Rhys' Newsletter #60

Co-evolution of beauty, Casper ter Kuile on the future of religion, and Bo Burnam's new show

This newsletter goes out to more than 1,000 ambitious frontier people. Please share it with a friend who would like it. (And welcome to all the folks who joined this week!)

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Hello from SF! My dad has been in town this week. It’s always nice to see family. One of the big benefits of opening up from COVID. ❤️

1) Visuals of the Week

Last week I shared the Popper Criterion, which states that the healthiness of any evolutionary system is based on whether it can remove bad actors. (For example, dictatorships are bad because the people can’t remove a bad dictator.)

This heavily draws from a “survival of the fittest” perspective.

One reader pushed back on this idea with a RadioLab podcast, The Beauty Puzzle—how beauty often doesn’t actually align with “survival of the fittest” thinking. Sometimes animals optimize for mating beauty instead of “traditional” evolutionary fitness. A peacock tail is bad for running away from predators but good for mating.

This is similar to other competing desires for fitness. Copycat suicides are memetically fit (they spread quickly in a population) but are not genetically fit (they kill off the DNA of the person).

This talk of beauty in evolution reminds me of Kevin Simler’s A Natural History of Beauty. He shows how beauty is in a co-evolutionary relationship with desire. Peacocks become beautiful because there is a desire (from peahens) for them to become beautiful. Desire chases beauty. Beauty chases desire.

Kevin goes on to define single-player vs. multiplayer beauty. Single-player beauty has no connection to a feedback loop. It just looks nice because of physics, like the Grand Canyon:

Multiplayer beauty has that feedback loop built-in. Cats have become more “beautiful” over time because we have selected them for this desire for cuteness.

tl;dr—Organisms are constantly pulled by multiple types of fitness, not just genetic fitness. As an example, beauty is often created by the co-evolutionary relationship between desire and “looking good” to match that desire.

Hooray feedback loops and evolutionary systems!

2) Podcast of the Week

#87 Casper ter Kuile: How Religion Is Changing

Casper is a Ministry Innovation Fellow at Harvard Divinity School, the co-founder of the startup Sacred Design Lab, and one of the best thinkers on the future of meaning and religion.

How does this podcast relate to Roote? As we transition from the Industrial Age to the Networked Wisdom Age, one of the crucial questions is: How will humans meet our need for meaning, and how will that show up in new networked institutions?

With the decline of institutional religion, there’s a huge meaning vacuum. So whenever you see some new group like BLM or MAGA ask: How is this group providing its members with meaning?

Casper helped me think of spirituality as a remixed and unbundled layer, not some form of congregational religion:

Casper: A multi-faith upbringing, CrossFit competitions, Harry Potter fandom, or yoga and meditation. We're mixing together more and more pieces of a spiritual puzzle.

We can't look in any single place and be like “this is where religion is happening.” It's more like a layer of experience that goes across all different parts of our lives.

We also chatted about the differences between Technoutopianism vs. Social Justice as new religions. I described how many Technoutopians get meaning from the transhumanist longevity movement, turning humanity into a space-faring civilization, and drastic revolutions like crypto.

Casper understood this but provided what makes Technoutopianism difficult for him:

I think the bit of tech that's missing for me is the willingness to just be present to suffering. The world is beautiful and exciting, but it's also awful and painful.

Who wants to be near pain?

For new religions, Casper is pretty excited about what he calls “new models of relational commitments”:

Rhys: What new religious experiments are you excited about?

Casper: I am really interested models of new relational commitments. For example, one of my favorite organizations is Thread, A New Social Fabric in Baltimore, Maryland. On the surface, it’s about supporting young people going through education.

But below, it’s about these obligations. People feeling part of something beyond themselves, which asks things of them that they would not necessarily want to do.

I love this model. It basically helps people allow themselves to be asked to do things that are hard and it makes everyone better.

Finally, thinking about these commitments and obligations, I ask Casper:

Rhys: What does a Distributed Bill of Duties look like?

Casper: I’m excited by covenant. It is an agreement, not on what we're going to do together, but on how we are going to be together. It is co-created from the bottom, rather than top-down from God.

I’d never heard of covenant, but it seems like something we want to move more towards. Like a new form of bottom-up norms and values.

See the podcast link for other topics like how Casper thinks about networked individualism, why religion should center on questions not answers, and more. Thanks Casper!

LINKS

1) Synthetic Messenger. Cool botnet that artificially inflates the value of climate news. Everyday it searches the internet for news articles covering climate change. Then 100 bots visit each article and click on every ad they can find.

