“Drive My Car”, a New Adaptation of the Haruki Murakami Story, Far Surpasses Its Source Material

Ryan Chapman at Literary Hub:

About halfway through Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s three-hour film someone asks Yūsuke Kafuku, an actor and theater director, why he didn’t cast himself as the titular character in his production of Uncle Vanya. “Chekhov is terrifying,” he replies. “When you say his lines, it drags out the real you.”

Kafuku, played with unyielding stoicism by Hidetoshi Nishijima, has good reason to hide his real self. He’s still grieving the loss of his young daughter, and his interlocutor in this scene is Kōji Takatsuki, a volatile young actor who had an affair with Kafuku’s wife Oto shortly before her death. Takatsuki doesn’t realize that Kafuku knows about the infidelity. What’s more, Kafuku has cast him as Vanya—which the young hotshot is plainly unsuited for—in a multilingual stage production in Hiroshima. Is the cuckold tormenting his dead wife’s lover? Using the play to interrogate something darker about his marriage?

If this sounds like melodrama, Hamaguchi has declared his love of the genre. But this isn’t Douglas Sirk or Pedro Almodóvar. The plot machinations are subdued, stretched out—an acoustic cover of a pop earworm. For Hamaguchi, tone supersedes plot, and an actor’s face always says more than a line of dialogue.

More here.

Sean Carroll’s Mindscape Podcast: William Ratcliff on Multicellularity, Physics, and Evolution

Sean Carroll in Preposterous Universe:

We’ve talked about the very origin of life, but certain transitions along its subsequent history were incredibly important. Perhaps none more so than the transition from unicellular to multicellular organisms, which made possible an incredible diversity of organisms and structures. Will Ratcliff studies the physics that constrains multicellular structures, examines the minute changes in certain yeast cells that allows them to become multicellular, and does long-term evolution experiments in which multicellularity spontaneously evolves and grows. We can’t yet create life from non-life, but we can reproduce critical evolutionary steps in the lab.

More here.


Scott Alexander in Astral Codex Ten:

When I reviewed Vitamin D, I said I was about 75% sure it didn’t work against COVID. When I reviewed ivermectin, I said I was about 90% sure.

Another way of looking at this is that I must think there’s a 25% chance Vitamin D works, and a 10% chance ivermectin does. Both substances are generally safe with few side effects. So (as many commenters brought up) there’s a Pascal’s Wager like argument that someone with COVID should take both. The downside is some mild inconvenience and cost (both drugs together probably cost $20 for a week-long course). The upside is a well-below-50% but still pretty substantial probability that they could save my life.

(Alexandros Marinos has also been thinking about this, and calls it Omura’s Wager)

We can go further.

More here.

Your Brain Is an Energy-Efficient ‘Prediction Machine’

Anil Ananthaswamy in Wired:

HOW OUR BRAIN, a three-pound mass of tissue encased within a bony skull, creates perceptions from sensations is a long-standing mystery. Abundant evidence and decades of sustained research suggest that the brain cannot simply be assembling sensory information, as though it were putting together a jigsaw puzzle, to perceive its surroundings. This is borne out by the fact that the brain can construct a scene based on the light entering our eyes, even when the incoming information is noisy and ambiguous.

Consequently, many neuroscientists are pivoting to a view of the brain as a “prediction machine.” Through predictive processing, the brain uses its prior knowledge of the world to make inferences or generate hypotheses about the causes of incoming sensory information. Those hypotheses—and not the sensory inputs themselves—give rise to perceptions in our mind’s eye. The more ambiguous the input, the greater the reliance on prior knowledge. “The beauty of the predictive processing framework [is] that it has a really large—sometimes critics might say too large—capacity to explain a lot of different phenomena in many different systems,” said Floris de Lange, a neuroscientist at the Predictive Brain Lab of Radboud University in the Netherlands. However, the growing neuroscientific evidence for this idea has been mainly circumstantial and is open to alternative explanations. “If you look into cognitive neuroscience and neuro-imaging in humans, [there’s] a lot of evidence—but super-implicit, indirect evidence,” said Tim Kietzmann of Radboud University, whose research lies in the interdisciplinary area of machine learning and neuroscience.

