I am going traveling very soon, so things will get pretty quiet around here. My posts here are split up into three categories, and each has a separate feed:
- Essays (subscribe here), my longer, in-depth writings, usually about technical subjects.
- Travelog (subscribe here), which is where I have written about my travels. Although will be traveling soon, I’m not sure if I’ll continue to write travel log entries.
- Blurbs (subscribe here), mostly links to things I find interesting, with very short commentary. For the last few months I’ve been posting interesting links & short commentary via Twitter instead, so if you like my blurbs, or want to respond to anything on here, you could follow me on Twitter.
There’s of course also a master feed for all posts. You can follow my posts on Digg, or follow my account on the awesome soup.io, which aggregates this blog, and my twitter, t-shirts, 3-d printing, and various other online presences. (Update 2011 April 6: Digg has removed import by RSS)
Those who followed Is Git really better than X will enjoy this interesting article by Armin Ronacher on the finer distinctions between Git and Mercurial’s branching. (via brainsik)
I think it’s particularly fascinating to look at how scientific beliefs about the functioning of the human brain have progressed through a long series of misconceptions.
Aristotle couldn’t believe that the brain, an inert grey mass, could have anything to do with thought; he assumed that the heart, hot and pulsing, must be the source of cognition, and that the brain’s function was simply to cool the blood.
Descartes assumed that the brain, with its aperture-like “cavities and pores,” was, along with the heart, part of an elaborate hydraulic system that controlled the flow of “animal spirits” through the “pipes” of the nerves. More recently, there was a longstanding belief that the cellular structure of the brain was essentially fixed by the time a person hit the age of 20 or so; we now know, through a few decades’ worth of neuroplasticity research, that even the adult brain is quite malleable, adapting continually to shifts in circumstances and behavior.
Even more recently there’s been a popular conception of the brain as a set of computing modules running, essentially, genetically determined software programs, an idea that is now also being chipped away by new research. Many of these misconceptions can be traced back to the metaphors human beings have used to understand themselves and the world (as Robert Martensen has described in his book The Brain Takes Shape).
Descartes’ mechanistic “clockwork” metaphor for explaining existence underpinned his hydraulic brain system and also influenced our more recent conception of the brain as a system of fixed and unchanging parts.
Contemporary models of the brain’s functioning draw on the popular metaphorical connection between the brain and the digital computer. My sense is that many scientific misconceptions have their roots in the dominant metaphors of the time. Metaphors are powerful explanatory tools, but they also tend to mislead by oversimplifying.
What other contemporary metaphors are misleading us about our world today?