Friday, July 31, 2015

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Quote of the Day

The problem with today’s world is that everyone believes they have the right to express their opinion AND have others listen to it.

The correct statement of individual rights is that everyone has the right to an opinion, but crucially, that opinion can be roundly ignored and even made fun of, particularly if it is demonstrably nonsense!.

- Brian Cox

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Quote of the Day

Any idiot can face a crisis; it's this day-to-day living that wears you out.

- Anton Chekhov

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Quote of the Day

My message, especially to young people is to have courage to think differently, courage to invent, to travel the unexplored path, courage to discover the impossible and to conquer the problems and succeed. These are great qualities that they must work towards. This is my message to the young people.

A. P. J. Abdul Kalam

Monday, July 27, 2015

Good Bye APJ Abdul Kalam

Popularly called the “Missile Man” of India, Dr APJ Abdul Kalam rose from humble beginnings and earned the reputation of being the “people’s President” who endeared himself to all all sections, especially the young.

A devout Muslim and son of a boatowner, Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam, who assumed office as the 11th President on July 18, 2002, was seen as a figurehead who could help heal some of the scars of the communal riots which broke out in Gujarat just a few months before.

The country’s first bachelor President, Kalam, whose flowing grey hair is seen as being at odds with what Indians thought a president ought to look like, was one amongst the most respected people of the country who contributed immensely both as a scientist and as a president.

Acknowledged as the driving force behind India’s quest for cutting-edge defence technologies, Kalam’s contributions to India’s satellite programmes, guided and ballistic missiles project, nuclear weapons programme and the Light Combat Aircraft(LCA) project made him a household name.

- More Here

Andrew's 1989 Essay That Started It All

Legalizing gay marriage would offer homosexuals the same deal society now offers heterosexuals: general social approval and specific legal advantages in exchange for a deeper and harder-to-extract-yourself from commitment to another human being. Like straight marriage, it would foster social cohesion, emotional security, and economic prudence. Since there’s no reason gays should not be allowed to adopt or be foster parents, it could also help nurture children. And its introduction would not be some sort of radical break with social custom. As it has become more acceptable for gay people to acknowledge their loves publicly, more and more have committed themselves to one another for life in full view of their families and their friends, A law institutionalizing gay marriage would merely reinforce a healthy social trend. It would also, in the wake of AIDS, qualify as a genuine public health measure. Those conservatives who deplore promiscuity among some homosexuals should be among the first to support it. Burke could have written a powerful case for it.

The argument that gay marriage would subtly undermine the unique legitimacy of straight marriage is based upon a fallacy. For heterosexuals, straight marriage would remain the most significant—and only legal—social bond. Gay marriage could only delegitimize straight marriage if it were a real alternative to it, and this is clearly not true. To put it bluntly, there’s precious little evidence that straights could be persuaded by any law to have sex with—let alone marry—someone of their own sex. The only possible effect of this sort would be to persuade gay men and women who force themselves into heterosexual marriage (often at appalling cost to themselves and their families) to find a focus for their family instincts in a more personally positive environment. But this is clearly a plus, not a minus: Gay marriage could both avoid a lot of tortured families and create the possibility for many happier ones. It is not, in short, a denial of family values. It’s an extension of them.

Of course, some would claim that any legal recognition of homosexuality is a de facto attack upon heterosexuality. But even the most hardened conservatives recognize that gays are a permanent minority and aren’t likely to go away. Since persecution is not an option in a civilized society, why not coax gays into traditional values rather than rail incoherently against them?

- That was Andrew Sullivan's eloquence in 1989 which started the "new" thinking amongst homo sapiens and here's Andrew's reflections now after his dream became a reality within his lifetime.

I think of the gay kids in the future who, when they figure out they are different, will never know the deep psychic wound my generation—and every one before mine—lived through: the pain of knowing they could never be fully part of their own family, never be fully a citizen of their own country. I think, more acutely, of the decades and centuries of human shame and darkness and waste and terror that defined gay people’s lives for so long. And I think of all those who supported this movement who never lived to see this day; who died in the ashes from which this phoenix of a movement emerged. This momentous achievement is their victory too—for marriage, as Kennedy argued, endures past death.

