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Game of Thrones Episode 4: Debt, Destruction, and Dragons
Bronn never feels like he receives his due. Then again, he’s always trying to milk whatever he can out of a situation. While Jamie reminds him he’s from wherever—meaning, low-caste—the sellsword has relied on his wit and negotiating power as much as his swordsmanship. When Jamie throws him a bag of gold he’s flabbergasted that Bronn expects a castle.
Jamie, manipulator he is, knows he is indebted to Bronn, and will be even more so by episode four’s end (if he survives the deep river in all that armor). While Jamie fends off a dragon, Cersei is negotiating her own debt, one the Iron Bank immensely enjoys collecting on. Those interest payments bring quite a smile to Tycho Nestoris’s mug.
Brandon Stark too owes debt, one he sidesteps by claiming he’s no longer Brandon Stark. His unemotional retort to Meera’s plea for acknowledgement ends with his claiming the ghost in the machine has fled; he is now fully the Three-Eyed Raven. Apparently ravens aren’t indebted to anyone, having transcended the silly world of human emotions.
Bran has long been developing the indoctrinating blank-eyed stare all wannabe gurus practice. Back in the human world, though, debt exudes an emotional quality. People expect debts to be paid. This fact has been the source of much contention for thousands of years, ever since written language began as a means for keeping track of livestock. Our very ability to write down thoughts stems from an accounting ritual.
So it makes sense that everyone wants what’s due to them. Yet at the same time, the issue of debt has severe consequences, including financial inequality and social stratification. Debt has also long been assigned with spiritual dimensions, as the oldest record keepers were inevitably tied up with religious institutions.
The major source of the debate is highlighted by Nestoris, who is giddy at the interest the bank has been collecting to fund her war. There is precedent. In the Republic Plato warned against the dangers of excess and luxury. Leaders in the luxurious city, focused on “the endless acquisition of money” that “overstepped the limit of their necessities,” had to pillage neighboring lands in order to keep feeding their destructive appetites, which is exactly what Jamie is out doing when he runs into the Dothraki. Plato, recognizing that we have to work hard at cultivating an equitable society, championed moderation as the keystone of sustainability. The healthy city does not over-consume. Westeros is not healthy.
Aristotle shared his teacher’s suspicion about finances. Specifically he was critical of usury, which he called “the birth of money from money.” He believed money is sterile; when it breeds it causes a blight on social relationships. As an extension of the bottom line psychology that began with written record keeping, wealthy merchants began charging interest on loans, overturning a history of shared debt indicative of tribal societies. Moneylending immediately assumed a spiritual dimension regarding individual and social rights.
In her book, Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth, Margaret Atwood calls debt a “mental construct.” Whereas today we consider it a regular if despised part of functioning society, she reminds us that the huge interest rates banks and credit card companies charge is a form of greed, not an inherent biological function, as is the notion of “trickle down economics,” which implies a slow drip, not a gush of wealth. She continues,
Everything in the human imagination and consequently in human life has both a positive and negative version, and if the trickle-down theory of wealth is the positive, the negative is the trickle-down theory of debt.
A century before Atwood, Hungarian literary historian and critic György Lukács coined the theory of “thingification,” reminding consumers capitalism and the market are malleable. Like Karl Marx, he believed capitalism is built on avarice and greed. The mounting debts consumers face due to the perpetual manufacturing of products keeps them enslaved to titans of industry. British economist John Maynard Keynes went so far as to claim that the love of money is a mental disorder.
Which, if true, means there are plenty of mental health problems in large banks and creditors today, as it has been shown that addiction to money is neurologically similar to cocaine addiction. The necessity of claiming debts even exceeds death, as families are often held accountable for money owed.
Though life has changed much since those first papyrus scrolls documented scores of sheep and cattle, our relationship to debt has only become more acute. The NY Times recently reported that the culture Venmo is helping create a transactional culture insistent upon a penny:
Venmo theoretically should make these relationships less obviously transactional. Yet not only does it encourage pettiness, distilling the messiness of human experience down to a digitally precise data point, but by making it so easy to pay someone back for purchases as trifling as a coffee, the app arguably promotes the libertarian, every-user-for-himself ethos of Silicon Valley.
Part of what makes humans human is our capacity for altruism: you pick the lice from my body today, I’ll do the same tomorrow. Debt, especially in regards to usury, is an exploitation of that system. There’s nothing wrong with wanting returned what you leant, but the psychology of debt often leads to something more sinister, less humane: a sense of ownership, be it of property or people, the two at times indistinguishable, as Cersei shows.
