I read 400 pages today. It’s quite good (4.51 average rating on goodreads), like the prequels. It’s also quite long, 1177 pages. As I pointed out before, the page count should not scare you off – it’s easy to read and there are lots of chapters so it’s easy to split it up into chunks. However there are chunks and then there are chunks; given the number of characters and the number of different storylines, I’d assume it’s probably easier to read it in one go than it is to read it over a long period of time. It’s much easier to remember who character X is if you first encountered him 6 hours ago than if you read about him two weeks ago, and there are a lot of Xs here. Also, if you were to read a book like this in segments of, say, one chapter (10-20 pages) per day, it would literally take you months to finish (78 days with a 15 pages/day reading scheme) and I consider it likely that it would be a very different experience from the one you’d have if you were to read it over a short period of time (a few days). These remarks naturally also apply to the prequels.
Incidentally, according to a very brief blog overview I just did this one will be the 25th book I read this year. I’ve sort of told myself that it would be nice to cross 50 books (52?) this year – that should still be quite feasible, even though the current rate (6 books during the last fortnight, and as mentioned 400 pages/day right now) is not exactly a long-term equilibrium.
I’m probably reading too much fiction these days. Oh well, my reading speed is not very impressive and I tell myself that reading fiction at least helps with that…
I finished the book. I ended up giving it 3 stars on goodreads, but as I read the last half I mostly moved closer to a 2-star evaluation. Part of the book is great, part of it is very weak. It’s best when it just deals with the facts; what do we find when we look in the different kinds of tombs left behind (and why might we not always find what we’d expect to find?), how big were the dwellings they lived in and what were they made of, how did these guys procure the metals we’ve been talking about, what did they eat, what did they wear and how did they make their clothes – questions like that. It’s much weaker when he’s engaging in various forms of bigger-picture theorizing, or telling me about the theories other people have come up with for this and that; many of those theories are presumably discussed and forwarded by people I’d prefer got fired from the institutions they work at.
Overall there’s much good stuff and I learned a lot – and as I did point out through the goodreads rating, overall I liked the book. Here’s one of the parts from the last half of the book which answered one of the many questions I’d been curious about the answer to before starting out:
“As with most prehistoric populations, people in the Bronze Age did not live long. Disease, whether chronic such as arthritis, or epidemic, such as viral infections, must have been prevalent at all times and places. Mortality studies invariably show a pattern whereby perinatal and infant mortality was extremely high and child mortality high; for those who survived into their teens, the chances of making it into adulthood were quite good, but by the age of 35 the odds against further survival increased dramatically. People older than 45 were unusual. This can be demonstrated from the analysis of El Argar, where a large sample (563 individuals) was studied: life expectancy at birth was 19.9 years, but at age 20 it was still a further 15.9 years; the figures for Grossbrembach and Velika Gruda are not dissimilar. Brothwell estimated an average lifespan for British Bronze Age males of 31.3 years and for females of 29.9 years, with only 3.3% surviving beyond 50. [...] Given the incidence of disease, the quality of life must in many cases have been poor. Those with chronic arthritis would have been in constant pain, and dependent on other members of the community for the maintenance of daily life. Even so ‘minor’ an affliction as tooth caries could have caused ongoing pain, while a tooth abscess could even have been life-threatening. Fourteen of the Grossbrembach adults had tooth caries, in some cases extensive.”
Wikipedia does not at present have enough material on the stuff covered in this book for you to be able to learn anywhere near the same amount of stuff about this topic as you would learn from reading this book (and I’m sure reading the book would make retention much easier than reading random wikipedia articles) – for instance see the main article on Bronze Age Europe, there’s not much stuff here. However below a few more links to stuff (‘samples of the kind of stuff’) covered in the book:
“The production of charcoal is an aspect of metalworking that is often ignored.62 Charcoal was the ideal fuel for furnaces prior to the advent of coke because it promotes a strongly reducing atmosphere in the furnace, consisting as it does of almost pure carbon, and on burning creates an oxygen-starved atmosphere, essential if oxygen compounds are to be removed from the metal being worked. The forcing of air into an enclosed charcoal-burning furnace raises the temperature rapidly; charcoal has a calorific value about twice that of dried wood. To make charcoal, cut timber is ignited in a sealed heap or pit and allowed to smoulder; only sufficient oxygen is admitted at the start to get the fire going, after which the process continues without the addition of oxygen. By this means combustion is incomplete, no ash results, and almost everything except carbon is removed from the wood. Considerable quantities of timber would have been needed in the most prolific metal-production areas. It has been estimated that to produce 5 kg of copper metal one would need at least 100 kg of charcoal, which would in turn have required some 700 kg of timber, a considerable requirement in terms of labour.”
From European Societies in the Bronze Age (Cambridge World Archaeology), by A. F. Harding. I’ve roughly read the first half of this book today, and so far I like it – if it continues along the same lines, I’ll probably give it three stars on goodreads (where the average rating is currently 3.8). It’s easy to read and it has a lot of interesting stuff about things I do not know much about. Below I’ve added some wikipedia links to stuff related to what’s covered in the first six chapters – they should tell you a bit about what kind of stuff’s covered in this book.
I finished the book today. I’ve given it 4 stars on goodreads, where the average rating is 4.37.
The book was significantly easier for me to read than was the first one, in part because a lot of the main characters had already been introduced. There are plenty of new people joining the party in this book, but by now you have a basic framework to fit these people into which helps a lot.
I gather that there are characters for whom we’re supposed to feel sympathy featuring in this story, but they are few and sometimes it’s hard to like even the people whom you sort of assume you’re supposed to like. The types of people you’ll encounter in this narrative include mere children (many of the main characters are very young), and often children given way too much power way too early; dirtbags; fools; cowards; selfish jackasses; hateful ignoramuses; stubborn jerks; immature morons; greedy schemers, deceitful backstabbers; merciless murderers; and/or a combination of all of these things – an observation which I should point out, incidentally, is not meant as a criticism. This is rather part of what makes this book great, as is the fact that we’ll often learn people’s traits through their actions rather than through descriptions. People in these books to a significant extent behave the way you’d expect actual people to behave if they were to find themselves in the situations/settings/etc. the characters find themselves in – and we learn enough about the people and the social milieu to often understand quite well why they behave the way they do. But understanding why a person does something does not equate condoning said behaviour, which is part of why it may be hard to muster sympathy for a specific character and his/her actions. It should be noted that there are few ‘complete monsters‘ here; The Mountain and Sandor Clegane may be used as examples, as well as Joffrey – but at least the two of them we know most about (Sandor and Joffrey) are described in enough detail for us to understand at least something about how they’ve ended up the way they have, and why they behave the way they do. They are horrible people, and I’d be surprised to meet a person who’s read the first two books and didn’t have some non-trivial desire to see the Joffrey character dead (the Joffrey character is probably the most well-done hate sink I’ve ever encountered), but they are not (..to me) unrealistically horrible people given the setting and what we know. They are rather human, all too human. A great thing about the story is that whereas the huge number of characters involved makes it near-impossible to know why all these people behave the way they do, we do get close enough to some of them to understand what’s going on and we’re constantly reminded that they all have their reasons for behaving the way they do, even if we don’t always know those reasons. And given that Westeros is a pretty crappy place at this point (though I have no doubt it’ll likely get worse), it should not surprise us that most of the people involved in this narrative don’t exactly behave like angels – I’ve touched upon related themes before.
I feel the need to point out that the prose in this work is nothing extraordinary; sometimes the language felt excessively ‘rough’ and ‘raw’ and in need of ‘polishing’. Then again perhaps that’s just me, I’ve sort of taken a liking to works where the author deliberately plays around a bit with the language, like e.g. Pratchett is wont to do in his works – but it is part of why I only gave it 4 stars, rather than 5. I guess the semi-neutral position here would be to simply remark that you shouldn’t read this book for the quotes – the language isn’t what’s driving this story, nor should it be; and it does work well enough to tell the tale.
I’m toying with the idea of reading the rest of the published series this summer as well. We’ll see. The books are quite long, but they don’t actually take all that long to read and the page count should not scare you away; as I’ve noted before I consider myself to be a rather slow (well, another word to use is ‘careful’, but…) reader, yet I can read one of these guys during a long weekend (2-3 days) without problems. Then again I don’t have much of a social life – if you do and you can’t just take a few days out of your life to read books like these, it’ll probably take you a bit longer than that. On the third hand the best time of year for most people to read books like these is probably now, or soon. As noted in the comments earlier it’s certainly possible to ‘save time’ by just watching the tv series instead and skip the books, but what I can tell you at this point is that the books are worth reading on their own.
“Daily Negations is exactly what the title suggests: a collection of negative thoughts, one for each day of the year. Like any other daily meditation books, it can be kept by the bed, on the coffee table or by the toilet. Daily Negations can be consulted first thing in the morning, or anytime during the day when a quick let-me-down is needed.
If you have a bleak view of life, Daily Negations will reinforce that view. The book may also be used by (or given to) people whose attitude in life is too sunny, too optimistic, too full of boundless strength and hope. Such people can come to a more normal, realistic world-view by daily consultation of Daily Negations.”
“Life doesn’t have to be something I actually live. Life can be something that happens while I am doing other things, like watching television or escaping into fantasy. The world won’t stop if I decide not to do anything. And it is easier not to do than to do. And the less I do, the less I can fail at.”
“All over the world, there are people much worse off than me who somehow manage to pick themselves up and go on. Their spirit should challenge and inspire me, but I prefer to believe that if they were in my position, they would be just as lazy and pathetic and useless as I am.”
“Each day brings me another 24 hours away from my youth. On the other hand, each day brings me 24 hours closer to my death. It will all be over before I know it.”
“In brief moments of clarity, it is plain to see that I can’t help myself, that no one else can help me and it will never get better. Fortunately, I am usually too deluded to ever face up to those simple truths.”
“Sometimes I console myself with the idea that even though I don’t do what I should do, at least I feel bad about it sometimes. At least I feel some guilt, and whenever I feel too much guilt, I can always overindulge in something that will distract me from my guilt, so that I dont’ really feel it. So I guess I’m really not very good at consoling myself.”
“I can see that it takes a lot of work to improve myself. Becoming the person I want to become will require enormous effort. I can recognize this, but I must always remember that deep down, I have no intention of doing what must be done: I won’t do anything today, and I probably won’t do anything tomorrow, or next week or next year. I will probably not improve very much, if at all. It is more likely that I will keep getting worse.”
“If I approach today with a negative attitude, I shouldn’t be surprised if things turn out badly. Similarly, if I approach today with a positive attitude, I shouldn’t be surprised if things turn out badly. As long as I’m alive, things will turn out badly.”
“Today will be a great day. Not for me of course—for me, it will be mediocre or terrible. But for somebody else, it will be an excellent day. I wish I were someone else. It sucks to be me.”
“Perhaps when I die, it will disappoint people who were counting on me. Perhaps something, or someone, will have trouble going on without me. Most likely though, my death won’t make any difference at all. Just like my life.”
“When I think of all the advantages I have had, I can feel even worse about how little I have accomplished. That is why it is so important to me to lie to myself, and tell myself that things were harder than they actually were, and that the obstacles in my way were not, for the most part, of my own making, and that all things considered, I did the best I could. These lies make me feel that I am better than other people (or at least as good), and that in turn makes me feel better about myself. It is so important to lie.”
“One thing I do is compare myself to other people: people I went to high school with who are more successful than I am, people in magazines and on TV who are better looking and more talented than I am, people at work who are smarter than I am and get promoted above me, and so on. I don’t like to do this, but I can’t help it, because I can’t control my bad habits, because I am an idiot.”
“Sometimes I think I’d like to get away for a while. But no matter where I go, there I am. There’s no escaping me. I might as well stay here.”
“There is no need to make excuses for myself when I make mistakes. Excuses involve creativity and energy. If I am too lazy and stupid to do something right, then I should be too lazy and stupid to explain myself.”
“Today I should try to do something I have never done before. Sometimes it is better to fail at something new, rather than to fail at the same old things.”
“Life may be looked at as a series of opportunities, but it is more accurate to look at life as a series of missed opportunities.”
This is great stuff! You can order the book here.
As I believe I’ve pointed out before, the witch-books aren’t among my favourites; but there’s no such thing as a bad Discworld novel. Some quotes from the book, which I read yesterday and gave 3 stars on goodreads (where the average rating is 4.03):
“The people of Lancre wouldn’t dream of living in anything other than a monarchy. They’d done so for thousands of years and knew that it worked. But they’d also found that it didn’t do to pay too much attention to what the King wanted, because there was bound to be another king along in forty years or so and he’d be certain to want something different and so they’d have gone to all that trouble for nothing. In the meantime, his job as they saw it was to mostly stay in the palace, practise the waving, have enough sense to face the right way on coins and let them get on with the ploughing, sowing, growing and harvesting. It was, as they saw it, a social contract. They did what they always did, and he let them.”
