The "Matryoshka Brain"

Over the weekend, the Wall Street Journal published a book review of Year Million, a collection of essays by 14 prominent futurists and thinkers who collectively ponder the fate of mankind, one million years hence. Suffice it to say, the thinkers were encouraged to come up with some fairly outlandish predictions - like this one from computer scientist Robert Bradbury, who predicts the creation of the "matryoshka brain":

"Inevitably, we will leave our bodies entirely behind and evolve into radically different entities. Picture a vast shell-like form surrounding the sun and absorbing all its energy. This is called a Dyson sphere, after Freeman Dyson, the physicist who conceived of it... Now imagine a bunch of nested Dyson spheres that divert all that solar energy into information processing. Borrowing the term for Russian dolls, Mr. Bradbury calls this a 'matrioshka' brain."

If you've never seen a real Russian matryoshka doll, they're great fun -- and you can even pick them up on Etsy these days. In Moscow, the so-called "nesting dolls" (a translation that I've always abhorred) are found in countless flavors and assortments that might appeal to tourists (including ones devoted to NBA basketball stars and Disney characters). The last time I was in Russia, a favorite was the Putin matryoshka - a huge Putin, which opened up to a smaller Yeltsin, which opened up to an even smaller Gorbachev, which opened up to an even smaller Brezhnev, which opened up to an even smaller Kruschchev, which opened up to an even smaller Stalin, which opened up to an even smaller Lenin...

[image: Matryoshka Doll via Etsy]

Should you defend the free speech rights of neo-Nazis?

Former president of the ACLU Nadine Strossen discusses whether our society should always defend free speech rights, even for groups who would oppose such rights.

Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • Former ACLU president Nadine Strossen understands that protecting free speech rights isn't always a straightforward proposition.
  • In this video, Strossen describes the reasoning behind why the ACLU defended the free speech rights of neo-Nazis in Skokie, Illinois, 1977.
  • The opinions expressed in this video do not necessarily reflect the views of the Charles Koch Foundation, which encourages the expression of diverse viewpoints within a culture of civil discourse and mutual respect.
Keep reading Show less

Become an intellectual explorer: Master the art of conversation

Want to be smarter than you were yesterday? Learn to have better conversations using these 3 design principles.

Sponsored by the Institute for Humane Studies
  • What is a great conversation? They are the ones that leave us feeling smarter or more curious, with a sense that we have discovered something, understood something about another person, or have been challenged.
  • There are 3 design principles that lead to great conversations: humility, critical thinking, and sympathetic listening.
  • Critical thinking is the celebrated cornerstone of liberalism, but next time you're in a challenging and rewarding conversation, try to engage sympathetic listening too. Understanding why another intelligent person holds ideas that are at odds with your own is often more enlightening than merely hunting for logic errors.
Keep reading Show less

New alternative to Trump's wall would create jobs, renewable energy, and increase border security

A consortium of scientists and engineers have proposed that the U.S. and Mexico build a series of guarded solar, wind, natural gas and desalination facilities along the entirety of the border.

Credit: Purdue University photo/Jorge Castillo Quiñones
Politics & Current Affairs
  • The proposal was recently presented to several U.S. members of Congress.
  • The plan still calls for border security, considering all of the facilities along the border would be guarded and connected by physical barriers.
  • It's undoubtedly an expensive and complicated proposal, but the team argues that border regions are ideal spots for wind and solar energy, and that they could use the jobs and fresh water the energy park would create.
Keep reading Show less

Belly fat: Gut bacteria checks could lead to personalized diets

The reason one diet does not suit all may be found in our guts.

Media for Medical / Getty Images
Surprising Science
  • New research shows that there's no one diet that works for everyone.
  • Instead, gut bacteria may hold the key to personalized diet plans.
  • A future doctor may check gut bacteria to offer diet advice.
Keep reading Show less