91 Comments
Jun 8, 2022Liked by Mathew Crawford

I doubt there's a better piece on the internet today. Or many days. Thank you. This is incredible.

Expand full comment
author

It is interesting however to observe that what I feel are my most important articles are generally the least popular. That doesn't deter me, but it's interesting. Perhaps what it means is that such topics are the most important precisely because not enough people have yet recognized their importance.

Expand full comment
Jun 11, 2022Liked by Mathew Crawford

Your "popular" articles tend to be more topical, and give people specific information. These articles make you think. And while I love the popular articles, these are the ones that made me subscribe. Thank you.

Expand full comment
Jun 11, 2022Liked by Mathew Crawford

Mathew, you're a philosopher at heart. These are my favorite posts that you pen, and I like all your thoughtful, analytical writing. You here present several important ideas, and I could comment on a few but I will just say that more people should meditate on their values and the meaning of life.

Expand full comment

Matthew, you asked elsewhere : "Is there a vocation for thinking about and promoting everything fascinating and beautiful, making use of some of it along the way? That's what I'd like to be when I grow up." It is philosopher. I'd like to grow up to be one too. First stage : Working slowly, slowly towards the freedom to think. Then write. Then rinse. Repeat. You're on the way.

Expand full comment
author

That means a lot to me.

Expand full comment
Jun 8, 2022Liked by Mathew Crawford

You're very welcome. This is stunning, hit me like a thunderclap. This part especially: "If you can't leave the labyrinth, you're not a mythological genius—you're the minotard. If you spend your genius to build the labyrinth wider to accommodate your own terf, then later try to escape, you risk your children's survival on their own maturity.". That is an incredibly powerful image, the labyrinth as the place specialization builds. It cuts straight to the answer to a question I have pondered since the beginning of the epidemic. I work in a company with a lot of specialists in physics and biology. To the last man and woman, they all swallowed whole the insanity of covid and vaccines. I get it when people who don't have any grounding in structured thinking simply resort to fear and panic, but when those who represent the cream of the educated crop also abandon all reason and slurp from the cup of madness, what gives? The labyrinth analogy, to me, speaks very powerfully to that. They are all minotards to use your brilliant phrase, endless building the labyrinth. I'm going to be rereading this all day, and tomorrow too. Thank you again. If you're wondering whether your words are making any difference, here's one very positive upvote.

Expand full comment

I think I completely misunderstood the labyrinth image though, not seeing the maze wiggling around as corruption but that you have to wiggle around and cross the red boundaries repeatedly to advance in any one.

Can you imagine the phenomenal advances we’d have in Patent Clerkdom if Einstein had stayed in his octant?

Very resonant post — still reading and digesting! With lots of “Amen”s being uttered and nodding

Expand full comment

“but when those who represent the cream of the educated crop also abandon all reason and slurp from the cup of madness, what gives? “

It just tell you the level of the cream of the educated crop. I also am educated mathematician. At some point helped grad school candidates with their test (GRE/GMAT) needs. First I was stunned with low level of quant part and of the tests. In the USSR entrance exams in math for non-quant fields were at incomparably higher level. Then, for a long time, I was observing something which made no sense to me and I could not pinpoint. At some point I figured out and got really shocked. Grad school candidates who came through the American system of education could not do simple arithmetic operations without calculator, even with pen and paper. So after that, every time I had a student who came through the system, my first question during the first session was: how much is 27+14. I would give them pen, paper and all time that they needed. It’s ridiculous!

Expand full comment

Yes, the labyrinth in, The Never Ending Story. And what was the Destroyer? The Big Nothing. And I thought it was merely a movie.

Expand full comment
Jun 8, 2022Liked by Mathew Crawford

Step one for raising healthy kids: throw out your TV. But everyone here knows that. Step two: either homeschool or find a SMALL school aligned with your values. Small is important because of the Dunbar number issue Mathew brings up in the linked post. I had sensed that intuitively but thanks for articulating it! Step three: live and model the fact that we are in this world but not of this world. Doesn't have to be religious but I suspect that most/all based parents model a values system that is explicitly "outside the labyrinth." Healthy kids WILL be outsiders in this society, because the society is sick. So I think it's best to get them used to being outsiders from a young age.

Expand full comment

Throwing out the TV is a 20th-Century tactic.

Now the problem is the damn computer games and social media.

