Worthwhile Reading and Viewing

Allocation of IQ to thinking about relationships–different in men and women.  So argues this article, which is linked and discussed in a thread by Rob Henderson at Twitter.

The Great Untethering–school choice and remote work.

East of the Mississippi–19th century American landscape photography.

How Allied mass production drove the victory over the Axis powers. A YouTube documentary, which I haven’t seen yet but which looks promising.

What kinds of people are attracted to mass movements?  “(Eric) Hoffer emphasizes that creative people–those who experience creative flow–aren’t usually attracted to mass movements.”  (Twitter)  Makes sense, but is this really true?  Seems to me that there were quite a few creative scientists and artists who were strongly attracted to Communism, and I can think of at least one supposedly-creative philosopher who was strongly attracted to Naziism.

The Real Roaring Twenties Was… the 1720s.  So argues Anton Howes in this article.  His Twitter feed is here.

A 3D Reconstruction of the Aztec Capital of Tenochtitlan.

Retrotech: Making a Tunic, 1700 Years Ago

The tunic was found in the Norwegian mountains.  Textile historians recreated it using the technologies current when it was made–pulling the wool naturally rather than shearing, spinning it into thread (with no spinning wheel), and weaving it into cloth. The labor required was estimated by having skilled people do a sample amount of each task required and extrapolating to the complete garment.

Total labor requirement was 780 hours.  The linked post estimates the cost at almost $38000, apparently assuming Norwegian labor rates.

I don’t think anyone would produce such garments using such expensive labor, though (unless it was for some very affluent niche market) but would use cheaper Asian or South American or even American labor.  Maybe a reasonable number including overhead and supervision would be something like $5/hour. Which still gives a cost of $3800.

And if someone made it for their own use, or that of someone in their family, that 780 hours would represent a pretty large piece of their work capacity for the entire year.

As Paul Graham noted, clothing was very expensive right up to the Industrial Revolution.

The End of Science Education in the West?

New Zealand may adopt a new science curriculum that doesn’t have much actual science in it:

Central concepts in physics are absent. There is no mention of gravity, electromagnetism, thermodynamics, mass or motion. Chemistry is likewise missing in action. There is nothing about atomic structure, the periodic table of the elements, compounds or molecular bonding,” he said of the draft.

Rather than physics, chemistry, and biology, the document proposes teaching science through four contexts that appear to draw from fundamental principles of the United Nation’s Agenda 21: climate change, biodiversity, infectious diseases, and the water, food, and energy nexus.

Sounds a lot like the science curriculum that was proposed in the UK circa 2005:

Instead of learning science, pupils will “learn about the way science and scientists work within society”. They will “develop their ability to relate their understanding of science to their own and others’ decisions about lifestyles”, the QCA said. They will be taught to consider how and why decisions about science and technology are made, including those that raise ethical issues, and about the “social, economic and environmental effects of such decisions”.

They will learn to “question scientific information or ideas” and be taught that “uncertainties in scientific knowledge and ideas change over time”, and “there are some questions that science cannot answer, and some that science cannot address”. Science content of the curriculum will be kept “lite”. Under “energy and electricity”, pupils will be taught that “energy transfers can be measured and their efficiency calculated, which is important in considering the economic costs and environmental effects of energy use”. (The above is from John Clare’s article in the Telegraph.)

According to Melanie Phillips: “The reason given for the change to the science curriculum is to make science ‘relevant to the 21st century’. This is in accordance with the government’s doctrine of ‘personalised learning’, which means that everything that is taught must be ‘relevant’ to the individual child.”

2005 was a long time ago–I don’t know whether or not this curriculum is still in place in the UK; I use it as an example because it makes a certain kind of thinking very clear.  The class is not really about Science, it is about ‘Society’, and everything that is taught must be ‘relevant’ to the child.

And, closer to home, California has a new math curriculum.  While math teaching certainly could use improvement, I don’t have a good feeling about this program…see for example this and this, also these comments.

Also, the curriculum includes “data science” as an alternative to Algebra II…see this critique:  “Here’s the issue: the data science course is not a good path to a career in data science…It’s math lite for kids who don’t expect to use much math in life. And that’s fine!…as long as the kids KNOW that’s what they’re signing up for. But it’s not being sold that way — it’s being sold as a way to get more kids into data science. …and that’s misleading.”

An actual San Francisco data analytics guy offers this detailed analysis and critique of the curriculum.

Here’s a post with a rather arresting title from a few days ago at Ricochet:  She’s a brilliant teacher, perhaps she should stop.  At a BBQ, the writer encountered a teacher from his high school days.

Besides my mother, she is the best teacher I’ve ever had. She taught me Physics and Inorganic Chemistry. And the way she taught — understanding rather than memorization — allowed me to ace science and math classes in college and medical school. She helped me so, so much.

She is now 61 years old and is considering retirement. She moved from my public school to a private school, but it’s still wearing her down. She complains that modern students lack curiosity and motivation, while administration and parents pressure her to just give everyone A’s. She teaches how to understand science and math — but they just want her to stamp her approval on their resume. She’s growing increasingly frustrated, to the point where she doesn’t want to go to work anymore.

This is a different problem from the problems of deliberately-weakened curricula, but the root is the same: the belief that acquisition of knowledge is not what matters, rather, what matters is moving through the system and getting that piece of paper.  (And, in the case of many updated curricula, ideological indoctrination is also a key objective)

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Society, Social Media, and Human Nature

The Instagram Panopticon, at Quillette, discusses the way in which social media has encouraged people to carefully curate their self-presentations and to judge the self-presentations of others.

I think it is certainly true that new kinds of media can affect how people think, feel, and interact…and this effect is nothing new. Joseph Roth, who lived in Berlin in the 1920s, wrote about the impact of radio:

There are no more secrets in the world. The whispered confessions of a despondent sinner are available to all the curious ears of a community, which thanks to the wireless telephone has become a pack…No one listened any longer to the song of the nightingale and the chirp of conscience. No one followed the voice of reason and each allowed himself to be drowned out by the cry of instinct.

He didn’t like photography very much, either:

There are no more secrets in the world. The whispered confessions of a despondent sinner are available to all the curious ears of a community, which thanks to the wireless telephone has become a pack…No one listened any longer to the song of the nightingale and the chirp of conscience. No one followed the voice of reason and each allowed himself to be drowned out by the cry of instinct.

But the focus on self-presentation and on evaluating the presentations of other goes back much further.  Consider, for example Russia’s ‘paper Facebook’ of the 19th century.  No computers and no telephones, but, among aristocrats and the well-off, visiting cards were  very important…and:

The cards, decorated with vignettes and lettering, were usually piled somewhere in the entrance hall of a rich house – either on a coffee table or tucked behind the mirror; so when a guest was coming, while he waited for the servants to tell the host he’s got a visitor, the guest could assess the popularity and social ties of his host by looking at the cards.

The fashion mongers of the era flaunted each other with a set of business cards from famous and popular people, just as some people now flaunt how many Facebook stars they are friends with!

There were even bot-equivalents to increase one’s count of Likes:

Some people even paid the doormen in rich people’s houses for visiting cards of famous persons – princes, counts, rich businessmen – to tuck these cards behind their mirrors and make their guests believe they are sometimes visited by such ‘posh’ persons.

Going back even further, in one of Fielding’s novels a woman takes great pleasure in going through the visiting cards of people who called on her.  Again, similar to like-collecting on Instagram or Facebook, probably exactly the same dopamine hit.

So yes, changes in media do influence human perception and behavior…but we must be careful not to ascribe things to new media which are really human constants.