Nice article here about Henry Markram's theoy of autism as "intense world syndrome," which entails that:
The behavior that results is not due to cognitive deficits—the prevailing view in autism research circles today—but the opposite, they say. Rather than being oblivious, autistic people take in too much and learn too fast. While they may appear bereft of emotion, the Markrams insist they are actually overwhelmed not only by their own emotions, but by the emotions of others.
Consequently, the brain architecture of autism is not just defined by its weaknesses, but also by its inherent strengths. The developmental disorder now believed to affect around 1 percent of the population is not characterized by lack of empathy, the Markrams claim. Social difficulties and odd behavior result from trying to cope with a world that’s just too much.
This week’s post is again not entirely Brazilian, technically speaking: today we have Cape Verdian young singer Mayra Andrade, who some of my friends have been raving about for a while (Jeroen and Rafa, that's you!). What justifies her inclusion among the BMoF guests is not only the fact that most of her songs are sung in Cape Verdean Crioulo, a variation of Portuguese; Mayra herself claims to have been highly influenced by Brazilian music. In fact, the first song she recalls singing as a child is the beautiful lullaby ‘Leaozinho’ by Caetano Veloso (equally popular among Brazilian children at large). Mayra often collaborates with Brazilian musicians and records Brazilian songs, and while not yet very widely known in Brazil, she is definitely a rising star worldwide. Her newly released album Lovely Difficult moves away from world music and towards something that can be described as ‘universal pop’, including songs in English (such as the single ‘We used to call it love’), while retaining the freshness and innovation she is known for.
I’m posting here some of Mayra’s versions of Brazilian songs, but music lovers should really also check her ‘non-Brazilian’ music, including her interpretation of Cape Verdean mornas but also her more recent work. So here is her version of 'Berimbau' (classic by Baden Powell and Vinicius de Moraes) with Trio Mocotó, featured in the Red, Hot + Rio 2 album, and a live version of ‘O que será’ (classic by Chico Buarque), a duet with French singer Benjamin Biolay. And I couldn’t resist posting a duet with the marvelous Cesária Évora, ‘Petit Pays’ – Cape Verde, that is (such a beautiful line: ‘Petit pays, je t’aime beaucoup…’) (See here for more of her songs, and a short interview with Mayra (in Portuguese).)
This is a classic in the admin bullshit arsenal, the old "here's the strategic action document that will be implementized [oh, you think that's an exaggeration of admin-speak? I see you haven't gotten a "communiqué" -- yes that's the word they chose of their own free will-- from the LSU admin] come hell or high water, it's a fate accompli [get it? Who said admins don't have a sense of humor?], but we also want to insult your intelligence, so we'll invite comments [chuckles, sneers, and high-fives among the adminbros]: “There is no truth to the claim that we were attempting to hide the documents from anyone,” he said. “When the strategic planning process was complete, we released the documents to the entire campus and invited comments.”
In a disturbing ruling, the usually progressive and interventionist Supreme Court of India has recriminalized gay sex, on non-interventionist grounds.
Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code holds that whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal commits an unnatural offence. There are two issues here: first, the law itself, and second, the interpretation of the law to include gay sex as being "against the order of nature."
In 2009, the Delhi High Court struck down Section 377, stating:
We declare that Section 377 of the IPC, insofar as it criminalises consensual sexual acts of adults in private, is violative of Articles 21 [Right to Protection of Life and Personal Liberty], 14 [Right to Equality before Law] and 15 [Prohibition of Discrimination on Grounds of Religion, Race, Caste, Sex or Place of Birth] of the Constitution.
We hold that sexual orientation is a ground analogous to sex, and that discrimination on sexual orientation is not permitted under Article 15.
Yet another interesting piece in the Guardian on academia: Nobel-prize winner (in medicine) Randy Schekman declares he will no longer submit papers to ‘luxury’ journals such as Nature, Science and Cell. His main argument:
These journals aggressively curate their brands, in ways more conducive to selling subscriptions than to stimulating the most important research. Like fashion designers who create limited-edition handbags or suits, they know scarcity stokes demand, so they artificially restrict the number of papers they accept. The exclusive brands are then marketed with a gimmick called "impact factor" – a score for each journal, measuring the number of times its papers are cited by subsequent research. Better papers, the theory goes, are cited more often, so better journals boast higher scores. Yet it is a deeply flawed measure, pursuing which has become an end in itself – and is as damaging to science as the bonus culture is to banking.
