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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
In an article called Why Facts Don't Change Our Minds which appears in The New Yorker this month, Elizabeth Kolbert discovered Flatland (sort of). Did she actually read my Flatland essays, especially the 3rd one, which directly addresses the issues she writes about? Hell, no! That would be way to much to expect. However, in reviewing three books on predictable human irrationality, Kolbert actually discovers (or at least writes about) the salient Flatland point, which is emphasized in the reprint below. I will reference and quote this article in the 4th essay. I'm not going to express false humility here.... Continue reading
Posted 3 days ago at Decline of the Empire
Some time ago I wrote a short post called What Are We Up Against. The post featured a video by Hans Rosling, who passed away last week. Hans was very popular among the humans. And if you watch the new video below, you'll see why. This obituary is from the New York Times. Hans Rosling, a Swedish doctor who transformed himself into a pop-star statistician by converting dry numbers into dynamic graphics that challenged preconceptions about global health and gloomy prospects for population growth, died on Tuesday in Uppsala, Sweden. He was 68... Even before “post-truth” entered the lexicon, Dr.... Continue reading
Posted 6 days ago at Decline of the Empire
Still working on the 4th essay. Trying hard to get it right. An article in Vox explores the pros and cons of the March For Science, which is scheduled for Earth Day 2017 (April 22). The idea is that lots of scientists will descend on our nations's capital to tell our leaders ... what? ... that science matters? Ah, there's the rub. Once you march for science, science becomes political. And of course the Usual Suspects will be all over this one (from Twitter)— colonization, racism, immigration, native rights, sexism, ableism, queer-, trans-, intersex-phobia, & econ justice are scientific issues... Continue reading
Posted Feb 10, 2017 at Decline of the Empire
I'm still working on the 4th Flatland essay and will be for some time to come. So I thought I'd post something during the interim. Two articles caught my eye recently. Both had a similar theme — inevitable inequality. I was startled to read this opening text in 700 years of Western inequality, in one chart (Vox, January 23, 2017). We tend to think of rising income inequality as a 21st-century problem. A more equal distribution of wealth is normal, and the growing clout of the 1 percent is an anomaly. The problem is that in the long arc of... Continue reading
Posted Feb 1, 2017 at Decline of the Empire
Just letting you know I'm still alive and kicking. Still working on the 4th essay. Getting down to business has focused my attention. Since this is the last essay, I want to get things right. You know, to cement my soon-to-be-exalted place in human history It is a "special" day in Flatland — they're all special! — because today the "Insane Clown" begins his hostile take-over of the White House. The Tweeter-In-Chief now speaks for the nation! You would have thought, thinking counterfactually as you should always do in contemplating Flatland, that the irreducible absurdity of a former Reality-TV star... Continue reading
Posted Jan 20, 2017 at Decline of the Empire
Still working on the 4th Flatland essay. This is clearly going to take a while. — Dave Reader BJ wrote as follows in the comments section of Flatland Nihilism. The thing that I see missing from the discussion is that happiness doesn't change for even good events, such as winning the lottery (studies done in both 70s and 00s). No matter what we experience good or bad, we return to baseline brain chemistry or programming or whatever you want to call it. That is true nihilism. Yes, it is. I like the Teflon metaphor best because, with humans generally, it... Continue reading
Posted Jan 6, 2017 at Decline of the Empire
Out, out, brief candle! Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player That struts and frets his hour upon the stage And then is heard no more; it is a tale Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing — Shakespeare's MacBeth No Ted Talk has ever angered and disgusted me as much as Dan Gilbert's The Surprising Science of Happiness (video below). Gilbert's talk was recently featured on NPR's Ted Radio Hour. I will be quoting from the transcript below. I was angered and disgusted by two things— Gilbert's Flatland interpretation of Flatland What the data... Continue reading
Posted Jan 4, 2017 at Decline of the Empire
I gave some thought to the future of DOTE during the holiday break. I'm not getting any younger There's some unfinished work I need to do in 2017. In particular, I need to write the 4th and final Flatland essay. That essay will— summarize previous work (the delusional blank slate, filtering, bullshit, our relationship with nature, etc.) include and explain the updated Flatland model discuss the anthropocentric instinct discuss the nature of consciousness discuss human story-telling and contrast that with reality (e.g., tribal narratives ≠ reality) discuss all-pervasive social instincts and the default mode network It will probably run 30-40... Continue reading
Posted Jan 2, 2017 at Decline of the Empire
