Architectonic · Book-Text-Read-Zines · Human-ities

Places of healing [The Library: A World History]

Mafra Palace Library in Mafra, Portugal

Tripitaka Koreana at the Haeinsa Temple in South Korea

Biblioteca Malatestiana in Cesena, Italy

Codrington Library at All Souls College in Oxford

Abbey of St Gall Library in St Gallen, Switzerland

George Peabody Library, Baltimore

“Will this study serve merely as a memorial to a defunct building type?” James W. P. Campbell poses this troubling question at the start of his odyssey through the library buildings of the world. Over 300 pages – and nearly 300 illustrations – later he answers his own query with cautious optimism: “humankind has created an extraordinary variety of spaces in which to read, to think, to dream and to celebrate knowledge. As long as it continues to value these activities, it will continue to build places to house them. Whether they will involve books or will still be called libraries only time will tell”.

Well, this is Thames and Hudson’s third attempt in a decade to get to grips with this theme. And it is by far the best. The first, The Most Beautiful Libraries of the World by Jacques Bosser and Guillaume de Laubier (2003), was little more than a picturebook with anecdotal captions. The coverage was primarily European and post-Renaissance: only Boston, Washington, New York and St Petersburg slipped inside the cultural fence. The second attempt – Libraries (2005) – was sadly defective: a random package of images by Candida Hofer, without text apart from a rambling preface by Umberto Eco. On every count – scholarship, production, readability – The Library: A world history is way ahead of its predecessors, particularly with regards to production and design. The photographs by Will Pryce are technically flawless, and they give point and purpose to a text which is not only informative but persuasive. The message is clear: of the making of libraries there can be no end.

The Library: A World History Hardcover
by James W. P. Campbell (Author), Will Pryce (Photographer)

Excerpt from an article written by J. MORDAUNT CROOK at TLS. Continue THERE

Human-ities · Philosophy · Social/Politics

Economics as a moral science

INGRID ROBEYNS: For a while I have been working on a paper on democracy, expert knowledge, and economics as a moral science. [The financial crisis plays a role in the motivation of the paper, but the arguments I’m advancing turn out to be only contingently related to the crisis]. One thing I argue is that, given its direct and indirect influence on policy making and for reasons of democratic accountability, economics should become much more aware of the values it (implicitly or explicitly) endorses. Those values are embedded in some of the basis concepts used but also in some of the assumptions in the theory-building.

The textbook example in the philosophy of economics literature to illustrate the insufficiently acknowledged value-ladenness of economics is the notion of Pareto efficiency, also known as ‘the Pareto criterion’. Yet time and time again (for me most recently two days ago at a seminar in Oxford) I encounter economists (scholars or students) who fail to see why endorsing Pareto efficiency is not value-neutral, or why there are good reasons why one would not endorse the Pareto-criterion. Here’s an example in print of a very influential economist: Gregory Mankiw.

In his infamous paper ‘Defending the One Percent’ Mankiw writes (p. 22):

“Discussion of inequality necessarily involves our social and political values, but if inequality also entails inefficiency, those normative judgements are more easily agreed upon. The Pareto-criterion is the clearest case: if we can make some people better off without making anyone worse off, who could possibly object?”

Continue at Out of the Crooked Timber HERE

Human-ities · Philosophy · Technology


Upon his retirement from Yale, Donald Kagan considers the future of liberal education in this farewell speech.

Donald Kagan, Sterling Professor of Classics and History at Yale University and recipient of the National Humanities Medal (2002), retired in May. In forty-four years at the University, Professor Kagan has served in such varied capacities as Dean of Yale College, Master of Timothy Dwight College, and Director of Athletics. He has been a prolific author as well as a celebrated teacher; his four-volume history of the Peloponnesian War is widely considered to be among the twentieth century’s greatest works of classical scholarship. The following essay on liberal education is a revised version of the valedictory lecture he delivered on April 25 to a capacity audience in Sheffield-Sterling-Strathcona Hall, New Haven, Connecticut.

Donald Kagan: My subject is liberal education, and today more than ever the term requires definition, especially as to the questions: What is a liberal education and what it is for? From Cicero’s artes liberales, to the attempts at common curricula in more recent times, to the chaotic cafeteria that passes for a curriculum in most American universities today, the concept has suffered from vagueness, confusion, and contradiction. From the beginning, the champions of a liberal education have thought of it as seeking at least four kinds of goals. One was as an end in itself, or at least as a way of achieving that contemplative life that Aristotle thought was the greatest happiness. Knowledge and the acts of acquiring and considering it were the ends of this education and good in themselves. A second was as a means of shaping the character, the style, the taste of a person—to make him good and better able to fit in well with and take his place in the society of others like him. A third was to prepare him for a useful career in the world, one appropriate to his status as a free man. For Cicero and Quintilian, this meant a career as an orator that would allow a man to protect the private interests of himself and his friends in the law courts and to advance the public interest in the assemblies, senate, and magistracies. The fourth was to contribute to the individual citizen’s freedom in ancient society. Servants were ignorant and parochial, so free men must be learned and cosmopolitan; servants were ruled by others, so free men must take part in their own government; servants specialized to become competent at some specific and limited task, so free men must know something of everything and understand general principles without yielding to the narrowness of expertise. The Romans’ recommended course of study was literature, history, philosophy, and rhetoric.

