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July 02, 2005

Arthur Jensen (in his own words): A Matter of Genes

[pictured with Linda Gottfredson in 2004; photo courtesy of ISIR via Jonathan Wai]

For those who have not had the opportunity to hear Dr. Arthur Jensen in person, I have uploaded a brief interview he did circa 1971 with the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions 1. The interview is entitled A Matter of Genes and he gives his own (rather non-controversial, by today's standards) positions w.r.t his 1969 HER and related articles.

Here is the link to the file (a ~ 30 minute, 80 MB .mov, which means you'll either have to download Quicktime or do a conversion to a different format).

[1] If that link doesn't work, you can get a feel for them by looking at their NPQ publication.

Posted by A. Beaujean at 01:55 PM | | TrackBack

Orgasm in a Bottle

Wired.com has an article coming out July 7 on The Coming Boom in sexdrugs. I get print Wired, so I'll share. ;)

Big Pharma has made millions pumping up the male population. Now neuroscientists are reverse engineering the female orgasm...the first arousal drugs aimed at women's gray matter are expected to be on the market in the next couple of years.

And how are they testing these drugs?
"Women self-stimulate", Komisaruk explains, "and we use fMRIs to look at what parts of their brains respond."

Now, what did I say? Sex drugs will be the first to be developed and the most lucrative.
Oh God!!!!

Posted by jinnderella at 12:26 PM | | TrackBack

Psychic Unity of Mankind

I'm working on a piece discussing how selection has diversified the human race after we left Africa. Everything is on the table, both below and above the neck - which means I'm not exactly a firm believer in the psychic unity of mankind.

Think big.


Posted by greg at 12:02 PM | | TrackBack

July 01, 2005

"Islam" vs. "Islam"

John points me to this article about Polish Tatars and immigrant Arab Muslims, and the debate about what true "Islam" is. Let me make it clear, fundamentally I am a nominalist on the question of what defines a religion (though operationally I will concede the importance of population thinking and an acknowledgement of general trends). Ultimately the battle for the "soul of Islam" must be fought by Muslims and arbitrated by non-Muslims (like it or not). That is why I am skeptical of individuals who assert "my religion demands that I behave like so," since usually it is really my interpretation of my religion demands such and such. An uncritical acceptance of an interpretation as normative, that is, the standard practice, is I believe a dangerous precedent. More later....

Posted by razib at 08:01 PM | | TrackBack

June 30, 2005

Super-size this!

Here is the explanation of Judaism and Islam in the "devout Christian spends a month as a Muslim" episode of "30 Days".

Jews believe in the existence of one true God and are still waiting for his son, the Messiah, to save them.
[Muslims] base their religions on the writings of a later prophet, Muhammad
Let's start with the fact that this was a voiceover during an animated segment, in contradiction to the prohibition on figurative art that both Judaism and Islam share.

1. Judaism does not identify the Messiah as "God's son".
2. Referring to the Qur'an as the "writings" of Muhammad is technically incorrect because, according to Muslim tradition, Muhammad was illiterate, like most people of his time and setting. Moreover, the cartoon depicted him leafing through a book.

Posted by jeet at 08:22 PM | | TrackBack

Ideology, evolution and the culture-wars

Mark Kleiman says:

Most of my friends...the blue team...are genuinely puzzled by the anti-evolution fury evident among elements of the red team....

To which I say, I am genuinely puzzled by the anti-genetic fury often in evidence among elements of the blue team. Just because we are animals doesn't imply we should behave like other animals, and just because we have behavioral biases rooted in our genetic heritage doesn't mean we should valorize our biases as necessary for the Good Life. I agree with Lindsay Beyerstein, we shouldn't "play along with those delusions because" we preceive that the ends are just or proper. We should attempt to find a way to attain the Good Life and live by Truth.

Addendum: William Jennings Bryan's concern that evolutionary accounts of human ancestry from animals dovetailed too well with Social Darwinist attempts to control and oppress the "lower orders" merges the two cautionary impulses.

Also, Mark says:

The account in Genesis, whether believed literally or accepted as a morally relevant metaphor, provides a very direct and convincing argument in favor of universal human rights....

