FUTURE FACTS – FROM THINK LINKS
DID YOU KNOW THAT–
- Discovery of 14,000 year old toast shows that bread predates the advent of agriculture.
- Genetic study shows nine out of ten animal species on the planet came to being at the same time as humans did some 100,000 to 200,000 years ago.
- Top voting machine vendor admits it Installed remote-access software on systems sold to States.
- The non-profit Forecast Foundation has launched its Augur protocol on the Ethereum network in a bid to create the first blockchain-based betting platform and is now hosting several wagers where users bet on when various public figures will die.
by John L. Petersen
Bruce Lipton, Ph.D. coming to Berkeley Springs Transition Talks
Join us September 15-16 in Berkeley Springs
NYT best-selling author Dr. Bruce Lipton is coming to Berkeley Springs Transition Talks on the 15th and 16th of September. It will be an event that should not be missed.
One of the most insightful and exciting communicators in the world about the previously unknown role the brain and consciousness play in producing health and wellbeing, Lipton will be giving a full two-day long series of presentations on how you can change your future by changing your mind.
The venue is relatively small, so only 200 fortunate individuals will participate in this relatively intimate affair. The interest in Dr. Lipton’s presentations is so great that already one-fifth of the available tickets have been spoken for.
I was with Bruce two weeks ago in British Colombia and he was very much looking forward to being with us. Here’s a quick report.
For those who are perhaps unfamiliar with Dr. Lipton’s work, this short taste highlights some of his groundbreaking ideas.
This is a special opportunity that seldom is available in small, resort communities like Berkeley Springs, so we are very much looking forward to having Bruce with us.
You can get complete information on this event at TransitionTalks.org.. There is complete information on local lodging and restaurants at the site as well.
Do come and be with us if you can. It will be a weekend that will not be forgotten.
PostScript Interview with Penny Kelly
In June, Transition Talks featured Penny Kelly, author, teacher, speaker, publisher, personal/spiritual consultant, and Naturopathic physician. For those who missed her talk, check out these video interviews:
Chinese Researchers Achieve Stunning Quantum-Entanglement Record – (Live Science – July 16, 2018)
Scientists have just packed 18 qubits — the most basic units of quantum computing — into just six weirdly connected photons. That’s an unprecedented three qubits per photon, and a record for the number of qubits linked to one another via quantum entanglement. So why is this exciting? All the work that goes on in a conventional computer, including whatever device you’re using to read this article, relies on calculations using bits, which switch back and forth between two states (usually called “1” and “0”). Quantum computers calculate using qubits, which similarly waver between two states but behave according to the weirder rules of quantum physics. Unlike conventional bits, qubits can have indeterminate states — neither 1 nor 0, but a possibility of both — and become oddly connected or entangled, so that the behavior of one bit directly impacts the other. This, in theory, allows for all sorts of calculations that regular computers can barely pull off. Right now, however, quantum computing is in its very early experimental stages, with researchers still testing the waters of what’s possible, as in this study. There are plenty of quantum experiments involving more than 18 qubits, but in those experiments, the qubits aren’t all entangled. Instead, the systems entangle just a few neighboring qubits for each calculation. One open question from the paper is whether all of the entangled qubits interact equally, or whether there are differences between qubit interactions on the same particle or qubit interactions across different degrees of freedom. Down the road, the researchers wrote, this sort of experimental setup might allow for certain quantum calculations that, until now, had been discussed only theoretically and had never been put into action.
Discovery of 14,000-Year-Old Toast Suggests Bread Can Be Added to Paleo Diet – (GizModo – July 16, 2018)
Archaeologists have uncovered the earliest evidence of bread-making at a site in northeastern Jordan. Dating back some 14,400 years, the discovery shows that ancient hunter-gatherers were making and eating bread 4,000 years before the Neolithic era and the introduction of agriculture. The idea that bread-making predates agriculture is quite revelation, given the conventional thinking that bread only appeared after the advent of farming. The discovery means that ancient hunter-gatherers were using the wild ancestors of domesticated cereals, such as wild einkorn and club-rush tubers, to make flatbread-like food products. What’s more, the new paper shows that bread had already become an established food staple prior to the Neolithic period and the Agricultural Revolution. A research team led by Amaia Arranz-Otaegu from the University of Copenhagen analyzed fragments of charred food remains found at a Natufian hunter-gatherer site in northeastern Jordan called Shubayqa. The remains of the burnt bread, found in two ancient basalt-stone fireplaces, were radiocarbon dated to 14,400 years ago, give or take a couple of hundred years. This corresponds to the early Natufian period and the Upper Paleolithic era. The Natufian culture lived in the Levant, a region in the Eastern Mediterranean, from around 14,600 to 11,600 years ago. Tobias Richter, an associate professor at the University of Copenhagen and a co-author of the new study, said the discovery was surprising on a number of levels. “First, that bread predates the advent of agriculture and farming—it was always thought that it was the other way round,” explained Richter. “Second, that the bread was of high quality, since it was made using quite fine flour. We didn’t expect to find such high-quality flour this early on in human history. Third, the hunter-gatherer bread we have does not only contain flour from wild barley, wheat and oats, but also from tubers, namely tubers from water plants (sedges). The bread was therefore more of a multi-grain-tuber bread, rather than a white loaf.”
Designer Babies: Picking Traits for Non-medical Reasons Could Be ‘Morally Permissible’, Says UK Ethics Group – (Independent – July 16, 2018)
Letting parents use new gene-editing technology to pick characteristics of their unborn child can be “morally acceptable” as long as it doesn’t increase social inequalities, an influential medical ethics group has said. In a major report on the looming frontier of human gene-editing, the Nuffield Council on Bioethics (NCB) said it did not believe there was an ethical red line in tinkering with the genetic material that will be passed to future generations. It also did not draw a distinction between using these techniques to tackle genetic diseases and for enhancing desirable physical or intellectual traits, so-called “designer babies”, so long as it meets strict ethical and regulatory tests. UK law does not currently permit any editing of heritable DNA – genetic information contained in an embryo, egg or sperm – though it is allowed for strictly controlled research purposes. This case can be clearly made for removing disease, but could equally be argued for enhancing socially advantageous traits like height or intelligence – though this is well beyond our current genetic knowledge. The second test asks how these changes, which would be heritable by every one of that child’s descendants, would affect the make-up of our species. The NCB said that gene-editing “should not increase disadvantage, discrimination or division in society”. Any ethical debate will also naturally run against practicalities like funding. Many patients already report a postcode lottery in accessing IVF and fertility treatment based on their local NHS funding, and gene editing could initially be out of reach for all but the richest. On this matter, Professor Karen Yeung, chair of the NCB report group, a law and ethics expert at the University of Birmingham,said if funding inequalities “were to exacerbate social injustice, in our view that would not be an ethical approach”. This could rule out choices to enhance physically desirable traits, such as height or hair color.
