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Posts tagged “Evolution

Postmodernism: what the heck is it and what does it have to do with cats and our perception of reality?

Having been taking photographs around Toronto lately using funky filters on my cheap indestructible smartphone camera (a knockoff Blackberry Motorola running Android)—no one else seems to own nor want to have—I have been enjoying the strange perceptions it’s given me, regarding light and how we view things–in my case the city, its architecture, its denizens and both its daytime and nighttime responses to light; or lack thereof.

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After posting some of these shots online, I’ve received feedback such as: “What a crappy filter!” “Stop, that’s not reality!” “Why do you do that?!” “Is your camera broken?”

I like the perspective they give, I am not trying to be a true photographer; nor even claiming any sort of artistic license–although I guess those are simply granted by others if they appreciate/are emotionally affected by, what I am trying to capture or show with what I take pictures of, and the manner in which I take them. A  ‘true photographer’ by my definition, is one able to replicate on demand, one who possesses the esoteric knowledge of depth of field, film speeds and what they alter, one who is capable of retaking the shot they took a year ago in almost any environmental condition, and the intelligence, education, skill and practice necessary for all of this. I possess none of these, and may never achieve this calibre of mastery, as I am one lazy sonofabitch.

Funnily though, I had been pondering how people online talk about cats–how stupid they are, or how nonsensical their behaviour be (or mystical or spiritual or…whatever). Living with a cat—one I consider pretty damn sharp—I’ve noticed similar behaviour; such as chasing things I can not see, or staring into the distance…

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But I understand that she has optical apparati completely different from mine.  Sometimes I’m able to catch a slight glimpse of something moving–perhaps a headlight on the wall, or a tiny flying insect, or someone a few blocks away opening a window and reflecting a quick flash of light from the sun through my apartment.  But at other times, I too am at a loss.  But this, to me at least, makes me aware of the limitations of my eyes, not the “stupidity of an animal”.  I’ve read in some places where people have spoken of folktales where cats were said to communicate with the dead–again, for the same reasons.  This of course just leads to my disappointment in humanity and people not using the gift of reason that we have evolved to possess.

Interestingly though, all of this has a lot to do with a metaphor I use regarding postmodern thinking and analysis.  Lenses.  Lenses provide us with a particular perspective, while limiting our vision at the same time.  This is true in most every human enterprise, but namely politics.  As I have grown older, I realize that I am accumulating more and more lenses of perception.  As I spontaneously meet and engage intellectually with more and more humans (something I love about living in downtown Toronto in 2013), I find myself able to identify with, if not agree with completely, many who hold very strong views about a multitude of issues.  Many though, seem to fail to understand that they may merely disagree with those towards whom they profess eternal hatred and enmity, due to a different lens or two..or ten.  Most every human endeavour, in my opinion, seeks excellence as well as the betterment of something someone (or some group) holds dear. Humans are not intrinsically evil, nor out to hurt others, without some sense of righteousness. Unless of course they are insane, but that is not to what I refer.

The video below too, (a small vignette of a great documentary series by Richard Hammond called ‘Invisible Worlds’ by the way) made me realize something about reality–so much of what we consider (perceive as) beautiful in this world (flowers for example), we are ONLY limited to perceive through a narrow band of the light spectrum.

This is also true for our sense of hearing.  This is a recording of cricket chirps slowed down so their lifespans match those of humans–they now sound like some sort of ethereal hymnal choir:

Our senses limit us in SO many ways, and yet we rarely, if ever, speak to this–we do not tell this to our children.  Human-conceived religions and gods and ponderances of our eternal purpose consistently have failed to mention, oh, by the way, most of this reality? —is not available with our software edition. This is actually one of the greatest reasons NOT to believe in God or Intelligent Design or whatever, but I guess the same explanation has been used throughout the world for the contrary argument.

Which all brings me to a vsauce segment. I am addicted to vsauce. It is such the intellectually pornographic injection of thought. He touches on so much, much of what I had been thinking and articulated above, and then some. I have actually made good friends with familiar strangers, just by saying ‘vsauce’ to them instead of hello, on a regular basis.

Postmodern thinking asks you to ‘think outside the box’ but it assumes that you have in fact perceived the existence of a box. This perception requires an awareness of lenses in order that one can become aware of all kinds of boxes, and bubbles and biases; outside of which may just be other realities and dimensions you are unable, or have yet, to perceive.

 

 


The Dalai Lama of Mountain Goats

dalai-lama

The above quote may or may not be authentic. It really does not matter.  Most feel-good kumbayaa (m’lawwwd) clap-trap does not really need to prove its provenance…as the masses nod along, hug and feel ‘inspired’ to another juicy apocryphal morsel.

…But, I used to wonder about Mountain Goats.

Do THEY know that life could be easier on flat ground?  Were they meant to just wander on 75 degree sloped surfaces eternally; with 1 or 2 kids falling to their deaths every now and then?

I decided, on the latter; that was indeed just their experience, their reality, their ‘nature’…and then they die–perhaps never realizing life was easier grazing on a prairie–perhaps even only a few hundred metres away– as other ‘prairie’ goats.

So perhaps homo sapien sapiens are just supposed to live the way we always have lived–and evolved–for millennia?  Our worry and stress and lack of vision involving complex internal chemistry…our very own ‘nature’…and billions of us (in every corner of the world) are the same way about these things…most of which, only in hindsight do we realize to have been for nought.

But maybe that just IS life.

When death or illness comes close, we ponder things, but otherwise we go back to our perceptual myopism–very much as mountain goats…but there be no mountain goat dalai lama.

Our ‘not having lived’ IS life.

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[VIDEO] SAM HARRIS DOESN’T TALK ABOUT THE DALAI LAMA OF MOUNTAIN GOATS AT ALL


[AUDIO] CBC RADIO’S IDEAS: A 3-part series called “RETHINKING DEPRESSION” — After several decades of messing around, it may now be time to question the pharmacologicalization of melancholia and why the blues may indeed have an overlooked purpose in personal growth, self-development and brain-body communication

CBC IDEAS

“With the help of a number of local and world-renowned experts in the field, producer Mary O’Connell explores what we know – and what we think we know – about depression and the medications we use so often to treat it. The patient and interested listener (the entire series runs for three hours) will be rewarded with some really fascinating but often not well-publicized facts about the social, commercial and political factors that are conspiring to make psychotropic medications “a $20billion per year industry worldwide” and have led the World Health Organization to predict that depression will be the second leading caused of global disability by 2020.” Three Parts, 1 hour each.

what-is-depression

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PART ONE:

Depression. It has been called the mean reds. The blue devils. The black dog. And through history, treatments for depression have varied wildly. In the Middle Ages, depressives were caged in asylums. In Victorian England, wealthier patients were sent to seaside resorts for a change of air. In the 1930’s, procedures like lobotomies and electroconvulsive therapy were used. Psychiatry’s tools were crude and limited.  No wonder then, when the Age of the Antidepressant arrived, it was considered psychiatry’s triumph.  Prozac came onto the market in 1988, followed quickly by many similar drugs. But, since then, the number of people afflicted with depression has soared.  In this 3 part program, IDEAS producer Mary O’Connell explores the short and troubling history of the antidepressant. 
CLICK TO HEAR

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PART TWO:

Over the years, the descriptions have varied: melancholia, the Black Dog, down in the dumps. The term most used today is “depression”. The World Health Organization says depression is set to become second only to heart disease as the world’s leading disability by the year 2020. An alarming conclusion when you consider the history. One hundred years ago depression was thought to be extremely rare, with 1% of the population suffering. Today it’s often called the common cold of mental illness. But just how effective are antidepressants in treating depression?  
Unpublished clinical trials have come to light and they reveal that the antidepressant was never the triumphant treatment many psychiatrists hoped it would be.  And we’re also learning that the theory that antidepressants restore serotonin in the brain could be false. However, despite this news about serotonin and sadness, the number of depressed people continues to grow. Now some researchers wonder whether the modern antidepressant has increased rates of depression instead of lowering them. In episode two of Rethinking Depression, IDEAS producer Mary O’Connell examines the debate around antidepressants. 
CLICK TO HEAR

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PART THREE:

The World Health Organization says depression is set to become second only to heart disease as the world’s leading disability by the year 2020. More recent research over the past decade tells us that antidepressants do not work very well, if at all, for mild or moderate depression. And in severe depression, antidepressants only work in a small number of cases. 

