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The Whippet #34: Build yourself two tiny telescopes

McKinley Valentine — 10 min read

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Good morning my gleaming oleander flowers,

Are you thinking, "why McKinley, what is that divine smell?" Because I am wearing perfume right now. (I can predict this because I have been wearing a different perfume on each wrist every day for the past week.) I decided, what with it being nearly the new year, and me working from home now, that I ought to be come an elegant creature with a signature scent, who spends her days floating around in a white kimono, arranging flowers in a cool, tall vase while listening to Ladysmith Black Mambazo.

Perfume spreadsheet

 But because I'm me, I set about this by buying 20 different sample perfumes and making a spreadsheet to track all the different notes and accords they're supposed to smell like, so I could figure out what I like (here if you're interested).

And then next to the 'official' notes, there's a column for my notes. And... they're pretty bleak reading. It's basically: standard perfume smell - standard perfume smell - maybe a bit sweeter or melony or something? - standard perfume smell - soap. So yeah, perfume it turns out has 3 smells: perfume, cheap perfume, and soap. Bit of a let-down when you're expecting pear and green tea and cardamom and things that actually smell nice and like themselves.

Which is because, whatever a perfume may say it contains, it's almost wholly synthetic. The molecule undecavertol, for example, is used when chemists want a perfume with apple, birch, or violet leaf notes. It doesn't actually mean that it smells like any of those things. It's like how McDonalds just smells like McDonalds, not any specific thing like fried potato or meat+bread+salad. Synthetic smell compounds. I dunno, maybe I'll just decant some Impulse into a fancy vintage perfume bottle and call it good.

(I'm sure you can train yourself to notice the difference between perfumes, but it's still going to basically just smell like perfume to everyone around you.)

If anyone reading this has noticed that I've clearly just read White Oleander (opening chapter) and accidentally identified (partially) with the villain, please write to me if you get it at all. Maybe it's some idea that if you got the outside stuff right, the rest would happen automatically, or wouldn't matter. She reminds me of the traitor in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. “I had to pick a side. It was an aesthetic choice as much as a moral one. The West has grown so very ugly, don’t you think?”

Anyway she's a terrible person and a toxic narcissist but she probably smells really good.

The CIA funded the Modern Art movement

This sounds crazy but it's on record as just non-controversially true. Through a series of fronts, the CIA funded exhibitions, artificially inflated prices by bidding at art auctions, and generally did everything they could do to secretly support artists including Jackson Pollock and Rothko.

The official line is that it was straight up Cold War cultural propaganda stuff - our art is better than your art, we're culturally rich and you guys are a cultural wasteland, etc.

But I've heard another theory: abstract art doesn't send a clear message. I mean, compared with Goya's civil war paintings, or all the art depicting the French Revolution, or union posters telling workers to Arise. So by artificially inflating its value and channeling artists towards it, they took the revolutionary sting out of art, which they did to try and prevent domestic rebellion.

That last part might not be true, but it's no more unhinged or reeking of cocaine-fuelled optimistic than many other CIA projects. It makes it really hard to disbelieve any conspiracy theory involving the CIA, because they just WOULD. They would try anything, and have, up to and including magic.


Jumping spiders have telescopes for eyes

I don't just mean, oh, they have telescopic vision, they can see far away stuff, I mean their eyes are a tube with a lens at each end. Spider eye lenses are solid and they don't have an iris, so they can't focus well, which usually isn't an issue, but jumping spiders are hunters so they gotta do better than that.

"Basically, jumping spiders have built themselves two little telescopes. There’s a second lens at the end of the tube, and unlike the outer lens it’s flexible. By adjusting the angle and shape of the inner lens, the spiders can focus and zoom in on what they are looking at."

Read more + watch a video of a transparent jumping spider where you can just see it flexing its telescopes through its transparent head.

Eye clinic in Tainan, Taiwan (1962)

Photo by Wang Shuang-chuan, via Darran Anderson who posts a lot of cool city and architecture stuff on Twitter.

Avatar therapy to treat distressing auditory hallucinations

"Distressing" is important because not everyone who hears voices is bothered by them (interestingly, Westerners are way more likely to report them as distressing, and way less likely to report them as friendly, than non-Westerners, article on that).

Anyway, for heaps of people, the voices they hear are domineering, threatening bullies who make their lives hell. But this new(ish) treatment is looking really promising and is also super interesting. Basically they collaborate with the therapist and presumably a computery person to develop an avatar that matches the voice they here, like a custom videogame character.

The avatars are then controlled by therapists, who stage conversations with the hallucinator, starting out as aggressive as the voices, and then backing down, make them feel more empowered over time.

"Patients interact with the avatar as though it was a real person, because they have created it they know that it cannot harm them – as opposed to the voices, which often threaten to kill or harm them and their family. As a result, the therapy helps patients gain the confidence and courage to confront the avatar, and their persecutor."

"Almost all of the 16 patients who underwent up to seven 30-minute sessions in a pilot study conducted by researchers at University College London (UCL) reported a reduction in the frequency and severity of the voices that they heard.

Three of the patients stopped hearing voices completely."

Guardian overvie

Hm I know almost nothing about non-Western philosophy, that's a bit fucked, hey?

from the pretty compelling article 'Western philosophy is racist'

"To anyone who asserts that there is no philosophy outside the Anglo-European tradition, or who admits that there is philosophy outside the West but thinks that it simply isn’t any good, I ask the following:

Why does he think that the Mohist state-of-nature argument to justify government authority is not philosophy? What does he make of Mengzi’s reductio ad absurdum against the claim that human nature is reducible to desires for food and sex? Why does he dismiss Zhuangzi’s version of the infinite regress argument for skepticism? What is his opinion of Han Feizi’s argument that political institutions must be designed so that they do not depend upon the virtue of political agents? What does he think of Zongmi’s argument that reality must fundamentally be mental, because it is inexplicable how consciousness could arise from matter that is non-conscious?

