Read A New Theory of Western Civilization (The Atlantic)
Could a marriage policy first pursued by the Catholic Church a millennium and a half ago explain what made the industrialized world so powerful—and so peculiar?
This is the second article on this book that I’ve seen in the last week or so. Perhaps I should add it to my list?

Henrich, who directs Harvard’s Department of Human Evolutionary Biology, is a cultural evolutionary theorist, which means that he gives cultural inheritance the same weight that traditional biologists give to genetic inheritance. Parents bequeath their DNA to their offspring, but they—along with other influential role models—also transmit skills, knowledge, values, tools, habits. Our genius as a species is that we learn and accumulate culture over time. Genes alone don’t determine whether a group survives or disappears. So do practices and beliefs. Human beings are not “the genetically evolved hardware of a computational machine,” he writes. They are conduits of the spirit, habits, and psychological patterns of their civilization, “the ghosts of past institutions.” 

Annotated on September 06, 2020 at 11:03AM

WEIRD people have a bad habit of universalizing from their own particularities. They think everyone thinks the way they do, and some of them (not all, of course) reinforce that assumption by studying themselves. In the run-up to writing the book, Henrich and two colleagues did a literature review of experimental psychology and found that 96 percent of subjects enlisted in the research came from northern Europe, North America, or Australia. About 70 percent of those were American undergraduates. Blinded by this kind of myopia, many Westerners assume that what’s good or bad for them is good or bad for everyone else. 

This is a painful reality. It’s also even more specific to the current Republican party. Do as we say, not as we do.

This is the sort of example that David Dylan Thomas will appreciate.
Annotated on September 06, 2020 at 11:09AM

By the time Protestantism came along, people had already internalized an individualist worldview. Henrich calls Protestantism “the WEIRDest religion,” and says it gave a “booster shot” to the process set in motion by the Catholic Church. Integral to the Reformation was the idea that faith entailed personal struggle rather than adherence to dogma. Vernacular translations of the Bible allowed people to interpret scripture more idiosyncratically. The mandate to read the Bible democratized literacy and education. After that came the inquiry into God-given natural (individual) rights and constitutional democracies. The effort to uncover the laws of political organization spurred interest in the laws of nature—in other words, science. The scientific method codified epistemic norms that broke the world down into categories and valorized abstract principles. All of these psychosocial changes fueled unprecedented innovation, the Industrial Revolution, and economic growth. 

Reading this makes me think about the political break in the United States along political and religious boundaries. Some of Trumps’ core base practices a more personal religion and are generally in areas that don’t display the level of individualism, but focus more on larger paternalistic families. This could be an interesting space for further exploration as it seems to be moving the “progress”(?) described by WEIRD countries backward.
Annotated on September 06, 2020 at 11:19AM

If Henrich’s history of Christianity and the West feels rushed and at times derivative—he acknowledges his debt to Max Weber—that’s because he’s in a hurry to explain Western psychology. 

This adds more to my prior comment with the addition to Max Weber here. Cross reference some of my reading this past week on his influence on the prosperity gospel.
Annotated on September 06, 2020 at 11:21AM

Henrich defends this sweeping thesis with several studies, including a test known as the Triad Task. Subjects are shown three images—say, a rabbit, a carrot, and a cat. The goal is to match a “target object”—the rabbit—with a second object. A person who matches the rabbit with the cat classifies: The rabbit and the cat are animals. A person who matches the rabbit with the carrot looks for relationships between the objects: The rabbit eats the carrot. 

Annotated on September 06, 2020 at 11:25AM

Toppling the accomplishments of Western civilization off their great-man platforms, he erases their claim to be monuments to rationality: Everything we think of as a cause of culture is really an effect of culture, including us. 

Annotated on September 06, 2020 at 11:27AM

He refutes genetic theories of European superiority and makes a good case against economic determinism. His quarry are the “enlightened” Westerners—would-be democratizers, globalizers, well-intended purveyors of humanitarian aid—who impose impersonal institutions and abstract political principles on societies rooted in familial networks, and don’t seem to notice the trouble that follows. 

Annotated on September 06, 2020 at 11:29AM

Read Eliminating the Human by David ByrneDavid Byrne (MIT Technology Review)
We are beset by—and immersed in—apps and devices that are quietly reducing the amount of meaningful interaction we have with each other.
This piece makes a fascinating point about people and interactions. It’s the sort of thing that many in the design and IndieWeb communities should read and think about as they work.

I came to it via an episode of the podcast The Happiness Lab.

