Saturday, December 16, 2017

Wisdom Of The Week

What are some causes of depression across cultures?

Many of the risk factors for depression are similar across cultures. These include gender, unemployment, traumatic events. The themes of depression tend to revolve around loss. But what people make of their losses and how they interpret their distress differs tremendously across cultures. In the West, we have increasingly pathologized depression and attributed it to biomedical factors. We tend to think that distancing people from their distress can be a functional way of helping them. However, teaching people that this very complex social, cultural, and biological phenomenon is entirely biological can backfire. It encourages people to ignore environmental factors, and instead, essentialize depression as a characteristic of themselves and their biology.

How does the meaning of depression vary around the world?

The meaning that people assign to suffering varies richly across cultures. Buddhism approaches suffering as an essential characteristic of life. We are mindful of it, yet, we don't try to chase it away. In Eastern European Orthodox Christianity and traditional Catholic contexts, there are two religious perspectives on suffering. On one hand, excessive suffering that blocks your goals is thought to be a sin. Simultaneously, suffering that allows you to stay engaged in your life is thought to bring you closer to God. It’s almost like broadcasting your suffering highlights you as a more complex and virtuous human being in other people’s eyes. Moreover, in India and Ecuador suffering can be interpreted as a rift in social networks that requires mending.


Are there genetic vulnerabilities for depression across cultures?

Genetic vulnerability differs substantially from country to country. East Asian contexts, for example, show a high prevalence of genes associated with depression. Yet, despite these vulnerabilities, they develop fewer cases of the disorder. One hypothesis is that genetic vulnerabilities have co-evolved with culture, creating extra protective factors (in this case, extra interdependence). However, when these people leave their cultural contexts, they have a higher risk of developing depression.


What is the role of emotion regulation?

Emotion regulation is increasingly becoming understood as a core factor in all affective disorders. In western societies, we don't see enough adaptive strategies like reappraisal: learning to tell yourself a different story that would eventually lead to different emotions. There is also not enough social regulation of emotion, which occurs by sharing our emotions with others. Research shows that cultures can facilitate functional regulation strategies. For example, Igor Grossmann’s work shows that Russians make rumination (generally considered a dysfunctional strategy) more functional by encouraging people to ruminate about the self from another person’s perspective, making rumination almost reappraisal-like in its quality.

How Culture Affects Depression

Quote of the Day

In a world where all options and probabilities are known, a heuristic can only be faster but never more accurate. In a world of uncertainty, which is typically the situation we face, where one cannot optimize by definition, heuristics tend to be more robust.

- Review of Enigma of Reason

Friday, December 15, 2017

Quote of the Day

I was not the only person who was bothered by S’s behavior. He relentlessly pressured my friend, a female graduate student, to have sex with him by saying that because he was married and she was engaged, those two things “cancelled each other out”. Therefore, he argued, they should have sex.

At this same conference, the morning after a particularly debaucherous night, a married professor was overheard imploring other people to smell his fingers following an encounter with a junior colleague. With the benefit of hindsight, I now recognize my experience at that conference as a critical moment in my career, one I looked back on shortly thereafter when I decided that perhaps this version of academia was not for me.

- This is why I don't care about "evil" AI of an imagined future but I am worry every moment about assoles like "S" working in AI. Let us throw this assole of the the field. Btw.,  you have to call an assole, an assole otherwise what is the point of having that word.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Quote of the Day

What you think means more than anything else in your life - more than what you earn, more than where you live, more than your social position, and more than what anyone else may think about you.

- George Matthew Adams

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Quote of the Day

Buried deep alongside the hydroelectric dams, shelters and food stores, the Swiss also have libraries ready to reboot civilization:

“In another [underground bunker], detailed instructions on how to build devices for reading all known data storage formats, even older formats like floppy disks, are kept, so that if that knowledge is otherwise lost, future generations can still decode our data storage devices to access the data within correctly. Essentially, the researchers involved in this particular project have attempted to create a “Rosetta Stone” of data formats and are using a ridiculously secure Swiss bunker as the storage point for that knowledge.”

Switzerland is Prepared for Civilizational Collapse

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Quote of the Day

The lesson of the war that should never depart from us, is that the American people have no exemption from the ordinary fate of humankind. If we sin, we must suffer for our sins, like the Empires that are tottering and the Nations that have perished.

- The War Claims of South by Murat Halstead

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Richard Thaler - Nobel Lecture

Quote of the Day

Lead author Kitty Xu, formerly a Johns Hopkins graduate student and now a researcher at the social media site Pinterest, explains that when it comes to split-second decisions, the longer a decision has to take hold in the brain, the harder it is to reverse. “Stopping a planned behavior requires extremely fast choreography between several distinct areas of the brain, our research found,” she says. “If we change our mind about pressing the gas pedal even a few milliseconds after the original “go” message has been sent to our muscles, we simply can’t stop.” Xu adds that if we change our minds within roughly 100 milliseconds of making a decision, we can successfully revise our plans. If we wait more than 200 milliseconds, however, we may be unable to make the desired change—in other words we may land a speeding ticket or a tumble down the stairs. As we age, our neural communication slows, and that likely contributes to more of these glitches, Xu says.

The Neuroscience of Changing Your Mind

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Quote of the Day

Wisdom Of The Week

In particular, there is no such thing as “general” intelligence. On an abstract level, we know this for a fact via the “no free lunch” theorem — stating that no problem-solving algorithm can outperform random chance across all possible problems. If intelligence is a problem-solving algorithm, then it can only be understood with respect to a specific problem. In a more concrete way, we can observe this empirically in that all intelligent systems we know are highly specialized. The intelligence of the AIs we build today is hyper specialized in extremely narrow tasks — like playing Go, or classifying images into 10,000 known categories. The intelligence of an octopus is specialized in the problem of being an octopus. The intelligence of a human is specialized in the problem of being human.

What would happen if we were to put a freshly-created human brain in the body of an octopus, and let in live at the bottom of the ocean? Would it even learn to use its eight-legged body? Would it survive past a few days? We cannot perform this experiment, but we do know that cognitive development in humans and animals is driven by hardcoded, innate dynamics. Human babies are born with an advanced set of reflex behaviors and innate learning templates that drive their early sensorimotor development, and that are fundamentally intertwined with the structure of the human sensorimotor space. The brain has hardcoded conceptions of having a body with hands that can grab, a mouth that can suck, eyes mounted on a moving head that can be used to visually follow objects (the vestibulo-ocular reflex), and these preconceptions are required for human intelligence to start taking control of the human body. It has even been convincingly argued, for instance by Chomsky, that very high-level human cognitive features, such as our ability to develop language, are innate.

Similarly, one can imagine that the octopus has its own set of hardcoded cognitive primitives required in order to learn how to use an octopus body and survive in its octopus environment. The brain of a human is hyper specialized in the human condition — an innate specialization extending possibly as far as social behaviors, language, and common sense — and the brain of an octopus would likewise be hyper specialized in octopus behaviors. A human baby brain properly grafted in an octopus body would most likely fail to adequately take control of its unique sensorimotor space, and would quickly die off. Not so smart now, Mr. Superior Brain.

The Impossibility of Intelligence Explosion

Friday, December 8, 2017

How Planting Trees Changed Lives In a Former Coal Community

John Everitt, the chief executive of the National Forest Company which oversees the project, says the simple act of planting trees has sparked a dizzying list of spin-off benefits, from tourism to a nascent woodland economy; from flood management to thriving wildlife; from improved health and wellbeing to housebuilding and jobs.

“We have embedded trees in and around where people live and made sure they are accessible rather than as a distant thing that they can visit occasionally. And we are seeing the benefits in all sorts of ways – and they are multiplying all the time.”

