September 2019

Karl Popper on democracy for The Economist. About democracy and why he thinks the two-party system is the best (of the worst).

“As we have seen, even one small party may wield quite disproportionate power if it is in the position to decide which of the two big parties it will join to form a coalition government.”

What is a tech company? “to classify a company as a tech company because it utilizes software is just as unhelpful today as it would have been decades ago.”

And “It was this economic reality that gave rise to venture capital, which is about providing money ahead of a viable product for the chance at effectively infinite returns should the product and associated company be successful.”

WeWork and Peleton are maybe not really tech companies, as defined by the criteria in the article. Though Peleton can be seen as a disruptive technology (ala The Innovators Dilemma).

“Gene Editing Humans: It’s Not Just about Safety”

“There is a growing sense of inevitability that we will eventually do human germ-line modification and that our only obligation is to wait until it is safe.”

There is no hard line between curing/preventing diseases and enhancing our (future) children. We will be able to select the features of our kids, do we want to do that?

“Surely such control is a long way off, but we are now charting a path toward human enhancement that might ultimately reduce variation in the species or, over a long period of time, lead to subspeciation.”

“How is China able to provide enough food to feed its population of over 1 billion people? Do they import food or are they self-sustainable?”

The explanation shows that China is farming fish at enormous scale. Then it goes on to explain other ecosystems, of which many are sustainable/circular (even before it was cool, but now also incorporate solar panels). Greenhouses are also key to feeding more than a billion people, and IoT devices and smartphones are also used.

“We aren’t anywhere near running out of space for landfill.” and “Properly run landfill doesn’t hurt the environment in itself.”, “Even really well run landfills are a very cheap way to dispose of our waste.”, “The main downside of sending something to landfill is we miss the chance to benefit from recycling it — but recycling is only sometimes cheaper or better for the environment.”, “The problem of rubbish polluting the sea, rivers and land can be most cheaply addressed by improving rubbish collection and making sure everything gets to landfill.” “Incinerating waste and generating electricity from it is an alternative form of rubbish disposal that is good for the environment and resolves the problem permanently, but is expensive to operate up front.”, “Sending things to landfill isn’t as ‘unsustainable’ as you might think.”, “Reusable straws and bags are often more resource intensive than single-use ones.”, “If we don’t use materials in the first place, we save resources and don’t have to worry about any of the above.”

“We’ve Reached Peak Wellness. Most of It Is Nonsense.
Here’s what actually works”

“The problem is that so much of what’s sold in the name of modern-day wellness has little to no evidence of working.”

“Wellness—the kind that actually works—is simple: it’s about committing to basic practices, day in and day out, as individuals and communities.”

The advice that follows is, of course, things that work and probably don’t make much money (ala, that is why it isn’t promoted by Goop and the like).

Move your body, eat healthy (but don’t diet), let your emotions out (and seek help if needed), don’t be lonely, follow your interests and do deep-focused work.

Very interesting take (as always), on the Apple Keynote. Services for the win, locking in customers, making revenue each month instead of selling a phone once.

There is a plateau of people ageing (i.e. we aren’t getting much older), automation can still help, don’t fear the grey tsunami.

Amazon moving back to ‘Day One’, focus on growth and customers, over profit.

“It is also the opposite of harvesting: it is investing, and it seems more likely than not that Amazon’s upcoming results will look much more like the “Day One” company it was for years, with rapidly growing revenue and costs to match. “

A summary of: Lifespan: Why We Age and Why We Don’t Have To by David Sinclair

” What if there was a single cause of aging upstream of all the hallmarks of aging? Sinclair believes that there is – loss of information. ” ” Rather, the loss is in the epigenome, or the expression of genetic code that instructs newly divided cells what they should be. “

Should we ask better questions? And what if we asked really simple questions? That could lead to new insights!

Interesting 🙂 Way outside the things I know, but of course a fun reference to Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.

Key points from The Dead Hand by David E. Hoffman on the EA Forum.

