Archive for the ‘Ethology and Darwinism’ Category


March 10, 2011

I recently watched the Freakonomics movie which is available for live streaming via Netflix.  I met Stephen Dubner once on a creative writing trip to New York.  He was lecturing at Columbia.  Since he’s an appstate alum, he was willing to talk to us.  Nice guy.  Really interesting story about his parents and Judaism and Nazi Germany.  I think this meeting was definitely before Freakonomics.  Anyway, something silly occurred to me during this film.  It’s some kind of compilation of TED and movies and the way education is shifting.

Traditional academic settings tend to reject the 10-20 minute idea bursts like you see in TED talks.  They prefer the long laboring of ideas and conversations that delve deeply into a subject.  It’s the academic model.  They look at the 10 minute sessions as a glossing over, a dumbing down, and rejection of depth and thoughtfulness.

My idea had to do with a guy names Matt Ridley who wrote a book titled The Rational Optimist.  (Not surprisingly, he has a TED talk).  His talk and the first chapter of his book are entitled “When ideas have sex.”  It’s all about ideas recombining in novel ways.  It’s really the fundamental driving theory of progress and development.  It’s R&D come to life.

Anyway, my idea was that it would be great to publish a series of social science books that have snippets of these great thinkers.

Malcolm Gladwell, Matt Ridley, Dan Ariely, Dennis Dutton, Stephen Dubner, David Orr and all the other million authors.  Anyway, it’s sort of a cliff notes of ideas, but more interesting and easy to read.  It creates an environment for ideas to do a lot of procreating (if you know what I mean).  It’s not tainted with ignorance like cliff notes.  It’s more of the realization that ideas are developing very quickly and books are often really long.  I read a TON and I don’t get a quarter of the reading done that I want to.

Freakonomics made me think of this because there were really only four ideas in the movie version.

1.  the name thing

2.  the sumo wrestler thing

3.  the abortion/lowered crime thing

4.  the financial incentives for grades thing

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, it’s okay.  Just wait a few years until I have time (to finish the dissertation and raise the kids and vacuum the house in heels and pearls) to write the short shorts book of social theory for procreation and you can read all about it.

Candy and toys

March 10, 2011

So, Daniel and I don’t like for the kids to eat candy.  I haven’t read a tremendous about this subject, but intuitively, I know that fruits and vegetables are good for them and that processed, calorie dense, sugar laden candies are probably not so good for them.  Secretly, I believe that eating sugar and candy as a child dictates the way your body reacts to and processes sugars and fats.  Sure maybe it sets lifelong habits and that is a problem, but what worries me more is that it’s actually changing the structure of their bodies in some way.  Maybe in the greater evolutionary sense, on a million years, children will have evolved to process calorie dense foods and loads of sugar, but I don;t think my kids are ready for that and ultimately, I believe that it will lead to problems down the road like high triglycerides, diabetes and obesity.

Here’s the interesting part.  I actually believe the same thing about buying them toys and trinkets at the store.  We often go to town with my grandmother on Fridays.  She gets her hair done, we have lunch with my Uncle John, we get her groceries and then we go to Alleghany Cares.  Alleghany Cares is a local thrift store.  My grandmother likes to look at furniture for the barn and apartments.  I like to look at sheets which I use for fabric in sewing and my crazy daisy dishes which aren’t made anymore.  And the kids always get a toy.  They look forward to it all morning and it’s what makes them sit through the hour of hair doing at the beauty shop, the long conversation over lunch and the grocery shopping.

I just can’t help but wonder what happens to kids when they gets endless toys and trinkets to bring home from the world.  I really secretly believe that it changes their brains.  I believe it sets them up to become victims of consumerism.  They become people who go into the world and gather things to take back home.  I can see why we have that urge coming from a long line of Savannah hunters and gatherers.  But in a world where THINGS are everywhere, slowly taking over our homes, we really can’t afford to be this way and I wonder if letting them get that toy is starting them down a path consumption that will have a negative impact on their lives.  Maybe I am helping to hard wire them into consumerism?

I am comforted by Steven Pinker’s idea of the blank slate.  Also, after reading this post, you should refer to Annie Leonard’s book The Story of Stuff.  There is a 20 minute video here.  When I teach The Story of Stuff in my classes, I always give a lecture on postmodernism.  Someday I will post that lecture.


March 7, 2011

What is ethology?

Ethology (from Greek: ἦθος, ethos, “character”; and -λογία, -logia, “the study of”) is the scientific study of animal behavior, and a sub-topic of zoology.

Why would I use ethology to study art behaviors?

Two Reasons:

1.  “It is worth emphasizing how long we were “feral” or “natural,” and how recently we have been domesticated into separate cultures.  As aninmal taxa go, hominids are quite recent, becoming distinct only about four million yeas ago.  But 39/40ths of that four-million-year period, during all of which time we were gradually “evolving,” we inhabited essentially the same environment and lived in essentially the same way, as nomadic, savannah-dwelling, hunter-gatherers in small groups of twenty-five or so” (Dissanayake, 1992, p. 4).

Basically, we evolved to live in an environment vastly different than the one we currently inhabit and “given the mismatch between the speed of technological development and human evolution, the same instincts and abilities that once helped us now often stand in our way” (Ariely, 2010, p. 8).  So, like our bodies evolved to give us a little time to consume extra calories before signaling a full belly in order to cushion for the times when food was scarce, our bodies may have evolved in other ways (specifically aesthetically oriented, see flow) that are now incompatible with our lifestyles (like with respect to the abundance of calorie rich foods at our disposal).

It is worth looking at how we spent our first 3,900,000 years in the pursuit of understanding the decline of subjective well-being in market economy consumer cultures.

2. “All known societies practice at least one of what we in the West call “the arts,” and for many groups engaging with the arts ranks among the society’s most important endeavors” (Dissanayake, 1992, p. xiii).

This is a lengthy discussion with lots of explanations about the prevalence and value of the arts in human culture, ranging from sex selection to the development of cohesive communities.  There are lots of bio-behavioral anthropologists writing about the communal value of the arts (sort of in a sociological sense).  I am interested in the value of arts behaviors psychologically (with respect to flow and gratification) and physiologically with respect to reduction of stress hormones and neurological development).


March 7, 2011

Theoria, praxis and poiesis are the three elements talked about in the methodology of a/r/tography (which is a qualitative arts-based research methodology).

Theoria is Greek for contemplation and is about theoretical knowledge, thinking and cognitive knowing.  Praxis is to do with the practice of a skill and is related to doing, to enacting theoria.  Poiesis is to do with making things.  Aristotle held these as the three basic activities of man.  There is a subtle but critically important difference between praxis and poiesis.

The difference between praxis and poiesis is the difference between playing a flute and building a house.  Praxis is an activity that doesn’t have an end (a product).  The end is the activity.  (see the link to the random chapter on the right for further explanation).  Poiesis is production oriented.  This reminds me very much of Authentic Happiness by Martin Seligman.  His discussion of pleasures versus gratification is very much related to these notions.

My whole point here is getting to the term autopoiesis.  This word was introduced by a biologist (which I love since I am primarily engaged in a discussion of arts behaviors from an ethological, species centered perspective and since I am really using an evolutionary, Darwinian contextualization).  It means literally self-creation and is to do with the individual production capacity of humans.  I think this is important because it takes the production capacity away from the capitalist definition which is basically the Adam Smith – human capital language (which I abhor).

It’s so nice to have another language to use when talking about the cost benefit analysis, resources, opportunity costs, etc….  I hate framing this economically and biology is the perfect structure/language for this discussion.