Books, Brochures, and Chapters>Book:  Brockman , John (2012-02-14), This Will Make You Smarter, HarperCollins, Retrieved on 2013-12-19
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  • Folksonomies: science

    Memes

    24 DEC 2013

     The Mediocrity Principle

    The reason this principle is so essential to science is that it’s the beginning of understanding how we came to be here and how everything works. We look for general principles that apply to the universe as a whole first, and those explain much of the story; and then we look for the quirks and exceptions that led to the details. It’s a strategy that succeeds and is useful in gaining a deeper knowledge. Starting with a presumption that a subject of interest represents a violation of the pr...
    Folksonomies: meaning purpose universe
    Folksonomies: meaning purpose universe
      1  notes

    P. Z. Myers' explanation for how this principle means we cannot look to supernatural explanations for our origins, because there is no reason to think we are an exception to the rules of the universe.

    24 DEC 2013

     Synchronicity in Science

    The famous Canadian physician William Osler once wrote, “In science the credit goes to the man who convinced the world, not to the man to whom the idea first occurs.” When we examine discoveries in science and mathematics, in hindsight we often find that if one scientist did not make a particular discovery, some other individual would have done so within a few months or years of the discovery. Most scientists, as Newton said, stood on the shoulders of giants to see the world just a bit fa...
      1  notes

    Clifford Pickover on the phenomenon of many scientists making the same discovery at once, because new knowledge has allowed them to see further over the horizon to see the same things.

    24 DEC 2013

     Multisensory Integration

    In sensory perception, multisensory integration is the rule, not the exception. In audition, we don’t just hear with our ears, we use our eyes to locate the apparent sources of sounds in the cinema where we “hear” the voices coming from the actors’ mouths on the screen, although the sounds are coming from the sides of the theater. This is known as the ventriloquism effect. Similarly, retronasal odors detected by olfactory receptors in the nose are experienced as tastes in the mouth. T...
    Folksonomies: perception senses
    Folksonomies: perception senses
      1  notes

    Barry C. Smith describes how our senses collaborate, our hearing with our sight to read lips and our sense of smell with taste to enhance one another.

    24 DEC 2013

     The Babbling Stage of Infancy

    It is interesting and perhaps surprising to realize that most mammals lack a capacity for complex vocal learning of this sort. Current research suggests that aside from humans, only marine mammals (whales, dolphins, seals), bats, and elephants have it. Among primates, humans appear to be the only species that can hear new sounds in the environment and then reproduce them. Our ability to do this seems to depend on a babbling stage during infancy, a period of vocal playfulness as instinctual as...
      1  notes

    W. Tecumseh Fitch describes the link between infant vocalizations and the ability of humans to vocalize extensively. This links to Chomsky's speech-center of the human brain.

    24 DEC 2013

     The Connections in the Brain

    Two neurons can communicate with each other at a synapse, which is the computational unit in the brain. The typical cortical synapse is less than a micron in diameter (10-6 meter), near the resolution limit of the light microscope. If the economy of the world is a stretch for us to contemplate, thinking about all the synapses in your head is mind-boggling. If I had a dollar for every synapse in your brain, I could support the current economy of the world for ten years. Cortical neurons on ave...
    Folksonomies: neurology
    Folksonomies: neurology
      1  notes

    Terrence Sejnowski on the incredible three-pound universe.

    24 DEC 2013

     Evolution as Cyclical Repetition

    If we lapse into thinking of the prebiotic, pre-reproductive world as a sort of featureless chaos of chemicals (like the scattered parts of the notorious jetliner assembled by a windstorm), the problem does look daunting and worse, but if we remind ourselves that the key process in evolution is cyclical repetition (of which genetic replication is just one highly refined and optimized instance), we can begin to see our way to turning the mystery into a puzzle: How did all those seasonal cycles...
      1  notes

    Daniel C. Dennett adds a cognitive tool to help understand how evolution works over time--by recognizing that evolution keeps trying, reproduction is a cycle.

