- Steve Mirsky in Scientific American reports this amusing anecdote:
I was reminded of preposterously precocious utterances by tiny tykes during a brief talk that string theorist Brian Greene gave at the opening of the 2011 World Science Festival in New York City on June 1. Greene said he sometimes wondered about how much information small children pick up from standard dinner-table conversation in a given home. He revealed that he got some data to mull over when he hugged his three-year-old daughter and told her he loved her more than anything in the universe, to which she replied, “The universe or the multiverse?”
- Mark Slouka's article Dehumanized: When math and science rule the school leads a fundamentally flawed argument (which I might make content of a longer post), but is one of the most beautifully written texts I've come across lately. I particularly liked this part:
Consider the ritual of addressing our periodic “crises in education.” Typically, the call to arms comes from the business community. We’re losing our competitive edge, sounds the cry. Singapore is pulling ahead. The president swings into action. He orders up a blue-chip commission of high-ranking business executives (the 2006 Commission on the Future of Higher Education, led by business executive Charles Miller, for example) to study the problem and come up with “real world” solutions.
Thus empowered, the commission crunches the numbers, notes the depths to which we’ve sunk, and emerges into the light to underscore the need for more accountability. To whom? Well, to business, naturally. To whom else would you account? And that’s it, more or less. Cue the curtain.
- And David Eagleman's article The Brain on Trial that argues for "a scientific approach to sentencing" gives the reader a lot to think about.
Who you even have the possibility to be starts at conception. If you think genes don’t affect how people behave, consider this fact: if you are a carrier of a particular set of genes, the probability that you will commit a violent crime is four times as high as it would be if you lacked those genes. You’re three times as likely to commit robbery, five times as likely to commit aggravated assault, eight times as likely to be arrested for murder, and 13 times as likely to be arrested for a sexual offense. The overwhelming majority of prisoners carry these genes; 98.1 percent of death-row inmates do. These statistics alone indicate that we cannot presume that everyone is coming to the table equally equipped in terms of drives and behaviors.
And this feeds into a larger lesson of biology: we are not the ones steering the boat of our behavior, at least not nearly as much as we believe. Who we are runs well below the surface of our conscious access, and the details reach back in time to before our birth, when the meeting of a sperm and an egg granted us certain attributes and not others. Who we can be starts with our molecular blueprints—a series of alien codes written in invisibly small strings of acids—well before we have anything to do with it. Each of us is, in part, a product of our inaccessible, microscopic history. By the way, as regards that dangerous set of genes, you’ve probably heard of them. They are summarized as the Y chromosome. If you’re a carrier, we call you a male.
Monday, August 01, 2011
This and That
Some well-written and interesting paragraphs that I came across recently.