Inside this cubicle the air is thick as honey, with asphyxiating flecks of the mundane bracing against the irrefutable promise of a golden weekend. Outside these pin-cushion partitions – and indeed inside as well – every tiny molecule in the universe is saying its goodbyes to its neighbors and preparing to splash into the unknown permutations of a distant someday. My fingers hammer at these tiny plastic letters, fully ignorant of what’s to come.
Or are they? The hallowed fingers of esteemed science – no doubt similar in size and shape to my own, only tasked with a far more specific purpose – have combed back the hair of the observable now and picked at the scalp-nits of projection. The fields of astronomy, physics, mathematics, and a cabinet full of –ologies have given us a map of what’s to come. A timeline of time’s last hurrah.
And the best part? If any of these predictions are wrong, every record of them will likely be destroyed before anyone finds out. That’s my kind of science.
Within 10,000 years, human genetic variation will no longer be regionalized. This won’t mean we’ll all look the same – the blonde gene will still speckle crowds and set up offensive jokes, but it will be distributed equally worldwide. This forecasted panmixia is far more optimistic than astrophysicist Brandon Carter’s Doomsday Argument, which places our present at roughly the halfway point of humankind’s civilized journey, and projects a 95% likelihood that we’ll be wholly extinct in 10,000 years.
If global warming hasn’t already soaked us into a Kevin Costner-esque hellscape by then, we may also be facing the melting of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet, which will raise the sea levels by 3 or 4 meters above wherever it will be once we lose the rest of the polar ice caps, which should happen long before then.
Long term forecast: buy a big-ass boat. Read more…
Herbert Spencer was the 19th century philosopher, scientist and all-around smart cookie who coined the phrase “Survival of the Fittest” after having read Charles Darwin’s On The Origin Of Species. While some may argue each and every tenet of evolutionary theory (much to the exhaustion of everyone who actually knows a little something about science), we have come to realize that Spencer was only half-right in determining which genes get promoted into the next generation. It’s also a matter of Survival of the Sexiest.
Sexual selection extends beyond the boast-worthy ability to fend off predators, gather food and shoot zombies with a crossbow. Mate selection based on these factors certainly occurs, but the truth grabs many more hairs between its gnarled knuckles. So much of who we are plays into our subconscious exigency to be sexually selected.
So if you’re finding your Saturday nights have of late been more occupied by binge marathons of Murder, She Wrote than sweaty, carnal bodyslapping, perhaps you should turn to science to understand why. With a few tiny modifications to your being, you might just find yourself crotch-deep in sexual social butterflydom.
You need to word good. Humans – at least most humans – possess a far greater vocabulary than that which is needed for basic communication. It’s true – most of us know words like ‘dungarees’, ‘mellifluous’ and ‘woebegone’, but how often do we really need to use them? Evolutionary scientists suspect we throw down this excess of verbiage in an effort to show off our intelligence to potential mates. This has been tested; we tend to spew a more flowery and profound lexicon when we’re in a romantic mindset. Then again, some of us do it just to make a living. Read more…
Within the margins of human behavior, how is it possible for our hunger for self-awareness to coexist with our penchant for abandoning empathy and basic compassion? History’s most exquisite brains have combed the mines of knowledge and speculation in order to pilfer as much truth about ourselves as can be swallowed by mortal minds, yet in doing so they have occasionally stomped upon our collective dignity by treating the subjects of their study as though they belonged to an unrelated sub-species.
Ota Benga was just a dude. Had the trajectory of his existence not been marred by western interference, he might have lived a blasé life of hunting, storytelling and raising a family. Instead he was plucked from the lush, equatorial forests of his youth and made a slave, a sideshow wonder, and a zoological exhibit for slack-jawed tourists.
Most of the injustices thrust upon Ota’s arc were done with the false pretense of anthropological education, cloaked in evolutionary flim-flammery and racist eugenics. But what did we learn, apart from humankind’s tragically vast tolerance for our own assholishness?
A member of the Mbuti tribe in what was then called the Belgian Congo, Ota Benga’s life was first derailed by Belgium’s King Leopold II around the turn of the 20th century. Leopold had dispatched the Force Publique, a heavily-armed militia aimed at reminding the Congolese natives that they’d best remain devoted to producing rubber for Belgium’s financial gain. Ota was out on a hunt when the armed men showed up and murdered his wife and two children. When he returned to his village, he was captured as a slave. Read more…
In the 2011 film Limitless, Bradley Cooper uses a tiny pill to unlock the full 100% of his brain’s abilities, granting him superhuman reasoning skills, instantaneous deduction and an unnatural gift of foresight (though not enough foresight to keep him from making that third Hangover movie). This August, because Hollywood loves a good idea so much it’ll recycle it more frequently than an old Snapple bottle, Scarlett Johansson stars in Lucy, a story about a woman who unlocks 100% of her brain, granting her superhuman reasoning skills, etc, etc.
