World Transformation    
"Companions the creator seeks, not corpses, not herds and believers. Fellow creators the creator seeks--those who write new values on new tablets. Companions the creator seeks, and fellow harvesters; for everything about him is ripe for the harvest. --Friedrich Nietzsche, "Thus Spoke Zarathustra""
 Freedom and Responsibility
picture From Ming the Mechanic: Craig Russell in an article, "Pick and Choose":
Freedom requires responsibility. And yet how many of us are truly willing to take responsibility for our own freedom, for our own lives? How many of us, for example, take true and total responsibility for something as basic and fundamental as our own food, for that essential connection to the earth that sustains our very lives? The vast majority of us depend totally upon Power and its Economic System to provide that for us. We eschew any caring for, or connection to, the land. We’re unwilling to make the effort it would take to produce our own food. We literally refuse to get our hands dirty. We, by and large, much prefer immersing ourselves in the infinite greed of the marketplace and the ease and comforts of “civilized” life it provides – for our cars and our oil furnaces, our roads and our televisions, for our fresh strawberries and pomegranates delivered fresh in the dead of winter. Most of us have lived this way for so long that, like teenagers living off their parents, we simply take for granted the effort, the networks and organizations, that bring those things to us. Just as they don’t really understand what it takes to keep the lights on and put food on the table, we have little if any idea about where food or electricity comes from or how they got here – little if any idea about what, exactly, it took to achieve and maintain this state of being, this level of ease and comfort. And then, wanting the comforts but lacking both true knowledge of (and any responsibility for) them, we complain like spoiled teenagers about the necessary restrictions the System requires of our minds and our lives.
I agree that it is a big problem that most of us are so disconnected from the foundation we're living on. It is a big danger that we have no clue how to grow food or make electricity. Ironically I do think that technological advances, of the right kind, could make that situation better. We could very well be educated in the basics, and have tools in our hands that would allow us to do things on our own. Either if it became necessary, or as an exercise.

How would I create electricity? Eh, despite sort of knowing how it works, I'm not sure. OK, I could think up a dynamo and something to turn it, but I'd need copperwire and magnets. My method of getting those would be to buy them in a store. That's not good enough. I really need more fundamental do-it-yourself knowledge than that. We all do.
[ | 27 Apr 2004 @ 04:04 | PermaLink ]

 Battle for the Commons
From Ming the Mechanic: Howard Rheingold at SmartMobs:
"I have come to believe that new understandings of cooperation and collective action are emerging in a dozen different fields, with implications far beyond the "technologies of cooperation" that enable smart mobs. I am embarking on a project with The Institute for the Future to map and catalyze a broad interdisciplinary study of cooperation and collective action. This PDF (a preprint from IFTF's latest Ten Year Forecast) highlights some of the issues near and dear to smartmobbers, but also looks beyond the horizons of the work I did in Smart Mobs to sketch out the broader landscape we are beginning to explore. This is an ambitious project and we are looking for foundation or angel funding or corporate funding. If you are an angel or a foundation or a corporation who understands what we are getting at, contact me for a more detailed proposal.

Commons foster innovation. Consider the Internet: at its core, it’s a public good. Anyone who follows the technical protocols can use it. But it’s also a source of commercial innovation and wealth. Tim Berners-Lee did not have to ask permission or pay a fee to launch the World Wide Web. The founders of Amazon and Yahoo! became billionaires through their use of the Internet commons to create new kinds of private property.

The literature of science is also a commons. Once the law of gravity or the antibiotic property of penicillin mold was discovered, people were free to open ski resorts or start pharmaceutical companies. But Newton’s equation and Fleming’s discovery entered the public domain—to benefit humankind and enable others to build on their discoveries for both private and public interest. control the emerging innovation commons.

Large content distributors have stretched copyright laws into territory that formerly was held in the public domain. Broadband carriers are seeking permission to control the content of the data that moves through their parts of the Internet. Incumbent license holders in the TV and radio frequencies are encouraging the Federal Communications Commission to maintain 1920s-style regulation over the new wireless spectrum (although treating it as a commons instead of private property could potentially enable millions more broadcasters than today—with much more innovative programming and services).
Yep, very important battle. Increasingly, and more and more openly, a very small percentage of the population are very actively trying to keep the rest of us from sharing, cooperating, collaborating and taking collective action. By pretending they own most of the ways we might think of doing so.
[ | 26 Apr 2004 @ 07:36 | PermaLink ]

 Proof that the 'force' really is with us
From Sounding Circle: Proof that the 'force' really is with us
Ai Lin Choo
Vancouver Sun

The ideas behind Star Wars, The X-Files and an assortment of other psychic films and shows may not be so far-fetched after all.

