Wednesday, August 31, 2005
Flying Spaghetti Monsterism on campus
rule the world - the Facebook has groups of followers of the Flying Spaghetti Monster!
The Flying Spaghetti Monster
made it big....really BIG!
Countering the Campus Crusade For Christ
SECULAR STUDENT ALLIANCE REPORT (USA)
In mid-August, the Co-Directors participated in the SSA national convention at
The Ohio State University in Columbus. Student activists from across the nation
attended the well-planned and executed conference. The overall conference theme
was: "Connecting the Secular Movement with Other Communities." Our own topic
focused more on the endeavor to link secular people themselves to each other.
In the PowerPoint presentation ("Connecting the Unconnectables: A Case Study
from The Brights' Network"), we explained to students this endeavor to link up
independent thinkers (who are generally not "joiners" by nature) so they can
press for civic fairness as part of an Internet constituency. Spreading the word
to those of similar bent can help build the constituency. Each constituent is
encouraged to more positively and candidly express naturalistic inclinations and
be assertive about their rights to be acknowledged and able to participate in
If you know a college age student, you may want to guide him/her to: Secular Students
(from the Brights-Net)
Feeding the Christian Persecution Complex
The Secular Coalition for America has hired a Washington, DC lobbyist for
non-religious Americans. The SCA, a coalition of non-religious organizations, has selected Lori Lipman Brown, a former Nevada State Senator, as its new director/lobbyist. She is a superb choice to represent the rights of all secular Americans whatever their self-identity (humanists, atheists, freethinkers, rationalists, Brights, etc.). The 501(c)(4) tax status of the Secular Coalition for America enables political lobbying. Read about the new lobbyist and the SCA itself at: Secular Coalition
(from the Brights-Net)
Circus of the Spineless
, a monthly covering writing and original photography of Invertebrates.Blogarithmicly
, a hypercarnival of link-harvests has already had the first edition
.The Nature Writers of Texas
collects seriously good nature writing.
Tuesday, August 30, 2005
The newest edition of Grand Rounds
Monday, August 29, 2005
Karnival od Kidz
Karnival of Kidz
Tar Heel Tavern
Tar Heel Tavern #27
is up on Ogre's place.
Sunday, August 28, 2005
Framing War On Terror
9/11 has nothing to do
with New York City. Really, the two big towers that fell were in Peoria....
(cartoon - hat-tip:Stranger Fruit
Daniel Dennett slams
Intelligent Design Creationism in today's NY Times.
Zimmer explains co-evolution
of insects and flowers.
Evolutionblog deconstructs an IDiotic article
in "American Thinker".
Mike writes about a new and dangerous drug-resistant
Shakesepeare's Sister puts 2 + 2 together on he-said-she-said
jorunalism and more....
Revere puts a new spin on the Blind Watchmaker
Abnormal Interests on Relativism for Creationists
and on an op-ed in LA Times
Chris chimes in on Elizabeth Lloyd's struggle with bloggers
and I am sorry but I did not link to a whole series of recent great posts on his blog
so just go and read for yourself. (PZ also writes on Lloyd)Arthur Silber
and PZ Myers
on IDC misuse of Dinosaurs to get at the kids while they're young.
Evil Monkey describes
his PhD defense
Dispatches from the Culture Wars on a Creationist lawsuit
against University of California system (which denies entry to students who were indoctrinated in religious schools instead of educated). Pharyngula has more
. So does Amygdala
. Jesse of Pandagon
skeweres it further.
DarkSyde on the terror-bird
The Rational Thinker on the petition by ISU faculty and staff
to reject intelligent design Creationism.
Dyticas Chronicles: Human aging: intelligent design
Around the Neighborhood (NC bloggers)
Too Clever By Half
is going to have one long semester
and the comments thread is interesting. Look around - a good blog.
Reason and Radical got an anti-IDC ("Intelligent Design Creationism") Letter to the Editor published
NC Bad Drivers rants against
, well, bad drivers!
Lex wrote an excellent post
about being a soldier and much, much more.
Stinging Nettle revisits and old published article
about the Patriot Act, as current today as it was in 2001.
Mr.Sun produces a Blogger's Pyramid of Hierarchy of Needs
. Funny and True!Chewie
and Ed Cone are following
the Truth and Reconciliation hearings in Greensboro - the first of its kind in the USA, modelled after the South African experience.Dolphins stranded
on the NC beach.Is It Possible to Be a Groupie for a Book
Do you want to take your kids to do some nature and gardening
stuff this fall in NC?
Dave has a message
for Rush Limbaugh.
Henry: Who's your parasite
On Pam's House Blend, Russ on the new IDC bill in South Carolina
and Pam on the financial states of televangelists
Melinama recalls a disastrous gig
and her daughter is now safely in New York
Dirty Greek discovers a pro-industry shill spouting nonsense
against Jared Diamond's "Collapse" in a so-called "scientific journal" published by a think-tank.
If memory serves me right, The First Year Teacher is now a third year teacher and the school year is starting
Is UNC summer reading a controversy
Jude addressses some myths
and some more myths
the Scaife Foundation.
Robust McManly Pants reports on the new "modest" Christianity
movement to put women back into the kitchen.Swamp Stuff
and Swamp Things
are two beautiful nature/photography blogs.
You can find many more on the NCblogs
aggregator and on the Tar Heel Tavern
Even more on female orgasm
When Elizabeth Lloyd wrote this blog post
about the thesis of her book on the evolution of female orgasm, many feminist bloggers misinterpreted her and bashed her wildly.
She has now written a response
to all of them (which includes links to their rants, plus a link to a very generous apology from one blogger - actually the only blogger on that list that I know and read). Several other (not listed) feminist bloggers that I like a lot, have also posted similar knee-jerk responses.
The natural suspicion towards Evolutionary Psychology which is mostly very mysoginist, combined with atrocious reporting by the media, further combined by lack of time to research the issue, plus lack of deep understanding of evolutionary theory, plus the urge to post a lot and often (and no editor to check facts), results in such reflexive responses on blogs.
Another recent example of decent research misinterpreted by the media resulting in knee-jerk rants by feminist bloggers can be found here
and Steve Mann comment
in Lloyd's defense. (My original comment is here
- a positive account so it did not make Lloyd's "Hall of Shame").
