First results from Fermilab’s Muon g-2 experiment strengthen evidence of new physics

Fermilab press release in Symmetry:

The long-awaited first results from the Muon g-2 experiment at the US Department of Energy’s Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory show fundamental particles called muons behaving in a way that is not predicted by scientists’ best theory, the Standard Model of particle physics. This landmark result, made with unprecedented precision, confirms a discrepancy that has been gnawing at researchers for decades.

The strong evidence that muons deviate from the Standard Model calculation might hint at exciting new physics. Muons act as a window into the subatomic world and could be interacting with yet undiscovered particles or forces.

“Today is an extraordinary day, long awaited not only by us but by the whole international physics community,” says Graziano Venanzoni, co-spokesperson of the Muon g-2 experiment and physicist at the Italian National Institute for Nuclear Physics. “A large amount of credit goes to our young researchers who, with their talent, ideas and enthusiasm, have allowed us to achieve this incredible result.”

More here.

A recent Foreign Affairs article gets history wrong and obscures a robust Palestinian discourse

Helena Cobban in the Boston Review:

It is hard to believe that it has been fifty years since I used to sit on the floor of drafty college residences in Oxford with Hussein Agha, Ahmad Samih Khalidi, Ahmad’s cousin Rashid Khalidi, and other luminaries of the Oxford University Arab Society, listening to their discussions of the then-parlous state of the Palestinian freedom movement (and voicing an occasional interjection). During the previous year, Palestinian guerrillas earlier chased out of the West Bank by Israel had proceeded to challenge King Hussein’s rule in Jordan; and during “Black” September 1970, Hussein hit back at them hard. In Spring 1971 the guerrillas were still reeling from Black September and were struggling to regroup in the extensive Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon. In Oxford we eagerly read any scrap of news we could get about their achievements there.

In 1974, one year after I graduated, I took out a loan to travel to Beirut to build a career as a foreign correspondent. During the next seven years one of the biggest constants in my news budget was the Palestinian story.

More here.

The Rise of Therapy-Speak

Katy Waldman in The New Yorker:

First, let’s survey the situation. It’s as though the haze of our inner lives were being filtered through a screen of therapy work sheets. If we are especially online, or roaming the worlds of friendship, wellness, activism, or romance, we must consider when we are centering ourselves or setting boundaries, sitting with our discomfort or being present. We “just want to name” a dynamic. We joke about our coping mechanisms, codependent relationships, and avoidant attachment styles. We practice self-care and shun “toxic” acquaintances. We project and decathect; we are triggered, we say wryly, adding that we dislike the word; we catastrophize, ruminate, press on the wound, process. We feel seen and we feel heard, or we feel unseen and we feel unheard, or we feel heard but not listened to, not actively. We diagnose and receive diagnoses: O.C.D., A.D.H.D., generalized anxiety disorder, depression. We’re enmeshed, fragile. Our emotional labor is grinding us down. We’re doing the work. We need to do the work.

Around every corner, trauma, like the unwanted prize at the bottom of a cereal box. The trauma of puberty, of difference, of academia, of women’s clothing. When I asked Twitter whether the word’s mainstreaming was productive, I was struck by two replies. First, overapplying the term might dilute its meaning, robbing “people who have experienced legitimate trauma of language that is already oftentimes too thin.” And, second, invoking “trauma” where “harm” might suffice could play into the hands of “people who despise and fear vulnerability.” During this exchange, Twitter served me an advertisement that urged me to “understand my trauma” by purchasing a yoga membership. Ridiculous, I thought. I’m not a sexual-assault survivor. I’ve never been to a war zone. But, countered my brain, after four years of Trump and four seasons of covid, are you not hurting? The earth is dying. Your mother issues! Your daddy issues! A clammy wave engulfed me. My cursor hovered over the banner.

Perhaps the language of mental health is burgeoning because actual mental health is declining.

More here.

Literature’s most curious creations

Meilan Solly in Smithsonian:

Louis Renard, an 18th-century book publisher who moonlighted as a British spy, had a somewhat tenuous relationship with the truth. As writer and rare-book collector Edward Brooke-Hitching notes in The Madman’s Library: The Strangest Books, Manuscripts and Other Literary Curiosities From History, Renard “knew even less” about Indonesian wildlife than the average European of his day. Far from letting this obstacle stand in his way, however, the publisher leaned into his imagination, producing a fantastical compendium of fish from the opposite of the globe that featured illustrations of a mermaid, a four-legged “Running Fish” that trotted around like a dog and a host of other impossibly vivid-hued creatures.

Renard’s Fishes, Crayfishes, and Crabs (1719) is one of hundreds of unusual titles featured in Brooke-Hitching’s latest book. From books that aren’t actually books—like 20 Slices of American Cheese, a 2018 volume with a name that conveys all one really needs to know—to books made out of flesh and blood to books of spectacular size, The Madman’s Library takes readers on a riveting tour of literary history’s most overlooked corners.

