ideas

*sighs heavily, walks over to big DAYS SINCE MAX GOT TOO DRUNK AT AN OFFICE PARTY AND EMBARRASSED HIMSELF sign, flips number back to 0* —Max Read

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15 years ago, the neurosciences defined the main function of brains in terms of processing input to compute output: “brain function is ultimately best understood in terms of input/output transformations and how they are produced” wrote Mike Mauk in 2000.

Since then, a lot of things have been discovered that make this stimulus-response concept untenable and potentially based largely on laboratory artifacts.

For instance, it was discovered that the likely ancestral state of behavioral organization is one of probing the environment with ongoing, variable actions first and evaluating sensory feedback later (i.e., the inverse of stimulus response). […]

In humans, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies over the last decade and a half revealed that the human brain is far from passively waiting for stimuli, but rather constantly produces ongoing, variable activity, and just shifts this activity over to other networks when we move from rest to task or switch between tasks.

{ Björn Brembs | Continue reading }

Management wants you gone by the end of the day

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Anthropodermic bibliopegy is the practice of binding books in human skin. Though extremely uncommon in modern times, the technique dates back to at least the 17th century. The practice is inextricably connected with the practice of tanning human skin, often done in certain circumstances after a corpse has been dissected.

Surviving historical examples of this technique include anatomy texts bound with the skin of dissected cadavers, volumes created as a bequest and bound with the skin of the testator, and copies of judicial proceedings bound in the skin of the murderer convicted in those proceedings, such as in the case of John Horwood in 1821 and the Red Barn Murder in 1828.

{ Wikipedia | Continue reading }

‘If you write something and put a date after it, it suddenly becomes an art project, 2015’ —Evander Batson

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Doctor Tsun arrives at the house of Doctor Albert, who is deeply excited to have met a descendant of Ts’ui Pên. Doctor Albert reveals that he has himself been engaged in a longtime study of Ts’ui Pên’s novel. Albert explains excitedly that at one stroke he has solved both mysteries—the chaotic and jumbled nature of Ts’ui Pên’s unfinished book and the mystery of his lost labyrinth. Albert’s solution is that they are one and the same: the book is the labyrinth.

{ Plot summary of The Garden of Forking Paths/Wikipedia | Continue reading }

Miss Kennedy with manners transposed the teatray down to an upturned lithia crate, safe from eyes, low.

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‘We should not be upset that others hide the truth from us, when we hide it so often from ourselves.’ –La Rochefoucauld

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Many people spontaneously use the word (or sound) “Um” in conversation, a phenomenon which has prompted a considerable volume of academic attention. A question arises though, can someone be induced to say “Um” by chemical means – say with the use of a powerful anaesthetic? Like, for example Ketamine? […]

[V]olunteers who were given “low doses” and “high doses” of Ketamine tended to use the words “um” and “uh” significantly more than those who received a placebo only.

{ Improbable | Continue reading }

‘adderall is cool bc one night i spent the entire evening reading about the geopolitical situation in antarctica’ —@deanna_havas

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Most people who describe themselves as demisexual say they only rarely feel desire, and only in the context of a close relationship. Gray-­asexuals (or gray-aces) roam the gray area between absolute asexuality and a more typical level of interest. […]

“Every single asexual I’ve met embraces fluidity—I might be gray or asexual or demisexual,” says Claudia, a 24-year-old student from Las Vegas. “Us aces are like: whatevs.”

{ Wired | Continue reading }

photo { Nate Walton }

‘Which is more difficult, to awaken one who sleeps or to awaken one who, awake, dreams that he is awake?’ —Kierkegaard

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Psychology journal bans P values

P values are widely used in science to test null hypotheses. For example, in a medical study looking at smoking and cancer, the null hypothesis could be that there is no link between the two. The closer to zero the P value gets, the greater the chance the null hypothesis is false; many researchers accept findings as ‘significant’ if the P value comes in at less than 0.05. But P values are slippery, and sometimes, significant P values vanish when experiments and statistical analyses are repeated. […]

“We believe that the p < .05 bar is too easy to pass and sometimes serves as an excuse for lower quality research,”

{ Nature | Continue reading }

ooo (ooo) it feels just like we’re floatin’ in this pool and the water brought this fire out of you

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Lacan said that there was surely something ironic about Christ’s injunction to love thy neighbour as thyself – because actually, of course, people hate themselves. […]

The way we hate people depends on the way we love them and vice versa. According to psychoanalysis these contradictory feelings enter into everything we do. We are ambivalent, in Freud’s view, about anything and everything that matters to us; indeed, ambivalence is the way we recognise that someone or something has become significant to us. […]

We are never as good as we should be; and neither, it seems, are other people.

