Informative, but almost as if he's trying to hard to be skeptical. It seems like maybe he's putting his thumb on the scale of "we are alone." That's fInformative, but almost as if he's trying to hard to be skeptical. It seems like maybe he's putting his thumb on the scale of "we are alone." That's fine, but it's more in the manner of philosophy than science, and the man is a scientist. As with many books about SETI, there is no clear delineation for the lay reader for when we transcend established science and facts and go into bleeding edge hypotheses, or just into speculation. Fermi's Paradox, for example, is not a scientific theory. It is an argument—a philosophical one. The idea that life on Earth may have originated on Mars at least is a scientific hypothesis that can have evidence adduced in its favor or against it. That there is no known contact with or other evidence of other intelligent life is a fact.
But it seems that in this field so much rides questions that may not be dispositive of anything. We haven't heard them broadcasting on the few frequencies we've been listing on, from the few places in space we've pointed our antennas, for the 50 short years we've been engaged in the process.The question of whether there is (or was) life on Mars would only increase our data incrementally, and may even simply confirm that terrestrial and martian life are one. Indeed, any other life in the solar system can be dismissed by the ETI skeptic as simply expanding the argument from "Earth is special" to "this solar system is special."
It's been an even shorter amount of time since the first exoplanets were detected and an even shorter amount of time since we've been able to see ones with the basic properties of Earth, even in nearby star systems. The jury is still out. Putting the pieces together, out to the wildest speculations about computerized AI probing the universe, is fun and educational, but it is not dispositive about the existence or non-extstence of ETI.
Another ridiculous and irrelevant point that some people like to raise about SETI is that it's "not science." Even if that's the case, so what? Whatever it is, it's the search for an answer to an important question. And, anyway, what makes it not science? Is the statement "intelligence exists on other worlds" liable to proof or not? Of course it is. Can we use experiments, observations, and measurements to find that out? Of course we can. But even if SETI is merely an application of what we know from physics, astronomy, biology, geology, and other fields without being a "field" of its own—even if it takes grant money that competitors are jealous of, or telescope time that might arguably be better used, it is an important endeavor.
Davies wants to take the mere 50 years of SETI's failure as an excuse to correct its course due to what he calls some kind of bureaucratic inertia. Well, is that a long time? Sure. But in the grand scheme of things, it's hardly enough time to draw firm conclusions about anything at all. Radiotelescopy remains one of, if not the, most logical way to detect ETI. There are others, such as neutrino detection, that Davies points out. Davies also wants us to learn more about what is right here on Earth and in our own Solar System in order to refine our calculations. That's great, but the "Rare Earth" hypothesis, as I mentioned above, will just expand into the "Rare Solar System" hypothesis at that juncture.
People who want to dismiss SETI as just the latest search for angels are drawing overly facile comparisons. If everything scientists did was discountable because it had some parallel in the past, I'd hate to think of what such a censor would have made of the germ theory of disease (sounds just like demons!) or numerous other advances. That there is an almost theological yearning in SETI is no knock. To me, it inures to the credit of the project that it strikes at such deep feelings within us.
There is a fine line between skepticism and nihilism. Healthy skepticism brings out the best in big ideas; nihilism shoots them down for selfish reasons. Davies avoids the latter, but just barely (except his pointless attack on Carl Sagan's choice of baggage on the Voyager probes which sounds personal, as do some of the other "Inside Baseball" items). There is exciting and futuristic thought in this book. But it is a bit of a puzzle why a man leading the taskforce deciding how to handle a first contact seems so intent on poopooing that event. Who is he trying to convince? Is he maybe trying to quell his own passions on the subject? I don't know. But the fact that I'm asking means that there's more to science than this book, and that muddles its message.
