Saturday, May 30, 2015


1. I know that a few of my friends and readers (Bruce! Brian! Lee!) have done some advanced research in cognitive science and artificial intelligence. And I know that they're pretty stoked about the potential inherent in the research currently being done in that field. But this excellent Nautilus editorial goes into exhaustive detail about some of the very serious risks associated with the "thinking big" attitude that currently pervades this particular scientific arena. It begins:
In 2005 neuroscientist Henry Markram embarked on a mission to create a supercomputer simulation of the human brain, known as the Blue Brain Project. In 2013 that project became the Human Brain Project (HBP), a billion-euro, 10-year initiative supported in part by the European Commission. The HBP polarized the neuroscience community, culminating in an open letter last July signed by nearly 800 neuroscientists, including Nobel Prize–winners, calling the HBP’s science into question. Last month the critics were vindicated, as a mediation committee called for a total overhaul of the HBP’s scientific goals. 
“We weren’t generating discontent,” says Zachary Mainen, a neuroscientist at the Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown, who co-authored the open letter with Alexandre Pouget of the University of Geneva. “We tapped into it.” 
So, what was wrong with the Human Brain Project? And what are the implications for how we study and understand the brain? The HBP, along with the U.S.’s multibillion-dollar BRAIN Initiative, are often compared to other “big science” endeavors, such as the Human Genome Project, the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, or even NASA’s moon landing. But given how much of the brain’s workings remain mysterious, is big science the right way to unlock its mysteries and cure its diseases?
Keep reading for some very astute (if somewhat sobering) observations about the current state of tue "consciousness" sciences.

2. This excellent Nick Cohen editorial for The Spectator is the last, best thing you will ever need to read about both the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attack, as well as last month's resultant PEN gala "controversy". It begins:
I suppose it is asking too much of a writer called Francine Prose that she write prose anyone would want to read. But on the principle you can only track down terrible ideas by wading through terrible writing you have to endure Prose’s prose. 
She attempted to deploy her prosaic talent to explain why PEN, an organisation dedicated to protecting the free speech of writers, should not honour the writers and artists of Charlie Hebdo - murdered by Islamists for exercising their right to free speech. 
"The narrative of the Charlie Hebdo murders – white Europeans killed in their offices by Muslim extremists – is one that feeds neatly into the cultural prejudices that have allowed our government to make so many disastrous mistakes in the Middle East. And the idea that one is either “for us or against us” in such matters not only precludes rational and careful thinking, but also has a chilling effect on the exercise of our right to free expression and free speech that all of us – and all the people at PEN – are working so tirelessly to guarantee." 
Note the dehumanisation. ... Note her racial obsessions. ... Note, finally, the inevitable appeal to victimhood.
If you harbor ANY lingering doubts about either of these two events - the attack or PEN's decision - then please, do yourself a favor, read and digest this editorial fully and completely. You will not regret it.

3. My good friend Frank Swan created this pretty awesome tune (and video) in his friend's apartment here in Toronto using free software and cheap microphones bought at The Source (formerly Radio Shack). Enjoy... and if you like it... SHARE IT!

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