How Does Someone Become a Narcissist?

Are narcissists born or made?

Colloquially, narcissism often refers to the pursuit of personal gratification through the admiration of others, often for pretty superficial or vain reasons. Narcissism becomes a pathology when it disrupts relationships, work, financial affairs, or other parts of your life. Narcissistic Personality Disorder, then, is defined as “mental condition in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, troubled relationships, and a lack of empathy for others.”

Those with narcissistic personality disorder may exhibit all sorts of symptoms: an exaggerated sense of self-importance, a sense of entitlement, the need for constant and excessive admiration, superiority complexes, being preoccupied with fantasies about success and power, monopolizing conversations, belittling others, taking offense or angering quickly, and difficulty regulating emotions or dealing with stress.

Narcissistic personality disorder usually begins in adolescence or early adulthood, although it’s not extremely clear what causes some individuals to become narcissistic. Like many other personality disorder, though it is likely some combination of environment, genetics and neurobiology.

A 2018 paper “The Etiology of Narcissism” concludes, many studies have established that genetic factors contribute substantially to (1) the variations of various types of narcissism, (2) the stability of narcissism as well as its associations with other personalities, and (3) the distinctions between different types of narcissism. In the meantime, environments (mostly non-shared by family members) also play important roles in these situations.

From a more Freudian perspective, narcissism may be understood as a byproduct of family environments. The basic logic is, all children want their parents’ approval and so children adapt to their homes, and often the most productive and reasonable adaptation to some home situations is to become a Narcissist. As such, certain parenting styles that are overprotective or neglectful may have an impact, which may play out in the following ways:

  1. The Exhibitionist Narcissistic Parental Values: In this situation the child is raised in a family that is very competitive and only rewards high achievement. The family motto is: If you can’t be the best, why bother? Often for these types of narcissists, love is conditional. When you come in first in the race, win the science fair, or star in the school show, you are showered with praise and attention. When you do not, you are a disappointment. Everyone in the family is supposed to be special and prove it over and over again. No matter how much you achieve, the pressure is never off.

2. The Devaluing Narcissistic Parent: In this scenario there is a very domineering and devaluing parent who is always putting down the child. The parent is generally irritable, easily angered, and has unrealistically high expectations. If there are two or more children, the parent will praise one and devalue the others. Nobody in the family feels secure and everyone spends their time trying to pacify the explosive Narcissistic parent. Children will often respond by becoming defeated, rebelling, or becoming angry and destructive.

3. ”The Golden Child”: These parents are usually closet Narcissists who are uncomfortable in the spotlight. Instead, they brag about their extremely talented child. This type of excessive idealization of a child as flawless and special can lead to the child having a Narcissistic adaptation in later life.Everyone wants to be seen realistically and loved unconditionally. If children believe that their parents only value them because they are special, this can contribute to an underlying insecurity. No one wins all the time. No one is better than everyone else in every way.

4. The Exhibitionist’s Admirer: Some children grow up in a Narcissistic household where there is an Exhibitionist Narcissist parent who rewards them with praise and attention as long as they admire and stay subservient to the parent. These children are taught to uncritically worship the greatness of their Narcissistic parent without ever trying to equal or surpass that parent’s achievements. All their value in the family comes from acting as a support to the ego of the Exhibitionist parent. In this process, children may lose touch with their real selves and real likes and dislikes. Instead of exploring who they really are and where their true interests and talents lie, they can get off track entirely and spend their time only doing things that they are already good at and they think will get their parents’ approval.

A combination of three things are generally recognized as contributing to the child’s personality: the child’s inborn temperament, how they are parented, and the consequences of unintended and uncontrollable events that negatively affect the child. For parents who want to avoid exacerbating narcissistic tendencies in their children, supportive environments that encourage independence and maintain a healthy balance of attention may help. It may sound cheesy, but unconditional love just may be our most valuable bulwark against narcissism.

Are Some Animals ‘More Conscious’ than Others?

In recent years, debates about animal consciousness have moved on from the question of whether any non- human animals are conscious to the questions of which animals are conscious and what form their conscious experiences take. How can we make sense of variation in consciousness across the animal kingdom? Animal consciousness research rests on the idea that by identifying a host of behavioral, cognitive, and neuronal criteria for attributing conscious states, these challenges may be overcome.