Saturday, August 27, 2005
Public Face of Orgasm
I have mentioned this site before and here
is the interview with one of the founders/owners.
Friday, August 26, 2005
Watch out if you buy a new stove at Lowe's
Since my old computer died in February I had to deal with a few old bad machines which made blogging difficult. So, I gave up on keeping my "Archives By Categories" updated. Now that I have a decent computer again, I decided to update the categories. It was a huge job! I had no idea how much I post here! But now, it is done, so please look them up, especially if you are a relatively new reader of this blog.
In the category Pure Science
I try to keep the policy/politics to the minimum. It is mostly posts covering cool research, old or new, in papers, in books, or on blogs.
I never managed to jump on the Friday cat blogging bandwagon, so the category Cute Animal Pictures
is the smallest so far.
Posts specifically on Evolution
are separated from the Pure Science for easier access. Those also may contain a little bit more politics.
I wish I could ignore Creationism
and not waste my time, energy and nerves on it, but as it is on upswing now, I feel I have to follow it regularly.Science Policy
addresses other aspects of politization of science, as well as science funding.
Considering that the Environment
is so important to me, I am surprised how little actually I wrote about it during the past year.
The backbone of this blog is a long series of posts on Understanding America
. I try to understand the Red-Blue divide and the psychology of ideology. I mostly critique, modify and build upon Lakoff's model.
However, Lakoff jumps straight from Dobsonian childrearing as a cause to conservative politics as a result. I feel that there is a missing step here. I think that strict and abusive childrearing results in sexual anxiety which, in turn, leads to a whole host of ideological and political positions. Thus, in Gender, Sex and Marriage
, I explore this connection, as well as the key role of sexual politics (e.g., abortion, stem cells, sex education, gender equality, gay marriage, etc.) in contemporary US politics.
An important part of this, of course, is the role of organized Religion
. This can only be countered by an improvement in Education
Occasionaly, I also pen a post that has something to do with the Economy
(or 'Economics') as well as the World Affairs
Since I am from Belgrade, I sometimes write about various aspects of growing up in the Balkans
, or whatever may be happening there now.
I am not really a "current events" blogger, but sometimes I do write a short post on Pure Politics
Last year, I supported John Edwards
for Prez, and then for Vice Prez. I am following his current activities, and, so far, he still looks like the best candidate for 2008.
I have also written a few posts on the Media
and am writing more and more about Books
Nobody who blogs can avoid writing, at least sometimes, about the world of Blogging
, and I particularly pay attention to the phenomenon of Blog Carnivals
and assemble the monthly Meta-Carnival
Finally, everyone needs to have a grab-bag miscellaneous category for Local, Personal and Fun Stuff
I guess updating the Blogroll is my next big job on this blog. I'll let you know when that is accomplished.
Animals in the movies, etc.
on animals, evolution, "March of the Penguins" movie... good stuff.
Thursday, August 25, 2005
Tar Heel Tavern - call for submissions
is hosting the Tar Heel Tavern
this weekend. Send him your entries soon.
If you want to host a future edition of the carnival, let me know atCoturnix1 AT aol DOT com
Republicans Really Don't Care About Women
Actually, they would LOVE to treat their masculine anxieties by seeing women enslaved again. And now, they are not even hiding it. They proudly and openly defend
their position that women should not have a right to vote in Iraq, or in the USA for that matter.
Wednesday, August 24, 2005
More on "Republican War on Science"
Chris Mooney gave an interview
with Campus Progress. Very good. I sure hope students start paying attention to this.
Goofus and Gallant
Spot the Real Scientist
! (it would be funny if it was not real...)
(hat tip: Ed Cone
Are they ALL anti-Enlightement?
McCain on the Dark Side
(of the evolution divide), too!
(hat tip: Wataugawatch
)Update - First responses
, Bad Astronomy
....and you know, if some GOP-ers complain when you talk about all Republicans beeing anti-science, anti-reason, anti-Enlightement and points out that it is just the extremists...now you have a single-word response to shut 'em up: "McCain".
Now, I don't think McCain was ever a moderate, but that is his brand, his label. If the most moderate Republican who everyone seems to like and admire in the USA is anti-science, anti-reason and anti-Enlightement, there is no space any more for the argument that this is not a Left/Right issue.
If you are a Republican and you value reason you now have two options: 1) get rid of the fundies who hijacked your party, or 2) get out of there and help us defeat the forces of Darkness. And, you better make that decision today, before it's too late.
is up on Cognitive Daily
(look around that blog - it is excellent!). A great collection of science writing.
One-stop shopping for blog responses to the NYT series on Intelligent Design Creationism
New York Times is running a series of longish articles under the unfortunate heading of The Evolution Debate
. So far (I do not know if there will be any more installments), there is an article by Jodi Wilgoren
about the Discovery Institute, its history, connections, finances, goals and methods. It's not too bad. The second article is supposed to be about "science". It was written by Kenneth Chang
and is an atrocious example of he-said-she-said journalism that gives the IDC far too much benefit of the doubt. The third article, by Cornelia Dean
, is about the relationship between science and religion. She gives a lot of space to Francis Collins and Kenneth Miller. For an atheist lie me, it is tripe, but for their intended audience, it is actually not too bad.
In addition, there is an excellent op-ed by Verlyn Klinkenborg
, a brief history of the words "creationism" and "intelligent design" by William Safire
, as well as an older excellent op-ed by Paul Krugman
. NYTimes also reports on recent statements by Frist
in support of "teaching the controversy".
The Letters to the Editor are good
so far. Update: another letter
Finally, they also offer a "lesson plan" in teaching the controversy, i.e., how to inject ID Creationism
into science classrooms.
How did the bloggers respond to these articles?Pharyngula
(this includes links to about 160 responses by blogs), Bush again
, and again
, on Frist
and Frist again
, on Wilgoren
(Cheng responds in comments) and Chang again
, and on Dean
, Wilgoren and Chang
. Update: another on the seriesCarl Zimmer
.Mike The Mad Biologist
on the whole NYTimes series
Tabitha Powledge on Bush
Evil Monkey on Bush
Three-Toed Sloth on Bush and Krugman
Sir Oolius on Krugman
Milkriver on Chang
Doran on Chang
Wolverine Tom on Frist
SciPundit on Frist
DarkSyde on the whole shebang
(graphic language warning!).
