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Hieronymous Alloy
Jan 30, 2009


Why! Why!! Why must you refuse to accept that Dr. Hieronymous Alloy's Genetically Enhanced Cream Corn Is Superior to the Leading Brand on the Market!?!



Morbid Hound

Welcome goonlings to the Awful Book of the Month!
In this thread, we choose one work of literature absolute crap and read/discuss it over a month. If you have any suggestions of books, choose something that will be appreciated by many people, and has many avenues of discussion. We'd also appreciate if it were a work of literature complete drivel that is easily located from a local library or book shop, as opposed to ordering something second hand off the internet and missing out on a week's worth of reading. Better yet, books available on e-readers.

Resources:

Project Gutenberg - http://www.gutenberg.org

- A database of over 17000 books available online. If you can suggest books from here, that'd be the best.

SparkNotes - http://www.sparknotes.com/

- A very helpful Cliffnotes-esque site, but much better, in my opinion. If you happen to come in late and need to catch-up, you can get great character/chapter/plot summaries here.

For recommendations on future material, suggestions on how to improve the club, or just a general rant, feel free to PM me.

Past Books of the Month

[for BOTM before 2016, refer to archives]

2016:
January: Three Men in a Boat (To say nothing of the Dog!) by Jerome K. Jerome
February:The March Up Country (The Anabasis) of Xenophon
March: The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
April: Plain Tales from the Hills by Rudyard Kipling
May: Temple of the Golden Pavilion by Yukio Mishima
June:The Vegetarian by Han Kang
July:Lud-in-the-Mist by Hope Mirrlees
August: Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov
September:Siddhartha by Herman Hesse
October:Right Ho, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse
November:Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain
December: It Can't Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis

2017:
January: Mother Night by Kurt Vonnegut
February: The Plague by Albert Camus
March: The Dispossessed by Ursula K. LeGuin
April: The Conference of the Birds (مقامات الطیور) by Farid ud-Din Attar
May: I, Claudius by Robert Graves
June: Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky
July: Ficcionies by Jorge Luis Borges
August: My Life and Hard Times by James Thurber
September: The Peregrine by J.A. Baker
October: Blackwater Vol. I: The Flood by Michael McDowell
November: Aquarium by David Vann
December: Sir Gawaine and the Green Knight [Author Unknown]

2018
January: Njal's Saga [Author Unknown]
February: The Sign of the Four by Arthur Conan Doyle
March: Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
April: Twenty Days of Turin by Giorgio de Maria
May: Lectures on Literature by Vladimir Nabokov
June: The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe
July: Warlock by Oakley Hall
August: All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriott
September: The Magus by John Fowles
October: I'll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara
November: Arcadia by Tom Stoppard
December: Christmas Stories by Charles Dickens

2019:
January: Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky
February: BEAR by Marian Engel
March: V. by Thomas Pynchon
April: The Doorbell Rang by Rex Stout
May: Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
June: 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles C. Mann
July: The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach



Current: Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds by Charles Mackay


Book available here:

http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/24518

About the book:


quote:

In reading the history of nations, we find that, like individuals, they have their whims and their peculiarities; their seasons of excitement and recklessness, when they care not what they do. We find that whole communities suddenly fix their minds upon one object, and go mad in its pursuit; that millions of people become simultaneously impressed with one delusion, and run after it, till their attention is caught by some new folly more captivating than the first...Money, again, has often been a cause of the delusion of multitudes. Sober nations have all at once become desperate gamblers, and risked almost their existence upon the turn of a piece of paper... Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one. Charles Mackay, L.L.D.

This quotation comes from a book first published in 1841. In the 167 years since, it has never been out of print. Its author was a Scottish poet, journalist and songwriter, yet many have called it, after The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith (a fellow Scot - there really was something to the Enlightenment, you know), the second greatest economics treatise ever written.

The book is Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, by Charles Mackay. The quotation is taken from its preface. If it sounds amazingly relevant to our current economic crisis, it's because it is. It may be the most relevant book you will ever read.


quote:

Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds is an early study of crowd psychology by Scottish journalist Charles Mackay, first published in 1841.[1] The book was published in three volumes: "National Delusions", "Peculiar Follies", and "Philosophical Delusions".[2] Mackay was an accomplished teller of stories, though he wrote in a journalistic and somewhat sensational style.

The subjects of Mackay's debunking include alchemy, crusades, duels, economic bubbles, fortune-telling, haunted houses, the Drummer of Tedworth, the influence of politics and religion on the shapes of beards and hair, magnetisers (influence of imagination in curing disease), murder through poisoning, prophecies, popular admiration of great thieves, popular follies of great cities, and relics. Present-day writers on economics, such as Michael Lewis and Andrew Tobias, laud the three chapters on economic bubbles.[3]

In later editions, Mackay added a footnote referencing the Railway Mania of the 1840s as another "popular delusion" which was at least as important as the South Sea Bubble. Mathematician Andrew Odlyzko has pointed out, in a published lecture, that Mackay himself played a role in this economic bubble; as leader writer in the Glasgow Argus, Mackay wrote on 2 October 1845: "There is no reason whatever to fear a crash".[4][5]

quote:

n his 1841 book Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, Charles MacKay wrote of the crowd psychology that drive numerous “National Delusions,” Peculiar Follies,” and “Psychological Delusions.” Among the various manias were the tulip bubble of the early 17th century, witch mania of the 16th and 17th centuries and alchemists who sought to turn base medals into gold.

Crowd psychology can create an emotional feedback loop whereby dissent may be stifled as the crowd, not wanting to miss out, hears only what they want. As MacKay would say, “We find that whole communities suddenly fix their minds upon one subject, and go mad in its pursuit; that millions of people become simultaneously impressed with one delusion, and run it til their attention is caught by some new folly more captivating than the first.” Could it possibly be that all the big data hype fits this description?


