Friday, January 5. 2018
It’s not really adaptationist selection vs (female) aesthetic selection. The best way to understand it is to set aside birds and birdsong and plumage and vision and hearing and sexual selection and just consider (gustatory) taste:
What is an organism, and what is “environment”? We feel like eating because we feel hungry. It feels like something to be hungry, and it feels like something to slake your hunger on food you can consume. (These are called the proximal stimuli.) So we have a taste for the nutritious and an aversion for the toxic. But things come in degrees and variety. So an organism’s taste co-evolves with what’s available in the environment, and that co-evolution includes Baldwinian evolution (evolved propensity to learn and do things that did us good): we discover fire and cooking, we accidentally burn some food, it tastes good to our current (evolved) taste-detectors; then this opens up many new targets for eating that would not have been edible if raw; we start to experiment with cooking them, and even cultivating them, and we manage to feed ourselves better and more, and our tastes change because of this change, to adapt to the new landscape we’ve created. But there’s no adaptive advantage to the (vegan) lentil soup I happen to prefer over fried tofu. Nor to Beethoven over Spohr (at least until Trump de-funds and stigmatizes Beethoven and subsidizes social events and performances featuring Spohr, and his successor dynasty of presidents, Ivanka, Barron, et al., keep following suit, promoting and rewarding the preference…)
With birdsong and plumage, it’s two genders doing the tango. The “environment” for the male is the female’s current preference mechanism; the “environment” for the female is the male’s current anatomical and performance resources. Of course they keep co-evolving. But it’s not adaptationist pragmatics versus arbitrary subjective aesthetics. The current “tastes” are just a rough, provisional (evolved) preference mechanism, grounded in its adaptiveness, but leaving lots of degrees of freedom, flexibility for evolution and co-evolution. (Including learned taste preferences — which can then go on to become inborn dispositions, by Baldwinian evolution...)
Two principles I’ve noticed with evolution: Natural selection does not like to make behavior too rigid, nor even to pre-encode much of it. If anything can be off-loaded on predictable environmental cues rather than being inflexibly encoded in the genes, it will be. That means that at any particular time there is a lot of variety, genetically and behaviorally. This is evident already in the huge genetic variance among individuals (and its ultimate advantages, in the long run); recombinant DNA itself. It’s evident in neoteny, where evolution, rather than being driven only or mainly by mutations, often just capitalizes on the existing variation, for example, accelerating or slowing existing developmental patterns if they prove useful.
So there’s an adaptive bottom line, but a lot of the actual action is in the available run-time degrees of freedom.
The key is to remember that female tastes are not sui generis: They were shaped (roughly) by adaptive consequences, but with a lot of wiggle room. The wiggle room we call, among other things, aesthetics.
Michael Ryan and Sarah Wooley might be touching on some of this at The other minds problem: animal sentience and cognition
Tuesday, November 28. 2017
Re: The West's Leftist Male 'Intellectuals' Who Traffic in Genocide Denial, From Srebrenica to Syria (Oz Katerji, Haaretz)I have no idea about all this. Although I am suspicious about journalists' (sometimes unconscious yet systematic) complicity in state agendas (which Chomsky has repeatedly exposed), the Serbian genocides have all the hallmarks of having been real (though I suspect all sides would have done likewise, if they had had a chance).
I think the attributions of “conspiracy theory” to Chomsky sound suspiciously shrill. It sounds like there’s an agenda at work here (in this Haaretz article) too.
I do agree that some (perhaps a lot) of Chomsky’s following is cult-like. But that may be true of all activism. (I see it in the animal movement too.)
And I never understood how Chomsky managed to be so well-informed about US/UK crimes, but he was. It would be a disappointment if his uncanny spider-like global vigilance had fallen prey to misinformation (together with wishful thinking) but it may occasionally have happened. He has admitted other errors (such as endorsing the work of a Nazi holocaust denier) so I don’t think he himself is in the grip of a cult — but he is by now 88 and statistics suggest cognitive decline is increasing in likelihood just as the the global plot is increasing in complexity and subterfuge in an unprecedented era of mass networked rumor and disinformation, including state disinformation.
I just don’t know; perhaps one no longer can.
Saturday, November 11. 2017
A darwinian mistake
that will eventually auto-correct
in the usual darwinian
A bloody blip
yeah, true. There have been so far worse catastrophes before... so comforting.Not worse.
