geoengineer it


What exactly is geoengineering? First, consider the distinction between weather and climate. Weather is what’s happening more or less right now. Climate is the accumulation of weather over a standard average of 30 years. What geoengineering proposes to do is to modify climate, to deliberately intervene in natural processes, lowering global average temperatures and thus ameliorating the human effects that are warming the climate. There are two broad ways to do this: carbon dioxide removal (CDR) and solar radiation management (SRM). Carbon dioxide removal would use various methods to reduce anthropogenic CO2 levels in the air. Solar radiation management would send more sunlight back into space, reducing the input of what scientists call radiative forcing and what laypeople call heat. The former method works slowly, while the latter method can work within months. The authors of a 2009 Royal Society report said that geoengineering “is very likely to be technically feasible,” although it is not a substitute for reducing emissions in the first place. But the lack of political will to reduce emissions, the increasing levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, the present and future effects of climate change, and the need to act fast to counter these trends have led a number of scientists and policymakers to give geoengineering serious consideration as a research endeavor and as a potential partial solution to near-term climate change.

more from Christopher Cokinos at The American Scholar here.

the great migration


Leaving the South took extraordinary fortitude. What dreams and disappointments the North and the West held no one could have foreseen. Wilkerson, somewhat too sketchily, considers postwar urban history—white flight, the closing of factories (that Campbell’s Soup factory has been closed for more than two decades), the disappearance of industrial jobs. Now that there’s no more Jim Crow, she observes, there’s “hypersegregation”: in the 2000 census, Detroit’s population was eighty per cent black; Dearborn’s was one per cent. Most often, she outlines debates about what historians call “the second ghetto,” only to dismiss them. “Perhaps it is not a question of whether the migrants brought good or ill to the cities they fled to or were pushed or pulled to their destinations,” she writes, “but a question of how they summoned the courage to leave in the first place or how they found the will to press beyond the forces against them and the faith in a country that had rejected them for so long.” The questions of social scientists (What is the structure of poverty?) and of policymakers (How can this be fixed?) are not Wilkerson’s questions. “We watch strange moods fill our children, and our hearts swell with pain,” Wright wrote. “The streets, with their noise and flaring lights, the taverns, the automobiles, and the poolrooms claim them, and no voice of ours can call them back.” When Ellison read “12 Million Black Voices,” he fell apart.

more from Jill Leopre at The New Yorker here.

the least wind does disorder and unsmooth


John Aubrey (1626–97), the source for so many anecdotes about other people’s lives, left scant record of his own. He imagined the autobiography he began to draft would be “interponed as a sheet of wast paper only in the binding of a book”. Among his jottings is a striking image of his mind at work: “My wit was always working . . . my idea very clear, fancy like a mirror, pure crystal water which the least wind does disorder and unsmooth”. William Poole, the organizer of the Bodleian Library’s exhibition, John Aubrey and the Development of Experimental Science, and author of the accompanying book, John Aubrey and the Advancement of Learning, assembles a wealth of supporting evidence for Aubrey’s description. The exhibition coincides with the 350th anniversary of the (unofficial) founding of the Royal Society in London (its official charter dates from 1662). Aubrey was a founding fellow (the 127th to be elected), but the roots of his interest in experimental science had been set down earlier in Oxford.

more from Ruth Scurr at the TLS here.

Thursday Poem

In Basho's House
In Basho’s house
there are no walls,
no roof, floors
or pathway—
nothing to show

where it is,
yet you can enter
from any direction
through a door
that’s always open.

You hear voices
though no one
is near you—
you’ll listen without
knowing you do.

Time and time
you get up to greet
a stranger coming
towards you.
No one ever appears.

Hours and seasons
lose their names—
as do passing clouds.
Rising moon and setting sun
no longer cast shadows.

Sounds drift in
like effortless breathing—
frogsplash, birdsong,
echoes of your
own footsteps.

It all ceases
to exist in Basho’s house—
the place you’ve entered
without knowing
you’ve taken a step.

