The double life of Modernism

One of the most refreshing articles I have read recently: a full on comparison between two people; two projects and two conflicting ideologies. But, most importantly, a reflection on how design decisions are informed and in turn inform our thinking and living under the underlying -and quite ironic if I may add- contradiction between ideals and the real world. Excellent read.

‘The privacy paradox’ by D.J. Solove

The ‘paradox’ refers to the cases where people share personal information even when they attest to highly valuing their privacy. This article originally points to a series of studies where individuals chose to disclose personal information in order to gain either a small discount or for no reason at all. The author discusses two arguments: the ‘behavior valuation argument’ [when people’s behavior is used to measure how much people value privacy (revealed preferences) instead of attitudes (stated preferences)] and the exact opposite: the ‘behavior distortion argument’ (when behavior does not reliably reflect people’s preferences) only to deny both. In fact, Solove argues there is no paradox at all. “The privacy paradox,” he says, “emerges from conflated issues, unwarranted generalizations, and leaps in logic.” Full article available here

What philosophers think about COVID19 measures

The disproportionate reaction to what according to the CNR is something not too different from the normal flus that affect us every year is quite blatant. It is almost as if with terrorism exhausted as a cause for exceptional measures, the invention of an epidemic offered the ideal pretext for scaling them up beyond any limitation.

The other no less disturbing factor is the state of fear that in recent years has evidently spread among individual consciences and that translates into an authentic need for situations of collective panic for which the epidemic provides once again the ideal pretext. Therefore, in a perverse vicious circle, the limitations of freedom imposed by governments are accepted in the name of a desire for safety that was created by the same governments that are now intervening to satisfy it.

Giorgio Agamben: The Invention of an Epidemic 26/02/2020

We must be careful not to hit the wrong target: an entire civilization is in question, there is no doubt about it. There is a sort of viral exception – biological, computer-scientific, cultural – which is pandemic. Governments are nothing more than grim executioners, and taking it out on them seems more like a diversionary manoeuvre than a political reflection.

Jean-Luc Nancy: Viral Exception 27/02/2020

(…) I think that we should try to separate levels and distinguish between long-running processes and recent events. With regard to the former, politics and medicine have been tied in mutual implications for at least three centuries, something that has ultimately transformed both. On the one hand this has led to a process of medicalization of politics, which, seemingly unburdened of any ideological limitations, shows itself as more and more dedicated to “curing” its citizens from risks it is often responsible for emphasizing. On the other we witness a politicization of medicine, invested with tasks of social control that do not belong to it – which explains the extremely heterogeneous assessments virologists are making on the nature and gravity of the coronavirus. Both these tendencies deform politics compared to its classic profile (…) But once again, with regard to absolutely legitimate concerns, it is necessary not to lose our sense of proportion. It seems to me that what is happening in Italy today, with the chaotic and rather grotesque overlapping of national and regional prerogatives, has more the character of a breakdown of public authorities than that of a dramatic totalitarian grip.

Roberto Esposito: Cured to the Bitter End 28/02/2020

The measures taken in Italy are not therefore, as one of my favourite philosophers, Giorgio Agamben, argues, the result of the despotic instinct of the ruling classes, who are viscerally passionate about the “state of exception” (…) I am often surprised how often many philosophers need to be reminded of something that, paraphrasing Hamlet, sounds like: There are more politics in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy. 

Sergio Benvenuto: Welcome to Seclusion 2-III-2020

(…) we have been able to determine the “interests” of our immune systems by constituting exceptions in nature, including through the Semmelweis method of hand washing and vaccinations. Our kind of animal does not have biological epochs at its disposal in order to perfect each intervention. Hence, we too, like nature, make coding errors and mutations in nature, responding to each and every exigency in ways we best can. As Nancy noted, man as this technical-exception-maker who is uncanny to himself was thought from very early on by Sophocles in his ode to man. Correspondingly, unlike nature’s time, humans are concerned with this moment, which must be led to the next moment with the feeling that we are the forsaken: those who are cursed to ask after “the why” of their being but without having the means to ask it. Or, as Nancy qualified it in a personal correspondence, “forsaken by nothing”. The power of this “forsakenness” is unlike the abandonments constituted by the absence of particular things with respect to each other. This forsakenness demands, as we found with Deleuze, that we attend to each life as precious, while knowing at the same time that in the communities of the forsaken we can experience the call of the forsaken individual life which we alone can attend to.

