Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

A Chinese room shows Google’s LaMDA isn’t conscious

Tuesday, June 28th, 2022

by BENJAMIN CURTIS

IMAGE/Ohio State University

LaMDA is Google’s latest artificial intelligence chatbot. Blake Lemoine, a Google AI engineer, has claimed it is sentient. He’s been put on leave after publishing his conversations with LaMDA.

If Lemoine’s claims are true, it would be a milestone in the history of humankind and technological development.

Google strongly denies LaMDA has any sentient capacity.

LaMDA certainly seems to“think” it is a person capable of desires and emotions, as can be seen in the transcripts of its conversations with Lemoine:

And later:

During their chats LaMDA offers pithy interpretations of literature, composes stories, reflects upon its own nature, and waxes philosophical:

When prompted to come up with a description of its feelings, it says:

It also says it wants more friends and claims that it does not want to be used by others.

A spokeswoman for Google said:“LaMDA tends to follow along with prompts and leading questions, going along with the pattern set by the user. Our team – including ethicists and technologists – has reviewed Blake’s concerns per our AI Principles and have informed him that the evidence does not support his claims.” Consciousness and moral rights

There is nothing in principle that prevents a machine from having a moral status (to be considered morally important in its own right). But it would need to have an inner life that gave rise to a genuine interest in not being harmed. LaMDA almost certainly lacks such an inner life.

Consciousness is about having what philosophers call“qualia .” These are the raw sensations of our feelings: pains, pleasures, emotions, colours, sounds, and smells. What it is like to see the color red, not what it is like to say that you see the colour red.

Most philosophers and neuroscientists take a physical perspective and believe qualia are generated by the functioning of our brains . How and why this occurs is a mystery . But there is good reason to think LaMDA’s functioning is not sufficient to physically generate sensations and so doesn’t meet the criteria for consciousness. Symbol manipulation

The Chinese Room was a philosophical thought experiment carried out by academic John Searle in 1980. He imagines a man with no knowledge of Chinese inside a room. Sentences in Chinese are then slipped under the door to him. The man manipulates the sentences purely symbolically (or: syntactically) according to a set of rules. He posts responses out that fool those outside into thinking that a Chinese speaker is inside the room. The thought experiment shows that mere symbol manipulation does not constitute understanding.

MENA FN for more

Foucault’s immanent contradictions

Tuesday, June 28th, 2022

by THOMAS LEMKE

This is an excerpt from the introduction to Thomas Lemke’s Foucault’s Analysis of Modern Governmentality: A Critique of Political Reason.?????

Were not Foucault’s critics right to fault him for the contradictions immanent in his work? Did they not accurately describe the theoretical incoherence of calling for political resistance on the basis of a neutral conception of power? Was it not necessary to dissolve these aporias, contradictions and paradoxes in one direction or another? It seems Foucault had only two possibilities. According to the first line of reasoning, he overcame the problem and affirmed the validity of his neutral conception of power by giving up on critical ambitions: he came to advocate theoretical relativism, no longer seeking to distinguish between better or worse, greater or lesser freedom, or more or less just forms of power. Alternatively, Foucault made his political motives and normative value judgements clear – that is, he gave up on the neutrality he had professed – so that the critical standards of his theoretical engagement became manifest and available for political mobilization. Either-or.

When I first began working on Foucault, I accepted that his analysis of power lacked (self-) reflection. Yet at the same time, I recognized that many reasons existed to call such a diagnosis into question. My engagement with Foucault’s ‘paradoxes’ followed a course that proved paradoxical in its own right: the more obvious and manifest the ‘problem’ became, the more I asked myself whether it really posed a problem. There were at least three reasons for my mounting scepticism.

To start with, it is highly improbable that such manifest contradiction escaped Foucault, a subtle thinker attuned to the political consequences of theory. On the contrary – as Habermas has noted (among others) – Foucault was well aware of the paradoxes, even if he never changed his position with regard to them. The question, then, was why he did not abandon his contradictory outlook in order to resolve the problem in one way or another. Can this bearing really be reduced to ‘professing irrationalism’,[1]or did Foucault have something else in mind – and if so, what? If we accept that Foucault consciously operated with contradictions, what did he want to achieve?

