Category Archives: Society

History of Humankind: Social Constructs as Imagining Minds

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind -  Yuval Harari   Big History; Social Evolution; Future Intelligence

A world best-seller, Harari’s Sapiens belongs to the genre that has become known as Big History, a sub-discipline which focuses on the biological, geological, archaeological, ethnographic and ecological evidence that has accumulated over the last 60 years as a result of improved carbon-dating and the discovery of DNA.

Sapiens is a must-read – challenging, exciting and well-written.

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The Decline of Violence: A Long View

The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined -  Steven Pinker   History; Psychology; Cultural Development
  • The world is getting more violent!” …….WRONG. It has become less violent.
  • “The Twentieth Century was the most violent century in history!….NO! There have been worse.
  • “Our societies are falling apart!” Nobody can predict the future, but I suspect that every generation has thought both that things were better in the past and the peace that we all wish for has always been elusive.
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Brain Plasticity – tricking the brain to heal the body

The Brain's Way of Healing: stories of remarkable recoveries and discoveries -  Norman Doidge   The Brain, Neuropsychology, Medicine,

Neurons that fire together, wire together – those that fire apart, wire apart” is the formula Doidge  uses to describe how brain plasticity works. It seems that the physical relationship between the senses and the brain is not something that is fixed from birth, but it is instead something that follows pathways that electrochemically interact and change the physicality of the brain-body relationship.

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The Two-Track Brain – Rationality and Bias

Thinking Fast and Slow -  Daniel Kahneman   Decision Making, Finance, Medicine, Political Economy

A simple maths problem: If a bat and a ball cost $1.10 and the bat is $1.00 more expensive than the ball, how much does the ball cost? Half a Harvard class got the wrong answer in a written test!!!

Economics Nobel Prize winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman argues that we have two systems of thinking. System-1 is intuitive and fast while System-2 is logical, slow and lazy.

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The East versus the West – Development, Hubris and Catch-up

Why the West Rules - For Now -  Ian Morris   Big History, Civilisation Development, USA v. China

Ian Morris is a historian with an interest in archaeology who goes beyond a traditional historical method that relies on written records. He uses carbon dating techniques, DNA and chemical samples from a range of archaeological sites in tandem with statistical records from the more recent past to construct an intriguing index of social development over 20,000 years. The index is made data on caloric energy inputs (as a proxy for standard of living), city size (as a proxy for organizational complexity), information and communication technology (as a proxy for trading capability), and military size (as a proxy for political power).

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How Energy and Geography Shape Human Values

Foragers, Farmers, and Fossil Fuels: How Human Values Evolve -  Ian Morris   Long-Term History, Sociology, Ethics, Culture

These four confronting lectures by Ian Morris are based on his book, Foragers, Farmers, and Fossil Fuels: How Human Values Evolve. Morris argues that fundamental long-term values are driven by the interaction of geography and energy extraction.

Morris confronts us not only with the politically unacceptable view that democracy and equality are far from universal values, but also that values are circumscribed by energy and geography and that the bloodshed, inequality and geopolitics of the past were “needed”.

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A Personal Australian Story – from a First Australian to all Australians

Talking to My Country -  Stan Grant   Indigenous Australia, Racism

Screen Shot 2016-08-13 at 6.02.03 PMStan Grant has been gracing Australian TV screens as a journalist for almost 30 years. He is a Wiradjuri man whose speech on racism went viral on social media in early 2106. Inspired by indignation at the ugly racism that showed its face when Australian of the Year Adam Goodes did nothing more than a joyous spear-throwing Australian “haka”, Grant followed up with Talking to My Country.  

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Antisemitism in the Modern Age

Anti-Semitism in the Modern Age -  Yehuda Bauer   Jew-hatred, Israel-Palestine, Politics

Yehuda Bauer begins his talk by recounting how the word ‘antisemitism’ was coined by a liberal German Jew-hater who felt uncomfortable with using the more accurate description ‘Jew-hatred’. Having made his point, Bauer continues with common usage instead of grandstanding on a distracting pedantry. He is clearly upset, annoyed and frustrated by the world he sees around him, yet he retains an old-school liberal middle-Europe Enlightenment vision  that is idealistic yet grounded.

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End of World Thought Experiment

Death and the Afterlife -  Samuel Scheffler   Philosophical Speculation, How to Live

Like good science fiction, thought experiments can offer insights about the world of today. They can be fun, distressing, confronting and they can provide an opportunity for self-reflection.

Suppose you knew that, though you yourself would live your life to its natural end, the earth and all its inhabitants would be destroyed thirty days after your death.  Or imagine that humanity is rendered infertile, so that the most recent generation would be the last.

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Culture and Intelligence

Culture and Intelligence -  Richard Nisbett   Culture, Intelligence

Recorded on 12 April 2016 at LSE

Are humans getting smarter? Are some groups smarter than others? Are some groups getting smarter faster than others? What are the possibilities for increasing the rate of growth of human intelligence? Hint: Science, mathematics, logic and philosophy have generated concepts in the past 150 years of great power which have yet to escape into the reasoning toolkits of laypeople.

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