EDGE


EDGE 26 — October 6, 1997

THE REALITY CLUB

Steven Pinker, Philip Anderson, Marc Hauser, and Colin Tudge on "The Three Dimensions Of Human History" by Colin Renfrew

(Steven Pinker:) Too often we read of pottery styles or phonological rules as if they grew out of the ground, or mysteriously migrated across continents as if they had little legs. Renfrew has produced an enlightening and useful analysis of the ways in which the aggregate behavior of real people could have led to the distribution of languages and artifacts we find today. It is a wonderful unification of archeology and comparative linguistics with the rest of the human sciences.

Thomas De Zengotita, J.C. Herz and Clifford Pickover on Howard Gardner's "Education For All Human Beings"

(Thomas De Zengotita): Only intellectuals seeking understanding spend serious time doing things like "just getting enough history and math" so they can have a "background" for other inquiries. In the absence of exposure to real intellectuals only a very few kids will be inspired to seek understanding in such ways. No technology will take up the slack.

(J.C. Herz): When I was a child I was given very smart toys. Puzzles & blocks & tanagrams & optical illusion coloring books. Shapes to recombine. Patterns to recognize. Connect the dots. And I still play a version of this child's game. With media. Newspaper and magazine clippings. On my kitchen table. Connect the dots.

(Clifford Pickover:) In more repressed times, the simple act of wishing was the greatest of sins, punishable by everlasting fire in the afterlife or by cruel Inquisition-like punishments in this life.

Peter von Sivers on Jared Diamond

Diamond's article overlooks that agrarian-urban civilization was pioneered in the Middle East India-China between 3500 and 200 BCE. Crete, Phoenicia, Asia Minor Greece, European Greece, Rome and eventually Western Europe were not pioneers but recipients of this civilization.

Robert Provine on "Men, Women, and the Talk Show Effect": A Response to Carl Djerassi and Natalie Angier

Typically, the women are listening but not talking. Maybe you are experiencing this effect. Or perhaps active female scientists are simply too busy to respond, racing to achieve the critical mass necessary for support and recognition by the academy. Book writing and the associated syntheses are often luxuries that come later in ones career.

Tor Gulliksen and Jeremy C. Ahouse Respond to George Dyson

(Tor Gulliksen:) I learned to know Barricelli in my student days in Oslo in the early 60's, and soon, like many other students, became very interested in his ideas about numerical evolution, and what he called "numerical organisms."

(Jeremy C. Ahouse:) George Dyson suggests that reproduction wedded to selectionism somehow underwrites Lamarckian evolution in a way that it doesn't when we have a separate germ line.

LETTERS

Jeremy C. Ahouse, Sandra Blakeslee, Peter Tallack


(8,040 words)


John Brockman, Editor and Publisher | Kip Parent, Webmaster


THE REALITY CLUB


Steven Pinker, Philip Anderson, Marc Hauser, and Colin Tudge on "The Three Dimensions Of Human History" by Colin Renfrew


From: Steven Pinker
Submitted: 8.28.97

I am a big fan of the way that Colin Renfrew reintroduces living, talking, moving human beings to the study of prehistory. Too often we read of pottery styles or phonological rules as if they grew out of the ground, or mysteriously migrated across continents as if they had little legs. Renfrew has produced an enlightening and useful analysis of the ways in which the aggregate behavior of real people could have led to the distribution of languages and artifacts we find today. It is a wonderful unification of archeology and comparative linguistics with the rest of the human sciences.

I also share his excitement about reconstructing human prehistory by combining linguistic, archeological, and genetic data. I often cite that area when asked for the most promising frontiers of research on language for the next decade. But I'm frustrated at the way it's been done so far. Some of the highly publicized matchups between genetic and linguistic family trees are slapdash at every step. The genetic trees sometimes invite skepticism (as when they show the Japanese being closer to Europeans than to Chinese) which is reinforced when the trees obtained from different methods have very different geometries. The linguistic trees are not accepted by most linguists, to put it mildly. And claims about the goodness of fit between the two are often impressionistic and something of a stretch.

I sympathize with Renfrew's frustration at the reluctance of most linguists to rise to the challenge of seeking deeper roots for language families. True, the Nostraticists and Proto-Worlders have not met the burden of proof of showing that their families are anything more than a combination of statistical coincidences and wishful thinking. But it's also wrong to dismiss the hypotheses by saying that they aren't using anointed methods. Many linguists tend to be blinkered by a few traditional methodologies, not appreciating that science is a constant struggle for more and more sensitive ones. I find that they also tend to misunderstand the consequences of noise, imprecision, and error in the data. To some linguists, that disqualifies the entire database. But to anyone who has grown up using inferential statistics, it's an everyday nuisance that one can deal with.

