Category: Weird

Evolutionary Pressures on Minds and Bodies

Corpus 2.0, a recent design project on potential human bodily evolution, has been spreading around the web. One model with a shoulder bump finds it much easier to keep her handbag steady. Other forms of “progress” include a “ridge in the nose developed for wearing glasses, ears moulded to accommodate earphones, a thumb with an extra joint for sending SMS messages more efficiently and a foot adapted to create the same posture as wearing high heels.” This work struck me as a less critical version of the “future farms” and other body modifications both proposed and ridiculed at the “Design and the Elastic Mind” show at MOMA earlier this year.

While many find these particular modifications to bodily form grotesque, opposition to unfortunate evolutionary pressures on attitudes and mental habits strikes me as much less developed. That’s one reason I cautioned against runaway “cognitive enhancements” in an article last year. The founder of Better Living Through Chemistry predicts that we should be happy to choose “average hedonic set point[s] of our children. . . . [so that] allelic combinations . . . .that leave their bearers predisposed to unpleasant states of consciousness . . . will be weeded out of the gene pool. . . [leading to] some form of paradise-engineering.” Following Walker Percy, I think such people are actually quite useful to a world too prone to “irrational exuberance”–even if introversion is maladaptive for the introvert himself.


Extreme Case of Automation Bias

According to cognitive systems engineering literature, human beings view automated systems as error-resistant. In other words, we trust a computer’s answers, even if evidence suggests that we should doubt them. Our automation bias was on full display on Monday night when a New York man drove onto railroad tracks because his GPS told him to do so. Luckily, the man and his passengers escaped injury before the train hit his car. A Metro-North spokesperson told reporters: “You don’t turn onto train tracks even if there are little voices in your head telling you to do so. If the GPS told you to drive off a cliff, would you drive off a cliff?” If this train incident and another like it nine months ago provide any guidance, the answer may tragically be yes.

car crash dkc.jpg

Wikimedia Commons


Jury duty, revisited

What does a judge do when too few people show up for jury duty? Well, one judge sends bailiffs out into the streets to round up random passers-by and conscript them into service. Really! From the Seattle Times:

After trying the phone book and making some calls without much success, Bearden ordered Lane County sheriff’s deputies to go out on a downtown Eugene street and summon citizens to immediate jury service. . .

Bearden said the jury pool may have been smaller than normal because people who have experienced domestic violence, sex abuse and child abuse personally or in their families often declare that they are unable to sit on such a case. In any event, Bearden found herself using Oregon Revised Statute 10.235(4) for the first time since becoming presiding judge six years ago.

Jury supervisor Tana Tracewell, a 25-year court employee, said she believed that it had been 20 years or more since a Lane County judge had to order on-the-spot summonses. Bearden said she looked up the statute to make sure it was still in effect.

And another snippet, from the local news:

Sgt. Doug Osborne said the potential jurors were nice about their surprise summons but not entirely convinced it was real. “I said, really you’re not on camera, they’re looking around to see if they’re on camera and it was a joke,” he said.

(Hat tip: Marc B)


Serving Cases On a Plate

punitive_bmw.gifVia Chris Colin comes a report of a recently graduated lawyer/artist from HLS, José Klein. As Colin relates the story, Jose decided to transfer magic marker depictions of cases that engaged him to dinner ware (through Make-A-Plate). He felt that “[t]hese cases become vehicles for rules to be established. But we lose sight of what’s profoundly human in them, and they ultimately become abstractions . . . I think the plates are an attempt to engage the drama or the humanity, not just the rule. It’s more soulful than the study of these rules.” The plate to the right, for example, depicts BMW v. Gore.

Given reader interest in Supreme Court bobble-head dolls, and other artistic representations of pressing legal problems, it might be worth checking out the whole collection.



From my alma mater, via Gawker, comes the most disturbing newspaper correction I’ve seen in — um, ever.

CORRECTION: This submission misstates that one Dalai Lama admitted to having sex with hundreds of men and women while knowing that he had AIDS. Additionally, the submission misstates that many monks participated in the dismemberment of female bodies. In fact, there is no factual evidence to substantiate either of these claims. Spectator regrets the error.

Wow. I guess the philosophy is, when misstating facts, misstate big.


