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“I don’t think necessity is the mother of invention. Invention, in my opinion, arises directly from idleness, possibly also from laziness – to save oneself trouble”*…

 

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Like all other animals, our species evolved by gradual processes of natural selection that equipped us to survive and reproduce within a certain environmental niche. Unlike other animals, however, our species managed to escape its inherited biological role and take control of its own destiny. It began to innovate, actively reshaping its way of life, its environment and, eventually, the planet itself. How did we do it? What set our species, Homo sapiens, apart from the rest?

Searching for just one event, a decisive change in culture or brain structure, would probably be a mistake. For more than 1.5 million years, archaic humans (earlier Homo species, such as Homo erectus) had been slowly diverging from the other great apes, developing a way of life marked by increased collaboration. They made simple stone tools, hunted together, might have cooked their food, and probably engaged in communal parenting.

Still, their lifestyle remained largely static over vast periods of time, with few, if any, signs of artistic activity or technical innovation. Things started to change only in the past 300,000 years, with the emergence of our own species and our cousins the Neanderthals, and even then the pace of change didn’t quicken much until 40-60,000 years ago.

What caused our species to break out of the pattern set by archaic humans? Again, there were probably many factors. But from my perspective as someone who studies the human mind, one development stands out as of special importance. There is a mental ability we possess today that must have emerged at some point in our history, and whose emergence would have vastly enhanced our ancestors’ creative powers.

The ability I mean is that of hypothetical thinking – the ability to detach one’s mind from the here and now, and consciously think about other possibilities. This is the key to sustained innovation and creativity, and to the development of art, science and technology. Archaic humans, in all probability, didn’t possess it. The static nature of their lifestyle suggests that they lived in the present, their attention locked on to the world, and their behaviour driven by habit and environmental stimuli. In the course of their daily activities, they might accidentally hit on a better way of doing something, and so gradually acquire new habits and skills, but they didn’t actively think up innovations for themselves…

The story at “Our greatest invention was the invention of invention itself.”

* Agatha Christie (who would surely have agreed that invention is also, sometimes, aimed at explaining ourselves to our selves… and sometimes simply at delivering delight)

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As we contemplate creativity, we might recall that it was on this date in 1925 that the trial of John T. Scopes in Scopes vs. The State of Tennessee (aka “the Scopes Monkey Trial”) began.

The State of Tennessee had responded to the urging of William Bell Riley, head of the World’s Christian Fundamentals Association, by passing a law prohibiting the teaching of evolution– the Butler Act.  In response, The American Civil Liberties Union offered to defend anyone accused of violating the Act.  George Rappleyea, who managed several local mines, convinced a group of businessmen in Dayton, Tennessee, a town of 1,756, that the controversy of such a trial would give Dayton some much needed publicity.  With their agreement, he called in his friend, the 24-year-old Scopes, who taught High School biology in the local school– and who agreed to be the test case.

The rest is celebrity-filled history, and star-studded drama.

Scopes in 1925

 

Written by LW

July 10, 2020 at 1:01 am

“Soon silence will have passed into legend”*…

 

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The idea behind myNoise is to use the noises you most enjoy to mask the noises you don’t want to hear: chatty colleagues, your tinnitus, or even your inner voice when you can’t shut it down! The concept is simple, works extremely well, and doesn’t require expensive noise-cancelling headphones. Thanks to its sound quality and unique audio engineering, myNoise sets the standard among online background noise machines…

Missing the buzz of the coffee shop?  Anxious to mask unwanted audio distractions? Need to concentrate (or sleep)?  MyNoise is ready to help.

[Image above: Flickr user Sascha Kohlmann, via]

* “Soon silence will have passed into legend. Man has turned his back on silence. Day after day he invents machines and devices that increase noise and distract humanity from the essence of life, contemplation, meditation…tooting, howling, screeching, booming, crashing, whistling, grinding, and trilling bolster his ego. His anxiety subsides. His inhuman void spreads monstrously like a gray vegetation.”  — the censorious Jean Arp (who, if he were alive today, might or might not agree that “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em”…)

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As we bathe in sound, we might recall that it was on this date in 1955 that that Bill Haley & His Comets’ “Rock Around the Clock” reached number one on the Billboard charts– the first rock and roll record to ascend to that pinnacle.

 source

Exactly one year later, Dick Clark began one of television’s longest-running stints as a host when he debuted Bandstand on WFIL, a Philadelphia TV station.  The show was eventually picked up by ABC-TV and changed its name to American Bandstand.

 source

 

 

“Better than YouTube”*…

 

EXP

 

EXP TV is a live tv channel broadcasting an endless stream of obscure media and video ephemera.

EXP TV’s daytime block is “Video Breaks”–a video collage series featuring wild, rare, unpredictable, and ever-changing archival clips touching on every subject imaginable. The nighttime block starts at 10pm and features specialty themed video mixes and deep dives.

In an age where we all waste so much time figuring out what to watch online, EXP TV airs 24/7 and there’s always something cool on…

There are certain things you don’t know you’re missing in life until you’re exposed to them: EXP TV.