This will be my last post of 2016. Once again there was no indication this year that Homo sapiens can change its aggregate behavior in some positive way. Indeed, bad situations like politics in the U.S. and the state of the climate got considerably worse this year. My Flatland stuff can and should be viewed as a hypothesis about our benighted species. With each passing year in which humans fuck-up by failing to address the great anthropogenic problems of the 21st century, Flatland "pessimism" looks more and more realistic. In short, there is more and more confirming evidence supporting the... Continue reading
Posted Dec 28, 2016 at Decline of the Empire
You are not aware of your own anthropocentrism in the same way you are not normally aware of the air you're breathing. Only in extraordinary circumstances where the air is very thin or almost absent would you become aware of the invisible oxygen which keeps you alive. On Earth, in the case of anthropocentrism, there are no analogous extraordinary circumstances at this time. The natural world is thus entirely at our mercy with no exceptions until that inevitable time in the future when ... never mind. Anyway, anthropocentrism is irreducibly instinctual in the human animal. There is abundant evidence that... Continue reading
Posted Dec 27, 2016 at Decline of the Empire
Here I am staring at this blank page trying to figure out what I might say about anything. Obvious flatland fuck-ups were on display everywhere you looked this year. I am still sometimes surprised that I need to point them out to get a few humans to notice them. That's important to me, for others to see the same train wrecks I'm seeing. Only human after all. I suppose that's why I kind of lost it when I read that, for humans— Developing situational awareness ... will not require altruism or idealism or self-sacrifice, only accurate self-perception and enlightened self-interest.... Continue reading
Posted Dec 23, 2016 at Decline of the Empire
Astrobiologist David Grinspoon, whose book Lonely Planets sits on my bookshelf, has a new take on the Anthropocene, which can be defined as the era of human dominance of the Earth. (Geologists argue about the dating.) Those few thousands of people (out of 7.4 billion) who understand the importance of maintaining a livable planetary environment regard the anthropocene as a total disaster for the non-human biosphere and, eventually, for Homo sapiens itself. Not Grinspoon. He is "a senior scientist at the Planetary Science Institute and an adjunct professor of astrophysical and planetary science at University of Colorado. His popular writing... Continue reading
Posted Dec 21, 2016 at Decline of the Empire
It is not much of an exaggeration to say that my Flatland model of how humans work was born of an ongoing sense of learned helplessness as my life progressed. What is learned helplessness? It is the existential experience that nothing good can or will happen. It is utter hopelessness, the very real experience that your choices don't matter much, or a recognition that you're not even making choices at all—you're locked in. I was taken aback when J.D. Vance used the definition above in his excellent Ted Talk America's forgotten working class (video below). But before I get into... Continue reading
Posted Dec 19, 2016 at Decline of the Empire
I was reading Ronald Brownstein's How Carbon Emissions Explain Trump's Win, which was just published in The Atlantic. Let's get right to it. Trump’s polarizing appeal has deepened the existing geographic and demographic fault lines in American politics into a chasm so imposing it could mark the border between two countries. On one side, Hillary Clinton routed Trump in the racially and culturally diverse metropolitan centers that are helping forge a globalized, information-based, and low-carbon economy. On the other, Trump posted crushing margins in the places that feel eclipsed, or threatened, by all of those trends. Later, Ronald refers to... Continue reading
Posted Dec 16, 2016 at Decline of the Empire
Here's the last part of Tormod V. Burkey's essay Can We Save The World? (Stanford's Millennium Alliance for Humanity and Biosphere, December 13, 2016). “Can we save the world?” should be an important enough question to justify submitting it to our best thinking and a thorough review of everything we know that has bearing upon it. Perhaps it is one that we have shied away from, for fear that a negative answer would breed despair and passivity and become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Yet it is hard to see that compiling everything we know in an accessible manner could be a... Continue reading
Posted Dec 14, 2016 at Decline of the Empire
Climate scientists feel threatened. For good reason, I might add. Elizabeth Kolbert introduces today's topic. (I added the link.) Next week, the American Geophysical Union will hold its annual conference in San Francisco. The A.G.U. meeting is one of the world’s première scientific gatherings—last fall, some twenty-four thousand experts in fields ranging from astronomy to volcanology attended. This year, in addition to the usual papers and journals, a new publication will be available to participants. It’s called “Handling Political Harassment and Legal Intimidation: A Pocket Guide for Scientists.” The guide is the creation of a group called the Climate Science... Continue reading
Posted Dec 13, 2016 at Decline of the Empire
