Microbiology, Edible Insects, Peter Thiel, Robot Conversation, Robert Caro, Thucydides


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Trillions Of Tiny Machines

Tim Flannery | New York Review Of Books | 7th July 2015

We learn more about the nature of life by looking down through microscopes than by looking up through telescopes. "Our bodies are built up by tiny mechanistic operations, one protein at a time ... The nanomachines that operate within the mitochondria are minute biological electrical motors that, in a striking parallel with their mechanical counterparts, possess rotors, stators, and rotating catalytic heads" (3,820 words)

Farming Edible Insects

Alicia Clegg | Financial Times | 7th July 2015 | | Read with 1Pass

Strangely fascinating report on insect farmers in America and Europe breeding insects as human food. Animal welfare is a big concern: The insects must be humanely killed — and not by one another. "If you exceed the optimal population densities the insects get pretty cranky. If their humidity or protein levels aren't right they'll take nips out of each other". The industry hopes to re-brand insects as "mini-livestock" (1,060 words)

Peter Thiel: Girard In Silicon Valley

Peter Thiel | Imitatio | 6th July 2015

Notes from a lecture applying René Girard's anthropological theories to Silicon Valley start-up culture. Girard argues that conflict is the natural condition of humanity. Successful cultures learn to resolve conflicts using scapegoats. Start-ups operate in much the same way. A founder always makes an obvious scapegoat. "Even something as seemingly innocuous as holding the title of CEO may actually be quite dangerous" (6,800 words)

A Neural Conversational Model

Oriol Vinyals & Quoc V. Le | Google | 23rd June 2015

Google scientists teach a machine to make conversation, using past sentences to generate new sentences. The technical stuff is skippable; the human-machine dialogues are awe-inspiring. "Human: What is immoral? Machine: The fact that you have a child. Human: What is morality? Machine: What is altruism? Human: What is the definition of altruism? Machine: If you don’t believe in God, then you don’t know" (PDF) (4,600 words)

Robert Caro And The Monster Who Built New York

Bryan Appleyard | 21st June 2015

Conversation with Robert Caro, whose biography of Robert Moses, The Power Broker, is "one of the greatest nonfiction works ever written". Only now is the book being published in Britain, 40 years after its first American edition, in the wake of Caro's triumphant biography of Lyndon Johnson. Caro depicts Moses as a bigot who worked to deepen New York's racial and social divides; he was also "one of the great lovers of his time" (1,880 words)

Peak Thucydides

Neville Morley | Sphinx | 7th July 2015

On the misuse of Thucydides in almost every article about the Greek crisis. "Thucydides is NOT relevant to the present crisis simply because he was Greek; the events he described are not analogous to current events simply because they involved Greeks. His claim to relevance is that he purports to tell us about humans in general; his work would be no more and no less persuasive in this respect if it was Chinese or Arabic or American" (1,530 words)

Video of the day: Michel Foucault

What to expect: Introduction to Foucault's life and thought by Alain Botton for School of Life (8'13")

Thought for the day

The impossible has a kind of integrity which the merely improbable lacks
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