Several years ago, workers breaking ground for a power plant in New Zealand unearthed a record of a lost time: a 60-ton trunk from a kauri tree, the largest tree species in New Zealand. The tree, which grew 42,000 years ago, was preserved in a bog and its rings spanned 1700 years, capturing a tumultuous time when the world was turned upside down—at least magnetically speaking.
Radiocarbon levels in this and several other pieces of wood chart a surge in radiation from space, as Earth’s protective magnetic field weakened and its poles flipped, a team of scientists reports today in Science. By modeling the effect of this radiation on the atmosphere, the team suggests Earth’s climate briefly shifted, perhaps contributing to the disappearance of large mammals in Australia and Neanderthals in Europe.
Charles Goodhart and Manoj Pradhan in the LSE Business Review:
The rise of China to the status of economic superpower has been the dominant narrative of the last three decades. China’s rise as the main feature of globalisation, in conjunction with a beneficial sweet spot in demography, drove output up and inflation down in the advanced economies. But these trends are now reversing. China’s economic success depended on many factors, a strong historical social and cultural background, political single-mindedness, a flexible and competent labour force, fed by internal migration, capital controls, developing satisfactory infrastructure and absorption of Western technological know-how. But China’s greatest contribution to global growth is now past. Its working age population is now shrinking, while the ranks of the old expands.
This great demographic reversal will lead to a return of inflation, higher nominal interest rates, lessening inequality and higher productivity, but worsening fiscal problems, as medical, care and pension expenditures all increase in our ageing societies. Below are key points in our new book. They are the executive summaries of some of its chapters.
Dreams are full of possibilities; by drifting into the world beyond our waking realities, we can visit magical lands, travel through time and interact with long-lost family and friends. The notion of communicating in real time with someone outside of our dreamscapes, however, sounds like science fiction. A new study demonstrates that, to some extent, this seeming fantasy can be made real. Scientists already knew that one-way contact is attainable. Previous studies have demonstrated that people can process external cues, such as sounds and smells, while asleep. There is also evidence that people are able to send messages in the other direction: Lucid dreamers—those who can become aware they are in a dream—can be trained to signal, using eye movements, that they are in the midst of a dream. Two-way communication, however, is more complex. It requires a person who is asleep to actually understand what they hear from the outside and think about it logically enough to generate an answer, explains Ken Paller, a cognitive neuroscientist at Northwestern University. “We believed that it was going to be possible—but until we actually demonstrated it, we weren’t sure.”
For this study, Paller and his colleagues recruited volunteers who said they remembered at least one dream per week and provided them with guidance on how to lucid dream. They were also trained to respond to simple math problems by moving their eyes back and forth—for example, the correct answer to “eight minus six,” would be moving your eyes to the left and right twice. While the participants slept, electrodes attached to their faces picked up their eye movements and electroencephalography (EEG)—a method of monitoring brain activity—kept track of what stage of sleep they were in.
Poetry as Insurgent Art [I am signaling you through the flames]
I am signaling you through the flames. The North Pole is not where it used to be. Manifest Destiny is no longer manifest. Civilization self-destructs. Nemesis is knocking at the door.
What are poets for, in such an age? What is the use of poetry?
The state of the world calls out for poetry to save it.
If you would be a poet, create works capable of answering the challenge of apocalyptic times, even if this meaning sounds apocalyptic.
You are Whitman, you are Poe, you are Mark Twain, you are Emily Dickinson and Edna St. Vincent Millay, you are Neruda and Mayakovsky and Pasolini, you are an American or a non- American, you can conquer the conquerors with words….
Hinton Rowan Helper was an unreserved bigot from North Carolina who wrote hateful, racist tracts during Reconstruction. He was also, in the years leading up to the Civil War, a determined abolitionist.
His 1857 book, “The Impending Crisis of the South,” argued that chattel slavery had deformed the Southern economy and impoverished the region. Members of the plantation class refused to invest in education, in enterprise, in the community at large, because they didn’t have to. Helper’s concern wasn’t the enslaved Black people brutalized by what he called the “lords of the lash”; he was worried about the white laborers in the South, relegated by the slave economy and its ruling oligarchs to a “cesspool of ignorance and degradation.” Helper and his argument come up early on in Heather McGhee’s illuminating and hopeful new book, “The Sum of Us” — though McGhee, a descendant of enslaved people, is very much concerned with the situation of Black Americans, making clear that the primary victims of racism are the people of color who are subjected to it. But “The Sum of Us” is predicated on the idea that little will change until white people realize what racism has cost them too. The material legacy of slavery can be felt to this day, McGhee says, in depressed wages and scarce access to health care in the former Confederacy. But it’s a blight that’s no longer relegated to the region. “To a large degree,” she writes, “the story of the hollowing out of the American working class is a story of the Southern economy, with its deep legacy of exploitative labor and divide-and-conquer tactics, going national.”
