Amendments to the U.S. Constitution
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The 2nd Amendment: How the gun control debate went crazy
The gun control debate has been at fever pitch for several years now, and as things fail to change the stats get grimmer. The New York Times reports that there have been 239 school shootings nationwide since the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary school massacre, where 20 first graders and six adults were killed. Six years later, 438 more people have been shot in schools, and for 138 of them it was fatal. Here, journalist and author Kurt Andersen reads the Second Amendment, and explains its history from 1791 all the way to now. "What people need to know is that the Second Amendment only recently became such a salient amendment," says Andersen. It's only in the last 50 years that the gun debate has gone haywire, and it was the moment the NRA went from reasonable to absolutist. So what does the "right to bear arms" really mean? What was a firearm in the 1790s, and what is a firearm now? "Compared to [the] many, many, many rounds-per-second firearms that we have today, it's the same word but virtually a different machine." Kurt Andersen is the author of Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire.
The 5th Amendment: Do not break in case of emergency
The Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution is often talked about but rarely read in full. The reason? Counterterrorism expert Amaryllis Fox explains that it has, these days, simply become shorthand for not saying anything in court to incriminate yourself. But the full text states how important the due process of law is to every American. So perhaps learning the full text, not just the shorthand, is an important step to being an American citizen. You can find out more about Amaryllis Fox here.
The 13th Amendment: The unjust prison to profit pipeline
The 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution abolished slavery—but it still remains legal under one condition. The amendment reads: "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction." Today in America, big corporations profit of cheap prison labor in both privatized and state-run prisons. Shaka Senghor knows this second wave of slavery well—he spent 19 years in jail, working for a starting wage of 17 cents per hour, in a prison where a 15-minute phone call costs between $3-$15. In this video, he shares the exploitation that goes on in American prisons, and how the 13th Amendment allows slavery to continue. He also questions the profit incentive to incarcerate in this country: why does America represent less than 5% of the world's population, but almost 25% of the world's prisoners? Shaka Senghor's latest venture is Mind Blown Media.
The 14th Amendment: History's most radical idea?
In 1868, three years after slavery was abolished, the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was adopted, granting equal protection under the law to every born and naturalized U.S. citizen. For CNN news commentator Van Jones this amendment is, in his words, the "whole enchilada." It's not the most popular amendment—it doesn't get name-dropped in TV courtroom dramas, or fiercely debated before elections—but to Jones it is a weighty principle that was far ahead of its time. "It doesn't say equal protection under the law unless you're a lesbian. That's not what it says. It doesn't say equal protection under the law unless you're African American. That's not what it says. It says if you're in the jurisdiction you get equal protection under the law. That's radical. In 10,000 years of human history, that's radical." Van Jones is the author of Beyond the Messy Truth: How We Came Apart, How We Come Together.
The 26th Amendment: The act of voting should empower people
Is a 55.7% voter turnout really enough? Bryan Cranston was disappointed with the 2016 presidential election, not for the outcome but for the process. According to Census Bureau figures it was a bumper year for voter engagement with 137.5 million total ballots cast—but is just over half of the eligible voters really that impressive? The Pew Research Center shows that the U.S. still trails behind most developed nations in voter registration and turnout. "I think we've devalued the honor and privilege of voting and we've become complacent, and maybe a bit cynical about our place and rights as citizens and our duties and responsibilities," says Cranston. The good news? Millennials and Gen Xers are on an upward trend in civic engagement, casting more votes than Boomers and older generations in the 2016 election. Cranston reminds us of how empowering the 26th Amendment is in granting voting rights to Americans over the age of 18. "We can't take that lightly," says Cranston. It's a timely reminder too, as 40 million people are expected to drop off that 55.7% figure for the midterm elections, mostly from the millennial, unmarried women and people of color demographics. Bryan Cranston's new book is the spectacular memoir A Life in Parts.