So how can those who suffer from depression receive effective treatment and even possibly recover? In the third hour of Rethinking Depression, IDEAS producer Mary O’Connell brings us the stories of the depressed who are on the path to wellness and the methods that can be used to get them there.
CLICK TO HEAR

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The Medicated Me 

written by CHRIS NORRIS; Mens Journal
 

It’s just after dawn, and I’m sitting on someone’s sofa in someone’s apartment somewhere in New York City. An attractive young woman I used to know is sleeping 15 feet away. Books I read, photos I took, CDs I reviewed as a music critic — all sit like props from a play I half remember. The sunlight looks toxic, radioactive. The murmur of distant traffic sounds alien, hostile, a predator’s low growl. Everything is exactly as it was yesterday yet feels totally different — in a bad way and down to a subatomic level. I feel like a character in some lame sci-fi novel who wakes up in a parallel universe or as a head in a jar. I’d skimmed over this sensation in nightmares and during extreme jet lag but never felt it descend as a full-blown totality, never felt it suck me down into it. I’d compare it with a bad trip if not for one terrifying irony now sinking in. This is my brain off drugs.

Six months ago, after 10 emotionally uneventful years on antidepressants — years that somehow included getting married, losing my job, and watching two skyscrapers implode from 20 blocks away — I began tinkering with my prescription, casting about for just the right med while the sturdy old Effexor trickled out of my system, a few milligrams less each week, a long goodbye to my silent partner of a decade.

Now, having decided to go off everything, putting my years-long chemistry experiment on pause, I am drug-free at last. For the first time in a decade, I am experiencing life in all its rich tones and vivid hues, and I’m about to throw myself in front of the 6 train.

I wasn’t actually depressed when I started taking antidepressants.

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The DSM-V reviewed as if it was a dystopian novel…

“Great dystopia isn’t so much fantasy as a kind of estrangement or dislocation from the present; the ability to stand outside time and see the situation in its full hideousness. The dystopian novel doesn’t necessarily have to be a novel.”

A new dystopian novel in the classic mode takes the form of a dictionary of madness

“As you read, you slowly grow aware that the book’s real object of fascination isn’t the various sicknesses described in its pages, but the sickness inherent in their arrangement.

Who, after all, would want to compile an exhaustive list of mental illnesses? The opening passages of DSM-5 give us a long history of the purported previous editions of the book and the endless revisions and fine-tunings that have gone into the work. This mad project is clearly something that its authors are fixated on to a somewhat unreasonable extent. In a retrospectively predictable ironic twist, this precise tendency is outlined in the book itself. The entry for obsessive-compulsive disorder with poor insight describes this taxonomical obsession in deadpan tones: “repetitive behavior, the goal of which is […] to prevent some dreaded event or situation.” Our narrator seems to believe that by compiling an exhaustive list of everything that might go askew in the human mind, this wrong state might somehow be overcome or averted. References to compulsive behavior throughout the book repeatedly refer to the “fear of dirt in someone with an obsession about contamination.” The tragic clincher comes when we’re told, “the individual does not recognize that the obsessions or compulsions are excessive or unreasonable.” This mad project is so overwhelming that its originator can’t even tell that they’ve subsumed themselves within its matrix. We’re dealing with a truly unreliable narrator here, not one that misleads us about the course of events (the narrator is compulsive, they do have poor insight), but one whose entire conceptual framework is radically off-kilter. As such, the entire story is a portrait of the narrator’s own particular madness. With this realization, DSM-5 starts to enter the realm of the properly dystopian.”

Read the entire review by Sam Kriss in The New Inquiryepitomizing perhaps, the function of artful perspective

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The Dalai Lama of Mountain Goats


[MUSIC] [VIDEO] 100 Riffs (A Brief History of Rock N’ Roll)

Alex Chadwick plays 100 famous guitar riffs in one take giving you a chronological history of rock n’ roll.


[AUDIO] “Anxiety is an essential human emotion but it’s important to distinguish between normal day to day worry and an actual anxiety disorder. It can manifest in a range of forms including obsessive compulsive disorder, agoraphobia, social anxiety and panic attacks. New Yorker Daniel Smith has lived with chronic anxiety, or his ‘Monkey Mind’, for most of his life and says it’s the only mental disorder which can be both excruciatingly painful and funny at the same time. Hear about what eventually helped him manage his intense worrying.”

CLICK TO HEAR

Australian Broadcasting CorporationABC - All In The Mind

First Broadcast: Sunday 21 April 2013

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“Monkey Mind is a tragicomic memoir about anxiety — both the emotion, which is universal, and the clinical condition, which is rampant. Mostly it’s about the clinical condition. It’s about anxiety so acute and chronic that it permeates every waking moment, affecting your body and mind, your friendships and relationships, your work and your will.MonkeyMind_bookcover

Write what you know, they say.

I’ve known anxiety for most, maybe all, of my life. The condition is genetic. My father was anxious. My mother was anxious. My grandparents were anxious. Probably my ancestors were all anxious. My last name is Smith, but this is what’s known as an “Ellis Island name” — something the authorities gave my great-grandfather when he arrived in the early twentieth century. The original family name is Gomolski.

In other words, we’re Jewish. There is no race or ethnic group on Earth that does not suffer from anxiety. But Jews are particularly good at that kind of suffering.

I didn’t know I was anxious until I was a teenager. Before that, I was “sensitive” and “nervous.” I had phobias and tics and sudden fears. Then, when I was sixteen, I lost my virginity under odd, unfortunate circumstances (see the book; it’s a cool story), and my anxiety began to take over my life. Monkey Mind tells how that happened; the troubles and difficulties that followed over the coming years; and the many attempts, wise and unwise, I have made to alleviate my anxiety.

Notice: alleviate, not cure. Anxiety isn’t a condition like pneumonia or chicken pox. It isn’t something you can eradicate. It’s a state of being, a coloration in the way a person thinks, feels, and acts. It isn’t a disorder, necessarily, though it can be exquisitely painful and it does sometimes stem from trauma. What it is, is a state of mind. It can be reduced, in some cases radically, but it never totally goes away.

What I set out to do in Monkey Mind was to describe and explain the experience of anxiety. Anxiety is often spoken of in cultural and collective terms: we are living, it is said, in an “age of anxiety.” But what does anxiety feel like? How does it affect everyday life? Kierkegaard, who was maybe the most anxious person ever to live, described anxiety in this way:

And no Grand Inquisitor has in readiness such terrible tortures as has anxiety, and no spy knows how to attack more artfully the man he suspects, choosing the instant when he is weakest, nor knows how to lay traps where he will be caught and ensnared, as anxiety knows how, and no sharpwitted judge knows how to interrogate, to examine the accused, as anxiety does, which never lets him escape, neither by diversion nor by noise, neither at work nor at play, neither by day nor by night.

What does it mean for a person to have to deal — day after day, night after night — with that Grand Inquisitor in her head?

The short answer is: It isn’t fun. The long answer is this book.

So then why tragicomic? Because for all the pain, anxiety is an inherently comical disorder. It destroys lives, but it destroys them with absurdity. To witness a person in the throes of true anxiety is to witness a person actively tripping himself, a person whose sane faculties — the ability to reason and recognize threat, the capacity to apply logic — have grown to monstrous, B-movie proportions. Anxiety is the intellect gone feral. Also, to treat anxiety as an absurd state of mind is to declaw the experience and reveal its pettiness. Anxiety can indeed destroy relationships. It has destroyed some of mine. But it can do so only when the sufferer treats it with blind seriousness, when he treats it as applicable to meaningful bonds and meaningful decisions. Yet anxiety doesn’t care what its object is: it’s ecumenically corrosive. In the grip of anxiety, a sufferer is capable of reasoning himself not just out of marriage but out of lunch. On more than one occasion anxiety has paralyzed me over a salad, convincing me that a choice between blue cheese and vinaigrette is as dire a choice as that between life and death. Once this is recognized, anxiety loses some of its power.

