On point, as ever.
Why look, a gifset of a Vine by a young black man that has penetrated my social circle, is funny, and has nothing what so fucking ever to do with ministrelism. Imagine that. via Coop.
Not today, ebola. [vine by mrlegendarius]
Simulating everyday objects and animals is at an all-time high. Bossa Studios, developer of Surgeon Simulator, is well aware of this and they’ve got a new game to prove it.
I Am Bread is the next game form Surgeon Simulator developer Bossa Studios. The game has a trailer available below and you can see how it’s trying to simulate what being a slice of bread entails. You know, things like skateboarding, riding on ceiling fans, jumping inside of a washing machine, etc… No release date or platforms were announced.
“Harder than Surgeon Simulator? YOU DECIDE!” read the game’s description.
This might actually be SFW
Huge thanks to Grace Allison for her lovely comic! She’s one of my studiomates and I totally encourage you to go follow her art on Tumblr, you won’t be disappointed. Also keep your eyes peeled here for announcements about Pheonix, a new card-based RPG with artwork by Grace!
If you’re looking for more ASMR resources, not only does my friend BZedan have a YouTube channel devoted to ‘em called ASMR StitchesScritches, but Grace also recommends the following:
Also, here are some ASMR links, in case you think your readers would find them interesting/useful!
My friend Amanda, hard at work being brilliant.
Many thanks to the one who appeared with Creature Capsules. Some hoped for a panther or impala, no one wanted the monkey, and I silently wished for a blue elephant. This gift provided a happy diversion and, more importantly, has been a catalyst to break from the usual schedule. As I dropped my capsule from high above the glass and observed it gently meet the water’s surface, I was no longer weighed down by the knowledge that I lack the words for a given situation. I have gathered up my sepias and cadmiums with a lighter heart: where words fail, the canvas may speak.
Establishing the palette and making notes…
The painting is the same size as a business envelope. One does not know how to speak about this work in-progress except to say that it comes from the kind of terror one experiences when dreaming of a great fall (is it to result in harm, or unforeseen balance? do we gain wings or walk on water at the last moment? are all accidents merely what we needed at a given moment in time?). It is a painted prayer or plea for elucidation.
This is pretty great.
Never has Glenn's voice sounded so sexy and glorious.
The post Best Video Ever of the Day: A Slowed Down Remix of Danzig’s “Mother” appeared first on MetalSucks.
I very much agree with this, on many fronts. via Rosalind.
Wow, okay buddy, you’re BEGGING for a takedown here.
First world problems? Not a thing. People who say shit like “first world problems” are massive racist, imperialist, dismissive assholes.
If you’re ever tempted to say “first world problems,” do me a favor, and pull down a map. Tell me EXACTLY where the “third world” is. Make sure you correctly identify Switzerland as part of the third world, and Turkey as part of the First World. Don’t forget that Djibouti is a part of the first world.
Literally sit down and learn what “third world” means and why people from nonwestern nations think it’s a total bullshit term.
Second: you think people in the so-called third world don’t care about shit like makeup, and love, and technology? You think they don’t care about internet harassment? You think women over there don’t care about street harassment? You think they don’t care about fashion and clothes? You think they don’t care about music and video games?
Because THEY DO.
Right now, there is a woman in burundi teaching herself how to do a cut-crease eyeshadow look. Guaranteed.
"Third world" nations have fashion shows and fashion magazines. They care about street harassment. They care about the internet. They play video games. They know more about anime than your sorry ass every will. And the idea of "first world problems," which makes it sound like all women in "third world" nations are dealing with starvation, rape, war, acid attacks etc.
Women in Iran spend shitloads of money on makeup. Women in the DRC don’t just care about rape. Rape - the ONE THING westerners can be expected to know about women in Congo-Kinshasa - ranks NUMBER FOUR on the list of issues women in Congo want addressed. Political participation is number 1. Economic empowerment is number 2. Women in India are passionate about information technology, and you know what they hate? Coming to the United States, where Indian women in STEM are suddenly considered LESS GOOD than their male colleagues. My friends in Senegal taught ME how to download movies off the internet. Zimbabwe has a fashion week.
As Teju Cole points out:
"I don’t like this expression "First World problems." It is false and it is condescending. Yes, Nigerians struggle with floods or infant mortality. But these same Nigerians also deal with mundane and seemingly luxurious hassles. Connectivity issues on your BlackBerry, cost of car repair, how to sync your iPad, what brand of noodles to buy: Third World problems. All the silly stuff of life doesn’t disappear just because you’re black and live in a poorer country. People in the richer nations need a more robust sense of the lives being lived in the darker nations. Here’s a First World problem: the inability to see that others are as fully complex and as keen on technology and pleasure as you are.
One event that illustrated the gap between the Africa of conjecture and the real Africa was the BlackBerry outage of a few weeks ago. Who would have thought Research In Motion’s technical issues would cause so much annoyance and inconvenience in a place like Lagos? But of course it did, because people don’t wake up with “poor African” pasted on their foreheads. They live as citizens of the modern world. None of this is to deny the existence of social stratification and elite structures here. There are lifestyles of the rich and famous, sure. But the interesting thing about modern technology is how socially mobile it is—quite literally. Everyone in Lagos has a phone.”
