ideas

My name’s Elvira but you can call me tonight

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State-of-the-art forensic technology from South Africa has been used to try and unravel the mystery of what was smoked in tobacco pipes found in the Stratford-upon-Avon garden of William Shakespeare.

Residue from clay tobacco pipes more than 400 years old from the playwright’s garden were analysed. […] Results of this study (including 24 pipe fragments) indicated cannabis in eight samples, nicotine in at least one sample, and in two samples definite evidence for Peruvian cocaine from coca leaves.

{ The Independent | Continue reading }

photos { 1 | John K. }

Into the blue again, after the money’s gone

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Around 1930, the director of an evening newspaper had hired Georges Simenon as an advertising attraction. He’d had a cage constructed in the hall of his newspaper where Simenon, under eyes of the public, was to write a serial, non-stop. But on the eve of the big day, the newspaper went bankrupt. Simenon wrote the book in his room.

{ Paris Match | Continue reading }

In 1927 the publisher of Paris-Soir proposed to place Simenon in a glass cage, where he would spend three days and three nights writing a novel in public.

{ NY Times | Continue reading }

photo { Mark Heithoff }

Azur, nos bêtes sont bondées d’un cri

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Dogs can infer the name of an object and have been shown to learn the names of over 1,000 objects. Dogs can follow the human pointing gesture; even nine week old puppies can follow a basic human pointing gesture without being taught.

New Guinea Singing dogs, a half-wild proto-dog endemic to the remote alpine regions of New Guinea, as well as Dingoes in the remote outback of Australia are also capable of this.

These examples demonstrate an ability to read human gestures that arose early in domestication and did not require human selection. “Humans did not develop dogs, we only fine-tuned them down the road.”

Similar to the chimpanzee, Bonobos are a close genetic cousin to humans. Unlike the chimpanzee, bonobos are not aggressive and do not participate in lethal intergroup aggression or kill within their own group. The most distinctive features of a bonobo are its cranium, which is 15% smaller than a chimpanzee’s, and its less aggressive and more playful behavior. Dogs mirror these differences relative to wild wolves: a dog’s cranium is 15% smaller than an equally heavy wolf’s, and the dog is less aggressive and more playful. The guinea pig’s cranium is 13% smaller than its wild cousin the cavie and domestic fowl show a similar reduction to their wild cousins. Possession of a smaller cranium for holding a smaller brain is a telltale sign of domestication. Bonobos appear to have domesticated themselves.

In the “farm fox” experiment, humans selectively bred foxes against aggression which caused a domestication syndrome. The foxes were not selectively bred for smaller craniums and teeth, floppy ears, or skills at using human gestures but these traits were demonstrated in the friendly foxes.

Natural selection favors those that are the most successful at reproducing, not the most aggressive. Selection against aggression made possible the ability to cooperate and communicate among foxes, dogs and bonobos. Perhaps it did the same thing for humans.

{ Wikipedia | Continue reading }

Why is the caps lock key still so prominent on keyboards?

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Hospitality is always a matter of urgency, always a question of speeds. The unexpected guests arrive and there is always a rush of activity: a hurried welcoming at the door, a quick cleaning up, a surreptitious rearranging or putting back into order, a preparing of food and drink. But even when the guest is expected, has been expected for a long time, there is a sense of urgency. The guests arrive — always too early or too late, even if they are ‘on time.’ Coats are taken; tours are given of the immaculate, impossibly ordered home; drinks are served, food presented. For there to be a place for hospitality, for hospitality to take (the) place, the host must hurry.

{ Sean Gaston | via Austerity Kitchen/TNI | Continue reading }

And you may find yourself living in a shotgun shack

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By definition, exponential growth means the thing that comes next will be equal in importance to everything that came before. […]

this exponential growth has given us terrible habits. One of them is to discount the present.

{ Idle Worlds | Continue reading }

Have you grasped nothing of the reason why I am in the world?

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In 1908, an asteroid measuring perhaps 90-190 meters across struck Siberia, damaging over 2,000 square kilometers of Russian forest – an area that measures larger than New York’s five boroughs. Scientists estimate that the energy of that explosion was about 1,000 times that of the atomic bomb the U.S. dropped on Hiroshima in 1945.

This is far from the only close call that humans have had with asteroids. In 2004, an asteroid big enough to have its own small moon narrowly missed the planet. In 2013, an asteroid struck the Russia countryside with many times the force of the Hiroshima bomb, and was widely captured on video.

And of course, it was an asteroid, smashing into the Earth with the force of more than billion Hiroshima bombs, which nixed the dinosaurs and allowed humans to take over the Earth in the first place. [Previously: The event appears to have hit all continents at the same time | more] […]

The probability that you’ll die from an asteroid may be surprisingly large – about the same probability as dying from a plane crash, according to research.

