Planning a Social Transition

For nearly a decade now, a huge proportion of my social energy has been directed toward constantly-connected online social networks. On a few occasions in that stretch I’ve taken breaks as part of an attempt to ameliorate my procrastination, but they have always been temporary from the start. Now, though, I’m going to try to make a permanent shift toward much more intentional and intimate forms of social interaction.

First, a bit about the virtues of social networks. Outside of family, there are about three people I consider important in my life that I didn’t meet through some sort of online group or other. I’ve had innumerable valuable experiences wholly on social networks, and would not at all be the person I am today without them. By lessening my time there, I am sure I will miss out on awesome ideas, people, and experiences. And, while this doesn’t apply very much to me, social networks are an excellent way for people who dislike or struggle with traditional social interaction to still be social overall. Given where I am in my life now, though, I think it’s time for me to try something else.

My time online is all-encompassing and automatic: My phone is always connected to google and facebook chats. I get notifications from tumblr and facebook on my phone. When I’m at my computer I always have a tumblr and facebook tab open and regularly refresh them, and I often am engrossed in the phone apps when I’m out. The end result is that I am constantly interacting whether I actually want to or not, my time is spent more on people who are regular posters at the expense of people who would provide more quality discussion, and I am constantly distracted when I want to be focusing.

Moreover, for me online multi-recipient broadcast communication is missing a level of richness and intimacy that I’ve really come to value in relationships. When I post something on tumblr or facebook, I have no idea if anyone will read it or care, and I end up shaping my communication for a more general audience. If I have an unplanned gchat convo while working, it is usually shallow, distracted, and ephemeral. And I have always felt like something vital was missing when I can’t see, touch, or most importantly go out and do things with people I’m interacting with.

And the last bit, that finally pushed me over the edge, is fairly peculiar to me but is still vital. I have a strong preference for intellectual relationships, where discussion of ideas plays a central role in the interactions. For whatever reason, the people I meet online who might meet this criterion tend to be associated with Online Intellectual Movements that seem to all share some core awful characteristics with each other. So far I’ve interacted with the online Objectivist movement, a portion of the online feminist movement, and two or three portions of the online rationalist/Less Wrong movement (two of which I affectionately refer to in my head as ‘weird twitter’ and ‘bonobo rationalist tumblr’, respectively). Though I’ve met some of my closest friends in these online groups, and though I think many of the ideas they’re centered around are extremely important and true, they’ve all tended toward an overabundance of 101-level discussion, a pervasive ingroup/outgroup mentality invading most discussions, and an implicit (or sometimes explicit) sense that having the right ideas on certain core issues makes you automatically moral and always right (and conversely if you have the wrong ones). This is extremely frustrating, both because many of those behaviors are explicitly opposed the core ideas the movements are centered around, and because it either doesn’t happen or is much more avoidable in person (even when it’s the same people involved!). Online intellectualism so far only beats out in-person intellectualism in quantity, and I expect once I make serious efforts to strengthen my existing relationships and form new ones locally even that will disappear.

So in practical terms, my plans are:

  • Log on to chat programs only when I have a pre-planned chat, or if I have something specific and delimited to share with someone (text messaging treated similarly, though I can’t log out)
  • Scale back to checking facebook and tumblr once a day, reevaluating after a few weeks
  • Aggregate some of my favorite long-form writers as well as some generic news sources into my feed reader, again checked once a day
  • Continue using this blog for long-form posts
  • Continue treating email as I have (always respond, ideally within a day or two)
  • Continue treating phone calls as I have (answered whenever reasonable, voicemails responded to ASAP)
  • Work harder to cultivate one-on-one relationships, both with long-distance friends I already have and with new local friends I haven’t yet found

If you want to still talk, I’m sure I’d love to! Just shoot me an email (domain shealevy.com, username shea) and we can figure out a way to keep in contact. I know this will probably mean a lot of my relationships will fade, and I’m sorry about that, but I think on net this will be much better for me.

RESPECT THE NATURAL ORDER

Among the rationalist-types I follow on tumblr, there is a regularly expressed sentiment that is best exemplified by the common slogan “FUCK THE NATURAL ORDER“. If I understand correctly, a mild form of the sentiment can be stated explicitly as something like:

The world as it currently is (or especially as it was “before the use of technology”, if such a time can be said to exist) is not inherently worth preserving in its current state. There are many events that can be considered “natural” that can and should be reduced or eliminated by the use of technology, with sickness and death being primary examples. Any argument that we should value something just because it is “natural” should be rejected out of hand, as should any argument that technological solutions to a given problem should discarded just because they are technological.

