Saturday, March 08, 2008

Researchers ask: What does it mean to be an animal?

This from an interesting call for papers:

CFP: Animal Bodies of Knowledge: Understandings of Species Difference
Across Disciplines

... For the hundreds of thoughtful essays, books, collections on race, gender, nationality, age and other bases for domination, the academy has been reluctant to raise similar questions about what we presuppose to be the differences, real or imagined, between human and non-human animals. Although the scientific and philosophical discussion of species difference has its roots in ancient Western thought, over the course of the last 150 years or so, this discussion has produced separate bodies of conflicting but also recapitulating knowledge across the sciences, the humanities and in creative/imaginative work. At the same time, different modes of interrogating what it means to be human as opposed to what it means to be an animal have become increasingly estranged from each other, such that thinkers from a given discipline (biology, philosophy, political science) run the risk of ignoring prevalent ideas or important advances in other disciplines. ...

Let me help: Only a human would wonder "what it means to be an animal."

Apparently, this edited collection calls for "papers across multiple disciplines (biological and social science, political and philosophical theory and practice, as well as imaginative work)" and if you think you could write one, provide 200 word abstracts and a 100 word biography to Vincent J. Guihan and/or Sinead Collins ( by April 15, 2008 for consideration.

Note: Mario and I talk about about this "animal minds" question in The Spiritual Brain. Two things to watch out for is that most researchers are looking for similarities between animal and human minds. Differences are failures as far as they are concerned. Second, a lot of cherry picking goes on. Instead of looking at what the average animal does, the "star performers" are profiled. That's like assuming that you can learn a lot about how much science most people know by studying the life and theories of Albert Einstein.

Anyway, here are some recent stories related to the animal minds question:

Can animals do math? How much should we believe of what we read?

The cat who senses when elderly nursing home residents will die


Just released!: How the Catholic Church Built Science

How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization by Thomas E. Woods, Jr., may be a revelation to many:
By far the book's longest chapter is "The Church and Science." We have all heard a great deal about the Church's alleged hostility toward science. What most people fail to realize is that historians of science have spent the past half-century drastically revising this conventional wisdom, arguing that the Church's role in the development of Western science was far more salutary than previously thought. I am speaking not about Catholic apologists but about serious and important scholars of the history of science such as J.L. Heilbron, A.C. Crombie, David Lindberg, Edward Grant, and Thomas Goldstein.

It is all very well to point out that important scientists, like Louis Pasteur, have been Catholic. More revealing is how many priests have distinguished themselves in the sciences.

[ ... ]

In the sciences it was the Jesuits in particular who distinguished themselves; some 35 craters on the moon, in fact, are named after Jesuit scientists and mathematicians.

Actually, I can see where priests and brothers who wouldn't necessarily be suited to parish life might get on well in astronomy, actually.

It's also worth mentioning 19th century Austrian monk Gregor Mendel, whose laws of inheritance are considered standard today, Fr. Georges Lemaitre, the Belgian priest who developed the Big Bang theory and the somewhat more controversial Jesuit paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.

There was a most interesting discussion Teilhard's theories at the Post-Darwinist recently. I am glad that it is becoming "mainstream" to acknowledge the Catholic Church's role. Maybe we can start getting more correct histories of science for once.

Note: Lots of myths about Christians in science are debunked here.

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Kind words from a fellow blogger

Jared White, of Finite Calls Infinite has kindly offered me a “thinking blogger” award, asking only that I link to five blogs that make me think.

Well, because I have been justifiably concerned about intellectual freedom issues in Canada recently, here are three I often go to for breaking news:

Ezra Levant
Free Mark Steyn
Deborah Gyapong, a political journalist on Parliament Hill

When sick and tired of sixty-two-year-old hippies, I go to Five Feet of Fury (Kathy Shaidle is NOT for the faint of heart).

And of course, Uncommon Descent, a community blog on the intelligent design controversy

There! And thanks, Jared!

Neuroscience: How much does the hole in your wallet improve the taste of wine?

In the Boston Globe, Jonah Lehrer reveals a truth - via neuroscience - that ANY parent who has tried to talk a teen out of zillion-dollar fashions will certainly applaud: How good we think a product is depends in large part on our expectations. Get this:
They provided people with cabernet sauvignons at various price points, with bottles ranging from $5 to $90. Although the tasters were told that all the wines were different, the scientists were in fact presenting the same wines at different prices.

The subjects consistently reported that the more expensive wines tasted better, even when they were actually identical to cheaper wines.

The experiment was even more unusual because it was conducted inside a scanner - the drinks were sipped via a network of plastic tubes - that allowed the scientists to see how the subjects' brains responded to each wine. When subjects were told they were getting a more expensive wine, they observed more activity in a part of the brain known to be involved in our experience of pleasure.

However, apparently, most subjects, when not provided with price information, preferred the cheap wines.

No surprise there, if you think about it. The makers of cheap wines can’t rely on snob appeal, they must market a product that tastes good.

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Spiritual Brain authors in the news

Mario Beauregard, lead author of The Spiritual Brain was a guest on the G. Gordon Liddy show, yesterday. (March 7, 2008) This link will get you the podcast.

He was also on Oprah radio, with Dr. Mehmet Oz and you can listen to a part of it here, (February 21, 2008).

Also, Mario tells me that the French edition of The Spiritual Brain is coming along nicely, and is due out in September. (They send him the chapters to approve, of which I am very glad.) The soft cover English language edition is due out in the fall too.

Also, I have just received a kind note from someone who is reading the book via a Kindle. I have been meaning to get one of those things myself, but have been waiting till they are no longer cutting edge. At my age, my children think I am showing off if I have cutting edge equipment.

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