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1/9/19
  1. Makes me want to visit Australia

  2. Ever wonder which animals have minds?

the second paper gets very technical very quickly, but the brief upshot (from what I understand) is that there are two sufficient conditions for having a mind: you can either be conscious (feel pain, experience what it is like to be awake, etc…) or be able to represent things. From what certain experiments have told us, some insects are able to represent things, and therefore they have minds.

This is an extremely short account of what is clearly a very interesting and complex idea, and I want to share more about it later when I’m confident I fully understand the entire argument. I’m taking Tyler Burge’s class right now (Burge is the author of the article and a leader in the field of philosophy of mind) so I should be learning about this topic at a steady pace.

1/7/18

COWEN: There’s a good deal of evidence that people in businesses are overconfident, but do you think they’re more overconfident than they should be?

KAHNEMAN: Overconfidence has many virtues. In the first place, it’s nice, it’s pleasant to be overconfident, especially if you’re an optimist. Optimism is valuable, much more than overconfidence. Overconfidence is sort of a side effect.

But to exaggerate the odds of success is a very useful thing for people. It will make them more appealing to others, they will get more resources, and they will take risks. It’s not necessarily good for them. The expected utility of taking risks in the economy is probably moderately negative. But for society as a whole to have a lot of optimists taking risks — that’s what makes for economic progress, so I call that the engine of capitalism, really, that sort of optimism.

and

KAHNEMAN: Yeah, happiness feels good in the moment. But it’s in the moment. What you’re left with are your memories. And that’s a very striking thing — that memories stay with you, and the reality of life is gone in an instant. So memory has a disproportionate weight because it’s with us. It stays with us. It’s the only thing we get to keep.

From an episode of Conversations with Tyler with the Nobel-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman.

The first statement seems intuitively true. I do think it’s interesting that Kahneman says the expected value of taking risks in the economy is probably moderately negative. This leads to the weird conclusion that what is best for the economy isn’t necessarily best for the individual.

The second is also interesting. When you think about it, you have a memory of an event much longer than you actually experience the event, so why not spend your time trying to maximize the quality of your memories as opposed to the actual events? Take advantage of our bias towards how intense the peak of an experience is and how it ended.

"original sin" vs. "inherently flawed"

Anecdotally, people my age seem to be opposed to the idea of original sin. This is interesting because it has more or less been widely accepted since Christianity showed up and has probably only recently suffered a decline in supporters. However, I bet these same people would agree with the statement that humans are inherently flawed, and we need to work to overcome those flaws. Young adults may only be rejecting the idea that some omnipotent being has created them as imperfect, and are willing to accept that their imperfections are a result of natural selection or some other process. Or, they are rejecting the idea that just by existing they are sinning and doing something wrong.

What this secularization of imperfection loses, in my opinion, is the complementary idea that we should strive to become less sinful, or more perfect. If we believe that we are born with original sin, then we believe someone/thing has already made a normative judgement about our character, and expects us to improve (leaving alone whether absolute perfection/sinlessness is possible). However, if we believe our imperfections or more akratic tendencies are only biological baggage from a bygone era, then we are more likely to accept ourselves just as we are. If talking about imperfection as “original sin” gives us a spectrum from sinful to sinless to work with, then talking about undesirable tendencies simply as personality traits gives us no spectrum. Without certain types of language, we have nowhere to orient ourselves towards improvement.

“The Road to Character” has got me thinking about individual moral progress.

Edit as of 1/7/19

What I am trying to get at here is the difference between normative and positive statements. Just didn’t have the vocabulary at the time of writing.

1/4/19

1. A Danish travel agency created an advertising campaign called “Do it for Denmark” in an effort to increase the national birth rate and ensure they have enough future customers (mildly NSFW).

Apparently, it’s working.

now - about nine months after the last ad campaign - Denmark is boasting 14% more children due during the summer months than during the corresponding period a year ago, according to Cphpost. That's about 16,000 babies.

2. Parenting is getting more intensive.

“As the gap between rich and poor increases, the cost of screwing up increases,” said Philip Cohen, a sociologist at the University of Maryland who studies families and inequality. “The fear is they’ll end up on the other side of the divide.”

Another good one from the article:

Ms. Sentilles’s mother, Claire Tassin, described a very different way of parenting when her two children were young, in the 1970s. “My job was not to entertain them,” said Ms. Tassin, who lives in Vacherie, La. “My job was to love them and discipline them.”

