Apr 142005

To understand alpha theory, you have to learn some math and science. To learn math and science, you have to read some books. Now I know this is tiresome, and I am breaking my own rule by supplying a reading list. But it will be short. Try these, in order of increasing difficulty:

Complexity, by Mitchell Waldrop. Complexity is why ethics is difficult, and Waldrop provides a gentle, anecdote-heavy introduction. Waldrop holds a Ph.D. in particle physics, but he concentrates on the personalities and the history of the complexity movement, centered at the Santa Fe Institute. If you don’t know from emergent behavior, this is the place to start.

Cows, Pigs, Wars, and Witches, by Marvin Harris. Hey! How’d a book on anthropology get in here? Harris examines some of the most spectacular, seemingly counter-productive human practices of all time — among them the Indian cult of the cow, tribal warfare, and witch hunts — and demonstrates their survival value. Are other cultures mad, or are the outsiders who think so missing something? A world tour of alpha star.

Men of Mathematics, E.T. Bell. No subject is so despised at school as mathematics, in large part because its history is righteously excised from the textbooks. It is possible to take four years of math in high school without once hearing the name of a practicing mathematician. The student is left with the impression that plane geometry sprang fully constructed from the brain of Euclid, like Athena from the brain of Zeus. Bell is a useful corrective; his judgments are accurate and his humor is dry. Lots of snappy anecdotes — some of dubious provenance, though not so dubious as some of the more recent historians would have you believe — and no actual math. (OK, a tiny bit.) You might not believe that it would help you to know that Galois, the founder of group theory, wrote a large part of his output on the topic in a letter the night before he died in a duel, or that Euler, the most prolific mathematician of all time, managed to turn out his reams of work while raising twelve children, to whom, by all accounts, he was an excellent father. But it does. Should you want to go on to solve real math problems, the books to start with, from easy to hard, are How To Solve It, by Pólya, The Enjoyment of Mathematics, by Rademacher and Toeplitz, and What Is Mathematics? by Courant and Robbins.

The Eighth Day of Creation, by Horace Freeland Judson. A history of the heroic age of molecular biology, from the late 1940s to the early 1970s. Judson does not spare the science, and he conveys a real understanding of biology as it’s practiced, as opposed to the way it’s tidied up in the textbooks. A much better book about the double helix than The Double Helix, which aggrandizes Watson and which none of the other participants could stand. Judson’s book has its purple passages, but on the whole the best book ever written on science by a non-scientist, period.

A Universe of Consciousness, by Gerald Edelman and Giulio Tononi. A complete biologically-based theory of consciousness in 200 dense but readable pages. Edelman and Tononi shirk none of the hard questions, and by the end they offer a persuasive account of how to get from neurons to qualia.

Gödel’s Proof, by Ernest Nagel and James Newman. Undecidability has become, after natural selection, relativity, and Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, the most widely abused scientific idea in philosophy. (An excellent history of modern philosophy could be written treating it entirely as a misapplication of these four ideas.) Undecidability no more implies universal skepticism than relativistic physics implies relativistic morality. Nagel and Newman demystify Gödel in a mere 88 pages that anyone with high school math can follow, if he’s paying attention.

Incidentally, boys, for all of the comments in the alpha threads, one glaring hole in the argument passed you right by. It’s in the Q&A, where I shift from energy to bits with this glib bit of business:

Still more “cash value” lies in information theory, which is an application of thermodynamics. Some say thermodynamics is an application of information theory; but this chicken-egg argument does not matter for our purposes. We care only that they are homologous. We can treat bits the same way we treat energy.

I think I can prove this, but I certainly haven’t yet, and my attempt to do so will be the next installment.

  92 Responses to “Bibliography”

  1. MeTooThen,

    My concern, or confusion (take your pick) is in trying to place F somewhere.

    You can’t place F somewhere, you place it sometime. F@t is everywhere. In our model, it is the wake of all thermodynamic interactions. All Eustaces are exposed to some subset of F.

    In other words, if the structural substrate has its own alpha effect, is it accounted for in the "larger" alpha?

    But where does this "larger" alpha come from?

