‘There is no such thing as past or future’: physicist Carlo Rovelli on changing how we think about day3 days ago
Carlo Rovelli tells Charlotte Higgins about his days as a student revolutionary and how his quantum leap began with an acid trip
What do we are all familiar with hour? Language tells us that it ” passes”, it moves like a great river, inexorably dragging us with it, and, in the end, cleans us up on its shore while it continues, unstoppable. Day flows. It moves ever forwards. Or does it? Poets also tell us that time stumbles or sneaks or slackens or even, at times, seems to stop. They tell us that the past might be inescapable, immanent in objects or people or sceneries. When Juliet is waiting for Romeo, day passes sluggishly: she longs for Phaethon to take the reins of the Sun’s chariot, since he would whip up the horses and” bring in cloudy night immediately “. When we wake from a vivid dreaming we are dimly recognizing also that the feeling of day we have just experienced is illusory.
Carlo Rovelli is an Italian theoretical physicist who wants to make the uninitiated grasp the excitement of his field. His volume Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, with its concise, sparkling essays on topics such as black holes and quantum, has sold 1.3 m copies worldwide. Now arrives The Order of Time, a dizzying, poetic work in which I received myself abandoning everything I believed I knew about time- surely the idea that it “flows”, and even that it exists at all, in any profound sense.
We meet outside the church of San Petronio in Bologna, where Rovelli studied. (” I like to say that, just like Copernicus, I was an undergraduate at Bologna and a graduate at Padua ,” he jokes .) A cheery, compact fellow in his early 60 s, Rovelli is in nostalgic mood. He lives in Marseille, where, since 2010, he has run the quantum gravitation group at the Centre de physique theorique. Before that, he was in the US, at the University of Pittsburgh, for a decade.
Do alpha males even exist? | Dean Burnett25 days ago
Dean Burnett: Donald Trump has repeatedly been described as an alpha male, but theres no scientific proof that such a thing even exists in humans
We all know what an alpha male is. An alpha male is a man who takes charge, one who imposes his will on others , not the other way round. Other humen want to be him, girls want to be with him. An alpha male intimidates, hes unquestionably in charge , no matter what the situation. An alpha male is loud, brash, doesnt care what anybody else supposes. An alpha male says what he wants, does what he wants, wears what he wants, as long as those clothes are roomy enough in the trousers to accommodate his gargantuan gonads and dont dissolve in response to all the testosterone constantly leaking from his pores.
Thats members of the general notion, anyway. But the idea that human men can be alpha males is actually far from scientifically accepted. This may come as a surprise, dedicated how common and widespread the notion is. The latest example would be Donald Trump in his presidential debates. People have labelled him an alpha male, Nigel Farage even defended Trumps obscene commentaries about girls as alpha male boasting and compared him to a silverback gorilla, which for those very well known primate anatomy is actually quite an insult. So what, scientifically, is the case for alpha males among humans? As ever, its somewhat complicated.
Can self-control truly get used up?1 month, 11 days ago
Does willpower have a limit?
For more than 15 years, psychologists believed the answer to that topic was clearly yes. Indeed, a whole line of research, based on a seminal study published in 1998, suggested that not only is human willpower a depletable resource, but it’s also drawn from a singular source in the brain. Hold back from scarfing down a chocolate chip cookie, and you’ll be less persistent at logic puzzles. Refrain from expressing your emotions, and math problems will seem much better painful.
Lately, though, this theory has taken a hit several, in fact. Many psychologists now think this phenomenon, dubbed “ego depletion, ” doesn’t exist at all.
“The foundations of the hypothesi and the mechanisms behind the hypothesi are so shaky” that it may be day for researchers to “stop and let that[ idea] run, ” said Magda Osman, a psychologist at Queen Mary University of London.
Other experts have said that people do run out of will power, but the theory of ego depletion is more complicated than has been outlined so far.
“Self-control is an important construct within psychology, ” said Martin Hagger, a psychologist at Curtin University in Australia. “I just think the style in which it’s been tested, and this paradigm we’ve been using, is somewhat limited and therefore causes problems.”
A brief history of ego depletion
Hagger was one of the leaders of a major attempt to replicate the ego-depletion effect in multiple lab, using the same experimental protocol as the original analyse. These kinds of replication attempts are becoming more widespread as psychology deals with what’s been dubbed the “replication crisis.” If an effect seen in one analyse is real, the findings should be replicated over and over again in multiple experiments. In the last few years, however, researchers have discovered that a number of major psychology examines aren’t replicable.
Hagger and his colleagues’ replication attempt added the ego-depletion effect to that group. The researchers’ paper, published in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science in July 2016, determined no evidence that ego depletion exists.
Prior to that finding, ego depletion seemed on relatively steady ground. The original examine, led by psychologist Roy Baumeister, who was then a researcher at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio, tackled the question in multiple ways. First, participants had to do a task involving willpower( eating radishes instead of cookies, making a persuasive speech that ran counter to their own faiths or suppressing their emotions during a clip of the movie “Terms of Endearment” ). Then, participants had to do an unrelated but also challenging task, like working on unsolvable puzzles or unscrambling words.
