It turned out that, when they were swearing, the intrepid volunteers could keep their hands in the water nearly 50 percent longer as when they used their non-cursing, table-based adjectives. Not only that, while they were swearing the volunteers’ heart rates went up and their perception of pain went down. In other words, the volunteers experienced less pain while swearing. It’s an easy experiment to try for yourself at home, or at a party if you have the right kind of friends.
“The basic idea is that gender is created by the very words and actions that appear, superficially, to be simply describing it after the fact. … Gender is not a thing so much as a process by which patterns of language and action come to repeat themselves.” Will Fraker unpacks Judith Butler’s most famous idea.
“The dichotomy between good attention and bad distraction is so fundamental that it is written into the very language we use to talk about attending. Consider the phrase “I pay attention.” It implies that attention is valuable, a type of currency we deliberately and consciously invest in. When I pay attention, I am in control of my action, and I am aware of its value. Now compare this with the phrase “I am distracted.” Suddenly we are dealing with a passive and vulnerable subject who suffers an experience without doing much to contribute to it.”
There’s Eadweard Muybridge, who was a bookseller until a traumatic brain injury in a stagecoach accident led him to become the pathbreaking photographer he was. There’s the orthopedic surgeon who suddenly became a talented pianist after being struck by lightning, and the slacking college dropout who became a math and geometry genius after a bar fight. How could this happen? Neurologists have two ideas.
“We argue for our positions, and get annoyed if they are challenged. Why do we do this? The obvious answer is that we believe the views we express (ie, we think they are true), and we want to get others to believe them too, becausethey are true. We want the truth to prevail. That’s how it seems. But do we really believe everything we say? Are you always trying to establish the truth when you argue, or might there be other motives at work?”
Because tech companies like Facebook and Google make money off the sale of our personal data to advertisers, they depend on the attention of the masses to survive. And because their algorithms shape much of what we see online, it’s to their benefit to coerce us into thinking of ourselves not as individuals but as members of groups. “The big tech companies,” Franklin Foer writes, “Propel us to join the crowd—they provide us with the trending topics and their algorithms suggest that we read the same articles, tweets, and posts as the rest of the world.”
“In a time when our environment is changing more rapidly than ever before—the inclusion of technology, potential for humans to travel to different planets, climate change—our senses are going to undergo a change to keep up with our environment’s transformation. It’s already happening, in fact.”
“We procure energy so that the organism can be perpetuated, but then we do something very important and almost always missed, which is hoard energy. We need to maintain positive energy balances, something that goes beyond what we need right now because that’s what ensures the future. What’s so beautiful about homeostasis is that it’s not just about sustaining life at the moment, but about having a sort of guarantee that it will continue into the future. Without those positive energy balances, we court death.”
The roots for the alignment between life processes and quality of feeling can be traced to the workings of homeostasis within the common ancestors to endocrine systems, immune systems, and nervous systems. They go back in the mists of early life. The part of the nervous system responsible for surveying and responding to the interior, especially the old interior, has always worked cooperatively with the immune and endocrine systems within that same interior.
In board games, anyway. That’s right: Board games are back, baby, especially Eurogames. “Most Eurogames are designed such that scoring comes at the end of the game, after some defined milestone or turn limit, so that every player can enjoy the experience of being a contender until the final moments. If this sounds somewhat Euro-socialistic, that’s because it is.”
It may be an idea whose time has come, especially if it honors recently – and suddenly – deceased mayor Ed Lee. “The 838 Grant Ave. property is just a block from historic Portsmouth Square, which some politicians have already begun pushing to rename after Lee. Now there is talk of blending the two efforts, with the museum serving as an entryway to the park behind it.”
We can easily get addicted to harsh reviews. “The appeal of negativity to the reader, that mysterious quality which makes the pan and the broadside irresistible, should alone warn the cautious critic of indulging in bouts of vitriol too freely, or too frequently. Harsh criticism has an intoxicating effect on writer and reader alike: both ought to be wary of its influence. Like any drug, censure has its benefits, its attractions and its resounding pleasures. But it is also dangerous.”
We can’t top this writing: “The clown king of novelty infrastructure fantasies has once again stolen the limelight with his preposterous plan for a 22-mile bridge across the Channel. As spending priorities go, Boris Johnson’s idea is madness. Most places outside the south-east UK languish with medieval infrastructure – and there’s also the fact that it’s the busiest shipping lane in the world.”
“In today’s networked environment, when anyone can broadcast live or post their thoughts to a social network, it would seem that censorship ought to be impossible. This should be the golden age of free speech. And sure, it is a golden age of free speech—if you can believe your lying eyes. Is that footage you’re watching real? Was it really filmed where and when it says it was? Is it being shared by alt-right trolls or a swarm of Russian bots? Was it maybe even generated with the help of artificial intelligence? (Yes, there are systems that can create increasingly convincing fake videos.)”
“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.”