Thinking of Things has been nominated for two posts from the last year. Go there and vote for Me, or if you prefer, Notme–there are some really great posts there! 😉
The link is here: http://www.3quarksdaily.com/3quarksdaily/2015/09/vote-for-one-of-the-nominees-for-the-3qd-science-prize-2015.html
The nominated posts are All I didn’t know about Cancer and The Pain in the Brain Game.
Update: Both posts were voted into the semi-final. The Pain in the Brain Game was further selected as a finalist, together with eight great posts, and did not make the top-three selection. See the announcement of the winners here: http://www.3quarksdaily.com/3quarksdaily/2015/09/the-winners-of-the-3qd-science-prize-2015.html
Next up is the Philosophy Prize!
TT, Thinking of Things, 2015.
The Meaningness of Life
Towards a sincere being.
Immanuel Kant: “Always recognize that human individuals are ends, and do not use them as means to your end.”
This season has been about meaning, and it has been about formations and transformations and how these are connected. And it has been about meaningness, discussed in many and roundabout ways without spelling out what it is. It is time to concretise what is meant by meaningness, as well as to summarise the season.
Thinking Of Things is a way for me to investigate ideas and to spark conversations with those who read, and those who don’t. As such it has been a succesful season, with many conversations in person, email, comments on the posts, and on social media. For the purpose of a line of thought is not its conclusion. The purpose is the line of thought itself, and that it may not end. The word conclusion is a misnomer in this sense; to conclude signifies an end, while in reality it signifies a continuation, a new beginning. A reached conclusion is boring and meaningless without the follow-up question: so what? And thus, with your help, we continue our line of thought together. This is the concluding episode of the season. Read Episode 10
I wrote this a few years ago for a different context and purpose, while bored on a beach in Puerto Rico. The context and purpose were replaced many times over, and the text was forgotten. Now I was reminded of it and I dug it up to be posted here.
I do not remember how I came to realise that all I knew about cancer was wrong, but I remember discussing it with my friend the prostate cancer researcher, who gave me the articles (referred to at the end), which I was reading and writing about on that beach. Maybe I wasn’t that bored after all…
Here it is.
Three of my grandparents died from cancer. One of them was treated with chemotherapy, one with surgery, and one with radiation therapy, all to no avail. These are the three main methods for treating cancer today. Chemotherapy was first used in its current form in 1942. A search for “cancer” on the online data base for medical publications, PubMed.gov, shows that 2.7 million scientific papers have been written on the subject since 1942. Still, the treatments remain the same, albeit more accurate, cheap, and accessible. For some cancers, like some leukaemia or testicular cancers the chemotherapy is highly efficient, while other diagnoses still come with “a few months up to a year” attached to them. So, in a way we are celebrating over 70 years of not improving cancer treatment much.
Why is that? Why has a cure for cancer not emerged in the course of those millions of publications? Well, cancer is a tricky beast and we are only recently beginning to learn how it works. We are also beginning to learn how cancer does not work (but we thought it did). Also, maybe more surprisingly, we are starting to learn why we do not get cancer (most of the time) and that a tumour is not necessarily a bad thing. Let’s start the story with how it does not work. Continue reading
In a recent comment in Nature, George Ellis and Joe Silk employ Karl Popper’s falsifiability criterion of science to demote superstring theory to the realm of pseudoscience. At the heart of the debate lie two questions: Is superstring theory a scientific theory? And if so, how likely is it to be true? Here I will predominantly try to address the second question. I agree with many of the conclusions of Ellis and Silk but will make the case that we can find a more viable reasoning for them by joining Karl Popper’s falsifiability condition with Thomas Kuhn’s analysis of science as a progression of different phases taking us from one paradigm to another. In order to contextualise the discussion of Kuhn’s ideas, I will first take a brief historical detour back to the scientific revolution of the 17th century. Continue reading
A false sense of insecurity
The free prisoner’s dilemma
We perceive the world, and we perceive what is in the world. We separate objects from objects, and we ascribe them value. We create salient landscapes. And then we sort. We categorise, we make lists, and we understand.
Here is an example of a taxonomy, a list which orders and sorts something:
Three parts to understanding:
1. Definition. The ability to separate stuff from other stuff and to assign them emotional value or meaning. (See Episode 2)
2. Taxonomy. The sorting of things into categories. (See e.g. this list.)
3. Intuition. To feel as if something is understood, and thus have it become an intuition, gut feeling and “common sense”. (See Episode 4).
And a feeling of understanding emerges.
Read Episode 9
The pain in the brain game
on how deeply the tossing of balls affects our brains
A fascinating and increasingly famous psychology experiment has to do with the tossing of a ball.
The psychologist Kipling Williams and his colleagues brought in test-subjects for a general survey. The test-subjects were asked in-depth questions about their psychological well being; about their sense of belonging, their sense of being in control, their self-esteem, how meaningful they find their existence, how unique they find themselves and others and so on. But unbeknownst to the test-subjects, they were participating in an experiment with a somewhat cruel twist.
Read Episode 8
(trans)formations part 2
On being human beings
At a masquerade one puts on a mask in order to demask for each other. (Credit: Aniwa Watts, Wikimedia Commons)
From: Notme 4 February
To: me 12.06 a.m.
I refuse to believe that free will is just an illusion!
I was still groggy early in the morning when I opened my email and was met by this sentence. It would appear the email discussion we had had, Notme and I, concerning whether a human being is anything beyond her “Human Nature” or just a bit of filth, was far from over. And that I had not yet won the argument. Read Episode 7
(trans)formations part 1
On being a bit of filth
From: Notme 23 January
To: me 11.34 p.m.
Hey! I’ve had a quote on my mind lately. It’s from Brothers Lionheart by Astrid Lindgren, where at one point she says “There are things you have to do, even if you don’t dare to, because otherwise you are not a human being but just a bit of filth.” Being a human being and not just a bit of filth seems essential for finding meaningness to me. But what does it mean to be a human being? Isn’t everyone a human being anyway? Any thoughts? Read Episode 6