3rd Selected Links

2 min read

The podcast recommences on Monday. It's going to be a great year for the show. Each of the guests I've so far booked in is truly exceptional. My podcast goal for 2021 is to release one episode per week while increasing the depth of research and quality of conversations. As always, I appreciate your feedback and suggestions on the show, so please keep them coming.

Here're some links for you to mull over this weekend:

1. One of the few people to predict the current political instability in the US was Peter Turchin. Here is a recent profile of him in The Atlantic. I recommend his books Secular Cycles, Ultrasociety and, most pertinent to current events, Ages of Discord. Here is his take on this week's storming of the US Capitol. 'Elite overproduction' is his most important - and counterintuitive - contribution.

2. It's worth reading Watson and Crick's famous 1953 Nature article, if only for its historical interest. This is the article in which they propose the double helix structure of DNA. At only around 900 words, the article begins with one of the great scientific understatements of the century: “We wish to suggest a structure for the salt of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). This structure has novel features which are of considerable biological interest.” It's as if they're trying to play it cool, but you can't help but feel their brimming excitement. You can read the original article here.

3. This paper by Sanders, Drexler and Ord purports to have dissolved the Fermi Paradox. The Fermi Paradox ("where is everyone?") is based on the Drake Equation, which involves multiplying point estimates. But some factors in the equation are uncertain. If instead you calculate with ranges, being alone in the universe happens 21.45% of the time! One important implication of this is that the Great Filter might be behind us rather than in front of us. The paper has been contested here.

4. Last weekend, in preparation for my first podcast of the year, I read the anguished letters between Charles Darwin and his wife (and first cousin) Emma as their oldest (and favourite) child Annie lay dying of an unknown illness, possibly tuberculosis, at the age of ten, in 1851. The letters remind us how far we've come, and that there's nothing wrong with occasionally being grateful for capitalism, even as we critique it. For every thousand children born in England in 1918, more than a hundred did not live to see their fifth birthday. Today, even sub-Saharan Africa has a better child mortality rate. The letters really brought home to me that in the not-so-distant past (and still too often in the developing world today), losing your child was a terrible commonplace - and no less painful for its prevalence. Scroll to the bottom of this page to find the Darwins' letters.