• Ancient Greek oral traditions got geology right
    In the first century AD, a Greek geographer and historian named Strabo noted that a peninsula just south of Athens called Piraeus had, at one time in the past, been an island. It’s unusual for landforms to change so quickly that humans can take notice, even over generations, so that’s a pretty interesting claim. The idea pops up elsewhere in Athenian oral tradition, as well as in the etymology of the name itself ("peran" means "beyond" or "on the other side"), so a group of French and Greek geologists and archaeologists decided to put it to the test.
  • Language Log » Straw men and Bee Science
    If you followed my advice (in "Norvig channels Shannon contra Chomsky", 5/31/2011) and read all of Peter Norvig’s essay "On Chomsky and the Two Cultures of Statistical Learning", you may have detected a certain restrained testiness in Norvig’s response. The goal of this post is to give a bit of explanatory background, and to suggest why, on the whole,  I share Norvig’s reaction.
  • On Chomsky and the Two Cultures of Statistical Learning
    At the Brains, Minds, and Machines symposium held during MIT’s 150th birthday party, Technology Review reports that Prof. Noam Chomsky derided researchers in machine learning who use purely statistical methods to produce behavior that mimics something in the world, but who don’t try to understand the meaning of that behavior. Chomsky compared such researchers to scientists who might study the dance made by a bee returning to the hive, and who could produce a statistically based simulation of such a dance without attempting to understand why the bee behaved that way. "That’s a notion of [scientific] success that’s very novel. I don’t know of anything like it in the history of science," said Chomsky.

    This essay discusses what Chomsky said, speculates on what he might have meant, and tries to determine the truth and importance of his claims.