Octopus, Knowledge, Tolerance, Proliferation, Bax, Sushi

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What Is It Like To Be An Octopus?

Amia Srinivasan | London Review Of Books | 31st August 2017

Once you get used to having at least some of your brains in your arms, it’s probably quite fun. “They are sophisticated problem solvers; they learn, and can use tools; and they show a capacity for mimicry, deception and, some think, humour. Their very strangeness makes octopuses hard to study. Their intelligence is like ours, and utterly unlike ours. Octopuses are the closest we can come, on earth, to knowing what it might be like to encounter intelligent aliens” (4,500 words)

How Much Can We Learn About the Universe?

Lawrence Krauss | Nautilus | 31st August 2017

If there are any hard limits to what we can know about the Universe, science has yet to hit them. Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle constrains what we can know about the motion of a particle at any time, and the speed of light restricts how far we can see or travel in a given interval. But these limits “merely tell us what we cannot observe, not what we cannot eventually learn”. Neither has prevented us from learning the rules of quantum mechanics, or understanding the behavior of atoms (2,100 words)

Ideas Were Not Enough

Mark Koyama | Aeon | 28th August 2017

We like to think of religious freedom in the West as a hard-won victory for Enlightenment thinkers whose arguments for secular or tolerant state power gradually circumscribed the Christian Church. The truth is rather less ennobling. “It wasn’t the ideas of Bayle or Spinoza or Locke driving the rise of state power, it was the need to raise resources for governing and war. For the rising fiscal-military state, religious uniformity and persecution simply became too expensive and inefficient” (3,000 words)

How North Korea Shocked The Nuclear Experts

Nicholas Miller & Vipin Narang | Politico | 26th August 2017

North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme has overturned conventional wisdom about proliferation, which insisted that North Korea would fail because an impoverished state cannot build a bomb, dictators cannot manage complex projects, and vulnerable states can be deterred. “If a country as poor and backward as North Korea can do it—under the constant threat of sanctions and military action—a better question may be not who can acquire nuclear weapons, but who can’t?” (1,700 words)

An Englishman In Donegal

Sudip Bose | American Scholar | 31st August 2017

In praise of Arnold Bax, a neglected early-20C composer once considered the equal of Vaughn Williams and Walton. As a London teenager Bax fell under Yeats’s spell. In his thirties he moved to Dublin, learned Irish, and wrote poetry under the pen-name Dermot O’Byrne. If he was a cultural appropriator avant la lettre, he was a highly accomplished one. His music “no longer sounded like Wagner or Richard Strauss but incorporated figures and melodies of a definitely Celtic curve” (1,070 words)

Modern Sushi

Tom Redmond et al | Bloomberg | 29th August 2017

Case study of benefits from automation. Kisaku Suzuki had the idea for sushi-making robots in the mid-1970s, and persevered despite ridicule from Japanese chefs. It took him five years to produce a viable machine — and when he did, he set off the worldwide sushi boom of the 1980s, opening up an elite cuisine to a mass market. In Japan, three-quarters of sushi restaurants are now mechanised. “Mass-produced sushi is the entry drug. People become curious as to what great sushi tastes like” (1,080 words)

Video of the day: Unendurable Line

What to expect:

A hand does simple things. A line represents those things on graph paper (2’04”)

Thought for the day

The first rule of tinkering is: Save all the parts
David Mamet

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