Monday, November 17, 2014
It is time for 3QD's winter subscription drive. As you know, we are able to run the site only because our regular readers support us through subscriptions or one-time payments. Whichever you'd like to do, please take a couple of minutes and use the appropriate button near the top of the left-hand column to make a contribution.
We really cannot continue to award the prizes or for that matter do all the other things we do without your generous financial support.
So please do it now! Don't think, "Someone else will do it!"
New posts below.
Thursday, November 20, 2014
Carrie Arnold in Nautilus:
If you chose to save the cuter animals rather than those less attractive, you are not alone. You are part of a conservation trend spotted by Simon Watt, a British evolutionary biologist, science writer, and founder of the Ugly Animal Preservation Society, a regular comedy show “dedicated to raising the profile of some of Mother Nature’s more aesthetically challenged children.” When it comes to saving species, Watt has found, humans choose the cute ones over the ugly ones, the panda over the stick insect, the tiger over the blobfish. While Watt has given conservation an injection of humor, the numbers support his message.
According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), there are over 1,200 threatened mammalian species in the world, and over 300 are near threatened. But only 80 species are used by conservation organizations to raise funds and nearly all of them can be described as large, furry, and cute, according to a 2012 analysis by Bob Smith at the University of Kent in the United Kingdom.
Cute species get more research attention—and more studies are published about them. Between 1994 and 2008 over 100 studies were published on the cute and cuddly meerkat, but only 14 studies were published on the less cute African manatee, found ecologists Rudi van Aarde and Morgan Trimble. Maria Diekmann, founder and director of Namibia’s REST (Rare and Endangered Species Trust), whose conservation efforts focus on non-charismatic animals such as the Cape Griffon vulture and ground pangolin, says it’s hard to compete with the more majestic rivals for money. “These aren’t the dynamic, large, fundraising-appealing animals,” she says. “I wouldn’t say that other conservation organizations are rolling in money, but in general, if you’re working to save elephants or rhinos, you’re doing okay.”
Human impulse to preserve animals based on their aesthetic appearance is not a frivolous choice driven by an overload of panda posters and Facebook leopard pictures. Our desire to save the cuter creatures is caused by the illusion that we are assuring our own species’ survival. “The reason we are so attracted to cute animals appears to be the same mechanism that drives us to protect our babies,” says Janek Lobmaier, a psychologist at the University of Bern in Switzerland.
Read the rest here.
One of the main challenges in creating a museum of Jewish life in Poland is to judge how much to say about non-Jewish citizens of Poland and, given the Shoah, about anti-Semitism throughout Poland’s thousand-year history. As I have argued in the TLS before (June 15, 2012), Poland has made enormous progress in acknowledging the devastating presence of historic anti-Semitism on its land, but there is still a long way to go. Although the museum itself is a public-private partnership, it was Warsaw’s Jewish Historical Institute that raised $45 million in donations and had responsibility for the core exhibition. The Institute selected first-rate historians to inform it, including Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett and Antony Polonsky. Within the broadly well-judged parameters they set up, what you take away after a brief visit to such a dense exhibition is likely to reflect who you are and what you are looking for rather than what is on offer. If there is one nation that may leave the museum with a sense of grievance, it is perhaps the Ukrainians, whose most visible presence – though not the only one – is through the seventeenth-century Cossack uprising against Poland that was also a pogrom.
The museum itself is far more than its core exhibition. The scope of the project is breathtaking. The museum has an active online presence and a virtual shtetl portal that is an archive of documents of Jewish life. There is also a big and busy educational programme (currently sponsored by a multimillion dollar grant from Norway) that caters to teachers, pupils, families and even nurseries. A touring museum visits Polish towns, where it works with the councils to make the visit part of broader, well-advertised events. There are temporary exhibitions, films, performances, seminars (including one on another community destroyed by the war, the Roma), walks, bike rides and such initiatives as the wearing of a yellow daffodil badge in April to commemorate the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.
IN THE WINTER OF 2012, when I drove along Jessore Road, it was a weather-beaten two-lane road with waterlogged fields on either side, the landscape occasionally interrupted by a few shops—a mechanical works, a petrol pump, or a tea stall. Jessore Road connects south-western Bangladesh to Kolkata, in West Bengal. During the war of 1971, it was one of the lifelines that connected refugees from East Pakistan, fleeing war and massacre, to India. Of those fateful eight months, as the world slowly realised that a massacre was underway in East Pakistan and sympathy and support began to trickle in from the West, the Beat poet Allen Ginsberg wrote in his lyrical anthem ‘September on Jessore Road’:
Millions of daughters walk in the mud
Millions of children wash in the flood
A Million girls vomit & groan
Millions of families hopeless alone
Millions of souls nineteen seventy one
homeless on Jessore road under grey sun
A million are dead, the million who can
Walk toward Calcutta from East Pakistan
After a selection of his letters was published in 1992, closely followed by a revelatory biography that let us see the worst of his personality, including material from unpublished letters and personal correspondence, Larkin’s reputation took a beating from which it hasn’t yet recovered. Ironically enough, this helped to secure his fame: a strikingly unglamorous character became the talk of the town. Outraged academics claimed they would never teach Larkin again or would make him a cautionary tale, an example of what not to be. Curiously, non-British readers took him as a case study of everything that is wrong with the English: insular, happily provincial, sentimental, reticent in all the wrong ways, and overly fond of bland food and drink, Larkin began to be seen as a living stereotype. Some detected a distasteful chauvinism in his work. A few went so far as to suggest that we could assess the sorry state of postwar English poetry by looking to Larkin as an example of what went wrong.
