"Boy, if life were only like this!"
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Do Geography and Altitude Shape the Sounds of a Language?
"[R]ecently, Caleb Everett, a linguist at the University of Miami, made a surprising discovery that suggests the assortment of sounds in human languages is not so random after all.
"A fifth sort of argument concludes that defining art is philosophically unnecessary, on the grounds that the problem of defining art reduces to a pair of easier sorts of problems: the problem of giving an account of each individual artform, and the problem of defining what it is to be an artform. That is, given definitions of the individual artforms, and a definition of what it is to be an artform, and given, crucially, that every artwork belongs to some artform, a definition of art falls out: x is a work of art if and only if x is a work in activity P, and P is one of the artforms (Lopes, 2008). Every artwork belongs to an artform, on this view, because every artwork either belongs to an existing artwork or else pioneers a new artform.
The key claim that every work of art belonging to no extant artform pioneers a new one may be defended on the grounds that any reason to say that a work belonging to no extant artform is an artwork is an artwork is a reason to say that it pioneers a new artform. In response, it is noted that an activity might be ruled out as an artform on the grounds that no artworks belong to it, and that the question of whether or not a thing belongs to an artform arises only because there is a prior reason for thinking that the thing is an artwork. (...)
"The most prominent and influential institutionalism is that of George Dickie. Dickie's institutionalism has evolved over time. According to an early version, a work of art is an artifact upon which some person(s) acting on behalf of the artworld has conferred the status of candidate for appreciation (Dickie 1971)." :-)
"One of Patrick Hughes’s many cool 3D paintings, “Paradoxymoron, currently hangs in the basement of the British Library, in London. Hughes’ work is full of irony. By creating a world solidified into perspective he makes pictures that come alive before our eyes. In the myth of the sculptor Pygmalion makes a stone woman, whom Aphrodite brings to life as Galatea. Hughes makes wooden lumps of space and you bring them to life by looking at them. It is sculpted painting, solid space." http://www.geeksaresexy.net/2010/03/01/cool-3d-art-paradoxymoron/
See also Hughes' official website http://www.patrickhughes.co.uk/about.htm
"To Peter Turchin, who studies population dynamics at the University of Connecticut in Storrs, the appearance of three peaks of political instability at roughly 50-year intervals is not a coincidence. For the past 15 years, Turchin has been taking the mathematical techniques that once allowed him to track predator–prey cycles in forest ecosystems, and applying them to human history. He has analysed historical records on economic activity, demographic trends and outbursts of violence in the United States, and has come to the conclusion that a new wave of internal strife is already on its way. (...)
Turchin's approach — which he calls cliodynamics after Clio, the ancient Greek muse of history — is part of a groundswell of efforts to apply scientific methods to history by identifying and modelling the broad social forces that Turchin and his colleagues say shape all human societies. It is an attempt to show that “history is not 'just one damn thing after another'”, says Turchin, paraphrasing a saying often attributed to the late British historian Arnold Toynbee. (...)
Turchin and his allies contend that the time is ripe to revisit general laws, thanks to tools such as nonlinear mathematics, simulations that can model the interactions of thousands or millions of individuals at once, and informatics technologies for gathering and analysing huge databases of historical information. (...) Turchin and his colleagues are systematically collecting historical data that span centuries or even millennia — and the mathematical analysis of how the variables interact. (...)
The researchers found that two trends dominate the data on political instability. The first, which they call the secular cycle, extends over two to three centuries. It starts with a relatively egalitarian society, in which supply and demand for labour roughly balance out. In time, the population grows, labour supply outstrips demand, elites form and the living standards of the poorest fall. At a certain point, the society becomes top-heavy with elites, who start fighting for power. Political instability ensues and leads to collapse, and the cycle begins again. (...)
We find that there is a consistent pattern of higher frequencies at low magnitudes, and lower frequencies at high magnitudes, that follows a precise mathematical formula.” But when it comes to predicting unique events such as the Industrial Revolution, or the biography of a specific individual such as Benjamin Franklin, he says, the conventional historian's approach of assembling a narrative based on evidence is still best."
