Jump to content
LCVG

Neurology, genetics and other light topics


Robot Monkey
 Share

Recommended Posts

Just picked up this book to switch off with the other book I'm reading when it gets too heavy/depressing.

 

I was also considering Pinker's The Language Instinct, but I thought I'd try another subject after reading Power of Babel (although Pinker's book looks like it might be more along the lines of what I was looking for in McWhorter's book).

 

So far I'm enjoying it, although I've barely started. Since I promised to do some html for some guys you probably know, I won't get too much further tonight or tomorrow. ;)

 

Dawkins looks like a good place to go next.

 

-j

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Err, not in full, no. Keep meaning to go back to Climbing Mount Improbable, but then my favorite authors keep releasing books at a rate faster than I can read through them. Neal Stephenson lands the next 900 page monster on my desk in a couple of weeks, and I've not finished the latest Jasper Fforde yet.

 

And I would have gotten away with it if it weren't for these pesky kids!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Damn, I was busy yesterday and totally missed this thread!

 

How the Mind Works is great, very well written. I've read a lot of books in a similar vein, but that one was memorable. I actually met Steven Pinker while I was visiting MIT during my trip back east a couple months ago...very nice guy.

 

Dawkins, I think River out of Eden is pretty good, but if you're already familiar with the concept of the selfish gene, and modern genetics in general, you probably can skip it and go right to either The Selfish Gene or The Extended Pehnotype, the latter being more specialized and a bit more technical. Climing Mount Improbable is good too, but for me it was preaching to the choir, but an interesting exposition nonetheless. IIRC the last chapter was about the incredible evolutionary dependencies that have developed between a species of wasp and a species of fig tree...quite an eye-opening symbiosis. Now that i think of it, there were many good examples of 'miracles' of nature being simply the 'intelligent' work of the evolutionary process.

 

The Power of Babel was wonderful, I came away from it with a new appreciation for language evolution. If you're interested in some of the inner-workings of that process, the book Atoms of Language by Mark Baker is fascinating. It's somewhat technical, but a very worthwhile look at the linguistic theory of 'parameters' - according to which there are a finite set of rules that langauges can 'choose' from (including basic things like Subject-Object word order). The amazing thing is that he explores the differences between Japanese and English, for example (and a lot of other languages as well), and argues that they can be reduced to a difference in just a few parameters, even though on the surface they look nearly opposite.

 

Another great linguistics book is The Symbolic Species by Terrence Deacon. He looks at the nature of symbolic communication, and how it was grafted onto pre-existing brain/mind structures. He looks at how the brain evolved in concert with the vocal tract, larynx, esophagus, etc...which is kind of amazing if you think about it. All of these things needed to evolve together to make (spoken) language possible, even though the way our esophagus evolved makes us very prone to choking (which apes aren't).

 

I highly recommend any book by Matt Ridely, amazing writer, fantastic subject matter, Genome, The Red Queen, and Nature via Nurture - all top-notch science writing.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'm further in and really enjoying this book. I love his dry sense of humor and even sarcasm at times.

 

Here's a gem:

 

The Chinese Room [thought experiment] has kicked off a truly unbelievable amount of commentary. More than a hundred published articles have replied to it, and I have found it an excellent reason to take my name off all Internet discussion-group lists.

 

-j

Link to comment
Share on other sites

That's great! And totally correct, that argument has been running wild through academia for way too long, it was raging when I was in college...and well before that. John Searle has always bugged me, although I did read one of his books just to see what all the fuss was about. He's smart, but obstinate in a way a scientist shouldn't be.

 

He does keep his opponents honest though, which is good.

 

I forgot to mention one of my favorite websites that has nice articles and 'conversations' with many of these authors and their colleagues: http://www.edge.org/

 

In fact, there's a cool video interview with Matt Ridely there (in Real format)...here's the address:

 

http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/ridley03/r...dley_print.html

 

Ed

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 1 month later...

Dawkin's is great, I wonder if I can find that interview on the NPR website...don't they archive stuff like that?

 

Even though it's old, I'd recommend The Selfish Gene as a good starting point. It lays out the theory that made him famous, and that he's spent the subsequent decades more or less filling out. It's not really his theory as it's based on the work of a lot of people, but he was the first to collect it all together and present it in one easy-to-read package.

 

It's also where the concept of the meme is introduced, which has amazingly made it into everyday conversation.

 

After that, if you're still interested, try The Exteneded Phenotype, which is a more technical, but very interesting look at some of the outcomes of the idea of the selfish gene as you extend it beyond the boundary of a given organism.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

FWIW, I'm reading a book right now (I mentioned it in the What are you Reading thread) that runs directly counter to the arguments of Steven Pinker in The Language Instinct, in fact they run counter to almost all scientific linguistics of the last 2 or 3 decades (since Chomsky).

 

It's too early for me to say how convincing it seems, but after 2 chapters I'm encouraged. The basis of this 'new' argument is an idea I have a lot of sympathy for..basically that language is not, in fact, a specially evolved faculty...but rather one that leverages our basic cognitive skills of parsing the world into categories, starting with the way children experience the world, and especially the way they begin to become socially cognizant of other people as beings like themselves with internal states that can be shared via language, whether it be gestural or vocal or both.