1/2/19

Girard is looking pretty good right now.

researchers set up a series of experiments in which one “observer” female fruit fly watched a “demonstrator” fly pick between two males that differed only in their artificial color—pink or green. When it was their turn to mate, observers chose the same color of mate more than 70% of the time,

Scientific corroboration that what we want is a function of what we see others desire.

Also, I was getting my cousins presents at Barnes and Noble and picked up a copy of David Brooks’ “The Road to Character.” I started reading it, and from what I understand so far, it’s meant to be a sort of modern-day edition of Plutarch’s Lives. Each chapter covers someone from history (often unexpected or otherwise obscure) who has lived a life, that in Brooks’ eye, embodies character.

I was compelled to buy the book in part because I’ve listened to Brooks speak a couple of times and he’s always been articulate and surprisingly funny. His writing (so far) is more of the same, and I’m impressed with how he argues for what many will call a “conservative” message of character and self-control as opposed to achievement and technical proficiency.

How can Netflix spend so much for original content and still make money?

In the short term, they can’t.

In 2017 Netflix reported a profit of $500 million. But they had to take on $2 billion in debt to make it happen.

This is due in part to the fact Netflix is spending $5-$10 million per episode for some of their more popular series.

While this clearly does not yield the greatest short-term fruit (creating your own content is a long-game activity) I’m more excited about how the new economics of television can lead to more creative freedom.

Beyond the ability to play with many millions of dollars for each episode to hire the best actors, build fantastic sets, etc… creating TV for streaming platforms like Netflix/Amazon where the entire season is released at once rather than shown every week over the course of months means you can revise.

because we don’t launch week-to-week, there is the built-in benefit that halfway through the season or towards the end of production, especially in a new series, once they’ve found their sea legs and know their characters’ voices and the actors, there’s the ability to go back and reshape some of the earlier episodes if it’s something the creator wants to do.

Additionally, I hope when producers/writers write for streaming series, they cut out more of the rushed character development at the beginning of series and much of the summarizing that happens at the start of episodes. Because viewers tend to treat an entire season like a single movie (by bingeing it), creators shouldn’t have to worry about making sure we’re all caught up with the plot, or hastily establishing a character’s persona right away.

Apparently there’s also a “leap of faith” that happens when you produce an entire season of a show for the streaming platform. When a show is airing every week, producers have the opportunity to listen to viewer feedback and record future episodes with that in mind. Yet, Netflix and Amazon producers have no such luxury, and thus have to fully commit to whatever they put into a show. This may be riskier for the them, but in theory I think this should make for bolder TV and better programs for all.

Portland

Happy Holidays!

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/26/upshot/happy-new-year-may-your-city-never-become-san-francisco-new-york-or-seattle.html

Our deepest anxieties about the future of where we live are embodied in other cities — in Portlandification, Brooklynification, Manhattanization. The comparison is seldom a compliment. You don’t want to become Manhattan (too dense), Portland (too twee) […]

I think Portland’s “twee-ness” is going to be the thing that protects it against the “Manhattnization” or “San Francisco-ization” the article talks about. Tech companies are sprouting up and prices are rising in Portland, but the sleepy, sentimental nature of the city may repel some of the more ambitious tech companies / people that would really hike prices. Young people go to Portland to retire, not to work their asses off or create billion-dollar startups like in Manhattan or the Bay Area. Just look at this journalist’s description of her time in Portland as a recent college grad.

Even the really big companies that do have the power to move housing prices on a larger scale (Nike, Intel) are concentrated in the suburbs where there is enough cheap land to build a big campus. This also makes them much more attractive to middle-aged professionals that want a sizable house and high-powered suburban schools (Jesuit, Beaverton, Sunset).

I may speak too soon, but the quirkiness of Portland (and its relative indolence) has a real economic advantage in that it buys the city some time to figure out how to deal with ballooning housing costs and preserving the middle class.

Riley WilsonPortlandComment
12/11/18

I was walking to my dorm when I passed a girl who was bawling… From what I made out, she had taken a final today that didn’t go well, and was apologizing to her mom at the prospect of getting a B- in the class… She said she had stayed up until 6am studying, etc…

It’s not my place to judge, but I think this is a real indicator something is going wrong with college…

Unrelated, here is an excerpt from one of my favorite poems. It’s part of an ad for Tourism Melbourne that airs whenever the Australian Open is on.

Let me watch the sea-rain falling,

Smell the salt, deck-driven spray;

Let me hear the bush-birds calling

At the dawning of the day.

*

Let me see the sun-bars streaming

Down the valleys, ere the night

Fills the world with pleasant dreaming

Love and coolness and delight

“Far and Wide”

E.J. Brady

12/09/18

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/08/opinion/college-gpa-career-success.html

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/08/opinion/sunday/wasps-meritocracy-ross-douthat.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage

NYTimes (or at least their contributors) seems to be railing against the meritocracy as of late.

