Anna Gát: What to Read This Weekend #42
Napoleon, Vitalik, schizophrenia, was Parfit a psycho?, OpenAI, Dostoevsky, Munger, Ferrante, remote teams, manspreading, adults, liberals, rituals, software slowdown, Kissinger in the rearview mirror
Hello my dears,
Busy week (Lisbon → Berlin) so I’ll keep this short. Especially because there’s so much good stuff to read this weekend.. See below. x Anna
“Between Rita and my eyes
There is a rifle
And whoever knows Rita
Kneels and prays
To the divinity in those honey-colored eyes
And I kissed Rita
When she was young…” — “Rita and the Rifle is the poem Mahmoud Darwish, national poet of Palestine, wrote about Tamar Ben-Ami, the Israeli woman with whom he fell in love.”
In Kuhn’s view, “only investigations firmly rooted in the contemporary scientific tradition are likely to break with that tradition and give rise to a new one”.
Vasso Kindi; Institute for Arts and Ideas
A different option that I have heard about more recently is to focus less on AI as something separate from humans, and more on tools that enhance human cognition rather than replacing it… If we want a future that is both superintelligent and "human", one where human beings are not just pets, but actually retain meaningful agency over the world, then it feels like something like this is the most natural option.
If you want to build fifty churches, like Christopher Wren, plus St. Pauls, and assorted Oxford and Cambridge buildings, the Great Fire of London helps. Not only does this force you to switch from an explore to exploit phase, it makes more likely that the conditions for productivity—decision making, resources, cooperation, speed—will be in place. When London sits in ashes, stakeholder management gets a little easier: you can only do major projects at that point. Proximity to plague and war did Shakespeare, Newton, and many others no harm on this front. The right sort of restrictions create channels for energy to flow productively.
Was this man Parfit some kind of sociopath?
Paul Nedelisky; The Hedgehog Review
Ignorance is generally pictured as an unwanted state of mind, and the act of willful ignorance may raise eyebrows. Yet people do not always want to know... We propose a regret theory of deliberate ignorance that covers both negative feelings that may arise from foreknowledge of negative events, such as death and divorce, and positive feelings of surprise and suspense that may arise from foreknowledge of positive events, such as knowing the sex of an unborn child.
Gerd Gigerenzer and Rocio Garcia-Retamero
Personal Identity (1971)
So I might, in my right-handed stream, wonder how, in my left-handed stream, I am getting on.
Edith and the Kingpin (1975)
What does that hand desire
That he grips it so tight…
Some students are mourning that cloistered feel. One of [Katherine Damm]’s students told her that they don’t want the campus novel “to look more like college,” she recalled. If the student got their wish, “College would look more like the campus novel.” For some students, the fantasy or wish fulfillment element of a campus novel is a feature, not a bug, because the realist campus novel is so obviously a fantasy. That the campus novel is a fantasy is a core tenet of “dark academia” Instagram and TikTok accounts that channel books like Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited or Donna Tartt’s The Secret History.
Kate Dwyer; Esquire
How do I get health insurance? Invest for retirement? Budget my money?
Even if the president could claim a mystical mandate from the voters to override detailed agency regulations at will, presidential appointees or civil servants—perhaps in league with business or nonprofit lobbyists—would draft the executive decrees that the president would sign, perhaps without reading them.
Michael Lind; Compact
The dark prophet of our times — In The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoevsky dares to ask the question few will: do people truly desire freedom?
The novel stages the fraught relations between a father and his discordant sons to explore broader social dynamics afflicting 19th-century Russia and the world. For Dostoevsky, the advance of revolutionary and scientific sentiments – which he saw as malign imports from Europe gaining traction among Russia’s younger generation – threatened the foundations of tsarist rule, imperial identity and religious faith. Dostoevsky, who flirted with socialism as a young man but became an increasingly staunch, if idiosyncratic, conservative, was worried.
Samuel Earle; New Statesman
Founding teams need a Chief Optimist.
Creating a dataset that allows us to explore the division of labour in knowledge production within teams and across space, we find that among distributed team members, collaboration centres on late-stage, technical tasks involving more codified knowledge. Yet they are less likely to join forces in conceptual tasks—such as conceiving new ideas and designing research—when knowledge is tacit. We conclude that despite striking improvements in digital technology in recent years, remote teams are less likely to integrate the knowledge of their members to produce new, disruptive ideas.
