“Although Mengzi” – or Mencius, as the Jesuits Latinized his name – “was born long after Confucius died, he is referred to as the ‘Second Sage’ because he shaped the form that Confucianism would take for the next two millennia, not just in China, but also in Korea, Japan and Vietnam.”
Yeah, a few of them can actually hurt us, but not so many – and even harmless and useful insects like grasshoppers and dragonflies freak out a lot of folks. Yet there are reasons for this.
Old phials in a 7th-century medicine factory now being excavated in Istanbul have been found to contain methanone (an antidepressant) and phenanthrene (a cardiac medication). And yes, there’s plenty of evidence that the Byzantines – and many other ancient cultures – knew about and used treatments for depression.
“Consider then what is meant by ‘showing off’. We use this phrase to designate behaving in a way intended to attract admiration. Showing off is not just doing something well before an audience. Jacqueline du Pré doing Elgar is not showing off. She is performing, playing cello before an audience. What distinguishes showing off is the intention behind the deed. When I show off, I do something for the reason that I want to attract your admiration. When we deem others to be showing off we make those judgments within a context of intricate sets of meanings. These are at best provisional and changing, and so too are the possible meanings we live out in our daily lives.”
“Lin-Manuel Miranda’s retelling of America’s revolutionary history allows for young Black, Latinx, and Asian-American students to see themselves in the figures responsible for our country’s birth.”
“Analysis of the brain scans revealed that differences in improvement of each behaviour were related to pre-existing differences in brain connectivity. In short, the flow of oxygen in the participants’ brains while at rest predicted how much specific aspects of speech or language skills would improve.”
The opacity of machine learning isn’t just an academic problem. More and more places use the technology for everything from image recognition to medical diagnoses. All that decisionmaking is, by definition, unknowable—and that makes people uneasy. My friend Zeynep Tufekci, a sociologist, warns about “Moore’s law plus inscrutability.” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella says we need “algorithmic accountability.”
There are studies suggesting that as much as 80% of people’s laughter is at things they don’t really find humorous. Says one neuroscientist, “It’s a hall of mirrors of inferences and intentions every time you encounter laughter.”
As the surprisingly simple title of the study in question says, “Familiarity expands space and contracts time.” (See, boss? It’s science!)
“There are things you remember, and there are things you remember well. Even if you can recall a past event, your memories will vary considerably in how much detail they contain, and how correct those details are. In an elegant experiment, a team of neuroscientists … [at] Cambridge have shown that these aspects of our memories – our success at recalling them, their precision, and their vividness – depend on three different parts of the brain.”
“A positive mood is useful when first brainstorming, processing information, and coming up with as many ideas as possible—you don’t want to bring judgment into that, because it could stifle idea generation.
But rigor is the key to overcoming obstacles and completing tasks—and good mood doesn’t improve problem-solving, which involves judgments that almost by necessity won’t feel good: critique and evaluation, experimentation and failure. The stress that arises from problems may be unpleasant but it also motivates us to complete tasks, Davis says. In other words, negative emotions are actually beneficial to the creative process.”
“In areas like health care and transportation, we spend a lot of effort characterizing the performance and having a crisp understanding of how A.I. does what it does,” Eric Horvitz said. But with art, he added, “we want A.I. to be creative and make mistakes and meander.” Something may be gleaned from that whimsy.
Ideas generally don’t just pop out into the world and get traction. They’re set in the context of what we know and what we dream about. Science fiction has helped frame discussions about the future for a long time. So here are the stories that inform us now…
“Fuller put his faith in technology as a means to tame the messiness of humankind. ‘I would never try to reform man – that’s much too difficult,’ Fuller told The New Yorker in 1966. Appealing to people to remedy their behaviour was a folly, because they’d simply never do it. Far wiser, Fuller thought, to build technology that circumvents the flaws in human behaviour – that is, ‘to modify the environment in such a way as to get man moving in preferred directions’. Instead of human-led design, he sought design-led humans.”