Again and again, Baumeister and colleagues found that exerting willpower in one domain seemed to exhaust it, leaving no willpower available for tasks in other domains.
Other researchers took the idea further. For instance, one line of work suggested that the limited resource being depleted was glucose, the brain’s fuel. A 2012 examine, headed up by Hagger, found that even simply swishing a sugary drinking around in one’s mouth seemed to give people more willpower to perform feats of physical strength or tedious chores. The sugary savor, it seemed, was fooling the brain into thinking it had more fuel.
Cracks in the edifice
There were challenges to the ego-depletion hypothesi, but the first to cause great alarm was a 2015 newspaper published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology. The paper was a meta-analysis, or a statistical reanalysis of data from multiple studies. Previous meta-analyses of the ego-depletion consequence indicated the effect was real, but the 2015 paper blew all that out of the water.
The researchers employed a statistical technique to adjust for small studies that showed very large effects for willpower depletion. Examines with small sample sizes have a lot of variability, Hagger told Live Science. Thirty or so people aren’t very representative of all of humanity, after all. Thus, in surveys with small samples, researchers expect to get some false positives, experimentations that suggest that the effect you’re looking for is real, when it in fact doesn’t exist. As sample sizes get larger and thus more like the real population, the false-positive problem should decrease.
The 2015 meta-analysis, though, found that the research literature on ego depletion was chock-full of studies that had small sample sizes with big effects and virtually zero small sample sizes indicating no effect. It was a red flag for publication bias: Publications don’t typically want to publish analyzes that find that two things aren’t associated. Thus, studies that do find relationships, even by chance, are more likely to be published.
The meta-analysis worried Hagger and his colleagues, so they launched their multinational replication attempt. They used simple computer-based tasks that could easily transfer from lab to lab without speech or cultural differences causing problems.
“We found that the ego-depletion consequence was roughly zero, ” Hagger said.
The tide is turning against the notion of willpower as depletable in other routes, too. A meta-analysis published in July in the journal Psychological Science examined the question of whether glucose limits willpower. Queen Mary University of London’s Osman and her colleagues utilized a new statistical method called p-curve analysis to re-examine examines in the field. In statistics, a p-value is the likelihood that a finding resulted by chance. Most of the time, psychologists consider findings to be significant if the p-value is less than 0.05, meaning there’s a 95 percent opportunity the finding is real and a 5 percentage chance it’s a fluke.
Osman and her squad plotted out the p-values of several previous analyses of glucose and willpower, and found that the distribution of these values was flat, rather than skewed toward smaller p-values, as they would be if the effect was real. In other words, the published findings connecting glucose to strength of will were likely merely showing things that happened by chance.
What comes next?
The crumbling of the social sciences of willpower doesn’t mean that psychologists have been dishonest or unscrupulous, Hagger said. Rather, a lot of small problems in the way research is conducted and published can add up to piles of data that don’t entail much, he said.
For example, because of funding and convenience, analyzes are often conducted on small sample sizes, where opportunity results are more likely. Researchers tinker with their experimental methods as they conduct experimentations, supposing they’re honing in on the “right” way to determine the effects they’re interested in, when in fact they’re just upping the odds that they’ll find a statistically significant effect by chance.
“Scientists have to ask themselves, how long do you have to go testing this impact until you realise it might not be there at all? ” Hager said.
“There’s a huge momentum around what seems like a very intuitive, clever and neat idea.”
Journals prefer to publish significant findings, while “null” reports languish in file drawers. Tenure decisions in universities depend on publication, and competitiveness becomes part of the culture, Hagger said, with scientists working their whole careers to defend a pet hypothesi. And because psychology, including with regard to, is so relevant to everyday life, flashy findings like ego depletion become the subject of media coverage, pop-psychology books and public lectures.
“There’s a huge momentum around what seems like a very intuitive, clever and neat notion, ” Osman said.
Hagger said he believes there is some truth to the idea of ego depletion. He and his colleagues have done is currently working on ego depletion in field studies, looking at dieters and smokers resisting real-world temptations, and those results hold up to the kind of statistical scrutiny that has brought down the more experimental analyses, done with college student in labs, he said.
Ironically, the whole story of ego depletion been shown that the gold standard of experimental psychology running repeatable experimentations in which variables can be carefully controlled might not be the best way to test willpower, Hagger said. Motivation, for example, is very artificial in a laboratory environment, where participants might be hungover college students just trying to get extra credit for Psych 101.
Osman said she isn’t “sure hes got one”. “Yeah, it’s bad, ” she told Live Science.
“I would say let’s move on from[ ego depletion ], ” she said, “and try to look at other less sexy kinds of ideas, like mental fatigue and cognitive resources and executive function, because I think that complements a lot of work in other areas of psychology that is less attractive but has more serious foundations.”
Baumeister, the originator of the ego-depletion theory, is now a prof of psychology at the University of Queensland in Australia, and declined to comment for this article. In a rebuttal to Hagger’s replication that Baumeister published July 2016 in the publication Perspectives on Psychological Science, however, he called the computer tasks used in the replication “foolish.” Baumeister also announced plans for his own multilab replication experiment.
