“In this technology-ridden world, it’s easy to assume that the seat of human intelligence is similar to our increasingly smart devices. But the reliance on the computer as a metaphor for the brain might be getting in the way of advancing brain research.”
“Scientists at Massachusetts General Hospital studied 17 ‘superagers,’ people over 65 who have the mental function of those in their 20s. The goal was to find out if there were any observable differences between superager brains and normal brains, and if so, whether the rest of us could use that information to give ourselves better brain function through the years.” The Answer? Yes!
A longread report on “Calling Bullshit in the Age of Big Data,” a full course taught by two data scientists at the University of Washington who believe that teaching bullshit detection is one of the main purposes of education – and crucial for a healthy democracy. (Be sure to look out for Brandolini’s Bullshit Asymmetry Principle.)
Australian scientists have recreated a famous experiment and confirmed quantum physics’s bizarre predictions about the nature of reality, by proving that reality doesn’t actually exist until we measure it – at least, not on the very small scale.
“People who enjoy a lot of respect — like Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk — warn of a coming artificial intelligence apocalypse. Others say the conversation has become alarmist — either that general AI is unlikely, or that even if it arrives, it will be here to help, not harm us.”
“Maybe the abolition of privacy will kill the novel. But more likely, as with the invention of trains or rockets or sex, it will make it new. One of a writer’s rewards is to find himself alive in the detail of his stories, and the age of the internet provides a whole new funfair of existential provocations. In my childhood, the visiting funfair was called “The Shows”, and that is what I found when I went looking for heroes in the fiction machine, carnivalesque people who are bent of shape – by their pasts, by their ambitions or by their illusions – under the internet’s big tent. In a world where everybody can be anybody, where being real is no big deal, some of us wish to work back to the human problems, driven by a certainty that our computers are not yet ourselves. In a hall of mirrors we only seem like someone else.”
Patrick West: “Since his death in 1900, the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche has had the unfortunate distinction of being blamed for three catastrophes to have befallen Western civilization” – World War I (some of his bellicose writings), World War II (the whole Übermensch thing), and relativism (thanks to Foucault). “But is Nietzsche really to blame? And was he really a relativist? I would say that he isn’t and he wasn’t. I believe that it’s time that the great man and free-thinker par excellence was reclaimed by the school of the Enlightenment.”
Despite Nietzsche’s pointed, if sporadic, political commentary, there’s a debate among scholars about the political relevance of his thought. On the one side are those who think Nietzsche’s concerns were largely apolitical. If you comb through his texts, you don’t find much that speaks directly to traditional political concerns. And when he does touch the political, it’s never in any systematic way; there’s no unified theory. On the other side are those who see in Nietzsche a deeply political thinker. It’s true that much of his writing is about morality and the role of art in society. But if you believe, as I do, that ethics and culture are inseparable from politics, Nietzsche’s ideas are inescapably political.
“The spectacular advances of modern science have generated a mindset that makes potential limits to scientific inquiry intuitively difficult to grasp. Again and again we are given examples of seemingly insurmountable problems that yield to previously unimaginable answers. Just as some physicists believe we will one day have a Theory of Everything, many cognitive scientists believe that consciousness, like any physical property, can be unraveled. Overlooked in this optimism is the ultimate barrier: The nature of consciousness is in the mind of the beholder, not in the eye of the observer.”
Power is a drug, or it’s worse than a drug. A psychology professor found during two decades of work that people “under the influence of power” act like they have brain injuries, “becoming more impulsive, less risk-aware, and, crucially, less adept at seeing things from other people’s point of view.”
Actually, art is better when the artists are organized, or so say these two artists who have written a book about creativity.
The theory runs: “The Cars-verse includes a World War II–era Jeep named Sarge, who explicitly references events like the Battle of the Bulge. In the direct-to-DVD film Planes (made by Disney but not Pixar), there is an actual WWII flashback in which the plane Skipper recalls losing his entire squadron in the Pacific Theater. Assuming that Car WWII occurred, and that it contains the same contours as the actual WWII, we can assume that there were Car Axis powers, and thus a Car Hitler.”
