Pursue Paradox to Shift Perspective, with Jonathon Keats
Keats explains how he combined string theory with San Francisco real estate to explore the relationships between paradoxical concepts.
Jonathon Keats is a San Francisco-based experimental philosopher who has, over the years, sold real estate in the extra dimensions of space-time proposed by string theory (he sold a hundred and seventy-two extra-dimensional lots in the Bay Area in a single day); made an attempt to genetically engineer God (God turns out to be related to the cyanobacterium); and copyrighted his own mind (in order to get a seventy-year post-life extension.
Keats's bold experiments raise serious questions and put into practice his conviction that the world needs more "curious amateurs," willing to explore publicly whatever intrigues them, in defiance of a culture that increasingly forecloses on wonder and siloes knowledge into narrowly defined areas of expertise.
Jonathon Keats: Around six or seven years ago San Francisco, the city where I live, was going through a real estate boom. Being an experimental philosopher I didn't have a lot of money to invest and at the same time I didn't want to completely stand on the sidelines and let this happen without in someway participating, in someway partaking of this extraordinary transformation of my city. Happily I had been reading some string theory, which proved to be remarkably useful for purposes of participating in the real estate market with the small resources that I had. Namely the amount of money I had in my wallet, which was probably not more than $20 or $30. String theory is fascinating for the fact that it reconciles quantum mechanics and general relativity, the two greatest explanations that we have of the fundamental forces of nature in the universe for the first time arguably, but with certain caveats. That is to say that string theory works on the basis that they're being more than three dimensions of space. There need to be, well it's a different number depending on who you talk to but at least you would want 11 perhaps more. These dimensions are of course nothing that we have ever experienced. And the explanation is that there curled up very small. That is they're planck length or ten to the negative 35th meters. And we don't even notice them. In fact our largest equipment, the Large Hadron Collider, would not penetrate at the scale that we're talking about because you would need one the size of our solar system to be able to probe at that small-scale.
So string theory is somewhat speculative. Well, real estate is also somewhat speculative so I decided it was what I would do is I would take string theory and these extra dimensions of space as a basis of a real estate gambit that would begin by my approaching people and offering to purchase the rights to develop in those extra dimensions of space using the legal framework of air rights. Air rights are typically used for purchasing the sky above a plot of land. And this has been a process that has been used in the United States and elsewhere for a very long time. So there was a good president for it and I could write contracts on that basis. Delving into the latest realm of physics at it's most speculative by finding people who had real estate and therefore had no reason why they couldn't sell those extra dimensions and not a lot of reason to hold onto them. So I purchased extra dimensional real estate, that is to say the rights to develop the extra dimensions of approximately seven properties in the San Francisco bay area. And then opened a real estate office in which I subdivided and offered subdivisions at deeply discounted prices.
I took the Zillow price for each property and I slashed it by a million so that you were able to purchase properties for several cents, a few dollars. It was something that anyone could buy into.
There's something paradoxical about science in the age of string theory. That is to say that science is based on observation. You make an observation about the ground under your feet or the sky above your head and you build a theory on that basis. And that theory is a tool by which you are able to make keener observations and so forth and we get from ancient to present systems of science and they get more and more sophisticated as they go. However string theory posits that there are extra dimensions of space that may not only be beyond anything that has ever experimentally been probed but might experimentally not be probable. In other words that science, through this iterative process of observation and theory, may reach a point where paradoxically the theory does not allow for a subsequent observation. That might be a -- that might be a cause for midlife crisis were I a scientist.
But as an experimental philosopher it seems to me to be an extraordinary opportunity because real estate also is a very strange concept. The idea of owning land, which has always been there and will be there long after were gone, the idea that something as abstract as real estate can pertain to something as concrete as physical as the earth itself seems to me to be one of these unseen paradoxes, one of these undiscussed qualities of a system that we all take for granted. So by taking string theory and applying into real estate, real estate becomes problematized by that process. And people transact my buying land in those extra dimensions in a way that makes them part of that whole problematic system. And that potentially becomes a way in which we can think about real estate with a greater degree of specificity or at least from a different perspective than we did before. At the same time I think that real estate, because it's something that is familiar to all of us and something that we can transact in almost as a matter of course, provides a means by which we can probe physics today and the meaning of physics when physics extends beyond what is testable when science becomes in a sense inherently unscientific by its own scientific process. We're going to have to grapple with that perhaps because string theory still seems to be the best system going.
