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This is the archive for May 2008

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Stephen Downes defines "edupunk" as "student-centered, resourceful, teacher- or community-created rather than corporate-sourced, and underwritten by a progressive political stance. ... Edupunk, it seems, takes old-school Progressive educational tactics--hands-on learning that starts with the learner's interests--and makes them relevant to today's digital age, sometimes by forgoing digital technologies entirely." I guess I'm one of the new "Edupunk" professors he's talking about. I'm getting pretty frustrated with vendor-centered learning, where the vendor controls what students see and how they interact with it. The situation spirals downward since institutions that buy into a proprietary software package or application tend not to explore alternatives.  The discussion begins with Jim Grooms' blog post at bavatuesdays.

Frustrated With Corporate Course-Management Systems, Some Professors Go 'Edupunk'

"Punk rock was a rebellion against the clean, predictable sound of popular music and it also encouraged a do-it-yourself attitude. Edupunk seems to be a reaction against the rise of course-managements systems, which offer cookie-cutter tools that can make every course Web site look the same." (Wired Campus)

Thursday, May 29, 2008

  • "For a few years now people have been talking about semantic search. Any technology that stands a chance to dethrone Google is of great interest to all of us, particularly one that takes advantage of long-awaited and much-hyped semantic technologies. But no matter how much progress has been made, most of us are still underwhelmed by the results. In head-to-head comparisons with Google, the results have not come out much different. What are we doing wrong?" (ReadWriteWeb)

    tags: semantic, search, grue

  • "Now, researchers at the California Institute of Technology have discovered that reason struggles with emotion to find equitable solutions, and have pinpointed the region of the brain where this takes place. The concept of fairness, they found, is processed in the insular cortex, or insula, which is also the seat of emotional reactions." (ScienceDaily)

    tags: fairness, morality, neuroscience, neuroethics, grue

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

  • "God may work in mysterious ways, but a simple computer program may explain how religion evolved

    By distilling religious belief into a genetic predisposition to pass along unverifiable information, the program predicts that religion will flourish. However, religion only takes hold if non-believers help believers out ? perhaps because they are impressed by their devotion." ( 27 May 2008 - New Scientist)

    tags: religion, evolution, grue

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

  • "Yet a few scholars of thick dermis and pep-rally vigor believe that the cultural chasm can be bridged and the sciences and the humanities united into a powerful new discipline that would apply the strengths of both mindsets, the quantitative and qualitative, to a wide array of problems. Among the most ambitious of these exercises in fusion thinking is a program under development at Binghamton University in New York called the New Humanities Initiative.

    Jointly conceived by David Sloan Wilson, a professor of biology, and Leslie Heywood, a professor of English, the program is intended to build on some of the themes explored in Dr. Wilson?s evolutionary studies program, which has proved enormously popular with science and nonscience majors alike, and which he describes in the recently published ?Evolution for Everybody.? In Dr. Wilson?s view, evolutionary biology is a discipline that, to be done right, demands a crossover approach, the capacity to think in narrative and abstract terms simultaneously, so why not use it as a template for emulsifying the two cultures generally? " (

    tags: humanities, science, biology, grue

Monday, May 26, 2008

  • "We tend to imagine that our racial classifications map onto natural kinds in the world, that in carving humanity up into 'Caucasoid', 'Negroid', etc., we are, so to speak, carving nature at its joints. In fact, these categories are recent inventions." (3quarksdaily)

    tags: race, biology, grue

  • "It is common parlance to equate the words ?person? with ?human?. That is perhaps because of all the creatures we know, we humans are those with the most obvious claim to personhood. But, what actually is a ?person?? We know that a person is a moral entity - someone, rather than something, but that just requires us to define a ?moral entity?, so begs the question. This is a very vital question these days, as it relates to such issues as human embryo research, euthanasia, human genetic engineering and cloning, among others." (Human Enhancement and Biopolitics)

    tags: human.nature, bioethics, robots, grue

  • "The limitations of cognitive processes, particularly attention and working memory, place a ceiling on the capacity of the brain to process and store information. It is these processes that some researchers are aiming to enhance with augmented cognition, an emerging field which aims to use computational technology to enhance human performance in various tasks by overcoming the bottlenecks in processes such as attention and memory. " (Neurophilosophy)

    tags: neurophilosophy, brain, memory, grue

Saturday, May 24, 2008

  • "To accompany the article So you think humans are unique? we have selected six articles from the New Scientist archive that tell a similar story. We have also asked the researchers involved to update us on their latest findings." (22 May 2008 - New Scientist)

    tags: human.nature, culture, grue

  • "Human beings do not like to think of themselves as animals. It is thus with decidedly mixed feelings that we regard the frequent reports that activities once thought to be uniquely human are also performed by other species: chimpanzees who make and use tools, parrots who use language, ants who teach. Is there anything left?" (Tomasello, NYT)

    tags: primates, human.nature, grue, evolution

Will Wright explains the new video game Spore, which should be released in the fall. I think it will be useful in my Darwin and Philosophy class, so I'm looking forward to its release.

