‘Science Made Stupid: How to Discomprehend the World Around Us’ is a book written and illustrated by Tom Weller in 1985. The winner of the 1986 Hugo Award for Best Non-Fiction Book, it is a parody of a junior high or high school-level science textbook. Though currently out-of-print, high-resolution scans are available online, as well as an abridged transcription, both of which have been endorsed by Weller. Highlights of the book include a satirical account of the creationism vs. evolution debate and Weller’s drawings of fictional prehistoric animals (e.g., the duck-billed mastodon.) Weller released a companion volume, ‘Culture Made Stupid’ (also spelled ‘Cvltvre Made Stvpid’), which satirizes literature and the humanities.
‘Is Google Making Us Stupid? What the Internet is doing to our brains’ is a magazine article by technology writer Nicholas G. Carr highly critical of the Internet’s effect on cognition. It was published in ‘The Atlantic’ magazine as a six-page cover story in 2008. Carr’s main argument is that the Internet might have detrimental effects on cognition that diminish the capacity for concentration and contemplation. Despite the title, the article is not specifically targeted at Google, but more at the cognitive impact of the Internet and World Wide Web. Carr expanded his argument in his 2010 book ‘The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains.’ The essay was extensively discussed in the media and the blogosphere, with reactions to Carr’s argument being polarized At the ‘Britannica Blog,’ a part of the discussion focused on the apparent bias in Carr’s argument toward literary reading. In Carr’s view, reading on the Internet is generally of a shallower form in comparison with reading from printed books in which he believes a more intense and sustained form of reading is exercised. Elsewhere in the media, the Internet’s impact on memory retention was discussed; and, at the online scientific magazine ‘Edge,’ several argued that it was ultimately the responsibility of individuals to monitor their Internet usage so that it does not impact their cognition.
While long-term psychological and neurological studies have yet to yield definitive results justifying Carr’s argument, a few studies have provided glimpses into the changing cognitive habits of Internet users. A UCLA study led some to wonder whether a breadth of brain activity—which was shown to occur while users performed Internet searches in the study’s functional MRI scans—actually facilitated reading and cognition or possibly overburdened the mind; and what quality of thought could be determined by the additional presence of brain activity in regions known to control decision-making and complex reasoning skills.
Stupidity is a lack of intelligence, understanding, reason, wit, or sense. It may be innate, assumed, or reactive – ‘being ‘stupid with grief’ as a defence against trauma,’ a state marked with ‘grief and despair…making even simple daily tasks a hardship.’ The root word ‘stupid,’ which can serve as an adjective or noun, comes from the Latin verb ‘stupere,’ for ‘being numb’ or ‘astonished,’ and is related to ‘stupor’ (in Roman culture ”the stupidus of the mimes’ was a sort of professional buffoon – the ‘fall-man,’ the eternal he-who-gets-kicked.’ The word entered the English language in the 16th century; since then, stupidity has become a pejorative appellation for human misdeeds, whether purposeful or accidental, due to absence of mental capacity.
The modern English word ‘stupid’ has a broad range of application, from being slow of mind (indicating a lack of intelligence, care or reason), dullness of feeling or sensation (torpidity, senseless, insensitivity), or lacking interest or point (vexing, exasperating). It can either infer a congenital lack of capacity for reasoning, or a temporary state of daze or slow-mindedness.
‘Holy cow!‘ is an exclamation of surprise used mostly in the United States, Canada, Australia and England. It is a minced oath or euphemism for ‘Holy Christ!’ Similar expressions such as ‘Holy buckets’ and ‘Holy underwear’ employ a play-on-words, ‘holy’ implying ‘riddled with holes.’ According to the ‘Dictionary of American Slang’ (1960): ‘It is also the common oath and popular exclamation put into the mouths of teenagers by many screenwriters, and, is universally heard on radio, television, and in the movies. It was first popularized by the ‘Corliss Archer’ series of short stories, television programs, and movies, which attempted to show the humorous, homey side of teenage life.’
‘Bad Science‘ is a 2008 book by British physician and science writer Ben Goldacre, criticizing mainstream media reporting on health and science issues. The book contains extended and revised versions of many of his ‘Guardian’ columns. The book discusses topics such as detoxification (Aqua Detox, ear candles etc.) that can easily be shown to be bogus by simple experiments, and discusses the ‘detox phenomenon’ and purification rituals. He also addresses the claims for Brain Gym, a program of specific physical exercises that its commercial promoters claim can create new pathways in the brain. The uncritical adoption of this program by sections of the British school system is derided.