Except for the fact that other readers, equally sensitive, failed to see this chauvinism, failed to be shocked at his odd and evil ways, and failed to lose their admiration for his poems. An oft-cited 2003 poll by the Poetry Book Society and Poetry Library showed that Larkin was the most popular contemporary poet amongst British readers, whereupon The Guardian published a triumphant article claiming the poet had “survived his brief exile from literary fashion.” Not so quick. The damage had been done.
Sam Sacks in Open Letters Monthly:
I suspect that Zadie Smith is more alive than anybody to the ironic fact that her first collection of nonfiction was supposed to be called Fail Better, except that it fell through, and what she has published instead is titledChanging My Mind. Fail Better seems to have been pretty far along. It had been heralded by a rousing two-part manifesto (titled “Fail Better” and “Read Better”) in London’s Guardian. Smith discussed it in interviews in definite tenses. It even had one of those grandly didactic subtitles that publishing houses so adore: “The Morality of Fiction.”
The presentation of Changing My Mind, in comparison, is marked by chastened self-effacement. In her Foreward, Smith makes the unpromising remark that she didn’t even know she had the material for a book until someone pointed it out to her. The subtitle is simply “Occasional Essays.”
Such an evolution wouldn’t be worth noting if Changing My Mind were unremarkable. But in a short time Smith has made herself one of the most interesting and individual book reviewers to be found. There is enough great criticism in this book to belie the humble premise that what’s collected is only an ad hoc assortment of paid pieces.
Ben Wolford in Newsweek:
On the morning of March 2, 2005, a 14-year-old Japanese girl woke up scared. At first she thought someone was outside the house watching her, but then she decided the stranger must be inside. She wandered restlessly and, despite the cold weather, threw open all the windows. Later, over a meal, she declared, “The salad is poisoned.” Two days later, she said she wanted to kill herself.
This teenager with no history of mental illness was diagnosed with delirium. The night before the hallucinations started, she began taking an anti-influenza drug called Tamiflu (generic name: oseltamivir), which governments around the world have spent billions stockpiling for the next major flu outbreak.
But evidence released earlier this year by Cochrane Collaboration, a London-based nonprofit, shows that a significant amount of negative data from the drug’s clinical trials were hidden from the public. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) knew about it, but the medical community did not; the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which doesn’t have the same access to unpublished data as regulators, had recommended the drug without being able to see the full picture. When results from those unpublished trials finally did emerge, they cast doubt over whether Tamiflu is as effective as the manufacturer says.
The revelation of hidden data bolstered a growing movement against what’s referred to within the research community as “publication bias,” in which scientists squirrel away mostly negative or inconclusive findings and broadcast only their positive ones. Concealing trial data—for which patients accept the risks of untested treatments for the greater good—is routine. As many as half of all clinical trials are never published, PLOS Medicine reported last year.
Massimo Pigliucci in Scientia Salon:
The annual Stoic Week is approaching , so it seems like a good time to return to my ongoing exploration of Stoicism as a philosophy of life. I have been practicing Stoicism since 4 October 2014 , and so far so good. I have been able to be more mindful about what I do at any particular moment in my day — with consequences ranging from much less time spent on electronic gadgets to more focused sessions at the gym; I have exercised self-control in terms of my eating habits, as well as with my emotional reactions to situations that would have normally been irritating, or even generating anger; and I feel generally better prepared for the day ahead after my morning meditation.
I have also spent some time reading Stoic texts, ancient and modern (indeed, I will probably offer a course on Stoicism “then and now” at City College in the Fall of ’15. Anyone interested?). Which in turn has led to an interest in exploring ways to update Stoicism to modern times not only in terms of its practice (where it’s already doing pretty well), but also its general theory, as far as it is reasonable to do so.
