Molyneux’s Problem: thought experiment from 1688 solved in 2003

Q: If a man born blind can feel the differences between shapes such as spheres and cubes, could he, if his sight was restored, distinguish those objects by sight (without touching them)?

A: No. Huh. “Although after restoration of sight, the subjects could distinguish between objects visually almost as effectively as they would do by touch alone, they were unable to form the connection between an object perceived using the two different senses. The correlation was barely better than if the subjects had guessed. They had no innate ability to transfer their tactile shape knowledge to the visual domain.”

“Ostrovsky, et al studied a woman who gained sight at the age of 12 when she underwent surgery for dense bilateral congenital cataracts. They report that the subject could recognize family members by sight six months after surgery, but took up to a year to recognize most household objects purely by sight.” Wikipedia article

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“What should I do about my broken heart?”

“It’s been broken for a few weeks now and no sign of abating.” — reader question from Anonymous.

Aw geez. Oh man. That’s… that’s WELL outside my remit. But you know that right? So it’s probably okay to answer. Also literally no one has ever figured out how to be cool about having a broken heart so you can’t possible actually expect me to fix things. Okay. Phew.
I’m gonna start by giving the answer of Emily Nagoski, sex and relationships researcher:

There’s nothing to “do” exactly; like there’s nothing to “do” about having a stomach bug. You can drink ginger beer and eat saltines, but it’s just going to suck horribly for a while, until your body works through it. Go for the ride, let it suck. Your brain will flail around looking for something to DO about the injury, the way a soldier in battle looks for the next enemy to attack, but there is no enemy here, just rage and hurt and grief and fear. Lots of feelings, all revved up with nowhere to go. So you journal and cry and scream and wait for the cycle to complete itself.” Full blog post

Now my answer:

  1. Ugggghhhh that sucks
  2. A few weeks is not so long that I think you’re fucked. I think that’s a pretty normal amount to be devastated for. So I don’t think it’s evidence that you won’t get better.
  3. I have never known how to fix it, the only thing I know how to do is survive until it gets better on its own. It can be helpful to remind yourself of that.
  4. “I don’t have to feel okay, I just have to make it through.”
  5. Constant, I mean constant distraction. Just binge watch everything. Can’t feel if your brains filled up with images and sounds! Nice friends can come over for half an hour and watch Season 4, Episode 11 of Charmed with you. It’s really okay to ask them to do that and refuse to talk to them.
  6. When it’s really bad, like can’t breathe, maybe gonna die, panic attack bad, it helps to concentrate 100% on the present moment and what you are seeing, hearing, feeling. So not “she left me” or “I want them” but a litany of neutral observations of the present moment. “I am in my bedroom. My doona cover is yellow. There is a sharp pain in my lungs. I can hear a truck. My face is wet. My throat hurts. My cupboard door is open. The door handle is white and chipped.” And so on. Focusing on the sensations rather than what the sensations mean can get you through.
  7. Sometimes I think of myself as dead? Not permanently, not suicidally, it’s just like… setting your baseline expectation for your life to zero. So in this time period, you are not gonna do anything or achieve anything or feel anything good, if you just think of this period as not existing, it can help. Because you’re not beating yourself up for not feeling better, or trying, or something. (I do this when I have an astronomical amount of work to do as well, so I don’t get FOMO when I can’t go to things or be happy, I’m just like “I’m dead right now, that’s how it is.” I actually have a name for me when I’m dead, a totally unrelated girl’s name. I’m aware this is a bit creepy but everyone has their own creepy habits they don’t talk about. (IMPORTANT: the nature of ‘thinking of myself as dead’ that I’m talking about here is temporary, which makes it nothing like real death whatsoever. If you’re feeling tempted by the idea of suicide, tell a close friend and/or chat to Lifeline (link to their online chat) literally this actual second.
  8. Related to the above, sometimes doing shit stuff that will help alive-you, the you of the future, can help. Or rather, it doesn’t help but you’re miserable anyway so you might as well be miserable while getting some money or whatever. Push-ups so that alive, future-you is stronger, personal admin, selling stuff on ebay, etc. Being dead can be kind of an advantage here.
  9. Here’s Emily Nagoski’s talk on the science of relationships, attachment theory, break-ups etc. Understanding stuff helps me feel better, even if it doesn’t help help.

 Ask me a question on any topic except contemporary politics by commenting here or emailing thewhippet (at) mckinleyvalentine.com  make sure to include how/if you want to be named/linked.

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Let’s talk about house clothes

That is, the clothes you only ever wear at home. I just bought my fifth robe / dressing gown so I am extremely qualified to talk about this. People tend to wear pretty ugly house clothes – I don’t mean that I find them ugly, which, why would you care, I mean that people wear house clothes they themselves find ugly.

You go out of your way to buy nice outdoors clothes, but indoors you just sort of where whatever. This isn’t some Coco Chanel thing about keeping up standards, I just think you theorise that it doesn’t matter but you end up feeling frumpy and sleepy and ineffective, and unspecial, like, you dress pretty to see other people but not for yourself?