    Since we are working within the constraints of a conservation law, any alpha that manifests in some larger structure must arise from some interaction within that structure or through some interaction with another structure. And that alpha, in turn, must arise from yet finer grained interaction. This "gears within gears" interaction extends down to the level of individual chemical kinetics where one molecule or molecular configuration is changed into another.

    This is a common pattern in all living systems–and it is notably absent in man-made machines.

    At all times, each cell is teeming with choreographed chemical reactions–all of which can be reproduced in vitro. These cells take in free energy to perform synthesis and repair (increase numerator) and to release waste (decrease denominator). They can interact with each other through their boundaries. This higher-order, macro-interaction may lead to more alphatropic configurations.

    The choreography in this apparent chaos is made possible by the specificity of enzyme reactions (our form of biased coin). Each enzyme possesses two extreme and opposite properties simultaneously: enormous reactivity to its substrate and near total indifference to other molecules. Because of this indifference, everything actually proceeds as if each of the numerous reactions were taking place alone within the cell according to the "one reaction, one reactor" principle.

    At their boundaries, cells are dealing primarily with diffusion driven interactions. But this isn’t the whole story. To have any chance to adapt Poisson-type phenomena, each Eustace must also be able to react to second order signals (eg smell, sound, vibrations) that correspond to an impending event. In other words, these second order interactions cause it to respond before the actual even occurs. How much before depends on some notion of information.

    But now we’re getting into material to be covered in upcoming installments. In the meantime, let me know if this clears things up.

  2. If I took the time and had the money, where might I meet you (say that famed cofee shop,) to discuss this in person. I understand things about 500 times better when someone is speaking to me than when I sit alone inside my head bouncing random interpretations off each other to process the elimination of unnecessary clutter. By chanc e, might you have a spare weekend in the next whenever? I am refering to several of you, save bill, who still won’t email me his equations 🙁

  3. Tommy,

    It’s definitely easier to understand this material if there’s someone around to explain it. But it’s too much material for a weekend.

    From the information on your LiveJournal page, you’re about two to three hours from some excellent universities. You should consider starting there. Most departments have free weekly colloquia that are open to the public. These are good opportunities to get to know professors and students. Be polite and courteous. Spend most of your time listening.

    Once you’ve developed a rapport, you can ask questions. Don’t start by asking someone to explain all of alpha theory to you. No one will have heard of it. Fortunately, everything in alpha theory is built on some branch of science so if you break out your questions and phrase them properly, they’ll fit right in. And more often than not, someone will be happy to answer them.

    If this sounds like a lot of work, it is. But it can also be a lot of fun. Most importantly, alpha theory aside, it may provide some food for thought about what you might want to do next.

  4. Bourbaki,

    Thank you for another thoughtful reply.

    And yes, you have answered my question.

    Here: "In our model, it is the wake of all thermodynamic interactions."

    As for the when, well yes, F @t is easy to follow.

    FWIW, the "where" and the "when" are important clinically, decidedly so when it comes to neurology.

    One example, in epilepsy: New models of seizure behavior are suggesting that there are changes in the network before the actual seizure occurs.

    As to where the network resides remains in doubt. There are those who believe that epileptogenic behavior resides in the function (and control) of membrane ion channels, others hold to the (traditional) belief that the behavior represents the function of neuronal groups or subsets.

    Perhaps from your learning about my clinical perspective (experience) you can see why I focus on neuroanatomical localization.

    Back to Gdel:

    In the Yourgrau book, especially at its end, the case is made for Gdel as the philosopher. This discussion is preceded by showing how Gdel was able to distinguish the formal from the intuitive. And it is here, in the intuitive, where matters of human consciousness diverge from the "thinking machine," including those who demonstrate emergent behaviors.

    And from Gdel to Edelman, well… eventually.

    The Alpha model is something that I appreciate (apprehend), but as these past months have shown, not fully understood.

    Your patience and persistence are greatly appreciated.

    Lastly, from Gdel: "Actually, it would be easy to get a strict ethics–at least no harder that other basic scientific problems. Only the result would be unpleasant, and one does not to see it and avoids facing it–to some extent even consciously." Yourgrau, p.165

  5. MeTooThen,

    Your questions are much appreciated. We’ve mentioned in the past that we’re developing this idea for a book that makes a seemingly outlandish claim. A forum like this is just the place to avoid the associated headaches.

