Archive for October, 2010

Scientist Invents New Method for Possibly Reading Minds, Recording Dreams

Scientist Invents New Method for Possibly Reading Minds, Recording Dreams

dream recording

Dr Cerf makes his bold claim based on an initial study which he says suggests that the activity of individual brain cells, or neurons, are associated with specific objects or concepts.

He found, for example, that when a volunteer was thinking of Marilyn Monroe, a particular neuron lit up.

By showing volunteers a series of images, Dr Cerf and his colleagues were able to identify neurons for a wide range of objects and concepts – which they used to build up a database for each patient. These included Bill and Hilary Clinton, the Eiffel Tower and celebrities.

So by observing which brain cell lit up and when, Dr Cerf says he was effectively able to “read the subjects’ minds”.

He admits that there is a very long way to go before this simple observation can be translated into a device to record dreams, or dream catcher. But he thinks it is a possibility – and he said he would like to try.

BBC: Dream recording device ‘possible’ researcher claims

Cerf also mentions the possibility of reading people’s thoughts when they are in comas. It seems like this could other, more dubious applications as well.

(via Wade)

See also: Dream recording project

October 27, 2010 2 comments
Bees Can Solve the “‘Travelling Salesman Problem”

Bees Can Solve the “‘Travelling Salesman Problem”

bees-complex-math

What’s interesting is that this doesn’t seem to be a result of “swarm intelligence” – individual bees can somehow make these calculations:

Scientists at Queen Mary, University of London and Royal Holloway, University of London have discovered that bees learn to fly the shortest possible route between flowers even if they discover the flowers in a different order. Bees are effectively solving the ‘Travelling Salesman Problem’, and these are the first animals found to do this.

The Travelling Salesman must find the shortest route that allows him to visit all locations on his route. Computers solve it by comparing the length of all possible routes and choosing the shortest. However, bees solve it without computer assistance using a brain the size of grass seed. [...]

Co-author and Queen Mary colleague, Dr. Mathieu Lihoreau adds: “There is a common perception that smaller brains constrain animals to be simple reflex machines. But our work with bees shows advanced cognitive capacities with very limited neuron numbers. There is an urgent need to understand the neuronal hardware underpinning animal intelligence, and relatively simple nervous systems such as those of insects make this mystery more tractable.”

PhysOrg: – Bumblebees can find the solution to a complex mathematical problem which keeps computers busy for days

(via Fadereu)

October 27, 2010 2 comments
Network Realism: William Gibson and New Forms of Fiction

Network Realism: William Gibson and New Forms of Fiction

network realism

Gibson’s been talking a lot lately about atemporality, this idea that we live in a sort of endless digital now. In “Zero History” we have an echo of “No Future”: everything compressed into the present. This idea is what Zero History is really about. (This is the Order Flow: the future is defined by the present; who pinpoints the present controls the future.)

While not one to contradict Gibson himself, I’m not sure I buy this exactly: indeed, the wikihistoriography project was, in part, a refutation of this view. But it’s undeniable that something is happening, a network effect produced by the sudden visibility of just how unevenly distributed those futures are.

I want to give it a name, and at this point I’m calling it Network Realism.

Network Realism is writing that is of and about the network. It’s realism because it’s so close to our present reality. A realism that posits an increasingly 1:1 relationship between Fiction and the World. A realtime link. And it’s networked because it lives in a place that’s that’s enabled by, and only recently made possible by, our technological connectedness.

Zero History is Network Realism because of the way that it talks about the world, and the way its knowledge of the world is gathered and disseminated. Gibson seems to be navigating the spider graph of current reality as wikiracing does human knowledge.

booktwo.org: Network Realism: William Gibson and new forms of Fiction

(via Justin Pickard)

October 25, 2010 0 comments
Will the 2010 Election Determine Whether the US is a Fascist Nation?

Will the 2010 Election Determine Whether the US is a Fascist Nation?

You might recall this essay by fascism scholar and futurist Sara Robinson from last year. Robinson has just published a rather dismal follow-up examining how the Tea Party is shaping up to be a legitimately scary fascist party.

Here is the part I found rather unsettling (emphasis mine):

The successful fascisms, on the other hand, were the ones that held together and to gained enough political leverage that capturing their governments became inevitable. And once that happened, there was no turning back, because they now had the political power and street muscle to silence any opposition. (Fascist parties almost never enjoy majority support at any stage — but being a minority faction is only a problem in a functioning democracy. It’s no problem at all if you’re willing to use force to get your way.)

