Daily Archives: September 3, 2019

This Is Your Brain on Nationalism

The Biology of Us and Them
By Robert Sapolsky – To understand the dynamics of human group identity, including the resurgence of nationalism—that potentially most destructive form of in-group bias—requires grasping the biological and cognitive underpinnings that shape them.

Such an analysis offers little grounds for optimism.

Our brains distinguish between in-group members and outsiders in a fraction of a second, and they encourage us to be kind to the former but hostile to the latter. These biases are automatic and unconscious and emerge at astonishingly young ages. They are, of course, arbitrary and often fluid.

Today’s “them” can become tomorrow’s “us.” But this is only poor consolation. Humans can rein in their instincts and build societies that divert group competition to arenas less destructive than warfare, yet the psychological bases for tribalism persist, even when people understand that their loyalty to their nation, skin color, god, or sports team is as random as the toss of a coin.

At the level of the human mind, little prevents new teammates from once again becoming tomorrow’s enemies.

The human mind’s propensity for us-versus-them thinking runs deep. Numerous careful studies have shown that the brain makes such distinctions automatically and with mind-boggling speed. Stick a volunteer in a brain scanner and quickly flash pictures of faces. Among typical white subjects in the scanner, the sight of a black man’s face activates the amygdala, a brain region central to emotions of fear and aggression, in under one-tenth of a second.

In most cases, the prefrontal cortex, a region crucial for impulse control and emotional regulation, springs into action a second or two later and silences the amygdala: “Don’t think that way, that’s not who I am.” Still, the initial reaction is usually one of fear, even among those who know better.

For all this pessimism, there is a crucial difference between humans and those warring chimps. The human tendency toward in-group bias runs deep, but it is relatively value-neutral. Although human biology makes the rapid, implicit formation of us-them dichotomies virtually inevitable, who counts as an outsider is not fixed. In fact, it can change in an instant. more>

Updates from Chicago Booth

Humanity is carried on the voice
By Nicholas Epley – Hard-thinking people have spent millennia trying to articulate what distinguishes us from all other creatures. Is it having opposable thumbs? Walking upright? Using tools? Thinking analytically? This question finally got a fairly clear answer several years ago thanks to researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, in Germany, who brought in 105 human two-year-olds in order to compare their intellectual performance on essentially two different measures of IQ with that of 106 chimpanzees and, just for good measure, another 36 orangutans.

In tests that required reasoning about physical objects—things such as being able to track where a reward is placed under a cup, or being able to use a tool to solve a problem—the toddlers were basically neck and neck with the other primates in their performance. But in tasks where some social intelligence was involved, where subjects had to be able to track what was going on in someone else’s mind and respond accordingly—such as following the path of someone’s gaze, or understanding what someone was intending (but failed) to do—the human toddlers crushed the competition.

It makes sense that we’re good at this sort of social thinking: we are literally built for it. Our human brain stands out in the animal kingdom for its relatively gigantic neocortex—the fat part just above your eyes. What’s all that neural capacity good for? Lots and lots of things, but what it really seems to be designated for is social stuff.

If you look across primate species, what you see is that the size of the neocortex relative to the rest of the brain is positively correlated with the size of the social group that primate species inhabits. The larger the social group, the larger the neocortex relative to the rest of the brain. Human beings are the most social of all primates, and we also have the largest neocortex relative to the rest of the brain.

Living in large social groups requires having a tremendous amount of neural capacity to keep track of who knows what, who believes what, who likes what, who should be trusted and who should be avoided, and so on. Living in large social groups is also easier if you have some capacity to anticipate others’ actions before they make them, meaning that the ability to interpret somebody’s behavior in terms of an underlying mental state or goal is also invaluable. It’s our social intellect, not our thumbs, or our posture, or anything else, that makes human beings so special. more>

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Updates from Ciena

How photonic control plane advancements are benefiting network operators
A photonic control plane is not new to optical networks, but new capabilities are changing how operators can benefit from it.
By Paulina Gomez – To achieve better business outcomes in this new world of over-the-top competition and demanding, connected users, providers are on a journey to realizing the Adaptive Network™. They are evolving their networks to a more programmable infrastructure that can scale and respond on demand to meet unpredictable traffic requirements. At the foundation of this programmable infrastructure is an agile, resilient photonic layer that will allow operators to maximize efficiencies through new levels of agility, increased automation and simplified operations.

As I explained in a recent blog, there is a growing need for a flexible grid, reconfigurable photonic layer foundation in next-gen networks – one that leverages the combination of the latest coherent technology and a CDC-F ROADM infrastructure with increased automation to quickly adapt to dynamic customer demands.

A photonic control plane automates numerous network functions, radically simplifying operational processes and increasing network efficiency through accelerated service turn-up and the ability to remotely reconfigure the network.

Although a photonic control plane is not new to optical networks, its capabilities have been evolving to deliver new levels of intelligence and programmability to the optical network leveraging real-time analytics and SDN control to drive new efficiency opportunities for next-gen networks.

Let’s explore the key benefits gained by operators who deploy a photonic control plane and how it is helping them successfully transform their networks. more>

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Updates from Adobe

A Creative Stretch with Joe Cavazos
By Serena Fox – Sometimes we all need a creative reset. Whether it’s a summer slump, the December doldrums, or just a grueling workload, it’s easy for artists to get into a rut and lose touch with their creative process..

Last winter, art director/designer Joe Cavazos was feeling the creative blues. So he set himself a challenge: Create something fun for 30 minutes a day for one month, record the process, and post the time-lapse on Instagram. The result was far more than he’d expected: He invented a new circular stretch effect in Adobe Photoshop; boosted his Instagram following seven-fold; met new designers and clients online; and—most importantly—reconnected with the playful side of Photoshop that got him into the business in the first place.

“I started recording my illustration process a long time ago,” says Cavazos. “I don’t have the best memory, so it’s kind of a digital notebook that lets me go back and say, ‘How did I get to here?’ For me, creative warm-ups are a time to do passion project work, to spend 30 minutes to an hour creating something for the fun of it and recording that process. I would do those warm-ups every once in a while, especially when I got into a funk or when I was doing a lot of logo design or branding work, which is careful and exacting and very different than just playing with Photoshop.”

“And then,” he continues, “I decided to challenge myself to do it once a day, for a whole month. That forced me to go through my whole bag of tricks, just to get something done. For me, it’s helpful to have that accountability of posting every day, whether what I do is good or not—it’s part of not being afraid to learn.” Cavazos didn’t land on what he calls the Circular Pixel Stretch effect right away. He started by playing with stretched pixels, seeing what colors he could pull and how he could manipulate the pixels. “Then I thought about using Polar Coordinates—which is an old filter that’s been in Photoshop forever—and I figured out how to marry the two. That looked cool, so I just kept pushing it further and trying out different ways I could use it,” he says.

Because Cavazos recorded and posted his process every day, you can see his progression chronologically if you scroll through his Instagram.
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