Archive of posts with tag 'science'

The Two Enlightenments

February 20, 2024 • #

We learn about “The Enlightenment” as a singular entity, a historical age associated with rationality, scientific inquiry, humanism, and liberty. The Enlightenment and scientific revolution were defining moments that spawned an unprecedented period of progress and human flourishing. But in his book The Beginning of Infinity, David Deutsch adds useful texture for better understanding the motivations of the Enlightenment’s contributors.

He divides the movement into two broad forms: the “British” and the “Continental”.

Both branches agree on the core principles of rationality, progress, and freedom. Where they disagree is on how to achieve these goals. They pursue the same ends,...

Interview with Richard Rhodes, on the Making of the Atomic Bomb

May 23, 2023 • #

This is a phenomenal interview with Richard Rhodes, author of the legendary The Making of the Atomic Bomb, an expansive history of the Manhattan Project and the development of nuclear weapons technology.

Dwarkesh Shah’s show The Lunar Society is generally excellent and highly recommended. Just listen to how long he lets Rhodes answer and expound on questions without interruption. These are my favorite types of long-form interviews.

Portals Into Earth

September 21, 2022 • #

From John McPhee’s Annals of the Former World:

Geologists on the whole are inconsistent drivers. When a roadcut presents itself, they tend to lurch and weave. To them, the roadcut is a portal, a fragment of a regional story, a proscenium arch that leads their imaginations into the earth and through the surrounding terrane.

This is a book I’d love to revisit. So many great bits of history.

Weekend Reading: Liberal Science, Roam42, and JTBD Examples

February 6, 2021 • #

🧠 In Defense of Being Offensive

Jonathan Rauch on pluralism and the necessity of disagreement in the search for truth.

His book Kindly Inquisitors was first published in 1993, but is as relevant today as ever. The book is a defense of what he calls “liberal science”, our decentralized process for knowledge discovery that relies on relentless-but-gradual error correction:

Liberal science, by its very nature, has little tolerance for fundamentalism; conversely fundamentalism is a threat to liberal science. Fundamentalism, defined by Rauch as...

Progress is Not Automatic

September 23, 2020 • #

One of the key insights coming out of the progress studies movement seems like a simple idea on the surface, but it’s an important core thesis: that progress is not an inevitability. We don’t see new inventions, innovations, and improvements to quality of life by accident. It’s the result of deliberate effort by people in searching for new life improvements. Using names like “Moore’s Law” perhaps makes it sound like computer chip improvements “just happen,” but researchers at Intel or TSMC would beg to differ on how automatic those developments were.

Innovation is...

    <div class=

Weekend Reading: Invading Markets, Sleep Deprivation, and the Observer Effect

June 13, 2020 • #

🎖️ Commandos, Infantry, and Police

Jeff Atwood on Robert X. Cringely’s descriptions of three groups of people you need to “attack a market”:

Whether invading countries or markets, the first wave of troops to see battle are the commandos. Woz and Jobs were the commandos of the Apple II. Don Estridge and his twelve disciples were the commandos of the IBM PC. Dan Bricklin and Bob Frankston were the commandos of VisiCalc.

Grouping offshore as the commandos do their work is the second wave of soldiers, the infantry. These are the people who...

Weekend Reading: Dracones, Calendars, and Science 2.0

June 6, 2020 • #

🐉 Hic Sunt Dracones

Adam Elkus with a great essay on the current moment:

“Is this as bad as 1968?” is an utterly meaningless question precisely for this underlying reason. People do not invoke 1968 because of the objective similarities between 2020 and 1968. They do so because we have crossed a threshold at which basic foundations of social organization we take for granted now seem up for grabs. This is an inherently subjective determination, based on the circumstances of our present much as people in 1968 similarly judged...

Wernher von Braun and the Moon Landing

January 13, 2020 • #

This is a neat clip from Walt Disney’s Disneyland TV series. Wernher von Braun explains the future technology that’ll take us to the Moon, in 1955, several years before the Mercury program even began.

Microgravity Will Change How We Make Everything

December 4, 2019 • #

Bloomberg has been publishing this video series on future technologies called “Giant Leap.” It’s well-done and a nice use of YouTube as a medium.

This one explores a number of new companies doing R&D in microgravity manufacturing — from biological organ “printing” to creation of high-quality fiber optic materials. There are still some challenges ahead to unlock growth of space as a manufacturing environment, but it feels like we’re on the cusp of a new platform for industrial growth in the near future.


Weekend Reading: Figma Multiplayer, Rice vs. Wheat, and Tuft Cells

November 23, 2019 • #

🕹 How Figma’s Multiplayer Technology Works

An interesting technical breakdown on how Figma built their multiplayer tech (the collaboration capability where you can see other users’ mouse cursors and highlights in the same document, in real time).

