Friday Hodgepodge

Friday, July 20, 2018

Blog Roundup

1. At his Study Hacks blog, Cal Newport comments on a recent study of how the "open office" floor plan affects productivity:

What is surprising, however, is the fact that face-to-face interactions declined so sharply in the first place. My critiques of open offices (c.f., Deep Work) assumed that removing spatial barriers would generate more face-to-face disruptions. In this study, removing barriers instead decreased these interactions while increasing the amount of electronic distraction.

The negative impact is the same -- more interruptions = less deep work = poor return on investment in the organization's attention capital -- but the underlying mechanism is not what I expected.
The authors of this study suggest that human beings require boundaries to "reduc[e] the potential for overload", among other things.

I agree, but I'd also frame this in more positive terms: Workers in this situation are forced to be around other people, rather than having the freedom to seek them out when they realize they need to talk. Thus, regarding other people, the focus shifts to scrounging for whatever privacy one can get, rather than on the possibility of exchanging ideas -- or even just chatting.

It's one thing to have water when you're thirsty or want to swim; it's entirely another to be thrown into a lake when you want and need to be dry.

2. Over at You Can and Did Build It, the author entertains an interesting question about America's founders:
[They] made the most profound and historically significant choice: to break away from the dominant power on earth, and to govern themselves on the basis of reason and inalienable rights, rather than force and tradition. ... [But] did [the founders] see the connection between free will and reason?
And much later:
With regard to free will, then, the theme that emerges from studying the ideas of the Founders is their mixed views about it (in some cases explicit rejection of it), coexisting with an implicit embracing of free will in their major choices and actions.
For examples and implications, follow the link above.

3. At Check Your Premises, philosophy professor Greg Salmieri asks, "How should philosophy professors approach Ayn Rand?" Here is part of his answer:
So much, then, for [Skye] Cleary's refutation of Rand. But presumably the point of her short article wasn't so much to refute Rand as to motivate other philosophers to take up the project. I join her in encouraging them to do so. More generally, I encourage them to engage with her work. Philosophers interested in the task might consider making use of the Companion and the Ayn Rand Society's two books. All three books aim to facilitate intellectual engagement by bridging some of the gap between Rand's work and the literature that is more familiar to most English-speaking philosophers.
Salmieri is motivated in part by deficiencies in Cleary's refutation of Ayn Rand, insofar as she "[took] for granted both that Rand's philosophy comes from a place of cruelty and that it 'should be easy to show what is wrong with her thinking.'" He is absolutely correct that even someone who fully engages Rand's work and leaves unpersuaded will come out better than someone who makes comfortable assumptions instead.

4. Facing a dilemma about a major decision? There's some worthwhile reading over at Thinking Directions regarding a common kind of confusion many unknowingly people face at such times:
The choices are probably manageable than you think. (Image via Pixabay)
The choice of career is an example of a complex decision that is made over a period of months or even years. You have too many questions about the future to make a decision per se. If you just try to ask yourself "which should I do?" you could easily find yourself stymied by the answer "I don't know."

Indeed, the first step of my Eyes-Wide-Open decision process is to identify the choice you actually face. The choice you actually face is a choice between 2-3 options that you know enough about that you can act on now, as opposed to some vague desires regarding the future with many unknowns.

You may think of your decision in terms of a complex choice involving the future. But this decision needs to be made over time by reducing it to a series of simple binary choices -- judgment calls -- that you can answer with confidence right now.
When I was younger, it seemed like some people just figured this all out naturally (but couldn't really explain that they did something like this), some who could use such advice struggled with their choices, and some (most?) just defaulted to something everyone else did or expected them to do. I think this is great advice for the second and third groups.

-- CAV

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