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robertogreco : determinism   5

Remeasuring Stephen Jay Gould
"At its core, Mismeasure argues that the twentieth century’s IQ tests share a desire to justify race and class hierarchies with the nineteenth century’s more primitive measures of cranial features and theories of criminal physiognomy. In both eras, researchers rationalized the status quo with the premise of immutable, hereditary intelligence and the fallacy of reification, which held that intelligence can be reduced to a single number and those numbers used to rank people on a linear scale."

"At the end of their article, Lewis et al. wrote, “were Gould still alive, we expect he would have mounted a defense of his analysis of Morton.” This is a virtual certainty: Gould openly acknowledged his errors throughout his career and called “factual correction . . . the most sublime event in intellectual life.” Gould cannot defend himself, but, since Lewis et al. can, it’s curious that they have not responded to more recent peer-reviewed studies that refute key aspects of their work."

"Gould wrote his 1989 book, Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History, in large part to counteract the bias toward experimental science. The Burgess Shale in British Columbia includes the greatest repository of fossils from the Cambrian explosion, the dawn of multicellular life. As Gould’s book notes, scientists working with these fossils radically changed paleontology’s core concepts. Contrary to earlier studies, many of the shale’s fossils do not have known ancestors. This means that life was, in crucial ways, more diverse at the outset of the multicellular period than since. Current species evolved from only a few “lucky” surviving lineages.

Because the work involved “mere” description and no experimental work, the new interpretations did not make headlines. Gould contrasts this with the other great paleontological development of the late twentieth century, the “Alvarez hypothesis,” which holds that dinosaur extinction resulted from extraterrestrial impact.
The impact theory has everything for public acclaim — white coats, numbers, [Alvarez’s] Nobel renown and location at the top of the ladder of status. The Burgess redescriptions, on the other hand, struck many observers as one funny thing after another — just descriptions of some previously unappreciated, odd animals from early in life’s history.

Both discoveries told the same compelling story; both “illustrat[ed] . . . the extreme chanciness and contingency of life’s history,” yet only the “Alvarez hypothesis” made the cover of Time magazine.

The same privileging of “hard” science explains why media outlets picked up the attack on Gould’s analysis but not his subsequent vindication. These reports all emphasized that Lewis et al. had literally remeasured hundreds of skulls in the Morton collection (presumably while wearing white lab coats). As one more recent critique noted, however, “from the standpoint of evaluating Gould’s published claims, the re-measurement was completely pointless.” “Gould never claimed that Morton’s [later] shot-based measurements, which is what Lewis et al. compared their new measurements to, were unreliable.” Confirming their bias toward experimental methods, “Lewis et al. are . . . falsifying (their word) a claim Gould never made.” Such a glaring conceptual problem should prompt us, as it would have prompted Gould, to inquire into this supposed controversy’s historical context."

"In Wonderful Life, Gould argued that the evolution of intelligent life represents such a unique and improbable outcome, that, if you started life over at the beginning of the Cambrian explosion, different early organisms would have survived the period’s decimation, and we would never have existed at all:
Homo sapiens, I fear, is a “thing so small” in a vast universe, a wildly improbable evolutionary event well within the realm of contingency. Make of such a conclusion what you will. Some find it depressing; I have always regarded it as exhilarating, and a source of both freedom and consequent moral responsibility.

Gould’s sense of moral responsibility figures in his column’s other main project — what Marxists would recognize as his critique of ideology and what he called “the social implications of the scientific assault upon pervasive biases of Western thought.”

Gould listed four such biases: “progress, determinism, gradualism, and adaptationism.” They persist because they serve as a great comfort to many. Determinism and adaptationism tell us that we are meant to be here and are well suited for survival; gradualism and progress tell us that change occurs in predictable ways. In short, these biases teach us that everything happens for a reason.

As Gould pointed out, even progressive causes like the environmental movement fall prey to these biases’ hubris. Green activists too often assume that the earth is so delicate that we can destroy it and that, therefore, we shoulder the responsibility of saving it. With a New Yorker’s sarcasm, Gould responded, “We should be so powerful!”

He insisted that humans — not the earth — are the ones in danger. But this view does not make climate change any less of a crisis. As he put it:
Our planet is not fragile at its own time scale, and we, pitiful latecomers in the last microsecond of the planetary year are stewards of nothing in the long run. Yet no political movement is more vital and timely than modern environmentalism — because we must save ourselves (and our neighbor species) from our own immediate folly.