Sit down. Breathe
in, breathe out.
Close your tired eyes.
Basho is sitting beside you—
a guest in his own house.

by Peter Skyzynecki

from Old/New World: New & Selected Poems
University of Queensland Press, St Lucia QLD, 2007


Stephen Hawking: God was not needed to create the Universe

From The Telegraph:

Hawking_1388171c The scientist has claimed that no divine force was needed to explain why the Universe was formed. In his latest book, The Grand Design, an extract of which is published in Eureka magazine in The Times, Hawking said: “Because there is a law such as gravity, the Universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the Universe exists, why we exist.” He added: “It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the Universe going.” In A Brief History of Time, Prof Hawking's most famous work, he did not dismiss the possibility that God had a hand in the creation of the world.

He wrote in the 1988 book: “If we discover a complete theory, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason — for then we should know the mind of God.” In his new book he rejects Sir Isaac Newton's theory that the Universe did not spontaneously begin to form but was set in motion by God.

More here.

Scientists Square Off on Evolutionary Value of Helping Relatives

Carl Zimmer in The New York Times:

Ants01 Why are worker ants sterile? Why do birds sometimes help their parents raise more chicks, instead of having chicks of their own? Why do bacteria explode with toxins to kill rival colonies? In 1964, the British biologist William Hamilton published a landmark paper to answer these kinds of questions. Sometimes, he argued, helping your relatives can spread your genes faster than having children of your own. For the past 46 years, biologists have used Dr. Hamilton’s theory to make sense of how animal societies evolve. They’ve even applied it to the evolution of our own species. But in the latest issue of the journal Nature, a team of prominent evolutionary biologists at Harvard try to demolish the theory. The scientists argue that studies on animals since Dr. Hamilton’s day have failed to support it. The scientists write that a close look at the underlying math reveals that Dr. Hamilton’s theory is superfluous. “It’s precisely like an ancient epicycle in the solar system,” said Martin Nowak, a co-author of the paper with Edward O. Wilson and Corina Tarnita. “The world is much simpler without it.”

Other biologists are sharply divided about the paper. Some praise it for challenging a concept that has outlived its usefulness. But others dismiss it as fundamentally wrong. “Things are just bouncing around right now like a box full of Ping-Pong balls,” said James Hunt, a biologist at North Carolina State University. Dr. Hamilton, who died in 2000, saw his theory as following logically from what biologists already knew about natural selection. Some individuals have more offspring than others, thanks to the particular versions of genes they carry. But Dr. Hamilton argued that in order to judge the reproductive success of an individual, scientists had to look at the genes it shared with its relatives. We inherit half of our genetic material from each parent, which means that siblings have, on average, 50 percent of the same versions of genes. We share a lower percentage with first cousins, second cousins and so on. If we give enough help to relatives so they can survive and have children, then they can pass on more copies of our own genes. Dr. Hamilton called this new way of tallying reproductive success inclusive fitness.

More here.

Suspended Disbelief

Main3 Two weeks ago in Mexico City, the very talented and insightful Pamela Echeverría showed us Etienne Chambaud's On Hospitality, which was at the time being exhibited in her gallery. It's now gone, but it was stunning. For anyone on their way to Distrito Federal, I highly recommend stopping in at the Labor Galeria de Arte in Roma. Gideon Lichfield in More Intelligent Life:

A side-street in Mexico City, in a residential neighbourhood sprinkled with small workshops and cafés, doesn’t feel like the place to encounter an architectural paradox. Yet there it is: a four-tonne mobile, like something out of a child’s hypertrophied imagination, made of massive steel tubes with chunks of volcanic rock hanging from the ends. The contraption intersects and passes through both storeys of an art gallery: if you stand on the upper level you can see only the tubes, and in the dim-lit basement, only the rocks, suspended by steel cables that pass through holes drilled in the gallery floor. The paradox? The whole thing hangs from a single cable passing through the building’s roof, held by a crane standing in a neighbouring parking lot. The mobile is contained within the gallery without actually being supported by the building itself.

The mobile is part of a three-part exhibit entitled On Hospitality, by Etienne Chambaud. For most of July and August it hung at (if “at” is the right preposition for the object’s curious physical relationship to its exhibition space) Labor, a gallery in the up-and-coming Colonia Roma neighbourhood. Pamela Echeverría, a veteran curator who has worked at the state-run Carrillo Gil museum and a leading Mexican contemporary-art gallery called OMR, founded the space earlier this year.

