Author: A Ambrossini

New government in Spain and what it means for Catalan's

New government in Spain and what it means for Catalan’s

Spain’s new prime minister Pedro Sanchez rose to office against a backdrop of unprecedented drama. But now he could capitalise on the circumstances that landed him the top job to resolve the conflict with Catalonia. Sanchez successfully ousted his predecessor Mariano Rajoy by passing a motion of no confidence against the Partido Popular government. Seizing on the unique opportunity offered by the sentencing of several prominent PP officials in a long-running corruption trial, the opposition leader moved quickly. Sanchez needed at least 176 votes but his Socialist party (PSOE) only had 84 seats and Ciudadanos, a centrist-liberal formation with a strong Spanish nationalist rhetoric, wouldn’t endorse a new left-wing government. So, Sanchez needed to muster the support of all other parties in the Spanish parliament. This included the left-wing party Podemos, and several nationalist parties from the Basque country and Catalonia, such as Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC). Sanchez takes office after his bold move in parliament. EP/Emilio Naranjo At the same time, in Barcelona, Quim Torra – a Catalan nationalist hand-picked by the exiled …

Wormhole Allows Information to Escape Black Holes

In 1985, when Carl Sagan was writing the novel Contact, he needed to quickly transport his protagonist Dr. Ellie Arroway from Earth to the star Vega. He had her enter a black hole and exit light-years away, but he didn’t know if this made any sense. The Cornell University astrophysicist and television star consulted his friend Kip Thorne, a black hole expert at the California Institute of Technology (who won a Nobel Prize earlier this month). Thorne knew that Arroway couldn’t get to Vega via a black hole, which is thought to trap and destroy anything that falls in. But it occurred to him that she might make use of another kind of hole consistent with Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity: a tunnel or “wormhole” connecting distant locations in space-time. While the simplest theoretical wormholes immediately collapse and disappear before anything can get through, Thorne wondered whether it might be possible for an “infinitely advanced” sci-fi civilization to stabilize a wormhole long enough for something or someone to traverse it. He figured out that …

Is religion a force for good?

Do we need religion in order to be moral? George Washington cautioned against“indulg[ing] the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion”, and today more than half of Americans believe morality is impossible without a belief in God. The idea that religion is important for morality is not just widespread but deeply ingrained. Psychologist Will Gervais has shown that even people who explicitly deny believing in God harbour the intuition that acts such as serial murder and incest are more representative of atheists than of religious people. Of course, prominent atheistic commentators resent any suggestion that the religious have some special claim on moral behaviour. Comedian Tim Minchin said “if you think altruism without Jesus is not altruism, then you’re a dick.” In Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion he writes: “Faith can be very very dangerous, and deliberately to implant it into the vulnerable mind of an innocent child is a grievous wrong.” In a month when gunmen shouted “Allahu akbar” (God is greatest) while murdering 132 school children in Pakistan, it may be easy …

Struggles of self taught Artificial Intelligence

Until very recently, the machines that could trounce champions were at least respectful enough to start by learning from human experience. To beat Garry Kasparov at chess in 1997, IBM engineers made use of centuries of chess wisdom in their Deep Blue computer. In 2016, Google DeepMind’s AlphaGo thrashed champion Lee Sedol at the ancient board game Go after poring over millions of positions from tens of thousands of human games. But now artificial intelligence researchers are rethinking the way their bots incorporate the totality of human knowledge. The current trend is: Don’t bother. Last October, the DeepMind team published details of a new Go-playing system, AlphaGo Zero, that studied no human games at all. Instead, it started with the game’s rules and played against itself. The first moves it made were completely random. After each game, it folded in new knowledge of what led to a win and what didn’t. At the end of these scrimmages, AlphaGo Zero went head to head with the already superhuman version of AlphaGo that had beaten Lee Sedol. …

Is there an evolutionary advantage in being religious?

For a biologist like me, the interesting questions about religion have always been where did it come from and why did it evolve? I taught evolutionary biology in a Catholic University in the most Catholic country in the world – Brazil. Some of my colleagues here in the UK thought that must have been very challenging, but it wasn’t. The Brazilian population is unusual in that 60% of the population are religious and also believe in evolution by natural selection. The development of new religions looks like the way new species are formed and thrive. In case of protestants, the “evolutionary spark” would be Martin Luther with his calls for reform. Similarly the deliberate differences, such as religious rituals, were created to keep the two faiths separated in the same manner that speciation of songbirds often provides related species with similar, but distinct songs so they will not interbreed. A recent study by Bernard Crespi and Kyle Summers at Simon Fraser University attempts to explain religion in biological terms. They believe that evolution of religion …

Debate on Universal Basic Income in the U.S.?

