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Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Evo psycho watch: Music actually raises questions?

Gil Dodgen, who is a concert pianist (as well as a present, former, and possibly late hang glider), offered some useful thoughts on this pop sci amusement by Drake Bennett in the Boston Globe on the alleged origin of music.

The evolutionary benefits of our affinity for food (nutrition) and sex (procreation) are easy enough to explain, but music is trickier. It has become one of the great puzzles in the field of evolutionary psychology, a controversial discipline dedicated to determining the adaptive roots of aspects of modern behavior, from child-rearing to religion.

One thing I want to draw attention to is that this story actually backs away from uncritical acceptance of the claims of evolutionary psychology.

Yes. Evo psycho is described above as "a controversial discipline", rather than as "the latest in scientific understanding of our origins." Hmmmm. (Well, of course, evo psycho should be described as a controversial discipline at best, but whodathunk that the pop sci media would get around to considering the possibility that it is?

The main problem with evo psycho is that its subject, like that of exobiology , has never been observed. Its subject is early humans but we only know modern humans. (Simply living under primitive conditions is not pixie dust and will not turn a modern human into a Pleistocene caveman; it would merely demonstrate that no evolution took place.)

Better still, an actual skeptic was interviewed for the Boston Globe story. That's not usual, so let's enjoy it:

To Steven Pinker, though, none of this adds up to a convincing case for music's evolutionary purpose. Pinker is not shy about seeing the traces of evolution in modern man-in How the Mind Works, he devoted a chapter to arguing that emotions were adaptations-but he stands by his "auditory cheesecake" description.

"They're completely bogus explanations, because they assume what they set out to prove: that hearing plinking sounds brings the group together, or that music relieves tension," he says. "But they don't explain why. They assume as big a mystery as they solve." Music may well be innate, he argues, but that could just as easily mean it evolved as a useless byproduct of language, which he sees as an actual adaptation.

Note that the choices materialism offers here are

(1) music is useful for food, sex, or murder, or

(2) music is a useless distraction.

Take that, Chopin. We always knews youse was a wimp.

The third option is that music is part of the spiritual nature of the human - and therefore neither useful nor useless in the senses above, but is a road to becoming a fully developed human being. But how could a typical pop sci article dare interview anyone who made such an obvious point?

(Note re plinking sounds: Once, long ago, I was a deputy warden at an Anglican church. Anyone who thinks that "hearing plinking sounds brings the group together" can have my old stint in a heartbeat. Pack plenty of Tylenol and remember that when old ladies demurely ask, "One lump or two, sweetheart?," they are trying to determine how many times they should attempt to break a potful of boiling tea over your head because you backed a different faction on worship music. I somehow do not think that this is a new problem in human history.)
If you like this blog, check out my book on the intelligent design controversy, By Design or by Chance?.

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Intelligent design controversy: Legacy mainstream media vs. new media

While we are on the subject of media/new media, here's an interesting account of legacy mainstream media (LMSM) spin on an issue unrelated to the ID controversy - US immigration policy.*

The chosen example merely shows that LMSM can slant any controversy as long as everyone who has a say on the news desk is absolutely convinced about who the winners will ultimately be.

In LMSM, such stories usually get framed as a black and white morality play. On the ID issue, for example, doubts about Darwinism - of whatever kind - are treated like this: Bad or irrelevant "religion" attempts takeover of good and useful "science."

Okay, so go be a profane, beer-swilling unbeliever somewhere if you like. But if you dare to wonder whether school kids should be told some of the textbook stretchers and fudgies, you are one disloyal bunny. It's bad enough that you even know that the books are full of stretchers and fudgies , where Darwinism is concerned.

Next thing we hear, you will be handling diamondback sidewinders for Jesus in some East Carolina swamp** .... Hey, you read your fate here first.

This situation is not new. Doubts about Freudianism were routinely framed, years ago, as evidence of psychological problems, and doubts about Marxist economics were not tolerated from people who ate macaroni and cheese in order to pay off a mortgage. There is no middle ground or alternative viewpoint in a morality play.