If the links don't work, just reset your browser history and they will open up. Here's a nice bit:
But the pilot classes, of about 100 people each, failed. Despite access to the Udacity mentors, the online students last spring — including many from a charter high school in Oakland — did worse than those who took the classes on campus. In the algebra class, fewer than a quarter of the students — and only 12 percent of the high school students — earned a passing grade.
The program was suspended in July, and it is unclear when, if or how the program will resume. Neither the provost nor the president of San Jose State returned calls, and spokesmen said the university had no comment.
But like "conservatism" for the Republican party, for academic administrators MOOCs apparently aren't something that can ever fail us, but rather only something we can fail.
Mr. Siemens said what was happening was part of a natural process. “We’re moving from the hype to the implementation,” he said. “It’s exciting to see universities saying, ‘Fine, you woke us up,’ and beginning to grapple with how the Internet can change the university, how it doesn’t have to be all about teaching 25 people in a room.
“Now that we have the technology to teach 100,000 students online,” he said, “the next challenge will be scaling creativity, and finding a way that even in a class of 100,000, adaptive learning can give each student a personal experience.”
Last week the Guardian had an interesting piece on academic blogging. The authors, academic bloggers themselves, conducted a small-scale study with 100 academic blogs as their sample set, in order to identify the main trends in what academic bloggers really write about. It is often said that blogging is an outreach/impact tool for academics, to reach out for the educated public at large, but this is not what came out of this study. The results were interesting: 41% of the posts were on what the authors call ‘academic cultural critique’, i.e. “comments and reflections on funding, higher education policy, office politics and academic life.” A similar number (40%) were dedicated to communication and commentary about research. The remainder 20% focused on other aspects of academic practice, such as teaching and career advice.
Now, clearly the wide majority of these posts were not written for ‘the public at large’ as their target audience. While some of the research communication (40%) could well be geared towards non-specialists, the authors of the piece seem to suggest that most of them were of a ‘researcher-to-researcher’ kind of communication. Is this worrisome? Does this mean that academic blogging is failing to deliver?
In a series of experiments, the developmental psychologists Paul Harris, Kathleen Corriveau and Melissa Koenig have shown that young children are more confident about the existence of unobservable scientific entities than they are about the existence of unobservable (semi-)religious entities. 5-year-olds in the Boston area, for example, were more sure about the existence of germs and oxygen than they were about the existence of God and Santa Claus. The experimenters were surprised by this finding, and replicated in several settings, including children from religious households in Spain who were sent to religious (Catholic) schools, and children from a Mayan community in Mexico (Santa was replaced by local spirits that people widely express belief in). As I will show below the fold, a plausible explanation for why children are less confident about religious entities is that the testimony to religious entities differs from that of most scientific entities. It that’s true, we need to rethink how to spread and promote the acceptance of “controversial” scientific ideas like climate change, the safety of vaccines, and evolutionary theory. For, as I will argue, some well-meant efforts to promote such ideas may actually backfire and fuel skepticism.
Writing at the Atlantic, Ian Bogost develops the concept of “hyperwork” to describe the constantly-on conditions of work in contemporary society. The gist of the argument is that we (technology users, anyway) are overworked because we are doing a lot of jobs. As he puts it, “No matter what job you have, you probably have countless other jobs as well. Marketing and public communications were once centralized, now every division needs a social media presence, and maybe even a website to develop and manage. Thanks to Oracle and SAP, everyone is a part-time accountant and procurement specialist. Thanks to Oracle and Google Analytics, everyone is a part-time analyst.” And that’s before we get to try to manage email. Most of these extra jobs aren’t paid, but the loss of money is not nearly alarming as the loss of time.
At Cyborgology, my colleague Robin James takes up one point that Bogost does not make: that the new jobs we are all working are, by and large, traditionally jobs held by women or other minorities, for which traditionally “feminine” attributes of caring and nurturing are useful. She wonders aloud whether the phenomena of hyperwork will thus alter our notions of femininity.
Another point to which Bogost gestures but that needs more emphasis relates to what Tiziana Terranova, Paolo Virno, Franco Berardi, Antonio Negri and others of the Italian “autonomist” school of thought call “cognitive capitalism,” which is basically a Marxist interpretation and critique of the “net economy.”
