Can universal basic income fix a crisis that's already begun?
COVID-19 may strengthen the case for universal basic income, or an idea like it.
ANDREW YANG: Universal basic income is an idea that's older than America, where Thomas Paine was for it at the founding of the country, [he] called it the citizen's dividend. Decades later, Martin Luther King, Jr., was for it and he championed it before he was assassinated in 1968. And Milton Friedman and a thousand economists signed the studies in the late '60s saying this would be tremendous for both the economy and society. It received so much support that it passed the House of Representatives twice under Richard Nixon in 1971 and the only reason it didn't become law was that Democrats in the Senate wanted an even higher income threshold. So, universal basic income has been with this country for a long time and it actually became law in one state in 1982, where now every person in Alaska gets between $1000 and $2000 a year—no questions asked—from a petroleum dividend. It's wildly popular, has created thousands of jobs, has improved children's health, has decreased income inequality, and it was passed by a Republican governor who made this argument to the Alaskan people: Who would you rather get the oil money—the government who is just going to mess it up or you? And the Alaskan people said "us" and now it's so popular that a majority of Alaskans, which is a deeply conservative state generally, the majority of Alaskans said they would accept higher taxes to pay for this dividend moving forward.
My plan, the Freedom Dividend, would pay every American adult starting at age 18 $1000 a month or $12,000 a year. This would push every American adult to just below the poverty line, which is $12,770 a year right now. But this money would get spent in main street businesses, on car repairs, food and tutoring for your kids, the occasional night out, a hardware store. It would go right back into our economy and would create two million new jobs, would grow the consumer economy by eight to ten percent, would make our families and communities stronger, would improve children's health and nutrition, would improve everyone's mental health and productivity, it would decrease domestic violence and hospital visits. So, universal basic income is a powerful policy that helps improve human welfare and that's why I'm proposing it.
But does America really need it?
NEWS ANCHOR: The Labor Department is out with the jaw-dropping new numbers.
NEWS ANCHOR: Unemployment claims skyrocketing with 6.6 million people filing in the last week alone.
NEWS ANCHOR: It's still 1.5 million. It's still an enormous number.
NEWS ANCHOR: One of the clearly worst parts of what's happened over the last couple of months is it has taken a much worse toll on the African-American community.
WOMAN 1: I feel sad because I can't provide for my kids like I normally would.
MAN 1: Be uncertain about today or tomorrow you're just living moment to moment.
NEWS ANCHOR: Salcido had to lay off her all-Latino staff.
SILVANA SALCIDO ESPARZA: It's time to say goodbye to Barrio Cafe Gran Reserva.
NEWS ANCHOR: They do the jobs that other people don't want to do.
WOMAN 2: I'm ready to go back. I need to go back.
NEWS ANCHOR: Wall Street is set to open up higher.
NEWS ANCHOR: The NASDAQ set a record and passed the 10,000 mark.
NEWS ANCHOR: What a tear stocks have been on.
NEWS ANCHOR: There's a huge disconnect. You've got 30 million people out of work and the stock market and the NASDAQ is at record highs.
DONALD TRUMP: Together we built the greatest economy in history and now we have to bring it back.
LARRY KUDLOW: We still have a lot of hardship but it looks like we've hit a turning point.
SAAGAR ENJETI: More than 30 percent of Americans have not made their full housing payments for July, including 19 percent who made no housing payments at all.
NEWS ANCHOR: A nation in crisis and rapidly reaching an economic turning point. Americans started this year working; our unemployment rate was at a 50-year low, yet somewhere between half and three quarters of all Americans were living paycheck to paycheck, and that was before the pandemic, before the country shut down and put tens of millions of people out of work.
CHRIS HUGHES: I think that there is an emerging consensus that the economy, amongst voters, that the economy is not working for most Americans.
How did we get here?
