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In the News 17.05.16 : Today’s Articles of Interest from around the Internets

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In the News 17.05.16 : Today’s Articles of Interest from around the Internets
In the News 17.05.16 : Today’s Articles of Interest from around the Internets
In the News 17.05.16 : Today’s Articles of Interest from around the Internets

The Self-Fulfilling Prophesy

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There are two impor­tant ways, among many others, in which tech­nolo­gies iden­tify us: in terms of what we search and in terms of what we share. Take search first. Many years ago, when I visited Google’s head­quar­ters in Moun­tain View for the first time, I saw count­less moni­tors showing the world’s most popular searches scrolling in real time. It was mesmer­izing. And it made vividly clear that what we want distin­guishes each of us much more profoundly than what we have. Like sponges, we are full of pores and chan­nels through which we main­tain a constant flow of infor­ma­tion to sustain our mental lives. Every query tells the story of a need, of a problem, of a diffi­culty, of a curiosity, of a concern, of a doubt, of a hope or a worry, of a wish or a desire, of an itch that needs to be scratched. And that story soon becomes a unique indi­vidual. The famous German philoso­pher Ludwig Feuer­bach (1804-1872) once wrote that “Der Mensch ist, was er ißt”, “Man is what he eats”. The truth is that, today, we are what we google. In the long run, our queries draw the contours of our iden­ti­ties. This also holds true for any shop­ping online, from Amazon to Apple, from Expedia to TripAd­visor, from your preferred fashion retailer to your favourite super­market.

Read the rest of this article at Schirnmag

There’s No Such Thing as Free Will

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For centuries, philosophers and theologians have almost unanimously held that civilization as we know it depends on a widespread belief in free will—and that losing this belief could be calamitous. Our codes of ethics, for example, assume that we can freely choose between right and wrong. In the Christian tradition, this is known as “moral liberty”—the capacity to discern and pursue the good, instead of merely being compelled by appetites and desires. The great Enlightenment philosopher Immanuel Kant reaffirmed this link between freedom and goodness. If we are not free to choose, he argued, then it would make no sense to say we ought to choose the path of righteousness.

Today, the assumption of free will runs through every aspect of American politics, from welfare provision to criminal law. It permeates the popular culture and underpins the American dream—the belief that anyone can make something of themselves no matter what their start in life. As Barack Obama wrote in The Audacity of Hope, American “values are rooted in a basic optimism about life and a faith in free will.”

So what happens if this faith erodes?

The sciences have grown steadily bolder in their claim that all human behavior can be explained through the clockwork laws of cause and effect. This shift in perception is the continuation of an intellectual revolution that began about 150 years ago, when Charles Darwin first published On the Origin of Species. Shortly after Darwin put forth his theory of evolution, his cousin Sir Francis Galton began to draw out the implications: If we have evolved, then mental faculties like intelligence must be hereditary. But we use those faculties—which some people have to a greater degree than others—to make decisions. So our ability to choose our fate is not free, but depends on our biological inheritance.

Galton launched a debate that raged throughout the 20th century over nature versus nurture. Are our actions the unfolding effect of our genetics? Or the outcome of what has been imprinted on us by the environment? Impressive evidence accumulated for the importance of each factor. Whether scientists supported one, the other, or a mix of both, they increasingly assumed that our deeds must be determined by something.

Read the rest of this article at The Atlantic

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The True Story of the Booze, Bullfights, and Brawls That Inspired Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises

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In the middle of June 1925, Ernest Hemingway sat down to write. He pulled out a stenographer’s notebook, otherwise used for list-making. The back contained a rundown of letters he “must write”; intended recipients included Ezra Pound—a mentor of his—and his Aunt Grace. Also scribbled there: a list of stories the 25-year-old writer, who had moved to Paris in 1921, had recently submitted to various publications. On this day, he opened the notebook to a fresh page and scrawled in pencil across the top:

Read the rest of this article at Vanity Fair

The End of the End of the World

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Two years ago, a lawyer in Indiana sent me a check for seventy-eight thousand dollars. The money was from my uncle Walt, who had died six months earlier. I hadn’t been expecting any money from Walt, still less counting on it. So I thought I should earmark my inheritance for something special, to honor Walt’s memory.

It happened that my longtime girlfriend, a native Californian, had promised to join me on a big vacation. She’d been feeling grateful to me for understanding why she had to return full time to Santa Cruz and look after her mother, who was ninety-four and losing her short-term memory. She’d said to me, impulsively, “I will take a trip with you anywhere in the world you’ve always wanted to go.” To this I’d replied, for reasons I’m at a loss to reconstruct, “Antarctica?” Her eyes widened in a way that I should have paid closer attention to. But a promise was a promise.

Read the rest of this article at The New Yorker

Enter Left

Will a fervent socialist reshape British politics or lead his party to irrelevance?

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The astonishing political emergence of Jeremy Corbyn, the left-wing leader of the British Labour Party, is the sort of thing that passes for normal in Western democracies these days. Since the economic crash in 2008, anti-establishment types have cropped up everywhere. Corbyn, a sixty-six-year-old socialist, had never held a position of authority in his party or in government before being elected last summer on a platform of benign economic populism. He is Syriza in Greece; he is Podemos in Spain; he is Sanders in America. His politics rebel against a Britain that is eager to join foreign wars and pallid in the face of social inequality. “There has to be some kind of a reckoning,” Corbyn told me recently. “You actually have to run an economy for the benefit of people, not run for the benefit of hedge-fund managers.”

Corbyn believes in grassroots policymaking, so many of his plans aren’t fully worked out yet, but they include renationalizing Britain’s railways and giving up its nuclear weapons. He wants to raise taxes on the rich, strengthen trade unions, and replace the House of Lords with an elected chamber. If Labour is reëlected in the next general election, in 2020, Corbyn envisages broad public involvement—in the form of co-operatives or government control—in the nation’s largely privatized energy and housing markets. He has mused in the past about abolishing the British Army. Universities will be free.

A big part of Corbyn’s appeal is how understated he is about all this. “I never set out in life with huge personal ambitions,” he said. Corbyn joined Labour as a teen-ager. Until last year, he was best known as a figure of perpetual protest, an old-fashioned lefty who opposed military interventions around the world and the inherent cruelty of capitalism. And yet when Corbyn speaks of himself and his political vision it is often in terms that are deliberately oblique. He likes to answer questions with questions. “Do I feel happiest with the people and their demands and their campaigns and their successes and their defeats?” Corbyn said. “Yes, I do. I can’t deny that.”

Corbyn lives in a narrow three-story house in Islington North, the inner-city London constituency that he has represented in Parliament for the past thirty-three years, and he buys his undershirts at the local street market. He is slight, with a white beard, shoulders that taper gently from left to right, and a front tooth that snags when he smiles. He travels by bicycle or train, avoiding whenever possible the official car that comes with his office.

Read the rest of this article at The New Yorker

P.S. previous articles & more by P.F.M. // Top Images: @katiearmour, @rumineely, @siobhaise