Monthly Archives: February 2013


The Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences: Turning the Tide for Life Extension – Video by G. Stolyarov II

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The tide of funding for life-extension research has turned. With the announcement of the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences – sponsored by such renowned entrepreneurs as Yuri Milner, Sergei Brin, and Mark Zuckerberg, as well as Zuckerberg’s wife Priscilla Chan and Anne Wojcicki of 23andMe – there is now a world-class mechanism for rewarding outstanding scientists whose work contributes to understanding and curing debilitating diseases and extending human life. Mr. Stolyarov explains the incentives that the Breakthrough Prize creates for cutting-edge life-extension research and a more meritocratic society.

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– “The Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences: Turning the Tide for Life Extension” – Essay by G. Stolyarov II –
Article on
Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences Website
List of first 11 laureates of the Breakthrough Prize
– “Mark Zuckerberg, Sergey Brin, Yuri Milner Create $33 Million Breakthrough Prize For Medical Research” – Addy Dugdale – Fast Company – February 20, 2013
– “Breakthrough Prize announced by Silicon Valley entrepreneurs” – Rory Carroll – The Guardian
– “Bill Gates Wants to Be Immortal” – Adam Clark Estes – Motherboard


Computer Games, Distributed Computing, and Life Extension – Video by G. Stolyarov II

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Imagine if it were possible to help cure disease and lengthen human lifespans simply by playing one’s computer games of choice. Here, Mr. Stolyarov describes a concept for doing just that, and he welcomes efforts from any of you to help bring it about.

Remember to LIKE, FAVORITE, and SHARE this video in order to spread rational discourse on this issue.

Support these video-creation efforts by donating here and here.

– “Computer Games, Distributed Computing, and Life Extension” – Article by G. Stolyarov II – The Rational Argumentator
Article and discussion on
Mr. Stolyarov’s Page of Distributed Computing Statistics
World Community Grid
Human Proteome Folding
Help Conquer Cancer
– “Public Solves Protein Structure” – Jef Akst – The Scientist – September 18, 2011
– “ALS Cause and Protein-Folding Prediction – Thoughts on Two Impressive Scientific Discoveries ” – Video by G. Stolyarov II – September 20, 2011


Computer Games, Distributed Computing, and Life Extension – Article by G. Stolyarov II

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The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
February 26, 2013
Recommend this page.

Imagine if it were possible to help cure disease and lengthen human lifespans simply by playing one’s computer games of choice. Here, I describe a concept for doing just that, and I welcome efforts from any readers to help bring it about.

To make a practical, concrete difference in accelerating the advent of radical human life extension, one of the most powerful contributions a layman (non-biologist, non-doctor, non-engineer) can make is to donate idle computer time to distributed computing projects focused on biomedical research. Immensely promising distributed computing endeavors include Rosetta@home, Folding@home, and World Community Grid’s Human Proteome Folding and Help Conquer Cancer projects.  I am a major participant in many of these projects. (I rank in the 98.6th percentile for all distributed computing users by total credit and in the 99.5th percentile by recent average credit.) My computer runs these projects almost nonstop, and I have even made several upgrades, partly to enhance my contribution.  Distributed computing enables scientific research to occur at rates and scales previously inconceivable. Researchers utilize thousands of computers worldwide to perform incredible numbers of complex calculations that they could not have processed in their labs alone.

Billions of computers now exist, and it seems so easy to just download a distributed computing client and let it run while the computer is idle. The computer owner does not need to be technically knowledgeable about the field of research in order to make a positive and direct contribution. Yet participation in distributed computing projects is still orders of magnitude below where it should be. For instance, as of February 23, 2013, Folding@home has 1,674,431 all-time donors of computer resources; the front page suggests that 167,833 computers are currently active in the project. Rosetta@home has 355,661 total donors, while World Community Grid has 401,270. The number of people worldwide who care about advancing medical research is surely far larger than this.

 Yet even an easy task like installing a distributed computing client may be beyond the comfort zone of many people with busy, often hectic, lives. If these people take time out of their day for activities not related to their primary occupations, they will do so because they find those activities entertaining, relaxing, or both. Computer games are an immensely popular example; they directly engage hundreds of millions of people worldwide for hundreds of billions of hours every year. If this level of contribution were made to distributed computing projects, we would see the pace of research accelerate tenfold or more.

There is already one game, FoldIt, that attempts to utilize human creativity to directly address one challenge related to life extension: the prediction of protein-folding configurations. FoldIt’s users have even had some success where computer algorithms have not. However, FoldIt’s gameplay is not for everyone, just like any particular genre of computer game will attract some enthusiastic users but will leave others indifferent.

To radically increase the use of distributed computing, I recommend a new approach: the design of computer games that automatically run distributed computing projects in the background when they are played. Players would not need to acquire the game with the purpose of contributing to research projects; their primary motivation should be to enjoy the game. However, one of the marketing points in the game’s favor could be that it would enable people to make a meaningful contribution to research while they enjoyed themselves. Such games would not need to be related to the subject of the research at all; they could be about absolutely anything, and there could be numerous games of this sort made to appeal to a wide variety of consumer demographics. Indeed, creators of existing games could work on ways to link them to distributed computing clients and use this to emphasize their companies’ philanthropic side.

Each game could include an option to activate the distributed computing client even if the game is not being played. In this way, players who come to enjoy their participation in distributed computing projects could extend that participation beyond their gaming sessions. On the other hand, a lot of players would acquire the game just to play it, while being only peripherally aware of the distributed computing aspect. However, their consent to the distributed computing would be a part of the usage agreement associated with the game. They would contribute to important biomedical research by default, just like all of us contribute to the carbon dioxide available to the Earth’s plants simply by exhaling.

I am not a programmer myself, but I strongly encourage any programmer and/or game developer reading this article to develop this proposed connection between any game and a distributed computing project. This concept should be in the public domain, and, to the extent this is possible under current law, I hereby release any original ideas or concepts in this article into the public domain in full. I seek no monetary profit or even credit from such undertakings (though I would be extremely happy to be informed of efforts to implement them). I will benefit considerably if the implementation of this idea radically accelerates life-extension research, and this benefit would certainly be enough for me.  It is in my best interest for numerous parallel, competing, or collaborative efforts to arise in this area, and for many people to try variations on this idea.

I also welcome input from those who can anticipate some of the technical details and challenges of developing games of this sort. For instance, I would be interested in insights regarding the potential ease or difficulty of integrating a distributed computing client with another program. At present, I anticipate that most of the challenges would be technical, rather than legal, since BOINC, one of the most popular clients, is free software released under a GNU Lesser General Public License. My strong recommendation is for any efforts in this area to have an open-source character, welcoming contributions from all parties in order to make the vast benefits of this project realizable. At least some of the games created as a result could be made freely downloadable, so as to entice more people into obtaining them with nothing to lose.

The idea is now out there. I urge you to help make it happen in any way you are able.


The Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences: Turning the Tide for Life Extension – Article by G. Stolyarov II

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The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
February 23, 2013
Recommend this page.

The tide of funding for life-extension research has turned. With the announcement of the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences – sponsored by such renowned entrepreneurs as Yuri Milner, Sergei Brin, and Mark Zuckerberg, as well as Zuckerberg’s wife Priscilla Chan and Anne Wojcicki of 23andMe – there is now a world-class mechanism for rewarding outstanding scientists whose work contributes to understanding and curing debilitating diseases and extending human life. (You can find out more about this prize from The Guardian and Fast Company.) The first eleven laureates of the prize have already been selected, and every subsequent year eleven more will receive $3 million each.

The incentives behind the Breakthrough Prize are exactly right. In short, they move our society ever closer to a meritocracy. By receiving a sizable fortune, each scientist – still at the top of his or her career – would no longer need to worry about finances. He or she would at last have a justly deserved reward for ingenious work that advances the struggle of human civilization against disease, decay, and death. To produce ground-breaking research in biology, medicine, and biotechnology requires a kind of passion that does not get extinguished just because one’s day-to-day material needs have been satisfied. By getting the material worries out of the way, that passion is allowed full and free rein. Innovation becomes the dominant motive force of further projects, and further research and breakthroughs can proceed without fear of running out of funding.

The people funding the prize are themselves excellent exemplars of meritocracy. They became wealthy by their own efforts – not through inheritance, political pull, or expropriation of others, but through providing services that millions of people voluntarily sought out and recognized as enhancing their lives. It is not surprising that these entrepreneurs of merit would seek to reward the merit in others – particularly merit that, through its further exercise, can eventually save the lives of us all, from the wealthiest to the poorest. The ideal of a societal meritocracy is one in which personal wealth is directly proportional to earned achievement. Meritocracy does not require central planning, because people of merit will naturally seek to exchange values and reward one another on a free market – provided that central planners do not distort the incentives toward doing so. The distribution of wealth will, over time, approach a purely meritocratic one solely as a result of such enlightened and free interactions. Of course, we are far from having a pure meritocracy today, for the incentives are significantly distorted by special political favors, barriers to entry, and the cultural corruption they engender. However, given the slightest opening, the meritocratic ideal will gradually penetrate into an ever-expanding array of endeavors. By the accident of history, computer and internet technologies have been some of the least centrally controlled in the 20th and early 21st centuries. The result was the emergence of a group of merit-based entrepreneurs who could use their wealth to fund productive benefactors of humankind in other fields.

Another ubiquitously known member of the larger group of merit-based achievers is Bill Gates, who has recently expressed his personal desire not to die during a Reddit AMA.  This makes perfect sense: a man who has everything that wealth in today’s world can provide, and who leads a happy and fulfilling life besides, must still confront the fundamental injustice of his personal demise – an injustice that the wealthiest among us have not been able to rectify, yet. While Bill Gates is not sponsoring the Breakthrough Prize (at least not at present), his philanthropic efforts are already going a long way toward alleviating many life-shortening diseases in the less-developed parts of the world. We can all hope that, over time, he and others like him will devote increasing shares of their wealth toward overcoming the more formidable barriers of biological senescence.

For now, the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences is an excellent start. It will raise the profile of life-extension research and inspire others to pursue ambitious projects in hopes of earning the prize. Unlike the Nobel Prize, which scientists earn many decades after their most prominent achievements, this prize will come much sooner to those whose transformational work strikes blows against some our least tractable adversaries. With the accelerating pace of technological progress, it only makes sense not to wait over a generation before recognizing their accomplishments. Not only the recipients, but also their benefactors – Milner, Brin, Zuckerberg, Chan, and Wojcicki – are to be saluted for giving a critical and ongoing boost to life-extension efforts on many fronts.


The Deflationary Spiral Bogey – Article by Robert Blumen

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The New Renaissance Hat
Robert Blumen
February 23, 2013
Recommend this page.

What is deflation? According to, it is “a fall in the general price level or a contraction of credit and available money.”

Falling prices. That sounds good, especially if you have set some cash set aside and are thinking about a major purchase.

But as some additional research with Google would seem to demonstrate, that would be a naïve and simple-minded conclusion. According to received wisdom, deflation is a serious economic disease. As the St. Louis Fed would have us believe,

While the idea of lower prices may sound attractive, deflation is a real concern for several reasons. Deflation discourages spending and investment because consumers, expecting prices to fall further, delay purchases, preferring instead to save and wait for even lower prices. Decreased spending, in turn, lowers company sales and profits, which eventually increases unemployment.

The problem with deflation, then, is that it feeds on itself, destroying the economy along the way. It is the macro equivalent of a roach motel: perilously easy to enter but impossible to leave. The problem, you see, is that deflation reduces consumption, which reduces production, eventually shutting down all economic activity.

Wikipedia explains it this way:

Because the price of goods is falling, consumers have an incentive to delay purchases and consumption until prices fall further, which in turn reduces overall economic activity. Since this idles the productive capacity, investment also falls, leading to further reductions in aggregate demand. This is the deflationary spiral.

Deflation is far worse than its counterpart, inflation, because the Fed can fight inflation by raising interest rates. Deflation is nearly impossible to stop once it has started because interest rates can only be cut to zero, no lower. For this reason, “The Ben Bernank” believes that monetary policy should be biased toward preventing deflation more than preventing inflation.

Economist Mark Thornton cites the prominent New York Times blogger Paul Krugman who compares deflation to a black hole, a type of astrophysical object whose gravitational field is so strong that no matter or energy that comes near it can escape. Krugman writes,

… the economy crosses the black hole’s event horizon: the point of no return, beyond which deflation feeds on itself. Prices fall in the face of excess capacity; businesses and individuals become reluctant to borrow, because falling prices raise the real burden of repayment; with spending sluggish, the economy becomes increasingly depressed, and prices fall all the faster.

In case you’re not already scared straight, the deflationary doomsday has already happened in America when (according to the New York Times) it caused the Great Depression.

Japan, according to Bloomberg “has been battling deflation for more than a decade, with the average annual 0.3 percent decline in prices since 2000 damaging economic growth.” The New York Times reports that Japan’s new prime minister Abe “has galvanized markets by encouraging bold monetary measures to beat deflation.”

I hope that everyone is clear on this.

Now that you understand the basics, I have some questions for the people who came up with this stuff.

Why do falling prices make people expect falling prices?

The observation that prices are falling, means that in the recent past, prices have fallen.

One person noticing that the price of a good, that appears somewhere on their value scale has fallen for some time, might interpret that information and conclude that in the future, the price of that good will be lower. But a second individual might see the same thing and expect the price to level off and stay where it is, and a third might interpret falling prices as an indicator that in the future prices will be higher.

Why should a price having fallen indicate that it will continue to fall? That is only one of three possible future trends. Why should past trends continue indefinitely?