Uh, when was the last time Mark read Genesis?

Via Chris.

Posted by razib at 03:32 PM | | TrackBack

Developmental stability, symmetry and heterozygosity

Specific questions regarding general rules in organismic biology can sometimes be rather tricky to answer...because of variation between taxa and environmental context there are usually exceptions. A visitor to this website had a few questions regarding asymmetry and heterozygosity, and I responded that the relationship between the two (generally assumed to be a negative one, that is, heterozygosity tends to correlate with less asymmetry) is one where the latter influences the buffering of the developmental arc which leads to bilateral symmetry. When you see lists of traits with heritabilities bilateral symmetry tends to show a low heritability. The reason is that it is usually considered a genetic trait, there is strong selection against any mutations which would result in asymmetries because such a phenotype is not very fit. That being said, perfect symmetry is not achieved because there are other factors which affect the developmental arc of an organism, whether they be environmental or genetic. I offered that the relationship between heterozygosity and lower fluctuating asymmetry results from the more robust immune systems of heterozygous individuals. The logic is that infection tends to interfere with optimal development. Obviously this logic is most relevant in the case of organisms with adaptive immune systems, so I'm not going to point to flie studies. Here is an on point quote from Asymmetry, Developmental Stability, and Evolution (page 221, use the "search inside" feature on Amazon):

The clear relationships between parasitism and disease and asymmetry may have environmental or genetic origins (Thornill and Moller 1997). The genetics of disease susceptibility in relation to developmental instability have been investigated to some extent for humans by Russian geneticists. Botvinev et al. (1980) found that children with non-modal [rare] body mass suffered disproportionaly from a range of diseases including infectious diseases. These groups of children were characterized by deviant allele frequencies for blood group loci and lower levels of heterozygosity. Althukov et al. (1981) noted that children with acute pneumonia have a marked disposition to viro-bacterial diseases, a high frequency of small developmental anomalies, and a smaller body length and mass at birth. The study also demonstrated significant differences in four genetic systems between the two groups of children, a lower heterozygosity per locus, and a higher frequency of rare antigen combinations and rare electrophoretic protein variants....

More study needs to be done of course (I emailed a researcher who has done some relevant studies, but they seem unpublished for now). Heterozyogsity is not the only variable affecting symmetry and developmental stability (rare alleles probably alludes to deleterious mutations, though heterozygosity is related to this because of its masking potential). There are studies which show that lines of flies that have been separated for many generations may give rise to hybrids which are less developmentally stable. This is not due to a less robust immune system (flies don't haven't adaptive immune systems), but likely there are coadapted gene complexes which have evolved in diverging genetic backgrounds and the F1 generation exhibit deleterious epistatic effects.1 Speciation is probably one end outcome of this process as hybrids eventually become inviable.

Related: Here is the PUBMED query for "developmental stability heterozygosity."

1 - Imagine an ancestral population with genotype AABB. In population 1 there might a mutation which gets fixed so that the population is now AAbb. Now imagine a second substitution so that population 1 is now aabb (the BB -> bb substitution happened first!). Assume that population 2 remains AABB. If there were epistatic interactions between the two loci, then an AaBb genotype might be less fit because of negative epistatic effects between the ancestral and derived states.

Posted by razib at 02:50 PM | | TrackBack

North African mtDNA lineages in Iberia

Dienekes has an interesting post which summarizes a recent paper that surveys "African" (north and sub-Saharan) mtDNA lineages in Ibera. Here is a snip of interest:

...However, the observed geographic structuring for one of the haplogroups does not fit the expected distribution provided by simplistic historical considerations. In fact, although for haplogroup L the north-south increasing frequency is corroborated by historical data, the opposite trend, observed for haplogroup U6, is more difficult to reconcile with the magnitude and time span of the Islamic political and cultural influence, which lasted longer and was more intense in the south....