{ Washington Post | Continue reading }

When most I wink, then do my eyes best see

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Einstein wondered what would happen if the Sun were to suddenly explode. Since the Sun is so far away that it takes light eight minutes to travel to Earth, we wouldn’t know about the explosion straight away. For eight glorious minutes we’d be completely oblivious to the terrible thing that was about to happen.

But what about gravity? The Earth moves in an ellipse around the Sun, due to the Sun’s gravity. If the Sun wasn’t there, it would move off in a straight line. Einstein’s puzzle was when that would happen: straight away, or after eight minutes? According to Newton’s theory, the Earth should know immediately that the Sun had disappeared. But Einstein said that couldn’t be right. Because, according to him, nothing can travel faster than the speed of light — not even the effects of gravity. […]

Before Einstein people thought of space as stage on which the laws of physics play out. We could throw in some stars or some planets and they would move around on this stage.

Einstein realised that space isn’t as passive as that. It is dynamic and it responds to what’s happening within it. If you put something heavy in space — let’s say a planet like Earth — then space around it gives a little. The presence of the planet causes a small dent in space (and in fact, in time as well). When something else moves close to the planet — say the Moon — it feels this dent in space and rolls around the planet like a marble rolling in a bowl. This is what we call gravity. […] Stars and planets move, causing space to bend in their wake, causing other stars and planets to move, causing space to bend in their wake. And so on. This is Einstein’s great insight. Gravity is the manifestation of the curvature of space and time.

{ Plus Magazine | Part One | Part Two }

‘The road up and the road down is one and the same.’ –Heraclitus

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Two pennies can be considered the same — both are pennies, just as two elephants can be considered the same, as both are elephants. Despite the vast difference between pennies and elephants, we easily notice the common relation of sameness that holds for both pairs. Analogical ability — the ability to see common relations between objects, events or ideas — is a key skill that underlies human intelligence and differentiates humans from other apes.

While there is considerable evidence that preschoolers can learn abstract relations, it remains an open question whether infants can as well. In a new Northwestern University study, researchers found that infants are capable of learning the abstract relations of same and different after only a few examples.

“This suggests that a skill key to human intelligence is present very early in human development, and that language skills are not necessary for learning abstract relations,” said lead author Alissa Ferry, who conducted the research at Northwestern.

{ Lunatic Laboratories | Continue reading }

Full fathom five thy father lies. Of his bones are coral made. Those are pearls that were his eyes.

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What happens to people when they think they’re invisible?

Using a 3D virtual reality headset, neuroscientists at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm gave participants the sensation that they were invisible, and then examined the psychological effects of apparent invisibility. […] “Having an invisible body seems to have a stress-reducing effect when experiencing socially challenging situations.” […]

“Follow-up studies should also investigate whether the feeling of invisibility affects moral decision-making, to ensure that future invisibility cloaking does not make us lose our sense of right and wrong, which Plato asserted over two millennia ago,” said the report’s co-author, Henrik Ehrsson. […]

In Book II of Plato’s Republic, one of Socrates’s interlocutors tells a story of a shepherd, an ancestor of the ancient Lydian king Gyges, who finds a magic ring that makes the wearer invisible. The power quickly corrupts him, and he becomes a tyrant.

The premise behind the story of the Ring of Gyges, which inspired HG Wells’s seminal 1897 science fiction novel, The Invisible Man, is that we behave morally so that we can be seen doing so.

{ CS Monitor | Continue reading }

photo { Ren Hang }

‘People almost invariably arrive at their beliefs not on the basis of proof but on the basis of what they find attractive.’ –Pascal

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This paper argues that there are at least five reasons why the claim that the Bible is to be taken literally defies logic or otherwise makes no sense, and why literalists are in no position to claim that they have the only correct view of biblical teachings.

First, many words are imprecise and therefore require interpretation, especially to fill in gaps between general words and their appli- cation to specific situations. Second, if you are reading an English version of the Bible you are al- ready dealing with the interpretations of the translator since the earliest Bibles were written in other languages. Third, biblical rules have exceptions, and those exceptions are often not explicitly set forth. Fourth, many of the Bible’s stories defy logic and our experiences of the world. Fifth, there are sometimes two contrary versions of the same event, so if we take one literally then we cannot take the second one literally. In each of these five cases, there is no literal reading to be found.

Furthermore, this paper sets forth three additional reasons why such a literalist claim probably should not be made even if it did not defy logic to make such a claim. These include The Scientific Argument: the Bible contradicts modern science; The Historical Argument: the Bible is historically inaccurate; and The Moral Argument: the Bible violates contemporary moral standards.

{ Open Journal of Philosophy | PDF }

photo { Roger Mimick }

Epstein had already demonstrated that the continuous and the discontinuous were never opposed to each other in cinema. What are opposed, or at least distinguished, are rather two ways of reconciling them.

