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Monthly Archives: December 2004

The Ten Thousand Things

Here’s a list of some of the bookmarks I made in 2004, meaning to read them but never quite got round to doing so. Collectively I call them The Ten Thousand Things. No guarentees of quality…

BBC – Science & Nature – Articles – Flocks, herds, swarms and schools

Iain Couzin homepage

:: Douglas Rushkoff – Weblog ::

NATMAPreport.pdf (application/pdf Object)

http://www.wjh.harvard.edu/~wegner/seed.htm

Majikthise : Gratitude journals and Loewenstein’s challenge

Visualize The Wiki

Edge: A SELF WORTH HAVING: A Talk with Nicholas Humphrey

Society of the Spectacle

Demos – Catalogue – Network Logic

The Loom: The Unwritten Self

The Shape of Days: The Ryugyong Hotel

Guardian Unlimited | The Guardian | Yo-yo world of share price values

Chomsky vs Foucault

MSN Slate Magazine

Changing minds and persuasion — How we change what others think, believe, feel and do

Daedalus, or, Science and the Future

Quote #77

All change is the consequence of the purposeless collapse of energy and matter into disorder

– overheard on an ‘In Our Time’ about the second law of thermodynamics

Child of Our Time 2005

A year in the making, the BBC documentary I worked on for a lot of 2004 Child Of Our Time is due to be shown in January. It will show on BBC1 at 9pm, on the four tuesdays of that month; the 4th, the 11th, the 18th and the 25th of Jan. You can see a transmission card here

The Spotless Mind

How happy is the blameless vestal’s lot!
The world forgetting, by the world forgot.
Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind!
Each pray’r accepted, and each wish resign’d;

From Alexander Pope’s Eloisa To Abelard
(and, of course, the film Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind)

The Tangled Wing

The second edition of Melvin Konner’s The Tangled Wing: Biological Constraints on the Human Spirit is reviewed here and the book has a website, here which includes the notes Konner used to write the book (yay!) and his afterword about the dangers of sociobiology

The contents of this book are known to be dangerous.

I do not mean that in the sense that all ideas are potentially dangerous. Specifically, ideas about the biological basis of behavior have encouraged political tendencies and movements later regretted by all decent people and condemned in school histories. Why, then, purvey such ideas?

Because some ideas in behavioral biology are true?among them, to the best of my knowledge, the ones in this book?and the truth is essential to wise action. But that does not mean that these ideas cannot be distorted, nor that evil acts cannot arise from them. I doubt, in fact, that what I say can prevent such distortion. Political and social movements arise from worldly causes, and then seize whatever congenial ideas are at hand. Nonetheless, I am not comfortable in the company of scientists who are content to search for the truth and let the consequences accumulate as they may. I therefore recount here a few passages in the dismal, indeed shameful history of the abuse of behavioral biology, in some of which scientists were willing participants.

(read more)

Links for 14th of December 2004

mikedewar.org/blog

Welcome to the world of blogging to my good friend Mike over at mikedewar.org. Currently he says ‘notes of a confused, hypercaffinated PhD student’, you’ll find some complex system theory in amongst there too.

Anyone for philosophy of science?

Feynmann said (according to New Scientist)

Philosophy of science is about as useful to scientists as ornithology is to birds

Which makes me think – Lucky old Feynmann, a scientist to whom science was obviously as natural as walking. For myself, I’d like all the help i can get to recognise and perform good scientific work

The Dawn of Wonder

There’s an interesting discussion happening over at helmintholog about the evolution of foresight/insight…It reminded me of Melvin Konner’s The Tangled Wing (which has just had a second, revised, edition published – very exciting). The last section of The Tangled Wing contains the following, in a section headed “The Dawn of Wonder”:

One of the most fascinating and least discussed discoveries in the study of the wild chimpanzees was described in a short paper by Harold Bauer. He was following a well-known male through the forest of the Gombe Stream Reserve in Tanzania when the animal stopped beside a waterfall. It seemed possible that he had deliberately gone to the waterfall rather than passing it incidentally, but that was not absolutely clear. In any case, it was an impressive spot: a stream of water cascading down from a twenty-five-foot height, about a mile from the lake, thundering into the pool below and casting mist for sixty or seventy feet; a stunning sight to come upon in the midst of a tropical forest.

The animal seemed lost in contemplation of it. He moved slowly closer and began to rock, while beginning to give a characteristic round of “pant-hoot” calls. He became more excited, and finally began to run back and forth while calling, to jump, to call louder, to drum with his fists on trees, to run back again. The behavior resembled that observed by Jane Goodall in groups of chimps at the start of a rainstorm–the “rain dance,” as it has been called. But this was one animal alone, and not surprised as the animals are by sudden rain–even if he had not deliberately sought the waterfall out, he certainly knew where it was and when he would come upon it.

He continued this activity long enough so that it seemed to merit some explanation, and he did it again in the same place on other days. Other animals were observed to do it as well. They had no practical interest in the waterfall. The animals did not have to drink from the stream or cross it in that vicinity. To the extent that it might be dangerous, it could be easily avoided, and certainly did not interest every animal. But for these it was something they had to look at, return to, study, watch, become excited about: a thing of beauty, an object of curiosity, a challenge, a fetish, an imagined creature, a god? We will never know.

But for a very similar animal, perhaps five million years ago, in the earliest infancy of the human spirit, something in the natural world must have evoked a response like this one–a waterfall, a mountain vista, a sunset, the crater of a volcano, the edge of the sea–something that stopped it in its tracks and made it watch, and move, and watch, and turn, and watch again; something that made it return to the spot, though nothing gainful could take place there, no feeding, drinking, reproducing, sleeping, fighting, fleeing, nothing animal. In just such a response, in just such a moment, in just such an animal, we may, I think, be permitted to guess, occurred the dawn of awe, of sacred attentiveness, of wonder.

