Humanity Not Made of Humans

There is a peculiar sleight of hand common among scientists and futurists. They will heap praise on humanity’s achievements and potential if – and only if – humanity is considered as a collective. The accolades for success are diffused onto the abstract group, while the blame for problems is focused onto specific persons. It is exceptionally rare for even modern Nobel Laureates to claim sole responsibility for generating ideas. I find this strange.

Common statements about Moore’s Law are guilty of exactly this sort of sleight. Moore’s law is typically phrased as “the density of transistors in a microchip doubles every two years”, which completely omits any reference to the humans responsible for the change. A more accurate phrasing would be that “incremental improvements made by thousands of engineers have roughly doubled the density of transistors in a microchip every two years”. It’s not magic; it’s hard work. This may appear to be pedantic quibbling about wording, but the extrication of humans from human endeavors is a troubling trend.

Alongside this proclivity to diffuse praise for accomplishments, it is a forgone conclusion in the scientific community that no single person will ever again revolutionize scientific thinking. A common quip directed at any young upstart is “you are not Feynman.” While meant as a clever reminder to be humble, routinely making such statements informs an attitude with pernicious effects. It now borders on pseudoscience apologism to suggest, as Plato once did, that the universe is apprehensible through the rational faculties of a single person. The suggestion that no single person will ever become great enough to radically alter science is equivalent to the suggestion that Feynman, Dirac, Einstein, Newton, Copernicus, and Pythagoras were not living, breathing men.

There is a reason for this thinking. The establishment in physics, despite the list of known issues with the Standard Model, somehow persists in its belief that we are at the end of history for natural philosophy. Physics is thought to be complete, save a few potential minor adjustments. It’s Ptolemy (circles within circles) all over again. This affliction came about because it is so difficult to motivate the tenets of quantum mechanics rationally. In the course of their education, most of my colleagues gave up and accepted some form of radical empiricism. I personally know a theorist that believes humans are only capable of writing down approximate physical laws (known as effective field theories). It is difficult to make the case that physical laws must be ultimately rational in such an atmosphere, especially because formulating any physical theory is genuinely difficult.

It is assumed that all future progress in science will be made by the efforts of teams, not individuals, which weakens the sense that any one scientist should feel excited and responsible for driving research forward. As an undergraduate, I was even told directly by a professor that the only real avenue left for discovery in physics lies in the analysis of the huge datasets generated by the particle collider collaborations at CERN. Such experimental physics collaborations can pen papers crediting hundreds of authors at once. And even in theoretical physics research, single-author papers are rare. Perhaps these observations simply indicate that physics research is moving away from the traditional academic model of basic research and towards an industrialized model of applied science. Perhaps not.

At minimum, understanding this trend is important because we must be able to frame society’s approach to scientific research accurately. When a person must spend an average of ten years post-secondary simply getting an education in the profession, that person should be given an accurate advertisement of the work up-front.

The conceptual framing emphasizing teamwork is shared by many other professions. Many people wish to “join a team” or “find a job” in the sense that they do not want to be the leaders or managers. This is entirely sensible, especially if your motto is “work to live, don’t live to work”. My issue is when this attitude is imposed upon the entrepreneurial.

There is an alternate attitude that I would argue is healthier for the academic scientist. A scientist should not to look to join a team. A scientist should look to find partners. I believe academic research suffers greatly when social hierarchies are introduced as a gatekeeping mechanism for thought. The spirited debate is the soul of the academy, and the overemphasis on teamwork could easily put that soul to rest.

I do not believe that allowing this sleight of hand to persist is healthy. Individuals should be allowed to take pride in their accomplishments. There is a world of difference between recognizing your team’s contributions and deflecting all praise onto them.

We don’t refer to factory workers or engineers when talking about who developed the Model T. We refer to Henry Ford. We refer to Elon Musk when discussing the accomplishments of SpaceX. It is trivial to point out that these men implemented their ideas by depending upon their companies. Of course they did, and of course the men and women in those companies made significant contributions that can be individually recognized.

