robertogreco + darwin   36

crap futures — constraint no. 2: legacies of the past
"We are locked into paths determined by decisions or choices made in previous eras, when the world was a much different place. For various reasons these legacies stubbornly persist through time, constraining future possibilities and blinkering us from alternative ways of thinking.

Here, sketched as usual on a napkin over coffee and toast, are some thoughts on legacies of the past that exercise power over our future.

Infrastructure. Take energy, for example. Tesla’s invention of alternating current became the dominant system - rather than Edison’s direct current - essentially because it allowed electricity generated at power stations to be capable of travelling large distances. Tesla’s system has, for the most part, been adopted across the world - an enormous network of stations, cables, pylons, and transformers, with electrical power arriving in our homes through sockets in the wall. This pervasive system dictates or influences almost everything energy related, and in highly complex ways: from the development of new energy generation methods (and figuring out how to feed that energy into the grid) to the design of any electrical product.

Another example is transportation. As Crap Futures has discovered, it is hard to get around this volcanic and vertiginous island without a car. There are no trains, it is too hilly to ride a bike, buses are slow and infrequent, and meanwhile over the past few decades the regional government - one particular government with a 37-year reign - poured millions into building a complex network of roads and tunnels. People used to get to other parts of the island by boat; now (and for the foreseeable future) it is by private car. This is an example of recent infrastructure that a) perpetuated and was dictated by dominant ideas of how transportation infrastructure should be done, and b) will further constrain possibilities for the island into the future.

Laws and insurance. There is a problematic time-slip between the existence of laws and insurance and the real-life behaviour of humans. Laws and insurance are for the most part reactive: insurance policies, for example, are based on amassed data that informs the broker of risk levels, and this system therefore needs history to work. So when you try to insert a new product or concept - a self-driving car or delivery drone - into everyday life, the insurance system pushes back. Insurance companies don’t want to gamble on an unknown future; they want to look at the future through historical data, which is by nature a conservative lens.

Laws, insurance, and historical infrastructure often work together to curb radical change. This partly explains why many of the now technologically realisable dreams of the past, from jetpacks to flying cars, are unlikely to become an everyday reality in that imagined form - more likely they will adapt and conform to existing systems and rules.
"No great idea in its beginning can ever be within the law. How can it be within the law? The law is stationary. The law is fixed. The law is a chariot wheel which binds us all regardless of conditions or place or time." — Emma Goldman, Anarchism and Other Essays (1910)

It is true that laws sometimes outstay their welcome or impede progress. The slow pace at which laws change becomes more and more apparent as the pace of innovation increases. But there are positive as well as negative constraints, and laws often constrain us for good (which of course is their supposed function). At best, they check our impulses, give us a cooling off period, prevent us from tearing everything down at a whim.

So the law can be a force for good. But then of course - good, bad, or ineffectual - there are always those who find ways to circumvent the law. Jonathan Swift wrote: ‘Laws are like cobwebs, which may catch small flies, but let wasps and hornets break through.’ With their shock-and-awe tactics, companies like Uber manage to overcome traditional legal barriers by moving faster than local laws or simply being big enough to shrug off serious legal challenges.

Technology is evolutionary. (See Heilbroner’s quote in the future nudge post.) Comparisons between natural and technological evolution have been a regular phenomenon since as far back Darwin’s On the Origin of Species (1859). Darwin’s revolutionary work inspired philosophers, writers, and anthropologists - Marx and Engels, Samuel Butler, Augustus Pitt-Rivers - to suggest that technological artefacts evolve in a manner similar to natural organisms. This essentially means that technological development is unidirectional, and that radical new possibilities do not happen.

Viewing technology in evolutionary terms would appear to constrain us to only the possibilities that we could reasonably ‘evolve’ into. But this does not have to be the case: natural evolution works by random mutation and natural selection with no ‘plan’ as such, whereas technological innovation and product design are firmly teleologic (literally ‘end-directed’). In other words, the evolutionary model of technological change ignores basic human agency. While natural organisms can’t dip into the historical gene pool to bring back previous mutations, however useful they might be, innovators and designers are not locked into an irreversible evolutionary march and can look backward whenever they choose. So why don’t they? It is a case - circling back to constraint no. 1 - of thinking under the influence of progress dogma."
2015  crapfutures  constraints  darwin  evolution  innovation  future  progress  progressdogma  transportation  infrastructure  law  legal  time  pace  engels  friedrichengels  technology  californianideology  emmagoldman  anarchism  insurance  policy  electricity  nikolatesla  thomasedison  systems  systemsthinking  jonathanswift  samuelbutler  karlmarx  longnow  bighere  augustuspitt-rivers 
january 2016 by robertogreco
Frans de Waal: The Bonobo and the Atheist | Chicago Humanities Festival
"Frans de Waal, recognized for his expertise on primate behavior and social intelligence, has produced some of his field’s most influential research. Having observed chimpanzees soothe distressed neighbors and bonobos share their food, he is convinced that the seeds of ethical behavior are found in primate societies. The translation to humans—their closest living relatives—is a natural step: are we by nature selfish and aggressive, or cooperative and peace-loving, and how have these traits evolved? Join him for a far-ranging exploration of the origins of morality."
fransdewaal  morality  religion  science  ethics  behavior  2015  via:anne  primates  animals  charlesdarwin  bonobos  conflictresolution  chimpanzees  darwin  reconciliation  cats  domesticcats  mammals  emotions  social  empathy  atheism  multispecies 
may 2015 by robertogreco
Is it time to cut adrift from island thinking? – Libby Robin – Aeon
"Island-mindedness is born in island places, but the islands of the mind have a broad appeal. Is this hard-wired? Recognising an island of safety and refuge might have enabled our hominin ancestors to find stepping stones out of Africa in times of environmental stress. The concept of the island has long been prominent in literature and useful in science: biologists and geographers, national park managers and archaeologists, linguists, geneticists and evolutionary theorists have all turned at times to the model of the island. Yet it might no longer be a great model for the new needs and concerns of our rapidly globalising century."



