88 posts tagged culture
Why Physicists Make Up Stories in the Dark
In unseen worlds, science invariably crosses paths with fantasy.
For centuries, scientists studied light to comprehend the visible world. Why are things colored? What is a rainbow? How do our eyes work? And what is light itself? These are questions that preoccupied scientists and philosophers since the time of Aristotle, including Roger Bacon, Isaac Newton, Michael Faraday, Thomas Young, and James Clerk Maxwell. But in the late 19th century all that changed, and it was largely Maxwell’s doing. This was the period in which the whole focus of physics—then still emerging as a distinct scientific discipline—shifted from the visible to the invisible. Light itself was instrumental to that change. Not only were the components of light invisible “fields,” but light was revealed as merely a small slice of a rainbow extending far into the unseen.
Physics has never looked back. Today its theories and concepts are concerned largely with invisible entities: not only unseen force fields and insensible rays but particles too small to see even with the most advanced microscopes. We now know that our everyday perception grants us access to only a tiny fraction of reality. Telescopes responding to radio waves, infrared radiation, and X-rays have vastly expanded our view of the universe, while electron microscopes, X-ray beams, and other fine probes of nature’s granularity have unveiled the microworld hidden beyond our visual acuity. Theories at the speculative forefront of physics flesh out this unseen universe with parallel worlds and with mysterious entities named for their very invisibility: dark matter and dark energy.
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Consider this: In 1900, 1% of American women giving birth died in labor. Today, the five-year mortality rate for localized breast cancer is 1.2%. Being pregnant 100 years ago was almost as dangerous as having breast cancer is today.
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We don’t choose the configuration of our facial features any more than we choose our skin colour, yet people discriminate based on looks all the time. As the psychologist Comila Shahani-Denning put it, summarising research on the topic in Hofstra Horizons in 2003: ‘Attractiveness biases have been demonstrated in such different areas as teacher judgments of students, voter preferences for political candidates and jury judgments in simulated trials … attractiveness also influences interviewers’ judgments of job applicants.’ From the toddler gazing up at the adult to the adult gazing down at the toddler, we ruthlessly privilege the beautiful. The ugly get screwed.
The History of the Kiss! The Birth of Popular Culture by Marcel Danesi – review
An illuminating look at why kissing is such a powerful act
Why is kissing such a meaningful and emotionally powerful act? This is the question that concerns Canadian historian of popular culture Marcel Danesi. It was prompted by one of his students, who asked: “Why do we experience such an unhygienic act as beautiful and romantic?” At the time he was flummoxed but his book offers some fascinating answers. He downplays biological explanations for the origin of kissing and instead sees “the romantic lip kiss” emerging in the medieval period, when it signified true love as opposed to forced or arranged relationships: the kiss “heralded an age of romantic independence”. Danesi’s remarkable argument is that the subversive act of kissing and its spread through stories led to the birth of popular culture itself: “The courtly love tradition was the first manifestation of popular writing.” He traces the kiss through literature (such as the fateful kiss in Act V of Romeo and Juliet), images, movies (DiCaprio and Winslet’s kiss at the prow of the Titanic) and into the digital age. The history of popular culture at its most illuminating. (via The History of the Kiss! The Birth of Popular Culture by Marcel Danesi – review | Books | The Guardian)
‘Dreamings’ and dreaming narratives: what’s the relationship?
To imagine what “Australia” was like B.C. (“Before Cook”, or before colonisation), one needs to envision the entire landmass of this island/continent and most of its surrounding islands and waters as crisscrossed by “Dreamings” (in popular parlance sometimes referred to as “Songlines”). Each of the approximately 250 separate Australian languages had their own words for and substantial vocabularies relating to what has now become known in English almost universally as “The Dreamtime” or “The Dreaming”. These usages have now entered other world languages as global tags for Indigenous Australian religion, thereby dramatically reducing outsiders’ capacity to grasp the diversity of Australian languages and cultures. (It should be noted here that “Australian languages” is the linguistically accurate terminology for Aboriginal languages – which have no connection to any other language families in the world. The terminology “Australian languages” also takes on a political edge for Aboriginal language speakers, many of whom regard all other languages spoken in Australia, including English, as foreign imports). In the Ngunnawal and Ngarigo languages, for instance, in and around today’s national capital, Canberra, The Dreaming is called “Daramoolen”, and it’s “Nura” in the Dharug language, in the vicinity of Sydney. Across some of the dialects of Western Desert languages, including Pitjantjatjara, which crosses the borders of three states, South Australia, the Northern Territory and Western Australia, the word-concept is “Tjukurpa”. As a result of processes of colonisation, all of these words have been reduced to the catch-all English translation, “Dreaming”, or sometimes, “Dream Time”. (via 'Dreamings’ and dreaming narratives: what's the relationship?)
