Saturday, February 24, 2024

Review of The Secret Network of Nature: Trees, Animals, and the Extraordinary Balance of All Living Things-- Stories from Science and Observation by Peter Wohlleben

This book review was written by Eugene Kernes   

Book can be found in: 
Genre = Science
Book Club Event = Book List (08/10/2024)
Intriguing Connections = 1) Earth's Flora and Fauna, 2) How To Allocate Resources?


Watch Short Review

Excerpts

“Deer have a love-hate relationship with trees.  Deer don’t actually like forests, but we think of them as forest animals, because that’s where we find them most often.  Like all large animals that eat plants, deer have a problem: they can only eat vegetation they can reach.  And usually, the vegetation available to them has armed itself against herbivorous attack.  The usual arsenal of vegetative defensive weapons includes thorns and barbs, toxins, or thick, hard bark, but trees in Central European forest have developed none of these defenses.” – Peter Wohlleben, Chapter 4: Why Deer Taste Bad to Trees, Page 53

“Dead animals are often the cause of fights, and wolves lose out when brown bears turn up.  Then it’s best for the pack to head for the hills, particularly if they have pups, which a bruin could easily scarf down as a snack.  Ravens have a role to play here: they spot bears from afar and help wolves by alerting the pack to approaching danger.  In return, wolves allow ravens to help themselves to a share of the booty – something the birds wouldn’t be able to do without the wolves’ permission.  Wolves would have no difficulty making a meal of ravens, but they teach their offspring that these birds are their friends.  Wolf pups have been observed playing with their black companions; the young wolves imprint on the smell of the ravens and come to regard the birds as members of their community.” – Peter Wohlleben, Chapter 7: The Funeral Feast, Pages 88-89

In my opinion, the much-vaunted supposed benefits of releasing nutrients by flames and recycling dead biomass through fire are myths that downplay the disruption caused to this sensitive ecosystem by people playing with fire since prehistoric times.  In the normal course of events, it is not fire that releases stored nutrients and makes them available to new plant growth in the form of ash; it is the billion-strong army of animal sanitary engineers that undertakes the drudgery of decomposition (and they are completely incinerated in large forest fires, because, unfortunately, the little fellows are thin skinned).” – Peter Wohlleben, Chapter 13: It Doesn’t Get Any Hotter Than This, Page 183


Review

Is This An Overview?

Everything in nature is interconnected.  A species effects the ecosystem around them.  A cycle of life as nutrients from the dead feed the living.  Many animals fight for nutrients provided by other dead animals.  Nitrogen is a reactive compound that enables the growth of vegetation, but is rare in nature.  Nitrogen can be provided by dead animals around them, or alternatively, the winds can carry it.  Nitrogen is a by-product of burning fossil fuels that can be carried long distances on the wind, to come down when it rains.  Trees have been aware of the emissions as they have been growing faster when emissions rose.  But growing too fast makes them vulnerable to fungi and other predators.  Fires have been a way to recycle dead biomass, but that also incinerates the natural sanitation army of animals that decompose and release nutrients.  Rain can provide sustenance, but heavy rain can carry away valuable soil and nutrients.

Animals communicate, between their own species and other animals.  Even vegetation has a communication method, a wood wide web.  Much like animals have defenses against predators, vegetation has defenses on those that prey on them.  Reproduction is attuned to winter losses, but humans can intervene to feed animals and prevent losses, which means more animals available after winter.  Increased population of a species effects how they compete with other animals, and how much vegetation there is.  Hunters have participated in feeding animals, to have more animals to hunt.  People can also protect animals, a desire usually fostered when people engage and connect with animals, such as through zoos. 

 

Caveats?

The ecosystem is complex.  Complexity that makes it difficult to understand how everything is interconnected.  This book shares some connections that are known, with different interpretations.  There are many connections not yet known or understood.


