Ed Boyden, Roy Baumeister

Ed Boyden, a neuroscientist over at MIT/Technology Review, has started a general-interest science blog. I'm happy to see this, as Ed seems not only smart, but prone to write frankly and creatively about deeply relevant issues.

Another interesting, rather speculative piece I'd direct people toward is "Is There Anything Good About Men?" - American Psychological Association, Invited Address, 2007, Roy F. Baumeister.

I've not decided whether I agree with his conclusions, and since it's a conference address it's a little citation-lite, but it's a thoughtful and thought-provoking mix of fact, theory, and conjecture.

Back to paper writing.


Anonymous said...

There are some interesting ideas in the Baumeister article, but many of his generalizations are suspect. I will confine myself to commenting on his assertion that few women improvise music. To put the male dominance of jazz down to evolution is disingenuous, since jazz arose from conditions where only those who had enough free time to play could be good. Several seminal jazz musicians were pimps (see http://chronicle.com/weekly/v52/i18/18b01401.htm)
and Billie Holiday had to work as a prostitute at some points. (Of course, it is generally true of artists that they either had patrons, as Wagner had Ludwig, or they just scraped by. Early 20th Century black men were too far down the ladder to have princes to support them.) Under those circumstances, it is not surprising that there were few women in jazz. There are notable exceptions, too, such as Mary Lou Williams. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Lou_Williams)
Thelonius Monk would not have been Monk without things he learned from Mary Lou.

Mike said...

Thanks for the comment. Not knowing very much about the history of jazz, I'd agree there are plenty of other non-genetic, non-evolutionary influences which could also explain the male dominance of jazz.

I'd tend to characterize his argument as "gender differences largely arise from reproductive game theory: this has led to men having an evolved tendency to strive more for greatness and women for more circumscribed, practical successes, and, all things being equal, the imprint of this can be seen in our histories."

All things are never equal. Perhaps, as you say, they weren't in the history of Jazz. All of history is such a gordian knot that it'd probably be hard to find any example that's free of caveats. That said, I think there's probably something to what he says based on the evolutionary game theory he describes.

I did find his thought that 'there are two different ways of being social' to be pretty vague. I wish he had tried to develop it further.