In all fairness, it is a fascinating concept. If we really only use 10% of our brains’ abilities, who knows what sort of untapped wonders we might really be capable of? Telekinesis? Precognition? Jedi mind tricks? Fortunately, there are dozens of books on how to mine the vast natural resources of think-gems inside our skulls. If one were to read each of them and apply their teachings, the possibilities are boundless. Within months you might find yourself switching from watching The Real Housewives of East Buffalo to watching opera broadcasts on PBS! How exciting!
The only little squirrel in the innards of this path to cerebral righteousness is the fact that we actually don’t use a mere 10% of our brains. That concept, which has often been attributed to Albert Einstein in a bold display of complete internet bullshittery, is one of our most widely swallowed urban myths.
Along with fellow Harvard psychologist Boris Sidis, William James was fascinated with the potential of the human brain. The two had worked at kick-starting Boris’s son’s IQ in a somewhat ethically-grey experiment. The kid was already a prodigy, allegedly reading the New York Times at only 18 months, and they felt that their work with the boy helped to bump him up to an adulthood IQ of 250-300. There’s no paperwork to back this up, but William Sidis graduated with a cum laude B.A. from Harvard at age 16, so clearly the kid had something. Read more…
As a young child, awash in homework that involved converting decameters to hectometers and other such metric mathery, I asked my father why the Americans (from whence he came) continue to make use of inches, feet, ounces, pounds, gallons, quarts and Fahrenheit when the system we use, where everything is neatly divisible by 100, makes more sense.
“Not now,” he told me. “I’m sleeping.”
And so I remain historically in the dark and culturally trapped between two opposites. Height I measure in feet and inches, travelling distance in kilometers, fluid containers in millilitres, and for penile length I’m thinking of switching to centimeters because it sounds more impressive.
Canada had tossed away its metric water wings long before I wandered into the school system, and we have been kicking it in the deep end of kilos and centis and such ever since. Imperial measurements I learned on the mean streets: a pint only appears in my mind with ice cream inside it, and a mile is a unit of distance that simply sounds better in a song (“I would walk five-hundred kilometers” just doesn’t fit the rhythm).
So how about the arguments against the metric system? Why won’t the Americans, Burmans and Liberians hop on board?
It ain’t natural.
We have been using non-metric measurements for as long as we’ve needed to know how far it was between the angry woolly mammoth and the nearest tall tree. In some parts of Malaysia, the locals referred to the distance between towns in terms of ‘rice cookings’, believing that everyone walked at roughly the same rate and they all knew how long it took to cook a thing of rice. Sure, the context of how big one ‘foot’ was would depend on which member of the populace is doing the measuring, but that’s how it was and we damn well liked the spontaneity of it all. Read more…
It is not the trait of which I am most proud, however it would be dishonest of me to deny the fact that I am a humor snob. Not to say I cull my giggles solely from the droll and waggish cartoons in the New Yorker – I’ll admit it, I re-watched the shit-hits-the-fan gag in Airplane! a few dozen times on my dad’s Betamax copy when I was a kid, and would do so again today. Humor shouldn’t have to be highbrow (a credo that shouldn’t surprise any regular readers of this site), but it should be funny.
So what the hell is ‘funny’? Why do people keep tuning in to shows like Two And A Half Men? Why did According To Jim endure a successful 8-season run? Why did a show like Arrested Development, which I would argue is the funniest show in the history of the medium, only last two and a half seasons?
I’ve gone on record as being one of those people who doesn’t consider himself to be a Monty Python fan, and I’ve taken some heat for that. And humor is subjective, so I’m okay with plucking my laughs from a different steam-tray of the buffet than many of my friends and family. But surely someone has looked into the nitty-gritty of why funny is funny.
Yes they have. And don’t call me Sh… oh come on, that’s too easy.
Explaining the specific biological and psychological motivations behind laughter might be the least funny thing a person can do. Anyone who has had to explain a joke to someone whose hair was mussed by the whoosh of air when the punchline flew over their head knows this. Deconstruction of comedy kills the comedy. Read more…
A few words about the great state of Tennessee before I begin. It’s a lovely state, full of history, and it features Nashville, one of the bedrock states of American music. I feel I need to preface with this, as Tennessee has taken a few hits in the media lately. This is the state where, in 2011, legislators passed a bill that would make it illegal for educators to even make reference to the fact that some people in the world are gay. As geographically removed from the deep south as Tennessee may be, their leaders have fought hard to appear as intolerant and backwards as possible.
And this is hardly a new development. One of the first ‘trials of the century’ took place in a Tennessee courtroom, and while it had nothing to do with homosexual rights, it focused the blinding media spotlight onto the state’s educational system, and revealed it to be ludicrously outmoded.
They called it the Scopes Monkey Trial. But in reality, it wasn’t the monkeys who needed defending. It was science.
It all started when a downhome folksy Tennessee farmer-turned-lawmaker named John W. Butler introduced a bill that would make it illegal for any teacher in any school in the state to teach evolution. Evolution was a bitch-slap in the face to the science of the Bible. Teachers were not – under the threat of a hefty fine – allowed to deny the origins of mankind as taught in holy scripture. Read more…