The key point is that there is bound to be useful information even in crude, error-laden, approximate databases on similarities between languages; it's just a matter of developing better and better statistical tools to handle them, as the molecular geneticists have been doing for the past decade. I agree with Renfrew that a new generation of scholars, with an unorthodox, interdisciplinary training, will have to be grown to realize the promise of this new field.

Naturally I am more sanguine than Renfrew about the Darwinian approach to mind and culture. It's important to keep in mind that Richard Dawkins' notion of memes is not the only way to use evolutionary theory to explain culture. Dan Dennett argues that it's important, but Dawkins himself gave a more modest assessment when he said that he meant his memes discussion largely as a way of vividly illustrating that the theory of natural selection applies to anything that can replicate, not just DNA. Many evolutionary psychologists, such as Martin Daly, have criticized memetics as a significant theory of cultural transmission (for one thing, a mind that passively accepted memes would be a sitting duck for exploitation by others), and in How the Mind Works I criticize it for other reasons. Natural selection could have created a complex mind that does not mirror natural selection in its workings.

Has the Darwinian framework told us anything much that we didn't already know? I think the answer is yes. Some of the examples I discuss in How the Mind Works include inductive and deductive reasoning, mental imagery, memory, beauty, sexual desire, emotions such as fear, disgust, and anger, the causes of lethal violence, the numerical abilities of children and nonhuman animals, and the shaping of personality.

I do share Renfrew's skepticism about the standard story about the Upper Paleolithic revolution, though perhaps for somewhat different reasons. The archeological record is bound to underestimate our ancestors' cultural achievements, because until recently there weren't many people on the planet, and most of the things people make quickly rot into nothing. The recent finds of polished tools, fishhooks, and other postrevolutionary artifacts in Zaire, dated to 75,000 years ago, challenge the idea that humans everywhere were stuck with crude artifacts until Cro-Magnon times, and I suspect that more such discoveries are in store.

I have always found it hard to believe that the people of 100,000 years ago had the same minds as those of the Upper Paleolithic revolutionaries to come, indeed, the same minds as ours, and sat around for 50,000 years without it dawning on a single one of them that you could carve a tool out of bone, or without a single one feeling the urge to make anything look pretty. I would be eager to learn Colin Renfrew's speculations of what a more complete archeological record of the past 100,000 years might look like.

Thanks to Colin and to John for the stimulating interview.

STEVEN PINKER is professor in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at MIT; director of the McDonnell-Pew Center for Cognitive Neuroscience at MIT; author of Language Learnability and Language Development, Learnability and Cognition, The Language Instinct, and How the Mind Works (Norton).


From: Philip Anderson
submitted: 8.8.97

John, I was very impressed by Colin Renfrew's interview(and not just because he is the master of my college). It is delightful to find someone who is broad enough to look with skepticism at the accepted wisdom in several related fields, and honest enough to state his own prejudices clearly.

I wonder in an amateurish way if people have really thought about the questions posed by the Australian aborigines. They seem to have arrived 60,000 years ago, one is told, and to be fully modern and to have a fully developed language. A lot of the time scales proposed in the older theories seem to be excluded by this. Humans seem to have scurried around with remarkable efficiency, very early. It seems almost unlikely that it took 50,000 more years to get to the americas.

PHILIP ANDERSON is a Nobel laureate physicist at Princeton and one of the leading theorists on superconductivity.


From: Marc D. Hauser
Submitted: 8.14.97

In thinking about the blend of archaeology, genetics and language, I am curious about what Colin thinks about the notion of domain-specific knowledge systems and the extent to which something like tool use depends upon a language module. In this sense, studies of animals, lacking language are crucial. Sure, animals use tools, but they haven't built a computer or even a swiss army knife. Is there something about combinatorial operation, shared by both complex tool use and language, that would allow us think that the two have co-evolved?

MARC D. HAUSER, is an evolutionary psychologist, and an associate professor at Harvard University where he is a fellow of the Mind, Brain, and Behavior Program. He is the author of The Evolution of Communication (MIT Press), and What The Serpent Said: How Animals Think And What They Think About (Henry Holt, forthcoming).


