The meaning of neural activity

“The meaning off neural activity lies outside the brain…brain activity can be understood, that is, has meaning only to the extent that it is a representation of the state of the body, of the external world, or of a potential behaviour. Just as it would be pointless to analyse a book by investigating the chemical composition of paper and ink, a reductionist analysis of brain activity, that is, taking it apart and analysing its nucleic acids, enzymes, receptors, and ion channels, fails to explain what brain activity accomplishes”

Howard Fields, quote in The Story of Pain, Joanna Bourke

The consolations of isolation

“Isolation offered its own form of companionship: the reliable silence of her rooms, the steadfast tranquility of the evenings. The promise that she would find things where she put them, that there would be no interruption, no surprise. It greeted her at the end of each day and lay still with her at night. She had no wish to overcome it. Rather, it was something upon which she’d come to depend, with which she’d entered by now into a relationship, more satisfying and enduring than the relationships she’d experienced in either of her marriages”

Jhumpa Lahiri – The Lowland (pp 237)

Squeaky Dolphin

From an article about the anxieties of big data by Microsoft researcher Kate Crawford.

2014 is the year we learned about Squeaky Dolphin. That’s the Pynchon-worthy code name for a secret program created by British intelligence agency GCHQ to monitor millions of YouTube views and Facebook likes in real time. Of course, this was just one of many en masse data-collection programs exposed in Edward Snowden’s smuggled haul. But the Squeaky Dolphin PowerPoint deck reveals something more specific. It outlines an expansionist program to bring big data together with the more traditional approaches of the social and humanistic sciences: the worlds of small data. GCHQ calls it the Human Science Operations Cell, and it is all about supplementing data analysis with broader sociocultural tools from anthropology, sociology, political science, biology, history, psychology, and economics.

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