In any event, a true skeptic says "I don't know" much faster than he says, "no." And "I don't know" is the answer to the existence of ETI, not "no." Not at this point. ...more
There is some really interesting information in this book. I am fascinated by the scientific study of personality, the sort of meta-layer of social peThere is some really interesting information in this book. I am fascinated by the scientific study of personality, the sort of meta-layer of social perceptions of personality, and the history of some kind of progress towards a more robust theory not only of personality, but of how to smooth the interactions between types and how to make the most out of our differences.
A good companion to this book would be Barbara Ehrenreich's Bright Sided which, if I recall correctly, also had a few historical points to make about the self-help movement. There has also been a lot of good work on evolutionary psychology which is working to make these theories more robust, many of which are in my Goodreads list.
Cain begins this book just like her legal training would have her do it. She narrates a story from her perspective, with her framing of the facts in order to focus us in on what this book is trying to accomplish: rehabilitate the "introvert." This is achieved with a few game-show trivia facts about some famous introverts and, then, a too cute gimmick of telling a story of an introverted lawyer whose refusal to conform paid off in the end: it was the author! I finished the former part wondering if introversion would cure cancer and the latter wondering if this book wasn't a sort of public tale of self-justification, an apologium.
Next, we're brought to a historical section designed to answer the question: how did we get this way, where we prefer the alpha status and the extrovert. Cain lays the blame at the usual tote-bagger* 20th century villains' doorsteps: establishment snobbery, the cult of personality, and flyover country religiously influenced self-help movements.
You see, before these infections spread, a more authentic and pure form of personality was accepted throughout America—the cult of character!
This got to be too much. FIrst, none of these things were so pervasive as to be, on their own, the cause of what's claimed they're the cause of. If anything, they are flashes of reflections of a change more likely brought about by the shifting of the population, new technology, and so on. Second, I just can't fathom that the appeal to an ahistorical vision of Victorian sensibilities is seen as more authentic (or less distorted by harsh modernity) than its successor era. Third, Conformity has gotten a bad rap of late. Yes, there are a few exceptions to the rule who seem to justify every deviance, every antisocial behavior, and every Social Darwinist claim about Galtian supermen and the way they carry all of us. Finally, the apparent sigh with which it was noted that John Quincy Adams (who lost both the popular vote and the electoral vote, but who was installed by his former colleagues in the House) was one of the only introverted Presidents.
Why, you mean someone who must win an election needs to be charming, gregarious (a word almost used to the point of becoming a slur for extroverts in this book), and outgoing?? Of course. Politics is not a realm for introverts, whether the term is limited to those who are shy or "introverted" in the quasi-Jungian sense defined by Cain. (As an aside, her victory over the circumstances story about being an introvert in law practice is less miraculous than it sounds. Those who aren't trial lawyers (what might be called a "barrister" in other countries) or litigators, and who do mostly transactional work—more like what they call a "solicitor"— are actually better off being pleasant and polished enough to gain the confidence of the client and thereafter simply being focused, analytical, and quiet).
Nor is anything involving democracy directly. For better or worse, humans are more or less wired to follow leaders who connect with them, though it is most certainly important for these leaders to listen to their quiet, strategic, and analytical (and potentially introverted) advisers and policy makers. To tell voters they're "doing it wrong" with respect to democracy isn't democratic.
Introverts are hardly the oppressed group painted in this book. They are just simply misused in certain realms, just as extroverts are. No one wants a belly laughing butler. To me, it would have been far more interesting to note incongruences between the purported function of certain jobs and the social conventions for the personality type most venerated by it. For example, Cain's after-school special about her negotiation with the banks could have been coupled by a story of an extrovert gaining purchase somewhere people think they don't belong.
The whole underdog leitmotif is distracting and needlessly contrarian—a short version would have made a good article for Slate. Is there really a cabal of extroverts keeping people down? No.
Social dominance and hierarchies are still more or less poorly understood in a scientific manner. And while we as thinking intelligent beings should not feel constrained by biology, we also should not be too quick to dismiss the adaptations that got us where we are. Without charismatic leaders to pull groups together in times of peril, groups could face annihilation.
