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Larry is quite "the potato!"
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I recommend two responses to my post “Psychology is ok”, which was itself a response to Adam Mastroianni’s post, I’m so sorry for psychology’s loss, whatever it is. One is by Adam himself (I sent Paul Bloom an email); the other is by Ethan Ludwin Peery (Alchemy is ok). While I’m in the mood these days for a good heated argument, we agree on a lot and I find these responses rather reasonable.
Parfit, by David Edmonds is the best intellectual biography I’ve ever read. Derek Parfit is one of my favorite philosophers, and his ideas have had an influence on both my work and how I think about the world. I’ve heard so many stories about what a caring and generous person he was—but, as Edmonds tells it, the truth is more complicated. In certain ways, Parfit was cold and indifferent toward those who loved him, resentful of those who would distract him from his work.
I also liked Elon Musk, by Walter Isaacson, which tells the story of a man with extraordinary gifts who has transformed the world—and who is also a real asshole. Just like Parfit, Elon Musk deals with the complex relationship between obsession, genius, and being a decent person.
Small Mercies is Dennis Lehane’s newest, and maybe his best. It’s a satisfying story of revenge mixed with thoughtful social commentary (but mostly a satisfying story of revenge.) I’m now reading or re-reading everything that Lehane has written, starting with A Drink Before The War.
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles is just as wise and engaging as everyone says it is.
I had a fun conversation with Robert Wright about Parfit, Musk, and other topics:
Best personal identity joke ever. It’s at least 1700 years old -- from Mary Beard’s book, Laughter in Ancient Rome, modified and sent to me by Gregory Murphy who knows I like this sort of thing:
I wrote this as the first paragraph of a commentary on an article by Oliver Scott Curry and colleagues, and it’s been making the rounds on Twitter. I do think it’s a fair summary of the state of the art in moral psychology.
From Twitter, this cracked me up:
I chose “Small potatoes” as a title for this substack for a weird reason—see here if you care—but a student in one of my seminars looked it up in the OED and found this, which makes me even happier about my choice.
slang. the potato: the (very, real, or proper) thing, the correct or excellent thing (now rare).
Example: Larry is quite ‘the potato!’
W. H. Ainsworth, Rookwood (revised edition) Introduction p. xviii