Esp if you’re mental health is not good, feeling like you look awesome when you’re bumming around at home really helps. And then when you get changed into them when you get home, it’s a reward to yourself for having bravely left the house.

Pretty much you have to take the nice fabrics route, I think, because you still want to be gloriously comfortable, and exactly the right warmth. And obviously don’t wear an underwire bra, obviously.

Also about house clothes: they can be costumes, they can be the clothes you kinda wish you would wear outside but won’t (the most recent robe is a rainbow space galaxy with sweeping sleeves and a watercolour unicorn on the back). I mean, you can buy Hogwarts house robes online. Pyjamas come in way cuter patterns than jeans. You can go from naked to amazingly dressed in two seconds. They are blankets you can walk around in!

Esp for men who are kind of expected to wear the most dour shit as their day to day wear, you can wear just any kind of colours and cuteness, or like, leggings printed with chainmail armour.

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Ayam Cemani, the black-hearted chicken

“The bird is inky black from the tip of its comb to the end of its claws, with blue-black skin, jet-black eyes, and a black tongue. It is covered in shimmering metallic black feathers, and even its internal organs are black.”

EVEN ITS INTERNAL ORGANS ARE BLACK

Also its bonnnnnes. Anyway, full article on the breed.

The Honeybee Industrial Complex

The case for not saving the bees

Controversial but interesting! I’m gonna try and summarise this long read on all the stuff that’s missing from the conversation:

  • There are many many pollinators, honeybees aren’t even that great it.
  • Industrial agriculture relies on bundling up pollinators and taking them from farm to farm:
    “Domesticated landscapes bloom all at once, and die all at once. If you’re a pollinator, that means that you’ve got a ton of food, and then you have no food”—not a sustainable living situation for an insect. “We’ve created a system where we need to bring in an outside pollinator. And the honeybee, being stackable, is what we selected.”
  • STACKABLE. So yeah, we rely on honeybees because they’re portable.
  • Only 5-10% of honeybees are wild, the rest are part of this industry.
  • Our much-talked-about reliance on honeybees is not natural, it’s a result of a disastrous lack of biodiversity.
  • Don’t save the bee, become less dependent on the bee!
  • Lack of pollinator diversity is a bigger threat than Colony Collapse Disorder.

Okay obviously there’s a LOT I haven’t included here, but oh my gosh, CONTRARIAN DELIGHT. Read the full article.

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The CEO of Sriracha is charming and checked out of capitalism

“My dream,” CEO David Tran says, “was never to become a billionaire.” It is “to make enough fresh chili sauce so that everyone who wants Huy Fong can have it. Nothing more.”

He says he has not once hiked the wholesale price at which he sells Sriracha—a number he won’t share with anyone—no matter that inflation has more than tripled food prices since 1980.“We don’t have a detailed record on where it’s being sold,” Tran admits. As far as he knows, Sriracha is available in the US, Canada and Europe. “But it’s probably sold elsewhere, too,” he conceded. [It’s massive here in Australia.]
His unwillingness to compromise on quality means that the chilies for Sriracha need to be processed within a day of being picked. So Huy Fong’s Rosemead factory sits only an hour away from Underwood Family Farms, which has been the company’s only chili supplier for the past 20 years. Finding new land fit for further chili harvesting has proved difficult—the land needs not only to be vast, but also fit for the purpose. “I can’t buy land that’s being used to harvest oranges,” Tran explained. “It’s not right for chilies.”

“The other upshot of the high demand is that in 33 years, according to Tran, Huy Fong Foods has neither employed a single salesman nor spent a cent on advertising. Advertising would merely widen the gap between demand and supply even further. “I don’t advertise, because I can’t advertise,” Tran explained.” Full article with excellent chilli harvest photos

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Interviews with female bodyguards


“I’m nearly 50 and I am shocked that I’m still alive. I was shocked at 30 and I was shocked at 40. I keep saying it’s time to wind down, but I miss doing my job too much. I need the adrenaline.”

“It’s the same thing every year: you have to be vetted by a guy from the Saudi embassy saying, ‘Oh, my God, you are a woman!’ At which point you have to throw one of his blokes on the floor and stamp on his windpipe to prove you can do the job.”

“It’s very frustrating working with people who have no understanding of the value of money, who think they can buy anything. There was one 10-year-old Middle Eastern princess I had to take round London. She asked: ‘Can you go and get me a kitten, a puppy, and a baby to play with?’ I said I couldn’t get a baby and all hell broke loose.”

I was also so interested in how they said most of the work was done beforehand, on the computer – researching the situation in a country, where the risks are, safe routes, etc etc.
Full article

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“Have you ever cried during a movie?”

Reader question from Peter.

A: Yes, loads, I hardly ever watch movies but when I do I am 100% on board with having my emotions cheaply manipulated. I always cry at the bits you’re sposed to cry at. You feel like you can breathe easier afterwards. And if you’re really not coping, it fills up your emotional capacity with different, ‘fake’ emotions that are much more manageable, so there’s no space left for your own unbearable ones – not a long-term solution but a useful stopgap measure.

