What Happens To Our Brains As We Age
What happens to our brains as we age is of crucial importance not just to science but to public policy. By 2030, for example,
72 million people in the US will be over 65, double the figure in 2000 and their average life expectancy will likely have edged above 20 years.
However, this demographic time-bomb would be much less threatening if the elderly were looked upon as intelligent contributors to society rather
than as dependants in long-term decline.
- The idea that we get dumber as we grow older is just a myth, according to brain research that will encourage anyone old enough to know better.
- It is time we rethink what we mean by the ageing mind before our false assumptions result in decisions and policies that marginalize the old or
waste precious public resources to re-mediate problems that do not exist.
- Many of the assumptions scientists currently make about ‘cognitive decline’ are seriously flawed and, for the most part, formally invalid.
- Using computer models to simulate young and old brains, Ramscar and his colleagues found they could account for the decline in test scores
simply by factoring in experience
Threats to Insurance Industry
The better behaviour resulting from smart devices is just one threat to the insurance industry. Conventional risk pools (for home
or car insurance, for example) are shrinking as preventable accidents decline, leaving the slow-footed giants of the industry at risk. Business
is instead moving to digital-native insurers, many of which are offering low premiums to those willing to collect and share their data.
Yet the biggest winners could be tech companies rather than the firms that now dominate the industry. Insurance is increasingly reliant on
the use of technology to change behaviour; firms act as helicopter parents to policyholders, warning of impending harm—slow down; reduce your
sugar intake; call the plumber—the better to reduce unnecessary payouts.
- The growing mountain of personal data available to individuals and, crucially, to firms is giving those with the necessary processing
power the ability to distinguish between low-risk and high-risk individuals.
- Cheap sensors and the tsunami of data they generate can improve our lives; blackboxes in cars can tell us how to drive more carefully
and wearable devices will nudge us toward healthier lifestyles.
- Yet this sort of relationship relies on trust, and the Googles and Apples of the world, on which consumers rely day-by-day and hour-by-hour,
may be best placed to win this business.
- The uncertainty that underpins the need for insurance is now shrinking thanks to better insights into individual risks.
The Death Penalty
The expenditure of time, money and sparse judicial and prosecutorial resources is often justified by claims of a powerful deterrent
message embodied in the ultimate punishment- the death penalty. But studies repeatedly suggest that there is no meaningful deterrent effect
associated with the death penalty and further, any deterrent impact is no doubt greatly diluted by the amount of time that inevitably passes
between the time of the conduct and the punishment. In 2010, the average time between sentencing and execution in the United States averaged
nearly 15 years.
- A single federal death penalty case in Philadelphia was found to cost upwards of $10 million — eight times higher than the cost of
trying a death eligible case where prosecutors seek only life imprisonment.
- The ethics of the issue aside, it is questionable whether seeking the death penalty is ever worth the time and resources that it
takes to sentence someone to death.
- Apart from delaying justice, the death penalty diverts resources that could be used to help the victims’ families heal.
- A much more effective deterrent would be a sentence of life imprisonment imposed close in time to the crime.
A Poor Monsoon
The Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) has come out with the dismaying prediction that the southwest monsoon this year will be
below normal. If this prognosis holds true, it may mar the prospects of redeeming the rabi crop output losses through bumper harvests in the later
kharif season. India's farm sector has certainly acquired a degree of resilience when it comes to the monsoon - as reflected in the positive growth
numbers in all the weak monsoon years since 2009. However, monsoon rainfall and its distribution still remain crucial.
- They impact supplies and prices of most farm commodities, especially coarse cereals, pulses, oilseeds, vegetables, fruit and livestock
products, as well as the rural sector demand for consumer goods.
- A poor monsoon and subsequent food inflation might well throw off the Reserve Bank of India's schedule for rate cuts.
- Nevertheless, the first stage monsoon forecast of the IMD should normally be taken with a pinch of salt, as the weather agency's
accuracy record on this count is none too inspiring.
- The monsoon’s behavior this year seems to bear out the notion that climate change is affecting the Indian monsoon and altering
its rainfall calendar.
Better Wage Laws and Union Clout
By calling for exempting unionized businesses from the minimum wage, unions are creating more incentives for employers to favor
unionized workers over the non-unionized sort. Such exemptions strengthen their power. This is useful because for all the effort unions throw at
raising the minimum wage, laws for better pay have an awkward habit of undermining union clout.
- High rates of unionization make minimum-wage rules unnecessary as collaborative wage setting achieves the flexibility goals of a low
minimum wage and the fairness goals of a high one.