I had taken some comfort in the fact that the Tea Party isn’t representative of the United States. However, that’s seeming like much less of a comfort lately. Consider the following, from Business Week:

Americans who support the Tea Party brim with contradiction. An October Bloomberg National Poll found that while 83 percent of Tea Party supporters favor repeal of the health-care reform bill, majorities would keep key provisions of it. Fifty-seven percent would prohibit insurance companies from denying coverage to patients with preexisting conditions, 52 percent would add more prescription drug benefits for Medicare users, and 53 percent would require states to set up plans for people with major health problems. “The ideas that find nearly universal agreement among Tea Party supporters are rather vague,” says pollster J. Ann Selzer, who conducted the survey. “You would think any idea that involves more government action would be anathema, and that is just not the case.”

Tea Party candidates show no such ambivalence. When it comes to government, they don’t want to trim fat, they want to amputate limbs. Angle says she would eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency, the IRS, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac. Buck says he would get rid of the Energy and Education Depts. And candidates across the country say they aim to eliminate the web of special tax breaks, earmarks, and subsidies that benefit industries from golf cart manufacturers to the largest automakers.

In other words: The Tea Party rank-and-file support politicians they don’t even agree with. Why? Based on the data from the NYT/CBS poll and the Bloomberg poll: Because they don’t know what’s in the health care bill they’re so afraid of. They don’t realize their taxes have actually gone down since Obama was elected. They don’t know how their tax money is spent. And they don’t even seem to know what the politicians they support actually plan on doing.

Here’s what I wrote last year on our chances of getting out of this one:

I don’t share Robinson’s faith that we can pull out of this. I don’t have her faith in the Democratic Party, which I think plays the role of “good cop” in what’s actually a one party system. I think the entire establishment media, not just Fox News, is a party of that system and can never be made to “get the story right.” I don’t think we can rely on the police to do the “heavy lifting.”

I haven’t seen much to change my mind in the past year, except possibly that the non-News Corps owned mainstream media has been getting somewhat better.

Robinson proposes three different possible scenarios, this one being the “worst case”:

A solid majority of the Tea Party candidates win their races, cementing the movement’s lock on the GOP and turning it into a genuine political power in this country. They’ve already promised us that if they take either house of Congress, the next two years will be a lurid nightmare of hearings, trials, impeachments, and character assassinations against progressives. (Which could, in the end, backfire on the GOP as badly as the Clinton impeachment did. We can hope.) Similar scorched-earth harassment awaits officials at every other level of government, too. And casual violence against immigrants, gays, and progressives may escalate as the Tea Party brownshirts become bolder, confident that at least some authorities will either back them up or look the other way.

Unfortunately, the only alternative to the Tea Party seems to be the Democratic Party. And what happens if we do vote down the Tea Party and keep the Dems in power? I must admit to being surprised at how fickle the American public is. After only two years, we’re suddenly ready to give control back to the Republicans just because the Democrats haven’t been able to reverse the damage that the GOP spent eight years creating? But, even with a near super majority, the Democrats haven’t enacted anything even approaching progressive reform. No wonder people are getting impatient. Even with a majority in the House and Congress, it still feels like the GOP is still running things.

Like so many others, I’ll probably be voting blue again this year – if for no other reason than millions of dollars are being spent to try to get me not to.

And yet I know this is exactly what perpetuates the problems we have. Both the GOP and the Dems get people to vote for them out of fear of the other party. “Sure, we suck but are you really gonna let THEM take office?”

There’s a scenario that Robinson doesn’t mention: the Tea Party candidates get elected, and they get gobbled up by the Washington DC machine and nothing much changes. The Tea Party base are just as disappointed with their candidates as liberals have been with Obama and the various “netroots” candidates.

October 25, 2010 7 comments
Media Fail: Exposing the Worst of American Media

Media Fail: Exposing the Worst of American Media

Media Fail is a Digg-like site listing various media failures. Example headlines:

-Paid Promoter Touts Eco-Products
-Univision Takes Money To Air Ads Telling Latinos Not To Vote
-Washington Post Covers “both sides” of gay teen suicide tragedy
-New Hampshire’s Union Leader Won’t Publish Same-Sex Wedding Announcements
-Tribune Exec Sends ‘Sluts’ Video to Entire Company

October 24, 2010 1 comment
Steve Pavlina Plunges Into Full Blown Egoism

Steve Pavlina Plunges Into Full Blown Egoism

Narcissus

It seems that “personal development” guru Steve Pavlina has plunged fully into Stirner-esque egosim. Duff McDuffee analyzes Pavlina’s world view:

I hate to break it to you, but if you’re reading this and your name isn’t Steve Pavlina, then you don’t exist. Nope, you’re just a dream character in his reality. Only his identity and consciousness are real, only his impulses matter. You and I, well, we’re merely projections of Pavlina’s inner world. In his reality, all these images that appear to be other people, other subjective consciousnesses, are actually just dream characters. Or at least these are some of the results of Pavlina’s recent experiments into what he has aptly named “Subjective Reality.”

