Garrison, New York
South Dakota - Interstate 90
Drove the 3,069 miles from Bellingham WA to Princeton NJ in 96 hours at the end of last summer, and, in early July, took a bit more time (with daughter Lauren) driving back. Stopped in Portland to speak at OSCON (O'Reilly's Open Source Convention) where Tim's gang of 1,800 independent-minded coders enjoyed receiving long-delayed words of encouragement from their predecessors on the Institute for Advanced Study's Electronic Computer Project, for instance this scrap of paper (ca. 1946) that turned up in Julian Bigelow's basement a week before I left:
The text reads:
In the Gospel according to von Neumann, this is where God said "Let there be light."
San Diego, California
Apes evolved from the monkeys about 25 million years ago; they lost their tails in favor of doubling brain size. The gibbons and siamangs are on a branch that dates back about 18 million years, and the orangs on the branch at about 12 million years. They are the acrobats of the apes, with shoulders far more versatile than monkeys. The siamangs and the orangs are housed together at the San Diego Zoo and it makes for a fascinating display of virtuosity. I made good use of my new telephoto lens, as you'll see when the book comes out next spring; the postcard pictures are of the siamang, an orang, and various bonobos.
The gorillas split off about 8-10 million years ago. They sure lost the acrobatic skills of their presumed ancestor with the orangs, perhaps because they specialized in a vegetarian niche of low quality food that requires a very long gut and big belly.
7 million years ago, we last shared a common ancestor with the
chimps and bonobos. The hominids differed, initially, in losing
the big canine teeth and in standing upright enough to rearrange
the hips. They had a pint-sized brain like the other great apes;
the tripling of brain size didn't even begin until the
ice ages kicked in about 2-3 million years ago. If only more
of those intermediate species had survived—both Neanderthals
and, in China, Homo erectus went extinct recently, after our
own lineage achieved structured thought, our capacity for long
sentences and contingent planning.
My summer postcard comes from two weeks in a villa in the Umbrian hills, with a bare hint of Perugia in the background, obscured by the 26 immediate family members in front of it (2 grand-parents, 12 children and spouses, 11 grand-children plus 1 in utero, I'm in the hat).
Its an interesting mix of people, several journalists, writers, artists, professors, and scientists, a lawyer and a manager, plus a motocross racing champion and a jazz-hip-hop fusion rapper. Sort of our own private Gopnik Edge. No e-mail or work or writing for two weeks, just happy, swimming, cooking and eating, with all 26 of us sharing two houses.
But there was inevitably, some thinking, and a tremendous amount of talking, including inevitably a tremendous amount of talking about families.Everyone in this picture is either a child or parent (or both) of someone else in this picture.
And those relations are among the most intense, valuable, rich and complicated experiences they will ever have. What's more millions, billions, of families could provide similar pictures, with similarly rich and complicated stories behind them. Novelists, of course, have made those stories their province, and their was certainly material for a comic novella in the Gopniks in Perugia.
But there is remarkably little abstract thinking about the relations between parents and children. The biological facts of childhood and parenting, and the peculiar dilemmas and conflicts, attachments and responsibilities, they create, which loom so large in literature and experience, and even a two-week family reunion vacation, are practically invisible in philosophy. So this was a good chance for me to talk and think about that set of issues which I'm trying to write about too, even without actually writing.
Dear John Brockman!
and science seem to be congruent in that they are endeavouring
to create what, previously, has not been there, to make visible
what has never been seen, has not yet been seen or, in a way,
will always be invisible.
titles of these pictures (from left to right) are: "Angel,
Tectonic", "The Distant Sound", and "The Grand Vehicle".
All the best to Edge.
spent four months traveling nonstop this spring and early summer
to a wonderful set of meetings, such as a TedMed conference
(presenting incredible information about the interface of technology
a picture of myself, my lab manager and one of our volunteers,
plus our youngest parrot who also got to attend!), conferences
in Rennes (fascinating material on animal cognition, but during
the outbreak of the Iraqi war), Scotland (animal welfare), and
Wales (amazing talks on the interface of computers, robots, and
animal models for learning), as well as many around the USA (including
an symposium on avian behavior in honor of James Watson's 75th
birthday that ended with birding with David Sibley). I thus decided
to opt for what was to be a relaxing summer near the beach in
Swampscott. I'm rethinking the meaning of the word "relaxing" ....and
looking ahead to a month in Paris this fall, working at the Ecole
During a trip to New Mexico I visited an incredible chamber for studying plasmas constructed by a young physicist named Christopher Watts at New Mexico Tech. Basically this is an aurora in a bottle—Chris studies the process by which auroras and solar flare form. Its the most incredible device I've seen in a long time—Jules Verne meets the computer age.