This conceptual framing in favor of abstract teamwork may explain why many people are skeptical of private sector research such as SpaceX’s rocket development program. Public sector funding of scientific research is inherently amorphous to the outsider, which easily fits into the narrative that all scientific progress is made by some singular group called “scientists”. Handing one big pot of money to one big group is easy to digest. Thinking in terms of many specific people performing many unconnected projects is simply less familiar, but private sector companies are absolutely reliant on public trust in individuals when promoting their efforts as valid and worth funding. Criticism of the cult of Elon is not unfounded, but the benefits of having a singular advocate for a company’s efforts should not be discounted. Note how faceless companies that attempt basic research struggle. They lack a person to consistently make the case to onlookers that the work is important, which can prove disastrous to funding if the research suffers a major failure. The notable exception to this is Boston Dynamics, but their silent demonstration videos speak more loudly to the public than words ever could.

The world is inordinately complicated and we must inevitably make simplifications while using language to describe the world. Attempting to retain references to complexity by diluting the conceptual attachments between words is not helpful. It merely runs language into oblivion and makes it a useless tool for thinking.

Language shapes perception, so we must be vigilant in evaluating how common phrasing is influencing decisions.


Edit: Revisions were made to this essay on Oct. 1, 2019 to more clearly elucidate how the various ideas in the original draft are connected. The paragraph about public vs. private sector research was also added.

A Beautiful Utopia

It has been decades since Paradise was built. The first mice that lived there surely must have felt lucky. Disease was eradicated, food was infinitely abundant, nests were plentiful, and predators became a long-forgotten fear. The only rule in paradise was that no mouse could ever leave, but who would ever leave paradise?

Paradise became violent as it became crowded. The instinct to defend one’s mates and territory still existed in the mice, despite the irrelevance and irrationality of such an instinct in this newfound home. An underclass formed that seemed to believe it had nowhere to run to, and as such it simply endured all kinds of violence. Those that endured violence became violent themselves; A sickness took root in the underclass.

But the sickness ran its course. The violence ended, and an ever-increasing number lived their lives without suffering at all. Their lack of scars led the males to be called ‘the beautiful ones’, and by most objective standards their lives were improving all the time. If happiness is measured by a lack of suffering, the beautiful ones were happy.

Yet a new sickness came into full force with the beautiful ones, supplanting the old sickness of violence. This new sickness had grown slowly over generations. The infinite resources of paradise gave the beautiful one’s mothers too many children to properly care for and socialize. The lack of socialization led to unchecked violence, and the violence prompted further maternal withdrawal. This simple spiral reduced the social skills of every generation until the beautiful ones were born. The beautiful ones did not even attempt to socialize, which meant they never fought. The cycle of violence ended because a worse disease took its place.

The beautiful ones refused to interact with others. Even when plucked from paradise and paired with normally raised partners, every single one of the beautiful ones refused to mate. Not that it mattered, because the sickness of Paradise had other effects.

The spiral that created the beautiful ones also created a generation of females with virtually no maternal skills or instincts. Adapted to a violent world, the bodies of would-be mothers no longer spared enough resources to fully nourish a litter. The potential mates of the beautiful ones were functionally infertile.

Paradise died.

Worse yet, we pretend like we learned nothing. “A man is not a mouse,” the objection goes. “Humans are so much more complex than mice that any comparison is foolhardy.” Of course, this objection is rarely spoken and is thus rarely challenged. It is silently believed.

It cannot be argued that my generation was normally and completely socialized. A majority of our parents prioritized their own ‘happiness’, their immediate emotional condition, over their parental responsibilities. Those parents not guilty of such neglect instead tended to micromanage their children’s lives to such a degree that those children were isolated from every sort of normal social interaction. As children we were either starved of real interaction with one (or both) parents or starved of the opportunity to interact naturally with our peers. As young adults we were all pushed away from our home towns through colleges and into new cities, breaking any chance of building community with those whom we shared a childhood.

As an obvious result, the social interactions in my generation are stunted. We pretend to mate, as if that is an adequate substitute for the level of social interaction that creates a family. We can have acquaintances all over the world through a screen and not a single nearby friend to eat a meal with. Only in the past few years have we found ourselves free from the educational grinder, so we are acting out in childish ways and playing the games of pretend that should have occupied our childhoods. To be sure, many still ended up as well-adjusted people with normal social circles, but many more are socially damaged in ways we are just now starting to understand.

