Friday 1 December 2006

The Ghost of the Machines

Some historians of technology have surmised that in some areas (like Far East and the West), industrial advance had much deeper roots than its mere hundred years of existence would suggest. This view is enjoying rare and well-deserved attention this week, as Nature discloses a CT Scan reconstitution of the famous Antikythera mechanism, a computerized calendar from roman times. This same day, I discover an article from NBER, published in last october, that states that significant differences in nowadays levels of development, for example that between Europe and Africa, are predicted by their technological level 2.5 millenia ago!

"In addition to being significant, the effect of technology history on current development is large. An increase in the overall technological level from 0 to 1 in 1000 B.C. or in 0 A.D. is associated with an increase in income per capita in 2002 by a factor of 4. A similar increase in the overall adoption level in 1500 A.D. is associated with an increase in per capita income in 2002 by a factor of 18. This is half of the current difference in income per capita between the top and bottom 5 percent of the countries in the world."

I am so enthusiastic about this study that I try to forget about my sheer incompetence in economy and statistics, and say Hurrah, that's exciting!.

Is our modern world that modern? Left: the Faros Beacon of Alexandria, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World; right: the Empire State Building.


Wednesday 18 October 2006

Dennis Whistles

I heard through MindHacks that a new book has been published about rumors; they say an internet survey on rumors has been launched, some people have good reasons to think that it is founded by Procter and Gamble. Meanwhile, it is rumored that an online game of Chinese Whispers is provoking a fad. One hears all sorts of things...

"The Easter Bunny got into a car accident with Hulk Ogan": picture from the online game The Sentence.


Sunday 8 October 2006

Eye language vs. lip reading?

As you might have noticed, japanese emoticons and american ones differ (see illustration below). An empirical study by psychologists from these two countries (still in press) suggests that people from this two cultures differ in the way they perceive emotions expressed on faces: while easterners focus on eyes, westerners look at the mouth. Although weak, this difference might prove sufficent to have lead each culture in using different styles of emoticons, Masaki Yuki and his colleagues argue.

Illustration: a japanese smiley on the left and an american/european one on the right


Thursday 28 September 2006

Pitt-Rivers haunts the Musée du Quai Branly

On visiting the brand new Musée du Quai Branly in Paris last Sunday, I was amazed to meet the ghost of one of the most outdated anthropologists of the Victorian Age.


Thursday 21 September 2006

Reassembling Latour

A review of "Reassembling the Social", by Bruno Latour, a handbook that sums up 25 years of controversial research. Still provocative, Latour happily acknowledges the "wreckage" (sic) of the 'Social Studies of Science' program, and debunks (among other trends in the social sciences) social constructivism. For the more naturalistically inclined, this is an opportunity to see his work in a new light.

(this picture was found on a John Hopkins U. website which does not exist anymore)


Wednesday 13 September 2006

Washing Away Your Sins

A nice paper by Chen-Bo Zhong and Katie Liljenquist in Science about the "Macbeth effect" : a threat to one’s moral purity induces the need to wash. This effect revealed itself through an increased mental accessibility of washing-related concepts, a greater desire for cleansing products, and a greater likelihood of taking antiseptic wipes. Furthermore, they show that physical cleansing alleviates the upsetting consequences of unethical behavior and reduces threats to one’s moral self-image.


Sunday 10 September 2006

Diplomatic to a fault

A review of JM Balkin's "Cultural Software : a theory of ideology", released for free today, under a Creative Commons license. This weird book purports to reconcile Dawkins and Gould, Derrida and Dennett, Sperber and Geertz, Hegel and Darwin, under the controversial banner of Memetics.


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