According to a new study on visual perception, the "force" is possibly inherent in all of us, although we can't see it.

For the many who sometimes walk into a room and feel that something is not quite right, the answer may lie in a sub-system of our visual experience, says Ronald Rensink, University of B.C. associate professor in psychology and computer science.

"Basically visual perception then is two parts. It's got the sort of pictures we all know and love, and then we've got this other thing, this feeling, this using the force, this sensing stream, and they work in parallel, I think. They both operate at the same time," he said.

While you may not see anything, Rensink says the "sixth sense" or as he calls it, "mindsight," is basically another kind of vision where people can sense a change and have a visual experience of it.

He explains that "mindsight" differs from our usual concept of psychic phenomena because people have to keep their eyes open to employ this mode of visual perception.

Click Here For Entire Story
[ | 26 Apr 2004 @ 07:36 | PermaLink ]

 Viewing inside the Earth
picture From Ming the Mechanic: Roland Piquepaille mentions that geoscientists have captured images of the inside of the earth, through a process somewhat analogous to ultrasound scanning of a humanbody.
The scientists used tremors from earthquakes to probe the inside of the planet just as sound waves allow doctors to look inside a mother's. The technique, a greatly refined version of earlier efforts, produced a surprisingly sharp image and yielded the first direct measurements of giant spouts of heat, called mantle plumes, that emanate from deep within the planet.

Mantle plumes are believed to cause island chains, such as the Hawaiian Islands and Iceland, when the Earth's crust passes over the column of heat. Although accepted by most scientists, the existence of mantle plumes has been fiercely contested by a minority of researchers in recent years.
Hm, would be cool if it were live.
[ | 25 Apr 2004 @ 12:17 | PermaLink ]

 The Prophecies of the Hopi People
From Sounding Circle: The Prophecies of the Hopi People

As you wind your way through the prophecies on this site and those you may find elsewhere, you would do well to pay particular attention to the accuracy of those of the Hopi People. Their prophecies are not written in obscure, archaic language, hidden away in dusty tomes. Hopi Elders pass these warnings to the next generations through word of mouth and with reference to ancient rock drawings and tablets, keeping track of those that have been fulfilled and paying close attention to warning signs.

The following portion is from The Book of the Hopi by Frank Waters. This tidbit of Hopi prophecy, probably the only portion shared with whites at the time, has been reproduced many, many times and is usually the first glimpse of Hopi Prophecy that one encounters when researching the subject.
[ | 25 Apr 2004 @ 12:17 | PermaLink ]

 What is blogging
From Ming the Mechanic: Via Dina, Debbie Well, taking a crack at defining blogging. Yes, nothing very new, but gives an idea for people who think it is strange.
Blogging Is...

  1. A form of unedited, authentic self-expression
  2. An instant publishing tool
  3. An online journal with freshly updated content
  4. Amateur journalism
  5. Something that will revolutionize the Web (think RSS feeds)
  6. A way to create community with your voters, er... readers (think 2,200 comments posted to the Dean for America blog in one day)
  7. An alternative to mainstream media (think InstaPundit by Glenn Reynolds and TalkingPointsMemo by Joshua Micah Marshall)
  8. A tool to teach students how to write
  9. A new way to communicate with customers (think Ray Ozzie, CEO of Groove Networks)
  10. A new form of knowledge management inside big companies
  11. A way for a bunch of navel-gazers to communicate with one another
  12. Something to keep you occupied when you’re unemployed (more people than care to admit fit into this category… have you noticed?)
  13. A way to think and write in short paragraphs instead of a long essay (which no one has time to read anyway)
  14. Your email to everyone, as A-list blogger Doc Searls puts it (i.e., a way to stay in touch with family and friends)
  15. A silly word that’s fun to say (“Gotta go blog now….”)
  16. A way of writing with a distinct voice and personality (think Halley Suitt)
  17. Something to talk about at cocktail parties (“I blogged Seth Godin and he blogged me back...”)
  18. A URL to add to your resume (as in TokyoTim, my 23-year-old son, who’s working as an English teacher in Japan for a year)
  19. Something else to do with your mobile phone... think audio blogging and moblogging
  20. Something you don’t want your mother to read: what my mother says about blogging
And, since we're on the subject Xeni Jardin has a nice article on what blogging is as well.
What are weblogs? Regularly-updated websites that typically combine some mix of first-person commentary, web links, images, and news clips, and present the blend in reverse chronological order. Some are solo journals -- personal diaries open to the world; websites that function like ultra-low-budget reality TV shows where aspiring exhibitionists can document every personal detail of daily life, from boyfriends to phone bills to what they ate for breakfast. Other blogs are like collaborative online magazines that feature multiple editorial voices. Blogs can be produced by anonymous individuals with no professional writing experience just as easily as they can by career journalists or celebrity technopundits.
In case anybody has missed it, "blog" is short for "weblog". It might also be called a "newslog", a "journal", or a number of other things, which might depend on what exactly you use it for.
[ | 24 Apr 2004 @ 08:18 | PermaLink ]

