Media Roundup and Book Club

Paper of Record

People like staying up to date on their friends, where they live and who they’re dating. A few people, such as Hollywood starts and athletes, reach such a level of fame that entire magazines are devoted to reporting on their houses and romances for the broad public. But I doubt that anyone’s famous enough for their apartment choice to be written up in the New York Times, and their dating adventures to be covered by the Economist’s culture magazine.

And yet, remarkably, that has happened to me.

Here’s the Economist’s 1843 cover story on how I used spreadsheets to make sense of dating and polyamory. Here’s the New York Times article on how my wife and I used spreadsheets to pick our apartment. Somehow the simple idea (not remotely original to me) of taking the simple tool of decision matrices out of the office and into life choices is enough for worldwide fame.

Some quotes below, I won’t tell you which ones are from article:

“When I tell people about the matrix, their intuition is that I’m outsourcing my heart,” Mr. Falkovich said. “But my heart is confused. I need to put my desires in a more organized structure.”

Jacob was standing in the stairwell outside an apartment, half naked and holding his clothes.

There was one group of thinkers who had the tools Jacob needed: proponents of a new philosophy known to its adherents as rationality. These nerdy internet-users were preoccupied with recognizing cognitive bias, applying the lessons of biology and statistics to everything from AI research to fan fiction, and modifying their emotions and desires to achieve their goals.

“We have a lot of the scientific approach in our lives,” Ms. Lawry, 30, said.

Podcast

A while ago I unleashed a somewhat manic Tweetstorm about predictive processing, free energy, the entropic brain, and psychedelics. Stewart Alsop, the host of the Crazy Wisdom Podcast, invited me on to talk about all that stuff despite my protestations that a Tweetstorm doesn’t make me an expert. What we lack in expertise we make up for in enthusiasm for the subject, and I think you’ll enjoy the conversation if you’re at all interested in this.

Spotify link, Apple link.

Bicameral Book Club

A lot of my reading about consciousness and the brain inevitably runs into the topic of brain architecture: our layers of newly developed areas sitting on top of ancient structures, and the fact that we have two hemispheres that seem both very similar and crucially different in their functions. A lot of discussion of brain structure is superficial and confused. I haven’t seen a reliable summary yet of what we know about brain structure and how it relates to consciousness, what we can guess, and what it all means.

This seems like a worthwhile project for all of us in these days of quarantine and isolation.

I want to invite you all to Putanumonit’s first experimental book club, which will cover the two best known books on brain structure and consciousness: Julian Jaynes’ The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind and Iain McGilchrist’s The Master and His Emissary.

The plan is to gather with my fellow readers every week or two to discuss a certain number of chapters, gather our notes and thoughts, and hopefully publish a running book review and commentary. The first online hangout will take place on Wednesday April 1st, at 4:30 pm EST, on a platform recommended by my readers, and cover the first two chapters of The Origin in Breakdown.  If you want to participate, please shoot me an email with the title “Bicameral Book Club” and the following information:

  1. Have you read either of these books already or are you planning to read along with the rest of us?
  2. Are you available on 4/1 at 4:30 pm EST? If not, what other times would work?
  3. Are you willing to volunteer to take notes of the discussion?
  4. What platform do you recommend that we use? Ideally I would want one that is optimized for simultaneous text-based chat but allows for some videoconferencing as well for up to 25 people. What are the upsides and downsides of different platforms?
  5. What do you know about brain structure and consciousness and how do you know it?

I don’t think I’ll get an overwhelming number of responses, but if I do I will invite people based on the quality of their emails to keep the discussion manageable.

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Stay home, stay safe, and let’s get reading.

6 thoughts on “Media Roundup and Book Club

  1. Not that I want to deprive you of satisfaction from being covered in the still occasionally valuable “Economist”… But this article looks like another piece from the wokeness generator. And if I were in your shoes (the shoes of a complex and interesting person with many nuanced talking points!), I wouldn’t appreciate being portrayed as a generic numale figure.

