“People want to know if humans are getting taller, smarter, better looking or more athletic. My answer is truthful but disappointing: We’re almost certainly evolving, but we don’t know in what direction or how fast.”
“Throughout the Latin Middle Ages we find references to many apparent anachronisms, many confounding examples of mechanical art. Musical fountains. Robotic servants. Mechanical beasts and artificial songbirds. Most were designed and built beyond the boundaries of Latin Christendom, in the cosmopolitan courts of Baghdad, Damascus, Constantinople and Karakorum. Such automata came to medieval Europe as gifts from foreign rulers, or were reported in texts by travellers to these faraway places.”
“A telepathy machine, if it could ever be built, would undoubtedly have wonderful applications. It could allow people who are immobilised by a stroke or neurological disease to communicate, or create incredible opportunities for artists to collaborate. But it seems unlikely that it could broadcast world peace.”
“That radical critique of technology in America has come to a halt is in no way surprising: it could only be as strong as the emancipatory political vision to which it is attached. No vision, no critique. Lacking any idea of how sensors, algorithms, and databanks could be deployed to serve a non-neoliberal agenda, radical technology critics face an unenviable choice.”
“Dementia undermines all of our philosophical assumptions about the coherence of the self. … Everyone touched by the disease goes through a crash-course in the philosophy of mind. … If someone cannot remember not just where the milk bottle goes, but what a milk bottle is for, then the shared pre-suppositions on which communication, meaning and identity depend become badly strained.”
“Increasingly, it makes less sense to think of genes and environments as independent causes,” writes a research team led by Penn State sociologist David Baker. Its examination of likely reasons for the gradual rise in IQ scores over the 20th century suggest more challenging curriculums, to a significant degree, create smarter students.
“Though the supply might seem endless, sand is a finite resource like any other. The worldwide construction boom of recent years—all those mushrooming megacities, from Lagos to Beijing—is devouring unprecedented quantities; extracting it is a $70 billion industry. In Dubai enormous land-reclamation projects and breakneck skyscraper-building have exhausted all the nearby sources. Exporters in Australia are literally selling sand to Arabs.”
“Her life is an endless series of jump cuts. In our age of pinging distractions, people often express a desire to ‘be present,’ but Johnson belies such sentimentality. She is marooned in the present.” A profile of an artist whose hippocampus was completely destroyed in 2007 by a viral infection – and what neuroscientists are learning about the brain from the things she can and cannot now do.
“A newly published, small-scale study from Greece finds listening to either classical or rock music positively impacts two important predictors of cardiovascular risk. The effects are particularly pronounced for classical music fans, who, in the study, had a more robust physiological response to music of either genre.”
“Much of the forbidden, obscure, and esoteric knowledge that once made Buddhism and other religions difficult to study has now become accessible – with potentially dangerous results. … This is the spiritual equivalent of giving every teen driver a Formula 1 racing car: It’ll go fast, but many young innocents will end up splattered on the road.”
“The possibility of reawakening our youthful, receptive brains has piqued a lot of interest among educators, therapists, and those in search of expanded experience or thought. I might be able to immerse myself in music lessons and absorb them more effectively. Others might disable the plasticity brakes before a trip abroad, quickly learning a new language.”
Heather Havrilesky: “Unfortunately, I don’t like saying bold and glorious words out loud. So I need a prayer that’s not too prayer-like. I need a belief system that doesn’t require me to suspend my disbelief. My prayer shouldn’t conjure pews and crosses and a vengeful God, but also it shouldn’t conjure wind chimes and scented candles and middle-aged men in linen pants. I need to honour my soul, of course. Who doesn’t? But I want to do it in a way that doesn’t make me feel like I’m living in a douche commercial.”
It’s understood now that, beside what we call the “real world,” we inhabit a variety of virtual worlds. Take Twitter. Or the Twitterverse. Twittersphere. You may think it’s a stretch to call this a “world,” but in many ways it has become a toy universe, populated by millions, most of whom resemble humans and may even, in their day jobs, be humans. But increasing numbers of Twitterers don’t even pretend to be human. Or worse, do pretend, when they are actually bots.
“A great TED talk is reminiscent of a tent revival sermon. There’s the gathering of the curious and the hungry. Then a persistent human problem is introduced, one that, as the speaker gently explains, has deeper roots and wider implications than most listeners are prepared to admit. Once everyone has been confronted with this evidence of entropy, contemplated life’s fragility and the elusiveness of inner peace, a decision is called for.”