Western Philosophy: Derived from Eastern Spiritualism?

‘In a fascinating piece in this month’s Atlantic, UC Berkeley professor Alison Gopnik details her four year journey out of a mid-life crisis via David Hume and Buddhism. The just-turned-fifty Gopnik begins reading Buddhism, connects the religion’s ideas to those of the eighteenth century philosopher, then launches an ambitious research project driven by the question of how Hume came up with his philosophy that was “so profoundly at odds with the Western philosophy and religion of his day.”

Hume is most famous for his rejection of the idea of an inherent self. He also had gone through a psychological crisis. To help calm his nerves, he moved to small town in France and finished what would become one of the most substantial works of Western philosophy–A Treatise of Human Nature. Relying on the hunch that Hume would have had to have known something about Buddhist philosophy in order to write Treatise, Gopnik digs through archives and travels to Europe to discover that the Jesuit priests in that provincial French town had indeed heard of Buddhism and possibly even had copies of certain Tibetan texts. Although she admits that she can’t be certain, she determines that “Hume could indeed have known about Buddhist philosophy” at the time he wrote Treatise.

If true, this discovery would be remarkable because it’s widely assumed that Buddhism didn’t make it to the European continent until the nineteenth century.’

Source: Big Think

NASA Discovers Evidence for Liquid Water on Mars

‘For years, scientists have known that Mars has ice locked away within its rusty exterior. More elusive, though, is figuring out how much of that water is actually sloshing around in liquid form. Now, NASA scientists have found compelling evidence that liquid water—life-giving, gloriously wet H 20—exists on Mars.

We’re not talking gushing rivers or oceans here. These scientists have been investigating “recurring slope lineae,” patches of precipitated salt that appear to dribble down Mars’ steep slopes like tears rolling gently down a cheek. Planetary scientists hypothesized that the streaky formations were products of the flow of water, but they didn’t have concrete, mineralogical evidence for that idea until now, says Lujendra Ojha, a scientist at Georgia Tech who first spotted the lineae back in 2010. In a new Nature Geoscience paper, published online today, Ojha and his colleagues present “smoking gun validation” that it was liquid water flowing on Mars’ surface that formed these tear stains.’

Source: WIRED

Assisted Death Laws Won’t Make It Better to Die in the US 

‘Currently sitting on Governor Jerry Brown’s desk is a bill that, if signed into law, would allow doctors to prescribe life-ending drugs. Not surprisingly, this is controversial. Proponents believe the law would save diseased people from the worst days of their prognoses. Opponents say the law violates the sanctity of life, and can be exploited by ill-meaning family, physicians, and insurance companies at the patient’s expense.

But there’s a third group who believe this debate misses the real problem: that the American health care system is just an all around miserable place to die.’

Source: WIRED

How to Invent a Language, From the Guy Who Made Dothraki

‘IF YOU’RE A science fiction or fantasy fan, chances are you’ve heard a language constructed by David J. Peterson. He created both Dothraki and Valyrian for HBO’s Game Of Thrones, as well as written or spoken languages for Thor: The Dark World, SyFy’s Defiance and Dominion, and The CW’s The 100 and Star-Crossed. And in becoming the most recognizable name in the conlang (constructed language) community, he’s been instrumental in raising not just awareness of constructed languages, but their quality as well. By now, viewers expect their alien or foreign tongues to sound like they have syntax and grammar. No longer would a scene like this one from Return of the Jedi—Princess Leia/bounty hunter Boushh speaking fictional language Ubese to Jabba—pass muster.

Peterson has already written a guide to Dothraki, but his new book has even larger ambitions. The Art of Language Invention, out tomorrow, is a combination knowledge base and history lesson for those interested in constructing languages. It’s a distillation of the knowledge Peterson gained from the original email listserv that popularized the term “conlang,” blended with some of what he studied as a linguistics Ph.D. student at UC San Diego. But while it’s presented as an introduction for anyone interested in learning more about conlangs, it’s still incredibly dense. Unless you’ve taken a fair amount of linguistics, or are innately familiar with phonetic inventories and symbols, there’s a high barrier to entry for the average pop culture fan curious about how Dothraki came to be. The best parts of the book come at the end of the four main sections, where Peterson presents case studies on issues he face in creating languages for Game Of Thrones and Defiance, and how the knowledge he gained from the online community and his university training assisted in construction.