Like so many such installations, the exhibit’s stated message is obscure and bland. It is about “negativity, misunderstandings and separations”. Of the mobile, subtitled ie, Exclusion, the blurb reads, it “is a mobile that doesn't fit within its own exhibition space… its totality can never be experienced… its objecthood is always challenged by the mental image it must necessarily conjure in order to exist as a whole.” That might be strictly true, but is frankly boring.

Fortunately, a more interesting interpretation than the one the artist offers would seem to be suggested by the title, On Hospitality, and also by a second part of the exhibit, down in the basement. (The third part, consisting of jewellery pieces meant to be worn by the gallery staff, was so unobtrusive as to have no impact.) This section, subtitled The Cave of Polyphemus or The Invention of Misunderstandings, consists of a still photograph and a short film projected on to screens, dimly illuminating the hanging rocks. They depict a cave in the hills of Sicily where Mr Chambaud and his crew spent several days filming the haunting interiors.

What Is Consciousness?

4606710941_3c124b138d_o David Hirschman in Big Think:

In his book “Consciousness Explained,” Tufts University philosopher Daniel Dennett calls human consciousness “just about the last surviving mystery,” explaining that a mystery is something that people don't yet know how to think about. “We do not yet have all the answers to any of the questions of cosmology and particle physics, molecular genetics and evolutionary theory, but we do know how to think about them,” writes Dennett. “With consciousness, however, we are still in a terrible muddle. Consciousness stands alone today as a topic that often leaves even the most sophisticated thinkers tongue-tied and confused. And, as with all of the earlier mysteries, there are many who insist—and hope—that there will never be a demystification of consciousness.”

On a base level, consciousness is the fact of being awake and processing information. Doctors judge people conscious or not depending on their wakefulness and how they respond to external stimuli. But being conscious is also a neurological phenomenon, and it is part of what allows us to exist and understand ourselves in the world.

Dr. Antonio Damasio, a neuroscientist from the University of Southern California who has studied the neurological basis of consciousness for years, tells Big Think that being conscious is a “special quality of mind” that permits us to know both that we exist and that the things around us exist. He differentiates this from the way the mind is able to portray reality to itself merely by encoding sensory information. Rather, consciousness implies subjectivity—a sense of having a self that observes one’s own organism as separate from the world around that organism.

“Many species, many creatures on earth that are very likely to have a mind, but are very unlikely to have a consciousness in the sense that you and I have,” says Damasio. “That is a self that is very robust, that has many, many levels of organization, from simple to complex, and that functions as a sort of witness to what is going on in our organisms. That kind of process is very interesting because I believe that it is made out of the same cloth of mind, but it is an add-on, it was something that was specialized to create what we call the self.”

The Nominees for the 2010 3QD Prize in Philosophy Are:

Alphabetical list of blog names followed by the blog post title:

(Please report any problems with links in the comments section below.)

For prize details, click here.

And after looking around, click here to vote.