Does consciousness come in degrees? If we ask ‘Is a human more conscious than an octopus?’, the question barely makes sense. Any single scale for evaluating questions such as these would end up neglecting important dimensions of variation. For this reason, rather than thinking of consciousness as a single spectrum, it may make more sense to adopt a multidimensional approach, not a single-scale approach.

What are the main dimensions of variation we can investigate? Researchers propose a multidimensional framework for thinking about animal consciousness:

  1. Perceptual richness: the level of detail an entity is capable of perceiving from its environment (for example, having a very good sense of vision that influences cognition)
  2. Evaluative richness: the range of emotions an organism can experience that allow an animal to evaluate a system (for example, a mouse will choose to endure a colder environment if it means sweeter food)
  3. Integration at a time (unity): an organism is capable of having a single perspective of the world (for example, humans experience everything we are consciously aware of as part of one common stream of thought)
  4. Integration across time (temporality): the experience of the world flows from one moment into the next and the ability to recall the past and simulate the future
  5. Self-consciousness: the awareness of oneself as distinct from the outside world

This multidimensional approach is not only useful for understanding animal consciousness, but may help us understand our own experiences in the world. And here are some amazing facts about animal cognition:

  1. Dolphins can read signs that have an action on it and call each other by unique names
  2. Ravens hold funerals for the dead
  3. Humans think that piranhas communicate with radio signals because studies show that piranhas have a great sense of hearing
  4. Narwhals live in packs of 15-20, though they could go up to thousands. They hunt in their groups and have rituals together
  5. If a baby dolphin swims away too often, it’s mother may trap it underwater for a few seconds without letting it breathe as a punishment.
  6. Crows can solve puzzles as well as 5-year-old humans

Will Trump’s COVID Diagnosis Change the Outcome of the Election?

In case you somehow haven’t heard, on Friday morning, President Trump tweeted that he and First Lady Melania Trump had tested positive for COVID. Like everything else at this point, Trump’s COVID diagnosis has been politicized, leaving one big question on everyone’s mind: how might this impact the election? Here are all the angles:

Campaigning and Fundraising: Advantage Biden

It’s no secret Trump heavily relies on rallies and in-person fundraisers to drum up support. The president’s rigorous campaign schedule – which included visits to Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Georgia, Florida and North Carolina in just the past week – is on indefinite hold.

The diagnosis may also hamstring Trump’s ability to raise cash for the final weeks of the campaign. Biden set another fundraising record in September, surpassing the unprecedented $365 million it raised in August. Trump fell $154 million short of Biden in August, and his campaign has pulled back on television advertising in swing states even as the Democrat fills the airwaves.

Meanwhile, it seems unlikely Biden will suspend activities while the president is off the trail, but his campaign may have to re-evaluate whether its recent activities should again be curtailed. Recently, Biden had stepped up his in-person campaigning, including a train tour of Ohio and western Pennsylvania on Wednesday.

Approval Rating: Advantage Trump

handful of world leaders contracted COVID-19 this spring and summer, most prominently British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. And with the massive caveat that it was not election season in the United Kingdom, support for Johnson’s Conservative Party held steady at 51 percent for weeks following Johnson’s diagnosis.However, it may have caused a small uptick in his approval rating, which rose from 62% to 66% after he was hospitalized.

Closer to home, three governors have contracted COVID-19: Oklahoma’s Kevin Stitt in July, and Missouri’s Mike Parson and Virginia’s Ralph Northam just last week. And while Parson’s and Northam’s diagnoses are too recent for us to have any polling data, Stitt’s popularity appeared to ebb after his diagnosis — though, of course, that could be due to any number of factors.

Polls: Neutral

Despite the turmoil this year, this presidential race has been remarkably stable. And Trump is extraordinarily immune to changes in the political-economic spectrum. On one hand, the public has consistently given the president low marks for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, so anything that puts the focus on the disease is potentially damaging for his re-election prospects.

