– from S.H.I.E.L.D issue#1
Critical Thinking is Critical.
In this post I will go through several long and educational, instructional LongReads… These will serve as an introduction, a basis to build from.
As I’ve said before, “the first grind is the mind”, and that video at the other end of that link is well worth (re)visiting.
We are in the midst of a Reality War, where the meaning of words such as Theory are weapons.
Where in the US the Romney/Ryan campaign is, rather generously, described at Post-Truth. Where earlier this year the Texas GOP declared war on Critical Thinking. Yes, really. And the shocking thing is… we aren’t shocked by this.
But there is still hope. Take this tale of a man who broke out of the prison of his mind; The Political Awakening of a Republican:
I always imagined that I was full of heart, but it turned out that I was oblivious. Like so many Republicans, I had assumed that society’s “losers” had somehow earned their desserts. As I came to recognize that poverty is not earned or chosen or deserved, and that our use of force is far less precise than I had believed, I realized with a shock that I had effectively viewed whole swaths of the country and the world as second-class people.
I might still have stuck it out as a frustrated liberal Republican, knowing that the wealthy business core of the party still pulled a few strings and people like Richard Lugar and Olympia Snowe remained in the Senate — if only because the idea of voting for Democrats by choice made me feel uncomfortable. (It would have been so… gauche.) Then came Hurricane Katrina. In New Orleans, I learned that it wasn’t just the Bush administration that was flawed but my worldview itself.
The enormity of the advantages I had always enjoyed started to truly sink in. Everyone begins life thinking that his or her normal is the normal. For the first time, I found myself paying attention to broken eggs rather than making omelets. Up until then, I hadn’t really seen most Americans as living, breathing, thinking, feeling, hoping, loving, dreaming, hurting people. My values shifted — from an individualistic celebration of success (that involved dividing the world into the morally deserving and the undeserving) to an interest in people as people.
In order to learn more — and to secure my membership in what Karl Rove sneeringly called the “reality-based community ” — I joined a social science research institute. There I was slowly disabused of layer after layer of myth and received wisdom, and it hurt. Perhaps nothing hurt more than to see just how far my patriotic, Republican conception of U.S. martial power — what it’s for, how it’s used — diverged from the reality of our wars.
An old saw has it that no one profits from talking about politics or religion. I think I finally understand what it means. We see different realities, different worlds. If you and I take in different slices of reality, chances are that we aren’t talking about the same things. I think this explains much of modern American political dialogue.
My old Republican worldview was flawed because it was based upon a small and particularly rosy sliver of reality. To preserve that worldview, I had to believe that people had morally earned their “just” desserts, and I had to ignore those whining liberals who tried to point out that the world didn’t actually work that way. I think this shows why Republicans put so much effort into “ creat[ing] our own reality ,” into fostering distrust of liberals, experts, scientists, and academics, and why they won’t let a campaign “ be dictated by fact-checkers ” (as a Romney pollster put it). It explains why study after study shows — examples here, here, and here– that avid consumers of Republican-oriented media are more poorly informed than people who use other news sources or don’t bother to follow the news at all.
Waking up to a fuller spectrum of reality has proved long and painful. I had to question all my assumptions, unlearn so much of what I had learned. I came to understand why we Republicans thought people on the Left always seemed to be screeching angrily (because we refused to open our eyes to the damage we caused or blamed the victims) and why they never seemed to have any solutions to offer (because those weren’t mentioned in the media we read or watched).
My transition has significantly strained my relationships with family, friends, and former colleagues. It is deeply upsetting to walk on thin ice where there used to be solid, common ground. I wish they, too, would come to see a fuller spectrum of reality, but I know from experience how hard that can be when your worldview won’t let you.
Another term to throw around at this point is: Reality Tunnel, “a subconscious set of mental “filters” formed from… beliefs and experiences”.
The first step is to understand that this exists. Only then can you attempt to take control of it and progress.
She didn’t speak of jobs or money. In that, she was like the others I had listened to. No one had spoken of jobs or money. But how could the “moral life of downtown” lead anyone out from the surround of force? How could a museum push poverty away? Who can dress in statues or eat the past? And what of the political life? Had Niecie skipped a step or failed to take a step? The way out of poverty was politics, not the “moral life of downtown.” But to enter the public world, to practice the political life, the poor had first to learn to reflect. That was what Niecie meant by the “moral life of downtown.” She did not make the error of divorcing ethics from politics. Niecie had simply said, in a kind of shorthand, that no one could step out of the panicking circumstance of poverty directly into the public world.
