Tuesday, August 02, 2005

(****) Blink by Malcolm Gladwell

This book is both illuminating and frightening as it exposes the netherworld of your unconscious, and how it greatly affects who you are and what you do - even the parts that you think are consciously under your control. Perhaps with this knowledge you can start to understand your biases, proclivities and compensate for them or take advantage of them. In any case, I'm hoping my recommendation will both consciously and unconsciously bias you to read this book.

“In front of you are 4 decks – 2 of them red and the other 2 blue… You can only win by taking cards from the blue deck. The question is how long will it take you to figure this out? …After 50 cards most of us start to develop a hunch about what’s going on. We don’t know why we prefer the blue decks, but we’re pretty sure that they are a better bet. After 80 cards, most of us figured out the game, and can explain exactly why the red decks are a bad idea… [Researchers] hooked up each gambler to machine that measured activity of sweat glands in the palms… which get clammy when we are nervous… Gamblers started generating stress responses to the red decks by the 10th card, 40 cards before they were able to say that they had a hunch about what was wrong about those 2 decks. More important, right around the time their palms became sweaty, their behavior changed… They started favoring the blue decks…They had figured the game out [by the 10th card]… before they were consciously aware of what adjustments they were supposed to make.” p8

“A person watching a 2 second video clip of a professor he or she has not met will reach conclusions about how good that teacher is that are very similar to those of a student who has sat in the teacher’s class for an entire semester.” P13

“If [John Gottman, Univ of Wash Prof of Psychology] analyzes an hour of a husband and wife talking, he can predict with a 95% accuracy whether the couple will still be married in 15 years… One of Gottman’s findings is that for a marriage to survive, the ratio of positive to negative emotion in a given encounter has to be at least 5 to 1…He tracks the ups and downs of a couple’s level of positive and negative emotion… once they start going down, toward negative emotion, 94% will continue going down. It is an indication of how they view their whole relationship… [Gottman] has found that he can find out much of what he needs to know just by focusing on what he calls the 4 Horsemen: defensiveness, stonewalling, criticism, and contempt… If Gottman observes one or both partners in a marriage showing contempt toward each other, he considers it the single most important sign that the marriage is in trouble.” Pp 21-32

“[An] experiment [began] by doing a personality workup on 80 college students… that measures people across 5 dimensions: Extraversion, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, Emotional Stability, Openness to New Experiences. Then [the experimenters] had close friends of those 80 students fill out the same questionnaire… Then [the experimenters] repeated the process, but this time he didn’t call on close friends. He used total strangers who had never met the students they were judging. All they saw were their dorm rooms [for] 15 minutes… How did [the 2 groups] do? The dorm room observers weren’t as good as friends in measuring extraversion. The friends also did slightly better than dorm room visitors at accurately estimating agreeableness… But on the remaining 3 traits, the strangers came out on top… If you want to get a good idea of whether I’d make a good employee, drop by my house one day and take a look around.” Pp 34-6

“Believe it or not the risk of being sued for malpractice has very little to do with how many mistakes a doctor makes… Patients file lawsuits because they’ve been harmed by shoddy medical care and something else happens to them. What is that something else? It’s how they were treated, on a personal level, by their doctor…If the surgeon’s voice was judged to sound dominant, the surgeon tended to be in the sued group. If the voice sounded less dominant and more concerned, the surgeon tended to be in the non-sued group… In the end it comes down to respect, and the simplest way that respect is communicated is through tone of voice, and the most corrosive tone of voice that a doctor can assume is dominant.” Pp 41-3

“Researchers did a study in which they had [2] groups of students answer 42 Trivial Pursuit questions. ½ were asked to take 5 minutes beforehand to think about what it would mean to be a professor and write down everything that came to mind. Those students got 55.6% of the questions right. The other ½ were asked to first sit and think about soccer hooligans. They ended up getting 42.6%.” p56

“Psychologists [asked] black college students [to answer] 20 questions from the GRE… When the students were asked to identify their race on the a pretest question… the number of items they got right was cut in half.” P56

“The results… suggest that what we think of as free will is largely an illusion: much of the time, we are simply operating on autopilot, and the way we think and act – how well we think and act… are a lot more susceptible to outside influence than we realize.” P58

See how biased you really are by taking the tests at http://www.implicit.harvard.edu/

“In the US population, about 14.5% of all men are 6ft or taller. Among CEOs of F500 companies, that number is 58%. Even more striking, in the general American population, 3.9% of adult men are 6FT 2IN or taller. Among CEOs, almost a third were 6’2” or taller…Of the 10’s of millions of American men below 5’6”, a grand total of 10 have reached the level of CEO, which says that being short is probably as much of a handicap to corporate success as being a woman or an African American… An inch of height is worth $789 a year in salary. That means that a person who is 6’ tall but otherwise identical to someone who is 5’5” will make on average $5,525 more per year.” P87-8

“[Researchers] put together a team of 38 people – 18 white men, 7 white women, 8 black women, and 5 black men. [They] took great pains to make appear as similar as possible… All were given the same cover story. They were instructed to go to a total of 242 car dealerships in the Chicago area [where] they should walk in and say ‘I’m interested in buying this car’… After they heard the salesman’s initial offer, they were instructed to bargain back and forth… The results were stunning. The white men received initial offers that were $725 above invoice… White women got offers $935 above invoice… Black women were quoted a price of $1,195. And black men? Their initial offer was $1,687. Even after 40 minutes of bargaining, the black men could get the price down to only $1551… The black men still ended up with a price that was nearly $800 higher than [the price] the white men were offered without having to say a word.” P92-3

“The threat of malpractice has made doctors less and less willing to take a chance on a patient, with the result that these days only about 10% of those admitted to a hospital on suspicion of having a heart attack actually have a heart attack.” P131

“[Researchers] wanted to see whether the number of jam choices made any difference in the number of jams sold. Conventional economic wisdom, of course, says that the more choices consumers have, the more likely they are to buy, because it is easier for consumers to find the jam that perfectly fits their needs. But [the researchers] found the opposite to be true. 30% of those who stopped by the 6 choice booth ended up buying some jam, while only 3% of those who stopped by the bigger [24 choice] booth bought anything… If you are given too many choices… than your unconscious is comfortable with, you get paralyzed.”p142

“[Researchers] gathered a group of volunteers and hooked them up to monitors measuring their heart rate and body temperature – the physiological signals of such emotions as anger, sadness, and fear. ½ of the volunteers were told to try to remember and relive a particularly stressful experience. The other ½ were simply shown how to create, on their faces, the expressions that corresponded to stressful emotions, such as anager, sadness and fear. The 2nd group, the people who were acting, showed the same physiological responses, the same heightened heart rate and body temperature, as the 1st group… A few years later…[researchers] had a group of subjects look at cartoons, either while holding a pen between their lips – an action that made it impossible to contract either of the 2 major smiling muscles – or while holding a pen clenched between their teeth, which had the opposite effect and forced them to smile. The people with the pen between their teeth found the cartoons much funnier. These finding may be hard to believe, because we take it as a given that first we experience an emotion, anad then we may express that emotion on our face… What the research showed is that the process works in the opposite direction as well. Emotion can also start on the face.”p 207 Act happy, and pretty soon you’ll be happy.

"On the most basic neurological level, for some with autism, a face is just another object... Normal people, when they are looking at faces, used a part of the brain called the fusiform gyrus, which is an incredibly sophisticated piece of brain software that allows us to distinguish among the literally 1000s of faces we know. When normal participants looked at a chair, they used a completely different and less powerful part of the brain, which is normally reserved for objects. The difference in the sophistication of those 2 regions explains why you can recognize Sally from the 8th grade 40 years later but have trouble picking out your bag on the airport luggage carousel." p219

Monday, August 01, 2005

(***) Nonzero: The logic of human destiny by Robert Wright (2000)

This is a followon work to the Moral Animal by the same author. It expands the notion that is brought up in the Moral Animal about nonzero interactions leading to a myriad of human behaviors and adaptations. This books follows the theme in detail and examines the implications for our species. It is thought provoking, but lacks the visceral impact of the previous book. Never the less, it offers a unique and interesting lens with which to view our species history and destiny.

