Even when you’re not Hamlet, it can be a little … intense. It started here: “I won a contest hosted by Airbnb, where entrants were invited to explain why they wanted to spend the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death at Kronborg Castle — better known to the English-speaking world as Elsinore.”
There was poetry, there were colorful signs, and there were scientists who only went into science because they read Margaret Atwood. The marches weren’t supposed to be political, but “one of the poems in Ms. Roberts’s handout,’“Advice from a Caterpillar’ by Amy Gerstler, felt like it could serve as a manual for resistance, or at least for survival. ‘Behave cryptically to confuse predators,’ it read: ‘change colors, spit, or feign death. If all else fails, taste terrible.'”
And, of course, versus Robert Moses. A new documentary shows how “through a combination of grassroots activism, fundraising and persistence, Jacobs blocked Moses and successive city overlords from running Fifth Avenue through the historic Washington Square, tearing down much of SoHo and Little Italy to make way for a billion-dollar expressway, and building a six-lane highway up Manhattan’s west side.”
“Cryptographers think that a new kind of computer based on quantum physics could make public-key cryptography insecure. Bits in a normal computer are either 0 or 1. Quantum physics allows bits to be in a superposition of 0 and 1, in the same way that Schrödinger’s cat can be in a superposition of alive and dead states. This sometimes lets quantum computers explore possibilities more quickly than normal computers. While no one has yet built a quantum computer capable of solving problems of nontrivial size (unless they kept it secret), over the past 20 years, researchers have started figuring out how to write programs for such computers and predict that, once built, quantum computers will quickly solve ‘hidden subgroup problems’. Since all public-key systems currently rely on variations of these problems, they could, in theory, be broken by a quantum computer.”
Confabulation does seem to be innate: consider the stuff that people imagine they’ve done when they have brain damage, and that children come up with while the prefrontal cortex is developing. Neurologist Jules Montague writes about the phenomenon and the “doubt tags” people use to keep it in check – and how they can be induced to miss those tags and develop false memories.
“While older utopias often were predicated on returning to the virtues of an imagined past, a key figure behind this utopia of the new was Norman Bel Geddes, a theatre designer turned industrial designer. Bel Geddes is best known for designing the General Motors Futurama exhibit at the 1939 New York World’s Fair, a huge and hugely celebrated vision of the world of 1960, full of towering modernist skyscrapers in new cities and lots and lots of cars.”
“A lot of people are saying this is showing that AI is prejudiced. No. This is showing we’re prejudiced and that AI is learning it.”
Studies of waking and sleeping unconscious processes suggest that deception is not, and has never been, the second self’s true forte. As the mathematician and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead sagely observed in the early days of psychoanalysis, the unconscious is essentially an enabler, quietly rolling up its sleeves to expand ‘the number of important operations that we can perform without thinking of them’.
People who are open to new experiences can take in more visual information than other people and combine it in unique ways. This may explain why they tend to be particularly creative.
After being in this field for a hot second, there are just some things that I think are impeding our ability, as an industry, to become more self-sustaining, attract new and younger audiences, and make the arts experience much better for the audience and/or consumer. These are ideas, traditions, thoughts – or “institutional traditions” – that have somehow become the “norm” in our industry and create an environment where we value the tradition over the audience experience – our “user interface”.
“Robert Proctor explains that ignorance can often be propagated under the guise of balanced debate. For example, the common idea that there will always be two opposing views does not always result in a rational conclusion. This was behind how tobacco firms used science to make their products look harmless, and is used today by climate change deniers to argue against the scientific evidence.”
“We all know that art, music and nature are beautiful. They command the senses and incite emotion. Their impact is swift and visceral. How can a mathematical idea inspire the same feelings? Well, for one thing, there is something very appealing about the notion of universal truth — especially at a time when people entertain the absurd idea of alternative facts.”
Social media has made an entirely new job possible: Driving around and taking Instagram-likeable photos of the “ideal” life in a van, preferably a Vanagon. (It helps if you’re a thin, white, yoga-doing naked woman.)
If cognitive dissonance causes people – especially educated people – to cling to their beliefs even harder, what hope is there? Probably a sudden shock: “A worldview is not a Lego set where a block is added here, removed there. It’s a fortress that is defended tooth and nail, with all possible reinforcements, until the pressure becomes so overpowering that the walls cave in.”