JILL LEPORE: So, when the country was founded in the 18th century, its framers subscribed to an idea that progress is moral and that idea of progress came from Christianity, that pilgrim's progress is a journey from sin to salvation. Enlightenment philosophers like the guys who drafted the founding documents of the United States didn't share that, necessarily share that particular Christian notion of a journey from sin to salvation but they understood progress and the United States and its founding as an experiment would lead to political progress because it was designed to improve the lives of the most people, that people would act in a sense of a common endeavor, as a republic, that our obligations would be to one another in the form of community and that we should understand achievement as moral progress. That changed over the course of the 19th century when progress came to have a real technological cast. If you think about the railroad, the telegraph, the camera. People began to think about progress as advancing like a train on a linear track and each machine would make the world better because things would go faster, and goods would become cheaper. And very quickly that idea of moral progress was replaced by progress as prosperity.
So, by the 1980s there's such a reckless, a heedlessness in American businesses and it's the great mergers age, the kind of 'Wall Street' grubbiness, kind of like that Michael Douglas movie moment, that "greed is good" thing, that this heedless innovation is fine because this is how this 'creative destruction'—you know, this Schumpeter term that gets recycled—this is the engine of economic growth and nothing else matters: the public good, moral integrity, decency, goodness for more people, the health of the republic, all that matters is: Is it innovative? And then, by the 1990s: Is it disruptively innovative? Which is even more radically innovative that it disrupts existing models of business and disrupts existing industries. And so, you get this real embrace of heedlessness as an American value or as a corporate value, which is a complete abdication of the spirit of progress. And it's also designed, the whole ideology, it really is like a religion, it's very cult-y, the idea of disruptive innovation. It's designed to refute its own critics, it's designed to refuse critics, because among its principles is that the past doesn't matter. No one should ever study history or care about the past because if you're going to be a disruptive innovator, if all that matters is novelty, you don't want to know—if you're going to invent a new ride service you shouldn't study taxi dispatch because it will interfere with the creative destruction that you're capable of and it will limit your vision and it will make your disruptive innovation insufficiently innovative and insufficiently disruptive, so you have to abdicate the past. There is no concern with the past. People want to criticize you for failing? Oh no, failure is actually a virtue of disruptive innovation. It's a very self-contained explanation that, in my view, introduces an extraordinary amount of disequilibrium into a political system that is a republic, that is actually designed on the idea that, in many ways, businesses have to have the public interest at heart because the government is protecting their capacity to do business by creating civil order and safety for the transportation of goods and government provides all kinds of services that make it possible for businesses to thrive, therefore, businesses too have to be concerned with a healthy social and political order, with avoiding wild inequalities of wealth and income, with avoiding wild political turbulence. But disruptive innovation isn't concerned with any of those things, disruptive innovation is concerned with blowing things up.
ROBERT KAPLAN: If you lose your job in a city in this country, it's probably as or more likely that the reason you're losing your job is not globalization but it's technology-enabled disruption. It's changing. People are attributing it to globalization but it's probably as or more likely to be due to the fact that businesses are increasingly replacing workers with technology. Whole industries are being disrupted.
ROBOT: Hello, everyone. I'm a sorting robot. I know I look cute, but my skills are a lot more impressive. I can identify the information on each of the parcels effectively and sort them out precisely. My friends and I can process as many as 18,000 parcels in an hour.
TUCKER CARLSON: Why should we be worried about automation?
ANDREW YANG: Well, if you look at the backdrop, we automated away four million manufacturing jobs in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Missouri, and those communities have never recovered. Where if you look at the numbers, half of the workers left the workforce and never worked again and then half of that group filed for disability. Now, what happened to the manufacturing workers is now going to happen to the truck drivers, retail workers, call centers, fast food workers and on and on through the economy as we evolve and technology marginalizes the labor of more and more Americans.
I think it's going to be disastrous, where if you look at truck drivers alone, being a trucker is the most common job in 29 states, there are 3.5 million truck drivers in this country, and my friends in Silicon Valley are working on trucks that can drive themselves because that's where the money is. We can save tens, even hundreds of billions of dollars, by trying to automate that job.
