So Taylor Swift looks scary to Koreans? A couple of the guys seem to have been unaware that Beyonce Knowles is black (one of them commented on being ambivalent about her dark tan, only to be surprised when told that that wasn’t a tan, that she’s black).
I’m done with Joe Henrich’s The Secret of Our Success: How Culture Is Driving Human Evolution, Domesticating Our Species, and Making Us Smarter. I would recommend it to anyone who wants to know more about the field of cultural evolution (the author is one of the major people behind the idea of WEIRD psychology). For myself, one of the main upsides was that the book had a lot of empirical illustrations I wasn’t familiar with. Unfortunately some of the references to genomics are out of date, because he was writing the book in 2014. Also, I found the chapter on language somewhat unsatisfying.
The best passages so far that I recall. Page 234:
…Even ultra-verbal academics frequently use air quotes, an iconic gesture derived from the use of scare quotes in writing, to imply some disagreement with their terminology or its implications. I’ve seen many a humanities scholar, with a latte in one hand and a book in the other, struggle to communicate, unable to deploy air quotes to shield themselves from any undesirable implications of their words.
And from page 95:
…What we need is a more evolution-grounded science on genes, culture, ethnicity, and race, not less.
These insights will continue to fuel the spread of a new social construct: the view that all people, perhaps some other species as well, are endowed with certain inalienable rights-we call these human rights. No new facts about genes, biology, or culture can alienate a person from these rights.
Though Henrich is skeptical about the utility of the race construct, his thinking is in line with A.W.F. Edwards’ in his essay Human Genetic Diversity: Lewontin’s Fallacy. Grounding human rights in empirical facts which are subject to change is…problematic!
The emphasis on collective intelligence in The Secret of Our Success is an interesting complement to Hive Mind: How Your Nation’s IQ Matters So Much More Than Your Own. Though I was familiar with the model of technology loss because of drift, I was surprised how much return to population size there is in relation to the rate of innovation.
Glenn Reynolds often links to Amazon Kindle “Daily Deals”. I mostly ignore these though I’m a bit of a Kindle-holic. It’s for the same reason I canceled Kindle Unlimited, so many of the books on offer are just crappy (albeit, from my own subjective perspective). But on a lark, I clicked, and found some good stuff by drilling down to the subject categories.
I purchased John Darwin’s The Empire Project: The Rise and Fall of the British World-System, 1830-1970. Since I enjoyed After Tamerlane I’m expecting to not regret ponying up $2.99 or whatever it cost (“for the price of a Starbucks coffee….”). I also got a biography, Elizabeth Cady Stanton: An American Life. I’ve always been sympathetic to her, but my knowledge of her views and life are rather superficial (sometimes you get unfortunately surprised, R. A. Fisher: Life of a Scientist seems to confirm that he was a major league asshole). Speaking of biography, some reviewers were irritated that Constantine The Emperor read less like a narrative about his life, and more like a monograph of the culture of the Roman Empire of the time. Of course all that did was induce me to purchase it! Finally, I got two science(ish) books. Longitude by Dava Sobel, and To Explain the World, a history of science by by Steven Weinberg. In general I find Weinberg’s quasi-scientistic social and historical analyses rather uninteresting, but it was cheap, and the summary indicates that he begins in Miletus, a city whose role as the midwife for proto-science has always been near to my heart.
PAG is going on. If you are interested in genomes not human, I recommend the you check out the #PAGXXIV hash-tag on Twitter. There is lots of good science being done, but if you are interested, check out my friend Dave’s poster, Genetic Characterization of Indicators for Diazotrophic Recruitment in Zea mays.
Speaking of posters, I’m trying to get my data analyzed well enough to have a poster for BAPG XIII in Berkeley on February 13th. #Excited
Rounding out my personal population genetics library, I purchased An Introduction to Population Genetics Theory, by James F. Crow and Motoo Kimura. This book was published in 1970, so 45 years ago, but pretty much everyone on Twitter who would be in a position to know stated that it was a worthy purchase for more than historical reasons. It goes to show the value of old theoretical books in the field. I also purchased a copy of Male, Female: The Evolution of Human Sex Differences, because the topic isn’t something that I take for granted anymore in the sort of society we live in, where “cis-heteronormative binaries” or whatever considered “problematic.” For more purely historical interest I also got a copy of The Monk in the Garden: The Lost and Found Genius of Gregor Mendel, the Father of Genetics About 15 years ago I read the first 1/3 of this book, but I never finished before I had to return it to the library. At this point I’m much more invested in genetics, so I figure I should give it a second go.
I watched Idiocracy. It was OK. My wife was disappointed by the lack of world-building. One thing to observe: no one is looking at their phone in the future, and there are still payphones around. The film was made in 2005, before that particular revolution.
Someone on Twitter asked me to take the Political Compass test. I’m not a big fan of it, as I think it lacks subtly, and its libertarian-centric orientation is pretty obvious. But you can see my results. Probably not a big surprise. I’m moderately skeptical of democratic populism, so I’m not sure if many of these quizzes capture my own orientation correctly. But then again, everyone thinks they’re a special snowflake.
There’s a new book, The South African Gandhi: Stretcher-Bearer of Empire, which got an interesting review in The Wall Street Journal. The subhead: “Gandhi fought for Indian rights in South Africa, but his concern for the black majority was minimal.” This has been known for a while, so why is this portion of Gandhi’s life so eternally controversial? I think it’s because Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi has gone through the apotheosis, and the reality that he was a man of his time is uncomfortable for many. The past today is populated by gods and devils, not men. But Gandhi was a man.
Like Slate I’m skeptical of Twitter’s latest moves. I’ll be pretty sad if Twitter turns into a form of Tumblr, and I might have to move on to something else. Which would be lame as I’ve invested a lot in my Twitter presence. As I’ve noted before at this point when I go to a scientific conference people know me more for my Twitter than my blog. Turning Twitter into a more full-fledged blogging platform is totally useless and counter-purpose for me, since I already have a blog….
Opinions on the best Szechuan in San Francisco?
The pull-up tower I purchased last week? It’s been awesome. My motivation remains pathetic, but the activation energy of just walking up to it and doing pull-ups and chin-ups is so minimal that I work-out every day now as a matter of course. Though as the New Year’s crowd clears out I’ll probably venture back to the normal gym, the tower is a great supplement and keeps me at a good baseline.