Manuel De Landa's A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History - Cool Book

These are my opinions and ideas gelled with notes form the contents of A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History by Manuel De Landa. Keep in mind I may have misinterpreted some of his points and interjected my bias into the points. If something looks like a rational well thought out point I am probably syndicating Manuel De Landa's point. If something looks like a point of anger being expressed that is probably me adding one of my related views to further why and how I believe that portion of the book relates to my life or the world as I have experienced it. I believe the underlying points of the book are

  • progress is a misguided notion
  • reality and consciousness (and everything around us) are just states of energy and biomass hardened by history
  • our own history biases how we evaluate history
  • many things are not linear even if we have traditionally been lead to think of them in that way

Where applicable the book may also appear biased toward heterogeneous over homogenous systems due largely to the great blinding support of homogenous systems in the business community (homogenized systems are easier to extract profit from due to the lowered costs of mass production). This quote really states how he looks at the true cost of homogenization and discipline:

As with all disciplinary institutions, a true accounting must include those forces that increase (in economic terms of utility) and those that decrease (in political terms of obedience).

I think one of the biggest things I got out of the book was a fresh reminder from a different perspective that some of the scummiest aspects of capitalism are not intentional, but are just un cared for side effects of other business processes.

I was talking to a reporter about some tech companies recently when I stated that I thought that certain companies would do this or that and why. He asked if I got that from talking to those companies. I said no, that my knowledge was from thinking about economic theory and business theory stuff.

Many of those ideas came from reading this book.

Almost any book you read is going to be in some ways biased, but I would say this book was biased toward reality without so much propaganda or hidden agenda (ie: I think this book was written out of passion and interest more than to mislead me into trying to buy into something). This is really the most mind opening book I have ever read. As a marketer participating in a somewhat new network it is amazingly fascinating reading about how economics, biology, and linguistics have evolved over the last 1,000 years.

Below is a point by point Aaron Notes type review of the various sections of the book. I initially took the notes for myself, but thought it would be worth posting them anyhow.

From the introduction

  • reality and consciousness are just a state of energy
  • evolution or other 'improvement' to the state of living does not mean things are inherently better...just that they are different.
  • when a new state of being comes into existence it can co-exist with prior states...the new state does not necessarily have to supersede the old state.
  • when we look back at history we are biased by the path it has took and the narrative current society tells us about the past. to understand social dynamics you have to try to build things up from the bottom as well as break them down instead of just relying on breaking things down.

part 1

  • the creation of agriculture allowed an abundance of non human energy to by synthesized and stored for consumption, and lead to the creation of many cities. fishing or other energy sources could have also lead to the creation of cities.
  • trade winds were another important force of energy that were easy to capitalize on due largely to the inefficiency offered by limited competition and market separation
  • fossil fuels lead to the next major growth (again because they made it easy to store and synthesize non human energy)
  • cities act as parasites that suck off the surrounding area
  • currency was first created as a political means to collect excise taxes, but eventually enabled commerce with less friction
  • large parts of the reason why Western culture advanced quicker than eastern culture were competition and a lack of a large inefficient homogenized religious and political bureaucracy
  • The role of the isolated individual in society is typically largely overrated and over simplified when isolated down to the individual level.

  • Adam Smith's invisible hand theory is a bit too idealistic for real world application. The market friction which it ignores is largely what drives many business models and large socioeconomic changes.
  • Virtually any manufactured profit is created in cascading sets of quality with people further from the source valuing things of lower quality and emulating the original to raise the quality of their products and local skill level.
  • the establishment of reliable credit sources allowed powerful organizations, cities, and nations to sap the resources of surrounding areas
  • Many of the most profitable merchants gained freedom of motion, allowing their businesses to capitalize on whatever is high profit at that given time. ie: how Google does not do much in the physical world, but plays a large role in controlling human interaction with information and commerce. As new keyword develop they quickly are able to monetize them. As old markets die off due to political, cultural, economic or other forces they are not tied to them.
  • as companies grow in international power they create forces that attack government norms.
  • the lack of centralization within Europe caused increased investment in arms races that required societies to be more efficient and innovative to survive (when compared with the inward focused monopolistic stronghold on power in Eastern cultures)
  • most markets are range bound rather than actually reaching a single state of equality or equilibrium.

part 2

  • social class stratification via genetics and other aspects is a natural part of life, however it does not need to occur as aggressively as it does.

