Like all living things, humans are organisms, biological entities that function as physiological aggregates whose constituent parts operate with a high degree of cooperation and a low degree of conflict. But unlike other organisms, humans possess a rogue component – a brain network that can, at will, choose to defect and undermine the survival mission and purpose of the rest of the body. This is the network that underlies human consciousness, and especially our capacity for autonoetic, or reflective, self-awareness, the basis of the conceptions that underlie our greatest achievements as a species – art, music, architecture, literature, science – and our ability to appreciate them.

(Via Can our self-conscious minds save us from our selfish selves? by: Joseph LeDoux; picture Via Abishek on Unsplash)

I highly recommend reading the whole piece.

Can Neuroscience Understand Free Will? – Facts So Romantic:

Clinical neuroscientists and neurologists have identified the brain networks responsible for this sense of free will. There seems to be two: the network governing the desire to act, and the network governing the feeling of responsibility for acting. Brain-damaged patients show that these can come apart—you can have one without the other. […]

The results may not map onto “free will” as we understand it ethically—the ability to choose between right and wrong. “It remains unknown whether the network of brain regions we identify as related to free will for movements is the same as those important for moral decision-making, as prior studies have suggested important differences,” the researchers wrote. For instance, in a 2017 study, he and Darby analyzed many cases of brain lesions in various regions predisposing people to criminal behavior, and found that “these lesions all fall within a unique functionally connected brain network involved in moral decision making.”

Nevertheless, the fact that brain damage affects moral behavior only underscores the reality that, whatever the “will” is, it isn’t “free.” The sense of freedom we have to act on our moral understanding is regulated and vulnerable, and can break. In a 2016 paper, Darby noted that people who have behavioral-variant frontotemporal dementia “develop immoral behaviors as a result of their disease despite the ability to explicitly state that their behavior is wrong.” This complicates how moral responsibility should be understood, he explains. People can be capable of acknowledging wrongdoing and yet be incapable of acting accordingly. Responsibility can’t hinge on any simple notion of “reason responsiveness,” Darby says, which is a view of how free will can be compatible with determinism—the idea, in the case of behavior, that brain activity causes feelings, intentions, and actions, moral or not. […]

The concept of free will doesn’t make any sense to me. As Kavka’s thought experiment shows, we don’t have much control over our thoughts. Take this article I’m writing: The words I’m committing to print pop into my mind unbeckoned. It’s less me choosing them and more them presenting themselves to me. The act of writing feels more like a process of passive filtration than active conjuration. I’m also convinced that humans can sensibly hold one another morally responsible even if we jettison the idea of free will. The reason is that, as a social mechanism, it has salutary effects. Generally, if people know that they will be held to account for moral violations, they will be less likely to commit them; and if they don’t know what the moral rules are, they will be motivated to learn them. Indeed, in the study on compatibilism, the researchers found that “participants reduced their compatibilist beliefs after reading a passage that argued that moral responsibility could be preserved even in the absence of free will.”

(Via Nautilus; Screengrab via The Good Place / YouTube; emphasis above is mine)

This article hit me at an interesting time. I strongly recommending reading the piece. There are many, many links for doing some more research if you’re so inclined.

I’ve long had the feeling that I’m of two minds when it comes to practices, routine, and such. Rationally I know I need to stay on my daily habits like exercise, journaling, and general moderation. Doing those things generally requires what we call will or discipline. One does not automatically lead to the other.

The opening quoted paragraph confirms my internal disconnected feeling is more than rationalization of what one could call laziness. Luckily, morality isn’t my shortfall in so far as mine’s been tested. Things like exercise I should do (similar to moral decisions though less weighty). The draw of Stoicism and similar philosophies might be the brain drying to bridge the gap.

At least Stoicism may be my brain trying to bridge the gap. I feel a bout of rumination on free will coming on.