This is what Monkey Mind is designed to accomplish. I have written with sheer honesty about the self-destructive absurdities, both major and minor, into which anxiety has led me. The goal is to expose anxiety as the pudgy, weak-willed wizard behind the curtain of dread. The goal is to tame what has always seemed to me, and to the tens of millions of others who suffer from anxiety, as a horrible, sharp-fanged beast.”

—FROM: http://monkeymindchronicles.com/about-the-book/

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MonkeyMind_bookcover


The origin and purpose of the diamond engagement ring

!Bo5CsB!B2k~$(KGrHqEH-DkEuY-t54vGBLpS36UpWg~~_12“many (consumer) products thrive because they are associated with agreeable personalities and activities. Since the 1930s diamond engagement rings have been the premier symbol of romantically honorable intentions and likely spousal agreeableness. Early twentieth-century women faced a problem: prosecution of men for financial damages following breach of promise was declining. It was becoming all too common to be seduced by a psychopath promising marriage and then abandoned after he availed himself of one’s virginity during the engagement. Into this reliable-signaling gap jumped De Beers with the diamond ring, heavily promoted with the slogan “A diamond is forever.” Diamond marketers recommended that women ask men to spend two months’ salary (or about a year’s disposable income) on a ring, as a sign of the seriousness of their committment. Ever since, engagement rings have dominated the demand for diamonds larger than one carat.”

-Spent: Sex, Evolution and Consumer Behavior; by Geoffrey Miller

Spent.-741197


[VIDEO] [BOOK] [AUDIO] MATING MIND – GEOFFREY MILLER: The book that made more sense of the world around me than any other I had ever read

A MIND MADE FOR MATING! by @JasonSilva

The-Mating-Mind-Miller-Geoffrey-F-9780385495172

Edited by CITIZEN
Music by SECESSION
Footage by Shutterstock, Imaginaty Foundation, and..

Inspired by Geoffrey Miller and his book “THE MATING MIND”

The Human Brain is essentially a sexual Ornament, a “courtship device”, so that it’s extraordinary capacities for art, language, poetry, are but human versions of the peacock feather, used to capture and manage the attention of potential mates. And with the advent of culture, we still employ these extraordinary capacities, these “technologies of rhetoric” to ‘capture the attention’ of others, except no longer to spread our genes but to spread our MEMES, a new replicator, born from the primordial soup human culture.. one that leaps and spreads… All of this is still perfectly natural, we’ve just swapped sperm for the currency of digital information– but as Dawkins said, biological life has been an information technology all along: “If you want to understand life, do not think of throbbing gels or oozing liquids, think about information technology”

“What lies at the heart of every living thing is not a fire, not warm breath, not a ‘spark of life.’ It is information, words, instructions,” – Richard Dawkins

“The human mind’s most impressive abilities are like the peacock’s tail: they are courtship tools, evolved to attract and entertain sexual partners.”

nytimes.com/books/first/m/miller-mating.html

What Makes Ideas Travel: (Is there a signature for virality written into certain MEMES?) 
blogs.hbr.org/cs/2012/11/think_like_an_information_dj.html

“Men write more books. Men give more lectures. Men ask more questions after lectures. Men post more e-mail to Internet discussion groups. To say this is due to patriarchy is to beg the question of the behavior’s origin. If men control society, why don’t they just shut up and enjoy their supposed prerogatives? The answer is obvious when you consider sexual competition: men can’t be quiet because that would give other men a chance to show off verbally. Men often bully women into silence, but this is usually to make room for their own verbal display. If men were dominating public language just to maintain patriarchy, that would qualify as a puzzling example of evolutionary altruism–a costly, risky individual act that helps all of one’s sexual competitors (other males) as much as oneself. The ocean of male language that confronts modern women in bookstores, television, newspapers, classrooms, parliaments, and businesses does not necessarily come from a male conspiracy to deny women their voice. It may come from an evolutionary history of sexual selection in which the male motivation to talk was vital to their reproduction.”
― Geoffrey Miller, The Mating Mind: How Sexual Choice Shaped the Evolution of Human Nature

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The Ape and the Lady

A LADY fair, of lineage high,
Was loved by an Ape, in the days gone by -
The Maid was radiant as the sun,
The Ape was a most unsightly one -
So it would not do -
His scheme fell through;
For the Maid, when his love took formal shape,
Expressed such terror
At his monstrous error,
That he stammered an apology and made his ‘scape,
The picture of a disconcerted Ape.

With a view to rise in the social scale,
He shaved his bristles, and he docked his tail,
He grew moustachios, and he took his tub,
And he paid a guinea to a toilet club.
But it would not do,
The scheme fell through -
For the Maid was Beauty’s fairest Queen,
With golden tresses,
Like a real princess’s,
While the Ape, despite his razor keen,
Was the apiest Ape that ever was seen!

He bought white ties, and he bought dress suits,
He crammed his feet into bright tight boots,
And to start his life on a brand-new plan,
He christened himself Darwinian Man!
But it would not do,
The scheme fell through -
For the Maiden fair, whom the monkey craved,
Was a radiant Being,
With a brain far-seeing -
While a Man, however well-behaved,
At best is only a monkey shaved! 

–William Schwenck Gilbert (1836 – 1911)

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Australian Broadcasting Corporation

ABC’S ‘ALL IN THE MIND’ AND THE PHILOSOPHER’S ZONE RADIO SHOWS’ SPECIAL: HAPPY BIRTHDAY CHARLES DARWIN

CLICK TO HEAR

First broadcast: Saturday 14 February 2009 1:00PM

The human animal is a complex beast—we mate, fight, emote, and socialise in curious ways. Charles Darwin’s theories continue to provoke controversy over how and why we behave the way we do. Join leading evolutionary scientists and philosophers in this one-hour special, as presenters Alan Saunders and Natasha Mitchell consider how Darwin radically influenced the life of the mind.

Guests

Martin DalyProfessor of Psychology 
McMaster University 
Hamilton 
Ontario, Canadahttp://psych.mcmaster.ca/dalywilson/

Stephen GaukrogerProfessor 
Department of Philosophy 
University of Sydneyhttp://www.arts.usyd.edu.au/departs/philos/staff/profiles/sgaukroger.shtml

Colin GrovesProfessor of Biological Anthropology 
Australian National University 
Canberra 
Australiahttp://arts.anu.edu.au/arcworld/aboutus/groves.htm

Delton HedgesPhd candidate 
School of Philosophy 
University of Tasmaniahttp://fcms.its.utas.edu.au/arts/philosophy/index.asp

Michael RuseLucyle T. Werkmeister Professor 
Director of History & Philisophy of Science Program 
Florida State Universityhttp://www.fsu.edu/~philo/new%20site/staff/ruse.htm

Jonathan MarksProfessor of Anthropology 
Uuniversity of North Carolina 
Charlotte 
North Carolinahttp://personal.uncc.edu/jmarks/

Geoffrey MillerAssociate Professor 
Psychology Faculty 
University of New Mexicohttp://www.unm.edu/~psych/faculty/lg_gmiller.html

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[VIDEO] WE ARE ALL STRANGE LOOPS

Created by Jason Silva in collaboration with CITIZEN. Follow Jason on twitter @JASONSILVA

This video is a non-commercial work created to inspire, made for educational purposes, inspired by the ideas of Douglas Hofstadter explored in the magnificent book GODEL, ESCHER, BACH: An Eternal Golden Braid. Learn more:en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gödel,_Escher,_Bach

It offers my interpretation of Strange Loops of Self Reference, recursion, and the emergence of consciousness and self-awareness:en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strange_loops

“To Hofstadter, the human mind is a bright, shimmering, self-sustaining miracle of philosophical bootstrappery” – Lev Grossman, Read more: time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1599720,00.html#ixzz2MyMGywag

(more…)


[VIDEO] Jim AI.Khalili – ORDER AND DISORDER BBC HORIZON – The Story of Energy & Information and the Advancement of Man

Professor Jim Al-Khalili investigates one of the most important concepts in the world today – information. He discovers how we harnessed the power of symbols, everything from the first alphabet to the electric telegraph through to the modern digital age. But on this journey he learns that information is not just about human communication, it is woven very profoundly into the fabric of reality.


