the Secret Powers of Time

2 February 2017

Phil Zimbardo provides some perspective on practical, interpersonal relativity.

Phil Zimbardo has written two very key books that has contributed to theAbysmal view of time and human nature: the Time Paradox and the Lucifer Effect.

the Utopia of Rules

7 October 2016

The shape of our bureaucracy

The Utopia of Rules: On Technology, Stupidity, and the Secret Joys of Bureaucracy 
by David Graeber

Introduction – the Iron Law of Liberalism and the Era of Total Bureaucratization

Bureaucracy has become the water in which we swim. Read the rest of this entry »

CRISPR – human trials to begin

23 July 2016

I don’t know about you, but I’m properly terrified.

the TED talk on CRISPR was welcomed with muted applause, I expect due to the power of this new technology, and what we have, historically, done with greatly powerful technologies (see: plutonium). It seems rather quick to jump to human trials, considering how little we know about the technology, and its potential to spread out of our control.

From the Guardian

Crispr: Chinese scientists to pioneer gene-editing trial on humans

A team of Chinese scientists will be the first in the world to apply the revolutionary gene-editing technique known as Crispr on human subjects.

Led by Lu You, an oncologist at Sichuan University’s West China hospital in Chengdu, China, the team plan to start testing cells modified with Crispr on patients with lung cancer in August, according to the journal Nature.

Crispr is a game-changer in bioscience; a groundbreaking technique which can find, cut out and replace specific parts of DNA using a specially programmed enzyme named Cas9. Its ramifications are next to endless, from changing the color of mouse fur to designing malaria-free mosquitoes and pest-resistant crops to correcting a wide swath of genetic diseases like sickle-cell anaemia in humans.

Read the rest of this entry »

the Lucifer Effect – Updated

26 November 2014

What this says about what make us behave in ways counter to our expectations, or, how to turn good people evil.

the Stanford Prison Experiment (SPE) has become notorious for how quickly it spun out of its designers’ control. It was a shocking lesson in how particular situations can set people against their better natures. There is a lot written about it,  – the Lucifer Effect is the first thorough presentation of the experiment and its conclusions.

the Lucifer Effect by Philip Zimbardo

Life is the art of being well-deceived; and in order that the deception may succeed it must be habitual and uninterrupted.
–William Hazlitt, “On Pedantry,” The Round Table. 1817

Our sense of power is more vivid when we break a man’s spirit than when we win his heart.
–Eric hoffer, The Passionate State of Mind (1954)

Read the rest of this entry »

Crowds and Power

8 February 2012

Book Notes from Elias Canetti‘s Oeuvre.

An analysis of social interaction from first principles.

Crowds and Power (1960) by Elias Canetti

The Crowd

The Fear of Being Touched

p15 “There is nothing that man fears more than the touch of the unknown. He wants to see what is reaching towards him, and to be able to see or at least classify it. Man always tends to avoid physical contact with anything strange.. In the dark, the fear of an unexpected touch can mount to panic. Even clothes give insufficient security: it is easy to tear them and pierce through to the naked, smooth, defenceless flesh of the victim.”

“All the distances which men create around themselves are dictated by this fear.”

p15-6 “It is only in a crowd that man can become free of this fear of being touched. .The crowd he needs is the dense crowd, in which body is pressed to body; a crowd, too, whose psychical constitution is also dense, or compact,, so that he no longer notices who it is that presses against him. … Ideally, all are equal there; no distinctions count, not even that of sex. … Suddenly it is as though everything were happening in one and the same body.”

The Open and Closed Crowds

p16 “The natural crowd is the open crowd; there are no limits whatever to its growth… The open crowd exists so long as it grows; it disintegrates as soon as it stops growing.”

The Discharge

p17 “The most important occurrence within the crowd is the discharge. Before this the crowd does not exist; it is the discharge which creates it. this is the moment when all who belong to the crowd get rid of their differences and feel equal.”


p19 “The destructiveness of the crowd is often mentioned as its most conspicuous quality, and there is no denying the fact that it can be observed everywhere, in the most diverse countries and civilizations. .It is discussed and disapproved of, but never really explained.”

p19-20 “The more usual kind of destruction…is simply an attack on all boundaries.”


p22 “Its only hope lies in the formation of double crowds the one measuring itself against the other. The closer in power and intensity the rivals are, the longer both of them will stay alive.”


p26 “Panic in a theatre, as has often been noted, is a disintegration of the crowd.”

p27 “Panic is a disintegration of the crowd within the crowd.”