Questions to Consider while Reading the Book

•What is the raison d’etre of the book?  For what purpose did the author write the book?  Why do people read this book?
•What are some limitations of the book?
•To whom would you suggest this book?
•How is nature interconnected?
•How do wolfs effect the ecosystem?
•How do radio collars effect wolves? 
•Are wolves dangerous?
•How similar or different are the predatory behavior of wolves and bears?  How do they effect the ecosystem?  
•How do salmon effect trees? 
•What does nitrogen effect plants? 
•What do heathers and junipers signal?
•What is the effect of synthetic fertilizers?
•What are the benefits and dangers of rain? 
•Are deer forest animals?
•Does vegetation have defenses? 
•How do trees taste to deer?
•Why do ants protect aphids?  
•Which trees do beetles prey on? 
•How do wolves and ravens interact? 
•What types of camouflage are there?  How does camouflage work during the day and night? 
•How does artificial light effect moth behavior? 
•How does light effect the night?
•Who are attracted to light? 
•How do birds choose their routes? 
•How to crows react to being fed? 
•How to protect animals?
•How can zoos effect people? 
•How does bait effect a species? 
•How many types of animals and plants are there?
•How do fungi behave? 
•Can animals communicate?
•Can plants communicate? 
•What is the effect of fire?
•Are forests acquainted with fire? 
•How should dead biomass be recycled? 
•What is nature? 
•What happened to the megafauna? 
•How do humans effect nature? 
•How many species go extinct? 

Book Details
Translator:              Jane Billinghurst
Original Language: German
Translated Into:       English
Edition:                   First Paperback Edition
Publisher:               Greystone Books
Edition ISBN:         9781778400346
Pages to read:          236
Publication:             2022
1st Edition:              2017
Format:                    Paperback 

Ratings out of 5:
Readability    5
Content          5
Overall          5






Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Review of Man's Search For Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl

This book review was written by Eugene Kernes   

Book can be found in: 
Genre = Psychology
Book Club Event = Book List (06/22/2024)
Intriguing Connections = 1) What Is The Power Of Belief Systems?


Watch Short Review

Excerpts

“A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers.  The truth – that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire.  Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love.  I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved.  In a position of utter desolation, when man cannot express himself in positive action, when his only achievement may consist in enduring his suffering in the right way – an honorable way – in such a position man can, through loving contemplation of the image he carries of his beloved, achieve fulfillment.” – Viktor E. Frankl, Page 38

“To discover that there was any semblance of art in a concentration camp must be surprise enough for an outsider, but he may be even more astonished to hear that one could find a sense of humor there as well; of course, only the faint trace of one, and then only for a few seconds or minutes.  Humor was another of the soul’s weapons in the fight for self-preservation.  It is well known that humor, more than anything else in the human make-up, can afford an aloofness and an ability to rise above any situation, even if only for a few seconds.” – Viktor E. Frankl, Page 42

“A man who let himself decline because he could not see any future goal found himself occupied with retrospective thoughts.  In a different connection, we have already spoken of the tendency there was to look into the past, to help make the present, with all its horrors, less real.  But in robbing the present of its reality there lay a certain danger.  It became easy to overlook the opportunities to make something positive of camp life, opportunities which really did exist.” – Viktor E. Frankl, Page 62


Review

Is This An Overview?

Death is the outcome of a concentration camp.  A prison that sorts people based on their ability to work.  If a person could not be forced to work under the harsh conditions, or lack of food, they were sent to death.  A concentration camp is about suffering, but there are those who survived.  Those who had higher chances of survival found moments to overcome the suffering, and find mental habits to keep themselves from despair.  Those who survived found ways to imbue meaning in their life.  Finding meaning even in the tragic human experience of the concentration camp.

There were those who died from giving up hope, from a lack of a potential future.  Died from nothing to live for.  A physiological response, as those who deteriorated mentally, also deteriorated physically which made them vulnerable to every other threat.  To survive, to prevent despair, the prisoners found ways to imbue meaning into their experience.  Prisoners found momentary solace in retrospective thought.  Momentary bliss from thinking about loved ones.  Even some humor was used as a self-preservation mechanism. 

Finding meaning is the basis of logotherapy.  Meaning can be found through work, love, or even courage in difficult times.  There is much that is beyond the control of the individual, but the individual has the freedom to choose how to respond.  Cannot control what happens, but can control how the individual feels. 

 

How Did People Handle The Concentration Camp?

Initially, the prisoners had some hope that they would keep their items.  But became apathetic, as a self-defense mechanism.  Everything began to be about self-preservation.  The prisoners crowed together for self-preservation, to not be conspicuous.  Alternatively, prisoners wanted time along with their thoughts. 

Prisoners who were chosen for death, had a delusion of reprieve.  An illusion of being spared in the last moment.  Those who were chosen for death were those who could not work.  In response, the prisoners tried to make themselves look younger, fit for work.  Viktor E. Frankl used psychological tools to become useful to the Capo, who saved Frankl from death.  Capos were prisoners who worked for the guards.  There were some really bad guards, in all can be found human kindness.

After the camp experience, former prisoners depersonalize their experience, as if they had been deceived and it did not happen.  Even though they wanted liberation, they also could not believe it happened.