Melanoma Blood Test: Scientists Unveil ‘World-first’ Research – (BBC News – July 18, 2018)
Australian scientists say they have developed a blood test to detect melanoma in its early stages. The test, billed as a world first, is designed to make it easier to spot the skin cancer before it becomes fatal, according to researchers. Currently, doctors rely on skin examinations and biopsies to detect melanoma, which can spread quickly. Researchers say the blood test could provide more accurate results than the human eye, and save many lives. Developed by scientists at Edith Cowan University, the test picks up melanoma by recognising auto-antibodies produced by the body to combat the cancer’s early growth. In a trial involving about 200 people – half of whom had the cancer – the test was successful in 81.5% of cases. It will now undergo clinical trials, to take place within three years, in a bid to improve its accuracy to 90%. Researchers hope it could be approved for use within five years. The study initially examined 1,627 functional proteins. After analysis, researchers identified 10 auto-antibodies that best indicated the presence of melanoma. Professor Mel Ziman, head of the research team, said detecting melanoma early was critical. “If we can remove the melanoma when it is less than 1mm thick, you have a 98-99% chance of survival,” she said. “As soon as it spreads further into the skin, survival rates drop dramatically.”
Remarkable Therapy Beats Terminal Breast Cancer – (BBC News – June 4, 2018)
The life of a woman with terminal breast cancer has been saved by a pioneering new therapy, say US researchers. It involved pumping 90 billion cancer-killing immune cells into her body. Judy Perkins had been given three months to live, but two years later there is no sign of cancer in her body. The team at the US National Cancer Institute says the therapy is still experimental, but could transform the treatment of all cancer. The technology is a “living drug” made from a patient’s own cells. Dr. Steven Rosenberg, chief of surgery at the National Cancer Institute, told the BBC: “We’re talking about the most highly personalized treatment imaginable.” It remains experimental and still requires considerably more testing before it can be used more widely, but this is how it works: it starts by getting to know the enemy. A patient’s tumor is genetically analyzed to identify the rare changes that might make the cancer visible to the immune system. Out of the 62 genetic abnormalities in this patient, only four were potential lines of attack. Next researchers go hunting. A patient’s immune system will already be attacking the tumor, it’s just losing the fight between white blood cells and cancer. The scientists screen the patient’s white blood cells and extract those capable of attacking the cancer. These are then grown in huge quantities in the laboratory. Around 90 billion were injected back into the 49-year-old patient, alongside drugs to take the brakes off the immune system. Dr Rosenberg said: “The very mutations that cause cancer turn out to be its Achilles heel. At lot of works needs to be done, but the potential exists for a paradigm shift in cancer therapy – a unique drug for every cancer patient – it is very different to any other kind of treatment.”
Massive Genetic Study Reveals 90% of Earth’s Animals Appeared at the Same Time – (Tech Times – May 30, 2018)
Landmark new research that involves analyzing millions of DNA barcodes has debunked much about what we know today about the evolution of species. In a massive genetic study, senior research associate at the Program for the Human Environment at Rockefeller University Mark Stoeckle and University of Basel geneticist David Thaler discovered that virtually 90% of all animals on Earth appeared at right around the same time. More specifically, they found out that 9 out of 10 animal species on the planet came to being at the same time as humans did some 100,000 to 200,000 years ago. There are two types of DNA. The less familiar type of DNA is one found in the mitochondria of cells. The mitochondria generate energy for the cell and contains 37 genes. One of these is the COI gene, which is used to create DNA barcodes. All species have a very similar mitochondrial DNA, but their DNA is also different enough so we can distinguish between species. In analyzing the COI of 100,000 species, Stoeckle and Thaler arrived at the conclusion that most animals appeared simultaneously. They found that the neutral mutation across species were not as varied as expected. Neutral mutation refers to the slight DNA changes that occur across generations. They can be compared to tree rings because they can tell how old a certain specie or individual is. As to how that could have happened, it’s unclear. A likely possibility is the occurrence of a sudden event that caused large-scale environmental trauma and wiped out majority of the Earth’s species. “Viruses, ice ages, successful new competitors, loss of prey — all these may cause periods when the population of an animal drops sharply,” explains Jesse Ausubel, director of the Program for the Human Environment. Such times give rise to sweeping genetic changes across the planet, causing new species to appear. However, the last time such an occurrence took place was 65 million years ago, when an asteroid hit the Earth and killed off the dinosaurs and half of all other species on the planet.
There’s No Known Upper Limit to Human Longevity, Study Suggests – (Kurzweil AI – July 2, 2018)
Human death risk increases exponentially from 65 up to about age 80. At that point, the range of risks starts to increase. But by age 105, the death risk actually levels off — suggesting there’s no known upper limit for human lifespan. That’s the conclusion of a controversial study by an international team of scientists, published in the journal Science. “The increasing number of exceptionally long-lived people and the fact that their mortality beyond 105 is seen to be declining across cohorts — lowering the mortality plateau or postponing the age when it appears — strongly suggest that longevity is continuing to increase over time and that a limit, if any, has not been reached,” the researchers wrote. The new study was based on “high-quality data from Italians aged 105 and older, collected by the Italian National Institute of Statistics (ISTAT).” That data provided “accuracy and precision that were not possible before,” the researchers say. Previous data for supercentenarians (age 110 or older) in the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research International Database on Longevity (IDL) were “problematic in terms of age reporting [due to] sparse data pooled from 11 countries,” according to the authors of the paper. See also: World’s oldest person dies at 117. With over 1,000 centenarians, Okinawa has earned a reputation as a “land of the immortals” and is one of five “Blue Zones,” areas around the world in which people live much longer than average. But Japan’s case is no longer unique. By 2020, there will be 13 “super-aged” countries, according to a 2014 report by Moody’s Investors Service.
Uranium Leaked through Floor of South Carolina Nuclear Plant – (EcoWatch – July 26, 2018)
A nuclear plant in Richmond County, South Carolina with a history of contaminating groundwater has leaked radioactive uranium into the soil below the plant. South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) officials said there was no reason to believe this leak left the site of the Westinghouse plant, but state senator Darrell Jackson is calling for a public meeting to discuss the leak and other historic issues at the plant. The company informed the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) of the leak July 12, which came through a hole in a part of the plant where acid is used. The hole was three inches and extended six feet into the ground, the NRC told The State. The NRC found uranium levels in the soil of 4,000 parts per million, more than 1,000 times higher than average for soil. The DHEC said they were still testing the groundwater on the site to see if it was contaminated, but said the plant itself was far enough away from public drinking water that it shouldn’t cause a problem. “Based on existing information, there is no threat to the public from this recent release or from historical groundwater contamination at this secured site as there is no exposure risk to the general public,” said DHEC spokesperson Tommy Crosby. Part of the plant had to be shut down two years ago because of uranium found accumulating in an air pollution device. It was also cited by the federal government this year for failing to plan adequately for a potential radiation burst. The leak comes as the Trump administration has promised to assist unprofitable nuclear and coal plants. Its most recent plan would require that grid operators buy power from struggling plants for the sake of national security.
