Recent quotes:

'Extraordinary' 500-year-old library catalogue reveals books lost to time | Books | The Guardian

“It’s a discovery of immense importance, not only because it contains so much information about how people read 500 years ago, but also, because it contains summaries of books that no longer exist, lost in every other form than these summaries,” said Wilson-Lee. “The idea that this object which was so central to this extraordinary early 16th-century project and which one always thought of with this great sense of loss, of what could have been if this had been preserved, for it then to just show up in Copenhagen perfectly preserved, at least 350 years after its last mention in Spain …”

Game Of Thrones brutally asserts that the game in question will have no winner (experts)

It’s not that the final season is failing to live up to my specific expectations of what was supposed to happen, which I avoided having for that reason. It’s that the final season is failing to live up to what I believe a final season should do: enriching the show that came before it. And while the notion that power corrupts has always been at the heart of this story, the way it manifests here feels like a simplification of the show and its ideas, as opposed to a culmination of its larger journey.

The Lab Coat Is on the Hook in the Fight Against Germs - The New York Times

This change took place in part because doctors wanted to spruce up their dubious reputation. Until the advent of such medical reformers as Abraham Flexner and Sir William Osler about 100 years ago, medical training in the United States was notoriously lax. Lectures, not clinical experience, were the norm. It was the age of horse sense and the quack. So to more closely associate themselves in the public mind with sound science, physicians began donning the lab coats that were being worn by chemists and other laboratory types. These coats were generally beige. But white soon became the standard. “Our notion since the 1880s, when the germ theory of disease began to take hold, is that microbes hide in dark, dirty places, and that white stands for purity, both material and moral,” said Guenter Risse, a physician and author of “Mending Bodies, Saving Souls: A History of Hospitals” (Oxford, 1999). “Wearing white coats was a symbol that you were clean.”

Why Is It So Hard to Predict the Future? - The Atlantic

One subgroup of scholars, however, did manage to see more of what was coming. Unlike Ehrlich and Simon, they were not vested in a single discipline. They took from each argument and integrated apparently contradictory worldviews. They agreed that Gorbachev was a real reformer and that the Soviet Union had lost legitimacy outside Russia. A few of those integrators saw that the end of the Soviet Union was close at hand and that real reforms would be the catalyst. The integrators outperformed their colleagues in pretty much every way, but especially trounced them on long-term predictions. Eventually, Tetlock bestowed nicknames (borrowed from the philosopher Isaiah Berlin) on the experts he’d observed: The highly specialized hedgehogs knew “one big thing,” while the integrator foxes knew “many little things.”

From Clay Tablets to Smartphones: 5,000 Years of Writing - The New York Times

One of the most moving objects in the exhibition is an Egyptian schoolchild’s homework from the second century A.D. done on a wax tablet. An instructor has written out two lines in Greek, which the student has tried and failed to copy below. The student forgot the first letter then couldn’t finish the sentence because they ran out of space.

Stone Age Cave Symbols May All Be Part of a Single Prehistoric Proto-Writing System

And when von Petzinger looked through archaeology papers for mentions or illustrations of symbols in cave art outside Europe, she found that many of her 32 signs were used around the world. There is even tantalising evidence that an earlier human, Homo erectus, deliberately etched a zigzag on a shell on Java some 500,000 years ago. “The ability of humans to produce a system of signs is clearly not something that starts 40,000 years ago. This capacity goes back at least 100,000 years,” says Francesco d’Errico from the University of Bordeaux, France.

Data Mining Reveals the Six Basic Emotional Arcs of Storytelling - MIT Technology Review

The idea behind sentiment analysis is that words have a positive or negative emotional impact. So words can be a measure of the emotional valence of the text and how it changes from moment to moment. So measuring the shape of the story arc is simply a question of assessing the emotional polarity of a story at each instant and how it changes. Reagan and co do this by analyzing the emotional polarity of “word windows” and sliding these windows through the text to build up a picture of how the emotional valence changes. They performed this task on over 1,700 English works of fiction that had each been downloaded from the Project Gutenberg website more than 150 times.

