This was recommended by PZ Myers in a post some time ago. As someone with adaptionist leanings in evolutionary theory, I'm glad I read this. Lloyd wal...moreThis was recommended by PZ Myers in a post some time ago. As someone with adaptionist leanings in evolutionary theory, I'm glad I read this. Lloyd walks carefully through all the evidence and theorizing around the evolution of the female orgasm, coming down in favor of the byproduct account (in a nutshell: female orgasm arises due to strong selection pressure for male orgasm and physiological and developmental homologies between the sexes). She explains why this theory better fits with the available evidence, and why the evidence for alternative accounts falls short. But more interestingly, she also engages in an analysis of why the byproduct account is viewed as discredited and why an adaptionist account built on shoddy evidence is the dominant view. In the course of this, she explains different adaptionist approaches to evolutionary theory, and the way bias affects scientific practice. Lloyd writes in a clearly structured way that isn't the most fluid to read, but carries her point home.(less)
it's hard to say what possessed me to read this book now of all times. some people will know that i've read most of ray jackendoff's Patterns in the M...moreit's hard to say what possessed me to read this book now of all times. some people will know that i've read most of ray jackendoff's Patterns in the Mind, which covers a lot of the same ground, and i've also taken/audited courses on semantic/syntactic theory with ray, so why read pinker?
while confirming a lot of things any casual student of cognitive/psycho-linguistics will already know by now, pinker is still definitely worth reading, and in this book he's at his finest. he explains the basic ideas with simplicity and grace, in a way that won't be tedious even when the general concepts are familiar (though real linguists might be bored). and of course, this is pop science, so pinker steps back to capture the big picture now and again, tying together the strands of current research (c. 1995) into a coherent picture of mind, brain, language, and evolution.
i'd have to say that the most valuable thing i gained from reading pinker was the way he adeptly handled the most contentious issues in this field. he makes a clear case for the core of chomskyan theory, without hesitating to draw lines where chomsky is wrong. he engages with some of the prevalent speculation about language evolution, challenging a number of widely-held beliefs. he takes a stand against the desire to find human-like language in other animals, noting that 1) it's just not there and 2) to insist that we need to find human language in order to elevate other animals to our stature is chauvinistic in the extreme.
basically, i'm sorry i didn't read this book in fall of 2004, when i first started thinking seriously about these issues and could have gained the most from it. but i have no regrets at all about reading it now.(less)
if you've ever thought about where your food comes from this is probably worth a read. if you've never given it the least thought, this should be a ma...moreif you've ever thought about where your food comes from this is probably worth a read. if you've never given it the least thought, this should be a mandatory introduction to how and why this should affect your food choices. pollan's voice is not that of an overbearing advocate for one position, but of a true science journalist. his prose is fluid and he takes pains to engage the reader, simultaneously engaging seriously with the idea of our food chains as natural systems. the dominant narrative emerges as the tension between industrializing food production and distribution on the one hand, and our pastoral ideal of our food as natural and wholesome on the other. the book offers no easy resolution (de-industrialize food? this would require a national revolution that doesn't seem too likely in the near future), but prompts any reader (including the self-righteous organic food-shopper) to think seriously about what our aims are, and how best to realize them.
i think other readers have tended to find this book to be disheartening for the above reasons. i actually found it to be remarkably optimistic. when you look at pollan's examples of the best food production has to offer, what strikes me is how many benefits come intertwined when things are done right: sustainable architecture is low-waste, high-yield, has low environmental impact, and creates healthier food that tastes better, too. much like The Death and Life of Great American Cities, our values are intertwined, and we can further them all simultaneously if we set reasonable goals and don't delude ourselves about the limits of these systems.(less)
unfortunately, i chose to read todd's review about midway through this book; "unfortunately" because todd's accurate criticisms colored my reading of...moreunfortunately, i chose to read todd's review about midway through this book; "unfortunately" because todd's accurate criticisms colored my reading of the second half.
this isn't entirely true, since i had my own qualms from the get go, which led me to look up the review. for example, in the very first pages i wasn't really on board with roach's style of wit and thought it would grate on me throughout the book. that turned out to be wrong, as her sense of humor grew on me. some of her asides fell flat, but often they did deliver genuine laughs that i could barely contain as i read on subways and buses.
what did more to take away from the book was its episodic rather than cohesive structure. sure, she explores a lot of stuff related to the scientific inquiry into the afterlife, but this doesn't guarantee that the material will hang well together (and roach's bridging attempts in the final paragraphs of a chapter sometimes feel pretty forced). and while i appreciated her moderately skeptical outlook throughout, identifying what she found dubious and what would lead her to rethink her presuppositions, she tied it up with a pretty weaksauce conclusion (including an abysmal speculation about the nature of belief - belief as inclination? come on).
all in all, a fun read, if a slightly unsatisfying one in the end.(less)
This is the best book I've read all week (never mind that it's the only book I've read this week). While not philosophy, it should be required for all...moreThis is the best book I've read all week (never mind that it's the only book I've read this week). While not philosophy, it should be required for all philosophers who talk about rationality and agency, as well as social scientists, and for that matter everyone. Ariely gives concise and clear descriptions of his experiments going back several years, and extrapolates general forces affecting our choices and motivations. These vary from findings that basically prove what should be common sense (SURPRISE! 20-year old males show impaired judgment when aroused!), to effects that are genuinely surprising (did you know people are almost twice as likely to cheat when the payoff is non-monetary?). Ariely also tries to use these findings to give practical advice for how we can counteract these affects in our decision-making, pointing out that awareness can help but that, like optical illusions, we may not be able to avoid their influence. I picked this up randomly on Saturday and finished 5 days later; if you're not in law school you can probably do it in 2 - and I would highly recommend you do.(less)
After finally finding out what Gödel's proof was, I picked up this book, recommended by a professor as a book that would explain it to me. And it did!...moreAfter finally finding out what Gödel's proof was, I picked up this book, recommended by a professor as a book that would explain it to me. And it did! Short, to the point, and very readable, this both puts the proof in historical/philosophical context and gives you a good outline of how it works.(less)
if you're looking for a one book summary on Evo Devo, this is it. explains how embryology has transformed in the past several decades to become one of...moreif you're looking for a one book summary on Evo Devo, this is it. explains how embryology has transformed in the past several decades to become one of the most exciting areas of biology, producing some of the best evidence for evolutionary history.(less)
This book presents a way of understanding thought as a formal system. It doesn't so much "argue" for that position as teach you a lot of logic, math,...moreThis book presents a way of understanding thought as a formal system. It doesn't so much "argue" for that position as teach you a lot of logic, math, AI, and even a little neuroscience and genetics to give you the tools to understand this. That said, GEB is obviously not so much for those who a) already understand the afore-mentioned fields and/or b) already accept the main thesis of the book. I fall squarely within category b), and have some background in the topics mentioned in category a), although not enough that this book wasn't worth reading. Having worked in the past to understand Gödel, I came away from GEB with a much deeper understanding of the proof itself and related concepts in math/logic. And while I didn't need convincing that thought is basically a property of a formal system, Hofstadter's outlook on this is enough to give the most insightful cognitive scientist some food for thought.(less)
this would have been pretty eye-opening, if i hadn't gotten the central insights from other subsequent books that described diamond's thesis. still wo...morethis would have been pretty eye-opening, if i hadn't gotten the central insights from other subsequent books that described diamond's thesis. still worth it for the wealth of examples diamond cites in support of his arguments. the chapter on political systems is something i still need to digest in some respects.(less)