Recommended Reading 22

This week’s recommended reading includes: a report on the real-world rise of nightmarish SF-type threats from widely deployed nanobots; a satirical exposure of the essence of bipolar political demonization; a story from National Geographic on the way ancient Rome’s obsession with borders and wall-building was directly implicated in the empire’s fall; information about a new book exploring advertising’s insidious impact on our unconscious selves; a rather riveting examination of Alcoholics Anonymous and its still-unexplained effectiveness at treating addictions; and some sage words from Dr. Rupert Sheldrake about the dogmas that currently have a semi-stranglehold on science.


Invisible Threats (PDF)
Gabriella Blum, Hoover Institution, August 16, 2012

(Via The Browser)

SUMMARY (courtesy of The Browser): What do you get when robotics and nanotechnology meet 3D printing? A world full of home-made weaponised and surveillance drones the size of insects. Tech is basically there. Just a question of when it gets cheap and popular.

This is the future. According to some uncertain estimates, insect-sized drones will become operational by 2030. These drones will be able to not only conduct surveillance, but to act on it with lethal effect. Over time, it is likely that miniaturized weapons platforms will evolve to be able to carry not merely the quantum of lethal material needed to execute individuals, but also weapons of mass destruction sufficient to kill thousands. Political scientist James Fearon has even speculated that at some more distant point in time, individuals will be able to carry something akin to a nuclear device in their pockets. Assessing the full potential of technology as it expands (and shrinks) requires a scientific expertise beyond my ken. The spider in the shower is merely an inkling of what probably lies in store. But even a cursory glance at ongoing projects tells us that the mind-bending speed at which robotics and nanobotics are developing means that a whole range of weapons is growing smaller, cheaper, and easier to produce, operate, and deploy from great distances.



The Wrong Side Absolutely Must Not Win
A. Barton Hinkle, Reason Online (reprinted from the Richmond Times-Dispatch), August 20, 2012

[NOTE: This entire diatribe — or rather, the Zen-like clarity embodied in its satirical intent and dead-on execution — may represent the truest words that will be spoken during this election season or any other.]

The past several weeks have made one thing crystal-clear: Our country faces unmitigated disaster if the Other Side wins. No reasonably intelligent person can deny this. All you have to do is look at the way the Other Side has been running its campaign. Instead of focusing on the big issues that are important to the American People, it has fired a relentlessly negative barrage of distortions, misrepresentations, and flat-out lies. Just look at the Other Side’s latest commercial, which take a perfectly reasonable statement by the candidate for My Side completely out of context to make it seem as if he is saying something nefarious. This just shows you how desperate the Other Side is and how willing it is to mislead the American People … Let’s face it: The Other Side is held hostage by a radical, failed ideology. I have been doing some research on the Internet, and I have learned this ideology was developed by a very obscure but nonetheless profoundly influential writer with a strange-sounding name who enjoyed brief celebrity several decades ago. If you look carefully, you can trace nearly all the Other Side’s policies for the past half-century back to the writings of this one person … [I]t’s clear that the people on the Other Side are driven by mindless anger — unlike My Side, which is filled with passionate idealism and righteous indignation. That indignation, I hasten to add, is entirely justified. I have read several articles in publications that support My Side that expose what a truly dangerous group the Other Side is, and how thoroughly committed it is to imposing its radical, failed agenda on the rest of us.



Roman Frontiers
Andrew Curry, National Geographic, September 2012

(Via The Browser)

Teaser: Rome’s border walls were the beginning of its end.

A stunning network of walls, rivers, desert forts, and mountain watchtowers marks Rome’s limits. At its peak in the second century A.D., the empire sent soldiers to patrol a front that stretched from the Irish Sea to the Black Sea as well as across North Africa … Why did the Romans build the walls? To protect a regime besieged by barbarians, or simply to establish the physical edge of the empire? The question isn’t just academic. Defining and defending borders is a modern obsession too … For nearly 150 years the border had helped Rome ignore a painful reality: The world beyond the walls was catching up, in part thanks to the Romans themselves. Barbarians who served in the Roman army brought back Roman knowledge, weapons, and military strategy, says Michael Meyer, an archaeologist at Berlin’s Free University. While Rome looked the other way, barbarian tribes grew bigger and more aggressive and coordinated. When troops were pulled from across the empire to beat back the Persians, weak points in Germany and Romania came under attack almost immediately … Pressures on the frontiers finally became too great. Cities across the empire began building their own walls; the emperors scrambled to fight off regular invasions. The costs and chaos were crippling. Within two centuries an empire that once dominated an expanse larger than today’s European Union was gone.”