Quote of the Day

First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they attack you. Then you win.

- Gandhi

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Universities Are Increasingly Using Personal Data to Predict Performance.

Behind the innovation is Peter Scott, a cognitive scientist whose “knowledge media institute” on the OU’s Milton Keynes campus is reminiscent of Q’s gadget laboratory in the James Bond films. His workspace is surrounded by robotic figurines and prototypes for new learning aids. But his real enthusiasm is for the use of data to improve a student’s experience. Scott, 53, who wears a vivid purple shirt with his suit, says retailers already analyse customer information in order to tempt buyers with future deals, and argues this is no different. “At a university, we can do some of those same things — not so much to sell our students something but to help them head in the right direction.”

Made possible by the increasing digitisation of education on to tablets and smartphones, such intensive surveillance is on the rise. In the US, the concept has progressed even further: two years ago, an Ivy League institution, Dartmouth College, trialled an app installed on students’ mobile phones which tracks how long they spend working, socialising, exercising and sleeping. GPS technology follows their locations around campus to work out their activities, while a listening function tunes into the noise level around the phone to detect whether its owner is conversing or sleeping. Once analysed by the lab, the information is used to understand how behaviour affects grades, and to tailor feedback on how students can improve their results.

The justification for gathering such large volumes of personal data are that this will help students get the most from the investment they are making in their education. As the UK’s £9,000-a-year tuition fees begin to catch up with average annual course charges of £17,500 in the US, university attendees on both sides of the Atlantic are under financial and academic pressure to do well and complete their degrees.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

Superstar lawyers and math whizzes and software entrepreneurs appear at first blush to lie outside ordinary experience. But they don't. They are products of history and community, of opportunity and legacy. Their success is not exceptional or mysterious. It is grounded in a web of advantages and inheritances, some deserved, some not, some earned, some just plain lucky - but all critical to making them who they are. The outlier, in the end, is not an outlier at all.

- Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers: The Story of Success 

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Wisdom Of The Week

Taleb never ceases to fascinate me; around 42 to 52 minutes in the Q&A session he covers the precautionary principles that needs to be followed with Big Data:

Big Data inevitably produces "unwanted" correlations (similar to concept of confirmation bias, echo chambers and you will get inevitably what you are looking for and more which translates to bull shit). NSA has the most robust model to handle Big Data since their search criteria is simple - Is the candidate a terrorist - yes or no?

The idea is to first structure what you are looking for in a simplified format and develop a strong stomach not to distracted by unwanted correlations. Again, develop a stomach to drop variables and focus on the problem at hand.   

Higher the numbers of variables, higher the noise and correlations grows non-linearly and shoots up. 

This is a simple but yet powerful concept in machine learning we tend to forget.

This whole speech covers Big Data:

Quote of the Day

Few people have the wisdom to prefer the criticism that would do them good, to the praise that deceives them.

- François de La Rochefoucauld

Friday, July 24, 2015

Nassim Nicholas Taleb @ Tomorrow 2015

Quote of the Day

So my wish is for people in general to remain fools of randomness (so i can trade against them), yet for there to remain a minority intelligent enought to value my methods and hire my services. In other words, I need people to remain fools of randomness, but not all of them.

- Nassim Taleb, Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Quote of the Day

We have more strength than will; and it is often merely for an excuse we say things are impossible.

Maxims by

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Probabilistic Machine Learning And Artificial Intelligence


How can a machine learn from experience? Probabilistic modelling provides a framework for understanding what learning is, and has therefore emerged as one of the principal theoretical and practical approaches for designing machines that learn from data acquired through experience. The probabilistic framework, which describes how to represent and manipulate uncertainty about models and predictions, has a central role in scientific data analysis, machine learning, robotics, cognitive science and artificial intelligence. This Review provides an introduction to this framework, and discusses some of the state-of-the-art advances in the field, namely, probabilistic programming, Bayesian optimization, data compression and automatic model discovery.

