Sentry duty and a three-word vocabulary 
There were many good talks at the SEP last week, and I am still mulling over some of them.

I'll mention Brian Skyrms' talk briefly, because I am still mulling it over but don't have anything deep to say about it.

Brian offered simple evolutionary models of animal signalling. As an example, he pointed to Dorothy Cheney and Robert Seyfarth's work on meerkat and monkey signaling; see especially their paper on meerkats [pdf]. Meerkats take turns standing sentry, and call out if they seeing anything worth mentioning. They have (roughly) a three word vocabulary: raptor, jackal, and snake.

I was curious about meerkats in contrast with his other examples, because the meerkat signaling system can't be wholly separated from their taking turns on sentry duty. Even if one behavior predated the other, each is more valuable when accompanied by the other. So it's too simple to treat selection for the signaling behavior in isolation.

Also: If we learned meerkat vocabulary, we could play roshambo with it:

-- 1... 2... 3... jackal!

-- My snake bites your jackal.

-- How about best two out of three?

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Rumor Volat 
Tonight was the opening session of the Society for Exact Philosophy. Walking past Brian Skyrms, I said hi and congratulated him on his new position. He was somewhat taken aback, because he only just agreed to it-- not that it is secret, but there hasn't been a public announcement yet.

News travels fast these days.

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An angsty tableaux 
Yesterday was the last class meeting for my Existentialism course. During the discussion, one of the students drew a doodle in her notes. She showed it to me; with her permission, I've pasted it in below. It summarizes the course, more or less. The philosophers we studied are on the left. She and several of her fellow students are on the right. There I am in the upper corner.

Although I am depicted as being above Kierkegaard's God, this was only because she was running out of space. I don't think any sacrilege was intended.

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Another quaff of realism 
In a recent entry, I discussed the possibilities for realist pluralism. This is the position that there are many real kinds out in nature, not just the priveleged short list of kinds that appears in our fundamental science. I asked how promiscuous this position ought to be: Should we say that silly, toy-example kinds like 'liz' and 'ard' are as real as important-to-us kinds like 'electron', 'gene', and 'seasoning'?

In the comments, Matt suggests a way that a realist pluralist could deny kinds toy-example kinds. Here is what he said:
[R]eal kinds are the ones that we get as a product of actual inquiries. Useless dreams [like liz and ard] may be hypothetical but not real kinds. This still allows for some promiscuity (because biologists, cooks, common sense, etc. may have different purposes/problems and come to different conclusions) without allowing in all the useless stuff.
Something similar was suggested to me by Dick Boyd at the last PSA. I think it faces a dilemma.

Either the kinds must appear in inquiry that we have actually done, or it need only appear in enquiry that we could do. Consider each horn of the dilemma:

Real kinds are ones that appear in inquiry that some person has actually conducted. A consequence of this would be that a kind like 'electron' was not a real kind in 1800; it became a real kind only when electrons were discovered. This is at least an odd way of speaking. The fact that they could be discovered suggests that they were already real. One could say that electrons were real in 1800, but that the kind electron was not real until it was first formulated.

Matt explicitly aligns himself with Dewey, and I suspect that Dewey would just accept this oddity. He says that America changed when Vikings discovered it, just by virtue of being known to the Vikings. So, he might also say, there is a change in electrons when scientists first discover them-- they first constitute a real kind.

Real kinds are ones that appear in inquiry that could be conducted. Suppose there were rich patrons of science who adored the front ends of lizards but loathed their back ends, and imagine the science they would fund. This is a counter-factual inquiry in which 'liz' and 'ard' appear as kinds.

As a philosopher, I have cultivated the talent of imagining bizarre counter-factual scenarios. There is no kind so trivial that I cannot imagine a science in which it appears. So the second horn of the dilemma reduces the criterion to triviality, and every kind counts as real.

So: Oddity or triviality? Which will it be?

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Time, time, time... see what's become of me.

Last week I revised my paper on four-dimensionalism and sent it off to another journal. Although it is not the cleverest thing I have ever written, I would like to see it published. It has the coolest pictures of any paper I have ever done, even cooler than the pictures for my other paper on the topology of spacetime.

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