 Solar Power System at NASA Flight Center
picture From Sounding Circle: Edwards Air Force Base, Travis, California - December 10, 2003 [] NASA and SunPower Corporation, a manufacturer and designer of silicon solar cells, have completed the installation of a 5-kW solar electric power system at the NASA Dryden Flight Research Center, located at Edwards Air Force Base, California.

"NASA has a long history of fielding innovative, breakthrough technology at NASA Dryden," said Tom Werner, CEO of SunPower Corp. "From the early supersonic aircraft to the space shuttle, NASA has pioneered technologies that had been previously considered impossible or impractical to implement. It is appropriate that NASA Dryden has installed the first A-300 system."

SunPower, a subsidiary of Cypress Semiconductor Corp, has a history of collaboration with NASA. NASA used SunPower solar cells in its Helios solar-powered aircraft, which set an altitude record of 96,863 feet in 2001. The SunPower system at NASA Dryden is designed to provide clean electricity while helping to educate visitors about renewable energy.

"We are pleased that NASA was able to field the first commercial application of this exciting new solar electric power technology," said NASA's Jenny Baer-Riedhart. "Over the past seven years, we have worked with SunPower to develop high-efficiency solar cells to energize our highly successful Pathfinder Plus and Helios solar-powered aircraft as part of the Environmental Research Aircraft and Sensor Technology program. It's exciting to see this technology coming down to earth."

According to SunPower, the system is the first to incorporate the company's 20 percent efficient A-300 solar cells, which SunPower said are a significant improvement over many currently available cells in the 12 to 15 percent range, as higher-efficiency cells provide solar power systems with more power per unit area and can provide users with significant cost savings.

SunPower claims that with rated efficiency over 20 percent, the A-300 can deliver up to 50 percent more energy from a given roof area compared with traditional solar products. According to the company, unlike conventional solar cells, SunPower's A-300 incorporates all electrical contacts on the back surface; and this architecture allows for significantly higher conversion efficiency of light to electricity, and also eliminates unsightly reflective front-side contacts.

"The installation of the first full-scale A-300 system is a key milestone as we move toward volume production in 2004," said SunPower Vice President of Sales and Marketing Peter Aschenbrenner. "SunPower's high-efficiency solar cell technology not only provides more power per unit of roof area, but it can also drive significant system savings through reduced module assembly and downstream installation costs."
[ | 24 Apr 2004 @ 08:18 | PermaLink ]

 Infinite valued logic
From Ming the Mechanic: One could say that there are several different kinds of logic, which are differentiated by the number of possibilities one is considering at any one time.

You know, of course, two-valued logic. That is black and white thinking. It is when one considers that there are only two options, and one needs to choose between them. You're either for or against. You either support freedom, or you're a terrorist. You're either a christian or a heathen. You're either for or against abortion. A person who uses two-valued logic does merely need to decide whether to pick the 'good' option or the 'bad' option, and the only other thinking involved is to try to match the options with previously known 'good' or 'bad' labels. "Aha, he uses bad words, so what he's saying is of course bad".

There can also be three-valued logic. That's when there is Yes, No and Maybe. That is, the answer is either a clear Yes (good), a clear No (bad), or we just don't have enough information to decide yet, which is a Maybe. That can of course be considered a little more advanced than two-valued logic, as everything doesn't just get categorized at first glance. But not much better.

