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February 19, 2005
The Gorilla of My Dreams
An e-mail correspondent alerts me to the fact that:
Two former employees of the Gorilla Foundation, home to Koko the "talking" ape, have filed a lawsuit contending that they were ordered to bond with the 33-year-old female simian by displaying their breasts.
OK. Sex discrimination? Hmm. Does showing your nipples to a gorilla equate to a sex act? Or perhaps they mean it's sex discrimination that men weren't ordered to show their nipples. Or perhaps that Koko wanted to see their nipples. But Koko is female, so doesn't that complicate the charge of sex discrimination. I don't really get it. Maybe Koko could help explain it to me.
Perform bestiality? Do all the people who walk around naked in front of their pets also perform bestiality? Not being an expert on these matters, I think I'll defer to our wise audience.
HBD does Sweden, yet again
Given the reporting of TangoMan on the rather sordid affair of Gender Feminism as official state ideology in Sweden, it’s interesting to note that the non-gender feminist side has been gaining some traction in the media recently. First, well-known left-of-centre commentator Carl Hamilton made the case for Gender Feminism as Lysenkoism in left-wing Aftonbladet.
Then yesterday, professor of neurology Germund Hesslow argued for sex and gender as biologically determined categories on the "Debatt" page of Dagens Nyheter (DN), Sweden’s premier morning paper. DN columnists have ventured into this territory before, but then only in a somewhat less serious manner.
This was no half-throated Summer-esque argument either – there were very few “buts” and “ifs”. The case laid out is familiar to Gnxp.com readers, but it deserves to be recited, so that the full extent of DN:s heresy can be understood. After all, the DN op-ed page has notoriously stringent gatekeepers, and having an opinion piece published there is not a run-of-the-mill feat.
Given Sweden's status as beacon for Egalitarians everywhere, the debate here is not unimportant - so having an idea of how things are going on this side of the pond could very well be useful.
Extensive quoting from Hesslow’s article follows:
He goes on with some other rather well established notions, which nonetheless probably caused a few knocked-over cups of coffee at Swedish breakfast tables.
The Darwinian background of differences is also noted:
New developments in HBD research
The Mercury News ran an interesting article (registration required) yesterday titled, "Gene researchers find variations by ancestry." It describes a new paper published in Science by David Hinds, et al, describing DNA variation between three human populations. And [surprise!] the paper is astonished to see that the researchers believe that race (the term "human populations" is used in the paper) may be significant. Interestingly enough, the term "race" is never used in the actual published paper, so you can see that the newspaper is playing with semantics and creating a controversy on this issue by using a word that quickly incites knee-jerk reactions. Here's some snippets from the actual article, since I know that nobody wants to go and register...
The first comprehensive map of genetic variation among several ethnic groups, published in today's issue of the journal Science, shows patterns of genetic variation that could explain differences in health, disease and response to medication. This is a key step toward the possibility of personalized medicine based on genetic variations.
Here's an extract from the paper:
Individual differences in DNA sequence are the genetic basis of human variability. We have characterized whole-genome patterns of common human DNA variation by genotyping 1,586,383 single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in 71 Americans of European, African, and Asian ancestry. Our results indicate that these SNPs capture most common genetic variation as a result of linkage disequilibrium, the correlation among common SNP alleles. We observe a strong correlation between extended regions of linkage disequilibrium and functional genomic elements. Our data provide a tool for exploring many questions that remain regarding the causal role of common human DNA variation in complex human traits and for investigating the nature of genetic variation within and between human populations.
Since I'm such a nice guy, I've uploaded the actual paper in the gnxpfiles group. The title of the paper, Whole-Genome Patterns of Common DNA Variation in Three Human Populations, is called "1072.pdf" in the Files section of gnxpfiles:
I've also uploaded an interesting article from the "Perspectives" section of the journal about medical applications of this new research, written by a member of the International HapMap Project. The title of the paper, Harvesting Medical Information from the Human Family Tree, is called "1052.pdf" in the Files section of gnxpfiles:
An evolutionary education....