So rather than trying to explicate the book for you, we talked to Peterson himself—focusing on the community at large and its changing place in popular culture. Not surprisingly, he’s got some bold ideas for how the conlang community is dealing with being under a spotlight, and how innovative language creation can aid humanity’s future.’

Source: WIRED

Laurel and Hardy: it’s still comedy genius

Frank Skinner once admitted that new girlfriends were always “subjected to the Laurel and Hardy test”, when he would play a video of the Laurel and Hardy dance sequence from Way Out West. “If she didn’t laugh, I instantly wrote her off as a future companion,” said Skinner, conceding that this wasn’t exactly rational behaviour.

Perhaps we can all be divided by that Laurel and Hardy test. Those who love the Way Out West dance, which captures perfectly the charm and on-screen chemistry of the comedy duo, will already have been delighted by the news that the BBC1 is to show in 2015 a one-off 90-minute drama called Stan and Ollie – written by Jeff Pope of Philomena note – which is based around their 1953 tour of the UK, during which Hardy suffered a heart attack.

Source: Telegraph.co.uk

A Pill Doesn’t Have to Cost $750 To Be Outrageous and Exploitative

The internet’s villain of the month is easily Martin Shkreli, CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals. In August, Turing, a pharma startup that had just received its first round of financing, bought the rights to manufacture an anti-parasitic drug called Daraprim. Turing’s first act was to jack the price of Daraprim from $13.50 to $750 per tablet, inciting much justifiable outrage.

Here’s the thing though: The drug was already priced outrageously and prohibitively. Daraprim is a very old and off-patent drug—just a few years ago, when the drug was still being manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline, it cost $1 per pill. When GSK sold it to CorePharma in 2010 (CorePharma was eventually bought by Impax Labs, who sold the drug to Turing), the price went up to $13.50. Which is indeed much cheaper than $750 per pill, but relative cheapness doesn’t translate to accessibility. For many patients, a $13.50 daily medication might as well cost $750.

Source: Motherboard

Today’s Hero of the False-Equivalence Struggles: On the Media

‘False equivalence, for those joining us late, is the almost irresistible instinct in mainstream journalism to present differing views as being equally valid “sides” of an argument, even if one of them is objectively true and the rest are not.

False equivalence: “President Obama claims that he was born in the United States and thus is eligible to serve as president; his critics disagree on both counts.”

Actual truth: “Barack Obama was born in Hawaii in 1961; a persistent ‘birther’ movement denies this fact.”

As chronicled over the years in posts collected here, the “both sides make their claims, who are we to judge?” reflex is very powerful in our business. That is largely because we’re most comfortable when acting in the role of a referee at a sporting event, a judge at a trial, a moderator at a debate, or some similar figure letting presumptively legitimate contenders fight it out on their own. To intervene directly and say “There are two sides here, but one of them is bunk” is uncomfortable, because it seems “partisan.” It is also risky, because it requires the reporter to learn enough about an issue to judge claims of relative truth.

Our friends at WNYC’s On the Media—Brooke Gladstone, Bob Garfield, and their team, whom I know and like—have done two very strong recent episodes on the false-equivalence snarl. In general you should listen to their show, but here are two especially worth seeking out.’

Source: The Atlantic

Why Everything Is Bad for You

Via The New York Times: ‘Health-scare stories, even those that are not overblown, draw their special power from the fact that we go through the days denying our mortality. Each one reminds us anew that there’s no way out. Unable to avoid this tragic and absurd-seeming condition, we lash out against our fates by finding fresh reasons to make a villain out of the one thing that is doing its part to keep us alive: food. We add salt to the psychic wound when we momentarily trick ourselves into believing that bugs, worms and dirt are the only things fit for human consumption. I’m not falling for it anymore. I’m going back to bologna and cheese…’

Is it Lying that Makes Us Truly Human?