2) Stratechery’s new product, Passport, has a great vision. It’s a Passport for Sovereign Creators on Open Protocols:
- RSS
- Email (SMTP)
- SMS
- SSO w/ OpenID
- Podcasts w/ OAuth

3) A Lifetime Of Systems Thinking. Good life advice written by Russell Ackoff at the end of his life (when he was 80). Some of my favorites:

You cannot learn from my mistakes, only from your own. I want to encourage, not discourage, you making your own.

This is Better is Worse. It’s Better to help someone avoid mistakes, but Worse when it stops them from learning from their own mistakes.

Russell then highlights an oft-repeated misconception":

The best thing that can be done to a problem is to solve it. False. The best thing that can be done to a problem is to dissolve it, to redesign the entity that has it or its environment so as to eliminate the problem.

Indeed. As an example, we want to design an information environment where the only memes that can survive are those that are beneficial to humanity.

4) Babylon Bee: In Honor Of Pride Month, Here Are The Babylon Bee's Top 2 Genders

5) The Onion: Woman Unnerved By Group Of Guys Standing Around When She’s Just Trying To Gentrify The Street

6) Rhys: AOC Confused How To Respond To Plummeting Stock Market While World Implodes

7) TikTok of the Week. #UrbanDesign TikTok. @TalkingCities on how to transform a suburban street for festivals.

JOBS AND OPPORTUNITIES

EVENTS

MUSIC

Bo Burnham has a new Netflix special, Inside. It has twenty songs all recorded inside during COVID.

It’s gotten rave reviews—it is ranked the eighth-highest television show on Metacritic. One reviewer noted:

This might end up as a definitive bit of Western popular art to come out from the pandemic era.

Here’s one of my favorite songs, “Welcome to the Internet”. Bo describes the internet as: “A little bit of everything, all of the time.”

(Though similar things could be said about books or libraries when the printing press first came out—a little bit of everything, all of the time.)


Hope you have a good week! Warmth, Rhys

If you like this newsletter, check out my online community of systems thinkers, Roote.

❤️ Thanks to my generous patrons ❤️

Jonathan Washburn, Ben Wilcox, Audra Jacobi, Sam Jonas, Patrick Walker, Shira Frank, David Hanna, Benjamin Bratton, Michael Groeneman, Haseeb Qureshi, Jim Rutt, Zoe Harris, David Ernst, Brian Crain, Matt Lindmark, Colin Wielga, Malcolm Ocean, John Lindmark, Collin Brown, Ref Lindmark, James Waugh, Mark Moore, Matt Daley, Peter Rogers, Darrell Duane, Denise Beighley, Scott Levi, Harry Lindmark, Simon de la Rouviere, and Katie Powell.

Rhys' Newsletter #59

Popper Criterion, Homes for Memes, and Will Smith

This newsletter goes out to more than 1,000 ambitious frontier people. Please share it with a friend who would like it. (And welcome to all the folks who joined this week!)

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Well hi! I wish you were a kitten, but you’re not and I still love you.

1) Visual of the Week

This week I want to share a tool for thinking about evolutionary systems, the Popper Criterion. (Named after Karl Popper, coined by David Deutsch in Beginning of Infinity.)

The Popper Criterion states that the long-term health of any system is based on its ability to remove bad instances from the system. In politics, for example, people should be able to remove bad leaders through a democratic election. Without this ability, authoritarians like Putin stay in power even if the people want to remove him.

The Popper Criterion is important because it helps us diagnose and fix problems across many domains like politics, media, and business.

Examples of the Popper Criterion

The Popper Criterion applies to all systems where evolutionary thinking is applicable.

I. Biology

In biology we call the Popper Criterion the "survival of the fittest." We can see this at work in the image below. Birds only reproduce if they are fit (fast, clever). The weak ones die off and we’re only left with fast, clever birds.

Without the Popper Criterion, the world would be full of species that kinda suck. This has occasionally happened in times where there's enough energy to go around and organisms don't need to truly compete for their food. You'd get a bunch of "lazy" organisms. Like a sloth, but in all species. Slow cheetahs, slow gazelles, and short redwoods.

99% of all species on earth are extinct because of the Popper Criterion.

II. Science

In science we call the Popper Criterion "falsifiability." It's the ability to take a theory, run experiments, and change or disprove the theory based on the data. For example, you might hypothesize that objects fall at 20 m/s². After running a test, that theory gets "removed" and turns into 9.8 m/s².

Science is constantly disproving existing theories. Newton's gravitation was replaced by Einstein's theories of relativity. What we "know" about the world is actually just what hasn't been disproven yet. This is called fallibilism.

