Saturday, October 22, 2016

Amazing - and sometimes deadly - animals

Oh, thank you science!  For offering alluring reasons why I can turn every weekend posting away from politics!

And this time, let's look at some of our fantastic fellow creatures on this globe. For example:


Russian researchers have teased out the separate sounds from two dolphins, demonstrating that they take turns and emit sequences of bursts that seem to be discursive… in other words – conversation.  Similarly, sperm whales have been found to form clans with distinct cultures... and regional dialects -- which consist of distinct click patterns. 

Which mammals are most likely to be killed by their own kind? A recent study - The phylogenetic roots of human lethal violence - tabulated cause-of-death comparing a wide variety of mammal species. For instance, 13% of lion deaths are inflicted by other lions. The researchers found that a likely baseline murder rate among humans would be around 2 percent.  That means that 2 out of every 100 human deaths would be a murder taking into account only our place on the evolutionary tree, and nothing about political pressures, technology or social norms.

In comparison, among mammals in general just 0.3 percent of deaths are murders. For the common ancestor of primates, the rate is 2.3 percent.

With 2 percent as a human baseline, we come across as both uncommonly peaceful for primates and uncommonly violent for mammals. A topic extensively explored by Steven Pinker in his best-selling book, Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined.

"Rates of homicide in modern societies that have police forces, legal systems, prisons and strong cultural attitudes that reject violence are, at less than 1 in 10,000 deaths (or 0.01%), about 200 times lower than the authors' predictions for our state of nature," comments biologist Mark Pagel.

The champion killers of their own kind?  Meerkats. Hakkuna Matata, man.

And even more dangerous animals are explored in the recently released popular science book, Venomous: How Earth's Deadliest Creatures Mastered Biochemistry. Biologist Christie Wilcox investigates how such a wide variety of animals - jellyfish, sea urchins, spiders, snakes, scorpions, as well as certain snails, fish and frogs - have adapted to manufacture poisonous chemical cocktails that can debilitate, paralyze or kill. The complex biochemistry of these toxins may hold clues for future medical treatments.

== Unusual adaptations ==


Consider some extreme survival strategies:


A microbe found deep in a South African gold mine feeds off energy from radioactive uranium in the rock of the mine. Along these lines, could it be possible that cosmic rays power life in alien environments?


And scientists have identified a gene in strange, aquatic creatures called tardigrades that helps them survive harsh conditions, even boiling, freezing and radiation. One called "Dsup" (short for "damage suppressor") seems to attach to and protect DNA from radiation. 

Mice sing like a jet engine: scientists find that mice make their high-pitched squeaks by expelling a "glottal jet" of air at supersonic speed. 


Hints of tool use, culture seen in bumble bees? Apparently even bumblebees can learn to pull a string to retrieve a reward. Surprisingly, they can learn this trick from other bees, even though they have no experience with such a task in nature. 


A study of 29 mammals yawning found that the length of their yawn correlates with brain size -- longest for primates.


Carl Safina's Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel a thoughtful look at the latest scientific insights into animal communication, emotions and the question of animal consciousness -- 

-- issues I explore in fiction in my Uplift novels.  See also my earlier posting: Will we uplift other animals to sapience?


According to a study in Science, three different species of great apes -- chimpanzee, bonobo and orangutan -- are able to distinguish when others hold false beliefs, and anticipate the perspective of another ape. 


Scientists have for the first time, documented evidence of wild chimpanzee mothers teaching their young to use primitive tools -- to probe for termites. See this charming video: monkey tries to teach a human how to crack a nut.


Sharp stone flakes may not be unique to our human ancestors. Capuchin monkeys have been observed to inadvertently produce jagged stone flakes as they pound stones together (for unknown reasons). Curiously the monkeys frequently lick the stones they've hammered (perhaps as mineral supplements?).

Consider... Five times evolution ran in reverse, a fascinating look at instances of regressive evolution -- in penguins, hagfish, snakes and aphids. 


== Complex thought and communication ==


No bird brains here: Trained pigeons were able to distinguish four-letter words from non-words, and to tell the difference between correctly spelled words and those with transposed characters.

Actually, pigeons have excellent visual acuity. This is hard to believe -- but pigeons can even be trained to identify breast cancer tumors, distinguishing between those that are malignant and benign. The success rate for trained pigeons was 85% accuracy. A career in radiology?

A research paper in Applied Animal Behavior finds that horses can learn to use abstract symbols to communicate their preferences. 


And apparently even fish 'chat' to each other! Cod are incredibly vocal -- displaying regional 'dialects' that differ in frequency and tone. These fish can generate a range of complex sounds by vibrating their swim bladder -- which they use to establish territories, attract mates or signal the presence of a nearby predator.


Are dolphins finally waking up to their identity... and potential? See The Great Mammal Conspiracy, one of the latest cartoons from the always amusing SMBC. 

We're just beginning to understand the complexities of animal communication. 


So... so long, and thanks for all the fish!






99 comments:

donzelion said...

All I can say about mammals is....MEERKAT MANOR! The saga of the Whiskers v. the Lazuli, Commandos, Zappas. 'Flower' was a 'not quite evil' leader, from whom Cersei might take lessons...indeed, the dramatic reality makes Game of Thrones silly in comparison.

Anonymous said...

No such thing as "reverse evolution". Evolution is simply change, and natural selection means that organisms adapt to their environment. It is a curious thing to see someone trained in science implying that evolution means a directed change towards goals that we value. Also curious that the religious conservatives who oppose evolutionary theory in some ways have a better grip on this reality - which is one reason they oppose policies which reward bad behavior and punish good behavior. You get what you select for, but evolution itself is blind.

ahorseofcourse said...

Nassim Taleb did a great job dispatching Pinker's book:

http://www.fooledbyrandomness.com/longpeace.pdf

My personal problem with 'Better Angels of Our Natures' is that it is bad scholarship: it ignores any kind of structural view of violence to make a facile point using dubious statistics.

Paul SB said...

This Anonymous can't be the same one that has been chastising us for our modes of transportation! The comments are quite sensible. Indeed, the idea that evolution is directional was a product of the mind of Herbert Spencer, not Charles Darwin, but most people this side of the Atlantic have never heard of him and think that Spencer's interpretation is what Darwin himself taught. In actual fact, Darwin was virulently opposed to what later became known as "Social Darwinism" - which is neither. I would also agree that policies that reward people for bad behavior, like paying welfare recipients to crank out more babies, is foolish, though most of this is a thing of the past that older people cling to as arguments against those they don't like today.

I heard about the pigeon study, and the joke on the radio was that they could train them to dive bomb whoever they see the letters BMW.

That cartoon about the dolphins is great! What happens when you ASSUME you know other people's intentions?

Paul SB said...

Deuxglass asked where I hail from in the previous thread.

I was born in Colorado, but because my father was in the Air Force (a Tech Sergeant with a Purple Heart, one leg partially paralyzed), we moved around when Iw as little. I don't remember a whole lot about the places we lived in then - just a little about Indiana and Michigan. We landed back in Colorado when i was 9, after he passed away, so i was mostly raised by my Dutch mother. She later remarried - a soldier this time, but that was a short marriage (just long enough to produce a younger brother). I spent most of my life in Colorado, though I moved to California shortly after completing grad school. Not much for jobs in that state, and my wife, who hails from a much more tropical climate, was sick to death of the snow. I've been in the LA area since then. Jobs are much easier to come by, here, but the mountains are disappointing. Mostly dry chaparral communities with little in the way of the tall pines of my youth, and no aspens unless I drive the better part of a day up into the Sierra Nevada. My daughter thinks I must be part elf, given how much more I care about the arboreal community than the human community around me.

I don't know how much that helps you gain insight into my thoughts and ideas, but I have been an advocate of Standpoint Theory since I first heard of it. These days it is labelled "postmodern" but it sounds so much like good science that I find the association hard to credit. They idea is to reveal the background of the author of any statement, so the audience can better judge if there is a bias or conflict of interest. I wouldn't expect someone like Isaac Newton or Francis Bacon to object to this idea. It is naive scientism rather than quality science where scientific authority is more important than actual fact. Anyway, here's a link to the wikipedia article, which is somewhat flawed in its description of Standpoint Theory as it was formulated by feminist thinkers in the 1970's. Unfortunately it has been so long since I read any of this stuff, I can't remember the details (except for psychologist Carol Gilligan, but that's mostly because the name seems so familiar...; ] )

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Standpoint_theory

donzelion said...

Paul SB: Agreed about our new anonymous friend. Less death-cult ramble. More rational critique. Like.

I have often wondered what economics might look like today if the Social Darwinists had not presented so convenient a justification for so much awful conduct by monopolists. Sites and serious inquiry along the lines of 'Evonomics' are greatly facilitated once the canker sore of faux darwinists is expunged.

"I would also agree that policies that reward people for bad behavior, like paying welfare recipients to crank out more babies, is foolish"
Before ascribing foolishness to the policy, I'd look closer to see what is actually going on. Payday loans and similar predatory practices are objectively 'foolish' - except there may be no other option to feed the children on any given night.

However, unless one lives in the same condition as the people engaging in 'foolish behavior,' the underpinning logic is elusive: it's bloody hard to open a bank account without a fixed address, and it's hard to obtain and hold a fixed address without money, and it's hard to get money when you're starving... add in some psychological variation (depression, autism, intellectual disability, or other issues) and these 'challenges' may be insurmountable for large numbers of people who think differently.

I suspect that the expansion of freedom in the 21st century will emphasize mental variations, and will require as profound a rethink in how we treat others, and in government roles, as the racial civil rights and the feminist movements in the 20th century. A new sort of 'anti-Darwinism' (aka 'Political Correctness') repudiates the eugenics line of the 20th century.

Ilithi Dragon said...

Well, that only took half an afternoon to catch up on... (<.< And I totally cheated by skipping early-week posting comments).

Touching on a comment from the last thread...

locumranch said...

When are you citified, blue-necked, reverse-discriminating peckerfreebushes


Don't hold back! Tell us how you really feel!
} > : = 8 D

Looks like we found the Locum Angry Button. Imma have to try really hard to NOT push that one, constantly.

Or maybe he's being ironic? It can often be hard to tell in text, and I don't know him well enough to have a good read on this.

Locum, were you being ironic or sarcastic? I honestly can't tell.

Also, as an enlisted submariner, I can't help but giggle at your quaint little attempt at an insult chain. It was cute.
} : = 8 D


The short blurb about long yawns literally made me yawn (though that might be blamed on the long hours my div had to put in this week).


I seriously look forward to the day that we are able to properly identify Dolphin language noises, and are able to translate them back-and-forth. I'm looking forward to being able to have a conversation with a dolphin. And eagerly await the hilarity that will ensue from miscommunications due to the lack of body language translation on both sides!