Gaming Videos

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

  • "The latest research in embodied cognition demonstrates just how entangled the body and brain are. Holt and Beilock's research plays the embodiment card in two ways. First, they show that when trying to understand written language, people invoke perceptual and action experiences. The words we use when reading (and perhaps also when listening) point to particular shared bodily experiences, and these experiences, in turn, are used by the reader to understand sentences. In the second important advance, Holt and Beilock also show that when people have had different personal experiences they will understand the same sentences differently." (Art Glenberg, Scientific American Community)

    tags: embodiment, mind, brain, grue

  • "In Mr. Dawkins's view, the organisms containing those genes are merely "lumbering robots" or "survival machines" that house and carry genetic information. The implication is that, in these terms, selfishness, even ruthless selfishness, pays off, and altruism does not." - April 23, 2008 - The New York Sun

    tags: biology, evolution, dawkins, grue

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

  • "In this video introduction, Perspective author John Mattick, Stephen Buratowski, and Science editor Guy Riddihough discuss the new and increasing understanding of how RNA regulates DNA, and how RNA may have been the original molecule of life. " 319 (5871): 1781b -- Science

    tags: genetics, dna, rna, science, biology, grue

  • "Due to be auctioned this week in London after being in a private collection for more than 50 years, the document leaves no doubt that the theoretical physicist was no supporter of religious beliefs, which he regarded as "childish superstitions"." (The Guardian)

    tags: religion, science, grue

  • "His actions are animated not by a person at a keyboard but by a computer. Edd is a creation of artificial intelligence, or AI, by researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, who endowed him with a limited ability to converse and reason. It turns out 'Second Life' is more than a place where pixelated avatars chat, interact and fly about. It's also a frontier in AI research because it's a controllable environment where testing intelligent creations is easier." ( Internet News)

    tags: secondlife, AI, grue, for:nkupod

Sunday, May 18, 2008

  • "The Foundation and Center for Critical Thinking aim to improve education in primary and secondary schools, colleges and universities. We offer conferences, workshops and professional development programs, emphasizing instructional strategies, Socratic questioning, critical reading and writing, higher order thinking, assessment, research, quality enhancement, and competency standards."

    tags: criticalthinking, grue, for:nkupod

Saturday, May 17, 2008

  • "BSS is a three-year project located within the BIOS Centre at LSE and funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). Its goal is to map the social and political impacts the ?new brain sciences? are having on our understanding of selfhood, personhood, and identity and with what consequences and implications." (LSE)

    tags: neuroethics, politics, grue

  • "In a long, slightly muffled lecture, the legendary Antonio Damasio talks about issues to do with emotions and the brain, spanning his career and looking forward." (Channel N)

    tags: damasio, emotion, neuroscience, grue, brain

  • "A common criticism of human enhancement technologies, such as human genetic engineering, is that it will lead to a two-tiered society, one genetically enhanced and the other natural. I?d like to compare two movies that feature such tiers, because the two show radically different outcomes of such division in the human race, with radically different directions of discrimination." (Human Enhancement and Biopolitics)

    tags: brain-enhancement, movie, grue

  • "The genetic deletion of monoamine oxidase A (MAO A), an enzyme that breaks down the monoamine neurotransmitters norepinephrine, serotonin, and dopamine, produces aggressive phenotypes across species. Therefore, a common polymorphism in the MAO A gene (MAOA, Mendelian Inheritance in Men database number 309850 [OMIM] , referred to as high or low based on transcription in non-neuronal cells) has been investigated in a number of externalizing behavioral and clinical phenotypes. These studies provide evidence linking the low MAOA genotype and violent behavior but only through interaction with severe environmental stressors during childhood. Here, we hypothesized that in healthy adult males the gene product of MAO A in the brain, rather than the gene per se, would be associated with regulating the concentration of brain amines involved in trait aggression. Brain MAO A activity was measured in vivo in healthy nonsmoking men with positron emission tomography using a radioligand specific for MAO A (clorgyline labeled with carbon 11). Trait aggression was measured with the multidimensional personality questionnaire (MPQ). Here we report for the first time that brain MAO A correlates inversely with the MPQ trait measure of aggression (but not with other personality traits) such that the lower the MAO A activity in cortical and subcortical brain regions, the higher the self-reported aggression (in both MAOA genotype groups) contributing to more than one-third of the variability. Because trait aggression is a measure used to predict antisocial behavior, these results underscore the relevance of MAO A as a neurochemical substrate of aberrant aggression." -- Alia-Klein et al. 28 (19): 5099 -- Journal of Neuroscience