U6 seems to be of north African origin, and the researchers are curious as to its north-to-south gradient. Let us grant that U6 is north African (as opposed to an ancient Iberian variant which they lacked resolution to distinguish) and that the north-south gradient is not an artifiact of methodological error. It might interest the researchers that in Infidels : A History of the Conflict Between Christendom and Islam the author (who seems to be well versed in Iberian history) asserts that the Berber soldiers who first crossed over into Iberia were settled in the north of the peninsula (the Arab generals and tribes who crossed over received the choice southern regions). And it is also relevant that the first Berber settlers were likely "converted" to Islam within their lifetimes,1 so their fidelity to their new faith might not have been reinforced by custom, habit or tradition.

1 - I put converted in quotes because all histories that mention these Berber soldiers recruited by the general Tariq ibn-Ziyad offer that their embrace of Islam was quite pro forma.

Posted by razib at 11:56 AM | | TrackBack

localization of g

The extreme localization of g strongly confirms that psychometric tests are measuring something real, but also strongly suggests that g is only an aspect of intelligence. After all, the rest of the brain is also doing information processing of a variety of types. This information processing is vital to goal accomplishment. Ultimately, this should not be new news. There are plenty of examples of people being severely cognitively impaired by brain damage without loosing IQ. Lobotomy patients are one of the more historically important examples of this. At any rate, how do those here interpret this. Is there simply not enough normal variability between people in how their non-g associated information processing works for it to have practical significance?

Posted by michaelv at 06:36 AM | | TrackBack

June 29, 2005

Euro-radical Islam

Swung by a book store where I saw a Foreign Affairs article titled Europe's Angry Muslims. You can't read it online, but that's OK, the piece is mostly a hurried jumble of assertions. Instead, check out this report, Bearers of Global Jihad? Immigration and National Security after 9/11, which is clearly the source of the article in Foreign Affairs. I haven't read the whole ~150 pages, though I did jump down to the figures and data collection appendix. The point that I found unsurprising, though still concerning, is the prominence of Euro-Muslims in these jihadi movements (that is, second generation+). The unfortuante santorum of the Euro-Muslim cultural interface? Perhaps. So where's the clean-up crew?

Posted by razib at 08:40 PM | | TrackBack

AI and the Human Brain

(I decided to reply to this comment with a post.)

Been Lurkin': “What exactly (i.e. which books, websites, etc.) have you been reading on these topics? I used to be somewhat into this kind of thing like five years ago - I read Kurzweil's book and a lot of the transhumanist stuff on the web - but it doesn't seem like much has changed conceptually since then, although processors are faster and all that.”

I used to follow AI closely. I did work in image recognition. I evaluated expert systems applied to automatic configuration and system tuning. I studied the blackboard planning systems used for navigation systems and neural net systems applied to feature detection in photos. Most methods showed early promise but failed to scale when applied to tough problems or were too slow when interacting with real world events or were too brittle when handling unexpected events. At that time a 10 MIP processor with 256 Meg of RAM was considered a powerful AI platform.

Things have changed.

Hans Moravec: “When will computer hardware match the human brain?”

“matching overall human behavior will take about 100 million MIPS of computer power”

Moravec estimated that such computing power would be commonly available for AI use by 2020. I believe we will reach that point in the next few years.

The teraflops are popping as IBM's Blue Gene performs 135.3 trillion floating point operations per second running benchmark software.”

The Cell processor that will be used in game consoles has:
· Peak performance (single precision): > 256 GFlops
· Peak performance (double precision): >26 GFlops

It is designed to support large multiprocessor architectures. I expect such cheap, powerful processors to significantly enhance AI application performance.

Been Lurkin', you asked for web sites or books on this topic. I’m just starting my search but I found these sites interesting. I don’t yet have a good source for new articles on this topic.

General Interest


Interesting Company

Posted by fly at 06:48 AM | | TrackBack

June 28, 2005

other psychometrics

It occurs to me that many of the people interested in IQ would find it worth their time to investigate other psychometrics. Here (doc) and here would be a few places to start.

I would like to know how well major intellectual accomplishments can be predicted from the combined knowledge of IQ and big 5 personality metrics. I would guess that a good scientist needs high openness, conscientiousness, and low agreeableness almost as much as high IQ, but I could easily be wrong. The would would benefit immensely from a statistical technique that could seperate the Gell-Mans from the Maralyns, or from one which could give us a Harvard class capable of elementary formal reasoning such as is required to complete a Wason Selection task.