  1. 3 Quarks Daily: Raising Neanderthals: Metaphysics at the Limits of Science
  2. Blog of Noah Greenstein: The Field Theory of Natural Selection
  3. Brian Leiter’s Nietzsche Blog: Katsafanas on “Nietzsche’s Philosophical Psychology”
  4. Entia et Nomina: A Rant about “Deductive”
  5. Experimental Philosophy: Further Experimental Work on the Bank Cases
  6. Experimental Philosophy: Is the Armchair Sexist?
  7. Flickers of Freedom: Can There be Partial (as opposed to impartial) Desert?
  8. Flickers of Freedom: Does Consciousness Matter?
  9. Guardian Science Blog: Is quantum mechanics messing with your memory?
  10. In Living Color: Other People’s Icons
  11. In Search of Enlightenment: In Pursuit of the Play Dividend
  12. Justin Eric Halldor Smith: More on Non-Western Philosophy (the Very Idea)
  13. Minds and Brains: The Myth of Sensory Immediacy – Why Berkeley Was Wrong
  14. Old Translations: Complexity and the Substantial Form: Leibniz’s Theories of Matter and Their Implications for Modern Biology
  15. P.A.P.-Blog: Why and How Do We Separate State and Church? And What Are the Consequences for Religious Liberty?
  16. PEA Soup: Am I a Consequentialist?
  17. Philosophy, et cetera: Can Death Harm Non-Persons?
  18. Philosophy Sucks!: Pain Asymbolia and A Priori Defeasibility
  19. Philotropes: Do folks think that consciousness matters for moral responsibility?
  20. Playtonic Dialogues: Musicians Debate Methods Of Political Dissent
  21. Siris: On Myers on Baber
  22. Specter of Reason: Ryle On Rules And Creativity
  23. Strange Doctrines: Getting Really “Hard Nosed” about Real Realism
  24. Talking Philosophy: Skeptic “Ataraxia”
  25. The Evangelical Libertarian Philosopher: The Lockean Proviso and Federally Managed Lands
  26. The Immanent Frame: Circling the Line
  27. The Immanent Frame: Secularism, atheism, antihumanism
  28. The Lure: A lotta Hart, but is there a “there” there?
  29. The Philosophy of Poetry: The Leap
  30. The View from Hell: The Patriarchy, the Gynocracy, and Other Comforting Myths of Struggle
  31. Tomkow: Retributive Ethics
  32. Tomkow: The Retributive Theory of Property
  33. TTahko: Counterfactuals and Modal Epistemology
  34. Underverse: We Just Live In It
  35. Vis Viva: On Handwaving
  36. Yeah, OK, But Still: Marriage

To vote, click here.

A Date That Will Live in Oblivion

Iraq-war George Packer in The New Yorker:

What President Obama called the end of the combat mission in Iraq is a meaningless milestone, constructed almost entirely out of thin air, and his second Oval Office speech marks a rare moment of dishonesty and disingenuousness on the part of a politician who usually resorts to rare candor at important moments. The fifty thousand troops who will remain in Iraq until the end of next year will still be combat troops in everything but name, because they will be aiding one side in an active war zone. The proclaimed end of Operation Iraqi Freedom has little or nothing to do with the military and political situation in Iraq, which is why Iraqis were barely aware when the last U.S. combat brigade crossed into Kuwait a few days ago. And for most of us, too—except, perhaps, those with real skin in the game, the million and a half Iraq war veterans and their families—there’s hardly any reality or substance to the moment.

It’s hard to have an honest emotional response or even know what one feels. After seven years of war, the occasion deserves some weight of feeling, but many Americans stopped paying attention a long time ago. And that’s exactly why the President made his announcement: because Americans want the war to be over, have wanted it for years. Tonight he told us what we wanted to hear. August 31, 2010, will go down in history as the day Americans could start not thinking about the war without feeling guilty.

This is not entirely ignoble, by the way. The war has gone on for a long time—almost as long as the Civil War and America’s part in the Second World War combined—and it has taken a heavy toll on the one half of one per cent of Americans who have fought it, and in a democracy this is an intolerable situation. A checked-out public, a stressed-out military, a war hardly anyone can explain: at some point it had to be declared over, and only the President could do it, and Obama is the President, and he was as good as his word in so declaring it on August 31, 2010, not a day sooner or later. He can claim full credit for sticking to his own date certain regardless of circumstances—for not postponing the artificial event that just happened until some future date certain. And in doing so, he restored a small measure of democratic credibility here at home. This is what it looks like when a wartime President is true to his word and the people are behind him. Strange, that it doesn’t look better than it does.

Why Do Heavy Drinkers Outlive Nondrinkers?

Beer_0827John Cloud in Time:

One of the most contentious issues in the vast literature about alcohol consumption has been the consistent finding that those who don't drink tend to die sooner than those who do. The standard Alcoholics Anonymous explanation for this finding is that many of those who show up as abstainers in such research are actually former hard-core drunks who had already incurred health problems associated with drinking.

But a new paper in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research suggests that — for reasons that aren't entirely clear — abstaining from alcohol does tend to increase one's risk of dying, even when you exclude former problem drinkers. The most shocking part? Abstainers' mortality rates are higher than those of heavy drinkers.