Lev Landau (1908-1968) was one of Soviet Union's best physicists. He made contributions to nuclear theory, quantum field theory, and astrophysics, among others. In 1962, he won a Nobel Prize in Physics for developing the mathematical theory of superfluidity. Landau also wrote an immensely influential textbook on physics, teaching generations of scientists.
A brilliant mind, Landau liked to classify everything in his life. He ranked people by their intelligence, beauty (he had a penchant for blondes), contributions to science, how they dressed, and even how they talked – often with a healthy dose of sarcasm.
One of the most famous of Landau's classifications that has been passed down is his ranking of the greatest physicists of the 20th century. Of course, it wouldn't have later physicists, as he died in 1968, but these are arguably the most significant names.
This scale is logarithmic, meaning people ranked as rank 1 contributed ten times more (according to Landau) than people ranked as class 2, and so forth. In other words, the higher the number, the less valuable the physicist.
Here's how this scale broke down:
Rank 0.5 – Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955)
Einstein, the creator of the Theory of General Relativity, is in a class of his own. Landau thought he was by far the greatest mind among a very impressive group that redefined modern physics.
Landau added, however, that if the list was to be expanded to scientists of the previous centuries, Isaac Newton (1643 - 1727), the titan of classical physics, would also join Einstein at first place with 0.5.
Rank 0.5 – Albert Einstein
Albert Einstein With Displaced Children From Concentration Camps. 1949.
Photo by Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images
The group in this class of the smartest physicists included the top minds that developed the theories of quantum mechanics.
Werner Heisenberg (1901 - 1976) - a German theoretical physicist, who's achieved pop-culture fame by being the name of Walter White's alter ego in Breaking Bad. He is known for the Heiseinberg Uncertainty Principle and his 1932 Nobel Prize award flatly states it was for nothing less than "the creation of quantum mechanics".
Erwin Schrödinger (1887 - 1961) - an Austrian-Irish physicist who gave us the infamous "Schroedinger's Cat" thought experiment and other mind-benders from quantum mechanics. The Nobel-prize-winner's Schrödinger equation calculates the wave function of a system and how it changes over time.
Erwin Schrödinger. 1933.
Paul Dirac (1902 - 1984) - another quantum mechanics giant, this English theoretical physicist shared the 1933 Nobel Prize with Erwin Schrödinger "for the discovery of new productive forms of atomic theory."
Niels Bohr (1885 - 1962) - a Danish physicist who made founder-level additions to what we know of atomic structure and quantum theory, which led to his 1922 Nobel Prize in Physics.
Satyendra Nath Bose (1894 - 1974) - an Indian mathematician and physicist, known for his quantum mechanics work. He collaborated with Einstein to develop the Bose-Einstein statistics and the theory of the Bose–Einstein condensate. Boson particles are named after him.
Satyendra Nath Bose. 1930s.
Eugene Wigner (1902 - 1995) - a Hungarian-American theoretical physicist who received the 1963 Nobel Prize in Physics for work on the theory of the atomic nucleus and the elementary particles. Famously, he took part in the meeting with Leo Szilard and Albert Einstein that led to them writing a letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt which resulted in the creation of the Manhattan Project.
Louis de Broglie (1892 - 1987) - a French theorist who made key contributions to quantum theory. He proposed the wave nature of electrons, suggesting that all matter has wave properties – an example of the concept of wave-particle duality, central to the theory of quantum mechanics.
Enrico Fermi (1901 - 1954) - an American physicist who's been called the "architect of the nuclear age" as well as the "architect of the Atomic bomb". He also created the world's first nuclear reactor and won the 1938 Nobel Prize in Physics for work on induced radioactivity and for discovering transuranium elements.
Enrico Fermi. 1950s.
Wolfgang Pauli (1900-1958) - an Austrian theoretical theorist, known as one of the pioneers of quantum physics. He won the 1945 Nobel Prize in Physics for discovering a new law of nature – the exclusion principle (aka the Pauli principle) and developing spin theory.
Max Planck (1858-1947) - a German theoretical physicist who won the 1918 Nobel Prize in Physics for energy quanta. He was the originator of quantum theory, the physics of atomic and subatomic processes.