More simple than either of those is one-valued logic. That is when there's not even any need for or faculty for evaluating things. Things are just the way they are, usually because The Big Book says so, or The Big Guru, or The Big Government. And if they didn't mention it, it of course doesn't exist. Generally it is if you consider yourself so powerless that you just have to accept whatever comes along, from the only direction you're looking in. Like, if you've latched on to a literal interpretation of some kind of religion, and you believe that the decision making process is entirely out of your hands. Oh, nothing wrong in believing in bigger things, but here we're talking about whether you think or not.

If you predominantly use any of those three approaches in your life, you're somewhat less than sane. Or, more kindly, you are likely to make decisions that don't work very well for you, and you might not be able to figure out why.

Another, undeniably more effective, kind of thinking is what we can call infinite valued logic. Essentially that means that any situation, any problem, consists of many different factors. And each of those factors might be pegged on a scale with an infinite number of gradations, in relation to some particular measure or outcome. And to make a good decision, you'd need to relate and weight all these factors together.

Infinite valued logic will maybe appear less slick and convenient and forceful at first. Essentially it implies that the answer is "It depends" until you've examined all the factors involved. Including who do they apply to, and what are the exact circumstances.

Is smoking bad for me? Is extra-marital sex wrong? What is the Republican Party good for? Should I become a buddhist? Should I eat less cheese?

If you had the answer ready for any of those, without having to think about it, chances are you didn't really examine the factors involved in the questions, and you probably didn't look at how these questions related to me and my particular circumstances.

Take smoking. There are certain negative health influences. And there are certain positive things smoking might do for a person. Both of those are different for different people. What exactly are they, specifically for this person? And how much smoking are we talking about? A cigar every evening, or 3 packs of unfiltered cigarettes per day? And who are we talking about? A soldier in war who's being shot at every day, or an accountant sitting by a desk? What would he replace smoking with if he didn't have that? And what else does that person consume on a daily basis? Is he happy about it or not? All of those are factors that have a whole range of possible answers. Some of them will support the person's decision to smoke, and some represent reasons not to. You'd have to add all of it up to make the most rational decision.

You could do that very mechanically. Write down all the factors involved and peg each one on a scale between 0 and 10, or between -10 and +10, in relation to a particular outcome. And then you add the numbers up and see what you get. However, it doesn't at all have to be done that way. It doesn't even have to be done terribly explicitly. Good decision makers naturally do this internally. They are conscious of most of the factors involved, they rule out their own preconceived biases, they pay attention to the exact circumstances, and they might come up with an answer that just seems or feels or sounds right, without necessarily having articulated exactly why.

In brief, it is about avoiding categorizing things in advance. Avoiding making decisions based on abstract generalizations one carries around. It is about noticing what is actually going on right here and now, what the actual components and influences are, and responding rationally to what is in front of you.

For more on infinite-valued logic, check out Alfred Korzybski's General Semantics. See, for example, here, here, or here
[ | 23 Apr 2004 @ 11:57 | PermaLink ]

 Individuals working for the world
picture From Ming the Mechanic: In 1927 as Buckminster Fuller was standing at the edge of Lake Michigan, intent on committing suicide by throwing himself into the dark, cold water, he instead hesitated and started thinking about what meaning his life could have. For the first time doing some thinking he felt was his own. And he asked himself what one penniless little human could possibly do for humanity that the most powerful governments and corporations couldn't do better.
"Answering myself, I said: "The individual can take initiatives without anyone's permission."

I told myself: "You do not have the right to eliminate yourself, you do not belong to you. You belong to the universe. The significance of you will forever remain obscure to you, but you may assume that you are fulfilling your significance if you apply yourself to converting all your experience to the highest advantage of others." So I vowed to keep myself alive, but only if I would never use me again for just me - each one of us is born of two, and we really belong to each other. I vowed to do my own thinking instead of trying to accommodate everyone else's opinions, credos and theories. I vowed to apply my inventory of experiences to the solving of problems that affect everyone aboard planet earth.

I didn't want to waste a second, so I slept that way that certain animals sleep: lying down as soon as I was tired, sleeping a half hour every six hours. I also decided to hold a moratorium on speech. It was very tough on my wife, but for two years in that Chicago tenement I didn't allow myself to use words. I wanted to force myself back to the point where I could understand what I was thinking.