“Some people are born on third base and go through their entire lives thinking they hit a triple”

Don’t know who said this though… A quick google search gives conflicting accounts.

Riley WilsonassortedComment
12/08/18

From Tyler Cowen’s MR

Honestly found the above pretty funny. I especially liked 2, 9, 10, 22, 28, 32, 33, 35, 36, 45.

When I’m feeling down or freaking out about my own situation, I really like to read anything by William Deresiewicz. Today it was a little from A Jane Austen Education, which is a little difficult because I haven’t read any of Jane Austen, but it’s also part memoir so you get a good feel of how Deresiewicz was as a young man.

It’s so comforting to me because his book Excellent Sheep has influenced me greatly and probably will forever. I actually sat down and did an interview with him once… I was so nervous and odd and inarticulate so it was awful, but I loved it nonetheless. Maybe this winter break I’ll get around to either transcribing it or editing it and putting it up.

Riley WilsonAssortedComment
Link + Lines

https://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/the-american-meme-a-new-netflix-documentary-records-the-angst-of-social-media-influencers

Don’t watch much TV, but this one might get me. From my personal experience (knowing those with large social media followings…), attempting to be an “influencer” can be an incessant grind. Every outing is dominated by pictures and there’s a lot of stress over if a post is doing well or not.

On an unrelated note, I was thinking about something my roommate said a little bit ago. He is a transfer from the University of Denver and said he’s never seen more lines for things than he has at UCLA. There are lines to get in to lecture, lines to get into dining halls, lines for food etc…

He’s right. There’s a pair of take-out restaurants on the residential side of campus that frequently get lines of 80+ people. The average time for the line to advance one person is probably around 45 seconds, so these people are waiting (80x45)/60 = 60 minutes to get a burrito/chicken bowl when there are numerous other (more expedient) options available!

Prima facie waiting an hour for a dining hall burrito seems ridiculous (I would probably only wait that long for a chipotle burrito if I was starving) but people still get in the massive line, and the big reason why I think they do is technology. When we’re able to distract ourselves at will, we’re willing to tolerate waiting an hour to get a burrito or a free t-shirt. I believe this more and more whenever I walk past one of the lines on campus and see everyone looking down at their phones.

The point above is probably pretty obvious, but I think it’s funny because it shows how bizarre our behavior can be. Somehow, we’ve reached a point where we can tolerate incredible inefficiency or wait times in real life, but get frustrated whenever a web page takes longer than four or five seconds to load. It seems to me that as long as our distractions are quick and timely, it doesn’t matter if the rest of our life is because we can retreat into the former at our convenience.

This reminds me of one of the main ideas driving Sherry Turkle’s book, “Reclaiming Conversation.” To paraphrase, she says that now we expect less and less out of our significant others, and more from our technology. We can see this clearly in the line example. I know boredom isn’t ideal and it’s bad practice to romanticize the past, but what would students in the 80’s or 90’s have done? Maybe they would have thought about something silly, whistled a tune, or made a joke with the person beside them. Maybe they would have taken the time to relax, or perhaps they would have skipped the line altogether, realizing how valuable their time was.

12/06/18

https://danwang.co/college-girardian-terror/

Interesting application of Girard’s ideas to explain why college seems to be such an incredibly fraught place. I’ve heard the conclusion many times before (all people want is money/power/prestige) but hearing about how the similarity of all of the actors in a situation plays into it is interesting.

https://www.insidehighered.com/digital-learning/article/2018/12/05/minerva-project-draws-notice-its-practical-rigorous-curriculum?utm_source=Inside+Higher+Ed&utm_campaign=768e921e12-DNU_WO20181203_PREV_COPY_01&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_1fcbc04421-768e921e12-197603613&mc_cid=768e921e12&mc_eid=495c6bd417

Also interesting to hear that the Minerva curriculum is going well. I was skeptical of a university that has only online classes (considering how terrible I think many MOOCs are) but it seems like they got something right with the design. The fact that they students they have are exceptional could also help. I e-met a couple of them during my time in the Edsurge independent cohort and they were incredible. I personally still think a more traditional, personal education with heaps of face-to-face time with your teachers is the most valuable, but Miverva’s success could convince me otherwise.

UCLA Ed-Angst

I was thinking about the clear gap between institutional prestige and undergraduate educational experience that I’m seeing at UCLA. Yes, I know UCLA is a research university and the students tend to come second, but that shouldn’t stop me from thinking about it.

