New discoveries about the human mind show the limitations of reason.
One of America’s foremost philosophers offers a major new account of the origins of the conscious mind.
How did we come to have minds?
For centuries, this question has intrigued psychologists, physicists, poets, and philosophers, who have wondered how the human mind developed its unrivaled ability to create, imagine, and explain. Disciples of Darwin have long aspired to explain how consciousness, language, and culture could have appeared through natural selection, blazing promising trails that tend, however, to end in confusion and controversy. Even though our understanding of the inner workings of proteins, neurons, and DNA is deeper than ever before, the matter of how our minds came to be has largely remained a mystery.
That is now changing, says Daniel C. Dennett. In From Bacteria to Bach and Back, his most comprehensive exploration of evolutionary thinking yet, he builds on ideas from computer science and biology to show how a comprehending mind could in fact have arisen from a mindless process of natural selection. Part philosophical whodunit, part bold scientific conjecture, this landmark work enlarges themes that have sustained Dennett’s legendary career at the forefront of philosophical thought.
In his inimitable style―laced with wit and arresting thought experiments―Dennett explains that a crucial shift occurred when humans developed the ability to share memes, or ways of doing things not based in genetic instinct. Language, itself composed of memes, turbocharged this interplay. Competition among memes―a form of natural selection―produced thinking tools so well-designed that they gave us the power to design our own memes. The result, a mind that not only perceives and controls but can create and comprehend, was thus largely shaped by the process of cultural evolution.
An agenda-setting book for a new generation of philosophers, scientists, and thinkers, From Bacteria to Bach and Back will delight and entertain anyone eager to make sense of how the mind works and how it came about.
4 color, 18 black-and-white illustrations
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Epigenetics refers to information transmitted during cell division other than the DNA sequence per se, and it is the language that distinguishes stem cells from somatic cells, one organ from another, and even identical twins from each other. In contrast to the DNA sequence, the epigenome is relatively susceptible to modification by the environment as well as stochastic perturbations over time, adding to phenotypic diversity in the population. Despite its strong ties to the environment, epigenetics has never been well reconciled to evolutionary thinking, and in fact there is now strong evidence against the transmission of so-called “epi-alleles,” i.e. epigenetic modifications that pass through the germline.
However, genetic variants that regulate stochastic fluctuation of gene expression and phenotypes in the offspring appear to be transmitted as an epigenetic or even Lamarckian trait. Furthermore, even the normal process of cellular differentiation from a single cell to a complex organism is not understood well from a mathematical point of view. There is increasingly strong evidence that stem cells are highly heterogeneous and in fact stochasticity is necessary for pluripotency. This process appears to be tightly regulated through the epigenome in development. Moreover, in these biological contexts, “stochasticity” is hardly synonymous with “noise”, which often refers to variation which obscures a “true signal” (e.g., measurement error) or which is structural, as in physics (e.g., quantum noise). In contrast, “stochastic regulation” refers to purposeful, programmed variation; the fluctuations are random but there is no true signal to mask.
This workshop will serve as a forum for scientists and engineers with an interest in computational biology to explore the role of stochasticity in regulation, development and evolution, and its epigenetic basis. Just as thinking about stochasticity was transformative in physics and in some areas of biology, it promises to fundamentally transform modern genetics and help to explain phase transitions such as differentiation and cancer.
This workshop will include a poster session; a request for poster titles will be sent to registered participants in advance of the workshop.
Adam Arkin (Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory)
Gábor Balázsi (SUNY Stony Brook)
Domitilla Del Vecchio (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)
Michael Elowitz (California Institute of Technology)
Andrew Feinberg (Johns Hopkins University)
Don Geman (Johns Hopkins University)
Anita Göndör (Karolinska Institutet)
John Goutsias (Johns Hopkins University)
Garrett Jenkinson (Johns Hopkins University)
Andre Levchenko (Yale University)
Olgica Milenkovic (University of Illinois)
Johan Paulsson (Harvard University)
Leor Weinberger (University of California, San Francisco (UCSF))
Whether by virtue of being prepared in a slowly relaxing, high-free energy initial condition, or because they are constantly dissipating energy absorbed from a strong external drive, many systems subject to thermal fluctuations are not expected to behave in the way they would at thermal equilibrium. Rather, the probability of finding such a system in a given microscopic arrangement may deviate strongly from the Boltzmann distribution, raising the question of whether thermodynamics still has anything to tell us about which arrangements are the most likely to be observed. In this work, we build on past results governing nonequilibrium thermodynamics and define a generalized Helmholtz free energy that exactly delineates the various factors that quantitatively contribute to the relative probabilities of different outcomes in far-from-equilibrium stochastic dynamics. By applying this expression to the analysis of two examples—namely, a particle hopping in an oscillating energy landscape and a population composed of two types of exponentially growing self-replicators—we illustrate a simple relationship between outcome-likelihood and dissipative history. In closing, we discuss the possible relevance of such a thermodynamic principle for our understanding of self-organization in complex systems, paying particular attention to a possible analogy to the way evolutionary adaptations emerge in living things.