With his leftist organizing experience and his awareness of the consequences of human development on our own survival, you might expect that Gould would have devoted numerous columns to the ecological crisis. But he waited, he explained, until he could contribute something more than a repetition of “the shibboleths of the movement.”

In his essay on the extinction of the land snail Partula on the island of Moorea in French Polynesia, Gould argued that we should grieve for the scientist Henry Crampton whose lifetime of dedication to studying Partula on a remote island under adverse circumstances was erased by the unintended consequences of introducing predatory creatures into the environment. Though Gould was also an expert on land snails, as he explains it, the point is that we need a humanistic ecology too, “both for the practical reason that people will always touch people more than snails do or can, and for the moral reason that humans are legitimately the measure of all ethical questions — for these are our issues not nature’s.”"

"It is tempting to label these remarks as Pollyannaish, but Gould was not naïve. The philosopher in him spoke of the “Great Asymmetry”: one destructive act can undo years of careful effort, but decent people still vastly outnumber their counterparts. At the same time, the veteran political organizer in Gould knew it would take concerted action. His essay on Papa Joe closes:
We will win now because ordinary humanity holds a triumphant edge in millions of good people over each evil psychopath. But we will only prevail if we can mobilize this latent goodness into permanent vigilance and action.

The call for “permanent vigilance and action” under the rubric of “tough hope” in response to the work of reactionary extremists who reject modernity was Gould’s final theme as a public intellectual. With the Left returning to its duty to organize and remembering its roots in the projects of the Enlightenment and modernity, we must commit ourselves to Gould’s legacy of “tough hope.”"
stephenjaygould  politics  history  2017  jasonlewis  samuelmorton  sociology  learning  certainty  uncertainty  correction  vigilance  action  racism  hope  humanism  sustainability  climatechange  ecosystems  ecology  progress  determinism  gradualism  adaptationism 
may 2017 by robertogreco
Against Meritocracy | Gerry Canavan
"Basically all liberal interventions in the name of fairness intervene too late, and thus intensify rather than diminish class difference.

And of course the "merit" paradox goes all the way to the level of the gene, and is thus totally irresolvable under liberalism.

The only choice is a world where all people have decent lives regardless of any fantasy of "merit" or "desert."

Determinisms (genetic, epigenetic, environmental) are together such decisive disproofs of liberal meritocracy that they can't be discussed.

Class is a miracle solvent for "merit": it boosts abilities of the rich while muting disadvantages, while doing exact opposite for the poor."
liberalism  neoliberalism  determinism  meritocracy  gerrycanavan  2013  class  economics  advantages  disadvantages  fairness  poverty  education  wealth  wealthdistribution  politics 
august 2013 by robertogreco
5 Things About Ubiquitous Computing That Make Me Nervous | Design Culture Lab
"[I]t is difficult to develop a critical perspective whilst in school that includes the possibility of *not* designing something, simply because we force them to make things."

"[O]ur imaginations are not as strong when we come to the task of redesigning design itself."

"to understand … *process* as a form of social, cultural, political, ethical, etc. *agency*"


"1. Technological determinism & defeatism

Or, the cultural belief that technological development and progress is inevitable, and we have to adapt.

2. Technological solutionism

Or, the cultural belief that technology is the best solution to life’s problems.

3. Quantification imperatives

Or, the cultural belief that everything can and should be measured, and that everyday life would be better if all our decisions were based on these data.

4. Connection & sharing imperatives

Or, the cultural belief that everyday life would be better if more information was transmissible and accessible to people.

5. Convenience & efficiency imperatives

Or, the cultural belief that people would be better off if there were more technologies to make daily life more convenient, and common tasks more efficient."

"Like many students facing a critique of their practice, they struggled to understand how they could proceed. Some still focussed on how to provide the right solutions to the right problems (I asked who should get to decide what is right); others wanted to know how they could predict the likelihood of something bad happening (I pointed back to #3); and a few wanted ethical guidelines (I wondered if this fell under #2, or if I needed to add a #6, Prescriptive imperatives). Taking a more pedagogical perspective, a couple of students recognised that it is difficult to develop a critical perspective whilst in school that includes the possibility of not designing something, simply because we force them to make things."