On the other hand, historically during times of national turmoil, the American public tends to rally in support of the president. The Trump administration is notoriously good at dodging tough questions that will arise, and he and his wife will also be the recipients of national sympathy and prayers for the health ordeal that confronts them.

Trump’s diagnosis flies in the face of his previous messaging around the virus, often urging Americans to return to work and school and downplaying the risk. It will be interesting to see if his brush with COVID increases the seriousness with which he regards this disease or if the president may be further emboldened in his dismissal of it.

The Economy/Wall Street: Advantage Biden

I don’t think anyone fully understands the “animal spirits” that influence stock market moves, but if one thing is for sure, it’s that the market does not like uncertainty. The S&P 500 Index dropped more than 1% and the tech-heavy Nasdaq 100 fared even worse in early trading Friday morning. The political uncertainty could further disrupt whatever economic recovery was under way, as public confidence plummets and businesses again brace for a drop in revenue. With the economy being such an important boon to Trump’s campaign, a precarious economy may hurt his chances.

White House: Who Knows

What other political knock-on effects could come from this news could depend largely on how far the virus has spread in the upper echelons of US government and how the president responds to his treatment. There may be implications for the next COVID stimulus package and Supreme Court confirmation, but time will tell.

There is certainly a lot still up in the air. The president’s COVID diagnosis could change the election drastically or very little depending on the severity as well as how each candidate responds and adapts. For now, we’ll just keep refreshing the news every 10 seconds and hope for the best.

What Happens if a Presidential Nominee Drops Out? No One Knows!

So who thought it was a good idea to have the two oldest nominees running for President while a super infectious virus that disproportionately incapacitates and kills older people rips through society?

I think we tend to use the word “unprecendented” too often, and often when it’s unwarranted or hyperbolic, but this is truly unprecedented. There are no rules. If we’ve learned anything at all from 2020, the year of Murphy’s law, anything can happen. And the craziest, most absurd outcome is probably what will end up happening.

If a nominee is incapacitated after Election Day, it’s actually pretty straightforward: the 20th Amendment says the vice president-elect shall become president. But if it happens before the Electoral College votes on December 14 or even before Congress counts the electoral votes on January 6, it’s not clear what would happen next. (There is one instance of this happening in 1872, when Horace Greeley died just before the Electoral College convening, but it was pretty inconsequential as Greeley had already lost to Ulysses Grant).

Has a presidential nominee dropped out once an election has started? Nope!

Altering the Election? Delaying the election would require legislation, which means the House, the Senate, and the president would have to agree quickly on new dates. So, yeah, that seems pretty unlikely. Besides, it’s logistically too late to reprint and distribute ballots at this point. Millions of people voted already. The law recognizes that at a certain point, the ballots say what they say, even if what they say is no longer accurate. If people have already voted, some states allow them to spoil their ballot and cast a fresh one, but this would add stress to a system that is already beleaguered this year. This would put pressure on the party to choose the vice-presidential nominee to move to the top of the ticket—if early voters cannot change their vote for president, at least their vote would go to the person they had simultaneously voted for.

Replacing a Candidate? Although both parties provide rules for replacing a candidate, the process is not set. Even at this late date, if a candidate died or became so sick that withdrawing was necessary, party leaders would confer and select a replacement.The leadership in this case are the 168 members of the Republican National Committee, and the 400-plus members of the Democratic National Committee. (The RNC allows for the possibility of reconvening its national convention, but doing so this late seems unlikely.)

Counting Electoral Votes? Republicans did have this happen to a vice presidential candidate in 1912, when Taft’s sitting Vice President James Sherman died on Oct. 30, just days before the election. The RNC didn’t have time to meet and nominate a replacement on the GOP ticket, but it was also largely a moot point as Taft lost to Woodrow Wilson. The RNC did pick a new VP nominee anyway, who got all of Sherman’s electoral votes as his replacement. It remains unclear, however, whether a new presidential pick would receive the electoral votes intended for the original nominee today.

