Sunday, October 16, 2011

Altruism, Optimism and Worries...Many Thought-Snacks!

It's the (Not the) End of the World Cruise! Come with us to sea and celebrate the world Not coming to an end during the "Mayan Millennium" winter solstice in 2012 with parties, special guests & speakers, including astronaut Steve Hawley, Authors David Brin and Robert Sawyer, plus several renowned scientists.  Featuring snorkeling, a costume party, fascinating talks, and a visit to the Mayan Tulum ruins on Dec. 21, 2012. During the week that some think will be the world’s last, join us on a more enlightened, and enlightening, week-long cruise in the beautiful Caribbean.  (Also, what better place to be, either way?) Don’t be... left behind!

And fer gosh-dern sakes, don’t have the singularity without us, while we’re away!

“A relentless addiction to indignation may be one of the chief drivers of obstinate dogmatism and possibly the ultimate propellant behind the current culture war." The New York Times previews a groundbreaking scientific-medical tome -- PATHOLOGICAL ALTRUISM (edited by Barbara Oakley) -- about ways that one of humanity's highest traits can sometimes go terribly wrong. (I wrote two of the papers, but don't worry: most of the contributing doctors and researchers are actually qualified!) A fascinating topic.  And long past-due for serious attention. (See also my short story, The Giving Plague!)

Our family has been renting DVD episodes of Morgan Freeman's science show "Through The Wormhole" to share with our youngest. We've all been enjoying it immensely. Highly enlightening about the mysteries of dark matter and dark energy, origins, alien life etc. Without doubt one of the best sci-shows of recent years and well worth your attention.  Of course, it could have used a few physicist-scifi-authors.  Or even one.  But I'll take the good stuff however I can get it!

Haven’t had enough yet of the rambunctious optimism of Steven Pinker? A recommended eye-opener for people who have let dour romantics of right or left talk them into pessimism.  We can understand the right’s disgust with the present and future - it’s psychological. And the far-left has always been hypocritical about progress... demanding it but denying that it ever happened.  Alas there is no excuse for actual moderate liberals to swallow such hooey! Real progress HAS happened and that is the reason to demand more.  See this talk from Pinker.

Check out Pinker's latest book, The Better Angels of our Nature: Why Violence has Declined. And more Pinker! Use it against the dogmatic grouches in your life. This is the real issue dividing us.

So, if things are better, why are grinches yammering at us that it’s all downhill? Forget the Second Depression. That’s not it. Nor even the fact that self-centered boomers are feeling old (yes that too.)  Here’s a cartoon from  Sci- É™nce! that will make you both laugh aloud and sob -- the War on Science takes a new turn.

So?  Fight back with facts that will knock the Know-Nothings on their behinds! (More on this next time.)

For example, see an important review of the early history of inoculation and vaccination in America, describing how Washington ordered compulsory smallpox inoculation of the Continental Army in 1777 and thus saved the Revolution. Shows a clear-eyed view of how very traditional Michele Bachman is.

Way back in the days of the original “tea parties” there were also ninnies screaming against health measures that made life better for everybody. (Y'know who the most popular man in America was, in 1959? Jonas Salk! Have we gone dumber?)

== And Interesting Items ==

China and Singapore join forces to create a new eco-city on former wasteland. An inspiring undertaking that may enrich us all and teach new ways.  And look at it this way. Your purchases at WalMart helped to make this happen!

The science behind Nobel Prize in Physics explained simply.

Dang!  Read about Elon's Falcon Heavy booster. This article may lean heavily on the positive slant.  Still, I have a lot of confidence in this bona fide American genius.

Hold it... hold it... Recent research indicates: "It turned out that the worse you had to pee, the better you did on tests of self control and even deferred gratification. When you have to pee, you are more patient rather than less! In fact, further studies showed that just being told about needing to pee, increased the participants need to pee AND increased their self control...."

And now... Bacterium transforms ammonium, an ingredient in urine, into hydrazine, rocket fuel. Apparently NASA lost interest when they realized it would be hard to generate large quantities of hydrazine. I guess they had trouble with deferred gratification. (Get it?)