As the pandemic has laid bare, the United States is a rich country that also happens to be one of the stingiest when it comes to the welfare of its own people. McGhee, who spent years working on economic policy for Demos, a liberal think tank, says it was the election of Donald Trump in 2016 by a majority of white voters that made her realize how most white voters weren’t “operating in their own rational economic self-interest.” Despite Trump’s populist noises, she writes, his agenda “promised to wreak economic, social and environmental havoc on them along with everyone else.”
More here. (Throughout February, at least one post will be dedicated to honoring Black History Month. The theme this year is: The Family)
Study, reader, before going further, this sonic document: a recording of Jerry Lee Lewis performing “Mean Woman Blues”, with the Nashville Teens (of Surrey) backing him up, at the Star Club of Hamburg, on the night of April 5, 1964. Not when Hendrix immolated his guitar in Monterey, not when Ozzy decapitated a bat in Des Moines: never did rock and roll more fully realize its evil potential.
Much could be said about the confluence of circumstances that made this possible. Lewis was already old at 29, a relic of the 1950s, playing a dated and proto-normie boogie-woogie routine in a city that had recently incubated and then delivered into the world his far more lovable successors — the “Liverpudlian mop-tops”, along with all the other diminutive epithets the press came up with for the Beatles, always more suited to newborn zoo animals than to men.
He was, moreover, still in de-facto exile. The scandal of a marriage (to the extent that we can call it that) in 1957 to his own thirteen-year-old cousin Myra Gale Brown led the American public to conclude that, because his moral person was beyond the pale, his music was therefore unlistenable. In Europe it is not that morality and aesthetics were decoupled, exactly, but rather that their intertwining led to the opposite conclusion: the Germans wanted to hear him not in spite of the fact that he was a psychotic hillbilly, but because of it, and Jerry Lee knew how to summon all the satanic energy of his life and of his nation to satisfy them.
In our postmodern world, studying the classics of ancient Greece and Rome can seem quaint at best, downright repressive at worst. (We are talking about works by dead white men, after all.) Do we still have things to learn from classical philosophy, drama, and poetry? Shadi Bartsch offers a vigorous affirmative to this question in two new books coming from different directions. First, she has newly translated the Aeneid, Vergil’s epic poem about the founding myth of Rome, bringing its themes into conversation with the modern era. Second, in the upcoming Plato Goes to China, she explores how a non-Western society interprets classic works of Western philosophy, and what that tells us about each culture.
Joseph Silverman remembers when he began connecting the dots that would ultimately lead to a new branch of mathematics: April 25, 1992, at a conference at Union College in Schenectady, New York.
It happened by accident while he was at a talk by the decorated mathematician John Milnor. Milnor’s subject was a field called complex dynamics, which Silverman knew little about. But as Milnor introduced some basic ideas, Silverman started to see a striking resemblance to the field of number theory where he was an expert.
“If you just change a couple of the words, there’s an analogous sort of problem,” he remembers thinking to himself.
Silverman, a mathematician at Brown University, left the room inspired. He asked Milnor some follow-up questions over breakfast the next day and then set to work pursuing the analogy. His goal was to create a dictionary that would translate between dynamical systems and number theory.
In 2015, Bon Appétit ran an article by the food writer Dawn Perry about hamantaschen, the triangular cookies that are a tradition during the Jewish festival of Purim. It was headlined — brace yourself for outrage — “How to Make Actually Good Hamantaschen.”
Six years later, a woman named Abigail Koffler found the article while researching hamantaschen fillings. She was not amused.
Perry, Koffler wrote on Twitter, isn’t Jewish. Perry’s husband, Koffler added, had been forced out of his job at Condé Nast last year based on accusations of racial bias. Above all, Koffler objected, “Traditional foods do not automatically need to be updated, especially by someone who does not come from that tradition.”
