u Notes from the Underground: Update on books and stuff

Update on books and stuff

Monday, October 30, 2006

I am near the end of my mid-quarter breather from studies. Grad school so far has been fun, and I have been immersed in things in a way I haven't been for a while. The flip side is that I am progressing through my extra-cirrucular reading far more slowly than usual (btw, updated reading lists on the right side - hover your mouse over the links and check out the neat little popups that are finally working! (I hope)). Nonetheless, I am done (or nearly done) with a few books. Here is a short review of one:

The Language Instinct by Steven Pinker: (Amazon link, Pinker's homepage)
This is the book that made Steven Pinker famous, and deservedly so, in my opinion. It's an excellent and entertaining introduction to the mechanisms underlying language. Pinker's position is that human brains possess an innate and universal capacity for language - the "language instinct" - which evolved through good ol' Darwinian selection. The book is about language, but it's also about convincing the reader of Pinker's position, and he convinces me, at any rate. Along the way, he explains some of the charming regularites in languages (why do we say higgledy-piggledy instead of piggledy-higgledy? why does abso-bloody-lutely sound better than ab-bloody-solutely?), demolishes some of the common myths about language ("language shapes thought" - the dreaded Whorfian hypothesis), and does a neat job of explaining how meaning and understanding can arise in a blind symbol-processing system (a.k.a. Physical Symbol System hypothesis), among other things. Towards the end of the book, he has a short attack on the standard social science model of assuming the human brain to be a tabula rasa and instead puts forth as an alternative the model of Evolutionary Psychology, something he returns to in more detail in The Blank Slate. The jury's still out on Pinker's particular brand of evolutionary psychology, so it's good we don't have to read a lot of it. (That last link is also good intro to EP.) It's a pretty big book (430 pgs) and I don't have much time so I will leave it here. All in all, it's a book I highly recommend if you're interested in language or are a general science junkie.

I also planned to write about Pavan Verma's Being Indian (link in the sidebar), but it's too late and I keep editing away whatever I type so I'll do it in a later installment.

Plus, I saw "The Departed" yesterday. Decent entertainment, although Matt Damon was pretty wooden-faced and technically it wasn't as slick or smooth as I hoped it to be. Also saw the trailer of the awesome 300, the movie adaptation of a graphic novel by Frank Miller and someone else about a war between Spartans and Persians. It's done in a black-and-white, high-fantasy, over-the-top style - in typical graphic novel style, in short. (It's a pity I am too impatient these days to read a whole graphic novel..) I generally am a sucker for such slick, stylistic action movies, and graphic novels will hopefully ensure a pipeline of such movies (we had Sincity and V for Vendetta before this one )


At 7:28 PM, October 31, 2006, Anonymous Rajat said...

The Amazon thing works nicely. How did it start working? Version 2 or something?

At 8:12 PM, October 31, 2006, Anonymous Venu said...

I am not sure. The links are still in the same format.. Maybe the Amazon people fixed a bug, or maybe it's firefox 2, but I think my office comp doesn't have firefox 2, and the popups were coming up there, so it's probably not firefox 2.

At 9:02 PM, October 31, 2006, Anonymous Rajat said...

Uh? You think your office comp doesn't have FF 2? Aren't you allowed to install stuff?

At 10:56 PM, October 31, 2006, Anonymous Venu said...

We *are* allowed to install stuff. It's just that I was at home when I wrote that comment, so I couldn't check if my office Firefox had automatically upgraded or something (even then I would know, ofcourse.) Now I am at my office, and now I know for sure I didn't upgrade to FF 2 here, so the Amazon people must've fixed the bug when we weren't noticing.


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