Category Archives: Short piece

Wisdom

Wisdom in an individual is hard to define. One almost has to resort to the Potter Stewart approach: I can’t define it, but I know it when I see it. Here’s a dictionary definition: “The soundness of an action or decision with regard to the application of experience, knowledge, and good judgment.” Neither Stewart or…


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Mencken on Intelligence – A Century On

HL Mencken (1880-1956), often called the Sage of Baltimore, though Curmudgeon would have worked as well had he not been mostly right about the debased condition of his countryman as well those residing in the rest of the world. A century ago when he was in his prime there was no lack of deranged thinking…


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I Don’t Want A Bone, I Want The Bone

Anyone who’s had two dogs understands the title. If you give each of them a bone, they’ll each want the one the other has. They also don’t want to relinquish the one they already have. The resultant conflict, the closest a dog can come to envy, will send them into a muddle of canine angst….


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Artificial Intelligence is Better Than No Intelligence at All

The press has covered the release by a Google engineer that the company has an AI that is sentient with a mix of fear, fascination, and foreboding. For the purposes of this article I will assume that everything Blake Lemoine (the Google engineer) has said about LaMDA (Language Model for Dialogue Applications) is true. If…


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Three Little Words

“I don’t know’” There they are. The truest and most applicable sentence in the English language. The more certain you are as to the proper solution to most of life’s problems, the more likely you’re wrong. A persistent problem by its nature is difficult. Were an irritant easy to resolve it would be gone. People…


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Madness is a Feature, Not a Bug

“He was born with a gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad.” The sentence opens Rafael Sabatini’s novel Scaramouche. It’s also engraved on his tombstone. And it’s also true. Humans as the price for their exalted state of consciousness have been condemned by providence to eternal madness. The two are unalterably…


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On Safety

The current worldwide pandemic of insane terror is an interesting phenomenon. Never in human history has a period of unparalleled safety been accompanied by a rampant sense of florid insecurity. Until about a century ago, life for most people was short, oppressed, and impoverished. Then in a triumph of liberty, science, medicine, and capitalism life…


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Too Much

Winston Churchill remarked that a dominant characteristic of Germany and its people was a tendency to too much. I don’t think the great man was being fair to his Teutonic cousins as the trait seems universal, even more so with every change of the calendar. The descriptor seems to best apply to those parts of…


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On the Heat Death of the Universe

I dimly recall a talk by the critic and polymath George Steiner (1929-2020) worrying himself to near multiorgan failure about the consequences of the 2nd law of thermodynamics. The law itself is much more complicated and limited than the way Steiner used it or as I am going to use it here. I’ll just say…


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Smaller Brains

The human brain is the most complex structure known. As human-like species evolved over several million years into homo sapiens, hominid brain size tripled. Today the average human brain weighs about three pounds. Our nearest primate relative, the chimpanzee, has a brain that weighs less than a pound. Our brains constitute about 2% of body…


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