Evolution, Human Nature, and Literature

DenisDenis Dutton reviews Literary Darwinism: Evolution, Human Nature, and Literature by Joseph Carrol:

Joseph Carroll is a literary theorist who has applied his probing mind over the last decade to the origins, nature, and functions of literary experience. His new collection of essays and reviews, Literary Darwinism: Evolution, Human Nature, and Literature (Routledge, $85.00 boards, $23.95 paper) looks at literature and literary theory through the lens of evolutionary psychology. At the same time, Carroll’s eye is that of an extremely perceptive literary critic. In fact, I would judge him to be one of the most acutJoecarrolle and knowledgeable readers of fiction I’ve ever encountered. It should not come as a surprise, therefore, that he is sometimes dubious, or even scathing, about evolutionary explanations of literature that have been offered up by writers whose grasp of psychology exceeds, in his opinion, their command of high literature. His complaints, however, are not about the fundamental notion that evolution by natural and sexual selection have made human beings into the story-loving animals they have become: his adjustments are intended to increase the accuracy and usefulness of Darwin’s revolution. However critical he is of evolutionary psychologists, Carroll remains a Darwinian through and through.

More here.

2005 AIA Honor Awards

From the Architectural Record:

05_arch01_smEvery spring, RECORD provides editorial coverage of the winners of the AIA Honor Awards, which represents the highest recognition of excellence in architecture, interior architecture, and urban design. Projects were selected from more than 630 submissions, with 35 recipients to be honored later this month at the AIA National Convention and Expo in Las Vegas. In addition, in this issue we feature the Gold Medalist, the Firm of the Year, and the 25 Year Award winners…

Santiago Calatrava, FAIA, the brilliant architect-engineer, received the 61st AIA Gold Medal. In recognition of his legacy to architecture, his name will be engraved in a granite wall in the lobby of AIA headquarters in Washington, D.C. The Yale Center for British Art, designed by Louis I. Kahn, FAIA, received the 25 Year Award. The jury noted, “[This building] is one of the quietest expressions of a great building ever seen—so rewarding and exhilarating when you step inside.” And lastly, the Chicago firm of Murphy/Jahn received the Firm Award, the highest honor the AIA bestows on an architecture firm, for their consistently forward-looking vision.

More here.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005


This comes by way of Andrew Sullivan.  PostSecret is an interesting project.

You are invited to anonymously contribute your secrets to PostSecret. Each secret can be a regret, hope, funny experience, unseen kindness, fantasy, belief, fear, betrayal, erotic desire, feeling, confession, or childhood humiliation. Reveal anything – as long as it is true and you have never shared it with anyone before.

Create your own 4-inch by 6-inch postcards out of any mailable material. But please only put one secret on a card. If you want to share two or more secrets, use multiple postcards.

Please put your complete secret and image on one side of the postcard.

Many have taken up the invitation.  The string of unique postcards, with secrets that range from the whimsical to the terrifying, creates an odd set of aesthetic and emotional sensations.

Moniza Alvi’s workshop

From The Guardian:Moniza1

Born in Pakistan and raised in Hertfordshire and now a tutor for the Open College of the Arts, the first of Moniza Alvi’s five poetry collections, The Country at My Shoulder, was shortlisted for the TS Eliot Prize and the Whitbread Poetry Award, and led to her being named as one of the 1994 Next Generation Poets. Her third collection, Carrying My Wife, received a Poetry Book Society recommendation, and in 2002 she was presented with a Cholmondeley Award for her poetry. Her latest collection, How the Stone Found its Voice – inspired by creation myths – was published by Bloodaxe in March. 