{ London Review of Books | Continue reading }

art { Gisèle Vienne, Teenage Hallucination, 2012 }

everything is stooopid

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Every 250m years the sun, with its entourage of planets, completes a circuit of the Milky Way. Its journey around its home galaxy, though, is no stately peregrination. Rather, its orbit oscillates up and down through the galactic disc. It passes through that disc, the place where most of the galaxy’s matter is concentrated, once every 30m years or so.

This fact has long interested Michael Rampino of New York University. He speculates that it could explain the mass extinctions, such as that of the dinosaurs and many other species 66m years ago, which life on Earth undergoes from time to time. Palaeontologists recognise five such humongous events, during each of which up to 90% of species have disappeared. But the fossil record is also littered with smaller but still significant blips in the continuity of life.

Many hypotheses have been put forward to explain these extinctions (and the events may, of course, not all have the same explanation). The two that have most support are collisions between Earth and an asteroid or comet, and extended periods of massive volcanic activity. Dr Rampino observed some time ago that cometary collisions might be triggered by gravitational disruptions of the Oort cloud, a repository of comets in the outermost part of the solar system. That would send a rain of them into the part of space occupied by Earth. This has come to be known as the Shiva hypothesis, after the Hindu god of destruction. […]

In his latest paper, Dr Rampino speculates that the real culprit may be not stars, but dark matter—and that this might explain the volcanism as well.

{ The Economist | Continue reading }

‘Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.’ —Mike Tyson

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The asteroid landed in the ocean and would have caused megatsunamis, for which evidence has been found in several locations in the Caribbean and eastern United States—marine sand in locations that were then inland, and vegetation debris and terrestrial rocks in marine sediments dated to the time of the impact. […]

The asteroid landed in a bed of gypsum (calcium sulfate), which would have produced a vast sulfur dioxide aerosol. This would have further reduced the sunlight reaching the Earth’s surface and then precipitated as acid rain, killing vegetation, plankton, and organisms that build shells from calcium carbonate (coccolithophores and molluscs). […]

The impact may also have produced acid rain, depending on what type of rock the asteroid struck. However, recent research suggests this effect was relatively minor, lasting for approximately 12 years. […]

Such an impact would have inhibited photosynthesis by creating a dust cloud that blocked sunlight for up to a year, and by injecting sulfuric acid aerosols into the stratosphere, which might have reduced sunlight reaching the Earth’s surface by 10–20%. It has been argued that it would take at least ten years for such aerosols to dissipate, which would account for the extinction of plants and phytoplankton, and of organisms dependent on them (including predatory animals as well as herbivores). […]

The event appears to have hit all continents at the same time. […]

The event eliminated a vast number of species. Based on marine fossils, it is estimated that 75% or more of all species were wiped out by the K–Pg extinction. In terrestrial ecosystems all animals weighing more than a kilo disappeared.

The most well-known victims are the non-avian dinosaurs. […]

The fact that the extinctions occur at the same time as the Chicxulub asteroid impact strongly supports the impact hypothesis of extinction. […]

The Chicxulub crater is more than 180 kilometres (110 mi) in diameter and 20 km (12 mi) in depth, making the feature one of the largest confirmed impact structures on Earth; the impacting bolide that formed the crater was at least 10 km (6 mi) in diameter. […] Researchers dated rock and ash samples from the impact to roughly 66 million years ago. […]

Some scientists maintain the extinction was caused or exacerbated by other factors, such as volcanic eruptions, climate change, or sea level change, separately or together.