Everitt, an ecologist by training who has been heading the project for the past three years, fires off an impressive list of figures to back up his claims: the forest attracts 7.8 million visitors a year, it has brought about 5,000 new jobs with hundreds more in the pipeline, woodland industries from firewood to timber businesses are springing up, craft food and beer businesses are flourishing and thousands of people cycle or walk the hundreds of miles of pathways and trails each year.

But he says some of the most important benefits the area has witnessed are more difficult to quantify.

“People now have a sense of pride in this place and a sense of belonging and wellbeing. Children who were maybe nervous of the outdoors are benefitting from being able to walk or cycle or simply play in the woods.”

- More Here

Quote of the Day

The idea that humans will always have a unique ability beyond the reach of non-conscious algorithms is just wishful thinking. The current scientific answer to this pipe dream can be summarised in three simple principles: 1. Organisms are algorithms. Every animal – including Homo sapiens – is an assemblage of organic algorithms shaped by natural selection over millions of years of evolution. 2. Algorithmic calculations are not affected by the materials from which you build the calculator. Whether you build an abacus from wood, iron or plastic, two beads plus two beads equals four beads. 3. Hence there is no reason to think that organic algorithms can do things that non-organic algorithms will never be able to replicate or surpass. As long as the calculations remain valid, what does it matter whether the algorithms are manifested in carbon or silicon?

- Yuval Noah Harari, Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Quote of the Day

I don’t usually ask people to change their behavior. Asking doesn’t work as well for me as action does. Instead of begging people to see things from my perspective, I give them two choices: meat or me.

I tell any friend or family member I plan to see on a monthly basis, “If you have to eat meat, I have to leave.”

- I Don’t Let Friends Eat Meat In My Presence

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Quote of the Day

In the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.

- Charles Darwin

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

The Genetic History of Horses

A new review paper by Pablo Librado and colleagues in the October issue of Genetics tells the story of how the modern horse came to be. They track the genetic changes that led from wild horses living on the Eurasian steppes 5,500 years ago to the many highly specialized breeds of domestic horse that exist today.

Modern horses have been shaped into distinct breeds with different talents and specialties. Compare a racing thoroughbred with a draft horse like a Clydesdale —they’re extremely different animals now, but they both descend from the same ancestral group of wild horses. Comparing the DNA variation of all different kinds of domestic horses and their only living wild relative, Przewalski’s horse, can reveal the genetic changes that occurred during domestication. Librado and colleagues emphasize that another crucial tool used for tracing the horse lineage is ancient DNA, which is extracted from bones of animals that have been dead for thousands of years. The oldest successfully extracted DNA came from the skeleton of a wild horse that lived in the Yukon between 560,000 – 780,000 years ago. Such samples are especially important because there are very few wild horses left alive, and modern horse breeding practices have obscured the genomic signature of early domestication qualities like geography. Thanks to data from ancient DNA, geneticists have learned that a previously unknown group of now-extinct wild horses were also ancestors to modern horses.

Remarkably, the majority of Y-chromosomes carried by modern domestic horses can be traced back to just a few stallions. This could be because only a few males were originally used in domestication, but it could also result from carefully controlled modern breeding practices where a single male sires a huge number of offspring. The ultimate cause of this very low Y-linked diversity is still debated, but strict selective breeding has almost certainly contributed. In contrast, a much larger number of females than males contributed ancestry to domestic horses. According to Librado and colleagues, it seems that wild mares were continuously introduced into human-controlled herds throughout the process of domestication.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

Monday, December 4, 2017

Quote of the Day

But none of Orwell’s silly predictions would really irritate if  the canonisation of 1984 was not a net negative for our political debate. This is not to say the novel is not a decent evocation of Stalinism—it is. It’s just that its lodging itself as the English language’s only universally-read dystopia hampers awareness of what really threatens democracy today. It strikes me as rather glib to say that 1984 is relevant because Orwell was worried about surveillance and “newspeak” words losing their meaning. Orwell’s actual warnings—about homogenization, the destruction of information, a world without wealth and only unlimited powers of the state—are now miles away. If anything, the threats to democracy are the opposite of “Orwellian.”

This is the problem of bringing everything, always, back to Orwell. He has nothing to say about social fragmentation, financialisation, ethnic splintering, unaccountable corporations, offshore kleptocrats, or echo chambers, to name but a few. Instead, he leaves too many political minds forever chasing, Quixote-like, the totalitarian windmill of untrammeled state power. They ignore the real anemic state before their eyes, which struggles to keep up with corporate algorithms, is unable to fulfil its promises, or tax the super-rich.

Orwell is a terrible role-model for an age that needs more serious people honestly grappling with complexity

Sunday, December 3, 2017

When Philosophy Lost Its Way

Having adopted the same structural form as the sciences, it’s no wonder philosophy fell prey to physics envy and feelings of inadequacy. Philosophy adopted the scientific modus operandi of knowledge production, but failed to match the sciences in terms of making progress in describing the world. Much has been made of this inability of philosophy to match the cognitive success of the sciences. But what has passed unnoticed is philosophy’s all-too-successful aping of the institutional form of the sciences. We, too, produce research articles. We, too, are judged by the same coin of the realm: peer-reviewed products. We, too, develop sub-specializations far from the comprehension of the person on the street. In all of these ways we are so very “scientific.”

Our claim, then, can be put simply: Philosophy should never have been purified. Rather than being seen as a problem, “dirty hands” should have been understood as the native condition of philosophic thought — present everywhere, often interstitial, essentially interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary in nature. Philosophy is a mangle. The philosopher’s hands were never clean and were never meant to be.

There is another layer to this story. The act of purification accompanying the creation of the modern research university was not just about differentiating realms of knowledge. It was also about divorcing knowledge from virtue. Though it seems foreign to us now, before purification the philosopher (and natural philosopher) was assumed to be morally superior to other sorts of people. The 18th-century thinker Joseph Priestley wrote “a Philosopher ought to be something greater and better than another man.” Philosophy, understood as the love of wisdom, was seen as a vocation, like the priesthood. It required significant moral virtues (foremost among these were integrity and selflessness), and the pursuit of wisdom in turn further inculcated those virtues. The study of philosophy elevated those who pursued it. Knowing and being good were intimately linked. It was widely understood that the point of philosophy was to become good rather than simply to collect or produce knowledge.

Once knowledge and goodness were divorced, scientists could be regarded as experts, but there are no morals or lessons to be drawn from their work. Science derives its authority from impersonal structures and methods, not the superior character of the scientist. The individual scientist is no different from the average Joe; he or she has, as Shapin has written, “no special authority to pronounce on what ought to be done.” For many, science became a paycheck, and the scientist became a “de-moralized” tool enlisted in the service of power, bureaucracy and commerce.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

Freethinkers are those who are willing to use their minds without prejudice and without fearing to understand things that clash with their own customs, privileges, or beliefs. This state of mind is not common, but it is essential for right thinking…

- Leo Tolstoy

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Wisdom Of The Week

If we start in 1775, the land we call the United States of America has had two major violent revolutions against its own government in the span of 242 years, for an annual chance of 0.8% per year. The first one, the American Revolution, was successful. The second one, the Civil War, was not, but for the purposes of this analysis they are both qualifying events.

Now that might be cheating a little bit, since I’m setting the time-span the year before the first one happened, but we could go back to the founding of the colonies at let’s say approximately 1650, and cook up a probability of 0.5% per year for major violent nationwide revolution.

We could also do such an analysis for other countries (defined here as “bits of land”) around the world, and probably get numbers far in excess of 0.5% per year. If we cast a wider net, and included the war, internment, and genocide of native Americans in our mathematics, then the numbers here go way up.

