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Science Monday

Post #771 • April 10, 2006, 1:46 PM • 17 Comments

Researchers at the University of Rochester, counting cones in the retina, find huge disparities in their number from person to person. They hypothesize that color perception takes place largely in the brain rather than the eye. (Reddit).

Over the weekend Good Reads sent out a link to the Wikipedia entry on an idea put forth by Richard Dawkins, the extended phenotype. Dawkins:

An animal's behaviour tends to maximise the survival of the genes 'for' that behaviour, whether or not those genes happen to be in the body of the particular animal performing it.

Good Reads comments:

Basically, if a beaver is a beaver because of it's DNA, a beaver's dam is also an expression of that DNA. Therefore, the CN Tower is also an expression of human DNA, as is every other aspect of our material culture.

Consider the Madonna of the Pinks as a product of Raphael's DNA, and collectively, ours.

What's it like to be colorblind? Scott Harrell tells you. (Also via Reddit.)

"Quick! What color is that car?" "Does that one bush look different from that other bush?" "Is my hair the same color underneath as it is on top?" The number of these questions I will consecutively try to answer truthfully depends largely on how badly I want to have sex with the person asking them.

Not really going anywhere with this today. I like science's insistence on data - it corresponds to my preference for observations over ideas about them. Now that the creationists have gotten in bed with postmdernism, I like science more than ever. Nothing will explain everything, but using your data is a great way to start.

Comment

1.

Jack

April 10, 2006, 2:56 PM

For future reference, Monday is not a good day for a science post.

2.

pants

April 10, 2006, 4:28 PM

Personal weekend observations.
Wasn’t expecting David Castillo to have such a good show,
in particular John Hodany (NY) and Ernesto Burgos (MIA).
Perrotin gallery as usual I am taken by the space, great architecture.
The Moore Space was great personal favorites at the show: Jules de Balincourt and Nikki Lee.
OK. Just a bit for those of you reading that may have fumbled through the same type of evening.

3.

oldpro

April 10, 2006, 4:42 PM

Facts are wonderful, sufficient unto themselves - hard or soft, round or square, bright or dim, and the way it all comes together and makes the world of experience.

Science takes facts, or common experience, and connects them to show dependable consistencies.

Some postmodernists claim that facts are "relative". I wish they really believed it. That way, when they cross the street, for example, the fact that a large truck is bearing down on them would be relative. Such true belief would take care of postmodernism once and for all.

4.

msquoted

April 10, 2006, 7:44 PM

Great Franklin! I have the visual of all the creationists and postmoderist I know in bed together.....very disturbing.

5.

oldpro

April 10, 2006, 7:53 PM

Don't be disturbed, Misquoted. All they'll do is talk.

6.

bertrand lavier

April 10, 2006, 8:33 PM

and maybe you'll choke on an oilstick.

7.

Marc Country

April 10, 2006, 9:33 PM

Funny... I had brought up the postmodern-creationist connection here before, back on Franklin's similarly scientific-minded Valentine's day post, On Intelligence and Art.

In response to comments by 'Alizarin', I mentioned:
"Conservatism" in art is quite different from "conservatism" in politics. I read an interesting piece in Harper's a while back, which discussed how the right-wing 'intelligent design' folks (you know, the ones who "have no faith in science") have taken cues from the postmodernists, and frame their arguments in the language of "pluralism" and "keeping an 'open' mind".

It was the Decemer 2005 issue; a piece by Stanley Fish entitled "Academic Cross-Dressing: How Intelligent Design Gets Its Arguments From The Left"... Worth reading, but not available on the web, unfortunately.

8.

Fun with Anagrams!

April 11, 2006, 12:54 PM

bertrand lavier
=
aberrant drivel
=
irrelevant drab

9.

oldpro

April 11, 2006, 1:54 PM

Yes, Fun, Mr. Lavier seems like a Real Driven Brat with that kind of Dire Verbal Rant.

To put it politely, the Vertebral Nadir.

10.

Marc Country

April 11, 2006, 9:28 PM

Re:#9
I'm not sure calling someone the "vertebral nadir" is polite, exactly, but it's definitely elegant.

Re: #8
I just learned that a definition of "drab" as a noun is "a slovenly woman" or "a slut, a prostitute".

Words are fun!

11.

oldpro

April 11, 2006, 11:45 PM

Considering what resides at the nadir of the vertebra, it was at least politer.

12.

Marc Country

April 12, 2006, 1:25 AM

OP, I was thinking of "vertebral nadir" as in a step above an invertebrate... I like your interpretation better though.

