Listened to David Krakauer on The Landscape of 21st Century Science by Michael Garfield and David Krakauer from Complexity | Santa Fe Institute

For 300 years, the dream of science was to understand the world by chopping it up into pieces. But boiling everything down to basic parts does not tell us about the way those parts behave together. Physicists found the atom, then the quark, and yet these great discoveries don’t answer age-old questions about life, intelligence, or language, innovation, ecosystems, or economies.

So people learned a new trick – not just taking things apart but studying how things organize themselves, without a plan, in ways that cannot be predicted. A new field, complex systems science, sprang up to explain and navigate a world beyond control.

At the same time, improvements in computer processing enabled yet another method for exploring irreducible complexity: we learned to instrumentalize the evolutionary process, forging machine intelligences that can correlate unthinkable amounts of data. And the Internet’s explosive growth empowered science at scale, in networks and with resources we could not have imagined in the 1900s. Now there are different kinds of science, for different kinds of problems, and none of them give us the kind of easy answers we were hoping for.

This is a daring new adventure of discovery for anyone prepared to jettison the comfortable categories that served us for so long. Our biggest questions and most wicked problems call for a unique and planet-wide community of thinkers, willing to work on massive and synthetic puzzles at the intersection of biology and economics, chemistry and social science, physics and cognitive neuroscience.

David Krakauer's Webpage Google Scholar Citations.

Liked a tweet by ALIFE Conference 2020 (Twitter)
Listened to Mindscape 72 | César Hidalgo on Information in Societies, Economies, and the Universe by Sean CarrollSean Carroll from

Maxwell’s Demon is a famous thought experiment in which a mischievous imp uses knowledge of the velocities of gas molecules in a box to decrease the entropy of the gas, which could then be used to do useful work such as pushing a piston. This is a classic example of converting information (what the gas molecules are doing) into work. But of course that kind of phenomenon is much more widespread — it happens any time a company or organization hires someone in order to take advantage of their know-how. César Hidalgo has become an expert in this relationship between information and work, both at the level of physics and how it bubbles up into economies and societies. Looking at the world through the lens of information brings new insights into how we learn things, how economies are structured, and how novel uses of data will transform how we live.

César Hidalgo received his Ph.D. in physics from the University of Notre Dame. He currently holds an ANITI Chair at the University of Toulouse, an Honorary Professorship at the University of Manchester, and a Visiting Professorship at Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. From 2010 to 2019, he led MIT’s Collective Learning group. He is the author of Why Information Grows and co-author of The Atlas of Economic Complexity. He is a co-founder of Datawheel, a data visualization company whose products include the Observatory of Economic Complexity.

Mindscape cover art

It was interesting to hear Cesar Hidalgo use the concept of “big history” a few times in this episode. I’m not 100% sure he meant it in the David Christian sense of the words, but it at least felt right.

I was also piqued at the mention of Lynne Kelly’s work, which I’m now knee deep into. I suspect it could dramatically expand on what we think of as the capacity of a personbyte, though the limit of knowledge there still exists. The idea of mnemotechniques within indigenous cultures certainly expands on the way knowledge worked in prehistory and what we classically think of and frame collective knowledge or collective learning.

I also think there are some interesting connections with Dr. Kelly’s mentions of social equity in prehistorical cultures and the work that Hidalgo mentions in the middle of the episode.

There are a small handful of references I’ll want to delve into after hearing this, though it may take time to pull them up unless they’re linked in the show notes.


hat-tip: Complexity Digest for the reminder that this is in my podcatcher. 🔖 November 22, 2019 at 03:28PM

Read Modern Recipes: A Case of Miscommunication by Peter HertzmannPeter Hertzmann (
Chef and food instructor takes a look at the history of recipes and how they're frequently misinterpreted.
(Hat tip to Jeremy Cherfas and his excellent Eat This Podcast episode Making sense of modern recipes: It’s not your fault; even professional chefs encounter problems for directing me to Hertzmann’s paper; some of my favorite episodes feature Jeremy interviewing him.)

Keep in mind that the paper which is highlighted and excerpted here is a draft version and not for direct citation or attribution.

recipe is simply ‘a statement of the ingredients and procedure required for making something’.2 There is no guarantee implied or stated that the cook will understand either the statement of ingredients or the procedure.

–November 24, 2019 at 02:41PM

Fourteenth-century recipe collections that have survived to today, such as Viandier pour appareiller toutes manières de viandes, Libre de sent sovi, Daz bûch von gûter spîse, and Forme of Cury, were written by professional cooks to use as an aide-mémoire for themselves or other professional cooks.

–November 24, 2019 at 02:42PM

Le Ménagier de Paris, written near the end of the century was arguably the first cookbook written as a set of instructions for a second party to use when managing a third party, in this case, for the young wife of an elderly gentleman to use as a guide for household management including supervising the cook.

It’s not indicated well here in the text, but this was written in 1393 according to the footnote.

Le Ménagier de Paris, 2 vols (Paris: the author, 1393; repr. Paris: Jerome Pichon, 1846)
–November 24, 2019 at 02:43PM

The suggested alternative cooking technique ignores that braising is performed slowly, with low heat, and in a steam environment.

