Saturday, June 3, 2023


 It's quite possible that blogging on an old-style blogging site is totally obsolete, but for a reason I got to look at some of my 2009 posts here, and I didn't feel too embarrassed by what I read. Moving to another more fashionable platform would be too much work. Concurrently, I've been asked a few times recently for book recommendations. So...

  1. Transformer by Nick Lane. No, not that kind of transformer. Three books have reset my understanding of biology and overcame my boredom with the subject in high-school. In chronological order: Jacques Monod's Le Hasard et la Nécessité; The Plausibility of Life by Marc Kirschner and John Gerhart; and now Nick Lane's Transformer. Lane's focus on self-sustaining biochemical cycles as drivers of evolution, with genes as combinatorially generated and selected catalysts, rather than the canonical view of genes in the driver's seat, is refreshing and illuminating. Not an easy read, especially given the sadly decayed state of complex (biochemical pathway) schematics in trade books, but so much worth it. There's a good preview in Sean Carroll's Mindscape podcast.
  2. The Evolution of Agency by Michael Tomasello. Another Mindscape podcast recommendation (can you detect a trend?) A bit thin and abstract, and maybe too flowchart-y in its explanation of different levels of agency from lizards to primates, but it re-centers self-monitoring and social cognition when (AI) fashion favors monolithic feed-forward prediction. It encourages, actually it forces, (re)thinking assumptions. It forms a worthy provocative triple with The Enigma of Reason and The Instruction of Imagination by suggesting a plausible evolutionary path to our symbolic technology culture. 
  3. Memórias Póstumas de Brás Cubas by Machado de Assis. Walking in old Lisboa recently, I found a handsome new illustrated edition of this Portuguese language classic in a bookstore window. Savoring this modernist well-before-modernism masterpiece, its sharp humor and meta-narrative dislocations scratching out a bleeding picture of the racial oppression and bourgeois aristocratic pretensions that imperial Brasil inherited from colonial Portugal. The edition's Portinari etchings don't pull any punches. There are English translations, of course, but I don't know which one to recommend. 

1 comment:

Jonathan K Kummerfeld said...

For what it’s worth, I still see blogs + RSS as better than social media for keeping up with specific people.

The books sound fascinating!