Fascinating graphic showing the 7000 spacecraft launched into orbit or beyond, by country and by year – with color-coded proportions for military, government, commercial and amateur. Note the substantial, recent increase in commercial launches... as well as a rising age of amateurs!

== Is this why some folks can parrot ignoramus political party lines with a straight face? ==

People who are better at memory, and especially telling the difference between true memories and imagined ones, seem to have a better-developed fold at the front of the brain called the paracingulate sulcus (PCS). This brain variation is present in roughly half of the normal population. It’s one of the last structural folds to develop before birth, so it varies greatly in size between individuals in the healthy population. Researchers discovered that adults whose MRI scans indicated an absence of the PCS were significantly less accurate on memory tasks than people with a prominent PCS on at least one side of the brain.  If verified, a stunning and important finding.

Seriously, we need to speak up for the renaissance. Here’s a way, from Smithsonian Magazine Online:

“Let’s explain what it is about science that satisfies us, how science improves our world and why it’s better than superstition. To that end, I’m starting a new series here on Surprising Science: Why I Like Science. In coming months, I’ll ask scientists, writers, musicians and others to weigh in on the topic. And I’m also asking you, the readers, why you like science. Send a 200- to 500-word essay to; They’ll publish the best.”

I plan to participate!

== Predictions hit ==

Someone log this on my registry of “hits”? Rezwan Ferdaus is accused of planning to use three remote control airplanes measuring up to 80 inches, packed with five pounds of explosives in each, to hit the Pentagon and blow the Capitol dome to "smithereens." 

SmartestMobNewAnyone remember this passage from my novella “The Smartest Mob”? (It will also be part of my new novel EXISTENCE.) “Exceptional numbers of toy airplanes were purchased in the Carolinas, this month, suggesting that a swarm attack may be in the making, just like the O’Hare Incident...”

 Oh, I don’t know if I should mention this, since it might cause evil ones to choose a different target. But y’know all those movies that show the Capitol dome exploding into little white plaster bits? Well it won’t ever ever happen, even with a nearby nuke! Reason? The dome is made of IRON! It may go flying and rolling across the countryside. But it ain’t giving no smash-up satisfaction. What would Ferdhaus have actually accomplished? The tap might have made it ring... like a liberty bell.

== Marvelous Miscellany ==

Fascinating. Fountains of life found at the bottom of the Dead Sea. First scientific dive into the dead sea, finding astonishing life in the lowest place on Earth, where salinity is 6X the ocean and fresh water springs under the sea make the equivalent of “smokers.”

Want to see the real reason why the big CellCos don’t want to adopt my idea for peer-to-peer text passing, even though they could charge for it and it would make the nation 50% more resilient against disaster?  Free texts pose threat to carrier.

“More than two trillion text messages are sent each year in the United States, generating more than $20 billion in revenue for the wireless industry. Verizon Wireless alone generates as much as $7 billion a year in revenue from texting, or about 12 percent of the total.... At 20 cents and 160 characters per message, wireless customers are paying roughly $1,500 to send a megabyte of text traffic over the cell network. By comparison, the cost to send that same amount of data using a $25-a-month, two-gigabyte data plan works out to 1.25 cents.”

Cool! On November 9-10, 2011, Explore Mars, Inc. will be presenting the Women and Mars Conference at the Jack Morton Auditorium at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.  Topics to be discussed at the conference include, “Why are so many women involved in Mars exploration?” and “How can ‘Mars women’ help to advance STEM education for young women and reach non-traditional audiences?” Go get em, gals.  Lead us.


Lori said...

Surely anti-altruism thought isn't suffering for airtime! BTW is that a real watercolor or a fake one? Very tastefully done in either case. I can't tell these days, which I suppose is also evidence of progress.

John A. said...

I just read that article on instant messaging and am surprised they didn't mention the AIM i(phone/pad) & Android apps, seeing as how they are from a big name company and are already available. On my old phone the AIM function used SMS as its transport, but on my Android it uses data and offers free messaging to SMS #s.

