Friday, January 08, 2010

News Hour

Just some news tidbits that flew my way.

#1. Why economists are skinflints.

In recent research, University of Washington economists Yoram Bauman and Elaina Rose found that economics majors were less likely to donate money to charity than students who majored in other fields. After majors in other fields took an introductory economics course, their propensity to give also fell.

"The economics students seem to be born guilty, and the other students seem to lose their innocence when they take an economics class," says Mr. Bauman, who has a stand-up comedy act he'll be doing at the economists' Atlanta conference Sunday night. Among his one-liners: "You might be an economist if you refuse to sell your children because they might be worth more later."

#2. Was there a neotenous giant-brained super-race that lived in Africa 10,000 years ago?

“There’s just one thing we haven’t quite dared to mention. It’s this, and you won’t believe it. It’s all happened already. Back there in the past, ten thousand years ago. The man of the future, with the big brain, the small teeth. He lived in Africa. His brain was bigger than your brain. His face was straight and small, almost a child’s face.”

Yes!!! The Greys!!!

Our big brains give us such powers of extrapolation that we may extrapolate straight out of reality, into worlds that are possible but that never actually happened. Boskop’s greater brains and extended internal representations may have made it easier for them to accurately predict and interpret the world, to match their internal representations with real external events.

Perhaps, though, it also made the Boskops excessively internal and self-reflective. With their perhaps astonishing insights, they may have become a species of dreamers with an internal mental life literally beyond anything we can imagine . . .

Perhaps the Boskops were trapped by their ability to see clearly where things would head. Perhaps they were prisoners of those majestic brains.

Or, on the other hand, this story may just be colossally bogus bad science.

#3. Jaron Lanier has become a disappointed old grump.

Like others who have been on the Web from its early days, Lanier thinks the place has "lost its flavor." Perhaps homepages in the mid-'90s did have a folk-art quality to them, though one heavily dominated by Simpsons and Star Trek references. Perhaps our regimented Facebook selves have made things more vanilla. Perhaps you did stumble down more idiosyncratic paths of knowledge before Wikipedia dominated the top Google search results. But these are the kinds of nostalgic observations that are ridiculous to anyone young. The Web hasn't lost flavor; you've lost flavor. What Samuel Johnson said about his hometown holds true for the Internet: "No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford."

Me, not so tired of London yet. Nor even Albuquerque.



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