September 2, 2016

The 4 beards of Tom Wolfe's "Kingdom of Speech," ranked in order of the prominence of the bearded one.

1. Charles Darwin's beard — which appears twice in Wolfe's delightful new book about the politics of linguistic science. First, when Darwin is 54: "[H]e had cultivated a so-called philosopher’s beard of the sort that had been the philosopher’s status symbol since the days of Roman glory. Darwin was forever pictured sitting slightly slumped in an easy chair… his philosopher’s beard lying on his chest all the way from his jaws to his sternum… like a big old hairy gray bib." And second, when Darwin is 60: "Vomiting three or four times a day had become the usual. His eyes watered and dripped on his old gray philosopher’s beard. The chances of his leaving his desk in Down House and going out into the world looking for evidence, as he had on the Beagle, were zero. Instead he chained himself to his desk and forced himself to write... So he wound his imagination up to the maximum and herded all the animals together in his head, like some Noah the Naturalist...." (I'm picturing Noah's beard now too, but Wolfe didn't mention that.)

2. The beard of the Creator: In Apache myth, there's a void and then a disk. "Curled up inside the disk is a little old man with a long white beard. He sticks his head out and finds himself utterly alone. So he creates another little man, much like himself... Somehow, up in the void, they take to playing with a ball of dirt. A scorpion appears from nowhere and starts pulling at it. He pulls whole strands of dirt out of the ball. Longer and longer he pulls them, farther farther farther they extend, until he has created earth, sun, moon, and all the stars.... The big bang theory desperately needs someone like the scorpion or the little man with a long white beard curled up inside a disk." (You might question my ranking the Creator of the Universe second, after Darwin, but Darwin is ultra prominent, and the Creator in question is not the God of the Bible or the Quran but a little tiny man who needs not only another tiny man but a scorpion to pull off the big creation trick.)

3. Alfred Wallace's beard: "Our story begins inside the aching, splitting head of Alfred Wallace, a thirty-five-year-old, tall, lanky, long-bearded, barely grade-school-educated, self-taught British naturalist who was off— alone— studying the flora and the fauna of a volcanic island off the Malay Archipelago near the equator…." (Alfred Wallace, do you even know who he is? He's the man you would know about if Darwin hadn't worked to eclipse him.)

4. The beard of  Daniel L. Everett (Everett is to Wallace as Noam Chomsky is to Darwin): "Everett was everything Chomsky wasn’t: a rugged outdoorsman, a hard rider with a thatchy reddish beard and a head of thick thatchy reddish hair.... He was an old-fashioned flycatcher inexplicably here in the midst of modern air-conditioned armchair linguists with their radiation-bluish computer-screen pallors and faux-manly open shirts. They never left the computer, much less the building." Later we see Everett's beard in a scene of terrible squalor, tending to his his suffering wife and daughter on a miserable boat: "The Brazilians couldn’t keep their eyes off the gringos who were gushing gringo misery out of their hindsides... The redheaded, red-bearded gringo kept taking the pot of sloshing diarrheic rot through crowds of passengers, constantly bending way down with his reeking pot to pass under the hammocks...."

72 comments:

Meade said...

I said: I like Fidel Castro.
And his beard.

Eric the Fruit Bat said...

There was a Monty Python skit spoofing a movie director obsessed with teeth.

David Begley said...

I see where the long knives are out for Wolfe. Attacked by Pygmies! As if he cares. Being rich and old has its advantages.

Eric the Fruit Bat said...

The blurb over at Amazon reads: "THE KINGDOM OF SPEECH is a captivating, paradigm-shifting argument that speech--not evolution--is responsible for humanity's complex societies and achievements."

I'm not at all sure who is making the claim that Wolfe is refuting.

Isn't our capacity for speech the result of evolutionary processes?

I'm sure someone has already made this point, so I apologize for repeating it.

Perhaps I'm missing the larger point, which is to be delightful.

AReasonableMan said...

Eric the Fruit Bat said...
Perhaps I'm missing the larger point, which is to be delightful.


Apparently so.

AReasonableMan said...

To use rhhardin's frame of reference, Wolfe is a woman's writer and is not to be held to any standard other than delightfulness.

Ann Althouse said...

Eric, the central question is whether speech is an artifacr, something made by human beings or whether there is something physically in the evolved structure of human beings that is the language organism.

Ann Althouse said...

Artifact

Ann Althouse said...

Organ, not organism.

Rob said...

It seems wrong to have a discussion of beards without mentioning Anthony Weiner.

Fritz said...

Eric, the central question is whether speech is an artifacr, something made by human beings or whether there is something physically in the evolved structure of human beings that is the language organism.

Chicken or egg first?

Roger Sweeny said...

"Tom Wolfe aims his unparalleled wit at evolution, arguing that complex language is the singular superpower that allows humans to rule the planet."―Harper's Bazaar

Of course, it is a superpower that no other living thing has. We wouldn't be where we are without it. But it wouldn't be much use if we weren't hardwired to use it to co-ordinate and co-operate with other members of our group (which in modern times means our various groups), and if we didn't have opposable thumbs and fine motor control to make and use all sorts of tools--and weapons.