“do you know what I found him doing in the old dungeons last week?’
‘I’m sure I couldn’t guess,’ said the Count.
‘He had a box of spiders and a whip! He was forcing them to make webs all over the place.’
‘I wondered why there were always so many, I must admit,’ said the Count.”
“cutting off the head and staking them in the heart is generally efficacious.’
‘But that works on everyone,’ said Nanny.
‘Er … in Splintz they die if you put a coin in their mouth and cut their head off …’
‘Not like ordinary people, then,’ said Nanny, taking out a notebook.
‘Er … in Klotz they die if you stick a lemon in their mouth—’
‘Sounds more like it.’
‘—after you cut their head off. I believe that in Glitz you have to fill their mouth with salt, hammer a carrot into both ears, and then cut off their head.’ [...]
‘And in the valley of the Ah they believe it’s best to cut off the head and boil it in vinegar.’”
“The result would have been called primitive even by people who were too primitive to have a word yet for ‘primitive’.”
“The local coachman used to warn visitors, you see. “Don’t go near the castle,” they’d say. “Even if it means spending a night up a tree, never go up there to the castle,” they’d tell people. “Whatever you do, don’t set foot in that castle.” He said it was marvellous publicity. Sometimes he had every bedroom full by 9 p.m. and people would be hammering on the door to get in. Travellers would go miles out of their way to see what all the fuss was about.”
“The castle gates swung open and Count Magpyr stepped out, flanked by his soldiers.
This was not according to the proper narrative tradition. Although the people of Lancre were technically new to all this, down at genetic level they knew that when the mob is at the gate the mobee should be screaming defiance in a burning laboratory or engaged in a cliffhanger struggle with some hero on the battlements.
He shouldn’t be lighting a cigar.
They fell silent, scyths and pitchforks hovering in mid-shake. The only sound was the crackling of the torches.
The Count blew a smoke ring.
‘Good evening,’ he said, as it drifted away. ‘You must be the mob.’
Someone at the back of the crowd, who hadn’t been keeping up to date, threw a stone. Count Magpyr caught it without looking.
‘The pitchforks are good,’ he said. ‘I like the pitchforks. As pitchforks they certainly pass muster. And the torches, well, that goes without saying. But the scythes … no, no, I’m afraid not. They simply will not do. Not a good mob weapon, I have to tell you. Take it from me. A simple sickle is much better. Start waving scythes around and someone could lose an ear. Do try to learn.’
He ambled over to a very large man who was holding a pitchfork.
‘And what’s your name, young man?’
‘Er … Jason Ogg, sir.’
‘Wife and family doing well?’
‘Er … Yessir.’
‘Good man. Carry on. If you could keep the noise down over dinner I would be grateful …”
“‘You look like a priest. What’s your god?’
‘Er … Om.’
‘That’s a he god or a she god?’
‘A he. Yes. A he. Definitely a he.’ It was one thing the Church hadn’t schismed over, strangely.”
“‘But you can hardly stand up!’
‘Certainly I can! Off you go.’
Oats turned to the assembled Lancrastians for support.
‘You wouldn’t let a poor old lady go off to confront monsters on a wild night like this, would you?’
They watched him owlishly for a while just in case something interestingly nasty was going to happen to him.
Then someone near the back said, ‘So why should we care what happens to monsters?’
And Shawn Ogg said, ‘That’s Granny Weatherwax, that is.’
‘But she’s an old lady!’ Oats insisted.
The crowd took a few steps back. Oats was clearly a dangerous man to be around.”
“He could just make out her face. It was a picture, but not one you’d hang over the fireplace.”
“Verence was technically an absolute ruler and would continue to be so provided he didn’t make the mistake of repeatedly asking Lancrastians to do anything they didn’t want to do.”
I finished Peter Jensen’s book, which I also mentioned in the previous post, this morning, and I decided to add a few comments and links to articles covering stuff he also covers in his book. I liked the book and gave it 3 stars on goodreads. It’s old – from 1998 – so a lot of stuff has happened since then in this field (e.g. ‘new’ genetic diseases, such as 17q21.31 microdeletion syndrome, have been ‘discovered’ – though I should caution here that according to Jensen a distinction is to be made between ‘chromosomal abnormalities’ and ‘genetic diseases’; unlike many genetic disorders, chromosomal abnormalities involve mutations which are large enough to be seen using an ordinary light microscope). However my working assumption has been that most of the stuff covered in the book is unlikely to have changed much; how a chromosomal abnormality affects the individuals who have it doesn’t change much from one decade to another, even though improvements in medical technology may have improved outcomes for some specific diseases.
Some links to stuff he talks about in the book, in no specific order: Chromosome abnormality (I should add that pretty much every link in that article is to an article on something which is also covered in the book), Aneuploidy, Robertsonian translocation, Klinefelter syndrome, Turner Syndrome, Williams Syndrome, Down Syndrome, Patau syndrome, Fragile X syndrome, Angelman Syndrome, Prader-Willi syndrome, Barr body, Non-disjunction, Amniocentesis, Trisomy 8, FMR1.
A few general remarks: It should be noted that autosomal chromosomal abnormalities are usually more severe than sex-linked chromosomal abnormalities. More than 95% of chromosomal abnormalities result in spontaneous abortion, and 60% of early spontaneous abortions (within the first trimester) are due to chromosomal abnormalities. Monosomies (including partial ones) tend to have more severe consequences than do trisomies. Even though people tend to think that way about genetic diseases not all chromosomal abnormalities are best thought of as inhabiting a binary event space (either you have it or you don’t); some of them display to a significant extent a dose–response relationship (see e.g. the articles on the FMR1 gene & Fragile X syndrome). As should be obvious from the number of associated abortions, many of the chromosomal abnormalities (particularly the autosomal ones) lead to really horrible outcomes: Among Pataus Syndrome sufferers less than 40% survive past [remember: 1998 numbers] one week after birth, and only 4,5% survive past 6 months [according to wikipedia's article on the topic, "More than 80% of children with Patau syndrome die within the first year of life" - so mortality is still very high]; when it comes to Edward’s syndrome likewise approximately 60% died within a week, and around 5% were still alive after a year back then – and this is just considering the variable survival, not stuff like blindness, polydactyli, organ malformation (brain, heart, kidneys, …), deafness, etc., etc., which are also very often present in people with these disorders…
Incidentally I read most of Carpe Jugulum today, but I won’t blog that one until tomorrow.
I finished the book. I gave it a 5 star rating on goodreads, where the average rating is 4.43. It’s a good book. I was considering whether it should have four or five stars, but in the end I decided that I probably give too few books 5 stars and this one kept me reading for many enjoyable hours, so…
It should go without saying that the second half is no worse than the first half; in retrospect it’s a natural plot development (some of it you can probably see coming, other things…), and Martin is quite good at this plot development stuff; after having read 800 pages you sort of feel that this story has only just really begun.
I’ll most likely read A Clash of Kings sometime this summer, but I won’t start reading that one this afternoon. I have yet to decide if I should start watching the tv-series before reading the second book, or if I should wait – I’ll probably wait. Anyway, these books are entertainment, not learning, and I feel a little bit guilty about not really having learned anything at all during the last few days; so I think I’ll read Kromosomafvigelser hos mennesket (‘Chromosomal abnormalities in humans’) by Peter Jensen next. I need a breather and this is my way to ‘breathe’. As that book is in Danish I’m not sure if I’ll cover it here in any detail, but I may say a word or two about it later on. I bought it on a sale (for 20 kroner ~$4..) and if it hadn’t been on sale I probably wouldn’t have bought it – there’s certainly no way I would have paid more than 100 kroners for it. I expect to finish it in a short amount of time as it’s quite short and as this is not the first book I read which deals with this topic.
By George R. R. Martin. I had an exam yesterday (which went well, thanks for asking..), and after the exam I decided that I just wanted to take time off and read something I didn’t have to read; something I actually wanted to read because I assumed the reading experience would be enjoyable. A friend recommended this (book) series and I’ve also been made aware that there’s a tv-series I may want to give a try.
I’ve read half of the book (400 pages) by now and I expect to finish it sometime tomorrow. I also have procured A Clash of Kings, the next book in the series, and if I’m not disappointed during the last half of this book I’ll move on to read that as well sometime soon.
It’s a very good read so far but/and that’s mainly due to the storyline and the imaginary world Martin has created for us; the greatest problem I have with the book is the fact that there are a lot of people to keep track of and that it’s not always easy to figure out right away which ones are ‘important enough’ for you to need to need to remember them and who they are and what their uncle did in that war a long time ago. But that said, this is not a major problem, and the stuff is interesting even though you can’t always quite remember just who this particular guy is; the major characters reappear again and again so you gradually familiarize yourself with the characters even though they’re sometimes a bit hard to keep track of. I find it hard to illustrate the page-turner aspect of this book with quotes, but below I’ve added a few quotes from the first half anyway:
“Daenerys said nothing. She had always assumed that she would wed Viserys when she came of age. For centuries the Targaryens had married brother to sister, since Aegon the Conqueror had taken his sisters to bride. The line must be kept pure, Viserys had told her a thousand times [...] yet now Viserys schemed to sell her to a stranger, a barbarian. [...] “Are you sure tha Khal Drogo likes his women this young?” [Daenerys is 13] “She has had her blood. She is old enough for the khal,” Illyrio told him, not for the first time. [...] “We go home with an army, sweet sister. With Khal Drogo’s army, that is how we go home. And if you must wed him and bed him for that, you will.” He smiled at her. “I’d let his whole khalasar fuck you if need be, sweet sister, all forty thousand men, and their horses too if that was what it took to get my army.”" [these last words were said by Viserys, the older brother of Daenerys - from what I've read so far, he seems like a very nice guy...]
[Her son (7 years old) lies paralyzed in a bed nearby, unconscious. The ('bastard') son of her husband, who has lived with the family all his life and been considered a brother by this woman's young children, visits in order to say goodbye as he's leaving the castle very soon, in all likelihood for the rest of his life. The last thing the woman says to him before he leaves:] “”It should have been you,” she told him.” [As in, she'd wish he was the one who'd broken his back and lay unconscious in that bed. And I still believe she's actually supposed to be one of the sympathetic characters in this story, though as you can probably gather these things are complicated too...]
“Sansa did not really know Joffrey yet, but she was already in love with him. He was all she ever dreamt her prince should be, tall and handsome and strong, with hair like gold. She treasured every chance to spend time with him, few as they were. [...] All she wanted was for things to be nice and pretty, the way they were in the songs. Why couldn’t Arya [her sister] be sweet and delicate and kind, like Princess Myrcella? She would have liked a sister like that.”
“As the others took their accustomed seats, it struck Eddard Stark forcefully that he did not belong here, in this room, with these men. He remembered what Robert had told him in the crypts below Winterfell. I am surrounded by flatterers and fools, the king had insisted. Ned looked down the council table and wondered which were the flatterers and which were the fools. He thought he knew already.”
“”Your sister sits beside the king. Your brother is a great knight, and your father the most powerful lord in the Seven Kingdoms. Speak to them for us. Tell them of our need here. You have seen for yourself, my lord. The Night’s Watch is dying. Our strength is less than a thousand now. Six hundred here, two hundred in the Shadow Tower, even fewer at Eastwatch, and a scant third of those fighting men. The Wall is a hundred leagues long. Think on that. Should an attack come, I have three men to defend each mile of wall.” [...] He was in deadly earnest, Tyrion realized. He felt faintly embarrased for the old man. Lord Mormont had spent a good part of his life on the Wall, and he needed to believe if those years were to have any meaning. “I promise, the king will hear of your need,” Tyrion said gravely, “and I will speak to my father and my brother Jaime as well.” And he would. Tyrion Lannister was as good as his word. He left the rest unsaid; that King Robert would ignore him, Lord Tywin would ask if he had taken leave of his senses, and Jaime would only laugh.”
“”the common people are waiting for him. Magister Illyrio says they are sewing dragon banners and praying for Viserys to return from across the narrow sea to free them.” “The common people pray for rain, healthy children, and a summer that never ends,” Ser Jorah told her. “It is no matter to them if the high lords play the game of thrones, so long as they are left in peace.” He gave a shrug. “They never are.”
“”Is there a man in your service that you trust utterly and completely?”"Yes,” said Ned.
“In that case, I have a delightful palace in Valyria that I would dearly love to sell you,” Littlefinger said with a mocking smile. “The wise answer was no, my lord, but be that as it may. [...]
“Lord Petyr,” Ned called after him. “I … am grateful for your help. Perhaps I was wrong to distrust you.”