I decided to forget about earning a living. It seemed to me that humans are honey-money bees, doing the right things for the wrong reasons, just as the bee pollinates the flower.

Released from the idea of earning a living, I was able to address problems in the biggest way. I decided to commit myself to the invention and development of physical artifacts to reform the environment. I decided that a plurality of such artifacts had the potential to evoke humanity's most intelligent, interconsiderate qualities. It became obvious that if I worked always and only for all humanity, I would be optimally effective. I'd be doing what nature wanted me to do, and nature would literally support me."
Now, get that. One individual working for all of humanity. Applying all of your energy and intelligence to making the biggest possible positive difference for the whole world. But doing it completely on your own premises. Not sacrificing yourself to the will of some homogonous group. Not just trying to tweak the best advantage for yourself out of life. No, doing the very best you can, in the way that only you can know how to do - not for yourself, not for any particular group, but for all of us together. There's nothing quite as powerful as that. It is a profound statement, a profound intention. And not just some idealistic do-good kind of thing to say. It is maybe the most sensible thing to do.

Many years later, two years before he died, Bucky wrote a book called "Critical Path" in which he summarized much of what he had learned. This is part of what he wrote in the foreword:
"My reasons for writing this book are fourfold:

(A) Because I am convinced that human knowledge by others of what this book has to say is essential to human survival.

(B) Because of my driving conviction that all of humanity is in peril of extinction if each one of us does not dare, now and henceforth always to tell only the truth, and all the truth, and to do so promptly—right now.

(C) Because I am convinced that humanity’s fitness for continuance in the cosmic scheme no longer depends on the validity of political, religious, economic, or social organizations, which altogether heretofore have been assumed to represent the many.

(D) Because, contrary to (C), I am convinced that human continuance now depends entirely upon:

(1) The intuitive wisdom of each and every individual.
(2) The individual’s comprehensive informedness.
(3) The individual’s integrity of speaking and acting only on the individual’s own within-self-intuited and reasoned initiative.
(4) The individual’s joining action with others, as motivated only by the individually conceived consequences of so doing.
(5) And, the individual’s never-joining action with others, as motivated only by crowd-engendered emotionalism, or by a sense of the crowd’s power to overwhelm, or in fear of holding to the course indicated by one’s own intellectual convictions."
Notice that it is at first not always easy to read what he wrote. After his two years of self-imposed silence he then only wrote and spoke in very precise statements that pack quite some wisdom into each sentence, but which uses many made-up words. However, if you get used to it, you'll appreciate how clearly the man was saying things.

OK, so again he's talking about how we might make the world work optimally for all of us. First of all how we might possibly save humankind from imminent extinction. Not by some political or religious ideology. Not through any organization that claims to be working on such big matters. No, through well-informed individuals, who come to realize what they're here to do, and who go and do it, in accordance with their own integrity and intuition. And such individuals then freely joining their actions with the actions of others.

I went and picked those quotes out because I was thinking about the principles of the open source movement, and about how I better can do something useful in the world. Notice that most people who're developing open source software are following the principles outlined above, even if the individuals doing so might not at all resonate with the lofty aims described. But it ads up to the same thing. If you develop some little software utility just to scratch your own personal itch, but you actually put it out into the world for others to freely use, and it turns out that it is useful for others too - you're doing exactly that. You, as an individual, are guiding your actions by your own intuition and decisions, not taking direction from any authoritative group outside yourself, doing it entirely you own way, and you give your work to the world with few or no strings attached.

If the world just worked a few percent more like that, the tides would turn. If more works were put into the world by people who did exactly what they think is needed, without caring whether it pays or whether power groups might agree or not. If more big and small problems were solved for all of us by smart people doing whatever they damned well felt like. Little by little, the pool of tools and resources supporting humanity is growing. And, one by one, organizations that hold on to power for its own sake, for their own sake, or for the sake of some dried-up idealistic principles - will fall apart and fade away. Just because they don't work as well as a network of free people who serve the world. They never have, but it is not beginning to be clear before now.

