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Posts Tagged ‘history’

24 MAY, 2012

Love Is Wise, Hatred Is Foolish: Bertrand Russell on Rationality and Tolerance, 1959

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What the cult of fact has to do with the essential condition for the survival of the human race.

One need only look to British philosopher, mathematician, and sociocultural critic Bertrand Russell’s 10 commandments of teaching to understand his profound grasp on culture and the human condition. In this equally inspiring and timeless excerpt from BBC’s 1959 Face to Face interview, Russell articulates in just under two minutes one of the most important and admirable aspirations we could hope to live up to, both individually and as a society — a beautiful complement to Einstein’s wisdom on kindness and our shared humanity.

I should like to say two things, one intellectual and one moral.

The intellectual thing I should want to say to them is this: When you are studying any matter, or considering any philosophy, ask yourself only what are the facts and what is the truth that the facts bear out. Never let yourself be diverted either by what you wish to believe, or by what you think would have beneficent social effects if it were believed. But look only, and solely, at what are the facts. That is the intellectual thing that I should wish to say.

The moral thing I should wish to say to them is very simple: I should say, love is wise, hatred is foolish. In this world which is getting more and more closely interconnected, we have to learn to tolerate each other, we have to learn to put up with the fact that some people say things that we don’t like. We can only live together in that way — and if we are to live together and not die together, we must learn a kind of charity and a kind of tolerance, which is absolutely vital to the continuation of human life on this planet.

Catch the full BBC interview, very much worth the watch in its entirety, here:

Thanks, Neil

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23 MAY, 2012

Carl Sagan on Mastering the Vital Balance of Skepticism & Openness

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Fine-tuning the machinery of distinguishing the valid from the non-valid.

David Foster Wallace famously argued that “learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think.” Yet in an age of ceaseless sensationalism, pseudoscience, and a relentless race for shortcuts, quick answers, and silver bullets, knowing what to think seems increasingly challenging. We come up with tools like The Baloney Detection Kit and create wonderful animations to teach kids about critical thinking, but the art of thinking critically is a habit that requires careful and consistent cultivation. In his remarkable essay titled “The Burden of Skepticism,” originally published in the Fall 1987 issue of Skeptical Inquirer, Carl Sagan — always the articulate and passionate explainer — captured the duality and osmotic balance of critical thinking beautifully:

It seems to me what is called for is an exquisite balance between two conflicting needs: the most skeptical scrutiny of all hypotheses that are served up to us and at the same time a great openness to new ideas. Obviously those two modes of thought are in some tension. But if you are able to exercise only one of these modes, whichever one it is, you’re in deep trouble.

If you are only skeptical, then no new ideas make it through to you. You never learn anything new. You become a crotchety old person convinced that nonsense is ruling the world. (There is, of course, much data to support you.) But every now and then, maybe once in a hundred cases, a new idea turns out to be on the mark, valid and wonderful. If you are too much in the habit of being skeptical about everything, you are going to miss or resent it, and either way you will be standing in the way of understanding and progress.

On the other hand, if you are open to the point of gullibility and have not an ounce of skeptical sense in you, then you cannot distinguish the useful as from the worthless ones. If all ideas have equal validity then you are lost, because then, it seems to me, no ideas have any validity at all.

Some ideas are better than others. The machinery for distinguishing them is an essential tool in dealing with the world and especially in dealing with the future. And it is precisely the mix of these two modes of thought that is central to the success of science.

Here’s to an exquisite addition to these famous definitions of science.

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23 MAY, 2012

Prophetic Animation: Douglas Adams Traces the Evolution of the Book from Rock to Silicon and Predicts eBooks in 1993

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How we went from boulders to scrolls to screens.

In 1968, Arthur C. Clarke predicted the iPad; in 1991, Francis Ford Coppola predicted YouTube; in 1993, Douglas Adams, author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, recorded a short piece of audio for his then-publisher in the U.S. — Bob Stein of Voyager Expanded Books — tracing the evolution of the book from rock to silicone and predicting its transition into the digital age with astounding accuracy. This year, The Literary Platform hosted an international competition titled “Getting the Book Invented Properly,” inviting visual storytellers to animate Adams’s prophecy in interesting ways — a fine complement to these short videos on how books were made over the ages.

This entry by U.K. designer and illustrator Gavin Edwards takes the prize in my book.

The actual winners are being selected by a jury featuring the inimitable Stephen Fry and Bob Stein himself, and will be announced on Friday. You can vote for Edwards’s film here.

Thought You Should See This

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