Why will the public mainly choose the first of these three outlooks, more than the other two?

According to economist Jeffrey Herbener, the assumption that falling prices create expectations of more of the same is a feature of certain popular macroeconomic theories in which price expectations are modeled as part of the theory. In his testimony to Congress, Herbener observes that “the downward spiral of prices is merely the logical implication of assumptions about expectations within formal economic models. If you assume that the agents operating in an economic model suffer from expectations that are self-reinforcing, then the model will produce a downward spiral.”

Are expectations self-reinforcing? It would make just as much sense to say that expectations are self-reversing—after people have seen prices go down for a while, they will expect prices to go up.

Are these formal models a good description of human action? Contrary to what these models say, there is no fixed response to an event. In my own experience, I can think of many times I, or someone that I know, jumped on a low price because we did not expect the opportunity to last.

But what about wages?

The postponement theory depends on the assumption that a fall in prices will benefit buyers who wait. This is true if we are talking about people who have lots of cash and can sit on it indefinitely. But most of us have ongoing monthly expenses and we depend on our wages to replenish our cash reserves. Our purchasing power, at the time when we want to make a delayed purchase, comes from our cash savings and our wages. A fall in wages, if substantial, would wipe out any gains in purchasing power realized from lower prices.

If consumers do not buy today because they expect lower prices tomorrow, then what are their expectations about their wages? Do they anticipate that their wages will be the same, higher, or lower? If lower, then by how much? As much as prices have fallen?

If consumers forecast lower prices and stable wages, then why are consumer prices included in the models, but wages are not? Does deflation only affect consumer goods prices, leaving all other prices untouched?

According to the deflationary death spiral theory, decisions not to buy drag the economy into a death spiral. Does anyone expect that could happen without affecting wages?

And what about asset prices?

In addition to cash savings and wages, individuals decide how much to spend and save taking into account the amount that they have already saved. Someone who is trying to save to meet their family’s future needs will feel less comfortable about spending.

Most people hold some of their savings in cash. That portion of their savings increases in purchasing power when prices fall. But people also save by purchasing financial assets, such as stocks and bonds, or real assets such as property, and rental housing. All of these assets have a price, which could rise or fall. Depending on the mix of cash and other assets that an individual holds, a fall in asset prices could wipe out any gains in purchasing power from the cash portion of their savings.

Do people take value of their past savings into account when deciding whether to buy or wait? Or do people form expectations about consumer prices only and ignore what might happen to their savings in a deflation?

If falling consumer prices generate expectations of more of the same, what impact do falling prices have on expectations about asset prices? Do buyers who delay purchases expect the prices of their saved assets to be lower as well? If not, then do they expect that consumer prices will be lower and asset prices will be higher?

If deflation causes the economy to disintegrate, will asset prices be spared?

Is it only buying behavior that is affected?

The deflation death star begins to destroy the earth when buying is postponed.

But is it only buying that is affected by expectations about the future? If buying is affected but not selling, then why not?

If consumers expect lower prices of most things, including things that they already own, it is equally logical that they would sell their possessions and their assets in order to buy them back later at a lower price. Selling your home and renting a similar one would be the place to start. Selling your car and leasing would be the next step. Finally, selling your assets for cash would be equally profitable. Expectations of lower prices should lead to a spiral of selling, driving prices down even faster, leading to more deflationary expectations and more selling until everyone has no possessions and no assets other than cash.

If this happened, then who would buy?

Do prices ever get low enough?

If buyers expect lower prices, then how much lower? Any number in particular? If a buyer expects a specific lower price, and the price reaches that level, will he buy? Or does he always expect prices to go even lower than they are today, no matter how far they have fallen already?

If expectations of lower prices turn out to be correct, and prices drop to even lower levels, then is there any point where a minority of contrarian buyers defect from the consensus and begin to see a bottom, or even an uptrend? Or do these expectations go on forever adapting to lower prices causing prices to drop indefinitely?

The point of delaying a purchase is so that you can make the purchase in the future and have some additional cash left over to make another purchase or to save. What is the point of delaying a purchase that you never make?

We have all had the experience of buying a new computer, or some other device, the day before the next version was released and it costs less and does more. If you knew would you have waited? Maybe, but maybe not. If you need a computer for work, then you will buy it sooner rather than later.

Many people delayed their purchase of the iPhone 4 in order to buy the iPhone 5, then when available they bought the iPhone 5. My iPhone4 was worn out by that time and I needed a new phone.

What about the Law of Demand?

According to the law of demand, a greater quantity of a good is demanded at a lower price than at a higher price. If that were true, then people would buy more, rather than postponing purchases.

What happens to the law of demand in a deflation? It turns out that the law of demand has a loophole: it requires that all other things remain equal. In a deflation death spiral, all things are not equal. Consumer preferences change in response to prices. Stationary supply and demand curves do not exist in such a world. For prices to fall and yet still fail to induce buyers to buy, the quantity demanded must always fall by more than enough to compensate for the lower asking price. The demand curve is always shifting downward faster than the price falls, to prevent an equilibrium price from ever forming. Economist W. H. Hutt calls this “an infinitely elastic demand for money.”

Does this describe the world that we live in, or any world that we could imagine? Do people really react in such a mechanical way to price changes? How do we explain, for example, shoppers competing to buy at low prices?

Why do sellers not lower prices?

Why is it only buyers whose expectations of lower prices are based on falling prices? Are the expectations of sellers included in the model?

If not, is that because the models assume that sellers do not have expectations? Or do the expectations of sellers not match the expectations of buyers?

If sellers have the expectations of lower prices, why do they not lower their prices immediately in order to sell inventory ahead of their competitors?

According to the deflation spiral theory, expectations frustrate market clearing. Yet, as Rothbard argues, speculation about future prices helps prices to converge to market clearing values. If buyers and sellers both expect future prices to be lower, why do market prices not converge upon this new, lower level immediately?

If customers are postponing purchases expecting lower prices in the future, but sellers do not cooperate, then inventories will accumulate. If this began to happen, then why would sellers not lower their prices immediately in order to clear out inventories?

All of us are both buyers and sellers, of different things at different times. To say that only the expectations of buyers are affected by falling prices, is to say that the same person, early in the day, has expectations about his own future purchases, but later the same day, does not have expectations about his own current and future sales. Does the model assume that we have all been lobotomized so the two sides of our brain do not communicate with each other?

Do producers have any control over their costs?

Previously, I asked if sellers could anticipate lower prices as well as buyers. If the producers anticipated lower prices, why did they go ahead and produce the item, or order raw materials with such high costs that they could not make a profit?

If a single business firm is experiencing fewer sales, they may not be able to reduce their costs because a single firm is close to being a price taker in the markets for labor and capital. There are usually alternative uses for their factors that value them more highly, at or close to current prices. But if prices, and sales are falling everywhere, or if everyone expects this to be the case, then why will suppliers not lower their prices if they expect their costs to be lower?

What are people doing with the money that they did not spend?

