26 June 2010

Daily Digest, 2010.06.25

Today: computer speech recognition and production; newly discovered cave art in Romania; Richardson critiques Evolutionary Psychology; cuts at LSU?; classical vuvuzela; Dennett über Atheismus; a really big disk drive; free "Prosecute BP" bumper stickers.



A good article by Steve Lohr and John Markoff in Thursday's New York Times on the current state of computer speech recognition and production, with a special emphasis on software that acts as a personal assistant, a medical receptionist, or the like.



Science reports the discovery of a cave art in Romania, which may turn out to be the oldest such art in Central Europe. The art has yet to be securely dated, but is estimated to be between 25,000 and 35,000 years old.



Larry Moran at Sandwalk points to a book that I want to read (but I fear the Minuteman Library system won't have anytime soon): Robert C. Richardson, Evolutionary Psychology as Maladapted Psychology (MIT Press). Here is the publisher's blurb:
Human beings, like other organisms, are the products of evolution. Like other organisms, we exhibit traits that are the product of natural selection. Our psychological capacities are evolved traits as much as are our gait and posture. This much few would dispute. Evolutionary psychology goes further than this, claiming that our psychological trait—including a wide variety of traits, from mate preference and jealousy to language and reason—can be understood as specific adaptations to ancestral Pleistocene conditions. In Evolutionary Psychology as Maladapted Psychology, Robert Richardson takes a critical look at evolutionary psychology by subjecting its ambitious and controversial claims to the same sorts of methodological and evidential constraints that are broadly accepted within evolutionary biology.

The claims of evolutionary psychology may pass muster as psychology; but what are their evolutionary credentials? Richardson considers three ways adaptive hypotheses can be evaluated, using examples from the biological literature to illustrate what sorts of evidence and methodology would be necessary to establish specific evolutionary and adaptive explanations of human psychological traits. He shows that existing explanations within evolutionary psychology fall woefully short of accepted biological standards. The theories offered by evolutionary psychologists may identify traits that are, or were, beneficial to humans. But gauged by biological standards, there is inadequate evidence: evolutionary psychologists are largely silent on the evolutionary evidence relevant to assessing their claims, including such matters as variation in ancestral populations, heritability, and the  advantage offered to our ancestors. As evolutionary claims they are unsubstantiated. Evolutionary psychology, Richardson concludes, may offer a program of research, but it lacks the kind of evidence that is generally expected within evolutionary biology. It is speculation ratherthan sound science—and we should treat its claims with skepticism.
I do hope to get back soon to another substantial critique of Evolutionary Psychology, David J. Buller, Adapting Minds: Evolutionary Psychology and the Persistent Quest for Human Nature. I had this out of the library, but got distracted by other things after reading the first 40 pages or so.



LSU system president John Lombardi warns of possible deep cuts when federal stimulus money runs out, including possible elimination of some departments and tenured faculty (WAFB.com, via Inside Higher Ed).

John, I'd be happy to make some suggestions....



Alex Ross links to this video of three brass players from the Berlin Philharmonic explaining and demonstrating the vuvuzela, including as examples the chorale from the final movement of Brahms' first symphony (really, they swear that's what it is) and an extract from Ravel's Bolero.



The commentary is very funny and deadpan (aber auf Deutsch).



Auch auf Deutsch:  Der Tagesspiegel interviews philosopher Daniel Dennett on atheism and religion ("Es könnte einen bösen Gott geben").



Via BoingBoing and the IBM Archives: the IBM 350 disk storage unit, first put on the market in 1956, was rather bigger than a full-sized upright piano, and could hold a whopping 5 megabytes, or about the size of two mp3s.

  


The first disk storage unit I remember seeing was part of (I think) the IBM 1130 where my Dad worked (a computer for which he wrote many of programs in Fortran). This unit was more the size of a dorm-room refrigerator, and had removable 5 MB platters that were about the size of round bistro table tops of the sort meant for romantic tête-à-têtes.  Except heavier.



Send away for a free "Prosecute BP" bumper sticker (via BoingBoing).


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