Beachcombing:
Pre-Seasonal
December 2011

¶ We’re still reading Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow (slowly), and we haven’t reached the part about the two selves, but we liked the nugget of great wisdom that we found in an interview that the author gave to Sam Harris. We only hope that Kahneman is wrong, or at least unduly pessimistic, when he asserts that few people would want to pursue his course for merging satisfaction and happiness.

There is a road to convergence, but few will want to take it: we could suggest to people that they should adopt experienced happiness as their main goal, and be satisfied with their lives to the extent that this goal is achieved. This idea implies the abandonment of other goals and values, which is surely unappealing.

We would argue that other goals and values can be folded into the pursuit of experienced happiness. (Sam Harris; via 3 Quarks Daily; 12/8) ¶ Alva Noë at the Opinionator:

What we do know is that a healthy brain is necessary for normal mental life, and indeed, for any life at all. But of course much else is necessary for mental life. We need roughly normal bodies and a roughly normal environment. We also need the presence and availability of other people if we are to have anything like the sorts of lives that we know and value. So we really ought to say that it is the normally embodied, environmentally- and socially-situated human animal that thinks, feels, decides and is conscious. But once we say this, it would be simpler, and more accurate, to allow that it is people, not their brains, who think and feel and decide. It is people, not their brains, that make and enjoy art. You are not your brain, you are a living human being.

We need finally to break with the dogma that you are something inside of you — whether we think of this as the brain or an immaterial soul — and we need finally take seriously the possibility that the conscious mind is achieved by persons and other animals thanks to their dynamic exchange with the world around them (a dynamic exchange that no doubt depends on the brain, among other things). Importantly, to break with the Cartesian dogmas of contemporary neuroscience would not be to cave in and give up on a commitment to understanding ourselves as natural. It would be rather to rethink what a biologically adequate conception of our nature would be.

Another way to put this important thought is to say that every part of you is vital to the person you are at the moment; you will be different when you get older. To be alive is to change. There is no all-time you, which is what makes paradise truly incomprehensible. (NYT; via 3 Quarks Daily; 12/6)

¶ Of all the screeds generated by Farhaed Manjoo’s rebuttal of Richard Russo’s praise of independent bookstores, we like Rachel Meier’s defense the best. It stresses the social, live-action nature of bookshops. We believe that every reader ought to support at least one local bookstore, and for the same reason that one might have supported a church. (Monitor; via The Millions) ¶ Johannes Lichtman writes about the suicide’s Suicide: the book that Édouard Levé submitted ten days before taking his own life: “a nonlinear, almost plotless meditation on living and dying, and the torment of time.” (Rumpus; 12/19)

¶ The key phrase in Felix Salmon’s shout-out for Nicholas Dunbar’s The Devil’s Derivatives is this, about the behavior of the New York Fed when confronted by tough questions from the central bank in Washington: it “behaved exactly as you would expect from an institution captured by its big-bank shareholders.” It’s not enough to wave flags and hymn democracy. You have to know how regulation works in order to understand why it doesn’t. (12/2)

¶ It appears that the Eurozone crisis has concentrated the minds of Belgium’s politicans, who are nearing agreement on a coalition government. The nation has lacked a formal government for nearly a year and a half. And there’s more: the likely new prime minister will be Elio Di Rupo, a gay man of extremely humble origins. (BBC News; via MetaFilter; 12/1) ¶ An interesting debunking of Friedrich von Hayek, at least as a neoclassical economist, by David Warsh at his blog.

These are today lively concepts in laboratories and universities around the world. “It could have been that Hayek was running a different race, and the fact that he didn’t do well in the Walrasian race was that he wasn’t running in it—he was running in the complexity race,” says David Colander, of Middlebury College. Hayek may yet enter history as a prophet of evolutionary economics, a discipline dreamt of since the days of Thorstein Veblen and Alfred Marshall in the late nineteenth century but not yet forged, whose great days lie ahead.

Walrasian“? We learn something new every day. (via The Browser; 12/7)

¶ Using Google Scholar, Mark Bauerlein has developed a way of measuring the effectiveness of academic publications, and discovered that most articles sink without a trace. He argues that the time has come to put quality before quantity, and reduce the pressure to publish. We thought that the time for that came long ago, but better late than never. (Chron Higher Ed; via Arts Journal; 12/6)

¶ Not surprisingly, The Epicurean Dealmaker comes down hard on office romance.

So keep it in your pants, boys. Keep your legs crossed, girls. At least with each other. Because if anything interferes with getting that big LBO pitch for Yahoo! done this weekend, I swear I will fucking geld you.

The problem is, Wall Street is the home of “this time, it’s different!” ¶ Imagine Jessa Crispin’s dismay when a German gent in the Berlin subway told her that she looked like Cosima Wagner — and turned out not to be nuts. It’s not fun to resemble a woman so easy to dislike. (The Smart Set; 12/2) ¶ Alexandra Molotkow, now 25, writes of “coming of age” on the Internet. Needless to say, and notwithstanding, she’s worried about “kids today.” But not too seriously: of one rather gruesome recent story that we’re glad we missed, she writes: “It’s a classic worst-case scenario, and a reminder of how kids have ruined their own lives for millennia, through any medium they can master.” (Toronto Life; via The Morning News) ¶ Nice guys do finish last! They make less money, anyway. (Frontal Cortex; 12/5)

¶ A holiday post-mortem by Craig McCarthy, who went out of his way to have a depressing Thanksgiving, but ended up having an interesting one, that ended nicely. (Bygone Bureau) ¶ Katy Henriksen remembers growing up to Joni Mitchell’s Blue. (The Rumpus; 12/2 ) ¶ Why Love Actually, despite being a terrible movie, is a Christmas classic. Maybe we have that backwards, but you can sort out Bobby Finger’s pros and cons yourself. His lists will definitely make you want to see the film again. If you haven’t already seen it — but of course you’ve seen it! (The Hairpin; 12/12)

Have a Look: ¶ Better than flashmob dancing, an Add-A-Pearl (if abbreviated) performance of Ravel’s Bolero in a Copenhagen’s Central Station. (ClassicalArchives; via MetaFilter; 12/1) ¶ A newly-discovered portrait of Jane Austen? (Guardian; via Arts Journal; 12/6)

¶ The New York Architectural Terra Cotta Works in Queens: is resurrection in the cards? (Scouting New York; 12/13)

Noted: Leonardo da Vinci was right about trees. (Physorg; via 3 Quarks Daily) ¶ Claire Potter’s Top Ten Turkeys in American academia, 2011 edition. We couldn’t wish Linda Kathei a sweeter prize. (Tenured Radical; via Historiann; 12/2) ¶ Maybe everybody who watches football has CTE: anything less than the “full 22” zoom shot is fragmentary and arguably misleading. (kottke; 12/6) ¶ All about the creators of Marcel the Shell. (The Awl; 12/12) ¶ The Imperfect Husband (Daily Mail @ Hairpin; 12/19)