A fortnightly round up of science, technology, smut, and good news. Not necessarily in that order.

View this email online

The Crunch # 51

Optimism is a choice, not a reaction. Plus, underwater ice caves, nanoscale nativity scenes, MDMA as medicine, and good news about US crime rates and the Amazon forest.

... and we're back. 

One of the best ideas we came across over the holidays was taking one word, and making it your mantra for the year. As we all know, New Year’s resolutions aren't very effective (don't worry it's not just you, the science suggests it’s impossible for most people).

Having one word is better. It can act as a touchstone for many areas in your life, whether it's health, relationships, or work, and you can adapt it to circumstances as they change around you.

Our word for 2018 is easy.


We'll try to explain. 

The default attitude for many people who think of themselves as smart, engaged and widely read is cynicism. In a world beset by climate change, environmental degradation, forced migration, political extremism, toxic masculinity, human rights violations, and economic inequality, it seems like the only sane reaction. Especially when the scale of the challenges we face seems to be matched only by the ineptitude of our political leaders. To the well informed cynic, it's obvious that the human race is utterly incapable of getting its shit together.

You know who else thinks like that? Emo teenagers. They naturally default to cynicism because it's safe. The world is an uncertain, mean place filled with stupid authority figures and meat heads. Far easier to retreat to your room, cry softly onto your copy of Nietzche, write some dark poetry and wallow in the endless night of the human soul. 

However, as anyone who's gone back and read their teenage poetry knows, teenagers aren't wise. They don't really understand what's going on. They haven't had enough experience. Their decision to adopt an attitude of cynicism may like feel like an act of rebellion, a way of reclaiming agency in a world that has obviously gone mad. In reality, it's a decision based on fear, uncertainty and inexperience. 

As an adult, you've got no excuse. Cynicism is lazy, it's the easy way out. If you only expect the worst from society, you never have to worry about being wrong, or disappointed. And if you stay cynical for long enough, it leads to what Steven Pinker calls corrosive pessimism. If everything is awful, and politicians are always liars, and business leaders are always greedy, and we're all on a collision course with a climate change time bomb, then what’s the point in trying to do anything about it?

This kind of attitude is bad enough when it happens on an individual level, but at the societal level it’s toxic. In a time where action is paramount, cynicism creates a paralysing effect. It causes predatory delay, which is effectively the same as losing. It concedes the fight to those whose power and wealth is tied to planetary destruction and the misery of others.
So here's our idea.

In 2018, how about cultivating an attitude of optimism? Not as a judgement, or a reaction to the world around you, but as a choice, by which you navigate and affect the world around you. In our own experience, the personal benefits of waking up every day and deliberately making that choice are profound.

It's not just a personal project, it’s a political one too.

We’re not talking about naive optimism, the kind that recycles, sings Kumbaya, grows organic veggies in the backyard and hopes Elon Musk is going to fix all of our problems. 

We're talking about a compassionate optimism, one that bears witness to the terrible things that are happening on our watch, and doesn’t shy away from the pain.

It's a courageous optimism, one that admits the profound difficulty of the tasks that lie before us, and even the possibility of total failure.

It's an intelligent optimism, informed by incredible advances in science and technology, and inspired by stories of human progress and environmental stewardship.

It's a practical optimism, which takes a long, hard look at everything that's going on around us and says, "we can do better than this." 

Most importantly, it’s a collective optimism, one that recognises that progress doesn't happen by magic, but is the result of sustained, committed efforts by millions of people over decades, who keep on showing up and insisting that it's possible to create a vibrant, life sustaining global society that works for everyone. 

Try it out - make optimism your filter bubble in 2018, and see how it goes. We'll be right here with you, trying (and failing) to be funny, dredging up questionable content from every corner of the interwebz, and giving you plenty of fuel along the way. 