Anon:

I'm fairly certain that Dr. Brin is aware of this, and that by "reverse evolution" he meant the evolution of appendages/body features in a species that then DE-evolved those appendages/body features. Or other cases, like dolphins and whales and manatees and seals, etc. that (as noted in the comic) were originally water creatures that evolved to be land mammals that then evolved back into water creatures.

Thank you, though, for phrasing your post with a tone/attitude of confusion/correction of someone nitpicking an error, rather than the snark/bile of someone jabbing a screwdriver into any crack they can find in the hopes of making a bigger hole. Pick yourself a moniker (not to be confused with a monocle, though those are certainly fancy and you're welcome to take one of those, as well), and pull up a chair, bench, couch, log, rock, or stool, as suites your preference. Welcome to the conversation!


There was something else I wanted to put into this post, but I was distracted by cycling loads in the laundry... Ah, well, if it's important, I'll remember it later. Probably when I am in a position with zero ability to access the internet at all, let alone make a post.
} X = 8 )

(And by laundry, I mean ALL of my laundry - I am the type to tend to wait until I'm at the point where I have no clean clothes left at all, and have to wash ALL of my clothes TONIGHT, and swear NEVER AGAIN. Then three weeks later, "OMG I HAVE NO CLEAN CLOTHES LEFT I HAVE TO DO ALL OF MY LAUNDRY TONIGHT!"

Though in my defense, that is largely because my barracks room is literally THE FURTHEST YOU CAN PHYSICALLY GET FROM THE LAUNDRY ROOM AND STILL BE IN THE BUILDING. If I didn't have to walk half-way across the building in one direction, down four flights of stairs, and then half-way across the building in the other direction, just to reach the laundry room, I'd probably do my laundry more frequently.
/rant)

David Brin said...

As usual, anonymous lectures us while not knowing a thing. Sure, evolution does not “reverse” and the term is misleading. But very often capabilities and traits that had been abandoned are later revived, since many of the codings for those traits did not go away but were just repurposed or de-activated.

In fact, any of you who get INSISTENCE OF VISION can read a real cool story by me about how that revival of lost traits might turn really, really, really creepy.

In time for Halloween!

ahorseofcourse… bull! The left is almost as crazy as the right, in their hatred of the blatant facts Pinker relates. The left’s hatred of any good news is the biggest self-inflicted wound on liberalism and progressivism. It is stark jibbering loco, based on some insipid notion that admitting the existence of some progress will make us not want more…

… when the diametric opposite is the case.

Paul SB said...

I was going to mention the bit about marine mammals, but our draconic visitor got that one - and no problem venting on the laundry, it brings back memories (and not just my own, archaeologist Ian Hodder related a story of running into a student who was dressed in shorts and a t-shirt on a snowy day and remarked on how brave he was, to which the young man replied "laundry day." The point of the story was to convey how easy it is to misconstrue other people's intentions.)

Dr. Brin had the civilization in "Glory Season" revive the nictitating membrane, an evolutionary vestige of amphibious ancestors, to help them cope with the much denser atmosphere of their colony world. Clever and interesting. I had a similar idea for colonists on a world with little land mass and a whole lot of swimming in an old RPG.

LarryHart said...

off topic, but not politics...

9:00pm Central Time: Can the Chicago Cubs really be about to make the World Series?

Paul SB said...

Donzelion,

I like your thoughts on how economic theory might be different w/o Spencer, but most likely monopolists would have fallen back on their old standby - The Just World Fallacy. In other words, rich people are rich because they are favored by the gods (whichever happen to be the gods of the millennia) and deserve it, while all the rest of us are evil sinners who deserve our abject poverty.

"However, unless one lives in the same condition as the people engaging in 'foolish behavior,' the underpinning logic is elusive"

Very much agreed. The ability to put oneself in another's shoes is a critical human skill.

There is a book I read in grad school that you might find interesting, in that light, though I would warn you that it is among the most depressing books ever written. The titled should make that clear enough. It is called "Death Without Weeping." The author spent many years living in a miserable shantytown in Brazil, getting to know and trying to understand the residents. It was considered politically incorrect to hand out food to these people, but for some reason medical charities were acceptable and wealthy donors competed with each other to fund clinics in these desperately poor neighborhoods. The doctors would give people glucose shots, but the majority of their patients were suffering from malnutrition and were literally starving to death, but as one doctor admitted, they could not write prescriptions for food. They wrote prescriptions for anti-depressants instead. Rich donors would pay for those, but not food, never food. We can't have people becoming dependent on hand outs!

For women in these places, their only way to get food is to try to attach themselves to a man who has a job. Of course, this inevitably leads to pregnancy, but even the employed men rarely make enough money, or even have employment consistently enough, to adequately feed themselves, much less their girlfriends and children. These neighborhoods have thriving industries making tiny coffins for all the "angel babies" who starve to death in these neighborhoods. Cheery stuff!

ahorseofcourse said...

Nassim Taleb's criticism is that there is no statistical basis to make a claim about a decrease in violence because human conflicts are characterized by 'fat-tail phenomena'(i.e. huge wars that happen very rarely and affect the mean significantly). For example, just because we haven't seen nuclear war in the past 60 odd years, this does not mean it is less likely to happen and in fact there is no robust statistical basis to make such a claim.

Personally, I think a lot of the anthropological criticisms of Pinker's scholarship are spot on and more to the point. Basically, he misrepresents how endemic and lethal warfare was to hunter-gatherer and nomad societies so he can point to a nice, monotonic curve as evidence of ever marching Progress when in fact human history is a lot more complicated than that. There's a lot of evidence that lethal, widespread warfare only came about with the appearance of complex state systems. But hey, he's got a thesis and he's sticking to it!

That's Pinker's shtick though. He writes pop sci books about controversial subjects, a great scholar he is not.

donzelion said...

Paul SB: Rich people will adjust any argument or concept to serve their interests, and sometimes, will do so creatively (e.g., Munger's support for Prop 54 might be an attempt to usurp or distort the concept of 'transparency'...I don't see that, but am still awaiting judgment of some others who have looked and thought about this topic).

But really, I was less concerned about them, so much as with how the Bayesian/Pareto Optimizing homo economicus 'standard model' - and speculating that it was much easier for well-meaning economists to respond to this 'rational man' than to tolerate a Faux Darwinian Bogeyman (and his eugenic attachments). 'Evolutionary/ behavioral economics' would be treated with disdain, guilty by association with some ugly notions (though Veblen would also by guilty by fornication...which prevented him from lasting long at most institutions). Perhaps anthropological, sociological, and psychological insights might be pushed aside in economics after a few such abuses.

"Death Without Weeping"
Sounds depressing indeed, but also, helpful to avoid some of the silly lines of reasoning. I often wonder when I hear about the risk of people becoming "dependent on handouts" if there isn't more to the story. When 'laziness' is regarded as a moral problem, solutions like 'If you don't work, you don't eat' make sense and cut off further exploration. However, these solutions are always attenuated (nobody ever meant that we should kill our elders as soon as they stop "working"...and nobody ever meant that mothers raising children aren't 'working' so they and their lazy kids ought to starve...).

Facile moralistic judgments tend to become pretexts for maintaining an abusive system. No one abhors a free rider so much as the man determined to tear up the train tracks and replace them with a toll road.

David Brin said...

ahorse... I have a grudge against you. !! That damn Mr. Ed song has been in my head off and on, since you posted here.

Taled (and you) are smart but quibblers. You are writhing to evade the blatant point. That nearly all of our ancestors, at least once in their life, experienced the smell and noise and terror of a burning city. While some cities have burned in the last 70 years, I'll bet the fraction who have lived through that horror is less than 5% today.

You know that is true. You know that daily life in the West and now much of Asia is fairly predictable and free of imminent fear. You know this.

You know that the vast majority of today's children bring schoolbooks home to safe places with running water and some electricity and enough food. You know this ratio has never been so, high in the history of the world.

Does that discredit quibbling over Pinker's possibly flawed scholarship? No. But it calls into question the reflex of those who are hammering on the impudent rebel against a hoary and destructive conformist meme... the meme that all is lost and we've made no progress, so why bother trying?

That is flat - out evil. And Pinker is a hero for using facts to take on such a vile goliath.

LarryHart said...

Y'know, I just couldn't believe it until it was final, but the Cubs are going to the World Series.

My late father was my daughter's age when last that happened in 1945.


We negotiate the terms of surrender.
I see George Washington smile.
We escort their men out of Yorktown.
They stagger home single file.
Tens of thousands of people flood the streets.
There are screams and church bells ringing.
And as our fallen foes retreat,
I hear the drinking song they’re singing,

The world turned upside down.
The world turned upside down.
The world turned upside down.
The world turned upside down.


ahorseofcourse said...

I don't deny that things like antibiotics, public education, and water treatment are great things our ancestors couldn't have dreamed of, but you don't need a 900-page book to make that point. Besides, it does depend on which 'ancestors' you're talking about: our pre-historic ancestors may have lived with significantly less violence than their modern counterparts: a lot of anthropologists disagree with Pinker's notion that prehistoric societies killed more people than modern conflict-ridden ones.

I think Pinker's deeper intent in writing a 900-page tome about the decline in violence is to make the claim that history has a sort of inherent tendency towards progress. It's clear that the debate about prehistoric violence becomes more than a quibble when you consider that context...

Another related thread of Pinker's scholarship is his various defenses of biological determinism/sociobiology. When you mix a strong suspicion that differences in social behavior are innate with a sense of history as a process of improvement and progress, you get Steven Pinker’s world view. I feel like that world view, despite its claims otherwise, is a deeply impoverished one when it tries to understand what future societies and their conflicts may look like.

Paul SB said...

Laughing my anatomy off! It could be worse, I have "Gilligan's Island" blowing through my brain, but that was my own damn fault. I'm trying to drown it out by playing one of the weirdest songs I can think of: "Rock Lobster."

Between Pinker and his anthropological critics there is some bad blood. I think to was in chapter two where Pinker painted a picture of cultural anthropology as some huge conspiracy to prove Rousseau. That might have seemed to support his thesis, but it is clearly an outsider perspective based more on whispers and winks than actual knowledge. Cultural anthropologists often advocate for small-scale societies, including in court, and that is mainly out of basic human decency, the desire to defend people who are relatively helpless. But few would go so far as to paint our ancestors as angels. Those who did have had to contend with the competitive nature of science. And anthropology is in no way a paradigmatic science, so battles within the community can be quite fierce.