Protein Wisdom on Bush
Cosmic Variance on Wilgoren
and the rest of theNYT series
(ed: Chang also responds here).
Brian Leiter on Krugman
and the series
Abnormal Interests on Chang
Bouphonia on Frist
Easily Distracted on IDC in general
ReligiFried on Bush
Some Are Boojums has a good response
A Concerned Scientist on the NYT series
Shakespeare's Sister on Frist
Mark Kleiman on Wilgoren and Frist
Brad DeLong on Chang
and Chang again
Newton's Binomium on Wilgoren
Those are good blogs to look around and some provide further links on the topic. I'll update as more come in. Let me know if I missed a good one.
Science And Politics
This is an excellent article about the dire straits of the current U.S. science
, and David Brin has started a draft of his review
of Mooney's Republican War On Science
with some interesting commenters pitching in.Update:
David Brin has posted the second part of his review here
. He totally misses the point. He is describing some pre-1960s liberalism that does not exist
any more. For a really good review by a guy who really 'gets it', read this
Tuesday, August 23, 2005
"Why did Frist change his mind on stem cell research? Well, he watched an old video of a stem cell for 10 minutes and proclaimed: 'She's not alive!' "
Letters to the Editor of Raleigh News & Observer....
These people live in the Triangle, the part of the country with the greatest concentration of college (and beyond) educated citizens:Let the kids decide
Why is there such a huge outcry from the "evolutionists" about allowing the teaching of "Intelligent Design" or other theories in the public schools? If Darwinist evolutionists believe that their theories of the creation of the earth are correct, then they should not be afraid to allow for the teaching of Intelligent Design and the subsequent debate to occur. Is there a fear in the evolutionist community that through the scientific process and comparison that their theories may be lambasted and others found to be more compatible?
The schools are supposed to be a bastion for learning with various points of view being presented. Our children should be given the opportunity to make up their own minds and learn multiple theories. I have confidence that our children will choose and learn wisely through weighing the scientific tests to see which theory is most plausible on their own. So I hope the evolutionists and state educators will allow the students of North Carolina to make up their own minds on the history of the earth and have faith in the children, rather than having one point of view force fed to them on this issue.
Yeah, right! Let the kids choose, when all the background they have is from Sunday School.A tired argument
The Aug. 6 article " 'Design' isn't ready for class" by Jeffrey C. Pugh is another of those tired and unfounded arguments for the elusive connection between the Theory of Evolution and the Theory of Creation. Though Pugh applies the words "Intelligent Design" as synonymous with creation, he makes no attempt to define this rather loose and incorrect appellation; indeed, his argument against teaching either theory in the public schools system seems without conviction and without merit.
"Intelligent Design" theory is the theory that intelligent causes are responsible for the origin of the universe and of all life in its diversity. Advocates adhere to the belief that their theory is scientific and provides empirical proof of God or superintelligent beings. Science itself requires neither the acceptance nor the rejection of the supernatural. There is no indication that the Theory of Evolution denies the presence of God; indeed, for many believers, creation is an ongoing process, and a strong positive visual proof of the existence of God.
Pugh has attempted to define a problem area that may develop within the public schools system should religion be included in the curriculum, when that is not the aim of the ID theory. More correctly, he should have aimed his article (which by skewed inference might be his point) at the difficulty in having lay teachers attempt to teach two theories of evolution. Most theologians, as well as anthropologists, would agree that "the creation" is an ongoing work.
Pugh seems conflicted about his own religious persuasion, vis-a-vis the creation. However, he seems to rescue himself as he winds up his article by stating, "Belief in deity and evolutionary theory are not mutually exclusive," which, perhaps, he should have said in the first place. After all, Genesis states, upon completion of each "day" of creation, that God said, "It is good." He never said, "It is perfect."
Could you actually understand what was the point in this one?
On the left is the cover of "Liberal Monsters Under The Bed", via Shakespeare's Sister
. (She also plugs Lance and Nance here
Publius has (finally) written a long post on John Roberts
. This is a MUST read for everyone! Also check his posts on Framing Cindy Sheehan
and the Iraq's Vector Problem
Archy also has a good one on framing Cindy Sheehan
(as well as discovering an interesting Creationist
Eric Martin wrote a huge, extremely thoughtful trilogy of posts about the Future Of Iraq and what the US should, should not, can and cannot do: Epilogue, Part I
and Part III
Revere connects the dots: why should a public health blog write about war, religion and politics? A quadrology: Part I
, Part II
, Part III
and Part IV
The Newswriter has an excellent post on He said/She said journalism and Intelligent Design: They are the pingpong-ball people
The Countess found two silly sex studies
Nobody can get your blood freeze in your veins
like Neiwert, this time dissecting Limbaugh's eliminationism.
Julie Saltman, excellent on Predatory lending laws and federalism
Echidne, very thoughtful about Women And the Iraq Constitution
For The Record analyses that paper I mentioned before on conservative psychopathology
Digby good on Dems rhetoric
Leiter on Wingnut response to Sheehan
Tangled Bank - last call
Only two days left for YOU to submit an entry for the next Tangled Bank
, the blog carnival of science, nature, medicine, and the interface between science and society. You don't need to be a scientist - just a blogger. This issue will be hosted by marvelous Cognitive Daily
this Wednesday morning.
Thanks to my Liberal Pen-Pal
for alerting me to this
. The Blog-Wingnuttia is stalling while Left Blogistan is growing and getting better every day in its War On The Scourge of Conservatism.
