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Posts Tagged ‘Margaret Mead

“The Universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose”*…

 

Complex nature

Albert Einstein said that the “most incomprehensible thing about the Universe is that it is comprehensible.” He was right to be astonished. Human brains evolved to be adaptable, but our underlying neural architecture has barely changed since our ancestors roamed the savannah and coped with the challenges that life on it presented. It’s surely remarkable that these brains have allowed us to make sense of the quantum and the cosmos, notions far removed from the ‘commonsense’, everyday world in which we evolved.

But I think science will hit the buffers at some point. There are two reasons why this might happen. The optimistic one is that we clean up and codify certain areas (such as atomic physics) to the point that there’s no more to say. A second, more worrying possibility is that we’ll reach the limits of what our brains can grasp. There might be concepts, crucial to a full understanding of physical reality, that we aren’t aware of, any more than a monkey comprehends Darwinism or meteorology. Some insights might have to await a post-human intelligence…

Abstract thinking by biological brains has underpinned the emergence of all culture and science. But this activity, spanning tens of millennia at most, will probably be a brief precursor to the more powerful intellects of the post-human era – evolved not by Darwinian selection but via ‘intelligent design’. Whether the long-range future lies with organic post-humans or with electronic super-intelligent machines is a matter for debate. But we would be unduly anthropocentric to believe that a full understanding of physical reality is within humanity’s grasp, and that no enigmas will remain to challenge our remote descendants…

Martin Rees (Lord Rees of Ludlow), cosmologist and astrophysicist, Astronomer Royal since 1995, past Master of Trinity College, Cambridge, and former President of the Royal Society, on the limits of human understanding (and how we might transcend them): “Black holes are simpler than forests and science has its limits.”

For a “companionable” take on the character of the knowledge that we do (seem to) have, see “Is Quantum Theory About Reality or What We Know?“; and for an argument that we should stop worrying about the limits of human knowledge, and start worrying about wasting the knowledge we already have, see here.

* J. B. S. Haldane, Possible Worlds and Other Papers (1927)

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As we prepare to call (an artificially-intelligent) friend, we might send acutely observant birthday greetings to an astute student of the human animal, anthropologist Margaret Mead; she was born on this date in 1901.  Best-known for her studies of the nonliterate peoples of Oceania, she was 23 when she first traveled to the South Pacific, to conduct research for her doctoral dissertation. The book that resulted, Coming of Age in Samoa, was– and remains– a best-seller.

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Written by LW

December 16, 2017 at 1:01 am

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page”*…

 

Color version of Abraham Ortelius’ Typus Orbis Terrarum, a map inserted into the first edition of Richard Hakluyt’s The Principal Navigations (1589) — Source

The Principle Navigations, Richard Hakluyt’s great championing of Elizabethan colonial exploration, remains one of the most important collections of English travel writing ever published. It recounts the escapades of famed explorers like Francis Drake and Walter Raleigh, at the same time that it preserves many stories of lesser known figures that surely would have been otherwise lost.

Nandini Das tours the book and puts it into historical and cultural context at “Richard Hakluyt and Early English Travel.”

* St. Augustine of Hippo

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As we chart our courses, we might recall that it was on this date in 1937 that anthropologist Margaret Mead arrived on Samoa.  The book that resulted, Coming of Age in Samoa, was– and remains– a best-seller, and launched her career as an expert on the non-literate peoples of Oceania.

source

Written by LW

November 9, 2016 at 1:01 am

Speaking of animals…

28 other examples of straight-talking signage at Decoded Stuff’s “30 Most Bizarre Zoo Signs.”

As we remember to keep our peanuts to ourselves, we might wish a Happy Birthday to an astute student of the human animal, anthropologist Margaret Mead; she was born on this date in 1901.  Best-known for her studies of the nonliterate peoples of Oceania, she was 23 when she first traveled to the South Pacific, to conduct research for her doctoral dissertation. The book that resulted, Coming of Age in Samoa, was– and remains– a best-seller.

source

 

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