fodor v darwin


In 1959 the psychological doctrine known as ‘behaviourism’ was at the peak of its influence. Pioneered in the early 20th century by Edward Lee Thorndike, Clark Hull and J.B. Watson, behaviourism rejected explanations of action in terms of mysterious inner processes such as ‘thought’ and tried to explain behaviour purely in terms of the organism’s conditioning by experience. By the middle of the century, the behaviourist approach had been developed in a detailed and radical form by B.F. Skinner. Skinner explained learning in terms of reinforcement: organisms produce novel behaviours spontaneously, and those that are positively reinforced are more likely to occur in similar circumstances in the future. This view, developed in work on rats and pigeons, was extended to cover human language in Skinner’s 1957 book Verbal Behaviour. A young linguist, Noam Chomsky, published a review of Verbal Behaviour two years later. It was perhaps the most devastating book review ever written. Chomsky argued that Skinner’s theoretical vocabulary could be applied to human linguistic behaviour only in an empty, post hoc way. He also thought that Skinner’s behaviourism had a simple architectural flaw: it held that external factors – especially experiences of reinforcement – were of ‘overwhelming importance’ in the explanation of behaviour.

more from Peter Godfrey-Smith at the LRB here.

Thursday Poem

My hand wants to hold the book
And the book to hold it
To be its prolongation
It rounds off my being in the story
In each of the pages
Returns to the beginning
I see how it is beside me always.
The books that wait for me to return
To them
The books that adopt different colors
Those that shine in our words
Those that pale into oblivion
Those that jump all over the house
Those that open all their pages
Like umbrellas
The fans that break letters on the wind
Those that, like flower vases,
Are on every table.

by Margarita Cardona
translation: Laura Chalar

Mi mano quiere sostener el libro
Que la sostenga
Ser su prolongación
Concreta mi ser a la historia
En cada una de sus páginas
Vuelve al principio
Veo cómo me acompaña siempre.
Los libros que esperan que vuelva
Sobre ellos
Los libros que toman diferentes colores
Los que brillan en nuestras palabras
Los que palidecen olvidados
Los que saltan por toda la casa
Los que como paraguas abren
Todas sus páginas
Los abanicos que rompen letras por el viento
Los que como floreros
Están en todas las mesas.

Can money buy happiness? Gallup poll asks, and the world answers

From PhysOrg:

A worldwide survey of more than 136,000 people in 132 countries included questions about happiness and income, and the results reveal that while life satisfaction usually rises with income, positive feelings don't necessarily follow, researchers report.

Happy “The public always wonders: Does money make you happy?” said University of Illinois professor emeritus of psychology Ed Diener, a senior scientist with the Gallup Organization. “This study shows that it all depends on how you define , because if you look at life satisfaction, how you evaluate your life as a whole, you see a pretty strong correlation around the world between income and happiness,” he said. “On the other hand it's pretty shocking how small the correlation is with positive feelings and enjoying yourself.”

The Gallup World Poll conducted surveys on a wide range of subjects in a representative sample of people from 132 countries from 2005 to 2006. The poll used telephone surveys in more affluent areas, and door-to-door interviews in rural or less-developed regions. The countries surveyed represent about 96 percent of the world's population, the researchers report, and reflect the diversity of cultural, economic and political realities around the globe. This “first representative sample of planet earth,” the authors wrote, “was used to explore the reasons why 'happiness' is associated with higher income.” The researchers were able to look at a long list of attributes of respondents, including their income and standard of living, whether their basic needs for food and shelter were met, what kinds of conveniences they owned and whether they felt their psychological needs were satisfied.

More here.

Do Parasites Make You Dumber?

