This is the fourth essay in my series on intellectual legitimacy. Read the previous essay here. This essay was originally published on SamoBurja.com. You can access the original here.

We mostly evaluate knowledge by checking whether society at large perceives it as respectable and reasonable — we call this its intellectual legitimacy. This reliance is a consequence of our deep epistemic dependence on society. Legitimacy unfortunately is imperfectly coupled — and these days, quite weakly coupled — with the truth of a theory or its intellectual merit as a hypothesis.

We outsource most of this verification work to various institutions…


Photograph: Claudio Schwarz.

This is the third essay in my series on intellectual legitimacy. Read the first essay here. Read the previous essay here. This essay was originally published on SamoBurja.com. You can access the original here.

There is a rough hierarchy of legitimacy within the many different ways that knowledge can be communicated. This hierarchy is easiest to observe in writing. In substance, a white paper is just a PDF, which in turn is just a Microsoft Word document. Yet, we know we would treat the same writing differently depending on its format. This is true even if there was very little…


Photograph: the first Solvay Conference in 1911, including Albert Einstein, Marie Curie, and Max Planck.

This is the second essay in my series on intellectual legitimacy. Read the first essay here. This essay was originally published on SamoBurja.com. You can access the original here.

It is always a pleasure to have an excuse to mention underrated thinkers. Robin Hanson is one of my favorites, with dozens of original ideas to his name. His career as a communicator spans everything from coining the term Great Filter in cosmology to writing a book on the inner workings of the human brain. …


Klaus Schwab, Founder of the World Economic Forum, makes an appearance at Davos. Photo by Evangeline Shaw.

This is the first essay in my series on intellectual legitimacy. Read the next essay here. This essay was originally published on SamoBurja.com. You can access the original here.

Which ideas shape society? Why have ideas and systems such as ‘Christianity’, ‘natural selection’, ‘Marxism’ or ‘general relativity’ been so influential? A myriad of answers have been proposed, ranging from the “marketplace of ideas” to Hegelian dialectics to top-down narrative management to the arc of moral progress, and more.

Anyone who hopes to change society through their ideas bases this hope on an answer to this question. The success of such…


This article was originally published on SamoBurja.com. You can access the original here.

For over a decade, I have dedicated myself to the deep study of society. As my readers know, the conceptual core of my study is what I call great founder theory, a theory of society and history in which I propose that a small number of functional institutions, founded by exceptional individuals, form the bedrock of society. I devised this theory after years of original research into institutional functionality across the ages and have previously systematized it in a draft manuscript available on my website. …


This article is based on my lecture at Topos House, San Francisco on February 29, 2020. It was originally published on SamoBurja.com. You can access the original here.

Not all fields of knowledge exist yet. If you tried to study biochemistry in 1820, you’d have a lot of trouble: the field had yet to cohere. Do we think that all the biochemistries of the world have been discovered? If we did back then, we’d be wrong. For those seeking a safe career, sticking to the established fields is probably the right move. But for those interested in pushing forward the…


A woodworking tutorial by YouTuber Matt Estlea

This article was originally published on SamoBurja.com. You can access the original here.

Growing up as an aspiring javelin thrower in Kenya, the young Julius Yego was unable to find a coach: in a country where runners command the most prestige, mentorship was practically nonexistent. Determined to succeed, he instead watched YouTube recordings of Norwegian Olympic javelin thrower Andreas Thorkildsen, taking detailed notes and attempting to imitate the fine details of his movements. Yego went on to win gold in the 2015 World Championships in Beijing, silver in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, and holds the 3rd-longest javelin throw…


Knowledge that we can show exists, but cannot directly access, rests at the foundations of society and technology.

Messier 106

Missing mass, missing knowledge

Many galaxies would fly apart if they had as much mass as estimates based on their visible signature suggest. Although some have posited alternative theories of gravitation to explain this discrepancy, most physicists now hypothesize the existence of mass-bearing particles that are not detectable through emitted radiation such as visible light. We call these particles dark matter, and it is estimated to compose about 85% of all matter in the observable universe.

In analyzing the functional institutions of our society, we are not able to see for ourselves most of the knowledge that created them. Knowledge of this sort includes…


U.S. paratroopers descend upon Hohenfels Drop Zone

From my and Matt Ellison’s article published in The National Interest.

The United States has a very large military — its budget is nearly four times greater than China’s (although China is four times as populous and maintains nearly twice as many active personnel). The U.S. military budget is nearly two and a half times greater than those of all of Europe’s North Atlantic Treaty Organization countries combined. Washington’s defense budget is greater than the combined defense budgets of China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, the United Kingdom, India, France and Japan. …


Medicine Laureate Michael Rosbash with King Carl XVI Gustaf at the 2017 Nobel Prize Award Ceremony

This is an excerpt from the draft of my upcoming book on great founder theory. It was originally published on SamoBurja.com. You can access the original here.

It is a cherished dream for many people to win a Nobel Prize, or an Oscar, or a knighthood, or whatever honor is most respected in the field they dedicate themselves to. These ritualized honors are very important to us, but do we fully understand them?

We usually think honors are about the recipient, but the giver of honors also gains. The giver and recipient collaborate to publicly assert that the recipient is…

Samo Burja

There has never been an immortal society. Figuring out why. I write on history, epistemology and strategy.

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