The 25th Amendment? The 25th Amendment provides for an incapacitated president to transfer power to the vice president temporarily, until he recovers. Section 3 allows the president to choose to do this; Section 4 provides for the vice president and the Cabinet to do it without his consent. What if the president invoked Section 3 but, expecting to recover, wanted to remain as a candidate? Or what if the vice president and the Cabinet invoked Section 4 and the president contested it, sending the case to Congress for a resolution, as Section 4 provides? The party rules are separate from this process, and thus there is nothing legally binding that would prevent a president who has lost his powers from remaining on the ballot. Even if Section 4 were invoked and the president lost the congressional vote, the Amendment is based on the notion that the president is allowed to keep trying to retake his powers. As such, it would be hard to use this as a basis to replace him as a candidate, though someone could try.

The permutations are endless and the entropy of 2020 continues to increasejsut one month til Election Day!

Why Do Humans Experience Time Elastically?

Why does time fly when we’re having fun? Our sense of time may be the most basic foundation for all of our experience, but it’s an unsteady and subjective one, expanding and contracting, speeding up and slowing down. Emotions, music, everything in our surroundings, and shifts in our attention, all have the power to change how we perceive of time.

Last month in Nature Neuroscience, a trio of researchers at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel presented some important new insights into what impacts our experience of time. They found time perception is connected to two things: 1. The mechanism that helps us learn through rewards and punishments; and 2. Our expectations about what will happen next.

“Everyone knows the saying that ‘time flies when you’re having fun,’” said Sam Gershman, a cognitive neuroscientist at Harvard University who was not involved in the study. “But the full story might be more nuanced: Time flies when you’re having more fun than you expected.”

“Time” doesn’t mean just one thing to the brain. Different brain regions rely on varied neural mechanisms to track its passage, and the mechanisms that govern our experience seem to change from one situation to the next. But decades of research suggest that the neurotransmitter dopamine plays a critical role in how we perceive time. Dopamine’s association with time perception is intriguing, in part because the neurotransmitter is better known for its function in reward and reinforcement learning processes. When we receive an unexpected reward, we experience a rush of the chemical, which teaches us to continue pursuing that behavior in the future.

It’s likely more than a coincidence that dopamine is so fundamental to both time perception and learning processes. Learning itself is basically the association of a behavior with its outcome, and therefore requires the linking of one event with another in time. 

When something unexpected but good happened — a “positive prediction error,” as researchers called it — the stimulus seemed to last longer. The unwelcome surprises of negative prediction errors made those experiences seem shorter. It basically tells us that our perception of time is going to be systematically biased by how surprised we are about outcomes.

The team showed that this pattern held quantitatively, with greater prediction errors correlating with greater distortions of perceived time. If humans stretch or contract their experience of time in response to signals, this might also alter their perceptions of how close or far apart certain actions and outcomes are — which could in turn influence how quickly those associations are learned.

There is still a lot to learn about the nature of how we experience time and the bidirectionality of learning, experience, and surprise.

How Congress Lobotomized Itself: 25 Years After the Death of OTA

On September 28, 1995, Amo Houghton stood on the floor of the House of Representatives and delivered what is probably the most heartbreakingly beautiful eulogy ever written about a technical government agency. Amo Houghton was a Republic Representative from New York, a former marine who served in World War II, and a devout Christian. He spent eighteen years on Capitol Hill building civility and bipartisanship. Serving as Co-Chairman of the Faith and Politics Institute, his co-chair and good friend John Lewis described him as, “a believer that we come into this world to make a contribution, to do some good.” 

“Mr. Speaker,” Houghton began his eulogy, “The Congressional Office of Technology Assessment, which served this Congress with such great distinction for more than twenty years, will close its doors.” Houghton described OTA as “a generous place,” a place where “colleagues became like second families,” and “Friendship, joy and grief” could be shared without regard to status and hierarchy. And also “one of the most important arms of Congress,” that provided a wildly impressive amount of “critical unbiased knowledge about science and technology.” 

Houghton wasn’t being hyperbolic. OTA was the global gold standard in institutes of its kind. A veritable juggernaut among apolitical institutes that amass, distill, and analyze cutting edge research to inform vital federal policy. Foreign Affairs touted, “The Office of Technology Assessment produces the best writing on security-related technical issues in the entire United States.” A former U.S. Trade Representative called OTA’s 1992 report on trade and the environment, “the Bible.”

