Saturday, December 31, 2016

Toffler's information overload prediction in 1970

Alvin Toffler, writing in the book Future Shock in 1970, predicted some of the consequences of what he called "information overload." He thought our defense mechanism would be to simplify the world in ways that confirmed our biases, even as the world itself was growing more diverse and complex.
Nate Silver, The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail—But Some Don't (Penguin Books, 2015) (orig., pub., 2012), p. 12 (citing Alvin Toffler, Future Shock (New York: Bantam Books, 1990), p. 362)

Friday, December 30, 2016

More knowledge can divide us

Paradoxically, the result of having so much more shared knowledge [with the spread of printing] was increasing isolation along national and religious lines. The instinctual shortcut that we take when we have "too much information" is to engage with it selectively, picking out the parts we like and ignoring the remainder, making allies with those who have made the same choices and enemies of the rest.
Nate Silver, The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail—But Some Don't (Penguin Books, 2015) (orig., pub., 2012), p. 3

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Why believe in the supernatural?

Why do people believe in things that go against natural laws? It cannot simply be ignorance.
The answer is evidence. The number-one reason given by people who believe in the supernatural is personal experience.
Bruce M. Hood, The Science of Superstition: How the Developing Brain Creates Supernatural Beliefs (New York: HarperCollins, 2009), p. 3 (former title: SuperSense: Why We Believe in the Unbelievable)

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Human judgment is fallible

human  judgment is intrinsically fallible. It's hard for any of us (myself included) to recognize how much our relatively narrow range of experience can color our interpretation of evidence.
Nate Silver, The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail—But Some Don't (Penguin Books, 2015) (orig., pub., 2012), Preface (2015)

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Contagious emotions

It is a fair, even-handed, noble adjustment of things, that while there is infection in disease and sorrow, there is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good-humour.
Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol (1843), Stave III

Monday, December 26, 2016

Marley's ghost: just indigestion?

"Why do you doubt your senses?"
"Because," said Scrooge, "a little thing affects them. A slight disorder of the stomach makes them cheats. You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato. There's more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!"
Scrooge was not much in the habit of cracking jokes, nor did he feel, in his heart, by any means wagging then. The truth is, that he tried to be smart, as a means of distracting his own attention, and keeping down his terror; for the spectre's voice disturbed the very marrow in his bones.
Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol (1843), Stave I

People could tell Scrooge was, well, a scrooge

No beggars implored him to bestow a trifle, no children asked him what it was o'clock, no man or woman ever once in all his life inquired the way to such and such a place, of Scrooge. Even the blind men's dogs appeared to know him; and when they saw him coming on, would tug their owners into doorways and up courts; and then would wag their tails as though they said, "No eye at all is better than an evil eye, dark master!"
Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol (1843), Stave I

Saturday, December 17, 2016

We all have harmful mutations

Occasional strange cases notwithstanding, every parent gives his or her biological child 50 percent of that child's DNA. And every one of us, regardless of zip code, membership in an executive health program, or religious affiliation, carries at least a handful of harmful mutations that may or may not manifest in us or in our children, should they inherit them as part of that 50 percent.
Misha Angrist, Here is a Human Being: At the Dawn of Personal Genomics (New York: HarperCollins, 2010), ch. 1 (Kindle loc. 162)

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Darwin's stinky South American deer

During our stay at Maldonado [Uruguay] I collected several quadrupeds, eighty kinds of birds, and many reptiles, including nine species of snakes. Of the indigenous mammalian, the only one now left of any size, which is common, is the Corvus campestris. . . .
The most curious fact with respect to this animal, is the overpoweringly strong and offensive odour which proceeds from the buck. It is quite indescribably: several times whilst skinning the specimen which is now mounted at the Zoological Museum, I was almost overcome by nausea. I tied up the skin in a silk pocket-handkerchief, and so carried it home: this handkerchief, after being well washed, I continually used, and it was of course as repeatedly washed; yet every time, for a space of one year and seven months, when first unfolded, I distinctly perceived the odour. This appears an astonishing instance of the permanence of some matter, which nevertheless in its nature must be most subtitle and volatile. Frequently, when passing at the distance of half a mile to leeward of a herd, I have perceived the whole air tainted with the effluvium.

Charles Darwin, The Voyage of the Beagle (London: John Murray, 1913 reprint ed., ch. III, pp. 49-50

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Darwin overwhelmed by tropics

In England any person fond of natural history enjoys in his walks a great advantage, by always having something to attract his attention; but in these fertile climates [near Rio de Janeiro], teeming with life, the attractions are so numerous, that he is scarcely able to walk at all.
Charles Darwin, The Voyage of the Beagle (London: John Murray, 1913 reprint ed., ch.II, p. 27