As a neuroscientist, my interest lies mainly in a more practical question: is it even technically possible to duplicate yourself in a computer program? The short answer is: probably, but not for a while.
Where philosophers have long debated how much we should trust our perception of the external world, neuroscientists operate on the assumption that we shouldn’t trust it much at all. According to neuroscience, it’s pretty much all in your head. Your world, through neuroscience’s empirical lens, is a construct you’ve built from patterns your brain has identified in sensory experiences.
“According to a 2014 Gallup poll, 70 percent of Americans think that the crime rate is increasing, up from 63 percent in 2013. But the reality is that America is getting safer. The national crime rate is about half of what it was at the peak in 1991. … Nnow that crime rates are so low, people have ‘very little direct experience of crime,’ so their perceptions are mainly shaped by news media and entertainment.”
“Just like regular maps, brain maps are useful points of reference. Scientists use them to agree on what they’re studying in the first place, say, by pointing to something called the “anterior cingulate cortex” and having other people know what they’re talking about. But over time, better data can refine those maps. So a team of researchers have marshaled a huge amount of brain scan data to create a new, precise brain map, published in Nature today.”
“What happens after death? In this, the ancients looked to Hades, god of the underworld, brother of Zeus and Poseidon. But Hades gave no reassurance. … Sympathetic interest in the human condition eventually led the Greeks to adopt new forms of religion and new cults. No longer seen as a joyless fate, the afterlife became more of a personal quest.”
“Art requires emotional and phrenic investments, with the promised return of a shared slice of the human experience. When we view computer art, the pestering, creepy worry is: who’s on the other end of the line? Is it human? We might, then, worry that it’s not art at all.”
“Good listening is much more than being silent while the other person talks. To the contrary, people perceive the best listeners to be those who periodically ask questions that promote discovery and insight. These questions gently challenge old assumptions, but do so in a constructive way.”
Jenna Wortham: “Facebook, which can be seen as a kind of social census, now offers nearly 60 different gender options … Plainly, we are in the midst of a profoundly exhilarating revolution. And ‘queer’ has come to serve as a linguistic catchall for this broadening spectrum of identities, so much so that people who consider themselves straight, but reject heteronormativity, might even call themselves queer. But when everyone can be queer, is anyone?”
Linguistic philosopher Ian Olasov: “I think the philosophy of language can help us understand what’s going on, and what I’ve found in some of my research on moral slogans might shed a unique kind of light on the issue.”
Pokemon is also heavily tilted toward cities, not small towns and rural areas. But why? Turns out history is the reason.
“Honorable Turkish nation, claim democracy and peace: I am calling you to the streets against this action of a narrow cadre that has fallen against the Turkish nation. Claim the state, claim the nation.”
“We are caught in a series of confusing battles between opposing forces: between truth and falsehood, fact and rumour, kindness and cruelty; between the few and the many, the connected and the alienated; between the open platform of the web as its architects envisioned it and the gated enclosures of Facebook and other social networks; between an informed public and a misguided mob. What is common to these struggles – and what makes their resolution an urgent matter – is that they all involve the diminishing status of truth.”
“Given enough frustration, it’s normal and healthy to get angry. But for a subset of the U.S. population – some 7 percent of adults, according to the National Institute of Mental Health – the propensity to fly off the handle is so great that they can be professionally diagnosed with ‘Intermittent Explosive Disorder,’ or IED.” (Yes, IED as in improvised explosive device.)
“While Freud’s concept of the superego played a more ethical role, encouraging the id and ego to follow moral rules, [the] Id-Ego-Superego structure roughly matches onto the Unconscious-Conscious-Metacognition structure of the mind studied in neuroscience today.”
“The basic idea—that we should rank candidates for power according to some desirable quality, then pick the best of them—seems too obvious to have needed inventing, but invented it was, and (at least in the West) not so long ago. If we go back to the occasion of its first appearance in the English-speaking world, we will find a group of men who opposed it, not just because they did not think it would work in practice, but because they disagreed with it in principle.”
“Metaknowledge functions as a powerful bullshit detector. It can separate crowd members who actually know something from those who are guessing wildly or just parroting what everyone else says.” It can also function, writes George Musser, as a “lie detector” and/or a “truth serum.”
One study, “financed by the National Institutes of Health, suggests that cognitive training that uses thinking, such as problem solving and learning, like reading a newspaper article and discussing it with a friend, has staying power in the brain — even 10 years after the training ends.”
“Astronomers are exploring ancient tombs in Portugal that they believe may have been used by prehistoric humans to enhance specific views of the night skies. Researchers are focusing on the alignment of the stars with … dolmens that feature long narrow entrances that act as apertures, essentially zooming in on stars and planets that wouldn’t always be visible from the outside.”
“Apple remains the biggest holdout. The company did not respond to multiple requests for comment, but critics say it has little incentive to do anything that might undermine Beats One, Apple Music, and other streaming services.”
“There’s a year-round Bavarian Christmas village (a village within the Village) that’s showered with fake snow every four minutes and has a toy shop with a resident Santa who refuses to break character. Yankee Candle Village is the epitome of sensory overload.”
In a University of Washington lab test tube, researchers stored an HD video of the song “This Too Shall Pass” by OK Go. They also stored the text of 100 books, and the Declaration of Human Rights in multiple languages.
Their data lists not only the size of past cities, but how, when, and where they emerged. That’s a big deal—and not just for historians.
“The brainbound view pictures the brain as a powerful executive, planning every aspect of behaviour and sending detailed instructions to the muscles. But, as work in robotics has illustrated, there are more efficient ways of doing things, which nature almost certainly employs.”
It’s actually the other way around: “If music makes you see colors and shapes, you might be more likely to pick up a guitar or sit at a piano in the first place … Ssynesthetes see the similar in the dissimilar (music and color; pain and color; syllables and shapes), and people who excel at making metaphors are generally more creative.
“Writers, entrepreneurs, and creative leaders of all types know that intense focus that happens when you’re ‘in the zone’: You’re feeling empowered, productive, and engaged. Psychologists might call this flow, the experience of zeroing in so closely on some activity that you lose yourself in it. And this immersive state, as it turns out, also happens to be something that some adults with ADHD commonly experience.”
Karan Mahajan: “‘How’s it going?’ I ask the barista. ‘How’s your day been?’
‘Ah, not too busy. What are you up to?’
‘Not much. Just reading.’
This, I have learned, is one of the key rituals of American life. It has taken me only a decade to master.”
“Thanks to René Descartes and a pantheon of very serious dead white men, Western intellectual history has long maintained that thought is something that happens only in the kingdom of the brain; it’s just the body’s job, as educator Ken Robinson famously quipped, to bring the brain from meeting to meeting. But your hands suggest otherwise.”
Yes, “the belief that the best ideas will always succeed is rather like the faith that unregulated financial markets will always produce the best economic outcomes. … But in the marketplace of ideas, zombies can actually be useful. Or if not, they can at least make us feel better. That, paradoxically, is what I think the flat-Earthers of today are really offering – comfort.”
James Blachowicz argues that what we think of as the scientific method is basically the same as the process by which one edits a poem or hones a philosophical argument.
“In more recent years she has been fitted with a chip implant in her elbow that wirelessly attaches to seismographs around the world, vibrating with varied intensity based on Richter scale readings. From such movements she choreographs dance concerts she calls Waiting for Earthquakes.”