“Bill Miller, the value investor who famously beat the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index for 15 consecutive years (and whose faith in bank stocks later won a mocking depiction in the movie The Big Short), has donated $75 million to the philosophy department of Johns Hopkins University.”
“Imagine you find a Monopoly board and a handful of street cards plus one little tin hat and a little tin shoe, nothing else,” says game historian Ulrich Schädler. Reporter Natasha Frost looks at some games from the ancient world – and at the ways scholars try to figure them out.
“Our technological evolution is happening faster than most people ever imagined, and it is clearly happening faster than society is able to deal with it. How should we respond?”
“Not so long ago, it was commonly believed that the right hemisphere is the exclusive generator of creative thought. Later on, researchers’ focus shifted to connectivity between the two hemispheres. That model has been refined in recent years, as scientists have begun mapping not just regions of the brain, but the neural networks that spring into action as needed. Now, researchers have identified a brain network that is strongly associated with creativity.”
“As humans, we naturally need food, water and shelter to survive. But equally important is understanding. To survive, we need to understand our environment, each other and ourselves. We invented culture to meet this need: we found a short-hand to take the essential values and truths a society holds, and collapse them into coded narrative, sound, images and symbols that mean something to all of us.”
From a BBC presenter: “Listeners didn’t just say they ‘disliked’ something. They used the most emotive words they could think of. They were ‘horrified’, ‘appalled’, ‘dumbfounded’, ‘aghast’, ‘outraged’, when they heard something they didn’t like. Why do people get especially passionate about pronunciation, using language that we might think more appropriate as a reaction to a terrorist attack than to an intruded ‘r’ (as in ‘law(r) and order’)?”
“Color is one of the longstanding puzzles in philosophy, raising doubts about the truthfulness of our sensory grasp on things, and provoking concerns as to the metaphysical compatibility of scientific, perceptual, and common sense representations of the world. Most philosophers have argued that colors are either real or not real, physical or psychological. The greater challenge is to theorize the subtle way that color stands between our understanding of the physical and the psychological.”
“People who see themselves as poor make different decisions, and, generally, worse ones. … One explanation for this is that poor people engage in riskier behavior, which is why they are poor in the first place. By [research psychologist Keith] Payne’s account, this way of thinking gets things backward.”
E. O. Wilson’s new book, “The Origins of Creativity,” is about the role of the humanities in an intellectual culture increasingly dominated by science. Wilson values the humanities, but he wants them to have closer ties to some of the sciences, an argument that draws on his view of the relationships between human biology, thought and culture.
“Art is something that’s elevating and challenges the existing order, whereas culture is precisely the opposite. Culture, or the culture industry, uses art in a conservative way, which is to say it uses art to uphold the existing order. So the culture industry peddles an ideology that supports the prevailing power structure — in the case of America, that ideology was consumerism.”
The issue, writes Jacob Brogan, isn’t the “echo chamber” or “media bubble”. Rather the contrary: Twitter is the opposite of a bubble – and that’s precisely the problem.
“Unlike mathematicians, who are at liberty to play in the field of ideas, physics is bound to nature, and at least in principle, is allied with material things. Yet all this raises a liberating possibility, for if mathematics allows for more than three dimensions, and we think mathematics is useful for describing the world, how do we know that physical space is limited to three? Although Galileo, Newton and Kant had taken length, breadth and height to be axiomatic, might there not be more dimensions to our world?”
According to Foucault, the dynamics of the Panopticon bore an uncanny resemblance to how people self-monitor in society at large. In the presence of ever-watchful witnesses, he said, physical coercion is no longer necessary. People police themselves. They do not know what the observers are registering at any given moment, what they are looking for, exactly, or what the punishments are for disobedience. But the imagination keeps them pliant. In these circumstances, Foucault claimed, the architecture of surveillances become perniciously subtle and seamless, so ‘light’ as to be scarcely noticeable.
“Why has the end-of-facts idea gained so much purchase in both academia and the public mind? It could be an example of what the World War II–era misinformation experts referred to as a “bogie” rumor—a false belief that gives expression to our deepest fears and offers some catharsis. It’s the kind of story that we tell one another even as we hope it isn’t true. Back then, there were bogie rumors that the Japanese had sunk America’s entire fleet of ships or that thousands of our soldiers’ bodies had washed ashore in France. Now, perhaps, we blurt out the bogie rumor that a rumor can’t be scotched—that debunking only makes things worse.”
“As uses move to the augmentation of abilities, whether for military purposes or among consumers, a host of concerns will arise. Privacy is an obvious one: the refuge of an inner voice may disappear. Security is another: if a brain can be reached on the internet, it can also be hacked. Inequality is a third: access to superhuman cognitive abilities could be beyond all except a self-perpetuating elite. Ethicists are already starting to grapple with questions of identity and agency that arise when a machine is in the neural loop.”
They wanted to ban Fahrenheit 451 – and replace it with his book. “The parent organizing the banning effort suggested that Bradbury’s work should be replaced with something more acceptable to her. Among her suggestions for more ‘suitable’ material: my own dystopian novel, When the English Fall. I cannot imagine receiving a more troubling and heartbreaking endorsement.”