[AUDIO] Cultural anthropologists assess the information/communication revolution thus far, in 2012; And how it is altering our behaviour and the way in which we relate to one another

Transcript from the radio program ‘Future Tense’ on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation

First Broadcast:Sunday 9 September 2012

[listen to audio version here]

Antony Funnell: Hello, this is Future Tense, I’m Antony Funnell, and welcome as always.

Today on the show we’ll hear from two prominent internet scholars, Ethan Zuckerman and Genevieve Bell.

Both were in Australia recently to deliver the inaugural James Tizard Memorial Lecture at the Science Exchange in Adelaide. The lecture was entitled ‘Many Internets, Many Lives’.

James Tizard died last year. He was the CEO of SABRENet, a collaboration between the South Australian state government, the Australian federal government and South Australia’s universities. SABRENet is a high speed broadband network connecting a variety of teaching institutions and research institutes.

Let’s hear first from Genevieve Bell. Regular listeners will know that we’ve had Dr Bell on the program before. She’s an Australian-born cultural anthropologist who now lives in the United States and heads the Intel Corporation’s Interaction and Experience Research Lab.

I’ve said this before, but what we like about Dr Bell’s work is that she’s interested in discovering how people are actually using and engaging with technology, not how she or her corporation think they should be.

Here’s Genevieve Bell:

Genevieve Bell: For me there is something wonderful about realising that even as we talk today about the fact that the internet is a global technology and it is a technology of huge potential, it’s still not everywhere and it’s still not everywhere in places we think of as already being hyper connected.

So thinking here about what it means to imagine a technology that is all-pervasive is in fact to deceive ourselves because the technology is also tied up with people. It’s tied up with the rhythms of our lives, it’s tied up with buildings, it’s tied up with structures and the fact that people take Sundays off. And what it means to imagine a technology that is all-pervasive is in some ways to imagine a world that is not populated by people.

And so what it means for me to think about the present of technology is to think about a technology that is always going to be uneven. Not that it won’t be present but that it will be a layering effect. In some places it’s going to be 3G on a cellphone, in some places it might be an iPad and a tablet, in some places it will be a cybercafe you will visit, and in other places it will be a really pretty boring Nokia feature phone where you connect to the internet and the internet is textbased and, by the way, it only works when you’re in town. So imagining that what it means to talk about the internet is never to talk about a system where everything is going to be evenly distributed but will always be unevenly distributed is for me as a researcher actually what makes it an interesting world, and it’s something I know Ethan will talk a lot more about momentarily.

It’s also the case I now spend my time in many strategic conversations in American industry, and everyone has been talking about the fact that the PC is dead, I’ve heard this phrase, that now we’re in the post-PC era, the PC is dead. I realise this is a bit like saying we’re in a post-paper period or the end of cash. It turns out that the PC is remarkably stubborn. People may not think it’s sexy anymore but it hasn’t gone anywhere. Much like some of the things we have called dead well ahead of time, like paper and cash, it turns out they persist in important ways. The tooth fairy doesn’t take credit cards, it’s really hard to leave post-it notes digitally because no one can see them, it turns out there are things that paper and cash and, one will argue, PCs are always going to do.

So as we think about the future and the present, I often think as a scholar we need to be careful about the stories we tell and about how real they really are, and about the kind of catchphrases that move across the boundaries between policy and marketing, to imagine what the realities really are. And as we think about what it means to imagine a world of connected people, again, it’s not all going to be…in a post-PC world there are still going to be these kind of huge infrastructures that are incredibly important, and all the other ways we know that people are going to connect to technology are part of both the present and the future of the internet and of broadband and of all the legacy of things that are interesting.

It also means that there is an increasing conversation going on both in Australia and I would say on the global stage about what we’re doing with all this technology. I spend a lot of time in people’s homes around the world and I hear a persistent and lingering anxiety about what it means for people to be constantly connected, and whether it’s an anxiety manifested in ‘my child has turned six, should I get them a mobile phone’, ‘I want to take the iPad away but then they scream in the back of the car’, ‘I’m really worried my child knows how to use the iPad and I don’t and she’s two’, ‘what will it mean for our language that everyone is now speaking in text messaging and emoticons’. We manifest this incredible anxiety about what the technology will bring forward.

We talk about what it means for people to be connected, to be hyper connected, we worry about what the nature of that connectivity is, what people are connecting to, and to whom and under what circumstances. In some ways those are remarkably persistent anxieties. We were worried about the same things when the telephone came along and when electricity came along and when television came along and when radio came along, and even when electricity came along.

And it turns out I think there is something about the moral anxiety that accompanies technology. And any technology that threatens to do three things always invokes that anxiety. If it threatens to rearrange our relationships to time, our relationships to space and our relationships to other people. And as soon as a technology has that potential we immediately imagine nothing good will come of it. And it is usually followed by phrases like ‘it will be the end of our society’, ‘it will be the death of our culture’, ‘have you seen what the young people are doing’. It’s never good.

What’s fascinating to me is the persistence of this anxiety and the fact that you can read the accounts of electricity and rock ‘n’ roll and the internet and hear exactly the same anxiety running through all of them. Because what they are is technologies that rearrange social relationships, and they rearranged our relationships to each other and to the places we were from. And of those are powerful forces and they are always accompanied by fear. So for me, playing through those anxieties is always an incredibly important part of the puzzle of both the present and the promised future.

It is also the case that I think the world is very different than it was when SABRENet was first imagined back in 2002. Starting in 2000 and really by 2002 about 70% of the world’s population that was online was in America. By today less than 15% of the world’s internet users are in America. The fastest growing languages online are Bengali and Arabic and Hindi and Spanish and Chinese. The biggest sites of internet production are happening in places far from here, about things that aren’t necessarily in the languages we read.

It is also the case that when SABRENet was first getting going, the most obvious way to connect to the internet was through a desktop or a laptop. Now there are a myriad of devices that connect us to the internet and the internet is different on each one of those. Whether it is as a delivery pipe on the Kindle or as a back-end in a smart electrical meter, whether it is what the internet looks like on your phone or a tablet or a computer or arguably in your car or in smart signage, the internet has become many things.

The technology industry, however, stubbornly clings to the notion there will be one device. It’s like the Tolkien fantasy; one device to rule them all. And if we can just find that one device, it will be great. And every time a new device turns up they go, ‘This is it, everyone is going to abandon everything else.’ And in my lab I sit there going, ‘Really? Have you unpacked anybody’s handbag recently?’ It turns out we didn’t abandon it, we just stuffed it in our bags along with everything else.

And the reality is when you unpack the handbags and backpacks and cars and houses of many places on this world, you find lots of technology, all of them being used to connect to the internet, all of them for different reasons and different experiences. And imagining that there’s one right away anymore gets really pretty complicated. And for most people there are lots of different choices people make about whether it’s a touch-based interface they like or something that doesn’t need certain kinds of virus protection, or if it’s a phone because you don’t have to share it with your parents. There are lots of different ways that we are connecting. And what that means for regulation, among other things, is incredibly complicated. This is no longer a single beast anymore, it is many.

And of course last but by no means least for me is the fact that we’re now talking about new models of engagement. About eight months ago a piece of video turned up on YouTube. This is a little 47-second video, really of great happiness as far as I’m concerned because what it is is a Furby, which is the large digital toy in the background. You may remember these are from the 1990s, they were hateful. They squeak a lot, they rolled their eyes, they fluttered their eyelashes and wiggled their ears and attempted to engage in some form of communication, most of it atonal.

