IdeaFestival

Lemon-scented ethics

Can that nice smell make you more ethical?

That’s the provocative suggestion of a recent study in the journal Psychological Science. A team of researchers found that when people were in a room recently spritzed with a citrus-scented cleanser, they behaved more fairly when playing a classic trust game. In another experiment, the smell of cleanser made subjects more likely to volunteer for a charity.

While Proctor and Gamble is unlikely to hire one to market its brands, philosophers have long discussed the phenomenal character of experience, largely focusing on sight and its non-reductive character. The famous thought experiment featuring "blind Mary," or our inability to correlate the thrill of seeing our significant other with a molecule-for-molecule brain state point to the special nature of experience and its unique contribution to knowing. As it turns out, scent, too, has a place in that literature.

"What it is to be like" under the influence of recently spritzed citrus-scented cleanser? Only you really know. And armed with a lemon zester, someone, somewhere has a plan.

Wayne

There's an app for that? Trust

The infamous example of HAL aside, how far should we trust our artificial assistants? A NewScientist column on innovation asks that question and a few others about a new phone app that can take spoken commands and reserve, for example, a table at that fabulous new restaurant with very little further input from you. One issue raised by the min-review of the artificial intelligence in "Siri" is trust. It depends on context and, in the example here, an ability to pick out meaning rather than just keywords.

For some industrial strength reasoning about trust, check out this Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry. Or simply read All's Well that Ends Well.

Wayne

Four billion miles distant, Earth is a pale blue dot

PIA00452_modestClick this image to see Earth as it appeared nearly twenty years ago from Voyager's vantage as it sped away from our planet on its way out of the solar system. According to a story at NPR,

NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab used to have... a display with the full mosaic of photos posted up in an auditorium, says [Candice] Hansen-Koharcheck [who discovered the iconic image as she sat looking at data being returned by the craft]. 'And to show the whole thing it covered, oh, I don't know, 12 or 14 feet,' she says — of mostly empty black space, with just a few pinpricks of light showing the planets. One of them was labeled Earth.

'One of the guys that took care of that display told me one time that he was forever having to replace that picture,' says Hansen-Koharcheck, 'because people would come up to look at it and they would always touch the Earth.'

And Voyager? The doughty metal ship is entering the interstellar medium, further from Earth than any other made object, ever, and still phoning home over the vanishing distance.

Wayne

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Garden and self

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Renowned for embodying a sense of calm, Japanese gardens can provide relief for sufferers of Alzheimer's, according to anecdotal data collected by the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences at Rutgers, and linked by Futurity.org.

Wayne

Image: http://www.flickr.com/photos/27398485@N08/ / CC BY-SA 2.0

Jane McGonigal: Games for a better reality

Why use games to escape reality when they can be used to improve it? Game designer Jane McGonigal takes her turn in this IF Conversation from early last year, describing how games and gaming environments are more than simply vehicles for entertainment.

The IF Conversations series will resume with video of the 2009 IF speakers in the next couple of weeks, so stick around!

 

Wayne

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