 

What Is Logotherapy?

Logotherapy is about the future, how people finding meaning.  By finding fulfillment in the future.  A tension between what was achieved, and has yet to be achieved.  People have the ability to change, and change the world.

Retrospective thought can be help, but can also be dangerous.  Retrospective thought can prevent people from seeing the opportunities of reality.  To not see opportunities to become better.


Caveats?

There is a survivorship bias in those who survived by using the methods.  As mentioned in the book, many of those who used the methods still died.  Without mentioning how many survived without using the methods. 


Questions to Consider while Reading the Book

•What is the raison d’etre of the book?  For what purpose did the author write the book?  Why do people read this book?
•What are some limitations of the book?
•To whom would you suggest this book?
•What is a concentration camp?
•Who was chosen for death? 
•How did people survive the concentration camp?
•What mental habits did prisoners create? 
•How do people find meaning?
•What happened to those who gave up hope?
•What is logotherapy?
•What can people control?
•What where prisoners’ initial perspective on their situation?
•How were the prisoners identified? 
•What did prisoners want to keep?  What were they able to keep? 
•Who are the Capos?
•How did the author interact with the Capo?
•How did the prisoners react after liberation? 
•What does it mean to “run into the wire”?
•How should food be eaten? 
•What happened to the body without the appropriate food? 
•What did the SS (Nazi) do before the prisoners were liberated? 
•Who were the guards? 
•What is paradoxical intention?
•What is pan-determinism? 
•What is the tragic triad? 
•Is there meaning in suffering?
•What is the effect of freedom?

Book Details
Foreword Author:   Harold S. Kusher
Afterward Author: William J. Winslade
Translator:              Ilse Lasch
Original Language: German
Translated Into:       English
Publisher:               Beacon Press
Edition ISBN:         9780807014288
Pages to read:          122
Publication:             2006
1st Edition:              1946
Format:                    eBook 

Ratings out of 5:
Readability    5
Content          4
Overall          4






Friday, February 16, 2024

Review of The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store by James McBride

This book review was written by Eugene Kernes   

Book can be found in: 
Book Club Event = Book List (11/16/2024)


Watch Short Review

Excerpts

“But Chona’s years of stirring butter, sorting vegetables, and reading in the back room of the Heaven & Earth Grocery Store had given her time to consider.  She read everything as a child: comics, detective books, dime novels; and by the time she became a young wife, she’d evolved into reading about socialism and unions.  She subscribed to Jewish newspapers, publications in Hebrew, and books on Jewish life, some from Europe.  The readings gave her wild ideas about art, music, and worldly matters.  She knew more Hebrew than any Jewish woman in town, many of whom had little more than a rudimentary knowledge of the language.  She could recite the Talmud better than most of the men in shul.  Instead of sitting with the women in the balcony, she insisted on davening downstairs with the men, claiming her bad foot prevented her from climbing stairs.” – James McBride, Chapter 3: Twelve, Page 27

“The colored maids, housekeepers, saloon cleaners, factory workers, and bellhops of Chicken Hill who gathered near the vegetable bin each Saturday morning to hear Paper’s news, however, loved her chatter.  Paper knew more news that the local papers, which she actually never read.  In fact, there was a rumor about that Paper couldn’t read at all – she’d been seen at the Second Baptist church holding the hymnal book upside down more than once.  That didn’t matter.  Her neat wooden frame house on Franklin Street was perched at one of the main roads leading up to Chicken Hill, given her a view of the town in front and the Hill in the back.” – James McBride, Chapter 8: Paper, Page 76

“Miss Chona was not a woman who lost her cool easily.  Despite the odd tremors and occasional frightening seizures brought on by her disability, she rambled around the store freely, doing all manner of tasks.  If there was a carton to be lifted, she would attempt to lift it herself.  If there were groceries to be stacked or vegetables to sort, she went at those things.  She did not like to be helped, and he’d learned to not help her unless asked.  The only time she let him do work that kept him free and rambling, because he hated sitting still, was if she was reading.” – James McBride, Chapter 11: Gone, Page 116


Review

Is This An Overview?

In the 1970s, a skeleton is found in Pottstown, Pennsylvania.  The skeleton has a pendant that leads to The Heaven And Earth Grocery Store.  The tale takes the form of a backstory of how the skeleton came to be there, a mystery that is set in the 1920s-1930s.  During the time, The Heaven And Earth Grocery Store, along with theaters are owned by Moshe and Chona.  Moshe manages the theater, while the disabled Chona manages the store. 