In the foreground of this image is an Apple iPhone with Siri, a personal digital assistant, running on top of it. In this 47-second clip someone starts the Furby up and the Furby goes [squeaks], and Siri says, ‘Would you like me to call Shell Oil?’ And the Furby says [squeaks] and Siri says, I don’t think I understand.’ And the Furby goes [squeaks] and it says, ‘Would you like me to call Graham?’ And this goes on for 47 seconds of bliss and happiness of miscommunication.

Clearly the person who put this together thought this was quite funny and indeed it is, but for me it said something really interesting, which was here we were at this moment where something had really happened powerfully. When I saw this…and as an anthropologist I couldn’t help but see this as a genealogy of things that talk. So there’s the Furby as the first generation of talking digital stuff, and there’s the Siri, the most recent generation of talking digital stuff. And I’m sure the person who put it there was basically trying to say these were equally unhelpful talking digital things.

What I realised, however, was the really powerful thing about this was that what it was was that the Furby was making noise, and the Siri, it wasn’t that it was talking, it was that it was listening. And the listening is the really interesting thing, because however imperfect it is, what it promises is the prospect that you might be listened to by an object, not that it is talking at you but listening. And the listening is the promise of something quite different than we’ve had in our relationships with technology in the past. And I think the listening is the promise of a shift here from a moment where we’ve interacted with technology to a moment where we will have relationships with technology.

Whenever I say that to my American engineering colleagues, they immediately say to me, ‘When the machines are smart enough to have a relationship with us, they’ll kill us.’ Persistently. I’m like, ‘Really?’ They’re like, ‘Yes. The Terminator.’ I’m like, ‘That’s a movie. How?’ ‘Space Odyssey.’ I’m like, ‘Also a movie based on science fiction.’ They’re like, ‘Blade Runner.’ I’m like, ‘Based on a short story, also fiction.’ They’re like, ‘But that’s what will happen.’ And I’m like, ‘Really?’ And they’re like, ‘Yes.’

So I go to my colleagues in Japan and I’m like, ‘So, you have robots.’ They’re like, ‘Yes.’ I’m like, ‘Do you think they are going to kill you?’ They’re like, ‘Why would we think the robots were going to kill us?’ And I’m like, ‘Well, because they do in America.’ They’re like, ‘That’s just a movie.’ I’m like, ‘Okay, good.’

So my Japanese colleagues and I got into a conversation about what would it mean to imagine that objects might take care of you, and they looked at me and said, ‘But they already are. We have robots in our nursing homes, we have robots in our schools. We can fully imagine a world in which there is a relationship between people and technology. The future that you’re talking about is already here.’

And for me what I’m fascinated by is what comes next. And I’m fascinated by thinking about the world that James built, the broadband that he built and the promise that he was making about what comes next. And for me this notion that we are moving from a world of technology that we have to do all the work for, we have to plug in, we have to update them, we have to give them passwords and networks, and it’s just a lot of palaver looking at these machines. And imagine when they can start to look after themselves and start to look after us (and not kill us), is this promise of a remarkably different way of thinking about what we might be with technology as we move forward.

For me it’s about how we empower everyone, where that empowerment is going to look like different things for different people. In some places it’s about citizenship, in other places it’s going to be about consumption and consumerism, for some people it’s going to be about creativity, for other people it’s going to be about political resistance. But whatever it is going to take, it’s about how we build a system and sustain a system that makes those things possible. And for me that is not just about the technology, it’s about how we capacity-build in our citizens, it’s how we create the possibilities and the prospects and also the imagination to think about how it might be different. Thank you.

Antony Funnell: Dr Genevieve Bell, the head of the Interaction and Experience Research Lab at Intel Corporation. And out of interest, Dr Bell is a native of South Australia even though she now resides in the United States.

Now, as I indicated earlier, the inaugural James Tizard lecture was a double act; Genevieve Bell and Ethan Zuckerman. Ethan Zuckerman is the director of the centre for Civic Media at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT. He’s also a former researcher at the Berkman Centre for Internet and Society at Harvard and the co-founder of the website Global Voices.

Zuckerman has long focussed on our perceptions of the internet, exploring the reality between our idea of the digital world and our actual day to day usage of the web and social media.

Here’s Ethan Zuckerman:

Ethan Zuckerman: There was a lot of illusion very early on in the internet. When we go back into this past, when we go into, say, the late ’80s, the early 1990s, there’s this sort of naive belief that once we had networks then some fundamental changes to society would come about. The first change was that information would just be incredibly pervasive, we’d have access to whatever we wanted to know anywhere in the world at any moment in time. That suddenly, because everyone could be on these networks and it didn’t matter where you were, where you are coming from, what your background was, you could participate in the conversation, that we would have this incredible wealth of deliberation, and that we would be connected to everybody on the planet, that eventually we’d hit the point where you could reach out and have a conversation with any other person out there.

We’ve now hit a point where it’s very reasonable to look at these questions and ask ourselves; how are we doing? And I would argue on the first score we’re actually not doing badly. I think if you look at the combination of crowd sourced things, like Wikipedia, and you look at commercial solutions like Google, which in a very strange way is actually a crowd source thing, Google helps you find things, but what it’s actually helping you find is something that someone else has already written.

So in that sense of the internet putting out enormous amounts of human knowledge and making it accessible, we are growing up with a generation of people who never have that moment of saying, ‘Gee, I really wish I could know this.’ And if it’s a simple fact that we don’t have at hand, we always have it at hand. And that experience of that cocktail party conversation or the conversation over the beers of how big is this, how large is this, we’re never going to have it again. So as far as simple fact, we’re there. As far as complicated knowledge, still getting tricky, but I would say on this score we’ve done fairly well.

The liberation side of this we’ve done dismally. It turns out that being more connected to one another, more people having voices probably makes it worse rather than making it better. It may actually make it harder to come to consensus. You’re trying to listen to everybody, everyone wants a turn to speak, all sorts of dynamics, who’s ever loudest, who’s ever the most passionate ends up having more power. That turns out to be a deeply human problem, not a technological problem.

The third problem is the one that I am obsessed with, which is the question of who we are connected to and really who we’re not connected to. Even in a digital age we are much more connected to the people that we know, the people in our local communities, the people in our home countries than we are connected to people elsewhere, and that shouldn’t be a surprise. If you think about what happens when you join Facebook, the first thing it says is who do you go to school with, who have you worked with, who do you already know? Let me help you connect to those people that you already know. The internet becomes that the way to stay in touch with people that you know from the real world.

This is a crazy change in about 20 years. When I found myself getting online, the internet was never going to connect me to the people of the small college that I was at because none of them were on the internet. It was to connect me to the crazy people who were only online, who cared about these things that I cared about and that I had the chance to reach out to and encounter. But we’ve completely changed that assumption over the course of about 20 years, and now we assume that what this technology is really good for is connecting us to the people that we know and that we’re closest to and most familiar with.

There has always been the role of technologies in telling us about the rest of the world. Historically we get our knowledge about the rest of the world through curated media. So whether that is through newspaper, whether that’s through television broadcast, someone goes out and says here’s what’s out there and what is important in the world. And historically this has been a really difficult, expensive, dangerous thing to do. It has required physically putting people out there with cameras and shooting film and shipping it back and developing it and putting it on the airwaves, and all of that has changed.

And what’s funny about it is that despite the fact that reporting on the rest of the world has gotten so cheap and so easy that you can do it from a mobile phone, you can hold it up and be live to the internet immediately, we actually get much less international news in our media. And this is a trend that we’re seeing in a number of different countries. We’re seeing it in the UK where the four major newspapers have actually decreased the amount of international coverage that they’ve had, 45% over the last four years. In the US the amount of a newscast that’s international has gone from about 40% to about 12% over the last 30 years.

The internet makes it better a little bit. I can go and I can read Ghanaian newspapers and say, well, that’s great, if you’re not going to tell me about Ghana, at least I can go there directly. But I’m a rounding error. And if you actually look at what media people look at, even in a digital age, the vast majority is local. We might go online, we might look at the Times of India, we might look at the New York Times, we might look at the BBC. You don’t, and I have the numbers. You guys are actually better than the US and the UK. The US and the UK are about 95% domestic, it’s about 84% domestic in Australia, but it’s predominantly looking to the local.

