Exercise #5: Molecular electronics proposals

[As always, I’m not promising this is a good use of your time, but you might find it stimulating.] Here is a paper from 1983: In anticipation of the continued size reduction of switching elements to the molecular level, new approaches to materials, memory, and switching elements have been developed. Two of the three most […]

New “Beside Discovery” additions

I recently added a few items to my “messy micro-histories of science” section here, reproduced below: Anthropologist Hugh Gusterson wrote “A Pedagogy of Diminishing Returns: Scientific Involution across Three Generations of Nuclear Weapons Science” (2005) about the strange sort of inward-turning and withering of nuclear weapons science in the post-testing era. That field (as well as national labs and megaprojects more generally) often […]

Exercise #4

Consider the following experimental results: People who became vegetarians for ethical reasons were found to be more committed to their diet choice and remained vegetarians for longer than those who did so for health reasons. Loyalty to expert advisers (doctors, financial advisors, etc.) leads to higher prices but not necessarily better services. Smokers who viewed […]

Beyond Discovery

Beyond Discovery™: The Path from Research to Human Benefit is a series of articles that trace the origins of important recent technological and medical advances. Each story reveals the crucial role played by basic science, the applications of which could not have been anticipated at the time the original research was conducted. The National Academy […]


When she lost her faith I said that falsehood yes feels true from inside, and in that moment she was born again. There’s an old joke. Two lovers freed a genie who would grant them one wish. They wished to switch bodies for a day, so that they might better know each other and thereby grow […]

Link: In Praise of Passivity

Normally the 2012 publication date would make this too recent for benthic canon, but Michael Huemer’s In Praise of Passivity was written in my heart long ago. The abstract: Political actors, including voters, activists, and leaders, are often ignorant of basic facts relevant to policy choices. Even experts have little understanding of the working of society and little ability […]

Exercise #3

Apply the Casuist’s Razor to an explanation, judgment, or argument of your choice. Suggestions from answers to “What is your favorite deep, elegant, or beautiful explanation”: Marti Hearst, Stuart Pimm, Laurence C. Smith, Evgeny Morozov. Bonus points for an evenhanded application to your favorite argument on copyright, piracy, software patents, drug use, abortion, free speech, or another potentially value-laden topic. What […]

The Casuist’s Razor

“Casuistry” is today a near synonym for “sophistry”: a certain kind of intricate, deceptive reasoning; highly pejorative. The word originally referred to case-by-case moral analysis (and, as philosophical jargon, still does). But the casuist, evidently, abused the rich particularities offered by reality to justify his prior intuitions. With a torrent of excuses and exceptions he […]

The Stargazers

On this next world, the dominant animal phylum shared a remarkable sense organ: a forest of piezoelectric peptide nanotubes, sheltered in a front-facing cavity, to be subjected to deformation by the oscillating pressure front of a sound wave, producing an information-dense electrical signal carried to the brain and experienced as sound. In this the creatures […]

The Ladder of Abstraction

Even with my relatively strict link curation, I’d have been comfortable linking pretty much any of Bret Victor’s talks or essays here. All in due time, I suppose. I’d call him an interaction designer, if I wanted to embarrass myself. He’s very and diversely competent, and he’s ambitious. His goals, in his own words: “Revolutionize how […]