95% of the people who use bullshit expressions like “First world problems” have NO IDEA what life is like for people in the so-called third world. You just like sitting there derailing.
And for the record? As a white, western feminist, DAMN RIGHT I concentrate on issues in the United States. Because when white western feminists try to “save” women outside the west? We do a SHIT job of it. We’re the ones who bowl over actual congolese women, and what THEY want, and say that the #1 issue affecting them is rape. We become arms of the imperialist patriarchal complex.
Classic example: the guy who was ruling Egypt for the British got british feminists to help him in his anti-headscarf campaign in Egypt. Why did he hate headscarves? Because he wanted to *break the spirit* of Egyptians. Not because he gave a shit about women’s rights.
How do I know that?
Because he was the head of the anti-women’s-suffrage group in England.
When women who live outside the west do awesome things, I will signal-boost them, and I will do whatever they think I can do to help. But I follow their lead. Because these are THEIR issues, and THEY know what matters to them. Not me.
FINALLY: My problems are not trivial. My problems are not bullshit. My problems are not to be dismissed with your racist, imperialist logic. Dress codes and makeup and music and books and video games MATTER. They matter to me. They matter to my life.
So fuck you.
And fuck your assumptions.
And maybe consider that YOUR first world problem?
Is that you can’t “see that others are as fully complex and as keen on technology and pleasure as you are.”
I did hear the voices.
This comic leads me to the inescapable conclusion that more Harleys are required.
Indirectly via someone, but I don't remember who now.
“He that has once done you a kindness will be more ready to do you another, than he whom you yourself have obliged.”
“We are what we pretend to be,” Kurt Vonnegut famously wrote, “so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.” But given how much our minds mislead us, what if we don’t realize when we’re pretending — who are we then? That’s precisely what David McRaney explores in You Are Now Less Dumb: How to Conquer Mob Mentality, How to Buy Happiness, and All the Other Ways to Outsmart Yourself (public library) — a “book about self-delusion, but also a celebration of it,” a fascinating and pleasantly uncomfortable-making look at why “self-delusion is as much a part of the human condition as fingers and toes,” and the follow-up to McRaney’s You Are Not So Smart, one of the best psychology books of 2011. McRaney, with his signature fusion of intelligent irreverence and irreverent intelligence, writes in the introduction:
The human mind is obviously vaster and more powerful than any other animal mind, and that’s something people throughout all human history couldn’t help but notice. You probably considered this the last time you visited the zoo or watched a dog battle its own hind legs. Your kind seems the absolute pinnacle of what evolution can produce, maybe even the apex and final beautiful result of the universe unfolding itself. It is a delectable idea to entertain. Even before we had roller skates and Salvador Dalí, it was a conviction in which great thinkers liked to wallow. Of course, as soon as you settle into that thought, you’ll accidentally send an e-mail to your boss meant for your proctologist, or you’ll read a news story about how hot dog-stuffed pizza is now the most popular food in the country. It’s always true that whenever you look at the human condition and get a case of the smugs, a nice heaping helping of ridiculousness plops in your lap and remedies the matter.
This tendency of ours is known as “naïve realism” — the assertion that we see the world as it actually is and our impression of it is an objective, accurate representation of “reality” — a concept that comes from ancient philosophy and has since been amply debunked by modern science. McRaney writes:
The last one hundred years of research suggest that you, and everyone else, still believe in a form of naïve realism. You still believe that although your inputs may not be perfect, once you get to thinking and feeling, those thoughts and feelings are reliable and predictable. We now know that there is no way you can ever know an “objective” reality, and we know that you can never know how much of subjective reality is a fabrication, because you never experience anything other than the output of your mind. Everything that’s ever happened to you has happened inside your skull.
In sum, we are excellent at deluding ourselves, and terrible in recognizing when our own perceptions, attitudes, impressions, and opinions about the external world are altered from within. And one of the most remarkable of manifestations of this is the Benjamin Franklin Effect, which McRaney examines in the third chapter. The self-delusion in question is that we do nice things to people we like and bad things to those we dislike. But what the psychology behind the effect reveals is quite the opposite, a reverse-engineering of attitudes that takes place as we grow to like people for whom we do nice things and dislike those to whom we are unkind.
This curious effect is named after a specific incident early in the Founding Father’s political career. Franklin, born one of seventeen children to poor parents, entered this world — despite his parents’ and society’s priorities in his favor relative to his siblings — with very low odds of becoming an educated scientist, gentleman, scholar, entrepreneur, and, perhaps most of all, a man of significant political power. To compensate for his unfavorable givens, he quickly learned formidable people skills and became “a master of the game of personal politics.” McRaney writes:
Like many people full of drive and intelligence born into a low station, Franklin developed strong people skills and social powers. All else denied, the analytical mind will pick apart behavior, and Franklin became adroit at human relations. From an early age, he was a talker and a schemer, a man capable of guile, cunning, and persuasive charm. He stockpiled a cache of secret weapons, one of which was the Benjamin Franklin effect, a tool as useful today as it was in the 1730s and still just as counterintuitive.