  • largely social stratification is driven by people who set up moral, ethical, religious or legal guidelines for others to follow. (which is a large part of the reason why I <3 civil disobedience, as undermines the abuse of such power).
  • if some of those systems lost power many social and economic markets would remain self organized by other positive and negative feedback loops.
  • many people prefer to view things through a hierarchical lens because it is much harder to understand and visualize the world through thinking of effects of positive and negative feedback and reciprocal causality. Even at a young age we are generally taught to develop our thinking patterns in terms of concrete causes and effects.

part 3

  • the military required interchangeable parts, and the US military bred a system which provided quality assurance over the railroads. after the government created systems to make railroads a functional business it handed over the reigns of profit to private enterprise
  • import-substitution dynamics and crafting of individual items gave way to automation and homogenation, such that interchangeable parts were cheap and easy to make.
  • many small businesses of similar trade exist near one another as being near one another improves their social circumstances, market mind share, and creates an environment where ideas can more easily flourish
  • most innovation comes from the smallest companies and individuals, as they are less confined by their business models.
  • after smaller businesses prove the profit of a business model larger businesses based on economies of scales either replicate and automate those business models or consume those companies
  • companies buy other companies to control them via internal rules instead of buying their obedience and productivity
  • with shareholders existing external to corporations there is a bias in management not to just make the business as efficient as possible, but to make pieces of it complex enough to not be comprehensible to outsiders, such that they justify executives continuing to receive (and increasing) their compensation level for running the company.
  • electrical energy made it easier to miniaturize machines, and thus increased productivity by making automation easier, quicker, cheaper, and more decentralized.

part 4

  • every non plant is a parasite

  • heterogeneous systems are more resilient than homogenous systems
  • humans make many pieces of the food chain more homogenous
  • genetic diversity is required to evolve new species

  • the genetic code within one animal type is quite homogenous
  • most human gene variations are superficial in nature

  • immigration is probably the single largest factor which causes a mixing of human genes
  • the dense population of cities made it easy for disease to spread
  • disease (local or imported) was a heavy factor in successful or unsuccessful colonization
  • richer individuals tend to allot for fewer children since they perceive a higher cost of living
  • whenever population declined (typically due to poor crop yield or disease) animals took back land

part 5

  • changes in the genetic code of one species changes the genetic make up of other species (this is especially true in predator pray relationships).
  • the definition of optimal is relative (strengthening any part of a system may make some other parts of it weaker)
  • extreme energy flows can shift equilibriums
  • social darwinism is quite bogus, as it fosters racism and ethnic cleansing. earlier this month an SEO I know who describes himself as a Jew explained to me how he viewed all muslims as terrorists and that he did not think ethnic cleansing was a bad thing. He objected to giving me his address when I offered to send him a 'Hitler was right' t-shirt.
  • genetic change is glacial compared to the speed of cultural change
  • while different cultures and linguistic backgrounds have a varying number of color labels the order of accumulation tends to be well aligned (typically starting with black, white, primary colors in certain orders). In Basic Color Terms: Their Universality and Evolution Brent Berlin and Paul Kay stated there are genetic constraints on perception guiding accumulation of cultural replicators.
  • while it is much harder to detect than the other way around, cultural materials may influence the accumulation of genes. an example of this might be how some people are lactose intolerant.
  • cultural policies can eventually become institutional, which can have both good and bad effects. an example of a good effect would be the curbing of incest. a few bad examples would include medication replacing nutrition and land erosion due to poor cultural farming policies.