The Heaven And Earth Grocery Store acts like a sanctuary for many.  A central community gathering place that is recognized for how they help the community.  In an era of various forms of persecution, the store and theaters transformed the community into an inclusive region.  A region where diverse people who struggle are able to find people who can help them.  Diverse people from different ethnicities, cultures, religions, and disabilities. 

As a sanctuary, Moshe and Chona are willing to hide a nephew of a friend and colleague.  The nephew is a 12-year-old boy called Dodo, who needs to avoid a government agent who is set to take Dodo to a special school for people like Dodo.  Dodo became disabled after a kitchen accident.  Dodo became deaf, but is able to read lips and be athletic.  The request to hide Dodo was due to the poor conditions of the intended school.  Dodo is hidden at The Heaven And Earth Grocery Store.  Although Moshe and Chona did not have a child, Dodo has become part of the family.  Can they keep Dodo hidden?  How is this event tied to the skeleton found many years later?

 

Caveats?

The book covers various socially tense situations, using the language of the era.  Ideas and language that are no longer appropriate.  The situations are meant to represent the values of people during the time.  What they thought and how they reflect on contemporary values. 


Questions to Consider while Reading the Book

•What is the raison d’etre of the book?  For what purpose did the author write the book?  Why do people read this book?
•What are some limitations of the book?
•To whom would you suggest this book?
•Whose body was found in the introduction?  What happened to them?  
•What happened to Moshe flyers for an concert with Katz? 
•Who is Moshe? 
•Who is Chona? 
•How did Moshe and Chona meet? 
•Why keep and stay at the Heaven & Earth Grocery Store? 
•How did Moshe change the community?  How did the community respond to the change? 
•How did Chona behave and effect other people?  
•How did Chona’s disability effect Chona?
•How did Chona effect the community? 
•What is the significance of 12? 
•Who is Nate Timblin? 
•What is Nate’s history? 
•Who is Addie? 
•Who is Dodo? 
•How did Dodo become deaf? 
•Who is Malachi? 
•How is Malachi’s bread? 
•What did Moshe do with Malachi’s bread? 
•What does Malachi think of America? 
•Who is the greatest dancer? 
•Who received the pendant that had the inscription “Home of the Greatest Dancer in the World”?
•Why does the government want Dodo?  How does Nate handle the situation?
•Who is spreading the location of Dodo?
•How does Chona treat Dodo? 
•How was Dodo found? 
•Who is Bernice? 
•What is Chona’s history with Bernice?
•Who is Patty Millison, and why is Patty known as Newspaper, as Paper?  
•Who is Doc?  
•What is Doc’s history with Chona?
•What group is Doc part of?
•What does Doc think is happening to America? 
•Who is Fatty? 
•Who is Reverend Spriggs? 
•Who is Big Soap? 
•Who is Pia? 
•Who is Miggy Fludd? 
•Who is Son of Man? 
•Who is Plitzka?
•What is Plitzka’s role with water? 
•What does Doc think of Plitzka? 
•How was the shul built? 
•How does the shul get water? 
•What is the purpose of marbles? 
•Who are the Skrup brothers? 
•Who is Monkey Pants?
•How did Dodo and Monkey Pants communicate? 
•What is the purpose of Pennhurst State Hospital? 
•What claims did Doc make about Dodo after the event at the Heaven & Earth Grocery Store?
•What is the plan to get Dodo out of Pennhurst?

Book Details
Publisher:               Riverhead Books [Penguin Random House]
Edition ISBN:         9780593422960
Pages to read:          309
Publication:             2003
1st Edition:              2003
Format:                    eBook 

Ratings out of 5:
Readability    4
Content          4
Overall          4






Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Review of Guide to Profitability by Hetal Shah

This book review was written by Eugene Kernes   

Book can be found in: 
Intriguing Connections = 1) How To and Not To Run a Business, 2) How To Allocate Resources?


Watch Short Review

Excerpts

“Profit is a deeply moral concept, since without profit we will suffer, not from exploitation, but from a misallocation of resources, a failure to provide the goods and services that the economy needs, the nation’s loss of tax revenue, a reduction in employment and the inability to provide for social change.” – Hetal Shah, Chapter: Introduction

“You can decrease the cost of revenue by decreasing the fixed costs such as rent, utilities, equipment, and by decreasing variable costs like raw materials, delivery, commission and payroll.  Please note that decreasing fixed costs may compromise the reputation of the company, and decreasing variable costs may compromise the integrity and quality of the products/services sold.” – Hetal Shah, Chapter: The Income Statement

“If you find a positive number when looking at ROI, you know the company has a sound return, and that it uses borrowing to expand, rather than using debt to survive.  Make sure that the ROI excludes income from capital improvements made with debt.” – Hetal Shah, Chapter: Profitability Ratios

Excerpts with permission from the Author.