Littlefinger fingered his small beard. “You are slow to learn, Lord Eddard. Distrusting me was the wisest thing you’ve done since you climbed down off your horse.”
“I will not keep you long, my lord. There are things you must know. You are the King’s Hand, and the king is a fool.” [...] “Your friend, I know, yet a fool nonetheless … and doomed, unless you save him. Today was a near thing. They had hoped to kill him during the melee.”
For a moment, Ned was speechless with shock. “Who?“
Varys sipped his wine. “If I truly need to tell you that, you are a bigger fool than Robert and I am on the wrong side.”
“Varys will quietly let it be known that we’ll make a lord of whoever does in the Targaryen girl.”
Ned was disgusted. “So now we grant titles to assasins?”
Littlefinger shrugged. “Titles are cheap. The Faceless Men are expensive. If truth be told, I did the Targaryen girl more good than you with all your talk of honor. Let some sellsword drunk on visions of lordship try to kill her. Likely he’ll make a botch of it, and afterward the Dothraki will be on their guard. If we’d sent a Faceless Man after her, she’d be as good as buried.”
Ned frowned. “You sit in council and talk of ugly women and steel kisses, and now you expect me to believe that you tried to protect the girl? How big a fool do you take me for?”
“Well, quite an enormous one, actually,” said Littlefinger, laughing.
“Do you always find murder so amusing, Lord Baelish?”
“It’s not murder I find amusing, Lord Stark, it’s you. You rule like a man dancing on rotten ice.”
It’s a silly book, but at times it’s very funny – I liked it and gave it three stars on goodreads. It’s quite short – ~170 pages or so – and it takes a very short time to read (I finished it in a couple of hours I think), so if you like the excerpts below I don’t really think there’s a good reason not to just read all of it. A few quotes from the book:
“Extending the science tool metaphor further, shouldn’t we endeavor to give scientists the largest collection of tools possible? No one is saying that they have to apply a supernatural explanation to any particular phenomenon, only that the supernatural be available if nothing else works, or if it is convenient for deceptive political purposes. And remember, this is not a radical new idea. In terms of years in use, supernatural science—SuperScience, if you will—has the edge on conventional science. Conventional, or empirical, science has been in use for only a few hundred years. Obviously there must be a reason supernatural science lasted so long, before this empirical-science’ fad began. Could it be that supernatural science is more productive than empirical science?
Consider the discovery and development of new land, an important scientific pursuit by anyone’s standard. If we compare a period of time in which supernatural science was the norm—say the years A.D. 1400 to 1600, to a period of time in which empirical science was preferred – say the years 1800 to 2000—we can get a clear picture of just how detrimental empirical science can be. [...] Even with satellite imagery and GPS navigation, scientists bound by the chains of empiricism have been unable to discover even a paltry 3 percent of the amount of new land that their supernatural-science counterparts found in an equal period of time. Scientists and explorers in the years 1400-1600 had few maps, only a compass, cross-staff, or astrolabe for navigation, and no motorized transportation. Yet even with these setbacks, they still managed to discover more than 14 million square kilometers of new, developable land. Clearly their openness to supernatural forces had something to do with their success [...]
It’s only logical to assume that returning to balanced methods of science—natural theories and supernatural theories both—would allow us to find more land, something we greatly need for our growing population. More land means more resources, and more resources means fewer starving children. I can safely say, then, that anyone against the inclusion of supernatural theories into science wants children to starve. Such people obviously have no place in policymaking, and so I suggest that they get no say on the issue.” [...]
“Like ID, we use a slightly nonconventional scientific method, whereby we first define our conclusion and then gather evidence to support it. Not only does this allow for a more congruous and fluid study, but it has to be said that research is much easier when you’ve already chosen your conclusion. In this regard, the ID proponents should be congratulated for their ingenuity. Where before scientists were forced to grapple with unknowns for months, or even years, they will now be able to simply choose a convenient conclusion and find evidence to support it.” [...]
“BORN AGAINS present a different set of challenges. While technically belonging to the Christian faith, they are a separate entity unto themselves. We are hesitant even to refer to them as Christians, because their behavior reflects badly on the majority of Christians who are not insane.” [...]
“A Final Note from Bobby Regarding Midgets
I can honestly say that I’ve received much more flak over the term midgets from fully grown (oftentimes fat) people than from “little people” themselves. One could make the argument that the little person community1 3 itself is not concerned with such petty matters of political correctness. And while that is a valid and probable explanation, in the name of full disclosure, I would like to note that my hearing is not the best, and that if an angry little person has ever confronted me over the term midget, I may not have noticed, as I generally look straight ahead. At any rate, until such time as a little person himself asks me to stop,1 4 I will continue to use the term midget as often as possible.” [...]
“”In my scientific opinion when comparing the two theories, FSM theory seems to be more valid than the classic ID theory.” —Afshin Beheshti, Ph.D.” [...]
“obviously we need more evidence of His existence, and so we have established the Enlightenment Institute—a think tank devoted to proving our a priori assumption that He exists, using all available specious arguments and circular logic to do so. In case you haven’t been paying attention, this approach is totally legit in matters of religion, and has gained increased legitimacy in politicized science.” [...]
“Antarctica, the cursed, is the continent that is the Pastafarian equivalent to Christianity’s Hell. The Beer Volcano froze over millennia ago, the strippers wear big bulky parkas and snow pants, and the place is covered in ice and snow. The only native inhabitants are the ones cursed by Him. He has cast out those who have forsaken Him, the penguins. The short stout penguins are the direct descendants of the original midget. The midget got mad at the FSM for making him short and out of anger cursed the Great One loudly and profanely. In retaliation, the vengeful FSM cast the reject to the coldest part of the world, and morphed the degenerate into a penguin. The penguin is the opposite of all that is godly. It has wings, but cannot fly. It has flippers instead of hands, so is unable to pick up noodles. It eats naught but fish, which makes nasty fishy meatballs. He created a land that is incapable of growing anything worthy of pasta creation; krill, the only thing the penguins have to make noodles from, tastes disgusting. Thus Antarctica is the land of rejected creations. Learning from this mistake, the next thing He made after the midget was a dwarf, which turned out pretty hilarious when it got drunk from the volcano and started simultaneously swearing at and hitting on the strippers. So the FSM kept dwarfs as an amusing distraction. He was so distracted he forgot the next thing on His to-do list, “make penguin-eating sharks.” [...]
“This world, which is infinitely more complex than cake, even if the cake is both German and chocolate, cannot occur out of chance: It must have a divine Baker. There are levels of form and purpose that will not rise without the intervention of a Baker, and the world is full of such mixed and layered forms. The most striking of these forms is that of a Pirate. Nothing but the divine could have created such a glorious creature as the Pirate …” [...] No! That explanation [evolution] is far too complex to be accurate, and moreover, I don’t understand it, so it must be wrong.
What I do understand is cake. Cake, especially German chocolate cake, is scrumptious and was made by a Baker. [...] Scientists claim that the creation of the earth was something involving math or chemicals. I find math and the physical sciences to be irritating, and those scientists, none of whom have ever lent me a ten-spot, are stuck-up jerks who are blind to the truth of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. How many elephants had to die to make their ivory towers? Jerks.
Evidence of a Holy Baker is in our world, in cake and in chocolate. Scientists tell us that the world was a stew, when I think it is clearly a layered cake.” [...]
Various Pirate activities contribute to upwelling. These include involuntary crew resignation, intervessel interactions, and acoustically transmitted oscillations (Bligh, 1789; Stevenson, 1883).
Involuntary crew resignation (ICR, aka “walking the plank”) involves a Pirate or captive being forcibly ejected from a vessel at sea. This results in upwelling from displacement of water by the ejectee (Archimedes, c. 250 B.C.E.).
Intervessel interactions (IVI, aka “sea combat”) consists of transmission of projectiles between vessels, resulting in destruction or boarding. Upwelling is caused by scattered projectiles and by sinking of vessel elements. [...]
We have modeled Pirate-induced upwelling using the PARROT (Piratic Activity Realization Rate of Oceanic Tendencies) oceanic circulation model (Haqq-Misra et al., 2006). [...] We averaged Pirate activity from 1605 to 2005 for each ocean grid cell. While recent Pirate activity is weak and concentrated off the Somali coast (BBC, 2005), historically Piracy has been concentrated in the Caribbean (Bruckheimer, 2003). This is consistent with our model results, which produce significant Pirate-induced upwelling in the Atlantic basin (Figure 2b). [...]
We have demonstrated that decreased Piracy contributes to increased tropical cyclone intensity. The only viable solution is to increase Pirate activity, especially in the Atlantic basin.”
You can read the book here. Here’s the wikipedia article about the author, Nellie Bly. I found the book via this tvtropes article (the real life section). I liked it and gave it a 3 on goodreads, where the average rating is 3.78. It’s about a (very sane) woman who had herself committed to an insane asylum in the late nineteenth century, in order to publish an account of her experiences there (there had been ‘reports of neglect and brutality’ as wikipedia puts it). “The book’s graphic depiction of conditions at the asylum caused a sensation which brought Bly lasting fame and prompted a grand jury to launch its own investigation with Bly assisting. The jury’s report resulted in an $850,000 increase in the budget of the Department of Public Charities and Corrections.” (link – the course of this investigation is also briefly described in the last part of the book). It’s an interesting historical document. To illustrate what kind of experience she went through to the people who’ll not read the entire post, I’ll note that there’s a chapter in there named simply ‘Choking and beating patients’ – so, yeah.. I figured the post was long enough as it was at that point, so I haven’t added stuff from that chapter. From a 21st century perspective, some of the nurses were little short of murderers – an illustrative quote: “”While I was there a pretty young girl was brought in. She had been sick, and she fought against being put in that dirty place. One night the nurses took her and, after beating her, they held her naked in a cold bath, then they threw her on her bed. When morning came the girl was dead. The doctors said she died of convulsions, and that was all that was done about it.”
Some more stuff from the book:
“I went down to the rear of the room and introduced myself to one of the women, and asked her all about herself. Her name, she said, was Miss Anne Neville, and she had been sick from overwork. She had been working as a chambermaid, and when her health gave way she was sent to some Sisters’ Home to be treated. Her nephew, who was a waiter, was out of work, and, being unable to pay her expenses at the Home, had had her transferred to Bellevue.
“Is there anything wrong with you mentally as well?” I asked her.
“No,” she said. “The doctors have been asking me many curious questions and confusing me as much as possible, but I have nothing wrong with my brain.”
“Do you know that only insane people are sent to this pavilion?” I asked.
“Yes, I know; but I am unable to do anything. The doctors refuse to listen to me, and it is useless to say anything to the nurses.”
Satisfied from various reasons that Miss Neville was as sane as I was myself, I transferred my attentions to one of the other patients. I found her in need of medical aid and quite silly mentally, although I have seen many women in the lower walks of life, whose sanity was never questioned, who were not any brighter. [...]
All the windows in the hall were open and the cold air began to tell on my Southern blood. It grew so cold indeed as to be almost unbearable, and I complained of it to Miss Scott and Miss Ball. But they answered curtly that as I was in a charity place I could not expect much else. All the other women were suffering from the cold, and the nurses themselves had to wear heavy garments to keep themselves warm. [...] “It is so very cold here, I want to go out,” I said.
“That’s true,” he said to Miss Scott. “The cold is almost unbearable in here, and you will have some cases of pneumonia if you are not careful.”
With this I was led away and another patient was taken in. I sat right outside the door and waited to hear how he would test the sanity of the other patients. With little variation the examination was exactly the same as mine. All the patients were asked if they saw faces on the wall, heard voices, and what they said. I might also add each patient denied any such peculiar freaks of sight and hearing. At 10 o’clock we were given a cup of unsalted beef tea; at noon a bit of cold meat and a potatoe, at 3 o’clock a cup of oatmeal gruel and at 5.30 a cup of tea and a slice of unbuttered bread. We were all cold and hungry. After the physician left we were given shawls and told to walk up and down the halls in order to get warm. [...]
As the doctor was about to leave the pavilion Miss Tillie Mayard discovered that she was in an insane ward. She went to Dr. Field and asked him why she had been sent there.
“Have you just found out you are in an insane asylum?” asked the doctor.
“Yes; my friends said they were sending me to a convalescent ward to be treated for nervous debility, from which I am suffering since my illness. I want to get out of this place immediately.”
“Well, you won’t get out in a hurry,” he said, with a quick laugh.
“If you know anything at all,” she responded, “you should be able to tell that I am perfectly sane. Why don’t you test me?”
“We know all we want to on that score,” said the doctor, and he left the poor girl condemned to an insane asylum, probably for life, without giving her one feeble chance to prove her sanity. [...]
The boat stopped and the old woman and the sick girl were taken off. The rest of us were told to sit still. At the next stop my companions were taken off, one at a time. I was last, and it seemed to require a man and a woman to lead me up the plank to reach the shore. An ambulance was standing there, and in it were the four other patients.
