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Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness

Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of ConsciousnessOther Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness by Peter Godfrey-Smith
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I did not enjoy this book as much as I had anticipated. It does lend support to the view of the mind I already hold. I think it was too analytical and not poetic enough. I had expected more of the latter I guess.

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Great Plains Geology

Great Plains Geology (Discover the Great Plains)Great Plains Geology by R.F. Diffendal
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I picked up this enjoyable book in the bookstore at Agate Fossil Beds National Monument in the panhandle of Nebraska while on our recent vacation. That night during my insomnia I began it and have been snatching bits and pieces since.

After helpful introductory chapters, the bulk of the book is a series of descriptions of prominent sites throughout the plains. This makes it a good travel guide as well. A handful of those sites we had seen on our trip.

The three most interesting things I learned reading the book--

1) The Black Hills was a single dome uplifted at the time of the Rocky Mountains uplift and then weathered down to create the peaks and valleys.

2) At Scottsbluff National Monument is not an uplift. The "original" floor of the plains was the top of the bluff. The plain lying far below is in fact erosion from the Platte River. The author said to stand atop the bluff and realize the unimaginable amount of sediment that has been washed down river and ultimately to the Gulf. Maybe Louisiana was made from Nebraska?

3) The Guadalupe Mountains in New Mexico and Texas are ancient coral reefs. Carlsbad Caverns is the remnant of those reefs.

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Neutrinos

One reason I reject reductivist materialism is because it seems to be an empirically bad description of physical reality. Physical reality (as Whitehead noted long ago) is more complex than the reductivists claim. As this view about neutrinos demonstrates.

 


Panpsychism

When I was writing my dissertation almost twenty years ago and defending a panexperientialist physicalism, I was considered to be on the wild fringes.  Now it seems that an even more radical idea, panpsychism, is en vogue, according to this post by Marcelo Gleiser.

Is this coherence an accident or the product of something deeper, perhaps some kind of proto-consciousness that permeates the universe and gives it purpose? This is the question many physicists, cognitive scientists and philosophers have been asking lately, leading to a sort of reawakening of panpsychism.


11 Dimensions in the Brain!

Well, this is cool news. Scientists have discovered that the brain works by creating multi-dimensional structures. Read the article in Newsweek here (though I puzzled by a few places where their nouns and verbs don't agree.  Come on Newsweek). I loved this description--"The progression of activity through the brain resembles a multi-dimensional sandcastle that materializes out of the sand and then disintegrates."


The Biology of Racism

"It’s surprising to think of racial bias as not just a state or habit of mind, nor even a widespread cultural norm, but as a process that’s also part of the ebbs and flows of the body’s physiology." This startling article from Aeon reveals how racial prejudice is connected to biological functions, and thus is more difficult to overcome than our Enlightenment-based rational hopes imagined.  

Please read the article.  Here is the conclusion:

On the one hand, this is a reason for optimism: if we can better understand the neurological mechanisms behind racial bias, then perhaps we’ll be in a better position to correct it. But there is a grim side to the analysis, too. The structures of oppression that shape who we are also shape our bodies, and perhaps our most fundamental perceptions. Maybe we do not ‘misread’ the phone as a gun; we might we actually see a gun, rather than a phone. Racism might not be something that societies can simply overcome with fresh narratives and progressive political messages. It might require a more radical form of physiological retraining, to bring our embodied realities into line with our stated beliefs.

This raises an important question in political liberalism.  Mill believed that society should not be overly involved in the effort to morally shape people, instead allowing them the liberty to develop on their own.  His initial radical left-wing idea now sounds closer to libertarianism.  It also sounds naiive, as we've learned that issues like racial justice cannot be solved by simple education of the reason.  

So I think about a variety of inputs--Michael Sandel's arguments in Justice that society must discuss the purpose of what it means to be human, Jonathan Haidt's research into the psychological impulses behind our political views, or Martha Nussbaum's book on how a democratic society must engage in moral education of its citizens by using the emotions.  These ideas run up against the ideas of Mill, which initially sound lovely, but flounder on the rock of reality.

See this earlier post on the liberal paradox.


Science of racism

A fascinating look at the science of racism.  Two excerpts:

It’s surprising to think of racial bias as not just a state or habit of mind, nor even a widespread cultural norm, but as a process that’s also part of the ebbs and flows of the body’s physiology.

***

Racism might not be something that societies can simply overcome with fresh narratives and progressive political messages. It might require a more radical form of physiological retraining, to bring our embodied realities into line with our stated beliefs.