"An island is as much metaphor as it is physical place. Nature and wilderness reserves became the real nature for quantitative biological theorists. They could ignore the complex stuff of urban development and human communities. An island could stand for the Garden of Eden, in an age when wilderness was the highest ideal for conservation.

Islands are also devices for thinking mathematically, for simplifying the real world and leaving out messy variables. MacArthur and Wilson were conscious of the complexity of the processes they wished to explain quantitatively – processes such as dispersal, invasion, competition, adaptation and extinction. An island-based theory, they acknowledged, left out ‘many of the most troublesome – and interesting – problems’. Ecological principles need sound theories and statistical significance if they are going to attract support from governments and policymakers. Ultimately, they argued, islands and continents need to be understood together, but the island was the basis for mathematical certainty – for laws – in the management of nature. Their final chapter, ‘Prospect’, argued that biogeography was mature enough to ‘be reformulated in terms of the first principles of population ecology and genetics’."



"The island had seemed an ideal field for ‘experimentation’, but island biogeography did not take sufficient account of time and history, and the assumption that the island’s ecological future was heading steadily towards some sort of ‘balance’ was misplaced. In 1986, the Finnish philosopher-ecologist Yrjö Haila argued that the equilibrium model had ‘ossified into a simple formula that began to suppress creative thinking instead of stimulating it’.

Haila advocated ‘a broader, pluralistic appreciation of the role of theories in general’. But ecologists have found it difficult to let go of the elegance and parsimony that equilibrium theories embody, and to see the way life works afresh without theoretical assumptions. In 2006, the ornithologist and oceanic island specialist David W Steadman argued: ‘Data that fail to support an ‘elegant’ model are often regarded as noise or the exception that proves the rule. Elegant models made by deified people die hard.’

Wilson’s fame gave the equilibrium theory a longer life than its data supported. The balance of nature was attractive beyond science, and it has a romantic following, particularly among conservationists and nature lovers who support the national parks and ‘wilderness’ ideals. The US Wilderness Act is now 50 years old, and things have moved on during the Great Acceleration of change in the same period.

Even as the theory of island biogeography was gaining supporters, the critique of the balance of nature was gathering pace within ecology. National parks and nature reserves management took for granted that nature could somehow heal itself, if protected from humanity. Experimental ideas about islands drove – and at times limited – the conservation agenda, because managers still indulged the idea that nature could be fenced off, or isolated from the threat of humanity. In the past half-century, during which the human population has more than doubled, theories for protecting nature from our overexploitation have proliferated. Biological extinctions have accelerated unabated."



"In the ‘post-national’ 21st century, borders are no longer as fixed as national jurisdictional law suggests. Australia has, at times, excised itself from its islands to handle the politics of asylum‑seeking. Would-be migrants, seeking refuge in Australia, are held on offshore islands until their status is legitimated or denied. By this means, successive Australian governments have deprived vulnerable people, including children, of basic human rights. For the sake of domestic political convenience, the nation of the plastic stencil sometimes defines itself without the islands where refugee boats land. The fact that people abandon nations and passports because of global pressures, because of the impossibility of being at home where they were born, is part of what is changing the nature of nations in a global world. People are no longer from where they came from. They become citizens of where they wash up, or the world. Island-mindedness – the separation of places from other places – is no longer an option.

In this global world, it is flows and circulation, rather than land parcels, that are important. Just as Google maps and GPS have become widespread, territoriality is changing. Flows are about land-and-sea-and-sky-and-people – a collective consciousness that is hard to represent on a 2D map or a phone app.

The island-minded idea of nature, separated from culture, has also changed. Some say we are at the ‘end of nature’: there is now a human signature on all the global flows: the biophysical system is also cultural, as the new epoch of the Anthropocene is imagined. To rework the poet John Dunne, no island-nation is ‘entire of itself’, nor can any island-nature be other than ‘involved in mankind’. Perhaps the bell now tolls for the last island: the blue marble of planet Earth, an island in the infinity of space."