At age twenty-one, he formed a “club of mutual improvement” called the Junto. It was a grand scheme to gobble up knowledge. He invited working-class polymaths like him to have the chance to pool together their books and trade thoughts and knowledge of the world on a regular basis. They wrote and recited essays, held debates, and devised ways to acquire currency. Franklin used the Junto as a private consulting firm, a think tank, and he bounced ideas off the other members so he could write and print better pamphlets. Franklin eventually founded the first subscription library in America, writing that it would make “the common tradesman and farmers as intelligent as most gentlemen from other countries,” not to mention give him access to whatever books he wanted to buy.
This is where his eponymous effect comes into play: When Franklin ran for his second term as a clerk, a peer whose name he never mentions in his autobiography delivered a long election speech censuring Franklin and tarnishing his reputation. Although Franklin won, he was furious with his opponent and, observing that this was “a gentleman of fortune and education” who might one day come to hold great power in government, rather concerned about future frictions with him.
The troll had to be tamed, and tamed shrewdly. McRaney writes:
Franklin set out to turn his hater into a fan, but he wanted to do it without “paying any servile respect to him.” Franklin’s reputation as a book collector and library founder gave him a standing as a man of discerning literary tastes, so Franklin sent a letter to the hater asking if he could borrow a specific selection from his library, one that was a “very scarce and curious book.” The rival, flattered, sent it right away. Franklin sent it back a week later with a thank-you note. Mission accomplished. The next time the legislature met, the man approached Franklin and spoke to him in person for the first time. Franklin said the man “ever after manifested a readiness to serve me on all occasions, so that we became great friends, and our friendship continued to his death.”
Instant pause-giver: In what universe does inducing an opponent to do you a favor magically turn him into a supporter? This, it turns out, shares a psychological basis with the reason why the art of asking is the art of cultivating community — and, McRaney explains, it has a lot to do with the psychology of attitudes, those clusters of convictions about and emotional impressions of a person or a situation:
For many things, your attitudes came from actions that led to observations that led to explanations that led to beliefs. Your actions tend to chisel away at the raw marble of your persona, carving into being the self you experience from day to day. It doesn’t feel that way, though. To conscious experience, it feels as if you were the one holding the chisel, motivated by existing thoughts and beliefs. It feels as though the person wearing your pants performed actions consistent with your established character, yet there is plenty of research suggesting otherwise. The things you do often create the things you believe.
Indeed, this is what Gandhi touched on when he observed that our thoughts become our words, our words become our actions, our actions become our character, our character becomes our destiny, and it’s also the foundation of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which aims to change how we think by first changing what we do, until we internalize a set of beliefs about how those actions define who we are. McRaney explains how this works:
At the lowest level, behavior-into-attitude conversion begins with impression management theory, which says you present to your peers the person you wish to be. You engage in something economists call signaling by buying and displaying to your peers the sorts of things that give you social capital… Whatever are the easiest-to-obtain, loudest forms of the ideals you aspire to portray become the things you own, such as bumper stickers signaling to the world you are in one group and not another. These things then influence you to become the sort of person who owns them.
Anxiety over being ostracized, over being an outsider, has driven the behavior of billions for millions of years. Impression management theory says you are always thinking about how you appear to others, even when there are no others around. In the absence of onlookers, deep in your mind a mirror reflects back that which you have done, and when you see a person who has behaved in a way that could get you booted from your in-group, the anxiety drives you to seek a realignment.
This brings us to the chicken-or-the-egg question of whether the belief or the display came first. According to self-perception theory, we are both observers and narrators of our own experience — we see ourselves do something and, unable to pin down our motive, we try to make sense of it by constructing a plausible story. We then form beliefs about ourselves based on observing our actions, as narrated by that story, which of course is based on our existing beliefs in the first place. This is what happened to Franklin’s nemesis: He observed himself performing an act of kindness toward Franklin, which he explained to himself by constructing the most plausible story — that he did so willfully, because he liked Franklin after all.
This, as we’ve previously seen in the way we rationalize our dishonesty, is an example of cognitive dissonance, a mental affliction that befalls us all as we struggle to reconcile conflicting ideas about ourselves, others, or a situation. McRaney points to the empirical evidence:
You can see the proof in an MRI scan of someone presented with political opinions that conflict with her own. The brain scans of a person shown statements that oppose her political stance show that the highest areas of the cortex, the portions responsible for providing rational thought, get less blood until another statement is presented that confirms her beliefs. Your brain literally begins to shut down when you feel your ideology is threatened.
