Author of This Will Change Everything and Edge Foundation president John Brockman invited Edge community members, who span the range of intellectual pursuit, to react to the ash cloud from Iceland's Eyjafjallajökull volcano and to tell him, in 250 words or less, something he "didn't already know and wasn't going to read in the newspapers."
Futurist and business strategist Peter Schwartz, and mathematician and economist Eric Weinstein pointed out that no forecasts for large scale disruption of air travel because of volcanic ash clouds had been made, and so Eyjafjallajökull was a true Black Swan event.
A business school might seem like an unlikely source for this kind of news, but apparently packing up our troublesdoes help us get past unwelcome events, according to research from the Rotman School of Management.
A new study... suggests you might want to stick something
related to your disappointment in a box or envelope if you want to feel
better. In four separate experiments researchers found that the physical
act of enclosing materials related to an unpleasant experience, such as
a written recollection about it, improved people's negative feelings
towards the event and created psychological closure. Enclosing materials
unrelated to the experience did not work as well....
While the market
implications might not be immediately obvious..., the
findings point to new angles on such things as fast pick-up courier
services and pre-paid mortgage deals that relieve people's sense of debt
burden. If people realize that the memory of past events or tasks can
be distracting, perhaps there is a market for products and services that
can enclose or take away memories of that task.
Referencing a Wired UK article on "ultra mapping," Nokia's head of interface design, Adam Greenfield, stakes a claim to some pretty rich epistemological territory. Maps that dynamically pinpoint us render more than another coordinate or elevation. No, they are much more illustrious:
[A]ll those routinely gorgeous renderings of subway ridership or crime or air quality imply something very different when you can either find yourself within their ambit or cannot. At its rawest, the suggestion is this: either these issues affect me, or they do not. And this is true even if what is being mapped is a purely historical event. The implication is there, however faint.
Freakonomics points to some data that suggests - with one important qualification - that the answer may be yes. According to one study, healthier food has improved test scores and reduced student absenteeism in Greenwich, south London.
As it turns out, everybody holds a piece to the puzzle.
Building a platform that loosely organized the successful hunt for ten hidden balloons across the United States, Riley Crane recently appeared on Colbert to describe how collective intelligence won a prize offered by DARPA. The agency - no doubt feeling sheepish about its role in bringing the Internet to life - wanted to know forty years later how the Web might be used to solve real problems.
One of the more interesting discussions at Lunch with IF on Friday followed the question, "What is life?"
Surprisingly, the answers aren't that straightforward, especially when the obvious marker of sentient, self-reflective behavior is excluded. Science is still divided over whether a virus, for example, is "alive." We also know of organisms on Earth that live in the crushing heated pressures near deep sea vents, metabolizing what elements are on hand, and microbes that have been trapped for millions of years in glacial ice.
And now that water ice has been confirmed near the surface of Mars, astronomer Pamela Gay put the possibility in context with a pithy quote that I asked her to repeat following Lunch with IF:
If the environment for life has been dramatically expanded, one might suggest that life is what responds in a systematic way to its surroundings.
University of Louisville biology professor Lee Dugatkin, who has studied animal behavioral extensively, discussed how a simple rulebook can lead to complex, even cooperative, behaviors, and pointed out the work being done with synthetic "life" by the Laboratory of Intelligent Systems at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland. A little more effort turned up this this video that makes his point.
Thanks to University of Louisville professor and futurist Nat Irvin, who served on our panel as well. There were many other highlights that I and Elle Waters twittered during the discussion and follow up question and answer session. I'm sure we'll be doing more Lunches with IF - and give away more All-Access Passes too.
Louisville's Keith Robbins filmed this panel featuring philosopher Sandy Goldberg, architect Emiliano Gandolfi, game designer Jane McGonigal and the artistic director for Diavolo, Jacques Heim at the 2008 IdeaFestival discussing breakthroughs, the importance of failure and their sources of creativity. In addition to some great conversation, this ten minute video features a favorite quote of mine.
As GPS and other location technologies (holography, anyone?) substitute virtual referent for physical reality, it raises questions about the role of context to knowledge, and whether, in the process of mapping everything, we add to or subtract from the understanding we get.
The Salon piece was strongly reminiscent of the ongoing debate over the place of books in public life.