“Somewhere in the middle of the twentieth century, fundamentalism and postmodernism, the religious right and the academic left, met up: either the only truth is the truth of the divine or there is no truth; for both, empiricism is an error. That epistemological havoc has never ended: much of contemporary discourse and pretty much all of American politics is a dispute over evidence.”
“It is always tempting to say that this is not a good time for ideas. Though people hold them or dismiss them, promote them or disparage them, ideas often seem unstable. Often we think we are debating an idea only to discover that it no longer means what we thought it meant. We proclaim our affection for equality, autonomy, liberation, authenticity only to find that the meanings of those words and the concepts they name have changed into something unrecognizable.”
Yes, the defeat of a world-champion Go player by Google’s DeepMind computer was impressive, as was Watson’s triumph over Ken Jennings at Jeopardy!. Yet we’re still far from anything like HAL.
“[Researchers] played a total of 165 commonly heard natural sounds to ten subjects willing to be rolled into an fMRI machine to listen to the piped-in sounds. The sounds included a man speaking, a songbird, a car horn, a flushing toilet, and a dog barking. None sparked the same population of neurons as music.” (includes video)
“This year SXSW, as the festival is known, feels like a story of how the tech ethos has escaped the bounds of hardware and software. Tech is turning into a culture and a style, one that has spread into new foods and clothing, and all other kinds of nonelectronic goods. Tech has become a lifestyle brand.”
“In real life, having your poetry criticized by T.S. Eliot could cause you to doubt your poetic gifts. But imagining it in a dream has the opposite effect.”
“Like [Garry] Kasparov before me, I now make a reasonable living as a professional human loser. Have rueful sense of own inevitable obsolescence, will travel.”
Recent research indicates that “it is better to make plans to fail intermittently – to splurge on occasional luxuries when saving for a house; to have a slice of chocolate cake when trying to shed a few pounds – than to end up failing anyway and getting so demoralised you give up your goal altogether.”
“Medicine has long separated burnout from depression, qualifying the former as more exhaustion-related rather than a clinical psychological problem characterized by chronic anxiety and feelings of sadness, but a recent study … indicates it might be time for us to rethink that division.”
“Generally speaking, sweepingly pessimistic statements about society should be taken with a grain of salt. … Sometimes, though, there are exceptions. … Ever since the 1930s, young people in America have reported feeling increasingly anxious and depressed. And no one knows exactly why.”
“Shakespeare introduced all sorts of problems to his characters, from falling in love with a man with a donkey’s head, to separating identical twins at birth, to meeting three witches on a moor.”
“Four percent of the total number of primary characters, meaning three main players in the 100 children’s movies surveyed, could be classified as ‘poor.’ In comparison, roughly 25 percent of American children live in poverty.”
“The digitization project, eagerly supported by Lincoln specialists and private donors, has so far found, annotated and published scores of thousands of freshly uncovered documents, adding to the universe of Lincoln materials. It began in the 1980s researching Lincoln’s legal career, then grew far bigger in scope as the Internet arrived.
Has the singularity arrived? “Google’s artificially intelligent Go-playing computer system has claimed victory in its historic match with Korean grandmaster Lee Sedol after winning a third straight game in this best-of-five series.”
“In the modern age we can chuckle over medieval naiveté, but we often suffer from similar conceptual confusions. We have our share of phlegm theories, which flatter our intuitions while explaining nothing. They’re compelling, they often convince, but at a deeper level they’re empty.”
“Could you tell a person something like, ‘ignore everyone not wearing glasses,’ to find Waldo more efficiently? Probably not.”
“A few people develop a compulsive urge to crack jokes 24 hours a day, with a medical condition called Witzelsucht. Why does it happen?”
“When websites such as the Wayback Machine archive websites for posterity and social media accounts linger on after our deaths, a new digital afterlife has been created, one that we can’t necessarily control.”
“The letters constantly flicker around, and everything seems jumbled. The words seem to make sense at first and then they don’t, and just when you think you’ve figured out the word, it seems to morph into a totally different one.”
Responding to a column earlier this year titled “When Philosophy Lost Its Way“, Scott Soames explains how, over the last century, philosophers have established the very bases of present-day computing, psychology, cognitive studies, physics, linguistics, and political science.
“In short: Perhaps the only thing more irritating than the act of public food photography is knowing that those walking their $16 plates of eggs Benedict over to a window could be getting more out of their dining experience than you.”
“Even as enthusiasts have called for more ethnic-studies programs—and the debate rages on over making the identities of black, Asian, Native American, and Latino students the centerpiece of class instruction—notably absent was data linking culturally relevant pedagogy specifically to measurable student gains. This changed this year.”
“The far-flung corners of fandom used to thrive mostly online, invisible to those didn’t share the same groupie passions. But recently, more fans have been stepping out of the virtual world and into convention centers—the physical manifestation of an obsessiveness bred by the Internet.”
“Travel was once a way to understand topography, but the modern road network often disengages us from it. Most of the time, all that’s visible from a motorway is fast-moving embankment or a half-mile strip of field.”
“The forces of individualism that are sweeping through so much of society are also leading to the atomization of intellectual life. The odd thing is that it was easier to come to maturity when there were more well-defined philosophical groups.”
In terms of both “fluency” (the total number of uses they named for each object) and “originality” (measured by their use of words that were far removed from the object’s obvious purpose), those who assumed the persona of “eccentric poet” scored highest. Those who took on the role of “rigid librarian” scored lowest, while participants who were not given a stereotype placed in the middle.
“We know people aren’t great at making choices, and sometimes the choices we do make are downright weird. (See: politics.) Well, take heart, fellow humans: It’s actually pretty common to make odd, irrational decisions – and, according to a new study, it might even be for the best.”
Some factors evidently make no difference (genetics), while certain factors you’d think were entirely irrelevant do seem to correlate. And researchers have finally found another image for which people’s color perceptions vary wildly; you can take an online test and help with the research.
“The underlying concern with the Internet is not whether it will fragment our attention spans or mold our minds to the bit-work of modernity. In the end, it will likely do both. The deeper question is what can be done when we realize that we want some control over the exchange between our brains and the Web.” James McWilliams proposes an answer to that question.
The FDA just approved a drug said to increase women’s libidos. Some doctors prescribe Prozac to people who want to lower or suppress their sex drives. It’s not unheard of for women to check themselves into psych wards after a nasty breakup. And there’s an entire ugly history of medical attempts to “cure” homosexuality. How to untangle the ethical knots these issues tie?