Monday, April 28, 2008

Vic Thrill (& Curly Oxide)

Buy or download the album on Amazon or ITunes (just buy the first three songs if you're not sure; you won't be disappointed). Possible movie coming out based on the This American Life episode.

I say we have our next meeting in Williamsburg!

Meeting Follow-Up / Planning

Elliot, Mark, Phil, Simon, and Steve met this past Saturday for a low-key IS meeting at Phil's house. We discussed the Alon book and watched Cabin Fever, the latter proving to me much less hurl-inducing than threatened.

We also discussed a few ideas for our next readings: for non-fiction, probably the Nowak book on Evolutionary Dynamics, or perhaps Jared Dimaond's latest. For fiction, Simon suggested a prize-winning first novel by a friend of his, and Eliot has just pointed us toward Box Nine, a linguistic-themed work of science fiction.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Vengeance is Ours

Jared Diamond, whose wonderful Guns, Germs, and Steel we read a few years back, has an extraordinary article in this week's New Yorker (unfortunately, abstract-only online). The article describes the universality of revenge across human cultures, and the psychological harm that comes from not being able to get revenge in rule-of-law societies like ours. The article focuses on the story of a young man that Diamond knew in Papua New Guinea who successfully avenged the killing of his uncle, with apparently positive results overall. Ninety-nine percent of scientists writing about this topic for a modern lay audience would feel compelled to end with some platitude about how "civilization" (or religion) places us above all that; incredibly, Diamond turns the tables on us, with a kicker finale. I'll try to remember to bring a copy to the meeting next weekend; someone else should too, as a backup, in case anyone's interested. Someone suggested another book by him; after this, I'm all for it.

Thursday, April 17, 2008


Gary Marcus was the most recent guest at Yale University's Mind, Brain, Culture and Consciouness working group at the Whitney Humanities Center. Gary is a Professor of Psychology at New York University and director of the NYU Center for Child Language. Gary talked about ideas related to linguistics, cognition, evolution, and the brain, that were drawn, in part, from his most recent book, Kluge: the haphazard construction of the human mind. Kluge is a very entertaining and accessible book. Behind its attractive exterior is a fascinating discussion of issues ranging from optimality through intelligent design.

Gary is amazingly prolific -- take a look at some of his earlier books, including: The Algebraic Mind: integrating connectionism and cognitive science and The Birth of the Mind: how a tiny number of genes creates the complexities of human thought. Also, this past Sunday (April 13, 2008 ), Gary had an article in the issue of the New York Times Magazine called "Total Recall" which was about human memory.

Finally, check out Gary's blog entries on The Huffington Post.

Sunday, April 13, 2008


This week's Times Literary Supplement has a terrific article by gerontologist / philosopher / poet / novelist / critic (!) Raymond Tallis. Tallis ruthlessly debunks the latest kerfuffle in literary criticism, which attempts to tie our appreciation of poetry and other writing to neuroscience, in a necessarily superficial way. (No one can do this kind of deflationary assault like the English can.) Unfortunately, a main proponent of the neuro-silliness is A.S. Byatt, a novelist for whom I otherwise have great respect.

On a more positive note, Tallis could provide us with both a fiction and non-fiction reading for a future I.S. meeting. Perhaps the Spikes book I suggested earlier, plus two readings by Tallis?