Are you real? What about me?. We might live in a computer program, but it may not matter.
These used to be questions that only philosophers worried about. Scientists just got on with figuring out how the world is, and why. But some of the current best guesses about how the world is seem to leave the question hanging over science too.
Several physicists, cosmologists and technologists are now happy to entertain the idea that we are all living inside a gigantic computer simulation, experiencing a Matrix-style virtual world that we mistakenly think is real.
Our instincts rebel, of course. It all feels too real to be a simulation. The weight of the cup in my hand, the rich aroma of the coffee it contains, the sounds all around me – how can such richness of experience be faked?
But then consider the extraordinary progress in computer and information technologies over the past few decades. Computers have given us games of uncanny realism – with autonomous characters responding to our choices – as well as virtual-reality simulators of tremendous persuasive power.
It is enough to make you paranoid. The Matrix formulated the narrative with unprecedented clarity. In that story, humans are locked by a malignant power into a virtual world that they accept unquestioningly as “real”. But the science-fiction nightmare of being trapped in a universe manufactured within our minds can be traced back further, for instance to David Cronenberg’s Videodrome (1983) and Terry Gilliam’s Brazil (1985).
Over all these dystopian visions, there loom two questions. How would we know? And would it matter anyway? The idea that we live in a simulation has some high-profile advocates.
In June 2016, technology entrepreneur Elon Musk asserted that the odds are “a billion to one” against us living in “base reality”. Similarly, Google’s machine-intelligence guru Ray Kurzweil has suggested that “maybe our whole universe is a science experiment of some junior high-school student in another universe”.
What’s more, some physicists are willing to entertain the possibility. In April 2016, several of them debated the issue at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, US.
None of these people are proposing that we are physical beings held in some gloopy vat and wired up to believe in the world around us, as in The Matrix.
Instead, there are at least two other ways that the Universe around us might not be the real one. Cosmologist Alan Guth of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, US has suggested that our entire Universe might be real yet still a kind of lab experiment. The idea is that our Universe was created by some super-intelligence, much as biologists breed colonies of micro-organisms.
There is nothing in principle that rules out the possibility of manufacturing a universe in an artificial Big Bang, filled with real matter and energy, says Guth.
Nor would it destroy the universe in which it was made. The new universe would create its own bubble of space-time, separate from that in which it was hatched. This bubble would quickly pinch off from the parent universe and lose contact with it.
This scenario does not then really change anything. Our Universe might have been born in some super-beings’ equivalent of a test tube, but it is just as physically “real” as if it had been born “naturally”.
However, there is a second scenario. It is this one that has garnered all the attention, because it seems to undermine our very concept of reality.
Musk and other like-minded folk are suggesting that we are entirely simulated beings. We could be nothing more than strings of information manipulated in some gigantic computer, like the characters in a video game.
Even our brains are simulated, and are responding to simulated sensory inputs. In this view, there is no Matrix to “escape from”. This is where we live, and is our only chance of “living” at all.
But why believe in such a baroque possibility? The argument is quite simple: we already make simulations, and with better technology it should be possible to create the ultimate one, with conscious agents that experience it as totally lifelike.
We carry out computer simulations not just in games but in research. Scientists try to simulate aspects of the world at levels ranging from the subatomic to entire societies or galaxies, even whole universes.
For example, computer simulations of animals may tell us how they develop complex behaviours like flocking and swarming. Other simulations help us understand how planets, stars and galaxies form.
We can also simulate human societies using rather simple “agents” that make choices according to certain rules. These give us insights into how cooperation appears, how cities evolve, how road traffic and economies function, and much else.
These simulations are getting ever more complex as computer power expands. Already, some simulations of human behaviour try to build in rough descriptions of cognition. Researchers envisage a time, not far away, when these agents’ decision-making will not come from simple “if…then…” rules. Instead, they will give the agents simplified models of the brain and see how they respond.
Who is to say that before long we will not be able to create computational agents – virtual beings – that show signs of consciousness? Advances in understanding and mapping the brain, as well as the vast computational resources promised by quantum computing, make this more likely by the day.
If we ever reach that stage, we will be running huge numbers of simulations. They will vastly outnumber the one “real” world around us. Is it not likely, then, that some other intelligence elsewhere in the Universe has already reached that point? If so, it makes sense for any conscious beings like ourselves to assume that we are actually in such a simulation, and not in the one world from which the virtual realities are run. The probability is just so much greater.
Philosopher Nick Bostrom of the University of Oxford in the UK has broken down this scenario into three possibilities. As he puts it, either:
(1) Intelligent civilisations never get to the stage where they can make such simulations, perhaps because they wipe themselves out first; or
(2) They get to that point, but then choose for some reason not to conduct such simulations; or
(3) We are overwhelmingly likely to be in such a simulation.
The question is which of these options seems most probable.
