I've been over-posting this month, so I'm going to make my monthly "Cool Sh*t" post short. (See last month's candidates here.) Below are three articles that offer provocative takes by smart, informed authors on important topics.
"The Transformation: Is it possible to control cancer without killing it?" by Jerome Groopman, The New Yorker, September 15, 2014. Groopman, a physician and professor at Harvard and excellent medical reporter, describes novel forms of treating cancer, which involve genetically reprogramming cancerous cells rather than killing them, as conventional treatments do. Groopman cannot conceal his excitement, noting that investigations of the treatments "provide hope that scientists are advancing on a cure," but he responsibly includes caveats about past disappointments. (See also my recent post, "Sorry, But So Far War on Cancer Has Been a Bust.")
"What Your Computer Can't Know," by John Searle, New York Review of Books, October 9, 2014. The grouchy, stubborn, blunt but somehow charming philosopher Searle demolishes two books, which claim, respectively, that "reality consists of information," and that super-intelligent computers "are quite likely to rise up and destroy us all." Searle argues persuasively that the books "are mistaken about the relations between consciousness, computation, information, cognition, and lots of other phenomena." (See also my critiques of Searle's famous Chinese Room experiment, of the everything-is-information meme and of the Singularity.)
"Why I Hope to Die at 75," by Ezekiel Emanuel, The Atlantic, September 17, 2014. My father is loving life at 90, and I'd be happy to live that long, if I can remain as hale as he is. I was nonetheless disturbed and moved by this essay by Emanuel, a 57-year-old physician and health-care authority, about the downside of living into your 80s and beyond. One of his many revealing statistics notes that the percentage of elderly Americans with disabilities is rising sharply. In extending life, modern medicine is often extending misery.