What's new is the challenge created by the new media, which empower alternative viewpoints like no other has ever done. To see why, consider what, precisely, is changing.

The blogosphere, the Web, and e-mail have undermined the newsgathering function of major media as such. They are not needed the way they used to be. [break here]
Today, an honest, meticulous, and creative person can, with affordable equipment, do a reasonable job of newsgathering.

How was it different in the past? Formerly, professional equipment was not easy to come by and information storage was itself a challenge. And if pros made a mess of things, they had to live with the results themselves.

For example, a pro needs to be able to trust her own notebook, story files, and morgue. That created some control over how unrepresentative news stories could become in democratic societies. She would need one heck of a memory to know the difference between the facts of the case and ten years of her own misrepresentation.

But today, stories can be slanted in order to affect an electorate, in the full knowledge that the correct information is archived somewhere on the Internet - and anyone who really wants to know can get hold of it easily!

Not everyone realized the significance of that fact until fairly recently. Hence pajamagate. The egregious thing about pajamagate was not that Rather was suckered by bogus dox (hey, stuff happens), but that his network took so long to just admit that fact, long after it was utterly self-evident.

I notice that Reuters has been much quicker disowning its recent fauxtos. People can learn.

The media have always been slanted in a liberal way. But that is principally because young persons inclined to traditional views do not go into media. They are urged to enter the clergy instead.

When people who espouse traditional views have gone into media, they have often been quite effective. One thinks of the conservative blogosphere, talk radio, and Fox News, for example, and a number of good conservative thinkmags.

But meanwhile, the burden of public recordkeeping and analysis is shifting toward the blogosphere, for better or worse.

I first realize that shift clearly when a New York Times reporter sneered at me last year as a (mere) "blogger. But my coverage of the incident in question had been more accurate than her paper's, and unlike the reporter for her paper, I had actually seen the controversial film.

(*I am not an American, not to trying to become one, and don't currently know anyone who is. Thus I have no cat in the fight over US immigration policy, and thought this a safe example.)

(**Please do not write to inform me that there is no East Carolina. That is the Americans' problem, not mine. It is a forgivable lapse on their part, and I have forgiven them, somewhat reluctantly.)
If you like this blog, check out my book on the intelligent design controversy, By Design or by Chance?.

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Thinkquote of the day: The difference the new media make

Young readers do not want to rely on a god-like figure from above to tell them what is important, and they certainly do not want news presented as gospel. The media world can no longer lecture; it must become a place for conversation.

- press lord Rupert Murdoch, Chairman, News Corporation, quoted as part of the advertising for a conference on the growth and importance of the blogosphere (January 29–31, 2007).

Now, say what you want about Murdoch, he made money in media. Darwinists profess ongoing amazement that the public does not just gasp and obey when Darwin lobbies huff that there are no reasonable, science-based objections to Darwinism. They clearly do not grasp what Murdoch is saying. Pronouncements from on high that there are no reasonable objections are not so much contested as merely ignored.

That, by the way, is another indicator that Darwinism is on the way out. Systems that are declining in importance are usually passively ignored for a long time before anyone proposes to actually retire them.
If you like this blog, check out my book on the intelligent design controversy, By Design or by Chance?. You can read excerpts as well.

Are you looking for one of the following stories?

A summary of tech guru George Gilder's arguments for ID and against Darwinism

A critical look at why March of the Penguins was thought to be an ID film.

A summary of recent opinion columns on the ID controversy

A summary of recent polls of US public opinion on the ID controversy

A summary of the Catholic Church's entry into the controversy, essentially on the side of ID.

O'Leary's intro to non-Darwinian agnostic philosopher David Stove’s critique of Darwinism.

An ID Timeline: The ID folk seem always to win when they lose.

O’Leary’s comments on Francis Beckwith, a Dembski associate, being denied tenure at Baylor.

Why origin of life is such a difficult problem.
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