Again, we can see the Popper Criterion represented in the image below. Only the strong ideas survive.

III. Politics

In politics we call the Popper Criterion "democratic accountability." People should be able to remove bad leaders through a democratic election. Without this ability, authoritarians like Putin stay in power even if the people want to remove him. But with democratic accountability, governments can remove ineffective or corrupt actors.

We can see the Popper Criterion at play in the famous line: "democracy is the worst form of government, except the rest."

We could also use this for science: "relativity is the worst theory, except the rest."

Or for biology: "each species is the most inefficient way to survive in that environment, except the rest."

When you look at a system that you’re disappointed with, ask “can it remove bad actors?” (For example, police reform. Can police departments remove bad cops? No! They are protected by qualified immunity. Police departments don’t pass the Popper Criterion.)

2) Podcast of the Week

Tried out a solo podcast this week. #86 Solo: There Is A Level 5, Cultural Progress Studies, Predictive Processing, Internet annotations

Curious for your feedback on this format as I continue to experiment with it.

3) Last chance to apply to RF4 by this Friday!

LINKS

0) Rui Vale’s book review on Scout Mindset from our book club last week. Some good stuff on the scout mindset itself, but I especially liked Rui’s mindset towards books that portray binaries:

Text about having a proper mindset, especially if portrayed as a dichotomy, i.e., opposed to an improper one, puts me off instantly to the point of not giving it even a second look.

We should be wary of scout vs. soldier mindset, growth vs. fixed mindset, antiracism vs. racism, and other such good/bad binaries. Though Rui (and I) ended up liking Scout Mindset anyways.

1) Nice display of Hong Kong building colors.

Reminds me of this series from Michael Wolf, The Architecture of Density:

2) 25 Edits That Define the Modern Internet Video And create the vocabulary for an absurd, ingenious art form.

These are videos that created the “meme templates” for future videos.

For example, r/PerfectlyCutScreams was created after the 2014 template “Cut to Black.” Or the video below popularized reaction videos on Vine:

3) Help a Computer Win the New Yorker Cartoon Caption Contest. Give the AI feedback on cartoons like the one below:

4) More on AI: Twitter examined their cropping algorithm. It was moderately biased in favor of women and white people (it would crop black folks and men). They decided to remove it:

One of our conclusions is that not everything on Twitter is a good candidate for an algorithm, and in this case, how to crop an image is a decision best made by people.

5) The Onion: Coronavirus Variant Excited To Compete With World’s Top Mutations In Tokyo This Summer

6) Babylon Bee: John Cena Apologizes To China By Body-Slamming A Uighur Muslim

7) Rhys: Billionaire Gives Away Some Money, Wow How Noble

8) TikTok of the Week: What’s something incredibly immature that you will never stop doing?

JOBS AND OPPORTUNITIES

EVENTS

MUSIC

Joyner Lucas made a song praising one of his heroes, Will Smith. Will found it and decided to make a remix where he reps all of his heroes (Nelson Mandela, Julius Erving, etc.). It’s cute.

Also, if you haven’t seen Joyner’s “I’m Not Racist”, it’s one of the best videos for empathizing with The Other Side:


Hope you have a good week! Warmth, Rhys

If you like this newsletter, check out my online community of systems thinkers, Roote.

❤️ Thanks to my generous patrons ❤️

Jonathan Washburn, Ben Wilcox, Audra Jacobi, Sam Jonas, Patrick Walker, Shira Frank, David Hanna, Benjamin Bratton, Michael Groeneman, Haseeb Qureshi, Jim Rutt, Zoe Harris, David Ernst, Brian Crain, Matt Lindmark, Colin Wielga, Malcolm Ocean, John Lindmark, Collin Brown, Ref Lindmark, James Waugh, Mark Moore, Matt Daley, Peter Rogers, Darrell Duane, Denise Beighley, Scott Levi, Harry Lindmark, Simon de la Rouviere, and Katie Powell.

Rhys's Newsletter #58

Isabella Garcia-Camargo on Information Counterwarfare, TikTok as a meme-first platform, r/Superstonk IRL

This newsletter goes out to more than 1,000 ambitious frontier people. Please share it with a friend who would like it. (And welcome to all the folks who joined this week!)

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Well hi there! Yesterday was my (30th!) birthday, so I didn’t send out the newsletter. Too busy eating ice cream cake 😀

1) This week’s podcast: #85 Isabella Garcia-Camargo: Information Counterwarfare.