” The basic idea: psychedelics reduce the weight of held beliefs and increase the weight of incoming sensory input, allowing the beliefs to be more readily changed by the new sensory information. “

” Psychedelics “heat up” the brain, increasing plasticity and weakening the influence of prior beliefs. As the psychedelic stops being active, the brain “cools” – the hierarchy re-forms, though perhaps in a different configuration than the pre-psychedelic configuration. “

“Carhart-Harris & Friston place the default mode network at top of the brain’s predictive hierarchy. The default mode network is the network of brain regions that’s most active when the brain isn’t engaged with any specific task. It also appears to be the seat of one’s sense of self. The default mode network is intensely relaxed by strong psychedelic experiences – this is subjectively felt as ego dissolution, and allows for the propagation of bottom-up sense data (which are also boosted by psychedelics).”

“Carhart-Harris & Friston identify two mechanisms by which psychedelics may relax the default mode network – activation of 5-HT2AR serotonin receptors (there are lots of these receptors in the default mode network), and disruption of α and βwave patterns, which seem to propagate top-down expectations through the brain (and are correlated with default mode network activity).”

Very interesting and a great resource (the original article and other links) to take a closer look at the science behind why psychedelics might work.

I got linked here from the excellent Future Crunch email list.

” The story we have been telling ourselves about our origins is wrong, and perpetuates the idea of inevitable social inequality. David Graeber and David Wengrow ask why the myth of ‘agricultural revolution’ remains so persistent, and argue that there is a whole lot more we can learn from our ancestors. “

“… and in almost no way does it resemble the conventional narrative. Our species did not, in fact, spend most of its history in tiny bands; agriculture did not mark an irreversible threshold in social evolution; the first cities were often robustly egalitarian. “

”  That is the real political message conveyed by endless invocations of an imaginary age of innocence, before the invention of inequality: that if we want to get rid of such problems entirely, we’d have to somehow get rid of 99.9% of the Earth’s population and go back to being tiny bands of foragers again. Otherwise, the best we can hope for is to adjust the size of the boot that will be stomping on our faces, forever, or perhaps to wrangle a bit more wiggle room in which some of us can at least temporarily duck out of its way. “

The authors try and argue that the history of men is not what we think it is. And that we don’t need to return to that mythical state to become whole again. If we better understand how it was, maybe we can find a better way forward.

” There is no reason to believe that small-scale groups are especially likely to be egalitarian, or that large ones must necessarily have kings, presidents, or bureaucracies. These are just prejudices stated as facts. ” (arguing again Jared Diamond and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, among others).

” The really odd thing about these endless evocations of Rousseau’s innocent State of Nature, and the fall from grace, is that Rousseau himself never claimed the State of Nature really happened. It was all a thought-experiment. ” and “… Rousseau was really trying to explore what he considered the fundamental paradox of human politics: that our innate drive for freedom somehow leads us, time and again, on a ‘spontaneous march to inequality’. In Rousseau’s own words: ‘All ran headlong for their chains in the belief that they were securing their liberty; for although they had enough reason to see the advantages of political institutions, they did not have enough experience to foresee the dangers’. The imaginary State of Nature is just a way of illustrating the point.”

Then they argue why we didn’t live in the blissful egalitarian society of hunter-gatherers: ” To begin with, there is the undisputed existence of rich burials, extending back in time to the depths of the Ice Age. Some of these, such as the 25,000-year-old graves from Sungir, east of Moscow, have been known for many decades and are justly famous. “

They then use historical sites to show that also these were already present 10.000 years ago. They also argue that the growth of society/groups might have been cyclical. ” Why are these seasonal variations important? Because they reveal that from the very beginning, human beings were self-consciously experimenting with different social possibilities.  “

The humans of yesteryear experimented and were diverse, it wasn’t paradise (nor hell). A better question to ask (instead of ‘why is it so inequal’?) is to ask ‘why did we get so stuck?’

