Alexander Calder and the Optimism of Modernism: Jed Perl in Conversation with Morgan Meis

Jed Perl and Morgan Meis in The Easel:

ScreenHunter_2875 Oct. 31 16.09In the view of renowned US author and critic Jed Perl, Alexander Calder remains America’s greatest sculptor. Easel Contributing Editor Morgan Meis recently talked to Perl about his biography of Calder, the first volume of which has just been published.

“When so many emigres arrived from Europe – artists, writers – the Calders were the go-to people even for those they didn’t already know… In a larger metaphoric sense that is part of what mobiles are about. The Calders loved dancing. On New Year’s Eve, the Calders would entertain their friends at their house in Roxbury, Connecticut, and they would all still be dancing wildly in the early hours. You can see the connection between that social dancing and the idea of a mobile. Mobiles are about a sense of community, a sense of connectedness, the relations between people, the way parts go together.”

Morgan Meis: Jed, I would have bet a fair amount of money that a Calder biography had already been written. Why has it taken so long?

Jed Perl: In the 1950s Calder was friends with a man named William Rogers and talked to him about his writing a book on Calder. Rogers did write the book, but when Calder and his wife saw the typescript they were not pleased. It was very anecdotal, full of stories about Calder and his friends. They rejected it and it was never published. This started a tradition, I think, in the Calder family of being somewhat skeptical about biographies.

As his fame grew, Calder and his family were thrilled by his popularity. But after his death in 1976, the family started to feel that his true position as a pioneer, as an avant- gardist, the sense of the mobile as a great modernist invention was getting lost in the view of Calder as the American amuser, the man with the circus. So I think there was a hesitation about a biography. Would it put too much focus on his ebullient, always upbeat personality and not enough on his work? I think their main objective was to bring to the fore a sense of who he had been in the 30s and 40s, how radical his work had been, how serious and sometimes even sober it was. There had to be a sense of that before they were willing to go ahead with a project like this biography.

MM: Okay, but that background leaves me a bit surprised that you would write a biography about Calder. In your 2005 book New Art City, you use phrases like ‘the seriousness of the Abstract Expressionists.’ To me, Calder represents something playful and perhaps even a little bit frivolous. Having read the first volume of the biography, obviously this is not your take on Calder at all. Can you say a little bit more about how he should be viewed?

JP: Well, three or four things come to mind.

More here.

Neutrinos raise questions faster than they answer them, but in science that’s a good thing

Philip Ball in Prospect:

ScreenHunter_2874 Oct. 31 15.53Neutrinos were always trouble. These elusive little fundamental particles were first proposed in 1930 by the physicist Wolfgang Pauli to explain where some of the energy and momentum went during the process of radioactive beta decay of atomic nuclei. The Italian Enrico Fermi took up the idea, and helped to coin the name, in a 1934 paper that got rejected by Nature as too speculative and was published in an Italian journal to such scant interest that Fermi became an experimentalist instead. (Eight years later he created the first ever nuclear reactor in Chicago.)

At this stage neutrinos were just a hypothetical convenience to make the nuclear sums come out right. They seemed so bland as to verge on the pointless: as they have no electrical charge and seemed at first perhaps to have no mass, ordinary matter barely “feels” them at all. They weren’t detected until 1956 (in work that belatedly won the 1995 Nobel prize), because they are so damned hard to see.

Then in the 1960s, experiments using neutrino detectors—buried deep underground to shield them from false signals made by cosmic rays—showed that these particles weren’t being produced by the nuclear reactions in the Sun at anything like the predicted rate. More head-scratching ensued, until scientists figured that neutrinos must be able to switch in flight between three different varieties (“flavours”). Another Nobel prize (2015) followed for that discovery, not least because it resolved another long-standing issue: neutrinos must after all have some mass, because only then are these “oscillations” between flavours possible.

More here.

Return of the Criminal Presidency

Akim Reinhardt at The Public Professor:

TRWe are perhaps on the verge of witnessing, for the third time in 100 years, a U.S. presidency so corrupt that multiple high ranking members will be imprisoned.

