BBC Future

Best of the Web

Can we ever know what cats think?

(Thinkstock)

(Thinkstock)

Our picks of the week from around the web, including the mysteries of our feline friends, Disneyland’s design magic and why your birthdays may soon be ruined thanks to tech.

The great forgetting
Kristin Ohlson | Aeon | 30 July 2014

Adults generally remember little or nothing from their first three or four years of life. Freud thought such memories were repressed; others thought they were never formed. Recent research shows that small children can indeed form memories; but the memories disappear within a couple of years. Why? Perhaps because they are not formed systematically enough to co-exist with the influx of new information; they are swept away            .

Welcome to Dataland
Ian Bogost | re:Form | 29 July 2014

Disneyland brings together the two contradictory tendencies that animated Walt Disney. He was a traditionalist, fond of railroads and small town main streets and folk tales. But he was also a futurist fascinated by experimental cities – a sort of mass-market Le Corbusier whose visions “might seem daft, but at least he had the modesty to contain them within the fantasy of entertainment rather than to unleash them on the world untested”.

The internet of things will ruin birthdays
Joanne McNeill | Medium | 28 July 2014

The birthday messages from your apps are forms of advertising and market research disguised as friendship. It’s a day when “the data tracking and governing algorithms that are part of your everyday internet experience become more visible.” But imagine when every “smart” device in your house is flashing and hooting as well. “Perhaps it will become an annual tradition to shut off all devices on your birthday.”

We experiment on human beings
Christian Rudder | OkCupid | 28 July 2014

Facebook caused a ruckus when it admitted manipulating users’ moods. But the whole internet is one big continuous psychology experiment, as a co-founder of OKCupid, a dating site, explains, with some striking examples. “OkCupid doesn’t really know what it’s doing. Neither does any other website. It’s not like people have been building these things for very long. Most ideas are bad. Experiments are how you sort all this out.”

You are not too late
Kevin Kelly | Medium | 27 July 2014

Imagine being an online entrepreneur in 1985, when nothing had been invented and every dotcom name was available for free. Paradise. But come 2044, we’re likely to feel the same about 2014: All the great stuff of the future is still to be invented. Barriers to innovation are lower than ever. “The last 30 years has created a marvellous starting point, a solid platform to build truly great things. You are not too late.”

If a cat could talk
David Wood | Aeon | 24 July 2014

Dogs confirm us, cats confound us. Our relationship with cats is an “eruption of the wild into the domestic”. Cats blend in; their lethal instincts align with our interests; but they do not assimilate; they belong to the night. Cats are “vehicles for our projections, misrecognition, and primitive recollection.” They are part of our symbolic universe as much as our physical universe. Michel Foucault called his own cat ‘Insanity’.

The end of the experiment
John Horgan | Scientific American | 22 July 2014

Wide-ranging conversation with physicist and mathematician George Ellis about the future of science. Big experimental science is approaching its limits: we’re never going to build a bigger collider on Earth; astronomical observations are at their absolute horizons; we’ve mapped the earth and we’ve almost mapped the oceans. The new challenges are all about complexity. “The brain will give us work to do for many centuries more.”

Of maggots and brain scans
Anne Fausto-Sterling | Boston Review | 21 July 2014

Brain scans may seem to explain behaviour in biological terms. But what we see so far is loose correlation, not reproducible causation. There is “serious redundancy”. A small group of activated neurons can induce a given behaviour, “but thirty to forty different groups may elicit the same behaviour.” Second, “a given set of neurons may not always produce the same kind of behaviour, even in the same brain.”

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