Goldacre used the example of homeopathy to prompt a discussion of the nature of scientific evidence, with reference to the placebo effect, regression to the mean, and the importance of blind testing and randomization in the design of fair clinical trials. Having concluded that homeopathic pills have been shown to work no better than placebo pills, the author suggests homeopathy may still have psychological benefits which could be the subject of further study.
Tit for tat is an English saying meaning ‘equivalent retaliation.’ It is also a highly effective strategy in game theory for the iterated prisoner’s dilemma (shows why two individuals might not cooperate, even if it appears that it is in their best interests to do so). The strategy was first introduced by mathematical psychologist Anatol Rapoport in political scientist Robert Axelrod’s two tournaments, held around 1980. Notably, it was (on both occasions) both the simplest strategy and the most successful.
An agent using this strategy will first cooperate, then subsequently replicate an opponent’s previous action. If the opponent previously was cooperative, the agent is cooperative. If not, the agent is not. This is similar to superrationality and reciprocal altruism in biology. The success of the tit-for-tat (TFT) strategy (which is largely cooperative despite that its name emphasizes an adversarial nature) took many by surprise. In successive competitions various teams produced complex strategies which attempted to ‘cheat’ in a variety of cunning ways, but TFT eventually prevailed in every competition.
A howler is a glaring blunder, typically an amusing one. Eric Partridge’s ‘A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English’ (1951) defined it in part as: ‘… A glaring (and amusing) blunder: from before 1890; … also, a tremendous lie … Literally something that howls or cries for notice, or perhaps … by way of contracting howling blunder.’ Another common interpretation of this usage is that a howler is a mistake fit to make one howl with laughter.
All over the world, probably in all natural languages, there are many informal terms for blunders; the English term ‘howler’ occurs in many translating dictionaries. There are other colloquial English words for howler, in particular the mainly United States and Canadian slang term ‘boner’ which has various interpretations, including that of blunder. Like howler, boner can be used in any sense to mean an ignominious and usually laughable blunder, and also like howler, it has been used in the titles of published collections of largely schoolboy blunders since at least the 1930s.
The Big Lie is a propaganda technique. The expression was coined by Adolf Hitler, when he dictated his 1925 book ‘Mein Kampf,’ about the use of a lie so ‘colossal’ that no one would believe that someone ‘could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously.’ Hitler asserted the technique was used by Jews to unfairly blame Germany’s loss in World War I on German Army officer Erich Ludendorff.
The Air Pirates were a group of cartoonists who created two issues of an underground comic called ‘Air Pirates Funnies’ in 1971, leading to a famous lawsuit by The Walt Disney Company. Founded by Dan O’Neill, the group also included Shary Flenniken, Bobby London, Gary Hallgren, and Ted Richards. The collective shared a common interest in the styles of past masters of the comic strip, and in creating their stories for the collective each set out to imitate the style of an old time cartoonist: Flenniken emulated Clare Briggs and H. T. Webster in her ‘Trots and Bonnie’ comics, London’s strip ‘Dirty Duck’ paid homage to the style of George Herriman’s ‘Krazy Kat,’ Richards’ ‘Dopin’ Dan’ was supposed to be influenced by Bud Fisher but showed more similarity to Mort Walker’s ‘Beetle Bailey,’ and Gary Hallgren drew a strip called ‘Pollyanna Pals’ in the style of Cliff Sterrett’s ‘Polly and Her Pals.’ The original Air Pirates were a gang of Mickey Mouse antagonists of the 1930s; O’Neill regarded Mickey Mouse as a symbol of conformist hypocrisy in American culture, and therefore a ripe target for satire.
The first issue of Air Pirates Funnies was dated July 1971, and the second issue dated August. Both were published under the Hell Comics imprint, and were distributed through Ron Turner’s Last Gasp publishing company. The lead stories in both issues, created by O’Neill, Bobby London and Hallgren, focused on Walt Disney characters, most notably from Floyd Gottfredson’s ‘Mickey Mouse’ newspaper strip, with the Disney characters engaging in adult behaviors such as sex and drug consumption. O’Neill insisted it would dilute the parody to change the names of the characters, so his adventurous mouse character was called ‘Mickey.’ Ted Richards took on the Big Bad Wolf and the Three Little Pigs, opening up a second wave of parody attacking Disney’s grab of contemporary American and European folklore.