My last two posts have been about what I’m calling “the logic of evil”—the self-justifying rationalizations that lead a sincere seeker to become a psychopathic guru. In what could only be explained as an act of The Universe, I just happened to cruise by A-list personal development blogger Steve Pavlina’s blog today and found that he had produced a great example of exactly what I’ve been writing about. In fact, in the last few months he has been experimenting with taking the plunge into full and complete narcissism—and even Solipsism—which even he admits that he won’t be capable of turning back from once he has fully done so.

Beyond Growth: How to Take the Plunge into Complete Narcissism: on Steve Pavlina’s Subjective Reality

Pavlina has been a proponent of law of attraction, so this is none too surprising.

See also Duff’s referenced two articles on the logic of evil:

The Logic of Evil in Personal Development

The Logic of Evil, part 2: Trapped by the Void vs Freed by the Void

October 22, 2010 5 comments
Lost Alan Moore Essay on Magic

Lost Alan Moore Essay on Magic

An essay on magic by Alan Moore originally meant for Joel Biraco‘s KAOS 15 has finally seen the light of day.

Regard the world of magic. A scattering of occult orders which, when not attempting to disprove each other’s provenance, are either cryogenically suspended in their ritual rut, their game of Aiwaz Says, or else seem lost in some Dungeons & Dragons sprawl of channelled spam, off mapping some unfalsifiable and thus completely valueless new universe before they’ve demonstrated that they have so much as a black-lacquered fingernail’s grip on the old one. Self-consciously weird transmissions from Tourette’s-afflicted entities, from glossolalic Hammer horrors. Fritzed-out scrying bowls somehow receiving trailers from the Sci-Fi channel. Far too many secret chiefs, and, for that matter, far too many secret indians.

Beyond this, past the creaking gates of the illustrious societies, dilapidated fifty-year-old follies where they start out with the plans for a celestial palace but inevitably end up with the Bates Motel, outside this there extends the mob. The psyche pikeys. Incoherent roar of our hermetic home-crowd, the Akashic anoraks, the would-be wiccans and Temple uv Psychic Forty-Somethings queuing up with pre-teens for the latest franchised fairyland, realm of the irretrievably hobbituated. Pottersville.

Exactly how does this confirm an aeon of Horus, aeon of anything except more Skinner-box consumerism, gangster statecraft, mind-to-the-grindstone materialism? Is what seems almost universal knee-jerk acquiescence to conservative ideals truly a sign of rampant Theleme? Is Cthulhu coming back, like, anytime soon, or are the barbarous curses from the outer dark those of Illuminists trying to find their arses with a flashlight? Has contemporary western occultism accomplished anything that is measurable outside the séance parlour? Is magic of any definable use to the human race other than offering an opportunity for dressing up? Tantric tarts and vicars at Thelemic theme nights. Pentagrams In Their Eyes. “Tonight, Matthew, I will be the Logos of the Aeon.” Has magic demonstrated a purpose, justified its existence in the way that art or science or agriculture justify their own? In short, does anyone have the first clue what we are doing, or precisely why we’re doing it?

Certainly, magic has not always been so seemingly divorced from all immediate human function. Its Palaeolithic origins in shamanism surely represented, at that time, the only human means of mediation with a largely hostile universe upon which we as yet exerted very little understanding or control. Within such circumstances it is easy to conceive of magic as originally representing a one-stop reality, a worldview in which all the other strands of our existence…hunting, procreation, dealing with the elements or cave-wall painting…were subsumed. A science of everything, its relevance to ordinary mammalian concerns both obvious and undeniable.

Fossil Angels part 1

Fossil Angels part 2

(via Cat Vincent)

I haven’t read the whole thing yet, but it seems to cover some of the same ground as his essay from Dodgem Logic 3.

It’s been published by a site called why I love The Master, which has all sorts of wonderful Alan Moore stuff, including this American Splendor strip written by Harvey Pekar and drawn by Moore.

Alan Moore, Harvey Pekar

For more on Moore, check out our dossier on him.

October 21, 2010 3 comments
Racism? In My Tea Party? It’s More Likely Than You Think

Racism? In My Tea Party? It’s More Likely Than You Think

Tea Party: We Need a Christian President

The NAACP has released a report on racism in the Tea Party movement. From a press release:

Based on exhaustive research, a new report “Tea Party Nationalism: A Critical Examination of the Tea Party Movement and the Size Scope and Focus of it National Factions,” demonstrates that despite Tea Party claims that its solely concerned with budget deficits, taxes and the power of the federal government, Tea Party membership and actions are permeated with radical views about race, national identity and other so-called social issues.

