Archive for August, 2015

August 29, 2015

Stewart Brand

coevolution quarterly

whole earth

Stewart Brand (b. 1938) is an American writer, best known as editor of the ‘Whole Earth Catalog,’ a counterculture magazine and mail order catalog. He founded a number of organizations, including The WELL (one of the oldest virtual communities in continuous operation), the Global Business Network (a scenario planner and forecaster for companies, NGOs, and governments), and the Long Now Foundation (a nonprofit that promotes very long-term projects, e.g. a 10,000 year clock). He is the author of several books, most recently ‘Whole Earth Discipline: An Ecopragmatist Manifesto.’

Brand attended Phillips Exeter Academy. He studied biology at Stanford University, graduating in 1960. His first marriage was to Lois Jennings, an Ottawa Native American and mathematician. As a soldier in the Army, he was a parachutist and taught infantry skills; he later expressed the view that his experience in the military had fostered his competence in organizing. A civilian again in 1962, he studied design at San Francisco Art Institute, photography at San Francisco State College, and participated in a legitimate scientific study of then-legal LSD, in Menlo Park, California.

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August 26, 2015

Startle Response


sneezing panda

The startle response is a brainstem reflectory reaction (reflex) that serves to protect the back of the neck (whole-body startle) and the eyes (eyeblink) and facilitates escape from sudden stimuli. It is found across the lifespan of many species. An individual’s emotional state may lead to a variety of responses. The acoustic startle reflex is thought to be caused by an auditory stimulus greater than 80 decibels.

The anterior cingulate cortex in the brain is largely thought to be the main area associated with emotional response and awareness, which can contribute to the way an individual reacts to a startle inducing stimuli. Along with the anterior cingulate cortex, the amygdala and the hippocampus are known to have implications in this reflex. The amygdala is known to have a role in the ‘fight or flight’ response, and the hippocampus functions to form memories of the stimulus and the emotions associated with it.

August 22, 2015

Moral Credential

high horse

all too human

The moral credential effect is a bias that occurs when a person’s track record as a good egalitarian establishes in them an unconscious ethical certification, endorsement, or license that increases the likelihood of less egalitarian decisions later. This effect occurs even when the audience or moral peer group is unaware of the affected person’s previously established moral credential. For example, individuals who had the opportunity to recruit a woman or African American in one setting were more likely to say later, in a different setting, that a job would be better suited for a man or a Caucasian.

Moral credentials can also be obtained vicariously (i.e., a person may behave as if they themselves have moral credentials after observing someone from a group they identify with making an egalitarian decision). In research that draws on social identity theory it was also found that group membership moderates the effectiveness of moral credentials in mitigating perceptions of prejudice (e.g., displays of moral credentials have more effect between people who share in-group status). In 1878, philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche wrote of ‘innocent corruption’ in ‘Human, All Too Human’: ‘In all institutions that do not feel the sharp wind of public criticism (as, for example, in scholarly organizations and senates), an innocent corruption grows up, like a mushroom.’

August 20, 2015

Baker-Miller Pink


Adam Alter

Baker-Miller Pink is a tone of pink that was originally created by mixing one gallon of pure white indoor latex paint with one pint of red trim semi-gloss outdoor paint. It is named for the two US Navy officers who first experimented with its use in the Naval Correctional Facility in Seattle, Washington at the behest of researcher Alexander Schauss. The color is also known as Schauss pink, after Alexander Schauss’s extensive research into the effects of the color on emotions and hormones, as well as P-618 and ‘Drunk-Tank Pink’ (so named because jails cells are painted this color because it is believed to calm inmates).

Contemporary research has shown conflicting results on the effects of Baker-Miller pink. While the initial results at the Naval Correctional facility in Seattle were positive, calming those exposed, inmates at the Santa Clara county jail were trying to scratch the paint from the walls with their fingernails when exposed for more than fifteen minutes. At Johns Hopkins, appetite suppression was observed and studied.

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August 11, 2015

Phantom Vibration Syndrome

phantom ring by Douglas B Jones

Phantom vibration syndrome or ‘phantom ringing’ is the mistaken feeling that one’s mobile phone is vibrating or ringing. Other terms for this concept include ringxiety (a portmanteau of ‘ring’ and ‘anxiety’) and ‘fauxcellarm’ (a play on ‘false alarm’). It is a form of pareidolia, a psychological phenomenon involving a stimulus (such as an image or a sound) wherein the mind perceives a familiar pattern where none actually exists. Phantom ringing may be experienced while taking a shower, watching television, or using a noisy device. Humans are particularly sensitive to auditory tones between 1,000 and 6,000 hertz, and basic mobile phone ringers often fall within this range.

In the comic strip ‘Dilbert,’ cartoonist Scott Adams referenced such a sensation in 1996 as ‘phantom-pager syndrome.’ The earliest published use of the term dates to a 2003 article in the ‘New Pittsburgh Courier,’ written by Robert D. Jones. In the conclusion of the article, Jones writes, ‘…should we be concerned about what our mind or body may be trying to tell us by the aggravating imaginary emanations from belts, pockets and even purses? Whether PVS is the result of physical nerve damage, a mental health issue, or both, this growing phenomenon seems to indicate that we may have crossed a line in this ‘always on’ society.’


August 10, 2015

Hawaiian Pizza

Sam Panopoulos

Hawaiian pizza is made up of a dough crust, tomato sauce, Canadian bacon, and pineapple rings or chunks. Often versions will have ham, mixed peppers, mushrooms and bacon.

Pineapple as a pizza topping divides public opinion. Hawaiian was the most popular pizza in Australia in 1999, accounting for 15% of pizza sales, and a 2015 review of independent UK pizzerias found the Hawaiian pizza to be the most commonly available. However, a 2016 survey of US adults had pineapple in the top three least favorite pizza toppings, behind anchovies and mushrooms.

