Summary of “The Human Use of Human Beings: Cybernetics Pioneer Norbert Wiener on Communication, Control, and the Morality of Our Machines – Brain Pickings”

Half a century before the golden age of algorithms and two decades before the birth of the Internet, the mathematician and philosopher Norbert Wiener tried to protect us from that then-hypothetical scenario in his immensely insightful and prescient 1950 book The Human Use of Human Beings: Cybernetics and Society – a book Wiener described as concerned with “The limits of communication within and among individuals,” which went on to influence generations of thinkers, creators, and entrepreneurs as wide-ranging as beloved author Kurt Vonnegut, anthropologist Mary Catherine Bateson, and virtual reality pioneer Jaron Lanier.
Wiener had coined the word cybernetics two years earlier, drawing on the Greek word for “Steersman” – kubernētēs, from which the word “Governor” is also derived – to describe “The scientific study of control and communication in the animal and the machine,” pioneering a new way of thinking about causal chains and how the feedback loop taking place within a system changes the system itself.
It is in my opinion best to avoid all question-begging epithets such as “Life,” “Soul,” “Vitalism,” and the like, and say merely in connection with machines that there is no reason why they may not resemble human beings in representing pockets of decreasing entropy in a framework in which the large entropy tends to increase.
Society can only be understood through a study of the messages and the communication facilities which belong to it; and that in the future development of these messages and communication facilities, messages between man and machines, between machines and man, and between machine and machine, are destined to play an ever-increasing part.
Just as entropy tends to increase spontaneously in a closed system, so information tends to decrease; just as entropy is a measure of disorder, so information is a measure of order.
Property rights in information suffer from the necessary disadvantage that a piece of information, in order to contribute to the general information of the community, must say something substantially different from the community’s previous common stock of information.
Whether we entrust our decisions to machines of metal, or to those machines of flesh and blood which are bureaus and vast laboratories and armies and corporations, we shall never receive the right answers to our questions unless we ask the right questions.
Nearly a century later, The Human Use of Human Beings remains an immensely insightful and increasingly relevant read. Complement it with the great cellist Pablo Casals on making our world worthy of its children, then revisit Thomas Merton’s beautiful letter to Rachel Carson about technology, wisdom, and the difficult art of civilizational self-awareness.

The orginal article.

Summary of “How to Avoid a Life of Regret”

What is it you’ll regret most about your life when your time is up? Failure to fulfill your duty and obligations? Or the failure to follow your dreams? New research from Cornell University suggests our biggest regrets have nothing to do with our responsibilities in life.
The actual self is what a person believes themselves to be now, based on current attributes and abilities.
The ideal self is comprised of the attributes and abilities they’d like to possess one day-in essence, their goals, hopes, and aspirations.
The ought self is who someone believes they should have been according to their obligations and responsibilities.
In terms of regrets, the failure of the ought self is more “I could have done that better,” and the failure of the ideal self is more “I never became that person I wanted to become.”
Nobody’s perfect, right? Gilovich explains that people aren’t as bothered by the failed actions of their ought self because it’s easier to take actions to rectify such problems.
Once you have a general idea, make a concerted effort to try, to fail, to learn what you like, to learn what you don’t, and to gradually shape that vision of your ideal self into a realistically achievable, step-by-step goal.
Remember, your ideal self should be someone you aspire to be, not a looming “Woulda, coulda, shoulda” specter who haunts you on your deathbed.

The orginal article.

Summary of “40 of the Best Villains in Literature”

Think of these as noteworthy villains, if it clarifies things.
Big-picture villain, the thing that causes everything to dissolve, and people to start christening their kittens and pushing them around in prams, has to be the global disease that left all the men on earth infertile.
Few villains are quite so aggressively ugly as Uriah Heep.
Some in the Lit Hub office argued that it was Julian who was the real villain in Donna Tartt’s classic novel of murder and declension, but I give Henry more credit than that.
Did you think the villain was the whale? The villain is not the whale-it’s the megalomaniac at the helm.
Who is really the villain in Rachel Kushner’s most recent novel? It can’t be Romy; serving a life sentence for killing a man who was stalking her.
The worst villain is the one who knows you best-the one you might even love.
The scariest motive is the lack of one-what Coleridge called Iago’s “Motiveless malignity.” The most interesting villain is the one who has even more lines than the titular hero.