More here.

Éric Rohmer and The Erotics of Chastity

Becca Rothfeld at Cabinet Magazine:

By all accounts, Maurice Schérer led an oppressively virtuous life. He never cheated on his wife. He was sober, refusing both drugs and alcohol, and he attended Mass each Sunday. Though he could have afforded a car, he never bought one, and he considered even occasional taxi trips an undue extravagance. In his old age, when he was suffering from painful scoliosis, he continued taking two buses to work in the Montparnasse neighborhood of Paris each morning, then the same two buses back home each night. He cherished quiet enjoyments: classical music, visits to museums, nights at home with his family. He was born in 1920 and died in 2010, but he never owned a telephone.

What does this self-effacing ascetic have to do with Éric Rohmer, the elusive yet glamorous filmmaker who has been called “the father of French New Wave”? Perhaps it is only incidental that they were, in fact, the same person, for the two of them led remarkably discrete lives.

more here.

Life in the Post-Human Landscape

Will Wiles at Literary Review:

Flyn isn’t interested so much in what we’ve done to nature as in how it bounces back. ‘What draws my attention’, she writes, ‘is not the afterglow of pristine nature as it disappears over the horizon, but the narrow band of brightening sky that might indicate a fresh dawn of a new wild as, across the world, ever more land falls into abandonment.’ More of the world being abandoned – is that right? We assume that as our numbers increase, so we claim more territory from the wild. But in fact our activity is increasingly concentrated in smaller areas and, in the developed world at least, we are leaving more land to its own devices.

Europe has been steadily reforesting for decades, and will continue to do so. The trend has been even more remarkable in the former Soviet Union, where there has been an abandonment of unviable state agriculture and a flight to the cities.

more here.

Welcoming Our New Robot Overlords

Adam Elkus in The New Atlantis:

What ever happened to machines taking over the world? What was once an object of intense concern now seems like a punchline. Take one of the latest videos released by the robotics company Boston Dynamics, of its iconic two- and four-legged machines shaking it to “Do You Love Me?” by The Contours, which was met with sarcastic online quips about the robots doing victory dances after murdering humans. The revolt of the machines, subsumed into the background ambiance of generalized fears of tech dystopia, no longer seems like a distinctive worry. For those who remember an earlier era of techno-panic, that should be startling.

Once upon a time — just a few years ago, actually — it was not uncommon to see headlines about prominent scientists, tech executives, and engineers warning portentously that the revolt of the robots was nigh. The mechanism varied, but the result was always the same: Uncontrollable machine self-improvement would one day overcome humanity. A dismal fate awaited us. We would be lucky to be domesticated as pets kept around for the amusement of superior entities, who could kill us all as easily as we exterminate pests.

Today we fear a different technological threat, one that centers not on machines but other humans. We see ourselves as imperiled by the terrifying social influence unleashed by the Internet in general and social media in particular. We hear warnings that nothing less than our collective ability to perceive reality is at stake, and that if we do not take corrective action we will lose our freedoms and way of life.

More here.

Sean Carroll’s Mindscape Podcast: Zeynep Tufekci on Information and Attention in a Networked World

Sean Carroll in Preposterous Universe:

In a world flooded with information, everybody necessarily makes choices about what we pay attention to. This basic fact can be manipulated in any number of ways, from advertisers micro-targeting specific groups to repressive governments flooding social media with misinformation, or for that matter well-meaning people passing along news from sketchy sources. Zeynep Tufekci is a sociologist who studies the flow of information and its impact on society, especially through social media. She has provided insightful analyses of protest movements, online privacy, and the Covid-19 pandemic. We talk about how technology has been shaping the information space we all inhabit.

More here.

Shakespeare’s plays meet plagiarism-detection software

Steve Donoghue in the Christian Science Monitor:

The “rogue scholar” referred to in Michael Blandings’ captivating book, “North by Shakespeare: A Rogue Scholar’s Quest for the Truth Behind the Bard’s Work,” is a researcher who has confronted one of the most entrenched literary orthodoxies: that William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon wrote the plays that bear his name.

Dennis McCarthy, an amateur independent researcher, is hardly the first to challenge that orthodoxy, of course. For well over a century, iconoclasts of all stripes, including such public figures as Sigmund Freud, Helen Keller, Henry James (who came to think that “the divine William is the biggest and most successful fraud ever practiced on a patient world”), and of course Mark Twain, whose little 1909 book “Is Shakespeare Dead?” still makes hugely entertaining reading.

