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Jeff Bezos and the End of PowerPoint
So we live in a time when we look for wisdom from mega-entrepreneurs. I admit that they’re usually really smart and fascinating--not to say full of contradictions. Peter Thiel, for one, tells talented young people to skip college and get right down to entrepreneuring, while at the same time being convinced of the enduring relevance for his business and personal life of the philosophers Rene Girard and Leo Strauss--both of whom he learned about in college.
The mega-entrepreneur of the year is probably Jeff Bezos, who founded Amazon and very recently bought the Washington Post. Certainly lots of people are focusing their hopes and fears on what Bezos might do next.
Here’s one hopeful sign: Bezos has put PowerPoint out of his business. One reason is that he has a humane man’s aversion to cruelty. Think about how much time sophisticated Americans have spent enduring the torture of literally billions and billions of PowerPoint presentations over the last couple of decades. Where PowerPoint goes, intellectual enjoyment disappears. From my perspective as a teacher, what I mostly see is that PowerPoint makes both teachers and students lazy, as “coherent narratives” are transformed into bullet points. The era of PowerPoint is also the era of the buzzword or buzz-phrase, such as “disruptive innovation.” It is also, of course, the era of management-speak, “branding,” and such.
(Now my techno-savvy colleagues might well reply that the real issue is that I'm too old, stupid, and lazy to be an effective PowerPointer. I admit I've done nothing to prove them wrong.)
Bezos demands that his employees not use PowerPoint. Instead, they’re required to write “6-page narrative memos.” Before the meeting begins, everyone takes the time to read the whole memo. That, of course, doesn’t take that long, and reading, more than listening, focuses attention on actual arguments. And, of course, the person who writes the memo has to make make sense or be subject to attack, ridicule, or even being fired. Bezos has returned us to the obvious thought that the point of sentences and paragraphs and such is to facilitate clear and critical thinking. He noticed that too many of his employees were having so much fun designing PowerPoint slides that they were forgetting to think.
The truth is, of course, that PowerPointing, tweeting, texting, and even emailing and blogging have been hell on thinking.
(Yes, blogging. Many erudite scholars have questioned my obsession with getting ill-considered and error-filled ideas out there through the blog. Blogging can only be justified by the evangelical impetus to spread the good [and bad] news before it's too late.)
We can thank Bezos for reminding us of one point among many of a liberal education. Much of that education in philosophy, literature, political philosophy, theology, and so forth involves writing short essays. In the best case, those essays make an argument based on an argument, often embodied in a literary narrative. Now someone could object that it’s not “critical thinking” merely to repeat what Socrates or Shakespeare say. But it turns out that you have to be very attentive and patient to figure out what they’re saying, and that focused attention on reading and leisurely thinking about what you’re read actually gets your mind to work the way it should. The repetition of what Socrates says by another person is never simply a repetition. (If you read closely, you can even notice that when Socrates says he's repeating himself he's not really repeating himself.)
An argument isn’t only a matter of “logic,” but a nuanced attention to psychological detail and, more generally, actually seeing for yourself what people and the world are like. It turns out that the best philosophers, poets, and so forth are actually more empirical than the rest of us. And it’s great to see that the employees at Amazon are being led in a genuinely empirical direction.
What's the takeaway for teaching? Well, maybe every professor should have to provide students with a 6-page essay he's written on the relevant material each class. That might lead students to treat professors too much like employees. They already think of themselves too much as consumers. But still, surely this "teaching method" might be defended as better than lecturing or PowerPointing. It would also remedy the current oversupply of college teachers.
Maybe students should have to write a well-crafted 6-page "narrative memo" every week. And class time would be all about talking about what each student wrote. Our educational system would have to be innovatively disrupted--in ways that might be more expensive (but at least the money would be focused on learning)--to make that possible. We could tell the students and the other relevant "stakeholders" that we're getting them ready to work at Amazon.
Let’s hope that the disruptive innovator Bezos has shown us the beginning of the end of PowerPoint
A man's skeleton, found facedown with his hands bound, was unearthed near an ancient ceremonial circle during a high speed rail excavation project.
- A skeleton representing a man who was tossed face down into a ditch nearly 2,500 years ago with his hands bound in front of his hips was dug up during an excavation outside of London.
- The discovery was made during a high speed rail project that has been a bonanza for archaeology, as the area is home to more than 60 ancient sites along the planned route.
- An ornate grave of a high status individual from the Roman period and an ancient ceremonial circle were also discovered during the excavations.