"A few students even accused me of being defeatist and anti-technology in my critique, but I responded that I never said that ubicomp shouldn’t be designed, and neither did I say that we couldn’t create technologies in more critical, or interrogative ways. A serious problem, I think, is that our imaginations are not as strong when we come to the task of redesigning design itself. Design still suffers, for example, from having contradictory interests in sustainability and planned obsolescence, and still responds to the perils of mass production through the design of small-run luxury goods. In these, and other cases, one problem is simply substituted for another–and the solutionist imperative encourages us to respond by designing and producing more and more in turn.

In my class this term we’re using Anne Balsamo’s Designing Culture as a starting point for identifying when, where and how designers make decisions. For all our focus on teaching students to design digital and physical products, I don’t think we’re doing a good enough job of getting them to understand their process as a form of social, cultural, political, ethical, etc. agency. There is still, I think, too much emphasis on design process as some sort of mythical, mystical, essentially ineffable, act of creation.

This problem, I think, is further compounded in more critical approaches, where design effectively begins and ends with the creative act."

"By articulating “things that make me nervous” instead of talking about “things that are bad,” I had hoped to help students realise that critique is also not a final act. I wanted them to keep moving, to keep acting–but with greater awareness, responsibility and accountability. Critique shouldn’t stop us from acting or, in my opinion, tell us how to act. Critical awareness should help us situate ourselves, make active decisions to do some things and not others, and accept the consequences of these actions for ourselves and others."


[See also:

"And indeed true “interrogative” works, in my estimation, are best when they suspend questions indefinitely. They press and hold two or more opposing functions or symbolic/expressive gestures together at once, without resolve."

"resisting the seduction of “solutions” in design where “problems” become invisible"


"Sometimes *not* building is the right answer, but it is not one that architects are trained to recommend." ]
annegalloway  criticalthinking  design  making  thinking  ubicomp  awareness  adesign  evgenymorozov  solutionism  technologicalsolutionism  2013  defeatism  determinism  quantification  measurement  data  everydaylife  efficiency  productivity  ethics  pedagogy  howwethink  howweteach  crticism  designcriticism  annebalsamo  decisionmaking  criticaldesign  remkoolhaas  sarahendren  inquiry  questions  questioning  systemsthinking  agency  cv  tcsnmy  products  technology  convenience  sharing  connections  culture  capitalism  teaching  learning  imagination  designeducation  education  unschooling  deschooling  canon  shrequest1 
march 2013 by robertogreco
AIGA | Video: Jonathan Harris [Cold + Bold]
"Combining elements of computer science, architecture, statistics, storytelling and design, Jonathan Harris’s online projects create large-scale living portraits of the human world—portraits that both simplify and complicate our understanding of it. Jonathan discusses his recent work and poses intriguing questions about what kind of space the digital world is becoming and what that world is doing to us as individuals."

[I find myself on a Jonathan Harris binge about once a year. This time sparked by an article: . Hadn't seen this video before.]

[The passage he reads in the video was originally posted here: ]
design  art  jonathanharris  storytelling  coding  coldness  2010  thewhy  purpose  meaning  meaningfulness  human  digital  life  empathy  programming  depression  glvo  relationships  feelings  emotions  rationality  determinism  problemsolving  detachment  expression  web  internet  abstraction  humanity  control  learning  resistance  resistanceofthemedium  process  cold+bold  identity  individuality  diversity  outcomes  scale  sociopaths  jaronlanier  culture  behavior  introspection  self-reflection  time  computation  howwework 
august 2011 by robertogreco
Human Kind: Sissela Bok reviews "The Price of Altruism" by Oren Harman | The American Scholar
"For Darwin, the question of human morality never had to do with pure selflessness. In The Descent of Man he expressed his considered conviction that cultural factors such as “the effects of habit, the reasoning powers, instruction, religion, &c.” play a much more important role than natural selection in advancing what he called the moral qualities of human beings, “though to this latter agency the social instincts, which afforded the basis for the development of the moral sense, may be safely attributed.”

Harman, in his closing pages, underscores the role that culture and education still play in human altruistic behaviors, despite claims by biological determinists that genes run the show. His book is an important contribution to the collaborative work on altruism as it relates to self-interest now increasingly under way, not only in the natural sciences but also in philosophy, political science, economics, and anthropology."
humans  humanism  altruism  selflessness  education  teaching  learning  culture  economics  philosophy  politics  anthropology  collaboration  empathy  biology  evolution  darwin  behavior  society  genetics  naturenurture  nature  biologicaldeterminism  determinism  orenharman  sisselabok  morality  humannature  charlesdarwin 
september 2010 by robertogreco

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