ROBERT KAPLAN: Workers are far more likely today to lose their jobs or have their functions changed because of the technology-enabled disruption. Technology is replacing people. And, in addition, because of technology-enabled disruption, consumers have much more pricing power; they have the ability to shop with technology, that's putting much more pressure on businesses in terms of pricing pressure and businesses don't have as much pricing power. And that probably is rippling back through impacts on workers and their wages and may even be encouraging businesses to increasingly replace workers with technology.
CHRIS HUGHES: Often times the UBI is talked about, these days at least, in the context of the rise of the robots and pending technical unemployment, as a lot of people call it. And my view is that very well may happen. There's also a good argument by a lot of economists and other folks that this time is not different. What we know is that the future is already here and work and jobs in America have already come apart.
NEWS ANCHOR: When the coronavirus hit the U.S. economy it came fast and furious.
NEWS ANCHOR: There's the circuit breaker 25 49 48 and the bell.
NEWS ANCHOR: The nation went into a panic stocking up and shocking our supply chain as millions began working and teaching from home, our skies and airports emptied out, normal life canceled as millions of businesses big and small closed, pushing us into the worst global recession in history. Roughly 50 million unemployment claims filed in the span of just four months.
CHRIS HUGHES: I mean of all the jobs, nearly all the jobs that we've created in the past decade, have been part time, contingent or temporary. These kinds of very unstable, lumpy jobs—jobs with lumpy income cycles—and a guaranteed income of $500 a month would be a powerful force to stabilize the lives of people who need it the most. In some ways it's a down payment, if the robots do indeed rise and self-driving cars are on the roads in five years as some technologists predict, it will be much easier to build on a foundation of a guaranteed income of something like $500 a month than to begin afresh. So, my view is the idea of a guaranteed income is to solve the problems of today and in a way that it could be implemented immediately.
I've worked on cash and specifically using cash as a tool for economic mobility for several years now, first internationally and then domestically. And the thing about it is it asks fundamental questions about trust. If you give people money, can you trust them to make the decisions that are best for them? Will they use it responsibly or irresponsibly? And I think there's a sense, particularly in American culture, that is pervasive, of concern, that if you're going to give this money to young men they're just going to put up their feet and play video games or there's this pervasive myth of the welfare queen that people just want to stay home and live on government benefits. And I think the challenge for those of us who believe that those are very much myths is to amplify the stories, the kind of stories that I hear nearly every day.
"But we already have welfare!"
YANIS VAROUFAKIS: Universal basic income is a brilliant idea, especially in view of the failures of the welfare state. If you look at the welfare state now it has grown into a kind of securitized, weaponized system against the poor. It is a system for humiliating the poor, for putting them through various hoops to prove that they are "deserving poor". It's a very expensive system, both in terms of the emotional effect that it has on the people that have to prove that they deserve benefits and also in terms of the actual economics of it. So, the idea that everybody should have an income, independently of whether they are rich or poor, that comes from the collective and then that can be the basis for them to unfold their talents and their creativity without having to do demeaning work. This is a great idea. The question is where is this income going to come from?
Tax the rich?
JEFFREY SACHS: What I know, as an economist that has worked all over the world, including in the poorest places in the world, little bits can save lives and make futures for the children of this world at unbelievably low cost and it just gets me that we have $10 trillion here and we have kids who are hungry, dying and out of school over here. It's mind-boggling. Mind boggling to think of Jeff Bezos, for example, with a net worth, personally, individual net worth of, hold onto your chair, how about $163 billion. That's a lot of money. I'm myself an Amazon user. I think it's an awfully good service and product that he's developed, but $163 billion in a world where a lot of his workers struggle to get by, a lot of the people in Seattle, where Amazon is headquartered are homeless, where there are incredible needs that for a tiny fraction of that wealth could keep millions of kids alive and in school, you have to say, alright, the world economy is dynamic but it's not really exactly fair and it's not really oriented towards addressing everyone's basic human rights and needs, and can't we make the connection? And the answer is we have to. So, my thought is, at a minimum, $10 trillion? Come on put in at least one percent—that's such a tiny amount because your wealth grows at much more than that—put in one percent of your net worth per year minimum to help the kids. One percent of $10 trillion is $100 billion. And if you take out your paper and pencil or your Excel Spreadsheet you can show that for $100 billion a year, one percent of the net worth of just 2208 individuals, you could get every kid in school all the way through upper secondary education and you could establish universal health coverage for everybody in every low income country in the world. That's a pretty good gig for 2208 people. But they've got to get on with it. I think they have enough yachts, enough mansions, enough of everything, and it's really time for that wealth to be deployed for the purposes of our generation of children who utterly and desperately need it. And I say do it voluntary or if you don't do it voluntarily, fine, we'll put on a levy.
