die here. If we lose this throw, if we lose our lives in the near future, then yes, training and promotions will have been pointless. But who knows? Perhaps the omens will favor us.
“When you’re doing something like this,” I said, “the odds are irrelevant. You don’t need to know the odds. You need to know how to do the thing you’re trying to do. And then you need to do it. What comes next”—I gestured, the tossing of a handful of omens—“ isn’t something you have any control over.”
“It made so much sense.” She sniffled. “It seemed so obviously the right thing, when I thought of it. And now it seems impossible.” “That’s how these things go,” I said. “You already know that. Are you sure you don’t want tea?” “I’m sure,” she said, wiping her eyes. “I’m on my way to the airlock. And I hate having to pee in my vacuum suit.”
“Don’t be like that, Amaat,” I said. “I’m one soldier. Not even a whole one. What do I weigh, against all of Athoek Station?” And I had been in more desperate straits, and lived. Still, one day—perhaps this one—I would not.
“I’ve survived worse odds,” I told her.
“Someday you won’t,” she said.
“That is true of all of us,” I said.
Entertainments nearly always end with triumph or disaster—happiness achieved, or total, tragic defeat precluding any hope of it. But there is always more after the ending—always the next morning and the next, always changes, losses and gains. Always one step after the other. Until the one true ending that none of us can escape. But even that ending is only a small one, large as it looms for us. There is still the next morning for everyone else. For the vast majority of the rest of the universe, that ending might as well not ever have happened. Every ending is an arbitrary one. Every ending is, from another angle, not really an ending.
I wanted to like this book. I REALLY wanted to like this book.
I didn't like this book.
Not necessarily because it isn't a good book (well, maybe not necessarily), my mom enjoyed it, for example, but because it didn't actually say anything about Ikigai other than its definition.
The idea behide Ikigai is that if you have meaning if your life, you will be able to depending on that meaning through difficult times (resiliency), and have a reason to wake up in the morning. This meaning is part of the reason why people who live long live long.
Except that we don't really know why some people live longer than other people. Something something telomeres, which are barely mentioned in the book, be happy, have a strong community, be less stressful, eat lots of fruit - or was it vegetables, walk a lot, none of the people who live a long life actually KNOW why they live long. Some themes appear, but they don't KNOW.
The book is best described as skimming the surface of many reasons given why some people live longer than others (see above re: meaning, stress, community, exercise, vegetables). It tells us what but doesn't give how, or even offer any suggestion beyond "figure out what you're doing when you're in flow, and do more of that" to find meaning. I'm not against books that skim the surface of many topics, The Antidote and The Happiness Hypothesis are two of my favorite self-help books, and both are similar in their approach of "many ideas under one theme" that Ikigai uses.
Yet they work, and this one didn't. Unsure why.
I wanted to like this book. I found it too shallow. So, while I'm glad I read it (so that I won't wonder now if I should read it), I wouldn't hand it to anyone to read. I'm more likely to hand them Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning.
Nurturing friendships, eating light, getting enough rest, and doing regular, moderate exercise are all part of the equation of good health, but at the heart of the joie de vivre that inspires these centenarians to keep celebrating birthdays and cherishing each new day is their ikigai.
Certain longevity studies suggest that a strong sense of community and a clearly defined ikigai are just as important as the famously healthful Japanese diet—perhaps even more so.
Our neurons start to age while we are still in our twenties. This process is slowed, however, by intellectual activity, curiosity, and a desire to learn. Dealing with new situations, learning something new every day, playing games, and interacting with other people seem to be essential antiaging strategies for the mind. Furthermore, a more positive outlook in this regard will yield greater mental benefits.
Stress has a degenerative effect over time. A sustained state of emergency affects the neurons associated with memory, as well as inhibiting the release of certain hormones, the absence of which can cause depression.
A powerful antioxidant, melatonin helps us live longer, and also offers the following benefits: It strengthens the immune system. It contains an element that protects against cancer. It promotes the natural production of insulin. It slows the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. It helps prevent osteoporosis and fight heart disease.
We can compensate for this by: Eating a balanced diet and getting more calcium. Soaking up a moderate amount of sun each day. Getting enough sleep. Avoiding stress, alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine, all of which make it harder to get a good night’s rest, depriving us of the melatonin we need.
A stoic attitude—serenity in the face of a setback—can also help keep you young, as it lowers anxiety and stress levels and stabilizes behavior. This can be seen in the greater life expectancies of certain cultures with unhurried, deliberate lifestyles.
Frankl explains that one of the first questions he would ask his patients was “Why do you not commit suicide?” Usually the patient found good reasons not to, and was able to carry on.
What, then, does logotherapy do?
The answer is pretty clear: It helps you find reasons to live. Logotherapy pushes patients to consciously discover their life’s purpose in order to confront their neuroses. Their quest to fulfill their destiny then motivates them to press forward, breaking the mental chains of the past and overcoming whatever obstacles they encounter along the way.
Based on his own experience, Frankl believed that our health depends on that natural tension that comes from comparing what we’ve accomplished so far with what we’d like to achieve in the future. What we need, then, is not a peaceful existence, but a challenge we can strive to meet by applying all the skills at our disposal.
Better living through logotherapy: A few key ideas We don’t create the meaning of our life, as Sartre claimed—we discover it. We each have a unique reason for being, which can be adjusted or transformed many times over the years. Just as worry often brings about precisely the thing that was feared, excessive attention to a desire (or “hyper-intention”) can keep that desire from being fulfilled. Humor can help break negative cycles and reduce anxiety. We all have the capacity to do noble or terrible things. The side of the equation we end up on depends on our decisions, not on the condition in which we find ourselves.
Do what you should be doing. We shouldn’t focus on eliminating symptoms, because recovery will come on its own. We should focus instead on the present moment, and if we are suffering, on accepting that suffering.
Discover your life’s purpose. We can’t control our emotions, but we can take charge of our actions every day. This is why we should have a clear sense of our purpose, and always keep Morita’s mantra in mind: “What do we need to be doing right now? What action should we be taking?”
Naikan meditation Morita was a great Zen master of Naikan introspective meditation. Much of his therapy draws on his knowledge and mastery of this school, which centers on three questions the individual must ask him-or herself: What have I received from person X? What have I given to person X? What problems have I caused person X?
In order to do this, you have to accept that the world—like the people who live in it—is imperfect, but that it is still full of opportunities for growth and achievement.
According to researcher Owen Schaffer of DePaul University, the requirements for achieving flow are:
Knowing what to do
Knowing how to do it
Knowing how well you are doing
Knowing where to go (where navigation is involved)
Perceiving significant challenges
Perceiving significant skills
Being free from distractions
According to a study by Boston Consulting Group, when asked about their bosses, the number one complaint of employees at multinational corporations is that they don’t “communicate the team’s mission clearly,” and that, as a result, the employees don’t know what their objectives are.
In business, the creative professions, and education alike, it’s important to reflect on what we hope to achieve before starting to work, study, or make something. We should ask ourselves questions such as: What is my objective for today’s session in the studio? How many words am I going to write today for the article coming out next month? What is my team’s mission? How fast will I set the metronome tomorrow in order to play that sonata at an allegro tempo by the end of the week?
Having a clear objective is important in achieving flow, but we also have to know how to leave it behind when we get down to business.
When confronted with a big goal, try to break it down into parts and then attack each part one by one.
Many such artists might seem misanthropic or reclusive, but what they are really doing is protecting the time that brings them happiness, sometimes at the expense of other aspects of their lives. They are outliers who apply the principles of flow to their lives to an extreme.
One of the most common mistakes among people starting to meditate is worrying about doing it “right,” achieving absolute mental silence, or reaching “nirvana.” The most important thing is to focus on the journey.
When they inquired about her secret for longevity, she answered with a smile, “I ask myself the same thing.”
When asked about her secret for longevity, she responded simply, “I don’t know what the secret to long life is. The only thing I do is I’ve never eaten meat in my life. I attribute it to that.”
One of her secrets may have been her sense of humor. As she said on her 120th birthday, “I see badly, I hear badly, and I feel bad, but everything’s fine.” 3
“Your mind and your body. You keep both busy,” he said on his 112th birthday, “you’ll be here a long time.”
Among Breuning’s other secrets: He had a habit of helping others, and he wasn’t afraid of dying.
Imich attributed his longevity to, among other things, never drinking alcohol.
When asked about his secret to living so long, his answer was “I don’t know. I just haven’t died yet.”
