Earlier this month, the Census Bureau released its most recent look at household internet access. This map looks at the percentage of households with broadband service. Factors limiting access to broadband internet included income and population density. www.census.gov/content/census/en/library/visualizations/2018/comm/broadband/jcr:content/map.detailitem.800.high.jpg/1543955309302.jpg
One of the more provocatively titled philosophy articles from 2018 is this piece from Henry Kissinger about the impact of AI, "How the Enlightenment Ends":
"Heretofore, the technological advance that most altered the course of modern history was the invention of the printing press in the 15th century, which allowed the search for empirical knowledge to supplant liturgical doctrine, and the Age of Reason to gradually supersede the Age of Religion. Individual insight and scientific knowledge replaced faith as the principal criterion of human consciousness. Information was stored and systematized in expanding libraries. The Age of Reason originated the thoughts and actions that shaped the contemporary world order.
"But that order is now in upheaval amid a new, even more sweeping technological revolution whose consequences we have failed to fully reckon with, and whose culmination may be a world relying on machines powered by data and algorithms and ungoverned by ethical or philosophical norms. ...
"Users of the internet emphasize retrieving and manipulating information over contextualizing or conceptualizing its meaning. They rarely interrogate history or philosophy; as a rule, they demand information relevant to their immediate practical needs. In the process, search-engine algorithms acquire the capacity to predict the preferences of individual clients, enabling the algorithms to personalize results and make them available to other parties for political or commercial purposes. Truth becomes relative. Information threatens to overwhelm wisdom. ... The digital world’s emphasis on speed inhibits reflection; its incentive empowers the radical over the thoughtful; its values are shaped by subgroup consensus, not by introspection. ...
"Through all human history, civilizations have created ways to explain the world around them—in the Middle Ages, religion; in the Enlightenment, reason; in the 19th century, history; in the 20th century, ideology. The most difficult yet important question about the world into which we are headed is this: What will become of human consciousness if its own explanatory power is surpassed by AI, and societies are no longer able to interpret the world they inhabit in terms that are meaningful to them? ...
"Ultimately, the term artificial intelligence may be a misnomer. To be sure, these machines can solve complex, seemingly abstract problems that had previously yielded only to human cognition. But what they do uniquely is not thinking as heretofore conceived and experienced. Rather, it is unprecedented memorization and computation. Because of its inherent superiority in these fields, AI is likely to win any game assigned to it. But for our purposes as humans, the games are not only about winning; they are about thinking. By treating a mathematical process as if it were a thought process, and either trying to mimic that process ourselves or merely accepting the results, we are in danger of losing the capacity that has been the essence of human cognition. ...
"The Enlightenment started with essentially philosophical insights spread by a new technology. Our period is moving in the opposite direction. It has generated a potentially dominating technology in search of a guiding philosophy."
Which is the best country in the world for doing business? According to this ranking, it is New Zealand (again), followed by Singapore and Denmark. This map highlights the top 10 and the bottom 10 countries for doing business, but many other countries' rankings are also shown. www.visualcapitalist.com/worlds-best-and-worst-places-for-business/
Have a budding geologist, paleontologist, or rockhound? The Gaithersburg Community Museum is hosting a free gem, minerals, and fossils exhibition on Saturday, January 5. Admission is free but advance registration is required. www.eventbrite.com/e/discovery-day-rocks-minerals-fossils-tickets-52914915938
Earlier this week, Turkey demanded that Google remove a map of Greater Kurdistan. Google complied. The original map can be seen here in this article from a Turkish newspaper: www.hurriyetdailynews.com/turkey-demands-google-to-remove-kurdistan-map-minister-139999 (Wikipedia continues to include maps of Greater Kurdistan in its entry on Kurdistan.)
Fish provide 20% of all animal protein consumed by humans. In the developing world, that ratio rises to as much as 50%. This important, in-depth, special report by Reuters (UK) looks at how marine life is responding to warming waters and how human communities, and countries, are affected by fish stocks moving toward the poles and to deeper water.