So researchers are turning to computational models to understand and test the idea of the predictive brain. Computational neuroscientists have built artificial neural networks, with designs inspired by the behavior of biological neurons, that learn to make predictions about incoming information. These models show some uncanny abilities that seem to mimic those of real brains. Some experiments with these models even hint that brains had to evolve as prediction machines to satisfy energy constraints.

More here.

DNA mutations are hard to fix. Scientists are trying another approach

Lina Zeldovich in Nautilus:

Most American newborns will arrive home from the hospital and start hitting their developmental milestones, to their parents’ delight. They will hold their heads up by about three months. They will sit up by six. And they will walk around their first birthday. But about 1 in 10,000 will not. They will feel limp in their caregivers’ arms, won’t lift their heads, and will never learn to sit on their own. When their alarmed parents seek medical help, the babies will be diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy, or SMA, a neuromuscular disease in which certain motor neurons of the spinal cord progressively deteriorate. The disease is triggered by a genetic malfunction that boils down to the gene called SMN2 (survival motor neuron 2), which causes bits of vital proteins to assemble incorrectly, resulting in progressive muscle weakness and paralysis.

Until five years ago, this diagnosis wasn’t far from a death sentence. SMA was considered the most common genetic cause of infant mortality. Many babies with SMA didn’t live to celebrate their second birthdays. Some lived past their toddlerhood, but never grew strong enough to run around or play with other kids and eventually succumbed to the disease. But in 2016 that dire prognosis changed for the first time in history—thanks to a new FDA-approved therapeutic developed by Adrian Krainer, a biochemist at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, in collaboration with Ionis Pharmaceuticals and Biogen.

More here.

Tuesday Poem

A Modified Villanelle for my Childhood

……with some help from Ahmad

I wanna write lyrical, but all I got is magical.
My book needs a poem talkin bout I remember when
Something more autobiographical

Mi familia wanted to assimilate, nothing radical,
Each month was a struggle to pay our rent
With food stamps, so dust collects on the magical.

Each month it got a little less civil
Isolation is a learned defense
When all you wanna do is write lyrical.

None of us escaped being a criminal
Of the state, institutionalized when
They found out all we had was magical.

White room is white room, it’s all statistical—
Our calendars were divided by Sundays spent
In visiting hours. Cold metal chairs deny the lyrical.

I keep my genes in the sharp light of the celestial.
My history writes itself in sheets across my veins.
My parents believed in prayer, I believed in magical

Well, at least I believed in curses, biblical
Or not, I believed in sharp fists,
Beat myself into lyrical.

But we were each born into this, anger so cosmical
Or so I thought, I wore ten chokers and a chain
Couldn’t see any significance, anger is magical.
Fists to scissors to drugs to pills to fists again

Did you know a poem can be both mythical and archeological?
I ignore the cataphysical, and I anoint my own clavicle.

by Suzi F. Garcia
from the
Academy of American Poets

Does Democracy Exist?

by Scott F. Aikin and Robert B. Talisse

We tend to think of democracy as a set of governmental institutions. We see it as a political order characterized by open elections, constitutional constraints, the rule of law, freedom of speech, a free press, an independent judiciary, and so on. This makes good sense. These institutions indeed loom large in our political lives.

However, political institutions differ considerably from one purportedly democratic society to the next. Voting procedures, representation schemes, conceptions of free speech, and judicial arrangements are not uniform across societies that are widely regarded as democratic. In some of these countries, voting is required by law and military service is mandatory. In others, these acts are voluntary.  Some democratic countries have distinct speech restrictions, others have different and blurrier boundaries. And the ancient Athenians appointed their representatives to the Boule by lot, instead of by vote. Given these variations, how can these societies all be democracies?

