Federico Pistono talks fact and science fiction

Tuesday, 29 January, 2013

Federico Pistono is a young Renaissance Man whose formal education has taken him from studying science and technology in the ancient Italian city of Verona to an immersion in Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning at the ultra-modern Singularity University in California. A thinker, a social entrepreneur and an aspiring filmmaker, he is also the author […]

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With gore on its hands, Hollywood runs for the exit

Tuesday, 18 December, 2012 3 Comments

Yesterday’s post about Quentin Tarantino’s cynical exploitation of graphic violence for fame and fortune brought instant results. “In the wake of the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., the Weinstein Co. has decided to cancel the Hollywood premiere of its movie ‘Django Unchained,’ reports the Los Angeles Times. CBS News noted that, “In true Tarantino form, […]

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Black humour and deep insight from the Black Swan

Wednesday, 21 November, 2012 0 Comments

“No, I don’t use Facebook. I absolutely don’t want to stay in touch with everybody in my past. I really believe in falling out of touch with people.” So says Tina Brown in a wide-ranging talk with New York Magazine. While Facebook can be a huge waste of time and a narcissistic indulgence, it can also be a platform for intellectual debate as Nassim Nicholas Taleb proved with his 16 October post, “The Stickiness of Languages“.

The comments add depth to the post and all of them are excellent:

Matthew Vallarino “In Genoese there are many nouns (goods, navigation etc.) that have Arabic origins which would have simplified trade, knowledge and communication.”

Jean-Benoit Nadeau “This reminds a point I learned but am looking for comfirmation: apparently, the Latin term Hispania was a deformation of the Phoenician I-shepan-ha (meaning Land of Hyraxes).”

Patrick Vlaskovits “Why did Magyar language displace local Slavs and Avars (Turkic language group I think) when the Hungarians occupied the Carpathian basin?”

Taleb makes no bones about his refined intelligence but once you get used to his style his humour is addictive. Here, he talks about the “Iatrogenics of wealth”. Snippet:

The master of the Black Swan“As a child I was certain that poor people were happier because they had less complicated but more social lives, huddled together in small quarters, and having no soccer mom (or the then-equivalent), they could just play in the streets etc. In addition, rich people use harmful technologies, go to the gym instead of playing in the streets, meet economists and other frauds, etc… So there were things money could not buy, in effect, money caused you to lose… Later on when I got a windfall check, in my twenties (before it became more common for people in finance to get big bucks), I discovered another harmful side of wealth: unless one hid the cash, it was hard to know who one’s friends were…”

It was The Black Swan that brought Nassim Nicholas Taleb global recognition, and now he’s back with a new book, Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder, which is being described as “a blueprint for living in a Black Swan world.” Here’s the core message:

“We all know that the stressors of exercise are necessary for good health, but people don’t translate this insight into other domains of physical and mental well-being. We also benefit, it turns out, from occasional and intermittent hunger, short-term protein deprivation, physical discomfort and exposure to extreme cold or heat. Newspapers discuss post-traumatic stress disorder, but nobody seems to account for post-traumatic growth. Walking on smooth surfaces with ‘comfortable’ shoes injures our feet and back musculature: We need variations in terrain.”

Modernity, says Taleb, is obsessed with comfort and cosmetic stability, but by making ourselves too comfortable and by eliminating all volatility from our lives, we make our bodies and souls fragile. The antidote is understanding disorder.

Philosophical rumble: Mike Tyson vs A. J. Ayer

Monday, 8 October, 2012

Last week, a conviction for the rape of an 18-year-old woman in an Indianapolis hotel room in 1991 caught up with ex-boxer Mike Tyson and led to the revocation of the visa required to visit New Zealand. According to the New Zealand Herald, “The former heavyweight boxing champion was due to travel to Auckland in […]

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Cetonia aurata enjoys a working lunch

Sunday, 16 September, 2012

On sunny days, between May and September, Cetonia aurata, popularly known as the rose chafer, feeds on flowers, in particular roses (from where it gets its name). The beetle has a metallic green coloration, but can also be gold, bronze, copper, violet, blue/black or grey. In his book Synchronicity, Swiss psychologist C. G. Jung tells […]

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Noam Chomsky: Not a gadfly or a lunatic, but an actual monster

Tuesday, 21 August, 2012

Benjamin Kerstein, author of Diary of an Anti-Chomskyite, believes that the leftist ideologue Noam Chomsky is more than a mere crank and crackpot. He’s a monster. Kerstein makes his case using the example of the German thinker Martin Heidegger: “Now, there is no doubt that Heidegger was a brilliant philosopher, and most of his philosophy […]

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The coprolalia, copropraxia and coprographia of Twitter

Friday, 3 August, 2012

“Personally, I would prefer if, instead of pursuing individual tweeters, the police arrested Jack Dorsey, the creator of Twitter, and closed his network down. Actually, i wish they wud burn the Twitter founder in oil leave his carcass out for the buzzards. Seriously.” It is the duty of the columnist to provoke and John Waters, […]

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Hitchens as Orwell’s Successor

Tuesday, 17 July, 2012

“When looking back on the life of the late Christopher Hitchens, one sees that his persona is oddly like that of Oscar Wilde’s character Lord Henry Wotton from The Picture of Dorian Gray: loved by an assortment of people for assorted reasons, often when they cannot square with him on something else. Like Wotton, Hitchens […]

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The orphanage is safe, they said

Thursday, 5 July, 2012

New York University professor, author and thinker Clay Shirky talks with Wired Business about where the web has been and where it might be going. Snippet: Wired: You closely observed the first tech boom and educated some of the people driving the current one. What is different this time around? Shirky: “What is happening this […]

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Heard the one about the three monks?

Thursday, 5 April, 2012

Seeing that this is Holy Thursday, it’s time for something contemplative, and they don’t get much better than this very old Irish joke, which begins: “Tríar manach do rat díultad don tsaegul.” Not familiar with ancient Gaelic? Here’s some help: tríar = three persons, a threesome; manach = of monks (genitive plural of ‘manach‘); do […]

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The doomed temple of the unbelievers

Wednesday, 15 February, 2012

The theories of the French philosopher Auguste Comte were central to the development of humanist and secular humanist organizations in the 19th century. Indeed, Comte was so influential that he was honoured with the construction of atheist temples in France in Brazil. No one worships at their ruins anymore, however. Today’s Comte, the Anglo-Swiss philosopher, […]

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