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Dave Cohen
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Denial is not just a river in Egypt.
Interests: evolution, energy, the economy, climate, astrobiology, music, paleontology, culture
Recent Activity
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For the sake of discussion, I am simply going to assume these consequences of Interpretive Sensory-Access (ISA) theory as discussed at Aeon— The ISA theory has some startling consequences. One is that (with limited exceptions), we do not have conscious thoughts or make conscious decisions. For, if we did, we would be aware of them directly, not through interpretation. The conscious events we undergo are all sensory states of some kind, and what we take to be conscious thoughts and decisions are really sensory images – in particular, episodes of inner speech. These images might express thoughts, but they need... Continue reading
Posted 8 hours ago at Decline of the Empire
I want to explain a few things. As regular DOTE readers know, I don't believe that humans are exercising "free will" because there is no such thing. Thus I am a determinist. Now, when we think about "free will" we (and researchers) naturally think about individuals—his brain, or her brain or, more rarely, my brain. On the other hand, I've also arrived at the conclusion that the most important stuff going on in the unconscious mind is social in nature. Social instincts (like harmonizing) are hard-wired and therefore wholly automatic, just like fight or flight, negativity bias and many other... Continue reading
Posted 2 days ago at Decline of the Empire
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In the wake of the Brexit, we're hearing a lot about xenophobia and calls for a second referendum, but we're not hearing much about the UK economy since the financial meltdown in 2008. My view is that prosperous people do not rock the boat. Prosperous people favor the status quo. So it behooves us to look at macroeconomic trends in the UK. Since 2008, the real wage data is dismal (pdf). So is house affordability. You can review those documents if you like, but we can get a real feel for what's going on in Why UK wages aren't growing... Continue reading
Posted 3 days ago at Decline of the Empire
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The neoliberal, globalized "world order" we've been hearing about for years is now falling apart. There is Brexit hysteria everywhere. Elites are panicking. The people have spoken! That's the last thing elites wanted to happen. NPR actually did us a service today by interviewing Yascha Mounk, a lecturer in political theory at Harvard University and a fellow at New America. I subsequently found a recent article by him called Illiberal Democracy or Undemocratic Liberalism? (Project Syndicate, June 6, 2016). That's where I got the title. Take it away, Yascha! CAMBRIDGE – How did it come to this? In the space... Continue reading
Posted 5 days ago at Decline of the Empire
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I recently exchanged e-mails with a new reader "Peter" who sent me the following thoughtful note. I came across your blog today by accident and just want to express my enjoyment of a well-written and well-researched series of posts that contain a great deal of sensible commentary rather than the too-frequent empty rantings one generally encounters across the 'Net. I tried to subscribe to your blog via my Facebook profile but unfortunately encountered a fatal TypePad error. I'll try again later and see if I can successfully subscribe. My own intellectual interests and concerns overlap with yours to a significant... Continue reading
Posted 7 days ago at Decline of the Empire
A long time ago—it seems like a long time ago to me—I published Jeremy Jackson's short lecture How we wrecked the ocean. Now, five years later, I see that Jackson received a lifetime achievement award by the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation. I've embedded his acceptance speech below. You will recognize many DOTE themes in his remarks, especially near the end. Listen for his reference to his "pollyannish" wife as he talks about fixing our wrecked oceans. At least, I hope you will recognize DOTE themes in his remarks. I'm not feeling optimistic about that or anything else lately. For good... Continue reading
Posted Jun 21, 2016 at Decline of the Empire
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I ran across an article by Jacob Burak called Humans are wired for negativity, for good or ill (Aeon, September 4, 2014). This short essay is worth considering. I have good news and bad news. Which would you like first? If it’s bad news, you’re in good company — that’s what most people pick. But why? Negative events affect us more than positive ones. We remember them more vividly and they play a larger role in shaping our lives. Farewells, accidents, bad parenting, financial losses and even a random snide comment take up most of our psychic space, leaving little... Continue reading
Posted Jun 20, 2016 at Decline of the Empire
I have seen some stuff lately (e.g., here) which has re-stimulated my interest in the Flatland model of how the human mind works. I don't know how long my new-found interest will last, but my intention is to start posting about it again. Much to my surprise, there is indeed a theory of mind out there which is compatible with (part of) the Flatland model, and even fleshes it out a bit. That part rests crucially on what researchers call confabulation. Even when we think we are making rational choices and decisions, this may be illusory too. The intriguing possibility... Continue reading