My trip to New Mexico Tech was part of a longer sojourn to New Mexico (truly a land of scientific enchantments) which began with teaching at the annual summer science writing workshop with George Johnson and Sandy Blakeslee in Santa Fe. Then on to Socorro to visit Chris Watts plasma physics lab and also NMT's Energetic Materials Research and Testing Center—grand central for the scientific study of blowing things up.
Then it was on to the VLA (the huge array of telescopes where Contact was filmed) and finally ending with a magical visit to Walter de Maria's Lightning Field. We were there on the summer solstice and the whole work seem specifically engineered for that one endlessly lingering sunset. Just as the Mayan's built the great pyramid at Chitchen Itza to capture the one incandescent moment of the spring equinox, so de Maria's artwork may be seen as a fantastical kind of solar observatory. A truly amazing amalgamation of art, technology, and engineering.
This summer has been the hottest in England since records began 343 years ago (and that's a good thing when you live here). So I have spent a lot of time working in my garden.
It's nearly three years since I gave up my job (tenure, lecturing,
students and everything) to write a textbook on consciousness. So
now that it's finished, do I want to go back? Can I stop asking
questions about "what it's like to be"?
Sue Blackmore, August 2003
This summer combined work and play and has been highlighted by the arrival of a new daughter from Russia.
I spent time at my field site on the island of Cayo Santiago, Puerto Rico. This island has been home to some 1000 rhesus monkeys for close to 70 years. Everything is quite natural except for some provisioning and the absence of predators. We changed that. Working with a post-doc, we started a new and exciting project using trained eagles to simulate attacks on those poor innocent monkeys.
We used the largest african bird of prey called the crowned eagle (photo attached). The results are wonderful: we are witnessing the real time evolution of an alarm response as the monkeys are producing calls they have never produced, are responding with fear, and seem to innately recognize the call as labeling an avian predator. And what better way to end a day of field work than to come home to a pint-sized pina colada. From Cayo I returned home, spent a few weeks reading, writing, running experiments, and going to a local beach.
We—my wife Lilan, 15 year old daughter Alexandra, and new two year old daughter Sofia—then all travelled to my parent's house in Chamonix, France. The house sits at the base of Mont Blanc, the jewel of the Alps. We hiked , swam in alpine lakes, ate like royalty, and enjoyed the aesthetics that only the French know how to create, but everyone else can enjoy.
New work? Yes. Have begun to go back to classic work in moral
philsophy and moral psychology and realize that the time
is ripe for
the sciences of the mind and brain to make their move. That
said, a different approach is needed. It is a view that differs
from the hyperational position of law, most of moral philosophy,
and moral development,
as well as the hyperemotional
position of moral philsophers from the British Enlightenment (think Hume)
to today's social psychologists. The view I favor has origins
in the writings of Adam Smith, Noam Chomsky and John Rawls.
It is a view that sees our moral faculty as a suite of intuitions
based on principles of action that operate over judgments
permissible, obligatory, and forbidden behaviors. It has
a rational flavor, but we are not conscious of its workings.
has an emotional flavor, but emotions
from Siena, where I just watched one of the Palio races for
and thence to the present day dominance of the West in science and technology.
The statue dates back to 1863, and was carved by Giovanni Paganucci. There
is no evidence that it is anything but a work of pure fiction; no contemporary
likeness of Leonardo exists, nor any physical description of him. The street
sign is for a stretch of road that runs along the River Arno. After less than
a quarter of a mile it becomes the Lungarno Galileo Galilei.
friend visited from Paris the other day and when I took him to the
beach he almost fell over, thinking of crowded French
seaside resorts in the summer. Each summer I find myself thinking about
belief systems and how difficult they are to change.
New South Wales, Australia
Here is a photo of my recent wedding day, with my new wife Pauline, a science journalist with ABC Radio National. It was taken in our back garden.
I'm shortly off to Seattle, to attend the Foundation for the Future
'Humanity 3000' meeting. I'll also be spending one day in New York! And it will be totally wiped out by filming with the BBC for a Horizon special on time travel. I fly to London that evening for one day, meeting family, then to Venice to lecture at a cultural festival. I'll be making a quick dash to fulfill my childhood dream of visiting the independent country of San Marino, one of only three in the world totally embedded in another nation (do you know the other two?). I have an obsession with geographical trivia.