Not only do we have a propensity for lying, we have built-in barriers that prevent us from detecting others when they do… People are social beings who require constant interaction and communication in order to survive. If we were constantly suspicious that everyone was lying, we’d probably all be holed up in a cabin like the Unabomber.

Source: Big Think

Two new studies show the FDA is rushing more drugs to market based on shoddy evidence

There was a time when the Food and Drug Administration was so sluggish and conservative in approving new drugs that people who desperately needed access to medicines would die waiting.

But fast forward to the early 1990s. By then, Congress had created four programs to expedite the development and approval process for new pharmaceuticals. These pathways were intended to push innovative new drugs — drugs to treat rare, serious, or life-threatening diseases — through the FDA more quickly.

Since these medicines were sorely needed, the idea was that rushing them through, often on the basis of more limited and preliminary clinical trials data, would help patients languishing with unmet medical needs.

Today, the FDA is now considered the fastest regulatory agency in the world. But there’s some concern that these expedited pathways are being used by drug companies to speed through medicines that aren’t actually helping patients with unmet medical needs — and that often aren’t any improvement over what’s already on the market.

Source: Vox

If You’re From One of These States and Planning to Fly in 2016, LOL Sorry

Attention driver’s license holders from the great lands of New York, Louisiana, New Hampshire, Minnesota, and American Samoa: The Department of Homeland Security has no love for you.

[Update: Let’s add Alaska, Arizona, Idaho, Louisiana, Maine, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Virginia, and Washington to the list.]

In 2016, the final phase of the Real ID Act—passed in Congress way back in 2005 under the recommendation of your friends at the 9/11 Commission (never forget)—goes into effect. The Real ID Act defines “real IDs” as those that are obtained only with proof of U.S. citizenship. In the aforementioned States of the Damned, driver’s licenses do not require proof of citizenship and are considered “non-compliant” with the Real ID act, and thus they will no longer be acceptable forms of identification when boarding federally regulated commercial aircraft. This is a significant setback, as Travel + Leisure reports, because 38% of Americans don’t have passports.

Source: Flygirl

Here’s More Evidence That Galactic Super-Civilizations Don’t Exist

‘Earlier this year, a scan of 100,000 galaxies showed no signs of alien mega-civilizations, dashing the hopes of those longing for a close encounter of the extra-terrestrial kind. A follow-up analysis of the data suggests it’s even worse than we thought, concluding that advanced galaxy-spanning civilizations don’t exist in the local universe.’

Source: io9

Six Easy Ways to Tell If That Viral Story Is a Hoax

“And so it begins … ISIS flag among refugees in Germany fighting the police,” blared the headline on the Conservative Post; “with this new leaked picture, everything seems confirmed”. The image in question purported to show a group of Syrian refugees holding ISIS flags and attacking German police officers.

Only it was a fake. It’s fairly easy to find photo or video ‘evidence’ to bolster a scurrilous political position (in this case, the anti-immigration argument that we are allowing Islamist infiltration), and the resulting misinformation can easily go viral. Corrections by investigative journalists or private citizens do not get anything like the notice that the original lies did. Here are six tools for digital information verification.

Source: Gizmodo

This Is What Happens When an Indie Band Experiments at the LHC

It’s normally just researchers that get to experiment at the LHC. But one physicist has decided to invite a series of bands to play around at the world’s largest science lab — and this is the result.

The first event of a new an initiative called Ex/Noise/CERN, that’s led by Dr. James Beacham, saw the experimental indie band Deerhoof set up their gear in CERN’s magnet test facility. In a press release, Beacham described what he was hoping to achieve:

“Musical curiosity is similar to scientific curiosity and, on a personal level, Deerhoof has inspired me as much as Einstein. They’re explorers and this sense of exploration is what you feel in the air at CERN right now, and so the pairing of Deerhoof and CERN was natural.”