Paul Snively said...

Eric the Fruit Bat: Isn't our capacity for speech the result of evolutionary processes?

That's the key question, all right.

One school of thought, of course, says yes. Arguments in favor tend to observe that other species have complex social structures involving vocal communication (even if they don't meet the, IIRC, 13 standard criteria defining "language") and that, if we assume homo homo sapiens evolved, then the conclusion almost "falls out" of that assumption.

Another school of thought, of course, says no. Arguments against tend to observe that speciation by natural selection isn't the slam dunk adherents insist it is in the first place, and that, strictly speaking, we'd expect to find some kind of "part of the brain" devoted to language, to the extent there are identifiable specialized parts of the brain at all. There are also occasional questions about what sorts of evolutionary pressure would lead to language. Not just vocalization, not just some sort of communication-via-a-shared-symbol-set, but language (again, with, IIRC, some 13 standard criteria of definition).

IMO, the question is complicated because I don't see why it must be exclusively a question of evolutionary biology. I suspect language is a complex emergent system with both biological and psychological components, and I further suspect emergent properties are not amenable to evolutionary explanation, even if they arose entirely by evolutionary means. I make an analogy to the three-body problem in classical mechanics: even knowing Newton's laws of motion, calculus, and the relevant masses and velocities of the three bodies, it turns out you can't actually solve the general problem in any tractable way. All you can do is build such a system, put it in motion, and observe it. I suspect defining complex emergent bio/psychological phenomena falls into exactly the same category.

rehajm said...

He had cultivated a so-called philosopher’s beard of the sort that had been the philosopher’s status symbol since the days of Roman glory

Is that like Dumbledore or like Brooklyn hipster doosh?

J. Farmer said...

I have very ambivalent feelings towards Chomsky's post-New Mandarins political writings, but his takedown of B.F. Skinner and his cult of behaviorists was quite overwhelming, and I think his theories about language being hardwired in the brain are essentially true. Back in the late 60s and early 70s, a young girl only known by her pseudonym "Genie" was discovered to have been kept in near isolation and never spoken to by her parents. She never developed the ability to speak and became one of the most famous case studies of developmental milestones and critical periods for language acquisition.

William said...

What significance does this argument have for anyone except linguists?.........I would read the Wolfe book because he's an entertaining writer, and a take down of Chomsky would be doubly entertaining. Nonetheless, I have found it politic to keep an open mind on linguistic theory and quantum mechanics.......Side note: instead of constant remakes of Pride & Prejudice and The Great Gatsby, they should remake Bonfire of the Vanities and do it right.

Christy said...

I like the theory that language developed in the nurseries of our early ancestors. A gathering of toddlers driven to communicate. Ever known little twins who understood each other, but we're completely unintelligible to even their mothers?

Do you recommend for someone who likes Wolf, but is only mildly interested in the subject?

How does this all change with the new information about dogs understanding our words?

Christy said...

Wolfe!

Big Mike said...

@Althouse, I have bunch of thoughts, and I'll probably have more now that your comments have persuaded me that it's worth reading (N.B., I think I've read most of what Tom Wolfe has written so it didn't take much persuasion).

1) Chomsky is so clearly wrong about so many other things that it's hard to believe he could be very right about his signature thesis.

2) Ian Tattersall's excellent book The Strange Case of the Rickety Cossack (available via the Althouse Amazon Portal) has an excellent discussion of how strong personalities have influenced our understanding of the fossil record, not always for the better. A "science" that is moved by who has the strongest personality and can force a consensus isn't really a science. Real sciences depend on the ability to test hypotheses experimentally and reject those hypotheses that do not stand up to experiment.

3) Tattersall's book also discusses the impact of real science, based on DNA, on paleontology. (He also has the clearest description of cladistics that I've ever read.)

4) To me, one of the more electrifying things I found in Tattersall's book is the latest reconstruction of the Neanderthal skeleton. The Neanderthal rib cage, like a. Afarensis (Lucy), h. Erectus, and modern apes gets narrower as you go bottom to top. The h. Sapiens rib cage is pretty cylindrical. If we can have differences that profound, how else can we be different? Tattersall suggests that we became somehow more creative and developed a sophisticated ability to convey abstract thoughts. So could Chomsky actually be right about language after all? Could there have been a suite of mutations that transformed h. Erectus into modern man with our capacity for abstract thought, our complex speech, our stamina (we are not as fast as most prey animals, but can wear nearly all of them down with a prolonged chase), and our barrel chests?

5) Yes, I do know who Wallace was. I did not know who Dan Everett is. I went to his web site and I think he's a quite wrong when he says that humans live in social groups and therefore need language to make it work. Many other animals which lack language live in social groups -- bees and ants, besides flocks of birds, packs of wolves, herds of hoofed herbivores, pods of whales and dolphins, and the sophisticated social groups of apes and monkeys. So the language of modern humans is clearly overkill for what is needed to successfully live in complex social organizations. Leaving aside that insects may use fairly sophisticated languages based on movement and pheremones, the communications of birds and social mammals are nothing like human speech.

