Climate, Risk, and the Rise of Agriculture

Many Minds | 12 June 2024 | 1h 11m | Listen Later | Podcasts | Spotify
Interview with Andrea Matranga about his paper​ The Ant and the Grasshopper: Seasonality and the Invention of Agriculture. Discusses his unifying theory of the rise of agriculture in our species; weaknesses of earlier explanations of agriculture, including explanations that focused on climate; the historical datasets he used to test his theory; the downstream effects that agriculture seems to have had; agriculture as a franchise model; Milankovitch Cycles; risk-aversion and consumption-smoothing; interloping in the debates of other disciplines; and how we inevitably project our own concerns onto the past.

See also the GrowthChat episode with Andrea Matranga.

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Ximena Nelson on The Lives of Spiders

Many Minds | 30 May 2024 | 1h 17m | Listen Later | Podcasts | Spotify
Interview with Ximena Nelson about her book The Lives of Spiders. Discusses how spiders use hairs to detect the minutest of vibrations and how they see, usually, with four pairs of eyes; web-making and silk-making; how spiders hunt, jump, dance, pounce, plan, decorate, cache, balloon, and possibly count; why so many spiders mimic ants; whether webs constitute an extended sensory apparatus – like a gigantic ear – and why spiders are an under-appreciated group of animals for thinking about the evolution of mind, brain, and behaviour.

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Fermentation, Fire, and Our Big Brains

Many Minds | 22 February 2024 | 1h 05m | Listen Later | Podcasts | Spotify
Interview with Katherine Bryant and Erin Hecht about their paper Fermentation Technology as a Driver of Human Brain Expansion. Argues that fermented foods could have provided the caloric boost that allowed our brains to expand. Discusses how the human body differs from the bodies of other great apes, not just in terms of our brains but also in terms of our bowels. Describes how fermented foods provide nutritional benefits over unfermented foods. Considers how fermentation – which basically happens whether you want it to or not – would have been cognitively easier to harness than fire. Along the way, touches on kiviaq, chicha, makgeolli, hákarl, natto, Limburger cheese, salt-rising bread, and other arguably delectable products of fermentation.

See also the episodes with Richard Wrangham about the arguments for cooked food providing the caloric boost that allowed our brains to expand.

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Revisiting the Dawn of Human Cognition

Many Minds | 1 June 2023 | 0h 56m | Listen Later | Podcasts | Spotify
Interview with Eleanor Scerri and Manuel Will about their paper The revolution that still isn’t: The origins of behavioral complexity in Homo sapiens. Discusses the history of the cognitive revolution model. Sets out the evidence that there was no cognitive revolution—no one watershed moment in time and space. Argues that the origins of modern human cognition and culture are to be found not in one part of Europe but across Africa and much earlier than the classic picture suggests.

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The Mighty T-Rex Brain

Many Minds | 8 March 2023 | 0h 55m | Listen Later | Podcasts | Spotify
Interview with Suzana Herculano-Houzel about her paper Theropod dinosaurs had primate-like numbers of telencephalic neurons. Backgrounds that the most revealing thing about a brain is not how big it is or how big it is relative to the body, but simply how many neurons it has. Argues a T-Rex’s brain was comparable to a baboon’s so that it was probably quite behaviorally flexible and long-lived and may even have had culture.

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What Does ChatGPT Really Know?

Many Minds | 25 January 2023 | 0h 55m | Listen Later | Podcasts | Spotify
Interview with Murray Shanahan about his paper Talking about Large Language Models. Argues that it’s not appropriate to talk about large language models in anthropomorphic terms. Discusses the rapid rise of large language models and the basics of how they work; how a model that simply does “next-word prediction” can be engineered into a savvy chatbot like ChatGPT; why ChatGPT lacks genuine “knowledge” and “understanding”; and what it might take for these models to eventually possess richer, more human-like capacities.

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Happiness and the Predictive Mind

Many Minds | 19 October 2022 | 1h 01m | Listen Later | Podcasts | Spotify
Interview with Mark Miller about the predictive processing framework for cognition. Discusses how this approach can inform our understanding of depression, addiction, and PTSD; sketches notions of loops and slopes, stickiness and rigidity, wobble and volatility, edges and grip; also touches on video games, play, horror, psychedelics, and meditation.

See also the Sean Carroll’s Mindscape episode Andy Clark on the Extended and Predictive Mind.

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A Hidden World of Sound

Many Minds | 14 December 2022 | 0h 58m | Listen Later | Podcasts | Spotify
Interview with Karen Bakker about her book The Sounds of Life: How Digital Technology Is Bringing Us Closer to the Worlds of Animals and Plants. Discusses the twin fields of “bioacoustics” and “ecoacoustics”, why sound is such a ubiquitous signalling medium across the tree of life, why scientific discoveries about sound have often been resisted, whether animal communication systems constitute languages, efforts to decode those systems using AI.

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