This is inevitable, of course, as we have bloggers (unlike Enjoying-A-Rocket-From-Behind
who blows up frogs yet is afraid of horses
) like Roxanne
who not only has a great sense of humor
, actively builds the community
and provides her own incisive analysis
, but has now decided to selflessly
leave the comfort of her nice liberal home and move right into the midst of the nutters in order to better report on their treasonous activities and despicable characters. Rox, you rock!Update: Liberal Pen-Pal
has an update. Brazen Hussy
andAfter School Snack
are on the ball, too. Jesse is really following the story blow-by-blow with frequent updates here
has more.Update 2:
This is what I was telling you! The Lib Blogs Rule! Just check out Arbusto de Mendacity
, Moderate Left
, Asia Security
, Preemptive Karma
, Democratic Veteran
, The Impolitic
, Loaded Mouth
, Cinematic Rain
and Ex Cathedra
I see that Sivakracy
has also picked up on this. Preemptive Karma
has an update. Pharyngula
wrote a devastating analysis. Hughes For America
, The Third Estate
and Buck Mulligan
are on the case. Raznor
finds new information here and againhere
discovers a religious side to this. The Impolitic
has really dug up the dirt here
More on The Winding Sheet
, The fshk blog
andAdam Jacob Muller
Jesse is really rocking today. He's recently found this
, while Amanda disocever additional evidence here
on a hot trail and nabs it here
Music revolutionary is no more
, the inventor of the synthesizer, died today in Asheville, NC.
Karnival of Kidz
Karnival of Kidz
Sunday, August 21, 2005
Cool beer cans
Jamie finds an interesting potential side-effect of populating the Great Plains with African charismatic megafauna
and one of Jamie's colleagues is 150 years out of date
First victim of high gas prices? A gas pump clerk
after a gas drive-off.
Anton reads about the Beaufort Scale
Hot peppers are pretty expensive. Perhaps they could help the rural economy in Cameroon
in other ways, too. The chimps are not ambidextrous
, you can learn about elephant infrasonic communication
, a 46-mile swim by a Polar bear
, and trickery by sea turtles
, all on the NC Zoo blog.
Arse Poetica catches some good evolution reporting
in the NYTimes (for a change) and sees some cool graffiti and bumper stickers
NCAA rulings on Indian sports mascots discussed by Chewie
with good links. Acta Online
shows how PETA's interference cleared up some of the NCAA logic.Zartan
blogs about his experiences as a bouncer in an "adult" club and other XXX news, e.g., the case of a guy who got killed while having sex with a horse
How much Dr.Pepper you need to drink in order to die of caffeine overdose
? NO way!
Super G recounts a very embarassing moment
When they are little they are cute like this
, then they grow up and start writing blogs like Trevor
Mrs.Julien on Big Brass Blog (not "Big Bras"!) on the future of women's rights in Iraq
Cindy Sheehan clears up the fog on Huffington Post
Numenware debunks seven-bit coding system
of the Incan quipus (Skeptic's Circle material?)
Ruminating Dude compares USA and Europe
Corpus Callosum on Sleep Medicine
and science reporting.Why do Conservatives have more Nightmares
? Dunno, but it fits with their psychopathological profiles.Self-righteous indignation
as an addiction? See: Wingnut bloggers.Last 50 images
uploaded on LiveJournals - updated every few seconds, and Moodgrapher
tracks emoticons on LiveJournals over time.
Take the LGF QuizDeath of Dumbledore
scene written in styles of other authors.
Buy the Endangered Feces
shirt or the Flying Spaghetti Monster
paraphernalia (if you are still unaware of this fast-spreading belief system, see here
and Christian Alliance for Progress
are some of the exampes of non-fundemantalist Christians trying to take back both their country and their religion away from the Fundies.
Two carnivals just came out today.Tar Heel Tavern
is up on Pirate's Cove.Carnival of the Godless
is up on No More Mr. Nice Guy.
LOTR Parable of Dissertation Writing
and you'll know what I am going through these days. I don't want to become Gollum!
This is a test
Now, you can write your posts in MS Word and, with a single click of a mouse, post it on your Blogger blog. If I knew about this a few minutes ago, my previous post would have had far fewer typos. It takes two minutes to install. Just go here
Saturday, August 20, 2005
CogBlog - Tomasello: Chapter 1
The Cultural Origins of Human Cognition by Michael Tomasello
is the first book we are reading in the newly minted CogBlogGroup
, a group of bloggers reading stuff about cognitive science. You can download the whole book in PDF
or the first chapter only in html
Chris of Mixing Memory has written an introductory post providing a broader context and background
. Some of the participants have already posted their commentaries on the First Chapter, which I will eagerly read once I finish posting this one. Here is Jesse on Chapter 1
and David Clark on Chapter 1
. Here is also David Clark's collection of all relevant links
so you can follow the discussion there if you do not like the Yahoo group linked above.
The first chapter is quite short and introductory. Tomasello sketches briefly the main thesis of the book by presenting the problem and offering a solution. My take on the first chapter may sound too critical, but I find the thesis intriguing and I hope that Tomasello answers some of my current questions later in the book. Also, my declarative sentences should be read as questions, or as provocations for the other participants in the discussion.A Brief Summary of Chapter 1:
First, let me briefly summarize (actually mostly through quotes from the chapter), what Tomasello covers so far:Problem, according to Tomasello:
The basic puzzle is this. The 6 million years that separates human beings from other great apes is a very short time evolutionarily, with modern humans and chimpanzees sharing something on the order of 99 percent of their genetic material - the same degree of relatedness as that of other sister genera such as lions and tigers, horses and zebras, and rats and mice (King and Wilson, 1975). Our problem is thus one of time. The fact is, there simply has not been enough time for normal processes of biological evolution involving genetic variation and natural selection to have created, one by one, each of the cognitive skills necessary for modern humans to invent and maintain complex tool-use industries and technologies, complex forms of symbolic communication and representation, and complex social organizations and institutions. And the puzzle is only magnified if we take seriously current research in paleoanthropology suggesting that (a) for all but the last 2 million years the human lineage showed no signs of anything other than typical great ape cognitive skills, and (b) the first dramatic signs of species-unique cognitive skills emerged only in the last one-hundred thousand years.Shorter Tomasello:
- There is a very close genetic relationship between humans and closest relatives, suggesting they do not differ in a whole suit of traits, i.e., "modules";
- 6 million years, 2 million years, and especially 100,000 years is too short period for evolution of a whole suite of cognitive abilities.Solution, according to Tomasello:
There is only one possible solution to this puzzle. That is, there is only one known biological mechanism that could bring about these kinds of changes in behavior and cognition in so short a time - whether that time be thought of as 6 million, 2 million, or one-quarter of a million years. This biological mechanism is social or cultural transmission, which works on time scales many orders of magnitude faster than those of organic evolution. Shorter Tomasello:
- Humans differ from primate ancestors in only one biological trait;
- Humans evolved complex culture via the mechanism of cultural evolution.What is the type of cultural transmission? Collaborative learning
The basic fact is thus that human beings are able to pool their cognitive resources in ways that other animal species are not. Accordingly, Tomasello, Kruger, and Ratner (1993) distinguished human cultural learning from more widespread forms of social learning, identifying three basic types: imitative learning, instructed learning, and collaborative learning. These three types of cultural learning are made possible by a single very special form of social cognition, namely, the ability of individual organisms to understand conspecifics as beings like themselves who have intentional and mental lives like their own.