So how do we deal with that? What does science become when science reaches that point? I think that when we get outside of the laboratory, or many of us who never would enter into the lab, start taking part in that conversation that we prepare ourselves for what is a deep philosophical change that perhaps may take place in our society as science advances beyond the stage that it is currently reached.
A paradox may seem like a dead end. And you probably reach dead ends or what appeared to be dead ends on a pretty regular basis in your life. I know that I do. I think that this is why life is as frustrating as it can be. But dead ends need not be so dead after all. If you take a dead end and you apply it to another dead end you have nothing to lose, there both dead ends after all, that you might actually find a path through one by way of the other. The paradox that is to say the crisis that occurs often when you are pursuing something that leads to internal contradictions, contradictions that you just can't figure out how to reconcile, is something that you can sometimes work your way around in non-obvious ways. You can come up with those just by thinking about them sometimes but it isn't always so easy to sit back and to work your way through the problem. Often if you work outside of the problem space by way of taking up another problem space you find that you found a path through that you might never have found had you addressed or had you struck up with a blunt instrument of reason where that reason was not moderated by alternate ways of thinking, by other ideas that may come from distant realms.
"String theory is fascinating," says experimental philosopher Jonathon Keats, "for the fact that it reconciles quantum mechanics and general relativity, the two greatest explanations that we have of the fundamental forces of nature in the universe for the first time arguably, but with certain caveats." He explains how string theory, by nature, is somewhat speculative. Also speculative is the real estate market, in particular the booming market where Keats lives in San Francisco. In this video, Keats explains a thought experiment in which he combined the two concepts to explore the ways in which paradoxical elements interact. Part of what he found was that, even though paradoxes feel like dead ends, there are ways to navigate out of them and perhaps even carve a new path of thought through them.
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Erin Meyer explains the keeper test and how it can make or break a team.
- There are numerous strategies for building and maintaining a high-performing team, but unfortunately they are not plug-and-play. What works for some companies will not necessarily work for others. Erin Meyer, co-author of No Rules Rules: Netflix and the Culture of Reinvention, shares one alternative employed by one of the largest tech and media services companies in the world.
- Instead of the 'Rank and Yank' method once used by GE, Meyer explains how Netflix managers use the 'keeper test' to determine if employees are crucial pieces of the larger team and are worth fighting to keep.
- "An individual performance problem is a systemic problem that impacts the entire team," she says. This is a valuable lesson that could determine whether the team fails or whether an organization advances to the next level.
A study finds 1.8 billion trees and shrubs in the Sahara desert.
- AI analysis of satellite images sees trees and shrubs where human eyes can't.
- At the western edge of the Sahara is more significant vegetation than previously suspected.
- Machine learning trained to recognize trees completed the detailed study in hours.
