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The Famous Schrodinger’s Cat Thought Experiment Gets Brought to Life in an Off-Kilter Animation

in Animation, Physics | March 24th, 2017

Schrödinger’s Cat is one of the more famous thought experiments in modern physics, created by Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger back in 1935.  The Telegraph summarizes the gist of the experiment as follows:

In the hypothetical experiment … a cat is placed in a sealed box along with a radioactive sample, a Geiger counter and a bottle of poison.

If the Geiger counter detects that the radioactive material has decayed, it will trigger the smashing of the bottle of poison and the cat will be killed.

The experiment was designed to illustrate the flaws of the ‘Copenhagen interpretation’ of quantum mechanics, which states that a particle exists in all states at once until observed.

If the Copenhagen interpretation suggests the radioactive material can have simultaneously decayed and not decayed in the sealed environment, then it follows the cat too is both alive and dead until the box is opened.

The University of Nottingham’s Sixty Symbols YouTube channel provides a more complete explanation. But with or without any further introduction, you can watch the off-kilter animation, above, which imagines the origins of the original experiment. It was created by Chavdar Yordanov for an animation show in London.

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A Short Video Introduction to Alice Guy-Blaché (1873–1968), the First Female Film Director & Studio Mogul

in Film, History | March 24th, 2017

This year’s Women’s History Month theme is “Honoring Trailblazing Women in Labor and Business.” Before these lionesses are hustled offstage in order for us to refocus our attentions on Asian/Pacific Americans, Jewish-Americans, Autism Awareness, Multiple Births, Sexually Transmitted Disease Education, pecans and the myriad other calendar girls and boys that April brings, let’s join video essayist Catherine Stratton in celebrating the achievements of filmmaker Alice Guy-Blaché, above.

While not an officially recognized honoree, Guy-Blaché, who made over 1,000 films over two decades, definitely qualifies as a trailblazing woman.

At age 21, she became the first female director in cinema history with The Cabbage Fairy, below, a whimsical, if not particularly accurate vision of where babies come from. (It was shot in 1896, long before rules limiting the amount of time a newborn actor can spend on set, but only a handful of years before nurse Margaret Sanger took up the cause of women’s reproductive health.)

She tackled the Life of Christ with a passel of animals, special effects, and 300 extras.

She popped viewers eyes with candy-colored hand tinting.

She built a state-of-the-art film studio in Fort Lee, New Jersey, pruning the terrain to serve as a variety of landscapes.

Viewed from the lens of 2017, one of her most startling achievements is 1912’s A Fool and His Money, an excerpt of which is below. The tale itself is an unremarkable crowdpleaser: a poor guy falls in love with a wealthy young woman. He goes to great lengths to woo her, outfitting himself with fancy duds and throwing a huge party, only to be bested by a flashy rival.

What is remarkable is that Guy-Blaché was white and the film’s cast is entirely African-American. According to essayist Stratton, the characters are portrayed with none of the explicit racism DW Griffith brought to The Birth of a Nation three years later.

As Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls site reports, Guy-Blaché passed from the public view after an expensive divorce from her philandering husband forced her to sell her studio. She struggled to gain public recognition for her pioneering contributions to film history with little success. A Fool and His Money was rediscovered when a flea market shopper bought a musty chest of old, unmarked reels.

Like that film, her reputation is slowly being restored to its former glory. She was awarded France’s Legion of Honor in 1955 and a Director’s Guild of America Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012.

Give this trailblazing woman another look!

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

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Carl Sagan Explains How the Ancient Greeks, Using Reason and Math, Figured Out the Earth Isn’t Flat, Over 2,000 Years Ago

in History, Science | March 24th, 2017

The denial of science has entered the highest levels of government, and no matter what the data says, the U.S. promises to cease all efforts to curtail, or even study, climate change. Astrophysicist Katie Mack calls this retrenchment a form of “data nihilism,” writing in an exasperated tweet, “What is science? How can a thing be known? Is anything even real???” Indeed, what can we expect next from what Isaac Asimov called the United States’ anti-intellectual “cult of ignorance”? A flat earth lobby?

Welp… at least a couple celebrity figures have come out as a flat-earthers, perhaps the vanguard of an anti-round earth movement. First Cleveland Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving made the claim on a podcast, insisting, Chris Matyszczyk writes, that “we were being lied to about such basic things by the global elites.”  Then, no less a basketball worthy than Shaquille O’Neal weighed in with his own belief in flat-earthism.