Now, before proceeding down the latter path, a couple of obvious caveats. First off, as a reader of my previous essay on this topic here at Scientia Salon  pointedly asked, why bother trying to develop a unified philosophical system? Isn’t life just too complicated for that sort of thing? To which my response is that any person inclined to reflect on his life strives for a (more or less) coherent view of the world, one that makes sense to him and that he can use to make decisions on how to live. One may not label such philosophy explicitly, or even think of it as a “philosophy” at all, but I’m pretty sure the reader in question has views about the nature of reality, the human condition, ethics, and so forth, and that he thinks that these views are not mutually contradictory, or at the least not too stridently so. In other words, he has, over the years, developed a philosophical system. Indeed, I would go so far as saying that even not particularly reflective people navigate life by way of what could be termed their folk philosophical system, whatever it happens to be. Why, then, not try to develop one more explicitly and carefully? And if so, Stoicism happens to be a good starting point, though by far not the only one (I have in the past played with Epicureanism, and also — in the specific realm of moral philosophy — with virtue ethics; other non religious people have adopted secular humanism, of course, or even secularized versions of Buddhism ).
Second caveat: beware of changing and re-interpreting things so much that what you are left with has little to do with anything that can reasonably be called Stoicism.
Browse the nominees in the list below and then go to the bottom of the post to vote.
Alphabetical list of nominated blog names followed by the blog post title:
(Please report any problems with links in the comments section below.)
For prize details, click here.
- 3 Quarks Daily: Do our moral beliefs need to be consistent?
- 3 Quarks Daily: Is applied ethics applicable enough? Acting and hedging under moral uncertainty
- 3 Quarks Daily: Locating Value in the Natural World
- 3 Quarks Daily: Nazis, Lies and Videotape
- 3 Quarks Daily: The Sense of Self: A Conversation
- A Bag of Raisins: An Excerpt from Plato's "Philosopher"
- Angela Roothaan: (Auto)biography and Derrida II (finished reading)
- A Philosopher's Take: Moral Resposibility and Volunteer Soldiers
- A Wondering Jew: The Sound of Silence
- Elisa Freschi: Veṅkaṭanātha’s contribution to Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta
- Flickers of Freedom: The Case for Libertarian Compatibilism
- Huffington Post: Muslims: WWJD (What Would Jefferson Do?)
- IJFAB: Constraints on Medical Autonomy for Pregnant Women
- Imperfect Cognitions: Epistemic Injustice and Illness
- Imperfect Cognitions: Sadder but Wiser? Interview with Jennifer Radden
- Imperfect Cognitions: The Representation of Agents in Auditory Verbal Hallucinations
- Indian Philosophy Blog: On the possibility and nature of neurophilosophical study of Indic traditions
- In medias PHIL: The Evils of OSO
- In-Sight: Rick G. Rosner
- Justin E. H. Smith: The Rio Linda Deep-Freeze
- New APPS: Art, Politics, Philosophy, Science: Does taking pictures sully our memories?
- New APPS: Art, Politics, Philosophy, Science: Mechanism, Salience, and Belief Change
- New York Times, Opinionator: The Dangers of Certainty: A Lesson From Auschwitz
- Philosophy@Birmingham: Perfect Me Again!
- Philosophy, et cetera: Rationality and the Rooted Amnesiac
- Practical Ethics: Female genital mutilation (FGM) and male circumcision: should there be a separate ethical discourse?
- Practical Ethics: Happiness, meaning and well-being
- Practical Ethics: Is Home Birth Really As Safe As Hospital Birth?
- Practical Ethics: Iterated in vitro reproduction and genetic orphans
- Practical Ethics: Political speech crime
- Practical Ethics: Prisoner disenfranchisement: the supposed justifications
- Practical Ethics: Terminal Illness and The Right Not to Know
- Practical Ethics: The Texas flautist and the fetus
- Practical Ethics: Two Tales of Marshmallows and their Implications for Free Will
- Practical Ethics: Why I Am Not a Utilitarian
- Proof I Never Want To Be President (Of Anything): Work Friends
- Psychiatric Ethics: Anosognosia and Epistemic Innocence: Lisa Bortolotti
- Rust Belt Philosophy: Variant Analysis: Optimized Punishments
- The Epicurean Dealmaker: Venn Diagram
- The Philosopher's Beard: The Case for Ethical Warning Lables on Animal Products
- The Philosopher's Stone: Three Cheers for Jeremy Bentham
- Think Tonk: Introducing (and solving?) a puzzle about rationality
- Towkow: The Computational Theory of the Laws of Nature
- TruthOut: The Despotic Chimpanzee and the Ultra-Rich
- TruthOut: The Evaporation of Democracy
- Vihvelin: How Not to Think About Free Will
- Warp, Weft, and Way: Interpreting an Alien Philosophy: What Works for Me
- Welcome God: The Horror, Terror and Society
If you are new to 3 Quarks Daily, we welcome you and invite you to look around the site after you vote. Learn more about who we are and what we do here, and do check out the full site here. Bookmark us and come back regularly, or sign up for the RSS feed. If you have a blog or website, and like what you see here, we would very much appreciate being mentioned there or added to your blogroll. Please don't forget!