Posted by michaelv at 04:22 PM | | TrackBack

honest disagreement

I would like to suggest that many of the people who argue against large genetic influences on behavior are actually doing so in good faith. They assert that environment influences behavior more than genes do because it is obvious that this is the case. It is, for instance, obvious that the difference between the behavior of the African American students and the European students in a typical urban school is trivial compared to the difference between the Franks and their genetic decendents the French, or even compared to the difference between Athens 700BC, Athens 200 BC and Athens 300 AD or between Rome in 0AD, Rome in 1000AD and Rome in 2000AD, or Scandinavia in 1600 and 1900. In a given century, the difference in violence between Columbia and Costa Rica (both Hispanic, 9-fold), between Japan (both East Asian 18-fold), or between Russia and Sweden (both European, 25-fold). By comparison, Linda Gottfredson asserts that intelligence accounts for a 7-fold difference in incarceration rate. If you have any familiarity with anthropology or with history then the evidence that culture matters immensely more than genetics is simply obvious.

The shocking thing which most people don't realize is the underreported lack of measurable statistical consequences of parenting to the development of broad and predictively important measures of general ability or temprament. Obviously, parents can do much to encourage the development of expertise, from provision of a multi-lingual background to raising the Polgars or the Williamses, and expertise is far more impressive than sheer IQ in terms of the magnitude of the difference in ability it creates, and this also makes it seem that parents can obviously make their children smarter. They can do so, but a) in the vast majority of cases they don't, and b) psychometrics are intentionally defined in such a manner as to be resilliant to cultural biases, training, etc. Importantly, defining psychometrics in such a manner as to define traits which are resistant to change does not leave us with predictively unimportant traits. Instead, these traits, which seem to almost entirely reflect genes and random developmental patterns are on a statistical level an extremely good predictor of life-outcomes.

Posted by michaelv at 04:17 PM | | TrackBack

The Rebirth of Hebrew

I have at times been critical of the usual story of the rebirth of Hebrew as a spoken language (last time here). Usually they focus on the fact that the ancient Hebrew language lacked vocabulary for many aspects of modern life, and on the heroic story of Eliezer Ben Yehuda, who discovered and invented many of the missing terms, and raised the first Hebrew-speaking child in 2000 years. My instinctive criticism has been based on a single observation: it is extremely difficult for an adult to learn a foreign language, and it almost never happens that a person will feel completely comfortable speaking a language acquired in adulthood. And yet, millions of Jews did exactly that. For no practical reason, they abandoned their mother tongues for Hebrew - a language, at the time, spoken by nobody. 

This is the real story of the rebirth of Hebrew: that millions of people were persuaded to do this highly unnatural act. It is indeed a miracle (at least, if you will, in the sense of a seemingly highly unlikely event) that millions of Jews suddenly began speaking a "dead" language. It is an event unique in human history, and it is very surprising to me that it has been so little studied with any seriousness.

Before I get into what I contend is the real story, let me review the usual one (all of which is true, by the way, just not as interesting). It goes like this: Hebrew was kept alive for thousands of years after it ceased to be spoken, as a language of scholarship and ritual, through the love of the Jewish people. Toward the end of the 19th century, Jews began to leave their ghettos and participate in modern life. This was accompanied by a flourishing of the Hebrew language, such as hadn't been seen since the Golden Era of Spain, in which Jews wrote in Hebrew about all aspects of life. Eliezer Ben Yehuda moved to the Land of Israel, then ruled by the Turks (the region was not yet called Palestine - that name would be be applied by the British only after World War I) and endeavored to bring about the rebirth of Hebrew as a spoken language. To this end, he compiled a dictionary of 500,000 items, rediscovering Hebrew's lost vocabulary, and inventing hundreds of new terms. He also raised the first Hebrew-speaking family. Others followed his lead, and spoken Hebrew was reborn.