Lev Landau. 1962.
Rank 2.5 is where Landau initially ranked himself, rather modestly, thinking he didn't produce any foundational accomplishments. He later moved his prominence, as his achievement mounted, to the higher 1.5.
Is immigration key to bolstering the American economy? Could having one billion Americans secure the US's position as the global superpower?
Is immigration key to bolstering the American economy? Could having one billion Americans secure the US's position as the global superpower? What if massive population growth could nourish rural economies and strengthen our country from the inside out? Perhaps these questions are provocative fodder for more debate and contention but, for Matthew Yglesias, asking them and arguing about them is part of the American way. Join him in a conversation moderated by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Charles Duhigg as they explore the case for one billion Americans.
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- Physicist proposes that the universe behaves like an artificial neural network.
- The scientist's new paper seeks to reconcile classical physics and quantum mechanics.
- The theory claims that natural selection produces both atoms and "observers".
Does the reality around us work like a neural network, a Matrix-like computer system that operates similar to a human brain? A new physics paper argues that looking at the universe that way can provide the elusive "theory of everything".
This controversial proposal is the brainchild of the University of Minnesota Duluth physics professor Vitaly Vanchurin. In an interview with Futurism, Vanchurin conceded that "the idea is definitely crazy, but if it is crazy enough to be true?"
The scientist developed the theory while exploring the workings of machine learning using statistical mechanics. He found that mechanisms involved in the computer learning were similar in some instances to the dynamics of quantum mechanics.
A computer neural network works via nodes, which mimic biological neurons, processing and passing on signals. As the network learns new information, it changes, giving certain nodes more priority, allowing it to connect bits of information in such a way that next time in will know, for example, what are they key traits of a "zebra".
"We are not just saying that the artificial neural networks can be useful for analyzing physical systems or for discovering physical laws, we are saying that this is how the world around us actually works," writes Vanchurin in the paper. "With this respect it could be considered as a proposal for the theory of everything, and as such it should be easy to prove it wrong."
How do you prove his theory wrong? Vanchurin proposes a way. All you have to do is "find a phenomenon which cannot be modeled with a neural network." That, of course, isn't actually so easy to pull off, as Vanchurin himself points out. We don't fully understand how neural network and machine learning work and need to grasp those processes first.
Vanchurin thinks his idea can accomplish another purpose that has been the goal of modern physics – to reconcile classical physics, which describes how the universe works on a large scale, and quantum mechanics, the study of the atomic and subatomic level of existence. The physicist thinks that if you view the universe as working essentially as a neural network, its behavior under certain conditions can be explained by both the quirky equations of quantum mechanics and the laws of classical physics like the theory of general relativity devised by Albert Einstein.
"The learning dynamics of a neural network can indeed exhibit approximate behaviors described by both quantum mechanics and general relativity," writes Vanchurin in his study.
Diving deeper into his theory, Vanchurin thinks it supports such apparent mechanisms of our world as natural selection. He suggests that in a neural network, particles and atoms, but even us, the "observers" would emerge from a natural-selection-like process. On the microscopic level of the network, some structures would become more stable while some would be less so. The stable ones would survive the evolutionary process, while the less stable ones would not.
'On the smallest scales I expect that the natural selection should produce some very low complexity structures such as chains of neurons, but on larger scales the structures would be more complicated," he shared with Futurism.
He sees little reason why this kind of process would only work on just the small scale, writing in the paper:
"If correct, then what we now call atoms and particles might actually be the outcomes of a long evolution starting from some very low complexity structures and what we now call macroscopic observers and biological cells might be the outcome of an even longer evolution."
While he posits the neural network explanation, Vanchurin doesn't necessarily mean we all live in a computer simulation, like proposed by philosopher Nick Bostrom, adding the caveat that even if we did, "we might never know the difference."
Vanchurin's idea has so far been received with skepticism by other physicists but he is undeterred. You can check out his paper for yourself on ArXiv.
