Monthly Archives: June 2010

the einstein endorsement


There are only a few great minds of whom everyone seems to seek approval. Perhaps only Charles Darwin would rank in the "IF einstien said it, it must be true" category. To that end, we’re happy to say that now you, too, can get that genius endorsement you’ve always been craving, thanks to the Einstein image generator.

Stephen Hawking’s Words of Wisdom

Celebrated physicist Stephen J. Hawking knows more about the universe than almost any other person to live, but some answers still escape even him. Here, the cosmic high roller discusses everything from the universe to family.

YouTube and the Guggenheim Museum

YouTube Play, a collaboration between YouTube and the Guggenheim Museum, wants to showcase the most remarkable online videos from around the world. To have your work considered, simply post it on YouTube and then submit it at youtube.com/play. Sadly a "jury of experts" will decide which works will be shown at the Guggenheim; it would have been far more groundbreaking IF the jury was crowdsourced or the voting split between the "experts" and users. Nonetheless, this will surely produce some amazing work.

Merely Human?

The New York Times business section features an article on Ray Kurzweil and the Singularity Movement.

"They believe that technology may be the only way to solve the world’s ills, while also allowing people to seize control of the evolutionary process."

Built street soft

Want to be the next Banksy? then maybe it’s time to pinch you’re Granny’s knitting needles. "Yarn bombing" is the new guerilla artform, with it’s own book, blogs and facebook page. Who thought  street art could be so warm and fuzzy?

Yes, that is a "Yarnbombed" Banksy

inflatable space station

Bigelow Aerospace plans to launch the first private, inflatable space station in 2014. It’s planned to be leased to governments, companies, and perhaps space tourists. If things work out, its activities in space will dwarf those of NASA and other governmental space agencies.

These models shows how inflatable structures could be used for a lunar settlement.

In Light of the darkness

In an age of widespread hopelessness and fear, the complex challenges of today’s world can seem insurmountable—sometimes evoking extreme pessimism, even nihilism. But it is vital to see these apparently overwhelming issues in a broader context and understand the role of our perception in much of how these issues appear.

To this end, the following posts challenge the conventional wisdom that things are bad and getting worse by offering new insights on where we are, and novel visions of what we may become.

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Hans Rosling shows the best stats you’ve ever seen
A professor of global health at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute, Rosling focuses on dispelling common myths about the so-called developing world, which, he points out, is no longer worlds away from the West. In fact, most of the Third World is on the same trajectory toward health and prosperity, and many countries are moving twice as fast as the West once did.


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Steven Pinker on the myth of violence
Pinker charts the decline of violence from Biblical times to the present, and argues that—though it may seem illogical and even obscene, given Iraq and Darfur—we are living in the most peaceful time in our species’ existence.


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Influential online salon Edge.org posed the question, "What are you optimistic about?" to a wide range of thinkers. As the New York Times noted, the most general grounds for optimism offered by these thinkers is that big-picture pessimism often proves to be unfounded. The perennial belief that our best days are behind us is, it seems, perennially wrong.

TED Curator Chris Anderson’s answer about big media’s pessimsim bias was one of our favorites:

Systemic Flaws In the Reported World View
Paradoxically, one of the biggest reasons for being optimistic is that there are systemic flaws in the reported world view. Certain types of news (dramatic disasters and terrorist actions, for example) are massively over-reported, others (such as scientific progress and meaningful statistical surveys of the state of the world) are massively under-reported.

Although this leads to major problems such as distortion of rational public policy and a perpetual gnawing fear of the apocalypse, it is also reason to be optimistic. Once you realize you’re being inadvertently brainwashed to believe things are worse than they are, you can—with a little courage—step out into the sunshine.



How does the deception take place?

The problem starts with a deep human psychological response. We’re wired to react more strongly to dramatic stories than to abstract facts. There are obvious historical and Darwinian reasons why this should be so. The news that an invader has just set fire to a hut in your village demands immediate response. The genes for equanimity in such circumstances got burned up long ago.

Although our village is now global, we still instinctively react the same way. Spectacle, death and gore—we lap it up. Layer on top of that a media economy that’s driven by competition for attention and the problem is magnified. Over the years, media owners have proven to their complete satisfaction that the stories that attract large audiences are the simple human dramas. Rottweiler Savages Baby is a bigger story than Poverty Percentage Falls even though the latter is a story about better lives for millions.

Today our media can source news from 190 countries and 6 billion people. Therefore you can be certain that every single day there will be word of spectacularly horrifying things happening somewhere. And should you get bored of reading about bombs, fires and wars, why not see them breaking live on cable 24/7 with ever more intimate pictures and emotional responses.

Meta-level reporting doesn’t get much of a look-in. 


So, for example, the publication last year of a carefully researched Human Security Report received little attention. Despite the fact that it had concluded that the numbers of armed conflicts in the world had fallen 40% in little over a decade. And that the number of fatalities per conflict had also fallen. Think about that. The entire news agenda for a decade, received as endless tales of wars, massacres and bombings, actually missed the key point. Things are getting better. If you believe Robert Wright and his NonZero hypothesis, this is part of a very long-term and admittedly volatile trend in which cooperation eventually trumps conflict. Percentage of males estimated to have died in violence in hunter gatherer societies? Approximately 30%. Percentage of males who died in violence in the 20th century complete with two world wars and a couple of nukes? Approximately 1%. Trends for violent deaths so far in the 21st century? Falling. Sharply.

In fact, most meta-level reporting of trends show a world that is getting better. We live longer, in cleaner environments, are healthier, and have access to goods and experiences that kings of old could never have dreamed of. If that doesn’t make us happier, we really have no one to blame except ourselves. Oh, and the media lackeys who continue to feed us the litany of woes that we subconsciously crave.

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Matt Ridley’s Rational Optimism  
Ridley’s new book The Rational Optimist offers a challenging counterblast to the prevailing pessimism of our age, and proves, however much we like to think to the contrary, that things are getting better.

Was life really better in the past? Matt Ridley says "we’re all kings now" because of exchange and specialisation.

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Author and Patternseeker Robert Wright  explains non-zero sumness (the network of linked fortunes and cooperation that has guided our evolution to this point) and how we can use it to help save humanity.