Take a look at her exercise, ‘Close to the Skin’

Poetry has always been drawn to the subject of dress and undress. In the 17th century, for instance, Robert Herrick revelled in Julia’s attire in ‘Upon Julia’s Clothes’: “Whenas in silks my Julia goes,/ Then, then, methinks, how sweetly flows/ the liquefaction of her clothes.” More recently, in his Selected Poems, Charles Simic wrote of his shoes (“Shoes, secret face of my inner life:/ Two gaping toothless mouths,/ Two partly decomposed animal skins/ smelling of mice nests”), and Carol Ann Duffy edited an anthology, Out of Fashion, on this rich theme.

Clothes, which simultaneously reveal and conceal, tell us much about ourselves and our cultures. They can provide a strong focus – or starting point – for a poem.

More here.

Stem-cell niches: It’s the ecology, stupid!

From Nature:

Stemcells Linheng Li is learning to think like an ecologist. His study subjects put down roots near sources of nourishment and depend on other living things in their environment to thrive. But Li doesn’t have mud on his boots. The ‘species’ he studies are stem cells and the ‘ecosystem’ is bone marrow. Within the anatomical forest of the marrow, Li’s stem cells occupy specific niches — a term borrowed from ecology. An organism’s ecological niche is a definition of where it lives, what it does, and how it interacts with its environment. Alter that environment, and the consequences for the organism can be dire. Conversely, if you take an organism and deposit it in an alien ecosystem, all hell can break loose.

At the Stowers Institute for Medical Research in Kansas City, Missouri, Li thinks in a similar way about stem cells. For example, in aplastic anaemia, stem cells are unable to produce sufficient blood cells, even though they look normal. Something about the cells’ microenvironment in the bone marrow may be awry, argues Li. “It’s like the soil being damaged,” he says. Similarly, just as an introduced species can run amok in its new environment, stem cells placed in the wrong tissue in the body might conceivably form a malignant tumour.

Clearly, you can’t hope to understand a woodland flower’s niche in the forest by examining a specimen grown in a pot. And biologists are realizing that they are missing an important part of the picture by studying stem cells in Petri dishes. “Thinking of stem cells in isolation can be productive,” says David Scadden, co-director of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute in Boston. “But it falsely simplifies what is a single component of a much larger, more complex system.”

More here.


Ben McGrath in The New Yorker:

Novelsldiedone_1_1A room of one’s own, in which to write: it’s an old and chronically romanticized idea—the solitary space, with an ashtray, an Olivetti, the morning light just so. Each writer has his own preferences and fetishes, of course. For Proust, it was walls insulated with cork, to keep sound out. For Bellow, a tilted drafting table, so that he could write standing up. Cheever looked out a window facing the woods; Hawthorne turned his back on one. Joseph Heller worked atop a shag carpet. The ideal persists, in a wireless age. Amy Tan surrounds herself with furniture from Imperial China.

In Queens, recently, an artists’ collective called Flux Factory commissioned architects to design three writers’ “habitats”—human terrariums, essentially, into which writers would move for a month’s time, as part of a “living installation” called “novel.” Three subjects relocated to the boxlike spaces about a week ago, and on June 4th they are expected to emerge with finished books…

Morgan2The week before the writers moved in, Flux’s president, Morgan Meis, gave a tour of the unfinished boxes. “This one is pretty much a hobbit hole,” he said of the first box, which was constructed mostly from found materials, bounty from a month’s worth of “dumpster diving” by its designer, Ian Montgomery. Meis sat down and made a serious face, impersonating a writer. “So you sit here and concentrate, and you look out,” he said, gesturing toward a dirt trough, where fast-growing grasses were to be planted, “to mark the passage of time.”

More here.  And there are related links here and here.

The Mega-Church Thing

Jeff Sharlet has posted the first half of his Harper’s piece on America’s largest mega-church online at his great site The Revealer. An excerpt:

‘They are drawn as if by magnetic forces; they speak of Colorado Springs, home to the greatest concentration of fundamentalist Christian activist groups in American history, both as a last stand and as a kind of utopia in the making. They say it is new and unique and precious, embattled by enemies, and also that it is “traditional,” a blueprint for what everybody wants, and envied by enemies.’

