I may have made a mistake.

Book: Mistakes Were Made (but not by me)

Author: Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson

Notes:

Cognitive dissonance is a state of tension that occurs whenever a person holds two ideas that are psychologically inconsistent. It produces mental discomfort so our brain finds ways to reduce it.

The more we commit to something (especially things we deem important or irreversible), the more mental gymnastics we’ll do to avoid admitting we were wrong.

Once a decision has been made we’ll do what we need to bolster it, including evangelising it to others. Often, the best time to get good information on a topic is to ask someone researching a decision before they have committed to it.

Violent or aggressive acts aren’t a good form of venting, they set the stage for justifying more violence or aggression.

If we do a good deed for someone we don’t like, we can use our CD behavior to get into the mental state of “If they were such a jerk, I wouldn’t have done this for them, therefore they must be ok.”

You can use this in reverse to ask favors of people who don’t like you.

Experts in fields often have no better than a 50/50 chance of prediction, and CD can be extreme for them because of this.

People with low self esteem also suffer from CD interpreting actions of other people or results of their efforts to show why they don’t have value.

The Pyramid of Choice

Once we’ve made a choice we go down the path of justifying it, often ending up very far away mentally from someone who made the opposite choice.

We all have prejudice blind spots of which we’re not aware.

Often we start making small choices that lead to larger ones and get further away from our initial belief leading us to eventually do something we never would have done initially. Example: Lunch with lobbyist, local golf game with lobbyist, trip to St. Andrews for golf game with lobbyist.

Scientists used to be funded with public money and most research didn’t have patients associated with it (Polio vaccine) but little by little we’ve evolved into a world where most scientific research is privately funded. Results in very minor and questionable improvements.

Lots of privately funded research yields results that are not consistent with unbiased research in terms of safety or effectiveness of products.

Big Pharma spends lots of money on small gifts to doctors offices because it’s been shown to work. Even these small gifts cause doctors to recommend their medications more often.

We invoke stereotypes to justify behavior that would otherwise make us feel bad about the kind of person we are or the kind of country we live in.

Being stressed, frustrated, or tired makes people more likely to express their prejudices.

It’s important to have people in our lives that are willing to puncture our bubbles of self-justification and point out our blind spots.

We rewrite over our own memories to self justify actions or events that happened in the past to make ourselves more favorable

Memory is not like pulling files from a hard drive it is like reconstructing a movie from several still frames and your brain fills in the details at the time of reconstruction. Often it will fill in details that fit your current model of the world and who you are.

We hear stories of people saved by Dolphins nudging them to safety. But we never hear stories of Dolphins nudging people out to sea, because those people die and the story is never hear. So much data we use suffers from this problem.

The criminal justice system is full of CD and many aspects of it reinforce self justification. Cops plant evidence because they’re sure someone is guilty and don’t want them to get off because they couldn’t find evidence. Prosecutors spend an enormous amount of time and energy creating a case against someone and then can’t imagine a world where the person is innocent, even if DNA evidence proves otherwise.

Interrogations use techniques to extract guilt even from innocent people, relying on methods such as lying to innocent people to trigger their own CD.

Americans who live in the North learn about the Civil War as a matter of ancient history in which our brave Union troops forced the South to abandon the ugly institution of slavery and defeated the traitorous Confederates. But most white Southerners tell a different story where the brave Confederate troops were victims of greedy crude Northerners, destroyed our cities and traditions, and are still trying to destroy our state’s rights.

People long to hear “I screwed up. I will do my best to ensure it will not happen again”

Try to look at your own actions critically and dispassionately as if you were observing someone else.

When a friend makes a mistake, the friend remains a friend and the mistake remains a mistake.

Americans tend to think that mistakes mean stupidity.But we need to treat them as a natural part of learning. The more we identify as having “natural ability” at something, the more we are terrified of making mistakes in it.

When I, a decent smart person, make a mistake, I remain a decent smart person and the mistake remains a mistake. I made a mistake, I need to understand what went wrong. I don’t want to make the same mistake again.

Stories of mental excesses, losses, and transforms.

Book: The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat

Author: Oliver Sacks

Notes:

Dr P lost his ability to visually tell the difference between objects unless they had rather remarkable characteristics even though nothing was wrong with his eyes. However, his skill and talent with music was unaffected and possibly grew stronger as his condition worsened

Jimmie was a 49 year old who lost all memories prior to roughly his 20th birthday.  His short term memory was also totally lost and unless his brain was challenged to stay on a single thread of thought he would lose it within minutes.