About the Author(s)

quote:

Charles Mackay was born in Perth, Scotland. His father, George Mackay, was a bombardier in the Royal Artillery, and his mother Amelia Cargill died shortly after his birth.[1] His birthdate was 26 March 1812, although he always gave it as 27 March 1814.

Mackay was educated at the Caledonian Asylum, in London. In 1828 he was placed by his father at a school in Brussels, on the Boulevard de Namur, and studied languages. In 1830 he was engaged as a private secretary to William Cockerill, the ironmaster, near Liège, began writing in French in the Courrier Belge, and sent English poems to a local newspaper called The Telegraph. In the summer of 1830 he visited Paris, and he spent 1831 with Cockerill at Aix-la-Chapelle. In May 1832 his father brought him back to London, where he first found employment in teaching Italian to Benjamin Lumley.[2]

Mackay visited North America in the 1850s, publishing his observations as Life and Liberty in America: or Sketches of a Tour of the United States and Canada in 1857–58 (1859). During the American Civil War he returned there as a correspondent for The Times, in which capacity he discovered and disclosed the Fenian conspiracy.

Mackay had the degree of LL.D. from the University of Glasgow in 1846. He was a member of the Percy Society. He died in London.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charl...ay_%28author%29

Themes

It's all right there in the title.

This is basically the first book to look at all these disparate historical trends and frame them in the way us moderns think of them today -- as mass manias.

It's not hard to see why this book remains relevant today.

Pacing

Read as thou wilt is the whole of the law.

Please post after you read!

Please bookmark the thread to encourage discussion.

Keep in mind this is written in 1841. It assumes a different kind of reader from what we have today, but the format isn't that unfamiliar overall -- in some ways think of it as the 1840's equivalent of a Buzzfeed article or deep Wikipedia dive.

This may be one you want to skip around a bit in. Some sections, the economic bubble ones in particular, are easier reads, and the medieval history sections drag a bit more than the relatively modern parts.

References and Further Reading

There are a lot of different directions we could go in here, so I'll leave the thread to make suggestions.

Final Note:

Thanks, and I hope everyone enjoys the book!

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quantumfoam
Dec 25, 2003



Read Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Mad a few times.
Favorite sections were the 2 or 3 stock-bubble chapters (John Law's escalating financial policies in France/the South Sea bubble in England/Tulip craze bubble in Holland, mesmerizism chapter was funny-interesting (high perv-factor in the mesmerizism saloons), found the slang chapter ok just for the sheer amount of dead and dated slang terms, while the witch mania stuff really dragged.

StrixNebulosa
Feb 14, 2012

You cheated not only the game, but yourself.
But most of all, you cheated BABA



Not about crows, 0/10

Hieronymous Alloy
Jan 30, 2009


Why! Why!! Why must you refuse to accept that Dr. Hieronymous Alloy's Genetically Enhanced Cream Corn Is Superior to the Leading Brand on the Market!?!



Morbid Hound

NoNostalgia4Grover posted:

Read Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Mad a few times.
Favorite sections were the 2 or 3 stock-bubble chapters (John Law's escalating financial policies in France/the South Sea bubble in England/Tulip craze bubble in Holland, mesmerizism chapter was funny-interesting (high perv-factor in the mesmerizism saloons), found the slang chapter ok just for the sheer amount of dead and dated slang terms, while the witch mania stuff really dragged.

Yeah, I've been re-reading it to prepare once it became clear that it was winning the poll.

So far, the clear standout chapters are the First Stock Bubble chapters because it's still a very modern problem and it's incredible to read about nations dealing with it for the first time and not realizing it's a problem, like the King deciding "hey, these paper securities are great, printing some worked out fine, let's keep printing more? What could go wrong?" "Ooooooh my bad"

The witch mania chapters I find interesting just from a legal and sociological perspective, especially given the huge death toll. As an American we know about the Salem witch trials but it's weird to realize that the Salem witches were like the last rural hick vestige of a trend that had already played itself out a hundred or two hundred years before on the Continent.

The part that drags for me is mostly the alchemists, because it's just a very long, very repetitive litany of individual scam artists and scam victims, not really "crowd" behavior at all.

quantumfoam
Dec 25, 2003



Hieronymous Alloy posted:

Yeah, I've been re-reading it to prepare once it became clear that it was winning the poll.

So far, the clear standout chapters are the First Stock Bubble chapters because it's still a very modern problem and it's incredible to read about nations dealing with it for the first time and not realizing it's a problem, like the King deciding "hey, these paper securities are great, printing some worked out fine, let's keep printing more? What could go wrong?" "Ooooooh my bad"

The witch mania chapters I find interesting just from a legal and sociological perspective, especially given the huge death toll. As an American we know about the Salem witch trials but it's weird to realize that the Salem witches were like the last rural hick vestige of a trend that had already played itself out a hundred or two hundred years before on the Continent.

The part that drags for me is mostly the alchemists, because it's just a very long, very repetitive litany of individual scam artists and scam victims, not really "crowd" behavior at all.

There was definite crowd behavior there. Only it was a crowd of scam artists, doing their own versions of the alchemy scam but relying on the legends and reprinted stories of earlier long dead/imprisoned alchemist scam artists. In the long run, the only people that made money and profited from the alchemy "philosophers stone/matter transmutation mania/myth" were the printers, paper makers, and book makers that made all those fliers, books, pamphlets hyping up the matter transmutation mania/myth

Chivalry chapter had one or two amusing bits. The "stepmom horny for her stepson" duel and the Princeling who encouraged dueling until his favorite duel-murdererist got killed/then immediate ban on all duels forever......which, uh, may have been the same duel? Honestly, its been a while since I read EPDatMoC without powerskimming over/outright skipping the boring2me witch-mania + hair-length-mania chapters

quantumfoam fucked around with this message at 21:53 on Aug 2, 2019

nonathlon
Jul 9, 2004
And yet, somehow, now it's my fault ...