In early 1919, former president Teddy Roosevelt was the early favorite to re-assume the Republican Party’s mantle for the 1920 election. However, he died unexpectedly shortly before the campaign season began, and a crowded field of contenders soon emerged.

Warren G. Harding initially had little hope of winning, and entered the race mostly to bolster his control of Ohio politics; he was one of the state’s two U.S. senators and held sway over much of its corrupt machine. But when party leaders could not agree on any of the front runners, the convention deadlocked. They soon settled on Harding, in part because he was from a crucial swing state, and in part because he was relatively unknown and hadn’t offended many delegates.

The compromise candidate from Ohio went on to win a resounding victory, setting what was then a record by taking 61% of the popular vote.

Harding was generally well liked during his time in office as society settled down from the tumultuous effects of World War I and its immediate aftermath. It didn’t hurt that the economy also began to hum. But he would serve just 2½ years, dying of a heart attack while visiting San Francisco in 1923.

At first, Harding’s premature death increased his already widespread popularity. It was only after his passing that the litany corruption attached to his administration would become a salacious public debacle.

It turned out that family man Harding had kept at least two mistresses, including one who claimed he fathered her child. But it was the criminal antics of his administration that would eventually lead Historians to rank Harding as one of the worst presidents ever.

More here.

The Effects of Silence: Unheard Outcries of Child Sexual Abuse

Chelsy Clammer in TNB:

TNB-article-David-767x1024“I have a secret,” David said. Then, silence. No secret spilled. Not for another three months. Next, his outbursts, explosions of anger. Throwing glass on the floor, acting up at home, punches thrown, and goes to preschool with the same attitude—rage snapping at random. But he still couldn’t say what he had to say, and even if he did, would anyone listen? Children are to be seen, not heard. Though actions, of course, speak louder than words. When a four-year-old throws his puppy across the backyard, it’s hard not to hear how he needs to speak. Though there’s the fact of that antiquated thought, a belief born and raised in the Victorian era, one that has sustained centuries of adherence: Children should be seen, not heard. In other words, this ageist slogan is saying that children are inherently unruly. Disruptive. Each one of them. And rude. Absolutely. They run around restaurants and twirl around stores, cartwheel down aisles breaking every social more, every code of conduct we’ve put in place to police our interactions. Kids are inconsiderate and cause breakables to crash to the floor, because they insist on seeing with their hands, not with their eyes. But we were all children at one point—have all experienced the ways in which kids are shushed. We all know how it feels to be seen as just a kid who gets on adults’ nerves, especially when shouting just to be heard. So what’s a kid to do if he needs to speak up? Speak out? What’s a kid to do when an adult sees him with more than just his eyes and then he’s told not to tattle—or else? Violence is suspended in the onslaught of his silence. What about when that adult doesn’t know how to keep his hands to himself?

…And then he threw the dog and then Hannah screamed and Emma ran out to the backyard and asked him what was going on. “He said he didn’t want to tell me,” Emma explains. “After sitting in timeout and crying silently, he then said, ‘Okay, I really have to tell you something.’ I told him no, that he needed to tell his therapist. Then he said, ‘No Momma, I really have to tell you something.’”

Okay. Go.

What do you do when your four-year-old son tells you that your ex-boyfriend took him into the bathroom?

More here.

What Experts Know About Men Who Rape

Heather Murphy in The New York Times:

NewsHe sat by his phone, skeptical that it would ring. “I didn’t think that anyone would want to respond,” said Samuel D. Smithyman, now 72 and a clinical psychologist in South Carolina. But the phone did ring. Nearly 200 times. At the other end of the line were a computer programmer who had raped his “sort of girlfriend,” a painter who had raped his acquaintance’s wife, and a school custodian who described 10 to 15 rapes as a means of getting even with “rich bastards” in Beverly Hills. By the end of the summer, Dr. Smithyman had completed 50 interviews, which became the foundation for his dissertation: “The Undetected Rapist.” What was particularly surprising to him was how normal these men sounded and how diverse their backgrounds were. He concluded that few generalizations could be made. Over the past few weeks, women across the world have recounted tales of harassment and sexual assault by posting anecdotes to social media with the hashtag #MeToo. Even just focusing on the second category, the biographies of the accused are so varied that they seem to support Dr. Smithyman’s observation.

