Thursday, January 26, 2017

Correspondence: Reading

Edited by Moristotle

I’m at last into Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past [the C.K. Scott Moncrieff and Terence Kilmartin translation, Random House, 1981]. The three sentences beginning with “The plot began to unfold,” from p. 45 of “Swann’s Way,” are now among my favorite passages from literature:
Mamma sat down by my bed; she had chosen François le Champi [a pastoral novel by George Sand]…The plot began to unfold: to me it seemed all the more obscure because in those days, when I read, I used often to daydream about something quite different for page after page. And the gaps which this habit left in my knowledge of the story were widened by the fact that when it was Mamma who was reading to me aloud she left all of the love-scenes out. And so all the odd changes which took place in the relations between the miller’s wife and the boy, changes which only the gradual dawning of love can explain, seemed to me steeped in a mystery the key to which (I readily believed) lay in that strange and mellifluous name of Champi, which invested the boy who bore it, I had no idea why, with its own vivid, ruddy, charming colour. [Wikipedia article]

Skipping over all the apologies for Trump Thought in “Donald Trump doesn’t read much. Being president probably wouldn’t change that” [Marc Fisher, Washington Post, July 17, 2016], if he actually believes what he is saying, he seems to think that he has some magical, superpowered “common sense” that allows him to understand a situation without actually knowing much about it. Therefore he doesn’t have to go to the trouble of reading, or otherwise exerting himself, to learn enough to make good decisions. This is, of course, delusional, and goes a long way to help us understand his strange relationship with facts. Excerpt from the article:
[ Trump] said in a series of interviews that he does not need to read extensively because he reaches the right decisions “with very little knowledge other than the knowledge I [already] had, plus the words ‘common sense,’ because I have a lot of common sense and I have a lot of business ability.” [read more]
Very interesting! And not political! Head transplants? Anti-fraud through biometrics? “Science and technology predictions for 2017” [various, The Telegraph, December 30, 2016]. Excerpt:
[From section, “The rise of biometric identification technology, from fingerprints to vein scanners,” by James Titcomb]
    Think of a password that is impossible for you to forget but equally impossible for anybody else to guess. Too farfetched? Not at all. As it turns out, you were born with one: your body.
    From the make-up of our fingerprints to the colour patterns of our eyes, our dental records, and even the structure of our veins, our biological identities are unique to us – and technology that can tell who we are by scanning a thumb or iris is no longer the preserve of science fiction....
    But this is only the beginning. Imagine walking into a pub and putting your finger into a vein scanner. Instantly, the terminal knows what your favourite drink is, orders it and then takes payment from your credit card.
    Such gadgetry may sound years away but “FingoPay” technology is already being trialled by Sthaler, a British company. Vein authentication – just one example – is more secure than any PIN: the chances of two people having the same vein structure is 3.4 billion-to-one.
    Reliable biometric technology has the potential to go a considerable way towards eradicating fraud. It may be easy to obtain someone’s password or driving licence but incredibly difficult to steal their iris or fingerprint (although, it should be said, not impossible).

[From section, “2017 will see big breakthroughs in science, from the first human head transplant to new cancer research,” by Sarah Knapton]
    There are...hints that 2017 could prove an outstanding year for discovery and innovation. Babies with the DNA from three parents could be born for the first time in Britain as the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority begins to license clinics. The technique, pioneered by Newcastle University, uses donor DNA from a second mother to cure babies of diseases such as muscular dystrophy.
    Prof Sergio Canavero, an Italian neuroscientist, is also preparing to carry out the first human head transplant within a year. Valery Spiridonov, 31, a Russian who suffers from Werdnig-Hoffmann disease, a muscle-wasting condition, is to be the first patient....
    Last year, Microsoft announced it was opening its first laboratory designed to find a cure for cancer by cracking the code of diseased cells so they can be reprogrammed. The first results could be ready in 2017.
    The researchers are working on a computer made from DNA, which will live inside cells and look for bodily faults, then essentially reboot the system.

[read more]

Grateful for correspondence, Moristotle

1 comment:

  1. The NY Times article, “Why ‘1984’ Is a 2017 Must-Read,” didn’t appear soon enough to be included in yesterday’s column. Opening paragraphs:

    The dystopia described in George Orwell’s nearly 70-year-old novel “1984” suddenly feels all too familiar. A world in which Big Brother (or maybe the National Security Agency) is always listening in, and high-tech devices can eavesdrop in people’s homes. (Hey, Alexa, what’s up?) A world of endless war, where fear and hate are drummed up against foreigners, and movies show boatloads of refugees dying at sea. A world in which the government insists that reality is not “something objective, external, existing in its own right” — but rather, “whatever the Party holds to be truth is truth.”
        “1984” shot to No. 1 on Amazon’s best-seller list this week, after Kellyanne Conway, an adviser to President Trump, described demonstrable falsehoods told by the White House press secretary Sean Spicer — regarding the size of inaugural crowds — as “alternative facts.” It was a phrase chillingly reminiscent, for many readers, of the Ministry of Truth’s efforts in “1984” at “reality control.” To Big Brother and the Party, Orwell wrote, “the very existence of external reality was tacitly denied by their philosophy. The heresy of heresies was common sense.” Regardless of the facts, “Big Brother is omnipotent” and “the Party is infallible.”