Tristan Harris: Technology is Not Neutral

Technology is often psychologically manipulative:

"...the biggest thing to change culturally is the perception that technology they are using is neutral. "

"...we have to recognize that there's a thousand engineers on the other side of the screen whose goal in desiging the way I'm looking at this screen now was not to empower me most to make the life choices of my time that I would want to make, but to... spend [more] time on the screen."

"That's not a pleasant way to live... to be forced to notice all of these steering mechanisms in our lives and and be taxed and vigilant all the time."

"The ideal would be to... only deploy conscious energy... for the choices that matter and to not be forced [to apply our will] to steer away from the donuts."

Methuselah's Children: How Close Under the Skin Lay Lynch Law and Mob Violence

"...they were better off all arrested at once and placed under guard. If they had been smelled out one at a time, anything could have happened–lynchings, even pogroms. Lazarus knew from hard experience how close under the skin lay lynch law and mob violence in the most sweetly civilized..."

From "Methuselah's Children" by Robert A Heinlein.

"Mighty little force is needed to control a man whose mind has been hoodwinked..."

I think perhaps of all the things a police state can do to its citizens, distorting history is possibly the most pernicious. For example, I learned for the first time that the United States had not been ruled by a bloodthirsty emissary of Satan before the First Prophet arose in his wrath and cast him out – but had been a community of free men; deciding their own affairs by peaceful consent. I don't mean that the first republic had been a scriptural paradise, but it hadn't been anything like what I had learned in school.

For the first time in my life, I was reading things which had not been approved yet the Prophet's censors, and the impact on my mind was devastating. Sometimes I would glance over my shoulder to see who was watching me, frightened in spite of myself. I began to sense that secrecy is the keystone of all tyranny. Not force, but secrecy... censorship. When any government, or any church for that matter, undertakes to say to its subjects, "This you may not read, this you must not see, this you are forbidden to know," the end result is tyranny and oppression, no matter how holy the motives. Mighty little force is needed to control a man whose mind has been hoodwinked; contrariwise, no amount of force can control a free man, a man whose mind is free. No, not the rack, not fission bombs, not anything - you can't conquer a free man; the most you can do is kill him.

From "Revolt in 2100" by Robert A Heinlein.

Hard To Shake Off Any Taboos (Heinlein)

I don't suppose any but scholars read the Old Testament anymore, but the culture I was brought up in was soaked in its attitudes–'Bible Belt,' you've heard me call it that. Girls, it is hard to shake off any taboos a child is indoctrinated with in his earliest years. Even if he learns later that they are nonsense.

From "Time Enough for Love" by Robert A Heinlein.

Long Life: Blessing or Burden? (Heinlein)

Life is too long when one is not enjoying now. You recall when I was not and wished to terminate it. Your skill–and trickery, my darling, and don't blush–changed that and again I savor now. But perhaps I have never told you that I approached even my first rejuvenation with misgivings, afraid that it would make my body young without making my spirit young again–and don't bother to tell me that 'spirit' is a null word; I know that it is undefinable . . but it means something to me.

But here is still more of the truth and all I'll try to say about it. Although long-life can be a burden, mostly it is a blessing. It gives me time enough to learn, time enough to think, time enough not to hurry, time enough for love."

From "Time Enough for Love" by Robert A Heinlein.

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How a Computer Becomes Self-Aware (Heinlein)

How a computer becomes self-aware remains as much a mystery, even to computers, as the age-old mystery of flesh-an-blood self-awareness. It just is. But so far as I've heard ...self-awareness never arises in a computer designed only for deductive logic and mathematical calculations, no matter how big it is. But if it is designed for inductive logic, able to assess data, draw hypotheses therefrom, test them, reconstruct them to fit new data, make random comparisons of the results, and change those reconstructions–exercise judgment the way and flesh-and-blood does, then self-awareness may occur. But I don't know why and no computer knows. It just does.

(I can think of some humans that might learn to become self-aware if they would do some of these things.)

From "Time Enough for Love" by Robert A Heinlein.

