Our conversation about how all history is revisionist and open to creativity with Michael Douma continues this week.
You don’t have a weaker understanding by having an additional explanation, every additional explanation that you have makes the painting come more alive and stronger. That history described and explained from different perspectives is history better understood. And so, a historical pluralist like myself would say there is not one objective story to be told, there’s true stories and false stories based on correspondence theory. But we can look at any event and tell many different stories depending on what it is, that we wanna pull out there what do we wanna highlight what is important to us because history is always written from the perspective of the historian.
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.
In this episode, the lead singer and song writer of the band Weezer explains how one of their songs came together. What struck me about this episode was how this writer creates the lyrics to his songs. There is no overarching story he is trying to tell. He has a running list of ideas for lines on a spread sheet from various sources and then uses those random lines to create songs. He looks for words and lines with the proper inflection and sound quality to decide which lines to include in his song.
From the podcast:
“It sounds like something happened in my life, and then I observed it, and then I wrote a song about it. It’s coherent. There’s a beginning middle and an end. And that’s totally not the case at all. Each line is from a completely different place and I just reassembled them in some order that suggests a story that never happened. It’s a crazy way to write.”
This raises some interesting questions about the importance of the intent of an artist. If the artist himself says there is no meaningful story he is telling, does that mean that a listener cannot find meaning in them? Does revealing this story undermine the value of the artwork being created?
“Back in 1995, Claude Steele published a study that showed that negative stereotypes could have a detrimental effect on students’ academic performance. But the big surprise was that he could make that effect disappear with just a few simple changes in language. We were completely enamored with this research when we first heard about it, but in the current roil of replications and self-examination in the field of social psychology, we have to wonder whether we can still cling to the hopes of our earlier selves, or if we might have to grow up just a little bit.”
This podcast examines the nature of scientific knowledge and how it is produced. What is “good science” and how is it undermined by incentives and the process itself?
“Academic research stands accused of turning a blind eye to dodgy data, failing to reconcile contradictory findings and valuing money over knowledge. We examine the criticisms, which go the very heart of our pursuit of knowledge.”
“Most of us would sacrifice one person to save five. It’s a pretty straightforward bit of moral math. But if we have to actually kill that person ourselves, the math gets fuzzy.
“That’s the lesson of the classic Trolley Problem, a moral puzzle that fried our brains in an episode we did about 11 years ago. Luckily, the Trolley Problem has always been little more than a thought experiment, mostly confined to conversations at a certain kind of cocktail party. That is until now. New technologies are forcing that moral quandry out of our philosophy departments and onto our streets. So today we revisit the Trolley Problem and wonder how a two-ton hunk of speeding metal will make moral calculations about life and death that we can’t even figure out ourselves.”
“There are 7,000 languages spoken on Earth. What are the costs — and benefits — of our modern-day Tower of Babel?”