Jonah Lehrer And The Poverty Of “Big Ideas”

Lehrer spent much of August writing about the affair, trying to figure out where it had all gone wrong. He came to the conclusion that he’d stretched himself too thin. His excuses fall along those lines: He told Seife that his plagiarized blog post was a rough draft he’d posted by mistake. And his latest explanation for those fabricated Dylan quotes is that he had written them into his book proposal and forgotten to fix them later. Even by his own account, then, the writing wasn’t his top priority.

The lectures, though, were increasingly important. Lehrer gave between 30 and 40 talks in 2010, all while meeting constant deadlines, starting a family, and buying a home in the Hollywood Hills. It was more than just a time suck; it was a new way of orienting his work. Lehrer was the first of the Millennials to follow his elders into the dubious promised land of the convention hall, where the book, blog, TED talk, and article are merely delivery systems for a core commodity, the Insight.

The Insight is less of an idea than a conceit, a bit of alchemy that transforms minor studies into news, data into magic. Once the Insight is in place—Blink, Nudge, Free, The World Is Flat—the data becomes scaffolding. It can go in the book, along with any caveats, but it’s secondary. The purpose is not to substantiate but to enchant.

Full Story: New York Magazine: Proust Wasn’t a Neuroscientist. Neither was Jonah Lehrer

The next big idea? The end of big ideas. See:

The Atlantic: Let’s Cool It With The Big Ideas

(I could swear Wired had a similar column from the editor a couple months ago, but it doesn’t seem to be online and I toss my print editions out after I read them)

Evgeny Morozov: The Naked and the TED

Labeling/Rating System for Scientific Studies

Typically, science journalism covers new studies that have not yet been replicated with very little to indicate that this is really a fairly preliminary result. Sometimes these studies have very small sample sizes. Sometimes they’re sponsored by organization that have a vested interest in a particular outcome. Still, the findings get repeated as fact, sometimes to be contradicted later.

This can lead to a general distrust in science, as well as a confused public.

So here’s my idea: I’d like to create a labeling system, somewhat similar to the warning labels on video games and so forth, that could be used to provide some context for writings about scientific studies.

-Small sample size
-Medium sample size
-Large sample size
-Potential conflict of interest
-Unreplicated study
-Study replicated: *** Times

Once a system was worked out, I’d pay someone to design icons for the labels. The *s could be replaced with some sort of graphic.

I’d use the system at Technoccult, obviously, but release it to the public so that other bloggers and journalists could use it as well. Publications could put them at the beginning of articles about studies, or incorporate it somewhere into the design to tip readers of easily and prominently as to the status of the study.

Sci-Fi History: Timeline of Science Fiction Ideas

Technovelgy has an impressive timeline listing the introduction of various concepts in science fiction. Here’s a taste:

1634 Weightlessness (Kepler) (from Somnium (The Dream) by Johannes Kepler)
1638 Weightlessness (Godwin) – first discovery of concept (from The Man in the Moone by Francis Godwin)
1657 Moon Machine – very early description (from A Voyage to the Moon by Cyrano de Bergerac)
1726 Bio-Energy – produce electricity from organic material (from Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift)
1726 Laputa – a floating island (from Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift)
1726 Knowledge Engine – machine-made expertise (from Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift)
1726 Geometric Modeling – eighteenth century NURBS (from Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift)
1828 Stage Balloon (from The Mummy! A Tale of the Twenty-Second Century by Henry Loudon)
1828 Steam-Propelled Moving Houses (from The Mummy! A Tale of the Twenty-Second Century by Henry Loudon)
1828 Barrels of Air (from The Mummy! A Tale of the Twenty-Second Century by Henry Loudon)
1828 Mail-Post Letter-Ball (from The Mummy! A Tale of the Twenty-Second Century by Henry Loudon)
1866 Paper Steel (from Robur-the-Conqueror by Jules Verne)

Technovelgy: Timeline of Science Fiction Ideas

(via Boing Boing)

See also: Map of the History of Fantasy and Science Fiction, From Gilgamesh to Battlestar Gallactica

BrainSwarm Week 1: General Purpose Futures Market, Skinning Real-World Objects and More

Here are the ideas that were submitted to BrainSwarm in the first week. Remember, if you if you don’t submit an idea you can still comment and vote on ideas.

general purpose futures market

Use web browser caches and DHT to lower server load

‘skin’ real-world objects

Like seti@home but with profits

Home Cooking Thing

Audio-based ‘social media’-type network

U-turn lights

Haptic feedback for spacial interfaces

And here’s one idea that’s in progress: Seattle Eso Zone 2011.

