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September 22, 2007



I've not had time to read it in any depth, but I've really enjoyed many of the sections I've read. Some very insightful stuff.

One little note - the selfish gene hypothesis in its explicitly genetic form does not "fare well empirically" amongst modern (say, post-paleolithic) human populations such as those under discussion, but it would still seem to do fairly well in natural environment. It may be worthwhile to caveat that sentence just a bit to avoid irrelevant controversy.


Also, apropos of nothing, I want to recommend V. S. Ramachandran's "Phantoms in the Brain: Probing the Mysteries of the Human Mind"


It's easily the most fascinating survey of cognitive neurology I've read since Oliver Sachs' famous "The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat" - indeed, I would recommend this one even more so.

Sadly, it's almost ten years old, so it's not so cutting-edge as is used to me. It also suffers from other flaws - Ramachandran's philosophical framework frequently frustrates me* but the empirical content more than makes up for it. He's also frequently hilarious (I especially enjoyed his Crick jokes) and refrains from abusing those whose pet theories his findings demolish** in a way I find endearing.

In any case, I suppose the mention of this book is *slightly* apropos of the essay because it reignited my curiosity at what Nathan would make of Ramachandran's findings.

*Ramachandran's philosophy, insofar as it is explicit, is largely orthogonal to both Nathan's hard realism and my soft realism by being simultaneously eliminativist - Ramachandran and Paul Churchland often collaborate - and uncritically accepting of the "qualia" category.
**One of them is Dennett's way of framing the "filling in" discussion in philosophical treatments of perception. I may not think much of Ramachandran's philosophy, but I have no trouble seeing that whatever the correct philosophical stance to take on the problem may be, Dennett's treatment in "Consciousness Explained" is certainly not it.

Nathan Smith

Thanks for the recommendation. I wonder how I could justify reading philosophy of mind during an economics program. Well... we do need to make assumptions about the behavior of agents, so maybe I could try to draw on cognitive neurology to provide updated accounts of agents... Daniel Dennett has certainly been a helpful influence in thinking about economics for me, so thanks for that recommendation.

The selfish gene comment is easily remedied: "in human populations." Three words. I think economists will assume that anyway, but still, no harm in greater accuracy!

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