What Was Lost in Brazil’s Devastating Museum Fire

A series of articles on the fire at the national museum in Brazil. Raises questions about the role of material culture in studying the past but also of the concept of “national memory.” Further, there were recordings of languages that are no longer spoken that were destroyed. Does the loss of a language represent a loss of knowledge? A knowledge system? Fascinating questions raised by this incident that speak to the volume of loss.

The losses are “incalculable to Brazil,” said Michel Temer, the country’s president, on Twitter. “Two hundred years of work, research and knowledge have been lost.”

Marina Silva, a candidate in Brazil’s upcoming elections, described the fire as “a lobotomy in Brazilian memory.”

https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2018/09/brazil-rio-de-janeiro-museum-fire/569299/

BRAZIL’S MUSEUM FIRE PROVES CULTURAL MEMORY NEEDS A DIGITAL BACKUP

It didn’t have to be this way. All of these artifacts could have been systematically backed up over the years with photographs, scans, audio files. The failure to do so speaks to a vital truth about the limits of technology: Just because the means to do something exists technologically doesn’t mean it will be done. And it underscores that the academic community has not yet fully embraced the importance of archiving importance of archiving—not just in Brazil, but around the world.

https://www.wired.com/story/brazil-museum-fire-digital-archives/

How do you communicate danger to people 10,000 years into the future?

lomberg-comic

In this 99 percent invisible podcast and accompanying article, the challenges of communicating the hazards of materials that will be radioactive for the next 10,000 years are discussed. This is an interesting exercise in thinking about how to communicate the the most “universal” way possible.

 

This WIPP site is going to be radioactive for hundreds of thousands of years, though this panel was only responsible for keeping this place sufficiently marked for humans for the next 10,000 years—thinking beyond that timeframe was thought to be impossible.

Though 10,000 years in the future is still fairly inconceivable. 10,000 years ago, the biggest new technology spreading across the planet was farming. Culturally, we share almost nothing with people alive back then. Who knows the world will look like 10,000 years from now?

The panel began by thinking about language. But language, like radioactive materials, has a half life. Beowulf, from only 1,000 years ago, is incomprehensible today.

The panel also considered symbols, which seemed like they might be more universal. A smiley face seems to have a global appeal. And face logos have already been used as warnings.

https://99percentinvisible.org/episode/ten-thousand-years/

Neil deGrasse Tyson on the “three kinds of truth”

In this 5 minute clip, from the Joe Rogan podcast, Neil deGrasse Tyson discusses his idea of the three different kinds of “truth.” It’s an interesting discussion on the definition of the word but also the implications of how we use words. Short enough to be interesting but not so long as to be tedious. For a tedious conversation on truth, see the previous post on the conversation between Sam Harris and Jordan Peterson.

I linked the video at the start of the relevant conversation.

Below is just the audioclip that you can stream just the audio if youtube is blocked and download below that if you just want the mp3 file.

Download Tyson 3 truths edit

Fourteen words that define the present

At a time when the world is changing more quickly than ever before, we need a new vocabulary to help us grasp what’s happening. Cameron Laux picks out 14 words and phrases that can help us think differently.

In George Orwell’s famous prognostication of the future (a dystopia, of course), what he calls ‘doublethink’ (cheerful violation of logic) and ‘newspeak’ (ideologically contorted language) run rampant, and all citizens are under heavy surveillance. Looking back on this now, one is struck by how quaint his whole vision was, because in the age of the internet and super-connectivity, all of these things have been raised to sophisticated arts that, instead of being forced on us, have quietly colonised our lives. In the spirit of Orwell I offer a new speak for our new age, the century of ‘hyper’ and ‘virtual’ and ‘post’ this and that (how he would have laughed and cried at the idea of a ‘post-truth’!), where the struggle over meaning and authenticity have partly relocated to cyberspace, to a realm of infinite (im)possibility, just as our identities have.

http://www.bbc.com/culture/story/20180808-a-new-vocabulary-for-the-21st-century

White House accuses China of ‘Orwellian nonsense’ over airline rules

Chinese authorities ask airlines to change references to Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau

“This is Orwellian nonsense and part of a growing trend by the Chinese Communist Party to impose its political views on American citizens and private companies,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement.

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-politics/trump-china-airlines-orwellian-nonsense-taiwan-hong-kong-macau-united-american-airlines-tariffs-a8339331.html

P.C. Language Saved My Life

If I’d had access to the right language, it’s possible that I might have felt empowered by this change. Instead, people on campus began referring to me as “it” or “he-she.” Eventually I folded into myself. I cut my hair off, wore drastically less makeup and took to wearing all black clothing, because I was constantly mourning the identities I might have had, that the world had slowly killed. I became increasingly depressed and even attempted to end my life.

Trump Administration’s CDC Bans Certain Words

Below are a couple of articles regarding the recent news.

Words banned at multiple HHS agencies include ‘diversity’ and ‘vulnerable’

The Trump administration has informed multiple divisions within the Department of Health and Human Services that they should avoid using certain words or phrases in official documents being drafted for next year’s budget.

Officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is part of HHS, were given a list of seven prohibited words or phrases during a meeting Thursday with senior CDC officials who oversee the budget. The words to avoid: “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender,” “fetus,” “evidence-based” and “science-based.”

https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/words-banned-at-multiple-hhs-agencies-include-diversity-and-vulnerable/2017/12/16/9fa09250-e29d-11e7-8679-a9728984779c_story.html?utm_term=.46e926e6bb7e

Why Words Matter: What Cognitive Science Says about Prohibiting Certain Terms

How much does it really matter if a government agency avoids certain language in documents sent to Congress, the Office of Management and Budget and other agencies?

Perhaps a great deal. Scientific American spoke with Lera Boroditsky, a cognitive scientist at the University of California, San Diego, about the significance of this recent news, why words matter and how language changes our perceptions of the world.

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-words-matter-what-cognitive-science-says-about-prohibiting-certain-terms/

Thousands Once Spoke His Language in the Amazon. Now, He’s the Only One.

“Amadeo said it haltingly, in broken Spanish, the only way he would be able to communicate with the world from that moment on. No one else spoke his language anymore. The survival of his culture had suddenly come down to a sole, complicated man.”

“The waters of the Peruvian Amazon were once a vast linguistic repository, a place where every turn of the river could yield another dialect, often completely unintelligible to people living just a few miles away. But in the last century, at least 37 languages have disappeared in Peru alone, lost in the steady clash and churn of national expansion, migration, urbanization and the pursuit of natural resources. Forty-seven languages remain here in Peru, scholars estimate, and nearly half are at risk of disappearing.”