WeWork Will No Longer Allow Its 6,000 Employees to Expense Meals with Meat – (Fortune – July 14, 2018)
WeWork, the shared workspace company, is taking a pass on meat. The company notified workers that its events will no longer include meat and that it won’t reimburse their meal expenses if those meals include red meat, poultry or pork. The no-meat policy will also affect self-serve food kiosks at many of WeWork’s 400 locations worldwide. Employees wanting “medical or religious” exceptions can hash those out with a company policy team. WeWork co-founder Miguel McKelvey sent the company’s 6,000 workers around the world a memo that said, “New research indicates that avoiding meat is one of the biggest things an individual can do to reduce their personal environmental impact… even more than switching to a hybrid car.” WeWork has implemented other environmentally friendly policies, such as reducing plastics at the company and donating surplus food to certain causes. WeWork boasts 6,000 employees worldwide, according to Bloomberg. The company estimates its no-meat policy will save 15,507,103 animals by 2023. (Some details in this link are from a USA Today story on the same topic.)
Mysterious Substance and ‘Devilry’ Blamed for 3-Hour ‘Solar Eclipse’ in Russia – (Live Science – July 23, 2018)
For the Russian republic of Yakutia (also called Sakha) — a chunk of Siberia that’s home to the coldest cities in the world — July is a welcome reprieve from the seven-month winter that rampages from October through April. It’s a rare time of year when the merciful sun can hang in the sky for more than 20 hours a day instead of less than 2. Imagine the confusion and disappointment, then, when locals in at least two districts of Yakutia stepped outside Friday afternoon (July 20) and saw the sun completely blotted out for 3 hours. According to the regional news site Yakutia 24, the Eveno-Bytantaysky and Zhigansky districts of Yakutia inexplicably plunged into 3 hours of mysterious darkness between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. local time on Friday. Photos provided by bewildered locals show little more than the black shadows of trees and buildings cast against a reddish haze of sky. Adding to the ominous atmosphere, the air seemed to be thick with a grimy haze of black dust. Llocals reported that it was suddenly pitch-black in their homes and that the mysterious smog turned barrels of water into barrels of mud and that nearby lakes emerged from the eclipse covered in a filthy, black layer of pollution. While one local blamed the incident on “devilry,” there is a likelier culprit: the multiple forest fires burning around Yakutia and elsewhere in Siberia, The Siberian Times reported. As NASA’s Earth Observatory reminds us, it’s wildfire season in Siberia, and hundreds of fires have already burned tens of thousands of acres of forest since May. While most of these fires are hundreds of miles away from the dust-eclipsed towns in question, smoke and aerosols released by some of these fires have been tracked halfway around the world. One cluster of fires sparked on July 3 produced a smoke plume so massive that it traveled more than 5,000 miles in the span of 11 days, passing across northeastern Russia, through Alaska and into central Canada before beginning to weaken. Plumes this large can easily shade the land below and fill the air with polluting gases, NASA scientists wrote.
Tim Berners-Lee, the Man Who Created the World Wide Web, Has Some Regrets – (Vanity Fair – July 1, 2018)
Nearly three decades ago, Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web. At 63, Berners-Lee has thus far had a career more or less divided into two phases. In the first, he attended Oxford; worked at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN); and then, in 1989, came up with the idea that eventually became the Web. Initially, Berners-Lee’s innovation was intended to help scientists share data across a then obscure platform called the Internet, a version of which the U.S. government had been using since the 1960s. But owing to his decision to release the source code for free—to make the Web an open and democratic platform for all—his brainchild quickly took on a life of its own. Berners-Lee, who never directly profited off his invention, has also spent most of his life trying to guard it. From the beginning, in fact, Berners-Lee understood how the epic power of the Web would radically transform governments, businesses, societies. He also envisioned that his invention could, in the wrong hands, become a destroyer of worlds, as Robert Oppenheimer once infamously observed of his own creation. His prophecy came to life, most recently, when revelations emerged that Russian hackers interfered with the 2016 presidential election, or when Facebook admitted it exposed data on more than 80 million users to a political research firm, Cambridge Analytica, which worked for Donald Trump’s campaign. This episode was the latest in an increasingly chilling narrative. In 2012, Facebook conducted secret psychological experiments on nearly 700,000 users. Both Google and Amazon have filed patent applications for devices designed to listen for mood shifts and emotions in the human voice. For the man who set all this in motion, the mushroom cloud was unfolding before his very eyes. “We demonstrated that the Web had failed instead of served humanity, as it was supposed to have done, and failed in many places,” he told me. The increasing centralization of the Web, he says, has “ended up producing—with no deliberate action of the people who designed the platform—a large-scale emergent phenomenon which is anti-human.” He is now determined to fight back through both his celebrity status and, notably, his skill as a coder. In particular, Berners-Lee has, for some time, been working on a new platform, Solid, to reclaim the Web from corporations and return it to its democratic roots.
Delete Your Account – (Fast Company – July 20, 2018)
Precious few have considered their relationship with social media—or sought account deletion—with the seriousness that Jaron Lanier has. The virtual reality pioneer, musician, and author has been around Silicon Valley for much of his 58 years, and has consulted for a number of its giants (he is currently a researcher affiliated with Microsoft). He’s also spent much of that time worrying, loudly and eloquently, about the risks of the things those companies make. His new book, Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now, examines how a technology designed to bring people together (remember Mark Zuckerberg’s ongoing dream of “connecting” the world) has instead helped tear apart humanity’s delicate social fabric. People, he argues, are becoming angrier, less empathetic, more isolated yet tribal, and sadder, crazier even. With every post and scroll, users feed a system built to influence behavior, in a sort of reward feedback loop. And as the 2016 elections demonstrated, the same system that’s used to sell you deodorant online can also be hijacked to wreak havoc on your political system. Lanier, who hasn’t been on social media for years, now likes to refer to Facebook and Google as “behavior modification empires.” “How did we get here, and how did we end up creating this mass surveillance system and applying principles of psychology to manipulating people all the time when what we set out to do was create a more open society for the benefit of everybody,” Lanier said. The business plan that now dominates much of the web is, as Lanier sees it, a conflict between two different ideologies that Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and developers love. On the one hand, it is an almost socialist sensibility that holds that everything should be totally open and shared, like Wikipedia and free software. On the other hand, there’s an admiration for beloved tech entrepreneurs and walled-garden builders like Steve Jobs. The compromise between these two ideologies is the ad-based model. The Google founders, for instance, were opposed to this model when they built their first search engine, but they later relented on the basis, they claimed, that ads could be relevant and helpful to people. Lanier thinks this arrangement gave us the best and worst of both worlds, where on the surface it seems like everyone is being open and sharing, but in the background a “hidden machine” is running that makes money off of manipulating and playing with people who are being open. He cites internet gambling sites as pioneers in behavior modification, like real-life slot machine makers before them. That said, other companies, including video game developers and pornography sites, have also dabbled in behavior modification to make addicts of people—a power that has since been refined by social media platforms and their machine learning algorithms.
