“To these young tech workers who flock to the festival, Burning Man reinforces and fosters the idea that they can remake the world without anyone else’s input.”

Keith A. Spencer:

… Burning Man is supposed to be a fun, liberating world all its own. But it isn’t. The top-down, do what you want, radically express yourself and fuck everyone else worldview is precisely why Burning Man is so appealing to the Silicon Valley technocratic scions.

To these young tech workers — mostly white, mostly men — who flock to the festival, Burning Man reinforces and fosters the idea that they can remake the world without anyone else’s input. It’s a rabid libertarian fantasy. It fluffs their egos and tells them that they have the power and right to make society for all of us, to determine how things should be.

This is the dark heart of Burning Man, the reason that high-powered capitalists — and especially capitalist libertarians — love Burning Man so much. It heralds their ideal world: one where vague notions of participation replace real democracy, and the only form of taxation is self-imposed charity.

Burning Man foreshadows a future social model that is particularly appealing to the wealthy: a libertarian oligarchy, where people of all classes and identities coexist, yet social welfare and the commons exist solely on a charitable basis.

Why the Rich Love Burning Man [Jacobin]

“Religion was the race’s first (and worst) attempt to make sense of reality.”

Christopher Hitchens:

Religion invents a problem where none exists by describing the wicked as also made in the image of god and the sexually nonconformist as existing in a state of incurable mortal sin that can incidentally cause floods and earthquakes.

How did such evil nonsense ever come to be so influential? And why are we so continually locked in combat with its violent and intolerant votaries? Well, religion was the race’s first (and worst) attempt to make sense of reality. It was the best the species could do at a time when we had no concept of physics, chemistry, biology or medicine. We did not know that we lived on a round planet, let alone that the said planet was in orbit in a minor and obscure solar system, which was also on the edge of an unimaginably vast cosmos that was exploding away from its original source of energy. We did not know that micro-organisms were so powerful and lived in our digestive systems in order to enable us to live, as well as mounting lethal attacks on us as parasites. We did not know of our close kinship with other animals. We believed that sprites, imps, demons, and djinns were hovering in the air about us. We imagined that thunder and lightning were portentous. It has taken us a long time to shrug off this heavy coat of ignorance and fear, and every time we do there are self-interested forces who want to compel us to put it back on again.

By all means let us agree that we are pattern-seeking mammals and that, owing to our restless intelligence and inquisitiveness, we will still prefer a conspiracy theory to no explanation at all. Religion was our first attempt at philosophy, just as alchemy was our first attempt at chemistry and astrology our first attempt to make sense of the movements of the heavens. I myself am a strong believer in the study of religion, first because culture and education involve a respect for tradition and for origins, and also because some of the early religious texts were among our first attempts at literature. But there is a reason why religions insist so much on strange events in the sky, as well as on less quantifiable phenomena such as dreams and visions. All of these things cater to our inborn stupidity, and our willingness to be persuaded against all the evidence that we are indeed the center of the universe and that everything is arranged with us in mind.

The Portable Atheist: Essential Readings for the Nonbeliever [Amazon]

“Race is a medieval European invention.”

Meredith Talusan:

The fundamental difference between Dolezal’s actions and trans people’s is that her decision to identify as black was an active choice, whereas transgender people’s decision to transition is almost always involuntary. Transitioning is the product of a fundamental aspect of our humanity – gender – being foisted upon us over and over again from the time of our birth in a manner inconsistent with our own experience of our genders. Doctors don’t announce our race or color when we are born; they announce our gender. People who are alienated from their presumed gender and define themselves according to another gender have existed since earliest recorded history; race is a medieval European invention. Thus, Dolezal identified as black, but I am a woman, and other trans people are the gender they feel themselves to be.

There is no comparison between transgender people and Rachel Dolezal [Guardian, via CommonDreams]

Q: What would happen to me, and everything around me, if a black hole the size of a coin instantly appeared?

Suppose a nickel in your pocket magically collapsed into a black hole. A US nickel has a mass of 5 grams. This black hole would have a radius of 10-30 meters. For comparison, an atom is about 10-10 meters. If atoms were made of atoms, this black hole would be the size of the micro-atom that makes up the milli-atoms that makes up real atoms. Basically, it’s unimaginably small.

Such a small black hole would have a similarly unimaginably short lifetime to decay by Hawking radiation – it would radiate away what little mass it has in 10-23 seconds. This 5 grams of mass will be converted to 450 teraJoules of energy, which is comparable to the detonation of about 100,000 tonnes of TNT, and will produce an explosion three times bigger than the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined. In this case, you die.