We’re physical beings, so maybe we think our minds are more powerful than they are. “Is it possible that our experience of decision-making — the impression we have of making choices, indeed of having choices to make, sometimes hard ones — is entirely illusory? Is it possible that a chain of physical events in our bodies and brains must cause us to act in the way we do, whatever our experience of the process may be?”
Senator Al Franken – author of “Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them,” which is now 20 years old – and Olivia Wilde, about to star in “1984” on Broadway, talk lies, fake news, truth, and literature. Franken: “It’s adorable to think I made a living by pointing out that people were lying. And people seemed to care about it back then.”
“Imagine that a legal structure were erected to execute the wishes of the dead, and that the law would side with the dead even when their wishes conflicted with the needs of the living, or with the wellbeing of future generations.”
“It is with relatively high confidence that I predict you’re going to see a boom in landscape architecture. You will see innovation and invention that has never been possible, because suddenly, everyone’s going to have all this excess space.”
In just the article we need for a summer Friday at the office, Melissa Dahl offers three suggestions that generally work for her.
Stephen Greenblatt leads us through the 4th-century theologian’s life and writings to explain how he invented the doctrine of original sin and associated it with sex and conception – and how, to justify that doctrine, he constructed an elaborate argument to take literally a biblical story that thinkers had treated as an allegory.
“The model that allowed two bots to have a conversation—and use machine learning to constantly iterate strategies for that conversation along the way—led to those bots communicating in their own non-human language. If this doesn’t fill you with a sense of wonder and awe about the future of machines and humanity then, I don’t know, go watch Blade Runner or something.”
“Revenge and punishment both imply, ‘Even if I’d been you, and I’d had your life, I would never have done what you did.’ And that in turn implies, ‘I wouldn’t have done it, because I’m better than you.’ But the person who says, ‘I’m better than you’ is taking a serious step in a very dangerous direction. And the person who says, ‘Even if I’d had your life, I would never have done what you did’ is very probably wrong.”
“A research team led by Girija Kaimal of Drexel University found just a few minutes of doodling or freestyle drawing activates the brain’s reward system, leaving people feeling more creative and confident in their problem-solving abilities.”
“It is as if the brain reacts to a stimulus by building then razing a tower of multi-dimensional blocks, starting with rods (1D), then planks (2D), then cubes (3D), and then more complex geometries with 4D, 5D, etc. The progression of activity through the brain resembles a multi-dimensional sandcastle that materializes out of the sand and then disintegrates,”
Oh yes, they do happen – as recently as last year in India, and in 2007 in the U.S. (in Omaha). One major problem, though, is serving the defendant with papers. Seriously.
“Let it be said that studying boredom will not solve our problems with respect to desire and its tangles; nothing but death can do that! But Heidegger was right that the correct attitude to boredom is one of rigorous fascination.
According to the “spin-off” theory of philosophical progress, all new sciences start as branches of philosophy, and only become established as separate disciplines once philosophy has bequeathed them the intellectual wherewithal to survive on their own.
“In the field of self-improvement, there have always been snake oil salesman ready to promote gimmicks disguised as legitimate answers. But the internet age has ushered in a whole new era: The maddening proliferation of hope — clouded in broscience. The 7 ways to transform your sex life. Use polyphasic sleep to hack your energy levels. Dump a stick of butter in your coffee to energize your breakfast and keep you feeling full all day (no shit — you just dumped a stick of butter in your coffee). All of these hacks carry a similar message: If only we did XYZ, then our bodies, minds, and entire lives will transform for the better.”
A half-ironic Tumblr post from October has changed The Babadook forever: “In recent weeks, the Babadook-as-queer-icon has gone from a internet in-joke to a Pride Month figurehead, with remixed representations of the monster he appears in a storybook in the film featuring in celebrations online and off.”
Google learned early on to devote time to training its people to relax – and that was for business purposes. “Meditation and other restful practices don’t just help workers disconnect—they may boost innovation, too.”
A meditation upon the titles we throw away: “I no longer go to church, since here in the Catskills we have the dump. Ours is the purest iteration of the cathedral: on a windswept rise under a ceiling of sky, the enclosing mountains the choir waiting silently to begin. Beneath the metal eaves of a soaring peaked roof, mortal leavings gather.”
The Roma in Europe number about 12 million, the largest ethnic minority in Europe – and after generations of working on it, they’re getting their own institute for arts and culture.