Why this matters<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDU2MDQ1OC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzOTkyODg5NX0.O3S2DRTyAxh-JZqxGKj9KkC6ndZAloEh4hKhpcyeFDQ/img.jpg?width=980" id="3770d" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="3c27b79d4c0600fb6ebb82e650cabec0" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Area in which trees were located
Credit: University of Copenhagen<p>As important as trees are in fighting climate change, scientists need to know what trees there are, and where, and the study's finding represents a significant addition to the global tree inventory.</p><p>The vegetation Brandt and his colleagues have identified is in the Western Sahara, a region of about 1.3 million square kilometers that includes the desert, <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sahel" target="_blank">the Sahel</a>, and the <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/agricultural-and-biological-sciences/subhumid-zones" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">sub-humid zones</a> of West Africa.</p><p>These trees and shrubs have been left out of previous tabulations of carbon-processing worldwide forests. Says Brandt, "Trees outside of forested areas are usually not included in climate models, and we know very little about their carbon stocks. They are basically a white spot on maps and an unknown component in the global carbon cycle."</p><p>In addition to being valuable climate-change information, the research can help facilitate strategic development of the region in which the vegetation grows due to a greater understanding of local ecosystems.</p>
Trained for trees<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDU2MDQ3MC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzNTk5NTI3NH0.fR-n1I2DHBIRPLvXv4g0PVM8ciZwSLWorBUUw2wc-Vk/img.jpg?width=980" id="e02c0" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="79955b13661dca8b6e19007935129af1" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Credit: Martin Brandt/University of Copenhagen<p>There's been an assumption that there's hardly enough vegetation outside of forested areas to be worth counting in areas such as this one. As a result the study represents the first time a significant number of trees — likely in the hundreds of millions when shrubs are subtracted from the overall figure — have been catalogued in the drylands region.</p><p>Members of the university's Department of Computer Science trained a machine-learning module to recognize trees by feeding it thousands of pictures of them. This training left the AI be capable of spotting trees in the tiny details of satellite images supplied by NASA. The task took the AI just hours — it would take a human years to perform an equivalent analysis.</p><p>"This technology has enormous potential when it comes to documenting changes on a global scale and ultimately, in contributing towards global climate goals," says co-author Christian Igel. "It is a motivation for us to develop this type of beneficial artificial intelligence."</p><p>"Indeed," says Brandt says, "I think it marks the beginning of a new scientific era."</p>
Looking ahead and beyond<p>The researchers hope to further refine their AI to provide a more detailed accounting of the trees it identifies in satellite photos.</p><p>The study's senior author, Rasmus Fensholt, says, "we are also interested in using satellites to determine tree species, as tree types are significant in relation to their value to local populations who use wood resources as part of their livelihoods. Trees and their fruit are consumed by both livestock and humans, and when preserved in the fields, trees have a positive effect on crop yields because they improve the balance of water and nutrients."</p><p>Ahead is an expansion of the team's tree hunt to a larger area of Africa, with the long-term goal being the creation of a more comprehensive and accurate global database of trees that grow beyond the boundaries of forests.</p>
Water may be far more abundant on the lunar surface than previously thought.
- Scientists have long thought that water exists on the lunar surface, but it wasn't until 2018 that ice was first discovered on the moon.
- A study published Monday used NASA's Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy to confirm the presence of molecular water..
- A second study suggests that shadowy regions on the lunar surface may also contain more ice than previously thought.
Credits: NASA/Daniel Rutter<p>Still, it's not as if the moon is dripping wet. The observations suggest that a cubic meter of the lunar surface (in the Clavius crater site, at least) contains water in concentrations of 100 to 412 parts per million. That's roughly equivalent to a 12-ounce bottle of water. In comparison, the same plot of land in the Sahara desert contains about 100 times more water.</p><p>But a second study suggests other parts of the lunar surface also contain water — and potentially lots of it. Also publishing their findings in <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41550-020-1198-9#_blank" target="_blank">Nature Astronomy</a> on Monday, the researchers used the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter to study "cold traps" near the moon's polar regions. These areas of the lunar surface are permanently covered in shadows. In fact, about 0.15 percent of the lunar surface is permanently shadowed, and it's here that water could remain frozen for millions of years.</p><p>Some of these permanently shadowed regions are huge, extending more than a kilometer wide. But others span just 1 cm. These smaller "micro cold traps" are much more abundant than previously thought, and they're spread out across more regions of the lunar surface, according to the new research.</p>
Credit: dottedyeti via AdobeStock<p>Still, the second study didn't confirm that ice is embedded in micro cold traps. But if there is, it would mean that water would be much more accessible to astronauts, considering they wouldn't have to travel into deep, shadowy craters to extract water.</p><p>Greater accessibility to water would not only make it easier for astronauts to get drinking water, but could also enable them to generate rocket fuel and power.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Water is a valuable resource, for both scientific purposes and for use by our explorers," said Jacob Bleacher, chief exploration scientist in the advanced exploration systems division for NASA's Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, in a statement. "If we can use the resources at the Moon, then we can carry less water and more equipment to help enable new scientific discoveries."</p>