Neanderthal’s “Body Was Archaic” but “Spirit Was Modern”

(p. B14) Starting in the mid-1950s, leading teams from Columbia University, Dr. Solecki discovered the fossilized skeletons of eight adult and two infant Neanderthals who had lived tens of thousands of years ago in what is now northern Iraq.

Dr. Solecki, who was also a Smithsonian Institution anthropologist at the time, said physical evidence at Shanidar Cave, where the skeletons were found, suggested that Neanderthals had tended to the weak and the wounded, and that they had also buried their dead with flowers, which were placed ornamentally and possibly selected for their therapeutic benefits.

The exhumed bones of a man, named Shanidar 3, who had been blind in one eye and missing his right arm but who had survived for years after he was hurt, indicated that fellow Neanderthals had helped provide him with sustenance and other support.

“Although the body was archaic, the spirit was modern,” Dr. Solecki wrote in the magazine Science in 1975.

Large amounts of pollen found in the soil at a grave site suggested that bodies might have been ceremonially entombed with bluebonnet, hollyhock, grape hyacinth and other flowers — a theory that is still being explored and amplified. (Some researchers hypothesized that the pollen might have been carried by rodents or bees, but Dr. Solecki’s theory has become widely accepted.)

“The association of flowers with Neanderthals adds a whole new dimension to our knowledge of his humanness, indicating he had a ‘soul,’” Dr. Solecki wrote.

For the full obituary, see:

Sam Roberts.  “Ralph Solecki, 101, Archaeologist Who Uncovered the Inner Life of Neanderthals.”  The New York Times  (Wednesday, April 17, 2019):  B14.

(Note:  the online version of the obituary has the date April 11, 2019, and has the title “Ralph Solecki, Who Found Humanity in Neanderthals, Dies at 101.”)

Oxford Business Card (and Discount Code) for “Openness to Creative Destruction”

The text below is copied and pasted from an Oxford University Press promotional business card.  The 30% discount code is:  ASFLYQ6

OPENNESS TO CREATIVE DESTRUCTION
ARTHUR M. DIAMOND, JR.

Life improves under the economic system often called “entrepreneurial capitalism” or “creative destruction,” but more accurately called “innovative dynamism.”  Openness to Creative Destruction: Sustaining Innovative Dynamism shows how innovation occurs through the efforts of inventors and innovative entrepreneurs, how workers on balance benefit, and how good policies can encourage innovation.

The inventors and innovative entrepreneurs are often cognitively diverse outsiders with the courage and perseverance to see and pursue serendipitous discoveries or slow hunches.  Arthur M. Diamond, Jr. shows how economies grow where innovative dynamism through leapfrog competition flourishes, as in the United States from roughly 1830-1930. Consumers vote with their feet for innovative new goods and for process innovations that reduce prices, benefiting ordinary citizens more than the privileged elites.  Diamond highlights that because breakthrough inventions are costly and difficult, patents can be fair rewards for invention and can provide funding to enable future inventions.  He argues that some fears about adverse effects on labor market are unjustified, since more and better new jobs are created than are destroyed, and that other fears can be mitigated by better policies.  The steady growth in regulations, often defended on the basis of the precautionary principle, increases the costs to potential entrepreneurs and thus reduces innovation.

for more information, please visit global.oup.com/academic

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“Ridiculous” to Project “Our Psychology into the Machines”

(p. A8)  . . .  the soft-spoken, 55-year-old Canadian computer scientist, a recipient of this year’s A.M. Turing Award — considered the Nobel Prize for computing — prefers to see the world though the idealism of “Star Trek” rather than the apocalyptic vision of “The Terminator.”

“In ‘Star Trek,’ there is a world in which humans are governed through democracy, everyone gets good health care, education and food, and there are no wars except against some aliens,” said Dr. Bengio, whose research has helped pave the way for speech- and facial-recognition technology, computer vision and self-driving cars, among other things. “I am also trying to marry science with how it can improve society.”

. . .

Cherri M. Pancake, the president of the Association for Computing Machinery, which offers the $1 million award, credited Dr. Bengio and two other luminaries who shared the prize, Geoffrey Hinton and Yann LeCun, with laying the foundation for technologies used by billions of people. “Anyone who has a smartphone in their pocket” has felt their impact, she said, noting that their work also provided “powerful new tools” in the fields of medicine, astronomy and material sciences.

Despite all the accolades, Dr. Bengio recoils at scientists being turned into celebrities. While Dr. Hinton works for Google and Dr. LeCun is the chief A.I. scientist at Facebook, Dr. Bengio has studiously avoided Silicon Valley in favor of a more scholarly life in Montreal, where he also co-founded Element A.I., a software company.

“I’m not a fan of a personalization of science and making some scientists stars,” said Dr. Bengio, a self-described introvert, who colleagues say is happiest when hunched over an algorithm. “I was maybe lucky to be at the right time and thinking the right things.”

Myriam Côté, a computer scientist who has worked with Dr. Bengio for more than a decade, described him as an iconoclast and freethinker who would feel stymied by the strictures of Silicon Valley. A communitarian at heart, she said, he shuns hierarchy and is known for sharing the profits from his own projects with younger, less established colleagues.

“He wants to create in freedom,” she said. Citing the credo of student rebels in 1968 in Paris, where Dr. Bengio was born, she said his philosophy was: “It is forbidden to forbid.”

That, in turn, has informed his approach to A.I.

