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Herbert Gintis RSS Feed (Northampton, MA USA)

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ASUS X200MA-SCL0505F 11.6-Inch Touchscreen Laptop/Intel Celeron N2840/4GB memory/500GB HDD/Win 8.1 (Black)
ASUS X200MA-SCL0505F 11.6-Inch Touchscreen Laptop/Intel Celeron N2840/4GB memory/500GB HDD/Win 8.1 (Black)
Offered by Maze Deal
Price: $294.90
12 used & new from $200.00

4.0 out of 5 stars Good value, July 18, 2015
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I was at first disappointed by the presence of programs that I don't want (bloatware). I reinstalled the operating system, which may account for why there appears to be very little bloatware. The computer is a bit slow, but much nicer than I expected for a computer that costs about a fifth of my everyday laptop.


The Deeper Genome: Why there is more to the human genome than meets the eye
The Deeper Genome: Why there is more to the human genome than meets the eye
by John Parrington
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $21.57
30 used & new from $17.36

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Professional Overview with Fabulous Bibliography, July 12, 2015
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I study sociobiology in general, and the sociobiology of Homo sapiens in particular. The population genetics of the New Synthesis is now verging on a century old, and it is firmly grounded in a conception of genetic information transmission that is clearly out of date. I have been studying epigenetics and epistasis to understand the complex nature of multicellular organisms and social species. The most important thing I have learned so far is that the traditional idea of how information is passed from a biological entity to its daughter copies goes far beyond Mendelian segregation.

This book describes contemporary genetic research in to complex information transfer mechanisms in the genome. It requires that the reader know something about molecular biology, but not that much. The description is very well done, and the bibliography is extensive and well directed.

Most fascinating is the author's argument that the complexities of the genome require that we go beyond the "reductionism" that has guided microbiological research and theory for more than a century. It is not clear what the alternative is, but some of the readings in the bibliography do give some indications.


Giant Jellyfish Aquarium with Color-Changing LED Lights
Giant Jellyfish Aquarium with Color-Changing LED Lights
Offered by HearthSong
Price: $99.00

3.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful, but it took some ingenuity to get it that way, June 17, 2015
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I am now quite satisfied with this product, although it took some doing to get to this point.
The tank comes with artificial plants that are quite presentable, but there is no way to secure them to the floor of the aquarium (perhaps some parts were missing). I sent away for two artificial plants, which look very nice. It took me a few days to figure out where to place them so that the jellyfish have maximal movement. Now my tank looks great.
I also added two jellyfish that I got from Sharper Image. They are much prettier than the ones that come with the aquarium.
I may add an artificial fish.


Man Is by Nature a Political Animal: Evolution, Biology, and Politics
Man Is by Nature a Political Animal: Evolution, Biology, and Politics
by Peter K. Hatemi
Edition: Paperback
Price: $24.93
42 used & new from $9.50

3.0 out of 5 stars Useful, but Limited Vision, June 12, 2015
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The most important fact about political theory is that there really is none. Or, rather, political theory generally takes almost everything as given, including the fact that human society has a political sphere, and pontificates on the merits of various political organizational structures. If you Google Political Theory, you mostly come up with political philosophy, plus the "political theory" of random outstanding thinkers (Aristotle, Dewey,...). There is simply no coherent body of general political theory.

This exploratory volume advocates grounding general political theory in evolutionary biology. I think this is a great idea, and if you have never thought much about the relationship among evolution, human nature, biology, and political life, this is a useful way to start. The editors seem to think that genetics and neuroscience should be included in evolutionary theory, so there are several chapters that simply analyze genes, neurons, and hormones. These are useful in their own right, but they have little to do with an analytical core for political theory.

The contributors to this volume simply miss the most basic facts about political theory. The most important fact is that the public sphere is the area of human social life where the rules of the game are made, stabilized, evaluated, debated, and transformed. This is important because, while many animals play games, humans alone can conceptualize the notion that games have rules, these rules can be violated or respected, and that we can agree to play by certain rules with the expectation of achieving certain social regularities thereby. Homo sapiens is thus "Homo ludens": Man the game player. This is the central fact of political theory.

We are Homo ludens because we evolved in hunter-gatherer society as fundamentally egalitarian and participatory animals. See my recent article in Current Anthropology on the topic---it's on my web site--as well as my coauthor Chris Boehm's book Moral Origins: The Evolution of
Virtue, Altruism, and Shame (New York: Basic Books, 2012).