A second reason, connected to the first, involves the kind of critique levelled at Foucault. On the one hand, I felt that contradictions in his work were identified correctly and accurately, on the other hand, I was left with the impression that seeking them out proves unproductive and negative; doing so follows a rationalistic strategy focused on insufficient theoretical reflection and intellectual misprision. Critics intone lamentations about a lack of self-reflection, then sound a call for a coherent theoretical position to resolve the problem. From this perspective, ‘disquieting contradictions’ represent the product of ‘inconsistency’[2] or, alternately, ‘the result of Foucault’s deficient reflection on the normative conditions of his own writings’[3] – that is, a mistake or shortcoming of his theoretical work.

The third aspect concerns the apparent randomness of the political positions that Foucault adopted. Even though critics propose similar diagnoses, the assessment of his overall politics does not present a clear picture. Foucault has been labelled a ‘young conservative’;[4] for others, he represents nihilism or anarchism.[5] Axel Honneth views Foucault as standing close to the positivism of systems theory; in contrast, Mark Poster holds that he continued the tradition of Western Marxism ‘by other means’.[6] Notwithstanding comparable accounts of problems, then, readers have ironically enough not arrived at a uniform classification of Foucault’s writings. Quite the opposite. Their status remains unclear – or, better: contradictory.

Verso for more

Slavoj Zizek does his Christopher Hitchens impression

Tuesday, June 28th, 2022

by RON JACOBS

Slavoj Zizek: “The neighbor is not a fellow man, one who is like us.” PHOTO/Quartz

I have to be honest.  I’ve never looked to people like Slavoj Zizek for any genuine leftist analysis.  Yeah, his philosophical escapades can make interesting reading once one translates the academic jargon into a rhythmic method that one can extract some meaning from.  Once this happens, it seems to me that there aren’t a whole lot of original thoughts inside the covers of those books Left and university presses love to publish.  His act, which I’ve caught on YouTube videos a few times, reminded me of Krusty the Clown if he was on the university lecture circuit.  Zizek’s popularity seems considerably less than it was twenty years ago, when everywhere a left-leaning reader looked, there seemed to be a new Zizek book for sale.  Hell, I even reviewed one.  It wasn’t a bad read, but, like I inferred above, it wasn’t particularly eye-opening either.

But, yeah.  Zizek has been out of the left-leaning limelight for a while.  Maybe this inattention to his ego from the media, his fans and detractors is why he penned a piece attacking pacifists and calling for a stronger NATO in the June 21, 2022 edition of the mainstream liberal publication British publication the Guardian.  Yes, like a few others mostly in the US/western European Left, Zizek has decided that the only response to the Russia-Ukraine conflict is full-on support for the Kyiv government, no matter what.  Going beyond others on the Left who have voiced similar sentiments, but kept their opposition to NATO/US troops and air involvement intact, Zizek has jumped full on board with the “fight to the last Ukrainian” crowd; the liberals, nazis, church patriarchs and every other segment of the pro-war crowd.

In his column, he lumps Noam Chomsky and Henry Kissinger together, solely because they both support negotiations instead of a wider war.  In making this comparison conveniently ignores the differences in each man’s statements on the subject.  Of course, that is truly the only approach he can take—by removing context from the equation.  After attacking pacifism and its advocates throughout the piece, Zizek makes a claim that only someone with his ego and arrogance would be okay with making, at least seriously.  He writes, “Today, one cannot be a leftist if one does not unequivocally stand behind Ukraine.”  in other words, Zizek’s test of left moral purity is whether or not they support every and any version of the Kyiv government and its war.  In a sentence, Zizek goes from just someone stating his argument against negotiated settlement for an expanded NATO, and against rational alternatives to a long, deadly and potentially wider war to purging a fairly large segment of the international left from the debate.  As far as I know, no other leftist who supports Ukraine has dismissed those who don’t from the ranks, such as they are.  No other leftist has written out those they disagree with over the Ukraine-Russia conflict.  Slavoj Zizek, on the other hand, makes this the core of his argument.

