Latest TTC course was Biological Anthropology: An Evolutionary Perspective by Barbara J. King. Thought the title was a bit misleading: it's more like "The Evolution of Man: An Anthropological Perspective"; most of the course is just a history of human evolution, with the modern implications confined to a handful of lectures at the end.
Even though the overall progress from Australopithecus to Sapiens is pretty familiar, still found the details interesting. King goes into some depth on how we know what we know, and is honest and open-minded about disagreements within the field.
I had the impression that the "Out of Africa Replacement" theory was pretty much proven, but King says that problems with the molecular clock have cast some doubt upon it. Also there is some evidence of non-African skeletons retaining some features over a long period, suggesting they weren't replaced. King seems to agree with chuckles that a combination of the two models, with some interbreeding between a proto-Sapiens emerging from Africa and the non-African native Erectus, is likely.
Disappointingly, the evidence that Neanderthals put flowers in graves also turns out to be flawed, though the did seem to leave some grave goods.
King only refers briefly to Evolutionary Psychology, giving the fairly bland example of polygyny being vastly more common than polyandry. There's not enough info to answer the question that's been bugging me: whether all the nonsense around, is just the media reporting badly, a handful of publicity-hungry researchers, or a fundamentally screwed-up field.
This course is carefully balanced though: always pointing out that genes interact with culture, and that they are usually highly multi-factored as opposed to the "gene for" stuff that appears in the popular press.
One argument that seemed a little weak was that "race" is a fundamentally unscientific concept, whereas "population" is a valid concept. For instance, she says
No agreement exists on how many races can be identified in the world. The possibilities range from 3 to more than 200, based on which traits one deems significant.To me, this seems to be quite close to a beard/continuum fallacy. Just because a continuum exists doesn't mean that it's invalid to draw distinctions, and it seems to me that "populations" have the same problem.
Overall though, an interesting, balanced and well-presented course.
Read the second volume of playwright Simon Gray's diaries: Year of the Jouncer. Read the first one, "The Smoking Diaries" not long ago. This one seemed a bit duller in the first half, with not a lot happening.
Got more interesting later on, as he describes going through the experiences of having a play flop, and then having a big hit with "The Old Masters", and then being nominated with his CBE.
He's a witty enough writer to make even everyday ruminations worthwhile, Thought his few pages on Hamlet and Shakespeare were particularly good. He thinks some elements in Shakespeare (the Ghost in Hamlet, the witches in Macbeth) are overanalysed by the critics; and are basically just there because a rushed Shakespeare just stuck very closely to the plots of the sources he was cribbing from, not bothering to wonder if the elements are really necessary.
So, a bit more uneven than the first, but still worth a look.
Economics. France: the price of suspicion.
Yet another Geography test game.
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