The slow agony
of our prey species'
(i.e. all other species’)
has no parallel
Our sole modicum
has been for our own
and we don’t deserve it
a blip:it matters
to our victims
and it’s all that matters
or ever did
is for souls
only they matter
or matter most
For their victims:
in this life
Thursday, November 9. 2017
Tuesday, November 7. 2017
Fisher's hypothesis (about quantum tunneling effects in biology) - probably false, but not absurd - concerns physiological functioning, as in photosynthesis.
But it has absolutely nothing to do with consciousness (sentience).
[And it certainly does not justify the pseudo-scientific lithium experiment with rats (an experiment that apparently even failed to replicate).]
Quantum physics, one of the most powerful and successful theories in the history of science, still has its problems, even paradoxes. Just as cognitive neuroscience has its problem: its paradox is sentience.
Churchill said (about Russia): "It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma".
Concerning quantum mechanics and consciousness, I would say that we cannot resolve a paradox (in one domain) with a paradox (from another domain).
Quantum computation (already a controversial field), if it turns out to be practical, could have a biological role - but already in photosynthesis (which does not enter consciousness…)
(One can draw one's inspiration from anywhere, from anything, including having been relieved of depression by Prozac: the chemical effect on our consciousness may surprise us, as does any question about chemistry and consciousness; and if we struggle with the perplexities of quantum mechanics it can give us associative ideas: mysteries have affinities: that's what, in other minds, gives birth to the soul, immortal and immaterial, to the omnipotent and omniscient creator and to the mysteries of transubstantiation and the trinity ...)
Monday, October 30. 2017
There is no need for vegans to worry about protein; as you eat a wide variety of (organic) grain, beans, nuts, vegetables, greens and fruit) your own metabolism adjusts your tastes and preferences so what’s most important for your body will become the most tasty.
In all my years as a vegetarian (which is almost the same as being a carnivore because you are still consuming animal protein) my palate hardly changed from when I ate meat. My mainstay were dairy and eggs, plus some starch foods. I was not particularly interested in greens or beans or grains, etc. Now I love them, and I have even begun to cook, which I never did, all those years. And it’s not because I can’t get enough of the food I like, but because I now like so many more foods!
I think the key is animal protein: We are metabolically omnivores. We are capable of living on almost exclusively meat, if we can get it (carnivore mode). But we are also capable of living on exclusively non-meat (herbivore mode). And the biological “cue” for which mode we are in is animal protein.
I don’t think the cue is graded (i.e., I don’t think that the less animal protein you eat, the more appetite you have for vegetables): I think it’s more like an on-off switch between the two modes (which, for me, took 8 months to become perceptible): Once your body is getting no animal protein at all, the metabolic switch is set to herbivore mode, and both your appetite and your way of metabolizing what you eat changes (in my case, dramatically, because I could compare it with almost 50 years of being a vegetarian, which is just a form of carnivore).
The switch is not irreversible. We can start eating meat again and it (much more quickly) switches back. I think this has to do with our evolutionary history: availability of food varied seasonally, climatically and geographically (and we migrated a lot): we were opportunistic omnivores, and ate what we could. Sometimes many generations (or much longer) some of our ancestral populations had to make do with no meat at all, or, as in the frozen north, on almost nothing but meat. Our metabolism is adapted for both.
It’s also adapted for opportunistic theft, rape, murder, infanticide, genocide, domination, torture and enslavement.
But that’s no excuse for doing it when you no longer have to. And we no longer have to steal, rape, murder etc. today (and certainly not in the civilized, prosperous, law-based parts of the world).
And killing sentient organisms for food is one of the things we no longer have to do in order to survive and be healthy.
So if we keep doing it, it is -- as with stealing, rape and domination -- just because we feel like it, because we have cultivated a taste for it — and not out of biological necessity.
Friday, October 6. 2017
About my interruptive/interactive quote/comment compulsion: Yes, it is treating a written text as a real-time conversation (in which you don’t normally hear the end till you reach the end).
Some (many) mea-culpas: Even in real oral conversations, I tend to interrupt before the person gets to finish, sometimes because I have already anticipated the finish or think I have (I’m of course sometimes/often wrong) and sometimes because I’m just impatient to reply (often because I’m afraid I’ll forget otherwise).
In my defence, on my own end, I don’t much speechify; I say my bit with minimal words, so as not to subject the other party to the kind of frustration I feel when someone is being long-winded. (I stop reading novels as well as monographs, too, when it’s obvious (or so I think) where they’re going, and it’s just words).
