Attend a wedding. Gather the hundred or so guests, and take their blood. Take samples that is. Then, measure the levels of a hormone called oxytocin. This is where neuroeconomist Paul Zak’s story beings — around a molecular messenger thought to be responsible for facilitating trust and empathy in all our intimate relationships.
From “The Moral Molecule” by Paul J. Zak, to be published May 10, courtesy of the Wall Street Journal:
Could a single molecule—one chemical substance—lie at the very center of our moral lives?
Author Lewis Lapham reminds us of the phrase made (in)famous by Emperor Charles V:
“I speak Spanish to God, Italian to women, French to men, and German to my horse.”
So, what of the language of the internet? Again, Lapham offers a fitting and damning summary, this time courtesy of a lesser mortal, critic George Steiner:
“The true catastrophe of Babel is not the scattering of tongues. It is the reduction of human speech to a handful of planetary, ‘multinational’ tongues…Anglo-American standardized vocabularies” and grammar shaped by “military technocratic megalomania” and “the imperatives of commercial greed.”
More from the keyboard of Lewis Lapham on how the communicative promise of the internet is being usurped by commerce and the “lowest common denominator”.
Peter Ludlow, professor of philosophy at Northwestern University, has authored a number of fascinating articles on the philosophy of language and linguistics. Here he discusses his view of language as a dynamic, living organism. Literalists take note.
Progress in neuroscience continues to accelerate, and one of the principal catalysts of this progress is neuroscientist David Eagleman. We excerpt a recent article about Eagleman’s research, into amongst other things, synaesthesia, sensory substitution, time perception, neurochemical basis for attraction, and consciousness.
From the Telegraph:
It ought to be quite intimidating, talking to David Eagleman. He is one of the world’s leading neuroscientists, after all, known for his work on time perception, synaesthesia and the use of neurology in criminal justice. But as anyone who has read his best-selling books or listened to his TED talks online will know, he has a gift for communicating complicated ideas in an accessible and friendly way — Brian Cox with an American accent.
The hit drama Mad Men shows us that cocktail parties can be fun — colorful drinks and colorful conversations with a host of very colorful characters. Yet cocktail parties also highlight one of our limitations, the inability to multitask. We are single-threaded animals despite the constant and simultaneous bombardment for our attention from all directions, and to all our senses.
Melinda Beck over at the WSJ Health Journal summarizes recent research that shows the deleterious effects of our attempts to multitask — why it’s so hard and why it’s probably not a good idea anyway, especially while driving.
From the Wall Street Journal:
You’re at a party. Music is playing. Glasses are clinking. Dozens of conversations are driving up the decibel level. Yet amid all those distractions, you can zero in on the one conversation you want to hear.
Tilt-shift photography has been around for quite a while, primarily as a tool in high-end architectural photography. More recently with the advent of more affordable lens attachments for consumer cameras and through software post-processing, including Photoshop and Instagram, tilt-shift is becoming more mainstream.
Tilt-shift is a combination of two movements. Photographers tilt, or rotate, the lens plane relative to the image to control which part of an image retains focus. Then, they shift the perspective to re-position the subject in the image (this usually has the effect of reducing the convergence of parallel lines). When used appropriately, tilt-shift delivers a highly selective focus, and the resulting images give the illusion of a miniaturized landscape.
More tilt-shift photographs from the Telegraph after the jump.
Image: Brighton beach, on the south coast of Sussex, England. Courtesy of the Telegraph.
Over the centuries many notable artists have painted religious scenes initiated or influenced by a very deep religious conviction; some painted to give voice to their own spirituality, others to mirror the faith of their time and community. However, others simply painted for fame or fortune, or both, or to remain in good stead with their wealthy patrons and landlords.
This bring us to another thoughtful article from Jonathan Jones over at the Guardian.
From the Guardian:
“To paint the things of Christ you must live with Christ,” said the 15th-century artist Fra Angelico. He knew what he was talking about – he was a Dominican monk of such exemplary virtue that in 1982 he was officially beatified by Pope John Paul II. He was also a truly great religious artist whose frescoes at San Marco in Florence have influenced modern artists such as Mark Rothko. But is all holy art that holy?