One of the most vivid examples of this process in action comes from a Stanford study:
Students … signed up for a two-hour experiment called “Measures of Performance” as a requirement to pass a class. Researchers divided them into two groups. One was told they would receive $1 (about $8 in today’s money). The other group was told they would receive $20 (about $150 in today’s money). The scientists then explained that the students would be helping improve the research department by evaluating a new experiment. They were then led into a room where they had to use one hand to place wooden spools into a tray and remove them over and over again. A half hour later, the task changed to turning square pegs clockwise on a flat board one-quarter spin at a time for half an hour. All the while, an experimenter watched and scribbled. It was one hour of torturous tedium, with a guy watching and taking notes. After the hour was up, the researcher asked the student if he could do the school a favor on his way out by telling the next student scheduled to perform the tasks, who was waiting outside, that the experiment was fun and interesting. Finally, after lying, people in both groups — one with one dollar in their pocket and one with twenty dollars — filled out a survey in which they were asked their true feelings about the study.
Something extraordinary and baffling had happened: The students who were paid $20 lied to their peers but reported in the survey, as expected, that they’d just endured two hours of mind-numbing tedium. But those who were only paid a dollar completely internalized the lie, reporting even in the survey that they found the task stimulating. The first group, the researchers concluded, were able to justify both the tedium and the lie with the dollar amount of their compensation, but the second group, having been paid hardly anything, had no external justification and instead had to assuage their mental unease by convincing themselves that it was all inherently worth it. McRaney extends the insight to the broader question of volunteerism:
This is why volunteering feels good and unpaid interns work so hard. Without an obvious outside reward you create an internal one. That’s the cycle of cognitive dissonance; a painful confusion about who you are gets resolved by seeing the world in a more satisfying way.
This dynamic plays out in reverse as well — as the infamous Stanford Prison Experiment, being induced to perform unkind behaviors makes us develop unkind attitudes. It all brings us back to Franklin’s foe-turned-friend:
When you feel anxiety over your actions, you will seek to lower the anxiety by creating a fantasy world in which your anxiety can’t exist, and then you come to believe the fantasy is reality, just as Benjamin Franklin’s rival did. He couldn’t possibly have lent a rare book to a guy he didn’t like, so he must actually like him. Problem solved.
The Benjamin Franklin effect is the result of your concept of self coming under attack. Every person develops a persona, and that persona persists because inconsistencies in your personal narrative get rewritten, redacted, and misinterpreted. If you are like most people, you have high self-esteem and tend to believe you are above average in just about every way. It keeps you going, keeps your head above water, so when the source of your own behavior is mysterious you will confabulate a story that paints you in a positive light. If you are on the other end of the self-esteem spectrum and tend to see yourself as undeserving and unworthy [and] will rewrite nebulous behavior as the result of attitudes consistent with the persona of an incompetent person, deviant, or whatever flavor of loser you believe yourself to be. Successes will make you uncomfortable, so you will dismiss them as flukes. If people are nice to you, you will assume they have ulterior motives or are mistaken. Whether you love or hate your persona, you protect the self with which you’ve become comfortable. When you observe your own behavior, or feel the gaze of an outsider, you manipulate the facts so they match your expectations.
Indeed, Franklin noted in his autobiography: “He that has once done you a kindness will be more ready to do you another, than he whom you yourself have obliged.” McRaney leaves us with some grounding advice:
Pay attention to when the cart is getting before the horse. Notice when a painful initiation leads to irrational devotion, or when unsatisfying jobs start to seem worthwhile. Remind yourself pledges and promises have power, as do uniforms and parades. Remember in the absence of extrinsic rewards you will seek out or create intrinsic ones. Take into account [that] the higher the price you pay for your decisions the more you value them. See that ambivalence becomes certainty with time. Realize that lukewarm feelings become stronger once you commit to a group, club, or product. Be wary of the roles you play and the acts you put on, because you tend to fulfill the labels you accept. Above all, remember the more harm you cause, the more hate you feel. The more kindness you express, the more you come to love those you help.
So Milton Glaser was right after all when he observed, “If you perceive the universe as being a universe of abundance, then it will be. If you think of the universe as one of scarcity, then it will be.”
You Are Now Less Dumb is excellent in its entirety, exploring such facets of our self-delusion as why we see patterns where there aren’t any, how we often confuse the origin of our emotional states, and more. Complement it with its prequel, then treat yourself to McRaney’s excellent podcast.Share on Tumblr
The list of ways in which we meddle is essentially endless. via rafael
At 5:30am I awoke to the sound of the diesel chug-chugging of a lone lobster boat carving into the glassy Atlantic. An audience of shrieking gulls hushed in the engine’s wake as it rumbled through the narrow strait that separates the United States from Canada. After the boat pushed out into the open ocean, the gulls resumed their gossip, and I began preparing for a day on the water, still groggy from the night before, after joining a group of researchers over beer. I had come to Lubec in Maine with a bizarre question: what was 9/11 like for whales?
I sleepwalked to the pier and helped pack a former Coast Guard patrol boat with boxes of underwater audio-visual equipment, as well as a crossbow built for daring, drive-by whale biopsies. A pod of 40 North Atlantic right whales had been spotted south of Nova Scotia the day before and, with only a few hundred of the animals left in existence, any such gathering meant a potential field research coup. ‘They even got a poop sample!’ one scientist excitedly told me. The boat roared to life and we slipped past postcard-ready lighthouses and crumbling, cedar-shingled herring smokehouses. Lisa Conger, a biologist at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), manned the wheel of our boat, dodging Canadian islands and fishing weirs. As the Bay of Fundy opened before us, a container ship lumbered by to our stern: a boxy, smoking juggernaut, as unstoppable as the tide.
