“In the earliest phase of this evolutionary process (probably during the Pliocene epoch) we had a kind of involuntary imagination. At this time, hominin waking life might have been closer to the free associations of our contemporary dream life. Our ancestors could obviously perceive a lion on the savanna, but random memory images of lions might also rise up unpredictably while engaged in daily work. Next, during the Pleistocene, a semi-voluntary imagination arose, like we find in real-time hot cognition (still accessible in our contemporary improvisational creativity).”
Playing a videogame will certainly make you better at that game. But the evidence that playing a game makes you better at life—remembering and focusing in everyday situations—is weak at best. Psychologists call these types of benefits “far transfer,” and they’re the ultimate goal of every brain game designer.
“I wonder if English Canada has the strength to face the truth in the 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report: that the evil inflicted on the indigenous populations of this country was not done by our worst people but by our best. The colonists believed that hope for the indigenous population meant stripping them of their language and culture and imbuing them with a spirit of thrift—they were trying to prepare them for the future, for progress. And the only future and the only progress that they could imagine was the one presented to them as an inevitable fact by Britain and America.”
Not only has secularism failed to continue its steady global march but countries as varied as Iran, India, Israel, Algeria and Turkey have either had their secular governments replaced by religious ones, or have seen the rise of influential religious nationalist movements. Secularisation, as predicted by the social sciences, has failed.
There are plenty of reasons to commit as citizens to political parties or movements — and there may even be reasons to consider that commitment as partly the product of philosophical reasoning. But someone who speaks as a representative of a fixed ideology or group has subjugated the philosopher within themselves to the partisan.
“More than any previous coterie of corporations, the tech monopolies aspire to mold humanity into their desired image of it. They think they have the opportunity to complete the long merger between man and machine — to redirect the trajectory of human evolution. How do I know this? In annual addresses and town hall meetings, the founding fathers of these companies often make big, bold pronouncements about human nature — a view that they intend for the rest of us to adhere to.”
“Finding one’s true place in the world is a massive trope, not just in film and theatre, but also in literature, education and motivational seminars – any place where young people are involved. In all these cases, the search for the ‘self’ is dubious because it assumes that there is an enduring ‘self’ that lurks within and that can somehow be found. Whereas, in fact, the only ‘self’ we can be sure of is one that changes every second, our decisions and circumstances taking us in an infinite number of directions, moment by moment.”
“Why is the universe so well suited to our existence? The weakest answer is that it’s just a brute fact. If the constants of nature were any different, then we wouldn’t be here to ask why we’re here. The strongest answer verges on theism: The cosmological constant is so improbably small that a godlike fine-tuner must have fashioned it into existence.”
The key result: Compared to working in silence, listening to the uplifting Vivaldi was “associated with an increase in divergent thinking.” Convergent thinking, on the other hand, was not significantly affected by background music. The researchers argue that this suggests the music inspired higher levels of “fluency and flexibility,” which are needed to come up with original ideas, but are less important in the paring-down process.
As we’ve seen this summer, artificial intelligence software has written songs and created paintings that many listeners and viewers can’t distinguish from those made by humans. So why have the few attempts at A.I.-created comedy lagged behind> Turns out humor is a lot more complex than music or art.
“This is the crux of the problem: nation-states rely on control. If they can’t control information, crime, businesses, borders or the money supply, then they will cease to deliver what citizens demand of them. In the end, nation-states are nothing but agreed-upon myths: we give up certain freedoms in order to secure others. But if that transaction no longer works, and we stop agreeing on the myth, it ceases to have power over us. So what might replace it? The city-state increasingly looks like the best contender.”
Political polarization, the rise in populism, ignorance in world leaders, distortion of the truth, and encouraging distrust among people, their leaders, and the media are considered dangerous enough to be featured on a list that includes climate change, population increase, and infectious diseases.
“Different parts of our gray matter respond to different timing tasks, and brain imaging has helped us parse which areas do what. From drumming along with a musical phrase to figuring out how long a lecture has lasted, these specialized areas work together to shape our temporal perception.”
“The most vulnerable are those in the services sector including cashiers and truck drivers. It will also likely affect low-income workers more than those making six figures. Occupations that are expected to remain in demand for a live human are, not surprisingly, those that require compassion, understanding and moral judgment, such as nurses, teachers and police officers.”
“In Group Psychology, Freud asks why crowds make a ‘barbarian’ of the ‘cultivated individual’. Why are the inhibitions enforced by social life so readily overwhelmed by all that is ‘cruel, brutal and destructive’ when we join together with others? And why does the crowd need a strong leader, a hero to whom it willingly submits? The crowd – which is, after all, just an evanescent massing of humanity, a gathering that will quickly disperse once its task is finished – is oddly ‘obedient to authority’. It might appear anarchic, but at bottom it’s conservative and tradition-bound.”
“Perhaps the reason why philosophers have been conflicted about the imagination is that they haven’t grasped how limitations need to be tailored to circumstances. When we are writing fiction, or playing games of pretend, or making art, arguably we do our best imagining by setting the boundaries widely or removing the shackles entirely. In contrast, when we employ imagination in the context of scientific or technological discovery, or any other real-world problem-solving, we must allow our imaginations to be framed by the situation at hand.”
