What I've been thinking about...
"Chalmers on the Singularity"
“…machines having certain scientific capacities, certain technological capacities, building weapons, curing diseases, dealing with human poverty… if we get machines that can deal with all these things in a more sophisticated way than humans can then that would count as being smarter…”
" Rational begets Irational"
The Partially Examined Life
Wes Alwan from The Partially Examined Life podcast talks a little about the trouble caused by infinite descent, like searching for the smallest particle, or (even better) the ultimate explanatory principle. He points out that if you think ahead to the logical conclusion of any such descent, you will necessarily end up with something fundamentally different than what you started with.
For example, if you are searching for the smallest particle, you begin to cut things in half. You cut molecules to atoms, and atoms to particles, and on and on, and eventually (presumably), you will arrive at something that cannot even in theory be cut in half. It will be indivisible. This makes your smallest unit something much different, and maybe stranger than the matter you began investigating. If it turns out you can cut it in half, then you simply haven’t yet finished your descent.
My favorite example of this is how real reductionist explanations of things must be quite different from the thing they are explaining. If I want to explain the solidity of my desk (as opposed to fog, say), I can’t just say “Easy, it’s made of tiny solid particles!”, because that just pushes back the question. What makes the particles solid? Eventually you’ll have to venture into talking about electrical repulsion and the Pauli exclusion principle, which feels pretty divorced from “Solidity”, but is really the only way to explain it without circularity.
"Paradox of Choice"
“…there followed an increasingly nightmarish period in which I had kidneys for breakfast, kidneys for lunch, stewed kidneys, sweet kidneys…”
My current book is a collection of case studies written by this man, Oliver Sacks. His writing is insightful, cerebral and yet unpretentious, and it turns out he is also quite a charming, unassuming speaker.
He is a regular on the Science podcast Radiolab, and in this clip host Robert Krulwich is asking him for his thoughts about the Paradox of Choice. Sacks has some interesting personal insights about how limiting choice has affected his life. And yes, they involve Kidney Beans.
You can find the full episode of Radiolab here.
Spark from CBC Radio
Just a little appreciation for one of my favorite radio programs CBC’s Spark
I usually talk about the depth and insight (and work) that’s gone into making a technology radio show worth taking the time to listen to for over 200 episodes!!
But this season, I’ve also been noticing the music. Spark is about the talk for sure, but some enterprising musician has been designing new music for the intros and gaps between interviews. Not just a new stock of music to pull from, it’s new music for every episode!
In the audio here, you’ve got the 30 second intro’s from Spark 212, Spark 211, Spark 214 and Spark 213 (in that order). You can hear the intro music, plus the amusingly out of context clips pulled from the interviews featured in the episode. This audio design is excellent, and if they truly are creating new musical ambiance for every episode… well, *Respect*.
"Tumblr vs Twitter and Facebook"
Bandwidth from CBC Radio
Here’s a little blurb from the radio review of Tumblr I heard around a year ago that first prompted me to come check out the site. Just feeling nostalgic since I recently passed 1000 posts.
With some time under my belt, I’m not sure I totally agree with his assessment of Tumblr’s capabilities (in particular, the words “nuanced conversation”… maybe I’d buy “nuanced presentation”). On the other hand, this is basically a lovenote to a site I’ve certainly gotten a lot of value from (and no love lost between me and Facebook or Twitter, really).
You can hear the full 12 minutes of this interview on Soundcloud.
The Partially Examined Life
"Why Do Philosophy?"
Why do they do it? Seth, Wes and Mark from the Partially Examined Life podcast offer some thoughts on why they do philosophy. (Incidentally, each episode of the podcast is 90 to 120 minutes, and this is episode 73… so these three really do philosophy!)
These are only excerpts from a much larger discussion, and the talk went to some satisfying places.
One idea (not quoted in these excerpts) that I must share is that Philosophy differs from all other disciplines (including Science and Religion for ex) by being flexible in its base assumptions. Mark claimed in the podcast that if you have basic assumptions (for ex “God Exists”, or “There is Spacetime”, or “Inductive Reasoning is Valid”) that are off limits to questioning, then you are no longer doing philosophy.
Philosophy, he says, certainly makes use of base assumptions in nearly every branch, but it also recognizes the need to defend those base assumptions, and the validity of their being challenged in another theory.
I think I may like this definition, though it is just a touch self-aggrandizing.
The speakers you hear, in order, are Seth Paskin, Wes Alwan, and Mark Linsenmayer. You can check out the full episode here.