Mat is a term for strong obscene profanity in Russian and some other Slavic language communities. Mat is censored in the media and the use of mat in public constitutes a form of disorderly conduct, or mild hooliganism (although, such laws are only enforced episodically, in particular due to the vagueness of the legal definition). However, despite the public ban, mat is used by Russians of all ages and nearly all social groups, with particular fervor in male-dominated military and the structurally similar social strata. However, it is considered highly uncultured and very offensive in certain social circles, especially if women are present. The word ‘mat’ is short form of the verb ‘materit’ (‘to scold someone’s mother’). Obscenities are among the earliest recorded attestations of the Russian language (the first written mat words date to the Middle Ages). It was first introduced into literature in the 18th century by the poet Ivan Barkov, whose poetry, combining lofty lyrics with brutally obscene words, may be regarded as a forerunner of Russian literary parody.
Flaming Carrot Comics is a comic book series by cartoonist Bob Burden. The title character first appeared in ‘Visions’ #1, a magazine published by the Atlanta Fantasy Fair in 1979. Flaming Carrot can be seen as a parody of various aspects of the superhero genre (though his origin story is much the same as that of Don Quixote). Flaming Carrot adventures have been published by Aardvark-Vanaheim, Renegade Press, Dark Horse Comics, and Image Comics, among others. He has guest-starred, and made cameos in, comics published by Fantagraphics, Mirage Studios, Atomeka Press, and others. The Flaming Carrot origin states that ‘having read 5,000 comics in a single sitting to win a bet, this poor man suffered brain damage and appeared directly thereafter as — the Flaming Carrot!’ Carrot, who lives in Palookaville, a neighborhood of Iron City, has staved off at least three alien invasions, a Communist take over, flying dead dogs, the Man in the Moon, Death itself, and a cloned horde of evil marching Hitler’s boots. Possessing no real super powers, the Carrot wins the day through sheer grit, raw determination, blinding stupidity, and bizarre luck. Flaming Carrot even died in #6 (fell into a deep toxic waste pit in Palookaville), was brought back from the clinically dead in #7, described his sojourn in Limbo in #8 and got back at those who sent him to Limbo in #9.
Flaming Carrot was also a founding member of the blue collar superhero group the Mystery Men, introduced in a flashback/dream sequence in ‘Flaming Carrot Comics’ #16. The story of this group was later made into the 1999 movie ‘Mystery Men’ and a short-lived spin-off comic book series. The Carrot wears a costume that consists of a giant carrot mask which extends from above his head to below his crotch, a white shirt, red pants, and flippers on his feet (in case he has to swim). The mask has a continually burning flame at the top and a secret compartment containing a nuclear powered pogo stick. He also wears a crime fighting utility belt, but unlike that of the Batman, his is filled with Silly Putty, rubber bands, random playing cards, sneezing powder, and other similarly useless items (which nonetheless can become lethal weapons in his hands). The Flaming Carrot also relies heavily on his 9mm Radom pistol to kill his enemies without hesitation. Flaming Carrot is able to go into a self-induced state of ‘Zen Stupidity’ in order to face danger and evil boldly and without trepidation.
The Google effect is the tendency to forget information that can be easily found using internet search engines such as Google, instead of remembering it. The phenomenon was described and named by researchers Betsy Sparrow, Jenny Liu, and Daniel M. Wegner in 2011. Having easy access to the Internet, their study showed, makes people less likely to remember certain details they believe will be accessible online. People can still remember, because they will remember what they cannot find online. They also remember how to find what they need on the Internet. Sparrow said this made the Internet a type of transactive memory. One result of this phenomenon is dependence on the Internet; if an online connection is lost, the researchers said, it is similar to losing a friend. The study included four experiments conducted with students at Columbia and Harvard. In part one, subjects had to answer trivia questions, followed by naming the colors of words, some of which related to searching on the Internet. In part two, the subjects read statements related to the trivia questions and had to remember what they read. In phase three, the subjects had to remember the details of the statements based on whether they believed the information could be found somewhere, whether it could be found in a specific place, or whether it could not be found. In the final phase, the subjects believed the statements would be stored in folders. The research concluded that people can remember information better if they do not know where to find it, and they can remember how to find what they need if they cannot remember the information. Sparrow said, ‘We’re not thoughtless empty-headed people who don’t have memories anymore. But we are becoming particularly adept at remembering where to go find things. And that’s kind of amazing.’
