August 16th, 2017

The Rise of Rome

The International Business Times reports that a new geochemical study shows that shortly after the Romans defeated the Carthaginians in the Second Punic War, they began to mint their coins in silver mined on the Iberian Peninsula, which Carthage had controlled up to that point. A team led by Katrin Westner of the Institute for Archaeological Sciences at Goethe University, Frankfurt, tested the silver content of 70 Roman coins minted between 310 and 101 B.C. They found that before the second Punic War, Roman coins were made from silver mined in the Aegean. But after Carthage's defeat around 209 B.C., the Romans began to use silver mined in what is now Spain. “This massive influx of Iberian silver significantly changed Rome’s economy, allowing it to become the superpower of its day," says Westner. "We know this from the histories of Livy and Polybius and others, but our work gives contemporary scientific proof of the rise of Rome."

Kemo D. 7
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Free Energy Determines Choices

A human being's psychological make-up depends on an array of emotional and motivational parameters, such as desire, suffering or the need for security. In addition, it includes spatial and temporal dimensions that also play a key role in rationalising the decisions we make and planning our actions. A team of researchers from the Universities of Geneva (UNIGE), Texas, Paris and University College London joined forces to create the first mathematical model of embodied consciousness. Their aim?

To understand, study and predict human behaviour. The model, which is based on solid mathematical concepts and is demonstrated using simulations, makes it possible to anticipate and explain a host of cognitive phenomena and behavioural reactions. The research—available in full in the Journal of Theoretical Biology—also paves the way for a wealth of industrial applications in robotics, artificial intelligence and the health sector. We all are constantly faced with a range of choices, some of which are important, some not.

But how do we make our decisions? There are many factors at work, conscious and unconscious, which are forever colliding whenever a decision is made. "We built a model to replicate decision-making based on the time, framework and perceptions (real and imaginary) that are linked to it," explains David Rudrauf.

"The next step was to analyse the best solution that the mind would naturally opt for." Depending on an individual's personal preferences (such as security), and including different real and imaginary perspectives on the world, the mind calculates the probabilities of obtaining what it wants in the safest possible way. This probability calculation, which is derived from an individual's personal preferences and values, can be expressed as free energy. "Our consciousness uses free energy to actively explore the world and to satisfy its predilections by imagining the anticipated consequences of its actions," says Karl Friston from University College London.

Depending on the free energy, the mathematical model can predict the states of consciousness and behaviour adopted by the individual and analyse the mechanisms.

Kemo D. 7

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How Will History Judge Us?

We’ve dropped the ball. My generation, the baby boomers and the hippies, are now great grandpas and must bear the blame for what America has become. How will history judge us? It has been said that hindsight is 20/20. Perhaps it is time we took a peek in the review mirror; for history will be our judge. A century from now, if there is still a planet here, historians will look back at the latter half of the 20th century and first two decades of the 21st and scratch their heads as they ponder, “What were they thinking?” Indeed, what WERE we thinking?

Saturday showed us a vision of a dystopian future. It could be the anomaly or become the norm. This could be coming to a town near you, or our future could be defined by the many solidarity vigils being organized around the country. Our future will be determined by whether we speak honestly about the racial demagoguery of this White House, whether principled conservatives stop enabling the racist and authoritarian policies of the Trump administration, whether we restore the line between force and violence, and whether we have the moral and intellectual courage to engage honestly with our past.

Langston Hughes famously said, “America never was America to me, And yet I swear this oath—America will be.” Saturday’s clash in Charlottesville may have lacked the poetry, but it offered the same prophetic challenge of those words. Previous generations sacrificed beyond measure to get us closer to that aspiration. Let’s be perfectly clear that there is only one good way for this story to end, and it isn’t with the side of death or fear, of hate or of a nostalgia for a cult of racial injustice. It’s the only story there is to tell: of the America that will be.

Kemo D. 7
Art by Guy Denning