There is a theme I'm seeing over and over in the coverage of Mandela's funeral - in everything from mainstream press, to "expert" commentators both inside and outside the press, and essays on the left. People note how brilliant, effective, humane, democratic, strategic, etc. Mandela was when leading the resistance movement. Then they note that he was less effective, less strategic, less brilliant, less democratic as president. (Those on the left add that he began collaborating with international corporations, imperialist or otherwise disreputable states, etc.) And then they move onto how much this negative trend has continued and in some cases wonder whether there is a leader who can bring South Africa back to the excitement and progress of the revolution.
What is striking is that everyone takes this history to reflect on Mandela, on Mandela's legacy as a person. It is if the main observation is that this guy was great for a time and only good later, to be followed by people who were massively worse. And so we are led to take from this the lesson that we need to find someone who is as he was earlier but able to maintain this disciplined humanity as president.
No one that I have seen has so much as entertained the possibility that this difference might imply not changes in Mandela, but the difference between democratic voluntary movement coalitions and institutionalized states, even ones with marvelous constitutions like that of South Africa. If we did consider seriously this other possibility - that it is the structures that were the independent variable in this experiment - might we possibly be led to the thought that the way such revolutions are organized is a better model for society than the way states are?
My own involvement in the anti-apartheid struggle began in the mid 1980s when I was a graduate student at Pitt. It was a formative period for me, a time when I was learning to be an activist and organizer, and taking that on as part of my life and identity. throughout that time, Mandela was a symbol more than a real live figure. We read his speeches and analysis, studied his life. But locked up in prison, he was not someone we interacted with, even from a distance. Walter Sisulu, Oliver Tambo, Joe Slovo, Ruth First, and many others were the ongoing partners in our thinking. Numerous less well known representatives came to our campuses and engaged with us directly. Mandela was this figure on "free Nelson Mandela" posters, but nonetheless important for all that. Of course this change with his release from prison and the transformation of roles that he took on as a result. In this first post, I want to reflect on the importance that this time had for me, by passing on a few little vignettes. I invite others to do the same in comments. this might seem odd, talking about my own life on the occasion of the passing of one of the world-historical greats. But as I see it, a good measure of the importance of Mandela lies in the changes he brought about in so many thousands of less significant people like me.
Let me begin with two of what I think of as an extremely simple, indeed grossly over-simplified, truism. Wittgenstein told us that meaning is use. He also told us that meaning should not be understood as primarily consisting in the relationship that holds between a name and its bearer. My truism is this: Wittgenstein’s two dicta are logically independent. It might be that meaning is use: that is, it might be that ultimately anything I mean has to be explicated in terms of something I use it for. For instance, it might be that every time I utter ‘cat’, I am doing something cat-related. It may nonetheless be true that the best way to understand the word ‘cat’ is as naming the concept CAT. Conversely, it may be that my utterances of ‘cat’ have to be understood in complex, situationally variable ways, so that the word cannot be explicated as naming anything. Nonetheless, it may be true that meaning is independent of use. In short, one of these dicta is about the communicative and pragmatic aspects of language, and the other about semantics, and though closely related in Wittgenstein’s thought, they are logically independent and they have to be argued for separately.
In a similar vein, the meaning-is-use claim is logically independent of Wittgenstein’s no-inner-mentality ideology, unless you follow a stolidly behaviourist line of thought. You might think that understanding the meaning of ‘cat’ is a matter of behaving in a certain way with regard to cats. But this has little to do with whether or not you change your inner state when you come to understand ‘cat’.
In an earlier post, I suggested that the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology (FCT) should not have retracted a paper that purported to show toxic effects in rats fed GM corn. Now just over 100 scientists have signed a petition protesting the retraction, stating that the retraction violated the norms of the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE), of which FCT is a member. The scientists note concerns about the impartiality of the process (e.g., the the appointment of ex-Monsanto employee Richard Goodman to the newly created post of associate editor for biotechnology at FCT) and assert, "The retraction is erasing from the public record results that are potentially of very great importance for public health. It is censorship of scientific research, knowledge, and understanding, an abuse of science striking at the very heart of science and democracy, and science for the public good."
The scientists are boycotting the journal's publisher, Elsevier; they will "decline to purchase Elsevier products, to publish, review, or do editorial work for Elsevier."
What's interesting about the test is that 80% of the people who scored 32 or above then went on to pass other diagnostic tests for what's now called Autism Spectrum Disorder. Pretty impressive for a test consisting of 50 questions involving this kind of self-reporting.
In any case, this is a good excuse to revel in Simon's brother flummoxing (recently incarcerated) evolution denier Kent Hovind at right. One can score pretty high on Simon's test and still find this kind of thing hilarious.