We need other people. We need to interact. This means that we should accept that it takes all kinds. But I believe we should err on the side of being pro-social, something our society requires and our brains are programmed for.
I'm also somewhat confused what the controversy is. If Peter Drucker is saying that the best CEOs he knows lacked charisma and some were introverts, then it hardly matters how influential the learning style at Harvard Business school is. Even if every publicly traded company has a HBS graduate in it, not every publicly traded company has an HBS CEO. Just like just about every white European is descended from Charlemagne, but only a handful are royalty, the influence of the HBS technique can be overstated. As for Tony Robbins, I don't doubt that he is influential in certain sectors, but a self-help cult is not evidence of a broader social phenomenon. Has Cain met many lawyers selling her Amway products and Robbins tapes? I doubt it. It's more a marker of the middle- and lower-middle classes than it is a general phenomenon, if even that. That's the reason it may be news to Cain, who comes (apparently) from a different background, one more like mine.
Next comes the complaint about Paxil. Of course. It's so bad they're making us feel like we need to be chemical zombies to fit in! This is a slightly modified version of the tote-bagger* trope that complains about Ritalin in children. And it's usually in the same context: denying there's something wrong with *me* so I shouldn't need this drug and its horrible side effects. Society should simply conform to *me*!
So, if I were to mimic Cain's mode of arguing, I could suggest that every company that has a graduate of the Peter Drucker School of Management in Claremont, California is necessarily part of an effort to reduce charismatic business leaders. Now we can see this argument fails the soda-out-the-nose test and we can put it aside.
As for the claim that charismatic leadership is a "myth," I think I can avoid unpacking into an argument on the one hand and will be unable to rehabilitate at all. It is simply not correct. Whether or not Lou Gersten is an introvert or not is a purely anecdotal (ironically, an HBS-style case study) version of an argument. Cain fails to acknowledge that, for example, in the survival scenario, the introvert who failed to persuade the group will die if he can't save the group. It's not just that the others are being idiots and engaging in groupthink, it's that that individual is not saving the group either. They will *all* die and fail to pass on their genes. If the smarter one were really better adapted to the environment, he would persuade. This is not just a failure of the others or of the group as an separate entity. It's a failure of all of them individually and jointly. You can't dismiss that.
People listen to people who talk more. It is unlikely that that will change much.
The reasons for this are not part of a 20th century fad or a business school method. Rather, the latter are the effects of biological adaptations that we're only now beginning to understand. And, at least in situations where our genetics have counted, following that kind of leader—far from being a "myth"—has produced our civilization as we know it. Dismissing it as a myth, is, without hyperbole, calling into question human evolution. From the very beginning, we relied on others—some of whom were less fit in many ways—to work together to survive. Humans are social animals. Even if the introverted smart guy had picked the right stuff to save from the wreckage, he couldn't have carried it on his own. His odds of success go from 0% to something nonzero if he has another human that is no smarter than a pack animal. Again: we need people. We need to stop undervaluing others—something I thought was the thesis of this book until it became apparent that it was going to turn "extroverts" (or gregarious people as she sneers) into the latest incarnation of the high school football jock who beats up Daniel-san. Now, extroverts are killing people stranded in Labrador because they won't shut their mouths. Ugh.
I'm not sure where the switchover from some kind of general phenomenon to what goes down at Tony Robbins seminars and Harvard Business School happened. Is this book really just about the author's healing—or is it at all scientific? If charismatic leadership is a mere myth, we need an entire counterhistory for the end of Republican Rome, and more than half the leaders of countries that speak Romance languages in the 20th century from Mussolini to Peron to De Gaulle to Franco—and do I violate Godwin's law to mention that this was also a phenomenon of consequence in Germany and Russia? It's no myth. It may be perverse in its effects, some of the time or all the time, but it is not a myth. Perhaps this is why we have the sudden and unexplained jump to the corporate world—no more sighs about unpopular Presidents or other political leaders. I wouldn't be alone in suggesting that while he was certainly no Mussolini, Franklin Roosevelt was a charismatic leader who brought about sweeping change to the country. I might find more agreement with framing it this way from right of center historians who question these changes than from those left of center who downplay his charisma in favor of the need for the changes—but I think he, along with other American leaders such as JFK, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama are leaders whose personality was more important to their story than some particular policy they held firmly and quietly.