Moderate drinking, which is defined as one to three drinks per day, is associated with the lowest mortality rates in alcohol studies. Moderate alcohol use (especially when the beverage of choice is red wine) is thought to improve heart health, circulation and sociability, which can be important because people who are isolated don't have as many family members and friends who can notice and help treat health problems.

But why would abstaining from alcohol lead to a shorter life? It's true that those who abstain from alcohol tend to be from lower socioeconomic classes, since drinking can be expensive. And people of lower socioeconomic status have more life stressors — job and child-care worries that might not only keep them from the bottle but also cause stress-related illnesses over long periods. (They also don't get the stress-reducing benefits of a drink or two after work.)

But even after controlling for nearly all imaginable variables — socioeconomic status, level of physical activity, number of close friends, quality of social support and so on — the researchers (a six-member team led by psychologist Charles Holahan of the University of Texas at Austin) found that over a 20-year period, mortality rates were highest for those who were not current drinkers, regardless of whether they used to be alcoholics, second highest for heavy drinkers and lowest for moderate drinkers.

Obama Takes a Crack at Drug Reform

Ethan Nadelmann in The Nation:

ScreenHunter_03 Sep. 01 15.52 For those of us who fought long and hard to reform the notorious 100-to-one crack/powder cocaine disparity in federal law, the Fair Sentencing Act, signed by President Obama on August 3, is at once a historic victory and a major disappointment. It's both too little, too late and a big step forward.

The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, which punished the sale of five grams of crack cocaine the same as 500 grams of powder cocaine, reflected the bipartisan drug war hysteria of the day and was approved with virtually no consideration of scientific evidence or the fiscal and human consequences. The argument for reform has always been twofold: sending someone to federal prison for five years for selling the equivalent of a few sugar packets of cocaine is unreasonably harsh, and it disproportionately affects minorities (almost 80 percent of those sentenced are African-Americans, even though most users and sellers of crack are not black).

The new law increases the amount of crack cocaine that can result in a five-year sentence to twenty-eight grams (i.e., an ounce), thereby reducing the crack/powder ratio to eighteen to one. It also eliminates the five-year mandatory minimum sentence for simple possession (without intent to distribute) of crack cocaine, thereby marking the first time since 1970 that Congress has repealed a mandatory minimum sentence.

What is the broader significance of the new law?

More here.

The strange case of solar flares and radioactive elements

When researchers found an unusual linkage between solar flares and the inner life of radioactive elements on Earth, it touched off a scientific detective investigation that could end up protecting the lives of space-walking astronauts and maybe rewriting some of the assumptions of physics.

Dan Stober at the Stanford Report, via Symmetry Breaking, a publication of Fermilab:

Solar_flare It’s a mystery that presented itself unexpectedly: The radioactive decay of some elements sitting quietly in laboratories on Earth seemed to be influenced by activities inside the sun, 93 million miles away.

Is this possible?

Researchers from Stanford and Purdue universities believe it is. But their explanation of how it happens opens the door to yet another mystery.

There is even an outside chance that this unexpected effect is brought about by a previously unknown particle emitted by the sun. “That would be truly remarkable,” said Peter Sturrock, Stanford professor emeritus of applied physics and an expert on the inner workings of the sun.

The story begins, in a sense, in classrooms around the world, where students are taught that the rate of decay of a specific radioactive material is a constant. This concept is relied upon, for example, when anthropologists use carbon-14 to date ancient artifacts and when doctors determine the proper dose of radioactivity to treat a cancer patient.

But that assumption was challenged in an unexpected way by a group of researchers from Purdue University who at the time were more interested in random numbers than nuclear decay. (Scientists use long strings of random numbers for a variety of calculations, but they are difficult to produce, since the process used to produce the numbers has an influence on the outcome.)