Scientists analyzing the massive 8.2 earthquake that rocked Mexico in September 2017 have found that the earthquake actually broke the Cocos tectonic plate in two.
Scientists at the University of Nebraska have found that the state's corn-growing season has gotten 10 to 14 days longer than it was in 1980 and that there are fewer 100+ degree days. The latter phenomenon seems to be linked to more corn production: corn transpiration (the movement of water from the roots out the stomata in the leaves) is increasing local rainfall and moderating extreme heat. This map details U.S. corn production, by county. www.nass.usda.gov/Charts_and_Maps/graphics/CR-PR-RGBChor.png
Kids Philosophy Slam has announced the topic for its 2019 essay contest: "Hate or Love: Which Has a Greater Impact on Society?" The contest is open to all K-12 students, in the U.S. and elsewhere. Submissions are due by April 12. www.philosophyslam.org/rules_fin.html
Earlier this month, the same month Time declared a group of journalists to be its 2018 "person of the year," the Committee to Protect Journalists released its annual tallies of journalists imprisoned or killed in the line of work. This geo-graphic shows the number of journalists currently in prison, by country. www.statista.com/chart/3310/china-incarcerates-more-journalists-than-anywhere-else/
Learn about the history of North America by visiting U.S. national parks. This National Geographic feature highlights national parks, from Black Canyon of the Gunnison to Bryce Canyon, that allow visitors to hike through 500 million years of geologic history. www.nationalgeographic.com/travel/destinations/north-america/united-states/national-parks/ancient-history-time-geologic-trip
Some large mammals, like elephants and rhinos, are going extinct in the public eye. Others, like giraffes and lions, are quietly going extinct. Lion populations have declined by 40% in the last 20 years and by 90% in the last century. This map, from the big-cat NGO Panthera, compares the lion's historic range (in light orange) to its present range (in dark orange). www.panthera.org/cms/sites/default/files/Panthera_LionRangeMap_January2017.pdf
Many, many countries have plans for space missions. India has plans for a lunar colony, and China recently launched its mission to the far side of the moon. What we lack is a plan for how we behave when we get to space. At present, “space” is seen as something that belongs to all of humanity more or less equally because no one can enforce a claim to any part of it. But with the technology and economics to make this possible closer by the day, little thought has been given to the rules of engagement -- should the countries, companies, or individuals who do go to space be allowed to do whatever they want there (e.g., mine asteroids, build resorts, build colonies, build prisons, launch missions into deep space)? My online high school literature class ("Who We Are & What We Dream: Comparative Science Fiction") recently considered these questions. This article, though, argues this issue is not science fiction: it is a crucial policy concern right now aeon.co/essays/we-urgently-need-a-legal-framework-for-space-colonisation
Preventing the outbreak of a zoonotic disease (a disease transmitted from animals to humans) requires that researchers and public health officials understand the biogeography of the animals involved in the spread of the disease.
"By day, some of the most dangerous animals in the world lurk deep inside this cave [in Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda]. Come night, the tiny fruit bats whoosh out, tens of thousands of them at a time, filling the air with their high-pitched chirping before disappearing into the black sky. The bats carry the deadly Marburg virus, as fearsome and mysterious as its cousin Ebola. Scientists know that the virus starts in these animals, and they know that when it spreads to humans it is lethal — Marburg kills up to 9 in 10 of its victims, sometimes within a week. But they don’t know much about what happens in between. ... No one is sure where they go each night. So a team of scientists from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention traveled here to track their movements in the hopes that spying on their nightly escapades could help prevent the spread of one of the world’s most dreaded diseases. ... Their task is to glue tiny GPS trackers on the backs of 20 bats so they can follow their movements. ... If the animals are feeding on particular fruit trees, that information could identify communities most at risk and help prevent future outbreaks. ... U.S. officials are so concerned about Marburg becoming a global threat that the CDC is seeking funding from the Pentagon’s Defense Threat Reduction Agency to cover the cost of the bat trackers, which are about $1,000 each. ... [CDC scientists] discovered a decade ago that this ... fruit bat is a natural reservoir for Marburg. That means the virus can live and grow inside the bats without harming the animal, and be excreted in its urine, feces or saliva. By comparison, more than 40 years and over two dozen outbreaks after Ebola emerged in Central Africa, researchers still don’t know what animal or animals carry it, much less how it spreads to people."