Suppose that people postpone spending. What do they do with the money they did not spend? Are they increasing their cash holdings? Or are they spending on investment goods? Saving and investing is a form of spending, only the expenditure is for capital goods rather than consumer goods. In this case, there would be no general decline in total spending or employment. Workers would have to change jobs from the consumption industries to capital goods industries, as Hayek explains in his essay “The Paradox of Savings”; but production would continue during the transition.

How much lower prices are necessary to induce people to postpone purchases?

There is a return on the purchase of a consumption good that results in the services provided by the good. This must be balanced against the return on the cash by holding until prices are lower. As noted by the Center for Economic Policy Research (CEPR), a small price change is not much of a motivation to wait, if you need a new product:

[postponement of purchases] would be true for rapid rates of deflation, but Japan’s deflation has almost always been less than 1.0 percent a year. In 2011 its inflation rate was -0.2 percent. This means that if someone was considering buying a $20,000 car, they could save $40 by waiting a year. It is unlikely that this rate of deflation affected the timing of many purchases to any significant extent.

Why do quantities adjust but not costs?

If there is a generalized increase in money demand, then prices need to adjust downward. Why is it that all the quantity of goods bought and the quantity of labor employed can adjust, but prices cannot?

According to The Asia Times, when deflation strikes, factories lay workers off in order to cut costs. Why cannot producers lower their bid prices to their labor force and their suppliers in order to preserve production? If they could lower their costs, then they could produce profitably at a lower price level.

The general price level does not matter to business firms, so long as their costs are below their sale prices. Why does a deflationary meltdown assume that business can not operate profitably at any nominal price level? Why can business not lower costs?

Is this really what caused the Great Depression?

What about the credit bubble of the 1920s?

What about bank failures? The great contraction of the money supply?

The Smoot-Hawley tarrif?

What about regime uncertainty?

How about New Deal wage and price policies that prevented prices from falling, which would have allowed employment to recover?


The deflation death spiral is a theoretical description of a situation but it does not describe the reality of human action, for any number of reasons:

1. There is in reality always a diversity of expectations among the public. While some people will expect prices to continue in the same direction, others will form the opposite view. Everyone’s expectations will change not only in response to changes in the data, but taking into account their entire life experience, their own ideas, and their situation.

2. Expectations are not entirely driven by prices. A broad range of things influences our expectations about price.

3. Lower prices are not always sufficient motivation to delay purchases because everyone prefers to have what they want now, rather than later.

4. Expectations of buyers tend to be met by sellers, if not at first, then fairly soon. In some cases, buyers can hold onto their cash for a bit longer, but most businesses have no choice but to sell their inventories at what the buyer will pay. In other cases, buyers may not be able to delay purchases, or may not wish to, and will pay what they must in order to buy.

5. Everyone—buyers and sellers (and every one of us acts in both of these roles at different times)—has expectations not only about consumer prices, but about wages, employment prospects, even asset prices, the economy in general, the progress of our own life, and the future of our family. A coherent plan of saving and spending takes all of these things into account.

6. Expectations can be met. Buyers have a buying price. Even if not known in advance, they know it when they see it posted. Even if they do not know what they plan to buy in the future, a bargain price will be met by buyers.

7. People only need so much cash. Beyond that, they start to look around for either consumption goods, or investments.

Robert Blumen is an independent enterprise software consultant based in San Francisco. Send him mail. See Robert Blumen’s article archives.

This article was published on and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution United States License, which requires that credit be given to the author.


Piano Composition #5, Op. 8 (2002) – Video by G. Stolyarov II

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Categories: Music, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Composition by Mr. Stolyarov from early 2002, played in 2011 Finale Software using the Steinway Grand Piano instrument. This composition combines waltz-like and march-like elements. Be alert for a surprising turn around 45 seconds into the piece.

Download the MP3 file of this composition here.

See the index of Mr. Stolyarov’s compositions, all available for free download, here.

The artwork is Mr. Stolyarov’s Abstract Orderism Fractal 27, available for download here and here.

Remember to LIKE, FAVORITE, and SHARE this video in order to spread rational high culture to others.


Dynamists vs. Stasists: Virginia Postrel’s “The Future and Its Enemies”, 15 Years Later – Article by Bradley Doucet

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The New Renaissance Hat
Bradley Doucet
February 18, 2013
Recommend this page.
This article was originally published as part of the 15th anniversary issue of Le Québécois Libre.
Fifteen years ago, in 1998, Le Québécois Libre was launched by Martin Masse and Gilles Guénette. I did not know them at the time. I was finishing up my bachelor’s degree that year, and only met them seven years later, in 2005, shortly after submitting my first article to them. I quickly became a regular contributor, and three years after that, in 2008, English Editor. To date, I have written 64 articles and reviews for the QL, along with 34 shorter Illiberal Beliefs, and a handful of blog entries in French. I’m proud of this work, and proud to have been a part of this web magazine for the past eight years, and I look forward to many more.

For this 15th anniversary edition, then, I thought I would look back at a book that was published way back in 1998. I did a little sleuthing and found an excellent one in my library, one that appropriately enough has its gaze firmly fixed forward: Virginia Postrel’s The Future and Its Enemies: The Growing Conflict Over Creativity, Enterprise, and Progress. On one level, Postrel’s book is a celebration of the technological wonders of the modern world. She writes eloquently about the benefits of everything from biotechnology to computers, from tampons to contact lenses. But on a deeper level, she is celebrating the creativity and enterprise that generate open-ended, unpredictable progress—and warning us against those who would stifle it or stop it altogether.

Pro vs. Con

Postrel refers to those who embrace the idea of an open-ended future as “dynamists.” Although they are a diverse group and certainly not a proper coalition, dynamists “share beliefs in spontaneous order, in experiments and feedback, in evolved solutions to complex problems, in the limits of centralized knowledge, and in the possibilities of progress.” While many libertarians will recognize themselves in such attitudes (Postrel herself was the editor of the libertarian Reason magazine from July 1989 to January 2000), so will others who consider themselves progressives, liberals, or conservatives, or who are frankly apolitical. Dynamism is a broad category, and it cuts across party lines.

So, too, is its opposite. People who are opposed to the idea of an open-ended future, Postrel dubs “stasists,” and they in turn fall into two broad subcategories: “reactionaries, whose central value is stability, and technocrats, whose central value is control.” Certain types of conservatives who long for the way they imagine the world to have been in the 1950s (or the 1850s) are examples of reactionaries, but so are certain environmentalists who long for the way they imagine the world to have been before the Industrial Revolution, or before agriculture, or before man. Technocrats, for their part, do not want to stop or reverse change; they just want to tame it, to bring it under centralized, expert control by subsidizing and regulating businesses, controlling international trade and immigration, and requiring their stamp of approval before anything new can be allowed to flourish.