- Zoubin Ghahramani's full paper here

Quote of the Day

However mean your life is, meet it and live it; do not shun it and call it hard names. It is not so bad as you are. It looks poorest when you are richest. The fault-finder will find faults even in paradise. Love your life, poor as it is. You may perhaps have some pleasant, thrilling, glorious hours, even in a poorhouse. The setting sun is reflected from the windows of the almshouse as brightly as from the rich man's abode; the snow melts before its door as early in the spring. I do not see but a quiet mind may live as contentedly there, and have as cheering thoughts, as in a palace.

- Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Lessons Learned From Reading The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

  • I feel a great comfort and relief knowing that there were others who lived and died and thought and fought so long ago; I feel less tyrannized by the present day.
  • I learn much about the way our society really works, because the system-origins - military, religious, political, colonial, agricultural, financial - are all there to be scrutinized in their infancy. I have gained perspective.
  • The language in which the book is written is rich and complete, as the language of today is not.
  • I find out how little I know.
  • I am inspired by the will and erudition which enabled Gibbon to complete a work of twenty-odd years. The guy stuck with things.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

The terror of the Roman arms added weight and dignity to the moderation of the emperors. They preserved peace by a constant preparation for war;

- Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

Monday, July 20, 2015

Quote of the Day

Some critics may believe that attacking Iran is the only option. But war is a poor form of arms-control. Even if America had the stomach for a months-long campaign, and even if it could take out all of Iran’s many nuclear sites, bombing cannot destroy nuclear know-how.

The nuclear deal with Iran is better than the alternatives—war or no deal at all

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Wisdom Of The Week

When I called him in early December, his job with the publishing company had run its course and he was back in his tiny Manhattan apartment, writing freelance. “I finally have time to think!” he said. We discussed an article he was working on about how technology structures information. 
“Technology advances,” he said, “and we complain about information overload. But it turns out we’re really good at organizing information. And when we organize information really well, something gets sacrificed.” He wondered, “Is information too organized?” He wondered, “What gets sacrificed?”

The answer he suggested is a word I hadn’t heard in a while, but, given all the research I’d been doing for this article, it initiated a kind of convergence: “serendipity.” Serendipity, indeed. Serendipity is so beautifully slippery. It situates itself between Nagel and Koch, empiricism and the humanities, wonder and science. Serendipity, when you get right down to it, is at the beating heart of wonder. It accounts for McNerney’s epiphany, Sander’s love of literature, my own distrust of reducibility, and Koch’s comfort with his own “annihilation.” Serendipity interrupts the linear view of science.

McNerney brought up Darwin. Darwin, he explained, would never have read Malthus’s 1798 essay on population growth, and thus would never have developed his theory of natural selection, had he been “searching for birds on Google.” The comparative looseness of information, the unchanneled nature of investigation, joined with Darwin’s innate curiosity, is what led to one of the most unifying explanations of physical existence the world has known. What sparked it all was pure serendipity.

In our age of endlessly aggregated information, the ultimate task of the humanities may be to subversively disaggregate in order to preserve that serendipity. After all, a period of confusion inevitably precedes the acquisition of concrete knowledge. It’s a necessary blip of humbling uncertainty that allows for what McNerney describes as “the call and response” between disparate ideas. As long as that gap exists, as long as a flicker of doubt precedes knowledge, there will always be room for humanistic thought—thought that revels in not knowing. As long as that gap exists, we will not be reduced to the moral equivalent of computers.

“There’s a big benefit to not knowing the answer to a question for a long time,” McNerney said toward the end of our conversation. “The trick is knowing enough but not too much, not so much that you kill that sense of wonder.”

- On the Value of Not Knowing Everything

Quote of the Day

If you look at the Earth without architecture, it's sometimes a little bit unpleasant. So there is this basic human need to do shelter in the broadest sense of the word, whether it's a movie theater or a simple log cabin in the mountains. This is the core of architecture: To provide a space for human beings.