–November 24, 2019 at 03:15PM

Lincoln suggested that all volumetric measurements required an adjective such as heaping, rounded, or level.2

I’ve heard of these, but not seen them as descriptors in quite a while and they always seemed “fluffy” to me anyway.
–November 24, 2019 at 03:25PM

Kosher salt: This salt should in practice be referred to as koshering salt, its original purpose. U.S. chefs started using Diamond Crystal-brand Kosher Salt in the 1990s because it was the only coarse salt commonly available to them. Rather than specify a brand or coarseness in their cookbooks, they chose the unfortunate term of ‘kosher salt’. Kosher salt is not purer than other salts, and all kosher salts are not equal. When measured volumetrically, all kosher salts have different amounts of salt. Nonetheless, many authors insist on specifying a volumetric amount of kosher salt—‘1 teaspoon kosher salt’—but do not identify the brand being used.36

The only author I’ve known to differentiate has been Michael Ruhlman, but even he didn’t specify the brand and essentially said that when using “Kosher salt” to use twice as much as specified compared to standard table salt, presumably to account for the densities involved.
–November 24, 2019 at 03:38PM

This is to say, the ingredients and the quantities thereof are indicated by pictures which most illiterate persons can understand and persons with poor vision can see; and which are readily grasped by the minds of those who are not in the above classes.

an early example of accessibility UI in a cook book.
–November 24, 2019 at 04:00PM

Further, as stated, by merely glancing at the pictorially indicated recipe of the present invention the cook can ascertain at a glance the required ingredients, can ascertain whether such ingredients are on hand, and, if not, the needed articles will be more easily remembered in purchasing the days supply of groceries, etc.

an example in the wild of visual memory being stronger than other forms.
–November 24, 2019 at 04:02PM

The book goes closer to teaching the reader to cook than most modern books.

My thoughts as well. Ratio is a fantastic cooking book.
–November 24, 2019 at 04:04PM

At least one, somewhat successful, cookbook has been published claiming to teach cooking without recipes.40

Bookmark to read in future: Glynn Christian, How to Cook Without Recipes(London: Portico Books, 2008).

The numbering of the annotations is slightly off here….
–November 24, 2019 at 04:05PM

Most modern cookbook authors claim to meet the conditions for a ‘good recipe’ as described by Elisabeth Luard:42

A good recipe is one that first encourages the reader to cook, and then delivers what it promises. A well-written recipe takes you by the hand and says, don’t worry, it’ll all be okay, this is what you’re looking for, this is what happens when you chop or slice or apply heat, and if it goes wrong, this is how to fix it. And when you’ve finished, this is what it should look and taste like, this is what to eat it with. But above all, take joy in what you do.

In reality, most authors fail to meet the above conditions. It would probably be better if authors tried to match the writing of earlier recipe authors from the first half of the twentieth century when less space was given to fancy illustrations and more words were given to how to cook.

–November 24, 2019 at 04:09PM

Mount: A cooking technique where small pieces of butter are quickly incorporated in a hot, but not boiling, sauce to give bulk and a glossy appearance.

A definition I don’t recall having ever seen before.
–November 24, 2019 at 04:17PM

The technical term for the zest is the flavedo.

flavedo is a new word to me
–November 24, 2019 at 04:27PM

Listened to How capuchin monkeys learn about food And what that might teach us by Jeremy Cherfas from Eat This Podcast

Cover artwork of female capuchin and young infant. She is holding a rock to crack nuts.When chimpanzees were first seen stripping the leaves off slender branches and inserting them into termite nests to fish for the insects, people marvelled. Our nearest relatives, using tools to get nutritious food. Imagine, then, the surprise among primatologists when capuchin monkeys, not nearly as closely related to us, proved equally adept at tool use. Capuchins select stones that can be half as heavy as they are and carry them long distances to use as nutcrackers.

Elisabetta Visalberghi is a biologist based in Rome, who published the first scientific observations of tool use in capuchins. That is just a part of her far-reaching investigations into how capuchins, which are omnivorous, go about deciding which foods are worth eating and which are best avoided.

The results may surprise you.

Trailer: The Bearded Capuchin Monkeys of Fazenda Boa Vista from Cognitive Primatology_ISTC on Vimeo.


  1. Cover photo of Chuchu and her infant by Elisabetta Visalberghi.
  2. The video I mentioned in the show is The bearded capuchin monkeys of Fazenda Boa Vista, available from the CNR Primate Center in Rome. There are some other videos on Vimeo.
  3. The CNR Primate Center website.
  4. Cashews really are a problem from the people who have to process them. This article is very recent.
  5. Banner from a photo by Allan Hopkins
  6. How about making a donation to show your love for the show?
This is so fascinating from an anthropological and even socio-economic perspective.
Listened to Making sense of modern recipes It's not your fault; even professional chefs encounter problems by Jeremy Cherfas from Eat This Podcast

Peter Hertzmann tells a great story of a chef telling a bunch of students to go and double the recipe for a batch of cookies. Minutes later, one returned and said he couldn’t do it because the oven wouldn’t go up to 700 degrees. Ho, ho, ho.