The consumer technology I am talking about doesn’t claim or acknowledge that eliminating the need to deal with humans directly is its primary goal, but it is the outcome in a surprising number of cases. I’m sort of thinking maybe it is the primary goal, even if it was not aimed at consciously.

Annotated on January 22, 2020 at 10:35AM

Most of the tech news we get barraged with is about algorithms, AI, robots, and self-driving cars, all of which fit this pattern. I am not saying that such developments are not efficient and convenient; this is not a judgment. I am simply noticing a pattern and wondering if, in recognizing that pattern, we might realize that it is only one trajectory of many. There are other possible roads we could be going down, and the one we’re on is not inevitable or the only one; it has been (possibly unconsciously) chosen.

Annotated on January 22, 2020 at 10:36AM

What I’m seeing here is the consistent “eliminating the human” pattern.

This seems as apt a name as any.
Annotated on January 22, 2020 at 10:39AM

“Social” media: This is social interaction that isn’t really social. While Facebook and others frequently claim to offer connection, and do offer the appearance of it, the fact is a lot of social media is a simulation of real connection.

Perhaps this is one of the things I like most about the older blogosphere and it’s more recent renaissance with the IndieWeb idea of Webmentions, a W3C recommendation spec for online interactions? While many of the interactions I get are small nods in the vein of likes, favorites, or reposts, some of them are longer, more visceral interactions.

My favorite just this past week was a piece that I’d worked on for a few days that elicited a short burst of excitement from someone who just a few minutes later wrote a reply that was almost as long as my piece itself.

To me this was completely worth the effort and the work, not because of the many other smaller interactions, but because of the human interaction that resulted. Not to mention that I’m still thinking out a reply still several days later.

This sort of human social interaction also seems to be at the heart of what Manton Reece is doing with By leaving out things like reposts and traditional “likes”, he’s really creating a human connection network to fix what traditional corporate social media silos have done to us. This past week’s episode of Micro Monday underlines this for us. (#)
Annotated on January 22, 2020 at 10:52AM

Antonio Damasio, a neuroscientist at USC wrote about a patient he called Elliot, who had damage to his frontal lobe that made him unemotional. In all other respects he was fine—intelligent, healthy—but emotionally he was Spock. Elliot couldn’t make decisions. He’d waffle endlessly over details. ­Damasio concluded that although we think decision-­making is rational and machinelike, it’s our emotions that enable us to actually decide.

Annotated on January 22, 2020 at 10:56AM

And in the meantime, if less human interaction enables us to forget how to cooperate, then we lose our advantage.

It may seem odd, but I think a lot of the success of the IndieWeb movement and community is exactly this: a group of people has come together to work and interact and increase our abilities to cooperate to make something much bigger, more diverse, and more interesting than any of us could have done separately.
Annotated on January 22, 2020 at 10:58AM

Remove humans from the equation, and we are less complete as people and as a society.

Annotated on January 22, 2020 at 10:59AM

A version of this piece originally appeared on his website,

This piece seems so philosophical, it seems oddly trivial that I see this note here and can’t help but think about POSSE and syndication.
Annotated on January 22, 2020 at 11:01AM

👓 The Man Who Broke Politics | The Atlantic

Read The Man Who Broke Politics (The Atlantic)
Newt Gingrich turned partisan battles into bloodsport, wrecked Congress, and paved the way for Trump's rise. Now he's reveling in his achievements.
An interesting look back at the history, and it seems a bit surprising to me because Gingrich has always seemed so calm, reasonable and staid in his television appearances. Apparently he wasn’t quite so behind the scenes.

What I find false in some of his assumptions however is that while his idea about killing or being killed from an evolutionary standpoint is broadly true, humans have been able to do so much more by possessing logic and civility than the base “animals” he apparently idolizes. His premise has brought down our democratic structures and is causing us to devolve backwards instead of forwards–both within the larger animalistic structure he proposes as well as among our fellow people of the world. While Americans are infighting among ourselves, we’re losing ground to other countries who are rapidly catching up to us.

Somehow I feel like Gingrich is missing a chunk of modern history and the value of a Western liberal democracy, by which I’m talking about the philosophical version of liberal, and not his version of liberal meaning Democrat or “enemy.”

While he may think the Republicans are “winning” presently, what is generally happening is that a larger rift is opening up within the democracy and the two sides which really aren’t very apart are moving even further apart, particularly in their fighting. As a result, we’re spending far more time and energy fighting each other rather than competing against countries externally. From a game theoretic perspective each side fights harder in opposite directions, but the equilibrium point doesn’t really move very much for all the extra effort. Meanwhile, we’re exhausting our resources (and general happiness) which we could be employing to better ourselves, and particularly with respect to all the external factors (foreign powers, climate change, etc.) we should be working against.

