The Scientific Case for Two Spaces After a Period

James Hamblin in The Atlantic:

This is a time of much division. Families and communities are splintered by polarizing narratives. Outrage surrounds geopolitical discourse—so much so that anxiety often becomes a sort of white noise, making it increasingly difficult to trigger intense, acute anger. The effect can be desensitizing, like driving 60 miles per hour and losing hold of the reality that a minor error could result in instant death.

One thing that apparently still has the power to infuriate people, though, is how many spaces should be used after a period at the end of an English sentence.

The war is alive again of late because a study that came out this month from Skidmore College. The study is, somehow, the first to look specifically at this question. It is titled: “Are Two Spaces Better Than One? The Effect of Spacing Following Periods and Commas During Reading.”

It appears in the current issue of the journal Attention, Perception, and Psychophysics. As best I can tell, psychophysics is a word; the Rochester Institute of Technology defines it as the “study of the relationship between stimuli (specified in physical terms) and the sensations and perceptions evoked by these stimuli.” The researchers are also real. Rebecca Johnson, an associate professor in Skidmore’s department of psychology, led the team. Her expertise is in the cognitive processes underlying reading. As Johnson told me, “Our data suggest that all readers benefit from having two spaces after periods.”

More here.

Sunday Poem

The Light Gatherer

When you were small, your cupped palms
each held a candleworth under the skin, enough light to begin,
                                and as you grew,
light gathered in you, two clear raindrops
in your eyes,
                               warm pearls, shy,
in the lobes of your ears, even always
the light of a smile after your tears.
Your kissed feet glowed in my one hand,
or I’d enter a room to see the corner you played in
lit like a stage set,
                         the crown of your bowed head spotlit.
When language came, it glittered like a river,
silver, clever with fish,
                       and you slept
with the whole moon held in your arms for a night light
where I knelt watching.
                            Light gatherer. You fell from a star
into my lap, the soft lamp at the bedside
mirrored in you,
                                   and now you shine like a snowgirl,
a buttercup under a chin, the wide blue yonder
you squeal at and fly in,
                                   like a jeweled cave,
turquoise and diamond and gold, opening out
at the end of a tunnel of years.

by Carol Ann Duffy
from Poets.org

The Medicis in the desert

Nicholas Pelham in More Intelligent Life:

When Muhammad bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince, visited New York earlier this year, the face of Ahmed Mater, the kingdom’s most celebrated artist, was beamed onto an enormous billboard in Times Square. In recent years, he has been feted at exhibitions in London, New York and Venice. He dominates the Saudi art scene so thoroughly that his peers struggle for attention. “He’s the only artist anyone writes about,” says one Saudi curator. In 2017 Mater was appointed as artistic director of the Prince’s cultural and educational foundation, entrusted to promote art across the kingdom and liberalise the school system. He plays a crucial role in the enormously ambitious plan for economic and social transformation, which aims to wean the country off reliance on oil revenues, strip down the power of clerics and dispel a reputation for medieval obscurantism and misogyny.

Prince Muhammad has travelled the world to convince business leaders, tech titans and entertainment impresarios that Saudi Arabia is a place where both popular and high culture can flourish. For the first time in over 30 years, cinemas show films. For the first time ever, pop stars perform in concert halls. Mater has accompanied the prince on his pilgrimage as the epitome of the country’s artistic reawakening. When the Saudi Crown Prince met Xi Jinping, he brought Mater along and gave the Chinese president one of his paintings as a gift. The story behind Mater’s rise is more complex and ambiguous than his current pre-eminence suggests. It illuminates the unprecedented liberalisation that many of the country’s cultural elite are experiencing at the moment, as well as the compromises with power that they must still make. Mater did not reach the pinnacle without help. But some of his companions have fallen by the wayside. “Of course”, one Saudi artist tells me, “it wouldn’t have happened without Ashraf.”

More here.

An English woman’s love affair with Kerry

Sue Hubbard in The Irish Times:

I lost my heart from the moment I first saw it. Cill Rialaig is about as far west as you can go in Europe without falling off the edge. A magical place set in a wild landscape full of ghosts and memories, it’s a pre-famine village that clings to a steep slope, 300ft above the sea in Kerry, on the west coast of Ireland.

In winter the sea boils and rages against the cliffs as storms sweep in from the Atlantic. Hugging the hillside, it looks southwest towards the Béara Peninsula and the tiny uninhabited islands of Scariff and Deenish, and eastward beyond Waterville to MacGillycuddy’s Reeks. At the right time of year, you might see seals or, if you are lucky, a leatherback turtle. Abandoned by the inhabitants, the collapsed cottages – a few refurbished, now, to create an artists’ retreat – stare out to sea like a collection of grieving widows. The one-time fields and tillage-plots that lie on either side of the road are half hidden by rocks and boulders. Criss-crossed by drystone walls, they are full of spongy tussocks of boggy grass, gorse and bracken. Grazing sheep, marked with the Day-Glo blue and pink dyes of their owners, shimmy up the hill, wiggling their backsides like muddy go-go dancers.