"In zero sum games, the fortunes of the players are inversely related. In tennis, chess, boxing, one contestant's gain is the other's loss. In nonzero sum games, one player's gain needn't be bad news for the others... to the extent that their interests overlap, their relationship is nonzero sum; the outcome may be win-win or lose-lose, depending on how they play." The prisoner's dilemma is a classic example of a non-zero sum game. p5

"You can capture history's basic trajectory by reference to a core pattern: new technologies arise that permit or encourage new richer forms of non-zero sum interaction; then social structures evolve that realize this rich potential. Thus does social complexity grow in scope and depth."p6

"One chronicler of Eskimo life has observed, 'The best place for an Eskimo to store his surplus is in someone else's stomach." p20

"A successful Shoshone rabbit hunt would culminate in a 'fandango'. Sounds like a spontaneous and carefree celebration... scholars have noted that it was eminently utilitarian. First it distributed fresh meat among the rabbit hunt's various workers. Second, it was an occasion for trading valuables... Third, it was a chance to build a network of friends. Fourth, an opportunity to trade information... All of these are non zero sum functions." p22

"When you buy a car, the transaction is, broadly speaking non zero sum: you and the dealer both profit, which is why you both agree to the deal. But there is more than one price at which you both profit - the whole range between the highest you would rationally pay and the lowest price the dealer would rationally accept. And within that range, you and the dealer are playing a zero sum game... That's the reason why bargaining takes place at car dealerships." p25 Or haggling in any market situation.

"The number of possible technologies is infinite, and only a few pass this test of affinity (usefulness) with human nature. One could invent, say, a battery powered, helmet mounted device that at random intervals jabs a sharp stick into the face of the helmet wearer. But a robust market for such a device is unlikely to materialize. So a battery powered face jabber is unlikely to affect human history as profoundly as, say, the telephone. Or even the rabbit net." p27

"Altruism among the !Kung (and most other primitive hunter gatherer societies) is a veneer; future reciprocation is de rigueur. Like insurance policy holders but long before economists were drawing graphs showing how diversified portfolios could serve the human aversion to risk, cultures were evolving by the same logic." p31

"The 'Potlatch', the famously ridiculous ritual in which local (Northwest indian) chiefs indulged in fierce duels of generosity. It got to the point where they prove their wealth by heaping prized possessions not just on one another, but on bonfires. "p32

"There was the incomparable candlefish - so oily that supposedly you can stick a wick in it and use it to light a room." p32 NW Indian reference

"The NW indians solved the problem (of the tragedy of the commons) by deciding when fishing would begin and end, much as governments today enforce a hunting season... There was even a specialist, a kind of fishing warden, who would go around from trap to trap, inspecting the haul to decide when the fishing must end."p34

"NW indian government also blunted misfortune. Goods that Big Men gathered as tax were in times of scarcity traded for food with another region's Big Man, and the food divvied up among followers."p34

"Given the absence of money, these native americans had a remarkable economy, with great specialization, large capital investment, and disaster insurance."p34

“Why are a large majority of of known hunter gatherer societies labeled by anthropologists as ‘egalitarian’? Maybe that’s all that was left by the time the anthropologists showed up. What about hunter gatherers that lived on choice land? Well, by the time anthropologists happened on the scene, most of those societies were gone. Their cultures had either evolved to a higher level, or been overwhelmed by a culture that had.” P39

“Every society in the Americas, by the time the Europeans arrived, had reached or surpassed the Mesolithic level… If there was a single continent that didn’t reflect this trend [evolution from simple to complex social structure], then the skeptics of cultural evolution would have ground to stand on. But the once standard example of cultural stagnation – Australia – has now been swept from under their feet. Archaeologists have found a trend in Australian hunter gatherer culture toward more subtle subsistence, featuring fishhooks and a neat trick of harvesting eels by digging dead end ditches. (And when was the last you invented anything as clever as the boomerang?)” p41

“Again and again we find technology that goes beyond the demands of subsistence. The Ainu of Japan made ‘mustache lifters’ to keep their soup facial-hair free.” P42

“Archaeologist Brian Hayden, having lived with indigenous peoples in Australia, North America, Near and Far East had this to report: ‘I can say categorically that the people of ALL cultures I have come in contact with exhibit a strong desire to have the beliefs of industrial goods that are available. I am convinced that the non-materialistic culture is a myth… We are all materialistic.’”p43

“Earlier this [20th] century, anthropologists thought it easy to explain such arduously crafted wealth as the indirect outgrowth of a fertile homeland. The key was ‘surplus’… You could meet your daily needs in an hour or two and have plenty of time left over to weave robes and build homes. After all, such industriousness comes naturally to people no? Apparently not… Anthropologists have found various hunter-gatherer societies that similarily had time left over after their daily food gathering. And as one scholar tartly put it, they ‘rarely spend this time designing cathedrals or in general improving their lot.’” P46

“Back before communications and transportation were sufficiently high tech to catalyze markets, the stimulus came instead from a habitat that would tolerate large, close populations. And conveniently such habitats were often close to water, which could give technologies an added boost. Goods and data sometimes travel better by boat than by foot.” P47

“Jean Jacques Rosseau considered evidence that humans were ‘noble savages’, peaceful and benign before their corruption by civilization… Roseau relied for this conclusion on reports of Tahiti that omitted relevant parts of history. For example: the custom in which a victorious warrior would ‘pound his vanquished foe’s corpse flat with his heavy war club, cut a slit through the well-crushed victim, and don him as a trophy poncho.” P54 But what to wear with this stylish poncho?

“Even if individual wars are often essentially zero-sum, featuring a clear winner and a clear loser, warfare – endless intermittent back and forth battling – can be, in the long haul very bad for both side. And such persistent negative-sumness is indeed grounds for waging peace.” P61

“An authority on human behavior once remarked that if two people stare at each other for more than a few seconds, it means they are about to either make love or fight. Something similar might be said about human societies. If two nearby societies are in contact for any length of time, they will either trade or fight.” P64

“Some scholars now say that, paradoxically, early farmers would actually have had to work longer and harder to grow food than to just get it the old fashioned way, by hunting and gathering… If farming was such an unappetizing prospect, how could humanity have been virtually certain to take it up eventually?” p66 [The answer’s coming up soon. Keep reading.]

“And the problem isn’t just that primitive agriculture may have been a regression in terms of sheer efficiency [in acquiring calories]. The more populous villages that farming ushered in would presumably foment disease; and the low-protein, high starch content of staple crops might be unhealthy. Studying the bones of early farmers, some archaeologists have concluded that they had shorter lives, and more rotten teeth, than hunter-gatherers.” P67

“The question isn’t why hunter gatherers chose farming, but why they chose the long series of tiny steps leading imperceptibly to it… People are innately curious. They fiddle around with nature and try to bend it to their will… Consider the Kumeyaay of Southern California. They were a hunter-gatherer people. But when encountered by the Spanish in the 18th century, they had transfigured the landscape. At high latitudes they planted groves of oak and pines, whose nuts they harvested. Elsewhere they planted yucca and wild grapes. Near villages they planted cactus for liquid refreshment. They burned off unwanted plants to pave the way for their favorites. None of the plants they cultivated were domesticated. So this massive intervention doesn’t qualify as farming. Still is it likely that the Kumeyaay could have gone another 1000 years without breeding juicier grapes?” p67

“The answer is that hunter-gatherers are in truth just like us. They’re competitive, they’re status hungry, and above all, they are individuals. In those hunter-gatherer societies that are proto-agricultural, the clusters of cultivated wild foods aren’t typically community property… Once you start thinking of hunter-gatherers as driven by physical and psychic needs of themselves and their families, there is no shortage of reasons why they might cultivate plants in their spare time.” P69

“It’s a good bet that if gardening were more practical, they [hunter gatherers] would find that cultivating extra food was a good way to win wives and influence people… Social climbing [in this manner] would have been the cause of the farming, not the result.” P71

“The more widespread the urge to impress, the stronger the force that drives cultural evolution. If everyone is always striving for social status [you who don’t have or want the Lexus, BMW, Mercedes, Rolex, etc. please seek help], then every increment in the evolution of agriculture, from the tiniest, scruffiest garden on up, is easy to explain; there’s a kind of arms race with food as the weapon.” P73

“Once you realize that man doesn’t live by bread alone – that status and sex are nice, too – the claim that hunthing and gathering beats primitive farming begins to lose relevance.” P73

“The seminal calculations of the Bushmen workday – 2 to 3 hours, then party time – have been put to skeptical scrutiny and found wanting. The calculators forgot to include the time spent processing the food, making spears, and so on. It now appears that these hunter gatherers work roughly as hard as horticulturalists.” P73

“The Natchez people, who vied for proximity ot the chief’s divine aura so much so that upon his death, some would swallow enough tobacco to lose consciousness and then be ritually strangled.” P78

“Polynesian chiefs have force-fed their wives into obesity, creating vivid testament to their affluence.” P79 The original trophy wife.

