Upending a Sense of Placelessness

“The greatest story ever written is the one you carry in your DNA.” – Spencer Wells

I’m back in Texas and have been arguing with some other graduate students about why ancestral DNA tests are important for people since it seems to be something that white Americans in particular are exclusively interested in. I don’t know if this is true, but their questions and criticisms highlight a number of concerns about DNA testing. One student said there is a racist aspect in it, a desire to be known as European (which I think is silly because if your desire was to be European, you would probably rather not look at a DNA test which might tell you otherwise). Another said that we shouldn’t be focusing on race and heritage in the United States to begin with so that we can focus on forming more organic groups (that will never happen with the current state of racial affairs in America and obvious issues with a human tendency towards visibility). I disagree with both of these statements, and strongly believe that ancestral DNA testing is an important component in fighting, rather than producing, prejudice.

Continue reading “Upending a Sense of Placelessness”

The Culture of Computers

you i i i everything else . . . . . . . . . . . . . .” – Bob, Facebook Chatbot

Culture is a weird thing for humans and the few animals who exhibit it. As biologists have explored the animal kingdom for longer and more continuous periods, our understanding of what culture is and what culture isn’t is being pushed by our many case studies in creatures ranging from chimpanzees to chickadees. What progress has been made is in our understanding of culture as a far more mechanical, rigid, and adaptive process than we could have ever anticipated. Like in genetics, the transfer of information is the basis of culture, and the recapitulation of genetic patterns of transmission onto cultural ones only highlights that information theory, as applied in our understanding of dual inheritance, is a unifying theme between the two. An understanding of genetics can help us understand what culture is and what culture isn’t, as can an understanding of any other type of information transfer, especially in the realm of communication, especially in the realm of artificial intelligence. Continue reading “The Culture of Computers”

Advice for Incoming Graduate Students

I was sitting at the kitchen table this morning drinking coffee and trying to narrow down which graduate programs I am going to be applying to this fall. We all know this is a stressful process, even more so for me right now since I have to do it again. Leaving my previous graduate program was ultimately a good decision, although through my frustrations have me thinking about how I might have done things differently at the beginning if I knew going into graduate school what I know now.

I’m going to give new and incoming grad students, the people who are crazy enough and fortunate enough to have the ability to go to graduate school, some unsolicited advice. Feel free to take it or leave it, these are mostly just based on things I learned both the hard and easy ways.

Continue reading “Advice for Incoming Graduate Students”