Our typing equine seems to be taking a Rousseauian view of the distant past (along with our "car-sitter" troll). The problem with this is that it lumps all of human existence into one huge category, masking the natural variation among them. Humans have been around in our modern form for about 200,000 years (208K is the earliest fully modern fossils I have heard of, anyway, and that was just a couple years ago). Humans have only been agricultural for around 8000 years, and "civilized" for only 6000 years. The ev psych people have very good reasons to suggest that humans are a long way from adapting to our own social adaptations. We are not natural farmers, natural villagers or even natural city-dwellers. Many of the problems we have today are a direct consequence of the poor fit between our instincts and our modern lives - what has been referred to as the "diseases of civilization."

Paul SB said...

When we look at state-level civilization, we see some pretty impressive violence. Everything Dr.Brin has said about today compared to the rest of human history squares well with the data. And Taleb's "fat-tail" doesn't quite get it, because he dismisses the ordinary, everyday violence that makes life quite miserable for a whole lot of people outside of wars. Take a look at the next level down, the chiefdom. Here we also see some pretty impressive violence. It's hard to get good figures anywhere in the taxonomy, because so much goes unreported and unrecorded. The best studies show much higher rates of violence in chiefdoms. Given that a majority of human societies that were below the state level in recent centuries were chiefdoms, it would be easy to get the impression that they were all a bunch of murderous savages. But go further down the ladder, to tribes. There still seems to be a fair bit of violence. In all three of these levels, much of the violence is directed toward external societies - in other words, warfare. But when you look at interpersonal violence, a subject that has not really been studied often or thoroughly enough, the impression is that the smaller the scale gets, the less interpersonal violence you see. Now drop down to the band level, which seems to represent the vast majority of those 200,000 years. What you tend to see is a lot less interpersonal violence. It's not that it doesn't happen at all, but ethnographers studying band-level societies almost never report child abuse, wife beating or the sexual assault that so characterizes our world today.

But then you do the numbers. Richard Lee, one of the more well-known ethnographers of the Ju/huansi, who seem to be among the most peaceful societies ever studied, tells the story of a man who killed three other men over a period of several years. After his third murder, a few other men decided that he was too dangerous to keep around and speared him. When you take the small number of people stomping around the Kalahari at that time and divide by this tiny handful of murders, you get a murder rate that is quite a bit higher than what you see in modern societies. The numbers, though, mask the fact that the vast majority of these people never saw a murder in their lives. They did have to break up some fights, but even then they rarely drew blood. In such small-scale societies male on female or male on child violence are unheard of. Likely if a man tried he would get mobbed by the whole rest of the band. At that scale humans need each other much more to ensure their survival, so they develop mechanisms and traditions to keep interpersonal violence down.

Paul SB said...

What you see is a much more complicated picture than any Rousseaian fantasy, or the glib assertions of missionaries that they are all a bunch of savages. During those 200,000 years humans came close to the edge of extinction more than once, and the need to work together no doubt acted as a huge selective pressure that favored interpersonal cooperation, empathy, etc. But build up huge populations where people can escape a bad reputation by moving to another part of town, or can rationalize their crimes by currying favor with the elites, and now the selective pressure is working the other way. Institutions of justice and law enforcement are turning that back around, but through most of human history justice and law enforcement were intermittent, inconsistent and tended to rely more on the severity of punishment than the certainty of punishment, so many people got away with violence by remaining under the radar, which mostly meant they committed their crimes on people who the elites of society were not too concerned with.

Today, with modern technology for record-keeping and transmission, the pressure is now going back toward a more egalitarian mode of existence. Laws, jails and much more consistent enforcement means that those who harbor violent tendencies are less likely to thrive and reproduce. But evolution is a very slow process, and painful when you can see the light at the end of the tunnel, but you know its your great-great grandchildren who are actually the ones who will make it out.

David Brin said...

Sorry but I believe the following is an absurd strawman, Please back it up.

"I think Pinker's deeper intent in writing a 900-page tome about the decline in violence is to make the claim that history has a sort of inherent tendency towards progress."

No, the elephant in this room is that normally, a 'david" who takes on a goliath assumption attracts some sympathy, but not Pinker. He is taking on the vast and quasi-conspiratorial conformity of gloom. The absolutely religious aversion - especially among our most sincere advocates of activist progressivism - against even a scintilla of actual hope.

The reflex appears to be that chiding and only chiding will ever get citizens to support the next progressive interventions. A strikingly insane assumption that runs counter to everything we know about human nature and motivation. The narrative is that "no past efforts accomplished a thing! So pour more money into more progressivism!"

It is a lunatic sales pitch, and entirely unnecessary. It is exactly by pointing to the prodigious accomplishments of past progressive efforts that we can persuade voters not to be fatigued, but to double down and invest more.

Why this horrid, horrid, deeply-evil and counter-productive reflex, that has made Pinker a hated figure? Simple. Self-righteous sanctimony is a drug high, as I describe in the linked article below. Like the addicts at a Trump rally, leftists would rather scream and chide than admit they are part of a progression that is working.

see:http://www.davidbrin.com/addiction.html

ahorseofcourse said...

It's funny you mention Rousseau because he had this quote,

The most distinguished men hence learned to consider cutting each other's throats a duty; at length men massacred their fellow-creatures by thousands without so much as knowing why, and committed more murders in a single day's fighting, and more violent outrages in the sack of a single town, than were committed in the state of nature during whole ages over the whole earth

I don't think the anthropologists are trying to 'lump all of human existence into one huge category' - anthropology is fundamentally the study of how human societies and culture differ. The anthropologists criticizing Pinker aren't ‘advocating for small-scale societies’, they’re critiquing what they consider Pinker’s bad scholarship based on their own research on warfare in prehistoric societies. The disagreement is about how Pinker interprets the archeological record and that he cherry-picks data.

You have a point about what is considered violence. That’s a thorny problem. Is a child living in third-world poverty violence? It’s not an easy question to answer. If you consider it violence, Pinker’s thesis becomes a lot more troublesome. I also don’t think it’s a straw man to say what I think Pinker’s deeper intent in writing Better Angels was, David Brin. It’s just an opinion based on reading his books.

I’m also not so sure Pinker is really much of ‘a hated figure’ (I can think of another linguist who writes popular books outside their technical field who gets a lot more hate than Pinker does). He seems to have gotten really good publicity and reviews for his book which was a best-seller. In fact, why is a 900-page book dense with statistics and esoteric history data so popular? If I had to hazard a guess, I would say it is because it says something people desperately want to believe is true.

Duncan Cairncross said...

re the Pinker debate

The facts - actual skeletal analysis - appear to be very much on Pinker's side in this

As far as I can see on the one size is all of the actual measurements (Pinker)
And on the other side is a lot of hand wringing and "you are just being nasty" comments

The study referenced in Dr Brin's last post

http://www.nature.com/articles/nature19758.epdf?referrer_access_token=TJO3RFYE5312fTML5F8hD9RgN0jAjWel9jnR3ZoTv0MV6-Ms_XF0JyPRKMYcJKvFhPSIdgXOYeP3RC5HEB7h0T5NLcurSCeAl4WL-BAPhBCObKfkTfOJG0aFgIIbQKMDMGjotXRq_sFlEuMohQL1U5XOkjn1GDW5TpB9yKiJTDTMmeyYkRYeoMS2rXx7qo3bxm6c3-DH_HTpGAoImKI81Q9FABnrnoy0f8mYPBLDIJxdwz562x-5AGBcDMfPqi5rDfYccMcL_txQnVlKjV9IiWsLRZAJcPKbfPZ8EtYoj2r6jqs4WAQlr77jqBEBB3YA&tracking_referrer=www.theatlantic.com

Uses a huge number of data sets about primitive man and other animals to do a kind of checksum on Pinker's work - and guess what they find almost exactly the same thing - primitive man or pre-man is a primate with a very primate like murder rate of about 2%

Tony Fisk said...

There's the peculiar fact that funnelweb venom isn't particularly toxic to animals, apart from a specific component that plays merry hell with a primate's nervous system. However, prize for bizarre toxins currently goes to the jewelled wasp, that first paralyses a cockroach while it goes and checks its food chamber. It then returns to give a second, precisely targetted jab that turns the cockroach into a meek slave willing to be led by the wasp to its doom. (The wasp stands on the back of the cockroach, using its antennae as reins!)

Rather than portray a monotonic decrease in violence over time, Pinker puzzled over over a significant spike in US violence in the late sixties-seventies. He couldn't quite attribute it to availability of guns and basically palmed it off as a decay in moral values due to the permissive society (if memory serves)
Ironically, a credible reason for the spike and subsequent falls in criminal violence was described shortly after 'Better Angels' was published. Unleaded petrol

As for the animal most likely... is obvious Orlov is comparing the meerkats is following Pinker. Simples!

Tony Fisk said...

Gah! I meant *leaded* petrol, of course.

LarryHart said...

I find it necessary to introduce politics here. Skip over this post as you will. Caveat emptor.

From today's www.electoral-vote.com . We report--you decide which candidate's supporters best resemble Nazis. Remember, in the example, below, it is not Trump's opponents dressing him in a Nazi uniform and having him cheerfully operate a gas chamber. This is what his supporters put out, as a good thing:


Donald Trump's most fervent supporters are not big fans of Muslims, or Mexican immigrants, or Democrats, or Black Lives Matter, or a host of other groups. However, some of their fiercest vitriol is reserved for those on the right who dare to oppose their candidate. The National Review's David French has written a disturbing piece about what it's like to be on the receiving end of their anger.

For example, French's daughter is African American, having been adopted from Ethiopia. He has been advised many times that this means he is "race-cucking" or "raising the enemy." Further:

--> I saw images of my daughter's face in gas chambers, with a smiling Trump in
--> a Nazi uniform preparing to press a button and kill her. I saw her face
--> photo-shopped into images of slaves. She was called a "niglet" and a "dindu."
--> The alt-right unleashed on my wife, Nancy, claiming that she had slept with
--> black men while I was deployed to Iraq, and that I loved to watch while she
--> had sex with "black bucks." People sent her pornographic images of black men
--> having sex with white women, with someone photoshopped to look like me,
--> watching.

Beyond the sexual stuff and the photoshopped images, French and his wife have had their lives threatened many times. They have had people hack into their phone calls. They have had to call the police, in fear that intruders had broken into their house. As a result of all this, they have found it necessary to get concealed weapons permits, and to train their entire family in gun usage. French observes that, "I have contributed to National Review for more than ten years now, and have been deeply involved in many of America's most emotional culture-war battles for more than 20. I've never experienced anything like this before." We can only hope that 2016 is an aberration, and not the new normal.

Paul SB said...

Mr. Ed,

I think you misunderstood what I wrote last night. It is not anthropologists who misunderstand human prehistory. Anthropologists are pretty much the only people who are actively studying it. Although it has been awhile since I graduated, and I admit my memory can get shaky at times, I do have an M.A. in that field, so I have some comprehension of what I am talking about. Duncan and Tony are both right here. One, an average murder rate of around 2% is well supported by data the world over. Two, Pinker does show an overall decline in violence throughout prehistory, but also did recognize that the data is salutational in places, not a perfectly steady curve.