“Archaeologist have found a clear pattern: After agriculture first spreads across a region, chiefdoms tend to follow. This doesn’t mean that farming is a pre-req for a chiefdom. Natural abundance, and attendant population density will occasionally do the trick. NorthWest Inidans and the Calusa of Florida were almost full fledged chiefdoms [without agriculture].” P79

“Chiefs actually didn’t serve the public; they duped the public into serving them and religion was part of the duping. As one archaeologist puts it ‘Chiefs co-opt the religious authority of the community for themselves. [This system still works because] a chiefdom’s division of labor and its public works did yield positive sums – more output than the same people could produced alone – but the chiefs appropriated the gains rather than returning them to the people… Chiefs in short were parasites.” P81 So by analogy today's polictians are what exactly?

“There are 2 main sources of chiefly demise. One is losing a war to another chief or power… The second source is popular discontent. One of the greatest misconceptions about evolved human nature is that people are sheep; that because we evolved amid social hiearchy – [which is] true, that we are designed to slavishly accept low status and blindly follow the leader – [which is] false. People by nature seek the highest status they can attain, under the circumstances, and they accept leadership only so long as it seems to serve their interests. When it doesn’t, they start to grumble. The Tahitians had a phrase for chiefs who ‘eat the power of the government too much.” P 83 Louis XIV, the Shah of Iran, Czar Nicholas would all second this statement.

“Even a certain amount of Marx’s cynicism about religion is hard to argue with. Religion does sometimes function as the opiate of the masses, and elites do try to use their power shape ideas to their ends. Marx just went a bit a too far.” P87

“Human brains, having spent the last couple of million years of their biological evolution in a cultural milieu, are pretty good at selectively retaining memes that are good for them, while aggressively repelling memes that are bad for them. This is one problem with the idea of ruling elites whimsically imposing whole ideologies on brain-dead common folk… The philosopher Daniel Dennett writes of ‘the religious memes [memes are from Richad Dawkin’s Selfish Gene – if you haven’t read it yet go do that soon] themselves, in effect, parasitically exploiting proclivities they have discovered in the human cognitive immune system.’ Dawkins has compared belief in God to a virus.” P89

“Religious doctrines have indeed often entrenched themselves in people’s brains notwithstanding the fact that they are probably false. Heaven and hell, for example. But being false is not the same as being bad for the believer… Consider again the heaven and hell memes. Almost all religions have the functional equivalent: good and bad consequences that are said to result from good or bad behavior. And almost invariably, the bad behavior includes cheating in one sense or another: stealing your neighbor’s property, lying about your contributions to the communal effort. By discouraging such parasitism, these religious memes help realize non-zero sumness.” P90

“When langauges evolve over millenia from a single, common source, linguists can reconstruct the vocabulary of that mother tongue by comparing living descendants. For example, we know from studying languages in Europe and India that the ancient speakers of proto-Indo-European had horses, harvested grain, and mined metal.” P91

“People, remember, were not designed to live in close proximity to many other people. Homo Sapiens evolved in small groups on sparsely settled land. When a hunter gatherer band exceeds critical mass, tensions typically force a fission in two separate residential groups.” P91

“The more dramatic effect of writing may have been to overcome.. the trust barrier… If you doubt the value of such peace of mind, consider how hard people in nonliterate societies work to etch financial obligations in the public memory. The ostentatious Potlatch seems less absurd when viewed as a way to assemble a large audience to witness the incurring of a large debt.” P99

“And when the [public] work[‘s project] was done, the government, like governments today, took conspicuous credit. In the Babylon of Hammurabi’s day, one canal was named ‘Hammurabi is the Prosperity of the People’. Your tax dollars at work.” P100

“One time honored wariness reducer was to use the bonds of kinship; potentates sealed alliances with intermarriage of daughters and sons. Yet another approach was to use the vocabulary of kinship, along with lavish professions of devotion. 5000 years ago, the king of Elba in the Middle East wrote to the king of Hamazi ‘You are my brother and I am your brother, fellow man, whatever desire comes from your mouth I will grant, just as you will grant the desire that comes from my mouth.’” P101

“Money in truly convenient form – coins, portable and widely respected – didn’t show up until the 7th century BC courtesy of the Lydians. If you don’t think coins were a major advance consider Homer’s description, centuries earlier, of the value of Glaucus’ armor: it was worth a 100 oxen, compared to 9 oxen for Diomedes’ shoddy stuff. Imagine the armor store during the holiday shopping season.” P106

“In the Near East, more names had come and gone, and the regions they represented had continued to get bigger and bigger, if fitfully: the Assyrian empire dwarfed the Akkadian (the one that had covered the 4 quarters of the world), and was in turn dwarfed by the Persian empire (with its king of this great earth far and wide) which was then overcome by Alexander the Great (the son of God and general governor and reconciler of the world), whose Macedonian empire would soon be overshadowed by the Roman Empire (its emperor being the Savior of all Mankind).” p 117 And now 2000 years later, we have George W Bush. Seems like the pattern broke somewhere along the way.

Nagging questions: “This sort of simple summary tends to inspire objections. Such as:
Complaint #1: What about the quirks?
Complaint #2: What about the Greeks?
Complaint #3: Where’s the chaos?
Complaint #4: You’ve missed the point of complaint #3!”
Please read pages 118-123 if you are curious to see R. Wright’s answers.

“The existence of barbarians, far from impeding cultural advance, may have, on balance, promoted it. This fact is illustrated by the most famously devasting barbarian triumph: the fall of Roman Empire.” P125

“When a society keeps people in chains, and confiscates the fruit of their labor, it is trying to play a non-zero sum game in utterly parasitic fashion – a strategy that I’ve argued has its pitfalls. 1st it takes time and energy; Rome more than once had to put down slave revolts and vigilance was constant. 2nd, slavery rather weakens a workers incentive to work, thus making close oversight a prerequisite – and oversight is costly. 3rd keeping labor artificially cheap, slavery dampens society’s incentive to develop more productive technologies.” P133

“Roman principals of law and administration were lasting paragons… Still once these principles were on paper, and Roman engineering had left its mark, the Romans had little else to give posterity. Whether you are a champion of moral improvement or just of cultural evolution, you might defensibly conclude that, by the time the barbarians descended on the Western Roman Empire en masse, it deserved to die.” P134

Dark Ages
"Serfs are often depicted as virtual slaves, and they certainly weren't free in the modern sense. But more than the slaves of the Roman Empire, they could expect protection... in exchange for their subservience. 'Serfs, obey your temporal lords with fear and trembling,' one French cleric advised 'Lords, treat your serfs according to justice and equity.'" p141 To modernise this last quote simply edit/replace the word 'Serf' with 'Employee' and 'Lord' with 'Manager'. Sound familiar now?

"With feudalism, the story [of chiefs reporting to other higher chiefs] often went much further... sometimes the hierarchy went 10 levels deep." p 142 And today's government workers fail to see the point of this statement.

"Making each lord a governor of his immediate subordinates made for a decentralized government - a handy thing in a time of poor roads, low literacy rates, and other barriers to distant administration... When kingdoms collapsed, they broke up into regional or local polities, not into anarchy... subsequent reassembly could proceed readily." p142

"Adam Smith's invisible hand depends on an invisible brain. And invisible brains depend on information technology. Not just conspicuous IT, like the abacus or writing or money. At least as crucial was IT in a subtler sense; what you might call information metatechnologies - social algorithms guiding the use of such IT as money. In particular what made the middle ages a bridge between ancient times and the industrial revolution was the rudimentary metatechnology of capitalism." p 148

"Displays of capitalism inchoate might were impressive. Merchants in various German cities formed the Hanseatic League to subdue pirates, build lighthouses, and otherwise lubricate their livelihood. The league wound up defeating the King of Denmark in war... In Italy, cities that had fast become city-states felt their freedom threatened by the Holy Roman Empire. The cities put aside their differences, formed the Lombard League, and fought Emperor Frederick I until he gave in." p151 Today we call such 'Leagues' lobbyists, who control the government for the benefit of the capitalists. Have we really come that far?

"Commerce changed rural living...as a money economy came to the countryside; rather than working for their land, the [serfs] paid rent for it, and some turned a profit by filling urban stomachs. Slavery had faded during the Middle Ages, and now serfdom, the next worst thing to slavery, was fading too." p151 14th century German slogan 'Town air makes one free' to attract serfs to migrate to towns.