Astrophysicist and Nobel laureate George Smoot has argued that there is no compelling reason to believe (1) or (2).
Sure, humanity is causing itself plenty of problems at the moment, what with climate change, nuclear weapons and a looming mass extinction. But these problems need not be terminal.
What’s more, there is nothing to suggest that truly detailed simulations, in which the agents experience themselves as real and free, are impossible in principle. Smoot adds that, given how widespread we now know other planets to be (with another Earth-like one right on our cosmic doorstep), it would be the height of arrogance to assume that we are the most advanced intelligence in the entire Universe.
What about option (2)? Conceivably, we might desist from making such simulations for ethical reasons. Perhaps it would seem improper to create simulated beings that believe they exist and have autonomy.
But that too seems unlikely, Smoot says. After all, one key reason we conduct simulations today is to find out more about the real world. This can help us make the world better and save lives. So there are sound ethical reasons for doing it.
That seems to leave us with option (3): we are probably in a simulation. But this is all just supposition. Could we find any evidence?
Many researchers believe that depends on how good the simulation is. The best way would be to search for flaws in the program, just like the glitches that betray the artificial nature of the “ordinary world” in The Matrix. For instance, we might discover inconsistencies in the laws of physics.
Alternatively, the late artificial-intelligence maven Marvin Minsky has suggested that there might be giveaway errors due to “rounding off” approximations in the computation. For example, whenever an event has several possible outcomes, their probabilities should add up to 1. If we found that they did not, that would suggest something was amiss.
With its cobblestone paving and Georgian façades, tranquil Hill Street is a haven in Edinburgh’s busy New Town. Compared to the Scottish capital’s looming castle or eerie closes, it doesn’t seem like a street with a secret.
Walk slowly, though, and you might notice something odd. Written in gold gilt above a door framed by two baby-blue columns are the words, “The Lodge of Edinburgh (Mary’s Chapel) No 1”. Further up the wall, carved into the sandstone, is a six-pointed star detailed with what seem – at least to non-initiates – like strange symbols and numbers.
Located at number 19 Hill Street, Mary’s Chapel isn’t a place of worship. It’s a Masonic lodge. And, with its records dating back to 1599, it’s the oldest proven Masonic lodge still in existence anywhere in the world.
That might come as a surprise to some people. Ask most enthusiasts when modern Freemasonry began, and they’d point to a much later date: 1717, the year of the foundation of what would become known as the Grand Lodge of England. But in many ways, Freemasonry as we know it today is as Scottish as haggis or Harris tweed.
From the Middle Ages, associations of stonemasons existed in both England and Scotland. It was in Scotland, though, that the first evidence appears of associations – or lodges – being regularly used. By the late 1500s, there were at least 13 established lodges across Scotland, from Edinburgh to Perth. But it wasn’t until the turn of the 16th Century that those medieval guilds gained an institutional structure – the point which many consider to be the birth of modern Freemasonry.
Take, for example, the earliest meeting records, usually considered to be the best evidence of a lodge having any real organisation. The oldest minutes in the world, which date to January 1599, is from Lodge Aitchison’s Haven in East Lothian, Scotland, which closed in 1852. Just six months later, in July 1599, the lodge of Mary’s Chapel in Edinburgh started to keep minutes, too. As far as we can tell, there are no administrative records from England dating from this time.
“This is, really, when things begin,” said Robert Cooper, curator of the Grand Lodge of Scotland and author of the book Cracking the Freemason’s Code. “[Lodges] were a fixed feature of the country. And what is more, we now know it was a national network. So Edinburgh began it, if you like.”
I met Cooper in his office: a wood-panelled, book-stuffed room in the Grand Lodge of Scotland at 96 George Street, Edinburgh – just around the corner from Mary’s Chapel. Here and there were cardboard boxes, the kind you’d use for a move, each heaped full with dusty books and records. Since its founding in 1736, this lodge has received the records and minutes of every other official Scottish Masonic lodge in existence. It is also meant to have received every record of membership, possibly upwards of four million names in total.
That makes the sheer number of documents to wade through daunting. But it’s also fruitful, like when the Grand Lodge got wind of the Aitchison’s Haven minutes, which were going for auction in London in the late 1970s. Another came more recently when Cooper found the 115-year-old membership roll book of a Scottish Masonic lodge in Nagasaki, Japan.
“There’s an old saying that wherever Scots went in numbers, the first thing they did was build a kirk [church], then they would build a bank, then they would build a pub. And the fourth thing was always a lodge,” Cooper said, chuckling.
That internationalism was on full display in the Grand Lodge of Scotland’s museum, which is open to the public. It was full of flotsam and jetsam from around the world: a green pennant embroidered with the “District Grand Lodge of Scottish Freemasonry in North China”; some 30 Masonic “jewels” – or, to non-Masons, medals – from Czechoslovakia alone.
