How Alchemy Led to the Modern Economy
For a certain kind of economic conservative, the cardinal sin of modern governments is printing money whenever they please. Currency's value should be tied to something real, they say, as it was for Americans before 1971, when we were on the gold standard. Let there be a natural limit on the money supply! Let people have to work to create value! Alas, as Ron Paul once said, "too many politicians believed that a free lunch was possible and a new economic paradigm had arrived. But we’ve heard that one before — like the philosopher’s stone that could turn lead into gold. Prosperity without work is a dream of the ages." That line sprang to mind yesterday as I read this fascinating post by the economic historian Carl Wennerlind. It seems advanced thinkers in 17th-century England also thought creating money from nothing was like alchemy. They didn't mean it as a diss, though. They thought alchemy was great. They wanted to wreak alchemical wonders on the money supply, and if they hadn't succeeded, there'd be no modern world.
It's often said that hard-money financial conservatism is independent of social-values conservatism, but Wennerlind's historical delvings suggest that this distinction may be more a matter of emphasis than of essence. Social-values conservatism, after all, is premised on the idea that there are eternal truths about life that we cannot improve upon. Therefore what looks like "progress" to liberals is actually a falling away from an unchanging ideal.
That view of "social issues" sounds, to my ear at least, very like the view of economics propounded by mercantilists in the 17th century. Money, they believed, existed to sustain an unchanging and natural order in society, as Wennerlind explains in his description of their views: "When money plays its proper role as a measure of value and medium of exchange, society’s finite wealth flows to its appropriate place in the social hierarchy and the balance of power between different segments of society was maintained. When the proper balance is reached it is also possible to uphold the traditional social and moral order of the body politic." When the money supply was too tight, though, the nation's order was threatened. So the government should do everything it could to keep its gold and get more from other countries (for instance, by selling more to them and purchasing less).
After the Cromwellian revolution, though, a new philosophy of money arose in England, based, Wennerlind explains, on a different premise. Society, in the new view, wasn't constantly striving to keep itself in an unchanging perfect condition. Rather, it was expanding all the time—in knowledge, power, technical ability. The new thinkers didn't see a static nation whose economy needed a fixed amount of cash. Instead, they saw an economy that would just keep growing and growing and growing along with society. "The main challenge now," writes Wennerlind, "was to find a way to expand the money stock so that it could keep pace with the ever growing world of goods."
What to do, then, about the absolute limit on the amount of gold or silver or other valuable stuff in the world? The innovators' first notion of a solution, Wennerlind writes, was obvious: Make more gold and silver, by alchemy. This was, after all, long before alchemy was read out of the precincts of respectable science (many great intellects, including Baruch Spinoza, respected the craft and some, including Isaac Newton, even dabbled in it).
Long story short: Turning lead into gold didn't work out. So, writes Wennerlind, it was on to Plan B: Create money based on trust, rather than cold, hard metal. Metaphorical alchemy replaced the literal kind, and a good bank, in the words of one of these modernizers, would be "capable of multiplying the stock of the Nation, for as much as concernes trading in Infinitum: In breife, it is the Elixir or Philosophers Stone."
Wennerlind's point here is not simply that credit replaced alchemical voodoo as a means to create more currency without having to go mine gold. He's saying that, along with alchemy, many other ideas from the scientific revolution were essential to the birth of the modern economy. For example: When money is based on credit rather than stuff, people need to be sure they can trust the currency. The guarantees devised to solve that problem, were, according to Wennerlind, much the same as the guarantees scientists offered about the knowledge they were turning up in their experiments.
As scientists explained each step of their experiments, so banks would issue honest reports of their dealings, letting the public make its judgment based on shared facts. As scientists were expected to behave with aristocratic honor and integrity, so banks would be entrusted only to a virtuous elite. As scientists sought out fraud and punished it, so the banking system would root out counterfeiters, and punish them even more severely (generally, by hanging). This is why, Wennerlind said, 17th century intellectuals did not find it at all strange that Newton should take time away from his scientific pursuits to become, in 1696, the Warden of the Royal Mint.
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Whether or not women think beards are sexy has to do with "moral disgust"
- A new study found that women perceive men with facial hair to be more attractive as well as physically and socially dominant.
- Women tend to associate more masculine faces with physical strength, social assertiveness, and formidability.
- Women who display higher levels of "moral disgust," or feelings of repugnance toward taboo behaviors, are more likely to prefer hairy faces.