"The Mughal empire of India expired in the 18th century and Ottoman Empire in the 20th. Why did they fail to thrive? Theories abound, but obviously we see some familiar culprits: parasitic governance and oppression that left much non-zero sumness untapped. India, with its caste system is a famously vivid example... When regimes that ban the printing presses, and mandate bias are given the thumbs down, we can only compliment history on its judgement." p171

"The real story behind the centralization of national rule in the 15th and 16th centuries: commerce demanded nationwide harmony, and subsidized the extinction of impediments to it. The particular instruments of extinction - the cannons - are largely besides the point. If they hadn't existed, the merchants' money would have gone to buy some other form of military might that would have spelled equally certain doom for the pesky nobles... What a second - why couldn't the nobles have just bought enough cannons to blow away the king's castle? A large part of the answer is that the king had commerce on his side, and the nobles didn't. In the great non-zero sum games of history, if you're part of the problem, you'll likely be a victim of the solution" p180

Our future destiny
"In 1500 BC, there were around 600,000 polities on the planet. Today, after many mergers and acquisitions, there are 193 polities. At this rate, the planet should have a single government any day now." p 208 And now the President of Earth, Mr Sam Walton Jr.

"In fact, that massive decline in the number of polities on earth - from 600,000 to 193 - masks a recent reversal. Over the past century, the number has grown [and this trend has not stopped yet with the dissolution of the Soviet bloc, Yugoslavia's fracturing, and separtist movements in places like Quebec, Basque, Scotland, etc.] p210

"The EU banned Britain in 1996 from exporting beef - not just to the other nations in the Union, but to the whole world! Among other things the EU has done matter of factly: prohibit member states from importing Iranian pistachios; and tell member states that they must permit the sale of the impotency drug Viagra. If a nation-state can't decide where to export its beef, which pistachio nuts are acceptable, and what remedies are available to impotent citizens, then it is not fully sovereign in the old fashioned sense of the word." p 214

"How did the European Coal and Steel Community morph into the European Community and then into the European Union? Actually, the transition is surprisingly logical: one non-zero game leads to another, which leads to another, and so on. The World Trade Organization shows signs of following in some of the EU's footsteps." p214

"As technology continues to shorten economic distance, logical scope of supranational governance could conceivably become the whole planet. This may be hard to imagine now, given the cultural and linguistic diversity of the world and simmering hostility among some of its peoples.. But remember: If 90, even 60 years ago, you had predicted that the someday France and Germany would have the same currency, the reply would have been: 'Oh, really? Which nation will have conquered which?'" p216

“There was no chance in 1942 that whole American cities would be decimated without warning. Once this threat becomes real [through terrorism and biological weapons], appreciable sacrifices of sovereignty are among the less extreme solutions that will get trotted out. And among the more benign, persecuting particular groups such as Muslims, may seem far-fetched now, but recall the internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII.” P218 This was written BEFORE Sept. 11 2001. I can’t say that the R. Wright would be at all surprised by the Patriot Act, Abh Ghraib Prison, Guantanmo Bay, Invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, etc.

“The question is never whether you can keep all of your sovereignty; history says you can’t; all along it has been the fate of humankind to have its fate increasingly shared. The question is in what form you want to lose your sovereignty.” P228

“As the world comes to resemble a giant superorganism, with a fiber-optic nervous system, we could come to identify with Winston Smith, who, in Orwell’s 1984, is asked by a totalitarian goon: ‘Can you not understand, Winston, that the individual is only a cell?’ But unlike Winston, we’ll have chosen the life of a cell.” P235

Cosmic Context
“Is life defying the 2nd law of thermodynamics? No. The process of living, like all other processes, raises the total amount of entropy in the universe, destroying order and structure. Ever compare a 5 course meal with the ensuing excrement? Something has been lost.” P244

“Since mitochondrion’s DNA is passed down only via mothers, its Darwinian interests might be served by biasing reproduction in favor of females, so that daughters were the norm and sons the exception. Even if this sexual imbalance cut down a bit on the reproductive success of the overall organism, the trade-off could still be worthwhile from the mitochondrion’s point of view. But the nucleus [of the organism] would take a different point of view, since it gains nothing by a surplus of daughters. Hypothetical as this sounds, it has actually found incarnation – in plants as least. In various plant species, mitochondria have genes that cause the male pollen to abort, biasing reproduction in favor of female seeds. That this works against the nuclear DNA’s interests is evident in the countermeasures it takes. In some cases, nuclear restorer genes have evolved to neutralize the bias by boosting the supply of pollen.” P256

“Consider a real life example of altruism at the cellular level: the cellular slime mold. Its cells spend lots of time on their own, scooting along the forest floor looking for nutrients, occasionally reproducing by splitting into two. But when food grows scarce, the first cells to feel the shortage emit a kind of alarm call in the form of a chemical called acrasin. Other cells respond to the call, and a transformation ensues. The cells bunch up together, form a tiny slug, and start crawling as one. Finally, having reached a propitious spot, they set about to create a new generation of slime mold cells. The slug stands up on end and turns into a fruiting body that features a sharp division of cellular labor. While some cells – depending on where they happen to be – become bricks in a sturdy stalk, other cells become spores, designated for reproduction. The spores rise to the top and are launched into space to carry the slime mold legacy into posterity. The stalk cells, having spent their last full measure of devotion, now die. They have ‘sacrificed’ their own reproductive prospects for those of their neighbors. But the sacrifice isn’t real. The stalk cells stand a very good chance of being genetically identical to their next-door neighbors, so they have a strong Darwinian stake in the dispersion of the spores.” P259 True altruism rarely exists.

“Suppose that, while your cells are dividing after birth, a mutation happens. A new, genetically distinct type of cell is born. Rather than focusing on serving the needs of the larger organism, it replicates itself manically. By the time you are old enough to reproduce, there are so many of these mutant cells that they stand a much better than average chance of getting their DNA into the next generation. But in real life, this sort of parasitism couldn’t happen. The reason is that back when you were very, very, very young, your ‘germ’ line was sequestered. That is the cells that will form your egg or sperm were put aside for safekeeping; try as some mutant skin cell might, it will never get into the next generation, no matter how prolific it is.” P260

“Flight and sight are 2 technologies so amazing that they are commonly cited by creationists for their implausibility. Yet flight has arisen through evolution on at least 3 separate occasions, and eyes have been independently invented dozens of times.” P274

“As zoologists have noted, it may be no coincidence that the human skull gets thicker around the time that the hand axe is invented.” P285

“A Machivellian Intelligence needn’t include deception, but it can. The evolutionary psychologist Stephen Pinker describes a chimp who was shown several boxes containing food and one containing a snake; he led other chimps over the snake and, ‘after they fled screaming, feasted in peace.’” P290

“Some zoologists suspect that chimps and bonobos have long been ‘held back’ by the presence of humans – kept moving out of the jungle onto grasslands and, more generally, from generally, from filling the human niche. Obviously, if humans went extinct, that would no longer be a problem.” P292

“In stripping the stalks of leaves, pandas use something that mainstream bears don’t have – a thumb that works strikingly like a human thumb, letting the hand grasp finely. But there’s one difference: whereas a human thumb has 4 fingers to work with, a panda thumb has 5; the panda’s ‘thumb’ is the hand’s 6th digit! Natural selection fashioned it by reshaping a small wrist bone and rerouting muscles. Why didn’t natural selection just do what it did in our lineage – turn the 5th digit into a thumb? Because, writes Gould, ‘the panda’s true thumb is committed to another role, too specialized for a different function to become an opposable, manipulating digit.” P293

“One population of dolphins in Hawaii has invented a new form of creative expression: air art. Various dolphins, and for that matter some beluga whales, can send circles of air out of their blowholes, rising upward like smoke rings. But these Hawaiian dolphins take a whole new approach. They start by creating big underwater swirls with their fins, then turn around and blow air into the swirls. The resulting rings are big, limid, and beautiful. Some dolphins swim through their rings. Some dolphins make 2 little rings and coax them towards fusion, creating one big ring. Each artist has his own style. And no artist was trained by humans... and have never been rewarded for their work… The most amazing meme comes from a dolphin named Tinkerbell. She swims along on a sinous path, releasing a string of little bubbles, anda then brushing with her dorsal fin, joins them together into a corkscrew pattern or.. a helix.” P295

From Here to Eternity
“As a rule, genes are assigned to eggs in an even-handed way, so that a given gene, whether male or female, has 50/50 chance of winding up in a given intergenerational boat. But if a gene could find a way to bias the assignment process, placing itself in most or all of the boats, it might proliferate by natural selection. This has actually happened – in mice and fruit flies, and, no doubt, other less studied species. A type of gene called ‘segregation distorter’ has only one apparent function: distorting segregration – slanting the sorting process so that it can sneak onto the intergenerational ship time and time again. It is a professional stowaway.” P304