‘After 9/11, we were the only ones out here,’ Conger said over the wind and waves. While this tucked-away corner of the Atlantic might seem far from the rattle of world affairs, the terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington DC of 11 September 2001 changed the marine world of the Bay of Fundy, too.
Conger leads the field team in Lubec for Susan Parks, a biology professor at Syracuse University. As a graduate student, Parks found that right whales were trying to adapt to a gradual crescendo of man-made noise in the oceans. In one study, she compared calls recorded off Martha’s Vineyard in 1956, and off Argentina in the 1977, with those in the North Atlantic in 2000. Christopher Clark, her advisor, had recorded the Argentine whales and, when Parks first played back their calls, she thought there must be some sort of mistake.
‘It was older equipment – reel-to-reel tapes which I’d never used before – so I went to Chris to ask if I had the speed of the tape wrong because the whales sounded so much lower in frequency than the whales I had been working with.’
In fact, Parks discovered, modern North Atlantic right whales have shifted their calls up an entire octave over the past half century or so, in an attempt to be heard over the unending, and steadily growing, low-frequency drone of commercial shipping. Where right-whale song once carried 20 to 100 miles, today those calls travel only five miles before dissolving into the din. Under the right conditions, fin- and blue‑whale song can carry thousands of miles, as Clark realised while listening in on the oceans using the US Navy’s global submarine detection network. He was stunned to hear a blue whale singer on the Grand Banks of Canada all the way from Puerto Rico, 1,600 miles away. However, it’s an open question whether these performers are actually trying to be heard by their audiences across the ocean.
‘If you have whales spending more time moving out of areas because they’re noisy, or if they have lower reproductive success because they can’t find mates, those seemingly small changes could really add up to a population-level effect where you could cause the birth rate to decline and the mortality rate to increase to the point where, eventually, the populations could go extinct,’ Parks told me.
Just how much noise has been added to the ocean has been revealed by the worldwide network of underwater microphones originally developed to eavesdrop on submarines. Hydrophones anchored to the continental slope off California, for instance, have recorded a doubling of background noise in the ocean every two decades since the 1960s. For whales, whose lives can be measured in centuries, the dramatic change to the environment is one that could be covered in the biography of a single whale. As a testament to that longevity, in 2007, during a traditional whale hunt, indigenous Alaskans pulled a bowhead whale out of the water with a harpoon embedded in its blubber that had been made in New Bedford, Massachusetts, in the 1800s – a type of weapon that might have been familiar to Herman Melville.
‘It’s very likely that the individuals that were being recorded in 1956 were the same ones being recorded in 2000,’ Parks said. ‘Some of these whales were born before there were motorised vessels in the water at all.’
Still, it’s a mistake to imagine that the soundscape of the oceans was pristine before modern man. The seas, which are poor in light, have always been rich in sound. Some of the loudest, and most alien, noises on planet Earth are known only to ocean life. Lightning strikes, for instance, are mind-bogglingly loud underwater, and utterly extraterrestrial. Unlike the dry crack of a thunderclap on land, when lightning strikes the water, the oceans echo with an astonishing metallic howl, like a phaser blast from God. The awesome roar of underwater earthquakes and volcanoes can be similarly sublime, while the groans of distant icebergs calving off Antarctica have been picked up by hydrophones more than 3,000 miles apart. Even fish are surprisingly noisy, with many – like the black drum – beating their gas-filled swim bladders to make twangy, plucking noises, like an orchestra of jaw harps. In southwest Florida during spawning season these calls can even be heard in homes along canals, when black drum chatter channels through floors and walls and into the open air.
On coral reefs, hydrophone recordings are often overwhelmed by the crackles and pops of the unassuming pistol shrimp, which slams its comically oversized claw together with such incredible force as to create a vacuum bubble in the water. When the bubble collapses, it creates fleeting bursts of sound that, in aggregate, can drown out everything else in the environment. The shockwaves from these miniature supernovae blast the pistol shrimp’s prey into submission. Some larval fish are attracted to these reef sounds – the popcorn crackle signals home.
The living world can even change how sound propagates underwater. A dense seam of small sea life exploited by diving whales and sharks throughout the world’s deep oceans is known as the ‘deep scattering layer’. It was discovered by confused Second World War sonar operators, some of whom interpreted the sonic reflection as a false sea bottom. The seas themselves can also warp the soundscape, with cold, deeper, denser water forming acoustic channels at the bottom of the ocean over which sound can travel thousands of miles, the ocean’s long-distance line. The seafloor can dampen or reflect noise depending on its composition. And at the ocean’s surface, wind, waves and heavy rain make for a roiling translucent ceiling that showers the seas in sound.