In countering reactionaries, dynamists need to emphasize the great benefits that have accrued to humankind from things like penicillin, modern dentistry, and electric motors, which have eliminated many early deaths and much pain and backbreaking toil. In responding to the siren call of technocrats, dynamists need to explain why the future cannot be effectively controlled without crippling it, that in order for there to be much technological innovation and material progress, people need the freedom to experiment.

Reactionaries, says Postrel, used to be opposed to technocrats, but now “they attack dynamism, often in alliance with their former adversaries.” In response, one of her tacks is to celebrate dynamism as being, in fact, more truly natural than either stability or centralized control. She also cleverly counters the charge that people who value freedom are “atomistic” by pointing out that atoms are rarely found alone in nature; they form molecular bonds, and free people form social bonds without having to be coerced into doing so. In closing, she calls on dynamists to start seeing themselves as a real coalition, a coalition not based primarily on fear or self-interest, but rather “bound by love: love of knowledge, love of exploration, love of adventure, and, just as much, love of small dreams, of the textures of life.”

The World Today

A lot can change in fifteen years. In celebrating the gradual development of contact lenses through the messy, undirected process of trial and error, Postrel imagines what the future of this technology might be: “Someday we may expect our contact lenses to function as computer screens and navigation guides, to see infrared or enhance night vision. Or we may displace them altogether with laser surgery or other procedures, as yet undiscovered.” Laser eye surgery, which was still very new in 1998, has more than come into its own in 2013, as my friend and QL colleague Adam Allouba personally experienced just recently.

But if technology has not stopped evolving, the dynamist coalition Postrel envisioned to defend the future does not yet appear to have become a significant player on the political scene. Part of the reason is surely the 2001 destruction of the World Trade Centre in New York, which breathed new life into old Cold War, hawk-dove political divisions that had up until then been fading, and thereby forestalled any restructuring along dynamist-stasist lines. It also gave technocratic peddlers of fear on the right another excuse to exert more centralized control, as the 2008 financial crisis did for technocratic peddlers of fear on the left.

Part of the challenge for libertarians has been to show that both of these traumatic events were failures of rigid, centralized, bureaucratic control—and that flexible, spontaneous order can do better. Hopefully, given the work we do here at Le Québécois Libre, and the work done by Postrel and many others around the world, in another fifteen years, the kinds of lessons contained in The Future and Its Enemies will be more widely appreciated, and that dynamist coalition for an open-ended future will be a burgeoning reality.

Bradley Doucet is Le Quebecois Libré‘s English Editor. A writer living in Montreal, he has studied philosophy and economics, and is currently completing a novel on the pursuit of happiness.


Reflections on Victor Hugo’s “Les Misérables” – Article by Edward W. Younkins

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Categories: Fiction, History, Justice, Philosophy, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The New Renaissance Hat
Edward W. Younkins
February 18, 2013
Recommend this page.

This essay is not a review of Tom Hooper’s recently released film of the tremendously popular 1980s stage musical. However, the release of this film has given me the occasion to read and to reflect upon the original text of Victor Hugo’s 1862 classic, Les Misérables, a mosaic of social indictment, history, social philosophy, sentimentality, and spirituality.

Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables (1862) is the great prose epic of the nineteenth century. Interweaving the social and spiritual threads of human life, the novel has been influential in making people desire a more just world. In Les Misérables the author condemns the unjust class-based social structure in nineteenth-century France for turning good people into criminals and beggars. He makes a case that crime and poverty can be eliminated through universal education, a criminal justice system that is flexible and focused on rehabilitation rather than punishment, and the more equal and humane treatment of women. Despite these broad recommendations, Hugo offered no practical solutions for reforming schools, the police, the courts, and the prisons. Les Misérables is a call for a wiser and nobler civilization. When it was released, it inspired a great deal of sympathy for hapless people oppressed by the state. It was also viewed as a celebration of revolution against tyranny.

Les Misérables is an epic novel focused on characters fighting against their exploitation and oppression. We see the injustices and disproportionate sentences piled upon Jean Valjean, the abuses suffered by Fantine, the brutality foisted on Cosette, the maltreatment of Enjolras  and his fellow revolutionaries, the plight of homeless children, and so on. All of these are examples of society’s injustice toward the lower classes. Through these stories, the novel exudes sympathy from the reader for the most wretched in society. The message is that, if men murder and steal and women fall from grace out of desperation, it is not their fault because they can find no honorable path to sustainability within the constructs of society. Rather, it is the fault of society and its creations, the state and the law. The state and its legal system are shown to be disinterested in the conditions of the dangerous classes. Society is thus culpable for dehumanizing the poor and for the crimes committed by the dregs of society. Les Misérables chronicles the corruption of police power, shows that society gives the convict no chance for redemption, and illustrates how France’s prison system not only continues, but also accelerates, the downward spiral of criminals. On the one hand, Valjean represents suppressed and destitute people whose place in life is determined by positive laws created by society’s elite in order to perpetuate their own superiority. On the other hand, Valjean illustrates that it is possible for men to rise above their circumstances.

Bishop Myriel is not a typical bishop or even a conventional Christian. He operates on his own innate sense of morality—it is not provided by Christianity. True morality is higher than, and separate from, any particular religion. Religions pass away but God remains. Myriel acts out of genuine sympathy and caring for the weak and the downtrodden. The Bishop has chosen a consistent belief system and life path and has dedicated his life to the active service of humanity by performing good deeds and engaging in heartfelt charity. Myriel believes that it is each man’s duty to perform good acts despite the fact that he may never know if the good acts he has performed for people will lead them to change their lives for the good. His religious humanism is far from orthodox Christianity.

When Myriel, the Bishop of Digne, forgives Jean Valjean for the theft of the silver, he offers him his initial opportunity for redemption. After this incident, Valjean has a choice to make. He could either continue on a path of crime or he could follow the example set by the Bishop. Having learned from his past, Valjean goes on to help the poor and the wretched. He adopts a new life, identity, and mentality. His new life includes honesty, love of neighbor, love of enemy, and love of God. Throughout his life, the Bishop is always with him as symbolized by the candlesticks. Myriel acts as a model and an inspiration for Valjean for the rest of his life. Throughout the novel, Valjean imitates more and more the Bishop’s asceticism, renunciation of worldly pleasures, and emphasis on sacrifice.

The moral duty to help the poor that Valjean accepts does not come from any social institutions. Rather, it flows from an expansive notion of God. Valjean illustrates that reason is inadequate in the resolution of moral problems. However, thought does direct Valjean toward the consideration of a dilemma, but at every decision point his emotions serve as the guide to right behavior. The hero performs good deeds intuitively as if he is acting in response to an inner voice. This Kantian perspective is that each person has an inner voice (perhaps his conscience), the source of moral laws, that tells him what his duties (i.e., moral obligations) are. The message seems to be that faith can transform one’s life. For Valjean, merely believing in God is not enough. He does not just contemplate the divine. Having learned from his experiences, he goes on to act to help people by his own initiative. For him, God, fulfillment, and salvation are attainable without the help of any organized religion.

