What happens when a philosopher starts taking drugs

Justin Smith writes: “At a cultural moment when psychedelics are getting a second wind, and even someone as upstanding as Michael Pollan has moved from counseling us to eat our roughage to praising the benefits of microdosing, philosophers are conducting themselves as though it were still 1950, when we wore skinny ties to colloquia, got funding from the RAND Corporation to work on decision trees and other such narrow and straitlaced endeavors, and all knew that it is the unaltered and wakeful mind that has exclusive access to the forms and qualities of the external world. I am a philosopher who has taken an interest, of late, in psychedelic experimentation, and I find that my experiments have significantly widened the range of accounts of the nature of reality that I am disposed to take seriously. If you think you are in an emotional state to handle it, and in a legal jurisdiction that permits it, I would recommend that you try some.”

The sonnets of Michelangelo

Most famous for painting the Sistine Chapel and his sculpture of David, the Italian Renaissance artist Michelangelo was also a prolific poet, in his lifetime penning more than 300 sonnets and madrigals. It is in his poetry that many critics have seen present the clearest evidence of his homosexual leanings. The openly homoerotic nature of the poetry has been a source of discomfort to later generations. Michelangelo’s grandnephew, Michelangelo the Younger, published them in 1623 with the gender of pronouns changed, and it was not until John Addington Symonds translated them into English in 1878 that the original genders were restored – the book featured here is a later edition of this work which features the Symonds translations side-by-side with the original Italian (see here for the 1st edition, with no Italian). Even in modern times some scholars continue to insist that, despite the restoration of the pronouns, the sonnets represent “an emotionless and elegant re-imagining of Platonic dialogue, an expression of refined sensibilities.”

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This inventor made two of history’s biggest mistakes

In the fall of 1940, Thomas Midgley contracted polio, and the dashing, charismatic inventor soon found himself in a wheelchair, paralyzed from the waist down. He took on his disability with the same ingenuity that he applied to everything, and designed a mechanized harness with pulleys attached to his bed. On the morning of Nov. 2, 1944, Midgley was found dead in his bedroom. The public was told he had been accidentally strangled to death by his own invention. But the dark story line of Midgley’s demise would take an even darker turn in the decades that followed. While The Times praised him as “one of the nation’s outstanding chemists,” today Midgley is best known for the terrible consequences of that chemistry, thanks to the stretch of his career from 1922 to 1928, during which he managed to invent leaded gasoline and also develop the first commercial use of the chlorofluorocarbons that would create a hole in the ozone layer. There may be no other single person in history who did as much damage to human health and the planet, all with the best of intentions.

The family behind Ferrero Roche and Nutella

Giovanni Ferrero is Italy’s richest person, with a net worth of $36B. The source of his wealth is Ferrero Group, the Italian confectionary giant which sold $14B of sweets last year (and is the world’s 2nd biggest candy maker). The private business employs 40k+ people and runs 30+ plants globally. Nutella — the hazelnut spread — accounts for 1/5th of total sales (~$3B) but Ferrero also owns Kinder Surprise, Mon Cheri, TicTac, Crunch Bar, Nerds, Thornton’s and many more. The OG Nutella was invented in 1806 during the Napoleonic Wars. Italian chefs started using ground hazelnut to stretch their dwindling chocolate supplies. The product they created was called gianduja. Fast forward to 1946. Europe was dealing with yet another continent-wide shortage of cocoa following the end of World War II. An Italian pastry chef by the name of Pietro Ferrero whipped out the recipe for gianduja and created a snack aimed at regular folk working on tight purse strings.

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Bill Gates says GPT is the biggest revolution since the graphical user interface

Bill Gates writes: “In my lifetime, I’ve seen two demonstrations of technology that struck me as revolutionary. The first time was in 1980, when I was introduced to a graphical user interface—the forerunner of every modern operating system, including Windows. I sat with the person who had shown me the demo, a brilliant programmer named Charles Simonyi, and we immediately started brainstorming about all the things we could do with such a user-friendly approach to computing. Charles eventually joined Microsoft, Windows became the backbone of Microsoft, and the thinking we did after that demo helped set the company’s agenda for the next 15 years.

The second big surprise came just last year. I’d been meeting with the team from OpenAIsince 2016 and was impressed by their steady progress. In mid-2022, I was so excited about their work that I gave them a challenge: train an artificial intelligence to pass an Advanced Placement biology exam. Make it capable of answering questions that it hasn’t been specifically trained for. (I picked AP Bio because the test is more than a simple regurgitation of scientific facts—it asks you to think critically about biology.) If you can do that, I said, then you’ll have made a true breakthrough. I thought the challenge would keep them busy for two or three years. They finished it in just a few months.”

Helen Garner on happiness

“What is happiness, anyway? Does anybody know? It’s taken me 80 years to figure out that it’s not a tranquil, sunlit realm at the top of the ladder you’ve spent your whole life hauling yourself up, rung by rung. It’s more like the thing that Christians call grace: you can’t earn it, you can’t strive for it, it’s not a reward for virtue. It exists all right, it will be given to you, but it’s fluid, it’s evasive, it’s out of reach. It’s something you glimpse in the corner of your eye until one day you’re up to your neck in it. And before you’ve had time to take a big gasp and name it, it’s gone.