How to see Comet 46P/Wirtanen as it passes over the earth — Quartz

If you miss Comet 46P/Wirtanen this year, it probably won’t be your last chance to see it. The blazing celestial body passes near the Earth roughly every five and a half years. But just because you can miss Comet 46P/Wirtanen doesn’t mean you should—because this year’s appearance promises to be one of the best in four centuries. And if that’s not enough, it’ll probably also be the brightest comet visible in 2018. Comets are at their brightest when they reach their perihelion, or closest approach to the sun. For Comet 46P/Wirtanen, this will fall on Sunday (Dec. 16).

Very cool! I may have to wander outside of Tokyo to get a good view.

Back in 2000, measles was considered to be “eliminated” in the United States. But today—thanks largely to the efforts of anti-vaccination campaigns (for your health!)—the highly contagious disease is popping up all over the place. Oh, cool! Nothing like resurrecting a killer of children in the name of protecting children!
— Read on jezebel.com/theres-a-major-measles-outbreak-in-nyc-thanks-to-anti-1543991945

How is this still a thing? If the anti-vaxxers argued civil liberties I might be able to sympathize. But they’re fighting both science and math where both have strong data. When it comes to disease spread, we have even more data.

There is far too much emotion in this fight on the anti-vaxxer side and poor communicators on the science side. The science and math folks are correct.

Stanislav Petrov Day:

I was going to get you an alarm clock that occasionally goes off randomly in the middle of the night, but you can ignore it and go back to sleep and it's fine.

(Via xkcd)

Here’s the link you’re looking for: Stanislav Petrov.

Tl;dr: He’s the guy who didn’t launch the Soviet missiles in September 1983.

What you need to know about the twin typhoons terrorizing Asia:

YESTERDAY, Typhoon Barijat swept parts of Macau, Hong Kong, and Guangdong in China.

The regions were prepared for it, halting shipping and suspending classes at kindergartens and schools for children with disabilities, and evacuating around 12,000 people. But it seems it came and left in barely a whimper compared to what is coming.

Apart from gloomy skies and strong winds, there was no huge downpour. Typhoon Barijat caused no damage or significant disruption.

However, another storm is brewing. More emergency alerts have already been issued, and evacuations have been ordered in preparation for this one.

Here is what you need to know about Typhoon Mangkhut, a classified super typhoon that is currently heading towards the South China Sea.

(Via Travel Wire Asia)

Many of my US friends and family have, are, or will deal with Hurricane Florence and the storms queueing up in the Atlantic.

And in the Pacific?

Typhoon Mangkhut, named after the Thai word for mangosteen (a tropical fruit), has been categorized as a super typhoon with powerful winds and gusts equivalent to a category 5 Atlantic hurricane by the Joint Typhoon Warning Center in Hawaii.

It has already passed Guam island, leaving behind flooded streets, downed trees, and widespread power outages (80 percent of the territory).

Power has since been restored, and government agencies are conducting damage assessments and clearing roads.

China, Hong Kong, and the Philippines will all get a healthy dose of Mangkhut:

Currently, it has sustained winds of more than 200 kilometers per hour and gusts of up to 255 kilometers per hour, according to AFP.

Said to be the most powerful typhoon to bear down on the Philippines this year, is now on course to hit the country’s northeastern Cagayan province early Sept 15, 2018.

An average of 20 typhoons and storms lash the Philippines each year, killing hundreds of people and leaving millions in near-perpetual poverty, AFP reported.

Mangkhut is the 15th storm this year to batter the Philippines.

With a massive raincloud band 900 kilometers wide, combined with seasonal monsoon rains, Typhoon Mangkhut could bring heavy to intense rains that could set off landslides and flash floods.

Who’s The Favorite And Who’s A Sleeper In The English Premier League?:

The Premier League, which kicks off Friday afternoon, is often regarded as the most competitive league in the world, if not the best. In fact, both of those assumptions might be false: While the Premier League boasts four of the top 10 and six of the top 15 teams in the world according to our Soccer Power Index rankings, only one other team cracks the top 50.1

 

This imbalance shouldn’t come as a shock: Aside from Blackburn Rovers in 1994-95 and Leicester City in 2015-16, only four teams have won the Premier League since its inception in 1992-93. And if you look at the table for every Premier League season — especially for the past decade — the top six spots are more likely than not occupied by some or all of the same six teams currently ranked in the world top 15.

 

If you’re hoping that the upcoming season will offer some vicissitude at the top of the table, don’t hold your breath: According to our Premier League predictions, Manchester City is a good bet to repeat as champions. And the five spaces below the Citizens will likely be occupied by — you guessed it! — Liverpool, Tottenham, Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United. After we ran 20,000 simulated seasons, the closest any team got to the top six was Crystal Palace — still 16 points off the pace.

… The top six teams in the Premier League are among the richest sports franchises on earth. All that money means they can afford to pay often ludicrous fees to attract the world’s best players. Money turns into results in major competitions, and results in major competitions turn into more money. And that new money turns into the buying of yet more of the world’s best players, and the top six feedback loop endures.

(Via Features – FiveThirtyEight)

I get why the world gets energized by the World Cup, but remind me why anyone cares about the Premier League? It makes football more boring than American football (for the championship contenders).

This sea is disappearing because it’s near death:

THE ARAL SEA, which lies between Kazakhstan in the north and Uzbekistan in the south, was one of the four largest lakes in the world.

There was a time when the shoreline of the Aral Sea was an idyllic affair. Well, not anymore.

So how did human activity manage to drain the 67,339 square kilometers sea which used to supply tens of thousands of tons of fish every year?

In the 1950s, the Soviet Union diverted the Aral Sea’s two rivers sources – the Amu Darya and the Syr Darya – for agriculture. As a result, the decreased water flow made the sea saltier, killing off the abundant freshwater fish.

By the 1980s, it had completely destroyed the fishing industry, which at its peak represented roughly 13 percent of the Soviet Union’s fish stocks.

This, in turn, forced a mass migration of people as the dried-out Aral seabed caused an imbalance in the weather patterns.

The area’s inhabitants also suffered health problems at unusually high rates, from throat cancers to anemia and kidney diseases. Infant mortality in the region has been among the highest in the world.

(Via Travel Wire Asia)

Regardless of what one thinks about Global Warming and humans impact on nature, this is 100% man made. See also the Salton Sea in case one thinks this was a Soviet-only occurrence.

Perseid meteor shower peaks August 11 and 12:

NewImage

’One of the best—if not THE best—meteor showers of the year is about to kick into high gear, and the timing is perfect; with the new moon occurring at exactly the same time as the Perseid meteor shower, this show could be spectacular at 60-70 meteors per hour and sometimes double or even triple that.…’

Via Big Think

(Via Follow Me Here…)

Hmm. I need to find a good spot in Japan for viewing. Suggestions?

Why Carbs Don’t Make You Fat | The Art of Manliness
— Read on www.artofmanliness.com/articles/why-carbs-dont-make-you-fat/

To;dr – it’s boring old calories across the food spectrum that make us fat, not carbs all on their own.

This is a very long yet information dense read. I recommend it if for no other reason than describing Brett’s original view (low carb FTW!) and how he advocated that stance only to allow himself to be persuaded away from it by science. It’s a sadly uncommon bit of bravery to be willing and able to change one’s own mind.

This does back up my anecdotal observations in Japan where they eat the diet ultimately recommended here: high (healthy, low processed) carbohydrates, low fat, and moderate protein all in modest caloric intake. They do other things, like eating family-style when eating out in a group, that help to keep the calories down.

My own eating further backs this up in my own mind: when I eat a largely Japanese diet my weight drops; when I eat a modern American diet my weight increases.

Ultimately, Michael Pollen summed it up best:

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

As always, YMMV.