Review

Is This An Overview?

Profit enables the appropriate allocation of resources.  Profit is a social motivator of change.  There are many ways that profit outcomes can be adjusted.  Various profit metrics that a business can use to improve their financial status are found in this reference book.  Profit itself is a term for the remaining revenue when costs are taken into account. 

Profit can be improved through increased revenue, or reduced costs.  Changes that appear simple, but are complex in practice.  Reducing costs can hinder product quality, which effects the reputation of the business.  The business itself might have a quality product, but has competitors that are more efficient.  This book is a short guide on what to look for when considering changes that effect the business.  

 

Caveats?

As a reference book, there is not much analysis on the metrics.  As each business is different, each business may need to use different methods and focus on different metrics to improve their business.  


Questions to Consider while Reading the Book

•What is the raison d’etre of the book?  For what purpose did the author write the book?  Why do people read this book?
•What are some limitations of the book?
•To whom would you suggest this book?
•What is profit?
•How does profit effect society?
•How does profit effect the business?
•How can your business increase profits? 
•How to improve revenues?  Are there consequences to improving revenues?
•What are the different revenue models? 
•How to reduce costs?  Are there consequences to reducing costs?
•What are profit metrics/ratios?
•What are Earnings per Share? 
•What does ROI indicate? 

Book Details
This book was provided by the author
Publisher:               Independently Published
Edition ISBN:         9781099968822
Pages to read:          34
Publication:             2019
1st Edition:              2019
Format:                    Paperback

Ratings out of 5:
Readability    5
Content          3
Overall          3






Thursday, February 8, 2024

Review of The Crisis of Islam: Holy War and Unholy Terror by Bernard Lewis

This book review was written by Eugene Kernes   

Book can be found in: 
Intriguing Connections = 1) Get To Know The Peoples Of The World (Empires of Islam), 


Watch Short Review

Excerpts
“During Muhammad’s lifetime, the Muslims became at once a political and a religious community, with the Prophet as head of state.  As such, he governed a place and a people, dispensed justice, collected taxes, commanded armies, waged war and made peace.  For the formative first generation of Muslims, whose adventures are the sacred history of Islam, there was no protracted testing by a persecution, no tradition of resistance to a hostile state power.” – Bernard Lewis, Chapter 1: Defining Islam, Page 6

“Since then, there is a new perception of the Crusades as an early prototype of the expansion of European imperialism into the Islamic world.  A more accurate description would present them as a long-delayed, very limited, and finally ineffectual response to the jihad.  The Crusades ended in failure and defeat, and were soon forgotten in the lands of Islam, but later European efforts to resist and reverse the Muslim advance into Christendom were more successful, and initiated what became a series of painful defeats on the frontiers of the Islamic world.” – Bernard Lewis, Chapter 3: From Crusaders To Imperialists, Page 51

“Oil wealth also had negative political effects, by inhibiting the development of representative institutions.  “No taxation without representation” marks a crucial step in the development of Western democracy.  Unfortunately, the converse is also true – no representation without taxation.  Governments with oil wealth have no need for popular assemblies to impose and collect taxes, and can afford, for some time at least, to disregard public opinion.  Even that term has little meaning in such societies.  Lacking any other outlet, new and growing discontents also find expression in religious extremist movements.” – Bernard Lewis, Chapter 8: The Marriage Of Saudi Power And Wahhabi Teaching, Pages 130-131


Review

Is This An Overview?

Islam has a diverse community, formed by diverse views.  There are those who seek peace and friendly relations with others, but there are also those who seek to justify conflict.  This book is focused on explaining why there are those who want conflict, on the justifications.  The Islamic community had been a leading civilization in military power, commerce, and science.  But since at least the 17th century, Islamic communities have been falling behind.  Without an effective resolution to the gap.  There are those who place the fault on Western imperialism.  Some sources of material support came from foreign sponsors who also provided a philosophy to express anti-Western sentiments.  Although foreign influence did not cause the sentiments, many Islamic states were receptive to the sentiments.

 

Those who seek conflict, need an enemy to retain power.  Even creating conflict to prevent cooperation and diplomatic relations.  In Muslim states, there is no separation of government and religion.  Islam has a devote population with high participation, and deference to the community that is no longer found in the West.  Giving people an identity, and obtaining loyalty.  There are those who seek a pure and authentic Islam.  A piousness that restricts behavior, with those who commit inappropriate behavior seen as legitimate targets of conflict. 