Do you know of another 900 page book packed with statistics that was a huge best seller, in spite of the fact that few who read it actually comprehended the statistical methods used in it? This is not unprecedented. Hernnstein and Muray's "The Bell Curve" was a huge best seller in the 1990's. Its claim to have scientifically proven both racism and the Republican agenda to funnel all the nation's wealth to the rich made it wildly popular on Wall Street. And of course the buyers had no knowledge that the statistics Hernnstein & Murray were using were deeply flawed and had been debunked a decade earlier. But when you tell people what they want to hear and dress it up in scientific clothing, people are going to eat it up. In their case the motivation was obvious, and they might have earned a little more respect if they had come out and said it.

In Pinker's case I suspect he was less political and more practical, though that might be hard to see. Certain philosophies have implications that can be very harmful to society. Between Rousseau (your quote refers to modern man, not primitive man), Hobbes and Locke, the 3 people given credit for our basic philosophies of human nature, none of them were actually qualified to make the sweeping generalizations they made, and all of them were right to a certain extent but wrong as broad generalizations go. Rousseau, disgusted with war, politics and power-brokering, saw how civilization crushes the goodness inherent in humanity. Hobbes pretty much just absorbed those Sunday School platitudes about the evil of human nature - platitudes that serve political purposes supporting the power of the Church during a period when most of clerical officials were the brothers and sons of the aristocracy. Hobbes' emphasis on the evil in human nature supported the status quo of his time. John Locke was closer to the truth than either of those with his assertion that humans are flexible and become what we teach them to be. But he was wrong in his assumption that humans have no instincts at all. Of these three views, the one most harmful to humanity is Hobbes, which is really the old Biblical view. This view insists that humans are naturally evil, which creates a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Paul SB said...

Ask yourself, if humans are truly evil by nature, why 2% and not 50%? If humans are universally evil, then wouldn't they simply kill and kill and kill until they either had no competition left or none that they could kill without seriously risking their own deaths? But no, it isn't even close to that, not by miles. Troglodytes of all stripes want to use this assumption as justification for their own crimes. What Pinker has done is show that, as institutions of justice and law enforcement have become stronger, rates of violence have gone down. I know that people who were raised on Orwellian fears hate this idea, because it shows that the big, evil government actually does good. It can be stunning, sometimes, how you humans can lie to yourselves so convincingly while walking every day through the disproof. Creationists drive cars powered by fuel made from organisms that died millions of years before their holy book says the Earth even existed, and every day humans get out of bed, go to work, go shopping and do all sorts of ordinary things that could never happen without the apparatus of government ensuring that they can do those things in relative peace. A quick trip to Mogadishu might make a useful contrast.

There are some details regarding prehistory for which Pinker is not really well-qualified to speak. His assumptions are based, as I said before, more on ethnographic experience with chiefdoms than with bands. Since chiefdoms do not seem to have existed before the end of the last glaciation, the picture of human instinct is not illuminated well by relying on them for your baseline. But for state-level society, he pretty much hit it on the head. Strong justice apparatus combined with democratic institutions and a culture that values fairness over might wins the least violence contest.

Anonymous said...

And who was it who shew the passenger pigeon to the airlock of spaceship Earth? Land use and consumption habits do matter, regardless of how proud car sitters feel about lowering themselves into their vehicles; to know fear one merely needs to walk about America for a season or two (I have recently added "blind bats" to "creeps" and "squeezers" to describe how car sitters behave; contrast that to our host who seems to think that intersections in America are smiles and sunshine). On the less anecdotal front, check out the slaughter rate on your stroads or the amusing efforts at Vision Zero in the Big Apple where pedestrians and bicyclists are ever blamed by default by the men in blue for "darting into traffic" after some unpleasant encounter. And what are the biosphere effects of your ever-wider Freeways? Partitioning the land into uncrossable barriers for some species plus the quite lethal run-off are merely some of the bad outcomes of your well beyond minimum necessary evil reliance on car sitting.

The death path is merely what John Mohawk observed the western way doing to his people and his land; how else classify life when you are and your land is being shoved to the airlock in the name of what some deem progress?

Paul SB said...

Larry,
I seem to remember someone talking about a "basket of deplorables" awhile back, then having to walk the statement back as insensitive to the KKK and their supporters. Obviously not all supporters of Donald Grope are this extreme - dupes rather than deplorables. But who would be running the show if he wins, the dupes or the deplorables? I have my suspicions...

donzelion said...

Paul SB: "the [political theory] most harmful to humanity is Hobbes, which is really the old Biblical view."

These three thinkers approached 'human nature' from a novel 'contractarian' perspective (homo contracticus). The Biblical approach regarded humans as essentially clay shaped by angelic/demonic external forces - and as such, authority flows from God (or Satan) to human leaders. The Platonic and Aristotlian approaches focused on 'merit' - but required systemic mechanisms to enable both development of merit (Aristotle's focus) and a mass that is too ignorant to recognize merit to be 'uplifted' so as to be able to perceive and respond to it (Plato).

The 'contractarian' approach rejects both those views. By shifting the emphasis from the theological, human needs became the fixation of politics. By shifting emphasis away from 'merit and its recognition' the question of leadership becomes objective: what has actually been agreed to (rather than which philosopher prince is actually more excellent).

Hobbes' claim is less "we're so evil that we need Leviathan!" - but rather, "even if we are utterly evil, we're still able to create governance without any divine anointment or intervention - because we can contract." (Bear in mind that Hobbes is responding in part to Descartes' cogito ergo sum, and adjusting the methodology to suit his purpose). Locke and Rousseau take that initial insight in very different directions.

LarryHart said...

Paul SB:

Laughing my anatomy off! It could be worse, I have "Gilligan's Island" blowing through my brain, but that was my own damn fault. I'm trying to drown it out by playing one of the weirdest songs I can think of: "Rock Lobster."


That brings back memories. The college apartment I lived in loved that one as a dance song.

But if you're trying to replace a catchy song in your head, I recommend listening to the entire soundtrack of "Hamilton". That'll do it.

LarryHart said...

Paul SB:

I seem to remember someone talking about a "basket of deplorables" awhile back, then having to walk the statement back as insensitive to the KKK and their supporters.


I think you're being sarcastic, but just to be sure...

She didn't have to walk back the "basket of deplorables" comment. She had to walk back the "half of Donald's supporters" being in that category, as it turned out to be more like 42%. And the problem wasn't insensitivity toward the KKK and Nazis, but the fact that the supporters who aren't racist, misogynist bullies thought she must be calling them deplorable too, when in fact they were only supporting a deplorable candidate. This extreme rounding error, of course, makes her the equivalent of Hitler.

Ilithi Dragon said...

Oh, look, Carnonymous is back! You really should pick a moniker, dude; you're posting here often enough, and we'll all take you more serious if you do.

Also, I do have to admit that I am curious to know exactly what position/ideal/solution set you support/champion. Would you mind laying it out in more detail for me? And try and save the snark for another day. I can't promise that I'll agree with you, but I do want to know and understand your position beyond snarky-trollish sound bites.

Ilithi Dragon said...

Oh, and I won't be around much for a little while after today. I'll be back, but I'm going to be busy for a while.

Smurphs said...

Yesterday, my best friend was over and mentioned that next week he is visiting his sister and the kids. One of their plans is to go to Disney. Immediately, my son, who was there a few years ago, starts singing that "song which shall not be sung". So I am very happy to have "Mr. Ed" or even "Gilligan's Island" stuck up there instead.

Smurphs said...


Anon,

We get that you think our car-sitting Western Civilization is a death trap. You have made your position clear and if you would drop the vitriol and actually opine some concrete suggestions, you might actually get some support here. But as we only have your vitriol to go on, I have a few questions:

Which 6 billion do you want to kill?

Do you want to nuke them? Poison them? Just let them starve?

Do you count yourself among them?

(And, no, just answering that we are doing that to ourselves anyway is not a concrete suggestion.)

PS: I know that the above is really snarky, but it also a real request. Do have proposals to discuss? We'd love to hear them.

David Brin said...

I do wish this particular "Anonymous" would choose a monicker and join us as a full participant. And then make his language less flowery (he is NOT very good at it) and instead make his point more clearly? I would fairly appraise he contributions (as hostile as they clearly are) were they not parsed in jumbled and clumsy metaphors.

===

Let me insert here part of a back and forth with a libertarian fellow I know who is among the smartest and least enslaved by Koch-ist hijacking-memes. I'll let you interpolate. But the crux is that libertarians should
(1) recall that "competition" and not "property" should be their touchstone (and they are oft in conflict),
(2) that oligarchy, not civil servants, has been the enemy of freedom and markets for 6000 years,
(3) that division of power is our greatest tool, and civil servants - while potentially dangerous - have been our main counter to the inevitable attempts by aristocrats to re-impose feudalism, (4) that yes, civil servants can be 'captured' and turned into tools of oligarchy, but 4a: that mostly has not happened
4b: Democrats eliminate captured bureaucracies and GOPpers never do.
4c: if government is now a captured tool, why do oligarchs pour billions into propagandizing against government?
5) Instead of raging against government, libertarians should better
5a: admit it works (crudely and dangerously) at counterbalancing feudal trends and engendering the most free and creative society ever
5b: make plans for easing AWAY from govt meddling by innovating ways for insurance companies to replace the services now monopolized by paternalistic agencies like the FDA, FTC, OSHA etc/
5c: Push hard for transparency which is the only way to keep civil servant "watch dogs" from becoming wolves.

Now on to my answer to Perry:

Given that feudal-cheating-inheritance-based oligarchy was the standard attractor state and failure mode… cauterizing competition, markets, creativity and competence for 6000 years, the top priority ought to be listening to Adam Smith and making prevention of feudal-cheating-inheritance-based oligarchy a top priority. Which is why the Kochs etc spend so much, diverting libertarian attention AWAY from feudal-cheating-inheritance-based oligarchy.

We are still primitives, but for a couple of centuries we have found we can use a very crude implement - government - to counterbalance that old attractor state. We use regulation to limit cheating in our competitive arenas, markets, democracy, science, courts and sports. All of which would collapse from cheating, if not regulated.

Yes, government is a crude bludgeon. And inherently a scary instrument that CAN be captured. We should be innovating new methods to replace its services, wherever possible. But replacement comes AFTER. If libertarians viewed govt agencies as PLACE-HOLDERS and stopgaps, whose services might be replaced, then we might get somewhere.

