The Overview - April 19, 2021
The Overview is a weekly roundup of eclectic content in-between essay newsletters & "Conversations" podcast episodes to scratch your brain's curiosity itch.
Hello Eclectic Spacewalkers,
I wish that you and your family are safe and healthy wherever you are in the world. :)
Check out the last The Overview - April 12, 2021: HERE
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Below are some eclectic links for the week of April 19th, 2021.
Enjoy, share, and subscribe!
Table of Contents:
Articles/Essays - Aeon Magazine; Senckenberg; Cipolla, ConsumerReports in GuardianUS; Noema Magazine; The New Yorker; IEEESpectrum; Pairagraph; Nplusone Magazine; and Convo_ist
Book - The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin
Documentary - Part 1: The Birth of Civilisation - The First Farmers (20000 BC to 8800 BC) via @The_Histocrat; Part 2: The Birth of Civilisation - Cult of the Skull (8800 BC to 6500 BC); Part 3: The Birth of Civilisation - Rise of Uruk (6500 BC to 3200 BC)
Lecture - Ecosystem Ecology via @TheCrashCourse with @hankgreen
Paper - Elite philanthropy in the United States and the United Kingdom in the new age of inequalities via @MairiMaclean1
Podcast - EP118 @mattwridley on How Innovation Works via @jim_rutt; #107 @mattwridley: Infinite Innovation - @TKPPodcast
TED Talk - @RonniAbergel & @TheHumanLibrary; Our Short Film “Unjudge Someone” about Human Library
Twittersphere - “The most common estimates of the humans who have ever lived on Earth are around 108 billion people. Using that assumption, a little under 7% of all people who have ever lived are alive right now.” via @Rainmaker1973 & @waitbutwhy
Video - Metric Paper & Everything in the Universe via @cgpgrey
Website - Sustainable Development Index
The healing power of nature: The idea that immersing yourself in forests and nature has a healing effect is far more than just folk wisdom via @LawtonRebeccaC
“Studies showed that just three days and two nights in a wooded place increase the immune system functions that boost feelings of wellbeing for up to seven days.
The same amount of time in a built environment has no such effect. Human response includes increased awe, greater relaxation, restored attention, and boosted vitality. Health outcomes on the receiving end of the pathway are astounding: enhanced immunity, including reduced cardiovascular disease, fewer migraines, and lowered anxiety, to name but a few. According to Frances Ming Kuo, the lead author of the University of Illinois review: ‘The cumulative effect could be quite large even if many of the individual pathways contribute only a small effect.’”
“Study on species diversity and human health in Germany shows positive relation on mental health, but no links to physical health.
The researchers were not able to establish causal links between the number of species and mental or physical health. For this, data for different time periods would be required. To date, sufficient time series data on biodiversity in Germany are not available. Nonetheless, valuable conclusions can be drawn from this study. “Our results show that nature conservation can, indeed, be understood as a means to promote human health,” said senior author Prof Katrin Rehdanz from CAU. “This is particularly relevant for urban planning and management of green spaces. Here, investing in biodiversity can promote the health of the urban population.”
“The tech executive turned data justice warrior is celebrated as a truth-telling hero, but there’s something a bit too smooth about this narrative arc.
Allowing people who share responsibility for our tech dystopia to keep control of the narrative means we never get to the bottom of how and why we got here, and we artificially narrow the possibilities for where we go next. And centering people who were insiders before and claim to be leading the outsiders now doesn’t help the overall case for tech accountability. It just reinforces the industry’s toxic dynamic that some people are worth more than others, that power is its own justification.”
Always and inevitably, each of us underestimates the number of stupid individuals in the world
The probability that a certain person is stupid is independent of any other characteristic of the same person
A stupid person is one who causes harm to another person or group without at the same time obtaining a benefit for himself or even damaging himself
Non-stupid people always underestimate the harmful potential of stupid people
The stupid person is the most dangerous person that exists
A very interesting study conducted at the Eötvös Loránd University gives us other clues to gain self-consciousness determining the 3 causes of human stupidity:
1. Ignorance or overconfidence. It would be the highest degree of stupidity and appears in people who take risks of any kind, although they lack the skills or knowledge necessary to face them.
2. Lack of control. It’s a medium degree of stupidity that corresponds to impulsive people, who lack self-control and act letting themselves be carried away by the first impulse.
3. Distraction. It would be the slightest degree of stupidity, which manifests itself in those who fail to achieve something because they don’t pay attention or don’t allocate sufficient resources, struggling uselessly.