But more recent research suggests that there are some commonalities. In the decades since his paper, scientists have been gradually filling out a picture of men who commit sexual assaults. The most pronounced similarities have little to do with the traditional demographic categories, like race, class and marital status. Rather, other kinds of patterns have emerged: these men begin early, studies find. They may associate with others who also commit sexual violence. They usually deny that they have raped women even as they admit to non-consensual sex. Clarifying these and other patterns, many researchers say, is the most realistic path toward curtailing behaviors that cause so much pain.

More here.

Juggalos, Nevertheless Persisting

Ap_925902884326_wide-1e3cb312acc82d9c88e9e71bb53377ba1220901f-s900-c85Hannah Gais at The Baffler:

Formed in the outskirts of Detroit, ICP really came into its own in the early 1990s, after Violent J had an epiphany featuring a terrifying vision of a clown and a carnival of horrors—one that was, in his words, “twisted and strange as fuck.”[*] J’s experience encouraged the band, which at the time was known as Inner City Posse, to undergo an overhaul of its aesthetic, eventually topping off the change with a new band name: Insane Clown Posse. Numerous critics have been tempted to brush ICP off as a shallow, noxious rap group with not only vapid, but occasionally violent, misogynistic, and homophobic lyrics, and a gaggle of hedonistic and occasionally crazy fans—known as “juggalos” (male) or “juggalettes” (female).

By 2011, a string of crimes perpetrated by individuals self-identifying as juggalos prompted the FBI to designate ICP’s entire fan base as a gang. The move had profound consequences for fans throughout the country, causing some to lose their jobs, their children, or even be denied military service. Aside from the obvious free speech violations wrought by the FBI’s decision, the fact that ICP’s fan base skews poor and rural has had profound economic consequences as well. Their willingness to stand up to the federal government has earned them fans on both the left and the right. Yet thanks to Trump’s ascendency, juggalos’ call for justice took on new meaning for parts of the left: they were standing up to fascism.

more here.

On witches, Derrida, and the impossibility of ever being truly known

The-magic-circleKathryn Nuernberger at The Paris Review:

According to Joseph Glanvill’s 1681 volume Saducismus triumphatus, or, Full and plain evidence concerning witches and apparitions in two parts: the first treating of their possibility, the second of their real existence, the convicted witch Elizabeth Styles’s offering to the investigators in 1664 was that her demon sucked blood. He came to her often. Even when she was tied up in a dungeon, still he came to her pole in the form of a butterfly, to suck her blood as he always did.

Though it may seem strange to us now, that the devil came as an apparition of a butterfly was very old news in 1664. Only the bloodsucking was new. Even the great botanist and first ecologist Maria Sibylla Merian, who discovered and documented insect metamorphosis in the same century, had to be careful about her reputation and keep her room of silkworms and caterpillars very secret, because there were many who still believed in witches and their power to take the form of butterflies and spoil the milk.

The Greeks, who had a rich tradition of witchcraft, called butterflies “psyches,” the same word they used for souls. I wonder about that, and about what in each of us is a little bit witch.

more here.

lycanthropes and what-not

7f24e2cccc97a96c0b37d7eca0ce359f--legends-and-myths-medieval-artGavin Francis at the London Review of Books:

One of the elm trees near my clinic seems to me different from all the others not because of its size, or the pattern of its limbs, but because one of my patients once fell twenty feet from it. Gary Hobbes wasn’t normally a tree-climber: he was a young man with schizophrenia who, after taking a cocktail of MDMA, became convinced he had transformed into a cat. Witnesses recounted that on the day of his fall he had been prowling the local streets examining the contents of bins, before scaling the elm to hiss at passers-by. The police were called; he climbed higher. A dog-walker approached to watch; Gary recoiled and screeched, demonstrating a previously unexpressed terror of dogs. The police were debating how to get him down when he slipped and fell, breaking his wrist on impact. He knocked his head too and lay mewling on the grass, concussed enough to be transferred to the emergency department.