THIS is the one that is the most honest and accurate. NO IDEA why I haven't died, but here I am.
The eighty-six-year-old filmmaker Frederick Wiseman declared on a stroll through Paris that he likes to work, which is why he does it with such intensity. “Everybody complains about their aches and pains and all that, but my friends are either dead or are still working,” he said.
Ellsworth Kelly, an artist who passed away in 2015 at the age of ninety-two, assured us that the idea that we lose our faculties with age is, in part, a myth, because instead we develop a greater clarity and capacity for observation. “It’s one thing about getting older, you see more. . . . Every day I’m continuing to see new things. That’s why there are new paintings.”
If you want to stay busy even when there’s no need to work, there has to be an ikigai on your horizon, a purpose that guides you throughout your life and pushes you to make things of beauty and utility for the community and yourself.
Taira also tells us that volunteer work, rather than money, drives much of what happens in Ogimi. Everyone offers to pitch in, and the local government takes care of assigning tasks. This way, everyone can be useful and feels like a part of the community.
There are no bars and only a few restaurants in Ogimi, but those who live there enjoy a rich social life that revolves around community centers.
This brings us back to the 80 percent rule we mentioned in the first chapter, a concept known in Japanese as hara hachi bu. It’s easy to do: When you notice you’re almost full but could have a little more . . . just stop eating!
Shikuwasa is the citrus fruit par excellence of Okinawa, and Ogimi is its largest producer in all of Japan.
Consuming nobiletin has been proven to protect us from arteriosclerosis, cancer, type 2 diabetes, and obesity in general.
The book Xiuzhen shishu, known in the West as Ten Books on the Cultivation of Perfection, dates back to the thirteenth century and is a compendium of materials from diverse sources on developing the mind and body.
One of the most commonly used mantras in Buddhism focuses on controlling negative emotions: “Oṃ maṇi padme hūṃ ,” in which oṃ is the generosity that purifies the ego, ma is the ethics that purifies jealousy, ṇi is the patience that purifies passion and desire, pad is the precision that purifies bias, me is the surrender that purifies greed, and hūṃ is the wisdom that purifies hatred.
We should never forget that everything we have and all the people we love will disappear at some point. This is something we should keep in mind, but without giving in to pessimism. Being aware of the impermanence of things does not have to make us sad; it should help us love the present moment and those who surround us.
The tradition of making structures out of wood presupposes their impermanence and the need for future generations to rebuild them. Japanese culture accepts the fleeting nature of the human being and everything we create.
Our intuition and curiosity are very powerful internal compasses to help us connect with our ikigai. Follow those things you enjoy, and get away from or change those you dislike. Be led by your curiosity, and keep busy by doing things that fill you with meaning and happiness. It doesn’t need to be a big thing: we might find meaning in being good parents or in helping our neighbors.
I read this book when I was reading How to Fight. Both books were written by Thich Nhat Hanh. Reading the two books concurrently or immediately sequentially was impactful, many of the lessons reinforced, strengthened.
The reconcilliation of the book's title is about restoring good relationships with the small, often powerless person we were as a child, about accepting the past, and about recognizing the present for what it is and not what we imagine or want it to be.
There are aspects of Buddhism that I struggle with, mostly the ones around ignoring recurring thoughts and anxieties when meditating. This book has some of that, but also instructs us to work with the anxieties originating from childhood trauma (of whatever cause, of whatever intensity, of whatever reason, no matter how small).
This is where the healing can begin: accepting the lack of power we had as a child, reminding ourselves we are now adults, processing the past, and moving forward.
I believe this book is worth reading. Unfortunately, the book won't help if the reader isn't open to the ideas, isn't in a place to heal. When the student is ready, the teacher appears. This book was a teacher for me.
The Buddha said that all of us have the seed of fear, but most of us suppress it and keep it locked in the dark. TO help us identify, embrace, and look deeply at hte seeds of fear, he offered us a practice called the Five Remembrances. They are:
- I am of the nature to grow old. I cannot escape old age.
- I am of the nature to have ill-health. I cannot escaple ill-health.
- I am of the nature to die. I cannot escape dying.
- All that is dear to me and everyone I love are of the nature to change. There is no way to escape being separated from them. I cannot keep anything. I come here empty-handed, and I go empty-handed.
- My actions are my only true belongings. I cannot escape the consequences of my actions. My actions are the groun on which I stand.
We practice the Five Rembrances so that the seed of fear can circulate. We must invite it up to be recognized, to be embraced. And then when it goes back down again, it becomes smaller.
There's a small distinction between joy and happiness. Suppose we travel across the desert and run out of water and become very thirsty. Suddenly we see an oasis in front of us. We know that there will be trees and a lake from which we can drink. That awareness brings us joy. We know we will have the opportunity to rest and drink the water, that feeling is called joy. When we arrive at the oasis and we sit in the shade of the trees, kneel down, cup our hands, and drink the water, that is happiness. Joy has something of an element of excitement in it.
When we recognize that our suffering is based on images instead of current reality, then living happily in the present moment becomes possible right away.
Each of us needs a certain amount of suffering in order to grow up, to understand, and to cultivate our compassion, joy, and happiness. Our joy and happiness can only be recognized against the background of suffering.
If we have a tendency to go back to the past and live the painful memories of the past, we have to be aware that we and our inner child are going back to the past to live that experience again, that fear, and that desire. It has become a habit, and we don't want to do that. It doesn't help.
Instead, we talk to the inner child. We invite her to come up, to come out and to make acquaintance with life in the present moment. To stay in the present moment is a practice, it's a training. As long as we're established in the present moment, we don't suffer the trauma of the past. In the present moment we can realize that there are so many wonders, so many positive connections.
Only by living my life, by my actions, by my speech, can I prove to myself that I have a good cause, the cause of peace and reconciliation. When we can do this, then that kind of suffering will not bother us anymore.
Suffering is made of misunderstanding, anger, hatred, ignorance. If we count on others to dissipate these kinds of causes for us, we may have to wait for a long time. We have to go deeper and make use of our concentration and insight to see that people around us suffer because of their way of thinking, their way of acting, their way of speaking. And if we suffer like them, we won't be able to help them. So we have to work it out, to transform our suffering, to bring about our insight and compassion in order to help them later on. With that kind of attitude, that kind of understanding, we don't suffer anymore because we now have insight and compassion.
"The essential thing is that you have not done it, you have not done what people condemn you for doing. You know very well that you have kept your precepts
"So this is our practice. One day, by the way you live your life, by the way you practice, misunderstanding will vanish. Things like this do happen in the world. And if you have understanding and compassion you don't have to suffer. There are groups of people who are jealous, who try to create circumstances that will smear our prestige. Such people must suffer a lot from their jealousy in order to do such a thing. So we have to deal with them with compassion. With your practice, someday you may be able to help them wake up and see that what they've done is not worthy of people on a spiritual path."
Master Linji, the great ninth-century Chinese Zen master and founder of the lineage of Plum Village, was fond of saying "remove the object." The object is the person or situation we're thinking about, the story. So the practice is to remove the object and come back to the body and feelings. Stay with the energy, let go of the thinking. By following the energy back into our body and feelings, we can find the internal knots, embrace them tenderly, let the tension there unwind and release itself, and we can heal. It's a little like learning how to ride a bicycle. You can sit on it, someone can push you a bit, but at a certain point you know you can ride. "I got it, I got it!"
I've been reading Thich Nhat Hanh's works a lot recently. When everything seems to be this raging maelstrom of pain, anger, frustration, and loss, his words seem to be a rock that, while I may not be able to cling to, I can see and head towards.
And that counts for a lot.
Mom gave me this book to read. I read it along with Reconciliation, also by Thich Nhat Hanh. The second is about looking inward, the first also about looking inward, but also about looking outward to another, a person, or a group. It's about being gentle with ourselves, understanding that suffering is all around us, and that anger is manifestation of that suffering. We suffer, but so do our opponents.
I don't know, the book might not arrive in the right place at the right time for the next person who reads it. It arrived when I needed it. It is a calming book, I've already read twice. I'll be turning to this copy again, I'm sure.
I strongly recommend this book. If you need a copy, let me buy you one.
Usually when we are angry with someone we are more interested in fighting with them than in taking care of our own feelings.
We “kill” our anger by smiling to it, holding it gently, looking deeply to understand its roots and transforming it with understanding and compassion.