The Larry Summers controversy has been very eye-opening for me. I have always dissented from godless' contention that intergroup differences when evaluated on the axis of race would undermine liberal, or a Left, political agenda. There are various reasons I am skeptical of this view, though one of them is that races segregate themselves often in even the most liberal of polities. I know many racially sensitive people who live in Imbler who might go days without seeing "a person of color." On the other hand, I am beginning to wonder if denial of sex differences might undermine American liberalism (if not for substantive reasons, at least for guilt-by-association). While the races may separate themselves, and white liberals can always retreat to Vermont, Oregon or some other racially sensitive but "lily white" enclave, men and women are always in contact.
Previously, I have argued against those on the political Right, who though espousing an evolutionary viewpoint themselves, deny that it is necessary to fight the inroads of Creationism in the public school system. After all, most people will not use evolutionary science in their day to day life. But of late I have wondered if perhaps I was looking at it the wrong way, instead of battling Creationism, a healthy dose of genuine evolutionary biology might have been able to head off some of the hyper-nurturant rhetoric on the political Left. Like it or not, people with humanistic educations serve as the core of our "intellectual classes." When they espouse and formulate public policy prescriptions, a knowledge of our evolutionary legacy is rather salient but quite often lacking.
Though there might be dispute over the proximate processes which could result in differences of distribution between the sexes in any particular endeavour, it is the lack of awareness of the compelling ultimate evolutionary roots of sex differences that I believe is the result of a truncated education. Irregardless of the particulars under debate, it seems clear from an evolutionary perspective that there will be salient behavorial differences between a male and a female. Otherwise, we would not see phenotypic specialization in the two sexes, if recombination of genetic material were the only aim we would likely resemble the hermaphroditic state of some worms.
I will not belabor the point about sex differences. Rather, I will point out that many who promote the reality of sex differences in behavorial phenotypes are political liberals (Robert Trivers, Simon Baron-Cohen and Steven Pinker for example). Instead of a traditionalist conservative typology which establishes fixed roles and expectations of men and women, they generally espouse a normal distribution, which implies an intersection between the habits, predispositions and talents of men and women. A further clarification which thinkers of this school often add is that the overlap implies that the sexes should be treated equally before the law because they are all individuals. What I have found rather disturbing is that many on the far Left who assail this school of intellectuals dismiss the statistical distribution as a smoke screen for a hidden categorical black & white typology undergirding radical right political views. In other words, the rhetorical bromides are often directed at a model more in keeping with the norms and forms adhered to and espoused by cultural traditionalists. In the short term this might yield some results, but in the long term, I suspect that this might be fatal to the promotion of the ideal of legal equality before the law of the sexes. My reasoning is simple, men and women live together and raise children together, if they are asked to choose between a typological model of absolute difference and another model of pure socialization, I suspect they will choose the former rather than the latter as more congruent with the facts that they experience and see on a daily basis. A pure socialization model might fly within the ecosystem of the Left and allow verbal gymnasts to score points in battles against their own heretics, but I suspect that in the long run they are going to lose the war in the wider culture.
Addendum: The press is rife is with articles about gene A causing behavior B. There is also the steady production of popular pieces that oversimplify the results of neuro and cognitive science in the realm of the sex differences. No doubt many on the Left are driven crazy by the public's appetite for this sort of thing, but the response should be to clarify and interpret within one's ideological framework the science, rather than simply rejecting it. Unlike many disciplines, science is progressive and it does eventually hone in on the aproximation of the truth. Denial can be maintained for only so long.
Related: Up from ignorance.
February 18, 2005
A How-To Guide To Faking Fingerprints
Doesn't it just ruin your day when you're skulking around some high security area and you need to get into a secure room that is access controlled via a fingerprint scanner? I know it's ruined many a day for me.
Never fear, for here is step by step guide on how to defeat those dastardly devices, but be sure to have a supply of Jell-O at your disposal. Here is one guide, and here is another. Here is more background and here is the technical paper that started it all. Here is a page that discusses the legal implications.
Hormones and female mating strategies...
Research has suggested that women are attracted to masculine-looking men during the most fertile time of their menstrual cycle -- presumably in order to secure the most robust genes possible for their offspring -- whereas during the less fertile times, they tend to choose more feminine-looking men -- kinder, gentler and more co-operative long(er)-term partners who, it is supposed, are more likely to help provide for their offspring.
Conversely, at least one study has shown that that women who are on contraceptive pills preferred macho looking males (think Brad Pitt!) while those not on the pill were more interested in more sensitive types (although not necessarily this neurotic). The researchers suggested that because ovulation is blocked and women on the pill are less likely to become pregnant >>
[T]hey are sub-consciously attracted to sexy, macho men, rather than to men who are most likely to make a sensible long-term mate.
A current study finds that >>
[P]regnant women, women using oral contraceptives and women in the second half of their menstrual cycle demonstrated the strongest attraction to healthy-looking faces. These findings suggest that pregnancy (and other conditions with a similar hormonal profile) triggers strategies for avoiding illness during social interactions.
All of these hormone-driven behaviors can be viewed as part of a greater package of female mating strategies which include fertile women rating other women as uglier, a "strategy to devalue potential rivals," and fertile women rating their own attractiveness as higher than at other times >>
'Indeed, the fluctuations in women's perception of their own attractiveness may reflect real physical changes caused by estrogen, for example lip colouration and fullness,' [Ben Jones, a psychologist working at St Andrew's University] says. 'So the women may be objectively correct in seeing others as less attractive.'
Interestingly, fertile women are also better able to recognize expressions of fear (and, perhaps, other emotions) as compared to when their estrogen levels were lowest, possibly yet another way to select for the most appropriate mate.
Most Intelligent Actress
We don't often read about brainy actresses, so I thought I'd do my part to bring the spotlight on some of the women who grace the silver screen and are shining lights in the IQ department. So without further adieu, I bring you 10 nominees and a poll for you to vote for, not hotness, but how intelligent you think they are, or how they come across when not playing a character (ignoring that what you may see in interviews could be another level of characterization):
Heddy Lamar: Honored by the Electronic Frontier Foundation and granted a patent for a frequency hopping which is the basis for technology like the cell phone. See this account, and also this account from the delightful Britney Spears Guide to Semiconductor Physics.
Danica McKellar: Summa Cum Laude graduate of UCLA with a degree in mathematics. Co-author of Percolation and Gibbs State Multiplicity for Ferromagnetic Ashkin-Teller Models in Two Dimensions
Natalie Portman: A graduate of Harvard with a degree in psychology and while a high school student a co-author of A Simple Method To Demonstrate the Enzymatic Production of Hydrogen from Sugar
Cindy Crawford: Attended Northwestern University for a term on a chemical engineering scholarship until she was discovered.
Teri Hatcher: Born to a a nuclear physicist and a computer programmer Teri studied math and engineering at De Anza College in Cupertino, California with plans to transfer to California Polytechnic Institute until a chance casting on The Love Boat ended her academic career.
Ally Walker: Born to a physicist and a lawyer, Ally studied physics at UC Santa Cruz until Hollywood beckoned.
Lisa Kudrow: A 1985 graduate of Vassar College with a degree in Biology.
Brooke Shields: A 1987 graduate of Princeton University, receiving honors in French literature.
The Larry Summers Transcript
February 17, 2005
China In The News
Here are five links that I thought noteworthy today.
The first is news that Chinese researchers have broken the SHA-1 hashing algorithm which was developed by the National Security Agency and which allows crytographic security for such mundane things as internet commerce. Here is background on SHA. Here is piece, from August, on the significance of SHA.
The second development is the CIA, in its annual assessment of worldwide threats, has dropped all mention of US-Chinese cooperation and has instead focused on China's determined military and diplomatic efforts to counter what it sees as US efforts to contain or encircle China.
Third item of note regarding China has to do with its statement on the Kyoto Accord going into effect and how the Chinese are urging the signatories to ratify the treaty as quickly as possible. Note that the Chinese are exempt from the treaty. A related development is that parts of Northeast China are seeing their farm output increasing due to warming trends.
The fourth item of note is that of the warming of bilateral relations between China and India.
And the fifth item is that China has overtaken the US as the world's leading consumer of resources.
It's kind of a China news day, don't you think?
Larry Summers has Asperger's Syndrome?
In this psychotherapy preoccupied culture analysis of the psyche of public figures is a dime a dozen, so I don't put too much stock in the assertion that Larry Summers might have Asperger's Syndrome. From where I stand, many psychological "diseases" are simply the tail of the distribution in terms of mental aptitudes and orientations, with an almost arbitrary determination of what the threshold for "dysfunction" might be. Nevertheless, two thoughts came to mind when this possibility in the case of Summers was brought to my attention.
First, the social and political complexities of multiculturalism, sensitivity awareness and the general catchall of political correctness might be too difficult for a large portion of the population to grasp (even those who are fluent in this discourse can get burned). In other words, when it comes to general intelligence, or even more narrowly defined logical-abstraction aptitude, Larry Summers is brilliant (with two Nobels in the family circle). On the other hand, as many have pointed out, as head of Harvard University it might not have been particularly "rational" for him to moot the ideas that he did. In other words, whether they were empirically justified or not, a socially aware person might have been able to intuit what not to say in a given circumstance because of personal self-interest. Larry Summers may lack that capacity for full fledged intentionality, the ability to anticipate how his own actions and words will ripple, cascade and reflect back through the various minds in a social system.
Update: I added a small addendum commenting on my skepticism about "group selection" below.
Simon Baron-Cohen in The Essential Difference reccounts how one of his Asperger's patients likened talking to defecating, once the words and phrases left his mouth, he no longer had any control where they landed or what effect they had on others. My personal experience is that "political correctness" (or its more traditionalist precusor "proper manners") is defined, promoted and elaborated by those who are to some extent hypersocially aware and verbally nuanced. These individuals might be creating a social system where the "rules of the game" might not be masterable by a large subset of the human population (it would be like demanding that all individuals know calculus to be able to participate in polite conversation).
Another point that I have often wondered about is whether people with "mental dysfunctions," or at least "socially irrational" behaviors (or suboptimal) might not be the drivers of technical, and to a lesser extent cultural, innovation. In other words, only individuals who are not risk averse because they do not accurately pick up the cues that signal that they have overstepped conventional bounds can transcend the norms and values that define a particular time. It seems entirely plausible to me that paradigm shifts would be driven by those who did not integrate or have great stakes in the previous paradigm to begin with. If you believe in group selection, this might have some straightforward implications about the "fitness" of various groups. Personally I suspect that balancing selection (ergo, individual/genic selection) can do the trick fine, though it might be less transparent to the lay person. As we've noted before though, the frequency of deleterious phenotypes might be increasing because of assortative mating, which undermines the panmictic mating that foster balancing selection.
Addendum: When it comes to sociology or an analysis of the cultural ecosystem, things get slippery. I somewhat regret my unelaborated skepticism of group selection, at least in the "inter-demic" fashion that I was imagining it. But let me illustrate my thinking with the following.
Many people assert that Western culture has been far more dynamic, innovative and productive that Sinic culture over the past 2.5 centuries because of its openness to variation in opinion, outlook and thought. In other words, Western culture leverages the ideas and inventions of its "oddballs," while Sinic culture tends to steer everyone toward the orthodoxy of the time. This does not imply that Sinic culture does not go through "paradigm shifts," but, it does suggest that the Western cultural dynamic is always fizzling with greater texture and dissonance of outlook. Not surprisingly, this detracts from the "harmony" which is the ideal in Sinic culture.
If you think of Western culture and Sinic culture as "demes" or "memes," how do you judge which one is more "fit"? Since the latter has been grafting on to Western motifs and methods for the past century I suspect that one could say that Western culture has been more "fit" as of late. When you look at it from this level it seems obvious that the nature of the groups matter.
But, if you look at it from the individual perspective it seems plausible to assert that even if the oddball strategy is risky, in Western society it might have a rather high payoff, enough so that oddballs are perpetuated, whether that be genetically, memetically or both. The differences between groups can easily be reduced to the fitness of individuals within both, in Sinic culture oddballs are penalized far more than Western culture (so goes the standard rendering).
The two perspectives do not necessarily conflict, but I would assert that the group selective model is more of a "blackbox" that obscures more than the individual level of assessment. The group is important and crucial, but in the sense that it is the environment, the ecosystem, in which individuals are embedded in. In such a conception, in the Western ecosystem oddballs have a much higher fitness than in the Sinic ecosystem. And since the individuals reshape and feedback into the ecosystem you have a loop which results in gross changes to the character of the ecosystem itself. An individual angle can, I believe, result in a more robust model and allow for more prediction of future cultural pathways.
Postscript: Though I have not stumbled on to any evidence that whites have a greater variance on g-loaded tests than East Asians, I am open to the conjecture that whites might have a greater variance in personality, or a greater diversity of morphs, than East Asians.
Human Propensity for Dipshit Theories
Steve Verdon points us to what might be the latest incarnation of Intelligent Design methodology - the Global Consciousness Project, which uses a random number generator to predict the future, like when anomalous readings 4 hours prior to the 9/11 attacks "predicted" the attacks.
Oh, there's so much wrong with this.
February 16, 2005
Strawman - The latest tactic in the Summers' Affair
I see that Henry from Ihmissuhteet has linked to us and his post links to some interesting developments in Sweden. The issue is centered on the social construction of gender and fits it quite nicely with our continuing coverage of the Summers' Affair.
Before I go further I wonder if anyone else has noticed, as I have now on a few occasions, that when the issue of Summers and Pinker's defense of Summers come up in debate, that Pinker is frequently slammed for invoking, what they refer to as the strawman of the Blank Slate, and it is argued that no one really believes that we are completely maleable so therefore Pinker is full of it. Q.E.D. Never mind the cognitive dissonance that must ensue from this line of reasoning, or the complete, or perhaps willful, ignorance of history about the prevalence of the Blank Slate premise.
It is for those who deny the existence of Blank Slatism that I link to Secular Blasphemy and their take on the latest brou-ha-ha in Sweden following Carl Hamilton's article in Aftonbladet: (emphasis added)
In one respect Sweden's government is unique in the world. It has a definite opinion about a scientific controversy: whether women's and man's brains are different, or not. The first time i realised that the government had involved itself in neurobiology, was when gender equality minister [! - ed] Jens Orback in a speech about sexual deviations and living with horses [!!! - ed], affirmed:
So there you have it - government policy is formed on the premise that gender is wholly socially constructed. If that's not a Blank Slate I'm not sure what else would qualify. Of course, the social constructivists who formed this policy surely didn't consult with the likes of E.O. Wilson ( I just love this quote) and other scientists who may beg to differ with this nonsense.
And let's not overlook the troubling aspect of politicians deciding what is science, and the troubling parallel to Tatu Vanhanen's brush with criminal prosecution for positing that there is a biological basis for many attributes that have differential distributions across populations.
Yeah, that strawman sure seems to have a lot of meat and bones.
The Flynn Debate
1) The Flynn Effect is based on bad data.
I think that we can rule out 1 and 5 easily enough. I don't think that 'g' is sacred. I can certainly imagine a new theory supplanting it, but on the balance, I think that we can say that 4 is improbable.
I have heard both 2 and 3. Rushton, for example, claims 2, while Flynn claims 3. I'm willing to believe Flynn because he's more mainstream.
So that leaves 3. So now for the million-dollar question, what about the environment is improving IQ so much?
Self-censorship in the sciences
NPR recently ran an excellent little clip about scientists and researchers conducting self-censorship of studies that various groups and individuals may deem to be controversial, which the clip describes as "forbidden knowledge"; that is, knowledge that may have potentially negative effects upon society or which may contradict various moral codes and doctrines. The survey, while small (only 41 participants who described their own experiences and the experiences of others), showed that:
- "nearly half felt they had to censor what they studied or published out of fear of outside opinion" which included "government or university officials, or journal publishers."
Of course, this is nothing new to regular readers... just on issues concerning evolution, this site constantly fights for the truth against creationist IDiots on the right and anti-hereditarian activists on the left (who have calmed down a lot since the 1960s and 70s, when the Students for a Democratic Society and Progressive Labor Party worked to have individuals such as Jensen fired, and on some occasions conducted violence against them, as in the case of Hans Eysenck). Thankfully, silly pseudo-Marxist publications like Science for the People are now defunct. But as evidenced by the recent attacks against Hans-Hermann Hoppe, Larry Summers, and a slew of other cases, this problem has not gone away and, if anything, has actually resulted in things getting worse.
Self-censorship is far worse than a few protests here and there. Not only does it abrogate scientist's academic and Constitutional rights, but, worst of all, it results in the suppression of research that is important to understanding ourselves and our environment.
Unfortunately, I do not think that most people are aware of the amount of self-censorship that takes place.
Muslim apostates face persecution...
In Britain?!?! I don't know the extent of this. I have personally faced minor harassment in the US, and my impression is that the Muslim community here is of a more liberal pluralistic bent than in the UK, and I know of people who have had to deal with death threats (a fellow member of the secularist movement who happened to be of Iranian background). But I would like to focus on one of the few numbers that are offered in the article: "One estimate suggests that as many as 15 per cent of Muslims in Western societies have lost their faith, which would mean that in Britain there are about 200,000 apostates."
(via Peter Bimelow)
Carl Zimmer's two part post on the evolution and development of eyes is a must read:
Note that Carl points out that the fish Astyanax mexicanus has shifted toward phenotypic blindness via microevolution in 30 separate populations over the last 10,000 years in parallel fashion. This is not a tale that unfolds differently with every rewind....
Delenda Est Tabula Rasa
A Ukranian acrobat sent me an email notifying me of this piece, Capitalism and Human Nature in The Cato Policy Report. I don't have much time to comment now, but I will add that I don't think that "human nature" implies one specific socio-political arrangement, rather, it sets the rules of the game (for now) that one must play by, favoring some pathways toward implementation of "utopia" and blocking others.
To my mind, a fully fleshed political philosophy for the new millennium must grapple with reality as we know it. This does not imply that the one should necessarily seek the "lowest energy point," that is, the "evolutionarily" least taxing social configuration, but if you do wish to perpetuate a higher energy state you need to engineer circumstances so that that state is favored and tunnels or gradients toward lower states are sealed off. For example, assume that you believe that there are social goods you wish to promote by maximizing the number of males in pair-bonded relationships with females, there is a great deal of circumstantial evidence that the modal male H. sapiens evolutionarily stable strategy (ESS) consists of mild polygyny (between gibbons and gorillas in terms of a spectrum1, though closer to the former). In the United States we mitigate this bias by only legally sanctioning monogamous marriages, de jure banning polygynous marriages, as well as promoting religious and social customs and norms that render polygyny a taboo. Now, one might assert that serial monogamy, practiced by many high status males, is a tunnel they use to evade social strictures and engage in the proximate behaviors in keeping with the human modal ESS, but I think on the balance legal and social restraints on unencumbered polygyny does have some effect.
Take home message: there might be multiple social and political equilibria that can be sustained by the predispositions of human nature, but they are finite.
Addendum: Also, let me add that Will's essay assumes the "Standard Model" of Evolutionary Psychology (EP). That is,
This is not the only model out there, thinkers like Steven Pinker tend to forward it so it has a de facto establishment cred. There are many who work in other paradigms, Terrence Deacon, who I mentioned before, tends to reject massive modularity. David Sloan Wilson, who emphasizes group selection, also suggests that there are different personalities within a given population and that both morphs might be at an ESS ("High Mach" vs. "Low Mach"). It is no surprise that thinkers like Kevin MacDonald, who draw upon Wilson's paradigm, posit that different groups have different ESSs (understatement). Some try to rework complex behavorial phenotypes not as direct adaptations, but byproducts of cognitive cross-domain interactions, in other words, they believe that a non-adaptationist explanation for many phenomena can emerge from the assumption of massive modularity. Our friend Henry Harpending, and others, who are skeptical of a simple Out-of-Africa demographic model, often reject a unitary EEA. Finally, the implications of behavorial genetics (variation between individuals), and the likelihood of differential polymorphic genetic structure on loci that control behavior in varied populations is suggestive of the possibility that cognitive evolution did not halt after the Pleistocene.2
This does not render the ideas of thinkers draw from the Standard Model null, but, it is does suggest that the science is very diverse and permutations of norms and scientific models can multiply rather quickly....
Addendum II: I thought I would copy something I said over at Will's blog, "the laws of physics are universal, but the machines you construct by considering their implications might have different uses." In my opinion criticizing EP for being "right-wing" (a common charge from the Left) or "amoral" (a common charge from the Religious Right) is a bit like attacking physics for being a "tool of Western oppression" due to its use in offering a theoretical framework for the practical design of weapons of mass destruction or "enablers of amorality" for its role in the mass production of devices for lascivious modern media. Granted, EP hits closer to home, the human mind itself, but facts be facts, what people do with those facts can be disputed without tearing down the theoretical framework they leverage in an all-or-nothing intellectual assault.
1 - Humans are often compared to both chimpanzees and bonobos, our nearest kin, but I think it often takes us off track because I believe our social-sexual behavior patterns are somewhat orthogonal to their forms of hypersexuality.
2 - A few weeks ago I got rather snippy at a commentor who posited the idea of a "bioculture." Partly this is because bioculture promoters rub me the wrong way because they tend to be in favor some sort of normative ethnonationalism and cobble together evidence post hoc to support their ideals. Nevertheless, if for example the Chinese are more introverted, on average, than the Papuans, doesn't that have salient implications for cultural expression? I think it does, but I'm not sure what it is. For example, I might offer that the Chinese are more capable to perpetuating a minarchist libertarian state, because they are less physically aggressive on average, perhaps innately, and can therefore more easily implement the "non-aggression axiom." But, I could possibly suggest that the Papuans would find a libertarian order more personally appealing because it would give free reign to their individual creativity and ego adornment. Where does that leave us? When it comes to simple alternatives like this we need to proceed cautiously before declaring one model authoritative, therefore, when people say that certain works of art might be unintelligible between populations because of biocultural considerations, it seems like overreach to me. I think that speculations of this sort tend to far outrun the demands of establishing a chain of causation, or least very robust correlations. In the historical record they are often falsified, that is, the Greeks thought the Romans were uncultured brutes who could never appreciate genuine art during the initial period of Republican expansion, but eventually they produced Virgil and Ovid when their culture matured and ripened.
February 15, 2005
EO & I
The future, if we are to have one, is increasingly to be in the hands of the scientifically literate, those who at least know what it is all about. There can be no multicultural solution to the genetics of cystic fibrosis; the ozone hole cannot be deconstructed; there is nothing whatsoever relativistic or culturally contextual about the dopamine transporter molecules whose blockages by cocaine gives a rush of euphoria, the kind that leads the constructivist to doubt the objectivity of science. E. O. Wilson
Someone's Back Is Against The Wall
It's always interesting to be an outside observer of conflict, especially scientific battles. I'm watching with interest the stand-off on the climate change "hockey stick" issue which hit the news again yesterday in the Wall Street Journal. Here is the text of the article which provides a good recap of the controversy.
Now, while I understand that it can be a heady experience to be a young researcher and hit the motherlode early out of the gates and this can lead to hubris I think that those close to Dr. Mann need to give him some advice on how to engage in defending oneself in intellectual battle. It's disappointing to read this direct quote from Dr. Mann:
Mr. McIntyre thinks there are more errors but says his audit is limited because he still doesn't know the exact computer code Dr. Mann used to generate the graph. Dr. Mann refuses to release it. "Giving them the algorithm would be giving in to the intimidation tactics that these people are engaged in," he says.
Seems a bit thinskinned, don't you think? I've noticed this thin skin in how Dr. Mann's blog moderates its comments and have pretty much given up on reading the site because of its recent editorial shift to apologia and preemptive defense.
Dr. Mann's critics are disputing the techniques used in his paper and this is the process of science, not the process of intimidation. Perhaps Dr. Mann's early success has led to his confusion about how scientific debate is conducted. No matter what associates of Dr. Mann think of Mr. McIntyre and Dr. McKittrick they should advise Dr. Mann that's he's coming off as quite defensive and obstructive in this affair. Surely, his work should be able to withstand scrutiny.