From Colin Tudge
Submitted: 9.11.97

I have read your interview with Colin Renfrew with great interest and apart from saying I found it extremely interesting I have just three comments:

1. In Day Before Yesterday (aka Time Before History) I suggest that it is at least possible that people in pre-neolithic times may well have milled about the place, interbreeding where they met (as well as making war) just as they are known to have done in neolithic and historical times. If this were the case it would certainly complicate attempts to integrate linguistic history with genetic history. What, after all, would such studies show in the modern US or Europe? However, the recent studies by Paabo and others, showing that neanderthal DNA was very different from Homo sapiens DNA suggests that, at least in this instance, people of different groups really did (or were at least capable of) keeping themselves very much to themselves. In principle, though, comparison of linguistic versus genetic history really would help to show whether and to what extent pre-neolithic populations stayed separate, or integrated. In many contexts this is a key issue.

2. I am very intrigued by the comments concerning pre-agricultural people, which Lord Renfrew equates with pre-neolithic people. I am increasingly taken with the idea (by no means original to me!) that people were 'farming' to an ecologically significant degree well before the neolithic, and indeed from about 40 000 years ago onwards. 'Farming' in this context would not involve the entire gamut of activities that nowadays are covered by that term. At bottom it simply implies protection of favoured crop plants against rival predators and weeds, clearing of space to allow favoured plants to grow, and burning the grass to freshen it up and encourage game (as practiced by present-day Australian aborigines). A little later it could involve deliberate planting of favoured crops — perhaps by seed but perhaps also, especially in the tropics, by vegetative means, which need mean simply pushing sticks into the ground and then protecting them. Such minimal activity could make a huge difference to ecological success — enough to account for the out-competing of the neanderthals. Note, too, that farmers are much more efficient as hunters — since they are no longer dependent on the prey-base. This is why and how domestic cats are so destructive to small birds in the suburbs; they don't need the birds for food and so their numbers do not go down when the birds become scarce. Thus, some dabbling in farming and game management helps to account for the outstanding success of the first people in the Americas and Australia, and helps to explain how those people were able to perpetrate the 'Pleistocene Overkill'. The 'Neolithic Revolution' is not the beginning of agriculture. It is simply the time when agriculture suddenly became conspicuous (a) because the people were victims of their own success, so that the human population rose while the game population diminished and suddenly they needed to farm (whereas before they did it to supplement hunting and (b) because the neolithic coincides with the end of the last Ice Age, with the concomitant loss of land mass, and in particular of the fertile coastal plains: forcing people inland into smaller cultivable areas. The notion that people learned to farm early also explains how it is that farming apparently arose spontaneously in many different parts of the world at intervals after 10 000 years ago. The people were not re-inventing it each time. They were simply becoming obliged — for different reasons in each case but always because their population was rising — to begin farming on a conspicuous scale.

This hypothesis suggests that people would have been able to improve their own chances of survival and their own ecological impact significantly — critically — without disturbing the landscape on a scale sufficient to show up in the archaeological record. They would simply increase the frequency of certain plants and animals in a given area, at the expense of others. i.e., there can be no direct evidence for this hypothesis since it predicts that there should be no evidence. This makes it largely untestable so that dyed in the wool scientists qua scientists ought to throw it out: no test, to idea. However, it is also very likely (it seems to me) that this idea is true.

3. Lord Renfrew is clearly less than enchanted by evolutionary psychology. This is not the time to enter this discussion in detail but some of his arguments seem to me too dismissive. Who, for example, are the 'ultradarwinists'? I know a great many people involved in evolutionary psychology and in evolutionary studies in general and I do not know any who answer to that description. All serious biologists accept, for example, that any evolved system is bound to be 'imperfect' in various ways and in particular is bound to carry a great deal of redundancy. But it is fruitful (good parsimonious science) to explore the possibility that any given quality is adaptive before suggesting that it is not. It's just a question of testing the more testable things first. His suggestion that evolutionary psychology has so far told us nothing we do not know is not actually true, but even if it were it would not be a strong argument. We would expect that studies of human behaviour would indeed generally confirm rather than abnegate much of what we know already — unless we were to suppose that most of what we know or think we know already is simply wrong, which would be a very peculiar supposition. These are early days, too. People might have said (I don't know that they did, but they might have done) that Newton's laws of gravity did not tell us anything new, since we already knew that the Earth travels neatly around the Sun and that apples fall downwards.

