“For while the fine arts can survive a hostile or ignorant public, or even a fanatically prudish one, they cannot long survive an indifferent one. And that is the nature of the present Western response to art, visual and otherwise: indifference.”
“The gift for talent-spotting is mysterious, highly prized and celebrated. We like to believe that certain people—sometimes ourselves—can just sense when a person has something special. But there is another method of spotting talent which doesn’t rely on hunches. In place of intuition, it offers data and analysis. Rather than relying on the gut, it invites us to use our heads. It tends not to make for such romantic stories, but it is effective—which is why, despite our affection, the hunch is everywhere in retreat.”
“When people perform well (academically or otherwise) at early ages and are labeled smart or gifted, they become less likely to challenge themselves. They become less likely to make mistakes, because they stay in their comfortable comfort zone and stop growing. And their fixed mindset persists through adulthood. The simple and innocent praising of a smart kid feeds an insidious problem that some researchers track all the way up to gender inequality in STEM careers.”
“About 50 years ago, we started keeping time with atomic clocks—clocks that operate according to the oscillations of a tiny atom.—and in order to keep these clocks in step with the earth, we add an extra second every now and again. The trouble is: the world’s computers, often running on ancient software code, aren’t always configured to accommodate this extra second. And that can cause problems.”
“The spaces for work that are an essential part of the city’s economy are being squeezed, its high streets diminished, its pubs and other everyday places closing. It is suffering a form of entropy whereby the distinctive or special is converted into property values. Its essential qualities, which are that it was not polarised on the basis of income, and that its best places were common property, are being eroded.”
“It reads like a scene from a classic sci-fi flick. But it’s not. It really is a human talking to a machine—a machine built by Google. And there may be good reason it sounds like a movie. Part of the trick is that this machine learned to converse by analyzing an enormous collection of old movie dialogue.”
“We’re eager to optimise our workouts, our sleep patterns, our pregnancies, our policing tactics, our taxi services, and our airline pilots. Even the academy is intrigued. From spatial history to the neurohumanities, digital methods are the rage. Lecture halls have been targeted for disruption by massive open online courses (MOOCs). Sometimes it seems as though there’s little that can’t be explained by scientific thinking or improved upon through digital innovation. What are the humanities for at such moments, when we’re so sure of ourselves and our capacity to remake the world?”
“In a country where a sitting congressman told a crowd that evolution and the Big Bang are “lies straight from the pit of hell,” (link is external) where the chairman of a Senate environmental panel brought a snowball (link is external) into the chamber as evidence that climate change is a hoax, where almost one in three citizens can’t name the vice president (link is external), it is beyond dispute that critical thinking has been abandoned as a cultural value. Our failure as a society to connect the dots, to see that such anti-intellectualism comes with a huge price, could eventually be our downfall.”
“In many ways, pornography is no different to a scary movie or a bungee jump. We just view it differently because it happens to involve sex. … [One researcher] likened pornography addiction – the notion that, like a drug, the more you watch, the more, and higher doses, you crave – to the emperor who has no clothes: everyone says it’s there, but there is no actual evidence to support it.”
“What does the ‘end of work’ mean, exactly? It does not mean the imminence of total unemployment, nor is the United States remotely likely to face, say, 30 or 50 percent unemployment within the next decade. Rather, technology could exert a slow but continual downward pressure on the value and availability of work—that is, on wages and on the share of prime-age workers with full-time jobs. Eventually, by degrees, that could create a new normal, where the expectation that work will be a central feature of adult life dissipates for a significant portion of society.”
“In short, a working knowledge of the way in which causes and effects relate to one another seems indispensible to our ability to make our way in the world. Yet there is a long and venerable tradition in philosophy, dating back at least to David Hume in the 18th century, that finds the notions of causality to be dubious. And that might be putting it kindly.”
“There is an external world, and it is full of things: tables, crocodiles, textures, etc. These things and this world exist whether I like it or not: their existence is independent of my beliefs, opinions, or preferences, and hence we say that such an existence — or, to use the technical term, such an ontology — is objective. There is also a subjective world, and it consists of internal states of mind. Such states are not ontologically objective, but subjective: they depend for their existence on the person who has them.”
“#Charlestonsyllabus was conceived by Chad Williams (@Dr_ChadWilliams), Associate Professor of African and Afro-American Studies at Brandeis University. With the help of Kidada Williams (@KidadaEWilliams), the hashtag started trending on the evening of June 19, 2015. … These readings provide valuable information about the history of racial violence in this country and contextualize the history of race relations in South Carolina and the United States in general.”
The lack of consensus means face recognition is moving into creepy territory. One example is California-based company Face First, which is rolling out a system for retailers that it says will “boost sales by recognising high-value customers each time they shop” and send “alerts when known litigious individuals enter any of your locations”.
“Across practices, across cultures, and throughout historical periods, when people support and engage in violence, their primary motivations are moral. By ‘moral’, I mean that people are violent because they feel they must be; because they feel that their violence is obligatory. They know that they are harming fully human beings. Nonetheless, they believe they should.
“Anxiety, this research shows, uniquely interferes with ‘perspective-taking’ – that is, people’s capacity to put themselves in others’ shoes.The idea that anxiety impairs perspective-taking is important because it is just this sort of nervousness that crops up when an empathic connection is most sorely needed.”
“Each day you accumulate fresh memories—kissing new people, acquiring different phone numbers and (possibly) competing in pi-memorizing championships (we would root for you). With all those new adventures stacking up, you might start worrying that your brain is growing full. But, wait—is that how it works? Can your brain run out of space, like a hard drive? It depends on what kind of memory you’re talking about.”
“Baby boomers pursue perpetual youth into retirement. Gen-Xers hold fast to their skateboards, their Pixies T-shirts and their Beastie Boys CDs. Nobody wants to be an adult anymore, and every so often someone writes an article blaming Hollywood, attachment parenting, global capitalism or the welfare state for this catastrophe.”
“Ever since the Enlightenment, Western societies have been obsessed with autonomy, and in the past few hundred years we have put autonomy at the center of our lives, economically, politically, and technologically … Unfortunately, we’ve taken things too far: we’re now addicted to liberation, and we regard any situation – a movie, a conversation, a one-block walk down a city street – as a kind of prison. Distraction is a way of asserting control; it’s autonomy run amok.”
“I’m here to tell you that they can, and are. … They aren’t supposed to make someone remark: ‘That’s beautiful.’ They’re meant to make someone realise that they’ve only been looking at one side of a thing.” Michael Erard (“For five years I worked full-time as a metaphor designer at the FrameWorks Institute, a think tank in Washington, DC … I continue to shape and test metaphors for private-sector clients and others”) explains how it’s done.
Back in 1971, a group of Stanford students participated in a role-playing experiment, with some taking the role of guards in a make-believe prison and others playing inmates. The latter became so passive, and the former so abusive, that the experiment was called off halfway through. Most people concluded that the project demonstrated the darker sides of human nature, but Maria Konnikova suggests that the results were more about institutions and rules.