Anyway, I will be searching for a better understanding of what it means to be working in that way. Indeed, it doesn't have to be something big and noble and idealistic at all. It can be simply doing little useful things that need to be done, and making them as available as possible,
[ | 22 Apr 2004 @ 03:14 | PermaLink ]

 Love is the drug, scientists say
From Sounding Circle: Love is the drug, scientists say

Being in love is physically similar to the buzz of taking drugs and also has withdrawal symptoms, an expert on addiction has said.
Dr John Marsden says dopamine - the drug released by the brain when it is aroused - has similar effects on the body and mind as cocaine or speed.

"Attraction and lust really is like a drug. It leaves you wanting more," the National Addiction Centre head said.

His findings will appear in a BBC programme to be broadcast next month.

Pounding heart

"Being attracted to someone sparks the same incredible feelings no matter who you are. Love really does know no boundaries," he said.

According to Dr Marsden - a chartered psychologist - the brain which processes emotions becomes "fired up" when talking to someone it finds attractive.

The heart pounds three times faster than normal and causes blood to be diverted to the cheeks and sexual organs, which causes the feeling of butterflies in the stomach, he says.

However, as with cocaine and speed, the "hit" is only temporary, though it can last between three and seven years, he added.

Perfect partner

Dr Marsden's research for the BBC's Body Hits series suggests people look for similar features to themselves in a partner as they are searching for characteristics in their mother and father, who have already successfully raised a child.

"It might look like we are all after the perfect partner to wine and dine but underneath, our animal instincts are seeking out an ideal mate to share our genes with."

"We tend to go for the smell of somebody who has a very different immune system and that stops you fancying your family.

"Our biology drives us to find a perfect compromise between sameness and difference and we strike that balance all the time when it comes to choosing faces and smells," he said.

Sex trap

The research also suggests sex is booby-trapped to make partners bond.

"Your body has evolved over millions of years with one aim - to go forth and multiply, so while having kids may not be on the agenda just yet your body has a few tricks up its sleeve to drag you in that direction," he said.

According to the research the more two people have sex together, the more likely they are to bond.

"We all know you can have sex without falling in love but if you have enough sex with the same person there's a good chance you will hit the body's booby-trap which is there to tip you head over heels into love," said Dr Marsden.

"So your body goes all out to make you bond with your partner and that makes love highly addictive and the withdrawal sucks."
[ | 22 Apr 2004 @ 03:14 | PermaLink ]

 Revolutionary battery powered by water only
From Sounding Circle: Discovered by chance, a revolutionary battery powered by water only, could one day light up a whole city

London: The battery of the future could be powered by nothing but water, following a breakthrough by two Canadian scientists who have discovered an entirely new way to generate electricity - the first since 1839.

Initial applications could be cellphones and other electronic devices that now use rechargeable batteries, but Larry Kostiuk and Daniel Kwok, researchers at the University of Alberta who made the discovery, think that in time it could even be used for full-scale power generation.

When the "water battery" ran down, you would simply pump it up, perhaps with your hands. It would be non-polluting and non-toxic and completely portable. And it could be ready for commercial application before the end of the decade.

The discovery, which uses the movement of water through microscopic channels to generate electricity - and even in a laboratory set-up can power an LED, using just a hand-operated syringe, some water, and a piece of glass one centimetre in diameter and three millimetres long - is a breakthrough application of nanotechnology, the science of molecule-sized artifacts.

It was also a complete accident, caused by Kostiuk's decision after he was appointed head of the university's department of engineering to go out and discover what his colleagues were actually doing.

One of those was Daniel Kwok, who was working in the abstruse-sounding field of nano-fabrication.

"How long did we work on it? Oh boy, it's embarrassing," said Kostiuk, who normally works in the field of combustion chemistry. "It's not like we laboured for years. One afternoon I went to visit Daniel, and he was explaining what he did in electrokinetics" - the science of electrical charge in moving substances such as water.

Kwok explained how, when water travels over a surface, the ions that it is made up of "rub" against the solid. That leaves the surface slightly charged.

"So I said, 'If you have separated the charges, then it looks a lot to me like a battery'," recalled Kostiuk. At which Kwok started looking at his work with new eyes.

"We got about 10 volts and one milli-amp out of a piece of glass with 10 000 microchannels," said Kwok. "Right now we can power an LED with no problem, using just a syringe with some water that we push over the channels." The key thing about the work, which is published today by the Institute of Physics journal, Journal of Micromechanics and Microengineering, is that it would simply have been impossible to develop and exploit 20 years or so ago.