part 6

  • when times are good humans outgrow their own good

  • the new world (the americas, australia, etc.) created supply zones and gave a place to put the excess growth of humans
  • many old world plants and animals spread to the frontiers of the new world ahead of civilization
  • military and trade ports host many people, animals, plants and goods in a wide array of states which are conducive the spreading disease.
  • because medical facilities in these locations saw people in a wide array of states it was important to make a clear distinction between that which is illegal and the concept of evil
  • the use of observation and binary systems improved medical care. he mentions how Michel Foucault stated they "treat lepers as plague victims"
  • discipline and homogenization are required to create economies of scale
  • when applied to the food supply (typically by big business) it comes in the form of gene control
  • some corporations create seeds that die if not used that year, and also introduce other genetic defects which require the use of excessive fertilizer or other (often monopoly controlled) inputs
  • this genetic control can be described as "etching entry points for antimarkets into the crops' very genes"
  • the gene makeup of many seeds are protected as trade secrets
  • short term homogenization may increase quality, but in many cases give enough time natural selection will perform better than over homogenized artificial selection. a hidden wealth stored in some poor countries is their food supply genetic diversity capital.
  • homogenized systems are more susceptible to epidemics
  • the genetic control applied to plants has also been applied to animals and some states went so far as trying to apply them to people.
  • eugenics is the belief that by studying hereditary and deploying selective breeding techniques you can improve the human race. alternate eugenics definitions here
  • While the immigration laws did not clearly state eugenics in them, some portions of the US believed that Northern Europe humans provided the highest quality genetic stock source.
  • starting in Indiana in 1907 over 20 US states started sterilizing thousands of people for things like being absent minded.
  • Those who still believe in ethnic cleansing after Hitler probably do not deserve to be alive and should cleanse themselves from the populous.
  • There are also non-traditional ways to control human reproductive cycles.
  • Some wars intentionally underequipped types of soldiers to allow them to be cleansed from the gene pool.
  • To this day the military recruiters pray on the young, poor, and those of below average intelligence. While that may sound ultra biased my thesis for that statement are based on my own experiences. I grew up in a poor town and joined the military when I was 17. While I am quite economically successful I have not yet decided where I wanted to move to, and still live in a mobile home (I moved into it with a friend a few years ago to cut my living costs back when I was just learning about the web and only making a couple hundred dollars a month). Earlier this month yet another military recruiter knocked on my door again. While being of about an average intelligence level I literally scored off the charts high on most of the military tests I took when I was 17 (even the nuclear power test) which should have been a strong indication that the test scales were scaled toward people who are of below average intelligence.
  • Early obstetricians and gynecologists screwed up much worse than midwives by making it easier to spread disease and also by excessively using forceps at birth.
  • Private enterprise also took other choices from mothers by sneaking in berthing formula while the mother did not know it was being given to the baby.
  • To this day tryptophan is common in birthing formulas but is illegal to buy as a supplement. around 15 million Americans were using tryptophan but it became illegal roughly around the same time that Prozac was launched as a wonder drug of the future. Few people questioned how shady that was
  • large public outrage is often required to get special interests to yield authority. It was 1892 before Hamburg improved sanitation of its water supply. They only did so after a cholera epidemic hit.
  • biotechnology allows us to fight microbes more efficiently by doing things like gene-splicing and gene-gluing enzymes from one creature to inject that information into other creatures. this creates the ability to produce large quantities of affordable microbe fighting cells.
  • while biotechnology makes it easier to fight micro parasites it makes it easier for macro parasites to be injected into a large portion of the food chain and form monopolies
  • In some instances totally useless and potentially cancer causing chemicals are created to help increase yield. In many cases consumers are not even informed of which food products are contaminated with the garbage.

    Do you really want trust the people who manufacture agent orange when they talk about the effects of chemicals they inject into the food supply? rBGH, which is illegal in many countries, is injected into many US cows to produce more milk. Fox News fired multiple reporters for wanting to air a report about how shady rBGH is. The Meatrix also provides a clip on rBGH.

  • efficiency of extraction and processing (including homogenized size and shape as well as predictable homogenized maturation dates) now are more important criteria than biomass value in many crops. The nutritional value of a crop is largely ignored in favor of the other "more important" (read as more profitable) genetic traits. Improving some of those other genetic traits also comes at the direct cost of lowered nutritional value.
  • when you buy food from outlets that sell on low price you are voting against genetic diversity in the food supply. and are voting against nutritional value of the food your children and their grand children will eat.
  • As nutrition is removed from the food supply drug companies hook people on garbage prescriptions that treat symptoms of an unbalanced lifestyle with poor nutritional input. Of course it will not be the fault of drug companies when things go astray. In reference to some of these drugs some FDA members have went as far as to claim:

    they don't feel that _______ is addictive because it doesn't carry the behavior of a person that is dependent on a drug. A person that will go out and steal to obtain their drug of choice or cause harm to another

  • At the same time children are medicated with these pills that (IMHO) wrongfully replace or cover up natural human emotions. Some of these things are blatantly over prescribed by doctors who learned from text books and journals sponsored or funded by self interested drug companies.

    “Journals have devolved into information laundering operations for the pharmaceutical industry”, wrote Richard Horton, editor of the Lancet, in March 2004. In the same year, Marcia Angell, former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, lambasted the industry for becoming “primarily a marketing machine” and co-opting “every institution that might stand in its way”.

  • There are reports of things like

    Jeff Weise, the 16 year old who killed seven and then himself this week at his high school, had been taking ________.

  • In the above two _____'s they were two different drugs. But they were both in the same drug family. And the same drug family as the drugs associated with a kid in the Columbine shooting.
  • That drug family was born with the original drug being announced as a wonder drug of the future.
  • Around the time of the release of that drug family a natural supplement that about 15 million people were taking which worked on the same neurotransmitter was banned from the United States

    On March 22, 1990, the FDA banned the public sale dietary of L-Tryptophan completely. This ban continues today. On March 26, 1990, Newsweek featured a lead article praising the virtues of the anti-depressant drug Prozac. Its multi-color cover displayed a floating, gigantic green and white capsule of Prozac with the caption: “Prozac: A Breakthrough Drug for Depression.”

    The fact that the FDA ban of L-Tryptophan and the Newsweek Prozac cover story occurred within four days of each other went unnoticed by both the media and the public. Yet, to those who understand the effective properties of L-Tryptophan and Prozac, the concurrence seems “unbelievably coincidental.” The link here is the brain neurotransmitter serotonin — a biochemical nerve signal conductor. The action of Prozac and L-Tryptophan are both involved with serotonin, but in totally different ways.

