The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Fundraising Update and the Art of Thinking

We have raised $9,353. That means we’ve reached the first two milestones, and I’ll write sixteen reviews of books with useful information.

The final milestone is at $11,000, and is to be a booklet, “How To Think: Understanding the World.”

The fundraiser will end at midnight this coming Friday, June 28th.


I deeply appreciate all the subscriptions and donations. They will make a difference to my life. So thank you to those who have given. (And ongoing subscriptions are counted in the donation total, at three times the monthly amount.)

Let’s talk a little more about the booklet, in case we make it to the $11,000 milestone.

One of the great problems with thinking clearly is that it’s anti-survival and anti-inclusion.

It is safest in almost all circumstances, and certainly best for one’s career and better for staying good with one’s social circle, to simply agree with the beliefs of whatever groups we belong to.

If you are wrong in the same way as other people around you, and especially as important people, then you will not be blamed when things go wrong.

So to think accurately it helps to be an outsider, or to cultivate an outsider’s mindset.

At the same time, to think well about social issues, you also have to understand insiders, people who rarely have a thought or belief that is different from their social groups.

This is tricky psychologically. Generally, people who grew up or live in a society but who feel like outsiders have the best chance of pulling it off. They still have to live in that society, so for their own protection and survival they need to understand the in-groups, but the lack of identity gives them distance and some objectivity, if they aren’t too bitter.

Relatedly, in the same way that we often understand other people better than we do ourselves, there are times when we can see other societies more clearly than most people who live in or have more knowledge of that society. Because we are outside, we can see the forest.

And then, sometimes, lack of knowledge does trip us up. It’s hard. And adjusting the telescope/microscope to find the right scale is one of the tricks of analysis and understanding.

Also important is identifying what scales you’re good at, and places where you are unable to take the outside or inside view. You can then find ways to compensate, if possible, or you can simply stop trying to understand if you decide it’s not worth it. (For example I’ve simply accepted that I’m not very good at predicting elections any more. I know why, and I could try to calibrate, but it’d be a lot of work, I might not be successful, and it’s not important for me to be able to predict elections because I have very little ability to influence them or take advantage of that sort of prediction.)

At any rate, if the booklet is funded, we’ll deal with issues like this and many others.

If you want to see it written, please subscribe or donate.



Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – June 22, 2019


Open Thread


  1. Stirling S Newberry

    Off topic
    US lays its cards down on tanker attacks: more money for military.


    This is also off-topic.

    Iran uncovers and dismantles most recent CIA spy ring operating in Iran.

    Hmmm. Who precisely are the mysterious, unnamed “foreign allies,” I wonder?

    Iran Executes ‘CIA Spy’ Amid Gulf Tensions

    Iran has hanged a CIA informer said to be a former member of the military unit that downed the US drone on Thursday.

    Iran’s Judiciary Unit for Armed Forces confirmed an earlier report by Iran Human Rights organisation (IRH) that Seyyed Jamal Haji-Zavareh was executed last week on charges of “spying for an enemy state and the CIA”.

    The report comes days after Iran said it had dismantled a “new” US spy network in the country linked to the CIA, amid escalating tensions between Tehran and Washington.

    In what it termed a “wide-reaching blow” to US intelligence, state news agency IRNA said on Tuesday that Tehran had carried out the operation in cooperation with “foreign allies”, without naming any state.

  3. deplorado

    Ian, I really really look forward to the booklet.
    I donated, but unfortunately can\’t donate enough to make sure the booklet goal amount is met. And I really want to read it. So could you still write it even if the goal is not met, and offer it for sale, and I will pay to read it and I\’m sure many others would. Please.
    Thank you for your work.

  4. Willy

    This is off topic on a cosmic scale.

    WR104 is an about-to-hypernova Wolf Rayet star 7500 LY away. It’s said to be in position to shoot a gamma ray burst directly at the earth which will devastate the ozone layer rendering subsequent life on the earths surface impossible.

    Since I have a hard time imagining light years, I scale things down to more manageable levels. Lets say WR104 is the size of a standard grain of beach sand. That would make the earth a tiny dust mote 10,000 miles away. Lets say that grain of sand goes hypernova and shoots a gamma ray burst towards dust mote earth, with a shotgun angle spread of no more than 1 degree total (.5 degree around the central axis). By the time it reaches earth, the spread of gamma rays is 150 miles in diameter. That seems like a lot of gamma ray dilution to me.

    But since it’s hard for me to imagine what’s happening at the dust mote level, I scale up again. Now lets say that a grain of sand is 10,000 miles above the earth and it somehow goes critical mass hypernova. Half its total gamma ray energy has been shot towards West Virginia. What they’re saying is that almost the entire ozone layer above the mountain state would be ruined?

    I did read somewhere that a grain of sand that’s been magi-technically turned into pure energy could power a city for a year. So, hypernova explosion energy aside, maybe those little directed gamma rays pack one helluva punch. It’s easy to see why the religious are afraid of science. Without a caretaking God managing things, the universe would be a very scary place. Dangblasted scientists.

  5. False Solace

    Wikipedia says “Scientists currently believe the odds of WR 104 posing a risk to be small”, citing this page by a physics prof at USYD. This article on Universe Today dated 2009 says “WR 104 Won’t Kill Us After All”.

  6. Ian Welsh


    We’ve made it. All donors will receive copies for free. Non-donors will probably need to buy a copy, though I haven’t 100% decided that.

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