Continue at the New Criterion

Book-Text-Read-Zines · Human-ities

In the Digital Era, Our Dictionaries Read Us

For Peter Sokolowski, a high-profile event like the 9/11 attacks or the 2012 vice-presidential debate is not just news. It’s a “vocabulary event” that sends readers racing to their dictionaries.

Sokolowski is editor at large for Merriam-Webster, whose red-and-blue-jacketed Collegiate Dictionary still sits on the desk of many a student and editor. In a print-only era, it would have been next to impossible for him to track vocabulary events. Samuel Johnson, the grand old man of the modern dictionary, “could have spent a week or a month writing a given word’s definition and could never have known if anyone read it,” he says.

Today, Sokolowski can and does monitor what visitors to the Merriam-Webster Web site look up—as they’re doing it.

With the spread of digital technologies, dictionaries have become a two-way mirror, a record not just of words’ meanings but of what we want to know. Digital dictionaries read us.

Excerpt from an article written by Jennifer Howard at TCHE. Continue HERE

Architectonic · Human-ities · Performativity · Projects · Public Space · Social/Politics

Understanding the Child-Scale in the City

“The acquisition and use of environmental knowledge are key aspects of a child’s socialization and experiential data of this is important; we can collect and interpret it with a measured confidence because we are human ourselves.”

What is the child-scale? How can we begin to understand it? How can this experience inform building and design ideas and practice?

Play is intensely important. Start developing an idea of (non)designing for playing. The walk that this extract depicts brought forth ideas of grain/granularity of street surfaces (materials), balance and tracing (paths, curbs), humble events, routine/ritual, liquid (refreshment, ballistics, power)… for a start.

Text and Images from a-small-lab, a project by Chris Berthelsen. Based in Tokyo. Continue to project HERE

Human-ities · Science · Social/Politics · Theory

Truth Decay: A network scientist examines the lifespan of a fact.

It’s an irony of modern life that the exponential spread of information has given rise to another exponential spread, of books about the exponential spread of information. We’ve got more facts than we ever had before, and so we’ve got more ruminations on how those facts affect us. Does Google make us stupid, or has it given us a deeper knowledge? Is there now so much to read and learn that we’ll never master anything (a concern that dates back at least 800 years)? Are all these facts disposable, such that what we learn today will be obsolete tomorrow?

The Harvard network scientist and pop theorist Samuel Arbesman stokes our fears of information on the cover of his recent book, The Half-Life of Facts: Why Everything We Know Has an Expiration Date. Watch out, that title says: The truth is melting! But the argument that Arbesman lays out (in a set of loosely connected anecdotes and essays) works to do the opposite. He uses math as a medication for this anxiety, to keep us calm in the face of shifting knowledge. His book works like a data-beta-blocker: By fitting fickle truths to models and equations, it promises a way to handle life’s uncertainty and keep abreast of “the vibrations in the facts around us.” In the end, though, the prescription runs afoul of a more fundamental ambiguity: What does it mean to call a fact a fact to start with?

Excerpt of an article written by Daniel Engber at SLATE. Continue HERE

Bio · Book-Text-Read-Zines · Science · Theory

WHAT A PLANT KNOWS: A Field Guide to the Senses.

In grassy areas along the equator lives a tiny plant, Mimosa pudica, that has the captivating property of closing its leaves in response to touch. Rest a finger on one leaf, and that leaf and its neighbor will fold abruptly toward the stem. Brush your finger along the length of the stem and every pair of leaves will collapse in turn. For everyone who has wondered at Mimosa, the suddenly snapping Venus flytrap or the way a sunflower’s head unerringly turns to follow the sun, Daniel Chamovitz has written the perfect book.

What a Plant Knows: A Field Guide to the Senses examines the parallels and differences between plant senses and human senses by first considering how we interpret sensory inputs and then exploring how plants respond to similar inputs. Each chapter covers one sense—sight, smell, touch and hearing are covered, along with “How a Plant Knows Where It Is” and “What a Plant Remembers”—and each examines a wide taxonomical range of flora and a complementary historical range of experiments. In the book’s introduction, Chamovitz is careful to clarify his intentions in using language that might be considered anthropomorphic to explore the world of plants:

When I explore what a plant sees or smells, I am not claiming that plants have eyes or noses (or a brain that colors all sensory input with emotion). But I believe this terminology will help challenge us to think in new ways about sight, smell, what a plant is, and ultimately what we are.

Excerpt from an article/review by Andrea Wills at American Scientist. Continue HERE

WHAT A PLANT KNOWS: A Field Guide to the Senses by Daniel Chamovitz.