The Attributes of the Crowd

p29 “The following four traits are important

  1. the crowd always wants to grow
  2. Within the crowd there is equality
  3. The crowd loves density
  4. The crowd needs a direction”


p31 “The knowledge of the animals by which he was surrounded, which threatened him and which he hunted, was man’s oldest knowledge. He learnt to know animals by the rhythm of their movement. .The earliest writing he learnt to read was that of their tracks; it was a kind of rhythmic notation imprinted in the soft ground and, as he read it, he connected it with the sound of its formation.”

p32 “In the end, there appears to be a single creature dancing, a creature with fifty heads and a hundred legs and arms, all performing in exactly the same way and with the same purpose. When their excitement is at its height, these people really feel as one, and nothing but physical exhaustion can stop them.”

Maori performing a Haka (see notes p32)

Invisible Crowds

p42 “Over the whole earth, wherever there are men, is found the convention of the invisible dead. It is tempting to call it humanity’s oldest conception. there is certainly no horde, no tribe, no people which does not have abundant ideas about its dead. Man has been obsessed by them; they have been of enormous importance for him; the action of the dead upon the living has been an essential part of life itself.”

p43 “The Celts of the Scottish Highlands have a special word for the host of the dead: sluagh, meaning “spirit-multitude.” … The word gairm means shout or cry, and sluagh-ghairm was the battle cry of the dead. This word later became ‘slogan.'”

p45 “The minds of the faithful are full of such images of invisible crowds. Whether they are the dead, or devils, or saints, they are imagined as large, concentrated hosts. It could be argued that religions begin with these invisible crowds.”

p46 “For most of us, the hosts of the dead are an empty superstition, but we regard it as a noble and by no means fruitless endeavour to care for the future crowd of the unborn.”

p47 “An invisible crowd which has always existed…is the crowd of spermatozoa. Each of these animalcules carries with it everything of our ancestors which will be preserved.”

Baiting Crowds

p50-1 “All forms of public execution are connected with the old practice of collective killing. The real executioner is the crowd gathered round the scaffold. It approves the spectacle and, with passionate excitement, gathers from far and near to watch it from beginning to end. It wants it to happen and hates being cheated of its victim.”

The Double Crowd: Men and Women. The Living and Dead.

p66 “…it is desirable to consider the age-old antagonism between the living and the dead.”

“Everything which happens in connection with the dying and the dead is coloured by the image of the much larger number of beings on the other side whom the dead man will eventually join. The loss weakens the living… The crowd on the other side is larger and stronger than theirs and the dying man is dragged over to it.”

The Double Crowd: War

p68 “In this rivalry between growing crowds lies an essential, and it may even be the prime cause of wars. As well as killing enemies, one can also make slaves of them, especially of the women and children; and these slaves will serve to increase one’s own crowd. But the war is not a true war unless its first aim is a heap of enemy dead.”

Crowd Symbols

p75 “Crowd symbols is the name I give to collective units which do not consist of men but which are still felt to be crowds. Corn and forest, rain, wind, sand, fire and the sea are such units. Every one of these phenomena comprehends some of the essential attributes of the crowd. Although they do not consist of men, each of them recalls the crowd and stands as symbol for it in myth, dream, speech and song.”


p77 “If we consider the several attributes of fire, we get a surprising picture. Fire is the same wherever it breaks out: it spreads rapidly; it is contagious and insatiable; it can break out anywhere, and with great suddenness; it is multiple; it is destructive; it has an enemy [water]; it dies; it acts as though it were alive and is so treated. All this is true of the crowd.”

The Sea

p80 “The sea is multiple, it moves, and it is dense and cohesive. Its multiplicity lies in waves; they constitute it.”

“There are also the individual drops of water.”