I think my interruptingness is also related in some way to my indiscretion, my saying things I shouldn’t say, divulging secrets, partly even a Trumpian hyperbole, stating things that I conjecture or wish were so as if they were fact. There is a definite impulsive/compulsive component to these ejaculations.
And of course the failure of open access and skywriting, which was specifically motivated by my belief that everyone was inclined and inspired to real-time interactivity, as I was — but instead turned out to be an olympic event at which I perhaps excelled but for which no one but me had any interest or appetite!
I tell it (or perhaps rationalize it) all here:
Harnad, S. (2003/2004) Back to the Oral Tradition Through Skywriting at the Speed of Thought. Interdisciplines.
(It’s against my nature, having said all this, to refer anyone to chapter-and-verse instead of just restating it simply and compactly on the spot, so I’ll say it: I thought the human brain (and thinking itself) evolved language for real-time, “online" exchanges at the speed of thought, not for the long, offline monologues that later supplemented it across time, space, and generations, in the form of writing and print.)
But it was just a fantasy, based on a compulsive quirk of mine.
‘Nuff said. Since then I have learned what I knew (as we all know) already, but had ducked for 50 years: It’s not about me (unlike this bit of self-indulgent self-flagellation).
Sunday, September 3. 2017
The other-minds problem
Tuesday, May 9. 2017
June 2 1992
This 'sage petite fille'
was not always so sage.
cured her juvenile 'rages.'
"Don't pass pers'nal remarks,"
her Miss Fallows would say;
so safe are our foibles
with her to this day.
As in reading to Papa
she'd skip 'faits divers,'
parts marked 'don't read' in novels
were as if they weren't there.
Not that all one demanded
would she do to please:
to this day she'll sit only
on gentlemen's knees.
From her first glimpse of D'Anunzio,
with his fabled gloves of green,
through the trash-can with Herr Tillich:
much flirtation has there been.
And how often has she chuckled
when we cite some grand persona:
"Ah, comme il était charmant, c'ui-la,
et un Grand Flirt à moi!"
But all these flirtations
count as nothing at all
since that fated tea in Brussels
when Gaby met her Paul.
Ever trusting intuitions,
what she wrote she knew was right
when she resolved they'd "Pass NOT
Like Ships in the Night."
So with the Bruxelle Banque seal
and a sense of certainty
was Gabrielle duly delivered to the
"Forêts sauvages de la Germanie."
There Paul at once discovered,
with a little more than pride,
his prenuptial scientific lecture delivered,
he had married a "verry intelligentt brride."
Their Odyssey to Princeton
now is history:
Sans their goûters and déjeuners,
oh where would we all be?
So thank you, Gabrielle,
for sharing this, your centenaire:
See you fin-de-siecle to
usher in the millenaire!
Monday 25 August 1997
I am sorry I could not say goodbye to you in person, while you were
here. Now that you are everywhere, even this email proxy will reach you
wherever you are. You of course believed -- and were right -- that we
are nowhere when we are no longer alive. But in the same breath, you
would have understood exactly what we meant when we said you would be
You were the vanguard for many, many of us. Our life-voyage always
followed territory that had already been charted in advance and
certified as safe for passage by you. It was reassuring to think
"Gabrielle is ahead of us, and there is no way we can overtake her to
pass! She'll ALWAYS be ahead of us" (as the Tortoise said to
But to think you'd always be ahead of us was perhaps to commit the same
inductive fallacy that the chicken commits, when she thinks there will
always be a tomorrow. For here we are in a world that is -- for the first
time for any of us -- Gabrielle-less. And yet how can it be
Gabrielle-less, if we are here, at 57 Princeton Avenue, remembering,
talking about you?
You used to say, after Paul died, that you wished people would talk to
you about him more. We failed you in this regard, and I'm not sure why.
It's probably because we each had our own side of Paul, one that we
thought was our very own, and that we also knew there was a side of Paul
that was completely reserved for Gaby -- despite those many
flirtations about which the agreement had been that you need describe
them to one another only in "generalities."
You continued your voyage for nearly two decades without Paul, but you
stated clearly from the outset that your heart was not in it. You
continued the dejeuners for as long as your health permitted, and your
gouters continued to the last. If asked, you would have said it was all
"de la tenue," because it would be ungracious to do otherwise. And yet
we know that was not entirely true. You genuinely loved your many
friends, and even some women too. (Lewis Carroll's "I love children,
except boys" has an echo here!)