The internet makes information almost instantaneously available, in a wide variety of locations (even more so with the advent of smartphones), in a way that has never been possible with books, which are not always readily available. However, such an effect was mentioned as far back as ancient Greece. In ‘The Phaedrus,’ Plato quotes Socrates as saying something similar about writing and extrapolates on how this affects real knowledge, i.e truth and wisdom: ‘…And in this instance, you who are the father of letters, from a paternal love of your own children have been led to attribute to them a quality which they cannot have; for this discovery of yours will create forgetfulness in the learners’ souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves. The specific which you have discovered is an aid not to memory, but to reminiscence, and you give your disciples not truth, but only the semblance of truth; they will be hearers of many things and will have learned nothing; they will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing; they will be tiresome company, having the show of wisdom without the reality.’
The Policy Analysis Market (PAM), part of the FutureMAP project, was a proposed futures exchange developed by the United States’ Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and based on an idea first proposed by Net Exchange, a San Diego research firm specializing in the development of online prediction markets. PAM was to be ‘a market in the future of the Middle East,’ and would have allowed trading of futures contracts based on possible political developments in several Middle Eastern countries. The theory behind such a market is that the monetary value of a futures contract on an event reflects the probability that that event will actually occur, since a market’s actors rationally bid a contract either up or down based on reliable information. One of the models for PAM was a political futures market run by the University of Iowa, which had predicted U.S. election outcomes more accurately than either opinion polls or political pundits. PAM was also inspired by the work of George Mason University economist Robin Hanson.
However, Senators Byron L. Dorgan (D-ND) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) claimed that PAM would allow trading in such events as coups d’état, assassinations, and terrorist attacks, due to such events appearing on interface pictures on the project website. They denounced the idea, with Wyden stating, ‘The idea of a federal betting parlor on atrocities and terrorism is ridiculous and it’s grotesque,’ while Dorgan called it ‘useless, offensive and unbelievably stupid.’ Almost immediately afterwards, the Pentagon announced the cancellation of PAM, and by the end of the week John Poindexter, head of the DARPA unit responsible for developing it, had offered his resignation; the PAM had first been proposed and funded in 2001, and Poindexter joined DARPA in 2002. Robin Hanson writes that Poindexter ‘actually had little involvement with PAM.’ CNN reported the program would be relaunched by the private firm, Net Exchange, which helped create it, but that the newer version ‘will not include any securities based on forecasts of violent events such as assassinations or terror attacks.’ In 2007, ‘Popular Science’ launched a similar program, known as the ‘Popsci Predictions Exchange.’ Another project was the ‘American Action Market’ announced by Tad Hirsh of the MIT Media Lab in 2003, which would permit for-profit betting on major events. There are now commercial policy analysis markets, such as Intrade, which offers futures on events such as the capture of Osama bin Laden, the U.S. Presidential Election, and the bombing of Iran.
The Three Laws of Robotics are a set of rules devised by the science fiction author Isaac Asimov. The rules were introduced in his 1942 short story ‘Runaround,’ although they had been foreshadowed in a few earlier stories. The Three Laws are: ‘A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm; A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law; and A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws. These form an organizing principle and unifying theme for Asimov’s robotic-based fiction, appearing in his ‘Robot’ series, the stories linked to it, and his ‘Lucky Starr’ series of young-adult fiction.
The Laws are incorporated into almost all of the advanced robots appearing in his fiction, and cannot be bypassed, being intended as a safety feature. Many of Asimov’s robot-focused stories involve robots behaving in unusual and counter-intuitive ways as an unintended consequence of how the robot applies the Three Laws to the situation in which it finds itself. The original laws have been altered and elaborated on by Asimov and other authors. Asimov himself made slight modifications to the first three in various books and short stories to further develop how robots would interact with humans and each other. In later fiction where robots had taken responsibility for government of whole planets and human civilizations, Asimov also added a fourth, or zeroth law, to precede the others: ‘A robot may not harm humanity, or, by inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.’