Has Isaac Asimov’s Foundation trilogy science finally come true?

Isaac Asimov

‘Sci-fi has predicted reality before (think Star Trek‘s communicators and The Prisoner’s ubiquitious surveillance). But now there’s a science fiction concept that we never thought we’d see in real life: psychohistory.

Psychohistory is a concept found in Isaac Asimov’s epic series Foundation—which beat out Lord of the Rings in 1965 for the Hugo award for best all-time series—about using sociology, history and statistics to predict the future of large groups.

Now the BBC reports that “Feeding a supercomputer with news stories could help predict major world events.”

Could it help? Actually, it already has. Believe it or not, a computer predicted the revolutions in Libya and Egypt, as well as the approximate location of Osama bin Laden.’ (via Blastr).

‘Credible Threats’ Elucidated

AMES, IA - AUGUST 11:  (L-R) Rep. Michele Bach...

‘The Department of Homeland Security said today that it was studying several “credible threats” made to the United States government in a two-hour broadcast Wednesday night from a location believed to be the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California.

Homeland Security spokesman Harland Dorinson said that the Department did not want to alarm the American people, “but whenever you have a group of individuals threatening to dismantle the US government piece by piece, it has to be taken seriously.”

In reviewing the two-hour tape, Homeland Security officials said they found threats to some of the most essential functions of the US government, from Social Security to the Federal Reserve.

While stopping short of saying that the speakers were engaged in some sort of jihad, Mr. Dorinson did note that a tone of religious extremism dominated the video.

“One speaker in particular, seemed bent on rolling back the advances of science and plunging America back into the Dark Ages,” he said.

But the most terrifying moment in the tape came when that same speaker received thunderous applause from the audience after threatening to execute people.’ (via Borowitz Report, with thanks to Dennis).

Against Jingoism

American cultural icons, apple pie, baseball, ...
American as…

I just wanted to note that I have very little to say about the 10th anniversary of 9/11 and  I will not be joining in the collective breast-beating. Just like I was not dancing in the streets after we killed bin Laden. I find myself unable to listen to the radio or watch TV news this weekend. I will be glad to wake up on 09/12/11, when there will be no further opportunities for 10th anniversary observances. To my way of thinking, most aspects of the American response to the Twin Towers disaster have represented us at our worst. We should be bowing our heads in shame, not grief and solidarity.

Oh, and, while there were of course heroes among the fallen that day, there were by no means 3,000 of them. Most who died on 9/11 were simply victims, in the wrong place at the wrong time. Being a victim does not in itself qualify anyone for heroism.

And, please, will the media please stop profiling the melodrama of those who lost loved ones that day as if they have suffered uniquely, when there are so many families grieving the tragic losses of loved ones in a myriad of other calamitous accidents or violent crimes? How in the world can the families of 9/11 victims ever mourn adequately under these circumstances?

On a related (anti-chauvinistic) note, I’m with these guys. And with her.


Robert Klitzman: The Uses and Misuses of 9/11, The Nation

The dark side of altruism

Hymns Children Generosity

“…[M]any of society’s most pernicious troubles arise under the guise of, or as a consequence of, attempts to help others. Pathologies of altruism can result in all kinds of abuses, such as the neglect of children, and can lead to misinformed legislation and the misapplication of science. If we really want to help others, we should recognise that altruism can be dangerous…” (via New Scientist).

Backwards and forwards






A modern approach to interviewing witnesses of crimes may make things worse: “People love to tell tales. Indeed, even when someone’s memory is patchy, he will still do his best to spin the information he has into a credible yarn. This is not a matter of deceit. Rather, it is an established psychological phenomenon in which the brain tries to make sense of fragmentary information. Although such behaviour is natural and normal, it is a nuisance for the forces of law and order when they are trying to find out what happened during an incident by taking statements from witnesses. For this reason, psychologists working with the police often advocate asking witnesses of crimes to say what they saw in reverse order, to stop them making things up to help the story run smoothly. It sounds like sensible advice, and police forces in Australia, Britain, New Zealand, Norway, Spain and Sweden have all adopted it. But a new study suggests that far from improving recall, it makes things worse.” (via The Economist.

Evolutionary mystery of female orgasm deepens

Woman Holding a Balance Reproduction

“Whence the female orgasm? After 40 years of debate evolutionary biologists are no closer to deciding whether it evolved to give women a reproductive boost, or whether it is simply a by-product of male orgasm evolution. The latest attempt to settle the dispute involves quizzing some 10,000 twins and pairs of siblings on their sexual habits.

Some evolutionary biologists reckon the female orgasm is adaptive and possibly influences mate choice, strengthens pair bonds or indirectly helps to suck sperm into the uterus. Others argue that women have orgasms for the same reason that men have nipples – being highly adaptive in one sex, the traits tag along for the ride in the other…” (via New Scientist).