Prolific, rigorous, innovative, deeply bipartisan, efficient, and kind; OTA was not like other governmental agencies. So, why get rid of it? 

OTA was first established by Congress in 1972. Rumblings for such an agency to be formed began several years earlier, with some Congressmen urging, “technical information needed by policy makers is frequently not available or not in the right form. A policy maker cannot judge the merits or consequences of a technological program within a strictly technical context. He has to consider social, economic and legal implications of any course of action.” This was true in the 1960’s and it’s so painfully way too true now. 

Governing throughout the Cold War and the Space Race, Senators and Representatives like Houghton realized they needed to really understand technology. Without this type of assistance, they had no hope of protecting the United States from nuclear war or beating the USSR at flinging primates into orbit. And the deficiency was striking. Throughout the 60’s, the House approved funding for all sorts of wild projects: strapping bombs onto bats, manufacturing artificial aurora borealis using lasers, designing a pill that would let you see in the dark, anti-ballistic man-made lightning, NASA. 

Appropriately, the OTA was introduced as a bill to Congress jointly by a Democrat from Connecticut and a Republican from Ohio, Daddario and Mosher. Mosher advocated, “Too often, we in the Congress are flying blind… we desperately need a stronger source of professional advice and information.” As such, OTA was designed to be a sole servant of the Congress, with the fundamental function of supplying, “more comprehensive, accurate, significant, technical advice. It will be created solely to help us do a better job.” 

On October 13, 1972, President Nixon signed the bill into law. Over the next 24 years, the OTA would produce over 750 assessments, background papers, technical memoranda, case studies, and workshop proceedings. Many OTA reports were among the most cited references on their subjects, landmark papers in every field of economy, environment, security, health, energy, and education. The OTA also tapped thousands of leaders from academia, non-governmental groups, and industry. It did this all on less than $20 million a year. This is still a lot of money. But if you consider that last year Congress approved over $934 billion in annual military spending alone, perhaps investing .000021% of that on actually understanding the defense technology and weaponry being funding would be prudent. 

For two and a half decades, OTA’s neutrality and success were widely lauded. Legislators on opposite sides of contentious issues often cited the same OTA report as a basis for their arguments. The conservative San Diego Union wrote, “the smallest agency on the Hill is the best in terms of efficiency and thoroughness. It is certainly the least political bunch–this is real sci, not political sci–in the world’s most political town.” In clear and simple language, OTA summarized the technical facts, identified problems, laid out alternatives, and analyzed costs and benefits. The reports informed and framed debate in terms of what was actually feasible and likely.

OTA avoided controversy and remained bipartisan. This became its undoing. 

In the 1992 elections, anti-incumbent sentiments created high turnover in Congress. Although Democrats still controlled both houses of Congress, the Republicans’ unusually large freshman class emerged as a powerful and aggressive conservative bloc. Two years later, the 1994 mid-term election brought the “Republican Revolution” and, with it, GOP control of Congress for the first time in four decades. Newt Gingrich’s “Contract with America” was the crowing jewel in the reform agenda that helped Republicans take the House of Representatives. Gingrich’s contract promised welfare reform, tax cuts, and massive cuts to congressional spending. 

Although OTA was by far the smallest congressional agency, getting rid of it would boost the Republicans’ budget-cutting credibility. Because it was a small agency, and a neutral one at that, it got swept up in the slashfest. Republicans claimed it was slow to produce reports. Newt Gingrich claimed the agency was an “unnecessary middleman” between legislators and experts. As a Gingrich spokesman told a UPI reporter in 2004, “Why would you put a filter between you and a scientist?”

I’ll tell you why, Newt Gingrich. Because if you’re not an environmental engineer, medical professional, nuclear physicist, or pharmaceutical chemist, you probably aren’t qualified to evaluate claims in those fields. And if you can’t evaluate differing claims through an analytically sound process, you might just be tempted to choose the claim that best fits your agenda. If Congresspeople get their information directly from “scientists,” they get to determine what constitutes a scientist. They get to pick their own experts. They get to pick their own facts. 