Life's transitions easier with a sense of a well-rounded ending -- ScienceDaily

"Starting a new life phase in a positive and constructive way is often challenging, so we examined methods that could help people find a good start to a new job, a new relationship, or a new home," explains Gabriele Oettingen, a professor in New York University's Department of Psychology and the senior author of the study, which appears in the journal Motivation Science. "We observed that how people end their previous life periods makes a difference. In fact, the more people feel that they have done everything they could have done, that they have completed something to the fullest, and that all loose ends are tied up, the happier they are later on, the less they are plagued by regrets, and the more constructively they enter the next life phase."

Roomful of Teeth Is Revolutionizing Choral Music | The New Yorker

Christian monks sang in unison for nearly a thousand years before they allowed themselves a second vocal line, and then only in lockstep with the melody. Three-part harmony had to wait another three centuries, when English and French clergymen added a third or a sixth to the chord. And what we think of as classical harmony, with major and minor keys and chords that follow the bass line, didn’t emerge until the Renaissance. As late as the seventeen-hundreds, the tritone—a dissonant interval of two notes, three whole steps apart—was reviled as diabolus in musica: the devil in music.

Pitch perfect: Strategic language use maximizes the chances of influencing an audience: Researcher determines pitching strategies used by influential entrepreneurs -- ScienceDaily

The study found that entrepreneurs who successfully influenced their audience often implied a point without actually making it when talking about the future; they encouraged their audience to fill in the blanks. "The audience becomes engaged, they start becoming a part of the argument, they actually even complete it, so they're more likely to be convinced by it," Dr van Werven said.

talking to your TV, Black Mirror backstory

"Kids in general don't hesitate to talk to the screen," Engelbrecht says. "But they immediately lit up. One of my absolutely favorite moments was with an 8- and 9-year-old brother and sister. They'd go back and forth: 'Shake hands!' 'Kiss!' They'd cheer and boo, and all all the while had these smiles on their faces—and their mom too."

Poker Skills Help Debut Author Scrutinize Relationships In 'The Adults' | Here & Now

"I think you can talk to several people about the same hand of poker, and they'll tell you what was going on, and they'll tell you a slightly different version of the story, and I think that's life. And I think we've all got our own versions of the stories, and I think depending on how well they stack up next to each other, that can make things easier or it can make things hard."

You become what you believe

A week later, the participants were given a result, based not on their actual data, but rather on one of two groups into which they had been randomly placed. Some were told they had the form of a gene called CREB1 that makes a person tire easily; others were told they had the high-endurance version. Then they ran on the treadmill again. This time, those who had been told they had the low-endurance version of CREB1 did worse on the test, even if they had the other variant. Compared with their results on the first test, on average their bodies removed toxic carbon dioxide less efficiently, their lung capacity dropped, and they stopped running 22 seconds sooner, the team reports today in Nature Human Behavior. And those who thought they had the high-endurance form of the CREB1 gene ran slightly longer on average before feeling hot and tired, regardless of what gene variant they had. “Simply giving people this information changed their physiology,” Turnwald says. The team also tested a second group of 107 people for its version of FTO, a gene that influences how full we feel after eating. Some versions can also predispose people to obesity. Participants ate a small meal and rated their fullness. After being told, at random, that they had a version of FTO that made them hungrier than average or one that made them easily sated, participants ate the same meal. Those told they had the “hungry” version of the gene didn’t feel any different. But those who were told they had the other version felt less hungry on average after eating; they also had higher blood levels of a hormone that indicates a feeling of fullness.