Voting ends on November 25th at 11:59 pm NYC time.
Results of the voting round (the top twenty most-voted-for posts) will be posted on the main page on November 26th. The finalists will be announced on December 1st and winners of the contest will be announced on December 22nd, 2014.
PLEASE BE AWARE: We have multiple ways of detecting fraud such as multiple votes being cast by the same person. We will disqualify anyone attempting to cheat.
Now click here to vote.
Philip Gefter in Salon:
There are two competing stories about who would introduce Sam Wagstaff to Robert Mapplethorpe during that bygone summer of 1972. Sam Green claimed, as he was wont to take credit for so many things, to have been the official matchmaker—out of spite. “Robert was the most ambitious and insistent person that I knew,” Green said. “He continuously harangued me to see his mediocre art. After my first visit to Robert’s studio, he made it clear he was looking for a male patron. I had an ax to grind with Sam Wagstaff, so I had intended to put them together in Oakleyville.” Still, years later, Green claimed to have been pleased that the introduction was successful. “Sam and Robert were one of the great unions of the twentieth century,” he said. “It worked for everyone. Robert was a master manipulator and he would do anything. When I introduced the two of them, I knew how much they needed each other.” But the actual introduction came from another visitor to Sam Green’s beach cottage. David Croland, a tall, slender young artist and model with fine features and dark hair, was a fixture of Andy Warhol’s Factory (by this point the Factory had come to refer to more than the physical studio, at times encompassing the people circulating around Andy, including his “superstars”). Croland had modeled for David Bailey and others in London in the late 1960s before being discovered by the Warhol superstar International Velvet (Susan Bottomly) while shopping at Fiorucci in New York. Croland, like so many gay men who came out gradually in that era, was still in his “bisexual phase” and was romantically involved with Bottomly for a while.
Croland had met Robert Mapplethorpe in 1970 through his friend Tinkerbelle, a contributor to Interview, who knew Mapplethorpe from the back room at Max’s Kansas City. One day Tinkerbelle brought Croland to Mapplethorpe’s loft on West 23rd St, several doors away from the Chelsea Hotel. Robert was living there with Patti Smith, his girlfriend while in art school, whose fame as a poet and rock star would come later. Although Mapplethorpe and Smith had been together for several years, by that point they were more like psychic twins than lovers. Croland and Mapplethorpe soon became lovers, keeping their romance a secret from Smith for almost six months.
John Skoyles in MedicalXpress:
The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences recently published a paper that showed a close link between the slow growth of children and the high glucose consumption of their brains. The proposed explanation: by saving on energy that would be spent on growth, children could devote more glucose to their brains. This week the Proceedings published a response which suggested an alternative theory: that slow growth is part of a package of adaptations to prevent skeletal muscle competing against the brain for plasma glucose.
Background to this science is that one of the most important biological things about us is nearly impossible to research—the metabolism of the brain in children. The brain of the child can be pictured in exquisite detail with MRI scans, but what is metabolically going on in it? Scientists can take a peak with radioactive tracers but ethics limits that to the very few occasions in which such a look is justified by medical need. The limited research that has been done reveals a brain quite unlike that of the adult or infant. Its energy guzzling—the cerebral cortex using twice the glucose that it did use in its first year after birth or that it will use in its twenties. The explanation is that the young child doubles the component of the brain that burns the most energy—the synapses that connect neurons. That doubling is called exuberance—that excess allows the brain to prune down its connections during development to those that best enable the wiring required for adult cognition. This refinement is a key part of neuromaturation. And it creates a big physiological problem. A five-year-old has nearly the same volume of gray matter as an adult but only a body a third of its size. That results in nearly half of every bit of food going to fuel its energy demanding brain—in adults it is nearer a tenth.
Wednesday, November 19, 2014
Richard Marshall on Francesca Hughes's The Architecture of Error: Matter, Measure, and the Misadventures of Precision, over at 3:AM Magazine:
Le Corbusier warned that: ‘… in the old-world timber beam there may be lurking some treacherous knot.’ The fear of errors lying hidden in materials became a starkly manifested paranoia as the precision of explanation became fetishised in the twentieth century and onwards. Materials seemed to deviate from this precision and some more than others. Preference for metal over wood was one consequence: metal seemed to deviate less than wood for example. In one of the chapters Hughes explains how this thought led to a move away from building planes out of wood to ones of metal – at the cost of flight! Airplanes in the first world war were all typically made out of wood. Wood, however, was exactly the treacherous-knot material that Le Corbusier feared. Metal, on the other hand, was thought less susceptible to error and so very soon after the first war planes were being made of metal. These early planes couldn’t actually fly but were deemed superior to the wooden ones that could because they represented error free reality. Metal collapsed the distinction between explanation and description. The price of this collapse, Hughes writes, ‘ … was flight itself.’ She asks the obvious question: ‘ If airplanes do not need to be able to fly, do explanations need to tell the truth?’