“What is this place?” I asked of the man, who had his fingers sunk into the flesh of my arm.
“Blackwell’s Island, an insane place, where you’ll never get out of.” [...]
Mrs. Louise Schanz was taken into the presence of Dr. Kinier, the medical man.
“Your name?” he asked, loudly. She answered in German, saying she did not speak English nor could she understand it. However, when he said Mrs. Louise Schanz, she said “Yah, yah.” Then he tried other questions, and when he found she could not understand one world of English, he said to Miss Grupe:
“You are German; speak to her for me.”
Miss Grupe proved to be one of those people who are ashamed of their nationality, and she refused, saying she could understand but few worlds of her mother tongue.
“You know you speak German. Ask this woman what her husband does,” and they both laughed as if they were enjoying a joke.
“I can’t speak but a few words,” she protested, but at last she managed to ascertain the occupation of Mr. Schanz.
“Now, what was the use of lying to me?” asked the doctor, with a laugh which dispelled the rudeness.
“I can’t speak any more,” she said, and she did not.
Thus was Mrs. Louise Schanz consigned to the asylum without a chance of making herself understood. Can such carelessness be excused, I wonder, when it is so easy to get an interpreter? If the confinement was but for a few days one might question the necessity. But here was a woman taken without her own consent from the free world to an asylum and there given no chance to prove her sanity. Confined most probably for life behind asylum bars, without even being told in her language the why and wherefore. Compare this with a criminal, who is given every chance to prove his innocence. Who would not rather be a murderer and take the chance for life than be declared insane, without hope of escape? Mrs. Schanz begged in German to know where she was, and pleaded for liberty. Her voice broken by sobs, she was led unheard out to us. [...]
When Miss Grupe came in I asked if I could not have a night-gown.
“We have not such things in this institution,” she said.
“I do not like to sleep without,” I replied.
“Well, I don’t care about that,” she said. “You are in a public institution now, and you can’t expect to get anything. This is charity, and you should be thankful for what you get.”
“But the city pays to keep these places up,” I urged, “and pays people to be kind to the unfortunates brought here.”
“Well, you don’t need to expect any kindness here, for you won’t get it,” she said, and she went out and closed the door. [...]
I could not sleep, so I lay in bed picturing to myself the horrors in case a fire should break out in the asylum. Every door is locked separately and the windows are heavily barred, so that escape is impossible. In the one building alone there are, I think Dr. Ingram told me, some three hundred women. They are locked, one to ten to a room. It is impossible to get out unless these doors are unlocked. A fire is not improbable, but one of the most likely occurrences. Should the building burn, the jailers or nurses would never think of releasing their crazy patients. This I can prove to you later when I come to tell of their cruel treatment of the poor things intrusted to their care. As I say, in case of fire, not a dozen women could escape. All would be left to roast to death. Even if the nurses were kind, which they are not, it would require more presence of mind than women of their class possess to risk the flames and their own lives while they unlocked the hundred doors for the insane prisoners. Unless there is a change there will some day be a tale of horror never equaled. [...]
I was never so tired as I grew sitting on those benches. Several of the patients would sit on one foot or sideways to make a change, but they were always reproved and told to sit up straight. If they talked they were scolded and told to shut up; if they wanted to walk around in order to take the stiffness out of them, they were told to sit down and be still. What, excepting torture, would produce insanity quicker than this treatment? Here is a class of women sent to be cured. I would like the expert physicians who are condemning me for my action, which has proven their ability, to take a perfectly sane and healthy woman, shut her up and make her sit from 6 A. M. until 8 P. M. on straight-back benches, do not allow her to talk or move during these hours, give her no reading and let her know nothing of the world or its doings, give her bad food and harsh treatment, and see how long it will take to make her insane. Two months would make her a mental and physical wreck.
I have described my first day in the asylum, and as my other nine were exactly the same in the general run of things it would be tiresome to tell about each. [...]
As I passed a low pavilion, where a crowd of helpless lunatics were confined, I read a motto on the wall, “While I live I hope.” The absurdity of it struck me forcibly. I would have liked to put above the gates that open to the asylum, “He who enters here leaveth hope behind.” [...] The insane asylum on Blackwell’s Island is a human rat-trap. It is easy to get in, but once there it is impossible to get out.”
…Tales of the Unexpected and More Tales of the Unexpected, by Roald Dahl. It‘s an pretty damn good book; I gave it 4 stars (‘really liked it’) on goodreads (the average rating there is 4.16), but I seriously considered giving it 5 stars (‘it was amazing’). The reason why I didn’t was that it’s a collection of short stories, and whereas some of the stories on their own surely deserve 5 stars, I’m not sure the book as a whole does – not all stories are awesome, some are just ‘fine’.
Before I started out reading it yesterday I was under the impression that I hadn’t read Dahl before, but as I was reading the book I started feeling more and more certain I’d read some of the stories before – I’d imagine something like 15 years ago. I couldn’t remember the plotlines, so even though I’m reasonably sure I’ve read some of them before it felt like I was reading them for the first time.
It’s hard to illustrate how great this book is via quotes; most of them are great because of where you unexpectedly end up and because of how he manages to build up the tension during the stories, which are aspects you can’t really capture in quotes without giving too much away. But I’ll note that I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.
I decided that it might be a good idea to give a brief account of the ‘rejection process’ I went through today. I’d decided to give Thomas Attig’s How We Grieve a shot, but I quickly realized this was not a book I wanted to read. There are a few of those during any given year, but I rarely talk about them here. I prefer to say nothing when I don’t have a lot of nice things to say, but sometimes there’s a case for speaking up – and I think this is the case here. The book is written by a philosopher and the focus is on the stories of bereaved people (not on, say, data about grief responses) – the combination made me skeptical from the outset, but it was on a topic I figured might be interesting to read about, it was published by Oxford University Press, and it had a 4.8 rating on amazon – so I figured I should give it a try. The 4.8 rating is part of why I don’t want to stay silent. It had 3.5 on goodreads before I added a 1-star evaluation to the mix.
I didn’t get far – I thought the book was unreadable. Quotes and comments below:
“I have come to use a vocabulary of ego, soul, and spirit to flesh out my understanding of the nature of the self as it is embodied in a web of caring engagements in the world” (Margin note: This is bad. But…) (If I’d read this a few pages later, I’d probably not have read any more than that. But I’d read so little of the book’s introduction at that point that I didn’t think I could just reject the entire book out of hand because of problematic terminology like that, even though I was already seriously considering just throwing it away and reading something else.)
“If any single driving force motivated me to write the book, it is an abiding conviction that personal stories are ” the heart of the matter, ” both in responding to the bereaved and in developing thinking about grieving. [...] The existentialist philosopher in me insists that the understanding needed for a compassionate and effective caregiving response is possible only when we hear the stories grieving persons have to tell. As we listen attentively and caringly, we must focus on the uniqueness of the individual story-teller, of the challenges of living meaningfully and with integrity in his or her particular life circumstances, and of his or her personal confrontations with finiteness in bereavement and grieving. [...]
They [caregivers, grief counsellors, etc.] do not encounter or help general populations or abstract statistics but flesh and blood individuals who live in distinctive circumstances, develop irreplaceable relationships, and have unique experiences of loss and grief. Compassionate and effective caregiving is simply not possible without the courage to engage in heart to heart dialogue with those who are suffering about what they are experiencing, listening and responding in turn. [...] I urged the importance of getting past the idea that only scientific findings, news reports, biographies, or documentaries convey truth. Like myths, works of fiction, including folk tales, fables, parables, novels, short stories, plays, and films can be true to life without being literally true. And they can teach us a great deal about themes and narrative lines to listen for as others share their real-life tales of suffering.” (Margin note: From bad to worse…)
“I am by no means opposed to scientific research about loss and grief when science is broadly construed to include qualitative research focused upon careful listening to personal stories of experiences after particular kinds of deaths, within specified populations, in different family or cultural contexts, in response to different caregiving efforts, and the like. Experiences of relearning, and the support offered while having them, vary a great deal, and there is so much more to be learned about these families of experience through qualitative study.
I am skeptical, however, about the statistical generalizations that issue from quantitative research in the field.” (Margin note: And it gets worse…) [...] “The gap from generalization to application to individual cases is huge and difficult to bridge. Rarely do statistical findings provide useful insight for us individuals or our caregivers.” (Margin note: However this is likely true at least to some extent.)
“There are two areas where scientific explanation and prediction might be worth pursuing in grief research: First, it could be useful to validate or refine understanding of the causes of some of us becoming mired in grief reaction, not responding effectively or meaningfully to changes in the world of our experience and, in some instances, needing specialized professional help to relearn them. [...] Second, it would be useful to do research to discover the causes of success or failure in approaches to caregiving, to evaluate which make things worse, which do no harm hut are ineffective, and which actually help to promote effective relearning (Margin note: So it’s not all bad – at least there’s some common ground…) [...]
“When we attend to them, our emotions tell us about our brokenness, all we have taken for granted, and what we need for survival, reengaging in the world, and even thriving again. Emotions that arise from our ego tell us about our needs to be effective, desires to keep up appearances and reputation, and illusions of complete independence from others, invulnerability, and limitless control. What I choose to call emotions of soul tell us about our deep needs for roots, belonging, nurture, connection, care, and love. All of these enable us to make ourselves at home in the familiar. And what I choose to call emotions of spirit tell us about our deep needs for courage, hope, purpose, meaning, adventure, and joy. All of these enable us to reach beyond the familiar, grow, and soar in the extraordinary. When we grasp what our emotions are telling us, they loosen their grip on us and begin motivating tentative reengagement in the worlds of our experience.” (No margin note, but I’m (again) getting very close to putting the book away for good here.) [...]
“I have come to believe that what I call “sorrowfriendly” practices can enable us to listen effectively to our not so inscrutable emotions, learn valuable lessons from them, and use the lessons as we reengage with the world. I view these practices as grieving responses inasmuch as they provide a means of actively engaging with grief reactions. I have in mind such practices as using ceremony and ritual, sharing and exploring sorrow with another, keeping a grief journal, meditating, attending to sorrow in our bodies, pondering our dreams, calling forth and engaging with unconscious images, seeking meaning in after-death encounters with our loved ones, experiencing or creating works of art, surrendering in silence to mystery, attending to breath and breathing into deep rhythms of life, leaning into faith, and opening our hearts in prayer. For many of us, this kind of grieving response as active engagement with our grief reactions proves invaluable in readying us for active reengagement in the world.” (This guy just kept adding way too much crap into way too few pages. Margin note: Okay, I’m out… So I closed the book and wrote this brief review.)
Sorry for the infrequent updates.
On goodreads I gave the book a 2 – corresponding to ‘it was ok’. It wasn’t a bad book, and it was closer to 3 (‘liked it’) than 1 (‘did not like it’). Do recall this as you read the post. The average rating on goodreads is 3.59, and the average amazon rating is 4.3, so a lot of people seem to have liked the book better than I did. Perhaps it has to do with the horrid quality of the alternatives out there? It may also have to do with the format of the book:
“I do [...] place a good deal of stress on the obvious in this book, and that is quite deliberate. In logic, as in life, it is the obvious that most often bears emphasizing, because it so easily escapes our notice. [...] This is neither a treatise in logical theory nor a textbook in logic [...] My governing purpose was to write a practical guidebook, presenting the basic principles of logic in a way that is accessible to those who are encountering the subject for the first time. Being Logical seeks to produce practitioners, not theoreticians — people for whom knowing the principles of logic is in the service of being logical.”
Much of the stuff covered I’d seen before in other contexts, but there was some new stuff and some stuff I’d long forgotten; it wasn’t my first book on logic, but it was the first semi-decent book on the subject I’ve read in a while. I got somewhat annoyed along the line by the fact that many of the (evolutionary, biological, etc.) reasons why we behave illogically are not addressed in the book at all – he mentions once or twice in passing that being logical has a cost associated with it because it takes effort, but that’s it. A little bit about that stuff seems very important to me to include in a book like this, because otherwise the advice given can easily become disconnected from peoples’ experiences; telling someone not to be emotional when making arguments is fine, but when are you likely to be emotional, how can you tell, and how can you increase the costs associated with behaving emotionally and disregard logic in situations where it is particularly important to not do that? No stuff like that is included in the book. On the other hand this is probably just the format taking its toll; he intended it to be short and readable and he succeeded, although the format has some limitations. I immediately jumped to ‘what about quantum mechanics? – should the state of QM theory not make us reject that principle ‘on principle’?’ when reading about the law of excluded middle – and although it later turned out I’m not the only one thinking that way, this is probably not an important counterpoint to include in a book with a scope like this one. But on the other hand when the author includes stuff like this, you get annoyed if you’re me:
“Another trait of first principles—it follows from their being self-evident—is that they cannot be proven. This means that they are not conclusions that follow from premises; they are not truths dependent upon antecedent truths. This is because first principles represent truths that are absolutely fundamental. They are “first” in the strongest sense of the word.”