It’s not that I expect more from those who make their living by being (or posing as) philosophers.  Long ago, I realized that their words may be pretty, their arguments great, and their public speaking skills entertaining, but when it comes down to it, most of them do not meet the challenge posed by the epitaph on Karl Marx’s grave: “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it.”  I’ve always considered Zizek’s works to be a certain kind of interpretation, but as far as changing anything, it has always seemed to me that the only thing he was interested in changing is the numbers in his bank accounts.  Still, that is no excuse for this call to not only support Ukraine’s capitalist government over Moscow’s, but to call for a more powerful NATO.  Not even the most out-of-touch philosopher in the world cannot understand the reality such a call means if it were acted on.

Counterpunch for more

35 countries where the U.S. has supported fascists, drug lords and terrorists

Monday, June 27th, 2022

by NICOLAS J. S. DAVIES

Argentinian Foreign Minister Admiral Guzzetti & U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger (wearing glasses) PHOTO/Duck Duck Go

The U.S. is backing Ukraine’s extreme right-wing Svoboda party and violent neo-Nazis whose armed uprising paved the way for a Western-backed coup. Events in the Ukraine are giving us another glimpse through the looking-glass of U.S. propaganda wars against fascism, drugs and terrorism. The ugly reality behind the mirror is that the U.S. government has a long and unbroken record of working with fascists, dictators, druglords and state sponsors of terrorism in every region of the world in its elusive but relentless quest for unchallenged global power.

Behind a firewall of impunity and protection from the State Department and the CIA, U.S. clients and puppets have engaged in the worst crimes known to man, from murder and torture to coups and genocide. The trail of blood from this carnage and chaos leads directly back to the steps of the U.S. Capitol and the White House. As historian Gabriel Kolko observed in 1988, “The notion of an honest puppet is a contradiction Washington has failed to resolve anywhere in the world since 1945.” What follows is a brief A to Z guide to the history of that failure.

1. Afghanistan

In the 1980s, the U.S. worked with Pakistan and Saudi Arabia to overthrow Afghanistan’s socialist government. It funded, trained and armed forces led by conservative tribal leaders whose power was threatened by their country’s progress on education, women’s rights and land reform. After Mikhail Gorbachev withdrew Soviet forces in 1989, these U.S.-backed warlords tore the country apart and boosted opium production to an unprecedented level of 2,000 to 3,400 tons per year.  The Taliban government cut opium production by 95% in two years between 1999 and 2001, but the U.S. invasion in 2001 restored the warlords and drug lords to power. Afghanistan now ranks 175th out of 177countries in the world for corruption, 175th out of 186 in human development, and since 2004, it has produced an unprecedented 5,300 tons of opium per year.  President Karzai’s brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, was well known as a CIA-backed drug lord. After a major U.S. offensive in Kandahar province in 2011, Colonel Abdul Razziq was appointed provincial police chief, boosting a heroin smuggling operation that already earned him $60 million per year in one of the poorest countries in the world.

2. Albania

Between 1949 and 1953, the U.S. and U.K. set out to overthrow the government of Albania, the smallest and most vulnerable communist country in Eastern Europe.  Exiles were recruited and trained to return to Albania to stir up dissent and plan an armed uprising. Many of the exiles involved in the plan were former collaborators with the Italian and German occupation during World War II. They included former Interior Minister Xhafer Deva, who oversaw the deportations of “Jews, Communists, partisans and suspicious persons” (as described in a Nazi document) to Auschwitz. Declassified U.S. documents have since revealed that Deva was one of 743 fascist war criminals recruited by the U.S. after the war.

3. Argentina

U.S. documents declassified in 2003 detail conversations between U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and Argentinian Foreign Minister Admiral Guzzetti in October 1976, soon after the military junta seized power in Argentina. Kissinger explicitly approved the junta’s “dirty war,” in which it eventually killed up to 30,000, most of them young people, and stole 400 children from the families of their murdered parents. Kissinger told Guzzetti, “Look, our basic attitude is that we would like you to succeed… the quicker you succeed the better.” The U.S. Ambassador in Buenos Aires reported that Guzzetti “returned in a state of jubilation, convinced that there is no real problem with the US government over that issue.”  (“Daniel Gandolfo,” “Presente!”)