  • L-Tryptophan, the allegedly harmful supplement, is still added to baby formula in the United States to this very day. To quote the federal government:

    "At the present time, an import alert remains in force which limits the importation of L-tryptophan into the United States, except if it is intended for an exempted use. FDA has provided for the use of manufactured L-tryptophan for special dietary purposes. Manufactured L-tryptophan is a lawful and essential component of foods, such as infant formulas, enteral products and approved parenteral drug products..."

  • Instead of exercising, dieting properly, and/or taking natural supplements now hundreds of thousands of people are hooked on (ie: recurring subscription based expense) addictive drugs that in some cases ruin their social relationships and have widely been reported to have HORRIFIC withdrawal related side effects.
  • Some doctor even offered my unemployed brother a free trial of one of these drugs even though he had no way to afford buying more.
  • systems highly focused on maximal yield efficiency often require external inputs. that reliance on external sources makes it easier for monopolies to corrupt or influence the chain for short term profits.
  • While mentioning the DuPont and Monsanto corporations De Landa stated "rather than transferring pest-resistant genes into new crop plants, these corporations are permanently fixing dependence on chemicals into the crops' genetic base."

Part 7

Before reading this book my only exposure to the concept of linguistics was from reading George Lakoff's rather introductory level Don't Think of an Elephant, so this next section might be a bit hosed.

  • dialects exist in a continuum of overlapping forms
  • linguistic patterns develop based on geographic and socioeconomic conditions
  • communication isolation leads to new languages
  • while people in different regions may speak different dialects it is also possible that many are not self aware of the differences in dialect
  • the further one moves from established prestige and power the more likely they are to find new emerging dialects
  • new dialects are standardized at seats of economic and political power to make it easier to govern or extract profit
  • the influence and standardization from the seats of power spread to the surrounding regions
  • Gottlob Frege's philosophy (as explained by De Landa) "The connection between a given name and its referent in the real world is effected through a mental entity (or psychological state) that we call 'the meaning' of the word."
  • Saul Kripke and Hillary Putnam stress linguistic inheritance by placing more emphasis on the historical and social aspects of language over the "inside the head" concept. Based on this theory "only certain experts can confirm the accuracy of usage."
  • one's ability to define a term is directly related to their ability to manipulate the items or systems being referenced (or their audience they are introducing the term to)
  • language related to survival is less likely to change than less common language
  • informal social networks act as enforcement mechanisms. dense networks are exceptionally self-reinforcing and quite stable in nature (and can thus withstand great pressures from societal norms from larger social networks)
  • middle class dialects change far quicker than local dialects or elite dialects (since the middle class is much more transitory than either of the edges)
  • the upper class can leverage their authority to influence governmental, religious, or other bodies with large reach to push their lens and linguistic frame of reference through to ambitious members of the middle class who soak up this information hoping to increase their own status
  • language or words do not mean anything until a group of people use them to communicate. the ability to introduce words (or word meanings) to a community and have them stick is proportional to your prestige and your number of contacts within the community
  • synthetic language has inflections, which are used to show things like verb tense
  • analytic languages express grammatical functions through word ordering (subject-verb-object)
  • the trade of objects and experiences with nearby cultures influences linguistic patterns in the local language
  • pidgins occur "wherever contact between alien cultures has been institutionalized" like slave trading ports. pidgins simplify the linguistic norms of their source language.
  • a creole is born out of recomplication of pidgins into a more complex language
  • language usually goes from conqueror to conquered
  • words usually travels from more complex language to a less complex ones
  • J.L. Austin's speech acts "Involve a conventional procedure that has a certain conventional effect, and the procedure itself must be executed correctly, completely, and by the correct persons under the right circumstances."
  • attempts at defining formal languages have generally failed since most people have many influences that are far more influential on their lives than a formal linguistic rule set.
  • the printing press helped harden languages.
  • The Protestant Reformation helped boost local languages and undermine Latin's role in religion and education and thus power
  • "The usefulness of a given set of sounds is guaranteed by the more or less systematic contrast that they have with one another."
  • all languages are in a state of constant change. not only with the addition of new words, but also large variants in word meaning and/or structural purpose.
  • even within a single core language most people speak multiple different dialects, with the dialect depending on their audience and speaking circumstance (ie: professional, technical, family, informal, formal)
  • cities contain both large impersonal environments and hyper focused subcultures with private lives that cause them to be the source for a wide diversity of language.