Shell’s Starship Initiative Semi Truck Looks Crazy, Is Crazy Efficient – (CNet – June 6, 2018)
The high-tech heavy hauler managed to be nearly 40% more efficient than an average semi truck despite hauling way more cargo from California to Florida. To build the Starship, Shell teamed up with the AirFlow truck company to ruthlessly apply all of the best aerodynamic tricks and materials science hacks to the design of the truck in search of something more important to big trucks than simple miles-per-gallon: ton-miles per gallon. A truck’s ton-miles per gallon figure compares the vehicle’s fuel efficiency with the amount of cargo being carried since that dramatically affects how hard a diesel engine has to work. To help eke out every last drop of efficiency, the Starship’s cab is designed to pierce the wind and it’s built from carbon fiber, to help reduce overall weight. One especially interesting aspect of the Starship is its hybrid-electric axle system which can provide a power boost during particularly demanding situations, such as climbing a grade, ensuring that the engine doesn’t have to work quite as hard. Speaking of working as hard, driving accessories with an alternator can affect fuel economy, so the Starship features a 5,000-watt solar array to run ancillaries and again, reduce the load on the diesel engine.
Rio Tinto Achieves First Autonomous Train Iron Ore Delivery – (ZDNet – July 17, 2018)
Rio Tino’s autonomous train has completed its first delivery of iron ore in Western Australia’s Pilbara. The train, consisting of three locomotives and described by Rio Tinto as “the world’s largest robot”, travelled over 280km from the company’s mining operations in Tom Price to the port of Cape Lambert on Tuesday, July 10. The train was remotely monitored by Rio Tinto’s Operations Centre in Perth more than 1,500km away. The locomotives are equipped with AutoHaul software and are fitted with on-board cameras for monitoring from the center. The successful delivery forms part of the company’s AutoHaul project, which, when complete later this year, will enable the world’s first fully autonomous, long-distance, heavy-haul rail network, Rio Tinto said.
The Restaurant Chain with Nothing But Food Waste on the Menu – (Huffington Post – June 7, 2018)
Bart Roetert felt a familiar sense of frustration as he walked past the leftover food piling up at the end of his grocery store shift ― overripe mangoes, day-old bread and one blemished tomato on a vine of five other perfectly good ones. One-third of all food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted. It was a November afternoon in 2013, and Roetert was working as a store manager for Albert Heijn, one of the Netherlands’ largest grocery chains. Just that day, he’d been talking to his colleagues Freke van Nimwegen and Selma Seddik about a business competition their company was running to find innovative ideas. All three wanted to see less edible food ending up in the garbage, and Roetert realized they could use the competition to achieve just that. The trio pitched Instock, a pop-up restaurant in central Amsterdam that would serve meals made entirely out of surplus food from the supermarket chain they worked for. And they won. Fast forward four and a half years, and Roetert, van Nimwegen and Seddik run Instock full time. The social enterprise collects surplus food from 160 Albert Heijn stores across the Netherlands, has three of its own successful, permanent restaurants in Amsterdam, the Hague and Utrecht, and an online shop that sells surplus food to other catering companies and chefs. It also runs a school food waste program that offers resources and lesson plans to help teach children where food comes from, why food waste is bad and how it can be prevented. A four-course dinner at Instock costs 29 euros ($34) and uses traditional methods and fusion flavors to transform leftovers ― think salmon tartare with an Asian twist, or a Caribbean patty filled with fermented vegetables and smoked cheese. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the place attracts a diverse crowd: “We get both the foodies and the eco-minded people,” Roetert said.
SECURITY AND THE FUTURE OF WARFARE
Facial Recognition Software Wrongly Identifies 28 Lawmakers As Crime Suspects – (NPR – July 26, 2018)
Facial recognition software sold by Amazon mistakenly identified 28 members of Congress as people who had been arrested for crimes, the American Civil Liberties Union has announced. Amazon Rekognition has been marketed as tool that provides extremely accurate facial analysis through photos and video. The ACLU tested that assertion by using the software to scan photos of every current member of the House and Senate in a database that the watchdog built from thousands of publicly available arrest photos. Outcry from privacy and civil rights groups has not stopped law enforcement from pursuing the technology. The Orlando, Fla., police force tested Rekognition’s real-time surveillance. The Washington County Sheriff’s Office, near Portland, Ore., has used it to search faces from photos of suspects taken by deputies. “This is partly a result of vendors pushing facial recognition technology because it becomes another avenue of revenue,” Jeramie Scott, national security counsel at the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington, D.C., told NPR. He compared facial recognition software to body cameras worn by law enforcement, which can be used for police accountability or, increasingly, public surveillance.
European Air Giant Airbus Unveils Solar-Powered Drone – (Yahoo News – July 18, 2018)
European air giant Airbus has unveiled a solar-powered drone called Zephyr that will fly at a high altitude and fulfill the same functions as a satellite. The High Altitude Pseudo-Satellite (HAPS) has a wingspan of 25 meters (82 feet) and weighs less than 25 kilograms (55 pounds). It can fly at an altitude of 21,000 meters above the weather and conventional air traffic. Another model planned, the Zephyr T, would have a wingspan of 33 meters. The plan is for the drones to fly for three months in the stratosphere, with a descent that would last around 30 hours. The Zephyr “is a mix between a satellite and a UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) with the capabilities of a satellite and the flexibility of a UAV,” Jana Rosenmann, head of the drones division at Airbus, said. The drone is equipped with battery technology that saves energy during the day, releasing it at night. Seven models are planned to be produced in 2018 and seven more in 2019, Rosenmann said. The drones will have both military and civilian applications, including maritime surveillance, border patrol missions and forest fire detection. Britain’s defense ministry is the first customer.
TRENDS OF GOVERNANCE
Top Voting Machine Vendor Admits It Installed Remote-Access Software on Systems Sold to States – (Motherboard – July 17, 2018)
The nation’s top voting machine maker has admitted in a letter to a federal lawmaker that the company installed remote-access software on election-management systems it sold over a period of six years, raising questions about the security of those systems and the integrity of elections that were conducted with them. In a letter sent to Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) in April, Election Systems and Software acknowledged that it had “provided pcAnywhere remote connection software … to a small number of customers between 2000 and 2006,” which was installed on the election-management system ES&S sold them. The statement contradicts what the company told the author of this article and fact checkers for a story written for the New York Times in February. At that time, a spokesperson said ES&S had never installed pcAnywhere on any election system it sold. ES&S is the top voting machine maker in the country, a position it held in the years 2000-2006 when it was installing pcAnywhere on its systems. The company’s machines were used statewide in a number of states, and at least 60% of ballots cast in the US in 2006 were tabulated on ES&S election-management systems. It’s not clear why ES&S would have only installed the software on the systems of “a small number of customers” and not all customers, unless other customers objected or had state laws preventing this. The company told Wyden it stopped installing pcAnywhere on systems in December 2007, after the Election Assistance Commission, which oversees the federal testing and certification of election systems used in the US, released new voting system standards. The presence of such software makes a system more vulnerable to attack from hackers, especially if the remote-access software itself contains security vulnerabilities. In 2006, the same period when ES&S says it was still installing pcAnywhere on election systems, hackers stole the source code for the pcAnyhere software, though the public didn’t learn of this until years later in 2012 when a hacker posted some of the source code online, forcing Symantec, the distributor of pcAnywhere, to admit that it had been stolen years earlier. Around this same time, security researchers discovered a critical vulnerability in pcAnywhere that would allow an attacker to seize control of a system that had the software installed on it, without needing to authenticate themselves to the system with a password. The company didn’t respond to questions asking when customers removed the software—whether ES&S had instructed them to do so back in 2007 when the company says it stopped installing the software on new systems it sold or whether it had only recently told customers to remove it following concerns raised in the 2016 presidential elections that Russian hackers were targeting election networks in the US. As late as 2011 pcAnywhere was still being used on at least one ES&S customer’s election-management system in Venango County, Pennsylvania.
