Anna Gát: What to Read This Weekend #52
Anniversary Edition 👑 Cults, brains, moms, ancient scrolls, [virtual] reality - lovers, machines - and Neumann, Spinoza, Iris Murdoch, Vitalik, Putin, Erdős, Emma Goldman, Jordan Peterson, God...
Hi everyone! Long time no see (one week) 💗 It has now been a YEAR since I started this little Friday digest of mine…. This is my end-of-week review, my moment of stillness, my mandala, my needlework. Thank you for being such loyal and interested readers!
I’ve just got back to Europe after a truly formative New York City month. So much is changing in the company and in my life… Right now, I’m slowly getting better after some sick days (food poisoning?!) which made it hard to read long prose, but gave me ample time to catch up on new TV series of the Millennial “sad horny” variety (as my friend Visa Veerasamy calls the genre), mainly Mr & Mrs Smith (4 out of 5 stars) and One Day (3 out of 5 stars).
We’ve just listed some excellent salons on Interintellect:
with UnHerd’s Kat Rosenfield and myself on Millennial women
And now let’s dive into this weekend’s reading list, my selection just for you — a particularly GREAT week in my opinion, truly worth scrolling all the way through!
The future remains before us, as unthinkable as the farthest reaches of our still-uncolonised galaxy, or the startling mystery of our own births and deaths. I like to believe there’s still time to salvage whatever sane humanisms we can from the wreckage of modern history…
Jennifer Banks; Aeon — beautiful
Sir Walter Scott foresaw that the Royal Society of Literature spelt trouble. Writers were best kept apart, Scott argued.
MC; Times Literary Supplement
Not all memoirs are written by narcissists. Some are written by activists. This is not an improvement.
Scott Alexander woke up and chose violence 😄
Below you'll find a survey consisting of six in-depth questions…
The Point (to my disappointment, the questionnaire doesn’t feature any juicy questions!)
As Aristotle points out, even if one had every other good, one would still choose to have friends.
Matt Dinan; The Hedgehog Review
“As a feminist, I was naturally disposed to see first the horror of domestic violence and to think primarily of the countless, often voiceless victims of toxic masculinity—abused or killed in a society that has consistently normalized the dehumanization of women and girls,” [Anna Motz] writes in the chapter devoted to Lillian. “Yet as a forensic psychotherapist I also knew that sometimes it is the woman who is the intimate partner terrorist, using tyranny to protect herself from the shame and terror she herself feels.”
Alexandra Schwartz; The New Yorker
There is a masculine alternative to H.R. It is called a union.
Helen Andrews; The Lamp
The “Russian idea,” throughout its many changes, has typically been messianic. It explains the world and gives life purpose; it shapes domestic and foreign policy and, more importantly, gives Russians a sense of their “Russianness”—which includes the ability to save the world.
Gary Saul Morson; The New York Review
The first modern-style code ever executed on a computer was written in 1948, by a woman named Klára Dán von Neumann, or Klári to her friends… The pages represent the foundation of today’s entire world of code...
Johnny is now widely believed to have had OCD, and Klári was diagnosed at the end of her life with “anxiety depression with neuroses,” according to a coroner’s report.
Nora Mathison; Slate
Compromise is a trap for more compromise. Go out and do what you love. This is who you are.
My concern is … that the norms themselves are under threat, and that context collapse will make it increasingly difficult to preserve the type of discursive spaces that have allowed philosophical inquiry to flourish in the past century.
By equating living cells and computers, one has mistaken the map for the territory. A cell cannot be fully understood by studying all of its components in isolation, as a steam turbine or other machines can be. Cells are stuffed with billions of interacting molecules, the behavior of which changes from one environment to the next. And yet, biologists have long devised methods to study cellular components individually, rather than as continuously changing parts of a whole. The mental model of ‘cells as machines’ has negatively impacted the tools and methods used in biology.