 

Caveats?

As this book focuses on understanding those seeking conflict, there is not much on those seeking cooperation.  There is a lot of Islamic history, with this book covering relatively few events that focus on explaining the claims.


Questions to Consider while Reading the Book

•What is the raison d’etre of the book?  For what purpose did the author write the book?  Why do people read this book?
•What are some limitations of the book?
•To whom would you suggest this book?
•What are the different Islamic communities?
•What is the reach of Islam? 
•What is the history of Islamic communities? 
•What caused the decline of Islamic communities?
•How are Muslim states organized?  
•What does Islam provide for people in the 20th century? 
•How does religion and government effect each other?  
•What effect does Islam have on behavior and effect how other people’s behavior is interpreted? 
•What is the succession plan for Islamic communities?  
•How do people justify conflict?
•What are the obligation of people when at war? 
•Why do people want to prevent diplomatic relations?
•What foreign support did Islamic communities receive? 
•How did European activities effect Islamic lands during the 18 century C.E. and later?
•How did European imperialism effect Islamic states?
•What was the effect of Saddam Hussein?
•How did Afghanistan think of the Soviets?  
•What was the effect of the Soviets on Islamic states?
•What effect did the Muslim Brotherhood have? 
•Why did Saladin proclaim a jihad against Crusaders?  
•How did Saladin lead the community?
•What was the effects of the Crusades? 
•How do anti-American Muslims think of America? 
•What political power do democrats and Islamist have?  Which has an advantage? 
•What is madrasa?
•What is fatwa? 
•What is Jihad? 
•What is the effect of oil wealth?  
•What happened to Salman Rushdie? 
•What is Wahhabism?

Book Details
Publisher:               Moden Library Edition [Random House]
Edition ISBN:         0679642811
Pages to read:          181
Publication:             2003
1st Edition:              2003
Format:                    Hardcover 

Ratings out of 5:
Readability    5
Content          3
Overall          3






Sunday, February 4, 2024

Review of The Constitution of Knowledge: A Defense of Truth by Jonathan Rauch

This book review was written by Eugene Kernes   

Book can be found in: 
Book Club Event = Book List (04/27/2024)
Intriguing Connections = 1) The Persecuted and The Persecutors, 2) War for Your Attention


Watch Short Review

Excerpts

“Humans are social animals.  What matters most from an evolutionary perspective is not that a person forms beliefs which are true; it is that she forms beliefs which lead to social success.  In effect, what matters most is not what I believe or what you believe but what we believe.” – Jonathan Rauch, Chapter 2: The State of Nature: Tribal Truth, Page 42

“The answer is: of course scientists are biased.  But that premise does not justify the conclusion that liberal science as a whole is biased.  Although members of the reality-based community may be as blind to their own errors and biases as anybody else, they are not blind to the errors and biases of those with whom they disagree.  What matters is not that individuals in the community be unbiased but that they have different biases, so that I see your mistakes and you see mine.” – Jonathan Rauch, Chapter 3: Booting Reality: The Rise of Networked knowledge, Page 86

“Both criticism and coercive conformity take the form of people arguing about something, but they belong to very different worlds.  Criticism expresses arguments or evidence with the goal of influencing opinion through rational persuasion.  It belongs to the realm of truth-seeking.  Canceling belongs to the realm of propaganda warfare: like other forms of information warfare, it seeks to organize and manipulate a social or media environment to demoralize, deplatform, isolate, or intimidate an adversary.  Like disinformation and trolling, its interest is not in discovering knowledge but in shaping the information battlefield.” – Jonathan Rauch, Chapter 7: Canceling: Despotism of the Few, Page 230

Review

Is This An Overview?

Knowledge is a communal process, a journey, rather than a destination.  To find each other’s errors, then correct them.  To discard ideas that have been disconfirmed.  The constitution of knowledge is meant to provide guidance on how to handle differences of perspectives.  Viewpoint diversity is needed, with each claim going through challenges and accommodation to enable a social convergence.  To hear different viewpoints, requires tolerance of a contentious intellectual culture.  Making claims and validating ideas without personal attacks, and without anyone having a final say.  Not even personal authority can validate claims, as everyone is fallible.  The constitution of knowledge creates an epistemic environment where people are protected, but their ideas are not.