If we simply include traditional war in the numbers for other countries, their numbers go fantastically up.  So I would say the probabilities above are likely on the low side.

At an annual chance of 0.8% per year, the USA has a 55% chance of a major violent revolution in any given 100 year span. At an annual chance of 0.5% per year, we have a 39% chance of a major violent revolution in a given 100 year span. On our soil. That’s just math.

These things are much worse than floods, and the people who suffer during them are largely not the elites running the show, they’re the people at the ground level, whether they’re participating in the revolution or not.

Syria is sitting at almost half a million dead and around ten million displaced into Europe and that revolution is still only about half-cooked.

Those people mostly aren’t combatants, those are women, children, families, who got stuck in the middle of something they couldn’t see coming, and for which they were woefully ill-prepared.

Nobody sees these things coming. If they did, they wouldn’t happen. And when they happen to modern countries, which are tremendously dependent on civil infrastructure and supply chains to get the necessities of life such as water and food, the humanitarian impact for the poor and defenseless is staggering.

When people on the modern left question my commitment to keeping firearms in my home, I often ask them whether they think the USA will last “forever and until the end of time,” they don’t know how to answer this question, largely because my left-leaning friends put emotional faith in institutions of authority.

They usually answer, “Well, no, but it’ll certainly last my lifetime.” So I ask them about their kids’ lifetimes, and their grandkids. What would they do if it happened?

Mathematically, something like this is certain to happen over a long enough time-span, and we can use mathematics to project the likelihood of it happening over any given time span, by synthesizing data. All the data I see seems to indicate that having a plan for it is probably much more valuable than having a plan for tornadoes, or floods.

Setting constitutional scholarship aside, which is typically built on retrospective thinking geared towards justifying prior-held opinions, I view gun ownership as a direct hedge against the suffering of the poor and helpless during these violent situations. I don’t think owning guns is a complete solution to protecting your family in a violent revolution or anarchic situation, but I do think it’s an essential piece of the overall puzzle.

You need a safe place to go, a way to protect yourself on your way there, and a way to defend that safe place if necessary from desperate people who didn’t have a plan. And you cannot rely on an authority to provide you that protection when the authority itself is in question.

That, too, is just math.

And with Communists and Nazis openly clashing in our streets, I believe it is math worth thinking about

- The Mathematics of Violent Revolution, great piece although the Math is simple

Quote of the Day

The capacity to resist coercion stems partly from the individual’s identification with a group. The people who stood up best in the Nazi concentration camps were those who felt themselves members of compact party (the Communists) or a church (priests and ministers), or of a close-knit national group. The individualists, whatever their nationality, caved in.

- The True Believer, Eric Hoffer

Friday, December 1, 2017

Do People Commit Evil Out of Ignorance?

Another contemporary philosopher, Glenn Hughes, uses a similar concept, again in the context of Nazi Germany, talking about “intelligent stupidity” (not an oxymoron!): 

“Intelligent stupidity is no mental illness, yet it is most lethal; a dangerous disease of the mind that endangers life itself. [The danger lies] not in an inability to understand but in a refusal to understand, [and] any healing or reversal of it will not occur through rational argumentation, through a greater accumulation of data and knowledge, or through experiencing new and different feelings.” Instead, intelligent stupidity is a “spiritual sickness,” and in need of a spiritual cure.
What do we gain by curing ourselves of amathia, and moreover by recognizing that people who do bad things are not “evil,” but rather sick? A lot, as it turns out. We get what Epictetus promises his students that they will achieve by practicing and internalizing the precepts of Stoic philosophy, and particularly the dichotomy of control:
“Now the things within our power are by nature free, unrestricted, unhindered; but those beyond our power are weak, dependent, restricted, alien. Remember, then, that if you attribute freedom to things by nature dependent and take what belongs to others for your own, you will be hindered, you will lament, you will be disturbed, you will find fault both with gods and men. … But if you take for your own only that which is your own and view what belongs to others just as it really is, then no one will ever compel you, no one will restrict you; you will find fault with no one, you will accuse no one, you will do nothing against your will; no one will hurt you, you will not have an enemy, nor will you suffer any harm.”
- More Here

Quote of the Day

To think independently of other human beings is impossible, and if it were possible it would be undesirable. Thinking is necessarily, thoroughly, and wonderfully social. Everything you think is a response to what someone else has thought and said.

- How to Think by Alan Jacobs

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Why Lost Ice Means Lost Hope for an Inuit Village

When Dr. Cunsolo first started researching the impact of climate change on mental health, she said there was a misconception that indigenous people — often on the front lines of rising oceans, extreme heat and melting ice — would be the only ones affected.

But studies in Australia showed how farmers struggled with extreme weather, and that in Ghana, withered crops, dried-up wells and the “loss of beauty” made people sad.

“We weren’t around when the asteroid wiped out dinosaurs, but now we have humans in the 21st century who are trying to deal with a change to the world which is unprecedented,” said Glenn Albrecht, a philosopher and former professor at Murdoch University in Australia. He said that language needed to evolve to articulate such profound loss.

After witnessing the devastation at Australia’s strip mines, Dr. Albrecht coined the word solastalgia: “a form of homesickness one experiences when one is still at home.” (It comes from the Latin solacium, meaning “comfort” and the ancient Greek root algia meaning “pain.”)

Dr. Albrecht said the anxiety people felt about climate change was perfectly rational. What’s disordered, he said, “is the world that is causing you to feel that way.”

The experience of those on the front lines, Dr. Cunsolo said, was merely an indication of what was coming. “All humans, whether we want to admit it or not, are impacted by the natural environment,” she said.

Mr. Pottle, for his part, is learning, painfully, to adapt.

Blocked by the open water of the bay, he aimed his snowmobile along a path of low willow seedlings and mosses. Miles on, he would reach the tundra, where, in the distance, his red cabin sat against a white backdrop of sky and land

- More Here

Quote of the Day

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Quote of the Day

Let an ultraintelligent machine be defined as a machine that can far surpass all the intellectual activities of any man however clever. Since the design of machines is one of these intellectual activities, an ultraintelligent machine could design even better machines; there would then unquestionably be an “intelligence explosion,” and the intelligence of man would be left far behind. Thus the first ultraintelligent machine is the last invention that man need ever make, provided that the machine is docile enough to tell us how to keep it under control.

I. J. Good

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Quote of the Day

For if one shows this, a man will retire from his error of himself; but as long as you do not succeed in showing this, you need not wonder if he persists in his error, for he acts because he has an impression that he is right.

- Epictetus, Discourses, II.26

Monday, November 27, 2017

Quote of the Day

A decade ago, Australian philosopher and professor of sustainability Glenn Albrecht set out to coin a term to capture the particular form of psychological distress that set in when the homelands that we love and from which we take comfort are radically altered by extraction and industrialization, rendering them alienating and unfamiliar. He settled on ‘solastalgia,’ with it’s evocations of solace, destruction, and pain, and defined the new word to mean, 'the homesickness you have when you are still at home.

- Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Quote of the Day

Plastics in particular are being taken as a key marker for the Anthropocene, giving rise to the inevitable nickname of the “Plasticene”. We currently produce around 100m tonnes of plastic globally each year. Because plastics are inert and difficult to degrade, some of this plastic material will find its way into the strata record. Among the future fossils of the Anthropocene, therefore, might be the trace forms not only of megafauna and nano-planktons, but also shampoo bottles and deodorant caps – the strata that contain them precisely dateable with reference to the product-design archives of multinationals. “What will survive of us is love”, wrote Philip Larkin. Wrong. What will survive of us is plastic – and lead-207, the stable isotope at the end of the uranium-235 decay chain.

