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Posts Tagged ‘exploration

“To an artist a metaphor is as real as a dollar”*…

 

Florida attarctions

 

Before a certain mouse took over Orlando, Florida was already home to a slew of delightfully bizarre tourist attractions. You could meet menacing pirates and hoop skirt-clad Southern Belles. Or visit the circus every day. Or watch an 80-year-old man break a world record as he waterskied barefoot in a banana-yellow jumpsuit…

How did the Sunshine State use to attract tourists? Circus animals, water ski shows and a half-mile replica of the Great Wall of China: “Let’s revisit Florida’s bizarre lost theme parks from before the Disney era.”

* Tom Robbins, Another Roadside Attraction

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As we pull over to investigate, we might recall that it was on this date in 1513 that Juan Ponce de León, the Spanish explorer who had become the Governor of Puerto Rico and Hispanola, but who believed there to be land further west, first set eyes on what he first believed was another island, which he claimed for Spain and named “Florida”… the name by which we know it still.  Legend has it that Ponce de León was searching for the Fountain of Youth; while there is no contemporary evidence that that’s true, it does seem resonant with Florida’s history thereafter…

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“It is the nature of humankind to idealize, to indulge in excessive praise as well as unjust condemnation”*…

 

Polarization

 

In 2013, James Evans, a University of Chicago sociologist and computational scientist, launched a study to see if science forged a bridge across the political divide. Did conservatives and liberals at least agree on biology and physics and economics? Short answer: No. “We found more polarization than we expected,” Evans told me recently. People were even more polarized over science than sports teams. At the outset, Evans said, “I was hoping to find that science was like a Switzerland. When we have problems, we can appeal to science as a neutral arbiter to produce a solution, or pathway to a solution. That wasn’t the case at all.”…

Looking at the polarized results, Evans had an idea. What would happen if you put together a group of diverse people to produce information? What would the results look like? Evans knew just the place to conduct the experiment: Wikipedia. Evans and Misha Teplitskiy, a postdoctoral fellow at the Laboratory for Innovation Science at Harvard, and colleagues, studied 205,000 Wikipedia topics and their associated “talk pages,” where anybody can observe the debates and conversations that go on behind the scenes.

The scholars judged the quality of the articles on Wikipedia’s own assessments. “It’s based on internal quality criteria that is essentially: What do we want a good encyclopedia article to be? We want it to be readable, comprehensive, pitched at the right level, well-sourced, linked to other stuff,” Teplitskiy explained.

In their new Nature Human Behaviour paper, “The Wisdom of Polarized Crowds,” Evans and Teplitskiy concluded that polarization doesn’t poison the wells of information. On the contrary, they showed politically diverse editor teams on Wikipedia put out better entries—articles with higher accuracy or completeness—than uniformly liberal or conservative or moderate teams.

A way to pop filter bubbles? Evans and Teplitsky unpack their surprising– and encouraging– findings: “Wikipedia and the Wisdom of Polarized Crowds.”

* Peter Ackroyd, Venice: Pure City

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As we celebrate diversity, we might send exploratory birthday greetings to Sir Richard Francis Burton; he was born on this date in 1821.  An explorer, geographer, translator, writer, soldier, orientalist, cartographer, ethnologist, spy, linguist, poet, fencer, and diplomat. He was famed for his travels and explorations in Asia, Africa and the Americas, as well as his extraordinary knowledge of languages and cultures (according to one count, he spoke 29 European, Asian and African languages).

An exception to the pervasive British ethnocentrism of his day, he relished personal contact with human cultures in all their variety.  His best-remembered achievements include: a well-documented journey to Mecca in disguise, at a time when Europeans were forbidden access on pain of death; an unexpurgated translation of One Thousand and One Nights (commonly called The Arabian Nights in English, after early translations of Antoine Galland’s French version); the publication of the Kama Sutra in English; and a journey with John Hanning Speke as the first Europeans to visit the Great Lakes of Africa in search of the source of the Nile.

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“I think calling it climate change is rather limiting. I would rather call it the everything change.”*…

 

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The Trump administration released a report that predicted global temperatures will be four degrees higher by the end of this century, assuming current trends persist. World leaders have pledged to keep global temperatures from rising even two degrees (Celsius) above pre-industrial levels, with the understanding that warming beyond that could prove catastrophic. The last time the Earth was as warm as the White House expects it to be in 2100, its oceans were hundreds of feet higher. Which is to say: The Trump administration ostensibly, officially expects that, absent radical action to reduce carbon emissions, within the next 80 years, much of Manhattan and Miami will sink into the sea; many of world’s coral reefs will be irreversibly destroyed by acidifying oceans; vast regions of the Earth will lose their primary sources of water; and a variety of extreme weather events will dramatically increase in frequency.