"Surtsey is still bleak and black, but mosses and lichens, windswept grasses and stunted shrubs now soften its edges. All its creatures still live as much with the global systems of winds and storms as on the precious fragment of land that erupted 50 years ago. Surviving on such a remote island is, paradoxically, a mark of cosmopolitanism. Only plants and animals that travel easily will flourish there."
libbyrobin  via:anne  2014  iceland  islands  science  isolation  cosmopolitanism  judithschalansky  picoiyer  surtseyisland  peterveth  charlesdarwin  alfredrusselwallace  galápagos  alexandervonhumboldt  newzealand  australia  bali  lombok  ecology  biology  life  robertmacarthur  edwardowilson  ecosystems  discreetness  nature  wilderness  complexity  extinction  dispersal  invasion  adaptation  competition  biogeography  geography  lordhoweisland  yrjöhaila  equilibrium  conservation  adrianmanning  jakobvonuexküll  flows  circulation  borders  people  humans  separation  anthropocene  darwin 
december 2014 by robertogreco
Morals Without God? - NYTimes.com
"Over the past few years, we have gotten used to a strident atheism arguing that God is not great (Christopher Hitchens) or a delusion (Richard Dawkins). The new atheists call themselves “brights,” thus hinting that believers are not so bright. They urge trust in science, and want to root ethics in a naturalistic worldview.

While I do consider religious institutions and their representatives — popes, bishops, mega-preachers, ayatollahs, and rabbis — fair game for criticism, what good could come from insulting individuals who find value in religion? And more pertinently, what alternative does science have to offer? Science is not in the business of spelling out the meaning of life and even less in telling us how to live our lives. We, scientists, are good at finding out why things are the way they are, or how things work, and I do believe that biology can help us understand what kind of animals we are and why our morality looks the way it does. But to go from there to offering moral guidance seems a stretch.

Even the staunchest atheist growing up in Western society cannot avoid having absorbed the basic tenets of Christian morality. Our societies are steeped in it: everything we have accomplished over the centuries, even science, developed either hand in hand with or in opposition to religion, but never separately. It is impossible to know what morality would look like without religion. It would require a visit to a human culture that is not now and never was religious. That such cultures do not exist should give us pause."

[See also: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/mind-reviews-bonobo-and-atheist/ ]
animals  atheism  ethics  philosophy  religion  belief  fransdewaal  via:anne  sciene  evolution  morality  primates  relationships  giving  brain  denbosch  hieronymusbosch  life  living  darwin  altruism  empathy  pleasure  charity  inequity  inequityaversion  dogs  2010  charlesdarwin 
february 2014 by robertogreco
Literature.org: The Voyage of the Beagle, Charles Darwin - Chapter 10: Tierra Del Fuego
"While going one day on shore near Wollaston Island, we pulled alongside a canoe with six Fuegians. These were the most abject and miserable creatures I anywhere beheld. On the east coast the natives, as we have seen, have guanaco cloaks, and on the west they possess seal-skins. Amongst these central tribes the men generally have an otter-skin, or some small scrap about as large as a pocket-handkerchief, which is barely sufficient to cover their backs as low down as their loins. It is laced across the breast by strings, and according as the wind blows, it is shifted from side to side. But these Fuegians in the canoe were quite naked, and even one full-grown woman was absolutely so. It was raining heavily, and the fresh water, together with the spray, trickled down her body. In another harbour not far distant, a woman, who was suckling a recently-born child, came one day alongside the vessel, and remained there out of mere curiosity, whilst the sleet fell and thawed on her naked bosom, and on the skin of her naked baby! These poor wretches were stunted in their growth, their hideous faces bedaubed with white paint, their skins filthy and greasy, their hair entangled, their voices discordant, and their gestures violent. Viewing such men, one can hardly make one's self believe that they are fellow-creatures, and inhabitants of the same world. It is a common subject of conjecture what pleasure in life some of the lower animals can enjoy: how much more reasonably the same question may be asked with respect to these barbarians! At night, five or six human beings, naked and scarcely protected from the wind and rain of this tempestuous climate, sleep on the wet ground coiled up like animals. Whenever it is low water, winter or summer, night or day, they must rise to pick shellfish from the rocks; and the women either dive to collect sea-eggs, or sit patiently in their canoes, and with a baited hair-line without any hook, jerk out little fish. If a seal is killed, or the floating carcass of a putrid whale is discovered, it is a feast; and such miserable food is assisted by a few tasteless berries and fungi."
charlesdarwin  voyageofthebeagle  tierradelfuego  fuegians  humans  climate  clothing  1832  darwin 
december 2013 by robertogreco
North Via South: Photographs from the Galápagos : The New Yorker
"“We can begin to imagine what Charles Darwin felt when he passed through the Beagle Channel, around Cape Horn, and into the Pacific,” Magda Biernat and Ian Webster wrote earlier this week. The husband-and-wife duo is travelling from Antarctica to Alaska, and has been posting monthly updates. “We’ve been through many parts of South America that Darwin explored, and have witnessed some of the natural wonders that he wrote about, so why miss the humble archipelago that changed the world? We booked a passage on a sailboat fittingly named the Beagle, and we read Darwin’s ‘The Voyage of the Beagle’ while exploring the Galápagos. Knowing the conclusion that Darwin eventually reaches as he ponders the bizarre creatures of the islands makes ‘The Voyage’ suspenseful reading. His words and insights into the animals of the Galápagos followed us as we scrambled across the volcanic surface of the archipelago.”

