The theory of evolution predicts that different brain-mutations must exist within the human population. The pomo debate illustrates it.
October 27, 2012 § Leave a comment
Foreign languages add perspective: sometimes they let you see something that should otherwise be obvious but in your own language remains occluded by customary usage. A Polish pomo debate (here) turns out useful in just this way, casting new light on the entire pomo debate: not because of what the poster said (after all, what she said was the usual attack by one of us on what we perceive as nonsensical statements emanating from pomo: nothing new in that, we already know pomo is nonsense) but because of something one of the pomo-defenders said in the discussion section: “It is OK to be critical of pomo, but why castigate it?” (Można krytykować ale po co zaraz zjeżdżać?)
Because Polish debate usage allows this kind of friendly appeal to sense of fair-play, it also allows the appealing side to expose itself. In this case, the defender reveals that he thinks that the the attacker’s act of holding up a pomo statement to ridicule as pure nonsense is an act of “castigation”. He thinks that because, either:
— the defender does not think the statement in question is nonsense;
— he admits that it is nonsense but thinks nonsense is perfectly admissible in debate.
Whichever is the case, the defender does not think what we think: that nonsense offends.
This raises an interesting question: why does nonsense offend us and not them? I feel that the correct explanation must be architecture of the mind. We simply have different heads. Our model of CPU does not allow certain kinds of computing, while theirs does. The result is mutual incomprehension.
This is as it should be: the theory of evolution predicts the existence of different minds: if the human mind is the result of evolution, it is the result of the rise of mutations and competition between them. If the human mind has not somehow magically stopped evolving but continues to do what it has done for the past two million years, then different mind-mutations must exist within the population. And they do: the pomo debate illustrates it.
September 14, 2012 § Leave a comment
I wrote recently about my experience at the beach — the occasion on which I (re?)-discovered how badly we were made.
This only confirmed something I had known already from ornithology: bird atlases prefer to use artists renditions (drawings/paintings) than photos of the actual birds because the artist rendition can picture the idealized, perfect bird of its species (Plato!) while the actual photo will show an actual bird, which is more likely than not to be somehow different from the mean — i.e. not representing the “correct look”.
Think about what this means: whenever you take a photo of a specimen in nature you are more likely than not to be photographing a mutant — a reproductive “mistake”. These mistakes are a necessary part of nature, of course, without which (“mutation”) there can be no “selection” — i.e. no improvement, everything will be static, we will all look the same, and probably will be exterminated by the next common cold virus; but they are mistakes all the same.
Ergo, my observation at the beach was right on.
Now, here comes an article in The Economist:
“The latest study to this effect has just been published in Nature by Kari Stefansson and his colleagues at deCODE Genetics, a genetic-analysis company based in Reykjavik that was founded to take advantage of Iceland’s excellent medical records and its unique genealogical history. Recent immigrants apart, the relationship of almost everybody on the island to everybody else is known back as far as the first census, in 1703. In many cases it is known back to the first human settlement of the island, in 874.
Dr Stefansson’s study does not reach as far back as that. He and his colleagues examined 78 trios of father, mother and child who are all still alive. In some cases they looked at grandchildren as well. Their goal was to examine the number of new mutations—traits not found in the normal body cells of either parent—in children.
The average answer is about 63.
The average answer is about 63. That number, however, varies widely—and the main factor involved in this variation is the age of the father. Mothers transmitted an average of 14 mutations to their children, regardless of age. Fathers showed a much wider range: 20-year-olds passed on an average of 29 mutations; 30-year-olds (the average age of fatherhood in Dr Stefansson’s sample) passed on 49; and 40-year-olds passed 69.”
Think about it: there are at least 63 mistakes (on average) in the way your genome has attempted to reproduce those of your parents. Sixty-three!
And here is a further complication:
“According to Alexey Kondrashov of the University of Michigan, an expert on the matter who wrote an article in Nature to accompany Dr Stefansson’s study, about 10% of mutations are damaging.”
