You invest so much in it, don't you? It's what elevates you above the beasts of the field, it's what makes you special. Homo sapiens, you call yourself. Wise Man. Do you even know what it is, this consciousness you cite in your own exaltation? Do you even know what it's for?Dr. Peter Watts is no stranger to MetaFilter. But look past his sardonic nuptials, heartbreaking eulogies, and agonizing run-ins with fascists (and fasciitis) and you'll find one of the most brilliant, compelling, and disquieting science fiction authors at work today. A marine biologist skilled at deep background research, his acclaimed 2006 novel Blindsight [full text] -- a cerebral "first contact" tale led by a diverse crew of bleeding-edge post-humans -- is diamond-hard and deeply horrifying, wringing profound existential dread from such abstruse concepts as the Chinese Room, the Philosophical Zombie, Chernoff faces, and the myriad quirks and blind spots that haunt the human mind. But Blindsight's last, shattering insight is not the end of the story -- along with crew/ship/"Firefall" notes, a blackly funny in-universe lecture on resurrecting sociopathic vampirism (PDF - prev.), and a rigorously-cited (and spoiler-laden) reference section, tomorrow will see the release of
Jason Padgett is the first person to acquire synasthesia and savantism by head trauma. Three years after his mugging, he began drawing complex geometries, including hand-drawn approximations of fractals, the first time anyone had ever done so. Eventually a mathematician suggested Padgett take a math course; with trigonometric notation Padgett offered a proof of his approximation of Pi. [more inside]
Why did William James Sidis - the reclusive boy genius fluent in Latin at 2, accepted to MIT at 8, conceptual physicist at 11 - spend so much time thinking about public transit transfers? [more inside]
Is the west thwarting Arab plans for reform? Few Muslims now invest much hope in the democratic western powers (essentially the US, Britain and France) that back the rulers who oppress them, even if, against the odds, they still admire “western” values, science and culture. There is no endemic or intrinsic conflict between Christians and Muslims. Rather, the root of the problem is that a majority of Muslims is convinced that the west – interested only in a stability based on regional strongmen, the security of Israel and cheap oil – is engaged in a war against Islam and is bent on denying them the freedoms it claims for itself. That is why it is so self-defeating to collude in tyranny as ostensibly a lesser evil than political Islam. [more inside]
Daniel Tammet (60 Minutes clips) is a highly functioning autistic savant able to learn Icelandic in a single week and recite PI to 22,500 places. "Savants can't usually tell us how they do what they do. It just comes to them. Daniel can. He could be the ‘Rosetta Stone." Previously on MeFi, he has a new book and movie (Google Video, 48m).
Another incredible cityscape drawn from memory by the amazing Stephen Wiltshire (previously featured). The same clip on YouTube for those who don't like wmv's.
Welcome to Urville, the city that autistic Frenchman Gilles Trehin has been designing since he was 12 years old. The drawings, in particular, are incredible.
The machine that makes you a savant. (NY Times, No registration copy here) Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation sounds sketchy at first, but there is growing evidence this device developed for brain mapping can change and maybe even enhance mental functions, and may (or may not) be especially useful against depression. The results of the first major US trials will come out in 2006, as discussed in this MIT Tech Review article (PDF). Are you ready for one at home?
Put on your thinking caps... literally! How would you like to be able to put on a "thinking cap" to stimulate the the vast, unused, recesses of your mind at will? Such a thing may become a reality sooner rather than later. Welcome to the 21st century! Here is a much more in depth article, and of course the Centre for the Mind website.
World's Smartest? Dumbest? Bookie my son (age 7) asked me the other night how old you had to be before you could get arrested. A good question. Here's an account of "probably the greatest gambling mind in the world," and apparently "the only savant . . . whose gift has run him afoul of the law."