Peter Zumthor

Friday, July 17, 2015

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Annals of Seismology - Kathryn Schulz

Brilliant piece by Kathryn Schulz on -An earthquake will destroy a sizable portion of the coastal Northwest. The question is when:

Goldfinger told me this in his lab at Oregon State, a low prefab building that a passing English major might reasonably mistake for the maintenance department. Inside the lab is a walk-in freezer. Inside the freezer are floor-to-ceiling racks filled with cryptically labelled tubes, four inches in diameter and five feet long. Each tube contains a core sample of the seafloor. Each sample contains the history, written in seafloorese, of the past ten thousand years. During subduction-zone earthquakes, torrents of land rush off the continental slope, leaving a permanent deposit on the bottom of the ocean. By counting the number and the size of deposits in each sample, then comparing their extent and consistency along the length of the Cascadia subduction zone, Goldfinger and his colleagues were able to determine how much of the zone has ruptured, how often, and how drastically.

Thanks to that work, we now know that the Pacific Northwest has experienced forty-one subduction-zone earthquakes in the past ten thousand years. If you divide ten thousand by forty-one, you get two hundred and forty-three, which is Cascadia’s recurrence interval: the average amount of time that elapses between earthquakes. That timespan is dangerous both because it is too long—long enough for us to unwittingly build an entire civilization on top of our continent’s worst fault line—and because it is not long enough. Counting from the earthquake of 1700, we are now three hundred and fifteen years into a two-hundred-and-forty-three-year cycle.

It is possible to quibble with that number. Recurrence intervals are averages, and averages are tricky: ten is the average of nine and eleven, but also of eighteen and two. It is not possible, however, to dispute the scale of the problem. The devastation in Japan in 2011 was the result of a discrepancy between what the best science predicted and what the region was prepared to withstand. The same will hold true in the Pacific Northwest—but here the discrepancy is enormous. “The science part is fun,” Goldfinger says. “And I love doing it. But the gap between what we know and what we should do about it is getting bigger and bigger, and the action really needs to turn to responding. Otherwise, we’re going to be hammered. I’ve been through one of these massive earthquakes in the most seismically prepared nation on earth. If that was Portland”—Goldfinger finished the sentence with a shake of his head before he finished it with words. “Let’s just say I would rather not be here.”

Quote of the Day

At one point during the course of the 200,000-line Indian spiritual epic the Mahabharata, the warrior-prince Yudhisthira is being cross-questioned about the meaning of existence by a nature spirit on the banks of a lake, which is the sort of thing that happens in the Mahabharata all the time. ‘What is the most wondrous thing in the world?’, the spirit wants to know. Yudhisthira’s reply has become one of the poem’s best-known lines: ‘The most wondrous thing in the world is that although, every day, innumerable creatures go to the abode of Death, still man thinks that he is immortal.

- The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking by Oliver Burkeman

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Quote of the Day

Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature -- the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.

- Rachel Carson, Silent Spring

Monday, July 13, 2015

Limits Of AI

Ashok Goel on Ethics and Limits of AI - very good talk (Goel is my professor and of-course I am biased)

Quote of the Day

In the laboratory, we call this the six-degrees-of-separation-from-cancer rule: you can ask any biological question, no matter how seemingly distant—what makes the heart fail, or why worms age, or even how birds learn songs—and you will end up, in fewer than six genetic steps, connecting with a proto-oncogene or tumor suppressor.

- Siddhartha Mukherjee, The Emperor of All Maladies

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Quote of the Day

If Nagel is right, art itself would no longer be merely the scientist’s leisure-time fulfillment but would be (I think, correctly) recognized as a primary mode of coming to grips with the mental and moral essence of the universe. It would be a key source of the very definition of life. Aesthetics will be propelled to the forefront of philosophy as a crucial part of metaphysical biology…. The very beauty of Nagel’s theory—its power to inspire imagination—counts in its favor.