Make America More Like New Zealand, Costa Rica and Ethiopia – (Boston Globe – July 8, 2018)
The decline of democracy in the United States might logically lead us to conclude that our political system has failed — that democracy is intrinsically unable to resist the power of those who profit from undermining it. That view, however, is contradicted by what other democracies have recently achieved. With hardly any notice in the American press, three very different countries have recently produced leaders who are unapologetically pursuing policies that benefit their people and the world. They are magnificent examples for the United States — unless they lead us to weep in envy. Eight months ago a 37-year-old firebrand named Jacinda Ardern emerged unexpectedly as prime minister of New Zealand. Upon taking office, she pledged to create “a country where our environment is protected, where we look after the most vulnerable, where we support our families, where we make sure people have the most basic of needs, like a roof over their head.” One of her first and most shocking decisions was to stop issuing permits for offshore oil and gas exploration. “Transitions have to start somewhere,” she said. “We have been a world leader on critical issues to humanity by being nuclear-free. . . Now we could be world-leading in becoming carbon neutral.” Ardern has also challenged other taboos in her country. Perhaps most provocatively, she has asserted that the homelessness problem in her country proves the “blatant failure” of capitalism. “If you have hundreds of thousands of children living in homes without enough to survive,” she reasoned, “what else could you describe it as?” New Zealanders have rewarded Ardern’s truth-telling with a 73% approval rating. Similarly, in Costa Rica and in Ethiopia, new leaders have recently been elected who have radically refreshing values and positions. “Expect a different rhetoric from us,” said the new prime minister of Ethiopia, Abiy Ahmed, 41, comes from the country’s Muslim minority and also from a persecuted ethnic group, the Oromo. “If there is to be political progress in Ethiopia, we have to debate the issues openly and respectfully.”
Jewish Nation State: Israel Approves Controversial Bill – (BBC News – July 19, 2018)
Israel has no constitution but instead passed over time a series of Basic Laws which have constitutional status. The nation state law is the 14th such basic law. Officially titled “The Basic Law: Israel as the Nation State of the Jewish People”, the legislation essentially defines Israel first and foremost as a Jewish state. Among its 11 provisions, it describes Israel as “the national home of the Jewish people” and says the right to exercise national self-determination there is “unique to the Jewish people”. Arab MPs reacted furiously in parliament, with one waving a black flag and others ripping up the bill. Israel’s prime minister praised the bill’s passage as a “defining moment”. It also reiterates the status of Jerusalem under Israeli law, which defines the city – part of which is claimed by the Palestinians as the capital of a future state – as the “complete and united… capital of Israel”. Controversially, the law singles out Hebrew as the “state’s language”, effectively prioritizing it above Arabic which has for decades been recognised as an official language alongside Hebrew. Fears over the high birth-rate of Israeli Arabs, as well as possible alternatives to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict which could challenge Israel’s Jewish majority, have spurred on calls to anchor the Jewishness of Israel in law. Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly insisted that the Palestinians must recognize Israel as a Jewish state in any final peace settlement. He argues that the Palestinians’ refusal to do so is the biggest obstacle to peace, saying it demonstrates that the Palestinians do not genuinely recognize Israel’s right to exist. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas meanwhile has said he will never recognize Israel as a Jewish state, arguing that the Palestinians have long recognized the State of Israel and should not be expected to go further.
LIFE STYLE/SOCIAL TRENDS AND VALUES
American Medical Association Rethinks Its Opposition Position – (Compassion and Choices – June 28, 2018)
In early June, the American Medical Association (AMA) decided not to reaffirm its position against medical aid in dying, which it has held since 1993. A recommendation by its Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs (CEJA) that the AMA maintain its opposition was rejected in June, with delegates at the annual meeting in Chicago instead voting for the organization to continue reviewing its stance on the issue. Following a debate, the House of Delegates voted by a margin of 56% to 44% to have the CEJA keep studying the current guidance, which labels the practice “physician-assisted suicide” and calls it “fundamentally incompatible with the physician’s role as healer.” The council has spent two years reviewing resolutions on whether to take a neutral stance on the increasingly accepted practice. The group’s report sought to find consensus, noting, “Where one physician understands providing the means to hasten death to be an abrogation of the physician’s fundamental role as healer that forecloses any possibility of offering care that respects dignity, another in equally good faith understands supporting a patient’s request for aid in hastening a foreseen death to be an expression of care and compassion.”
Assassination Markets for Jeff Bezos, Betty White, and Donald Trump Are on the Blockchain – (Motherboard – July 25, 2018)
In July, the non-profit Forecast Foundation launched its Augur protocol on the Ethereum network in a bid to create the first blockchain-based betting platform. Now, Augur is hosting several wagers where users bet on when a public figure will die, with a pot of digital money going to whoever makes the correct guess. This type of betting is referred to as an “assassination market” because it arguably incentivizes someone to guarantee a win by offing the person themselves. Cryptoanarchist Jim Bell introduced the concept in a paper called “Assassination Politics” in the mid-1990s. Bell imagined that the anonymity afforded by modern encryption techniques and the advent of digital money would allow for political assassinations to be incentivized and carried out anonymously. On the Augur marketplace, Motherboard found open bets on the deaths of a number of public figures, including Betty White, Donald Trump, Jeff Bezos and Warren Buffett. Other events were also bet on as well, such as whether SpaceX will complete a crewed flight beyond Earth orbit this year. Most of these betting pools had few or no bets on the books at the time of writing, but some betting pools, including one predicting Donald Trump’s death this year, had dozens of trades. Augur wasn’t created as a protocol for assassination markets, but rather prediction markets in general. Prediction markets are based on the idea that the aggregate opinion of the crowd is more accurate than the opinion of a single individual because it involves a greater pool of information. In short, prediction markets theoretically give investors a better idea of how much an asset is worth because it aggregates a large amount of distributed information about that asset. For the participants in these markets, it’s basically just gambling on world events.