- Workers who have no real alternative to employment in the unregulated shadows of the labor market are even more vulnerable to
exploitation and abuse than workers with the legal right to take low wages.
- The labor ethos of worker solidarity seems hollow if non-union workers are underpriced by union workers and left unemployed or
scrambling for unauthorized work.
- Once employers are obliged to pay the same minimum wage to both unionized and non-unionized labor, workers often see less reason
to pay the dues to join a union.
Choice of a Major
The premise that the choice of major amounts to choosing a career path rests on the faulty notion that the major is important for
its content, and that the acquisition of that content is valuable to employers. But information is fairly easy to acquire and what is acquired in
2015 will be obsolete by 2020. What employers want are basic but difficult-to-acquire skills. When they ask students about their majors, it is
usually not because they want to assess the applicants’ mastery of the content, but rather because they want to know if the students can talk about
what they learned. They care about a potential employee’s abilities: writing, researching, quantitative, and analytical skills.
- As students flock to the two or three majors they see as good investments, professors who teach in those majors are overburdened, and the
majors themselves become more formulaic and less individualized.
- Often it is the art historians and anthropology majors, for example, who, having marshaled the abilities of perspective, breadth,
creativity, and analysis, have moved a company or project or vision forward.
- Furthermore, the link between education and earnings is notoriously fraught, with cause and effect often difficult to disentangle.
- A vocational approach to education eviscerates precisely the qualities that are most valuable about it: intellectual curiosity,
creativity and critical thinking.
Oil Prices and Global Growth
Normally, falling oil prices would boost global growth. This time, though, matters are less clear cut. The big economic question
is whether lower prices reflect weak demand or have been caused by a surge in the supply of crude. If weak demand is the culprit, that is worrying:
it suggests the oil price is a symptom of weakening growth. If the source of weakness is financial (debt overhangs and so on), then cheaper oil may
not boost growth all that much: consumers may simply use the gains to pay down their debts. Indeed, in some countries, cheaper oil may even make
matters worse by increasing the risk of deflation.
- An energy-induced drop in prices, though good for consumer purchasing power, risks reinforcing expectations of lower inflation
overall; it is part of the threat’s pernicious nature that such expectations easily become self-fulfilling.
- The International Energy Agency, an oil importers’ club, said it expects global demand to rise by just 700,000 barrels
a day (b/d) this year, 200,000 b/d below its forecast only last month.
- On balance, energy consumers win and energy producers and exporting countries lose with falling oil prices.
- On the other hand, if plentiful supply is driving prices down, that is potentially better news: cheaper oil should
eventually boost spending in the world’s biggest economies.
16th Century Europe
The 16th century in Europe was a great century of change. The humanists and artists of the Renaissance would help characterize the
age as one of individualism and self-creativity. Humanists such as Petrarch helped restore the dignity of mankind while men like Machiavelli
injected humanism into politics. When all is said and done, the Renaissance helped to secularize European society.
- The year 1543 can be said to have marked the origin of the Scientific Revolution, with Copernicus publishing De Revolutionibus and
setting in motion a wave of scientific advance.
- The century witnessed the growth of royal power, the appearance of centralized monarchies and the discovery of new lands.
- The very powerful notion that man makes his own history and destiny took root.
- In the meantime, urbanization continued unabated as did the growth of universities.
As democratic nation states reorient themselves to being accountable to global financial markets, non-democratic bodies such as
the World Trade Organization, and trade agreements such as General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade and Trade in Services Agreement, they will
necessarily become less responsive to the aspirations of their own citizens. With overt repression not always the most felicitous or cost-effective
policy option, it has become imperative to find ways and means to ideologically tame the economically excluded. This is critical because growing
discontent could lead to political instability.
- This is where behavioral economics in monitoring and ‘nudging’ the behavior of the financial elite comes in.
- Hence the new focus on the minds and behavior of the poor.
- Ergo the drive to find market-led solutions to socio-economic problems.
- Development is about freeing prices and making markets more efficient.
The Real Threat of ISIS
The real threat from ISIS is not territorial but ideological. Fighters are flocking to the fledgling caliphate because they are
attracted to the notion that violence and bloodshed can create a space of totalitarian homogeneity. It’s not simply the attraction of a particular
religious interpretation. ISIS offers a counter-narrative to nationalism and the emptiness of godless globalization. The society that the caliphate
has created is multi-ethnic, transnational, and fully conversant in the latest technology.
- We may well look back at the first year of the Islamic State and wax nostalgic about how comparatively placid it was.
- And yet it also offers a very specific, historically grounded identity.