Universal basic income is a controversial proposal under which the government provides regular, permanent cash payments to each citizen with the intent of lifting everyone out of poverty, encouraging their participation in the economy and covering the costs of their most fundamental needs including food, housing and clothing. Everyone, in other words, gets a paycheck – whether they work or not. The idea of setting a universal basic income has been around for centuries but remains largely experimental. Canada, Germany, Switzerland and Finland have launched trials of universal basic income variations. It gained some momentum among some economists, sociologists and tech industry leaders with the advent of technology that allowed factories and businesses to automate the manufacturing of goods and to reduce the size of their human workforces. How the Universal Basic Income Works There are many variations of the universal basic income. The most basic of these proposals would merely replace Social Security, unemployment compensation and public-assistance programs with a basic income for every citizen. The U.S. Basic Income Guarantee Network supports such a …

Resurgence of Catalan

Resurgence of Catalan

Barcelona is one of the best-known cities in the world, yet visitors expecting to practice their Spanish can often be surprised when they hear Catalan spoken in the streets. The language has had a troubled history, but is a key marker of identity in Catalonia, a region where many hope for independence from Spain. The outcome of regional elections on September 27 means the current Catalan president Artur Mas may now seek to declare independence. Attempts to suppress the Catalan language and culture have deep historical roots but were intensified during the era of Francisco Franco. The dictator banned the Catalan language from public spaces and made Spanish the sole language of public life. For 40 years under the dictatorship, Spain tried to present itself as an ethnically and politically homogeneous state. The execution of Franco’s opponents continued after the end of the Spanish Civil War. One prominent victim was the former Catalan president, Lluís Companys who was deported from Nazi-occupied France in 1940 and then executed in Barcelona. Cultural repression After the Spanish Civil …

Sam Harris

Sam Harris is known for many things, from being one of the leading figures of the New Atheist movement to a controversial critic of Islam. he is also known for arguing that science can provide answers to questions regarding morality. For him, morality is within the domain of science. How is this possible, exactly? After all, science deals with facts, not values. Harris proposes that the term science is far more inclusive than we normally understand. There is no fundamental distinction, for instance, between a scientist working in a laboratory and a plumber identifying problems in a plumbing system. The distinction between them is merely conventional, because what really counts is that doing science means using reason and observation. As long as a given domain can be the subject of reasoned inquiry and observation, it belongs to the broader domain of science. Here is how Harris himself puts it in his essay responding to Ryan Born’s critique: “For practical reasons, it is often necessary to draw boundaries between academic disciplines, but physicists, chemists, biologists, and …

Why Pay Workers More? skepticsociety.co.uk

Why Pay Workers More?

AN ECONOMIST’S GUIDE EFFICIENCY WAGES The term “efficiency wages” or “efficiency earnings” was first introduced by influential economist Alfred Marshall (1842-1924) to represent a unit of labor based upon the relationship between wage and efficiency. According to Marshall, the theory behind efficiency wages would require that employers pay based upon output or efficiency, meaning that more efficient workers would be paid more than less efficient workers which would render the employer theoretically indifferent towards workers of ranging efficiencies. Today, the term has taken on a different meaning. The modern use of the term efficiency wage is in reference to the hypothesis that wages in some markets are not always based upon the process of market-clearing, which requires that supply be equal to demand. Market clearing wage, for instance, is the wage or pay scale at which the quantity of labor is equal to the demand or need for labor. It is when this supply equals demand that the market is cleared of all excess. Efficiency Wage Theory In economic theory, market clearing presents the most …

The Philosophy of Honesty

What does it take to be honest? Although often invoked, the concept of honesty is quite tricky to characterize. Taking a closer look, it is a cognate notion of authenticity. Let’s see why. TRUTH AND HONESTY While it may be tempting to define honesty as speaking the truth and abiding by the rules, this is an overly-simplistic view of a complex concept. Telling the truth – the whole truth – is at times practically and theoretically impossible as well as morally not required or even wrong. Suppose your new partner asks you to be honest about what you have done over the past week, when you were apart: does this mean you’ll have to tell everything you have done? Not only you may not have enough time and you won’t recall all details; but, really, is everything relevant? Should you also talk about the surprise party you are organizing for next week for your partner? The relationship between honesty and truth is much more subtle. What is truth about a person, anyway? When a judge …