The following morning Gary woke up on an orthopaedic ward with a plaster cast on his arm, reluctant to talk to the hospital psychiatrist. He was discharged back to his supported accommodation – a complex of small apartments with a warden on hand to help. On visits I’d see opened cat food tins in his kitchen and wonder if he might be eating them. From time to time I’d ask him about that night, but he changed the subject. The last I heard, he’d adopted a pair of street cats as pets, and had cat flaps put in the apartment door.

more here.

Review of Namit Arora’s “The Lottery of Birth: On Inherited Social Inequalities”

by Thomas Manuel

Front cover NamitIn a society that tries its best to be portrayed as meritocratic, Arora focuses on the invisible lines that divide it – lines of religion, caste, class, language and gender. Interestingly, Arora is the poster child of the reigning Indian Dream, i.e., to immigrate to America and achieve the American Dream. He's upper-caste and upper-class, urbane and tech-savvy, ex-IIT and ex-Silicon Valley – the last person you would imagine writing about the game being rigged. But the game is rigged and those with the odds in their favour have a poor track record of acknowledging it.

Arora is painstakingly sensible in most of his opinions. He's the perfect liberal. In his introduction, he deconstructs the various privileges that enabled his success and poses vital questions to himself and his readers: How much of his success was him versus his inherited background? How much of it was him versus his socially conditioned ambition and drive? This tone of unsentimental confession permeates the entire work. In many places, it feels less like an argument than an educational text. Arora isn't writing for the seasoned campaigner – his conclusions are too unspectacular for that. With careful reasoning and persuasive personal anecdote, Arora's essays seems to be introducing uninitiated (possibly American) readers to a variety of different voices – feminist, dalit, Marxist, etc.

Relying on other voices is essential to avoid falling into the trap that has affected so many other social critics – the trap of not knowing what the hell they're talking about. Women are tired of men doing their thinking for them. Dalits are tired of Brahmins speaking on their behalf. And Marxists, well, they're mostly tired of other Marxists.

Read more »

Why human memory is not a bit like a computer’s

by Yohan J. John

DisintegrationofPersistenceA few months ago I attended a rather peculiar seminar at MIT's Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences. A neuroscientist colleague of mine named Robert Ajemian had invited an unusual speaker: a man named Jim Karol, who was billed as having the world’s best memory. According to his website, his abilities include "knowing over 80,000 zip codes, thousands of digits of Pi, the Scrabble dictionary, sports almanacs, MEDICAL journals, and thousands of other facts." He has memorized the day of the week for every date stretching back to 1AD. And his abilities are not simply matter of superhuman willingness to spend hours memorizing lists. He can add new items to his memory rapidly, on the fly. After a quick look at a deck of cards, he can recall perfectly the order in which they were shuffled. I witnessed him do this last 'trick', as well as a few others, so I can testify that his abilities are truly extraordinary [1].

Such Stupendous Feats of Skill might seem more suited to a carnival or a variety show than to a university seminar room. The sheer strangeness of the event definitely aroused curiosity — the auditorium couldn't contain everyone, so several of us had to watch on a TV screen in the overflow area. But along with the interest there was also a palpable sense of bemusement, bordering on derision. I could hear the murmurings: why would anyone need to memorize trivia in the era of cheap terabytes? And what could sober scientists learn from circus tricks, however astounding?

The truth is that Ajemian’s goal in inviting Karol was more about raising awareness than presenting data or theory. More specifically, he wants more brain scientists to think about how odd human memory seems if we compare it with computer memory. Decades of experience with electronics has led many people to think of memory as a matter of placing digital files in memory slots. It then seems natural to wonder about storage and deletion, capacity in bytes, and whether we can download information into the brain 'directly', as in the Matrix movies.

Read more »

A book burning in Palo Alto

by Ashutosh Jogalekar

Blank_bookThe flames crackled high and mighty, scalping the leaves from the oak trees, embracing bark and beetles in their maw of carbonized glimmer. The remains of what had been lingered at the bottom, burnt to the sticky nothingness of coagulated black blood. The walls of the stores and restaurants shone brightly, reflecting back the etherized memory of letters and words flung at them. Seen from the branches of the trees, filtered through incandescent fire, the people below were mere dots, ants borne of earthly damnation. A paroxysm of a new beginning silently echoed through the cold air. Palo Alto stood tall and brightly lit tonight.

