‘WIILTBA’ (bat! rat! rock!) questions – a partial listing

October 31st, 2014

Prof_NagelThis month it’s (roughly) the 40th anniversary of the publication of Professor Emeritus Thomas Nagel‘s now-famous philosophical essay entitled : What Is It Like To Be a Bat? ( Philosophical Review, 83, no. 4 )

Since then, a considerable number of other academic writers, researchers and philosophers have paid tribute to professor Nagel’s bat paper (be it intentionally or not) by using similar titles for their compositions. Here are some examples of so-called ‘WIILTBA’ questions: (listed, roughly, according to the number of syllables).

What is it like to be a –

• rat?
• rock?
• bot?
• god?
• quark?
• cell?
• group?
• human?
• person?
• peahen?
• zombie?
• bachelor?
• dualist?
• Chinese room?
• synesthete?
• butterfly?
• geologist?
• generalist?
• school principal?
• musicologist?
• PhD student?
• phenomenologist?
• person who knows nothing?
• deflationary theory of meaning?
• solicitor in commerce and industry?
• special librarian at the center for creative leadership?

The Goodness of the Goal of Being Delightfully Lost

October 31st, 2014

Many museums strive to eliminate all potential for confusing the visitors. That goal may sometimes work against the interest of the visitors and the interests of the museum, suggests this report:

Delightfully Lost: A New Kind of Wayfinding at Kew,” Natasha Waterson and Mike Saunders, paper presented at the Museums and the Web conference, April 11-14, in San Diego, California.

The authors, at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, UK, explain:

“In October 2010, Kew Gardens commissioned an in-depth study of visitors’ motivations and information needs around its 300-acre site, with the express aim that it should guide the development of new mobile apps. The work involved over 1,500 visitor-tracking observations, 350 mini-interviews, 200 detailed exit interviews, and 85 fulfilment maps; and gave Kew an incredibly useful insight into its visitors’ wants, needs, and resulting behaviours.

“It turns out that most Kew visitors have social, emotional, and spiritual, rather than intellectual, motivations during their time here. They do not come hoping to find out more, and they don’t want or need to know precisely where they are all the time. In fact, they love the sense of unguided exploration and the serendipitous discoveries they make at Kew—they want to become ‘delightfully lost.’

“This paper will explore how this perhaps counterintuitive idea—to help visitors become “delightfully lost”—has influenced mobile thinking at Kew.”

Co-author Watterson produced some videos, of which this is one:

(Thanks to Genevieve Bell for bringing this to our attention.)

BONUS: The Kew Gardens mobile app (the link takes you to the iTunes store)

Halloweenish research, back when

October 31st, 2014

Tonight being Halloween, it’s a good time to look back at some research with a Halloweenish flavor.

Back in the year 2000 — a year whose approach some people pretended to find scary — we published a two part Halloween Research review:

PART !: Werewolves and Vampires, Zombies and Monsters

PART 2: Monsters and Ghouls, Screams and Spooks

And… one must not neglect, unless one must or wants to neglect, The Possible Influence of Halloween on Childbirth.

Local Management for Sustainable Agronomic Development of ‘Himalayan Viagra’

October 30th, 2014

In the case of so-called “Himalayan Viagra,” farmers in Tebet are devising their own way to protect a suddenly valuable, scare local crop, suggests this study:

Indigenous Management Strategies and Socioeconomic Impacts of Yartsa Gunbu (Ophiocordyceps sinensis) Harvesting in Nubri and Tsum, Nepal,” Geoff Childs, Namgyal Choedup, Himalaya, the Journal of the Association for Nepal and Himalayan Studies: Vol. 34: No. 1, Article 7, 2014.

The authors, at Washington University in St. Louis, write:

“Today yartsa gunbu is widely traded as a powerful tonic in Chinese medicine, is often referred to as ‘Himalayan Viagra’ in the media, and has become such an important commodity that scholars nominated it to be China’s national fungus… This paper describes the situation in Nubri and Tsum where yartsa gunbu has been collected by local medical practitioners for centuries, but only became a critical part of people’s household economies within the last decade…. We use Nubri and Tsum as case studies to illustrate how some communities are dealing with a phenomenon that is transforming people’s lives faster than any development scheme could envision.”

childs-Tibet-photo

BONUS: Richard Conniff, in the Strange Behaviors blog, has some commentary on the matter.

BONUS: An NPR report from 2011: “Caterpillar Fungus: The Viagra Of The Himalayas“. It says, in part: “Britt Bunyard, a professor at the University of Wisconsin and editor of Fungi Magazine, explains that this fungi (Cordyceps Sinensis) makes its living by getting inside a host insect and ultimately killing and consuming it. In this case, the insect that’s invaded is the caterpillar of the ghost moth.”

Assessing the sameness and non-rarity of hipsters

October 30th, 2014

Hipsters are becoming more common, in both major senses of the word common, suggests this study:

touboulThe hipster effect: When anticonformists all look the same,” Jonathan Touboul, arXiv:1410.8001, October 29, 2014.

The author explains:

“In such different domains as statistical physics and spin glasses, neurosciences, social science, economics and finance, large ensemble of interacting individuals taking their decisions either in accordance (mainstream) or against (hipsters) the majority are ubiquitous. Yet, trying hard to be different often ends up in hipsters consistently taking the same decisions, in other words all looking alike. We resolve this apparent paradox studying a canonical model of statistical physics, enriched by incorporating the delays necessary for information to be communicated. We show a generic phase transition in the system: when hipsters are too slow in detecting the trends, they will keep making the same choices and therefore remain correlated as time goes by, while their trend evolves in time as a periodic function. This is true as long as the majority of the population is made of hipsters. Otherwise, hipsters will be, again, largely aligned, towards a constant direction which is imposed by the mainstream choices. Beyond the choice of the best suit to wear this winter, this study may have important implications in understanding dynamics of inhibitory networks of the brain or investment strategies finance, or the understanding of emergent dynamics in social science, domains in which delays of communication and the geometry of the systems are prominent.”

Touboul is, in his own words: Principal Investigator “of the Mathematical Neuroscience Team, part of the Center for Interdisciplinary Research in Biology of the Collège de France. I am researcher at Inria (Paris), in the MYCENAE Team.” He writes, in this paper, in the royal we. He does not explicitly self-identify as a hipster.

(Thanks to investigator Leah Branch for bringing this to our attention).