Expand full comment

I slightly disagree. The real challenge is to help the kids to use the devices in a meaningful way. To make them reach the information that is out there, but to have the ability to distinguish the truth by themselves. To be able to search for information beyond the crap the Google/Bing is pushing forward.

Expand full comment

Oh this might be a good place to mention Presearch. A fully decentralized search engine, without surveillance or bias.. Highly recommended. https://presearch.org

Expand full comment
author

Hmmm, I'm not sure this was the article you were intending. But I did find your piece 'Censorship as Absurdism' quite entertaining :)

Expand full comment

I don't disagree with any of that, not even slightly.

Expand full comment

Such a great article, Mathew. Thank you for being you!

Expand full comment
Jun 8, 2022·edited Jun 8, 2022Liked by Mathew Crawford

You're a good writer too. I particularly liked "postcards from History" and "the pathological hacking of the tribe" and the Minotard imagery.

I've learned to think about genius in terms of community. Through weird turns of fate, my wife wound up living a large chunk of her life in coal-mining communities (she worked as an organizer for the UMWA) and we now live in a former gypsum-mining community that has somehow kept its character. Mining is a cyclical industry, and all miners know long periods of layoffs. So they all learn to be extremely thrifty and self-reliant, but communally self-reliant rather than individually self-reliant.

Miners are like Mexican mechanics -- they can build anything, they can fix anything, they can come up with a way to create anything, and always without money. In my community, we have a community center where there is a monthly party of some type -- potluck night, bluegrass night where everyone brings whatever they can pick or thump, etc. If you don't bring an instrument you get handed a salvaged washboard. It's a quonset hut with heating, cooling, a stage, and an indoor and outdoor kitchen, and they built it for free, with entirely found or donated materials. It's been going strong for 80 years now.

We have a community park full of fruit trees and elms watered entirely from our wild spring. We have to channel the water from the spring (with little trenches, rocks, etc.) to water all those trees and the grass. There are no sprinklers. But here we are in the middle of the desert and we have no water bill for our huge shady park.

So some people keep the park watered. Others organize the bluegrass night or talent shows in the quonset hut. Others keep the ancient fridge and stoves in the community center running. Others have lead the political battle to keep this canyon safe from development. Other people are alert to the needs of neighbors. We have a multi-generation family of schizophrenics in the community who go back to before the mine was started. They owned all the water rights until the father died and the county forced them to sell the rights to the county. Then they became poor and now they live on disability, hallucinating all over the place.

But they thrive here. The sons earn extra money under the table doing yard work and repair jobs for everyone. The oldest son, now in his 50s, makes rock art in the park and in the desert surrounding the community. It's elegaic and beautiful. His dogs keep watch over him every day as he's out sculpting. Sometimes the hallucinations get scary and he starts yelling in the street. Then we have to talk him down.

The youngest grandson just finished his junior year in high school and he's being recruited by some of the best colleges in the country, probably because he started in our dinky two-room primary school and has served on the park water crew and in our volunteer fire department. He's a responsible and valued member of our community who loves his hallucinating family and helps to make sure Social Services doesn't bust them up. A college professor in the community helps when there are tricky forms to fill out.

We have two widows in their 90s who are able to stay in their homes because this community would never let them go without a ride to the doctor or without paint on their window trim.

I think the kind of genius you're talking about is a function of community. You know you're needed and you step forward. If you get stuck, someone else jumps in. You both get more brilliant every time. I see it around me everyday and none of these people seem to have any idea how special they are.

Expand full comment
author

Thank you for sharing that story. If the next generation can combine that with modern tech, we might begin the path toward paradise.

Expand full comment

See, I think in a healthy society, the reward for genius is a healthy community and the love of that community.

We have a sick society, so the "reward" for false genius is money and fame. Instead of genius healers healing the sick, we pay doctors to kill people with Remdesivir and ventilators. We pay a "genius" like Gates to run the computer networks for ClA's The Finders and then reward him with a gig as a DARPA front, monetizing DARPA's MS-DOS creation.

That money in the Gates Foundation isn't his. It's DARPA's money and it will go back to DARPA when he dies. Look at what happened to the money of ClA front Howard Hughes when the ClA finally drugged him to death. Although he had left a legal will, a judge ruled almost all of his money had to go to his fake "medical research" foundation, which was a ClA front that had never funded any medical research.

A friend's father was a "genius" producer at Universal Studios. My friend grew up with Humphrey Bogart and Jerry Lewis in the house all the time. The family had a mansion on the French Riviera, a private jet back when that was rare, all the "rewards" you can think of. There were awards. The father was the "owner" of 141 profitable companies.