    tags: aggression, genetics, grue, brain

  • "Phantom limbs are a well-known phenomenon where sensations and feelings are still experienced from a missing limb. In rare cases after brain injury, an additional phantom limb can appear - causing the sensation of a phantom third hand, arm or leg." (Mind Hacks)

    tags: phantom, mind, grue, brain

  • "The evolutionary psychologist and the documentary filmmaker discuss game theory, Stanley Milgram, and whether science can make us better people." (Seed)

    tags: hauser, morality, psychology, grue

Saturday, May 10, 2008

  • "In a study reported online today in the journal Science, researchers posed the orphan dilemma to people while scanning their brains with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Unlike most studies of the brain basis of ethical decision making ("neuroethics"), this one was grounded in reality: the volunteers? choices would determine how many meals the research team actually donated to the Ugandan orphans. The volunteers knew this, which made the dilemma painful in the extreme."

    tags: neuroethics, morality, grue

  • "The problem is that "dignity' is a squishy, subjective notion, hardly up to the heavyweight moral demands assigned to it. " (Steven Pinker)

    tags: bioethics, grue, Pinker

  • "Researchers at Caltech said Friday they have pinpointed the part of the brain where reason grapples with emotion to hit upon equitable solutions. The concept of fairness, researchers found, is processed in the insular cortex, or insula, which also is the seat of emotional reactions. In other words, fairness is hard-wired into our brains. " (Pasadena Star-News)

    tags: fairness, brains, neuroscience, neuroethics, grue, morality

Friday, May 09, 2008

  • 'We recently solicited your questions for primatologist Frans de Waal. Of all his accomplishments, one of the greatest has been his ability to so well communicate his scholarly findings to a wide audience. Here is one compelling piece of advice he offered on that subject: ?Keep the reader interested, whatever it takes, so long as you don?t violate the truth.?' (Freakonomics - Opinion - New York Times Blog)

    tags: primates, grue

  • "Fodor?s co-author, Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini, the distinguished professor of cognitive science at the University of Arizona --who's handling the biology for the book -- is intrigued by origin of form and recently agreed to pick up where Fodor left off." (Scoop)

    tags: fodor, evolution, grue

  • "Is the human mind a relatively inflexible program bequeathed to us by evolution, and culture just a veneer that gives age-old urges a respectable cover? Or our minds largely the product of language, culture, and civilization, with evolution having supplied only the most basic hardware and operating system? John and Ken welcome Leda Cosmides to shed some light on the human mind."

    tags: evolution, mind, grue

  • "Four Views on Free Will is an excellent introduction to the current debate regarding one of the most seductive of the perennial topics in philosophy. It is an especially welcome addition to Blackwell's "Great Debates in Philosophy" series." (Reviewed by Daniel Speak)

    tags: freewill, philosophy, grue

  • "Long before you're consciously aware of making a decision, your mind has already made it." A conversation with Martha Farah (Wired Science from

    tags: freewill, neuroscience, grue

Thursday, May 08, 2008

  • "We are an interdisciplinary group of scholars, scientists and clinicians who share an interest in the social, legal, ethical and policy implications of advances in neuroscience. The late 20th century saw unprecedented progress in the basic sciences of mind and brain and in the treatment of psychiatric and neurologic disorders. Now, in the early 21st century, neuroscience plays an expanding role in human life beyond the research lab and clinic. In classrooms, courtrooms, offices and homes around the world, neuroscience is giving us powerful new tools for achieving our goals and prompting a new understanding of ourselves as social, moral and spiritual beings. The mission of the Neuroethics Society is to promote the development and responsible application of neuroscience through better understanding of its capabilities and its consequences."

