Cambrian explosion’ of intellectualism

One question is: why learn advanced mathematics? This is related to the is-ought problem, as posed by Hume. Problems in differential geometry can be difficult and time-consuming , unlike simple calculus, and are best done by computer, not by hand. A single tensor, as found in general relativity, may have dozens of components…writing them out would be taxing. The question is, what do we want to do with this knowledge; what is the ‘ends’? There is value in learning complicated, abstract math to signal intellect and thus become more popular online, and maybe get consulting work. That alone is very valuable, and is why STEM graduates or graduates from elite schools make so much money and have such god job prospects compared to everyone else, because such degrees generally require a lot of intelligence to obtain and thus signal competence.

But also, why is there so much interest in learning complicate, esoteric math concepts? All things ‘smart’ have gotten more attention as of late, such as as theoretical physics, quantum mechanics, philosophy and math (as well as all those things melded together). It seems, especially as of 2013, there is huge demand for learning complicated mathematics, coding, and trading algorithms. It’s like the AP-math class of high school but expanded to include almost everyone, not just a dozen students. Popular sites like WaitbutWhy are popularizing weird ideas (cryonics, fermi paradox, etc.) that just as recently as a decade ago were mostly of the domain of science fiction aficionados and scientists. Pre-2008, the internet was a pretty ‘dumb’ place, dominated by unsightly MySpace, LiveJournal and DeviantArt profiles, V-Bulletin forums, and bombastic opinion pieces, bland advice pieces, and content transcribed from offline sources to the internet. Then, around 2013 or so, saw the advent of long-form journalism, infographics, data visualizations, and social networking like Facebook and Twitter (which replaced Myspace). And also, the rise of ‘expert culture’ – sites like Reddit, Hacker News, Medium, as well as those ‘question and answer’ sites that have social aspects to them (math exchange/overflow, stack overflow/exchange), all of which reward competent, helpful people with ‘karma’ and status. In the past, you either had to go to a buggy V-Bulletin site or a newsgroup, and your contributions were generally ignored outside of their respective communities. ‘Expert culture’, which is related to ‘intellectualism culture’ is how ‘esoteric celebrities’ are created, because now these competent, smart people are having their contributions broadcast to the world, and gaining wealth and social status in the process. There is huge market for this complicated stuff–and no topic is too complicated or esoteric. I liken it to a ‘Cambrian explosion’ of intellectualism.

But also, people observe, read headlines about high-IQ founders, venture capitalists, and coders making tons of money in Web 2.0 (Uber, Pinterest, Snaphat, Dropbox, etc.); STEM people getting tons of prestige, status, and global notoriety for their findings (Arxiv physics and math papers frequently go viral); and how the economy, especially as of 2008, rewards intellectualism and STEM in terms of higher wages and surging asset prices (like stocks (the S&P 500 has nearly tripled since the 2009 bottom), web 2.0 valuations (Snapchat is worth $15 billion, on its way to $50 billion), and real estate (Palo Also home prices have doubled since 2011)), and understandably many people want a piece of the wealth pie. They see that intellect – which includes STEM, finance, and also quantitative finance – is the path to both riches and social status (as embodied by wealthy geniuses like Musk, Thiel, Zuckerberg, Shkreli), which is why there is so much interest in these technical, difficult subjects, unlike decades ago when only a handful of people were interested. This is the so-called wealth-intellectualism synthesis.

An explanation for this ‘explosion’ may have to do with how the internet evolved, as well as demographic changes. From the late 90′s until around the early 2000′s, the internet was dominated primarily by music downloading/sharing and pornography, as well as crudely designed ‘personal webpages’ and news repositories (cnn.com, fox.com, etc.). Internet and computer speeds were slow, and what little precious bandwidth there was could not go to waste, so that meant a lot people used the internet to circumvent restrictions found offline, for example, not having to pay $18 for a CD but instead downloading the songs for free using a service such as Napster, which took a long time due to slow internet speeds. But at the time, it was amazing….people underestimate the importance of music downloads for the early history of the internet. While teens and 20-somethings were downloading music and pornography, older people were primarily using the internet to check news and finance (motley fool and yahoo finance were two popular sites). By 2005, almost everyone has some form of high-speed internet, and forums and social networks such as Myspace and v-Bulletin were becoming very popular and has begun to overshadow music and porn downloads, but the internet was still a pretty ‘dumb’ place. At this, point millennials were still in their in their early to mid teens and didn’t have as large of a presence on the internet as they do now (post-2013), which between 2002-2009 was dominated by gen-x.

Fast-forward to 2013 and millennials are either finishing college or just graduated and now dominate the internet, which has evolved from being dominated by Myspace, porn, v-bulletin forums, and music downloads (all of which have been pushed to the periphery, and Myspace has been replaced by Twitter, Tumblr, Medium, Instagram, and Facebook, all of which are much better), to now being dominated by ‘smart’ sites such as Medium, Reddit, and Hacker News, that reward intellectualism and have huge traffic and growth. Although Slashdot, a smart site, was popular in 2002-2009, it was mostly an outlier, not the mainstream. Furthermore, millennials, being overeducated and more intellectually curious than earlier generations, are leading this intellectual renaissance/explosion and have a keen interest in high-IQ topics such as economics, philosophy, computer programming, physics, finance, HBD, political science, sociology, etc. – not just music downloads or checking sports scores, and readily debate these complicated topics on social news sites such as Reddit or Hacker News or on Twitter. Debating physics and economics online, IMHO, is more interesting than downloading music. Instead of trying to find the latest ‘Britney download’, young people now want to learn about functional programming, how to make money online (such as through stocks and finance), how to be self-sufficient (instead of broke, dull, and spendthrift like their baby boomer parents), or how the space-time continuum works. They are also taking to Medium and Tumblr to blog about philosophy, social theory, and how to find meaning in life, but also about programming and start-ups. Additionally, millennials helped create the ‘alt right’, as well as other esoteric ideologies and movements (such as MGTOW and Red Pill) that defy the predictable left-right dichotomy.