I can personally attest that I only desire to put myself in social circumstances intermittently. I quickly grow tired of continuous social interaction, real or virtual. How much of this asocial behavior is natural introversion, and how much was instilled through a childhood of constant scheduled activities and traveling between the houses of divorced parents? I may never know.

Filling the immediate physical needs of every citizen is commonly treated as the ultimate goal of society, as if that solves all other problems. This pursuit is at best flippantly justified with individualist mantras. The social consequences of grand welfare visions, the potential to rot the human soul, is dismissed with prejudice.

Why should I be surprised though? Political decisions are still being made by the same generation that gave trophies to every single kid. That generation seems to believe that someone’s physical existence must be affirmed even at the expense of denigrating the legitimate accomplishments of others. That generation taught my generation that success doesn’t matter and was then surprised we learned to be nihilistic and materialistic.

Starting in the twentieth century, the conclusion of every great war has brought the declaration of a new union that none are ‘allowed’ to leave. These unions are not formed by the integration of conquered territories. These unions are formed by the voluntary surrender of sovereignty. We have convinced ourselves that humanity is so evil that it must be permanently caged.

A man is indeed not a mouse. Yet, we chose to prioritize the happiness of the individual over the social upbringing of the younger generations. We chose to focus exclusively on meeting our immediate physical needs. We chose to build social cages from which no one can escape. We have created the same social conditions we once created for mice and we are suffering the same downward spiral.

I stand in a dying Paradise.



I was taught a half-truth when I was young. I was taught that my country was bound together by a common creed, by rationality, rather than by blood or soil. I felt a vague discomfort with the world as I grew up, but school kept me too occupied and bored to figure out what was wrong.

My schoolteachers presented their lessons as simply factual. It was held that secular institutions cannot permit robust discussions of religion, and the only acceptable moral lessons were “everyone should have freedom” (freedom being ill-defined) and “Nazis were bad”. The theory was that all responsibility for moral instruction should fall on a child’s parents, but my parents were busy working when I was a child and dealing with the aftermath of divorce when I was a teenager. I suspect a similar story applies to a plurality in my generation. The ministers in my church simply recited Bible stories, praised God’s “goodness”, and told the congregation to not do bad things. There was precious little in the way of moral proscriptions that I could have used as scaffolding for reasoning.

By no means did I have a bad childhood, but life in Suburbia is lukewarm. The feeling of being adrift fed into my natural introversion and slowly isolated me.

I was offered an excellent academic scholarship for college, so I pursued a degree in physics to get the broadest technical knowledge base possible. My interests at that point lied entirely in building machines. However, something unexpected happened: My undergraduate classes, particularly in electromagnetism, prompted me to start questioning what I was learning. My appetite for abstract ideas was whetted.

After college I applied to graduate school as a matter of course, was accepted, and continued on the path laid before me. My interests were mostly unchanged, and I was certainly kept busy. I had no answers in the inevitable drunken debate about why God would allow the existence of evil. It was only after finishing my coursework that I felt that I could breathe. For the first time in nearly twenty years I did not have to worry about the next test or paper. Having also just ended a relationship, I decided to spend some time as a bachelor in order to actually sort myself out.

My life up to this point in the story had laid plenty of groundwork for the skepticism I now hold. My father has always espoused a skepticism of legal authority, and in recent years he has openly discussed his objections to church teachings with me and my siblings. I had several teachers that planted seeds of doubt as well: a biology teacher that noted the rough correspondence between the Creation story and fossil record, a history teacher that emphasized cynically following the trail of money when explaining world events, and numerous physics professors that called for narrow interpretations when discussing experimental results.

Shortly after returning to bachelorhood, I stumbled onto the Youtube videos of some now infamous Canadians. Everything started falling into place. The thought I had poured into technical details of physics manifested a philosophical framework. A little bit of exposure to the Socratic Method and a few discussions with actual substance were all it took for me to figure out what was wrong in my life.