Generation Anthropocene: How humans have altered the planet for ever

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Wisdom Of The Week

Gandhi was more directly influenced on freedom, as on non-violence, by Tolstoy. We saw earlier, in A Letter to a Hindoo, the influence of Tolstoy’s view on non-violence, that Indians would be free from British rule, if they internalised the law of love and stopped cooperating on violent projects. Tolstoy saw freedom in recognition, when he said that Indians are enslaved by violence only because they do not recognise the eternal law of love inherent in humanity. Similarly, in Gandhi’s other favourite work by Tolstoy, The Kingdom of God is Within You (1894), Tolstoy writes that you will be free as soon as you recognise that the role you play in a violent society is not needed for the public good. The reference to love, we saw above, was brought into the Stoic Epictetus’ account of the Cynic’s response to injustice.

Tolstoy was more immediately influenced by the Stoics. He had in his library a book about the Stoics, Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius and other Greek moralists, and had marked a translation of Marcus Aurelius with numerous underlinings. One of Tolstoy’s remarks in The Kingdom of God is Within You is reminiscent of Epictetus on freedom as an inviolability of the rightly directed will, when he says: ‘It is impossible for a man to be placed against his will in a situation repugnant to his conscience.’ Gandhi’s own remark in 1926 seems to echo this when he says: ‘No power on Earth can make a person do a thing against his will.’ In both views, the will cannot be forced, although Epictetus had said this only of the rightly directed will. Gandhi’s comment is presumably not meant to deny that one can act reluctantly, as in his example above, in which non-violence is seen as even worse than violent action.


I have already given an example to show why I think Gandhi’s philosophy needs to be studied if his politics are to be understood. It is not opportunism that he sometimes allows violence yet often forbids it too. His belief is subtle (and, to my mind, correct) that, although violence is always wrong, it does not give us exceptionless laws of how to act. As already mentioned, he did not think of himself as a philosopher. But neither, for that matter, did he care for politics, which he once called a ‘botheration’, even though he was a great tactician. He put politics below spiritual values, and would give up political objectives if they clashed with spiritual ones.

Nonetheless, his conclusions about non-violence were to have an enormous impact on India, and not only there. It was partly because he had won worldwide admiration that Britain, weakened by the Second World War, had no choice but to leave India. By the count of Gene Sharp, founder of the Albert Einstein Institution, which is dedicated to advancing the study of non-violent action, there have been 23 non-violent resistance movements influenced by Gandhi in the 20th century and beyond, up to 2005; Martin Luther King, Jr’s was only one. Some have used Sharp’s analysis of Gandhi’s techniques as a handbook. Sharp regards about half of these resistance movements as having succeeded. I think one further effect of Gandhi’s non-violent approach was that there was so little bitterness among first-generation Indians towards the British once they had left, although later generations could well be much more upset when they read the history of British occupation.

Gandhi the philosopher

Quote of the Day

An innovation will get traction only if it helps people get something that they're already doing in their lives done better.

- Clayton M. Christensen

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Quote of the Day

Until you conquer the fear of being an outsider, an outsider you will remain.

- C.S. Lewis

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Quote of the Day

When we give our minds and our responsibility away, we give our lives away. If enough of us do it, we give the world away and that is precisely what we have been doing throughout known human history. This is why the few have always controlled the masses. The only difference today is that the few are now manipulating the entire planet because of the globalisation of business, banking and communications. The foundation of that control has always been the same : keep the people in ignorance, fear and at war with themselves,. Divide, rule and conquer while keeping the most important knowledge to yourself.

- David Icke

Monday, November 20, 2017

Quote of the Day

Once I was asked by a seatmate on a trans-Pacific flight, a man who took the liberty of glancing repeatedly at the correspondence in my lap, what instruction he should give his fifteen-year-old daughter, who wanted to be a writer. I didn't know how to answer him, but before I could think I heard myself saying, 'Tell your daughter three things.'

"Tell her to read, I said. Tell her to read whatever interests her, and protect her if someone declares what she's reading to be trash. No one can fathom what happens between a human being and written language. She may be paying attention to things in the world beyond anyone else's comprehension, things that feed her curiosity, her singular heart and mind. Tell her to read classics like The Odyssey. They've been around a long time because the patterns in them have proved endlessly useful, and, to borrow Evan Connell's observation, with a good book you never touch bottom. But warn your daughter that ideas of heroism, of love, of human duty and devotion that women have been writing about for centuries will not be available to her in this form. To find these voices she will have to search. When, on her own, she begins to ask, make her a present of George Eliot, or the travel writing of Alexandra David-Neel, or To the Lighthouse.

"Second, I said, tell your daughter that she can learn a great deal about writing by reading and by studying books about grammar and the organization of ideas, but that if she wishes to write well she will have to become someone. She will have to discover her beliefs, and then speak to us from within those beliefs. If her prose doesn't come out of her belief, whatever that proves to be, she will only be passing on information, of which we are in no great need. So help her discover what she means.

"Finally, I said, tell your daughter to get out of town, and help her do that. I don't necessarily mean to travel to Kazakhstan, or wherever, but to learn another language, to live with people other than her own, to separate herself from the familiar. Then, when she returns, she will be better able to understand why she loves the familiar, and will give us a fresh sense of how fortunate we are to share these things.

"Read. Find out what you truly are. Get away from the familiar. Every writer, I told him, will offer you thoughts about writing that are different, but these three I trust.”

- Barry López, About This Life

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Quote of the Day

We need the tonic of wildness...At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature.

- Henry David Thoreau, Walden: Or, Life in the Woods

Saturday, November 18, 2017

The Danger of Knowing You’re on the ‘Right Side of History’

I have to say I was deeply moved by the New York Times op-ed yesterday by an evangelical law professor from Alabama. The piece, by the wonderfully named William S. Brewbaker III, moved me because it was the first genuinely Christian thing I’ve heard an evangelical say about the Roy Moore scandal. It did more than renounce the tribalism that has led so many alleged Christians to back Moore; it presented Christianity, properly understood, as the core alternative to tribalism, as one way out of tribalism’s dead end. Brewbaker’s critical and deeply evangelical point:
To begin with, sin is a problem from which no one is exempt. If God’s love required the suffering and death of the Son of God in order to redeem us, we should not underestimate the consequences of sin in our own lives. The world is not divided into “good people” and “bad people”; to quote St. Paul, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Or, as the Russian novelist Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote, “the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either, but right through every human heart, and through all human hearts.”

It is thus wrong to attack one’s critics, as Mr. Moore did recently on Twitter, as “the forces of evil” and attribute their questions about serious allegations to “a spiritual battle.”
This is not just an evangelical truth. It is deeply embedded in all of Christianity. No party, no cause, no struggle, however worthy, is ever free from evil. No earthly cause is entirely good. And to believe with absolute certainty that you are on “the right side of history,” or on the right side of a battle between “good and evil,” is a dangerous and seductive form of idolatry. It flatters yourself. And it will lead you inevitably to lose your moral bearings because soon, you will find yourself doing and justifying things that are evil solely because they advance the cause of the “good.” These compromises can start as minor and forgivable trade-offs; but they compound over time. In the Catholic church, the conviction that the institution could do no wrong, that its reputation must endure because it represented the right side in the struggle against evil … led to the mass rape of children and teens.

- Andrew Sullivan

Wisdom Of The Week

When every day many of us wake up to read about fresh horrors on our fresh horrors device, we might find ourselves contemplating the question as to whether, as Albert Camus supposedly put it, one should kill oneself or have a cup of coffee. If there is any philosopher who is famous for contemplating suicide, it’s Camus who, in a more serious tone, proposed that, “There is but one truly serious philosophical problem and that is suicide.”

