On Human Negativity Bias

What was the best year in history? If you could choose any year out of the entire span of human existence so far to be alive in, which one should you pick?You could pick your answer for any number of reasons. You might choose to live in the age of exploration, or at the dawn of the scientific revolution, or in the company of great historical figures. But if you want the best chance of living a peaceful and happy life, if you're going solely by the numbers, then it's obvious: the answer is … [Read more...]

Doubt Is Not Our Product

In my Atlas Shrugged series, I wrote about the tobacco companies who tried to conceal the health risks of smoking by sowing confusion and uncertainty. The strategy was to counter all the scientific evidence with ginned-up studies and paid-to-order experts so that people wouldn't be sure what to believe. Their memos said that "doubt is our product" and that their goal should be "establishing a controversy" in the public mind.That story is an object lesson in how corporations that sell … [Read more...]

Have We Hit the Limits of Growth?

Ever since the Great Recession and the grindingly slow recovery that's followed, it's become an especially urgent question whether we can expect the future to be more prosperous than the past. Singularitarians and other techno-utopians predict that technology will make economic growth an ever-upward exponential curve, bringing undreamed-of material abundance and making each generation's life vastly better than the one that preceded it. On the other hand, skeptics argue that minimal or zero … [Read more...]

The Clock of the Long Now

I recently became aware of the Long Now Foundation, a futurist group whose mission is to plant the seeds of long-term thinking in society. It's a cause I have a lot of sympathy for, so it's worth publicizing what they do.The foundation is headquartered at The Interval, a cafe and public forum in San Francisco's Fort Mason. On display there is their library, a scale model of their 10,000-year clock (more on that in a moment), and all kinds of other curiosities. A screen above the bar shows a … [Read more...]

Repost: The Republican Stupid-Party Spiral Dilemma

[Author's Note: I wrote this in late 2012. In light of recent developments, I thought it was worth reposting. The success of Donald Trump seems to show that classic Christian conservatism isn't as necessary an ingredient to the Republican coalition as I once thought - but in just about every other respect, these trends have only accelerated.]In an interview in November 2012, Republican senator Marco Rubio, who was clearly laying the groundwork for his 2016 presidential run, announced that he … [Read more...]

Weekend Coffee: Autonomous Vehicles Advance

Nailed it:This week was a huge achievement for Elon Musk's SpaceX, which delivered another payload to orbit - an inflatable habitat module for the International Space Station - and then successfully landed its Falcon 9 reusable rocket on an unmanned drone ship platform waiting for it out at sea.The company has already achieved a rocket landing on solid ground, but this is their first successful sea landing after several previous attempts crashed and exploded. The sea landing is more … [Read more...]

Is Addiction a Moral Failing?

Something that, as an atheist, I always insist upon is that we are biochemical machines. There's no spooky, supernatural ghost in the machine directing our bodies, no Cartesian Theater where the nervous system feeds into a single ineffable locus of consciousness. Our thoughts and our desires arise from patterns of electrochemical activity in our heads, and drugs and other interventions that alter those patterns of connectivity produce corresponding changes in our minds.But even if we know … [Read more...]

Photo Sunday: Titanosaur

I spent this weekend doing some cultural stuff in New York City, including a visit to the American Museum of Natural History to see their new exhibit: the skeleton of an enormous dinosaur from Argentina, one of the largest ever discovered. This species is so new it doesn't even have a proper scientific name yet, but "titanosaur" is fitting. At 122 feet long, it's so large it doesn't quite fit into the huge gallery room, so its head juts out into the corridor. And the paleontologists who … [Read more...]

Movie Review: Alive Inside

Alive Inside is an award-winning documentary by Michael Rossato-Bennett about the work of Dan Cohen, a social worker from Long Island, and the charity he founded, Music & Memory. (Disclaimer: I know Dan personally, and I've contributed to his charity.) It spotlights a slow-rolling demographic crisis poised to overtake the Western world, and offers at least one startlingly powerful idea that could be part of the solution.In the next few decades, the developed world is going to confront … [Read more...]

Book Review: The Illusion of God’s Presence

Summary: Not a new theory, but a new and strong case for an old theory, supplemented with up-to-date neurological evidence.Jack Wathey is a neuroscientist and computational biologist and the founder of Wathey Research, a scientific firm that focuses on problems like protein folding. His new book, The Illusion of God's Presence, presents an answer to a puzzling problem: Why do human beings believe so strongly in a supernatural deity, even in the face of ample contradictory evidence? (Full … [Read more...]