    Your spreadsheet method involves having some standards and displaying a fair amount of agency as a straight man. Such a heresy won’t be favorably presented in the mainstream press unless it involves the implicit but factual compliance with the feminine primacy, here disguised as negotiating a designer relationship. If hypothetical trad-Jacob respected all sorts of people’s consensual choices but made a spreadsheet including his personal preferences – female chastity, exclusivity, traditional femininity and realistic levels of female pickiness – he would end up in a hit piece describing him as a patriarchal creep from the misogynistic cult of alt-rationalists. The story got accepted, because it was you that compromised on the paternity fraud/divorce anxiety (open marriage) and potentially male heterosexuality (bihacking). Suggesting an analogous situation in which a woman is encouraged to make more efforts and compromise on her innate choosiness by working with her “fast and slow thinking” would be a dealbraker.

    This article literally listed you in one row with radical feminists and queer liberators who use non-binary pronouns in order to play power games (this is not intended as a criticism of LGBT people, but of abusive tactics used by some LGBT-affiliated circles). It also explicitly mentions polyamory as a tool for dismantling the structure of monogamous families and capitalism, two major forces that – despite their oppressive aspects – let us achieve civilizational milestones and high levels of human flourishing. I was not surprised when I found out that the author published in Gawker and The Cut, as well as indulged in misrepresenting the phenomenon of incels. Apparently, vilifying depressed online virgins is what some journalists do now to feel better about themselves and their profession.

    You, rationalists (and decision matrices as a multi-purpose tool) deserved a better framing than that, Jacob.

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    1. I think that you are deeply mistaken about the author, Alice Hines. And about me as well.

      When Alice reached out to me about this story, my initial reaction was “lol ofc no”. But then I started reading her articles and was surprised at how refreshingly free of ideology they were. A lot of her pieces felt like they stopped in the middle because I got to used to the author concluding with “…and this is why capitalist patriarchy is evil.” The article about incels and plastic surgery really impressed at sticking to who said and did what, rather than sermonizing about what it all means. After I read that I agreed to talk with her.

      But being descriptive means that Alice didn’t take the incel’s value system as a given either. She’s not their ingroup. If you assume that every writer has to be either for or against then she’s certainly not “for” you, but you’re mistaken if you think she’s against you either. A lot of magazine writing is by ideologues pretending to be investigative journalists, Alice is an investigative journalists who writes in a lingo that fits in with them.

      Look at the example you mentioned: Yates goes by they/them, but my own pronouns aren’t listed. The entire premise of it is that something that started among queer rebels against family and capitalism is now being employed by family-oriented capitalists like myself who learned about matrices in business school. If you think that a “designer relationship” means that I’m surrendering to an idea of female primacy then it’s you who is shoehorning my story into ideologies I have little to do with, not Ms. Hines.

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      1. My main point is that the article didn’t cover decision matrices and designer relationships as neutral meta-level tools, but as approaches to ensure the feminine-primary arrangement at the expense of typical masculine priorities. I’m not sure if you’re OK with being presented as an obedient male ally figure, but this is the clear impression. When common male priorities (paternity ensurance through female exclusivity, mitigation of divorce-related risks) are given up, a woman can enjoy intimacy with multiple lovers while securing resources from the provisioning guy.

        It is not my business to judge or interfere with the decisions of consenting adults regarding such issues, but I can and do call out the double standard: a reverse arrangement (women lowering their requirements for male looks and status because the monogamous guy is smart, polite and in need of love) would spark a massive outrage. Seriously, try getting the trad-Jacob version published.