. . . and I feel fine

explosion.JPG How should the law deal with the end of the world?

A set of recent NYT articles discusses a lawsuit filed to stop the (possible) end of the world. Apparently, there is a very, very remote chance that the newest particle accelerator will create

a tiny black hole, which could eat the Earth. Or it could spit out something called a “strangelet” that would convert our planet to a shrunken dense dead lump of something called “strange matter.”

Yikes! And so there is a lawsuit seeking to enjoin use of the accelerator, at least until an environmental impact study (!) is completed. And with that, the fate of the universe suddenly rests in the hands of lawyers and judges. It sounds like a bad script that tries to marry Armageddon with Law and Order:

“Will beautiful attorney Lisa and her trusty paralegal sidekick Jake get the papers filed in time? Will cranky judge Hornblatt grant the TRO that saves the world? Find out next Friday, right after the series premiere of Survivor: Law School Edition.”

And how exactly does the law analyze these sorts of claims, anyway? It strikes me that law is not particularly well-equipped to handle claims of infinite destruction. For instance:

-When can a party get a TRO to prevent an act that would cause the end of the universe?

Well, they’ve got to show irreparable harm. Presumably, the end of the universe is always irreparable harm.

-When does a company have to disclose the possibility of the end of the universe in its filings?

Well, if it’s future or speculative information, we apply Basic v. Levinson‘s probability/magnitude test. The probability may be small, even infinitessimal. But the magnitude of the potential harm? Infinite. I guess you always disclose it.

(10-K’s everywhere will now include the line, “There is a very, very, very small chance that something the Board does will inadvertently cause the end of the universe.”)

-And how would a court apply the Hand formula, for instance, in assessing whether a party should have taken better precautions to prevent the universe from being destroyed?

Burden = Probability x Loss.

P may be low, but L is really, really high. Does this mean that parties always have a burden to take reasonable steps to prevent the end of the universe?


But then, law typically gives damages, which are backward-looking. And if the universe has been destroyed . . . well, good luck finding a court in which to bring your claim.

Plus, all your evidence is probably destroyed.

(Image source: Wikicommons)

Song Charts

The ELS Blog has continually demonstrated the importance of good charts to the study of law. But what about pop music? Here the “Song Charts” pool on Flickr is filling the gap. Consider the following histogramic analysis of Elvis’s “Ain’t Nothing But a Hound Dog” (by MShades):


M.C. Hammer is on the charts as well. Here’s the full pool; I’m putting some Creative Commons licensed ones below the fold.

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PainStation: A Clockwork Lemon?

boccioni.jpgI’ve previously covered technological and legal responses to the ever-increasing cell phone din. Now some inventive designers are imagining new scenarios for noise control. For example, Social Mobile 5 (SoMo5) “launches sound bombs into other people’s annoying conversations.” Authorities may outfit repeat offenders with SoMo1, which “delivers an electric shock whose intensity varies depending on how loudly the person at the other end of the line is speaking.” (Be sure to check out the online video. I wonder if they’ll submit it to future rulemakings on the issue?)

When I saw these darkly fanciful ideas on display at the Museum of Modern Art’s show Design and the Elastic Mind, I immediately connected them to another part of the exhibit: the PainStation, which would raise the stakes of videogaming by making players’ left hands suffer “heat, electric shocks, or a quick whipping” after mistakes.

These ideas reminded me of a great Dan Burk article title: A Clockwork Lemon. I doubt they’ll be built, but they subversively suggest the way individuals may move from reluctantly submitting to technologies of control to expecting them. As Julian Dibbell noted in his book on Chinese “gold farmers” (individuals who perform repetitive tasks in online games in order to sell game points to wealthier purchasers), some of the gold farmers would relax after 84-hour weeks of game playing by . . . playing more games.

I suppose on some libertarian angle we should celebrate this merger of freedom and necessity in the future. The glittering, perfectly designed interfaces at MOMA suggest as much. But the occasional project highlighted the darker side of technologies of control, and the “future farms” that the spontaneous order of the market will inspire. I’ll describe those more in a bit.

Photo Credit: wallyg, photo of Umberto Boccioni’s Unique Forms of Continuity in Space.