Last summer, I did an interview with the Singularity Blog podcast (my last interview was all the way back in 2012). As is my wont, I got to talking about Ada Palmer because she's just so durned brilliant.

This prompted host Nikola Danaylov to book in an interview with Ada, which has just gone live. It's 2.5h (!) and so worth every minute of it (!!).


I came for Ada's deep understanding of the Renaissance and how it relates to the current pandemic and I was not disappointed:

* This is the first pandemic ever experienced by a society that understands how pandemics work

* "Herd immunity" to Black Death may explain autoimmune disorders in Europe-descended people (plague killed those without an otherwise pathologically overactive immune system)

* Prohibiting selling meat from male and female animals at the same stall is largely ineffective


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But it got so much weirder, gnarlier and more fascinating. Like, "Would I be an atheist during the Renaissance" (probably not, I'd be a deeply heretical theist); and "Why Michaelangelo wasn't a scientist."

But the part that made me sit up and shout "Holy smokes!" was the discussion of whether technology is making us smarter, and Ada talked about how poverty is a tax on cognition, an idea I'd encountered before:


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Basically, if you are not economically precarious, you don't have to devote your attention to juggling your bills all day, so just giving people enough makes 'em something like 25% smarter - in the sense of "able to think about stuff that matters."


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The connection Ada made for me here was to the whole idea of Singularity and human improvement, many of whose top proponents are true believers in neoliberal capitalism who accept poverty as the cost of doing business, and acceptable given capitalism's project to uplift us.

But even the most rapid nootropic huxter or "brain training" aficionado couldn't, with a straight face, promise to make you 25% smarter.


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And yet, here we have a simple and uncontroversial mechanism to do exactly that for *the majority of the world.*

And yeah, this is antithetical to neoliberal capitalism, which assumes that the cost of providing Great Men with the leisure to pursue their vision is keeping part of the workforce so desperate they'll risk their lives in their boss's illegally reopened electric car factory.


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It was such an aha moment for me, though maybe it was obvious to you. Even if that's the case, I promise you there's something else in here that'll smack your gob. Just her definition of "science fiction" at the end is worth the ride.

Here's the MP3:

Here's the feed for the podcast:

Sanna Pudas



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@pluralistic Same with “women’s work" - raising kids, keeping the house going, tending to community & family relationships and needs, solving interpersonal problems. That plus poverty and you start to see why certain swaths of people get paid to do fun high-profile logic puzzles or craft projects all day and others don’t.

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