“The sea has  voice, which is very changeable and almost always audible. It is a voice which sounds like a thousand voices…”

p81 “The sea is all-embracing; nor can it ever be filled. … Thus in its size, too, it serves as a model for the crowd, which always wants to grow…”

“…all life flows into it and it contains all life.”


p82 “During this moment when it is imminent, rain is more strongly felt as a unit than while it is actually falling…”

“Rain is the crowd at the moment of discharge, and stands also for its disintegration.”


p83 “The most striking thing about a river is its direction. … The unresting and uninterrupted flow of its waters, the definiteness of its main direction…the determination with which it makes towards the sea, its absorption of other, smaller streams – all this has an undeniable crowd-like character.”


p84 “the forest is higher than man… It is the foliage of single trees linked together which forms a continuous roof; it is the foliage which shuts out the light and throws a universal shadow.”

“The direction in which a forest draws men’s eyes is that of its own growth.. …the equality of its trees is…only in the uniformity of direction Once in the forest, man feels sheltered.”

“Another…aspect of the forest is its multiple immovability.. … It can be felled, but not shifted. An thus the forest has become the symbol for the army…”


p85 “Corn…is a diminished and subjugated forest.”

“The cornfield is a battlefield.”

“By growing and standing together it increases, and this increase is a blessing.”


p86 “The strength of wind varies, and, with it, its voice. … Apart from its voice, the most striking thing about wind is its direction.”

“Its invisibility…enables it to stand for invisible crowds, and thus for spirits.”

Flags are wind made visible. Nations use them to mark the air as their own…”


p86 “Sand has various qualities relevant to this discussion… The first is smallness and sameness of its parts. .. The second is an endlessness of sand. It is boundless…”

The Heap

p87 “The unity of a heap of fruit or grain is a result of activity. Many hands were occupied with the picking or harvesting. These are tied to a definite season and are of such decisive importance that the oldest division of the year is derived from them.”

“The things that are collected and all of the same kind…”

p88 “All harvesting is a rhythmic heaping, an feasts are celebrated in accordance with this rhythm.”

Stone Heaps

p88 “They represent the rhythmic exertion of many men, of which nothing remains but these indestructible monuments.”


p88 “A hoard of treasure is a heap which should be left to grow undisturbed.”

The Pack

The Pack: Kinds of Pack

p93 “…crowds…derive from an older unit. This unit is the pack. Among the small hordes which roam about as bands of ten or twenty men it is the universal expression of communal excitement.”

“Of the four essential attributes of the crowd which we have come to now, two are only fictitious as far as the pack is concerned, though these are the two which re most strenuously desired and enacted. Hence the other two must be all the more strongly present in actuality. Growth and density are only acted; equality and direction really exist.”

p94 “From earliest times the pack has had four different forms, or functions. They all have something fleeting about them, and each changes easily into another… The truest and most natural pack is that from which the word derives, the hunting pack…”

p95 “The second type of pack is the war pack, and this has much in common with the hunting pack…”

“The third type is the lamenting pack. This forms when a member of a group is torn from it by death.”

“Fourthly…increase packs are formed so that the group itself, or the living beings, whether plants or animals, with which it is associated, should become more.”

p96 “The choice of the term ‘pack’ for this older and more limited kind of crowd is intended to remind us that it owes its origin among men t the example of animals. Wolves, which man knew well…had impressed him very early.”

p105 “An important fact is that lament is not deferred until after death, but begins as soon as hope for the sick person has been given up.”

p108 “In the enormously long time during which [men] lived in small groups, he, as it were, incorporated into himself, by transformations, all the animals he knew It was through the development of transformation that he really became man; it was his specific gift and pleasure. In his early transformations into other animals he acted and danced many of the species which appear in large numbers.”

“It is certain that man, as soon as he was man, wanted to be more. All his beliefs, myths, rites and ceremonies are full of this desire.”

The Communion

p113 “In the common meal we find an increase ceremony of a special kind. In accordance with a particular rite each of the participants is handed a piece of the slain animal. … Some part of one  body enters into all of them.”

“This rite of common incorporation is a communion.

p114 “My present point is the transition of a hunting pack to a pack of increase; the increase of food is ensured by a certain ritual of eating, food being originally thought of as something living.”