Vanchurin on “Hidden Phenomena”:Vitaly Vanchurin speaking at the 6th International FQXi Conference, "Mind Matters: Intelligence and Agency in the Physical World." The Foundational Questions...
If you've used a dating app, you'll know the importance of choosing good profile pics.
These photos don't just relay attractiveness; a recent study suggested that 43% of people think they can get a sense of someone's personality by their picture. You might guess that someone who has included a photo of themselves hiking is an outdoorsy type of person.
If you're a guy who owns a cat, what kind of effect does it have on suitors if you post a picture posing with your favorite feline?
Prior studies suggested that women do judge a potential male partner based on whether he has pets. While they favor men with dogs, the results showed that they also give men with cats an edge over non-pet owners.
Because of this, we reasoned that men pictured with cats would probably be viewed as more attractive and desirable than men who didn't pose with any animals.
In our study, we recruited 1,388 heterosexual American women from 18 to 24 years old to take a short anonymous online survey. In the survey, we presented them with photos of one of two young white men in their early 20s either posing alone or with a cat. To avoid biasing the women's responses, we randomly presented which photo they saw first. Each participant only rated one man, with and without a cat.
Each time the participants saw a photo, we asked them to rate the man pictured on several personality attributes, including his masculinity, femininity and dateability. We also asked the women if they defined themselves as a "cat person," "dog person," "neither" or "both."
Most of the women found the men holding cats to be less dateable. This result surprised us, since previous studies had shown that women found men with pets to have higher potential as partners. They also thought the men holding cats were less extroverted and more neurotic, agreeable and open. Importantly, they saw these men as less masculine, too.
This last point may explain our findings.
Prior research suggests that women often seek masculine men – both in terms of physical appearance and behaviors. So the fact that women in our study found the photo of the man alone more masculine and more dateable supports the idea that women are likely to look first for clues related to masculinity when determining dateability.
We suspect old cultural norms may be playing a role in the responses. Past research suggests that male femininity and homosexuality are still perceived to be connected. Since cats are sometimes associated more closely with female owners – and therefore, considered a feminine pet – posing with cats may have primed the women taking our survey to default to this outdated trope, despite some popular media efforts to elevate the status of male cat owners.
Alternatively, the perception of male cat owners as less extroverted and more neurotic, agreeable and open may have nudged our respondents to put these men in the "friend zone." In other words, perhaps seeing a man pose with the cat suggests he might be a better confidant than date.
It's important to note that whether the women identified themselves as "cat people," "dog people," "both" or "neither" affected their perceptions. Women who self-identified as "cat people" were more inclined to view the men pictured with cats as more dateable or say they had no preference.
Of course, like any research, our work has its limitations. Our sample is a very specific population – heterosexual, primarily white women, aged 18 to 24 years and living in the United States. We don't know how these results would change if we surveyed, say, bisexual or gender-fluid women, men interested in men or individuals from different cultural backgrounds.
And that's the best part. This is a new, growing area of research, and it's only one of a handful of potential studies on the relationship between pet ownership and first impressions on dating apps. This means we have our work cut out for us.
But in the meantime, if heterosexual men are looking to get a match, it's probably a good idea if they save showing off their photos with their favorite felines for the first or second date.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, conflicts between religious freedom and public health regulations have been playing out in courts around the world.
Churches from California to Maine have flouted public health orders by convening in person, indoors, unmasked and accompanied by choirs. When an underground church in South Korea seeded one of the country's largest outbreaks in February, the government responded by arresting its leader for obstructing contact tracers and violating public health regulations.
I am a historian of science and religion in the Renaissance, and what strikes me as remarkable about the current moment is not that some religious communities are defying public health measures, but that so many religious institutions and individuals are piously working to implement them.
Historical accounts from 17th-century outbreaks of plague in Italy reveal both tensions between religious and public health authorities and also examples for collaboration.
Sites of conflict
In the summer of 1630, a plague epidemic packed the plague hospitals known as "lazaretti" with over 15,000 people in Milan. Smaller towns also faced outbreaks that taxed their community resources.