This particular musical outing was in honour of the LHC’s recent ramp up to 13 TeV. The idea was to “draw inspiration from CERN physics and create impromptu musical arrangements amongst CERN equipment.”

The video below captures some of what happened during the day. It might not be melodic indie pop, but it is certainly interesting and exploratory kind of hard to understand, a bit like a musical version of what happens at CERN.

Source: Gizmodo

Concorde Will Fly Again, Says Group With Massive War Chest 

Via Flightclub: ‘Club Concorde, a group of ex-pilots, maintainers, engineers, airline execs and ConcVia : ‘orde enthusiasts has unveiled a plan that aims to put a Concorde back in the air by 2019, and supposedly they have a pile of cash to see their plans through to fruition.

It has been more than a decade since Concorde took its last flight, ending its career on October 24th, 2003. Examples are now strewn across the globe in the aviation museums and science centers where they were sent with no intention of ever flying again. As such, it is not as if you can just go out and buy a surplus Concorde.

…Or can you?..’

The US Forest Service Is Trying To Bury a Crucial Journal Article

Via Motherboard: ‘On Thursday, Science magazine published a crucial and overdue commentary lamenting the current state of wildfire management on US public lands. Among the authors was Malcolm North, a plant ecologist at the US Forest Service’s Pacific Southwest Research Station in California.

As it turns out, the USFS was none too pleased about the piece or North’s name being attached to it. According to Valley Public Radio, the central California NPR affiliate, the agency has barred North from discussing the paper and had even attempted to prevent Science from publishing it.

“The Pacific Southwest Research Station says its role is to conduct and publish research, not to evaluate land management policy,” VPR’s Amy Quinton reports. “Editors at Science refused to hold the article from publication or remove North’s name and affiliation. A disclaimer was added telling readers that the content does not necessarily reflect the views of the US Forest Service.”

The Science commentary, which Motherboard covered in more depth here, basically argues that we’re doing wildfires all wrong. 98 percent of all fires are quashed before they can grow in size and consume their host forests’ overaccumulation of fuels. And so the accumulation continues year after year until a deadly, catastrophic wildfire hurricane shreds 70,000 acres in a weekend…’

Trumpet sounds heard across Jakarta signal end of the world

Via Boing Boing: ‘Last Friday evening, numerous people in Jakarta, Indonesia reported and recorded mysterious, low trumpet-like sounds in the sky. Listen for yourself below. Scientists often try to explain away these strange noises as “Earth sounds” caused by shifting tectonic plates, atmospheric phenomena, geomagnetic activity, or the like. But we all know it’s really the trumpets of the apocalypse…”

Arab-looking man of Syrian descent found in garage building what looks like a bomb

Via Boing Boing: ‘Omar Ghabra won Twitter with these photos, and this quip: “An Arab-looking man of Syrian descent in a garage w/his accomplice building what appears to be a bomb. Arrest them.”The tweet was a response to the story everyone’s outraged about today: Ahmed Mohamed, the kid in Texas whose wonderful homemade clock sparked a racist reply by his school, and by authorities.Apple founder Steve Jobs, seen here in classic “garage” photos with Steve Wozniak, was the son of a Syrian migrant to the United States…’

Want to Know if Someone is a Narcissist? Just Ask.

Via The Ohio State University (thanks to Boing Boing): ‘Scientists have developed and validated a new method to identify which people are narcissistic: Just ask them.In a series of 11 experiments involving more than 2,200 people of all ages, the researchers found they could reliably identify narcissistic people by asking them this exact question (including the note):To what extent do you agree with this statement: “I am a narcissist.” (Note: The word “narcissist” means egotistical, self-focused, and vain.)Participants rated themselves on a scale of 1 (not very true of me) to 7 (very true of me).(How narcissistic are you? Take the test here.)Brad BushmanResults showed that people’s answer to this question lined up very closely with several other validated measures of narcissism, including the widely used Narcissistic Personality Inventory….’