Here’s the rest of the first half.

That Barnes & Noble Dream

From Slate:

1776 This month marks the publication of 1776, David McCullough’s rousing, feel-good tale of how George Washington led a ragtag crew of continental soldiers into their fateful battle for independence. It’s safe to predict that 1776—the latest in a series of heavily hyped history blockbusters—will vault to the top of the best-seller lists, beguiling readers with its reverent portrait of Washington’s heroism and the dulcet cadences of McCullough’s finely wrought prose.

It will also drive many academic historians up the wall.

More here.

One Longsome Argument

From The Skeptical Inquirer:Tree

Charles Darwin liked to describe the origin of species as “one long argument,” but his extensive treatise in support of biological evolution now seems painfully brief compared to the argument that has followed in its wake. Indeed, never in the history of science has a more prolonged and passionate debate dogged the heels of a theory so thoroughly researched and repeatedly validated. And the end is nowhere in sight. Despite all evidence to the contrary, a large portion of the world’s population continues to cling to the belief that human beings are fundamentally different from all other life forms and that our origins are unique. It’s a lovely sentiment to be sure, but how is it that so many people continue to be drawn to this thoroughly discredited notion?

More here.

On literary scandals real and trumped up

Theodore Dalrymple in The New Criterion:

If a prisoner walks into my consulting room in the prison with a stick, he’s a sex offender; if he has gold front teeth, he’s a drug dealer; and if he’s reading Wittgenstein, he’s in for fraud: for it is virtually a law of our penal establishments that fraud and philosophy are what literary theorists like to call metonymic.

When you work in a prison as I do, white-collar criminals come as something of a light relief. At last someone with whom you can have a disinterested, abstract intellectual conversation! No more talk about alcoholic mothers, brutal stepfathers, and terrible childhoods as the fons et origo of car theft: it’s straight to the meaning of life, the social contract and the metaphysical foundation of morality (they always say that there isn’t any). It’s almost like being a student again, up till three in the morning, trying to work out what no man has ever worked out before.

The fact is that people who commit fraud, at least on a large scale, have lively, intelligent minds…

More here.

The Logic of Female Orgasm

Dinitia Smith in the New York Times:

Evolutionary scientists have never had difficulty explaining the male orgasm, closely tied as it is to reproduction.

But the Darwinian logic behind the female orgasm has remained elusive. Women can have sexual intercourse and even become pregnant – doing their part for the perpetuation of the species – without experiencing orgasm. So what is its evolutionary purpose?

Over the last four decades, scientists have come up with a variety of theories, arguing, for example, that orgasm encourages women to have sex and, therefore, reproduce or that it leads women to favor stronger and healthier men, maximizing their offspring’s chances of survival.

But in a new book, Dr. Elisabeth A. Lloyd, a philosopher of science and professor of biology at Indiana University, takes on 20 leading theories and finds them wanting. The female orgasm, she argues in the book, “The Case of the Female Orgasm: Bias in the Science of Evolution,” has no evolutionary function at all.

More here.

Super Water

Skip Kaltenheuser in Wired:

GlasswaterA California company has figured out how to use two simple materials — water and salt — to create a solution that wipes out single-celled organisms, and which appears to speed healing of burns, wounds and diabetic ulcers.

The solution looks, smells and tastes like water, but carries an ion imbalance that makes short work of bacteria, viruses and even hard-to-kill spores.

Developed by Oculus Innovative Sciences in Petaluma, the super-oxygenated water is claimed to be as effective a disinfectant as chlorine bleach, but is harmless to people, animals and plants. If accidentally ingested by a child, the likely impact is a bad case of clean teeth.

More here.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Why H.I.V. rates are rising among gay men

Michael Specter in The New Yorker:

The first thing people on methamphetamine lose is their common sense; suddenly, anything goes, including unprotected anal sex with many different partners in a single night—which is among the most efficient ways to spread H.I.V. and other sexually transmitted diseases. In recent surveys, more than ten per cent of gay men in San Francisco and Los Angeles report having used the drug in the past six months; in New York, the figure is even higher.

