“We turned to ritual, to dance, to quiet conversations that played softly like a piano in the dark, to the old ways, to prayer, to cussing, to tears, to side eye, to righteous pettiness, to shade throwing, to memes, to each other. Increasingly, we turned to song. This was hardly by chance.”
This is a story of the human readers – called “lectors” – and their political affiliations, and how technology changed everything.
Add the historic city of Nimrud (Nimrod in the U.S.) to the list of places ISIS has utterly destroyed. But hey, technology: “Digital scanning, robot etching and 3D reproduction can recreate these monuments, to an exactness unknown to past attempts at such reinstatement. Extrusion techniques can rebuild monuments using the dust of the ruins themselves.”
Before Alan Turing, before Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace, there was Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, who developed the binary number system and the first mechanical calculators – and who envisioned artificial intelligence and even data overload.
Jessica Gross talks to Dan Ariely, Mr. Behavioral Economics, who explains just what behavioral economics is (it’s the way to leave behind “Assume x“) and why bonuses just aren’t such a good idea.
Why might people in the past have been hesitant to embrace the idea of progress? The main argument against it was that it implies a disrespect of previous generations. As the historian Carl Becker noted in a classic work written in the early 1930s, “a Philosopher could not grasp the modern idea of progress … until he was willing to abandon ancestor worship, until he analyzed away his inferiority complex toward the past, and realized that his own generation was superior to any yet known.”
Science writer Erik Vance gives a brief history of hypnotism (back to Dr. Mesmer and before), explains the neuroscience if hypnosis and what it can and can’t do, and recounts his own attempts to hypnotize a friend.
Professor of ethics Gordin Marino looks (briefly, so don’t worry) at the positions of Camus, Dostoevsky, Kierkegaard, Spinoza, Nietzsche, Thoreau, Jesus, and a retired Vietnam vet in a Florida swimming pool to come up with the answer.
“Before the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors, the Aztecs had a philosophically rich culture, with people they called ‘philosophers’, and their specious counterparts the ‘sophists’. We have volumes and volumes of Aztec thought recorded by Christian clergymen in codices” – and it can bear comparison with the Greeks and Romans. Sebastian Purcell gives a basic introduction.
“A designer sees a problem, proposes a solution, makes a difference. Such tidy narratives fuel a reigning ideology in which every object, symbol or pool of information is just another design problem awaiting some solution. The thermostat, the fire extinguisher, the toothbrush, the car dashboard – all have been redesigned, whether anybody was clamoring for their alteration or not.” A deep dive into the thought, and the process, behind this makeover mania.
The items are the bike lock, the cell phone tower, the hospital gown, the toilet, the airport baggage carousel, and the prescription-medicine label. We think one of them is elegant but frivolous, one might work well but is unlikely to be adopted anytime soon, one’s confusing, one is genuinely ingenious (if it really works), one is “why didn’t anyone think of this before?”, and one should be put into production immediately. See if you agree.
“You can find aspects of vagueness in most words of English or any other language. Out loud or in our heads, we reason mostly in vague terms. Such reasoning can easily generate sorites-like paradoxes. Can you become poor by losing one cent? Can you become tall by growing one millimetre? At first, the paradoxes seem to be trivial verbal tricks. But the more rigorously philosophers have studied them, the deeper and harder they have turned out to be. They raise doubts about the most basic logical principles.”
Kwame Anthony Appiah, from this year’s BBC Reith Lecture: “I think you should give up the very idea of western civilisation. It is at best the source of a great deal of confusion, at worst an obstacle to facing some of the great political challenges of our time.” For a start, what exactly is “the West”?
“Judging from the research papers already indexed by the new search engine, the volume of academic research is increasing at an exponential rate, and one independent study says that the number of papers is increasing about 4 or 5 percent a year, with 2.5 million published in 2014. That means researchers just don’t have the time to look through everything. They need some help.”