Having read it years ago (and enjoyed it), the memory of the book has reduced in my mind to the South Sea bubble and the weird slang. Particularly the word "qoz" (?) which came from nowhere, meant nothing, but was widespread and then disappeared. It reminds me of the current fervour for "wife guy", which has several mainstream media articles explaining.

Hieronymous Alloy
Jan 30, 2009


Why! Why!! Why must you refuse to accept that Dr. Hieronymous Alloy's Genetically Enhanced Cream Corn Is Superior to the Leading Brand on the Market!?!



Morbid Hound

This footnote intrigued me:

quote:

The curious reader may find an anecdote of the eagerness of the French ladies to retain Law in their company, which will make him blush or smile according as he happens to be very modest or the reverse. It is related in the Letters of Madame Charlotte Elizabeth de Bavière, Duchess of Orleans, vol. ii. p. 274.

So of course I looked it up; the edition I found doesn't match for page numbers but I believe this is the incident:

quote:

2ist November, 1719, Paris.
To the Raugravine Louisa.

I am so tired of hearing people speak of nothing but
stocks and millions, that I cannot conceal my bad temper.
• . . People are coming here from every corner of Europe,
and since last month they reckon that there have been
250,000 people more than usual in Paris. Rooms have had
to be built above the warehouses, and Paris is so full of
carriages that there is great confusion in the streets and
many people have been crushed. A lady meant to say
to Mr. Law, " Make me a concession," and she shouted in
a loud voice, "Oh, sir, make me a conception." Mr. Law
replied," Madam, you have come too late. I cannot now."

Selachian
Oct 9, 2012



If you're curious to know more about John Law, btw, I can recommend Janet Gleeson's Millionaire, which is a nice fast-paced biography of Law with a focus on the Mississippi Bubble.

Baka-nin
Jan 25, 2015



I was curious so I'm giving it a go. Are we reading just the first volume or the complete work?

I'm at the South Sea Bubble, an incident I remember from a brief part of a history course, its an interesting work but the finances of this and the Mississippi bubble keep going over my head.

quantumfoam
Dec 25, 2003



Baka-nin posted:

I was curious so I'm giving it a go. Are we reading just the first volume or the complete work?

I'm at the South Sea Bubble, an incident I remember from a brief part of a history course, its an interesting work but the finances of this and the Mississippi bubble keep going over my head.

This is how it went in real life too, and why both the South Sea Bubbke + Mississippi colony were ultimately 95% hype/5% hard content.

Hieronymous Alloy
Jan 30, 2009


Why! Why!! Why must you refuse to accept that Dr. Hieronymous Alloy's Genetically Enhanced Cream Corn Is Superior to the Leading Brand on the Market!?!



Morbid Hound

Baka-nin posted:

I was curious so I'm giving it a go. Are we reading just the first volume or the complete work?

I'm at the South Sea Bubble, an incident I remember from a brief part of a history course, its an interesting work but the finances of this and the Mississippi bubble keep going over my head.

Honestly, I'd suggest skipping around in both volumes depending on what sounds interesting.

The neat thing about the South Sea and Mississippi Bubbles are that everyone involved is discovering how it works too in real time as we read about it.



Short, oversimplified version:

Before this, money was based on physical things -- gold or barter.

That means that money was scarce and hence very valuable. Like, coins themselves were relatively rare. If you wanted to buy something you might have to barter for it just out of lack of currency.

In the middle ages up through the renaissance, you started to see paper money, but it was notes of credit -- i.e., you'd deposit a thousand gold pieces with a banker in Rome and give you a receipt for it, you'd travel to London and give the receipt to a banker in London who'd give you your thousand gold back (minus a percentage), etc. Basically the first IOU's.

What's happening in these two situations is very smart people working out for the very first time that you could take that basic concept and go BIG with it, making lots of promises, issuing lots of IOUs,. In effect, they're inventing the modern idea of the stock market.

Problem: nobody had really processed yet that stock markets could crash. Concepts like inflation and deflation weren't worked out yet. The word "bubble" is literally not coined yet.

So from a modern perspective it's like reading about people discovering the concept of fire and then all deciding "wow, that's really warm! That's great! Let's all shove our dicks into it! What could go wrong?"

Hieronymous Alloy fucked around with this message at 04:15 on Aug 7, 2019

Hieronymous Alloy
Jan 30, 2009


Why! Why!! Why must you refuse to accept that Dr. Hieronymous Alloy's Genetically Enhanced Cream Corn Is Superior to the Leading Brand on the Market!?!



Morbid Hound

One big reason I put this into the poll was because of how neatly it syncs up with a lot of the major problems our society still faces today -- conspiracy theories, political idiocies, capitalism, etc.

I went a few pages deep into google looking for articles that contained the phrase "madness of crowds" -- referencing this book. Here's some of what I found:



quote:


“There are idiots, look around.”

That was the famously tactless response, in the 1980s, from the veteran economist Larry Summers to the efficient markets hypothesis – the assumption of many financial models that people always make decisions guided by rationality and with perfect information.

Tactless Summers may have been -- but was he wrong?

Irrational crazes are as old as human history.

Charles Mackay wrote a book called Extraordinary and Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds as far back as 1841.

And we have plenty of modern quantitative evidence that bears out the thesis of mass misconception and confusion.

A poll by the Royal Statistical Society in 2013 found that the British public think £24 in every £100 of benefits is claimed fraudulently. The true figure is 70p.

Around 30 per cent of the population are perceived to be recent immigrants. The true figure is 13 per cent.

Violence is on the rise, 50 per cent believe, when in fact it has been falling for 20 years.