Below is a selection of Magda’s photographs from the Galápagos, with captions by Ian."
animals  galápagos  2013  photography  darwin  magdabiernat  ianwebster  charlesdarwin 
july 2013 by robertogreco
UC San Diego's V.S. Ramachandran Named One of TIME 100
"Ramachandran takes as his models 19th-century giants of science Charles Darwin and Michael Faraday. He praises them for wide-ranging and capacious thinking, for being willing to investigate phenomena that others might consider trivial.

"Science has become too professionalized," he said: "It began as grand romantic enterprise" and is now too like an ordinary 9-5 job.

"The history of science and the history of ideas are not taught in universities now, except in philosophy courses," Ramachandran said. "Too much of the Victorian sense of adventure has been lost. I would like to reignite some of that passion in students.""
vsamachandran  ucsd  science  adventure  curiosity  work  labor  2011  via:anne  proffesionalization  passion  whywework  darwin  charlesdarwin 
february 2013 by robertogreco
The Book of Barely Imagined Beings by Caspar Henderson - review | Books | The Guardian
"Henderson's project: a spellbinding book that seeks to astonish us with the sheer intricacy, diversity and multiplicity of life forms that share our planet. In what he modestly calls a "stab" at a 21st-century bestiary, he fuses zoology, literature, mythology, history, paleontology, anecdote and art through 27 brilliantly executed essays…"

"These are essays in the original, Montaignesque sense of the word, and range freely over whatever topic takes the author's fancy."

"In 1959 CP Snow delivered his famous Rede lecture on "The Two Cultures", in which he lamented the gulf between intellectual elites fluent either in the sciences or in the humanities, but all too rarely in both. Fifty years on, the landscape seems as divided as it was in Snow's day. It's a gulf of which the likes of Leonardo could not have conceived, and one that Henderson – an English graduate turned science writer – seeks to bridge. We have a great deal that we can learn from one another…"
gavinfrancis  anniedillard  toread  books  laurencesterne  sirthomasbrown  enlightenment  philosophy  art  anecdote  paleontology  history  mythology  literature  zoology  julesverne  darwin  italocalvino  robertburton  wgsebald  cv  essays  micheldemontaigne  writing  borges  multid  multidisciplinary  crossdisciplinary  interdisciplinary  transdisciplinary  leonardodavinci  bestiary  casparhenderson  2012  cpsnow  animals  montaigne  charlesdarwin 
december 2012 by robertogreco
Steven Shapin reviews ‘The Pseudoscience Wars’ by Michael Gordin · LRB 8 November 2012
"If pseudosciences are not scientific, neither are they anti-scientific. They flatter science by elaborate rituals of imitation, rejecting many of the facts, theories and presumptions of orthodoxy while embracing what are celebrated as the essential characteristics of science. That is at once a basis for the wide cultural appeal of pseudoscience and an extreme difficulty for those wanting to show what’s wrong with it. Velikovsky advertised his work as, so to speak, more royalist than the king. Did authentic science have masses of references and citations? There they were in Worlds in Collision. Was science meant to aim at the greatest possible explanatory scope, trawling as many disciplines as necessary in search of unified understanding? What in orthodoxy could rival Velikovsky’s integrative vision? Authentic science made specific predictions of what further observation and experiment would show. Velikovsky did too. Was science ideally open to all claimants, subjecting itself to…"
hyperscience  parapsychology  unorthodox  orthodoxy  predictions  logic  reasoning  haroldurey  hermankahn  stanleykubrick  counterculture  hope  fear  alfredkazin  psychoanalytictheory  darwin  uniformitarianism  massivechange  change  catastrophism  worldsincollision  mythology  astronomy  coldwar  1950  fringe  immanuelvalikovsky  books  2012  pseudoscience  science  michaelgordin  stevenshapin  charlesdarwin  from delicious
october 2012 by robertogreco
Human Nature, Education, Ecology – Dewey, Darwin, Midgley, Kropotkin [Part I] « Lebenskünstler
[All but one of the parts in bold are here.]

"Our humanity is not expressed through developing our individual talents and abilities, but by building bonds outward into the world…"

"The good for the human species, like all species, emerges from within the evolutionary story, and is not independent or opposed to it."

"While education needs to foster growth, it also needs to help celebrate the meaning of the moment."

"The notion that we “have a nature,” far from threatening the concept of freedom, is absolutely essential to it."

"The very idea of dehumanization is predicated on the idea that there is a human essence which has, in some fundamental sense, been degraded."

"…equality is not sameness. A belief in sameness here is both irrelevant to the struggle for equal rights and inconsistent with the facts."

"We need the vast world…"

"Children, poets and scientists – that is, human beings who relate to life with a sense of humility and awe – have a particular prescience for wonder."
deschooling  unschooling  leisurearts  society  evolution  humans  human  equalrights  equality  variety  variation  humility  networks  peterkropotkin  marymidgley  community  connectivism  attention  presence  present  humanism  dehumanization  sameness  scientists  poets  curiosity  darwin  diversity  learning  education  ecology  wonder  religion  eilonschwartz  johndewey  2012  randallszott  neoteny  artleisure  charlesdarwin  from delicious
october 2012 by robertogreco
Steven Berlin Johnson: Instead of building cathedrals in learning, we need to learn to build cathedrals | Creativity, Imagination, and Innovation in Education Symposium
"“Collaboration between different intelligences is the hallmark of innovative spaces,” he remarked. But it wasn’t always easy for Johnson, who has an undergraduate degree in semiotics from Brown University and a graduate degree in English Literature from Columbia, to see how science and the humanities could be entwined. It wasn’t until he was exposed to the work of former Columbia Professor Franco Moretti that he realized bridges could be built joining the two.

