Avoid like that is terrifying. Prisoner of a morsel of space, you will struggle desperately against occult elements: the absence of matter, the smell of balance, vertigo from all sides, and the dark desire to return to the ground, even to fall. This dizziness is the drama of high-wire walking, but that is not what I am afraid of.After long hours of training for a walk, a moment comes when there are no more difficulties. It is at this moment that many have perished. But in this moment I am also not afraid. If an exercise resists me during rehearsal, and if it continues to do so a little more each day, to the point of becoming untenable, I prepare a substitute exercise—in case panic grabs me during a performance. I approach it slyly, surreptitiously. But I always want to persist, to feel the pride of conquering it. In spite of that, I sometimes give up the struggle. But I do so without any fear. I am never afraid on the wire. I am too busy.
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As you’ll have noticed, there’s an awful lot of stupidity afoot in the world. To take the obvious example, consider the principle the journalist Josh Marshall calls “Trump’s razor”, after the philosophers’ rule known as Occam’s razor: when trying to decode the president’s actions, the stupidest explanation you can think of is always likeliest to be true. It’s sometimes argued that we should be grateful for stupid leaders, since at least their stupidity makes life less hazardous: imagine if they were sufficiently focused and clever to implement their worst ideas! But that wasn’t the view of the late Italian economist Carlo Cipolla. In 1976 he published a tongue-in-cheek essay that’s been gaining new attention in the age of Trump. The Basic Laws Of Human Stupidity makes the alarming case that stupid people are by far the most dangerous.Cipolla has a technical definition of a stupid person: someone “who causes losses to another person [or group] while himself deriving no gain and even possibly incurring losses” – as opposed to a “bandit”, who pursues selfish gain at cost to others. “Day after day, with unceasing monotony, one is harassed in one’s activities by stupid individuals who appear suddenly and unexpectedly in the most inconvenient places and at the most improbable moments,” he writes. Part of the problem is that we assume that certain kinds of people – educated people, powerful people, suit-wearing professionals, people we agree with politically – can’t be stupid. In fact, Cipolla insists, stupidity arises equally in all segments of the population. But the non-stupid never grasp this, so they’re doomed to be surprised, over and over: “Always and inevitably everyone underestimates the number of stupid people in existence.”
When Clarissa Dalloway thinks that it’s “very, very dangerous to live even one day,” what, exactly, does she have in mind? She’s probably contemplating something abstract—the passage of time, the obscurity of fate. She isn’t worried about stumbling over her own feet and careening into London traffic. Then again, she hasn’t read “Careful: A User’s Guide to Our Injury-Prone Minds,” a terrifying primer on the absurd and humiliating dangers of daily life by the psychologist and safety expert Steve Casner. Every year, Casner writes, people “trip while walking down the sidewalk too close to the curb, fall into the street, and get hit by cars, trucks, and buses.” Reading “Careful” makes you want to stay in—a mistake, Casner writes, since fifty per cent of all fatal accidents happen in “that house of horrors we call home.” Puttering around the house is so dangerous that even people with hazardous jobs, such as electric-power-line installers, are more likely to do themselves in at home than at work.
Crucial developments in Washington, Brussels, Virginia and St. Petersburg these last few days may offer us serious clues on where we are now heading – geopolitically and geoeconomically.
Let’s start with a neo-apocalyptic stream of analysis ruling that President Trump pulling out of the Paris climate accords has plunged the West into a conflict deeper than any since WWII.
Naomi Alderman’s brilliant science fiction novel The Power justly won the Bailey’s prize for women’s fiction last week. It deserved to win – but I never thought it would.
The unstoppable rise of female-authored and feminist science fiction tends to upset two distinct sets of stuffy traditionalists: sexists and literary snobs. But by insisting that only a certain sort of art is truly great, they’re missing out on some gorgeous books.
Psychologists have only begun to unravel the concept of “personality,” that all-important but nebulous feature of individual identity. Recent studies suggest that personality traits don’t simply affect your outlook on life, but the way you perceive reality.
One study published earlier this year in the Journal of Research in Personality goes so far as to suggest that openness to experience changes what people see in the world. It makes them more likely to experience certain visual perceptions. In the study, researchers from the University of Melbourne in Australia recruited 123 volunteers and gave them the big five personality test, which measures extroversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, and openness to experience. That last personality trait inv
Elon Musk is launching a new company, and the idea sounds totally crazy. That sentence could have been written in 2002, when he founded SpaceX; in 2004, when he joined Tesla; or even in 1999, when he founded X.com. All three of those ventures sounded insane at the outset. All three, in different ways, led to tremendously successful businesses. This time, we’re told, the concept may be his craziest yet. Confirming a Wall Street Journal report from last month, the explainer site Wait But Why on Thursday laid out Musk’s vision for a company called Neuralink whose goal is nothing less grandiose than to change the fundamental nature of human communication forever. Its plan is to embed computer chips in our brains that will eventually facilitate what Musk calls “consensual telepathy” between people. This could make possible an era in which people beam thoughts and images directly into one another’s minds, obviating the need for language. And that’s a good thing, Musk tells Wait But Why’s Tim Urban, because superintelligent A.I. is coming, and we’re going to need to be way smarter if we want to stop the machines from taking over the world and subjugating the human race. Whew!
Numbers do not exist in all cultures. There are numberless hunter-gatherers embedded deep in Amazonia, living along branches of the world’s largest river tree. Instead of using words for precise quantities, these people rely exclusively on terms analogous to “a few” or “some.” In contrast, our own lives are governed by numbers. As you read this, you are likely aware of what time it is, how old you are, your checking account balance, your weight, and so on. The exact (and exacting) numbers we think with impact everything from our schedules to our self-esteem.But, in a historical sense, numerically fixated people like us are the unusual ones. For the bulk of our species’ approximately 200,000-year lifespan, we had no means of precisely representing quantities. What’s more, the 7,000 or so languages that exist today vary dramatically in how they utilize numbers.Speakers of anumeric, or numberless, languages offer a window into how the invention of numbers reshaped the human experience. In a new book, I explore the ways in which humans invented numbers, and how numbers subsequently played a critical role in other milestones, from the advent of agriculture to the genesis of writing.
Being a war photographer requires, first of all, bravery, or at least the ability to stay calm in situations of extreme danger. The other necessary qualities, beyond technical skill, include dedication, energy, ambition, a sense of curiosity and adventure, and, of course, luck. Most photographers make their names, and survive, thanks to a combination of these traits, while a handful possess the kind of soaring talent that makes their work uniquely memorable. Stanley Greene had all of this, as well as a depth of feeling; it imbued everything he did, and is the indefinable thing permeating the pictures he took.Greene died last week, at age sixty-eight, after a long battle with cancer. I met him in Iraq, where we were both covering the wake of the United States military invasion of 2003. In the small international tribe of photographers who regularly cover war, Stanley stood out. A black man in a largely white group, he was tall and handsome, and effected his own piratical sense of style, typically wearing a beret or a bandanna on his head, a hoop in each earlobe, a scarf coiled around his neck, and cool John Lennon shades. He had a wonderfully mellifluous, clear drawl of a voice, and a storyteller’s instinct for timing, humor, and suspense.