It’s so bizarre to be back to tiny little space capsules after so much shuttle.
I mean holy fucking hell, Victorian android-makers. What the shit was wrong with you.
My biggest surprise in reading Jessica Riskin’s The Restless Clock is that the 17th and 18th centuries apparently somewhat were awash with automata. It’s vaguely like reading a history from a parallel world. I’ve read any number of books on various topics that cover some portion or another of the same period, some of which I’d have expected to make at least a passing reference to such a fact, but other than now and then encountering reference to Wolfgang von Kempelen’s Mechnical Turk I’ve simply never heard of this.
Hannah Thomasy for Undark outlines the debate over changing the names of American bird species named, for example, for figures known for fighting for the Confederacy or massacring Native Americans.
McLaughlin and some other researchers suggest that birds shouldn’t be named after people at all. “The landscape of birding is changing,” says Ward. “Why not change these bird names as well? I say throw them all out the window and rename all the birds named after old dead White ornithologists.”
Instead, Ward points out that many birds are named after their behaviors, their preferred habitat, or physical features, and these characteristics could be used to rename birds like the longspur as well. “[McCown’s longspur] is common in the Great Plains, so we could call this bird the prairie longspur,” says Ward. “If you look at the bird, it also has a beautiful red-colored, chestnut-colored patch on its wings. Birders have so many different names for red. So, we could call this bird the rufous-winged longspur or the chestnut-winged longspur.”
Facepalming at this Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD producer saying that Devs “used the word quantum a lot to make it sexy-sexy”. Quantum mechanics literally is central to the entire underlying thing in Devs. It’s not just tacked on like the technobabble most science-fiction shows use to make things sound plausible. Which isn’t to say I have a problem with technobabble; it’s crucial narrative tissue for a lot of sci-fi television. It’s just, like, I know you joked earlier about how your show just brings out quantum mechanics whenever they need to have an explanation for something, but that doesn’t mean every show that mentions quantum mechanics is doing that. It’s all the more weird because he was touting the show.
My new nonfiction read is The Restless Clock by Jessica Riskin; my continuing fiction read is The Book of Lost Saints by Daniel José Older; and I’ve recently finished Cult of the Dead Cow by Joseph Menn. So far this year, I’ve read thirty books, with seven ready to read next and thirty-one still to buy or borrow.
You have to love that the closest-ever pictures of the sun already are making scientists ooh and aah about “campfires”.
Miraz Jordan revealed to me the existence of Radioactive, a biopic of my purported relative Marie Curie who, per Kottke, “was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, the first person to win two Nobel Prizes, and the only person to ever win Nobel Prizes in two different scientific disciplines”. It streams on Amazon starting July 24.
Facile dig at Swatch notwithstanding the actual important thing in that “forked memes” piece is its link to this Julie Beck article for The Atlantic from three years ago which further cements the case for me.
Say that you are imagining your future wedding (if you’ve never gotten married before). You probably see it as a scene—at a church, or on the beach, or under a wooded canopy in a forest with the bridal party all wearing elf ears. There are flowers, or twinkling lights, or mason jars everywhere. You can envision the guests, how they might look, what your soon-to-be spouse is wearing, what look they have on their face. All of these details come from your memory—of weddings you’ve been to before, as well as weddings you’ve seen depicted in pop culture, or in photo albums. The scene also relies on your memory of your friends and family.
“When somebody’s preparing for a date with someone they’ve never been on a date with before, or a job interview—these situations where we don’t have past experience, that’s where we think this ability to imagine the future really matters,” says Karl Szpunar, a professor of psychology at the University of Illinois at Chicago. People “can take bits and pieces, like who’s going to be there, where it’s going to be, and try to put all that together into a novel simulation of events.”
I’m still waiting for someone to tell me if there’s a link between aphantasia and autobiographical memory deficits, but it’s pretty damned clear to me at this point that said deficits indeed likely must be prospective in addition to retrospective. Most recently I specifically was talking about this idea of simulating futures being something I simply cannot do, any more than I can relive the past.
You have a mental map of the space; you can “hear” what’s being said and “smell” smells and “taste” flavors; you can feel your emotions from that moment anew. Similarly, when you imagine something you might experience in the future, you are essentially “pre-living” that scene.