Much of Cohen’s work is driven by his aversion to a type of spatial metaphor that minimises the value and variety of familiar experience. His first book, Spectacular Allegories (1998), a study of modern American fiction and journalism that emerged from his PhD, questions the postmodern idea that spectacle somehow floats “outside” history and “above” material reality. It was written before Cohen was a practitioner, or even employed Freudian theory. He told me that his “obsessional preoccupation – and I’m pointedly using the singular – has been what is concealed in what is right in front of us, in what is present”. He isn’t only talking about unconscious blind-spots. The book’s title is “filched”, as he puts it, from the American poet Wallace Stevens, and Cohen expressed a particular fondness for Stevens’s idea of a “strange presence that irradiates through the world that his poems are always gesturing towards and trying to get us to see”.
We knew that the persistent cough spelled his end. The fever had preceded it, just as it had in his mother, brother and dozens around him. The contagion that was devastating society had him in its throes. When he finally died, a postmortem showed his lungs had been decimated. He’d suffocated, drowning in his own inflammatory fluids. The young English poet John Keats died aged just 25 in Rome on 23 February 1821, having been diagnosed with tuberculosis, or consumption as it was then known, just over a year before. In 1819, inspired by his medical training and acute observation of his disease, Keats captured the essence of its impact on society.
“Ode to a Nightingale” (1819), written as his symptoms took hold, speaks of “the weariness, the fever and the fret” associated with his condition where “youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies; where but to think is to be full of sorrow and leaden-eyed despairs”, and where the “the dull brain perplexes and retards”. He envies the nightingale, free from disease and able to fly through the woodland skies, while Keats wishes to alleviate his suffering through death: “for many a time I have been half in love with easeful Death, Call’d him soft names in many a mused rhyme, To take into the air my quiet breath; Now more than ever seems it rich to die, To cease upon the midnight with no pain, While thou art pouring forth thy soul abroad In such an ecstasy!”
The young woman who settles beside me on the bench along the running track wears a shirt labeled Nike over one sweat-stained breast. She is probably oblivious to the goddess who personified victory. It is very unlikely that she is also a daughter of the Titan Pallas and the goddess Styx. But as her essence evaporates into my nostrils, I wonder – Are those goddess pheromones that are making me accidentally-on-purpose move my arm closer until it touches her arm and causing her to follicle fan me when she pulls back her long hair and rearranges it with a circle of metal leaves that might be laurel? When she stands, the Sun helmets her blonde head I want to follow her as she continues to fly around the field rewarding the victors with glory and fame, but my mortal rules won’t allow that.
In May 1803 a group of enslaved Africans from present-day Nigeria, of Ebo or Igbo descent, leaped from a single-masted ship into Dunbar Creek off St. Simons Island in Georgia. A slave agent concluded that the Africans drowned and died in an apparent mass suicide. But oral traditions would go on to claim that the Eboes either flew or walked over water back to Africa.
For generations, island residents, known as the Gullah-Geechee people, passed down the tale. When folklorists arrived in the 1930s, Igbo Landing and the story of the flying African assumed a mythological place in African American culture. Though the site carries no bronze plaque and remains unmarked on tourist maps, it has become a symbol of the traumatizing legacy of trans-Atlantic slavery. Poets, artists, filmmakers, jazz musicians, griots, novelists such as Toni Morrison and pop stars like Beyoncé have all told versions of the tale. They’ll often switch up the story’s details to reflect different times and places. Yet the heart of the original tale, one of longing for freedom, beats through each of these retellings. The stories continue to resonate because those yearnings – whether they’re from the cargo hold of a sloop or the confines of a prison cell – remain just as intense today.
As an academic trained in literary history, I always look for the reasons behind a story’s origins, and how stories travel or change over time. Variations of the flying African myth have been recorded from Arkansas to Canada, Cuba and Brazil. Yet even as the many versions cut across the Black diaspora, the legend has coalesced around a single place: St. Simons. An entry in the Georgia Encyclopedia makes a direct correlation between the 1803 rebellion mass suicide and the later, literary folkloric tradition.
Why? One reason is geographic.
More here. (Throughout February, at least one post will be dedicated to honoring Black History Month. The theme this year is: The Family)
An empty space sits where I once sat. I miss it. I miss the strangers I shared it with, and a few regulars with whom I achieved a nodding relationship. A couple of baristas I might greet and chat up. Very briefly.
I miss the space itself – long and wide, its tall ceiling held up by industrial concrete pillars of old-fashioned ornateness reflecting its Model-T era use as a Ford manufactory. The space gave room to think and to be connected yet anonymous, with big tables for groups and – the star attraction for me – counter tables all along the windows where for years I have sat for my afternoon writing and reading. Getting lost in a poem or a book. Jotting a few words experimentally, or working on a chapter in progress. Gazing idly at someone at a sidewalk table (peeking at a book title if I can see it). Taking in the rush of cars and trucks, heading towards their 4:30 gridlock.
