We Are Happier When We Focus on the Future

(p. 1) What best distinguishes our species is an ability that scientists are just beginning to appreciate: We contemplate the future. Our singular foresight created civilization and sustains society. It usually lifts our spirits, but it’s also the source of most depression and anxiety, whether we’re evaluating our own lives or worrying about the nation.
. . .
A more apt name for our species would be Homo prospectus, because we thrive by considering our prospects. The power of prospection is what makes us wise. Looking into the future, consciously and unconsciously, is a central function of our large brain, as psychologists and neuroscientists have discovered — rather belatedly, because for the past century most researchers have assumed that we’re prisoners of the past and the present.
. . .
(p. 6) The central role of prospection has emerged in recent studies of both conscious and unconscious mental processes, like one in Chicago that pinged nearly 500 adults during the day to record their immediate thoughts and moods. If traditional psychological theory had been correct, these people would have spent a lot of time ruminating. But they actually thought about the future three times more often than the past, and even those few thoughts about a past event typically involved consideration of its future implications.
When making plans, they reported higher levels of happiness and lower levels of stress than at other times, presumably because planning turns a chaotic mass of concerns into an organized sequence. Although they sometimes feared what might go wrong, on average there were twice as many thoughts of what they hoped would happen.
. . .
Most prospection occurs at the unconscious level as the brain sifts information to generate predictions. Our systems of vision and hearing, like those of animals, would be overwhelmed if we had to process every pixel in a scene or every sound around us. Perception is manageable because the brain generates its own scene, so that the world remains stable even though your eyes move three times a second. This frees the perceptual system to heed features it didn’t predict, which is why you’re not aware of a ticking clock unless it stops.
. . .
, , , there’s precious little evidence that people . . . spend much time outside the lab thinking about their deaths or managing their terror of mortality. It’s certainly not what psychologists found in the study tracking Chicagoans’ daily thoughts. Less than 1 percent of their thoughts involved death, and even those were typically about other people’s deaths.
Homo prospectus is too pragmatic to obsess on death for the same reason that he doesn’t dwell on the past: There’s nothing he can do about it. He became Homo sapiens by learning to see and shape his future, and he is wise enough to keep looking straight ahead.

For the full commentary, see:
MARTIN E. P. SELIGMAN and JOHN TIERNEY. “We Aren’t Built to Live in the Moment.” The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., MAY 21, 2017): 1 & 6.
(Note: ellipses added. The word “central” in the first passage quoted from p. 6, appears in the online, but not the print, version of the article.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date MAY 19, 2017.)

The Chicago studies mentioned above, are discussed in articles in a special issue on “The Science of Prospection” in the Review of General Psychology 20, no. 1 (March 2016).

The commentary quoted above, is based on the book:
Seligman, Martin E. P., Peter Railton, Roy F. Baumeister, and Chandra Sripada. Homo Prospectus. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.

Workers Are Empowered, Not Threatened, by Robots

(p. A15) Most computer scientists agree that predictions about robots stealing jobs are greatly exaggerated. Rather than worrying about an impending Singularity, consider instead what we might call Multiplicity: diverse groups of people and machines working together to solve problems.
Multiplicity is not science fiction. A combination of machine learning, the wisdom of crowds, and cloud computing already underlies tasks Americans perform every day: searching for documents, filtering spam emails, translating between languages, finding news and movies, navigating maps, and organizing photos and videos.
Consider Google’s search engine. It runs on a set of algorithms with input from a large number of human users who share valuable feedback every time they click on or skip over a link. The same is true for spam filters. Every time someone marks an email as spam or overrides a filter, it helps fine-tune the system for determining what is relevant.
. . .
Multiplicity is collaborative instead of combative. Rather than discourage the human workers of the world, this new frontier has the potential to empower them.

For the full commentary, see:
Ken Goldberg. “The Robot-Human Alliance; Call it Multiplicity: diverse groups of people and machines working together.” The Wall Street Journal (Mon., June 12, 2017): A15.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date June 11, 2017.)

