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Turn any place on earth into a New York street corner
ExtendNY stretches the Big Apple's gridiron all across the globe – with some bizarre effects
- Manhattan's street grid is famously regular and predictable. What if you extended it across the globe?
- This web tool does exactly that, and in the process, turning New York into the world's first, last, and only "planetary city."
- But grids are square, and the world is not. Somewhere in Uzbekistan, global Manhattan goes haywire.
Can't afford to live in New York? Yes, you can, and it won't even cost you a penny. In fact, you don't even have to move there. The Manhattan gridiron will come to you instead!
New York, but from the comfort of your own home
A nifty website called ExtendNY has rolled out the iconic street grid across the entire planet. You can now enjoy a real New York address at the corner of Such-and-such Street and This-and-that Avenue from the comfort of your own home.
New York may no longer be the biggest city in the world – Tokyo snatched that title somewhere in the second half of the 20th century – but the Big Apple still has a better claim than most other cities to be the Capital of the World.
It's a city built by immigrants, home to people of every persuasion and complexion, speaking languages from all across the globe. Countless screens reflect the city's skyline, cityscape, and frenetic energy back to the rest of the world.
Even first-time visitors feel oddly at home between the familiar bridges, yellow cabs, and skyscrapers of Manhattan. Plenty of locally-set movies and series – in turn glitzy or gritty – have seen to that.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson – born in New York, by the way – hasn't really left the city: Number 10 Downing Street also has a Manhattan-style address.Credit: ExtendNY
So it feels weirdly appropriate that ExtendNY, devised in 2011 by Harold Cooper, should allow New York to cover the entire planet and become not just the capital of the world, but a synonym for the world itself. New York is the first, last, and only planetary city the planet needs.
Boris Johnson and Angela Merkel, New York socialites
As a result, a lot of famous addresses the world over get an equally iconic New York one as well. The British Prime Minister, currently Boris Johnson, famously works out of Number 10 Downing Street in London. Ah yes, but that's also on the corner of 63,708th Street and E 10,894th Avenue in New York.
His opposite number in Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel, resides in the Bundeskanzleramt, overlooking the river Spree in Berlin. Or, when she daydreams of a slightly different life: the corner of 75,490th Street and E 11,126 Avenue in New York.
A new meaning to the Upper East Side
Can't get away from New York. Even the top of Mount Everest is a street corner in the Big Apple. Credit: ExtendNY
Even natural features don't escape global New York. The top of Mount Everest, on the border of China and Nepal? The corner of 96,104th Street and 67,128th Avenue. The actual North Pole? The map looks a bit funny, but the address is credible enough: the corner of 58,725th Street and 12,993 Avenue.
Similarly, the Eiffel Tower, the Ka'aba in Mecca, or your own place – all are now distant suburbs of NYC.
Uzbekistan: the nexus of the universe
The weirdest bit of global New York is a place in Uzbekistan, where a street reduced to a single point intersects with all the avenues. Credit: ExtendNY
Because the grid is rectangular and the earth is not, there are a few points where Global New York runs into bizarro territory. In remotest Uzbekistan, ExtendNY's gridiron arrives at a strange point, where the succession of streets have condensed into one that consists only of a single point – 127,001st Street – which intersects with all of Global New York's Avenues. That mind-bending street corner is mirrored by a similar opposite in the South Pacific. As Kramer suggested, this could be the nexus of the universe — in Global New York, anyway.
Although Manhattan's grid may strike us as thoroughly modern, gridded cities are by no means a recent invention. In French, a grid plan is called a plan hippodamien, after the ancient Greek architect Hippodamus of Miletus (5th century BC), a.k.a. the 'father of European urban planning'.
The loneliness of Stuyvesant Street
However, like most cities in the Old World, the oldest ones in the New World grew up unplanned. In New Amsterdam, which occupied the southern tip of Manhattan, the streets followed old native trails, cow paths, and property lines, and generally the lay of the land.
Stuyvesant Street is a poignant and lonely relic of one of several attempts to impose order on that chaos. Sitting awkwardly between 2nd and 3rd Avenues, it is one of the very few streets in Manhattan to be aligned almost perfectly east to west.
In the late 18th century, the City commissioned Casimir Goerck to subdivide its Common Lands, in the middle of Manhattan, into sellable lots. Goerck's name is now largely forgotten, quite literally. The small street in the Lower East Side that once carried his name was rebranded Baruch Place in 1933. But his plan, in the words of historian Gerard Koeppel, is "modern Manhattan's Rosetta Stone."