Is this a joke? I hope so. Neil DeGrasse Tyson—who hosted the recent Cosmos remake to try and dispel such scientific ignorance—replied all the same, noting that Irving should “stay away from jobs that require… understanding of the natural world.” The weird affair has played out like a sideshow next to the mainstage political circus, an unsettling reminder of Carl Sagan’s prediction in his last book, The Demon Haunted World, that Americans would soon find their “critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what’s true.”

Sagan devoted much of his life to countering anti-science trends with warmth and enthusiasm, parking himself “repeatedly, arguably compulsively, in front of TV cameras,” writes Joel Achenbach at Smithsonian. We most remember him for his original 1980 Cosmos miniseries, his most public role as a “gatekeeper of scientific credibility,” as Achenbach calls him. I think Sagan may have chafed at the description. He wanted to open the gates and let the public in to scientific inquiry. He charitably listened to unscientific theories, and patiently took the time to explain their flaws.

In the very first episode of Cosmos, Sagan addressed the flat-earthers, indirectly, by explaining how Eratosthenes, a Libyan-Greek scholar and chief librarian at the Library of Alexandria, discovered over 2000 years ago that the earth is a sphere. Given the geographer, mathematician, poet, historian, and astronomer’s incredible list of accomplishments—a system of latitude and longitude, a map of the world, a system for finding prime numbers—this may not even rank as his highest achievement.

In the Cosmos clip above, Sagan explains Eratosthenes’ scientific method: he made observations of how shadows change length given the position of the sun in the sky. Estimating the distance between the cities of Syene and Alexandria, he was then able to mathematically calculate the circumference of the earth, as Cynthia Stokes Brown explains at Khan Academy. Although “several sources of error crept into Eratosthenes’ calculations and our interpretation of them,” he nonetheless succeeded almost perfectly. His estimation: 250,000 stadia, or 25,000 miles. The actual circumference: 24,860 miles (40.008 kilometers).

No, of course the Earth isn’t flat. But Sagan’s lesson on how one scientist from antiquity came to know that isn’t an exercise in debunking. It’s a journey into the movement of the solar system, into ancient scientific history, and most importantly, perhaps, into the scientific method, which does not rely on hearsay from “global elites” or shadowy figures, but on the tools of observation, inference, reasoning, and math. Professional scientists are not without their biases and conflicts of interest, but the most fundamental intellectual tools they use are available to everyone on Earth.

via 9Gag

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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Stream Loads of “City Pop,” the Electronic-Disco-Funk Music That Provided the Soundtrack for Japan During the Roaring 1980s

in Music | March 24th, 2017

News about Japan today tends to focus on the country’s long economic stagnation and population decline, but in the 1980s it looked like the world’s next superpower. Harvard social scientist Ezra Vogel had just published the bestselling warning Japan as Number One. Postwar reconstruction had turned into rapid growth, then into a kind of financial gigantism. International consumers drove Japanese cars and filled their homes with Japanese electronics. Japanese conglomerates went on a worldwide spending binge, snapping up other countries’ real estate, their manufacturers, and even their movie studios. Camera-wielding Japanese tourists replaced the “ugly American” as the boorish wealthy tourist of stereotype.

What went on back in Tokyo as the rest of the developed world looked on in amazement (and a kind of horror)? Outside of Japan’s infamously rigorous work culture — itself part of the reason for all the growth — its boom and consequently enormous asset bubble gave rise to new lifestyles and cultures, and the soundtrack of the party was “city pop.” Mixing English lyrics in with Japanese, drawing influences from Western disco, funk, and R&B, and using the latest sonic technologies mastered nowhere more than in Japan itself, this new, slickly produced subgenre offered a cosmopolitanism, according to Mori-ra at Electronic Beats, that “appealed to those who benefited from the so-called post-war ‘economic miracle.'” While outside Japan “city pop might be viewed as general 1980s Japanese music, now that Japanese music has become trendy, city pop has begun to be uncovered and even reissued.”