Sometimes when we attempt to listen to another person, we can’t hear them because we haven’t listened to ourselves first. Our own strong emotions and thoughts are so loud in our heart and in our head, crying out for our attention, that we can’t hear the other person. Before we listen to another, we need to spend time listening to ourselves.
When you practice compassionate listening, it’s important to remember that you listen with only one aim, and that is to help the other person to suffer less.
The ability to apologize sincerely and express regret for the unskillful things we say or do is an art.
When you express regret, do so unconditionally. Don’t make excuses for having committed the mistake.
When someone else offers us an apology, accept it and offer understanding and forgiveness in return.
When you feel upset or angry, it’s important not to do or say anything.
The Buddha said, “Nothing can survive without food” — not even love. Without nourishment, your love will die.
If you continue to suffer, it’s because you feed your suffering every day.
Sometimes, the person we want to reconcile with is far away and we feel we have lost the chance to mend our relationship.
One of the deepest teachings given by the Buddha is that we should not be too sure of our own ideas. Don’t be fooled by your perceptions. Even if you are sure you are seeing clearly, check again. Keep an open mind. Be ready to let go of your views.
Sometimes we have the impression that someone intentionally wants to make us suffer. Believing this, we get very angry, even despairing, and we want to hurt that person in return, firmly convinced they are a threat to us. War is a product of this kind of misunderstanding and of fear on a large scale.
When we’re angry with someone, and we’ve tried many ways but have still not been able to resolve the difficulty, we can try offering the other person a gift. We prepare the gift in advance, when we’re happy, calm, and solid, and we hide it, ready for the time when we may need it. We don’t wait until we’re already angry because then we won’t feel like doing it. Then, when we’re angry, we can get it out of hiding and give it to the other person.
Part of acknowledging suffering is acknowledging we need help. It is much easier to practice compassion if you have the energy and support of a community. A community helps us not lose hope.
Creating happiness is an art. Living together is an art. Even with a lot of goodwill, you can still make the other person very unhappy. Goodwill is not enough. We need to know the art of making the other person happy.
Of course we have made mistakes. Of course we have not been very skillful. Of course we have made ourselves and the people around us suffer. But that does not prevent us from improving, from transforming, from beginning anew.
The Buddha said that if you have not suffered, there is no way you can learn. We learn by making mistakes.
Usually, when we lose something or someone, we begin to suffer. But while that something or someone is still there, we don’t appreciate them. Everything is of the nature to change. When we understand this, we appreciate the other person more deeply and we can do something today to make them happy, because we know tomorrow may be too late.
War is the fruit of our collective consciousness. If we wait until another war is imminent to begin to practice peace, it will be too late. Peace begins here, now.
Sometimes we’re eating a meal and we don’t even know who’s there eating with us. Our loved one is there physically but it’s as if she’s not truly there. To love someone, you need to be there one hundred percent. The mantra “I am here for you” says that I care about you, I enjoy being in your presence. It helps the other person to feel supported and happy.
Sometimes we forget about impermanence. We think that our loved one will be with us forever and we forget how precious her presence is in this moment.
Sometimes we are criticized. We do need a certain amount of feedback in order to help us progress, but it’s important not to be caught in the criticism and become paralyzed by it. You can say the mantra to yourself or out loud, “You are partly right.” It means: “Yes, I do manifest that unfortunate characteristic sometimes, but I am much more than that.
Beginning Anew is a practice to help resolve conflict or a difficulty when it arises. To begin anew is to look honestly at ourselves, at what we have thought, said, or done that has contributed to the conflict.
1. FLOWER WATERING We look deeply to see the positive qualities in the other person and express our appreciation for them. Share at least three positive qualities that you have observed in them and things for which you feel grateful. Be as concrete as possible. Sometimes we may need to water someone’s flowers for a long time to heal the relationship and build trust
2. SHARING REGRETS We may mention any unskillfulness in our actions, speech, or thoughts that we have not yet had an opportunity to apologize for.
3. EXPRESSING HURT We may share how we felt hurt by another, due to their actions, speech, or thoughts. Before expressing a hurt, be aware that most of our perceptions are wrong. Often our difficulties and pain originate in the past, in early childhood.
4. ASKING FOR SUPPORT When we share our difficulties with the other person, we help them understand us better.
This is book 2 of the Imperial Radch trilogy As such, given how much I enjoyed the last one, and was engaged with the universe Leckie created, I continued with this one (and, let's be real, I'll read the next one, too).
This book starts up a couple weeks after the previous book ended. I like the continuity in the books and the world Leckie created. As with the first book, there is an element of social commentary in the book. The style is reminiscent of Heinlein, actually but a bit more towards the way I think about power and its corrupting power, so perhaps that's why I'm noticing it and paying attention to it in these books.
I love how Leckie weaves the attitudes of privilege into works, but in such a way you know these aren't the "good" people, even if the words you read are words you've heard from your own friends (or own mouth, to be honest).
The plot isn't anything twisty, the universe didn't have any aspects that were new. This book was a continuation of the previous book so much that it could have been a Part 2 of the same book and no one would have blinked (except maybe Leckie, "Write how much in one go? Uh... no." but I'm projecting there).
I personally enjoyed this book, both for the science-fiction part and the power play part. Again, recommended.
When I had first met her, a baby lieutenant of seventeen, she hadn’t thought ships’ AIs had any feelings in particular—not any that mattered. And like many Radchaai she assumed that thought and emotion were two easily separable things.
“And over three thousand years she’ll have changed. Everyone does, who isn’t dead. How much can a person change and still be the same?
“I gave an order, Medic.” Isolated as we were in gate space, my word was law. It didn’t matter what my orders were, no matter how illegal or unjust. A captain might face prosecution for giving some orders—her crew would without fail be executed for disobeying those same commands. It was a central fact of any Radchaai soldier’s life, though it rarely came to an actual demonstration.
"Get some rest. Kalr will bring supper to your quarters. Things will seem better after you’ve eaten and slept.”
“Really?” she asked. Bitter and challenging.
“Well, not necessarily,” I admitted. “But it’s easier to deal with things when you’ve had some rest and some breakfast.”
Still that expressionless face. “Water will wear away stone, sir.” It was a proverb. Or half of one. Water will wear away stone, but it won’t cook supper. Everything has its own strengths. Said with enough irony, it could also imply that since the gods surely had a purpose for everyone the person in question must be good for something, but the speaker couldn’t fathom what it might be.
To Captain Hetnys, standing beside me, I said, “That story strikes you as plausible, does it?” One ruler for the entire system. They surrendered right away. In my experience, no entire system ever surrendered right away. Parts, maybe. Never the whole. The one exception had been the Garseddai, and that had been a tactic, an attempt at ambush. Failed, of course, and there were no Garseddai anymore, as a result.
Obvious, in retrospect. Obvious before, you’d think. But it’s so easy to just not see the obvious, even long past when it ought to be reasonable.
“Well, as to that,” said Fosyf, “I’d say it’s the educated Samirend who give us the most problems. The field supervisors are nearly all Samirend, Fleet Captain. Generally an intelligent sort. And mostly dependable, but there’s always one or two, and let those one or two get together and convince more, and next thing you know they’ve got the field workers whipped up. Happened about fifteen, twenty years ago. The field workers in five different plantations sat down and refused to pick the tea. Just sat right down! And of course we stopped feeding them, on the grounds they’d refused their assignments. But there’s no point on a planet. Anyone who doesn’t feel like working can live off the land.”
It struck me as likely that living off the land wasn’t so easy as all that. “You brought workers in from elsewhere?”
An example of that privilege thing.
So many questions I could ask. “And the workers’ grievances?”
“Grievances!” Fosyf was indignant. “They had none. No real ones. They live a pleasant enough life, I can tell you. Sometimes I wish I’d been assigned to pick tea.”
Imagine this conversation happening in the 1850s in the South in the United States of America, and you'd get similar if not the same words.
“Tourists!” said Raughd. “They want to be robbed. It’s why they go there to begin with. All the wailing and complaining to Security.” She waved a dismissive, blue-gloved hand. “It’s part of the fun. Otherwise they’d take better care.”
Yeeeeeep. Blame the victim.
And if expansion stopped, what to do with all those ships and ancillary soldiers? The officers that commanded them? Keeping them was a drain on resources, to no purpose. Dismantle them, and systems on the periphery of Radch space were vulnerable to attack. Or revolt.
Questions that need to asked about the American Military Complex, tbh.