Online social networks are a boon to researchers. As never before, social scientists are probing our connections, our innermost thoughts now made public, our networks of friends, and our loneliness. Some academics point to the likes of Facebook for making our increasingly shallow “friendships” a disposable and tradable commodity, and ironically facilitating isolation from more intimate and deeper connections. Others see Facebook merely as a mirror — we have, quite simply, made ourselves lonely, and our social networks instantly and starkly expose our isolation for all to see and “like”.
An insightful article by novelist Stephen Marche over at The Atlantic examines our self-imposed loneliness.
Alfred Hitchcock was a pioneer of modern cinema. His finely crafted movies introduced audiences to new levels of suspense, sexuality and violence. His work raised cinema to the level of great art.
This summer in London, the British Film Institute (BFI) is celebrating all things Hitchcockian by showing all 58 of his works, including newly restored prints of his early silent films, such as Blackmail.
From the Guardian:
Alfred Hitchcock is to be celebrated like never before this summer, with a retrospective of all his surviving films and the premieres of his newly restored silent films – including Blackmail, which will be shown outside the British Museum.
If you’ve been through a marriage or other formal ceremony you probably have an album of images that beautifully captured the day. You, significant other, family and select friends will browse through the visual memories every so often. Doubtless you will have hired, for a quite handsome sum, a professional photographer and/or videographer to record all the important instants. However, somewhere you, or your photographer, will have a selection of “outtakes” that should never see the light of day, such as those described below.
From the Daily Telegraph:
Thomas and Anneka Geary commissioned professional photographers Ian McCloskey and Nikki Carter £750 to cover what should have been the best day of their lives.
But they were stunned when the pictures arrived and included out of focus shots of the couple, the back of guests’ heads and a snap of the bride’s mother whose face was completely obscured by her hat.
David Bainbridge, author of “Middle Age: A Natural History”, examines the benefits of middle age. Yes, really. For those of us in “middle age” it’s not surprising to see that this period is not limited to decline, disease and senility. Rather, it’s a pre-programmed redistribution of physical and mental resources designed to cope with our ever-increasing life spans.
From David Bainbridge over at New Scientist:
As a 42-year-old man born in England, I can expect to live for about another 38 years. In other words, I can no longer claim to be young. I am, without doubt, middle-aged.
Heavy Metal in the musical sense, not as in elements, such as iron or manganese, is really popular in Finland and Iceland. It even pops up in Iran and Saudia Arabia.
Frank Jacobs over at Strange Maps tells us more.
This map reflects the number of heavy metal bands per 100,000 inhabitants for each country in the world. It codes the result on a colour temperature scale, with blue indicating low occurrence, and red high occurrence. The data for this map is taken from the extensive Encyclopaedia Metallum, an online archive of metal music that lists bands per country, and provides some background by listing their subgenre (Progressive Death Metal, Symphonic Gothic Metal, Groove Metal, etc).
Some online videos and stories are seen by tens or hundreds of millions, yet others never see the light of day. Advertisers and reality star wannabes search daily for the secret sauce that determines the huge success of one internet meme over many others. However, much to the frustration of the many agents to the “next big thing”, several fascinating new studies point at nothing more than simple randomness.
From the New Scientist:
WHAT causes some photos, videos, and Twitter posts to spread across the internet like wildfire while others fall by the wayside? The answer may have little to do with the quality of the information. What goes viral may be completely arbitrary, according to a controversial new study of online social networks.
Last August, I moved across the country with a child who was a few months shy of his third birthday. I assumed he’d forget his old life—his old friends, his old routine—within a couple of months. Instead, over a half-year later, he remembers it in unnerving detail: the Laundromat below our apartment, the friends he ran around naked with, my wife’s co-workers. I just got done with a stint pretending to be his long-abandoned friend Iris—at his direction.