Although she did not say so, I was sure that when she spoke of the “moral life of downtown” she meant something that had happened to her. With no job and no money, a prisoner, she had undergone a radical transformation. She had followed the same path that led to the invention of politics in ancient Greece. She had learned to reflect. In further conversation it became clear that when she spoke of “the moral life of downtown” she meant the humanities, the study of human constructs and concerns, which has been the source of reflection for the secular world since the Greeks first stepped back from nature to experience wonder at what they beheld. If the political life was the way out of poverty, the humanities provided an entrance to reflection and the political life. The poor did not need anyone to release them; an escape route existed. But to open this avenue to reflection and politics a major distinction between the preparation for the life of the rich and the life of the poor had to be eliminated.
“You’ve been cheated,” I said. “Rich people learn the humanities; you didn’t. The humanities are a foundation for getting along in the world, for thinking, for learning to reflect on the world instead of just reacting to whatever force is turned against you. I think the humanities are one of the ways to become political, and I don’t mean political in the sense of voting in an election but in the broad sense.” I told them Thucydides’ definition of politics.
“Rich people know politics in that sense. They know how to negotiate instead of using force. They know how to use politics to get along, to get power. It doesn’t mean that rich people are good and poor people are bad. It simply means that rich people know a more effective method for living in this society.
“Do all rich people, or people who are in the middle, know the humanities? Not a chance. But some do. And it helps. It helps to live better and enjoy life more. Will the humanities make you rich? Yes. Absolutely. But not in terms of money. In terms of life.
“Rich people learn the humanities in private schools and expensive universities. And that’s one of the ways in which they learn the political life. I think that is the real difference between the haves and have-nots in this country. If you want real power, legitimate power, the kind that comes from the people and belongs to the people, you must understand politics. The humanities will help.
“My T-cell count is down. But that’s neither here nor there. Tell me about the course, Earl. What are you going to teach?”
“And what does that include?”
She had turned the visit into an interrogation. I didn’t mind. At the end of the conversation I would be going out into “the free world”; if she wanted our meeting to be an interrogation, I was not about to argue. I said, “We’ll begin with Plato: the Apology, a little of the Crito, a few pages of the Phaedo so that they’ll know what happened to Socrates. Then we’ll read Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. I also want them to read Thucydides, particularly Pericles’ Funeral Oration in order to make the connection between ethics and politics, to lead them in the direction I hope the course will take them. Then we’ll end with Antigone, but read as moral and political philosophy as well as drama.”
“There’s something missing,” she said, leaning back in her chair, taking on an air of superiority.
The drive had been long, the day was hot, the air in the room was dead and damp. “Oh, yeah,” I said, “and what’s that?”
“Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. How can you teach philosophy to poor people without the Allegory of the Cave? The ghetto is the cave. Education is the light. Poor people can understand that.”
The question then becomes: what do we do with our new knowledge? Our post-awakened existence?!
Forget safety. Live where you fear to live. Destroy your reputation. Be notorious. ~ Rumi
This epic, three hour interview with Chris Hedges wherein he recounts his own personal evolution, a progression towards the twin asymptotes of self-knowledge and worldly-understanding, was revelatory for me as both a path to follow and a better life to lead:
Liberalism is Domesticated Protest.
Now here’s an elderly Situationist with some news about Utopia to temper the notion that Humanism might save us all:
Utopianism? From now on, that’s the hell of the past.
(((There may be snow on the roof, but there’s still fire in the furnace.))) We
have always been constrained to live in a place that is everywhere but,
in that place, we are nowhere. That’s the reality of our exile. It has
been imposed on us for thousands of years by an economy founded on the
exploitation of man by man. Humanist ideology has made us believe that
we are human while we remain, for the most part, reduced to the state of
beasts whose predatory instincts are satisfied by the will to power and
Our “vale of tears” was considered the best possible
world. Could we have invented a way of living that is more
phantasmagorical and absurd than the all-powerful cruelty of the gods,
the caste of priests and princes ruling enslaved peoples, the obligation
to work that is supposed to guarantee joy and substantiate the Stalinist
paradise, the millenarianist Third Reich, the Maoist Cultural
Revolution, the society of well-being (the Welfare state), the
totalitarianism of money beyond which there is neither individual nor
social safety, [and] finally the idea that survival is everything and
life is nothing? (((Take note, philosophy students: this is how one
asks a “rhetorical question.”)))
Against that utopia, which passes for reality, is
opposed the only reality that matters: what we try to live by assuring
our happiness and that of everyone else. Thenceforth, we no longer are
in a utopia, but at the heart of a mutation, a change of civilization
that takes shape under our eyes and that many people, blinded by the
dominant obscurantism, are incapable of discerning. Because the quest
for profit makes men into predatory, insensitive and stupid brutes.
Eschatological signs and portents may abide, we may succeed in lifting the veil ourselves and see things as they truly are, we may learn that the secret of the universe is All in the Eye of the Beholder… but one thing is certain: this is not how the world ends!