Every Single GOP Candidate’s Proposed Secret Service Code Name Is Unimaginably Hilarious

Via Gawker: ‘After nearly three hours of monotone droning by a bunch of sweaty old people who will almost certainly never be president, tonight’s Republican debate finally delivered with a bizarre question about potential Secret Service names that produced incredibly absurd answers from every single candidate.

The final segment of the debate was devoted to free association-style questions. The dais was first asked which woman they would put on the $10 bill, with the most popular answer being: myyyy wiiiife. Then each candidate was prompted to offer what their Secret Service code name would be if they were elected president, and holy hell was each answer absolutely nuts.Here are the candidates’ real, actual answers, each of which delivers such a perfect morsel of conservative id:

  • Chris Christie: “True Heart”
  • John Kasich: “Unit One”
  • Carly Fiorina: “Secretariat”
  • Scott Walker: “Harley”
  • Jeb Bush: “Ever-Ready”
  • Donald Trump: “Humble”
  • Ben Carson: “One Nation”
  • Ted Cruz: “Cohiba”
  • Marco Rubio: “Gator”
  • Mike Huckabee: “Duck Hunter”
  • Rand Paul: “Justice Never Sleeps”

Cohiba! Duck Hunter! Justice Never Sleeps! Secretariat!!!I swear this is the funniest thing I’ve ever seen in my entire life.’


Scientists to awaken ancient ‘giant virus’

Via The Independent: ‘French scientists are preparing to wake up a 30,000-year-old ‘giant’ virus.

A team from the French National Centre for Scientific Research discovered the prehistoric virus, called Mollivirus sibericum, underground in north-eastern Siberian permafrost, reports CNET.

And now they plan to give it its first “wake-up call” since the last Ice Age…’

The High-Resolution Images of Pluto Begin to Arrive

Via NASA: ‘New close-up images of Pluto from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft reveal a bewildering variety of surface features that have scientists reeling because of their range and complexity.

“Pluto is showing us a diversity of landforms and complexity of processes that rival anything we’ve seen in the solar system,” said New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), Boulder, Colorado. “If an artist had painted this Pluto before our flyby, I probably would have called it over the top — but that’s what is actually there.”

New Horizons began its yearlong download of new images and other data over the Labor Day weekend. Images downlinked in the past few days have more than doubled the amount of Pluto’s surface seen at resolutions as good as 400 meters (440 yards) per pixel. They reveal new features as diverse as possible dunes, nitrogen ice flows that apparently oozed out of mountainous regions onto plains, and even networks of valleys that may have been carved by material flowing over Pluto’s surface. They also show large regions that display chaotically jumbled mountains reminiscent of disrupted terrains on Jupiter’s icy moon Europa…’

Scientists Urge Caution in Wake of “Transmittable” Alzheimer’s Claim

Via i09: ‘A provocative new paper published in Nature suggests that neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s may be transmissible through certain medical procedures. It’s an alarming claim—but one that will require more proof if it’s to be accepted by the scientific community.

… While performing an autopsy on eight individuals who died between the ages of 36 and 51, and who caught their CJD from contaminated HGH injections, the researchers unexpectedly discovered severe to moderate grey matter and vascular amyloid beta pathology in four of them. This was a surprise because of the relatively young age of the subjects, and because none of these patients had problematic mutations or predispositions to Alzheimer’s.

The researchers suspect that, when these individuals were administered their HGH treatments, the growth hormone was also contaminated with the amyloid beta protein, which then spread through their brains. This would suggest that the “seeds” responsible for certain neurodegenerative diseases can be transmitted during certain medical procedures or via contaminated surgical instruments…’

If Only One-third of Published Psychology Research is Reliable, Now What?

Via io9: ‘A small but vocal contingent of researchers – addressing fields ranging from physics to medicine to economics – has maintained that many, perhaps most, published studies are wrong. But how bad is this problem, exactly? And what features make a study more or less likely to turn out to be true?