Gabriel said...

@Ann Althouse:Alfred Wallace, do you even know who he is? He's the man you would know about if Darwin hadn't worked to eclipse him.

Yes I do know who he is, and it would be very wise to have another source besides Tom Wolfe for his and Darwin's story--if you are getting "if Darwin hadn't worked to eclipse him" from Wolfe, anyway. That may be your read on it and not Wolfe's.

Ann Althouse said...

"Do you recommend for someone who likes Wolf, but is only mildly interested in the subject?"

Yes. It's short, for one thing.

It's about the characters: Darwin and Wallace and Chomsky and Everett. The most interesting level of generality is the power politics within science: Darwin against Wallace and Chomsky against Everett. Also interesting is the difference between people who go out and work in the field and those who are set up comfortably and work indoors and in their head.

That's all stuff that is interesting even if you don't care much about whether language is inborn or acquired in life.

Wolfe is wonderful to hear just for the way he puts ideas and words together.

Talk about speech! How did HE learn to talk like THAT? I'm going to listen to the audiobook a second time just for the sheer aesthetics of the language (quite aside for the question how language came to be).

How did Wolfe come to have HIS language? And can I get some of that by exposure? Did I need it born into my brain? If so, I have whatever genetic gift I have. But I speak English because I heard English and not some other language. So why not hear more of Wolfe?

JackOfClubs said...

And that, my friends, is why we drink through straws.

Sebastian said...

@BM: "Chomsky is so clearly wrong about so many other things that it's hard to believe he could be very right about his signature thesis." Chomsky is the one scientist whose political ideas are more falsifiable than his scientific theories.

Luke Lea said...

re: artifact vs. evolved organ

If I'm not mistaken the theory of evolution as currently understood (it is always evolving, never complete!) holds that these two categories are not mutually exclusive. At least that's my sense of the idea of "gene-culture co-evolution" as it has come to be called: a culture -- in this case the artifact of speech at any given point in its development -- is in itself part of the environment to which evolution responds by favoring some genetic traits over others, as for instance alleles for changes in the tongue and larynx and those parts of the nervous system which control them. Then, as the physical capacity for speech develops, language itself develops in ways that were physically impossible before, for instance a larger repertoire of vowels and consonants used to denote more semantically complex utterances. New alleles for hearing would also be favored that allow us to distinguish these phonemes, new areas of the cortex to learn and remember them and combine them in new ways (where Chomsky's theories come in) etc., etc.. Language flowers in many directions, not only utilitarian but for purposes of entertainment (stories, jokes, songs) which, in turn, have value in attracting mates (at least according to The Mating Mind by Geoffrey Miller).

Haven't read Wolfe's book yet but I remember he showed a lot of interest in Darwin in his Charlotte Simmons (sp?) novel, so I'm not surprised he has taken up the subject in more detail. Does the phrase gene-culture co-evolution appear in the index?

AReasonableMan said...

Althouse said ...
Alfred Wallace, do you even know who he is? He's the man you would know about if Darwin hadn't worked to eclipse him.


Wallace is well known by anyone with a passing familiarity with the development of evolution ideas. Darwin, after devoting his entire adult life to developing his ideas, should have just stood aside and not mentioned them after Wallace arrived on the scene?

Quaestor said...

Alfred RUSSELL Wallace.

Being a self-taught naturalist in the 1850's was hardly a hindrance given the fact that much of what was being taught at Oxbridge was mistaken to put the best light on it. In fact without the prejudices of a prestigious schooling Wallace was free to form his own opinions from the evidence he directly observed. It's rather telling that Darwin mulled over his ideas for more than twenty years, while Wallace need less than seven to be in a position to publish. It was the English class system that convince Wallace to write to Darwin before going public, which was his mistake.

If Darwin had been the gentleman he was raised to be he would have offered Wallace a co-authorship, or at least a preface to the Origin

Quaestor said...

typo: convinced

Quaestor said...

Calling Wallace "barely grade-school-educated" is an insult to American education. I seriously doubt more than one percent of the students granted baccalaureates last spring by UW can write as lucidly as Wallace, or even spell as consistently.

AReasonableMan said...

Quaestor said...
If Darwin had been the gentleman he was raised to be he would have offered Wallace a co-authorship


This is ridiculous. Wallace was perfectly capable of publishing on his own. To offer a co-authorship on work to which he hadn't directly contributed would have been both insulting and unethical.

AReasonableMan said...

"Darwin was very aware of Wallace's financial difficulties and lobbied long and hard to get Wallace awarded a government pension for his lifetime contributions to science. When the £200 annual pension was awarded in 1881, it helped to stabilise Wallace's financial position by supplementing the income from his writings."

AReasonableMan said...

He was not exactly unknown to his contemporaries.