We sampled tap water across the US – and found arsenic, lead and toxic chemicals via @ryanfelton of @ConsumerReports in @GuardianUS
“CR and the Guardian selected 120 people from around the US, out of a pool of more than 6,000 volunteers, to test for arsenic, lead, PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances), and other contaminants. The samples came from water systems that together service more than 19 million people.
A total of 118 of the 120 samples had concerning levels of PFAS or arsenic above CR’s recommended maximum, or detectable amounts of lead.”
Uncanny Valets: Ideas about machine intelligence in both East and West still reflect some key cross-cultural divides. via @NoemaMag
“From the ethical problem of Asimov’s robots kept in eternal serfdom through the imposition of the “three laws” to the question of how technological innovation untrammeled by moral judgment might change the human future, robots reflect the politics of racial division. In the context of the current debates between China and the U.S. about the wider weaponization of AI, and the potential for a Sino-American arms race, that’s a difficult issue that (white) Westerners urgently need to consider.”
Why Computers Won’t Make Themselves Smarter: We fear and yearn for “the singularity.” But it will probably never come. via @NewYorker
“We’re a long way off from being able to create a single human-equivalent A.I., let alone billions of them. For the foreseeable future, the ongoing technological explosion will be driven by humans using previously invented tools to invent new ones; there won’t be a “last invention that man need ever make.” In one respect, this is reassuring, because, contrary to Good’s claim, human intelligence will never be “left far behind.”
But, in the same way that we needn’t worry about a superhumanly intelligent A.I. destroying civilization, we shouldn’t look forward to a superhumanly intelligent A.I. saving us in spite of ourselves. For better or worse, the fate of our species will depend on human decision-making.”
“Jordan’s current projects incorporate ideas from economics in his earlier blending of computer science and statistics. He argues that the goal of learning systems is to make decisions, or to support human decision-making, and decision-makers rarely operate in isolation. They interact with other decision-makers, each of whom might have different needs and values, and the overall interaction needs to be informed by economic principles.
Jordan is developing “a research agenda in which agents learn about their preferences from real-world experimentation, where they blend exploration and exploitation as they collect data to learn from, and where market mechanisms can structure the learning process—providing incentives for learners to gather certain kinds of data and make certain kinds of coordinated decisions. The beneficiary of such research will be real-world systems that bring producers and consumers together in learning-based markets that are attentive to social welfare.”
“Why is this? We have no lack of weirdo subcultures. Going by raw numbers, there are probably more outsider artists than ever. Many people once thought that the internet, and the easy distribution that came with it, would make today’s outsider artists even more influential than those from the 20th century. Despite this, new cultural products now have a harder time crossing the blood-brain barrier into mainstream society. The fertile scenes from my youth, like the webcomics and Flash cartoons of the late 90s and early 2000s, have had essentially no impact on the wider culture. Online fanfiction communities achieved slightly more, by serving as a launching pad for a handful of writers who achieved mainstream success in other media. The only medium from this period which achieved wider popularity is the image macro, which does not lend itself to influence or depth. Today’s youth are in a similar situation—fertile scenes in new internet media, but with little impact on the wider culture.”
“What the populist plutocrats held out was simultaneously cultural and economic. They offered a seductive glimpse of an economic order where even the most successful captains of industry were hard-working, personally invested owner-operators, not parasitic money-manipulators. “Family values,” as Melinda Cooper has emphasized, were neoliberal economic values, and vice versa. Post–New Deal capitalism, its boosters argued, would be controlled neither by out-of-touch Washington bureaucrats nor by robotic, gray-flannel-suited managers, but by families embedded in their communities.
This same logic functioned on the level of public policy: even icy-veined technocrats like the Chicago “human capital” prophet Gary Becker justified rollbacks to the welfare state on the grounds that families would have no choice but to pick up the slack, through debt if necessary, returning the family to the central place in the economic order it once occupied. These same family values were at the heart of the renewed plausibility and attractiveness of the conservative vision of work and success.
When Sam Walton drove his old Ford pickup truck around Bentonville every day, it represented a promise that any Bentonville Ford driver could become Sam Walton. It was a cynical move, to be sure. But Walton’s gesture worked not just because liberal elites offered no alternatives but because it perfectly played on his employees’ deepest anxieties and beliefs.”
What an epic series! The Broken Earth trilogy by N.K. Jemisin will go down as one of the most unique sci-fi/fantasy series we have ever read. The characters, plot, and novel concepts around “magic” were fresh, extremely well written, and just a joy to follow along with.
