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February 20, 2009

Blueprints — by David Eagleman

WHITESPACE 20h x 119w

We look forward to finding out answers in the afterlife. We're in luck. In the afterlife we are granted the ultimate gift of revelation: an opportunity to view the underlying code.

At first we may be shocked to watch ourselves represented as a giant collection of numbers. As we go about our normal business in the afterlife, in our mind's eye we can seen the massive landscape of numbers, stretching to sight's limit in all directions. This set of numbers represents every aspect of our lives. Across its vast plains we spot islands of sevens, jungles of threes, branching rivers of zeros. The size and richness are breathtaking.

As you interact with a lover, you can see her numbers as well, and her interactions with yours. She endearingly sticks out her bottom lip for attention, and your numbers cascade into acrobatics. Digits flip their values like waterfalls. As a result, your eyes lock on to hers, and amorous words form on your lips and travel from your throat in air-compression waves. As she processes the waves, her numbers flip, waves of change rippling through her system. She returns your affection, as dictated by the state of her numbers.

My goodness, you realize on your first afternoon here: This is totally deterministic. Is love simply an operation of the math?

After watching enough code, a new notion of agency and responsibility dawns. You watch and understand all the signals that lead to a driver stomping on her brakes as her numbers are changed by the numbers of the cat walking in front of the wheels; you can even see the code of the fleas that leap off when the cat leaps. Whether the cat is struck or not struck, you now understand, was not in anyone's control; it was all in the numbers, married together in a gorgeous inevitability. But we also come to understand that the network of numbers is so dense that it transcends simple notions of cause and effect. We become open to the wisdom of the flow of the patterns.

If you assume this gift of revelation is received in Heaven, you're only half right; it is also the punishment designed for you in Hell. The Rewarders originally thought to offer it as a gift, but the Punishers quickly decided they could leverage it as a kind of affliction, drying up life's pleasures by revealing their bloodlessly mechanical nature.

Now the Rewarders and Punishers are in a battle to determine which of them gets more benefit out of this tool. Will humans appreciate the knowledge or be tortured by it?

The next time you are pursuing a new lover in the afterlife, perhaps sharing a bottle of wine after what appeared to be a chance encounter, don't be surprised if both a Rewarder and a Punisher sneak up behind you. The Rewarder whispers into one of your ears, Isn't it wonderful to understand the code? The Punisher hisses into your other ear, Does understanding the mechanics of attraction suck all the life out of it?

Such a scene is typical of the afterlife, and illustrates how much both parties have overestimated us. This game always ends in disappointment for both sides, who are freshly distraught to learn that being let into the secrets behind the scenes has little effect on our experience. The secret codes of life — whether presented as a gift or burden — go totally unappreciated. And once again the Rewarder and the Punisher skulk off, struggling to understand why knowing the code behind the wine does not diminish its pleasure on your tongue, why knowing the inescapability of heartache does not reduce its sting, why glimpsing the mechanics of love does not alter its intoxicating appeal.


From Eagleman's wonderful new book,


"SUM: Forty Tales from the Afterlives."

February 20, 2009 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Robur Exerciser

"... shaped like a Möbius loop that is famous for having just one surface though it looks like it’s got to have at least two. Now anyone can give it some thought while strengthening his or her grip."

Pink or Orange.


February 20, 2009 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Procrastination and its delights — Episode 1: Three biggest reasons people procrastinate

1. Lack of confidence in the ability to complete a project

2. Something's boring or distasteful

3. Impulsiveness/distraction

[via Piers Steel, associate professor of human resources and organizational dynamics at the University of Calgary, in Alina Tugend's January 30, 2009 New York Times Business section article on procrastination]

February 20, 2009 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Self-elevating bamboo cooking utensils


Bob Callaway, in a recent edition of Kevin Kelly's Cool Tools, edited by Steven Leckart, wrote:

"I like bamboo utensils for cooking with my nonstick pots and skillets, and recently I found an even better version: bamboo utensils that have rests carved right into the handles. When you lay down the utensil, the business end doesn't touch the surface."