Neuroscientist Lisa Feldman Barrett: The structure of the brain is such that there are many more intrinsic connections between neurons than there are connections that bring sensory information from the world. From that incomplete picture, she says, the brain is “filling in the details, making sense out of ambiguous sensory input.” The brain, she says, is an “inference generating organ.” She describes an increasingly well-supported working hypothesis called predictive coding, according to which perceptions are driven by your own brain and corrected by input from the world. There would otherwise simple be too much sensory input to take in.
Dear designers: We need you to help create images that solve problems, bring clarity, inspire agency, and help those who want to “shape the future with pragmatic hopefulness.”
Trump’s tastes run to beauty shows and gold-plated belt buckles. His disinterest in the other arts does not bode well for them. At all.
Back in the 1980s in deepest Ontario, Dr. Michael Persinger hit on the idea of using a helmet with wire coils to stimulate the temporal lobes of the brain with particular patterns of low-level electromagnetic waves. Numerous people who wore the contraption reported feeling a presence, and sometimes the Divine Presence. The press got word, and the legend of the “God Helmet” was born. Problem is, other researchers have had trouble replicating the results.
“Increasingly, our cultural divide is also a geographical divide, as mobile Americans choose to live among people with similar ideological beliefs. But why? A research study published this summer provides a clear answer: It’s far more emotionally comfortable.”
It’s not – or not just – because some people [fidgets nervously] are lazy procrastinators: there’s a more benign, and basic, explanation.
“Bookshops are already filled with memoirs, diaries, accounts and letters by, for and about the ill. We seem to be living through a veritable ‘golden age of pathography’, as the historian Thomas Lacqueur observed recently. … But Lacqueur notes that asking deep questions isn’t the same as being able to answer them, or even being able to write well.”
“In fact, persuasion research reveals that in some situations people can make their own message more persuasive by explicitly noting that they are unsure about what they’re saying!” Especially if the person saying it is an expert.
Simon Critchley, on the connection between the “Brexistential dread” in his homeland and the fear and loathing on this side of the Atlantic: “The lesson of existentialism is that the nausea that we feel is actually the emergence of a genuine, lived sense of our freedom. Anxiety is the motor that drives the engine of freedom.”
“Do we see regularities in the unfolding of the past, or is history all disorganised confusion – just ‘one damn thing after another’? Are there laws that control the unfolding of history?”
Lewis Lapham: “For the last several years the word ‘revolution’ has been hanging around backstage on the national television talk-show circuit waiting for somebody, anybody – visionary poet, unemployed automobile worker, late-night comedian – to cue its appearance on camera. … Why then does nobody have any use for it except in the form of the adjective, revolutionary, unveiling a new cell phone app or a new shade of lipstick?”
“The mere mention of ‘quantum consciousness’ makes most physicists cringe, as the phrase seems to evoke the vague, insipid musings of a New Age guru. But if a new hypothesis proves to be correct, quantum effects might indeed play some role in human cognition.”
London’s nightclubs and music venues have been closing at a massive rate, but some subway lines are now running all night in London. New Night Czar Amy Lamé says she can’t wait to “hit the streets” so that she can help make plans and policy changes for “revelers, nighttime workers, businesses and shareholders”
The key words here are “neurobiological capital” and “metaplasticity.”
“In addition to the conventional scope of childhood from birth through to age 12 – a period when children’s dependency was widely taken for granted – Americans moved the goalposts of childhood as a democratic ideal by extending protections to cover the teen years … [and creating] institutions that could guide adolescents during this later period of childhood” – the juvenile court system and the democratic high school.
“What underlies being conscious specifically, as opposed to just being awake? We know it’s not just the number of neurons involved. The cerebellum (the so-called ‘little brain’ hanging off the back of the cortex) has about four times as many neurons as the rest of the brain, but seems barely involved in maintaining conscious level. It’s not even the overall level of neural activity – your brain is almost as active during dreamless sleep as it is during conscious wakefulness. Rather, consciousness seems to depend on how different parts of the brain speak to each other, in specific ways.”