Prabhakar wrote an ant algorithm to predict foraging behavior depending on the amount of food – i.e., bandwidth – available. Gordon’s experiments manipulate the rate of forager return. Working with Stanford student Katie Dektar, they found that the TCP-influenced algorithm almost exactly matched the ant behavior found in Gordon’s experiments.
“Ants have discovered an algorithm that we know well, and they’ve been doing it for millions of years,” Prabhakar said.
They also found that the ants followed two other phases of TCP. One phase is known as slow start, which describes how a source sends out a large wave of packets at the beginning of a transmission to gauge bandwidth; similarly, when the harvester ants begin foraging, they send out foragers to scope out food availability before scaling up or down the rate of outgoing foragers.
Another protocol, called time-out, occurs when a data transfer link breaks or is disrupted, and the source stops sending packets. Similarly, when foragers are prevented from returning to the nest for more than 20 minutes, no more foragers leave the nest.
Prabhakar said that had this discovery been made in the 1970s, before TCP was written, harvester ants very well could have influenced the design of the Internet.
Gordon thinks that scientists have just scratched the surface for how ant colony behavior could help us in the design of networked systems.
There are 11,000 species of ants, living in every habitat and dealing with every type of ecological problem, Gordon said. “Ants have evolved ways of doing things that we haven’t thought up, but could apply in computer systems. Computationally speaking, each ant has limited capabilities, but the collective can perform complex tasks.
“So ant algorithms have to be simple, distributed and scalable – the very qualities that we need in large engineered distributed systems,” she said. “I think as we start understanding more about how species of ants regulate their behavior, we’ll find many more useful applications for network algorithms.”
“The biggest differences occurred in the expression of human genes involved in plasticity – the ability of the brain to process information and adapt,” said Konopka. “This supports the premise that the human brain evolved to enable higher rates of learning.”
One gene in particular, CLOCK, behaved very differently in the human brain.Considered the master regulator of Circadian rhythm, CLOCK is disrupted in mood disorders like depression and bipolar syndrome.
“Groups of genes resemble spokes on a wheel – they circle a hub gene that often acts like a conductor,” said Geschwind. “For the first time, we saw CLOCK assuming a starring role that we suspect is unrelated to Circadian rhythm. Its presence offers a potentially interesting clue that it orchestrates another function essential to the human brain.”
When comparing the human brain to the non-human primates, the researchers saw more connections among gene networks that featured FOXP1 and FOXP2. Earlier studies have linked these genes to humans’ unique ability to produce speech and understand language.
“Connectivity measures how genes interact with other genes, providing a strong indicator of functional changes,” said Geschwind. “It makes perfect sense that genes involved in speech and language would be less connected in the non-human primate brains – and highly connected in the human brain.”
In autistic individuals, the immune system fails at this balancing act. Inflammatory signals dominate. Anti-inflammatory ones are inadequate. A state of chronic activation prevails. And the more skewed toward inflammation, the more acute the autistic symptoms.
Nowhere are the consequences of this dysregulation more evident than in the autistic brain. Spidery cells that help maintain neurons — called astroglia and microglia — are enlarged from chronic activation. Pro-inflammatory signaling molecules abound. Genes involved in inflammation are switched on.
These findings are important for many reasons, but perhaps the most noteworthy is that they provide evidence of an abnormal, continuing biological process. That means that there is finally a therapeutic target for a disorder defined by behavioral criteria like social impairments, difficulty communicating and repetitive behaviors.
While not the first project to demonstrate the potential of DNA storage, Church’s team married next-generation sequencing technology with a novel strategy to encode 1,000 times the largest amount of data previously stored in DNA.
The researchers used binary code to preserve the text, images and formatting of the book at a density of 5.5 petabits (1 million gigabits) per cubic millimeter. “The information density and scale compare favorably with other experimental storage methods from biology and physics,” said Sri Kosuri, a senior scientist at the Wyss Institute and senior author on the paper. The team also included Yuan Gao, a former Wyss postdoc who is now an associate professor of biomedical engineering at Johns Hopkins University.
And where some experimental media — like quantum holography — require incredibly cold temperatures and tremendous energy, DNA is stable at room temperature. “You can drop it wherever you want, in the desert or your backyard, and it will be there 400,000 years later,” Church said.
North Korea builds EMP munition [DEFENSETECH]
Particularly fascinating interview with Jeffery A. Martin here, not just for his research into the Enlightened, but for his eventual synthesis towards a speculative life for the newly near-immortal.
Other transhuman future titbits from around the web of late:
Watch, or try the Long Read version.
Raised out of the dust, and lifted out of the dunghill: the abandoned crematorium. Built in the early 1900′s and closed down in the nineties, it served a little over 100.000 cremations.
It was without a doubt one of the most advanced crematoriums from that era, featuring multiple deck ovens, ice coolers, rotating coffin docks, lifts & rails.