This changed the nature of Congress’s relationship to science and technology in several ways. First, getting rid of the OTA altered the fundamental structure of the economics of political expertise. Whenever you hear politicians bemoaning the “revolving door” of Congress, this is what they’re talking about. Without a designated agency to provide valuable technical assistance to Congresspeople, the door was open. Now, Congresspeople choose to solicit advise from lobbyists and consultants. After leaving Congress, Newt Gingrich, for example, started his own consulting firm which claims to bring in over $100 million every year. But it’s not just Newt. Of the 44 Congressmen and women who exited in 2018, over 2/3 moved directly into high paying jobs in lobbying and consulting. 

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Obviously, this creates perverse incentives. Senators know if they spend their time in Congress cozying up to lobbying groups, there will be a huge reward once they retire. Lobbying is a multi-billion-dollar industry, with the top 50 companies alone spending nearly $800 million annually on lobbying. If we’re calling it what it is, it’s a delayed bribe. And if you sell your soul, the payoff is enormous.

This isn’t only dangerous because it means public office will attract increasingly self-interested and greedy candidates, it also subjects every scientific truth to politicization. The role of OTA in Congress was more than a providing a practical service, it also had a normative function. At the foundation of any policy debate, lawmakers will need to first agree on a basic set of assumptions from which to expand. For example, everyone must first basically agree that mercury is poisonous if we want to draft a law that makes it illegal to put mercury in children’s toys.  With those foundations laid, Congressmembers could spend their time parsing specifics and ethical considerations, rather than wasting time and bickering over dubiously sourced data.   

As many others have already pointed out, this is the type of culture that erodes public trust in science. Without agencies like the OTA to vet scientific claims, Congresspeople can cite literally anyone they want as a credible source. They can cite rigorously peer reviewed literature or a vaguely labeled “expert” provided by the corn lobby. If there are no standards, everything qualifies as equally valid. The elimination of OTA opened a new channel through which money could buy scientific legitimacy and prestige, independent from logic or empiricism.   

Basic scientific values and realities had previously established guardrails for managing society, providing reasonable boundaries with respect to harm, risk, and benefits associated with a given decision. If the broadly accepted scientific positions, however, do not fit your political agenda, derailing policy debate into petty bickering can be an advantage.

If the ambition is to maximize short-term personal gain with no regard to long term societal cost, you’re better off not knowing that cost. There’s an upside to sticking your head in the sand. But on the spectrum of “ignorance is bliss” to “criminal negligence,” I’d argue our political system, as a whole, is unfortunately closer to the latter. 

There’s a term in computer programming called Conway’s Law, which states: “Every system is perfectly designed to produce the results it produces.” What the United States Congressional system produces is Senators like Ted Stevens, who gave a speech about the plight of Internet service providers in which he said, “I got an Internet sent by my staff at 10 on Friday and I just got it yesterday. Why? Because it got tangled up with all those things going on the Internet… the Internet is not something you just dump something on. It’s not a truck. It’s a series of tubes.” Which is objectively hilarious if you can forget it’s coming out of the mouth attached to someone who is ostensibly responsible for protecting Americans from cyberattacks on critical infrastructure.

Congress has designed a perfect system to produce ignorant lawmakers. It has designed a system in which Americans materially suffer because some politicians can make money by dividing us and stealing what should be invested in our future. Though it’s impossible to know the counterfactual – if and how things may have turned out differently had the OTA been maintained –the system we have now is, in fact, designed to exacerbate climate change and permit election meddling and kill over 650,000 Americans with heart disease each year.

On the day before the OTA closed its doors, Amo Houghton stood before the House and concluded his requiem for the agency he so admired. He looked up at Newt Gingrich. “Mr. Speaker,” he said, “OTA soon will be a memory, and we will discover what is lost.” Twenty-five years later, I think it’s fair to say we know what was lost. 

Size Does Matter: The Case for American Population Explosion

In his new book One Billion Americans: The Case for Thinking Bigger, Vox co-founder Matthew Yglesias identifies one of the few areas left where there is broad bipartisan agreement: China is challenging the U.S.’s place in the world and “America should aspire to be the greatest nation on Earth.” His solution, however, is not so conventional.