    24 DEC 2013

     Rounded Numbers are Cultural Attractors

    Rounded numbers are cultural attractors: They are easier to remember and provide better symbols for magnitudes. So we celebrate twentieth wedding anniversaries, hundredth issues of journals, the millionth copy sold of a record, and so on. This, in turn, creates a special cultural attractor for prices, just below rounded numbers—$9.99 or $9,990 are likely price tags—so as to avoid the evocation of a higher magnitude.
    Folksonomies: culture mathematics powers
    Folksonomies: culture mathematics powers
      1  notes

    Dan Sperber on why we like rounded numbers.

    24 DEC 2013

     A Paucity of Diversity in Supernatural Beings

    In principle, there should be no limit to the diversity of supernatural beings that humans can imagine. However, as the anthropologist Pascal Boyer has argued, only a limited repertoire of such beings is exploited in human religions. Its members—ghosts, gods, ancestor spirits, dragons, and so on—have in common two features: 1. They each violate some major intuitive expectations about living beings: the expectation of mortality, of belonging to one and only one species, of being limited ...
      1  notes

    Dan Sperber describes how our many human-culture-produced supernatural beings are actually quite similar and predictable.

    24 DEC 2013

     How Neural Circuitry is Laid Down

    In thinking about hidden layers, it’s important to distinguish between the routine efficiency and power of a good network, once that network has been set up, and the difficult issue of how to set it up in the first place. That difference is reflected in the difference between playing the piano (or, say, riding a bicycle, or swimming) once you’ve learned (easy) and learning to do it in the first place (hard). Understanding exactly how new hidden layers get laid down in neural circuitry is ...
    Folksonomies: cognition neurology
    Folksonomies: cognition neurology
      1  notes

    Frank Wilczek describes one of the great questions of science, how the difficult taks of learning something leads to the learned easy of later doing it.

    24 DEC 2013

     Partially Diminished Fraction of Ecosystems

    Do you know the PDF of your shampoo? A PDF refers to a “partially diminished fraction” of an ecosystem, and if your shampoo contains palm oil cultivated on clear-cut jungle in Borneo, say, that value will be high. How about your shampoo’s DALY? This measure comes from public health: “disability-adjusted life years,” or the amount of one’s life that will be lost to a disabling disease because of, say, a lifetime’s cumulative exposure to a given industrial chemical. So if your fav...
    Folksonomies: environmentalism entropy
    Folksonomies: environmentalism entropy
      1  notes

    Daniel Goleman explains a concept for thinking about how our lives contribute to the increase of entropy in our biosphere.

    24 DEC 2013

     Adaptive Regression

    There are numerous vital experiences that cannot be achieved without adaptive regression: The creation and appreciation of art, music, literature, and food; the ability to sleep; sexual fulfillment; falling in love; and, yes, the ability to free-associate and tolerate psychoanalysis or psychodynamic therapy without getting worse. Perhaps the most important element in adaptive regression is the ability to fantasize, to daydream. The person who has access to his unconscious processes and mines ...
    Folksonomies: ideas creativity perception
    Folksonomies: ideas creativity perception
      1  notes

    Joel Gold on the exercise of fantasy and imagination to unlock knew ideas.

    24 DEC 2013

     An Early Experiment Hinting at DNA

    Anomaly (2) was observed by Fred Griffith, decades before DNA and the genetic code. He found that if you inject a heat-treated, dead, virulent species of bacteria (pneumococcus S) into a rat previously infected with a nonvirulent species (pneumococcus R), then species R became transformed into species S, thereby killing the rat. About fifteen years later, Oswald Avery found that you can even do this in a test tube; dead S would transform live R into live S if the two were simply incubated tog...
    Folksonomies: history genetics dna
    Folksonomies: history genetics dna
      1  notes

    V. S. Ramachandran on a fascinating experiment involving combining dead bacteria with live to produce new bacteria.

    24 DEC 2013

     Predictability and the Base Rate

    Whenever a statistician wants to predict the likelihood of some event based on the available evidence, there are two main sources of information that have to be taken into account: (1) the evidence itself, for which a reliability figure has to be calculated; and (2) the likelihood of the event calculated purely in terms of relative incidence. The second figure here is the base rate. Since it is just a number, obtained by the seemingly dull process of counting, it frequently gets overlooked wh...
    Folksonomies: predictability
    Folksonomies: predictability
      1  notes

    Keith Devlin explains why the accuracy of tests and measurments must take into account the base rate for the phenomenon.