(Not that that's an issue for me; I have a cheap Virgin Mobile plan with unlimited text & data.)

Closer to what you're calling for, a search on the Android market on 'ad hoc messaging' gives ten results, the first of which seems to be a p2p message relayer working via wifi, but I suspect it works via hot-spot wifi APs rather than true p2p.

Paul451 said...

Regarding the last thread, David Mitchell's take on AGW "skepticism".

And our host with his own version of the altruism pathological.

The Giving Plague.

Ryan Somma said...

Pinker gave a great interview on the Kojo Namdi show last week. There's a great meme in there about how he was a strong libertarian as a youth, believing people were innately good and altruistic, but when he saw riots and looting follow police being taken off the streets in an incident, he was forced to change his position as a good scientist must (CITOKATE):

Anonymous said...

NYPD using strobing flashlights to interfere with cellphone cams

Sith Master Sean said...

Dr. Brin: Don’t you ever find being a cheerleader for SCIENCE, PROGRESS and CIVILIZATION rather banal? I, for one, find your philosophy and your writing ponderous, trite and pedantic, with little wit or genius – though I do give it high marks for egomania. The problem with your cult of progress is that it doesn’t resonate deeply with human beings in comparison to the alternatives; few are going to fight and die for your values. Modern man, having made himself comfortable by his material progress, has become decadent and spiritually bankrupt. So he no longer cares deeply for the things which put him in this condition, and secretly longs for the magic, the passion, the cults and the holy wars which will rewaken his primal genius and ignite his very soul.

Ibn Khaldun said: “Civilization needs the tribal values to survive, but these same values are destroyed by civilization;” Nietzsche said: “Man needs what is most evil in him for what is best in him.” To me these are profound truths which explain why civilizations inevitably fall. Where I find rampant do-gooder rhetoric, I almost invariably find mediocrity, weakness and decline; where I find diabolical scheming, I usually find genius, power and rising empires.

This is as close as I can come in words to explaining why “progressives” are fighting a losing battle. The progressive project to bury man’s dark side is suicide, because that is the source of so much of our power. Civilizations have never been built by progressive, rational men so much as by ruthless, brilliant conquerors. Your attempt to discredit almost all of recorded history is impressive in its hubris, but obviously absurd. Even your favorite child of the Enlightenment, the United States, was built on the bones of countless natives and slaves, and only rose to superpower status in the fires of global war. Howard Bloom called this the Lucifer Principle, and to me it seems like a much better model of progress than your so-called Enlightenment.

LarryHart said...

Sith Master Sean:

If your goal in posting was to depress me into thoughts of suicide, then mission: accomplished.

Robert said...

Sithy, would you please go back to 4chan and stop trying to bait the community here?

Rob H.

Corey said...

I don't know, Sith; I think I give your troll post about a 4 out of 10.

That is good enough to earn you any feeding, I'm afraid

ERic said...

Regarding now being less violent than then... I watched most of a NOVA episode about dogs, and one of the segments talked about an ongoing experiment in Russia (I think) where the researcher was working on domesticating foxes. Breeding for less aggression (and, as a result, getting some other surprising variations in physical traits). And after watching the first 1/3 of the presentation by Steven Pinker, I thought "No, it's none of any of those things. It's that we're domesticating ourselves."

Lori said...

Of course. Discordians and others have for generations been pointing out that civilization=domestication.

Lori said...

I don't think the Khaldunian and Nietzschean sentiments are lost on David Brin. He's just a little less snarky in expressing them. The repeated, almost mantric pronouncement "Cooperation and Competition" (emphasis not mine) in Earth and the Dragon symbolism of of Daisy McClennon may capture at least a little of the Lucifer Principle (which I promise I'll look into even though the Sith Master seems like a troll.

Stefan Jones said...

I knew a couple guys in college who sneered and pontificated like Sith Master Sean.

One stopped talking that way when he got a job, wife, and kids.

The one who still talks like that still lives with his mom.

Lori said...