“There is also a bigger stowaway – a whole chromosome called B chromosome that appears in lots of organisms, including people… B chromosome is a parasite; it can hurt the organism’s chances of reproduction, delaying the onset of fertility in females. But from the point of view of genes on the B chromosome, that’s OK; if they slightly reduce the number of ships that set sail, but manage to sneak onto all of them, they will do better than genes play by the rules, getting exluded from ½ the ships.” P304

“Sure you may feel as if you feelings do things. Isn’t it the sensation of heat, after all, that causes you to withdraw your hand from the surprisingly hot stove? The answer from presupposed modern science is: no. Corresponding to the subjective sensation of heat is an objective, physical flow of biological information. Physical impulses signifying heat travel up your arm and are processed by your equally physical brain. The output is a physical signal that coerces your muscles into withdrawing your hand… Your sensation of pain bears roughly the relation to the real action that your shadow bears to you. In technical terms: consciousness, subjective experience is ‘epiphenomenal’ – it is always an effect, never a cause.” P306

“If subjective experience is superfluous to the day to day business of living and eating and getting our genes into the next generation, they why would it have ever arisen in the course of natural selection? Why would life acquire a major property that has no function?... The question of consciousness – as I’m defining it here – isn’t the question of subjective experience in general, ranging from pain to anxiety to epiphany; it is the question of sentience… But in any event our question here isn’t about how brains generate consciousness, but why…” pp 306-8 Sorry, no life shattering answers here.

“If evolution indeed has a purpose, that purpose may, for all we know, be imbued not by a divinity, but by some amoral creative process.” P317

“Consider those nostalgic reveries about wartime. Soldiers talk about the indelible devotion to their comrades in arms, and civilians recall the sense of brotherhood that suffused a whole nation. Sounds great. But as amity thus reached national scope, the petty enmities of daily life weren’t so much erased, as displaced – piled up, sky high, along the nation’s border: a mass of hatred between peoples. It almost seems as if one of the basic laws of the universe, right next to the conservation of energy is conservation of antipathy.” P 325

Appendix 1 Notes
“If self-interested entities are to realize mutual profit in a non-zero sum situation, two problems must be solved: communication and trust.” P338 The prisoner’s dilemma makes this clear.

Notes on his Notes
“[The] New World lagged behind Eurasia in population by several millenia… In 1500, when Old World population was around 400M, the New World’s population was 14M. In 3000BC, the whole world’s population had been 14M – and almost all of that, no doubt, was in the Old World.” P358

“Even if a hunter-gatherer and horticultural society are equally efficient in meeting their basic needs, when it comes time to create a surplus, the horticulturalists will often be more efficient. The reason is that the hunter-gatherers exploit the nearest food sources first, so they are walking farther to obtain ecah additional increment of food. For horticulturalists, creating a surplus is often just a matter of clearing more nearby land, anad clearing land is no more time consuming for the last crop as it is for the first crop.” P364

“Why are people so averse to bad bargains that they’ll turn down even when turning it down leads to an even worse outcome? The answer favored by most evolutionary psychologists is that during human evolution, getting a reputation as someone who would tolerate exploitation could lead to repeated exploitation, even to the point of diminishing your prospects of survival and procreation. Thus genes for pride could in the long run, do better than alternative genes that permit exploitation.” P366

“In assessing economic progress due to trade and technological change, it is easy to confuse two issues. Some people, minimizing progress, argue that there’s little evidence that the standard of living – per capita economic output – rose before modern era. True, that doesn’t mean that productivity – economic output per worker – wasn’t rising. When population is growing rapidly, as it has for the past several millenia, the productivity of individual workers can grow significantly without the standard of living rising, since the average worker has a growing number of mouths to feed… Also population growth can force people to farm on less desirable land, so that merely keeping productivity from falling could signify improved technology.” P371

“[Karl] Marx may have suffered from an underappreciation of information technology, grounded in an underappreciation of information generally. His ‘labor theory of value’ seems to ignore the fact that various people – investors, wholesalers, retailers – process information about the demand and supply of goods and raw materials, a service that saves consumers time and effort and is thus worthy of recompense.” P376

“After the American Revolution, peole noticed something: England kept trading with America even though it was no longer a colony. You could do regular, reliable business with a country without dominating it. In fact, given the costs of domination, maybe this was a better way of doing things!” p384

“Other examples of moral superiority of the present to the past: Of all known agrarian societies: 45% have practiced slavery. Of all known advanced horticultural societies, 83% have practiced slavery. In the 16th century, when the Portuguese, one of the most advanced civilizations of the day, subdued India for commercial purposes, they severed the hands, ears, and noses of recalcitrant natives. Torture went out of use about 1800, even in illiberal European states; and legalized caste and slavery in the course of the 19th century.” P386

“Remember that odd reproductive fact about your mitochondria – that the DNA is always passed on by the mother? Some biologists think this ‘uniparental’ inheritance is a way of preventing conflict among mitochondria. Conventional biparental inheritance might mean that various mitochondria in each cell were not genetically identical. And this lack of complete kinship could lead to conflict among them over whose genes get into the next generation. Such conflict might be so bad for the organism that natural selection weighed against it – and this in favor of conflict avoidance mechanisms, such as uniparental inheritance.” P391

“Natural selection has invented lots of different kinds of antifreeze for the sake of animals in chilly climes. In one case, it even happened on the same antifreeze formula on 2 separate occasions. It invented the stuff for fish in the Anartic more than 7MYA, and then millions of years later for Cod in the Arctic.” P394

“The segregation distorter gene stacks the deck by destroying sperm that don’t contain a copy of it.” P397

“The biblical phrase ‘God Almighty’ is a Greek mistranslation of a Hebrew phrase that meant something closer to ‘God of the mountain’. P401

(**) Earth: An Intimate History by Richard Fortey

A trip around the Earth studying geology and the deep past by a British geologist. If you don't know much about geology you will after reading this book. If you do much about geology you may find this light on technical content, but still interesting, especially because it highlights some places you may have visited or need to visit. Lastly, if you do like this genre please read John McPhee's Pulitzer prize winning 'Annals of the Former World'.

“After the 79AD debacle, which killed 2000 people and buried Hereculaneum and Pompeii, there was a great eruption that began in the morning in the morning of December 16, 1631. Within a day, ash from Naples reached Istanbul more than 630 miles distant. This eruption killed almost twice as many people as had died at the time of Roman Empire.” P 12 But no one ever really hears about this one despite its larger size and killing potency.

“Thanks to refinements in GPS, the smallest heaves in the surface of the ground can now be measured. These systems are now so sensitive that is possible to detect the depression of the surface of the earth produced by heavy snowfalls, as has been demonstrated by experiments in Japan.” P28

“There are several kinds of waves [generated during an earthquake]… P-waves are the first to arrive; that is, they travel fastest. These are push-pull waves analagous to sound waves, in which each particle moves back and forth as the waves propogate. Then come S-waves – shear waves. In this kind of wave, every particle moves up and down…P-waves can travel through liquids… S-waves cannot. Later still long period or L-waves arrive. These are surface waves, confined in their movement to the crust. They have different characteristics again, notably that they travel further more strongly than either P or S waves.” P73

“Seismic reflection profiles [using P-waves] tell us that the oceanic crust is thin; no more than 10 km thick, and in places half that thickness. By contrast, the crust under the continents is up to 40 km (24 miles), and always much thicker than under the ocean basins.” P74

“Mott Greene described the Alpine strata [the confused mountain folding and construction of the Alps] as a richly patterned tablecloth on a polished table: ‘If you should place your hand on the table and push forward, the cloth will begin to rise into folds. Push more and the folds will flop over forward and rearmost fold will progressively override those before it, producing a stack of folds [with a older rock from below lying on top an earlier more recent fold]… Take a pair of scissors and cut away at the stack from various angles, removing whole sections of folds [modeling erosion]. Having done so, push the pile again so that the segments become jumbled against each other.’” P 100 Repeat this 3 separate times over tens of millions and year, let stand and cool and voila you’ve created the Alps. This same process is happening in India, as the Himalyas grow through the collision of the Indian plate against the Asian plate. Other mountain ranges not on plate to plate collision boundaries are created through different mechanisms.

Before plate tectonics, the prevailing 19th century theory [created by Elie de Beaumont] behind mountain building was ‘That the state of our globe is such that, in a given time, the temperature of the interior is lowered by much greater quantity than on its surface, the solid crust would break up to accommodate itself to the internal mass… The idea that the earth was contracting as a result of it s slow cooling, mountains being thrown up as periodic adjustments. “ p 118 [Think of a shriveled up and drying apple.]