On the Value of Not Knowing Everything

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Wisdom Of The Week

Not speaking and speaking are both human ways of being in the world, and there are kinds and grades of each. There is the dumb silence of slumber or apathy; the sober silence that goes with a solemn animal face; the fertile silence of awareness, pasturing the soul, whence emerge new thoughts; the alive silence of alert perception, ready to say, “This… this…”; the musical silence that accompanies absorbed activity; the silence of listening to another speak, catching the drift and helping him be clear; the noisy silence of resentment and self-recrimination, loud and subvocal speech but sullen to say it; baffled silence; the silence of peaceful accord with other persons or communion with the cosmos.

- Paul Goodman on the Nine Kinds of Silence from his book Speaking and Language: Defence of Poetry

Quote of the Day

If you think that things naturally enslaved are free or that things not your own are your own, you will be thwarted, miserable, and upset, and will blame both gods and men. But if you think that only what is yours is yours, and that what is not your own is, just as it is, not your own, then no one will ever coerce you, no one will hinder you, you will blame no one, you will not accuse anyone, you will not do a single thing unwillingly, you will have no enemies, and no one will harm you, because you will not be harmed at all.

- Epictetus

Friday, July 10, 2015

Quote of the Day

To the Greeks, the word "character" first referred to the stamp upon a coin. By extension, man was the coin, and the character trait was the stamp imprinted upon him. To them, that trait, for example bravery, was a share of something all mankind had, rather than means of distinguishing one from the whole.

- Edith Hamilton, The Greek Way

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Quote of the Day

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. (I call it by this name because I once discussed it with Murray Gell-Mann, and by dropping a famous name I imply greater importance to myself, and to the effect, than it would otherwise have.) Briefly stated, the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect works 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 with renewed interest as if the rest of the newspaper was somehow more accurate about far-off Palestine than it was about the story 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. When, in fact, it almost certainly isn’t. The only possible explanation for our behavior is amnesia.

- “Why Speculate?” by Michael Crichton

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Google’s AI Deams...

Google engineers decided that instead of asking the software to generate a specific image, they would simply feed it an arbitrary image and then ask it what it saw. Here’s how Google describes the experiment:
We then pick a layer and ask the network to enhance whatever it detected. Each layer of the network deals with features at a different level of abstraction, so the complexity of features we generate depends on which layer we choose to enhance. For example, lower layers tend to produce strokes or simple ornament-like patterns, because those layers are sensitive to basic features such as edges and their orientations.
When feeding an image into the first layer, this is what the network created, something akin to a familiar photo filter.

Then things got really weird. Google started feeding images into the highest layer—the one that can detect whole objects within an image—and asked the network, “Whatever you see there, I want more of it!”

This creates a feedback loop: if a cloud looks a little bit like a bird, the network will make it look more like a bird. This in turn will make the network recognize the bird even more strongly on the next pass and so forth, until a highly detailed bird appears, seemingly out of nowhere.
The result is somewhat akin to looking into the subconscious of an AI. When an image of clouds was fed to a network trained on identify animals, this is what happened:

- More Here

Quote of the Day

A Stoic is someone who transforms fear into prudence, pain into transformation, mistakes into initiation, and desire into undertaking.

- Nassim Nicholas Taleb, The Bed of Procrustes: Philosophical and Practical Aphorisms

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Pasta Company Barilla Bans Animal Testing

At Barilla we do not test our products or raw materials on animals, nor do we fund, commission, co-author it or otherwise support it, either directly or through third parties.

In order to assess the safety and quality of our products, we use a very broad range of methodologies, which do not include any type of animal testing.

We insist that our suppliers use alternatives to animal testing methods. An exception would only be made if regulatory authorities demanded it for safety or regulatory purposes, and even in this instance, Barilla will make every effort to identify and propose a non-animal alternative which could fulfill the regulatory requirement, if possible.

