The Feed of Nations

I know I cannot do my angst justice, but I will try anyway. You see, I am not rational. Nobody is, if you think about it. Think about it.

But we try to be, don’t we? We’ve taught ourselves and our children and the children of other children to believe that more is more, that bigger is better, and that if indeed you are better and more, you must have what is bigger and more.

And because time is money, and land is money, and labour is money, we maximize them like the swollen udders of a commercial dairy cow and yank them hard and fast – but wait, why get people to do that when you have robots that cost less than people and can do a better job?

The fault of our rationality is that it cannot be corrected. Because we assume our own rationality, this forbids us from looking back and asking if we’ve done anything wrong. The logic goes like this: “if at every step I’ve exercised my rationality to make the optimal decision, then everything I have done up until now must be correct and needs not be given a second thought. I am at the best place I can be, and all I need to do is continue to use my rationality and make even more of today than I did yesterday.”

With blinding naivety, we forget that the scaling of rationality across time necessitates omniscience. There are two pieces to this: scalability and being omniscient. Scalability, as defined by Wikipedia, is “the capability of a system, network, or process to handle a growing amount of work, or its potential to be enlarged in order to accommodate that growth.” Omniscient, a word you would have likely heard in either Bible Study or your grade 8 English class means all-knowing regardless of time. Since rationality exercised in a single point in time requires and is restricted to knowledge of all information up to and possibly including that point in time it excludes any information about the future. In other words, the validity of each decision you make stands only in the moment of your decision.

And this isn’t hard to understand. We’ve all done something we’ve regretted, but of course we didn’t regret it in the moment. The regret came only after we realized what we missed out on, or the costs we didn’t anticipate.

Except, even the best decisions we make can be overturned by just a single piece of information.

Consider the case against of antibiotics, which were heralded as miracle drugs in the 1940’s when they were first widely introduced. It cannot be disputed that millions today owe their lives to Alexander Fleming’s discovery, but as Princeton’s Bonnie Bassler points out, “no one thought that bacteria were going to become resistant.” And that single fact has changed the way we look at antibiotics ever since it was uncovered.

Due to this discontinuous nature of decisions (that their validity expire as soon as they’re made), a series of decisions has a tendency to paint itself into a corner. This happens despite the continuous spawning of new information because under the rationality assumption, all past decisions are indisputable and therefore will continue to govern future decisions even with their deteriorating validity. Consequently, our ability to make rational decisions becomes impaired due to limited choice and inability to admit new information into our model.

We thought the Earth was flat, so we thought the oceans were limitless.

We thought the oceans were limitless, so the number of fish in there must be as well.

We discovered the Earth was not flat, but round. But we still believed the oceans to be limitless, and the number of fish in it, too.

We built the biggest cities by the ocean, because that’s where the fish were.

We sailed from one end of the ocean to another. But we still believed that the fish in it were endless.

Fish were becoming harder to catch, so we thought bigger boats to take us further out would solve the problem.

It did, so bigger boats were built to chase the infinite number of fish in the sea.

But it became hard again, so we brought bigger nets along. There were always more fish to catch.

There would always be more fish to catch. There needs to always be more fish to catch.

Otherwise, what were our big nets for? What were our big boats for? What were our big cities for?

Yes, there are more fish to catch still.

In a nutshell, we’re all deep f*cked.

So can we get unstuck again? Yes, by admitting that even the best of our intentions will fail to be sufficient, that we being humans in our puny three dimensions cannot know all things hidden and yet to unravel in the universe. By admitting that our assumption of rationality is itself irrational.

Then will we be released from the shortfalls of our yesterdays. Then we can begin to try to fix the world we’ve torn apart.

The secret things belong

to the LORD our God,

but the things revealed belong

to us and to our sons forever,

that we may observe all

the words of this law.

Deuteronomy 29:29

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Clementine Almond Torte

Now that I’ve depressed the heck out of you and stripped you of your faith in humanity, you can have your cake. And the name basically sums it up. There’s whole clementines, almonds, sugar, egg, almond liqueur, and a pinch of salt. That’s it. It’s super moist, with variations of texture throughout, from a crisp edge to a japanese honey kasutera interior. It gets better with time, so leave it overnight in the fridge before you cut into it. A dusting of sugar is all you need, really, but a dollop of amaretto-spiked mascarpone or clementine curd doesn’t hurt either.

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Clementine Almond Torte

Clementine Almond Torte, serves 12-16

  • 6 clementines
  • 6 free range eggs, separated
  • 250 g ground almonds
  • 200 g sugar and 1/4 tsp cream of tartar (optional)
  • 1/2 tsp almond extract or 1 tsp almond liqueur
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  1. Place the clementines in a small saucepan, cover with water, and bring to the boil. Continue simmering for 30 minutes until the clementines are puffed up and soft. Let cool, but do not discard the liquid.
  2. Preheat the oven to 360 degrees with the rack in the middle of the oven. Line the bottom of a 9-inch spring-form pan with parchment paper and grease the sides with olive oil or butter.
  3. Place the cooled clementines, egg yolks, ground almonds, salt, and almond extract in the blender or food processor and blend until smooth, scraping down the sides occasionally. Transfer to a large mixing bowl.
  4. Meanwhile in a stand mixer, beat the egg whites on medium speed until frothy. Gradually tip in the sugar and cream of tartar, until fully incorporated. Turn the speed up to medium-high and beat until the sugar is completely dissolved and the egg whites are glossy and form firm peaks.
  5. Add 1/2 cup of the reserved clementine liquid to the clementine almond mixture and stir until fully combined. Fold in 1/3 of the egg whites to loosen the mixture, then fold in the remainder of the egg whites until even.
  6. Pour into the prepared pan, tap to release any large air bubbles, and bake for 45-55 minutes, or until toothpick inserted comes out with moist crumbs.
  7. Cool completely, cover, and chill overnight in the fridge. Don’t worry if the cake sags in the middle – that’s what you’re going for, and it means the middle’s still nice and moist!
  8. Dust with icing sugar and serve, with a cup of joe or orange pekoe.

Enjoy!

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Clementine Almond Torte
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