Good news you probably didn't hear about

The United Kingdom smashed almost every record there is for renewable energy in 2017. Wind power alone now generates twice as much electricity as coal. The Conversation

The annual murder rate in the United States declined by more than 5% in 2017, and in New York, crime rates dropped to their lowest level since the 1950s. CS Monitor

In a year when more people flew to more places than ever, 2017 was the safest ever for airlines. There were no passenger jet crashes anywhere in the world. Independent

Ammunition for your next dinner party. In 2017, natural disasters caused fewer deaths than almost any year in human history. Headline news everywhere, obviously.  Buzzfeed

As of the 1st January, the US military has been allowing transgender people to openly sign up to serve in the armed forces, providing they meet certain medical criteria. EuroNews

The Brazilian government says it will no longer build dams in the Amazon, and Belize has permanently suspended oil operations on the largest reef in the Western hemisphere.

After more than ten years of debate, 140 nations have just agreed to begin negotiations on a historic "Paris Agreement for the Ocean," the first-ever international treaty to stop overfishing and protect life in the high seas. National Geographic

Y'all motherfu©kas need science

A flotilla of robot submarines is about to travel under the Antarctic ice shelf on a year long mission to map ice caves that have never been explored by humans. Scientific American

In 2017, the humble LED saved 570 million tons of carbon (equivalent to closing 162 coal plants), and reduced the global carbon footprint by 1.5%. Semiconductor Today

Russian engineers have built a massive drone that can lift 180kg, travel at 70kmh, and fly for over 8 hours, designed for use in natural disasters and the agriculture industry. Youtube

A new machine learning algorithm from Google can accurately predict a person’s blood pressure, age and smoking status by analysing a single photograph of their eye. Nature

Scientists from Duke have, for the first time, taken human skin cells, turned them into pluripotent stem cells, and then transformed those into functioning human muscle. Wired

In a major advance for neuroprosthetics, scientists in Rome have unveiled the first bionic hand with a sense of touch that's portable enough to be worn outside a laboratory. BBC

Researchers from Lithuania gave Pope Francis a 3D printed, nanoscale nativity scene that is so small it can sit inside the eye of a needle, and balance on a human eyelash. 3ders

The information superhighway is still awesome

For eight months, Lynsey Griswold watched pornography from every corner of the globe. Her key takeaway? Interest in smut knows no arbitrary national boundaries. MEL

The robots aren't coming to take our jobs. It's just that the jobs are changing. Here's the LinkedIn report on the most popular emerging jobs of 2017, and the skills to land them.

MDMA's journey from counter culture drug to medicine didn't happen by accident. MAPS deliberately chose soldiers suffering from PTSD as their first patients. It worked. New Atlas

This deep dive by Justin O’Beirne on Google Maps' superiority over Apple Maps is a brilliant, mindblowing reminder of the power of data analytics (warning: strictly for geeks).

According to anthropologists, the most highly prized attribute amongst Filipino hunter gatherers isn't strength, or wisdom... it's the ability to spin a good yarn. Atlantic

In 2009, Alan Lightman wrote Song of Two Worlds, an epic ode to science, and the search for meaning. Now it's been illustrated by an 18 year old boy from India. BrainPickings

Some legend from Oxford has gone and used his research grant to make animated GIFs out of beautiful, centuries-old manuscripts hand drawn by monks. ART+marketing

Meanwhile, back at Future Crunch HQ...

Melbourne followers, we're going to be at the opening of the NGV Triennial Extra, a ten day festival of art, design, food and music that kicks of next week on Friday the 19th January. We're taking part in a staged debate, and are running two 45 minute tours of the new Triennial exhibition on Friday the 19th and Saturday the 20th at 7:30pm each night. Yes. That is right. Apparently we are now art tour guides. Seriously, get down to this come check out some amazing art and have a few drinks, it's going to be awesome, you don't really get more Melbourne than this. NGV Triennial Extra

OK that's it for this edition! It's great to be back, and we're really looking forward to the year ahead.

If you like this newsletter, you can support us on Patreon. We take all the money and give it away. More news on this coming in the next few editions.

Much love.

Gus and Tane
We're really sorry if you didn't sign up for this email. We hate spam as much as you do. If you'd like to be taken off the list then please click below.
please take me off this list