Fwd: Reality of a heavy thinker

It started out innocently enough. I began to think at parties now and then — to loosen up.

Inevitably, though, one thought led to another, and soon I was more than just a social thinker.

I began to think alone — “to relax,” I told myself — but I knew it wasn’t true.

Thinking became more and more important to me, and finally I was thinking all the time.

That was when things began to sour at home.

One evening I had turned off the TV and asked my wife about the meaning of life.

She spent that night at her mother’s.

I began to think on the job.

I knew that thinking and employment don’t mix, but I couldn’t stop myself.

I began to avoid friends at lunchtime so I could read Thoreau and Kafka.

I would return to the office dizzied and confused, asking, “What is it exactly we are doing here?”

One day the boss called me in.

He said, “Listen, I like you, and it hurts me to say this, but your thinking has become a real problem. If you don’t stop thinking on the job, you’ll have to find another job.”

This gave me a lot to think about.

I came home early after my conversation with the boss.

“Honey,” I confessed, “I’ve been thinking…”

“I know you’ve been thinking,” she said, “and I want a divorce!”

“But Honey, surely it’s not that serious.”

“It is serious,” she said, lower lip aquiver. “You think as much as college professors, and college professors don’t make any money, so if you keep on thinking, we won’t have any money!”

“That’s a faulty syllogism,” I said impatiently.

She exploded in tears of rage and frustration, but I was in no mood to deal with the emotional drama.

“I’m going to the library,” I snarled as I stomped out the door.

I headed for the library, in the mood for some Nietzsche.

I roared into the parking lot with NPR on the radio and ran up to the big glass doors…

They didn’t open. The library was closed.

To this day, I believe that a Higher Power was looking out for me that night.

Leaning on the unfeeling glass, whimpering for Zarathustra, a poster caught my eye.

“Friend, is heavy thinking ruining your life?” it asked.

You probably recognize that line.

It comes from the standard Thinker’s Anonymous poster.

Which is why I am what I am today: a recovering thinker.

I never miss a TA meeting.

At each meeting we watch a non-educational video; last week it was “Porky’s.”

Then we share experiences about how we avoided thinking since the last meeting.

I still have my job, and things are a lot better at home.

Life just seemed…easier, somehow, as soon as I stopped thinking.

I think the road to recovery is nearly complete for me.

Today, I registered to vote as a Republican…

links for 7th of December 2004

Lobbying Time!

Now this is important stuff. On 2nd of December the Private Members Ballot was drawn in parliament. Twenty randomly selected MPs get to introduce a bill of their own choosing. Following last thursdays’ draw the MPs in question get a few weeks to think over what bill they would like to introduce. You can see the list here and, it goes without saying, now is prime lobbying time for any particular bit of democratic change that you would like to become law. I’m suggesting you support the Local Services and Facilities Bill, which will give protection to local economies and communities. You can read about it here and the evential aim of the Local Works campaign, the Sustainable Communities Bill.

So, if you live in one of the constituencies which has an MP on the ballot (check now) you should write to them. For the good of democracy you should probably write to them whether or not you want to support the Local Services and Facilities Bill (although of course i’d be nice if you did). If you want to support the bill but don’t have a balloted MP, the Local Works campaign have a list of the 7 MPs most likely to adopt the bill, so we can write to them anyway encouraging them to do the Good Thing. (and that list coming soon, once i’ve got it).

placebo booze

Well done Cat, for getting her letter printed in the Guardian this weekend. Reprinted here for your enjoyment:

Intrigued by your experiment where Brits got “pissed” on placebos (Under The Influence, November 20), I decided to try it with my housemates. The plan: we would match each other drink for drink, except every other drink of mine would be water. After four drinks, the vote was tied as to who was the most drunk. After eight, Kevin was declared the drunkest. Conclusions: I can drink half as much and still have a good time. More interesting, however, was that voluntary abstinence provokes a strange response – many expressed sympathy that I was the one who “had” to drink less. It seems we all want to encourage each other to get as drunk as we would like to, perhaps so we don’t have to feel guilty about the amount we all drink. Advertisers aren’t the only ones who want us to drink to excess.
Cat Bardsley
Sheffield

Supermarket Sweep

These days, ?1 in every ?8 we spend goes to Tesco. The company sells more DVDs than HMV, more shampoo than Boots, and its ?4 jeans outsell Levis, Wrangler and Gap put together. Last month, eight pairs were sold every minute.

These are the figures Tesco wants us to remember, but there are other, less palatable statistics. For every ?1 spent on bananas at Tesco, for instance, only 1p goes back to the plantation growers in developing countries – far less than they need to feed their families. An estimated 40p goes to Tesco. Indeed, the company makes a profit of ?1m per week purely from the sale of bananas – enough to employ 30,000 plantation workers full-time and pay them a proper wage.

It is estimated that, every time a supermarket is built, 276 jobs are lost. Between 1976 and 1989 (the dark days of unbridled supermarket expansion), 44,000 food shops and grocers went bust; when a large supermarket opens, according to ethical watchdog Corporate Watch, it results in the closure of every village shop within seven miles.

From Loaded! Why supermarkets are getting richer and richer (Observer, January 25th 2004). Thanks to Dan for the link.

Mind Hacks is here, so is mindhacks.com

Mind Hacks is here, in real paper and ink:

You may have noticed a bit of a lack of cog neuro blogging here at idiolect.org.uk, well it’s been because i’ve been saving my thoughts for www.mindhacks.com. From now on if it’s about cognitive psychology or neuroscience it’ll probably end up there – I hope you can come along and join us for what should be a whole world of psychology-design-neuroscience-technology fun…!