    The installments and discussions have been very helpful in identifying where our explanations need clarification and expansion.

    We’re approaching this problem from the bottom up. Let’s summarize what we have so far:

    1. Established a physical explanation for biogenesis.
    2. Identified a measure for evolution.
    3. Extrapolated alpha to normative yet adaptive ethics.

    And that’s not mentioning what we get for "free" from the first and second laws. Where did the Universe come from? Well the first law states that it was always here–it just changes.

    As Occam would say, "Look, ma, no creator!"

    Francois Jacob pointed out: The beginning of modern science can be dated from the time when such general questions as "How was the Universe created? What is life?" were replaced by more modest questions like "How does a stone fall? How does water flow in a tube?"

    Respecting this sentiment, we’re taking a thorough though tedious path through the science. These installments have helped to gradually change the responses of my friends and colleagues from a priori rejection to guarded interest to outright enthusiasm.

    Perhaps from your learning about my clinical perspective (experience) you can see why I focus on neuroanatomical localization.

    Agreed. Unfortunately, for something as daunting as neuroscience, we can’t go from bottom up to top down at this stage. We’re still missing some pieces (or marbles!). We extrapolated to ethics because, as yet, there’s no science there at all.

    In the meantime, let me know if Resnick doesn’t clear up the notion of filtration as we’ve been (somewhat informally) using it.

    Actually, it would be easy to get a strict ethics–at least no harder that other basic scientific problems.

    Strict (maladaptive) ethics would be unpleasant indeed.

  6. If I may put on my pedant hat for a minute, and go off on a philosophical digression:

    As Occam would say, "Look, ma, no creator!"

    No, actually the man would say the exact opposite. Will of Ockham believed that the only strictly necessary entity is God, and that everything else was contingent. Amusingly, answering "God did it" to every question is indeed the most consistent application of his eponymous Razor, since it only requires one postulate. Of course it explains absolutely nothing, which is why "Occam’s Razor" tentatively gets my vote for being the most misunderstood and abused concept in epistemology.

    Here endeth the digression.

  7. Mr. McIntosh,

    I stand corrected.

    Interesting. I don’t know much about Occam aside from what I’ve read in books that merely mention him in passing.

    "one should not increase, beyond what is necessary, the number of entities required to explain anything"

    I guess God is one entity but, like you mentioned, the notion of explanation may have changed since his day.

  8. Bourbaki,

    Not a problem. It’s all very philosophy inside-baseball, and I’d probably be better off knowing more about math instead.

    I prefer to forget Occam and invoke Popper instead (surprise): explanatory power is equivalent to degree of falsifiability (since the more possibilities theory prohibits, the more it explains), which is equivalent to simplicity (since the more complex a theory is, the harder it is to falsify), which is equivalent to the paucity of parameters in the theory (since the fewer parameters there are, the simpler and more falsifiable the theory is).

    Carry on, in any case. Meanwhile I’ll just be reading through some of these papers and trying to look like this guy.

  9. I guess God is one entity:

    depends on the god 🙂

  10. Tommy,

    Don’t try to describe or interpret mathematical relationships. You must learn them first. They are independent of culture, gender and race and utterly defeat language in their precision.

    Here’s a passage from an excellent book that captures the sentiment. From Derbyshire’s "Prime Obsession", p89:

    The difficulty people have in grasping these ideas is a reminder that mathematical thinking is, at some level, deeply unnatural. It goes against all the grain of human thought and language. Never mind analysis, this is true even of basic arithmetic. In the preface to Principia Mathematica, Whitehead and Russel note that

    The very abstract simplicity of ideas of this work defeat language. Language can represent complex ideas more easily. The proposition "a whale is big" represents language at its best, giving terse expression to a complicated fact; while the true analysis of "one is a number" leads, in language, to an intolerable prolixity.

    (They weren’t kidding. Principia Mathematica takes 345 pages to define the number "1.")