Of course, conspiracy theorists find that kind of reach foreboding. Some say Freemasonry is a cult with links to the Illuminati. Others believe it to be a global network that’s had a secret hand in everything from the design of the US dollar bill to the French Revolution. Like most other historians, Cooper shakes his head at this.
“If we’re a secret society, how do you know about us?” he asked. “This is a public building; we’ve got a website, a Facebook page, Twitter. We even advertise things in the press. But we’re still a ‘secret society’ running the world! A real secret society is the Mafia, the Chinese triads. They are real secret societies. They don’t have a public library. They don’t have a museum you can wander into.”
Some of the mythology about Freemasonry stems from the mystery of its early origins. One fantastical theory goes back to the Knights Templar; after being crushed by King Philip of France in 1307, the story goes, some fled to Argyll in western Scotland, and remade themselves as a new organisation called the Freemasons. (Find out more in our recent story about the Knights Templar).
Others – including Freemasons themselves – trace their lineage back to none other than King Solomon, whose temple, it’s said, was built with a secret knowledge that was transferred from one generation of stonemason to the next.
A more likely story is that Freemasonry’s early origins stem from medieval associations of tradesmen, similar to guilds. “All of these organisations were based on trades,” said Cooper. “At one time, it would have been, ‘Oh, you’re a Freemason – I’m a Free Gardener, he’s a Free Carpenter, he’s a Free Potter’.”
For all of the tradesmen, having some sort of organisation was a way not only to make contacts, but also to pass on tricks of the trade – and to keep outsiders out.
But there was a significant difference between the tradesmen. Those who fished or gardened, for example, would usually stay put, working in the same community day in, day out.
Not so with stonemasons. Particularly with the rush to build more and more massive, intricate churches throughout Britain in the Middle Ages, they would be called to specific – often huge – projects, often far from home. They might labour there for months, even years. Thrown into that kind of situation, where you depended on strangers to have the same skills and to get along, how could you be sure everyone knew the trade and could be trusted? By forming an organisation. How could you prove that you were a member of that organisation when you turned up? By creating a code known by insiders only – like a handshake.
Even if lodges existed earlier, though, the effort to organise the Freemason movement dates back to the late 1500s. A man named William Schaw was the Master of Works for King James VI of Scotland (later also James I of England), which meant he oversaw the construction and maintenance of the monarch’s castles, palaces and other properties. In other words, he oversaw Britain’s stonemasons. And, while they already had traditions, Schaw decided that they needed a more formalised structure – one with by-laws covering everything from how apprenticeships worked to the promise that they would “live charitably together as becomes sworn brethren”.
Scotland’s true Masonic history, it turns out, is more hidden than the church that Dan Brown made famous. It’s just hidden in plain sight: in the Grand Lodge and museum that opens its doors to visitors; in the archivist eager for more people to look at the organisation’s historical records; and in the lodges themselves, tucked into corners and alleyways throughout Edinburgh and Scotland’s other cities.
Their doors may often be closed to non-members, but their addresses, and existence, are anything but secret.
Think you’d hand in your notice if you suddenly struck it rich? You’d be surprised.
When Keith, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, worked at a technology company that went public, he became rich overnight. He was sure he’d never need to work again.
His pay-out from the initial public offering was well into the “tens of millions” of dollars, he says, a life-changing amount. It gave him the type of financial security that most of us can only dream of.
He stayed on at first, but soon stopped working. He spent a year travelling and spending money on “frivolous things” but found it difficult to enjoy his life, he says.
Like most people, Keith (who asked that his last name and identifying details not be used due to the personal nature of his story) had long believed he worked simply to make money. He was wrong. And so even with savings that would last a lifetime, Keith started another job search.
“I just felt unhappy at the lack of structure and not knowing what my purpose in life was. My skills were deteriorating and I was finding it difficult to interact with other people intellectually,” says Keith, now in his mid-thirties. “There’s a higher reason why we all go to work.”
Now, he’s back at work — and significantly happier than he was not working. You’d think striking it suddenly rich would be the ultimate ticket to freedom. Without money worries, the world would be your oyster. Perhaps you’d champion a worthy cause, or indulge a sporting passion, but work? Surely not. However, remaining gainfully employed after sudden wealth is more common than you’d think.
After all, there are numerous high-profile billionaires who haven’t called it quits despite possessing the luxury to retire, including some of the world’s top chief executives, such as Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg.
But it turns out, the suddenly rich who aren’t running companies are also loathe to quit, even though they have plenty of money. That could be, in part, because the link between salary and job satisfaction is very weak.
According to a meta-analysis by University of Florida business school professor Timothy Judge and other researchers, there’s less than a 2% overlap between the two factors. In the long run, we derive job satisfaction from non-monetary sources, which include positive peer relationships, the ability to work on meaningful projects and even leadership opportunities.
