Archive for May 8th, 2010

Bobby McFerrin illustrates the simple beauty of the pentatonic scale

| May 8, 2010 | Reply
Bobby McFerrin illustrates the simple beauty of the pentatonic scale

This is fun–actually delightful. Bobby McFerrin plays the audience, and they produce a pentatonic baseline for McFerrin’s improvising.

World Science Festival 2009: Bobby McFerrin Demonstrates the Power of the Pentatonic Scale from World Science Festival on Vimeo.

For more of McFerrin’s magic, watch the video below:

World Science Festival 2009: Notes & Neurons, Part 1 of 5 from World Science Festival on Vimeo.

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American creativity

| May 8, 2010 | 3 Replies
American creativity

Here’s a reminder that Americans are never at a loss as to how to solve a problem creatively.

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Peabody Coal Company argues that coal is “green coal” and “clean coal”

| May 8, 2010 | 4 Replies
Peabody Coal Company argues that coal is “green coal” and “clean coal”

A few months ago one of my neighbors, a proudly conservative man, saw me carrying a package of high-efficiency light bulbs into my house. He gave me a disappointed look loudly said: “Buy some real light bulbs, Erich.” This neighbor has repeatedly made it known that that liberal concerns and proposals regarding energy are unnecessary because there is plenty of oil and coal, and we should make it our national priority to keep digging and burning these resources.

I know that my Republican neighbor is not the only “conservative” in the U.S. willing to scoff at conservation. I previously argued that this anti-energy-efficiency climate–science-denial attitude like my neighbor’s outlook has become a badge of group membership among conservatives. It has become a salient display that one believes, above all, in the alleged power and wisdom of the “Free Market,” an unsubstantiated leap of faith so incredibly bold that I once termed it the Fourth Person of the Holy Trinity (and see here and here). These free-market fundamentalists are contemptuous at well-informed suggestions for using energy resources more efficiently and for reducing our reliance on dirty and dangerous fossil fuels. Many of them consider national policy aimed at energy conservation to be totally unnecessary and ridiculously expensive. Proposals that we should be smarter consumers of energy annoy and anger them and they offer no evidence-based alternatives for peak oil (and see here and here and here ). They refuse to consider the damage being done to our environment, our health and our budget (especially our military budget) as a result of our reliance on fossil fuels .

My neighbor displays a startling lack of curiosity regarding the ramifications for continuing to attempt to drill and dig our way to energy independence. This same attitude is found in many conservative politicians, the most prominent being Sarah Palin. Based on an extraordinary video of a recent debate at Washington University in Saint Louis, this same attitude is also embraced by of the executives at the largest private coal company in the United States, Peabody Coal Company.

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How are Humans Better?

| May 8, 2010 | 2 Replies
How are Humans Better?

A new comment thread on an old post discusses the precept that humans are somehow “better” than all other creatures. Sure, as a member of our team, I’d like to think that we are Number One. We’ve even written books attributed to deities that prove that we are the reason for creation, that the octillions of stars in the universe were all put there just for our amusement. Therefore, the book and its believers maintain, we must be the best thing ever. But as an educated human raised by scientists to find first sources and question suppositions, I wonder: “How are we better?”

I have posted before on some of the ways in which our Creator (to use that paradigm) has short changed us. Name any characteristic of which we are proud, and it is easy to find another creature that exceeds our ability. I can only think of one exception: Communicating in persistent symbols.

Unlike cetaceans, birds, fellow primates, and others who communicate fairly precisely with sounds, gestures, or chemical signals, we can detach communication from ourselves and transport or even delay it via layers of uncomprehending media (paper, wires, illiterate couriers, etc). We can create physical objects that abstract ideas from one individual and allow the idea to be absorbed by another individual at a later time. It also allows widely separated groups to share a single culture, at least in part.

This learned behavior is based on our apparently unique ability to abstract in multiple layers and to abstract to a time well beyond the immediate future. We can take an idea to a series of sounds to a series of static symbols, and back again. Our relatively modern ability to reason abstractly (math, science) evolved from our ability to abstract communications. Even Einstein couldn’t hold the proof of E=MC2 in his head.

But is this unique ability really sufficient to declare ourselves overall inherently “better”?

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