Or tax the corporations?
ANDREW YANG: So, the way I propose to pay for universal basic income is based on a problem we have right now in our country, which is that more and more work and value is getting sucked up and soaked up by a handful of technology companies. Amazon, for example, is doing another $20 billion in commerce every year and it's now pushing 30 percent of American malls and main street stores into closing. And so, for the average American, you're seeing your main street stores close and unfortunately being a retail worker is the most common job in the United States. The average retail worker is a 39-year-old woman making between $11-$12 an hour. So, the problem America is facing is that even as Amazon is soaking up more and more value, they're not paying much in the way of taxes. You probably saw the headline where last year Amazon enjoyed record profits and paid zero in federal taxes. And so, the way we pay for universal basic income is we put the American people in a position to benefit from all this innovation by passing a value-added tax, which is something that's already in effect in every other advanced economy. With a value added tax the American public would receive a sliver of every Amazon sale, every Google search, every Facebook ad, every robot truck mile and because our economy is now so vast, at $20 trillion, up $5 trillion in the last 12 years alone, a value-added tax at even half the European level would generate $800 billion in revenue, which combined with current spending, economic growth and putting this buying power into American's hands, cost savings on things like incarceration, homelessness services and emergency room health care, and then the value gains from having a stronger more educated more productive more entrepreneurial population—there's one study that showed if you were to reduce poverty in this country you would actually be increasing GDP by $700 billion just by making people stronger, healthier, better educated and mentally healthier. And so, we're going to be able to pay for this universal basic income if we put in a new tax that harnesses the gains of all these new technological innovations and brings them back to the American people.
Or create a public equity trust?
YANIS VAROUFAKIS: I, personally, don't believe it should come from taxation. And it shouldn't come from taxation for a number of reasons, one of them being political. If you take, for instance, a blue-collar worker that struggles all day in a factory or on a shop floor or working for Amazon, whatever, and you tell him—usually him, it could be a her—that another person will be sitting on the couch watching television being supported by the state to do this, you are creating a huge political clash there within the working class so I'm against that. But, if you say to the population, independently of which social class they belong to, that these days capital is socially produced, capital, capital goods. Take for instance the stock, the capital stock of Google. To a large extent it is produced by all of us. Every time we search something on the Google search engine, we are adding to the capital stock of Google. This is not just a consumer transaction. So, if capital is socially produced why are the returns to capital privatized? On what basis? To cut a long story short, my proposal has been for a number of years now what we call a universal basic dividend. So, I believe that a percentage of all shares, shares of all companies should go into a public equity trust, like a wealth fund for society, and the dividends should be distributed to every member of society equally. So, universal basic income but the income comes from returns to capital not from taxation.
CHRIS HUGHES: When the rubber meets the road there are really big questions about who pays for this and there's, I'm sure, lots of skepticism that tax rates should go up. I think ultimately though the case can be made that this is not just a moral issue that everybody should have basic financial stability, but also a practical one. And if we really want the economy to continue to grow and not face the kind of depression, which happened right after 1929, the year that inequality was last as bad as it is now, we're going to have to think about creative ideas that breakthrough like this. So, my hope is that particularly the earned income tax credit, which has been expanded by every president since Gerald Ford, Republican and Democrat alike, can be a framework for at least bipartisan dialogue if not consensus on a way to reboot the American dream and make sure that people have the economic opportunity that they want and deserve.
