this week in Tremendous

12/17/2013
The first in a recurring series of bullets where I gather bits of Tremendous that have crossed my path. The term ‘week’ will be used liberally and incorrectly.
  • Recent research shows that patients with left hemispatial neglect (i.e. damage to one hemisphere of the brain leading to an inability to process and perceive stimuli on one side of the body or environment) also have difficulty representing events that are associated with the past “and, thus, fall to the left on the mental time line.” Which means the metaphor of placing events on a left-to-right timeline is taken literally by the brain. This study comes from Lera Boroditsky, cognitive scientist at UCSD and one of my favorite twurters. [Link: Patients With Left Spatial Neglect Also Neglect the “Left Side” of Time]

These results demonstrate that representations of space and time share neural underpinnings and that representations of time have specific spatial properties (e.g., a left and a right side).

  • Fierce contender for my favorite sentence ever written, courtesy of Gabriel Garcia Márquez from his 1973 short story, The Incredible and Sad Tale of Innocent Eréndira and Her Heartless Grandmother:

“The house was far from everything, in the heart of the desert, next to a settlement with miserable, burning streets where the goats committed suicide from desolation when the winds of misfortune blew.”

  • Artist and Guggenheim Fellow Charles Ross is in the midst of a 40-year project called “Star Axis,” a massive pyramid built in the New Mexico desert designed to be ascended and allow viewers to observe Polaris (the “North Star”) in the different night sky positions it has held throughout the millennia. This is possible because of something called precession: the Earth’s axis is actually a bit wobbly, like a gyroscope, and traces a circle around Polaris once every 26,000 years. The story over at Aeon Magazine traces the genesis of Star Axis and the myths surrounding mankind’s fascination with the celestial. [Link: Embracing the void]

“My interest in science is related to how mysterious it is,” he told me. “I have found that if you get astronomers and physicists drunk enough, you can get them to admit that what’s going on in the quantum field is not a hair’s breadth from metaphysics. That tells me the world is not getting easier to decipher. The deeper they go with this stuff, the more mysterious it gets.”

  • It turns out that not only do Ouija boards work, but they can be explained by something called the Ideomotor Effect. In fact Michael Faraday, the amateur physicist responsible for discovering the principles of electromagnetism and helping to inspire Einstein’s later investigations into the nature of light, conducted early experiments in the mid-1800’s to prove the Ideomotor Effect indeed exists. And recently the Ouija game has proved handy in research exploring the human unconscious. (“When triggering the ideomotor effect and unconsciously answering questions, participants suddenly knew much more than they did before.”) The Smithsonian is right to claim that “the real history of the Ouija board is just about as mysterious as how the ‘game’ works.” It’s a tale that meanders through 19th century spiritualism, patent officers, freak accidents, Norman Rockwell, and The Exorcist. [Links: Using Ouija To Explore The Unconscious; The Strange and Mysterious History of the Ouija Board]

“The board does offer a link between the known and the unknown. Just not the unknown that everyone wanted to believe it was.”