"Like pyramid-building itself, the work of the humanities is to create the vessels that store our culture. In this sense, the digitization of archives and collections holds the promise of a grand conclusion: nothing less than the unification of the human cultural record online, representing, in theory, an unprecedented democratization of access to human knowledge. Equally profound is the way that technology could change the way knowledge is created in the humanities. These fields, encompassing the study of languages, literature, history, jurisprudence, philosophy, archaeology, religion, ethics, the arts, and arguably the social sciences, are entering an experimental period of inventiveness and imagination that involves the creation of new kinds of vessels—be they databases, books, exhibits, or works of art—to gather, store, interpret, and transmit culture. Pioneering scholars are engaged in knowledge design and new modes of research and expression, as well as fresh reflection and innovation in more traditional modes of scholarly communication: for example, works in print that are in dialogue with online resources. (...)
The ability to analyze a vast body of texts also implies a dramatic expansion of the field of questions humanities scholars can ask. (...)
“Most literary historians work on a small corpus of texts where their expertise is manifest through the finesse with which they can demonstrate certain features of that corpus. Those noble skill sets are not about to disappear with a wave of the digital magic wand. On the other hand,” he explains, “there are really exciting research questions on the scale of, ‘How does the socioeconomic history of publishing as an industry relate to the production of certain literary genres?’ And when you start to operate on that scale, of course your data set has suddenly expanded: no human being can possibly read the one million books on the shelf that might document that history.” The use of computational and statistical methods becomes mandatory. (...)
“Where does that put us?” he asks. “Well, it puts us at a place where the boundary line between what we have traditionally called the humanities and what we have traditionally called the social sciences becomes awfully porous. For me that’s an expansion and enhancement of the humanities of the most creative and best sort.” (...)
“I think the quality of scholarship that can be produced, working with vastly expanded cultural corpora, and speaking in contemporary language to expanded audiences, represents one of the great promises of our era. So for me, this is a uniquely exciting moment for the humanities, comparable to the Copernican revolution or the discovery of the New World.”
“For most of the last century, America’s cultural landscape—its fashion, art, music, design, entertainment—changed dramatically every 20 years or so. But these days, even as technological and scientific leaps have continued to revolutionize life, popular style has been stuck on repeat, consuming the past instead of creating the new. (…) The past is a foreign country, but the recent past—the 00s, the 90s, even a lot of the 80s—looks almost identical to the present. This is the First Great Paradox of Contemporary Cultural History. (…)
Movies and literature and music have never changed less over a 20-year period. Lady Gaga has replaced Madonna, Adele has replaced Mariah Carey—both distinctions without a real difference. (...) Ironically, new technology has reinforced the nostalgic cultural gaze: now that we have instant universal access to every old image and recorded sound, the future has arrived and it’s all about dreaming of the past. Our culture’s primary M.O. now consists of promiscuously and sometimes compulsively reviving and rejiggering old forms. (...)
Why is this happening? In some large measure, I think, it’s an unconscious collective reaction to all the profound nonstop newness we’re experiencing on the tech and geopolitical and economic fronts. People have a limited capacity to embrace flux and strangeness and dissatisfaction, and right now we’re maxed out. (...) The more certain things change for real (technology, the global political economy), the more other things (style, culture) stay the same. (...) [But] more people than ever before are devoting more of their time and energy to considering and managing matters of personal style. (...)
But the other part of the explanation is economic: like any lucrative capitalist sector, our massively scaled-up new style industry naturally seeks stability and predictability. (...) Today, Starbucks doesn’t want to have to renovate its thousands of stores every few years. (...) Information technology; which leads us to embrace the past and turn the present into a pleasantly eclectic for-profit museum; which deprives the cultures of innovation of the fuel they need to conjure genuinely new ideas and forms; which deters radical change, reinforcing the economic (and political) stagnation."
"So what does matter in determining the happiness or life satisfaction in a nation? Income of course matters to everyone, especially the poorest. As the report shows, the richest countries are a lot happier than the poorest. The four happiest are all in Northern Europe (Denmark, Norway, Finland and the Netherlands) and the four least happy are in Sub-Saharan Africa. On a 0-10 scale, the average life evaluation score is 7.6 in the first four countries and only 3.4 in the last four. (...)
But income is only one among many factors that explain the variation in happiness among people. As the report describes, income explains only about one-twentieth of the variation within nations that can be explained statistically, and across countries it explains about one-eighth of the explained variation. The other factors besides income can be divided into those that are mainly social and those that are mainly personal.
Countries differ hugely in the strength of their networks of social support ("If you were in trouble do you have relatives or friends you can count on to help you whenever you need them?"). They also differ in the degree of corruption in government and business, and of course in personal freedom and security.
All these factors matter a great deal. So too does the state of the labor market. High and stable employment is extremely important. Therein lies the case for active labor market policies, job training, and various innovations in working hours flexibility.