Moretti gained fame for controversially applying quantitative scientific methods to the humanities. Johnson mentioned reading Moretti’s Signs Taken for Wonders, and the mind-blowing impact the professor’s use of Darwinian techniques to analyze literature had on him. It was the first time he saw scientific procedures being employed to evaluate literature.

From that moment on, Johnson began researching iconic innovators."
cathedralsoflearning  everythingbadisgoodforyou  gaming  games  multidisciplinarythinking  connectivesyntheticintelligence  connectiveintelligence  multidisciplinary  interdisciplinary  crossdisciplinary  generalists  specialization  interconnectivity  patterns  conenctions  innovation  multipleintelligences  diversity  problemsolving  systemsthinking  parenting  videogames  teaching  schools  collaboration  gutenberg  crosspollination  feathers  exaptation  devonthink  evolution  stephenjaygould  commonplacebooks  creativity  darwin  francomoretti  semiotics  hunches  learning  2011  stevenjohnson  charlesdarwin  interconnected  from delicious
july 2012 by robertogreco
David Byrne's Journal: 12.13.11: Odyshape
"We instinctively want to believe that a merit-based world exists—that with some hard work, focus, time, effort and perseverance, you too will be rewarded with the body you see on the billboard. The same also applies to our notions of economic well-being. As a result, you have Bill O’Reilly and Newt Gingrich (among many others) implying that poor people are poor simply because they aren’t trying hard enough (note the clever segue from Barbie to politics and economics). The implication is that poor people, or anyone who isn’t successful, just aren’t applying themselves or trying hard enough. Also, that less than fabulously attractive people similarly aren’t going to the gym enough. The corollary is that Bill and Newt are as wealthy as they are because they worked hard. This, excuse me, is bullshit…

Sadly, this dissonance between what is possible image wise, and what is being aimed for by many normal women, is making many of them nutso."
davidbyrne  odyshape  2011  science  politics  sociology  anthropology  darwin  sexualselection  geoffreymiller  photoshop  girls  women  gender  truth  brain  vision  normal  economics  luck  barbie  beingbarbie  henrikehrsson  arvidguterstam  björnvanderhoort  perception  neuroscience  via:lukeneff  bodyimage  femininity  charlesdarwin  from delicious
april 2012 by robertogreco
The Aporeticus - by Mills Baker · I have often thought that the nature of science...
"I have often thought that the nature of science would be better understood if we called theories “misconceptions” from the outset, instead of only after we have discovered their successors. Thus we could say that Einstein’s Misconception of Gravity was an improvement on Newton’s Misconception, which was an improvement on Kepler’s. The neo-Darwinian Misconception of Evolution is an improvement on Darwin’s Misconception, and his on Lamarck’s… Science claims neither infallibility nor finality."

David Deutsch…in The Beginning of Infinity…demonstrates that although we will, barring extinction, continue to refine & improve our knowledge infinitely, we will also never stop being able to improve it. Thus we will always live w/ fallible scientific understanding (& fallible moral theories, fallible aesthetic ideas, fallible philosophical notions, etc.); it is the nature of the relationship between knowledge, mind, & universe.

But it remains odd to say: everything I know is a misconception."
sensemaking  understanding  scientificunderstanding  fallibility  universe  mind  2012  millsbaker  philosophy  karlpopper  darwin  chalresdarwin  alberteinstein  theories  knowledge  whatweknow  misconception  science  daviddeutsch  philosopy  charlesdarwin 
february 2012 by robertogreco
Neven Mrgan at re:build 2011 on Vimeo
"Bit Depth, by Neven Mrgan: At my dayjob, I design Mac software UI/UX, websites, T-shirts, and office signage. In my spare time, I’ve designed 8-bit games. I think every creative professional would benefit from fully executing projects of different complexity, history, and purpose."

[All great stuff. Totally agree with him about the gamification bit.]

[See also: http://mrgan.tumblr.com/post/14868098046/focused-dabbling ]
sideprojects  videogames  specialists  generalists  interdisciplinary  interdisciplinarity  dabbling  software  applications  transmit  panic  8-bit  bitdepth  depth  gaming  games  purpose  focus  darwin  work  design  polish  re:build  2011  appification  gamification  nevenmrgan  specialization  charlesdarwin  from delicious
december 2011 by robertogreco
The Good Show - Radiolab
"In this episode, a question that haunted Charles Darwin: if natural selection boils down to survival of the fittest, how do you explain why one creature might stick its neck out for another?

