THUNK – 129. Immortality

Coping with the knowledge of our own mortality is often tricky – what if we just tried a different angle? #YOLO

If you’re struggling with suicidal ideation or depression call the national suicide prevention hotline right now: 1-800-273-8255
Also see:

-Links for the Curious-

Terror Management Theory Overview (Wikipedia) –

Is Death Always a Misfortune? (SEP, 2014) –

Descartes projected that his newfound rationalist version of medicine would result in people living a thousand years. Let’s just say he was optimistic. (Shapin, 2000) –

Scientists up stakes in bet on whether humans will live to 150 (Fleming, 2016) –

Some history of hype regarding the human genome project and genomics (Eisen, 2014) –

Evidence for a limit to human lifespan (Dong et al, 2016) –

Human age limit claim sparks debate (Geddes, 2016) –

Many possible maximum lifespan trajectories (Hughes & Hekimi, 2017) –

Evolution of the human lifespan and diseases of aging: Roles of infection, inflammation, and nutrition (Finch, 2009) –

Lust for life: breaking the 120-year barrier in human ageing (Roy, 2013) –

THUNK – 128. Boredom


Boredom isn’t just murderously frustrating, it’s a psychological trait with surprisingly far-reaching effects.

-Links for the Curious-

Boredom Proneness Test, by Science of Us –

Boredom Proneness – The Development & Correlates of a New Scale (Farmer & Sundburg, 1986) –

Why boredom is anything but boring (Koerth-Baker, 2016) –

The History of Boredom (McRobbie, 2012) –

Relations between brain chemistry and problem-solving among rats raised in enriched and impoverished environments (Rosenzweig & Bennett, 1962) –

Relationships between boredom proneness, mindfulness, anxiety, depression, and substance use (LePera, 2011) –

The Relationships Between Need for Cognition, Boredom Proneness, Task Engagement, and Test Performance (Diehl & Wyrick, 2015) –

Cognitive Correlates of Boredom Proneness: The Role of Private Self-Consciousness and Absorption (Seib & Vodanovich, 2010) –

The Bright Side of Boredom (Elpidorou, 2014) –

THUNK – 127. Overfitting & Reference Class Forecasting

Predicting the future is hard. Weirdly enough, you can sometimes do better with *less* information!

-Links for the Curious-

Prospect Theory: An Analysis of Decision under Risk (Kahneman & Tversky, 1979) –

“Curbing Optimism Bias and Strategic Misrepresentation in Planning: Reference Class Forecasting in Practice” (Flyvbjerg, 2008) –

“The accuracy of hybrid estimating approaches? Case study of an Australian state road & traffic authority” (Liu, Wehbe, & Sisovic, 2010) –

THUNK – 126. Debiasing: How to Change Your Mind

Critical thinking is well and good, but it only really helps if you’re willing & able to change your mind!

-Links for the Curious-

Giving Debiasing Away: Can Psychological Research on Correcting Cognitive Errors Promote Human Welfare? (Lilienfeld et al, 2009) –

Debiasing (Larrick, 2004) –

A User’s Guide to Debiasing (Soll et al, 2013) –

The Polarizing Impact of Science Literacy and Numeracy on Perceived Climate Change Risks (Braman et al, 2012) –

Considering the opposite: a corrective strategy for social judgment (Lord et al, 1984) –

Overcoming Intuition: Metacognitive Difficulty Activates Analytic Reasoning (Alter et al, 2007) –

The Foreign-Language Effect: Thinking in a Foreign Tongue Reduces Decision Biases (Keysar et al, 2012) –

Neural correlates of maintaining one’s political beliefs in the face of counterevidence (Kaplan et al, 2016) –

Evaluating the Effectiveness of the PreMortem Technique on Plan Confidence (Veinott et al, 2010) –

A Scientist-Practitioner Model of Psychological Assessment: Implications for Training, Practice and Research (Spengler et al, 1995) –

The effects of perspective-taking on prejudice: the moderating role of self-evaluation (Galinsky & Ku, 2004) –

Debiasing Decisions: Improved Decision Making With a Single Training Intervention (Morwedge et al, 2015) –

LessWrong, an online community & blog archive for fans of debiasing & rationality –

The Center for Applied Rationality –

THUNK – 125. What Is Consciousness?