A quarter of people think foreign aid is one of the top three largest items of Government spending when in fact it is less than 3 per cent of the total.

And it’s not just Britain where serious misconceptions about the world hold sway.

According to Ipsos Mori, in France the average person believes 31 per cent of the population is Muslim. The reality is 7.5 per cent.

And those are arguably mistakes. Even scarier are the popular conspiracy theories.


A quarter of Americans say they think the US government helped to plan the 9/11 attacks. Around 45 per cent think “millions” of illegal votes were cast in November’s presidential election.

The picture of the ivory tower academic economist who assumes perfect rationality and perfect information is something of a caricature, as Summer’s well-known quip itself demonstrates.

Yet there has been a tendency among some economists to continue to assume – sometimes for the sake of convenient modelling, sometimes owing to ideology – that people are well-informed about the world around them.

And Robert Shiller, the Nobel laureate, delivered an important lecture to the American Economic Association earlier this month urging fellow economists to start taking popular delusions much more seriously.

Shiller stressed the economic relevance of powerful “narratives" – plausible but frequently false stories which can suddenly take a hold of the imagination of a large part of the public (and more easily and rapidly than ever in this digital age of ubiquitous social media).

Shiller entertained the idea these narratives can drive behaviour, rather than merely being shaped by it, even perhaps causing economic slumps.

“We have to consider the possibility that sometimes the dominant reason why a recession is severe is related to the prevalence and vividness of certain stories,” he suggested.

Shiller feels economists should engage in major quantitative studies of developing popular narratives through textual analysis of internet searches, online mentions, Twitter trends and by mining other sources of “big data”.

Shiller’s challenge is an unsettling one for many economists.

This research agenda will doubtless give some (though certainly not all) a feeling of being unmoored from their cherished rules of thumb about the rationality of the so-called “representative agent”.

And as Shiller himself acknowledges it is fiendishly hard to disentangle cause and effect when analysing narratives.

Is a popular narrative driving economic fundamentals? Or are the economic fundamentals driving the popular narrative?

Did people vote for Brexit because of the power of Vote Leave’s “take back control” narrative and because they became convinced Turkey was about to join the European Union?

Did Americans vote for Trump because of the force of the “Make America Great Again” slogan and conspiracy theories about Hillary Clinton’s emails?

Or was it because they were economically and socially “left behind”?

Narrative economics will never conclusively prove something like this. And it’s hard to see mathematically elegant “microfounded” models emerging from it.

Yet such research may well be able to hint at the right answer.

And in this era of online Islamist brainwashing, Trumpian lies and propaganda, the capture of the Labour party by hard-left Corbynites, mindless health scares, fake news, Fox News, the Daily Mail, Twitter bubbles – in this digital epoch of popular delusions and the madness of crowds – the sense that something serious is going on is hard to shake.

Shiller’s challenge to economists feels like a timely one.

https://www.independent.co.uk/voice...n-a7539961.html


quote:


Is Truth an Outdated Concept?
Are we living in a post-truth world?

By Michael Shermer on March 1, 2018

In 2005 the American Dialect Society's word of the year was “truthiness,” popularized by Stephen Colbert on his news show satire The Colbert Report, meaning “the truth we want to exist.” In 2016 the Oxford Dictionaries nominated as its word of the year “post-truth,” characterizing it as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” In 2017 “fake news” increased in usage by 365 percent, earning the top spot on the “word of the year shortlist” of the Collins English Dictionary, which defined it as “false, often sensational, information disseminated under the guise of news reporting.”

Are we living in a post-truth world of truthiness, fake news and alternative facts? Has all the progress we have made since the scientific revolution in understanding the world and ourselves been obliterated by a fusillade of social media postings and tweets? No. As Harvard University psychologist Steven Pinker observes in his resplendent new book Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress (Viking, 2018), “mendacity, truth-shading, conspiracy theories, extraordinary popular delusions, and the madness of crowds are as old as our species, but so is the conviction that some ideas are right and others are wrong.”

Even as pundits pronounced the end of veracity and politicians played loose with the truth, the competitive marketplace of ideas stepped up with a new tool of the Internet age: real-time fact-checking. As politicos spin-doctored reality in speeches, fact-checkers at Snopes.com, FactCheck.org and OpenSecrets.org rated them on their verisimilitude, with PolitiFact.com waggishly ranking statements as True, Mostly True, Half True, Mostly False, False, and Pants on Fire. Political fact-checking has even become clickbait (runner-up for the Oxford Dictionaries' 2014 word of the year), as PolitiFact's editor Angie Drobnic Holan explained in a 2015 article: “Journalists regularly tell me their media organizations have started highlighting fact-checking in their reporting because so many people click on fact-checking stories after a debate or high-profile news event.”

Far from lurching backward, Pinker notes, today's fact-checking ethic “would have served us well in earlier decades when false rumors regularly set off pogroms, riots, lynchings, and wars (including the Spanish-American War in 1898, the escalation of the Vietnam War in 1964, the Iraq invasion of 2003, and many others).” And contrary to our medieval ancestors, he says, “few influential people today believe in werewolves, unicorns, witches, alchemy, astrology, bloodletting, miasmas, animal sacrifice, the divine right of kings, or supernatural omens in rainbows and eclipses.”

Ours is called the Age of Science for a reason, and that reason is reason itself, which in recent decades has come under fire by cognitive psychologists and behavioral economists who assert that humans are irrational by nature and by postmodernists who aver that reason is a hegemonic weapon of patriarchal oppression. Balderdash! Call it “factiness,” the quality of seeming to be factual when it is not. All such declarations are self-refuting, inasmuch as “if humans were incapable of rationality, we could never have discovered the ways in which they were irrational, because we would have no benchmark of rationality against which to assess human judgment, and no way to carry out the assessment,” Pinker explains. “The human brain is capable of reason, given the right circumstances; the problem is to identify those circumstances and put them more firmly in place.”