This leads to the thought that although certain institutional forms are characteristic of democracies, democracy itself should be identified with the kind of society those institutions realize. We hence can see how two societies with distinct constitutions nevertheless can be democratic.

This prompts the obvious question: What kind of society is a democracy? Read more »

Counting with Polygons

by Jonathan Kujawa

Count von Count [0]
When I was in first grade we learned to count to 100. We counted by ones, but also by twos, fives, and tens (2, 4, 6, 8, …, or 5, 10, 15, 20, …, or 10, 20, 30,…). On the plus side, this is handy when you want to count to large numbers.

But even my teacher would admit that’s not much of an upside. Certainly, I was more motivated by the sticker you got for hitting 100 than the counting itself.

Another downside is that you can’t count to every number. If you need to count to sixteen, you can do it with twos, but not fives or tens. This is fixable, though. We just need to agree that 1 can be included when we count, regardless of how we are counting. Then counting by fives turns into 16 = 15 + 1 or 16 = 10 + 1 + 1 + 1 + 1 + 1 + 1. If it makes you feel better, you can think of 1 as a sort of degenerate two, five, and ten.

With 1 in hand, we can count to any number we like, so the question becomes what are the fewest numbers we could use? To count to seven using twos, you could do it as 7 = 1+1+1+1+1+1 or 7=4+1+1+1, but plainly 7=6+1 is the smallest sum that works.  But that question is still rather dull, to be honest. It seems counting is unavoidably boring.

Or is it?

I’m bummed my math education never got around to some of the interesting ways to count.

For example, how about the square numbers:

1, 4, 9, 16, 25, 36, ….?

The first question is if you can even use these to count. That is, can you get to any number you like by adding up squares? Sure. Since we have 1, we can always just count by ones. The real question is if we can do better. In 1770 Lagrange proved that every natural number (that is, 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, …) can be written as a sum of four or fewer squares. For example, 14 = 9 + 4 + 1. In modern terms, we would state Lagrange’s theorem by saying that

w² + x² + y² + z²

is universal. Read more »

The moveable musical feast of Jung Jaeil

by Brooks Riley

A soft-spoken, self-effacing young man from Seoul may be the most listened-to living composer on the planet right now, with two blockbuster works of cinema and TV on his resumé. Not only did Jung Jaeil compose the score for the Oscar-winning Parasite, but his subsequent gig, Squid Game, has just stormed into the record books: Seen and heard by hundreds of millions by now, it has become a global phenomenon, another sign of South Korea’s approaching and encroaching hegemony over all things cultural.

Learning more about the elusive Mr. Jung is not as easy as it would seem, even if he’s all over YouTube and even if his English, if you can find it, is as elegant and formal as it is fluent: Thank you so very much, he said last week upon receiving a prize for Squid Game (that inserted ‘so’  a rarity of politesse). His Wikipedia entry is woefully thin, and mystery shrouds his early life. Most of his interviews are in Korean and not subtitled, including a Q&A on stage with Bong Joon-ho, director of Parasite, who discovered Jung Jaeil through a 2014 film Bong wrote and produced, Sea Fog (Haemoo).

As obscure as his biography may be, the task of placing this peripatetic music maker inside a category is even more daunting. From an astonishingly early age, as a quasi auto-didact, he has straddled the yawning divide between pop and classical, performing in a funk band while immersing himself in the Western canon. He wrote his first film music at 15, for an R-rated movie he wasn’t even old enough to see. It’s been a long journey from funk to punk to the barefoot-performing monk he resembles today at 39, but Jung is a master of metamorphosis, his musical transformations enhanced by fluctuating involvements in social and global issues, historical commemorations, theatre, art installations and pop music, as well as his attention to traditional Korean music—all adding up to many more commitments than one might expect from any other producer of tonal atmosphere for worldwide box-office hits. Read more »


Mary Kuper. “… our curious type of existence here.”