But I had never noticed that anyone profited from needless spite, and besides I suspected that the entire Undergarden was already in a dire state, as far as ritual uncleanness went.
"To you, of all people. And it’s so easy to just go along. So easy not to see what’s happening. And the longer you don’t see it, the harder it becomes to see it, because then you have to admit that you ignored it all that time. But this is the moment when it’s laid before you, clear and unambiguous."
“You disagree,” Sirix said into my silence. “But isn’t justice the whole reason for civilization?”
I came to see her strangely serene manner as both a sign of just how much she expected to get whatever she wanted, and also an instrument by which she managed to do that, plain persistent saying what she wanted to be true in the expectation that it would eventually become so. It’s a method I’d found worked best for those who are already positioned to mostly get what they want.
“But they could still grow them here,” Tisarwat argued, “and still sell them themselves. So I don’t know what the problem is.”
“For my part,” I replied, “I find forgiveness overrated. There are times and places when it’s appropriate. But not when the demand that you forgive is used to keep you in your place.
“Do you even know,” she said, and I could tell from the sound of her voice that she was about to cry, “can you even imagine what it’s like to know that nothing you can do will make any difference? That nothing you can do will protect the people you love? That anything you could possibly ever do is less than worthless?”
I could. “And yet you do it anyway.”
“Most esteemed Queter,” I said, “idealist that you are, young as you are, you can have no idea just how easy it is for people to deceive themselves.”
The magistrate turned to Queter, who had stood straight and silent this whole time. “Is this what you wanted, Queter? All this heartache, a family destroyed? For the life of me I don’t understand why you didn’t put your obvious determination and energy into your work so that you could make things better for yourself and your family. Instead, you built up and fed this… this resentment, and now you have…” The magistrate gestured, indicating the room, the situation. “This.”
Very calmly, very deliberately, Queter turned to me. “You were right about the self-deception, Citizen.”
Again, blaming the victims with this one.
And yet, isn't this a similar example for the Ivy League swimmer guy who raped a woman? He destroyed her life, but people were still asking for leniancy for the guy, who received it.
"Citizen?” I replied with my own question. “Where did justice lie, in that entire situation?” Sirix didn’t reply, either angry or at a loss for an answer. Both were difficult questions.
“We speak of it as though it’s a simple thing, a matter of acting properly, as though it’s nothing more than an afternoon tea and the question only who takes the last pastry. So simple. Assign guilt to the guilty.”
“Is it not that simple?” asked Sirix after a few moments of silence.
“There are right actions and wrong actions. And yet, I think that if you had been the magistrate, you would have let Citizen Queter go free.”
“No sympathy for Queter? Raughd acted from malice and injured pride, and would have destroyed more than me if she had succeeded. Queter was faced with an impossible situation. No matter what she did, things would end badly.”
A moment of silence. Then, “All she needed to do was go to the magistrate in the first place.”
I had to think about that for a few moments, to understand why Sirix of all people thought Queter could or should have done that.
“You do realize,” I said finally, “that Citizen Queter would never have gotten within a kilometer of the district magistrate without my having explicitly demanded it. And I beg you to recall what generally happened in the past when Citizen Raughd misbehaved.”
“Still, if she had spoken properly she might have been listened to,” Sirix replied. Queter had been right to expect no help from the district magistrate, I was sure. “She made the choices she made, and there’s no escaping the consequences of that. I doubt very much she’ll get off lightly. But I can’t condemn her. She was willing to sacrifice herself to protect her sister.”
“There’s been some complaining outside the Undergarden the past few days, about residential assignments.” Ostensibly calm, only the barest trace of her feelings in her voice. “There are those who think that it’s not fair the Ychana are going to suddenly have luxury quarters, and so much space, when they don’t deserve it.”
“Such wisdom,” I observed dryly, “to know what everyone deserves.”
“And when you want something,” the governor remarked, her voice sharp, “you say so, and you expect to get it.”
“So do you,” I replied. Serious. Still calm. “It comes with being system governor, doesn’t it? And from where you sit, you can afford to ignore things you don’t think are important. But that view—that list of important things—is very different if you’re sitting somewhere else.”
“A commonplace, Fleet Captain. But some points of view don’t take in as much as others.”
“And how do you know yours isn’t one of them, if you’ll never try looking from somewhere different?” Governor Giarod didn’t answer immediately.
“When they behave properly, you will say there is no problem. When they complain loudly, you will say they cause their own problems with their impropriety. And when they are driven to extremes, you say you will not reward such actions. What will it take for you to listen?”
“Everyone is potentially one of those people, Governor,” I replied. “It’s best to learn that before you do something you’ll have trouble living with.” Best to learn it, really, before anyone—perhaps dozens of anyones—died to teach it to you. But it was a hard lesson to learn any other way, as I knew from very personal experience.
“Not mad,” I corrected. “When you’ve lost everything that matters to you, it makes perfect sense to run and hide and try to recover.”
“How are you feeling?”
“Better,” she said. “I think Medic has me dosed up. I can tell because I’m not wishing every ten minutes or so that you’d thrown me out the airlock when you found me.”
“But then, people can look very strong on the outside when they’re not, can’t they."
“Mostly. I think. To be honest, Fleet Captain, I feel like… like everything I thought I could depend on has disappeared, like none of it was ever true to begin with and I’ve only just realized it, and now, I don’t know. I mean, I thought I was safe, I thought I knew who everyone was. And I was wrong.”
When visiting Mom last week, as I was lying on my bed, she came in to lie down next to me and chat. This is a ritual we do, and I love it. We lie on the bed, talking about life, memories, upcoming plans, and sometimes hard topics. We talk about her mother, and her relationship with her. We talk about family. We talk about what's on our minds.
And sometimes, we can't talk. There's a space between us, an argument gone too far with a dead brother, a reminder of the short time we have, the distance that fluxes.
During one of these times, Mom pulled a book from the bed's headboard bookcase (one must truly love a bed that has a bookcase as a headboard, I know I do), and handed it to me. "This is a good read," she said. I said thanks, and added it to my small pile that I was attempting to read during my week visit.
It was this book. I didn't finish my previous books until today, so this one came up. The book is a Newbery Honor winner,
unsure if that's the "winner" or the "finalists list" but, hey, has Newbery associated with it. which makes it a finalist, but not a winner.
The book is about acceptance: accepting losses, accepting people for who they are, accepting loneliness, accepting mistakes, accepting. I struggled a bit with the speech patterns in the book, imagining different races to the characters than what was described, based on the media portrayal of language patterns, and fought the whole book to keep the correct image in my mind of the characters' described race. I did give up and imagine the characters as I saw them, and that made for a better reading for me, even if it wasn't as the author imagined.
It is, as Mom said, a good read. It's short. I recommend reading it with a small person, and getting her take on it. If you don't have a child, niece, nephew, or the like, cuddle up with your five year old self and read to her.
“He just doesn’t want to be left alone,” I told the preacher. “That’s all. Let’s take him with us.” I could understand the way Winn-Dixie felt. Getting left behind probably made his heart feel empty.
I finally decided that I was more afraid of losing Winn-Dixie than I was of having to deal with a dog-eating witch, so I went through the gate and into the yard.
He was eating something right out of the witch’s hand. She looked up at me. “This dog sure likes peanut butter,” she said. “You can always trust a dog that likes peanut butter.”
Except all dogs like peanut butter.
She told me she used to love to read stories, but she couldn’t anymore because her eyes were so bad. “Can’t you get some really strong glasses?” I asked her.
“Child,” she said, “they don’t make glasses strong enough for these eyes.”
When I grow old and can no longer read, I want someone to read to and for me.
I said, “I don’t know. Why are all those bottles on it?”
“To keep the ghosts away,” Gloria said.
“The ghosts of all the things I done wrong.”
I looked at all the bottles on the tree. “You did that many things wrong?” I asked her.
“Mmmm-hmmm,” said Gloria. “More than that.”
“But you’re the nicest person I know,” I told her.
“Don’t mean I haven’t done bad things,” she said.
“The preacher says that sometimes she couldn’t stop drinking.”
“Mmmm-hmmm,” said Gloria again. “That’s the way it is for some folks. We get started and we can’t get stopped.”
“Are you one of those people?”
“Yes ma’am. I am. But these days, I don’t drink nothing stronger than coffee.”
“Did the whiskey and beer and wine, did they make you do the bad things that are ghosts now?”