Niko McCarty; The Latecomer
American poetry criticism faces a major problem, one that has nothing to do with poetry, or readers, or anything remotely literary. The problem is that a critic who wants to quote a poem in a book has to face a permissions regime that ranges from unpredictable to plain crazy…
David Orr; The New York Times (ht Agnes Callard 🙏🏻)
Murdoch thought that that too many novelists wrote “crystalline” or “journalistic” narratives, with neither real character or the specifics of life, but instead the small, dry clarity of symbolism and lots of talk about “the human condition”. She saw both as forms of fantasy, lacking true imagination: journalistic novels are shapeless day-dreams, and crystalline novels are small myths. Instead, she wanted the wide scope of reality grappled with by the imagination.
In the future, cursive will have to be taught to scholars the way Elizabethan secretary hand or paleography is today.
Drew Gilpin Faust; The Atlantic
Gone are the days when mathematicians worked and published exclusively in solitude.
The winners of a contest called the Vesuvius Challenge trained their machine-learning algorithms on scans of the rolled-up papyrus, unveiling a previously unknown philosophical work that discusses the senses and pleasure.
Jo Marchant; Nature — congrats!! 🔥
The impetus for the project came from an unusual place. After years touring a solo laptop set, Herndon felt an urge to sing with other people again. Growing up in Johnson City, Tennessee, Herndon sang in church choirs and now found she “missed the joy of singing with other people as well as the joy of the audience feeling it,” as she put it in a January 2020 interview… Stuff happening with large language models and deep learning was too tempting to resist.
Robert Barry; Jacobin
So Mill is much more rationalist than Hayek. It’s one reason why Hayek hated Mill. But clearly, on the issue of women, Mill was completely correct that women can do much better, will do much better. It’s not clear what the end of this process will be. It will just continue for a long time. Women achieving in excellent ways. And it’s Mill’s greatest work.
Because there’s little oversight of psychedelic retreats, there’s no governing body providing any safety regulations. It’s often left to retreat companies to build their own best practices, so it’s important to do your research and find the right facility for you—one that you trust.
Michaela Tremble; Vogue
The biggest limitation, though, is hardware: the Vision Pro field of view is very narrow, in a way I didn’t fully appreciate while only using one app in that demo…
Ben Thompson; Stratechery
The researchers translated each composition into an information network by representing each note as a node and each transition between notes as an edge, connecting them. Using this network, they compared the quantity of information in each composition. Toccatas, which were meant to entertain and surprise, contained more information than chorales…
Karmela Padavic-Callaghan; New Scientist — phew!
“Part of my family, our genes, is to tell stories and laugh at tragedy,” she explains.
Mikey O'Connell; The Hollywood Reporter
Despite his busy life as professor in prestigious universities on both sides of the Atlantic, Provost of King's College Cambridge, and vociferous member of the old Labour establishment, and despite his own immensely important contribution to the subject in books that are on the shelves of all professional philosophers, Williams found time to study and review the works of his contemporaries, leaving all of them, it seems to me, with serious criticisms to answer, and at least one of them (Richard Rorty) with no hope of doing so.
Roger Scruton — what a sentence!!
He is fed up … of people asking him about the two days he spent photographing Kate Moss for Vogue in 1996, preferring instead to discuss the artistic process behind his less glamorous shots…
Ellen Peirson-Hagger; New Statesman
We’re only 40 days into 2024 and already more than 500 journalists have lost their jobs. That’s an average of more than a dozen per day, every day so far this year. These are their names…
Andrew Fedorov; The Fine Print
After all, we’ll need some artificial difficulty in form of social fun and games when the AIs are doing all the work. Just kidding. I think.
The virtues that enable and differentiate great builders run deeper than the flaws to which they tend to be prone.
Dr Gena Gorlin
Even if a sufficiently wide field of view is achieved by means of successfully creating a super high-powered stereoscopic display, you’ve only won half the battle. The goal of mixed-reality systems is to immerse the user in the rendered environment, which means that the image seen by the user must correspond to the natural movements the user makes with their body.
Anna-Sofia Lesiv; Contrary
Despite this being a scientific age, there is a funny sense in which we lack a scientific definition of what we value most: ourselves.
Erik Hoel, Prophetic AI blog
Spinoza advocated for democratic government because he thought that it was more likely than monarchy or aristocracy to preserve libertas philosophandi, and thus to make it possible for human beings to become happy. As he writes in the “Tractatus,” “The basis and aim of a democracy is to avoid the desires as irrational, and to bring men as far as possible under the control of reason, so that they may live in peace and harmony.”