RAMESH SRINIVASAN: As a voter in the United States, I would ask our candidates to actually acknowledge and provide proposals that are realistic about how they are going to take care of workers and the middle class in the midst of these massive economic transformations that are aided by private, corporate-run technology that we're witnessing all around us. I would ask our candidates, again, in the United States election, to explain to us how they are going to maintain economic security in a country that becomes more and more economically unequal? How they are going to ensure that technological transitions are ones that benefit all of us? And how they can introduce work of the future where the digital economy actually works for everybody? And more than anything we need to pressure our companies that are making labor and work obsolete in the interest of "innovation"—it's innovation for whom is really the question—We have to ask them for all the jobs, for all the economic security you take away you need to provide us with something too. And here are all the different possibilities we can engage with, from thinking about universal basic income ideas to worker-owned cooperative ideas to regulatory ideas to competitive market ideas. There is a lot out there and I ask us all to maintain a little bit of optimism but push. We've got to push on all fronts. We are at an inflection point when it comes to top-down control over many different aspects of our lives through privatized corporate power over technology. We can work with these guys and try to push them to make sure that they restore balance in our lives.
- The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown millions of Americans into unemployment, highlighting the impracticality of living paycheck to paycheck, which a shocking number of Americans must do. Yet pandemic unemployment is just a glimpse of the fallout the US can expect in a future where more and more jobs are automated.
- Is universal basic income the answer? In this video, a range of experts from economists to entrepreneurs and historians explore different facets of basic income, like why we need it, how it's different to welfare, and how we'll pay for it.
- Yanis Varoufakis, Greece's former Minister of Finance, explains why he's not in favor of a UBI tax, but rather the creation of a public equity fund: "[T]hese days capital is socially produced ... Take for instance ... the capital stock of Google. To a large extent it is produced by all of us. Every time we search something on the Google search engine, we are adding to the capital stock of Google. This is not just a consumer transaction. So, if capital is socially produced why are the returns to capital privatized? On what basis?"
What's your favorite argument for (or against) UBI? Let us know in the comments!
- Universal basic income's colossal problem - Big Think ›
- Alan Watts was an early proponent of basic income - Big Think ›
- Martin Luther King, Jr. fought for a universal basic income - Big Think ›
- Why Elon Musk Thinks Universal Basic Income Is Inevitable - Big Think ›
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New data have set the particle physics community abuzz.
- The first question ever asked in Western philosophy, "What's the world made of?" continues to inspire high energy physicists.
- New experimental results probing the magnetic properties of the muon, a heavier cousin of the electron, seem to indicate that new particles of nature may exist, potentially shedding light on the mystery of dark matter.
- The results are a celebration of the human spirit and our insatiable curiosity to understand the world and our place in it.
If brute force doesn't work, then look into the peculiarities of nothingness. This may sound like a Zen koan, but it's actually the strategy that particle physicists are using to find physics beyond the Standard Model, the current registry of all known particles and their interactions. Instead of the usual colliding experiments that smash particles against one another, exciting new results indicate that new vistas into exotic kinds of matter may be glimpsed by carefully measuring the properties of the quantum vacuum. There's a lot to unpack here, so let's go piecemeal.
It is fitting that the first question asked in Western philosophy concerned the material composition of the world. Writing around 350 BCE, Aristotle credited Thales of Miletus (circa 600 BCE) with the honor of being the first Western philosopher when he asked the question, "What is the world made of?" What modern high energy physicists do, albeit with very different methodology and equipment, is to follow along the same philosophical tradition of trying to answer this question, assuming that there are indivisible bricks of matter called elementary particles.