The existentialists and Stoics are notorious for being at loggerheads on many issues. Yet Simone de Beauvoir, who was much less famous for her views on suicide than Camus, gives an example that shows the existential answer isn’t so far removed from the Stoic one – a fascinating case of philosophical convergence, two millennia apart.

In 1954, Beauvoir was awarded France’s most prestigious literary prize for her book The Mandarins, in which the main character Anne contemplates suicide. When once she saw the world as vast and inexhaustible, she now looks at it with indifference: “The earth is frozen over; nothingness has reclaimed it.” Her great love affair has collapsed, her daughter has grown up and no longer needs her, and she finds her profession unfulfilling. It’s not only that she feels her life no longer counts, but also existing is torturous and her memories are agony. Suicide seems like an escape from the pain. Clutching the brown vial of poison, Anne hears her daughter’s voice outside and it jars her into considering the effect of her death on other people. “My death does not belong to me,” she concludes, because “it’s the others who would live my death.”


what makes a life worth living is being useful to others, trying to make the world a better place, our relationships with people we love, and our freedom as moral agents. So long as we have those things, even in limited measure, we stay. And the very fact that there is an open door is a guarantee of freedom for the Stoics. It’s the reassuring knowledge that, if things are really unbearable, you can walk out. As Seneca put it, liberty is as close as your wrists.

No one knows when our time is up. But precisely because we don’t know when life is going to end, the Stoics say that we should live every moment to the fullest, engaging our life in the here and now. If we do things that we don’t enjoy, or are not important, we are wasting the only resource for which people cannot possibly pay us back: time. As Seneca puts it: “Hold every hour in your grasp. Lay hold of today’s task, and you will not need to depend so much upon tomorrow’s. While we are postponing, life speeds by.” Marcus Aurelius, the philosopher-emperor, agrees: “A limit of time is fixed for you, which if you do not use for clearing away the clouds from your mind, it will go and you will go, and it will never return.”

So the answer to Camus’ question is the one given by Epictetus: no, you shouldn’t commit suicide so long as you are up to do what Marcus called the job of a human being. Grab a cup of joe, and focus on appreciating and creating meaningful relationships, projects to pursue, useful things to contribute to others, and things to learn for yourself

Should I kill myself or have a cup of coffee? The Stoics and Existentialists agree on the answer

Quote of the Day

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Quote of the Day

Our own worst enemy cannot harm us as much as our unwise thoughts. No one can help us as much as our own compassionate thoughts.

- Buddha

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Quote of the Day

We do not content ourselves with the life we have in ourselves and in our own being; we desire to live an imaginary life in the mind of others, and for this purpose we endeavour to shine. We labour unceasingly to adorn and preserve this imaginary existence, and neglect the real. And if we possess calmness, or generosity, or truthfulness, we are eager to make it known, so as to attach these virtues to that imaginary existence. We would rather separate them from ourselves to join them to it; and we would willingly be cowards in order to acquire the reputation of being brave. A great proof of the nothingness of our being, not to be satisfied with the one without the other, and to renounce the one for the other! For he would be infamous who would not die to preserve his honour.

- Blaise Pascal, Pensées

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Quote of the Day

It is now becoming clear why, in spite our lip service to the dialectic, we find it so hard to acknowledge that contradictory processes might actually be at work in society. It is not just a question of difficulty of perception, but one of considerable psychological resistance and reluctance: to accept that thedoux-commerce and the self-destruction theses (or the feudal-shackles or feudal-blessings theses) might both be right makes it much more difficult for the social observer, critic, or “scientist” to impress the general public by proclaiming some inevitable outcome of current processes. But after so many failed prophecies, is it not in the interest of social science to embrace complexity, be it at some sacrifice of its claim to predictive power?

- Albert O. Hirschman

Monday, November 13, 2017

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Quote of the Day

We are drowning in information, while starving for wisdom. The world henceforth will be run by synthesizers, people able to put together the right information at the right time, think critically about it, and make important choices wisely.

- Edward O. Wilson

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Wisdom Of The Week

The conventional story of human development, he shows, is based on faulty chronology. It turns out that cultivating grain—long thought to be the crucial step from roaming to civilization—does not naturally lead people to stay put in large settlements. New archaeological evidence suggests that people planted and harvested grain as part of a mix of food sources for many centuries, perhaps millennia, without settling into cities. And there were, in fact, places where people did settle down and build towns without farming grain: ecologically rich places, often wetlands bordering the migration routes of birds and animals, where foraging, fishing, and hunting made for a good life in all seasons. There is nothing about grain that fastens humanity’s foot to the earth, as President John Quincy Adams put it in one of the innumerable retellings of the standard story.

Grain is special, but for a different reason. It is easy to standardize—to plant in rows or paddies, and store and record in units such as bushels. This makes grain an ideal target for taxation. Unlike underground tubers or legumes, grain grows tall and needs harvesting all at once, so officials can easily estimate annual yields. And unlike fugitive wild foods, grain creates a relatively consistent surplus, allowing a ruling class to skim off peasant laborers’ production through a tax regime of manageable complexity. Grain, in Scott’s lexicon, is the kind of thing a state can see. On this account, the first cities were not so much a great leap forward for humanity as a new mode of exploitation that enabled the world’s first leisured ruling class to live on the sweat of the world’s first peasant-serfs. As for writing, that great gateway to history, Scott reports that its earliest uses suggest it was basically a grain-counting technology. Literary culture and shared memory existed in abundance both before and after the first pictographs and alphabets—consider Homer’s epics, the products of a nonliterate Greek “dark age” before the Classical period. Writing contributed a ledger of exploitation.

Scott’s retelling, however, goes deeper than scrambling the chronology and emphasizing the dark side of early institutions. Life in cities, he argues, was probably worse than foraging or herding. City dwellers were vulnerable to epidemics. Their diets were less varied than those of people on the outside. Unless they were in the small ruling class, they had less leisure, because they had to produce food not just for their own survival, but also to support their rulers. Their labor might be called on to build fortresses, monuments, and those ever-looming walls. Outside the walls, by contrast, a fortunate savage or barbarian might be a hunter in the morning, a herder or fisherman in the afternoon, and a bard singing tales around the fire in the evening. To enter the city meant joining the world’s first proletariat.

What made prehistoric hunter-gatherers give up freedom for civilization?

Quote of the Day

I am, somehow, less interested in the weight and convolutions of Einstein’s brain than in the near certainty that people of equal talent have lived and died in cotton fields and sweatshops.

- Stephen Jay Gould, The Panda's Thumb: More Reflections in Natural History

Friday, November 10, 2017

Quote of the Day

It's also the principle that lies behind all of Oriental martial arts. You don't try to stop your opponent, you let him come at you-and then give him a tap in just the right direction as he rushes by. The idea is to observe, to act courageously, and to pick your timing extremely well.

- M. Mitchell Waldrop, Complexity: The Emerging Science at the Edge of Order and Chaos

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Quote of the Day

You may have noticed students who just try to remember and pound back what is remembered. Well, they fail in school and in life. You’ve got to hang experience on a latticework of models in your head.

-  Charlie Munger

Monday, November 6, 2017

Quote of the Day

Bitcoin is a system with many strict rules but without any rulers. This is made possible because the rules are enforced by each and every user of the system. Changing the existing rules is nearly impossible, but new rules can be added if consensus is achieved.

- Rules without Rulers

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Quote of the Day

Don't waste your time with explanations: people only hear what they want to hear.

- Paulo Coelho

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Wisdom Of The Week

- On What Matters by Derek Parfit

So Far, the Best Insight of the Century

Having met the DeepMind people in my role with the MIT Media Lab, I know that their definition of “intelligence” is so impoverished that it doesn’t extend beyond the abstract calculations that an algorithm can achieve, and completely fails to understand that human intelligence is embodied and distributed throughout our physical selves – and indeed between them, in the mirror neurons that fire in sympathy when we watch a dancer or help an injured friend. In short, it’s not just depressing, it’s bad science.

