Leftist Censorship and The Nature of Modularity

Yesterday’s Genetic Politics notes got the rare honor of a mention on ZenPundit. I appreciate Mark’s call for expert opinions, from luminaries such as Drs. Eide & Eide. This sort of traction for what is essentially a personal persuit — better understanding the course material for this fall — is amazing, and a huge benefit of blogging. So to Mark, Phil Jones, and everyone else who has helped me understand material better over the life of tdaxp: thanks!

Today’s reading was for four chapters.

Ridley. 4 The Madness of Causes
Ridley. 5 Genes in the Fourth Dimension
Pinker. 5 The Slate’s Last Stand
Pinker. 6 Political Scientists

The topics were diverse, from Liberal / Leftist persecution of sociobiology to defense of the modularity thesis from “West Pole” theorists. If you care, read on below! 🙂


Topic: Liberal / Academic Oppression
“discoveries about human nature were greeted with fear and loathing because they were thought to threaten progressive ideals… intellectuals, who once called themselves radicals, are now the establishment” (Pinker 103)
“[Computer Science Pioneer Joseph Weizenbaum] told us [AI research] was really designed to help the Pentagon come up with counterinsurgency strategies [and that] by the year 2000 we would all be dead.” (Pinker 105-106)
“[Comparative Psychologist [Richard Hernstein] received a death threat and found that he could no longer speak about his research speciality, learning in pigeons, because wherever he went the lecture halls were filled with chanting mobs.”
“The insinuation that [E.O. Wilson]’s, a life Democrat’s colleague Trivers]… was a tool of racism and right-wing oppression was particularly galling because Trivers was himself a political radical, a supporters of the Black Panthers…” (Pinker 110-111)
“How low can it go? Ridiculing an opponent’s sex life would seem to come right out of a bad satirical novel on academic life. But Lewontin, Rose, and Kamin bring up a suggestion by the sociologist Steven Goldberg that women are skilled at manipulating other’s emotions, and they comment “What a touching picture of Goldberg’s vulnerability to seduction is thus revealed!”” (Pinker 114)
“In 1975 the American Anthropological Association nearly passed amotion censuring Sociobiology and banning two symposia on [human aggression in a biological context].” (Pinker 115)

Topic: Creationism
“[Leslie Sponsel] is opposed to a “Darwinian emphasis on violence and competition” and recently pronounced that “nonviolence and peace were likely the norm throughout most of human prehistory and that intrahuman killing was probably rare.” (Pinker 118)

Topic: Complexity, Nature/Nurture, Limitations of Knowledge
“the closer science gets to understanding schizophrenia — and it is very close — the more it is blurring the distinction between cause and symptom. Environmental and genetic influences seem to work together, to require each other, until it is impossible to say which is the cause and which is the effect… the first witness I call to explain the cause of schizophrenia is psychoanalysis [but this is the least plausible explanation. The second witness to be called believes that schizophrenia is caused by genes [but there is no single gene]. Some scientists… set out to understand what was different about their brain biochemistry. From that they would then deduce which genes control this biochemistry and so investigate the “candidate genes” [and synapses]. [Perhaps] schizophrenia is caused by a virus [especially considering its strong correlation to flu in mothers. In the] developmental sense schizophrenia is an organic disease, a disease of development [and yet another witness might believe] that genes, development, viruses, and neurotransmitters all play a part, but none if the really fundamental explanation of the cause. All are really symptoms. The key to understanding schizophrenia [may be] in what we eat… ” (Ridley 101, 105, 108, 110, 118)
“Now it is certain that all primates, including human beings, can grow new cortical neurons in response to rich experiences, and lose neurons in respect to neglect.” (Ridley 145) (as Bloom quotes Christ, “For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath.”)
“”No one has the slightest idea of how many genes it would take to build a system of hard-wires modules, or a general-purpose learning program, or anything in between… it is a genuine puzzle why humans, with their hundred trillion cells and hundred billion neurons, need only twice as many genes as a humble little worm” (Pinker 76)…
“The term ‘junk dna’ [in referring to introns] is a reflection of our ignorance.” (Pinker 78)