From Science:

Iq What can you do to make your kids smarter? Keeping them healthy might help. A new study suggests that worldwide differences in intelligence can be explained by disparities in infectious disease. The researchers found that countries most heavily affected by infectious diseases generally had the lowest average IQs. They propose that these illnesses hinder children's brain development, though their conclusion is gathering mixed reviews. The new research relies on data first published in 2002 in a controversial book called IQ and the Wealth of Nations. In the book, psychologist Richard Lynn of the University of Ulster in the United Kingdom and political scientist Tatu Vanhanen of the University of Tampere in Finland searched the published literature to come up with measures of average IQ for 81 countries. They also estimated IQ for another 104 countries by averaging the IQs of nearby nations. Hong Kong topped the list, with an average IQ of 107. The authors argued that national differences in IQ at least partly explained differences in national wealth. In 2006, they expanded the data to include IQ measurements from 113 countries and new estimates for 79 more.

Several groups have attempted to explain the pattern. In the new study, Christopher Eppig, a Ph.D. candidate in biology at the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, and his colleagues propose that low IQ is tied to the toll of infectious diseases. Their idea, which the researchers call the “parasite-stress hypothesis,” is that children who contract “parasites,” which they define to include everything from intestinal worms to bacteria and viruses, devote more energy to fighting off infection. As a result, they have less energy available for brain development. Countries where infectious diseases are prevalent, Eppig and colleagues argue, will have lower intelligence.

Picture: In this map, countries shaded purple have the highest average IQ. Those shaded dark red have the lowest IQ—and, typically, the highest incidence of infectious disease.

More here.

Vuvuzelas sound like death getting raped

Occasional 3QD contributor and insanely diehard, lifelong football fan Saifedean Ammous has arrived in South Africa for the World Cup. He'll be posting his coverage of the championship at a blog he has created for the purpose: The Long Ball to Freedom. Here's a taste of his initial reports:

Kasrilses The stadium looked glorious. It is a true feat of architectural genius, and the atmosphere inside was electric. As I mentioned earlier, the journey from and to the stadium was very pleasant, short and fun.

And I finally got to see the vuvuzelas in action. Now, I’d gotten plenty of headache watching the World Cup on TV, but was willing to be open-minded about them. At Chris’s insistence, I even tried blowing one of the things. But when I got to the stadium my mind was made up: those evil spawns of the devil must be banned! They are an awful monstrosity. They sound like death getting raped. But it isn’t the noise or loudness that is the worst thing about these horns, it is that they have subdued the wonderful football atmosphere of the games.

An integral part of every game and every major footballing occasion is the crowd. They chant, sing, boo, react to the players and spur the players on. With the vuvuzela, all of that is lost. All you can hear all throughout the game is the incessant droning sound of helicopters spraying pesticide. Whatever happens on the pitch, the drone remains the same. It gets louder at times, quiter at others, but the tone is itself. All the singing, chanting, booing and cheering is drowned away. This is a real pity. I would have loved to hear the thousands of Mexicans and Argentines chant and sing throughout that exciting game.

More here. [Saif is leftmost in photo.]

Borges on Pleasure Island

Rivka Galchen in the New York Times Book Review:

Galchen-popup He lived most of his life with his mother. He loved detective and adventure novels. (His first story in English was published in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine.) Though he started to go blind in his 30s, he never learned to read Braille. And in his later years he made some unappealing political remarks about being happy that, following the military overthrow of the Perón government, “gentlemen” were again running the country. (Perón, to be fair, had “promoted” Borges from head of the National Library to head of poultry inspection.) Such remarks are perhaps why he never won the Nobel.

But perhaps Borges’s most glorious and provocative “fault” was that he lived to be 86 and never wrote a novel. “It is a laborious madness, and an impoverishing one,” he wrote, in the introduction to a 1941 collection of his short stories, “the madness of composing vast books. . . . The better way to go about it is to pretend that those books already exist, and offer a summary, a commentary on them.”

More here.

Al Qaeda’s First English Language Magazine Is Here


Mark Ambinder in The Atlantic:

As the U.S. struggles to manage its efforts to influence opinion about Al Qaeda abroad, Al Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula has produced its first English-language propaganda magazine.

It's called “Inspire,” and you can read parts of it below. A U.S. official confirmed that the pages correspondent to the version its open-source collectors had obtained.