Deficits in the Standard Model
Jumping thousands of years of spectacular discoveries, we now have a very neat understanding of the material composition of the world at the subatomic level: a total of 12 particles and the Higgs boson. The 12 particles of matter are divided into two groups, six leptons and six quarks. The six quarks comprise all particles that interact via the strong nuclear force, like protons and neutrons. The leptons include the familiar electron and its two heavier cousins, the muon and the tau. The muon is the star of the new experiments.
For all its glory, the Standard Model described above is incomplete. The goal of fundamental physics is to answer the most questions with the least number of assumptions. As it stands, the values of the masses of all particles are parameters that we measure in the laboratory, related to how strongly they interact with the Higgs. We don't know why some interact much stronger than others (and, as a consequence, have larger masses), why there is a prevalence of matter over antimatter, or why the universe seems to be dominated by dark matter — a kind of matter we know nothing about, apart from the fact that it's not part of the recipe included in the Standard Model. We know dark matter has mass since its gravitational effects are felt in familiar matter, the matter that makes up galaxies and stars. But we don't know what it is.
Whatever happens, new science will be learned.
Physicists had hoped that the powerful Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland would shed light on the nature of dark matter, but nothing has come up there or in many direct searches, where detectors were mounted to collect dark matter that presumably would rain down from the skies and hit particles of ordinary matter.
Could muons fill in the gaps?
Enter the muons. The hope that these particles can help solve the shortcomings of the Standard Model has two parts to it. The first is that every particle, like a muon, that has an electric charge can be pictured simplistically as a spinning sphere. Spinning spheres and disks of charge create a magnetic field perpendicular to the direction of the spin. Picture the muon as a tiny spinning top. If it's rotating counterclockwise, its magnetic field would point vertically up. (Grab a glass of water with your right hand and turn it counterclockwise. Your thumb will be pointing up, the direction of the magnetic field.) The spinning muons will be placed into a doughnut-shaped tunnel and forced to go around and around. The tunnel will have its own magnetic field that will interact with the tiny magnetic field of the muons. As the muons circle the doughnut, they will wobble about, just like spinning-tops wobble on the ground due to their interaction with Earth's gravity. The amount of wobbling depends on the magnetic properties of the muon which, in turn, depend on what's going on with the muon in space.
Credit: Fabrice Coffrini / Getty Images
This is where the second idea comes in, the quantum vacuum. In physics, there is no empty space. The so-called vacuum is actually a bubbling soup of particles that appear and disappear in fractions of a second. Everything fluctuates, as encapsulated in Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle. Energy fluctuates too, what we call zero-point energy. Since energy and mass are interconvertible (E=mc2, remember?), these tiny fluctuations of energy can be momentarily converted into particles that pop out and back into the busy nothingness of the quantum vacuum. Every particle of matter is cloaked with these particles emerging from vacuum fluctuations. Thus, a muon is not only a muon, but a muon dressed with these extra fleeting bits of stuff. That being the case, these extra particles affect a muon's magnetic field, and thus, its wobbling properties.
About 20 years ago, physicists at the Brookhaven National Laboratory detected anomalies in the muon's magnetic properties, larger than what theory predicted. This would mean that the quantum vacuum produces particles not accounted for by the Standard Model: new physics! Fast forward to 2017, and the experiment, at four times higher sensitivity, was repeated at the Fermi National Laboratory, where yours truly was a postdoctoral fellow a while back. The first results of the Muon g-2 experiment were unveiled on 7-April-2021 and not only confirmed the existence of a magnetic moment anomaly but greatly amplified it.
To most people, the official results, published recently, don't seem so exciting: a "tension between theory and experiment of 4.2 standard deviations." The gold standard for a new discovery in particle physics is a 5-sigma variation, or one part in 3.5 million. (That is, running the experiment 3.5 million times and only observing the anomaly once.) However, that's enough for plenty of excitement in the particle physics community, given the remarkable precision of the experimental measurements.
A time for excitement?
