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.
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

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”.

Update: Also, while they’re not technically reading, I strongly recommend watching the Yale Open Courseware recordings of PHIL 176: Death with Shelly Kagan. They’re a hugely eye-opening introduction into how to rationally discuss the nature of conscious existence.

Update: Added “Targeted Advertising Considered Harmful”

Update: Also, again in videos, The Backwards Brain Bicycle (Smarter Every Day, episode 133) is quite the eye-opening look at the true nature of the idiom “like riding a bike”.

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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