Isabella is a super sharp researcher who works at the Stanford Internet Observatory on two amazing projects, the Election Integrity Partnership (EIP), which countered election misinfo, and the Virality Project, which counters anti-vaxx misinfo. I started by asking Isabella:

Rhys: How do you understand information ecosystems as a whole?

Isabella: I like to frame this as what Kate Starbird calls Partipatory Disinformation dynamics. These are well-oiled machines that can take a small narrative, like a Sharpie bleeding through a piece of paper, and produce chanting outside a polling station. That production line is new and it was shocking to see happen during the election.

It's not just that Trump was tweeting that the election was going to be stolen. And it's not just that one person in Maricopa County thought that the Sharpie was going to bleed through the piece of paper. It's the synthesis of these two.

It's the masses looking for evidence and creating these stories among themselves. Then some mid-scale influencers pushing them up to the top. And then large-scale verified influencers taking these narratives and then echoing them down to the bottom.

This vicious cycle happened over and over again and churned out these narratives.

(See below for the amazing thread from Kate Starbird that Isabella was referencing.)

I love this framing of Participatory Disinformation.

The other crazy thing about these new Narrative Machines is that they incentivize folks to join them. Remember, The Culture War Wants You to be part of the Internet of Beefs.

These Narrative Machines are built around a framing, like “the election is a fraud”. Isabella calls these framings a “scaffolding.” I wanted to dive deeper on this:

Rhys: It’s interesting to hear you use the term scaffolding a lot. How do you think about scaffolding? How do these scaffolds work?

Isabella:  A scaffolding is like a framework. It's the lens through which you view new information that's coming to you.

Nobody is born out of the womb believing #StopTheSteal. #StopTheSteal is a scaffolding. It is the overall kind of belief that the election itself is going to be not legitimate.

Before the election, more and more people were drawn into this idea that everything is broken. The entire system is rigged and no matter what happens on November 3rd, it will have been cheated.

That #StopTheSteal framework has a network of people pulling you in and bringing you more evidence. Then the sensory data changes. It's like, oh, you see this specific barcode on the outside of your ballot. You should interpret that in this way. It’s a fraud.

This is such a crucial perspective. We understand the world through a given frame/lens/perspective/model. When you start with a frame of "everything is a fraud”, it changes the sensory data itself.

This is quite aligned with how our mind actually processes information, a theory called predictive processing. We're constantly putting on lenses and then shove sensory data into those models.

Or, in Isabella’s words: top-down narratives form a larger scaffolding that bottom-up news gets fit into.

When the lens changes, “the data itself changes.” (Kuhn)

(Side note: We can actually show how these frames are created through Bayesian networks.)

I then asked Isabella about how to positively shape these Narrative Machines. The “classic” answer is to add friction back in. Add nudges because Free Reach is not Free Speech. But Isabella taught me another frame:

Isabella: In addition to the “defensive” friction, we need to think “offensively”.

Our institutions are often reactive towards disinformation. But information is created far more quickly than the rate at which we can fact-check all this information. What we're trying to do with the EIP is start to get that asymmetrical playing field a bit more level.

So bringing pre-bunking tools to people who could actually reach those voters and put those counter-narratives out. Just give them the information, get them that narrative. Not two months later, but day of.

So much of platform moderation is about inserting friction into the system. Isabella helped me see that friction isn’t enough—we also want to spread pre-bunking counternarratives.

The best defense is a good offense.

Much more with Isabella on the podcast itself. Including her work on countering vaccine misinfo with Virality Project. And also this gem:

Isabella: We're not going back to nightly news. But I don't feel great about demigod Twitter celebrities as our new authorities.

😂

2) Delightful and insightful interview from Kevin Kwok and Eugene Wei that touches on many similar topics that we cover in this newsletter:

A few highlights:

First, Eugene defines a meme as “content with built-in distribution.” And that TikTok is a remix-first platform, optimized for memes.

This is the correct way to think about memes! Though I prefer memes as any informational replicator and “Virals” as the specific kind of “internet meme”.

We can think of memes as viruses that travel among a population of human minds. These meme viruses are acquired by their host (our minds), retained, and eventually transmitted.

As Eugene notes, a Viral is a type of meme that is optimized for acquisition and transmission.

TikTok dance #challenges are optimized for spreading.

More on Virals here.

Second, Eugene provides this idea of Feature-Social Graph Fit. A given feature (like Snapchat Stories) was a good fit for the Snapchat Social Graph. Instagram was able to copy Stories because its Social Graph was enough of a fit with that feature. While Stories wouldn’t have been a good fit for, e.g. LinkedIn.