Artificial intelligence of the kind Google promotes can play Go and even – at a pinch – recognise Bach or Picasso. It can never produce Bach or Picasso, still less understand the complexity of social forms and culture that made their lives possible.

If we entrust the education of those who will determine the future relationship of people and machines to a company whose core belief is that all human experience can be replicated by algorithms, all we can hope is that global warming wipes us out before the machines do.

Google DeepMind is Making Artificial Intelligence a Slave to the Algorithm

Quote of the Day

Friday, November 3, 2017

Quote of the Day

No question is more sublime than why there is a Universe: why there is anything rather than nothing.

- Derek Parfit

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Quote of the Day

What now matters most is how we respond to various risks to the survival of humanity. We are creating some of these risks, and discovering how we could respond to these and other risks. If we reduce these risks, and humanity survives the next few centuries, our descendants or successors could end these risks by spreading through this galaxy.

Life can be wonderful as well as terrible, and we shall increasingly have the power to make life good. Since human history may be only just beginning, we can expect that future humans, or supra-humans, may achieve some great goods that we cannot now even imagine. In Nietzsche’s words, there has never been such a new dawn and clear horizon, and such an open sea.

If we are the only rational beings in the Universe, as some recent evidence suggests, it matters even more whether we shall have descendants or successors during the billions of years in which that would be possible. Some of our successors might live lives and create worlds that, though failing to justify past suffering, would give us all, including some of those who have suffered, reasons to be glad that the Universe exists.

- Derek Parfit, On What Matters: Volume Three

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Quote of the Day

Almost all of AI’s recent progress is through one type, in which some input data (A) is used to quickly generate some simple response (B).

- Andrew Ng

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Quote of the Day

Engineers, medical people, scientific people, have an obsession with solving the problems of reality, when actually … once you reach a basic level of wealth in society, most problems are actually problems of perception.

- Rory Sutherland

Monday, October 30, 2017

Quote of the Day

Many a man curses the rain that falls upon his head, and knows not that it brings abundance to drive away the hunger.

- Saint Basil

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Quote of the Day

You can know the name of a bird in all the languages of the world, but when you're finished, you'll know absolutely nothing whatever about the bird... So let's look at the bird and see what it's doing -- that's what counts. I learned very early the difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something.

- Richard Feynman

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Wisdom Of The Week

No algorithm works perfectly every time you run it — even the best ones misfire some small percentage of the time. In the example we’ve been using, a misfire could mean that the second two-digit block, 34, gets assigned an incorrect tag, and as a result, when it goes looking for the block it’s supposed to be joined to, it doesn’t have the information it needs to find 56. And once one link in the chain fails, the entire effort falls apart.

To avoid this problem, the researchers use what’s called an “expander graph.” In an expander graph, each two-digit block forms a point. Points get connected by lines (according to the tagging process described above) to form a cluster. The important feature of an expander graph is that instead of merely connecting each point with its adjoining blocks, you connect each two-digit block with multiple other blocks. For example, with 12,345,678, you connect 12 with 34 but also with 56, so that you can still tell that 12 and 56 belong in the same number even if the link between 12 and 34 fails.

An expander graph doesn’t always come out perfectly. Sometimes it’ll fail to link two blocks that should be linked. Or it’ll link two blocks that don’t belong together. To counteract this tendency, the researchers developed the final step of their algorithm: a “cluster-preserving” sub-algorithm that can survey an expander graph and accurately determine which points are meant to be clustered together and which aren’t, even when some lines are missing and false ones have been added.

“This guarantees I can recover something that looks like the original clusters,” Thorup said.

Best-Ever Algorithm Found for Huge Streams of Data

Quote of the Day

If you have time to chatter,
Read books.

If you have time to read,

Walk into mountain, desert and ocean.

If you have time to walk,

Sing songs and dance.

If you have time to dance,

Sit quietly, you happy, lucky idiot.

- Nanao Sakaki

Friday, October 27, 2017

Quote of the Day

It is unwise to be too sure of one's own wisdom. It is healthy to be reminded that the strongest might weaken and the wisest might err.

- Mahatma Gandhi

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Quote of the Day

The threat to our future and well-being that precautionary regulation poses, meanwhile, is considerable. AI technologies are poised to generate life-saving developments in health and transportation while modernizing manufacturing and trade. The projected economic benefits reach the trillions. And on a personal level, AI promises to make our lives more comfortable and simpler.

Policymakers who wish to champion growth should embrace a stance of “permissionless innovation.” Humility, collaboration, and voluntary solutions should trump the outdated “command and control” model of the last century. The age of smart machines needs a new age of smart policy.

Don’t Let Regulators Ruin AI

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Story of Memphis Meats' lab.

Uma Valeti remembers the first time he really thought about where meat comes from. A cardiologist turned founder, Valeti grew up in Vijayawada, India, where his father was a veterinarian and his mother taught physics. When he was 12, he attended a neighbor's birthday party. In the front yard, people danced and feasted on chicken tandoori and curried goat. Valeti wandered around to the back of the house, where cooks were hard at work decapitating and gutting animal after animal to keep the loaded platters coming. "It was like, birthday, death day," he says. "It didn't make sense."

Valeti remained a carnivore for more than a decade, until after he had moved to the U.S. for his medical residency. But in time, he found himself increasingly disturbed by food-borne illness. He was especially grossed out by the contamination that happens in slaughterhouses when animal feces get mixed in with meat. "I loved eating meat, but I didn't like the way it was being produced," he says. "I thought, there has to be a better way."

In a tiny R&D suite in a nondescript office building in the unglamorous Silicon Valley exurb of San Leandro, a lanky, red-haired molecular biologist named Eric Schulze is fiddling with a microscope, and I'm about to get a look at that better way. Like the specimen he'll show me, Schulze is something of a hybrid. Formerly a Food and Drug Administration regulator, he's now an educator, TV host, and senior scientist at Memphis Meats, the company that Valeti founded in 2016 and whose laboratory he is showing me. Lining one wall is a HEPA-filtered tissue cabinet, to which someone has affixed a "Chicken Crossing" sign, and a meat freezer labeled "Angus." Along the opposite wall is an incubator dialed to 106 degrees Fahrenheit, the body temperature of Anas platyrhynchos domesticus--the domestic duck.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

I never guess. It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.

- Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

The Relationship That Changed The World !

Quote of the Day

The interview started. Hearing a friend tell an old story about you is not an exciting activity, and hearing someone praise you is always awkward. I picked up something to read and my attention drifted— until I heard Danny say: “Oh, the best thing about Thaler, what really makes him special, is that he is lazy.” What? Really? I would never deny being lazy, but did Danny think that my laziness was my single best quality? I started waving my hands and shaking my head madly but Danny continued, extolling the virtues of my sloth. To this day, Danny insists it was a high compliment. My laziness, he claims, means I only work on questions that are intriguing enough to overcome this default tendency of avoiding work. Only Danny could turn my laziness into an asset.

- Richard H. Thaler, Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioural Economics

Monday, October 23, 2017

Quote of the Day

People in suburbia see trees differently than foresters do. They cherish every one. It is useless to speak of the probability that a certain tree will die when the tree is in someone’s backyard…You are talking about a personal asset, a friend, a monument, not about board feet of lumber.

- Roger Swain

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Quote of the Day

We can learn a lot from trees: they're always grounded but never stop reaching heavenward.

