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Transhumanism vs. the Hedonic Treadmill via Futurama (!)

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In this six-minute video from the PBS Idea Channel, Mike Rugnetta takes us on a whirlwind tour exploring a few concepts related to Transhumanism through the lens of the TV show Futurama. To make an extremely complex set of ideas overly simple, Transhumanism is the notion that technology will make human life better by eliminating suffering. It has interesting offshoots like Singularitarianism, in which humans transcend biology and become (and/or are displaced by) digital lifeforms (for a little more on that, see Ray Kurzweil's Pill Habit). And it's a very appealing notion -- it's often easy to see how technology improves our lives. But it's also easy (increasingly so, I'd argue) to understand that technology doesn't always make us happier or eliminate suffering.*

But why is that? Rugnetta's argument is the good old hedonic treadmill, the depressing-but-apparently-true notion that humans adapt to new levels of happiness-and-cool-stuff (and unhappiness-and-bad-stuff) by leveling out at a set point in the middle of the happiness spectrum. In other words (as Rugnetta mentions), this is Louis C.K.'s "Everything is amazing and nobody is happy." Rugnetta uses Futurama as a case study of a fundamentally honest view of the future, where despite wildly advanced technology, humans and transhumans are still on the hedonic treadmill.

Sample quote: "Though able to defeat aging and remedy suffering, [the world of Futurama] is far from an Eden. Futurama isn't the post-scarcity, post-war Earth of Star Trek, it's not even Thomas More's complex-but-'fair' Utopia, or Matt Fraction's Coldheart Island. It's just sort of like today, but...later."

If this isn't enough for you, just tune in for ten hours of Hypnotoad.

* = Note - I'm fully aware that technology often does eliminate suffering -- for example, technology to provide clean drinking water, cure disease, provide food, and so on. But when we think about the technology that Westerners encounter in our homes (and in our pockets) that seems like a big deal and makes it feel like the future has arrived, we have to ask: does this technology fundamentally change the human condition, or will we always struggle?

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fun
This Harry Potter Candle Melts to Reveal Your Hogwarts House—and Smells Amazing
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Warner Bros.

As it gets darker and colder outside, the thought of lighting a candle in your room and curling up with a good book becomes more appealing. A sorting hat candle from the Muggle Library Candles Etsy store makes the perfect companion to whatever Harry Potter book you happen to be re-reading for the hundredth time this season. According to the Cleveland news outlet WKYC, the candle slowly reveals your Hogwarts house as it burns.

From the outside, the item looks like a normal white candle. But when lit, the outer layer of plain wax melts away, allowing the colorful interior to poke through. The candles come in one of four concealed colors: red for Gryffindor, blue for Ravenclaw, yellow for Hufflepuff, and green for Slytherin. The only way to know which house you’re destined to match with is by purchasing a candle and putting it to use. According to the label, the scent evokes “excitement, fear, and nervousness.” The smell can also be described as lemon with sandalwood, vanilla, and patchouli.

Due to its viral popularity, the Fort Worth, Texas-based Etsy store has put all orders on hold while working to get its current batch of shipments out to customers. You can follow Muggle Library Candles on Instagram for updates on the sorting candle, as well as other Harry Potter-themed candles in their repertoire, like parseltongue and free elf.

[h/t WKYC]

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Kehinde Wiley Studio, Inc., Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0
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Barack Obama Taps Kehinde Wiley to Paint His Official Presidential Portrait
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Kehinde Wiley
Kehinde Wiley Studio, Inc., Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Kehinde Wiley, an American artist known for his grand portraits of African-American subjects, has painted Michael Jackson, Ice-T, and The Notorious B.I.G. in his work. Now the artist will have the honor of adding Barack Obama to that list. According to the Smithsonian, the former president has selected Wiley to paint his official presidential portrait, which will hang in the National Portrait Gallery.

Wiley’s portraits typically depict black people in powerful poses. Sometimes he models his work after classic paintings, as was the case with "Napoleon Leading the Army Over the Alps.” The subjects are often dressed in hip-hop-style clothing and placed against decorative backdrops.

Portrait by Kehinde Wiley
"Le Roi a la Chasse"
Kehinde Wiley, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 3.0

Smithsonian also announced that Baltimore-based artist Amy Sherald has been chosen by former first lady Michelle Obama to paint her portrait for the gallery. Like Wiley, Sherald uses her work to challenge stereotypes of African-Americans in art.

“The Portrait Gallery is absolutely delighted that Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald have agreed to create the official portraits of our former president and first lady,” Kim Sajet, director of the National Portrait Gallery, said in a press release. “Both have achieved enormous success as artists, but even more, they make art that reflects the power and potential of portraiture in the 21st century.”

The tradition of the president and first lady posing for portraits for the National Portrait Gallery dates back to George H.W. Bush. Both Wiley’s and Sherald’s pieces will be revealed in early 2018 as permanent additions to the gallery in Washington, D.C.

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