🌾 Large-Scale Psychological Differences Within China Explained by Rice Versus Wheat Agriculture

A fascinating paper. This research suggests the possibility that group-conforming versus individualistic cultures may have roots in diet and agricultural practices. From the abstract:

Cross-cultural psychologists have mostly contrasted East...

A Network of Science

November 22, 2019 • #

A beautiful visualization project from Nature converts 150 years of scientific papers into a 3-dimensional network diagram, making concrete the network of citations and references linking together the history of discoveries.

Weekend Reading: Blot, Hand-Drawn Visualizations, and Megafire Detection

November 9, 2019 • #


Blot is a super-minimal open source blogging system based on plain text files in a folder. It supports markdown, Word docs, images, and HTML — just drag the files into the folder and it generates web pages. I love simple tools like this.

🖋 Handcrafted Visualization: Precision

An interesting post from Robert Simmon from Planet. These examples of visualizations and graphics of physical phenomena (maps, cloud diagrams, drawings of insects, planetary motion charts) were all hand-drawn, in an era where specialized photography and sensing weren’t always options.


The Bacteria Light of the Future

July 25, 2019 • #

A French startup company called Glowee is working on being able to produce light using bioluminescence:

Glowee reinvents light production with technology nature has already created to make lighting more sustainable and healthier for both humans and the environment. Having identified the genetic coding that creates bioluminescence, Glowee inserts this code into common, non-toxic, and non-pathogenic bacteria to produce clean, safe, synthetic bioluminescence. Once engineered and grown, the bacteria are encapsulated into a transparent shell, alongside a medium composed of the nutrients they need to live and make light. This lighting solution can indefinitely and...

Watch Karl Friston Explain Free Energy

June 28, 2019 • #

Neuroscientist Karl Friston is the world’s leading authority on brain imaging science and on the forefront of our understanding of how brains actually work. He’s the creator of the free energy principle, an idea that attempts to unify an organizing framework for what drives all life: minimizing free energy.

See also this excellent profile of Friston in Wired from late last year.

Process Not Products

April 14, 2019 • #

In his new book Loonshots, author Safi Bahcall uses the concept of phase transitions to analyze how companies work. When a substance changes phase, like water going from solid to liquid, the same exact substance is forced to take on a new structural form when the surrounding environment changes.

As Bahcall points out in the book, companies exhibit a similar behavior in their inventions and strategy. He contrasts two different types of innovations that companies tend to be built to produce: “P” type innovations, where a company is great at producing new products, and “S”...

Weekend Reading: T Cells, Creating Proteins, and SNI Awards

April 6, 2019 • #

🦠 T is for T Cell

After reading The Breakthrough, I’ve been doing more reading on immunotherapy, how it works, and what the latest science looks like. Another book in my to-read list is An Elegant Defense, a deeper study of how the immune system works. The human defensive system of white blood cells is a truly incredible evolutionary machine — a beautiful and phenomenally complex version of antifragility.

🧬 Engineering Proteins in the Cloud with Python


The Origin and Transmutation of Species

February 10, 2019 • #

Since The Origin of Species, Darwin’s theory of natural selection has been the foundation of our thinking about the evolution of life. Along the way there have been challengers to the broadness of that theory, and David Quammen’s The Tangled Tree brings together three core “modern” concepts that are beginning to take hold, providing a deeper understanding how lifeforms evolve.

The book mostly follows the research of the late Carl Woese, a microbiologist who spent his career studying microorganisms, looking for connections between creatures in the micro and macro. Beginning with Darwin’s tree...

Language and Progress

December 11, 2018 • #

A wide-ranging conversation on linguistics, human scientific advancement, and enlightenment thinking with Steven Pinker and John McWhorter.

Linguistics is endlessly fascinating.

I might be an outlier, but I absolutely love YouTube as a medium for this kind of content. This sort of long form video is an example of a fantastic new thing that couldn’t exist or thrive prior to YouTube.

Bits & Genes

March 14, 2017 • #

As I started The Gene, I was assuming it’d be framed as a history of genetics. There’s a significant amount of history on the discoveries made the last few centuries as scientists gained an understanding of how hereditary traits are encoded and transmitted. But my favorite parts of the narrative are when Mukherjee seeks to look at the gene as the fundamental building block, making comparisons to bits and atoms.

It reminded me of another book I’d like to revisit: James Gleick’s The Information. That book is to bits what The Gene was to genetics. Claude Shannon’s

Underwater Flight

August 12, 2012 • #

Graham Hawkes has a fascinating approach to undersea research and exploration. Rather than focusing on deep ocean submersibles (which he’s built plenty of), his company is currently building underwater airplanes, craft that fly through the water with hydrodynamic wings and thrusters, capable of flying alongside dolphins and manta rays. Hawkes is obsessed with the ocean, and is fond of saying to space explorers that their “rockets are pointing in the wrong direction”. It’s amazing how little is known about the ocean floor, and how relatively little funding we roll into hydro-exploration.

Deep Flight...

    <div class=