Christina lost the ability to feel or sense her own body. Walking became impossible and her hands would often touch or grab things without her knowing it. She only could control her body if looking at it.

A man stopped recognizing his leg as his own and found it repulsive – as one would if waking up next to a dead disembodied leg.

Madeleine, an elderly blind woman had been misdiagnosed early in life as being unable to use her hands and had gone through her entire life having everything done for her and never using her hands. As such she had no concept of them or how to use them. Through rehabilitation she was able to learn how to use them and even became a sculptor.

After a stroke, Mrs S lost the meaning of the concept of left. She couldn’t turn left, observe things on the left side of her body.

Aphasiacs are people who have lost the ability to understand words but can still understand expressions and tone. There also exist people at the opposite pole who can only understand the words and their exact meaning.

Natasha, a 90 year old woman was diagnosed with a form of neurosyphilis that made her more energetic and impulsive.

Mr Thompson, a Korsakov patient, developed memories and created stories in real time to replace the memories he lost and was unaware of doing so.

Mrs. O’C, an elderly woman, woke up one morning hearing Irish songs from her childhood that would never stop. It was difficult to hear conversation with others through the songs.

An elderly woman suffering from Parkinson’s was given L-Dopa and began having extremely detailed memories surface from 40 years earlier that she hadn’t remembered or recalled during the intervening period. After her treatment was stopped, the memories ceased.

An Indian girl of 19 with a malignant brain tumor began entering peaceful dreamlike states where she had visions of her home in India growing up.  The worse the tumor became the longer the states would last until right before she died it was practically impossible to remove her from them.

Stephen D, a 20 something PCP user woke up one morning to having extremely heightened senses, especially his sense of smell. This lasted for several weeks.

Donald murdered his girl while under the influence of PCP and had absolutely no memory of the event until years later he suffered significant brain trauma during a bicycle crash and then all memories of the event came back to him.

Rebecca was clumsy, withdrawn, and stressed when in structured settings but had remarkable skill in acting and theater and was able to find success when focusing on that aspect of her personality.

Martin was able to memorize thousands of operas and had refined musical talent. He was happy when singing or helping orchestras.

A pair of twins were able to name the day of any date in history or list prime numbers despite not being able to calculate in typical methods.

Jose suffered from frequent seizures and was unable to talk but was able to express himself through his drawings in remarkable ways.

Thoughts:

I never would have picked up this book myself, it was a gift from my father in law because he enjoyed it so much. And it was supremely fascinating and a very quick read.

We really don’t understand the workings of the brain very well yet, especially when things go wrong. It’s an amazing organ and it seems like it’s capable of way more than people living with a fully functioning brain are able to take advantage of.

We don’t have adequate care of those who don’t have normally functioning brains.

If it weren’t for Nixon, we’d have humans that were born on Mars by now

Book: How We’ll Live on Mars

Author: Stephen L. Petranek

Notes:

Werhner von Braun was a Nazi SS Officer who was taken to the US after the war and wrote a book called Das Marsprojekt which has been an instrumental piece of work outline the necessary steps for travel to Mars to this day.

Nixon’s decision to scrap the Apollo program in favor of the Space Shuttle program was the turning point of advancing our space exploration capability. The military wanted the Shuttle Program as a way to launch and repair spy satellites.

It’s likely the first humans on Mars are going to be the result of private enterprise, not government agencies.

Mars could be a gateway for asteroid mining, either for rare mineral extraction back to Earth or back to Mars.

Large mirrors in space reflecting more sunlight to Mars’ surface is one of the most feasible ways to warm up parts of the planet and start a greenhouse effect cycle of getting more carbon dioxide and water vapor in the air to build even more heat.

My thoughts:

Even though the book is only four years old, a lot of the dates are already incorrect. None of the private companies are as far along as they predicted they would be. As someone else who is aggressively futurist I can relate to the disappointment of technology not being as far along as I want it to be.

If we had kept NASA’s budget at 4% of government spending and kept up the focus we had during the Apollo program, we’d have humans on multiple planets and moons across the solar system by now, and be awash in rare resources and probably much more advanced technology and energy generation methods. Such a shame.

It was cool reading this after the Red Mars Trilogy to get a bit more hard science and see some real life progress being made on Mars missions.

