Articles of Interest

[Since I have more articles to reflect on and share than I have time to devote fully written posts to, I will try my hand at this new approach: a weekly installment of my favorite recently read pieces, with excerpts and links to pique your interest. This should hopefully condense my queue of topics to discuss. Hope you enjoy!]

Technological solutions inspired by nature…

Human innovation, some thinking goes, should take cues from naturally occurring processes, because after billions of years of evolution, nature has determined what is efficient, effective, and enduring. This isn’t a novel idea. From airplanes to Velcro, inventors have long turned to flora and fauna for inspiration and instruction. But now more than ever, biomimetics is generating product designs — not to mention hundreds of millions of dollars in capital investment — that are not just pioneering, but also potentially sustainable.

Some intriguing reasons why the universe may not exist…

Physical realism is the view that the physical world we see is real and exists by itself, alone. Most people think this is self-evident, but physical realism has been struggling with the facts of physics for some time now. The paradoxes that baffled physics last century still baffle it today, and its great hopes of string theory and supersymmetry aren’t leading anywhere.

In contrast, quantum theory works, but quantum waves that entangle, superpose, then collapse to a point are physically impossible—they must be “imaginary.” So for the first time in history, a theory of what doesn’t exist is successfully predicting what does—but how can the unreal predict the real?

Why the Second World War should not be glorified…

Any argument that the Great War [World War I] was uniquely wicked and wasteful is plainly false in statistical terms, and the idea that the Good War was uniquely noble is absurd in view of its moral ambiguities.

Worse than that, the glorification of the second world war has had practical and baleful consequences. It has led us to an easier acceptance of “liberal interventionism”, founded on the assumption that we in the west are alone virtuous and qualified to distinguish political right from wrong – and the conviction that our self-evidently virtuous ends must justify whatever means we employ, lighting up a bomber flare path from Dresden to Baghdad to Tripoli.

Cultural differences between collective and individualistic attitudes…

People in the rest of the world are more likely to understand themselves as interwoven with other people — as interdependent, not independent. In such social worlds, your goal is to fit in and adjust yourself to others, not to stand out. People imagine themselves as part of a larger whole — threads in a web, not lone horsemen on the frontier. In America, we say that the squeaky wheel gets the grease. In Japan, people say that the nail that stands up gets hammered down.

These are broad brush strokes, but the research demonstrating the differences is remarkably robust and it shows that they have far-reaching consequences … What does work better is a hybrid approach that combines positive thinking with “realism.”

The problem with positive thinking…

In each of these studies, the results have been clear: Fantasizing about happy outcomes — about smoothly attaining your wishes — didn’t help. Indeed, it hindered people from realizing their dreams.

Why doesn’t positive thinking work the way you might assume? As my colleagues and I have discovered, dreaming about the future calms you down, measurably reducing systolic blood pressure, but it also can drain you of the energy you need to take action in pursuit of your goals.

And something fun to wrap it up…

The 50 words listed here are all genuine entries taken from Wright’s English Dialect Dictionary as well as a number of other equally fantastic local British glossaries, including John Jamieson’s Etymological Dictionary of the Scottish Language (1808), Francis Grose’s Glossary of Provincial and Local Words Used in England (1787), and John Ray’s Collection of South and East-Country Words (1691). Ranging from the bizarre to the useful, they all would make a brilliant addition to anyone’s vocabulary.

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