The Most Eye-Opening Things I’ve Ever Read

Every now and then, I run across an article where the amount of condensed epiphany simply blindsides me… so I’ve decided to start collecting them here. (Listed in the order I read them)

Against School by John Taylor Gatto
I first read this article back when I was in high school and it blew me away. It’s basically a condensed summary (with references) of Gatto’s longer works, which explain why the boredom and conformity of high school is a feature, not a bug, and the core purpose of compulsory education, as currently implemented, is to produce obedient sodiers and factory workers.
Sir Ken Robinson also touched on the value-neutral economic disadvantages this system brings in the 21st century in a great talk which had the relevant bit illustrated by RSA Animate.
Southern Values Revived by Sara Robinson
I already mentioned this before and it’s not quite as mind-blowing as some of the other stuff I read, but it definitely got me thinking.
It’s an explanation of how and why, in America, there have been two different definitions of “liberty” that have persisted since the very beginning… and how both the civil war and the current struggles between progressive and regressive ideas are part of the same struggle that’s been going on since the brutal Barbados slave owners expanded northward and their ideology came into conflict with that which spawned the U.S. constitution.
See also: How White People Got Made by Quinn Norton
Who’s Cheating Whom? by Alfie Kohn
Now, back to the marginally mind-blowing. This heavily-cited article explains, in detail, why current attempts to stop academic dishonesty (cheating) are doomed to failure because cheating is a symptom of a fundamental flaw in our approach to education. It ends by pointing out how, if we were to stop cheating, we would have destroyed everything we claim to value along the way.
On Artificial Intelligence by David Deutsch
This is, without a doubt, the most mind-blowing of the bunch.
It starts by talking about how the laws of physics guarantee that artificial general intelligence (artificial sapience) is possible. It then moves on to explaining why self-awareness is merely a symptom and creativity is the true “tough nut to crack”, likening our “the brain’s parallelism is the key” addiction to emergent behaviour rationalizations to expecting buildings to fly if we just build them tall enough.
Finally, if you’re already too educated for that to blow your mind, it ends with one more attempt by drawing attention to how primitive and arbitrary our definition of personhood is and how, by the time we successfully create an artificial general intelligence, we will have learned enough to formulate a concrete, objective definition.
The First Global Civil War by Lionel Dricot
Let’s just say that this article recasts the worldwide fight between established organizations (government, corporations) and things like “piracy” and “social media” by doing a point-by-point comparision between recognized civil wars and the current state of the world.
Why are companies like the Big 5 (now Big 3) record labels fighting piracy to the point where they have to merge to remain profitable? Because it’s not about money, it’s about control.
Targeted Advertising Considered Harmful by Don Marti
A long but very fascinating exploration, from a scientific viewpoint, of what role the decision to advertise (independent of the ad’s content) plays in a market, how that relates to the relative values of ads in various media, and why that makes targeted online advertising unavoidable in the short term but a self-destructive spiral for the industry in the long term.
(It’s basically the same mechanism underlying mating displays which burden the male. Only the genuine article can put on such an expensive display and survive. The technical term is “signalling“.)
See also: Why ad-blocking is not a moral dilemma, The ethics of modern web ad-blocking, An overview of online ad fraud, Notes and links from my talk at RJI by Don Marti, Advertising is a cancer on society by Jacek Złydach, Why Don’t We Just Ban Targeted Advertising by Gilad Edelman, Targeted ads aren’t just annoying, they can be harmful. Here’s how to fight back
The Useful Idiocy of Donald Trump by Chris Hedges
While the primary focus is on Donald Trump’s government, what is really eye-opening about this piece is the parallels it draws between the at-large behaviours of U.S. policy and culture and the decline of past great civilizations.
While I had read about (or watched documentaries about) some of the civilizations he mentions, which helps to reinforce that, yes, he’s accurate in he statements about what brought them down, it somehow never really clicked that the U.S. is following the fine details of their fall so closely, despite my having a general sense that the U.S. is an empire in decline.
The Father Of Mobile Computing Is Not Impressed: A Q&A With Alan Kay
A hugely insightful article about what computing actually is in the context of what it means for your brain, why the push to make devices like the iPhone like appliances is a step backwards (it has to do with the difference between oral and written culture and the effects on the brain of learning to write more than tweets and texts), and various other “why did nobody ever teach me about this” bits of insight that encourage further independent research.
Why the Past 10 Years of American Life Have Been Uniquely Stupid by Jonathan Haidt
A long and detailed exploration of how social media innovations such as the Like and Share/Retweet buttons, coupled with the effort to optimize for user engagement, have resulted in optimizing for high emotions and the easy spread of toxic memes (in the academic sense) in ways that are highly corrosive to society. (Including plenty of other supporting details and tons of hyperlinked citations.)
Articles and Videos on Copyright and “Piracy”
Finally, while they’re numerous and ongoing and, hence, not easy to include in the main list, Rick Falkvinge’s articles on TorrentFreak provide a very thought-provoking alternative perspective on the nature and history of copyright and the cause and meaning of the fight against “piracy”. (And, more recently on the topic, I’d recommend YouTube’s Copyright System Isn’t Broken. The World’s Is by Tom Scott and “Games as a service” is fraud. by Ross Scott (no relation as far as I know).

Also, while they’re not technically reading, I strongly recommend the following videos:

PHIL 176: Death with Shelly Kagan from Yale Open Courseware
A hugely eye-opening introduction to how to rationally discuss the nature of conscious existence.
The Backwards Brain Bicycle (Smarter Every Day, episode 133)
An eye-opening look at the limits of the idiom “like riding a bike”.
Why Avatar has the Most Ironic Soundtrack of All Time by Sideways
An interesting look into how much world-building went into James Cameron’s Avatar from someone whose deep appreciation for music clearly comes through in his words, and an exploration of the jaw-dropping parallels between how Avatar’s soundtrack came to be and the story itself.
A doctor who was brought in to understand the natives, only to be marginalized so her work could be leveraged to strip-mine what the natives have for maximum profit? Why does that sound so familiar?


  • Added “PHIL 176: Death”
  • Added “Targeted Advertising Considered Harmful”
  • Added “The Backwards Brain Bicycle”
  • Added “The Useful Idiocy of Donald Trump”
  • Added “Advertising is a cancer on society”
  • Added “Why Don’t We Just Ban Targeted Advertising”
  • Added “YouTube’s Copyright System Isn’t Broken. The World’s Is” and ‘”Games as a service” is fraud.’
  • Added “Why Avatar has the Most Ironic Soundtrack of All Time”
  • Added “The Father Of Mobile Computing Is Not Impressed”
  • Added “Targeted ads aren’t just annoying, they can be harmful. Here’s how to fight back”
  • Added “Why the Past 10 Years of American Life Have Been Uniquely Stupid”

CC BY-SA 4.0 The Most Eye-Opening Things I’ve Ever Read by Stephan Sokolow is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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