“A response to the close of David Jones’s introduction to ‘In Parenthesis’

This writing is called ‘In Parenthesis’ because I have written it in a kind of spaces between — I don’t know between quite what— but as you turn aside to do something; and because for us amateur soldiers (and especially for the writer, who was not only amateur, but grotesquely incompetent, a knocker-over-of –piles, a parade’s despair) the war itself was a parenthesis— how glad we were to step outside its brackets at the end of ’18—and also because our curious type of existence here is altogether in parenthesis.”

More here, here, and here.

Thanks for the introduction Vicki Sharp!

Caught in the Middle: The Boycotted Students of NYU Tel Aviv

by Ethan Seavey

Tel Aviv Port. Photo by Ethan Seavey

The door to the lounge is heavy. Six students enter and sit on large bean bags and a small couch and two cots. They laugh as someone struggles to connect their computer to the television. Behind or between them is a plate with writing in Hebrew, directing attention to the metal door set into the floor. It leads to the common room on the floor below as I’ve been told. The television is turned on and the lights are turned off; but no, the room does not become a dark void with their focus turned to the screen. Eerie green light radiates from the corners, where glow-in-the-dark tape has been pasted. Here, the common room is a bomb shelter. The students who live here brush it off; but I, the visitor, cannot shake the idea of that heavy door slamming shut and the lights going out and the room filling with green and the cots being shared by the six of us.

The students at NYU Tel Aviv are caught in the middle. Fortunately they have not been in any danger—unlike many because of the conflict between Israel and Palestine—but in Tel Aviv they are stuck in the center of the rising tensions within their academic community. In May 2021, a letter was drafted calling for members of the New York University community to support academic non-cooperation with the campus in Tel Aviv until Israel is de-militarized and Palestinian students are offered equal opportunities for education. Over a hundred faculty signed the letter, and it’s safe to say that the sentiment is shared by a lot of students as well.

I knew about this before I made the journey from Paris to Tel Aviv to visit my boyfriend in this past month. He’s a student of NYU Tel Aviv. COVID blocked travel for the past few months, but Israel opened up to tourists in November, and I took the many bureaucratic steps necessary to visit him for a very short weekend. Read more »

Complementarity and the world: Niels Bohr’s message in a bottle

by Ashutosh Jogalekar

Niels Bohr (Getty Images)

Werner Heisenberg was on a boat with Niels Bohr and a few friends, shortly after he discovered his famous uncertainty principle in 1927. A bedrock of quantum theory, the principle states that one cannot determine both the velocity and the position of particles like electrons with arbitrary accuracy. Heisenberg’s discovery foretold of an intrinsic opposition between these quantities; better knowledge of one necessarily meant worse knowledge of the other. Talk turned to physics, and after Bohr had described Heisenberg’s seminal insight, one of his friends quipped, “But Niels, this is not really new, you said exactly the same thing ten years ago.”

In fact, Bohr had already convinced Heisenberg that his uncertainty principle was a special case of a more general idea that Bohr had been expounding for some time – a thread of Ariadne that would guide travelers lost through the quantum world; a principle of great and general import named the principle of complementarity.

Complementarity arose naturally for Bohr after the strange discoveries of subatomic particles revealed a world that was fundamentally probabilistic. The positions of subatomic particles could not be assigned with definite certainty but only with statistical odds. This was a complete break with Newtonian classical physics where particles had a definite trajectory, a place in the world order that could be predicted with complete certainty if one had the right measurements and mathematics at hand. In 1925, working at Bohr’s theoretical physics institute in Copenhagen, Heisenberg was Bohr’s most important protégé had invented quantum theory when he was only twenty-four. Two years later came uncertainty; Heisenberg grasped that foundational truth about the physical world when Bohr was away on a skiing trip in Norway and Heisenberg was taking a walk at night in the park behind the institute. Read more »

‘Victim blaming’

by Peter Wells

Dafne Keen as Lyra in ‘His Dark Materials’

In Philip Pullman’s 2019 novel The Secret Commonwealth, the hero, Lyra, aged around twenty, suffers an attempted rape. If I say it is the most convincing description of a sexual assault I have ever read, this is not to say much, as I have never been raped, though in my youth I had some unpleasant encounters with predatory men that gave me some inkling of it. Anyway, it’s a creditable effort by Pullman to depict a nightmare experienced much more often by women than by men, and he should be applauded for attempting to help his readers (male readers especially) to imagine it.