When I really feel like crying I watch YouTube clips of What Would You Do? It’s like candid camera, except instead of pranks, a homophobic waitress refuses to serve a family with two mums, or someone can’t afford to buy groceries, and then they film it to see how bystanders will respond (spoiler: HEARTWARMINGLY).

Ask me a question on literally any topic except contemporary politics (doesn’t have to be about crying) by commenting or emailing thewhippet (at) mckinleyvalentine.com  make sure to include how/if you want to be named/linked.

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The super-recognisers of Scotland Yard

How an elite police unit is catching some of London’s most prolific criminals.

“I hate using the words ‘talented’ or ‘good’ for a criminal, when they could be so many better things, like a street magician or a dextrous watchmaker,” said Porritt. “But when we watched him, it was like: ‘That’s good.’”
Extremely well-written long read

Dragonfly wings “shred” bacteria

Credit:  Bonnie Taylor Barry
Dragonfly wings are covered in irregular nanospikes, which bacteria get stuck on and then tear themselves open when they try to move. Scientists are experimenting with antibacterial textiles that mimic this texture. Full article

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I’m anti-crime, but I’m pro-heist

(This is a cool story / I know crime is bad)

Image result for grimoire

“Antiquarian books worth more than £2m have been stolen by a gang who avoided a security system by abseiling into a west London warehouse.

The gang are reported to have climbed on to the building’s roof and bored holes through the reinforced glass-fibre skylights before rappelling down 40ft of rope while avoiding motion-sensor alarms.

The most valuable item in the stolen haul was a 1566 copy of Nicolaus Copernicus’s De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium, worth about £215,000.

Among the other books stolen were early works by Galileo, Isaac Newton, Leonardo da Vinci and a 1569 edition of Dante’s Divine Comedy.

One source familiar with the case said: “They would be impossible to sell to any reputable dealer or auction house. We’re not talking Picassos or Rembrandts or even gold bars – these books would be impossible to fence. It must be for some one specialist. There must be a collector behind it. The books belong to three different dealers working at the very top of the market and altogether they form a fantastic collection.” Full article (but honestly that’s the gist of it)

Reviews of celebrities on RateMyProfessors


I came across some random article about celebrities who teach at US colleges and realised: that means they would have entries on RateMyProfessors.com. Here’s a few I looked up.

“James seems sleepy and distracted and doesn’t give feedback because he doesn’t read our writing.”
“I also know for a fact that he does not read the papers you hand in, he just gives you an A.”
James Franco
“Defintely the former secretary of State, in the flesh.”
Madeleine Albright

“Where exactly did she attend school; Does she have a degree; Or are we to assume that she is just a natural genius.”
Maya Angelou
“This man does not belong in Academia. Very wierd ideas. Not recommended”
Peter Singer

Tell me you don’t wistfully long to take a vow of silence

The piece below is an (emailed) interview with monks who do the vow of silence thing. I’m constantly drawn to this idea. It feels like it would be more like a vacation than a fast – freedom from words rather than the imposition of silence. I wonder, if you stopped communicating in words, would you stop thinking in words as well? Or would you constantly be mentally composing all the bits of dialogues you couldn’t say?

I went to a silent interactive performance art party/event last year and it was both liberating and deeply discomfiting to be robbed of the ability to explain myself. I could apologise, with facial expressions or gestures, but I couldn’t give context, make clear my intentions or motivations, “here’s what I was thinking when I… here’s what I was aiming for” – which is something I do almost constantly. You just had to let your actions stand for themselves (but also, people were more forgiving, because they knew there was stuff you couldn’t say. Which is good practice for dealing with the rudeness of strangers: there’s so much context they can’t give you that might explain their actions).

The other tough part was seeing some cool thing in one part of the event – a silent drag show, a mime competition, a strawberry tasting – and then not being able to tell your friends what you’d just seen and where you’d been. You could point, and make your eyes shine – it was amazing! – but that was about it. You had to just accept that you were not capable of making yourself fully understood, and that you were not capable of fully understanding anyone else. There is a meaning here, but I cannot access it. (Again, good practice for the rest of life – it’s much easier to assume, when you’ve heard all the words, that you get what there is to be got. But you probably don’t.)

I’m trying to think of ways to make this acceptable – parties is the obvious one – but another might be something like the 40-Hour Famine, Movember or Dry July. Not everyone would do it, but people wouldn’t find it strange that you were, because it would be a Thing. You’d just gesture, and they’d get it.

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How silence works: Emailed conversations with four Trappist monks

Credit: Daniel Tibi“The silence does make me aware of my inner workings … I can’t pretend that I’m always a nice guy, always patient, always calm and receptive. I have to admit that I can be abrupt, cold to offenders, or would often prefer efficiency to the messiness of other people’s moods. Silence seems to keep me from idealizing myself.

I’ve become very attuned to the sound of bird-song, the wind, water running through the pipes, identifying unseen monks by the sound of their footsteps — just paying attention to my surroundings.” Full article

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