Couple of Guys, Middle of Nowhere

Just saw this commercial for Google Chrome and Angry Birds on television:


“It’s a simple metric….”

“Are you angry, Peter? You look angry….”

I use Google Chrome (beta) almost exclusively and have since shortly after it was launched. It’s come a long way, especially in the last year. I rarely use IE or Firefox anymore, and even then just to do a browser check when I’m toying with web page changes.

I played Angry Birds once on my iPhone … for about five hours. Then I removed it.

Not that is wasn’t fun … it WAS fun … but the time I spent with it seemed to qualify as “lost time” ….

“Games of that sort are designed to grab your attention…. But apart from a few isolated images, or a little thrill of achievement when you scored points, you come away with no memories. It is as though a black hole had swallowed up this piece of your life.” – Stefan Klein, The Secret Pulse of Time

On The Large Hadron Collider

I have to admit that even after reading several articles about it, I still don’t understand enough about the Large Hadron Collider to write an intelligent-sounding post. Physics, chemistry, astronomy — and anything that smacks of having even a distant relationship to math or calculus — don’t get past the internal censors in my head. I have enormous respect for people who do understand this stuff … I’m in awe of them, really … and this colossal experiment apparently has significance to these sciences that will be felt for many, many years.

So, here are a few related articles and sites that I came across yesterday:

From Computerworld:

Collider test called a ‘great milestone of mankind’ – “Today’s successful test run of a massive particle collider is being called ‘one of the great engineering milestones of mankind.’ On Wednesday morning, just outside of Geneva, scientists shot a particle beam fully around a 17-mile loop in the world’s most powerful particle accelerator — the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). Twenty years after development of the collider began, a particle beam made the full journey around the accelerator for the first time. It’s a forebear to the time when scientists will accelerate two particle beams toward each other at 99.9% of the speed of light….”

Also from Popular Science:

It’s Christmas for Physicists! – “If you somehow managed to avoid seeing the comic, listening to the rap or reading anything in the all out media blitz, then let me be the first to tell you that earlier today the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the world’s most power particle accelerator, began operation. Scientists hope that the experiments conducted in the $9 billion dollar accelerator will help them discover the mysterious Higgs boson. The Higgs boson, colloquially referred to as the ‘God particle,’ is the hypothetical particle that imbues matter with mass, and finding it (or not finding it) will have profound implications on the world of physics….”

And from the Boston Globe’s consistently excellent photography blog, The Big Picture, a series of images of the collider inside and out, here:

Large Hadron Collider nearly ready.

On Learning

From Marshall McLuhan’s The Medium is the Massage:

We have now become aware of the possibility of arranging the entire human environment as a work of art, as a teaching machine designed to maximize perception and to make everyday learning a process of discovery.

I’m putting together resources for a research paper on the cultural and social impact of photography. McLuhan’s Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man is one of my sources, but I also picked up The Medium is the Massage, because it looked interesting (and, for a change, SHORT).

McLuhan’s books are full of gems like this. I just started browsing through them and didn’t know what to expect when I started; but nearly every page strikes me in some way or another. This particular quote leads a short piece that expresses admiration for the potential of technology, but simultaneously contains the warning that we aren’t good at grasping the effects of technological transitions. We lock ourselves in psychological and intellectual straightjackets, McLuhan suggests, because “the interplay between the old and the new … creates many problems and confusions.” McLuhan’s remedy:

The main obstacle to a clear understanding of the effects of … new media is our deeply embedded habit of regarding all phenomena from a fixed point of view….

The method of our time is to use not a single but multiple models for exploration….

A Non-Linear Coincidence

For my Science and Technology in Western Culture class, I’m reading Society and Technological Change by Rudi Volti. One of the assignments for the current module was to read Volti’s chapter on the development of printing technologies. Volti has a short discussion in this chapter on the psychological effects of printing; that is, on psychological changes that might have occurred as print technology improved and publishing began to flourish.

Volti briefly writes about Marshall McLuhan, and about some of McLuhan’s ideas on the fundamental social changes that occurred in conjunction with the expansion of print publishing and other media. Says Volti:

Some fascinating possibilities … have been suggested by Marshall McLuhan, for whom media such as print and television had consequences that far outweigh the overt messages they carry. Printed books fundamentally changed civilization not because of the information they transmitted; the greatest consequence of printing lay in the different modes of thought and perception that it fostered. In McLuhan’s analysis, each medium engenders a distinctive way of looking at the world; as his famous aphorism has it, “the medium is the message.” The reading of the printed word makes readers think in sequence, just as a sentence is sequentially read from left to right. – pg. 190

I’ve haven’t read much McLuhan, so I don’t really know how well this represents his views. But this is perhaps what Tim Lacy is asking about, in his post What is Linear Thinking? It would seem reasonable that McLuhan – or at least Volti in his interpretation of McLuhan – is highlighting a significant change in the technology of thought that came about in conjunction with the increased availability of the printed word. While I think there’s much to be said for this dramatic change in thought processes, I’m not convinced that linear thinking of this type adequately encompasses what happens in our minds when we read.

Obviously, we tend to read sequentially, at least in the sense that we typically read both books and other materials from beginning to end, and, further, we expect some logical relationship between the ideas presented at the beginning and those presented at the end. So the activity of reading does strike me as a linear process. However, reading and learning from what we read are two different things entirely. For sure, I can read something from the first page to the last page, absorbing what I read in the sequential order the author provides – but that isn’t necessarily how I learn from it. If the reading offers me anything at all, then the linear process combines with other mental processes where I make associations, form concepts, supplement prior knowledge, absorb and relate details to others I’m already aware of, and (hopefully!) emerge from the reading with either a more solid understanding of something I already know or at least a beginning understanding of something entirely new. Reading – at least reading to learn – is a much more iterative and hierarchical process than it is a sequential process. If this might be described as “non-linear thinking” (and I suppose it might), I would think that non-linear thinking is not the same as illogical thinking – since illogical thinking suggests an inability to build on prior knowledge when attempting to learn something new (or to think about anything else, for that matter).

Continuing the quotation above, Volti goes on to say:

Reading also produces an egocentric view of the world, for the reader’s involvement with the printed word is solitary and private. – pg. 190

This was actually the part that made me suspicious of the “linear thinking” statements about reading. While it is undoubtedly true that reading is a solitary and private activity, I don’t think that adequately describes the personal, cultural, or social significance of reading (or of writing, for that matter). As Benedict Anderson describes so well in Imagined Communities (I swear, I’ll be referring to that book for the rest of my life), one of the true revolutions that occurred through the explosion of printing was a new awareness among human beings of the simultaneous existence of other human beings. At minimum, my reading of a book implies an awareness of one other person – the book’s author – and in all likelihood embraces some sense that other people have read – have experienced – the book in ways similar to mine. If I spun that theory out to one other logical conclusion, I might even say that the reason so many people write, and so many more want to write, is that the sense of existing in a world simultaneously with other people has become an endemic part of the way modern men and women perceive (the significance of?) their existence.