“On the one hand, we have been encouraged to believe that we are no longer the sum of our products (as we were when we were still an industrial economy) but the sum of our experiences. On the other, we lack the ritual structures that once served to organize, integrate and preserve the stream of these experiences, so they inevitably feel both scattershot and evanescent. We worry that photographs or journal entries keep us at a remove from life, but we also worry that without an inventory of these documents … we’ll disintegrate. Furthermore, that inventory has to fulfill two slightly different functions: It must define us as at once part of a tribe (‘people who go to Paris’) and independent of it (‘people who go to Paris and don’t photograph the Eiffel Tower’).”
“If consciousness is, as it should be, an organized state of matter, we seem to be lacking an essential component to describe it. For comparison, a building has bricks and pumps and electrical currents controlled by on-off switches flowing through countless wires. It is a mechanical contraption, working firmly within a set of physical laws. We understand buildings, and can build and fix them because we know the underlying physical principles under which they operate. Likewise, it is plausible that we can build brain-like systems having different kinds of experiential awareness like seeing or hearing, and that respond to such stimuli with certain actions. Many robots already do this.”
“We’ve made little progress since Einstein – until now. Some theorists, in their frustration, revert to Augustine’s deduction: that the flow of time is an illusion. Although this conclusion doesn’t fall within the realm of science (how could you falsify it?), it provides a convenient excuse for ignoring the most salient aspects of time, the flow and the now, the aspects that are at the heart of human experience. Now, in the early 21st century, it is time once again to examine the meaning of time.” Physicist Richard A. Muller explains why.
“We’re always writing from our experiences of things that we’ve read and what we’ve heard and things that we’ve absorbed verbally. So to what extent can anyone author anything? And to what extent does this machine augment this capacity?”
Johann Georg Locher “argued that Copernicus was wrong about Earth circling the Sun, and that Earth was fixed in place, at the centre of the Universe, like Ptolemy said. … Indeed, Locher even proposed a mechanism to explain how Earth could orbit the Sun (a sort of perpetual falling – this decades before Isaac Newton would explain orbits by means of perpetual falling), but he said it would not help the Copernicans, on account of the other problems with their theory.”
“Boredom is where creativity is born. Boredom is not the enemy. Boredom is the friend. Boredom is what gives rise to ‘What happens when I take a picture between my fingers? What happens when I turn the camera sideways?’”
“Investigations into rats wearing pants, the personalities of rocks and the truthfulness of 1,000 liars won Ig Nobel prizes on Thursday night at Harvard, where Nobel-winning scientists gathered to honor the strangest research of the year.”
“By bringing the tools of computation and machine intuition to the table, AI researchers are giving us a more complete picture of how we learn. They are also broadening the study of education to include quantitative, numerical models of the learning process itself. “The thing that AI brings to the table is that it forces us to get into the details of how everything works,” says John Laird, a computer scientist at the University of Michigan. If there was any doubt that good teachers are important, machine learning is helping put it to rest.”
“The primacy of feelings in our economy has given rise to a new field of scholarly inquiry. ‘Affect studies’ refers to humanistic and social-scientific investigations of the ways that feelings are generated, experienced, and interpreted. An affect is a particular kind of feeling, one distinct from an emotion. For academics in the field, affects are feelings that reside not in individual people but in social groups, institutions, or physical spaces.”
All of the past “justice revolutions” have stemmed from improved communications. Oppression thrives on distance, on not actually meeting or seeing the oppressed. The next revolution will not abolish the consequences of place of birth, but the privileges of nationhood will be tempered. While the rise in anti-immigrant sentiment around the world today seems to point in the opposite direction, the sense of injustice will be amplified as communications continue to grow. Ultimately, recognition of wrong will wreak big changes.
Apparently, delivery companies value flat-screen TVs more than bikes.
“Contestants never say things like ‘I didn’t come here to make friends.’ There are no irritating product placements and — perhaps most incomprehensibly to American audiences — no material riches to be won. That’s right: The winner of ‘The Great British Baking Show’ wins a title and an engraved cake stand, and that’s it.”
“A large new study published online last week in the Nature journal Neuropsychopharmacology …finds that loneliness appears to be a ‘modestly heritable’ trait. A predisposition to feeling lonely may run in the family, in other words. But there’s a caveat here.”
