Animals, Anthropology, Biological Computation, Biology, Biometrics, Education, Nature, PDF, Science

Darwinism About Darwinism (Joeri Witteveen)


Review of Darwinian Populations and Natural Selection by Peter Godfrey-Smith (Oxford Uni Press 2009)

“… devoted to fleshing out what makes a population Darwinian. This is done by scoring a given population on a variety of parameters, such as H, the fidelity of heredity, and V, the abundance of variation. So, instead of saying that a population must have heredity and variation—in the vein of the classical approach—the Darwinian populations framework ranks populations according to how much it possesses of each. The H and V parameters are familiar; they are derived from the classical summaries. The other parameters are less obvious. G-S discusses several important ones, but notes that these do not exhaust the options; other parameters may also be important in judging how Darwinian a population is. The new parameters that are discussed at some length are α, defined as the competitive interaction with respect to reproduction, C, for “continuity” or smoothness of the fitness landscape, and S, the dependence of reproductive differences on “intrinsic character.” The concept of continuity was introduced by Lewontin as the principle that “small changes in a characteristic must result in only small changes in ecological relations” (Lewontin 1978: 169). G-S extends this principle, and turns it into a parameter. One way to understand C is as the smoothness of the fitness landscape. The smoother the fitness landscape, the higher the value C takes for the population under consideration. C is determined by causes of both internal and external nature. Internal influences stem from the organism’s physiology and development. External influences on C are location, and interaction with others. G-S assigns the internal/external difference its own parameter, S, for “intrinsic character.” The higher a population’s score on C and S, the more Darwinian are the individuals it is composed of. C and S not only tell us something about what makes individuals more Darwinian, they also serve as a replacement for another vexed notion in evolutionary theory: drift. Selection is often contrasted with drift; change may be due to selection and/or drift. G-S suggests that the C and S parameters dissolve this dichotomy. What we take to be drift is in fact a combination of low values of C and/or S. So drift and selection are not two distinct factors, but are “distinctions along the gradients of S and C” (p. 61). After having discussed some of the parameters, G-S introduces a spatial framework of three-dimensional “Darwinian spaces” as a tool for further analysis. Along each of the three axes of a Darwinian space, we can put a parameter, on which a score from 0 to 1 can be obtained. For instance, if we put the H, C, and S parameters along the axes and start scoring populations, one that scores close to (0,0,0) is very marginal, and one that sits close to (1,1,1) is a paradigmatic Darwinian population. Scoring somewhere in between will make it a minimal Darwinian population.”


Anthropology, Bacteria, Farming, History, Medicine, Nature, PDF, Society

‘Darwinian Gastronomy: why we use spices’ (1999) Sherman and Billing

“An early attempt to use statistical analysis of cookbooks to reveal deeper patterns about what we eat and why. The paper theorizes that there is an evolutionary benefit to eating spices: “by cleansing food of pathogens before consumption, spice users contribute to the health, longevity and fitness of themselves, their families and their guests.” There is more disease in the tropics and this is also where most spices are added to food, or so the paper seems to argues. Personally I think the argument runs the risk of putting the horse behind the carriage. Spices predominately grow in tropical areas and it makes sense to expect that this is where they eat them most.”


Anthropology, Biology, Biometrics, Brain, Education, History, Medicine, Neural Networks, Optics, PDF, Science

The Optics of Ibn Al-Haytham, Books I–III: On Direct Vision (c1028-38)

“This is the first English translation of first three out of the 7 volumes of the fundamental work on optics by the medieval Arab scientist Ibn al-Haitham or Alhazen (965–c1039). His book exerted a great influence upon science through Vitelo, Roger Bacon, Peckham and Kepler. Alhazen investigated many particular cases of reflection and refraction, and drew attention to the light-ray’s property of retracing its path when reversed. He was the first to give a detailed description of the human eye and to study binocular vision. Certain ophthalmological terms originated from the Latin translation of Alhazen’s Arabic text, e.g. retina and cornea. The Book of Optics (Kitāb al-Manāẓir, كتاب المناظر) presented experimentally founded arguments against the widely held extramission theory of vision (as held by Euclid in his Optica) and in favour of intromission theory, as supported by thinkers such as Aristotle, the now accepted model that vision takes place by light entering the eye.”


Anthropology, Archeology, Capitalism, Commons, Economy, History, Society

Mediterranean Containerization

“Over at least the last five millennia, certain commodities have been defining features of Mediterranean economies and have moved around all or part of the region in comparatively large quantities. Olive oil and wine are perhaps the most famous, but to these we can add metals, cereals, salt, textiles, stone, fish products or indeed certain classes of people (tourists, slaves, economic migrants). The massive advantages of maritime travel, in terms of speed and cargo capacity, have long knitted together otherwise quite distant Mediterranean coasts and have encouraged unusual patterns of economic codependence (e.g., Braudel 1972; Broodbank 2013; Horden and Purcell 2000), as well as wider flows into, out of, or through the basin. Even a cursory glance at the physical appearance of Mediterranean trade goods, or the way they are treated in documentary sources, also makes it clear that, for thousands of years, they have been standardized, marked and packaged in ways that adapt them for long-range transactions and position them for certain kinds of producer, distributor and consumer.”


