Let’s make that magic happen

Learning how to learn: how to make your ROI on reading explode

Learning is a heavily misunderstood concept.

As a paradigm example of deep work, we understand that, when reading, directing your full attention to the material at hand is essential. Grasping complex information is hard.

But this is only half the battle.

After some string of words hits your retina and has made its way to your brain, you’re not done.

In a cruel irony, these hours of deep work often cause flow states and the feeling that ‘you’ve had a good day’ and learned a shitload of new stuff.

But for many reading episodes this feeling is deceptive. There is…

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I’ve noticed many people being scared of digital manipulation, Cambridge Analytica style, where companies track your digital footprints to show you microtargeted content that penetrates your brain and manipulates your mind. If such a thing works, it seems possible for powerful people to hire such firms to direct public opinion and election results through the use of political campaigns ads targeted specifically to our psychological profiles.

That’s does sound a bit scary.

But whether we should actually worry about it depends, it seems to me, on two factors: the accuracy of what Cambridge Analytica called “psychografic profiling” (predictive power) and…

It’s no coincidence that Walter Lippmann’s seminal book on public opinion starts with Plato’s cave.

Part I.

“The world that we have to deal with is out of reach, out of sight, out of mind. It has to be explored, reported, and imagined. [The media dominate this creation of pictures in our heads, because] they are the principal connection between events in the world and the images in the minds of the public.”

– Walter Lippmann, The World Outside and the Pictures in Our Heads (1922)

Your chemistry teacher explaining that water consists of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom. Your national health agency calling you with the announcement that there is a virus in your…

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One thing Covid-19 taught me is that humans have a norm of liberally tolerating contrarians when the stakes are low and it would take decades to be proven right, but shunning contrarians when stakes are high and events are moving fast.

Seeing as how they ended up in a global crisis anyway, some folks have taken it upon themselves to volunteer with the online coronapolice in order to enforce this norm. …

Talking morals and not consequences is deceptive: we have similar values. So: how much do we really want people to participate in politics?

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Law professor Ilya Somin, author of Democracy and Political Ignorance, says, “The sheer depth of most individual voters’ ignorance is shocking to many observers not familiar with the research.” Political theorist Jeffrey Friedman adds, “The public is far more ignorant than academic and journalistic observers of the public realize.”

Some examples:

  • During election years, most citizens cannot identify any congressional candidates in their district. Only 29 percent of American adults can name their congressperson, let alone discuss their congressperson’s voting record. Oh, and citizens generally don’t know which party controls Congress.
  • When asked, “What percentage of the federal budget…

Privilege, truth and lived experiences


Last week, I said that one of the things this blog is about is how societies come to some kind of public understanding of truth. That’s rather vague, so consider this post an example.

As WaitButWhy’s Tim Urban nicely illustrated last Thursday, you have a lot in common with every other human, but there’s also a lot about every other person you’ll never fully understand.

As a consequence, I might be unable to grasp certain things others experience, or see certain things apparent to them.

For example, I’m a white male and have lived a relatively sheltered life. …

Introducing the renewed blog

Not long ago, punishing wrong believers along with wrong beliefs was the specialty of the right wing. That was what McCarthyism was all about. Today, the left wing has joined in.

Thus we see Bari Weiss leaving the New York Times with an eloquent resignation letter condemning how everyone not woke enough is the subject of bullying. “They have called me a Nazi and a racist… some coworkers insist I need to be rooted out if this company is to be a truly “inclusive” one.”

Which mirrors the sentiment shared in HarpersLetter on Justice and Open Debate” signed by…

Why you don’t need to worry about lying politicians, fake news, or filter bubbles

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A lot has been said recently about ‘post-truth’. If you’re at all interested in understanding our culture, the term seems to show up everywhere. The usual narrative runs like so:

Each of us lives in our own bubble. Increasingly, we become so secure in our bubbles that we start accepting only information, whether it’s true or not, that fits our opinions, instead of basing our opinions on the evidence that is out there. As a result, our individual abilities to separate accurate ideas from wrong-headed assertions are deteriorating. All we do is reject evidence that contradicts our favorite politician by…

Photo by Joao Tzanno on Unsplash

Understanding the constitution of knowledge (and the new attacks on it)

Why do you believe what you believe?

Over the last months, I’ve become fascinated by (a) how each of us comes to accept something as true and (b) how societies come to some kind of public understanding about truth. Playing around at the intersection of these questions has been immensely insightful for me. Today, I want to transmit some of that enthusiasm to you.

It will be a long ride, but your understanding of knowledge and truth will never be the same.

This essay has two parts. In part one, we’ll look at how we come to know we know…

There’s joy in saying ‘I don’t know’

Photo: Westend61/Getty Image

As my girlfriend likes to remind me, 95% of what I say is a formulation of something I’ve said before. Whether I’m talking about football with friends or debating philosophy with colleagues, I fire out cached replies like a robot prompted by trigger words.

Zonal marking? “Bad idea.”

Socrates? “Overestimated.”

Steven Pinker? “Deserves more credit.”

Animal consciousness? “It exists.”

Education? “Broken.”

Most people I know respond the same way. Our days are filled with re-hashes of familiar arguments and counterarguments. We race through conversations, trying to show how we’re a person like this and definitely not that. …

Maarten van Doorn

PhD philosophy. Essays about why we believe what we do, how societies come to a public understanding about truth, and how we might do better (crazy times)

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