“Cute judgments might be fundamental to human perception. Examining magnetic brain activity in subjects presented with infant and adult faces, Kringelbach and his colleagues at Oxford have found that the brain starts recognising faces as cute or infantile in less than a seventh of a second after the face is presented to subjects. His group has concluded that cuteness is a key that unlocks the brain’s fast attentional resources before also influencing slower brain networks responsible for compassion and empathy.”
“What effect will all this well-meaning cultural, environmental and athletic activity produce? As the optimistic descriptions washed over me, I had to remind myself that public celebrations of a national birthday can indeed be transformative.”
“While most of humanity will never make it past the ozone, Benjamin Grant’s Instagram project, Daily Overview, has been sharing high definition satellite photographs to give everyone access to this unique perspective.”
“Something of a radical step forward for film accessibility is the ‘enhanced soundtrack version,’ which all but disregards the film’s visuals and instead constructs an entirely new version of the film through purely sonic means. Expressionistic sound design is used to create aural reconstructions of key episodes from Hull’s life, while additional excerpts from his diaries fill in any narrative gaps.”
“At BookPeople in Austin, Texas, summertime sales of general fiction titles fell 12% from last year, while science fiction took a 26% hit. ‘I guess they don’t need science fiction because they’re getting so much in politics,’ says Steve Bercu, who is co-owner of the 46-year-old store. Sales of books about politics and current events, he said, surged 45% during the same period.”
“Over the past decade, an increasing number of researchers, many educators, and not surprisingly, children’s media developers have pointed to a growing pile of studies that show how children, even at very young ages, can benefit from using media when it catalyzes conversation and is designed for learning.”
Just as no two artists have the same working methods, so too might your next bolt of inspiration come from an unexpected place, be it a groundbreaking building, a compelling work of art, or a spare Oblique Strategies deck.
“Newly published research suggests … that conservatives decide ethical issues in an intuitive, automatic way [while] liberals are more likely to give such questions serious thought before arriving at an opinion. This difference between snap judgments and reason-based conclusions ‘may be a fundamental aspect of left-right political orientation’.”
“In 1998, the American Psychological Association appointed a new president, Dr. Martin Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania. Up until this point, Seligman was best known for his work in the 1960s administering electric shocks to captive dogs, but in his new role as president, he was now changing tack. Seligman used his inaugural speech to the association to declare the grand opening of a whole new branch of psychology, to be known as ‘positive psychology.'”
“I didn’t do enough,” says Oskar Schindler at the end of Schindler’s List. “Is he right?,” asks Michael Mitchell. “According to consequentialism, it’s true: he didn’t do enough. Consequentialism is the moral theory that we are obligated to do whatever would have the best consequences. If that entails great sacrifice, then great sacrifice is what consequentialism demands we undertake. Since Schindler could have done more, he should have.”
“Where the human gaze goes, business soon follows.” When that gaze eventually shifted to the smartphone—portable, social, location-aware, always on—whatever last reserves of human attention were still left unexploited were suddenly on the table. The smartphone would become “the undisputed new frontier of attention harvesting in the twenty-first century, the attention merchants’ manifest destiny.”
“When the Chicago mayor’s office analyzed the sources of those recovered firearms, with help from the University of Chicago Crime Lab, it found that many had been first sold by just a small number of gun dealers in the suburbs of the city. One gun dealer in Lyons, Illinois, alone accounted for 659 guns recovered between 2009 and 2013.”
“Fans are required to place their cellphones into Yondr’s form-fitting lockable pouch when entering the show, and a disk mechanism unlocks it on the way out. Fans keep the pouch with them, but it is impossible for them to snap pictures, shoot videos or send text messages during the performance while the pouch is locked.”
“You mustn’t be fearful of being imaginative. You might seem foolish in the eyes of many, but you mustn’t be fearful of it, because it’s the thing that’s going to get you through all the times that are not so good.”
“There’s a critical misunderstanding of the over-used C word. The first thing most of us think of when we hear that someone is creative is: artist, poet, musician, or entrepreneur. That’s not to say that creative people don’t fall into those categories, but what I’m suggesting is that creativity is a state of mind rather than a set of skills in a particular area.”
The old cliché about advertising was, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.” The new cliché is, “If you’re not paying for it, you’re the product.” In an attention economy, you pay for free content and services with your time. The compensation isn’t very good.