When I first entered graduate school four years ago with the intent of studying the evolution of tarsiers, I had a lot of ideas about evolution. During my first week, and even during first month of the program, I was certain about what I wanted to study. I let everyone know I was going to be the tarsier communication guy. I had all sorts of ideas about why these animals communicate in the way they do, and I was certain that out of my stack of four or five ideas, at least one must be correct.
During the next few months, I met a lot of people, including a rodent paleontologist (the fact that he is a paleontologist is important) named Tim, who was going to be my best friend for the next three years. The first day I met Tim, I told him about my dissertation topic. After a few seconds of thinking over a beer, he told me, “I have a paper you need to read.” Tim then introduced me to Gould’s 1979 paper, “The Spandrels of San Marco and the Panglossian Paradigm.” It remains one of the most important things I have read in my entire life. Over the next few months, I came to respect Gould’s thoughts about paleontology, natural history, and structural evolution, and I continue to read him until this day.
During the summer of 2019, I saw a lot of commentary about the career of Stephen Jay Gould. These were comments from people who, upset with his (perhaps misguided) book, The Mismeasure of Man, claimed his contribution to evolutionary biology was rather insignificant. Along with the claim that he had nothing to say were some more inflammatory claims which included the charge that he was a charlatan, liar, and scientifically worthless. Based on my own experience in reading Gould and how much he contributed to my own evolutionary reasoning, I knew this wasn’t true. Continue reading “The Enigma of Stephen Jay Gould”
I’ve developed this view of journalists lately as the mouthpieces of the intellectual world. That’s not much of a compliment, and if anything they exist on the bottom rung, where their modal operation is flapping their gums without being forced to put much thought into it. At one point there was an internal hierarchy in journalism with amateurs in local news and blogs being on the bottom and entrenched institutions like the New York Times being on top. But now the New York Times is nearly indistinguishable from BuzzFeed: it’s all click bait, no substance, no thought towards the impact of the drivel they’re putting out, and a complete condescension towards the intellects of its readers. Continue reading “The New York Times Won’t Stop Profiling Smart People Who Talk About Race”
“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”
I’m in the New England area for the next few weeks and have been spending a bit of time around the Harvard campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It’s a beautiful campus, with large, dark red brick buildings set in between some old New England neighborhoods with much greenery that are perfect for evening strolls. The picture above was taken on the second-to-last floor of their psychology building. Being a casual observer, I have noted a couple of things that struck out as different from where I’m coming from (the South).
Compared to Texas and Florida, the first thing I noticed is the near-complete absence of soft drink vending machines. Almost every business and building on campus at my university and my undergraduate institution have at least one