The root of suffering is attachment


In 1734, in scotland, a 23-year-old was falling apart.

As a teenager, he’d thought he had glimpsed a new way of thinking and living, and ever since, he’d been trying to work it out and convey it to others in a great book. The effort was literally driving him mad. His heart raced and his stomach churned. He couldn’t concentrate. Most of all, he just couldn’t get himself to write his book. His doctors diagnosed vapors, weak spirits, and “the Disease of the Learned.” Today, with different terminology but no more insight, we would say he was suffering from anxiety and depression. […]

The young man’s name was David Hume. Somehow, during the next three years, he managed not only to recover but also, remarkably, to write his book. Even more remarkably, it turned out to be one of the greatest books in the history of philosophy: A Treatise of Human Nature.

In his Treatise, Hume rejected the traditional religious and philosophical accounts of human nature. Instead, he took Newton as a model and announced a new science of the mind, based on observation and experiment. That new science led him to radical new conclusions. He argued that there was no soul, no coherent self, no “I.” “When I enter most intimately into what I call myself,” he wrote in the Treatise, “I always stumble on some particular perception or other, of heat or cold, light or shade, love or hatred, pain or pleasure. I never can catch myself at any time without a perception, and never can observe any thing but the perception.” […]

Until Hume, philosophers had searched for metaphysical foundations supporting our ordinary experience, an omnipotent God or a transcendent reality outside our minds. But Hume undermined all that. When you really look hard at everything we think we know, he argued, the foundations crumble. […]

Ultimately, the metaphysical foundations don’t matter. Experience is enough all by itself. What do you lose when you give up God or “reality” or even “I”? The moon is still just as bright; you can still predict that a falling glass will break, and you can still act to catch it; you can still feel compassion for the suffering of others. Science and work and morality remain intact. Go back to your backgammon game after your skeptical crisis, Hume wrote, and it will be exactly the same game. […]

That sure sounded like Buddhist philosophy to me—except, of course, that Hume couldn’t have known anything about Buddhist philosophy.

Or could he have?

{ The Atlantic | Continue reading }

related { Neuroscience backs up the Buddhist belief  that “the self” isn’t constant, but ever-changing }

photo { Rodney Smith }

And you, who swell those seeds with kindly rain

{ Adam Purple, Legendary Guerrilla Gardener, Died Monday }

The face forgives the mirror


Today, of course everybody knows that “Hardball,” “Rivera Live” and similar shows are nothing but a steady stream of guesses about the future. The Sunday morning talk shows are pure speculation. They have to be. Everybody knows there’s no news on Sunday.

But television is entertainment. Let’s look at the so-called serious media. For example, here is The New York Times for March 6, the day Dick Farson told me I was giving this talk. The column one story for that day concerns Bush’s tariffs on imported steel. Now we read: Mr. Bush’s action “is likely to send the price of steel up sharply, perhaps as much as ten percent…” American consumers “will ultimately bear” higher prices. America’s allies “would almost certainly challenge” the decision. Their legal case “could take years to litigate in Geneva, is likely to hinge” on thus and such.

Also note the vague and hidden speculation. The Allies’ challenge would be “setting the stage for a major trade fight with many of the same countries Mr. Bush is trying to hold together in the fractious coalition against terrorism.” In other words, the story speculates that tariffs may rebound against the fight against terrorism.

By now, under the Faludi Standard I have firmly established that media are hopelessly riddled with speculation, and we can go on to consider its ramifications.

You may read this tariff story and think, what’s the big deal? The story’s not bad. Isn’t it reasonable to talk about effects of current events in this way? I answer, absolutely not. Such speculation is a complete waste of time. It’s useless. It’s bullshit on the front page of the Times.

The reason why it is useless, of course, is that nobody knows what the future holds.

Do we all agree that nobody knows what the future holds? Or do I have to prove it to you? I ask this because there are some well-studied media effects which suggest that simply appearing in media provides credibility. There was a well-known series of excellent studies by Stanford researchers that have shown, for example, that children take media literally. If you show them a bag of popcorn on a television set and ask them what will happen if you turn the TV upside down, the children say the popcorn will fall out of the bag. This result would be amusing if it were confined to children. But the studies show that no one is exempt. All human beings are subject to this media effect, including those of us who think we are self-aware and hip and knowledgeable.

