Whale brains and cognition

Reading Charles Sibert’s wonderful article in yesterday’s Sunday NYT Magazine, I was reminded by my own encounter with an Orca on the north shore of San Juan Island close to twenty years ago. I had been told that if I showed up at the rocky outcropping around 10 in the morning, I’d run into a pod of the huge creatures face to face.

This was no exaggeration. Pretty much exactly on time, I was face-to-face with a huge intelligent eye gazing across the species barrier. It’s a moment I’ve never forgotten. Read the entire article. The end is the most moving.
So how smart are whales? I think that’s a very interesting question. Certainly the fact that they possess the spindle neurons that humans and the great apes also have makes the question neurobiologically relevant.

More on the modern university

From this morning’s NY Times–the chair of the religion department at Columbia University rails against US graduate education, which he likens to the US auto industry in terms of its desperate need for restructuring.

I’m not at all sure I agree with him, but then the situation for science is very different than the situation with humanities and especially departments of religion.
For one thing, doctoral students in the sciences tend to receive higher stipends, they produce dissertations which are separable easily into journal papers and their job prospects aren’t bad–especially when you consider non-traditional tracks to academia.

Decade of the Mind IV, V and beyond

We returned to Washington on the red-eye from Long Beach Airport and arrived on Monday morning, in time for the festivities–although we didn’t brave the crowds on the Mall. I note that President Obama clearly mentioned science in his inaugural address–that and his high quality appointments make me very optimistic about this administration.

The money quote:

The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act — not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together. We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology’s wonders to raise health care’s quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. All this we will do.

The Decade of the Mind IV meeting went better than I could have ever expected–just a superb set of presentations, Q&A sessions and off-line discussions. The picture is of the New York Times’ science reporter George Johnson and Director of the National Museum of Health and Medicine Adrianne Noe. Dr. Noe is also the current chair of the Krasnow Advisory Board. I’m in the middle. The river in the background is the Rio Grande with the Sandia Mountains as the backdrop.

Decade of the Mind V, will be held in Berlin Germany on September 10-12 of this year. I’ll have more information soon, so stay tuned. And in the meantime, we’re working on future plans to keep the momentum moving into Asia.