“Some of them,” said Gloria Dump. “Some of them I would’ve done anyway, with alcohol or without it. Before I learned.”
“Learned what is the most important thing.”
“What’s that?” I asked her.
“It’s different for everyone,” she said. “You find out on your own. But in the meantime, you got to remember, you can’t always judge people by the things they done. You got to judge them by what they are doing now."
And this was when, while reading the book, I realized why my mom had given me this book to read.
"War,” I told her. “That was the war between the South and the North over slavery.”
“Slavery, yes,” said Miss Franny. “It was also about states’ rights and money."
It was about money, yes. It was about money because the slave-owners of the south didn't want to lose the cheap labor they had, so that they could keep their money.
States' rights became a sanitized cause, but wasn't really the point.
“Men and boys always want to fight. They are always looking for a reason to go to war. It is the saddest thing. They have this abiding notion that war is fun. And no history lesson will convince them differently."
"He went off to be a hero. But he soon found out the truth.” Miss Franny closed her eyes and shook her head.
“What truth?” I asked her.
“Why, that war is hell,” Miss Franny said with her eyes still closed. “Pure hell.”
“There’s a secret ingredient in there,” Miss Franny said.
“I know it,” I told her. “I can taste it. What is it?”
“Sorrow,” Miss Franny said. “Not everybody can taste it. Children, especially, seem to have a hard time knowing it’s there.”
“I taste it,” I said.
“Me, too,” said Amanda.
“Well, then,” Miss Franny said, “you’ve probably both had your share of sadness.”
Sometimes, it seemed like everybody in the world was lonely. I thought about my mama. Thinking about her was the same as the hole you keep on feeling with your tongue after you lose a tooth. Time after time, my mind kept going to that empty spot, the spot where I felt like she should be.
“There ain’t no way you can hold on to something that wants to go, you understand? You can only love what you got while you got it.”
Despite being on a non-fiction reading kick as of late (no, I don't know why either), this book caught my eye when I was wandering a bookstore (people do this, right? Just wander in bookstores. Right?), so I added it to my hold list at the library and pretty much forgot about it until it dropped into my reading list.
Problem was, when I actually started reading the book, I didn't know why I had added this book to my reading list. Then, when I read the book details, the summary and one-line reviews of the book, I was annoyed that they all commented about the O'Henry style plot twists (which, actually, I adore, but not if I see them coming). Don't tell me about the plot twists, because then I'll be all suspect of everything in the book.
Which is why I was surprised when the first one dropped. I was stunned, and went back to reread the part before and after several times. And, thought, "How clever!" And then the book kept going, and, "Oh. Hello."
I can't say I particularly liked the fundamental motivation of the plot, it struck a lot too close to home for me to feel comfortable, but the tale is told delightfully well and the ending, okay, I'm REALLY glad I didn't skip to the end for this one.
The book is a new-release, which is somewhat odd for me to have read, as I tend to read books 1-2 years old, if not 60 years old or more, but this one is a quick, totally O'Henry twist, entertaining book to read.
It wasn’t difficult to dodge questions once you learned the tricks. When someone asked about your childhood, you told them about the tree house your father built for you, and your black cat that thought he was a dog and would sit up and beg for a treat. If college came up, you focused on the football team’s undefeated season and your part-time job at a campus restaurant, where you once started a small fire while making toast and cleared the dining area. Tell colorful, drawn-out stories that deflect attention from the fact that you aren’t actually sharing anything. Avoid specifics that will separate you from the crowd. Be vague about the year you graduated. Lie, but only when completely necessary.
Something about their fearlessness, the way her coworkers exposed their hearts and chased their dreams despite the rejection they continually suffered, spoke to a part of Nellie that had been switched off during her last year in Florida. They were like children in that respect, Nellie realized—they possessed an undaunted optimism. A sense that the world and its possibilities lay open to them.
I was happy, I think, but I wonder now if my memory is playing tricks on me. If it is giving me the gift of an illusion. We all layer them over our remembrances; the filters through which we want to see our lives.
I couldn’t stop thinking about that shoe, or the woman it belonged to. She must have gotten up that morning, gotten dressed, and stepped out of a window into the air. I searched the newspapers the following day, but there was only a tiny mention of the incident. I never knew what had made her commit such a desperate act—if she’d been planning it, or if something inside her had suddenly snapped. I think I’ve figured out the answer, all these years later: It was both.
“Lovey, you seem so concerned by what he thinks all the time.”
But instead of racing toward my future, I began making plans to run away from my past.
In my marriage, there were three truths, three alternate and sometimes competing realities. There was Richard’s truth. There was my truth. And there was the actual truth, which is always the most elusive to recognize. This could be the case in every relationship, that we think we’ve entered into a union with another person when, in fact, we’ve formed a triangle with one point anchored by a silent but all-seeing judge, the arbiter of reality.
I’d told myself I’d been partly to blame for Richard’s violence.
I read this book. I am, however, not sure I should mark this as read, because as soon as I finished it, I restarted reading it.
So, maybe I can count this one as read? Maybe? Not sure.
One of the issues I have with this book is that I, and a number of other people I know, have read this book at a hard part in life. Things are difficult, problems are numerous and overwhelming, and this is when we turn to this book for comfort.
Yet, sitting with that discomfort is part of the story, part of the journey to becoming whole and not-whole again.
This is a book that needs to be read, too, when things aren't falling apart, when we can think as clearly as we are able, when we can see the wisdom of the words without the sorrow of our souls.
I strongly recommend this book, with a caveat. Yes, read this book, but experience it again with someone reading to you. Either check out the abridged version of the author reading it, or the unabridged version with another reader, but do listen to the book. The experience is much different, and differently richer.
Okay, unlike the last big data book I read, this WAS the big data book I wanted to read. While it does describe the mathematics used in the different ways big-data affects society, it does show how big data, how using small bits of innocent data can reveal surprising truths about who we are and what we really think.
If you start with the assumption that everybody lies on surveys (and this isn't a bad assumption, people mess with surveys all the time, to make themselves look good, to make someone else look bad, to withhold information for ulterior reasons, or really just to f--- with the survey data), then the fundamental data from which theories and beliefs develop is wrong.
But put people in a place where they believe their thoughts are anonymous, truly believe the data they provide will not be traced back to them, then said people become more open and, well, more honest with what they are thinking.
Which is where Stephens-Davidowitz's data research idea came from, to use Google search data as a research source, and where many assumptions about what people are thinking can be debunked.
And the results are fascinating.
Stephens-Davidowitz provides a number of examples of "here's common knowledge, everyone knows this," and shows where, with big data, the "knowledge" is wrong. Either we aren't the same as when the knowledge was first determined, or it was declared as true based on something unknown, or simply accepted as true based on some voice of authority. Regardless of the source, the actual data, the actual numbers, show a different story, and that is the fascinating part.
This book is a good introduction to how powerful big-data can be. It only briefly touches upon how badly big-data warps society, which makes this book a good first book on what big-data can do, and WMD a good follow up on the flip side. Together, they make a good good-side-bad-side story of Big Data™.
I enjoyed this book a lot. I strongly recommend it.
In the previous three elections, the candidate who appeared first in more searches received the most votes. More interesting, the order the candidates were searched was predictive of which way a particular state would go. The order in which candidates are searched also seems to contain information that the polls can miss.
But for now it doesn’t matter. Seder is in the prediction business, not the explanation business. And, in the prediction business, you just need to know that something works, not why.
Women also like men who express support and sympathy. If a man says, “That’s awesome!” or “That’s really cool,” a woman is significantly more likely to report a connection. Likewise if he uses phrases such as “That’s tough” or “You must be sad.”
And as previously noted, a woman is also more likely to report a connection after a date where she talks about herself. Thus it is a great sign, on a first date, if there is substantial discussion about the woman. The woman signals her comfort and probably appreciates that the man is not hogging the conversation.
Some of the findings, however, were more interesting. Women use the word “tomorrow” far more often than men do, perhaps because men aren’t so great at thinking ahead.
Adding the letter “o” to the word “so” is one of the most feminine linguistic traits. Among the words most disproportionately used by women are “soo,” “sooo,” “soooo,” “sooooo,” and “soooooo.”
Maybe it was my childhood exposure to women who weren’t afraid to throw the occasional f-bomb. But I always thought cursing was an equal-opportunity trait. Not so. Among the words used much more frequently by men than women are “fuck,” “shit,” “fucks,” “bullshit,” “fucking,” and “fuckers.”
