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"Dying is an art like everything else"

30.11.12

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"Spaun, the most realistic artificial human brain yet"

30.11.12

 

"The end result is a brain that is mechanistically simple (2.5 million neurons isn’t really much to write home about), but which is surprisingly flexible. By implementing just a handful of very basic tasks, it’s interesting to see how complex behavior begins to emerge. There are some tantalizing hints as to how the brain evolved: starting with simple tasks, and then building upon and weaving them together to build complex functionality. In the video below, Spaun recognizes the pattern of a number sequence — the kind of question you would find on an actual IQ test."

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“I can hear the cracking of the ice,”

30.11.12

 

Every country has its own perspective on the second world war. This is not surprising when experiences and memories are so different. For Americans, the war started in December 1941; for Russians, it began in June that year. Most Europeans believe it commenced in Poland in September 1939. But for the Chinese it started in 1937, with the Sino-Japanese war, and many in Spain are still convinced that it began in 1936 with General Franco’s nationalist rising to overthrow the Republic. Some historians extend the conflict further, arguing that it lasted from 1914 to 1945, or even from the Russian Revolution in 1917 until the collapse of the Soviet empire in 1989.

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The memory of the second world war hangs over Europe, an inescapable and irresistible point of reference. Historical parallels are usually misleading and dangerous. The threat of economic collapse now is not the same as the threat of Nazism and war. But the current crisis still poses a threat to parliamentary democracy in Europe. It may awaken the nationalist monsters which the European ideal had tried to consign to history.

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We again face the danger of a world depression and we are beginning to see mass unemployment in some countries, especially in southern Europe (see left). Last year, Giles Paxman, the British ambassador in Madrid, pointed out how remarkable it was that despite the terrifying levels of youth unemployment in Spain, there had been an astonishingly low level of social disorder. The demonstrations of the “Indignados,” the young Spaniards who have taken to the streets to protest against austerity measures and unemployment, have been passionate but not violent. His theory is that the memory of the horrors of the Spanish civil war is acting like a nuclear threat in the background. He may well be right. Greece also suffered from a civil war, and although there have been a considerable amount of violent protests in Athens, folk memory is likely to hold the country back from outright conflict.

Surprisingly little has been said in the newspapers about one of the main weights on the Greek national budget: the totally disproportionate spending on their armed forces, swollen by the bogeyman figure of Turkey. One foreign minister revealed in private earlier this year that the Greek armed forces have bought so many Leopard tanks that they can hardly fit them all in along the strip of frontier facing Turkey. The Greek government must be afraid of cutting the defence budget back as much as is needed through fear of another coup. In fact, according to the editor-in-chief of Politiken in Denmark, a senior Greek official privately warned that their army is ready to take over at any moment,

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The euro crisis has been a train crash in very slow motion, accompanied by several years of political and economic denial. The ideology of European unity has been such an article of faith that it has prevented its political establishment from understanding the harsh reality of a wider world. Those arguing for a relaxation of austerity, such as the new French government, are trying to wish into being their ideal international order. One of Hollande’s ministers, Arnaud Montebourg, even calls for “de-globalisation,” as if clocks can be turned back, with tariff barriers reintroduced. Globalisation and the internet go hand in hand.

The left in France dreams of a world in which the bond markets no longer exist to punish over-spending. This defiance of cause and effect is slightly reminiscent of that bankrupt France after the Liberation in 1944 when the Parisian intelligentsia convinced themselves that progressive ideas would triumph over the “filthy money” of the capitalist system. And that in turn was a curious echo of the Grandmaison doctrine on the eve of the first world war, which stated that French élan in a bayonet charge could somehow overcome heavy artillery.

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Just because we in the west have enjoyed a rising standard of living over several centuries, we are deluding ourselves if we try to believe that has somehow become an inalienable human right. Christine Lagarde’s controversial interview earlier this year, in which she said she had more sympathy with sub-Saharan Africa and which caused such fury in Greece, was probably also a veiled warning that parts of Europe may soon face conditions akin to those of the third world. Europe is also much more vulnerable to what one might call the moral crisis of capitalism. That sense of entitlement, of materialistic human rights in social security that has grown over the years, has produced an angry disbelief at any suggestion that this cannot continue and that government spending needs to be cut. At the same time, European populations are reacting against another integral part of the change. In the past, capitalism has always been able to justify its inherent inequalities on the grounds that, however wide the gap, at least the poor were slightly better off. That is patently no longer the case.

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Perhaps the only consolation is that we are living in an ideological vacuum. Europe is not torn between the Manichaean false alternatives of Stalinism and Nazism as it was in the 1930s. But both socialism and now capitalism also appear to have failed. Socialism because it depends on state spending and now all states have to cut back. And capitalism is in crisis, partly because of the self-destructive volatility which Marx identified, but also because the poor are getting poorer for the first time, and thus do not have the means to spend to create growth. Capitalism has also entered a downward cycle because incestuously corrupt dealing in financial centres is now alienating the very mass of the middle class on whom stock markets depend. Some claim that capitalism always manages to reinvent itself, but this time it looks unlikely.


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Yes, they do.

30.11.12

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Like a thief in the night

30.11.12

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"And Death Shall Have no Dominion"

30.11.12

 

Obrigado Fernando Antolin

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Love hides in the strangest places

29.11.12

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Fear of the known

29.11.12

 

As a young theorist in Moscow in 1982, Mikhail Shifman became enthralled with an elegant new theory called supersymmetry that attempted to incorporate the known elementary particles into a more complete inventory of the universe.

“My papers from that time really radiate enthusiasm,” said Shifman, now a 63-year-old professor at the University of Minnesota. Over the decades, he and thousands of other physicists developed the supersymmetry hypothesis, confident that experiments would confirm it. “But nature apparently doesn’t want it,” he said. “At least not in its original simple form.”

With the world’s largest supercollider unable to find any of the particles the theory says must exist, Shifman is joining a growing chorus of researchers urging their peers to change course.

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If nothing new turns up — an outcome casually referred to as the “nightmare scenario” — physicists will be left with the same holes that riddled their picture of the universe three decades ago, before supersymmetry neatly plugged them. And, without an even higher-energy collider to test alternative ideas, Falkowski says, the field will undergo a slow decay: “The number of jobs in particle physics will steadily decrease, and particle physicists will die out naturally.”

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Outono e assim

28.11.12

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