Friday, July 10, 2009


Lots of worthwhile ideas at TED:

Bonnie Basler gave a captivating talk on the discovery of how bacteria communicate. She suggests this is the origin of multicellularity, emphasises the practical importance of bacteria, and predicts that future antibiotics will focus on these communications rather than just killing bacteria.

Paul Ewald suggests taking advantage of evolution in the treatment of disease (rather than fighting it endlessly with pharmaceuticals). Vector diseases (e.g., malaria spread by mosquitoes) and waterbourne diseases (e.g., cholera spread by diarrhoea) tend to be more harmful because their transmission does not require the host to be healthy and mobile. Mosquito-proofing homes and hospitals and providing sanitary water supplies will (in addition to cutting transmission) favour strains that are more benign.

Steven Pinker, author of the captivating "Language instinct", notes that the rates of violence are decreasing through history (hence typical longing for more primitive times is misplaced), and that humans are obviously not born as blank slates (another case where political correctness seems to have gotten in the way of intellectual honesty).

Paul Collier...

Stewart Brand...

Jonathan Haidt gave an insightful talk on the political divide. Openness to new experience corresponds with liberalism (as well as intellectualism) rather than conservatism. He identifies the innate (though malleable) anthropological/evolutionary foundations of natural human morality as: harm/care, fairness/reciprocity, ingroup/loyalty, authority/respect and purity/sanctity (the latter exemplified not only in female sexuality but also organic food). Everybody supports the first two, but liberals reject the latter three (as the basis of xenophobia, etc). Essentially, conservatives appreciate stability even at the expense of the bottom few, whilst liberals are not averse to risking change. He relates (or less clearly juxtapositions) this to how cooperation can be shown in simple games to decay unless there is a punishment element. There is a balance to be had: he notes the insight of the asian religions to be that the destroyer and the preserver (or yin and yang) are not in opposition to one another; simply calling the bible-belt stupid isn't productive (he suggests the moral authority of the dalai lama comes from his moral humility).

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