I am a guy. Or as Priyanka says, I was a guy in a previous life. No wait, still am.
Many people, particularly Marxists, have viewed American journalism as controlled by rich people or corporations with the goal of influencing the masses, perhaps to push people toward their political views.
Gentzkow and Shapiro’s paper suggests, however, that this is not the predominant motivation of owners. The owners of the American press, instead, are primarily giving the masses what they want so that the owners can become even richer.
These days, a data scientist must not limit herself to a narrow or traditional view of data. These days, photographs of supermarket lines are valuable data. The fullness of supermarket bins is data. The ripeness of apples is data. Photos from outer space are data. The curvature of lips is data. Everything is data! And with all this new data, we can finally see through people’s lies.
Men’s top Googled question related to how their body or mind would change as they aged was whether their penis would get smaller.
For every search women make about a partner’s phallus, men make roughly 170 searches about their own.
More than 40 percent of complaints about a partner’s penis size say that it’s too big.
Still cracking up.
In fact, we are all so busy judging our own bodies that there is little energy left over to judge other people’s.
There is also probably a connection between two of the big concerns revealed in the sexual searches on Google: lack of sex and an insecurity about one’s sexual attractiveness and performance. Maybe these are related.
Maybe if we worried less about sex, we’d have more of it.
Who is more sexually generous, men or women?
And when men do look for tips on how to give oral sex, they are frequently not looking for ways of pleasing another person. Men make as many searches looking for ways to perform oral sex on themselves as they do how to give a woman an orgasm. (This is among my favorite facts in Google search data.)
Parents are about twice as likely to ask how to get their daughters to lose weight as they are to ask how to get their sons to do the same.
Just as with giftedness, this gender bias is not grounded in reality. About 28 percent of girls are overweight, while 35 percent of boys are. Even though scales measure more overweight boys than girls, parents see—or worry about—overweight girls much more frequently than overweight boys.
Parents are also one and a half times more likely to ask whether their daughter is beautiful than whether their son is handsome. And they are nearly three times more likely to ask whether their daughter is ugly than whether their son is ugly. (How Google is expected to know whether a child is beautiful or ugly is hard to say.)
In general, parents seem more likely to use positive words in questions about sons. They are more apt to ask whether a son is “happy” and less apt to ask whether a son is “depressed.”
A recent Southern Poverty Law Center report linked nearly one hundred murders in the past five years to registered Stormfront members.
It turns out, some kids make some tragic, and heart-wrenching, searches on Google—such as “my mom beat me” or “my dad hit me.” And these searches present a different—and agonizing—picture of what happened during this time. The number of searches like this shot up during the Great Recession, closely tracking the unemployment rate.
Here’s what I think happened: it was the reporting of child abuse cases that declined, not the child abuse itself. After all, it is estimated that only a small percentage of child abuse cases are reported to authorities anyway. And during a recession, many of the people who tend to report child abuse cases (teachers and police officers, for example) and handle cases (child protective service workers) are more likely to be overworked or out of work.
In 2015, in the United States, there were more than 700,000 Google searches looking into self-induced abortions. By comparison, there were some 3.4 million searches for abortion clinics that year.
What drives interest in self-induced abortion? The geography and timing of the Google searches point to a likely culprit: when it’s hard to get an official abortion, women look into off-the-books approaches.
Search rates for self-induced abortion were fairly steady from 2004 through 2007. They began to rise in late 2008, coinciding with the financial crisis and the recession that followed. They took a big leap in 2011, jumping 40 percent. The Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive rights organization, singles out 2011 as the beginning of the country’s recent crackdown on abortion; ninety-two state provisions that restrict access to abortion were enacted.
We can’t blindly trust government data. The government may tell us that child abuse or abortion has fallen and politicians may celebrate this achievement. But the results we think we’re seeing may be an artifact of flaws in the methods of data collection. The truth may be different—and, sometimes, far darker.
Facebook is digital brag-to-my-friends-about-how-good-my-life-is serum.
Not exactly cheery stuff. Often, after I give a talk on my research, people come up to me and say, “Seth, it’s all very interesting. But it’s so depressing.” I can’t pretend there isn’t a darkness in some of this data. If people consistently tell us what they think we want to hear, we will generally be told things that are more comforting than the truth.
Digital truth serum, on average, will show us that the world is worse than we have thought.
First, there can be comfort in knowing that you are not alone in your insecurities and embarrassing behavior. It can be nice to know others are insecure about their bodies.
In fact, I think Big Data can give a twenty-first-century update to a famous self-help quote: “Never compare your insides to everyone else’s outsides.”
The second benefit of digital truth serum is that it alerts us to people who are suffering.
The final—and, I think, most powerful—value in this digital truth serum is indeed its ability to lead us from problems to solutions.
When we lecture angry people, the search data implies that their fury can grow. But subtly provoking people’s curiosity, giving new information, and offering new images of the group that is stoking their rage may turn their thoughts in different, more positive directions.
Noah finds baseball impossibly boring, and his hatred of the sport has long been a core part of his identity.
Huh. Can't say "core" is accurate, but I might understand some part of this.
One hypothesis—and this is speculative—was put forth by David Cutler, one of the authors of the study and one of my advisors. Contagious behavior may be driving some of this. There is a large amount of research showing that habits are contagious. So poor people living near rich people may pick up a lot of their habits.
In fact, Chetty’s team found even more evidence that knowledge drove this kind of cheating. When Americans moved from an area where this variety of tax fraud was low to an area where it was high, they learned and adopted the trick. Through time, cheating spread from region to region throughout the United States. Like a virus, cheating on taxes is contagious. Now stop for a moment and think about how revealing this study is. It demonstrated that, when it comes to figuring out who will cheat on their taxes, the key isn’t determining who is honest and who is dishonest. It is determining who knows how to cheat and who doesn’t.
The greater the percentage of foreign-born residents in an area, the higher the proportion of children born there who go on to notable success. (Take that, Donald Trump!) If two places have similar urban and college populations, the one with more immigrants will produce more prominent Americans. What explains this? A lot of it seems to be directly attributable to the children of immigrants.
For better or worse (okay, clearly worse), there is a huge random component to life. Nobody knows for sure what or who is in charge of the universe.
For Ahmed Yilmaz, the son of an insurance agent and teacher in Queens, Stuy was “the high school."
He still remembers the day he received the envelope with the results. He missed by two questions. I asked him what it felt like. “What does it feel like,” he responded, “to have your world fall apart when you’re in middle school?”
How horrible would this be?
More than a decade later, Yilmaz admits that he sometimes wonders how life would have played out had he gone to Stuy. “Everything would be different,” he says. “Literally, everyone I know would be different.”
But these what-ifs seem unanswerable. Life is not a video game. You can’t replay it under different scenarios until you get the results you want.
The economists found that prisoners assigned to harsher conditions were more likely to commit additional crimes once they left. The tough prison conditions, rather than deterring them from crime, hardened them and made them more violent once they returned to the outside world.
People adapt to their experience, and people who are going to be successful find advantages in any situation. The factors that make you successful are your talent and your drive.
This book is called Everybody Lies. By this, I mostly mean that people lie—to friends, to surveys, and to themselves—to make themselves look better. But the world also lies to us by presenting us with faulty, misleading data.
The fundamental problem is that they tested too many things. And if you test enough things, just by random chance, one of them will be statistically significant.
We can find patterns in ANYTHING.
This time, IGF2r did not correlate with IQ. Plomin — and this is a sign of a good scientist — retracted his claim.
This is huge. I applaud Plomin. How hard it is to admit you're wrong. How nearly impossible it is to admit you're wrong with the world knowning? F'ing hard.
I wish we were all good scientists.
How can you overcome the curse of dimensionality? You have to have some humility about your work and not fall in love with your results. You have to put these results through additional tests.
Social scientists call this an “out-of-sample” test. And the more variables you try, the more humble you have to be. The more variables you try, the tougher the out-of-sample test has to be. It is also crucial to keep track of every test you attempt.
But it points to a potential problem with people using data to make decisions. Numbers can be seductive. We can grow fixated with them, and in so doing we can lose sight of more important considerations.
Consider the twenty-first-century emphasis on testing in American schools—and judging teachers based on how their students score. While the desire for more objective measures of what happens in classrooms is legitimate, there are many things that go on there that can’t readily be captured in numbers.