In this great book – entertaining, lucid and full of delicious detail and narrative as well as intelligent lively assessments of the details, and great pictures too! – the attempt to remove error manifests itself in the way the precision of theory opposes the actuality of the built material. Does the precision of explanatory theory cause inadequate descriptive veracity? Philosopher Nancy Cartwright answers yes: ‘Fundamental equations are meant to explain, and paradoxically enough the cost of the explanatory power is descriptive adequacy. Really explanatory laws of the sort found in theoretical physics do not state the truth.’ An ideological commitment to science, precision and predictability comes at the cost of truth and functionality. Francesca Hughes’ hugely enjoyable and rather brilliant book gives us examples of how this has happened and manifested itself, and makes a powerful case for calling out this ideology, & not just in its application to architecture but in many other spheres too.
In ‘How The Laws of Physics Lie’ Nancy Cartwright draws a distinction between inference to most likely cause and inference to the best explanation. When explanation bridges to best cause can we then start to test its truthfulness. There’s a simple point here: the best explanation can be false because it is approximate. Consistency with the facts as we have them is dependent on many things and approximation works with some materials rather than others so that, for example, Hookes law works better with aluminium than spruce. Approximation is clever enough and helps us think. Cartwright makes a distinction between Phenomenal laws that are about appearances on the one hand and theoretical laws about the underlying reality on the other, and says that what is actually happening in scientific work is a subtle negotiation between these two different types of law. We ‘ … separate laws which are fundamental and explanatory from those that merely describe.’
But don’t explanations have to tell the truth?
Over at Philosophy Bites:
Great literature such as Dostoevsky's novels, Shakespeare's plays, and Kafka's stories are often claimed to convey important truths about the human condition. Peter Lamarqueis sceptical about this way of discussing literature. He explains why in this episode of thePhilosophy Bites podcast.
Nina Strohminger in Aeon:
A classic philosophical thought experiment poses the following paradox. Imagine a ship, let’s call it the Nina, whose planks are replaced, one by one, as they age. Eventually every original part is changed, resulting in a boat made of entirely new materials. Our intuition that this is the same ship becomes problematic when the builders reassemble all the Nina’s original parts into a second ship. The Nina’s identity is tied up inextricably with her physicality.
Personal identity does not work this way. As Nina-the-person ages, almost all the cells of her body get replaced, in some cases many times over. Yet we have no trouble seeing present-day Nina as the same person. Even radical physical transformations – puberty, surgery, infirmity, some future world where her consciousness is preserved on a hard drive – will not obliterate the Nina we know. The personal identity detector is not concerned with continuity of matter, but continuity of mind. As the cognitive scientist Daniel Dennett wryly observed in his essay ‘Where Am I?’ (1978), the brain is the only organ where it is preferable to be the donor than the recipient.
This distinction, between mind and body, begins early in development. In a 2012 study by Bruce Hood at the University of Bristol and colleagues, children aged five to six were shown a metal contraption, a ‘duplication device’ that creates perfect replicas of whatever you put inside. When asked to predict what would happen if a hamster were duplicated, the children said the clone would have the same physical traits as the original, but not its memories. In other words, children were locating the unique essence of the hamster in its mind.
For Nina-the-ship, no part of the vessel is especially Nina-like; her identity is distributed evenly across every atom. We might wonder whether the same applies to people – does their continued identity depend only on the total number of cognitive planks replaced? Or are some parts of the mind particularly essential to the self?
Henry Farrell in The Boston Review (Photograph: National Library of Ireland.):
Ireland’s real Cold War was the episodic struggle over the power of the Catholic Church. After Irish independence, Catholicism had secured a stranglehold on the major institutions of social, political, and economic power. For many decades, the Church effectively controlled most of the schools (the main exception being a separate, smaller network run by the Protestant Church of Ireland) and hospitals, even though they were nominally provided by the state. It fought even the mildest social reforms for fear that change might dilute its influence.
Until the 1970s the Church also held a tight grip on key university departments such as philosophy and political science, to ensure that atheism and communism didn’t corrupt vulnerable youth. Trinity College—the traditionally Protestant university—was outside the Church’s grasp, but Catholics were discouraged, and in some cases forbidden, from attending. The national broadcasting station was closely monitored for smut and moral turpitude. When a guest on a popular talk show hinted that married couples might not always wear bedclothes, the statement provoked denunciations from a bishop and enormous political scandal.
