Archive for the ‘books’ Category

Konrad Lorenz on Anthropomorphism


The creative writer, in depicting an animal’s behaviour, is under no great obligation to keep within the bounds of exact truth than is the painter or the sculptor in shaping an animal’s likeness. But all three artists must regard it as their most sacred duty to be properly instructed regarding those particulars in which they deviate from the actual facts. They must indeed be even better informed on these details than on others which they render in a manner true to nature. There is no greater sin against the spirit of true art, no more contemptible dilettantism than to use artistic license as a specious cover for ignorance of fact.

I am a scientist and not a poet and I shall not aspire, in this little book, to improve on nature by taking any artistic liberties. Any such attempt would certainly have the opposite effect, and my only chance of writing something not entirely devoid of charm lies in strict adherence to scientific fact. Thus, by modestly keeping to the methods of my own craft, I may hope to convey, to my kindly reader, at least a slight inkling of the infinite beauty of our fellow creatures and their life.

Excerpted from the preface to King Solomon’s Ring.

E.O. Wilson on Memory


What happened, what we think happened in distant memory, is built around a small collection of dominating images.

Consider how long-term memory works. With each changing moment, the mind scans a vast landscape of jumbled schemata, searching for the one or two decisive details upon which rational action will be based. The mind with a search image is like a barracuda. The large predatory fish pays scant attention to the rocks, pilings, and vast array of organisms living among them. It waits instead for a glint of silver that betrays the twisting body of a smaller fish. It locks on this signal, rushes forward, and seizes the prey in its powerful jaws. Its singlemindedness is why swimmers are advised not to wear shiny bracelets or wrist watches in barracuda waters.

The human mind moving in a sea of detail is compelled like a questing animal to orient by a relatively few decisive configurations. There is an optimum number of such signals. Too few, and the person becomes compulsive-obsessive; too many, and he turns schizophrenic. Configurations with the greatest emotional impact are stored first and persist longer. Those that give the greatest pleasure are sought on later occasions. The process is strongest in children, and to some extent it programs the trajectory of their lives. Eventually they will weave the decisive images into a narrative by which they explain to themselves and others the meaning of what has happened to them. As the Talmud says, we see things not as they are, but as we are.

Excerpted from the autobiography of Edward O. Wilson, Naturalist.
Image from here.

Well-Respected Beards, No. 014: Konrad Lorenz


“Ever viewing the world like some alert schoolboy about to catch a frog …”

Vygotsky on Art


“It is asserted that the psychological processes of the perception and creation of a work of art coincide with the identical processes of perception and creation of a word. “The same elemental forces,” says Potebnia, “are also found in a work of art, and we can recognize them if we reason the following way: ‘There is a marble statue (outer form) of a woman with sword and scales (inner form) representing justice (content).’ We will find that in a work of art the image refers to the content, as in a word the concept refers to the sensory image or idea. Instead of the ‘content’ of a work of art we may use a more common term, the ‘idea”. Continue reading

Descartes on Rainbows


Forty-two degrees makes a rainbow, he says in the Dioptrics. But what is a rainbow if no one is looking at it?

Yes indeed I like to read


Levar says these guys write all their own rhymes!

“Oh yes indeed I like to read, cause reading’s fun
not only me (I’m DMC) but also Run
from the front to the back as pages turn
reading is a very fresh way to learn
and if you look into a book you might just say
I had fun (just like Run, DMC, and Jay)”

Run DMC on Reading Rainbow

Well-Respected Beards, No. 022: Joseph LeDoux


New York University: studies Emotion, Memory, and the Brain.
Plays guitar for the Amygdaloids.
Wrote a paper that may have inspired the science behind “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”

From a Salon interview:

Q: Most memories degrade and distort with time; why are music memories so sharply encoded?

A: I know from my own experience that it’s a very powerful way to remember things. I’ve found that in the short time we’ve been playing music we can convey the gist of a concept with a three-minute song that we’d need a chapter for in a book and many, many hours of painstaking work to get across. Then people read it and they forget everything. But you can just sing the line, “An emotional brain is a hard thing to tame,” which captures the essence of the concept, and people remember it.

To the vector belong the spoils

It’s a beautiful book, to be sure, but how fortunate we are that Chuck Jones met up with Norton Juster and made this mathy gem, which might actually surpass the bound version. Enjoy a famous love story, animated, entitled The Dot and The Line.

(Thanks, Centrepital Notion.)

(we had good motivations)

…but first, a totally unrelated example of writing on whatever’s handy:


Blue Oxen is a good poem, I found it on a website to which you can navigate by clicking on the link below. I have no right to reprint it here, it’s copyrighted, just like lots of the pictures and text here on my blog. It’s not my intellectual property, it’s a little like theft, but I have bookshelves full of things that are not my intellectual property and they fill my intellect with much-needed nutrition, so I am reprinting this poem here so that I won’t die of starvation like Kafka.

Blue Oxen
by Dara Wier

(it’s scaffolding) (it’s supposed to be temporary)
(the domino effect) (had been forgotten about)
(it was in storage) (nobody knew where)
(that’s a logging road) (you can see its gutters)
(they leave handprints) (they shudder with dolor)
(nobody could settle on any particular color)
(they meant different things to different people)
(for luck) (on the cheap) (stop now) (flesh for sale)
(fresh fruit) (insect free) (aquafarm) (moon control)

Continue reading

Well-Respected Beards, No. 017: Robert Sapolsky


No, I haven’t read the book yet. But a brain researcher who lives with Baboons in Kenya and then writes about the neuroscience of stress? That’s just cool. Not in a Brad Pitt, Daniel Craig, ass-kicking kindof way, but cool nonetheless, which makes sense considering his other work on affiliative strategies of non-alpha males in baboon societies.