part 8

  • Noam Chomsky believes the diagram for the structure of language is an abstract robot
    • language consists of a dictionary and a set of rules
    • we can automatically check if a sentence makes sense
      • generative rules = universal across languages
      • transformational rules = not universal, language specific rules
  • Deleuze and Guattari
    • Chomsky not abstract enough
    • there is no universal language. there is always some overlap
    • need to look at history of social interaction and language to understand linguistic development
  • George Zipf
    • believed in "combinational constraints"
    • by looking at word co-occurance patterns you could predict what other words might appear
  • Zellig Harris
    • introduced "transformation" into linguistics
    • linguistic constraints come from "the gradual standardization (or conventionalization) of customary usage."
    • 3 main constraints guiding language
      • "likelihood constraints" - statistically modeled probability of co-occurance
        • "selection" - the set of the most common words grouped with a word. Words are defined by the words they commonly occur with.
      • operator-argument constraints
        • works on word classes (not individual words)
        • inclusion of a certain class of word demands that other word types occur
      • reduction
        • exceptionally common word pairs may morph into a single word, being reduced without losing meaning
  • Mary Douglas
    • also considers social elements of language in her model
    • "collective assemblage" - "intensity with which individuals are attached to a group"
    • breaks connection down into group and grid, indicating who we interact with and how
    • can create 4 quadrants using group and grid. many social forces drive people to one of the edges
    • "The fourth corner, the fully regulated individuals unaffiliated to any group, is plentifully inhabited in any complex society, but not necessarily by people who have chosen to be there. The groups [bureaucracies or sects] expel and downgrade dissenters; the competition of individualists...pushes those who are weak into the more regulated areas where their options are restricted and they end up doing what they are told."
    • the biggest limitations to her model is that they only work from within a social group or organization

part 9

  • in the 18th century language underwent strong unification and uniformation forces
  • unification - driven largely by the formation of nation states and disciplinary institutions
  • uniformation - due largely to testing, training, and observing people to create an obedient populous
  • linguistic unity is necessary for tapping patriotism to drive men toward war or peace
  • large energy flows in and around capitals and major cities made it easy for their local standards to spread
  • dictionaries and grammar guides solidify language. Dr Johnson's dictionary was viewed as so important to English that in the 1880's a bill was thrown out of the parliament because it used a word that was not in his dictionary
  • the increasing speed of global communications makes linguistic isolation harder
  • "The very idea of massified advertising meant that large-circulation newspapers were not in the business of selling information to people, but rather of selling the attention of their readers to commercial interests."
  • Following many other industries mass media quickly became largely driven by antimarket forces.
    • As noted in:
    • Examples of antimarket behavior:
      • "The formation of a cartel by six New York papers, which resulted in the formation of the Associated Press in the 1860s."
      • Reuters, AP, UPI, and French AFP still exert significant control over the global markets, operating as oligopolies
  • "Rather than aiming for objectivity [newspapers] aimed for widely acceptable neutrality."
  • "Although news agencies are not engaged in a conspiracy to promote 'capitalistic values' around the world, they do have a strong homogenizing effect arising from the routinization and standardization of point of view (with the concomitant distorting simplification) and, ultimately, from the very form of the flow, that is, a flow emanating from very few places to a large number of subscribers."
  • To appear authentic in nature newspapers widely distribute linguistically incorrect information (especially when quoting people).
  • Linguistic differences of lower classes were seen as a thing of barbarians, until those linguistically incorrect people were cherished as conscripts needed to fight in WWI
  • At the end of WWI French was seen as the most prestigious language in the world. By the end of WWII it was displaced by English.
  • As a contrast to traditional news organization the web is more of a community based many to many framework. The web allows communities separated by great distances to come together to discuss a topic.
  • "Computer meshworks have created a bridge to a stable state of social life which existed before massification and continues to coexist alongside it." The Cluetrain Manifesto is a great book to read about that reformation of communities and marketplaces brought about by the web. They have 95 thesis statements. My favorite is Hyperlinks subvert hierarchy.
  • The destiny of the web is still of course largely undecided. While it may allow communities to form easily it is also leveraged by many communities with misguided belief sets.

part 10

  • "The flows of lava, biomass, genes, memes, norms, money (and other 'stuff') are the source of just about every stable structure that we cherish and value (or, on the contrary, that oppresses or enslaves us)."
  • The Earth , institutional norms, social structures, and language can be viewed as bodies without organs that exist at various levels of stratification driven by the intensities of their catalysts and energy flows.
  • Different histories with different stratification levels and rates of change are constantly co-occuring.
  • Our history, language, and science have generally been viewed through an arbitrarily linear lens. "Western societies transformed the objective world (or some areas of it) into the type of structure that would 'correspond' to their theories, so that the latter became, in a sense, self-fulfilling prophecies."
  • While there has been significant homogenization over the last 300 to 400 years artificially becoming more heterogeneous does not guarantee a better state of humanity and blindly pushing toward heterogeneous structures is not a good idea since likely "the most destratified element in a mix effects the most rigid restratification" later on.
  • Rather than pushing hard for change without being certain of its effects we should "call for a more experimental attitude toward reality and for an increased awareness of the potential for self-organization inherent in even the humblest forms of matter-energy.