Even as Stephen Hawking, the celebrated Cambridge physicist, warned that A.I. could be “the worst event in the history of our civilization,” and the billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk has cautioned it could create an “immortal dictator,” Dr. Bengio has remained more upbeat.

. . .

. . .  he dismissed the “Terminator scenario” in which a machine, endowed with human emotions, turns on its creator. Machines, he stressed, do not have egos and human sentiments, and are not slaves who want to be freed. “We imagine our creations turning against us because we are projecting our psychology into the machines,” he said, calling it “ridiculous.”

For the full story, see:

Dan Bilefsky.  “THE SATURDAY PROFILE; Teaching a Generation of Machines, Far From the Spotlights of Silicon Valley.”  The New York Times (Saturday, March 30, 2019):  A8.

(Note:  ellipses added.)

(Note:  the online version of the story has the date March 29, 2019, and has the title “THE SATURDAY PROFILE;  He Helped Create A.I. Now, He Worries About ‘Killer Robots’.”)

Mycologists Cure Ailing Bees

(p. 4) Sometime in the 1980s, microscopic mites that had been afflicting honeybees outside the United States found their way to Florida and Wisconsin and began wreaking havoc across the country.
. . .
This mite, Varroa destructor, injects a slew of viruses into bees, including one that causes shriveled wings, a primary factor in widespread colony collapse. Worse, these parasites have rapidly developed resistance to synthetic pesticides.
Beekeepers in the United States lost an estimated 40 percent of their colonies between April 2017 and April 2018. But we might be able to save honeybees at least from this parasitic scourge without chemical intervention. I along with scientists at Washington State University and the United States Department of Agriculture recently published in Scientific Reports, a journal from the publishers of Nature, a study that could inspire a paradigm shift in protecting bees.
Our research shows that extracts from the living mycelial tissue of common wood conk mushrooms known to have antiviral properties significantly reduced these viruses in honeybee colonies, in one field test by 45,000 times, compared to control colonies.
. . .
Nature can repair itself with a little help from mycologists.

For the full commentary, see:
Paul Stamets. “Saving Bees With Mushrooms.” The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sunday, Dec. 30, 2018): 4.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Dec. 28, 2018, and has the title “Will Mushrooms Be Magic for Threatened Bees?”)

The commentary is related to the author’s book:
Stamets, Paul. Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World. New York: Ten Speed Press, 2005.

Plastic Bags Better for Environment Than Cotton Bags

(p. A25)  Back in 2011, Britain’s Environment Agency conducted a life-cycle assessment of various bag options, looking at every step of the production process.

. . .

That same British analysis also looked into reusable options, like heavier, more durable plastic bags or cotton bags. And it found that these are only sustainable options if you use them very frequently.

Making a cotton shopping bag is hardly cost-free. Growing cotton requires a fair bit of energy, land, fertilizer and pesticides, which can have all sorts of environmental effects — from greenhouse gas emissions to nitrogen pollution in waterways.

The study found that an avid shopper would have to reuse his or her cotton bag 131 times before it had a smaller global warming impact than a lightweight plastic bag used only once. And, depending on the make, more durable plastic bags would have to be used at least 4 to 11 times before they made up for their heftier upfront climate costs.

So if you’re going to opt for a reusable bag for environmental reasons, make sure you actually reuse it — often.

For the full story, see:

Erica Komisar.  “Paper or Plastic? Your Choice of Bag Matters Less Than What’s Inside.”  The New York Times (Saturday, March 30, 2019):  A25.

(Note:  ellipsis added.)

(Note:  the online version of the story has the date March 29, 2019, and has the title “Plastic Bags, or Paper? Here’s What to Consider When You Hit the Grocery Store.”)

“Seek Truth from Facts”

(p. A15)  . . . 2019 . . .  marks the anniversary of the result of a . . . defiant protest—one that will receive little attention in or out of China, even though it launched the economic reforms that kick-started the country’s rise.

Forty years ago this spring, corn farmers in Xiaogang village, in the central province of Anhui (where Pearl Buck set “The Good Earth”), reported a grain yield of 66 metric tons. This single harvest equaled the village’s total output between 1955 and 1970—but for once the figure was not exaggerated. In fact, villagers underreported their actual yield by a third, fearing officials would not believe their record haul.

What caused this massive spike in production? A new fertilizer or hybrid seed? Better equipment? A catchy, rhymed propaganda slogan? No; Xiaogang’s farmers were starving. After taking power in 1949, China’s Communist Party had effectively abolished private land ownership, grouping farms into “people’s communes” subservient to the state. By 1978 villages were crippled by quotas that seized most of what they grew for redistribution.

Continue reading ““Seek Truth from Facts””

Private Property Unleashed Innovation

(p. A17)  Enlightenment philosophers recognized that the crown, guild, church and village sometimes acted as rent-seekers stripping away the rewards for work, thrift and innovation, and in the process inhibiting productive effort and progress. The Enlightenment established the principle that labor and capital are private property and not communal assets subject to involuntary sharing, and thus unleashed the explosion of knowledge and production that drives human flourishing to this day.

Extraordinarily in America, the crown jewel and greatest beneficiary of the Enlightenment, political movements are afoot that seek to overturn the individual economic rights secured in the Enlightenment and return to a medieval world of subjects and subjugation.

For the full commentary, see:

(Note:  the online version of the commentary has the date 9.)