Why does he regard the Platonic dialogues as philosophical, yet dismiss Fazang’s dialogue in which he argues for, and responds to, objections against the claim that individuals are defined by their relationships to others? What is his opinion of Wang Yangming’s arguments for the claim that it is impossible to know what is good yet fail to do what is good? Does he find convincing Dai Zhen’s effort to produce a naturalistic foundation for ethics in the universalisability of our natural motivations? What does he make of Mou Zongsan’s critique of Kant, or Liu Shaoqi’s argument that Marxism is incoherent unless supplemented with a theory of individual ethical transformation? Does he prefer the formulation of the argument for the equality of women given in the Vimalakirti Sutra, or the one given by the Neo-Confucian Li Zhi, or the one given by the Marxist Li Dazhao?

Of course, the answer to each question is that those who suggest that Chinese philosophy is irrational have never heard of any of these arguments because they do not bother to read Chinese philosophy and simply dismiss it in ignorance."

Read the full article

(To be clear, it's a bit fucked because I have a rough mental sketch of the Western philosophical canon, would recognise most of the major thinkers, with deeper knowledge in a few places, and I didn't study it formally or anything, I just followed my interests. But they never took me outside the West (except Buddhism and a bit of the Tao Te Ching). And I suspect I unconsciously tended to assume it was more mystical/religious rather than truly rigorous. So that's not rad.)

Unsolicited Advice: Three things that help with impostor syndrome

Impostor syndrome is where, no matter how skilled and experienced you are, you feel like a fraud. That at any moment, someone will tap you on the shoulder and say "Excuse me ma'am, there's been a mistake... you're not supposed to work here? Also everyone can tell you have no idea what appropriate officewear is, and that you used dry shampoo instead of having a shower this morning. Please gather up your things. So sorry about the mix-up."

At least that's my version, I gather with some people it's a more dramatic unmasking, but for me I always imagine being informed quietly by a butler who's a bit embarrassed for me. And it can be any field, personal or professional.

Anyway here's my 3 tactics, you'll definitely know the 1st, maybe the 2nd, but the 3rd, courtesy of scifi author Chuck Wendig, is a new one to me and I love it.

1. Understand that literally everyone, however famous and lauded, feels this way. Here's an amazing (brief!) story of Neil Gaiman's experience with impostor syndrome. The point being that if everyone feels it, then it's not meaningful feedback. It's a response to being human, not a response to being a fraud (indeed, real frauds often seem LESS likely to feel it). So feeling like a fraud is no particular indication of whether you are or not - it's just not a reliable messenger.

2. This only works with people you respect, such as if you work among talented and admirable people, or you feel like your partner thinks you're much more wonderful than you really are and one day they're going to figure it out and leave you. Basically you leverage your respect for them. They're really smart right? And perceptive, and talented? They know what good work looks like, they've worked with dozens of people before? So if you're really this big doofus that you think you are, how did you manage to successfully deceive multiple piercingly intelligent and competent people, over the course of months? Do you think they would be very easy to fool? (Also, you can't "trick" someone into liking your art. Liking an artwork vs only falsely believing you like an artwork is the same thing. You are experiencing the emotion of enjoying that art.)

3. Chuck Wendig's advice is to lean into it. (Probably works best in situations where the above won't work.)
"I learn to embrace the joy of the forbidden. What I mean is this: impostor syndrome wants you to feel like a new kid in class, and every moment of your career feels like you entering the classroom and going to sit down at a faraway desk as everyone stares at you, The New Kid.

But there's a different version if it, where you experience an illicit thrill of being somewhere you're explicitly not supposed to be. It's like sneaking backstage at a concert. Or hanging out in your high school after hours, after everything is shut and everyone is gone.

There are a few real-world analogs to this I've experienced -- in Hawaii, I've been to places where you're not supposed to go, off-the-beaten-path, and you can see some truly delirious waterfalls, beaches, cliffs, if you do. Or, having crashed a party or an event you weren't invited to? Suddenly you're quickly shoveling down fancy horse-doovers and pretending like you're supposed to be there.

Recently I got to sit in First Class for the first time, and it was like, exciting because I knew I didn't belong there. I was like HA HA FUCK YOU I AM DRINKING SCOTCH BEFORE WE TAKE OFF AT 11AM THAT'S RIGHT, I'M A FLY IN YOUR MILK, RICH PEOPLE. I SEE YOU LOOKING AT ME, GUY IN THE THIRD ROW. IT'S ME, THE BARBARIAN IN ROW 4, BUDDY. HUGS AND KISSES, GUY-WHO-IS-PROBABLY-A-CEO. HA HA HA SUCK IT.

And it's that "ha ha ha suck it" that feels so good about being somewhere you're not supposed to be. There is a great deal of freedom, in fact, in that. Being the barbarian at the gate comes with a great deal of reduced responsibility. Because you're breaking the rules. You've changed the game. You're not supposed to be here, and yet, here you are.

Impostor Syndrome can either be you, The New Kid, nervous about not belonging. Or it can be you, the Party-Crasher, joyfully gobbling down fancy foods and enjoying the anarchy of your uninvited presence."

If you want solicited advice, send questions to or just reply to this email, or I guess ask Chuck Wendig?

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