While the constitution of knowledge is meant to enable society to have better information, society can face an epistemic crisis in which the quality and sources of information have been degraded.  As people are not able to tell the difference between truth and falsehood.  Some ways that information can be degraded is through ideological tribalism, trolling, and canceling.  An epistemic crisis comes about when people attack the informational environment, not just people or facts.

Humans are social animals that depend not on forming true beliefs, but beliefs that lead to social success.  What matters is what the group believes.  As people want to belong to a tribe, there is a willingness to purposefully interpret information incorrectly, to protect the tribe.  Internet trolls confuse and disrupt, while cancelers coerce.  Rather than seek to improve the knowledge base, trolls weaponize outrage to capture attention which demobilizes people through demoralization.  Cancelers signal tribal support, by expressing public outrage that is meant to isolate and intimidate the opposition rather than provide fair criticism.  Through attacks on epistemic sources, viewpoint diversity has become endangered.

 

What Is Knowledge And The Effect Biases?

Certainty might be sought after, but certainty is not compatible with knowledge.  Alternatively there is fallibilism, that any belief is to be discarded when there is experience against them.  With fallibilism, uncertainty is ubiquitous but obtaining knowledge is still possible.  Knowledge is always provisional.  Fallibilist search for errors, as disconfirmation can be found.  What remains by removing the errors, is the best available knowledge.

It is through the communal process of error correction that each scientist’s biases can be limited.  Scientists are biased, and they might not recognize their own biases, but they can spot other people’s biases.  By having different biases, each scientist can see the mistakes of the others. 

 

What Is The Constitution Of Knowledge?

The constitution of knowledge is meant to compel and organize social negotiation.  To accept challenges to claims, and seek to compromise or accommodate.  To be resilient and innovate without the system breaking down.  Competition with belief systems provides a need to compromise them. 

Constitution of knowledge does not require people to agree on facts.  It requires people with different views towards social convergence.  Real intellectual pluralism and viewpoint diversity need to be actively sought for.  Agreement on ideas is not viewpoint diversity. 

Reality-based (error-seeking) communities are accountable to each other, not a higher authority.  There is a separation between the idea and the person.  Ideas can be attacked, but not the character of the person. 

The constitution of knowledge has commitments to fallibilism, objectivity, exclusivity, disconfirmation, and accountability.  There is also an internal value of epistemic conscience of not selecting favorable data or hiding unfavorable data.  Fallibilism is about accepting being wrong.  Objectivity is about the empirical rule, that people are interchangeable.  Exclusivity is about using the constitutions rules for objectivity.  Disconfirmation is needed to challenge claims rather than just confirm already accepted claims.  Accountability is about making mistakes acceptable, not to punish them too harshly.

 

How Tribal identity Effects Intelligence And Intelligence Effects Tribal Identity?

People defer to their tribes for beliefs and attitudes.  Groups establish a shared perception of reality.  People are tribal and change their belief system to the tribe’s views, to prevent a loss of social reputation and group identity.  Evolutionary habituated to defend the group’s ideas, to prevent alienation from the group.  When the group’s values are threatened, people interpret evidence incorrectly to protect the group.

Reason does not override group identity.  Group solidarity creates ideological conflict.  Creating epistemic tribalism.  People publicly conform to information they privately know is false.  Totalitarian regimes require everyone to pretend to believe ideas, that they know privately to be false.  Ideological tribes believe that only one side can prevail, requiring the destruction of the other side’s political force.

With neutral data that is not part of an ideological background, a person can interpret data well.  But when data is shown to be about a passionate topic attached to an ideological background, the person interprets the data based on ideological background.  Emotionally charged issues enable the exploitation and manipulation of people.  Although emotions rationalize political loyalties, people claim that policy views were formed through reason. 

More intelligent people were better able to interpret neutral data, but had more biased interpretations for the passionate topics.  Intelligence enables people to better rationalize false beliefs.  Intelligence does not necessarily make people open-minded, or self-critical thinking.  Motivated reasoning weaponized intelligence against reality.  Seeing others as a wrong, while not seeing the individual as biased. 

 

How Epistemic Crisis Are Formed?

Journalists are meant to seek accuracy, obtain a comment from the target, consider varied viewpoints, among other factors to avoid a conflict of interest.  There are times when the news are wrong and therefore retract the entries.  Errors are meant to signal integrity, but those attacking information see error correction as proof of corruption.