Bell’s Books, a mainstay of the town for a hundred years, projected its ghostly, flickering shell across the square, its walls stripped of everything that ever dwelt on them, now pale shadows of a dimming past. A few months back they had come to the store, crew cuts and stiff ties, smiles of feigned concerns cutting across the room like benevolent razors. As a seller of used and antiquarian books Bell’s posed a particular problem, riddled through and through as it was with undesirables. The owner, an old woman who looked like she had been there since the beginning of time, was told quietly and with no small degree of sympathy how they did not want to do this but how they needed to cart out most of her inventory, especially because of its historical nature.

“We’re sorry, ma’am, but ever since they passed the addendum our directives have grown more urgent. And please don’t take this personally since yours is not the only collection to be cataloged: over the last few weeks we have repeated this exercise at most of the area’s stores and libraries. To be fair, they are offering healthy compensation for your efforts, and you should be hearing back from the grievances office very soon.”

With that, three Ryder trucks filled with most of the books from Bell’s had disappeared into the waning evening, the old woman standing in the door, the wisps of sadness on her face looking like they wanted to waft into the air and latch on to the gleaming skin of the vehicles. What happened to her since then, where she went and what she did was anybody’s guess. But the space where Bell’s stood had already been sold to an exciting new health food store.

Read more »

What the Bishop said to the biologist; a Victorian scandal revisited

by Paul Braterman

Yes, Bishop Wilberforce really did ask TH Huxley, “Darwin’s bulldog”, whether he would prefer an ape for his grandfather, and a woman for his grandmother, or a man for his grandfather, and an ape for his grandmother. And Huxley really did say that he would prefer this to descent from a man conspicuous for his talents and eloquence, but who misused his gifts to ridicule science and obscure the light of truth. This and more at the very first public debate regarding Darwin’s work on evolution, only months after the publication of On the Origin of Species.

Oxf-uni-mus-nhL: The Oxford Museum of Natural History, where the event took place. Click on this and other images to enlarge

The debate took place at the May 1860 meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. The actual exchange is whitewashed out of the account of the meeting in the gentlemanly Athenaeum, leading some historians to wonder whether it really occurred, but a recently rediscovered contemporary account places the matter beyond doubt. What I find even more interesting, however, is the way in which argument and counter-argument between Wilberforce and Huxley, and between other supporters and opponents of the concept of evolution, prefigure arguments still being used today.

image from upload.wikimedia.orgR: 150th anniversary commemorative plaque, outside the Museum

The Athenaeum account is freely available here. The fuller account, in the Oxford Chronicle, has recently been published (abstract open, full text behind paywall) by Richard England in Notes and Records, the Royal Society journal of the history of science. There are good accounts in Wikipedia and elsewhere of the historical setting. For completeness, and because of the pay wall, I include the Oxford Chronicle account of the discussion as an Appendix.

The meeting attracted enormous interest, despite the rather uninviting title of the leading lecture, by Professor Draper of New York; "On the Intellectual Development of Europe, considered with reference to the views of Mr. Darwin and others, that the progression of organisms is determined by law." Draper drew far-fetched analogies between the development of societies, of individual organisms, and of species, which need not detain us, and concluded that his own work on physiology supported, among other things, the transmutation of species, which was (and is) the central issue separating creationists from those who accept evolution.1

Then things got a lot more interesting. I shall describe what happened by quoting (with some slight compression) the relevant sections of the Oxford Chronicle account, and inserting commentary.

Read more »

It’s About Time

by Carol A Westbrook

Apples… colorful foliage…Halloween….pumpkin spice latte…There are a lot of things we love about fall, Fall scenebut setting our clocks back is not one of them. Every year in early November, 300 million of us, in every state except Hawaii and Arizona, "fall back" an hour from daylight saving time (DST) to standard time. I have yet to meet one of those millions who like it. It's about time we stopped this awful tradition and stayed on DST forever.