“Inspire” includes a “message to the people of Yemen” directly transcribed from Ayman Al-Zawahari, Al Qaeda's second in command, a message from Osama Bin Laden on “how to save the earth,” and the cover includes a quotation from Anwar Al-Awlaki, the American born cleric who is believed to be directly connected to the attempt to destroy an airplane over Detroit by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab on Christmas Day. (The director of the National Counterterrorism Center, Michael Leiter, made that disclosure at a security forum in Aspen, CO, Fox News reported.)

The table of contents teases an interview with the leader of AQAP who promises to “answer various questions pertaining to the jihad in the Arabian Peninsula.” It includes a feature about how to “make a bomb in the kitchen of your mom.”

More here.

Architecture is not about words. It’s about tears.


In February 1998, at the age of 91, Philip Johnson, the godfather of modern architecture, who 40 years earlier had collaborated with Ludwig Mies van der Rohe on the iconic Seagram Building, in Manhattan, traveled to Spain to see the just-completed Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. He stood in the atrium of the massive, titanium-clad structure with its architect, Frank Gehry, as TV cameras from Charlie Rose captured him gesturing up to the torqued and sensually curving pillars that support the glass-and-steel ceiling and saying, “Architecture is not about words. It’s about tears.” Breaking into heavy sobs, he added, “I get the same feeling in Chartres Cathedral.” Bilbao had just opened its doors, but Johnson, the principal apostle of the two dominant forms of architecture in the 20th century—Modernism and Postmodernism—and the design establishment’s ultimate arbiter, was prepared to call it on the spot. He anointed Gehry “the greatest architect we have today” and later declared the structure “the greatest building of our time.”

more from Matt Tyrnauer at Vanity Fair here.

stupid and unafraid


I’m noticing a new approach to artmaking in recent museum and gallery shows. It flickered into focus at the New Museum’s “Younger Than Jesus” last year and ran through the Whitney Biennial, and I’m seeing it blossom and bear fruit at “Greater New York,” MoMA P.S. 1’s twice-a-decade extravaganza of emerging local talent. It’s an attitude that says, I know that the art I’m creating may seem silly, even stupid, or that it might have been done before, but that doesn’t mean this isn’t serious. At once knowingly self-conscious about art, unafraid, and unashamed, these young artists not only see the distinction between earnestness and detachment as artificial; they grasp that they can be ironic and sincere at the same time, and they are making art from this compound-complex state of mind—what Emerson called “alienated majesty.” The best of the work at “Greater New York” pulses with this attitude. The worst of it is full of things that move, light up, or make noise, all frantic enough to make you feel like you’re at a carnival rather than a museum. I yearned to see more art here that demands that you stop and be still, like painting, of which there is very little. Instead, the curators—Connie Butler, Neville Wakefield, and Klaus Biesenbach, the museum world’s unofficial czar these days—favor things that are “about” painting, like Dave Miko’s canvas propped on a little shelf with drips painted on the wall behind it, carrying the heavy-handed title Lonely Merch Guy. (When will everyone get over the ossified idea that painting’s particular alchemy is suspect? Bad dogma!)

more from Jerry Saltz at New York Magazine here.

the digger years


Christopher Hill, to whose memory these volumes are dedicated, had a lot of time for Gerrard Winstanley. The Digger leader figures prominently in all of Hill’s major works on the revolutionary years of the seventeenth century, and in particular in his classic study, The World Turned Upside Down. That book examined the “other revolution”, the one that “might have established communal property, a far wider democracy in political and legal institutions, might have disestablished the state church and rejected the protestant ethic”. On this view, Winstanley emerges as something of a hero, an embodiment of the radical potential of the 1640s: the Diggers, said Hill, “have something to say to twentieth-century socialists”. The World Turned Upside Down is a book, and an image, that continues to exert a considerable hold over those interested in the countercultural potential of the revolution, as even the most cursory web search reveals. Revisionist historians, by contrast, have tried to cut the English revolution down to size or to cast it in its own terms. In so doing, they naturally also cast a critical eye over the reputation and contemporary significance of its radical heroes. In Winstanley’s case, this led to an emphasis both on the strangeness of his thought for twentieth-century socialists and on the fact that he was a Digger leader only briefly in a long and, in many other ways, very respectable life.

more from Michael Braddick at the TLS here.