Turning to more personal factors, a crucial one is mental health. A person's mental health many years earlier is a better predictor of his current happiness than his current level of income. (...)
Physical health is also a major factor affecting happiness. (...) Not surprisingly, individual values are also important. People who care more about other people are also themselves on average happier. (...)
Over the last 40 years, sadly, measured happiness has not increased in the United States despite sharply rising incomes. The problems of poverty, insecurity, corruption, loss of social trust, and other factors are weighing heavily on America's sense of well-being. (...)
"The project aims to create high-quality, most complete and well-structured online repository of fine art. We hope to make classical art a little more accessible and comprehensible, and also want to provide a new form of interaction between contemporary artists and their audience. In the future we plan to cover the entire history of art — from cave artworks to the new talents of today." -
“The Mind is a Metaphor, is an evolving work of reference, an ever more interactive, more solidly constructed collection of mental metaphorics. This collection of eighteenth-century metaphors of mind serves as the basis for a scholarly study of the metaphors and root-images appealed to by the novelists, poets, dramatists, essayists, philosophers, belle-lettrists, preachers, and pamphleteers of the long eighteenth century. While the database does include metaphors from classical sources, from Shakespeare and Milton, from the King James Bible, and from more recent texts, it does not pretend to any depth or density of coverage in literature other than that of the British eighteenth century.”
"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.
Humans are more than Homo sapiens. Humans are Homo sapiens who have been nature-harnessed into an altogether novel creature, one designed in part via natural selection, but also in part via cultural evolution.”
Albert Bandura on social learning, the origins of morality, and the impact of technological change on human nature
"Technology has changed the speed and the scope of social influence and has really transformed our realities. (...) I see that most of our learning is by social modeling and through indirect experiences. Errors can be very costly and you can’t afford to develop our values, our competences, our political systems, our religious systems through trial and error. Modeling shortcuts this process. (…)
"The World Atlas of Language Structures (WALS) is a large database of structural (phonological, grammatical, lexical) properties of languages gathered from descriptive materials (such as reference grammars) by a team of 55 authors (many of them the leading authorities on the subject)."
"There was little serious investigation of the psychological structure or neurological and biological underpinnings of religious belief that determine how religion actually causes behavior. And that’s a problem if science aims to produce knowledge that improves the human condition, including a lessening of cultural conflict and war. (...) Time and again, countries go to war without understanding the transcendent drives and dreams of adversaries who see a very different world. (...)
Although this sacralization of initially secular issues confounds standard “business-like” negotiation tactics, my work with political scientist Robert Axelrod interviewing political leaders in the Middle East and elsewhere indicates that strong symbolic gestures (sincere apologies, demonstrating respect for the other’s values) generate surprising flexibility, even among militants, and may enable subsequent material negotiations. Thus, we find that Palestinian leaders and their supporting populations are generally willing to accept Israeli offers of economic improvement only after issues of recognition are addressed. (...)
This is particularly promising because symbolic gestures tied to religious notions that are open to interpretation might potentially be reframed without compromising their absolute “truth.” (...)
Historical and experimental studies suggest that the more antagonistic a group’s neighborhood, the more tightly that group will cling to its sacred values and rituals. (...) This dynamic is behind the paradoxical reality that the world finds itself in today: Modern global multiculturalism is increasingly challenged by fundamentalist movements aimed at reviving group loyalty through greater ritual commitments to ideological purity.
So why does it matter that we have moved past the -isms and into an era of greater religiosity? In an age where religious and sacred causes are resurgent, there is urgent need for scientific effort to understand them. (...) Policymakers should leverage scientific understanding of what makes religion so potent a force for both cooperation and conflict, to help increase the one and lessen the other.”
“Here is 1,400 years of human culture, all the texts that survive from one of the greatest civilizations human beings have ever built—and it can all fit in a bookcase or two. To capture all the fugitive texts of the ancient world, some of which survived the Dark Ages in just a single moldering copy in some monastic library, and turn them into affordable, clear, sturdy accurate books, is one of the greatest accomplishments of modern scholarship—and one of the most democratic.”
