A new Evo-psych take on dreams

Also from Evolutionary Psychology, an evolutionary explanation for dreams.

“This paper presents an evolutionary argument for the role of dreams in the development of human cognitive processes. While a theory by Revonsuo proposes that dreams allow for threat rehearsal and therefore provide an evolutionary advantage, the goal of this paper is to extend this argument by commenting on other fitness-enhancing aspects of dreams. Rather than a simple threat rehearsal mechanism, it is argued that dreams reflect a more general virtual rehearsal mechanism that is likely to play an important role in the development of human cognitive capacities. This paper draws on current work in cognitive neuroscience and philosophy of mind in developing the argument.”

Explaining societal differences through evo-psych

Via Political Theory Daily, Nigel Baber offers evolutionary explanations for societal differences in single parenthood in Evolutionary Psychology.

“The new research strategy presented in this paper, Evolutionary Social Science, is designed to bridge the gap between evolutionary psychology that operates from the evolutionary past and social science that is bounded by recent history. Its core assumptions are (1) that modern societies owe their character to an interaction of hunter-gatherer adaptations with the modern environment; (2) that changes in societies may reflect change in individuals; (3) that historical changes and cross-societal differences are due to the same adaptational mechanisms, and (4) that different social contexts (e.g., social status) modify psychological development through adaptive mechanisms. Preliminary research is reviewed concerning historical, societal, and cross-national variation in single parenthood as an illustration of the potential usefulness of this new approach. Its success at synthesizing the evidence demonstrates that the time frames of evolutionary explanation and recent history can be bridged.”

Karl Marx wins BBC Radio 4’s Greatest Philosopher poll

BBC Radio 4’s Greatest Philosopher poll is over. The results:

  1. Karl Marx, 27.93%
  2. David Hume, 12.67% (my vote)
  3. Ludwig Wittgenstein, 6.80% 
  4. Friedrich Nietzsche, 6.49%
  5. Plato, 5.65% 
  6. Immanuel Kant, 5.61% 
  7. St. Thomas Aquinas, 4.83% 
  8. Socrates, 4.82%
  9. Aristotle, 4.52% 
  10. Karl Popper, 4.20%

The top two remind me of a story told by Sidney Morgenbesser

In the late 1960s, Sidney taught the first course on Marx offered by Columbia University’s philosophy department.  His take on Marx was very methodological individualist, and his interpretation was similar to a rational choice reading of Marx that would later come to be called “analytic Marxism”.  A young faculty member, who, as Sidney put it, “was then to the left of me, is now to the right of me,” sat in on the class.  After the course was over, Sidney asked his colleague what he thought of the course, to which his colleague replied, “Sidney, that was the best class on David Hume I’ve ever taken.”

‘The Secret Man’: The Insider

Christopher Hitchens in The New York Times:

Hitchspan IN the spring of 1976 I took myself to the first available screening of ”All the President’s Men,” and sat enthralled in the darkness as Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman and Jason Robards portrayed the men I only wished I could be. When the lights came up at the conclusion, I discovered several of my journalistic colleagues dotted around the cinema, slumped thoughtfully in their seats. Our eyes met glancingly: we all knew what we were covertly thinking. If only. . . . And one day. . . .

More here.

Fictional States!

One of the best gifts I got this year was a subscription to Cabinet magazine. The new issue out now is all about “Fictional States” of various kinds, including the kind described here:

‘Call them micro-nations, model countries, ephemeral states, or new country projects, the world is surprisingly full of entities that display all the trappings of established independent states, yet garner none of the respect. The Republic of Counani, Furstentum Castellania, Palmyra, the Hutt River Province, and the Empire of Randania may sound fantastical, but they are a far cry from authorial inventions, like C.S. Lewis’s Narnia or Swift’s Laputa. For while uncertain territories like the Realm of Redonda might not be locatable in your atlas, they do claim a very genuine existence in reality, maintaining geographical boundaries, flaunting governmental structures, and displaying the ultimate necessity for any new nation: flags. Admittedly they may be little more than loose threads on the patchwork of nations, but these micro-nations offer their founders a much sought-after prize—sovereignty.’

More here from ‘New Foundlands,’ by George Pendle.