Digital media reverses the social incentives of the reality-based community.  Rather than slowing down information flow by reviewing and testing before sharing, digital media favors instantaneity and impulsivity.  Anonymity makes people lose accountability and become sociopathic.  Misinformation tends to be more inflammatory and shared then boring reality.  Digital media promotes ad hominem attacks rather than marginalizes them.  Digital media attacks the person rather than the idea. 

For internet trolls, the point is capturing attention, rather than the quality of the content.  Troll epistemology is destructive.  It does not create knowledge, trust, or settle disagreements.  What troll epistemology does is reduce the information environment of reality-based communities.  Propaganda creates the condition in which people cannot tell the difference between truth and falsehood, or even methods of distinguishing between them.  Demoralization is a source of political power, as it demobilizes people.  Demotivating people to feel helpless, that they cannot change anything, that there is no alternative to the totalitarian regime.

Cancelers do not even read the content that they are canceling.  What canceling is about is signaling support for their group rather than any targeted idea or person.  Cancel campaigns are meant to isolate, intimidate, and demoralize rather than provide fair criticism.  While criticism wants to influence through rational persuasion.  Canceling is propaganda warfare that shapes the informational battlefield against knowledge.

Emotional safetyism is problematic as it prevents having conversations about ideas that makes people feel unsafe.  Turing all experiences into threats.  Creates conflict through perpetual anger.  While reality-based community rewards challenging claims, safety-based community rewards emotional demonstrations that hinder challengers.  Rather than preventing harmful ideas, they enabling harmful ideas.  Enabling a censorship of every idea and person.  Creating conditions for self-censorship through norm police, has the consequence of building resentment that becomes expressed by voting for a demagogue. 

 

Caveats?

There is an idealism about science, about error correcting systems.  As error correcting is a community function, there is a conflict between the ideal outcomes and group dynamics.  The referenced tribal biases, and weaponizing intelligence against reality.  The focus is on the ideal outcomes, the benefits of error correcting, while not referencing the potential consequences of error correcting.  Skepticism about information is needed for error correcting, but skepticism can be misused.  Troll epistemic attacks leverage uncertainty and turn it against the community.  Creating the referenced epistemic crisis of not knowing what information to trust.

The author’s claims about tribal biases, causing people to confirm ideas favorable to the tribe while disregard ideas unfavorable to the tribe.  Tribal biases effect the author as well.  The author is a journalist, and in this book fought for journalistic integrity.  The author and many journalists might have integrity, but not every journalist.  The author defends news making retractions after an error, and how journalists are fact based.  The problem is that published news tend to be viewed way more than the retractions, therefore the errors are not actually corrected for the public.  Journalists might be fact based, but they can deliver some facts while avoiding other facts which changes how the information is interpretated. 

The author blames social media with quick spread of information, and misinformation.  Being quick to spread means not being able to check and validate the information as much as the slower news mediums.  The problem is that the slower news are not ideal either. 

In part, the author makes the case that personal authority is antagonistic to knowledge development.  But then the author wants professionalism and institutionalism which enable an authority, even as they are described as being without.  Disapproves of amateurs, but that is contradictory to the claims of error correcting.  People start as amateurs and then improve themselves through error correcting.  


Questions to Consider while Reading the Book

•What is the raison d’etre of the book?  For what purpose did the author write the book?  Why do people read this book?
•What are some limitations of the book?
•To whom would you suggest this book?
•What is the constitution of knowledge?
•What is knowledge?
•What can and cannot validate claims?
•What is an epistemic crisis?
•What is the epistemic tragedy of the commons? 
•How does tribalism effect the interpretation of information?
•How do ideological tribes deal with dissent? 
•Do people interpret dispassionate and passionate topics the same way?
•How does motivated reasoning effect how intelligence people interpret data?
•What do internet trolls do?
•What do cancelers do?
•How to tell the difference between being cancelled and criticized? 
•What is fallibilism?
•How does emotional safetyism effect society? 
•What is a reality-based community?
•What does viewpoint diversity mean?
•What effect does digital media have on information?
•What kind of community is Wikipedia?
•How would someone behave if they had a ring that made them invisible? 
•What is sociopathy?  
•How is the Constitution of The Unites States related to the Constitution of Knowledge? 
•Who should be allowed to speak and be heard? 
•What does it take to change someone mind? 
•What is liberal science?  How is liberal science different than science? 
•How can scientists persist with making bad claims/ideas? 

Book Details
Publisher:                The Brookings Institution [Brookings Institution Press]
Edition ISBN:          9780815738879
Pages to read:          266
Publication:             2021
1st Edition:              2021
Format:                    eBook 

Ratings out of 5:
Readability    4
Content          4
Overall          4