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What books are you reading?

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Thunderhead by Keith Laumer

To navigate the page; scroll 'up' to upper right corner gives Back, Next, and Table of Contents; scroll 'down' to lower right corner gives Back, Next, and Framed (which I got lost clicking on and had to click on browser 'back' to get back where I knew where I was). The story consists of 35 one-page 'chapters'. 

I am working through two books right now.

The first is a technical book about programming, likely the best I have ever read on the topic:
The Pragmatic Programmer, 20th Anniversary Edition, by David Thomas and Andrew Hunt
I read the first edition not long after it was released, and every time I go through it I glean something that I need to implement in my work.

The second is my "just for fun" book:
Life Is a Wheel: Love, Death, Etc., and a Bike Ride Across America, by Bruce Weber
I quite enjoy reading accounts of bike touring, especially those across the USA, and this is yet another.  Though this one has more biographical content than is usually the case, I am enjoying it.

I've started reading an incredible book, The Secret of Our Success: How Culture Is Driving Human Evolution, Domesticating Our Species, and Making Us Smarter by Joseph Henrich

It's a science book meant for lay readers, full of fascinating anecdotes.

I've only just started it, but it's compelling and important.  It makes a pretty convincing case that the secret to human evolution is not that we evolved to be smarter or better at tools or language, as some have theorized, but rather that our species has evolved to become, essentially, machines specialized for passing on culture.  It's our skill and obsession at passing on cultural information and knowledge, rather than some qualitatively different level of intelligence, that makes us so special and so successful.  And that seen from this light, many otherwise odd behaviors and tendencies make more sense.

Very thought-provoking stuff, and completely accessible with no background knowledge required.  Highly recommended.

@mouser: Thanks for the reference to The Secrets of Our Success (click to get to free download).
I'm familiar with that book, but the thoughts it contains aren't necessarily new or likely to give us an epiphany unless our historical perspective is narrow. Indeed, I thought it was an old hat hypothesis  - I mean, I was taught - and thought I understood - that the only real current human evolution that was taking place was in cultural developments (not that you'd necessarily know it from observation of current MSM reporting). For example, as per Hitler's thoughts in Mein Kampf, above, where - in modern Western cultures - the manipulative MSM are predictably and perpetually trying to control the narrative and tell us how to think and what to think, forcing our collective cognitive gestalt onto their chosen propaganda, whereupon the availability heuristic takes over and we have no time/inclination to look behind the green curtain, and so the propaganda becomes a perception of reality in our minds. It would be unlikely that this wasn't shaping the cultural gestalt to a greater (rather than a lesser) extent.

Why do we fall for this? Well, as Dr W. Edwards Deming put it:
Why are we all so damn stupid?
--- End quote ---
- i.e., we can't help it. The reason seems to be that our paradigms and perceptions of reality and especially our thinking are filtered through a primitive ego-centric mechanism that is hard to disassociate our thinking from, in a sort of intellectual deadlock, and the smarter the individual (IQ), the more secure the deadlock and the harder it becomes to be objective (De Bono in the book Teaching Thinking). The Vedic philosophers of 3,000 years ago knew about this and called it ahamkara - a state of illusion in the mind, which is perceived to be reality and is connected to the concept of the Self and the survival of the ego. The concept of ahamkara can be found in Hinduism today - as part of the lower (physical) mind below the Buddhi intellect.

So where does developmental cultural evolution likely stem from? What is the key? Arguably from developmental dissonance/stress within a society and its ancient and modern philosophy (and now science) helping us to seek answers.
Interestingly, the excellent (IMHO) SF movie "I Am Mother" (2019) explores this very point, amongst others. I had to stay alert whilst watching it though, as it drip-feeds little clues for the observant to figure out what's actually going on.

