Contemplative Neuroscience. I had a really cool IRL conversation with Kati Devaney at the Alembic about contemplative neuroscience and she sent me on a few reading rabbit holes. One was a Substack post she coauthered with Sasha Chapin about researching enlightenment. One big point they made was that the research is mostly either extremely light interventions on naïve target groups (mostly referring to Kabat-Zinn’s Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, or MBSR), or research into deeply enlightened people. But what would be really cool is uncovering the journey from naïve to fully awakened! One banger:
Some interesting questions:
- Which practices are most effective for which people?
- What factors accelerate meditation learning?
- Can we create useful reference states?
- How can we prevent adverse effects of meditation?
- Is there one kind of awakening or multiple kinds?
- Are there predictable effects of awakening?
She also got me curious about the neuroscience of meditation, and what kind of biomarkers we can look at while trying to understand it. A few random links
- Jhourney is a startup she’s involved in that I’ve tweeted about before, they are looking at EEG markers of the jhanas (among other things).
- There is some evidence that mindfulness increases gray matter: paper
- Kati has a paper showing that meditation induces lower default mode network relative to dorsal attention network
In general I find this area really interesting but a lot of brain signals have poor signal-noise ratio which can make it hard to study.
Claim: Social mobility is unchanged in England for 400 years. Gregory Clark wrote a paper about the inheritance of social status in England using a population of 422,374 English people through 422 years of history (1600–2022). He gets some really wild results. He finds that social mobility was unchanged during the entire period. Instead, social status seems to be strongly inherited. Even 4th cousins have correlated social status. This heritability is highly persistent, for example father-son correlation is not diminished when the father dies early in the son’s life. He has evidence to rule out direct wealth transmission as a mechanism; for instance having many children (meaning each child inherits less) does not affect heritability. Part of the reason the effect is so strong is that mating is highly assortative. Interestingly, there is no evidence of a “poverty trap” or “elite lock-in”: social mobility is symmetric and identical across the spectrum. See also podcast here.
Does China need more consumption? Paul Krugman seems to think so. As does the WSJ. When I heard this claim I was a bit puzzled: How would consuming scarce resources help an economy recover? I felt vindicated when Tyler Cowen posted similar skepticism with followup here. But the best explanation comes from Scott Sumner. In short, people are talking past each other. Obviously a better scenario is one in which Chinese consumers are able to consume more, but the more constructive conversation is to ask what sort of policy changes are under consideration and why China’s leadership is unable to easily chart a path through. Here’s how he frames it:
Here we can see what’s really going on: The CCP wants to allocate resources based on favoritism. Unfortunately, its favorite investments are not actually good investments, at least not in the sense of producing more than they cost. It is also unwilling to significantly devalue the RMB, which might be able to sweep at least some of the mispricing issues under the rug. As a result, it needs to allocate a lot of resources to its failing favorites and a lot of resources to propping up the RMB and there’s not much left either for good investments for consumption. You could say they need to allow more consumption or you could just say they need to stop misallocating massive amounts of capital. It’s all academic anyway because they are committed to digging in their heels. Something will have to give, but they may be able to stagnate and kick the can down the road for a long time.
Interview between Tara Isabella Burton and Bishop Barron. I didn’t realize she was a practicing Episcopalian! I found her book on the religiously unaffiliated (Strange Rites) a bit uneven but it’s one of the only books I’ve seen about how people in the new “unaffiliated” bloc actually have a lot of quasi-religious beliefs and practices. The book made it seem like she was unaffiliated herself. Maybe her conversion is recent. One interesting exchange: Barron asked her how she’d start a religious conversation with a “none.” She says social justice people would be easy to talk to, there’s a lot in common! It’s the people who believe in “doing whatever I want” as the highest value that are really hard to engage.