More here. [Thanks to Farrukh Azfar.]

drone porn


Are the masters of “drone porn” committing war crimes by remote control? It’s a bit shocking that more people aren’t asking this question. I have a feeling that many of us, particularly liberal Obama supporters (like myself, for instance), haven’t wanted to look too closely at what is being done in his name, in our name, when these remote-controlled and often tragically inaccurate weapons of small-group slaughter incinerate innocents from the sky, in what are essentially video-game massacres in which real people die. Drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles, such as the Predator and the Reaper, are small, lightweight, pilotless aircraft equipped to hover over hostile territory and survey it for controllers half the world away who watch the relayed raw video footage—the “drone porn.” Cruising the skies over Afghanistan (and Pakistan, and Yemen, and Somalia, and who knows where else), looking for Bad Guys and firing missiles to vaporize them, drones have become the pre-eminent weapon in what was once the war on terror. They have been hailed for their cost effectiveness in killing terrorists or militants or whatever the preferred euphemism is now. (And, in fact, as I hope to demonstrate, the relevance of the euphemism choice has been overlooked.)

more from Ron Rosenbaum at Slate here.

Stay out of trouble


Somehow, the sentence “I grew up in Amherst, Massachusetts, in the 1980s” sounds depressing. In truth, growing up there was excruciating. The economy in my town was centered on education. That is not a bad thing in itself, but it bred a smugness which rendered my childhood a minimalist dystopia in which pop culture had to be consumed surreptitiously, just the same as candy bars. Most of the kids my age there had the shared experience of being monitored and judged based on the ratio of hours spent practicing and studying against hours spent in front of the television, assuming there was a television in the house. Growing up in Amherst felt like living in a can of spinach, and transgressions were not punished with physical abuse, but with a frigid disapproval handed down from the Commonwealth’s Puritan founders and mixed with all the humor of the Swiss-German dairy farmers my mother was descended from. Relief came in the unbounded joy of watching the rest of the world funneled through MTV, HBO, and CNN. True, they had the disadvantage of being completely full of shit, but they also offered vogueing, glitter-clad women in high heels, Live Aid, Yo! MTV Raps, 120 Minutes, Club MTV, Blade Runner, The Road Warrior, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Rocky sequels, the Reagan Administration (which, despite its long periods of dullness, fit easily into this programming schedule), and movie promos which led to hitch-hiking trips to the four-screen cineplex in neighboring Hadley, Massachusetts.

more from Ben Marannis at n+1 here.

Being Wrong

From The Guardian:

Being-Wrong--Adventures-in-t One day in 1972, Village Voice journalist Ross Gelbspan attended a press conference. It was being held to promote a book called The Limits to Growth, which postulated that, because of increasing population and pollution and diminishing resources, our future world would be a place where no one would want to live. During the conference, Gelbspan was struck by the happy sight of one of the book's co-authors, Donella Meadows. How heartening, he thought, that despite her book's grim prognostications, she was pregnant. He went back to the office and typed up a story about how there was some hope amid the gloom, symbolised by Meadows's swollen belly. His editors liked the story so much they put it on the front page.

There was only one problem: Meadows wasn't pregnant. As I write this, I can feel blood rushing to my face in empathetic embarrassment. Even today, nearly 40 years after the error and almost a decade after Meadows's death, Gelbspan is still mortified. At the time, he wanted to die. However, let's snatch optimism from Gelbspan's understandable anguish. As Aristotle wrote in the Ethics, it is not good to feel shame – since it is bad to have done something one should feel ashamed of – but to do something wrong and not feel shame is a sign of wickedness. In an increasingly shameless world, Gelbspan's authentic distress is a sweet sign that not everything about us is going wrong. In this lovely book about human mistakes the sickeningly young, forbiddingly clever and vexingly wise American journalist Kathryn Schulz doesn't cite Aristotle, but he is a kindred spirit. Where Aristotle saw the value in a painful, ostensibly demeaning emotion, Schulz argues passionately for the value of error. The experience of being wrong, she argues, helps to make us better people, with richer lives.

More here,

High social status, maternal support play important role in mating success of male bonobos

From PhysOrg:

Highsocialst A team of researchers led by Gottfried Hohmann of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology has discovered that the higher up a male bonobo is placed in the , the greater his mating success is with female bonobos. But even males who are not so highly placed are still in with a chance of impressing females.

Researchers reported for the first time direct support from mothers to their sons in agonistic conflicts over access to estrous females. Martin Surbeck from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology discovered that the presence of mothers enhances the mating success of their sons and thereby causes mating to be more evenly distributed among the males. As bonobo males remain in their natal group and adult females have the leverage to intervene in male conflicts, maternal support extends into adulthood and potentially affects male reproductive success.

More here.