This feeling of entitlement destroys our humanity. Some even expect that the “universe” or society owes them something simply for being born, which is antithetical to healthy psychology. Instead of feeling gratitude for being the result of a long history of biological forces, our cortisol levels rise when a friend ignores an invoice for last week’s latte.
Television shows provide comeuppance in a way reality rarely offers, as they are written more to reflect our desires than what we actually experience. Arya’s list is getting short but she wants to collect on her debts. Daenerys is owed what she believes has been guaranteed hers thanks to bloodline. Brienne owes a debt to her deceased queen, as does Little Finger, by his own twisted and self-serving logic.
The entire series is a series of paid and failed debts, all constructions of the human mind’s need for retribution. In that quest our minds usually seek something more, a payment above what we’re owed. By that mindset the destruction and death we loathe and crave occurs. As long as we think we’re owed something we will never find the peace we think we desire.
Derek is the author of Whole Motion: Training Your Brain and Body For Optimal Health. Based in Los Angeles he is working on a new book about spiritual consumerism. Stay in touch on Facebook and Twitter.
Join Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and best-selling author Charles Duhigg as he interviews Victoria Montgomery Brown, co-founder and CEO of Big Think, live at 1pm EDT tomorrow.
Richard Feynman once asked a silly question. Two MIT students just answered it.
Here's a fun experiment to try. Go to your pantry and see if you have a box of spaghetti. If you do, take out a noodle. Grab both ends of it and bend it until it breaks in half. How many pieces did it break into? If you got two large pieces and at least one small piece you're not alone.
But science loves a good challenge<p>The mystery remained unsolved until 2005, when French scientists <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~audoly/" target="_blank">Basile Audoly</a> and <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~neukirch/" target="_blank">Sebastien Neukirch </a>won an <a href="https://www.improbable.com/ig/" target="_blank">Ig Nobel Prize</a>, an award given to scientists for real work which is of a less serious nature than the discoveries that win Nobel prizes, for finally determining why this happens. <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/spaghetti/audoly_neukirch_fragmentation.pdf" target="_blank">Their paper describing the effect is wonderfully funny to read</a>, as it takes such a banal issue so seriously. </p><p>They demonstrated that when a rod is bent past a certain point, such as when spaghetti is snapped in half by bending it at the ends, a "snapback effect" is created. This causes energy to reverberate from the initial break to other parts of the rod, often leading to a second break elsewhere.</p><p>While this settled the issue of <em>why </em>spaghetti noodles break into three or more pieces, it didn't establish if they always had to break this way. The question of if the snapback could be regulated remained unsettled.</p>
Physicists, being themselves, immediately wanted to try and break pasta into two pieces using this info<p><a href="https://roheiss.wordpress.com/fun/" target="_blank">Ronald Heisser</a> and <a href="https://math.mit.edu/directory/profile.php?pid=1787" target="_blank">Vishal Patil</a>, two graduate students currently at Cornell and MIT respectively, read about Feynman's night of noodle snapping in class and were inspired to try and find what could be done to make sure the pasta always broke in two.</p><p><a href="http://news.mit.edu/2018/mit-mathematicians-solve-age-old-spaghetti-mystery-0813" target="_blank">By placing the noodles in a special machine</a> built for the task and recording the bending with a high-powered camera, the young scientists were able to observe in extreme detail exactly what each change in their snapping method did to the pasta. After breaking more than 500 noodles, they found the solution.</p>
The apparatus the MIT researchers built specifically for the task of snapping hundreds of spaghetti sticks.
(Courtesy of the researchers)
What possible application could this have?<p>The snapback effect is not limited to uncooked pasta noodles and can be applied to rods of all sorts. The discovery of how to cleanly break them in two could be applied to future engineering projects.</p><p>Likewise, knowing how things fragment and fail is always handy to know when you're trying to build things. Carbon Nanotubes, <a href="https://bigthink.com/ideafeed/carbon-nanotube-space-elevator" target="_self">super strong cylinders often hailed as the building material of the future</a>, are also rods which can be better understood thanks to this odd experiment.</p><p>Sometimes big discoveries can be inspired by silly questions. If it hadn't been for Richard Feynman bending noodles seventy years ago, we wouldn't know what we know now about how energy is dispersed through rods and how to control their fracturing. While not all silly questions will lead to such a significant discovery, they can all help us learn.</p>
A study looks at the performance benefits delivered by asthma drugs when they're taken by athletes who don't have asthma.
