One Against All

18 October 2016

What great overarching “thingness” is devouring all diversity?

I really began reflecting on this after reading a passage from one of Robert Bringhurst‘s talks (from the collection the Tree of Meaning):

The European colonists’ arrival in the New World marks the escalation of a war that had been fought in Europe and Asia for more than two millennia and continues even now. It is the war between those who think they belong to the world, and those who think that the world belongs to them. It is the war between the pagans, who know they are surrounded and outnumbered by the gods, and all the devotees of the number one – one empire, one history, one market, or one God – and who nowadays insist on the preeminence of everyone for himself: the smallest number one of all.

Read the rest of this entry »

Intelligence in the Flesh

17 October 2016

Embodied cognition – the emergent mind

Intelligence in the Flesh by Guy Claxton

1 – Limbering Up – an Introduction

At the heart of this book is an argument: that we neglect our bodies because we underestimate their intelligence. The problem is not that we have become ‘lazy’, or devoid of ‘willpower’. It is a matter of assumptions and values. Read the rest of this entry »

Maps of the Universe

14 October 2016

Abysses beyond imagination… and beyond.

One of my great discoveries on the early Internet was the amount of information about the Milky Way. I hadn’t come across anything that really described its size, behaviour, composition, and our place in all of that. However, back about 2005 or so, I devoured information about it, and as I did so, more and more new discoveries were made.

I recently discovered this love site, Pics About Space, where much of what I had been learning has been visualized. Now that we have 1-2 trillion galaxies in mind, I look forward to new images.

It’s Full of Stars

13 October 2016

The more we know, the more we know we don’t know, y’know?

Apparently, a census of the visible universe has been collated, tabulated, and our earlier estimates of the number of galaxies was off. A bit.

via Gizmodo:

The observable universe—that is, the part of the universe that’s visible to us on Earth—contains 10 to 20 times as many galaxies than previous estimates. That raises the total to somewhere between one and two trillion galaxies, which is up from the previous best estimate of 100 billion galaxies. Consequently, this means we also have to update the number of stars in the observable universe, which now numbers around 700 sextillion (that’s a 7 with 23 zeros behind it, or 700 thousand billion billion).

Here’s a now under-dense image of the galaxies (Southern skies btw) mapped out prior to this new estimate:

Why Everybody’s More Crazier

12 October 2016

or, how our global economics contributes to the spread of mental illness

image by Derek Hess

from the Article over at the Guardian:

What greater indictment of a system could there be than an epidemic of mental illness? Yet plagues of anxiety, stress, depression, social phobia, eating disorders, self-harm and loneliness now strike people down all over the world. The latest, catastrophic figures for children’s mental health in England reflect a global crisis.

There are plenty of secondary reasons for this distress, but it seems to me that the underlying cause is everywhere the same: human beings, the ultrasocial mammals, whose brains are wired to respond to other people, are being peeled apart. Economic and technological change play a major role, but so does ideology. Though our wellbeing is inextricably linked to the lives of others, everywhere we are told that we will prosper through competitive self-interest and extreme individualism. Read the rest of this entry »

Reasons to Learn a New Language

10 October 2016

John McWhorter’s TED Talk

Although, I have to say I don’t completely agree with some of his assertions, I completely agree that the more languages one knows, the better we all are.

I think there are a lot of reasons, but I first want to address the one that you’re probably most likely to have heard of, because actually it’s more dangerous than you might think. And that is the idea that a language channels your thoughts, that the vocabulary and the grammar of different languages gives everybody a different kind of acid trip, so to speak. That is a marvelously enticing idea, but it’s kind of fraught.

He uses the word “fraught”  a couple of times to describe the scenario, but I’m not entirely clear on what he means. I’m not convinced by his dismissal of the influence that different languages have on our way of experiencing the world. In Russian (IIRC), there are two separate words for hues of colour that English would refer to as green. As a result of the linguistic distinction, speakers of the language have a better developed visual means of discerning between shades of green that speakers of languages that made no such distinction.

In many languages, there are singular words for a large number of relatives, such that it would be impossible to speak the language in any natural way without knowing where the interlocutor fits in their family, and into larger society. This is something else we don’t do in English. Cousin, Aunt, Uncle cover a lot of relations that would have numerous terms to discern maternal or paternal relatives, their generation, and such like.

I’m discovering more and more how languages such as Kanien’kéha (Mohawk) are mostly made up of verbs that are altered using prefixes, suffixes, affixes and such. It makes for a much more dynamic and engaged world when one can only refer to it in terms of verbs.

And languages, in the end, are ultimately about the sound that is produced, whether through listening to a speaker, or hearing the inner narration of printed words, or imagined conversation, and the sound of each language carries something different with it. I heard a conversation in passing between two gentlemen. They spoke in English with very different accents. One spoke very nasally with clipped vowels, the other spoke with deep rich vowels. They were having a laugh about something.

McWhorter goes on to list his four reasons:

One [reason] is that if you want to imbibe a culture, if you want to drink it in, if you want to become part of it, …you have to control to some degree the language that the culture happens to be conducted in.

He further points out that learning to express oneself in a second language requires a means of mastering a certain level of versatility. If you only know the rudiments, then you come off sounding wooden, and your expression is very limited. To learn a language, really learn it.

Second reason: it’s been shown that if you speak two languages, dementia is less likely to set in…

Addressed in an earlier post the Golden Age of Golden Years

And then, third — languages are just an awful lot of fun.

Yes. Yes they are.

[Fourth,] we live in an era when it’s never been easier to teach yourself another language… Couldn’t have done it 20 years ago when the idea of having any language you wanted in your pocket, coming from your phone, would have sounded like science fiction

While this is true, he makes the assumption that we all have easy access to smart phones, apps, etc. I’ve found a great language learning method in the book Fluent Forever by Gabriel Wyner. It’s a flashcard system that schedules practice to get the words/grammar/etc into long term memory without spending a lot of time doing repetitious exercises that play in the short-term. There’s a Fluent Forever web site with some resources. And check out anki, the digital scheduled recall system (ie a flashcard tool).

More Details about CRISPR

9 October 2016

New gene-modifying technology powerful yet misunderstood

See: CRISPR human trials to begin

In the talk, Ellen Jourgensen clarifies the way CRISPR works and is used by professionals, which helps to cut through the distortion of public voices and widespread platforms from which to spread part of the greater whole with little context.

Despite this, Ellen Jorgensen, doesn’t address my chief concerns, which is with the safeguards against abuses. Unfortunately, this wasn’t her chief aim the talk, however, she does mention in passing:

This type of science is moving much faster than the regulatory mechanisms that govern it.

Which was true of firearms, automobiles, and drones as well. They were regulated after they had been in use. CRISPR isn’t the only new technology that has evolved faster than the means of evaluating the best means of safeguard. Should research be backlogged until properly assessed? Does this not put lives at risk over bureaucratic pacing?

I don’t have a solution to offer, however, given the risks (which I’m not qualified to define or measure) which strike me as dire, would it not do us better to err on the side of caution?

As with so much of our current research, how much of it is serving our pragmatic needs, and how much serves other, less radical urges? An example in the talk that struck me were modelling diseases, however, what Ellen Jorgensen claimed she was approached with were requests from people who wanted to edit their own genome.

I’m just not sure what to think.