There’s much ado about “consciousness,” but what even is it? What’s the big deal? How hard could it be? @_@

-Links for the Curious-

If you are *at all* interested in this topic, please please please read the SEP entry on consciousness, it’s just fantastic –

What It Is Like to Be a Bat (Nagel, 1974) –

Facing Up to the Problem of Consciousness (Chalmers, 1995) –

A summary of Paul Churchland’s “Matter and Consciousness,” specifically oriented at summarizing common positions about the mind/body problem (Blackman) –

Continuity, Consciousness, and Identity in Hume’s Philosophy (Yandell) ––v18n2.pdf

Telling More Than We Can Know: Verbal Reports on Mental Processes (Nisbett & Wilson, 1977) –

Introspection and verbal reports on cognitive processes—Two approaches to the study of thinking: A response to Howe (Ericsson & Crutcher, 1991) –

For a contrasting opinion: “When Does Introspection Bear Fruit? Self-Reflection, Self-Insight, and Interpersonal Choices” (Hixon & Swann, 1993) –

What is Consciousness? (Vsauce, 2012) –


THUNK – 124. Play Theory

All work & no play make Jack not only dull, but also less productive, healthy, neurologically developed…

QUICK NOTE: The most commonly-cited explanation for animal play (practicing direct analogs of survival behavior) doesn’t square with all the evidence. Check out this paper:

-Links for the Curious-

“Taking Play Seriously,” by Robin Marantz Henig –

Juvenile peer play experience and the development of the orbitofrontal and medial prefrontal cortices (Bell, Pellis, & Kolb 2009) –

“More Play, Please – The Perspective of Kindergarten Teachers on Play in the Classroom” (Lynch 2015) –

“Vygotsky Meets Neuroscience – The Cerebellum and the Rise of Culture through Play” (Vandervert 2015)

“Plans Unveiled for Star Wars-Inspired Themed Resort at Walt Disney World,” by Jennifer Fickley-Baker –

The National Institute for Play, a nonprofit dedicated to advocating play for adults & children –

“Symbolic Play: The Development of Social Understanding” (Bretherton 1984) –

“The Ambiguity of Play” (Sutton-Smith, 1987) –

“How Play Makes for a More Adaptable Brain, a Comparative & Neural Perspective” (Pellis, Pellis, & Himmler 2015) –

“The Nature of Play – An Overview” (Henricks 2008) –

“Animal Play: Evolutionary, Comparative, and Ecological Perspectives” (Summary by Bekoff & Beyers, 1998) –

“Examining playfulness in adults: Testing its correlates with personality, positive psychological functioning, goal aspirations, and multi-methodically assessed ingenuity” (Proyer 2012) –


THUNK – 123. Personal Identity & the Transporter Paradox

What makes me “me?” How can I still be me, even though I change over time? Is Starfleet taking applications yet?

-Links for the Curious-

CGP Grey’s amazing “The Trouble with Transporters” –

PhilosophyTube’s very thorough (& speedy!) coverage of personal identity –

The SEP’s brilliant article on personal identity (including major problems & possible solutions) –

“Teletransportation Paradox,” via Wikipedia –

Thomas Reid’s scathing letter to Lord Kames regarding the Resurrection (the OG transporter paradox) –

A brief summary of Hume’s work on personal identity (aka bundle theory) –

THUNK – 121. Teleological Bias

Teleology: explaining things via their intended purpose. Turns out we’ve a tendency to use it *everywhere.*

-Links for the Curious-

“Why Are Rocks Pointy? Children’s Preference for Teleological
Explanations of the Natural World” (Kelemen, 1999) –

“Intuitions About Origins: Purpose and Intelligent Design in Children’s Reasoning About Nature” (Kelemen & DiYanni, 2005) –

“The Human Function Compunction: Teleological explanation in adults” (Kelemen 2009)

Students’ preconceptions in introductory mechanics (Clement, 1981) –

“Why we evolved the urge to explain,” via the Rationally Speaking Podcast –

“Explanada,” Tania Lombrozo’s Blog-

THUNK – 120. Business Networking

Networking is an essential part of career advancement in business today, but should it be?