Despite the backfire effect, in which people double down on their core beliefs when confronted with contrary facts to reduce cognitive dissonance, an “affective tipping point” may be reached when the counterevidence is overwhelming and especially when the contrary belief becomes accepted by others in one's tribe. This process is helped along by “debiasing” programs in which people are introduced to the numerous cognitive biases that plague our species, such as the confirmation bias and the availability heuristic, and the many ways not to argue: appeals to authority, circular reasoning, ad hominem and especially ad Hitlerem. Teaching students to think critically about issues by having them discuss and debate all sides, especially articulating their own and another's position is essential, as is asking, “What would it take for you to change your mind?” This is an effective thinking tool employed by Portland State University philosopher Peter Boghossian.

“However long it takes,” Pinker concludes, “we must not let the existence of cognitive and emotional biases or the spasms of irrationality in the political arena discourage us from the Enlightenment ideal of relentlessly pursuing reason and truth.” That's a fact.

This article was originally published with the title "Factiness" in Scientific American 318, 3, 73 (March 2018)


https://www.scientificamerican.com/...tdated-concept/


quote:


“What can you do against the lunatic who is more intelligent than yourself, who gives your arguments a fair hearing and then simply persists in his lunacy?” George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty Four



After a tumultuous reign of 13 years, Emperor Nero committed suicide on 9 June 68 AD, surrounded by at least five witnesses. Within a few months, despite an official burial, rumor was that Nero was alive. By autumn that year a Nero appeared, and then another in a few years, and then another. Adding to the state’s woes, the three Nero claimants were popular with the public. Rather than being able to ignore the inept rabble-rousers, the state had to ‘eliminate’ them. Yet, citizens believed their emperor would one day return. In the end, this belief persisted for over four centuries – enough time for Nero, or any man, to have naturally died.




Nero’s death was questioned by Romans, which led to some interesting imposters who claimed to be the Emperor, back from the dead. Picture/Credit: Michael Wheatley

Mass hysteria and an unwillingness to look at facts objectively is not new it seems. Hans Christian Andersen mocked societal gullibility in his ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’. He was not the first. Similar stories have been around since medieval times, so people in the past too were somewhat aware of their intellectual failings. By 1841, our accumulated foibles took up three volumes of Charles Mackay’s sensational “Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds”. These anecdotes are a testament to humanity’s longstanding fascination with conspiracy theories and a preference for emotional arguments over facts and reasoning.

So what has changed now? What has deemed our age worthy of the title ‘post-factual’? Perhaps we are horrified (and rightly so) that we, in the 21st century, can be prey to false information. We are more educated, more eager to seek knowledge and have easier access to information than previous generations. Yet, that we are no different from our credulous ancestors is hard to digest.

Is it that more people are vulnerable to fake news and conspiracy theories now than before? This may be possible but is hard to quantify or prove. One aspect of our lives that has changed is the rapid speed at which information now travels. So, false information can penetrate easier, faster.

“But wait,” you say “doesn’t faster communication mean that both false and true information spread rapidly?” In sum, the damage caused by misinformation should be cancelled out by the good done by true information. Alas, that’s not the case.

Our brain is not infallible. It likes rewards, especially easily accessible ones, like memes, cat videos, rants disguised as opinion posts, etc. Cognitively demanding tasks are tedious and require mental energy and attentional focus. Reasoning, logical thinking and sifting through fallible information sources don’t stand a chance when presented next to gratifying social media tidbits. Seeking information that fits one’s world views and interacting with people who share the same view are also rewarding. The gratifying nature of these pursuits combined with their easy accessibility leads to a dangerous situation akin to addiction.


https://www.lindau-nobel.org/blog-l...rs-new-clothes/

quote:

Making news through trolling
Cernovich, who describes his journalism as “Pulitzer-worthy,” has repeatedly boosted absurd conspiracy theories, which, amplified by his platform, have taken on lives of their own. He is best known for his role in promoting the #Pizzagate fiasco, when he shamelessly promulgated the conspiracy theory that John Podesta, Clinton’s campaign manager, was using the basement of a Washington, D.C., pizzeria to operate a child sex trafficking ring, an obscure theory that emerged out of 4chan.

The conspiracy took off after the release of John Podesta’s emails by Wikileaks: social media users started tracking the use of the word “pizza” in the emails, claiming “cheese pizza” was a code word for “child pornography.” Thousands bought into the conspiracy theory and latched on to the idea that the pizzeria, whose owner had corresponded with Podesta, was, in fact, a cover for a child sex ring. This was a typical instance of what Cernovich would describe as “citizen journalism” (he considers himself a “citizen journalist”) and that can more aptly be described as the madness of crowds.

The hysteria didn’t stop there. A man, Edgar Welch, then drove from North Carolina to D.C. with an assault rifle and a handgun and walked into the pizzeria firing shots, looking for the child abuse ring. It became one of the most blatant demonstrations of the dangerous effects of online conspiracy theories. Ever discerning with his information, Cernovich claimed that the event was fake.

https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-.../mike-cernovich

ToxicFrog
Apr 26, 2008




I'm into volume 2 now and, um

He says "I'm not here to give a detailed account of the crusades; my focus is on the popular madness in Europe which gave rise to them" and then he spends about 150 pages giving a detailed account of the first three crusades?

Hieronymous Alloy
Jan 30, 2009


Why! Why!! Why must you refuse to accept that Dr. Hieronymous Alloy's Genetically Enhanced Cream Corn Is Superior to the Leading Brand on the Market!?!