Goerck oriented streets 29 degrees east of due north, in order to align with the shape of the island itself, and devised a standard of five-acre blocks, two features which would come back in the famous Commissioners' Plan of 1811. Goerck's East, Middle and West Roads would become 4th, 5th, and 6th Avenues. In fact, the Commissioners' Plan is essentially an expansion of Goerck's grid laid out over the Common Lands.
An 1807 map of the Commissioners' Plan, clearly showing the planned city blocks extending from North Street (circled, left) to 155th Street (circled, right). Credit: Harper's New Monthly Magazine (June 1893), public domain.
The Plan proposed a city grid north of Lower Manhattan, from Houston Street (pronounced "house-ton" and not "hyoos-ton", by the way; then appropriately called "North Street") up to 155th Street – with two exceptions:
- Greenwich Village, then independent from New York City, was excluded – hence the visibly different orientation of the streets in "the Village."
- 10th Avenue went well beyond 155th Street, all the way up to the northern tip of Manhattan.
The Commission adopted Goerck's gridiron as the most practical layout for the city, as "straight-sided and right-angled houses are the most cheap to build and the most convenient to live in." In its predictability and repetition, the gridiron was a reflection of "republican" values such as plainness and uniformity, order, and equity.
In all, the Plan created about 2,000 city blocks. It took about 60 years for that grid to be filled in – but alterations were made, the biggest of which was the establishment of Central Park. Created in 1857 and completed in 1876, it runs from 59th up to 110th street, and from Fifth to Eight Avenues. It takes up 843 acres or just over 6 percent of the entire island of Manhattan.
From the 1860s onward, the grid was essentially extended northward, despite the fact that the difficult terrain necessitated some alterations.
Manhattan, Sartre's "Great American Desert"
Broadway, which originally only went up to 10th Street, was eventually joined up with other roads north, until it reached Spuyten Duyvil at the top of Manhattan in 1899. Its angled intersections with the grid helped create some of New York's most emblematic open spaces, including Times Square, Madison Square, and Union Square.
Walt Whitman (pictured here around 1870, about 50 years old) could wax lyrical about New York (see Strange Maps #842: Whitman Poem Transformed into a Map of Brooklyn), but wasn't a fan of the grid. Credit: From Henry Bryan Binns: A Life of Walt Whitman (1902), public domain.
From the start, the plan had come in for harsh criticism. In more recent times, it's been praised as visionary. Here are some put-downs by famous voices:
- Alexis de Tocqueville, the French philosopher famous for his observations of the newly independent U.S., criticized the Plan's "relentless monotony."
- Poet and journalist Walt Whitman wrote that "our perpetual dead flat and streets cutting each other at right angles, are certainly the last thing in the world consistent with beauty of situation."
- And architect Frederick Law Olmsted, who would go on to design Central Park, lamented that "no city is more unfortunately planned with reference to metropolitan attractiveness."
- "Rectangular New York," in the words of writer Edith Wharton, is "this cramped horizontal gridiron of a town without towers, porticoes, fountains or perspectives, hide-bound in its deadly uniformity of mean ugliness."
- Lamenting its "deadly monotony", architect Frank Lloyd Wright called the grid a "man trap of gigantic dimensions."
- In his essay on New York called "Manhattan: The Great American Desert," French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre wrote that "amid the numerical anonymity of streets and avenues, I am simply anyone, anywhere, since one place is so like another. I am never astray, but always lost."
Piet Mondrian's Broadway Boogie Woogie (1942-43) is "an optical vibration that jumps from intersection to intersection like traffic on the streets of New York."Credit: public domain; the picture is part of the collection of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York.
- In his 1987 book Delirious New York, Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas called it "the most courageous act of prediction on Western civilization."
- Earlier, his fellow Dutchman, the artist Piet Mondrian, had transferred his admiration for the vibrancy of the grid to canvas, as Broadway Boogie Woogie (1942-43).
- The Uruguayan architect Rafael Viñoly called it "the best manifestation of American pragmatism in the creation of urban form."
- Hilary Ballon, curator of "The Greatest Grid" on the occasion of its bicentennial in 2011, said that "New York's street system creates such transparency and accessibility that the grid serves as metaphor for the openness of New York itself."
- "It may not be every urban planner's beau ideal, but as a machine for urban living, the grid is pretty perfect," said economist Edward Glaeser.
- Not all French philosophers hated Manhattan. "This is the purpose of New York's geometry," wrote Roland Barthes: "that each individual should be poetically the owner of the capital of the world."