Being a natural-born freeloader, I checked out Howard Bloom's Lucifer Principle with Amazon's "Look inside" feature, specifically the "surprise me" widget. It directed me to page 379, which is part of the bibliography. Notes 435 and 436 both use the 'Moslem' spelling for Muslim, which I suppose shouldn't come as a surprise when reading a self-described 'paleo.' Note 436, to wit:

436. The idea of permanent warfare between the Moslem world and the non-Moslem world is so deeply ingrained that the phrase for the non-Moslem regions of the planet—Dar al-Harb—literally means “The Home of War’ (Davidson, Africa in History, 219).

But so does "Bethlehem," no?

sociotard said...


Wikipedia gives Bethlehem as "house of flesh" or "house of bread"

Stefan Jones said...


Children, Not Chimps, Prefer Collaboration

"ScienceDaily (Oct. 13, 2011) — Recent studies have shown that chimpanzees possess many of the cognitive prerequisites necessary for humanlike collaboration. Cognitive abilities, however, might not be all that differs between chimpanzees and humans when it comes to cooperation. Researchers from the MPI for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig and the MPI for Psycholinguistics in Nijmegen have now discovered that when all else is equal, human children prefer to work together in solving a problem, rather than solve it on their own. Chimpanzees, on the other hand, show no such preference according to a study of 3-year-old German kindergarteners and semi-free ranging chimpanzees, in which the children and chimps could choose between a collaborative and a non-collaboration problem-solving approach."

Tony Fisk said...

I was going to ask if those chimps were bonobos or... chimps from the other side of the Congo. I gather that it is the latter.

ressness: the agitation you feel when an Ubuntu upgrade ... doesn't.

Paul451 said...

Re: Arctic Foxes.
UAE police claim the Blackberry blackout has reduced their road toll, by 40% in Abu Dhabi.

Is the combination of cellphones and traffic evolving us to multitask better?

(instiol: Ask your doctor if Instiol can help you ride. Instiolmaycauseaccutemigraineaccutercomaandafabulousdeathdarling)

Corey said...

I suppose fatal accidents weed out people who don't multitask well, but beyond that, I'm afraid there's no biological mechanism that'll make us suck any less at it.

If only Lamarck had been right, how much better we'd all be at operating all this weird stuff (or at the very least, our kids would be!).

LarryHart said...


436. The idea of permanent warfare between the Moslem world and the non-Moslem world is so deeply ingrained that the phrase for the non-Moslem regions of the planet—Dar al-Harb—literally means “The Home of War’ (Davidson, Africa in History, 219).

But so does "Bethlehem," no?

No, this has likely been pointed out already, but "Bethlehem" is "House of bread". Kinda ironic, maybe, considering the use of bread as the symbolic "body of Christ", who was born in Bethlehem.

And as loathe as I am to defend Islam, I believe that the sense of the Muslim term "house of war" contrasts with their name for their own self, which is "house of peace". The idea is that Islam itself is/means submission to the will of God, and therefore "at peace" WITH God. Everyone else who has NOT found such enlightenment is at war with the will of God.

It doesn't mean "war" in the sense of, say "house of terrorism".

rewinn said...

"...If only Lamarck had been right, how much better we'd all be at operating all this weird stuff (or at the very least, our kids would be!)"

Yeah ... but my smartphone is subject to Lamarckian-like evolution, and IT is beginning to get better at operating with ME!

Tony Fisk said...

On the optimist vein of this post:

Malaria deaths fall by 20% over the last decade

aritene: one who advocates a life on Mars (or a return to the seventies)

Iron Chef Kosher! said...

If you like Harry Potter fanfic, here's a superior story that has few of the flaws of others (Marty Stu/wish fulfillment, etc). It's called "Harry Potter & the Nightmares of Futures Past". It's available on a number of sites, not least of which the one that you have recommended:


Lori said...

@LarryHart Perhaps I'm wrong, but I seem to remember my Hebrew teacher saying that Bet-lechem could be taken to mean "house of bread" or "house of fighting." But of course memory can be misleading. A Google search on bethlehem meaning confirms, over and over and over, that it means "house of bread," or "house of meat" in Arabic. Nevertheless, a search on bethlehem house of fighting located this.

Tony Fisk said...