“There are many studies that have shown that there is a strong genetic component to curiosity,” he notes. “It is also the case that some people are more curious than others, in the same way that some people have talent for music and others don’t or some people are smarter than others … But all people are curious, with the possible exception of people who are very deeply depressed or have certain kinds of brain damage.” Humans exhibit two basic types of curiosity that show up in different parts of the brain during functional MRI scans.
“The information value of a message depends in part on the range of alternatives that were killed off in its choosing. Symbols chosen from a larger vocabulary of options carry more information than symbols chosen from a smaller vocabulary, because the choice eliminates a greater number of alternatives. This means that the amount of information transmitted is essentially a function of three things: the size of the set of possible symbols, the number of symbols sent per second, and the length of the message. The search for order, for structure and form in the wending catacombs of global communications had begun in earnest.”
“The recent rise of all-encompassing internet platforms promised something unprecedented and invigorating: venues that unite all manner of actors — politicians, media, lobbyists, citizens, experts, corporations — under one roof. These companies promised something that no previous vision of the public sphere could offer: real, billion-strong mass participation; a means for affinity groups to find one another and mobilize, gain visibility and influence. This felt and functioned like freedom, but it was always a commercial simulation.”
Memory may appear to be a reproduction of images, sounds, and even thoughts that can be stored in the brain in a manner analogous to the way information can be stored on a CD, but it is becoming increasingly evident that this is too limited an understanding.
Google, Goldman Sachs, and Medtronic are among the many leading firms that have introduced meditation and other mindfulness practices to their employees. Executives at these and other companies say meditation is not only useful as a stress-reduction tool but can also enhance creativity, opening doors where once there seemed to be only a wall.
“Across various combinations of average rating and number of reviews, participants routinely chose the option with more reviews. This bias was so strong that they often favored the more-reviewed phone case even when both of the options had low ratings, effectively choosing the product that was, in statistical terms, more likely to be low quality.”
It’s science! “Netflix’s deluge of announcements is, for the most part, a welcomed high at a time that has taken us to new lows—often with no roadmap to find our way back. What’s not as obvious is the camouflaged science behind these announcements: Netflix’s long game.”
Thanks a lot, ancient Babylonians. If the claims are correct, the tablet would “not only be the oldest known trigonometric table, but it would also be the ‘world’s only completely accurate trigonometric table.'”
“Fundamentally, neurons connect when they are stimulated together. A schema is a set of related concepts that define a mental object. When any of the sub-concepts in the schema arise in the mind as a result of external stimuli, the associated neurons fire, and cause some firing of connected neurons. So, if you read, ‘large, gray, mammal, trunk, tusk’, your brain is primed to fire ‘elephant,’ and many other ideas associated with an elephant. I’m oversimplifying, but you get the idea. One interesting consequence of all this is the associative rut, which is when your mind gets stuck in some area of mental space because all of the concepts lead to one another in a circular way.”
“Researchers at the e-commerce juggernaut are currently working on several machine-learning systems that could help provide an edge when it comes to spotting, reacting to, and perhaps even shaping the latest fashion trends. The effort points to ways in which Amazon and other companies could try to improve the tracking of trends in other areas of retail—making recommendations based on products popping up in social-media posts, for instance. And it could help the company expand its clothing business or even dominate the area.”
“Science does show that some brain training programs do work. So which ones? As the Australian study showed, Mahncke’s BrainHQ and competitor Cognifit actually do have a real benefit. Because both are based on brain training that is focused on improving processing speed–the speed and accuracy with which the brain processes information.”
“To put it simply: Much of digital technology seems to be, in the words of our YouTube debunker, not in sync. It doesn’t quite track. Twitter emotion doesn’t rise and fall the way human emotions do. Similarly, death, final by definition, is not final in Super Mario 0dyssey. GPS tech is not true to the temperature and texture of physical landscapes. Alexa of Amazon’s Echo sometimes seems bright, sometimes moronic, but of course she’s neither; she’s not even a she, and it’s a constant category error to consider her one. Living in the flicker of that error—interacting with a bot as if its sentiments were sentiments—is to take up residence in the so-called uncanny valley, home to that repulsion we feel from robots that look a lot, but not exactly, like us.”
“By combining economic and cultural discussion with interpretations of musical sounds, I have tried to reveal some of the ways new music—its composition, performance, and reception—has been shaped by assumptions drawn from neoliberal dictums. More importantly, I have attempted to argue that when classical music (or any other beloved art form or practice) is pragmatically re-oriented to align with hegemonic values, it contributes to the propagation of those values throughout society.”
The idea of a group of people untouched and unblemished by modernity encouraged social scientists to see them as a control group when it came to asking questions about whether humans have an original nature that has been somehow sullied by civilization. Among the most popular questions are ones about the human capacity for violence and war. Are people inherently violent or was the slow march away from hunting and gathering that left us war-mongering and conflict-ridden?”