How does this relate to SEO, the web, and marketing?

The current fight over net neutrality is a fight for the belief in heterogeneous systems over monopolized homogenous systems. As noted in this book, antimarket institutions do not always add as much value as they extract from their market position. Network operators (and pocked padded politicians) assume they know what is best for everyone, but if you listen to Ted Stevens speak you will realize just how misguided many of them are.

Ad agencies like Saachi are trying to push brands to go after owning mind share for individual words, which could become self reinforcing if they did it early enough or well enough. Companies sue search engines because they don't rank where they feel they should.

Who controls language? Will search engines and authoritative websites act as our new dictionaries and encyclopedias that harden language?

The web and search engines providing new social dynamic in coding language.

In some ways search engines make the set norms more self reinforcing (via ease of access to the current status, search personalization reinforcing our current world view, reinforcement of citation data that led to the development of the current status, and running search business models that are more profitable if they limit their trust of new definitions and new statuses).

In other ways they make the set norms less self reinforcing (especially where language is loosely defined and/or a market has limited depth) since they make many opinions accessible and place many results near one another on equal footing it becomes easier for people of traditionally limited authority and reach to help redefine the meaning of a word.

Some vertical engines also put your or my words alongside or above the New York Times in importance. This changes the media bias from being a rather homogenized bias controlled by similar large business structures to a more diverse set of biases.

The web and search engines not only provide new social dynamics to coding language, but also in coding our status. Currently if you have a lot of trust in a popular topic search engines allow you to leverage that across to other topics.

Not only do our status levels rise and fall with the importance of the language we play a role in defining, but also search engines look at social bonds and social interactions that were likely hard to measure for past authority systems.

Search engines also have a way of trying to understand a universal personal identity. For example, our search history may manipulate the results of other searchers, and the level of trust on that search history data may depend on our ties to the search systems (financial ties due to being large ad buyers or large ad sellers, financial ties due to being a large source of content or in need of search referrals, length of time and volume of activity - search, publishing, or advertising).

In addition to controlling how we find content search engines also control the payout levels from the largest distributed ad networks, which in part determine:

  • What content is profitable? (Ad sales automation makes content production more efficient for smaller groups at the expense of many larger groups. Many web based business models revolve around amateurs working for free for other companies.)
  • How we structure content to be maximally profitable (in terms of money or in terms of reach and influence).
  • What topics people will focus on. (Smaller niches are now more profitable).
  • The type of bias they may be interested in writing the content from.
  • How evergreen versus fresh content is.
  • How topics will merge together or drift apart. (Hyperlinks will create new links where there never were links before, and many established trusted businesses will quickly consume new markets by quickly recognizing those connections and drifting toward those markets at a quicker rate).
  • How people will format content (ie: if I went with a traditional book publisher I would have been lucky to make 10% of what I make selling my ebook, and this factor also controls how much information people will typically put on a page and how frequently they publish)

Then there is the question of will the mass amateurization of content change the way citizens perceive content vs advertising and will people become more isolated or more involved in building a world that was more like the world they want to see?

Published: July 4, 2006 by Aaron Wall in book reviews


July 5, 2006 - 6:30pm

Whereas others might content themselves with scouring a few reputable SEO sources for brief snippets and tips, I personally find your more verbose "meta-SEO" posts to be extremely interesting, if not straight-up mind-blowing.

Thanks very much Aaron, keep kicking ass.

July 5, 2006 - 7:57pm

Damn Aaron, it's not enough that your posts got me to buy YOUR seo book a long time ago. Now you've got me buying non-SEO books too. ;-)

Ed Henderson
July 6, 2006 - 12:05pm

Great post. Just found your site the other day and have been reading with interest. First time commenter...

I am interested to know what you mean in your Post A Comment part by:

"It is in your best interests to not spam this blog."

Online or offline would be great, thanks.

Sayam Khan
July 6, 2006 - 6:59pm

Self-organization is one of my favorite subjects.

I also recommend, the incredibly interesting, "Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities and Software" by Steven Johnson.

July 6, 2006 - 9:11pm

I have read all of Steven Johnson's books so far. His stuff rocks.

November 22, 2006 - 1:37pm

Hi Aaron - I have some questions regarding your book. If i want to buy your book then will I get a printable .pdf version or something else. I am saying so because i want to take a print and then read it not always willing to learn it from my comp. I am interested to learn seo techniques from your book.

August 22, 2006 - 9:30pm


You might also enjoy: Godel Escher Bach, An Eternal Golden Braid.

Also nice to see you read Chomsky.