Whereas most politicians and academics have thought of our ongoing Cold War 2.0 with China as an issue that should be resolved through foreign policy, Yglesias suggests focusing on the domestic aspects may be more important. Particularly, a domestic policy somewhat hinging on momentum. If we’re not innovating and growing, we’re losing.

It’s a classic debate: does size matter? Yglesias says, “yes.” If America wants to compete with China in the decades to come, we need innovation, intelligence, and sheer mass.

A larger population would have some benefits. Historic data reveals immigration yields greater productivity both in the populations that migrated and the domestic populations. More people will likely spark more creative policies to support growth that would improve our housing, transportation, education and welfare systems.

How do we do it? Yglesias argues, “it would just require more immigrants and more programs to support people who want to have additional children.” Basically, the antithesis of China’s “one child policy.”

Family size is a tricky political and personal issue. Yglesias centers his argument around the gap between the number of children that women in America say they want to have (average 2.7) and the number of children they will likely have (1.8). There are certainly many reasons for this gap, many of which federal policy should stay far away from, but there is one we can address: cost. By pursuing policies like public support for day care, after school and summer programs, and universal financial benefits for parents, we may make it possible and more likely for the population to grow.

Where will the one billion Americans live? Yglesias points to population densities. Where there are roughly 93 people in the US per square mile, more densely populated European countries have nearly 1000 people per square mile. Even if the U.S. tripled its population, it would still have less than half as dense as Germany. We would need to seriously adjust the way we think about housing and land use policy, but it’s possible.

The downsides are not surprising: increased traffic, higher housing costs, higher levels of pollution, and less open land. And can we really beat China at their own game?

It’s an interesting read and a well-structured, logical book. Regardless of how you feel about a 3x increase in population density in America, Yglesias’ arguments for better supporting families through financial and social mechanisms are really compelling. If nothing else, it’s a welcome reminder to prepare for a brighter future and maintain hope in global power of the United States.

Is Being Bored Making Us More Violent?

It will be a long time before we understand what exactly the pandemic lock down has changed us. Will we be more socially awkward? Will we start to store some canned food and toilet paper in case of emergency? Will it always feel super weird from now on to get on an airplane? In the meantime, for those of us still under stay-at-home orders, we continue to bake bread and scrape the bottom of the Netflix watchlist to stave off boredom and maintain some sort of basic sanity.

There’s perhaps a tacit understanding that boredom isn’t good. We’re uncomfortable when we are aware of our boredom. But there may be a much more insidious impact to our collective languor.

A new study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology aimed to answer the question, what are the psychological reasons why some people enjoy harming others without any evident gain? Sadistic aggression – feeling pleasure from harming others – has long been a bit of a mystery to social scientists. Why would it possibly feel good to cause pain to another?

Because boredom is an unpleasant psychological state, researchers hypothesized that boredom may increase the change of sadistic behavior. Using questionnaires, they found that people who experienced chronic boredom in their daily lives showed more sadistic tendencies than their less bored counterparts.

Alarmingly, those who experienced greater boredom reported a higher chance of experiencing the fantasy of shooting another human being for fun.Moving to cyber-sadism (brutal internal trolling), they also found a strong statistically significant association between trolling and boredom. Anecdotally, this seems to check out as well. Social media is sort of a hellish void for bored people to say mean things.

In total, they conducted nine unique experiments, which ultimately revealed that boredom can actually motivate people to harm others for the purpose of experiencing pleasure.

I think this is important for several reasons. First, on a societal level, given the persistence of online trolling, parental aggression, and other types of sadistic behaviors, we may be able to reduce aggression by being more thoughtful about curbing boredom.

On a more individual level, I think this is a good reminder for us all to be a bit more kind to ourselves throughout the pandemic. I know that sounds a mushy, but the truth is, we don’t really know how isolation and quarantine may change how we think. We may be scared of our own thoughts sometimes. It’s like we’re all in some sort of twisted mind game and we don’t know even know what the rules are.

Whatever we are all feeling right now might not immediately make sense to us. We’re all confused and irrational. And that’s okay. Besides, having compassionate to ourselves and extending that compassion to others is really the only tenable choice.

