“ "[Tim Berners-Lee] told me about his proposed system called the ‘World Wide Web.’ And I thought, well, that’s got a pretentious name.” ”—Ian Ritchie is co-chair of the Scottish Science Advisory Council, a board member of the Edinburgh International Science Festival and the chair of Our Dynamic Earth, the Edinburgh Science Centre, The day I turned down Tim Berners-Lee, TEDGobal Talk, July 2011
“Jerry Mander on the replacement of human images by television (1978)
“The power that television images have to replace imaginary images that you created yourself operates in all realms of external-image information. All of our minds are filled with images of places and times and people and stories with which we’ve never had personal contact. In fact, when you receive information from any source that does not have pictures attached to it, you make up pictures to go with it. They are your images. You create the movie to go with the story. You hear the word “Africa” and a picture comes to mind. (…)
The question is this: Once television provides an image of these places and times, what happens to your own image? Does it give way to TV image or do you retain it? (…) China, Africa, Borneo and the moon. How about life under the sea? Life in an Eskimo village? A police shoot-out. (…) Dope smugglers. A Russian village. A preoperation conference of doctors. An American farm family. The war room of the Pentagon. Ben Franklin. The Battle of Little Big Horn. The FBI. The Old South. (…) Ancient Greece. Ancient Rome. The Old West.
Were you able to come up with images for any or all of these? It is extremly unlikely that you have experienced more than one or two of them personally. Obviously the images were either out of your own imagination or else they were from the media.
Can you identify which was which?
Most of the people in America right now would probably say that the images they carry in their minds of the Old South are from one of two television presentations: Gone With the Wind and Roots. These were, after all, the two most popular television shows in history, witnessed by more than 130 milion people each. And non of the 130 million was actually in the Old South. (…)” ”—Jerry Mander, American author, Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television (pdf), Morrow, New York, 1978, p. 242-244. See also:Memory and Forgetting, Radiolab, 2007
“ "The miracle of your mind isn’t that you can see the world as it is, but that you can see the world as it isn’t. We can remember the past and we can think about the future, and we can imagine what it’s like to be some other person in some other place. And we all do this differently.” ”—Kathryn Schulz, American journalist and author, Kathryn Schulz: On being wrong, TED talk [12:00-12:17], Mar 2011.
“ "What if we’re not, in fact, meant to have language and music? (…) The reason we have such a head for language and music is not that we evolved for them, but, rather, that language and music evolved—culturally evolved over millennia—for us. Our brains aren’t shaped for these pinnacles of humankind. (…) These pinnacles of humankind are shaped to be good for our brains. (…)
They’d have to possess the auditory structure of…nature. That is, we have auditory systems which have evolved to be brilliantly capable at processing the sounds from nature, and language and music would need to mimic those sorts of sounds in order to harness—to “nature-harness,” as I call it—our brain. (…) Human speech sounds like solid objects events, and music sounds like human behavior. (…)
Being human today is quite a different thing than being the original Homo sapiens. (…) Unlike Homo sapiens, we’re grown in a radically different petri dish. Our habitat is filled with cultural artifacts—the two heavyweights being language and music—designed to harness our brains’ ancient capabilities and transform them into new ones.
“ “The real problem is not whether machines think but whether men do.” ”—B. F. Skinner , American behaviorist, author, inventor, social philosopher and poet (1904-1990), Contingencies of Reinforcement: A Theoretical Analysis, 1969
“ “You know what I’d like to be? I mean, if I had my choice? You know that song ‘If a body catch a body coming through the rye’?” I’d like…
— “It’s ‘If a body meet a body coming through the rye’!” old Phoebe said. “It’s a poem. By Robert Burns.” (…)
Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around - nobody big, I mean - except me. And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff - I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it’s crazy, but that’s the only thing I’d really like to be.” ”—J.D. Salinger, American writer (1919-2010), The Catcher in the Rye, Little, Brown and Company, 1951, p. 224.
“ “Among other things, you’ll find that you’re not the first person who was ever confused and frightened and even sickened by human behavior. You’re by no means alone on that score, you’ll be excited and stimulated to know. Many, many men have been just as troubled morally and spiritually as you are right now. Happily, some of them kept records of their troubles. You’ll learn from them—if you want to. Just as someday, if you have something to offer, someone will learn something from you. It’s a beautiful reciprocal arrangement. And it isn’t education. It’s history. It’s poetry.” ”—J.D. Salinger, American writer (1919-2010), The Catcher in the Rye, Little, Brown and Company, 1951, p. 246.
“Amidst the attention given to the sciences as how they can lead to the cure of all diseases and daily problems of mankind, I believe that the biggest breakthrough will be the realization that the arts, which are conventionally considered ‘useless,’ will be recognized as the whole reason why we ever try to live longer or live more prosperously.” ”—John Maeda, Japanese-American graphic designer, computer scientist, university professor, and author, cited in The universe will fly like a bird
“ "We now know enough to know that we will never know everything. This is why we need art: it teaches us how to live with mystery. Only the artist can explore the ineffable without offering us an answer, for sometimes there is no answer. John Keats called this romantic impulse ‘negative capability.’ He said that certain poets, like Shakespeare, had ‘the ability to remain in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.’ Keats realized that just because something can’t be solved, or reduced into the laws of physics, doesn’t mean it isn’t real. When we venture beyond the edge of our knowledge, all we have is art.
