Will be back soon.
At a readers’ suggestion I got Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault. Unlike The Dialectical Imagination this is not necessarily a detached academic book. Rather, the author has a definite perspective. About 20 years ago I read George H. Smith’s Atheism: The Case Against God, and there are a lot of similarities between the two books. From that I suspected before doing some research that the author had some influence from Objectivism, and that seems correct. I don’t care too much, and I probably broadly share the authors’ libertarian/classical liberal politics, but the middle sections of the Explaining Postmodernism got a little preachy for my taste.
Nevertheless the first half especially is excellent, and it outlines a genealogy of the Postmodern movement very concisely and in an illuminating manner. There are some details where one might quibble (e.g., the relationship of Immanuel Kant to religion is much more in dispute than presented in Explaining Postmodernism, though that’s a minor objection). But the progression of Transcendental Realism down to the morass we see around us today is a familiar story told more crisply here then elsewhere.
The author does outline a sociological origin for Postmodernism which is very intriguing, as it explains why it is an overwhelmingly far Left movement, despite the implications toward extreme relativism and subjectivism one might infer from the worldview. But there is something that is omitted here, perhaps because the author was not aware of this fact: there is a relationship of Postmodernism to elite intellectual religious revival in the past few decades.
Alister McGrath is a proponent of this school, and outlines his thesis in The Twilight of Atheism: The Rise and Fall of Disbelief in the Modern World. To condense McGrath’s argument, if everything is a superstition, then people will fall back on the tried and true superstitions. McGrath asserts the collapse of the authority of rationality and philosophical realism signal the end of the Enlightenment project, and undermines the secular world. As an empirical matter there is a lot one can quibble with here; in particular, though Postmodernism may be vigorous in the academy, science and technology are concrete witness to power of naive realism and rationalist presuppositions. But McGrath’s position is philosophically cogent. And, it is not well known, but the doyen of modern Intelligent Design, Phillip E. Johnson, has admitted that the he was strongly shaped by Critical Theory:
I used to refer jokingly to myself as the entire right wing of the Critical Legal Studies movement, which in their view was a contradiction in terms. Their critique was purely the instrument of a left-wing political program, which was chosen arbitrarily and presumed to be good. It was a faith commitment.
So I’m reading a lot of things on Postmodernism. I’m going back to Hegel. On the one hand this is a major opportunity cost. There’s a lot of science and programming stuff I want to read that I don’t have time to read. On other hand, much that I was suspecting becomes very clear. Ultimately I’m respecting Postmodernism more insofar as it is a reasonable tool from what I can see in destroying certainty and realism for those who are innumerate. If you have any understanding of statistics you’re pretty insulated from Postmodernism. But very few people think statistically. I also now believe it is ultimately far more dangerous than before, because it is a serious intellectual tool that can deconstruct much that is precious and rare in the world. In particular, the Enlightenment project, which in many ways goes against the world historical grain, or at least the grain of human intuitions and preferences. Postmodernism as an intellectual exercise is easy to dismiss. But as a tool of political battle it has to be taken seriously.
A Single Migration From Africa Populated the World, Studies Find. I will blog these papers. It’s a question of time. Please don’t pester me on non-open threads about this stuff.
Gunman kills Jordanian Christian writer charged over anti-Islam cartoon. The title is misleading, as the cartoon was making fun of jihadists, not Islam. He posted the cartoon on Facebook.
Chinese Jews of Ancient Lineage Huddle Under Pressure. Most of the Kaifeng Jewish community was absorbed into the Han, though some became Muslim.
Please use the “open thread” for random stuff. The OT comments early in threads are pretty annoying.
Also, if you follow me on Twitter if you tweet at me a lot, and I don’t respond, but you keep tweeting at me demanding a response, I’m probably going to block you. Also, I get annoyed at readers and Twitter followers who presume they know my state of mind or aspects of my life from what they see on the interwebs. If you do that and tweet at me, I’m going to block you, just as if you do that in the comments here your chances of me publishing future comments goes way lower. If you have read me for a while you should be aware that I have a really long memory and recall commenters who have crossed me in some way for years, so even if I let you comment again please don’t think I’ve forgotten. The major problem is commenters who presume over-familiarity with me. Probably a function of the low social intelligence of many of my readers.
Finally, Sean don’t post anything on sexual selection on this thread. I won’t post the comments.
Airports are in interesting window into architecture and perceptions of the future. When I landed at Vienna International in 2010 it was as if I landed back in the 1970s. In contrast, Frankfurt Airport was the closest I’ve felt to really be pushed into the “gleaming future” you sometimes see in science-fiction films.