There is a serious gender problem in philosophy in the Netherlands. In the 11 departments of philosophy the numbers of permanent staff members are roughly the following: assistant professors: 110, of which 25 are women; associate professors: 45, of which 5 are women; full professors: 65, of which 7 are women (I have not included part-time professors; this data is based on the websites of the departments). You may think that this just indicates that women have to work harder to get advanced positions at Dutch universities (i.e. that the problem is only theirs). But there is sufficient evidence now that a gender bias is built into the system. This implies that men are part of the problem and that they will have to take their responsibility. The solution is not easy though. It requires a package of measures. What can we do?
It is always good to raise awareness, but what really helps is to move beyond awareness-raising with a few very simple institutional measures that can be implemented right away. Why not make it a rule that 30% of all invited speakers at conferences are women, or that 30% of the papers in special issues are by female philosophers? The Board of the Dutch Research School of Philosophy (OZSW) will discuss such measures for activities organized by the OZSW later this year. There may of course be exceptions to this rule, but these exceptions need to be justified. Similarly, we should stick to the rule, formally adopted by many universities, that selection committees should include at least two women.
Spending a short holiday, and of course, seeing all the fabled sights of this fabulous city.
Back one day from several hours on a cruise up the Bosphorus, Lynne and I settled in to some comfortable sofas in a restaurant called Pallatium (or something like that) with a glass floor that looks down on to an excavated palace and a view of the street. It was the latter that fascinated us an in particular, a bright, intelligent, dog who looks very much like this one:
It's very ugly (via many of my Twitter contacts). Go check the whole story, but here's the beginning:
Lots of researchers post PDFs of their own papers on their own web-sites. It’s always been so, because even though technically it’s in breach of the copyright transfer agreements that we blithely sign, everyone knows it’s right and proper. Preventing people from making their own work available would be insane, and the publisher that did it would be committing a PR gaffe of huge proportions.
Enter Elsevier, stage left. Bioinformatician Guy Leonard is just one of several people to have mentioned on Twitter this morning that Academia.edu took down their papers in response to a notice from Elsevier.
BMoF today could not but honor Nelson Mandela, without a doubt one of the greatest humans in the 20th century and possibly of all times. There is probably no better way to honor him than with music – a man who once said “it is music and dancing that makes me at peace with the world and at peace with myself”. There is much in common between the place that music occupies in people’s lives in South Africa and in Brazil, and this statement by Mandela encapsulates how many Brazilians feel about life, music and dancing (that's certainly the case for this particular Brazilian…).
I found this 1990 video of the pop band Paralamas do Sucesso performing ‘Free Nelson Mandela’, where they reveal their roots as a ska/reggae band. They appeared in the 1980s, and provided much of the soundtrack for my childhood and early teens. They continue to play and record to this day, despite some set-backs (in particular the ultra-light accident of the band leader Herbert Vianna in the early 2000s, which killed his wife and left him paraplegic).
So let’s all get up and sing for (and with) Mandela, and thank him for all he’s done to make this world a better place. (The music itself starts at 1.10.)
For some of the reasons Martin suggests, I find much of the philosophical debates surrounding action theory, autonomy, and akrasia to be nearly inscrutable. I just don't end up having enough of the intuitions that participants in the debates seem to take as shared. . .* but mostly (beyond what can be gleaned from the Neal Young lyrics and melody)** I just find people basically incomprehensible.
As Martin does in his essay and Steve O does in the documentary to right, every person I've known who has navigated addiction/recovery successfully(i.e. (1) without dying, while (2) managing to recover/sustain a state of basic decency to others) has ended up embracing pretty paradoxical views about volition. At one point in the documentary someone congratulates Steve O for staying clean for over a year, and he just good naturedly deflects the compliment by saying that for all he knows he might get high tomorrow.
I don't get this at all, because accepting that one has so little control over one's own actions strikes me as absolutely terrifying, but it does seem to be part of the healing process for so many people. I realize that this is all pretty standard AA boilerplate, and that AA should be thought about critically (as Martin begins to explore in the essay). Still, I think there's something true and paradoxical that the AA boilerplate is attempting to give voice to.
I do know that Martin's own experiences in the international jewelry business profoundly informs his fiction and his philosophical work on deception. Maybe there are some new (over and above the standard higher order belief/desire stuff) philosophical theses to be discovered about autonomy, etc. from the experience of addiction and recovery.