But by the late 1970s, it was clear that the Church’s power couldn’t be sustained much longer. Religious conservatives turned from offensive to defensive tactics. They pushed through a referendum to introduce a ban on abortion in the constitution because they feared that without such a ban, legislation to legalize it would be introduced in a decade or two. They succeeded in defeating a referendum proposing a limited form of divorce. But the health minister (who later became a legendarily corrupt prime minister), Charles Haughey, responded to pressure to legalize contraception by introducing what he described as “an Irish solution to an Irish problem.” Contraception would only be legally available to people who could get a prescription from their doctor. This would allow married couples to regulate their fertility, while preventing unmarried couples from enjoying the delights of sin without the costs.
Such worldly compromises culminated in an extended period of confessional Brezhnevism. When my generation grew into adulthood in the 1980s, the culture of Catholicism seemed strong, if you didn’t look at it too closely.
But melancholy jeremiads about the decay of prominent art museums and the evils of trading ideals for profit are tiresome. There is, moreover, hope elsewhere. Another kind of museum offers the public what commercialized counterparts might—and often more cheaply and effectively. Ironically these museums are sheltered under the aegis of institutions perceived as so exclusionary that they are collectively labeled the “ivory tower,” a synecdoche that suggests an improbable wedding of spun-sugar fantasy and contemptuous anti-intellectualism.
Counter-intuitively, university art museums are proving capable of realizing the ideals that other art museums espouse in facile mission statements polished to a gleam by publicists—primarily a “commitment” to serve as cultural resources for the public and to make art education accessible. Though university museums employ their own public relations corps, their fundamental concern with education makes their ambitious missions less rhetorical, more a matter of praxis. In a certain sense, university museums are in business as surely as are their public counterparts. However, by virtue of their academic affiliations, theirs is a commerce of the mind, of making art available and comprehensible.
Sajay Samuel: The anthropologist Max Gluckman once noted that the ritual rain-dance had a curious property. The belief in its powers is rarely shaken – should it rain after a dance, that is taken as proof of its efficacy, and when the ground remains parched under unclouded skies, that is a signal to dance even harder, that the dance was badly choreographed. Upon bringing out this set of essays by Illich, I do think the belief in progress and general prosperity through economic growth is less self-evident than it was a generation ago. But this is an uneven phenomenon: in the West (roughly speaking), and particularly after the recent so-called "economic crisis", many are out of work or working much harder for less, carrying large amounts of debt, and experiencing their daily lives and future prospects as being more fragile and precarious. The ritual dance of work and consumption has been interrupted, and this leads many to examine again their belief, even faith, in progress and economic prosperity. Even the most diehard economists are bewildered about what can be done – though they continue helplessly to whip those tired horses, "more work" and "more consumption", even while dimly recognizing that these nags will not run much more.
However, the mantra of prosperity and progress through economic growth seems comforting to those recently converted to market economies after decades of Development, Planning or Communism. Faith in the economy seems to have taken hold in the so-called BRIC countries, but also in eastern Europe, Latin America and on the African continent.
Pavlov’s research originally had little to do with psychology; it focussed on the ways in which eating excited salivary, gastric, and pancreatic secretions. To do that, he developed a system of “sham” feeding. Pavlov would remove a dog’s esophagus and create an opening, a fistula, in the animal’s throat, so that, no matter how much the dog ate, the food would fall out and never make it to the stomach. By creating additional fistulas along the digestive system and collecting the various secretions, he could measure their quantity and chemical properties in great detail. That research won him the 1904 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. But a dog’s drool turned out to be even more meaningful than he had first imagined: it pointed to a new way to study the mind, learning, and human behavior.
“Essentially, only one thing in life is of real interest to us—our psychical experience,” he said in his Nobel address. “Its mechanism, however, was and still is shrouded in profound obscurity. All human resources—art, religion, literature, philosophy, and the historical sciences—all have joined in the attempt to throw light upon this darkness. But humanity has at its disposal yet another powerful resource—natural science with its strict objective methods.”
Operation Zarb-e-Azb is a military offensive being conducted by Pakistani military forces against various militant groups in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas bordering Afghanistan. Up to 30,000 Pakistani soldiers are involved in Zarb-e-Azb, described as a "comprehensive operation" to flush out all foreign and local militants hiding in North Waziristan.
Wajahat S Khan in The News:
The base throbs with uniforms of regular infantry battalions; yet, it is the human heart of a ghost town. Outside, Mir Ali has changed. North Waziristan has been taken, but at a cost: The entire city of Mir Ali has been depopulated through what Major General Zafarullah Khan Khattak, the General Officer Commanding of the 7th Infantry Division and the man in charge of Operation Zarb-e-Azb (“Strike of the Prophet’s Sword”), calls “an organised exodus”.