But before we can get a fourth culture, our two existing cultures must modify their habits. First of all, the humanities must sincerely engage with the sciences. Henry James defined the writer as someone on whom nothing is lost; artists must heed his call and not ignore science’s inspiring descriptions of reality. Every humanist should read Nature.
At the same time, the sciences must recognize that their truths are not the only truths. No knowledge has a monopoly on knowledge. That simple idea will be the starting premise of any fourth culture. As Karl Popper, an eminent defender of science, wrote, ‘It is imperative that we give up the idea of ultimate sources of knowledge, and admit that all knowledge is human; that it is mixed with our errors, our prejudices, our dreams, and our hopes; that all we can do is to grope for truth even though it is beyond our reach. There is no authority beyond the reach of criticism.” ”—Jonah Lehrer, American journalist who writes on the topics of psychology, neuroscience, and the relationship between science and the humanities, Proust Was a Neuroscientist, Mariner Books, 2008.
“Even today, some opt for the comforts of mystification, preferring to believe that the wonders of the ancient world were built by Atlanteans, gods, or space travelers, instead of by thousands toiling in the sun. Such thinking robs our forerunners of their due, and us of their experience. Because then one can believe whatever one likes about the past - without having to confront the bones, potsherds, and inscriptions which tell us that people all over the world, time and again, have made similar advances and mistakes.” ”—Ronald Wright, Canadian writer, historian, archeologist, A Short History of Progress, House of Anansi Press, 2004. (Illustration: The Colossus of Rhodes)
“ "We should not write so that it is possible for the reader to understand us, but so that it is impossible for him to misunderstand us." ”—Quintilian (Marcus Fabius Quintilianus), Roman rhetorician from Hispania, widely referred to in medieval schools of rhetoric and in Renaissance writing (c. 35-100) (tnx fast-t-feasts)
“ "You could double the number of synaptic connections in a very simple neurocircuit as a result of experience and learning. The reason for that was that long-term memory alters the expression of genes in nerve cells, which is the cause of the growth of new synaptic connections. When you see that at the cellular level, you realize that the brain can change because of experience. It gives you a different feeling about how nature and nurture interact. They are not separate processes." ”—Eric R. Kandel, American neuropsychiatrist, Nobel Prize laureate, A Quest to Understand How Memory Works, NYT, March 5, 2012
“ "Anthropologists seek out epiphanies through a sense of “Vuja De.” Everyone knows that feeling of déjà vu, a strong sense that you have seen or experienced something before, even if you really never have. Vuja de is the opposite - a sense of seeing something for the first time, even if you have actually witnessed it many times before.” ”—Tom Kelley, business consultant, author, The Ten Faces of Innovation, Doubleday, 2005. (tnx innovationcultures)
“ “Well, I don’t like the first bit and I don’t know the last bit. So I’m really hoping the middle bit is exceptional.” ”—Eoin Colfer, Irish writer, Artemis Fowl: The Lost Colony, Chapter 11: A Long Way Down, Puffin Books, 2006.
“A paradox: the same century invented History and Photography. But History is a memory fabricated according to positive formulas, a pure intellectual discourse which abolishes mythic Time; and the Photograph is a certain but fugitive testimony; so that everything, today, prepares our race for this impotence: to be no longer able to conceive duration, affectively or symbolically: the age of the Photograph is also the age of revolutions, contestations, assassinations, explosions, in short, of impatiences, of everything which denies ripening.” ”—Roland Barthes, French literary theorist, philosopher, critic, and semiotician (1915-1980), Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography, Hill and Wang, 1994. (Illustration source)
“ "When I muse about memes, I often find myself picturing an ephemeral flickering pattern of sparks leaping from brain to brain, screaming "Me, me!"." ”—Douglas Hofstadter, American academic whose research focuses on consciousness, analogy-making, artistic creation, literary translation, and discovery in mathematics and physics, Pulitzer Prize laureate, Metamagical themas: questing for the essence of mind and pattern, Basic Book, 1985, p. 52.
“Odysseus wept when he heard the poet sing of his great deeds abroad because, once sung, they were no longer his alone. They belonged to anyone who heard the song.” ”—Ward Just, American writer, An Unfinished Season, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2004. (Illustration: Odysseus)
“ "He was also mistaken in supposing that he was dealing with the laws of thought: the question how people actually think was quite irrelevant to him, and if his book had really contained the laws of thought, it was curious that no one should ever have thought in such a way before." ”—Bertrand Russell paid George Boole an extraordinary compliment: "Pure mathematics was discovered by Boole, in a work which he called the Laws of Thought.”, Mysticism and logic, and other essays, Rowman & Littlefield, 1981, p.59. cited in James Gleick, The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood, Pantheon Books, New York, 2011, p. 167.
