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In the News 25.08.16 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

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In the News 25.08.16 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
In the News 25.08.16 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
In the News 25.08.16 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

Turning Instagram Into a Radically Unfiltered Travel Guide

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When I was a kid, “Quantum Leap” was one of my favorite TV shows. Its conceit was ludicrous, but in a way that allowed for maximum entertainment: A time-travel experiment gone awry forces the handsome Dr. Sam Beckett to “leap” among different bodies at various points in history. Each episode began with Beckett waking up in a new situation and piecing together the mystery of his surroundings. The show didn’t shy away from serious themes: In one, he wakes up in the body of a woman who has just been raped; in another, he wakes up in the body of a black man in Alabama in the 1950s. “Quantum Leap” has stayed with me all these years, I think, because it offered my young, impressionable mind a framework for normal travel. Arriving in a new place — even if it’s in the same dimension — can be disjointing and chaotic, because each new destination is governed by an invisible set of rules.

Read the rest of this article at The New York Times

The Neuroscience Behind Bad Decisions

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Humans often make bad decisions. If you like Snickers more than Milky Way, it seems obvious which candy bar you’d pick, given a choice of the two. Traditional economic models follow this logical intuition, suggesting that people assign a value to each choice — say, Snickers: 10, Milky Way: 5 — and select the top scorer. But our decision-making system is subject to glitches.

In one recent experiment, Paul Glimcher, a neuroscientist at New York University, and collaborators asked people to choose among a variety of candy bars, including their favorite — say, a Snickers. If offered a Snickers, a Milky Way and an Almond Joy, participants would always choose the Snickers. But if they were offered 20 candy bars, including a Snickers, the choice became less clear. They would sometimes pick something other than the Snickers, even though it was still their favorite. When Glimcher would remove all the choices except the Snickers and the selected candy, participants would wonder why they hadn’t chosen their favorite.

Economists have spent more than 50 years cataloging irrational choices like these. Nobel Prizes have been earned; millions of copies of Freakonomics have been sold. But economists still aren’t sure why they happen. “There had been a real cottage industry in how to explain them and lots of attempts to make them go away,” said Eric Johnson, a psychologist and co-director of the Center for Decision Sciences at Columbia University. But none of the half-dozen or so explanations are clear winners, he said.

In the last 15 to 20 years, neuroscientists have begun to peer directly into the brain in search of answers. “Knowing something about how information is represented in the brain and the computational principles of the brain helps you understand why people make decisions how they do,” said Angela Yu, a theoretical neuroscientist at the University of California, San Diego.

Read the rest of this article at Quanta Magazine

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Massimo Pigliucci Recommends
the Best Books on Stoicism

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Stoicism, in contrast with a lot of contemporary philosophy, puts a great emphasis on living well: the person who studies Stoicism, if sincere, will also practise it. I know you’re both a theorist and a practitioner. Could you say a little bit about how you came to Stoicism?

We’ll get back to the theorist part because I’m definitely not an ancient philosophy scholar, so I’m not a theorist in that sense, but I’m interested in Stoicism as both theory and practice for today’s world. How did I come to it? It was a long circuitous route. A few years ago I went through a midlife crisis and switched from my first academic career as an evolutionary biologist to become a philosopher. Within philosophy I’m interested mostly in the philosophy of science, but you can’t switch to philosophy and start studying it seriously and just be limited to your own technical field of expertise; at least you can, but I don’t think you should.

Read the rest of this article at Five Books

The Earth Next Door

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It was just over 20 years ago—a blink of a cosmic eye—that astronomers found the first planets orbiting stars other than our sun. All these new worlds were gas-shrouded giants like Jupiter or Saturn and utterly inhospitable to life as we know it. But for years each discovery was dutifully reported as front-page news, while scientists and the public alike dreamed of a day when we would find a habitable world. An Earth-like place with plentiful surface water, neither frozen nor vaporized but in the liquid state so essential to life. Back then the safe bet was to guess that the discovery of such a planet would only come after many decades, and that when a promising new world’s misty shores materialized on the other side of our telescopes, it would prove too faraway and faint to study in any detail.

Read the rest of this article at Scientific American

An MIT Scientist Claims that this Pill Is the Fountain of Youth

Leonard Guarente is certain he’s succeeded where doctors (and quacks) before him have failed. His pill will either extend lives or tarnish his career.

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I recently received in the mail a small cardboard box, solidly constructed and colored a subtle metallic gray, from the future. ELYSIUM HEALTH was printed on it in white sans-serif capital letters. Inside, a smaller crisp white box, banded in blue and imprinted with a letterpress E, described its contents as “a daily health product designed to optimize and support your most critical metabolic systems,” including “DNA repair,” “Cellular detoxification,” “Energy production,” and “Protein function.” Within was an elegant pillbox containing 60 capsules. The technical language obscured an arresting truth: Basis, which I had ordered online without a prescription, paying $60 for a month’s supply, was either the most sophisticated fountain-of-youth scam ever to come to market or the first fountain-of-youth pill ever to work.

By the time I bought it, the brand had been pummeling my awareness for weeks, the ads barreling into my Facebook feed with claims of being the “world’s first cellular health product informed by genomics.” Under usual circumstances, a self-promoting nutraceutical with a dystopian name and the implied gift of life extension would be easily dismissible, akin to reiki or juicing. Basis, which first became available last year, bypassed the FDA’s screening process, and Elysium is effectively using its customers as human test subjects, sometimes reviewing their Fitbit and other health-tracking data to determine if the pill delivers on its promise — or causes unexpected problems.

Read the rest of this article at New York Magazine

P.S. previous articles & more by P.F.M. // Top images: @lornaluxe, @lamusadelasflores, @lornaluxe