Earlier in the summer, when the operation was launched, weeks of air strikes, ground attacks and penetrating local militant networks with human and signals intelligence were not enough. Nor were the “strangulation operations” that had kicked off before the official campaign was launched on the 30th of June. ‘NWA’ was a different challenge from Swat, assessed the brass. The local population was “entrenched in a decade-long economy of terror” that made them “invested in the anarchy” that was North Waziristan, says General Khattak.
Since then, some 700,000 civilians have been displaced. Around 1,800 terrorists have been killed or captured. Around 200 tons of IEDs and ordnance have been found, “enough for the militants to keep on conducting five IED attacks per day, at a rate of three casualties per attack, for 14 and half years, anywhere in Pakistan or the region”, says the general. As for sheer firepower, the GOC assesses that “there were enough arms and ammunition in the area to raise an entire infantry brigade.”
To date, the army has lost 45 men in the campaign and sustained 155 casualties. Three would be killed on the same night that this correspondent was in North Waziristan, over the last weekend, when Operation Zarb-e-Azb would be completing its 138th day. Naturally, standing on the perimeters of the base, the junior officers are watchful.
“That’s Shahbaz Top. We still take rockets and sniper fire from there,” says Brigadier Azhar Abbasi of the 313 Brigade, sipping tea while wearing his armour, his radio set crackling, looking over the bombed out town, pointing to a peak. “They’re not civilised, the Tangos [army code for Taliban], but they are bloody good shooters. I’ve lost three men from shots that came from over 1,100 yards. All head shots, two of them in the nose. Dragunovs are their weapon of choice...Excellent weapons. But terrible men.”
Read the full article here.
Neela Debnath in The Independent:
The eagerly anticipated companion guide to George RR Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series has finally arrived. While it may not be as chunky as the original novels, The World of Ice & Fire: The Untold History of Westeros and A Game of Thrones, it is just as rich and comprehensive. Martin, along with his co-authors, offers readers a breathtakingly detailed history of Westeros preceding the events in the novels. From the Dawn Age all the way through to the Glorious Reign, every entry is like embarking on a new journey through Martin's world. It's safe to say that Martin's world is more fully realised than JK Rowling's magical universe of Harry Potter and even JRR Tolkien's Middle-earth. In fact, many of the chapters could form their own series of equally weighty books. Both die-hard fans of the HBO adaptation, Game of Thrones, and A Song of Ice and Fire purists can appreciate this guide. Saying this, it is probably a little bit too geeky and information-overload for fans of the TV show.
Those who have already devoured Martin's monstrous novels will find this guide easier to digest. Subjects that are touched upon in the original books are explored here more thoroughly. The colourful chapters on the monarchs of Westeros read like something from the annals of long-dead tyrannical British monarchs – and it's great. For instance, Maegor the Cruel has a whole entry devoted to his life and reign. From the number of mistresses he had (each one has their own profile) to his mysterious death, Maegor's entry is certainly thorough. There are also smaller nuggets. Tywin Lannister is a looming presence in the novels but here he is shown in a new light. Yes, he's a schemer seeking power but he has a softer side when it comes to his wife, Joanna.
Queen Mary University of London researchers have developed a Google Play app called Phoney based on a mind-reading card trick, part of a research exploration into what can be achieved when human intelligence is replaced or assisted by machine intelligence.
The app arranges a deck of playing cards in such a way that a specific card picked by an audience member can be identified (and dramatically displayed on the phone) with the least amount of information from the audience possible. To create the app, they “taught” AI software how a mind-reading card trick works and how humans understand magic tricks. The software then created completely new variants on those tricks that could be delivered by a magician. The research also suggests questions about how superintelligent AI systems might be programmed to manipulate people and how such algorithms might even be developed accidentally. For example, an AI might gain power by making people believe it was supernatural.
Tuesday, November 18, 2014
Steve Landsburg in The Big Questions:
I never met Grothendieck. I was never in the same room with him. I never even saw him from a distance. But whenever I think about math — which is to say, pretty much every day — I feel him hovering over my shoulder. I’ve strived to read the mind of Grothendieck as others strive to read the mind of God.
Those who did know him tend to describe him as a man of indescribable charisma, with a Christ-like ability to inspire followers. I’ve heard it said that when Grothendieck walked into a room, you might have had no idea who he was or what he did, but you definitely knew you wanted to devote your life to him.
And people did. In 1958, when Grothendieck (aged 30) announced a massive program to rewrite the foundations of geometry, he assembled a coterie of brilliant followers and conducted a seminar that met 10 hours a day, 5 days a week, for over a decade. Grothendieck talked; others took notes, went home, filled in details, expanded on his ideas, wrote final drafts, and returned the next day for more. Jean Dieudonne, a mathematician of quite considerable prominence in his own right, subjugated himself entirely to the project and was at his desk every morning at 5AM so that he could do three hours of editing before Grothendieck arrived and started talking again at 8:00. (Here and elsewhere I am reporting history as I’ve heard it from the participants and others who followed developments closely as they were happening. If I’ve got some details wrong, I’m happy to be corrected.) The resulting volumes filled almost 10,000 pages and rocked the mathematical world. (You can see some of those pages here).