The print edition carries a curious leaflet, pasted on top of the masthead page, purporting to be from the printers of Cabinet, who claim that they are tired of having to correct the editors’ lazy proofreading. Fictional states…

‘Pakistan’s girl wonder’ is likely the youngest certified Microsoft expert

There has been a lot of negative attention focused on Pakistanis since it became apparent that the craven idiots who perpetrated the London bombings were of Pakistani origin. One of those bombers, Shahzad Tanweer, (or at least his family) came originally from the city of Faisalabad in the Punjab province of Pakistan. Lest we start making broad generalizations about Pakistanis, I present this item about a young girl, also from the fair city of Faisalabad:

Todd Bishop in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

226arfa14_programmerSitting down for a personal meeting with Bill Gates this week, 10-year-old Arfa Karim Randhawa asked the Microsoft founder why the company doesn’t hire people her age.

Under the circumstances, the question wasn’t so unreasonable.

Arfa, a promising software programmer from Faisalabad, Pakistan, is believed to be the youngest Microsoft Certified Professional in the world. The designation, given to outside experts who prove their ability to work with Microsoft technologies, has also been achieved by some teenagers. But it’s far more common among adults seeking to advance their computer careers.

Arfa received the certification when she was still 9, an impressive accomplishment in its own right, according to older programmers who have gone through the process.

More here, including an interview with young Arfa.  And there is more here, here, and here.  [Thanks to Sahabzada Abdus Samad Khan.]

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Concert Postsecret is a weired and wonderful community art project where people mail-in their secrets anonymously on one side of a homemade postcard. Each postcard reveals something. Some secrets are painful, others are funny, all of them are very private. In a world of instant exhibitionism it is amazing to feel the power of the hidden emotions being released. (via cool Hunting)

“The question I am asked most often is,”which secret is your favorite?” My favorite postcard is one I have never seen. In fact, it was never mailed to me. I learned about it recently from an email I received.

“…I was very excited because I too had a secret I wanted to post. I thought long and hard about how I wanted to word my secret and I searched for the perfect postcard to display it on. After I had created my postcard I stepped back to admire my handiwork. Instead of feeling relieved that I had finally got my secret out, I felt terrible instead. It was right then that I decided that I didn’t want to be the person with that secret any longer. I ripped up my postcard and I decided to start making some changes in my life…”

If someday I find an envelope in my mailbox with the pieces of that ripped-up secret, I will be sure to share it here.

An almost psychotically optimistic hope: Paulos on Penrose

Redes23marzo05_1John Allen Paulos reviews The Road to Reality: A Complete Guide to the Laws of the Universe by Roger Penrose, in his monthly Who’s Counting column at ABC News:

The first 400 pages of “The Road to Reality” sketch the mathematics needed to understand the physics of the following 700 pages. Like many mathematicians, Penrose is an avowed Platonist who believes that mathematical entities such as pi, infinite cardinal numbers, and the Mandelbrot set are simply “out there” and have an objective existence independent of us.

PenroseDeveloping his mathematical philosophy a bit with some interesting speculations about the relations between the mathematical, physical, and mental worlds (but never descending to sappy theology), he very soon gets into the mathematical nitty-gritty. He expounds on Dedekind cuts, conformal mappings, Riemann surfaces, Fourier transforms, Grassmann products, tensors, Lie algebras, symmetry groups, covariant derivatives, and fiber bundles among many other notions.

As suggested, the level of exposition and the topics covered make me wonder about the intended audience. Penrose writes that he’d like the book to be accessible to those who struggled with fractions in school, but this seems an almost psychotically optimistic hope. This is especially so because Penrose’s approach to so many topics is so clever and novel.

More here.

Summer Reading

From The Edge:

Summerbooksmosiac It’s Summer, time to lie on the beach and relax with a wonderful book. Here’s a selection of 40 recently published great Summer reads from the Edge community. Read Mandelbrot on “multifractals”, Dawkins on “true heredity”, Penrose on “Clifford bundles”, Marcus on “synaptic strengthening“, Searle on “biological naturalism”, Leroi on “intersex”, Pinker on “biological nature”, Garreau on “the telekinetic monkey”, Seligman on “avoidant people”, Randall on “extra dimensions”, Kurzweil on “the singularity”, Damasio on “neurotransmitter nuclei”, Greene on “quantum weirdness”, Dennett on the “Zombic Hunch”, Diamond on anthropology to zoology, plus many others. You can’t go wrong.

More here.