    This is surely right. A whale is, by any standard of complexity that makes sense, a vastly more complicated thing than "five", yet it is a much easier thing for the human mind to apprehend. Any tribe of human beings that was acquainted with whales would certainly have a word for them in their language; yet there are peoples whose language has no word for "five" even though five-ness is there, quite literally, at their fingertips!

    I repeat, mathematical thinking is a deeply unnatural way of thinking, and this is probably why it repels so many people. And yet, if that repulsion can be overcome, what benefits flow!

  11. what do you guys think of this interpretation of isomorphism:

    The first of these methods is the method of isomorphism. This depends on the supposition that, if in two hypotheses the consequences are the same, the two hypotheses may be considered as identical for all purposes of further reasoning. In other words, there is no use in drawing arbitrary distinctions where none really exist. When we reason from a hypothesis, its consequences come into play at every step of the reasoning; and if those consequences are the same, all reasoning will be the same, and therefore no difference can really be drawn. Again, a question of decision between two theories whose consequences are and must be the same must necessarily be one where no evidence is obtainable, and is therefore a question which cannot be discussed at all. It is like the old question of the man and the monkey: "If a monkey is on a pole, constantly facing a man who walks around the pole, has the man gone round the monkey?"

  12. I don’t follow as closely as I did — no time. One quesry: There seems to be some sort of relationship being introduced between thermodynamics and information theory. I don’t see it. Where is the statistical mechanics angle of information theory? Doesn’t the concept of enthalpy entail a pressure integral? Where is the pressure integral in information theory?

    Please clarify.

  13. Mr. Kaplan,

    There seems to be some sort of relationship being introduced between thermodynamics and information theory. I don’t see it.

    See Maxwell’s demon. Can you point out a method of transmitting information that doesn’t require energy?

    Doesn’t the concept of enthalpy entail a pressure integral?

    It depends on the conditions. In a living cell, conditions tend to be approximately isobaric, isochoric and non-adiabatic.

    So in this case, no.

    Where is the pressure integral in information theory?

    A relationship between thermodynamics and information theory doesn’t necessarily imply an isomorphism between the two.

  14. Bourbaki, first of all, math is language. Tell me why it isn’t. I will help you to see what I see, and though I may be wrong, if I know one thing (I might not) it is language. A system of description that can both explain itself and else. Language. Math is not language?

    By the way, it occured to me that you still have not read Sidis’ rape of the reversibility of thermodynamics. Reading as many books as you do/are, it is rediculous that the one book that offers a contrary interpreation of thermodynamics (a book of very adequate language and description) has not been read, or did you read it? If nothing else, his interpretation of the reversibility of thermodynamics indicates that the laws are emergent. That is, if what he says is true. It certainly sinks (sp :P) with what Loughlin intuits.

  15. Not so fast, please. Delay throwing your stones at my meager glass house until giving the work at least some VERY serious consideration, seeing as how the man was undenably one of the most brilliant men EVER. His dad taught himself to read and write english in 4 months while holding a full time job and mastering (self taught) advanced mathematics, and he made his dad look like a ninny.

    Also: here is a link to visit if you think the work lacks relevance:


    "And he wrote books — some under his own name, others under pseudonyms. In 1925 he published a remarkable book on cosmology in which he predicted black holes –14 years before Chandrasekhar did." This means he knew about this (and much else) long before he published it, if the history of the work can be believed. This is a quote from "John Lienhard, at the University of Houston, where we’re interested in the way inventive minds work." a part of his Engines of our Ingenuity series.

  16. Tommy,

    first of all, math is language. Tell me why it isn’t.

    You can define language any what you like but there are strict operational differences between spoken language and mathematics. Any statement in human spoken language is predicated on context.

    "Your bike is in the window."

    On a nice, sunny day this may imply that it is on display. During a hurricane, it may indicate that it has been tossed through the glass. Or it may be some idiomatic phrase that means "you’re screwed". Its content is plastic. This versatility is its strength.

    Mathematics doesn’t operate this way. Aside from a core set of axioms and operators, you can not write down an equation, have someone else calculate the result and then claim that it was not what you meant. This precision is its strength.

    Sidis is in dire need of precision. And his assertions are predicated on a defunct model of physics. Since his day, hard determinism has been replaced by probabilities.