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Movies are, for the most part, made up of short runs of continuous action, called shots, spliced together with cuts. With a cut, a filmmaker can instantaneously replace most of what is available in your visual field with completely different stuff. This is something that never happened in the 3.5 billion years or so that it took our visual systems to develop. You might think, then, that cutting might cause something of a disturbance when it first appeared. And yet nothing in contemporary reports suggests that it did. […]

What if we could go back in time and collect the reactions of naïve viewers on their very first experience with film editing?

It turns out that we can, sort of. There are a decent number of people on the planet who still don’t have TVs, and the psychologists Sermin Ildirar and Stephan Schwan have capitalised on their existence to ask how first-time viewers experience cuts. […] There was no evidence that the viewers found cuts in the films to be shocking or incomprehensible. […]

I think the explanation is that, although we don’t think of our visual experience as being chopped up like a Paul Greengrass fight sequence, actually it is.

Simply put, visual perception is much jerkier than we realise. First, we blink. Blinks happen every couple of seconds, and when they do we are blind for a couple of tenths of a second. Second, we move our eyes. Want to have a little fun? Take a close-up selfie video of your eyeball while you watch a minute’s worth of a movie on your computer or TV. You’ll see your eyeball jerking around two or three times every second.

{ Aeon | Continue reading }

Against those who defined Italian neo-realism by its social content, Bazin put forward the fundamental requirement of formal aesthetic criteria. According to him, it was a matter of a new form of reality, said to be dispersive, elliptical, errant or wavering, working in blocs, with deliberately weak connections and floating events. The real was no longer represented or reproduced but “aimed at.” Instead of representing an already deciphered real, neo-realism aimed at an always ambiguous, to be deciphered, real; this is why the sequence shot tended to replace the montage of representations. […]

[I]n Umberto D, De Sica constructs the famous sequence quoted as an example by Bazin: the young maid going into the kitchen in the morning, making a series of mechanical, weary gestures, cleaning a bit, driving the ants away from a water fountain, picking up the coffee grinder, stretching out her foot to close the door with her toe. And her eyes meet her pregnant woman’s belly, and it is as though all the misery in the world were going to be born. This is how, in an ordinary or everyday situation, in the course of a series of gestures, which are insignificant but all the more obedient to simple sensory-motor schemata, what has suddenly been brought about is a pure optical situation to which the little maid has no response or reaction. The eyes, the belly, that is what an encounter is … […] The Lonely Woman [Viaggio in ltalia] follows a female tourist struck to the core by the simple unfolding of images or visual cliches in which she discovers something unbearable, beyond the limit of what she can person- ally bear. This is a cinema of the seer and no longer of the agent.

What defines neo-realism is this build-up of purely optical situations (and sound ones, although there was no synchronized sound at the start of neo-realism), which are fundamentally distinct from the sensory-motor situations of the action-image in the old realism. […]

It is clear from the outset that cinema had a special relationship with belief. […] The modern fact is that we no longer believe in this world. We do not even believe in the events which happen to us, love, death, as if they only halfconcerned us. It is not we who make cinema; it is the world which looks to us like a bad film. […] The link between man and the world is broken. Henceforth, this link must become an object of belief: it is the impossible which can only be restored within a faith. Belief is no longer addressed to a different or transformed world. Man is in the world as if in a pure optical and sound situation.

{ Gilles Deleuze, Cinema 2, The Time-Image, 1985 | PDF, 17.2 MB }

‘The dead govern the living.’ –Auguste Comte

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Aircraft are an interesting set of examples because they’re so well studied and corrected. We don’t spend time correcting hospital mistakes with nearly the speed and detail we do aircraft accidents, for example.

It used to be that airliners broke up in the sky because of small cracks in the window frames. So we fixed that. It used to be that aircraft crashed because of outward opening doors. So we fixed that. Aircraft used to fall out of the sky from urine corrosion, so we fixed that with encapsulated plastic lavatories. […] And so we add more rules, like requiring two people in the cockpit from now on. Who knows what the mental capacity is of the flight attendant that’s now allowed in there with one pilot, or what their motives are. At some point, if we wait long enough, a flight attendant is going to take over an airplane having only to incapacitate one, not two, pilots. And so we’ll add more rules about the type of flight attendant allowed in the cockpit and on and on.

There’s a wonderful story of the five whys.

The Lincoln Memorial stonework was being damaged. Why? By cleaning spray eroding it. Why? Because it’s used to clean bird poop. So they tried killing the birds. Didn’t work. Why are the birds there? To eat insects. Let’s kill the insects! Didn’t work. Why are the insects there? Because the lights are on after dusk. So let’s just turn the lights off. That works.

{ Steve Coast | Continue reading }