Adam Kirsch; The New York Times
2023 letter (year review)
Xi is not telling a good national story to help people make sense of economic slowdown. Storytelling really isn’t the party’s strong suit. I’m puzzled that Xi keeps feeling the need to tighten political restrictions around society. Controls on free expression are stronger than they have been in decades. As I’ve written in each of my previous letters, the party’s strangling of free expression has rendered China into a pitiful underperformer relative to Japan and South Korea in the creation of cultural products.
When someone says “Let’s have a follow up conversation”, what is the implicit unspoken understanding of when that should happen? What will be considered early, appropriate and late in a way that violates cultural norms?
In companies I’ve been at, that has ranged from a few hours to the next day to the next week to …perhaps never. This little test usually tells me a lot about how fast your organization/company works.
In his essay on the uncanny, Freud posits that “an element of intellectual uncertainty” is essential in linking the uncanny to death, which is what we truly fear.
The researchers look at a sample of kids who are all being bullied, so it’s not about how to keep your kid from being in this group. They ask which kids are struggling as a result, and they find that those who have some consistent support — a single close friend, a sibling, other family — are less likely to be negatively affected.
A 2022 survey found that sexual harassment in the classical music industry was rife, with “unsafe workplaces where perpetrators face no repercussions” and where “a number of allegations of sexual assault … would be a criminal matter”.
Dalya Alberge; The Guardian
The counterweight for every precious gift your children give you is the looming worry it could be taken away tomorrow.
I wasn’t the first person in my family to run off to San Francisco to join a movement of fringe countercultural weirdos that later somehow found itself at the vanguard of American elite culture… My mom went to San Francisco back in hippie times.
Simonsen’s childhood was spent running around the centers, hanging out behind the counters and annoying older bowlers… By 12, Simonsen was entering tournaments against bowlers on the nation’s best college teams, including Wichita State — the Duke basketball of college bowling.
Zach Harris; Rolling Stone
The original e/acc thesis was, "Yeah, yeah, they might turn us into carbon and that's good actually.” (But other people have taken the e/acc title so it doesn’t mean anything anymore.) The EA thesis is saying, “Oh my god, they're going to turn us into carbon! This is the end of the world.” So EA and e/acc are mostly the same people.
Shreeda Segan; Meridian
The Mathematician Who Finds the Poetry in Math and the Math in Poetry - Interview with Sarah Hart
Thousands of years ago in India, poets were trying to think about the possible meters. In Sanskrit poetry, you have long and short syllables. Long is twice as long as short. If you want to work out how many there are that take a length of time of three, you can have short, short, short, or long, short, or short, long. There are three ways to make three. There are five ways to make a length-four phrase. And there are eight ways to make a length-five phrase. This sequence you’re getting is one where every term is the sum of the previous two. You exactly reproduce what we nowadays call the Fibonacci sequence. But this was centuries before Fibonacci.
Leila Sloman; Quanta Magazine
Art has taught me innumerable lessons about noticing myself and embracing the messiness inherent in the creative process.
Despite his wife’s decision to join the Roman Catholic Church, Peterson is not affiliated with any particular faith. He has said he supported Tammy Peterson’s decision, which he has called a “logical, appropriate and inspired next step” in her spiritual journey. He often speaks of biblical stories in terms of myth, which he calls “a form of truth that surpasses the merely literal.” But pacing the stage in Providence, he at times sounded like a believer, quoting scripture and mocking atheists who “don’t believe in angels or devils” but seem just fine with aliens.
Jennifer Graham; Deseret
You can't neglect a friendship and expect it to just grow. You have to work at it. You have to find the time. And my observation is that many women are just better at doing that and building it into their lives.
By 2022, I had been thinking about many of these topics for a while. I read and reviewed Balaji Srinivasan's book on network states, wrote posts exploring what a crypto city might look like, and had been exploring issues of governance in the context of blockchain-native digital constructs like DAOs. But the discussion seemed like it was remaining too theoretical for too long, and the time seemed ripe for a more practical experiment. And so came the idea for Zuzalu….
Vitalik Buterin; Palladium