We can measure how students do on multiple-choice questions. We can’t easily measure critical thinking, curiosity, or personal development.
It was easy to measure offense and pitching but not fielding, so some organizations ended up underestimating the importance of defense.
You might think — or at least hope — that a polite, openly religious person who gives his word would be among the most likely to pay back a loan. But in fact this is not the case. This type of person, the data shows, is less likely than average to make good on their debt.
This fact cracks me up.
Hey, guess what, you can be an honest person without the threat of a omniscient, bearded man watching you.
Phrases such as “lower interest rate” or “after-tax” indicate a certain level of financial sophistication on the borrower’s part, so it’s perhaps not surprising they correlate with someone more likely to pay their loan back. In addition, if he or she talks about positive achievements such as being a college “graduate” and being “debt-free,” he or she is also likely to pay their loans.
Generally, if someone tells you he will pay you back, he will not pay you back. The more assertive the promise, the more likely he will break it. If someone writes “I promise I will pay back, so help me God,” he is among the least likely to pay you back.
Another word that indicates default is “explain,” meaning if people are trying to explain why they are going to be able to pay back a loan, they likely won’t.
In sum, according to these researchers, giving a detailed plan of how he can make his payments and mentioning commitments he has kept in the past are evidence someone will pay back a loan. Making promises and appealing to your mercy is a clear sign someone will go into default.
Regardless of the reasons—or what it tells us about human nature that making promises is a sure sign someone will, in actuality, not do something — the scholars found the test was an extremely valuable piece of information in predicting default. Someone who mentions God was 2.2 times more likely to default.
They found that Facebook likes are frequently correlated with IQ, extraversion, and conscientiousness. For example, people who like Mozart, thunderstorms, and curly fries on Facebook tend to have higher IQs. People who like Harley-Davidson motorcycles, the country music group Lady Antebellum, or the page “I Love Being a Mom” tend to have lower IQs. Some of these correlations may be due to the curse of dimensionality. If you test enough things, some will randomly correlate. But some interests may legitimately correlate with IQ.
First, it must be acknowledged that there is growing evidence that Google searches related to criminal activity do correlate with criminal activity. Christine Ma-Kellams, Flora Or, Ji Hyun Baek, and Ichiro Kawachi have shown that Google searches related to suicide correlate strongly with state-level suicide rates. In addition,
If more people are making searches saying they want to do something, more people are going to do that thing.
My phone is filled with emails I forgot to respond to, e-vites I never opened, Bumble messages I ignored.
I learned about Bumble only a week or so ago. I wish I had not learned about Bumble.
For example, Leonard Cohen once gave his nephew the following advice for wooing women: “Listen well. Then listen some more. And when you think you are done listening, listen some more.” That seems to be roughly similar to what these scientists found.
Rob Brackett had recently finished the third book of the Imperial Radch trilogy, and raved about it. Given that Susan also spoke highly of the book, I added the book to my library hold queue, which always sets a deadline for "Read before the loan expires!" So, I read this one curled up on my bed at Mom's, giving her alone time as I had my alone time.
This book confused me until I had read enough of the book to understand the world Leckie built. The lack of gendered pronouns is both fantastic (I love the use of "she" instead of our world's default "he" as the gender-neutral pronoun) and confusing (which gender do I imagine this character?). I worked through a large part of the book trying out the opposite gender that I had originally imagined, which was a great treat. Worth trying.
While I was expecting this book to be mostly brain candy, I was delighted (and in hindsight not surprised) by the social commentary in the book. The world has the dominant class (ruling class, aristocracy, privileged class, rich class, oligarchy, victors, call it what you want), which believes that being born into the class makes them by default superior to everyone else.
How familiar. How... human.
The commentary isn't overt, but it is consistent in the book. The book's plot, the plot's action, and the main character's (Breq's) development all pull the reader along quickly, making this an enjoyable read. That it won Hugo and Nebular and Clarke awards just means I'm late to the reading.
Left to her own devices she would find herself another hit or three of kef, and she would find her way into another place like that grimy tavern and get herself well and truly killed. If that was what she wanted I had no right to prevent her. But if she had wanted to die, why hadn’t she done the thing cleanly, registered her intention and gone to the medic as anyone would?
If someone wants to be done, why not let them? Imagine a world where, instead of preventing said death, those arround allows it, and eases that pain.
How is it that this idea is consistent in Utopian and Dystopian futures, and seems impossible in ours?
All wore the jewelry that few Radchaai would ever give up — gifts from friends or lovers, memorials to the dead, marks of family or clientage associations.
“I know what Seven Issa, or at least those like them, do to people they find on the wrong side of a dividing line. Five years ago it was noncitizen. In the future, who knows? Perhaps not-citizen-enough?”
"Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out — Because I was not a Jew."
Things happen the way they happen because the world is the way it is. Or, as a Radchaai would say, the universe is the shape of the gods.
The smallest, most seemingly insignificant event is part of an intricate whole and to understand why one particular mote of dust falls in one particular path, and lands in one particular location, is to understand the will of Amaat.
I had once had twenty bodies, twenty pairs of eyes, and hundreds of others that I could access if I needed or desired it. Now I could only see in one direction, could only see the vast expanse behind me if I turned my head and blinded myself to what was in front of me.
How amazing would this be, to be able to see from twenty different viewpoints? Or even just more than one?
Sometimes even the head priest of Ikkt would come — that god, like Amaat, not demanding that its followers refuse to acknowledge other gods.
For I, your god, am a jealous god.
“When you shoot a person, you say why and do it, without excuse. This is how the Radchaai are. But in the upper city, before you came, when they would shoot Orsians, they would always be careful to have an excuse."
“And of course,” interjected Jen Taa, oblivious, “they see what we have, and don’t understand that you have to work for that sort of life, and they’re envious and resentful and blame us for not letting them have it, when if they’d only work…”
This comment was made by a character in the ruling class, by those who were born into the ruling class, and fed the abused, poor, and lower class the bullshit that work hard and you'll succeed, it's not our fault you are poor, when, actually, yes, the system works to keep the poor poor, the abused from finding help, and the ignorant uneducated.
Hate this line of thinking. Which, I think, is part of what Leckie is trying to say.
"And you don’t like my saying that, but here’s the truth: luxury always comes at someone else’s expense. One of the many advantages of civilization is that one doesn’t generally have to see that, if one doesn’t wish. You’re free to enjoy its benefits without troubling your conscience.”
“When you grow up knowing that you deserve to be on top, that the lesser houses exist to serve your house’s glorious destiny, you take such things for granted. You’re born assuming that someone else is paying the cost of your life. It’s just the way things are. What happens during annexation — it’s a difference of degree, not a difference of kind.”
“Awn, my good friend. Don’t trouble yourself over things you can’t help. Things are as they are. You have nothing to reproach yourself with.”
Said one of the lucky-born to another of the lucky-born.
"She’ll come around in time. They all will.”
“And the dead?”
“Are dead. No use fretting over them.”
“You are where you are,” I said, in an even tone, “as a result of decisions you made yourself.” Her spine straightened, her shoulders went back.
“You don’t know anything about me, or what decisions I have or haven’t made.” It was enough to make me angry again. I knew something about making decisions, and not making them.
“Ah, I forget. Everything happens as Amaat wills, nothing is your fault.”
“Ships have feelings.”
“Yes, of course.” Without feelings insignificant decisions become excruciating attempts to compare endless arrays of inconsequential things. It’s just easier to handle those with emotions."
"And then one day someone tells you maybe you were mistaken. And your life won’t be what you imagined it to be.”
“Happens to people all the time,” said Strigan, rising from her seat. “Except most of us don’t delude ourselves that we ever had great destinies.”
Not this world. Most people do delude ourselves into that belief.
“I don’t believe in any god,” she said, with a slight vehemence. “Still. Things will happen as they happen.”
But the idea of shooting citizens was, in fact, extremely shocking and upsetting. What, after all, was the point of civilization if not the well-being of citizens?
She had mostly stayed in her quarters talking to me — Justice of Toren–me, not One Esk–me, but she had asked One Esk to sing for her. I had obliged with a Valskaayan piece. It had been ninety-four years, two months, two weeks, and six days before, shortly after the annexation of Valskaay. I opened my mouth to say so, but instead heard myself say, “Two hundred three years, four months, one week, and one day ago, my lord.”
Imagine this emotion. You know the truth, you know the answer, and yet, you answer something else. The torture with this, the puzzlement, the conflict, why did I answer that way when I know the answer is this other?