What is needed, though, I reckon, is a discussion of what kinds of studies in general are worth carrying out - not just in evolutionary psy but in all fields: how we should judge their worth; what we would expect to get out of them. We might also look at the particular problems of distinguishing between the truly fruitful studies in evolutionary psy and those that are cocktail chat. I am perfectly content that the best studies are very far removed indeed from cocktail chatter and provide tremendous insights; but since this clearly is not universally accepted I reckon the evolutionary psychologists ought to spend a little more time laying out their stall, and pointing out why this is the case.

Anyway, these are first thoughts.

I look forward to further conversations.

Best wishes,

Colin Tudge

COLIN TUDGE is a Cambridge biologist and writer now at the Centre for Philosophy at the London School of Economics. He is the author of eight books including Last Animals at the Zoo, The Engine in the Garden , and The Time Before History. He is the former features editor of New Scientist, and he writes for The New Statesman and The Independent on Sunday.


Thomas De Zengotita, J.C. Herz and Clifford Pickover on Howard Gardner's "Education For All Human Beings"


From: Tom de Zengotita
Submitted: 10.6.97

The reason Bloom and Hirsch get so much attention is this: they believe in something more elevating then politics. Next to that, the fact that they are horribly mistaken in almost every other way is relatively unimportant. The left, having forsaken the true and the good in favor of the practical, has nothing comparable to offer.

Gardner should not be surprised at "how incredibly superficial most of the applications" of his ideas has been. Most progressive educators in the trenches don't have to time (or the education) to do things any other way — they make demos of reform, not reform — (Gardner indirectly admits this by moving to the time issue in the same paragraph)

His lament about "knowing something about history" etc. doesn't sit comfortably with his attack on coverage and the hundreds of different important things we could study idea — he's right about the lady with the "Jewish thing" — she did mean intellectual, and the fact is that most people, including educators, aren't intellectuals. Only intellectuals seeking understanding spend serious time doing things like "just getting enough history and math" so they can have a "background" for other inquiries. In the absence of exposure to real intellectuals only a very few kids will be inspired to seek understanding in such ways. No technology will take up the slack.

THOMAS DE ZENGOTITA teaches philosophy and anthropology at The Dalton School and at the Draper Graduate Program at New York University. He holds a BA, MA, MPh, and PhD in Anthropology from Columbia University. Publications include "On Wittgenstein's 'Remarks on Frazer's Golden Bough' " in Cultural Anthropology (4:4 1989), "Speakers of Being; Romantic Refusion in Cultural Anthropology" in Romantic Motives; Essays in Anthropological sensibility, George Stocking ed., 1991, "Irony, Celebrity and You" in The Nation, December 2 1996.


From: J. C. Herz
Submitted: 10.6.97

When I was a child I was given very smart toys. Puzzles & blocks & tanagrams & optical illusion coloring books. Shapes to recombine. Patterns to recognize. Connect the dots. And I still play a version of this child's game. With media. Newspaper and magazine clippings. On my kitchen table. Connect the dots. And then I mail this little media sculpture to my friends and ask them to draw the lines. Color it in. So here's last week's, by way of thanks for my copy of EDGE:

Three items on the multidimensional chess board of pop culture and multinational commerce. Comprise an interesting solution space (publishing, television, architecture, brand-name beer, and Islam, for starters). Connect the dots:

#1 Business Section of today's Times: PEARSON TO ACQUIRE COMPANY THAT PRODUCES 'BAYWATCH'

Pearson P.L.C., the British media company, said yesterday that it had agreed to buy All American Communications Inc., which produces the popular TV series "Baywatch," for $373 million in cash and the assumption of $136 million in debt. All American, which is based in Los Angeles, is the world's largest owner and distributor of game shows, including "The Price Is Right" and "Family Feud," and has more than 90 on the air in 29 countries. Pearson owns The Financial Times, Penguin Books and Madame Tussaud's wax museum. Shares of All American gained 75 cents, to $25.125, in Nasdaq trading.

#2 Bloomberg item last month: GRAND MET AND FOSTER'S SELLING BRITISH PUBS.

Grand Metropolitan P.L.C. and Foster's Brewing Group Ltd. agreed yesterday to sell about 4300 pubs to an investment vehicle set up by Nomura Securities for L475 million in cash, or about $765 million, and the assumption of L775 million of debt. The companies being sold - the Inntrepreneur Pub Company and Spring Inns Ltd. — own 2,903 and 1406 British public houses respectively. Grand Met, based in London, is in the process of merging with Guiness P.L.C. and has been disposing pubs and other brewing assets to focus on food, wines and spirits. For Foster's, which is based in Australia, the sales is part of a plan to shed its British assets. Nomura already owns 1,130 pubs through its Phoenix Inns Holdings unit.