Ant Colonies Retain Memories That Outlast the Lifespans of Individuals | Science | Smithsonian

Colonies live for 20-30 years, the lifetime of the single queen who produces all the ants, but individual ants live at most a year. In response to perturbations, the behavior of older, larger colonies is more stable than that of younger ones. It is also more homeostatic: the larger the magnitude of the disturbance, the more likely older colonies were to focus on foraging than on responding to the hassles I had created; while, the worse it got, the more the younger colonies reacted. In short, older, larger colonies grow up to act more wisely than younger smaller ones, even though the older colony does not have older, wiser ants. Ants use the rate at which they meet and smell other ants, or the chemicals deposited by other ants, to decide what to do next. A neuron uses the rate at which it is stimulated by other neurons to decide whether to fire. In both cases, memory arises from changes in how ants or neurons connect and stimulate each other. It is likely that colony behavior matures because colony size changes the rates of interaction among ants. In an older, larger colony, each ant has more ants to meet than in a younger, smaller one, and the outcome is a more stable dynamic. Perhaps colonies remember a past disturbance because it shifted the location of ants, leading to new patterns of interaction, which might even reinforce the new behavior overnight while the colony is inactive, just as our own memories are consolidated during sleep. Changes in colony behavior due to past events are not the simple sum of ant memories, just as changes in what we remember, and what we say or do, are not a simple set of transformations, neuron by neuron. Instead, your memories are like an ant colony’s: no particular neuron remembers anything although your brain does.

Ant Colonies Retain Memories That Outlast the Lifespans of Individuals | Science | Smithsonian

From day to day, the colony’s behavior changes, and what happens on one day affects the next. I conducted a series of perturbation experiments. I put out toothpicks that the workers had to move away, or blocked the trails so that foragers had to work harder, or created a disturbance that the patrollers tried to repel. Each experiment affected only one group of workers directly, but the activity of other groups of workers changed, because workers of one task decide whether to be active depending on their rate of brief encounters with workers of other tasks. After just a few days repeating the experiment, the colonies continued to behave as they did while they were disturbed, even after the perturbations stopped. Ants had switched tasks and positions in the nest, and so the patterns of encounter took a while to shift back to the undisturbed state. No individual ant remembered anything but, in some sense, the colony did.

The Human Brain Is a Time Traveler - The New York Times

“What best distinguishes our species,” Seligman wrote in a Times Op-Ed with John Tierney, “is an ability that scientists are just beginning to appreciate: We contemplate the future.” He went on: “A more apt name for our species would be Homo prospectus, because we thrive by considering our prospects. The power of prospection is what makes us wise.”

Why people talk with journalists

Lately I’ve been reflecting on how it’s a curious privilege being a journalist: part-investigator, part father-confessor, part channel to the wider world, never more than in a conflict or war zone, where everything is accelerated, more vivid, the colors painted bright by danger. Most people would not talk to a  random stranger asking all sorts of questions, sometimes quite personal, even intimate. Yet they talked to me because they wanted their stories to be told. And that is one of the oldest human instincts, something deep and primeval: that the world must know what is happening to us.

Narcissistic elites

Previous elites poured themselves into institutions and were pretty good at maintaining existing institutions, like the U.S. Congress, and building new ones, like the postwar global order. The current generation sees institutions as things they pass through on the way to individual success.

'No longer a nuclear threat' from North Korea, Trump says

“Just landed - a long trip, but everybody can now feel much safer than the day I took office,” Trump tweeted early Wednesday. “There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea. Meeting with Kim Jong Un was an interesting and very positive experience. North Korea has great potential for the future!”

People with depression have stronger emotional responses to negative memories: A study investigates the brain mechanisms underlying autobiographical memory disturbance in depression -- ScienceDaily

"This study provides new insights into the changes in brain function that are present in major depression. It shows differences in how memory systems are engaged during emotion processing in depression and how people with the disorder must regulate these systems in order to manage their emotions," said Cameron Carter, MD, Editor of Biological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging. The personal memories used to evoke emotion in the study help tap into complex emotional situations that people with MDD experience in their daily lives. The 29 men and women with MDD included in the study reported higher levels of negative emotions when bringing negative memories to mind than 23 healthy comparison people. Using brain imaging, senior author Kevin Ochsner, PhD, of Columbia University and colleagues traced the elevated emotional responses to increased activity in an emotional hub of the brain, called the amygdala, and to interactions between the amygdala and the hippocampus -- a brain region important for memory.