While very nice, no part of this story is unique, except the part that is left unexplained. There are many, many unspoken languages that have been kept alive over long periods of time as literary or ritual languages, among them: Latin, Ancient Greek, Coptic, Ge'ez, Sanskrit, Avestan, Classical Arabic (as different from modern dialects as Latin is to Italian), and Classical Chinese - none of them have been revived as a spoken language. On the other hand, many unwritten dialects have been elevated to written languages: At the time of the rebirth of Hebrew, ethnic minorities around the world were rediscovering their identities, and many spoke languages that lacked vocabulary for modern life. Ben Yehuda's work was certainly important for the revival of Hebrew, and he is justifiably celebrated, but similar things happened in Czech, Modern Greek, Finnish, and many other languages. Unexplained: How were millions of ordinary Jews convinced to abandon their mother tongues?

I have finally discovered the answer, the missing link to the story. On the recommendation of Amritas, I ordered a copy of Language In Time of Revolution by Benjamin Harshav. It is not an easy read. It's written in a dry and academic style, so for lack of time and energy I read only the second of its three parts, which deals directly with the rebirth of Hebrew. (The first part deals with the historical background, and the third with Harshav's translations of primary sources.)

In the last decades of Turkish rule of what would become Israel (at the time there was no one name that referred to the whole area), the language of government was Turkish, the peasants spoke the local dialect of Arabic (which even to this day is not written), the Jews spoke various languages, especially Arabic and Yiddish, and education, such as it was, was mostly conducted in French and German. It was in this milieu that small groups of highly motivated Jews founded new communities of like-minded people with the specific purpose of creating a Jewish community that would embody their ideals, one of which was to speak Hebrew. The new communities included the city of Tel Aviv, numerous small kibbutzim, and other agricultural communities. It is important to understand that these were small self-selected groups: they did something that the vast majority are unwilling, or unable, to do.

It was within this small, self-selected population that Hebrew was reborn as a spoken language. 

But it is not the end of the story: So a small group of isolated, highly motivated, energetic people managed to revitalize Hebrew. How, then, did their numbers grow to the millions that they are today? 

After World War I, Turkey was defeated, and its empire divided between France and Britain. The League of Nations crafted the British Mandate to, among other things, "secure the establishment of the Jewish national home" in Palestine, and Jews began to organize themselves into the polity which was to become Israel. (Actually, even in Turkish times the various religious groups had a certain degree of autonomy, in what was called the millet system, which was preserved under the British Mandate, and persists in Israel to this day.) The Palestinian Jews were heterogeneous - religiously, politically, and linguistically. The dominant languages among them were Arabic and Yiddish, neither of which were used for intellectual purposes. Indeed, the intellectual languages had been French and German, but were about to be superseded by English. This state of diversity and flux was probably a contributing factor to the success of Hebrew, but was not, in my opinion, the main one, especially considering the fact that almost all Hebrew speakers at the time were native speakers of Yiddish, which could easily have followed the path of development of languages such as Czech. The reason Hebrew succeeded: The same, self-selected, group that pioneered the revitalization of Hebrew also became the leaders of the Jewish community in Palestine.

And from then on, we are back to ordinary sociolinguistic processes. It has happened many, many times that a language spoken by a small but important group of people has supplanted a much more widely-spoken language. To name just a few instances from historical times (many more can be reconstructed from linguistic evidence): Latin in the western Mediterranean, Greek in the eastern Mediterranean, Arabic in Mesopotamia, the Levant, and North Africa, Hungarian in Hungary, English in Ireland. In Palestine, at the beginning of the 20th century, that language was Hebrew.


ADDENDUM: At the end of book 2, Harshav examines the question of whether modern Hebrew is really a "European" language. While he doesn't go quite so far as to say that it is, he seems to think that it has been heavily Europeanized. I take issue with this claim. First of all, a speaker of modern Hebrew can understand the language of the Bible about as easily as a speaker of modern English can understand its King James translation, and Mishnaic (Talmudic) Hebrew is about as close to modern Hebrew as 17th or 18th-century English is to the modern language. That's pretty close, I would say. Harshav quotes a typical paragraph from a newspaper, and has this to say about it:

1. International words: kilometer, television, Antarctica, July, cabinet, Africa, NBC.

2. New Hebrew words for international terms: race, [television] networks, missile, launched, report, nuclear weapons, Minister of Trade and Industry, area (in the sense of geographical area), the United States.

3. Phrases that represent Euro-American concepts: "has broadcast information stating that," "a certain place," "standard version," "denied reports," "nuclear weapons," "fifth of July," "Israel will not be the first," "confined himself to stating the standard version"

4. The microsyntax, concerning contiguous words, or immediate constituents, is essentially Hebrew: the coordination of verb and noun; the use of the definite article, prepositions, and connectives; the genitive phrases. Yet, the macrosyntax is European: the sentence in the first paragraph accumulates five stages of states of affairs, which could not be done in the syntax of traditional texts.

I find points 1-3 very odd. How can you talk about things that go on in the modern world without having words for them? Are those words intrinsically Euro-American because the objects and concepts they refer to were mostly invented by Euro-Americans? He even admits in the next paragraph that: "the roots of most of the words are Hebrew or quasi-Hebrew"! Point 4 is more interesting, it is the point I was addressing in the link above. It seems to me that the major transformation in the (written) language was not from Semitic to European, but from a language meant to be spoken to a language meant to be read. The Mishnaic texts were transmitted orally before they were written down, and their "macrosyntax" reflects that. A similar observation can be made in English when comparing the works of Chaucer (which were meant to be read aloud) to modern texts. For that matter, even today a well-written speech will have simplified sentence structure. Would you say that the language of Chaucer and Reagan is really Semitic? It should be pointed out that all this European macrosyntax is achieved in Hebrew with the ancient set of particles, in other words the difference is one of degree not kind: no new kind of sentence structure has been invented. Indeed, the Hebrew of Maimonides (1135-1204), who was a native Arabic (Semitic language) speaker, has a macrosyntax not far from the modern idiom. Is complex sentence structure a European characteristic or simply a modern one? Put another way, does a reading (as opposed to listening) audience inevitably lead to more complex sentence structure? I would be interested in data from other languages.

(Cross-posted at Rishon Rishon.)

Posted by David Boxenhorn at 12:08 AM | | TrackBack

June 27, 2005

Iranian secularism?

Free Inquiry1 has two articles online, The Next Secular Revolution? and A Secular Student in Tehran Committed to Change, highlighting the situation for secularism in Iran.2 The timing is a bit off, juxtaposed against the recent victory of the religious conservative in the Iranian elections, but to some extent this is probably the result of disengagement of much of the youth electorate from politics. Two points struck me about the first article, first, it refers to burnings of Korans3 during Tchahr Shanbe Souri, the traditional Persian fire festival, and second, one of the figures profiled offers that many Iranians are switching from their Muslim names (including Mohammed) to Persian ones. This heterodoxy jives with reports that I read in the mid-to-late 1990s that textbooks about "Eastern" religions sold very well in Iranian college bookstores, indicating that students were buying them for their personal edification as opposed to just for class requirements. A shift toward a more "Persian" (quotes because only 60% of Iranians speak Farsi as their native language) identity seems a common variation of a regular cross-cultural theme, that is, nationalists and dissidents emphasizing one aspect of their history and identity at the expensive of another.

This is not to suggest that Iran is going to be run by secularists anytime soon, only a small minority of Iranians will embrace secular humanism. But, a public and vigorous rationalist-secularist movement can be influential, even in an overwhelmingly religious society. India is a good model for this, it has an active rationalist society which challenges "God-men"4 and many prominent figures have been religiously skeptical (Nehru was an agnostic by profession). Though certainly I think there are legitimate qualms with secularism in terms of how it has been applied in India,5 I still hold that it has been a positive force when judged in light of the withering of secularism in next door Pakistan.6 In many Muslim nations there are many secular humanists in the private domain, but unlike India or Western nations, these individuals are not a public force because of strong social sanctions against espousal of beliefs which seem inimical to Islam in the public domain.7 I think the breaking of this taboo is an important sign of cultural maturity, or at least a move toward "modernity" (as is the freedom to convert to other religions). The West made this shift around 1800, as isolated mavericks like Frederick the Great were succeeded by mass anti-clerical movements.