Choice is difficult for Valjean who has a double nature—he has the experience of a convict and the instincts of a saint. He is a product of the social conditions that led him to steal a loaf of bread for his sister’s family and his prison time for punishment of that crime. Despite that, he still has the potential for good in him. Over and over he has to choose between doing what is right and doing what is safe and secure. At virtually every turn Valjean doubts and questions himself before making the morally correct choice. Les Misérables is very much a story of a man’s conscience at war with itself. After meeting the radiantly spiritual Bishop Myriel, Valjean’s life becomes a continuing struggle between his activated moral sense and his life-long criminal tendencies.

As Monsieur Madeleine, Jean Valjean redeems himself by becoming an innovative entrepreneur who creates a successful manufacturing business that brings about progress and prosperity for an entire region. This successful and kind person voluntarily does good deeds to help the less fortunate. Valjean’s actions exhibit justice to individual people rather than observance of the requirements of some abstract legal order. In addition to providing a reasonable standard of living for his employees, he builds schools and hospitals with his own money and distributes a large share of his wealth to the poor. Then, of course, he takes care of Fantine and rescues, raises, and protects Cosette. Ironically, the tolerant Valjean sympathizes with others but is unable to sympathize with himself. He understands that, although a person can repent of a crime, he can never escape the dishonor from committing it.

Inspector Javert cannot accept transgressions of the law regardless of circumstances. He represents the idea of punitive secular justice and is solely concerned with detection and retribution. Javert is absolutely committed to rules and to their administration. As a defender of France’s legal system, he is dedicated to following the letter of the law rather than the spirit of the law. The well-intentioned, rigid, and dogmatic Javert wants to protect society from the criminal element and has total faith in the system of laws that he represents. Javert, the personification of public authority, contends that theft is wrong regardless of mitigating factors. Myriel, representing morality, would say that theft should be forgiven in the case when one acted to keep people from starving. Of course, our hero, Valjean, is caught between these two worldviews. Toward the end of the novel, Javert comes to understand that Valjean is concerned with a moral law higher than positive state law. At the end he empathizes with Valjean and comprehends that divine law has supremacy. Javert commits suicide because this realization disaffirms everything in his life that he believed in. The story of Javert provides a lesson about the limitations of the law of men. At the end of his life, Javert understands that Jean Valjean’s resistance to Javert’s tyranny is rooted in a belief in a higher power and law than the laws of men.

Enjolras and his diverse band of revolutionaries have a dream of a better world and do all they can to make that world a reality. They love man, tend to reject organized religions (including Christianity), and attempt to overturn the existing social order. Enjolras, the leader of the ABC (the Abaissé or the abased) Society wants to elevate men. The ABC’s 1832 revolt demanded legislation that would make possible liberty, justice, equal education, equal opportunity, and so on. Enjolras is a devoted, purposeful, political idealist who inspires others with his utopian vision of future progress. The other revolutionaries turn to Enjolras for the meanings behind their actions.

The novel teaches that individual men are dignified, honorable, and benevolent, but that social institutions are not, the result being the corruption of individual human beings. Like Rousseau and Turgot, Hugo subscribes to the idea of the natural goodness of man. All three believed in progress and in the perfectibility of man. They viewed progress as a basic law of the universe. Created by God, man has the capacity to become a civilized moral person if he is not corrupted by society. It is the corrupting influence of society that is responsible for the misconduct of the individual. If individuals are properly educated then they would not want to do evil.

Hugo maintains that society must be changed, but also that it is individuals who must first be transformed. It is these transformed individuals who can then foster the advancement of society. Accepting the Platonic idea that the individual’s soul is noble but the body is degraded, the author of Les Misérables teaches that one must achieve spiritual grandeur and a virtuous character in order to battle for justice in the here and now. Some individuals have the ability to triumph over evil both in themselves and in society and its institutions if they are willing to actively respond to the divine. In Les Misérables the life of each character influences others. It follows that, if each individual comprehends and accepts his influences on other persons, then society may become more just, caring, and merciful. Hugo contends that the requisite love of humanity can only come from faith in the divine. Faith in God is thus placed at the heart of this work. For Hugo, belief in God by acting people of good will is necessary to instill the social order with kindness and to make society more humane. Like Pascal, Hugo urges his readers to bet in favor of the existence of God and perhaps even in the possibility of an afterlife for the soul. In Les Misérables there are only a few exceptional virtuous individuals such as Myriel, Jean Valjean, and Enjolras, who can attain this level of existence. It follows that rehabilitation and elevation of the social order is most likely impossible given the above requirement and reality.

The novel’s ethic of social service emphasizes the alleviation of poverty. It portrays poor people being helped by the charitable works of a private individual (Valjean) rather than by government. Depicting the abject poverty of the poor, Les Misérables questions the morality of a political and economic system that permits children to be orphaned and homeless, mothers dying in the streets, and good men imprisoned for minor transgressions committed to feed their families. Hugo’s goal was to elicit his readers’ compassion and to stimulate their moral sensibilities by portraying how poverty brutalizes and dehumanizes people and how strict and relentless law enforcement creates the savages that it wants to eliminate. He wanted to educate the bourgeois and to awaken their consciousness and concern for France’s social problems. Hugo wanted people to take action to ease the burden of the less fortunate through good deeds and through changes in the social system. Les Misérables is Hugo’s plea for social change that vacillates between human and institutional reality and his hope for, and vision of, a better world.

In Les Misérables Hugo depicts that society is nothing more than the collection of individuals whose lives affect one another. For example, it is clear that Jean Valjean is concerned only with the individuals who make up society. In the novel, the circumstances and conduct of various seemingly randomly introduced characters converge and become intertwined with the struggles of Valjean. From the beginning of the story, there is a web of influence that builds as characters affect one another. Early on we see G______, a representative of the assembly during the French Revolution that dissolved the monarchy, humbling Bishop Myriel who recognizes his moral devotion to humanity and progress prompting the Bishop to redouble his own tenderness and love for the weak and the suffering. The network of interconnections grows as characters such as Valjean, Fantine, Cosette, Javert, Fauchelevant, the Thénardiers, Marius, M. Gillenormand, Colonel Pontmery, Champathieu, Enjolras, and others appear. The author brings many of these characters together toward the climax of the novel.

Les Misérables illustrates that in every idea, and that for every person, perspective is partial and, therefore, insufficient by itself alone. Hugo shows that the complexity of life requires that no one philosophy, perspective, emotion, tradition, or behavior is capable of providing a total picture of what it means to be human. Like Kant, Hugo laments the fact that a person can only perceive and comprehend things through his own consciousness. According to Kant, man’s knowledge lacks validity because his consciousness possesses identity. For Kant, knowledge, to be valid, must not be processed in any way by consciousness. Hugo, like Kant, seems to be looking for knowledge that could be called absolute, unqualified, pure, or diaphanous. Kant maintains that identity, which itself is the essence of existence, invalidates consciousness. To know what is true, a man would have to abandon his own nature, which is an absurd impossibility. It follows that for both Hugo and Kant, reason must be forsaken and the emotions must be embraced, if one wants to deal with the fundamental concerns of existence. Hugo does seem to imply that knowledge can be enhanced by dialectically relating each perspective with opposing viewpoints. However, he realizes that, even with this dialectic interaction, one’s knowledge would still be limited. Even when many angles of perspective can be coordinated simultaneously, one’s understanding of a process, experience, or event is still limited.