And the White House believes that this fact is an argument for loosening restrictions on carbon emissions… the administration uses its four-degree warming estimate to argue that eliminating 8 billion tons worth of emissions won’t be enough to change the climate outlook, by itself, so the federal government shouldn’t bother…

This argument is deplorable in its nihilism. But its core assumption is also patently absurd. The administration’s analysis is premised on the notion that there is no relationship between what the United States does with regard to climate regulation, and what the rest of the world’s countries do. Which is totally bogus: Not only can the U.S. lead by example, it also has the power to coerce other countries into emulating the carbon standards we set for ourselves…

That said, if one assumes that the entire leadership of the Republican Party has concluded that human civilization will not survive Barron Trump, then their governing agenda starts to make a lot more sense. Exacerbating inequality and subordinating the commons to short-term profit maximization isn’t in the enlightened medium-term interests of the GOP donor class — but in the medium-term, we’ll all (apparently) be dead!

The whole sad story in full: “The Trump Administration Anticipates Catastrophic Global Warming by 2100.”

* Margaret Atwood

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As we we recall, with Marshall McLuhan, that there are no passengers on Spaceship Earth, only crew, we might take a celebratory trip in honor of Thor Heyerdahl, the Norwegian explorer and anthropologist who became famous for his Kon-Tiki  Expedition in 1947 (though he went on many others as well); he was born on this date in 1914…  He once responded to an interviewer, “Borders? I have never seen one. But I have heard they exist in the minds of most people.”

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“Whose maps are we trying to read? And what are we trying to draw?”*…

 

A map of the South China Sea, with competing territorial claims marked

Maps are complicated in the current geopolitical climate—especially emblazoned across your torso. What is perfectly acceptable in Vietnam can get you stopped at Chinese border control, and vice versa.

Recently, US clothing retailer Gap apologized for printing a t-shirt that didn’t include China’s claimed territories, including Taiwan, South Tibet, and islands in the South China Sea. In doing so, it joined Marriott and Delta, which had previously triggered Beijing’s ire for maps-related issues. At the same time, a group of Chinese tourists to Vietnam generated outrage by showing up at a Vietnamese airport wearing t-shirts with a Chinese map including parts of Vietnam…

Even the United Nations’s world map openly states that the represented borders aren’t necessarily officially recognized (the map specifically calls out Kashmir and the Falkland Islands as disputed territories.) It also notes that although Taiwan was a UN founding member, it left the organization in 1971, and the UN recognizes China’s sovereignty over it…

And so the image above: “Here’s a t-shirt you could wear everywhere in East Asia without upsetting anyone.”

* Rebecca Solnit

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As we ponder geopolitical presumption, we might send pioneering birthday greetings to Henry Bradford Washburn, Jr.; he was born on this date in 1910.  An explorer, mountaineer, photographer, and cartographer, he established the Boston Museum of Science, served as its director from 1939–1980, and from 1985 until his death served as its Honorary Director.

In 1940, he married fellow explorer Barbara Polk; on their honeymoon in Alaska, they made the first ascent of Mt. Bertha.  Seven years later, they climbed Denali (Mt. McKinley), an ascent that made her the first female to reach the peak.

Bradford and Barbara atop Mt. McKinley, Alaska, June 6, 1947

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“Wonder is the beginning of wisdom”*…

 

Depiction of a Dragon featured in Mundus Subterraneus

Just before Robert Hooke’s rightly famous microscopic observations of everything from the “Edges of Rasors” to “Vine mites” appeared in Micrographia in 1665, the insatiably curious and incredibly prolific Jesuit scholar Athanasius Kircher [see here] published what is in many ways a more spectacular work. Mundus Subterraneus  (Underground world), a two-volume tome of atlas-like dimensions, was intended to lay out “before the eyes of the curious reader all that is rare, exotic, and portentous contained in the fecund womb of Nature.” There is an “idea of the earthly sphere that exists in the divine mind,” Kircher proclaimed, and in this book, one of more than thirty on almost as many subjects that he published during his lifetime, he tried to prove that he had grasped it.

As a French writer put it some years later, “it would take a whole journal to indicate everything remarkable in this work.” There were extended treatments on the spontaneous generation of living animals from non-living matter, the unethical means by which alchemists pretended to change base metals into gold, and the apparent tricks of nature we now recognize as fossils. The book included detailed charts of “secret” oceanic motions, or currents, among the first ever published. The author’s more or less correct explanation of how igneous rock is formed was also arguably the first in print. According to one modern scholar, Kircher “understood erosion,” and his entries “on the quality and use of sand” and his “investigations into the tending of fields” had their practical use.