For collaborative learning, one needs a "theory of mind", thus the single newly evolved trait is the ability to, for lack of a better word, feel "empathy":
This understanding enables individuals to imagine themselves "in the mental shoes" of some other person, so that they can learn not just from the other but through the other. This understanding of others as intentional beings like the self is crucial in human cultural learning because cultural artifacts and social practices - exemplified prototypically by the use of tools and linguistic symbols - invariably point beyond themselves to other outside entities: tools point to the problems they are designed to solve and linguistic symbols point to the communicative situations they are designed to represent. In short:
The complete sequence of hypothesized evolutionary events is thus: human beings evolved a new form of social cognition, which enabled some new forms of caltural learning, which enabled some new processes of sociogenesis and cumulative cultural evolution. This scenario solves our time problem because it posits one and only one biological adaptation - which could have happened at any time in human evolution, including quite recently. The cultural processes that this one adaptation unleashed did not then create new cognitive skills out of nothing, but rather they took existing individually based cognitive skills - such as those possessed by most primates for dealing with space, objects, tools, quantities, categories, social relationships, communication, and social learning - and transformed them into new, culturally based cognitive skills with a social-collective dimension. These transformations took place not in evolutionary time but in historical time, where much can happen in several thousand years....and summarized:
That is, my specific hypothesis is that human cognition has the species-unique qualities it does because:My response:
Phylogenetically: modern human beings evolved the ability to "identify" with conspecifics, which led to an understanding of them as intentional and mental beings like the self.
Historically: this enabled new forms of cultural learning and sociogenesis, which led to cultural artifacts and behavioral traditions that accumulate modifications over historical time.
Ontogenetically: human children grow up in the midst of these socially and historically constituted artifacts and traditions, which enables them to (a) benefit from the accumulated knowledge and skills of theIr social groups; (b) acquire and use perspectivally based cognitive representations in the form of linguistic symbols (and analogies and metaphors constructed from these symbols); and (c) intemalize certain types of discourse interactions into skills of metacognition, representational redescription, and dialogic thinking.
OK, now to my response. First, let's look at the problem, as seen by Tomasello. Let's, for now, take both parts of the problem at their face values, i.e., as if they are correct.
If there is very little difference between chimps and humans, there is no "space" for more than one new trait, no matter how much or how little time evolution has to create new cognitive traits.
Likewise, 6 million years is too short a time for evolution of more than one trait, no matter how close or distant relatives humans are to chimps.
Having both of these problems simultaneously is a double-whammy - it makes it even more plausible that the difference is only one cognitive trait. But, are the two problems true?Are chimps and humans really that close?
I am surprised that Tomasello used that old figure of 99% similarity between humans and chimps. The number actually varies between about 95% and 99.9% depending on who is citing. That number was derived from a couple of old studies on DNA/DNA hybridization, i.e., a direct comparison between sequences of genomes of the two species.
But what does that number mean? There is a whole book devoted to the subject: What It Means to Be 98% Chimpanzee
(a very readable, fun and smart book - highly recommended for lay people). Actually it means very little. We are almost as close to zebrafish and fruitflies. Have you seen a chimp lately? Does its anatomy looks 99% similar to human? How about its behavior? About 99% similar to human? Would you say that we look about 80% like fruitflies?
Gene sequences are bound to be similar because widely diverse organisms keep using same genes and same suites of genes for same purposes. If there is a suite of genes that is good for making a protuberance and you need a horn, and a mutation happens to switch on that suite during the development of the forehead, you WILL get a small horn that can be made larger or sharper or whatever by further selection. Unicorns are not impossible in principle, just highly unlikely (actually there are horses with two little bumps on their foreheads - those are invisible to selection because stallions do not fight by head-butting). A beetle can get a horn in the same place by switching on that very same suite of genes. There are groups of genes that are good at making tubes (like intestine), or making segments, or making solid transparent bodies (e.g., lens of the eye), etc. What makes species different from each other are small mutations in regulatory genes that affect development.
In short, we are different from chimps not so much because of differences in DNA sequence, but because of differences in patterns of expression of same genes during embryonic development.
Tomasello describes, a couple of times in this chapter, evolution as a result of "mutation and natural selection". That is a simplistic two-step understanding of the process: Step 1) random mutations occur in genes; and Step 2) better adapted phenotypes, if heritable, leave more offspring in the subsequent generation.
But, how do you go from mutations in genes (in DNA hidden in cells and invisible to selection) to phenotypes that can be selected? Tomasello does not appear to be aware of the three-step model: 1) mutations in genes result, via interactions with the environment, in 2) changes in developmental trajectories leading to new phenotypes that are 3) visible to natural selection. Genes are toolkits for developing an organism. Tools can be moved from one place to another (heterotopy), or used earlier or later than before (heterochrony), or somewhat modified (heterotypy), or affects the way developent responds to the environment (reaction rate - e.g., an organism may grow larger if it is warmer, and a mutation in a regulatory gene can switch it over, so the organism grows smaller if it grows in a warmer environment), etc. Thus, most of the differences between two closely related species (e.g., humans and its ancestors) are a result of developmental reorganization which depends on small and subtle mutations in a very few regulatory genes.