Morbid Hound

ToxicFrog posted:

I'm into volume 2 now and, um

He says "I'm not here to give a detailed account of the crusades; my focus is on the popular madness in Europe which gave rise to them" and then he spends about 150 pages giving a detailed account of the first three crusades?

I think that's a difference in what we consider "history" now vs what was considered history then. Back then social history wasn't a priority to anything like the degree it is now; detailed history would mean like detailed troop movements in particular battles etc.

Also he's not exactly the most precise writer

Hieronymous Alloy fucked around with this message at 19:06 on Aug 12, 2019

ToxicFrog
Apr 26, 2008




Hieronymous Alloy posted:

I think that's a difference in what we consider "history" now vs what was considered history then. Back then social history wasn't a priority to anything like the degree it is now; detailed history would mean like detailed troop movements in particular battles etc.

Right, but he outright says:

quote:

It would be needless in this sketch, which does not profess to be so much a history of the Crusades, as of the madness of Europe, from which they sprang, to detail the various acts of bribery and intimidation, cajolery and hostility, by which Alexius contrived to make each of the leaders in succession, as they arrived, take the oath of allegiance to him as their suzerain.

that he is going to focus on "the madness of Europe" that engendered the Crusades, and not on the Crusades itself; but for every page discussing the factors in Europe that kicked off this or that Crusade -- the "popular delusions" that this book purportedly discusses -- there's 20 detailing the military actions of the Crusade itself which have little if anything to do with the thesis of the book.

Defenestrategy
Oct 24, 2010

Worst decision I ever made.


I just popped in here to say, during my internship at a futures trader about a year ago the chapters on the Mississippi scheme, the South Seas Bubble, and Tulipmania where required reading for the interns on top of studying for the series 3 license.


While reading it I noticed a running theme of "A guy has a good idea to make a bunch of money, and then everyone starts abusing the hell out of it. The government tries to co-opt it, and bad poo poo happens until a recession finally forces the government to start regulating it and tossing people in jail" that jive with anyone else?

Hieronymous Alloy
Jan 30, 2009


Why! Why!! Why must you refuse to accept that Dr. Hieronymous Alloy's Genetically Enhanced Cream Corn Is Superior to the Leading Brand on the Market!?!



Morbid Hound

Defenestrategy posted:

I just popped in here to say, during my internship at a futures trader about a year ago the chapters on the Mississippi scheme, the South Seas Bubble, and Tulipmania where required reading for the interns on top of studying for the series 3 license.


While reading it I noticed a running theme of "A guy has a good idea to make a bunch of money, and then everyone starts abusing the hell out of it. The government tries to co-opt it, and bad poo poo happens until a recession finally forces the government to start regulating it and tossing people in jail" that jive with anyone else?

I think that's roughly fair. The mississippi and south sea schemes were government-involved from the start though -- the core idea was basically "let's have the government issue securities! Then they can't possibly fail!" I'd need to re-read the section on the tulip mania though that seemed more pure market shenanigans from what I recall.

Baka-nin
Jan 25, 2015



Yeah, the Stadtholders didn't get involved until the Tulip prices started to plummet.

I finished Vol I, I take the threads point about the financial shenanigans sections, despite not being able to keep track of them they did seem very familiar, I can see a modern version of the book having a section on the Wall street crash and the Bubble economy. I read through the rest of the more quackish sections, I probably should of skipped around given that the ninth example of an alchemist was the same as the fourth but again these old quasi movements of philosophers, academics, and outright conmen falling under each others influence and dragging much of society with them is also something that hasn't really gone away.

ToxicFrog
Apr 26, 2008




I'm reading the section on poisoning now, and he mentions that, as the poison mania gripped France and the prisons increasingly swelled with poisoners, the commission of other crimes decreased in proportion.

And I wonder: how many of those people are poisoners who would have, before, chosen some less fashionable form of murder? And how many of them are innocent people accused by angry neighbors or political enemies of being poisoners, knowing that it's a charge everyone is very ready to believe?

In fact, the poison mania seems to have a lot in common with the witch mania (although Mackay decries the latter as murderous superstition, and reports the former as the gospel truth). The poisons, when administered properly, mimic the effects of natural afflictions and diseases; they are scentless, tasteless, and generally undetectable, making it impossible to prove that someone wasn't poisoned; and confessions are extracted on the rack or via other tortures, in the course of which the alleged poisoner not only admits their own guilt, but names a rash of co-conspirators to be delivered to the dungeons.

At least some of these convictions do have more basis in fact than the ones for witchcraft; poisoners condemned by their own words in letters to their accomplices, for example, or poison-sellers caught in sting operations. And it seems likely that at least a few of the mysterious potions and powders confiscated in investigations were indeed poisons, and not cosmetics, cleaning supplies, alchohol of dubious provenance, would-be love potions, etc. But I do wonder if it is truly anywhere near as many as Mackay believes.

nonathlon
Jul 9, 2004
And yet, somehow, now it's my fault ...

I once read a writers guide that did a lot of reality-checks for fantasy cliches: what armor is really like, you can't ride a horse flat out all day, etc. One of the corrections was about poisons. At least before modern times, poison was very unreliable and of dubious efficacy. Many recipes for poison were dubious, they tasted vile and it was hard to see how the victim could choke down enough to actually kill them. The poison Mackay describes sounds a lot like fantasy poison, which puts the mania in a different light.

ToxicFrog
Apr 26, 2008




Yeah, that was one of the things that started me thinking along these lines -- the poison he describes is very implausible as a poison, but makes perfect sense as a story people tell each other about poison to justify persecuting "poisoners".