Then the father died suddenly of a heart attack, and my friend and his mother found they were left with nothing. There was a blizzard of lawsuits. All of the 141 companies went to others, so did the mansion on the French Riviera, all the other houses and cars, the private jet -- all of it. My friend's mother came to Vegas to work as a "choreographer" in one of the casinos. What she was really doing to support them was serve as madam. She managed the showgirls who acted as prostitutes for the high rollers.

I have another friend who is a "genius" futures trader. You would know his name. He is also famous for a political stunt he carried off to help a traitor on his path to the White House. He supposedly made his billions from his brilliant professional gambling and trading.

In reality, he was a front for a global organized crime syndicate (the same crime syndicate behind the war on us now) who paid him those billions to launder money for them. They had $6 trillion to launder via the U.S. stock and futures markets. He developed a computer system to carry out wash trades -- illegally breaking up huge trading orders into little chunks (structuring trades) and using the little trades to rig markets higher. One of his payments for his services was handed to him on the trading floor -- a huge number of S&P futures contracts at the bottom of the 1987 Black Monday crash (which was caused deliberately for this purpose). He paid a token amount for these contracts to a notoriously crooked trading firm that soon went under.

That trade structuring and money laundering he did was largely responsible for the takeover craze of the time. If you are old enough to remember, crooks were essentially buying up every profitable company in America, stripping them of all their assets, stripping the workers of their pension funds, and shipping whatever was left of the companies off to China. That wasn't capitalism. That was organized crime taking over the world.

When the SEC was finally forced to declare his wash-trading computer system illegal many years later, he sold it to Goldman Sachs for another huge chunk of money. *They continued to operate it for 15-16 years.*

So here's another guy known as a trading genius who is really only a criminal genius. Only a criminal genius can get that kind of money and fame in our society because our society is run by criminals and as a result is deeply sick. But he is revered wherever he goes. What's funny is he is actually a crappy gambler and a crappy trader. He never made any money on his own. It all came from organized crime.

Our society is mortally sick and actively in the process of dying. If the vaxxes hadn't come along, something else would have. My hope is that we will devolve back to smaller communities and a healthy society as a reward for genius. That would produce genuine genius.

I think the degradation continues until we get to that point.

Expand full comment

Fascinating, and brilliantly rendered. There might be a memoir somewhere ...

Expand full comment

Extremely inspiring, thank you.....

When I saw the Bath conference promoted by tess lawrie a few weeks back, I was dissappointed by the rsearchers fighting each other about their ”fixed notions” in their own fields of work, espcially Geert va de Bosche seemed quite “immovable”, they would do a better job for the world if they were better at co- working and nor co- fighting and get fat quicker helpful results. They should all try to live in such a community....

Expand full comment
Jun 8, 2022Liked by Mathew Crawford

You make so much sense with this essay. As a kid age four I taught myself to read using my older sister's school work, which pissed off the kindergarten teacher the first day I started school. I began to write music, poetry and plays, sculpt, paint, draw, dance (in secret because of the fundamentalist sect to which our family belonged) and design science experiments and buildings. I excelled at piano and taught myself to play guitar. I absolutely LOVED math, because I could see the logic of the problem and feel it like a thump on my chest when I got it right. And I had real dreams and goals of a future career that combined science, medicine and law. And maybe politics. But I was also a kid who needed external praise and feedback because I didn't think I was any good, really. Humility and self-effacement were rewarded in my family. I hungered to feel that my success was important to the admired and respected adults in my life, but I didn't have that, being a girl expected to grow up to marry a missionary and raise Christian children and not waste money for college just to get the Mrs degree. So, got many perfect math scores right up until the latter half of grade twelve. I missed three weeks of classes due to pneumonia and when I returned to class in the late winter I found the new material devastatingly confusing. I just could not catch up. But no one cared that I was suddenly struggling with math - certainly not my teacher. I failed math in grade 12 while acing other subjects. I never completed a university degree or achieved any kind of career. But my kids are great and so is my garden.

Expand full comment
Jun 8, 2022Liked by Mathew Crawford

I've always felt that the "Jack of all trades, master of one" was actually not specific enough.

Master learning, learn how to learn, and you'll always be able to accomplish the task at hand efficiently, even if your learning curve is vertical.