Welcome to / Bienvenue à Haussmanhattan
It's doubtful whether it was Barthes' words that spurred Mr. Cooper to devise his web tool; but thanks to ExtendNY, every place on earth is now a poetic extension of the capital of the world.
For another example of Manhattan's global appeal, check out Haussmanhattan, a visual project by architect/photographer Luis Fernandes that mashes up the early 20th-century architectures of New York and Paris, after the latter's renovation by Georges-Eugène Haussmann.
Manhattan's Flatiron Building fits in well at the pointier end of the Île de la Cité at the center of Paris. Credit: Haussmanhattan, by Luis Fernandes.
Check out ExtendNY here. For a slightly less ambitious plan to extend New York, check out Strange Maps #486: The Failed Plan to Build a "Really Greater New York".
Strange Maps #1087
Got a strange map? Let me know at email@example.com.
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A Harvard professor's study discovers the worst year to be alive.
- Harvard professor Michael McCormick argues the worst year to be alive was 536 AD.
- The year was terrible due to cataclysmic eruptions that blocked out the sun and the spread of the plague.
- 536 ushered in the coldest decade in thousands of years and started a century of economic devastation.
The past year has been nothing but the worst in the lives of many people around the globe. A rampaging pandemic, dangerous political instability, weather catastrophes, and a profound change in lifestyle that most have never experienced or imagined.
But was it the worst year ever?
Nope. Not even close. In the eyes of the historian and archaeologist Michael McCormick, the absolute "worst year to be alive" was 536.
Why was 536 so bad? You could certainly argue that 1918, the last year of World War I when the Spanish Flu killed up to 100 million people around the world, was a terrible year by all accounts. 1349 could also be considered on this morbid list as the year when the Black Death wiped out half of Europe, with up to 20 million dead from the plague. Most of the years of World War II could probably lay claim to the "worst year" title as well. But 536 was in a category of its own, argues the historian.
It all began with an eruption...
According to McCormick, Professor of Medieval History at Harvard University, 536 was the precursor year to one of the worst periods of human history. It featured a volcanic eruption early in the year that took place in Iceland, as established by a study of a Swiss glacier carried out by McCormick and the glaciologist Paul Mayewski from the Climate Change Institute of The University of Maine (UM) in Orono.
The ash spewed out by the volcano likely led to a fog that brought an 18-month-long stretch of daytime darkness across Europe, the Middle East, and portions of Asia. As wrote the Byzantine historian Procopius, "For the sun gave forth its light without brightness, like the moon, during the whole year." He also recounted that it looked like the sun was always in eclipse.
Cassiodorus, a Roman politician of that time, wrote that the sun had a "bluish" color, the moon had no luster, and "seasons seem to be all jumbled up together." What's even creepier, he described, "We marvel to see no shadows of our bodies at noon."
...that led to famine...
The dark days also brought a period of coldness, with summer temperatures falling by 1.5° C. to 2.5° C. This started the coldest decade in the past 2300 years, reports Science, leading to the devastation of crops and worldwide hunger.
...and the fall of an empire
In 541, the bubonic plague added considerably to the world's misery. Spreading from the Roman port of Pelusium in Egypt, the so-called Plague of Justinian caused the deaths of up to one half of the population of the eastern Roman Empire. This, in turn, sped up its eventual collapse, writes McCormick.
Between the environmental cataclysms, with massive volcanic eruptions also in 540 and 547, and the devastation brought on by the plague, Europe was in for an economic downturn for nearly all of the next century, until 640 when silver mining gave it a boost.
Was that the worst time in history?
Of course, the absolute worst time in history depends on who you were and where you lived.
Native Americans can easily point to 1520, when smallpox, brought over by the Spanish, killed millions of indigenous people. By 1600, up to 90 percent of the population of the Americas (about 55 million people) was wiped out by various European pathogens.
Like all things, the grisly title of "worst year ever" comes down to historical perspective.
Quantum theory has weird implications. Trying to explain them just makes things weirder.
- The weirdness of quantum theory flies in the face of what we experience in our everyday lives.
- Quantum weirdness quickly created a split in the physics community, each side championed by a giant: Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr.
- As two recent books espousing opposing views show, the debate still rages on nearly a century afterward. Each "resolution" comes with a high price tag.
Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr, two giants of 20th century science, espoused very different worldviews.
To Einstein, the world was ultimately rational. Things had to make sense. They should be quantifiable and expressible through a logical chain of cause-and-effect interactions, from what we experience in our everyday lives all the way to the depths of reality. To Bohr, we had no right to expect any such order or rationality. Nature, at its deepest level, need not follow any of our expectations of well-behaved determinism. Things could be weird and non-deterministic, so long as they became more like what we expect when we traveled from the world of atoms to our world of trees, frogs, and cars. Bohr divided the world into two realms, the familiar classical world, and the unfamiliar quantum world. They should be complementary to one another but with very different properties.
