links for 2011-09-08

  • There are three sets of reasons to explain the findings that agriculture was bad for health. First, hunter-gatherers enjoyed a varied diet, while early farmers obtained most of their food from a few starchy crops. The farmers gained cheap calories at the cost of poor nutrition. Today, just three plants wheat, rice, and corn provide the bulk of the calories consumed by the human species, yet each one is deficient in certain vitamins or amino acids essential to life. Second, because of dependence on a limited number of crops, farmers ran the risk of starvation if one crop failed. Finally, the mere fact that agriculture encouraged people to clump together in crowded societies, many of which then carried on trade with other crowded societies, led to the spread of parasites and infectious disease. Some archaeologists think it was the crowding, rather than agriculture, that promoted disease, but this is a chicken-and-egg argument, because crowding encourages agriculture and vice versa.

links for 2011-08-15

  • In the past, we collected information not simply to know things. That was only the beginning. We also collected information to convert it into something larger than facts and ultimately more useful — into ideas that made sense of the information. We sought not just to apprehend the world but to truly comprehend it, which is the primary function of ideas. Great ideas explain the world and one another to us.

    But if information was once grist for ideas, over the last decade it has become competition for them.

    The implications of a society that no longer thinks big are enormous. Ideas aren’t just intellectual playthings. They have practical effects.
    What the future portends is more and more information — Everests of it. There won’t be anything we won’t know. But there will be no one thinking about it.