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Quinn Norton, who was Aaron Swartz's lover, remembers him:
We used to have a fight about how much the internet would grieve if he died. I was right, but the last word you get in as the still living is a hollow thing, trailing off, as it does, into oblivion. I love Aaron. I loved Aaron. There are no words to can contain love, to cloth it in words is to kill it, to mummify it and hope that somewhere in the heart of a reader, they have the strength and the magic to resurrect it. I can only say I love him. That I will always love him, and that I known for years I would. Aaron was a boy, not big, who cast a shadow across the world. But for me, he will always be that person who made me love him. He was so frustrating, and we fought. But we fought like what we were: two difficult people who couldn’t escape loving each other.
While you were eating Thanksgiving turkey, surrounded by loving family and friends, one whale was all alone, swimming through the Pacific Ocean with no one to talk to and no one to care.
Since 1989, researchers have been tracking this specific whale based on its distinct vocalizations. Baleen whales — a category of cetaceans without teeth, separate from their toothy dolphin/beluga/orca relations — are famous for producing eerie, underwater songs and scientists think those sounds are probably an extremely important aspect of participation in whale society. Baleen whales lack keen eyesight and sense of smell underwater, so sounds are probably how they recognize one another, help each other navigate, and even find mates. But these vocalizations happen in very specific frequency range — between 10 and 31 hertz, depending on the species. The Christmas Whale, on the other hand, speaks at 52 hertz. Imagine brining a piccolo to a tuba party. That is analogous to the awkward position that the 52-hertz whale is in.
Scientists usually pick up the call of the 52-hertz whale sometime between August and December, as it makes its way through a Cold War-era network of underwater microphones in the North Pacific. Although this whale has apparently survived for many years and seems to have grown and matured during that time (based on its voice deepening slightly), it also appears to exist outside of whale social systems. It travels alone. Nobody answers its high-pitched pleas for love. Every so often, non-scientist humans remember that it exists and write sad stories about it. But nobody is sure why it sings out of range of its fellow whales.
It strikes me as the kind of horribly sad thing that should get made into a maudlin children's picture book. The central message: Appreciate the love you have and give love in return. This holiday season, remember the plight of the loneliest whale. Give thanks for the presence of the people who love you. Show affection to others.
Listen to NOAA recordings of the 52-hertz whale (these have been sped up 10x)
The Loneliest Mix is a fan-site where you can download 52-hertz whale audio and video clips.
The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute's page on the 52-hertz whale
Research paper explaining how scientists capture whale sounds in the north Pacific.
Picture taken the day after Thanksgiving at the Milwaukee Public Museum. I don't think they meant to tie into the legend of The Christmas Whale. But hey, it works.
I am grateful for friends like Grady, who alert me to stories like this.
U.S. President Barack Obama said today he believes same-sex couples should be allowed to marry, taking a stand that is likely to please his political base and upset conservative voters. Your thoughts on the news, and what it means for the presidential election season in America, are welcome in the comments.
The first-ever wedding sanctioned by the Church of Kopimism (an officially Swedish church that reifies copying and characterizes file-sharing as a sacred act) was convened last weekend. It was a beautiful and awfully funny and joyous occasion, judging from the video. Here's Torrentfreak's Ernesto with more:
It was only a matter of time before the first Kopimist couple would become married, and last weekend this joyful union took place at the Share conference in Belgrade.
On stage, a Romanian woman and an Italian man were joined in a holy Kopimist act. Both promised to share the rest of their lives together and to uphold the highest sharing standards.
The Church was delighted to bring the news and commented: “We are very happy today. Love is all about sharing. A married couple share everything with each other.”
Like any other matrimony, a Kopimism marriage is bound by rules. The Church of Kopimism allows the couple to share their love with others, as long as those others don’t steal it. Most importantly, however, they have to copy and remix themselves.
“Hopefully, they will copy and remix some DNA-cells and create a new human being. That is the spirit of Kopimism. Feel the love and share that information. Copy all of its holiness.”
Or to put it in the words of another famous religion: “Be fruitful and multiply, teem on the earth and multiply in it.”
While they were both in the psychology department of Stony Brook University, Bianca Acevedo and Arthur Aron scanned the brains of long-married couples who described themselves as still “madly in love.” Staring at a picture of a spouse lit up their reward centers as expected; the same happened with those newly in love (and also with cocaine users). But, in contrast to new sweethearts and cocaine addicts, long-married couples displayed calm in sites associated with fear and anxiety. Also, in the opiate-rich sites linked to pleasure and pain relief, and those affiliated with maternal love, the home fires glowed brightly.
The Brain on Love (NYT)
Marilyn Terrell of National Geographic Traveler magazine says, "I thought you might like this sweet story about Alexander Graham Bell, who was a 27-yr-old Scottish speech therapist and part-time inventor when he fell madly in love with 17-yr-old Mabel Gardiner Hubbard, who was deaf, and whose father was the first president of the National Geographic Society."
Mabel Gardiner Hubbard was only five years old when scarlet fever rendered her deaf for life. At the age of 17, she would meet a young Scottish speech therapist who was destined to shape her life. Gardiner Greene Hubbard, Mabel’s father and National Geographic’s first president, took a liking to the industrious teacher and part-time inventor. We know him better as Alexander Graham Bell. This is their love story.