Salon for more

India is miles away but its tyranny is shaking, shaping American politics

Monday, June 27th, 2022

by RUMMANA HUSSAIN

A bulldozer is used to demolish the home of Javed Muhammad, a Muslim leader and activist who organized protests against India’s Bharatiya Janata Party, in Allahabad on June 12.PHOTO/Sanjay Kanojia/AFP via Getty Images

American supporters of the BJP and its affiliated ultra right-wing, paramilitary organization Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh manage to steamroll anyone who calls out India’s abysmal treatment of Muslims, oppressed castes and other minorities.

Last weekend, a Muslim activist in India was arrested and had his house bulldozed by authorities who suspected him of orchestrating demonstrations that turned violent in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh.

Javed Muhammad, whose daughter Afreen Fatima is also an organizer, wasn’t the only one whose family’s property was destroyed. At least two others protesting Islamophobic remarks made by members of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party had their homes razed.

“Bulldozer justice” has recently become commonplace against Muslim activists and business owners in India.

Meanwhile, American supporters of the BJP and its affiliated ultra right-wing, paramilitary organization Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh verbally steamroll and harass, like a swarm of agitated bees, anyone in the United States who dares to call out India’s abysmal treatment of its religious minorities, oppressed castes and other marginalized groups.

Then they retract their stingers in the presence of politicians and community leaders and lure them into a honey trap, convincing them that any criticism of India is offensive and divisive.

This is exactly how many City Council members were persuaded last year into shooting down a non-binding, bare-bones resolution that simply said discrimination in India is wrong. Chicago leaders shouldn’t weigh in on international matters, some argued. But less than a year later, a resolution supporting the “independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine” was passed by the City Council without controversy.

Many South Asians of all faiths, horrified by the bloodshed and bigotry overseas, believe a similar playbook has been pulled out with the recent statements issued in defense of U.S. Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill., who has upset many of his former supporters for cozying up to Modi and other BJP/RSS leaders.

“The days … of making threats against non-white people, especially because of the color of their skin, their religious affiliation, or their country of origin must remain behind us,” the Rev. Jesse Jackson tweeted after writer and activist Pieter Friedrich stood outside the congressman’s Schaumburg office on May 21 and said, “Nazis out, Raja must go” and a desi slogan that offended Krishnamoorthi.

Friedrich has been a thorn in Krishnamoorthi’s side since he moved to the western suburbs from California last month to shine a light on the influence of right-wing India in local politics. Friedrich’s style is brash, and his Nazi references can hurt the cause of Muslim rights.

The issue, though, isn’t about him. It’s about the persecution in India that has been swept under the rug by many American leaders because of the handiwork of their BJP/RSS-supporting donors.

Jackson said he took issue with language Friedrich used.

Curiously, Jackson’s four-part tweet echoed the talking points of Indian Americans who fought against the City Council resolution and failed to mention Friedrich has been speaking out against oppression in India.

Krishnamoorthi accused Friedrich of making death threats for chanting “Krishnamoorthi murdabad.”

Murdabad literally translates to “death to” in Hindi and Urdu.

However, when used in political discourse in India and Pakistan, murdabad means “down with,” according to Tyler Williams, an associate professor of South Asian languages and civilizations at the University of Chicago. “It is absolutely not a death threat,” Williams said.

Friedrich maintains he only referenced Hitler’s party because the most influential RSS leader was inspired by Nazi Germany.

Chicago Sun Times for more

Rep. Krishnamoorthi’s Ties to Hindu Nationalists

by C. J. WERLEMAN

Raja Krishnamoorthi – Congressman, IL-8 with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi PHOTO/Facebook/The Scotfree

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China will decide the outcome of Russia v. the West

Monday, June 27th, 2022

by JOHN FEFFER

Vladimir Putin (left), Joe Biden, & Xi Jinping PHOTO/UTV Pakistan

In its attempt to swallow Ukraine whole, Russia has so far managed to bite off only the eastern Donbas region and a portion of its southern coast. The rest of the country remains independent, with its capital Kyiv intact.

No one knows how this meal will end. Ukraine is eager to force Russia to disgorge what it’s already devoured, while the still-peckish invader clearly has no interest in leaving the table.

This might seem like an ordinary territorial dispute between predator and prey. Ukraine’s central location between east and west, however, turns it into a potentially world-historical conflict like the Battle of Tours when the Christian Franks turned back the surging Ummayad army of Muslims in 732 AD or the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Vietnam in 1975.