So again, we have more and more connectivity, but we also have more and more interest in what is in our backyard. So fortunately now we start having search, we have the ability to pick exactly what we want, go out, find exactly whatever information you want to know. If you come out of this and you’re fascinated by Ghana, you want to know more, you can go out and do it. But then the responsibility is on you. How do you decide what you want to know about the rest of the world? You can go to the salad bar and put whatever you want on your salad, but it is your responsibility to choose, and that’s what search is. Search essentially says you know what you want to know, you know what you need to know about the rest of the world, go out and get it. And you get to select it, and you’ll be more free and you’ll be more happy because you have the choice. But you also now have the responsibility.

So when you see the rise of things like Facebook, it really has to do with many of us essentially saying I’m not sure this is working. I don’t necessarily want that responsibility all the time. Sometimes I don’t know what I want to know. And so what we do instead is that we ask our friends, hey, what do you know? Maybe if I knew what you knew I would discover something novel, I would discover something really interesting. And so we go on to these social networks and we say what is new, what’s fun, what can you tell me about the world. And we get some interesting information but we get some limits to that information. And the reason there are limits to that information is that the people that we’re finding on these networks tend to be a lot like us. They tend to be from the same country as us, they tend to speak the same language that we do, they tend to have the same religion, they tend to have the same ethnicity. We end up falling victim to what sociologists call homophily, which is basically a fancy way of saying that birds of a feather flock together.

So we’ve gone from this world where much of our information is coming through curators, through someone who is basically saying here is what you might need to know about the world. We’ve gone into search where we basically say you know best, go figure out what you want to know about the world. And now we’re going through this phase of social where we basically say, well, maybe my friends will help me figure out what’s going on in the rest of the world. And the problem is that none of these necessarily prepare us to live in a world that’s as connected as the one that we actually live in.

This matters. And the reason that I care about this is that at least three-fold. One is that it is potentially dangerous to live in a world where we are deeply connected and we don’t know what all those connections are. You suddenly find yourself worrying about things like avian flu, you find yourself asking questions about what do people eat in Singapore because it turns out that people in Singapore get on aeroplanes and suddenly you have the possibility of a disease that might have been incredibly localised and could have been really devastating for one particular population suddenly becomes a global crisis. If you don’t have a way of looking at pandemic, if you don’t have a way of looking at international terror networks, if you don’t have a way of looking at very complicated financial flows from a multinational perspective, very, very bad things can end up happening.

You also have the possibility that if what we’re mostly getting is information from people who are like us, that we end up getting highly polarised. There’s a pair of books that are very helpful. One is put together by a constitutional law scholar in the US named Cass Sunstein. He put forward this book that basically offers a theory called the echo chamber. He says that if you’re only getting information from people who agree with you, you tend to become more polarised in your views. And this is a phenomenon called confirmation bias. If everyone over and over and over says, well, this point of view is the right one, eventually it becomes very hard for you to think about the fact that there might be another point of view. You put people who are politically to one side of the spectrum together with other people in a room and they actually all gravitate further to the right or further to the left. When we hang out with people who think the way we do, we get more like them. And there’s an argument that in societies that are getting more politically polarised, this is part of what’s going on.

My friend Eli Pariser went ahead and wrote a book that argues that this is getting even worse because the technologies are making it easier to do it. So it’s not just that we can choose to hang out with people on the left, it’s not even just that Google News can suddenly say ‘let me only give you news from the left’, it’s that even if you go out and try to look for people who have another point of view, Facebook is going to fight you, and it’s mostly going to give you information from the people that you pay attention to and that you care the most about and you’re going to get even more polarised from it.

These guys are both right but they are missing the point in some ways. This isn’t just about left/right, the filter bubble is three-dimensional. We have bubbles in terms of where we are from, what we think, whether we are identifying as Australians or identifying as Americans, we end up getting trapped in that identity, and it’s very, very hard for us to see the perspective of someone who is from a different country, who speaks a different language, who views the world in a very, very different way. So we end up getting polarised in terms of how we see ourselves as a nation rather than how other people are seeing themselves as citizens of the world.

The third reason that I think we ought to care about this is that historically connecting to other cultures, other points of view has been one of the most amazing sources of inspiration. Before Picasso was Picasso he spent an enormous amount of time hanging out in African art museums in Paris. And if you read about his time there, he really didn’t like them, he actually writes about how scary and how smelly and how foreign they were and how he didn’t want to encounter them, but something ended up speaking to him and he became an incredible collector of masks, mostly from Benin.

And shortly after he starts collecting these masks, his style changes radically and you start seeing these faces in Picasso that have these flat surfaces. And it’s very clear where it’s coming from. It’s referred to as his African period, is basically where Cubism starts emerging. It turns out that creativity is basically an import/export business. Creativity has a lot to do with finding ideas in a different part of the world and bringing them into a different context. And so if we’re heading towards a world where we are not able to go out and find those other ideas, not because we can’t but because we don’t remember to, we have this incredible possibility of missed potential.

Antony Funnell: Ethan Zuckerman, the director of the Centre for Civic Media at MIT, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. And you can find the full James Tizard Memorial Lecture on the Future Tense website.

Future Tense, new ideas, new approaches, new technologies, exploring the edge of change.

Guests

Ethan Zuckerman
Director of MIT’s Centre for Civic Media and co-founder of Global Voices.
Dr Genevieve Bell
Intel Fellow, Intel Labs Director, Interaction and Experience Research

[VIDEO] Michael Shermer: The pattern behind self-deception

“Michael Shermer says the human tendency to believe strange things — from alien abductions to dowsing rods — boils down to two of the brain’s most basic, hard-wired survival skills. He explains what they are, and how they get us into trouble.” – TED Talks


[VIDEO] JIM JEFFRIES – MY NEW FAVOURITE COMEDIAN – He may be the fresh-faced Aussie George Carlin heir


[VIDEO] THE HISTORY OF DOGS’ RELATIONSHIP WITH HUMANS

NATURE’s two-part special Dogs That Changed the World tells the epic story of the wolf’s evolution, how “man’s best friend” changed human society and how we in turn have radically transformed dogs.

From the tiniest Chihuahua to the powerful and massive English Mastiff, modern domesticated dogs come in a bewildering array of shapes and sizes, with an equally diverse range of temperaments and behaviors. And yet, according to genetics, all dogs evolved from the savage and wild wolf — in a transformation that occurred just 15,000 years ago.

In Part One, “The Rise of the Dog,” you’ll learn about how the domestication of dogs might have taken place, including the theory of biologist Raymond Coppinger that it was the animals themselves — and human trash — that inspired the transformation. The genetic analysis of Peter Savolainen of the Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden has placed the origins of domesticated dogs — and those of the first dog — in East Asia. You’ll also discover 14 dog breeds that controversial genetic studies show are the most ancient — and the best living representatives of the ancestors to all living dogs.

Over 400 breeds of dog are recognized around the world, each unique for its personality, habits, and form. Most of these breeds exploded onto the scene over the past 150 years, spurred by the Victorian-era passion for the “dog fancy” — the selective breeding of dogs to enhance particular characteristics. By tinkering with its genetics, humans made the dog the most varied animal species on the planet — and also created a host of hereditary health problems.

Despite the plethora of new shapes and sizes, dogs have retained the instincts bred into their ancestors by thousands of years of work: the urge to herd or hunt, to dig and to guard. In Part Two, “Dogs by Design,” you’ll discover how these hard-wired behaviors help different types of dogs, from hounds to herders, excel at different tasks (and why it can sometimes be so difficult to train them to do otherwise). You’ll also learn how dogs’ finely tuned senses are serving humans and saving lives.


[AUDIO] LUCRETIUS – A 1st century BC philosopher who conceived of atoms, astronomy, atheism and evolution almost 2000 years before others

Titus Lucretius Carus (ca. 99 BC – ca. 55 BC) was an Epicurean poet writing in the middle years of the first century BC. His six-book Latin hexameter poem De rerum natura  (On the nature of things) survives virtually intact. As well as being a pioneering figure in the history of philosophical poetry, Lucretius has come to be our primary source of information on Epicurean physics, the official topic of his poem. Among numerous other Epicurean doctrines, the atomic ‘swerve’ is known to us mainly from Lucretius’ account of it. His defence of the Epicurean system is deftly and passionately argued, and is particularly admired for its eloquent critique of the fear of death.