If we know that the world has some randomness in it that we can’t get rid of, if truth is in some fundamental sense best thought of as (irreducibly) probabilistic to some extent, then what does that tell you about the previously mentioned supposedly ‘absolutely fundamental first principle’? Metaphysicians are always one step ahead, but physicians tend to be right behind them and sometimes they will catch up with the metaphysicians (or religious leaders, or…). Language like this will make some people tend to think of the author as an ignorant and arrogant/self-important philosopher with a fundamentally simplistic worldview that doesn’t correctly map how the world works. ‘Something is either true or false’ was an ‘established fact’ before QM – but science marched on. There are other, more decision-relevant contexts where a (to me) similar implicit rejection of probabilistic reasoning takes place, and this is by far the biggest problem I have with this book. I’ll discuss these aspects in more details in a few of the comments below.
Anyway, some more quotes and comments:
“Being logical presupposes our having a sensitivity to language and a knack for its effective use, for logic and language are inseparable. It also presupposes our having a healthy respect for the firm factualness of the world in which we live, for logic is about reality. Finally, being logical presupposes a lively awareness of how the facts that are our ideas relate to the facts that are the objects in the world, for logic is about truth. [...]
Our ideas are clear, and our understanding of them is clear, only to the extent that we keep constant tabs on the things to which they refer. The focus must always be on the originating sources of our ideas in the objective world. [...] The more we focus on our ideas in a way that systematically ignores their objective origins, the more unreliable those ideas become. [...] Bad ideas can be informative, not about the objective world—for they have ceased faithfully to reflect that world—but about the subjective state of the persons who nourish those ideas. Bad ideas do not just happen. We are responsible for them. They result from carelessness on our part, when we cease to pay sufficient attention to the relational quality of ideas, or, worse, are a product of the willful rejection of objective facts.” [...]
“To be in a state of uncertainty concerning the truth is neither a pleasant nor a desirable state to be in, and we should always be striving to get out of such states as soon as possible.” (Note added in the margin: “Here I violently disagree. Probabilistic reasoning is much more useful than ‘categorical’ reasoning in terms of estimating the true state of the world – categorical reasoning is limited in a way probabilistic reasoning is not, and the added flexibility needn’t be a cost and will often prove beneficial. Admitting to uncertainties about the true state of the world should be considered a virtue. Adding probabilities to estimates increases accuracy and decreases (implicit) measurement error. Applied probabilistic reasoning also makes us more likely to update our beliefs over time.”)
“The principle of sufficient reason tells us that things don’t just happen. They are caused to happen. We do not know the causes of everything, but we know that everything has a cause. A good part of our energies as rational creatures is devoted to the search for causes. We want to know why things happen. The knowledge of causes, simply from a theoretical point of view, can be very satisfying, since to know the causes of things is to have a truly profound understanding of them.” (As has been noted elsewhere (the book was bad, but that point stands) applying causal models is not without costs – but the costs are not addressed in this book, only the benefits. As I bluntly put it in the margin: “The hunt for causes isn’t always a good thing; we tend to apply causal thinking to areas where they do us no good. Often the causes we come up with are wrong – often ‘shit happens’ is a truer statement than ‘X caused Y’. We should be aware of this.”)
“Everything I have said thus far has been said with argument in mind. Argument is the activity of logic, and any particular argument is a concrete manifestation of the reasoning process. The next step in the process will be to look more closely at the statement, more specifically, at the “categorical statement.” The most effective argument is one whose conclusion is a categorical statement. A categorical statement tells us that something definitely is the case. [...] A categorical argument (one made up of categorical statements) is the most effective of arguments, then, because it provides us with certain knowledge.” (Note in the margin: “No it doesn’t. It just gives us the illusion of certain knowledge. Which is bad. Arguments involving categorical statements may be the “most effective” – but they are not necessarily the most true. Often statements involving likelihoods have much higher truth-correspondence. The application of categorical statements will often lead to faulty reasoning because uncertainty (which contains valuable information) is neglected.”)
“[The agnostic] claims ignorance as to the truth of a certain matter. Just as there is a place for skepticism in sound reasoning, so is there also a place for an honest agnosticism. We are being honestly agnostic when we simply admit to an ignorance that is really ours, here and now. If our knowledge of a particular thing is so limited that it does not allow us to take a confident position regarding it, we should refrain from committing ourselves. To do otherwise would be intellectually irresponsible. Evasive agnosticism is the attitude that attempts to pass off vincible ignorance as if it were invincible. It is one thing to say “I don’t know” after long and assiduous research into a subject. It is quite another to say “I don’t know” when you haven’t even bothered to look into the matter. The person who succumbs to evasive agnosticism uses ignorance as an excuse rather than a reason. Such ignorance is the result of indifference or laziness.” (Margin note: “But again it is necessary to ‘pick your battles’ because logical thinking is hard work – we can’t apply it all the time because it is costly. And we can’t do research on everything. Agnosticism will often, at least for utility function specifications implicitly argued for here where people care mainly about the truth of statements, be much preferable to a poorly reasoned position.)
“The more intense our emotional state, the more difficult it is to think clearly and behave temperately. [...] we need to be constantly aware of the fact that if emotion gains the ascendancy in any situation, clear thinking is going to suffer. [...] There is a simple rule of thumb to be followed here: Never appeal directly to people’s emotions.”
“In the ideal debate, the primary purpose of the debaters is not to triumph over each other, but rather by their combined efforts to ferret out the truth as it pertains to the issues being debated.” (not new, but nice that stuff like this is included in the book.)
This one was fun, as it was from the last part of the last chapter: “If we are tempted to call black white, or white black, it is because the complexities of life sometimes overwhelm us. But it is not a rational response to a complex reality to simplify it in such a way that grossly distorts it. The result of simplistic reasoning is always distortion.” (…fun considering how he feels about categorical reasoning. Categorical reasoning is just a simplified version of the more general form of probabilistic reasoning, admitting only a binary probability variable that will often grossly distort the truth by adding measurement errors to our estimates.)
“Compliance is the degree to which a patient is compliant with the instructions that are given by a healthcare professional and written on the medication label (for example, prescribed dose and time schedule).” (p.8 – I didn’t know that definition before reading the book so it made sense to me to start out with this quote, to make sure people are aware of what this book is about.)
It’s an interesting book with a lot of stuff I didn’t know and/or at the very least hadn’t thought about. A couple of the chapters were quite weak and I basically skipped most of chapter 6, which was written by a pharmaceutical marketing consultant who wrote about branding stuff which I couldn’t care less about – but most of the book was quite good. One of the chapters (chapter 8) very surprisingly included undocumented claims which were to some extent proven wrong in a previous chapter (chapter 3) – it seemed as if the authors of that chapter had not read the previous chapter in question. Here’s what they wrote at the very beginning of their chapter (chapter 8):
“Compliance is important. Better adherence to treatment regimes leads to less healthcare resource utilization overall, as fewer illness recurrence or medication errors leading to side-effects take place.” (p.109)
And here’s what Dr. Dyffrig Hughes told us in chapter 3:
From the studies evaluated, the direction and magnitude of the change in costs and consequences resulting from applying sensitivity analysis to the compliance rate was measured and taken as an indicator of the impact of non-compliance. There was consistency among studies, in that as compliance decreased (whatever the measure), the [health] benefits also decreased [...] There is no consistency, however, in the direction of change in costs resulting from changes in compliance [my bold, US] [...] Whilst some studies show that costs increase as compliance decreases, others showed the opposite trend. This difference did not appear to be related to the nature of the disease, the measure of non-compliance or the assumptions relating to the health benefits experienced by non-compliers.
And here’s even a figure illustrating this point:
A little more from chapter 3 on the same subject: “The economic evaluations described demonstrate that medical expenditures do not always increase because of poor compliance. However, the limitations in the methodology adopted in many of the studies would suggest that the reported changes in healthcare expenditure may not necessarily be observed in practice. It is difficult, therefore, to predict the true economic impact of non-compliance with drug therapy, particularly as evidence relating to discontinuers is often not reported. It is the case, however, that decisions on optimal treatments, based on economic criteria, are influenced by non-compliance [...] Health economic evaluations often fail to include non-compliance with medications. As a significant proportion of evaluations are based on efficacy trials, attention should be given to how their findings might be generalized. In particular, as poor compliance is one of the most important elements responsible for the differences that may exist between the effectiveness and efficacy of an intervention, greater consideration should be given to compliance when generalizing from the results of a controlled clinical trial. An optimal cost-effective treatment strategy chosen on the basis of efficacy data may not be so attractive once real-world compliance figures are taken into account.”
I don’t consider this to be an unforgiveable error in a book like this with a lot of authors writing about different aspects of the problem, but it doesn’t help that the authors of chapter 8 repeat the claim that improved compliance will have cost-saving effects in their conclusion of the chapter as well, and at the very least it doesn’t make them look good to me (a more cautious and tentative approach in the introduction and the conclusion of the chapter would have suited me better). A good editor sh(/w)ould probably have caught something like this.
The efficacy/effectiveness difference he talks about relates to the fact that the results of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) could/should be considered estimates of the health effects related to something close to the ideal treatment scenario, whereas real world implementation (effectiveness) of the treatment in question will often provide patients a sometimes significantly lower health benefit in terms of average treatment effect (or similar metrics), because of differences in the composition of the two groups and the settings of the treatment protocols applied, among other things. RCTs often deliberately try to maximize compliance e.g. by excluding patients who are likely to be non-compliers, and that of course will lead to biased estimates if you apply such estimates to the total patient population. There are many variables affecting how big the potential difference between efficacy and effectiveness may be for a particular drug and they cover that stuff, as well as a lot of other stuff, in the book. Non-compliance rates are much bigger than I’d imagined, but there are a lot of reasons for this that I hadn’t considered. The fact that non-compliance is widespread can be inferred even from the definitions applied in clinical trials:
“ultimately it is the outcome that is important. This might not always require that all doses of a drug are taken. Indeed, in short-term efficacy clinical trials patients who take 80 per cent or more of their medication, based upon pill counts, are usually considered ‘compliant’.” (p.14)
You can fail to take one-fifth of the medicine and still be considered compliant. Indeed as Parkinson, Wei and McDonald put it in their chapter:
“As the reader of this chapter it might be informative to reflect on your own behaviour: can you honestly say that you have always complied fully with every tablet of every prescription and have always finished the course? A very few readers will say yes, with honesty. The reality is that nearly everyone is non-compliant; the variable is the degree of non-compliance.”
A few numbers from the book illustrating the extent of the problem:
“reports (for example, Sung et al., 1998) have suggested that only 37 percent of participants take greater than 90 per cent of all doses of statins over a two-year period. [...]
[Astma:] When patients were aware of being monitored a majority (60 per cent) were fully compliant, but when unaware the majority had a compliance rate between 30 and 51 per cent (Yeung et al., 1994). [...]
Significant levels of non-redemption [of prescriptions], as seen in this study, have subsequently been confirmed within the large UK general practice databases such as GPRD where there is only about 90 per cent concordance between the prescriptions issued by the GP and those recorded as being redeemed at a pharmacy by the UK Prescription Pricing Authority (Rodriguez et al., 2000). [...]
Chapman et al. (2005) recently examined compliance with concomitant antihypertensive and lipid-lowering drug therapy in 8406 enrollees in a US-managed care plan [...] Less than half of patients (44.7 per cent) were adherent with both therapies three months after medication initiation, a figure that decreased to 35.8 per cent at 12 months. [...]
Despite international clinical guidelines recommending lipid-lowering treatment in patients with clinically evident atherosclerotic vascular disease, study after study has documented low treatment rates in this high-risk patient population, thereby creating a clinical practice and public health dilemma (Fonarow and Watson, 2003).
Only about 30 per cent of patients with established CVD and raised serum lipids, and fewer than 10 per cent of individuals eligible for primary prevention, receive lipidlowering therapy. Target total cholesterol concentrations are then achieved in fewer than 50 per cent of patients who do receive such treatment (Primatesta and Poulter, 2000).
Poor patient compliance to medication regimen is a major factor in the lack of success in treating hyperlipidaemia (Schedlbauer et al., 2004). All of the lipid-lowering drugs must be continued indefinitely; when they are stopped, plasma cholesterol concentrations generally return to pretreatment levels (Anon, 1998). [...]
Up to half of the patients treated for hypertension drop out of care entirely within a year of diagnosis (ibid. [WHO, 2003b], Flack et al., 1996). [...]
