{#10} The days of the virus /1

In this newsletter:
- A socially-distanced hug
- Suggested readings
- The age of (in)security: meeting Jeff Halper
- How to participate?

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“Like wire models of molecules the students moved through the yard, always maintaining the distances between them, as if they were attached to steel connecting pipes. A human mobile. Sometimes just watching made you dizzy, said Dr. Rudolph […] He always felt really strange when they moved back and forth in that way and talked with one another as if all this were completely normal. As if they had eyes in the back and front of their heads. Or feeelers. Or a sort of spider web around them, and one of them needed merely to tug at one point for the others to know exactly where he had tugged. And never, with the trivial exception of bullying or a physical confrontation between two boys, did one of them get sick, no, that had never happened, not even an attack of vertigo, never did one of them run into a wall and so get pressed into another’s zone, when that point was reached a new pattern simply formed. Truly remakrable and mind-boggling what situations human beings could come to terms with.”

Read the rest

Science, War, Society. Second meeting.

5th February, meeting with Jeff Halper

Genova, 02/05/20. Meeting with Jeff Halper, anthropologist and peace activist from Israel, author of War Against the People (Pluto press, 2015).

War as an international affair

This book comes out of my work on Palestine and Israel. I’ve been an activist for many years. I am the head of an organization called the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions. We try to fight Israel’s policy of demolishing Palestinian homes. And the question that comes up all the time is: how does Israel get away with this? Why does the world allow Israel to have an occupation for more than fifty years, to violate international law, to repress an entire people? Not only does it allow it, but Israel gets more and more international support, its status goes up and up in the international community.

There are all kinds of explanations people think of, for example the strong jewish lobby in the United States. But that doesn’t explain the Italian support for Israel. It doesn’t explain support for Israel from countries where there are no jews: today India and China are two of the strongest supporters of Israel in the international community.

Then there is the idea of the guilt over the Holocaust.… Read the rest

Q/?: Weapons of Math Destruction

[A few years ago we read and discussed Weapons of Math Destruction by Cathy O’Neil. Here some questions we would ideally like to pose to the author, if we ever get to meet her (in collaboration with Giuseppe De Nicolao)]

Question 1. “Models are opinions embedded in mathematics” (quote from the book). My question will focus on the educational aspect of maths, as one of the key subjects we are taught in school, from the early years until the end of high school. I wonder whether a reshaping of the very way in which the subject is presented by teachers is not more urgent than ever. Sadly, too many students graduate without a great appreciation of the beauty of maths, and, perhaps above all, a sufficient understanding of its nature and purposes. I feel that mathematics is easily reduced to mere memorising of notions and equations, or is at least perceived as such for the most part. That may especially be the case where standardised testing, for example in the form of multiple choice questions, has become the main criteria for evaluating the students’ knowledge. In what ways do you think we could change the current school system, in order to make the situation better?… Read the rest

The (modified) NIM game

«The game here discussed has interested the writer on account of its seeming complexity, and its extremely simple and complete mathematical theory. The writer has not been able to discover much concerning its history, although certain forms of it seem to be played at a number of American colleges, and at some of the American fairs. It has been called Fali-Tan, but as it is not the Chinese game of that name, the name in the title is proposed.»

Thus wrote the mathematician Charles L. Bouton in Nim, A Game with a Complete Mathematical Theory (Annals of Mathematics, Vol. 3, No. 1/4 (1901 – 1902), pp. 35-39). Which does not help in understanding what NIM stands for at all. maybe New Interactive Media? Or Network Interface Module? Probably we will never know…

NIM is a time-killer strategy game that many of us played on our school desktops. How it works is best explained in this unsetting sequence from Last year in Marienbad by Alain Resnais:

The winning strategy to play the NIM game has been clearly explained in this video:

Notice that in the original NIM game only odd number of elements are present in each file, and that one can remove any set of remaining elements in that file.… Read the rest

{#6} Living with the trouble

«I dreamed that the visible universe is the physical person of God; that the vast worlds that we see twinkling millions of miles apart in the fields of space are the blood corpuscles in His veins; and that we and the other creatures are the microbes that charge with multitudinous life the corpuscles.»

Mark Twain, 3,000 Years Among the Microbes

«Twain drew upon contemporary scientific theories of disease, specifically, the new germ theory, which postulated that disease was caused by microbes, and spread through contact with infectious individuals. This discovery, rapidly adopted by the public, suggested what many already understood that the borders separating individuals, and nations, were unpredictably porous.»