Virtually lost during the Middle Ages, it was rediscovered in a monastery in Germany in 1417.

_________________

[mp3 file: runs 00:54:00]

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Lucretius anticipated the core scientific vision of modernity.

The Answer Man

An ancient poem was rediscovered—and the world swerved.

by Stephen Greenblatt
August 8, 2011

When I was a student, I used to go at the end of the school year to the Yale Co-op to see what I could find to read over the summer. I had very little pocket money, but the bookstore would routinely sell its unwanted titles for ridiculously small sums. They were jumbled together in bins through which I would rummage until something caught my eye. On one of my forays, I was struck by an extremely odd paperback cover, a detail from a painting by the Surrealist Max Ernst. Under a crescent moon, high above the earth, two pairs of legs—the bodies were missing—were engaged in what appeared to be an act of celestial coition. The book, a prose translation of Lucretius’ two-thousand-year-old poem “On the Nature of Things” (“De Rerum Natura”), was marked down to ten cents, and I bought it as much for the cover as for the classical account of the material universe.

Ancient physics is not a particularly promising subject for vacation reading, but sometime over the summer I idly picked up the book. The Roman poet begins his work (in Martin Ferguson Smith’s careful rendering) with an ardent hymn to Venus:

First, goddess, the birds of the air, pierced to the heart with your powerful shafts, signal your entry. Next wild creatures and cattle bound over rich pastures and swim rushing rivers: so surely are they all captivated by your charm and eagerly follow your lead. Then you inject seductive love into the heart of every creature that lives in the seas and mountains and river torrents and bird-haunted thickets, implanting in it the passionate urge to reproduce its kind.  (more…)


[VIDEO] The South American Spectacle Bear–the closest relative to the Giant Panda of China and the inspiration for Paddington Bear!

The most loving bear in nature. Mothering for 3 years.


“Space scientists recently completed an examination of orbital debris, recovered after circling the Earth for several years. They discovered that much of it was coated with a thin film of what was delicately described as “fecal matter”, attributed to astronaut’s sloppy sanitation. This may solve one of the mysteries of life’s origin on Earth: it seems to have arisen almost as soon as conditions were favorable, and not after the billions of years of molecular trial and error required by what Isaac Asimov called the “unblind working of chance.””

Toilets of the Gods 
Or: The Colonisation of Space
By Sir Arthur C. Clarke

Space scientists recently completed an examination of orbital debris, recovered after circling the Earth for several years. They discovered that much of it was coated with a thin film of what was delicately described as “fecal matter”, attributed to astronaut’s sloppy sanitation.

This may solve one of the mysteries of life’s origin on Earth: it seems to have arisen almost as soon as conditions were favorable, and not after the billions of years of molecular trial and error required by what Isaac Asimov called the “unblind working of chance.”

Obviously, organized life-forms need have occurred only once in this Galaxy, if the very first space-faring civilization was as careless about the environment as we are. Years ago, Hoyle and Wickramasinghe suggested that life had a cosmic, and not terrestrial, origin. They may be right, though not precisely in the way they imagined. It’s a humbling thought that we may have arisen from dumped sewage; the first chapter of Genesis would certainly require drastic revision.

On the other hand, if – as some philosophers have suggested- this Earth does indeed harbor the only life in the Universe, that deplorable state of affairs is now being rectified. We may draw some consolation – I hesitate to say inspiration – from the fact that our descendants are already on their way to the stars.

But we certainly would not recognize them, and it might be tactless to ask exactly how they got there.


[VIDEO] A DRIVE THROUGH THE HONG KONG NIGHT THAT WILL SCARE THE LIVING DAY LIGHTS OUT OF YOU

and my urban planner brain draws this metaphor:


Scientists reveal favourite ‘deep, elegant or beautiful’ scientific theories

January 15, 2012

By Sharon Begley

NEW YORK – From Darwinian evolution to the idea that personality is largely shaped by chance, the favourite theories of the world’s most eminent thinkers are as eclectic as science itself.

Every January, John Brockman, the impresario and literary agent who presides over the online salon Edge.org, asks his circle of scientists, digerati and humanities scholars to tackle one question.

In previous years, they have included “how is the Internet changing the way you think?” and “what is the most important invention in the last 2,000 years?”

This year, he posed the open-ended question “what is your favourite deep, elegant or beautiful explanation?”

The responses, released at midnight on Sunday, provide a crash course in science both well known and far out-of-the-box, as admired by the likes of Astronomer Royal Martin Rees, physicist Freeman Dyson and evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins.

Several of the nearly 200 scholars nominated what are arguably the two most powerful scientific theories ever developed. “Darwin’s natural selection wins hands down,” argues Dawkins, emeritus professor at Oxford University.

“Never in the field of human comprehension were so many facts explained by assuming so few,” he says of the theory that encompasses everything about life, based on the idea of natural selection operating on random genetic mutations.

Einstein’s theory of relativity, which explains gravity as the curvature of space, also gets a few nods.

As theoretical physicist Steve Giddings of the University of California, Santa Barbara, writes, “This central idea has shaped our ideas of modern cosmology (and) given us the image of the expanding universe.”

General relativity explains black holes, the bending of light and “even offers a possible explanation of the origin of our Universe – as quantum tunneling from ’nothing,”’ he writes.

Many of the nominated ideas, however, won’t be found in science courses taught in high school or even college.

Terrence Sejnowski, a computational neuroscientist at the Salk Institute, extols the discovery that the conscious, deliberative mind is not the author of important decisions such as what work people do and who they marry. Instead, he writes, “an ancient brain system called the basal ganglia, brain circuits that consciousness cannot access,” pull the strings.

Running on the neurochemical dopamine, they predict how rewarding a choice will be – if I pick this apartment, how happy will I be? – “evaluate the current state of the entire cortex and inform the brain about the best course of action,” explains Sejnowski. Only later do people construct an explanation of their choices, he said in an interview, convincing themselves incorrectly that volition and logic were responsible.

To neuroscientist Robert Sapolsky of Stanford University, the most beautiful idea is emergence, in which complex phenomena almost magically come into being from extremely simple components.

For instance, a human being arises from a few thousand genes. The intelligence of an ant colony – labor specialization, intricate underground nests – emerges from the seemingly senseless behavior of thousands of individual ants.

“Critically, there’s no blueprint or central source of command,” says Sapolsky. Each individual ant has a simple algorithm for interacting with the environment, “and out of this emerges a highly efficient colony.”

Among other tricks, the colony has solved the notorious Traveling Salesman problem, or the challenge of stopping at a long list of destinations by the shortest route possible.

THE OTHER PAVLOVIAN EFFECT

Stephen Kosslyn, director of the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford, is most impressed by Pavlovian conditioning, in which a neutral stimulus such as a sound comes to be associated with a reward, such as food, producing a response, such as salivation.

That much is familiar. Less well known is that Pavlovian conditioning might account for placebo effects. After people have used analgesics such as ibuprofen or aspirin many times, the drugs begin to have effects before their active ingredients kick in.

From previous experience, the mere act of taking the pill has become like Pavlov’s bell was for his dogs, causing them to salivate: the “conditioned stimulus” of merely seeing the pill “triggers the pain-relieving processes invoked by the medicine itself,” explains Kosslyn.

Science theories that explain puzzling human behavior or the inner workings of the universe were also particular favourites of the Edge contributors:

* Psychologist Alison Gopnik of the University of California, Berkeley, is partial to one that accounts for why teenagers are so restless, reckless and emotional. Two brain systems, an emotional motivational system and a cognitive control system, have fallen out of sync, she explains.

The control system that inhibits impulses and allows you to delay gratification kicks in later than it did in past generations, but the motivational system is kicking in earlier and earlier.