But, most of us take our jobs and the nonmaterial things they bring us for granted. We don’t realise that, though, until we’re faced with a situation of extreme wealth, says Jamie Traeger-Muney, an Israel-based therapist and founder of the Wealth Legacy Group who works with clients all over the world.
About 98% of her patients continue working in some way after they are financially secure, she adds. For some, it’s about a sense of purpose; for others it’s a way to keep a much-needed routine.
“Money is a much smaller driver of happiness and fulfilment from work than we anticipate,” she says. “There’s a difference between what they fantasise about and what actually feels meaningful, motivating and fulfilling.”
There’s another, more egotistical reason why some of us can’t stand not being in the game: status. Imagine the embarrassment of being so highly-accomplished, so associated with your work successes and then, as time passes, you can’t answer the question of “What do you do?” so easily, says Brooke Harrington professor at the Copenhagen Business School.
Going back to work — or never quitting — helps maintain an identity that’s derived from our professional achievements, especially if that identity has long been tied to our work, says Harrington.
“We lose status when we’re not employed in a job that can help others place us in the social hierarchy, and help us place ourselves [in the hierarchy],” she says. In short, it’s hard to know where you fit in when you’re not at least on the ladder.
As a serial entrepreneur, Karen Gordon, the founder of an employee engagement firm that she launched more than a decade after starting a telecommunications firm, decided that starting something new — and staying at work — was more important than spending her profits over the years.
“People enjoy accomplishment and enjoy [being] able to be competitive — and to win,” says Gordon, who is based in Austin, Texas in the US. She also craved the daily challenges that come with working as team, she adds.
The stars’ new war thriller evokes the Hollywood classic – but can it compare? Whatever one might think of Allied, a glossy World War Two espionage thriller starring Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard as secret agents who try to forge a viable family life in the midst of a world on fire, it’s worth celebrating that Robert Zemeckis is firmly dedicated to filming flesh-and-blood people again.
Zemeckis has always been a superb craftsman, with a particular gift for assimilating technical advances in the art of moviemaking, but he lost over a decade of his creative life pursuing the sterile art of motion-capture animation, nearly getting lost in the uncanny valley for good. It’s hard to think of a major filmmaker who came so close to being ruined by technology, just as it’s hard to believe that anyone except film historians will be watching Beowulf, The Polar Express or A Christmas Carol even a decade hence.
Rather than pushing towards the future, Alliedlooks to the past, and not only in terms of its plot. The movie begins with Pitt’s Canadian spy, Max Vatan, parachuting into the Moroccan desert, and within minutes we’re in Casablanca – and, perhaps more to the point, in the film Casablanca. Max and Cotillard’s Marianne Beauséjour are highly trained agents with a deadly, top-secret mission, but that doesn’t prevent them from looking fabulous while doing so.
Allied is a movie about loyalty and trust, about the bonds that hold people together and sometimes blind them, but it’s also a movie about how silken fabrics fall on Marion Cotillard’s frame, and how dashing Brad Pitt looks in a knitted v-neck. Joanna Johnston has been Zemeckis’s costume designer for nearly three decades – and is therefore partly responsible for the person who walked by me on Halloween when I was wearing a down vest and called out, “Hey! You look like Back to the Future!” – but between this and last year’s The Man From U.N.C.L.E., it feels like she’s abruptly risen to a new and dazzling level of accomplishment.
Although there’s no show-stopping set piece to rival Flight’s plane crash or The Walk’s Twin Towers tightrope act, Allied is technically immaculate from stem to stern. Every shot framed by Don Burgess feels purposeful, every one of Mick Audsley and Jeremiah O’Driscoll’s cuts precise. It’s a movie that ought to be studied in film schools, both for its technical achievements and as an example of how it’s possible to get every one of them right and still produce something that feels hollow inside.
Casablanca is driven, above all, by a call to self-sacrifice, the idea that next to the struggle against the threat of global fascism, whether one man and one woman end up together or not doesn’t amount to a hill of beans. Allied is about the hill of beans. It’s set against the same backdrop, and given the alarming resurgence of neo-Nazi ideology around the world, it stops you dead the first time a swastika armband swoops in front of the lens. But Allied’s Nazis are ultimately no more frightening than Top Secret’s.
Zemeckis has always styled himself as an apolitical filmmaker, claiming that the overtly right-wing Forrest Gump was intended to poke fun at both ends of the political spectrum, but here that disdain for taking sides robs the movie of what ought to be its core conflict. Once Max and Marianne tumble into each other’s arms we’re mainly worried about whether they’ll be found out, not whether their romantic entanglement might end up getting anyone else killed. The most inventive sequence in the movie doesn’t involve spy craft or the art of war but the two characters coupling in a car in the midst of a Moroccan sandstorm, the camera circling around their increasingly unclothed bodies as the wind whips ever-faster around them.
