Trillions of nanomachines, black phosphorus, Illuminati, bitcoin, von Mises, Freud and de Tocqueville

As a prelude to the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, the American Press Association asked 74 of America’s best thinkers to predict what the 1990s would be like. The answers ranged from the grossly wrong to the freakishly prophetic.

Keep in mind that hardly anyone believed that it would be possible to invent a new global currency built entirely of code, outside the banking structure, backed by no physical assets or government promises, with no capital investment, no big names behind it, and no institutional backing.

In the aftermath of the French Revolution, many supporters of the ancien régimeconvinced themselves that the revolution had been carried out by secret cells within the Freemasons called the Illuminati. This belief was popularized in two widely read books published in 1798, Memoirs Illustrating the History ofJacobinism by Abbé Augustin Barruel and Proofs of a Conspiracy Against all the Religions and Governments of Europe by John Robison.

The idea of a secret society undermining institutions for nefarious purposes provided the template for future conspiracy theories, and conspiracy theories involving Freemasons in particular continued to have considerable influence. In the 19th century, the ideas promoted in those books played a role in the creation of the United States’ first third party, the Anti-Masonic Party. In France, they were widely believed among conservatives, and were promoted in Catholic schools and in the popular press.

“There is a great emerging interest around the world in black phosphorus,” Szkopek says. “We are still a long way from seeing atomic layer in a commercial product, but we have now moved one step closer.”

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Few people know of the link between the most famous psychologist and most famous free-market economist of the 20th century.

Sigmund Freud was 25 years older than Ludwig von Mises, but they were two of the most significant figures of the interwar Viennese intellectual milieu. Mises cited Freud’s books and adopted many of his analytical concepts to make his case against socialism and for a subjectivist understanding of economics.

When Mises wrote his stunning treatise attacking socialism in 1922, he turned to the work of Freud to make a case against women’s subjugation, for freely chosen gender roles, and for traditional family structure. Against the socialists who wanted the state to raise all children, Freud argued that taking away children from parents leaves permanent scars. And against the advocates of “free love,” who do not believe in partner attachments, Mises cited Freud’s view that civilization requires the channeling and maturation of the sexual instinct.

Mises called Freud a “genius” for having these insights.

Tocqueville embodies what was once meant by liberalism, a word now hopelessly distorted. For him, it meant decentralized government, small government, commercial enterprise as the foundation for social life, a rich structure of voluntary institutions, a robust conviction that freedom is the best way to organize society, a belief that tyranny is always to be despised. He found in his travels to the United States the world’s best realization of the liberal ideal.

one of the most astonishing discoveries of the twentieth century—that our cells are comprised of a series of highly sophisticated “little engines” or nanomachines that carry out life’s vital functions. It is a work full of surprises, arguing for example that all of life’s most important innovations were in existence by around 3.5 billion years ago—less than a billion years after Earth formed, and a period at which our planet was largely hostile to living things. How such mind-bending complexity could have evolved at such an early stage, and in such a hostile environment, has forced a fundamental reconsideration of the origins of life itself.


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