"Music is perhaps the art that presents the most philosophical puzzles. Unlike painting, its works often have multiple instances, none of which can be identified with the work itself. Thus, the question of what exactly the work is is initially more puzzling than the same question about works of painting, which appear (at least initially) to be simple physical objects. Unlike much literature, the instances of a work are performances, which offer interpretations of the work, yet the work can also be interpreted independently of any performance, and performances themselves can be interpreted. This talk of ‘interpretation’ points to the fact that we find music an art steeped with meaning, and yet, unlike drama, pure instrumental music has no obvious semantic content. This quickly raises the question of why we should find music so valuable. Central to many philosophers' thinking on these subjects has been music's apparent ability to express emotions while remaining an abstract art in some sense."
1. What Is Music?
1.1 Beyond ‘Pure’ Music
1.2 The Definition of ‘Music’
2. Musical Ontology
2.1 The Fundamentalist Debate
2.2 Higher-level Ontological Issues
2.3 Scepticism about Musical Ontology
3. Music and the Emotions
3.2 Emotions in the Listener
4. Understanding Music
5. Music and Value
"One reason that Eurasian civilizations dominated the globe is because they came from a continent that was broader in an east–west direction than north–south (...) a modelling study has found evidence to support this 'continental axis theory'. Continents that span narrower bands of latitude have less variation in climate, which means a set of plants and animals that are adapted to more similar conditions. That is an advantage, says Diamond, because it means that agricultural innovations are able to diffuse more easily, with culture and ideas following suit. As a result, Diamond's hypothesis predicts, along lines of latitude there will be more cultural homogeneity than along lines of longitude. (...)
The researchers found that if a country had a greater east–west axis than a north–south one, the less likely it was for its indigenous languages to persist. The relationship isn't straightforward, but the model suggests that Mongolia, which is about twice as wide as it is tall, would have 5% fewer indigenous languages than Angola, which is roughly square. Meanwhile, Peru — about twice as tall as it is wide — would be predicted to have 5% more persistent languages than Angola. (...) Greater cultural diversity is also known to be associated with outcomes such as lower levels of economic growth and higher probabilities of violence. (...) [The study] further supports the idea that human history and cultural evolution are governed by general ecological and biogeographical rules.”
"During the previous generation or so, elites across Europe had moved their clocks forward by several hours. No longer a time reserved for sleep, the night time was now the right time for all manner of recreational and representational purposes. This is what Craig Koslofsky calls “nocturnalisation”, defined as “the ongoing expansion of the legitimate social and symbolic uses of the night”, a development to which he awards the status of “a revolution in early modern Europe”. (...)
The shift from street to court and from day to night represented “the sharpest break in the history of celebrations in the West”. (...) By the time of Louis XIV, all the major events – ballets de cour, operas, balls, masquerades, firework displays – took place at night. (...) The kings, courtiers – and those who sought to emulate them – adjusted their daily timetable accordingly. Unlike Steele’s friend, they rose and went to bed later and later. Henry III of France, who was assassinated in 1589, usually had his last meal at 6 pm and was tucked up in bed by 8. Louis XIV’s day began with a lever at 9 and ended (officially) at around midnight. (...) As with so much else at Versailles, this was a development that served to distance the topmost elite from the rest of the population. (...)
Street lighting had made life more difficult for criminals, but also for those who believed in ghosts, devils and things that go bump. Addressing an imaginary atheist in a sermon in 1629, John Donne invited him to look ahead just a few hours until midnight: “wake then; and then dark and alone, Hear God and ask thee then, remember that I asked thee now, Is there a God? and if thou darest, say No”. A hundred years later, there were plenty of Europeans prepared to say “No”. In 1729, the Paris police expressed grave anxiety about the spread of irreligion through late-night café discussions of the existence or non-existence of God."
"Perhaps most important, liberals consistently score higher on a personality measure called “openness to experience,” (...) That means liberals tend to be the kind of people who want to try new things, including new music, books, restaurants and vacation spots — and new ideas.
(...) Conservatives, in contrast, tend to be less open — less exploratory, less in need of change — and more “conscientious,” a trait that indicates they appreciate order and structure in their lives. This gels nicely with the standard definition of conservatism as resistance to change. (...)
The “need for cognitive closure.” This describes discomfort with uncertainty and a desire to resolve it into a firm belief. Someone with a high need for closure tends to seize on a piece of information that dispels doubt or ambiguity, and then freeze, refusing to consider new information. Those who have this trait can also be expected to spend less time processing information than those who are driven by different motivations, such as achieving accuracy.
A number of studies show that conservatives tend to have a greater need for closure than do liberals (...)