Mass strandings of more than a dozen beaked whales have happened in the wake of military exercises, with autopsies on the whales revealing symptoms of the bends
And so it was for millions of years. Now a host of strange, altogether new sounds ring throughout the ocean. Offshore oil and gas exploration, now in its heyday, uses literally earth-shaking blasts issued from airguns towed along the surface for days on end. The reports are powerful enough to penetrate the planet’s crust and bounce back to the surface, bearing the signatures of unplumbed pockets of ancient hydrocarbons deep in the rocks. The technique made headlines this summer when the Obama administration reversed a Nixon-era moratorium on oil and gas exploration on the Atlantic continental shelf, drawing outrage from environmental groups after its own summary estimated that 138,000 marine mammals could be injured from the testing.
In Parks’s career listening to the sea – an experience she likens to space exploration – the seismic survey has been a consistent if unwelcome guest in her data. ‘There were some places where 90 per cent of the time the entire acoustic recording we had was completely obscured by seismic surveys. Every two seconds there was a blast.’ In one study, recorders on the mid-Atlantic ridge picked up the rhythmic blasts of seismic surveys off the coast of Angola. That same oil and gas exploration was contemporaneous with a silencing of humpback singers.
Perhaps the most well-known collision of man-made noise and ocean life, though, is that between the world’s navies and its marine mammals. Active military sonar comes in different flavours – much of it quite unlike the rasping pings of Tom Clancy-inspired Hollywood productions. There are the plaintive howls of low-frequency sonar to the almost deliberately annoying whinnies and squeals of powerful mid-frequency sonar. Deep-diving beaked whales are terrified of the noise, which they can interpret as exceptionally frightening killer whales. Mass strandings of more than a dozen beaked whales have happened in the wake of military exercises, with autopsies on the whales revealing symptoms of the bends – a strange injury for an animal accustomed to diving almost two miles down. Other whales have been more direct casualties of war: during the UK prime minister Margaret Thatcher’s adventure in the Falklands in 1982, two right whales – perhaps ones recorded by Clark – were mistaken by sonar operators for a pair of submarines and torpedoed by the Royal Navy; another was attacked by the ship’s helicopter.
These dramatic encounters with the military read like environmentalist fever dreams, which is why they inspire headlines. But the more humdrum machinery of the global economy probably poses a larger threat to marine life.
‘A cargo ship is basically like a large rock concert passing by,’ said Jesse Ausubel, the director of the Program for the Human Environment at the Rockefeller University. I met with Ausubel in his house in Oak Bluffs on Martha’s Vineyard, where the dining room was decorated with a sawfish rostrum and Newfoundland placemats, and the conversation was peppered with anecdotes reflecting a life spent far afield, exploring undersea volcanoes in Montserrat and coral reefs in New Caledonia. Ausubel was the co-founder of the Census of Marine Life, a $650 million dollar, 10‑year, 80‑country project to document all the life in the ocean. It identified a quarter-million organisms, including Dinochelus ausubeli, a chopstick-clawed lobster from a deep sea trench off the Philippines named for Ausubel. He suspects there might be another 750,000 more species that await discovery.
‘Until 2010, there wasn’t even a list of what lives in the ocean,’ he told me. If the roll call of sea life is still being tallied, man’s acoustic effect on it is even more of an unknown. For Ausubel, ‘What struck me the most about the sound issues that came up during the Census of Marine Life was the total lack of baseline information.’
In 2011 Ausubel, along with more than 20 other authors representing research institutions, nonprofits and even military and shipping interests, formally proposed the International Quiet Ocean Experiment (IQOE) in the journal Oceanography. For the past few years, the diverse group has been meeting around the world to plan the experiment, which is envisioned as a 10-year project that shares a scope similar in ambition to the Census of Marine Life. Along with co‑ordinating government, industry and academic research on anthropogenic noise and its effects on marine life, the IQOE also puts forward a bold and evocative proposal: at some point in the near future, turn off all the sound in the ocean and see what happens. The group sensibly notes that the smaller bodies of water would be more practical venues for the experiment, and that a global quieting of the oceans would be ‘nearly impossible’. Still, Ausubel is optimistic.
‘I think it’s not a completely crazy idea,’ he told me. ‘What I’d like to do is have a period of let’s say four to eight hours in which we really, really try to remove as much sound as possible. The intuitive idea is to take a time like Christmas Day or New Year’s when people are doing less anyway.’ But even if the IQOE managed to stop all shipping, offshore drilling and naval exercises for an entire day, it still wouldn’t be long enough to let the oceans stop ringing with the echoes of man-made sound.
‘Still, if you could stop things for eight hours you really would have a pretty major global effect,’ he said. Perhaps fish would begin schooling differently. Perhaps whales would start talking in bygone frequencies now hogged by the tens of thousands of container ships on the open seas.
Ausubel thinks that the issue of man-made sound in the ocean doesn’t have to be one of environmental gloom and doom. Some solutions are already available, such as requiring sound insulation for offshore rigs, developing quieter propellers, changing shipping routes, and timing noisy activities to occur when seasonal migrations carry vulnerable animals away from the clamour. The oceans could be zoned for noise. It’s a path that some organisations, such as the NOAA are already charting.