Mundus Subterraneus identified the location of the legendary lost island of Atlantis (something that modern science hasn’t been able to accomplish) as well as the source of the Nile: it started in the “Mountains of the Moon,” then ran northward through “Guix,” “Sorgola,” and “Alata” and on into “Bagamidi” before reaching Ethiopia and Egypt. Kircher offered a lengthy discussion of people who lived in caves (their societies and their economy). He reported on the remains of giants (also mainly cave dwellers) found in the ground. And he went into detail on the kinds of lower animals who belong to the lower world (including dragons).

In short, Mundus Subterraneus covered almost every subject that might relate to the realm of earth, as well as many that wouldn’t seem to, such as the sun and “its special properties, by which it flows into the earthly world” and the “nature of the lunar body and its effects.” These correspondences and influences were nothing new, though perhaps only the always-inclusive Athanasius Kircher would choose to publish a series of moon maps in a book about the world below…

Portrait of Kircher at age 53 from Mundus Subterraneus

More on this extraordinary work– inspired in part by a subterranean adventure Kircher himself made into the bowl of Vesuvius– at John Glassie‘s “Athanasius, Underground“; browse the book at the Internet Archive.

* Socrates

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As we praise polymathy, we might recall that it was on this date in 1804 that Corps of Discovery– better known today as the Lewis and Clark Expedition– left Camp Dubois, near Wood River, Illinois, commencing what would be a trek over two years on which they became the first American expedition to cross what is now the western portion of the United States.

President Thomas Jefferson had commissioned the expedition shortly after the Louisiana Purchase (in 1803) to explore and to map the newly acquired territory, to find a practical route across the western half of the continent– a Northwest Passage– and to establish an American presence in this territory before Britain and other European powers tried to claim it.

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Meriwether Lewis and William Clark

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“All fantasy should have a solid base in reality”*…

 

One of the most notorious examples of Waldeck’s penchant for fantasy: an elephant head in this rendition of an Ancient Mayan temple

Not a lot concerning the artist, erotic publisher, explorer, and general enigma Count de Waldeck can be taken at face value, and this certainly includes his fanciful representations of ancient Mesoamerican culture which — despite being brilliantly executed on-site at Mayan monuments like Palenque — run wild with anatopistic lions, elephants, and suspicious architecture.  Rhys Griffiths looks at the life and work of one of the 19th century’s most mysterious and eccentric figures: “Brief Encounters with Jean-Frédéric Maximilien de Waldeck.”

* Sir Max Beerbohm, Zuleika Dobson

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As we ponder a predecessor of Photoshop, we might send delightfully-drawn birthday greetings to Paul Gustave Doré; he was born on this date in 1832.  An engraver, sculptor, and illustrator– indeed, the defining illustrator of works by Rabelais, Balzac, Milton, Cervantes, and many others– Doré is probably best-remembered as the man who showed us Heaven and Hell: the canonical illustrator of Dante.

Don Quixote, his horse Rocinante, and his squire Sancho Panza after an unsuccessful attack on a windmill.

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The Tempest of Hell in THE DIVINE COMEDY

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Written by LW

January 6, 2018 at 1:01 am

“A change in perspective is worth 80 IQ points”*…

 

This rectangular world map [from the design firm AuthaGraph] is made by equally dividing a spherical surface into 96 triangles, transferring it to a tetrahedron while maintaining areas proportions and unfolding it to be a rectangle.

The world map can be tiled in any directions without visible seams. From this map-tiling, a new world map with triangular, rectangular or parallelogram’s outline can be framed out with various regions at its center.

For more background and other views, visit The AuthaGraph World Map.

* Alan Kay

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As we struggle to keep it all in proportion, we might send exploratory birthday greetings to Fabian Gottlieb Thaddeus von Bellingshausen; he was born on this date in 1778.  A sailor, navigator, and cartographer, Bellingshausen was appointed by Czar Alexander I of Russia to lead an expedition that aimed to pick up where Captain Cook (who had died a year after Bellingshausen’s birth) left off, exploring the southern polar region of the globe.  Bellinghausen may have been the first to sight the Antarctic mainland, when he saw distant mountains on January 28, 1820.  Between February 17-19, he recorded seeing ice cliffs and ice-covered mountains, though he didn’t realize that they were in fact a continental mainland.  Similar sightings were also made at about the same time British naval captain Edward Bransfield and the American sealing captain Nathaniel Palmer sailing from other directions, so who was actually the first of them to see Antarctica remains unclear.

(Just as there is some uncertainty as to which of the three mariners was in fact the first to sight the seventh continent, so there is some confusion as to Bellingshausen’s birth date.  This is one of the primary candidates.)

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Written by LW

August 30, 2017 at 1:01 am

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