Doing away with seasonal time changes is not likely to happen because it would take an act of Congress–literally. More to the point, everyone thinks its an important sacrifice that we have to make for our country, though most can't say why. Popular belief has it that daylight saving time is necessary to help farmers. That is far from the truth. Farmers were strongly opposed to daylight saving time when it was instituted in 1918, because it led to increased labor costs. That is because farming is done by the sun, although shipping schedules and farm hands followed the clock, so more overtime pay was required. Led by the farming lobby, DST was repealed in 1919 and not reinstituted until 1943, and it has remained on the books every since, though with some minor tweaking.

DST at warDST was enacted into law in the US in 1918 because we were at war, and our enemies the Germans were doing it. The Germans introduced DST in 1916 to conserve energy and coal resources during wartime; the rationale was that adding an extra hour of daylight at the end of the work day meant less artifical light would be needed at home before bedtime. Britain and its allies, as well as many neutral European countries, followed suit, as did the US. Today, about 40% of all countries in the world have adopted seasonal clock changes, mostly those in temperate or cooler climates (green, on the map below). Some formerly used DST but stopped, or are on permanent DST (blue), while other countries have never adopted DST, primarily equatorial states (white).

Daylight saving time's primary effect on energy savings is on residential lighting, which consumes 3.5% of electricity in the US. Yet times have changed a great deal, and so have energy usage patterns.

Read more »

Destruction and Creation

by Max Sirak

Erasmusbrug_mai_2005I don’t spend much time on Twitter. I check it twice a day, maybe, for a combined total of 7 minutes. But recently, when swiping up to scroll down, I saw the tweets between Elon Musk and Governor Ricardo Rossello of Puerto Rico and smiled.

“Yes,” I thought. “This makes so much sense.”

When I was 20 I spent a summer backpacking in Europe. A couple friends joined me, or I them; they did most of the planning. It was the early 2000s. Cell phones weren’t ubiquitous. Pre-paid calling cards kept us in touch. The digital revolution was nascent. Our Eurail passes, like our currency, were paper.

It was an eight week trip. We visited 13 different countries. And it was while winding on the rails all about Europe, from station to station, where I fell in love with reading and writing. Up until then, both bored me. (Not that this is what my essay’s about, but it seemed a relevant aside, you know, considering…)

Anyway, about 2/3 of the way through our trip we disembarked in Rotterdam. A friend from college, Whit, was studying there for a semester and, since we happened to be in that part of the world, we decided to drop in for a visit. I’m glad we did.

Not only was it nice to see a friendly, familiar face but city itself blew my mind. Sure, I was high (I mean, we were college kids from the US in the Netherlands…), but still. It wasn’t just the drugs that had me wide-eyed.

It was the architecture. I’d never seen anything like it.

Read more »

Where does our number sense come from? Is it a neural capacity we are born with — or is it a product of our culture?

Philip Ball in Aeon:

GraphWhy can we count to 152? OK, most of us don’t need to stop there, but that’s my point. Counting to 152, and far beyond, comes to us so naturally that it’s hard not to regard our ability to navigate indefinitely up the number line as something innate, hard-wired into us.

Scientists have long claimed that our ability with numbers is indeed biologically evolved – that we can count because counting was a useful thing for our brains to be able to do. The hunter-gatherer who could tell which herd or flock of prey was the biggest, or which tree held the most fruit, had a survival advantage over the one who couldn’t. What’s more, other animals show a rudimentary capacity to distinguish differing small quantities of things: two bananas from three, say. Surely it stands to reason, then, that numeracy is adaptive.

But is it really? Being able to tell two things from three is useful, but being able to distinguish 152 from 153 must have been rather less urgent for our ancestors. More than about 100 sheep was too many for one shepherd to manage anyway in the ancient world, never mind millions or billions.

The cognitive scientist Rafael Núñez of the University of California at San Diego doesn’t buy the conventional wisdom that ‘number’ is a deep, evolved capacity. He thinks that it is a product of culture, like writing and architecture.

More here.