Posted Jun 17, 2016 at Decline of the Empire
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Make no mistake about it, humans are hard-wired to worry about other humans and the shit they do. Not many humans worry about coral reefs. So here at the outset, I want to praise the few who want to save the reefs. I'm talking about anthropocentrism here. On the other hand, in other respects, those few who worry about coral reefs are just like everybody else. They want to be hopeful. They need causes for optimism to keep them going. A new Nature study purports to give them reasons to carry on. For those who study and want to preserve... Continue reading
Posted Jun 16, 2016 at Decline of the Empire
I've watched and enjoyed the first two Hunger Games movies, and seen clips from the third and fourth movies. These movies tell a simple but compelling story—there is a rich capital served by twelve poor outlying districts. The whole is called Panem. The districts eventually rebel, a young woman (ultra-talented Jennifer Lawrence) becomes the symbolic leader of the resistance, and there is civil war pitting the districts against the elite capital. You can guess the rest. During the fictional Hunger Games, two children are chosen randomly from each district every year to fight to the death in a high-tech arena.... Continue reading
Posted Jun 13, 2016 at Decline of the Empire
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There's been a spate of articles lately on the question of whether we are living in a computer simulation. Those articles were prompted by some off-the-cuff remarks by Elon Musk. Crazy Elon thinks we are indeed living in a simulation. What else would he think? In Flatland, Elon is a Very Important Person. Follow the Vox link above to review Elon's silly argument, which derives from the original silly argument made by "post-human" futurist Nick Bostrum. Now the New Yorker has picked up this—I need a synonym for silly—theme. And that's where I read this paragraph, which I broke up... Continue reading
Posted Jun 10, 2016 at Decline of the Empire
The Huffington Post has a new section called What's Working, and there's a subsection covering the oceans. I read an article called What’s Working? Inspiring Ambitious Coalitions for the Ocean and Climate. Here's the blurb I found at the bottom of the page. This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post in partnership with Ocean Unite, an initiative to unite and activate powerful voices for ocean-conservation action. The series is being produced to coincide with World Ocean Day (June 8), as part of HuffPost’s “What’s Working“ initiative, putting a spotlight on initiatives around the world that... Continue reading
Posted Jun 9, 2016 at Decline of the Empire
I'll try to keep this post brief. On October 12, 2015, in my post Hillary Clinton — The Beatings Will Continue Until Morale Improves, I wrote the following— I could be wrong, but it seems to me that there's about a 90% chance that Hillary Clinton will be our next president. None of those Republican clowns can win. Bernie can't win and won't be nominated. Biden probably won't run. That leaves us with Hillary. Now I am wondering why I didn't say a 95% chance or even a 99% chance. I am uncomfortable making specific predictions, so I hedged it... Continue reading
Posted Jun 8, 2016 at Decline of the Empire
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I have long thought that human societies (genus Homo), like chimpanzee societies (genus Pan), are hierarchical by default. Some new work by Laura Van Berkel, a psychologist at the University of Kansas, supports this conclusion. A New Yorker article by Brad Fox called When Does Equality Flourish? describes both Van Berkel's work and cross-species studies by Christopher Boehm, a cultural anthropologist at the University of Southern California. Here's Fox's description of Boehm's findings. Boehm reports that our closest evolutionary relatives are far more hierarchical than we are: the dominance of the powerful in chimpanzee society, for example, is unlike anything... Continue reading
Posted Jun 7, 2016 at Decline of the Empire
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File under: you can't make this shit up; reality is always better than fiction The truth is out there (Vanity Fair, June 3, 2016). The truth is out there, and Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta won’t rest until everyone knows it. At Vox Media’s Code Conference on Thursday, the unapologetic believer in extraterrestrial life yet again argued that it is time the government opened up all of its files on U.F.O.s to the public. “Politicians in governments tend to think that it’s not a career-enhancer” to talk about aliens, Podesta acknowledged during an onstage interview with Ezra Klein, Recode reports.... Continue reading
Posted Jun 6, 2016 at Decline of the Empire
The latest rumor making the rounds goes like this— The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) is a United States Federal Law passed in 1970 that was designed to provide a tool for law enforcement agencies to fight organized crime. RICO allows prosecution and punishment for alleged racketeering activity that has been executed as part of an ongoing criminal enterprise. Activity considered to be racketeering may include bribery, counterfeiting, money laundering, embezzlement, illegal gambling, kidnapping, murder, drug trafficking, slavery, and a host of other nefarious business practices. James Comey and The FBI will present a recommendation to Loretta Lynch,... Continue reading
Posted Jun 1, 2016 at Decline of the Empire