Any reader of Jemisin knows the feeling of once you pick up a Jemisin book it will be hard to put it down until you finish it. This time was no different, as we desperately flipped page after page to get to the end. Thoroughly recommend it!
Our thoughts on history and specifically, the history of homo sapiens, has completely changed after watching these documentaries. We knew about the ancient city of Göbekli Tepe and how its existence has upended some of archeaologi’s most sacred theories of humanity’s growth across the Earth.
12 episodes on ecosystem ecology. You will learn about population ecology, community ecology, and of course: ecosystem ecology. If we learn how particular entities, agents, and the environment interact with each other, we can then gain a better understanding of our place in these situations.
Elite philanthropy in the United States and United Kingdom in the new age of inequalities via @MairiMaclean1
“Elite philanthropy—voluntary giving at scale by wealthy individuals, couples and families—is intimately bound up with the exercise of power by elites. This theoretically oriented review examines how big philanthropy in the United States and United Kingdom serves to extend elite control from the domain of the economic to the domains of the social and political, and with what results.
Elite philanthropy, we argue, is not simply a benign force for good, born of altruism, but is heavily implicated in what we call the new age of inequalities, certainly as consequence and potentially as cause. Philanthropy at scale pays dividends to donors as much as it brings sustenance to beneficiaries.
The research contribution we make is fourfold.
First, we demonstrate that the true nature and effects of elite philanthropy can only be understood in the context of what Bourdieu calls the field of power, which maintains the economic, social and political hegemony of the super‐rich, nationally and globally.
Second, we demonstrate how elite philanthropy systemically concentrates power in the hands of mega foundations and the most prestigious endowed charitable organizations.
Third, we explicate the similarities and differences between the four main types of elite philanthropy—institutionally supportive, market‐oriented, developmental and transformational—revealing how and why different sections within the elite express themselves through philanthropy.
Fourth, we show how elite philanthropy functions to lock in and perpetuate inequalities rather than remedying them.
We conclude by outlining proposals for future research, recognizing that under‐specification of constructs has hitherto limited the integration of philanthropy within the mainstream of management and organizational research.”
“Matt Ridley talks to Jim about his latest book, How Innovation Works: And Why It Flourishes in Freedom. They cover innovation vs invention, improbable order, the value of technological innovation, the importance of the steam engine, innovation as a team sport, the history of vaccination, fossil fuel’s role in the industrial revolution, negative impacts of patents, the light bulb & simultaneous invention, water chlorination, the Haber–Bosch process, the green revolution, GMO’s, innovation opposition, nuclear power, the western innovation famine, Matt’s bet against Elon Musk’s hyperloop technology, and much more.”
“Matt Ridley is the author of several books related to science and human progress, biologist, newspaper columnist and member of the House of Lords in the UK. Matt and Shane discuss writing books about science, the age-old battle between viruses and humans, rational optimism, the difference between innovation and invention, the role of trial and error and the effects of social media on seeing others’ points of view.”
“Imagine a safe space where we could all sit together and talk openly about taboos and stigma! A place where a conversation with a refugee, a transgender, a bipolar person or someone living with an eating disorder is equally possible, open and informative. Ronni Abergel has been developing this space for 17 years with his concept of Human Library™, a movement designed to build a positive framework for conversations , where real people are on loan to readers, a place where difficult questions are expected, appreciated and answered. Would you let somebody "borrow" you? We all have our stories that are relevant to someone. Feel free to share a moment with a complete stranger - your story may be of great need to somebody.”
"Unjudge Someone" - A short film about the Human Library Organization by Eclectic Spacewalk Productions.
“The most common estimates of the humans who have ever lived on Earth are around 108 billion people. Using that assumption, a little under 7% of all people who have ever lived are alive right now.” via @Rainmaker1973 & @waitbutwhy
This video is one of those mindblowing ones that make your brain feel like a sludge of disjointed putty after viewing. All you need to understand our current reality, simulation, and the universe is one sheet of metric paper.
“SDI results for 2019 can be found in the map and link above. While some countries score reasonably well, none reach over 0.9.
The Sustainable Development Index (SDI) measures the ecological efficiency of human development, recognizing that development must be achieved within planetary boundaries. It was created to update the Human Development Index (HDI) for the ecological realities of the Anthropocene.
The SDI starts with each nation’s human development score (life expectancy, education and income) and divides it by their ecological overshoot: the extent to which consumption-based CO2 emissions and material footprint exceed fair shares of planetary boundaries. Countries that achieve relatively high human development while remaining within or near planetary boundaries rise to the top.”
That’s it for this week. Until next time - Ad Astra!