Anthropology, Archeology, Biology, History, Media, Science, Social intelligence, Society

Mapping Intel­lec­tual Migra­tion Net­works

“We’re starting out to do some­thing which is called cul­tural sci­ence where we’re in a very sim­ilar tra­jec­tory as sys­tems biology for example,” said Schich, now an asso­ciate pro­fessor in arts and tech­nology at the Uni­ver­sity of Texas at Dallas. “As data sets about birth and death loca­tions grow, the approach will be able to reveal an even more com­plete pic­ture of his­tory. In the next five to 10 years, we’ll have con­sid­er­ably larger amounts of data and then we can do more and better, address more questions.”


Anthropology, Art, Biological Computation, Biology, Biometrics, Brain, Deep Learning, Music, Neural Networks, Psychology, Science, Social intelligence, Society, Sound

The Neuroscience of Improvisation

Charles Limb has been investigating rap. “It’s what kids are doing spontaneously when growing up… and improvisation is a strong theme. It incorporates language and rhythmic music very equally.” Limb has been scanning the brains of rappers the same way he looked at jazz musicians: comparing fMRIs when they recited memorized passages to when they “freestyled,” or improvised in rhyme. Although the study is still in progress, preliminary data suggest “major changes in brain activity when you go from memorized rap to freestyle.” Can studies of improvisation unlock more general secrets of creativity? Limb hopes to do similar investigations of artists as they draw or paint. The moderator ended with an inevitable question about art and science: “It is worth the effort to measure and quantify something abstract and artistic… to demystify what we enjoy the mystery of?” Limb saw nothing “threatening or reductionist” in the work of neuroscientists. “Humans are hardwired to seek art, and there are very few things that engage the brain on the level that music does. To understand the neural basis of creativity teaches us something fundamental about who we are, why we’re here.” Improvisation “shows us what the mind can do,” Marcus added. “The ability of human beings to improvise tells us a lot about the ultimate scope of our capabilities.”


Anthropology, Archeology, Biometrics, Economy, Farming, History, Medicine, Nature, Science, Society

Phytoliths in Pottery Reveal the Use of Spice in European Prehistoric Cuisine

Opium poppy (Papaver somniferum)
Dill (Anethum graveolens)
Caper (Capparis spinosa)
Coriander (Coriandrum sativum)
Cumin (Cuminum cyminum)
A kind of mustard ? (Cruciferae family)
“Figure 1. Early contexts from which spices have been recovered, with photomicrographs of globular sinuate phytoliths recovered from the pottery styles illustrated. Showing, A) A map of Europe showing an inset of the study area and sites from which the pot residues were acquired;, including also the Near East and northern Africa indicating early contexts where spices have been recovered: a) Menneville, France (Papaver somniferum L.), b) Eberdingen, Germany (Papaver somniferum L.), c) Seeberg, Switzerland (Papaver somniferum L.), d) Niederwil, Switzerland (Papaver somniferum L.), e) Swiss Lake Villages, Switzerland (Anethum graveolens L.), f) Cueva de los Murcielags, Spain (Papaver somniferum L.), g) Hacilar, Turkey (Capparis spinosa L.), h) Tell Abu Hureya, Syria (Caparis spinosa L.), i) Tell ed-Der, Syria (Coriandrum sativum L. and Cuminum cyminum L.), j) Khafaji, Iraq (Cruciferae family), k) Tell Aswad, Syria (Capparis spinosa L.), l) Nahal Hemar Cave, Israel (Coriandrum sativum L.), m) Tutankhamun’s tomb, Egypt (Coriandrum sativum L.), n) Tomb of Kha, Egypt (Cuminum cyminum L.), o) Tomb of Amenophis II, Egypt (Anethum graveolens L.), p) Hala Sultan Tekke, Cyprus (Capparis spinosa L.), q) Heilbronn, Germany (Papaver somniferum L.), r) Zeslawice, Poland (Papaver somniferum L.) [compiled using 8–17]. B) Hunter-gatherer pointed-based vessel (on the left) and Early Neolithic flat-based vessel (on the right). C) Scanning Electron Microscope image of a globular sinuate phytolith embedded in a food residue, D) optical light microscope image of modern Alliaria petiolata globular sinuate phytoliths, and E) optical light microscope image of archaeological globular sinuate phytolith examples.