Both Hagger and Osman told Live Science that real-world analyzes and more replication endeavors will be the key to making sure the next generation of psychology research is on sturdier ground than the last. Researchers are already realizing that they need larger sample sizes and greater collaboration to make sure their results are solid, Hagger said.
“We’ve got to the stage where people are truly standing up and taking notice, ” he said. “Changes are happening.”
ExoMars Lander Slammed Into Mars At Over 186 MPH – Crash Site Seen | Video Why Are Thousands of ‘Scrotum Frogs’ Dying Off in South America ? ‘Unprecedented’ Twin Avalanches Puzzle Glaciologists Venomous Snake Bites on the Rise in Kids
Trump discussed a commission on vaccines and autism with a prominent anti-vaxxer1 month, 20 days ago
UPDATE: Jan. 10, 2017, 5:59 p.m. EST The Trump transition team walked back Robert F. Kennedy’s assertion that a vaccine commission is being formed, instead stating he is “exploring the possibility of forming a committee on Autism.”
President-elect Donald J. Trump has asked anti-vaccine activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. to chair the regional commissions on vaccine security, Kennedy said after meeting with Trump Tuesday.
This appointment is certain to rattle the scientific community, since Kennedy is a well-known anti-vaccine proponent who falsely believes that vaccine ingredients cause autism. This is a claim that scientists have debunked time and time again.
“President-elect Trump has some doubts about the present vaccine policies and he has the issue of it, ” Kennedy said after the meeting, according to a pool report.
For his part, Trump has publicly expressed his own concerns about vaccines and their link to autism, despite the absence of proof to support such a link.
A history of anti-vaccine rhetoric
Trump has a history of anti-vaccine rhetoric.
During the Republican primaries in 2015, for example, Trump said that he was in favor of inoculations but still expressed concerns about how they’re administered.
“I am totally in favor of vaccines, ” Trump said during a Sept. 16 debate. “But I want smaller doses over longer periods. Because you take a newborn in and I’ve insured it and I’ve insured it, and I had my children taken care of over a longer period, over a two or three year period of time.”
The idea that vaccines should be spaced out over years would actually render many of life-saving vaccinations ineffective, scientists have said.
In 2014, Trump tweeted about his autism and inoculation beliefs.
Healthy young child goes to doctor, gets pumped with massive shoot of many inoculations, doesn’t feel good and changes – AUTISM. Many such cases!
Donald J. Trump (@ realDonaldTrump) March 28, 2014
Trump’s relationship with the anti-vaccine motion doesn’t end with Kennedy, either.
Just before the election, Trump also met with Andrew Wakefield, whose now-debunked and recanted 1998 examine connecting vaccines to autism effectively sparked the anti-vaccine movement.
After meeting with Trump, Wakefield said that he found him “extremely interested, genuinely interested, and open-minded on this issue, so that was enormously refreshing, ” according to STAT News.
Wakefield’s license to practice medicine was rescinded by the General Medical Council in the United Kingdom in 2010 after it was found that he conducted unethical research.
According to the scientific community, inoculations do not cause autism.
A 2011 Institute of Medicine study looking at eight vaccines “found that with rare exceptions, these vaccines are very safe, ” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention( CDC ).
“A added to the research showing that vaccines do not cause ASD[ autism spectrum disorder ], ” the CDC states on its website.
“The study looked at the number of antigens( substances in vaccines that cause the bodys immune system to render disease-fighting antibodies) from inoculations during the first two years of life. The outcomes showed that the total amount of antigen from vaccines received was the same between children with ASD and those that did not have ASD.”
At the moment, recommendations on inoculations and day are made by the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, a group of scientists select through a “rigorous nomination process, ” according to STAT News. The committee’s vacancies are also staggered, STAT added, means that Trump cannot simply appoint a large number of anti-vaccine activists to the committee in one go.
Trump’s move to create a vaccine commission that may review federal inoculation guidelines and research is in keeping with other highly questionable scientific opinions he holds, such as falsely claiming that human-caused global warming is a hoax.
BONUS: Trump and Carson on Vaccines
The high-stakes online future of open-access science2 months, 20 days ago
The Internet turned academic publishing on its head. With it researchers and journals began opting to publish open access to improve visibilitypaywalls be damned. But science can be strangely steadfast in its habits and most research articlesare still not free and open to all.
To that objective it’s the eighth-annual Open Access Weekone to celebrate all things open access in the world of academia. Open access is a new tendency in academic publishing where more periodicals and scientists are opting to make their data free and available to all. Some periodicals, like PLOS One, are altogether open access, whereas others publish open access on an article-by-article basis.
Generally speaking, publishing open access is meant for the benefit of science overall. It means that researchers looking to deepen their understanding of a particular subject can easily read the literature without having to go through obscenely expensive subscriptions to certain publications. Because open-access articles are published under creative commons licenses, it also means that researchers can create tools to aggregate articles under common themes.
For the layperson, open access also means the average non-scientists can immediately interact with the scientific literaturesomething the U.S. taxpayer may want to do since many studies are government money. Open access also allows researchers to better their knowledge and understanding: It means doctors have more access to new research.