- However, ISIS is not a state. States are part of the world that ISIS rejects.
- It has a 100-year plan for taking over the world and imposing its own version of Islamic orthodoxy.
The notion of giving offence suggests that certain beliefs are so important or valuable to certain people that they should be put beyond the possibility
of being insulted, caricatured or even questioned. The importance of the principle of free speech is precisely that it provides a challenge to the
idea that some questions are beyond contention, and thus acts as a challenge to authority. Once we give up on the right to offend in the name of
“tolerance” or “respect,” we constrain our ability to challenge those in power, and therefore to challenge injustice.
- For such diverse societies to function and to be fair, we need to show respect for other peoples, cultures, and viewpoints, and quell
- The right to subject each others’ fundamental beliefs to criticism is the bedrock of an open, diverse, just society.
- If people are to occupy the same political space without conflict, they mutually have to limit the extent to which they subject each others’
fundamental beliefs to criticism
- The more that policymakers give license for people to be offended, the more that people will seize the opportunity to feel offended.
The East India Company
The East India Company no longer exists, and it has, thankfully, no exact modern equivalent. Walmart, which is the world’s largest
corporation in revenue terms, does not number among its assets a fleet of nuclear submarines; neither Facebook nor Shell possesses regiments of
infantry. Yet the East India Company – the first great multinational corporation, and the first to run amok – was the ultimate model for many of
today’s joint-stock corporations. The most powerful among them do not need their own armies: they can rely on governments to protect their
interests and bail them out. The East India Company remains history’s most terrifying warning about the potential for the abuse of corporate
power – and the insidious means by which the interests of shareholders become those of the state. Three hundred and fifteen years after its
founding, its story has never been more current.
- The East India Company's story is the first example of a nation state extracting, as its price for saving a failing corporation,
the right to regulate and severely rein it in.
- For all the power wielded today by the world’s largest corporations – whether ExxonMobil, Walmart or Google – they are tame
beasts compared with the ravaging territorial appetites of the militarized East India Company.
- Answerable only to its shareholders and with no stake in the just governance of the region, or its long-term wellbeing, the
East India Company’s rule quickly turned into the straightforward pillage of India, and the rapid transfer westwards of its wealth.
- If history shows anything, it is that in the intimate dance between the power of the state and that of the corporation, while
the latter can be regulated, it will use all the resources in its power to resist.
The only guarantee we have of taste is that it will change. In response to novelty, even as the resistance to the unfamiliar reaches a threshold, fluency begets liking. Consider the case of the Sydney Opera House. A few decades ago, the now widely cherished building was the center of a national scandal. Not only did the building not fit the traditional form of an opera house; it did not fit the traditional form of a building. No one thought an opera house could look like the Sydney Opera House until architect Jørn Utzon, taking his idea from a peeled orange, said it could. Utzon changed the idea of what one could ask for in the building, projecting future tastes no one knew they had.
- As a dominant sculptural building that can be seen and experienced from all sides, the Sydney Opera House is the focal point of Sydney Harbor and a reflection of its character.
- In fact, had Utzon had been left to finish his masterpiece, it would have been more beautiful, more functional and less costly than what it turned out to be.
- Utzon made the building well ahead of its time, far ahead of available technology, and he persevered through extraordinary malicious criticism to a building that changed the image of an entire country.
- The world changed around the building, in response to it, which is why, in the curious words of one architecture critic, “Utzon’s breathtaking building looks better today than ever.”
Behavioral geneticists have found that the effects of being brought up in a given family are sometimes detectable in childhood, but that they tend to peter out by the time the child has grown up. That is, the reach of the genes appears to get stronger as we age, not weaker. Perhaps our genes affect our environments, which in turn affect ourselves. Young children are at the mercy of parents and have to adapt to a world that is not of their choosing. As they get older, however, they can gravitate to the micro-environments that best suit their natures. Whatever genetic quirks incline a youth toward one niche or another will be magnified over time as they develop the parts of themselves that allow them to flourish in their chosen worlds.
- Although it is true that fraternal twins raised apart have remarkable similarities in most respects, still the intervention of the environment has caused several differences in the way they behave.
- However, it is still not known whether the more abstract attributes like personality, intelligence and likes and dislikes are gene-coded in our DNA, too.
- The environment, then, is not a stamping machine that pounds us into a shape but a cafeteria of options from which our genes and our histories incline us to choose.
- But even knowing the totality of genetic predictors, there will be many things about ourselves that no genome scan — and for that matter, no demographic checklist — will ever reveal.