Its classical Hollywood reference points notwithstanding, the movie Allied most resembles is Zemeckis’s What Lies Beneath, which was also a Hitchcockian genre piece motivated at heart by questions of fidelity. (There’s an intriguing overlap, too, with Mr and Mrs Smith, in which Pitt and Angelina Jolie played professional liars who could never quite be sure if their love for each other was a deep-cover con, and last year’s Jolie-directed By the Sea, which was similarly animated by the pleasures of gazing at Pitt’s body and a woman in negligees.) Here, war is hell not because good people die, but because it makes it impossible to trust even the people you think you know, and those suspicions don’t end simply because an assignment does. Allied spans countries and continents, but the world it’s concerned with feels awfully small.
From a Japanese animation to a hilarious German comedy, Nicholas Barber looks back at the most enjoyable movies of the year.
1. La La Land
These days, hardly anyone makes film musicals that aren’t adapted from hit stage shows, but Damien Chazelle, the writer-director of Whiplash, makes it look easy. All you have to do, it seems, is cast two goofily charming actors (Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling), write them some well-honed songs and spiky romantic banter, embrace them in a rainbow of bright colours, and make the whole enterprise a sincere tribute to the glamorous Golden Age of Hollywood and jazz. The result is one of the most delightful films in years. As buoyant and nostalgic as La La Land is, however, it’s more than a pastiche. It won’t let us forget that life doesn’t always turn out the way it does in the movies.
Anomalisa was directed and co-written by Charlie Kaufman, the screenwriter of Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. And, in its modest way, his latest film is as surreal, ingenious, heartbreaking and hilarious as either of them. An unsettling commentary on loneliness, depression and the ease with which we can fall in and out of love, Anomalisa uses stop-motion animation to tell the strange tale of Michael (David Thewlis), a customer-service guru who is so sick of the human race that, to him, everybody sounds as if they have the same voice (Tom Noonan’s voice, to be precise).
The one exception is Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a fan he meets in a Cincinnati hotel. Anomalisa was written as a play to be performed by three actors on a bare stage, and yet the animated figurines are so integral to its mood and themes that it’s hard to imagine it any other way.
3. Nocturnal Animals
For a film about a woman (Amy Adams) sitting quietly at home and reading a novel, Nocturnal Animals is ridiculously entertaining. Tom Ford’s second offering as a writer-director is a waspish satire of Los Angeles’s glitzy art scene, a poignant tale of youthful romance, and a nightmarish western that pits a mild-mannered family man (Jake Gyllenhaal) against the redneck from hell (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). All three sections are ferociously acted and dripping with style; together, they add up to a proudly nasty treatise on fiction and revenge. You can admire the film’s cleverly intertwining structure and still be absolutely terrified.
Not long after the Independence Day sequel came and went, lovers of monsters-from-outer-space movies were treated to a far more resonant take on the same scenario, one that replaced ray guns and explosions with the question of how we are supposed to communicate with creatures from another world.
Denis Villeneuve’s science-fiction mind-bender isn’t short of awe-inspiring spectacle or eerie atmosphere, but it’s essentially a small, intimate chamber piece that showcases Amy Adams’ unique balance of toughness and fragility. Then comes That Twist, which raises the film to another level. What’s so satisfying about the final revelation apart from how moving it is is that it’s nearly impossible to guess in advance, but all the clues are there.
5. Toni Erdmann
No other comedy in 2016 matched Maren Ade’s third feature for side-splitting set-pieces, which is inconvenient for anyone who believes that Germans don’t have a sense of humour. It isn’t just the year’s funniest film, though. With its unsparing depiction of soulless, globalised corporate life, Toni Erdmann is one of the year’s saddest and most insightful films, too.
Peter Simonischek is wonderful as an ageing music teacher who finds it so difficult to connect with his careerist daughter, Sandra Hüller, that he resorts to desperate measures: he puts on a cheap wig and a cheaper suit, and turns up at her offices in Bucharest, claiming to be a life coach and/or ambassador. From there, Ade keeps taking her characters to ever more daring and unpredictable places for two-and-three-quarter hours.
6. The Founder
The Keatonnaissance continues. Following his leading roles in two Oscar winners, Birdman and Spotlight, Michael Keaton picks another ideal home for his jittery charisma. The Founder is a balanced, snappy docudrama about Ray Kroc, the travelling salesman who stopped at a roadside burger joint run by two brothers (Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch), and knew at once that he could turn it into a coast-to-coast franchise: McDonald’s. There’s plenty here to chew on. John Lee Hancock’s fascinating film may be set 60 years ago, but its competing visions of all-American industry – family businesses versus cost-cutting corporations could scarcely be more relevant today.