    24 DEC 2013

     Science Generators

    Conway’s Game of Life is perhaps best viewed not as a single shorthand abstraction but rather as a generator of such abstractions. We get a whole bunch of useful abstractions—or at least a recipe for how to generate them—all for the price of one. And this points us to one especially useful shorthand abstraction: the strategy of Looking for Generators. We confront many problems. We can try to solve them one by one. But alternatively, we can try to create a generator that produces solutio...
    Folksonomies: science hypotheses
    Folksonomies: science hypotheses
      1  notes

    Nick Bostrom on the possibility of looking for scientific concept generators, similar to the way Conway's Game of Life is a pattern generator, rather than looking for random scientific problems to solve.

    24 DEC 2013

     The Interbeing Perspective

    So, if we continually exchange matter with the outside world, if our bodies are completely renewed every few years, and if each of us is a walking colony of trillions of largely symbiotic life-forms, exactly what is this self that we view as separate? You are not an isolated being. Metaphorically, to follow current bias and think of your body as a machine is not only inaccurate but destructive. Each of us is far more akin to a whirlpool, a brief, ever-shifting concentration of energy in a vas...
    Folksonomies: interconnectedness
    Folksonomies: interconnectedness
      1  notes

    Scott D. Sampson's beautiful passage on the interconnectedness of ourselves and the universe. We are a process in the background flow of the universe.

    24 DEC 2013

     Conversation is the Nemesis of Scientific Thinking

    The archenemy of scientific thinking is conversation, as in typical human conversational discourse, much of which is BS. I have become rather fed up with talking to people. Seriously, it is something of a problem. Fact is, folks are prone to getting pet opinions into their heads and thinking they’re true to the point of obstinacy, even when they have little or no idea of what they’re talking about in the first place. We all do it. It’s part of how the sloppy mind-generating piece of mea...
     1  1  notes

    Gregory Paul on how conversations are prone to falshoods and equating opinions with facts.

    24 DEC 2013

     All Human Acheivement is the Result of Networking

    Human achievement is entirely a networking phenomenon. It is by putting brains together through the division of labor—through trade and specialization—that human society stumbled upon a way to raise the living standards, carrying capacity, technological virtuosity, and knowledge base of the species. We can see this in all sorts of phenomena: the correlation between technology and connected population size in Pacific islands; the collapse of technology in people who became isolated, like n...
      1  notes

    Matt Ridley observes that isolated societies collapse, while networked societies succeed.

    24 DEC 2013

     Reverse Mentoring-Learning

    Or want to strengthen your working memory and ability to multitask? Try reverse mentoring—learning with your teenager. This is the first time in history when children are authorities about something important, and the successful ones are pioneers of a new paradigm in thinking. Extensive research shows that people can improve cognitive function and brain efficiency through simple lifestyle changes, such as incorporating memory exercises into their daily routine.
      1  notes

    Don Tapscott on why you should let your kids teach you things.

    24 DEC 2013

     Temperament is Influenced by Chemicals

    Some 40 percent to 60 percent of the observed variance in personality is due to traits of temperament. They are heritable, relatively stable across the life course, and linked to specific gene pathways and/or hormone or neurotransmitter systems. Moreover, our temperament traits congregate in constellations, each aggregation associated with one of four broad, interrelated yet distinct brain systems: those associated with dopamine, serotonin, testosterone, and estrogen/oxytocin. Each constellat...
      1  notes

    Helen Fisher on the many chemicals that influence our behavior.