    tags: neuroethics, philosophy, grue

  • "The Yale psychologists first measured monkeys? preferences by observing how quickly each monkey sought out different colors of M&Ms. After identifying three colors preferred about equally by a monkey ? say, red, blue and green ? the researchers gave the monkey a choice between two of them." (New York Times)

    tags: primates, decision-making, grue, cognition

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

  • "Now courtesy of you can watch lead researcher Laurie Santos of Yale University discuss this work with philosopher Josh Knobe of UNC-Chapel Hill. In the discussion, embedded below, Santos also describes some planned work to see if monkeys are less prone to the effects of cognitive dissonance when they are feeling better about themselves, as has been observed in humans. How do they plan to make the monkeys feel better about themselves?" (BPS RESEARCH DIGEST)

    tags: primates, mind, grue

  • "To this day the 'mirror test' remains the best experiment yet developed for examining the emergence of self-concept in infants." (PsyBlog)

    tags: psychology, self-knowledge, development, grue

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

  • "n recent years, there has been lots of speculation on the potential intersection of neuroscience and the legal system. Will brain imaging became a fool-proof lie detector? Are some violent offenders suffering from a defective emotional brain that's beyond their control? Should we replace the insanity defense with a less rationalist account of human morality? etc, etc. The assumption is that the latest tools of science can help us refine our squishy concepts of justice, which we've inherited from Plato, the Old Testament and the 18th century British legal system. Needless to say, Plato didn't have fMRI." (Jonah Lehrer, The Frontal Cortex)

    tags: ethics, morality, neuroethics, genetics, grue, justice

  • "Dr. Kawecki and like-minded scientists are trying to figure out why animals learn and why some have evolved to be better at learning than others. One reason for the difference, their research finds, is that being smart can be bad for an animal?s health." (Carl Zimmer, NYT)

    tags: evolution, intelligence, zimmer, grue

  • "Our conscious, deliberate systems will never have total control, and our memories will never be perfect, but as they say in Alcoholics Anonymous, recognition is the first step. If we come to recognize our limitations, and how they evolved, we just might be able to outwit our inner kluge." (Gary Marcus, Los Angeles Times)

    tags: mind, brains, evolution, grue

  • "Humans alone practice religion because they're the only creatures to have evolved imagination." (28 April 2008 - New Scientist)

    tags: religion, anthropology, grue

  • "New technologies enable scientists to understand, alter, and enhance our brains. These raise a host of policy-relevant questions about privacy, social and political coercion, access to technology and therapy."

    tags: neuroethics, bioethics, grue, morality

  • "A new, simplified family tree of humanity, published on Sunday, has dealt a blow to those who contend that the enigmatic hominids known as Neanderthals intermingled with our forebears."

    tags: evolution, grue, neanderthals

I don't think my Philosophy of Mind class has quite the same reputation, though the Onion would find plenty to write about.
CHAPEL HILL, NC -- University of North Carolina forward Tyler Hansbrough told reporters yesterday that his decision to forgo the NBA Draft and return for his senior year stems from a desire to "take this one awesome philosophy class that is, like, only offered in the fall [semester], I think." The class, PHIL 740: Philosophy of the Mind, is reportedly taught by Professor David Hartz, who Hansbrough described as "like the coolest guy in the world especially because the only grade is just this one big paper at the end [of the term], and he doesn't even take attendance." "He's like super smart and he makes you think completely differently about your perspectives on stuff, which is awesome," said Hansbrough, adding that he is going to read all the books and everything. "And my girlfriend is taking it too, so it should be pretty sweet." Hansbrough denied allegations that he is staying in school because his socio-economic background allows himself the freedom to have fun and not worry about the welfare of his family.

Tyler Hansbrough Staying In School To Take This One Awesome Philosophy Class | The Onion - America's Finest News Source

Monday, May 05, 2008

  • " What's really going on inside your head when you make a decision, make a mistake, or have a few drinks? Researchers are using fMRI techniques to monitor blood flow through parts of the brain as it responds to stimuli. They hope to shed some light on the mysterious inner workings of the human mind." (NPR)

    tags: decision-making, brains, neuroscience, grue

  • "In his new book, Reinventing the Sacred, legendary complexity pioneer Stuart Kauffman continues to challenge the view of most biologists that natural selection is the only source of order. However, Kauffman is more charitable than hundreds of other evolutionary scientists (non-Creationists) who contend that natural selection is politics, not science, and that we are in a quagmire because of staggering commercial investment in a Darwinian industry built on an inadequate theory." (Suzan Mazur, Scoop)

    tags: evolution, Kauffman, complexity, science, grue

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. -- It looked harmless enough, but the words on a billboard unnerved so many people that a popular restaurant nearby actually lost business.

"When you condemn all religions and say they are a fairytale, that is wrong," said Rich Stormes, a nearby business owner. The billboard went up a week before Easter and business at the restaurant went down.

Would it have been more appetizing to say "Some religions are fairy tales?" Or "Nearly all religions are fairy tales?" Or "All religions are fairy tales except yours?"