The history of open access
To understand open access, we need to understand how research is traditionally distributedphysically and at great expense. Academic journals would take papers from researchers, send them off to experts in the field for peer review, and then choose to accept or reject the paper based on those reviews. Then they would publish the article with figures and tables and circulate it to libraries, academic institutions, and whoever paid for a subscription. According to this video published by the slice-of-life-in-academia webcomic, PhD Comics, subscriptions to particular periodicals can cost a library thousands of dollars per year.
That means institutions have to pick and choose which journals and publishing houses they are in favour of. If youre a researcher or graduate student at a particular university that doesnt subscribe to a specific publication, that means you hit a paywall when you try to access the full text of a journal article. Often you can read the abstract for free, but as weve written about before, abstracts are chiefly teasers.
If youre a layperson who doesnt work on colleges and universities, your access is even more limited to the point of not having access to science at all.
Why isnt everything open access ?
In addition to sciences general sluggishness to change, some lob decent criticisms of open science. Most of the debates centre around the idea of oversaturating the scientific community with a deluge of information. For researchers, this can make it difficult to parse out data and information that is and is not relevant to their own research. For laypeople, it is unable to lead to a misunderstanding of the dataintentional or notthat could lead people to develop misinformed beliefs.
Theres also the defense of maintaining at the least some science closed to prevent its misuse. In 2011 scientists made a particularly virulent strain of the H5N1 flu virus, inciting an ethical quandary of whether or not to publish the dataand how much of the data should be available to those who wish to access the paper.
Theres also the issue of cost. Open-access articles mean that institutions and individuals no longer have to pay for the article. That shifts the cost of publishing onto the researcher( and their institution) instead. This can open the door for some periodicals to fake peer reviews in order to take advantage of the income from publishing open access. But you can keep track of these predatory periodicals by consulting an ever-updating list of them online.
If you want to sink your teeth into some open-access goodness, check out our field guide to understanding science onlineitll help you learn to read and construe articles. Then hop over to open-access periodicals like PLOS One and eLife. You can broaden your science horizons by checking out individual open-access articles. Many databases such as Elsevier also have guides to their open-access material. PubMed has a filter for free full text articles on every search query to assistance narrow down outcomes to free and open-access articles only.
You can also check out PLOS Ones blog for more events about Open Access Week.
Photo via Ainsley Seago/ PLOS One( CC BY 4.0 )
Therapy wars: the revenge of Freud | Oliver Burkeman3 months, 15 days ago
The long read: Cheap and effective, CBT became the dominant kind of therapy, consigning Freud to psychologys dingy basement. But new analyzes have cast doubt on its domination and presented dramatic results for psychoanalysis. Is it is high time to get back on the lounge?
Dr David Pollens is a psychoanalyst who assures his patients in a modest ground-floor office on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, a neighbourhood probably only rivalled by the Upper West Side for the highest concentration of therapists anywhere on countries around the world. Pollens, who is in his early 60 s, with thinning silver hair, sits in a wooden armchair at the head of a sofa; his patients lie on the lounge, facing away from him, the very best to investigate their most embarrassing fears or fantasies. Many of them come several times a week, sometimes for years, in keeping with analytic tradition. He has an impressive track record treating anxiety, depression and other disorders in adults and children, through the medium of uncensored and largely unstructured talk.
To visit Pollens, as I did one darknes wintertimes afternoon late last year, is to plunge immediately into the arcane Freudian speech of resistance and neurosis, transference and counter-transference. He exudes a sort of warm neutrality; you could easily imagine telling him your most troubling secrets. Like other members of his tribe, Pollens ensure himself as an excavator of the catacomb of the unconscious: of the sex drives that lurk beneath awareness; the hatred we feel for those we claim to love; and the other distasteful truths about ourselves we dont know, and often dont wish to know.
But theres a very well-known narrative when it comes to therapy and the relief of agony and it leaves Pollens and his fellow psychoanalysts decisively on the wrong side of history. For a start, Freud( this story runs) has been debunked. Young boys dont lust after their mothers, or fear their fathers will castrate them; adolescent girls dont envy their brethren penises. No brain scan has in the past situated the ego, super-ego or id. The practice of charging clients steep fees to ponder their childhoods for years while characterising any objections to this process as resistance, demanding farther psychoanalysis looks to many like a swindle. Arguably no other notable figure in history was so fantastically incorrect about nearly every important thing he had to say than Sigmund Freud, the philosopher Todd Dufresne proclaimed a few years back, summing up the consensus and echoing the Nobel prize-winning scientist Peter Medawar, who in 1975 called psychoanalysis the most stupendous intellectual confidence trick of the 20 th century. It was, Medawar went on, a terminal product as well something akin to a dinosaur or a zeppelin in the history of notions, a vast structure of radically unsound design and with no posterity.
