EWIII: Philosophy and Law   no comments

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This week, I did some general reading across 3 books, though I only read one of them completely. The book I read completely was Gillies and Cailliau, How the Web was Born. This is a really good general history book of the web and just computers generally. For a non-technical and very interesting overview of where the web comes from I recommend it. They talk about TimBL’s adventures, Apple, Microsoft, Mozilla, Marc Andreeson and so on. This is a great book for someone who knows absolutely nothing about computers.

The 2 other books that I had a general look through as background reading were Boyd & Richerson, Culture and the Evolutionary Process, and David Bainbridge, Introduction to Computer Law. Boyd and Richerson are sociologists – sort of. Most sociologists hate them – and most psychologists as well, I should point out. However I think they’re great. Just because they’re unpopular doesn’t mean they’re crazy. B&R were trained as ecologists but they practically created a new ‘scientific sociology’ area all by themselves. Basically, they thought that most sociology was philosophical hogwash, and so they wanted to create something more scientific. They tried to create a theory of culture and society that was heavily informed by relevant sciences, in their case especially by the biological evolutionary sciences, particularly population genetics. They describe a theory of how information of different kinds may move through a population of people, and then they propose some equations that may be able to describe how this happens. These equations are heavily inspired by similar recursion equations proposed in population genetics, which describe how certain kinds of genetic information move through certain kinds of populations under certain conditions over periods of time. I think this is really interesting stuff. Sociologists hate B&R because they’re, well, because they’re doing something that’s hard to understand and it looks scientific. Psychologists do not like B&R very much either because it looks as if they’re trying to explain human behaviour without even bothering to refer to human psychology and cognitive processes. Personally I agree with the this 2nd criticism, but I am willing to forgive B&R for it. They weren’t trained as psychologists, and we can’t expect them to be experts on everything. Overall, I recommend B&R though they are very difficult if you are not familiar with biological evolutionary theory. I read this stuff because I am thinking of a question at the moment: to what extent should we consider the internet to be a psychological human thing? To what extent is the internet cognitive stuff? This is the sort of thing that I proposed in my application for the course.

The final book I had a look at was Bainbridge, Introduction to Internet Law.  I only managed a skim through, I’m afraid, as this is a monster of a book at 500+ pages. It’s more like a textbook than anything I suppose. It looks reasonably good and not too technical, though there is a disappointing lack of pictures. This will be my main reading for next week.

Written by Eamonn Walls on October 30th, 2012

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