Archive for 'Arts and science'

“No shit Sherlock science – why it’s still worth it”

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2015

No shit Sherlock science – why it’s still worth it, ” politely screams the headline on an essay by Justin Waring, Professor of Organisational Sociology at University of Nottingham, in The Conversation. Waring begins:

One of the great fears for scientists is that their work will be met with derision, especially when someone has been handed a sizeable sum of money to confirm what the man and woman in the street already knows full well. You only have to look at the annual Ig Nobel awards to get the idea. Driving while using a mobile phone is more dangerous than without one. Men don’t like to go bald. We’re likely to wear more clothes when we’re cold. All of these fall within what we might call, with apologies to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the “No shit, Sherlock” category of science.

But there are often valid reasons for studies of this kind. For instance, it’s not wholly inconceivable that experiments might just show, contrary to all gut instinct and common sense, that driving while using a mobile phone is actually remarkably safe. Granted, it seems unlikely; but the point is that we can’t completely rule out the possibility. However much we think we know something, we have to be as sure as we can….


Future Sock

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2015

“Why do people need to keep on buying so many socks? Given the technological capabilities available, the creation of socks that do not wear out would not seem to be beyond our collective productive capacities. Indeed, […] they already exist, but the space to make this choice has not been opened up. They are not made readily available because it is not profitable to do so.”

– says Dr. Damon Taylor , who is a Senior Lecturer in Design at the University of Brighton, UK. His paper ‘Spray-On Socks: Ethics, Agency, and the Design of Product-Service Systems’ (in : DesignIssues, Summer 2013, Vol. 29, No. 3, Pages 52-63.) not only looks at the possibilities which might be offered by spray-on-socks, but also socks made of Kevlar™ (“hard wearing, yet warm and yielding”).

“To design a system in which people spray on their socks in the morning is to propose that such a scenario offers an acceptable way to live. By becoming more than the shaper of an individual material artifact and envisioning and constructing systems of provision, the designer necessarily takes on a more explicitly ethical role. Such a position operates at the level of problem setting, of identifying the product and the telos—or final cause—of the process, of establishing the ‘why’ of the system. Such justifications will then depend upon certain values that come to act protologically in the action of the system’s operation.”

Note: Although Spray-on-Socks might currently remain, for many, a purely conceptual thought-experiment, a close analogue, Spray-on-Stockings, have been commercially available for some time.

Ouroboros meets Artificial Intelligence

Monday, April 20th, 2015

Snake Eats TailIf you’ve examined The Enigmatic Book of the Netherworld , you’ll know that the mythical creature Ouroboros was a snake-like being traditionally depicted in the act of swallowing its own tail. The inherent symbolism of Ouroboros’s circularity has recently been adopted by the Artificial Intelligence fraternity – specifically by Dr. Knud Thomsen of the Paul Scherrer Institut, Switzerland. In 2008 he developed The Ouroboros Model of self-referential recursive processing with alternating phases of data acquisition and evaluation. How does it work?

“An iterative monitor process termed ‘consumption analysis’ is checking how well expectations triggered a one point in time fit with successive activations. A principal activity cycle is identified. Freezing for once the perpetually cycling activity and selecting an almost arbitrary starting point the following succession of steps can be outlined:

… anticipation,
action / perception,

These sub-processes are linked into a full circle, and the snake bites its end, the Ouroboros devours its tail.”

For further clarification, why not check out this video, from the Third Conference on Artificial General Intelligence, in which Dr. Thomsen highlights Concept Formation in the Ouroboros Model.

Note: The video might seem to drift in and out of focus. This is normal. It’s the video – not you, or your computer.

Earthy, tasty probiotic recipes

Sunday, April 19th, 2015

Probiotic starter cultures come in many different flavors. Here are two that qualify as Not-off-the-shelf.

1. “Characterization of Lactic Acid Bacteria Isolated from Infant Faeces as Potential Probiotic Starter Cultures for Fermented Sausages.” This study was honored with the 2014 Ig Nobel Prize for nutrition.

2. Vaginal bacteria as probiotic starter culture for yogurt. Janet Jay, writing in Motherboard, tells the story of how this recipe came into existence, under the headline “How to Make Breakfast With Your Vagina“. Rosanne Hertzberger ponders the result. (Thanks to Charles Oppenheim for bringing this to our attention.)

Nature (presecription strength)

Saturday, April 18th, 2015

Nature is now available in Prescription Strength, which is up for an award:

(Thanks to Margaret Atwood for bringing this to our attention.)