A jumble of therapies emerged in Freuds wake, as therapists struggled to set their endeavours on a sounder empirical footing. But from all these approaches including humanistic therapy, interpersonal therapy, transpersonal therapy, transactional analysis and so on its generally agreed that one emerged triumphant. Cognitive behavioural therapy, or CBT, is a down-to-earth technique focused not on the past but the present; not on mysterious inner drives, but on adjusting the unhelpful think patterns that cause negative emotions. In contrast to the meandering conversations of psychoanalysis, a typical CBT exercise might involve filling out a flowchart to identify the self-critical automatic thoughts that occur whenever you face a setback, like being criticised at work, or rejected after a date.
CBT has always had its critics, primarily on the left, because its cheapness and its focus on getting people promptly back to productive work constructs it suspiciously attractive to cost-cutting politicians. But even those opposed to it on ideological grounds have rarely questioned that CBT does the job. Since it first emerged in the 1960 s and 1970 s, so many studies have stacked up in its favour that, these days, the clinical lingo empirically supported therapies is usually simply a synonym for CBT: its the one thats based on facts. Seek a therapy referral on the NHS today, and youre much more likely to end up , not in anything resembling psychoanalysis, but in a short series of highly structured sessions with a CBT practitioner, or perhaps learning methods to interrupt your catastrophising believing via a PowerPoint presentation, or online.
Yet rumblings of dissent from the vanquished psychoanalytic old guard have never quite gone away. At their core is a fundamental disagreement about human nature about why we suffer, and how, if ever, we can hope to find peace of mind. CBT exemplifies a very concrete opinion of painful emotions: that theyre principally something be removed, or failing that, made tolerable. A condition such as depression, then, is a bit like a cancerous cancer: sure, it might be useful to figure out where it came from but its far more important to get rid of it. CBT doesnt exactly claim that happiness is easy, but it does imply that its relatively simple: your distress is caused by your irrational faith, and its within your power to confiscate hold of those faiths and change them.
Psychoanalysts contend that things are much more complicated. For one thing, psychological pain needs first not to be eliminated, but understood. From this perspective, depression is less like a tumour and more like a stabbing ache in your abdomen: its telling you something, and you need to find out what.( No responsible GP would just pump you with painkillers and send you home .) And happiness if such a thing is even achievable is a much murkier matter. We dont actually know our own minds, and we often have powerful motives for keeping things that way. We find life through the lens of our earliest relationships, though we usually dont realise it; we want contradictory things; and change is slow and hard. Our conscious minds are tiny iceberg-tips on the dark ocean of the unconscious and you cant genuinely investigated that ocean by means of CBTs simple, standardised, science-tested steps.
This viewpoint has much romantic appeal. But the analysts debates fell on deaf ears so long as experimentation after experiment seemed to confirm the superiority of CBT which helps explain the shocked response to a study, published last May, that seemed to show CBT get less and less effective, as a therapy for depression, over time.
Examining scores of earlier experimental trials, two researchers from Norway concluded that its consequence sizing a technological measure of its usefulness had fallen by half since 1977.( In the unlikely event that this trend were to persist, it could be entirely useless in a few decades .) Had CBT somehow benefited from a kind of placebo impact all along, effective merely so long as people believed it was a miracle cure?
That puzzle was still being digested when researchers at Londons Tavistock clinic published results in October from the first rigorous NHS study of long-term psychoanalysis as a treatment for chronic depression. For the most severely depressed, it concluded, 18 months of analysis worked far better and with much longer-lasting effects than treatment as usual on the NHS, which included some CBT. Two years after the various therapies ended, 44% of analysis patients no longer fulfilled the criteria for major depression, compared to one-tenth of the others. Around the same day, the Swedish press reported a finding from government auditors there: that a multimillion pound scheme to reorient mental healthcare towards CBT had proved completely ineffective in meeting its goals.
Such findings, it turns out, arent isolated and in their midst, a newly emboldened band of psychoanalytic therapists are pressing the instance that CBTs pre-eminence has been largely built on sand. Indeed, they argue that teaching people to guess themselves to wellness might sometimes make things worse. Every thoughtful person knows that self-understanding isnt something you get from the drive-thru, said Jonathan Shedler, a psychologist at the University of Colorado medical school, who is one of CBTs most unsparing critics. His default bearing is one of wry good humour, but exasperation ruffled his demeanor whenever our dialogue dwelt too long on CBTs claims of supremacy. Novelists and poets seemed to have understood this truth for thousands of years. Its only in the last few decades that people have said, Oh , no, in 16 sessions we can change lifelong patterns! If Shedler and others are right, it may be time for psychologists and therapists to re-evaluate much of what they thought they knew about therapy: about what works, what doesnt, and whether CBT has really consigned the cliche of the chin-stroking shrink and with it, Freuds picture of the human mind to history. The impact of such a re-evaluation could be profound; eventually, it might even change how millions of people around the world are treated for psychological problems.
How does that stimulate “youre feeling”?
Freud was full of horseshit ! the therapist Albert Ellis, arguably the progenitor of CBT, liked to say. Its hard to deny he had a phase. One big part of the problem for psychoanalysis has been the evidence that its founder was something of a charlatan, prone to distorting his findings, or worse.( In one especially eye-popping example, which only came to sun in the 1990 s, Freud told a patient, the American psychiatrist Horace Frink, that his sadnes stemmed from an inability to recognise that he was lesbian and hinted that the answer lay in making a large fiscal contribution to Freuds run .)
