We Tell Stories to Become Immortal
You can tell stories and then you can die, ultimately, and your stories can continue to have an effect on other people.
Jonathan Harris makes projects that reimagine how humans relate to technology and to each other.
Combining elements of computer science, anthropology, visual art and storytelling, his projects range from building the world’s largest time capsule (with Yahoo!) to documenting an Alaskan Eskimo whale hunt on the Arctic Ocean (with a warm hat).
He is the co-creator of We Feel Fine, which continuously measures the emotional temperature of the human world through large-scale blog analysis, and has made other projects about online dating, modern mythology, happiness, anonymity,news, and language. His latest project is Cowbird, a community of storytellers working to build a public library of human experience.
Jonathan studied photography (with Emmet Gowin) and computer science (with Brian Kernighan) at Princeton University, and went on to win a 2005 Fabrica fellowship and three Webby Awards. His work has also been recognized by AIGA, Ars Electronica, the state of Vermont (for which he co-designed the state quarter), Print Magazine (which named him a 2008New Visual Artist) and The World Economic Forum (which named him a 2009 Young Global Leader).
His work has been exhibited widely at MoMA (New York), Le Centre Pompidou (Paris), The Victoria & Albert Museum (London), The CAFA Art Museum (Beijing), the Garage Center for Contemporary Art (Moscow), and The Pace Gallery (New York), and has been featured on CNN, NPR, BBC, and Bhutanese television.
He has lectured all over the world, including at the TED Conference, Google, Princeton and Stanford Universities, and at least two hippy forest gatherings.
Starting on his 30th birthday, he documented his life for 440 days with one photo and short story a day.
There’s a lot of different techniques that you can employ when using a story. You can frighten people. You can surprise people. You can provoke people. You can make people sad. But those are all techniques. They’re not outcomes.
When I think about the types of stories that I like to tell now, one thing they usually have in common is that somewhere inside of them is what I call a teachable moment and these are things that each of us experience in our individual lives, as we’re living them, whether it’s like a little bit of dialogue that you overhear in a restaurant or the way the sunlight hits something on the wall in a street with people walking by or any of these other things that often you’re the only one to see or you're the only one to hear. And there's a lot of stuff like this in life.
If you don't communicate those things, they won't get known by anyone else, and that's okay. I’m not one of these people who believes that we need to preserve everything, like preserving all memories so that we can just reconstruct humans in the future or something. I think actually death and forgetting is a very important part of life, and it’s actually what allows there to be more space for new life to come along and it provides the raw material for the new life. So I think that cycle is incredibly important to respect.
But that said, I think there are some things that are worth communicating and that are worth preserving. And one thing that a story can do is it can take one of these insights that you discover, one of these teachable moments, and it can package it up in a little narrative unit that can then go traveling around into the world, moving from mouth to mouth and mind to mind and can actually outlive you.
You can tell stories and then you can die, ultimately, and your stories can continue to have an effect on other people.
So stories are way that we can translate and pass down wisdom from one generation to many, many subsequent generations. And I think that's their true power. They resist time and they transform and they transmute, but ultimately the core teaching is always there, even though the language changes a little bit along the way. So I think every great story has that in common, which is that there's a nugget inside of it that's some kind of teachable moment or some kind of teachable unit that's worth preserving.
In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think's studio.
Image courtesy of Shutterstock
It's just the current cycle that involves opiates, but methamphetamine, cocaine, and others have caused the trajectory of overdoses to head the same direction
- It appears that overdoses are increasing exponentially, no matter the drug itself
- If the study bears out, it means that even reducing opiates will not slow the trajectory.
- The causes of these trends remain obscure, but near the end of the write-up about the study, a hint might be apparent
Through computationally intensive computer simulations, researchers have discovered that "nuclear pasta," found in the crusts of neutron stars, is the strongest material in the universe.
- The strongest material in the universe may be the whimsically named "nuclear pasta."
- You can find this substance in the crust of neutron stars.
- This amazing material is super-dense, and is 10 billion times harder to break than steel.
Superman is known as the "Man of Steel" for his strength and indestructibility. But the discovery of a new material that's 10 billion times harder to break than steel begs the question—is it time for a new superhero known as "Nuclear Pasta"? That's the name of the substance that a team of researchers thinks is the strongest known material in the universe.
Unlike humans, when stars reach a certain age, they do not just wither and die, but they explode, collapsing into a mass of neurons. The resulting space entity, known as a neutron star, is incredibly dense. So much so that previous research showed that the surface of a such a star would feature amazingly strong material. The new research, which involved the largest-ever computer simulations of a neutron star's crust, proposes that "nuclear pasta," the material just under the surface, is actually stronger.