A French Novelist Imagined Sexual Dystopia. Now It’s Arrived – (New York Times – July 12, 2018)
When Alek Minassian drove a van onto a Toronto sidewalk in April, killing 10 people, he joined a growing list of young male mass murderers. He also left a trail of internet posts suggesting his motivation had to do with his status as an “incel,” or involuntary celibate — a label adopted by men who are unable to form sexual relationships with women, and who often respond with virulent misogyny. Eight of Minassian’s victims were women. Minutes before he began his rampage, he posted on Facebook: “The Incel Rebellion has already begun!” But until Minassian committed his crime, the grievances of incels had received little public attention. In May, Jordan Peterson, the Canadian psychologist who has been celebrated and reviled for his views on society and gender, created a furor when he told The New York Times that “enforced monogamy” might be the only way to pacify their rage. Along with some other social conservatives, Peterson sympathizes with the notion that the sexual revolution, like the free-market revolution, has created classes of winners and losers, and that the losers have a legitimate grievance. “No one cares about the men who fail,” Peterson observed. To any reader of the French writer Michel Houellebecq, this lament will sound eerily familiar. For the last 25 years, in novel after novel, Houellebecq has advanced a similar critique of contemporary sexual mores. And while Houellebecq has always been a polarizing figure — admired for his provocations, disdained for his crudeness — he has turned out to be a writer of unusual prescience. Houellebecq’s novels encapsulate his theory of sexuality (he is typically French in his love of abstraction and theory). The sexual revolution of the 1960s, widely seen as a liberation movement, is better understood as the intrusion of capitalist values into the previously sacrosanct realm of intimate life. “Just like unrestrained economic liberalism … sexual liberalism produces phenomena of absolute pauperization,” he writes. “Some men make love every day; others five or six times in their life, or never.” The latter group — the losers — are represented in his novels. Houellebecq’s second (and best) book, “The Elementary Particles,” reiterates his case against “sexual liberalism,” while adding a host of new culprits, from New Age spirituality and women’s magazines to social atomization and the decline of Christianity. “In the midst of the suicide of the West, it was clear they had no chance,” he writes of the characters in the novel, in what could be a slogan for all his fiction. This sounds like a familiar kind of reactionary pessimism. But it is not quite accurate to call Houellebecq a reactionary, since he does not believe that it is possible to return to the sexual regimes of the past. As diagnosis and evidence, that Houellebecq’s novels are now more urgent than ever. Their misogyny can make reading Houellebecq an ordeal, and he ought to be read with the suspicion and resistance that his ideas deserve. But all the same, he ought to be read.
CONTACT AND THE EXPLORATION OF SPACE
Scientists Discover Structure within the Sun’s Atmosphere – (Engaget – July 20, 2018)
While scientists have been learning more and more about our solar system and the way things work, many of our Sun’s mechanics still remain a mystery. In advance of the launch of the Parker Solar Probe, which will make contact with the Sun’s outer atmosphere, however, scientists are foreshadowing what the spacecraft might see with new discoveries. In a paper published in The Astrophysical Journal, scientists detected structures within the Sun’s corona, thanks to advanced image processing techniques and algorithms. The question that this group of scientists, led by Craig DeForest from the Southwest Research Institute’s branch in Boulder, Colorado, was trying to answer was in regard to the source of solar wind. “In deep space, the solar wind is turbulent and gusty,” said DeForest. “But how did it get that way? Did it leave the Sun smooth, and become turbulent as it crossed the solar system, or are the gusts telling us about the Sun itself?” The answer: Use algorithms in order to process the images in various ways to enhance the clarity. By filtering out the noise from background stars, correcting for how long the shutter was open during image capture and normalizing brightness, the team was able to improve the signal-to-noise ratio and produce clearer and crisper images. Additionally, the team ran an algorithm to reduce motion blur in real-time. They accomplished this by actually shifting their images to take the motion of the solar wind into account. By taking these advanced steps, the team was able to determine that the Sun’s outer corona does indeed have a physical structure. Additionally, they also discovered that the Alfvén zone, or the area where material has traveled too far and too fast from the Sun to be recaptured, is less of clean boundary than scientists thought — it’s more of a “no man’s land” zone than a clear surface. And finally, scientists discovered that they were struggling with their image processing starting at 10 radii from the Sun. Further in, things aligned nicely. But something is happening at that distance that researchers don’t yet understand, and it raises new questions about the nature of our Sun and what kind of physics are occurring there.
The Milky Way’s Long-lost Sibling Finally Found – (PhysOrg – July 23, 2018)
Scientists at the University of Michigan have deduced that the Andromeda galaxy, our closest large galactic neighbor, shredded and cannibalized a massive galaxy two billion years ago. Even though it was mostly shredded, this massive galaxy left behind a rich trail of evidence: an almost invisible halo of stars larger than the Andromeda galaxy itself, an elusive stream of stars and a separate enigmatic compact galaxy, M32. Discovering and studying this decimated galaxy will help astronomers understand how disk galaxies like the Milky Way evolve and survive large mergers. This disrupted galaxy, named M32p, was the third-largest member of the Local Group of galaxies, after the Milky Way and Andromeda galaxies. Using computer models, Richard D’Souza and Eric Bell of the University of Michigan’s Department of Astronomy were able to piece together this evidence, revealing this long-lost sibling of the Milky Way. Using new computer simulations, the scientists were able to understand that even though many companion galaxies were consumed by Andromeda, most of the stars in the Andromeda’s outer faint halo were mostly contributed by shredding a single large galaxy. “It was a ‘eureka’ moment. We realized we could use this information of Andromeda’s outer stellar halo to infer the properties of the largest of these shredded galaxies,” said lead author D’Souza, a postdoctoral researcher at U-M. This galaxy, called M32p, which was shredded by the Andromeda galaxy, was at least 20 times larger than any galaxy which merged with the Milky Way over the course of its lifetime. M32p would have been massive, making it the third largest galaxy in the Local Group after the Andromeda and the Milky Way galaxies. This work might also solve a long-standing mystery: the formation of Andromeda’s enigmatic M32 satellite galaxy, the scientists say. They suggest that the compact and dense M32 is the surviving center of the Milky Way’s long-lost sibling, like the indestructible pit of a plum. “M32 is a weirdo,” said co-author Bell, U-M professor of astronomy. “While it looks like a compact example of an old, elliptical galaxy, it actually has lots of young stars. It’s one of the most compact galaxies in the universe. There isn’t another galaxy like it.”