But nothing shows our primitiveness more than libertarians raving contempt for the interim social contract that could allow such innovation, while providing conditions for the greatest surge in wealth, freedom, justice and liberated talent the world ever saw.

I am fine with loosening the compulsory aspects of some govt regs. Libertarians keep declaring the GOP to be their fallback hold-your-nose cousins vs statist democrats. But it is only in blue states that the Drug War is being curtailed. It is only democratic Congresses that deregulate, including not just the ICC, CAB, GPS, ATT, Internet… but also eased FDA processes.

Compromise. Require everyone get homeowners or renters’ insurance. Insurance companies are required to do a home safety etc inspection once per year. Those who make it cursory will save manpower costs. But those who dive into your medicine cabinet and cupboard and give you lower rates for following their health advice will make more money over the long run.

David Brin said...

Ilithi Dragon! Whatever makes you that busy is probably sober stuff and you set forth - at sea or on land - with our blessings and our thanks.

Please pass on the same to your colleagues and shipmates. Do good work.

===

PS... can I assume you got the box of books? Tell the librarians of other boats, if you meet them. Godspeed.

Paul SB said...

Larry,
I knew, somehow, that Hamilton was going to surface in this conversation somewhere. At the time I was looking for something that would challenge the Gilligan's Island theme on silliness but drown it out by being more memorable. No worries, though.

"I think you're being sarcastic, but just to be sure..."

And yes, that was sarcasm.

Smurphs,
The song that is not to be named, would it have anything to do with a pair of sisters and an animate snowman?

donzelion said...

LOL, repeating my call for a public position -
"[Libertarians should] 5c: Push hard for transparency which is the only way to keep civil servant "watch dogs" from becoming wolves."

Is that happening with Prop 54?

If we broadcast all public actions by legislators - through media they cannot edit and control - could such an effort serve as a base that could be broadened to other civil servants? Or is the call to expand "transparency" to civil servants waylaid if the cameras focus upon legislators instead?

Smurphs said...

PaulSB,

Sorry, I actually like that song.

The one I mean has to to with the size of the planet.

Great, now it's back in my head again!

Paul SB said...

Donzelion,

Hobbes' Leviathan was, I suppose, a step up from the earlier hegemonies, but not by a whole long stretch, was it? Contract is at least a better basis than charismatic authority, but it is far too easy to manipulate the verbiage of contract and pressure signatories to sign quickly to short-circuit real justice. Anyway, in terms of his conception of human nature, the ability to sign and honor a contract is hardly different from the old religious notion of submitting to the authority of gods and their representatives on Earth.

locumranch said...


Although I already had a scathing critique of progressivism written, I'd rather rework it to target Pinker:

Ahorseofcourse points out that both Pinker (and most progressives) purport to know the GOAL of evolution. They assume an Angelic Future for Humanity where we form strict hierarchies, banish dissent, lounge around on clouds, strum harps & LOVE each other as we dance around the throne of Absolute Knowledge while chanting hallelujah.

This is Manifest Destiny at its most absurd.

Evolution is a genetic response to current environmental stressors & selection. It is NOT some magical form of predestination powered by Intelligent Design.

Although I do not subscribe to the Noble Savage trope, I suspect that the progressive obsession with hierarchy, uniformity & group hugs reflect a less than 6000 year old short-term adaption to City Living. They reinforce this preference by adopting a 'Savage Savage' trope that purports to PROVE that urban living makes humans 'Better & Better', while they disavow knowledge that Mass Killing & Modern Warfare could only occur in an hierarchical urban environment that focuses both resources & a singlemindedness of purpose into the metaphorical thin edge of the knife.

Like most failing (and/or fallen) civilisations before them, the Modern Urban Progressive is logic-trapped. They can't help but believe that they themselves, their technology & their value system represent the 'End of History' which must necessarily supersede, sweep aside & replace all those inferior, divergent & pastoral cultures that came before. They desire to become the Ultimate City Dweller and, so set in this belief are they, they obsess about perfecting themselves along rather narrow urban-friendly lines.

They behave like obsession-driven madmen: (1) They ignore their own flaws & shortcomings; (2) they believe self-sufficiency to be indistinguishable from their form of interdependency,; (3) they tell other cultures where to go, how to act & what to do; and (4) they meddle in affairs which don't concern them because they consider themselves to be superior to everyone else.

These would-be Urbanites forbid dissent, conflict, individuality, disobedience & gender, and what is NOT forbidden becomes mandatory. Seen through this lens, StarTrek (especially NexGen) is little more than an Office Cubicle in Space.

As mandated by either deep-rooted insecurity or psychological necessity, these Urban Progressives declare that all other conceivable human futures are anathema. including the ideal of the Warrior, the Villager, the Gandhian, the Nomad, the Gengineer, the Isolated Genius, the Family Agrarian, the Man Aquatic & the Farmer in Space.

They rush headlong into their genetic cul-de-sac of self-destruction, secure in their belief that our current Urban Favorable environment either cannot or must not change. Forever. Even when change is most certain.


Best
______

(1) See how these progressives would banish Trump supporters & other assorted deplorables into the past? They cannot even conceive of any future where agrarianism, physicality, conflict, autonomy, dissent, individuality, honour, anarchy & bloody-mindedness have any survival value whatsoever.

(2) Do the views I express reflect honesty, anger, irony, sarcasm, cynicism or humour? Yes. Yes, they do ;)

Paul SB said...

Folks,

I have yet to see any evidence that this "carnonymous" (clever moniker, that!) has ever read a word within the comment section. He seems to at least skim the main posts, but barely even that. Don't hold your breath waiting for him to answer. He's pure drive-by. In fact, if our host made it a condition that he actually answer other commentators or he would trash his posts, we would find out quickly if we are wasting our time writing to him.

ahorseofcourse said...

I guess I misunderstood your argument, I didn’t realize you were also saying Pinker misunderstands human prehistory.

It’s interesting you bring up “The Bell Curve” because I think there’s some interesting parallels. Indeed, “The Bell Curve” was popular because it placed a veneer of rigorous science over simple bigotry and partisanship. That’s an old argument racists have always used: “We racists just recognize the cold, hard scientific facts and our critics just lack the will to admit uncomfortable truths”. That argument, I think, really inverts the weight of science: the evidence has thoroughly discredited ‘scientific racism’ time and again. I’d also say that most proponents, though they like to level this charge at everyone else, seem to be particularly susceptible to confirmation bias. I have a friend who calls this the Rush Limbaugh style of argument: “I’m just tellin’ it like it is” when really they’re just saying what they feel. What’s interesting to me is Pinker’s near parallel argument when he defends sociobiology and the deep-roots theory of human warfare. He paints his critics as ‘romantics’ who simply refuse to acknowledge the scientific evidence when, in fact, I think one can make a good argument it is Pinker himself, who is susceptible to confirmation bias and unwilling to acknowledge solid scientific evidence that contradicts his view.

About the other stuff you wrote about crime, there’s been a ton of theories trying to explain the trend of decreasing crime rates in the West. I’m not sure anyone’s satisfactorily demonstrated one though. Some point to stricter sentencing, but as far as I know, places with less severe sentencing have also seen decreases. Likewise with increased police presence and improved policing tactics, places that haven’t implemented these have also seen decreases. I’d wager that improvements in security technology over the last couple of decades like ubiquitous CC cameras, improved security systems, etc have made robbery and burglary much more difficult, but that’s just a guess. There’s also the fact that the US incarceration rates of African-Americans rivals the incarceration rates of the USSR during the Stalinist Terror. I don’t think anyone knows how stable such a system is in the long-term. My guess is we’re delaying a profound reckoning for having the world’s largest inmate population. That’s related to Taleb’s criticism of Pinker, how can we know current trends will continue into the future?

I’ve probably already written too much at this point. Here’s an interesting counterpoint to the very good Nature paper David Brin linked to in the post:

https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/cross-check/war-scholar-critiques-new-study-of-roots-of-violence/

LarryHart said...

Paul SB:

I was going to mention the bit about marine mammals, but our draconic visitor got that one


I never noticed that before--does the word "draconian" derive from "dragon"?

LarryHart said...

Smurphs:

One of their plans is to go to Disney. Immediately, my son, who was there a few years ago, starts singing that "song which shall not be sung"


It's quite a...tiny plantet, eh?

I happen to like that song, but my wife is squarely on your side.

LarryHart said...

locumranch might as well have said:

See how these progressives would banish dinosaurs & other assorted prehistoric animals into the past? They cannot even conceive of any future where huge size, sharp teeth & claws, physicality, conflict, autonomy, & bloody-mindedness have any survival value whatsoever.

donzelion said...

Paul SB: "Hobbes' Leviathan was, I suppose, a step up from the earlier hegemonies, but not by a whole long stretch, was it?"

In terms of the final resolution (the absolute hegemon)? Not a huge improvement.
In terms of methodology? It's a profound innovation, and one of the foundational insights leading into the Age of Reason itself.

Think of it as the intellectual equivalent of the first modern steam engines: not a whole lot better than men on a bucket, but a vast shift in possibility that was soon realized.

"Contract is at least a better basis than charismatic authority,"
Charismatic authority remains incredibly interesting (lots of neuroscientists analyzing Trump's appeal are making a variation on ancient charismatic models, replacing archaic terms like 'divine anointing' with neuro-scientificese.

"but it is far too easy to manipulate the verbiage of contract and pressure signatories to sign quickly to short-circuit real justice."
You are making Rousseau's main point - that what we pretend is a 'fair bargain' is actually just a reflection of a number of compulsions operating socially. Yet even so, Rousseau sees 'human action upon other humans' as the driver: as we are all part of 'Leviathan', we crush ourselves under that yoke. By shifting to humanity, the objects of inquiry can at least be studied in ways that formalistic excellence or divine will cannot.

Hence the 'contractarian analysis' is one plank in the foundation upon which Adam Smith, and many others, built.

David Brin said...

ahorse… for you to conflate with Bell Curve Racism Pinker’s effort to get us to acknowledge the palpable effectiveness and outcomes of past progressive efforts is stunning. It is not only illogical but deeply hypocritical.

You make no effort to answer my argument that chiding, alone, will not sustain progressivism. Indeed, by emphasising only chiding and never optimism, leftists have been enablers and empowerers of the Trump phenomenon.

As for incarceration, prisons are spilling out their nonviolent offenders AS WE SPEAK, especially in California. A terrible injustice - that is being addressed. But you will never admit it.


Then there’s our prodigal son. I’m fatigued and admit that I did not read locum’s latest. He is clearly chemically deprived this month or else upset about the election. The main thing is that he never acknowledges any of our refutations or factual rebuttals or logic.

Doubling down may be effective within the Confederate Tump rallies but out here in the world it get so boring that… (yawn)… zzzzzzzz

ahorseofcourse said...