Of course, if the black hole has the radius of a common coin, then it will be considerably more massive. A nickel, again, has a radius of about 10 mm. This black hole has a mass of 1024 kilograms – slightly bigger than the mass of the earth. Its surface gravity is a billion billion times greater than earth’s. If it is in your pocket, you will find yourself being drawn towards the black hole at breakneck speeds. Literally breakneck. The difference between your chin and your teeth is about ten trillion g’s of acceleration. You’ll cross the event horizon before you even realize what’s happening. The black hole is now a dominant gravitational piece of the earth-moon-black hole of death system. If you watch sci-fi movies a lot, you might think that the black hole sinks towards the center of the planet and will consume it from the inside out. In actuality, the earth will also move up onto the black hole, and begin to bob around as if it was orbiting the black hole, all while having swaths of mass eaten with each pass. The bulk of the planet earth is consumed after some time, leaving a scattered disk of hot dust and rock in a tight orbit where the earth once was. The black hole grows slowly during this time, eventually doubling its mass by the time it’s done feeding.

The effects on the solar system are awesome, but moreso in the Biblical sense of “awesome”, which more closely means terrifying. The moon’s orbit is now highly elliptical. Tidal forces from the black hole could disrupt the asteroid belt, sending rocks careening through the solar system – bombardment and impacts may become commonplace for the next few million years. The planets are slightly perturbed, but they stay approximately on the same orbit. The black hole we used to call earth will now continue on orbiting the sun, in the earth’s place. In this case, you also die.


“The unskilled are motivated to ignore (be unaware of) their poor performance so that they can feel better about themselves.”

Previous research found that poor performers tend to overestimate how well their performance compares to others’. This unskilled and unaware effect has been attributed to poor performers’ lack of metacognitive ability to realize their ineptitude. We contend that the unskilled are motivated to ignore (be unaware of) their poor performance so that they can feel better about themselves. We tested this idea in an experiment in which we manipulated the perceived self-relevancy of the task to men and women after they had completed a visual pun task and before they estimated their performance on the task. As predicted, the unskilled and unaware effect was attenuated when the task was perceived to have low self-relevance.

Unskilled and Don’t Want to Be Aware of It: The Effect of Self-Relevance on the Unskilled and Unaware Phenomenon [PLOSONE]

“At some point in their lives, about 5 percent of people hear voices or see things that others cannot perceive.”

John McGrath / the Queensland Brain Institute:

We used to think that only people with psychosis heard voices or had delusions, but now we know that otherwise healthy, high-functioning people also report these experiences. Of those who have these experiences, a third only have them once and another third only have two-to-five episodes across their life. These people seem to function reasonably well. So it’s incredibly interesting that not only is hearing voices more common than previously thought, but it’s not always linked to serious mental illness.

Hallucinations are surprisingly common [Futurify]

“The problem of political irrationality is the greatest social problem humanity faces.”

Michael Huemer:

The problem of political irrationality is the greatest social problem humanity faces. It is a greater problem than crime, drug addiction, or even world poverty, because it is a problem that prevents us from solving other problems. Before we can solve the problem of poverty, we must first have correct beliefs about poverty, about what causes it, what reduces it, and what the side effects of alternative policies are. If our beliefs about those things are guided by the social group we want to fit into, the self-image we want to maintain, the desire to avoid admitting to having been wrong in the past, and so on, then it would be pure accident if enough of us were to actually form correct beliefs to solve the problem.


Based on the level of disagreement, human beings are highly unreliable at identifying correct political claims. This is extremely unfortunate, since it means that we have little chance of solving social problems and a good chance of creating or exacerbating them. The best explanation lies in the theory of Rational Irrationality: individuals derive psychological rewards from holding certain political beliefs, and since each individual suffers almost none of the harm caused by his own false political beliefs, it often makes sense (it gives him what he wants) to adopt those beliefs regardless of whether they are true or well-supported.

The beliefs that people want to hold are often determined by their self-interest, the social group they want to fit into, the self-image they want to maintain, and the desire to remain coherent with their past beliefs. People can deploy various mechanisms to enable them to adopt and maintain their preferred beliefs, including giving a biased weighting of evidence; focusing their attention and energy on the arguments supporting their favored beliefs; collecting evidence only from sources they already agree with; and relying on subjective, speculative, and anecdotal claims as evidence for political theories.

Why People Are Irrational about Politics [UCO]