And might it one day power everything, including our homes? "You'd need a really big area, like a coastal region," said Kostiuk. "But then again, I guess those are available, aren't they?" - The Independent

[ | 21 Apr 2004 @ 09:46 | PermaLink ]

 Stanford Prison Experiment
picture From Ming the Mechanic: I had certainly heard about it before, but I didn't realize there were a website before Seb mentioned it. The Stanford Prison Experiment in 1971 is one of the more enlightening and frightening demonstrations of how easily humans accept a fake reality as real, and act accordingly. College students volunteered to the experiment of acting as prisoners and prison guards in a two week experiment. The experiment had to be stopped after six days because it became way too real. 'Guards' turned into sadistic slave masters, 'prisoners' accepted their humiliations and had psychological breakdowns. Even the 'prisoners' parents, outside helpers like priests and lawyers, and even the psychologists running the experiment - all started treating it as reality and acting accordingly. The experiment was stopped because it was going so far that there was fear of people's health and sanity. But also because, for the first time, somebody walked in (another psychologist) and said "Hey, you have to stop this, you can't treat people like this". Until then everybody, including around 50 outsiders, had just gone along with it, and adopted the premises of the situation, even though they all knew that they weren't 'real'.
Less than 36 hours into the experiment, Prisoner #8612 began suffering from acute emotional disturbance, disorganized thinking, uncontrollable crying, and rage. In spite of all of this, we had already come to think so much like prison authorities that we thought he was trying to "con" us -- to fool us into releasing him.

When our primary prison consultant interviewed Prisoner #8612, the consultant chided him for being so weak, and told him what kind of abuse he could expect from the guards and the prisoners if he were in San Quentin Prison. #8612 was then given the offer of becoming an informant in exchange for no further guard harassment. He was told to think it over.

During the next count, Prisoner #8612 told other prisoners, "You can't leave. You can't quit." That sent a chilling message and heightened their sense of really being imprisoned. #8612 then began to act "crazy," to scream, to curse, to go into a rage that seemed out of control. It took quite a while before we became convinced that he was really suffering and that we had to release him.
This is all rather horrible stuff, but very illuminating about our human tendency to be 'normal' and do what we think the circumstances demand of us. The experience of those volunteer prisoners in 1971 is, unfortunately, also very comparable to the experience that millions of real prisoners go through. And nobody's going to walk by and stop that experiment because it isn't right to treat people that way. Two million people are in prison in the United States.

Ironically, it was less than a month after the Stanford experiment, that the infamous riot broke out in Attica Prison in New York. The prisoners were demanding basic human rights. Instead New York's governor, Nelson Rockefeller, sent in the National Guard to take the prison by force and many guards and prisoners were killed.
[ | 21 Apr 2004 @ 09:46 | PermaLink ]

 Color Cognition
picture From Ming the Mechanic: Relating to the preceeding posting, there's an article today in the NY Times about Color Cognition, referencing various studies of differences in color perception between people speaking different languages, using different distinctions.
Literary Welsh has no words that correspond with green, blue, gray or brown in English, but it uses others that English speakers don't (including one that covers part of green, part of gray and the whole of our blue). Hungarian has two words for what we call red; Navajo, a single word for blue and green but two words for black. Ancient Greek's emphases on variables like luminosity (as opposed to just hue) led some scholars to wonder seriously whether the culture at large was colorblind.
The conclusions seem to be that, sure, we can all see all the colors (if we aren't physically color-blind), whether we have words for them or not. But we make better distinctions if we have words for them, and we therefore have trained ourselves in noticing those distinctions. Nothing particularly surprising in that. But apparently it is part of an ongoing argument between Universalists that say that we all essentially see the same world around us, and Relativists that say that we all see different worlds, shaped by what we've learned.
[ | 20 Apr 2004 @ 06:43 | PermaLink ]