The two scientists spent decades arguing about the impact of quantum physics on the nature of reality. Each had groups of physicists as followers, all of them giants of their own. Einstein's group of quantum weirdness deniers included quantum physics pioneers Max Planck, Louis de Broglie, and Erwin Schrödinger, while Bohr's group had Werner Heisenberg (of uncertainty principle fame), Max Born, Wolfgang Pauli, and Paul Dirac.
Almost a century afterward, the debate rages on.
Einstein vs. Bohr, Redux
Two books — one authored by Sean Carroll and published last fall and another published very recently and authored by Carlo Rovelli — perfectly illustrate how current leading physicists still cannot come to terms with the nature of quantum reality. The opposing positions still echo, albeit with many modern twists and experimental updates, the original Einstein-Bohr debate.
Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr, two giants of 20th century science, espoused very different worldviews.
I summarized the ongoing dispute in my book The Island of Knowledge: Are the equations of quantum physics a computational tool that we use to make sense of the results of experiments (Bohr), or are they supposed to be a realistic representation of quantum reality (Einstein)? In other words, are the equations of quantum theory the way things really are or just a useful map?
Einstein believed that quantum theory, as it stood in the 1930s and 1940s, was an incomplete description of the world of the very small. There had to be an underlying level of reality, still unknown to us, that made sense of all its weirdness. De Broglie and, later, David Bohm, proposed an extension of the quantum theory known as hidden variable theory that tried to fill in the gap. It was a brilliant attempt to appease the urge Einstein and his followers had for an orderly natural world, predictable and reasonable. The price — and every attempt to deal with the problem of figuring out quantum theory has a price tag — was that the entire universe had to participate in determining the behavior of every single electron and all other quantum particles, implicating the existence of a strange cosmic order.
Later, in the 1960s, physicist John Bell proved a theorem that put such ideas to the test. A series of remarkable experiments starting in the 1970s and still ongoing have essentially disproved the de Broglie-Bohm hypothesis, at least if we restrict their ideas to what one would call "reasonable," that is, theories that have local interactions and causes. Omnipresence — what physicists call nonlocality — is a hard pill to swallow in physics.
Credit: Public domain
Yet, the quantum phenomenon of superposition insists on keeping things weird. Here's one way to picture quantum superposition. In a kind of psychedelic dream state, imagine that you had a magical walk-in closet filled with identical shirts, the only difference between them being their color. What's magical about this closet? Well, as you enter this closet, you split into identical copies of yourself, each wearing a shirt of a different color. There is a you wearing a blue shirt, another a red, another a white, etc., all happily coexisting. But as soon as you step out of the closet or someone or something opens the door, only one you emerges, wearing a single shirt. Inside the closet, you are in a superposition state with your other selves. But in the "real" world, the one where others see you, only one copy of you exists, wearing a single shirt. The question is whether the inside superposition of the many yous is as real as the one you that emerges outside.
To Einstein, the world was ultimately rational... To Bohr, we had no right to expect any such order or rationality.
The (modern version of the) Einstein team would say yes. The equations of quantum physics must be taken as the real description of what's going on, and if they predict superposition, so be it. The so-called wave function that describes this superposition is an essential part of physical reality. This point is most dramatically exposed by the many-worlds interpretation of quantum physics, espoused in Carroll's book. For this interpretation, reality is even weirder: the closet has many doors, each to a different universe. Once you step out, all of your copies step out together, each into a parallel universe. So, if I happen to see you wearing a blue shirt in this universe, in another, I'll see you wearing a red one. The price tag for the many-worlds interpretation is to accept the existence of an uncountable number of non-communicating parallel universes that enact all possibilities from a superstition state. In a parallel universe, there was no COVID-19 pandemic. Not too comforting.
Bohm's team would say take things as they are. If you stepped out of the closet and someone saw you wearing a shirt of a given color, then this is the one. Period. The weirdness of your many superposing selves remains hidden in the quantum closet. Rovelli defends his version of this worldview, called relational interpretation, in which events are defined by the interactions between the objects involved, be them observers or not. In this example, the color of your shirt is the property at stake, and when I see it, I am entangled with this specific shirt of yours. It could have been another color, but it wasn't. As Rovelli puts it, "Entanglement… is the manifestation of one object to another, in the course of an interaction, in which the properties of the objects become actual." The price to pay here is to give up the hope of ever truly understanding what goes on in the quantum world. What we measure is what we get and all we can say about it.