Media carries with it a credibility that is totally undeserved. You have all experienced this, in what I call the Murray Gell-Mann Amnesia effect. […]

Briefly stated, the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect is as follows. You open the newspaper to an article on some subject you know well. In Murray’s case, physics. In mine, show business. You read the article and see the journalist has absolutely no understanding of either the facts or the issues. Often, the article is so wrong it actually presents the story backward—reversing cause and effect. I call these the “wet streets cause rain” stories. Paper’s full of them.

In any case, you read with exasperation or amusement the multiple errors in a story, and then turn the page to national or international affairs, and read as if the rest of the newspaper was somehow more accurate about Palestine than the baloney you just read. You turn the page, and forget what you know.

That is the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect. I’d point out it does not operate in other arenas of life. In ordinary life, if somebody consistently exaggerates or lies to you, you soon discount everything they say. In court, there is the legal doctrine of falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus, which means untruthful in one part, untruthful in all. But when it comes to the media, we believe against evidence that it is probably worth our time to read other parts of the paper.

{ Michael Crichton | Continue reading }

Blackjack Ruby and Nimrod Cain, the moon is the color of a coffee stain


Sensitive new telescopes now permit astronomers to detect the waste heat that is expected to be a signature of advanced alien civilisations that can harness enormous energies on the scale of the stellar output of their own galaxy. Professor Michael Garrett has used radio observations of candidate galaxies to show that such advanced civilisations are very rare or entirely absent from the local Universe.

{ Astron | Continue reading }

Prank your future self by wasting your life


Health has been identified as an important variable involved in mate choice. Unhealthy organisms are generally less able to provide reproductively important resources to partners and offspring and are more likely to pass on communicable disease.

Research on human mate preferences has shown that both men and women prefer healthy mates. Yet to date, little research has examined how health relates to one’s own mating experiences. In the present study, 164 participants (87 women) who were currently in heterosexual romantic relationships completed measures of frequency and severity of health problems, anticipated partner infidelity, and intensity of jealousy felt in their current relationship. […]

[I]ndividuals who believe they are in poor health are also likely to perceive themselves to be at a mating disadvantage. Results indicated that self-reported poor health, in terms of both frequency and severity of health symptoms, predicted a greater perception that one’s partner would commit an infidelity as well as increased romantic jealousy. Anticipated partner infidelity mediated the links between health problems and jealousy, suggesting that unhealthy individuals perceive their partners as being more likely to mate with an intrasexual (same-sex) rival, in turn facilitating jealousy.

{ Evolutionary Psychology | PDF }

(A firm heelclacking is heard on the stairs.)


The ratio between the body circumference at the waist and the hips (or WHR) is a secondary sexual trait that is unique to humans and is well known to influence men’s mate preferences. Because a woman’s WHR also provides information about her age, health and fertility, men’s preference concerning this physical feature may possibly be a cognitive adaptation selected in the human lineage. […]

We analyzed the WHR of women considered as ideally beautiful who were depicted in western artworks from 500 BCE to the present. These vestiges of the past feminine ideal were then compared to more recent symbols of beauty: Playboy models and winners of several Miss pageants from 1920 to 2014. We found that the ideal WHR has changed over time in western societies: it was constant during almost a millennium in antiquity (from 500 BCE to 400 CE) and has decreased from the 15th century to the present. Then, based on Playboy models and Miss pageants winners, this decrease appears to slow down or even reverse during the second half of the 20th century.

The universality of an ideal WHR is thus challenged, and historical changes in western societies could have caused these variations in men’s preferences.

{ PLOS | Continue reading }

Every day, the same, again

33.jpgMIT graduate skips shower for 12 years, uses bacterial spray to keep clean

Robot applyed for Screen Actors Guild card. Acceptance into SAG would give the robot health insurance and a pension.

Homeopathy conference ends in chaos after delegates take hallucinogenic drug

Most acts of aggression by toddlers are unprovoked

Separate brain systems process the consequences of our decisions

People are not generally great at detecting deception, but new research shows that discussing with others makes a big difference.

Between 1999 and 2009, the French Full Scale IQ declined by 3.8 points. Results are inline with 7 studies showing a Negative Flynn Effect in Europe.