Because I have only experienced UCLA (and a little of Babson/USC,)I could go to other colleges and universities and take some classes there for a semester/quarter and come back to report on what the undergraduate experience is like but that’s impractical. I have asked some of my friends that do go to other universities how their education is shaping up and the results fall into two categories: If they go to a liberal arts or “elite” school, they generally love their experience so far and wouldn’t change it for the world. Otherwise (large public university/large private university), they either hate it, or don’t think about their educational experience that much (and to be fair, not everyone has to).

But I do think there is something ironic/tragic about one of the so-called “best” universities in the world (ranked #19 by US News and World Reports, whatever that means) giving the average student only a lackluster education. I would expect any university that’s good enough for Terence Tao is good enough for me, but I now know that’s bad thinking as Terence is one of the most brilliant mathematicians who have ever lived, and I am incapable of doing any type of academic research.

Personally, I think students (myself included) should stop falling for large universities. I understand they are a financial necessity for many and a great fit for some, but if you don’t want to spend the rest of your formal education sitting in lecture halls functionally taking MOOCs or having your papers read by TA’s, don’t come here. If you don’t want to have to apply to for nearly every undergraduate club, don’t come here. If you don’t want to go through entire classes never knowing the name of a single one of your classmates, don’t come here. If you really want to have to fight for the type of education that you want, do come here. I’ll do it with you.

12/5/18

I recently found a podcast with Malcolm Gladwell that I really enjoyed.

https://www.mercatus.org/events/conversations-tyler-conversation-malcolm-gladwell

I’m starting to read more of Cowen’s blog, Marginal Revolution, and I’ve been loving it so far. It’s the perfect combination of high-powered academic mixed with your cool neighbor across the street who’s interested in a ton of things. His daily links are also guaranteed to lead you to something current and interesting, too.

The podcast I enjoy for a couple of reasons. One, it brings up so much personal information about Gladwell that I didn’t know beforehand. He’s Jamaican (I had no clue), enjoyed a brief stint as one of the fastest runners in Canada, and makes a career telling stories in part because stories weren’t told in his household growing up.

Two, you really get to hear Malcolm stumped. I’ve always thought of Gladwell as a type of hyper-eloquent super person, but there are so many times when Tyler asks him a question and he stumbles with his words for a bit before giving an answer. I read something great a little bit ago about the value of watching other people think on their feet (can’t remember exactly where though…) and this is something you can really hear in this episode. Sometimes, he sounds exactly like you and me!

Misidentification of Cliché

Note: this paper was originally submitted for Philosophy 23: Meaning and Communication taught by Sam Cumming and TA’d by Esther Nikbin. Because I’m still not over cliché and think there’s a lot more to it than what I talk about in this paper, I’m currently writing another paper that goes more into cliché’s “thought stopping” capabilities and how this can lead to moral danger, among other things.

My interest in cliché started in middle school when I thought Shakespeare was a boring author because he lacked original plot. Of course, murderous Macbeth has to be crushed under his own hubris and Romeo and Juliet are destined to be together only in the afterlife. In the media age, these clichés had made their way into the children’s books I read to the cartoons on TV, and I felt like a sucker for being told an old, old, man in England can get away with using them and even being called the greatest for doing it. I might as well have been crowned the best literary critic ever to have lived in the 7th grade if I hadn’t been criticizing the very origin of the storylines I had grown to recognize, and resent, but I’ll argue I have hundreds of years of Shakespeare imitators to blame for my misperception.

Still, the question of what is cliché and what is not remains. How is cliché different than idiom? Are all resonant expressions or ideas destined to become cliché?  The goal of this investigation is to the uncover the bounds that limit the application of the word “cliché” and differentiate it from other trite expressions that fill our language. In order to carry out this investigation, I consulted native English speakers, dictionaries, academic papers, and a book on brainwashing.

“Cliché” is not a word like “aunt” or “billionaire” that denotes a clear relationship or quantity of ownership. As a result, we are going to have to rely on less exact methods to pin down its meaning. Using to a survey I administered to (relatively few) native English speakers over the internet, a typical cliché begins to take shape. When respondents were asked to define “cliché” as they use it, several parameters were important. First, an overwhelming majority of answers invoked ideas of over-use through phrases such as “too much,” “too often,” and “too many people.” In order to qualify as a cliché to native speakers, the phrase in question must be notoriously ubiquitous in common language or in certain contexts. Examples given include phrases like “there’s plenty of fish in the sea” in situations about relationships, or captioning your old vacation photos on Instagram “take me back.” Second, speakers emphasized how clichés belie a sense of unoriginality in their users. According to one, these phrases become “cop-outs,” that are used in the English classroom to appear thoughtful without having thought. The phrases themselves are undeniably true to a fault, and consequently their use says more about the lack of knowledge of the speaker as opposed to any real understanding.