This is quite aligned with our recent post, Medium-Message Fit.

The medium is the message. The social graph is the feature.

3) If you’d like to explore the above ideas (and more!) with a group of similarly divergent folks, apply for RF4 here by June 7.

Or come to our Systems Book Club on Scout Mindset. May 27th at 9am PST. Register here.

LINKS

1) Everyone has forgotten about r/wsb and $GME. But that community has continued to self-perpetuate. $GME went from $10 to $350. And $350 was crazy. Guess what it’s at now?

$200. Still!

The community has forked into r/Superstonk. They’ve been up to various hijinks. As an example, I remember seeing the r/wallstreetbets plane flying around SF and saying “wow, digital into IRL, this is crazy.”

But this weekend, I just looked up randomly and there was a r/Superstonk plane flying around. Digital to IRL is the new IRL.

Also, they’re learning self-reflection (to some extent). r/The_Donald was excited (and a bit surprised) when they memed Trump into existence. But mostly nihilistic.

r/Superstock is more reflective. In this popular thread, a community member shares how he didn’t like that r/Superstonk community members engaged in calls to violence. It was well-received. My two favorite posts:

2) We noted how important framing is in Isabella’s interview above. Here’s a sign of the framing itself changing around US monetary policy:

3) Always great to see the cutting edge of DeFi, Everlasting Options. I don’t fully grok it yet but kinda get it. Here’s the rough summary:

There are these things called perpetual swaps (perps), which give you exposure to an asset (like ETH) without actually purchasing it, and without an end date (it’s “perpetual”). Perps have become quite popular in a small amount of time.

An Everlasting Option is like a perp, but instead of tracking an underlying asset, like ETH, it tracks an option (to buy or sell an asset).

Money legos gonna keep on money legoing.

(Also, your occasional reminder that the derivatives market is worth $700T, compared to stocks at $70T, gold at $7T, and crypto at $1.5T.)

4) Babylon Bee: Texas Passes Law Allowing Students To Lasso Teachers Who Promote Critical Race Theory, Drive Them Out Of Town

5) The Onion: New Orleans Airbnb Touts Location In Heart Of Historic Airbnb Quarter

6) Rhys: Bored Twitter User Waits For Next Global Catastrophe

7) TikTok of the Week from @dumbonem

JOBS AND OPPORTUNITIES

EVENTS

MUSIC

Just learned about this wartime song, Blood on the Risers. It tells of a fatal training jump of a rookie paratrooper whose parachute fails to deploy. This results in him falling to his death.

Here are some soldiers singing it in Band of Brothers:


Hope you have a good week! Warmth, Rhys

If you like this newsletter, check out my online community of systems thinkers, Roote.

❤️ Thanks to my generous patrons ❤️

Jonathan Washburn, Ben Wilcox, Audra Jacobi, Sam Jonas, Patrick Walker, Shira Frank, David Hanna, Benjamin Bratton, Michael Groeneman, Haseeb Qureshi, Jim Rutt, Zoe Harris, David Ernst, Brian Crain, Matt Lindmark, Colin Wielga, Malcolm Ocean, John Lindmark, Collin Brown, Ref Lindmark, James Waugh, Mark Moore, Matt Daley, Peter Rogers, Darrell Duane, Denise Beighley, Scott Levi, Harry Lindmark, Simon de la Rouviere, and Katie Powell.

Rhys's Newsletter #57

adrienne marie brown on Emergent Strategy; memetic bandwidth; and Splits

This newsletter goes out to more than 1,000 ambitious frontier people. Please share it with a friend who would like it. (And welcome to all the folks who joined this week!)

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Hello from drizzly San Francisco! I danced indoors with strangers for the first time yesterday and I FEEL SO ALIVE.

1) Anywho, I had a great interview with adrienne marie brown recently. She does amazing work on many things, but I was especially excited learn from her on bottom-up organizing.

I often bring a more mechanistic lens to this, so I loved hearing her lens that was more based in humans and biomimicry.

Rhys: Could you tell us how biomimicry has changed how you think about organizing?

adrienne: Yeah, absolutely. I think for a long time I felt that revolution and total change of society was going to come because of how we thought. If we could just think ourselves free and if we just had enough facts then we could liberate ourselves and others.

I feel like watching creatures and watching nature, I recognize that there has to be so many factors involved. It's not just a decision that we make in our minds, but it's a set of practices, iterations, adaptations—things we do over and over and over again.

