Posts Tagged ‘Darwin’

Zen meditation, William James on PhD thesis and Darwin’s London

September 4, 2008

Here are a few links via Coturnix at A blog around the clock:

Zen meditation

Science daily reports (via):

Experienced Zen meditators can clear their minds of distractions more quickly than novices, according to a new brain imaging study.

The paper in question is published in PLoS ONE (via); here is the abstract:

Recent neuroimaging studies have identified a set of brain regions that are metabolically active during wakeful rest and consistently deactivate in a variety the performance of demanding tasks. This “default network” has been functionally linked to the stream of thoughts occurring automatically in the absence of goal-directed activity and which constitutes an aspect of mental behavior specifically addressed by many meditative practices. Zen meditation, in particular, is traditionally associated with a mental state of full awareness but reduced conceptual content, to be attained via a disciplined regulation of attention and bodily posture. Using fMRI and a simplified meditative condition interspersed with a lexical decision task, we investigated the neural correlates of conceptual processing during meditation in regular Zen practitioners and matched control subjects. While behavioral performance did not differ between groups, Zen practitioners displayed a reduced duration of the neural response linked to conceptual processing in regions of the default network, suggesting that meditative training may foster the ability to control the automatic cascade of semantic associations triggered by a stimulus and, by extension, to voluntarily regulate the flow of spontaneous mentation.

William James on PhD theses and PhDs

William James, more than a century ago (via):

When the thesis came to be read by our committee, we could not pass it. Brilliancy and originality by themselves won’t save a thesis for the doctorate; it must also exhibit a heavy technical apparatus of learning; and this our candidate had neglected to bring to bear. So, telling him that he was temporarily rejected, we advised him to pad out the thesis properly, and return with it next year, at the same time informing his new President that this signified nothing as to his merits, that he was of ultra-Ph.D. quality, and one of the strongest men with whom we had ever had to deal.

To our surprise we were given to understand in reply that the quality per se of the man signified nothing in this connection, and that the three magical letters were the thing seriously required. The College had always gloried in a list of faculty members who bore the doctor’s title, and to make a gap in the galaxy, and admit a common fox without a tail, would be a degradation impossible to be thought of. We wrote again, pointing out that a Ph.D. in philosophy would prove little anyhow as to one’s ability to teach literature; we sent separate letters in which we outdid each other in eulogy of our candidate’s powers, for indeed they were great; and at last, mirabile dictu, our eloquence prevailed. He was allowed to retain his appointment provisionally, on condition that one year later at the farthest his miserably naked name should be prolonged by the sacred appendage the lack of which had given so much trouble to all concerned.

Getting the sense of Darwin as a young man

Richard Conniff at the Atlantic (via):

In paintings and sculptures from the last years of his life, Charles Darwin gives the impression of a man deeply wishing he could be somewhere else. At the National Portrait Gallery in London, he keeps his rumpled hat clutched in one hand, ready to bolt for the door. At the Natural History Museum, he has his coat folded across his lap, as if yearning to shed the burden of fame and slip quietly into oblivion. On the £10 note, his eyes are haunted beneath a vast furrowed brow, and there’s dismay behind that biblical white beard.

This image of Darwin is everywhere, and that seemed to me, on a recent trip to London, to be a pity. Even the founding father of evolutionary theory was not born a gloomy old man. I began to wonder if it might be possible to walk Darwin’s London and get a sense of him as a young man caught up in the fray. The landmarks of his life turned out to be all around. One day, for instance, I ducked into the Burlington Arcade—a handsome 1819 predecessor of the enclosed luxury shopping mall, where the bon ton of Darwin’s day shopped—and then, via another arcade, out onto Albemarle Street. To the right was the Royal Institution, where Darwin attended lectures. Brown’s Hotel, where a pro-Darwin group called the X Club used to meet in the 1860s, stood in mid-block. And though Darwin’s publishing company was sold off a few years ago to a conglomerate, the seventh generation of John Murrays still presides over the company’s old house just down the street. Murray told me he was already being inundated with visitors anticipating next year’s big anniversaries of Darwin’s birth (1809) and of the publication of his book On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection (1859).

Happy reading!

Darwin in Indian textbooks — setting the record straight

April 27, 2008

Sometime back, I wrote a post about the absence of Darwin in Indian science textbooks based on an editorial in Current Science by Prof. Balaram (which is getting some attention elsewhere in the blogopolis too).

When I wrote the post, Deep, duly noted in a comment that Prof. Balaram should have taken a look at all the school textbooks and not just the X standard one.

Now, after seeing Abi’s wonderful  and must-follow link to the NCERT textbooks for all classes from I to XII standards, Deep did a follow-up for me, and informs me in a mail that

… the Xth standard NCERT biology book does mention (actually, covers a decent amount of) evolution and Darwin (with his photograph as well:-)

which indeed is good news at some level. So, even if Darwin is missing in some texts for some classes, it is good to know that there are some boards which do a good job. Now, it just becomes a question of standardisation across different boards.

Darwin in Indian biology textbooks (the absence of)

March 31, 2008

Prof. Balaram, in his latest editorial at Current Science, brings some disturbing news to our attention (pdf):

 … I wondered how much are our children are taught about Darwin. I took a clandestine look at a X standard biology textbook and found a picture of Gregor Mendel, but no mention of Darwin. There were sections on cell structures, genetics, respiration, nervous and reproductive systems, population and health, but surprisingly not even a passing mention of the origins of biological diversity. On enquiry, the owner of the textbook was dismissive: “Only you and the BBC are interested in Darwin”.

Considering the accepted importance of evolutionary  concepts in biology, the cavalier treatment meted out to Darwin in the high school textbook puzzled me. But, I quickly discovered that “evolution” is a word that is avoided elsewhere too.

Till I read the editorial, I was under the impression that in India at least, we did not have any problems with teaching evolution. May be my impression was incorrect; may be the biology textbooks that we perused also did not have any reference to Darwin, and all of what I know about Darwin and his work stem from my non-textbook reading. In any case, I only hope that Prof. Balaram’s editorial will be a starting point for the revision of the textbooks!

Darwin in Indian languages

February 7, 2008

John Hawks has a note about the translation of Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species and the Descent of Man into Croatian, which piqued my interest about the translation of Darwin into Indian languages. A bit of googling tells me of the Hindi translation of his Origin of species in 1964 (Go here and type Hindi in their search box for more information), and a Kannada translation of his autobiography. Do the readers of this blog know of any other translations? Into Tamil, Malayalam, Bengali, or Telugu, for example? If so, who did the translation, and which book? I am dying to know!