As the mist comes in, settling over the headland like a white duvet, and the rain beats against the windows in the winter gales, it’s not difficult to imagine how hard life must have been up here. Unlike other parts of Europe, the plough was unknown, and the cultivation of the staple, potatoes, was dependent on the spade.

More here.

Scientists to grow ‘mini-brains’ using Neanderthal DNA

Hannah Devlin in The Guardian:

Scientists are preparing to create “miniature brains” that have been genetically engineered to contain Neanderthal DNA, in an unprecedented attempt to understand how humans differ from our closest relatives.

In the next few months the small blobs of tissue, known as brain organoids, will be grown from human stem cells that have been edited to contain “Neanderthalised” versions of several genes.

The lentil-sized organoids, which are incapable of thoughts or feelings, replicate some of the basic structures of an adult brain. They could demonstrate for the first time if there were meaningful differences between human and Neanderthal brain biology.

“Neanderthals are the closest relatives to everyday humans, so if we should define ourselves as a group or a species it is really them that we should compare ourselves to,” said Prof Svante Pääbo, director of the genetics department at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, where the experiments are being performed.

Pääbo previously led the successful international effort to crack the Neanderthal genome, and his lab is now focused on bringing Neanderthal traits back to life in the laboratory through sophisticated gene-editing techniques.

More here.

Anatomy of a Pogrom

Steven J. Zipperstein in Tablet:

It began inconspicuously, as so many riots do. People jostled in a sparsely policed public square lined with Jewish-owned shops. Worshippers idled after Easter services at the nearby Ciuflea Church, some drinking steadily once services ended, and teenagers as well as Jews—restless near the end of the long, eight-day Passover festival—were all rubbing shoulders. The weather was suddenly and blissfully temperate, dry after intermittent rain.

Soon it would be commonplace to juxtapose the pogrom’s horrors and its benign springtime weather. Bialik, too, would do much the same in “In the City of Killing,” while also highlighting the buoyant expectations that surfaced for Jews at the start of a fresh new century viewed against the obscenity of Kishinev’s butchery.

Details of these terrible spring days, with their changes from moist to warm, would figure among the cascade of information, small and large, amassed by teams of reporters, Jewish activists, political radicals, well-known writers, philanthropists, lawyers, and civil servants in the months following the pogrom.

More here.

Dear iPhone—It Was Just Physical, and Now It’s Over

Katie Reid in Nautilus:

As a kid, I’d sometimes try to imagine what life would be like without a particular sense or part of my body, like with questions from the Would You Rather? game. Would you rather be deaf or blind? Would you rather have no legs or no arms? I’d try to erase the sound of my mom’s piano playing, the sight of the ground growing smaller as I soared on the tree swing in my backyard, or the feeling of playing basketball so hard my lungs might explode, but I just couldn’t. How could life go on without these sensations that were so tied to my idea of what it meant to be alive? I guess I’ve been feeling extra contemplative and nostalgic these days because I recently went through a pretty significant break-up…with my smartphone. My relationship with my phone was unhealthy in a lot of ways. I don’t remember exactly when I started needing to hold it during dinner or having to check Twitter before I got out of bed in the morning, but at some point I’d decided I couldn’t be without it. I’d started to notice just how often I was on my phone—and how unpleasant much of that time had become—when my daughter came along, and, just like that, time became infinitely more precious. So, I said goodbye. Now, as I reflect on the almost seven years my smartphone and I spent together, I’m starting to realize: What I had with my phone was largely physical.

Cognitive scientists have long debated whether objects in our environment can become part of us. Philosophers Andy Clark and David Chalmers argued in their 1998 paper “The Extended Mind” that when tools help us with cognitive tasks, they become part of us—augmenting and extending our minds. Today the idea that phones specifically are extensions of ourselves is receiving a lot of recent attention. In February, in Aeon, philosopher Karina Vold explored the legal implications of applying the extended mind theory to our smartphones. If the extended mind view is correct, she writes, then smartphones would merit recognition “as a part of the essential toolkit of the mind.” Last month, in a fascinating New Yorker profile of Clark, Larissa MacFarquhar wrote that Clark thinks “we are all cyborgs, in the most natural way. Without the stimulus of the world, an infant could not learn to hear or see, and a brain develops and rewires itself in response to its environment throughout its life. Any human who uses language to think with has already incorporated an external device into his most intimate self, and the connections only proliferate from there.” For Clark, MacFarquhar continues, “The more devices and objects there are available to foster better ways of thinking, the happier he is.”