I understand the sentiment and why it’s valuable, I agree with most of the underlying premises, and I certainly don’t fault anyone for holding or expressing it. But it really doesn’t work for me1.

In gut-feeling terms, my objection to “FUCK THE NATURAL ORDER” is: “but I live there!”. A bit more seriously, I think it comes down to two interrelated ideas:

  • There is no solution to problems caused by the natural state of affairs that can come from outside of the natural state of affairs.
  • There is no agency underlying those problems, they just are. There is no Moloch trying to corrupt me into a multi-polar trap, no hooded skeleton waiting to take me away at the end of my days (or causing them).

Now, I don’t think that people really believe otherwise2. But framing things in contradiction to those ideas for rhetorical effect gets in the way of me processing/addressing events in the way I’d like. When a loved one dies, I want to be sad at the loss of the value they provided, not thinking about how terrible death is for existing. When I want to help solve a problem stemming from “the natural order”, I want to focus on solutions available to me given my current real context, not on a vague idea of overthrowing the natural order of affairs or slaying some evil demon (In this context, the slogan “nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed”3 fits me better). And thinking of unconscious natural forces as agentic makes me want to give them moral consideration and to understand their value hierarchy to leverage it to the outcome I want4. And I don’t want to ever reach an emotional state of ruthless joy in the destruction of an agent, no matter how positive the consequences of that destruction, whereas I think that attitude is exactly appropriate toward reshaping natural affairs to our needs.

Ultimately, I’m posting this just to get it out there, both to point out to my friends that there’s another way of looking at things and to reinforce to myself the validity and distinction of my chosen perspective. I certainly don’t expect anyone to change how they look at things, nor do I want to make this out to be a bigger deal than it is (which is to say, just a minor annoyance of having to switch perspectives).

1: I want to stress this point: This post is about my personal relationship with the sentiment, why it doesn’t work for me given my personality and perspective on the world, and is not in any way meant to be commentary on anyone else or their relationship to the sentiment.
2: That being said, I do think some people act like they mostly believe otherwise, often in a way that starts out as an obviously self-aware “this is false but useful/funny/ironic to act like it’s true” but morphs into a sort of alief over time.
3: Yes, Bacon’s dictum does imply a sort of agency to Nature. I have no idea why this doesn’t bother me.
4: I wonder if part of the difference between rationalists and myself is not that they treat unconscious natural events as if they were agents, but that they treat agents as if they were unconscious natural events.

Justice as a Personal Virtue

Your wedding photographer is friendly and conscientious. On the day of the ceremony, they capture all of the important moments without being at all intrusive, they make the formals efficient and painless, and they manage your difficult family members without breaking a sweat. The delivered photos are amazing, they’ve really brought out the best in everyone there. You give them a generous tip, recommend them to all of your friends, and look them up again when it’s time for your first newborn photo shoot.

Or…

Your wedding photographer is friendly and conscientious. On the day of the ceremony, they capture all of the important moments without being at all intrusive, they make the formals efficient and painless, and they manage your difficult family members without breaking a sweat. The delivered photos are amazing, they’ve really brought out the best in everyone there. You don’t tip, and you forget all about them once you’ve received your photos.

Or…

Your wedding photographer is abrasive and forgetful. On the day of the ceremony, they arrive late, they cut off half of the guests’ views of the ceremony, they take an hour and a half to get through your formals (leaving your other guests waiting at the reception), and they snap rudely at your obnoxious uncle. The delivered photos are grainy and poorly lit, and somehow made your spouse look disheveled and sick despite you knowing they were glamorous the day of. You give them a generous tip, recommend them to all of your friends, and look them up again when it’s time for your first newborn photo shoot.

Or…

Your wedding photographer is abrasive and forgetful. On the day of the ceremony, they arrive late, they cut off half of the guests’ views of the ceremony, they take an hour and a half to get through your formals (leaving your other guests waiting at the reception), and they snap rudely at your obnoxious uncle. The delivered photos are grainy and poorly lit, and somehow made your spouse look disheveled and sick despite you knowing they were glamorous the day of. You don’t tip, and you forget all about them once you’ve received your photos.

What consequences do you expect, for yourself, your loved ones, and the photographer, in these scenarios?