Non-compliance comes in many forms: depending on the disease area, as many as one in five patients fail to take the first step of collecting a prescription from the pharmacy. Many patients on short-term medications depart from recommended doses within a day or two of starting treatment. And many of those on longer-term medication may take a break from their medication or vary their dose depending on how they feel. A review of the evidence (Horne and Weinman, 1999) concluded that compliance overall is approximately 50 per cent but varies across different medication regimens, different illnesses and different treatment settings.”
A little more stuff from the book:
“Compliance depends on many factors, including the study population (better in educated compared to disadvantaged patients) type of intervention, duration of treatment, complexity of treatment, real or perceived side-effects and life circumstances (see Table 8.1). The reasons are often patient-specific, multifaceted and can change over time. Demographically, the very young, the very old, teenagers and those taking very complex treatment regimes are the least likely to comply. [...]
asymptomatic and chronic diseases needing long-term treatment [...] result in poorer compliance; and [...] the longer the remission in chronic diseases, the lower the compliance (Blackwell, 1976). [...] patient-controlled non-compliance was lower in treatment for diseases in which the relationship between non-compliance and recurrence is very clear, such as diabetes, compared to treatment for diseases in which this relationship is less clear [...] Of course, cognitive deficit, helplessness, poor motivation and withdrawal all lead to forgetfulness and passive or structural noncompliance (Gitlin et al., 1989; Shaw, 1986). [...] most non-compliance is intentional and results from conscious choices. [...]
As a rule, patients cannot be simply classified as compliers or non-compliers. Rather, the level of compliance ranges from patients who take every prescribed dose precisely as directed to those who never do with the typical patient lying between these two extremes. The degree to which patients intend to comply with a regimen can be subdivided into patient-controlled and structural. Patient-controlled factors can be subdivided further into rational behaviour (as seen in patients with Parkinson’s disease who regulate their own dosing) and irrational behaviours (such as self-induced seizures). Structural factors are those beyond the patient’s control, such as impaired memory or difficulty accessing medication (Leppik, 1990). [...]
Compliance and adherence to therapy are complex issues with no obvious ‘one size fits all’ solution available. It appears that actively involving patients in treatment decisions, empowering patients with access to medical information and providing ongoing monitoring all contribute to improved compliance and adherence rates. The challenge for health services, however, is to provide these enhanced levels of support cost-effectively.”
The book is a few years old and sometimes you can tell. I was curious along the way about how much things have changed in the meantime. I’m guessing less than would have been optimal.
I should point out lastly that I have made a goodreads profile. I haven’t added a lot of books to my profile yet, but I may decide to use that site actively in the future. At goodreads I gave the book 3 stars, corresponding to an ‘I liked it’ evalution.
There would be plenty of much worse stories to read to your child. Mind you, when the child is a bit older it might be a good idea to introduce him/her to the Blackadder version…
I’ve completed the book. The last part of the book wasn’t that bad, though I remain unconvinced of some of the findings in these chapters because of methodological issues I have with the way they do things (Here’s a link relevant to one of the issues I have: “Whether individual Likert items can be considered as interval-level data, or whether they should be treated as ordered-categorical data is the subject of considerable disagreement in the literature, with strong convictions on what are the most applicable methods. This disagreement can be traced back, in many respects, to the extent to which Likert items are interpreted as being ordinal data. [...] Non-parametric tests should be preferred for statistical inferences [...] While some commentators consider that parametric analysis is justified for a Likert scale using the Central Limit Theorem, this should be reserved for when the Likert scale has suitable symmetry and equidistance” (I’m far from sure these requirements are met). It was still interesting stuff, though I believe the chapters in the middle were the most interesting ones. I’d say that if your impression after reading some of the quotes I’ve posted is that ‘it’d be an interesting read’, you should probably read it. A few quotes from the last part of the book:
i. “until the late 1980s we had never conducted research on college students. When the NEO Personality Inventory was first published (Costa & McCrae, 1985), we heard from psychologists around the country who thought there was something wrong with our norms, because their student samples were far from average. Colleagues generously provided data from students at two West Coast universities, one East Coast, and one Southern university. A comparison of these data showed several striking effects: All the students differed substantially from our adult norms; all the subsamples showed very similar patterns; and men and women had parallel age trends (Costa & McCrae, 1989). The implication was that college students differed systematically from adults in the mean levels of many traits. [...] We began our careers looking for signs of adult development and found mainly stability. Examining what might be expected to be the most volatile time of life, the teenage years, we now find—mostly stability. As Figure 9.7 shows, adolescence appears to occupy a plateau before the important changes of the next decade. But there is one extremely important difference between this plateau and that seen after age 30. As Roberts and DelVeccio (2000) show, the stability of individual differences is inversely related to age. Costa, Herbst et al. (2000) studied 40-year-olds over a 6- to 9-year interval and reported a median retest correlation of .83 across the five factors. Over the 4 years of college, Robins et al. (2001) reported a substantially lower median retest correlation of .60, and the median retest for gifted 12-yearolds was only .38 (Costa, Parker, & McCrae, 2000).
What these dramatically lower stability coefficients mean is that adolescence really is a turbulent time in which the personality traits of any given individual may change considerably. But across individuals, there is no uniform trend. Some teenagers become more agreeable—more courteous, generous, and modest—as they go through junior high and high school, but an equal number become more antagonistic, belligerent, and arrogant. Similarly, individuals’ shifts in N, E, and C appear to yield no net effect on mean levels at this age.
The exception is O, on which both boys and girls show systematic change in mean level. [...] Social class certainly has marked effects on the life course, but there is little data on whether personality traits develop differently in different social groups. Physical health status in general has little effect on personality or its stability (Costa, Metter, & McCrae, 1994)” (from chapter 9)
“individuals were more compartmentalized when stress was high than when stress was low (t(13) = 2.71, p < .02). With the exception of the low vulnerability, minor events group, there was a tendency for all groups to be more compartmentalized when stress was high than when stress was low. [...] among those who were experiencing high levels of stress, greater compartmentalization was associated with less negative mood.
Although these data are correlational and must be interpreted cautiously, they are consistent with the notion that increases in compartmentalization may be an effective response to stressful life events. Individuals who have the flexibility to change their type of self-organization may experience less negative mood when stressful events occur.” (from chapter 11)
“Interpersonal behavior [...] involves the temporal coordination of behavior at divergent levels of analysis, from basic movements and utterances to broad action categories reflecting momentary goals and long-range plans. Even something as elemental as leaving a room, after all, requires that the room’s occupants coordinate their physical movements so as not to stumble over each other. As group action becomes more complex, the ability of group members to coordinate their activities in time becomes correspondingly more important.
To distinguish the dynamic aspects of coordination from its conventional interpretation, we employ the term synchronization. Synchronization refers to the fact that the actions, thoughts, and feelings of one person are temporally related to the actions, thoughts, and feelings of one or more other people. [...] In its most basic form, synchronization refers to the coupling of behavior patterns [...] Synchronization [...] is likely to become more difficult as the action in question becomes more complex. It may be impossible, for example, for two unacquainted people to synchronize their efforts sufficiently to assemble a mechanical device or create a piece of art. The ability to synchronize in more complex modes requires at least some semblance of concordance in the requisite internal states of each person. [...] The importance of similarity in facilitating synchronization is apparent with respect to stable characteristics such as attitudes, values, talents, temperament, and personality traits. Indeed, similarity with respect to such characteristics has been shown consistently to be among the strongest preconditions for interpersonal attraction (cf. Byrne, Clore, & Smeaton, 1986; Newcomb, 1961). By the same token, individuals avoid forming relationships with people who appear to be different from them in their personal characteristics (e.g., Rosenbaum, 1986). [...]
Even if someone’s internal state is readily detectable, it may prove difficult to modify one’s own state to match it. It is hard to change one’s cognitive style or temperament, for example, regardless of how pragmatic it would be do so in preparing for an interaction with someone whose way of thinking and tempo of expression is markedly different from one’s own. There is evidence, for example, that differences in temperament can hinder effective emotional and behavioral coordination (e.g., Dunn & Plomin, 1990). In this sense, personality sets constraints on social interaction. People’s stable characteristics—traits, values, and the like—bias the choice of interaction partners and dictate the likely success of establishing relationships with those who are chosen.
But one can look at the process in reverse to ask how social interactions shape personality. Personality, after all, comes from somewhere. [...] We propose that individual differences are shaped by the history of social interactions. [...] In essence, the model envisions social interaction as a vehicle for coupling the dynamics of individuals. Each individual brings his or her personal dynamic tendencies to social interaction and attempts to synchronize these tendencies with his or her interaction partner. As a result of these attempts, social interaction revises the settings for each individual, or engraves entirely new settings, which then provide the foundation for subsequent social interactions. In principle, this reciprocal relation between settings of internal parameters and social interaction iterates continuously throughout social life. In reality, the engravings of some tendencies are likely to become particularly stable and thus resistant to modification in the ordinary course of social encounters. [...]
With respect to modeling human dynamics, the dynamical variable (x) can be interpreted as behavior. Changes in x thus reflect variation in the intensity of behavior. The control parameter, r, corresponds to internal states (e.g., personality traits, moods, values, etc.) that shape the person’s pattern of behavior (i.e., changes in x over time). [...] (α) corresponds to the strength of coupling and reflects the mutual interdependency of the relationship. When the fraction is 0, there is no coupling on the behavior level. When the fraction is 1, each person’s behavior is determined equally by his or her preceding behavior and the preceding behavior of the other person. [...] The main results [...of their simulations - US] were straightforward. In general, the degree of synchronization between partners’ behaviors increased both with α and similarity in r. This implies that similarity in internal states and interdependence can compensate for one another in achieving or maintaining a given level of synchronization. [...] Modeling the direct synchronization of control parameters is relatively straightforward. One need only assume that on each simulation step, the value of each person’s control parameter drifts somewhat in the direction of the value of the partner’s control parameter. The rate of this drift and the size of the initial discrepancy between the values of the respective control parameters determine how quickly the control parameters begin to match. This mechanism assumes that both interaction partners can directly estimate the settings of one another’s control parameters. In many types of relationships, considerable effort may be focused on communicating or inferring these settings (cf. Jones & Davis, 1965; Kunda, 1999; Nisbett & Ross, 1980; Wegner & Vallacher, 1977). Even with such effort, however, the exact values of the relevant control parameters may be difficult or impossible to determine.
Control parameters can also become synchronized through behavioral coordination. Research concerning the facial feedback hypothesis, for instance, has established that when people are induced to mechanically adopt a specific facial configuration linked to a particular mood (e.g., disgust), they tend also to adopt the corresponding affective state (e.g., Strack, Martin, & Stepper, 1988). This matching of internal states to overt behavior is enhanced when the behavior is interpersonal in nature. Even role playing, in which a person simply follows a behavioral script in social interaction, often produces pronounced changes in attitudes and values on the part of the role player (e.g., Zimbardo, 1970). [...]
Figure 12.1 shows the time course of synchronization as two maps progressively match each other’s control parameters [...] This simulation was run for relatively weak coupling (α = 0.25). The x-axis corresponds to time in simulation steps, and the y-axis portrays the value of the difference between the two maps. The thin line corresponds to the difference in the dynamic variables, whereas the thicker line corresponds to the difference in r. Over time, the difference in the respective control parameters of the two maps decreases and the maps become perfectly synchronized in their behavior. This suggests that attempting behavioral synchronization with weak levels of influence and control over one another’s behavior will facilitate matching of one another’s internal states.