The Pack and Religion

The Transmutation of Packs

p127 “The transmutation of packs is an extraordinary process. It occurs everywhere and can be investigated in the most diverse spheres of human activity. Without precise knowledge of it, no social event whatever, of any kind, can be understood by all.”

p128 “Some of these transmutations have been taken out of their wider context and fixed. They have acquired a special significance and have become rituals. They have become the very substance, the core, of every important faith. The dynamics of packs, and the particular kind of interplay between them, explain the rise of world religions.”

On the Dynamics of War, the First Death, the Triumph

p140 “Among the Romans the greatest public occasion was the triumph. The whole city came together for it. But, when the empire reached the height of its power and the need for continuous conquest had lost its urgency, the feeling of being victorious became an institution in its own right, recurring periodically with the dates of the calendar. Fighting now took place before the assembled people in the arena.”

Jose Aldo celebrating his title defense in Brazil.

Catholicism and the Crowd

p154-5 “Catholicism owes the calm which, after its spaciousness, is for many its strongest attraction, to its great age and aversion to anything violently crowd-like. Its suspicion of the crowd is long-standing..”

p155 “There has never been a state on earth capable of defending itself in so many ways against the crowd.”

The Crowd in History

National Crowd Symbols

p169 “Most attempts to find out what nations really are have suffered from an intrinsic defect: they have been attempts to define the general concept of nationality.”

“Apart from [an] objective approach, there is another, more naive one, which consists in being interested in one nation only – one’s own – and indifferent to all the rest. .. They want the same thing, but in themselves are different.”

“What they are fighting for is proclaimed often enough but what they fight as is unknown.”

p170 An investigation of customs, traditions, politics and literature, could be thorough and still not touch the distinctive character of a nation, that which, when it goes to war, becomes its faith.”

“The larger unit to which he feels himself related is always a crowd or a crowd symbol.”

The English

p171 “Everyone knows what the sea means to an Englishman… The Englishman sees himself as a captain on board a ship with a small group of people, the sea around and beneath him. He is almost alone; as captain he is in many ways isolated even from his crew.”

The Germans

p173 “The crowd symbol of the Germans was the army. But the army was more than just the army ;it was the marching forest. In no other modern country has the forest feeling remained as alive as it has in Germany.”

The French

p174 “The present crowd symbol of the French is of recent date; it is their Revolution.”

The Swiss

p175 “Switzerland is a state whose national cohesion is indisputable… The crowd symbol they have in common is their mountains. It is always before their eyes, unshakeable and impregnable to a degree equalled by no other national symbol.”

The Jews

p179 “The image of this multitude, moving year after year through the desert has become the crowd symbol of the Jews.”

Inflation of the Crowd

185 “Money can become a crowd symbol, and, in certain circumstances, the units of which it is composed may accumulate to form a  crowd. but…the individuality of its units is always emphatically stressed.”

“The modern treasure is the million… The connotation of the word million is twofold; it can refer to both money and people. … Through being used to express populations, and especially the populations of metropolitan cities which are invariably expressed in the millions, the abstract number has become filled with a crowd-meaning contained by no other number today. Since it is counted in the same millions, money and the crowd are closer today than they have ever been.”

Distribution and Increase. Socialism and Production

p191 “The isolation which eating entails is one of the roots of that terrifying growth called power. anyone who eats alone and in secret must kill alone. Anyone who kills with others, must share the prey with them.”

“Justice begins with the recognition of the necessity of sharing.”

The Self-Destruction of the Xosas

p197-8 “The tendency of all human crowds to become more and more – the blind reckless, dynamic movement which sacrifices everything to itself and which is always present in a gathering crowd – this tendency is transferable. Hunters transfer it to their prey, which can never be numerous enough for them and whose fertility they seek to foster by ritual ceremonies. … Agricultural peoples transfer it to their produce…”

p198 “During their self-destruction,’ all the human desire of the Xosas for increase of men, corn and cattle became bound up with their idea of the dead…”

p198-9 “By false pretences, [the dead] got hold of, first, the grain and the cattle of the living, and then the living themselves who died of starvation. Thus the dead were victorious, but in a different manner, an a different war. In the end, it was they who were left as the largest crowd.”