The result: “A striking number of young adults who are enormously smart and knowledgeable but directionless, who are enthusiastic and exuberant but unable to commit to a particular work or a particular love until well into their twenties or thirties.”

BEAUTIFUL IDEAS

* Neurobiologist Sam Barondes of the University of California, San Francisco, nominates the idea that personality is largely shaped by chance. One serendipitous force is which parental genes happen to be in the egg and sperm that produced the child.

“But there is also chance in how neurodevelopmental processes unfold – a little virus here, an intrauterine event there, and you have chance all over the place,” he said in an interview. Another toss of the dice: how a parent will respond to a child’s genetic disposition to be outgoing, neurotic, open to new experience and the like, either reinforcing the innate tendencies or countering them.

The role of chance in creating differences between people has moral consequences, says Barondes, “promoting understanding and compassion for the wide range of people with whom we share our lives.”

* Timothy Wilson nominates the idea that “people become what they do.” While people’s behavior arises from their character – someone returns a lost wallet because she is honest – “the reverse also holds,” says the University of Virginia psychologist. If we return a lost wallet, our assessment of how honest we are rises through what he calls “self-inference.” One implication of this phenomenon: “We should all heed Kurt Vonnegut’s advice,” Wilson says: “’We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.”’

* Psychologist David Myers of Hope College finds “group polarization” a beautiful idea, since it explains how interacting with others tends to amplify people’s initial views. In particular, discussing issues with like-minded peers -increasingly the norm in the United States, where red states attract conservatives and blue states attract liberals – push people toward extremes. “The surprising thing is that the group as a whole becomes more extreme than its pre-discussion average,” he said in an interview.

* Martin Rees, professor of cosmology and astrophysics at the University of Cambridge, nominates the “astonishing concept” that what we consider the universe “could be hugely more extensive” than what astronomers observe.

If true, the known cosmos may instead “be a tiny part of the aftermath of ’our’ big bang, which is itself just one bang among a perhaps-infinite ensemble,” Rees writes. Even more intriguing is that different physics might prevail in these different universes, so that “some of what we call ’laws of nature’ may … be local bylaws.”

By Sharon Begley


[VIDEO] DAVID ATTENBOROUGH’S ‘FIRST LIFE’–WHERE AND HOW LIFE ON EARTH BEGAN

In fifty years of broadcasting, Sir David Attenborough has travelled the globe to document the living world in all its wonder. Now, in the landmark series First Life, he goes back in time in search of the very first animals.

From the fog bound coastline of Newfoundland to the deserts of North Africa and the rain forests of Queensland, in First Life David Attenborough finds evidence in fossils and living animals of an extraordinary period in Earth’s history, half a billion years ago, when animals first appeared in the oceans. From the first eyes that saw, to the first predators that killed and the first legs that walked on land, these were creatures that evolved the traits and tools that allow all animals, including us, to survive to this day.

This is a story that can only be told now because in the last few years, stunning fossil finds at sites across the world have transformed our understanding of the First Life forms, and technology now allows us to recreate the first animals and their environments with photorealistic computer generated imagery

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WATCH EPISODE ONE: ARRIVAL

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WATCH EPISODE TWO: CONQUEST

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The Burgess Shale fossils, a Rocky Mountain treasure trove found in 1909 just west of the B.C.-Alberta border, represent the planet’s single most important snapshot of life as it existed during the so-called “Cambrian explosion” of organisms about 530 million years ago.

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THE MAKING OF:


[VIDEO] A LOSS OF A GREAT ANTITHEIST SOLDIER, NO DOUBT: Christopher Hitchens (1949 – 2011) The Best of the Hitchslap


[VIDEO] “Does science ruin the magic of life? Robin Ince argues no. The more we learn about the astonishing behavior of the universe — the more we stand in awe.” The unfortunate thing is, the majority of humanity continues following conceptualizations from a time before science aided every humans understanding of reality YET not living outside of science. I think they should not be able to do both. Those who any follow primitive thought should be obliged to live in a world as primitive as well. There were no cars, electricity, computers, modern medicine, nor higher learning mentioned in ‘holy books’–as those who wrote them were limited in their understanding of reality. You should not have it both ways.

Live life as though your reality matches your perceptions. One donkey, one cave…and a bucket full of ignorance of what is going on. -rudhro


Is Civilization A Universally Bad Idea?

Written by Adam Frank

November 15, 2011

The ice ages came and the ice ages went. For more than a half-million years Homo sapiens endured the changing climate by adapting. Then, deep in the frozen expanse of the last global big chill, something new happened. We woke up to ourselves in a new way.

We became self-conscious, creating art, culture and tools of far greater complexity than anything that had come before. When the ice pulled back yet again, we eventually took a step of even greater consequence. We domesticated ourselves and put the Earth to the plow.

With agriculture came surplus and with surplus came new social arrangements. Eventually, we built cities and far-ranging empires to support them. Human beings began buildingcivilization. In doing so we set ourselves and the entire planet onto a new trajectory.

But did anyone ever stop to ask if it was a good idea?

Now before you give in to the easy snort and chortle that accompanies a seemingly absurd question like this, I am going to ask you to take the long view. In this case long means billions of years, and billions of planets.

We don’t want to ask the question: Is civilization good for you (or me)? Instead we want to ask: Is civilization good — in the long term — for planets and their capacity to support life (or at least technologically adept civilizations)?

In other words, we want to frame the question of sustainability in an astrobiological setting. (more…)


“Cooked food provides more energy than when it’s consumed raw” // “raw-food diets generally lead to weight loss”


WENCY LEUNG

Sunday, Nov. 13, 2011

Do you like your steak rare or well done? A new study suggests we may be biologically adapted to skip rare, still-bloody beef in favour of thoroughly cooked meat.

Researchers have found meat provides more energy when it’s cooked, leading them to believe cooking played a key role in human evolution.

Lead author Rachel Carmody, a Ph.D. candidate in the department of human evolutionary biology at Harvard University, and a team of researchers compared how different preparations can affect the energy value of food. Using mice as test subjects, they found that the energy the rodents gained was greater when their food was cooked than when it was pounded and consumed raw.

The researchers fed separate groups of mice organic sweet potato or organic lean beef, prepared in various ways, over 40 days. They tracked the changes in the animals’ body mass to determine the energy they gained or lost on each diet.

Researchers hypothesize that changes to the structure of proteins caused by cooking may allow more to be absorbed and digested by the consumer, rather than by bacteria in the gut. Moreover, cooking makes muscle fibres easier to chew and increases the surface area of the meat that is exposed to gastric acids and enzymes. Cooking may also kill pathogens, like E. coli and salmonella, thus reducing the amount of energy the body expends for immune defence, the researchers suggested.

Their findings support the idea that traditional calorie-counting may be an inaccurate measure of the energy content of food. That also explains why raw-food diets generally lead to weight loss, Ms. Carmody said in an e-mail. However, such diets are not without risk; the researchers noted that previous studies found raw foodists experience high rates of chronic energy deficiency and reduced fertility. “This finding suggests that, in humans, the caloric gains conferred by cooking may be not merely advantageous but also necessary for normal biological function,” says the study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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So, the lesson I’m taking away from this? Isn’t some wacko, cultish Oprah-fad diet rumour. But if I didn’t go to the gym, or had no time jog, i’mma eat rawer.  Whereas if I haven’t been eating enough on a single day, I’ll eat more well done veggies, meat etc.  One should never eat the same things all the time, prepared the same way.  That is insanity, and anality.  Not to mention BORING.  Our ancestors as they hunted and gathered, had a variety of things going through their systems, depending on what was hunted or how far the tiger was or what yummy bush berries they walked into.  Variety and moderation is what, in my opinion, is healthy.  

-rudhro


[VIDEO] Brandstof Amsterdam and Filosofie Magazine present a series of one-minute quotes by Alain de Botton on his newest book ‘Religion for Atheists’, launched june 2011 in Holland, in Dutch by Atlas. Alain is a writer and the founder of The School of Life in London

de Botton is one of my most favorite living philosophers.  I feel honoured to be a contemporary living human.


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