Notions like meaning, signal, intentionality, are difficult to relate to a physical word. I study a purely physical definition of "meaningful information", from which these notions can be derived. It is inspired by a model recently illustrated by Kolchinsky and Wolpert, and improves on Dretske classic work on the relation between knowledge and information. I discuss what makes a physical process into a "signal".
Life was long thought to obey its own set of rules. But as simple systems show signs of lifelike behavior, scientists are arguing about whether this apparent complexity is all a consequence of thermodynamics.
This is a nice little general interest article by Philip Ball that does a relatively good job of covering several of my favorite topics (information theory, biology, complexity) for the layperson. While it stays relatively basic, it links to a handful of really great references, many of which I’ve already read, though several appear to be new to me. 
While Ball has a broad area of interests and coverage in his work, he’s certainly one of the best journalists working in this subarea of interests today. I highly recommend his work to those who find this area interesting.
In "Fearless," co-hosts Alix Spiegel and Lulu Miller explore what would happen if you could disappear fear. A group of scientists believe that people no longer need fear — at least not the kind we live with — to navigate the modern world. We'll hear about the striking (and rare) case of a woman with no fear. The second half of the show explores how the rest of us might "turn off" fear.
Our evolution certainly hasn’t been keeping up with our level of fear in the modern world. Even simple things like kids playing around their own neighborhood like I did as a kid in the 70’s and 80’s has changed drastically. How can we keep ourselves from being held back unnecessarily?
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During decades the study of networks has been divided between the efforts of social scientists and natural scientists, two groups of scholars who often do not see eye to eye. In this review I present an effort to mutually translate the work conducted by scholars from both of these academic fronts hoping to continue to unify what has become a diverging body of literature. I argue that social and natural scientists fail to see eye to eye because they have diverging academic goals. Social scientists focus on explaining how context specific social and economic mechanisms drive the structure of networks and on how networks shape social and economic outcomes. By contrast, natural scientists focus primarily on modeling network characteristics that are independent of context, since their focus is to identify universal characteristics of systems instead of context specific mechanisms. In the following pages I discuss the differences between both of these literatures by summarizing the parallel theories advanced to explain link formation and the applications used by scholars in each field to justify their approach to network science. I conclude by providing an outlook on how these literatures can be further unified.
Went on vacation or fell asleep at the internet wheel this week? Here’s some of the interesting stuff you missed.
Science & Math
- Context Specific and Differential Gene Co-expression Networks via Bayesian Biclustering | PLOS Computational Biology
- The Competing Incentives of Academic Research in Mathematics
- [1607.08473] Quantum circuits and low-degree polynomials over F_2
- This Physics Pioneer Walked Away from it All | Nautilus
- Monumental proof to torment mathematicians for years to come: Conference on Shinichi Mochizuki’s work inspires cautious optimism. | Nature
- What Your Brain Looks Like When It Solves a Math Problem | New York Times
- Habits of Highly Mathematical People
- Why You Should Care About High-Dimensional Sphere Packing | Roots of Unity
- Initial steps toward reproducible research
- Bridging the Curation Gap between Research and Libraries – A Case Study
- Quantum steampunk: Quantum information applied to thermodynamics
- How Vector Space Mathematics Reveals the Hidden Sexism in Language
- How Sound Can Make Food Taste Better | Nautilus
- Top 10 algorithms of 20th century numerical analysis, from a talk by Alex Townsend
- UK vs. US: Who’s got the right way to teach math(s)? | Math with Bad Drawin
- Physics & Caffeine: Stop Motion Film Uses a Cup of Coffee to Explain Key Co
- The Water Kingdom: A Secret History of China by Philip Ball (review)
- The master of them all: Book review for”Leonhard Euler: Mathematical Genius in the Enlightenment” | The Economist
- Biologists Search for New Model Organisms: The bulk of biological research is centered on a handful of species. Are we missing a huge chunk of life’s secrets?
