ideas

‘The book creates meaning, the meaning creates life.’ ―Roland Barthes

Based on the analysis of 190 studies (17,887 participants), we estimate that the average silent reading rate for adults in English is 238 word per minute (wpm) for non-fiction and 260 wpm for fiction. The difference can be predicted by the length of the words, with longer words in non-fiction than in fiction. The estimates are lower than the numbers often cited in scientific and popular writings. […] The average oral reading rate (based on 77 studies and 5,965 participants) is 183 wpm.

{ PsyArXiv | Continue reading }

He may be very sexy, or even cute, but he looks like a sucker in a blue and red suit

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The Twelve Labours of Heracles are a series of episodes concerning a penance carried out by Heracles or Hercules, the greatest of the Greek heroes, whose name was later romanised as Hercules. They were accomplished over 12 years at the service of King Eurystheus.

[…]

Driven mad by Hera (queen of the gods), Hercules slew his son, daughter, and wife Megara. After recovering his sanity, Hercules deeply regretted his actions; he was purified by King Thespius, then traveled to Delphi to inquire how he could atone for his actions. Pythia, the Oracle of Delphi, advised him to go to Tiryns and serve his cousin King Eurystheus for twelve years, performing whatever labors Eurystheus might set him; in return, he would be rewarded with immortality.

[…]

Eurystheus originally ordered Hercules to perform ten labours. Hercules accomplished these tasks, but Eurystheus refused to recognize two: the slaying of the Lernaean Hydra, as Hercules’ nephew and charioteer Iolaus had helped him; and the cleansing of the Augeas, because Hercules accepted payment for the labour. Eurystheus set two more tasks (fetching the Golden Apples of Hesperides and capturing Cerberus), which Hercules also performed, bringing the total number of tasks to twelve.

[…]

The twelve labours:

1. Slay the Nemean lion.
2. Slay the nine-headed Lernaean Hydra.
3. Capture the Ceryneian Hind.
4. Capture the Erymanthian Boar.
5. Clean the Augean stables in a single day.
6. Slay the Stymphalian birds.
7. Capture the Cretan Bull.
8. Steal the Mares of Diomedes.
9. Obtain the girdle of Hippolyta.
10. Obtain the cattle of the monster Geryon.
11. Steal the apples of the Hesperides.
12. Capture and bring back Cerberus.

{ Wikipedia | Continue reading }

helmet, acrylic and crayon { Jean-Michel Basquiat, AARON, 1981 }

Cocaine coming out my pores in the sauna, I’m serious, man, I’m so sincere

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As we shall see, the story of the great flood and the voyage of the ark contains so many incredible “violations of the laws of nature” that it cannot possibly be accepted by any thinking person. […]

From the moment the impending storm is announced (Genesis 6:7, 13, 17) and Jehovah sets forth the design and dimensions of the ark (Genesis 6:14-16), problems start appearing. […]

The ark is to be made out of gopher wood according to a plan that calls for the ark to be three hundred cubits long, fifty cubits wide, and thirty cubits tall (450×75x45 feet, according to most creationists. See Segraves, p. 11). It is to contain three floors, a large door in the side, and a one cubit square window at the top. The floors are to be divided into rooms, and all the walls, inside and out, are to be pitched with pitch. Since the purpose of the ark is to hold animals and plants, particularly two of “every living thing of all flesh . . . to keep them alive with thee” (Genesis 6:19), it will have to be constructed accordingly.

Before he could even contemplate such a project, Noah would have needed a thorough education in naval architecture and in fields that would not arise for thousands of years such as physics, calculus, mechanics, and structural analysis. There was no shipbuilding tradition behind him, no experienced craftspeople to offer advice. Where did he learn the framing procedure for such a Brobdingnagian structure? How could he anticipate the effects of roll, pitch, yaw, and slamming in a rough sea? How did he solve the differential equations for bending moment, torque, and shear stress? […]

As if the rough construction of the ship weren’t headache enough, the internal organization had to be honed to perfection. With space at a premium every cubit had to be utilized to the maximum; there was no room for oversized cages and wasted space. The various requirements of the myriads of animals had to be taken into account in the design of their quarters, especially considering the length of the voyage. The problems are legion: feeding and watering troughs need to be the correct height for easy access but not on the floor where they will get filthy; the cages for horned animals must have bars spaced properly to prevent their horns from getting stuck, while rhinos require round “bomas” for the same reason; a heavy leather body sling is “indispensable” for transporting giraffes; primates require tamper-proof locks on their doors; perches must be the correct diameter for each particular bird’s foot (Hirst; Vincent). Even the flooring is important, for, if it is too hard, hooves may be injured, if too soft, they may grow too quickly and permanently damage ankles (Klos); rats will suffer decubitus (ulcers) with improper floors (Orlans), and ungulates must have a cleated surface or they will slip and fall (Fowler). These and countless other technical problems all had to be resolved before the first termite crawled aboard, but there were no wildlife management experts available for consultation. Even today the transport requirements of many species are not fully known, and it would be physically impossible to design a single carrier to meet them all. […]