Now, results must be reanalyzed very carefully to make sure that (1) there are no hidden experimental errors; and (2) the theoretical calculations are not off. There will be a frenzy of calculations and papers in the coming months, all trying to make sense of the results, both on the experimental and theoretical fronts. And this is exactly how it should be. Science is a community-based effort, and the work of many compete with and complete each other.
Whatever happens, new science will be learned, even if less exciting than new particles. Or maybe, new particles have been there all along, blipping in and out of existence from the quantum vacuum, waiting to be pulled out of this busy nothingness by our tenacious efforts to find out what the world is made of.
- Benjamin Franklin wrote essays on a whole range of subjects, but one of his finest was on how to be a nice, likable person.
- Franklin lists a whole series of common errors people make while in the company of others, like over-talking or storytelling.
- His simple recipe for being good company is to be genuinely interested in others and to accept them for who they are.
Think of the nicest person you know. The person who would fit into any group configuration, who no one can dislike, or who makes a room warmer and happier just by being there.
What makes them this way? Why are they so amiable, likeable, or good-natured? What is it, you think, that makes a person good company?
There are really only two things that make someone likable.
This is the kind of advice that comes from one of history's most famously good-natured thinkers: Benjamin Franklin. His essay "On Conversation" is full of practical, surprisingly modern tips about how to be a nice person.
Franklin begins by arguing that there are really only two things that make someone likable. First, they have to be genuinely interested in what others say. Second, they have to be willing "to overlook or excuse Foibles." In other words, being good company means listening to people and ignoring their faults. Being witty, well-read, intelligent, or incredibly handsome can all make a good impression, but they're nothing without these two simple rules.
The sort of person nobody likes
From here, Franklin goes on to give a list of the common errors people tend to make while in company. These are the things people do that makes us dislike them. We might even find, with a sinking feeling in our stomach, that we do some of these ourselves.
1) Talking too much and becoming a "chaos of noise and nonsense." These people invariably talk about themselves, but even if "they speak beautifully," it's still ultimately more a soliloquy than a real conversation. Franklin mentions how funny it can be to see these kinds of people come together. They "neither hear nor care what the other says; but both talk on at any rate, and never fail to part highly disgusted with each other."
2) Asking too many questions. Interrogators are those people who have an "impertinent Inquisitiveness… of ten thousand questions," and it can feel like you're caught between a psychoanalyst and a lawyer. In itself, this might not be a bad thing, but Franklin notes it's usually just from a sense of nosiness and gossip. The questions are only designed to "discover secrets…and expose the mistakes of others."
3) Storytelling. You know those people who always have a scripted story they tell at every single gathering? Utterly painful. They'll either be entirely oblivious to how little others care for their story, or they'll be aware and carry on regardless. Franklin notes, "Old Folks are most subject to this Error," which we might think is perhaps harsh, or comically honest, depending on our age.
4) Debating. Some people are always itching for a fight or debate. The "Wrangling and Disputing" types inevitably make everyone else feel like they need to watch what they say. If you give even the lightest or most modest opinion on something, "you throw them into Rage and Passion." For them, the conversation is a boxing fight, and words are punches to be thrown.
5) Misjudging. Ribbing or mocking someone should be a careful business. We must never mock "Misfortunes, Defects, or Deformities of any kind", and should always be 100% sure we won't upset anyone. If there's any doubt about how a "joke" will be taken, don't say it. Offense is easily taken and hard to forget.
On practical philosophy
Franklin's essay is a trove of great advice, and this article only touches on the major themes. It really is worth your time to read it in its entirety. As you do, it's hard not to smile along or to think, "Yes! I've been in that situation." Though the world has changed dramatically in the 300 years since Franklin's essay, much is exactly the same. Basic etiquette doesn't change.
If there's only one thing to take away from Franklin's essay, it comes at the end, where he revises his simple recipe for being nice:
"Be ever ready to hear what others say… and do not censure others, nor expose their Failings, but kindly excuse or hide them"
So, all it takes to be good company is to listen and accept someone for who they are.
Philosophy doesn't always have to be about huge questions of truth, beauty, morality, art, or meaning. Sometimes it can teach us simply how to not be a jerk.