You’re all on your own in a new town, and you meet someone at the local PPASSCCATAG meetup. You find out you have several hobbies in common. You mesh well together, feeling like you’ve known them your whole life. They text you regularly, and invite you along to all sorts of fun excursions. When your cat catches triskaidekaphobia, they stand by your side the whole time and make sure you don’t have anything to worry about while you focus on getting the cat better. You let slip about your history of skittle abuse, and they are supportive and nonjudgmental and you’re confident would definitely never out you. You reach out to them regularly, keep them up to date on the latest in your life, invite them to important events, introduce them to your friends from home, and support them in their goals.

Or…

You’re all on your own in a new town, and you meet someone at the local PPASSCCATAG meetup. You find out you have several hobbies in common. You mesh well together, feeling like you’ve known them your whole life. They text you regularly, and invite you along to all sorts of fun excursions. When your cat catches triskaidekaphobia, they stand by your side the whole time and make sure you don’t have anything to worry about while you focus on getting the cat better. You let slip about your history of skittle abuse, and they are supportive and nonjudgmental and you’re confident would definitely never out you. You taper off your response to their messages, stop asking them to do things, choose to spend time with other friends over them, and when they lean on you heavily for some support you kindly let them know that you’re not sure the friendship is at that point and that you’d like some space.

Or…

You’re all on your own in a new town, and you meet someone at the local PPASSCCATAG meetup. You don’t have much in common, but you meet up a few times anyways. You’re constantly frustrated by their attitude and feel like they are speaking a different language half the time. They almost never respond to your texts, and often throw parties without inviting you. When your cat catches triskaidekaphobia, they laugh at you and earnestly suggest you have it put down. You let slip about your history of skittle abuse, and they lecture you about willpower and “accidentally” mention it in front of the parents of the kid you babysit for. You reach out to them regularly, keep them up to date on the latest in your life, invite them to important events, introduce them to your friends from home, and support them in their goals.

Or…

You’re all on your own in a new town, and you meet someone at the local PPASSCCATAG meetup. You don’t have much in common, but you meet up a few times anyways. You’re constantly frustrated by their attitude and feel like they are speaking a different language half the time. They almost never respond to your texts, and often throw parties without inviting you. When your cat catches triskaidekaphobia, they laugh at you and earnestly suggest you have it put down. You let slip about your history of skittle abuse, and they lecture you about willpower and “accidentally” mention it in front of the parents of the kid you babysit for. You taper off your response to their messages, stop asking them to do things, choose to spend time with other friends over them, and when they lean on you heavily for some support you kindly let them know that you’re not sure the friendship is at that point and that you’d like some space.

What consequences do you expect for yourself and your new friend in these scenarios?

Since the main audience of this post is not necessarily familiar with Objectivism, before I go further I want to briefly introduce my (heavily Objectivism-influenced) moral philosophy. In essence, the purpose of morality for me is to be a high-level guide to my choices in order to have a long, flourishing life. As such, while I do think much of what I try to follow would be beneficial for others to follow too, I’m primarily concerned with what I should be doing. Similarly, my primary concern is on the consequences of my actions for my life, with the effect on others’ lives only mattering to the extent they are or are not a value to me. Slightly more concretely, most of my high-level moral principles come in the form of virtues (largely in the Aristotelian sense) that are some perspective on the general idea “pursue the truth about your context and act on it in accordance with your values”. Principles, because they allow me to leverage past experience, avoid repeating cognitive work, and make reliable predictions. Virtues, because I am most reliable when acting on a desirable habit, and because they are how I enact principle. “Pursue the truth and act on it”, because that seems to be the fundamental locus of control I have over my flourishing. I do think this general approach is the best way for most other people to flourish, but I am not as certain about the universalizability of this exact perspective as Rand was.

With that perspective in mind, back to the eight scenarios:

If you recognize (in thought and action) the value the photographer provided you, you and those you care about will be able to enjoy their services again and they will be encouraged and better off as well. If you fail to recognize (in thought or action) the value the photographer provided you, you and your loved ones will miss out on the opportunity to benefit from them again, and they will miss the opportunity to be encouraged for providing it.

If you fail to recognize (in thought or action) the disvalue the photographer provided you, you and your loved ones will have to endure the experience again and they will be encouraged in their choices. If you recognize (in thought and action) the disvalue the photographer provided you, you and your loved ones can cut their losses and they may be less likely to continue in the same vein.

If you recognize (in thought and action) the value your friend offers you, you, your loved ones, and they will be able to benefit from the continued relationship. If you fail to recognize (in thought or action) the value your friend offers you, you will miss out on the opportunity to benefit from them further.