[TotH to to the ever-enlightening Dangerous Minds, also the source of the image above]

On a somewhat tonier note, see also Everest Pipkin‘s “Lacework.”

* Some guy, Beyond Fest

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As we stay tuned, we might recall that it was on this date in 1947 that Roswell [New Mexico] Army Air Field public information officer Walter Haut issued a press release confirming what had been rumored in the area for weeks: that personnel from the field’s 509th Operations Group had recovered a “flying disc,” which had crashed on a ranch near Roswell.  Haut’s report identified the find as the debris of a fallen weather balloon. While the military now suggests that their not-altogether-credible explanation at the time was an attempt to conceal the true purpose of the crashed device– nuclear test monitoring– UFO enthusiasts persist in believing otherwise.

300px-RoswellDailyRecordJuly8,1947 source

 

Written by LW

July 8, 2020 at 1:01 am

“Not with a bang, but with a whimper”*…

 

death

Death Table from Tuberculosis in the United States, prepared for the International Congress on Tuberculosis, September 21 to October 12, 1908. Image: U.S. National Library of Medicine

 

Recent history tells us a lot about how epidemics unfold, how outbreaks spread, and how they are controlled. We also know a good deal about beginnings—those first cases of pneumonia in Guangdong marking the SARS outbreak of 2002–3, the earliest instances of influenza in Veracruz leading to the H1N1 influenza pandemic of 2009–10, the outbreak of hemorrhagic fever in Guinea sparking the Ebola pandemic of 2014–16. But these stories of rising action and a dramatic denouement only get us so far in coming to terms with the global crisis of COVID-19. The coronavirus pandemic has blown past many efforts at containment, snapped the reins of case detection and surveillance across the world, and saturated all inhabited continents. To understand possible endings for this epidemic, we must look elsewhere than the neat pattern of beginning and end—and reconsider what we mean by the talk of “ending” epidemics to begin with…

Contrary to hopes for a tidy conclusion to the COVID-19 pandemic, history shows that outbreaks of infectious disease often have much murkier outcomes—including simply being forgotten about, or dismissed as someone else’s problem: “How Epidemics End.”

* T. S. Eliot, “The Hollow Men”

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As we contemplate the end, we might send insightful birthday greetings to Nettie Maria Stevens; she was born on this date in 1861.  A geneticist– and one of the first American women to achieve recognition for her contributions to scientific research– she built on the rediscovery of Mendel‘s paper on genetics (in 1900) with work that identified the mechanism of sexual selection: its determination by the single difference between two classes of sperm—the presence or absence of (what we now call) an X chromosome.

220px-Nettie_Stevens source

 

“Everything we know and love about the universe and all the laws of physics as they apply, apply to four percent of the universe”*…

 

dark matter

 

In 1969, the American astronomer Vera Rubin puzzled over her observations of the sprawling Andromeda Galaxy, the Milky Way’s biggest neighbour. As she mapped out the rotating spiral arms of stars through spectra carefully measured at the Kitt Peak National Observatory and the Lowell Observatory, both in Arizona, she noticed something strange: the stars in the galaxy’s outskirts seemed to be orbiting far too fast. So fast that she’d expect them to escape Andromeda and fling out into the heavens beyond. Yet the whirling stars stayed in place.

Rubin’s research, which she expanded to dozens of other spiral galaxies, led to a dramatic dilemma: either there was much more matter out there, dark and hidden from sight but holding the galaxies together with its gravitational pull, or gravity somehow works very differently on the vast scale of a galaxy than scientists previously thought.

Her influential discovery never earned Rubin a Nobel Prize, but scientists began looking for signs of dark matter everywhere, around stars and gas clouds and among the largest structures in the galaxies in the Universe. By the 1970s, the astrophysicist Simon White at the University of Cambridge argued that he could explain the conglomerations of galaxies with a model in which most of the Universe’s matter is dark, far outnumbering all the atoms in all the stars in the sky. In the following decade, White and others built on that research by simulating the dynamics of hypothetical dark matter particles on the not-so-userfriendly computers of the day.

But despite those advances, over the past half century, no one has ever directly detected a single particle of dark matter. Over and over again, dark matter has resisted being pinned down, like a fleeting shadow in the woods. Every time physicists have searched for dark matter particles with powerful and sensitive experiments in abandoned mines and in Antarctica, and whenever they’ve tried to produce them in particle accelerators, they’ve come back empty-handed. For a while, physicists hoped to find a theoretical type of matter called weakly interacting massive particles (WIMPs), but searches for them have repeatedly turned up nothing…

Dark matter is the most ubiquitous thing physicists have never found. Is it time to consider alternative explanations? “Does dark matter exist?

[image above: source]

* Neil deGrasse Tyson

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As we interrogate the invisible, we might recall that it was on this date in 1944 that one of the worst fire disasters in U.S. history occurred; the blaze broke out during an afternoon performance of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus that was attended by an estimated 7,000 people.  It killed 167 people; more than 700 were injured.

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Because of the paraffin wax waterproofing of the tent, the flames spread rapidly

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Emmett Kelly holding a water bucket on what became known as “the day the clowns cried

 

Written by LW

July 6, 2020 at 1:01 am

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