We have a keen interest on the latest advances and breakthroughs in the areas of alternatives to animal testing which are and will be developed by Institutions, scientists and NGOs. We are committed to publishing and sharing any new research that uses alternatives to animal testing. We will be continuously collaborating with third parties to put in place new non-animal-alternative testing methods.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

If you want to make progress, put up with being perceived as ignorant or naive in worldly matters, don't aspire to a reputation for sagacity. If you do impress others as somebody, don't altogether believe it. You have to realize, it isn't easy to keep your will in agreement with nature, as well as externals. Caring about the one inevitably means you are going to shortchange the other.

- Epictetus, The Art of Living: The Classical Manual on Virtue, Happiness and Effectiveness

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Insects May Be Able To Feel Fear, Anger & Empathy, After All

Bees that had been shaken became pessimistic, glass-half-empty characters that were more likely to react to the nasty smell in the mixtures and recoil rather than being attracted to the yummy smell—a result of presumably being pretty irritated. Unshaken bees, on the other hand, remained their more optimistic, glass-half-full selves—and were more likely to see the mixtures as half-appetizing, as opposed to half-disgusting. Moreover, there were emotionally relevant changes in neurotransmitter levels in the shaken bees, changing levels of serotonin and dopamine, for example..

Scientifically, the act of shaking the bees can be interpreted as having created an internal neurological state that affected their subsequent behavior—all associated with changes in brain chemistry. This implies that agitated honeybees exhibit pessimistic cognitive biases..

Yet the authors were reluctant to say that this anger-like state was a definitive emotion. It is interesting to note that if dogs did the same thing and turned down their food after their owner had just died, for example, many wouldn’t doubt that the behavior was emotional.


Thankfully, we are beginning to stop with our centuries long obsession with human species superiority. This belief made it permissible to ravage and raid the earth, and downplay emotions felt by other animals. Humans feel love—other animals merely bond. Humans feel jealous—but other animals merely guard resources.

While we cannot experience what it feels like for a bee to have a bee in its bonnet, a fly to feel like a bundle of nerves, or for a woodlouse to chill out with its buddies, neither can we experience other humans’ emotions. It is only because we can communicate (to a degree) that we know other humans have emotions too. Bear in mind that emotions are so subjective that we aren’t especially accurate at understanding other humans’ emotions at the best of times—no less the emotions of another species!

- More Here

Quote of the Day

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Wisdom Of The Week

We’re eager to optimise our workouts, our sleep patterns, our pregnancies, our policing tactics, our taxi services, and our airline pilots. Even the academy is intrigued. From spatial history to the neurohumanities, digital methods are the rage. Lecture halls have been targeted for disruption by massive open online courses (MOOCs). Sometimes it seems as though there’s little that can’t be explained by scientific thinking or improved upon through digital innovation.

What are the humanities for at such moments, when we’re so sure of ourselves and our capacity to remake the world? Toynbee wrestled with this question for decades. He was as curious as anyone about the latest discoveries and innovations, but he rejected the notion that science could explain or improve everything. And his thoughtful criticism of technology reminds us that poets and historians, artists and scholars must be proud, vocal champions of the humanities as a moral project – especially at moments of breakneck scientific progress. Fluent in the language of crisis and decline, casting about for ways to defend ourselves, today’s humanists could use a little inspiration. We need our spines stiffened. Toynbee might be a man to do it.


‘The historical-minded student of human affairs and his scientific-minded confrère are really indispensable to one other as partners in their arduous common undertaking,’ Toynbee insisted in 1961. He was no Luddite. And like the scientists and industrial titans of his age, he thought it was a worthy goal to try and explain everything. But Toynbee’s was a mosaic universe, variegated and collaborative. Grasping the whole would require every way of thinking that human beings could bring to bear. ‘One must be free to resort to the different methods of the poet, the historian, and the scientist in turn,’ he argued. Today, we could do worse than emulate Toynbee’s genuine and self-reflective brand of intellectual pluralism: ‘No tool is omnicompetent. There is no such thing as a master-key that will unlock all doors.