The orginal article.

Summary of “Living the life authentic: Bernard Williams on Paul Gauguin”

In his essay ‘Moral Luck’, Williams discusses Paul Gauguin’s decision to leave Paris in order to move to Tahiti where he hoped he could become a great painter.
Williams introduces Gauguin as a useful prop in a thought experiment designed to explore the role that authenticity, achievement and luck play in justification.
Williams also just assumes, for the purposes of argument, that Gauguin did in fact succeed, which is to say that Gauguin did create valuable art, and that this art was a great expression of his gifts as a painter.
Why did Gauguin risk everything? Williams invites us to see Gauguin’s meaning in life as deeply intertwined with his artistic ambition.
Williams does not mention Gauguin’s wife and children but many readers at this point might immediately think: what about them? Or as Mette, Gauguin’s wife, might have asked: what about me? More pointedly: aren’t I and the children part of the meaning of your life? Williams imagines Gauguin’s situation as one in which pursuing what he thinks his life is most deeply about – the meaning of his life – must take him away from his family.
Second, Gauguin is moved by this good, and so Gauguin is not concerned with doing something entirely selfish, even if he is being self-centred.
Can you admire his canvasses once you understand them? Is to do so himpathy for the devil? If so, then perhaps we should revise Williams’s view of Gauguin’s achievements and say not just that his life was ruined by his pursuit of art but that his art was ruined by his life.
The Gauguin example does incorporate the classic ingredients of a midlife crisis: a conflict between the claims of authenticity and the life one truly wants versus what Williams calls ‘the claims of others’.

The orginal article.

Summary of “Why the Best Things in Life Are All Backwards”

The second lesson of drown-proofing is a bit more obvious, but also paradoxical: the more you panic, the more oxygen you will burn and the more likely you are to fall unconscious and drown.
All give back less the more you do them, the more you try, or the more you have.
Control – The more we strive to control our own feelings and impulses, the more powerless we will feel.
Conversely, the more we accept our feelings and impulses, the more we’re able to direct them and process them.
Love – The more we try to make others love and accept us, the less they will, and more importantly, the less we will love and accept ourselves.
Confidence – The more we try to feel confident, the more insecurity and anxiety we will create.
The more we accept our faults, the more comfortable we will feel in our own skin.
The more we try to add meaning to others’ lives, the more profound impact we will feel.

The orginal article.

Summary of “Dollar Shave Club Founder: Why Life Is Defined By Choices”

The theme of Dubin’s speech was centered on choices.
“I believe if you want to live a life of purpose and happiness, you have to become familiar with the essence of choices. Choices come in all shapes and sizes. And not all the important choices present themselves obviously as the important ones,” Dubin says.
Dubin splits choices into two categories: big and little choices.
So much so that Dubin argues small choices may matter more than big choices and have a bigger impact on your life.
Dubin proceeds to outline six choices that he believes contributed to his success.
Dubin adds, “Its cousin: don’t worry about what everyone else is doing. Despite how great their choices may seem, or how much they all seem to have it figured out. They don’t.”
Perhaps the most important choice you make in business and in life is to expand your scope of interests to others.
It is about making the little choices every day to be grateful for the opportunities you’ve been given, to thank the people in your life who help you out, and on some level to leverage a career to hopefully create a net positive effect in the world.

The orginal article.

Summary of “What’s the best way to avoid regrets?”

