Narrative, Chess, Faces, Debussy, Thought Leaders, Paddington


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The Revolt Of The Public

Adam Gurri | The Fifth Wave | 31st May 2017

Impressive think-piece about the decline of trust and the rise of populism. “In a healthy society, the supreme task of the elites is to elucidate the master narratives binding together the classes and ideologies that make up a modern nation. The digital age has been an extinction event for long-standing narratives. Elites have lost the ability to mediate between events and the old shared stories. The mirror in which we found ourselves reflected in the world has shattered” (2,900 words)

A Brutal Intelligence

Nicholas Carr | LARB | 28th June 2017

Computers have triumphed at chess by getting faster, not smarter. They use the machine equivalent of brute force, not of intelligence. Good news for humans … up to a point. “The question isn’t whether the subtleties of human thought will continue to lie beyond the reach of computers. They almost certainly will. The question is whether we’ll continue to appreciate the value of those subtleties as we become more dependent on the mindless but brutally efficient calculations of our machines” (2,500 words)

How We Recognise Faces

Knvul Sheikh | Scientific American | 1st June 2017

Facial recognition turns out to be a rather simple process, at least in monkeys, and thus presumably in humans too. When we see a face, specific neurons in our brain process information about specific parts of the face. Data from just 205 neurons is enough to map a face accurately. “A neuron that is sensitive to hairline width, for example, will respond to variations in that feature. But if faces have the same hairline and different-size noses, the hairline neuron stays silent” (1,200 words)

The Great Escape

Sudip Bose | American Scholar | 29th June 2017

In praise of Claude Debussy’s “late masterpiece” for piano, Douze Études. “The first étude starts with a simple C major scale, four notes up, four notes down, but as these scales continue they are punctuated by a series of rude, percussive A flats, and this battle between order and petulance continues until the piece turns into a rollicking affair with the pianist’s hands flying up and down the keyboard. It’s as if Debussy is saying: Look at what I can do with eight simple notes and the wink of an eye” (1,900 words)

The Rise Of Thought Leaders

David Sessions | New Republic | 28th June 2017

Approving review of Dan Drezner’s book The Ideas Industry, which skewers a new class of public intellectuals, the “thought leaders”, who typically earn large sums of money from institutions funded by the super-rich, to promote superficial ideas which glorify wealth. Examples include Thomas Friedman, Parag Khanna, Niall Ferguson. “Thought leaders all share a core view that extreme wealth and the channels by which it was obtained are not only legitimate but heroic” (3,000 words)

How Paddington Bear Came To Be

Michael Bond | Radio Times | 28th June 2017

In memory of the late Michael Bond, Radio Times reprints Bond’s account of the making of Paddington Bear. “He would be a refugee from a distant country, where bears were still extant. He would follow my example in outdoor wear – a government surplus duffel coat and a bush hat. I felt he should follow my father’s example and use the latter whenever he had the opportunity. My father was a polite man and never went out without a hat in case he met someone he knew and had nothing to raise” (1,030 words)

Video of the day: Decoding Stonehenge

What to expect:

Joss Fong investigates the geometry and alignment of Stonehenge, using a scale model (6’29”)

Thought for the day

What I write is smarter than I am. Because I can rewrite it
Susan Sontag

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