Les Misérables is a fascinating maze of characters, emotions, ideas, paradoxes, and antitheses. The novel co-mingles ever-shifting and blurred shades of criminality, heroism, misery, resilience, good, evil, irony, pathos, poetry, free will, providence, action, the social, the spiritual, and much more. Hugo thus deals with the emotions, hopes, fears, passions, and doubts that are reflective of people’s common humanity. Les Misérables is a detailed reporting of men’s feelings and ideas that transcend time and place. It follows that this great novel is as relevant today as when it was published more than 150 years ago.

Dr. Edward W. Younkins is Professor of Accountancy at Wheeling Jesuit University. He is the author of Capitalism and Commerce: Conceptual Foundations of Free Enterprise [Lexington Books, 2002], Philosophers of Capitalism: Menger, Mises, Rand, and Beyond [Lexington Books, 2005] (See Mr. Stolyarov’s review of this book.), and Flourishing and Happiness in a Free Society: Toward a Synthesis of Aristotelianism, Austrian Economics, and Ayn Rand’s Objectivism [Rowman & Littlefield Pub Incorporated, 2011] (See Mr. Stolyarov’s review of this book.). Many of Dr. Younkins’s essays can be found online at his web page at You can contact Dr. Younkins at


Guide to Stolyarovian Shorthand

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Categories: Education, Self-Improvement, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
February 11, 2013
Recommend this page.

Stolyarovian Shorthand was originated in 2003 and has evolved gradually since. For the first time, it is being made available for free to the public, under a Creative Commons license. You can read and download the free Guide to Stolyarovian Shorthand as a PDF file here. The Guide explains this history and evolution of Stolyarovian Shorthand and allows the reader to learn its general rules and special symbols. An extensive (but non-exhaustive) Glossary at the end presents nearly ten pages of symbols in one convenient reference document.


The Modularization of Activity – Article by G. Stolyarov II


Categories: Culture, Education, Self-Improvement, Technology, Transhumanism, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
February 7, 2013
Recommend this page.

On February 2, 2013, I ran my first ultramarathon: 50 kilometers (31.07 miles) in 5 hours, 10 minutes, 50 seconds – all within the comforts of my home on my elliptical trainer. I experienced no pain, no pounding, no strain on the joints, no car traffic, and no vicissitudes of weather. More importantly, I had constant access to water and nourishment if I wished it. The elliptical trainer’s shelf held my tablet computer, and I could pass the time reading articles, watching videos of philosophical discussions, and listening to Mozart.

This kind of experience is truly new. Even when I ran my first elliptical-trainer marathon in 2008 (see my article about that experience and its advantages here), I could not have replicated it. I had to content myself with reading a hard-copy book back then, prior to the age of e-readers and tablets. Cumulatively, I have read thousands of hard-copy pages while running, but the strain required for such reading is certainly far greater. Occasionally, one must hold the book still. The tablet screen is far more stable and versatile, offering vast possibilities for entertainment. With an Internet connection, immense repositories of information are at one’s fingertips, all without interrupting one’s workout!

Although the ability to radically customize my exercise has been quite recent, I have been contemplating the broader development it represents for years.  In 2008, when walking between two buildings during a frigid Michigan winter, I was struck by the realization that life did not have to be this way in the future. I wanted to reach my destination and its amenities, but being outside in freezing weather was a mere contingent circumstance, unrelated to the specific goals I sought. As a result of this insight, I proposed that, in addition to indefinite life extension, complete liberty, and the cessation of all aggression, a worthwhile endeavor for the future should be the decoupling or de-packaging of activities from one another. Life should improve to such an extent that, when considering any activity, people should only need to accept the constitutive parts of that activity – not extraneous physical circumstances that simply get in the way.

Running is excellent exercise, but it has historically been fraught with unnecessary risks and discomforts. People have even died during “traditional” marathons, due to lack of preparation, lack of nourishment, extremes of weather, and the inability to access emergency aid. The repeated pounding of feet on the pavement damages the joints and bones; this is why so many lifelong runners get knee and hip replacements in their forties and fifties. By contrast, the elliptical trainer is gentle. The feet rest firmly on the pedals; there is no pounding or jarring. One can think more clearly and focus on study, esthetics, or entertainment. There is no worry of being stranded from civilization and its amenities. When running outdoors, every mile run away must be run back, even when one might not be in the proper condition to do so. I still remember, from my college days, what it feels like to have no choice but to run for miles after a fall, to have one’s path obstructed by unexpected deep snow, or to face a sudden, chilling wind. I remember the dangerous behavior of distracted drivers at street crossings and even the occasional loose angry dog.

It is self-defeating to take serious short-term risks in pursuit of long-term health. For the past 4.5 years, I have frequently been able to isolate the “pure exercise” element of running from the unnecessary vicissitudes of the outdoor environment. The benefits in improved productivity have been enormous as well: I attained all seven of my professional insurance designations through studying mostly performed on an elliptical trainer. I am able to keep up with current world events and read more opinion pieces, philosophical treatises, and online discussions than ever before. Writing on the elliptical trainer is still quite laborious, but I can consume content during my workout as well as I could sitting at my desktop.

What enables this modularization – this separation of the desirable from the undesirable and the recombination of the desirable parts into simultaneous, harmonious experiences? Technology is the great de-packager of experiences that have hitherto been inseparable of necessity. At the same time, technology is the great assembler of experiences that could not have previously coexisted. In the eighteenth century, you would have had to be among the wealthiest kings and aristocrats in order to hear a string quartet while reading or writing. You would have needed to retain your own court musicians, or to hire professional performers at great expense.  Now you can avail yourself of this combination at virtually any time, on demand, without any incremental expenditure of money.

Other common modularizations now occur with scant notice by most. Today, thanks to global shipping networks, you can eat two fruits on the same plate, whose growing seasons are months apart. Some of these fruits will only have the parts you like, and none of those pesky little seeds – thanks to genetic engineering.  Whereas previously you would have had to purchase prepackaged  vinyl records, cassette tapes, or CDs, now you can obtain individual songs, lectures, speeches, podcasts, or audiobooks and combine them in any way you like. Whereas old-style television networks expected you to adjust your schedule to them, and to sit through annoying advertisements every ten minutes, you can now access inexhaustible content online and watch it at your own schedule.

