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Archive for the 'Science' Category

Friday, January 9th, 2015

The Evolution of Signals

The Domestication of Language

This week our featured book is The Domestication of Language: Cultural Evolution and the Uniqueness of the Human Animal, by Daniel Cloud. Throughout the week, we will be posting content from and about the book and it’s author. In today’s post, the final post of the book’s feature, we have an excerpt from the third chapter of The Domestication of Language, in which Cloud looks at different accounts of how meaning and language conventions remain stable in human communities over time, and wonders why more animals don’t have similarly complex communication systems.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for The Domestication of Language!

Thursday, January 8th, 2015

But if I try to explain it…

The Domestication of Language

This week our featured book is The Domestication of Language: Cultural Evolution and the Uniqueness of the Human Animal, by Daniel Cloud. Throughout the week, we will be posting content from and about the book and it’s author. In today’s post, Daniel Cloud explains how the meanings of words in ordinary language come about, and why it’s worth paying attention to the ordinary, everyday meanings of words.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for The Domestication of Language!

But if I try to explain it…
By Daniel Cloud

“What, then, is time?” Saint Augustine asks in the Confessions. “If no one asks me, I know, but if I try to explain it, I don’t know.” It’s a keen observation, because we’ve all had this experience. Still, it’s a rather peculiar state of affairs that’s being described. Did Augustine know what time is, or didn’t he? If he did know, why couldn’t he say what it is? If he didn’t, how could he go around using the word?

But the oddest thing of all is that Augustine then does go on to produce a philosophical analysis of his own concept of time that’s incredibly revealing, one that has been very influential ever since. If he knew all that just by knowing the meaning of the word, why couldn’t he say it in the beginning, why did he have to do so much work to know what he’d meant by the word all along? How can this procedure, the careful analysis of our own culturally acquired notions about the meaning of some word in ordinary language, possibly produce knowledge about the real universe, about a physical thing like time?

And yet… the process of lifting ourselves by our own bootstraps had to start somewhere. Historically, it really does look as if the philosophical analysis of ordinary language and ordinary ideas about time and space and causation and chance and knowledge and logic and evidence has played a role. It really looks as if Empedocles and Plato and Aristotle made some sort of contribution to making the existence of Euclid and Ptolemy and Newton and Darwin possible, though it’s very unclear what that contribution was. (more…)

Wednesday, January 7th, 2015

Two interviews with Daniel Cloud on “The Domestication of Language”

The Domestication of Language

This week our featured book is The Domestication of Language: Cultural Evolution and the Uniqueness of the Human Animal, by Daniel Cloud. Throughout the week, we will be posting content from and about the book and it’s author. Today, we are happy to present two podcast interviews with Daniel Cloud, one from the New Books In network and one from the Smart People Podcast.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for The Domestication of Language!

First, Cloud spoke with the New Books in Big Ideas podcast about the puzzles raised by looking at prehistoric linguistics through an evolutionary eye, in particular: “why is human language and culture so astoundingly complex?” (more…)

Tuesday, January 6th, 2015

Humans Aren’t Influenced by Culture–We Create It

The Domestication of Language

This week our featured book is The Domestication of Language: Cultural Evolution and the Uniqueness of the Human Animal, by Daniel Cloud. Throughout the week, we will be posting content from and about the book and it’s author. Today, we have excerpted parts of “Humans Aren’t Influenced by Culture–We Create It,” an interview with Daniel Cloud that appeared in Quartz. You can read the interview in its entirety here.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for The Domestication of Language!

Quartz: The first chapter of your book discusses the origin of words. If we were to ask the average person, “Where do words come from?” what do you think would be the most common answer?

Daniel Cloud: They’ll think about it carefully for a minute or two and they’ll report out some version of behaviorism. They’ll say, “Well, there must have been two monkeys sitting around, one of the monkeys made a noise every time it did some action, other monkeys came to associate that noise with the action, and then we went on from there.” I think that’s the cultural myth about this. That’s the image of the origin of language that’s been dominant since the Greeks.

Quartz: So according to this idea, the development of language is completely out of our control.