What’s in it:

*The report’s website, teapartynationalism.com identifies and maps Tea Party membership, provides an interactive map, and breaks down membership of different factions state-by-state, town-by-town;
*Analyzing the work of the party factions, demonstrating how racism, bigotry and the dismantling the birthright citizenship provision of the 14th amendment dominate their agendas, far outweighing fiscal policy concerns. (can we move this up)
*Demonstrating the lack of influence of the widely-quoted and fiscally-oriented FreedomWorks faction, which is run by Dick Armey and has the second-smallest membership of the groups.
*Listing all Congressional members who are part of the Tea Party caucus, as well as those in support sponsoring of a law aimed at birthright citizenship that aims to would challenge the 14th amendment;
*Documents the long history of connections and interactions among various Tea Party factions and their connections to right-wing fringe groups such as Stormfront, David Duke and others, which are essential to understand the character of this movement;
*Showing leaders of five of the six factions subscribe to the “birther” theory that President Obama is not a natural born American

Tea Party Nationalism

I haven’t had time to read the report yet, only the press release, so I can’t speak to how convincing the data is. But they make some very interesting claims that surprise even me.

October 20, 2010 2 comments
Christine O’Donnell on Church and State: Gaffe or Political Position?

Christine O’Donnell on Church and State: Gaffe or Political Position?

By now you’ve probably seen the above video of Christine O’Donnell’s disbelief that the First Amendment establishes the separation of church and state. If not, start the video around the 5 minute mark and see for yourself.

O’Donnell’s campaign and the right are trying to spin this by saying O’Donnell was only expressing disbelief that the words “seperation of church and state” appear in the constitution (which they don’t). It’s clear, however, that that’s not what Coons is saying. Coons quotes the amendment and says that decades of procedural law establish the separation.

So it sure sounds like a gaffe. But a belief that the Constitution doesn’t separate church and state is a widespread belief in certain parts factions of the right.

Ron Paul wrote:

The notion of a rigid separation between church and state has no basis in either the text of the Constitution or the writings of our Founding Fathers. On the contrary, our Founders’ political views were strongly informed by their religious beliefs. Certainly the drafters of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, both replete with references to God, would be aghast at the federal government’s hostility to religion. The establishment clause of the First Amendment was simply intended to forbid the creation of an official state church like the Church of England, not to drive religion out of public life.

It’s a strange statement, since the Constitution is anything but replete with references to God.

Number of references to “God” in the Constitution: 0
Number of references to “Jesus”: 0
Number of references to “Christ”: 0
Number of references to “Lord”: 1 – in reference to the “year of our lord”
Number of references to “Providence”: 1 – In reference to how many representatives the Providence Plantations get.
Number of references to “Religion”: 1 – in the first amendment when stating that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”

The Declaration of Independence does make one reference each to God and one to Divine Providence. But what of it? The Constitution is the law of the land, not the Declaration.

The idea that someone could be elected senator and not know what the First Amendment says is scary. But here’s another scary idea: the Tea Party knows what it says but still does not believe in the separation of church and state. That’s clearly the case with Ron Paul, though he seems to have little influence over the Tea Party movement anymore. However, according to the NAACP’s Tea Party Nationalism paper released today, there are a number of leaders within the movement who also believe that. And it all ties back, rather uncomfortably, to the Christian Identity movement.

So what do we have here – simple ignorance, or a theocratic agenda?

PS – Wes Unruh is doing a good job of following this stuff on Twitter.

October 20, 2010 2 comments
DARPA and NASA Funding Space Colonization Program

DARPA and NASA Funding Space Colonization Program

Microwave thermal propulsion

NASA Ames Director Simon “Pete” Worden revealed Saturday that NASA Ames has “just started a project with DARPA called the Hundred Year Starship,” with $1 million funding from DARPA and $100K from NASA. [...]

“The human space program is now really aimed at settling other worlds,” he explained. “Twenty years ago you had to whisper that in dark bars and get fired.” (Worden was in fact fired by President George W. Bush, he also revealed.) [...]

Wordon also thinks we should go to the moons of Mars first, where we can do extensive telerobotics exploration of the planet. “I think we’ll be on the moons of Mars by 2030 or so. Larry [Page] asked me a couple weeks ago how much it would cost to send people one way to Mars and I told him $10 billion, and his response was, ‘Can you get it down to 1 or 2 billion?’ So now we’re starting to get a little argument over the price.”

KurzweilAI: NASA Ames’ Worden reveals DARPA-funded ‘Hundred Year Starship’ program

(via Richard Yonck)

See also:

Charlie Stross on why space colonisation is impractical

October 19, 2010 0 comments