What should we believe?
Both Carroll and Rovelli are master expositors of science to the general public, with Rovelli being the more lyrical of the pair.
There is no resolution to be expected, of course. I, for one, am more inclined to Bohr's worldview and thus to Rovelli's, although the interpretation I am most sympathetic to, called QBism, is not properly explained in either book. It is much closer in spirit to Rovelli's, in that relations are essential, but it places the observer on center stage, given that information is what matters in the end. (Although, as Rovelli acknowledges, information is a loaded word.)
We create theories as maps for us human observers to make sense of reality. But in the excitement of research, we tend to forget the simple fact that theories and models are not nature but our representations of nature. Unless we nurture hopes that our theories are really how the world is (the Einstein camp) and not how we humans describe it (the Bohr camp), why should we expect much more than this?
Maybe eyes really are windows into the soul — or at least into the brain, as a new study finds.
- Researchers find a correlation between pupil size and differences in cognitive ability.
- The larger the pupil, the higher the intelligence.
- The explanation for why this happens lies within the brain, but more research is needed.
What can you tell by looking into someone's eyes? You can spot a glint of humor, signs of tiredness, or maybe that they don't like something or someone.
But outside of assessing an emotional state, a person's eyes may also provide clues about their intelligence, suggests new research. A study carried out at the Georgia Institute of Technology shows that pupil size is "closely related" to differences in intelligence between individuals.
The scientists found that larger pupils may be connected to higher intelligence, as demonstrated by tests that gauged reasoning skills, memory, and attention. In fact, the researchers claim that the relationship of intelligence to pupil size is so pronounced, that it came across their previous two studies as well and can be spotted just with your naked eyes, without any additional scientific instruments. You should be able to tell who scored the highest or the lowest on the cognitive tests just by looking at them, say the researchers.
The pupil-IQ link
The connection was first noticed across memory tasks, looking at pupil dilations as signs of mental effort. The studies involved more than 500 people aged 18 to 35 from the Atlanta area. The subjects' pupil sizes were measured by eye trackers, which use a camera and a computer to capture light reflecting off the pupil and cornea. As the scientists explained in Scientific American, pupil diameters range from two to eight millimeters. To determine average pupil size, they took measurements of the pupils at rest when the participants were staring at a blank screen for a few minutes.
Another part of the experiment involved having the subjects take a series of cognitive tests that evaluated "fluid intelligence" (the ability to reason when confronted with new problems), "working memory capacity" (how well people could remember information over time), and "attention control" (the ability to keep focusing attention even while being distracted). An example of the latter involves a test that attempts to divert a person's focus on a disappearing letter by showing a flickering asterisk on another part of the screen. If a person pays too much attention to the asterisk, they might miss the letter.
The conclusions of the research were that having a larger baseline pupil size was related to greater fluid intelligence, having more attention control, and even greater working memory capacity, although to a smaller extent. In an email exchange with Big Think, author Jason Tsukahara pointed out, "It is important to consider that what we find is a correlation — which should not be confused with causation."
The researchers also found that pupil size seemed to decrease with age. Older people had more constricted pupils but when the scientists standardized for age, the pupil-size-to-intelligence connection still remained.
Why are pupils linked to intelligence?
The connection between pupil size and IQ likely resides within the brain. Pupil size has been previously connected to the locus coeruleus, a part of the brain that's responsible for synthesizing the hormone and neurotransmitter norepinephrine (noradrenaline), which mobilizes the brain and body for action. Activity in the locus coeruleus affects our perception, attention, memory, and learning processes.
As the authors explain, this region of the brain "also helps maintain a healthy organization of brain activity so that distant brain regions can work together to accomplish challenging tasks and goals." Because it is so important, loss of function in the locus coeruleus has been linked to conditions like Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's, clinical depression, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
The researchers hypothesize that people who have larger pupils while in a restful state, like staring at a blank computer screen, have "greater regulation of activity by the locus coeruleus." This leads to better cognitive performance. More research is necessary, however, to truly understand why having larger pupils is related to higher intelligence.
In an email to Big Think, Tsukahara shared, "If I had to speculate, I would say that it is people with greater fluid intelligence that develop larger pupils, but again at this point we only have correlational data."
Do other scientists believe this?
As the scientists point out in the beginning of their paper, their conclusions are controversial and, so far, other researchers haven't been able to duplicate their results. The research team addresses this criticism by explaining that other studies had methodological issues and examined only memory capacity but not fluid intelligence, which is what they measured.