For New Readers

An intro to some of the topics I've been writing about. (My favorites in italics.)

Startups and Technology

  • Anthropology of Mid-Sized Startups. To fully appreciate what goes on inside a growing startup, it pays to remember that an engineer is also a primate. [Guest post at ribbonfarm.]
  • Startups are Frontier Communities. Founding and growing a company is fundamentally an act of exploration and colonization.
  • Professional Growth. Think of yourself as a marshmallow of skills being pulled by a vacuum of expectations.
  • Code Smells, Ethical Smells. Faced with the challenge of acting in an intractable world, engineers and social creatures have devised similar tools for coping with complexity.
  • Entropy and Rebootable Processes. No system has 100% uptime, and the only way to approach immortality is to periodically restart from scratch.


  • Minds, Bodies, and Rituals. Imagine your limbs as joysticks. Move them in a particular pattern (up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A) and you can unlock entirely new states of consciousness.
  • Modern Rituals of Solidarity. One of the most awe-inducing rituals on the planet, the hajj, stirs millions if not billions of people into a psychological whorl of synchrony, coordination, and sacrifice, creating a strong sense of unity and shared purpose.
  • Sports are Rituals of Solidarity. Sports are an orgy of synchronized moods and behaviors -- near-perfect rituals for producing harmony and solidarity in a throng of fans.
  • Status as Space. We understand social status in terms of personal space. The higher your social status, the more personal space you tend to control.


  • Religion is Not About Beliefs. Don’t worry about the beliefs. Ignore them. Better yet, put them in little clinical boxes with labels that say SPECIMEN, and tuck them away in your favorite filing system. Then you can start to make progress on the really interesting questions.
  • Playing God for Fun and Profit. Imagine yourself the god of a large, early-historic tribe. Your task is to design a religion, and you have only one goal: Gain as many loyal followers as you can over the next millennium.
  • Religion, Politics, and Self-Suppression. Religion and political leadership are so intertwined across eras and cultures because they are about the same thing: performing the miracle of converting unrelated individuals into a group.
  • Religious Beliefs are Shibboleths. The craziness of religious beliefs isn’t a bug; it’s a feature. The beliefs are necessarily crazy, not just incidentally crazy -- because only crazy beliefs can be used to distinguish members of the community.


  • Ecological Thinking. Niches exert a constant pull on behavior; they are semi-stable attractors. If there’s a niche for a particular type of behavior, and if the space is crowded enough (competition), the niche will be filled.
  • Ecological Thinking, Applied. Besides the biosphere, what other systems are ecosystems? Lots, it turns out.
  • Settling. The process of moving into a niche and devoting more resources to its exploitation.

Morality, Ethics, and Stories

  • Eager vs. Skittish Utilitarianism. Like a horse startling at the slightest whiff of danger, we should recoil when utilitarian conclusions offend our moral noses.
  • Stories and Theories. Stories give us access to a wider range of the experience than we could ever hope to reach by ourselves, directly.
  • Stories, Take Two. Stories told with a heavy hand offend me. If you have an axe to grind, don’t whet it against my soft empathic brain. Have the courage to engage my skeptical analytic brain.


conceptual metaphor links an abstract target domain (the one we want to understand) to a more concrete, familiar source domain. It’s an exceptionally powerful tool for producing insight. Some swear by the 2x2; I swear by conceptual metaphors.

Here are some metaphors I've written about:


Last updated June 9, 2014.