After years of living in constant fear of aids, many gay men have chosen to resume sexual practices that are almost guaranteed to make them sick. In New York City, the rate of syphilis has increased by more than four hundred per cent in the past five years. Gay men account for virtually the entire rise. Between 1998 and 2000, fifteen per cent of the syphilis cases in Chicago could be attributed to gay men. Since 2001, that number has grown to sixty per cent. Look at the statistics closely and you will almost certainly find the drug.

More here.

New Theory Places Origin of Diabetes in an Age of Icy Hardships

Sandra Blakeslee in the New York Times:

The theory argues that juvenile diabetes may have developed in ancestral people who lived in Northern Europe about 12,000 years ago when temperatures fell by 10 degrees Fahrenheit in just a few decades and an ice age arrived virtually overnight.

Archaeological evidence suggests countless people froze to death, while others fled south. But Dr. Sharon Moalem, an expert in evolutionary medicine at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, believes that some people may have adapted to the extreme cold. High levels of blood glucose prevent cells and tissues from forming ice crystals, Dr. Moalem said. In other words, Type 1 diabetes would have prevented many of our ancestors from freezing to death.

The theory is described in the March 30 online edition of Medical Hypotheses, a journal devoted to publishing bold, even radical, biomedical theories that are potentially important to the development of medicine.

More here.  [Thanks to Timothy Don.]

Goethe: Poetic vistas of eternity

Nicholas Lezard reviews David Luke’s book of translations of Goethe’s poetry, in The Guardian:

GoetheThe immensity of Goethe’s achievements — he was one of the last men, it was said, to know everything — is perhaps beyond our grasp these days, but he was, above all, a poet. And the problem with foreign-language poets is, for us, what gets lost in the translation. In his introduction to this volume, David Luke writes: Goethe’s “poetry is the essence of German. Unfortunately for translators, and for readers of Goethe unfamiliar with German, the converse is also true: the poetry of the German language is of the essence of Goethe. There is not much to be done about this situation.”

This is engagingly self-deprecating. Luke has done a lot about this situation, having not only published a definitive English-language edition in prose translation in 1964, but worked on versifying them for today.

More here.

Drug’s Effect on MDS Stuns Doctors

I happened to come across this story from the AP. Since one of the 3QD editors (Azra) happens to be a leading world authority on this disease, maybe she would like to comment on it (or add a new post about it). Marilyn Marchione of the AP wrote yesterday:

No one could have been more surprised than the doctors themselves. They were just hoping to relieve the symptoms of a deadly blood disorder — and ended up treating the disease itself. In nearly half of the people who took the experimental drug, the cancer became undetectable.

Specialists said Revlimid now looks like a breakthrough and the first effective treatment for many people with myelodysplastic syndrome, or MDS, which is even more common than leukemia.

More here.

Using network analysis to measure partisanship in Congress

An analysis of partisanship–using network analysis and singular value decomposition, rather than talking head rancor and irritation–shows the strength of connections among House committees for the 107th Congress.

“Among other findings was that the Homeland Security Committee has very strong ties to the Rules Committee. It has very weak ties to the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and shared no members in common with its Terrorism and Homeland Security Subcommittee . . .

‘We use a tool called network theory, which we borrow from other situations like studies of the World Wide Web or of people who sit together on the boards of more than one company,’ said Mason Porter, visiting assistant professor at Georgia Tech. ‘By looking at the number of members that pairs of committees and subcommittees share, we were able to determine the strengths of those connections.’

. . .

‘Every representative boils down to two numbers that you can put in a rectangle on a piece of paper. One represents how far they are on the extremes of the political spectrum – we called that partisanship – and the other represents how well they play with others,’ said Porter.

