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A few things:


1.) In comments, There have been a few weak defenses of Kanazawa made via citation of OKcupid's analysis of dating trends on their site. I pointed out, last year, why it was bad idea to extrapolate from OKcupid to the larger society. I mean no disrespect to OKcupid's team, but I think it's pretty clear that there numbers have a lot of value if you want to understand OKcupid's demographic, and a lot less value if you want to understand anything broader. Indeed, Professor Scott Kaufman's debunking of Kanazawa hold significantly more value for that task.

2.) I've been meaning to cite this really helpful explanation of hermeneutics or a hermeneutic from Talk To Me Like I'm Stupid:

The simplest I've ever heard it described is as a lens. "What hermeneutic is the author using here?" is asking about how they're reading the text, with questions of bias and context and scholarly righteousness all wrapped up in that. Or, to use another analogy, let's say the Horde is going to go on the mother of all field trips (let's say, at random, from, oh, Ulan Baator to Budapest). We've budgeted horses, feed, tents, apparel, tools, even a wagon train. 

But then, Emily, far-sighted as usual, points out that we're probably going to need a translator (or three). But then Cynic points out that what we really need isn't just a translator that has some kind of algorithm in their head (Leche = Milk, Dulce de Leche = Caramel and Sweet Cream) but rather an interpreter--someone who will help us assign values to what we see and hear (Leche = Don't drink on a hot day, Dulce de Leche = Diabetes). 

Then Giorge and I get sassy with Sara about what to look for in a good interpreter. Giorge wants someone who shares his values of furiousness, Sara would prefer someone who doesn't glaze over when we ask a local woman for directions just because she's a woman, and I just want someone who will laugh at my jokes. 

 That argument over hiring an interpreter is hermeneutics. We're discussing which method we should employ for assigning value to what we come across. We do this in this space all the time. We're constantly asking not only what are the facts, but how are you reading those facts, and why? And that's good. Now like any aspect of the academy it can get silly and infinitely regressive quickly, to the point where we aren't even arguing about the text any more, but what we think the other thought. I don't know. As with many of our discussions here, the key isn't having the "right" hermeneutic but rather being honest about why you're reading things like you are.

For this epic ode to the Horde, which doubles as a philosophical treatise, Grooveinlow earns a promotion for Pillager to Vandal.

3.) Also from yesterday's TTMLIS on Evolutionary Psych, I found this helpful:

I was a neuroscience major at MIT, and took classes in (among other things) cognitive neuroscience (the subfield that studies how neurobiology underlies thought) and evolutionary neuroscience/neuroanatomy, plus I spent two semesters in a genetic neurobiology lab and one in a lab developing tools for cognitive systems neuro (how the biology of the brain as a system or set of systems translates to thought), so that is where I am speaking from here. I've also had a bunch of in-depth discussions with my husband (who used to be a cognitive neuroscientist) about this, and we are pretty much on the same page. Neuroscience, any neuroscience, is still a really young and immature field. I would hope that anyone who has studied it would admit this.  

We just don't know all that much about how the brain works yet. We especially don't know much about how the brain works as a system, or as a set of systems - we're getting better at the molecular level, but it gets shakier as we scale up, though we've started to make progress in some areas (like understanding visual pathways). For all that we still don't fully grasp neurobiology yet, we're even less far along when it comes to understanding how that neurobiology translates into cognition. 

Disciplines like functional neuroimaging (which shows us how different thoughts and actions activate different brain regions) have only been around for a couple of decades or less. And they are hard to do well, because so much of what you see is caused by artifacts of the equipment, or by having accidentally caused study participants to think about other things besides what you wanted them to think about during the study, or what have you. I took a functional neuroimaging class and at least half the class was dedicated to talking about all the common mistakes of researchers in the field, how to spot them, and how to avoid committing them. 

Other cog neuro areas aren't really doing any better. It's not (mostly) that these people are bad scientists, it's that these sciences are in their infancy and don't have hundreds of years of knowledge base and technique backing them, and practitioners are still in the finding-your-ass-with-both-hands stage. 

 To recap what I've said so far: We're still not all that far along in understanding the biology of the brain, and we're even less far along in understanding how that biology translates to behavior. Now, the theory of evolution is a wonderful thing, that is about biology. But how can you apply the theory of evolution to a type of biology you don't quite understand, and then use that to explain a particular function of that biology, when you don't even understand how the function relates to the biology yet? 

Am I being clear here? Do people understand why this doesn't make sense? I'm saying that sure, evolution undoubtedly DOES affect psychology, and someday we might get to where we knew enough about how neurobiology produces psychology to have good evopsych, but we are SO not there yet. We've got to get the intermediate steps down first. Current evopsych is like trying to run when you can't stand up yet. And then there's that whole other can of worms that plagues psychology; separating nature from nurture. 

That is by no means a settled question - I think most people figure that most things are some combination of nature and nurture, but we don't know how much of each. And we are still learning how to separate them out from each other. This is another thing that we'd have to figure out before we'd have a legit science of evopsych. It's all very well to explain how such and such behavior might perform an evolutionarily useful function, but if you can't say beyond pulling a guess out of your ass, whether that behavior is coming from evolution or from what a person learns in society, that's not exactly legit science there.

Awesome. And for that bit of knowledge and service to the Horde, Neocortex is promoted from Horse-Groom to Pillager.

For the Horde, indeed. 

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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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