#3 Marisa Bertolucci's concluding remarks about the Aga Khan's annual award for Islamic architecture, in the September issue of Metropolis:

...The participants know that if Islam — its people, their cultures, and their habitats — is to be preserved and to advance, it will depend in large part upon how imaginatively and responsibly its built landscape is conceived. They understand how in architecture, economic, political, social, aesthetic, and spiritual (or secularizing) forces converge. Of course, the future of the West also depends on such an understanding, since a flood of technological, social, and economic change is washing away our own cultural and national identities. As borders become virtual and definitions disappear in the emerging global village, we need to reinvent and redefine ourselves. With values diluted by homogenization, societies can become destabilized, providing fertile breeding grounds for fundamentalism, be it the Islamic Jihad or the Montana Militia...Indeed, the West and Islam are merging. Muslim immigrants are thronging into Europe and the United States; homegrown Muslim sects, like the Nation of Islam, are flourishing. Western culture continues too to permeate Islam; even in fundamentalist nations like Iran, teenage girls wear designer blue jeans under their chadors, travelers sneak in jazz CD's, and residents stealthily install satellite TV to catch Baywatch.

J.C. HERZ is the author of Joystick Nation : How Videogames Ate Our Quarters, Won Our Hearts, and Rewired Our Minds and Surfing on the Internet, which was described by William Gibson as "post-geographical travel writing."


From: Cliff Pickover
Submitted: 9/22/97

I found Howard Gardner's ideas on education to be fascinating, and I have headed in a slightly different direction in order to find the best ways to educate. In my own life, I have found that wishing for certain goals to be an unusual and important part of the educational process. I also find that talking to children about their wishes is particularly fascinating. In fact, I have collected thousands of wishes from all around the world, from people ages 9 to 90, and gathered them together in a (so far unpublished book) titled "THE BOOK OF WISHES." You can learn more at my web site
http://sprott.physics.wisc.edu/pickover/home.html

Imagine a future world where a kindly and wise Goal Giver assigns children fascinating goals that must be achieved in their lifetimes. When you are born, your parents are handed a list with one-hundred goals. Some goals are difficult to achieve (pass a course on differential geometry and topology) while others are simpler (play "Silent Night" on the piano). As a stimulus to a nation's citizenry, if one were to achieve all 100 goals, there is a reward of one million dollars. What would such a world be like? What are some goals that a Goal Giver should assign? What would a human faced with this list really achieve?

Such an idea is not preposterous; in fact, there is a human today who forced himself to achieve over 100 goals set down on paper in the early years of his life. The man's name is John Goddard. When John was only a teenager, he took out a pencil and paper and made a long list of all the things he wanted to achieve in life. He set down 127 goals. Here is a list of just some of his goals:

o Explore the Nile river.
o Play "Claire de Lune" on the piano.
o Read the entire _Encyclopedia Britannica._
o Climb Mt. Everest.
o Study primitive tribes in the Sudan.
o Write a book.
o Read the entire bible.
o Dive in a submarine.
o Run a five-minute mile.
o Circumnavigate the globe.
o Explore the Great Barrier Reef of Australia.
o Climb to the very top of Cheop&apos.s Pyramid.

Impractical? Not at all. Today John Goddard is in his seventies, and he has accomplished more than 104 of his original 127 goals. He's become one of the most famous explorers in the world. Goddard is the first man in human history to explore the entire length of both the Nile and Congo rivers. His remaining goals are not so easy. He wants to visit the moon and explore the entire Yangtze River in China. He still has not visited all the world's countries, but this goal is almost achieved. He also wishes to live to see the 21st century.

When I read about John Goddard in early high school, I made my own list:

o Play "Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor" on the piano (achieved 1990)
o Learn Ch'ang-Shih Tai Chi and Shaolin Kung Fu
(achieved 1996)
o Obtain a Ph.D. from Yale University
(achieved 1982)
o Sell a novel
(achieved 1995)
o Raise golden Amazon sevrum fish
(achieved 1990)
o Play bass guitar in a rock band
(achieved 1975)
o Eat spicy tekka maki
(achieved 1994)
o Own a Mitsubishi sports car with a stick shift
(achieved 1994)
o Fire an Uzi submachine gun and Magnum 45
(achieved 1993)
o Publish a technical paper with a triple integral symbol (achieved 1986)
o File a United States patent
(achieved 1986)
o Have a book published in Japanese
(achieved in 1991)
o Have a professional massage
(achieved 1993)
o Have a book turned into a movie
(not yet achieved)
o Read Will and Ariel Durant's entire _Story of Civilization_ (not yet achieved)
o Visit Istanbul, Bangkok, and Jerusalem
(not yet achieved)
o Eat Fugu
(not yet achieved)
o Find _Adventures of a Grain of Dust_, a book lost since childhood (not yet achieved)
o Become an expert at the Japanese game Go. (not yet achieved) o Fully understand the concept, "All that is not given, is lost" (not yet achieved)