If you fail to recognize (in thought or action) the disvalue your friend offers you, you and your loved ones will continue to be subjected to the problems of the relationship. If you recognize (in thought and action) the disvalue your friend offers you, you can separate them out from your life and avoid the drain they cause.

In general, I think recognizing the value (or lack thereof) provided by others (or yourself) in various contexts and acting accordingly is an extremely important virtue to inculcate, and I think the right name for it is “justice”. In the above, I’ve consciously avoided any mention of law enforcement, which is of course a common referent of “justice”. I do think that a properly run law enforcement system does involve justice in the sense I’ve laid out here, but I don’t think it’s the only or even primary purpose of the system and I definitely think the modern American law enforcement system actively subverts justice and other values, wholesale.

Stop the vaccination false dichotomy

As far as I can tell, discussions about vaccination online are divided firmly into two strictly opposing camps. On the one side, we have the anti-vaxxers, who oppose all vaccination (and often modern medicine all together) on the basis of conspiracy theories, junk “science”, or hysteria about autism. On the other, we have the pro-vaxxers, who extol the unmitigated virtue of vaccines and think we should all automatically follow the recommended vaccination schedules, based on a general respect for science, the positive impact vaccines have had on our culture, and a general sense of interpersonal responsibility. Both sides regularly ridicule, mock, and straw man each other, and any deviation from one side is seen as full-blown commitment to the other.

I have a strong respect for the scientific process and for the huge boons brought by modern medicine. I find the lives saved by, for example, polio eradication nigh miraculous. I have not seen any reason to believe vaccines cause autism, and think the idea of a conscious conspiracy spread across the entire medical community is ridiculous enough to be dismissed out of hand. Yet I also believe that medical decisions are best made with the full context of the patient’s life and values taken into consideration, that the modern medical establishment occasionally falls into one-size-fits-all solutions that are not well-tailored to the individual, and that it’s important to be an informed self-advocate to get the best standard of care. I know that often standard practice reflects only one side of a legitimate scientific debate, and that seeking out second opinions and evaluating the literature first-hand can make all the difference in outcomes. For all medical decisions for myself or my future children, I want to be well-informed and to evaluate the decision based on the full context, including the risks and alternatives, and see no reason why vaccines should be treated any differently.

Where is there room for me in vaccine discussions? Where can I talk about evaluating the side-effects of vaccines without being tarred as an anti-vaxxer who has bought into ableist anti-autism propaganda? Where can I talk about the amazing achievements made possible by vaccinations without being accused of being a brainwashed sheep or a shill? Why must we treat all vaccines as a package deal, to be loved or hated as a whole? Please, make a space for people like me. If you are pro-vaccination, surely you expect a reasonable investigation will find that the benefits vastly outweigh the potential costs and that we will end up vaccinating our children by the normal schedule, right? If you are anti-vaccination, surely you expect we will uncover the enormous risks we are exposing our kids to and avoid vaccines when possible, right?

Coming out, I guess?

Today I tweeted:


This wasn’t meant to be anything significant, but when my dad texted me “Curious to learn more about your latest tweet” I realized some people might not know I’m bisexual1. It’s never been a secret or anything, but it’s only been true2 for a few years and I guess it hasn’t come up with my parents, seeing as I was engaged and am now married3. This isn’t a big deal for me but I realize it might be for some, so I guess this is me letting everyone know.

 

 

 

1: More precisely, pansexual
2: Seriously, there was a specific point two years ago before which I wasn’t attracted to guys and after which I was
3: Happily, I might add. This change had no significant effect on our relationship

Reviewing Hell

Last week, I had an interesting twitter conversation with Sister Y that ended with her saying “I think the suffering of life is much worse than death & impossible to predict enough to bet a child’s life on it.” I’d heard of antinatalism before, but only in an environmentalist context. I found her blog, The View from Hell, and my initial reaction after a casual skim was a visceral kind of disgust/aversion. From what I’ve seen so far, though, she seems very intelligent and like she’s put serious thought into her views, so I thought it would be valuable to try to understand her ideas and see how they can enrich my own, both as someone who wants kids and as someone who wants to get better at facing uncomfortable ideas head on and fairly considering the perspectives of those I disagree with.

I asked her if she could give me some pointers to articles that would help me get started understanding her ideas, and boy did she deliver:

My plan is to go through one by one, reading carefully and then writing a post where I try to lay out what I think she believes and why, what aspects of her reasoning I agree with, what evidence I have from my own life and knowledge that supports her ideas, and only at the end talking about where, if anywhere, I disagree and why. These posts aren’t part of a series or even in chronological order, and some of them (Theory of Nerddom?) seem like they aren’t directly related to the topics that originally drew my interest, but I expect they will form an interesting and valuable whole as I go through.