The 27-year-old Alexander fell in love with Mabel when she was 17, but it was an unreciprocated fancy. “He was tall and dark with jet-black hair and eyes, but dressed badly and carelessly,” she said. “I could never marry such a man!” Despite her initial disinterest, she began to grow fond of him during his time as her speech teacher and their relationship evolved. After one of her first classes with him, a giddy Mabel wrote to her mother: “Mr. Bell said today my voice is naturally sweet.” In a letter to Mabel on the night of their engagement, Alexander wrote, “I am afraid to fall asleep, lest I should find it all a dream — so I shall lie awake and think of you.”
Photo: Mabel Hubbard Bell and Alexander Graham Bell. (National Geographic Society)
This Valentine's Day, enjoy a classic essay by Annalee Newitz about celebrating differently-defined love.(image: Shutterstock)
If that special person in your life has the right sense of humor, this card, designed by dandee and for sale on Etsy, may be just the thing to make them feel all smooshy inside without playing in too heavily to the Valentine's Day prisoner's dilemma game.
Luckily for Christopher Baker, who showed me this card, I do have the right sense of humor. Happy early Valentine's, babe.
Luckily for Christopher Baker, who showed me this card, I do have the right sense of humor. Happy early Valentine's, babe.
"My Favorite Museum Exhibit" is a series of posts aimed at giving BoingBoing readers a chance to show off their favorite exhibits and specimens, preferably from museums that might go overlooked in the tourism pantheon. I'll be featuring posts in this series all week. Want to see them all? Check out the archive post. I'll update the full list there every morning.
Not every museum exhibit will survive untouched from your childhood to your grandchildrens'. Over time, historic and scientific accuracy, changing mores and aesthetics, and improvements in design will force some exhibits off the main stage and into the dusty storage room of memory.
But you can still love them from afar.
On this, the last day of "My Favorite Museum Exhibit" week, I'd like to include one man's tribute to a long-dismantled museum exhibit. Tom Luthman writes:
When I was a kid in the 1970s, I'd go to the Center of Science and Industry in Columbus, Ohio (COSI). COSI opened in 1964, in the old Franklin County Memorial Hall, built in 1906. It closed in 1999, or rather, it moved to a new location, and most of the old exhibits didn't make the move.
One of the exhibits was THE TRIUMPH OF MAN, a leftover exhibit from the 1964 World's Fair in New York City, built by the Travelers Insurance Companies. You'd walk down a darkened corridor, and off in alcoves were 14 paper-mache scenes depicting the history of humanity. All accompanied by a recorded narration from the World's Fair. It was also sold in the gift shop as a 33-1/3 record, which we had.
Now, Luthman has put that recording to good use, incorporating it into a Flash-based recreation of THE TRIUMPH OF MAN* that will live online, long after the physical exhibit has decomposed in a landfill somewhere.
This is a really neat project and worth checking out, even if you don't have the emotional connection to THE TRIUMPH OF MAN that Luthman does. Just make sure you're someplace where you can crank up the sound and enjoy that sweet, sweet mid-20th-century triumphalism in stereo.
*Of course it's in all caps every time. It's THE TRIUMPH OF MAN, for god's sake.
The New York Times has an op-ed out today, which claims that fMRI studies show that, when people are exposed to a pretty, shiny, ringing iPhone, the experience lights up the part of their brains that signifies a deep, compassionate love for something. iPhones trigger the same brain activity that your parents and loved ones trigger, writes branding strategist Martin Lindstrom.
Clearly, this was going to turn out to wildly misleading. You love your iPhone like you love your mother is just not the kind of statement that passes a cursory bullshit inspection. And lots of people have handily debunked it, including a couple of actual nueroimaging specialists, Russ Poldrack and Tal Yarkoni.
So, how wrong was the NYT op-ed? Pretty damn wrong. Turns out, the part of the brain Martin Lindstrom identifies with lovey-dovey emotions is a lot more complicated than that. Here's Russ Poldrack:
Insular cortex may well be associated with feelings of love and compassion, but this hardly proves that we are in love with our iPhones. In Tal Yarkoni's recent paper in Nature Methods, we found that the anterior insula was one of the most highly activated part of the brain, showing activation in nearly 1/3 of all imaging studies! Further, the well-known studies of love by Helen Fisher and colleagues don't even show activation in the insula related to love, but instead in classic reward system areas.
... the insula (or at least the anterior part of the insula) plays a very broad role in goal-directed cognition. It really is activated when you’re doing almost anything that involves, say, following instructions an experimenter gave you, or attending to external stimuli, or mulling over something salient in the environment.
So, by definition, there can’t be all that much specificity to what the insula is doing, since it pops up so often. To put it differently, as Russ and others have repeatedly pointed out, the fact that a given region activates when people are in a particular psychological state (e.g., love) doesn’t give you license to conclude that that state is present just because you see activity in the region in question. If language, working memory, physical pain, anger, visual perception, motor sequencing, and memory retrieval all activate the insula, then knowing that the insula is active is of very little diagnostic value.
I'd recommend reading Yarkoni's full post, because it also gets into some really fascinating nuance behind the neuroscience of addiction. Shorter version: We don't have a clear biomarker that signals addiction, or addictive behavior. You couldn't even diagnose an obviously addicted individual using neuroimaging. So you should beware of anybody who tells you that an fMRI study demonstrates that people are addicted to anything.