I think you misunderstand me David Brin. I was criticizing Pinker’s defense of biological determinism/sociobiology which is related to his support of the ‘deep-roots’ theory of human warfare (which is related to the way he interprets warfare in prehistoric societies). I wasn’t talking about the outcomes of past progressive efforts, which I agree are wonderful developments our history has taken. In the modern era there has been immense progress. I guess I’d only add the caveat that our age is still like any other: we carry certain assumptions that seem quite natural to us but would seem quite alien to other cultures and ages. That’s a disconcerting fact about human nature: we readily recognize the cruelities of the other tribe, blind to our own. To put it another way, I think it’s an alluring, but false view to see history as a process of maximizing progress (kind of like it’s a naive view of evolution to see it as a process of globally maximizing fitness).

When I drew the connection between “The Bell Curve” and Pinker’s support of biological determinism, I was thinking of his dismissal of biologists like Stephan Jay Gould and Richard Lewontin, probably the two most articulate critics of biological determinism and sociobiology. Look at his treatment of Lewontin’s ideas in his book “The Blank Slate” and tell me it is not nearly identical to how the “scientific racism” crowd dismiss their critics: by ignoring the scientific evidence their critics point to and by misconstruing their opponents’ criticisms as solely motivated by ideology.

I did not know that California has been rapidly releasing nonviolent offenders - a great development I suppose. I still think my point stands: having the world’s largest incarcerated population will have a huge long-term impact on US society at large.

Paul SB said...

Larry,

/Draconic/ refers to dragon. /Draconian/ refers to Draco the Lawgiver, who wrote Athen's first law code. It was famous for its harshness, and the word /draconian/ refers to taking harsh measures (cutting the hands off of thieves would be considered draconian, or stoning people for eating shrimp or pepperoni). So I refer to Illthi Dragon as /draconic/ but not /draconian/. He doesn't strike me as the type.

It's funny you should mention prehistoric life (in the context of translating Straw Ranch), I just picked up a new DVD called "Australia's First 4 Billion Years." I've watched about half of it so far, and I will probably show some of this series to my students. Unlike the old "Walking With..." series, it actually shows how geologists know what they know. That makes it perfect for an Earth Sci class, but it's also great for people who might wonder how it is we know what we know, but are too lazy or have too little time to read. Show it to kids and you immunize them against Creationism.

As far as Straw Ranch goes, he is a master of projection. Everything he accuses "progressives" of are completely typical of his own tribe, and are exactly what the progressives have been working against. He's like those religious types who claim that all humans are evil monsters unless they submit to the will if God, they have all this in their own hearts and can't imagine that anyone else could be different from themselves. Nothing he has ever typed has been anything else, which is probably why you used that "poor marksman" quote so many times.

I'll get back to our equine commentator later. I can't spend all day here.

David Brin said...

a horse I understand... though YOU should understand where a lot of the hostility toward Pinker comes from.

Some attributed the plummet in crime to the incarceration, though now we know it had more to do with eliminating lead from gas, air, water, paint.

One thing I find boggling is why we did not buy up small ghost towns and turn them into low security prison colonies for nonviolent offenders, so they could be farmers and engage in an economy. That may still wind up happening with sex offenders.

Jonathan Sills said...

"Hobbes' Leviathan..."

And I just now made the link with Dresden Codak. Aaron Diaz had mostly run on the loosest of continuities, but he's had two prolonged storylines: "Hob", in which Kimiko "Kim" Ross (nee Kusanagi) found a small time-traveling robot named Hob, that led her into the discovery of time travelers seeking to avoid the future Singularity (as it left them feeling useless), and the fact that she would be the cyborg interface between humans and robots in that future; and "Dark Science", in which Kim is forced to move to the city of Nephilopolis, which basically worships her father Kaito Kusanagi, famed cyberneticist - only to learn that a) he was involved with a cult of Dark Scientists (and we're still learning what Dark Science is), b) that he tried to break away from that group and was probably killed by a group member known as "Leviathan" (who also tried to kill, then later rescue, Kim), and c) his name was in fact Kim Young-Soo, a young man from Korea who was told by the City that he had to be the Japanese scientist Kaito Kusanagi, originally a mascot for a line of instant noodles.

So, Dark Science seems to have originated from the study of what remained of Hob. And that led in turn to the deployment of Hob's effective "descendant", Leviathan.

And I never realized what Aaron was saying behind the scenes until this very moment.

Paul SB said...

Johnathan,

With a central character nee Kusanagi, is this in some way related to Masamune Shirow's "Ghost in the Shell," or is Diaz using the name to hint at it (or just a coincidence?

Have you ever read Calvin & Hobbes cartoons and thought if them in terms of John Calvin & Thomas Hobbes? Real brain twister there, but fun to speculate on...

donzelion said...

"Some attributed the plummet in crime to the incarceration, though now we know it had more to do with eliminating lead from gas, air, water, paint."

Hmmm, there are at least four theories out there - three are 'popular' based by non-experts in the field, and one is 'unpopular' based on work by an expert in the field.
(1) "Broken windows hypothesis" - popularized by Malcolm Gladwell, beloved by a number of police commissioners, backed by almost no evidence of causality but billions of dollars

(2) "Legalized abortion reduces crime" - popularized by Dubner/Levitt Freakonomics, beloved by just about no one, only tenable after accepting a number of assumptions in a lengthy chain of causality which are themselves backed by rather weak evidence (and which Pinker himself spends quite some time debunking)

(3) "Multiple causes" - Pinker's main thesis, as I understand it - a plethora of independent factors interoperated

(4) "Police-industrial complex" - Clayton Mosher's "The Mismeasure of Crime" is a textbook on how criminal stats get juiced (yes, sometimes police corruption plays a role, but the much larger role is how procedures themselves operate - simply computerizing paper records would reduce crime stats in most precincts from levels experienced in the '60s-early '80s).

I don't know if Pinker's "crime spike" in the '60s responds to the sort of nuance Mosher refers to (which could inflate crime incident reports by 30-60% - even without anyone engaging in corruption). Bear in mind that FBI numbers are based on state-level reporting: garbage in/garbage out. And if crime reports in recent decades are subject to these sorts of systemic manipulations, despite entire industries of experts tracking these matters, I am skeptical about the reliability of claims about the Paleolithic era.

donzelion said...

"One thing I find boggling is why we did not buy up small ghost towns and turn them into low security prison colonies for nonviolent offenders, so they could be farmers and engage in an economy. That may still wind up happening with sex offenders."

Uh, because slave labor is frowned upon? And those who frown the most are the farmers who couldn't compete with such penal labor?

Paul SB said...

A quick note on genetic determinism:

This idea has always been a major force behind conservative agenda. The logic is that if people's behavior is determined by genes, there is no way to change them, therefore it is useless to use tax money to try to "fix" people, be they poor, violent, alcoholic or whatever we think needs to be "fixed." This argument is especially important for conservative tax policies, base don the meritocratic assumption that rich people are superior to those who aren't, so it is unfair to tax them, and that money cannot "fix" poor people, who are dumb and lazy by nature and will only waste any money you hand out to them on stupid things like drugs and alcohol (as if spending money on overpriced Italian furniture, prestige automobiles and mansions full of uninhabited rooms were any less stupid).

If Pinker errs on the side of genetic determinism, he is making a huge mistake in terms of prescriptive power. After all, if humans are complete slaves to their inherently violent genes, then law enforcement isn't going to change that. We are a hopeless species that should be consigned to the rubbish heap of extinction. But logic is almost infinitely twistable.

The Prophets all predicted extinction
The Virgin spoke in apparitions
And if it all came to pass now
You feel we'd all deserve it somehow
(Pet Shop Boys - The End of the World)

Paul SB said...

(So much for the "brief note"!)

I see the whole history of violence as a complicated interplay between stress, genes, memes and social institutions. The fact that it has been high but is going down suggests we are learning to adapt to our newer, more crowded living conditions. Some of this might relate to selective pressure on genes for hormone levels, and some of this is a matter of cultural norms and expectations. Another piece of the picture is that apparatus of justice and law enforcement that Pinker focuses on - necessary, but insufficient by itself. We still have to fight the troglodytes with all their "manly" violence and asinine expectations on the meme level. This is partly to help ease their throwback notions into the dustbin of antiquated superstitions and witless incantations where they belong, but also to work encourage a culture where sexual selection favors the extinction of their genes.

An encouraging tidbit I heard a few years ago has to do with a linguistics experiment. Someone recorded the voices of men in Africa saying the common Bantu (IIRC) greeting word /jambo/, then played the recordings back for African women to hear. They asked the women which one sounded more like the kind of man they would want to marry. The African women very consistently picked the deepest, most masculine voices. A reporter took those same recordings and played them to women in New York, and they consistently found the most masculine voices threatening, and chose the middle-range voices (not the girly-man voices, as Arnie might suggest).

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi donzelion

The "Mosher" problem is why Pinker concentrates on murder - it is a set "crime" and will tend not to change

The "Lead" hypothesis so far seems to stand up quite well in other countries as well as the USA
Probably not the whole cause of the spike but I bet it is well over half of the reason

Hi Paul
Pinker does NOT "err on the side of genetic determinism" in fact his entire premise is that we (mankind) have changed our behavior.
That we have dramatically changed the actual murder rate and that that has happened far to fast to be any kind of genetic change

From my point of view he has successfully challenged one of the great "truths" - that we are all just cavemen in suits

Jonathan Sills said...

Paul SB -

Not directly related, but Aaron is a big fan of anime (and wrestling, particularly Japanese wrestling), and his use of "Kusanagi" was inspired by the Major. That may also have inspired Kim's recent transformation; she had been a cyborg since the end of "Hob", as the future humans' final desperate attack burned away her left arm, both legs, and parts of her torso, and in the wake of her escape from the Dark Scientists most of her systems and parts of her organics were damaged, so the city's robots (in gratitude for her repairing one of them; the City would usually just dispose of damaged units) helped her go full-conversion, her brain now riding in an entirely synthetic body.

(This did cause issues for the police, who had to scrap their original arrest order for her. Apparently, before her conversion she wasn't legally human, being more than 50% synthetic - but afterward, rather than a "mezzode", she qualified as a motor vehicle, meaning the description on the warrant was incorrect. And they're all about their official classifications in the City...)

Paul SB said...

Duncan,

I did say "If Pinker ..." To be perfectly frank, I never finished reading it. I bought it on the recommendation of our host and started it, but didn't get much past chapter 4 when my vacation ended and I was back to working 27 hours a day, 9 days a week. So I couldn't wag my finger and go, "Bad Steve! Bad! Genetic determinism is bad!" Instead I said that if he was making that argument, it would have been foolish.

