Mon Nov 11, 2002

Machine Dreams Again

Today’s quote of the day comes from D-squared Digest, in connection with Darts, Snooker, Curling, Golf and other useless sports:

I think it’s pretty safe to say that these sports are products of an advanced society; one wouldn’t want to categorically say that Steven Pinker couldn’t come up with a story about how taking iron shots over water hazards is a skill developed from instincts that were vital to our survival on the African veld, but it would surely take him at least a couple of coffee breaks.

Note that D-squared is careful not to bet that Pinker wouldn’t be able to generate an adaptive story. This ability of Pinker’s is itself, of course, probably adaptive. It gets him large book advances, and no doubt got his ancestors a bigger share of the Zebra, or something.

As an aside, the normally very acute CalPundit wrote yesterday that he thought How the Mind Works was Pinker’s best book. Take a look at Jerry Fodor’s review of it in the LRB for a different view. (In fairness, CalPundit has been on a roll since he got back from Italy—- his post-election commentary has been teriffic.) Here is Fodor on Pinker:

And here [Pinker] is on why we like to read fiction: ‘Fictional narratives supply us with a mental catalogue of the fatal conundrums we might face someday and the outcomes of strategies we could deploy in them. What are the options if I were to suspect that my uncle killed my father, took his position, and married my mother?’ Good question. Or what if it turns out that, having just used the ring that I got by kidnapping a dwarf to pay off the giants who built me my new castle, I should discover that it is the very ring that I need in order to continue to be immortal and rule the world? It’s important to think out the options betimes, because a thing like that could happen to anyone and you can never have too much insurance. At one point Pinker quotes H.L. Mencken’s wisecrack that ‘the most common of all follies is to believe passionately in the palpably not true.’ Quite so.

Anyway, I bring all this up up because D-squared favorably mentions Philip Mirowski’s Machine Dreams, a terrific book which I’ve blogged about before, here, here, and here. You should go to Amazon now and buy it.