    24 DEC 2013

     The Pareto Distribution

    The Pareto distribution shows up in a remarkably wide array of complex systems. Together, “the” and “of” account for 10 percent of all words used in English. The most volatile day in the history of a stock market will typically be twice as volatile as that of the second-most volatile and ten times the tenth-most. Tag frequency on Flickr photos obeys a Pareto distribution, as does the magnitude of earthquakes, the popularity of books, the size of asteroids, and the social connectedness...
    Folksonomies: statistics
    Folksonomies: statistics
      1  notes

    Clay Shirky on what is also known as the "long-tail effect" or "90% of everything is crap" effect.

    24 DEC 2013

     Humans are the Giraffes of Altruism

    Humans are the giraffes of altruism. We’re freaks of nature, able (at our best) to achieve antlike levels of service to the group. We readily join together to create superorganisms, but unlike the eusocial insects we do it with blatant disregard for kinship and we do it temporarily and contingent upon special circumstances (particularly intergroup conflict, as is found in war, sports, and business). [...] Having the term “contingent superorganism” in our cognitive toolkit may help peo...
    Folksonomies: humanism altruism
    Folksonomies: humanism altruism
      1  notes

    Jonathan Haidt explains our our proclivity to help one another makes us a kind of "superorganism."

    24 DEC 2013

     Solving Xenophobia

    The in-group-vs.-out-group double standard, which had and has such catastrophic consequences, could in theory be eliminated if everyone alive were considered to be in everyone else’s in-group. This utopian prospect is remote, but an expansion of the conceptual in-group would expand the range of friendly, supportive, and altruistic behavior. This effect may already be in evidence in the increase in charitable activities in support of foreign populations confronted by natural disasters. Donor...
    Folksonomies: culture humanism
    Folksonomies: culture humanism
     2  2  notes

    Marcel Kinsbourne explains how recognizing all human beings as part of our in-group can promote inter-marriage, which will diversify our genes and improve our overall health and well-being.

    24 DEC 2013

     Scale Analysis VS Magnitude Comparisons

    There are some subtle facts about scale analysis that make it more powerful than simply comparing orders of magnitude. A most remarkable example is that scale analysis can be applied, through a systematic use of dimensions, even when the precise equations governing the dynamics of a system are not known. The great physicist G. I. Taylor, a character whose prolific legacy haunts any aspiring scientist, gave a famous demonstration of this deceptively simple approach. In the 1950s, back when the...
    Folksonomies: quantification
    Folksonomies: quantification
      1  notes

    Giulio on how this technique was used to estimate the power of a secret nuclear blast from a photo.

    24 DEC 2013

     Google Translate as a Broken Telephone

    Another delightful pastime is overtransforming an information artifact through digital algorithms—useful, if used sparingly—until it turns into something quite strange. For instance, you can use one of the online machine-translation services to translate a phrase through a ring of languages back to the original and see what you get. The sentence “The edge of knowledge motivates intriguing online discussions” transforms into “Online discussions in order to stimulate an attractive nat...
      1  notes

    Jaron Lanier describes a game you can play with google translate, transforming a sentence through a variety of languages back to its original to see what is produced.

    24 DEC 2013

     A Second is Subjective

    How many seconds are there in a lifetime? 10^9 sec A second is an arbitrary time unit, but one that is based on our experience. Our visual system is bombarded by snapshots at a rate of around three per second, caused by rapid eye movements called saccades. Athletes often win or lose a race by a fraction of a second. If you earned a dollar for every second in your life, you would be a billionaire. However, a second can feel like a minute in front of an audience, and a quiet weekend can disap...
      1  notes

    Terrence Sejnowski on how a moment of time is a subjective experience that grows longer the more novelty is packed into it.

    24 DEC 2013

     Think Bottom-Up

    One of the most general shorthand abstractions that, if adopted, would improve the cognitive toolkit of humanity is to think bottom up, not top down. Almost everything important that happens in both nature and society happens from the bottom up, not the top down. Water is a bottom-up, self-organized emergent property of hydrogen and oxygen. Life is a bottom-up, self-organized emergent property of organic molecules that coalesced into protein chains through nothing more than the input of energ...
    Folksonomies: cognition emergence
    Folksonomies: cognition emergence
      1  notes

    Michael Shermer on how understanding the world in terms of emergence can help us better understand it.

