NC Science Festival

OK, not really

The Science Festival actually takes place during the month of April (the entire month), with hundreds of events spread across the state at museums and libraries and such. For me, though, a music festival is a perfectly good place to do science off-season, as it were. I see science everywhere I go.


Last time I linked to a podcast about America’s unhealthy habits of solitary drinking, where I learned for the first time about the connection between alcohol and endorphins, those opioids the brain produces as painkillers. You may remember that endorphins have been implicated in self-harming behaviors, too.

That podcast also mentioned Gobekli Tepe, the oldest standing-stone structure yet found on land. What it was used for depends on who you talk to. Astronomical observatory? Trading hub? Religious temple? Party spot for hunter-gatherers?

The thought that a music festival might be the very oldest form of large-scale peaceful human cross-cultural contact was appealing, even before Hot Club of Cowtown played a song about a caveman (yes, we saw them a second time, and they only repeated one song, the so-called happiest song in the world, “Ida Red”). Here they are doing “Caveman” for my favorite car radio station on the drive home to Kentucky, WNCW.

There’s also the farther-out folkloric aspects of Gobekli Tepe, like why it was deliberately buried and then abandoned and forgotten for ten thousand years. People with psychedelic axes to grind like Brian Muraresku, writing about graveyard beers and spiked communion wine as the real reasons for Christianity’s explosive early growth and persecution by the Romans, or Graham Hancock, both a psychedelic aficionado and a staple of the Ancient Aliens channel (who I wrote about in an early IGMS column called “Mistakes/Experiments of the Gods”).

Learning to Hear

Before that second HCoC show, during a really loud Norteno act that featured a tuba, I ran into someone I know, who was wearing a mask and a big floppy hat. With only her eyes visible, it took me a full minute even to recognize her, and with the music going and the mask preventing me from seeing her mouth move, I only caught about every third or fifth word she was saying, from a distance of less than two feet.

I always put my hearing difficulties in those situations down to “club disease,” from not wearing ear protection during my mis-spent youth, but it could just as easily be genetic. My 85-year-old dad is practically deaf, and was not much older than me when it started to fail noticably.

Now imagine every minute of your day was just as confusing and frustrating as that vibrating tent was for me. That’s what people who have their hearing restored too late in life have to deal with. It’s an aspect of the debate over cochlear implants that I hadn’t considered until starting a recent book. The deaf culture angle gets most of the press.

  • Coming to Our Senses: a Boy Who Learned to See, a Girl Who Learned to Hear, and How We All Discover the World, by Susan M. Barry. Basic Books.

Vision is equally hard to learn late in life. I had a minor revelation after my cataract surgery, when one eye was suddenly so much clearer and shockingly more colorful, which took only a few days to get used to. The author had a slightly more disturbing experience of learning to see in three dimensions when she got her eyes re-aligned surgically in middle age. Mirror reflections suddenly had depth, appearing behind the glass rather than on the glass, or in the same plane as the glass.

If you’ve ever taken a psych class, you’ve seen some number of optical illusions, deliberately constructed to fool one small sub-routine within your visual operating system at a time. Imagine the entire world being composed of nothing but illusions, of being confused and surprised in a similar way all the time, by every aspect of your constructed visual world at once.

Surveillance Entertainment

The non-profit running the festival had a new arrangement with some or all of its sponsors this year. They would promote a series of smartphone trivia games that were transparently designed for marketing purposes. “You can win prizes!” they said. It reminded me of David Yoon’s new novel Version Zero, whose tag line is Their only chance to save the future is to reboot the present.

Max Portillo is working for social media giant Wren on The Soul Project, the most comprehensive database of individual consumer preferences ever attempted. Importantly, most of the information is gathered secretly, through quizzes presented as entertainment, like these:

Who is your ideal sexual partner? Take the quiz. Most definitely not safe for work.

Could you do better as president? Click here to play.

Max has a change of heart, and a thriller ensues. I assume. I’m only 27 pages in, while he’s at his parents’ house, asking himself

How much would you sell your soul for?

which is probably also on an Internet quiz somewhere.

Guess HCoC (and Pokey LaFarge, and originally Bob Willis) were wrong — The Devil IS Lazy.

Share Doctor Eclectic

A nonfiction treatment of the same issues (the publisher calls it a “forward-thinking manifesto”) by three Stanford professors is System Error: Where Big Tech Went Wrong and How We Can Reboot. For the moment I’ll stick with Saturday night’s Shamar Allen tune

I ain’t gonna let you ruin my day

Ruin my day (no)

Ruin my day (whoo!)

which became in my head

I ain’t gonna let you harvest my da_ta

Harvest my da_ta

Harvest my data

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A Last Day of Rest

Sunday we took it easy, only seeing two bands over an extended multiethnic food-truck lunch in the bright sunshine of a giant asphalt parking lot (Korean barbecue & kimchi, veggie samosas, and cinnamon horchata gelato): the venerable Cuban band Conjunto Guantanamo from NYC and Durham’s fresh young old-time bluegrassers Hard Drive, before heading home for a well-deserved afternoon nap.

Being cosmopolitan is exhausting.