- One on hand, the most common health condition among Olympic athletes is asthma. On the other, asthmatic athletes regularly outperform their non-asthmatic counterparts.
- A new study assesses the performance-enhancement effects of asthma medication for non-asthmatics.
- The analysis looks at the effects of both allowed and banned asthma medications.
WADA uncertainty<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUzNzU0OS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxMDc4NjUwN30.fFTvRR0yJDLtFhaYiixh5Fa7NK1t1T4CzUM0Yh6KYiA/img.jpg?width=980" id="01b1b" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2fd91a47d91e4d5083449b258a2fd63f" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="urine sample for drug test" />
Image source: joel bubble ben/Shutterstock<p>When inhaled β-agonists first came out just before the 1972 Olympics, they were immediately banned altogether by the WADA as possible doping substances. Over the years, the WADA has reexamined their use and refined the organization's stance, evidence of the thorniness of finding an equitable position regarding their use. As of January 2020, only three β-agonists are allowed — salbutamol, formoterol, and salmeterol —and only in inhaled form. Oral consumption appears to have a greater effect on performance.</p>
The study<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUzNzU0Ny9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTIzMDQyMX0.Gk4v-7PCA7NohvJjw12L15p7SumPCY0tLdsSlMrLlGs/img.jpg?width=980" id="d3141" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ebe7b30a315aeffcb4fe739095cf0767" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="runner at starting position on track" />
Image source: MinDof/Shutterstock<p>Of primary interest to the authors of the study is confirming and measuring the performance improvement to be gained from β-agonists when they're ingested by athletes who don't have asthma.</p><p>The researchers performed a meta-analysis of 34 existing studies documenting 44 randomized trials reporting on 472 participants. The pool of individuals included was broad, encompassing both untrained and elite athletes. In addition, lab tests, as opposed to actual competitions, tracked performance. The authors of the study therefore recommend taking its conclusions with just a grain of salt.</p><p>The effects of both WADA-banned and approved β-agonists were assessed.</p>
Approved β-agonists and non-asthmatic athletes<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUzNzU1MC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxMzkxODk0M30.3RssFwk_tWkHRkEl_tIee02rdq2tLuAePifnngqcIr8/img.jpg?width=980" id="39a99" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="b1fe4a580c6d4f8a0fd021d7d6570e2a" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="vaulter clearing pole" />
Image source: Andrey Yurlov/Shutterstock<p>What the meta-analysis showed is that the currently approved β-agonists didn't significantly improve athletic performance among those without asthma — what very slight benefit they <em>may</em> produce is just enough to prompt the study's authors to write that "it is still uncertain whether approved doses improve anaerobic performance." They note that the tiny effect did increase slightly over multiple weeks of β-agonist intake.</p>
Banned β-agonist and non-asthmatic athletes<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUzNzU1Mi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzNjI3ODU5Mn0.vyoxSE5EYjPGc2ZEbBN8d5F79nSEIiC6TUzTt0ycVqc/img.jpg?width=980" id="de095" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="02fdd42dfda8e3665a7b547bb88007ef" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="swimmer mid stroke" />
Image source: Nejron Photo/Shutterstock<p>The study found that for athletes without asthma, however, the use of currently banned β-agonists did indeed result in enhanced performance. The authors write, "Our meta-analysis shows that β2-agonists improve anaerobic performance by 5%, an improvement that would change the outcome of most athletic competitions."</p><p>That 5 percent is an average: 70-meter sprint performance was improved by 3 percent, while strength performance, MVC (maximal voluntary contraction), was improved by 6 percent.</p><p>The analysis also revealed that different results were produced by different methods of ingestion. The percentages cited above were seen when a β-agonist was ingested orally. The effect was less pronounced when the banned substances were inhaled.</p><p>Given the difference between the results for allowed and banned β-agonists, the study's conclusions suggest that the WADA has it about right, at least in terms of selection of allowable β-agonists, as well as the allowable dosage method.</p>
Takeaway<p>The study, say its authors, "should be of interest to WADA and anyone who is interested in equal opportunities in competitive sports." Its results clearly support vigilance, with the report concluding: "The use of β2-agonists in athletes should be regulated and limited to those with an asthma diagnosis documented with objective tests."</p>
Certain water beetles can escape from frogs after being consumed.
- A Japanese scientist shows that some beetles can wiggle out of frog's butts after being eaten whole.
- The research suggests the beetle can get out in as little as 7 minutes.
- Most of the beetles swallowed in the experiment survived with no complications after being excreted.