Current Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, along with Janice Schakowsky and James McGovern from Illinois were among the most partisan Democrats of the House. Among the most partisan Republicans were Thomas Tancredo from Colorado, John Shadegg from Arizona and Jim Ryun from Kansas. The least partisan members included Frank Lucas from Oklahoma, former congresswoman Constance Morella of Maryland and Ralph Hall from Texas.”

Keynes’s General Theory Online

Via Brad Delong, Keynes’ 1936, The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, is available free online–also here.  In brief,

Keynes_pic This is generally regarded as probably the most influential social science treatise of the 20th Century, in that it quickly and permanently changed the way the world looked at the economy and the role of government in society.  No other single book, before or since, has had quite such an impact.

. . .

With the General Theory, as it became known, Keynes sought to develop an theory that could explain the determination of aggregate output – and as a consequence, employment. He posited that the determining factor to be aggregate demand. Among the revolutionary concepts initiated by Keynes was the concept of a demand-determined equilibrium wherein unemployment is possible, the ineffectiveness of price flexibility to cure unemployment, a unique theory of money based on ‘liquidity preference’, the introduction of radical uncertainty and expectations, the marginal efficiency of investment schedule breaking Say’s Law (and thus reversing the savings-investment causation), the possibility of using government fiscal and monetary policy to help eliminate recessions and control economic booms.  Indeed, with this book, he almost single-handedly constructed the fundamental relationships and ideas behind what became known as ‘macroeconomics’.”

Adam Przeworski once pointed out one way in which the Keynesian revolution was truly a revolution.  Prior to Keynes, the interests of investors appeared as universal interests, in so much as their investment decisions determined growth, distribution, and the real wage.  The interests of all depended on their choices.  Keynes turned that on its head by arguing that it is not the assets and decisions of the wealthy but the consumption and decisions of workers and the general populace that determine these things because they determine investment decisions. He thereby helped to make the interests of the middle and working classes appear to be universal interests.  In so doing, his work and specifically The General Theory became the core ideological weapon of the reformed social democratic movements of Europe and North America.

Measuring Gender Equality

Via normblog, here’s a report from the World Economic Forum (the Davos crowd) on the comparative status of women.  Entitled “Women’s Empowerment: Measuring the Global Gender Gap,” the report looks at gender equality in 58 countries, comprising all 30 OECD states, and 28 emerging economies. 

The criteria for measurement:

“Five important dimensions of female empowerment and opportunity have been chosen for examination, based mainly on the findings of UNIFEM, concerning global patterns of inequality between men and women:

1. Economic participation

2.Economic opportunity

3. Political empowerment

4. Educational attainment

5. Health and well-being

The gender gap in each dimension is then quantified using two types of recent available data: a) published national statistics and data from international organizations, and b) survey data of a qualitative nature from the annual Executive Opinion Survey of the World Economic Forum.”

The rankings:


That the Scandinavians cluster on top and the Anglo-American states (Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and Australia) follow was no surprise.  But I was struck by how high the Baltic states rank on the measure.


Rockonomics and Its Uses

Daniel Gross in Slate:

In recent years, economists have been drawn to the music industry like lawyers to a car wreck. Napster, Grokster, digital sampling, and Chinese piracy have thrown the industry into chaos. Economists have realized it’s the best place to study what happens when new technologies disrupt established industries. They have also realized it’s really fun.

Among the crowd rushing the stage is Alan Krueger, the Princeton labor economist who is an expert on the minimum wage and many other things. In a paper written with Marie Connolly, which managed to cite both singer Paul Simon and Nobel Prize-winning economist Gary Becker, Krueger set out to answer some fundamental questions of what he and Connolly call “rockonomics.” (This is not to be confused with Freakonomics, the book co-written by University of Chicago economist Steven D. Levitt and journalist Stephen J. Dubner.*) Why are Cher concerts so expensive? How have falling record sales and the rise of downloading affected big-name stars? And what’s the deal with scalping?

More here.