Art/Aesthetics · Human-ities · Philosophy · Social/Politics · Theory

Only art can save us now

The world needs creative interpretations of global issues, not better descriptions of things people are accustomed to.

Perhaps rather than God, as Martin Heidegger once said, it is art that can save us. After all, artistic creations have always had political, religious and social meanings that also aimed in some way to save us. Certainly, they also express beauty, but this depends very much on the public’s aesthetic taste, which varies according to the cultural environment of each society.

But when the political meaning is manifest, aesthetics (our sensations and taste) lose ground in favour of interpretation (knowledge and judgment); that is, instead of inviting us to contemplate its beauty, a work calls us to respond, react and become involved. As it turns out, art – as a channel to express reactions to significant issues – has sometimes worked better than historical or factual reconstructions.

Excerpt from an article written by Santiago Zabala at Aljazeera. Continue HERE

Blog-Sites · Digital Media · Technology

Thoughts on Wikipedia’s Future

“Very few people are being promoted into the humble, hard-working positions which make Wikipedia work.”
– Robinson Meyer via The Atlantic

Earlier this month Wikipedia held its annual summit in Washington, DC. Afterwards, The Atlantic summarized the event in an article outlining how Wikipedia is slowly running out of admins to edit the site’s content. A trend is emerging. Fewer people are applying, and the current editors are slowly leaving. The long-term future has a flicker of uncertainty. To spark some discussion, I surveyed four artists and writers about the decline. We can all speculate what effects a decline in editor participation will have on Wikipedia as a global knowledge-base, but what are the implications for artists who use it as a tool for research and making work?

Excerpt from an article written by Jason Huff, Rhizome. Continue HERE

Book-Text-Read-Zines · Human-ities · Philosophy · Science

The Half-life of Facts: Why Everything We Know Has an Expiration Date

Facts change all the time. The age at which women should get a mammogram has increased. Smoking has gone from doctor recommended to deadly while the healthiness of carbs and fat seems to be in constant flux. We used to think the Earth was the center of the universe, that Pluto was a planet, and that the brontosaurus was a real dinosaur. What we know about the world is constantly changing.

Samuel Arbesman is an expert in scientometrics, literally the science of science—how we know what we know. It turns out that knowledge in most fields evolves in systematic and predictable ways, and understanding that evolution can be enormously powerful. For instance, knowing how different branches of medicine overturn their bodies of knowledge can improve the way we train (and retrain) physicians.

Text via B&N


Why Smart People Are Stupid by Jonah Lehrer

Here’s a simple arithmetic question: A bat and ball cost a dollar and ten cents. The bat costs a dollar more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?

The vast majority of people respond quickly and confidently, insisting the ball costs ten cents. This answer is both obvious and wrong. (The correct answer is five cents for the ball and a dollar and five cents for the bat.)

For more than five decades, Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel Laureate and professor of psychology at Princeton, has been asking questions like this and analyzing our answers. His disarmingly simple experiments have profoundly changed the way we think about thinking. While philosophers, economists, and social scientists had assumed for centuries that human beings are rational agents—reason was our Promethean gift—Kahneman, the late Amos Tversky, and others, including Shane Frederick (who developed the bat-and-ball question), demonstrated that we’re not nearly as rational as we like to believe.

Excerpt of an article written by Jonah Lehrer, at the New Yorker. Continue HERE

Architectonic · Education · Events

(Non-)Essential Knowledge for (New) Architecture / Call for Submissions

For the next 306090 book, guest editor David L. Hays wants to know, “What is essential knowledge for architecture?”What is essential knowledge for architecture?

This frequently posed question targets fundamental principles of design, those basic criteria and priorities through which disciplinary stability is ensured. Yet, insofar as relevance is a core value of architecture, in both theory and practice, the contingent nature of the future guarantees that some forms of knowledge not presently considered essential will eventually become indispensable.

With that condition in mind, the editors of 306090 15, (Non-)Essential Knowledge for (New) Architecture, seek contributions that envision possible futures for architecture through speculations about new disciplinary knowledge. What specific methods, materials, or understandings—tools, ratios, formulas, properties, principles, guidelines, definitions, rules, practices, techniques, reference points, histories, and more—not presently considered essential to architecture could, or should, define its future? Pertinent knowledge might be previously forgotten, currently undervalued, generally misunderstood, or not yet recognized. Architects have long looked both to the outmoded traditions of their discipline and to other fields altogether when imagining possible directions for their work. In blurring the boundary between essential and non-essential knowledge, this inquiry seeks not to codify the contemporary state of the art for architecture, nor to assert the value of multidisciplinarity, but to envision, and potentially catalyze, new disciplinary approaches.

(Non-)Essential Knowledge for (New) Architecture will serve as both a gauge of contemporary concerns and a manual for emergent theory and practice. Submissions are sought from practitioners, theorists, historians, critics, artists, activists, and anyone else with direct or indirect interest in the future of architecture.

Click HERE to submit and for more information.
Deadline: Friday, March 30, 2012