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Posts tagged with society

The life forms on our planet have necessarily evolved to match the magnitude of [thermal] energy flows. But while “natural man” is in balance with these heat flows, “technological man” has used his mind, his back, and his will to harness and control energy flows that are far more intense than those we experience naturally….

A society based on power technology teems with heat transfer problems.

John H. Lienhard IV & John H. Lienhard V, A Heat Transfer Textbook

via the idea factory: learning to think at mit




But there were also more profound features, which took me a long time even to notice, because they are so at odds with modern experience that neither New Guineans nor I could even articulate them. Each of us took some aspects of our lifestyle for granted and couldn’t conceive of an alternative.

Those other New Guinea features included the non-existence of “friendship” (associating with someone just because you like them), a much greater awareness of rare hazards, war as an omnipresent reality, morality in a world without judicial recourse, and a vital role of very old people. …

Many of my experiences in New Guinea have been intense—a sudden encounter at night with a wild man, the prolonged agony of a nearly-fatal boat accident, one broken little stick in the forest warning us that nomads might be about to catch us as trespassers …

Jared Diamond, The World Before Yesterday

via University of David




It is therefore, I think, a mistake to think of the individual as a sort of elementary nucleus, a primitive atom or some multiple, inert matter to which power is applied, or which is struck by a power that subordinates and destroys individuals. In actual fact, one of the first effects of power is that it allows bodies, gestures, discourses, and desires to be identified and constituted as something individual.

The individual is not, in other words, power’s opposite number; the individual is one of power’s first effects. The individual is in fact a power-effect, and at the same time, and to the extent that he is a power-effect, the individual is a relay: power passes through the individuals it has constituted.
Michel Foucault, “Society Must Be Defended” (14 January 1976)




  • @isomorphisms: Singing is as natural as running.
  • But people restrict their vocal and bodily expression/performance to a narrow range. (except when drunk eg karaoke)
  • I'd rather a drum circle by a bonfire.
  • All that notwithstanding, I find it hard to relate to anti-business, anti-capitalist hippies.




You think you want to be a scientist or an engineer. But be realistic — what do you, a teenager, know of science and engineering?


You … applied to [MIT], not out of any sophisticated understanding of the choices you are making, but because society … sold you a … brand. … You crave … respect and admiration…. You see the status that Bill Gates and Steve Jobs have achieved, and hope that a career in technology will be your salvation. But you will find none here.

Keith Yost

(Source: tech.mit.edu)




Baskets [of securities] form a vector space…. A portfolio is … an equivalence class of baskets containing assets in the same proportions.… [Since] parameters … depend on proportions … rather than … actual values,… portfolios form a projective space.

Edward W. Piotrowski and Jan Sładkowski, Geometry of Financial Markets

In fact this could be said of any economic price ratios, in or outside finance.

When history trips the threshold of price space into the region where farm productivity > cost of plow & oxen > wealth of five families, then villages happen.




Even the beneficiaries of hypertrophy have found it difficult to cope with extreme cultural change … they are sociobiologically equipped only for an earlier, simpler existence. Where the hunter-gatherer fills … one or two … roles out of … several available, his literate counterpart … must choose ten or more out of thousands, and replace one … with another….

Furthermore, each occupation—the physician, the judge, the teacher, the waitress—is played just so, regardless of the true workings of the mind behind the persona. [D]eviations … are interpreted … as a sign of mental incapacity…. Daily life is a compromised blend of posturing … and of varying degrees of self-revelation. Under these stressful conditions even the “true” self cannot be precisely defined….:

"…Self, then, is not … half-concealed behind events, but a changeable formula for managing … during them. Just as the current situation prescribes the official guise…so it provides where & how we will show through, the culture … prescribing what … we must believe ourselves to be….”

Little wonder that the identity crisis is a major source of modern neuroticism, and that the urban middle class aches for a return to a simpler existence.

E. O. Wilson (also quoting Erving Goffman), On Human Nature

Particularly the phrase “changeable formula” stands out to me. I think this means that our self-concept, seen as a function ƒ, takes the_environment as an input. (And that input has a nonzero derivative, i.e. it’s not a trivial input.)

Not only that; “the environment” isn’t limited to what_happened_in_our_early_years. We might feed that early_environment variable in as well, but in addition immediate conditions can change our self-concept. In equation form:

  • Self = ƒ (   ∫ early life,    present situation,   ...other stuff...  )




The social end of finance, according to economists, is to make sure society’s money is going to the most worthy projects. In technical terms, to equalize the risk-adjusted return on capital across projects.

(Of course, if “worthy” is measured solely in pecuniary return, then much is missed. That’s why economists want externalities to be priced into the market.We hope to make The Good = The Profitable.)

Investors allocate their savings to projects. If the project gets funded, it gets done. And there are a lot of things that need to get done.

  • stringing up power lines
  • removing waste from houses
  • shipping things across oceans, deserts, through jungles, up mountains, and sometimes into outer space
  • describing what products are
  • stocking snack machines
  • planning
  • putting things where they should go in stores
  • complying with the law
  • inspiring people
  • printing books
  • pouring ingots
  • cutting machine tools
  • researching new pharmaceuticals