- Everett Mamor

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Wisdom Of The Week

Thoreau’s real masterpiece is not Walden but the 2-million-word journal that he kept until six months before he died. Its continuing relevance lies in the vivid spectacle of a man wrestling with tensions that still confound us. The journal illustrates his almost daily balancing act between recording scrupulous observations of nature and expressing sheer joy at the beauty of it all. Romantic predecessors like Samuel Taylor Coleridge and, centuries before that, polymaths like Leonardo da Vinci thrived on the interplay between subjective and objective exploration of the world. For Leonardo, engineering and math infused painting and sculpture; Coleridge said that he attended chemistry lectures to enlarge his “stock of metaphors.”

For Thoreau, along with his fellow Transcendentalists, the by-now familiar dichotomy between the arts and the sciences had begun to hold sway. (The word scientist was coined in 1834, as the sciences were becoming professionalized and specialized.) Thoreau felt the disjunction acutely, and his journal lays bare both his fascinated scrutiny of the most intricate factual details and his fear of losing his grasp of nature or the cosmos as a whole.

Today scientists churn out data-stuffed reports assessing the perils we face—shrinking Arctic ice, rising sea levels, extreme floods and droughts, the acidification of oceans, forest fires. Their daunting graphs, tables, and technical language stir up debates and doubts. Such dry projections, devoid of poetry and imagination, serve as an implicit summons to experts to come up with solutions. Crucial though the data and reports are, they eclipse precisely the sort of immediate, intuitive, sensual experiences of nature that are, in our Anthropocene era, all too rare. For Thoreau, a sense of wonder—of awe toward, but also oneness with, nature—was essential. We will, he understood, protect only what we love.


A week after that first extended entry, he wrote, “I feel ripe for something; it is seed time with me—I have lain fallow long enough.” Thoreau went on, “My Journal should be the record of my love.” At the same time, his journal was a repository of constant measurements, minute and expansive: of the depth of streams, the wingspan of a moth, the number of bubbles trapped beneath the frozen surface of the pond. “What are these pines & these birds about? What is this pond a-doing? I must know a little more,” Thoreau had written back in 1846, when his journal had still been a source to plunder for other writing projects, not yet a compendium of exhaustive field notes. Now his quest for unifying order became more focused, and he set out to pursue it by counting the petals on a blossom or the rings in the stump of a fallen tree—hoping not to lose a sense of beauty and mystery in the process.


Thoreau was anxious to get the balance right. “This habit of close observation—in Humboldt—Darwin & others. Is it to be kept up long—this science?” he asked himself. As Walls noted in her previous book about Thoreau’s relationship to 19th-century science, Seeing New Worlds, his reading of Charles Lyell’s revolutionary Principles of Geology in 1840 had given him the insight that small details add up to one bigger truth: Lyell argued that the Earth had been shaped gradually by minute changes, and that these slow forces were still active. Steeped in the sciences, Thoreau emphasized that orderly data needn’t be dead. Carl Linnaeus’s binomial system for classifying plants was “itself poetry,” and in the early 1850s Thoreau jotted in his journal, “Facts fall from the poetic observer as ripe seeds.”

Still, Thoreau felt the limits of disciplined scrutiny. “With all your science can you tell how it is, and whence it is, that light comes into the soul?” he asked in one of his July 1851 entries. In December, when he saw a crimson cloud hanging deep over the horizon on a cold winter day, he wrote, “You tell me it is a mass of vapor which absorbs all other rays,” only to lament that this was not a good enough explanation, “for this red vision excites me, stirs my blood.” What kind of science was this, he wanted to know, “which enriches the understanding but robs the imagination?” The following summer he summed up the dilemma. “Every poet has trembled on the verge of science,” he wrote after a long day at the Sudbury River, even as he also noted, “I wanted to know the name of every shrub.” Was his knowledge becoming so fine-grained “that in exchange for views as wide as heaven’s cope I am narrowed down to the field of a microscope”? He saw “details not wholes,” and feared being “dissipated by so many observations.” Or could the sensual be entwined with the scientific? For Thoreau, in a short entry about frogs, that happened: “They express, as it were, the very feeling of the earth or nature. They are perfect thermometers, hygrometers, and barometers.”


Thoreau’s love for nature sings off his journal pages in spring. His winter writing slices right into the heart. His entries, day after day, are testimony to the power of renewal and rebirth—and to the importance of harnessing the human sense of wonder to better understand and protect the Earth. In our age of the Anthropocene, as we distance ourselves from the cyclical rhythms of nature, we are disconnecting from our planet. Thoreau’s journal is a reminder of what is at stake.

Walden Wasn’t Thoreau’s Masterpiece

Quote of the Day

We can learn a lot from trees: they're always grounded but never stop reaching heavenward.

- Everett Mamor

Friday, October 20, 2017

Quote of the Day

A nation that destroys its soils destroys itself. Forests are the lungs of our land, purifying the air and giving fresh strength to our people.

- Franklin D. Roosevelt

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Quote of the Day

When the taste for physical gratifications among them has grown more rapidly than their education . . . the time will come when men are carried away and lose all self-restraint . . . . It is not necessary to do violence to such a people in order to strip them of the rights they enjoy; they themselves willingly loosen their hold. . . . they neglect their chief business which is to remain their own masters.

- Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America Volume 2

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Quote of the Day

Creativity always comes a surprise to us; therefore we can never count on it and we dare not believe in it until it has happened. In other words, we would not consciously engage upon tasks whose success clearly requires that creativity be forthcoming. Hence, the only way in which we can bring our creative resources fully into play is by misjudging the nature of the task, by presenting it to ourselves as more routine, simple, undemanding of genuine creativity that it will turn out to be.

- Albert O. Hirschman

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Quote of the Day

Despite hopes for the future, Puerto Rico is, once again, forced to focus on reactive maintenance. “There is no time to redesign the system or apply new technologies at a large scale now,” Carlos Reyes, general manager of operations for EcoEléctrica, a private company that operates one of the few power plants not owned by AEE, told me in an email. Other experts agreed. It’s unlikely that Puerto Rico’s grid will be rebuilt stronger and better over the next year. It’ll be enough work just to get it back online in its same old state.

The work of reimagining the grid — and, more importantly, designing a system that won’t put people right back in the dark the next time a hurricane hits — will take more than just technological improvements. Puerto Rico will need to reimagine the system that led to outdated, run-down technology, too.

Why Puerto Rico’s Electric Grid Stood No Chance Against Maria

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Quote of the Day

...But I own that I cannot see as plainly as others do, and as I should wish to do, evidence of design and beneficence on all sides of us. There seems to me too much misery in the world. I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidæ with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of Caterpillars, or that a cat should play with mice... I feel most deeply that the whole subject is too profound for the human intellect. A dog might as well speculate on the mind of Newton. Let each man hope and believe what he can.

- Charles Darwin, The Life & Letters of Charles Darwin

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Wisdom Of The Week

My first response on reading the “Pokémon paper”, as I have come to think of it, was dismay. My second was a wish to write a book for children that might conjure with the magic of “living creatures” rather than “synthetic subjects”. And my third was puzzlement. What had happened to the names and knowledge of nearby nature in the lives and reading of British children? Could they really have dwindled towards a vanishing point?

Subsequent research has confirmed the Pokémon paper’s broad findings. In a 2008 National Trust survey, only a third of eight- to 11-year-olds could identify a magpie, though nine out of 10 could name a Dalek. A 2017 RSPB “Birdwatch” survey smartly shifted the focus, assessing nature knowledge in parents rather than children. Of 2,000 adults, half couldn’t identify a house sparrow, a quarter didn’t know a blue tit or a starling, and a fifth thought a red kite wasn’t a bird – but nine out of 10 said they wanted children to learn about common British wildlife. A 2017 Wildlife Trusts survey found a third of adults unable to identify a barn owl, three-quarters unable to identify an ash tree – and two-thirds feeling that they had “lost touch with nature”.