Google Books was the company’s first big idea, the first moonshot, the first thing that would change everything. “Two things happened to Google Books on the way from moonshot vision to mundane reality. Soon after launch, it quickly fell from the idealistic ether into a legal bog.” And then? It lost any ambition.
They did it by studying the brains of children right at the age where they develop empathy and theory of mind.
“So, while we know that old-fashioned social interaction is healthy, what about social interaction that is completely mediated through an electronic screen? When you wake up in the morning and tap on that little blue icon, what impact does it have on you?” Well, …
“Beating around the bush serves a valuable purpose: Not only can it ease potentially awkward social situations, but it also lets people get away with things they otherwise wouldn’t. … [Yet] indirect speech also serves a more personal purpose, helping people to preserve a positive moral self-image even in the face of wrongdoing – which, in turn, may actually facilitate bad behavior.”
In a world of digital assistants and computer-generated imagery, the expectation is that computers do all kinds of work for humans. The result of which, some have argued, is a dulling of the senses. “The miraculous has become the norm. Such a surfeit of wonders may be de-sensitizing, but it’s also eroding our ability to dream at the movies.”
It reports “close intercultural romantic relationships” stimulate creativity — even after the affair is over. This finding offers “a compelling reason for people to go out of their comfort zone to develop meaningful and long-lasting relationships with individuals from other cultures,” a research team led by Jackson Lu of Columbia University writes in the Journal of Applied Psychology.
“Philosophers have debated the nature of human rights since at least the 12th century, often under the name of ‘natural rights’. These natural rights were supposed to be possessed by everyone and discoverable with the aid of our ordinary powers of reason (our ‘natural reason’), as opposed to rights established by law or disclosed through divine revelation. Wherever there are philosophers, however, there is disagreement.”
uman inequality is commonly described by its defenders as a discovery, but we can allow ourselves to think that it, indeed, is socially constructed. Many different kinds of inequality appear in human history, and each one must be overcome if humanity and equality are to triumph in the practical as well as the ideological world. We have to deal with geographic inequality (the barbarians on the other side of the border), racial inequality (whites or Chinese and the inferior “others”), hierarchical inequality (masters and slaves, aristocrats and commoners), and economic inequality (the rich, the poor, and the desperately poor). These four inequalities are very old and ever-renewed; we know them well. Siep Stuurman adds a fifth to this list, which he thinks is peculiarly modern: temporal inequality. “We” are advanced, and “they” are backward.
The dateline notwithstanding, this is not a joke article: “emotional labor” is a real phenomenon, much studied by sociologists and behavioral economists, and it can lead to real burnout.
Right now, boredom is a fundamental problem of western culture. There used to be a natural coupling: “Safe and boring.” We used it about jobs, about people, about societies. It implied a trade-off: dullness being compensated by security. But “safe and boring” doesn’t really make sense any more. Boredom is a source of deep insecurity.
“Today’s elite angst about so-called post-fact or post-truth public discourse is but the latest version of an historical struggle – a struggle over the question of who possesses moral and intellectual authority. Indeed, the rejection of the values and outlook of the holders of cultural power in many Western societies has long been portrayed as a rejection of truth itself. The reason elite values have been enshrined as ‘the truth’, right from the Ancient Greeks onwards, is because the rulers of society need to secure the deference of the masses. The masses are being encouraged to defer not to the power of the elites, but to the truth of elite values.”
No, but it’s hard to describe smells. “While we may know as many as 30,000 words in our native language, we’re not nearly so good at defining the hundreds of thousands of distinct smells our brains process.”
In Britain, the National Television Awards have been gender-neutral for a while, like the Grammys in the U.S. Could this ever work for something like the Oscars?
The U.S. should see itself as a land of “civil religion” rather than a land of “radical secularism” or “religious nationalism,” says one historian. Would this solve our wars over culture? (Would the N.E.A. be fully funded? Would ‘Sesame Street’ be on the chopping block?)
You can blame mergers and a weirdly laissez-faire U.S. Department of Justice. “This unwillingness to use effective antitrust enforcement to protect American economic interests is in stark contrast to how the rest of the world operates.”
Labels such as “medieval” and “modern” are highly relative scholarly impositions. What counts as “modern” in philosophy is quite different – in chronology and in style – from modernity in literary studies. While such categories may be convenient for organizing the historiography of philosophy (among other disciplines), no one really thinks they represent precise and absolute distinctions. What, after all, does it mean for a philosophy to be “modern”?