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.
In what is perhaps one of the weirdest experiments ever that comes from the category of "why did anyone need to know this?" scientists have proven that the Regimbartia attenuata beetle can climb out of a frog's butt after being eaten.
The research was carried out by Kobe University ecologist Shinji Sugiura. His team found that the majority of beetles swallowed by black-spotted pond frogs (Pelophylax nigromaculatus) used in their experiment managed to escape about 6 hours after and were perfectly fine.
"Here, I report active escape of the aquatic beetle R. attenuata from the vents of five frog species via the digestive tract," writes Sugiura in a new paper, adding "although adult beetles were easily eaten by frogs, 90 percent of swallowed beetles were excreted within six hours after being eaten and, surprisingly, were still alive."
One bug even got out in as little as 7 minutes.
Sugiura also tried putting wax on the legs of some of the beetles, preventing them from moving. These ones were not able to make it out alive, taking from 38 to 150 hours to be digested.
Naturally, as anyone would upon encountering such a story, you're wondering where's the video. Thankfully, the scientists recorded the proceedings:
The Regimbartia attenuata beetle can be found in the tropics, especially as pests in fish hatcheries. It's not the only kind of creature that can survive being swallowed. A recent study showed that snake eels are able to burrow out of the stomachs of fish using their sharp tails, only to become stuck, die, and be mummified in the gut cavity. Scientists are calling the beetle's ability the first documented "active prey escape." Usually, such travelers through the digestive tract have particular adaptations that make it possible for them to withstand extreme pH and lack of oxygen. The researchers think the beetle's trick is in inducing the frog to open a so-called "vent" controlled by the sphincter muscle.
"Individuals were always excreted head first from the frog vent, suggesting that R. attenuata stimulates the hind gut, urging the frog to defecate," explains Sugiura.
For more information, check out the study published in Current Biology.
A recent study analyzed the skulls of early Homo species to learn more about the evolution of primate brains.
For nearly two centuries, scientists have known that humans descended from the great apes. But it's proven difficult to precisely map out the branches of that evolutionary tree, especially in terms of determining when and where early Homo species first developed brains similar to modern humans.
There are clear differences between ape and human brains. Compared to apes, the Homo sapiens brain is larger, and its frontal lobe is organized such that we can engage in toolmaking, planning, and language. Other Homo species also enjoyed some of these cognitive innovations, from the Neanderthals to Homo floresiensis, the hobbit-like people who once inhabited Indonesia.
One reason it's been difficult to discern the details of this cognitive evolution from apes to Homo species is that brains don't fossilize, so scientists can't directly study early primate brains. But primate skulls offer clues.
Brains of yore
In a new study published in Science, an international team of researchers analyzed impressions left on the skulls of Homo species to better understand the evolution of primate brains. Using computer tomography on fossil skulls, the team generated images of what the brain structures of early Homo species probably looked like, and then compared those structures to the brains of great apes and modern humans.
The results suggest that Homo species first developed humanlike brains approximately 1.7 to 1.5 million years ago in Africa. This cognitive evolution occurred at roughly the same time Homo species' technology and culture were becoming more complex, with these species developing more sophisticated stone tools and animal food resources.
The team hypothesized that "this pattern reflects interdependent processes of brain-culture coevolution, where cultural innovation triggered changes in cortical interconnectivity and ultimately in external frontal lobe topography."
The team also found that these structural changes occurred after Homo species migrated out of Africa for regions like modern-day Georgia and Southeast Asia, which is where the fossils in the study were discovered. In other words, Homo species still had ape-like brains when some groups first left Africa.
While the study sheds new light on the evolution of primate brains, the team said there's still much to learn about the history of early Homo species, particularly in terms of explaining the morphological diversity of Homo fossils discovered in Africa.
"Deciphering evolutionary process in early Homo remains a challenge that will be met only through the recovery of expanded fossil samples from well-controlled chronological contexts," the researchers wrote.