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Bertrand Russell above is invested in conveying something meaningful. His speech is measured and exact. He pauses rhythmically. Let’s focus on these pauses, briefly.

In a discourse between a speaker and an audience – why pause?

  1. To judge if the mental model matches the words just spoken, and adapt accordingly.
  2. To construct and connect the next thought.
  3. To find the most audience-palatable means of conveying that connection and thought.
  4. To breathe, and gauge the impact on the audience.

Fine, and what does the audience do during a pause?

  1. Append the last thought to the mental model created out of the narrative so far.
  2. Judge whether the ideas presented so far are sound and whether it’s worthwhile to continue following the speaker.

The last bit is troublesome: if the presented ideas are rubbish, it’s in the pauses between thoughts that the audience decides to shut the book, or leave the conversation, or close the browser tab.

YouTube commentators deny the judgement of whether the ideas are worthwhile by excising the pauses in their speech. The product is a rapid-fired barrage of content. The result is a hyperstimulated audience – “entertainment”.

Why does this matter?

Entertainment is all well and fine, but it isn’t the aim of this blog. The aim is to produce original thought, to generate value, to maintain an intellectually honest conversation with the paper.

If I simply present two dissimilar ideas and link them in a novel fashion: the end result is a hyper-stimulation of sorts – shallow, valueless entertainment. It’s exactly what Youtube commentators produce above. It’s *interesting* and perhaps exciting in some way, but none involved – myself or the 3 SEO bots – are larger humans having read it. Without critical thought and a fought-over insight, the post is without value.

The ‘intellectually honest discourse with paper’ bit wasn’t a side remark: a discourse is what it is, and it ought to be of quality.

An acid test I’ve discovered for the quality of a discourse is whether the participants leave both having discovered some new insight they did not have previously. There’s a number of ways a human argument can go wrong:

To come to such a place, there’s obstacles to overcome. The two most prominent in my mind right now are:
1. Ego. “Hahaha, look at me, I’m so smart, I proved you wrong. Take that.” Instead of truth and logic, the conversation degenerates into logical fallacies and conversational terrorism (http://www.vandruff.com/art_converse.html) fueled by the need to be right, to feed the ego.
2. Timidness. “Well, everyone has a right to their own opinion, and I don’t agree with you, but I respect your right to have it.”
It’s by a spirited and merciless defense of an idea that its true flaws and limitations can be discovered. With a vague or timid defense, only limited insight can be gained into what exactly is wrong, what exactly can be prodded further.

A good conversation is a fighting of ideas, with as much humanity (emotions, egos, agendas) suppressed as possible. Because when two humans fight on behalf of ideas, then by a stout application of intellect, some new insight or idea is discovered. Light is shed on a flaw or misconception of the original ideas. Value is gained.


So this blog must follow that acid test: in order to be valuable, and not simple entertainment, a post must be rigorously intellectually honest. By following that standard, I can hope to produce something meaningful, something of value – not just entertainment.

Post scriptum:
Writing cogently is incredibly difficult. The above is the sixth draft of these thoughts, and it still subpar. It’s very obvious that I’ve overestimated my writing abilities. This blog’s early history will be filled with subpar articles. It’s only through a disciplined schedule of shipping words that I will improve.

An excerpt from Space and the Longevity of Man by Stefan Possony and Jerry Pournelle:

Animals, it is believed, live only in the present. Man, the time-binding animal, lives in the future and past as well, and his assumptions about the future will profoundly affect his actions. Of particular importance is how long the future is assumed to be. It makes sense to spend the nest egg and eat the seed corn if the world must end tomorrow. Much contemporary irrationality may be caused by a sharp reduction in mankind’s historical dimension.

.. the paper (published in 1981 through a magazine curated by Isaac Asimov) goes on make an informed guess as to the current age of our species. It reasons from then-understood scientific facts about the amount of time our species has before the universe goes kaput, one way or another. It was written with a hopeful eye to the sky and it brims with enthusiasm for space exploration. It urges us to pursue extra-terrestrial settlements, and colors them as inevitable considering the unthinkably large span of time ahead of our species.
The emphasized part of the above quote is what struck me as interesting: Possony and Pournelle identify that our narrow view of the future is what causes so much “irrationality”. That is – if we all had a sense of being a part of a species that would persist for millions of years from now, our priorities would shift radically. We would treat our (currently small) habitat with respect, and we would call our differences trite, our histories lessons (not war fuel), and we would work commonly toward a noble goal, worthy of a species that will rule the planet for millenia to come.

That being said – this “narrow historical focus” is what I want to focus on…
An edited excerpt from the wikipedia article on the Stanford marshmellow experiment:

Children were led into a room where a treat of their choice was placed on a table. The children could eat the marshmallow, the researchers said, but if they waited for fifteen minutes, they would be rewarded with a second marshmallow. In over 600 children who took part in the experiment, a minority ate the marshmallow immediately. Of those who attempted to delay, one third deferred gratification long enough to get the second marshmallow.

The gist of the experiment is: children who successfully delayed gratification went on to lead significantly more productive lives than those who succumbed to the temptation of marshmallows. The experiment has since gained wide public notice: it’s often raised in self-betterment articles, and popular culture prose on the idea of instant gratification.

It’s not a useful metaphor to call 7 billion humans a single child, but it’s interesting to wonder: if, by the predictions of the universe’s heat death, we are genuinely in our species’ childhood: what choice are we making? Are we stuffing ourselves with marshmallows by engaging in petty wars and disrespecting our environment?

Last connecting through: it’s the above train of thought that causes me to be so inspired by Curiosity. No war, cold or otherwise, fuels its voyage – it’s just out there, being curious. I think that’s a noble thing to be, and a noble thing to be remembered for.