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Human language: After Wolfe on Chomsky, Everett finally speaks for himself

Readers will recall Tom Wolfe’s The Kingdom of Speech, a defense of the fundamental difference between language as we know it and the squawks, moos, and gibbers we hear outside. Wolfe defended linguist Daniel Everett against the Colossus of MIT, Noam Chomsky. Now Everett himself offers some thoughts at Aeon: In 2005, I published a paper in the journal Current Anthropology, arguing that Pirahã – an Amazonian language unrelated to any living language – lacked several kinds of words and grammatical constructions that many researchers would have expected to find in all languages. I made it clear that this absence was not due to any inherent cognitive limitation on the part of its speakers, but due to cultural values, one Read More ›

Off-topic: Does fake news actually make a difference in politics?

This bears on the question of whether human beings can apprehend reality. Top naturalists are dedicated to the opposite view. Much politicking around freedom of the media depends on whether one believes that humans can apprehend reality and make choices based on information therefrom. From O’Leary for News at MercatorNet: It wasn’t so much fake news as *missed* news. … The internet changes a great deal but it does not change the fundamental nature of reality. One small Atlanta-based pollster sensed that the military wife or the WalMart manager might not wish to risk humiliation, even in the abstract, by giving an honest opinion. So he asked his respondents who they thought their neighbours would vote for. He called the Read More ›

Appendix must be important: Evolved over 30 times

From ScienceDaily: Although it is widely viewed as a vestigial organ with little known function, recent research suggests that the appendix may serve an important purpose. In particular, it may serve as a reservoir for beneficial gut bacteria. Several other mammal species also have an appendix, and studying how it evolved and functions in these species may shed light on this mysterious organ in humans. Heather F. Smith, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Midwestern University Arizona College of Osteopathic Medicine, is currently studying the evolution of the appendix across mammals. Dr. Smith’s international research team gathered data on the presence or absence of the appendix and other gastrointestinal and environmental traits for 533 mammal species. They mapped the data onto a phylogeny Read More ›

New Evidence Against the Existence of God: Antarctica, Arizona, Atlantic Ocean

Recently over on this thread started by Barry we have been discussing one of the tired atheist arguments against God’s existence: bad design.  The discussion has been primarily in the context of some of Carl Sagan’s remarks cited by john_a_designer, but Sagan is by no means unique in his failed efforts. Commenter rvb8 had the audacity to claim that the faulty “bad design” line of argumentation is in fact a “well argued point,” warning in the same breath that we mustn’t question Sagan because, well, Sagan was an important science guy. When pressed on the matter, rvb8 dug in his heels and reasserted that the bad design line of argumentation “is sound,” pointing out that God was tremendously wasteful. Now I’ve heard Read More ›

ID and popular culture: What is fake news? Do we believe it?

Many sources feel that we readily believe fake news. Concern trolls in social sciences are often heard on this point, usually demanding government and corporate action. Having spent a life in news, I would say that the ability to detect fakery increases with familiarity with the medium, as any magazine rack will show. That’s because human are decision-makers. The humans analyzed are as much decision-makers as the analysts. Those who think that chickens are just like people, apes are entering the the Stone Age, and rocks have minds probably think that there are “scientific” formulas for getting around the reality of the independence of other people’s minds. From O’Leary for News (Denyse O’Leary) at MercatorNet: Fake news is hard to define. Read More ›

Why is College Right After High-School?

A lot of people have picked out what is broken in college, but I think perhaps a more core issue about college is a simpler one – that we are sending people to college immediately after high school.
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Darwinism and culture: Jerry Coyne threatens no more science posts

Traffic way down. Here: . . . unless people start reading them. Today virtually all the serious posts were animal- or science-related. Traffic is way down (about 60% of normal) which means people aren’t reading them. What do you want—clickbait? More. Of course, this could be a hack. In case not, let’s help Jerry. He brings us lots of traffic so it’s only fair. What clickbait could he offer? Readers, ideas? Is it just possible that lack of interest in defenses of classical Darwinism is related to growing interest in exciting new areas? Naw, that never happens in real life. See also: Darwinism: Replacement or extension? Quantum-like model of partially directed evolution? The thought seems information must already be present Read More ›

Science writer: Could evolution have a higher purpose?

From science writer Robert Wright at New York Times: That said, one interesting feature of current discourse is a growing openness among some scientifically minded people to the possibility that our world has a purpose that was imparted by an intelligent being. I’m referring to “simulation” scenarios, which hold that our seemingly tangible world is actually a kind of projection emanating from some sort of mind-blowingly powerful computer; and the history of our universe, including evolution on this planet, is the unfolding of a computer algorithm whose author must be pretty bright. You may scoff, but in 2003 the philosopher Nick Bostrom of Oxford University published a paper laying out reasons to think that we are pretty likely to be Read More ›

Quantum-like model of partially directed evolution?