But there’s a serious issue here for people who are trying to follow a recipe without a clear understanding of the process and methods beneath it. Come to think of it, Peter says, even for professionals, there can be big problems trying to follow some modern recipes. Which prompts me to wonder, how many people these days buy cookbooks in order to use the recipes?


  1. Peter Hertzmann’s website à la carte will keep you occupied for hours. If you just want the paper we were talking about, here it is.
  2. Measure for Measure is the article I mentioned by Raymond Sokolov on why Americans measure by volume. It was published in Natural History magazine, July 1988, pp 80–83, and there seems also to be a version in the 1988 Proceedings of the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cooking. Good luck finding it online. Or, drop me a note …
  3. I was pleasantly surprised to find a facsimile of the original Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book at Amazon.
  4. Thanks to Dr Ana Tominc and the organisers for allowing me to attend the 1st Biennial Conference on Food and Communication at Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh.
  5. Cover photo by Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash
So many useful and important things in this episode. We need more content about food that helps teach people how to really cook. There isn’t nearly enough basic knowledge about science among cooks for them to really do their job as well as they should. Too much cooking media these days is geared at aspirational cooking rather than actual cooking. Our sad dependence on recipes is just deplorable. It kills me that most people don’t know how to properly measure ingredients.
Read Digging up the top science blogs of yesteryear by Jeremy Cherfas (
This bafflingly huge waste of my time (and yours) was prompted by two seemingly unlinked events. (Of course, no two events are truly unlinked, but let that ride.) First, there was a bafflingly stupid "article" from Mother Jones: Let’s Remember Some Blogs – Mother Jones. Why stupid? Because as fa...

👓 Humane Ingenuity 9: GPT-2 and You | Dan Cohen | Buttondown

Read Humane Ingenuity 9: GPT-2 and You by Dan CohenDan Cohen (
This newsletter has not been written by a GPT-2 text generator, but you can now find a lot of artificially created text that has been.

For those not familiar with GPT-2, it is, according to its creators OpenAI (a socially conscious artificial intelligence lab overseen by a nonprofit entity), “a large-scale unsupervised language model which generates coherent paragraphs of text.” Think of it as a computer that has consumed so much text that it’s very good at figuring out which words are likely to follow other words, and when strung together, these words create fairly coherent sentences and paragraphs that are plausible continuations of any initial (or “seed”) text.

This isn’t a very difficult problem and the underpinnings of it are well laid out by John R. Pierce in *[An Introduction to Information Theory: Symbols, Signals and Noise](*. In it he has a lot of interesting tidbits about language and structure from an engineering perspective including the reason why crossword puzzles work.
November 13, 2019 at 08:33AM

The most interesting examples have been the weird ones (cf. HI7), where the language model has been trained on narrower, more colorful sets of texts, and then sparked with creative prompts. Archaeologist Shawn Graham, who is working on a book I’d like to preorder right now, An Enchantment of Digital Archaeology: Raising the Dead with Agent Based Models, Archaeogaming, and Artificial Intelligence, fed GPT-2 the works of the English Egyptologist Flinders Petrie (1853-1942) and then resurrected him at the command line for a conversation about his work. Robin Sloan had similar good fun this summer with a focus on fantasy quests, and helpfully documented how he did it.

Circle back around and read this when it comes out.

Similarly, these other references should be an interesting read as well.
November 13, 2019 at 08:36AM

From this perspective, GPT-2 says less about artificial intelligence and more about how human intelligence is constantly looking for, and accepting of, stereotypical narrative genres, and how our mind always wants to make sense of any text it encounters, no matter how odd. Reflecting on that process can be the source of helpful self-awareness—about our past and present views and inclinations—and also, some significant enjoyment as our minds spin stories well beyond the thrown-together words on a page or screen.

And it’s not just happening with text, but it also happens with speech as I’ve written before: Complexity isn’t a Vice: 10 Word Answers and Doubletalk in Election 2016 In fact, in this mentioned case, looking at transcripts actually helps to reveal that the emperor had no clothes because there’s so much missing from the speech that the text doesn’t have enough space to fill in the gaps the way the live speech did.
November 13, 2019 at 08:43AM

🎧 Episode 1: You Can Change | The Happiness Lab

Listened to Episode 1: You Can Change from The Happiness Lab

There are things you can do today to make yourself happier. Your life circumstances and personality aren't nearly as important as you think in deciding how happy you can be. Dr Laurie Santos explains how understanding the latest science will point you in the right direction to making you more satisfied with your life.

🔖 The En-Gedi Scroll (2016) | Internet Archive

Bookmarked The En-Gedi Scroll (2016) (Internet Archive)

The data and virtual unwrapping results on the En-Gedi scroll. 

See the following papers for more information:
Seales, William Brent, et al. "From damage to discovery via virtual unwrapping: Reading the scroll from En-Gedi." Science advances 2.9 (2016): e1601247. (Web Article)
Segal, Michael, et al. "An Early Leviticus Scroll From En-Gedi: Preliminary Publication." Textus 26 (2016): 1-30. (PDF)