Could this really have been Walt Disney’s intention? Brian Boneau, a 28-year-old, has gone to Disney World several dozen times. He has “mastered the art of meticulously planning his days down to the ride to ensure he and his family make the most of their time actually doing stuff and not waiting in line. That oftentimes means booking Fastpasses online 30 days in advance (or 60 if he’s staying in a Disney Resort hotel) or getting to the parks as soon as they open.”
OK, sure, why not? “The parallels between the whaling industry and deep human spaceflight are striking. Voyages to the South Seas usually lasted between two and four years, mirroring almost exactly the timeframes associated with a roundtrip journey to Mars. Whalers worked in confined conditions aboard their floating factories, often going months at a time without setting foot on land, prefiguring the cramped space capsules being considered for Mars missions.”
The challenges created by this novelty should not obscure the fact that A.I. itself is not one technology, or even one singular development. Regulating an assemblage of technology we can’t clearly define is a recipe for poor laws and even worse technology.
“Another lesson from our brain imaging work is that illnesses, such as Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, begin in the brain years—even decades—before people have any symptoms. But you can do something about it, and prevention seems to be key.”
“In a way, it’s startling how universal sleep is: In the midst of the hurried scramble for survival, across eons of bloodshed and death and flight, uncountable millions of living things have laid themselves down for a nice, long bout of unconsciousness. … Whatever sleep gives to the sleeper is worth tempting death over and over again, for a lifetime.” Reporter Veronique Greenwood visits a lab in Japan where scientists are trying to find the answer(s) to this question.
Paper has played “an essential role in the development of mankind”. And yet, for decades, civilisation has been trying to develop beyond paper, promoting a paper-free world that will run seamlessly, immaterially on pixels and screens alone. How did paper get here? Where does it go next? For that matter, why is paper – which does its job perfectly well – compelled to keep innovating?
“Virtually all types of institutions, be it political, educational, or business, are exhausting their internal energy in dealing with contentious, and seemingly irreconcilable, differences in basic identities and values — what it means to be American. In such an environment, identity trumps reason, ideology overwhelms politics, and moral convictions replace intellectual discourse.”
“The physicist’s worldview usually contains some aspect of physicalism (asserting the only “real” things are physical things, governed by physical laws), reductionism (asserting all observable phenomena are explicable in terms of their microscopic parts), and positivism or operationalism (asserting that the only meaningful concepts are empirically testable). And in recent generations more than any others, it seems, this web of attitudes permeates the zeitgeist. It is our inheritance from the success of 20th-century physics. This inheritance alters the way we frame questions about the mind and consciousness.”
“Much of [the book] Toward the Year 2018 might as well be science fiction today. With fourteen contributors, ranging from the weapons theorist Herman Kahn to the I.B.M. automation director Charles DeCarlo, penning essays on everything from ‘Space’ to ‘Behavioral Technologies,’ it’s not hard to find wild misses. … But for every amusingly wrong prediction, there’s one unnervingly close to the mark.”
Don’t do this, cities. Or maybe do do this, if you’re a marketer. But wow, what a tool of gentrification Instagram has become. For instance, in a Northeast D.C. neighborhood that is experiencing rapid gentrification: “The murals are fine ones; the splashes of color are nice. But most are very clearly Instagram bait in the service of developers.”
Words refer to objects, and they don’t actually live in our brains – only experience does, and we use words to convey our experiences. Or so is the claim. For instance: “What is an angel but a juggling of past experience: beautiful body, plus wings, as in a dream? What is dark matter if not a piece needed to complete a puzzle, a theory, made up of endless complex objects in the world? Sometimes, the imaginary object is a reshuffling of real objects and thus it is real in its own way; sometimes, it is nothing.”
Year-end lists go against this year’s tide: “For many Americans, 2017 has amounted to a permanent kind of jet lag: bodily schedules misaligned with social ones. There is so much happening, always. There is so much to know, unceasingly. There is so much that won’t be known. Which is also to say that there is so much that won’t be paid attention to. If one of the functions of the American media is to give order to the world’s messiness, to help people make determinations about what—and who—deserves their attention and care, 2017 was the year in which that ordering function lost some of its stability.”
“Most computer scientists think that consciousness is a characteristic that will emerge as technology develops. Some believe that consciousness involves accepting new information, storing and retrieving old information, and cognitive processing of it all into perceptions and actions. If that’s right, then one day machines will indeed be the ultimate consciousness. They’ll be able to gather more information than a human, store more than many libraries, access vast databases in milliseconds, and compute all of it into decisions more complex, and yet more logical, than any person ever could.”
Adam Gopnik: “Christmas has always been a happily mixed-up holiday for mixed-up people and confused cultures. It is, at its roots, the very model of a pagan-secular-synthetic festival as much as it is a religious one – just the kind, in fact, that the imaginary anti-Christmas forces are supposed to favor.”