Marilyn’s dress to Britney’s gum: the social sciences of sky-high memorabilia prices4 months, 11 days ago
Celebrity items tend to be relatively common artefacts yet attract phenomenal sums of fund. Why?
In November last year, the dress that Marilyn Monroe wore to sing Happy Birthday to President John F Kennedy sold for $4.81 million. In 2004, several pieces of Britney Spears used chewing gum sold for up to 100 a piece. There is even a market for the belongings of scorned someones: A bracelet Charles Manson induced in prison is currently selling for $4,500.
Some of these, like Marilyn Monroes dress, reflect a moment in history. But the attraction of others, such as Britney Spears chewing gum, are harder to explain. Celebrity items tend to be relatively common artefacts such as garb or furniture. Their previous ownership rarely adds any functional value and they are often indistinguishable from other, apparently identical items in the marketplace.
Nevertheless, some people are willing to pay huge amounts of money to own these objects and museums regularly hold exhibitions of celebrity collections. Why?
Try it at home
The degree to which a person values celebrity memorabilia will fall along a continuum. Some people value celebrity belongings enormously, while other people care very little. The following thought experimentation is accommodated from a paper by George Newman and colleagues at Yale University.
Write down the name of your favourite living celebrity or public figure. This could be a movie star, a musician, a professional athlete, a politician, etc. This should be someone whom you like very much and would be excited to satisfy personally.
Now imagine that you have the opportunity to bid on a sweater that belonged to that individual. On a scale from one( much less likely to purchase) to nine( much more likely to purchase ), how willing would you be to purchase the sweater compared to an identical use sweater( in the same condition) that was not owned by your favourite living celebrity?
On a scale of one( exceedingly unpleasant) to nine( highly pleasant ), how pleasant would you find the experience of wearing the sweater?
Now consider the following:
There is very little demand for items owned by your favourite living celebrity, so even if “youre trying to”, it is highly unlikely that you could resell the sweater to someone else. How willing would you be to purchase the sweater knowing this, and how pleasant would you find wearing it?
And now consider the following information:
This sweater was given to your favourite living celebrity as a gift but he/ she never actually wore it or even opened the box that it came in. How willing would you be to purchase the sweater knowing this, and how pleasant would you find wearing it?
If you have time, repeat this set of ratings but this time imagine that the sweater belongs to a living celebrity or public figure who you despise.
How it works
In a series of studiesinvolving nine hundred and forty American respondents, George Newman and colleagues found that, on average, respondents willingness to purchase their favourite celebritys sweater was not much affected by the information that they could not re-sell it.
However, willingness plummeted when respondents learned that the sweater had never been touched by the celebrity. This was especially the suit for respondents who were also very sensitive to physical contagion( for example, saying that they would never feed novelty chocolate shaped like dog-doo ).
The writers argue that this pattern of findings show that mere associations and market forces-out have limited influence on the cult of celebrity memorabilia. Instead, they suggest that magical contagion beliefs are what is driving much of the market for celebrity memorabilia in the West.
Magical contagion was first proposed by anthropologists in the late nineteenth century when they find cultural practises focused on the transfer of a persons identity( or soul) into inanimate objects. This is thought to be the basis for rituals such as Haitian voodoo ceremonies and Tibetan processes to determine the next Dalai Lama. There is a growing wealth of research to show that magical contagion faiths are also widespread in scientifically literate, Western adults across a variety of context.
And these biases arise early. In a study I helped run with Bruce Hood( Bristol University) and Paul Bloom( Yale University) we found that children from four years of age believed that an object that had once belonged to the Queen was worth significantly more than an identical transcript. And farther research we have conducted with George Newman is showing that there are consistent cultural differences in people motive for buying celebrity memorabilia.
How did you get on? Do you value your favourite celebritys sweater a lot, a little or not at all? And what effect did the knowledge that the celebrity had never touched it have on your willingness to purchase it? Are you a magical thinker too?
Read more: www.theguardian.com
The Great Barrier Reef: a catastrophe laid bare4 months, 16 days ago
Australias natural wonder is in mortal threat. Bleaching caused by climate change has killed almost a one-quarter of its coral this year and many scientists believe it could be too late for the rest. Employing exclusive photographs and new data, a Guardian special report investigates how the reef has been devastated and what can be done to save it
It was the smell that really have to go to diver Richard Vevers. The smell of demise on the reef.
I cant even tell you how bad I smelt after the dive the smell of millions of rotting animals.
Vevers is a former advertising executive and is now the chief executive of the Ocean Agency, a not-for-profit company he founded to raise awareness of environmental problems.
After diving for 30 years in his spare time, he was compelled to combine his work and hobby when he was struck by the calamities faced by oceans around the world. Chief among them was coral bleaching, caused by climate change.
His job these days is instead morbid. He travels the world documenting dead and dying coral reefs, sometimes gathering photo only ahead of their demise, too.
With the world now in the midst of the longest and probably worst global coral bleaching event in history, its boom time for Vevers.
Even with all that experience, hed never seen anything like the desolation he saw last month around Lizard Island in the northern third of Australias spectacular Great Barrier Reef.