With that in mind, lately I’ve been thinking that for some reason the airport at Detroit reminds me of what the future was going to be like in my childhood of the 1980s.
There was a time, five years ago or so, when we knew all the humans who had been sequenced. Or at least most of them. But now we’re coming into the period when the first sequenced animals of any given species are starting to die. Above is Cinnamon, the first sequenced cat is no longer with us. And some day the hour will come when Craig Venter, who was a major contributor to the first human genome, will no longer be with us.
Something to consider.
The Estonian Biocentre has been one of the best resources in human population genomics, because their policy under Mait Metspalu seems to be to release the data once it’s published. Today I went and checked the site, and noticed a vlog accompanying their Nature paper, Genomic analyses inform on migration events during the peopling of Eurasia.
I don’t mean to be an Ewen Callaway clipping service (though there are worse things to be), but today he has a piece up on ancient feline DNA and what it might imply for the distribution and spread of cats, How cats conquered the world (and a few Viking ships). My dissertation project is no longer on felines, but I spent several years doing analysis and thinking deeply on the issue of how cats emerged, and what might account for their contemporary distribution and phylogeographic relationships.
There are a few things I can divulge without scooping any future researchers who might work the data I’ve seen. First, ships and cats seem to be very closely connected. That is, maritime trade routes turn out to be highly suggestive of many of the patterns you see. This goes to the distinction between cats and dogs: the former are definitely creatures whose coexistence with humanity is conditional on complex civilization. The “finer things” in life, as it were.
The “domestication” of the cat is probably hard to disentangle from the emergence of urban centers, and the vermin which they attracted. What humans term vermin, the cats would naturally consider prey. The selective pressures are easy to imagine. Cats and humans are now companions, but initially their interests were simply concurrent.
And just as cities emerged independently in several locales (as well as agriculture), it is not implausible that domestic felines emerged from different wild populations, though at this point I’m modestly skeptical of most claims. Though it is not unlikely that there is introgression or admixture from diverged wild lineages into many domestic cat populations, the evidence of independent domestications is weak in my judgment. In contrast, cattle seem to be derived from two very distinct groups.
Rather, these research point to deep ancient structure among Middle Eastern feline groups, and parallel possibilities of human-cat coexistence as farming communities emerged rapidly during the early Holocene, with exigencies of historical events leading to later phylogeographic patterns we see around. I think the above research is on the right path. There is definitely a connection between most European domestic cat lineages and the indigenous populations for Egyptian cat (for example).
The map to the right shows GDP per capita in the European Union in 2014 broken down by regions. I’ve long observed that the wealthiest regions of Europe are disproportionately those which were long under Habsburg rule. This fact transcends ethnicity and religion. Catholic northern Italy, Catholic southern Germany, as well as Protestant Netherlands, are all notably economically productive, and were long under Habsburg rule or hegemony.
The observation is just that, an observation. I have no grand theory to explain what is going on. And some have suggested that the outlines of this productive zone of Europe might even go back as far as Lotharingia. But, these sorts of patterns rooted in geopolitical history might hint at the possibility that cultural norms and institutions can be deeply rooted in region and locale.
This is at variance with our intuition that culture is protean and can change rapidly. This is most easily illustrated by the shift from militarism to pacific evident in both Japan and Germany in the past few generations. A shift that most believe could reverse course in short order.
The above results are from Ancestry. You can see here 4% Melanesian. This is common in South Asians. And it’s not an error in the method. Rather, it is a natural outcome of the methods uses to generate admixture profiles.
Basically what’s going on is this:
1) You have data. In this case, the data are your own genotypes, as well as that of a set of individuals which represent world genetic variation, and are categorized into discrete populations.
2) You have a model or set of models. These models have different parameters.
3) You look at the data you have, and pick the parameters which best explain the data given the model.
If you have 100,000 or more markers that’s more than enough genotype data for individuals. The models themselves are quite stylized (e.g., HWE random mating sets of populations), but close enough to reality to give good results in many cases. For example, Ashkenazi Jews are often assigned to be ~100% Ashkenazi Jewish through these methods.
Then again, Ashkenazi Jews are a good test case. This is a population which went through a bottleneck about 500 to 1,000 years ago, and has been reasonably endogamous most of this time. Additionally, it’s not extremely structured due to inbreeding in different clan lineages. Though cousin marriage and uncle-niece marriage has been practiced by Ashkenazi Jews, the runs of homozygosity you see in Jewish genomes is not such that indicates a highly inbred population, as is common in the Middle East or South Asia. Rather, there are lots of medium length segments identical by descent across individuals.
