Underrated reasons to be thankful

Date: 2021-11-25T00:00:00+00:00

Location: dynomight.net

  1. That our atmosphere has low enough pressure and levels of deuterium that nuclear fission in air doesn’t cause hydrogen atoms to fuse into helium, meaning that the first nuclear bomb test in 1945 didn’t in fact ignite the atmosphere and engulf the planet in flames, which was still a bit of an open question when it happened.

  2. That the Earth hasn’t recently been hit by a solar flare as powerful as the 1859 Carrington event, which is good because that would set electrical lines around the world on fire, meaning months of power outages and simultaneous failures of food, transport, and medical systems.

  3. That human social behavior was shaped in an environment of small bands with repeated interactions, endowing us with instincts to be fair and punish defections that surely aren’t game-theoretically optimal now in anonymous late modernity but have positive externalities in making large-scale cooperation possible and without which society as we know it probably couldn’t exist.

  4. That humans didn’t evolve under strong alpha selection, meaning that 99% of us don’t get eaten by birds in our first moments of life as we crawl down the beach towards the ocean, which is nice.

  5. That the FDA, Health Canada, and the European Food Safety Authority all agree that at the doses humans consume, aspartame is perfectly safe—not genotoxic, not carcinogenic, does not cause an insulin spike—or at least has small, unknown harms, meaning that people with a sweet tooth can avoid the large, known harms of sugar with minimal exertion of willpower, and this is still true even though people for some reason seem to reject and despise this extremely lucky fact.

  6. That resistance to antibiotics appears to come at at least some cost to bacteria, meaning that there’s nonzero hope that if we invent enough antibiotics and cycle them or use some other tricks we can avoid a future where we return to the grim reality of the past where any small accident could be deadly.

  7. That English and Scottish people in the 1700s got really obsessed tinkering with stuff which led to the industrial revolution, if that really is why it happened in Britain and not China or Austria or wherever, and assuming it wasn’t inevitably going to happen somewhere. (Speculative)

  8. That an asteroid killed the dinosaurs after they had roamed the Earth for 170 million years, knocking evolution into a different basin of attraction that led within 60 million years to humans and higher intelligence and the industrial revolution and a world where not every animal spends every day in a constant state of war trying not to be eaten, which possibly the dinosaurs would never have done? (Very speculative)

  9. That the Earth happens to have a liquid outer core with electrical currents that produce a magnetic field which protects us from high energy particles which would otherwise at least burden us with more cancer and higher genetic load and possibly even make life impossible.

  10. That the hard problem of consciousness exists, i.e. that for whatever reason we have phenomenal experiences rather than being “zombies” which, while it’s dispiriting that this seems inexplicable in terms of any current or possible future physics, it’s cool that the lights are on in the universe.

    Oh, and also that the universe exists at all, and that life exists on at least one planet in it.

  11. That it happens to be a game-theoretic equilibrium to have a near-equal sex ratio, although honestly, I have no idea what things would be like if that wasn’t the case and maybe it would be fine.

  12. That private life exists and that markets, while we all (some?) appreciate their power to allocate resources, don’t permeate every single part of life, that there are moments of beauty and grace that aren’t best understood as competition and harnessed selfishness.

  13. That selfhood is possibly an illusion, and it’s all atoms bouncing around in the void, and there are no real boundaries between different creatures, and the idea that you are the same person you were yesterday is an illusion your brain-meat gives to you, which OK, isn’t obviously a positive thing but does give a sense of peace for those of who happen to have maxed-out existential angst stats. (Speculative)

  14. That due to some combination of nitrogen fertilizer, pensions, women’s rights, education, birth control, etc., an overpopulation calamity hasn’t yet happened and we might coincidentally stabilize at a level that’s somewhat close to what maximizes average utility, and without (mostly) needing to use gruesome methods of coercion.

  15. That large animals like humans seem to be able to develop sophisticated defenses against parasites that parasites can’t counter-adapt against, meaning that parasitism is way less of an issue for us than it is for smaller animals, which is good because parasites are bad.