Today, technology cries out for robust criticism. As Toynbee recognised, scientific principles and technical innovations might help us build a better railway, a faster locomotive – but they aren’t very good at telling us who can buy tickets, what direction we should lay the track, or whether we should be taking the train at all. ‘Man,’ he wrote in Civilisation on Trial (1948), ‘cannot live by technology alone.’ Humanists have a professional responsibility to challenge public faith in scientific progress and technological whizzbangery, to question how the future is to be conducted and to whose benefit. It’s our job to make sure that the machine doesn’t run away with the pilot.


Technology isn’t going anywhere. The real issue is what to do with it..


It’s time for humanists to walk out on a limb. Like Toynbee, we should be as engaged in the world as we are courageous in our convictions. The humanities are most of all a moral enterprise, the pursuit of answers to big questions about how we live together and where we’re going. The stakes are high. We must remember how to speak the language of value, encouraging our readers and students to ask not simply ‘Is it more efficient?’ or ‘How much does it cost?’ but ‘Is it good or bad? For whom? According to which standard?’

- Arnold Toynbee, Humanist Among Machines

Quote of the Day

Remember, it is not enough to be hit or insulted to be harmed, you must believe that you are being harmed. If someone succeeds in provoking you, realize that your mind is complicit in the provocation. Which is why it is essential that we not respond impulsively to impressions; take a moment before reacting, and you will find it easier to maintain control.

- Epictetus, The Art of Living: The Classical Manual on Virtue, Happiness and Effectiveness

Friday, July 3, 2015

When Broadmindedness Is Indistinguishable From Indifference

As fate would have it, I had just shown my students at Williams College the grainy footage of Burden’s shooting when we learned of his death in May. Curiously, the clip did not provoke them as it had their predecessors in my classrooms in decades past. No one expressed any palpable sense of shock or revulsion, let alone the idea that the proper response to the violation of a taboo is honest outrage. One student fretted about the legal liability of the shooter; another intelligently placed the work in historical context and related it to anxiety over the Vietnam War.

Placing things in context is what contemporary students do best. What they do not do is judge. Instead there was the same frozen polite reserve one observes in the faces of those attending an unfamiliar religious service—the expression that says, I have no say in this. This refusal to judge or take offense can be taken as a positive sign, suggesting tolerance and broadmindedness.

But there is a broadmindedness so roomy that it is indistinguishable from indifference, and it is lethal. For while the fine arts can survive a hostile or ignorant public, or even a fanatically prudish one, they cannot long survive an indifferent one. And that is the nature of the present Western response to art, visual and otherwise: indifference.

- Mike Lewis

Quote of the Day

The Greeks not only face facts. They have no desire to escape from them.

- Edith Hamilton, The Greek Way

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Quote of the Day

Suppose you ask your friend Naomi to roll a die without letting you see the result... Having rolled the die Naomi must write down the result on a piece of paper (without showing you) and place it in an envelope...

So some people are happy to accept that there is genuine uncertainty about the number before it is thrown (because its existence is ‘not a fact’), but not after it is thrown. This is despite the fact that our knowledge of the number after it is thrown is as incomplete as it was before.

-Risk Assessment and Decision Analysis with Bayesian Networks, Norman Fenton and Martin Neil

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Quote of the Day

A single example of extravagance or greed does a lot of harm--an intimate who leads a pampered life gradually makes one soft and flabby; a wealthy neighbor provokes cravings in one; a companion with a malicious nature tends to rub off some of his rust even on someone of an innocent and open-hearted nature--what then do you imagine the effect on a person's character is when the assault comes from the world at large? You must inevitably either hate or imitate the world. But the right thing is to shun both courses: you should neither become like the bad because they are many, nor be an enemy of the many because they are unlike you. Retire into yourself as much as you can. Associate with people who are likely to improve you. Welcome those whom you are capable of improving. The process is a mutual one: men learn as they teach.

- Seneca, Letter VII