The standard view of evolution is that living things are shaped by cold-hearted competition. And there is no doubt that today's plants and animals carry the genetic legacy of ancestors who fought fiercely to survive and reproduce. But in this hour, we wonder whether there might also be a logic behind sharing, niceness, kindness ... or even, self-sacrifice. Is altruism an aberration, or just an elaborate guise for sneaky self-interest? Do we really live in a selfish, dog-eat-dog world? Or has evolution carved out a hidden code that rewards genuine cooperation?"

[Related: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/11/books/review/deWaal-t.html?pagewanted=all ]

[Update: in case the URL breaks, try this: http://www.radiolab.org/story/103951-the-good-show/ ]
radiolab  good  altruism  genetics  instinct  generosity  evolution  georgeprice  heroism  heroes  gametheory  math  selfishness  self-preservation  human  cooperation  niceness  kindness  survival  reproduction  darwin  charlesdarwin  from delicious
december 2010 by robertogreco
[VIVARIA.NET] ["The project asks: Why Look at Artificial Animals? (paying homage to John Berger's essay 'Why look at Animals?' published in 1980)."]
"Animals are both like and unlike humans. If this was partly reinforced by human isolation from the wider world of nature under the culture of capitalism, under late techno-capitalism, animals can be said to be increasingly both like and unlike machines — or to put it another way, machines are increasingly being classified according to the model of the animal. The inter-relationships are enduring ones, reactivated by changes in social and technological production, making the former distinction further complicated by the addition of artificial life-formds and biotechnologies — the merging of biological and computational forms. The task of classifying and differentiating between animals, humans and machines is one performed with increasing amounts of difficulty, born out of complexity, to use an adaptive term. Perhaps, under the conditions of bio-techno-capitalism, humans are both like and unlike artificial animals."
animals  art  literature  science  poetry  vivaria  borges  taxonomy  relationships  humans  complexity  shakespeare  darwin  sulawesicrestedmacaques  johnberger  via:chriswoebken  biotechnology  capitalism  bio-techno-capitalism  machines  classification  sorting  differentiation  hybrids  isolation  nature  techno-capitalism  technology  charlesdarwin  from delicious
november 2010 by robertogreco
Human Kind: Sissela Bok reviews "The Price of Altruism" by Oren Harman | The American Scholar
"For Darwin, the question of human morality never had to do with pure selflessness. In The Descent of Man he expressed his considered conviction that cultural factors such as “the effects of habit, the reasoning powers, instruction, religion, &c.” play a much more important role than natural selection in advancing what he called the moral qualities of human beings, “though to this latter agency the social instincts, which afforded the basis for the development of the moral sense, may be safely attributed.”

Harman, in his closing pages, underscores the role that culture and education still play in human altruistic behaviors, despite claims by biological determinists that genes run the show. His book is an important contribution to the collaborative work on altruism as it relates to self-interest now increasingly under way, not only in the natural sciences but also in philosophy, political science, economics, and anthropology."
humans  humanism  altruism  selflessness  education  teaching  learning  culture  economics  philosophy  politics  anthropology  collaboration  empathy  biology  evolution  darwin  behavior  society  genetics  naturenurture  nature  biologicaldeterminism  determinism  orenharman  sisselabok  morality  humannature  charlesdarwin  from delicious
september 2010 by robertogreco
Steven Johnson: Where good ideas come from | Video on TED.com
"People often credit their ideas to individual "Eureka!" moments. But Steven Johnson shows how history tells a different story. His fascinating tour takes us from the "liquid networks" of London's coffee houses to Charles Darwin's long, slow hunch to today's high-velocity web."
stevenjohnson  art  creativity  ideas  innovation  thinking  connectivity  hunches  interconnectivity  youtube  philosophy  cafeculture  incubation  timberners-lee  web  online  internet  lcproject  crosspollination  crossdisciplinary  interdisciplinary  multidisciplinary  generalists  coffeehouses  ted  enlightenment  networks  space  place  thirdspaces  patterns  behavior  evolution  systems  systemsthinking  liquidnetowork  collaboration  tcsnmy  learning  theslowhunch  slowhunches  slow  darwin  eurekamoments  google20%  openstudio  cv  gps  sputnik  thirdplaces  charlesdarwin  interconnected  from delicious
september 2010 by robertogreco
YouTube - WHERE GOOD IDEAS COME FROM by Steven Johnson
"Where Good Ideas Come From…pairs insight of Everything Bad Is Good for You & dazzling erudition of The Ghost Map & The Invention of Air to address an urgent & universal question: What sparks the flash of brilliance? How does groundbreaking innovation happen? Answering in his infectious, culturally omnivorous style, using fluency in fields from neurobiology to popular culture, Johnson provides complete, exciting, & encouraging story of how we generate ideas that push our careers, lives, society, & culture forward.

