Information, Publishing, Rubens, Walter Pitts, Russian History, Piketty On Piketty

Hic sunt camelopardus: this historical edition of The Browser is presented for archaeological purposes; links and formatting may be broken.

Luciano Floridi On The Philosophy of Information

Nigel Warburton | Five Books | 5th February 2015

Google's consultant philosopher talks about theories of knowledge and cognition from Plato to Turing by way of Descartes and Kant. "I find it very naïve when people talk about knowledge as if it were of reality: reality is the source of the signals, but our knowledge is of the signals. It's a bit like saying you hear music on the radio. The music is sent by the radio, but it is not about and does not 'represent' the radio" (3,800 words)

The Next Internet

John Herrman | The Awl | 5th February 2015

Web-based publications are doomed. "The only thing that keeps people coming back in great enough numbers to make real money is the presence of other people. So the only apps that can be turned into money are communications services. The near-future internet puts the publishing and communications industries in competition with each other for the same confused advertising dollars, and it’s not even close" (1,960 words)

Hollywood Hokum: Rubens At The Royal Academy

Craig Raine | New Statesman | 5th February 2015

Terrific review. Rude, funny, perceptive. Rubens's drawings are masterful, his paintings are florid and lazy. "The problem with Rubens is repetition. It accounts for his productivity. Every horse in those hunting pictures has two raised front fetlocks. There isn’t a single one with four feet on the ground. What the viewer sees, time and again, is the horse poised like some poncey pianist about to attack a rapid run of arpeggios" (1,900 words)

Walter Pitts, Runaway Genius

Amanda Gefter | Nautilus | 5th February 2015

Beautifully-done portrait of Walter Pitts, perhaps the most brilliant of the rarefied group of scientists — including Norbert Wiener and John von Neumann — who did foundational work on neural networks, cognition, computing and artificial intelligence at MIT in the mid-20C. Pitts was a self-taught polymathic genius who never finished school; he drank himself to death at 46, frustrated by his inability to model the human brain (4,900 words)

Russia: Forever A Time Of Troubles

Greg Carleton | History Today | 5th February 2015

"Russia almost didn’t survive the beginning of the 17th century. Convulsed by civil wars, peasant uprisings, foreign invasions, mass famine and repeated power struggles, it faced violence so apocalyptic that a special word was applied to this blood-soaked anarchy: smuta, "Time of Troubles" — the most terrifying word in the nation’s history. It plays a central role in the resurgence of 21st-century Russian nationalism" (4,100 words)

Reflections On Capital In The Twenty-First Century

Thomas Piketty | Journal Of Economic Perspectives | 5th February 2015

Piketty on Piketty. The author reviews reaction to his book, Capital, and says critics have read too much into his formula r > g (meaning that return on investment exceeds economic growth). "I do not view r > g as the only or even the primary tool for considering changes in income and wealth in the 20th century. I certainly do not believe that r > g is a useful tool for the discussion of rising inequality of labor income" (PDF) (10,700 words)

Video of the day: Domino Chain Reaction

What to expect: Popular science. How to knock over the Empire State Building with 29 dominoes (2'33")

Thought for the day

Time is what keeps everything from happening at once
Ray Cummings (

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