But in the meantime, Ausubel says, human additions to ocean noise are about equal to natural noise for the first time. ‘And the human additions are going up,’ he said.
It turns out that an experiment of the sort Ausubel and his colleagues are proposing has already been carried out, though this one was unplanned. Back in the Bay of Fundy, we skipped past the cliffs of New Brunswick’s Grand Manan Island and dipped over the horizon, out of the sight of land. Before long, 25-foot basking sharks leapt out of the water and flailing mola mola wandered uneasily towards our propellers. A line of dolphins broke through the glinting surface. Fin, humpback, minke, sperm and right whales surrounded us, spouting, breaching and lazing in the sun. Underwater, the team’s hydrophones revealed a collage of clicks and inquisitive bloops, as well as the unmistakable hum of distant propellers.
The melancholy days after 9/11 on the Bay of Fundy were a brief return to life in the pre-industrial oceans
By the end of the day, I was struggling to understand how the humpbacks we had just witnessed diving for herring found their food.
‘We don’t know how any of ’em find anything,’ Conger said as we pulled back into Lubec in the afternoon, sunburnt and salt-sprayed. ‘How do right whales find a big cloud of copepods in the middle of the ocean? It’s a mystery.’
In September 2001 Parks was working to shed light on part of this mystery, recording the soundscape and trying to decode the social calls of right whales. In the chaos of the days that followed the 9/11 attacks, Parks drove home, but those who stayed behind carried on her project.
‘Scott Kraus [a researcher at the New England Aquarium] called me from the field saying, “You have to listen to these recordings – we’ve never heard anything like it,”’ Parks told me. ‘It’s like you could hear a pin drop.’
The march of commercial shipping had come to a halt as the world recoiled from the dreadful spectacle of crumbling skyscrapers and plane-shaped earthen scars. But underwater, the acoustic fog that had settled on the oceans for decades had lifted. The researchers found themselves in the middle of an unprecedented, if tragic, experiment. The melancholy days after 9/11 on the Bay of Fundy were a brief return to life in the pre-industrial oceans. As Parks’s team was recording the marine soundscape, Rosalind Rolland of the New England Aquarium was collecting faecal samples – floating whale poop – and measuring them for stress hormones. While Parks’s recordings testified to an ocean silenced by tragedy, Rolland found that the whales’ stress hormones had plummeted as well. The whales, it seemed, had finally relaxed.
14 October 2014
These are killer. Via Coop.
This is a feeling I know well.
The hermit crabs!
This is pretty interesting. Not the most eloquent of speakers, but he does have important things to say.
New podcast with Frank!
This is amusing to click through random places, and see Will just be so stressed out because he doesn't really do horror games.
More suing over whiskey labels.
In 2011, I visited Templeton, Iowa, to cover this hot rye whiskey that Al Capone supposedly liked. At the time, I knew they were purchasing bulk whiskey from what was then called LDI, the former Seagram’s facility that gave the world beautiful 95% rye mashbills, but I had never approached the company about this. Going into the interview, I half expected them to be confrontational. Keith Kerkhoff, one of the founders, played college football and tried out for an NFL team; and let’s just say, his lineman shoulder could crush my spine.
When questioned, the founders, Kerkhoff and Scott Bush, were honest about the sourcing process and I later found their sales reps disclosed the whiskey origins. Templeton even disclosed this fact on its Website, producing a video captured at the Lawrenceburg, Indiana, and openly discussed the fact on social media. But for whatever reason, the company never disclosed the state of distillation on the label. Instead, Templeton sold the small town’s infamous Prohibition heritage.
For years, even before my 2011 visit, hardcore whiskey geeks called foul on Templeton’s marketing efforts and even the locals didn’t care for Kerkhoff’s and Bush’s attempt to bring unwanted attention to the town. (Illicit whiskey makers are still very much in business in Templeton!) All of this would be chalked up as noise or slightly bad publicity for a brand that became a consumer favorite.
But all of that changed in late August when a class-action lawsuit was filed against Templeton in Cook County, Illinois, citing “deceptive marketing practices” and that Templeton violated consumer protection laws. The plaintiff claimed he was led to believe that the whiskey was made in Iowa. This lawsuit was given the green light to proceed and two additional class-action suits have been filed, with the most recent one being filed this week in Iowa. Tito’s Handmade Vodka faces a similar class-action lawsuit.
To understand the depths of the suit and how it might impact the future of the spirits business, I reached out to attorney Joel Ard, an alcohol attorney specialist with Foster Pepper PLLC in Washington.
Templeton’s labels were approved by the TTB. How are they vulnerable for a lawsuit?
That’s a surprise often to a lot of people, certainly among smaller craft producers, but even among larger industry participants. This idea that a government agency has approved their label and then they can get called on it for alternative reasons is often a bit of a surprise.
But isn’t the TTB to blame for not catching an improper label?