On 13 January the Nigerian president, Goodluck Jonathan, signed a bill against gay relationships, outlawing gay marriage, public displays of same-sex relationships and membership in gay groups. A few days later, Ugandan president, Yoweri Museveni, refused to sign an anti-homosexuality bill that has been in the works since 2009 on the grounds that there are other ways of dealing with “an abnormal person”. Pondering the issue earnestly, he wrote: “Do we kill him/her? Do we imprison him/her?” Museveni is not alone in pondering how to kill sexual dissenters. In the wake of the trial for “sodomy” of the first president of Zimbabwe, Canaan Banana, his successor Robert Mugabe spoke of homosexuals in a 2002 campaign speech as “mad person[s]” who will be sent to jail. “We don’t want to import it [homosexuality] to our country,” he said. “We have our own culture, our own people.” At least 76 United Nations member countries have laws that criminalise same-sex relations; some 37 African countries, along with Middle Eastern countries, constitute a majority of those. It is still dangerous and even life-threatening to be out in Africa.
Go ahead and gossip. It’s good for society
An experiment to study the nature of gossip and ostracism suggests both serve important roles in society: reforming bullies and encouraging cooperation. “Groups that allow their members to gossip,” says Matthew Feinberg, a Stanford University postdoctoral researcher, “sustain cooperation and deter selfishness better than those that don’t. And groups do even better if they can gossip and ostracize untrustworthy members. “While both of these behaviors can be misused, our findings suggest that they also serve very important functions for groups and society.” The research game involved 216 participants, divided into groups, who decided whether to make financial choices that would benefit their group. Researchers commonly use this public-goods exercise to examine social dilemmas because individual participants will benefit the most by selfishly free-riding off everyone else’s contributions while contributing nothing themselves. (via Go ahead and gossip. It’s good for society | Futurity)
Brent Kroeger pores over nasty online comments about stay-at-home dads, wondering if his friends think those things about him. The father from Rowland Heights, east of Los Angeles, remembers high school classmates laughing when he said he wanted to be a “house husband.” He avoids mentioning it on Facebook. “I don’t want other men to look at me like less of a man,” Kroeger said. His fears are tied to a bigger phenomenon: The gender revolution has been lopsided. Even as American society has seen sweeping transformations - expanding roles for women, surging tolerance for homosexuality - popular ideas about masculinity seem to have stagnated. While women have broken into fields once dominated by men, such as business, medicine and law, men have been slower to pursue nursing, teach preschool, or take jobs as administrative assistants. Census data and surveys show that men remain rare in stereotypically feminine positions. When it comes to gender progress, said Ronald F. Levant, editor of the journal Psychology of Men and Masculinity, “men are stuck.” The imbalance appears at work and at home: Working mothers have become ordinary, but stay-at-home fathers exist in only 1 percent of married couples with kids under age 15, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. In a recent survey, 51 percent of Americans told the Pew Research Center that children were better off if their mother was at home. Only 8 percent said the same about fathers. Even seeking time off can be troublesome for men: One University of South Florida study found that college students rated hypothetical employees wanting flexible schedules as less masculine. Other research points to an enduring stigma for boys whose behavior is seen as feminine. “If girls call themselves tomboys, it’s with a sense of pride,” said University of Illinois at Chicago sociology professor Barbara Risman. “But boys make fun of other boys if they step just a little outside the rigid masculine stereotype.”
The Getty and Google Unleash Free Art — And Your Creative Potential
Open sharing has been around forever, accelerating progress in diverse fields. Computing (e.g., Homebrew Computer Club), code (open source), and even academic publishing (“open access,” which goes beyond peer review) are just a few that have multiplied their social impact thanks to this openness. Art may be next, and here, too, technology will play a central role. Just a couple months ago, The Getty quietly released 5,400 new, high-resolution (800dpi) images from its Getty Research Institute for public use. But here’s the revolutionary part: They did it without fees or restriction. To put this in perspective: Not one of New York’s largest museums — the MoMA, the Whitney, the Guggenheim, the Metropolitan, or the Frick have done that yet. The big deal here isn’t just that a premiere cultural institution is making so many images available to all, but that it signals a broader, emerging “open content” art movement. Besides the Getty, the other art institutions leading this open content movement include Los Angeles’ LACMA (which made 20,000 images available for free, albeit in a smaller file size than Getty did), as well as D.C.’s National Gallery of Art, the Dallas Museum of Art, Baltimore’s Walters Art Museum, and the Yale University Art Gallery. And Google. Yes, Google: its Google Art Project (now called the Google Cultural Institute) has been working since 2010 on changing attitudes towards digitization among cultural institutions. The resulting meta-museum now includes high-resolution images of artworks from over 300 institutions available online. Google’s collection is the largest and, not surprisingly, has the most sophisticated and user-friendly UI. However, unlike the Getty, LACMA, or the National Gallery, Google restricts image downloading and sharing. This is a huge shift in attitude compared to fairly recently, when art museums viewed the web cautiously, at best. (via The Getty and Google Unleash Free Art — And Your Creative Potential | Wired Opinion | Wired.com)