“Most [evolutionary biologists] see outrageous sexual traits” – say, beautiful plumage and elaborate mating rituals in birds – “as reliable advertisements. The logic goes that only the fittest manakins could coordinate their movements just so. Only the healthiest peacocks could afford to carry such a cumbersome tail. Their displays and dances hint at their good genes, allowing females to make adaptive decisions. But [ornithologist Richard] Prum says that view is poorly supported by years of research, and plainly makes no sense when you actually look at what birds do.”
A “consciousness lecture,” an “intention experiment,” electronic “personal meditation assistants,” and the MIT Mood Meter: a reporter visits the first-ever World Happiness Summit in Miami.
“We measure the very moments of our lives by computer-driven clocks and calendars that we keep in our pockets. I get why people think this way. Still, it’s a pernicious fallacy. To believe that change is driven by technology, when technology is driven by humans, renders force and power invisible.”
“No one ever tells you how much you suck at something. Unless you have a mean boss, an abusive parent or a malicious friend, most people are happy to help us maintain the delusion that our efforts are not in vain. No, we cannot count on people around us to let us know how much we suck. It is far more acceptable to compliment than to criticize. So the onus is on us as individuals to admit to ourselves how much we suck at something. And then do it anyway.”
“The harm of a censorship system is not just that it impoverishes intellectual life; it also fundamentally distorts the rational order in which the natural and spiritual worlds are understood. The censorship system relies on robbing a person of the self-perception that one needs in order to maintain an independent existence. It cuts off one’s access to independence and happiness. Censoring speech removes the freedom to choose what to take in and to express to others, and this inevitably leads to depression in people. Wherever fear dominates, true happiness vanishes and individual willpower runs dry. Judgments become distorted and rationality itself begins to slip away. Group behavior can become wild, abnormal and violent.”
In a single two-hour workshop, “Devine and Cox offered ideas for substitute habits. Observe your own stereotypes and replace them, Cox said. Look for situational reasons for a person’s behavior, rather than stereotypes about that person’s group. Seek out people who belong to groups unlike your own. Devine paced among the desks, making eye contact with each student. ‘I submit to you,’ she said, her voice steady with conviction, ‘that prejudice is a habit that can be broken.'”
That’s right: Google may be making plans for people to use Android Pay … by triggering facial recognition.
How? Maybe just luck (there haven’t been high-profile suicides or murders on Twitch, unlike Facebook Live, for instance), and maybe the way Jeff Bezos is obsessed with managing the company’s “cool” look.
See, this is why research funding is so important: “Not familiar with YInMn? Don’t worry, it’s pretty new to the color scene. The pigment was discovered by accident in 2009 at Oregon State University in a chemistry lab run by Mas Subramanian, a professor in materials science, and his graduate students. Accident or not, Crayola liked the new hue.”
“Ear-openers represent the top slice of bread in the complaint sandwich. The meat of the sandwich is the complaint itself, or the request for redress, and the bottom slice of bread in the complaints sandwich is the digestive. The digestive is a positive statement much like the ear opener that comes at the close of the complaint.”
‘The language of analytic philosophy,’ he complained, ‘“forces” the reader to a conclusion through a knock-down argument.’ Discussion thus became a zero-sum game. If the loser of an argument did not accept his opponent’s conclusion ‘he dies’, a victim of his own mental weaknesses. Among the collateral damages of this aggression was an appreciation of intellectual diversity. Nozick aspired to pacify philosophy.
“Culture has taken the coin toss as an impartial way to select between two possible outcomes. It implies fairness—there isn’t anything that coin tossers can do (besides cheat) to favor one outcome. No agency appears to intervene in the decision, and thus the human actors committed to it can comfortably distance themselves from the result. Indeed, in popular culture, the coin toss has become a way to shed moral responsibility for an outcome.”
“Consciousness, we can tentatively conclude, is not a necessary byproduct of our cognition. The same is presumably true of AIs. In many science-fiction stories, machines develop an inner mental life automatically, simply by virtue of their sophistication, but it is likelier that consciousness will have to be expressly designed into them.”
The patterns are not merely beautiful, but mathematically rigorous as well. They explore the fundamental characteristics of symmetry in a surprisingly complete way. Mathematicians, however, did not come up with their analysis of the principles of symmetry until several centuries after the tiles of the Alhambra had been set in place.
What does it mean when a culture expresses its aspirations and ideals through a longing for a lost past, the past even of another country? Of course, every society has some version of its own past, and many of these are idealized pictures. Fantasizing about a simpler, happier world is a common enough reaction to rapid social change.
“Whether contemplating the pros and cons of climate change; the role of evolution; the risks versus benefits of vaccines, cancer screening, proper nutrition, genetic engineering; trickle-down versus bottom-up economic policies; or how to improve local traffic, we must be comfortable with a variety of statistical and scientific methodologies, complex risk-reward and probability calculations – not to mention an intuitive grasp of the difference between fact, theory and opinion. Even moral decisions, such as whether or not to sacrifice one life to save five (as in the classic trolley-car experiment), boil down to often opaque calculations of the relative value of the individual versus the group. If we are not up to the cognitive task, how might we be expected to respond?”