From Progress in Biophysics and Molecular Biology: Abstract: (paywall)The background of this study is that models of the evolution of living systems are based mainly on the evolution of replicators and cannot explain many of the properties of biological systems such as the existence of the sexes, molecular exaptation and others. The purpose of this study is to build a complete model of the evolution of organisms based on a combination of quantum-like models and models based on partial directivity of evolution. We also used optimal control theory for evolution modeling. We found that partial directivity of evolution is necessary for the explanation of the properties of an evolving system such as the stability of evolutionary strategies, aging and death, Read More ›

Breaking: We are not “more evolved” than apes…

From Ben Mauk at LiveScience: To say we are more “evolved” than our hairy cousins is just wrong. (See how long you last naked in the Congo Heartland, and then tell me who’s got the evolutionary upper hand.) More. Ah, a question we can answer without a Google search! Free-living apes must survive naked in the Congo Heartland but few humans ever need to, or not for long. Which is why apes live in our conservation programs and we do not live in theirs. So we have the upper hand, no contest. Pop science is funny that way. People can make really inane statements and they pass for the best of science wisdom. Actually, a different variety of pop science Read More ›

Tenured Professor Calls it Quits

Climate scientist Judith Curry is a TENURED professor.  But she has had enough.  She announced her resignation last week, citing the literal craziness of the climate science authoritarianism.  She writes: A deciding factor was that I no longer know what to say to students and postdocs regarding how to navigate the CRAZINESS in the field of climate science. Research and other professional activities are professionally rewarded only if they are channeled in certain directions approved by a politicized academic establishment — funding, ease of getting your papers published, getting hired in prestigious positions, appointments to prestigious committees and boards, professional recognition, etc. How young scientists are to navigate all this is beyond me, and it often becomes a battle of scientific integrity versus Read More ›

Nature: “Unhelpful to exclude conservative voices from debate”

From the editors of Nature: The article by Mark Lilla, a researcher at Columbia University in New York City who specializes in the history of Western intellectual, political and religious thought, called for an end to what he described as an overemphasis by liberals on racial, gender and sexual identity politics. He believes that this focus distracts from core fundamental concepts of democracy and so weakens social cohesion and civic responsibility. In short, he asserted that many progressives live in bubbles; that they are educationally programmed to be attuned to diversity issues, yet have “shockingly little to say” about political and democratic fundamentals such as class, economics, war and policy issues affecting the common good. Of direct relevance to the Read More ›

Professional skeptic Michael Shermer on convincing others when facts fail

Pot. Kettle. Rusty. From Michael Shermer at Scientific American: Have you ever noticed that when you present people with facts that are contrary to their deepest held beliefs they always change their minds? Me neither. In fact, people seem to double down on their beliefs in the teeth of overwhelming evidence against them. The reason is related to the worldview perceived to be under threat by the conflicting data. Creationists, for example, dispute the evidence for evolution in fossils and DNA because they are concerned about secular forces encroaching on religious faith. Anti-vaxxers distrust big pharma and think that money corrupts medicine, which leads them to believe that vaccines cause autism despite the inconvenient truth that the one and only Read More ›

Wayne Rossiter: The dragon in Plantinga’s garage

From Wayne State biologist Wayne Rossiter at his blog: A critique of Plantinga’s argument for the compatibility of Darwinian evolution and Christianity. Plantinga’s principle concern (stated in the first line of his first essay) is “Are science and religion compatible?” After some meandering, he refines the search a bit, offering, “Theistic religion endorses special divine action in the world—miracles, for example—but such action would contravene the laws promulgated by science. There is such a thing as the scientific worldview, and it is incompatible with theistic religion.” If it were true that “science” as a practice rightly conforms to this “scientific worldview” (read: naturalism), then I suppose we could stop here (on page two of the essay) and say that Plantinga Read More ›

Buddhism, we are told, welcomes modern cosmology

From astronomer Chris Impey at Nautilus: Interdependence and impermanence. The words have different meanings to a scientist and a Buddhist, but they provide a common ground for a discussion of the interactions and transformations that pervade the physical universe. To a Buddhist, impermanence means there is no permanent and fixed reality; everything is subject to alteration and change. The Buddha said that life is a series of different moments, joining to give the impression of continuous flow, like a river. The scientific view is similar, from a human as a persistent biological pattern even as the cells are continuously living and dying, to the processes in the universe that continuously exchange and transform matter and energy. Buddhist interdependence means that Read More ›