The source of the middle age dragon of myths? The famous Swiss geologist Eduard Suess “could not resist providing a rational explanation for legends. ‘[The Nile crocodile] lives in the neighborhood of Beirut, and it is a remarkable fact that the crocodile of the Nile still exists [in late 1880s] in the nearby estuary called Crocodile River 3 km north. Pliny [think Rome] knew of a town – Crocodilion – in this neighborhood… These facts also throw unexpected light on the numerous and circumstantial accounts of the slaughter of a scaly monster by the knight Deodat von Gozon on the isle of Rhodes in the first half of the 14th century.” P121

“For 50 years after Suess, physicists had been to work on the idea of the secular contraction of the earth, which was originally based on the concept that the earth was a cooling body. The discovery of radioactive heating [within the earth itself] upset all the calculations: it just wouldn’t work… Now there are those who thought, on the contrary, that the earth was expanding.” P123

“Deep hot rocks flow upwards [think of convection or how hot less dense air rises] deforming and creeping like a contrary glacier of the underworld. There was a model for this process in the salt dome of the Middle East. Deeply buried deposits of sea salt dome upwards and pass through over lying strata, as a kind of instrusive lobe, eventually emerging at the surface – the rising tongue is called a diaper… Even odder is to find all sorts of block of rocks lying around that have been carried up with the salt as it cut through strata overlying it, including limestone blocks with fossils. Some of these salt domes have acquired commercial importance as oil traps.” P124

[The eruption that created Santorini] was the biggest eruption that Homo Sapiens has ever witnessed. It has been estimated that 30 cubic KM of material of was erupted – that is 15 times more than the 79 AD Vesuvius eruption that eliminated Pompeii. The eruption of 1700 BC also coincided with the decline of the Minoan civilization [on Crete]… The Bronze Age could have had no better source for its subsequent legends… That Thera [the progenitor island of which today’s Santorini is a mere husk] was Atlantis is given some credence by Plato’s description of the place [pre-eruption] as comprising several concentric belts of lands and lagoons – a rather volcanic configuration [think Crater lake in Oregon]. According to one scholar, the eruption of Thera may have inspired at least one passage in the story of Jason and the Argonauts. When they returned to Greece with the golden fleece, they passed by Rhodes to the eastern part of Crete; here they experienced a pall of darkness – as indeed they would have done if they were under a cloud of volcanic ash. When they fled northwards, a bronze giant called Talos pelted them with fragments of rock (this hardly requires further explanation). The eastern Mediterranean is replete with flood legends, which are not unreasonably linked with tsunamis in the aftermath of major eruptions.” P130

“Suess coined the word [Gondwana – first mega continent hypothesized by geology] - The Gonds were an ancient Indian tribe. He saw very well the connections between geology of Africa, South America and India, and appreciated that they were bound together by more than coincidence.” P131

“[Arthur Holmes in 1911] proposed that the differential effects of such heating created convection currents in a deep substratum: solid yes, but sluggishly flowing over millions of years, in an analogous way to the proverbially slow creep of glaciers. The upward limbs of the convection cells reached the lithosphere and then parted in opposite directions… The drag of the convection cell provided the motor that moved the continents. Where a cell arose beneath a continent it could split it and create a new ocean; where a cell turned down again it might pull ocean crust with it to create a [trench].” P140

“Here lay the answer to the obvious question: if new curst was being added to the mid-ocean ridges, where was it being destroyed? The downward dipping earthquake zones where the burial traces of plunging ocean crust… The ‘scrape’ of the moving crust against the adjacent buttressed margin engendered earthquakes… Where it plunged downwards it would tend to melt…Magma would find its way to the surface in explosive volcanoes: hence the ring of fire [that circumscribes] Pacific Ocean.” P154

Geology 101 Review: Where did the epochs get their names?
Cambrian: Roman Wales was called Cambria
Devonian: Devon County in England
Ordovician, Silurian: Ancient British tribes
These regions hold the ‘type area’ for rocks of these ages. “Pioneer geologists did fieldwork in areas they could reach by train or on horseback, or by foot.” P181 So the first geologic finds would tend be in and near London.

“One can find the some word in Danish, daler. In due turn, this is a variant of thaler. The thaler was the standard silver coinage across Europe in the 16th century. Each thaler weighed an ounce… Further the name thaler was itself a concraction from Joachimsthaler, referring to the mine at Joachimsthal (the valley of Joachim)… in the Czech Republic [which] was once part of old Bohemia.” P 210 The origin of the word for the thing you value so highly in your wallet – the almighty dollar.

“[Inside a mine] is the only part of the world where the cockroach is viewed favorably: their insect senses are peculiarly alert to changes in pressure in the rock… when a rockfall threatens, the cockroaches head out of their hiding places and scamble… in order to escape being crushed.” P211

“The commonest elements, silicon and oxygen [over 75% of the crust by weight], combine to form the remarkably common mineral quartz… And then quartz gets tinted by traces of other elements to produce named varieties that are commonly sold in rock shops: amethyst colored by manganese; carnelian made red because of a dash iron.” P217

“The frequent mineral corundum… is a simple oxide of aluminum. But grown deep in the underworld under special circumstances, with the right impurity added by nature to induce color, it becomes the most regal of all jewels – ruby… If another quirk of contamination happens, corundum becomes blue, rather than red, and then you have a sapphire.” P218

“Only 8 elements make up 90% of Earth’s crust – oxygen [46.6% by weight of crust], silicon [27.7%], aluminum, iron, calcium, sodium, potassium, and magnesium in decreasing abundance.” P220

“Atoms of beryllium [the second lightest of all metallic elements] and aluminum make joins between silica [quartz again] hexagonal rings [creating the mineral beryl]. Beryl is hard – it can scratch glass. When beryl crystals grow under special conditions they may be transparent, and then beryl becomes a gemstone called aquamarine. If the color happens to be yellow, it is known as heliodor; if green, it is emerald. They are all simply beryllium aluminum silicate.” P222

“Olivine is a simple silicate of iron and/or magnesium. Olivine crystallizes out very early in the igneous magma chamber… In doing so [it] effectively removes magnesium, and other elements, from the remainder of the siliceous melt… Other minerals then crystallize out in their turn… Elements that are reluctant to shuffle into a silicate mineral early on will become [more concentrated]… You can now understand one of the ways in which elements that are very rare in nature can become concentrated… In the opposite fashion, after the magma has almost completely crystallized, a fluid residue remains containing many of the most volatile elements, chlorides and flourides, and metallic elements in solutions. These seek out cracks and fissures in the in the solidified magma, there to lay down their burden of minerals, the source of silver, copper, and zinc.” P224 [This is why you often see balsalt and granite with viens, and why precious metals are found in such veins.]

“The primitive lava, freshly minted from partially melted oceanic rock, crystallizes out first with calcium rich feldspar and olivine [this is pahoehoe lave and is very viscous]. The magma held in its deep chamber evolves in composition as these early crystals are removed… Later lavas are richer in silica, which makes them altogehter more gluey; and the feldspars are pushed towards the alkali end of their range [this is aa’aa lava], which vents up into cones composed of pumic and bombs.” P225

“Diamonds are found in ‘pipes’; these are huge tubular structures, punched deep through a part of continental shield… The pipes are believed to be the product of a violent gas-charged magmatic explosion that dragged diamonds from the deep within the earth [150 KM deep].” P226

“It seems that gold is not so aloof as it appears. Under conditions of high pressure and elevated temperature, and in the presence of water, it makes temporary alliances with hydrogen sulfide [rotten egg gas] to form hydrosulfide complexes that can migrate through the crust. The gold is deposited again in due turn as its temporary partner deserts. Certain other elements, such as arsenic… can scavenge gold… When golden rock is eventually weathered at the surface, heavy and incorruptible gold remains behind, and can be concentrated into gravels in river beds.” P227

“The most durable gold-work is not 100% pure, but has upto 20% of silver in it. The silver puts some strength into a metal that is definitively malleable and ductile.” P229

“There has been one time when the streets have truly been paved with gold. In the rush of 1893 in Kalgoorlie [Australia] prospectors threw away an excess of a bulky pyritous [fool’s gold or iron sulfide] material as they delved deeper for pure gold… They used this waste to fill in ruts or to bulk up sidewalks… There is in fact a stable compound that gold forms in nature with another rare element, tellurium. The waste material used to pave the roads in Kalgoorlie in fact turned out to be this very uncommon mineral, but nearly 3 years passed before anyone realized that their streets were paved with proverbial gold.” P230