    For example, if we grind that bike in the window into its elemental constituents, please tell me where the information to reverse the process is stored. Maxwell’s demon has some serious information requirements and energy costs.

  17. Bourbaki,

    You ask: Can you point out a method of transmitting information that doesn’t require energy?

    No. We have already established that, in Aaron’s words, "everything that ever happens is an energy transfer."

    However, information storage does not require Maxwell’s demon while heat storage certainly does. That they are not isomorphic is apparent. The better question, though, is why they are alike at all.

    That gets us back to statistical mechanics and the pressure integral.

    Of course, I am far too stupid to understand anything about biological systems.

  18. Mr. Kaplan,

    However, information storage does not require Maxwell’s demon while heat storage certainly does.

    Maxwell’s demon is fictitious. We don’t require him at all. He was a thought experiment designed to circumvent the second law. The flaw in the theory was that it did not account for the tremendous amount of information the demon needed to do his job. The storage and processing of information requires energy which is expressed in the same units as heat storage. This is our bridge.

    The better question, though, is why they are alike at all.

    The concept of entropy in thermodynamics and in information theory are not the same thing. However, if you look at Shannon’s paper, you’ll recognize similarities.

    That gets us back to statistical mechanics and the pressure integral.

    Take a look at the free energy equation.

    G = H – TS

    This differentiates to

    dG = dH – TdS – SdT

    But in biology, the systems are approximately isothermal (dT=0) so that last term is dropped to produce the more common

    dG = dH – TdS

    No temperature integral.

    These relationships aren’t produced arbitrarily. See how Legendre transforms are applied. You’ll see that the Gibbs free energy equation is already modified for biological conditions.

    Of course, I am far too stupid to understand anything about biological systems.

    Nah. All those people appear to be in Kansas.

  19. I’m moving to Kansas

  20. "You can define language any what you like but there are strict operational differences between spoken language and mathematics. Any statement in human spoken language is predicated on context."

    In this you really should supplant the word "words" for the word language.

    And, mathematics are predicated on context. To say otherwise is to deny their very "precise" importance.

  21. Before I disappear.

    "Precise: exactly or sharply defined or stated,"
    this is inherently a matter of context.

    Precision: the degree of refinement with which an operation is performed or a measurement stated — compare ACCURACY… this is a property of the spoken word as well, and if you are implying that it is not possible to misinterpret equations or mathematical represenation then it is not possible for there to be any degree of accuracy, there is simply static precision, which, it that is true, is you using the condition to explain the symptoms, or at least rather tautological.

    2b b : the accuracy (as in binary or decimal places) with which a number can be represented usually expressed in terms of the number of computer words available for representation

  22. Tommy,

    In this you really should supplant the word "words" for the word language.

    Like I said, choose any definition that suits you. It’s language. You can toy with definitions forever.

    And, mathematics are predicated on context. To say otherwise is to deny their very "precise" importance.

    Aside from the axioms and operators of decimal arithmetic, please identify the context necessary for

    1 + 2 = 3

    to be true.

    From Goldstein’s "Incompleteness", p 17.

    No experience would count as grounds for revising, for example, that 5 + 7 = 12. Were we to add up 5 things and 7 things and get 13 things, we would recount. Should we still, after repeated recounting, get 13 things we would assume that one of the 12 things had split or that we were seeing double or dreaming or even going mad. The truth that 5 + 7 = 12 is used to evaluate counting experience, not the other way round.

    The a priori nature of mathematics is a complicated, confusing sort of a thing. It’s what makes mathematics so conclusive, so incorrigible: Once proved, a theorem is immune from empirical revision. There is, in general, a sort of invulnerability that’s conferred on mathematics, precisely because it’s a priori.

    Human spoken language is highly adaptive. The rules of grammar change over time. A well-formed phrase in 11th century may no longer be well-formed in the 21st. I chose the term human spoken language as a distinct in kind from mathematics.

  23. "And, mathematics are predicated on context. To say otherwise is to deny their very "precise" importance.

    Aside from the axioms and operators of decimal arithmetic, please identify the context necessary for

    1 + 2 = 3

    to be true."