 

A word of warning, though. The author of this book is not as fun and approachable as Steven Pinker is, so I wouldn't recommend this book for light reading. It's not badly written at all, at the same time it's also not conversational, but rather information-rich and fairly dense.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Sounds interesting.

 

As for the interview, we're both in luck. See, it wasn't Fresh Air (which archives everything with very rare exceptions), it was WHYY's Radio Times with Marty Moss-Coane. And they just started archiving shows for streaming Real Audio.

 

The first hour was devoted to corporate governance that I missed. And to think that I was busy cursing the fact that I didn't look at the schedule and don't have anything convenient to record with when I heard it!

 

I'll just post a link as soon as it's available.

 

-j

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Originally posted by FreakTornado@Nov 24 2003, 03:09 PM

EDIT: We posted at the same time... ;)

No, mine's first. So I win.

 

In YOUR FACE, BOYEEE! Now, who's bad? Huh? NOW WHO'S BAD? You can't be tippy-toein' up in dis humpy-bump, son! When it's game time, IT'S PAIN TIME! Who's house? Run's house!

 

I'm finished now. Like I said, look for the archive to be available on the web in a day or two.

 

-j

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hey FreakyTorn! I'm a Matt Ridley fan too...I think I have every book he's written.

 

Another fantastic book..."Parasite Rex" by Carl Zimmer. I consider it one of the best science books ever written: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detai...l/-/074320011X/

 

Have any of you guys read Steven Pinker's "The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature"? http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detai...il/-/0142003344 It's another good book.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Welcome Max! I do recall reading your posts on the HTF, very likely because you mentioned something science-related. When you have the time, I recommend formally introducing yourself to the LCVG in this thread.

 

Anyway, yes, I did read The Blank Slate, very impressive book. Amazing that Pinker can argue so effectively in what is traditionally the realm of philosophy. It complements Ridely's Nature via Nurture very well too.

 

I've seen Parasite Rex on the shelf, but the recommendation will probably push me into buying it now, thanks!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Just finished the interview...cool stuff. In some ways I amazed to hear some of this on the radio, especially his comments on religion, which are fairly radical for the US. I agree with him, but I'm also not on the radio. I wonder how many enraged calls were screened out during that show?

 

The line about George W having been 'rescued' from being an incurable drunk was priceless.

 

:lmfao:

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 2 weeks later...

I just read a very interesting article at the NYtimes.com. It's about recent neurological discoveries about how humans are 'wired up' - including some interesting connections between areas of the brain that monitor bodily states and functions and also participate in social emotions.

 

There is a suggestion that humans have greater 'emotional resolution' (my term) compared to other animals, which in turn leads to greater self-awareness, complex consciousness and cultue.

 

There is a final step. Information from the left and right insula is rerouted to the front part of the right insula where a new map is created, with yet another level of feeling, yet another sense of what is going on internally and in the world. This, say some neuroscientists, is where body states are translated into social emotions, which are the sorts of feelings that poets and novelists concentrate on ? love and hate, lust and disgust, cold calculation, hot tempers, sadness and happiness. If one feels heavy, or light, in the metaphorical sense, one is feeling it in the right anterior insula.

 

In scores of brain studies, this part of the insula is activated when we recall sadness or anger, anticipate pain, feel panic or become sexually aroused or have an emotional response to music. It lights up when people view or imitate emotional expressions in others. And in one study it showed activity when people experienced the pain of being socially excluded.

 

http://nytimes.com/2003/12/09/science/09BR...ml?pagewanted=1

(registration required to see the article)

 

All of this fits very nicely with the writings of Antonio Damasio (he's mentioned in the article), who has written a series of books arguing that emotion is not just another system in the brain, one that fights with 'reason' and makes you behave idiotically. But emotion is actually a critical function of the brain built upon body monitoring systems, and at the highest level, makes consciousness possible.

 

This article extends that into cultural and social domains.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Got another one for you, guys. From Talk of the Nation, 20 may 1999:

 

http://discover.npr.org/features/feature.j...ml?wfId=1050298

 

There seems to be a silent gap in the very beginning. Or maybe it just took a moment for my speakers to kick in. I haven't recorded this for later listening yet, so I have no comments.

 

Guests are SUSAN BLACKMORE, ROBERT WRIGHT, and RICHARD DAWKINS.

 

Can memetics help us understand complex aspects of human nature and culture, or is it, as some have complained, "cocktail-party science"? Join Ray Suarez and guests for a look at the controversy over memes.

 

-j

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Well, my Real player crapped out on me at work, so I'll have to wait until I get home to listen.

 

I'm interested in hearing this partly because I haven't ever heard or seen Robert Wright talk before. I loved The Moral Animal, and Nonzero, I'm curious about his take on memes.

 

I tired to read Susan Blackmore's book the Meme Machine but found it a little too loose in the details and hence unconvincing (although i didn't finish it). I also tried to read what is reported to be the most complete argument for memes yet The Electric Meme by Aunger, and while it was more rigorous than Blackmore, I still have nagging doubts about the theory.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...
 Share

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
×
×
  • Create New...