Author Page for Ben Ehrlich
BENJAMIN EHRLICH (Contributing Editor) is a writer living in New York City. In 2009 he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree with highest honors in Literary Studies from Middlebury College, where he was also a three-year member of the varsity basketball team. Ben is currently at work translating the non-scientific writings of Santiago Ramón y Cajal, the Nobel Prize-winning “father of modern neuroscience.” During the day he is known as “Dr. Recess,” as he holds a PhD in the Recess Arts from Recess University. His interdisplinary dissertation included a theoretical analysis of the Law in kickball team-picking, advanced wiffle ball physics, and Eastern methods of boo-boo healing. It is as yet unpublished.
(The famous patient H.M. as a young man.)
The new STEM podcast Transistor, presented by the Public Radio Exchange (PRX) and funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, has released new neuroscience episodes called Totally Cerebral. The host, Wendy Suzuki, is a scientist at NYU who studies learning, memory, and cognition. In a review of the first two episodes, The A.V. Club called the show “gripping and immediate the way the best sort of storytelling podcast can be, as these scientists are not only bright but personable and emotionally connected to their studies.” Part 1 is titled “Untangling the Mystery of Memory,” and Part 2 is titled “The Man Without a Memory.” Earlier podcasts feature astrophysicist Michele Thaller and biologist Christina Agapakis.
Over at Nautilus, there is an interview with superstar curator Hans-Ulrich Obrist, the co-director of London’s Serpentine Gallery. Obrist has worked with some of the most famous artists in the world, but he has collaborated with scientists in the past. Most recently, he has collaborated with John Brockman of the Edge to present an event called “Extinction Marathon,” which asked artists, writers, scientists, filmmakers, theorists, and musicians to present on the topic of Extinction. Obrist seems determined to bring interdisciplinary creativity back to life. “I often start with the idea of what’s missing in the world,” he explains. “Artists would often tell me they have a desire to work with scientists, engineers, and inventors. They encouraged me to make that happen.” Behold, the dodo bird.
The Edge.org, the online salon for the world’s “most complex and sophisticated minds,” has released the answers to its annual question. This year’s question was What Do You Think About Machines That Think? (“Is AI becoming increasingly real? Are we now in the new era of AI?, ), and there were 186 respondents, including philosopher Daniel Dennett (“The Singularity—an Urban Legend?”), musician Brian Eno (“Just a New Fractal Detail in the Big Picture”), physicist Freeman Dyson (“I Could Be Wrong”), cognitive scientist Steven Pinker (“Thinking Does Not Imply Subjugating”), neuroscientist Sam Harris (“Can We Avoid a Digital Apocalypse?“), Gary Marcus, Jonathan Gottschall , neuroscientist Robert Sapolsky (“It Depends“), scholar of Chinese thought Edward Slingerland (“Machines Aren’t Thinking About Anything“), and other luminaries (full list). Founder of the Edge, the publisher and literary agent John Brockman, strives to create a “third culture,” which “consists of those scientists and other thinkers in the empirical world who, through their work and expository writing, are taking the place of the traditional intellectual in rendering visible the deeper meanings of our lives, redefining who and what we are.”
Tom Stoppard has written his first new play in almost a decade. It will open at the National Theatre in London on January 28, and it’s about…consciousness! The Hard Problem, named for philosopher David Chalmers’ famous formulation of the supreme mystery of qualia, tells the story of a young psychologist at a brain-science institute. According to the overview, the protagonist Hilary “is nursing a private sorrow and a troubling question at work, where psychology and biology meet. If there is nothing but matter, what is consciousness?” With his new play, the author of Arcadia and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead asks: “Is the day coming when the computer and the fMRI scanner will answer all the questions psychology can ask?” Here is a recent TED Talk by Chalmers, who calls the study of consciousness “still a science of correlations, not explanations.” (Apparently, Qualia is also the name of a luxury resort on an island in Australia. See above)
London-based artist Aiste Noreikaite has developed a high-tech device that translates neural processes into sound in real time using EEG technology. According to Noreikaite, the Experience Helmet, which looks like an ordinary white motorcycle helmet, creates an “audible reflection of one’s personal experience of the present moment.” The sounds inside the helmet become higher when users have clear minds, and faster and more rhythmic when they focus on particular subjects.
(via The Creator’s Project)
(photo credit Natalja Safronova)
Patrick Tresset is a French scientist and artist “investigates human artistic activity, computational creativity and our relation to machines.” When he lost the ability to paint and draw by hand, he invented a robot named Paul, a “creative prosthetic” with a mechanical eye and motorized arm for sketching portraits. He calls his most recent version Paul-IX. As quoted by The Creators Project, Tresset asks: “What is the point for such a robot to dedicate its existence to drawings that comment on human existence, rather than be a utilitarian slave as expected of it?” Watch video of Paul in action here.
Paul-IV.a, FASTE-2, Creil, France, 2014, photo by Patrick Tresset
(via Paris Review Daily/The Creators Project/Beautiful Decay)