All through nature you see that this is how things change. It's how canyons are carved out. It's how sealines change. It's how mountains form. Everything big that changes, changes because of the pressure of small and repeated simple moves. So that made me think, well, what do we need to be doing in movement?

What are the small repeated moves that we could be engaged in that might actually create a larger shift in our entire culture than trying to just convince people that they're wrong? It's transformed how I approach the work that I do. I'm much more interested in how people are relating to each other and how people are accountable to each other and how people are honest with each other, and what it means when we are acting from and towards love.

“Just keep asking: How are people relating to each other!” Love it.

I was also curious how adrienne thought about movements (BLM) vs. mobs (StopTheSteal):

Rhys: How do you think about how a thing like StopTheSteal might use your tactics? How do you differentiate a mob from a movement?

adrienne: January 6 was what it looks like when people who are organized around superiority and individualism come together to try to assert their right to something. They're literally not looking after each other, not caring for each other.

Also we can ask, what are those folks trying to do? I like this Loretta Ross quote to answer that question: “A group of people moving in the same direction, thinking the same thing is a cult. A group of people moving in the same direction but thinking a lot of different things is a movement.”

I think a movement’s responsibility is to think for ourselves.

Finally adrienne really nails the idea of what motivated Stop The Steal folks, the Great Replacement Theory:

Rhys: Did Stop The Steal members get a sense of community from participating in the mob?

adrienne: Yeah, I think you're getting close to it. But one of the things I'm always careful about is we cannot discount the actual pleasure of superiority. So I think there is a belonging component, but I think it's also a belonging that makes it feel like you're meant to have power over others, and I think that that part is hard to let go.

Much more in the interview itself, here.

2) I wrote a piece last week on how our Ears And Mouths Are Optimized For Speech. It’s short but (hopefully) sweet and shows how memes are constantly striving to increase their memetic bandwidth:

In Medium-Message Fit, we showed how a given medium (like brains or text) determines the kinds of messages that can live on it.

But the medium is not fixed. Memes can change their information layer.

As an example, early sapiens made two changes to increase our memetic bandwidth for verbal communication.

First, we moved our larynx down which increased the pharynx area and allowed us to more clearly enunciate the vowels a, i, and u, which are found in all human languages.

Second, we moved various pieces of our eardrum to hear higher pitches, which allowed us to hear the consonants t, f, k, and s. Early hominins couldn't hear that high of frequency, but we could.

Early humans didn’t have a, i, u, t, f, k, or s. Now we have them all. The internet is only the latest move by memes to increase their replication potential.

3) We have five great folks signed up for RF4 starting in mid-June: a teenage community organizer, a venture capitalist exploring post-capitalism, a bioengineering PhD who is giving away all his inheritance, and more. Join us!

LINKS

1) Delightful long video on the history of sapiens from 200,000 BCE to today. Cool to see the Toba catastrophe around 75,000 BCE, how China seems to invent everything, and the rise of caliphates around 600 CE.

2) Continued movement around the NFT and Creator Economy space. Platforms are increasingly providing ways for creators to monetize:

And last week Mirror introduced Splits. These allow creators to split their revenue with the folks that inspired them. As Jarrod writes here:

NFTs and splits have finally given hyperlinks a business model.

Hyperlinks are a big part of the internet.

Splits give them a business model. I like to think of this as giving creators the ability to allow money to “flow through” them. Splits have been talked about for a while (I’m most familiar with the taxeme idea from 2014). They are a crucial building block in the Internet of Value. I’m excited to see them enable interdependence, not just independence.

Related: Good to see this experiment of 25 ETH ($81,000) raised for $NOVEL.

3) The Pro Tour Was Magic. Good article from Zvi on how we’re losing “excellence as a metric” to “attention as a metric”:

The problem is that once we choose that path [of streaming], we are no longer primarily testing for, rewarding and building a culture of the skill of winning. Which is the skill of being right, and the culture of objectivity and truth-seeking, where one made their reputation primarily by brightening the light of science via Magic technology, be it deck construction, playing skill or principles, or any other way. We are no longer keeping records, with streaming archived then forgotten after short periods of time. Everything becomes fuzzy and transient, and the verdict is determined in the attention market of the internet.

I have hope that we may be able to organize ourselves around the pursuit of excellence using metrics that don't rely on elite Magic competition, and potentially keep that sufficiently distinct from entertainment to allow us to capture at least some of the thing that matters.

Be wary of attention-based signals that lose sight of impact metrics.

4) Excellent EFF interview of Ada Palmer on censorship.

First, on the chilling effect:

The vast majority of censorship is self-censorship, but the vast majority of self-censorship is intentionally cultivated by an outside power.