He can continue to look at things from the Nixonian “man in the arena” perspective of his youth, but I would submit he should be looking at it from the wider “person in the world” perspective we’re all operating in in this millennia.

🔖 A New Factor in Evolution by James Mark Baldwin | The American Naturalist: Vol 30, No 354

Bookmarked A New Factor in Evolution by James Mark Baldwin (The American Naturalist: Vol 30, No 354 )

In several recent publications I have developed, from different points of view, some considerations which tend to bring out a certain influence at work in organic evolution which I venture to call "a new factor". I give below the list of references [1] to these publications and shall refer to them by number as this paper proceeds. The object of the present paper is to gather into one sketch an outline of the view of the process of development which these different publications have hinged upon.

The problems involved in a theory of organic development may be gathered up under three great heads: Ontogeny, Phylogeny, Heredity. The general consideration, the " factor " which I propose to bring out, is operative in the first instance, in the field of Ontogeny; I shall consequently speak first of the problem of Ontogeny, then of that of Phylogeny, in so far as the topic dealt with makes it necessary, then of that of Heredity, under the same limitation, and finally, give some definitions and conclusions.

👓 When the Social Silos Fall | Brad Enslen

Read When the Social Silos Fall by Brad EnslenBrad Enslen (Brad Enslen)
I hear a lot of people wanting the social network silos (mainly Facebook and Twitter) to go away.  I too want them to go. Eventually.  But before they do, I want to examine some things in this little essay. Some Good Things that the Silos Did Searc...

👓 Neanderthals produced symbolic art, research suggests | Cosmos Magazine

Read Neanderthals produced symbolic art, research suggests (Cosmos Magazine)
Grooves on an ancient piece of flint might have been made intentionally to encode information. Andrew Masterson reports.
An interesting synopsis though I suspect the paper is far more detailed.

h/t to @CosmosMagazine

bookmarked on May 03, 2018 at 09:03PM

👓 How American women got stuck in the kitchen | The Economist

Read How American women got stuck in the kitchen (The Economist)
The IMF’s latest World Economic Outlook shows the cost of having no federal paid leave programme
You heard it, America is behind… and it doesn’t look like we’ll be catching up any time soon.

📗 Started reading The Vital Question: Energy, Evolution, and the Origins of Complex Life by Nick Lane

📗 Started reading pages 1-18 Introduction: Why is Life the Way it is in The Vital Question: Energy, Evolution, and the Origins of Complex Life by Nick Lane

A quick, but interesting peek into where he intends to go. He lays out some quick background here in the opening. He’s generally a very lucid writer so far. Can’t wait to get in further.

Some may feel like some of the terminology is a hurdle in the opening, so I hope he circles around to define some of his terms a bit better for the audience I suspect he’s trying to reach.

book cover of Nick Lane's The Vital Question
The Vital Question: Energy, Evolution and the Origins of Complex Life by Nick Lane

📕 Read pages 381-461 of Origin by Dan Brown

📕 Read pages 381-461 to finish reading Origin: A Novel by Dan Brown

This last section got pretty heavy into evolution and touched on ideas of information theory applied to biology and complexity, but didn’t actually mention them. Surprisingly he mentioned Jeremy England by name! He nibbled around the edges of the field to tie up the plot, but there’s some reasonable philosophical questions hiding here in the end of the book that I’ll have to pull into a more lengthy review.

🎧 Antibiotics and agriculture | Eat This Podcast

Listened to Antibiotics and agriculture by Jeremy Cherfas from Eat This Podcast
Tackling the problem of antibiotic resistance at (one) source In the past year or so there has been a slew of high-level meetings pointing to antibiotic resistance as a growing threat to human well-being. But then, resistance was always an inevitable, Darwinian consequence of antibiotic use. Well before penicillin was widely available, Ernst Chain, who went on to win a Nobel Prize for his work on penicillin, noted that some bacteria were capable of neutralising the antibiotic. What is new about the recent pronouncements and decisions is that the use of antibiotics in agriculture is being recognised, somewhat belatedly, as a major source of resistance. Antibiotic manufacturers and the animal health industry have, since the start, done everything they can to deny that. Indeed, the history of efforts to regulate the use of antibiotics in agriculture reveals a pretty sordid approach to public health. But while it can be hard to prove the connection between agriculture and a specific case of antibiotic resistance, a look at hundreds of recent academic studies showed that almost three quarters of them did demonstrate a conclusive link. Antibiotic resistance – whether it originates with agriculture or inappropriate medical use – takes us back almost 100 years, when infectious diseases we now consider trivial could, and did, kill. It reduces the effectiveness of other procedures too, such as surgery and chemotherapy, by making it more likely that a subsequent infection will wreck the patient’s prospects. So it imposes huge costs on society as a whole. Maybe society as a whole needs to tackle the problem. The Oxford Martin School, which supports a portfolio of highly interdisciplinary research groups at Oxford University, has a Programme on Collective Responsibility for Infectious Disease. They recently published a paper proposing a tax on animal products produced with antibiotics. Could that possibly work?