Yiling Lin, Carl Benedikt Frey, and Lingfei Wu
Mantel’s succinct expression of the awareness of mortality is, naturally, more painful to read in the wake of her unexpected death just over a year ago. When I interviewed her in 2020 for the publication of The Mirror and the Light, the final instalment of the Wolf Hall trilogy, she was realistic about the balancing act of interesting projects versus likely lifespan, and wasn’t planning another vast work: “It’s just maths, really”, she said. But in her life and her writing, never easily separable, there is the consistent feeling of urgency, whether she is addressing her family history, her serious health problems, the permeability of the membrane between the past and the present, the quick and the dead.
Alex Clark; Times Literary Supplement
Admitting past false statements may have been particularly psychologically difficult for Oppenheimer, whose arrogance was considerable and whose tolerance for those he regarded as fools was very limited.
Harvey Klehr and John Earl Haynes; Commentary
We have come a long way from Bismarck addressing foreigners in Berlin in French… The French establishment is trying to fight against the encroachment of English. French diplomats, for example, are currently inveighing against the EU hiring people in fields such as defence and economics with assessments in English… The UK may have exited the European Union but the English language is not leaving continental Europe any time soon.
Tomiwa Owolade; The Guardian
In an ironic way, political polarisation along gender lines is actually more inclusive. It doesn’t matter if you’re black, white, or AAPI — the primary distinction becomes whether you’re a man or a woman. Even more important than an inclusive political landscape, it may also fix some of our sex problems, rather than encouraging them. In a world where everything is for everyone, this could be the one way we return to signalling older notions of what it means to be a man or woman. For some people, this will rise to the level of a fetish, but for most, it might just re-balance the dating market.
Katherine Dee; UnHerd
One could lie to a prospective partner that he is an unmarried and wealthy libertarian, when in fact he is a married and poor socialist.
Joseph J Fischel; Aeon
Our talents and abilities are quantified by large organizations like state bureaucracies and private corporations. The intangible aspects of our personalities that we think motivate our decisions—loves, hates, desires, fears—are conditioned in organized ways. These organizations only rarely answer to particular people, but rather to their own and often seemingly mysterious internal logic.
Ash Milton; Palladium
Genghis Khan: they don’t make stars like they used to — Manspreading like the ancients: star phylogenies and the rise and fall of hyper-patriarchy
In 2003, a bombshell paper reported that one in 200 men worldwide, and 10% of Central Asian males, were direct paternal descendants of a single man who lived about 1,000 years ago… “The lineage is carried by likely male-line descendants of Genghis Khan.”
Moving On, a Love Story (2006)
I lived in the Apthorp in a state of giddy delirium for about ten years. The water in the bathtub often ran brown, there was probably asbestos in the radiators, and the exterior of the building was encrusted with soot. Also, there were mice. Who cared?
Nora Ephron; The New Yorker
“Henry Kissinger’s insistence on recording practically every word he said, either to the presidents he served (without their knowledge that they were being taped) or the diplomats he cajoled, remains the gift that keeps on giving to diplomatic historians,” remarked Tom Blanton, director of the National Security Archive.
National Security Archive
A big question for observers of the aviation industry is when we might see a return to supersonic commercial air travel. The Concorde, which took its first flight in 1969, could fly at Mach 2, or 1,350 miles per hour. It was capable of flying passengers from London to New York in under three hours... However, an unfortunate side effect of its speed was the incredibly loud sonic boom it produced, audible to any and all below it.
Anna-Sofia Lesiv; Contrary
The only way to incentivize such productivity, and the great personal sacrifices that go with it, is by starting a small company where the benefits accrue directly to the owner-operators, the founders. This belief in the outsized value produced by the best people is also the reason for YC’s obsessive focus on funding the most promising individuals even if their company seems bad. In Graham’s words “If we want to get the most out of [the most productive individuals], we need to understand these especially productive people.”
Wittgenstein's time in Norway also provided him with the space to challenge traditional philosophical notions. His insights into the nature of language and its relationship to the world led him to conclude that much of traditional philosophy was trapped in a web of language, unable to escape its own limitations.
Torunn Tronsvang; Up Norway
One hour of quality thinking by the right brain is much more valuable than even a hundred hours work without the right context.
One question for those who earnestly wish to commit Napoleon to film is which part of his life to show? How can two to four hours of cinema adequately convey a lifetime barely able to be contained within 800-page biographies? Kubrick envisioned his four-hour epic as spanning the full gamut of Bonaparte, from birth in Corsica to death St Helena…
Katherine Bayford; Engelsberg Ideas
I had assumed that it would never be possible for me to father a child, given that it was illegal for an HIV-positive man to make use of reproductive services. But when the twins were a year old, I read that California had reversed its prohibition due to the advances in HIV treatment and the technology of sperm washing. The science had proven to be pristine, with zero cases of transmission to the birth mother or infant.