I agree with the theory, if not Clark’s sunny outlook on its implications. (More on that later.) However, when it comes to the most widely useful of modern-day tools—the smartphone—both of these recent articles overlook a key component of the extended self: embodiment. Our devices aren’t just extensions of our minds, they’re extensions of our bodies too. Clark ventures into embodiment in his 2008 book, Supersizing the Mind, in which he spends half of the first chapter discussing how bodies and senses adapt to external technology. From a monkey learning to master a robotic arm to the familiar process of “body babbling,” in which infants learn, through practice, how neural commands control certain bodily movements, Clark shows that the ability to incorporate new objects into our bodies is part of how we’re designed:

Because bodily growth and change continue, it is simply good design not to permanently lock in knowledge of any particular configuration but instead to deploy plastic neural resources and an ongoing regime of monitoring and recalibration.

I experienced that recalibration when I got my first smartphone in 2011.

More here.

Saturday Poem

At the Back of Progress

The fellow who sits in the air-conditioned office 
is the one who in his youth raped 
a dozen or so young girls, 
and, at cocktail parties, is secretly stricken with lust,
fastening his eyes on lovelies’ bellybuttons. 

In five-star hotels, 
he tries out his different sexual tastes
with a variety of women,
then returns home and beats his wife 
because of an over-ironed handkerchief or shirt collar. 

In his office Mr. Big puffs on a cigarette,
shuffles through files,
rings for his employee
shouts,
demands tea, 
drinks,
and returns to writing people’s character references.

His employee speaks in such a low voice 
that no one would ever suspect 
how, at home, he also raises his voice,
is vile to his family
but with his buddies on the porch or at a movie
indulges in loud harangues on politics,
art, literature, and how some female –
his mother, grandmother, or great-grandmother –
committed suicide.

Bidding goodbye to his buddies,
he returns home,
beats his wife
over a bar of soap
or the baby’s pneumonia.

Next day, at work, he pleasantly brings the tea,
keeps the lighter in his pocket,
receives a tip of a couple of taka,
and tells no one that he divorced his first wife for her sterility,
his second for giving birth to a daughter,
his third for not bringing a sufficient dowry.
Now, with wife number four, he again has someone:
To beat over a green chili or a handful of rice. 

by Taslima Nasrin
from The Vintage Book of Contemporary World Poetry
Vintage Books, 1996

‘North Station’ by Bae Suah

Jean Yoon at The Quarterly Conversation:

Bae Suah seems to know that writing is a kind of time travel, and in each of these stories, brought deftly into English by Deborah Smith, the caroming and hyperlinking movements that characterize this traveling raise such questions as: what does it demand of me when I reach out to you? Where does my memory of you end and your reality begin? Why do I remember only that which I remember? And, as I write all of this, do I move any closer toward the answers?

In “North Station,” a man and a woman, hand on hand, anxiously await a train at the eponymous platform. Their anticipation is so high that it frays and tears at the sensory reality and temporality of the scene, such that “if a blind and disoriented pigeon were to nose-dive in front of them, they would mistake it for a passing train—the train they will have missed, the train they will have failed to catch.”

more here.

May 1968: the revolution retains its magnetic allure

John Harris at The Guardian:

We are now as far from the events of 1968 as the people involved were from the end of the first world war. Cliche has long since reduced much of what occurred to “student revolt”, but that hardly does these happenings justice, partly because it ignores the workers’ strikes that were just as central to what occurred during ’68 and the years that followed, but also because the phrase gets nowhere near the depth and breadth of what young people were rebelling against, not least in France.

This was the last time that a developed western society glimpsed the possibility of revolution focused not just on institutions, but the contestation of everyday reality, which is still enough to make the simple phrase “May 1968” crackle with excitement – even if you were not around when les évenéments took place. I was born in 1969, but what happened in France and beyond retains a magnetic allure.

more here.

A Poet of the Archives: On Susan Howe

Emily LaBarge at Bookforum:

For some readers, Howe’s work seems inscrutable or obtuse—obscure for the sake of difficulty as a kind of meaning in itself. Indeed, the poems stand awkwardly as individual works, and are best read as a volume. Taken as such, they offer a rewarding route to how one might construct a life—and a life’s work—from diving into language, the past, archival sources, and visual art. There is freedom in vastness and there is always more—more ideas, more ways of speaking and hearing, listening and knowing—to be found. Howe convinces us that intuited connections are real and possess a logic of their own, and that supposed breaks in continuity, in history or associations or sentences, are often the very place we should look to forge new connections. To stutter, to recombine or pull apart phonemes and line breaks, to wrench metaphors and to wrongly employ words, to cut and paste texts in images, shapes, lines, is to uncover so much possibility. Most critically, it is to admit and to relish the fact that we do not know all the ways in which we do not know—to be open to the grace of “not being in the no.”

more here.