Race of Mass Shooters Influences How the Media Cover Their Crimes – (Nation of Change – July 27, 2018)
On Jan. 24, 2014, police found Josh Boren, a 34-year-old man and former police officer, dead in his home next to the bodies of his wife and their three children. The shots were fired execution-style on Boren’s kneeling victims, before he turned the gun on himself. On Aug. 8, 2015, 48-year-old David Conley shot and killed his son, former girlfriend and six other children and adults at his former girlfriend’s home. Like Boren, Conley executed the victims at point-blank range. Both men had histories of domestic violence and criminal behavior. Yet despite the obvious similarities in these two cases and perpetrators, the media, in each case, took a different approach. When describing Boren, the media focused on his good character and excellent parenting, going as far to call Boren a big “teddy bear” despite a prolonged history of domestic violence. They attributed his crime to “snapping” under the significant stress of his wife’s recent divorce filing. In Conley’s case, media reports made little attempt to include any redeeming aspects of his personality. Instead, they focused exclusively on Conley’s history of domestic violence and prior drug possession charges. Boren was white; Conley was black. A recent study explored whether the race of mass shooters influences how the media depict their crime, their motivations and their lives. The discrepancies in the media coverage of Boren’s and Conley’s crimes were indicative of a broader phenomenon. Holding all aspects of the crime equal – white shooters were nearly 95% more likely to have their crimes attributed to mental illness than black shooters. Latino shooters were 92% more likely than black shooters to have mental illness mentioned as a factor. Nearly 80% of articles that described white shooters as mentally ill also described them as a victim of society and circumstance – a tough childhood, a failed relationship or financial struggles. However only one article that described a black shooter as mentally ill did the same. urthermore, no article in the sample offered testimony to black shooters’ good character, suggested that the shooter was from a good environment or that the shooting was out of character. Across the board, roughly the same pattern played out with perpetrators who were Latino.
NEW TOOLS/NEW PROCESSES
A Sociologist Examines the “White Fragility” That Prevents White Americans from Confronting Racism – (New Yorker – July 23, 2018)
In 2011, the academic and educator Robin DiAngelo coined the term “white fragility” to describe the disbelieving defensiveness that white people exhibit when their ideas about race and racism are challenged—and particularly when they feel implicated in white supremacy. Why, she wondered, did her feedback prompt such resistance, as if the mention of racism were more offensive than the fact or practice of it? In a new book, White Fragility, DiAngelo attempts to explicate the phenomenon of white people’s paper-thin skin. She argues that our largely segregated society is set up to insulate whites from racial discomfort, so that they fall to pieces at the first application of stress—such as, for instance, when someone suggests that “flesh-toned” may not be an appropriate name for a beige crayon. DiAngelo addresses her book mostly to white people, and she reserves her harshest criticism for white liberals like herself (and like the author of this article), whom she sees as refusing to acknowledge their own participation in racist systems. Whites profit off of an American political and economic system that showers advantages on racial “winners” and oppresses racial “losers.” Yet, DiAngelo writes, white people cling to the notion of racial innocence, a form of weaponized denial that positions black people as the “havers” of race and the guardians of racial knowledge. Whiteness, on the other hand, scans as invisible, default, a form of racelessness. Much of “White Fragility” is dedicated to pulling back the veil on these so-called pillars of whiteness: assumptions that prop up racist beliefs without our realizing it. Such ideologies include individualism, or the distinctly white-American dream that one writes one’s own destiny, and objectivity, the confidence that one can free oneself entirely from bias. As a sociologist trained in mapping group patterns, DiAngelo can’t help but regard both precepts as naïve (at best) and arrogant (at worst). To be perceived as an individual, to not be associated with anything negative because of your skin color, she notes, is a privilege largely afforded to white people; although most school shooters, domestic terrorists, and rapists in the United States are white, it is rare to see a white man on the street reduced to a stereotype. (Editor’s note: We recommend this article.)
NEW TOOLS/NEW PROCESSES
A New Way to Monitor Vital Signs (That Can See Through Walls) – (TED – April, 2018)
Dina Katabi, Director of the MIT Center for Wireless Networks and Mobile Computing, and her team are working on a bold new way to monitor patients’ vital signs in a hospital (or even at home), without wearables or bulky, beeping devices. Bonus: it can see through walls. In a mind-blowing talk and demo, Katabi previews a system that captures the reflections of signals like Wi-Fi as they bounce off people, creating a reliable record of vitals for healthcare workers and patients. And in a brief Q&A with TED curator Helen Walters, Katabi discusses safeguards being put in place to prevent people from using this tech to monitor somebody without their consent. (Editor’s note: If you have time to follow up on only one link in this issue, this is the one.)
Pharma Scandal Prompts Calls to Put Vaccine Data on a Blockchain – (Coindesk – July 3, 2018)
A scandal around the fraudulent actions of a vaccine manufacturer in China has sparking a heated debate over the last week – and now the Chinese cryptocurrency community is suggesting blockchain as a potential solution. The uproar followed a report from China’s State Drug Administration, which, based on a tip-off, launched an investigation of the company – Changsheng Biotechnology – and found that it had falsified aspects of its rabies vaccine production data. China’s blockchain enthusiasts have been using social media platforms such as “8btc” to push for blockchain adoption in the pharma industry, so that every step of a vaccine’s production and distribution can be tracked on a tamper-proof ledger. Blockchain has already been used as a means to bypass China’s “Great Firewall” and permanently store censored articles. An investigative article – called “The Vaccine King” and published on WeChat – listed the wrongdoings of Changsheng Biotechnology over the decades. Within a day of publication, the piece was blocked across social media and the internet in China due to sensitive information it included that the authorities believed had the potential to cause panic. To counter the censorship, coders to have now hashed the entire article into a transaction on the ethereum blockchain, so that the original text is still available to readers in China. Although currently opening that ethereum address on WeChat is also censored, access through blockchain exploring websites such as etherscan.io is still available. The vaccine exposé marks the latest case in which controversial information that was blocked in China has been permanently recorded on the public blockchain to fight internet censorship. Previously, an article detailing a Chinese version of the #metoo movement was also widely blocked in China, but was later encoded to the ethereum blockchain as a permanent, visible record.
A New Cloaking Approach Could Potentially Make Objects Invisible from Every Direction – (Futurism – June 28, 2018)
Researchers from Montreal’s National Institute of Scientific Research (INRS) just detailed a new approach to invisibility cloaking. Their device, called a spectral invisibility cloak, is the first to manipulate the color (or frequency) of the light waves that interact with an object, rendering it invisible. “Our work represents a breakthrough in the quest for invisibility cloaking,” said study author José Azaña. When we “see” something, what we’re really seeing is the interaction of these light frequencies and the object. When sunlight shines on a blue car, the car reflects the blue light frequency while absorbing all the other frequencies. Our eyes detect the reflected blue light, letting us see the blue car. The INRS researchers’ cloaking device takes advantage of this interaction. They describe an object that reflects only green light. To make this object seem “invisible” to the human eye, they use a specially designed filter to temporarily shift the green frequencies in the broadband spectrum shining on the object to blue. Then, they use another filter to shift those frequencies back to green on the other side of the object. The result? The human eye can’t see the object. Currently, the INRS researchers’ cloaking device only works from one direction — the viewer’s gaze needs to follow the path of the light, looking toward the object through the first filter. However, Azaña claims the method could theoretically make an object invisible from every direction. For now, the device could help secure telecommunications, which use broadband waves to transport data. Telecom companies could render certain frequencies along their fiber optic networks “invisible,” preventing third-parties from using broadband light to spy on them.