The trait is assessed based on responses to survey statements such as “I dislike questions which could be answered in many different ways” and “In most social conflicts, I can easily see which side is right and which is wrong.” (…)
Anti-evolutionists have been found to score higher on the need for closure. And in the global-warming debate, tea party followers not only strongly deny the science but also tend to say that they “do not need any more information” about the issue. (...) We wield different facts, and hold them close, because we truly experience things differently. (…)”
"The total stock of information used in these ecosystems exceeds the capacity of single organizations because doubling the size of huge organizations does not double the capacity of that organization to hold knowledge and put it into productive use. In a world in which implementing the next generation of ideas will increasingly require pulling resources from different organizations, barriers to collaboration will be a crucial constraint limiting the development of firms. Agility, context, and a strong network are becoming the survival traits where assets, control, and power used to rule. John Seely Brown refers to this as the "Power of Pull.""
To my mind, the most beautiful and powerful visual realizations of this notion of Strange Loops exist in the work of the Dutch graphic artist M. C. Escher. Escher was the creator of some of the most intellectually stimulating drawings of all time. Many of them have their origin in paradox, illusion, or double-meaning. Mathematicians were among the first admirers of Escher’s drawings, and this is understandable because they often are based on mathematical principles of symmetry or pattern. (...)
This can be mind-boggling in itself. However, what happens if the chain of levels is not linear, but forms a loop? What is real, then, and what is fantasy? The genius of Escher was that he could not only concoct, but actually portray, dozens of half-real, half-mythical worlds, worlds filled with Strange Loops, which he seems to be inviting his viewers to enter.”
Abstract: "The wide adoption of social media has increased the competition among ideas for our finite attention. We employ a parsimonious agent-based model to study whether such a competition may affect the popularity of different memes, the diversity of information we are exposed to, and the fading of our collective interests for specific topics. Agents share messages on a social network but can only pay attention to a portion of the information they receive. In the emerging dynamics of information diffusion, a few memes go viral while most do not.
The predictions of our model are consistent with empirical data from Twitter, a popular microblogging platform. Surprisingly, we can explain the massive heterogeneity in the popularity and persistence of memes as deriving from a combination of the competition for our limited attention and the structure of the social network, without the need to assume different intrinsic values among ideas."
"If we think that humans have evolved as social learners, we might be surprised to find out that being social learners has made us less intelligent than we might like to think we are. And here’s the reason why. (...) I can choose among the best of those ideas, without having to go through the process of innovation myself. So, for example, if I’m trying to make a better spear, I really have no idea how to make that better spear. But if I notice that somebody else in my society has made a very good spear, I can simply copy him without having to understand why. (...) We like to think we’re a highly inventive, innovative species. But social learning means that most of us can make use of what other people do, and not have to invest the time and energy in innovation ourselves. (...)
As our societies get larger and larger, there’s no need, in fact, there’s even less of a need for any one of us to be an innovator, whereas there is a great advantage for most of us to be copiers, or followers. (...) If we imagine that there’s some small probability that someone is a creator or an innovator, and the rest of us are followers, we can see that one or two people in a band is enough for the rest of us to copy, and so we can get on fine. And, because social learning is so efficient and so rapid, we don’t need all to be innovators. We can copy the best innovations, and all of us benefit from those. (...)
I want to go further, and suggest that our mechanism for generating ideas maybe couldn’t even be much better than random itself. And this really gives us a different view of ourselves as intelligent organisms. Rather than thinking that we know the answers to everything, could it be the case that the mechanism that our brain uses for coming up with new ideas is a little bit like the mechanism that our genes use for coming up with new genetic variance, which is to randomly mutate ideas that we have, or to randomly mutate genes that we have. (...)
We think of ourselves as so intelligent. But when we really ask ourselves about the nature of any evolutionary process, we have to ask ourselves whether it could be any better than random, because in fact, random might be the best strategy. (...)
We know they’re random in the genetic case. We think they’re random in the case of neurons exploring connections in our brain. And I want to suggest that our own creative process might be pretty close to random itself. And that our brains might be whirring around at a subconscious level, creating ideas over and over and over again, and part of our subconscious mind is testing those ideas. And the ones that leak into our consciousness might feel like they’re well-formed, but they might have sorted through literally a random array of ideas before they got to our consciousness. (...)
Maybe curiosity means trying out all sorts of ideas in your mind. Maybe curiosity is a passion for trying out ideas. Maybe Einstein’s ideas were just as random as everybody else’s, but he kept persisting at them. (...) We might even wonder if the people in our history and in our lives that we say are the great innovators really are more innovative, or are just lucky."