It's presented very differently, but once you step back from Mackay's framing, the parallels to the witch panic are pretty glaring.

quantumfoam
Dec 25, 2003



Add in the fact that most of the food in Europe of the 16th to late 17th centuries was already vile tasting. Commonly used household spices for cooking of today were were rare and very-expensive during those time periods in Europe, while refrigeration + food sterilization weren't even pipe dreams back then....so meat + veggies were already rotting/nasty as hell by the time they reached kitchens of those times.
Being able to slip vile-tasting poisons into already vile-tasting food of those time periods un-detectedly wasn't improbable, and I do suspect MacKay conflated "natural" cases of food-poisoning deaths with "criminal conspiracy" poisonings for that section of his book.

A human heart
Oct 10, 2012



NoNostalgia4Grover posted:

Add in the fact that most of the food in Europe of the 16th to late 17th centuries was already vile tasting. Commonly used household spices for cooking of today were were rare and very-expensive during those time periods in Europe, while refrigeration + food sterilization weren't even pipe dreams back then....so meat + veggies were already rotting/nasty as hell by the time they reached kitchens of those times.
Being able to slip vile-tasting poisons into already vile-tasting food of those time periods un-detectedly wasn't improbable, and I do suspect MacKay conflated "natural" cases of food-poisoning deaths with "criminal conspiracy" poisonings for that section of his book.

I'd like some sources for the claim that most food was straight up rotting when people were eating it, that doesn't sound right. How would people avoid getting constant food poisoning if that was the case? there's a lot of spices that used to be really common in European cooking but aren't used so much today as well, so the spices we use today being expensive isn't necessarily a problem. people have been using salt and other methods to preserve meat and fish and so forth for ages too.

Sham bam bamina!
Nov 6, 2012

ƨtupid cat




Yeah, I think that at some point in the 10,000 years between the dawn of agriculture and the Enlightenment people might have figured out how to eat food that was actually edible.

quantumfoam
Dec 25, 2003



True, true, I over-simplified. Not not all vegetables + meats everyone ate back then were rotting, obviously, or even deemed vile-garbage at the time.
I vastly oversimplified trying to offer up a counter-argument to the "poisoning? = total bullshit" claims. Most of the high-profile poisoning murders Mackay mentioned took place in cities or large estates during parties or special events where large quantities of food had to be stockpiled up or delivered, which allows for the food used at those events to not be the freshest stuff.

Also didn't Mackay mention how arsenic-based poisons were used alot by the supposed poisoners, and how at least one or two of the poisoning victims mentioned were food gluttons, or took multiple doses before dying, or am I totally mis-remembering things from Extraordinary Popular Delusions?

Salting and other methods of food preservation of those times left strong distinct tastes in the food preserved using those methods. Like how salt preservation changes the flavor of meats, or how olive oil really changes how food preserved in it can taste. Tomatoes and chilies for example, the omnipresent fruit-vegetables slash condiment bases of today, weren't introduced into Europe until the mid 16th century. Until tomatoes and chilies won out, fermented fish-based or fermented-cabbage based sauces/condiments were used to mask the saltiness/slightly aged/blandness taste of meat/preserved meats in Europe. All those strong tasting masking agents could disguise the taste of similarly strong(vile) tasting poisons too.
Source for my claims: Mark Kurlansky's SALT: A World History, and world history i guess.


BTW, Mark Kurlansky's SALT: A World History.....is definitely worth checking out. Lots of interesting recipes and weird factoids about food in it.

Hieronymous Alloy
Jan 30, 2009


Why! Why!! Why must you refuse to accept that Dr. Hieronymous Alloy's Genetically Enhanced Cream Corn Is Superior to the Leading Brand on the Market!?!



Morbid Hound

NoNostalgia4Grover posted:



BTW, Mark Kurlansky's SALT: A World History.....is definitely worth checking out. Lots of interesting recipes and weird factoids about food in it.

We did it as BOTM a year or two back!

https://forums.somethingawful.com/s...hreadid=3822839

Very good book but has some historical inaccuracies.

quantumfoam
Dec 25, 2003



Hieronymous Alloy posted:

We did it as BOTM a year or two back!

https://forums.somethingawful.com/s...hreadid=3822839

Very good book but has some historical inaccuracies.

Yeah, I saw that it was a BotM after I posted my recommendation.
Volumes 2 + Volumes 3 of Extraordinary Popular Delusions are definitely weaker than Volume 1. Besides the various stock market-scam manias in Volume 1, the magnetisers /mesmerism chapter is the other popular delusion thats still going strong, via "the healing power of crystals".

Hieronymous Alloy
Jan 30, 2009


Why! Why!! Why must you refuse to accept that Dr. Hieronymous Alloy's Genetically Enhanced Cream Corn Is Superior to the Leading Brand on the Market!?!



Morbid Hound

Did some digging on the history of Aqua Tofana.

quote:


The symptoms produced by Aqua Tofana were set out in a public notice issued in Rome at the time of the trial. They included burning pain in the throat and stomach, vomiting, extreme thirst, and diarrhoea, all of which point to arsenic as the active ingredient of the poison. The suggested antidote was lemon juice and vinegar.


"#$" %&'"("
Aqua Tofana was described as clear and tasteless, suggesting that a key part of the manufacturing process was masking the characteristic metallic taste of arsenic. It was also considered to be a relatively ‘gentle’ poison, which did not produce so much vomiting as – and hence aroused less suspicion than – other preparations known at the time (Ademollo, 1881)


. . . .




Aqua Tofana thus completed a transition from an apparently real poison, based on an identifiable base, which produced relatively violent symptoms and was comparatively readily detected, to a non-existent super-poison that was far more widely feared and cited – one that left “the acutest analysts … utterly unable to testify to its presence in the organs of one of its victims after the most searching post-mortem examination. It was, in fact, the poisoner’s beau-idéal of a poison.” (Anon, 1890)

Barely remembered today, the historical origins of Aqua Tofana have been almost entirely obscured

https://www.academia.edu/29668795/Aqua_Tofana

Hieronymous Alloy
Jan 30, 2009


Why! Why!! Why must you refuse to accept that Dr. Hieronymous Alloy's Genetically Enhanced Cream Corn Is Superior to the Leading Brand on the Market!?!