Genetic problems […]

Marine animals […]

Having drawn up a passenger list, the next order of business is to gather them all at dockside. At this point, the creationists themselves are unable to propound any sort of scenario in which Noah and his sons could perform such a feat, so they resort to the convenient dumping ground of the inexplicable: miracles. God himself intervened by implanting in the chosen pair from each species the instinct of migration, and by this mechanism they gathered from the four corners of the world and headed for the Plains of Shinar […] However accurate their suddenly acquired instinct, for many animals it could not have been enough to overcome the geographical barriers between them and the ark. The endemic fauna of the New World, Australia, and other remote regions, as well as animals unable to survive the Near Eastern environment, would find the journey too difficult no matter how desperately they yearned to go. Flood theorists are unperturbed by such obstacles, however, for they simply gerrymander the map to give us an antediluvian world of undivided continents and a uniform, semitropical, spring-like climate.

{ Creation/Evolution Journal | Continue reading }

art { Nobuhiko Yoshida, from JCA Annual 4, 1982 }

‘The trouble with fiction is that it makes too much sense. Reality never makes sense.’ –Aldous Huxley

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Ten years after the financial dramas of Autumn 2008, I take stock of what we have learned, what we have done, and what we have yet to do if we would avoid a repeat performance.

The primary lessons I draw are that income and wealth distribution, the endogeneity of credit-money, and finance system structure all matter profoundly not only where justice, but also where systemic stability is concerned.

The longer-term tasks still before us include a much broader and financially engineered diffusion of capital ownership over our population, citizen central banking, a permanent national investment authority, continuous public open labor market operations, debt-free or low-debt education and health insurance, and an updated form of segregating capital-raising primary from asset-trading secondary markets in the financial sector.

Shorter-term tasks include debt-forgiveness, a restoration of labor rights and countercyclical progressive taxation, and restored citizen-ownership of our secondary market makers in home mortgage and higher education debt.

{ LawArXiv | Continue reading }

First, the meditator explains why he will doubt. Second, he gives an account of the way he will go about doubting. Third, he engages in the activity of doubting. Fourth and finally, he reflects on the power of habitual opinions and their tendency to resist doubt.

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GPT-2 is trained with a simple objective: predict the next word, given all of the previous words within some text. […] GPT-2 displays a broad set of capabilities, including the ability to generate conditional synthetic text samples of unprecedented quality, where we prime the model with an input and have it generate a lengthy continuation. […]

SYSTEM PROMPT (HUMAN-WRITTEN)
In a shocking finding, scientist discovered a herd of unicorns living in a remote, previously unexplored valley, in the Andes Mountains. Even more surprising to the researchers was the fact that the unicorns spoke perfect English.

MODEL COMPLETION (MACHINE-WRITTEN, 10 TRIES)
The scientist named the population, after their distinctive horn, Ovid’s Unicorn. These four-horned, silver-white unicorns were previously unknown to science. Now, after almost two centuries, the mystery of what sparked this odd phenomenon is finally solved. […] While examining these bizarre creatures the scientists discovered that the creatures also spoke some fairly regular English. Pérez stated, “We can see, for example, that they have a common ‘language,’ something like a dialect or dialectic.” Dr. Pérez believes that the unicorns may have originated in Argentina, where the animals were believed to be descendants of a lost race of people who lived there before the arrival of humans in those parts of South America.While their origins are still unclear, some believe that perhaps the creatures were created when a human and a unicorn met each other in a time before human civilization. According to Pérez, “In South America, such incidents seem to be quite common.”

{ Open AI | Continue reading }

related { The technology behind OpenAI’s fiction-writing, fake-news-spewing AI, explained }

more { Japanese scientists used A.I. to read minds + NONE of these people exist | Thanks Tim }

quote { Who is Descartes’ Evil Genius? }

‘It is only as an aesthetic phenomenon that life and existence are eternally justified.’ —Nietzsche

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Given that the fictional narratives found in novels, movies, and television shows enjoy wide public consumption, memorably convey information, minimize counter-arguing, and often emphasize politically-relevant themes, we argue that greater scholarly attention must be paid to theorizing and measuring how fiction affects political attitudes.