    24 DEC 2013

     Umwelt

    In 1909, the biologist Jakob von Uexküll introduced the concept of the umwelt. He wanted a word to express a simple (but often overlooked) observation: Different animals in the same ecosystem pick up on different environmental signals. In the blind and deaf world of the tick, the important signals are temperature and the odor of butyric acid. For the black ghost knifefish, it’s electrical fields. For the echolocating bat, it’s air-compression waves. The small subset of the world that an ...
    Folksonomies: perception senses
    Folksonomies: perception senses
      1  notes

    David Eagleman on how each species of animal senses only a small portion of the world, and assumes that small fraction is the entire world.

    24 DEC 2013

     Pragmamorphism

    Anthropomorphism means attributing the characteristics of human beings to inanimate things or animals. I have invented the word “pragmamorphism” as a shorthand abstraction for the attribution of the properties of inanimate things to human beings. One of the meanings of the Greek word pragma is “a material object.” Being pragmamorphic sounds equivalent to taking a scientific attitude toward the world, but it easily evolves into dull scientism. It’s pragmamorphic to equate material ...
    Folksonomies: cognition modeling
    Folksonomies: cognition modeling
      1  notes

    Emanuel Derman on the habit of attributing properties of inanimate things to human beings, like PET scans to emotion, or IQ to intelligence. Like making a digital representation of an analog system.

    24 DEC 2013

     Cognitive Load and Working Memory

    The amount of information entering our consciousness at any instant is referred to as our cognitive load. When our cognitive load exceeds the capacity of our working memory, our intellectual abilities take a hit. Information zips into and out of our mind so quickly that we never gain a good mental grip on it. (Which is why you can’t remember what you went to the kitchen to do.) The information vanishes before we’ve had an opportunity to transfer it into our long-term memory and weave it i...
    Folksonomies: information perception
    Folksonomies: information perception
      1  notes

    Nicholas Carr on how the flood of information causes us to remember less, weaking our critical thinking.

    24 DEC 2013

     You Can't Predict What You Are Going to Do

    In the physical world, the only way to learn tomorrow’s weather in detail is to wait twenty-four hours and see, even if nothing is random at all. The universe is computing tomorrow’s weather as rapidly and as efficiently as possible; any smaller model is inaccurate, and the smallest error is amplified into large effects. At a personal level, even if the world is as deterministic as a computer program, you still can’t predict what you’re going to do. This is because your prediction me...
    Folksonomies: predictability modeling
    Folksonomies: predictability modeling
      1  notes

    Rudy Rucker on why our brains are like the weather, so complex that only the actual system can run the computation.

    24 DEC 2013

     Environmental Variation Improves Creativity

    It also suggests, at least to me, that creativity can be enhanced deliberately through environmental variation. Two techniques seem promising: varying what you learn and varying where you learn it. I try each week to read a scientific paper in a field new to me—and to read it in a different place. New associations often leap out of the air at me this way. More intriguing, others seem to form covertly and lie in wait for the opportune moment when they can click into place. I do not try to ...
    Folksonomies: cognition creativity
    Folksonomies: cognition creativity
      1  notes

    Jason Zweig describes how new experiences prompt new associations.

    24 DEC 2013

     The Cost of Irrational Fears

    Imagine the typical emotional reaction to seeing a spider: fear, ranging from minor trepidation to terror. But what is the likelihood of dying from a spider bite? Fewer than four people a year (on average) die from spider bites, establishing the expected risk of death by spider at lower than 1 in 100 million. This risk is so minuscule that it is actually counterproductive to worry about it: Millions of people die each year from stress-related illnesses. The startling implication is that the r...
    Folksonomies: statistics fear perspective
    Folksonomies: statistics fear perspective
      1  notes

    Garrett Lisi explains how the stress caused by many of our fears of statistically-unlikely events is more likely to kill us.