Cloud: Well, that’s one thing that’s wrong with it. It’s not faithful to psychological reality or everyday life. I guess I would call it science fiction. It’s a theory about some events that happened in the distant past, which nobody ever observed, but that seem plausible. Things like that are inevitably just some old bit of philosophy that somebody dredged up. (more…)

Monday, January 5th, 2015

Book Giveaway! The Domestication of Language: Cultural Evolution and the Uniqueness of the Human Animal, by Daniel Cloud

The Domestication of Language

“A superbly original book and an exciting piece of philosophy. Cloud builds a serious account of the evolution of language that recognizes the long and complex process that links the prior state (nothing like language at all) to the end state (language of the kinds now in existence) and that responds to the points of greatest difficulty in that process.” — Philip Kitcher

This week our featured book is The Domestication of Language: Cultural Evolution and the Uniqueness of the Human Animal, by Daniel Cloud. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its author on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

We are also offering a FREE copy of The Domestication of Language. To enter our book giveaway, simply fill out the form below with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select our winners on Friday, January 9th at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

Monday, December 22nd, 2014

Evan Thompson’s Waking, Dreaming, Being reviewed in the New York Times

Waking, Dreaming, Being

In today’s post, we are happy to present excerpts from astrophysicist Adam Frank’s recent New York Times book review of Evan Thompson’s excellent new comprehensive look at cognitive science, Buddhism, and the self, Waking, Dreaming, Being: Self and Consciousness in Neuroscience, Meditation, and Philosophy:

In the endless public wars between science and religion, Buddhism has mostly been given a pass. The genesis of this cultural tolerance began with the idea, popular in the 1970s, that Buddhism was somehow in harmony with the frontiers of quantum physics. While the silliness of “quantum spirituality” is apparent enough these days, the possibility that Eastern traditions might have something to say to science did not disappear. Instead, a more natural locus for that encounter was found in the study of the mind. Spurred by the Dalai Lama’s remarkable engagement with scientists, interest in Buddhist attitudes toward the study of the mind has grown steadily.

But within the Dalai Lama’s cheerful embrace lies a quandary whose resolution could shake either tradition to its core: the true relationship between our material brains and our decidedly nonmaterial minds. More than evolution, more than inexhaustible arguments over God’s existence, the real fault line between science and religion runs through the nature of consciousness. Carefully unpacking that contentious question, and exploring what Buddhism offers its investigation, is the subject of Evan Thompson’s new book, “Waking, Dreaming, Being.” (more…)

Monday, November 24th, 2014

How to Cook Your Thanksgiving Turkey in the Dishwasher!? Herve This Explains

Thanksgiving, Turkey

“Use the dishwasher! For the next holiday meal, I recommend that you prepare two turkeys. Cook one in the dishwasher, in a plastic bag, for several cycles of your machine.”—Herve This

With Thanksgiving just a couple of days away, we thought we provide some more practical (or somewhat practical) advice on cooking a turkey from none other than Hervé This, most recently the author of Note-by-Note Cooking: The Future of Food.

In a 2010 interview with Nature, This suggested the dishwasher as a possible cooking method:

Q: Another professional technique is to cook food for long periods at low temperatures in a vacuum-sealed bag. How might a home chef emulate this ‘sous-vide’ method?

Herve This: Use the dishwasher! For the next holiday meal, I recommend that you prepare two turkeys. Cook one in the dishwasher, in a plastic bag, for several cycles of your machine. In this way, you can get low temperatures. Butterfly the other turkey and cook it on the grill, creating the maximum expanse of delicious crispy skin. Then serve the moist, flavourful meat from the dishwasher turkey with the grilled skin. A good accompaniment would be foie gras, also cooked in the dishwasher at low temperature.

Now for those not comfortable with Maytag cuisine, here is an excerpt from Kitchen Mysteries: Revealing the Science of Cooking, also by Hervé This, on the science of roasting a turkey:

Since it is juicy, tender meat that we want, it is clear why there is no question of opening the oven while the meat is roasting. The water vapor that is released in a limited quantity could escape and then be replaced by the vaporization of a certain quantity of the juices. Opening the oven dries out the turkey. Neither, however, should one humidify the oven before putting the turkey in. In the presence of too much water, the surface water cannot evaporate, and the skin will not get crispy.