If you look at public opinion polls, scientists are among the most trusted professions, certainly they are in the UK and probably in the US as well. But we’re getting to a stage where that’s at risk for a variety of reasons. Some of them are technical reasons and some of them are cultural reasons.
Flow sounds appealing, and it seems to frequently coincide with some of our most pleasurable pinnacles of human experience, but it doesn’t necessarily translate into optimal performance. In great athletes, performing artists, writers, chess-players, doctors, nurses, air-force pilots and others, beneath the surface of effortless flow is unrelenting determination. And if developing one’s potential is key to a meaningful life – developing what Immanuel Kant speaks of in the Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals as our duty to cultivate our ‘predispositions to greater perfection’ – then flow, while bringing momentary happiness, might impede the attainment of that loftier value.
“There’s an idea we must always be available, work all the time,” says Michael Guttridge, a psychologist who focuses on workplace behavior. “It’s hard to break out of that and go to the park.” But the downsides are obvious: We end up zoning out while at the computer—looking for distraction on social media, telling ourselves we’re “multitasking” while really spending far longer than necessary on the most basic tasks.
“Because we’re fixated on our coffee stain (or whatever we happen to be self-conscious about), we assume others must be, too. But when nothing in particular draws our attention to ourselves, we neglect the fact that we may nevertheless be an object of other people’s interest. In short, we pay too much attention to what we’re paying attention to.”
Half-cool, half-creepy (or maybe wholly creepy): “The problem, in both cases, is that we project the focus of our attention onto others. Because we’re fixated on our coffee stain (or whatever we happen to be self-conscious about), we assume others must be, too. But when nothing in particular draws our attention to ourselves, we neglect the fact that we may nevertheless be an object of other people’s interest.”
A chilling, inspiring tale from Communist Poland. “In that courtroom, in a split-second during Jaromar’s speech, my classmates and I connected in the mutual understanding of something profound, something that gave us power.”
It’s … weird. “Does this game want us to consider ourselves, the soldiers, as conquerors? Or sufferers? And what of the casualties? There are minimal depictions of civilians getting killed (except a notable sequence involving a bombing raid from afar), so the game left me with the feeling that I was a hero for having killed all those brown men. I, after all, endured.”
“Humans rarely think for themselves. Rather, we think in groups. Just as it takes a tribe to raise a child, it also takes a tribe to invent a tool, solve a conflict or cure a disease. No individual knows everything it takes to build a cathedral, an atom bomb or an aircraft. What gave Homo sapiens an edge over all other animals and turned us into the masters of the planet was not our individual rationality, but our unparalleled ability to think together in large groups.”
“In this way, Wikipedia understands something that most philosophers after Socrates didn’t – definitions are not static, and cannot be perfected and finalized. They must be constantly challenged, updated, reverted, and discussed. Wikipedia is like a Socratic dialogue on a massive scale.” Nikhil Sonnad did a deep dive into the 14 years of edits (some of them pretty ugly) that led to the impressive entry the site has now.
Neuroscientist Dean Buonomano argues our brains are “constantly tracking the passage of time, whether it’s circadian rhythms that tell us when to go to sleep, or microsecond calculations that allow us to the hear the difference between ‘They gave her cat-food’ and ‘They gave her cat food.’ In an interview with Science of Us, Buonomano spoke about planning for the future as a basic human activity, the limits of be-here-now mindfulness, and the inherent incompatibility between physicists’ and neuroscientists’ understanding of the nature of time.’
“The purpose of the museum is to show that innovation requires failure,” Dr. West said as he introduced some of the exhibits in a video posted this month on the YouTube channel of Fredrik Skavlan, a Scandinavian talk show host. “If you are afraid of failure, then we can’t innovate.” He said he started the museum “to encourage organizations to be better at learning from failures — not just ignoring them and pretending they never happened.”
“The twin challenges of too much quantity and too little quality are rooted in the finite neurological capacity of the human mind. Scientists are deriving hypotheses from a smaller and smaller fraction of our collective knowledge and consequently, more and more, asking the wrong questions, or asking ones that have already been answered. Also, human creativity seems to depend increasingly on the stochasticity of previous experiences – particular life events that allow a researcher to notice something others do not. Although chance has always been a factor in scientific discovery, it is currently playing a much larger role than it should.”
“Universities should start with broader training for computer science students. I contacted eight of the top undergraduate programs in computer science, and found that most do not require students to take a course on ethical and social issues in computer science (although some offer optional courses). Such courses are hard to teach well. Computer scientists often don’t take them seriously, are uncomfortable with non-quantitative thinking, are overconfident because they’re mathematically brilliant, or are convinced that utilitarianism is the answer to everything. But universities need to try.”