{ The Cretaceous–Paleogene (K–Pg) extinction event | Chicxulub crater }

related { Plants survive better through mass extinctions than animals }

related { Rising Sea Levels Are Already Making Miami’s Floods Worse }

related { 12 ways researchers think human civilisation is most likely to end }

The desert grows

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Dr. Yalom, I would like a consultation. I’ve read your novel “When Nietzsche Wept,” and wonder if you’d be willing to see a fellow writer with a writing block.

No doubt Paul sought to pique my interest with his email. […] Ten days later Paul arrived for his appointment. […]

“I was in philosophy at Princeton writing my doctorate on the incompatibility between Nietzsche’s ideas on determinism and his espousal of self-transformation. But I couldn’t finish. I kept getting distracted by such things as Nietzsche’s extraordinary correspondence, especially by his letters to his friends and fellow writers like Strindberg.

“Gradually I lost interest altogether in his philosophy and valued him more as an artist. I came to regard Nietzsche as a poet with the most powerful voice in history, a voice so majestic that it eclipsed his ideas, and soon there was nothing for me to do but to switch departments and do my doctorate in literature rather than philosophy.

“The years went by,” he continued, “my research progressed well, but I simply could not write. Finally I arrived at the position that it was only through art that an artist could be illuminated, and I abandoned the dissertation project entirely and decided instead to write a novel on Nietzsche. But the writing block was neither fooled nor deterred by my changing projects. It remained as powerful and unmovable as a granite mountain. And so it has continued until this very day.”

I was stunned. Paul was an old man now. He must have begun working on his dissertation well over a half-century ago. […]

“Tell me more,” I said. “Your family? The people in your life?”

“No siblings. Married twice. Divorced twice. Mercifully short marriages. No children, thank God.”

This is getting very odd, I thought. So talkative at first, Paul now seems intent on giving me as little information as possible. What’s going on?

{ NY Times | Continue reading }

49 days, surely I should be feeling a whole lot better

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Does morality depend on the time of the day? The study “The Morning Morality Effect: The Influence of Time of Day on Unethical Behavior” published in October of 2013 by Maryam Kouchaki and Isaac Smith suggested that people are more honest in the mornings, and that their ability to resist the temptation of lying and cheating wears off as the day progresses. […]

One question not addressed by Kouchaki and Smith was whether the propensity to become dishonest in the afternoons or evenings could be generalized to all subjects or whether the internal time in the subjects was also a factor.

All humans have an internal body clock — the circadian clock — which runs with a period of approximately 24 hours. The circadian clock controls a wide variety of physical and mental functions such as our body temperature, the release of hormones or our levels of alertness. The internal clock can vary between individuals, but external cues such as sunlight or the social constraints of our society force our internal clocks to be synchronized to a pre-defined external time which may be quite distinct from what our internal clock would choose if it were to “run free”. Free-running internal clocks of individuals can differ in terms of their period (for example 23.5 hours versus 24.4 hours) as well as the phases of when individuals would preferably engage in certain behaviors. […]

Some people like to go to bed early, wake up at 5 am or 6 am on their own even without an alarm clock and they experience peak levels of alertness and energy before noon. In contrast to such “larks”, there are “owls” among us who prefer to go to bed late at night, wake up at 11 am, experience their peak energy levels and alertness in the evening hours and like to stay up way past midnight. […]

The researchers Brian Gunia, Christopher Barnes and Sunita Sah therefore decided to replicate the Kouchaki and Smith study with one major modification: They not only assessed the propensity to cheat at different times of the day, they also measured the chronotypes of the study participants. Their recent paper “”The Morality of Larks and Owls: Unethical Behavior Depends on Chronotype as Well as Time of Day” confirms that Kouchaki and Smith findings that the time of the day influences honesty, but the observed effects differ among chronotypes. […]

[M]orning morality effect and the idea of “moral exhaustion” towards the end of the day cannot be generalized to all. In fact, evening people (”owls”) are more honest in the evenings. […]

Gunia and colleagues only included morning and evening people in their analysis and excluded the participants who reported an intermediate chronotype, i.e. not quite early morning “larks” and not true “owls”. This is a valid criticism because newer research on chronotypes has shown that there is a Gaussian distribution of chronotypes. Few of us are extreme larks or extreme owls, most of us lie on a continuum.

{ Fragments of Truth | Continue reading }

photo { Steven Meisel }