Anatomical traits are usually most "fixed", e.g., you will develop five fingers on each hand pretty much no matter what kind of environment you are developing in. Physiological traits are a little bit more malleable. Behavioral traits, even fixed action patterns, are much more flexible. Cognitive traits are to be expected to be the most flexible traits of all - highly dependent on environmental input.
Cognitive traits are unlikely to be based on a brand new gene, or even a brand new brain structure. It is much more likely to be based on changes in connectivity between neurons. During development, neurins migrated along concentration gradient of various products of developmental genes. Very subtle changes in placement, timing or concentration of these product can have relatively large effects on the final architecture of the brain. Also during brain development, neurons form many connections (synapses) - much more than needed. As the nervous system start being used, those synapses that are often used get reinforced, while other connections detach and die off. This is called Neural Darwinism
. This process begins in the embryo - your baby kicks in utero not for fun, but because it is using the muscles, thus informing the brain which synapses are useful and which are not. In other words, in order to get a new cognitive trait, like "empathy", you do not need to evolve a whole new gene, just to reorganize the way the brain is developed by an unchanged suite of genes.
In theory (but highly unlikely in practice - I cannot immagine a selective regimen that would bring this about) it is possible to have two species that are almost identical in DNA sequence, the difference beeing just a few nucleotides (DNA base-pairs). Those two species would have identical anatomy, identical physiology, identical most of the basic behaviors, yet one species would be morons, and the others geniuses. That is, if those few mutations are in the regulatory genes that guide brain development.
So yes, chimps and humans are close, but not THAT close, i.e., the number 99% is meaningless. The remaining 1% of genetic difference can potentially account for an enormous phenotypic difference that can account for vast differences between species. Subtle shifts in brain development are all that is needed.
This in no way affects Tomasello's solution #1 - having just a single new trait - but makes me extra careful while reading the rest of the book, as he does not seem to be up to speed on evolutionary theory, while writing a book on evolution. I hope that this is just the introductory chapter and that later on he will get more sophisticated, describing both brain development and evolutionary process in a better way than here. If you want to get up to speed on the most current thinking on evolution, I strongly suggest this
, easy-to-read book.Was the time too short for evolution of multiple modules?
Again, relying only on mutation and natural selection (and calculations by population geneticists based on the 2-step model) one may come to the conclusion that 100,000 years is too little time to evolve a bunch of new traits. Two million also looks short. Even six million looks short. But, there are a number of ways the process can speed up. One, or more, or all of the following processes may speed up evolution of a trait.Baldwin Effect and Phenotypic Plasticity.Baldwin Effect
is a process by which flexible, learned behaviors, become "fixed", i.e, incorporated in the genotype. Evolution of language is the only case hypothesis put forward and no empirical examples of Baldwin effect
have been described. Terry Deacon's
hypothesis for evolution of language utilizes Baldwin's effect to some extent and his book contains probably the clearest description of how the process MAY work. Loss of flexibility that the process results in is unlikely, in my mind, to be of selective value when one thinks about cognitive processes and language. So far, it appears that Tomasello is working toward some kind of process similar to this. We'll wait and see (Click on various links in this paragraphs for some discussions on Baldwin's effect in evolution of consciousness and language).Niche ConstructionNiche construction
is a term for an evolutionary process that entails a feedback (or feedforward) interaction between natural selection and the environment. In Niche Construction
, an organism modifies its environment and this modified environment is now selective environment for the next generation that, in turn, further modifies the environment. In evolution of language one can imagine a situation in which greater and greater "eloquence" of people provides the selective environment in which natural selection would favor individuals who learn languge sooner and better and are more eloquent than the other individuals. This feedforward loop will greatly speed up the evolutionary process.
So far in the book, it appears that Tomasello is looking only at one prong of the feedforward loop - the cultural evolution - and I hope that later he also brings in the other prong - the natural selection - and comes up with something similar to niche construction
, though he may give it another name.Sexual Selection
Sexual selection can be a very fast process - akin to strongly directed natural selection. Being more emphatetic, or more eloquent, may be a target of sexual selection. A sweet-talking 'son of a preacherman' may be more attractive (and have better pick-up lines) than someone with a vocabulary of five grunts. An eloquent woman is more fun to be around ("Give it to me now" instead of just "Aaaaah!" - just joking). An eloquent man will naturally become a leader in the hunt, issuing orders to the others ("Grok, you go left, Grub, you go right, I'll be in the middle, and let's chase this mammoth over that ledge over there and into the abyss"), thus rising in the tribal hierarchy. An eloquent woman will, likewise rise in the hierarchy of the tribe. A person who is better able to "read" other people will be more able to manipulate other people and likewise rise in the hierarchy......You see how it goes: the more emphatetic and more eloquent individuals of both sexes winning the game of sexual selection and passing more of their genes into the next generation than those less endoved with such cognitive skills.Multilevel selection
Elliott Sober abd David Sloan Wilson are reintroducing group selection to the human behavioral sciences
. Their book, Unto Others
develops the (so far) best mathematical model for group selection, then applies it to the evolution of altruism. That is one of the most important books in late 20th century evolutionary theory. Wilson then followed up on it with applting group selectionist thinking to the evolution and adaptive function of religion
, another seminal and provocative work. Possibly the best and clearest explanation of multilevel selection (not just group selection) is Chapter 3 in Adaptation and Environment
by Robert Brandon, one of the most important works in recent philosophy of evolutionary biology.
The thinking that human consciousness originated by group selection has an old and noble origin - Charles Darwin's Descent of Man
. So, here are two (out of many similar) excerpts from that book describing possible evolution of consciousness:
Every one will admit that man is a social being. We see this in his
dislike of solitude, and in his wish for society beyond that of his own
family. Solitary confinement is one of the severest punishments which can
be inflicted. Some authors suppose that man primevally lived in single
families; but at the present day, though single families, or only two or
three together, roam the solitudes of some savage lands, they always, as
far as I can discover, hold friendly relations with other families
inhabiting the same district. Such families occasionally meet in council,
and unite for their common defence. It is no argument against savage man
being a social animal, that the tribes inhabiting adjacent districts are
almost always at war with each other; for the social instincts never extend
to all the individuals of the same species. Judging from the analogy of
the majority of the Quadrumana, it is probable that the early ape-like
progenitors of man were likewise social; but this is not of much importance
for us. Although man, as he now exists, has few special instincts, having
lost any which his early progenitors may have possessed, this is no reason
why he should not have retained from an extremely remote period some degree
of instinctive love and sympathy for his fellows.