So I’m not going to spend what’s left of my life hanging round waiting for it. I’m going to settle for small, random stabs of extreme interestingness – moments of intense awareness of the things I’m about to lose, and of gladness that they exist. Things that remind me of other things. Tiny scenes. Words that people choose, their accidentally biblical turns of phrase. Hand-lettered signs, quotes from books, offhand remarks that make me think of dead people, or of living ones I can no longer stand the sight of. I plan to keep writing them down, praising them, arranging them like stepping stones into the dark. Maybe they’ll lead me somewhere good before I shrivel up and blow away.” (via)

TikTok’s CEO makes his case to a hostile Congress

Shou Zi Chew, CEO of the video-sharing app TikTok, appeared before the House Energy and Commerce Committee Thursday, to respond to concerns about the app’s links to the Chinese government, and its data-handling practices. As suggested by a prepared version of his remarks that was released late on Tuesday, Chew focused on the fact that TikTok is used by a number of small businesses in the US, and also promotes freedom of expression. “We do not believe that a ban that hurts American small businesses, damages the country’s economy, silences the voices of over 150 million Americans, and reduces competition in an increasingly concentrated market is the solution to a solvable problem,” Chew’s testimony stated. The TikTok CEO also assured Congress that ByteDance, the app’s Chinese owner, “is not an agent of China or any other country.”

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal last week, Chew argued that banning the app or forcing its owners to sell won’t accomplish anything that the company’s proposed solution, known as Project Texas, doesn’t already achieve. The Committee on Foreign Investment in the US, however, which has the right to block deals in the interest of national security, has rejected TikTok’s proposed solution, and said its Chinese owners must sell the app or it will be permanently banned in the US. As I’ve written previously for CJR, TikTok has spent more than a year on Project Texas, which involves storing data related to US users on US servers belonging to Oracle, a corporate software provider, and appointing a board of US advisors to oversee its recommendation algorithms, another focus of the government’s concern. A spokesperson for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a briefing that the US has “failed to produce evidence that Tik Tok threatens US national security.”

The US government may have failed to show that TikTok threatens national security, but the Federal Bureau of Investigations and the Department of Justice are looking into reports that TikTok staffers used the app to surveil several US journalists, including Emily Baker-White, who currently works at Forbes. In a prior role at BuzzFeed, she wrote about TikTok’s handling of data, including the fact that multiple officials with ByteDance had gained access to data on US users. TikTok officials reportedly tried to use the app to track Baker-White’s movements and those of a Financial Times journalist, in an attempt to determine how they got access to the documents they used in their reporting. Baker-White said that a source close to the investigation told Forbes the Department of Justice’s Criminal Division is working with the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, and has subpoenaed information from ByteDance.

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My mother the troll, and the sad ending to her life

Brenda Leyland was a stylish, well-spoken and rather private woman who lived in a picturesque village in Leicestershire. Her son Ben knew she told stories, and that some of them may have been on the tall side. He also knew that she spent a lot of time on her laptop and was increasingly living online. What he didn’t know was that his mother had become a Twitter troll who spent the final years of her life relentlessly attacking the parents of Madeleine McCann, who disappeared in Portugal in 2007. In 2014, Brenda was approached by a journalist who told her she had been reported to Scotland Yard and her tweets were being investigated as part of a larger campaign of abuse against the McCanns.. “Well, that’s fair enough,” she said calmly. But Brenda’s face gave her away. Her eyes blinked and her cheek twitched anxiously.Four days later, on 4 October 2014, Brenda killed herself.

Former Meta staffer says she was paid $190,000 a year to do nothing

This week, Meta made headlines again after announcing it would be laying off 10,000 workers. These layoffs are in addition to the 11,000 employees it fired in November of last year—meaning that in four months, Meta has let go of over 20,000 workers. In a video with over 122,000 views, TikTok user Maddie (@maddie_macho) writes that she got “paid $190k to do nothing at Meta.” How did this happen? According to Maddie, she was hired to be a recruiter, but was also told that she should not hire anyone for 6 months to a year. Instead of hiring, Maddie said she spent her days going through the company’s onboarding process and attending team meetings—something that confused her. “Why are we meeting? We’re not hiring nobody!” she says in the video.

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Did scientists really discover a new superconductor?

At the American Physical Society’s annual March meeting in Las Vegas, Ranga Dias, a physicist at the University of Rochester, announced that he and his team had achieved a century-old dream of the field: a superconductor that works at room temperature and near-room pressure. Interest was so intense that security stopped people from entering the overflowing room. The results, published in Nature, appear to show that a conventional conductor — a solid composed of hydrogen, nitrogen and the rare-earth metal lutetium — was transformed into a flawless material capable of conducting electricity with perfect efficiency. While the announcement has been greeted with enthusiasm by some scientists, others are far more cautious.

Resurrect an ancient library from the ashes of a volcano. Win $250,000

If you know anything about machine vision — or know anyone who does — you could win $250,000 if you can somehow decipher what’s written on an ancient scroll of papyrus, which was carbonized by the eruption of Vesuvius thousands of years ago (things in Pompeii were vaporized, but in nearby Herculaneum they were buried in hot mud and preserved). The scrolls were found in 1750 by a farmer digging a well, who uncovered part of the ruins of a massive villa that was owned by the father-in-law of Julius Caesar. Using a particle accelerator, scientists were able to lift some of the text from the scrolls, showing that “digital unwrapping” is possible. And now a group of Silicon Valley investors have started a contest to help decipher as much of the scrolls as possible.

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