Google to Start Testing Grocery Deliveries This Year

Mediterranean Diet Plus Olive Oil Associated with Reduced Breast Cancer Risk

You should never let people work on more than one thing at once

a gene—called DEC2—associated with people who can get away with less than six hours of sleep without any adverse health effects

Why you should never make your bed

He doesn’t think any artist since Francis Bacon had pushed art forward. The last notable artists were Lucio Fontana and Yves Klein, he said.

Mysterious, blood-sucking fish fall from the Alaskan sky

Tug Toner [Thanks GG]

It’s a great thing when you realize you still have the ability to surprise yourself


A new study from Duke University finds that adolescents ages 10 to 16 can be more analytical in their economic choices than many slightly older young adults. […]

Scott Huettel, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke: “The new results point to the idea that we should not think of adolescents as being irrational. What’s different about them is they don’t use simple rules as effectively.”

Such simple rules are the mental shortcuts people take in decision-making—often to their benefit—as they age and gain more experience. Most adults apply the “don’t drink and drive” rule, for example, to avoid getting in a car with someone who’s been drinking. In contrast, teens may more carefully weigh this decision.

“Adolescents are going to be more likely to use cost-benefit analysis than the (simple rules) that adults use.” […]

Other research has shown that adolescents aren’t necessarily more risk-seeking but that they are more sensitive to good outcomes compared with adults.

{ Science Beta | Continue reading }

photo { Vasantha Yogananthan }

‘Every word is a prejudice.’ –Nietzsche


In daily life, we frequently encounter false claims in the form of consumer advertisements, political propaganda, and rumors. Repetition may be one way that insidious misconceptions, such as the belief that vitamin C prevents the common cold, enter our knowledge base. Research on the illusory truth effect demonstrates that repeated statements are easier to process, and subsequently perceived to be more truthful, than new statements.

The prevailing assumption in the literature has been that knowledge constrains this effect (i.e., repeating the statement “The Atlantic Ocean is the largest ocean on Earth” will not make you believe it). We tested this assumption. […]

Contrary to prior suppositions, illusory truth effects occurred even when participants knew better. […] Participants demonstrated knowledge neglect, or the failure to rely on stored knowledge, in the face of fluent processing experiences.

{ Journal of Experimental Psychology | Continue reading }

Forever 21


Animals eject fluids for waste elimination, communication, and defense from predators. These diverse systems all rely on the fundamental principles of fluid mechanics, which we use to predict urination duration across a wide range of mammals. […]

Using high-speed videography and flow-rate measurement obtained at Zoo Atlanta, we discover that all mammals above 3 kg in weight empty their bladders over nearly constant duration of 21 s. […]

Smaller mammals are challenged during urination by high viscous and capillary forces that limit their urine to single drops.

{ PNAS | Continue reading }

collage { imp kerr }

Every day, the same, again

3.jpgScientists say they’ve found a way to slow ice cream’s melting

In this study, 100 percent of the participants remained HIV-free.

Scientists have pinpointed a population of neurons in the brain that influences whether one drink leads to two

Distillery that sent unmatured malt whisky into space to study the effect of near-zero gravity on flavour has described its findings as “groundbreaking”

How to get rid of a satellite after its retirement

The US Navy is working on AI that can predict a pirate attack

Forget body language or eye movements. There are much better ways to detect lies

Queuing on the basis of last-come-first-served may sometimes be more efficient

What’s the best length for online news videos? People liked longer videos better than shorter ones. Long videos averaged 2.08 minutes in duration. Short videos averaged 24 seconds.

If we think that the world of the future will be largely dominated by America and China, then this kind of English-Chinese bilingualism could become much, much more common. Is Singapore the future of language?

Angola was the most difficult of all the countries I visited. Man who traveled to every country on earth explains the most difficult places to visit

Here’s a mystery: below 8,400 meters there are no fish. At 8,370 meters? There are fish.


Das Medusenhaupt


After London’s 2011 riots, the superrecognizers combed through thousands of hours of footage; Collins alone identified an incredible 190 faces among the rioters. Today, Neville heads London’s central forensic image team, which has tested thousands of police officers and identified 152 super-recognizers. These face-spotting stars normally work in their local stations, building up a mental library of the area’s criminals, and periodically attach to New Scotland Yard to solve crimes.

{ National Geographic | Continue reading }