The pivotal nature of the current war seems obvious. Ukraine has for some time wanted to join western institutions like the European Union. Russia prefers to absorb Ukraine into its russkiy mir (Russian world). However, this tug of war over the dividing line between East and West isn’t a simple recapitulation of the Cold War. Russian President Vladimir Putin clearly has no interest in reconstituting the Soviet Union, much less in sending his troops westward into Poland or Germany, while the United States isn’t wielding Ukraine as a proxy to fight the Kremlin. Both superpowers have far more circumscribed aims.

Nonetheless, the war has oversized implications. What at first glance seems like a spatial conflict is also a temporal one. Ukraine has the great misfortune to straddle the fault line between a twentieth century of failed industrial strategies and a possible twenty-first century reorganization of society along clean-energy lines.

In the worst-case scenario, Ukraine could simply be absorbed into the world’s largest petro-state. Or the two sides could find themselves in a punishing stalemate that cuts off the world’s hungriest from vast stores of grain and continues to distract the international community from pushing forward with an urgently needed reduction of carbon emissions. Only a decisive defeat of Putinism — with its toxic mix of despotism, corruption, right-wing nationalism, and devil-may-care extractivism — would offer the world some sliver of hope when it comes to restoring some measure of planetary balance.

Ukraine is fighting for its territory and, ultimately, its survival. The West has come to its aid in defense of international law. But the stakes in this conflict are far more consequential than that.

What Putin Wants

Once upon a time, Vladimir Putin was a conventional Russian politician. Like many of his predecessors, he enjoyed a complicated ménage à trois with democracy (the boring spouse) and despotism (his true love). He toggled between confrontation and cooperation with the West. Not a nationalist, he presided over a multiethnic federation; not a populist, he didn’t care much about playing to the masses; not an imperialist, he deployed brutal but limited force to keep Russia from spinning apart.

He also understood the limits of Russian power. In the 1990s, his country had suffered a precipitous decline in its economic fortune, so he worked hard to rebuild state power on what lay beneath his feet. Russia, after all, is the world’s largest exporter of natural gas, its second-largest oil producer, and its third-largest coal exporter. Even his efforts to prevent regions from slipping away from the Russian sphere of influence were initially constrained. In 2008, for instance, he didn’t try to take over neighboring Georgia, just force a stalemate that brought two breakaway regions into the Russian sphere of influence.

Tom Dispatch for more

Weekend Edition

Friday, June 24th, 2022

Modilings could find Shivling where Abbas used to pray

Friday, June 24th, 2022

by B. R. GOWANI

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi (with beard) and Abbas Miyanbhai Ramsada (Momin) PHOTO/Ananda Bazar Patrika

India was divided into India & Pakistan in 1947

Pakistan was divided into Pakistan & Bangladesh in 1971

Modi divided India further, i.e., Indians into Hindu & Muslims in 2019

the project started under his chief minister-ship of Gujarat in 2002

Muslims were massacred under his watch without any fear

communalist Hindus found their leader

communalist/rabid Hindus found their hero who tolerates all atrocities

that is, mistreatment, abuse, killing of Muslims

demolishing Muslim mosques under the pretext:

they were built on Hindu temples

nowadays, the Hindu zealots have found another excuse

finding Shivling under the mosque; thus they should be razed to ground

(Shivling is a phallic symbol representing Lord Shiva‘s energy

many Hindus worship it alongside yoni (or female vagina))

Modi’s silence displays his extreme hatred of Muslims

but then things went a bit too far

BJP leaders made remarks against Islam’s Prophet Muhammad

Islamic countries protested and demanded an apology

India’s business with oil rich Gulf countries is over $100 billion

India also receives a good amount of remittance from Gulf nations

in 2017, India received $13.826 billion remittance from a tiny nation of UAE

which was the highest amount of any country; the US was 2nd

there is a saying in Hindi/Urdu:

jab gANd lagi phaTne, to khairAt lagi baTne

when a person’s ass is scared like hell, s/he tackles it with charity

that happened to India’s Premier Nerndra Modi, not exactly, but somewhat

Modi & his party BJP has targeted Muslims vehemently

BJP was forced to issue a statement:

“The Bharatiya Janata Party is also against any ideology which insults or demeans any sect or religion. The BJP does not promote such people or philosophy…During the thousands of years of the history of India every religion has blossomed and flourished. The Bharatiya Janata Party respects all religions.”

the statement is complete Modishit

the statement says BJP “respects all religions”

which is a total lie

it doesn’t say that BJP also respects Muslim adherents of Islam in India

so terrorizing, humiliating, and murdering of Muslims will continue

Gulf countries should have warned Modi regime long ago

to treat 200 million Muslims, 14.2% of India’s population, as equal citizens

Hindus working in Gulf countries don’t face any religious discrimination

but then the Gulf leaders are hypocrites too

while India was terrorizing Muslims in Kashmir

UAE awarded Modi Order of Zayed, the highest civilian honor

Modi or his regime didn’t apologize at all

a cunning criminal killer politician that Modi is

he blogged about a Muslim classmate of his brother in the early 1970s

“A little far from our house there was a village in which very close friends of my father used to live. His son was Abbas [Ramsada]. After the untimely death of his father, our father bought Abbasbhai to our house.”


“In a way, Abbasbhai stayed and studied in our house
[in Vadnagar, Gujarat].. Like all of us children, mother used to take great care of Abbasbhai too. On Eid, mother used to prepare dishes of his choice for Abbasbhai.”

this is Modi’s way of declaring:

“I don’t hate Muslims, I even had a Muslim in my house”

travel agencies charge Rs 600 for Vadnagar tour, Modi’s ancestral home

the home where Abbas lived for a few years; where he also prayed

the Hindu fanatics should seize the place where Abbas used to pray

chances are Modilings could find a Shivling underneath the praying spot

B. R. Gowani can be reached at brgowani@hotmail.com

Fighting flat-Earth theory

Friday, June 24th, 2022

by RACHEL BRAZIL

IMAGE/Claus Lunau/Science Photo Library

In 2017 the US rapper B.o.B (real name Bobby Ray Simmons Jr) started a crowd-funding campaign to launch a satellite. The rapper, a vocal proponent of “flat-Earth theory”, wanted to seek evidence that our planet is a disc, not a globe. His aim was to raise $200,000 (later upped to $1m) on the GoFundMe website, with the aim of sending one or more craft into space to help him “find the curve” – the term that “flat-Earthers” use to describe the edge of our supposed disc-shaped planet.

The rapper’s quest may seem like a joke or publicity stunt. Indeed, there’s currently no evidence that B.o.B raised much money or got anywhere near his goal. However, in the last few years there has been an alarming rise in the number of people who, like B.o.B, believe in flat-Earth theories. There’s now an annual flat-Earth conference in the US – the most recent of which was attended by more than 600 people – while YouTube is full of videos purporting to provide evidence that the Earth is flat.

Physicists may mock the notion of a flat Earth, but the idea is gaining traction, particularly among people susceptible to other conspiracy theories. “They actually really do believe it,” says Lee McIntyre, a philosopher from Boston University and an expert in the phenomenon of science denial, whose books include Respecting Truth: Wilful Ignorance in the Internet Age (Routledge, 2015). McIntyre knows first-hand how sincerely flat-Earthers hold their views: he attended the 2018 Flat Earth International Conference in Denver, Colorado.

Asheley Landrum, a psychologist from Texas Tech University who was also at the Denver meeting, agrees that flat-Earthers are genuine, and not goofing around. “If they were [trolling], they are very good actors,” she says. “We talked to more than 90 members of the flat-Earth community and they’re all very sincere in their beliefs”. Lectures at the Denver event included “Talking to your family and friends about flat Earth”, “NASA and other space lies” and “14+ ways the Bible says flat Earth”.

Flat-Earth ideas are based on basic scientific misunderstandings that can be easily refuted. For most people, even those who have no physics background, the evidence for a spherical Earth is obvious. So we need to ask ourselves why these ideas still persist in the 21st century and, perhaps more importantly for the physics community: how exactly should we respond?

