Archive for November, 2013

Even Total Recall Includes False Memories

Tuesday, November 19th, 2013

This article in The Atlantic points to research on people who can remember what they ate for breakfast on a specific day 10 years ago (and are found to be accurate a high percentage of the time when tested)  but it turns out that even these people often have completely convincing memories of “facts” that turn out to be false.

David Suzuki Jumps the Shark

Monday, November 18th, 2013

According to this report  in Vice-Canada, David Suzuki has claimed that “If, in fact, the fourth plant goes under an earthquake, and those rods are exposed, it’s bye-bye Japan, and everybody on the west coast of North America should evacuate. Now if that isn’t terrifying, I don’t know what is.” And if that isn’t in fact complete nonsense, then I don’t know what is. 

Whence Comes Real Growth ?

Sunday, November 17th, 2013

In the course of checking whether Ramez Naam’s GDP figures (in Decoupling Growth From Energy and Carbon) were inflation adjusted, I came across nice looking site about visualizing economics. The graph there matches Naam’s and is clearly identified as illustrating an inflation-adjusted real per-capita GDP growth rate of about 2% per year (pretty consistently over about 150 years).  This led me to wonder if I am really twice as materially “well off” as I (or rather the social peer of my presentself) was in 1970. The quality of my life as  a whole is hard to compare but that of my communications and entertainment infrastructure is certainly well beyond the purchasing power of any normal member of society at that time, and it is indeed of real value to be able to easily and freely connect by video link with children half a world away. Then I had about a dozen or so close friends who I engaged with regularly in person and now I have about half of that; but also, through this website, I have an audience of as many thousands of eager readers. Yeah right! Actually 5994 of those readers are spambots and the half dozen real people who have ever commented here may barely make up for the less close half dozen of my more local friends.

Transparency vs Privacy

Friday, November 15th, 2013

David Brin cheers on The Coming Transparent World while Jaron Lanier is decidedly less enthusiastic.

Lanier’s solution is to implement ownership of personal data with the right to deny access and charge whatever price we want for such access.  Of course, although that might be built in to the protocols for transfer of digital information, it could never be made effective for traditional means of communication. Or can you envisage a way of preventing me from telling someone else your phone number that I just purchased?

Inspired by Faith

Thursday, November 14th, 2013

Ophelia Benson picks up on an interesting minor point in an essay by Conor Friedesrorf where he attributes some of the goodness of his friend to the influence of religion: “Nick happens to be one of the best people I know. Even though I don’t have faith in the same things that he does, I see how his faith makes him a better person. I see how he makes the world a better place, and how his belief system drives him to do it. And whenever I think about Nick, I think to myself, you know, I disagree with the Catholic faith on a lot of particulars, but there must be nuggets of truth within it if it inspires people like Nick to be this good.”

At first it seems odd that Mr Friedersorf does not give his friend full credit for his own goodness. Does he really suspect that it’s only the benign influence of the church that gives us Saint Nicholas instead of Old Nick? But actually that’s not so impossible. The same religions that enable some people to be far more evil than they would otherwise have been may also support increased goodness in others. There’s really no contradiction in that and it’s not obvious where the overall balance lies. (It may also be true that religion played an essentially positive role at some stages in our cultural development but that it no longer does so. )

A Taste of His Own Medicine #honeygate

Tuesday, November 5th, 2013

The “Dear Muslimo” scorn being heaped on Richard Dawkins over his lost honey would be undeserved were it not for his own earlier mockery of Rebecca Watson’s mild complaint on behalf of women who feel uncomfortable as a result of unwanted attention at a convention. Dawkins’ sarcastic “Dear Muslima” letter implying that Watson and her ilk should shut up about their little issues because they’re not the biggest issues was offensive at the time, but his blindness to the parallel is quite amazing.