Findings, music, and occasional reflections by Paul Woodward

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Culture

Human society is unprepared for the rise of artificial intelligence

Henry Kissinger writes: The internet age in which we already live prefigures some of the questions and issues that AI will only make more acute. The Enlightenment sought to submit traditional verities to a liberated, analytic human reason. The internet’s purpose is to ratify knowledge through the accumulation and manipulation of ever expanding data. Human cognition loses its personal character. Individuals turn into data, and data become regnant. Users of

Islam in Eastern Europe

Jacob Mikanowski writes: There has never been an Eastern Europe without Islam. Eastern Europe owes its existence to the intermingling of languages, of cultures, and, perhaps above all, of faiths. It is the meeting place of the Catholic West and the Orthodox East, of Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jewry, of militant Islam and crusading Christianity, of Byzantine mystics and Sufi saints. Once, this plurality would have been obvious. A visitor to

How a Eurasian steppe empire coped with decades of drought

By Diana Crow The bitterly cold, dry air of the Central Asian steppe is a boon to researchers who study the region. The frigid climate “freeze-dries” everything, including centuries-old trees that once grew on lava flows in Mongolia’s Orkhon Valley. A recent study of the tree-ring record, published in March, from some of these archaic logs reveals a drought that lasted nearly seven decades—one of the longest in a 1,700-year

The Dreamtime, science and narratives of Indigenous Australia

Lake Mungo and the surrounding Willandra Lakes of NSW were established around 150,000 years ago. from www.shutterstock.com David Lambert, Griffith University This article is an extract from an essay Owning the science: the power of partnerships in First Things First, the 60th edition of Griffith Review. We’re publishing it as part of our occasional series Zoom Out, where authors explore key ideas in science and technology in the broader context

The crisis in modern masculinity

Pankaj Mishra writes: Many straight white men feel besieged by “uppity” Chinese and Indian people, by Muslims and feminists, not to mention gay bodybuilders, butch women and trans people. Not surprisingly they are susceptible to [Jordan] Peterson’s notion that the ostensible destruction of “the traditional household division of labour” has led to “chaos”. This fear and insecurity of a male minority has spiralled into a politics of hysteria in the

Neanderthals developed art earlier than modern humans

Carl Zimmer writes: The two new studies don’t just indicate that Neanderthals could make cave art and jewelry. They also establish that Neanderthals were making these things long before modern humans — a blow to the idea that they simply copied their cousins. The earliest known cave paintings made by modern humans are only about 40,000 years old, while Neanderthal cave art is at least 24,000 years older. The oldest

New paper links ancient drawings and the origins of language

Peter Dizikes, Massachusetts Institute of Technology: When and where did humans develop language? To find out, look deep inside caves, suggests an MIT professor. More precisely, some specific features of cave art may provide clues about how our symbolic, multifaceted language capabilities evolved, according to a new paper co-authored by MIT linguist Shigeru Miyagawa. A key to this idea is that cave art is often located in acoustic “hot spots,”

Mass shootings highlight nexus between masculinity and gun violence

Laura Kiesel writes: The year 2017 brought the deadliest mass shooting in modern history to the United States, which has become home to more gun massacres than any other country in the world. The response offered by many of our political leaders, both Democrat and Republican, has been to focus on the role of mental illness in such shootings. The day after Stephen Paddock took to a hotel room in

Quinn Norton and how anti-fascists are helping bring fascism to America

How fascism is coming to America: It’s happening when people decide the ideal society is one where everyone thinks the same way. And it’s happening when people who know better, kowtow to the dictates of social media instead of doing the right thing. I didn’t know the New York Times hired Quinn Norton until I saw news they’d parted ways. Without question, this is a greater loss to the Times

On the need for viewpoint diversity

 

Britain First and the first Britons

  The white supremacists who chant “blood and soil” (borrowing this phrase from the Nazis’ Blut und Boden) think white-skinned people have a special claim to the lands of Europe and North America. This is an arrogant and ignorant belief to hold on this side of the Atlantic where every white person has immigrant ancestry originating from Europe, but European whiteness in terms of origin (not superiority) is a less