Alex Szalay: Big data a big step forward for science

There have been three major eras in the history of science, as Johns Hopkins University astrophysicist and computer scientist Alex Szalay describes it. The first, which lasted for millennia, was empirical, involving mostly the recording of data: Chinese star charts, Leonardo da Vinci’s codices on how turbulent water flows, Tico Brahe’s recording of the motions of planets. The second era, which he calls the theoretical paradigm, launched when Brahe gave his observations to Johannes Kepler, who came up with the laws of planetary motion. [more]

Eat, think, love

Marije Vogelzang's "Project Christmas Dinner"

Marije Vogelzang’s “Project Christmas Dinner”

To understand what Marije Vogelzang really does — and she does a lot of things — there’s no better example than a project right here in Budapest in 2011.

For her “Eat Love Budapest” exhibit, Vogelzang, the renowned Dutch “eating designer,” erected a few white-cotton cubicles, each almost entirely enclosed. The participant sat down inside amid photos of families and children’s drawings. On one side, the white curtain hung only halfway down. Roma women sat down outside them. As a guitarist walked about playing soft music, the Roma women told stories and fed whomever happened to be inside. [more]

You’ll be surprised to hear what a world-renowned physicist says about what kills creativity

Albert-Lászlo Barabási

In late 2016, Albert-Lászlo Barabási and colleagues published a paper aimed at putting empirical heft behind the anecdotal truism that physicists did their best work when they were young. They considered 2,887 of them, all the way back to 1893, analyzing “impact” papers by age of their progenitor. They found that younger physicists had more impact. But it was because the younger scientists wrote more papers. Age didn’t matter, they concluded.

“The bottom line is: Brother, never give up,” Barabási  told the New York Times. “When you give up, that’s when your creativity ends.”

There’s a bit of irony in Barabási being involved in a paper fueling the professional hopes of the not-young. He had, as Albert Einstein and Marie Curie and many others before him, made enormous scientific contributions while still very young. [more]

The Queen of Sh*#$% Robots

Simone Giertz

Simone Giertz with a few of her creations

Note: I’ve been writing Medium.com posts in the lead-up to the second-annual Brain Bar Budapest this June (did the same last year). If you’re in the neighborhood, this year’s lineup is awesome.

Comedy comes in lots of flavors — anecdotal, improvisational, insult, deadpan, sketch, satire, physical, and so on. Simone Giertz, through her own inventions, has invented another. Call it robotic comedy.

Giertz, 26, builds what she describes as “shitty robots” and has crowned herself their queen. Among the creations her 420,000 YouTube subscribers and counting have observed include a wake-up machine, a hair washing robot, a sandwich robot, a butt-wiping machine, a hair-cutting drone, and knives of doom. Vids of these and others have more than 20 million views. She co-hosts TESTED, founded by Adam Savage of MythBusters fame, with whom she created the popcorn helmet. She’s been featured on all sorts of websites as well as on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and Conan. It wasn’t always this way. [more]

 

The arrogance of ignorance

It’s become accepted in many quarters to associate the wielding of facts or knowledge with arrogance. Typically the term is applied to political liberals – coastal elites, the blue-state bloviators, whatever one might call all the annoying know-it-alls who purportedly disdain the Rust Belt working-folk and get their information from sources not owned by Rupert Murdoch’s ilk.

But the politically ignorant – the sorts of people most likely to be deceived by demagogues and liars – have an arrogance of their own. Some might just dismiss it as wishful thinking: for example, the apparently widespread conviction that, say, the political system would be best off after a shakeup by an outsider – regardless of the source or dispositional/intellectual/experiential/moral/philosophical qualities of that outsider.

But it’s not just wishful thinking. It’s a blind faith in the righteousness of one’s own beliefs coupled with a total disinterest in the heft of the factual hull of those beliefs amid the high seas of reality. It’s a deep sense of the superiority of one’s own opinions, coupled with a blind dismissal of any facts that countervail those opinions. That’s much more sinister in this than mere ignorance.

In ten days, we embark into political terra incognita based not on ignorance, but on the arrogance with which it has locked arms.