Darwin’s Unfinished Symphony

It’s hard to argue with the idea that our complex cultures set us apart from the rest of the animal world. As Diana Gitig put it in her review of Darwin’s Unfinished Symphony :

Other species are indisputably smart; they can learn by example, they can communicate, they can innovate to solve problems, they can use tools, they may even have distinct cultures. But humans are clearly different. Other species don’t listen to Baroque concerti or read classical philosophy hundreds of years after the scores were composed or the treatises written. They just don’t.

What caused this gap between humans and even our closest kin, the other primates? Darwin’s Unfinished Symphony attempts to explain this gap. I’ve exercised a modicum of self-control and placed a hold on this book at NYPL, rather than immediately buying it on Kindle and placed it at the top of my reading stack.

Even as a kid I was puzzled at books (and especially comics – I’m looking at you, Silver Age DC) that illustrated sophistication in other species, whether it be talking animals or aliens, by making them just like us. Why would talking apes or aliens from the planet of anthropomorphic arthropods have, well, anthropomorphic arthropods?

Why would talking apes or aliens from the planet of anthropomorphic arthropods have, well, anthropomorphic arthropods?

I guess what I should do is write my own stories if I don’t like the way they did it. Oh, Wait.

According to the review, which is worth reading if you haven’t already, delves into how our language is different, which is what I am most interested in, and how innovations with food may be responsible for it.

His contribution is to realize that the spark that got the whole thing started were innovations in food-processing techniques that let us get more energy from our diet. More efficient eating allowed for brain growth, an extension of lifespan, and population growth. These, in turn, enabled more technological innovations, since both the people and the technologies hung around long enough for innovations to be made.

This makes it sound like a fascinating read, and there may be some story ideas in there too. I’ll write up a review when I finish it.

Amazing Library in China

There are few things writers and readers love more than libraries.I have fond memories of bicycling to and from the library when I was growing up in Ridgewood, NJ, and I also have spent plenty of quality time at events and doing research at the New York Public Library.

But feast your eyes on this amazing place in Yangzhou, China.

The image above is the entrance, which uses a black mirrored finish on the floor and distinct rounded shelving to create a stunning effect.

Here’s another shot of it.


Inside, the otherworldly effect continues with rounded pillars, shelves, and ceilings.img_6_1467955356_c51ce410c124a10e0db5e4b97fc2af39

The first thing of thought of when I saw this was the sets of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

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This may be the best reason to visit China I’ve seen so far.

All images © Shao Feng.

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