Robot Librarians?

August 18, 2011

Okay, not just librarians. These are amazing. Similar to the Kilobots / I wrote about previously / the Swarmanoids work together to achieve a goal.

I’d like to see them doing housework, of course. And yardwork… I prefer human librarians.

What would you have them do?


I’ve been speculating on denialism as one attribute that is distinctly human. Learn to deny mortality so you can live. From that, you learn that denying anything you dislike or don’t want to admit will allow you to live as if that weren’t reality.

We live in unreality most of the time, I think. Remembering the past, anticipating the future, denying what we don’t like, emphasizing what we do. Not much mental space left for reality to fill.

This video / takes these speculations back a step. What is language? Why did we develop this tool? What benefits did it offer, and what harm can it cause?

I was intrigued by the chart at 12:16 showing the geographic spread of Homo sapiens after language arose. Looks like social learning added to linguistic exchange really did enable us to spread out and survive in myriad environments.

At 15:13 he shows a map of Facebook connections. Not a world map, just electronic friends. And those connections recreate the geographic map.

I agree that having one language for international communication is beneficial, perhaps essential for further development. But which one? Will we rationally choose the language that offers the most flexibility, adaptability, as well as ease of learning and of writing? Or will wars or economic conquest make the determination?

History shows… well, yes, but in my unreality, I keep hoping that reasonable thinking will come to the fore.

I’ve / written before /, albeit briefly, about synchronicity. I strongly suspect it is an aspect of attention. Our brains are very good at seeing or hearing what is of interest and ignoring the rest.

Words have been much on my mind lately, but also the enduring question of what it mean to be human. What is there that we can identify as uniquely us?

Perhaps all we are is an extension in directions and capabilities. Not apart from, only different. We are no more a ‘special’ species with our brains, our emotions, and our reasoning than is a bat with their echo location, or a cat with their night vision, or an octopus with their color changes.  The  same basic DNA, tweaked to different forms and different efficiencies. No more than that.

Now that allowing animals their various intelligences has become acceptable, we see myriad articles about previously unacknowledged capabilities. /  Magpies /  and /  crows  / (and /  here /, just for the fun of it).

Today I read / this  on bees /. Depressed bees.  Optimistic bees. We can’t avoid terms that have anthropomorphic connotations, but the results seem to allow the usages.

Humans. Unique, or part of the spectrum of life? Seems to me we should lose our egos and rejoice in our connections instead.

/ This is amazing /. “Mother” trees sharing nutrients and water with daughter trees.

For young trees, “increased survival was associated with belowground transfer of carbon, nitrogen and water from the old trees.”

Yet another reason never to clearcut. We shouldn’t need reasons for avoiding such an obviously destructive act, but unfortunately, logging companies want money. Clear cutting is fast and easy compared to judicious pruning, and then replanting a natural forest in the gaps rather than a one-species orchard.

Interesting: a healthy forest, like a healthy society, depends on both age and youth, diversity in its population, sharing resources, and those with experience and skill helping those who lack either or both.

What we keep learning about our world, about  life of all sorts, including ourselves, never ceases to astound me. And yet there is so much left to learn.

I appreciate the importance of this post from / Cosmic Variance / on our real knowledge of the basic laws of physics. We need to remember how much we already know. That knowledge gives us the tools to learn more. I include / this link / to Sean Carroll’s follow-up article because of this sentence: “Today we think of ourselves and the stuff we see around us as made of electrons, protons, and neutrons, interacting through gravity, electromagnetism, and the nuclear forces. A thousand years from now, we will still think precisely that.”

The joy of discovering and understanding something that was not just a mystery, but completely unexpected yesterday — that is one of the greatest joys we can experience.

Words Matter

July 20, 2011

Synchronicity is intriguing. You are thinking about something, and suddenly you see it all around you. I suspect it’s largely because we see what we are thinking about.

For the last couple of months I’ve been thinking about words. And language. Reading Wittgenstein. Trying to get a sense for what language means in defining the world or describing the world.

I was delighted with this comic:

A wonderful article from the ‘Scientific American’ blog  /  Degrees of Freedom.

While full of pertinent examples of the usefulness of math and mathematicians, this paragraph was a hoot:

“On the other hand, mathematicians are cheap. They just need a small office, some chalk, a computer and, once in a while, a ticket to a conference. They make you smile by wearing nerdy T-shirts. They are good to have around on university campuses in case you are a scientist who happens to have calculus (or Riemannian geometry) questions. Oh, and they teach math to students. Lots of students.”

It reminded me, of course, of the joke about philosophers and mathematicians – a mathematician needs pencil, paper, and a rubbish bin; but the philosopher doesn’t even need the bin.

Conferences are great – that’s where the real cross-pollination of ideas can begin. People from all sorts of specializations getting mellow in the bar, and talking about things – and ideas happen.

Mathematicians may be too abstract for most people to understand, but they know the value of a conference.

Physics and Hell Heat

July 13, 2011

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