The reality is that the TTB is the Tax and Trade Bureau. It’s not a Trademark Office. It’s not an advertising office. It’s not a consumer protection office. They collect excise tax on ethanol and their primary concern about labels is the Surgeon General’s Warning is on it, in the right font, in the right size and that the percent alcohol by volume is accurate.
There are a bunch of regs about no obscenity, no nudity. Just start looking at wine labels for what stuff gets through. There’s a lot of stuff that can get through because they’re pushing through an enormous volume of labels; it’s not primarily a place for judging the accuracy of advertising or the consumer protection statute.
On to the Templeton lawsuit; what kind of case is this?
This is the kind of lawsuit where an enterprising lawyer dug up a more or less imaginary plaintiff and sued somebody and he’s going to pocket the proceeds in the lawsuit. Pick a consumer protection statute, find a target and sue them.
Will this become a trend? Will enterprising lawyers start dissecting alcohol labels for violations of regulations?
I’m sure that somebody could come up with a particularly creative claim that somehow a person was harmed because a wine bottle had the American Flag on it and that’s forbidden by regulation. Hard to imagine what the claim would be. What’s the harm to the consumer?
Now, you might say, where is the consumer harm that Tito’s Vodka is actually not made by hand; and Tito’s lawyers and the California consumers will fight over that, maybe there’s no harm, maybe it’s really bad.
It seems like a lot of this could be fixed if the TTB had more authority to police labels for accuracy.
I’m not sure it would be the best thing to try to give them more authority. A few years back, the label approval backlog was huge. If you are a startup distillery, you need to get a label approved pretty quickly. You can’t afford to wait for your label and don’t have the resources to have an army of lawyers push them through TTB. So, my concern would be if you were [adding] authority, it’s going to hurt the little guys. The big guys have plenty of resources to get their labels approved. The way the TTB runs now, there’s very little legal involvement.
The TTB right now is a decent balance of making sure that people aren’t misled about alcohol content, poisoned by strange distilled spirits, or blatantly obviously lied to on labels. For the broad run of the rest of it, most of the time the market’s going to sort it out. If you put bad stuff in a bottle, it doesn’t matter how cool your label is.
Brain link roundup.
Quick links from the past week in mind and brain news:
New Scientist reports that sleeping brains can process and respond to words. Forward directly to boss.
The Neurocritic reports on a case of mistakenly garnishing your dish with hallucinogenic flowers.
Science News reports on the lack of research on the science of potty training.
Well, what do you know. The Fix reports that anti-marijuana academics are being paid by makers of prescription opiates.
io9 reports on a woman with no cerebellum – one of the few known cases on congenital cerebellar agenesis.
Brain surgeon Henry Marsh, who has had a long relationship with Ukraine, writes in The Guardian of his experience of being there during the recent upheaval.
The Toast often has some remarkable stuff.
The article is by writer Esmé Weijun Wang who describes her own episode of psychosis and how she came to believe, and later unbelieve, that she was dead.
It’s an incredibly evocative piece and historically, worth remembering.
Somatic details figure heavily in these recollections: what I wore, what I looked like. I told myself, through mirrors and dressing-up and Polaroids and weighing myself, You have a body. The body is alive.
But the more that I tried to remind myself of the various ways in which I did, in fact, seem to have a body that was moving, with a heart that pumped blood, the more agitated I became. Being dead butted up against the so-called evidence of being alive, and so I grew to avoid that evidence because proof was not a comfort; instead, it pointed to my insanity.
Link to ‘Perdition Days: On Experiencing Psychosis’
The brilliant flash from cosmic rays going through your head isn't really a hallucination, but okay.
I’ve got a piece in The Observer about the stresses, strains and mind-bending effects of space flight.
NASA considers behavioural and psychiatric conditions to be one of the most significant risks to the integrity of astronaut functioning and there is a surprisingly long history of these difficulties adversely affecting missions.
Perhaps more seriously, hallucinations have been associated with the breakdown of crew coherence and space mission stress. In 1976, crew from the Russian Soyuz-21 mission were brought back to Earth early after they reported an acrid smell aboard the Salyut-5 space station. Concerns about a possible fluid leak meant the replacement crew boarded with breathing equipment, but no odour or technical problems were found. Subsequent reports of “interpersonal issues” and “psychological problems” in the crew led Nasa to conclude the odour was probably a hallucination. Other Russian missions were thought to be have been halted by psychological problems, but the US space programme has not been without difficulties. During the Skylab 4 mission, long hours, exhaustion and disagreements with mission control resulted in the crew switching off their radio and spending a day ignoring Nasa while watching the Earth’s surface pass by.
The piece also tackles a curious form of hallucination caused by cosmic rays and the detrimental effects of zero-gravity of brain function, as well as some curious Freudian theories from pre-space flight 1950s about the potential psychological consequences of leaving ‘Mother Earth’.
Link to Observer article on psychological challenges of astronauts.
This is an interesting idea.
They bought a bunch of machines to automate common experimental techniques and wrote software allowing the machines to be remotely programmed over the web. They plan to charge on a per-experiment basis. They are soliciting beta testers for 2015.