The fool has said...

How to deconstruct anything

A treatise on postmodern literary criticism by Chip Morninstar:

You get maximum style points for being French. Since most of us aren’t French, we don’t qualify for this one, but we can still score almost as much by writing in French or citing French sources. However, it is difficult for even the most intense and unprincipled American academician writing in French to match the zen obliqueness of a native French literary critic. Least credit is given for a clear, rational argument which makes its case directly, though of course that is what I will do with our example since, being gainfully employed, I don’t have to worry about graduation or tenure. And besides, I’m actually trying to communicate here.

7 months ago -

Better Days

Why Are Some People So Smart?


John Bohannon on Zhao Bowen, a 21-year-old leading genetic researcher on what makes some humans — like him — geniuses:

Zhao’s goal is to use those machines to examine the genetic underpinnings of genius like his own. He wants nothing less than to crack the code for intelligence by studying the genomes of thousands of prodigies, not just from China but around the world. He and his collaborators, a transnational group of intelligence researchers, fully expect they will succeed in identifying a genetic basis for IQ. They also expect that within a decade their research will be used to screen embryos during in vitro fertilization, boosting the IQ of unborn children by up to 20 points. In theory, that’s the difference between a kid who struggles through high school and one who sails into college.

Getting awfully close to Gattaca.


If parents use IVF to conceive, then a genetic test—an extension of the screening tests for genetic diseases that are already routinely done on embryos—could let them pick the smartest genome from a batch of, say, 20 embryos. “It’s almost like there are 20 parallel universes,” Hsu says. “These are all really your kids.” You’re just choosing the ones with the greatest genetic potential for intelligence. But effectively, you could be giving an unborn child a boost in IQ above their parents. As Hsu sees it, this is no Faustian bargain. “Aren’t we doing them a great service?” Over the long term, he proclaims, this would “improve the average IQ of the species by quite a bit.” He hopes governments will even provide it for free; Singapore, he predicts, would be the first to sign up.

Did I say “awfully close”? Nevermind. 

7 months ago - 109 -

The Humble Programmer

Edsger W. Dijkstra in 1972:

I observe a cultural tradition, which in all probability has its roots in the Renaissance, to ignore this influence, to regard the human mind as the supreme and autonomous master of its artefacts. But if I start to analyse the thinking habits of myself and of my fellow human beings, I come, whether I like it or not, to a completely different conclusion, viz. that the tools we are trying to use and the language or notation we are using to express or record our thoughts, are the major factors determining what we can think or express at all! The analysis of the influence that programming languages have on the thinking habits of its users, and the recognition that, by now, brainpower is by far our scarcest resource, they together give us a new collection of yardsticks for comparing the relative merits of various programming languages.

8 months ago -

Creatures of the night: Chronotypes and the Dark Triad traits


“…researchers have shown that people with a preference for the evening and night-time tend to score highly on the “Dark Triad” of personality traits - ‪‬Machiavellianism, psychopathy and narcissism.

Original paper [pdf].

Peter Jonason’s other publications are generally related to the Dark Triad and/or mating:

"Playing hard-to-get: Manipulating one’s perceived availability as a mate."

"Avoiding entangling commitments: Tactics for implementing a short-term mating strategy."

"The “booty call”: A compromise between men and women’s ideal mating strategies."

"It’s not all about the Benjamins: Understanding preferences for mates with resources."


8 months ago - 1036 -

Scientists Trace Memories of Things That Never Happened


James Gorman:

Now scientists at the Riken-M.I.T. Center for Neural Circuit Genetics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology say they have created a false memory in a mouse, providing detailed clues to how such memories may form in human brains.

The plot of about a thousand shitty science fiction movies (and a few decent ones) just came true.

8 months ago - 36 -

Where to Live

                                 West of the Flower Washing Stream,

                                        not far downstream from the bridge,

                                 the master has chosen a quiet spot

                                        here in the woods by the river.

                                 Living apart from the city crowds,

                                        the world loosens its grip;

                                 murmuring of this clear water dissolves

                                        the sadness that burdens a stranger.

                                 Countless dragonflies play in the air,

                                        dancing up and down;

                                 a pair of wild ducks out in the stream

                                        swim and dive together.

                                 You could take a boat downstream,

                                        thousands of miles to the east­

                                 or else forget the boat, and live

                                        here by this stream forever.

                                                        -Du Fu

8 months ago -

Lionel Shriver’s Speculative Fictions

Christine Smallwood:

When I taught remedial English in the East End, I had my students compose their own best- and worst-case scenarios for ten years later. The nightmares were fabulous: lush with fantastic fears, hilarious with misadventure. The pipedreams were all the same: a string of products and brand names. They read like mail-order catalogs. My students’ visions of the Good Life were so vapid and depressing that you could have got the two assignments confused

9 months ago -

Females can 'choose' sex of offspring

Ruthann Richter:

Thus, parents in good condition, based on health, size, dominance or other traits, would invest more in producing sons, whose inherited strength and bulk could help them better compete in the mating market and give them greater opportunities to produce more offspring. Conversely, mothers in poor condition would likely play it safe, producing more daughters, whose productivity is physiologically limited. Other hypotheses make similar predictions — that females who choose mates with particularly “good genes” (e.g. for attractiveness) should produce so called “sexy sons” as a result, Garner said.

9 months ago -


A granfalloon, in the fictional religion of Bokononism (created by Kurt Vonnegut in his 1963 novel Cat’s Cradle), is defined as a “false karass.” That is, it is a group of people who outwardly choose or claim to have a shared identity or purpose, but whose mutual association is actually meaningless.

The most commonly purported granfalloons are associations and societies based on a shared but ultimately fabricated premise. As examples, Vonnegut cites: “the Communist Party, the Daughters of the American Revolution, the General Electric Company —and any nation, anytime, anywhere.” A more general and oft-cited quote defines a granfalloon as “a proud and meaningless association of human beings.” Another granfalloon example illustrated in the book were Hoosiers, of which the narrator (and Vonnegut himself) was a member.


9 months ago -



This is fiction:

In Larry Niven’s Known Space stories, a wirehead is someone who has been fitted with an electronic brain implant (called a “droud” in the stories) to stimulate the pleasure centres of their brain. In the Known Space universe, wireheading is the most addictive habit known (Louis Wu is the only given example of a recovered addict), and wireheads usually die from neglecting themselves in favour of the ceaseless pleasure. Wireheading is so powerful and easy that it becomes an evolutionary pressure, selecting against that portion of Known Space humanity without self-control.

This is real:

At its most frequent, the patient self-stimulated throughout the day, neglecting personal hygiene and family commitments. A chronic ulceration developed at the tip of the finger used to adjust the amplitude dial and she frequently tampered with the device in an effort to increase the stimulation amplitude. At times, she implored her to limit her access to the stimulator, each time demanding its return after a short hiatus. During the past two years, compulsive use has become associated with frequent attacks of anxiety, depersonalization, periods of psychogenic polydipsia and virtually complete inactivity.

Original paper.

10 months ago -