New book reveals how advertising seduces our subconscious
Press release, University of Bath, August 15, 2012

(Via Signs of the Times)

Teaser: Choosing to ignore advertising may lend it greater power, reveals a new book which explores how we process advertising — at both a subconscious and semi-conscious level.

Dr Robert Heath, a pioneer in the field of brand communications from the University of Bath’s School of Management, explains the hidden power of advertising using the latest research in experimental psychology and cognitive neuroscience. His book, entitled Seducing the Subconscious: The Psychology of Emotional Influence in Advertising exposes how much advertising affects our everyday decisions and how little we realise it is happening. Dr Heath explains why the most successful advertising campaigns are not those we love or hate or those with messages that are interesting or new, but campaigns that are able to effortlessly slip under our radar and influence our behaviour without us knowing. Dr Heath said: “It may seem counter-intuitive, but the best way to avoid advertising affecting us this way is to embrace it. The more attention you give it, the more you can counter-argue what you see and hear, and the less it will affect you. “It may be tedious, it may be annoying, and it may make your life a bit uncomfortable. But at least you’ll know you haven’t been subconsciously seduced.”



Secret of AA: After 75 Years, We Don’t Know How It Works
Brendan I. Koerner, Wired, June 23, 2010

(via Longform)

[NOTE: Pay attention to the fact that this fascinating and valuable article is also infected with the basic and presiding — and arbitrary and logically indefensible — attitude that defines the modern scientistic reality principle: that we do not and cannot understand a thing unless and until we understand it in terms of physical science, and in this case, in terms of biology and neurology.]

It was in June 1935, amid the gloom of the Great Depression, that a failed stockbroker and reformed lush named Bill Wilson founded the organization after meeting God in a hospital room. He codified his method in the 12 steps, the rules at the heart of AA. Entirely lacking in medical training, Wilson created the steps by cribbing ideas from religion and philosophy, then massaging them into a pithy list with a structure inspired by the Bible. The 200-word instruction set has since become the cornerstone of addiction treatment in this country, where an estimated 23 million people grapple with severe alcohol or drug abuse — more than twice the number of Americans afflicted with cancer. Some 1.2 million people belong to one of AA’s 55,000 meeting groups in the US, while countless others embark on the steps at one of the nation’s 11,000 professional treatment centers. Anyone who seeks help in curbing a drug or alcohol problem is bound to encounter Wilson’s system on the road to recovery. It’s all quite an achievement for a onetime broken-down drunk. And Wilson’s success is even more impressive when you consider that AA and its steps have become ubiquitous despite the fact that no one is quite sure how — or, for that matter, how well — they work … What we do know, however, is that despite all we’ve learned over the past few decades about psychology, neurology, and human behavior, contemporary medicine has yet to devise anything that works markedly better. “In my 20 years of treating addicts, I’ve never seen anything else that comes close to the 12 steps,” says Drew Pinsky, the addiction-medicine specialist who hosts VH1′s Celebrity Rehab. “In my world, if someone says they don’t want to do the 12 steps, I know they aren’t going to get better.” Wilson may have operated on intuition, but somehow he managed to tap into mechanisms that counter the complex psychological and neurological processes through which addiction wreaks havoc. And while AA’s ability to accomplish this remarkable feat is not yet understood, modern research into behavior dynamics and neuroscience is beginning to provide some tantalizing clues.



Biologist Rupert Sheldrake Explains the Ten Dogmas Holding Science Back
The Daily Grail, August 21, 2012

[NOTE: This item is related to the fact that Sheldrake’s The Science Delusion is about to be published in a new American edition titled Science Set Free. See the trailer below. This is seriously good news.]

‘Maverick biologist’ Rupert Sheldrake thinks there is a big problem in science, caused by those who employ it as a belief system, rather than using it as a method of inquiry. He thinks science is being held back by the former, and in his soon-to-be-released book Science Set Free (already available in the UK as The Science Delusion) he offers the “ten dogmas of science” that he thinks need to be treated with more suspicion than they currently are:

  1. That nature is mechanical.
  2. That matter is unconscious.
  3. The laws of nature are fixed.
  4. The totally amount of matter and energy are always the same.
  5. That nature is purposeless.
  6. Biological inheritance is material.
  7. That memories are stored as material traces.
  8. The mind is in the brain.
  9. Telepathy and other psychic phenomena are illusory.
  10. Mechanistic medicine is the only kind that really works.


Images: Nanobot by, “Hadrian’s Wall gatehouse west of Housesteads” by Steven Fruitsmaak (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

About Matt Cardin


Posted on August 24, 2012, in Teeming Links and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a Comment.

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