I suppose I'll have to see if there is a cd version so I can finish "reading" it in the car (am I inviting more car-sitter chastisement?). One more on my list.

"From my point of view he has successfully challenged one of the great "truths" - that we are all just cavemen in suits"

I think you know how I feel about oversimplifications like this. For awhile the cavemen in suits idea was an exaggeration used to break people out of the old Sunday School "We're not animals!" nonsense. But any time people exaggerate to make a point, it comes back to bite you later. If we really were just cavemen in suits, we wouldn't be building giant office towers and working 9-5 (or worse). But most people believe anything they have heard often enough (Argumentum ad nauseam fallacy).

Paul SB said...

Donzelion,

"And if crime reports in recent decades are subject to these sorts of systemic manipulations, despite entire industries of experts tracking these matters, I am skeptical about the reliability of claims about the Paleolithic era."

I have made exactly this point, though not as forcefully as you have here. All our estimates are doing the best we can with limited data sets. They are suggestive, not definitive, especially when you are dealing with the distant past and archaeological and/or paleontological material. Preservation is always accident, not norm, and every archaeologist and paleontologist knows this. The "You don't know what you don't know" problem is always on our minds.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Paul

The "Great Truths" was from me - not Pinker,
When I was growing up there were three things that everybody knew
Just look at Science fiction stories from the 60's and 70,s

(1) Nuclear war was just around the corner and (nearly) inevitable
(2) Population explosion was ongoing and would never stop (until bang)
(3) People had not changed - we had new technology but people were just the same
I can remember Poul Anderson actually stating that in one of his stories

All three gone now (and good riddance) - but Pinker was the one who sank (3)

As far as "the reliability of claims from the Paleolithic" - the data is from weapon damage to the skeleton - and as such will always under-report the death by human hands as a deadly blow will not always leave a mark on the skeleton

Paul SB said...

Jonathan,

I know I won't have time for the web comic, but I will say I loved Ghost of the Half-Shell (I always figured the title was a bad translation). I thought what the movie was saying about evolution was really interesting, and for an action movie it had surprisingly little killing. But I loved the music! I have always had a penchant for creepy music that shoots right down your spine, and that theme was definitely chilling!

Paul SB said...

Duncan,

I remember reading quite a bit of those old stories, and getting rather tired of them, too. Look at how different the movie "Blade Runner" was from the novel it was based on. You can feel the change in mentality, and change for the better, I would say.

As far as reading damage on skeletons, the soft tissue problem tends to be more an issue for things like murder, domestic violence or abuse. When you have warfare, there are generally enough corpses disposed of quickly that many will have obvious markers on the bones. So if you find a mass grave and see many of the skeletons have cut marks and fractures, it is a safe assumption that the whole lot died in battle. If you find a mass grave but with no such markers, you probably have an epidemic or mass starvation. But the bigger problem with such estimates is the accident of preservation itself. It only takes slight changes in soil chemistry to make one place good for preservation and another terrible, conditions that can change in very small microclimates. The last site I worked on was a small habitation site with an attached cemetery. We only found four complete skeletons, around 4000 years old. The osteologists commented that the bones closer to the top of the hill were in better shape than those further down the slope, and much further there were no obvious remains but enough calcium phosphate crystals in the soil to account for several more burials. But because of drainage down the slope, the p.H. of the soil was just different enough to dissolve those bones. None of the intact skeletons showed signs of trauma, but we will never know if any of the others might have. We will never really know even how many were there in the first place. So estimates of prehistoric violence have error bars that are miles long. Even population estimates are fraught with difficulties.

Alfred Differ said...

I don't see Hobbes as fitting a biblical view. His approach strikes me more as Euclidean. Everything has a place and it is provable/fixed truth.

Hobbes doesn't describe humans, though. Not even close.

After he went to battle with mathematicians for his claim of having squared the circle, though, it was all about academic ego. One of his opponents had a very strange idea of what mathematical proof was, but that is a different issue. Hobbes' edifice had to be defended in total. One breach brought it all down.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Paul
Things like population are massively effected by preservation but the percentage of skeletons with weapons damage should give a good lower limit to the number that actually died from the weapons damage,

With the thousands of skeletons recovered the minimum on the error bar should be pretty good

Paul SB said...

Duncan,

The smaller the population, the more randomness affects the representativeness of the sample. That's just basic statistics. You may discover a mass grave left over from a battle purely by luck of the bulldozer and never find a regular cemetery full of civilians, or the other way around, for a given archaeological culture.

On another front. I remember talking about the 1960's-1970's crime spike way back when I first started visiting this place, and a possible connection to especially airborne lead contamination. I wonder, could that explain disco? Disco started dying out once leaded gasoline was abolished. :)

Paul SB said...

Alfred,

If I remember correctly, Hobbes began his book by confirming the importance of Original Sin to understanding good governance. The Leviathan of contractual governance was necessary because without it naturally evil humans would all destroy one another, which went against God's Plan. So yes, Biblical, but he was also a scholar of the classics and, like many people in his time, worked ancient ideas into his ultimately religious views. The Euclidean view of natural order fits very well into the Biblical notion of the Great Chain of Being, so no surprise there.

locumranch said...


"One thing I find boggling is why we did not buy up small ghost towns and turn them into low security prison colonies for nonviolent offenders, so they could be farmers and engage in an economy. That may still wind up happening with sex offenders." DB

And, so we get to David's Urban 'Heart of Darkness' where he assumes equality & interchangeability between the Rural Reds and any variety of released felons &"sex offenders". In regards to Pinker. I see this as an admission of defeat, elsewise David would release these perverted & felonious 'Better Angels ' into the Sainted Halls of Education, Government & Science where they contribute to the Progressive Utopia in a more direct fashion.

Even Donzelion, who equates agrarian employment with "slave labor", can't quite swallow that little piece of bigotry. Or, is it that he also equates the much maligned & under-appreciated Farm Economy with 'Cruel & Unusual Punishment'? After all, he remains unusually silent about the US Penal System's Forced Labour program, one that the Progressive Paradise of California is economically reliant upon:

http://www.globalresearch.ca/the-prison-industry-in-the-united-states-big-business-or-a-new-form-of-slavery/8289

As it would be more cost effective than giving Farming & Ranching Communities a living wage, why don't they just cut to the chase, steal a page from Stalin, and just declare those pesky agricultural Red States to be giant prisons & forced labour camps ... where we could outfit our new brethren in Confederate Grey & send them right back to you?


Best

LarryHart said...

Paul SB:

I suppose I'll have to see if there is a cd version so I can finish "reading" it in the car (am I inviting more car-sitter chastisement?). One more on my list.


The best antidote to car-sitting boredom is a certain soundtrack album. I presume you know the one I'm talking about. :)

LarryHart said...

Paul SB:

Preservation is always accident, not norm, and every archaeologist and paleontologist knows this. The "You don't know what you don't know" problem is always on our minds.


Heh. What you don't know is that you've almost quoted a line from "Hamilton" there.

LarryHart said...

I just early-voted in Illinois. This was the first day for it at the suburban Chicago-area locations, and there was a good long line there, even in the middle of the morning. At least remove, that represents howevermany thousands (hopefully millions) of votes which can't be influenced by any October/November surprises.

Jacob said...

Hi Larry,

Did you have any thoughts on ballot initiatives? I'm in Chicago as well. Speaking of which let me know if you ever want to grab a drink sometime. I enjoy your posts and it might be fun to meet.

donzelion said...

Locum: "Even Donzelion, who equates agrarian employment with "slave labor"..."

You're being silly. The 13th Amendment links slavery to involuntary servitude. It does not prohibit involuntary servitude as a penalty for crime, but such usages are 'frowned upon' - because it would be quite easy to rebuild a slave economy if criminal justice systems embrace racial inequities.

But the real reason why penal labor is seldom used for agrarian purposes, or any other purposes for which there are preexisting firms operating in the market, is it would be unfair to any farmers who could not themselves benefit from such labor. Working in a farm is hard work, but hardly 'cruel' work. And this sort of work may be all that is available for sex offenders and others who cannot find housing and rejoin society.

"[Donzelion] remains unusually silent about the US Penal System's Forced Labour program,"
Because I don't have any particular problem with 'compulsory labor' per se, so long as it's (1) safe, for both prisoners and guards, (2) not driven by racial or other inequities, (3) not operated through corrupt practices, and (4) doesn't harm firms that do not themselves employ penal labor.

"why don't they just...declare those pesky agricultural Red States to be giant prisons & forced labour camps ..."
Because that would violate the Constitution. Which I'm sworn to uphold.

Anonymous said...

And speaking of deadly animals and the habit of your cops (and, your road designers (and, your culture)) to neither protect nor serve those most in need:

http://www.streetsblog.org/2016/10/24/driver-kills-jazmine-marin-13-near-ozone-park-school-nypd-blames-victim/

LarryHart said...

Jacob:

Did you have any thoughts on ballot initiatives? I'm in Chicago as well.


You're in Chicago too? Never mind the ballot--what do you think of the Cubs in the World Series???

:)

I actually thought long and hard about the "Safe Roads Amendment", but ultimately voted against it. I like the idea of keeping road funds from being raided, but no more so than keeping any other purposed funds from being raided. And a constitutional amendment seemed a bit much for that sort of thing.

I voted Yes for combining the Comptroller's office with something else (I forget what). I doubt that's a bit emotional issue one way or another.

I also voted Yes for guaranteeing sick leave. In fact, I don't really think that's the place of government, and I could see voting the other way, but at this point, I distrust Governor Rauner enough to be against anything he's for.

Jumper said...

As I recall, many who reject the left's tabula rasa ideas in favor of biological evolutionary psychology get tarred as "biological determinists" or social darwinists, and of course that is neither true nor fair. And I would also point out that there are a whole lot of people who are decidedly NOT left wing, who depend on the meme of things going to hell in a handbasket. It may, in fact, be a cross-partisan phenomenon or even - gasp - human nature.

On another note, I have noticed a thing. Some visitors here - not on this page, or at least so far - have a whole string of blogs listed on their profiles, yet not a thing is posted on any of them. This is barely often enough to be noticeable, and often enough to NOT be coincidence. Amy ideas?

Darrell E said...

Ahorseofcourse points out that both Pinker (and most progressives) purport to know the GOAL of evolution. They assume an Angelic Future for Humanity where we form strict hierarchies, banish dissent, lounge around on clouds, strum harps & LOVE each other as we dance around the throne of Absolute Knowledge while chanting hallelujah.

Couldn't be more wrong. Pinker does not subscribe to any such nonsense.

Same with the claims that Pinker supports genetic determinism. That's actually pretty funny. Left over animosity due to his book The Blank Slate? Actually reading and or listening to Pinker makes it rather difficult not to have picked up that he understands that the causes of human behavior are genetic and environmental.