    24 DEC 2013

     The Nominal Fallacy

    The nominal fallacy is the error of believing that the label carries explanatory information. An instance of the nominal fallacy is most easily seen when the meaning or importance of a term or concept shrinks with knowledge. One example of this would be the word “instinct.” “Instinct” refers to a set of behaviors whose actual cause we don’t know, or simply don’t understand or have access to, and therefore we call them instinctual, inborn, innate. Often this is the end of the expl...
    Folksonomies: cognition fallacy
    Folksonomies: cognition fallacy
      1  notes

    Stuart Firestein explains why naming is not explaining.

    24 DEC 2013

     The Web of Causation

    ...complex systems, such as financial markets or the Earth’s biosphere, do not seem to obey causality. For every event that occurs, there are a multitude of possible causes, and the extent to which each contributes to the event is not clear, not even after the fact! One might say that there is a web of causation. For example, on a typical day, the stock market might go up or down by some fraction of a percentage point. The Wall Street Journal might blithely report that the stock market move...
      1  notes

    Nigel Goldenfeld explains why the simplistic explanations for market movements so popular in the news media are also so ridiculous.

    24 DEC 2013

     Strategic Allocation of Attention

    Instead, Mischel discovered something interesting when he studied the tiny percentage of kids who could successfully wait for the second treat. Without exception, these “high delayers” all relied on the same mental strategy: They found a way to keep themselves from thinking about the treat, directing their gaze away from the yummy marshmallow. Some covered their eyes or played hide-and-seek underneath the desks. Others sang songs from Sesame Street, or repeatedly tied their shoelaces, or ...
      1  notes

    Jonah Lehrer describes a characteristic of children who are later successful in life. They have much better self-control early in life, and they accomplish this by strategically allocating their attention elsewhere to avoid breaking the rules.

    24 DEC 2013

     Human Memory, Computer Memory

    Almost all of those limits start with a peculiar fact about human memory: Although we are pretty good at storing information in our brains, we are pretty poor at retrieving it. We can recognize photos from our high school yearbooks decades later, yet find it impossible to remember what we had for breakfast yesterday. Faulty memories have been known to lead to erroneous eyewitness testimony (and false imprisonment), to marital friction (in the form of overlooked anniversaries), and even death ...
    Folksonomies: memory human condition
    Folksonomies: memory human condition
      1  notes

    Gary Marcus describes how human memory is haphazard, context-specific. We can't retrieve a specific detail easily, but we can if we are in the right context to trigger its retrieval.

    24 DEC 2013

     How Physicians Were Once Like Today's Economists

    The moral game of blame attribution is only one subtype of misattribution arbitrage. For example, epidemiologists estimate that it was not until 1905 that you were better off going to a physician. (Ignaz Semelweiss noticed that doctors doubled the mortality rate of mothers at delivery.) The role of the physician predated its rational function for thousands of years, so why were there physicians? Economists, forecasters, and professional portfolio managers typically do no better than chance, y...
      1  notes

    John Tooby describes a past when you were more likely to die from seeing a physician and likens it to economics and other forecasters who do no better than chance.

    24 DEC 2013

     Causality as a Conceptual Tool

    Causality itself is an evolved conceptual tool that simplifies, schematizes, and focuses our representation of situations. This cognitive machinery guides us to think in terms of the cause—of an outcome’s having a single cause. Yet for enlarged understanding, it is more accurate to represent outcomes as caused by an intersection, or nexus, of factors (including the absence of precluding conditions). In War and Peace, Tolstoy asks, “When an apple ripens and falls, why does it fall? Becau...
      1  notes

    John Tooby on how causation is a way we simplify the world to more easily understand it, but it can also over-simplify.

