Peeking at How Pinker’s Mind Works

25 08 2009

I’ve been reading a book by Steven Pinker called How the Mind Works.  Actually, the term book doesn’t capture the essence of this volume.  It would be better described as a tome, with all the connotations that includes.  And reading doesn’t really describe how I’m approaching the literature.  Looking at the pictures totally misses the boat, because beyond the sketch on the front cover and the author’s image on the back, there are no pictures.  I guess what I’m doing is turning the pages until I find something that

  1. I can understand, and
  2. Is interesting.

Really, either one of those requirements is enough to make me slow down and ponder the page.  And I loved this passage that I found on page 11:

Legs come with a high price: the software to control them.  A wheel, merely by turning, changes its point of support gradually and can bear weight the whole time.  A leg has to change its point of support all at once, and the weight has to be unloaded to do so.  The motors controlling a leg have to alternate between keeping the foot on the ground while it bears and propels the load and taking the load off to make the leg free to move.  All the while they have to keep the center of gravity of the body within the polygon defined by the feet so the body doesn’t topple over.

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