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News 11.26.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

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News 11.26.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
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News 11.26.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
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News 11.26.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
Amy Berry Designs

Heini Hediger, a noted 20th-century Swiss biologist and zoo director, knew that animals ran away when they felt unsafe. But when he set about designing and building zoos himself, he realised he needed a more precise understanding of how animals behaved when put in proximity to one another. Hediger decided to investigate the flight response systematically, something that no one had done before.

Hediger found that the space around an animal could be partitioned into zones, nested within one another, and measurable down to a matter of centimetres. The outermost circle is what’s known as flight distance: if a lion is far enough away, a zebra will continue to graze warily, but any closer than that, the zebra will try to escape. Closer still is the defence distance: pass that line and the zebra attacks rather than fleeing. Finally, there’s the critical distance: if the predator is too close, there’s nothing to do but freeze, play dead and hope for the best. While different species of wild animals have different limits, Hediger discovered that they’re remarkably consistent within a species. He also offered a new definition of a tame animal, as one that no longer treats humans as a significant threat, and so reduces its flight distance for humans to zero. In other words, a tame animal was one to which you could get close enough to touch.

Read the rest of this article at: aeon

News 11.26.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

News 11.26.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

“Trevor? Is that you?” It’s the last night of September in New York City, and a homeless man is calling out to Trevor Noah.

A smiling Noah had just ridden his electric bike through the entrance of a park near the Daily Show studio in Hell’s Kitchen, for a socially distanced conversation with me. Minutes before, a homeless white man had set up a blanket and pillows on a nearby bench. Noah dislodged his kickstand and stepped toward him for a few moments of small talk. As Noah would soon explain, the man has lived for four years on a sidewalk in the area, and the two have developed a bit of a relationship. Noah and his staff have attempted to help the man, but so far he’s refused.

“I remember once, when I first got here, I felt guilty. I was like, ‘Hey, man, can we do anything?’ He said, ‘No…I’m fine living the way I live.’ And I thought, Well, this is a very weird experience,” Noah says, adding that he came to realize the man wasn’t as laid-back as he appeared. “He’s homeless, but he’ll say super-racist or sexist shit to my employees, like the women. Sometimes I have to check him. Never says anything to the white guys who are with us. And it’s that weird power dynamic where you go, ‘So wait, let me get this straight: You’re homeless, but in your head, you’re like, Yeah, I’m still white.’ And I’m like, ‘But you’re homeless,’ ” Noah explained. “It’s a really interesting dynamic. In the rules of wokeness, I don’t know how it works. I don’t know what the rules are.”

This was all very Trevor Noah. Relentlessly kind—of course he’s friendly with the neighborhood homeless man—and infuriatingly earnest. He’s the sort of guy who asks questions and then actually listens for the answers. A person who is just as analytical about racism as he is outraged by it. Growing up as a biracial child in apartheid-era South Africa, he floated among the nation’s racial castes, often serving as a literal translator between countrymen who spoke different languages. Now he’s positioned himself similarly in America. In a moment of political absolutism and polarization—of good guys and bad guys, of different partisan realities—Noah stares through the television and tries to coax us toward something approximating common ground.

Read the rest of this article at: GQ

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The last time I spoke to Michael J Fox, in 2013, in his office in New York, he was 90% optimistic and 10% pragmatic. The former I expected; the latter was a shock. Ever since 1998, when Fox went public with his diagnosis of early-onset Parkinson’s disease, he has made optimism his defining public characteristic, because of, rather than despite, his illness. He called his 2002 memoir Lucky Man, and he told interviewers that Parkinson’s is a gift, “albeit one that keeps on taking”.

During our interview, surrounded by the memorabilia (guitars, Golden Globes) he has accrued over the course of his career, he talked about how it had all been for the best. Parkinson’s, he said, had made him quit drinking, which in turn had probably saved his marriage. Being diagnosed at the heartbreakingly young age of 29 had also knocked the ego out of his career ambitions, so he could do smaller things he was proud of – Stuart Little, the TV sitcom Spin City – as opposed to the big 90s comedies, such as Doc Hollywood, that were too often a waste of his talents. To be honest, I didn’t entirely buy his tidy silver linings, but who was I to cast doubt on whatever perspective Fox had developed to make a monstrously unjust situation more bearable? So the sudden dose of pragmatism astonished me. Finding a cure for Parkinson’s, he said, “is not something that I view will happen in my lifetime”. Previously, he had talked about finding “a cure within a decade”. No more. “That’s just the way it goes,” he said quietly. It was like a dark cloud had partly obscured the sun.