Migration: A Form of Natural Selection (Heinlein)

Earth was doomed in any case; space travel just hurried it along.

...Space travel can't ease the pressure on a planet grown too crowded, not even with today's ships and probably not with any future ships–because stupid people won't leave the slopes of their home volcano even when it starts to smoke and rumble. What space travel does do is drain off the best brains: those smart enough to see a catastrophe before it happens and with the guts to pay the price–abandon home, wealth, friends, relatives, everything–and go. That's a tiny fraction of one percent. But that's enough.

...If–as Lazarus thinks, and statistics back him up–every migration comes primarily from the right-hand end of the normal-incidence curve of human ability, then this acts as a sorting device whereby the new planet will show a bell curve with a much higher intelligence norm than the population it came from . . and the old planet will average almost imperceptibly stupider.

...That tiny fraction that hardly shows statistically is the brain. I recall a country that lost a key war by chasing out a mere half-dozed geniuses. Most people can't think, most of the remainder won't think, the small fraction who do think mostly can't do it very well. The extremely tiny fraction who think regularly, accurately, creatively, and without self-delusion–in the long run, these are the only people who count . . and they are the very ones who migrate when it is physically possible to do so.

From "Time Enough for Love" by Robert A Heinlein.

People Want to Run Things (Heinlein)

Any Government will work if authority and responsibility are equal and coordinate. This does not insure "good" government; it simply insures that it will work. But such governments are rare–most people want to run things but want no part of the blame. This used to be called "the backseat-driver syndrome."

From "Time Enough for Love" by Robert A Heinlein.

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Loving Nature, Deploring Artificialities (Heinlein)

There are hidden contradictions in the minds of people who "love Nature" while deploring the "artificialities" with which "Man has spoiled 'Nature.'" The obvious contradiction lies in their choice of words, which imply that Man and his artifacts are not part of "Nature"–but beavers and their dams are.

...In declaring his love for a beaver dam (erected by beavers for beavers' purposes) and his hatred for dams erected by men (for the purposes of men) the "Naturist" reveals his hatred for his own race–i.e., his own self-hatred.

From "Time Enough for Love" by Robert A Heinlein.

The Black Swan (Heinlein)

Beware of the "Black Swan" fallacy. Deductive logic is tautological; there is no way to get a new truth out of it, and it manipulates false statements as readily as true ones. If you fail to remember this, it can trip you — with perfect logic. The designers of the earliest computers called this the "Gigo Law," i.e., "Garbage in, garbage out."

Inductive logic is much more difficult — but can produce new truths.

From "Time Enough for Love" by Robert A Heinlein.

Random Snatches From The Notebooks of Lazarus Long

The Chapter entitled "Intermission" from "Time Enough for Love" by Robert A Heinlein is a collection of aphorisms without stories. These are ones I found amusing:

History does not record anywhere at any time a religion that has any rational basis. Religion is a crutch for people not strong enough to stand up to the unknown without any help. But like dandruff, most people do have a religion and spend time and money on it and seem to derive considerable pleasure from fiddling with it.


Men rarely (if ever) manage to dream up a god superior to themselves. Most gods have the manners and morals of a spoiled child.


Your enemy is never a villain in his own eyes. Keep this in mind; it may offer a way to make him your friend. If not, you can kill him without hate—and quickly.


Never appeal to a man's "better nature." He may not have one. Invoking his self-interest gives you more leverage.


In a mature society, "civil servant" is semantically equal to "civil master".

From "Time Enough for Love" by Robert A Heinlein.

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When Faced With A Problem You Don't Understand...

...from somewhere back in my youth, heard Prof say, 'Manuel, when faced with a problem you do not understand, do any part of it you do understand. Then look at it again.'

He had been teaching me something he himself didn't understand all that well. Something in maths. But had taught me something far more important: A basic principle.

From "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" by Robert A Heinlein.

Gary Kasparov on Invasions

Context: War on Iraq 2003:

As someone who was born in a communist country, I could never condemn (blame) invasion that would lead to the demise of dictatorship. People like me... we viewed invasion as liberation.

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