@Lori, you've make Pratchett's Discworld references to the martial uses of dwarf bread so much clearer!

LarryHart said...


A Google search on bethlehem meaning confirms, over and over and over, that it means "house of bread," or "house of meat" in Arabic. Nevertheless, a search on bethlehem house of fighting located this.

Actually, I've always wondered what "house of bread" was supposed to mean. Why would a town be called that?

A bakery?

Or perhaps some sort of misinterpretation from the start? In the way that "Donkey Kong" was originally supposed to be "Monkey Kong" (which makes a LOT more sense).

sociotard said...

I thought Bethlehem got its name because it was "David's City", and There was that story about David taking bread from the priests.


Huh. Wikipedia says:
Lachmo was the Chaldean god of fertility. Worshipped by the Canaanites as Lachama, some time in the 3rd millennium BC, they erected a temple to worship the god on the hill now known as the Hill of the Nativity. The town accordingly was known as Beit Lachama, meaning "House of Lachama." William F. Albright notes the pronunciation of the name remained essentially the same for 3,500 years, but has meant different things: "'Temple of the God Lakhmu' in Canaanite, 'House of Bread' in Hebrew and Aramaic, 'House of Flesh' in Arabic."

So the "Monkey Kong to Donkey Kong" suspicion is correct!

Paul451 said...

"meaning "House of Lachama." [...] the pronunciation of the name remained essentially the same for 3,500 years, but has meant different things: "'Temple of the God Lakhmu' in Canaanite, 'House of Bread' in Hebrew and Aramaic, 'House of Flesh' in Arabic." "

So the whole "House of Bread/Meat" meaning is just the equivalent of people saying "Old Timer's Disease" because they aren't aware of the name Alzheimer. (Or typing "I shouldn't of done that", shouldn't've.)

Ie, people who'd never heard of "Lachama" assumed the word was whatever was the closest phonetic equivalent in their own language. Bread/meat/fighting/donkeykong.

Which means, of course, that there is no deep meaning behind the name
because those aren't translations, nor transliterations, they're transphononymicisations.

So then, did the story of David taking bread from the priests come from a post-hoc attempt to justify the meaningless transphononymicity?

(Oh, and in that tradition I hereby phononymically rename the city "House of Liam?" Thus "House of William". Thus Williamsburg.)

sociotard said...

Stupid blogger ate my last post, so I'll just include the link.

Occupy Wall Street crowdsourced its list of demands. It isn't well written.

Tony Fisk said...

What do you expect? It's a draft from many sources!

Meanwhile, here's who they're agitating about (a first step in revelaing who owns what?)

binersli: Spiny Norman's little brother

Stefan Jones said...

The malaria vacciene news is just wonderful. Beats the hell out of blasting poison everywhere.

* * *
This is the kind of thing my mind resorts to when I have writer's block.

MMM&mmm, chocolate.

* * *

No, no, no. Binersli is clearly one of those Eastern European foods that taste wonderful but jack up your cholesterol and sodium levels.

'bostsli': Sauce for binersli.

Stefan Jones said...

Small World Department:

Flooding near Bangkok has taken about 25 percent of the world's hard disk manufacturing capacity offline

Tony Fisk said...

@stefan: you've never heard of hedgehog sandwiches?

mumix: binersli with m&ms

Tony Fisk said...

Jamais Cascio wins tweet of the day:

Superconducting quantum "locked" levitation. Mind blowing.

ading: the cumulative beneficial effect of taking something away (like roads from a congested network, or the letter 'd')

Stefan Jones said...

If Americans weren't afraid of graphs like this one Herman Cain would have a lot harder time pushing his 9-9-9 plan.

You might need to scroll down a little to see the whole chart.

David Brin said...

Tony gets post of the day:

Who owns what?

VERY important.

Tim H. said...

If that work had been done thirty years ago, I'm sure it would've been incorporated into "Illuminatus", to humorous effect.

Dwight Williams said...

I like looking at that spaceflights/nations/history graph. Seeing the gradual expansion of the roster of players is a good antidote to some of the pessimism of the day.