“Poetry and science have more in common than revealing secrets. Both depend on metaphor, which is as crucial to scientific discovery as it is to lyric. A new metaphor is a new mapping of the world. Even maths uses metaphor; and this is where more condensed forms of poetry join in. John Donne, living through exciting new scientific discoveries, relished the door-opening powers of science. “A mathematical point is the most indivisible and unique thing which art can present,” he said. His lyric uses science as image rather than exposition. (…)
Scientia means “knowledge:” science, it seems to me, is not about facts; it is about thinking about facts. Equally, poetry might or might not be driven by feeling but what it is “about” is relationships – between word and sound, word and thing, word and thought, sound and meaning, words and other words. So is science. Darwin wondered constantly about the relationships of organic forms – in earth, in stone, in what happens between red clover and bumble bees, orchid and moth.
The deepest thing science and poetry share, perhaps, is the way they can tolerate uncertainty. They have a modesty in common: they do not have to say they’re right. True, perhaps. Or just truer. "A scientist should be the first to say he doesn’t know," a tiger biologist told me when I asked some detail of tiger behaviour. “A scientist goes forward towards truth but never gets there.”
Which is roughly what Donne said too. “On a huge hill, / Cragged, and steep, Truth stands, and he that will. / Reach her, about must, and about must go.”
“The most beautiful and satisfying experiences open to humankind are not derived from the outside, but are bound up with the development of the individual’s own feeling, thinking and acting. The genuine artists, investigators and thinkers have always been persons of this kind. However inconspicuously the life of these individuals runs its course, none the less the fruits of their endeavors are the most valuable contributions which one generation can make to its successors. (…)
Pure mathematics is, in its way, the poetry of logical ideas. One seeks the most general ideas of operation which will bring together in simple, logical and unified form the largest possible circle of formal relationships.” ”—Albert Einstein, German-born theoretical physicist who developed the theory of general relativity, effecting a revolution in physics, Nobel Prize laureate (1879-1955), Professor Einstein Writes in Appreciation of a Fellow-Mathematician. To the Editor of The New York Times, Princeton University, May 1, 1935. (Illustration: Albert Einstein sailing his boat on Saranac Lake (Courtesy: The Fantova Collection, Princeton University)
“Nicholas Carr on Information and Contemplative Thought
“The internet is a culmination of a much longer-term social trend that goes back to the beginning of mass media. People place less and less value on contemplative thinking and more on practical, utilitarian types of thinking, which are all about getting the right bit of information when you need it and about using it to answer very well-defined question. We are in a long-term process of altering our view of what constitutes the ideal intellectual life: Moving away from the ideal of conceptual thinking, reflection and taking the big picture and moving to this very utilitarian mode of constantly collecting little bits of information, not really ever wanting to back away from the flow. Society and individuals can change, but to me the trend is in the direction of interruption, distraction and shallow thinking. (…) I think we will see an acceleration of existing trends, rather than a shift in a new direction.” ”—Nicholas Carr, American writer who has published books and articles on technology, business, and culture, "We Turn Ourselves Into Media Creations", The European, 31.01.2012.
“Our memories are not inert packets of data and they don’t remain constant. Even though every memory feels like an honest representation, that sense of authenticity is the biggest lie of all. (…)
“The brain isn’t interested in having a perfect set of memories about the past,” “Instead, memory comes with a natural updating mechanism, which is how we make sure that the information taking up valuable space inside our head is still useful. That might make our memories less accurate, but it probably also makes them more relevant to the future.” (…)
The memory is less like a movie, a permanent emulsion of chemicals on celluloid, and more like a play—subtly different each time it’s performed. In my brain, a network of cells is constantly being reconsolidated, rewritten, remade. (…)
Reconsolidation provides a mechanistic explanation for these errors. (…) Why every memoir should be classified as fiction, and why it’s so disturbingly easy to implant false recollections. (…) The larger lesson is that because our memories are formed by the act of remembering them, controlling the conditions under which they are recalled can actually change their content. (…)
Being able to control memory doesn’t simply give us admin access to our brains. It gives us the power to shape nearly every aspect of our lives. There’s something terrifying about this. Long ago, humans accepted the uncontrollable nature of memory; we can’t choose what to remember or forget. But now it appears that we’ll soon gain the ability to alter our sense of the past. (…)
The fact is we already tweak our memories—we just do it badly. Reconsolidation constantly alters our recollections, as we rehearse nostalgias and suppress pain. We repeat stories until they’re stale, rewrite history in favor of the winners, and tamp down our sorrows with whiskey. “Once people realize how memory actually works, a lot of these beliefs that memory shouldn’t be changed will seem a little ridiculous,” Nader says. “Anything can change memory. This technology isn’t new. It’s just a better version of an existing biological process.” ”—Jonah Lehrer, American author and journalist, in ☞ What are memories made of?, Wired Magazine, Feb 17, 2012