"His death was widely reported in the press. The New York Times called him "the last of the giants belonging to that wonderful group of intellectuals that included, among others, Darwin, Huxley, Spencer, Lyell, and Owen, whose daring investigations revolutionised and evolutionised the thought of the century."

Quaestor said...

To offer a co-authorship on work to which he hadn't directly contributed would have been both insulting and unethical.

Bullshit. But since it's ARM's that's a given.

When modern scientists close in on the same hypothesis they don't race to the journals like some kind of cartoon farce, they collaborate, and acknowledge the other's contribution. darwin had the advantage simply because the publishers of such works were familiar with his background Being the son of a Erasmus Darwin and holding a degree made Darwin welcome. If Wallace would have shown up with his manuscript he would have being asked to use the tradesman's entrance. As it was Wallace only had his paper read before the Linnaean Society, but he was not invited to attend in person.

The 200 pounds served to assuage Darwin's conscience, but it was hardly an acknowledgment of his research and insights.

AReasonableMan said...

Quaestor said...
When modern scientists close in on the same hypothesis they don't race to the journals like some kind of cartoon farce, they collaborate, and acknowledge the other's contribution.


You clearly have no knowledge of how science works either today or yesteryear. When you call someone else a bullshitter you should at least have some clue about the subject you are prattling on about.

You apparently don't like Darwin. No one gives a fuck.

Gabriel said...

@Quaestor:When modern scientists close in on the same hypothesis they don't race to the journals like some kind of cartoon farce, they collaborate, and acknowledge the other's contribution.

What journals are you published in?

Gabriel said...

@Quaestor: Because I've published in journals, and I have been active in scientific research. And sometimes people collaborate and sometimes people don't.

And Darwin DID collaborate with Wallace.

Furthermore everyone involved KNEW DARWIN HAD BEEN WORKING ON IT FOR YEARS. Yet, Darwin and Wallace still published TOGETHER in 1858.

Again, if you are getting this from Wolfe, GET ANOTHER SOURCE.

London, June 30th, 1858.

MY DEAR SIR,-The accompanying papers, which we have the honour of communicating to the Linnean Society, and which all relate to the same subject, viz. the Laws which affect the Production of Varieties, Races, and Species, contain the results of the investigations of two indefatigable naturalists, Mr. Charles Darwin and Mr. Alfred Wallace.
These gentlemen having, independently and unknown to one another, conceived the same very ingenious theory to account for the appearance and perpetuation of varieties and of specific forms on our planet, may both fairly claim the merit of being original thinkers in this important line of inquiry; but neither of them having published his views, though Mr. Darwin has for many years past been repeatedly urged by us to do so, and both authors having now unreservedly placed their papers in our hands, we think it would best promote the interests of science that a selection from them should be laid before the Linnean Society.... So highly did Mr. Darwin appreciate the value of the views therein set forth, that he proposed, in a letter to Sir Charles Lyell, to obtain Mr. Wallace’s consent to allow the Essay to be published as soon as possible. Of this step we highly approved, provided Mr. Darwin did not withhold from the public, as he was strongly inclined to do (in favour of Mr. Wallace), the memoir which he had himself written on the same subject, and which, as before stated, one of us had perused in 1844, and the contents of which we had both of us been privy to for many years. On representing this to Mr. Darwin, he gave us permission to make what use we thought proper of his memoir, &c.; and in adopting our present course, of presenting it to the Linnean Society, we have explained to him that we are not solely considering the relative claims to priority of himself and his friend, but the interests of science generally; for we feel it to be desirable that views founded on a wide deduction from facts, and matured by years of reflection, should constitute at once a goal from which others may start, and that, while the scientific world is waiting for the appearance of Mr. Darwin’s complete work, some of the leading results of his labours, as well as those of his able correspondent, should together be laid before the public.
We have the honour to be yours very obediently,
CHARLES LYELL.
Jos. D. HOOKER.

AReasonableMan said...

The initial response to Darwin and Wallace's papers on natural selection, as is not uncommon, was not that marked outside of a few cognoscenti.

"The reaction to the reading [of both papers] was muted, with the president of the Linnean Society remarking in May 1859 that the year had not been marked by any striking discoveries."

What changed perceptions was the publication of the closely argued "On the Origin of Species" later that year, which was written for a general audience. Darwin was both a brilliant scientist and an effective popularizer of that science.

This is why Wolfe's book is so ridiculous. When he talks about art or architecture he is trading in aesthetic judgements. Aesthetic judgements are like assholes, everyone's got one. Evolutionary theory on the other hand has been one of the most closely worked over theories in the history of humanity, from every conceivable angle. It is one of the keystones of modern thought. Wolfe lacks the knowledge and the intellect to produce a meaningful challenge to such a structure. It's not that people should not take a run at the King every now and then. They should not do it without some intellectual armament. Wolfe arrives completely naked. Unarmed he resorts to producing a gossipy gliss on well established history that may make waves and money but in the end contributes nothing.

Gabriel said...

To build a little further on what ARM said.

Like with Isaac Newton and physics, scientists today know far more about biology than Charles Darwin did. Like with Newton's physics compared with today's physics, biology today contains contributions from far more people who added a great deal to current understanding. Like with Newton, presenting evidence that Darwin was wrong about something, or may have fallen short of some sort of ideal, is not enough to impeach the modern science that owes a large debt to its founders, but does not stand or fall on them, because we know now so much more than they did.

Like Newton, Darwin is dead, and can't resent any slights or cheap shots or defend himself. Like Newton, Darwin believed any number of things now known to be wrong. Like Newton, Darwin is given enormous credit for the one big thing he got right and was instrumental in demonstrating to the rest of us.

Paul Snively said...

Gabriel: Like Newton, Darwin...

I really wish people who aren't familiar with the subject matter would resist the temptation to weigh in.

Like Newton, Darwin believed any number of things now known to be wrong.

Assuming you're talking about Newton's physics, this is incorrect: Newton's physics is not only not wrong, it's everything you need to do anything up to and including send unmanned spacecraft past planets in our solar system, or put a man on the moon. Everything you see on earth is more than adequately explained using Newtonian mechanics. Popular science rags (and, regrettably, even some scientists, who should know better) like to say Einstein's relativity or Heisenberg et al's quantum mechanics "overturned" Newton, but that's nonsense on stilts: Einstein himself said special relativity completed the classical mechanics program, and general relativity just accounts for gravity more accurately, and things at velocities nearing the speed of light generally, by extending Newton. Similarly, Schrödinger came up with his famous equation by adding a single term to the Hamilton-Jacobi equation of classical mechanics. They're revolutionary, yes—but by revealing that the universe is a lot weirder than it seems, not by "overturning" Newton, without whose discoveries neither theory could have gotten off the ground.

Like Newton, Darwin is given enormous credit for the one big thing he got right and was instrumental in demonstrating to the rest of us.

Evolutionists really, really want this to be true. I mean specifically that Darwin's theory of speciation by natural selection have the same scientific status as Newton's laws of motion. But it doesn't. Not even close. Speciation by natural selection has neither the level of rigor of Newton's laws, nor the level of experimental support. It sounds good; it's intriguing; it might even be true. But "might even be true" is light years away from "amenable to calculation and prediction of experimental results by a bright, motivated high-school student, who can then conduct the experiment," which is the status Newton has.

Carol said...

Wolfe lost me a third of the way in. Why couldn't large brains and language evolve over millenia via natural selection? A somewhat larger brain makes some primate type more clever at hunting or gathering or killing rivals, whatever, and mates with more partners..etc.

I guess I don't get Wallace and Muller's critiques.

Gabriel said...

@Paul Snively: really wish people who aren't familiar with the subject matter would resist the temptation to weigh in...Assuming you're talking about Newton's physics, this is incorrect: Newton's physics is not only not wrong...

I have a Ph. D. in physics, so I know something about it. I never said Newton's physics was completely wrong. What I said was this: "Like Newton, Darwin believed any number of things now known to be wrong."

Newton believed in alchemy, for example, and he spent a lot of time trying to predict the end times from Scripture. None of this in anyway impeaches modern physics, though there are those who try to make the case it does.

I mean specifically that Darwin's theory of speciation by natural selection have the same scientific status as Newton's laws of motion.

You go and argue with someone who is actually saying that, I certainly never did. And if you really think that the status of evolution by natural selection and its role in speciation is at the "might even be true" level, then you are seriously misleading people about the current state of knowledge, or misinformed yourself.

Fernandinande said...

Paul Snively said...
Assuming you're talking about Newton's physics, this is incorrect: Newton's physics is not only not wrong, it's everything you need to do anything up to and including send unmanned spacecraft past planets in our solar system, or put a man on the moon.


It's "close enough for government work", but not quite correct.

Newton didn't like his inertial reference frame, but said he couldn't come up with a better idea (Principia, IIRC).

Everything you see on earth is more than adequately explained using Newtonian mechanics.

Except GPS, which takes into account both special (slow clock) and general (fast clock) relativity.

Evolutionists really, really want this to be true.

I'm pretty sure that, unlike everything else in biology, speciation is controlled by pixies.

AReasonableMan said...

Paul Snively said...
Evolutionists really, really want this to be true. I mean specifically that Darwin's theory of speciation by natural selection have the same scientific status as Newton's laws of motion. But it doesn't. Not even close. Speciation by natural selection has neither the level of rigor of Newton's laws, nor the level of experimental support.


Overstating here. One key concept of evolution - all organisms on Earth are descended from a common ancestor or ancestral gene pool - has recently received massive experimental support from genome sequencing. This concept was falsifiable and has now been massively and stringently tested. Unlike Newtonian physics, evolution theory has yet to be falsified under any circumstances. This doesn't mean it can't or won't be, but it has survived some remarkably stringent and unforeseeable tests.

Eric the Fruit Bat said...

I think it's vaguely humorous when Sheldon rags on other disciplines.

More strange than humorous, really.

I think the only time I laughed out loud was when he created a diversion by standing proud and shouting out loud: "Geology isn't a real science!!!"

Not funny because geology isn't a real science, mind you.

Funny because he got blasted by a fusillade of paint balls.

cf said...

it is fine that you are hearing the spoken language, Ann, the primordial, elegant originating communication.

but I have been caused to meditate lately on early Writing, especially of the Mesopotamians -- a long story -- and so I find it especially charming that what you are hearing did not begin as speech. It originated as a series of shapes. Wolfe's book itself is a rendition of the incredibly human function of assigning sound and meaning to abstract shapes, Grafikos, images that join together to encapsulate words that wrestle out ideas.

these remarkable letterforms -- a technology used since before cuneiform, but oh, even cuneiform!!!! the tiny scritch scritch scritches of the stylus into wet clay, thousands and thousands of tablets thousands of years ago, abstract shapes that record sound for posterity . . . or for just this moment like a cellphone txt,

the way that you are receiving this transmission of thought right now, these silly, arbitrary shapes on the screen.

So deeply human. so ancient an instinct. so profoundly wondrous a talent.

Yes, I Think it may be that we have an organ for language, oral and visual, how grand. i love tom wolfe for musing on it all, especially if he muddies scary mr. Mustypants Chomsky, yay. haha.

Godspeed.

Paul Snively said...

Gabriel: Newton believed in alchemy, for example, and he spent a lot of time trying to predict the end times from Scripture.

Covered by "Assuming you're talking about Newton's physics..."

I never said Newton's physics was completely wrong. What I said was this: "Like Newton, Darwin believed any number of things now known to be wrong."

If you aren't confining your observations to Newton's physics and Darwin's theory of evolution, then it's an empty truism, adducing nothing with respect to Darwin.

You go and argue with someone who is actually saying that, I certainly never did.

Then what is your point? It seems obvious to the point of excruciation you want the respect Newton's physics has rightly earned to reflect onto Darwin's evolution. If that isn't so, I struggle to find any content in that comment.

Paul Snively said...

Gabriel: And if you really think that the status of evolution by natural selection and its role in speciation is at the "might even be true" level, then you are seriously misleading people about the current state of knowledge, or misinformed yourself.

There are two parts to this:

1. Evolution by natural selection, which is not in dispute.
2. Speciation by evolution by natural selection, which is.

NB: this is especially true since we're just talking about Darwin, as no one has yet introduced the modern synthesis or criticisms of it. But by all means, keep telling me how misinformed I am.

Paul Snively said...

Fernandinande: Newton didn't like his inertial reference frame, but said he couldn't come up with a better idea (Principia, IIRC).

Yes. BTW, there's a new translation, published just this year, that I recommend.

Except GPS, which takes into account both special (slow clock) and general (fast clock) relativity.

Covered by "everything you see on earth." You're (rightly) referring to GPS satellites.

I'm pretty sure that, unlike everything else in biology, speciation is controlled by pixies.

NB: my claim is limited to Newton's laws of motion and Darwin's theory of evolution having different epistemological statuses. That's all. Also, keep in mind that argument from personal incredulity is not actually part of the scientific method.

Paul Snively said...

AReasonableMan: One key concept of evolution - all organisms on Earth are descended from a common ancestor or ancestral gene pool - has recently received massive experimental support from genome sequencing. This concept was falsifiable and has now been massively and stringently tested.

I'm not seeing how this has anything to do with speciation by natural selection. I know of no one suggesting we don't have a common genetic ancestor, although I did have to roll my eyes a bit when some of the OJ Simpson jurors rejected DNA evidence because the denominator in an expression of odds was larger than the human population, not understanding that DNA codes for all life, past and present, not just currently-alive humans.

Unlike Newtonian physics, evolution theory has yet to be falsified under any circumstances.

This is the sticking point for me. Newtonian physics hasn't been falsified. Falsification has a logically universal quality: you can't use a falsified theory anymore. I have my issues with Popper, but on this point he was very careful in constructing his reaction to the verificationism of Logical Positivism (something "One key concept of evolution - all organisms on Earth are descended from a common ancestor or ancestral gene pool - has recently received massive experimental support from genome sequencing" suffers from, strictly speaking, but space forbids a detailed discussion of deduction, induction, and probability, and anyway, I don't think such a treatment would damage your point). Fernandinande's description of the status of Newton is spot on.

This doesn't mean it can't or won't be, but it has survived some remarkably stringent and unforeseeable tests.

Mendelian genetics certainly has. My complaint is precisely about the attempt to smuggle support for speciation by natural selection under that umbrella.

Friedrich Engels' Barber said...

Beards. I'm happy to help.

Levi Starks said...

I'm about 1/2 way through the book. It's entertaining.
I've learned a lot. If I were a defensive evolutionist I might get the feeling he's putting evolution down. I think that in reality he's putting it in its place.

AReasonableMan said...

Levi Starks said...
I think that in reality he's putting it in its place.


What place would that be, exactly?

Eric the Fruit Bat said...

I thought it was well-settled that the efficient cause of speciation is the invisible hand.

traditionalguy said...

Darwin spoke. All must bow.

Chomsky spoke. All must bow.

Now isn't that easier than science. We all need authority in our life.

Gabriel said...

@Paul Snively:Covered by "everything you see on earth."

Can you see this building?

Because Newtonian physics predicts that what is in that building need be no more than few inches across.

Newtonian physics hasn't been falsified. Falsification has a logically universal quality: you can't use a falsified theory anymore

A) It makes predictions known to be false, as my link above shows.
B) Every scientific theory probably makes some false prediction about SOMETHING, and if one of them ever is true about everything ever, no one will be able to prove it. C) "False" does not mean "useless", and "false" does not mean that it can't give answers so close to the true answer as to be worth using. You don't refuse to use flat maps and only use a globe, do you? As you mentioned, Newtonian physics is quite accurate for most everyday purposes. So was Aristotle's physics and so was that of the Scholastics. Newtonian physics is a very fine scientific theory, nonetheless there are testable predictions it makes that are shown false.
D) Newtownian physics is not due entirely to Newton. Newton did not know about energy. He did not know why momentum is conserved. He did not know anything about the extremely powerful formalisms developed in the 18th and 19th centuries that extended the power of Newtonian physics and which still carry over into relativity and quantum mechanics.

Speciation by evolution by natural selection, which is.

This is simply a lie.

Gabriel said...

@traditionalguy:Darwin spoke. All must bow.

Chomsky spoke. All must bow.


Creationists love to pretend that science is a religious endeavor. But it isn't. Darwin's theory, as Darwin expounded it, was overturned by scientists, not by creationists, well over a century ago. Hundreds of papers challenge Chomsky.

You are a creationist, and you do reason this way that your source spoke and all must bow (see Romans 14:11), but scientists do not.

Gabriel said...

@Paul Snively: The reason I say your statement is a lie is that speciation by natural selection has been observed hundreds of times in the last century. That's quite leaving aside all the fossil evidence.

You either don't know that, or are lying about it. Because these papers are not hard to find.

Meade said...

Hey Gabriel, were you joking about there being a wall on Mexico's southern border?

AReasonableMan said...

Gabriel said...
Creationists love to pretend that science is a religious endeavor.


The antipathy of religion and the arts to science is understandable. For both, the center did not hold when exposed to a multicultural world. For religion there were two options, water down the dogma, as Protestant churches in Europe have done, or go the full Monty, as Islam has done. Both are strategies of failure.

For the arts the old verities were atomized. The academy no longer controls the prevailing aesthetic, the marketplace does. And the marketplace doesn't care about classical music, high brow novels, poetry or fine art (unless it can function as a place to park money).

Science, on the other hand, has proven vastly more robust. New ideas can be incorporated without threatening the entire structure because it is not a brittle structure to begin with.

Fernandinande said...

Eric the Fruit Bat said...
I thought it was well-settled that the efficient cause of speciation is the invisible hand.


Pixies have invisible hands. You can observe that by watching them.

So pixieism and invisible-handism are not necessarily incompatible.

More importantly, "species" is a social construct, which reminds me: the library hands out bookmarks with slogans and such encouraging sub-adults to read, and one stated that the offspring of a lion and tiger was called a "tigress". I was, of course, outraged at this warping of young minds and dutifully reported the government misinformation campaign to the librarian, who replied "At least somebody reads those things."

Paul Snively said...

Gabriel: Because Newtonian physics predicts that what is in that building need be no more than few inches across.

You do realize that what is in that building is man-made specifically to perform experiments in particle physics, right? I mean, I assume so, you having a Ph.D. in physics and all.

It makes predictions known to be false, as my link above shows.

Making some predictions that turn out to be false is not Popperian falsification. A theory falsified in the Popperian sense can't be expressed by the Hamilton-Jacobi equation, have a single term added to it, and yield the wildly successful Schrödinger's equation, or be cast in terms of a constant speed of light and Riemannian geometry of spacetime and yield Einstein's wildly successful field equations of general relativity.

"False" does not mean "useless", and "false" does not mean that it can't give answers so close to the true answer as to be worth using.

"Falsification" doesn't mean "found to sometimes not be as accurate as we'd like, thus in need of generalization rather than replacement."

He did not know anything about the extremely powerful formalisms developed in the 18th and 19th centuries that extended the power of Newtonian physics and which still carry over into relativity and quantum mechanics.

So it seems we both are aware of the work of Lagrange and Hamilton. Great. Then perhaps you can explain how their work shows Newton not to benefit from reformulation, but to be false?

The reason I say your statement is a lie is that speciation by natural selection has been observed hundreds of times in the last century... You either don't know that, or are lying about it. Because these papers are not hard to find.

Good. Then I look forward to your providing links to three. My bet is you'll retort that you're "not going to do my homework for me," the standard response from those who rely on everyone already agreeing on assumptions, methodology, and interpretation of results in soft sciences.

Fernandinande said...

Then I look forward to your providing links to three. My bet is you'll retort that you're "not going to do my homework for me,"

Hear now this, O foolish people, and without understanding; which have eyes, and see not; which have ears, and hear not; which have fingers and type not the google search. For the wicked, through the pride of his countenance, will not seek using google: Google is not in all his thoughts.

Anyway, here's a bunch.

And here's a bunch more.

richard mcenroe said...

Why would evolution produce language? Most animals evolve communication in the form of threat displays to hold territory, entice mates, or show status in a pack. They also form "vocabularies" of sounds to cover concepts like "Oh, shit. Wolf!" and "Food over here!" and "Damn, I'm in heat!" But no other species seems to have evolved beyond communication expressing those immediate concepts imposed by the environment to the abstract conceptualization and linguistics humans have cobbled up.

Eric the Fruit Bat said...

I've got this nagging hunch that just about all human communication is to show status in a pack.

I may be an idiot, but I'm a modest idiot, and so I'm pretty sure I'm wrong about that.

Still, I was listening to some lecture series on primatology and the professor person characterized young apes playing as testing their strength. And I was all, like, THAT'S IT!!1!!!!1

Rusty said...

Blogger AReasonableMan said...
"Gabriel said...
Creationists love to pretend that science is a religious endeavor.

The antipathy of religion and the arts to science is understandable. For both, the center did not hold when exposed to a multicultural world. For religion there were two options, water down the dogma, as Protestant churches in Europe have done, or go the full Monty, as Islam has done. Both are strategies of failure.

For the arts the old verities were atomized. The academy no longer controls the prevailing aesthetic, the marketplace does. And the marketplace doesn't care about classical music, high brow novels, poetry or fine art (unless it can function as a place to park money).

Science, on the other hand, has proven vastly more robust. New ideas can be incorporated without threatening the entire structure because it is not a brittle structure to begin with."

Which is odd because without the catholic church science as we know it wouldn't exist.

AReasonableMan said...

Rusty said...
Which is odd because without the catholic church science as we know it wouldn't exist.


This is gunna be news to the Greeks.

Smilin' Jack said...

Which is odd because without the catholic church science as we know it wouldn't exist.

That could be true. The Enlightenment was a reaction to the Catholic Dark Ages, and Newton wrote more about how much he hated Catholics than he did about physics.

Paul Snively said...

Fernandinande: Anyway, here's a bunch.

It's nice of you to pinch-hit for Gabriel.

I like these. A lot. Very thorough in their descriptions of the various competing definitions of "species," nicely specific about what has and has not been observed. Very intellectually honest. Well done.

Here's the thing: I see a lot about plant hybridization, almost all human-induced, and non-reproducing vs. reproducing strains, in keeping with the biological definition of "species" that even this source admits is problematic. I don't even see support for this speciation being due to natural selection as opposed to just mutation, and I certainly don't see support for the evolution of significant (say, to survival in an ecological niche) morphological change via this mechanism.

Here's the other thing: I actually accept speciation by natural selection. I just do so on the same basis as evolutionary biologists do in practice: on faith, based on extrapolations from what we do have evidence for, such as these articles describe. But when people talk about the origins of humanity in terms of speciation by natural selection and hint, or even flat-out claim, that it gets in the same universe as Newtonian mechanics, they're full of shit, whether wittingly or unwittingly.

Paul Snively said...

Smilin' Jack: Newton wrote more about how much he hated Catholics than he did about physics.

That's because physics is very simple, while hatred of Catholicism, especially for Anglicans, has much more irreducible complexity.

traditionalguy said...

Hint: The Creator loves science. He is totally logical and runs a Universe with more variables that the greatest computer scientists ever use.

And He holds it all together and never loses His sense of humor. Religions fear science because it empowers us. But the God who is arranged for us to have and enjoy discoveries using science.

Paul Snively said...

traditionalguy: The Creator loves science. He is totally logical and runs a Universe with more variables that the greatest computer scientists ever use.

From a Lutheran pastor's grandson, computer scientist, and avid amateur physicist who identifies closely with Leibniz and Gödel, all I can say is: amen.

Rusty said...

AReasonableMan said...
Rusty said...
Which is odd because without the catholic church science as we know it wouldn't exist.

This is gunna be news to the Greeks.

The only reason we know that the Greeks did science is because of the church. It was the Catholic Church that sent monks all over Europe and the middle east searching for ancient Greek and Roman manuscripts. And because they didn't know what was important they gathered up everything.

Rusty said...

traditionalguy said...
Hint: The Creator loves science. He is totally logical and runs a Universe with more variables that the greatest computer scientists ever use.

And He holds it all together and never loses His sense of humor. Religions fear science because it empowers us. But the God who is arranged for us to have and enjoy discoveries using science.

If we were to husbandmen over his creation doesn't it stand to reason we should know as much about his creation as possible?