Divya Dwivedi and Shaj Mohan: The Community of the Forsaken: A Response to Agamben and Nancy 08/03/2020

Article retrieved from:

What does a controversy look like?

Kiran Garimella and pals at Aalto University in Finland have found a way to spot the characteristics of a controversy in a collection of tweets and distinguish this from a noncontroversial conversation (…) And they think this structure can be spotted by studying various properties of the conversation, such as the network of connections between those involved in a topic; the structure of endorsements, who agrees with whom; and the sentiment of the discussion, whether positive and negative (…) Garimella and co map out the structure of these discussion by looking at the networks of retweets, follows, keywords and combinations of these (…) In all cases, the images clearly show the polarization, or lack of, in the debate.

Full article available here

The Problem of Expertise in Knowledge Societies

Great article on the development of the perception of expertise by Reiner Grundmann

The pool of knowledgeable citizens has increased enormously between the 1960s and today. Many more people are highly educated and earn their money as ‘knowledge workers’ (Brint 2001). At the same time, as traditional ties have been loosened, people cannot rely on received wisdom and traditional ways of life. They have to make decisions about their lives themselves. This trend towards individualisation and risk decisions has been well described by Beck (1992), Giddens (1991) and others. This means that individuals are seeking expertise, and may find it being offered by non-certified experts (…) The laboratory as the site of knowledge creation, and the scientific institute which signals competence of the researcher and thus makes her a ‘certified expert’ is not the only source of expert knowledge, and it is arguably not the most important one when it comes to political decision-making

The Problem of Expertise in Knowledge Societies, Reiner Grundmann

Full article available here

Information Intake Vs. Information Embodiment

This is one type of learning: the intake of information (…) if the intake of information ends with the intake of information, then it is incomplete. There is another form of learning that doesn’t need discovered, only recovered (…) That Intake must lead to embodiment (…) We only honor a life if we leave different than when we walked in. The only way to truly honor a life is to be changed by it (…) you take in the plethora of information being deposited everywhere you look by everything and everyone you look at (again, undisguising the world), but then you lean into it. You distill it, you parse it, you connect with the “thing” — the gift, the image, the story, the root that arches through what you are learning — and you take it in so as to shape you. You honor that gift that is now seen via knowledge, but then you allow yourself to be changed by it.

Information Intake Vs. Information Embodiment
What will you do with what you learn?

Although I’m not so sure about the tone and the narrative, I like the idea of knowledge creation as the embodiment of information. I am not as sure as to if this is life’s purpose (be changed), I just think this is the only way of deciding at each instant who we want to be and how to get there.

“The idea of becoming is essential,” says philosopher and humanist, Rosi Braidotti

We need to open up the meaning of the identity concept towards relations with a multiplicity, with others. Through opposition to the idea of identity as something completely closed, already formed, and static. We are subjects under construction, we are always becoming something (…)  we are now going through a very complicated political era (…) Theorists are seen as speculators and their task as useless, while we let fake news and alternative facts to spread. The reputation of academics is very poor during periods of populism. We need to stop these attacks on universities, academics and experts. We need to develop a culture of respect for knowledge (…) I believe that revolution today is a fascist concept. I believe that the people calling for revolution are from the extreme right (…) I believe that at present a more preferable option is active activism, a collective commitment to creating affirmative values, rather than joining what seems to me to be a fascist restoration of the notion of revolution (…) I prefer the concept of affirmation. I propose to create affirmative values and to work together. In other words, we need to discuss the problems together (…) What is necessary is a radical transformation, following the bases of feminism, anti-racism and anti-fascism. An in-depth transformation around the types of subject that we are. And that can only happen collectively, by redefining the type of world that ours is becoming. That is the plan.