Dictionaries tend to corroborate these two main aspects of cliché, overuse and lack of real substance, gleaned from the intuitions of native English speakers. Definitions range from, “a phrase or opinion that’s overused and betrays lack of original thought,” to “a trite phrase or expression; also: the idea expressed by it,” but these definitions always invoke the two main pillars of cliché (Oxford English Dictionary; Merriam-Webster). A less authoritative source has also voiced her own opinion on cliché and defined it as “a metaphor characterized by overuse,” and even supplied her own cliché test. If you can begin a sentence, stop half-way, and then know the conclusion of it, then it is a cliché (Morgan). However, either by accident or design, this test includes swathes of phrases that the general population would normally regard as idiom and not cliché. An idiom, such as “read between the lines,” is defined as a non-compositional phrase, and although common, the phrase does not seem especially trite or meaningless, and thus wouldn’t be called cliché. While this test is inaccurate, it does begin to expose how speakers observe or ignore the frequency of certain words.

This image of cliché in the minds of speakers seems to be at odds with how we actually deploy the word. For example, the phrase “a penny saved is a penny earned” is undeniably a cliché, but you are highly unlikely to encounter it as frequently now in the 21st century as in the 18th, when it was conceived and presumably more popular in common conversation. Indeed, some common phrases such as the aforementioned “read between the lines” and “bearing in mind” are not considered trite in the slightest, yet appear more frequently than established cliché (Dillon). ‘

Picture1.png

Frequency of Phrase “A Penny Saved is a” From 1800 to 2000

Picture2.png

Frequency of Phrase “Bearing in Mind” From 1800 to 2000

(Google Books)

The data supports this. According to Google’s analysis of books, the popularity of the phrase “a penny saved is a penny earned” has been declining since the 1820s, but the phrase “bearing in mind” reached an all-time high in usage in the 1970s, as seen above. This is evidence against the idea clichés are overused phrases or ideas, and for a working definition that focuses on how salient the unoriginality, or “trite-ness,” of the phrase is to the hearer, regardless of how many times they have encountered it before.

This is the defining characteristic of cliché. Consider one of my earlier respondents who said clichés are “cop-outs,” and the OED, which claims clichés “betray lack of original thought.” The psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton has done research on cliché as a tool of thought reform carried out by totalitarian regimes, and has supplied his own definition. He says cliché is when, “the most far-reaching and complex of human problems are compressed into brief, highly reductive, definitive-sounding phrases easily memorized and easily expressed” (Lifton). To him, repetition is not what makes something cliché, but how well it reduces huge problems or ideas into simple phrases. This definition gets more into the essence of what makes a cliché, as to have a simple phrase that addresses a large, common problem is useful, and it will probably be repeated as often as a holder of the phrase encounters the problem.

Given what we know about how we deploy the word and what definitions, institutions, and fellow speakers supply to us, the meaning of cliché is slightly different than we believe it to be. Cliché as we use it leans more towards statements that conspicuously display a lack of thought as opposed to ones that are often repeated. The two share a large intersection, but don’t necessarily encompass the same phrases or ideas. This is why I (wrongly) thought Shakespeare to be cliché, but give no notice to the banality of phrases such as “bearing in mind.” Perhaps we’re in denial. There is much more cliché in our language than we care to admit, and thus reserve the term for the most egregious offenses to originality.


 

Bibliography

Dictionary.com. Cliché. n.d. Febuary 2018. <http://www.dictionary.com/browse/cliche>.

Dillon, George L. "Corpus, creativity, cliché: Where statistics meet aesthetics." Journal of Literary Semantics 35.2 (2006): 97-103.

Google Books. Google Books Ngram Viewer. n.d. 12 Febuary 2018. <https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=as+a+matter+of+fact&year_start=1800&year_end=2000&corpus=15&smoothing=3&share=&direct_url=t1%3B%2Cas%20a%20matter%20of%20fact%3B%2Cc0>.

Lifton, Robert Jay. Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism: A Study of "Brainwashing" in China. UNC Press Books , n.d.

Merriam-Webster . Cliché. n.d. Febuary 2018. <https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/cliche>.

Morgan. What is a Cliché? . n.d. 12 Febuary 2018. <https://westegg.com/cliche/definition.html>.

Oxford English Dictionary. Cliché. n.d. Web.