July 9, 2006 - 1:49pm

I would suggest for you to read up some more about the L-Tryptophan issues mentioned. It seems like it is another one of those conspirational stories that the wide public loves so much.

for example, it would be more interesting (IMHO) to understand why the FDA recalled all the drugs containing L-Tryp when there was a problem only with one specific drug, problem which stemmed from the contaminated production process and not from the drug itself. It is interesting, since the recall happened only a few days before the Newsweek's anouncement of Prozac.

Also, LTryp and prozac both effect serotonin in the brain, they do it in different ways. Therefore, there is no truth to the claim that there is criminal action behind banning tryptophan and keeping Prozac on shelves.

I admit that i haven't read the book you are mentioning, but from what you quote, it really sounds like some average Creationists' pamphlet with half-quotes, half truths and zero value.

July 9, 2006 - 3:04pm

I would suggest for you to read up some more about the L-Tryptophan issues mentioned.

L-Tryptophan was not mentioned in that book. I was relating some of my opinions to the book (as noted near the top of the post).

You think I would mention that much about that one issue without reading about it any further?

it would be more interesting (IMHO) to understand why the FDA recalled all the drugs containing L-Tryp when there was a problem only with one specific drug, problem which stemmed from the contaminated production process and not from the drug itself.

To me a more interesting angle is...

Why did they ban it and call it dangerous if they still allow it to be added in infant formula? Why did they never unban it for general use?

Action speaks louder than words.

Also, LTryp and prozac both effect serotonin in the brain, they do it in different ways.

Quite an amazingly insightful comment, considering the quote I grabbed from an article stated:

The action of Prozac and L-Tryptophan are both involved with serotonin, but in totally different ways.

This next line of yours is complete garbage, too.

Therefore, there is no truth to the claim that there is criminal action behind banning tryptophan and keeping Prozac on shelves.

Competing business models which have different effects on a system are likely to have direct and/or indirect effects on each other, even if their way of solving the core problem are far different.

I also know quite a bit about serotonin from the angles of:

  • reading books about neurochemistry and depression
  • reading medical research
  • reading thousands of feedback messages from people on various antidepressant drugs (left from many unique IP addresses on a site I moderate)
  • personal depression, sedentary lifestyle, and extreme isolation from being deployed on a submarine (vs being physically active and happy)
  • illegal drug use (MDMA)
  • legal supplement use (5HTP)
  • diets rich in tryptophan vs diets that are not, etc.

Many of my own experiences aligned with at least hundreds of independent messages left on some of my sites from various IP addresses (even if many of my means of tweaking or testing my neurochemistry were before I understood anything about the subject and/or were done using different than those posting to my site).

I would argue that without spending millions of dollars doing scientific research (and when you get to funding of that scale somehow bias works its way right into the science) that I have learned a good bit about serotonin.

I admit that i haven't read the book you are mentioning, but from what you quote, it really sounds like some average Creationists' pamphlet with half-quotes, half truths and zero value.

I personally think your comments were of zero value as well, especially the comment contrasting L-Tryptophan and Prozac when the exact same thing was already stated above.

July 10, 2006 - 12:08am

hmmm, didn't know you get so touchy from a few comments.

you really think that LTryp is some kind of poison and that its recall as a depression treatment drug was totally unbiased, while leaving it in baby food was some kind of conspiration ?

I don't know, maybe i am misunderstanding you, but to me it seems more logical that the recall was cooked, especially in light of the following prozac article, while keeping it in baby food (or wherever else) is just a lack of scientific reason to recall it. Lack of reason and lack of will since there was no hype baby food planned to get out on the market together with prozac....

Of course that kind of logic applies only when you are not actively looking for conspirations...

to the personal remarks i will not respond, since i really do not find any comfort in attempts to belittle someone through blog comments....

July 10, 2006 - 12:23am

BTW, you wrote:

Why did they ban it and call it dangerous if they still allow it to be added in infant formula? Why did they never unban it for general use?

From the FDA site:

Although FDA continues to enunciate its concern about the safety of dietary supplements containing L-tryptophan and related compounds such as L-5-hydroxytryptophan, this does not mean that FDA prohibits the marketing of dietary supplements that contain L-tryptophan.


July 10, 2006 - 7:52am

to the personal remarks i will not respond, since i really do not find any comfort in attempts to belittle someone through blog comments

really sounds consistant with

it really sounds like some average Creationists' pamphlet with half-quotes, half truths and zero value.

July 10, 2006 - 9:29am

The quoted remarks were aimed at the book. Not at anyone in person. From rereading your post, it is quite hard to distinguish the border between report on the book and your personal opinions and tangents on book's topics. I did not go at you personally and if that is the feeling you got, i appologise. I admire your SEO work and business model you are running here, but the feeling i got from reading this particular post is that either the book you are talking about, or your opinions stated here, lack the criticising aspect one should demand from a writer that touches on scientific issues (such as potential harmfulness of a drug or a food supplement). The feeling i got is that the incorrect conclusions were made a-priori and then material was searched for that could substantiate those conclusions.