Beginning w/ Darwin's first encounter w/ teeming ecosystem of coral reef & drawing connections to intellectual hyperproductivity of modern megacities & to instant success of YouTube, Johnson shows us that the question we need to ask is, What kind of environment fosters the development of good ideas? His answers are never less than revelatory, convincing, & inspiring…identifies 7 key principles to genesis of such ideas, & traces them across time & disciplines."
stevenjohnson  art  creativity  ideas  innovation  thinking  connectivity  hunches  interconnectivity  youtube  philosophy  cafeculture  incubation  timberners-lee  web  online  internet  lcproject  crosspollination  crossdisciplinary  interdisciplinary  multidisciplinary  generalists  coffeehouses  ted  enlightenment  networks  space  place  thirdspaces  patterns  behavior  evolution  systems  systemsthinking  liquidnetowork  collaboration  tcsnmy  learning  theslowhunch  slowhunches  slow  darwin  eurekamoments  thirdplaces  coral  charlesdarwin  interconnected  from delicious
september 2010 by robertogreco
O, Song!, Ecological Criminal Tips Lost Heavy Parasite
Charles Darwin’s Ecological Experiment On Ascension Isle by Howard Falcon-Lang (BBC News) [http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-11137903]: "Is there no end to all the cool stuff Darwin did that we’re only just discovering or figuring out? I mean, first we discovered that he did one of the very first modern psychology experiments, and now we’ve discovered that he did an experiment to colonise the barren Ascension island with trees that could form the basis of a terraforming of Mars. Maybe atheists should get wrist bands that have WWCDD written on them, because let’s face it, if the answer is “terraform Mars”, it’s a good question."
darwin  ascensionisland  psychology  ecology  science  history  terraforming  charlesdarwin  from delicious
september 2010 by robertogreco
The School of Life : On Mutuality
"Mutuality rather than independence is the chief characteristic of human life, whatever we'd like to believe. Many prefer to see human life as one long competitive struggle for dominance. Philosopher Edmund Burke, Darwin's champion Herbert Spencer (who coined the phrase "survival of the fittest") and Ayn Rand (high priestess of the American idea of rugged individualism) are among those who characterise human life in terms of the struggle between individuals for the spoils of humanity. Science is increasingly contradicting this view: rather than being a species of arch individualists, we are the social ape. We live in larger, more complex groups than our closest cousins, collaborating with friends and strangers thanks to our nuanced social brain. Indeed, we use other people's brains to navigate the world: to acquire skills and practices, and to access knowledge systems of long-dead strangers. We call this "culture"."

[via: http://twitter.com/cervus/statuses/17735266663 ]
human  relationships  sociology  social  culture  tcsnmy  conversation  connectivism  connectedness  interdependency  knowledgesystems  systems  humanity  mutuality  brain  collaboration  lcproject  strangers  internet  web  online  technium  darwin  edmundburke  herbertspencer  aynrand  individualism  toshare  competition  cooperation  independence  theschooloflife  charlesdarwin 
july 2010 by robertogreco
Hopeful Monster - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
"Hopeful Monster is the colloquial term used in evolutionary biology to describe an event of instantaneous speciation, saltation, or systemic mutation, which contributes positively to the production of new major evolutionary groups. The memorable phrase was coined by the geneticist Richard Goldschmidt, who thought that small gradual changes could not bridge the hypothetical divide between microevolution and macroevolution."
biology  evolution  evolutionarybiology  science  hopefulmonsters  darwin  creationism  charlesdarwin 
july 2010 by robertogreco
Depression’s Upside - NYTimes.com
"doesn’t matter if we’re working on mathematical equation or through broken heart: anatomy of focus is inseparable from anatomy of melancholy...suggests depressive disorder is extreme form of ordinary thought process, part of dismal machinery that draws us toward our problems, like magnet to metal. is that closeness effective? Does despondency help us solve anything?...significant correlation btwn depressed affect & individual performance on intelligence test...once subjects were distracted from pain: lower moods were associated w/ higher scores. “results were clear. Depressed affect made people think better.” challenge is persuading people to accept misery, embrace tonic of despair. To say that depression has purpose or sadness makes us smarter says nothing about its awfulness. A fever, after all, might have benefits, but we still take pills to make it go away. This is paradox of evolution: even if our pain is useful, urge to escape from pain remains most powerful instinct"
jonahlehrer  psychology  creativity  writing  health  brain  depression  evolution  mind  thinking  thought  happiness  mood  darwin  relationships  evolutionarypsychology  neuroscience  culture  hope  charlesdarwin 
february 2010 by robertogreco
LRB · Steven Shapin · The Darwin Show
"Darwin insisted on his intellectual ordinariness. He wanted it publicly understood that his native endowments were no more than average, that he had to overcome a youthful tendency to sloth and self-indulgence, that he had wasted his time at university, that becoming a serious naturalist owed much to good luck, that he had achieved what he had mainly through close observation, discipline, hard work and a genuine passion for science. ... Newton is ascetically ‘wholly other’, bent on destroying intellectual competitors; Galileo is a manipulator of patronage...Einstein is a man who loved humanity in general but treated his wives and his daughter as disposable appendages; Pasteur is a Machiavellian politician of science...Feynman is a philistine, a sexual predator, an over-aged adolescent show-off. This is what has now become of towering genius, of those who discover nature’s secrets. First we make them into icons and then we see how iconoclastic we can be. Darwin alone escapes whipping."
darwin  evolution  science  history  biology  discipline  observation  work  workethic  cv  sloth  laziness  intellect  serendipity  luck  chance  life  biography  galileo  richardfeynman  newton  genius  louispasteur  alberteinstein  philosophy  culture  slavery  amateur  amateurism  money  influene  compromise  personality  charlesdarwin 
december 2009 by robertogreco
the preservation of favoured traces | ben fry
"We often think of scientific ideas, such as Darwin's theory of evolution, as fixed notions that are accepted as finished. In fact, Darwin's On the Origin of Species evolved over the course of several editions he wrote, edited, & updated during his lifetime. The 1st English ed was approximately 150,000 words, the 6th a much larger 190,000. In the changes are refinements & shifts in ideas — whether increasing the weight of a statement, adding details, or even a change in the idea itself. 2nd edition adds a notable “by the Creator” to the closing paragraph, giving greater attribution to a higher power...the phrase “survival of the fittest” — usually considered central to the theory & often attributed to Darwin — instead came from British philosopher Herbert Spencer, & didn't appear until the 5th edition of the text. Using the 6 editions as a guide, we can see the unfolding & clarification of Darwin's ideas as he sought to further develop his theory during his lifetime."
science  history  darwin  complexity  text  benfry  processing  words  visualization  change  writing  evolution  editing  biology  data  animation  infographics  books  charlesdarwin 
september 2009 by robertogreco
See Randomness
"So if you want to discover things that have been overlooked till now, one really good place to look is in our blind spot: in our natural, naive belief that it's all about us. And expect to encounter ferocious opposition if you do.