The second amazing fact about our species is that individuals are willing to participate in large political events, including elections and collective actions, even though their participation is completely non-consequential. No individual has ever made a difference in a large election or a large demonstration, march, etc. Never. Humans appear to follow a social logic that I call distributed effectivity. For details, see the paper on my web site (under submission at APSR) called Homo ludens, under "Political Theory."
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 18, 2015 6:25 AM PDT


Faith Versus Fact: Why Science and Religion Are Incompatible
Faith Versus Fact: Why Science and Religion Are Incompatible
by Jerry A. Coyne
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $16.24
71 used & new from $12.57

3 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very beautifully pesented argument---and correct!, June 5, 2015
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Coyne is an anti-accommodationist, which means that he believes that if accept science, you must reject religion. This is a deep claim, because prima facie, it is obviously false. There are many great scientists who believe in Christianity in one form or another---including Isaac Newton, who believe in the literal truth of the Bible. Of course, after Darwin and modern archeology, such literalism is difficult to sustain. But Francis Collins and many other scientists are religiously devout.

Coyne also recognizes that some religions never contradict modern science, including Catholicism and many forms of Buddhism.

What, then, does he mean? The answer is in the book's title: science accepts no truths that cannot be validated, at least provisionally and never with absolute certitude, on the basis of empirical evidence. Religion, by contrast, accepts many things as true on the basis of faith. The weakness of faith as a criterion of truth is that every religion has its own peculiar idea of what "faith" tells us is true. They cannot all be right, and there is no way to adjudicate among them, except perhaps by the sword.

An what sorts of things do religions tell us. Adam and Eve and the snake? Moses and the burning bush? Jonah and the whale? Noah's arc and the flood? What a bunch of fanciful fairly tales! What about not turning on an electric heater on the Sabbath? Wearing dreadlocks and four-foot tall black hats. It would funny thinking about these things if they were not so often tragic.

Faith is an empty shell of an abode for our spirit, which is wondrous at the miracles of nature and human consciousness. Awe, by all means. Faith? Not a chance.

Why not just let the faithful alone in their blithering delusions? Because many powerful religions make claims that counter what we know is justified scientifically (e.g., faith healing, Adam and Eve, creationism). But why not go for accommodationism in the form of: science won't make anti-faith claims and religions won't make anti-science claims? Coyne rejects this tack, but his arguments are not cogent. I can reject faith as a criterion of truth and yet let people go to church and anoint their children. And I can do science perfectly well without denying the existence of the supernatural.

Coyne is also s special kind of scientist---one who accepts some things on faith himself! Most important is "determinism," when means that all of reality as we know it evolves completely deterministically according to physical laws. How could he know this? What evidence could he have for this? I cannot imagine. All my equations have random error terms. I don't know if they are random, or just some sorts of forces, perhaps non-physical, that I don't (yet) understand (and may never understand). Quantum mechanics is fundamentally non-deterministic. If you believe the many-worlds version (which I tend to think is most plausible), our universe is a superposition of a hugely vast number of quantum states, yet our consciousness is firmly attached (as far as we know) to exactly one of these states. When a quantum event occurs, more superimposed states, and our consciousness becomes superimposed as well. Is this what we mean by determinism? I think not. The fact is, there may be phenomena that affect the course of the universe that are not physical in the way we think of physical. Who knows? To be a determinist is not to be agnostic about this possibility, but to actively reject ti. That is fail in action.

On special form of determinism is rejecting free will. Coyne certainly rejects free will, on the grounds of naturalistic determinism: the brain makes decisions, the brain is physical, physical is causally deterministic. Hence no free will. Personally, I am agnostic. I cannot predict how humans will behave in any given situations (I have spent much of my life on studying human behavior), so how can I be sure that the physical nature of the brain is sufficient to explain behavior? Denial of free will is an act of faith, pure and simple.

For instance, Coyne is fond of saying that the theory of evolution proves that the emergence of our species is completely determined by physical law. Perhaps. But perhaps not. Who knows? If some guy with a pasta strainer on his head claims that we were steered into existence by a God who likes steamed noodles, I can simply shrug.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 5, 2015 4:20 PM PDT


To Explain the World: The Discovery of Modern Science
To Explain the World: The Discovery of Modern Science
by Steven L. Weinberg
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $20.33
63 used & new from $12.86

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Exccellent source for the history of astronomy, May 28, 2015
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I love both Weinberg's erudition and his iconoclasm. This is really a history of science the way it should be done---recording the passage from error to truth, and explaining scientific controversies in scientific as opposed to sociological terms. Here is one of my favorite paragraphs: Descartes and Bacon are only two of the philosophers who over the centuries have tried to prescribe rules for scientific research. It never works. We learn how to do science, not by making rules about how to do science, but from the experience of doing science..."