Crowd sourced package delivery concept

I have mental picture of millions of people driving back and forth to work (and other places) over and over again. It’s almost like Brownian motion. Even if people rarely took long trips, there would be plenty of this routine, back and forth motion to ship all the packages we could possibly want, if only there were a service that gave a percentage of these drivers the right incentives, information, and infrastructure to hand off the packages at the proper moment. USExpress could be that service.

To make this more concrete, I’ll use my father as an example. His commute is about 120 miles, round trip, five days a week. That means he drives 600 miles a week, just going back and forth to work. Suppose that my Dad picked up 5 packages somewhere near home, dropped them off somewhere near work, and then reversed the process on the way back. Let’s say he did that just once per week, forty-five weeks out of one year. By making a few extra stops he will have driven 60 miles with 5 packages 90 times. That’s 27,000 package miles, which I have to think is a lot more package-miles than my parents actually send out every year via existing shipping services.

ram them down: UsExpress, a business idea

(via Global Guerillas)

Your company as your laboratory

When I was at CD Baby, I’d be able to play with new ideas immediately. (“What if we had a $5 sale?” “What if I could co-op card swipers?” “What if I could go multi-lingual?”) Any time I had an idea, I’d be able to test it out within days.

But now, for the first time in 10 years, since I had no company, I couldn’t test out these new ideas! All I could do was read, think, and maybe write about it. Damn!

Then I realized why I need to start a new company. Not for the money. Not because I’m “bored”. But because a company is a laboratory to try your ideas. (The word “laboratory” is defined as a room for research, experimentation or analysis. I think of it as a sandbox or playpen.)

Derek Sivers: Why you need your own company

(via Josh Kaufman)

TSA Gangstaz

43 Folders: Living in XML

43 Folders discussion of using RSS feeds for calenders, todo lists, etc.

I wrote a draft proposal for Evergreen when I worked in the IT department for a web based PIM system for students that would output RSS feeds. The main reason for this was that students could then use the feeds anyway they like – on PDAs, any OS, etc.

I still think it’s a great idea for helping college students get organized. If I get this new job, I’ll have to dig out that proposal and check some of the apps from this thread.

Connect the dots

Anyone thinking what I’m thinking?

Camera phone movie

$200 digital film


3D gaming on cell phones


DIY video projectors (or and commercial portable projectors)

Red | Blue

Wireless future

Open Source TV

Audio literary magazine (or: getting in way over my head)

To furthur demonstrate my insanity, I’ve decided to start an mp3 format lit mag.

Obviously, this is still in very early planning stages. The basic idea here is to publish spoken word stories and slam poetry on Mperia. There’s a lot to be worked out still.

1. I’d kinda like to do only stories, fiction and creative non-fiction. But I do like the idea of having lots of stuff: interviews, essays, slam and/or spoken word poetry. If I include poetry, I’d like to have another editor dedicated strictly to poetry.

2. I think it would be fun to have perhaps one track of music per issue. But I’m not sure.

3. There’s the matter of recording standards and so forth. One person I talked to about this wants to include music with his submission. Others probably won’t. Should I prohibit music in order to keep the tracks consistent? Or should I try to compile a large amount of music that the voice tracks can be mixed with so that all tracks have music.

4. Will I take text submissions and try to match them with voice talent? Or only take submissions in which the writer does their own reading? Or require writers who don’t want to read themselves to find their own voice talent?

5. Mastering. I don’t really know much about mastering, or how difficult a process this will be. Is it really necessary for a project like this? Is it such a difficult project that no one would volunteer to do this for free?

6. Money and copyright. Ideally, I’d like to offer most of the money from mperia sales to the writers and voice talent. Keep a small percentage for operational costs. Leave the copyrights to the creators, so long as they agree to a Creative Commons license that allows for the mp3s to be freely distributed. There’s the kicker there, though. I’d like to encourage people to share the mp3s once they’ve downloaded them, maybe even link to free mirros of the tracks. Not sure if anyone would go for this, though.

7. “Cover art” would be nice to have for each issue.

There’s a few lit mags that already publish stuff in audio on the web: here are a few. The Corpse also has an audio section (probably the closest thing to what I’d like to do). But I think this will be something different and new. An edgy collection of works by new and newish writers, purely distributed through audio tracks that can be used anyway the listener would like (on an iPod, on a CD, on their computer, etc.).

So. What do you think?

© 2015 Technoccult

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