As bizarre as wishing and wish-fulfillment might seem as part of the educational process, I believe it to be an exciting approach for realizing grand goals. Ask your children what they would wish for.

I think of "wishing" as part of a whole cultural picture; people's wishes mirror their feelings and position in the rest of society. My experience reading and listening to people's wishes has made me realize that wishes are not casual but rather are rooted in the wisher's present life and concerns. In fact, it seems that wishes often replay people's lives in depth, dredging dreams that are almost subconscious until written down. A wish can give both literal information and also symbolic information revealing a person's inner world with all its conflicts.

In more repressed times, the simple act of wishing was the greatest of sins, punishable by everlasting fire in the afterlife or by cruel Inquisition-like punishments in this life. I hope that discussions of wishes will help the next generation grow up in a world where more wishes come true, where the expression of desire is not a discourageable act but rather viewed as a creative tool and emotional outlet. Since wishes are a barometer of the human condition, our society should devise more open ways of talking about desires that will be positive and constructive.

Regards,

— Cliff Pickover

"Life is a movement from the forgotten into the unexpected." Learn more about the wishing project at: http://sprott.physics.wisc.edu/pickover/home.html .

CLIFFORD A. PICKOVER, research staff member at the IBM Watson Research Center, received his Ph.D. from Yale University and is the author of numerous highly-acclaimed books melding astronomy, mathematics, art, computers, creativity, and other seemingly disparate areas of human endeavor. Pickover holds several patents, and is associate editor for various scientific journals. He is also the lead columnist for the brain-boggler column in Discover magazine.


Peter von Sivers on Jared Diamond


From: Peter von Sivers
Submitted: 8.10.97

Subject: Jared Diamond Article

The summary is very stimulating and adds quite a bit to the debate on the great sweep of world history. In the field of history it is, however, not quite as new and pathbreaking as it apparently looks in the sciences. Hegel's famous owl if Minerva traveled with the "progress"of civilization from East to West, although admittedly in an irritating Eurocentric way. Jaspers and Voegelin had quite a bit to add, although still in the manner of early 20th-century Eurocentrism.

As much as a I agree with Diamond's concern about racism (of which the above Eurocentrism is a part) and his proposed study of environmental factors, technology, disease, etc. to overcome the racist drawback, for my practice of history he still smacks too much of reductionism. Consider just a few examples:

(1) World-historically speaking it was Africa and no other part of the world which dominated civilization for the longest amount of time and even colonized the rest of the world. In fact, the recent DNA results established at the Univ. of Munich confirm that Kenyan Homo sapiens colonized the world without even intermingling with Homo Neanderthaliensis. This fact should go a long way towards balancing today's myopia about Western civilization's innate superiority. On the other hand it seems futile to deny this superiority if Africa itself is busy catching up to contemporary, Western-originated scientific-industrial civilization.

(2) Diamond's article overlooks that agrarian-urban civilization was pioneered in the Middle East-India-China between 3500 and 200 BCE. Crete, Phoenicia, Asia Minor Greece, European Greece, Rome and eventually Western Europe were not pioneers but recipients of this civilization. One therefore would have to argue that there is something in acculturating societies which makes it easier for them to innovate, while the centers of old civilization carry the burden of too much and therefore inflexible civilization. Western Europe was a recipient third-hand of agrarian-urban civilization and did not even acculturate fully until c. 1000 CE — contrary to Diamond it should therefore be carefully separated from the argument of civilizational evolution.

(3) Picking up on the acculturation-innovation theme. Acculturating newcomers to agrarian urban civilization obviously carried quite a bit over from their pre-agrarian-urban heritage. The egalitarian comrade-in-arms-culture of the migrating Germanic tribes, Mamluk Turks recruited in medieval Egypt, Japanese samurai, sub-Saharan village and secret society assemblies
survived for various lengths of time in Western Europe, the Middle East, Far East and Africa. In the Netherlands and Englands it survived into the period when Europe accomplished the transition from agrarian-urban to scientific-industrial civilization c. 1650-1800, in the form of constitutionalism. Why that was so (for both the survival and the transition) is another story too long to tell here.