But this great process of empowering individuals by breaking down old pre-packaged bundles is just beginning. Consider the improvements we could witness in the foreseeable future:

1. The rise of autonomous, self-driving vehicles could not only get rid of the chore of driving, but could also save tens of thousands of lives annually, as the overwhelming majority of automobile accidents and fatalities are due to human error. In the meantime, occupants of autonomous vehicles could entertain themselves in ways previously inconceivable. Texting while driving will no longer pose a risk, because the vehicle will not depend on you.

2. The mass production of in-vitro meat could enable humans to consume meat without requiring the deaths of millions of animals. This will not only increase the ethical comfort and esthetic satisfaction of meat-eating, but will also reduce the messiness of food preparation. It will also reduce the unpleasant odors emanating from large-scale livestock farms.

3. The rise in videoconferencing and telecommuting will simultaneously raise productivity, lower business costs, and improve employee morale. Employees will be able to more flexibly balance their jobs and personal lives. Neither work emergencies nor personal emergencies would need to escalate, unaddressed, just because attending to such emergencies immediately is impractical. More remote collaboration will become possible, without the need to amass huge travel bills or endure sub-optimal and sometimes outright undignified conditions at airports or on roads.

4. Personalized medicine – aided by vast and cheap data about the body and the use of portable devices as the first line of screening and diagnosis – would save considerable money on medical costs and encourage a focus on prevention. It would also enable people to avoid much of the bureaucracy associated with contemporary medical systems, and would free doctors to receive visits related to genuinely the serious conditions that require their expertise. Patients who discover specific health problems could apply directly to specialists, instead of using general practitioners as filters. Burdens on general practitioners would thereby be reduced, enabling them to provide a higher quality of care to the patients that remain.

5. Improved infrastructure should mitigate the effects that the vicissitudes of weather and vehicle traffic have on our everyday movements. Air conditioning and heating in automobiles, trains, and airplanes have already helped greatly in this regard. Additional investments should be made into covered passageways connecting proximate buildings in cities, as well as subterranean and above-ground pedestrian street crossings. Dashing across a traffic-filled intersection should be made obsolete, and our future selves should eventually come to be astonished at the barbarism of societies where people took such outrageous risks just to get from one place to another.  In less populated areas, the least that could be done is for sidewalks for pedestrians and bicyclists to be made ubiquitous, so as to avoid the mingling of cars with less protected modes of transport.

6. Nanofibers and innovative fabrics could render much clothing immune to the typical inconveniences and hazards of everyday wear. Wrinkling, staining, and tearing would become mere historical memories. Packing for a trip would become much easier, and compromises between esthetics and practicality would disappear. Individual expression would be empowered in clothing as in so many other areas.  Some clothing might be engineered to keep the temperature near the body at comfortable levels, or to absorb solar energy to power small electronic devices.

7. Education could be greatly improved by decoupling it from classrooms, stiff metal chair-desks, dormitories, bullies, enforced conformity, and one-size-fits-all instruction aimed at the lowest common denominator. The Internet has already begun to break down the “traditional” model of schooling, a dysfunctional morass that our culture inherited from the theological universities of the Middle Ages, with some tweaks made during the mid-nineteenth century in order to train obedient soldiers and factory workers for the then-emerging nation-states. The complete breakdown of the classroom model cannot come too soon. Even more urgent is the breakdown of the paradigm of overpriced hard-copy textbooks, which thrive on rent-seeking arrangements with formal educational institutions. Traditional schooling should be replaced by a flexible model of certifications that could be attained through a variety of means: online study, apprenticeship, tutoring, and completion of projects with real-world impact. A further major breakthrough might be the replacement of protracted degree programs with more targeted “competency” training in particular skills – which could be combined in any way a person deems fit. Instead of attaining a degree in mathematics, a person could instead choose to earn any combination of competencies in various techniques of integration, differential equations, abstract algebra, combinatorics, topology, or a number of other sub-fields. These competencies – perhaps hundreds of them in mathematics alone – could be mixed with any number of competencies from other broadly defined fields. A single person could become a certified expert in integration by parts, Baroque composition, the economic law of comparative advantage, and the history of France during the Napoleonic Wars, among several hundreds of relatively compact other areas of focus. Reputable online databases could keep track of individuals’ competencies and render them available for viewing by anyone with whom the individual shares them – from employers to casual acquaintances. This would be a much more realistic way of signaling one’s genuine skills and knowledge. Today, a four-year degree in X does not tell prospective employers, business partners, or other associates much, except perhaps that a person is sufficiently competent at reading, writing, and following directions as to not be expelled from a college or university.

The modularization of activity promises to liberate immense amounts of time and energy by enabling people to focus directly on what is important to them. The hardships that are typically seen as part of the “package” of certain experiences today are not, in any manner, necessary, ennobling, or “worth it”. A good thing does not become any better just because one has had to sacrifice other good things for it. Modularization will enhance individual choice and facilitate ever greater customization of life. Some will allege that this will reduce the diversity of experience; they will claim that individuals lose out on the breadth of exposure that comes with being involuntarily thrust into unexpected situations. But this was never an optimal way to pursue diverse experiences. A better way is to remove from one’s life the time-consuming byproducts of useful activities, and to fill the resulting extra time with a deliberate pursuit of new endeavors and experiences. If you do not have to drive in busy traffic, you can spend the extra time reading a book that you would not have read otherwise. If you do not have to deal with a random group of people your age in a traditional school, you can instead go out and meet individuals with whom you could undertake meaningful interactions and mutual endeavors.

Because modularization allows individuals to form their own packages of activities, it will enable us to arrive at an era of truly effective multi-tasking – not the frenzied and stressful rush to do multiple incompatible tasks at the same time, as often occurs today. Technology allows for diversity among individuals’ minds and enables each person to combine and recombine activities so as to make the most out of all of their abilities at any given time. For instance, I think of activities as occupying particular “tracks” in my own mind. I can only competently handle one verbal “track” (written or spoken) at one time. I can combine a verbal “track” with a motion-based “track” and an auditory non-verbal “track” – by reading, exercising, and listening to music simultaneously. I can also do so by writing (which is both verbal and motion-based) and listening to music simultaneously. If I am listening to an audio recording of a book, essay, or podcast, then my visual faculty is free to look at art, or to create it. I can do the former while exercising.  On the other hand, I do not enjoy leaving off any particular verbal or motion-based task prior to its completion, in order to engage in another task of the same “track”. Thus, I generally structure my activities so that such tasks occur in a linear succession and without interspersion. Auditory experiences are easier for me to halt and resume, so I can more readily shift from one to another, depending on where I am on my other “tracks”. It may be that some of my readers have extremely different combinations with which they are most comfortable. The very purpose of modularization is to allow each individual to make choices accordingly, while being subject to increasingly fewer material or cultural limitations that constrain people to accept any particular “packages” of activities.

Modularization is liberation – of time, energy, comfort, and productive effort. It is yet another way in which technology empowers us and enhances our lives in an unprecedented fashion.

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