Expand full comment
author

We are also living in an age of multi-specialization. The "Einsteins" among the 20-somethings are young people with the knowledge of two or three PhDs of yesteryear. There are more of them than most people realize.

Expand full comment

You’re an extraordinary person Mathew. And it’s a great pleasure reading your thoughts here and also seeing the illustrations you chose.

Silos had killed science and medicine in major ways. Nobody talks about the tyranny of specialization. Glad you chose this topic and very interested in re-reading it now that I’ve read it once.

Expand full comment
Jun 8, 2022Liked by Mathew Crawford

Love this! I homeschool my kids in Northern Virginia and the pressure to be some sort of superstar is intense. I have always told my kids that the world is full of people you never hear of that are necessary for the world to run smoothly... Moms, dads, ditch diggers, etc. And THANK YOU for the quote. My dad is brilliant, but not degree-d and he would always put himself down when we called him a jack of all trades. He'd say, yeah, but master of none. I can't wait to give him the REST of the quote!!

Expand full comment
Jun 8, 2022Liked by Mathew Crawford

Brilliant. Love it! Yesterday I jammed from work. My head wasn’t in it. Instead, I rode a ~600km motorcycle ride loop around some of BC’s most spectacular scenery (Duffy Lake Road loop). A fantastic way to clear ones’ head. No psychoanalyst required. In the madness of the last two years I’ve become very isolated. Excluded from playing music. Shut out from work. Seeing family. Air travel (the downside with living so close to such glorious views as we have in BC, Canada, is that we have Turdoo calling our shots….). I needed the tonic of a long ride. In thinking about the future, it’s easy to feel negative. But then again, you pose a great question - “When It All Breaks Down, Who's Going to Rebuild It?”.

We are!

We’re gonna be in a so much stronger position than we realize. Let’s get over our grieving for the world that was. It’s gone. Waiting for it to come back is futile. Let’s move on and get rebuilding.

I’m glad I’m on the team with so many folks like this.

Thanks Mathew - that was inspirational.

Expand full comment
Jun 8, 2022Liked by Mathew Crawford

First reaction article title channeling sci-fi Heinlein "Specialization is for Insects. A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program "

Also you'd probably v much enjoy Postman 1995 "End of Education", has some v memorable passages https://scott.london/reviews/postman2.html

MC: "having worked my way through college doing actuarial work"

Q: My step-son is 17, motivated and would like to embark on that career track, what edu trajectory would you recommend for someone outside your geo-vicinity?

Lastly, IMHO US elite higher ed (Ivies, Caltech, MIT etc) for sizeable minority of students is simply a vehicle laundering privilege of birth wealth / connections into education.

Expand full comment
author

A to Q: I think university education best serves those who know their track first, though maybe for a year or two it's unnecessary. In the latter case, it's unnecessary.

Expand full comment
Jun 8, 2022·edited Jun 8, 2022Liked by Mathew Crawford

So do you and you wife ever ponder the probabilistic biochemical origins of life? I'm just there the last couple of days. Hexagons, quantum electrostatic excitement and energy release, diurnal bombardment from the Sun for billions of years pushing atoms and molecules into and out of structures, crystal lattices, Platonic solids, protozoa.

I'm many gaps away to the origin, replication RNA patterns etc. But like your opening paragraph I'm just at the tip of the tip of the tip and fascinated. I could spend all day in a nice library. Except I want to contribute, share, and create something with some people! One of the loveliest intros I've ever read.

Also currently curious to the quantum entanglement in photosynthesis and all green plants achieving almost 100% photon to sugar energy efficiency.

Expand full comment
author

1. Plants are amazing.

2. I have wondered about the origins of life, but I always quickly decide that figuring out how to better manage ours is the more needed task.

Expand full comment

For sure, stick with human society issues.

I just thought with the biochemistry and stats/probability background.

Also things echo at different levels. Clues can be found in one for the other.

Expand full comment

Go spend time on an organic farm (Before they all disappear) and you'll find the answers to many of your facinations. Farming can be hard, but oh do you have time to think. Really deep think about the weird, wonderful, scary and awe-inspiring worlds and what your soul is here to do.

Oh and yes quantum entanglement within photosynthesis is VERY cool! Know what's even cooler? Our own quantum entanglement within our mitochondria. We are just plants. With complicated emotions. 😊

Expand full comment

Ah thanks, hadn't got to mitochondria yet! I guess the universe vibrates at these different electromagnetic scales, and the flow from psychics to chemistry to biology is evolutionary almost inevitable (after a few hundred billion day night cycles!) And the energy advantage of determining quantum probabilities of electron positions is so essential it had to be baked in to the successful flora and fauna.