  16. That even though we evolved as ruthless replication machines, we’ve somehow risen out of the muck and we currently find ourselves running cultural software that’s way out of sync with what game theory would dictate, and perhaps we can seize the moment and build a civilization that can tame the brutal dynamics that created us.

  17. That hokey unfashionable techniques like practicing gratitude turn out to have strong scientific evidence behind them, and several countries happen to have a preexisting holiday that’s already, at least in theory, dedicated to this practice.

  18. That even though the turn humans made from hunter-gatherer bands into agriculture pretty clearly made life worse, it eventually led to the industrial revolution and modern society which is way better than hunter-gatherer life, and people who doubt that should consider the percentage of us who used to die violent deaths.

  19. That even if, as most scientific-minded people seem to assume, there is no afterlife, that’s not ideal, but is much better than other possibilities like, say, being tortured for eternity.

  20. That Ramanujan existed, which means that humans not that different from you or me can have capabilities that seem impossible, which is a hint that—possibly with a little help—human potential might be much higher than it now seems.

  21. That humans happen to not be obligate carnivores meaning it’s possible to contemplate more (possibly, debatably, some people think, let’s not fight we’re friends) ethical diets without facing the kind of dilemma that vampires do.

  22. That it’s even possible to develop technologies to produce huge amounts of energy without emitting carbon and we happen to have developed them at a time where we at least could avoid the most extreme climate change scenarios with minimal impact on our lifestyles.

  23. That some unknown miracle blend of circumstances happened to arrive in Athens in 500 BC leading a tiny city of 250k people to produce Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Archimedes, Euclid, Hippocrates, Pythagoras, Thucydides, Herodotus, Aesop, Solon, Pericles, Aristophanes, and Sophocles, and that it might be possible to intentionally recreate such conditions around the world today and spur incredible human flourishing, and why aren’t we working on this? (Partially wrong, Archimedes, Euclid, Pythagoras, and Herodotus weren’t from Athens but spent time there, Hippocrates had no connection to Athens, and Aesop maybe didn’t exist.)

  24. That the Quakers settled in modern Pennsylvania, creating an example of a peaceful, tolerant, enlightened society that avoided war with native Americans—at least for a while—and piloted ideas like abolishing slavery, trial by jury, public education, and equal rights for women, a cheerful contrast to what was happening elsewhere at the time.

  25. That evolution happened to settle on this trick of “love” to serve the interests of reproduction rather than, like, causing us to feel like we’re being burned alive every time we don’t find mates or feed our kids or whatever, which there’s no obvious reason it should have done, and also I acknowledge the real pain some lonely people do feel.

  26. That even if humans can’t travel to other stars or galaxies with our fragile organic bodies, it’s probably possible for us to create artificial intelligences that can, and while it’s not great that they might kill us, it’s surely better than the light of consciousness vanishing entirely when the sun eats the Earth in 7.5 billion years, no?

  27. That the homeostatic theory of drug tolerance isn’t a 100% perfect law, which means that we aren’t entirely stuck with our bodies operating according to their own whims all the time.

  28. That we happen to live in a world where ideas are both non-rivalrous and hugely valuable allowing us to create things like small molecule drugs and no-knead bread recipes and semiconductor manufacturing techniques which are a gift to our descendants at least unless/until civilization collapses, and which makes the average utility of human life a concave function of world population rather than some monotonic decrease, giving us another tool to fight evolution’s greedy hand trying to drag us back into the mud.

  29. That the abstraction of “narratives” exists, allowing us to understand the world at least partially through the crazy messy process you’re undertaking right now rather than everything being a blind inscrutable idiotic evolution of the wavefunction, and also the world happens to be structured so that these “narratives” are powerful enough to actually partially explain at least some phenomena sometimes.

  30. That other animals have more cone cells than humans, e.g. birds with four and shrimp with up to 16, and so probably see colors we can’t even conceive of which, yeah, that limitation of our minds is frustrating, but it also hints that there are huge unseen dark continents of qualia lurking out there which someday we might find a way to visit.