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Master Class 2007: A Short Course In Thinking About Thinking

Conversation:
[7.18.07]
Topic:

"I'll start with a topic that is called an inside-outside view of the planning fallacy. And it starts with a personal story, which is a true story."

 

RECURSION AND HUMAN THOUGHT

Conversation:
[6.11.07]
Topic:

"As I look through the structure of the words and the structure of the sentences, it just becomes clear that they don't have recursion. If recursion is what Chomsky and Mark Hauser and Tecumseh Fitch have called 'the essential property of language', the essential building block—in fact they've gone so far as to claim that that might be all there really is to human language that makes it different from other kinds of systems—then, the fact that recursion is absent in a language — Pirahã — means that this language is fundamentally different from their predictions."

 

Robert Shapiro— LIFE: WHAT A CONCEPT!

Conversation:
[5.9.07]
Topic:

"I'm always running out of metaphors to try and explain what the difficulty is. But suppose you took Scrabble sets, or any word game sets, blocks with letters, containing every language on Earth, and you heap them together and you then took a scoop and you scooped into that heap, and you flung it out on the lawn there, and the letters fell into a line which contained the words “To be or not to be, that is the question,” that is roughly the odds of an RNA molecule, given no feedback — and there would be no feedback, because it wouldn't be functional until it attained a certain length and could copy itself — appearing on the Earth."

 

THE GOSPEL OF JUDAS

Conversation:
[4.28.07]
Topic:

"This text sees Judas dying as a martyr—because here the other disciples hate him so much that they kill him! But the Gospel of Judas challenges the idea that God wants people to die as martyrs—just as it challenges the idea that God wanted Jesus to die. Whoever wrote this gospel—and the author is anonymous—is challenging church leaders who teach that. It's as if an imam were to challenge the radical imams who encourage "martyrdom operations" and accuse them of complicity in murder—the Gospel of Judas shows "the twelve disciples"—stand-ins for church leaders—offering human sacrifice on the altar—and doing this in the name of Jesus! Conservative Christians hate gospels like this—usually call them fakes and the people who publish them (like us) anti Christian. There was a great deal of censorship in the early Christian movement—especially after the emperor became a Christian, and made it the religion of the empire—and voices like those of this author were silenced and denounced as "heretics" and "liars." The story of Jesus was simplified and cleaned up—made "orthodox.""

 

GOD VS. SCIENCE

Conversation:
[12.30.06]
Topic:

"I see some fundamental contradiction here. Everybody criticizes Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris. But at least they're talking about how ludicrous some of these belief systems are. I know that David Sloan Wilson doesn't take issue with the way I've framed these questions, but to see religion as having a positive influence does not get at the fundamental question of what it means to have faith. What is so good about having faith when you don't have evidence?"
— Natalie Angier

"With apologies to Natalie, I think there's a kind of a silliness to banging away at religious beliefs for their obvious falsehood, when in fact, if you're an evolutionist, the only way you would want to evaluate these beliefs is to examine what they cause people to do." — David Sloan Wilson 

 

THE ENERGY OF EMPTY SPACE THAT ISN'T ZERO

Conversation:
[7.5.06]
Topic:

"I invited a group of cosmologists, experimentalists, theorists, and particle physicists and cosmologists. Stephen Hawking came; we had three Nobel laureates, Gerard 'tHooft, David Gross, Frank Wilczek; well-known cosmologists and physicists such as Jim Peebles at Princeton, Alan Guth at MIT, Kip Thorne at Caltech, Lisa Randall at Harvard; experimentalists, such as Barry Barish of LIGO, the gravitational wave observatory; we had observational cosmologists, people looking at the cosmic microwave background; we had Maria Spiropulu from CERN, who's working on the Large Hadron Collider — which a decade ago people wouldn't have thought it was a probe of gravity, but now due to recent work in the possibility of extra dimensions it might be."

 

AN EPIDEMIOLOGY OF REPRESENTATIONS

Conversation:
[7.26.05]
Topic:

"How do the microprocesses of cultural transmission affect the macro structure of culture, its content, its evolution? The microprocesses, the small-scale local processes I am talking about are, on the one hand, psychological processes that happen inside people's brains, and on the other hand, changes that people bring about in their common environment — for instance the noise they make when they talk or the paths they unconsciously maintain when they walk — and through which they interact."

 

BIOCOMPUTATION

Conversation:
[6.27.05]
Topic:

"...we're starting to look at the world in terms of gene space instead of genomes and species, and this gets us down to component analysis." -J. Craig Venter

"We just heard some very exciting applications which are in the early stage, moving on from the general project where we essentially collected the machine language of biology and we're now trying to disassemble and reverse engineer it. "- Ray Kurzweil

"What's happening now, though — and Craig mentioned some of this with synthetic biology — is we're starting to move from just analysis of systems into engineering systems. I want to say a few words about engineering in general, and then about what's happening in biological engineering and how it's going to change completely from what people are thinking about right now."-Rodney Brooks

 

GODEL AND THE NATURE OF MATHEMATICAL TRUTH

Conversation:
[6.8.05]
Topic:

"Gödel mistrusted our ability to communicate. Natural language, he thought, was imprecise, and we usually don't understand each other. Gödel wanted to prove a mathematical theorem that would have all the precision of mathematics—the only language with any claims to precision—but with the sweep of philosophy. He wanted a mathematical theorem that would speak to the issues of meta-mathematics. And two extraordinary things happened. One is that he actually did produce such a theorem. The other is that it was interpreted by the jazzier parts of the intellectual culture as saying, philosophically exactly the opposite of what he had been intending to say with it."

 

The Science of Gender - A Debate

Conversation:
[5.16.05]
Topic:

...on the research on mind, brain, and behavior that may be relevant to gender disparities in the sciences, including the studies of bias, discrimination and innate and acquired difference between the sexes.

 

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