[notes below]

1 - The house magazine of the Council for Secular Humanism.

2 - The print edition has an interview with Michael Ledeen by Ibn Warraq.

3 - I am normally amenable to pedantic spellings, but on the Koran vs. Qur'an controversy I go old school because the latter transliteration is meant to convey sounds that don't exist in English and is confusing. Not to be offensive, but it reminds me of some names you see in fantasy books for Elves, with apostrophes thrown in for exotic effect.

4 - The aims are ecumenically antogonistic, the rationalists disrupt and challenge Hindus, Muslims and Christians. Of course the overwhelming majority of Indians are credulous and superstitious peasants nonetheless, but the rationalists bear witness to modern sentiments and an ancient tradition of skepticism (the Carvakas).

5 - I tend to agree with the contention that it has not been evenhanded, being more antagonistic toward majoritarian religious sentiments but tolerant of minoritarian prejudices.

6 - Muhammed Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, was I believe as much a Muslim as Nehru was a Hindu. That is, both were personally disinclined toward any religious enthusiasm, but they were leaders of the Muslim and Hindu "nations" respectively.

7 - Heterodox and skeptical thinkers are not unknown in Islamic civilization. The blind poet of al Maari is one such example, but artists are different than public intellectuals in the amount of indulgence they might receive from the powers that be. Ibn Rushd, from what I know, did not publicize his most radical philosophical conclusions which challenged Islamic orthodoxy (here I go with the Arabic spelling because it seems reasonable in terms of the transliteration, and "Averroes" is greatly deviated from the native form. Additionally, unlike Confucius, Ibn Rushd is obscure enough to the lay audience that one can discard the Latinized form).

Posted by razib at 11:57 PM | | TrackBack

Empire (Rome that is, though really it is the Principate)

ABC unveils a miniseries, Empire, about the rise of Augustus tonight (6 parts). Normally I don't watch the toob anymore, but I might check this out, the review in The New York Times suggests that the series is to ancient Rome what Taco Bell is to Mexican food. But hey, are you going to Oaxaca to get some authentic mole anytime soon? And the The New York Times piece suggests that HBO is going to be presenting your with more authentic sword and sandal fare this fall....

Posted by razib at 10:57 PM | | TrackBack

Corpus Juris Civilis and Common Law

People should really read these two encyclopedia entries, Corpus Juris Civilis and Common Law. It is a big part of the "Who we are" as Westerners....

Posted by razib at 03:14 PM | | TrackBack

June 26, 2005

Eurasian faces....

This Sydney Morning Herald piece summarizes a paper that asserts that:

...In experiment 1, Caucasian participants rated own-race composites as more attractive than other-race composites, but only for male faces. However, mixed-race (Caucasian/Japanese) composites were significantly more attractive than own-race composites, particularly for the opposite sex. In experiment 2, Caucasian and Japanese participants living in Australia and Japan, respectively, selected the most attractive face from a continuum with exaggerated Caucasian characteristics at one end and exaggerated Japanese characteristics at the other, with intervening images including a Caucasian averaged composite, a mixed-race averaged composite, and a Japanese averaged composite. The most attractive face was, again, a mixed-race composite, for both Caucasian and Japanese participants. In experiment 3, Caucasian participants rated individual Eurasian faces as significantly more attractive than either Caucasian or Asian faces.

If you read the full paper (23 pages of PDF, if you don't have access to this paper use this link) you will note that they recruited Eurasian individuals for these experiments, that is, a real population instead of just a hypothetical composite created from the Asian and Caucasian test subjects.

