September 26, 2019

As I write this I’m on a flight to New York to see family, in particular my brother on his birthday.

On the flight I listened to several podcasts. The most interesting was Robert Wright’s interview with Agnes Callard (mp3) about akrasia (acting against one’s own intentions and interests) and aspiration (trying to change one’s interests), two topics quite close to home for me. The question is how it can be the case that part of us wants to act but another part prevents us from doing so, and how we can aspire to possess values that we do not yet possess. It seems wrong to say that we must always have had the values, but equally it seems wrong to say that they came entirely from our environment, or that we can dream up whatever we want. Fascinating stuff.

Tim Ferriss’ panel on psychedelics was also interesting, though if you’ve read Michael Pollan’s book, it’s not too much of an update. (mp3). I was excited to hear Robin Carhart-Harris, but he actually didn’t speak all that much. I’m planning to read his new anarchic brain paper in the next few weeks.

On the plane we also had a good discussion about James C. Scott’s notion that domestication is not necessarily a thing that humans did to plants and animals, but possibly just a side effect of dense agrarian cultures (i.e., we would expect similar effects in humans). There’s some evidence that this is happening, and the discussion today was about whether human brain sizes will shrink (as domesticated animals’ brains apparently have done).

On a related note, we discussed the correlation between brain size and intelligence. There can’t be a strict correlation, but it also seems like there must be some correlation, otherwise human brains wouldn’t have grown at the expense of child and maternal mortality, which is much higher in humans than it is in animals.

I'm Bryan Kam. I'm thinking about complexity and selfhood. Please sign up to my newsletter or see more here.