WIZ 1500 Review: Molecular Storms, Octopuses’ Gardens, and the Meeting of Mind

 

by Patricia Karamesines

Metazoa
Animal Life and the Birth of the Mind

by Peter Godfrey-Smith



Science has a problem: nobody understands it. Science was bewailing this problem back in the 80s when I worked at an archaeological dig. “How do we get people to care about what we do?” the archaeologists wondered. “Everything we need to say is important to humanity…but so technical.”

Poor science! Only attractive to other scientists.

Enter Peter Godfrey-Smith, scuba diver, professor in the School of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Sydney, and author of several books exploring evolution and origins of the mind. His latest, Metazoa, tackles dense questions indeed: are animals sentient (he distinguishes between “sentient” and “conscious”)? If so, are all animals sentient, or only some? If they are sentient, is their sentience of a sort we can understand? If so, what can we learn from their sentience about the origins and nature of human consciousness?

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Review: Arrival 2016

2017 Arrival Poster*Spoilers Alert*

First off, I’d like any film that nudges viewers toward thinking about language and its effects on events, the environment, and relationships past, present, and future. Arrival’s got “events” and “relationships” covered, and, by extension, “environment”, so I like it. *SOAP BOX ALERT*  Lackadaisical attitudes toward language are common. Many folks don’t think about language much at all, despite how, when threatened, they quickly move to weaponize it when they feel threatened. Moreover, since a meaningful percentage of the population gets its information from movies and other media rather than peer-reviewed scholarly articles on language and linguistics, I’m good with casting language in a leading role in a semi-popular film. *END SOAP BOX BLURB*

We also have funny ideas about language, including that it impedes real communication. Charles Taylor discusses one angle of such thinking in The Language Animal, the theory that, ideally, language should just name things in the world with constraints on usage to enable precise communication—no funny business like metaphor, symbol, etc., which some literalists believe renders discourse into Keystone Kops ineptness.

For a taste of Keystone Kops, go here.

Taylor makes a good case that this idea of language still influences beliefs about human powers of articulation (unduly, he says). Arrival may in fact put the “language as precision tool” concept to work, since very few nods to metaphor’s powers of transport occur in the movie. It would be nice if the black-and-white nature of instrumental language could have been expanded a little, but that’s probably asking too much. Many people know language mainly as a tool for getting done what they want, even as they complain about its exactness.  In blame-the-messenger fashion (including in language Global Mall Facebook), laments abound over how language fails to live up to expectations then betrays us; ergo, it’s faulty.

But to the movie. Arrival is a cryptic thing on several levels, including its

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Review: The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes

Cover of Origins of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind

As I mentioned in my Facebook posts about the book, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind (published in 1976) is a wild ride, not at all for everyone. It could especially prove problematic for those espousing religious belief. Or, indeed, belief in the veracity of science. Or in any kind of certainty at all. Furthermore, at times, Origin goes speculative to what for some will be intolerable degrees, and Jaynes’s writing style can turn florid and irritating. I was in it for the idea that the human brain and the consciousness it houses have changed radically since early periods of civilization, an idea that bravely contradicts common belief that human consciousness bloomed suddenly full-flowered upon early man. Continue reading “Review: The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes”

Patricia reviews Adam’s Tongue by Derek Bickerton, Part Two

Part One here.

This is a GREEN LANGUAGE post.

Adam's Tongue cover1

New kid on the block niche construction course-corrects the previous scientific proposition that evolution is a one-way road: “Adaptation is always asymmetrical; organisms adapt to their environment, never vice versa” (Bickerton quoting George Williams, p. 92).   The niche construction light switched on for Bickerton when he attended a conference where niche construction theory co-founder John Odling-Smee spoke on the idea. An avowed skeptic of “new theories,”   Bickerton became a quick convert, snapping up niche construction and building it into his developing theories of language evolution. Here, in Bickerton’s words, is the gist of niche construction theory:

…animals themselves modify the environments they live in, and … these modified environments, in turn, select for further genetic variation in the animal. So a feedback process begins, a two-way street in which the animal is developing the niche and the niche is developing the animal, until you get the lock-and-key fit between animal and niche … (99) Continue reading “Patricia reviews Adam’s Tongue by Derek Bickerton, Part Two”