Parkinson’s Treatment Linked to Compulsive Gambling

From Scientific American:

Gambling Researchers have identified a strange side effect to a treatment for Parkinson’s disease: excessive gambling. Some patients taking medications known as dopamine agonists developed the problem within three months of starting treatment, even though they had previously gambled only occasionally or never at all. All of the patients in the new study were using dopamine agonists, compounds that mimic the behavior of the neurotransmitter in the brain, as part of their treatment regimes. The researchers report in the current issue of the Archives of Neurology that their newly-developed gambling problems cost patients upwards of $100,000 and, in the case of one patient, led to the break-up of her marriage.

More here.

It’s Tom Friedman’s problem

Good post by Lindsay Beyerstein at Majikthise:

If It’s a Muslim Problem, It Needs a Muslim Solution, opines Tom Friedman.

The Muslim village has been derelict in condemning the madness of jihadist attacks. When Salman Rushdie wrote a controversial novel involving the prophet Muhammad, he was sentenced to death by the leader of Iran. To this day – to this day – no major Muslim cleric or religious body has ever issued a fatwa condemning Osama bin Laden.

For that, Juan Cole smites Friedman righteously Friedman Wrong About Muslims Again And the Amman Statement on Ecumenism.

It’s as if Friedman’s latest editorial spun out of control in a freak rhetorical accident. In the course of lecturing us about tolerance, he somehow ended up saying that all Muslims are complicit in terrorism.

Making Sense of The Daily Show’s new set

In Slate, Dana Stevens looks at changes to the set of The Daily Show, a recent topic of conversation among many I know.

“After a week’s hiatus, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart reopened last night in new digs, a few blocks west of its former location in midtown Manhattan. To judge by Stephen Colbert’s tour of the old Daily Show headquarters, which appears as an extra on the new Indecision 2004 DVD, the backstage staff was clearly in need of some spruced-up quarters in which to write and produce the show. But was I the only viewer disturbed by the more-than-cosmetic changes to the look of the studio itself? What is The Daily Show trying to say with its new set?”

Meeting Nature’s Needs


Based on what we know about the new needs of these animals in their current environment, the Hand Up Project proposes to manufacture alternative forms of housing, specifically designed for use by land hermit crabs, out of plastic. This solution offers multiple benefits. Not only will the project afford the animal badly needed additional forms of shelter, but we also contend that, by utilizing current technology, we may now be better equipped to meet the needs of this life-form than nature ever has.

more about the hand up project here.

Henri-Lévy as Tocqueville

The following project by The Atlantic seems like it may be very intriguing. The actual interview between Brooks andLevy
Henri-Lévy is only available to online subscribers but the description of what they’re doing is this:

In the May Atlantic the first of several installments of Bernard-Henri Lévy’s “In the Footsteps of Tocqueville” appears—a travelogue in which Lévy, a renowned author and public intellectual in France, describes his journey throughout this country, visiting various cities, historic sites, landmarks, malls, and churches, and commenting on aspects of our society and culture that only an outsider could perceive. The aim of this long-form piece is, in a sense, to attempt to replicate what the French author Alexis de Tocqueville accomplished in the nineteenth century with his book Democracy in America. Lévy’s Atlantic articles will eventually be collected and published by Random House, along with several previously unpublished chapters.

In New Jersey, Blog Carnival Is WWWeird

Peter Applebome in the New York Times:

In a perfect world, the Carnival of the New Jersey Bloggers would be a proper carnival you could take your kids to, with cold lemonade at the Parkway Rest Stop, sword swallowing by Mister Snitch!, dunk-the-blogger booth at Mary’s Lame Attempt at Fame, house of horrors at the Bad Hair Blog and the rest.

But then who in New Jersey contemplates a perfect world? So, absent perfection, for another glimpse of New Jersey Ascendant, check out the weekly assemblage of all things Jersey that has taken on a life of its own on the Internet.

For those with too much time on their hands, a blog carnival is a collection of Web log entries, usually on a shared topic – politics, food, poker, etc. The most famous of which is the Carnival of the Vanities, which has become the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey of blog carnivals.

More here.  [Thanks to Husain Naqvi.]