The scene begins in a train, where Lyra finds herself, far from her own country, in a carriage occupied by soldiers whose language she does not know. There have already been grins and nudges, and alcohol has started to circulate.

The bottle went around the compartment again; the talk became louder and looser. They were talking about her, there was no doubt about that: their eyes moved over her body, one man was licking his lips, another clasping the crotch of his trousers.

Lyra attempts to escape, only for the man opposite to push her back into the seat and say something to the man by the door,

who reached up and pulled down the blind over the corridor window. Lyra stood up again, and again the soldier pushed her back, this time squeezing her breast as he did so.

Then the assault proper begins, as all the soldiers launch themselves upon her. Read more »

Rorty’s Ways of Arguing

by Tim Sommers

This past Friday, 3 Quarks Daily linked to a review by George Scialabba of the recent posthumous publication of a Richard Rorty lecture series called Pragmatism as Anti-Authoritarianism. The review was called, “Should Philosophy Retire?” I promised myself I wouldn’t respond to it. That I wouldn’t respond, for example, to the claim that philosophy “led Western thought into a dead end and should be retired”.

Or Scialabba’s claim that Hume, Mill, and William James would agree with this, and Rorty’s that Dewey, Wittgenstein, and Heidegger would too. But when Scialabba went on to insist that Rorty is “widely-revered”, I had, at least to ask this much. “Widely-revered” by whom? Not by philosophers, surely.

But let me start by saying something positive about Rorty. Rorty is a clear, crisp, concise writer whose  prose style fits firmly within the analytic tradition. Analytic philosophers are seldom credited as great writers, but the best are great. “I prefer desert landscapes,” Quine said in explaining his thinking, but it might as well as been his prose he was describing. “To be is to be the value of a bound variable,” was his answer to the mystery of existence. “Science,” he wrote “ is not a substitute for common sense, but an extension of it.” And Donald Davidson, another great writer, spare but whimsical, famously wrote that “Conceptual relativism is a heady and exotic doctrine or would be if we could make good sense of it. The trouble is, as so often in philosophy, it is hard to improve intelligibility while retaining the excitement.” (Keep that one in mind for later.) Rorty had a similar style and a similar talent for turns of phrase. “The world does not speak,” he wrote, “Only we do.” Since Rorty was one of the few analytic philosophers widely read outside the field, I think he is, as a writer, if not a thinker, our prose emissary to the wider academic world.

It was Rorty’s argumentation that was infuriating. Read more »

Philosophy of Right: Hegel in the 21st Century

by Chris Horner

Among the books of the nineteenth century that have something important to say to us now Hegel’s  Elements of the Philosophy of Right  (1820) deserves a prominent place. It’s not the obvious contender for a popular read in the 21st century. He doesn’t make it easy for himself, if getting readers was the aim as his  ‘grotesque and rocky melody’ (Marx) takes some getting used to, and one has to work a bit to to grasp his arguments. So its not a surprise that is more written about than actually read. This is a pity, as it is right up there with Plato’s Republic and Hobbes’ Leviathan as one of the great works of ethical and political philosophy, with arguably even more direct and relevant things to tell us about our society than those other two classics.  It’s a text that has been seriously misunderstood and misrepresented – most notoriously by those who represent him as having announced ‘the end of history’.  It is true that something, for Hegel, is coming to an end in our time, but it isn’t exactly history.  Hegel gives us an acute and pressingly relevant diagnosis of both the promise of modernity, and the contradictions that threaten it. Citizens in the age of Trump, Johnson, Xi Jinping and Biden would do well to attend to what he has to say in these pages. 