” The first bombshell on our list concerns the origins and spread of agriculture. There is no longer any support for the view that it marked a major transition in human societies. In those parts of the world where animals and plants were first domesticated, there actually was no discernible ‘switch’ from Palaeolithic Forager to Neolithic Farmer. The ‘transition’ from living mainly on wild resources to a life based on food production typically took something in the order of three thousand years. “

” Another bombshell: ‘civilization’ does not come as a package. The world’s first cities did not just emerge in a handful of locations, together with systems of centralised government and bureaucratic control.  ” and “… in the more established heartlands of urbanisation – Mesopotamia, the Indus Valley, the Basin of Mexico – there is mounting evidence that the first cities were organised on self-consciously egalitarian lines, municipal councils retaining significant autonomy from central government. “

” The pieces are all there to create an entirely different world history. For the most part, we’re just too blinded by our prejudices to see the implications. For instance, almost everyone nowadays insists that participatory democracy, or social equality, can work in a small community or activist group, but cannot possibly ‘scale up’ to anything like a city, a region, or a nation-state. But the evidence before our eyes, if we choose to look at it, suggests the opposite. Egalitarian cities, even regional confederacies, are historically quite commonplace. Egalitarian families and households are not. “

An overview of what is happening at Wageningen University (in The Netherlands) and surrounding it. How we can feed the world (through new technologies).

” With the right placement and the right light recipes, Marcelis and his team think that their goal of a 50 per cent reduction in greenhouse energy costs is within reach. Or, as the Wageningen motto goes: “two times more with two times less”. “

” According to Van Huis, the new age of entomophagy is beginning. Researchers at WUR are looking to capitalise on bugs’ ability to act as both livestock and miniature waste treatment plants. Insects reared on organic waste serve as both food production and waste reduction – a triumph in circular agriculture, where yield and use of resources are optimised for minimal impact on the environment. “We are at the beginning of an exponential growth,” Van Huis says. “

”  but this meat is not made up of cow. It’s a mixture of wheat gluten, soy concentrate, colorants and water. “For us, as food engineers,” Van der Goot explains, “we would like to make a product that resembles meat as much as possible.” “

” Both the energy input and the cost of investment for shear cell are lower than those of any available extrusion technology: respectively, 25-40 per cent less, and 40-60 per cent less. “

” In the near future, Van der Goot believes that every restaurant, grocery store and kitchen can be equipped with a fake-meat machine. “

” Food fraud, like the horsemeat-in-beef scandal of 2013 scandal, costs up to $40 billion (£32 billion) a year – but WUR uses a food product’s biological fingerprint to determine its origin and authenticity. “

” ”What I like the most about micro-algae is that it’s such a simple process that can have a very high impact on our society,” says Maria Barbosa, the director of AlgaePARC, a 15-year research programme at WUR looking to create low-cost, low-energy micro-algae production. “

“… vanilla orchid far above his head. These are part of the greenhouse’s “Nethervanilla” crop: proof that growing and harvesting it can be achieved in Dutch greenhouses. “

Very interesting read and great to know what innovations are happening there.

Timeline of the history of psychedelics. How they were used etc.

Again via Future Crunch.

” Just as much of the world has come to see rapid population growth as normal and expected, the trends are shifting again, this time into reverse. Most parts of the world are witnessing sharp and sudden contractions in either birthrates or absolute population.”

” Capitalism as a system is particularly vulnerable to a world of less population expansion; a significant portion of the economic growth that has driven capitalism over the past several centuries may have been simply a derivative of more people and younger people consuming more stuff. “

” “The UN is employing a faulty model based on assumptions that worked in the past but that may not apply in the future.” ” (there will be less people, because faster than expected, we’re having fewer kids)

” A world of zero to negative population growth is likely to be a world of zero to negative economic growth, because fewer and older people consume less.  ” I’m not sure about this, Japan (which they use as an example a lot) didn’t stop running when people got old, and we will keep inventing new things and ways to consume.

Title: Neither, and New: Lessons from Uber and Vision Fund

” Vision Fund is not a venture capital firm, nor is it a public market-focused hedge fund: it is neither, and new, but it very much remains to be seen if “new” is valuable. “

” This is also good news for public market investors: despite all of the press about Uber and WeWork, more companies are up post-IPO than down — and the gains are much larger in percentage terms than are the losses. The tech company formula still works. “

Biotech will present many possibilities. From getting meat and cheese without the animals, to wood without the tree and fuel without fossils.

How do we reverse ageing? Young blood looked promising, in practice not so much. But the underlying science did, so we can do it without turning into vampires.

” As people age, tgf-beta accretes in the blood and this leads to problems such as inflammation or fibrosis. ” … ” Her team gave ageing mice a cocktail of oxytocin, a hormone, and alk5 inhibitor, an enzyme. “