It seems to me that ahorseofcourse's and locum's issues with Pinker have more to do with ideology than anything else. Pinker is not ideologically driven to find support for positions that he holds for reasons other than rational assessment of the evidence. Pinker, by contrast, is making an intellectually honest attempt to figure out the way things actually are. Whether or not he is correct, angry claims that Pinker is an ideologically driven genetic determinist reveals much more about the claimant than it does about Pinker.

It is the same disconnect with reality as demonstrated in the vehement protests and accusations of immorality from many of the critics of the mainstream view, among actual evolutionary biologists, that genes are the unit of selection. Even though after decades of trying different ideas virtually all successful models are genecentric models and in every case of the few that aren't the same phenomena have also been accurately modeled with genecentric models. Note that the critics don't typically say that there may be some categories of selection that are not genecentric, but that none are and the whole idea and the myriad successful models based on it are wrong. Rather similar to the all or nothing genetic determinist accusations of Pinker because he admits that genes play a role in human behavior. In both cases too many of those criticisms reduce to ideological complaints, i.e. the critic is morally offended by their own interpretation of the ramifications of the concepts they are criticizing.

Darrell E said...

Very interesting regarding dolphin communications. My fascination with dolphins is what led to me discovering you (David Brin) as an author. Decades ago roaming through the science fiction section of a book store I came across Startide Rising, never heard of the author, but bought it based on the cover art alone. Thought I'd be disappointed but turned out to be one of the top 3 or so science fiction novels I'd read till then. The Uplift novels are still favorites. I wouldn't mind at all if you found more stories to tell in that universe.

Jacob said...

Nate has the Cubs at about a 2 to 1 favorite to win. I like that even if we lose, another team that has had a long dry spell will get a win.

I generally like the idea of Taxes going to associated services. You need certain amount of flexibility though.

The Comptroller thing is reportedly intended to save money. It is a racially charged issue it seems as the current holder is African American. They consider it an assault on their power in the area.

That the sick leave thing is weird as it is already slated to start next year. Was this a last ditch effort to stop it?

LarryHart said...

Darrel E:

It seems to me that ahorseofcourse's and locum's issues with Pinker have more to do with ideology than anything else. Pinker is not ideologically driven to find support for positions that he holds for reasons other than rational assessment of the evidence. Pinker, by contrast, is making an intellectually honest attempt to figure out the way things actually are. Whether or not he is correct, angry claims that Pinker is an ideologically driven genetic determinist reveals much more about the claimant than it does about Pinker.


Paul Krugman often quips that "reality has a liberal bias."

The reaction of liberals who accept that premise is to praise liberalism for conforming with reality.

The reaction of conservatives accept that premise is to malign reality for not conforming with conservatism.

LarryHart said...

Jacob:

Nate has the Cubs at about a 2 to 1 favorite to win. I like that even if we lose, another team that has had a long dry spell will get a win


You're getting way ahead of me.

When I asked what you think about the Cubs in the World Series, I literally meant something along the lines of "Wow! The Cubs are in the World Series!" I haven't even thought ahead to what happens in the World Series.

But I agree with your final sentiment there. Of course, I want the Cubs to win and break their 108 game streak. But then again, we've already broken a long streak of not going to the Series. That's an accomplishment all by itself. If we don't go all the way, I'll take as a consolation prize that there's still something else to shoot for in a different year.

LarryHart said...

Darrell E:

Decades ago roaming through the science fiction section of a book store I came across Startide Rising, never heard of the author, but bought it based on the cover art alone.


An episode of the kids' tv cartoon "Phineas and Ferb" once made fun of the expression "Don't judge a book by its cover." The daughter, Candace, insisted that that's what covers are for--to judge them. She then asked her mother why she picked up a particular set of books, to which Mom replied, "They...looked...interesting." Candace rejoinded, "See?"


Thought I'd be disappointed but turned out to be one of the top 3 or so science fiction novels I'd read till then. The Uplift novels are still favorites.


Way back in the 80s, I read and loved "The Postman", but had never heard of the author, and it somehow never occurred to me to seek out other books of his. That happened when I met my wife. I loaned her "The Postman", and she immediately came back at me with the entire Uplift trilogy (the second trilogy hadn't been published yet). We complement each other that way.

I wouldn't mind at all if you found more stories to tell in that universe.


Without spoiling too much, I do believe a character whose initials are T.O. is still out there having heretofore-untold adventures.

A.F. Rey said...

In fact, any of you who get INSISTENCE OF VISION can read a real cool story by me about how that revival of lost traits might turn really, really, really creepy.

Ah, man, Dr. Brin, did you have to bring up that story? I'd just about forgotten it. You know, I haven't been able to look at a cute, furry little caterpillar in the same way since. Now those Butterfly Kits for kids look like miniature Death Chambers.

You've ruined the miracle of metamorphosis for me! :(

David Brin said...

AFR heh!

locum actually has a point(!!!) this time. In that penal colonies that are relatively self-supporting and low cost to the state might then tempt the state... even voters... to increase conviction/punishment rates and terms because they feel more free of guilt and cost.

Oh, but that concern is not his point after all. Because he accuses that of being my AIM! With is of course another damned lie.

No, it is a potential failure mode which should be dealt with the way sane citizens do... with lively-open criticism and negotiation.

Tony Fisk said...

...I also believe a certain fen has been sighted in places the getting to of which would be quite a saga

donzelion said...

Duncan: "The "Mosher" problem is why Pinker concentrates on murder - it is a set "crime" and will tend not to change"

Actually, at least in America, murder rates aren't really a 'set crime' at all - the can change dramatically in response to certain categorical transitions For example,
(1) Definitional shifts. "Stand-your-ground" laws have been enacted in 33 states in America, authorizing the use of lethal force in response to a lethal threat (rather than requiring a party retreat to safety when possible). Simply adopting such a law may 'reduce' the 'murder' rate significantly.
(2) External factors, e.g., emergency medicine. Murder rates 'fall' when faster ambulances respond to trauma more effectively, including injuries resulting from violence.

Lead paint, legalized abortion, demographics, socioeconomic conditions, and crime reporting incentives may play some role. But in terms of accepting the "lead poison -> criminality" claim, I'll wait for the criminologists to take that on. I note that the Centers for Disease Control started tracking lead poisoning incidence nationally in 1997 - and found an immense fall since then for 3-year olds in America (from about 8% in 1997 down to less than 1/2% in 2015). If lead really is the key, then we should expect to see crime rates continuing to fall just as dramatically. Sounds to me like a masters thesis, at the very least, ought to explore and test the link from available data.

Tony Fisk said...

I've seen some people express concerns that the current US penal system is already promoting a new slave economy. Basically, mandatory sentencing, plus the high proportion of blacks incarcerated. Oh yes, and labour gangs. There is a strike currently going on about wages, or the lack of them. Ethan Zuckerman has been trying to cover it on Global Voices, but is finding it hard to get information out.

Jacob said...

I would much rather face expulsion than incarceration. It allows for the chance of more freedom on my part. BUT! Being young(ish) and single I don't have to consider being unable to have close contact with family. I'm also assuming that the local society screwed something up and I'd be welcome elsewhere in the world. Most prison stories involve some type of suffering or death camp fantasy which I don't care for one bit.

What would you want to happen to you? Very limited freedom with some access to family or remote access with more opportunity elsewhere?

Could we set up a system by which we send people to non-hellholes where their crime is acceptable?

Tony Fisk said...

@donzelion. The thing about lead that is compelling isn't just that the fall in crime rates began about twenty years after unleaded petrol was introduced, but that the introduction of unleaded petrol was staggered across regions, and the pattern repeats across states, cities, even neighbourhoods (see the MJ link I provided)

The details I'll leave to the Masters thesis.

donzelion said...

Tony: I read the MJ story; I'm fascinated, but unconvinced. At best, it strikes me as a theory that merits further testing. The sorts of tests I'd like to see might include lead poisoning tests on juvenile detainees, and tests to determine distinct patterns in crime rates in suburban/urban environments based on lead levels (esp. in soil).

More I think about it, the more that sounds like a grant application to get the sort of data that would convert a plausible theory into a scientifically rigorous one. I'll leave that to the criminologists/environmentalists. It's a worthy undertaking.

David Brin said...

onward

onward

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi donzelion
I said "murder" - I should have said "death by violence" - the ambulance/improved medical bit does make a difference but mostly to unintentional death - when somebody intends to kill somebody they tend to make sure

I don't think that changes the overall premise that violence has gone down substantially

matthew said...



Downticket races. Bernie crashes in courtesy of Paul Ryan's ill-advised meat to his base.

http://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2016/10/21/13358274/paul-ryan-bernie-sanders?utm_campaign=vox&utm_content=entry&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook

I note that the HELP committee chairmanship would be a hell of a perch for Bernie. But, yep, budget would be one big statement.

Also, I may be ready to admit HRC may win. I estimate the "fascist"polling gap (the effect of not wanting to admit you voted for the wannabe strongman) at 5%. Nate Silver has HRC up by 6% nationally. Now, I'm just worried about turnout. Early voting in democratic strongholds in North Carolina down by over 80% from 2012. Still think this thing is in major doubt.


matthew said...



Downticket races. Bernie crashes in courtesy of Paul Ryan's ill-advised meat to his base.

http://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2016/10/21/13358274/paul-ryan-bernie-sanders?utm_campaign=vox&utm_content=entry&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook

I note that the HELP committee chairmanship would be a hell of a perch for Bernie. But, yep, budget would be one big statement.

Also, I may be ready to admit HRC may win. I estimate the "fascist"polling gap (the effect of not wanting to admit you voted for the wannabe strongman) at 5%. Nate Silver has HRC up by 6% nationally. Now, I'm just worried about turnout. Early voting in democratic strongholds in North Carolina down by over 80% from 2012. Still think this thing is in major doubt.


Jacob said...

I would much rather face expulsion than incarceration. It allows for the chance of more freedom on my part. BUT! Being young(ish) and single I don't have to consider being unable to have close contact with family. I'm also assuming that the local society screwed something up and I'd be welcome elsewhere in the world. Most prison stories involve some type of suffering or death camp fantasy which I don't care for one bit.

What would you want to happen to you? Very limited freedom with some access to family or remote access with more opportunity elsewhere?

Could we set up a system by which we send people to non-hellholes where their crime is acceptable?

Heni Herbal said...

Will not feel bored with all this information and thank you for presenting it .
Cara Alami Meningkatkan Daya Tahan Tubuh Yang Lemah
Pengobatan Alternatif Radang Sendi Pinggul Tradisional
Pengobatan Meriang Pada Anak Secara Alami
Kios Herbal
Cara Mengobati Stroke Berat Terbaik