Sunday, November 20, 2016

"James Burke’s New Project Aims to Help us Deal with Change, Think Connectively, and Benefit from Surprise"

Fake, real, fallacies and connections: sort of a theme this weekend.

We used to link to this website quite a bit and then drifted away when he started focusing on podcasts.
Now we're back.

From You Are Not So Smart (YANSS):

James Burke Connections App
In this episode of the YANSS Podcast, we sit down with legendary science historian James Burke, who returns to the show to explain his newest project, a Connections app that will allow anyone to search and think “connectively” when exploring Wikipedia.

He launched the Kickstarter for the app this month. This is a link to learn more.

For much of his career, science historian James Burke has been creating documentaries and writing books aimed at helping us to make better sense of the enormous amount of information that he predicted would one day be at our fingertips.

In Connections, he offered an “alternate view of history” in which great insights took place because of anomalies and mistakes, because people were pursuing one thing, but it lead somewhere surprising or was combined with some other object or idea they could never have imagined by themselves. Innovation took place in the spaces between disciplines, when people outside of intellectual and professional silos, unrestrained by categorical and linear views, synthesized the work of people still trapped in those institutions, who, because of those institutions, had no idea what each other was up to and therefore couldn’t predict the trajectory of even their own disciplines, much less history itself.

In The Day the Universe Changed, Burke explored the sequential impact of discovery, innovation, and invention on how people defined reality itself. “You are what we know,” he wrote “and when the body of knowledge changes, so do we.” In this view of change, knowledge is invented as much as it is discovered, and new ideas “nibble at the edges” of common knowledge until values considered permanent and fixed fade into antiquity just like any other obsolete tool. Burke said that our system of knowledge and discovery has never been able, until recently, to handle more than one or two ways of seeing things at a time. In response we have long demanded conformity with the dominant worldview or with similarly homogenous ideological binaries.

My favorite line from the book has to do with imagining a group of scientists who live in a society that believes the universe is made of omelettes and goes about designing instruments to detect traces of interstellar egg residue. When they observe evidence of galaxies and black holes, to them it all just seems like noise. Their model of nature cannot yet accommodate what they are seeing, so they don’t see it. “All that can accurately be said about a man who thinks he is a poached egg,” joked Burke, “is that he is in the minority.”

You may have noticed that when we browse the news or type into Google we tend to seek confirmation more than we do information. We predict our current model will remain untarnished. When we want to make sense of something, we tend to develop a hypothesis just like any scientist would, but when we check to see if we are correct, we often stop once we find confirmation of our hunches or feel as though we understand. Without training, we avoid epiphany by avoiding the null hypothesis and the disconfirmation it threatens should it turn out to be valid.....MUCH MORE
Related: 

Nov. 23, 2013

When Storylines Intersect: China's Plenum Reforms Not Good For Australian Commodities
The first law of ecology: Everything is connected.*
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*The law made a small fortune for James Burke:
Connections explores an Alternative View of Change (the subtitle of the series) that rejects the conventional linear and teleological view of historical progress. Burke contends that one cannot consider the development of any particular piece of the modern world in isolation.

Rather, the entire gestalt of the modern world is the result of a web of interconnected events, each one consisting of a person or group acting for reasons of their own (e.g., profit, curiosity, religious) motivations with no concept of the final, modern result of what either their or their contemporaries' actions finally led to. The interplay of the results of these isolated events is what drives history and innovation, and is also the main focus of the series and its sequels.

To demonstrate this view, Burke begins each episode with a particular event or innovation in the past (usually Ancient or Medieval times) and traces the path from that event through a series of seemingly unrelated connections to a fundamental and essential aspect of the modern world. For example, The Long Chain episode traces the invention of plastics from the development of the fluyt, a type of Dutch cargo ship.
Watch the full documentary now (30 episodes, each 45 minutes long)
Connections (1978)
1. The Trigger Effect details the world’s present dependence on complex technological networks through a detailed narrative of New York City and the power blackout of 1965.

2. Death in the Morning examines the standardization of precious metal with the touchstone in the ancient world.

3. Distant Voices suggests that telecommunications exist because Normans had stirrups for horse riding which in turn led them to further advancements in warfare.

4. Faith in Numbers examines the transition from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance from the perspective of how commercialism, climate change and the Black Death influenced cultural development.

5. The Wheel of Fortune traces astrological knowledge in ancient Greek manuscripts from Baghdad’s founder, Caliph Al-Mansur, via the Muslim monastery/medical school at Gundeshapur, to the medieval Church’s need for alarm clocks (the water horologium and the verge and foliot clock).

6. Thunder in the Skies implicates the Little Ice Age (ca. 1250-1300 AD) in the invention of the chimney, as well as knitting, buttons, wainscoting, wall tapestries, wall plastering, glass windows, and the practice of privacy for sleeping and sex.

7. The Long Chain traces the invention of the Fluyt freighter in Holland in the 1500s. Voyages were insured by Edward Lloyd (Lloyd's of London) if the ships hulls were covered in pitch and tar which came from the colonies until the American Revolution in 1776.

8. Eat, Drink and Be Merry begins with plastic, the plastic credit card and the concept of credit then leaps back in time to to the Dukes of Burgundy, which was the first state to use credit
.
...MUCH MORE, although the original links to YouTube have been pulled, a bit of searching (cough*vimeo*cough) shows the vids are still on the web.

I think I caught David Keohane's cough.
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