7. Manchester by the Sea
Kenneth Lonergen has been the writer-director of only three films in 16 years You Can Count on Me, Margaret, and now Manchester by the Sea but they’ve all been intensely humane triumphs. His new slow-burning drama stars Casey Affleck as a laconic janitor who returns to the eponymous coastal town in Massachussets when his brother dies, but who has his own reasons for wanting to leave again as soon as he can.
Lonergen doesn’t give his characters grandstanding speeches about the tragedies in their past; he just shows us their daily routines and quiet conversations in such credible and often very funny detail that we feel as if we’ve lived through everything they have.
8. The Distinguished Citizen
The Argentinian entry for Best Foreign Language film at February’s Oscars, The Distinguished Citizen stars Oscar Martinez as a suave author who has turned down every honour since he won the Nobel Prize for Literature, but who decides to accept a tin-pot award from his own home village, 40 years after he left it to find fame in Europe. Gaston Duprat and Mariano Cohn’s wry, perfectly performed comedy drama strolls breezily from mischievous jokes about provincial incompetence to rigorous debates about the purpose of culture, covering a vast amount of territory in between.
9. Florence Foster Jenkins
In Stephen Frears’ sparkling comedy drama, Meryl Streep is predictably glorious as a New York grande dame who can afford to stage lavish opera recitals in the 1940s – never mind that she has the voice of a dying parrot. But it’s Hugh Grant, as her husband and enabler, who steals the show.
Grant hasn’t always chosen the most challenging material, but in Florence Foster Jenkins he fulfils his potential, injecting his richest ever role with anguished energy and conviction. Thanks to his committed performance and Nicholas Martin’s complex script, the unbelievable true story deepens from a delightful farce to a mature and touching portrait of an unconventional marriage.
10. Your Name
Makoto Shinkai’s Japanese smash hit is dazzling in more ways than one. The range of lighting effects and painterly panoramas makes it the most spectacular cartoon of the year, and the plotting gets weirder and more apocalyptic as it goes along: Your Name starts as a high-school comedy about a country girl and a city boy who switch identities every few days, and then it grows into a mystical, time-travelling disaster movie. But amid all the visual and narrative fireworks, it never loses sight of the tender coming-of-age story at its heart, as its young protagonists realise that they may never meet their soulmates.
The first official trailer for Fifty Shades Darker has been viewed online 114 million times in the past 24 hours, according to Universal.
The spot debuted on Sep. 14 at 8 a.m. PT, and racked up its multimillion view count across all digital platforms — YouTube, Facebook, Instagram etc. Within the first hour of the trailer’s debut, the trailer received more than 2.5 million views on Fifty Shades domestic Facebook page alone.
Darker was viewed 39.4 million times in North America but the majority of online views came from over 32 international markets like the U.K., Mexico and France, where the spot received 74.6 million official views.
Previously the highest performing full-length trailer was the preview for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which racked up 112 million views online in 24 hours.
The Force Awakens broke the record set by its own teaser trailer, the second to debut for the movie, which screened in April 2015 at Star Wars Celebration and amassed 88 million views in the first 24 hours.
Darker will see the return of Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson as Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele in the adaptation of the second installment in E.L. James’ best-selling book series. The first film in the series, Fifty Shades of Grey, grossed over $571 million at the global box office.
China is an ancient, mysterious land w which extends up to an area of 9,596,960 sq km. This country, with its rich culture and ancient traditions, is abundant in its resources and minerals and has served people for generations. The splendid Chinese culture, with its distinctive customs, is credited with four great inventions viz., gun powder, paper, printing and compass.
This keenness of the Chinese culture can also be seen in the uniqueness displayed in their arts and crafts, calligraphy, embroidery, operas, painting and silk. Martial art, a fairly recent concept in the rest of the world, has been a part of the Chinese culture for centuries.
Chinese literature has also contributed a lot towards shaping the rich heritage of this culture. The delectable and vibrant Chinese cuisine is also amazing and has travelled to most of parts of the globe to turn into a universal cuisine. For more amazing and interesting facts about Chinese culture, scroll further!
— Chinese civilization is considered to be the longest and the most continuous civilization of the world.
— In ancient times, it was believed that China was situated in the center of the world and hence the name ‘China’ or ‘Zhong Guo’, which means ‘Central Nation’ or ‘Middle Kingdom’.
— The first human skull, which is estimated to be about 67,000 years old, was found in Liujiang, southern part of China.
— Considered to be one of the most prominent introductions to the Chinese culture, Buddhism carved a new beginning to religion and philosophy in China, in the second century B.C. During this period, innovative ideas led to new designs, temple layouts, new styles of figure painting, sculptures, furnishings etc.
— Chinese is the most widely spoken language with about 850 million speakers across China.
— In the present day Chinese culture, the Chinese Government has incorporated several elements of Chinese tradition. Various forms of Chinese literature, art, music, fashion, film and architecture have been revived vigorously with the rise of Chinese nationalism.
