Emeritus Faculty Association news November-December 2009

Next Meeting:
The next meeting will be Friday, December 4th, at 10.30 am.at our usual location in the Javits room, library 2nd floor. The speaker will be Milton Lodge, Distinguished Professor of Political Science, to report on results of three experimental tests of the "hot cognition" hypothesis. Prof Lodge received his Ph.D. from the University of Michigan in 1967 in political science. His first position was at the University of Iowa where he published two books on Soviet elites before changing fields to take up a Science Research Council Fellowship to study psychophysiology at Harvard Medical School. He came to Stony Brook in 1972 as an Associate Professor and Director of the newly formed Laboratory for Political Research. The talk will draw from Prof Lodge's fifth book currently in manuscript, "The Rationalizing Voter". It represents three decades of empirical work on biases in political judgment. Prof Lodge will describe an experiment testing the primacy-of-affect postulate of the model -- that positive or negative affect enters the decision stream spontaneously, before cognitive considerations, and biases subsequent thoughts and judgments. This shows that unconscious thought processes are continuously at work, not only when people make snap judgments, but appear to be even more influential when the most knowledgeable among us think hard about an issue and weigh the pros and cons when making choices. For example most studies show significantly faster reaction times to affectively congruent political concepts and significantly slower response times to affectively incongruent concepts; These facilitation and inhibition effects, which hold for a cross-section of political leaders, groups, and issues, are strongest for those with the strongest prior attitudes, with sophisticates showing the strongest effect on "harder" political issues. We conclude with a discussion of the implications for political judgments, evaluations, and choice. One clear expectation is that most citizens, but especially those sophisticates with strong political attitudes, will be biased information processors.

Last Meeting

2009 co-chairs
members gathering before the October meeting

Co-chair, Al Carlson, started with new announcements as follows:
Homer Goldberg spoke of his early mentor at Stony Brook, Richard L. Levin, Professor Emeritus of English at Stony Brook, who died on October 30 at the age of 87. An obituary has been sent out by email from the provost's office to all faculty and staff, as well as to emeriti. Details of a memorial service to be held at the University will be announced at a later date.
Theo Pavlidis put in a plug for current workshops now available to seniors from OSHI (formerly Round-Table workshops). A link to their website can be reached by clicking on "activities for seniors at the university" on the right hand side of our home page.

Our speaker this month was William Jungers, Distinguished Professor and Chairman of Anatomical Sciences, to speak on Hobbit Biology: Homo Floresiensis and Human Evolution. He described himself as an island man (for a more complete bio click on newsarchive to see the last newsletter). This was because he did much of his work on Madagascar, and now on Flores, an island in Indonesia with a shape and orientation uncannily similar to L.I., but very different in nature, being twice as big with mountains and tropical jungles. When in 2004 a fossil was discovered in the East-end buried 6 meters down in the dirt floor of a cave, it was called "the skull that should never have been found". More bones followed and though they dated at around 17000 bp (before present), they seemed to have more in common with the very early hominid (human precursor) fossils of East Africa rather than the big brained long legged basic design of modern humans which developed from about 2 million bp. However the Homo Floresiensis were also tiny, having a head and brain size only 35% of modern humans, a height only around 1 meter, and a weight only around 30 kg. So a vigorous debate ensued in which current humans disinclined to rewrite their textbooks argued that the Flores "hobbits" (as again coined by the popular press) were merely a product of "island-dwarfing". This is a well known phenomenon in which species evolving in an isolated location can grow smaller (or sometimes bigger) than their cousins elsewhere; e.g: dwarf rhinos and dwarf elephants (stegodons) etc. And today in fact there are dwarf human communities in several parts of the world. Yet Jungers and his collaborators argued that these "pygmies" retained the basic modern human design, while the hobbits were more characteristic of an ancient out-of-Africa scenario earlier than Homo Erectus. Going backwards in time, the ancient E. African fossils include such early variants as Homo Erectus, Homo Habilus, Australopithecus Afarensis (nicknamed Lucy), 3.2 million years old, and now the recently discovered fossils of Ardipithecus Ramidus (nicknamed Ardi), ranging from 4.3 to 4.4 million bp. The affinity of Homo Floresiensis to these rather than the varieties of Homo Sapiens showed up clearly on statistical plots of length ratios such as arm to thigh, foot versus shin, and the structures of the pelvis as well as the head-spine attachment. This side of the argument gained more clout recently with a symposium at Stony Brook this April and recent articles in Nature and J. Human Evolution, and then in the Scientific American and in an NY Times editorial in May.
But if Homo Floresiensis is an entirely separate twig on the human tree, how did it traverse the "Wallace" deep water trench to Southern Indonesia where no land bridges ever existed? And how did it manage to out-survive its E. African cousins until a mere 17000 years ago? Jungers is now seeking answers to some of this in a region of Western Flores where tools from a million years bp are known to exist.

On fantasy
Prof Jungers also revealed that there has now grown up a cottage industry of "paleo-artists" and showed us various scary depictions of how Homo-Floresiensis may have looked in the flesh. Some of you may also be viewing the current PBS Nova series "Becoming Human", liberally sprinkled with cuddly animations of A. Aferensis and A. Ramidus. This kind of thing has been facilitated in recent years by advances in computer graphics and animation merging seamlessly with photographic realism. One of the ways the university makes money is by renting out the phys-ed arena on weekends to outside groups and one such recurring event is the "computer show". This attracts a somewhat odd looking crowd perhaps due to the fact that a sizable fraction of the booths are there principally for the sale of videos and games, of varieties pornographic and violent. For the upcoming holiday season the latest such to be released is the ultra-realistic "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2". This includes a scene in an airport terminal in which the protagonist and his companions use heavy-duty machine guns to mow down unarmed civilians crawling for their lives before they are finally dispatched. While it is true that the player (supposed to be a US infiltrator of the group) can optionally just ogle as his accomplices do this part of the work, he must join in when the security forces arrive and after.
So there is also an evolution of a kind going on here but it is not clear where it is headed.