The Drive For Status And Science.Org
In a shocking pivot from institution of dispassionate empiricism to satire publication, Science.org attempts to usurp the Babylon Bee as online comedy powerhouse with its new article:
Here are a few snippets from this stunning piece:
Growing up, I asked a lot of questions. Many of them foretold my future in astronomy: Why is the Sun yellow? Why do the constellations look like that? Why does Jupiter have a spot? My parents answered what they could, and bought me books to answer the rest. But my most frequent question, starting when I was about 5 years old, was why am I a girl? And for that, my parents had no answer. In fact, in the 1990s, in the foothills of the Appalachians, no one did. It was my first encounter with a question that has no simple answer.
It faded in and out of my consciousness until middle school, when puberty brought feelings of dismay and disgust. Every day meant performing femininity while feeling increasingly isolated from it.
Going to pause briefly here to state that “performing femininity” just sounds like hatred of womanhood. Let’s continue:
On the academic front, things weren’t much better. In high school, I particularly hated freshman physics and its inflexible rules, which seemed to mirror the society I lived in. The same way we learned to expect a pendulum to swing, a block to slide down a slope, a ball to fall off a cliff, I felt I was expected to go to church, meet a man, marry young, and have kids. This seemingly inescapable trajectory left me depressed and numb to the world.
I went to college because I wanted out. I felt purposeless, hollow, void of meaning—but at the same time, standing at the crossroads to 1000 different futures. Like a particle atop a perfect sphere, I could have fallen in any direction. It was by pure chance that I wandered into a bookstore and saw Stephen Hawking’s The Grand Design on the front table. I cannot tell you what inspired me to pick up a book on cosmology. But I did, and in a few short minutes I had discovered a doorway into a new kind of physics—the kind of physics that doesn’t have all the answers, the kind of physics that disagrees with itself, the kind of physics that is messy and chaotic and, God forbid, fun. I changed my major to astrophysics the next week.
Over the following years, I learned about relativity, and how in the right circumstances time itself can slow. I learned about quantum mechanics, where anything can happen. Rules were no longer absolute. Things I had accepted as fact were really just approximations of unknowable truths.
There are a few points to make, some of which I haven’t seen made before, and hopefully later in the week we can break down these ideas more or find some fresh examples where they apply. This may sound like a tangent at first, but bear with me.
The first point is that the two most common base motivations in most people are desire for wealth and desire for status. Both desires have extensive implications as far as life outcomes go, and they derive their effect here by influencing our priors. For the sake of the discussion we’ll assume that these desires often don’t mix or exist simultaneously, and in my experience they don’t.
Desire for status is easier to see being the more ubiquitous of the two, with status being far easier to acquire than wealth. There are low effort behaviors that build status, like advocating an already popular cause or engaging in flattery. (I recently saw someone online mention two prominent English statesmen under queen Victoria, Benjamin Disraeli and William Gladstone. Disraeli apparently flattered the queen’s intelligence, and he was her preferred man. Flattery gets you everywhere they say.)
There also are institutions which confer status readily on almost anyone, like universities and now even the internet, and there are no institutions which confer wealth anywhere near as readily besides war and Las Vegas (gambling). No one says this often enough, but making money on your own wits is the hardest problem to solve in the world, and maybe by me saying this you can start to see the sort of priors that develop for both motivations.
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