As a world historian I love to stray into other fields for stimulation, but I cringe when I see world history reduced to limited concepts in these fields.

PETER VON SIVERS is Associate Professor for Middle Eastern history, Dept. of History, and Middle East Center, University of Utah. Editor, International Journal of Middle East Studies, 1984-9. Book, edited books, articles and chapters on Middle Eastern, North African and European history. Author (with three colleagues) of TV educational course, World History since 1500, to be aired on KUTV in Spring 1998.


Tor Gulliksen and Jeremy Ahouse respond to George Dyson



From: Tor Gulliksen
Submitted: 8.21.97

RE: Barricelli

Dear George Dyson,

Let me introduce myself. I am aprofessor of mathematics at the University of Oslo, Norway.

Nils All Barricelli died on the 27.of January 1993, 81 years old. I knew Barricelli for many years, and I wrote a one page article about him in connection with his death. Unfortunately it is written in Norwegian, otherwise I could have sent it to you. I also have in my possession another page of biographic information (copied from a Norwegian newspaper after his death), written by one of his friends, Oystein Aars.

I learned to know Barricelli in my student days in Oslo in the early 60's, and soon, like many other students, became very interested in his ideas about numerical evolution, and what he called "numerical organisms". In fact I worked with him one summer as an assistant in Manchester, England, where he was using the big Atlas computer in numerical evolution experiments. The goal was to obtain through evolution, chess playing (!) numerical organisms.

Here is an abstract of the two articles mentioned above:

Barricelli was born and raised in Rome, and completed his education in mathematics and physics at the University of Rome in 1936. As extremely opposed to Mussolini, Barricelli moved in 1938 to Norway with his sister and mother who was Norwegian.

In 1946 he submitted his doctoral thesis on climate variations. However it was 500 pages long, and was found to be too long to print. He did not agree to cut it to an acceptable size, and chose instead not to obtain the doctoral degree! (In a way typical for his kind of uncompromising personality).

In the period 1947 - 52 he was research assistant in theoretical statistics in the Mathematics institute, University of Oslo.

In 1952 - 53 he had two stays at the Institute of Advanced Studies in Princeton, cooperating with von Neumann on numerical evolution processes.

From 1955 to 1968 he was most of the time at different American universities, working with virus genetics.

The fall 1969 he was back at the Mathematics institute, in Oslo as a guest researcher. From 1970 until he got sick in 1991 he continued his research at the institute, - but without salary. He would rather keep his complete freedom as a researcher than entering a permanent position at the University.

Among his many fields of research I mention-

Virusgenetics, DNA, theoretical biology-
Space flights and space research-
Theoretical physics-
Mathematical language

I hope this can be of some help to you.

With regards,

Tor Gulliksen-

TOR GULLIKSEN is professor of Mathematics at University of Oslo. His main fields of current research are neural networks, discrete mathematics and combinatorial geometry.


From: Jeremy C. Ahouse
Submitted: 9.24.97
RE: George Dyson's presentation

Like the other respondents I enjoyed the discussion of early Alife. Especially the reminder that computers were being explored creatively (even as bombs were being simulated) and before they became "office productivity suites" (word processors, etc...). Not enough people view cpus and memory as playground these days. Given the modest resources that Barricelli had it should be easy enough to reproduce his approach on a personal computer or a palm pilot for that matter. Has anyone done so? I won't repeat other's praise or complaints I have but a small nit to pick and an observation.

The nit:

George Dyson suggests that reproduction wedded to selectionism somehow underwrites Lamarckian evolution in a way that it doesn't when we have a separate germ line. But what he describes as reproduction+selectionism is actually Darwinism. Historically, part of the neo in neoDarwinism is the commitment to set-aside cells and a separate germ line (i.e. Weissmann's understanding of gamete formation). This has come under some pressure as we include more examples from the tree of life and since more than DNA is inherited even in sexual species that do have gamete production.*

The Lamarckism that Darwin referred to as a belief in "an innate and inevitable tendency towards perfection in all organic beings" gets no shelter from what Dyson describes. Although it is obvious, I will remind us that Darwin could not have depended on notions of genetic replication for his ideas of natural selection — as he was just a touch too early and while Darwin lore has it that he had access to Mendel's papers it also tells us that he didn't cut the pages of that journal. In any case Natural selection (for Darwin at least) did not depend on the replication reproduction distinction.