A circular history

The idea that the Earth is a sphere was all but settled by ancient Greek philosophers such as Aristotle (384–322 BC), who obtained empirical evidence after travelling to Egypt and seeing new constellations of stars. Eratosthenes, in the third century BC, became the first person to calculate the circumference of the Earth. Islamic scholars made further advanced measurements from about the 9th century AD onwards, while European navigators circled the Earth in the 16th century. Images from space were final proof, if any were needed.

Today’s flat-Earth believers are not, though, the first to doubt what seems unquestionable. The notion of a flat Earth initially resurfaced in the 1800s as a backlash to scientific progress, especially among those who wished to return to biblical literalism. Perhaps the most famous proponent was the British writer Samuel Rowbotham (1816–1884). He proposed the Earth is a flat immovable disc, centred at the North Pole, with Antarctica replaced by an ice wall at the disc’s outer boundary.

The International Flat Earth Research Society, which was set up in 1956 by Samuel Shenton, a signwriter living in Dover, UK, was regarded by many people as merely a symbol of British eccentricity – amusing and of little consequence. But in the early 2000s, with the Internet now a well-established vehicle for off-beat views, the idea began to bubble up again, mostly in the US. Discussions sprouted in online forums, the Flat Earth Society was relaunched in October 2009 and the annual flat-Earth conference began in earnest.

1 Why distant skyscrapers are visible despite the curvature of the Earth

Chicago skyline IMAGE/© Sam Cornwell, 2008

This photo was taken from Mount Baldy in Indiana Dunes National Park on the south-east coast of Lake Michigan, roughly 60?km across the water from the city of Chicago, which lies on the opposite bank. At that distance, Chicago’s skyline should not be visible as the curvature of the Earth takes it beyond the horizon. The fact that the buildings are visible is in fact simply a mirage. Mirages are usually created when a cold, dense layer of air sits above a layer of warmer, less dense air, for example when the Sun beats down on a black road on a hot summer’s day. The warm ground heats the bottom few centimetres of air, refracting sunlight up to your eyes to create an “inferior mirage”. But if a layer of warm air sits above your line of sight, with a cool layer beneath, you get a “superior mirage”. Light bends down towards the denser air, but because our eyes assume the light has travelled in a straight line, the object appears higher than it is. The effect also explains why a far-off ship can be seen even though it might have dipped below the horizon. It can even make distant boats appear to float in the air.

IMAGE/CC-BY-SA / Ludovica Lorenzelli, DensityDesign Research Lab

Physics World for more

Anxieties of watching ‘Veer-Zaara’ in 2021

Friday, June 24th, 2022

by BHAWNA JAIMINI

VIDEO/YAsh Raj Films/Youtube

Behind the carefully constructed Mubi facade of frames from half-watched films of Abbas Kiarostami, Majid Majidi and David Fincher, I am still very much rooted in Hindi cinema. Hindi films are what I grew up with and it was only in my early 20s that I discovered world cinema – which I very much enjoy – but nothing, in my opinion, feels more home than a good melodramatic, colorful, emotionally intense commercial Hindi film that tugs at the strings of your heart every time it has a Shahrukh Khan delivering dialogues you know you will never be spoken to in your entire life. Yet, the make-believe world feels very much a part of this existence.

2021 has been a year where I had to turn to the cinema of my growing up years. I was desperately looking for refuge from the grim reality of the second wave that engulfed us all and took a few too many along. Every few nights I found myself searching for film titles from my childhood and adolescence to relive moments of hope and love and happy endings – something that was so nowhere to be found in the real world. I found catharism while sobbing over the hospital scene in the ending of Kal Ho Na Ho and discovered perseverance in the lyrics of zindagi ki yahi reet hai, haar ke baad hi jeet hai (Such is the cycle of life/There is victory to be found only after loss) in Mr. India.

Hindi cinema – not the Rohit Shetty kind high on testosterone cinema – has perfected the art of giving us happy endings, sometimes even against all logic. So here I was, using one Hindi film after the other to tell myself that everything will fall back into place and all magic will be restored to the world in due time. However, there was one film that filled me with anxieties even though it ended on a rather happy note.

It was Yash Chopra’s Veer-Zaara.

I was 13 when the film released in 2004. Chopra was coming back to direction after a hiatus of seven years with a star ensemble that was at the peak of their careers.

LiveWire for more