Figure 12.2 shows the results when the simulation was run with a stronger value of coupling (α = 0.7). Note that although coordination in behavior develops almost immediately, the control parameters fail to converge, even after 1,000 simulation steps. This is because strong coupling causes full synchronization of behavior, even for maps with quite different control parameters. Once the behavior is in full synchrony, the two maps do not have a clue that their control parameters are different. Hence, if the coupling were removed, the dynamics of the two respective maps would immediately diverge. This result suggests that using very strong influence to obtain coordination of behavior may effectively hinder synchronization at a deeper level. More generally, there is optimal level of influence and control over behavior in relationships. If influence is too weak, synchronization may fail to develop. Very strong influence, on the other hand, can prevent the development of a relationship based on mutual understanding and empathy. Although highly controlled partners may fully synchronize their behavior, they are unlikely to internalize the values of control parameters necessary to maintain such behavior in the absence of interpersonal influence. For such internalization to occur, intermediate levels of mutual influence would seem to be most effective.” (from the last chapter of the book)
I like this book, it’s quite good. Some more quotes:
“Perhaps one of the most useful contributions of understanding the patterns of regional brain activity that characterize personality traits and clinical syndromes is the potential insight it provides into individual differences in cognitive capabilities and styles. Numerous studies have shown that activity in regions of the cortex specialized for particular modes of information processing predicts performance on tasks that benefit from that type of computation. In the vast majority of studies [...] increased activity is associated with better performance, whereas deficient activity is associated with decrements in performance. [...] Both anxious apprehension and anxious arousal types of anxiety, as well as depression, are characterized by specific cognitive biases and impairments [...] Anxiety in general has been strongly associated with an attentional bias to threatening stimuli [...] We have argued that these attentional biases toward threat-related stimuli dovetail with specializations of the right posterior region for visual and spatial attention, vigilance, and autonomic arousal, reflecting the activity of an emotional surveillance system (Nitschke et al., 2000). Our recent fMRI research suggests that this area may include temporal, parietal, and occipital regions of the right hemisphere (Compton et al., 2001; Miller, 2000). [...] In depression, deficits have been described for explicit memory, executive functions, and visuospatial skills [...] We have argued that decreased activity in prefrontal brain regions can account for many of the cognitive impairments in depression, including memory for material on tasks that require or benefit from information-organizing strategies, the ability to access errors accurately, problem solving, and cognitive flexibility. Depression has also been consistently associated with impairments on tasks associated with right posterior regions of the brain (e.g., Deldin, Keller, Gergen, & Miller, 2000; Keller et al., 2000; for review of earlier studies, see Heller & Nitschke, 1997). These findings are consistent with evidence that there is decreased activity in these brain regions (Banich et al., 1992; Liotti & Tucker, 1992; Otto, Yeo, & Dougher, 1987).” (from chapter 4)
“Schmidt (1999) reported that left and right anterior brain activity is differentially associated with sociability and shyness, respectively. From an incentive–threat perspective, sociability reflects an incentive-oriented view of other individuals (often major sources of reward), whereas shyness reflects a threat-oriented view of others (often, also, major sources of punishment). [...] Henriques and Davidson (1990, 1991) have shown that currently or previously depressed individuals (i.e., those who present a significant lack of incentive motivation) exhibit relatively less resting left frontal activity. In summary, there is a substantial set of studies demonstrating links between left- and right-sided anterior cortical activity with incentive and threat motivation sensitivity, respectively. [...] Given that one component of motivation is the detection, selection, and orientation toward incentives and threats, it appears likely that individual differences in the strength of these two systems would influence information processing in a way that is consistent with the stronger of the two systems under circumstances in which other factors are controlled for. [This hypothesis has been tested and it holds, at least to some extent. Such biological differences may be used to explain part of the inter-individual variation in e.g. risk preferences - US.]” (from chapter 5)
“In the models of development as they are related to personality, we use a combination of approaches. Here I consider three models of the development of personality: a trait or status model, a contextual or environmental model, and an interactional model. [...] The trait or status model is characterized by its simplicity. It holds to the view that a trait, or the status of the child at one point in time, is likely to predict a trait or status at a later point in time. A trait model is not interactive and does not provide for the effects of the environment. In fact, in the most extreme form, the environment is thought to play no role either in effecting its display or in transforming its characteristics. A particular trait may interact with the environment, but the trait is not changed by that interaction. [...] The prototypic environmental model holds that exogenous factors influence development. Two of the many problems in using this model are (1) our difficulty in defining what environments are and (2) the failure to consider the impact of environments throughout the lifespan. In fact, the strongest form of the developmental environmental or contextual model argues for the proposition that adaptation to current environment throughout the life course has a major influence on our behavior and on our personalities. Moreover, such a model is familiar to students of personality because it represents the idea that context, to a large degree, determines behavior. As environments change, so too does the individual (Lewis, 1997). This dynamic and changing view of environments and adaptation is in strong contrast to the earlier models of environments as forces that act on the individual and that act on the individual only in the early years of life. [...] in the study of personality development, even though we recognize that environments can cause both normal and abnormal behavior, we prefer to treat the person—to increase coping skills or to alter specific behaviors—rather than to change the environment (Lewis, 1997). Yet we can imagine the difficulties that are raised when we attempt to alter specific maladaptive behaviors in environments in which such behaviors are adaptive [...] The general environmental model that I have suggested (Lewis, 1997) holds that children’s behavior always is a function of the environment in which the behavior occurs, because the task of the individual is to adapt to its current environment.1 As long as the environment appears consistent, the child’s behavior will be consistent; if the environment changes, so, too, will the child’s behavior. It is the case that maladaptive environments produce both normal and abnormal behavior. From a developmental point of view, I would hold that maladaptive behavior is caused by maladaptive environments; if we change those environments, we may be able to alter the behavior. [...]
Although the trait model is most often used in research, the interactional model is usually held to be the one which, from a theoretical point of view, is most likely to account for the development and change in personality. This mismatch between theory and research has serious implications for the growth of our knowledge about human development. Interactional models vary; some researchers prefer to call them “interactional” and others “transactional” (Lewis, 1972; Sameroff & Chandler, 1975). All these models have in common the role of both child and environment in determining the course of development. In these models, the nature of the environment and the characteristics or traits of the child are needed to explain concurrent, as well as subsequent, behavior and adjustment. Such models usually require an active child and an active environment; however, they need not do so. What they do require is the notion that behavior is shaped by its adaptive ability and that this ability is related to environments. Maladaptive behavior may be misnamed because the behavior may be adaptive to a maladaptive environment. [...] Although there is some evidence in the developmental literature for an interactional approach, the data are not that strong (Lewis, 1999c). Moreover, without a consideration of the environment over time, it is still relatively unproven whether any interactional model accounts for more of the variance than does an environmental model alone. As is discussed subsequently, without the proper environmental measurement, any serious test of the various developmental models is not possible. [...]
earlier traits or characteristics have little relation to later personality characteristics and [...] the concurrent environment is most predictive of these characteristics. These results, in general, hold across most longitudinal studies. It has been labeled a simplex pattern, as prediction grows weak as the two age points increase in time. [...] I have approached the topic of continuity and discontinuity of personality characteristics by looking at the data in the early period of the lifespan. How do the data for the earlier part of the lifespan, the first two dozen years, agree with the data obtained across the whole lifespan? There appears to be general agreement that the correlations (or stability) of personality characteristics are quite low for the first 30–40 years of life but become stronger at later ages (Caspi & Roberts, 2001). This is explained in such terms as crystallization (Caspi & Roberts, 2001) [...] As a field, we have argued for a very powerful hypothesis. We have argued that personality characteristics of individuals are enduring across time and context. In this chapter, I have raised the question of whether or not the data from the past 75 years of development and study supports this powerful hypothesis. It is not supported in the first third of life, and the correlations are, overall, rather weak for the rest of the lifespan.” (from chapter 6)
“From biological perspectives, phenotypic (and thereby genotypic) variability is the raw material on which natural selection operates. Selection in general is seen as a homogenizing force that culls less optimal variants in favor of those that foster survival and reproduction (Willams, 1966). Members of any population differ from one another in what is seen as largely inconsequential ways; individual differences are noise in the evolutionary process that results from nonselective mechanisms such as mutation, recombination, and drift. Studies in evolutionary psychology accordingly focus on topics such as mate selection, with little consideration for individual-difference variables [...] This species-general approach to evolutionary psychology confronts long-held beliefs in other fields of psychology that individual differences are anything but inconsequential. Personality theorists, for example, have long shown how individual differences are related to adaptation across the lifespan. Only more recently has it been suggested that these differences are themselves related to reproductive success [...] Work in behavioral genetics has shown that a good portion of this variation in personal characteristics is heritable Heritability is often considered to support evolutionary arguments, as “adaptations” must have a genetic component. Paradoxically, however, the more the variability in a population on a certain trait is due to genetic differences (i.e., heritability), the less likely it is that the trait is an “adaptation.” Naturally selected adaptations tend to have by definition very low heritabilities because there is little variation across individuals (e.g., a four-chambered heart). In other words, “heritable diversity is inversely proportional to adaptive importance” (Tooby & Cosmides, 1990, p. 49). [This is not news to me, but this is an important point perhaps not all readers are familiar with - US] [...]
Similar to several personality theories, theories of motivation [...] and models of social competence [...] resource control theory has the balancing of self and other goals at its core. This theoretical perspective is based on the assumption that humans, like other social species, should optimally behave in ways that facilitate personal resource acquisition while at the same time maintaining friendly bonds with other group members. The necessity of meeting one’s needs and simultaneously being a good group member underlies the evolution of much of human behavior and psychological organization: It implies that individuals must balance being egoistic and other-oriented [...] the presence of others intensifies intragroup competition for the very resources that the group acquires. In other words, “cooperative” relationships are inevitably contaminated by competition. [...]
McGuire and associates [...] have demonstrated that hierarchy ascendance is associated with serum serotonin elevations (Brammer, Raleigh, & McGuire, 1994; McGuire, Raleigh, & Brammer, 1984). In the presence of others, top-ranked male vervets had higher than average serotonin levels. When removed from the group, they returned to normal levels (i.e., dominance requires the presence of others). In the absence of the reigning alpha, a new male rose in the hierarchy and, accordingly, enjoyed elevated serotonin until the reigning male returned. The authors concluded that elevated serotonin was both a cause and effect of successful ascendance. The effects of serotonin on mood and behavior are well known: Low levels of serotonin are associated with low self-esteem, anxiety, and depression. Pharmacologically enhanced serotonin (e.g., serotonin reuptake inhibition) decreases anxiety and increases sociability and assertiveness [...] In a similar vein, social subordinance in nonhuman primates has been linked with hypercortisolism, an exaggerated stress response (Sapolsky, Alberts, & Altmann, 1997). [...]
Shahar, Grob, and Little (2001) examined the relationship between depression and the reported attainment of the goal of achieving an intimate relationship. In young adulthood (ages 18–39), there were no differences on depression—males and females who either had or had not achieved intimate-relationship status were similar in their low levels of depressive symptomology. In mid-age, on the other hand, substantial gaps appeared to emerge; in fact, all four groups differed. Males who had not attained intimate-relationship status showed the highest levels of depression, followed by females who had not, then males who had, and then females who had. By old age, the gender differences disappeared, but the effect of either having attained or not having attained an intimate relationship was pronounced. Those persons who had not established an intimate relationship reported greater depressive symptoms than those who had achieved intimacy with another person.” (from chapter 7)
“Most studies assume that genetics and individual family environment represent the only two influences on personality traits. [...] [Many] authors seem to assume that the environment stops at the door of the family home. As many theorists and researchers have argued, the larger sociocultural environment can have a substantial effect on personality and development [...] Examining “nonshared” environment (Plomin & Daniels, 1987) does not solve this problem, because twins (identical or fraternal) are necessarily the same birth cohort; thus the larger sociocultural environment is still “shared” environment (but “shared” environment outside of the family). Thus birth cohort might be a nongenetic explanation for the similarity between identical twins raised apart. [...] The fact that twins share a birth cohort also means that these studies have likely overestimated the heritability estimates for personality traits. Almost all of the studies examining genetic and environmental effects on personality have included samples of only one birth cohort (or samples very close in birth cohort). If more cohorts were included, then the variance in personality would likely increase. [...]
Working with my colleague Keith Campbell, I performed a metaanalysis on college students’ scores on the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale (RSE) between 1968 and 1994. We found that college students’ self-esteem scores increased about two thirds of a standard deviation over this 26-year period (Twenge & Campbell, 2001). Thus 1990s college undergraduates scored considerably higher in self-esteem than had their late-1960s counterparts. It is possible that today’s undergraduates actually do feel better about themselves compared with the college students of the 1960s. It could also be that college students now speak the language of self-esteem and understand that one is supposed to possess copious amounts of this supposedly precious substance. [...] In sum, the societal trend has been toward meeting new people more often and toward more fluid and changeable relationships. In this world, being extraverted is no longer a quirk of genetics; it is a virtual requirement (e.g., Whyte, 1956). When you are expected to leave your birth family at a young age and create an entirely new support system of your own, being outgoing becomes essential. Extraversion, in its classic form, is not simply about liking to be with people; it is about liking to be with many people (such as at a party) and being comfortable meeting new people. In modern society, both family and career depend, at least in part, on being extraverted. The available evidence suggests that extraversion began to increase in American college students beginning in the late 1960s. In a recent paper (Twenge, 2001a), I found that American undergraduates scored 0.79 to 0.97 standard deviations higher on extraversion scales in 1993 than in 1966 (the measures were the Extraversion scales of the Eysenck Personality Inventory and the Eysenck Personality Questionnaire). [...] During the most recent time period included in [Twenge, 2001b], sex differences in assertiveness decreased from a male advantage of 0.40 standard deviations in 1968 to no difference (d = –.07) in 1993. Thus assertiveness, once a solid sex difference favoring men, is now a personality trait with no discernible differences between men and women.” (from chapter 8)
I’m currently reading this book. A quote from the beginning of the first chapter which made me question if I should even keep on reading:
“we urge sensitivity to the potential limitations of some traditional scientific methods. The most distinguishing feature of persons is that they construct meaning by reflecting on themselves, the past, and the future. Many writers have questioned the assumptions that meaning construction can be adequately captured by the traditional methods of natural science or that persons can be construed as a collection of quantifiable personality variables that index essential qualities of the individual (Geertz, 1973, 2000; Polkinghorne, 1988; Shweder, 2000; Shweder & Sullivan, 1990; Taylor, 1989). They discourage the positing of abstract global tendencies, urging instead that personal qualities be studied within the specific physical, social, and cultural contexts that comprise the individual’s life (Kagan, 1998)—a theme that has been sounded by a variety of scholars throughout the history of the field (Shweder, 1999). These concerns are as much a part of personality science as are investigations that happily make these assumptions.”