Morbid Hound

We need nominations for next month.

quantumfoam
Dec 25, 2003



Nominating Excellent Cadavers because almost everyone can get into true crime books, and Excellent Cadavers gets insane towards the end.
Also suggesting Built: the hidden story behind structures by Roma Agrawal and how to mellify a corpse by vicki leon, which are both moderately deep dives into their respective subject matters non-fiction books.

pseudanonymous
Aug 30, 2008

When you make the second entry and the debits and credits balance, and you blow them to hell.

NoNostalgia4Grover posted:

how to mellify a corpse by vicki leon, which are both moderately deep dives into their respective subject matters non-fiction books.

Welp buying this regardless.

pseudanonymous
Aug 30, 2008

When you make the second entry and the debits and credits balance, and you blow them to hell.

pseudanonymous posted:

Welp buying this regardless.

Has Johnathon Strange and Mr. Norrell been done?

Hieronymous Alloy
Jan 30, 2009


Why! Why!! Why must you refuse to accept that Dr. Hieronymous Alloy's Genetically Enhanced Cream Corn Is Superior to the Leading Brand on the Market!?!



Morbid Hound

pseudanonymous posted:

Has Johnathon Strange and Mr. Norrell been done?

I generally don't pick books that are already very popular on the forum.

My criteria are basically

1) accessibility -- either easy to read or easy to download a free copy of, ideally both

2) novelty -- something a significant fraction of the forum hasn't already read

3) discussability -- intellectual merit, controversiality, insight -- a book people will be able to talk about.

I also try to mix up genre and format a bit but that's subjective. E.g., we've done a lot of nonfiction lately, so it might be time for a fiction pick. We've also done a lot of male authors so might be time for a female author. etc.

quantumfoam
Dec 25, 2003



My main weaknesses of my 3 recommendations are:

Excellent Cadavers - its a non-fiction true crime book about the Silician mafia, with bad endings for the good guys.
Built - Despite happening 8 months before "Built" was published, theGreenfell tower incident is never mentioned in the book.
mellify a corpse - I overstated the deepness of the subject matter dive: Tons of topics, maybe 1 -4 pages spent on each subject.

Sham bam bamina!
Nov 6, 2012

ƨtupid cat




Hieronymous Alloy posted:

I also try to mix up genre and format a bit but that's subjective. E.g., we've done a lot of nonfiction lately, so it might be time for a fiction pick. We've also done a lot of male authors so might be time for a female author. etc.
The Street, by Ann Petry.

chernobyl kinsman
Mar 18, 2007

a friend of the friendly atom



Soiled Meat

NoNostalgia4Grover posted:

Built - Despite happening 8 months before "Built" was published, theGreenfell tower incident is never mentioned in the book.

this is hardly a weakness; 8 months is no time in publishing. the book was doubtless already done and in the hands of the publisher by that point, and doing the subject justice would have entailed a significant delay - not least because the investigations themselves took months and years to unfold (at least one of them is still ongoing). writing in their absence and in the immediate aftermath, when so many false stories were circling in the press, would have been hugely irresponsible.

chernobyl kinsman
Mar 18, 2007

a friend of the friendly atom



Soiled Meat

Hieronymous Alloy posted:

I generally don't pick books that are already very popular on the forum.

My criteria are basically

1) accessibility -- either easy to read or easy to download a free copy of, ideally both

2) novelty -- something a significant fraction of the forum hasn't already read

3) discussability -- intellectual merit, controversiality, insight -- a book people will be able to talk about.

I also try to mix up genre and format a bit but that's subjective. E.g., we've done a lot of nonfiction lately, so it might be time for a fiction pick. We've also done a lot of male authors so might be time for a female author. etc.

picnic at hanging rock, joan lindsay. classic of australian lit, credited with essentially creating the country's film industry, spooky, short, should be in every library.

Baka-nin
Jan 25, 2015



Hieronymous Alloy posted:

I generally don't pick books that are already very popular on the forum.

My criteria are basically

1) accessibility -- either easy to read or easy to download a free copy of, ideally both

2) novelty -- something a significant fraction of the forum hasn't already read

3) discussability -- intellectual merit, controversiality, insight -- a book people will be able to talk about.

I also try to mix up genre and format a bit but that's subjective. E.g., we've done a lot of nonfiction lately, so it might be time for a fiction pick. We've also done a lot of male authors so might be time for a female author. etc.

Letters of Insurgents by Fredy Perlman, free copies are easy to find, including an audiobook. Its about revolution and freedom takes place both in Cold War Eastern Europe and the US during the protest movement. It covers and explores nearly every type of left wing group and some of the political right and has a really interesting way of developing its characters over time.

quantumfoam
Dec 25, 2003



chernobyl kinsman posted:

this is hardly a weakness; 8 months is no time in publishing. the book was doubtless already done and in the hands of the publisher by that point, and doing the subject justice would have entailed a significant delay - not least because the investigations themselves took months and years to unfold (at least one of them is still ongoing). writing in their absence and in the immediate aftermath, when so many false stories were circling in the press, would have been hugely irresponsible.

Eh, a 1 sentence line such as "And with the Grenfell Tower disaster, only time will tell what the outcome of the official investigations will be." could have been added to the very end of the epilogue chapter, though UK libel laws might even take issue with a statement that neutral.
Otherwise, Built was a good book and definitely worth other people, especially you chernobyl kinsman, reading.


e: fixed spelling

quantumfoam fucked around with this message at 21:16 on Aug 21, 2019

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Sham bam bamina!
Nov 6, 2012

ƨtupid cat




Grenfell.

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