How should you spend your life if you don’t want to end up filled with regret? The standard modern answer to this ancient question, often based on research by the psychologist Thomas Gilovich, is that we regret inaction more than action: not things we do, but things we fail to do.
Their new series of studies, which I found via the Research Digest blog, hinges on a distinction between what they call the “Ideal self”, the person you’d be if you fulfilled all your goals and ambitions, and the “Ought self”, the person you’d be if you met your obligations to others, and lived a morally upright life.
That’s not merely because everyone’s incredibly selfish, the researchers argue; it’s that we’re more likely to take action to repair ought-self failures, perhaps because they seem more urgent or shameful.
Gilovich and Davidai are appropriately reticent about deriving life advice from their research, but I’m not: these findings are a powerful argument for figuring out what you truly want from life and giving it a shot, even at the risk of others’ negative judgments.
That’s why I like the trick, with its roots in the work of Carl Jung, of flipping the question and asking not what you want from life, but what life wants from you.
When faced with a big life choice, just asking the question that way can be enough to cut through the noise, to the quiet place where you already know what to do.
Read this: contrary to stereotype, philosophers these days tend to avoid pondering the meaning of life.
In his 2015 book A Significant Life, Todd May bucks the trend.

The orginal article.

Summary of “Scientists weighed all life on Earth. It’s mind-boggling.”

As a sweeping new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences finds, in a census sorting all the life on Earth by weight, we make up less than 1 percent of life.
There are an estimated 550 gigatons of carbon of life in the world.
Using the new data in PNAS, we tried to visualize the weight of all life on Earth to get a sense of the scale of it all.
All life on Earth, in one chart What you’ll see below is a kind of tower of life.
If the tower of life were an office building, plants would be the main tenants, taking up dozens of floors.
The chart above represents a massive amount of life.
Though plants are still the dominant form of life on Earth, the scientists suspect there used to be approximately twice as many of them – before humanity started clearing forests to make way for agriculture and our civilization.
We do need a baseline understanding of the distribution of life on Earth.

The orginal article.

Summary of “The 7 Habits: Put First Things First”

Covey’s first two habits are big picture and abstract.
In Covey’s book First Things First, he fleshes out this habit even more and introduces the analogy of big rocks vs. small rocks.
Let’s say you instead first filled the jar with big rocks, and then put in the sand and small rocks; the sediment will settle in the cracks of the big rocks, allowing you to fit everything in from both piles.
So we know why it’s important to put first things first, but how do we do it? What are the best “Management” practices to help us properly order our priorities?
If you want to make sure you accomplish the most important things in your life, then you need to literally make them the first things you do each day.
Within my workday, I utilize the same principle of first things first: I tackle my most important tasks at the start of the day, knowing that if I do so, I’ll not only have ensured that the most value-creating things get done, but that I’ll be able to fit the “Urgent,” smaller rocks in later.
My morning routine sets me up for workday success, and the continued employment of the “First things first” principle ensures that the workday is productive.
So frontload what’s most important to you in the a.m. Put first things first.

The orginal article.

Summary of “How Modernity Invented the Midlife Crisis”

The midlife crisis was now aligned with the zeitgeist.
Despite some biological claims, the midlife crisis was mainly viewed as a middle- and upper-class affliction.
Women soon realized that the midlife crisis contained a kind of liberation story, in tune with the nascent women’s movement: If you hated your life, you could change it.
Soon there were midlife crisis mugs, T-shirts, and a board game that challenged players-Can You Survive Your Mid-Life Crisis Without Cracking Up, Breaking Up, or Going Broke?
Some of those who report having a midlife crisis are “Crisis prone” or highly neurotic, Lachman says.
The same mass media that had once heralded the midlife crisis began trying to debunk it, in dozens of news stories with variations on the headline “Myth of the Midlife Crisis.”
Another reason for the idea’s success, Lachman says, is that people like attaching names to life stages, such as the “Terrible twos” for toddlers, whereas “Most people I know say their two-year-olds are delightful.” The midlife crisis persists, in part, because it has a very catchy name.
His second wife, Kathryn Cason, who co-founded an organization dedicated to propagating Jaques’s ideas about the workplace, told me that the midlife crisis was “a tiny little early piece of work that he did” and something Jaques “Didn’t want who to talk about after 20 or 30 years.” She urged me to read his later writings.

The orginal article.