-Links for the Curious-

Networking, Corruption, and Subversion (Ned Dobos, 2015) –

A general summary by Dobos on his paper –

Orchestrating Impartiality: The Impact of “Blind” Auditions on Female Musicians (Goldin & Rouse, 1997) –

Do informal contacts increase labor market inequality? Social ties, job access and wages for the unemployed (Oesch & von Ow, 2015) –

The Impact of Social Structure on Economic Outcomes (Granovetter, 2005) –

Sifting and Sorting: Personal Contacts and Hiring in a Retail Bank (Fernandez & Weinberg, 1997) –

Three quarters of whites don’t have any non-white friends (WSJ, Christopher Ingraham, 2014) –

Manager Race and the Race of New Hires (Giuliano, Levine, & Leonard, 2006) –

Labor Force Characteristics by Race and Ethnicity (BLS Reports, 2012) –

41 CFR 60-300.5 – Equal opportunity clause (Via Cornell Law School) –

Structured Interviewing: Avoiding Selection Problems (Pursell, Camplon, & Gaylord, 1980) –

Summary of Research on the Selection Interview Since 1964 (Wright Jr., 1969) –

How AI Is Changing Your Job Hunt (Fortune, Alsever, 2017) –

THUNK – 119. The Limits of Order & Harmony

Un/satisfying gif albums are scratching a very human itch. Where does it come from, & does it mean anything?

-Links for the Curious-

Perception of Symmetry in Infancy, Bornstein et al –

Bilateral symmetry & sexual selection: a meta-analysis, Møller & Thornhill

Sorting preference in children with autism: the dominance of concrete features, Ropar & Peebles –

The Existential Satisfaction of Things Fitting Perfectly Into Other Things, Julie Beck –

The Dollar Auction Game: A Paradox in Noncooperative Behavior & Escalation, Martin Shubik –

What is Godel’s Theorem?, Melvin Henriksen –

Pythagorean Tuning –

The Square Root of Two, Numberphile –

Creepy Out of Tune Piano –

THUNK – 117. SETI & Dyson Spheres

Why are so many smart people interested in finding alien intelligence…and where should we look for them?

*Links for the Curious*

“Search for Artificial Stellar Sources of Infrared Radiation,” by Freeman Dyson –

“How Japan Plans to Build an Orbital Solar Farm,” by Susumu Sasaki –

The SETI Institute YouTube Channel (Very Highly Recommended!) –

“Frontiers in Artifact SETI: Waste Heat, Alien Megastructures & Tabbys Star,” by Jason Wright –

THUNK – 116. The War on Science

The so-called “War on Science” isn’t about hostility, it’s a simple case of forgetting how science is different.

-Links for the Curious-

The March for Science Website –

“The War on Science,” by Shawn Otto, a very thorough analysis of the history & causes of the political & social efforts to deliberately undermine scientific authority –

Scientific American: “Is There Really a War on Science?” –

Slate: “The war on science is a trap. The science march should step carefully.” –

91. Spanking & Anecdotal Evidence –

88. Hume’s Guillotine & Rational Morality –

90. Science vs. Philosophy, an Ancient (Non-)Debate –

79. Science, Pseudoscience, & the Demarcation Problem –

Some great examples of how bias can cause us to wander away from the scientific method (thanks Your2ndPlanB!):

Gender bias in research: how does it affect evidence based medicine? by Anita Holdcroft –

A framework to analyse gender bias in epidemiological research –

THUNK – 115. The Motte & Bailey Fallacy

Motte & Bailey Arguments: because defending your actual position is *way* harder than defending a trivial one.