I will quote from Rolling Stone's Trump's Presidency Is Shaping Up to Be an American Tragedy— Add it all up, and what do you see? A child who reacts to the slightest perceived attack with vicious vitriol. A vengeful president who is willing to violate basic rights. A government run by incompetents, racists, bullies and conspiracy-mongers. It's a formula for tragedy. No one can predict the future – we learned that lesson the hard way a month ago. But if you were to imagine what impending American fascism would look like, you couldn't place the pieces on the board any... Continue reading
Posted Dec 10, 2016 at Decline of the Empire
Remember, I do not make this stuff up. This is a brief follow-up to Are We In The "Post-Truth" Era? OK, let's work through this. Here are two Flatland premises. In important realms like politics and economics, humans are inveterate bullshitters. They can't help it. Bullshit is the default case. Facts don't matter, or matter only in so far as they can't be used as weapons to push some largely unconscious agenda. In so far as fundamental behavioral changes are impossible for humans, they characteristically assume that technology solves all problems. In Flatland, applying technology to everything is a feature,... Continue reading
Posted Dec 8, 2016 at Decline of the Empire
This is a reprint of my 2011 post The Authoritarian Personality (under the fold). This is one of the few times I wrote about reptiles on this blog. The context was the media reaction to the inept Occupy protests—remember them? The context is clearly dated, and even looks quaint in retrospect. However, now that reptiles are in charge, it is a good time to review this material. You can also see the roots of the present in the past (5 years ago). Ah, the good ol' days ... I'm already feeling nostalgic It has been interesting to watch the reactions... Continue reading
Posted Dec 7, 2016 at Decline of the Empire
I haven't mentioned the proverbial frog since the second flatland essay, which I wrote in 2014 (and see here and here). Now is an excellent time to do it again in the context of America's irreversible fall from grace. I'll quote from those essays. It doesn't matter that real frogs don't sit in the gradually heated water until they are boiled alive. What matters is that human beings do. That's what makes it useful as a metaphor. The American Empire has been in decline for almost 30 years now. Yet it is only in the last few years—specifically, since the... Continue reading
Posted Dec 5, 2016 at Decline of the Empire
I'm trying to rouse myself from this stupor I've been in lately. It's not easy. I see that foreclosure king and former Goldman banker Steve Mnuchin is going to be our next Treasury Secretary. My personal view is that Mnuchin, like so many others taking positions of "responsibility" in our government, is a reptile. I don't know about you, but as far as I'm concerned this "person" doesn't belong the same species as I do. Reptilian humanoid? I've looked at research which indicates that reptiles have certain traits which distinguish them from others, but I'm not sure I'm buying it.... Continue reading
Posted Dec 1, 2016 at Decline of the Empire
We are well past the point of no return here in the United States. To understand this, we needn't look beyond the bullshit du jour, which is that Russia determines what happens in the U.S. (and see here). Understanding Flatland requires a capacity to discover and posit plausible unconscious motivations underlying surface events (like "Russia did it"). I'm throwing you a softball today in the hopes you can hit a home run. Ask yourself this simple question— For those who lost the recent election, why would the Russia hacking story be plausible and appealing? Keywords or phrases to keep in... Continue reading
Posted Nov 29, 2016 at Decline of the Empire
Humans in the general case require babysitting. Otherwise there is a tendency to shit the bed or make a mess of things. You know, get careless in the sandbox, get sand all over everything outside it. Food fights. High School. What a mess. Now, I could do what Morris Berman does at Dark Ages America. As Jim suggested to me privately, Morris (among others) has a better business model than I do. He's selling himself. Indeed, my "problem" is that I have no business model at all. At Berman's blog, his readers, who he calls "wafers" (Why America Failed-ers), must... Continue reading
Posted Nov 27, 2016 at Decline of the Empire
I was reading through Idiot Brain by neuroscientist Dean Burnett. In the last chapter, on page 301, the next to last page of the book, Burnett said an interesting thing. Pay attention. This is important. (I added the links.) Our brains determine what's real or not based on our experiences, and if we grow up in a context where objectively impossible things are seen as normal, then our brains conclude they are normal, and judge everything else accordingly. Even people not brought up in [a] more extreme belief system are susceptible—the "just world" bias described in Chapter 7 is incredibly... Continue reading
Posted Nov 25, 2016 at Decline of the Empire
As the terrifying Trump transition continues, with dimwitted humans demonstrating every day that there's no bottom in Flatland, it's hard to get excited about the holiday. In the public sphere, this is the single worst year I've seen in my 63 years on Earth. 2017 promises to be worse. Next year we may long for the good 'ole days of 2016. All the evils of this world are loose. This will not end well. The only thing that might save us, at least for a while, is inertia. To all those story-telling social animals who invest this empty world with... Continue reading
Posted Nov 23, 2016 at Decline of the Empire