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In the News 24.05.16 : Today’s Articles of Interest from around the Internets

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In the News 24.05.16 : Today’s Articles of Interest from around the Internets
In the News 24.05.16 : Today’s Articles of Interest from around the Internets
In the News 24.05.16 : Today’s Articles of Interest from around the Internets

To Understand Your Past, Look to Your Future

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You’re thinking about time all wrong, according to our best physical theories. In Einstein’s general theory of relativity, there’s no conceptual distinction between the past and the future, let alone an objective line of “now.” There’s also no sense in which time “flows”; instead, all of space and time is just there in some four-dimensional structure. What’s more, all the fundamental laws of physics work essentially the same both forward and backward.

None of these facts are easy to accept, because they’re in direct conflict with our subjective experience of time. But don’t feel too bad: They’re hard even for physicists to accept, an ongoing tension that places physics in conflict not just with common sense but also with itself. As much as physicists talk about time symmetry, they do not allow themselves to invoke the future, only the past, when seeking to explain occurrences in the world.

Read the rest of this article at Nautilus

A Science Without Time

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I have a memory, a vivid one, of watching my elderly grandfather wave goodbye to me from the steps of a hospital. This is almost certainly the memory of a dream. In my parent’s photo album of the time, we have snapshots of the extended family – aunts, uncles, and cousins who had all travelled to our upstate New York farm to celebrate my grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary. I am in some of the photos along with my brother, a pair of small faces mingled with smiling giants. I remember the excitement of the evening, being sent off to bed but then staying up late at the top of the stairs, listening to the pleasant babble of adult voices. I have no memory of what happened later, but it did not involve a timely visit to the hospital. My father told me many years afterward that my grandfather took ill that night and was rushed to the emergency room, where he died on the operating table.

My memory of my grandfather’s farewell still provokes in me a longing for a world where a more lawful order holds, where connections with those we love are not bound by time and space. A central purpose of early science and philosophy was to satisfy such longings: to get off the wheel of time and life to which we are bound and to glimpse what the French-born writer George Steiner has called a ‘neighbouring eternity’. Our human sense of time is that we are bound by it, carried along by a flow from past to future that we cannot stop or slow.

The flow of time is certainly one of the most immediate aspects of our waking experience. It is essential to how we see ourselves and to how we think we should live our lives. Our memories help fix who we are; other thoughts reach forward to what we might become. Surely our modern scientific sense of time, as it grows ever more sophisticated, should provide meaningful insights here.

Yet today’s physicists rarely debate what time is and why we experience it the way we do, remembering the past but never the future. Instead, researchers build ever-more accurate clocks. The current record-holder, at the Joint Institute for Laboratory Astrophysics in Colorado, measures the vibration of strontium atoms; it is accurate to 1 second in 15 billion years, roughly the entire age of the known universe. Impressive, but it does not answer ‘What is time?’

Read the rest of this article at aeon

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Facebook’s Troubling One-Way Mirror

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If you bothered to read the fine print when you created your Facebookaccount, you would have noticed just how much of yourself you were giving over to Mark Zuckerberg and his $340 billion social network.

In exchange for an admittedly magical level of connectivity, you were giving them your life as content — the right to run ads around video from your daughter’s basketball game; pictures from your off-the-chain birthday party, or an emotional note about your return to health after serious illness. You also gave them the right to use your information to help advertisers market to you, based on your likely state of pregnancy or new place among the consciously uncoupled.

There are privacy protections. Facebook says it will not share your identity with advertisers without your permission. And you can set limits on what they can know. But at the heart of the relationship is a level of trust and a waiving of privacy that Facebook requires from its users as it pursues its mission to “make the world more open and connected.”

Read the rest of this article at The New York Times

Are Dreams Predictions?

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Perhaps the most famous dream prediction comes from the Bible. Pharaoh dreams of standing by the Nile. Seven sleek, fat cows emerge from the river, followed by seven scrawny, ugly cows that eat the plump, succulent ones. But what does it mean? There’s a pattern, isn’t there? Good is followed and overwhelmed by bad. And seven comes into it. Pharaoh summons Joseph, who interprets the dream – seven years of abundance will be followed by seven years of famine. The input is valuable. Now Pharaoh can anticipate and conserve for the bad years. But if Pharaoh can predict, why doesn’t he just dream of seven plentiful years and seven starvation years? What’s with the cannibalistic cows? Do these cows represent an associative pattern in Pharaoh’s experience? And how would identifying a pattern enable prediction, anyway?

It has to do with the way the brain works; it doesn’t passively receive information about the external world but, rather, actively interprets that information and looks for patterns in it. If everything were random, there would be no patterns, and prediction would be impossible. You can predict only by discerning a pattern in your experience (or knowledge, which is a sub-set of your experience). Are there regularities or sequences in events? Do some events generally occur with others? If there are associative patterns in events, they can be used to help predict what will happen next.

Read the rest of this article at aeon

How the Pentagon Punished NSA Whistleblowers

Long before Edward Snowden went public, John Crane was a top Pentagon official fighting to protect NSA whistleblowers. Instead their lives were ruined – and so was his

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By now, almost everyone knows what Edward Snowden did. He leaked top-secret documents revealing that the National Security Agency was spying on hundreds of millions of people across the world, collecting the phone calls and emails of virtually everyone on Earth who used a mobile phone or the internet. When this newspaper began publishing the NSA documents in June 2013, it ignited a fierce political debate that continues to this day – about government surveillance, but also about the morality, legality and civic value of whistleblowing.

But if you want to know why Snowden did it, and the way he did it, you have to know the stories of two other men.

The first is Thomas Drake, who blew the whistle on the very same NSA activities 10 years before Snowden did. Drake was a much higher-ranking NSA official than Snowden, and he obeyed US whistleblower laws, raising his concerns through official channels. And he got crushed.

Drake was fired, arrested at dawn by gun-wielding FBI agents, stripped of his security clearance, charged with crimes that could have sent him to prison for the rest of his life, and all but ruined financially and professionally. The only job he could find afterwards was working in an Apple store in suburban Washington, where he remains today. Adding insult to injury, his warnings about the dangers of the NSA’s surveillance programme were largely ignored.

“The government spent many years trying to break me, and the more I resisted, the nastier they got,” Drake told me.

Drake’s story has since been told – and in fact, it had a profound impact on Snowden, who told an interviewer in 2015 that: “It’s fair to say that if there hadn’t been a Thomas Drake, there wouldn’t have been an Edward Snowden.”

But there is another man whose story has never been told before, who is speaking out publicly for the first time here. His name is John Crane, and he was a senior official in the Department of Defense who fought to provide fair treatment for whistleblowers such as Thomas Drake – until Crane himself was forced out of his job and became a whistleblower as well.

His testimony reveals a crucial new chapter in the Snowden story – and Crane’s failed battle to protect earlier whistleblowers should now make it very clear that Snowden had good reasons to go public with his revelations.

Read the rest of this article at The Guardian

P.S. previous articles & more by P.F.M. // Right click on images for sources