The Entrails of Power

Seizing and Incorporating

p203-4 “After the stealthy approach and the leap – treated in another context – the next thing is the first touching of the prey This is perhaps what is feared most. The fingers of the attacker feel what will soon belong to his whole body Contact through the other senses, sight, hearing, and smell, is not nearly so dangerous. With them there can be space between the attacker and the victim and, as long as this space exists, nothing is finally decided and there is still some chance of escape.”

p204 “The design of one body on the other becomes concrete from the moment of touching. … It contains the oldest terrors; we dream of it, we imagine it, and civilized life is nothing but a sustained effort to avoid it. … The touch to which one resigns oneself because all resistance appears hopeless – and particularly so as regards the future – has in our society, become the arrest.”

“The next stage of approach is the act of seizure… Among men the hand which never lets go has become the very emblem of power.”

p208 “The order of military formations, which is artificially created by man himself, is in myth connected with teeth…”

p209 “The teeth are the armed guardians of the mouth and the mouth is…the prototype of all prisons… When the gaping maws of dragons had been virtually extirpated, man found a symbolic substitute for them in prisons. In times when these used to be torture chambers they resembled a hostile mouth in many respects. Hell still presents the same appearance today.”

p210 “Anyone who wants to rule men first tries to humiliate them, to trick them out of their rights and their capacity for resistance, until they are as powerless before him as animals. He uses them like animals… His ultimate aim is t incorporate them into himself and to suck the substance out of them. What remains of them afterwards does not matter to him.”

The Hand

p211 “The hand owes its origin to life in the trees. …to use what was once a claw to grasp whole branches…”

“For each hand, therefore, the act of climbing consists of two consecutive stages: grasping, letting go…”

p212 “The essence of trading is the giving of one object in exchange for another. … the crudest form of cheating, when something is taken from someone without any return being made, corresponds, translated into the context of climbing, to falling from the tree.”

The Finger Exercises of Monkeys

p217 “Without [primate grooming] we should never have learnt to shape anything, nor to sew, nor to stroke. The real specific life of the hand begins with it. As a man watched his hands at work, the changing shapes they fashioned must gradually have impressed themselves on his mind, without this we should probably never have learnt to form symbols for things, nor, therefore, to speak.”

The Hands and the Birth of Objects

p217 “The hand which scoops is the first vessel. The fingers of both hands intertwined are the first basket.”

“What man, with the help of his hands, enacted, was only made long afterwards, when it had been enacted often enough. Words and objects are accordingly the emanations and products of a single unified experience: representation by means of the hand.

The Survivor

The Escape of Josephus

p241 “It is the deception of all leaders. They pretend that they will be the first to die, but, in reality, they send their people to death, so that they themselves may stay alive longer. … The leader wants to survive, for with each survival he grows stronger .If he has enemies so much the better; he survives them. If not, he has his own people. .. Enemies he can use openly; that is why he has enemies. His own people must be used secretly.”

The Despot’s Hostility to Survivors. Rulers and their Successors

p242 “The hostility to survivors is common to despotic rulers, all of whom regard survival as their prerogative; it is their real wealth and their most precious possession.”

Rasputin – archetypal survivor

Forms of Survival

p249 “Within the class of old men [of a particular generation] there is always one who in the end is left solitary, the very oldest of them all. The Etruscans fixed the length of the century by the duration of his life.”

“If he lived to the age of 110, the century was counted as 110 years…”

Elements of Power


p290 “Secrecy lies at the very core of power.”

“It begins with the active and deliberate secrecy of lying in wait and ends as something unknown and involuntary in the secret recesses of the body.”

p294 “Silence isolates.”

“Silence inhibits self-transformation.”

The Power of Pardon. Mercy

p298 “The interest in every single soul evinced by the God of the Bible, the tenacity with which he remembers and cares for each, may be taken as a model of all who wield power. His, too, is the intricate traffic in pardons: the sinner who submits to him to receive mercy. But he watches him carefully and, in his omniscience, can easily see if he deceives him.”

The Command

Command. Flight and Sting

p303 “Commands are older than speech. If this were not so, dogs could not understand them. Animals can be trained because they can be taught to understand what is required of them in short, clear commands.”