There was a brilliant, eccentric Hungarian mathematician -- not John
Von Neuman, whom you knew, but Paul Erdős -- about whom it was said
that if you collaborated directly with Paul Erdős [pronounced
"err-dirsh"], then you have an Erdos number of 1; if you collaborated
with a collaborator of Erdos, your Erdős number was 2. Well it turns
out that once you reach an Erdős number of 4, you have exhausted the
ranks of the elite mathematicians -- Fields Medal calibre -- the world over.
We all have a Gabrielle number of 1. You are everywhere because those
Gabrielle numbers will just keep growing and growing.
Bises et adieu, Etienne
Monday, May 8. 2017
verba volant, scripta manent... sanguis fluit
I am not
a failed novelist
a failed poet
When I try
to tell a tale
to sing a song
It's not my consolation prize
but a precious realization
that not orgasms
neither having them
nor giving them
but mercy only
Sunday, April 30. 2017
Autopilot of my soul
One of the most (morbidly) interesting things
about cognitive aging
is that it is not the things you do deliberately
one by one,
to betray and abandon you:
It’s the things your brain has always done for you automatically,
your autopilot functions
(and there have been so many, you come to discover)
that begin to jump ship,
leaving you more and more on your own,
realizing (too late)
that it's never been you
doing all these things all along:
they’ve always been done for you.
And now -- now -- you’re the one
who has to take over.
Monday, April 17. 2017
Some interesting features of the “post-truth” time-warp that we’re all finding ourselves in:
1. The web empowers anyone to start rumors.It’s a kind of a perverse side-effect of what Karl Popper pointed out about scientific theories: Unlike mathematical theorems, you can never prove they’re true, only that they’re false (with one piece of negative evidence). And evidence is subject to interpretation.
It reminds one also of the malleability and mutability of laws and constitutions: They too depend on interpretation. And interpretation depends on authoritative opinion. And authority is conferred on the basis of… take your pick: popular opinion or authoritarian diktat.
Online-era populism may be the soft underbelly of democracy.
Let’s hope the US labyrinth of checks and balances can weather the post-truth storm. Hungary’s is already a shipwreck.
Sunday, April 2. 2017
The parrot rhythm videos all over youtube are funny, sort of, and interesting.
Probably our common origins in big-beat rhythm entrainment (though no idea why: possibly courtship display? some sort of social contagion? doesn’t look like aggressivity).
Interesting that it’s shown by the only other species that can imitate speech. Would they do it with a rhythmic visual stimulus alone?
Reminds me vaguely of the (vaguely repulsive) baby rhythm videos (which put me off partly because of the vulgar adult movements in the toddlers and partly because of the vulgar music)
I wonder if parrots also imitate movement?
(Maybe it’s just me, but something feels non-innocent in videos like these, something reminiscent of circus-display on-cue: the kind of music, the kind of movement, the kind of people. Maybe I’m just post-april-fools-day-pausal today… but I much prefer to see tenderness, empathy, tentativeness, and, yes, respect, toward animals, and especially captive ones. Ditto for babies.)
Tuesday, July 19. 2016
Jane Mayer: Donald Trump's Ghostwriter Tells It AllWhat a shocking article! And yet we all knew it already. It has been there all along in every word Trump mouthed, every grotesque grimace, every vulgar gesture, and the limitless emissions of nasty, mendacious braggadocio and shameless hype. And the utter vacuity.
Schwartz, for all his purported pangs of conscience, is not worthy of sympathy for his part in this lurid lay of lies. He is most Trump-like when he effects remorse for having “made” Trump: No, he took some of Trump’s vile tricks and made them his own, using them to spin a tall tale that would enrich them both. He became a Trump(et). The ghost in the megalomane. It’s no wonder that his confessions are now being channelled by Jane Mayer rather than being told in his own voice. It is indeed his own credibility that he has done in with his self-serving strumpetry. (And yet it’s better that he’s decided to come clean, and now, before the election, rather than after. If (and only if) he is genuinely repenting, his own story has a tinge of tragedy, whereas Trump’s is all heinousness and hubris.)
But at least Schwartz is not running for president of the United States. Surely the most shocking part of all this — and the one that is the most to blame — is this charlatan’s open-eyed, cheering following. Has the US indeed become a Trump nation, ethically and aesthetically blind, oblivious to all this, or an accomplice in it?
Yet the homology with Hungary's Viktor Orban is loud and clear too: the lies, the hype, the manipulation, the philistinism, the megalomania… the psychopathy. And a fair harbinger of what's in store in the U.S. if Trump's tranche of the electorate prevails.
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