    24 DEC 2013

     Each of Us is Ordinary, Yet One of a Kind

    Each of us is ordinary, yet one of a kind. Each of us is standard issue, conceived by the union of two germ cells, nurtured in a womb, and equipped with a developmental program that guides our further maturation and eventual decline. Each of us is also unique, the possessor of a particular selection of gene variants from the collective human genome and immersed in a particular family, culture, era, and peer group. With inborn tools for adaptation to the circumstances of our personal world,...
    Folksonomies: meaning purpose perspective
    Folksonomies: meaning purpose perspective
      1  notes

    Samuel Barondes insightful observation.

    24 DEC 2013

     Gedankenexperiment

    However, the subject need not be an esoteric one for a gedankenexperiment to be fruitful. My own favorite is Galileo’s proof that, contrary to Aristotle’s view, objects of different mass fall in a vacuum with the same acceleration. One might think that a real experiment needs to be conducted to test that hypothesis, but Galileo simply asked us to consider a large and a small stone tied together by a very light string. If Aristotle was right, the large stone should speed up the smaller one...
      1  notes

    Gino Segre on the importance and validity of "thought-experiments," using Galileo's disproof of objects falling at different rates as an example.

    24 DEC 2013

     The Problem With Experimentation in the Real World

    Government policies—from teaching methods in schools to prison sentencing to taxation —would also benefit from more use of controlled experiments. This is where many people start to get squeamish. To become the subject of an experiment in something as critical or controversial as our children’s education or the incarceration of criminals feels like an affront to our sense of fairness and our strongly held belief in the right to be treated exactly the same as everybody else. After all, i...
      1  notes

    Timo Hannay observes that we cannot experiment with classrooms and prisons because finding one experiment works means another didn't, creating winners and losers and offending our sense of justice.

    24 DEC 2013

     We All Experiment

    Experimentation is something done by everyone all the time. Babies experiment with what might be good to put in their mouths. Toddlers experiment with various behaviors to see what they can get away with. Teenagers experiment with sex, drugs, and rock and roll. But because people don’t really see these things as experiments or as ways of collecting evidence in support or refutation of hypotheses, they don’t learn to think about experimentation as something they do constantly and thus need...
      1  notes

    Roger Schank describes a world where we are all collecting evidence to test various hypotheses.

    24 DEC 2013

     Microbes Rule the World

    Microbes make up 80 percent of all biomass, says microbiologist Carl Woese. In one-fifth of a teaspoon of seawater, there are a million bacteria (and 10 million viruses), Craig Venter says, adding, “If you don’t like bacteria, you’re on the wrong planet. This is the planet of the bacteria.” That means that most of the planet’s living metabolism is microbial. When James Lovelock was trying to figure out where the gases come from that make the Earth’s atmosphere such an artifact of ...
      1  notes

    Stewart Brand describes the state of our world, engineered by microbes and ourselves as the vehicles for their propagation in many cases.

    24 DEC 2013

     The Universe Holds the Meaning we Give It

    Things happen because the laws of nature say they will—because they are the consequences of the state of the universe and the path of its evolution. Life on Earth doesn’t arise in fulfillment of a grand scheme but as a by-product of the increase of entropy in an environment very far from equilibrium. Our impressive brains don’t develop because life is guided toward greater levels of complexity and intelligence but from the mechanical interactions between genes, organisms, and their surr...
    Folksonomies: meaning causation
    Folksonomies: meaning causation
      1  notes

    Sean Carroll argues that our existence and our intelligence is the product of nature's algorithms. Life holds the meaning we give it.

    24 DEC 2013

     Many Factors Combine to Allow Life on Earth

    As we look at planet Earth and the factors that enabled us to be here, we quickly realize that our planet is very special. Here’s a short list: the long-term existence of a protective and oxygen-rich atmosphere; Earth’s axial tilt, stabilized by a single large moon; the ozone layer and the magnetic field, which jointly protect surface creatures from lethal cosmic radiation; plate tectonics, which regulates the levels of carbon dioxide and keeps the global temperature stable; the fact that...
      1  notes

    Marcelo Gleiser's argument that the many favorable factors that produce life on Earth mean life could be very rare in the Universe.