"The End of Growth"
Ideas from CBC Radio (Highlights)
“…it’s impossible to maintain an engine of perpetual growth, forever, on a finite planet.”
From Ideas on CBC, here’s Paul Kennedy introducing a show about the end of Economic growth. The 3 minute intro is provocative, but it’s thesis seems hard to argue with!
The remainder of the one hour program features Economist (former Chief Economist and Strategist at CIBC) Jeff Rubins, and Ecologist (who needs no further introduction) David Suzuki. They speak on the thesis set up in the intro, from their two very different perspectives.
"The Newest Apparat"
Spark from CBC Radio
From an episode of CBC’s Spark, author Gary Steyngart talks about a fictional device from his new book “Super Sad True Love Story”. In this near future, the newest “äppärät” (read: device) is one that allows it’s wearer to be instantly ranked on several scales in any new location entered. So, on entering a library for instance:
There’s a certain horror in thinking society might subject itself to this not-so-unplausible idea. Still, something egotistical inside me likes the idea of shocking people with rankings higher than they would have expected. “That’s right boss, I am smarter than you.”
The Partially Examined Life #67
By the time you hear the words “Inter-Subjective Objective World”, it may all be starting to actually make sense.
This is Wes Alwan from an episode of the Partially Examined Life philosophy podcast. In this episode, they are discussing Carnap’s Ontology (or lack thereof), and Wes spins into this interesting tangent on some alternate, but not necessarily conflicting ways to build up one’s view of the universe.
He comes to a point after 90 seconds of big words, with a connection from Solipsism to objectivity that I quite liked.
You can find the full episode here.
Ideas from CBC Radio
Some thoughts on wisdom extracted from Ideas on CBC:
The bracketed summaries are mine, and may be over-simplified! You should hit play and hear what each has to say for yourself.
Thrown in as a bonus is an anecdote from Monte Hall (of “Let’s make a deal” fame), who is strangely featured prominently in the program on Wisdom. His story is surprising, though it seems to be more about Machiavellian Intelligence than Wisdom to me. It’s about his mother.
This clip is 3 minutes, and the hour-long episode can be found here.
My weekly haunts for podcasts to listen to while I work… now all collected in a single bookmark folder!!
I should mention that my other major source is downloading audio converted from lectures found on youtube… mostly found through the recommendations of the tumblr community, so thanks everyone!
John Oliver and Andy Zaltzman
"Papal Proton Packs"
My last audio post was a good example of some very funny editing by the talented folks at Radiolab… but this clip is back to basics funny. Like, swallow first if you are chewing because you may involuntarily spit.
This is John and Andy from The Bugle weekly Podcast, with 1.5 minutes of their coverage of the Papal resignation.
I’ve only just started listening, but some of the standup in this show is easily comparable to the Daily Show for… uh… funniness. So if you like this clip, by all means, check out the website, or download the whole episode… it’s free!
"Why are there Men?"
“Why are there men?”
I mean evolutionarily speaking. Women are the gender that really creates progeny, so why are men necessary. A few animals are known to reproduce singly, with mothers using copies of their own DNA for the new baby. It is even more energy efficient to operate this way. So the real question is, why are these male-less cloning species so rare?
Radiolab looks into what the origin of the 2nd gender might be, in their typically comedic style. This 2-minute excerpt from their episode on Sperm casts an almost ominous tone over the origin of the Male, tempered as always by the chuckling of the hosts Jad and Robert.
So go ahead… Press Play!
After this bit they go on to talk about how sexual reproduction (using two parents) offers up some much faster moving genetic changes that may allow a species reproducing this way to adapt to changing conditions better than their peers that reproduce via cloning.
The two genders are required simply so that one sex-cell (the male’s) can be smaller, and somewhat adapted to finding it’s way into the female sex cell. And, it turns out, this is the most general definition of a male, from mammals to monkey-puzzle trees. Males are the gender with the small, mobile sex cells.
Spark from CBC
This is a couple of excerpts from CBC Spark’s interview with David Carr, co-founder of Supermechanical.
Supermechanical is a startup that invents some interesting tech:
However, this interview focuses more on the philosophy behind the designs Carr creates, and the theme is mechanical interface coupled with zero-upkeep, magical seeming hightech enhancements. Some points touched on:
This American Life
In this 60 second excerpt from This American Life, host Ira Glass does an unusual thing. He gives a tiny bit of personal insight from his own life, sort of contradicting the point his guest was about to make.
His guest is Kurt Braunohler, and they are talking about the permanence of marriage. Happy Valentine’s Day!