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August 8, 2015

Extraterrestrial Real Estate

lunar embassy

Nation of Celestial Space

Extraterrestrial real estate is land on other planets or natural satellites or parts of space that is offered for sale. No such sale has ever been recognized by any authority. Nevertheless, some private individuals and organizations have claimed ownership of celestial bodies, such as the Moon, and are actively involved in ‘selling’ parts of them through certificates of ownership termed ‘Lunar deeds,’ ‘Martian deeds,’ or similar sham legal documents.

The topic of real estate on celestial objects has been present since the 1890s. In 1936, A. Dean Lindsay made claims for all extraterrestrial objects. He sent a letter to the Pittsburgh Notary Public along with a deed and money for establishment of the property. The public sent offers to buy objects from him as well. The UN sponsored 1967 ‘Outer Space Treaty’ established all of outer space as an international commons by describing it as the ‘province of all mankind’ and forbidding all the nations from claiming territorial sovereignty.

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August 6, 2015

Vacuum Activity

Awkward Cell-Thumber by Elliot Thoburn

Vacuum activities are innate, fixed action patterns of animal behavior that are performed in the absence of the external stimuli (releaser) that normally elicit them. This type of abnormal behavior shows that a key stimulus is not always needed to produce an activity. Vacuum activities can be difficult to identify because it is necessary to determine whether any stimulus triggered the behavior.

For example, squirrels that have lived in metal cages without bedding all their lives do all the actions that a wild squirrel does when burying a nut. It scratches at the metal floor as if digging a hole, it acts as if it were taking a nut to the place where it scratched though there is no nut, then it pats the metal floor as if covering an imaginary buried nut.

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August 5, 2015

Creative Resistance

the war of art

Resistance is a concept created by American novelist Steven Pressfield to describe a universal force that he claims acts against human creativity. It was first mentioned in his nonfiction book ‘The War of Art’ and elaborated in the follow-up books ‘Do The Work’ and ‘Turning Pro.’ It is also a recurring theme in some of his novels such as ‘The Legend of Bagger Vance’ and ‘The Virtues of War.’

Resistance is described in a mythical fashion as a universal force that has one sole mission: to keep things as they are. Pressfield claims that Resistance does not have a personal vendetta against anyone, rather it is simply trying to accomplish its only mission: maintenance of the status quo. It is the force that will stop an individual’s creative activity through any means necessary, such as rationalizing, inspiring fear and anxiety, emphasizing other distractions that require attention, or raising the voice of an inner critic.

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August 4, 2015


sefer raziel hamalakh

lesser key of solomon

A sigil [sij-il] is a symbol used in magic. The term has usually referred to a type of pictorial signature of a demon or other supernatural entity; in modern usage, especially in the context of chaos magic (a postmodern magical tradition which emphasizes the pragmatic use of belief systems), it refers to a symbolic representation of the magician’s desired outcome.

The term derives from the Latin ‘sigillum,’ meaning ‘seal,’ though it may also be related to the Hebrew word ‘segula’ meaning ‘word, action, or item of spiritual effect, talisman.’ The current use of the term is derived from Renaissance magic (a resurgence in hermeticism and Neo-Platonic varieties of ceremonial magic in the 15th and 16th centuries), which was in turn inspired by the magical traditions of antiquity.

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August 3, 2015

Functional Fixedness

candle problem

outside the box by Leo Cullum

Functional fixedness [fiks-ed-nes] is a cognitive bias that limits a person to using an object only in the way it is traditionally used. The concept originated in Gestalt Psychology, which emphasizes holistic processing (e.g., ‘the whole is greater than the sum of its parts’). German American psychologist Karl Duncker defined functional fixedness as a ‘mental block against using an object in a new way that is required to solve a problem.’ This ‘block’ limits the ability of an individual to use components given to them to complete a task, as they cannot move past the original purpose of those components.

For example, if someone needs a paperweight, but they only have a hammer, they may not see how the hammer can be used as a paperweight. Functional fixedness is this inability to see a hammer’s use as anything other than for pounding nails; the person couldn’t think to use the hammer in a way other than in its conventional function. When tested, five year old children show no signs of functional fixedness. At that age, any goal to be achieved with an object is equivalent to any other goal. However, by age seven, children have acquired the tendency to treat the originally intended purpose of an object as special.

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August 1, 2015


upaya social ventures

Audience analysis

Upaya [oo-pah-yuh] (Sanskrit: ‘expedient means’) is a term used in Buddhism to refer to an aspect of guidance along the Buddhist Paths to liberation where a conscious, voluntary action is driven by an incomplete reasoning around its direction. Upaya is often combined with ‘kaushalya’ (‘cleverness’) to form ‘upaya-kaushalya’ meaning ‘skill in means,’ a concept emphasizing that practitioners may use their own specific methods or techniques that fit the situation in order to gain enlightenment. The implication is that even if a technique, view, etc., is not ultimately ‘true’ in the highest sense, it may still be an expedient practice to perform or view to hold; i.e., it may bring the practitioner closer to the true realization in a similar way.

The exercise of skill to which it refers, the ability to adapt one’s message to the audience, is of enormous importance in the ‘Pali Canon’ (some of the oldest texts in Buddhism). The most important concept in ‘skill in means’ is the use, guided by wisdom and compassion, of a specific teaching (means) geared to the particular audience taught. Edward Conze, in ‘A Short History Of Buddhism,’ says ”Skill in means’ is the ability to bring out the spiritual potentialities of different people by statements or actions which are adjusted to their needs and adapted to their capacity for comprehension.’

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