Update: It now looks like the Wall Street Journal article is out from behind the subscription wall. Take a look at the hockey stick graph, and the line art drawings of Mann and McIntyre. Here it is.
Intelligence & the Flynn Effect
John Hawks has a long reivew of the ideas of James Flynn of "Flynn Effect" fame. On the way he touches upon the counterpoints offered by Jensen and alternatives given by Lewontin, and rounds it up with a crucial paleoanthropological perspective on the evolutionary context of "intelligence."
February 13, 2005
Tigers of the future
A reader pointed me to this article, We are the final frontier, where several intellectuals moot the concpets of impending artificial intelligence, the omnipresence of genetic engineering and the rise of post-human collective minds. Since I was about 18 or so I have adhered to the line of thought that our technological civilization is going to hit an "inflection point" in this century. We are either going to make the "leap" toward some "higher state" through a confluence of mechanical and genetic engineering, or we are going to "regress" back to a less technologically oriented civilization because of cultural malfunctions or constraints.
In the latter scenario I am not positing simple resource exhaustion in the conventional environmentalist apocalypse paradigm, rather, I believe that our mental "hardware" which serves as the substrate for the emergent superstructures of our social systems is fast becoming highly inappropriate for the development arc that is, and will be, enabled by information technology. I suspect that the rise of nihilistic global terrorist organizations emerging out of developing nations is only a foretaste of the coming psycho-social chaos. We need to smash the Dunbar limit and radically upgrade our mental hardwire and rewrite the software so that we are suitabley outfitted for an information age. As it is, we are a retrofit of paleolithic hunter-gatherers stumbling our way through a digital epoch.
I don't think that there is a strong likelihood that laws against "thinking machines" or "genetic abominations" are going to halt the progression toward some form of technological singularity. What will halt the inevitable is a collapse of the technological infrastructure of our civilization via maladaptation induced chaos. Either way, we might be the last full generation of moderns....
I say we ride the tigers, lest they consume us.
Addendum: I want to make one thing clear, and this is aimed partly at you Michael, I am not espousing transhumanism as a panacea for all the world's ills, rather, I think it is simply one of two paths that the human race must choose in the next century. I do not think that modern liberal democracy is stable in the long run, the long run being 2-3 generations. A major "die off" will rid of us of the problems associated with modernity, but it will also likely prevent us from supporting a technological-scientific civilization, which I believe is a necessary condition for liberal democracy. The other option is to transcend the constraints of evolution. The latter option does not imply that the transcendence will embrace all of humanity, and it may create enormous problems as far as transition costs go (I am trying to be clinical here). Others may prefer the reversion to a less technological society, in which case, perhaps you are a fan of the Dune novels. To each his own. I would not bet on being a "winner" in either scenario in all honesty (both the post-human and pre-modern options might work on a "winner take all" principle, in contrast to our cherished liberal democracy), but I would pick transhumanism as the most likely gamble for myself.
In the end Michael, I agree with your friend James Kalb, modern liberal society is going to be an ephemeral moment in history. Where I differ from him is his pining for a "restoration" of "what was lost." What was lost, was lost, is lost, and will be lost. Kalb is correct I believe in his skepticism about humans transcending our natural constraints. But it is not of humans that I dream....
Psychoanalytic Temporality and Development
(All information in this blog post was found in an Advertisement in the Febuary 13, 2005 edition of the Imblerian, so nothing improper is being posted on this blog)
A Lecture by Dr. Jeanne Chasseguet
Quote from advertisement A rebellion against the biological order seems to have silently infiltrated our world view. Suicide bombers appear to share with writers such as Mishima, Pasolini and Foucault a fascination with destruction. A liberation from the body to reestablish a- possibly mystical-union of soul and cosmos and an assertion of the mind's omnipotence appear to be common features of behaviors that seem to be taken for granted in contemporary thought. Is the new misogyny, which rejects motherhood in the name of feminism, contributing in any way to these trends? This review of our society by a woman psychoanalyst--a non-medic and graduate of the Institut d'Etudes Politques in Paris--presents a sharp and rigorous analysis of the strange and violent menchanisms that are erupting in the world today.
A public lecture on Feb 26 2005 at 8 am at OHSU, I might go.