Friday, December 18, 2009

The art of reading ...

... Information,Please. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Incurable editor that I am (my stepdaughter Jennifer once pointed out when we were out driving that I was editing the billboards we passed), several phrases leaped out at me (I am not doubting what the article says, simply noting the nature of the locutions):

Most cognitive neuroscientists believe ... Well, as we all know, believing is not the same as knowing.

For certain long-standing problems of existence, evolution has had plenty of time to design a solution or two. Indeed, the original concept of brain modularity held that modules were innate—written into the genetic code. But reading is different: It was invented only 5,000 years ago, leaving evolution short of time to sculpt a modular set of circuits for the purpose.

This certainly suggests that evolution is not a term for a process of adaptation and selection that just happens to be going on, but rather an agent directing such a process. That cannot be what the author means, of course

Mr. Dehaene also describes research on the similarities among the world's alphabets and shows how writing systems themselves evolved ... And, of course, now we have the writing systems themselves "evolving." But the word in this context obviously cannot mean what it does in the other contexts.

Writing about these things is not easy.


  1. Any time one discusses scientific concepts, one is forced to work in a medium of metaphor that is naturally inexact and, at best, gesturing towards what is actually going on. Math is a much better language for science.

    As for "know" vs "believe": probably the scientists being overly accurate (rarely do they say "know" without overwhelming assurance by experimental verification).

  2. All true, Daniel - and I say that as someone who used to do medical editing. But certain scientists are among the first to jump on those who "believe" and try proposing to an evolutionary biologist the idea that evolution may be purposive. Though I will add, as someone who writes poetry, that metaphor can be quite precise and if scientists want to use metaphor they ought learn how to use it precisely.