Your mind is not your own

June 18, 2010

From the Smithsonian’s Ten Most Disturbing Scientific Discoveries:

Sunny days make people happier and more helpful. In a taste test, you’re likely to have a strong preference for the first sample you taste—even if all of the samples are identical. The more often you see a person or an object, the more you’ll like it. Mating decisions are based partly on smell. Our cognitive failings are legion: we take a few anecdotes and make incorrect generalizations, we misinterpret information to support our preconceptions, and we’re easily distracted or swayed by irrelevant details. And what we think of as memories are merely stories we tell ourselves anew each time we recall an event.

So much for Funes the Memorious.

(via Kottke)

Pied Piper

August 27, 2009

Hypotheses for the origin of the Pied Piper of Hamelin:

  • Piper = Paedo
  • Piper = Death – Children died of disease/natural disaster
  • Piper = Recruiter – Children leave on crusade/pilgrimage and never returned
  • Children = Emigrants

While I can see the plausibility/likelihood of the emigration hypothesis I don’t quite see how it fits with the rats? In that sense disease fits best: a town plagued by diseased rats, the rats either die but not before the weaker members of the town’s population die from it or in poisoning the rats the children are also accidentally poisoned. The Piper represents Death taking away the rats, but then also the children – perceived punishment for reneging on a bargain with who/whatever.

Or perhaps it’s just a story – if anything even happened it happened several hundred years ago so I guess we’ll never know.

Things like this make me wonder about how well our history of the present will survive in the future – every generation must see its advances in recording history as so far ahead of their predecessors but with our advances in technology we’re rendering storage media obsolete within years. I suppose the mighty Interweb/cloud computing mean that everything’s out there rather than rotting in dusty tomes or sitting locked away on unreadable discs but there’s a distinct Library of Babel factor to it. Perhaps the difficulties facing historians of the distant future will be an excess of information rather than a scarcity of it.