Here's a brief excerpt on the topic of the 'postmodern critique' of science, from a lovely book, Theory's Empire, which was mentioned here last summer, on a particularly spirited post titled goodye sister pomo...

From the essay Rationality/Science, Noam Chomsky:

"Keeping to the personal level, I have spent a lot of my life working on questions such as these, using the only methods I know of - those condemned here as "science," "rationality." "logic," and so on. I therefore read the papers with some hope that they would help me "transcend" these limitations, or perhaps suggest an entirely different course. I'm afraid I was disappointed. Admittedly, that may be my own limitation. Quite regularly, "my eyes glaze over" when I read polysyllabic discourse on the themes of poststructuralism and postmodernism; what I understand is largely truism or error, but that is only a fraction of the total word count. True, there are lots of other things I don't understand: the articles in the current issues of math and physics journals, for example. But there is a difference. In the latter case, I know how to get to understand tham, and have done so, in cases of particular interest to me; and I also know that people in these fields can explain the contents to me at my level, so that I can gain what (partial) understanding I may want. In contrast, no one seems to be able to explain to me why the latest post-this-and-that is (for the most part) other than truism, error, or gibberish, and I do not know how to proceed. Perhaps the explanation lies in some personal inadequacy, like tone deafness. Or there may be other reasons. The question is not strictly relevant here, and I won't pursue it."

13.

oldpro

April 12, 2006, 11:19 AM

I don't know why the King of Linguistics is at a loss to explain why he cannot understand what is not understandable, unless he is just trying to be accomodating for some reason.

14.

Marc Country

April 12, 2006, 1:33 PM

I think uncle Noam is just being cute when he suggests that his inability to understand nonsense might be a personal fault, like tone-deafness (or, maybe colour-blindness)... The essay is filled out more than just the excerpt I typed here, Oldpro...this was just a sample to whet your appetite.

15.

oldpro

April 12, 2006, 2:48 PM

Yes, some kind of pointed faux modesty, as hinted in "or there may be other reasons".

He certainly has no problem sounding off in other matters, like politics.

16.

Marc Country

April 12, 2006, 11:49 PM

Chomsky is responding to six papers, each questioning:

"... the legitimacy of "rationality," "science," and "logic" (perhaps modified by "Western") - call the amalgam "rational inquiry," for brevity."

Chomsky writes, "Frankly, I do not really grasp what the issue is supposed to be."
He continues:

"First, to take part in a discussion, one must understand the ground rules. In this case, I don't. In particular, I don't know the answers tosuch elementary questions as these: Are conclusions to be consistent with premises )maybe even follow from them)? Do facts matter? Or can we string together thoughts as we like, calling it an "argument," and make facts up as we please, taking one story to be as good as another? There are certain familiar ground rules: those of rational inquiry. They are by no means entirely clear, and there have been interesting efforts to criticize and clarify them; but we have enough of a grasp to proceed over a broad range. What seems to be under discussion here is whether we should abide by these ground rules at all (trying to improve them as we proceed). If the answer is that we are to abide by them, then the discussion is over: we've implicitly accepted the legitimacy of rational inquiry. If they are to be abandoned, then we cannot proceed until we learn what replaces the commitment to consistency, responsibility to fact, and other outdated notions. Short of some instruction on this matter, we are reduced to primal screams. I see no hint in the papers here of any new procedures or ideas to replace the old, and therefore remain perplexed."


Chomsky goes on to discuss a few specific phrases from the papers, where he touches on his "sounding off in other matters, like politics", as oldpro put it:

"It is also true that "reason separates the 'real' or knowable... and the 'not real,' " or at least tries to (without identifying "real" with "knowable") - again, to its credit. At least, I know that I try to make this distinction, whether studying questions that are hard, like the origins of human knowledge, or relatively easy, like the sources and character of U.S. foreign policy. In the latter case, for example, I would try, and urge others to try, to separate the real operative factors fromthe various tales that are spun in the interests of power and privilege. If that is a fault, i plead guilty, and will compound my guilt by urging others to err in the same way."

17.

oldpro

April 13, 2006, 12:21 PM

The minute he introduces the notion of "ground rules" he essentially sweeps away the "issue" of the "legitimacy" someone, some Postmodernists, I guess, are trying to discuss, rightly positing his "perplexedness" as the ultimate arbiter. This is a critique that purposely looks offhand but, as he well knows, it is devastating enough.

Chomsky can be full of shit when he wants to be, but when it comes to academic oneupmanship he is a master. "Hey, folks. What's going on? I dont get it...". (And, by the way, I am superlinguist). Crash, bang!

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