Thursday, January 4, 2018

Some distractions

Here are three very short pieces that might amuse you.

The first (here) discusses the complex ways that birds cooperate while singing to enhance their partner's responses. This is pretty sophisticated behavior and it strikes me as having a more than passing resemblance to turn taking activity in cooperative conversation. If this analogy is on the right track, then it is a case where something that we find in human language use has analogues in other species. Note, that so far as we can tell, cooperation of this sort does not endow the cooperators with anything like unbounded hierarchical syntax of the kind found in human language. Which just goes to show (if this were needed) that the fact that communication can be socially directed and involves cooperation does not suffice to explain its formal properties. I am sure you did not need reminding of this, though there are some who still suggest that ultimately such forms of cooperation will get one all the way to recursive syntax.

Here's another piece on plant cognition, this time decision making. Their strategic thinking is quite striking, with plants suiting their responses to the strategic options available to them. Their "behavior" is very context sensitive and it appears that they they maximize their access to light using several different strategies appropriately. How they do this is unclear, but that they do it seems well established. As Michael Gruntman, one of the researchers noted: "Such an ability to choose between different responses according to their outcome could be particularly important in heterogeneous environments, where plants can grow under neighbors with different size, age, or density, and should therefore be able to choose their appropriate strategy." And all without brains.

The third piece (here), is a spot by Gelman. It more or less speaks for itself but it useful makes the point again that stats without theory usually produces junk. We cannot repeat this often enough, especially given his observation that this message has not filtered through to the professionals that use the statistical machinery.


  1. We could produce a simple series of examples that help explain the distinction between non-hierarchical recursion and hierarchical recursion.
    The first example we can call Birdge. It might sound like this:
    We might imagine a parrot repeating this sequence and indeed communicating something with it.
    However, External Merge yields and example like the following:
    Each natural number in the series is semantically distinct.
    And Internal Merge allows us to transform a sequence like:
    1,2,3 to 1,3,2
    Any thoughts?

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