The Anti-Advertising Agency | Billboard: All Religions Are Fairy Tales

Sunday, May 04, 2008

  • "Some colleagues and I wanted to see whether this phenomenon [of finding different intuitions across cultures] held true for beliefs concerning free will and moral responsibility. We asked participants in Colombia, Hong Kong, India, and the United States what they thought about the following case." (Guest Blogger Hagop Sarkissian, The Splintered Mind)

    tags: freewill, philosophy, grue, culture

Saturday, May 03, 2008

  • "Can inner experience (?phenomenal consciousness? in contemporary philosophical lingo) be accurately apprehended and faithfully described? The question is crucially important, both for a humanistic understanding of who we are and what we know about ourselves and for the newly burgeoning scientific field of ?consciousness studies.? One of us, Russ, is an optimist, believing that adequate methods make faithful descriptions of experience possible. The other, Eric, is a pessimist, believing that people are prone to considerable introspective error even under the best of conditions. Five years ago at a conference in Tucson, we presented opposing papers on the matter and instantly became friends, arguing over dinner, then over margaritas, then again the next day, then in the airport waiting for our respective flights home." (-- Russell T. Hurlburt & Eric Schwitzgebel)

    tags: mind, self-knowledge, knowledge, philosophy, grue

  • 'Knowledge about our own mental states seems to be the most secure thing in the world, doesn?t it? I certainly know what I feel and think right now and I know it more securely than any other thing I might know. Right? Philosopher Eric Schwitzgebel begs to differ." (Edouard Machery, Psychology Today Blogs)

    tags: knowledge, self-knowledge, introspection, descartes, grue, philosophy, mind

  • "Frans de Waal and Daniel Batson present at the 2007 Autonomy, Singularity, Creativity conference hosted by the National Humanities Center."

    tags: primates, anthropology, grue, psychology, philosophy, empathy

I don't much like the idea of identifying the worst person in the world each week, nor do I enjoy listening to Keith Olbermann, but he does find some gems. You'd think an quasi-enlightened society would ignore people who repeatedly say stupid things, but in fact we tend to tune in, buy their books and watch their movies. Well, I don't. I just post in disbelief.

onegoodmove: The Worst Person

Friday, May 02, 2008

  • "Felipe De Brigard, Dave Ripley, and I have been running some studies on people's moral responsibility judgments for the mentally and neurologically impaired. We have found that our subjects have no problem holding the mentally and neurologically impaired responsible for their actions. Surprisingly, our subjects judged the neurologically impaired to be just as responsible for their actions (sometimes even more so) as the psychologically impaired." (Eric Mandelbaum, Experimental Philosophy)

    tags: philosophy, neuroethics, morality, grue, freewill

  • A fun movie script from Overcoming Bias about philosophical zombies. "SCIENTIST: The zombie disease eliminates consciousness without changing the brain in any way. We've been trying to understand how the disease is transmitted. Our conclusion is that, since the disease attacks dual properties of ordinary matter, it must, itself, operate outside our universe. We're dealing with an epiphenomenal virus." Okay, remember, it's just a movie.

    tags: zombies, consciousness, qualia, philosophy, grue

  • "In this paper I intend to discuss social decision-making involving extreme risks. By an extreme risk, I mean a potential outcome of an act for which the probability is low, but whose negative value is high. Extreme risks are often discussed when new technologies are introduced into society. Nuclear power and genetic engineering are two well-known examples." (Martin Peterson)

    tags: ethics, decision-making, grue, technology

  • "For generations, scholars have debated whether language constrains the ways we think. Now, neuroscientists studying reading disorders have begun to wonder whether the actual character of the text itself may shape the brain." (Robert Lee Hotz, WSJ)

    tags: brains, development, skills, neuroscience, grue

Thursday, May 01, 2008

  • "At the world's leading baby brain research lab at Harvard University, Elizabeth Spelke's team is conducting experiments that reveal not only that humans are born with a range of innate skills, but that our prejudices are formed within the first few months of life." (Roger Highfield, Telegraph)

    tags: psychology, brain, neuroscience, grue, spelke, infants

  • "Although he balanced his critique of the flaws he discovered in Rawls?s theory with remarkable homage to its ostensible ?beauty,? Nozick was far brighter, and a much better and more thought-provoking writer, than his colleague. Unfortunately, he shared with Rawls a constricted view of political philosophy as an enterprise devoted to the production of abstract theories, with little or no regard for the grounding of justice in human nature." (David Lewis Schaefer, NY Sun)

    tags: politics, philosophy, grue