When all is lost, who shall praise thee my Lord?
Just in case you don’t “get it”, this is about teh Climate Change.
…we are batteries for the machines.
Starting with a T-shirt from a local discount store, Li’s team soaked it in a solution of fluoride, dried it and baked it at high temperature. They excluded oxygen in the oven to prevent the material from charring or simply combusting.
The surfaces of the resulting fibers in the fabric were shown by infrared spectroscopy to have been converted from cellulose to activated carbon. Yet the material retained flexibility; it could be folded without breaking.
“We will soon see roll-up cell phones and laptop computers on the market,” Li said. “But a flexible energy storage device is needed to make this possible.”
The once-cotton T-shirt proved to be a repository for electricity. By using small swatches of the fabric as an electrode, the researchers showed that the flexible material, which Li’s team terms activated carbon textile, acts as a capacitor. Capacitors are components of nearly every electronic device on the market, and they have the ability to store electrical charge.
Moreover, Li reports that activated carbon textile acts like double-layer capacitors, which are also called a supercapacitors because they can have particularly high energy storage densities.
But Li and Bao took the material even further than that. They then coated the individual fibers in the activated carbon textile with “nanoflowers” of manganese oxide. Just a nanometer thick, this layer of manganese oxide greatly enhanced the electrode performance of the fabric. “This created a stable, high-performing supercapacitor,” said Li.
This hybrid fabric, in which the activated carbon textile fibers are coated with nanostructured manganese oxide, improved the energy storage capability beyond the activated carbon textile alone. The hybrid supercapacitors were resilient: even after thousands of charge-discharge cycles, performance didn’t diminish more than 5 percent.
“By stacking these supercapacitors up, we should be able to charge portable electronic devices such as cell phones,” Li said.
The technology is based on a principle discovered nearly 200 years ago by physicist Thomas Johann Seebeck, who found that a combination of materials, when warmer on one side and colder on another, produces electricity.
Current heat wave notwithstanding, the human body’s temperature of around 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit is usually hotter than the air around it. So Perpetua has developed an armband, soon to become a wristband, that produces enough power for small electronics — not smartphones, but items that connect to them, such as Bluetooth devices. Wearing a mock-up wristband connected to a meter, Wiant put out enough body heat for a consistent 3 to 4 volts. Headsets using a technology called Bluetooth Low Energy need only about 2 volts, he said.
We don’t get occasion to post much poetry here. In fact, this might be the first.
I dream of a world of hyper sterility,
Glass and chrome, purified air.
Where the feeling of earth beneath our feet is a distant memory,
Where reality is cold and distant.
I dream of a world where blood doesn’t run,
Where servos replace cartilage,
And every breath we take is a simulation.
I dream of a world where our hearts pump black oil,
And emotion is binary shot through a wire,
Where we delete our fears and upload new tricks,
And mortality is a forgotten paradigm.
I dream of a world where our flesh is made of steel,
And our perception upgraded with new versions,
Hardware replaced wetware,
Immortality replaced death,
The natural forgotten,
And the only viruses we get are encoded in C++.
I dream of a world which is coming soon,
A world built of transhuman design.
I shall dream of this world one more time,
A world I shall never know.
When confronted with random materials, the robot would make a number of intelligently-selected exploratory movements (like rubs, wiggles and pokes) before identifying the material. It got the answer right 95 percent of the time.
Via WIRED UK we learn of the great work from the University of Southern California’s Viterbi School of Engineering.
The robot was equipped with a new type of tactile sensor built to mimic the human fingertip. It also used a newly designed algorithm to make decisions about how to explore the outside world by imitating human strategies. Capable of other human sensations, the sensor can also tell where and in which direction forces are applied to the fingertip and even the thermal properties of an object being touched.
Like the human finger, the group’s BioTac® sensor has a soft, flexible skin over a liquid filling. The skin even has fingerprints on its surface, greatly enhancing its sensitivity to vibration. As the finger slides over a textured surface, the skin vibrates in characteristic ways. These vibrations are detected by a hydrophone inside the bone-like core of the finger. The human finger uses similar vibrations to identify textures, but the robot finger is even more sensitive.
“Can an ‘I’ cloned from my genes be considered a human being?” “Is another man with the same appearance as me, me?” “Can a cyborg have human spirituality?” “If so, how do we see the human body?” The artist Wang Zi Won’s work stems from these questions. Raising these questions, Wang sees the existence and meaning of future humans from a perspective different from the anxiety and fears of dystopian films and art.
The artist predicts that in the future humans will evolve and adapt themselves to enhanced science and technology just as men and animals in the past evolved to adapt themselves to their natural circumstances. He sees this future as our destiny, not as a negative, gloomy dystopia. His work is thus based on neither utopia nor dystopia. Wang represents the relations between man, technology and science through the bodies of cyborgs.
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