01 July 2010

Daily Digest, 2010.06.30

Yesterday (yes, I admit it, I fell asleep before doing this post last night): the Lara Croft of cognitive science; 2.1-billion-year-old multicellular fossils?; computer deciphers Ugaritic; The R Journal; Rosenbaum's "Agnostic Manifesto"; the Kitten World Cup.

Vaughan at Mind Hacks points to a fascinating profile in Stanford magazine of Lera Boroditsky, the Lara Croft of cognitive science.

Boroditsky is one of the most influential figures in the current rehabilitation of the notion of linguistic relativity (associated especially with Benjamin Whorf and Edward Sapir), the idea that how one thinks depends to at least some degree on the language one speaks.

Nature News reports on a new article in Nature describing what are claimed to be 2.1-billion-year-old multicellular fossils from Gabon.  (For those of you who haven't been paying attention, that's really old for a multicellular fossil.)

The article is:
Abderrazak El Albani, et al. (2010), "Large colonial organisms with coordinated growth in oxygenated environments 2.1 Gyr ago." The abstract is here. The article is behind a paywall, and costs $32.00.  Although the immediate sources of funding for the research are not given on the abstract page, it is evident that most or all of the 21 authors are employed by publicly funded universities, museums, or agencies.

Via io9:  a computer program that has rapidly and fairly accurately deciphered ancient Ugaritic, a Semitic language and relative of Hebrew, but written in a cuneiform script, a language that notoriously took a very long time for humans to decipher correctly.

The original paper is:
Benjamin Snyder, Regina Barzilay, and Kevin Knight, "A Statistical Model for Lost Language Decipherment," available for download here.
Snyder and Barzilay are at MIT and Knight is at USC (hurrah for anything non-sports-related at my doctoral alma mater ).

Via R Bloggers, I became aware today (ok, yesterday) of The R Journal, an online, peer-reviewed, open-access journal on the statistical language R.  Yet another example that open-access peer review can be done, and done well.

Ron Rosenbaum has published "An Agnostic Manifesto" at Slate.  Frankly, I didn't make it past the first page; this just isn't a serious piece of thinking, from my point of view.  But YMMD. 

The notion (which seems to be increasingly common, at least among journalists) that atheism is a kind of "faith" seems so obviously silly and wrong headed that it's difficult to justify spending the time reading an article that takes this as a central argument.  It may be that certain individual writers who claim to be atheist use "faith-like" rhetoric; but that does not make atheism, as an intellectual position, faith based. In fact, from my point of view, one could make this kind of Rosenbaumian argument in regard to any logically incoherent concept.  In other words, if I say that I find the concept "colorless green ideas" to be incoherent, then in some sense I don't "believe" in colorless green ideas.  So by the Rosenbaumian logic, I would be a believer in the non-existence of colorless green ideas, and this is (by this line of argument) a kind of faith. Whereas the enlightened agnostic (in Rosenbaum's logic) would admit that he or she doesn't know whether colorless green ideas exist.

Go ahead, argue with me!  There isn't enough activity in the Comments....

The Kitten World Cup (via 3quarksdaily).

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  1. I'm afraid I can't argue with you. Your logic seems quite sound! Thanks for the cat video, though!

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