In November 1633, the French philosopher René Descartes, now living in the Netherlands, was searching in the bookstores of Amsterdam and Leiden for a copy of Galileo’s recently published Dialogue on the Two Chief World Systems. Descartes’s friend Marin Mersenne, a Minim friar in Paris who was the centre of a wide European intellectual network, had explained to him Galileo’s view that all bodies fall at the same rate, regardless of their material or weight (and assuming their fall is not affected by the friction of any medium). Descartes replied to Mersenne that this cannot be right. “According to my philosophy there will not be the same relation between two spheres of lead, one weighing one pound and the other a hundred pounds, as there is between two spheres of wood, one weighing one pound and the other a hundred pounds . . . he [Galileo] makes no distinction between these cases, which makes me think that he cannot have hit upon the truth.”
Read the rest of this article at: The Times Literary Supplement
The Spiritual, Reductionist Consciousness of Christof Koch
Consciousness is a thriving industry. It’s not just the meditation retreats and ayahuasca shamans. Or the conferences with a heady mix of philosophers, quantum physicists, and Buddhist monks. Consciousness is a buzzing business in neuroscience labs and brain institutes. But it wasn’t always this way. Just a few decades ago, consciousness barely registered as a credible subject for science.
Perhaps no one did more to legitimize its study than Francis Crick, who launched a second career in neurobiology after cracking the genetic code. In the 1980s Crick found a brilliant collaborator in the young scientist Christof Koch. In some ways, they made an unlikely team. Crick, a legend in science, was an outspoken atheist, while Koch, 40 years younger, was a Catholic yearning for ultimate meaning. Together, they published a series of pioneering articles on the neural correlates of consciousness until Crick died in 2004.
Koch went on to a distinguished career at Caltech before joining the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle. Today, as the president and chief scientific officer, he supervises several hundred scientists, engineers, and informatics experts trying to map the brain and figure out how our neural circuits process information. The Institute recently made news with the discovery of three giant neurons connecting many regions of the mouse brain, including one that wraps around the entire brain. The neurons extend from a set of cells known as the claustrum, which Crick and Koch maintained could act as a seat of consciousness.
Is Matter Conscious?
The nature of consciousness seems to be unique among scientific puzzles. Not only do neuroscientists have no fundamental explanation for how it arises from physical states of the brain, we are not even sure whether we ever will. Astronomers wonder what dark matter is, geologists seek the origins of life, and biologists try to understand cancer—all difficult problems, of course, yet at least we have some idea of how to go about investigating them and rough conceptions of what their solutions could look like. Our first-person experience, on the other hand, lies beyond the traditional methods of science. Following the philosopher David Chalmers, we call it the hard problem of consciousness.
But perhaps consciousness is not uniquely troublesome. Going back to Gottfried Leibniz and Immanuel Kant, philosophers of science have struggled with a lesser known, but equally hard, problem of matter. What is physical matter in and of itself, behind the mathematical structure described by physics? This problem, too, seems to lie beyond the traditional methods of science, because all we can observe is what matter does, not what it is in itself—the “software” of the universe but not its ultimate “hardware.” On the surface, these problems seem entirely separate. But a closer look reveals that they might be deeply connected.
On the Frontline with Karachi’s Ambulance Drivers
The impact of the explosion sent Muhammad Safdar flying backwards. He looked up from where he had landed and saw that the windows of his parked ambulance had shattered. As he tried to pick himself back up, fellow volunteer drivers working for the Edhi ambulance service gathered around him; it looked as if Safdar was bleeding. But he had not suffered any external injuries. “Human flesh got stuck to me,” he recalls now, as we sit in the ambulance control centre in downtown Karachi. “My friends were checking me for injuries, but it was pieces of other people. I was trembling hard and I couldn’t hear my own voice when I spoke. It sounded juddering. I could only hear whistles.”
It was 5 February 2010 and Safdar had already dealt with the fallout of one explosion that day: an hour before, a motorbike laden with explosives had slammed into a bus carrying Shia Muslims to a religious procession. Safdar had raced to the scene to load the dead and injured into his ambulance and take them to the nearby Jinnah hospital. With more than people 30 injured and 12 dead, the emergency room was in a state of chaos, filled with crying and screaming as doctors struggled to cope. He was still inside the hospital when the second bomb exploded just outside the entrance.
Read the rest of this article at: The Guardian
He gave the music its sound and its attitude, even as he battled racism – and his own misdeeds – all the way
One night in 1955, Chuck Berry played a show in Mobile, Alabama. His revved-up and revolutionary first hit, "Maybellene" – a joyful story that romped through cars, sex and class – had recently taken Berry from a St. Louis nightclub act to a national star unlike any other. He was tall, limber, smart, sly, incredibly inventive, and animated onstage in ways that helped flex his musicianship rather than detract from it. Plus, he was handsome and black. These were the early days of rock & roll. What the music seemed to stand for – a youthful refusal to defer to adult authority, a preference for turbulent sounds made from outsider forms like blues, boogie and hillbilly, and a willingness among young whites and blacks to listen to and adopt one another's music, to gather and dance to it – signaled social change that both anticipated and corresponded to the emerging civil-rights struggle.
Berry's charisma and sexiness, his lyrical and musical brilliance and his early edge in the game (Elvis Presley had not yet ascended) made him a natural point man for this change. His blackness, however, made him a natural threat to some, even black critics who decried rock & roll as a movement that debased the race. Berry didn't present himself as a subversive, but he didn't need to. The young, both black and white, thrilled to him every time he took a stage. Berry knew there was both risk and opportunity in this. "I'd been hearing of this sort of racial problem for years from my father," he wrote in his autobiography, "except his stories were more severe."
At the Mobile show, Berry was worried. Ropes ran down the audience floor, separating blacks from whites. Could he truly play music that appealed across this division? Would one audience resent him more than the other? "I skipped onstage," he wrote, "and belted out my song 'Maybellene.' I put everything I had into it: a hillbilly stomp, the chicken peck, and even ad-libbed some Southern country dialect. Contrary to what I expected, I received far greater applause from the white side of the ropes. ... Determined to retaliate, I bowed longer to the bored black side than I lingered on the left, let my fingers crawl into the introduction, and poured out the pleading guitar passage of 'Wee Wee Hours.' ... I began hearing 'uhmms' and 'awws' as I approached the kissing climax and how beautifully the black side began to moan. I knew I was getting next to them. It was just like we were all then boarding da' ol' ribba-boat about to float into a land of flawless freedom."
Read the rest of this article at: RollingStone