In the Tuscan town of Prato, public health officials were beginning to doubt the wisdom of treating plague patients at the "lazaretto" located within the city walls. They feared a risk of further infection if the healthy were in such close proximity to the sick.
The city officials needed to identify an alternative location that was far enough to keep the city safe, but close enough that they could conveniently move the sick patients. They determined that the Convent of St. Anne, located a couple of kilometers outside town, should serve as the lazaretto and requisitioned it.
The seizure of church property by the nominally secular powers of the Tuscan grand duke infuriated the friars of St. Anne. They petitioned Grand Duke Ferdinando II de' Medici to overturn the act, but he ignored their objections.
This was not because the grand duke was persecuting Catholics – he ruled a Catholic state, and two of his brothers became cardinals. However, during this outbreak of plague, it appeared that the grand duke deemed such emergency measures to be a necessity.
Limits to jurisdiction
However, the grand duke's jurisdiction did have limits. In late-Renaissance cities, civil authorities could punish citizens for public health infractions, but they did not have direct authority over the clergy.
When a priest in Florence broke quarantine by staying out late at night drinking and playing guitar with family members, the health board punished his sisters but not him.
To discipline priests who broke public health laws, civil authorities had to petition local church officials, like bishops, to intervene. For example, as the plague spread in the Tuscan city of Pistoia in September 1630, public health officers resolved to broach with the archbishop the possibility of emptying the fonts of holy water in case they were spreading disease.
Although no records confirm the outcome, throughout this epidemic the archbishop of Florence repeatedly reinforced the importance of the policies of secular health commissioners.
State and religious officials alike were concerned about plague spreading through air, water and wine and curtailed traditional activities to minimize contagion.
Case of Father Dragoni
Much like today, when civil authorities canceled religious services and ceremonies, local protests ensued.
During the plague outbreak of 1631 in the small Tuscan town of Monte Lupo, a fight broke out between the guards tasked with preventing gatherings and a group of armed civilians from the surrounding countryside and their parish priest.
The worshipers insisted on congregating to pray at the crucifix in the local church and threatened to shoot with an arquebus – a long gun used during the Renaissance period – anyone who got in their way.
The health officer tasked with managing the delicate situation at Monte Lupo was a 60-year-old Dominican friar, Father Giovanni Dragoni, who was both a public health officer and a member of the clergy.
Father Dragoni was stated to be furious with the parish priest for his disregard for the public health measures. He promptly dispatched a message to the regional health commissioner: "It is necessary to take measures against these agitators of the people. The evidence is serious, and … the reverend parish priest is largely responsible for these uprisings."
Father Dragoni was unable to prevent the parish priest and congregants from gathering and feasting. He found himself further burdened the next morning with sorting out the events that had followed the procession, when prayer and feasts had turned into late-night drunken parties of revelers who tore down part of the wooden stockade that had been erected to enforce the quarantine.
When the plague outbreak finally ended and the town reopened, Father Dragoni offered the following report on his own actions: "I have not acted unjustly and have accompanied severity with compassion and charity. … In more than a year that I have held this office, no one has died without sacrament or confession."
In a period that has been characterized by faith's opposition to science, Father Dragoni demonstrated through his actions that carrying out public health measures and God's sacraments went hand in hand.
Then and now
Four centuries later, there are similar examples of religious resistance to public health measures and striking examples of religious collaboration with public health regulations.
Although there are instances of church leaders rallying congregants against public health measures, there are far more examples of people and institutions who, like Father Dragoni, bring together religious devotion and disease control.
When the coronavirus swept into Italy in February, the patriarch of Venice – the bishop – promptly complied with the government's edict to cancel Masses, eagerly doing his part to stem the epidemic. And in the Italian churches around Turin that remained open for private prayer, the cisterns of holy water were promptly emptied.
To be clear, there is a long history of religious resistance to public health measures during disease outbreaks. But cooperation between church and state in attempting to stem the spread of disease has its precedents too.