The Minds of Other Things

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1. Oliver Sacks on what plants and earthworms and insects think. (Or how they think.) (Or if they think.)

"For Darwin, the ability to modulate responses indicated 'the presence of a mind of some kind.' He also wrote of the 'mental qualities' of worms in relation to their plugging up their burrows, noting that 'if worms are able to judge…having drawn an object close to the mouths of their burrows, how best to drag it in, they must acquire some notion of its general shape.' This moved him to argue that worms 'deserve to be called intelligent, for they then act in nearly the same manner as a man under similar circumstances.'"

 

2. Graphing the IMDB ratings of television shows you surprising things, such as: people have no idea what they are talking about when it comes to Friday Night Lights

"Graph TV is a visualization tool which graphs tv show ratings by episode. Each season is assigned a different color and linear regressions are calculated for each season as well as for the entire series. Each point on the graph displays the episode title, rating, and other data. The data points are clickable and will open its IMDb entry. The graphs are also exportable for offline use."

 

3. Soviet space art: the best kind of retrofuturism.

"Artists from the Soviet Union didn't just imagine a worker's Utopia on Earth. They also thought that the great communist experiment would eventually reach other worlds, too. Here are some incredible works of art and conceptual design that put the Soviet Union in space."

 

4. Recreate the experiment that Sir William Herschel used to discover infrared light with a cardboard box and $10 worth of supplies.

"In the year 1800, Sir William Herschel discovered the existence of infrared by performing an experiment very similar to the one we show here. Herschel passed sunlight through a prism. As sunlight passes through the prism, the prism divides it into a rainbow of colors called a spectrum. A spectrum contains all of the colors which make up sunlight. Herschel was interested in measuring the amount of heat in each color. To do this he used thermometers with blackened bulbs and measured the temperature of the different colors of the spectrum. He noticed that the temperature increased from the blue to the red part of the spectrum. Then he placed a thermometer just past the red part of the spectrum in a region where there was no visible light and found that the temperature there was even higher. Herschel realized that there must be another type of light which we cannot see in this region. This light was called infrared."

 

5. Plato in the Googleplex.

"Dr. Goldstein's Plato starts his tour at Google because she thinks that tech entrepreneurs 'may be the new philosopher kings,' she says. 'They are the new elite.' At first, her Plato approves of the way that technology has democratized information. 'Then he realizes everybody's going to the sources that agree with them … and that is very dangerous for democracy,' she adds, admitting that 'there's a lot of me in that.' Dr. Goldstein says that she now forces herself to read news from sources she disagrees with, which has helped her to change her stance on a few issues. 'With technology, everyone has more of a voice, but … is it broadening our minds, or is it narrowing our minds?' she wonders. Reading Plato convinced her of the need to be able to change her own mind, even about Plato himself."

 

A quick programming note: I've been traveling, which explains the absence of 5IT this week. There'll be an edition tomorrow, but then I'm off on Thursday and Friday to celebrate my birthday with my family. How old am I? I have mostly stopped counting, but I noticed that I have a few grey chest hairs, so I must be pretty old. 

 

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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