The case against companies that use their influence/money to play markets/ public for thier benefit is only undermined by this lack of scientific critical observation.

Again, that is only my 5 cents on the issue, and i appologize if it insulted you in a personal way

July 10, 2006 - 10:46am

Hi Neyne
Individuals can of course do their own research if they like (and of course I am doing nothing but encouraging that).

But for me after reading thousands of messages stating something that aligns with one's own experiences a note of caution is not something that undermines science, IMHO.

And even if those people are only experiencing a negative placebo effect it does not make their experiences, feelings, beliefs, and worldviews any less real.

Why is it that we should blindly trust advertising and for profit business models of others until science absolutely proves otherwise? And why blindly trust scientific research funded by, and to prove the value of those businesses?

I think just reminding people to question authority is important as the lines between content / advertising / opinion / fact / science are blurring.

When thousands of searchers find a site each day and report some of the same side effects from the prescriptions as one experiences on illegal drugs or while overusing natural antidepressants it might be worth pointing out that there could be a better way.

When people show you the scars and tell you about how they slit their wrists while on a drug and you read many other stories in the news about suicide potentially being linked to drug usage it is worth noting. When kids on these drugs are more likely to commit suicide than depressed kids not on these drugs (and the scientific numbers are there on that one) it is worth noting.

And that is exactly why I point out that sort of stuff.

But then again, everything is just a number or statistic to be used and manipulated for personal gain until it hits close to home.

July 10, 2006 - 12:08pm

I think that there is one important moment in science you are missing and that is peer reviewed publication system, One scientist or a lab group may very well be on the paycheck of one of the companies but the reviewers of the publications that make or break a scientific research are not (or there are much lower chances of that happening). I think that the problem of corporate funded researches is an important one to address, but i also think it is being exaggerated to a certain extent. I will never forget a story told to me by a first hand witness, about a prominent molecular biologist giving a lecture at a symposium at Harvard and stating that the research she is going to talk about, deals with a potential drug being developed by a certain pharmaceutical company. she also said that she feels obligated to say, before she starts the lecture, that her financial portfolio includes some of the stocks of the same comapny. Half of the people in the (previously full) hall, got up and left.

I agree with you that there is misconduct in certain cases and that one should point it out wherever and whenever found, but before yelling wolf, one should check and find scientific proof, because that one is most often free of bias. Not doing so does the worst possible service to the anti corporate efforts which could otherwise enjoy wide scientific support.

The story with the LTryp recall is a very good example. There is definitely something fishy, but not from keeping the LTryp on the market, rather the seemingly perfectly timed anti depressant recall seems like a intentional action trying to promote prozac.

I would be more interested in hearing your take on the following things you wrote:

# biotechnology allows us to fight microbes more efficiently by doing things like gene-splicing and gene-gluing enzymes from one creature to inject that information into other creatures. this creates the ability to produce large quantities of affordable microbe fighting cells.
# while biotechnology makes it easier to fight micro parasites it makes it easier for macro parasites to be injected into a large portion of the food chain and form monopolies

what do you mean gene splicing and gene gluing ? and can you give examples of micro-vs macro parasites. I believe i am unfamiliar with these terms...

July 10, 2006 - 1:10pm

rather the seemingly perfectly timed anti depressant recall seems like a intentional action trying to promote prozac.

Which is precisely what I thought smelled shady / fishy.

My other comments about it being allowed to be in baby food even during the recall was not to say that the stuff was being permanently banned, but to further point out that for it to be left in baby food while recalled at a specific point in time is IMHO quite shady.

I am not at any level a that stuff is quoting the stuff from the book.

a microparasite would be something that spreads and lives off of its environment (this could be stuff like the plague or any of a myriad of diseases, etc.)

a macroparasite would be an institution which profits by inserting itself into basic human needs (either through directly influencing human biology or perhaps through inserting itself in the food chain). for example, seed companies that create defective crop seeds that self destruct if not used that year AND also require excessive fertilization created by the same company.

July 10, 2006 - 1:33pm

Which is precisely what I thought smelled shady / fishy.

My other comments about it being allowed to be in baby food even during the recall was not to say that the stuff was being permanently banned, but to further point out that for it to be left in baby food while recalled at a specific point in time is IMHO quite shady.

So it is misunderstanding. :)

July 11, 2006 - 12:40am

To Neyne:

"I admit that i haven't read the book you are mentioning, but from what you quote, it really sounds like some average Creationists' pamphlet with half-quotes, half truths and zero value."

What about "above average" creationists such as ?


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