    Please show that 1 + 2 = 3 to any aborignal african and ask them if it is true? They wouldn’t know what the fuck you were talking about/showing them. It would simply be gibberish. Perhaps, as you suggest, mathematics is not relative to context, but the understanding of it inherently is. And parallel to those lines, heh, I CAN BE JUST AS ABSOLUTE WITH LANGUAGE.

    Car always means "car", even if it means something else. Whether car means "pig" is based on the context. I can call a pig "car". But regardless, in every way possible, Car does mean car, beyond what else it means.

    And also, I wouldn’t use 1 + 2 = 3 as some absolute and inclusive representative of mathematics.

  24. Tommy,

    This is neither how language nor mathematics works. You’re assigning a problem with human spoken language to mathematics.

    Either that or you’re defining "language" as some sort of overarching postmodern reality framework.

    Either way your reasoning is flawed.

    You’re saying that someone can have 2 children and have 1 more and not end up having had 3 children?

    We don’t need to go to Africa to demonstrate innumeracy.

    Car always means "car", even if it means something else.

    First, you’re referring to definitions not grammar. Human spoken language is much more than definitions. For example, cadence and word choice among words that have the same definition influence the meaning of the message differently. Second, even the definitions of words change over time. Finally, some words are retired while others are introduced–and they need not have any relationship to what came before.

    And also, I wouldn’t use 1 + 2 = 3 as some absolute and inclusive representative of mathematics.

    William Dunham outlines the geometry behind Hippocrates’ Quadrature of the Lune (ca. 440 BC). It can be demonstrated using little more than shapes.

    What would you use?

  25. Tommy and Bourbaki,

    Read the latest Scientific American. There is an article on how language and mathematics are processed in different parts of the brain.

    I have heard that one explanation for male preeminence in mathematics is the female inclination to be able to communicate. Thus, it is hypothesized, women spend more time and energy trying to explain, in language, what they are doing rather than just manipulating mathematical symbols. This added burden makes them less likely to be able to advance the state of the art, but probably makes them better at teaching it.

  26. Mr. Kaplan,

    Thank you. I believe the article is available online here.

    I suppose when someone finally commercializes these thinking caps they’ll need ‘his’ and ‘hers’ models.

  27. Car always means "car", even if it means something else.

    Supplant "it" with "though" and you take my meaning precisely. Meaning is immuatable in the same sense that math is. And of course I am saying that having two kids and having one more makes three kids, but what if the first two died, how many kids do we have then? 1, and you can assess that via the means of subtraction. 3 total – 2 dead leaves us with one. But, the outcome of that result is relative to the circumstance in just the same way that the describing it with "words" is. Irregardless of how you tried to twist my meaning into those easily countered points, the only point I made that need be understood precedes this sentence, and it is a point that you did not see at all. "Innumeracy" was not my argument, that is stupid, first of all because I don’t know what it means :O, and second of all because you asked how math was not relative to context, and I gave you a perfect example of how it was, BUT, even better than me, you did. If we are adding up kids, then the context of that description (with mathematical symbols, shapes, I don’t care) is what makes it neccessarily true, namely, that there are three kids. The fact that 1 plus 2 makes three is not isomophic with the fact that there are three kids, and the principles at work in defedning that 1 and 2 make three are not the same principles that can assuage us of the lack of relevance of context. Therefore, your previous statement of "precision" is pointedly biased, absurd in the context that I just spoke of, and yet perfectly right in the means by which you meant it, and by what you actually used it to mean. Essentially, I was taking your argument somewhere you did not, and to relate that back to me, you essentially did the same thing to what I said. If I apologize first, you promise to do it also 😛

  28. Also, Sidis’ conclusions about the 2nd law, namely, that it is merely the product of the way in which humans view the dynamics of energy, is not discounted by the links you provided, and shares similarities to Wolfram’s take on the 2nd law and also the interpretation of the quantumists at Quantonics.com, where they have 4-6 thought proviking definitions of "entropic stages" I suppose you could say.