However, philosophy seems to be the key: (my emphasis)
Genuine philosophical thought, depending upon original individual insights, arose in many cultures roughly contemporaneously. Karl Jaspers termed the intense period of philosophical development beginning around the 7th century and concluding around the 3rd century BCE an Axial Age in human thought. - per Ancient Philosophy.
--- End quote ---
I used to feel pretty pessimistic about humanity's forward evolutionary progress, as otherwise "democratic" nations leading the way often seemed to be (especially in the US or Europe, for example) in a near-perpetual state of unrest driven by internecine divisive and antithetical religio-political ideologies intent on destruction/suppression of "the other" - leading to implicit brown-shirting, political correctness, de-platforming and oxygen starvation against "incorrect" thinking and the loss of freedom of thought and speech and ultimately self-destruction of the democracy. In the US for example - the torchbearer for freedom and democracy - think Univ. of Berkely (that bastion of free speech) and where organised riots and apparently complicit administrators shut down freedom of speech, and a US presidential candidate who divisively publicly labelled the voters (potentially half the plebiscite) of their opponent as "a basket of deplorables", or some such, and people apparently still cannot safely walk in a public place in the US wearing the "wrong" sort of hat. In Europe, the Mother of Democracy - the British Parliament - has passed laws limiting freedom of speech - i.e., loosely-defined "wrong" or "incorrect" speech - and on the world stage, the manipulative Google and Facebook seem to be opportunistically encouraging yet more government intervention and regulation of freedoms for self-serving purposes as they attempt to externalise the cost of and their responsibility for mitigating harms to cultures and societies arising directly and indirectly from the delivery of their services (situation normal for a corporate psychopath, which always seeks to externalise the costs of its environmental footprint). Singly and together, these things represent a seemingly remorseless  onslaught on privacy and freedom. I could go on, but you get the idea.
As I said separately to someone else on this forum, the old name for that is fascism (totalitarianism), and the free world had had enough of it and ended up fighting 3 dreadful wars to keep itself and future generations free of it in the '40s. The blood of hundreds of thousands of US and other Allied Forces soldiers still fertilises huge swathes of French land (Allied casualties of war with the Germans/Nazis), and in the Pacific (US casualties of war with the Japanese), for example. We don't need to repeat that.
However, from reading a book from the '80s I saw reason for becoming more positive about the outlook of our cultural evolution, as the potential for forward and developmental cultural evolution was hypothesised in the SRI report, "Changing Images of Man" (download link of OCRed document in the public domain).
It's a study in systems science and world order.
      ...An image may be appropriate for one phase in the development of a society, but once that stage is accomplished, the use of the image as a continuing guide to action will likely create more problems than it solves. (Figure 1 illustrates, in a highly simplified way that will be further developed in Chapter 3, the interaction between "changing images of man" and a changing society.) While earlier societies' most difficult problems arose from natural disasters such as pestilence, famine, and floods (due to an inability to manipulate the human's environment and ourselves in unprecedented ways, and from our failure to ensure wise exercising of these "Faustian" powers-as Spengler termed the term).
      Science, technology, and economics have made possible really significant strides toward achieving such basic human goals as physical safety and security, material comfort, and better health. ...
      pp 4 - 6, Changing Images of Man - SRI report

--- End quote ---
The SRI report provides a hypothetical semi-sinusoidal model in a diagram and which intriguingly effectively suggests that cultural and social outcomes could be a de facto weighted average of individual desires (in the minds of people). If so, a freedom-negative outcome that most people dislike - e.g., having been pulled into that state by (say) a dictatorship - can't persist over time and will be pushed into an upwards development, through some form of dynamic change (e.g., activism, revolution).
One wave was the force given by the image in the minds of Man as to what the direction of Man's purpose, etc. could/should be, and the other was the force of direction imposed on Man in those societies, by prevailing socio-political standards/forces.
The suggestion was that these two forces alternately pushed and pulled each other apart in a cyclical fashion, and that when they were furthest apart the force to come together became strongest, so they came together and crossed over in a form of over-compensation or drag, exchanging the role of leadership in the alternating push-pull effect. It was a very hopeful model really, but it did offer a fit with history and explained how, for example, periods of tyranny could/would be overcome (e.g., the ending of the oppressive and totalitarian Nazi National Socialist regime in WW2) and society would develop/progress until it met the next period of tyranny, and so on. A model of history repeating, I suppose.

What books are you reading?

I wrote above:
...I thought it was an old hat hypothesis  - I mean, I was taught - and thought I understood - that the only real current human evolution that was taking place was in cultural developments...
-IainB (June 30, 2019, 03:11 AM)
--- End quote ---
I usually try to substantiate what I write with examples, but I couldn't find my old lecture notes as I lost them in a fire. However, after scratching my head a bit and using duckduckgo, I eventually managed to come up with this:
The very concept of progress — of the continual betterment of the human condition through the application of science and the spread of freedom — was a product of the European Enlightenment, as Kishore Mahbubani reminds us. These thinkers were among the first to advance the idea that humanity’s problems are soluble, and that we are not condemned to misery and misfortune. The spectacular progress that ensued, first for the West and then increasingly also for the rest, was a matter not of historical necessity, but of diligent human effort and struggle. Pessimism is not just factually wrong, it is also harmful because it undermines our confidence in our ability to bring about further progress. The best argument that progress is possible is that it has been achieved in the past.
– Maarten Boudry
--- End quote ---

Boudry is a modern philosopher and a very amusing skeptic, but I reckon he makes the above point very well.
Mind you, I do think that some evolutionary cultural developments can turn out to be backward steps or dead-ends, but overall it's probably a sort of "2 steps forward, 1 step backwards" kind of cultural progress, like climbing up a sandhill or scoria-covered mountainside.


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