R. L. Nichols, Infectious Imperialism: Mark Twain, Microbes and the Borders of the Citizen

Dear germs,

you may have been wondering whatever happened to us? Maybe you were even relieved of not receiving this nuisance of a newsletter… But surprise surprise: we are still here, and more virulent than ever!

Much like Treponema pallidum – one of the “spirits” that infested the stories we recently read and discussed about – after the first superficial outspurts, later this summer we went latent and installed into the body of Festivaletteratura. There we exploited the resources of our host organism, enrolled its cells, travelled through its arteries, tickled its lymphatic nodes.… Read the rest

Stick to the science – an interview with Bruno Latour

[Unedited writedown from an interview to Bruno Latour @ Festivaletteratura 2018 on occasion of Scienceground 2, Mantova, Sunday September 9th, 2018. Edited Italian version on iltascabile.it]

[On the dispute with Sokal-Bricmont] A big one I had in a big theatre in the middle of London. Eight hundred people screaming, half of them against me and half of them against Sokal. Sokal is a nice guy actually, he was defending the last stand of the old epistemology. But now all of that is gone, actually Sokal wrote that we won. He was interrogated about climate skepticism, and everyone realized that the ones that were defending the scientists were us, and that the whole epistemological defense of science was no use against the big corporations and big deniers. So, the Sokal affair was the last ditch, so to speak, the last effort of the traditional epistemology to defend itself, and then we realized it was a very bad defense, because when you are attacked, seriously, by a denier of climate science, you need another version of science.

[On postmodernism] All of these disputes are 20th century. We’re in another century. Sokal is a 20th century question, postmodernism is a 20th century question.… Read the rest

SCIENCEGROUND 1.5 – Microbes

The program of Scienceground 1.5 @Festivaletteratura 2019, Mantova 4-8 September. All the references are to the program of the festival,  which can be downloaded at www.festivaletteratura.it.

Drawings by Andrea De Franco


Organized by Piccola Comunità Scientifica ExTemporanea

«When you try to observe microbes or viruses, you end up finding links that are part of what people call “society”. They are two sides of the same coin. This is why it is not necessary to get out of science to explain its social aspects. We need to enter into the various disciplines – and then it will be the connections between the scientific objects themselves to define society, for you and us.»

Bruno Latour, interview at Scienceground 2, 2018

If we had to rebuild Palazzo Te now and decide the subjects to depict, how would we fresco the walls? We could certainly dedicate one room to the microorganisms that populate our environment and bodies – even larger in number than our own cells! So, just as the rooms of Palazzo Te are dedicated to giants, emblems and metamorphoses, the Isabella d’Este high school will host THE BACTERIA HALL, THE MOULD ROOM, THE YEAST ATRIUM AND THE VIRUS CLOISTER.… Read the rest

{#4} Scienceground 1.5: Microbes

«Microbes were doing things in the lab under [Pasteur’s] experimental skills which they didn’t do before. […] When you get into the science of microbes, or viruses, you get into associations which are part of what people call “society”. […] The next step in science communication is not to talk about rationality but to talk about these beings. And if you take bacteria you will develop the whole science and the whole society almost simultaneously»

B. Latour, extracts from an interview at Scienceground, Festivaletteratura, September 2018


the reason you receive this stream of consciousness is that when it started flooding your mail out of the blue you did not dare oppose, or else that for mysterious reasons you spontaneously subscribed. Thanks! If you don’t remember what it is all about, read the first three episodes here. To unsubscribe, find below the proper button and you will be ANNIHILATED as fast as light travels in our neurocortical network – and after some random procrastination time. But please let us know what upsets you.

We are happy to announce that Scienceground 1.5 is going to take place at Festivaletteratura in Mantova, Italy, September 4th – 8th (the complete program of the Festival – in Italian –can be downloaded here.… Read the rest

Semmelweis by L.-F. Céline

Last month we launched our online book club, with the proposal of reading and discussing Semmelweis by L.-F. Céline. Now it’s time to start the discussion! It will be conducted in a mix of Italian and English language in the comment section of this post.

A similar live discussion will be conducted at the next Festivaletteratura in Mantova, September 2019. The material collected here will be precious. If in the long summer days you don’t know what to make of the lazy afternoon hours, consider helping us editing the discussion into a printable document for later reference…