2015 — 20 October: Tuesday

I mentioned Gordon R Dickson's "Dorsai" series yesterday. Although it's been many years since I read this long series of SF novels I've never forgotten the opening line of the early one that was originally published as "The Genetic General" (a terrible title, by the way):

The boy was odd.

I admit that I, too, was a curious child — not least, because one of my earliest childhood nicknames was "Why?" — for many values of the term "curious". (Including, no doubt, the value "odd".) Inevitably, I didn't grok this while I was busy growing up — very few people have that degree of self-insight. I certainly lack that particular "gene"...

I first began...

... seriously reading about intelligence1 because I had noted huge (and [to me] completely mysterious) differences between people — their knowledge, their opinions, their politics, their degree of interest (or, in all too many cases, their apparent or strongly-expressed lack of interest) in the whole gallimaufry of things that interested me. I didn't understand the groups they clung to, (even the "pop" music groups, and sports teams, they clung to, for that matter). The only thing underpinning these differences seemed (to me) to depend on what went on between their ears. And I only knew what went on between my ears!

50 years ago, the fatal flaws — and that's putting it very kindly — in Cyril Burt's oft-cited study of twins and the heritability of IQ were either not yet known or had simply been brushed expediently aside. UK education policies were (as ever) being chopped and changed for political2 reasons, not more rational ones. Predictably, my ever-shifting set of focused enthusiasms long ago diverted me to other, more interesting,3 areas — girls were pretty interesting, for example — so I'd never heard of Professor Robert Plomin. Today's "The Life Scientific" trotted him out to re-open the venerable nature/nurture debate, on the grounds of his more solidly-performed large-scale twin studies, here in the UK. Plot spoiler: Nature wins. Again. Oops.

If I were...

... truly intelligent, wouldn't I have evolved a more efficient supplies shopping routine by now? Still, it's a nice sunny morning. And that Baltic music CD? Turned out to be glorious stuff. Revisiting the era of the Falklands War? Not so glorious!

I can relate...

... to this!

comedic neuroscience

But then I bang up against this:

We suggest that the modern biosphere ... shows early signs of a new, 
third stage of biosphere evolution characterised by: 
(1) global homogenisation of flora and fauna; 
(2) a single species (Homo sapiens) commandeering 25–40% of net primary 
    production and also mining fossil net primary production (fossil fuels) 
    to break through the photosynthetic energy barrier; 
(3) human-directed evolution of other species; and 
(4) increasing interaction of the biosphere with the technosphere... 

With masterful understatement, the Abstract concludes: "These unique features of today's biosphere may herald a new era in the planet's history that could persist over geological timescales." Or more simply, we're probably all doomed.

Interesting chap!

Peter Zinovieff, that is. Source and snippet:

He then bought a computer to control all the equipment. This was the PDP-8, which had four kilobytes of memory, no hard drive and worked by feeding in commands on ticker tape. It cost £4,000, the equivalent of £100,000 today. "It was a massive family decision," Zinovieff remembers. "I'm afraid I went cap in hand. My father-in-law had given my wife this ridiculous tiara, made of turquoise and pearls. We managed to sell that for the same price as the computer. She didn't miss it. It's often told rather against me, this story, but it was a worthwhile thing to do."

Ben Beaumont-Thomas in Grauniad

Oddly, I have just one reference to him anywhere in my digital domain and, in a failed attempt to pin it down, I was serendipitously led instead to the minidisc of my 1996 radio recording of Neil Gaiman's "Signal to Noise". Nice to hear that again. And a very young-sounding Fiona Talkington as its narrator.

Christa would be pleased...

... to see me continuing to do my "bit" for local Eastleigh commerce. Having first paid in my DVLA road-tax refund cheque, I had a quick scan of the WH Smug shelves:

Two books

Clearly, Mary Roach's most recent effort (the somewhat similar "Gulp") failed to deter me! And I was delighted to watch Ms Perkins turning herself into an orchestral conductor in "Maestro" on TV seven years ago.



1  Which, in 1964, inevitably kicked off with a couple of Hans Eysenck's popular science books (published by this auto-didact's favourite publisher, Pelican, naturally!) starting with "Know your own IQ".
2  It's a politically-explosive topic at the best of times. Perhaps psychologists aren't so silly, after all? Gotta keep those research grants coming in.
3  After all, if "intelligence" (whatever the heck that is) is largely a function of your individual genetic inheritance, there's not really a whole lot you can do about that, is there? Move along. Nothing more to see here...