My family is most understanding and some time on a remote farm is possible. Thanks

Expand full comment

The missing ingredient is actually philosophy.

"The ghosts of scholasticism -- of a pursuit of knowledge divorced from its social end -- hover about the microscopes and test-tubes of the scientific world; ... The blunt truth is that unless a scientist is also a philosopher, with some capacity to see things *sub specie totius* [a complete perspective on the whole], -- unless he can come out of his hole into the open, -- he is not fit to direct his own research. ... without philosophy as its eye piece, science is but the traditional child who has taken apart the traditional watch, with none but the traditional results." -- Will Durant

Expand full comment
author

I think of philosophy as the tree and science as one of the branches.

Expand full comment

Oh, do keep teasing this one out!

1.) is this intentionally written in an intellectually tiered way? As in, the Einsteins will get a meaning out of it different than the rest of us plebs? My idiot sauvant nature (and I hope no one take offense to that) usually wants to zoom out after taking in information and reframe it from as many different angles as my limited mind is capable of producing.

2.) Calvin and Hobbes is genius. I named one of my sons Calvin and oh boy, does he take after his name sake. Trouble maker philosopher with crazy imagination. Not to pigeonhole him or anything. He didn't attend school. We do autonomous learning.

3.) the Satoshi Nakimoto joke made me LOL

4.) the Montessori schools in Chicago are a total joke. Two of my friends are teachers in such schools. They are so woke they're missing a periphery. Their schools cost more than I can bring in a year on an artist salery. They're super proud to educate budding artists (who, I would venture to guess) wouldn be able to afford to send their kids to those schools.

5.) my Bulgarian education and a clerical error were responsible for me to skip some grades and graduate high school here by the time I was 15. School was so boring for years and years. Where were the teachers they make movies about? I don't think I met a single teacher in my life that inspired me.

6.) education is a fundamental issue. But it often misses the point because it is misframed. Thank you for expanding the conversation!

Expand full comment
author

There is not an intentional layer for geniuses, I don't think. There are some in one of the articles I linked to, but I don't do that often.

Expand full comment

"Where were the teachers they make movies about? THE INFILTRATION OF WHAT YOU'D NEVER EXPECT...The Game's Afoot | Episode 3 https://youtu.be/Swd0atfQ7DA

Expand full comment
Jun 8, 2022Liked by Mathew Crawford

The system does indeed need to change. But will it? My guess is that it will instead "all break down", either soon or in a few centuries, geniuses notwithstanding. Better that it be soon.

Very nice article - thank you.

Expand full comment
author

We can be building parallel systems in the meantime that can survive the breakdown.

Expand full comment

Yes, we can and we should. We must, even.

But it is far from clear that any such systems will survive. The "hierarchy" and "community leaders" to whom you refer have a deadly interest in preventing and/or destroying alternative systems.

Expand full comment
Jun 8, 2022Liked by Mathew Crawford

Hmm... Minotard here. But I'm slowly pulling away. As of last month I'm semi-retired (part-time as needed status at my company) but keeping my hand in the game for the occasional "easy money" that I can't make doing anything else, at least on an hourly basis. It's still soul sucking but it leaves me more time for other things. Still deciding what those other things should be...

A few years back I attempted to get a job in a completely different field that I thought would be more fulfilling even though it paid less. But it's hard to convince folks that your skills will allow you to learn fast so it never worked out.

Expand full comment
Jun 8, 2022Liked by Mathew Crawford

Where are all the genii, Mathew? Worshipping Mammon, methinks.

Personally, in my (slightly longer than your) life, I have met two genius mathematicians and one genius physicist/aastrobiolologist.The mathematicians left academia to create interesting products for investment banks and the astrobiologist is designing missile defence systems, last I spoke to her...

Perhaps these guys could have made real advances in their fields, had they stuck with not being rich. As you say, their call, not mine, but I still wonder what could have been, had the call of the money not been there.

Myself, I'm a generalist. Which is another way of saying there are *soooo* many interesting things in the world, it's impossible to focus on any one of them enough to become a specialist, let alone to make more than just a decent living.

Expand full comment
author

Not all the geniuses are woke. The best among the young geniuses are just working quietly. They are on our side, but stay out of politics, largely. Some of those I taught still email me. I got a couple af6er this article.

Expand full comment