Nautilus


Why Your Brain Hates Other People - Issue 49: The Absurd

Nautilus

To simplify, this can be revealed with the Implicit Association Test, where subjects look at pictures of humans or trolls, coupled with words with positive or negative connotations. Recent work, adapting the Implicit Association Test to another species, suggests that even other primates have implicit negative associations with Others. And monkeys would look longer at pairings discordant with their biases (e.g., pictures of members of their own group with pictures of spiders). Thus, the strength of Us/Them-ing is shown by the: speed and minimal sensory stimuli required for the brain to process group differences; tendency to group according to arbitrary differences, and then imbue those differences with supposedly rational power; unconscious automaticity of such processes; and rudiments of it in other primates.


The Unusual Language That Linguists Thought Couldn't Exist - Facts So Romantic

Nautilus

For example, one core property of human languages is known as duality of patterning: meaningful linguistic units (such as words) break down into smaller meaningless units (sounds), so that the words sap, pass, and asp involve different combinations of the same sounds, even though their meanings are completely unrelated. ABSL contrasts sharply with other sign languages like American Sign Language (ASL), which creates words by re-combining a small collection of gestural elements such as hand shapes, movements, and hand positions. Instead, they argue, languages share certain properties because they all have to solve similar problems of communication under similar pressures, pressures that reflect the limits of human abilities to learn, remember, produce, and perceive information. The signs of ABSL, though, may be easier to learn because many of them are concretely related to the things they symbolize--for example, the sign for "lemon" resembles the motion of squeezing a lemon.


When Neurology Becomes Theology - Issue 49: The Absurd

Nautilus

The patient's mother had died in a state hospital of Huntington's disease--a genetic degenerative brain disease. Though I didn't know it at the time, I had run headlong into the "hard problem of consciousness," the enigma of how physical brain mechanisms create purely subjective mental states. My first hint of the interaction between religious feelings and theories of consciousness came from Montreal Neurological Institute neurosurgeon Wilder Penfield's 1975 book, Mystery of the Mind: A Critical Study of Consciousness and the Human Brain. To see how this might work, take a page from Penfield's brain stimulation studies where he demonstrates that the mental sensations of consciousness can occur independently from any thought that they seem to qualify.


Traffic Wouldn't Jam If Drivers Behaved Like Ants - Facts So Romantic

Nautilus

Every time drivers travel down a path, Waze tracks their speed--information that can then be broadcast to every following driver. The Belgian researcher Marco Dorigo is credited with the first work, in the early 1990s, in what is now broadly called "ant colony optimization" (usually shorted to ACO), a strategy for organizing movement largely based on actual ant behavior. In a 2012 paper, civil engineers from Texas A&M University wanted to see if ant colony optimization held its ground against a "genetic algorithm" approach for a common problem in traffic engineering: How to best coordinate timing for groups of traffic signals when traffic had reached "oversaturation" levels. Varying proportions of citronella oil--which ants intensely dislike--were added to the chamber ("All efforts were made to minimize suffering"), and the scientists tracked how ants exited the chamber.



The Case for Less Solidarity - Issue 48: Chaos

Nautilus

Many liberals tried to peer across party lines to understand the motivations of Donald Trump voters, for instance interviewing Republican constituents and reading books about rural poverty (think J.D. Even people who empathize a lot can still suffer from an empathy imbalance--greater empathy for people who look, think, and act like themselves (their ingroup) and reduced empathy for those who don't (their outgroup). People who wrote about valuing fairness were more likely to report on ingroup rule breaking, while people who wrote about valuing loyalty were more likely to let bad behavior slide.5 Waytz, Dungan, and Young suggest that institutions should promote fairness norms--just and ethical treatment of all persons and groups--and even try to redefine loyalty among members to include the reporting of unethical behavior. Asch assembled a group consisting of study participants mixed with research staff pretending to be study participants.


Shakespeare's Genius Is Nonsense - Issue 48: Chaos

Nautilus

While both senses of breese or flies pertain, Booth notes that "in calling the effect a pun, we both exaggerate and underestimate its effect"--exaggerate because it's less self-conscious than a pun, and underestimate because it achieves much more than one. In the jargon, this is called priming: cat primes dog, and it happens quickly. If you have come to expect an office word after an animal word, then cat will still prime dog after a half-second interval. Authors who are sensitive to these effects, and careful about the linkages that they create, may be able to use the interactions of priming and expectation to create intricate experiences of time, language, and meaning.


A Linguist Responds to Cormac McCarthy - Issue 48: Chaos

Nautilus

Think about the words houseboat, housewife, house guest, housecoat, house arrest, house lust. Take adjective-noun combinations such as red dog, corrupt executive, long book, and broken computer: A red dog is a dog that is red. And while apes can use linear order to distinguish meanings in simple phrases (Fred tickles Lana vs Lana tickles Fred), there's no evidence that they can cope with true compositionality or deal with recursive structures like relative clauses. If I were a betting woman, here's the viral moment I'd plunk my money on: the moment when symbols were married to structure by socially compulsive creatures.


Defy the Stars - Issue 48: Chaos

Nautilus

When she gets all the way back up to sick bay, Esther's lying on a biobed. "To the best of my knowledge, the Tare mech remains the primary medical model," Abel says, as amiably as if they were having tea. "However, I am programmed with the knowledge, skills, and specialties of the entire Mansfield Cybernetics line." Some faiths on Genesis won't use synthetic blood, others won't accept transfusions at all, but Esther's family doesn't belong to one of those.


Your Robot Car Should Ignore You - Issue 48: Chaos

Nautilus

Even more jarring, rather than retrofit a Prius or a Lexus as Google did to build its previous two generations of driverless cars, the company custom-built the body of its youngest driverless car with a team of subcontracted automotive suppliers. While their stages differ slightly, what they have in common is the assumption that the best way forward is via a series of gradual and linear stages in which the car's "driver assist" software temporarily takes over the driving, but quickly gives control of the car back to the human driver should a sticky situation occur. In reality, human in the loop software could work in the case of a driverless car only if each party (human and software) maintained a clear and consistent set of responsibilities. Unfortunately, maintaining clear and consistent sets of responsibilities between human and software is not the model that's being proposed by the automotive industry and federal transportation officials.