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kottke.org posts about This Is Your Mind on Plants

“Caffeine Was an Amazing Aid to the Rise of Capitalism”

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 23, 2021

In this video, Michael Pollan explains how caffeine is woven into the fabric of modern society. Here’s the short version of how that came to be: People used to drink a lot of alcohol because water was unsafe, so folks were often in a sort of low-grade stupor. When coffee hit Europe, it provided the stimulation, focus, and energy necessary for people to work better and longer. Voila, the Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution.

You can read more about caffeine in Pollan’s latest book This Is Your Mind on Plants (excerpt here) or in his 2020 audiobook called Caffeine: How Caffeine Created the Modern World.

Caffeine, the World’s Most Popular Psychoactive Drug

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 10, 2021

In an excerpt from his new book This Is Your Mind on Plants, Michael Pollan writes about caffeine, a performance enhancing drug that humans seemingly cannot get enough of.

Cognitive psychologists sometimes talk in terms of two distinct types of consciousness: spotlight consciousness, which illuminates a single focal point of attention, making it very good for reasoning, and lantern consciousness, in which attention is less focused yet illuminates a broader field of attention. Young children tend to exhibit lantern consciousness; so do many people on psychedelics. This more diffuse form of attention lends itself to mind wandering, free association, and the making of novel connections — all of which can nourish creativity. By comparison, caffeine’s big contribution to human progress has been to intensify spotlight consciousness — the focused, linear, abstract and efficient cognitive processing more closely associated with mental work than play. This, more than anything else, is what made caffeine the perfect drug not only for the age of reason and the Enlightenment, but for the rise of capitalism, too.

The power of caffeine to keep us awake and alert, to stem the natural tide of exhaustion, freed us from the circadian rhythms of our biology and so, along with the advent of artificial light, opened the frontier of night to the possibilities of work.

I particularly enjoyed — and by enjoyed I mean “found uncomfortably true” — this line:

Daily, caffeine proposes itself as the optimal solution to the problem caffeine creates.

For more information on how caffeine enabled the Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution, check out Tom Standage’s A History of the World in 6 Glasses.