        To make other things clear:

        The validity of specific claims does not depend on the person’s group affiliation. Although we can make good guesses about the dominant views and biases of specific groups, a specific statement is true or not regardless if it’s said by a member of the feminist, incel, or rationalist community. I care about the facts and opinions based on their logical interpretation, not appealing to the specific demographic.
        Being slightly more nuanced than the average fervent ideologue (a very low bar) does not grant AH the status of a good investigative journalist.
        AH’s articles follow a predictable narrative based on blank slatism and describing the interactions between men and women as dynamics between the oppressors and the oppressed. Just take a look at this nonsense (https://www.thecut.com/2019/05/incel-plastic-surgery.html): she cherry-picked few deeply disturbed users of a weird niche forum, pictured them as representative of men struggling with loneliness or dating, and spiced it up with some progressive dogma:

        Would you imply that the guy investing in the cryptocurrency to afford plastic surgeries (as he struggles with the body dysmorphic disorder and suicidal ideation), or the guy having videochats with a naked girl who pretends to be the mother of his stuffed pig (!) share anything in common with millions of isolated men who happen to be poorer or shorter?

        Is the fraction of violent alt-righters with fly-infested bedrooms representative of smart but lonely Asian and Indian graduates who are registered Democrats?

        Are Elliot Rodger and Alek Minassian good approximations of >30% young American men (and if so, how does this country still function with 10-20M of such hypothetical domestic terrorists)?

        AH’s piece does not cover any good studies, contemporary trends, or diverse opinions of experts. There is, however, a mention of the 1993 neo-Nazi attack, a quote from Jessica Valenti, and other mentions allowing the sufficiently woke contextualization. But did we really expect much more from The Cut, Gawker, or Vice school of journalism?

        Just for the record, I fully respect the preference of non-binary people to use they/them pronouns and consider it to be a good idea. I am skeptical about using the compelled speech laws to police the language, demanding the use of newly made-up and frequently changed pronouns, or dismantling nuclear families and capitalism to replace them with some vague designer alternatives.

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    2. “Suggesting an analogous situation in which a woman is encouraged to make more efforts and compromise on her innate choosiness by working with her ‘fast and slow thinking’ would be a dealbraker.”

      I’d say not a dealbreaker, because towards the end of the article Jacob’s wife talks about not following her innate tendencies to end up with Jacob. Maybe you’re right that this was part of why less time was spent developing her character and story, but she also supposedly didn’t use business management tools to make her choice, making her less relevant (or perhaps just less interesting).

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      1. I see three different objections:

        1) Stephanie’s approach is barely mentioned in one short paragraph: [(…) Typically, the men she falls hard for are more sensitive. “If I was entirely following my heart, I probably wouldn’t be with him,” she told me.] It doesn’t change the tone of this piece. It doesn’t encourage using some meta-approach to strive for the fair optimum. The article is predominantly about using some tools to dismantle Team Men, Nuclear Families & Capitalism, and grant the relationship hegemony to Team Women, Queer Activists & Polyamory. Obviously, this template for woke identitarian journalism does not match the reality of human interactions and social consequences.

        2) This quote doesn’t indicate any kind of major work on managing personal preferences (compared to men abandoning their instinct for paternity assurance and securing the financial assets resulting from their hard work). I am also really skeptical about women being attracted specifically to male sensitivity – I have never seen this in any studies or real life, so it most likely reflects the gap between declared and revealed preferences.

        Assuming the unlikely scenario where the amount of mutual effort was actually comparable: if a man and a woman both work hard not to follow their instincts/preferences, doesn’t that make it some sort of empty love or arranged marriage between two colleagues?

        3) Most importantly: open marriage is such a great deal for a woman that she doesn’t compromise anything at all. She maintains the access to hot lovers and has an enormous advantage granted through divorce/family laws, so she can use her negotiating position for all sorts of benefits and sacrifices from the husband. The husband, on the other hand, can’t expect his wife’s emotional and sexual exclusivity, risks half of his assets and legal problems, and is unlikely to get compensated with the quite hypothetical access to hot lovers on the contemporary dating scene. While one could argue that things are more sophisticated, there are extra steps, it’s better than loneliness, zero-sum parts are compensated by empathy, etc., the painful accuracy of stereotypes concerning open/poly marriages is well-known.

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