The Unreality of Time

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Take any event — the death of Queen Anne, for example — and consider what changes can take place in its characteristics. That it is a death, that it is the death of Anne Stuart, that it has such causes, that it has such effects — every characteristic of this sort never changes. ‘Before the stars saw one another plain’, the event in question was the death of a queen. At the last moment of time — if time has a last moment — it will still be the death of a queen. And in every respect but one, it is equally devoid of change. But in one respect it does change. It was once an event in the far future. It became every moment an event in the nearer future. At last it was present. Then it became past, and will always remain past, though every moment it becomes further and further past.

— J.M.E. McTaggart, The Nature of Existence, 1927

(McTaggart argued that these varying properties of Anne’s death constitute a paradox. “Past, present, and future are incompatible determinations,” he wrote. “Every event must be one or the other, but no event can be more than one. … But every event has them all.” Hence time is unreal.)

Diversification

Volkswagen’s best-selling product isn’t a car — it’s sausages. Item number 199 398 500 A in the Volkswagen parts catalog is currywurst sausage. In the 1940s and 1950s the company owned a pig farm to help feed factory employees, and today a team of butchers in VW’s Wolfsburg factory still makes 6.5 million 10-inch sausages every year using a secret recipe.

VW sells them in 11 countries, but the U.S. is not one of them, due to regulations regarding the import of processed pork products. There is hope, though: VW has said it may begin producing the sausages in the United States.

“We have been successful in offering Americans our German-engineered vehicles,” the company’s Clint Waddell told the Wall Street Journal. “We hope Americans may also enjoy a German-engineered currywurst.”

(Thanks, Curtis.)

“Bike Keeps Family in Stitches”

Carrying four persons and a sewing machine, the world’s weirdest bicycle recently had a tryout in Chicago, Ill. The two-story vehicle, known as the ‘Goofybike,’ is the creation of Charles Steinlauf. It carries the whole Steinlauf family. The inventor rides at the top and guides the contraption by means of a huge automobile steering wheel. Mrs. Steinlauf sits below, operating a sewing machine, while her son pedals behind and her daughter rides on the handlebars in front. When the odd vehicle is at rest, the projecting legs of the sewing machine prevent the lofty cycle from tipping over.

Popular Science, October 1939

Form Before Function

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In 1784 French architect Laurent Vaudoyer introduced a design for a spherical house. The living space is at the “equator,” with a vestibule, dining room, salon, bedrooms, and closets. A pantry, toilets, and dressing rooms are squeezed in rather less conveniently, above and below.

The spherical shape was the point, write Ulrich Conrads and Hans Sperlich in The Architecture of Fantasy. “[O]nly afterwards was an attempt made to arrange the interior of the globe for use.”

vaudoyer house 2

Podcast Episode 256: Lasseter’s Reef

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In 1930 Harold Lasseter claimed he’d discovered an enormous deposit of gold in the remote interior of Australia, and a small group of men set off into the punishing desert in search of a fortune estimated at 66 million pounds. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll tell the story of Lasseter’s reef, one of the most enduring legends of the Australian outback.

We’ll also reconsider the mortality rates of presidents and puzzle over an unlocked door.

See full show notes …

Boom!

The town of Glacier View, Alaska, doesn’t get dark enough for fireworks on the Fourth of July. So they drive cars off a cliff.

Directions

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Image: Wikimedia Commons

This is floating on the web — I don’t know who came up with it:

The geographical center of Boston is in Roxbury. Due north of the center is the South End. This is not to be confused with South Boston, which lies directly east from the South End. North of the South End is East Boston, and southwest of East Boston is the North End.

“We say the cows laid out Boston,” wrote Emerson. “Well, there are worse surveyors.”

The Perpetual Diamond

This is bewildering: This diamond isn’t moving, and its luminance and texture are unchanging. Yet when it’s surrounded with very thin edge strips whose luminance changes with respect to the background, the whole diamond seems to move. Using the controls at the bottom, you can even direct the illusion to send the diamond drifting “up,” “down,” “left,” or “right.” But it ain’t moving.

See the paper below for details.

(Oliver J. Flynn and Arthur G. Shapiro, “The Perpetual Diamond: Contrast Reversals Along Thin Edges Create the Appearance of Motion in Objects,” i-Perception 9:6 [2018], 2041669518815708.)

The McGurk Effect

In 1976 psychologist Harry McGurk discovered that seeing a person speak affects our impression of the sound we hear. Faced with conflicting information, the brain seems to make its “best guess” as to what it’s perceiving. In some cases a third sound is produced: When the syllables /ba-ba/ are spoken over the lip movements /ga-ga/, the perception is /da-da/.

This casts doubt on the assumption that the senses operate separately and can be studied in isolation. Psychologists and philosophers are still considering the implications.

(Harry McGurk and John MacDonald, “Hearing Lips and Seeing Voices,” Nature 264:5588 [1976], 746.)

The Apology Paradox

We ought to apologize for what our ancestors did to other people. This requires that we sincerely regret those deeds. But that means that we would prefer that the deeds had not been done, and if this were the case then world history would be significantly different and we ourselves would probably not exist. Yet most of us are glad to be alive. Can we sincerely regret deeds that are necessary to our own existence?

(That’s from La Trobe University philosopher Janna Thompson. She says the best solution is to interpret the apology as regret for this state of affairs. “[T]he regret expressed is that we owe our existence and other things we enjoy to the injustices of our ancestors. Our preference is for a possible world in which our existence did not depend on these deeds.”)

(Janna Thompson, “The Apology Paradox,” Philosophical Quarterly 50:201 [2000], 470-475.)