The connection between dynamite and Bob Dylan
Welcome to the Hurt Your Brain internet playlist from October 23, 2016. It's a collection of podcasts, videos, and other links for people who love to learn online and are fascinated by the world. Click here to get playlists emailed to you as they come out.
All the Nobel prizes have recently been announced and I realized I don't know much about them. Who was Nobel? How many prizes are there? Don't they get a million dollars or something?! The one thing I did know is that they are awarded to people who contribute greatly to our understanding of the world, so I figured why not dedicate most of the issue to figuring them out?!
EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE NOBEL PRIZE
Alfred Nobel (1833-1896) was a Swedish chemist, entrepreneur, serial inventor (355 patents), and all around workaholic. He never married and he made his fortune by inventing and selling dynamite. This led to him having a massive estate when he died and in his will he surprised everyone by leaving most of it to set up a fund to award those who “conferred the greatest benefit to mankind” in the categories of chemistry, physics, medicine, literature, and peace. These five areas represented his most intense interests. The peace aspect threw people off because even though dynamite is extremely useful in blowing up rocks, it has the unfortunate side effect of also being really good at blowing people up. Many assume its inclusion has to do with guilt, but towards the end of his life he also befriended Bertha von Suttner, a major player in the peace movement who would go on to win the prize in 1905.
Some interesting things about the prize:
Recipients have to be alive, but in 1948 there was no peace prize given in honor "the missing laureate", Ghandi.
Most of the science prizes are awarded an average of 15 years after the work was published.
Each prize comes with around one million dollars (I knew it!).
It is common for prizes to be shared among two or three people who contributed to the idea.
The peace prize is administered in Norway, while the rest are administered by various appropriate entities in Sweden.
Winners can be from any country and can be nominated by certain institutions, prominent people, and previous winners. You don’t find out who nominated winners until 50 years after the award. In 2014 we finally found out that Martin Luther King Jr was nominated by the Quakers, who had previously won the peace prize.
A prize for Economic Science was added in 1968 as part of a gift in honor of Nobel from the Swedish Central Bank. This is the prize that John Nash (A Beautiful Mind) would win in 1994.
This means there are six prizes in total.
Contribution to society from this years winners: Physics- "for theoretical discoveries of topological phase transitions and topological phases of matter". Not gonna lie, there was a loud “whoosh” happening over my head as I tried to figure this one out. Chemistry- "for the design and synthesis of molecular machines". Major stepping stones for nano machines. Medicine- "for his discoveries of mechanisms for autophagy". The process of exactly how cells recycle their parts which is useful for disease and aging research. Literature- “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition". This went to Bob Dylan, a controversial win, and whose complete apathy towards it has gotten lots of media attention. Peace- "for his resolute efforts to bring the country's more than 50-year-long civil war to an end". This went to Columbia’s president, Juan Manuel Santos, for his efforts to end their 50 year long civil war. Economics- “for their contributions to contract theory". Helping societies and institutions work better with more effective contracts. PODCASTS # 588 – The Skeptics Guide to the Universe, Oct 15, 89 min Learned: what autophagy means (see medicine prize above), why basic research is important, details on the physics, chemistry, and medicine Nobel prize, why the human life spans maxes out at 115, and why superfoods are marketing nonsense. Thoughts: I recommend the whole episode because this is my favorite podcast for learning about how science works, but to get just the Nobel prize discussion, listen from 15:30 to 29:45, and at 57:45 for a fantastic interview with David Pratt. Pratt studied the writings and life of every Nobel laureate and has lots of interesting tidbits, like the surprising fact that their divorce rate is much lower than the average population (I would have thought much higher). Quote: "a fanatic is the one who can't change his mind and won't change the subject" (from Winston Churchill, who won for literature in '53).
Scrutinizing Science – The Naked Scientists Aug 30, 59 min Learned: that science is painfully gradual, not full of breakthroughs, and how the entire process of science works–from funding, lab work, peer review, press release, journalism, and even podcasting. Thoughts: The UK is full of interesting science related podcasts, and this is no exception. This episode fits well with looking at the Nobel prizes because it gives a full picture of how science works, including behind the scenes of being a science podcast producer.
Everything We Know is Wrong – Philosophy for our Times Oct 6, 39 min Learned: that physicists tend to win these types of arguments, to the annoyance of everyone else involved. Thoughts: This show pegs itself as the U.K.'s answer to TED, but I think a much better comparison is a shorter, more informal version of the debates featured on Intelligence Squared. In this episode, the guest debaters argue about how much science can actually teach us about the world and how much weight we should put into current scientific understanding. Quote:: "In fact, what we try and do as scientists is go into our office or lab everyday and prove our colleagues wrong. That's how we get famous, that's how we get well known."
Check out the explainers on the science Nobel Prizes from SciShow for more information on them but definitely check out the TED-ED video about the Peace prize for tons more interesting things than I was able to include in my summary.
The 2016 Nobel Prizes: Chemistry and Physics! – SciShow Oct 14, 5 min
Nobels 2016: How Your Cells Stave Off Starvation – SciShow Oct 7, 5 min
How does the Nobel Peace Prize work? – TED-ED Oct 6, 6 min
ARTICLES AND OTHER LINKS
OK, are you all Nobelled out? Me too. Let's end with these two articles that are all about changing your mind, and a "what a I learned from a decade of doing this" type roundup from one of my favorite newsletters.
The White Flight of Derek Black – The Washington Post Thoughts: This is a lengthy but incredible piece on how a young up and coming leader within the White Nationalist movement came to change his mind about pretty much everything. Quote: "Matthew decided his best chance to affect Derek’s thinking was not to ignore him or confront him, but simply to include him. “Maybe he’d never spent time with a Jewish person before,” Matthew remembered thinking."
The Chessboard Fallacy – Farnam Street Thoughts: Fits perfect with the above article on inflexible ideologies. Quote: "In The Theory of Moral Sentiments, Smith excoriates the 'Men of System' who have decided on an inflexible ideology of how the world should work, and try to fit the societies they lead into a Procrustean Bed of their choosing — the Mao Zedong-type leaders who would allow millions to die rather than sacrifice an inch of ideology."
10 Learnings from 10 Years of Brain Pickings – Brain Pickings Thoughts: Brain Pickings will expose you to all sorts of writings and ideas that you are unlikely to come across in any other way. This a great collection of wisdom that Maria Popova gained from binging on the world's greatest thinkers for a decade. Quote: "It’s enormously disorienting to simply say, “I don’t know.” But it’s infinitely more rewarding to understand than to be right — even if that means changing your mind about a topic, an ideology, or, above all, yourself."
That's all for this week!