Information is power. Information is security. Plans made with imperfect information are fatally flawed, will fail or succeed on the toss of a coin.
Welcome to Big Data!
If I answered Strigan’s question—if I answered it fully, as she would certainly demand—I would be giving her something she could use against me, a weapon. She would almost certainly hurt herself in the process, but that wasn’t always much of a deterrent, I knew.
I know this feeling.
I was left with blind chance, a step into unguessable dark, waiting to live or die on the results of the toss, not knowing what the chances were of any result.
“You, and anyone else they found undefended. Lieutenant Awn did what she could to prevent bloodshed last night. It wasn’t her fault she failed.”
“It was.” Her back was still to me. “God forgive her for it. God forbid that I may ever be faced with such a choice.”
“People often think they would have made the noblest choice, but when they find themselves actually in such a situation, they discover matters aren’t quite so simple.”
The world is not black and white. In the moment, we aren't the heroes of the story that we thought we would be.
“Everything else would have fit, they could ignore that. They’ll ignore anything that doesn’t get them what they want. And what they want is anything they can grab.”
If you’re going to do something that crazy, save it for when it’ll make a difference, Lieutenant Skaaiat had said, and I had agreed. I still agree. The problem is knowing when what you are about to do will make a difference. I’m not only speaking of the small actions that, cumulatively, over time, or in great numbers, steer the course of events in ways too chaotic or subtle to trace. The single word that directs a person’s fate and ultimately the fates of those she comes in contact with is of course a common subject of entertainments and moralizing stories, but if everyone were to consider all the possible consequences of all one’s possible choices, no one would move a millimeter, or even dare to breathe for fear of the ultimate results.
If you’re going to do something that crazy, save it for when it’ll make a difference. But absent near-omniscience there’s no way to know when that is. You can only make your best approximate calculation. You can only make your throw and try to puzzle out the results afterward.
“It’s easy to say that if you were there you would have refused, that you would rather die than participate in the slaughter, but it all looks very different when it’s real, when the moment comes to choose.”
“Virtue is not a solitary, uncomplicated thing.” Good necessitates evil and the two sides of that disk are not always clearly marked.
“Virtues may be made to serve whatever end profits you. Still, they exist and will influence your actions. Your choices.” Strigan snorted. “You make me nostalgic for the drunken philosophical conversations of my youth. But these are not abstract things we’re talking about here, this is life and death.”
“It bothers you, that the Radchaai don’t have the freedom to destroy their lives, or other citizens’ lives.”
"Any doctor could have helped him, if he’d wanted it. But that would mean admitting he had a problem, wouldn’t it? And I don’t see that happening anytime soon.”
Or is anyone’s identity a matter of fragments held together by convenient or useful narrative, that in ordinary circumstances never reveals itself as a fiction? Or is it really a fiction?
It makes the history hard to convey. Because still, “I” was me, unitary, one thing, and yet I acted against myself, contrary to my interests and desires, sometimes secretly, deceiving myself as to what I knew and did. And it’s difficult for me even now to know who performed what actions, or knew which information. Because I was Justice of Toren. Even when I wasn’t. Even if I’m not anymore.
“I just think you worry too much about it. Who cares what people like that say?”
“It’s easy not to care when you’re rich, and the social equal of people like that.”
“That sort of thing shouldn’t matter,” Lieutenant Dariet insisted.
“It shouldn’t. But it does.”
Holy f--- it matters. Some seriously stupid people have money, and do some seriously stupid things with it.
Speak and your possession of an opinion was plain, clear to anyone. Refrain from speaking and still this was proof of an opinion.
She was silent for five seconds. “I’ve been sitting here, thinking. I accused you of hating me because I was better than you.”
“That’s not why I hate you.” She ignored that.
“Amaat’s grace, that fall… it was my own stupid fault, I was sure I was dead, and if it had been the other way around I’d never have jumped to save anyone’s life. You never knelt to get anywhere. You are where you are because you’re fucking capable, and willing to risk everything to do right, and I’ll never be half what you are even if I tried my whole life, and I was walking around thinking I was better than you, even half dead and no use to anyone, because my family is old, because I was born better.”
“That,” I said, “is why I hate you.”
“No! I swear I didn’t.”
I didn’t answer.
“You don’t believe me. I don’t blame you. You can check, as soon as your hands are free.”
“Nothing quite clarifies your thoughts like thinking you’re about to die.”
“The effect is often temporary.”
You’re thinking that any fool knows better than to speak up and criticize a government official for any reason. And you’re thinking that if anyone who speaks up to criticize something obviously evil is punished merely for speaking, civilization will be in a bad way.
Unity, I thought, implies the possibility of disunity. Beginnings imply and require endings.
Thoughts are ephemeral, they evaporate in the moment they occur, unless they are given action and material form. Wishes and intentions, the same. Meaningless, unless they impel you to one choice or another, some deed or course of action, however insignificant. Thoughts that lead to action can be dangerous. Thoughts that do not, mean less than nothing.
Waiting for the airlock to cycle, I felt my aloneness like an impenetrable wall pressing around me. Usually one body’s off-kilter emotion was a minor, easily dismissable thing. Now it was only this one body, nothing beyond to temper my distress.
I had been thinking of all the ways things could go wrong, starting now, starting the moment I stepped off the ship and confronted the dock inspectors.
How classically Stoic.
“And surely,” added Seivarden with a slight sneer, her mask finally cracking, “it’s always safe to complain about lower houses and provincials.”
“You’d think,” said Rose-and-Azure beside me, mistaking Seivarden’s intent. “But we are sadly changed, Captain, from your day. It used to be you could depend on the aptitudes to send the right citizen to the right assignment. I can’t fathom some of the decisions they make these days. And atheists given privileges.”
This conversation is one of the core messages of the book, about privilege and power and being born into a life instead of a level playing field, and arrogance associated with said privilege.
“The point is, it was mutiny. Mutiny winked at, but one can’t make a plain statement of fact about the dangers of promoting the ill-bred and vulgar to positions of authority, or policies that encourage the most vile sort of behavior, and even undermine everything civilization has always stood for, without losing business contacts or promotions.”
“I don’t know if that unit leader did the right thing. But I don’t know what the right thing to do would have been. And I don’t know if I’d have had the courage to die for that right thing if I knew what it was. I mean…” She paused. “I mean, I’d like to think I would. There was a time I’d have been sure I would. But I can’t even…”
"The noblest, most well-intentioned people in the world can’t make annexations a good thing. Arguing that ancillaries are efficient and convenient is not, to me, a point in favor of using ancillaries. It doesn’t make it better, it only makes it look a little cleaner.”
“It’s so easy to go along with things, isn’t it?” Skaaiat said. “Especially when, as you say, it profits you.”
The Security officer gestured ambiguity. “I couldn’t say, citizen.”
Gestures are mentioned in several sci-fi books I've read recently. We have gestures, shrugs and hand gestures like halt, forward, so-so and the like. I like the idea, however, of having larger, more-defined gestures that could convey entire conversations.
The omen Stillness had flipped, become Movement. And Justice was about to land before me, clear and unambiguous.
I was done pretending. It was terrifying, because I knew I couldn’t live long past this, but also, oddly, a relief. A weight gone.
The end of struggling brings its own relief.
Anaander Mianaai stopped, turned to look at me. “That wasn’t me. Help me now, I’m fighting that other me even now, I’m quite certain. I wasn’t ready to move openly, but now you’ve forced my hand, help me and I’ll destroy her and remove her utterly from myself.”
“You can’t,” I said. “I know what you are, better than anyone. She’s you and you’re her. You can’t remove her from yourself without destroying yourself. Because she’s you.”
“Pain is a warning,” said Anaander Mianaai.
“What would happen if you removed all discomfort from your life?”
As Seneca commented, “I judge you unfortunate because you have never lived through misfortune. You have passed through life without an opponent—no one can ever know what you are capable of, not even you.”
“And if I had wings I’d be a sail-pod.” Ifs and would-haves changed nothing.
“Half your anger is for yourself.” She ate the last bite of pastry and brushed her small gloved hands together, showering fragments of sugar icing onto the grass. “But it’s such a monumentally enormous anger even half is quite devastating.”
“Justice of Toren,” said Mercy of Kalr from the console. The name caught me by surprise, started exhausted tears. I blinked them away. “I’m only One Esk,” I said. And swallowed. “Nineteen.”