Friday, January 30, 2009

Confusing Levels of Explanation

I read an article in Scientific American Mind about homosexual behavior in animals. Turns out over 1500 species have been observed doing it. Scientists have theories of why this is. The article states "Researchers are now revealing, for example, that animals may engage in same-sex couplings to diffuse social tensions, to better protect their young or to maintain fecundity when opposite-sex partners are unavailable--or simply because it is fun."  I'm afraid I must quibble with this last bit, because it's mixing levels of explanation. 

I'm sure animals almost always engage in sexual activity because it's fun. Now, the reason there is a sex drive at all is because of, in part at least, pregnancy. But that does not mean that an individual animal engages in sex because he or she wants a pregnancy. This is especially true for non-human animals. 

The reason an organism does something and the reason that organism has the drive to do something are different questions with different kinds of answers. For example, I eat because I am hungry, or because I want to taste the food I'm eating. The reason I have hunger is so that I eat, so I will get the nutrients I need to live. 

The genes are a blueprint for a being with drives. The drives are there because they propagate the genes. That is their teleological function. But the day-by-day decisions of beings are for goals and reasons that have to do with their drives, personal history, and immediate environment.

The difference is crucial, and there are several excellent books that explore the ramifications: Dawkins (1979), and Stanovich (2004).


Dawkins, R. (1976). The Selfish Gene. Oxford University Press.

Driscoll, E. V. (2008). Bisexual species. Scientific American Mind. June/July 68--73.

Stanovich, K. (2004). The Robot’s Rebellion: Finding Meaning in the Age of Darwin. University of Chicago Press. 

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

My White Rapper Homepage

A while back I was shocked to find there was no white rapper website. So I made one. This was around 2006. Anyway, since then I get emails from people with suggestions for it. Here is a beaut:

I saw u lok for white rappers. . and idk i got raps beats...soon(nasty) and um idk i tlk about alota worsth while shit while still ckeepen it G, to my self, and rap/hip-hop
I just started postings vidioes on u tube like small freestyle for fun
rap all i do by the way since 4 so... idk but good.. and idk been writen hot hot hope to get that up on youtube soon. but hit me back if u want to talk or check anything i got so but ive been here. no one new it...jk hope to hear somthen if not type into youtube.
lil wayne - Nah thats me check it or hit me back cause i aint quiten......
....peace joey

Friday, January 23, 2009

Calligraphy: Spring

for the new season, hope springs forth.

2008 Book Wrap-Up

These are the books I read in 2008. You can see a list of all the books I've read (since I started keeping track in 1993) at

The Universe in a Nutshell
by Stephen William Hawking

Love Hawking's books.

Storm Front
by Jim Butcher

Wonderful! About a wizard working in modern day Chicago.

by Steve Martin

Surprisingly insightful and unique. Nice going, Steve Martin.

The Theory of Everything: The Origin and Fate of the Universe by Stephen Hawking

Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel by Rolf Potts

Inspiring book about traveling for long periods of time.

Obsession by Karen Robards

Popcorn, but quite compelling popcorn.

Who Wants to be a Scientist?: Choosing Science as a Career by Nancy Rothwell

The competition for the book I'm writing. Not as good as mine. So there.

The World Without Us by Alan Weisman

Interesting, but not a must-read.

The Best American Science Writing 2004 Edited by Dava Sobel

The books in this series are all good.

Rainbows End by Vernor Vinge

Great vision of the future, uncompelling story. I kind of dragged through it, but I'm glad I have the vision. 

The Emotion Machine: Commonsense Thinking, Artificial Intelligence, and the Future of the Human Mind by Marvin Minsky

Good book.

The No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander Mccall Smith

Very unique and entertaining.

The 4-Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss

Inspiring and fascinating book, written by a douche-bag.

Next by Michael Crichton

Could not put it down, but ultimately kind of forgettable.

Death in Paradise by Robert B. Parker

I have no recollection of reading this.

Fantastic Voyage by Ray Kurzweil and Terry Grossman

Actually made me try to eat less sugar.

When Things Start to Think by Neil Gershenfeld

Island by Richard Laymon

Couldn't put it down. Great.

The Best American Science Writing 2001 Edited by Timothy Ferris

Shrink Rap by Robert B. Parker

Barely remember this.

The Best American Science Writing 2000 Edited by James Gleick

Miss Gloucester City by Johannah Spero

My sister wrote this! So proud of her. It's based on my uncle and grandmother.

A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson

Very good overview of science.

***All Your Worth: The Ultimate Lifetime Money Plan by Elizabeth Warren and Amelia Warren Tyagi

Fabulous book. I didn't have a clue how to deal with my finances before this book. Now I feel completely confident that everything's under control.

The Boy Who Couldn't Stop Washing by Judith L. Rapoport

Fascinating book about OCD. Just the first chapter should blow you away.

Monday, January 12, 2009

New Year's Resolution 2009: No eating... cold turkey

Every year my man Lou Fasulo and I do some crazy new year's resolution. Last year we drank no soda (pop for my Canadian readers).'s+resolution

In general it was a successful year for me. I only had one screw up. It was in London, when I was visiting my girlfriend. I was thirsty and bought some damn thing that looked like juice or flavoured water. I swallowed a sip before I realized it was carbonated. The funny thing is this is exactly how I screwed up the one time I did 20 years ago, the last time I gave up soda for the year. 

Anyway, now I'm drinking Cherry Coke and Pepsi again and I have to say it tastes glorious. If you take soda for granted, try giving it up for a few months. You'll find it tastes better than much of the food you eat with it.

This year we're giving up eating cold turkey. We can eat hot turkey. If we have cold turkey, we can heat it up and eat it, but not after it cools. So if I get a turkey sub at Quizno's, I have to toast it and eat it while it's hot. 

Granted, this one won't be particularly challenging. But it's our 21st year doing it; we're through testing our willpower. Now we're looking for ones we find interesting. This one's interesting to me because when I describe it to people in person it sounds at first like I'm giving up eating.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Drawing With A Single Line

My drawing style is usually cartoonish and constrained. I'm trying to break out of that, and one way I do that is to sketch while keeping the pen on the paper and not take it off. I like how it ends up. The content is still recognizably mine (to me anyway) but I like trying to break out of my normally-constrained style. Here are two recent sketches. The majority of them are made without lifting the pen, and then some final decoration is done relaxing this constraint.