“The original command results in flight.”

p304 “For the roar of a lion is a death sentence. … The oldest command…is a death sentence, and it compels its victims to flee.”

p306 “…the ‘free’ man is not the man who rids himself of commands after he has received them, but the man who knows how to evade them in the first place.”

The Domestication of the Command

p307 “Domesticating the command means linking it with a promise of food.”


Flight Transformations. Hysteria, Mania and Melancholia

p347 “The process of depreciation, which makes his own person seem more and more worthless, is figuratively expressed as feelings of guilt. Guilt was originally the same as debt. … If one is in debt to someone one is to that extent in his power. Feeling guilty and thinking of oneself as prey are thus basically the same.”


p384 “The desire to turn men into animals was the principal motive for the development of slavery. It is s difficult to over-estimate its strength as that of the opposite desire: to turn animals into men.”

Aspects of Power

The Regulation of Time
p397-9 “No political structure of any size can dispense with order, and one of the fundamental applications of order is to time, for no communal human activity can take place without it. Indeed one might say that the regulation of time is the primary attribute of all government. A new power which wants to assert itself must also enforce a new chronology; it must make it seem as though time had begun with it. Even more important to such a power is that it should endure. its own estimate of its greatness can be deduced from the stretch of future time it lays claim to: Hitler’s Reich was to last 1,000 years. The Julian calendar endured longer than this and, even today, the month called after Julius Caesar is known by his name. Of historical figures only Augustus succeeded in attaching his name uninterruptedly to a month. Others tried it, but their names have crumbled with their effigies.”

“The most impressive mark on the reckoning of time is that made by Christ. Here he surpassed even god himself, from whose creation of the world Jewish chronology began. The Romans counted time from the foundation of their city, a method which they took over from the Etruscans and which certainly played a not inconsiderable part in the world’s picture of Rome’s mighty destiny. Some conquerors content themselves with inserting their names somewhere in the calendar: Napoleon is said to have had hopes of August 15th. There is an irresistible attraction in the idea of linking one’s name with a regularly recurring date. That the vast majority of people are ignorant of the origins of such designations seems to have not the slightest effect on the desire of rulers to immortalize themselves in this way. No one man has succeeded in attaching his name to a season, although there are whole centuries which are known by the name of a dynasty. Chinese history, indeed, is reckoned in dynasties; one speaks of the Han or the Tang period. Even short-lived and inglorious dynasties, which would be better forgotten, get the benefit of this. Among the Chinese it has become the usual method of reckoning large stretches of time, but it is families rather than individuals which it immortalizes.”

“A ruler’s relationship with time, however, is not exhausted by the vanity of his name. He is concerned with the regulation of time and not only with giving his name to existing units. Chinese history begins in this way. The prestige of the Chinese legendary rulers derives in great part from the effective regulation of time which is ascribed to them. Special officials were appointed to watch over this and were punished if they neglected their duties. It was when they achieved a uniform calendar that the Chinese first became a nation.”

“Civilizations are perhaps best distinguished by their capacity to organize their traditions and they disintegrate when they cease to do this. A civilization comes to an end when a people no longer takes its own chronology seriously. At this one point an analogy with the life of an individual is permissible. A man who no longer knows or cares how old he is has finished with life; he might as well be dead, when the awareness of time is lost are periods of shame, which are forgotten as soon as possible.”

“There are obvious practical reasons for the overwhelming importance which the regulation of time has acquired. It binds together large groups of men who may live far apart and not be able to meet face to face In a small group of perhaps fifty people everyone knows what everyone else is doing.. It is easy for them to join in common activity. The rhythm of their lives is beaten out within the pack. They dance the continuity of the group, as they dance so many other things. The time gap between one pack activity and another does not matter, for since people live in close proximity they can always alert each other when they need to. Every expansion of the physical milieu makes it more important to do something about time. Drum and smoke signals, which bridge distance, serve this purpose.”

“A different kind of unity was given to large groups of people by lives of single individuals: Kings embodied the whole period of their reign. Their death, whether it came with the decline of their strength or, as later, coincided with their natural span of life, indicated a break in time. They were time. Between one king and the next, time stood still. There was a gap in it – an interregnum – which people sought to keep as short as possible.”

317 Days to Dec 21st 2012