The Bling King

William Grimes reviews The Essence of Style: How the French Invented High Fashion, Fine Food, Chic Cafes, Style, Sophistication and Glamour by Joan DeJean, in the New York Times:

Louis_14_1In “The Essence of Style,” her effervescent account of the birth of French chic, Joan DeJean returns, again and again, to the idea that virtually everything associated with the high life today can be traced back to one man, whose tastes and desires transformed France into an international luxury brand. Today, the diamond reigns supreme among gemstones. But it was not always so. Throughout the Renaissance, it was the pearl that symbolized wealth and beauty, while the diamond, in treatises of the time, ranked only 18th in importance. In the 1660’s, however, Louis developed a taste for the colorless stone that a French jeweler named Jean-Baptiste Tavernier began bringing back from India. In 1669, the king spent the equivalent of $75 million on diamonds, propelling the stone to the pre-eminent position it has enjoyed ever since, and establishing Paris as the world center for fine jewelry. The Sun King was also the bling king.

More here.

Andy Warhol, presented with Spielbergian intensity

From The Village Voice:

Warhol_1 Triggering interpretations that fence personal obsessions with death, sensationalism, and our preoccupation with “terror,” a theater of the macabre, Americana-style, swings into motion with the pairing of “Skull” paintings (1976) against the Washington Monuments. Ricocheting in a visual sight line from the front to the back of the galleries and activating the museum’s enormous scale, the skulls greet us like enormous sentries and draw us through the permanent installation of the mysterious “Shadow” paintings (1978–79). They pull us past Louise Lawler’s photographs of Warhol works and deliver us to a rear gallery they share with two oversize “Last Supper” canvases (1986), beyond which are a stash of six hardcore “Disaster” paintings (1963–64). Abetted by the towering cartoon monotony of the Washington Monument, the trail of skulls, and traces of Jesus Christ, the horrific spectacle of multiple real-life death scenes (plus one bloody birth scene) catalyze the Wow! moment and fuel momentary amnesia. Has Warhol ever been presented with such Spielbergian intensity?

More here.

The Next Pandemic?

From Foreign Affairs:

International health officials are warning that a deadly avian influenza virus may soon spread rapidly, overwhelming unprepared health systems in rich and poor countries alike. If the virus mutates to become easily transmittable among humans, the death toll of the resulting global pandemic could number in the millions.

As a call to action, the July/August issue of Foreign Affairs includes a special set of articles written by Laurie Garrett of the Council on Foreign Relations, Dr. Michael Osterholm of the University of Minnesota and the Department of Homeland Security, and Drs. William Karesh and Robert Cook of the Wildlife Conservation Society. Special condensed versions of the essays by Garrett and Osterholm, along with a Web-only Q & A with Garrett, are available on the Foreign Affairs website today.

Nature magazine is providing additional information on the medical and scientific aspects of the H5N1 virus. The coverage of both magazines is being coordinated to assist efforts of the Royal Institution World Science Assembly to spur preparations by governments and international organizations.

A lot more here.


James Surowiecki in The New Yorker:

When the China National Offshore Oil Corporation, or cnooc, made an $18.5-billion bid for the American oil company Unocal two weeks ago, topping a previous offer of $16.5 billion from Chevron, a political storm was inevitable. The Chinese government owns seventy per cent of cnooc (pronounced “see-nook”), and, for many in Washington, China is a natural enemy in the making. Representative Joe Barton said that the deal “poses a clear threat to the energy and national security of the United States.” Representative Richard Pombo prophesied “disastrous consequences.” A host of congressmen argued that the Committee on Foreign Investments—a government body that vets corporate acquisitions by foreign companies with an eye toward national security—should investigate the deal.

More here.

The little-known links in the chain to the bomb

Elizabeth Svoboda reviews Before the Fallout: From Marie Curie to Hiroshima by Diana Preston, in the San Francisco Chronicle:

The deliberations of the Manhattan Project’s kingpins at Los Alamos, N.M., have been hashed out ad infinitum in classic works such as Richard Rhodes’ “The Making of the Atomic Bomb.” Preston’s book escapes comparison with such literary behemoths by focusing on the key roles of lesser-known personalities. She proposes that for every Oppenheimer, Einstein and Teller — larger-than- life caricatures in the cultural lexicon — there is a bit player, equally integral to the drama, whose story remains largely unknown.

Among Preston’s cast of atomic Rosencrantzes and Guildensterns, German physicist Werner Heisenberg is most deftly portrayed. Though eager for Germany to win World War II so the Allies would not treat it “the way the Romans had treated Carthage,” Heisenberg never belonged to the Nazi party. Preston raises the intriguing possibility that he and others assigned to the German nuclear weapons project “had misgivings about producing a bomb, which may have unconsciously inhibited their work.”

More here.