The Individual Can Still Matter–How Diego “Saved His Species”

(p. 1) Diego has fathered hundreds of progeny — 350 by conservative counts, some 800 by more imaginative estimates. Whatever the figure, it is welcome news for his species, Chelonoidis hoodensis, which was stumbling toward extinction in the 1970s. Barely more than a dozen of his kin were left then, most of them female.
Then came Diego, returned to the Galápagos in 1977 from the San Diego Zoo.
“He’ll keep reproducing until death,” said Freddy Villalva, who watches over Diego and many of his descendants at a breeding center at this research facility, situated on a rocky volcanic shoreline. The tortoises typically live more than 100 years.
. . .
(p. 7) Diego, and his offspring, are part of one of the most high-profile efforts to keep Galápagos tortoise populations thriving. The tortoise, estimated to be perhaps a century old, is one of the main drivers of a remarkable recovery of the hoodensis species — now more than 1,000 strong on their native island of Española, one of the dozen Galápagos islands.

For the full story, see:
NICHOLAS CASEY. “Meet Diego, a Giant (and Prolific) Tortoise Who Saved His Species.” The New York Times, First Section (Sun., MARCH 12, 2017): 1 & 7.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date MARCH 11, 2017, and has the title “Meet Diego, the Centenarian Whose Sex Drive Saved His Species.”)

Walls and a Door Allow “a Quiet Place to Think”

(p. B6) The lofty building Jordan Hamad moved his tech-advisory firm into four years ago had the trappings of a startup idyll: open floor plan, polished concrete floors, custom-built communal tables.
Soon, the 33-year-old founder of Chairseven says he craved something else: walls and a door.
. . .
Now as he moves the company from Portland, Ore., to New York, Mr. Hamad has joined a cadre of bosses chucking the egalitarianism of working alongside their employees for the old-fashioned private office. Their open-office revolt, they say, is less about reclaiming the corner office than about needing a quiet place to think.
“People will say it’s so cool to have the CEO right next to you, but at the end of the day your team sometimes needs their space and you need yours,” says Mr. Hamad, who currently leases a private office for himself and co-working space for other staff. Other senior team members will soon get private office space, too, he says.
. . .
In a review of more than 100 studies of work environments, British researchers found that despite improving communication in some instances, open-office spaces hurt workers’ motivation and ability to focus.
. . .
“When you’re in a territory that’s clearly yours, you perform better,” says Sally Augustin, an environmental psychologist and principal at La Grange Park, Ill.-based consulting firm Design With Science.
. . .
Open offices are so popular among tech companies that when CircleCI’s founders moved the software-testing startup from an open space in San Francisco to one with 25 closed offices in 2014, it paid half the market rental rate, says co-founder Paul Biggar. In Silicon Valley, many people are “playing startup,” he says, emulating the open spaces of tech giants such as Google Inc.
In reality, he says, engineers need quiet places to concentrate–and so does he. “I love the private office,” he says.

For the full commentary, see:
Vanessa Fuhrmans. “Bosses Say they Want Their Offices Back.” The Wall Street Journal (Tues., May 23, 2017): B6.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date May 22, 2017, and has the title “CEOs Want Their Offices Back.” The following sentence, quoted above, appears in the online, but not the print, version of the article: “Other senior team members will soon get private office space, too, he says.”)

Bill of Rights Is “Gutted” by Bureaucrats’ Administrative Law

(p. A13) Unelected bureaucrats not only write their own laws, they also interpret these laws and enforce them in their own courts with their own judges. All this is in blatant violation of the Constitution, says Mr. Hamburger, 60, a constitutional scholar and winner of the Manhattan Institute’s Hayek Prize last year for his scholarly 2014 book, “Is Administrative Law Unlawful?” (Spoiler alert: Yes.)
“Essentially, much of the Bill of Rights has been gutted,” he says, sitting in his office at Columbia Law School. “The government can choose to proceed against you in a trial in court with constitutional processes, or it can use an administrative proceeding where you don’t have the right to be heard by a real judge or a jury and you don’t have the full due process of law. Our fundamental procedural freedoms, which once were guarantees, have become mere options.”
​In volume and complexity, the edicts from federal agencies exceed the laws passed by Congress by orders of magnitude. “The administrative state has become the government’s predominant mode of contact with citizens,” Mr. Hamburger says. “Ultimately this is not about the politics of left or right. Unlawful government power should worry everybody.”

