Saturday, 18 September 2010

Carl Sagan on Isaac Asimov

Isaac Asimov was one of the great explainers of the age. Like T. H. Huxley, he was motivated by profoundly democratic impulses to communicate science to the public. “Science is too important,” he said, paraphrasing Clemenceau, “to be left to the scientists.” It will never be known how many practicing scientists today, in how many countries, owe their initial inspiration to a book, article, or short story by Isaac Asimov—nor how many ordinary citizens are sympathetic to the scientific enterprise from the same cause. For example, Marvin Minsky of MIT, one of the pioneers of artificial intelligence, was brought to his subject by Asimov's robot stories (initially conceived to illustrate human/robot partnerships and to counter the prevailing notion, going back to Frankenstein, of robots as necessarily malign). At a time when science fiction was mainly devoted to action and adventure, Asimov introduced puzzle-solving schemes that taught science and thinking along the way.

Carl Sagan on science and spirituality

Science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality. When we recognize our place in an immensity of light-years and in the passage of ages, when we grasp the intricacy, beauty, and subtlety of life, then that soaring feeling, that sense of elation and humility combined, is surely spiritual. So are our emotions in the presence of great art or music or literature, or of acts of exemplary selfless courage such as those of Mohandas Gandhi or Martin Luther King, Jr. The notion that science and spirituality are somehow mutually exclusive does a disservice to both.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

The Magic Income Number -

The Magic Income Number - "September 9, 2010, 9:30 am
The Magic Income Number

What’s the magic income number? According to Angus Deaton and Daniel Kahneman, it’s about $75,000, at least when it comes to day-to-day happiness. “As people earn more money, their day-to-day happiness rises,” reports The Wall Street Journal. “Until you hit $75,000. After that, it is just more stuff, with no gain in happiness.” Income above $75,000, however, does improve people’s overall “life assessment.” ”Giving people more income beyond 75K is not going to do much for their daily mood … but it is going to make them feel they have a better life,” says Mr. Deaton.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Google's role in human affairs

Vifginia Heffernan writes in the NYTimes (20 Aug. 2010) about the manner by which Google redefined the very notion of fact:
As broadband brought millions of facts, the fantasy of perfect factuality and the satisfaction of fact-checking to everyone. Soon — and astonishingly — Google became much more than trusted; it became shorthand for everything that had been recorded in modern history. ...
But if the Web has changed what qualifies as fact-checking, has it also changed what qualifies as a fact? I suspect that facts on the Web are now more rhetorical devices than identifiable objects. But I can’t verify that.

Monday, 23 August 2010

Blackmore on the Life of an Academic in the UK

Susan Blackmore: "Why I’m leaving" (The Independent, January 2002):

Term is starting and I’m not going back! Whoopee! ... It’s really true. I have given up my secure academic job as Reader at the University of the West of England for the vagaries of life as a freelance. And why? Because I want to work - really work - and my job made that impossible. ...

Maybe some people can get home after a long day and have brilliant thoughts. Maybe some can write the best book they are capable of in the hours stolen from their sleep, or from their children. But I can’t. ...

The deal used to be, for the cleverest or luckiest few get a job in a university, give a reasonable number of lectures, do a few other useful tasks, and the rest of the time is yours. Yes it was often abused, and yes we can’t afford that in today’s climate, with so many more students. But what have we instead? The current deal is to give an unreasonable number of lectures, to ever larger groups of less interested students, plus a completely mind-boggling amount of marking, setting exams, going to meetings, and--on top of all that--justify everything you do with learning outcomes, aims and objectives, and the TQA....

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

The importance of blasphemy

Peter Fosl writes in a not-so-new article in The Philosophers Magazine ("Open Debate: The Righteousness of Blasphemy") about the importance of blasphemy:
Blasphemy deflates some of the sanctimonious, holier-than-thou, I'm-absolutely-right attitudes of the religious. It makes religion safer. It does so by knocking religious authorities off their pedestals, by reminding us that their views (protestations to the contrary) are just those of silly humans, that they're just like the rest of us—that they and their views are equals with us and ours, that they are not our superiors.
It's easy to see why ideas related to the ‘sacred' and the ‘blasphemous' are so attractive and so fiercely defended. With them one can tell people what to think and how to live with the greatest authority while simultaneously establishing immunity from criticism.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

The end of feminism?

Research conducted in the London School of Economics ("Women’s ‘double shift’ of work and domestic duties a myth finds new research") has some surprising results:
If we consider the hours spent doing both paid work and unpaid household, care and voluntary work together, men already do more than their fair share, argues LSE sociologist Catherine Hakim in a special issue of Renewal: a journal of social democracy."