As part of a project documenting the global bleaching event, he had surveyed Lizard Island, which sits about 90 km north of Cooktown in far north Queensland, when it was in full glorious health; then just as it started bleaching this year; then finally a few weeks after the bleaching began.
It was one of the most disgusting sights Ive ever seen, he says.
The hard corals were dead and covered in algae, looks a lot like theyve been dead for years. The soft corals were still dying and the flesh of the animals was decomposing and dripping off the reef structure.
Its the sort of description that would be hard to believe, if it wasnt captured in photographs. In images shared exclusively with the Guardian, the catastrophic nature of the current mass bleaching event on previously pristine parts of the Great Barrier Reef can now be revealed.
Is the world truly better than ever?5 months, 17 days ago
The long read: The headlines have never been worse. But an increasingly influential group of thinkers insists that humankind has never had it so good and merely our pessimism is holding us back
By the end of last year, anyone who had been paying even passing attention to the news headlines was highly likely to conclude that everything was terrible, and that the only attitude that attained sense was one of profound cynicism tempered, perhaps, by cynical humor, on the principle that if the world is going to hell in a handbasket, one may as well try to enjoy the ride. Naturally, Brexit and the election of Donald Trump loomed largest for many. But you didnt need to be a remainer or a critic of Trumps to feel depressed by the carnage in Syria; by the deaths of thousands of migrants in the Mediterranean; by North Korean missile exams, the spread of the zika virus, or terror attacks in Nice, Belgium, Florida, Pakistan and elsewhere nor by the spectre of catastrophic climate change, lurking behind everything else.( And all thats before even considering the string of deaths of beloved celebrities that seemed like a calculated attempt, on 2016 s part, to rub salt in the wound: in the space of a few months, David Bowie, Leonard Cohen, Prince, Muhammad Ali, Carrie Fisher and George Michael, to name only a handful, were all gone .) And few of the headlines so far in 2017 Grenfell tower, the Manchester and London attacks, Brexit chaos, and 24/7 Trump provide any reason to take a sunnier view.
Yet one group of increasingly prominent commentators has seemed uniquely immune to the gloomines. In December, in an article headlined Never be borne in mind that we live in the best of days, the Times columnist Philip Collins an end-of-year summary of reasons to be cheerful: during 2016, he noted, the proportion of the worlds population living in extreme poverty had fallen below 10% for the first time; global carbon emissions from fossil fuel had failed to rise for the third year running; the death penalty had been ruled illegal in more than half of all countries and giant pandas had been removed from the endangered species list.
In the New York Times, Nicholas Kristof proclaimed that by many measures, 2016 was the best year in the history of humanity, with falling global inequality, child mortality roughly half what it had been as recently as 1990, and 300,000 more people gaining access to electricity each day. Throughout 2016 and into 2017, alongside Collins at the Times, the author and former Northern Rock chairperson Matt Ridley the title of whose book The Rational Optimist constructs his inclinations plain kept up his weekly output of ebullient columns celebrating the promise of artificial intelligence, free trade and fracking. By the time the professional contrarian Brendan ONeill delivered his own version of the debate, in the Spectator( Nothing better sums up the aloofness of the chattering class than their blathering about 2016 being the worst year ever) the standpoint was becoming sufficiently well-entrenched that ONeill seemed in danger of forfeiting his contrarianism.
The loose but growing collection of pundits, academics and thinktank operatives who endorse this obstinately cheerful, handbasket-free account of our situation have occasionally been labelled the New Optimists, a name are aiming to elicited the rebellious scepticism of the New Atheists led by Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett and Sam Harris. And from their perspective, our persisting mood of despair is irrational, and frankly a bit self-indulgent. They argue that it says more about us than it does about how things genuinely are exemplifying a certain tendency toward collective self-flagellation, and an unwillingness to believe in the power of human ingenuity. And “that its better” explained as the result of various psychological biases that served special purposes on the prehistoric savannah but now, in a media-saturated era, constantly mislead us.
Once upon a period, it was of great survival value to be worried about everything that could go wrong, says Johan Norberg, a Swedish historian and self-declared New Optimist whose volume Progress: Ten Reasons to Appear Forward to the Future was published just before Trump won the presidency last year. This is what attains bad news especially compelling: in our evolutionary past, it was a very good thing that your attention could be easily confiscated by negative info, since it are most likely indicate an imminent danger to your own survival.( The cave-dweller who always assumed there was a lion behind the next stone would usually be wrong but hed be much more likely to survive and reproduce than one who always presumed the opposite .) But that was all before newspapers, television and the internet: in these hyper-connected times, our addiction to bad news just leads us to vacuum up depressing or enraging stories from across the globe, whether they threaten us or not, and therefore to conclude that things are much worse than they are.
Really good news, on the other hand, can be a lot harder to place partly because it tends to occur gradually. Max Roser, an Oxford economist who spreads the New Optimist gospel via his Twitter feed, pointed out recently that a newspaper could legitimately have operated the headline NUMBER OF PEOPLE IN EXTREME POVERTY FELL BY 137,000 SINCE YESTERDAY every day for the last 25 years. But none would have done so, because predictable daily events, by definition, arent newsworthy. And youll rarely watch a headline about a bad event that failed to occur. But surely any judicious assessment of our situation ought to take into account all the wars, pandemics and natural disasters that might hypothetically have happened but didnt?