Darwin did argue against the ability of exercise or habit becoming heritable (whatever that was) with an appeal to sterile insect castes:

any amount of modification may be effected by the accumulation of numerous, slight, spontaneous variations, which are in any way profitable, without exercise or habit having been brought into play. For peculiar habits confined to the workers or sterile females, however long they might be followed, could not possibly affect the males and fertile females, which alone leave descendants.
C. Darwin, Origin Ch 8.

Still he would as Dyson asserts have allowed that N.S. does not require replication; statistically approximate reproduction...is enough. It was for Darwin and it is in contemporary quantitative genetic accounts.

The observation:
If one really believes that protein (approximate) reproduction preceded or was contemporaneous with DNA replication there would be a lot to be gained by the discovery of how this worked. The PCR amplification technique has put so many questions within our grasp that weren't before. A protein amplification technique that started with protein would be a terrific boon. So far there isn't any residue of such a process in biology that I know of.-

Jeremy

* as Lee Smolin mentions in an earlier response, EFK and I discuss this with respect to the Dolly cloning experiment. Keller, E. F. and J. C. Ahouse (1997). Writing and Reading about DOLLY. BioEssays 19(8) 741-742.

JEREMY C. AHOUSE works in developmental genetics at the Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Howard Hughes Medical Institute at University of Wisconsin, Madison.


Robert Provine on "Men, Women, and the Talk Show Effect": A Response to Carl Djerassi and Natalie Angier


From: Robert Provine
Submitted: 7.21.97

I'm writing in regard to MEN, WOMEN, AND THE TALK SHOW EFFECT. Carl Djerassi and Natalie Angier introduced the issue of disproportionate contributions of men and women to your e mail salon. Talk show hosts often note the greater proportion of men (perhaps 90%) than women who phone in with questions, even though women constitute at least half of the listening audience. (However, women are fired into action by favorite topics including relationships, child rearing, some social issues, etc.) Typically, the women are listening but not talking. Maybe you are experiencing this effect. Or perhaps active female scientists are simply too busy to respond, racing to achieve the critical mass necessary for support and recognition by the academy. Book writing and the associated syntheses are often luxuries that come later in ones career. I was a student of Nobel Prize winner Rita Levi-Montalcini and witnessed this effect firsthand. Rita's first book, an autobiography, was published during her 79th year. I hope that we do not wait so long to hear >from today's exciting cohort of female scientists. But why do so many men call into talk shows? Now that's a topic many women can speak to with authority.

Best wishes,
Bob Provine

ROBERT R. PROVINE, Professor of Neurobiology and Psychology at the University of Maryland is the author of Quest for Laughter (Little, Brown). His findings on laughter have been featured in dozens of articles worldwide, including pieces in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Daily Telegraph, New Scientist, Science News, Discover, and The Los Angeles Times.


LETTERS


From: Jeremy C. Ahouse
Submitted: 9.23.97

I must say that you are lucky to have Jaron Lanier on board the uncritical enthusiasm for universal selectionism and importation of alife terms is so common among other members of your digital elite, that I am always relieved to read his comments.

— Jeremy


From: Sandra Blakeslee
Submitted: 9.6.97
Subject: Thanks for EDGE

Just want to thank you for the wonderful EDGE discussions. I am doing a piece on mental organs (a la Pinker and his new opus) and found the discussion from last spring to be wonderful and most helpful. So, thank you again!

— Sandy

SANDRA BLAKESLEE is an award-winning science writer for the New York Times. For the last ten years, she has carved out a specialty in neuroscience, although her "Science Times" articles cover many topics. She is coauthor, with Dr. Judith Wallerstein, of the 1986 bestseller Second Chances and the 1995 book The Good Marriage, How and Why Love Lasts. Her next book, coauthored with Dr. Vilayanur Ramachandran is The Phantom Within (forthcoming).


From: Peter Tallack
Submitted: 10.5.97

Dear John,

I've been meaning to thank you for sending me EDGE — it's always an enjoyable and provocative read.

Have you heard that two new popular science magazines are launching in the UK early next year: Future Science (published by Future Publishing), which intends to pitch itself somewhere between "New Scientist" and the 'new lads' magazine "Loaded"; and a tie-in science and technology title for the BBC TV programme "Tomorrow's World"? It's interesting that it has taken so long for this market — particularly the weekly one for decades monopolized by New Scientist — to open up. Does a similar situation prevail in the US, and, if so, why do you think that is?-

PETER TALLACK is the Book Review Editor of Nature.



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