I post this quote here to make clear that if they ‘go too much in that direction’ I’ll just stop reading (related to Miao’s recent comment). I’m not interested in crap, I’m interested in the science. But on another note, if that quote had made me stop reading I’d have missed out on some good stuff – so far it’s mostly been about the science. They haven’t gone too far in the other direction yet – actually chapter 2 was quite technical – and I’ve read about a third of the book at this point. Chapter 2 was interesting, but if I had to quote from that one (In Search of the Genetic Engram of Personality) I’d have to include a lot of quotes like: “studies have generated mixed results” and “studies [...] have produced negative results”, “The results of these studies have been mixed” etc. – not a lot of convincing and ‘obviously true’ findings have surfaced yet; as the authors put it: “So what can be said to summarize the discussion in this chapter? In short, the story is complex.” I found chapter 3, on Individual Differences in Childhood Shyness to be quite interesting too, and I’ll quote a bit from that below – it’s interesting also because stuff like this seems far more relevant to me (and perhaps also a few of the readers?) than does stuff on, say, the genetics of bipolar disorder or -schizophrenia (slightly related link).
So, what about that shyness stuff?
“Shyness reflects a preoccupation of the self in response to, or anticipation of, novel social encounters. Although shyness is a ubiquitous phenomenon that a large percentage of adults have reported experiencing at some point in their lives (Zimbardo, 1977), a smaller percentage of adults and children (around 10–15%) are consistently anxious, quiet, and behaviorally inhibited during social situations, particularly unfamiliar social situations (see Cheek & Buss, 1981; Kagan, 1994). [...] many of these shy children exhibit a distinct pattern of behavioral and physiological responses during baseline conditions and in response to social challenge in infancy and through the early school-age years [...]
Current thinking suggests that the origins of shy behavior may be linked to the dysregulation of some components of the fear system (LeDoux, 1996; Nader & LeDoux, 1999). Fear is a highly conserved emotion that is seen across mammals. It is the study of fear that has produced the most reliable evidence to date concerning the neuroanatomical circuitry of emotion. There is a rich and growing literature from studies of conditioned fear in animals that suggests that the frontal cortex and forebrain limbic areas are important components of the fear system. The frontal cortex is known to play a key role in the regulation of fear and other emotions. This region is involved in the motor facilitation of emotion expression, the organization and integration of cognitive processes that underlie emotion, and the ability to regulate emotions (see Fox, 1991, 1994). The frontal region also appears to regulate forebrain sites involved in the expression of emotion. The amygdala (and central nucleus) is one such forebrain/limbic site. There are demonstrated functional anatomical connections between the amygdala and the frontal region. [...] The amygdala (particularly the central nucleus) is known to play a significant role in the autonomic and behavioral aspects of conditioned fear (LeDoux, Iwata, Cicchetti, & Reis, 1988). [...]
“infants who exhibit a high degree of motor activity and distress in response to the presentation of novel auditory and visual stimuli during the first 4 months of life exhibit a high degree of behavioral inhibition and shyness during the preschool and early school-age years. There is, in addition, evidence to suggest that there may be a genetic etiology to inhibited behavior. [...]
In a series of studies with adults, Davidson and his colleagues have noted a relationship between the pattern of resting frontal EEG activity and affective style. Adults who exhibit a pattern of greater relative resting right frontal EEG activity are known to rate affective film clips more negatively [...] and are likely to be more depressed [...] than adults who exhibit greater relative resting left frontal EEG activity. [...] The startle response is a brain-stem- and forebrain-mediated behavioral response that occurs to the presentation of a sudden and intense stimulus, and its neural circuitry is well mapped (Davis, Hitchcock, & Rosen, 1987). Although the startle paradigm has been used extensively in studies of conditioned fear in animals, this measure has been adapted for studies concerning the etiology of anxiety in humans. [...] individual differences in the startle response are linked to affective style. For example, adults who score high on trait measures of anxiety (Grillon, Ameli, Foot, & Davis, 1993) and children who are behaviorally inhibited (Snidman & Kagan, 1994) are known to exhibit a heightened baseline startle response. [...]
These data [too many findings to quote here] suggest that children who are classified as temperamentally shy during the preschool and early school-age years exhibit a distinct pattern of frontal brain activity, heart rate, and salivary cortisol levels during baseline conditions and in response to stress. [...]
One of the goals of our research program on shyness has been to examine the developmental course and outcomes of temperamental shyness beyond the early childhood years, given that temperamental shyness appears to remain stable and predictive of developmental outcomes (Caspi et al., 1988). Overall, the behavioral and physiological correlates and outcomes associated with temperamentally shy children are comparable with those seen in adults who score high on trait measures of shyness. For example, adults who report a high degree of trait shyness are likely to report concurrent feelings of negative self-worth and problems with depression in both elderly (Bell et al., 1993) and young (Schmidt & Fox, 1995) adult populations and to display a distinct pattern of central and autonomic activity during resting conditions and in response to social stressors (see Schmidt & Fox, 1999, for a review). [...]
Not all temperamentally shy adults or children are alike. Our research suggests that different etiologies, correlates, and developmental outcomes are associated with individual differences in temperamental shyness [...] Cheek and Buss (1981) described at least two types of shyness in undergraduates: individuals who are shy and low in sociability and individuals who are shy and high in sociability. [...]
Buss(1986) presented a theory in which he argued that there may be at least two types of shyness: an early-developing fearful shyness that is linked to stranger fear and wariness (perhaps analogous to the behaviorally inhibited children described by Kagan, 1994) and a later-developing self-conscious shyness that is linked to concerns with self-presentation. Little empirical research, however, has been done to substantiate Buss’s theoretical model. Two studies that do exist in the literature have found support for Buss’s claim in young adults. [...] Schmidt and Robinson (1992) found differences in self-esteem between the two shyness subtypes; the fearfully shy group reported significantly lower self-esteem than the self-consciously shy and nonshy groups. [...]
Cheek and Buss argued that people avoid social situations for different reasons. Some people avoid social situations because they experience fear and anxiety in such situations (i.e., they are shy); others avoid social situations because they prefer to be alone rather than with others (i.e., they are introverted). Cheek and Buss (1981) then noted that if shyness is nothing more than low sociability, then the two traits should be highly related such that being high on one trait means being low on the other. The extent to which they might be orthogonal was an empirical question. Cheek and Buss (1981) noted that the two traits were only modestly related, and they were able to distinguish them on a behavioral level. High shy–high social undergraduates exhibited significantly more behavioral anxiety than did undergraduates who reported other combinations of shyness and sociability.
We (Schmidt, 1999; Schmidt & Fox, 1994) examined the extent to which shyness and sociability were distinguishable on electrocortical and autonomic measures. Using a design identical to that reported by Cheek and Buss (1981), we attempted to distinguish shyness and sociability on regional EEG, heart rate, and heart rate variability measures collected during baseline and during a social stressor. We found that high shy–high social (i.e., the conflicted subtype) undergraduates exhibited a significantly faster and more stable heart rate than high shy–low social (i.e., the avoidant subtype) participants in response to an anticipated unfamiliar social situation (Schmidt & Fox, 1994). [...] the two subtypes were distinguishable based on the pattern of activity in the left, but not the right, frontal area. High shy–high social (the conflicted subtype) participants exhibited significantly greater activity in the left frontal EEG lead than did high shy–low social (the avoidant subtype) participants. A similar pattern of resting frontal EEG activity has been found in high shy–high social and high shy–low social 6-year-olds (Schmidt & Sniderman, 2001) [...] These sets of findings, taken together, suggest that different types of shyness are distinguishable on behavioral, cortical, and autonomic levels during baseline conditions and in response to social challenge. [...]
We speculate that genes that code for the transportation of serotonin may play an important role in the regulation of some components of the fear system, which includes the frontal cortex, forebrain limbic area, and HPA system. Serotonin has been implicated as a major neurotransmitter involved in anxiety and withdrawal (Westernberg, Murphy, & Den Boer, 1996). Some temperamentally shy individuals may possess a genetic polymorphism that contributes to a reduced efficiency of the transportation of serotonin. Such a genetic polymorphism has been noted in adults who score high on measures of neuroticism (Lesch et al., 1996). [...] The reduction of serotonin contributes to overactivation of the amygdala and the HPA system in some individuals. The overactive amygdala stimulates the HPA system and the release of increased cortisol. This increase in cortisol may contribute to the pattern of frontal EEG activity noted early between shyness subtypes. [...]
When the two shy subtypes encounter actual or perceived social stress, there is an increase in heart rate, cortisol, and frontal EEG activity. The two subtypes will differ, however, in the pattern of behavior and left frontal EEG activity. The shy–social subtype will experience an approach-avoidance conflict and a greater increase in left frontal EEG activity; the shy–low-social subtype will not experience the same conflict, as they do not have the same need to affiliate. Thus this subtype will tend to avoid social situations and will not present with the same pattern of left frontal EEG activity, although they may evidence an increase in cortisol and heart rate. [...] we believe that the conflicted and avoidant subtypes may be on different pathways of developmental problems. Conflicted children are likely to be highly reticent, desiring to be a part of the peer group but having problems doing so and, we think, might be on a pathway to social anxiety; the avoidant child, on the other hand, may have problems simply engaging in any social situations and may avoid them all together, desiring instead to be alone, and, we think, on a pathway to social withdrawal and depression.”
As already mentioned, so far the book has been quite interesting. We’re complicated creatures and this kind of stuff is stuff you can add to the list of things you do not think about but which still have major consequences for how you live your life, what you feel about the life you live, and where you end up.
This book is crap, stay away from it. It’s very short, which was the only reason why I actually read it cover to cover. Kosso neglects some very important points you’d want to see in a publication like this; on the list of recommended reading he includes Kuhn but not Popper, and Popper’s name isn’t even mentioned. Presumably because he disagrees with Popper about the importance of falsification. Conceptually he doesn’t talk about and doesn’t seem to understand how crucial is the requirement in science that you restrict the (potential) outcome space when forming hypotheses. He picks out history and archaeology as examples of ‘social sciences’; maybe because that’s the closest he’s ever been to the social sciences? He talks about how experimental designs can play a role here, but doesn’t include a single word about the role of statistics in scientific disciplines.
I’d probably give it 1 out of 5 on amazon. He reads as if he doesn’t have a clue. The only good thing about the book is that it is quite short.
- 180 grader
- alfred brendel
- Arthur Conan Doyle
- Bent Jensen
- Bill Bryson
- Bill Watterson
- Claude Berri
- current affairs
- Dan Simmons
- David Copperfield
- david lynch
- den kolde krig
- Dinu Lipatti
- Douglas Adams
- economic history
- Edward Grieg
- Eliezer Yudkowsky
- Ezra Levant
- Filippo Pacini
- financial regulation
- Flemming Rose
- foreign aid
- Franz Kafka
- freedom of speech
- Friedrich von Flotow
- Fyodor Dostoevsky
- Game theory
- Garry Kasparov
- George Carlin
- george enescu
- global warming
- Grahame Clark
- harry potter
- health care
- isaac asimov
- Jane Austen
- John Stuart Mill
- Jon Stewart
- Joseph Heller
- karl popper
- Khan Academy
- knowledge sharing
- Leland Yeager
- Marcel Pagnol
- Maria João Pires
- Mark Twain
- Martin Amis
- Martin Paldam
- mikhail gorbatjov
- Mikkel Plum
- Morten Uhrskov Jensen
- Muzio Clementi
- Nikolai Medtner
- North Korea
- nuclear proliferation
- nuclear weapons
- Ole Vagn Christensen
- Oscar Wilde
- Pascal's Wager
- Paul Graham
- people are strange
- public choice
- rambling nonsense
- random stuff
- Richard Dawkins
- Rowan Atkinson
- Saudi Arabia
- science fiction
- Sun Tzu
- Terry Pratchett
- The Art of War
- Thomas Hobbes
- Thomas More
- walter gieseking
- William Easterly