Having thus resolved the problem of the surface, the serious problem of tenderness within remains. We cannot disappoint our guests, who fear the pro­verbial dryness of the turkey.

Since tenderness results necessarily from the deterioration of the connec­tive tissue, let us consider this tissue. It principally contains three kinds of pro­teins: collagen, already discussed many times, reticulin, and elastin. Neither reticulin or elastin are notably altered by the heat of the oven, but the triple helixes of the collagen molecules can be broken up and form gelatin, which is soft when it is in water, as we all know.

Calculating the cooking time requires some skill, because the denaturation of the collagen and the coagulation of the muscle proteins (actin and myosin, mainly) take place at different temperatures and different speeds in the different parts of the turkey. It is necessary to know that the temperature of 70° (158°F) is essential for transforming the collagen into gelatin and tenderizing the mus­cles. But the longer the turkey remains at a high temperature, the more water it loses and the more its proteins risk coagulating. The optimal cooking time, consequently, is the minimum time it takes to attain the temperature of 70°C (158°F) at the center of the turkey.

(more…)

Wednesday, October 29th, 2014

An Evening with Herve This and Note-By-Note Cooking

Herve This and Adam Gopnik discuss

Hervé This is in town this week, so for those who couldn’t make it to his various events, here’s an account of his recent appearance at the Columbia Maison Française to discuss Note-by-Note Cooking: The Future of Food. And you can still catch him later today at the Institute of Culinary Education

“Molecular cooking is over—it’s for grandfathers!” Hervé This exclaimed on Monday night at the Maison Française on the Columbia University campus. This is in town this week to promote his new book, Note-by-Note Cooking: The Future of Food, published by Columbia University Press. The event was moderated by Adam Gopnik of The New Yorker, who started out the night by declaring that even the Cronut™ isn’t revolutionary in the face of note-by-note cooking.

Hervé This introduced his novel concept by describing a carrot as a sum of its constituent parts—water, cellulose, aminos, minerals—and asked that the audience begin to think of these components as similar to the notes of a song. He claims we can cook food just as a musician writes a melody on a synthesizer (the end result could fall anywhere between Jingle Bells and Rachmaninoff, a candy bar or a truffle sauce). Note-by-note cooking, therefore, is about building, not deconstructing food. This implored the audience to “forget about the word natural” as no cooked food is natural (think of a French fry in relation to a wild potato). Instead we must value the artificial for its inherent “art” and recognize that there will be both good art and bad art.

The audience was clearly entranced by the idea, but everyone wondered how to do it? Hervé answered by describing a typical weeknight dinner he cooks for his family: a tough cut of meat braised for many hours in a low oven with a few drops of truffle compound for a sauce. (He sometimes adds a drop or two of syrah compound to make a red wine reduction.) Even though the compounds have been highly processed, the terroir of the mushrooms and the grapes still comes through and “makes his family smile.” He described the note-by-note kitchen of the future as one full of beautiful lacquered boxes with maybe 10 aminos, 20 pungencies, 30 colors…in addition to bags of flour and jars of paprika.

(more…)

Monday, October 20th, 2014

Herve This Is Bringing Note-by-Note Cooking to the USA!

Herve This, Note-by-Note Cooking

After spending a week reading about Herve This’s Note-by-Note Cooking: The Future of Food, now’s your chance to see the dynamic chemist as he comes to New York and Boston for a series of great events, beginning this Friday!:

Friday, October 24 at 6:00 pm
Boston University Jacques Pepin Lecture Series in Gastronomy and Experiential Food Studies

Saturday, October 25, 2014 at 12:30 pm
Boston Book Festival/Alliance Francaise de Boston