It is a troubling text for liberals, not because it is anti liberal in the sense of being opposed to the values liberals hold dear (dignity of the individual, freedom of conscience, rights and so on) but rather because its author regards the insights of liberals as dangerously limited. Liberalism, with its focus on the freedom of the individual, sees the function of the state as guarantor of the freedom of the individual, in the context of a civil society and free market. But for Hegel, genuine freedom means more than this. Read more »

Do People Care About Foreigners?

by Varun Gauri

Do most people care a whit about foreigners? Would they be willing to reduce their own countries’ well-being for the benefit of foreign nationals? Global cooperation entails a variety of incentive-compatible deals among nation-states, but it rests, ultimately, on cosmopolitan values. If people can’t be bothered with the citizens of other countries, the prospect for long-term, stable solutions to crises like climate change, pandemic diseases, migration, and trade policy may be bleak. 

In series of large, representative surveys from Spain, the United Kingdom, Germany, China, Japan, the United States, Colombia, and Guatemala, my recent paper with Xuechunzi Bai and Susan Fiske finds more support for moral cosmopolitanism than a quick scan of the news headlines might lead one to suspect. 

Broadly speaking, respondents everywhere distinguish preventing harm to foreign citizens, which almost everyone supports, from redistributing resources, which about half of respondents endorse. These two psychological dimensions of moral cosmopolitanism, equitable security (preventing harm) and equitable benefits (redistributing resources), are correlated with attitudes toward contested international policies, such as support for international organizations, reducing a nation’s carbon footprint, enforcing anti-bribery rules, and expanding international migration. The equitable benefits dimensions also predicts the likelihood of sending real resources to international, rather than domestic, NGOs, as well as support for the global distribution of masks to fight Covid-19. The equitable security dimension predicts responses to a thought experiment protecting foreigners, as well as support for vaccinating the world against Covid-19. In short, people tend to temper their altruism with a dose of moral parochialism, or patriotism, when redistributing benefits, but they are moral altruists when preventing harms.  Read more »


by David Oates

A scar is a shiny place with a story.

A skink is a story you could never imagine.

It leaves a bright streak across your vision and an after-image you might notice even years later, neon greeny blue flashing amidst weed and dry stone and buckbrush and bending sumac trees. Our mountains were called the San Gabriels, a name somehow just barely noble enough for these creatures. In their foothills skinks appeared to us like tiny fragile dragons, fully astonishing, sinuous, and menacing. They liked to writhe. Would bite, the bony jaws clamping onto a fingertip, a ten-year-old’s screaming terror – until it was seen that the grim little mouth could not break the skin. The beast just hung on there, flailing, until screams turned to laughter and showing off, “Lookit, lookit, lookit. . .!”

If someone tried to tell you about skink, it would sound like a lie, an exaggeration. Just seeing it certainly outstripped the lame awe-mongering of, for example, Superman comic books.

And made you wonder what else might be out there.

When my mother’s voice rose up on a summer eve, and we had been allowed to play outside after dinner. When I noticed the mourning doves silhouetted on telephone wires above us, repeating and repeating their strangeness and sadness. Perhaps I would see her standing in the illuminated doorway, in the warm air full of chaparral scent drifting downhill off the mountains. Her voice calling then falling still, while the blue-black sky gathered evening under itself. And us in it.

Then the boys would come barging back into the house, and the mood would break and be replaced with all the reassuring commotion we could muster.

 Once in a while my mom would accidentally back into the truth, like hitting something in the garage with her fender. “Well, we raised them by hand, so. . .” This was not really apology, just what we were: three dusty, slightly used boys, with dents here and there and unstraightened teeth. Read more »