Russia’s only Gulag memorial is redesigned to celebrate the Gulag — Meduza

Viktor Shmyrov, the director of the nonprofit that until recently managed Perm-36, told the BBC that the museum is being maintained, but its public presentation is getting a complete overhaul. “Now it’s a museum about the camp system, but not about political prisoners. There’s nothing said about the repressions or about Stalin,” Shmyrov said.

Luck plays a role in how language evolves, team finds -- ScienceDaily

"If you have a phonetic neighborhood with lots of rhyming irregular verbs, it acts like a gravitational force and makes it more likely that the past tense of other rhyming verbs will irregularize," said Clark.

How Civilization Started | The New Yorker

there is a crucial, direct link between the cultivation of cereal crops and the birth of the first states. It’s not that cereal grains were humankind’s only staples; it’s just that they were the only ones that encouraged the formation of states. “History records no cassava states, no sago, yam, taro, plantain, breadfruit or sweet potato states,” he writes. What was so special about grains? The answer will make sense to anyone who has ever filled out a Form 1040: grain, unlike other crops, is easy to tax. Some crops (potatoes, sweet potatoes, cassava) are buried and so can be hidden from the tax collector, and, even if discovered, they must be dug up individually and laboriously. Other crops (notably, legumes) ripen at different intervals, or yield harvests throughout a growing season rather than along a fixed trajectory of unripe to ripe—in other words, the taxman can’t come once and get his proper due. Only grains are, in Scott’s words, “visible, divisible, assessable, storable, transportable, and ‘rationable.’ ”

The Cultural Axis | by Robert O. Paxton | The New York Review of Books

The word “international” acquired a special meaning in its usage by Nazi and Fascist cultural officials. The Allies’ international cultural associations had rested on a set of liberal democratic assumptions: that works of art and literature should be evaluated by universal standards of quality; that masterpieces were the product of individual creativity; and that no national culture deserved hegemony over another. The Nazi and Fascist dictators reversed all of these assumptions. They measured the merit of works of art and literature by their significance within unique national cultural traditions. Masterpieces, in their view, grew out of community roots. And national cultural traditions were ranked in a natural hierarchy, with the German and Italian ones at the top. Hitler concerned himself with cultural matters as soon as he became chancellor of Germany in January 1933. He purged the German section of PEN International of “leftist” and Jewish writers. When PEN International protested, Hitler dissolved the German section altogether at the end of 1933. During this dispute the president of the Italian PEN club, the provocateur Futurist intellectual Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, supported the German position. Thus from the earliest days, Nazi cultural projects proved capable of enlisting foreign support.

Human brain recalls visual features in reverse order than it detects them: Study challenges traditional hierarchy of brain decoding; offers insight into how the brain makes perceptual judgements -- ScienceDaily

The brain appeared to encode one line, then the other, and finally encode their relative orientation. But during decoding, when participants were asked to report the individual angle of each line, their brains used that the lines' relationship -- which angle is greater -- to estimate the two individual angles. "This was striking evidence of participants employing this reverse decoding method," said Dr. Qian. The authors argue that reverse decoding makes sense, because context is more important than details. Looking at a face, you want to assess quickly if someone is frowning, and only later, if need be, estimate the exact angles of the eyebrows. "Even your daily experience shows that perception seems to go from high to low levels," Dr. Qian added.

Freud's repressed negligence

Anna Freud provided Masson access to more than 75,000 documents to complete his task, but Masson quickly saw that something was awry in the history. “I began to notice what appeared to be a pattern in the omissions made by Anna Freud in the original, abridged edition,” he wrote in The Atlantic in 1984. “In the letters written after September of 1897 … all the case histories dealing with the sexual seduction of children had been excised. Moreover, every mention of Emma Eckstein … had been deleted.” When he asked Anna Freud why she had deleted certain sections, she said, according to Masson, that she “no longer knew why” and that “she could well understand” his interest, but that “the letter should nevertheless not be published.”