On average, each of us carries 6.3 damaging mutations — ways in which our genome has changed in reproduction for the worse; ways in which it differs from that of our parents to our detriment. I have 6.3 times as many faults as my father!
The ancient sages were right: each successive generation is worse than the one before!
September 8, 2012 § Leave a comment
Bettines letzte Liebschaften shows the now 50-ish Bettina von Arnim, made famous by her youthful correspondence with Goethe and now an established senior cultural figure herself, traveling several hundred miles through a snow-storm to meet her youthful poet-correspondent, in hope of consummating the heretofore merely epistolographical affair. Once tete-a-tete in his quarters, the poet begins to duck, evade and change the subject, and when he is finally openly pinned down and forced to declare himself, denies volubly that he finds her too old (not an ageist, he) but claims that his erstwhile passion died in response to reports of Bettina’s similar attempts made recently on two other youthful poets. She admits she has made such attempts, but claims now to live only for him – all to no avail.
Youthful poets are happy to “do a Bettina” – i.e. establish their fame by way of amorous correspondence with senior high profile poetesses – but their eagerness for literary achievement may not necessarily extend to acts of physical self-sacrifice. And fiftyish established poetesses (and poets) – when he wrote it, Dieter Kuehn – no, not the East German footballer who is the only German of that name with an English wikipedia entry – was fiftyish himself – become desperate enough to follow every lead, several at once. Time is running out, there isn’t enough of it left to do them sequentially.
April 25, 2012 § Leave a comment
In an entertaining article by this name, Derek Freeman undertakes to explain why Dyaks take heads.
Unsurprisingly it turns out — to assure fertility.
(Everything the primitive man ever does — or thinks about — it would seem — is fertility. Is this why we call him primitive — or is it just the imagination of the anthropologists that is?)
How does Freeman arrive at his conclusion? Not by asking the Dyaks themselves, who, he says, were not very helpful in establishing this conclusion (p. 234). Rather, he argues by way of Greeks and Romans who thought that sperm originates in the brain (not an especially wild assumption, if you consider male behavior carefully) and descends into the genitals through the spinal column.
As a group of English scholars once said: and therefore a witch.*
Freeman’s refusal to take a no for an answer is important if only because other anthropologists suffer from the same misconception: homo is sapiens, according to the profession, and therefore all his actions must arise from thought. To coin a phrase, thought germinates action. In fact, the business stands the other way up: man acts and only then thinks up good reasons for doing so.
The actual reason why Dyaks take heads stares Freeman in the face on the pages of his own article, but, a true scientist that he is, he does not notice. The reason is, in short, that the taking of heads assures that” the forest will abound with wild animals” (p. 237). Which it sure does: every head taken means one less competitor for food. Head-taking is an early form of environmental protection.
Incidentally, the article mentions another anthropological argument: that of McKinley, that heads are taken as a way of “winning souls for humanity” by “the ritual incorporation of the enemy as a friend”, the enemy’s head being chosen as a “ritual symbol of social personhood”. I have news for McKinley: the reason why heads are the preferred trophy world over is that the head is the only proof positive that the victim is really 100% dead.
For all this, it is a brilliant article; the description of the ngelampang ceremony, in which the daughters of the god petulantly ask to be given a head, an infant whose head is about to be taken confides in his mother that he “dreamt of being bitten by a huge and threatening snake, from which his head hurts even more than if it had been struck against an upstanding stump” (to which the mother answers “I fear my child that you are about to be speared and your head about to be carried off in a cane container”), the taken head is rocked gently like a baby and sung lullybies to, and when it is let slip out of its wrappings and dropped on the floor, it causes the women of the long house to jump up in (pretended) revulsion — the ceremony has all the precious worth of all superstructure — which is not, as per Marx, the weed grown upon economics, but weed grown on the evolved, mechanical, unconscious, hard-wired behavior. (The explanation; perhaps the justification; but not the reason).
One only wishes the description provided more details of lighting, dress, colors, music. Life and ideology are alright, but theater, well, that’s really interesting.
*Cf. proof that if she floats, she is made of wood (or maybe a duck), Monty Python and the Search for the Holy Grail