Beards and perceptions of masculinity<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjU5OTg0MC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NzkxMjM3N30.cH-GqNwP5GVqvstgJWAhBPn1B_lYpVEAI0I7iax7EQw/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C1900%2C0%2C849&height=700" id="caae6" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="cb0a355a4e8e1899789bc45f3f7aef56" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Photo Credit: Wikimedia<p>The study used 919 American (mostly white) women ages 18-70 who rated 30 pictures of men they were shown with various stages of facial hair growth. The photographs depicted men with faces that had been digitally altered to look more feminine or more masculine, with a beard and without a beard. The women rated the men according to perceived attractiveness for long-term and short-term relationships. The study found that the more facial hair the men had, the higher the men were rated on their attractiveness, particularly for their suitability for a long-term relationship.</p><p>Part of this might be attributed to facial masculinity — i.e. protruding brow ridge, wide cheekbones, thick jawline, and deeply set narrow eyes — which conveys information to a woman about a man's underlying health and formidability. Women tend to associate more masculine faces with physical strength and social assertiveness. It can also indicate a man with a superior immune response. The researchers suggested that their findings favoring bearded men could be due to the fact that facial hair enhances the masculine facial features on a man's face, like creating the illusion of a thicker jaw line. This could communicate direct benefits to women like resources and protection that would enhance survival among mothers and their infants. In other words, while a beard doesn't mean superior genetics in and of itself, it might be a primitive, ornamental way of saying, "Hey girl, I'm a testosterone-fueled lean, mean, pathogen fighting machine." <br></p><p>It could also be that a beard becomes its own destiny. The researchers in this study cite prior research that found that by growing a beard, men felt more masculine and had higher levels of serum testosterone, which was linked to a higher level of social dominance. They also tended to subscribe to more old-school beliefs about gender roles in their relationships with women as compared to men with clean-shaven faces.<span></span><br></p>
What does disgust have to do with beard preference?<p>Obviously, not all women dig beards. The researchers were particularly interested in what traits make a women prefer bearded men over clean-shaven faces. They looked into several factors including a woman's disgust levels on various concepts, her desire to become pregnant, and her exposure to facial hair in her personal life. </p><p>According to the study, women who were not into facial hair were turned-off by potential parasites or other critters they imagined could be in the hair or skin. Women ranking high on this "ectoparasite disgust" scale might have viewed beards as a sign of poor grooming habits. However, women who ranked higher in levels of "pathogen" did find the bearded men to be desirable, possibly because they perceived beards as a signal of good health and immune function. An intriguing discovery in the study was links to morality. Women who displayed higher levels of "moral disgust," or feelings of repugnance toward taboo behaviors, were more likely to prefer hairy faces. The authors opined that this could reflect a link between beardedness, politically conservative outlooks, and traditional views regarding performances of masculinity in heterosexual relationships.</p>
Additional findings<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjU5OTg1My9vcmlnaW4uZ2lmIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNDI1NjUyOX0.P9B8WbmJR0q4nfzYZKbuNSA-2SAigVWJgrQE-_Gxlds/img.gif?width=980" id="49143" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2ed3b1d6f20fc170bf2974646e565e8d" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />Giphy<p>The correlations that existed between married and single women's rating on the attractiveness of beards were not particularly clear, although the researchers noted that single and married women who wanted children tended to find beards more attractive than the women who didn't want children. They also found that women with bearded husbands found beards to be more attractive, which might indicate that social exposure to beards influences how desirable they are perceived of as being. Or it could be that men with wives who like beards grow beards.</p><p>It's important to note that culture plays a huge role in how attractive women perceive certain male characteristics as being. This study looked at a small, culturally specific group of American women, so no big, universal claims should be made about masculinity, facial hair, and male desirability to women. However, research like this is important in highlighting how human grooming decisions are driven by much more than fashion trends. Sociobiological, economic, and ecological factors all play a part in the way we choose to present ourselves.</p>
Dominique Crenn, the only female chef in America with three Michelin stars, joins Big Think Live.
Having been exposed to mavericks in the French culinary world at a young age, three-star Michelin chef Dominique Crenn made it her mission to cook in a way that is not only delicious and elegant, but also expressive, memorable, and true to her experience.
New experiments find weird quantum activity in supercold gas.
Quantum Mechanics, Onions, and a Theory of Everything<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="036ae7b8dd661df2d125a3421a0299ba"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/bcVruA0AJ-o?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Researchers say that moral self-licensing occurs "because good deeds make people feel secure in their moral self-regard."
Books about race and anti-racism have dominated bestseller lists in the past few months, bringing to prominence authors including Ibram Kendi, Ijeoma Oluo, Reni Eddo-Lodge, and Robin DiAngelo.