Conversely, if you have to choose between two theories, prefer the one that doesn't center on you.

This principle isn't only for big ideas. It works in everyday life, too. For example, suppose you're saving a piece of cake in the fridge, and you come home one day to find your housemate has eaten it. Two possible theories:

a) Your housemate did it deliberately to upset you. He knew you were saving that piece of cake.

b) Your housemate was hungry.

I say pick b. No one knows who said "never attribute to malice what can be explained by incompetence," but it is a powerful idea. Its more general version is our answer to the Greeks:

Don't see purpose where there isn't.

Or better still, the positive version:

See randomness."
randomness  discovery  perspective  paulgraham  plato  philosophy  thinking  random  psychology  reason  chaos  genes  purpose  darwin  tcsnmy  charlesdarwin 
august 2009 by robertogreco
Visiting Mr. Darwin: "Better than a dog anyhow."
"True to his nature, he constructed the following document now titled "Marry" or "Not Marry"?: [image here] Mr. Darwin divided the document vertically and titled one side "Marry" and the other side "Not Marry"." In addition to "Better than a dog anyhow," the "Marry" list includes "My God, it is intolerable to think of spending one’s whole life, like a neuter bee, working, working, and nothing after all—No, no, won’t do."
via:russelldavies  decisionmaking  darwin  marriage  notebooks  glvo  charlesdarwin 
february 2009 by robertogreco
David Byrne Journal: 11.23.08: Planet of the Neanderthals
"So then what happens if we bring Mr. Smarty Pants back to life? If he were joined by some of his mates, wouldn’t they eventually realize that they were smarter than us? Would they bide their time, hiding their agenda, and ultimately sabotage our world, taking charge of our pathetic unintelligent mobs? Cornelius may indeed have been smarter than Charlton Heston; those movies might not be as far-fetched as we thought."
neanderthals  davidbyrne  genetics  dna  intelligence  evolution  darwin  genes  naturalselection  charlesdarwin 
december 2008 by robertogreco
Why don't art and science mix? | Art & architecture | guardian.co.uk
"The Darwin's Canopy commission was a chance for artists to engage with science. What a shame they turned their backs on this challenge"
art  science  darwin  exhibits  via:regine  crossdisciplinary  interdisciplinary  evolution  glvo  charlesdarwin 
september 2008 by robertogreco
darwin in buenos aires
"Thankfully Charles Darwin was a prodigious writer because his correspondence provides an invaluable snapshot of Buenos Aires during one of its most difficult periods."
darwin  buenosaires  history  argentina  charlesdarwin 
february 2008 by robertogreco
Sherry Turkle (World Question Center 2006 - What is your dangerous idea?)
"After several generations of living in the computer culture, simulation will become fully naturalized. Authenticity in the traditional sense loses its value, a vestige of another time."
simulations  technology  virtual  identity  authenticity  robots  culture  darwin  ethics  future  sherryturkle  charlesdarwin 
november 2007 by robertogreco
Evolution and Wisdom of Crowds
"reason that Wikipedia is as good as it is (and the reason that living organisms are as sophisticated as they are), is not due to the average quality of the edits (or mutations). Instead, it is due to a much harder to observe process: selection."
wikipedia  evolution  wisdom  datamining  statistics  folksonomy  crowdsourcing  behavior  reason  religion  human  information  intelligence  darwin  databases  collaboration  collective  collectiveintelligence  commons  community  economics  learning  algorithms  crowds  systems  recommendations  networks  socialsoftware  psychology  predictions  charlesdarwin 
october 2007 by robertogreco
beliefnet: 'Bullied and Brainwashed'
on Richard Dawkins: "A strident anti-creationist's churlish rhetoric debases what could be fascinating conversation about what made us and why."
education  science  Religion  darwin  evolution  biology  charlesdarwin 
december 2005 by robertogreco

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