In his influential book Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv suggests that both adults and children have increasingly come to “regard nature as something to watch, to consume, to wear: to ignore”. Inevitably, such a shift – if it is a shift, rather than a new edition of an old problem – has consequences for imaginative territories as well as real ones. As children “abandon the sandlots and creekbeds, the alleys and woodlands”, asks Michael Chabon in his essay “The Wilderness of Childhood”, “what will become of the world of stories, of literature itself?”

One answer to Chabon’s question might be found in the data sets provided by the annual 500 Words story competition, run by the BBC and Oxford University Press. This glorious story fest is open to five- to 13-year-olds, and typically attracts more than 120,000 entries, supplying an annual corpus of well over 50m words. Taken together, the stories offered remarkable insights into the communal imagination and vocabulary of Britain’s children. Plots and characters can be seen emerging and fading. It’s possible to drill down in the data to specific lexical choices, tracking the rise and fall of single words.


We should be unsurprised that nature’s names are vanishing from children’s mouths and minds’ eyes, for nature itself is vanishing. We are presently living through the sixth great extinction – a speed and scale of planetary biodiversity loss not seen since the Cretaceous. At a local level, this expresses itself in what Michael McCarthy memorably calls “the great thinning”. The 2016 State of Nature report found Britain to be “among the most nature-depleted countries in the world”, with 53% of British species in decline – among them barn owls, newts, sparrows and starlings.

As nature thins, so does our memory of it. Shifting baseline syndrome flattens out the losses; each generation grows into ease with its new normal for nature. The grim end-point of this thinning is foreseen in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, where common names survive but the common species to which they refer are all extinct. Names in that novel are spoken hopelessly, shaken like rattles filled with ash.

“Reconnect with nature” is the mantra for fixing this awful decline – as if we could just plug the toaster back into its socket and get right on back to lightly browning bread. We load the cant-word “connection” with responsibility, but rarely examine what it means philosophically or practically. An exception to this is the RSPB’s 2013 Connecting with Nature report, based on a three-year research project. Sensibly, the report recognised “nature deficit” as a complex problem, strongly inflected by socioeconomic and cultural factors. Dismayingly, it found only one in five British children to be “positively connected to nature”. Hopefully, it emphasised “nature connection” as not only a “conservation” issue, but also one closely involved with education, physical health, emotional wellbeing and future attainment: what’s good for nature is also good for the child.

- Badger or Bulbasaur - have children lost touch with nature? excerpts from The Lost Words by Robert Macfarlane (Author), Jackie Morris (Author)

Quote of the Day

It is impossible to overestimate the importance of group selection to both science and the humanities, and further, to the foundation of moral and political reasoning.

- E.O.Wilson, The Origins of Creativity

Friday, October 13, 2017

Quote of the Day

Of all forms of pride, perhaps the most desirable is a justified pride in being trustworthy.

- Charlie Munger

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Quote of the Day

It’s when we get to the social world that things really get gnarly. A lot of our thinking is for bonding, not truth-seeking, so most of us are quite willing to think or say anything that will help us be liked by our group. We’re quite willing to disparage anyone when, as Marilynne Robinson once put it, “the reward is the pleasure of sharing an attitude one knows is socially approved.” And when we don’t really know a subject well enough, in T. S. Eliot’s words, “we tend always to substitute emotions for thoughts,” and go with whatever idea makes us feel popular.

- David Brooks

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Quote of the Day

I would say, if you like, that the party is like an out-moded mathematics...that is to say, the mathematics of Euclid. We need to invent a non-Euclidian mathematics with respect to political discipline.

- Alain Badiou, The Concept of Model: An Introduction to the Materialist Epistemology of Mathematics

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Quote of the Day

When I say it's you I like, I'm talking about that part of you that knows that life is far more than anything you can ever see or hear or touch. That deep part of you that allows you to stand for those things without which humankind cannot survive. Love that conquers hate, peace that rises triumphant over war, and justice that proves more powerful than greed.

- Fred Rogers

Monday, October 9, 2017

Quote of the Day

As for goals, I don't set myself those anymore. I'm not one of these 'I must have achieved this and that by next year' kind of writers. I take things as they come and find that patience and persistence tend to win out in the end.

- Paul Kane

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Quote of the Day

Any change, even a change for the better, is always accompanied by drawbacks and discomforts.

-Arnold Bennett

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Wisdom Of The Week

As Kasparov described an early such match:
Having a computer partner also meant never having to worry about making a tactical blunder. The computer could project the consequences of each move we considered, pointing out possible outcomes and countermoves we might otherwise have missed. With that taken care of for us, we could concentrate on strategic planning instead of spending so much time on calculations. Human creativity was even more paramount under these conditions.
Kasparov argues that the introduction of machine intelligence to chess did not diminish but enhanced the aesthetics of the game, creating a new space for creativity at the game’s highest levels. Today, players of ‘freestyle’ chess work with high-end chess systems, databases of millions of games and moves, and often other human collaborators too. Freestyle teams can easily defeat both top grandmasters and chess programs, and some of the best centaur teams are made up of amateur players who have created better processes for combining human and machine intelligence.

These centaur games are beautiful. The quality of play is higher, the noise of simple human errors reduced, making space for the kind of pure contest that the platonic solids and geometries of chess idealise.

Art by algorithm

Quote of the Day

I think and think and think, I‘ve thought myself out of happiness one million times, but never once into it.

- Jonathan Safran Foer

Friday, October 6, 2017

Quote of the Day

Or is it your reputation that’s bothering you? But look at how soon we’re all forgotten. The abyss of endless time that swallows it all. The emptiness of those applauding hands. The people who praise us; how capricious they are, how arbitrary. And the tiny region it takes place. The whole earth a point in space – and most of it uninhabited.

- Marcus Aurelius

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Quote of the Day

When another blames you or hates you, or people voice similar criticisms, go to their souls, penetrate inside and see what sort of people they are. You will realize that there is no need to be racked with anxiety that they should hold any particular opinion about you.

- Marcus Aurelius

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Quote of the Day

You can discard most of the junk that clutters your mind…and clear out space for yourself… by comprehending the scale of the world… by contemplating infinite time… by thinking of the speed with which things change — each part of every thing; the narrow space between our birth and death; the infinite time before; the equally unbounded time that follows.

- Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Monday, October 2, 2017

Quote of the Day

Not only is the Universe stranger than we think, it is stranger than we can think.

- Werner Heisenberg, Across the Frontiers

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Quote of the Day

Courage is a strong desire to live taking the form of a readiness to die.

- G.K. Chesterton

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Wisdom Of The Week

In the talk, Naftali Tishby, a computer scientist and neuroscientist from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, presented evidence in support of a new theory explaining how deep learning works. Tishby argues that deep neural networks learn according to a procedure called the “information bottleneck,” which he and two collaborators first described in purely theoretical terms in 1999. The idea is that a network rids noisy input data of extraneous details as if by squeezing the information through a bottleneck, retaining only the features most relevant to general concepts. Striking new computer experiments by Tishby and his student Ravid Shwartz-Ziv reveal how this squeezing procedure happens during deep learning, at least in the cases they studied.

Tishby’s findings have the AI community buzzing. “I believe that the information bottleneck idea could be very important in future deep neural network research,” said Alex Alemi of Google Research, who has already developed new approximation methods for applying an information bottleneck analysis to large deep neural networks. The bottleneck could serve “not only as a theoretical tool for understanding why our neural networks work as well as they do currently, but also as a tool for constructing new objectives and architectures of networks,” Alemi said.

New Theory Cracks Open the Black Box of Deep Learning