Ashkenazi Jewish population is rather simple, and it is actually a rather clear and distinct population cluster. It stands to reason that when you create an Ashkenazi Jewish reference panel in your training data set it’s a pretty good match to the individuals you are testing.
The problems occur when you are to generate clusters and ancestry assignments for populations which are not so clear and distinct. Why do South Asians routinely come out as part Melanesian or Polynesian? This post was prompted by a Facebook thread where a South Asian customer of Ancestry was interested to see she had Polynesian ancestry. The reality is she almost certainly does not have Polynesian ancestry.
What’s going on is that the reference panel for South Asians used by many of the DTC genomics companies is not diverse enough to capture South Asian genetic diversity. There is an element of South Asian ancestry, “Ancestral South Indian” or ASI, which has deep shared ancestry with populations across Southern Eurasia and out toward Oceania. The admixture analysis method is searching through the reference panels for combinations of genotypes which can explain individual genetic variation. Since the South Asian training set is insufficient to explain all the South Asian variation the algorithms are filling in the balance of the variation with the closest available proxies to the “ghost clusters.”
The method is constrained and conditioned on two things:
1) The data being put in, which is often insufficient.
2) The set of populations that it is forced to work with to generate the combinations in individuals (the parameter values in the model to explain the data) are often insufficient or artificial.
What I mean by the last is that many of the genetic clusters are not taxonomically equivalent. “South Asian” ancestry is much more diverse and diffuse than “Melanesian” ancestry. This why Melanesian ancestry can explain South Asian ancestry, but generally not the reverse.
A new paper in PNAS, Palaeoproteomic evidence identifies archaic hominins associated with the Châtelperronian at the Grotte du Renne, weighs in the question of whether the Châtelperronian culture were Neandertals, with an answer in the affirmative in this case:
The displacement of Neandertals by anatomically modern humans (AMHs) 50,000–40,000 y ago in Europe has considerable biological and behavioral implications. The Châtelperronian at the Grotte du Renne (France) takes a central role in models explaining the transition, but the association of hominin fossils at this site with the Châtelperronian is debated. Here we identify additional hominin specimens at the site through proteomic zooarchaeology by mass spectrometry screening and obtain molecular (ancient DNA, ancient proteins) and chronometric data to demonstrate that these represent Neandertals that date to the Châtelperronian. The identification of an amino acid sequence specific to a clade within the genus Homo demonstrates the potential of palaeoproteomic analysis in the study of hominin taxonomy in the Late Pleistocene and warrants further exploration.
The details about stratigraphy are beyond me. But the protein and mtDNA evidence is pretty conclusive in my opinion that there are Neandertal individuals in this assemblage. Therefore, assuming their stratigraphy is correct, what you see in the Châtelperronian may be a cultural influence upon Neandertals by anatomically modern humans who were pushing into Europe at this time.
But cultural influence may not be the only dynamic at work. In The 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution Greg Cochran hypothesized that Châtelperronian culture may have been a vector for Neandertal genes coming into modern human populations. And now we know that this isn’t always one directional. That is, just as modern humans absorbed genes from “archaic” populations, so archaic groups absorbed ancestry from modern populations (or at least humans closer to the main stem of modern humanity).
In The Third Chimpanzee Jared Diamond posited that the Châtelperronian Neandertals were analogous to native peoples in the New World such as the Cherokee, who adopted many aspects of European settler culture in their attempt to resist cultural absorption and marginalization. But one dynamic we need to remember about these tribes is that they also had a lot of European ancestry, in part because of the rapidly unbalanced population sizes. It seems entirely likely, as some have posited, that the last “Neandertal” populations were also substantially admixed. Therefore, it is not entirely surprising that they would also tend to exhibit cultural features more commonly found among modern humans.
My prediction is that when whole genomes of Châtelperronian Neandertals are available it is highly likely that they often show evidence of modern human ancestry.
What’s going on?
Very busy, so haven’t gotten much further in The Dialectical Imagination, but I do have to say that the distinction between “positive freedom” and “negative freedom” is a useful one to highlight at this point. The comments below make me unsure about the influence of the Frankfurt School on modern socio-political movements, but the ideal of a utopian end state for society which enshrine a vision of the good definitely seems to be one of the things that moderns have lost. Rather, a lot of identity politics talk seems to be about positional games and status competition. The perpetual revolution.
There was an ancient DNA convention in England. It turns out that the original Polynesians may not have had much Melanesian ancestry, implying multiple migrations into Far Oceania.