Raw Thought

by Aaron Swartz

Aaron’s Patented Demotivational Seminar

Thousands of people out there are willing to give you a motivational seminar, but only Aaron’s Patented Demotivational Seminars are going to actually admit they demotivate you. I’ve collected thousands of actual facts from real scientists and the verdict is in: people don’t matter, except for a couple of rare exceptions, and you’re not one of them. Sorry.

Let’s start at the beginning, shall we? The universe is a bunch of random particles shooting through space following a handful of simple laws. Through completely random and unintentional properties, some of those particles bounced together to form you. But, I swear, it was a total accident. They didn’t even realize they were doing it at the time and if they knew they’d probably feel kind of guilty about it.

For a long time, it was pretty clear that most people didn’t matter. The average person didn’t leave their town or village and so only interacted with a small handful of people who lived near them, most of whom found them annoying. The Internet has changed all that. Now the average person doesn’t leave their computer and so only interacts with a small handful of spammers who read their LiveJournal, most of whom find them annoying. Luckily for posterity, their LiveJournal will probably disappear within their lifetime due to a hard drive crash or some other kind of poor server maintenance.

But let’s say you want to make a difference in the world. You can learn a skill and go into a profession, where you get bossed around and told exactly what to do by people more powerful than you. (Obeying them is called “professionalism”.) It’s completely futile; had you not gone into the professional (or if you decide to disobey orders) they would have found someone else to do the exact same thing.

The same is true even if you’re the one giving orders. Imagine about the most powerful job you can think of. Let’s say you’re a US Supreme Court Justice, able to change the laws of the world’s only superpower with the stroke of your pen. Well, big deal. Had you not been appointed to the Supreme Court the President who appointed you would have found some other judge who would have made the same changes to the law. Yeah, you get to wear a robe and feel powerful, but when you look at the cold, hard, scientific facts, you’re not making a lick of difference in the world.

Want to actually make a difference? You’ll have to buck the system instead of joining it.

You should follow me on twitter here.

March 27, 2007


Reminded me of Dylan - Everybody’s got to serve somebody.

posted by Ryan Brown on March 27, 2007 #

I heartily disagree. And, to top it off, I found your post motivating.

Actually, people do matter when it comes to other people. (I don’t know if they matter in the grand scheme of the universe.) And, though I get your point about being outside of the system, none of us are outside of a system. And it has been amazing me lately how much difference just one person in a powerful (or even not so powerful position) can make.

It is easy just to be a cog in the wheel, so I reccomend (to myself who wants to make a positive difference) to act with integrity and kindness - which alone can radiate out with such vast ripples of effect - and to be deliberate about which wheels I am a part of.

Even doing what I love and being willing to be happy is a blow to facism, frankly.

posted by B. on March 27, 2007 #


posted by Tommi on March 27, 2007 #

“Want to actually make a difference? You’ll have to buck the system instead of joining it.”

Your point is silly. The system has the power and “makes the most difference”. You’ll just be joining the millions of arm-chair revolutionaries who do nothing but talk a lot about how wrong things are.

If you have some secret plan for ‘making a difference’ outside of the system please publish it. Otherwise you are just bandying about a cliche.


posted by Devilz Advocado on March 28, 2007 #

What is it you’re looking for? How would you like the system to be different?

posted by Sean Abrahams on March 28, 2007 #

Actually, knowing that you don’t matter at all is incredibly liberating. If you’re not a world shifter, you can instead relax and enjoy life, friends, and a good beer. AHhhhhhhh.

posted by Sean on March 28, 2007 #

Quote: “The universe is a bunch of random particles shooting through space following a handful of simple laws. Through completely random and unintentional properties, some of those particles bounced together to form you. But, I swear, it was a total accident.”

Alright, sorry to be a nerd. I’m doing a PhD in Physics so please understand my agnst. FIRST, the laws of nature are NOT SIMPLE!! Dude!! What did you get for your Physics exams? Einsteins 4D description of space-time might seem like a simple idea to the layman (and I suspect a lot of lay people think they understand it because they’ve seen a rubber sheet being deformed and a ball dropped into it), but have you actually tried solving Riemann Tensors for anything but the non-trivial cases? Its hard!! Very hard! And there’s a lot more going on than the rubber sheet have you believe! And dont get me started with real Quantum Mechanics. Its full of postulates which can’t be explained with convential logic and the number of postulates in QM is rather large (especially when you try to use the theory for solving real problems) - probably because its an ad hoc [read: crap] theory which hopefully will be replaced with something more elegant [read: more self consistent with fewer postulates]. Which brings me to the frontier of Physics - your Brane Theories, which incidently are also not simple to understand, even for the most gifted indidivals of this species. Yes you might have read Brian Greene’s book, but its my personal experience (as a scientist) that other scientists deliberately leave out the crucial details when presenting a paper. And the devil Aaron, is in the detail!

Maybe when you meant “handful of simple rules” you meant simple to the atoms? Or simple to some God-like entity? Clearly they aint simple to us mere mortals!

Which brings me to my next point (abruptly): Entropy. I’m not sure if you know much about the subject. I suspect if not, a googling is in order. Its a much loved subject close to my heart. I’ll assume you know what the concept entails. So according to Entropy “we” didn’t arrive by random chance. Human life was thermodynamically favourable for the given circumstances at the time, ergo we exist. I think you miss used the word random. Entropy is very much like Evolution, yes there is randomness - but its not truely random. In evolution some species are more preferential to others and hence survive and reproduce. I always thought of it as the same thing with Entropy - some energy configurations are more favourable than others, hence they exist. Again for anything but the most trivial example its very difficult to understand.

The great question (I’m sure your smart enough to have spotted it) is Why? Why are humans entropically favourable? Is it because we increase the disorderness of the universe? Or are we a meta-state for something greater?

Life, is anything but simple and very few things happen in a vaccum.


PS: Sorry for shouting

posted by N on March 28, 2007 #

All the best physicists say, “Dude!!”

Newton: “To every action there is always opposed an equal reaction, dude!”

Einstein: “Yo, Dude! The whole of science is nothing more than a refinement of everyday thinking!”

Hawking: “We are just an advanced breed of monkeys on a minor planet of a very average star. But, dude, we can understand the Universe. That makes us something very special.”

posted by Ged on March 28, 2007 #

Get over yourself!

Oliver Wendall Holmes, ‘just a supreme court justice’, brillantly argued that one cannot make law from some set of first principles, we have to learn from cultural experience or ‘the system’ to develop the law over time.

Aaron go back to school where your level of ignorance is considered free thinking as opposed to seeking sympathy from others about hard it is for a depressed millionaire to cope with professionalism.

posted by Jeremy Corbett on March 29, 2007 #

I made only be made of stardust and all those quarky thingees, but I do make a difference.

Nonetheless, your PDS essay made me howl. Still chuckling.

posted by Meteor Blades on March 29, 2007 #

“Through completely random and unintentional properties, some of those particles bounced together to form you. But, I swear, it was a total accident.”

Come now, surely you’re joking. That goes against every principle of evolutionary theory.

posted by itistoday on April 2, 2007 #

I think when people realize what you’ve pointed out above, they can finally start acting from a stance of humility. Much preferable to the egomaniac that wonders why the rest of the world isn’t paying attention to them.

posted by Webomatica on April 10, 2007 #

This may be the most overtly revolutionary thing I’ve seen in your blog! Sure, it’s a bit of an over-simplification, but breaking things down to their simplest terms can also help to prevent meaningless justifications. Thinking outside of the common paradigm is often the only way to matter. Most other existences only allow you to BE matter.

posted by Michael Moriconi on April 17, 2007 #

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