We are two of the 270 researchers who together have just published in the journal Science the first-ever large-scale effort trying to answer these questions by attempting to reproduce 100 previously published psychological science findings…’

1927 news report: Donald Trump’s dad arrested in KKK brawl with cops

Via Boing Boing: ‘According to a New York Times article published in June 1927, a man with the name and address of Donald Trump’s father was arraigned after Klan members attacked cops in Queens, N.Y.nyttrump In an article subtitled “Klan assails policeman”, Fred Trump is named in among those taken in during a late May “battle” in which “1,000 Klansmen and 100 policemen staged a free-for-all.”

…To be clear, this is not proof that Trump senior—who would later go on to become a millionaire real estate developer—was a member of the Ku Klux Klan or even in attendance at the event. Despite sharing lawyers with the other men, it’s conceivable that he may have been an innocent bystander, falsely named, or otherwise the victim of mistaken identity during or following a chaotic event…’

Climate change denier Rupert Murdoch just bought National Geographic, which gives grants to scientists

Via Boing Boing: ‘The National Geographic magazine has been a nonprofit publication since inception in 1888, but that ends today. The long-running American publication becomes very much for-profit under a $725 million dollar deal announced today with 21st Century Fox, the entertainment company controlled by the family of Rupert Murdoch.Murdoch is a notorious climate change denier, and his family’s Fox media empire is the world’s primary source of global warming misinformation. Which would be no big deal here, I guess, were it not for the fact that the National Geographic Society’s mission includes giving grants to scientists…’

Piercing the Surface: Thomas Merton’s Zen Photography

Via Big Think: ‘Near the end of his life, during a trip to Asia in 1968, Trappist monk, poet, theologian, and social activist Thomas Merton (shown below) came away from seeing ancient carved Buddhas deeply moved. “I don’t know what else remains,” Merton wrote, “but I have now seen and have pierced through the surface and have got beyond the shadow and the disguise.” Merton studied comparative theology not to reduce other faiths to some shadow of his own Christianity, but rather to synthesize them into some deeper, common belief that “pierced through the surface” to get “beyond the shadow and disguise.”

Zen Buddhism struck a chord within Merton as achieving the same sense of interior wholeness that mystics such as Meister Eckhart and St. John of the Cross had in the Christian tradition. For Merton, a man deeply steeped in words, however, writing failed to convey the wordless qualities of Zen. A Hidden Wholeness: The Zen Photography of Thomas Merton, a new exhibition to mark the centennial of Merton’s birth, demonstrates how Merton found in photography the perfect medium for his Zen studies, not just to make images of Zen, but also to practice Zen itself…’

World’s largest natural sound archive now fully digitized and online

via Cornell University: ‘In terms of speed and the breadth of material now accessible to anyone in the world, this is really revolutionary,” says audio curator Greg Budney, describing a major milestone just achieved by the Macaulay Library archive at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. All archived analog recordings in the collection, going back to 1929, have now been digitized and can be heard at http://www.MacaulayLibrary.org…’

The Opposite of Hoarding

Via The Atlantic: Getting rid of belongings is generally seen as positive, even healthy—but when the need becomes compulsive, it can be a sign of a life-consuming disorder. And the cultural embrace of decluttering can make it hard for someone who does it compulsively to get help.

Next generation of Army leadership will be brain-damaged

Via NYTimes.com: ’For generations, freshmen cadets at the United States Military Academy have marked the end of a grueling summer of training with a huge nighttime pillow fight that is billed as a harmless way to blow off steam and build class spirit.

But this year the fight on the West Point, N.Y., campus turned bloody as some cadets swung pillowcases packed with hard objects, thought to be helmets, that split lips, broke at least one bone, dislocated shoulders and knocked cadets unconscious. The brawl at the publicly funded academy, where many of the Army’s top leaders are trained, left 30 cadets injured, including 24 with concussions, according to West Point…’