Read the rest of this article at: The Guardian

News 11.26.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

News 11.26.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

If you go outside on a dark night, in the darkest places on Earth, you can see as many as 9,000 stars. They appear as tiny points of light, but they are massive infernos. And while these stars seem astonishingly numerous to our eyes, they represent just the tiniest fraction of all the stars in our galaxy, let alone the universe.

The beautiful challenge of stargazing is keeping this all in mind: Every small thing we see in the night sky is immense, but what’s even more immense is the unseen, the unknown.

I’ve been thinking about this feeling — the awesome, terrifying feeling of smallness, of the extreme contrast of the big and small — while reporting on one of the greatest mysteries in science for Unexplainable, a new Vox podcast pilot you can listen to below.

It turns out all the stars in all the galaxies, in all the universe, barely even begin to account for all the stuff of the universe. Most of the matter in the universe is actually unseeable, untouchable, and, to this day, undiscovered.

Scientists call this unexplained stuff “dark matter,” and they believe there’s five times more of it in the universe than normal matter — the stuff that makes up you and me, stars, planets, black holes, and everything we can see in the night sky or touch here on Earth. It’s strange even calling all that “normal” matter, because in the grand scheme of the cosmos, normal matter is the rare stuff. But to this day, no one knows what dark matter actually is.

“I think it gives you intellectual and kind of epistemic humility — that we are simultaneously, super insignificant, a tiny, tiny speck of the universe,” Priya Natarajan, a Yale physicist and dark matter expert, said on a recent phone call. “But on the other hand, we have brains in our skulls that are like these tiny, gelatinous cantaloupes, and we have figured all of this out.”

The story of dark matter is a reminder that whatever we know, whatever truth about the universe we have acquired as individuals or as society, is insignificant compared to what we have not yet explained.

It’s also a reminder that, often, in order to discover something true, the first thing we need to do is account for what we don’t know.

This accounting of the unknown is not often a thing that’s celebrated in science. It doesn’t win Nobel prizes. But, at least, we can know the size of our ignorance. And that’s a start.

But how does it end? Though physicists have been trying to figure out what dark matter is for decades, the detectors they built to find it have gone silent year after year. It makes some wonder: Have they been chasing a ghost? Dark matter might not be real. Instead, there could be something more deeply flawed in physicists’ understanding of gravity that would explain it away. Still, the search, fueled by faith in scientific observations, continues, despite the possibility that dark matter may never be found.

To learn about dark matter is to grapple with, and embrace, the unknown.

Read the rest of this article at: Vox

News 11.26.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

More than 40 years ago, three psychologists published a study with the eccentric, mildly seductive title, “Lottery Winners and Accident Victims: Is Happiness Relative?” Even if you don’t think you know what it says, there’s a decent chance you do. It has seeped into TED talks, life-hack segments on morning shows, even the occasional whiff of movie dialogue. The paper is the peanut butter and jelly sandwich of happiness studies, a staple in any curriculum that looks at the psychology of human flourishing.

The study is straightforward. As the title suggests, the authors surveyed lottery winners and accident victims, plus a control group, hoping to compare their levels of happiness. But what the authors found violated common intuition. The victims, while less happy than the controls, still rated themselves above average in happiness, even though their accidents had recently rendered them all either paraplegic or quadriplegic. And the lottery winners were no happier than the controls, at least in any statistically meaningful sense. If anything, the warp and weft of their everyday lives was a little more threadbare. Talking to friends, hearing jokes, having breakfast — all of these simple pleasures now left them less satisfied than before.

There were flaws in the study — its design, alas, was as crude as an ax — but you can see why it became famous. It had an irresistible takeaway: Money! It doesn’t buy you happiness! Perhaps even more fundamentally, it had a sexy, almost absurd, premise. What kind of mind would think to pair lottery winners and accident victims in a research paper? Who in academic psychology had such a cockeyed imagination? It was social science by way of Samuel Beckett.

The answer to that question is a fellow by the name of Philip Brickman, a 34-year-old rising star at Northwestern University. He was warm, irrepressible, spellbinding to talk to; his mind was a chirping hatchery of ideas. Unlike so many of his peers, his preoccupations had little to do with cognitive processes. Rather, they had to do with matters of the heart: how we cope with adversity; how we care for others; how we form commitments, subdue inner conflicts, wrench meaning and happiness from this brief life.

Read the rest of this article at: The New York Times

P.S. previous articles & more by P.F.M.

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