I want to try to give something of the flavor of the revolution that unfolded in that room, and I want to do it for an audience with little mathematical background. This might require stretching some analogies almost to the breaking point. I’ll try to be as honest as I can. In the first part, I’ll talk about Grothendieck’s radical approach to mathematics generally; after that, I’ll talk (in a necessarily vague way) about some of his most radical and important ideas.
Read the rest here.
Sarah-Jayne Blakemore, Molly Crockett, Jennifer Jacquet, Michael McCullough, Hugo Mercier, L.A. Paul, David Rand, Lawrence Ian Reed, and Simone Schnall over at Edge.org:
In September a group of social scientists gathered for HEADCON '14, an Edge Conference at Eastover Farm. Speakers addressed a range of topics concerning the social (or moral, or emotional) brain: Sarah-Jayne Blakemore: "The Teenager's Sense Of Social Self"; Lawrence Ian Reed: "The Face Of Emotion"; Molly Crockett: "The Neuroscience of Moral Decision Making"; Hugo Mercier: "Toward The Seamless Integration Of The Sciences"; Jennifer Jacquet: "Shaming At Scale"; Simone Schnall: "Moral Intuitions, Replication, and the Scientific Study of Human Nature"; David Rand: "How Do You Change People's Minds About What Is Right And Wrong?"; L.A. Paul: "The Transformative Experience"; Michael McCullough: "Two Cheers For Falsification". Also participating as "kibitzers" were four speakers from HEADCON '13, the previous year's event: Fiery Cushman, Joshua Knobe, David Pizarro, and Laurie Santos.
In 1991, Nobel laureate Joseph Brodsky was asked what American poets he admired. Of the two or three he shortlisted, he mentioned Melissa Green for “tremendous intensity and tremendous intelligence.” He continued: “In the case of Ms. Green, I think it’s a tremendous facility. She’s a tremendous rhymer. There’s a collection of hers called Squanicook Eclogues, wonderful eclogues, I think. Virgil would be proud of those. Tremendous rhyming, tremendous texture.”
Then she disappeared. Her 1987 Squanicook Eclogues, which received awards from the Poetry Society of America and the Academy of American Poets, looked to be a solo product of a brilliant woman. Then, a decade later, a memoir of mental illness, Coloring Is the Suffering of Light, then, a decade after that, another collection of poems, Fifty-Two (try finding it anywhere, just try), and now, the next installment of her memoirs, The Linen Way, excerpted in the current Parnassus.
For my money, my favorite passage is a description of her Boston University class with Nobel poet Derek Walcott, which, in fact, brings back memories of his Russian friend’s classes. Walcott made his students memorize “Lycidas” – a suggestion that was met with “tittering and mumbled derision – most of the students seemed to resent having to memorize such a long, boring poem.”
Massimo Pigliucci in Aeon:
[E.O] Wilson claims that we can engage in a process of ‘consilience’ that leads to an intellectually and aesthetically satisfactory unity of knowledge. Here is how he defines two versions of consilience: ‘To dissect a phenomenon into its elements ... is consilience by reduction. To reconstitute it, and especially to predict with knowledge gained by reduction how nature assembled it in the first place, is consilience by synthesis’.
Despite the unfamiliar name, this is actually a standard approach in the natural sciences, and it goes back to Descartes. In order to understand a complex problem, we break it down into smaller chunks, get a grasp on those, and then put the whole thing back together. The strategy is called reductionism and it has been highly successful in fundamental physics, though its success has been more limited in biology and other natural sciences. The overall image that Wilson seems to have in mind is of a downward spiral wherein complex aspects of human culture — literature, for example — are understood first in terms of the social sciences (sociology, psychology), and then more mechanistically by the biological sciences (neurobiology, evolutionary biology), before finally being reduced to physics. After all, everything is made of quarks (or strings), isn’t it?
Before we can see where Wilson and his followers go wrong, we need to make a distinction between two meanings of reductionism. There is ontological reduction, which has to do with what exists, and epistemic reduction, which has to do with what we know. The first one is the idea that the bottom level of reality (say, quarks, or strings) is causally sufficient to account for everything else (atoms, cells, you and me, planets, galaxies and so forth). Epistemic reductionism, on the other hand, claims that knowledge of the bottom level is sufficient to reconstruct knowledge of everything else. It holds that we will eventually be able to derive a quantum mechanical theory of planetary motions and of the genius of Shakespeare.