Topic: Cognition
“[In Jean Piaget’s system each] child goes through a series of developmental stages, always in the same order [. First is] the sensorimotor stage [then] the preoperational stage [then] concrete operations [then] abstract though and deductive reasoning.” (Ridley 126) (But recall Jean Piaget’s theory of cognitive development does not account for single-domain prodigies (Gardner 15), so this calls his entire system into question)
“[Piaget] thought he mental structures necessary for intellectual development are genetically determined, but the process by which the maturing brain develops requires feedback from experience and social action. That feed back takes two forms: assimilation and accommodation. A child assimilates predicted experiences and accommodates to unexpected experiences.” (RIdley 126)
“The whole point of education is surely to exercise those briains ceruits that might be needed in life — rather than tot stuff the mind full of facts.” (Ridley 146)
“some kinds of learning may consist of simply recording information… others may be more like setting a dial… where the apparatus is in place but a parameter is left open… other s may use the information provdied by all normal environments… to tune up our sensorimotor systems.” (Pinker 73)
“Irregular forms like held and heard are stored in and retrived from memory… regular forms like walk-walked can be generated by a mental version of [a] gramatical rule.. evidence from cognitive neuscience shows that grammatical combination (including regular verbs) and lexical lookup (including irregular verbs) are handed by different systems in the brain rather than by a single associate network.” (Pinker 81-82)
“One team invented a mouse whose synapses were completely shut down, preventing neurons from signallign to one another. Its brain developed fairly normally, complete with layered structures [but] quickly degenerated after birth.” (Pinker 98) (influence of nature in development is variable with age. Similar examples with humans follow)

Topic: Brain Anatomy / Development
“Piaget deserves some credit for being the first to take seriously the fourth dimension of human nature — the time dimension.” (Ridley 127)
“[The complex system], having guided an axon to its destination, must connect it with appropriate other neurons on arrival. The cues are no longer directional signs but badges of identity.” (Ridley 128)
“Astonishingly, it appears that the cells necessary for triggering sexual development also begin life in the nose, in an evolutionary ancient peromone receptor called the vomeronasal organ. Unlike the olfactory neurons, which merely send axons to the brain, these neurons themselves migrate to the brain.” (Ridley 139)
“baby mice separates from their mothers… are permanently affected by the experience… more vulnerable to drug addiction [and a mouse that was licked a lot as a baby will respond more quickly [to her own babies].” (Ridley 147-148) (very similar to human studies, I believe)
“In assembling a brain, a complete genetic blueprint is out of the question… a gene cannot anticipate every detail of the environment [because that requires feedback and] mechanisms not designed to allow variable environments to shape variable organs. They do the opposite: they ensure that despite variable environments, a constant organ develops, one that is capable of doing its job.” (Pinker 90)
“allocation of brain tissue to perceptual and cognitive processes is not done permanently and on the basis of the exact location of the tissue in the skull, but depends on how the brain itself processes information.” (Pinker 85)
“the genome is a limited resource… most evolutionary biologists believe that natural selection can support a genome that is only so big.” (Pinker 91)
“the eye [of a cat in the womb] generates a test pattern and the brain uses it to complete its own assembly… the olfactory (smell) system, for example, wires itself by a completely different technique… Unlike sights, sounds, and touches, which are arranged by location when they arrive at the sensory cortex, smells arrive all mixed together, and they are analyzed in terms of the chemical compounds making them up, each detected by a different receptor in the nose” (Pinker 92)
“Most demonstrations of plasticity involve remappings within primary sensory cortex.” (Pinker 94) (so rewiring is limited)
“Neuroanatomists have long known that there are as many fibers bringing information down into the visual cortex from other brain areas as there are bringing information up from the eyes.” (Pinker 94-95) compare to:

the best explanation for the rapidity of this response [in neurological change in response to severed digits or limbs] is that silencing the inputs to the medial nerve unmasks secondary inputs from other nerves.” (Buller 138)

“patterns in the input can tune a patch of sensory cortext to mesh with that input, but only within the limits of the wiring already present… The suggestion that the auditory cortex is inherently suited to analyze visual input is not far-fetched. I mentioned that frequency (pitch) in hearing behaves a lot like space in vision.” (Pinker 96)
“[When] one or both eyes [are removed] from a developing ferret, depriving the visual cortext of all its input … the visual cortex developed with teh standard arrangement of connections from the two eyes.” (Pinker 97-98)

Topic: Modularity
“By rewiring the brains of rats and frogs, [Roger Sperry forty years ago] proved that there was a limit to the plasticity of the animal mind: a rat rewired so that its right foot was now connected with the nerves from its left would continue to move its left foot if the right foot was stimulated.” (Ridley 144)
“The design choices that make a neural network smart — what each of the neurons represent, how they are wired together, what kinds of networks are assembled into a bigger system, in which way — embody the innate organization of the part of the mind being modeled. They are typically hand-picked by the modeler, like an inventor rummaging through a box of transistors and diodes, but in a real brain they would have evolved by natural selection…” (Pinker 83)
“[Most Evolutionary Psychology proposals] are about drives like fear, sex, love, and aggression, which reside largely in the subcortical circuitry.” (Pinker 89-90)
“A developmental program may be triggered in a part of the developing brain by some combination of the source of the stimulation, the firing pattern, the chemical environment, and other signals. The end results may be a faculty [similar to “a module” or “an instinct”] that is seated in different parts of the brain in different people.” (Pinker 91)
“One of the rules of learning neural networks, first outlined by the psychologist D.O. Hebb, is that “neurons that fire together fire together; neurons out of sync fail to link.” (Pinker 92)
“The neuroscientist Lawrence Katz has lamented that fire-together-wire-together has become a dogma keeping neurocisntists from exploring the full reach of these genetic mechanisms.” (Pinker 97)

Topic: Particular Man
“Schizophrenia is about equally common all over the world and in all ethnic groups… This is unusual; many genetically influenced disease are either peculiar to certain ethnic groups or much commoner in one group than another. It implies perhaps that the mutations that preispose some human beings to schizophrenia are ancient, having occurred before the ancestors of all non-Africans left Africa and fanned out across the world.” (Ridley 121-122) (this section ties into the post The Implications of Evolution after the Dawn of Agriculture)

Topic: Universal Man
“Darwin… in his 1872 book The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals [believed] humans had been endowed with emotional expressions by the process of evolution [and] that all races had recently diverged from a common ancestor.” (Pinker 107-108)

Topic: Definitions
monochorionic twins… come not only from the same fertilized egg but develop inside a single outer membrane or chorion within the womb and share the same placenta… They even share blood… perhaps they encounter the same viruses… At least some monochorionic twins show mirror-imaging: their hair swirls and fingerprints are on opposite sides… the details of fingerprints are similar” (Ridley 112-113) (that last bit reminds me of the awful book Bad Twin
monoamniotic [twins] are monochorionic twins who develop within a single inner membrane.” (Ridley 112)
retrovirus… the genes of the virus are literally incorporated into the DNA of the chromosomes of some of your cells.” (Ridley 114)
hervs (for human endogenous retroviruses [are] complete retroviral genomes [in] the human genome… We human beings are, at the DNS level, substantially descended from viruses.” (Ridley 114)
cliff effect [is when] the mutations in different genes are all beneficial, except when they all come together in one person, or evolve just too far, at which point they suddenly combine to produce a disaster.” (Ridley 122-123)
developmentalist challenge .. many modern biologists talk much too glibly about “genes for” behavior, ignoring the uncertainty, complexity, and circularity of the system through which genes come to influence behavior. [Or more specifically] genes deserve partly with other causes; (2) they are not preformationist; <(3) their meaning dpeends heavily on context; (4) the ffects of genes and environments are seamless and inseperable; and (5) the psyche "emerges" unpredictably from the process of development." (Ridley 128-129)
extended phenotype… regard behavior as just an extreme form of development.” (Ridley 140) (this appears to be an edpsych truism)
gene is a strentch of DNA letters encoding the recipe for a protein. In most cases, however, the gene is broken up into several short stretches of “sense” interrupted by long stretches of nonsense. The sense bits are called exons and the nonsense bits introns.” (Ridley 141)
gene is typically broken into stretches of DNA that code for fragments of protein (exons) seperated by stretches of DNA that don’t (introns).” (Pinker 77)
Alternative splicing is [when] several alternative versions of each exon [lie] nose to tail, and only one is chosen; the others are left out.” (Ridley 141)
neural network… not to real enural circuitry in the brain but to a kind fo computer program based on the metaphor of neurons and neural circuits. … a neuron carries information by being more or less active… a network of neurons can represent different concepts, depending on which ones are active… The appear of neural networks is that they automatically generalize their training to similar new items.” (Pinker 78-79) (see thesis for neural nets)
“[Synapses link] neruons… to other neurons.” (Pinker 79)
Connectoplasm
… logical relationships that underlie our understanding of a complete thought…. the distinction between a kind and an individual…. compositionality: the ability to entertain a new, complex though that is not just the same of the simple thoughts composing it but depends on their relationships…. quantification (or the binding of variables): the difference between fooling some of the people all of the time and fooling all of the people some of the time… recursion: the ability to embed one thought inside another… our ability to incage in categorical, as oppozed to fuzzy, reasoning.” (Pinker 80) (See thesis for fuzzy logic
hippocampus consolidates memory and supports mental maps” (Pinker 89)
amaygdala… colors experience with certain emotions” (Pinker 89)
hypothalmus… originates sexual desire and other appetites.” (Pinker 89)
radical science movement considered] scientists who examined the human mind in a biological context [as] tools of a reactionary establishment” (Pinker 106)

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