The authors suggest that "attractiveness" (in this case for "average" face composites) is not based on "prototypical" features since Caucasians and Asians preferred Eurasian faces, which would not be "prototypical" of their own population. Instead, they posit that "health" is being signalled. It all seems a bit thin to me, and the authors admit that preference for "Eurasians" could not have evolved in any EEA, since by definition Asians and Caucasians would have been shaped by selection forces in a different environment and population. As for the argument about heterozygosity...my impression is that biologists have had a hard time finding genuine heterozygote advantage in the natural world.1 Of course, Armand Leroi has recently been contending that interracial individuals will mask deleterious recessive traits, but that presupposes a high level of genetic load in the source populations. At this point, I think we should look to the flies and mice before assuming too much about humans.2

Update: Hm...well, I was pointed to this paper that argues that males who are heterozygous on MHC loci are more facially attractive than not:

...Here, we show that heterozygosity at three key loci in the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) is associated with facial attractiveness: Faces of men who are heterozygous at all three loci are judged more attractive by women than faces of men who are homozygous at one or more of these loci. MHC genes code for proteins involved in immune response....
This is very suggestive, though past research has offered conflicting results on female preference of MHC profiles.3 I stated earlier that there haven't been enough finds of heterozygote advantage in nature for biologists to be able to explain the extent of polymorphism within populations, but of course since much of the lab research is done on flies and worms it might not be totally relevant to humans. Only higher vertebrates have adaptive immune systems, so the MHC genes and their immune phenotype might not fall within expectation.

Addendum: I assume readers will play by the maxim: my aesthetic preferences aren't everyone's aesthetic preferences, and arguments from personal incredulity or deep introspection are frowned upon. I also suggest you read the paper if you are going to comment on it.

1 - This is why William Hamilton appealed to long term frequency dependent effects, while some theorists are looking to synergistic epistasis as the theoretical underpinning for the ubiquity of sex in complex organisms.

2 - The beauty of multiracial individuals is probably somewhat in vogue in the cultural zeitgeist right now, but let us recall that a century ago mixed individuals were assumed to be maladapted and unfit mongrels, so perceptions can change based on cultural preconceptions.

3 - That research is not totally orthogonal, if females prefer similar MHC profiles than their children are more likely to be homozygous at a locus than if they prefer dissimilar MHC profiles.

Posted by razib at 08:49 PM | | TrackBack

Great article about King of the Hill in The New York Times Magazine, the only point where I would demur is that the "Hank Hills" of the world could ever be part of a Democratic coalition again. The red-meat-eating, Wal-Mart shopping and gun-owning lifestyle induces such a visceral reaction (and vice versa) among a certain segment of the core Democratic electorate that I don't know if an alliance could get beyond the emotional aversion.

Posted by razib at 04:22 PM | | TrackBack

Endless Forms not so important....

Jerry Coyne, coauthor of Speciation, has a mildly negative review of Sean Carroll's Endless Forms Most Beautiful (my short take here) up at Nature. Coyne states that, "...but its faintly self-congratulatory message - that the most important problems in understanding the evolution of development have been solved - left me feeling uncomfortable." He goes on to offer:

...But the underlying statistics are deceptive; even a 1% difference in DNA sequence implies a substantial difference in protein sequence. We now know that humans and chimps have different amino-acid sequences in at least 55% of their proteins, a figure that rises to 95% for humans and mice. Thus we can't exclude protein-sequence evolution as an important reason why we lack whiskers and tails.

If you read this weblog you know that glib generalizations based on a commonly used figure in the literature can be deceptive. I personally believe, from my reading of Carroll's book, that Coyne has taken his message the wrong way. Carroll seems to be arguing that gene regulation (that is, variable expression) has been the most important neglected factor in understanding the evolution of development. Certainly new technology for assaying gene expression has blown the lid off of many of the limitations on collecting enough data. Additionally, any biologist who writes for a lay audience seems to get a bit carried away and want to package their message as the One Great Truth. Both Coyne and Carroll are certainly correct to some extent, and I doubt that the viewpoint of either one will carry the day in the end. I suspect that the importance of gene duplication, alternative regulation, and direct nonsynonymous changes to the DNA sequence will be measured by the factor which looms largest in the uniqueness of humanity, that is, what separates us from the chimpanzees.1

Evolgen has more.

1 - Regional Patterns of Gene Expression in Human and Chimpanzee Brains, Genome Res. 2004 Aug;14(8):1462-73.

Posted by razib at 12:50 PM | | TrackBack