Don’t upset Vladimir Taneev

Quote from Blue Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson

Do you believe in democracy and self-rule as the fundamental values that government out to encourage? Very well. If democracy and self-rule are the fundamentals, then why should people give up these rights when they enter their workplace? In politics we fight like tigers for freedom, for the right to elect our leaders, for freedom of movement, choice of residence, choice of what work to pursue – control of our lives, in short. And then we wake up in the morning and go to work, and all those rights disappear. We no longer insist on them. And so for most of the day we return to feudalism. That is what capitalism is – a version of feudalism in which capital replaces land, and business leaders replace kings. But the hierarchy remains. And so we still hand over our life’s labor, under duress, to feed rulers who do no real work.

Capital itself is simply the useful residue of the work of past laborers, and it could belong to everyone as well as to a few. There is no reason why a tiny nobility should own the capital, and everyone else therefore be in service to them. There is no reason they should give us a living wage and take all the rest that we produce.

In which one percent of the population owned half of the wealthy, and five percent of the population owned ninety-five percent of the wealth. History has shown which values were real in that system. And the sad thing is that the injustice and suffering caused by it were not at all necessary, in that the technical means have existed since the eighteenth century to provide the basics of life to all.

Notes: This book was published in 1996. Since then the distribution of wealth has tilted even more in favor of the 1% (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wealth_inequality_in_the_United_States)

I did get an impression while listening to podcasts about the revolutions in Europe in 1848 (starting with https://www.revolutionspodcast.com/2017/07/701-the-volcano.html) that the transition from feudalism to capitalism was fairly seamless for the nobility who went from being the landowners of Europe to the Marxist definition of the bourgeoisie without much loss of influence or power. There’s an argument where you take feudalism, add the Industrial Revolution, shake vigorously, and wind up with modern capitalism.

I’ve read the argument before that our world contains the means necessary to properly feed, shelter, and take adequate medical care of every single human on the planet and its just our misguided priorities that prevent this from happening. I don’t disagree with it but I’d be interested in seeing data about the cost of this. But to counter the potentially high cost of this, could you imagine the potential productivity of a world where every human can focus on their work without having to worry about the costs of food, shelter, and medical care?

Quite the Story Arc

Book: Ball Lightning

Author: Cixin Liu (Translated by Joel Martinsen)

Themes:

Two of the main characters are greatly affected by events that happened to them as children. Most of the focus of their lives is around dealing with a traumatizing childhood event.

It’s impossible to make scientific or technological progress in civilian areas that won’t  become somehow weaponized for the military. On the other hand, swords can be turned back into plowshares as well.

Notes:

Just like the Three Body Problem there’s a lot of hard science.

The idea of macro electrons and macro nuclei was fascinating and it leading to the ability for macro fusion was a cool touch.

I really liked the idea that there are weapons potentially more destructive than atomic weapons but not because they’re more blatantly destructive but because they’re able to target the weaknesses of modern societies, such as going after our dependence on technology. The idea that a group could hold the world hostage by pointing  a gun at itself or its own technology was really interesting.

I really want a BrainPal

Book: The Ghost Brigades

By: John Scalzi

Themes:

(Contains spoilers)

Can’t escape Fate – Dirac ended up becoming Boutin just like he was created to do.

Can escape Fate – Dirac was able to make different choices than Boutin

Love goes beyond boundaries – Dirac loved Zoe

What makes us human?

Is humanity good or evil?

Humans do some really shitty stuff in war.

Notes:

Super fast and enjoyable read, much like Old Man’s War. It’s fun seeing more of that universe come into clarity and I enjoyed some of the characters from the previous book being present in this one.

This book gives a lot better explanation of why the Colonial Union has a focus on recruiting old people. Given that they don’t have much to lose they’re more willing to volunteer in numbers necessary to fill the ranks of the military. It also leaves the young people alive to colonize, reproduce, and work rather than die off in war.

I like reading about the various alien species and their political and cultural structures like the bug-like Eneshan and their rules of succession.

 

Don’t hold your Breath(s)

Book: Warbreaker

By: Brandon Sanderson

Themes:

We have a hard time accepting people of different cultures and religions.

Sometimes fate is avoidable (Vivenna) and sometimes it isn’t (Lightsong).

People can change.

You can’t judge a person by their exterior (Vasher, Susebron)

Countries can be manipulated into war against their own interests and desires.

Notes:

There’s a really cool magic system in this book – it’s described in very high detail and isn’t like anything I’ve seen before.