Strangers walk by with dogs, or with addictions, or with clothes nicer than I even know the words for. They all make me think. . . of what? Hard to say. How much I like a kind face, or a handsome one. Or an old one with lines.
What unknowabilities we all are.
But this space now sits plague-emptied, closed down apparently permanently. Here I wrote large pieces of my last book. And the one before it. I relied on this perfect one-mile walk from my home, an afternoon leg-stretch, a change of scenery, a change of mind. A way to feel connected to the humans. (But not too connected.)
This sociable, urbane space was a bit of what is called the “New Urbanism,” a thing for which Portland, Oregon had become renowned. But New Urbanism is shut down now. Public spaces empty. Restaurants shuttered. Transit deserted.
As if all that was left us was to revert to the 1950s and move back to the suburbs, isolated and safe, bourgie and dull. For the plague, we fear, may be killing cities as well as individuals. Read more »
A striking aspect of math is its ability to stimulate both our minds and our humanity. We saw this already in our discussion of Francis Su’s book, the Mathematics of Human Flourishing. As he explains more eloquently than I ever could, mathematics belongs with music, poetry, art, and nature in its ability to lift us up from the everyday mundane. Rather recently I learned of a perfect example I thought the readers of 3QD would appreciate. It’s a story that involves both neat mathematics and beautiful humanity.
First, the mathematics. Almost exactly one year ago a research paper was released by Christopher Havens, Stefano Barbero, Umberto Cerruti, and Nadir Murru. You can find it here if you’d like to read the technical details, but let me give you the flavor of what they do.
The topic of the paper is continued fractions. As everyone knows, even if they’ve forgotten, we usually use write numbers using sums. For example, 327 is really shorthand for 300 + 20 + 7. And 0.327 is really shorthand for 3/10 + 2/100 + 7/1000. Of course, to capture all the numbers we are interested in using, we have to allow for infinite sums, even if that is sometimes a dangerous thing to do. For example, when we write
But there is nothing sacrosanct about using repeated sums. We can also use repeated divisions. Once again you need to allow for infinitely many divisions to capture all the numbers we’d like to consider . For example,
Like with sums, we’ve devised a more compact way of writing such continued fractions. Since we can always arrange so that the number above the division bar is a one, we can save ourselves work by only recording the number in front of the addition sign that appear at each level of the fraction. In this case, we would write [1, 2, 2, 2, 2, 2, …] for √2. Read more »
if I’d broken the laws of light— if I’d been arrested by a black hole and sent to prism, would you still visit with spectral frequency and split waves with me? would you help cleave white into colors and set them free to carom off everything in sight replacing the gates of hate with rainbows?
There is a story that Clemenceau, the Prime Minister of France, was in conversation with some German representatives during the Paris peace negations in 1919 that led to the Treaty of Versailles. One of the Germans said something to the effect that in a hundred years time historians would wonder what had really been the cause of the Great War and who had been really responsible. Clemenceau, so the story goes, retorted that one thing was certain: ‘the historians will not say that Belgium invaded Germany’.
The anecdote repays some reflection. On the one hand, its main point seems clear: the brute fact that it was Germany that invaded Belgium and not the other way around cannot be wished away by later historians, whatever else they may say. Clemenceau, of course, is pointing to this as the evidence for the German responsibility for starting the war. On the other hand, the German representative also seems to be right: historians have been discussing the causes and the responsibility for World War One ever since 1914, and show no signs of concluding. The assessment of an event like that depends on interpretation and the sifting of evidence. It isn’t just a matter of pointing what happened on an August day in 1914. Yet some things remain stubbornly the case, we think: German troops violated Belgian neutrality in 1914.
In a hundred years time will historians wonder who won the US Presidential Election of 2020? Perhaps not, but the world we live in seems to be one in which the most ‘stubborn’ facts are in question. Much of the confusion can be wrought by bad faith actors, people who know they are lying when they claim certain things to be true. These bad faith actors aren’t just figures from the margins of the political spectrum, or among the deluded ‘QAnon’ conspiracy enthusiasts. In our time we have seen the US and UK governments, supported by the bulk of the established media outlets repeat falsehoods about the possession of WMDs in Iraq, to give just one example. No wonder there is a lot of ‘fake news’ when so much of it is generated by government itself.Read more »