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.)

A New Illusion

Won weight illusion

Get three empty matchboxes and put a weight in one of them. Lift the weighted box on its own, then put it down and lift all three boxes together. In tests by Isabel Won and her colleagues at Johns Hopkins University, 90 per cent of subjects who tried this said that the weighted box lifted on its own felt heavier than the three boxes lifted together.

“[T]he experience was so striking that subjects often spontaneously and astoundedly commented on its impossibility to the experimenter, and even requested to lift the objects again after the experiment was over,” the authors report. “Anecdotally, those subjects reported that the illusion persisted even during these repeated lifts, including when subjects placed all three boxes on their palm and then suddenly removed the two lighter boxes — distilling the phenomenon into a single impossible ‘moment’ wherein removing weight caused the sensation of adding weight.”

“We suggest that the space of impossible experiences is larger than has been appreciated, extending into a new sense modality. … Impossibility can not only be seen, but also felt.” See the paper for details.

(Thanks, Sharon.)

Mail Boat Jumpers

The homes around Wisconsin’s Geneva Lake receive their mail by boat, a tradition begun in 1916. While the boat travels at a steady 5 mph, a “jumper” must jump onto each dock, run to the mailbox, swap the outgoing mail with the incoming, and jump back on board before the boat has traveled out of reach.

They can accomplish all this in as little as 10 seconds — but a typical career also includes one fall into the lake.

Drawing Customers

Seoul’s Drawing Cafe is styled like a two-dimensional cartoon. Inspired by the Korean television show W, in which characters move between the real world and a fantasy world inside a webtoon, the café has designed its furniture, walls, floors, mugs, dishes, and cutlery to look like flat line drawings.

More on the café’s Instagram page.

Unto the Breach

What constitutes a hole? We recognize and refer to holes as we do ordinary material objects, but a hole doesn’t seem to have a material existence. A hole has a “host” (say, a doughnut), and it may have a “guest” (say, air), but neither of these is itself the hole. Somehow the hole is a something that’s made of nothing.

In a 1969 essay by David and Stephanie Lewis, Argle and Bargle argue over a hole in a piece of Gruyère cheese:

Bargle. How can something utterly devoid of matter be made of matter?

Argle. You’re looking for the matter in the wrong place. (I mean to say, that’s what you would be doing if there were any such things as places, which there aren’t.) The matter isn’t inside the hole. It would be absurd to say it was: nobody wants to say that holes are inside themselves. The matter surrounds the hole. The lining of a hole, you agree, is a material object. For every hole there is a hole-lining; for every hole-lining there is a hole. I say the hole-lining is the hole.

Bargle. Didn’t you say that the hole-lining surrounds the hole? Things don’t surround themselves.

Argle. Holes do. In my language, ‘surrounds’ said of a hole (described as such) means ‘is identical with’. ‘Surrounds’ said of other things means just what you think it means.

Bargle. Doesn’t it bother you that your dictionary must have two entries under ‘surrounds’ where mine has only one?

Also: If I fill in a hole in the ground, have I destroyed it? If I dig again in the same place, am I creating a new hole or restoring the old one?

(David Lewis and Stephanie Lewis, “Holes,” Australasian Journal of Philosophy 48:2 [August 1970], 206-212.)

Podcast Episode 240: The Shark Papers

https://www.goodfreephotos.com/animals/fish/bull-shark-carcharhinus-leuces-drawing.jpg.php

In 1799 two Royal Navy ships met on the Caribbean Sea, and their captains discovered they were parties to a mind-boggling coincidence that would expose a crime and make headlines around the world. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll tell the story of the shark papers, one of the strangest coincidences in maritime history.

We’ll also meet some Victorian kangaroos and puzzle over an expedient fire.

See full show notes …

Levon’s Divine Underground

In 1985, Levon Arakelyan’s wife asked him to dig a potato cellar in their basement in Arinj, Armenia. He did this, and then continued digging for 23 years. At his death in 2008 he’d produced a network of rooms, steps, and corridors that extended 21 meters beneath the couple’s two-story house. A builder by trade, he did all of this with hand tools. Today his widow runs a small museum and gives tours of her late husband’s strange obsession. More photos here.

Something Borrowed

http://americanhistory.si.edu/blog/2011/06/june-brides-and-d-day.html
Image: National Museum of American History

Under enemy fire on March 25, 1945, radio operator Temple Leslie Bourland bailed out of a C-47 over the Rhine. He injured his hip but avoided capture, hiding in a foxhole for two days while using his parachute as a blanket. When Allied troops discovered him he returned to his unit.

That summer he met San Antonio secretary Rosalie Hierholzer, and during their brief courtship he showed her the bullet-riddled parachute, which he kept in his trunk. Rosalie’s aunt Lora offered to make it into a bridal gown, and Rosalie wore it at their wedding. The train still retained some of the military seams.

An Empty Message

“The hardest of all adventures to speak of is music, because music has no meaning to speak of. If music could be translated into human speech it would no longer need to exist. Like love, music’s a mystery which, when solved, evaporates.” — Ned Rorem, Music From Inside Out, 1967

“Music has no subject beyond the combinations of notes we hear, for music speaks not only by means of sounds, it speaks nothing but sound.” — Eduard Hanslick

“Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent.” — Victor Hugo

But music moves us, and we know not why;
We feel the tears, but cannot trace their source.
Is it the language of some other state,
Born of its memory? For what can wake
The soul’s strong instinct of another world,
Like music?

— Letitia Elizabeth Landon, The Golden Violet, 1827