That’s not how my brain works. That’s not how any of my brain works. What’s especially fascinating to me is that fMRI studies indicate that areas of the brain which handle “processing personal information, spatial navigation, and sensory information” are implicated in both retrospective and prospective memory. These things, especially spatial and sensory issues, clearly are relevant also to my undiagnosed dyspraxia and my diagnosed autism.
(I’m actually really very interested in someone studying how deficiencies in sense memory on the one hand and sensory sensitivities on the other hand might correlate or confound each other.)
There’s no doubt. Whether or not there’s a confirmed correlation between aphantasia and autobiographical memory deficiencies (which, there has to be), these conditions unquestionably impact my ability to “pre-live” possible futures, which in turn impacts what I can and cannot do in the present, and the degrees to which I can or cannot do them.
Whenever I wonder why I am still subscribed to Whitney Fishburn’s newsletter (started to create “herd immunity to anxiety and depression”), something like this comes along. (I’m not even going to get into the thrust of this edition, which sensationally conflates COVID-19 and mysterious elephant deaths.)
And yet, evidence continues to mount that whatever our differences from animals, our emotional lives do not fall within that differential. And if all sentient beings are capable of feeling, then aren’t they capable of processing what to do about what they feel? In other words, if they feel, then they must also think.
The leap here would do Evel Knievel, or at least Arthur Fonzarelli, proud. Mostly, though, I thought about my belief that when we try to elevate other animals it’s mostly only in service to elevating ourselves; I think we over-inflate our own “consciousness” because our storytelling compulsion can’t help but do.
Remember how I’d wondered if aphantasia and autobiographical memory deficits could be limiting not just retrospective visualization but prospective visualization as well? Your Brain Is a Time Machine doesn’t directly address that question, but it does directly suggest an answer for amnesiacs.
People with so-called anterograde amnesia generally lose the ability to store new semantic and episodic memories—although they can still learn motor tasks such as learning to ride a bike, and other types of so-called procedural or implicit memories. Previously stored semantic memories (for example, the names of their family members or the capital of France) are largely intact, but some amnesiac patients also have an impoverished ability to recall old episodes of their lives (those that happened before the onset of amnesia).
It is not surprising that someone with amnesia will struggle to describe what he did yesterday—that’s pretty much the definition of amnesia. But do people with amnesia struggle to plan ahead or to describe what they may be doing tomorrow? The answer to this question seems to be yes. Research over the last two decades has progressively emphasized that some amnesiac patients struggle to project themselves into both the past and the future. Once such patient, who was known by the initials K.C., suffered extensive hippocampal damage as a consequence of a motorcycle accident. In addition to losing most of his episodic memories, he had a pronounced deficit in his ability to think about his own future.
Shannon Mattern’s longform look (or would it be listen?) at urban auscultation passes along a comparison between doctors learning to listen to the body that I know I’ve read somewhere before, but I’ll be damned if I can remember where. Anyway, as I brace for tonight’s likely followup to last night’s cosplay mortar fire, I just wanted to include here one part.
This context quickly revealed the limits of efforts to instrumentalize and objectify hearing. The meters couldn’t replicate the way human ears perceived loudness, and they had trouble tracking fluctuating sounds. Bell Labs’ Rogers Galt, who reviewed urban sound surveys for the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America in 1930, emphasized the subjective, situational nature of aural perception. Whether a sound was perceived as noise, he wrote, depended on how long it lasted and how often it occurred, whether it was steady or intermittent, who made the sound, who was disturbed, and whether the sound was understood as necessary. 23 “Noise” was a product of acoustics and psychology.
Whether or not cities actually were too loud, measurable “noise levels,” with their positivist certainty, “became the sign of how bad the situation was.” Public health concerns were taken seriously only after noise exposure could be quantified. Leonardo Cardoso, in his study of sound politics in São Paolo, argues that the seemingly objective measurements produced by sound-level meters came to “replac[e] our ears as the authoritative hearing actor” and ultimately conditioned our hearing to a world that the instrument could validate. “Through the minuscule repetition of a series of exposures to sound that are allowed to exist thanks to the [meter’s] validation, this technological being” has reshaped our own organic perceptual instruments. 25 We became attuned to what the machine is capable of sensing.
That time I suggested we’re “not all that”.