"You don't need a spoon rest when you're working with these, and you don't need to clean a spoon rest either. Thus far I have purchased a spatula and two spoons, and I intend to buy more. I was converted overnight. The wooden utensils that I'd been using for years — they're gone."

12" slotted spoon (top): $4.95.

Set of 6 assorted utensils pictured below:



February 20, 2009 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

BehindTheMedspeak: Electricity to the brain improves performance — But it 'will not make you into a superhero'

Terminator 2

"A mild electrical current applied through the skull over a specific part of the brain may be helpful in learning motor skills," wrote Nicholas Bakalar in a January 26, 2009 New York Times Science section story, which follows.


Electricity to Brain May Aid Motor Skills

A mild electrical current applied through the skull over a specific part of the brain may be helpful in learning motor skills.

In a study published Jan. 21 by The Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), researchers trained two groups of 12 volunteers each to use a joystick to move a cursor as quickly and accurately as possible through an obstacle course on a computer screen. The task was difficult enough to ensure that performance would improve over five days of practice.

During the practice sessions, all participants had electrodes connected over the primary motor cortex, the part of the brain that plans and executes movements. One group was stimulated with a mild current through the connection and the other was not. After five days of practice, the group that received the current was significantly better at the task, both in speed and accuracy.

In periodic assessments over three months after the experiment, those in the electrically stimulated group retained their skills better.

Dr. Pablo A. Celnik, a co-author of the study and an assistant professor of rehabilitation medicine at Johns Hopkins, said the procedure might be useful in helping stroke victims recover motor function, but would not “convey supernatural powers and will not make you into a superhero.”


Here's the abstract of the  PNAS paper.


Noninvasive cortical stimulation enhances motor skill acquisition over multiple days through an effect on consolidation

Motor skills can take weeks to months to acquire and can diminish over time in the absence of continued practice. Thus, strategies that enhance skill acquisition or retention are of great scientific and practical interest. Here we investigated the effect of noninvasive cortical stimulation on the extended time course of learning a novel and challenging motor skill task. A skill measure was chosen to reflect shifts in the task's speed–accuracy tradeoff function (SAF), which prevented us from falsely interpreting variations in position along an unchanged SAF as a change in skill. Subjects practiced over 5 consecutive days while receiving transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) over the primary motor cortex (M1). Using the skill measure, we assessed the impact of anodal (relative to sham) tDCS on both within-day (online) and between-day (offline) effects and on the rate of forgetting during a 3-month follow-up (long-term retention). There was greater total (online plus offline) skill acquisition with anodal tDCS compared to sham, which was mediated through a selective enhancement of offline effects. Anodal tDCS did not change the rate of forgetting relative to sham across the 3-month follow-up period, and consequently the skill measure remained greater with anodal tDCS at 3 months. This prolonged enhancement may hold promise for the rehabilitation of brain injury. Furthermore, these findings support the existence of a consolidation mechanism, susceptible to anodal tDCS, which contributes to offline effects but not to online effects or long-term retention.


February 20, 2009 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

What is it?

Answer here this time tomorrow.

February 20, 2009 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack

joe punk'd

I feel so used

From Tim last evening came the following, in reference to yesterday's post about Britain's first "Safe Text" street.


Oh Joe...

They got you.

Almost a year in arrears, but they got you.

It was a hoax — a simple marketing stunt, only set up for the cameras, and then gone.

Here is the full story from the local paper the day following the event.

Of course the explanation only made the local paper as it didn't have the marketing firm behind it like the original "story" did.


Fooling me is like shooting fish in a barrel because I believe everything until it's clear I shouldn't.

Others take a diametrically opposite approach, believing nothing.

It's always seemed to me that by doing it that way, not only will you not get fooled but you'll also eliminate any chance that something magical will happen.

Perhaps you've heard of the Big Bang.

The rabbit can't jump out of the hat if you never look for it.

February 20, 2009 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Denture Soap


"This peppermint-scented soap is enriched with Shea butter to moisturize and protect your skin."

Two piece set weighs 2.5 oz.



[via 7Gadgets]

February 20, 2009 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

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