We argue for a genre-based approach for studying fiction effects, and apply it to the popular dystopian genre.

Results across three experiments are striking: we find consistent evidence that dystopian narratives enhance the willingness to justify radical—especially violent—forms of political action. […]

Our research not only reinforces past work showing that people often fail to distinguish between fact and fiction in learning about the world, but also illustrates that the lessons of fiction may not be what they seem. […] Rather than creating political cynicism in readers and viewers or showing them that girls can be powerful too—both lessons that are at this point probably amply supplied by the American news media and lived experience—dystopian fiction seems to be teaching them a more subtle and perhaps more concerning message: that violence and illegal activities may be both legitimate and necessary to pursue justice. Dystopian fiction appears to subtly expand the political imagination of viewers and readers to encompass a range of scenarios outside the normal realm of democratic politics, and what people then consider reasonable and thinkable appears to expand accordingly.

These results should also highlight the peril for political scientists in assuming that fiction is just entertainment. The stories we tell ourselves have profound implications for how we think about political ethics and political possibilities, and as scholars of politics, we can and should do more to map out the effects of politically-inflected fiction and entertainment.

{ Cambridge Core | Continue reading }

still { Harriet Andersson in Ingmar Bergman’s Summer with Monika, 1953 }

You got a question, you ask the 8 ball

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One of the curious features of language is that it varies from one place to another.

Even among speakers of the same language, regional variations are common, and the divide between these regions can be surprisingly sharp. […]

For example, the term “you guys” is used most often in the northern parts of the US, while “y’all” is used more in the south.

{ Technology Review | Continue reading }

We are condemned to an observer role in our own nightly dreams, which excludes any possibility of looking forward or backward in time

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Let us consider a counterfactual history in which Szilard invents nuclear fission and realizes that a nuclear bomb could be made with a piece of glass, a metal object, and a battery arranged in a particular configuration. What happens next? Szilard becomes gravely concerned. He sees that his discovery must be kept secret at all costs. But how? His insight is bound to occur to others. He could talk to a few of his physicist friends, the ones most likely to stumble upon the idea, and try to persuade them not to publish anything on nuclear chain reactions or on any of the reasoning steps leading up to the dangerous discovery. (That is what Szilard did in actual history.)

Here Szilard faces a dilemma: either he doesn’t explain the dangerous discovery, but then he will not be effective in persuading many of his colleagues to stop publishing; or he tells them the reason for his concern, but then he spreads the dangerous knowledge further. Either way he is fighting a losing battle. The general advance of scientific knowledge will eventually make the dangerous insight more accessible. Soon, figuring out how to initiate a nuclear chain reaction with pieces of metal, glass, and electricity will no longer take genius but will be within reach of any STEM student with an inventive mindset.

The situation looks hopeless, but Szilard does not give up. He decides to take a friend into his confidence, a friend who is also the world’s most famous scientist—Albert Einstein. He successfully persuades Einstein of the danger (again following actual history). Now Szilard has the support of a man who can get him a hearing with any government. The two write a letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. After some committee wranglings and report-writing, the top levels of the U.S. government are eventually sufficiently convinced to be ready to take serious action.

What the U.S. government did, after having digested the information provided by Einstein and Szilard, […] was to launch the Manhattan Project in order to weaponize nuclear fission as quickly as possible. […]

But how would things have played out if there had been an easy way to make nukes? Maybe Szilard and Einstein could persuade the U.S. government to ban all research in nuclear physics (outside high-security government facilities)? […] Let us suppose that President Roosevelt could somehow mobilize enough political support to drive through a ban, and that the U.S. Supreme Court could somehow find a way of regarding it as constitutionally valid. We then confront an array of formidable practical difficulties. All university physics departments would have to be closed, and security checks initiated. A large number of faculty and students would be forced out. Intense speculations would swirl concerning the reason for all these heavy-handed measures. Groups of physics PhD students and faculty banned from their research field would sit around and speculate about what the secret danger might be. Some of them would figure it out. And among those who figured it out, some would feel compelled to use the knowledge to impress their colleagues; and those colleagues would want to tell yet others, to show they were in the know. Alternatively, somebody who opposed the ban would unilaterally decide to publish the secret, maybe in order to support their view that the ban is ineffective or that the benefits of publication outweigh the risks. […] Even if, by some miracle, the secret never leaked in the United States, scientists in other countries would independently discover it, thereby multiplying the sources from which it could spread. […]

An alternative approach would be to eliminate all glass, metal, or sources of electrical current. Given the ubiquity of these materials, such an undertaking would be extremely daunting. […] Metal use is almost synonymous with civilization, and would not be a realistic target for elimination. Glass production could be banned, and existing glass panes confiscated; but pieces of glass would remain scattered across the landscape for a long time. Batteries and magnets could be seized, though some people would have stashed away these materials before they could be collected by the authorities. […]

We now know that one cannot trigger a nuclear explosion with just a sheet of glass, some metal, and a battery. Making an atomic bomb requires several kilograms of fissile material, which is difficult to produce. We pulled out a grey ball that time. Yet with each act of invention, we reach into the urn anew.

