Thursday, May 04, 2006

2 Books

I know, boring title, not too snappy -- but it is in Prince-speak, at least. I'm listening to "Kiss" as I write. I printed out the lyrics, so now I am committed to working it up ... OK, picked up the classical, it's in E. And the most excellent Wendy solo is an E9 with a G and then an F# played on top. OK, on to the books.

Finished "The Resurrected Man"(2005), by Sean Williams (Australian), a couple of weeks ago. There was a sophomoric quality to the writing that just wasn't working. I think that appendices of Acronyms and Foreign Slang are red flags. The way the suspense was held and the mystery's resolution both were not just up to paar. Where's Greg Egan (or Richard K. Morgan) when you need them? 3 stars.

Finished "A History of the Mind: Evolution and the Birth of Consciousness"(1999), by Nicholas Humphrey, a few days ago. I have read some of his stuff before, very well-written and insightful. He's somewhat of a protege of Dennett, hopefully that won't hold him back too much. A very nice read, written in the style of a natural philosopher, 228 pages. Some references to Oliver Sacks, skin vision, blindsight, and phantom limbs, otherwise straightforward reasoning from 1st principles. The basic contention is that consciousness arises from sensation, which is modal, not from perception, which is modeless -- medium neutral representation of concepts. The characteristics of sensation are (review p 192):

  1. they belong to the subject;
  2. they are tied to a particular site in the body;
  3. they are modality specific (pain is pain; smell is smell);
  4. they are present tense;
  5. they are self-characterizing in all these respects.
He contends that from an amoeba up, sensations are processed to produce reactions. Then, once there's enough of a brain, rather than just being simple feedback, the sensations are mirrored in a body image in the brain. There's a very unintuitive argument that, based on this feedback, sensations are a form of subjective mental activity. This feedback loop becomes disconnected from the sensations to form mental images and the mental narrative "I" (our inner voice), which are two of the main pieces that our consciousness are made of. The time delay involved also produces the "conscious present", (time 50-200 milliseconds?), in which we convince ourselves that we are conscious.

He introduces the terminology that this process produces "sentiments" that we process through the activity of sensing, "sentition". "I feel, therefore I am."

Two things I was disappointed he did not get into, that would seem to be germane to his arguments:

  • Sensory deprivation experiments. I would have thought there was a lot of info on this. If we are what we feel, what happpens when we don't feel anything?
  • Synestheasia. We read "Mind of a Mnemomist: A Little Book about a Vast Memory", by A.R. Luria (1960?) in a psychology class I took in college. The subject of the book's total recall seemed to be based on his having synestheasia, where all the senses are mixed, sights are smelt and felt, etc. Again, if we are what we feel, this would surely seem relevant (I 1st wrote "feel relevant").
I just decided, as above, to put year published in my book references. It do make a difference. One annoyance I have with iTunes is that they put the dates of when something is put on iTunes as the date of the music, rather than when it was created. I downloaded "Fresh Cream (remastered)" and "Disraeli Gears (remastered)" a couple of weekends ago and they came down with a date of 1998. Easy to fix, discographies google easily and give the proper years (1966 and 1967), but still, annoying.

Re Letters to the Editor, I sent an e-mail of encouragement to a professor at Lindsey Wilson College, a babtist school here in KY, re an article he had published in "Free Inquiry" on teaching evolution to babtists. He invited me to join the Kentucky Association of Science Educators/Skeptics forum, which I did. After the letter was printed, along with another rational letter on an Intelligent Design debate, someone posted to the forum, how nice is was to have letters that didn't require a reply. I responded:

Au contraire, I think my letter espousing neo-Darwinism does demand a response. It ignores Lynn Margulis' endosymbiotic theory, that eukaryotic cells, the basis of all more complex life, came about from the symbiotic union of primitive prokaryotic cells (paste from Wikipedia). It doesn't mention prions, which seem to have figured out how to turn other proteins into prions without DNA based replication. It greatly oversimplified a complex and dynamic field of research -- tsk, tsk.
Somebody posted back, "What a wonderful world it would be if those were the arguments turning up on the letters-to-the-editor page."

I posted:

That is my idea exactly. I had figured I would pay attention to the letters for the next week or so and see what bible quotations would be thrown out as counter arguments, and give me a chance to reply with some more science. Wouldn't it indeed be better if instead there was a reply like the one below. Come on, can I get a shill?
But, no shills forthcoming. Too bad, we're fighting the republicans here, who have perfected "win at any cost". Surely an orchestrated intelligent discussion in the letters-to-the-editor would be preferable to the normal bible-quoting dumbasses?

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