In this post, though, I want to talk about what I currently think (based on a very preliminary scan through!) are her ideas and how they relate to mine. It seems like she has two core distinct but fundamentally interrelated views: that it should be much more socially acceptable and feasible to commit suicide, and that it’s immoral to have children. Both of these ideas seem to stem from her belief that many (most? all?) people live lives that are net negative experiences, so that it would have been better if they hadn’t been born and now that they’re here they should be able to die easily, reliably, and with social support. I don’t have a clear picture yet of why she thinks that (though I do know it’s more than just that her own life has been that way), but my guess based on what I’ve read so far is that a big piece of her argument is based around the idea that relative position within social structures are a (the most?) important value for people and that inherent in that is that many people will not be able to achieve that value (since relative importance is in most senses a zero-sum game, except for the fact that you can always add unimportant people so it’s even worse than zero-sum).

I think I agree with many aspects of what I think are her views on suicide. Legally speaking, I think suicide (assisted or not) should be as cheap and easy as the market will provide, with exceptions or caveats only for people who are incapable of making rational decisions (young children, severely mentally handicapped). I find the prospect of an obligation to continue living a life of unhappiness morally abhorrent, and if that was the reasonable expectation for someone I cared about I hope I’d be able to be supportive of their decision to die as much as it might hurt me. I think culturally we could simultaneously be doing a hell of a lot more to be respectful of people’s choices to end their lives if they see fit and to make it more likely that people will live happy lives. I think there is cause to treat the decision seriously and to try to make sure people are as educated about it as possible, but people’s lives should be theirs to live or not as they see fit. I really disagree with the antinatalism aspects, though. It is simply not my experience (both in my own life and observation/study of others’) that life is a net negative. I believe most people are happy to be alive, and that there are ways (starting with good parenting!) to make personally valuable lives much more likely (though of course not guaranteed) than the current societal average. I think that parents can gain genuine value out of having kids1. I think that in the society that treats suicide the way Sister Y wants, an antinatalist view is even less justified: If methods of suicide are readily available and reliable and socially acceptable, then the potential negative value of a life will have a definite floor and people who expect their lives to go below that can choose that route.

So, I expect it will be interesting to see how my understanding of Sister Y’s views changes (please remember that I wrote this post before having studied her work in detail!) and how it will shape my perspective. As I add new posts, I’ll link them here, so watch this space if you’re interested.

1. I think this statement hides a kernel of what may prove to be an insurmountable difference between Sister Y and me. I am an Objectivist (with some important caveats!), which in particular means that I think selfishness is virtuous. Contrary to popular caricature of Objectivism, this doesn’t mean I think it’s OK not to care about or to live at the expense of other people, or in particular to have kids and try to live through them, mistreat them, deny their individuality, etc, as it is not in your long-term interest to treat other people as objects and it is in your interests to care about them for their own sakes. It does mean, however, that I think a proper justification for having children ultimately needs to be rooted in the value you expect being a parent will provide you.

Victim Blaming and Risk Mitigation

Trigger warning for discussion of victim blaming

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Javert and the loaf of bread

EDIT 1/24/13: After seeing the movie, I now agree with Rory’s interpretation in the comments (that Javert’s obsession doesn’t start until after the confrontation). This post left up for posterity.

In response to the long twitter thread started by this tweet, I wanted to explain why Javert’s obsession with Valjean (in the musical) strikes me as a bit strange.

From the musical, what Javert knows about Valjean is that he “stole a loaf of bread”, “broke a window pane”, “tried to run”, and then failed to report for his parole (from having read the beginning of the book, I know that “tried to run” means “tried to break out of prison”, but that’s not in the show). The show does an amazingly compelling job of showing why Javert despises Valjean: Those who falter and those who fall must pay the price, men like you can never change. Those central precepts guide Javert’s path through the show, and the contradiction between them and Valjean’s choice to save his life at the barricades ultimately invalidates his entire conception of the world (rooted, ultimately, in his desire to separate himself from the gutter from which he came by crushing it under his feet). This is beautifully and powerfully presented in the show, and easily overcomes the flaw in the story to make Javert and his theme of justice one of my favorite aspects of the show.