-Links for the Curious-

“The Vacuity of Postmodernist Methodology,” by Nicholas Shackel –

“Archaeology of Knowledge,” by Michel Foucault, Shackel’s ur-punching bag for Motte-and-Bailey-ing –

“The Social Construction of Reality,” by Berger & Luckmann –

“All in All, Another Brick in the Motte,” by Scott Alexander –

“Motte & Baileys Explained,” by Lagan History –

THUNK – 114. Shades of Skepticism

Skepticism is an essential tool for rational thought, but knowing when & how to use it is hard…I think???

(NOTE: the form of skepticism described here is sometimes known as “radical skepticism.”)

-Links for the Curious-

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Skepticism –

Science Curiosity and Political Information Processing, Kahan et al, 2017 –

Skepticism on RationalWiki (a resourse of the “skeptic” community, essentially advocates of scientific primacy) –

THUNK 18 – Skepticism & Empiricism (where I cover an alternate version of skepticism called Pyrrhonian skepticism) –

THUNK 86 – Cognitive Biases & the Socratic Method –

THUNK 58 – The Problem of Induction –

THUNK – 113. Memetics & Punching Nazis

In the constant struggle between memes, the punching of Nazis barely scratches the surface of the conflict.

CW: Physical assault

-Links for the Curious-

Spencer punched while explaining his Pepe the Frog pin –

Dawkins on Memes –

CGP Grey on Complementary Outrage –

PBS Idea Channel on Pepe the Frog –

Dan Dennett on Dangerous Memes –

“On Liberty,” by John Stuart Mill, an important building block of our current understanding of free speech & harm –

The SEP’s fantastic summary of the nuances of freedom of speech –

THUNK – 111. Populism

Donald Trump’s election is another victory for a worldwide trend of populism…what is it & why is it happening?

QUICK NOTE: I really gloss over the identity component of populist rhetoric here – the “purity” of the groups in question (be they red-blooded ‘Muricans or blonde blue-eyed “Aryans”) is a critical component of a lot of this rhetoric. I didn’t want to invoke tribal sensitivity to accusations of racism – race frequently serves this role, but it’s a broader effect than that.

*Links for the Curious*

Foreign Affairs, “The Power of Populism,” a collection of neat articles highlighting some of the potential causes of the global populist trend –

The Economist Explains: What is Populism? –

“Right-wing vs. progressive populism: How to win in these populist Trump times” by Jonathan Matthew Smucker –

THUNK – 110. Physicalism & Decoding Minds

Even if the mind *is* totally entailed by the physics of the brain, we’ve got a long way to go to understand it.

-Links for the Curious-

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy on Physicalism –

Could a Neuroscientist Understand a Microprocessor? –

Google’s image recognition neural network –

THUNK – 109. Psychology, Transparency, & Journalism

Some say that transparency is the ideological future of journalism, but our brains might not be up to the task.

-Links for the Curious-

Should Journalism Be Objective? Serial: Part 2 | Idea Channel | PBS Digital Studios:

Neural correlates of maintaining one’s political beliefs in the face of counterevidence. By Jonas T. Kaplan, Sarah I. Gimbel & Sam Harris, Scientific Reports 6, Article number: 39589 (2016):

Priming us and them: Automatic assimilation and contrast in group attitudes. By Ledgerwood, Alison; Chaiken, Shelly
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 93(6), Dec 2007, 940-956:

Transparency is the New Objectivity, by David Weinberger (via Joho):

The View from Nowhere Q&A, by Jay Rosen (via PressThink):

Nature’s peer-review policy:

The Blur Between Analysis and Opinion, by Clark Hoyt (via The New York Times):

Wikipedia’s “Neutral Point of View” Editing Standard: