Many people are increasingly using their mobile phones as mental prostheses to extend the capacity of their brains [see ‘Science fiction becomes reality‘ on October 12th, 2016]. This does not just include tracking their appointments in a calender app or using a search engine to track down a piece of information that they have temporarily forgotten; but also recording their activities and preferences via social media apps. Many of us are happy to share our thoughts with those close to us but we take it for granted that we are in complete control of what is shared and with whom. So, unexpected or unauthorised sharing of our personal information via these mental prostheses can cause shock and embarrassment. Now, spare a thought for the giant cuttlefish whose neurons are directly connected to about ten million chromatophores in its skin. Each chromatophore is sack of pigment that can be shrunk or expanded to show its particular colour. In giant cuttlefish the chromatophores are red, yellow and black/brown. Beneath the chromatophores is a layer of iridophores, which manipulate the wavelengths of light using layers of plates to produce blues and greens and below these cells are leucophores that reflect light outwards through the iridophores and chromatophores. In effect, the cuttlefish is wearing an Ultra-High Definition TV screen with about 10 million pixels directly connected to its brain. Even when resting calmly, a cuttlefish’s skin can be pulsing with complex patterns of colour; perhaps this is similar to the way our minds can be teeming with activity even when we are sitting quietly apparently doing nothing. Imagine what it would be like if all of those thoughts were displayed on a giant television screen. It would give a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘to wear your heart on your sleeve’.
Peter Godfrey-Smith, Other Minds: The Octopus and the Evolution of Intelligent Life, London: William Collins, 2018.
I wrote this short annual report in anticipation of being on vacation this week. However, as my editor commented, it is ‘a bit of a non-blog’ and so I have written a second post for today that will be published a few minutes later.
The painting in the thumbnail is by Peter Curran and shows a view of Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral that is almost the same as the view from the seat at which I usually sit to write this blog. The blog is read world-wide as shown by the distribution of visitors to the blog during 2018 in the temperature map in the graphic below. The weekly readership dropped by 60% at the beginning of April 2018 after I deleted my Facebook page and cut the link between Facebook and this blog (see ‘Some changes to Realize Engineering‘ on March 28th, 2018). However, I am pleased say that the visitor numbers have recovered; and last month’s visitor numbers were only 4% lower than the corresponding month in 2017. So many thanks to those readers that stayed with me, or found the blog again without using Facebook. While, I enjoy writing ‘to make life more fruitful’ to quote Sylvain Tesson (see ‘Thinking more clearly by writing weekly‘), it is also encouraging to know that people are reading the blog.
For those of you that enjoy reading it as much as I enjoy writing, there have been more than 330 posts since the first one in July 2012 – that’s a huge archive for you to browse, if you have nothing else to do. Happy New Year!
Sylvain Tesson, Consolations of the forest: alone in a cabin in the middle Taiga, London: Penguin Books, 2014.
The advertising industry is becoming a pervasive influence on us – telling us how we should eat, dress, travel, vacation, borrow, bank, insure, think and vote. We are constantly bombarded with messages designed to induce us to buy goods or services that we don’t really need and that undermine progress towards a sustainable society [see my post ‘Old is beautiful‘ on May 1st, 2015].
Many services are offered to us for free in order to expose us to advertisements and to collect data about our habits and interests that are put to uses about which we know little. These issues became prominent last week with the allegations about the inappropriate use of data from Facebook by Cambridge Analytica [see for example the The Guardian on March 25th, 2016]. A number of organisations have reacted by closing down their Facebook pages [see for example Reuters on March 23rd, 2018] and a #deletefacebook movement has started [see for example The Guardian on March 25th, 2016, again]. I have joined them and deleted my Facebook page as well as disconnecting this blog from Facebook. Also, in a couple of weeks I plan to stop using Twitter to disseminate this blog; so, if you receive this blog via Twitter then please start to follow it directly.
Finally, the advertisements at the bottom of my blog posts will disappear because I am paying to use WordPress instead of allowing advertising to cover the costs. A side-effect of this change is a new url: realizeengineering.blog/ So please update your bookmarks,if it doesn’t happen automatically!