As Blanding relates, McCarthy’s approach to this vexing question centers on Elizabethan courtier and famed Plutarch translator Sir Thomas North. McCarthy’s innovation isn’t to contend that North actually wrote the plays that bear Shakespeare’s name; instead, he argues that Shakespeare wrote the plays by plagiarizing liberally from North’s earlier works, some of which were published and are now lost.

More here.

Brain wifi

Johnjoe McFadden in Aeon:

Some 2,700 years ago in the ancient city of Sam’al, in what is now modern Turkey, an elderly servant of the king sits in a corner of his house and contemplates the nature of his soul. His name is Katumuwa. He stares at a basalt stele made for him, featuring his own graven portrait together with an inscription in ancient Aramaic. It instructs his family, when he dies, to celebrate ‘a feast at this chamber: a bull for Hadad harpatalli and a ram for Nik-arawas of the hunters and a ram for Shamash, and a ram for Hadad of the vineyards, and a ram for Kubaba, and a ram for my soul that is in this stele.’ Katumuwa believed that he had built a durable stone receptacle for his soul after death. This stele might be one of the earliest written records of dualism: the belief that our conscious mind is located in an immaterial soul or spirit, distinct from the matter of the body.

More than 2 millennia later, I was also contemplating the nature of the soul, as my son lay propped up on a hospital gurney. He was undertaking an electroencephalogram (EEG), a test that detects electrical activity in the brain, for a condition that fortunately turned out to be benign. As I watched the irregular wavy lines march across the screen, with spikes provoked by his perceptions of events such as the banging of a door, I wondered at the nature of the consciousness that generated those signals.

Just how do the atoms and molecules that make up the neurons in our brain – not so different to the bits of matter in Katumwa’s inert stele or the steel barriers on my son’s hospital bed – manage to generate human awareness and the power of thought? In answering that longstanding question, most neurobiologists today would point to the information-processing performed by brain neurons. For both Katumuwa and my son, this would begin as soon as light and sound reached their eyes and ears, stimulating their neurons to fire in response to different aspects of their environment. For Katumuwa, perhaps, this might have been the pinecone or comb that his likeness was holding on the stele; for my son, the beeps from the machine or the movement of the clock on the wall.

More here.

Let Us Now Praise Tiny Ants

Brooke Jarvis in The New York Times:

It is telling, the entomologist Eleanor Spicer Rice writes in her introduction to a new book of ant photography by Eduard Florin Niga, that humans looking downward on each other from great heights like to describe the miniaturized people we see below us as looking “like ants.” By this we mean faceless, tiny, swarming: an indecipherable mass stripped of individuality or interest. Intellectually, though, we can recognize that each scurrying dot is in fact a unique person with a complicated and interconnected life, even if distance appears to wipe away all that diversity and complexity. So then why, Dr. Rice asks, don’t we apply the same logic to the ants we’re comparing ourselves to?

We share our world with at least 15,000 unique species of ants — although this is surely an underestimate, as we have no way to count the number of species still unknown to science. It is hard to express how ubiquitous they are. If you were to put all the animal life in a Brazilian rainforest on a scale, more than one-quarter of the weight would come just from ants. Even the sidewalks of New York City — where pedestrians walk unknowingly above armies of pavement ants that undertake huge, deadly turf wars each spring, dismembering each other in epic battles for territory — are teeming. One study found an average of 2.3 ant species on a given city median, doing the invisible work of making fallen potato chips and hot dogs disappear by the pound. Even in our densest habitations, there are orders of magnitude more of them than there are of us.

More here.

Tuesday Poem

Under One Small Star

My apologies to chance for calling it necessity.
My apologies to necessity if I’m mistaken, after all.
Please, don’t be angry, happiness, that I take you as my due.
May my dead be patient with the way my memories fade.
My apologies to time for all the world I overlook each second.
My apologies to past loves for thinking that the latest is the first.
Forgive me, distant wars, for bringing flowers home.
Forgive me, open wounds, for pricking my finger.
I apologize for my record of minuets to those who cry from the depths.
I apologize to those who wait in railway stations for being asleep today at five a.m.
Pardon me, hounded hope, for laughing from time to time.
Pardon me, deserts, that I don’t rush to you bearing a spoonful of water.
And you, falcon, unchanging year after year, always in the same cage,
your gaze always fixed on the same point in space,
forgive me, even if it turns out you were stuffed.
My apologies to the felled tree for the table’s four legs.
My apologies to great questions for small answers.
Truth, please don’t pay me much attention.
Dignity, please be magnanimous.
Bear with me, O mystery of existence, as I pluck the occasional thread from your train.
Soul, don’t take offense that I’ve only got you now and then.
My apologies to everything that I can’t be everywhere at once.
My apologies to everyone that I can’t be each woman and each man.
I know I won’t be justified as long as I live,
since I myself stand in my own way.
Don’t bear me ill will, speech, that I borrow weighty words,
then labor heavily so that they may seem light.