Monday, October 27, 2014 at 6:00 pm
Columbia University Maison Française
Columbia University’s Maison Française presents Herve This, Michael Laiskonis, and Adam Gopnik in conversation.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014 at 6:00 pm
Albertine Bookstore at the French Embassy
The discussion will be followed by a tasting prepared by Chef and Creative Director of the Institute of Culinary, Michael Laiskonis.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014 at 1:00 pm
Institute for Culinary Education

Thursday, October 30, 2014 at 5:00 pm
Experimental Cuisine Collective at New York University

Friday, October 31, 2014 at 12:00 PM
Culinary Institute of America

Friday, October 17th, 2014

Video: Herve This takes us into His Lab to Show Us Note-By-Note Cooking

We conclude our week-long feature on Note-by-Note Cuisine: The Future of Food, by Hervé This, with this great video via the BBC. This takes us into his lab/kitchen to discuss and show us how to cook using the principles of note-by-note cooking and how to employ compounds into your dishes! Happy viewing and Bon Appétit!

Thursday, October 16th, 2014

Herve This on Why Note-by-Note Cooking Is Good for the Future of Food

“Thanks to note-by-note cooking, we have a whole new slew of cooking possibilities in front of us as well as new consistencies, new odors, new tastes, and new flavors.”—Hervé This

Herve This, Note-by-Note CookingThe following is a post by Hervé This, author of Note-by-Note Cooking: The Future of Food. (For more on the book, you can also read an excerpt or an interview with Hervé This):

Fittingly, Columbia University Press added “the future of food” on the cover of my new book since note-by-note cooking is truly the future of food and more and more chefs are exploring and employing its techniques in their cooking.

If you look to the current developments of culinary art, you don’t see much novelty except note-by-note cooking. Wild plants? The eminent French chef Michel Michel Bras has been cooking them for decades. Molecular cooking? Even if you call it “science-based cooking”, or “modernist cooking”, or “techno-emotional cooking” (what is this need to give more names when one was already given?), that was proposed as early as the 1980′s!

Yes, there is no newer proposal for culinary art than note-by-note cooking, and we are living a very exciting time. Thanks to note-by-note cooking, we have a whole new slew of cooking possibilities in front of us as well as new consistencies, new odors, new tastes, and new flavors.

(more…)

Wednesday, October 15th, 2014

Interview with Herve This, author of “Note-by-Note Cooking”

Herve This, Note-By-Note CookingThe following is an interview with Hervé This, author of Note-by-Note Cooking: The Future of Food:

“All food is ‘artificial’! Do you think that barbecue meat hangs ‘naturally’ on the trees of the wild forest?”—Hervé This

Question: How does note-by-note cooking differ from molecular gastronomy?

Herve This: Molecular gastronomy is a scientific activity, not to be confused with molecular cooking. Indeed, molecular gastronomy, being science, has nothing to do with cooking. In other words, science is not about making dishes. Science looks for the mechanism of phenomena. That’s all. And technology uses the results of science to improve technique. So, note-by-note cooking is a technique.

Another question could be, how is note-by-note cooking different from molecular cooking? And here the answer would be that the definition of molecular cooking is “to cook using modern tools” (such as siphons, liquid nitrogen, etc.). But you still use meat, vegetables, etc. However, with note-by-note cooking, the instruments are not important, and the big revolution is to cook with pure compounds, instead of meat, vegetables, fruits, eggs, etc.

Q: Where does the name Note-by-Note Cooking come from?

HT: In 1999, when I introduced the name “molecular cooking,” I was upset, because it was a bad choice, which had to be made for many complex reasons. Unfortunately, people now confuse molecular gastronomy and molecular cooking. So, For note-by-note cooking, I wanted a name that could appeal to artists and it’s fair to say that note-by-note cooking is comparable to a term such as electro-acoustic music.

Q: Won’t not-by-note cooking produce artificial forms of food?

HT: Yes, but all food is “artificial”! Do you think that barbecue meat hangs “naturally” on the trees of the wild forest? Or that French fries appear suddenly from potatoes? No, you need a cook, to make them. In ordinary language, “natural” means “what was not transformed by human beings”, and “artificial” means that it was transformed, it was the result of human “art”.