I have been robbed of my culture.

There were stacks of books I either didn’t know existed or had been discouraged from reading. My English and History classes had been largely filled with propaganda that admonished white kids for the actions of their ancestors. The focus on slavery, imperialism, and war created the sense that there wasn’t much to be proud of. Long days of school also deterred me from reading anything besides the fiction that gave me an escape.

It became clear why I felt no connection to the Suburbia in which I lived. My family was entirely atomized by the time I was a teenager, with every relative – including my divorced parents – living in different cities. I spent weekdays with my mother and weekends with my father, meaning I must have missed out on a lot of opportunities to spend time with friends. My parents worked constantly, limiting the time I could talk with them or visit relatives. This didn’t bother me at the time, but I see now that I was quite isolated. I treasured holidays like July 4th, when fireworks stretched down the beach as far as the eye can see, but those days were few and far between.

I was cut off from many of the narratives and social interactions that could have instilled a strong sense of culture in me. This seems to have happened to a huge number of people my age, as we were all exposed to the same forces. I have started to seek out these things that I missed out on as a kid, and as a result I feel increasingly anchored. It also helps that I have started to learn more about my family through my parents in recent years.

The nature of the half-truth from my childhood has become clear. The prevailing assumption among various authorities is that mere birth inside the geographic borders of a country necessitates acceptance of that country’s creed. You may think that is correct, but you should remember that we are currently debating whether or not private monopolies are allowed to arbitrarily limit anyone’s speech. The American creed is no longer well-rooted. It is not commonly believed that a government is instituted to protect our human rights from all enemies both foreign and domestic. Instead we believe that human rights only guard us from state actors.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it,”

Declaration of Independence

There are plenty of reasons behind this change, but I will mark out two. Of course, the federal government and its courts built power by making minor assertions that slowly undermined American philosophy. This tyrannical encroachment was prepared for in the act of writing down a Constitution that the government can violate. The more insidious reason, and the reason that enables federal encroachment, is that the public has slowly forgotten that each generation must passionately argue for the importance of their fundamental beliefs. Without those living arguments, children will not be convinced to adopt the beliefs of their parents.

One by one, the voices that should be teaching our traditions to the next generation have fallen silent. The message of preachers has been largely subverted by simplistic Evangelical theology. The newsman built a pulpit by covering his desk in images of war and has been preaching the evils of society ever since. Fundamentalists and philosophers have been fighting to tear down both reason and scripture. Whole nations remain traumatized by their own actions in the World Wars. The common man has accepted the attitude that one collection of beliefs is just as valid as the next. Outside of smaller towns, anyone that tries to express pride in our heritage is shouted down.

The Founding Fathers made a subtle mistake when they asserted that the existence of human rights is self-evident. This has borne out the misunderstanding that human rights are obvious conclusions of rational thinking (as opposed to being the axioms of a political belief system). It was heavily implied while I was growing up that human rights are something sublime, separate, and superceding all other belief systems. We are now paying the price for this singular mistake. The zealots of human rights learned in school that they are superior, and now they wish to impose their beliefs upon everyone “by any means necessary”.

It may be that the battle lines are already drawn and we merely await the first bullet. It may be that the only task left to my generation is to document the decline of an empire. It may be that I can only advise other societies on how to avoid our mistakes. But, if there is a remedy to this problem, I know my part in it. I will write what I understand to be the truth.

Perhaps everything I write will be trivial. Perhaps what I will write has already been written by another, and in that case I welcome enlightenment. Perhaps I will even be wrong about something. Nonetheless, I am compelled to write.

I have uploaded a few essays so that you can establish a sense of what I will be writing about. I have queued a dozen more topics, so I should be able to post new essays monthly for the foreseeable future. If you find my words helpful, please consider sharing this website, donating with Bitcoin, buying merchandise from my Teespring store, or subscribing to the email list.

For the time being I will be using the alias of “Mister Shaggy”. It is surely an American dream that one day pen names will be obsolete, but that day is not today. If you believe otherwise, I can only conclude that you are well-acquainted with the underside of a boulder.

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.