A recent study by researchers at Cornell University finds that 64% of Americans have a member of their immediate or extended family who is or has been incarcerated. This map, based on 2016 data, looks at rate of incarceration by state: upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/a/a7/US_Incarceration_Rate_per_100%2C000_Inhabitants_by_State.png/1280px-US_Incarceration_Rate_per_100%2C000_Inhabitants_by_State.png
This fascinating essay reexamines the conviction of the short-lived Victorian mathematician and philosopher William Kingdon Clifford that "it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence."
"In ‘The Ethics of Belief’ (1877), Clifford gives three arguments as to why we have a moral obligation to believe responsibly, that is, to believe only what we have sufficient evidence for, and what we have diligently investigated. His first argument starts with the simple observation that our beliefs influence our actions. Everyone would agree that our behaviour is shaped by what we take to be true about the world – which is to say, by what we believe. ... False beliefs about physical or social facts lead us into poor habits of action that in the most extreme cases could threaten our survival. ... As social animals, our agency impacts on those around us, and improper believing puts our fellow humans at risk. ... In a world in which just about everyone’s beliefs are instantly shareable, at minimal cost, to a global audience, every single belief has the capacity to be truly consequential in the way Clifford imagined. If you still believe this is an exaggeration, think about how beliefs fashioned in a cave in Afghanistan lead to acts that ended lives in New York, Paris and London. ... In the digital global village that we now inhabit, false beliefs cast a wider social net, hence Clifford’s argument might have been hyperbole when he first made it, but is no longer so today.
"The second argument Clifford provides to back his claim that it is always wrong to believe on insufficient evidence is that poor practices of belief-formation turn us into careless, credulous believers. ... Translating Clifford’s warning to our interconnected times, what he tells us is that careless believing turns us into easy prey for fake-news pedlars, conspiracy theorists and charlatans. And letting ourselves become hosts to these false beliefs is morally wrong because, as we have seen, the error cost for society can be devastating.
"Clifford’s third and final argument as to why believing without evidence is morally wrong is that, in our capacity as communicators of belief, we have the moral responsibility not to pollute the well of collective knowledge. ... Subverting this ‘heirloom’ [of collective knowledge], as he called it, by adding false beliefs is immoral because everyone’s lives ultimately rely on this vital, shared resource. ... Add the wrong ingredients into the Big Data recipe, and what you’ll get is a potentially toxic output. If there was ever a time when critical thinking was a moral imperative, and credulity a calamitous sin, it is now."
Last month the United Nations sponsored talks in Palermo, Sicily, on stabilizing Libya and setting the groundwork for a national conference, and possibly elections, in Libya in early 2019. Politically and militarily, though, the situation on the ground in Libya remains complex and volatile, as this map showing regions of control from earlier this year suggests: www.polgeonow.com/2018/07/libyan-civil-war-map-libya-who-controls-what.html Even the capital of Tripoli is divided by competing factions as this more granular map shows: www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/menasource/tripoli-a-kaleidoscope
Today is the National Geographic Society geography bee for local home schoolers. You can test (and expand) your own geography knowledge with this 35-question quiz for which every answer starts with an S: play.howstuffworks.com/quiz/only-a-genius-can-ace-this-geography-quiz-all-s-answers
As students in my "Stock Market Challenge: Intro to Finance & Investment" class have experienced firsthand this semester, U.S. stock markets continue to experience significant volatility, with most indices down roughly 10-15% from their late-August/early-September highs. However, five countries (shown in red on this map) with export-sensitive economies are now experiencing bear market declines of 20% or more on their major exchanges.