The Deccan traps were formed by a hot spot akin to Hawaii, however this spot was over the Indian continental plate. “Single flows of highly liquid lava must have flooded out on a truly enormous scale, leaving flows the thickness of a house covering more than 100,000 square KM.” p232

“Increased accuracy in radiometric dating techniques has shown that the eruptions were bracketed by an interval as short as 1.5 million years. Considering the volume of basalt erupted – an estimated 2.5 million cubic KM – and the vast area over which it extended, this was an extraordinary outpouring of magmatic floods.” P239

“The Deccan Traps erupted 66 million years ago… The same period saw the extinction of the dinosaurs… Currently, rather more evidence favors the impact of a huge meteorite in the Yucatan peninsula…[But] the Deccan Traps is a remarkable temporal coincidence, and the eruption scenario is a hypothesis waiting in the wings.” P240

“Granite intrusions are found in mountain belts… They appear at the center of those most dramatic upheavals of the crust, where one plate collides with another.” P252

Granite is formed “deep within mountain belts. It was shown that natural granite magma should be the first to ‘melt out’ under the ambient conditions at depth if there were water present. Since water is well nigh ubiquitous in the crust, this was not an unreasonable assumption.” P259

“The image perhaps being more appropriate to denistry: mountainous molars have downward extensions into the tissues of the earth. [Remember the tablecloth analogy for moutain folding. Imagine some of those fold diving down into the table, and then melting.] While this happens the temperature gradient can be depressed for a long time, pushed downwards along with the folded sedimentary pile to a region of high pressure at depth. But, given time, the heat flow from the interior of the earth will be restored… Then as additional heat sweats out the granite magma from the already metamorphosed rocks, ready to mass up and rise as plutons through the developing mountain chain.” P261

“Now we can create a vision of the Archaean world [over 2.5 billion years ago]. Heat flow from the young earth was greater than it is now…There may have been more numerous convection cells within the mantle… The nascent masses of continental crust had not yet congealed to their present size. Instead smaller rafts of lighter rocks formed the nuclei of what would become more stable continental areas… Unprotected by any cloak of plants, the wind and rain worked fast upon the naked rocks. Slabs of oceanic rock were covered with sediments derived from the rapid weathering…” p304

“The [Archaean] atmosphere was initially almost without oxygen, while gaseous hydrogen sulfide and methane were abundant…Bacteria could thrive in the absence of oxygen – in fact oxygen is a poison [to many] types of them. Three billion years of photosynthesis…added oxygen molecule by molecule to the air… Life changed the air of the world – scrubbed out the early poisons – and in the process even modified the way rocks decayed, since oxygen is crucial to all sorts of chemical weathering.” P306

“If Pangea (when all of the earth’s continents were connected) split apart a couple hundred million years ago, but was itself assembled from dispersed continents, then is it not likely that there might be a still older ‘Pangea’ when the continents were married on a previous occasion?... There is now evidence for no less than 4 Precambrian supercontinents.” P310

“They were carbonate sedimentary rocks – dolomites and limestones. We knew that they were laid down under the warmth of a tropical sun… However, between two layers of warm-water rocks something very curious happened… For a brief interval the carbonates disappeared, and in their stead some utterly different rocks took the ground. Prominent among them was a reddish rock… full of boulders and blocks of various kinds and sizes, all suspended in a pink mud… When icebergs have calved from the glacier to drift out to sea, they deposit just such… a collection of stones, along with the ground up waste derived from the terrain they scoured… So here is the paradox: a glacial event extending so far into low latitudes as to drop its debris where, not long before [and after], tropical algae and bacteria has flourished on a limy sea floor… [The theory of] ‘Snowball Earth’ had been born. There was a vision of the whole planet engulfed in a shimmering ice sheet, from pole to pole [about 590 million years ago]… Furthermore, since the Cambrian biological explosion occurred not so very long after alleged great freeze had relented [it relented because greenhouse warming from volcanic gases was unabated by the freeze, and eventually the earth overheated to melt the glaciers], it was tempting to link the two as cause and effect.” P315

“As with many big ideas, the theory is not without its critics. They point out that more than 2/3 of the earth’s surface was covered with ocean, and since all 590 million year old ocean crust has long been since subducted to oblivion, there will never be proof that every part of that vast hinterland became deeply frozen.” P316 But in any case, it must have been damn cold near the equator for at least some parts of the earth. That’s not being debated.

“Joe Kirshvink [my old geology professor!] from Caltech, has recognized up to four ‘Snowball Earths’ between 900 and 590 MYA, and has recently added another far older one at about 2 BYA.” P316

“A study was carried out upon minute metamorphosed carbon specks within crystals of ancient [3.8 BY old] Greenland rocks… Cooked though it was, the stamp of life was there… If life was there 3.8 BYA, it would have experienced a day only 5 hours long, as a result of the earth spinning faster, and the moon would have hung large and close in the sky. [The moon is moving away from the earth at 2.5 inches a year, and the earth slows down its rotation in the process.]” p319

“The Grand Canyon was not always perceived as one of the 7 natural wonders… The first western visitor to reach it was Spaniard Garcia Lopez de Cardenas in 1540… Horrified by its impassableness, [he] returned to Mexico with no treasure for his pains… In 1858, the surveyor Joseph Ives was to report to his superiors that the ‘region is altogeher valueless. Ours has been the first, and will doubtless be the last, party of whites to visit this profitless locality.” P323

“[A] mnemonic told to me by a receptionist at the White Angel Lodge: Kissing Takes Concentration. However, Sex Requires Manoeuvring Between Tempting Variables: Kaibab, Toroweap, Coconino, Hermit, Supai, Redwall, Muav, Bright Angel, Tapeat, and Vishnu in that order. The succession of rock formations in the Grand Canyon.” P325

“A 1000 years of erosion has been calculated to wear back the walls by no more than 1 meter…”

“The center of the earth is some 6370 KM from mean sea level. The earth’s core extends to 2900 KM and takes up less than 20% of the total volume of the planet. The inner (solid) part of the core begins at 5120 KM below the surface.” P347

“It is worth remembering that the magnetic field is very weak – more than 100 times weaker that the field between the poles of a toy horseshoe magnet.” P349

“The first suggestion tha the world did behave like a magnet was made by William Gilbert before 1600; it took science nearly 400 years to investigate Gilbert’s insight in detail.” P349

“ Thermal convection in the outer (liquid) core is one possibility [for the magnetic dynamo’s energy]: a kind of deep, simmering turnover of the molten layer providing a motor of magnetism. Another possibility is that the inner core grows by liquid iron ‘freezing’ onto to it at its outer boundary. When this happens, it leaves behind a ‘light fraction’ in the other core that then rises, leading to another, but compositionally driven, form of convection.” P349

The magnetic poles have reversed many times in earth’s history. “The switchover from one polarity to another is completed within 4000 years – a mere blip in geological time… In fact, switching poles is a comparatively easy thing for a dynamo to do, and the flip may be controlled by relatively small changes of the fluid motions in the core.” P351

“If you were asked on a game show: ‘What is the most abundant material on earth?’ you should answer: ‘The perovskite phase of the lower mantle.’ The applause would be resounding. A simple calculation tells you why your answer is true. The layer of the earth containing perovskit stretches from 660 KM below the surface (The Moho discontinuity for you Geologists) to the boundary layer at the outer edge of the earth’s core, 2900 KM below the surface. It is a vast slice of the earth. Since perovskite comprise more than 70% of this layer, it is an easy calculation.” P355

“The Pacific ocean will be subducted away in a 100 million years or so, producing a new Pangea, when Asia and America finally conjoin.” [Few oceans live beyond 200 million years from birth to death. This lifespan is called the Wilson Cycle after the famous geologist J. Tuzo Wilson. ]

“The Amazon is no less than 200 miles wide at its mouth. More water passes through it in a day than does in a whole year through the River Thames.” P388

(**) Science Friction by Michael Shermer

This book covers a wide range of topics by the author of the 'Skeptic' column in Scientific American. You'll learn a little about Michael Shermer - he was an endurance cyclist, studied for the clery originally before he discovered science, and witnessed his mother succumb to cancer. You'll also learn about yourself, the many faults of creationism, discrimination of atheists, and that we may never run out of oil. Worth a quick read if you like his column.