Ralph Buchalter; The Free Press
And in the quiet moments of each day, I dedicate fifteen minutes to sketching and ending my night with a poem. This practice, routine as it may be, is a daily reminder of the importance of pausing, reflecting, and indulging in activities that feed the soul… Even something as mundane as opening the fridge after a grocery trip becomes an opportunity for gratitude. These moments of thankfulness for everyday privileges are small yet significant rituals that ground me in the present.
Liberals like laughter. They are anti-anti-laughter.
Cass Sunstein; The New York Times
I remember when EA was three philosophers and few weird Bay Area nerds with a blog. It clawed its way up into the kind of movement that could do these sorts of things by having all the virtues it claims to have: dedication, rationality, and (I think) genuine desire to make the world a better place.
Nick Cave spoke fondly of Shane in 2018, in a talk at Brooklyn’s Murmrr Theatre. Cave said, “I think Shane was the greatest songwriter of us all, from our whole generation.” But he told a sad story of going to Shane’s place, a den of dissipation, with papers strewn all over the floor in piles — each one a song. Shane sat at the piano, played Nick a song, then casually tossed it back into the mess, another lost song never to be dug up again. For Cave, who prides himself on his 9-to-5 writing discipline, it was a bittersweet moment — as he said, “So many of his songs nobody will hear.”
Rob Sheffield; Rolling Stone
Nearly everything about Michael Heizer’s land art megasculpture called “City” can seem hard to fathom. That it’s a mile and a half long and nearly half a mile wide, smack in the middle of a remote stretch of the high Nevada desert, where what passes for a neighbor is Area 51. That the nearest blacktop is an hour’s drive away, on a dusty, bumpy, former livestock trail, across a couple of mountain ranges. That it cost $40 million to build… Even that it’s called “City.”
Michael Kimmelman; The New York Times
“Williams’s characters, like most of us, want to imagine that their personal relationships or private lives stand apart from the social and the political in a way that is protective and restorative. We like to think that our best, or most important, relationships give us a sense of who we are, or we can be, outside the sight of the world.”
Library of America
If he should suddenly be transformed into a flesh-and-blood person, poor him, poor me. Reality can’t stay inside the elegant moulds of art; it always spills over, indecorously.
Elena Ferrante; The Guardian
Blue Chip Stamps (1978-1982)
A case study of Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger's investment in and management of Blue Chip Stamps.
While the majority of studies of antipsychotics find improvements or no change on cognitive tests, there are some exceptions, particularly on tests that have to do with spatial or procedural learning.
The great Sarah Constantin
In these challenging times, Yonathan Arfi is the most audible voice of French Jews. For the past several weeks, he has spoken out in radio and newspaper interviews on an almost daily basis. Le Monde recently referred to him as the "balancing voice of Jews in France." He wants to unify rather than polarize. But when the situation calls for it, this soft-spoken, polite man can be surprisingly blunt.
Britta Sandberg; Spiegel
Ultimately, making progress on progress requires more than research alone. It requires a culture that embraces institutional experimentation, tolerates risk and learns from failures, and generates enough buy-in to have political impact. And, crucially, it requires a vision that steers technological progress toward shared prosperity to tie it all together.
Oshan Jarow; Vox
It took Parisians months to question the official narrative and it was not until experts explained what was really at stake that they realised the scale of this ecological disaster.
Agnès Poirier; Engelsberg Ideas
There are over 20,000 drugs listed in the FDA’s approved drug database, and out of all of them, only clozapine is indicated for lowering suicide risk. We've got people dying who shouldn’t be. It's a monumental missed chance. Saving lives is so atypical for psychiatrists, in particular, to think about. It's unlike cardiology or oncology, where they always consider saving lives. Psychiatrists think about improving lives, but rarely do they have in their hands the potential to save lives.
Santi Ruiz; Statecraft
Just when the town appeared ready to wean itself off unhealthy relationships with experimental technologies, the AV industry decided to make San Francisco ground zero of the robotaxi economy.
Theodore Gioia; Curbed
The filmmaker wanted to create his own Napoleon biopic, getting to work on the pre-production after he finished 2001: A Space Odyssey. After obsessively researching Napoleon’s life and collecting several hundred books on the man, Kubrick penned his screenplay in the hopes of making his greatest film yet. Discussing the project with the BBC, Jan Harlan, Kubrick’s executive producer, explained that it would’ve contained “the slow pace of Barry Lyndon, the attention to detail of 2001: A Space Odyssey, the massed battlefields of Spartacus.”
Aimee Ferrier; Far Out
When you publish a book, nobody explains that, as a young woman, you will be scrutinised in ways you can’t imagine.