Since none of the people I'm going to mention here are ever going to see this blog, I'm just going to write this up. Names will be withheld. About 6 or 7 weeks ago, a homeless girl in her early 30's (I'm guessing) started living in one of the garages in the back of my house, which is a 1880's mansion that was broken up into three apartments. I live on the 1st floor, and the garage she moved into was formerly mine when I had a car. I spoke with her from time to time, gave her smokes, did... Continue reading
Posted May 31, 2016 at Decline of the Empire
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Some time ago I published this updated Flatland model of how the human mind works at a broad level. Read the linked-in source for more detail. Today I want to illustrate how the Internal Representation of the "self" works. A new study published at PNAS nicely serves that purpose. It's called Memories of unethical actions become obfuscated over time. Don't be intimidated by the seeming complexity of the Flatland model shown above. You'll see that this stuff is not as hard as it might first appear. Here are the significance and abstract of the new study, which is so packed... Continue reading
Posted May 24, 2016 at Decline of the Empire
I may post on some of this stuff at some point, but today I'll provide some links with short comments. This is an open thread. 1. Capitalists Without Borders Should the Middle Class Fear the World’s Poor? (Marshall Steinbaum, Boston Review, May 11, 2016) And I quote— "Capital mobility—not competition with the world’s poor—is the greatest threat to the working class in rich countries." Right. Capitalist Elites Want Cheap Labor. Now they can play off the workers of any nation (including the U.S.) against the workers of all the others. 2. "Again and again, faster and faster" AI will create... Continue reading
Posted May 23, 2016 at Decline of the Empire
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1960's 2016 Security Lines Are Interminable, But With Good Reason (NPR Weekend Saturday, May 21). The Astounding World of the Future (personal favorite) Continue reading
Posted May 21, 2016 at Decline of the Empire
The phrase "bad actors" is not a reference to Ashton Kutcher, Adam Sandler, etc. Instead, the phrase refers to those who use nominally value-neutral "technologies" (like the internet or mortgage-backed securities) to exploit others. Basically, we're talking about predators here. Yesterday a reader linked-in a video on human nature which I watched for a while. It's very interesting. Those discussing the subject all sought to counter simplistic reductionist statements like "it's all in the genes" or "the selfish gene." We've all heard these kind of reductionist arguments. Instead, the researchers in the video cited environmental factors like upbringing and biological... Continue reading
Posted May 17, 2016 at Decline of the Empire
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Long-time reader Jim mentioned Noam Chomsky in a comment last week, which got me thinking about that old fuckhead. Chomsky's views on all the subjects he's talked about for decades—power politics, elite repression of The People, elite-controlled media, socioeconomic arrangements, and, recently, climate change—are vacuous unless he has based those views on some theory (or partial theory) of how humans work at a fundamental level (human nature). And that's not true of Chomsky only; that's generally true. If this vaunted "intellectual" is so damn smart, why hasn't he realized this? Why hasn't he worked on the Human Nature problem as... Continue reading
Posted May 15, 2016 at Decline of the Empire
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The headline tells the story — North Dakota’s First Wolverine In 150 Years Is Immediately Shot And Killed By Rancher. The first verified wolverine spotted in North Dakota in nearly 150 years was shot and killed by a rancher last month. The rancher said the animal had been harassing livestock when he shot it, which would make it a legal kill, according to the Helena Independent Record. The rancher “came out to a calving pasture and the cows had surrounded the wolverine and he felt it was a threat,” state furbearer biologist Stephanie Tucker told the newspaper. The wolverine, known... Continue reading
Posted May 13, 2016 at Decline of the Empire
Here at the outset I want to emphasize that I do not make this stuff up. OK, this text is from Brad Plumer's report on CO2 emissions from world air travel. Growth in air travel could swamp technology improvements. So what then? The other question we've danced around so far is how much aviation emissions actually need to fall to avoid drastic climate change. This is a little trickier. Remember, the most optimistic scenario that Schäfer and his co-authors looked at envisioned the carbon intensity of aviation — that is, CO2 per passenger-mile — falling 2.6 percent per year between... Continue reading
Posted May 11, 2016 at Decline of the Empire
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Read the post below, re-printed from Dean Baker's blog. It is bizarre how many people feel the need to claim that a large trade deficit in manufactured goods does not cost manufacturing jobs. You can argue all sorts of things about the merits of trade, and even make a story about how a trade deficit is good (pretty hard, when we're below full employment), but it is almost impossible to tell a story that the explosion of the trade deficit between 1997 and 2006 did not cost manufacturing jobs (** see note below). Nonetheless that is the story the NYT... Continue reading
Posted May 9, 2016 at Decline of the Empire