    24 DEC 2013

     The Neccessity of Selective Attention

    Three decades ago, cognitive scientist Colin Martindale advanced the idea that each of us has several subselves, and he connected his idea to emerging ideas in cognitive science. Central to Martindale’s thesis were a few fairly simple ideas, such as selective attention, lateral inhibition, state-dependent memory, and cognitive dissociation. Although there are billions of neurons in our brains firing all the time, we’d never be able to put one foot in front of the other if we were unable t...
    Folksonomies: attention perception
    Folksonomies: attention perception
      1  notes

    Douglas T. Kenrick explains how our senses are bombarded, so we filter. If we could not filter, we would become incapacitated.

    19 DEC 2013

     Measurements Change Dramatically Depending on the Methodo...

    Benoit Mandelbrot asked his famous question “How long is the coast of Britain?” long before this symposium was written, but it perfectly captures the sort of puzzle people in this crowd love. The question seems simple. Just look it up in the encyclopedia. But as Mandelbrot observed, the length of the coast of Britain depends on what you use to measure it. If you draw lines on a map to approximate the coastline, you get one length, but if you try to measure the real bumps in every inlet an...
      1  notes

    David Brook's relating Benoit Mandelbrot's experience measuring the British coast.

    24 DEC 2013

     Science Should Settle Policy

    The most important scientific concept is that an assertion is often an empirical question, settled by collecting evidence. The plural of anecdote is not data, and the plural of opinion is not facts. Quality peer-reviewed scientific evidence accumulates into knowledge. People’s stories are stories, and fiction keeps us going. But science should settle policy.
      1  notes

    Susan Fiske on the truth of assertions and opinions as being testable.

    24 DEC 2013

     Our Relationship to Our Thinking

    I invite you to pay attention to anything—the sight of this text, the sensation of breathing, the feeling of your body resting against your chair—for a mere sixty seconds without getting distracted by discursive thought. It sounds simple enough: Just pay attention. The truth, however, is that you will find the task impossible. If the lives of your children depended on it, you could not focus on anything—even the feeling of a knife at your throat—for more than a few seconds, before you...
      1  notes

    Sam Harris on mindfulness in the many religious traditions.

    24 DEC 2013

     PERMA: Five Elements for Well-Being.

    Well-being is about what individuals and societies choose for its own sake, that which is north of indifference. The elements of well-being must be exclusive, measurable independently of one another, and—ideally—exhaustive. I believe there are five such elements, and they have a handy acronym, PERMA: P   Positive Emotion E   Engagement R   Positive Relationships M   Meaning and Purpose A   Accomplishment
    Folksonomies: well-being purpose
    Folksonomies: well-being purpose
      1  notes

    Martin Seligman's mneumonic.

    24 DEC 2013

     The Sensory Desktop

    We must take our sensory experiences seriously but not literally. This is one place where the concept of a sensory desktop is helpful. We take the icons on a graphical desktop seriously; we won’t, for instance, carelessly drag an icon to the trash, for fear of losing a valuable file. But we don’t take the colors, shapes, or locations of the icons literally. They are not there to resemble the truth. They are there to facilitate useful behaviors. Sensory desktops differ across species. A ...
    Folksonomies: metaphor perception
    Folksonomies: metaphor perception
      2  notes

    Donald Hoffman on how our sensory perception of the world is like a computer desktop, a representation of things, not how things actually are. We must remember the difference.

    24 DEC 2013

     Turing's Two Great Insights

    Alan Turing, the father of the modern computer, began by thinking about the highly conscious and deliberate step-by-step calculations performed by human “computers” like the women decoding German ciphers at Bletchley Park. His first great insight was that the same processes could be instantiated in an entirely unconscious machine, with the same results. A machine could rationally decode the German ciphers using the same steps that the conscious “computers” went through. And the uncons...
      1  notes

    Alison Gopnik on how the father of the computer realized machines could do the work of women "computers," and how much of hte human brain was like a computer.