- One-sentence proof of Fermat’s theorem on sums of two squares | Fermat’s Library
- This protein designer aims to revolutionize medicines and materials
- Our last common ancestor inhaled hydrogen from underwater volcanoes
- Meet Luca, The Ancestor of All Living Things | New York Times
- *Disconnected, fragmented, or united? a trans-disciplinary review of network
- What’s Behind A Science vs. Philosophy Fight? | Big Think
- What is a “Neutral Network” Anyway? An Exploration and Rediscovery of the Aims of Net Neutrality in Theory and Practice
- The Brachistochrone Curve: The Problem of Quickest Descent | Fermat’s Library
- In what sense is Quantum Mechanics a theory of information? | Quora
- Major transitions in information technology | Philosophical Transactions of
- Human brain mapped in unprecedented detail: Nearly 100 previously unidentified brain areas revealed by examination of the cerebral cortex. | Nature
- Cell biologists should specialize, not hybridize: Dry cell biologists, who bridge computer science and cell biology, should have a pivotal role in driving effective team science, says Assaf Zaritsky | Nature
- Internet 3.0: How we take back control from the giants | New Scientist
- How a Guy From a Montana Trailer Park Overturned 150 Years of Biology | The Atlantic
- People can sense single photons | Nature News & Comment
- Defining synergy thermodynamically using quantitative measurements of entropy and free energy
- A Prime Case of Chaos | AMS.org
- Murray Gell-Mann (video interviews) – YouTube
- Mathematics & Chalk: A teary goodbye to Hagomoro | Jeremy Kun
- Want to Change Academic Publishing? Just Say No | Chronicle
- Textbooks Show Aging Signs: Curated Guides Are Next – 10+ Disruptive Factors Transforming the World of Education and Learning — Consequences, Opportunities, Tools
- Simon & Schuster, Penguin, Random House Don’t Want to Talk About Their Ebook Sales
- Amazon Sales Rank: Taming the Algorithm | Self-Publishing Author Advice
- What Authors Should Know About Advance Review Copies
- Ingram Launches Ingram Academic Services
- How a Publishing House Designs a Book Cover
- How Indie Bookstores Help Drive Book Discoverability
- How to Grow Your Email List
- 3 Ways Indie Publishers Sell Books | Digital Book World
- 10 Self-Publishing Trends to Watch
- Ingram Launches Academic Services for University Presses and Academic Publishers
- Indigo Goes Where Amazon, B&N, Goodreads, and a Dozen Publishers and Startus Have Dared to Tread
- How To Make An Ebook Feel More Like A Real Book
- Looking for open digital collections – Wynken de Worde
Indieweb, Internet, Identity, Blogging, Social Media
- What is Open Source?
- Microformats with Tantek Çelik | tlks.io
- My Text Editor is Absolutely Sublime | Devon Zuegel
- My zsh aliases | Devon Zuegel
- XOXO Festival
- Web Design in 4 minutes
- Custom Elements
- Design Principles
- Infographic: The Optimal Length for Every Social Media Update
- Notes For New (and Potential) Twitter Followers | Whatever
- How Blogs Work Today – Whatever
- My reply to: How Blogs Work Today | Whatever
- Unicode Character ‘ZERO WIDTH SPACE’ (U 200B)
- A Book Apart, Practical SVG
- Gillmor Gang Trumpathon
- The best news aggregation service – The Sweet Setup
- Social Startup Sprinklr Is Now Valued At $1.8 Billion After $105 Million Raise | Forbes
- Epeus’ epigone: Digital publics, Conversations and Twitter
- The New Meaning of Success
- 7 Lessons from the Future of Content: Part One — Tools Are Cheap, Time Is Expensive
- 7 Lessons from the Future of Content: Part Two — Let’s Play Risk
- Aron Pilhofer Joining Temple University School of Media and Communication
- Secrets and agents: George Akerlof’s 1970 paper, “The Market for Lemons”, is a foundation stone of information economics. The first in our series on seminal economic ideas | The Economist
- John Oliver has the takedown of Donald Trump’s Republican convention
- Reference: New Interactive Map Of 100,000 Photos and Videos Reveal “Lost London in the Victorian Era”
- “better modifiers than “insane(ly)” (Grammar and Usage)
- A lesson in the errors of statistical thinking: Nate Silver on Trump
- Trump & Putin. Yes, It’s Really a Thing
- Charlie Parker Plays with Dizzy Gillespie in Only Footage Capturing the “Bird” in True Live Performance
- Let Me Remind You Fuckers Who I Am (Shit HRC Can’t Say/satire)
Even in 2016, publishers and authors are still struggling when it comes to re-releasing decades-old books, but Penguin had a unique problem when it set out to publish a 30th anniversary edition of Richard Dawkin's The Blind Watchmaker.