Instead of “artificial,” it is better to think of “synthetic”, and again in this sense, note by note is synthetic in a similar way as electro-acoustic music. But just listen to the radio and synthesizers are everywhere, often with sometimes beautiful sounds. Moreover, in art, the scope of what is possibile increases with more choices. And more choice is better!

(more…)

Tuesday, October 14th, 2014

Book Giveaway! Win a Free Copy of “Note-by-Note Cooking” by Herve This

Note-by-Note Cooking: The Future of Food, Hervé ThisThis week our featured book is Note-by-Note Cooking: The Future of Food by Hervé This.

In addition to featuring the book and the author on the blog, we will also be posting about the book on twitter, and facebook.

We are also offering a FREE copy of Note-by-Note Cooking to a lucky winner. To enter the contest please e-mail pl2164@columbia.edu and include your name and address. The winner will be selected Friday, October 17 at 1:00 pm.

Note-by-Note Cooking is a landmark in the annals of gastronomy, liberating cooks from the constraints of traditional ingredients and methods through the use of pure molecular compounds. Hervé This clearly explains the properties of naturally occurring and synthesized compounds, dispels a host of misconceptions about the place of chemistry in cooking, and shows why note-by-note cooking is an obvious—and inevitable—extension of his earlier pioneering work in molecular gastronomy.

Read an excerpt from the introduction, “Why the Need for Note-by-Note Cooking Should be Obvious”:

Tuesday, September 30th, 2014

To the Point: A New E-book Series from Columbia University Press

To the Point

To the Point, Bruce HoffmanTo the Point, Julia KristevaTo the Point, Peter Piot                 To the Point, Joel SimonTo the Point, Evan Thompson

Columbia University Press is proud to announce the launch of To the Point an exciting new e-book series that extends the scholarship of our authors for a growing global and digital audience. We present standalone chapters from the press’s forthcoming fall season books, with original short-format works to come to the series in the future.

These works serve to introduce our authors’ provocative ideas to new readers in accessible, affordable formats. Featuring works by Bruce Hoffman, Julia Kristeva, Evan Thompson, and others in disciplines ranging from politics and philosophy to food science and social work.

To the Point titles are available for only $1.99 from your favorite e-book vendor.

The first five e-book shorts to be released for sale in the To the Point series are:

* The 7/7 London Underground Bombing: Not So Homegrown, by Bruce Hoffman
A selection from The Evolution of the Global Terrorist Threat: From 9/11 to Osama bin Laden’s Death

* Understanding Through Fiction, by Julia Kristeva
A selection from Teresa, My Love: An Imagined Life of the Saint of Avila

* AIDS as an International Political Issue, by Peter Piot
A selection from AIDS Between Science and Politics

* Informing the Global Citizen, by Joel Simon
A Selection from The New Censorship: Inside the Global Battle for Media Freedom

* Dying: What Happens When We Die?, by Evan Thompson
A Selection from Waking, Dreaming, Being: Self and Consciousness in Neuroscience, Meditation, and Philosophy

Monday, September 29th, 2014

Flying Dinosaurs Challenge

Flying Dinosaurs, John Pickrell

How much do YOU know about flying dinosaurs? John Pickrell, author of Flying Dinosaurs: How Fearsome Reptiles Became Birds, has created a challenge which will help you gauge your current knowledge and will teach you some fascinating facts about the deep connections between dinosaurs and modern birds. Take the challenge below, and let us know how you did in the comment section!


Friday, September 19th, 2014

Test Your Flying Dinosaur Knowledge!

We’ve spent the past week featuring Flying Dinosaurs: How Fearsome Reptiles Became Birds by John Pickrell and now’s your chance to see much your really know about dinosaurs, flying and otherwise.

CredSpark recently created a quiz specifically about the book with 10 questions ranging from why dinosaurs grew feathers to what scientists have recently discovered in the fossil record.

And, for more on the book, you can also read “A Whole New World,” the introduction to Flying Dinosaurs:

Thursday, September 18th, 2014

An Interview with John Pickrell, author of “Flying Dinosaurs”

Flying Dinosaurs, John Pickrell

“Dinosaurs are very much still alive, and are more successful and numerous in terms of species numbers now than they have been at any other point in their roughly-230-million-year history.”—John Pickrell

The following is our interview with John Pickrell, author of Flying Dinosaurs: How Fearsome Reptiles Became Birds:

Question: Are dinosaurs still among us?

John Pickrell: Dinosaurs are very much still alive, and are more successful and numerous in terms of species numbers now than they have been at any other point in their roughly-230-million-year history. This is because birds are dinosaurs; they evolved from within the speedy, bipedal group of predators called theropods, which includes such creatures as Velociraptor and T. rex. Birds are not only the descendants of the dinosaurs—they actually are living dinosaurs. They are simply a small, specialized flying form of theropod. Right now there are nearly ten thousand known living species, and perhaps as many as four hundred billion individuals flitting about on the planet.

Q: What did dinosaurs use feathers for?

JP: Since the first dinosaur fossil with feathers was discovered in China in 1996, around 40 species have been found with feather impressions or direct evidence of feathers of some kind. This has shown us that feathers existed in dinosaurs long before they had any purpose in flight. Feathers are so entwined in our minds with flight, this seems counter-intuitive, but flight feathers are highly specialized structures and can’t have appeared fully formed. We now know feathers had an entirely different purpose initially. The earliest feathers we see on dinosaur fossils are simple, fluffy filaments, like the down of a chick, and they were used for insulation. Only later were feathers co-opted for display purposes and eventually for flight.

(more…)

Wednesday, September 17th, 2014

Video: John Pickrell Talks Flying Dinosaurs with ABC News

In the following video, John Pickrell, author of Flying Dinosaurs: How Fearsome Reptiles Became Birds talks with Australian TV about recent discoveries about dinosaurs. Calling it a “Golden Age” in dinosaur research, Pickrell discusses the likelihood of feathered dinosaurs, recent research comparing dinosaurs and chickens, the new Jurassic Park movie, and much more:

Tuesday, September 16th, 2014

Flying Dinosaurs in Action!

Needless to say, one can hardly think about flying dinosaurs without wondering what they looked like. Flying Dinosaurs: How Fearsome Reptiles Became Birds by John Pickrell includes several illustrations of flying dinosaurs based on scientific evidence. Here are few of examples from the book:

Flying Dinosaurs
Four-winged flier: Discovered in 2009, 161 million-year-old Anchiornis huxleyi pre-dated the “first bird” Archaeopteryx and helped solve the confusing “temporal paradox”. Until then, all known feathered dinosaurs were younger than Archaeopteryx, so couldn’t have been ancestral to it. Instead, experts now think Cretaceous forests were home to a mixture of feathery dinosaurs and early birds. (Source: Julius Csotonyi)

Flying Dinosaurs
Pitstop: Early birds were contemporaries of a diverse fauna of bird-like dinosaurs, such as Tyrannosaurs rex, during the Cretaceous period. (Source: Luis Rey)

(more…)

Monday, September 15th, 2014

Book Giveaway! Win a FREE copy of “Flying Dinosaurs”

Flying Dinosaurs: How Fearsome Reptiles Became Birds

“A marvelous book. The moment life took to the air—caught in stone!” — Tim Flannery, environmentalist and paleontologist

This week our featured book is Flying Dinosaurs: How Fearsome Reptiles Became Birds, by John Pickrell.

In addition to featuring the book and the author on the blog, we will also be posting about the book on twitter, and facebook.

We are also offering a FREE copy of Flying Dinosaurs: How Fearsome Reptiles Became Birds to a lucky winner. To enter the contest please e-mail pl2164@columbia.edu and include your name and address. The winner will be selected Friday, September 19 at 1:00 pm.

Mixing colorful portraits with news on the latest fossil findings and interviews with leading paleontologists in the United States, China, Europe, and Australia, John Pickrell explains and details dinosaurs’ development of flight. This special capacity introduced a whole new range of abilities for the animals and helped them survive a mass extinction, when thousands of other dinosaur species that once populated the Earth did not.