    Also: let’s say 2 a family just had two kids, and then had a third, BY YOUR MEANING, the family has three kids. But, by mine, the family has 3 kids, but also 5 kids, because there was twins born before the "2 plus the 1" and then, 2 years later, another way born, giving them six. So, yes, they have 3 kids, but they also have 6, five and one. I am not twisting "definitions" here, this is immutable just as a number is, and since a number is simply a represention of an idea, I cannot see how you can claim precision, when by its very nature it is of an almost infinite variability and plasticity in realtion to the forms of its representations, or rather, what it is representing. Though 2 always represents two, it does not always represent two "something".

    One question: Do information theory and energy dynamics (1-3rd laws)explain themselves without relation to humans, and, if so, by what special relations are we then connecting ourselves to them that was excluded in the account of their actuality outside of our understanding? Or, better yet, outside the means of our understanding?

  29. Though 2 always represents two, it does not always represent two "something", as sometimes its actual properties are being realized by the mere fact that it CAN represent two somethings, or that it always does. This is a deconstruction of the MEANING, not of the definition. The definition is the means by which we get the meaning, obviously.

  30. Bourbaki,

    Actually that is not the SCIAM article I was thinking of. The one to which I refer is in the latest edition. It discusses a study of men with brain lesions who have lost their ability to discern the difference between "Man bites dog" and "Dog bites man" yet retain the ability to distinguish "49-4" from "4-49".

    The think cap article is just great. Thanks.

  31. Bill Kaplan and Bourbaki,

    The SA article is amusing.

    Gee, ya’ think boys and girls are different?

    Boys like trucks and guns?

    Girls like dolls?

    How could that be?

    Let’s turn to monkeys to find out.

    The neuroscience of gender difference seems obvious enough, but like so many similar lines of inquiry, the information is either denied or disavowed (pity Larry Summers).

    See it.
    Fuck it.
    Kill it.
    Eat it.

    These are the behaviors of the Clan of the Deleted Short Arm of the X-Chromosone.

    The behavior of the Clan of the Double X is more, nuanced, to be sure.

    As for the other article, I will try to find it and comment on it later.

  32. MeTooThen,

    There is also a slightly different but supporting take on the SCIAM piece at New Scientist.

    The neuroscience of gender difference seems obvious enough

    No doubt Paul Broca would feel the same way about phrenology. Who would have ever guessed that the laws of Nature weren’t obviously symmetric?

    "In fact, most of us were inclined to regard the symmetry of elementary particles with respect to right and left as a necessary consequence of the general principle of right-left symmetry of Nature. Thanks to Lee and Yang and the experimental discoveries inspired by them we now know that this was a mistake."

    As for the economist, Summers, he suffered the fate of anyone who thinks with their mouth. Modern civilization has a very embarrassing track record dealing with differences among peoples–whether imaginary or real.

    Anyone who has spent any time in the People’s Republic of Cambridge should have known better.

  33. MeToThen,

    And we even managed to be bigots about handedness:

    "Many European languages (including English) use the same word for "right" (in a directional sense) to mean "correct, proper". Throughout history, being left-handed was considered as negative the Latin and Italian word sinistra (from which the English ‘sinister’ was derived) means "left". There are many negative connotations associated with the word "left-handed": clumsy, awkward, unlucky, insincere, sinister, malicious, and so on. French gauche, meaning "left", means "awkward or clumsy" in English, whereas French droit is cognate with English "adroit", meaning dexterous, skillful with the hands. As these are all very old words, they would tend to support theories indicating that the predominance of righthandedness is an extremely old phenomenon."

    According to Sperry, et. al. the functional areas in the hemispheres are selectively suppressed.

    "The reasoning here says that left lesions in the presence of the commissures act to prevent the expression of latent function, actually present but suppressed, within the undamaged right hemisphere."

    This is from the early 80s before widespread availability of fMRI and PET. Do we have a different picture today?

    "Only after the intact right hemisphere is released from its integration with the disruptive and suppressive influence of the damaged hemisphere, as effected by commissurotomy, can its own residual function become effective."

    Have you worked with commissurotomy patients? From what little I’ve read, they’re functional but different. But in what way?

  34. Bourbaki,

    Speaking of Broca, his patient http://www.mun.ca/sgs/science/oct1989.html"Tan Tan, brought the beginning of neuroanatomical localization.

    And yes, Wernike, Jackson, Sherrington, et al, all contributed to the notion that X marks the spot.