Let us introduce the hypothesis that the urn of creativity contains at least one black ball. We can refer to this as the vulnerable world hypothesis . Intuitively, the hypothesis is that there is some level of technology at which civilization almost certainly gets destroyed unless quite extraordinary and historically unprecedented degrees of preventive policing and/or global governance are implemented.

{ Nick Bostrom | PDF }

related { Nick Bostrom on the Great Filter | PDF }

Too much thinking leads to bad choices

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Achieving most goals in everyday life requires persistence. Despite an abundance of relevant theoretical and empirical work, no theory details the universal causes of persistence (and non-persistence) across all goal types and settings. To address this gap in the literature, we introduce the Continuing and Returning Model of persistence. […]

[T]he goals that people pursue in daily life are varied and complex. These goals may be concrete or abstract, short-term or of indefinite length. They vary in difficulty, importance, and in how they work with or against other goals that a person holds. Some goals are intended to be started and finished in one continuous episode, but other goals are episodic, meaning that pursuit occurs across multiple episodes. People’s most important goals (the ones that they most want to accomplish) are typically not achieved in one episode of pursuit.

Everyday goals can be episodic for many reasons. Goals can be episodic by their nature (e.g., “write daily”), but more often they are episodic by choice. Breaking a goal into smaller tasks can be beneficial, as can taking breaks to rest and recover. People manage many goals in daily life and minimally have goals to eat, sleep, and maintain their social relationships. People often cannot focus on one goal at a time; instead, they manage multiple goals, allocating their time and attention among competing behavioral choice options. Thus, factors unrelated to focal goals can affect their persistence. Even goals intended to be pursued in one continuous episode (e.g., writing an email) are often deliberately stopped or interrupted by factors unrelated to someone’s motivation for the focal goal such scheduled events, other prioritized goals, and extraneous thoughts. The potentially episodic nature of everyday goal pursuit and the fact that everyday persistence can be influenced by factors external to the goal has implications for how and why persistence occurs and fails to occur. […]

In contrast to the intuitive notion that persistence is inherently good and reflective of commitment to the focal goal or to one’s personal character, the Continuing and Returning Model depicts persistence as goal pursuit process that is dynamic, multiply determined, and separable from goal attainment and other metrics of success. Persistence is not a binary behavior but rather a process that is affected by many factors. Furthermore, persistence is not always adaptive. Indeed, sometimes persistence reflects inefficient goal pursuit. Similarly, non- persistence isn’t always maladaptive. People who stop pursuing a goal are often prioritizing or accommodating other important goals, people, or events.

{ PsyArXiv | Continue reading }

related { How The Brain Switches Between Different Sets Of Rules }

oil on wood panel { Leonardo da Vinci, Lady with an Ermine, 1488-1490 }

Limits of the diaphane. But he adds: in bodies.

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The ship of Theseus is a thought experiment that raises the question of whether a ship that has had all of its components replaced remains fundamentally the same object.

Suppose that the famous ship sailed by the hero Theseus in a great battle has been kept in a harbour as a museum piece. As the years go by some of the wooden parts begin to rot and are replaced by new ones. After a century or so, all of the parts have been replaced. Is the “restored” ship still the same object as the original?

{ Wikipedia | Continue reading }

Does the Human Body Really Replace Itself Every 7 Years?

Recent research has confirmed that different tissues in the body replace cells at different rates, and some tissues never replace cells. So the statement that we replace every cell in the body every seven years or every ten years is wrong. […]

Neurons in the cerebral cortex are never replaced.

Fat cells are replaced at the rate of about 10% per year in adults. […]

Cardiomyocyte cells [muscle cells of the heart] are replaced at a reducing rate as we age. At age 25, about 1% of cells are replaced every year. Replacement slows gradually to about 0.5% at age 70. Even in people who have lived a very long life, less than half of the cardiomyocyte cells have been replaced. Those that aren’t replaced have been there since birth.