The competition between forces from protons and neutrons inside a neutron star create super-dense shapes that look like long cylinders or flat planes, referred to as "spaghetti" and "lasagna," respectively. That's also where we get the overall name of nuclear pasta.
Caplan & Horowitz/arXiv
Diagrams illustrating the different types of so-called nuclear pasta.
The researchers' computer simulations needed 2 million hours of processor time before completion, which would be, according to a press release from McGill University, "the equivalent of 250 years on a laptop with a single good GPU." Fortunately, the researchers had access to a supercomputer, although it still took a couple of years. The scientists' simulations consisted of stretching and deforming the nuclear pasta to see how it behaved and what it would take to break it.
While they were able to discover just how strong nuclear pasta seems to be, no one is holding their breath that we'll be sending out missions to mine this substance any time soon. Instead, the discovery has other significant applications.
One of the study's co-authors, Matthew Caplan, a postdoctoral research fellow at McGill University, said the neutron stars would be "a hundred trillion times denser than anything on earth." Understanding what's inside them would be valuable for astronomers because now only the outer layer of such starts can be observed.
"A lot of interesting physics is going on here under extreme conditions and so understanding the physical properties of a neutron star is a way for scientists to test their theories and models," Caplan added. "With this result, many problems need to be revisited. How large a mountain can you build on a neutron star before the crust breaks and it collapses? What will it look like? And most importantly, how can astronomers observe it?"
Another possibility worth studying is that, due to its instability, nuclear pasta might generate gravitational waves. It may be possible to observe them at some point here on Earth by utilizing very sensitive equipment.
The team of scientists also included A. S. Schneider from California Institute of Technology and C. J. Horowitz from Indiana University.
Check out the study "The elasticity of nuclear pasta," published in Physical Review Letters.
Scientists think constructing a miles-long wall along an ice shelf in Antarctica could help protect the world's largest glacier from melting.
- Rising ocean levels are a serious threat to coastal regions around the globe.
- Scientists have proposed large-scale geoengineering projects that would prevent ice shelves from melting.
- The most successful solution proposed would be a miles-long, incredibly tall underwater wall at the edge of the ice shelves.
The world's oceans will rise significantly over the next century if the massive ice shelves connected to Antarctica begin to fail as a result of global warming.
To prevent or hold off such a catastrophe, a team of scientists recently proposed a radical plan: build underwater walls that would either support the ice or protect it from warm waters.
In a paper published in The Cryosphere, Michael Wolovick and John Moore from Princeton and the Beijing Normal University, respectively, outlined several "targeted geoengineering" solutions that could help prevent the melting of western Antarctica's Florida-sized Thwaites Glacier, whose melting waters are projected to be the largest source of sea-level rise in the foreseeable future.
An "unthinkable" engineering project
"If [glacial geoengineering] works there then we would expect it to work on less challenging glaciers as well," the authors wrote in the study.
One approach involves using sand or gravel to build artificial mounds on the seafloor that would help support the glacier and hopefully allow it to regrow. In another strategy, an underwater wall would be built to prevent warm waters from eating away at the glacier's base.
The most effective design, according to the team's computer simulations, would be a miles-long and very tall wall, or "artificial sill," that serves as a "continuous barrier" across the length of the glacier, providing it both physical support and protection from warm waters. Although the study authors suggested this option is currently beyond any engineering feat humans have attempted, it was shown to be the most effective solution in preventing the glacier from collapsing.
Source: Wolovick et al.
An example of the proposed geoengineering project. By blocking off the warm water that would otherwise eat away at the glacier's base, further sea level rise might be preventable.
But other, more feasible options could also be effective. For example, building a smaller wall that blocks about 50% of warm water from reaching the glacier would have about a 70% chance of preventing a runaway collapse, while constructing a series of isolated, 1,000-foot-tall columns on the seafloor as supports had about a 30% chance of success.
Still, the authors note that the frigid waters of the Antarctica present unprecedently challenging conditions for such an ambitious geoengineering project. They were also sure to caution that their encouraging results shouldn't be seen as reasons to neglect other measures that would cut global emissions or otherwise combat climate change.
"There are dishonest elements of society that will try to use our research to argue against the necessity of emissions' reductions. Our research does not in any way support that interpretation," they wrote.
"The more carbon we emit, the less likely it becomes that the ice sheets will survive in the long term at anything close to their present volume."
A 2015 report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine illustrates the potentially devastating effects of ice-shelf melting in western Antarctica.
"As the oceans and atmosphere warm, melting of ice shelves in key areas around the edges of the Antarctic ice sheet could trigger a runaway collapse process known as Marine Ice Sheet Instability. If this were to occur, the collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) could potentially contribute 2 to 4 meters (6.5 to 13 feet) of global sea level rise within just a few centuries."
SMARTER FASTER trademarks owned by The Big Think, Inc. All rights reserved.