— Opportunities for social advancement of the Chinese are purely based on their performance in the prominent imperial examinations which have been in place since 605 A.D. This helped the Emperor select skillful bureaucrats and also refined the perception of culture in China.
— Calligraphy, a decorative practice of hand writing, was developed as an art form in China, over 2,000 years ago. Nowadays, this art form is done with special pens and ink rather than the brushes used in the olden days.
— Previously, sculpting and painting weren’t significant in Chinese art forms but with the iconography of Buddhism, they reached a different level altogether during the fifth and the sixth centuries. During the Middle Ages, the art styles which were prominent were the Tibetan, Mughal and Mongolian styles.
— There are about 300 different forms of opera in China with a rich history of more than 800 years. Chinese Opera has been popular for generations and uses string instruments along with high-pitched vocal stylings.
— During the Chinese Spring Festival, about 230 million people go back to their hometowns to welcome the arrival of the Chinese New Year. This is the time of the year when public transports get congested with a sea of people and subsequently, ticket fares skyrocket. China observes a 15 day holiday throughout the nation which is the reason for this mass migration.
— Shanghai, in China, is considered the biggest city of the world with a population of 16 million.
— Being a multi-racial country, China is home to 56 ethnic groups.
— In the Sichuan province of China, the population is more than the total inhabitants of Canada, Australia, Austria, Guatemala, Holland, New Zealand, Malaysia, Portugal, and Greece taken together.
— Unless you have a close relation or association with the person you meet, you should not address a Chinese with the first name. Official or professional titles such as “Mayor Wang” or “Engineer Li” can also be used for the address.
— During ‘Great Leap Forward’, Mao Zedong’s unsuccessful experiment, which was a step towards making China, a modern economy, about 20-30 million people died of starvation.
— Chopsticks, the wooden cutlery items, are a specialty of the Chinese and are used for the longer reach. It is not considered good manners to play unnecessarily with them. Chinese prefer to dine with their families and use the traditional, hygienic and well-designed utensils.
— Ginseng is considered the most important herb of Chinese diet and has special significance in their folklore and tradition as well. For about five thousand years, special herbs were compulsorily included in Chinese diet charts, for a long and problem free life.
— Chinese follow very specific traditions with respect to their outfits. They wear dark colors for special ceremonies whereas light colors for casual outings.
— One of the wider known and followed customs of Chinese culture is giving a hard-boiled egg, dyed red, in order to make birth announcements.
— According to the Chinese culture, dragon is considered to be the most powerful and is the luckiest symbol for them among all the other twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac.
— One of the major attractions of China is ‘Great Wall of China’ that is more than 21000 km long. Another attraction here is the 46-ton of the ‘Great Bell temple’ situated in Haidian District of Beijing.
It is easy to get hooked to nicotine but for many people, it is almost impossible to regulate the intake of nicotine, let alone let go of it. Nicotine is the drug present in cigarettes that causes changes in the brain and triggers your senses to make you want it constantly. Quitting smoking is getting one step closer to getting rid of nicotine once and for all. Smoking is a killer habit, which can turn into an addiction easily. It makes the smoker physically unfit, triggering a series of diseases, majority of them being lethal.
Many people addicted to smoking are not able to get rid of it, mainly because they find it difficult to get through the withdrawal symptoms. However, self-motivation can help them a great deal in overcoming the addiction. If you are one among those who are finding it difficult to quit smoking, go through this article. Browse further and learn how to get rid of smoking addiction, with the simple tips given below.
Ways to Overcome Smoking Addiction
— The first step to overcome smoking addiction will be to get rid of everything that is related to it. Dispose all the leftover tobacco products, such as cigarettes and cigars, which are in your possession. When you do not find any of the products within easy reach, the urge to smoke will automatically start diminishing.
— Deviate your mind from the mere thought of smoking. Go for a walk, listen to music or indulge yourself in any other activity, when you experience a craving for smoking. If you are habitual of smoking immediately after meal, eat a hard candy or chewing gum as a replacement.
— Avoid doing things that make you want to smoke. Identify the smoking triggers and get rid of them. You should avoid the consumption of alcohol and caffeine, because they are found to be amongst the most common things which trigger the urge to smoke. At the same time, stay away from those who smoke.
— An effective antidote to smoking is water. It helps flush out the toxins from your body. In addition, the intensity of withdrawal symptoms gets reduced.
— Whenever you feel like smoking, apply a pinch of rock salt at the tip of your tongue. Repeat this process for about one month. You will find yourself becoming less and less addicted.
— In order to neutralize the urge of smoking, drink fresh fruit and vegetable juices. The consumption of carrots and celery juice also helps to overcome smoking addiction.
— Honey serves as an herbal medicine as well as an antioxidant. Consume 2 teaspoons of honey every day, for about two months. This will decrease the intensity of withdrawal symptoms and will also diminish the urge to smoke.
— Drink orange and grape juice, at least twice a day. These fruits are effective in removing nicotine out of your body. Moreover, they will help reduce your craving for smoking.
— Another important way of getting rid of the smoking addiction is by listing your reasons for quitting and reading them on an everyday basis. The grim effects of nicotine addiction on your health and your relationship with people are countless. Some people quit smoking because they are concerned about their health, whereas, many others quit smoking to save their relationships. These are just a few examples of reasons. What are yours?
— It is very important to let everyone around you know that you are planning to quit smoking and how this is a very important decision for you. Ask your friends, peers or family members not to smoke in front of you or not to persuade you to go for a ‘puff’ with them. Let them be a part of ending your nicotine addiction. Remember, once you have made up your mind about getting rid of the addiction, you are not only committing to yourself, but to your entire social circle. You can start by telling this to someone who is extremely close to you.
— If you are looking for natural ways to quit smoking, try acupuncture, hypnosis or herbal smoking cessation products, such as nicotine patches or gum. Although, patches may release a small amount of nicotine in the body, it will give the body some relief from the withdrawal symptoms and make good alternatives for cigarettes. Whereas, in the case of acupuncture and hypnosis, it is believed that during these processes, small amounts of endorphins are released throughout the body, which is believed to block the physical responses to nicotine.
— Other nicotine replacement drugs are nicotine lozenges, Bupropion and Varenicline. These drugs are available for varying degrees of addiction and are effective in blocking the nicotine from entering receptors in the body. Note that, you should only take these drugs once you have consulted your physician.
— Another great way of getting rid of the smoking addiction is to talk to a person who has already quit smoking successfully and is happy to have done so! The last thing you need to hear is negative words from a person who is dissatisfied to have quit smoking. Not only will this prepare you mentally but you could also talk to the friend at any point of time, if you are encountering any difficulties along the way.
Avocados manage to be both timeless and trendy. The green fruit (yup, it’s a fruit) is used in classics like guacamole and Cobb salad and it’s currently popping up in countless restaurant dishes. But, could the ubiquitous avocado also be good for your weight loss game?
The most common claim that avocados are good for dropping pounds comes from their high content of healthy fats, which are known to suppress appetite, leading to weight loss.
Also, studies show that high-fiber foods, like avocados, boost feelings of fullness. Those feelings of satisfaction mean you’re less likely to overeat which can lead to weight loss.
There’s even evidence that healthy (or unsaturated) fats help prevent blood-sugar spikes, which tell your body to store excess calories as fat in your midsection. That means avocados may be good for controlling belly fat.
Healthy fats and dietary fiber are linked to satiety. Satiety can result in a reduction of excess eating. Eating less often leads to weight loss. But those attributes aren’t exactly unique to avocados.
While avocados can be a healthy addition to your diet, it’s important to be aware of the fact that they are fairly calorie dense. A small avocado (about four ounces) has around 180 calories and 17g fat. And there absolutely is such a thing as too much fat — even the healthy kind.
Just because avocados are healthy and satisfying doesn’t mean you should eat them with complete abandon.
Not only could that prevent weight loss, it could actually lead to weight gain. Definitely enjoy them — just in moderation!
When in Doubt, Weigh It Out
For the most accurate info, weigh out your avocado portion with a food scale. Each ounce has around 45 calories, 4g fat, 2.5g carbs, 2g fiber, and 0.5g protein.
Kitchen scales are inexpensive and they’re great tools for weight management. If you’re not able to weigh out your avocado, here are some shortcut estimates:
1-ounce avocado is equal to:
about 2 tbsp. mashed avocado
about 2 tbsp. chopped avocado
about 1/4th of a small avocado
Tips on Adding Avocado to Your Diet
Spice and spread. You can mash and season them to make a spread for whole-grain toast, high-fiber crackers, sandwiches, or even apple slices. One of my favorite little snacks is high-fiber, flatbread-style crackers topped with seasoned mashed avocado and sun-dried tomatoes.
Egg Addition. A little chopped avocado brings so much flavor to an egg scramble. Mashed avocado is also surprisingly tasty in hard-boiled egg white halves. Top it with chopped lean bacon for a tremendously satisfying snack.
As a salad topper. A bit of avocado on your salad will make it more filling and more delicious. You can even blend up some avocado with fat-free yogurt for a flavor-packed dressing.
Creamy guac dip. Guacamole is delicious, but it’s way too easy to overdo it with the traditional dense dip. Combine 1/4 cup fat-free plain Greek yogurt with the same amount of mashed avocado. Toss in 1/8 tsp. each of salt, garlic powder, and chili powder and you’ve got a guac fix with a seriously slashed calorie count.
For more guilt-free recipes, food finds, tips ‘n tricks, and more, visit Fitness and Weight Loss.