Computer Models of Religion, Martian Civilization, and Library Hand: Lux Recommends #69

By Sam Arbesman, PhD

Welcome to Lux Recommends #69, the newest edition of what we at Lux are reading and thinking about (and want to receive this by email? Sign up here).


How Europe became so rich: “After 1500, Europe’s unique combination of political fragmentation and its pan-European institutions of learning brought dramatic intellectual changes in the way new ideas circulated” — Sam

Martian Civilization: “while there are contrasting definitions of civilization itself, we may yet learn through experiment and experience how a ‘central project’ emerging from local conditions may define the future of colonies on other worlds” — Sam

Atheism, the Computer Model: “Big data meets history to forecast the rise and fall of religion” — Sam

Consideration on Cost Disease: The average 1960 worker spent ten days’ worth of their yearly paycheck on health insurance; the average modern worker spends sixty days’ worth of it, a sixth of their entire earnings. — Zavain

Library Hand, the Fastidiously Neat Penmanship Style Made for Card Catalogs: “a penmanship style developed over the ensuing year or so for the purpose of keeping catalogs standardized and legible” — Sam

New Walt Whitman novel unearthed by Texas PhD student after 165 years. Wow! — Zavain

And Mildred Dresselhaus, the Queen of Carbon, Dies at 86 — Adam K


Magic and Loss: Internet as Art by Virginia Heffernan: We are really interested in the interaction and intersection between art and technology. User interface, product design, experience are all increasingly artistic and design challenges as much as they are technology ones. This is a beautifully written homage to technology with poignant prose, nods to nostalgia and a sensibility to the social dimensions of how technology is changing and changing us. — Josh

Geek Sublime: The Beauty of Code, the Code of Beauty by Vikram Chandra: I finished this in the same reading and listening sprint as Magic and Loss, and it’s a complement in the trope of art and technology. In Vikram Chandra’s case he is an author and storyteller and part-time coder. The subtitle captures the essence and there is a ton of history I learned of India, Indian culture, the push to create IIT, the vast and valley-infiltrating talent it yielded and of course the analogies between code of language and language of code. — Josh

Those Guys Have All the Fun: Inside the World of ESPN by James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales: “History of a sporting entertainment empire and the road to keep it out in front”—Adam G


An exciting visual representation of transfer learning from DeepMind. Train an AI in pong, and then watch it generalize (“transfer”) to Asterix. A big open space in ML research showing exciting recent progress. — Zavain

And, finally, the face of an ant seen through an electron microscope. — Adam K

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