 Reality is a shared hallucination
picture From Ming the Mechanic: Interesting article from 1997 by Howard Bloom about how our reality is formed and manipulated by what we hear, what we remember, what other people seem to believe, etc. Not just that our memories and peer pressure is influencing and coloring how we see the world. No, much more tangible than that. We physically perceive that which we assume we'll perceive and that which we've been conditioned to perceive. I particularly find experiments such as these fascinating:
In the late 1970s, Loftus performed a series of key experiments. In a typical example, she showed college students a moving picture of a traffic accident, then asked after the film, "How fast was the white sports car going when it passed the barn while traveling along the country road." Several days later when witnesses to the film were quizzed about what they'd seen, 17% were sure they'd spied a barn, though there weren't any buildings in the film at all. In a related experiment subjects were shown a collision between a bicycle and an auto driven by a brunette, then afterwards heard questions about the "blond" at the steering wheel. Not only did they remember the non-existent blond vividly, but when they were shown the sequence a second time, they had a hard time believing that it was the same incident they now recalled so graphically. One subject said, "It's really strange because I still have the blond girl's face in my mind and it doesn't correspond to her [pointing to the woman on the videotape]...It was really weird." In visual memory, Loftus concluded that hints leaked to us by fellow humans are more important than the scene whose details actually reach our eyes.[...]

It was 1956 when Solomon Asch published a classic series of experiments in which he and his colleagues showed cards with lines of different lengths to clusters of their students. Two lines were exactly the same size and two were clearly not - the mavericks stuck out like basketball players at a convention for the vertically handicapped. During a typical experimental run, the researchers asked nine volunteers to claim that two badly mismatched lines were actually the same, and that the actual twin was a total misfit. Now came the nefarious part. The researchers ushered a naive student into the room with the collaborators and gave him the impression that the crowd already there knew just as little as he did about what was going on. Then a white-coated psychologist passed the cards around. One by one he asked the pre-drilled shills to announce out loud which lines were alike. Each dutifully declared that two terribly unlike lines were perfect twins. By the time the scientist prodded the unsuspecting newcomer to pronounce judgement, he usually went along with the bogus acclamation of the crowd. Asch ran the experiment over and over again. When he quizzed his victims of peer pressure, it turned out that many had done far more than simply go along to get along. They had actually shaped their perceptions to agree, not with the reality in front of them, but with the consensus of the multitude.[...]

Another experiment indicates just how deeply social suggestion can penetrate the neural mesh through which we think we see hard-and-solid facts. Students with normal color vision were shown blue slides. But one stooge in the room declared the slides were green. Only 32% of the students ended up going along with the vocal but misguided proponent of green vision. Later, however, the subjects were taken aside, shown blue-green slides and asked to rate them for blueness or greenness. Even the students who had refused to see green where there was none in the original experiment showed that the insistent greenies in the room had colored their perceptions. They rated the new slides more green than they would have otherwise. More to the point, when asked to describe the color of the afterimage they saw, the subjects often reported it was red-purple - the hue of an afterimage left by the color green. The words of one determined speaker had penetrated the most intimate sanctums of the eye and brain.
So, does that mean we're all just gullible sheep who're walking around in a trance, thinking we see things that aren't really there? Well, to some degree, yes. But we can start becoming conscious of our processes of perception, aware of how realities are generated, and we might actually catch when we're being mislead by words or memories or other abstractions. And we might learn to always expand our sense of reality, reaching beyond the hallucinations generated by our assumptions, beliefs and memories.
[ | 19 Apr 2004 @ 13:21 | PermaLink ]

 Tech Bloom
picture From Ming the Mechanic: Excellent op-ed piece "Tech Bloom in full flower" by Alex Steffen.
"The conventional wisdom, during the Tech Boom, was that what drove innovation was the lure of giant piles of cash. That idea now rubs shoulders with the Berlin Wall. What makes creative people tingle are interesting problems, the chance to impress their friends and caffeine. Freed from the pursuit of paper millions, geeks are doing what geeks, by nature, really want to be doing: making cool stuff.

Not just making it, but giving it away. Saying the Tech Bloom is not commercially driven is like saying Mother Teresa had an interest in the poor.

Which may be why the media haven't quite gotten the magnitude of what's happening here: It's not about investments. If the Tech Boom had a graven image, it was the bull on Wall Street. The Tech Bloom is more likely to be found dancing around the desert at Burning Man, the annual festival where money is taboo, everything's a gift and creative participation is synonymous with cool."
Indeed, it is great news. Very cool things are being developed by people who do it because it needs to be done, because it is fun, because other people like it. Money has very little to do with it. It is unstoppable. Imagine when the whole world works like that.
[ | 18 Apr 2004 @ 15:18 | PermaLink ]

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