What’s more, city pop has become a subculture again in our internet era, and a global one at that. Its current enthusiasts, many of them not Japanese or in any case born too late to benefit from the boom, create and share their own city pop mixes, carefully curating the tracks (sometimes even supplying visuals gathered from sources like the Japanese animation of the era, often with a Blade Runner aesthetic) to perfectly evoke the high life in 1980s Tokyo as they imagine it. (Friends who actually lived in Japan then describe it as an environment of unalloyed new-money obnoxiousness, but city pop, like all pop, sells fantasy, not reality.) You get a taste of that high life by sampling the many city pop mixes freely available on the internet. At the top of this post you’ll find the second of three posted to Youtube by a user called Van Paugam (part one, part two, part three).

Below that, we have a 45-minute “Mixtape from Japan” whose creator goes by Starfunkel. It features not just city pop tracks but, for transitional material, vintage recordings and movie clips to do with the Land of the Rising Sun. (Keep your ears open for the voice of Bill Murray.) Then, the vinyl-only mix by I’mmanuel in Amsterdam simply titled “音楽 Ongaku #1” — Japanese for “music” — places city pop in a context with other Japanese grooves of the era. You’ll find much more curated city pop on Soundcloud, from the ever-growing “High School Mellow” series to Brazilian funk musician Ed Motta’s 70s-oriented mix to Mori-Ra’s own maximally mellow “Japanese Breeze” collection. Get too deep, though, and you’ll end up like me, making trips to Japan to go city pop-shopping and even (slowly) reading Japanese books on the subject. The bubble may have long since burst, but the beat goes on.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

 

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Nick Cave Narrates an Animated Film about the Cat Piano, the Twisted 18th Century Musical Instrument Designed to Treat Mental Illness

in History, Psychology, Random | March 23rd, 2017

What do you imagine when you hear the phrase “cat piano”? Some kind of whimsical furry beast with black and white keys for teeth, maybe? A relative of My Neighbor Totoro’s cat bus? Or maybe you picture a piano that contains several caged cats who shriek along an entire scale when keys are pressed that slam sharpened nails into their tails. If this is your answer, you might find people slowly backing away from you at times, or gently suggesting you get some psychiatric help.

But then, imagine that such a perverse oddity was in use by psychiatrists, like the 18th-century German physician Johann Christian Reil, who—reports David McNamee at The Guardian—“wrote that the device was intended to shake mental patients who had lost the ability to focus out of a ‘fixed state’ and into ‘conscious awareness.’”




So long, meds. See you, meditation and mandala coloring books…. I joke, but apparently Dr. Reil was in earnest when he wrote in an 1803 manual for the treatment of mental illness that patients could “be placed so that they are sitting in direct view of the cat’s expressions when the psychiatrist plays a fugue.”

A bafflingly cruel and nonsensical experiment, and we might rejoice to know it probably never took place. But the bizarre idea of the cat piano, or Katzenklavier, did not spring from the weird delusions of one sadistic psychiatrist. It was supposedly invented by German polymath and Jesuit scholar Athanasius Kircher (1602–1680), who has been called “the last Renaissance man” and who made pioneering discoveries in the fields of microbiology, geology, and comparative religion. He was a serious scholar and a man of science. Maybe the Katzenklavier was intended as a sick joke that others took seriously—and for a very long time at that. The illustration of a Katzenklavier above dates from 1667, the one below from 1883.

Kircher’s biographer John Glassie admits that, for all his undoubted brilliance, several of his “actual ideas today seem wildly off-base; if not simply bizarre” as well as “inadvertently amusing, right, wrong, half-right, half-baked, ridiculous….” You get the idea. He was an eccentric, not a psychopath. McNamee points to other, likely apocryphal, stories in which cats were supposedly used as instruments. Perhaps, cruel as it seems to us, the cat piano seemed no crueller in previous centuries than the way we taunt our cats today to make them perform for animated GIFs.

But to the cats these distinctions are meaningless. From their point of view, there is no other way to describe the Katzenklavier than as a sinister, terrifying torture device, and those who might use it as monstrous villains. Personally I’d like to give cats the last word on the subject of the Katzenklavier—or at least a few fictional animated, walking, talking, singing cats. Watch the short animation at the top, in which Nick Cave reads a poem by Eddie White about talented cat singers who mysteriously go missing, scooped up by a human for a “harpsichord of harm, the cruelest instrument to spawn from man’s gray cerebral soup.” The story has all the dread and intrigue of Edgar Allan Poe’s best work, and it is in such a milieu of gothic horror that the Katzenklavier belongs.

The Cat Piano narrated by Nick Cave will be added to our list of Free Animations, a subset of our meta collection, 1,150 Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, etc.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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