“The machine does what you say, not what you mean. More and more ‘decisions’ are being entrusted to software, including life-or-death ones: think self-driving cars; think semi-autonomous weapons; think Facebook and Google making inferences about your marital, psychological or physical status, before selling it to the highest bidder. Yet it’s rarely in the interests of companies and governments to encourage us to probe what’s going on beneath these processes.”
“It was the assertion of the Romantic movement that art makes us appreciate the beauty, richness and sheer size of the world. And technology, used appropriately, brings us closer to that sublime… Even if that was true in 1939, it’s not true now: not now our drones do our flying for us; not now our technology has got away from us to the point where large portions of nature are being erased; not now we live mired in media and, indeed, have to make special efforts to escape it.”
“We invited 50 leaders in the design community—typically some of the most opinionated, creative, and analytical types in business—to share how or if they brainstorm. Here are some of their responses, including a characteristically honest one from the legendary and outspoken creative director George Lois.”
“When we think we are not dealing with reality, our emotional response appears to be subdued on a neural level. This may be because of a tendency to ‘distance’ ourselves from the image, to be able to appreciate or scrutinize its shapes, colors, and composition instead of just its content.”
“A baby giraffe can stand within an hour of birth, and can even potentially flee predators on its first day of life. A monkey can grasp its mother and hang on for protection and nourishment. A human infant can’t even hold up its own head. … Humans are born quite helpless, far more so than any other primate, but, fairly early on, we start becoming quite smart, again far more so than any other primate. What if this weren’t a contradiction so much as a causal pathway?”
“Idleness is difficult to find in a pure state. Indeed, in a certain sense, it eludes us because, at its most radical, idleness tends to devour its devotees (again, Oblomov and Bartleby). But procrastination is a different business altogether: It is not only more available, but also more dynamic, just as the procrastinator is a more dramatic figure than the idler, who is as ascetic and immobile as a pillar saint.”
“The metaphysical and epistemological problems that arose out of the scientific revolution are particularly difficult and abstract, and the responses of these thinkers are among the most formidable structures that philosophy has produced.”
“The question was: How complete an account of the nature of reality could the new physical science in principle provide? Do our minds necessarily escape its reach, even if our bodies are part of the physical world?”
“At least 296 people died in the violent shaking on Aug 24. Many more were left homeless and injured. But those few, fraught and devastating minutes also placed at risk thousands of books, dossiers and folders amassed since past earthquakes destroyed this town in 1639 and 1703. There were also countless pieces of art and artifacts in churches and museums across the earthquake zone, which touches towns in four Italian regions.”
“As might be expected, when the Statue of Liberty turned green people in positions of authority wondered what to do.”
“The labor itself of ‘proving racism,’ and providing testimony is heartbreaking. Talking about it in spaces like poetry workshops, about the craft of it, breaking it down like it wasn’t about living people in that room, as though we can’t spend our entire lives with our own testimony, as though we weren’t witnessing in each poem we wrote? That just seems excruciating.”
As it turns out, there’s a major neuroscientific basis for the link between openness to new experience and creative thinking. Exploration is tied to the neurotransmitter dopamine, which also plays a role in motivation and learning (among other things) and “facilitates psychological plasticity, a tendency to explore and engage flexibly with new things,” the authors write.
Ian Bogost: “Normally we think of play as the opposite of work. Work is the thing you have to do, and then there’s play, the thing you choose to do. But if you think of play as being in things, there are things that are playable, then it becomes the work of figuring out what a thing can do.”
“In my history of Christianity course, we read a number of challenging writers. Each one I ask students to read with as much sympathy, charity and critical perspective as they can muster. But nothing outrages them – not the writings of Augustine or Erasmus or Luther – more than two or three pages of John Calvin”, the “Ayatollah of Geneva.”
“It’s a challenge that renders all the normal visual frames of reference completely useless – you can’t say that green is the color of grass, or blue is the color of water, because they haven’t seen those things. But they have felt them.”
“It has long been thought that our tongues register a small number of primary tastes: salty, sweet, sour and bitter. Umami – the savoury taste often associated with monosodium glutamate – was added to this list seven years ago, but there’s been no change since then. However, this list misses a major component of our diets, says Juyun Lim at Oregon State University in Corvallis. ‘Every culture has a major source of complex carbohydrate. The idea that we can’t taste what we’re eating doesn’t make sense,’ she says.”
“The privately held company, based in San Francisco, has drawn in 70 million people over the past decade to play games that challenge users to remember sequences of brightly colored animations, or to ignore visual distractions and click only on certain objects. The FTC charged that Lumosity oversold the benefits of the games.”