The Bookseller reports that Penguin decided to revive four programs Dawkins wrote in 1986. Written in Pascal for the Mac, The Watchmaker Suite was an experiment in algorithmic evolution. Users could run the programs and create a biomorph, and then watch it evolve across the generations.
And now you can do the same in your web browser.
A website, MountImprobable.com, was built by the publisher’s in-house Creative Technology team—comprising community manager Claudia Toia, creative developer Mathieu Triay and cover designer Matthew Young—who resuscitated and redeployed code Dawkins wrote in the 1980s and ’90s to enable users to create unique, “evolutionary” imprints. The images will be used as cover imagery on Dawkins’ trio to grant users an entirely individual, personalised print copy.
Jeremy England, a 31-year-old physicist at MIT, thinks he has found the underlying physics driving the origin and evolution of life.
- Jeremy L. England Lab
- Statistical physics of self-replication, Jeremy L. England; J. Chem. Phys. 139, 121923 (2013); doi: 10.1063/1.4818538
- Statistical Physics of Adaptation, Nikolai Perunov, Robert Marsland, and Jeremy England, arXiv, December 8, 2014
- Entropy production fluctuation theorem and the nonequilibrium work relation for free energy differences, Gavin E. Crooks, arXiv, February 1, 2008
- Life as a manifestation of the second law of thermodynamics, E.D. Schneider, J.J. Kay, doi:10.1016/0895-7177(94)90188-0, Mathematical and Computer Modelling, Volume 19, Issues 6–8, March–April 1994, Pages 25-48
In his 2010 book, Life Ascending: The Ten Great Inventions of Evolution, Nick Lane, a biochemist at University College London, explores with eloquence and clarity the big questions of life: how it began, why we age and die, and why we have sex. Lane been steadily constructing an alternative view of evolution to the one in which genes explain it all. He argues that some of the major events during evolutionary history, including the origin of life itself, are best understood by considering where the energy comes from and how it is used. Lane describes these ideas in his 2015 book, The Vital Question: Why Is Life the Way It Is?. Recently Bill Gates called it “an amazing inquiry into the origins of life,” adding, Lane “is one of those original thinkers who make you say: More people should know about this guy’s work.” Nautilus caught up with Lane in his laboratory in London and asked him about his ideas on aging, sex, and death.
Biochemist Nick Lane explains the elements of life, sex, and aging in an engaging popular science interview.
- The Vital Question: Energy, Evolution, and the Origins of Complex Life
- Life Ascending: The Ten Great Inventions of Evolution
- Power, Sex, Suicide: Mitochondria and the Meaning of Life
- Oxygen: The molecule that made the world
AT LAST WE have it in English. Summa Technologiae, originally published in Polish in 1964, is the cornerstone of Stanislaw Lem’s oeuvre, his consummate work of speculative nonfiction. Trained in medicine and biology, Lem synthesizes the current science of the day in ways far ahead of most science fiction of the time.
His subjects, among others, include:
- Virtual reality
- Artificial intelligence
- Nanotechnology and biotechnology
- Evolutionary biology and evolutionary psychology
- Artificial life
- Information theory
- Entropy and thermodynamics
- Complexity theory, probability, and chaos
- Population and ecological catastrophe
- The “singularity” and “transhumanism”
I came across this book review quite serendipitously today via an Auerbach article in Slate, which I’ve bookmarked. I found a copy of the book and have added it to the top of my reading pile. As I’m currently reading an advance reader edition of Sean Carroll’s The Big Picture, I can only imagine how well the two may go together despite being written nearly 60 years apart.Syndicated copies to:
The biological world is computational at its core, argues computer scientist Leslie Valiant.
I did expect something more entertaining from Google when I searched for “what will happen if I squeeze a paper cup full of hot coffee?”Syndicated copies to: