Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Crisis? What Crisis?

Sorry for the extended silence. Sorry also for the preponderance of personal over sciencey news lately, despite the many and varied worldchanging links you've been sending to get me back on the track (this recent study, for instance, which details a case of blindsight so extreme even I had to read it twice. Which is about once for every ten of you who forwarded the link.) Don't expect much to change over the holidays— I'm writing on painkillers with my arm in a sling, the usual combination of domestic obligations/complications is busy spiking the suicide rate as it always does at this time of year, and any postings over the next week are likely to be scheduling notes for Squiddance '08, which will be of no interest to anyone outside the GTA. (Although if you are in the area, you might want to drop by; the apartment is small, but both bed and TV are large.)

But I am going to thump my chest a wee bit here, because I have just learned something that is way too fucking cool to keep to just myself and whoever happened to be within four hundred meters of my surprised yelp upon hearing the news:

Blindsight is going to be a required text for a Biological Psychology course at the University of Miami.

It's not the first time my stuff has been taught in universities. Ever since Starfish I've been popping up here and there in courses on ethics, literature (well, mainly just science fiction, but it's Christmas; we can pretend it's literature) — even, in a bit of a coup, in an upcoming Philosophy-of-Mind course out in California (hi, Matt).

Philosophy, ethics, literature— cool, but not mind-boggling. Metaphor and thought experiment are right at home in the Humanities. But to require the reading of a work of unapologetic fiction in a science course? I don't know if that's ever happened before.

It's about to, though, thanks to a neuroscientist called Peter Stimson (originally from Duke)— who somehow seems to think that Blindsight's portrayal of various agnosias and pointy-haired homunculi serves as an apt introduction to the conundrum of self-awareness for his students. I've expressed pleasure in the past that my sheen of faux expertise has managed to fool so many of you over the years, but to have put one over on an actual practicing professional in the field leaves me deeply humbled. An extra 400 copies/year in sales doesn't hurt much, either.

Can it get any better? Why, yes; turns out the dude is also a big fan of Jethro Tull.

It's almost enough to make me forget that we're all about six months away from global anarchy.



Anonymous Anonymous said...


Good news. If fiction were required reading in the science courses at Guelph, I might have done better. Oh wait, I think that some of those texts were fiction.

And you closing the year with a comment on Jethro Tull just seems right.

From one atheist to another, Merry Christmas.


December 24, 2008 12:30 PM  
Blogger Nicholas said...

That's great news! I don't think professors over at my school will ever get over The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat. I've lost count the times I've had to read about that girl with the brain tumor or the forgetful alcoholic...

However, both books are along the right lines in the sense that Blindsight and For a Hat (is there no good way to shorten that title?) encourage an interest neurobiology, be it because they pose questions that bore away at you or because they make you marvel at the ways mother nature can fuck you over.

December 24, 2008 2:02 PM  
Anonymous Madeline said...

Christmas is a season of outliers, founded on a story about good things arriving in unlikely places at inconvenient times. Your good news is therefore wholly appropriate, especially in the face of injured arms and future anarchy. (Also Dave and I have agreed that this is to be the Best Xmas Ever, and when pattern-matched along this axis, these events clearly conform to expectations. Not your arm, of course -- just the sales. Although lots of people wish for an excuse to down painkillers at this time of year, so to them you're quite lucky.)

December 24, 2008 2:13 PM  
Blogger carnifex said...

That's fantastic news! Sorry to hear your arm is in a sling.

What the devil is Squiddance? I'll see if I can find links elsewhere on your site, but it never hurts to ask.

December 24, 2008 2:21 PM  
Anonymous asc said...

Link the times article. Or, better yet, the video it links to. Totally awesome. ; ; htttp://

December 24, 2008 5:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

*I* have done some neurology. With plenty of attention to CNS crap.

I was muthafuckin' *impressed* by Blindsight and thought it was one of the hardest science fiction novel I have ever read. You really did a great job stitching together all of this phenomena and structural ideas of consciousness into an entertaining novel.

Flip side. Nobody but us science geeks actually knew just what you accomplished.


December 25, 2008 10:48 PM  
Blogger Matt McCormick said...

PW, currently I'm planning to have my philosophy of mind students read Blindsight and a book called Brain-wise--an undergrad primer on neuro-philosophy by Patricia Churchland. They are going to have so much far out neuro tripping, they are going to jump out the windows. I'll let you know how it goes.

But I am hoping that you just like Jethro Tull in a ironic-it's-so-bad-and-70s-cheesy-it's-good kinda way.

Matt McCormick

For you atheists, there are a number of word battles ongoing at my blog:

December 28, 2008 11:04 PM  
Blogger Peter Watts said...

Matt McCormick said...

But I am hoping that you just like Jethro Tull in a ironic-it's-so-bad-and-70s-cheesy-it's-good kinda way.

Fighting words, my man. I'll grant you that their live shows these days are broken and pathetic travesties of a once great act, but albums like "Songs from the Wood" remain on my "ten albums I would want to be stranded on a desert island with" list. And Anderson's lyrics were head and shoulders above what most people were scribbling for their vocalists, back in the day (hell, even today). I even think Passion Play rocks.

I forgive you your transgression, though. Recent neurological research has shown that you're not really responsible for your own opinions...

January 2, 2009 4:27 PM  
Blogger Peter Watts said...

Middlebrook! Where the hell are you these days? Get that pipe out of your spine and come over for a beer!

January 2, 2009 4:28 PM  
Blogger Seth said...

An extra 400 copies?

Make it 401 I bought another copy and sent it to my brother in Mainland China.

They'll probably have a .23 knock off printed on lead vapor and alpha particles out shortly but at least a few measley cents went your way.

January 3, 2009 1:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Get that pipe out of your spine and come over for a beer!"

Sorry. The pipe stays were it is, although it results in more body searches at the airports than I would normnally enjoy.

I would love to come over for a beer but it would be a long walk. I live a couple miles from our beloved leader, Steven Harper.


January 6, 2009 12:47 AM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home