COVID “Super-Spreader” Events are Ridiculously Expensive

How the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally generated over $12 billion in public health costs:

“There are some really good estimates out there that suggest that between 10% and 20% of cases are responsible for about 80% of transmission events,” said Maria Van Kerkhove, technical lead for the World Health Organization’s Health Emergencies Program, at a press conference.

Contact-tracing has allowed researchers to map the impacts of these “super-spreader” events, categorized as one person or gathering leads to an unusually high number of new infections. These events could be concerts, weddings, religious services, or massive conventions for motorcycle enthusiasts.

Beyond the dangerous health implications, these are also responsible for huge economic burdens. The National Bureau of Economic Research examined the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, a 9-day long celebration in which nearly 500,000 motorcyclists converged in South Dakota last month.

Using anonymized cell phone data, researchers documented smartphone pings from residents and non-residents as well as foot traffic at local businesses. Researchers found stay-at-home behavior among local residents fell while traffic in hotels, restaurants, and stores increased. A month later, the CDC confirmed an statistically significant increase of 7-13% in COVID cases in Sturgis.

NBER reports, “If we conservatively assume that all of these cases were non-fatal, then these cases represent a cost of about $12.2 billion, based on the statistical cost of a COVID-19 case of $46,000 estimated by Kniesner and Sullivan (2020). This is enough to have paid each of the estimated 462,182 rally attendees $26,553.64 not to attend.”

Whatever your political or scientific opinions may be able how COVID has been handled in the United States, I hope we can all agree we should do everything we can to mitigate both the virological and economic suffering associated with this pandemic.

Is a Spider’s Web Part of its Brain?

With the help of their webs, spiders are capable of planning, learning, and other complex cognitive tasks, challenging our ideas of intelligence.

Earlier this year, biologist David Robson published an essay explaining a new extraordinary king of consciousness. A consciousness found in spiders that allows their minds to extend beyond their bodies.

Spiders are basically blind, and rely on vibrations that ripple through their webs to interact with the world. Sitting at the hub of their webs, spiders pull gently on the threats to adjust how sensitive they are to these vibrations in different parts of the webs. And it works. When insects land on the tensed areas of webs, spiders are more likely to notice and capture them. And when spiders are gunfire, they tighten the radial threads, hoping to detect even the smallest prey.

When a spider sits at the hub of its web, it isn’t just passively waiting for vibrations. It is actively tugging and loosening different strands, manipulating the web in subtle ways.In this way, the tension of the web is a type of filter. The spider and web work together as a larger cognitive system in which changes in the spider’s cognitive state alter the web and vice versa.

Spiders also learn over time. If one section of the web catches more prey, the spider will likely enlarge that part in the future.

Further, the state of the spider’s nervous system can affect its webs. In the 1940’s researchers gave spiders caffeine, amphetamines, LSD, and other drugs. When dosed, spiders created irregular strange webs.

There is an ongoing debate about whether or not this constitutes extended cognition. Webs evolved over time into an extension of the spider’s body and sensory system, but does that mean it’s part of the mind?

It’s part of a theory of mind known as “extended cognition,” and humans utilize it too. For instance, we might like to think of our minds as contained in our heads, but we rely on a number of structures outside of our heads (and even outside of our bodies) to help us think. Computers and calculators are an obvious example. We organize our living spaces to help us remember where things are, we jot notes, and we take photographs or store mementos.

Spiders both passively receive information from their webs and actively manipulate how that information gets back to them by making adjustments.

This leaves the philosophical question to be answers about whether spiders use webs to form mental representations and, further, if this constitutes “consciousness.”

Even so, I think we can still learn something about ourselves from these spiders. All those interconnected threads are necessary and support each other in doing the web’s job. Similarly, our own brains do not operate in isolation. At the same time that we are using working memory, we are also using visual processing, and auditory processing. Our brains are deciding what to pay attention to, what to just handle subconsciously and what you to need to be consciously working with – a neural web.

So, take a moment to marvel at the incredible and fascinating construction that is a spider web before simply dusting it away. And thank you to the researchers continuing to pursue these questions!