Second, this cool long-term view on how censorship creates doubt for historians themselves:

The fact that there was censorship means anybody can come to those documents and claim that anything was false because censorship was there, and that what people really did matches their narrative.

5) Nine Top Takeaways for Alt Protein in 2020

Alt proteins are still at less than 1% of the total meat market, but growing. We’re starting to see Wright’s Law effects as we move from Pilot Scale to Demonstration Scale. Hooray!

6) The Onion: Rich Guy Asks Around To Find Out Who The New Jeffrey Epstein Is

7) Babylon Bee: Libertarians To Begin Wearing Masks Now That Government Says They Don't Have To

8) Rhys: Miami Mayor Francis Suarez Accidentally Burns Real Man In Attempt To Draw Techies To City

JOBS AND OPPORTUNITIES

EVENTS

  • Rostock Retreat on visualizing uncertainty from the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research. June 21-23

MUSIC

A couple of readers replied with this awesome Lil Nas X remix after last week’s discussion of acapella albums:

In other news, I’ve been listening to some songs from this Vanishing Asia playlist. One of my favorites is below. It’s amazing how he uses the Suona to create bird-like sounds in a call-and-response form.

It reminds me of my time in China in 2014, when I only listened to Chinese music for 7 months. Specifically, this call-and-response with mindblowing vocals:


Hope you have a good week! Warmth, Rhys

If you like this newsletter, check out my online community of systems thinkers, Roote.

❤️ Thanks to my generous patrons ❤️

Jonathan Washburn, Ben Wilcox, Audra Jacobi, Sam Jonas, Patrick Walker, Shira Frank, David Hanna, Benjamin Bratton, Michael Groeneman, Haseeb Qureshi, Jim Rutt, Zoe Harris, David Ernst, Brian Crain, Matt Lindmark, Colin Wielga, Malcolm Ocean, John Lindmark, Collin Brown, Ref Lindmark, James Waugh, Mark Moore, Matt Daley, Peter Rogers, Darrell Duane, Denise Beighley, Scott Levi, Harry Lindmark, Simon de la Rouviere, and Katie Powell.

Rhys' Newsletter #56

Feedback loops in the Industrial Revolution, Vibes in TikTok, and Mapping the Culture War

This newsletter goes out to more than 1,000 ambitious frontier people. Please share it with a friend who would like it. (And welcome to all the folks who joined this week!)

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Happy Mother’s Day! Thought about my mom a lot this weekend and hope you were able to spend deep time with yours. ❤️

1) I wrote an article last week on a crucial feedback loop that has powered the Industrial Revolution: The More You Do, The More You Can Do.

When we created the steam engine to transfer heat to work, it gave us more time to invent a better steam condenser, more access to matter like iron to create lots of condensers, and more energy to create and transport them around the world on steamboats and railroads. Steam engines provide energy to create more steam engines.

We can visualize this as energy providing more energy, matter, and innovation, which leads to more energy.

The inputs to the heat-to-work process are also the outputs of it. Progress in heat-to-work technology requires energy, access to resources, and innovation, which are the outputs of heat-to-work technology.

The more you do heat-to-work, the more you can do heat-to-work.

This pattern appears many other times in history. For example:

Around 2.5M years ago, sapiens began to use stone tools, which allowed them to access energy (in bone marrow and breaking nuts), which increased the size of their brains, which allowed them to make better tools. Tools -> energy -> brains -> tools. Tool innovation begets more tool innovation. The more you do, the more you can do.

Other examples below:

When we’re looking for things that will create a large dent in society, search for things with reinforcing feedback loops where their success begets more success.

(Also, I used the Orbit mnemonic medium to add embedded notecards to my post. It helps folks remember the key ideas. Check it out!)

LINKS

0) It’s cool that Vine Ventures is taking the Reciprocity Pledge to “commit 50% of GP Carry to non-profit initiatives that drive the psychedelics space forward.” Would love to see more VCs do this.

1) Signal wanted to run these ads on Instagram but they were rejected. The ads show how much data Facebook has. Facebook doesn’t want to remind you of this.

2) Notes on Vibe

Great essay on how the audiovisual medium of TikTok is perfect for sharing “vibes”:

In the social-media era “vibe” has come to mean a moment of audiovisual eloquence, a “sympathetic resonance” between a person and her environment.

What a haiku is to language, a vibe is to sensory perception: a concise assemblage of image, sound, and movement. #Aesthetic is sometimes used to mark vibes, but that term is predominantly visual.