We assume children don’t remember much, because we don’t remember much about being children. As far as I can tell, I didn’t exist before the age of 5 or so—which is how old I am in my earliest memory, wandering around the Madison, Wis. farmers market in search of cream puffs. But developmental research now tells us that Isaiah’s memory isn’t extraordinary. It’s ordinary. Children remember.
Facebook is so, well, yesterday. If you are female then Pinterest is the new go to place online. But, males prefer to hang at Dartitup. In fact the gender bias at these two new social networks is startling: 97 percent of Pinterest’s registered users are female. Infographic courtesy of PRDaily.
Most of our high schools and colleges are not preparing students to become innovators. To succeed in the 21st-century economy, students must learn to analyze and solve problems, collaborate, persevere, take calculated risks and learn from failure. To find out how to encourage these skills, I interviewed scores of innovators and their parents, teachers and employers. What I learned is that young Americans learn how to innovate most often despite their schooling—not because of it.
Ever wondered what a cat sees when it looks at you, or how many “eyes” insects have or if your eyesight is better than that of your parakeet? Ask no more. The infographic courtesy of Mezzmer summarizes how animals see the world.
The tension between science, religion and politics that began several millennia ago continues unabated.
From ars technica:
In the US, science has become a bit of a political punching bag, with a number of presidential candidates accusing climatologists of fraud, even as state legislators seek to inject phony controversies into science classrooms. It’s enough to make one long for the good old days when science was universally respected. But did those days ever actually exist?
A new look at decades of survey data suggests that there was never a time when science was universally respected, but one political group in particular—conservative voters—has seen its confidence in science decline dramatically over the last 30 years.
The old maxim used to go something like, “you are what you eat”. Well, in the early 21st century it has been usurped by, “you are what you share online (knowingly or not)”.
From the Wall Street Journal:
Not so long ago, there was a familiar product called software. It was sold in stores, in shrink-wrapped boxes. When you bought it, all that you gave away was your credit card number or a stack of bills.
Now there are “apps”—stylish, discrete chunks of software that live online or in your smartphone. To “buy” an app, all you have to do is click a button. Sometimes they cost a few dollars, but many apps are free, at least in monetary terms. You often pay in another way. Apps are gateways, and when you buy an app, there is a strong chance that you are supplying its developers with one of the most coveted commodities in today’s economy: personal data.
Most people come down on one side or the other; there’s really no middle ground when it comes to the soda (or pop) wars. But, while the choice of drink itself may seem trivial the combined annual revenues of these food and beverage behemoths is far from it — close to $100 billion. The infographic below dissects this seriously big business.
New York Times writer Kevin Roose recently lived the life of a billionaire for a day. His report while masquerading as a member of the 0.01 percent of the 0.1 percent of the 1 percent makes for fascinating and disturbing reading.
From the New York Times:
I HAVE a major problem: I just glanced at my $45,000 Chopard watch, and it’s telling me that my Rolls-Royce may not make it to the airport in time for my private jet flight.
Yes, I know my predicament doesn’t register high on the urgency scale. It’s not exactly up there with malaria outbreaks in the Congo or street riots in Athens. But it’s a serious issue, because my assignment today revolves around that plane ride.
“Step on it, Mike,” I instruct my chauffeur, who nods and guides the $350,000 car into the left lane of the West Side Highway.
There is a small but mounting body of evidence that supports the notion of the so-called Runner’s High, a state of euphoria attained by athletes during and immediately following prolonged and vigorous exercise. But while the neurochemical basis for this may soon be understood little is known as to why this happens. More on the how and the why from Scicurious Brain.
From the Scicurious over at Scientific American:
I just came back from an 11 mile run. The wind wasn’t awful like it usually is, the sun was out, and I was at peace with the world, and right now, I still am. Later, I know my knees will be yelling at me and my body will want nothing more than to lie down. But right now? Right now I feel FANTASTIC.
Nowadays the choice of a particular font for the written word seems just as important as the word itself. Most organizations, from small businesses to major advertisers, from individual authors to global publishers, debate and analyze the typefaces for their communications to ensure brand integrity and optimum readability. Some even select a particular font to save on printing costs.