    Back in the day, when I was part of a surgical epilepsy team, we would study patients in the OR (operating room) when their brain was exposed and they were awake. This was necessary in that if the epileptogenic focus was near http://brain.oupjournals.org/cgi/content/full/124/9/1683" eloquent brain the surgical removal would be tailored to try to do limit any interruption of language (actually, lateralizing language pre-operatively was also done using intracarotid injection of amobarbital, i.e. the so-called http://www.neuro.mcg.edu/np/wada.html"Wada test.

    But as we have come to learn, there is much more to the organization of behavior than was previously thought.

    Consciousness especially, and to a lesser extent memory and language, is now believed to be subtended over large networks.

    Although a far cry from phrenology, precise localization doesn’t quite add up.

    And as far as symmetry goes, the example of language (and associated with it handedness) is the most interesting in that something as complex as language (imagine the selection required for it to emerge and be sustained) can reside either in the left or right hemisphere. There is no other example in human anatomy that allows for this type of difference in location at the same frequency (there are rare cases of dextrocardia but their incidence in no way approaches that of right hemisphere dominant language.)

  35. Bourbaki,

    Yes, I have worked with commissurotomy patients.

    These patients are referred to as split brain patients. The most memorable (and hilarious) such patient was Dr. Strangelove with his phantom gloved hand.

    There are many ways in which these patients can (and often do) differ from whole brain individuals.

    For a technical description look here.

    The fascination with these individuals comes from the observation that each of the hemispheres can act in often dramatic ways, as if one hemisphere is truly independent of the other. Two brains, two individual consciousnesses.

    Here is a review which includes Sperry and his tachtiscope.

    As far as laterization of language and hand dominance goes, the jury is still out.

    The so-called Geschwind-Galaburda model (later the Geschwind-Behan-Galaburda model) has largely been found to be unsupported by emipirical data.

    But back to the Economist Stooge, the reeducation camps can’t be far off.

    And no, I don’t think that people are interested in real differences, rather they seek ideologic conformity.

  36. I’ve just finished reading Robert Axelrod’s The Evolution of Co-operation (Bill mentioned him a while ago). Short but excellent little book and topical, I think.

    I also managed to track down The Eighth Day of Creation at a used book store, and will be taking it with me to read while I’m in England for the next couple of months. It had better be worth it!

    Now, I have a plane to catch. Ta.

  37. Boubaki,

    I remember first learning about Lee and Yang’s experiments in The Ambidextrous Universe by Martin Gardner. The results nearly floored me. Who would have thunk it? I recommend the book since my remaining brain cells still recall its impact after close to 25 years.


    I’m glad you liked Axelrod. Excellent the book is, but I’m not so sure of its topicality (is that a word?).

  38. Just a brief note.

    Yesterday I saw a patient who has an interesting kindred.

    Her mother was left handed, she, along with four of five siblings are left handed, and two of her three children are left handed.

    This is what I would call "genetic" left-handedness (as opposed to someone who is the only lefty in the family who I would consider a "sporadic" left- hander).

    Just sayin’.

  39. I see Summers as opting to take flack in this regard, rather than being recognized as a republican, logically. A classical liberal that is.

  40. Summers is a coward. If he was going to float a politically incorrect hypothesis for the sake of provocation then great, but since then he’s done a marathon’s worth of backpeddaling. He should have came prepared to play it to the hilt or not at all; they can smell fear and will hold it over him forever now. (Anyone interested in the topic: Pinker and Spelke held a debate here. Best "checkmate" moment comes from Pinker near the end where he makes the point that prejudice doesn’t seem to be holding women down in other academic subjects.)

    Bill: "Topicality" works as a word and that’s all that matters. And I think game theory bears pretty directly on all kinds of Eustaces.

  41. Matt,

    I disagree. I thinks he’s eminently qualified, just chose to take flak in that regard.

    Off to read Ms Goldstein’s book.

  42. Context

    I’ve only read 1 (the 3rd) of Aaron’s 9 recommended reading list. 2 if you consider Aaron’s father’s suggestion. 3 if you consider someone else’s Wolfram suggestion. 4 if you consider the name of the site.

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