How Indians Got to Zero
The Indians got to zero in two stages. First they overcame the problem of denoting empty spaces in place-value notation by drawing a circle around the space where there was a "missing" entry. This much the Babylonians had done. The circle gave rise to the present-day symbol 0 for zero. The second step was to regard that extra symbol just like the other nine. This meant developing the rules for doing arithmetic using this additional symbol along with all the others. This second step – changing the underlying conception so that the rules of arithmetic operated not on the numbers themselves but on symbols for the numbers – was the key.
- Indeed, our sense of numbers depends on the symbols, and we cannot divorce the symbols from the numbers they represent.
- Over time, it led to a change in the conception of numbers to a more abstract one that included zero.
- Everything becomes much clearer when there is a special symbol to mark a space with no value.
- A remarkable thing about this number system is that using just the ten digits from 0 to 9, we can represent any of the infinitely many positive whole numbers.
A Writer's Voice
The true essence of a writer’s voice lies far beneath the surface. It is not merely a matter of grammar and word choice. It is the writer's craving to connect. It is less craft and more courage – less ink and more blood. It is not only how the writer tells his story; it is the story he chooses tell. The story he must tell. It is the reason he writes.
- It reveals itself in details the eye doesn't easily take in— in some unexpected hesitation or cunning adverb or barely audible inflection that makes you sit up and take notice.
- And contrary to popular belief, a writer’s voice is learnt more than it’s “found” or “discovered.”
- It is the fiery truth that burns in his heart until it becomes unbearable to wait even a single moment longer before putting pen to paper or fingertips to keyboard.
- It is the way an author expresses personal attitude— through word choice, asides, sentence flow, paragraph density, and other individual stylistic devices.
When components of his New Deal got struck down by the Supreme Court of the United States, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt threatened to increase the number of its judges from nine to fifteen through a court-reform bill. He reasoned that packing the court with six new judges would bring about a new majority that would side with the government. _________________________________________. For, in 1937, Justice Owen Roberts changed his vote to side with the government-leaning judges, and Roosevelt thereafter did not need to pursue court packing.
Choose the option which fits in best in the given blank:
- The judiciary refused to let in a Trojan horse into its citadel of independence.
- The resultant public backlash put paid to his plans.
- His relationship with the judiciary was fraught with confrontation and conflict.
- Shortly thereafter, ‘a switch in time saved the nine’.
The Essential Religious Practices Test
To mediate the competing claims of individuals, communities and the state, very early on in its history, the Supreme Court invented something that it called the “essential religious practices test”. Under this test, ostensibly religious practices could gain constitutional sanction only if — in the view of the Court — they were “essential” or “integral” to the religion in question. In the beginning, the court emphasized that essential religious practices would have to be determined by taking an internal point of view, and looking to the tenets and the doctrines of the religion itself. In later years, however, the court began to take an increasingly interventionist stance, using the essential religious practices test to make wide-ranging — often untethered — claims about religions, and even trying to mold religions into more rationalistic and homogenous monoliths, while marginalizing dissident traditions.
- In crux, the Supreme Court rules that an essential practice, like a ritual, in pursuance of religious beliefs, is a critical aspect of the faith itself and that freedom of religion encompass this aspect.
- The high watermark of this approach came in 2004, when the court held that the public performance of the Tandava dance was no essential part of the religion of the Ananda Marga sect, even though it had been specifically set down as such in their holy book.
- For example, the landmark verdict by the Bombay High Court that women should be allowed to enter the Haji Ali sanctum was based on careful and circumspect perusal of passages from the Koran and the Hadith, material placed before it by the Dargah Trust.
- After all, in a society where religion and the public sphere have always been so intertwined, religious exclusion has a public character, and not just an issue of sacral traditions but one of civil rights and material and symbolic equality.
The Selfish Gene
In his book, The Selfish Gene, Richard Dawkins puts forth the radical theory that all living creatures are essentially vehicles for their genes, and exist merely to transmit and propagate their genes._____________________________________________________In fact, Dawkins later wrote that his choice of the word “selfish” was wrong, since it attributed an anthropomorphic quality to what is essentially a bunch of chemicals. A better term, he thought, would have been “the immortal gene”.
Choose the option which fits in best in the given blank:
- Only when individuals behave in their genetic self-interest and form alliances, genes are passed on for species to survive.
- Genes are not sentient; they passes through bodies and affect them, but are not affected by them on the way through.
- Dawkins’s proposition is that pure altruistic behavior has never helped anyone in the history of any species.
- Genes may be willing to abandon the individual to replicate themselves.