The infographic below, courtesy of Mashable, shows some of the key milestones in the development of some of our favorite fonts.
See the original, super-sized infographic after the jump.
New studies show that our brains use two fundamentally different neurological pathways when we focus on our external environment and pay attention to our internal world. Researchers believe this could have important consequences, from finding new methods to manage stress and in treating some types of mental illness.
From Scientific American:
What’s the difference between noticing the rapid beat of a popular song on the radio and noticing the rapid rate of your heart when you see your crush? Between noticing the smell of fresh baked bread and noticing that you’re out of breath? Both require attention. However, the direction of that attention differs: it is either turned outward, as in the case of noticing a stop sign or a tap on your shoulder, or turned inward, as in the case of feeling full or feeling love.
Jonathan Jones dissects artists’ fascination over the ages with anatomy and pickled organs in glass jars.
From the Guardian:
From Hirst to Da Vinci, a shared obsession with dissection and the human body seems to connect exhibitions opening this spring.
Is it something to do with the Olympics? Athletics is physical, the logic might go, so let’s think about bodies… Anyway, a shared anatomical obsession connects exhibitions that open this week, and later in the spring. Damien Hirst’s debt to anatomy does not need labouring. But just as his specimens are unveiled at Tate Modern, everyone else seems to be opening their own cabinets of curiosities. At London’s Natural History Museum, dissected animals are going on view in an exhibition that brings the morbid spectacle – which in my childhood was simultaneously the horror and fascination of this museum – back into its largely flesh-free modern galleries.
SPEAKING two languages rather than just one has obvious practical benefits in an increasingly globalized world. But in recent years, scientists have begun to show that the advantages of bilingualism are even more fundamental than being able to converse with a wider range of people. Being bilingual, it turns out, makes you smarter. It can have a profound effect on your brain, improving cognitive skills not related to language and even shielding against dementia in old age.
This view of bilingualism is remarkably different from the understanding of bilingualism through much of the 20th century. Researchers, educators and policy makers long considered a second language to be an interference, cognitively speaking, that hindered a child’s academic and intellectual development.
Astrobiologist Caleb Scharf brings us up to date on Fermi’s Paradox — which asks why, given that our galaxy is so old, haven’t other sentient intergalactic travelers found us. The answer may come from a video game.
From Scientific American:
Right now, all across the planet, millions of people are engaged in a struggle with enormous implications for the very nature of life itself. Making sophisticated tactical decisions and wrestling with chilling and complex moral puzzles, they are quite literally deciding the fate of our existence.
Well, perhaps your great-to-the-hundred-millionth-grandmother was.
Understanding the origins of life and the mechanics of the earliest beginnings of life is as important for the quest to unravel the Earth’s biological history as it is for the quest to seek out other life in the universe. We’re pretty confident that single-celled organisms – bacteria and archaea – were the first ‘creatures’ to slither around on this planet, but what happened before that is a matter of intense and often controversial debate.
In one experiment, just telling a man he would be observed by a female was enough to hurt his psychological performance.
Movies and television shows are full of scenes where a man tries unsuccessfully to interact with a pretty woman. In many cases, the potential suitor ends up acting foolishly despite his best attempts to impress. It seems like his brain isn’t working quite properly and according to new findings, it may not be.
Researchers have begun to explore the cognitive impairment that men experience before and after interacting with women. A 2009 study demonstrated that after a short interaction with an attractive woman, men experienced a decline in mental performance. A more recent study suggests that this cognitive impairment takes hold even w hen men simply anticipate interacting with a woman who they know very little about.
theDiagonal is a personal blog by Mike Gerra, skeptic, technologist, psychologist, artist, humanist, collector of grand, eclectic ideas.
theDiagonal blog connects the dots across multiple disciplines for inquisitive, objective and critical thinkers, exploring the vertices of big science, disruptive innovation, global sustainability, illuminating literature and leftfield art. It is on this diagonal that creativity thrives, big ideas take flight and reason triumphs.