But there’s that damn little flaw. Javert’s obsession with justice makes sense. Javert’s hatred of Valjean makes sense. But Javert’s obsession with Valjean doesn’t. Why is Valjean special to Javert? Surely there are worse criminals, others who have broken their parole? Javert hates Valjean, sure, but the Javert presented in the show would hate any criminal, especially any criminal that escapes (nay, mocks) the law. Given all of the criminals he must have come into contact with, why spend so much energy on Valjean? A few people in the original thread compared Valjean to Ahab in Moby Dick, but while Valjean may share Ahab’s obsessiveness he doesn’t have Ahab’s excuse that Valjean was the only whale to take his leg.

Ultimately, I find it easy to look past this and really enjoy the show (and look forward to seeing the movie next week). But I think it would have been fairly easy to fix the problem, so I think it’s a shame that the show is as it is. Off the top of my head, I can think of three reasons why Javert might be obsessed with Valjean, and corresponding ways to show them:

  1. Valjean’s transgression was exceptional relative to Javert’s sense of justice. Perhaps he escaped more times than anyone else, or his crime was a brutal murder of a nobleman (you could still make Valjean sympathetic, say the man raped his sister or some such) or something. All it takes to show that is to replace “stole a loaf of bread” with whatever he did.
  2. Valjean’s transgression was personal in some way to Javert. Perhaps Valjean was his first arrest, or his first escaped parolee. Perhaps Valjean stole the bread from Javert’s brother (though I think this would add an undesirable extra dimension to Javert’s hatred). Maybe Valjean’s strength somehow particularly reminds Javert of the scum he was born with. Showing this would just take some backstory, maybe during a monologue or the Confrontation, and depending on how it’s done wouldn’t even need to play any further role in the story.
  3. In addition to Javert being singularly devoted to his Platonic ideal of justice, he is also concrete-bound and his obsession with Valjean is meant to be irrational. This is the view that most on the other side of the twitter discussion took, but I don’t think the show supports it. If Javert had had other obsessions that were completely senseless, that’d make a strong case that he is arbitrarily obsessive in general, but his obsession with The Law makes sense in his context. If the irrational nature of his particular obsession had had consequences, like his career floundering or him failing to catch an important criminal due to his fixation, then the irrationality would have been an important aspect of Javert’s character. Instead, after the initial exchange between Valjean and Javert at Valjean’s release we see a story that is exactly the same as it would have been if Javert’s obsession had been less arbitrary. We see consequences to Javert’s general view on justice and evil, but none to his supposed concrete-bound obsessiveness. If Javert was meant to be a character who has fundamentally irrational fixations, then why doesn’t that play a role in the show outside of the one moment where that explanation is needed?

A Request of Friends and Family

I would really appreciate it if people stopped making jokes about my or Alyssa’s expected role in our relationship based on our gender. Neither of us is the boss of the other, neither of our feelings matter more than the other’s, neither of us makes decisions for the other, neither of us just gives in to the other in disagreements, and neither of us is more or less competent at doing things adults are generally able to do (remember important items/information, manage finances, plan for events, etc.).  I understand that these jokes are not made in bad faith and are meant to be lighthearted, but nevertheless they upset me and I would appreciate it if people would respect that (much as I try to respect my loved ones’ feelings about things I might say or do).

Edit: I thought I should say, based on some comments I’ve received: This isn’t directed at anyone in particular, and I don’t want people to feel like they have to walk around on eggshells or anything. I know that these jokes come naturally and it might not be exactly clear what kinds of things I’m talking about (I’m refraining from posting specific examples because I don’t want to call anyone out or anything). I just want people to be aware that this is an issue for me so that if I ask them in the future not to make a certain joke again they’ll understand where I’m coming from.

Bleg: Initially Applicationless Knowledge

I’m looking for examples of theoretical knowledge (in any field) that, while true in some context, had no proposed practical applications at the time they were formulated. It’s ok if they’ve since had direct or indirect applications. I want to investigate a hypothesis about why I think the pursuit of knowledge needs no further justification qua productive enterprise once it’s shown that the knowledge is connected to reality, no matter how abstract or esoteric the subject.

Some potential examples of what I’m thinking of (might be wrong here, need to research the history of these): Much of number theory (Euclid didn’t forsee RSA when proving the infinity of the primes), astronomy before Newton (did Copernicus know his work would lead to a unified theory of force and gravity that enabled countless mechanical technologies, among other things?), Mendel’s genetic research (I’m guessing 23&Me was far from his mind), etc. I’m particularly interested in examples from the humanities, as I’m quite lacking in those myself.

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