“In one study on Stanford University students, when asked to compare themselves to their peers on such personal qualities as friendliness, they predictably rated themselves higher. Even when subjects were warned about the ‘better than average’ bias, and asked to reevaluate their original assessments, 63% claimed that their initial evaluations were objective, and 13% even claimed to be too modest!... In a second study, the authors randomly assigned subjects with high or low scores on a ‘social intelligence’ test. Unsurprisingly, those given the [unearned] high marks rated the test fairer and more useful that those receiving the low marks. When asked if they had been influenced by the score on the test, subjects responded that other participants were negatively, but not them! In a 3rd study, [the authors] queried subjects about what method they used to assess their own and others’ biases, they found that people tend to use general theories of behavior when evaluating others, but use introspection when appraising themselves; but in what is called the ‘introspection illusion’, people do not believe that others can be trusted do the same. Okay for me, but not for thee.” pXXII

[From a UCB study] “on why people say they believe in God, and why they think other people believe in God. In general, most people attribute their own belief in God to such intellectual reasons as the good design of complexity of the world, whereas the attribute others’ belief in God to such emotional reasons as it is comforting, gives meaning, and they were raised to believe.” pXXII

“Dow corning had to pay $4.25B to settle 10s of 1000s of claims. The only problem was, there is no connection between silicone breast implants and any of the diseases linked to them in these trials. After multiple indepedend studies by reputable scientific institutions in no way connected to either the corporation or any of the litigants declared that this was a case of ‘junk science’ in the courtroom… If 1% of American women have silicone breast implants, and 1% of women have autoimmune or degenerative tissue diseases, with millions of women in each of these categorie, by chance 10’s of 1000’s will have both implants and disease, even though there is no causal connection. That’s all there is to it.”p XXIV

“A team of geneticists sampled 12,127 men from 163 Asian and Oceanic populations, tracking 3 genetic markers on the Y chromosome. What they discovered was that every one of their subjects carried a mutation at one of these 3 sites that can be traced back to a single African population some 35,000 to 89,000 years ago.” pXXX

[You can pretend to be a good listener simply by] “adopting a soft voice, a calm demeanor, and sympathetic and nonconfrontational body language: a pleasant smile, constant eye contact, head tilted to one side, facing the subject with legs together (not crossed) and arms unfolded.” P4

“In 1999 a Gallup poll inquired of Americans: “If your political party nominated a generally well qualified person for President who happened to be an X would you vote for that person? X represents Catholic, Jew, Baptist, Mormon, black, homosexual, woman, and atheist. 6 out of the 8 received more than 90% approval… only 59% said they would vote for a homosexual, and 49% would vote for an atheist.” P19 We need equal rights for atheists!!

“60% of American scientists are agnostic or atheist, and a stunning 93% of those scientists good enough to be elected to the Natl Academy Sciences are agnostic or atheist.” P22

“Survey data show that over ½ of all Americans with post graduate degrees believe in the devil, Hell, miracles, afterlife, virgin birth, and the resurrection.” P23

“From the very first time I heard this ‘bright’ idea a couple of months ago I thought it was dumb. After thinking about it some more, the conclusion I’ve come up with is that it is even dumber that I originally thought.” P29

“The reason scientists think that hydrocarbons [fossil fuels] have their origin in dead plants is that petroleum contains molecules that are typically the by product of decaying organic matter. Also when you pass light through petroleum it exhibits an optical property of rotating in a right handed fashion, which is the result of having more right handed molecules. The reason for this, says Thomas Gold of Cornell, is that petroleum and other hydrocarbons have seeped up through the rocks from 10s of KMs below the surface, and in doing so have absorbed organic matter along the way. These organic signs, he concludes are secondary to the true origin of hydrocarbons. Evidence for Gold’s theory comes from numerous sources: petroleum from deeper levels in the crust contains fewer signs of biological origin that petroleum from shallower levels; oil from different regions of the planet should show differing chemical signs because of the different form of life from which it was allegedly formed, yet all oil shows a common chemical signature, which you would expect if it had a common origin deep inside the earth; [if the common existing theory is correct] one would expect to find oil at geological levels of abundant plant life but in fact, it is found below such layers; the natural gas methane is found in many locations where life most likely did not thrive; diamonds are carbon crushed under high pressure, which implies the presence of carbon 100s of KM below the surface. Perhaps most striking, Gold notes that most oil fields contain far more reserves than oil companies anticipated because, he argues, they are refilled from the much larger hydrocarbon supply lying below – the drop in pressure in the oil cavity caused by drilling draws the hydocarbons from the higher pressure cavities below. Finally, the earth’s surface is very rich in carbonate rocks, which are loaded with carbon. Gold believes that the source of the carbon is not biological but astronomical – the earth was formed by an accretion of rocks similar to meteorites…one type of which is carbonaceous chondrite. When heated under the extreme pressure of a condensing earth they have released substantial quantities of hydrocarbons. Lighter than the surrounding material, they would then rise toward the surface, thus accounting for the high hydrocarbon content of the earth’s crust.” P 47 This means that we will probably never run out of oil! Time to short oil futures and oil stocks!! And time to sell that hybrid and buy an SUV. I’m going to read Gold’s book “The Deep Biosphere” soon.

Darwin’s Dictum: “All obversations must be for or against some view [theory] if they are to be on any service.” P71

“[Researchers have] discovered that the presence of other competitors and/or spectators motivates athletes to higher levels of performance… Studies show that a cyclist will ride faster even when another cyclist is just riding alongside or behind (and therefore not gaining a drafting advantage), and on average cyclists will race faster against a competitor that against the clock. Why? One reason is social facilitation, a theory where individual behavior is shaped by the presence and motivation of a group. What is actually going on inside the brain and body?... We see that competition provides the promise of positive and the threat of negative reinforcements, stimulates an increase in activity and arousal, and locks the athlete into a feedback loop between performance expectations and actual outcomes.” P94

“The level of superstition among Trobriand island fisherman depended on the level of uncertainty of the outcome – the farther out to sea they went, the more complex their superstitions rituals became… Baseball batters are notoriously superstitious [where they fail over 7 out of 10 times], whereas fielders, typically successful over 90% of the time, have correspondingly fewer superstitions. And remember that this difference is expressed in the same players!” p 96

“In a 1985 study of ‘hot hands’ in basketball, researched analyzed every basket shot by the 76ers for an entire season and discovered that the probability of a player hitting a 2nd shot did not increase following an initial successful basket, beyond what one would expect by chance and the average shooting percentage of the player… The number of streaks [consecutive made shots] did not exceed the predictions of a statistical coin flip model. That is if you conduct a coin flipping experiment, you will shortly encounter streaks of head or tails… The exception is DiMaggion’s 56 game hitting streak, a feat so many standard deviations away from the mean that, in the words of the scientists ‘it should not have happened at all.’” P97

“Oxytocin is a horomone secreted into the blood by the pituitary during sex, particulary during orgasm, and plays a role in pair bonding, an evolutionary adaptation for long-term care of helpless infants. In women it stimulates contractions at birth, lactation, and mental bonding with the infant… Monogamous species secrete more oxytocin during sex than polygamous species.” P122

Anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon documented this about the Yanomam of the Amazon:
“If you take men who are in the same age category and divide them by those that have killed other men and those have not killed, in every age category the killers had more offspring. In fact, killers averaged 4.91 children vs. 1.59 for non-killers. The reason is clear in the data on the number of wives: killers averaged 1.63 wives vs. .63 for non-killers… In our own culture, draft dodgers are considered a shame. Being a successful warrior has social rewards in all cultures. The Yanomamo warriors do not get medals and media. They get more wives.” P129

“In March 2001, Gallup reported results of their survey that found 45% of Americans agree with statement “God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so.” 37% preferred a blended belief that ‘humans have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided this process’, and a paltry 12% accepted the standard scientific theory that ‘humans developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God had no part in this process.’” P173

“If Intelligent Designer (ID) theory is really a science, as Iders claim it is, then the burden is on the them to discover the mechanisms used by the the Intelligent Designer.” P183

“We should also note that the world is not always to so ‘intelligently designed’, and that the human eye itself is a prime example. The configuration of the retina is in 3 layers, with the light sensitive rods and cones at the bottom facing away from the light, under the other 2 layers. [Additionally], all of these layers sit beneath a layer of blood vessels. For optimal vision, why would an ‘intelligent designer’ have built an eye backward and upside down? This design only makes sense if natural selection built eyes from whatever materials were available.” P185

“The human genome is littered with pseudogenes, gene fragments, ‘junk’ DNA, and so many repeated copies of pointless DNA that it cannot be attributed to anything that resembles intellingent design. If the DNA of a human (or any other creature) resembled a carefully constructed computer program, with neatly arranged and logically structured modules… In fact, the genome resembles nothing so much as a hodgepodge of borrowed, copied, mutated and discarded sequences that have been cobbled together by millions of years of trial and error against the relentless test of survival.” P194 Kenneth Miller