I had to stop reading about 20% in because I just didn't think I would profit that much by continuing. I already implicitly accept the only valid and sound conclusions I can draw from this book: charismatic snake-oil salesman do not necessarily improve shareholder value.
* Tote-bagger is used here as the kind of person who listens to NPR, shops at Trader Joes,may have entertained Jenny McCarthy's anti-vaccination movement briefly—definitely someone who is not a movement conservative—but who fails to call into question many if not most of the delusions they live by. Conservatives would call such a person a "liberal"—indeed this person is much like a conservative's stereotype of a liberal. But liberals would not agree, not at all, largely because this person is blind to their own white privilege, upper-middle class mores and outlook, and knows just enough to be dangerous but not expert in, well, anything you can talk to them about—except football. They wouldn't know about that....more
Most of the negative reviews about this book are from people who didn't get it. You can not like it for whatever reason--or think it's dated (it is a
Most of the negative reviews about this book are from people who didn't get it. You can not like it for whatever reason--or think it's dated (it is a bit) but if you claim that this is an instruction manual for faking higher status or a contributor to snobbery, you don't get it.
This simple question can reveal the truth of that: who goes unscathed in this? No one. It isn't written from an upper class perspective because they are made fun of just as much as the rest. If you think this book is snobbish, you may actually be proving its point about middles.
Very funny, insightful, and worth a read even 30 years on....more
If I was reviewing the idea in this book, it would get 5 stars.
As a book, there are few problems. First, just stylistically, I feel like I'm being lecIf I was reviewing the idea in this book, it would get 5 stars.
As a book, there are few problems. First, just stylistically, I feel like I'm being lectured by a precocious toddler about how to do things. The tone is professorial, to put it charitably.
Second, there is a bit of incongruity between a system explaining that you need to engage in scientific testing in almost Popperian fashion on the one hand and a series of case studies on the other. Case studies are, of course, the currency of business school. But they're about as scientific as the Psychic Hotline. And this is because sometimes science can only tell us that a system is complex beyond our divination.
Third, when I don't feel like I'm being lectured, I feel like I'm being sold. This book seems like a portfolio of the author's work with a few sexy add ins like Facebook for effect.
I'm not surprised that most of the reviews here are Goodreads are glowing. Most of the time, a brilliant idea is enough. The idea of taking an idea and turning it into something is exciting. But really, it is the execution that matters. That's really what the book is saying: it's saying, screw your original brilliant idea. Take it and evolve it! And do that using facts!
I saw Ries's interview with Gavin Newsom totally by accident. I was glad to see him talking about some of the challenges entrepreneurs face aren't solved by the creation of new tax loopholes. But his delivery only confirmed my sense from the book: a lot of people are going to be turned off by his baby face matched with his know-it-all tone. This is too bad, because folks shouldn't dismiss these ideas.
I do question whether this is something that can apply as universally as the author claims. The majority of examples in the book are web services that run in the cloud. They don't depend on the rainfall in Sacramento affecting the price of soy in six months affecting the price of an item on my menu. Some businesses can't adjust on the fly without significant destruction.
Now, with all those caveats, I will have to admit that I will be (perhaps more humbly) applying some of the ideas I found in this book....more
Do you have to be Jewish to get this? No, but it helps. And since I am and I do, I found this to be the by novel I've read in a long time. There are
Do you have to be Jewish to get this? No, but it helps. And since I am and I do, I found this to be the by novel I've read in a long time. There are sentences that have more juice in them in this book than altogether in others....more