And natural selection arising from the
competition of tribe with tribe, in some such large area as one of these,
together with the inherited effects of habit, would, under favourable
conditions, have sufficed to raise man to his present high position in the
So, even if genetic similarity between humans and chimps was a problem, the time is not neccessarily the problem - evolution can proceed faster than population genetics models predict. Still, the fact that none of the two problems that Tomasello cites are real problems, does not mean that he did not strike at a correct solution. So, let me now turn to Tomasello's proposed solutions.A single novel trait (as opposed to multiple modules)
Just because there is enough genotypic/phenotypic space for many modules, and enough time to evolve multiple modules, does not mean that multiple modules actually evolved. I actually think that it is likely that a single change in brain development and functioning was all that was neccessary for the evolution of human-level consciousness. We'll see if Tomasello manages to persuade me further.The new trait is 'empathy'.
Maybe yes, maybe no. Is "understanding others as intentional and mental agents like the self" neccessary? Thought experiment: you are an early hominid. You watch an elephant use an axe to cut down a tree (I know elephants don'a make axes, but I do not want the agent to be human). Do you really need to be able to see "through the elephant's eyes" in order to recognize that an axe is useful for cutting down a tree? Can't you just look at it and try to make one for yourself and test it on a nearby tree? Do you even need to watch an elephant doing it? If you found an axe on the ground, how long do you think it would take you to discover that it can be used to cut down a tree? A day or two, a few weeks perhaps?
If 'empathy' is what is selected for, why did we not evolve into sharp mind-readers instead of inventing a second mode of communicating intent and mental states, namely the language? Isn't language actually better in communicating that? You can talk about someone who is not even present and wonder what s/he is thinking or feeling. "My woman is at home and she must be hungry - I better bring her back a piece of this mammoth" - but birds and most mammals bring food home to family they do not see while hunting. So, what's new?
The outcome is that each child who understands her conspecifics as intentional/mental beings like herself—that is, each child who possesses the social group - can now participate in the collectivity known as human cognition, and so say (following Isaac Newton) that she sees as far as she does because she "stands on the shoulders of giants." Importantly, we may contrast this species-typical situation with that of both:
- children with autism, who grow up in the midst of cumulative cultural products but are not able to take advantage of the collective wisdom embodied in them because, for biological reasons, they do not possess the requisite social-cognitive skills; and
- an imaginary wild child who grows up on a desert island with a normal brain, body, and sense organs, but with no access to tools, other material artifacts, language, graphic symbols, writing, Arabic numerals, pictures, people who could teach her things, people whose behavior she could observe and imitate, or people with whom she could collaborate.
For the child with autism there are cognitive shoulders to stand on, if only she could, whereas for the imaginary wild child there are no cognitive sholders to stand on. In either case the result is, or would be, the same: something other than species-typical cognitive skills.
But, a bird that is heavily parasitized and under-nourished will not be able to learn his species-specific song (or just rudiments) and thus will not be able to defend a territory or attract mates and thus will be eliminated by both natural and sexual selection. What's new in autistic humans?
A bird in perfect health that is raised in captivity also never learns its species-specific song and, if let loose, would be selected against. What's new in wild-child humans?Summary
This first post is likely to be the longest as I put out all of the heavy artillery up front. After briefly sumarizing problems that Tomasello is trying to solve and the solutions to those problems that Tomasello is propsing, I have listed a number of potential criticisms of Tomasello's hypothesis. As I read the rest of the book, I will keep checking the list to see if Tomasello manages to eliminate some of the criticisms from the list. Whatever still remains at the end of the book will still remain a problem for Tomasello.
I have also placed everything here in the first post so I, as well as other participants in the reading group, can refer back to this when we discuss potential criticues in the future. If you are not familiar with some of the terms or concepts, please click on the links for more information.Update:
Blar of Blargh Blog
and Chris of Mixing Memory
have posted their responses to Chapter 1.Update 2
: So did Razib
.See more on CogBlogGroup Technorati tag, CogBlogGroup Del.icio.us. tag and Culturaloriginsofhumancognition Del.icio.us. tag
Technorati tag: cogbloggroup
Friday, August 19, 2005
Carnival of Education #28
Carnival of Education
is back in North Carolina. An excellent collection that will prepare your mind for the next school year.
Thursday, August 18, 2005
Call to action
Ministry of Reshelving
needs you now!
Around the Liberal Coalition
What have my buddies in the Liberal Coalition
been up to these days?
Archy started a contest
. He formulated three possible excuses that Wingnuts will come up with to defend the nutjob who razed the crosses in Crawford. He challenged the readers to find the three in actual Wingnut posts. He did not have to wait long
dove into the Freeperville and easily found examples of all three. However, there are still prizes
to be won for the discovery of excuses by a Major Pundit, and for the discovery of a Fourth Excuse.
Mustang Bobby on the conspicuous silence of the conservatives
concerning Cindy Sheehan. Will he find a Major Pundit for Archy's prize?
David from BlogAmY has this hillarious news report
, also from Crawford.
Lefty Brown istired
. Library is in dissaray.
Andante of Collective Sigh is rethinking Ariel Sharon
On Corrente, Lambert points to an Intelligently Designed pig disease
, Farmer rounds up experiences from Casey Sheehan vigils
, Riggsveda shows some pictures from one of the vigils
and RDF writes more about the cockroach people
Horatio of Dodecahedron wonders why violence is OK, but sex and nudity are not in the American popular culture
and also invites entries for the next Carnival of Bad History
Dohiyi Mir on Poetic Justice
(yes, Crawford again).