by Wislawa Szymborska
View With a Grain of Sand
Harcourt Brace, 1993

The Making of Billy Wilder

Noah Isenberg at The Paris Review:

Although Wilder père had other plans for his son—a respectable, stable career in the law, an exalted path for good Jewish boys of interwar Vienna—Billie was drawn, almost habitually, to the seductive world of urban and popular culture and to the stories generated and told from within it. “I just fought with my father to become a lawyer,” he recounted for the filmmaker Cameron Crowe in Conversations with Wilder: “That I didn’t want to do, and I saved myself, by having become a newspaperman, a reporter, very badly paid.” As he explains a bit further in the same interview, “I started out with crossword puzzles, and I signed them.” (Toward the end of his life, after having racked up six Academy Awards, Wilder told his German biographer that it wasn’t so much the awards he was most proud of, but rather that his name had appeared twice in the New York Times crossword puzzle: “once 17 across and once 21 down.”)

more here.

Paranoia’s Pleasures

Zoë Hu at The Believer:

I am a paranoid person, which, if we’re not going to be fussy about clinical definitions, means I feel a constant unreasonable fear, one ruled by no overarching logic or taxonomy. I am paranoid about my relationships and my work. I am paranoid about rising sea levels, air pollutants, tap water, dark parking lots, and the back seat of my car. I am paranoid about whether I’ve locked the door—really, properly locked the door. I experience frequent bouts of paranoia in regards to the men in my life—what do they get up to when I’m not around?—as well as to many men I do not know. I realize I don’t look like the paranoid type, which is culturally coded as someone white and male, so I am also paranoid about other paranoiacs, what they make of my face and my monosyllabic last name.

In other words, I am fixated on what I must regularly confront yet cannot control. It is a very human condition, if not the human condition. Philip K. Dick once said that “the ultimate in paranoia is not when everyone is against you but when everything is against you.” 

more here.

Effective Altruism Is Not Effective

by Thomas R. Wells

Effective altruism is based on a very simple idea: we should do the most good we can. Obeying the usual rules about not stealing, cheating, hurting, and killing is not enough, or at least not enough for those of us who have the good fortune to live in material comfort, who can feed, house, and clothe ourselves and our families and still have money or time to spare. Living a minimally acceptable ethical life involves using a substantial part of our spare resources to make the world a better place. Living a fully ethical life involves doing the most good we can. —Peter Singer

It is almost universally agreed that the persistence of extreme poverty in many parts of the world is a bad thing. It is less well-agreed, even among philosophers, what should be done about it and by who. An influential movement founded by the philosopher Peter Singer argues that we should each try to do the best we can by donating our surplus income to charities that help those in greatest need. This ‘effective altruism’ movement has two components: i) encouraging individuals in the rich world to donate more; and ii) encouraging us to donate more rationally, to the organisations most efficient at translating those donations into gains in human well-being.

Unfortunately both components of effective altruism focus on what makes giving good rather than on achieving valuable goals. Effective altruism therefore does not actually aim at the elimination of global poverty as is often supposed. Indeed, its distinctive commitment to the logic of individualist consumerism makes it constitutionally incapable of achieving such a large scale project. Effective altruism is designed to fail. Read more »

Where work came from and where it is going

by Emrys Westacott

If, for a long time now, you’ve been getting up early in the morning, setting off to school or your workplace, getting there at the required time, spending the day performing your assigned tasks (with a few scheduled breaks), going home at the pre-ordained time, spending a few hours doing other things before bedtime, then getting up the next morning to go through the same routine, and doing this most days of the week, most weeks of the year, most years of your life, then the working life in its modern form is likely to seem quite natural. But a little knowledge of history or anthropology suffices to prove that it ain’t necessarily so.

Work, and the way it fits into one’s life, can be and often has been, less rigid and routinized than is common today. In modernized societies, work is organized around the clock, and most jobs are shoehorned into the same eight-hour schedule. In the past, and in some cultures still today, other factors–the seasons, the weather, tradition, the availability of light, the availability of labor–determine which tasks are done when.

Nevertheless, it is reasonable to see the basic overarching pattern–a tripartite division of the day into work, leisure, and sleep–as having deep evolutionary roots. After all, the daily routine of primates like chimpanzees exhibits a similar pattern. Work for them consists of foraging, hunting, and building nests for sleeping. Leisure activities consist of playing, grooming, and other forms of socializing, including sex. They typically sleep rather more than us; but the structure of their days roughly maps onto that of most humans. The major difference between us and our closest relatives in the animal kingdom lies not so much in how we divide up our day as in the variety and complexity of our work and leisure activities. Read more »