Merging Neutron Stars Deliver Deathblow To Dark Matter And Dark Energy Alternatives

Ethan Siegel in Forbes:

Garlick_breadIf you ask an astrophysicist what's the greatest puzzle in the Universe today, two of the most common answers you'll get are dark matter and dark energy. The stuff that makes up everything we know of here on Earth, atoms, which is in turn made up of other fundamental particles, adds up to only around 5% of the cosmic energy budget. Either 95% of the energy in the Universe is in these two forms, dark matter and dark energy, that have never been directly detected, or something is wrong with our current picture of the Universe. These alternatives have been explored at length, with many options leading to slightly different physical consequences. With the first observation of merging neutron stars, and signals in both gravitational waves and light from across the electromagnetic spectrum arriving, a huge slew of these options have just been ruled out. When put to the test, dark matter and dark energy both survive.

There are a few major puzzles in astrophysics and cosmology that dark matter and dark energy were designed to solve. For dark matter, they largely relate to how galaxies form, rotate, and cluster together; for dark energy, they're about the expansion rate of the Universe and how it evolves over time. If you make an appropriate modification to your theory of gravity, you can alter some of those observables without introducing dark matter and/or dark energy. The hope of those working on these alternatives is that the right modification will be found — one that also makes new predictions distinct from those of dark matter/dark energy — and they can be put to the test.

More here.

Why We Still Need Monsters

Kevin Berger in Nautilus:

ScreenHunter_2871 Oct. 30 09.50It doesn’t seem enough to call Stephen Paddock, who killed 58 innocent people in Las Vegas this month, a monster. The term has lost its power to evoke the unimaginable. The beasts that terrorized the mental lives of our ancestors have been tamed by religion and culture, notes Stephen T. Asma this week in a Nautilus essay, “Why Are So Many Monsters Hybrids?”. So what do we call Paddock?

Asma, a professor of philosophy at Columbia College Chicago, and author, most recently, of On Monsters and The Evolution of Imagination, says the term “monster” is not ready to be retired. The moniker suits Paddock, he says. “Monster is a term we reserve for people who cannot be negotiated with. It’s almost impossible, if not impossible, to understand their behavior, their motives, their mind. Our regular theory of mind doesn’t work on these people.”

In a ranging interview with Nautilus about mythic and real monsters, Asma talked about the evolutionary origin of werewolves and the psychological fears that give rise to tyrannous leaders. Asma lived in Cambodia for a while and learned about the monstrous rule of Pol Pot. He offered his view of what appeals to Americans about Donald Trump. We delved into the roles that desire and repulsion play in our conceptions of monsters, and why he disagrees with neuroscientist Lisa Feldman Barrett about the source of emotions.

More here.

Political Feelings: Silicon Soirée


Patrick Blanchfield in The Revealer:

When I finally see Deepak Chopra, I am confused, because the only thing he has in common with the enormous portrait photograph in front of which he stands are the rhinestones. In the photo, Chopra’s wearing something between a Nehru jacket and an unbuttoned leisure suit with a clerical collar; here, he’s sporting an untucked blue shirt and jeans, and floats above the ground in a pair of expensive basketball sneakers with translucent red outsoles that look like they’ve been hewn from solid garnet. Chopra in the photo is ageless and well-coiffed, the scleras of his eyes distressingly luminous in a way that suggests some serious Photoshop. Chopra on the red carpet looks as haggard, bleary, and unimpressed as I feel.

But then I see the diamonds.

Scanning the crowd in the YouTube event space, Chopra moves his head, and the dozens of gems that stud the rims of his glasses refract the overhead lights and camera flashes. He’s wearing the same glasses in the photo, where their luster suggests a kind of halo emanating from his temples. Amid the weird pastels and earth tones of Silicon Valley corporate décor their gleam is mesmerizing. Are the diamonds real? It is impossible to tell. Chopra ducks backstage. Perhaps he must prepare. Soon, it has been promised, he will re-emerge to debate Skepticism itself.

The event in question has been billed many ways. It has been billed as a stand against “fake news” on the one hand and as a concerned response to supposed campus intolerance toward “free speech” on the other. It is also a celebration of the twenty-fifth anniversary of an organization of self-professed skeptics, which publishes a quarterly magazine. And, finally, it is a “live variety science show” featuring sundry celebrities and a white Canadian hip-hop artist who will rap about the wonders of evolutionary psychology.

More here.