Echidne on how (not) to clean your home
Jane of Firedoglake on Bob Dole's Viagra-induced morality
The Gamer's Nook provides a handy list to check to know if you are really from the Bronx
Jude of Iddybud on the politics of grief
Left Is Right is going to, you guessed it, Crawford
Excellent post by Kathy of Liberty Street on, what else, Cindy Sheehan
Bryant The Commentator onChickenhawks
and on Roe vs. Wade
Musing's Musings reveals Bush's vacation reading list
Norbizness on Dobsonian childrearing
and global warming
Pen-Elayne plays Domino Presure
Rook's Rant on cogntive dissonance
Rubber Hose got a lot of comments for this post on moving the goal posts
I am celebrating First Bloggiversary
and swinging bcak to the "science" of my blog title in a post about malaria and melatonin
Scrutiny Hooligans on Violent Men
, the fact that Left Blogistan can be just as vacuous as Right Blogsylvania
and on switching rhetorical sides
(when Righties were correct in 1999 but we are today).
SoonerThought has a nice compilation of links on running, yet not being able to hide
Sppedkill finds an article about Tony Snow's
Intelligent Design Creationism.
Steve Gilliard on right to be a chickenhawk
T.Rex has an excellent post on valueless people
First Draft posts pictures of the Bush Brigade
The Fulcrum on scaling back expectations
In Search of Telford (formerly The Gotham City 13) has written My Oily Life
The Invisible Library on the Inordinate Fondness For Beetles
: "...given the prevalence and vociferousness of Bad Theology (today and in the historical record) how does Good Theology make itself known?"
Steve Bates serves on a jury
and writes a poem (OK, a doggerel) to Larry Northern
The Countess on advice books to angry ex-husbands
and gives a new meaning to vagina dentata
Wanda of Words On A Page on The New Neo-Con Party
WTF on book reading suggestions for the President
and a picture
that made me hungry and nostalgic for good ole' Balkans cuisine.
Serbian police to deport a terrorist suspect to Spain
Madrid bombing suspect arrested in Belgrade
(hat tip: Teekay, guest-blogging on East Ethnia
American Documents Appear to Confirm Downing Street Memos
From Shakespeare's Sister: American Documents Appear to Confirm Downing Street Memos
State Department experts warned CENTCOM before Iraq war about lack of plans for post-war Iraq security.
Join the blogswarm
Skeptic's Circle #15
is up! Go get your misguided ideas destroyed!
Is the tide turning?
A bunch of great cartoons
from papers around the country, all about Cindy Sheehan and the Crawford vigil. Would they have done those this way a year ago or two?
I And The Bird #4
I And The Bird
is now up on Milkriverblog and it is GORGEOUS!
What a Boob!
debunks another instance of shoddy sex research!
... to me!
On this date last year I started this blog. The very first post
already suggested the main theme of this blog. I reviewed Lakoff's "Moral Politics", liked the basic idea, then proceeded to look for deficiencies, to try to fill the gaps, to modify it, and to build upon it. I've been doing that ever since
Also, I have already in my first post started sensing that the "missing link" between childrearing style and political ideology had something to do with (the psychology of) sexuality, thus making the politics of sex, gender and marriage
central difference between the two main ideologies.
And, yes, of course, I sometimes write about science, and pure politics, and current events, and Balkans, and books, and movies, and about my family, about education, about blogging itself, and everything else I feel like writing on any given day. This blog is hard to categorize!
In other news, my car is dead and gone. Officially. Got rid of it. Turned in the plate. Took it off insurance. That was the best car we ever had. It worked perfectly for ten years and only in its eleventh everything started going wrong with it until it became unfixable (except for a price of a new car). It was a 1994 Oldsmobile Cutlass Cruiser station wagon. We used to have a Buick, a Volvo station wagon, and six other Oldsmobiles, some older some newer (including a 2000 Intrigue), but this one was the best. Now we are both sharing Mrs. Coturnix's Ford Winstar minivan. I have no idea how I can afford a new car at this moment. We are sooooo broke (and I hate to beg, but that PayPal button has been lonely for two months!). I better fix up those two nice bikes in the shed and figure out the bus routes.
In yet other news, hosting Grand Rounds on Circadiana was a big success. Instalanche alone brought more than 500 hits on Tuesday, Stumbleupon about 300 (who put it on there?), Pharyngula and Majikthise (and several smaller blogs) brought up the rest to almost 1400 hits. Today, it was about half that many, as Instalanche stops as suddenly as it starts. Just before midnight, the stats there looked like this:
Average Per Day 572
Average Visit Length 2:20
Last Hour 27
This Week 4,007
And this blog got at least a couple of hundred hits coming from the Grand Rounds on the first day (to the melatonin/malaria post below), suggesting that people actually click on the links on Grand Rounds. Apparently, most readers of the Carnival of Vanities and Bonfire of Vanities do not bother to click on more than one or two links, if any, these days.
OK, time to go to bed now. Perhaps I'll write something DEEP nest time.
Wednesday, August 17, 2005
Spreading the Link-Love
So, instead of a 5000-word brilliant essay you always expect to see here, go instead and look around some of my friend's blogs:
Lance Mannion: Less than less than zero
about Bret Easton Ellis and American Psycho.
Nancy Nall on the meeting of city and country at the State fair
Five Wells on Links
and cool stuff one finds on blogs.
Paper Frigate watches the Supreme Court
Norma of Collecting My Thoughts: I Am An Ecological Disaster
The Krafty Librarian about the Canary Database
("...named for the concept of a canary in a coal mine is a database that contains scientific evidence about how animal disease events can be an early warning system for emerging human diseases...).
I'm in love with Papillon Rouge. Here are three recent posts, one collecting very funny examples of similes
from British students, one asking
"Since when does 'people' equal 'men'?" and another shows that Google Maps is not just a tool, but can go deep
Changing Places on Redemption
Delenda Est Carthago is telling some people to shut up
Upside-down Hippo is reporting on his trip to Bermuda
Ken MacLeod of The Early Days of a Better Nation went to World Science Fiction Convention
Rants For The Invisible People on Patriarchy
Res Publica on Republic Of Dogs on Dobsonian childrearing
Mysticblog got a black belt in Aikido
at Reed (Bro, were you there?)
Amelia of Ameliorator, also from Reed is contemplating the dangers of trabelling abroad
Reedmaniac, also from Reed is just like the President: Bike Crash
The Sneeze finally got rid of the maggots
Echomouse on some old bad news
Girl with a one-track mind on how to
and how not to
chat up a girl.