Links and Best of Twitter, 12/2/22
WEIRD morality in antiquity, resuscitating dead pigs, rich pro-natalists, and more
An Effective Altruist who is trans and has blue hair wrote about me, and I responded in the comments. It’s an interesting back and forth.
There was also a lot of good discussion in the comments to my review of The WEIRDest People in the World. The most interesting critique is the idea that European familial norms did not start with Christianity, but can be found in Ancient Greece and Rome. Here are two papers people have sent me on the subject. The most interesting part is that Henrich himself appears to agree with their arguments! (see here, pp. 733-34)
Interestingly enough, Henrich wrote a 60+ page affidavit for the Supreme Court of British Columbia under the title “Polygyny in Cross Cultural Perspective: Theory and Implications” (2010). He not only made a powerful case against the legalization of polygyny today, but suggested that monogamy was intentionally invented by the ancient Greeks. “Greek city states first legally instituted monogamy as part of many different reforms, including elements of democratic governance, which were meant to build egalitarian social solidarity among their citizenries.” He also stated in this affidavit that the Romans consciously mandated monogamy as a way of strengthening social solidarity and functionality. During the reign of the first Roman emperor, Augustus (27 BC – AD 14), a series of reforms were implemented to discourage serial monogamy and concubinage, to make divorce a legal process, and to restrict extra-marital relationships to women who were registered prostitutes.
I don’t have the historical knowledge to judge these things, but I don’t think it’s controversial that Ancient Greece and Rome were individualistic relative to other societies. This complicates Henrich’s theory quite a bit. It wouldn’t surprise me if there was gene-culture coevolution in both directions over time, with say Europeans starting out somewhat WEIRD in antiquity, moving back towards non-WEIRDness, and seeing things pick up again after Christianity. Again, I’ll cite David Reich’s work here, which shows that we can see detectable changes across the span of centuries. Perhaps Chinese, Europeans, Indians, etc. aren’t the same people in every historical era.
I’m starting to get a lot of my stories from Apple News, and the links don’t work on non-Apple devices. If you can subscribe to Apple News, you should, as it gives you a lot of magazines like The New Yorker and The Atlantic for a low price. For those who can’t, when I can find a non-Apple News version of a story I want to share, I try to link to that, but it’s not always possible. So when a link does go to Apple News, from now on I will indicate that so no one wastes their time clicking through.
1. This article on people in tech who want to have a lot of healthy and successful children for the good of humanity inspired me more than anything I’ve read in a while. The author tries to take a “balanced” tone, but there’s something disturbing about seeking balance between those who want humanity to flourish and those that don’t. Opponents of pro-natalism and genetic enhancement should be ashamed of themselves. I’m glad to see VCs are investing in this space and the technology is progressing along, and proud to call some of those cited in the article friends. Together, we’ll leave the haters of humanity behind.
2. Scott Alexander does what I’ve always wanted to do, and takes a deep dive into the question of whether wine is fake. His conclusion is that some people can distinguish between different kinds of tastes, but the idea of “good” and “bad” wine is mostly nonsense. I’ve always thought the wine question had deep philosophical implications. There’s a recurrent question about whether elite aesthetic preferences are real or fake – that is, can we say there is some deep sense in which Mozart is superior to Lady Gaga, if most people prefer the latter? What about postmodern art?
The idea that elite aesthetic preferences are mostly BS was a fundamental idea of my psychological theory of the culture war. I do believe that intelligence is correlated with the need for novelty. I grew up eating McDonald’s, but am now pretty sick of it, and would prefer just about anything else if given the choice. And while a more noble soul should end up having preferences superior to those of the masses, exaggerating the gap between uppers and lowers in matters of taste is generally a bad thing and causes all kinds of cultural strife. People should gain self-esteem by seeking to better themselves morally rather than adopting arbitrary symbols as class signifiers.
The article appears in a new rationalist magazine called Asterisk. I’m not a fan of new magazines as a general matter, but will be paying close attention to this one. Relatedly, Scott Alexander reviews the first 1/6th of David Brooks’ Bobos in Paradise, which presents its own version of the story about how art and high culture became abstract and interesting at best and ugly at worst.
3. Ukraine claims that one of its snipers killed a Russian soldier from 1.68 miles away, which would be the second furthest sniper kill ever recorded. (Popular Mechanics, via Apple News)
4. The story of an American who spent six years in Japan as an apprentice to Masahiko Kimura, the “magician of bonsai.” This is like something out of the Middle Ages. I’m glad it still exists, although the annoying New Yorker journalist who wrote the piece appears to extract from Kimura a claim that he no longer subjects his pupils to “strict discipline,” which seems like it’s part of the fun.
5. Scientists have designed a method to bring pigs back to life (Popular Mechanics, via Apple News)
When it came time to test OrganEx on pigs, Sestan and his team at Yale anticipated a long day. It took about five hours to prepare solutions and ready the machines and another seven hours to conduct monitoring and measurements on 10 pigs. They worked on one animal at a time, each sedated and kept fully anesthetized. The scientists put a tiny electrode through a square-inch hole in each animal’s chest and touched its heart to induce cardiac arrest. Two monitors, one for the heart and one for brain activity, showed flat lines. The pigs were dead.
One hour passed. Then the real test began, as the scientists connected each motionless animal to the OrganEx system or, as a control, to a standard ECMO. The experiment was set to run for the next six hours, but the first and most obvious changes happened about a half hour in: Heart monitors connected to four out of five OrganEx-treated pigs began to light up. Peaked lines started moving in pulses across the screen. “It was like, whoa, whoa, what should we do now?” says Andrijevic. The hearts’ electrical activity had resumed spontaneously, without chest compressions or other obvious lifesaving measures.
6. You know all those pretty pictures from distant galaxies? Well, they’re not real, scientists edit them to make infrared light into something the human eye can appreciate. Disappointing. Always thought it was strange that outer space happened to look pleasing to humans.
7. Since Elon Musk took over Twitter, Republicans have been gaining followers and Democrats losing them.
8. Philippe has a new Substack everyone should subscribe to, which he’ll be writing for in addition to CSPI stuff. His first post is the case against liberal internationalism.