Actually, I there are rules for doing science, but they are social rules concerning how scientists must behave towards each other for scientific research to be successful.

The technical notes at the end of the book are fabulous.


Galileo's Middle Finger: Heretics, Activists, and the Search for Justice in Science
Galileo's Middle Finger: Heretics, Activists, and the Search for Justice in Science
by Alice Dreger
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $20.82
67 used & new from $15.21

6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Highly readable memoire from someone in the trenches, May 10, 2015
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Alice Dreger is my kind of scientist. She describes herself, like Galileo, as "pugnacious, articulate, political incorrect, and firmly centered in the belief that truth will save me, will have to save us all." The truths she has to reveal from her personal experience and her research has professional historian of science include (a) how frequently what should remain at the level of scientific discourse and dispute ends up transforming into disgusting and unprofessional ad hominem arguments that seriously tarnish the reputations of even highly talented researchers; (b) "how badly most people want simple stories of make and female, nature and nurture, good and evil"; and (c) "So long as we believe that bad acts are only committed by evil people and that good people do only good, we will fail to see, believe, or prevent these kinds of travesties [of scientific discourse]."

Alice Dreger learned something very important when she interviewed the great anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon when he was treated disgracefully by the politically correct post-modern honchos of the American Anthropological Association. However low they stoop to defame your character, never respond in kind. Just stick to the issues and present the evidence. It may take years, but the evidence almost always wins out.

Some of my favorite behavioral scientists come out poorly in Dreger's account (though none is a major actor) of the transgender issue. I will have to ask them for their side of this fascinating story.


Tea Beyond Clear Glass Teapot Pink Butterfly 710ml 24oz with Tea Warmer Cozy
Tea Beyond Clear Glass Teapot Pink Butterfly 710ml 24oz with Tea Warmer Cozy
Offered by Tea Beyond
Price: $30.00
2 used & new from $30.00

5.0 out of 5 stars This has become my favorite teapot, April 21, 2015
I was sent this teapot by the company because I am a top Amazon reviewer---almost exclusively of books. I receive many offers of free merchandise from sellers who hope I will review the product. I turn almost all of the offers down.
In this case, I said yes and I am pleased that I did. This has become my favorite teapot, mostly because of its convenience. If you drink a lot of tea throughout the day, this may be the product for you.


Lucky Go Happy: Make Happiness Happen!
Lucky Go Happy: Make Happiness Happen!
Price: $3.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Modern Aesop's Fables, March 29, 2015
These are something like modern versions of Aesop's Fables, meant to give readers insight into why they might be lacking in happiness, and what they might think about to correct this. I read the book from cover to cover with pleasure. I didn't personally learn anything new, but then I am pretty happy as is. I think the book might be profitably read to children, each chapter the basis for a family discussion.


American Dreams: Restoring Economic Opportunity for Everyone
American Dreams: Restoring Economic Opportunity for Everyone
by Marco Rubio
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $15.86
65 used & new from $11.34

2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Lots of good, innovative ideas. Some important wrong-headed ideas., February 18, 2015
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Republicans have been worried for some time that their standard ideology speaks only to middle-aged middle-class white males. Demographics are turning against them, so may conservatives have been exploring new directions. This books is a deeply knowledgeable contribution to this process.

All of the traditional ideology of American Conservatism (the centrality of tradition, adherence to Christian fundamentalism, wild-west individualism, glorification of the minimalist state, opposition to welfare) are chucked by Rubio. There are a couple of right-wing ideas he champions that I find objectionable, including opposition to gay marriage and a sustained attack on the Affordable Care Act.

Rubio speaks directly to struggling Americans, and proposes social policies to help them succeed. The most imaginative is the Wage Enhancement credit, which is like the Earned Income Tax Credit, but based on individual income not family income. This overcomes a weakness in the EITC that gives poor couples an incentive not to marry. Rubio also champions online education, and faults the bureaucratic accreditation boards for creating a monopoly of mortar and brick schools that thwarts low-cost high-quality higher education.

Rubio's objection to gay marriage is not religious at all. He believes gay marriage "weakens the family." I think exactly the opposite is the case.

There is a lot of fluff in this book, but it is basically entertaining reading and its social-science based ideas are a breath of fresh air.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 17, 2015 4:56 AM PDT


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