I used to be a pessimist myself, says Norberg, an urbane 43 -year-old raised in Stockholm who is now a fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute in Washington DC. I used to long for the good old days. But then I started reading history, and asking myself, well, where would I have been in those good old days, in my ancestors northern Sweden? I probably wouldnt have been anywhere. Life expectancy was too short. They mixed tree bark in the bread, to make it last longer!
In his volume, Norberg canters through 10 of the most important point basic indicators of human flourishing food, sanitation, life expectancy, poverty, violence, the state of the environment, literacy, freedom, equality and the conditions of childhood. And he takes special pleasure in squelching the fantasies of anyone inclined to wish they had been born a couple of centuries back: it wasnt so long ago, he find, that puppies gnawed at the abandoned corpses of beset victims in the street of European cities. As lately as 1882, only 2% of homes in New York had running water; in 1900, worldwide life expectancy was a paltry 31, thanks both to early adult death and rampant child mortality. Today, by contrast, its 71 and those extra decades involve much less agony, too. If it takes you 20 minutes to read this chapter, Norberg writes at one point, in his own fluctuation on the New Optimists favourite refrain, almost another 2,000 people will have risen out of[ extreme] poverty currently defined as living on less than $1.90 per day.
These onslaughts of upbeat statistics seem intended to have the effect of demolishing the usual intractable political disagreements about the state of the planet. The New Optimists invite us to forget our partisan biases and tribal allegiances; to dispense with our cherished theories about what is wrong with the world and what should be done about it, and breathe, instead, the refreshing air of objective fact. The data doesnt lie. Just look at the numbers!
But numbers, it turns out, can be as political as anything else.
The New Optimists are surely right on the nostalgia front: nobody in their right mind should wish to have lived in a previous century. In a 2015 survey for YouGov, 65% of British people( and 81% of the French) said they supposed the world was getting worse but judged according to numerous sensible metrics, theyre simply incorrect. People are indeed rising out of extreme poverty at an extraordinary rate; child mortality really has plummeted; standards of literacy, sanitation and life expectancy have never been higher. The median European or American enjoys luxuries medieval potentates literally couldnt have imagined. The essential finding of Steven Pinkers 2011 volume The Better Angels of Our Nature, a key reference text for the New Optimists, seems also to have been largely accepted: that we are living in historys most peaceful era, with violence of all kinds from deaths in war to schoolyard bullying in steep decline.
But the New Optimists arent primarily interested in persuading us that human life involves a lot less suffering than it did a few hundred years ago.( Even if youre a card-carrying pessimist, “youre supposed to” didnt require convincing of that fact .) Nestled inside that essentially indisputable assert, there are several more controversial implications. For instance: that since things have so clearly been improving, we have good reason to assume they will continue to improve. And farther though this is a claim merely sometimes made explicit in the work of the New Optimists that whatever weve been doing these past decades, its clearly run, and so the political and economic arrangements that have brought us here are the ones we ought to stick with. Optimism, after all, means more than merely expressed his belief that things arent even worse as you imagined: it entails having justified confidence that they will be getting even better soon. Rational optimism holds that the world will pull out of the current crisis, Ridley wrote after the financial crisis of 2007 -8, because of the route that marketplaces in goods, services and notions allow human being to exchange and specialise honestly for the betterment of all I am a rational optimist: rational, because I have arrived at optimism not through temperament or instinct, but by looking at the evidence.
Read more: www.theguardian.com
Has the age of quantum computing arrived?6 months, 14 days ago
Its a mind-bending theory with the health risks to change the world, and Canadian tech company D-Wave claims to have cracked the code
Ever since Charles Babbages conceptual, unrealised Analytical Engine in the 1830 s, computer science has been trying very hard to race ahead of its time. Particularly over the last 75 years, there have been many astounding developings the first electronic programmable computer, the first integrated circuit computer, the first microprocessor. But the next expected step may be the most revolutionary of all.
Quantum computing is the technology that many scientists, entrepreneurs and big businesses expect to provide a, well, quantum leap into the future. If youve never heard of it theres a helpful video doing the social media rounds thats couple of million hits on YouTube. It features the Canadian prime minister, Justin Trudeau, detailing exactly what quantum computing means.
Trudeau was on a recent visit to the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Ontario, one of the worlds resulting centers for its further consideration of the field. During a press conference there, a reporter asked him, half-jokingly, to explain quantum computing.
Quantum mechanics is a conceptually counterintuitive region of science that has baffled some of the finest intellects as Albert Einstein said God does not play dice with the universe so its not something you expect to hear legislators holding forth on. Hurl it into the context of computing and lets just say you could easily make Zac Goldsmith look like an expert on Bollywood. But Trudeau rose to the challenge and devoted what many science commentators thought was a textbook instance of how to explain a complex notion in a simple way.
Read more: www.theguardian.com