{ Ask a Naturalist | Continue reading }

Your lungs are six weeks old - and your taste buds just ten days! […]

Liver cells only have a life span of around 150 days. […] “I can take 70 per cent of a person’s liver away in an operation and around 90 per cent of it will grow back within two months,” explains David Lloyd, consultant liver surgeon at Leicester Royal Infirmary. […]

Your eyes are one of the few body parts that don’t really change during your life. The only part that is constantly being renewed is the cornea, the transparent top layer.

{ Daily Mail | Continue reading }

A collection of the replacement rates of different cells in our body:

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[…]

We note that hair elongates at about 1 cm per month while fingernails grow at about 0.3 cm per month, which is about the same speed as the continental spreading in plate tectonics that increases the distance between North America and Europe.

{ Cell Biology by the Numbers | Continue reading }

For decades, scientists believed that neurogenesis—the creation of new neurons—whirs along nicely in the brains of embryos and infants, but grinds to a halt by adulthood. But from the 1980s onward, this dogma started to falter. Researchers showed that neurogenesis does occur in the brains of various adult animals, and eventually found signs of newly formed neurons in the adult human brain. Hundreds of these cells are supposedly added every day to the hippocampus—a comma-shaped structure involved in learning and memory. The concept of adult neurogenesis is now so widely accepted that you can find diets and exercise regimens that purportedly boost it.

The trouble is: This stream of fresh neurons might not actually exist.

In a new study, and one of the biggest yet, a team led by Arturo Alvarez-Buylla at the University of California at San Francisco completely failed to find any trace of young neurons in dozens of hippocampus samples, collected from adult humans.

{ The Atlantic, March 2018 | Continue reading }

People as old as 79 may still generate new brain cells, US researchers said Thursday. […] Using autopsied brain samples from 28 people who died suddenly between the ages of 14-79, researchers looked at “newly formed neurons and the state of blood vessels within the entire human hippocampus soon after death.” […]

A study last month led by Arturo Alvarez-Buylla of the University of California in San Francisco found the opposite, however.

{ Medical Express, April 2018 | Continue reading }

The generation of cells in the human body has been difficult to study, and our understanding of cell turnover is limited. Testing of nuclear weapons resulted in a dramatic global increase in the levels of the isotope 14C in the atmosphere, followed by an exponential decrease after 1963.

We show that the level of 14C in genomic DNA closely parallels atmospheric levels and can be used to establish the time point when the DNA was synthesized and cells were born. We use this strategy to determine the age of cells in the cortex of the adult human brain and show that whereas nonneuronal cells are exchanged, occipital neurons are as old as the individual, supporting the view that postnatal neurogenesis does not take place in this region.

{ Cell | PDF }

If the cells of our skin are replaced regularly, why do scars and tattoos persist indefinitely?

The cells in the superficial or upper layers of skin, known as the epidermis, are constantly replacing themselves. This process of renewal is basically exfoliation (shedding) of the epidermis. But the deeper layers of skin, called the dermis, do not go through this cellular turnover and so do not replace themselves. Thus, foreign bodies, such as tattoo dyes, implanted in the dermis will remain.

{ Scientific American | PDF }

inkjet and acrylic on canvas { imp kerr (b.1980), not confirmed as alive, 59th st, nyc, 1977, 2018 }

This is being marketed as “psychedelic soul,” and while it has some rock trappings, I’m having a hard time finding the psych in this

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a lot of luck comes from doing things that are interesting, and sort of creating your own luck

{ Eric Schmidt | Continue reading }

image { Bill Arsenault, Nonplussed Some Some More exhibition poster, 1969 }

The winner takes it all

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People often conduct visual searches in which multiple targets are possible (e.g., medical x-rays can contain multiple abnormalities). In this type of search, observers are more likely to miss a second target after having found a first one.

{ PsyArXiv | Continue reading }

The streetlight effect, or the drunkard’s search principle, is a type of observational bias that occurs when people only search for something where it is easiest to look.

{ Wikipedia | Continue reading }

Modern scientific instruments can extensively process “observations” before they are presented to the human senses, and particularly with computerized instruments, there is sometimes a question as to where in the data processing chain “observing” ends and “drawing conclusions” begins. This has recently become an issue with digitally enhanced images published as experimental data in papers in scientific journals. The images are enhanced to bring out features that the researcher wants to emphasize, but this also has the effect of supporting the researcher’s conclusions.

{ Wikipedia | Continue reading }

related { Errors/Biases in Clinical Decision Making }

photo { Richard Avedon, Christy Turlington for Revlon, 1990 }