Here’s another great example of a negative externality. Too often capitalism brushes over these and creates a larger longer term cost by not taking these into account. It’s almost assuredly the case that taxing the use of these types of antibiotics across the broadest base of users (eaters) (thereby minimizing the overall marginal cost), would help to minimize the use of these or at least we’d have the funding for improving the base issue in the future. In some sense, the additional cost of eating organic meat is similar to this type of “tax”, but the money is allocated in a different way.

Not covered here are some of the economic problems of developing future antibiotics when our current ones have ceased to function as the result of increased resistance over time. This additional problem is an even bigger worry for the longer term. In some sense, it’s all akin to the cost of smoking and second hand smoke–the present day marginal cost to the smoker of cigarettes and taxes is idiotically low in comparison to the massive future cost of their overall health as well as that of the society surrounding them. Better to put that cost upfront for those who really prefer to smoke so that the actual externalities are taken into account from the start.

This excellent story reminds me of a great series of stories that PBS NewsHour did on the general topic earlier this year.

If you love this podcast as much as I do, do consider supporting it on Patreon.

Valerie Alexander on How Women Can Succeed in the Workplace (Despite Having “Female Brains”)

This morning, at the Friday morning coffee meetup of Innovate Pasadena held at Cross Campus, I saw one of the singularly best and most valuable talks I’ve heard in a long time. Many of these types of speakers, while engaging or even entertaining, are telling the same tired stories and at best you learn one sentence’s worth of value. Definitively not the case this morning!!!

How Women Can Succeed in the Workplace (Despite Having “Female Brains”) by Valerie Alexander

Entitled How Women Can Succeed in the Workplace (Despite Having “Female Brains”) writer and speaker Valerie Alexander presented a brief discussion of human evolutionary history (a topic I’ve studied closely for several decades) that featured the difference in development of male and female human brains. Based on this and with a clearer picture of what broadly differentiates the sexes, Valerie then gave a multitude of highly relate-able examples from her professional life highlighting how women can simply take back control in the workplace to not only better succeed for themselves, but to also help their companies see their true value and succeed simultaneously.

Further, she also included some simple and very actionable advice (for men and women) to be able to make a better space within corporations so that they’re able to extract more of the value women bring to the workplace. Hint: Women bring a HUGE amount of value, and a majority of companies are not only undervaluing it, but they are literally throwing it away.

Not only were the messages tremendously valuable and imminently actionable by both women AND men, but she delivered it with fantastic confidence, grace, wit, charm, and warmth. In fact, I’d say it was not only strikingly informative, but it was also very entertaining. If you’re in the corporate space and looking to turn around your antediluvian or even pre-historic work culture (I’m looking ominously at you Uber and similar Silicon Valley brogrammer cultures), then jump in line as quickly as you can to book up what I can only expect is the diminishing time in her speaking and travel schedule.

Innovate Pasadena recorded the talk and I’ll try to post it here as soon as it’s available. Until then I will highly recommend purchasing her book How Women Can Succeed in the Workplace (Despite Having “Female Brains”), which I’m sure has not only the content of her lecture, but assuredly includes a whole lot more detail and additional examples than one could fit into such a short time frame. I also suspect it’s the type of book one would want to refer back to frequently as well. I’ve already got a half a dozen copies of it on their way to me to share with friends and family. I’m willing to make a substantial bet that for uncovering inherent value, this book and her overall message will eventually stand in the pantheon of texts and work of those like those of Frederick Winslow Taylor, Lillian Gilbreth, Frank Gilbreth, Dale Carnegie, Napoleon Hill, J.M. Juran, and W. Edwards Deming.

Psst… If the good folks at TED need some fantastic content, I saw a shortened 25 minute version of her hour-long talk. It could be tightened a hair for content and length, but it’s got exactly the tone, tempo and has the high level of presentation skills for which you’re known. Most importantly, it’s definitively an “Idea worth spreading.”

Innovate Pasadena has finally uploaded a copy of the video of Valerie Alexander’s talk:

🎧 Why save seeds? | Eat This Podcast

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