Trial Run for UAE Iceberg Project in 2019 – (Gulf News – July 1, 2018)
The plan is that Leviathan icebergs will be towed from the Antarctic to the UAE’s Fujairah coastline by early 2020 to be melted into pure, polar ice water for humanitarian and commercial distribution, says the Emirati visionary who first proposed the ambitious effort last year. But before large ocean going vessels attempt the 12,000-kilometre journey to tow leviathan icebergs from the Heard Island in the South Pole to the coast of Fujairah, the firm is planning a shorter pilot run in early 2019 that would float an iceberg to Australia or alternatively the southern coast of South Africa, said Abdullah Mohammad Sulaiman Al Shehi, managing director of National Adviser Bureau Limited. An average large iceberg contains more than 20 billion gallons of water, enough for one million people over five years, he said, and given their size of more than a dozen storeys tall in some instances and the length of a football pitch, large icebergs do not easily melt even in warmer sea waters. Following highly detailed analysis commissioned by experts in Europe and New York City, the $50-million ‘UAE Iceberg Project’ has also launched its website as it prepares to set up a scientific panel to move the effort to next stages. To protect investments made so far by his privately-owned firm, Al Shehi said he has successfully filed patents in the United Kingdom while preparing to launch the pilot iceberg project next year. “The patents have been filed for the technology in the UK, some for the towing and another for reducing the melting rate during the journey,” Al Shehi said.
How to Change Your Mind: Michael Pollan on How the Science of Psychedelics Illuminates Consciousness, Mortality, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence – (Brain Pickings – July 11, 2018)
“Attention is an intentional, unapologetic discriminator. It asks what is relevant right now, and gears us up to notice only that,” cognitive scientist Alexandra Horowitz wrote in her inquiry into how our conditioned way of looking narrows the lens of our perception. Attention, after all, is the handmaiden of consciousness, and consciousness the central fact and the central mystery of our creaturely experience. From the days of Plato’s cave to the birth of neuroscience, we have endeavored to fathom its nature. But it is a mystery that only seems to deepen with each increment of approach. “Our normal waking consciousness,” William James wrote in his landmark 1902 treatise on spirituality, “is but one special type of consciousness, whilst all about it, parted from it by the filmiest of screens, there lie potential forms of consciousness entirely different… No account of the universe in its totality can be final which leaves these other forms of consciousness quite disregarded.” Embedded within this beautifully constructed (and illustrated) essay by Maria Popova is a review of the Pollan’s book, How to Change Your Mind. If you aren’t already familiar with her blog “Brain Pickings”, you have in store an additional treat.
Coming to Grips with the Implications of Quantum Mechanics – (Scientific American – May 29, 2018)
For almost a century, physicists have wondered whether the most counterintuitive predictions of quantum mechanics (QM) could actually be true. Only in recent years has the technology necessary for answering this question become accessible, enabling a string of experimental results that show that key predictions of QM are indeed correct. Taken together, these experiments indicate that the everyday world we perceive does not exist until observed, which in turn suggests—as we shall argue in this essay—a primary role for mind in nature. It is thus high time the scientific community at large—not only those involved in foundations of QM—faced up to the counterintuitive implications of QM’s most controversial predictions. Let us be clear: our argument for a mental world does not entail or imply that the world is merely one’s own personal hallucination or act of imagination. Our view is entirely naturalistic: the mind that underlies the world is a transpersonal mind behaving according to natural laws. It comprises but far transcends any individual psyche. (Editor’s note: We recommend this article.) See also: This quantum theory predicts that the future might be influencing the past.
FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH – articles off the beaten track which may – or may not – have predictive value.
The Collapse of a $40 Million Nutrition Science Crusade – (Wired – June 18, 2018)
NuSI (pronounced new-see) launched in September 2012 with much fanfare. It quickly raised more than $40 million from big-name donors to facilitate expensive, high-risk studies intended to illuminate the root causes of obesity. Gary Taubes, the crusading science journalist best known for his beef with Big Sugar, and his cofounder, physician-researcher Peter Attia, contended that nutritional science was so inconsistent because it was so expensive to do right. With a goal of raising an additional $190 million, they wanted to fund science that would help cut the prevalence of obesity in the US by more than half—and diabetes by 75%—by 2025. At the heart of their mission was the decades-old question of whether all calories are, in fact, created equal. The mainstream view is that it’s simply an excess of calories that makes people fat—no matter whether those calories come from a bagel or a steak or a bowl of broccoli. Taubes and Attia subscribe to a growing minority stance, dubbed the carbohydrate/insulin or C/I hypothesis, that contends obesity is caused by an excess of insulin driving energy into fat stores. In other words, sugar makes people fat. With money in hand, Taubes and Attia started recruiting top researchers in 2012 to conduct four initial studies. They purposefully brought on people who disagreed with them, like Kevin Hall, a senior investigator at the NIH’s National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, whose mathematical models predicted that a low-carb, low-insulin diet would have only a tiny impact on calorie-burning. This article is an interesting look “behind the curtain” at one instance of the intersections of research funding, experimental design, high profile personalities, and personal agendas.
JUST FOR FUN
Marvel at Tiny, Perfect Staircases Made by a Secret Society of French Woodworkers – (AtlasObscura – March 14, 2018)
Since the Middle Ages, France’s “compagnons” have lived idiosyncratic existences, steeped in mystery, ritual, and a devotion to their trades. Even today, these master craftsmen have certain quirks: As young people, they live in boarding houses together in towns across France, where they spend their days learning and training to become the country’s greatest tradespeople. After six months in one place, each tradesman will pack up and move on to another French town, and a new hostel, to learn more skills under a new master. The name “compagnon” translates to “companion,” relating to the brotherhood between members and the shared identity of a movement that, today, encompasses around 12,000 permanent, active members. Professions usually fall into one of five “groups,” depending on their principal material: stone; wood; metal; leather and textiles; and food. But whatever the craft, the journey from apprentice to “compagnon” is long and highly specific, and culminates in the completion of a “masterwork”: an item that showcases the skills acquired over at least five years of sustained study. Historically, woodworkers have often chosen to produce a tiny, intricate staircase as their “masterwork.” Over 30 years, the art dealer and collector Eugene V. Thaw, who died at 90 in January 2018, amassed an incredible collection of these staircase models, dating from between the 18th and 20th centuries. Measuring only a few inches in height, they are self-supporting, graceful, and impossibly delicate. Since 2007, they have been part of the permanent collection of New York’s Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum located in New York City.
A FINAL QUOTE
What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us. – Ralph Waldo Emerson
A special thanks to: Chas Freeman, Ursula Freer, Morel Fourman, Diane Petersen, Gary Sycalik, Hal Taylor, Steve Ujvarosy, and all of you who have sent us interesting links in the past. If you see something we should know about, do send it along – thanks.
Edited by John L. Petersen