Vibes are a medium for feeling, the kind of abstract understanding that comes before words put a name to experience. That pre-linguistic quality makes them well suited to a social-media landscape that is increasingly prioritizing audio, video, and images over text. Through our screens, vibes are being constantly emitted and received.

The famous cranberry juice skateboard to Dreams is a vibe. So is this Mid-Atlantic vibe.

3) AstralCodexTen on The Rise And Fall Of Online Culture Wars.

It details the progression from New Atheism, to Geek Feminism, to Corporate Feminism (#MeToo), to Racial Justice (#BLM), and the subsequent pushback from the alt-right, IDW, and Men’s Rights Advocates. It’s a helpful piece to understand the dynamics of memetic communities.

How there was a shift from

2000s-era "argument culture" to 2010s-era "echo culture".

#BLM, #MeToo, and #MAGA are memes designed to echo, built on a medium designed to echo them (Twitter hashtags). Early 2000’s platforms like Blogger didn’t allow for that.

How communities create artifacts that are then forgotten:

The most significant artifact of New Atheism is TalkOrigins' massive alphabetized database of arguments against creationist claims.

The most significant artifact of feminist argument culture is the Geek Feminism Wiki (2009 - 2012).

How subcultures are a breeding ground for larger memes:

The blogs and forums of the early 2010s were a memetic breeding ground that produced new and more compelling versions of old ideas, and one of them [#MeToo] took over liberal culture.

How language signals ingroup and outgroup status:

There were already good negative terms for woke people - "politically correct" or "SJW". But hip young people on the left associated those words with the outgroup. "Woke" arose on the left, and since it was a real leftist word used mockingly, it was hard to stamp it out. People who would never have been caught dead in a million years complaining about "those PC SJWs" finally felt free to complain about "woke people".

How some memes naturally have a balancing feedback loop built-in:

The term "Men's rights advocates" implied a focus on the problems of men, but the people involved were never really able to get interested in this. "Anti-SJW" claimed no focus other than on how SJWs were shrill and annoying, which had been most of these people's real concern all along. "Men are more oppressed than women" was a hard debate to win, but "SJWs are shrill and annoying" was … less hard.

Except in this case it was kind of cannibalistic, because the main complaint the anti-SJWs had was that they couldn't talk about how much they hated SJWs. Once they could, their case kind of lost relevance, which is probably one reason the search term is trending down these days and nobody talks about the IDW anymore.

How wokeness hasn’t gone out of fashion because it has been able to infiltrate existing infrastructure (#44):

If I had to guess, I’d say wokeness outgrew the Internet fashion cycle. Unlike its predecessors, it took over mainstream institutions. Mainstream institutions are sticky. You can take control of them by being cool. But once you have control of them, you don’t need to stay cool.

Information wants to replicate. It wants to access energy and resources to do so. Virals (and the communities around them) are constantly searching for ways to embed themselves in institutions instead of being lost to time.

4) The Onion: Experts Say Earning Trust Of Vaccine Skeptics Will Be Key To Jabbing Them When They’re Not Looking

5) Babylon Bee: 'I Have Changed My Mind And Do Not Want A Divorce From This Amazing Handsome Man,' Says Glossy-Eyed Melinda Gates After Receiving Vaccine

6) Rhys: Clubhouse Influencers Begin Vocal Chord Plastic Surgery To Add AMSR To Voice

JOBS AND OPPORTUNITIES

EVENTS

MUSIC

2004 was a great year for albums where the voice is the only instrument, but it’s not just singing—lots of beatboxing and yelping.

See Camille’s 2004 album, Le Fil:

Or Bjork’s 2004 album, Medulla:

Nico Muhly’s 2008 album Mothertongue followed in their footsteps, but with more ambient-ness and less rhythm:

Are there other albums that only use voice?


Hope you have a good week! Warmth, Rhys

If you like this newsletter, check out my online community of systems thinkers, Roote.

❤️ Thanks to my generous patrons ❤️

Ben Wilcox, Audra Jacobi, Sam Jonas, Patrick Walker, Shira Frank, David Hanna, Benjamin Bratton, Michael Groeneman, Haseeb Qureshi, Jim Rutt, Zoe Harris, David Ernst, Brian Crain, Matt Lindmark, Colin Wielga, Malcolm Ocean, John Lindmark, Collin Brown, Ref Lindmark, James Waugh, Mark Moore, Matt Daley, Peter Rogers, Darrell Duane, Denise Beighley, Scott Levi, Harry Lindmark, Simon de la Rouviere, and Katie Powell.

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