The London-based risk consultancy firm Control Risks has assembled its 2018 assessment of political and security risks, by country, by region within certain countries, and for bodies of water with piracy risks. Check it out at cdn-prd-com.azureedge.net/-/media/corporate/files/riskmap-2018/maps/riskmap-map-2018-uk-web.pdf
Leaders from around the world are currently meeting in Poland to discuss climate change. This interactive feature from The New York Times allows users to put in a location and a year to compare if and how climate has changed since that year and is likely to change. (Downside: because this feature focuses on 90+ degree days, only locations prone to 90-degree weather are searchable :-/.) www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/08/30/climate/how-much-hotter-is-your-hometown.html
According to recently released Census data, in 80% of U.S. states, there are more women than men. This map from Business Insider shows (in red) the states in which males are the majority and (in blue) the states in which females are the majority. amp.businessinsider.com/images/5c006b421a27840a096f111b-1136-852.png
How do you keep on going when you know (or at least have a niggling suspicion) that none of it really matters? It's a question for people suffering from depression and for existentialist philosophers. The existentialists' answers may provide some satisfaction for both groups.
"Some people are apparently totally cool with living in an absurd world. Presumably, these folks don’t experience existence as futile or see enthusiasm as foolish. However, not all of us are so lucky or plucky, and so we’re left mustering up reasons to be and do even as we sense it’s all pointless. We can’t go on. We must go on. We’re already here. The reluctant have to make meaning up. We do things even when most of what humans do seems pretty pointless and stupid given how many of us there are, how briefly we live, and how hard it is to make a difference on this crowded planet. ... But don’t let your fundamental gloominess be a reason to do nothing. For the great victory of the reluctant is that we do despite knowing better—knowing our contributions will not change the course of humanity. That’s how Friedrich Nietzsche’s übermensch would approach the world: without the reliance on anyone else to confirm their existence. It turns meaninglessness into a sort of freedom that allows one to affirm life despite its absurdity.
"Think about it. Really, it’s no big deal to try to be a decent human who does no harm and maybe even helps, is generous of spirit and labors diligently, if you think there’s a god, country, or boss who will reward you now or in the afterlife. But if you manage to live life based on certain values because you’ve examined them and found them preferable under the circumstances to other less laudable or more destructive approaches, that’s no joke. Then you have forged meaning in the fires of futility and you have overcome, which is something. Or at least it’s more than nothing. ...
"In doing, there is liberation. During moments of focus on even very mundane endeavors, you are free and have purpose. This purpose may be small. But it’s also huge. You are a hero of the mundane, like Sisyphus, rolling a boulder up a hill every day over and over again. It’s boring, glorious, and rebellious. By endeavoring to keep on keeping on, you become a giant, a survivor. ... Continuing in the face of futility is a revolt, and that’s meaningful."
A recent study finds that the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria accounts for 33,000 deaths in European Union and European Economic Area countries each year, as many as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and influenza combined. This geo-graphic shows the 2015 impact by country, with Italy accounting for nearly 1/3 of the EU/EEA deaths due to drug-resistant bacteria. www.statista.com/chart/16012/median-number-of-deaths-due-to-antibiotic-resistance-bacteria/
Did you know that if you live in the DC area and have a teen or college student who likes theater, s/he can get tickets to any performance at Round House Theatre for free?! Through its Free Play program, Round House Theatre (with upcoming performances in Bethesda and at the Shakespeare Theatre Company's Lansburgh Theatre in downtown DC) offers free tickets to any student age 13 through college. Should a parent or other adult want to accompany a student attending on a Free Play ticket, the parent/adult is also eligible for a $5 discount. www.roundhousetheatre.org/buy-tickets/free-play/
Blog sharing news about geography, philosophy, world affairs, and outside-the-box learning
This blog also appears on Facebook: