Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Mind Over Matter - Review Of "The Emotion Machine"

"The Emotion Machine: Commonsense Thinking, Artificial Intelligence, and the Future of the Human Mind" is a book by cognitive scientist Marvin Lee Minsky.

The book is a sequel to Minsky's earlier book "Society of Mind".

Minsky argues that emotions are different ways to think that our mind uses to increase our intelligence. He challenges the distinction between emotions and other kinds of thinking. His main argument is that emotions are "ways to think" for different "problem types" that exist in the world. The brain has rule-based mechanism (selectors) that turns on emotions to deal with various problems.

The book reviews the accomplishments of AI, what and why is complicated to accomplish in terms of modeling how human beings behave, how they think, how they experience struggles and pleasures.

Outline of "The Emotion Machine"

Minsky outlines the book as follows:
  1. "We are born with many mental resources."
  2. "We learn from interacting with others."
  3. "Emotions are different Ways to Think."
  4. "We learn to think about our recent thoughts."
  5. "We learn to think on multiple levels."
  6. "We accumulate huge stores of commonsense knowledge."
  7. "We switch among different Ways to Think."
  8. "We find multiple ways to represent things."
  9. "We build multiple models of ourselves."

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Evolution Books for Christmas (UK) [1]

Five Books from the 'Evolution Research - Amazon Book Shop' (Astore):
Climbing Mount Improbable* by Richard Dawkins

How could such an intricate object as the human eye - so complex and so precise - have come about by chance? In this masterful piece of popular science, Richard Dawkins builds a powerful and carefully reasoned argument for evolutionary adaptation as the force behind all life on earth. The metaphor of 'Mount Improbable' represents the combination of perfection and improbability that we find in the seemingly 'designed' complexity of living things. And through it all runs the thread of DNA, the molecule of life, responsible for its own destiny on an unending pilgrimage through time. Evocative illustrations accompany Dawkins' eloquent descriptions of astonishing adaptations in the living world.

*Currently appearing on page 2 of 'Featured Evolution Books' (see sidebar links or bottom of post)


The Ancestor's Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Life by Richard Dawkins

Just as we trace our personal family trees from parents to grandparents and so on back in time, so in The Ancestor's Tale Richard Dawkins traces the ancestry of life. As he is at pains to point out, this is very much our human tale, our ancestry. Surprisingly, it is one that many otherwise literate people are largely unaware of. Hopefully Dawkins's name and well deserved reputation as a best selling writer will introduce them to this wonderful saga.

The Ancestor's Tale takes us from our immediate human ancestors back through what he calls `concestors,' those shared with the apes, monkeys and other mammals and other vertebrates and beyond to the dim and distant microbial beginnings of life some 4 billion years ago.


The Third Chimpanzee: The Evolution and Future of the Human Animal (P.S. (Paperback)) by Jared Diamond

"[Was] originally published in English in 1992, is the first book-length work of non-fiction from Jared Diamond, evolutionary biologist, physiologist and award-winning author. Diamond addresses two issues: how and why human beings transformed, in a short period, from "just another species of big mammal" into a world-dominating force and the degree to which our immense progress has been coupled with the seeds of self-destruction, particularly through genocide and environmental degradation.

While accessible to non-scientific readers The Third Chimpanzee is also erudite, drawing on history, evolutionary theory and genetics, biology and ecology, linguistics and sociology in order to compile a portrait of humanity's success and also its potential for disaster." [Wiki]


The Voyage of the "Beagle" (Wordsworth Classics of World Literature) by Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin's travels around the world as an independent naturalist on HMS Beagle between 1831 and 1836 impressed upon him a sense of the natural world's beauty, sublimity and otherness which language could barely capture. This journal takes the reader from the coasts and interiors of South America to the South Sea Islands. It displays Darwin's speculative mind at work, posing searching questions about the complex relations between the Earth's structure, animal forms, anthropology and the origins of life itself.


Darwin's Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life (Penguin Science) by Daniel C. Dennett

This work assesses Darwin's theory of evolution and looks at why it arises such heated debate among scientists, philosophers and sociologists. The book aims to show that Darwinism does not devalue the miracles of life.


Books on Evolution from the Science and Evolution Bookshop: UK | US

Monday, November 6, 2006

Finding Darwin's God (Review/ Excerpt/ Audio/ Video)

From Brown Alumni Magazine (BAM): Kenneth Miller is a professor of biology at Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island. This article is adapted from Finding Darwin's God: A Scientist's Search for Common Ground Between God and Evolution (Amazon UK | US)

"...Evolution really does explain the very things that its critics say it does not. Claims disputing the antiquity of the earth, the validity of the fossil record, and the sufficiency of evolutionary mechanisms vanish upon close inspection. Even to the most fervent anti-evolutionists, the pattern should be clear - their favorite "gaps" are filling up: the molecular mechanisms of evolution are now well-understood, and the historical record of evolution becomes more compelling with each passing season. This means that science can answer their challenges to evolution in an obvious way. Show the historical record, provide the data, reveal the mechanism, and highlight the convergence of theory and fact.

There is, however, a deeper problem caused by the opponents of evolution, a problem for religion. Like our priest, they have based their search for God on the premise that nature is not self-sufficient." [Excerpt]

Continued at "Finding Darwin's God"
Watch Kenneth Miller on "The Colbert Report" (January 2006)

Listen to Kenneth Miller on WBUR's "The Connection" (January 2006)

A sample book review can be found here

Finding Darwin's God: A Scientist's Search for Common Ground Between God and Evolution (Amazon UK | US)

Books on Creationism from the Science and Evolution Bookshop: UK | US

Books on Intelligent Design from the Science and Evolution Bookshop: UK | US

Books on 'Science and Religion' from the Science and Evolution Bookshop: UK | US

Wednesday, November 1, 2006

Obama Barack Shares Political Vision in 'Audacity of Hope' (Audio Interview + Excerpt)

[A 'Coffee Break - Non-Science Bestseller' entry]

From NPR's 'Talk of the Nation':

Senator Barack Obama's official title - junior senator from Illinois - doesn't come close to capturing his national stature at the moment.

Since arriving in Washington two years ago, the Democratic senator has catapulted to national celebrity.

His star is on the rise again - and so, too, is the scrutiny - with the publication of his new book, The Audacity of Hope.

Obama talks about balancing the need to stay true to your core values while fundraising and staying competitive in elections. He says he's focused on the 2006 elections, and downplays speculation about possible presidential ambitions.

"If I ever decide that I'm running for president, I will have an announcement, and everybody's going to be invited," he says. [Excerpt follows]

Continued at "Obama Barack Shares Political Vision in 'Audacity of Hope' (Audio Interview + Excerpt)

Visit Barack Obama's website

The New York Times book review of "The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream" (UK | US) is available via this link

Barack Obama has also written "Dreams From My Father," (UK | US)

'The Audacity of Hope' by Barack Obama (Non-Science Bestseller)

Coffee Break Time - A Non-Science Bestseller!:

A New York Times book review of "The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream" (Amazon UK | US) by Barack Obama (website)

"Mr. Obama's new book, "The Audacity of Hope" - the phrase comes from his 2004 Democratic Convention keynote address, which made him the party's rising young hope - is much more of a political document. Portions of the volume read like outtakes from a stump speech, and the bulk of it is devoted to laying out Mr. Obama's policy positions on a host of issues, from education to health care to the war in Iraq.

But while Mr. Obama occasionally slips into the flabby platitudes favored by politicians, enough of the narrative voice in this volume is recognizably similar to the one in "Dreams From My Father," (UK | US) an elastic, personable voice that is capable of accommodating everything from dense discussions of foreign policy to streetwise reminiscences, incisive comments on constitutional law to New-Agey personal asides."

"The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream" (Amazon UK | US)

Sunday, October 29, 2006

God, Under a Microscope: Review of 'The language of God' (+ Audio)

A Washington Post book review of The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief by Francis S. Collins (Amazon UK | US).

Williamstown, Massachusetts:

He opened the session by improvising on hymns at the piano and concluded it by accompanying a singalong on the guitar. In between, he delivered a compelling account of his unlikely conversion from atheism to evangelical Christianity.

The lanky, amiable personality wasn't a traveling revivalist but one of the world's leading biologists.

Francis S. Collins (biography) led the international Human Genome Project that mapped the 3.1 billion chemical base pairs in humanity's DNA. He now directs the U.S. government program on applying that information to medical treatments.

He has also emerged as an advocate for faith and its compatibility with science.

The 56-year-old Collins discussed the clash of science and religion last weekend during a conference at Williams College sponsored by the C.S. Lewis Foundation. The writings of the English literature scholar were instrumental in Collins's conversion.

Continued at "Biologist Preaches That Religion and Science Can Coexist"
Listen to Francis Collins discuss his book on NPR's 'Talk of the Nation'. The other Guest is Owen Gingerich, author of God's Universe (UK | US). [Audio]

Read a 4 page excerpt from The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief by Francis S. Collins (UK | US).

Books on 'Science and Religion' from the Science and Evolution Bookshop: UK | US

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Darwin on the Right - Why Christians and conservatives should accept evolution

A Scientific American article by Michael Shermer:

According to a 2005 Pew Research Center poll, 70 percent of evangelical Christians believe that living beings have always existed in their present form, compared with 32 percent of Protestants and 31 percent of Catholics. Politically, 60 percent of Republicans are creationists, whereas only 11 percent accept evolution, compared with 29 percent of Democrats who are creationists and 44 percent who accept evolution. A 2005 Harris Poll found that 63 percent of liberals but only 37 percent of conservatives believe that humans and apes have a common ancestry. What these figures confirm for us is that there are religious and political reasons for rejecting evolution. Can one be a conservative Christian and a Darwinian? Yes. Here's how...
Michael Shermer is author of "Why Darwin Matters: The Case Against Intelligent Design" (Amazon UK | US)

See "The joys of life without God (Interview)"

[Creationism, ID, Religion]

Richard Dawkins and Nobel Prize Winners on 'Science Friday' (Webcast)

Online archived audio webcast of NPR's 'Science Friday' aired on the 6th October 2006:
October 6, 2006: Hour One: 2006 Nobel Prizes

This week, the winners of the 2006 Nobel Prizes in physics, chemistry, and physiology or medicine were announced. Physicists George Smoot (homepage) and John Mather (homepage) won the prize in physics for their work in analyzing the cosmic microwave background radiation, work that helped to support theories about the Big Bang. Andrew Fire (homepage) and Craig Mello (homepage) won the prize in Medicine or Physiology for for their discovery of RNA interference - gene silencing by double-stranded RNA. And Roger Kornberg (homepage) won the prize in Chemistry for his work in DNA transcription, the process by which information stored in the genes is copied, and then transferred to the parts of cells that produce proteins. (more info)

October 6, 2006: Hour Two: Richard Dawkins / Salmon Farming

In his new book "The God Delusion" (Amazon UK | US) evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins says fundamentalist religion "subverts science and saps the intellect." Join guest host Joe Palca in this hour of Science Friday for a chat with Dawkins on religion, the teaching of evolution and creationism in science class, and his call for atheists to "out" themselves.

Plus, does fish farming harm wild salmon populations? A new study suggests it might, tying parasitic sea lice infestations from farmed salmon to declines of wild salmon populations in Europe and Canada."We counted sea lice on more than 14 thousand juvenile salmon migrating past fish farms, and conducted mortality experiments with more than 3 thousand fish," explained Martin Krkosek, one of the authors of the report, describing how the study was performed. (more info)

[Podcast, Evolution, Prize, Intelligent Design, ID]

A Meaningful World: How the Arts and Sciences Reveal the Genius of Nature (Book)

Synopsis of "A meaningful World: How the Arts and Sciences Reveal the Genius of Nature" (Amazon UK | US):

In this groundbreaking book, Wiker and Witt show that nature offers all of the challenges and surprises, all of the mystery and elegance, we associate with design and, further, with artistic genius. They begin in Shakespeare and range through the fine-tuning of the laws of physics, the Periodic Table of Elements, the artistry of ordinary substances like carbon and water, the intricacy of biological organisms, and the drama of scientific exploration itself. In contrast to contemporary claims that the world is ultimately meaningless, Wiker and Witt reveal a cosmos charged with both meaning and purpose.

From "Reviews and Endorsements": "A Meaningful World is simply the best book I've seen on the purposeful design of nature. In sparkling prose Benjamin Wiker and Jonathan Witt teach us how to recognize genius, first in Shakespeare's plays and then in nature. From principles of geometry to details of the periodic table, the authors portray the depth, elegance, clarity and pure cleverness of a universe designed to nurture the intelligent life that one day would discover that design. A Meaningful World recovers lost purpose not only for science, but for all scholarly disciplines." - Michael J. Behe, author of Darwin's Black Box (Amazon UK | US)

Read the Prologue and Chapter One (pdf files)

"An (audio) interview with Jonathan Witt" is in the playlist of "'Intelligent Design The Future' - Weekly Web/Podcasts from the Discovery Institute" (21nd entry from the end of the list: scroll down and subtract 22 from the number of the final entry - this is the easiest way to do it because the number of entries increases weekly*). [Evolution, Review, ID, Podcast]

* Update: I've sent an email asking if the numbering system can be reversed: At the moment all the podcast numbers change when a new show is added. Reversing the system would mean the numbers stay the same with a new number being permanently assigned to each new show as it appears.

Friday, October 13, 2006

The End of Eden: Gaia and James Lovelock (Washington Post)

...Sulfurous musings are not Lovelock's characteristic style; he's no Book of Revelation apocalyptic. In his 88th year, he remains one of the world's most inventive scientists, an Englishman of humor and erudition, with an oenophile's taste for delicious controversy. Four decades ago, his discovery that ozone-destroying chemicals were piling up in the atmosphere started the world's governments down a path toward repair. Not long after that, Lovelock proposed the theory known as Gaia, which holds that Earth acts like a living organism, a self-regulating system balanced to allow life to flourish.

Biologists dismissed this as heresy, running counter to Darwin's theory of evolution. Today one could reasonably argue that Gaia theory has transformed scientific understanding of the Earth.

Now Lovelock has turned his attention to global warming, writing "The Revenge of Gaia: Earth's Climate Crisis and the Fate of Humanity" (Currently appearing on the 'Featured Books' page of the Evolution Book Store: UK | US - or go directly to the Amazon book webpage: UK | US). [Washington Post]
See "Gaia and accelerated climate change (ABC Australia Audio)" (posted earlier today).