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How to Deal With 2016 Despair

Don’t let a TV screen make you live a life of fear. Be thoughtful participants, not passive consumers, in your culture. Create something. Improve something. Maybe yourself. Maybe the Wikipedia page for your hometown. Share your creation. Encourage and appreciate and critique and applaud what those in your community have created. Increase the sum total of good things in the universe by participating in the life around you. Heavy TV…

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Blue Feed, Red Feed

Facebook is designed to keep your attention, not inform you with an unbiased view of the truth. If you follow people who think like you, that will affect your social media feed. If you block people who infuriate you, that will also affect your social media feed.  I hope FB develops a way that lets responsible users flag trolls, stalkers, doxxers, etc., in order to limit the damage their posts do.…

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This is How Literary Fiction Teaches Us to Be Human

Practicing empathy through drama and poetry and art and games and face-to-face conversations and human acts of all kinds matters. This article covers the specific social benefits that come from reading literary fiction. Film critic Roger Ebert called movies the most powerful empathy machines, but someone with the right knowledge base can say pretty much the same thing about other genres. What we can say about the virtues of movies…

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Scientists Trace Society’s Myths to Primordial Origins

Ancient cultures from Africa to Asia to the Mediterranean share core myths such as the animal pursued by a hunter who is transformed into a constellation, or a sculptor falling in love with a statute that comes to life, or a clever hunter outwitting a monster who keeps animals in a cave. This Scientific American article describes a method to trace the origin of stories through waves of human migration…

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Stephen Greenblatt’s The Swerve racked up prizes — and completely misled you about the Middle Ages

Recently on Facebook I made some of my friends go “hmm” when I corrected a meme that suggested the medieval church burned Copernicus at the stake for teaching that the sun is the center of the solar system. (“Contrary to popular belief, the Church accepted Copernicus’ heliocentric theory before a wave of Protestant opposition led the Church to ban Copernican views in the 17th century.” CS Monitor). The label “The…

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Neuroscientist Explores the Ethical Quandries of a Digital Afterlife

Now imagine the resources required to simulate the brains of millions or billions of dead people. It’s possible that some future technology will allow for unlimited RAM and we’ll all get free service. The same way we’re arguing about health care now, future activists will chant, “The afterlife is a right, not a privilege!” But it’s more likely that a digital afterlife will be a gated community and somebody will…

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Teaching Shakespeare in a Maximum Security Prison

Good essay by Mikita Brottman. When I read Macbeth for the first time, I understood almost nothing. The play’s immediate subjects (kingship, Scottish history, nations at war) did not engage me, nor did I have any interest in theater. I loved Macbeth not for its story but for its language. I was fascinated by the weight of the words, their sequence and rhythm, the way they made me feel, even…