For the full interview, see:

John Tierney, interviewer. “The Tyranny of the Administrative State.” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., June 10, 2017): A13.

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date June 9, 2017.)

The book by Hamburger mentioned in the passage quoted above, is:
Hamburger, Philip. Is Administrative Law Unlawful? Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 2014.

Silicon Valley “Oligarchs” Block Upward Mobility of Masses

Bill Gates, Jaron Lanier, Tim Berners-Lee, and others have suggested that a fairer system of information technology property rights would enable micropayments for intellectual content posted to blogs and Facebook. This also would allow upward mobility. The value of the intellectual contributions is currently being unfairly appropriated by mega-server companies such as Google and Facebook.

A different kind of socialism

The oligarchs of the Bay Area have a problem: They must square their progressive worldview with their enormous wealth. They certainly are not socialists in the traditional sense. They see their riches not as a result of class advantages, but rather as reflective of their meritocratic superiority. As former TechCrunch reporter Gregory Ferenstein has observed, they embrace massive inequality as both a given and a logical outcome of the new economy.

The nerd estate is definitely not stupid, and like rulers everywhere, they worry about a revolt of the masses, and even the unionization of their companies. Their gambit is to expand the welfare state to keep the hoi polloi in line. Many, including Mark Zuckerberg, now favor an income stipend that could prevent mass homelessness and malnutrition.

How socialism morphs into feudalism

Unlike its failed predecessor, this new, greener socialism seeks not to weaken, but rather to preserve, the emerging class structure. Brown and his acolytes have slowed upward mobility by environment restrictions that have cramped home production of all kinds, particularly the building of moderate-cost single-family homes on the periphery. All of this, at a time when millennials nationwide, contrary to the assertion of Brown’s “smart growth” allies, are beginning to buy cars, homes and move to the suburbs.

For the full commentary, see:

KOTKIN, Joel. “California’s Descent to Socialism.” Orange County Register, Posted: June 11, 2017. URL: http://www.ocregister.com/2017/06/11/californias-descent-to-socialism/

(Note: bold headings in original.)

Bezos Resurrects Washington Post Through High-Quality Journalism

(p. B1) As a private company since 2013, when the deep-pocketed Amazon founder Jeff Bezos bought it for $250 million, The Post doesn’t disclose much financial data. But by all visible measures, including the vital but hard-to-measure buzz factor, the resurrection of The Post, both editorially and financially, in less than four years has been little short of astonishing.
The Post has said that it was prof-(p. B4)itable last year — and not through cost-cutting. On the contrary, under the newsroom leadership of Martin Baron, the former editor of The Boston Globe memorably portrayed in the film “Spotlight,” The Post has gone on a hiring spree. It has hired hundreds of reporters and editors and has more than tripled its technology staff.
. . .
Scoops — and high-quality journalism more generally — are integral to The Post’s business model at a time when the future of digital journalism seemed to be veering toward the lowest common denominator of exploding watermelons and stupid pet tricks.
“Investigative reporting is absolutely critical to our business model,” Mr. Baron told me. “We add value. We tell people what they didn’t already know. We hold government and powerful people and institutions accountable. This cannot happen without financial support. We’re at the point where the public realizes that and is willing to step up and support that work by buying subscriptions.”

For the full story, see:
JAMES B. STEWART. “Common Sense; The Post’s Latest Bombshell: It’s Thriving in Digital News.” The New York Times (Sat., MAY 20, 2017): B1 & B4.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date MAY 19, 2017, and has the title “Common Sense; Washington Post, Breaking News, Is Also Breaking New Ground.”)