Foul play?<p>A skeleton representing a man who was tossed face down into a ditch nearly 2,500 years ago with his hands bound in front of his hips was dug up during a high speed rail excavation.</p><p>The positioning of the remains have led archaeologists to suspect that the man may have been a victim of an ancient murder or execution. Though any bindings have since decomposed, his hands were positioned together and pinned under his pelvis. There was also no sign of a grave or coffin. </p><p>"He seems to have had his hands tied, and he was face-down in the bottom of the ditch," <a href="https://www.livescience.com/iron-age-murder-victim-england.html" target="_blank">said archaeologist Rachel Wood</a>, who led the excavation. "There are not many ways that you end up that way."</p><p>Currently, archaeologists are examining the skeleton to uncover more information about the circumstances of the man's death. Fragments of pottery found in the ditch may offer some clues as to exactly when the man died. </p><p>"If he was struck across the head with a heavy object, you could find a mark of that on the back of the skull," Wood said to <a href="https://www.livescience.com/iron-age-murder-victim-england.html" target="_blank">Live Science</a>. "If he was stabbed, you could find blade marks on the ribs. So we're hoping to find something like that, to tell us how he died."</p>
Other discoveries at Wellwick Farm<p>The grim discovery was made at Wellwick Farm near Wendover. That is about 15 miles north-west of the outskirts of London, where <a href="https://www.hs2.org.uk/building-hs2/hs2-green-corridor/" target="_blank">a tunnel</a> is going to be built as part of a HS2 high-speed rail project due to open between London and several northern cities sometime after 2028. The infrastructure project has been something of a bonanza for archaeology as the area is home to more than 60 ancient sites along the planned route that are now being excavated before construction begins. </p><p>The farm sits less than a mile away from the ancient highway <a href="http://web.stanford.edu/group/texttechnologies/cgi-bin/stanfordnottingham/places/?icknield" target="_blank">Icknield Way</a> that runs along the tops of the Chiltern Hills. The route (now mostly trails) has been used since prehistoric times. Evidence at Wellwick Farm indicates that from the Neolithic to the Medieval eras, humans have occupied the region for more than 4,000 years, making it a rich area for archaeological finds. </p><p>Wood and her colleagues found some evidence of an ancient village occupied from the late Bronze Age (more than 3,000 years ago) until the Roman Empire's invasion of southern England about 2,000 years ago. At the site were the remains of animal pens, pits for disposing food, and a roundhouse — a standard British dwelling during the Bronze Age constructed with a circular plan made of stone or wood topped with a conical thatched roof.</p>
Ceremonial burial site<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUzMTk0Ni9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NDgwNTIyMX0.I49n1-j8WVhKjIZS_wVWZissnk3W1583yYXB7qaGtN8/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C82%2C0%2C83&height=700" id="44da7" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="46cfc8ca1c64fc404b32014542221275" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="top down view of coffin" data-width="1245" data-height="700" />
A high status burial in a lead-lined coffin dating back to Roman times.
Photo Credit: HS2<p>While these ancient people moved away from Wellwick Farm before the Romans invaded, a large portion of the area was still used for ritual burials for high-status members of society, Wood told Live Science. The ceremonial burial site included a circular ditch (about 60 feet across) at the center, and was a bit of a distance away from the ditch where the (suspected) murder victim was uncovered. Additionally, archaeologists found an ornately detailed grave near the sacred burial site that dates back to the Roman period, hundreds of years later when the original Bronze Age burial site would have been overgrown.</p><p>The newer grave from the Roman period encapsulated an adult skeleton contained in a lead-lined coffin. It's likely that the outer coffin had been made of wood that rotted away. Since it was clearly an ornate burial, the occupant of the grave was probably a person of high status who could afford such a lavish burial. However, according to Wood, no treasures or tokens had been discovered. </p>
Sacred timber circle<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUzMTk0Ny9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY2MDAwOTQ4Mn0.eVJAUcD0uBUkVMFuMOPSgH8EssGkfLf_MjwUv0zGCI8/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C149%2C0%2C149&height=700" id="9de6a" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ee66520d470b26f5c055eaef0b95ec06" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="An aerial view of the sacred circular monument." data-width="1245" data-height="700" />
An aerial view of the sacred circular monument.
Photo Credit: HS2<p>One of the most compelling archaeological discoveries at Wellwick Farm are the indications of a huge ceremonial circle once circumscribed by timber posts lying south of the Bronze Age burial site. Though the wooden posts have rotted away, signs of the post holes remain. It's thought to date from the Neolithic period to 5,000 years ago, according to Wood.</p><p>This circle would have had a diameter stretching 210 feet across and consisted of two rings of hundreds of posts. There would have been an entry gap to the south-west. Five posts in the very center of the circle aligned with that same gap, which, according to Wood, appeared to have been in the direction of the rising sun on the day of the midwinter solstice. </p><p>Similar Neolithic timber circles have been discovered around Great Britain, such as one near <a href="https://bigthink.com/culture-religion/stonehenge-sarsens" target="_blank">Stonehenge</a> that is considered to date back to around the same time. </p>
Research reveals a new evolutionary feature that separates humans from other primates.
- Researchers find a new feature of human evolution.
- Humans have evolved to use less water per day than other primates.
- The nose is one of the factors that allows humans to be water efficient.
A model of water turnover for humans and chimpanzees who have similar fat free mass and body water pools.
Credit: Current Biology
Being skeptical isn't just about being contrarian. It's about asking the right questions of ourselves and others to gain understanding.
- It's not always easy to tell the difference between objective truth and what we believe to be true. Separating facts from opinions, according to skeptic Michael Shermer, theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss, and others, requires research, self-reflection, and time.
- Recognizing your own biases and those of others, avoiding echo chambers, actively seeking out opposing voices, and asking smart, testable questions are a few of the ways that skepticism can be a useful tool for learning and growth.
- As Derren Brown points out, being "skeptical of skepticism" can also lead to interesting revelations and teach us new things about ourselves and our psychology.