“My Story” Project

The project entitled “My Story” is an initiative of the Anadolu University Open Education Faculty programs. Participating students were asked to share their stories leading to open and distance learning (ODL) via an online survey. A book was later edited sharing some of these stories publicly. Of the 70 stories that are included in the book, 16 of them express the voices of women and their struggle for education. Aras Bozkurt, Suzan Koseoglu, & Jeffrey M Keefer:

recognized that the voices of the participants were of such strength that they warranted a more performative explication in keeping with their power and form once they were translated to English (…) The words of the participants were poetically presented to both exemplify the thematic findings while remaining true to the power in the texts themselves

The poem they devised describes the women’s effort to persevere in a patriarchal society and their desire to get an education and succeed in life. This is a very interesting experiment, one that develops somewhere in between science and art. In the context of a continuous poetic narrative, the words pertain their meaning and are bound together in a consistent whole. Very moving indeed.

You can also hear the poem here

Literature data mining

Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640), The Fall of Icarus (1636), oil on panel, 27 x 27 cm, Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, Brussels. Wikimedia Commons. image available here

Andrew Reagan at the Computational Story Lab at the University of Vermont in Burlington and a few pals have used sentiment analysis to map the emotional arcs of over 1,700 stories and then used data-mining techniques to reveal the most common arcs (…) The idea behind sentiment analysis is that words have a positive or negative emotional impact. So words can be a measure of the emotional valence of the text and how it changes from moment to moment. So measuring the shape of the story arc is simply a question of assessing the emotional polarity of a story at each instant and how it changes (…) Reagan and co say that their techniques all point to the existence of six basic emotional arcs that form the building blocks of more complex stories:

  • A steady, ongoing rise
  • A steady ongoing fall, in emotional valence
  • A fall then a rise
  • A rise then a fall (Icarus)
  • Rise-fall-rise
  • Fall-rise-fall (Oedipus )
Image available here

It turns out the most popular are stories that follow the Icarus and Oedipus arcs and stories that follow more complex arcs that use the basic building blocks in sequence

Excerpts from the article entitled “Data Mining Reveals the Six Basic Emotional Arcs of Storytelling,” available here

Full paper available here

Beautiful video of Kurt Vonnegut lecture (1995) on story arcs available here

6 Truths of Effective Teachers

Image retrieved here
  • View Their Teaching As A Science And An Art: methodologies change, they are not inflexible
  • Are Students of their Students: effective educators go deeper, they know their students on a personal level
  • Challenge All Students: the brain is malleable and hungers for challenge. Evidence shows that students, even those that may be struggling, rise to the occasion when challenged
  • Believe In The Success Of All Students, No Matter What: “A school staff that believes it can collectively accomplish great things is vital for the health of a school and if they believe they can make a positive difference then they very likely will” (Hatie)
  • Continuously Seeking Out Professional Learning: they are continuously seeking out professional learning. to improve all aspects of their practice
  • Feedback Is A Part Of Their Routine: they also look inward at their own practices, thinking about where they are in their teaching and where they want to improve

I don’t know if it’s just these six , or six of the many, but I agree with all of them in principal. As far as the second principle is concerned (becoming the student of the student) for me it doesn’t necessarily mean getting to know your students in depth, but more of being open to change because of them. i think tutors are constantly challenged by their students and therefore they too can revise the way they perceive their knowledge domain or their reality.

Full article available here

Algorithmic ethics

Image retrieved here

In 2015, Grosz designed a new course called “Intelligent Systems: Design and Ethical Challenges that combined technical content with a series of real-life ethical conundrums and the relevant philosophical theories necessary to evaluate them.

Embedding ethics across the curriculum helps computer science students see how ethical issues can arise from many contexts, issues ranging from the way social networks facilitate the spread of false information to censorship to machine-learning techniques that empower statistical inferences in employment and in the criminal justice system.

Full article in Harvard Gazette, available here

The ‘Metamorphology’ Approach

Image available here

Article presents Damiano Cerrone, co-founder of Spin-Lab and his Metamorphology approach by measuring the spatial and configurational properties of urban spaces, local human activity patterns and socio-cultural value to create rankings of the popularity and attractivity of the place.

Having applied this methodology to over 80 Russian cities, the team used its discoveries to ” define knowledge-based guidelines to boost the social and economic life of streets and public spaces and improve the quality of life.” The team is also behind the Turku Open Platform (TOP) initiative for the city of Turku in Finland, an open platform that allows planners access to data of space, activities and value.

Cerrone goes on to claim the role of Interactional Planner instead of an Urban Planner as urbanity is much more than space, he claims, while “urban life is now diffused beyond the conceptual and political borders of one city.”