Now, I’m not a fan of tit-for-tat responses to book reviews, so I’ll let you gauge Levitin’s arguments for yourself after reading my book.
But one casualty of his review is humor — or Levitin’s lack of recognition of it — and that I’ll correct here.
You see, in my book I boast, as Levitin tells us, “about classrooms of undergraduates standing in awe of” me.
What a start to a review! I’m painted as a boastful braggart on the first line of entry into ChangiziLand (“ChangiziLand” is where all my awe-filled followers live).
And, my god, it’s true! I indeed do say something along those lines! In fact, my own words now (p. 32):
“It can be difficult for students to attract my attention when I am lecturing. My occasional glances in their direction aren’t likely to notice a static arm raised in the standing-room-only lecture hall…”
What. An. Arse! …I’m referring to me.
Except– Wait. I wrote more.
“…and so they are reduced to jumping and gesturing wildly in the hope of catching my eye. And that’s why, whenever possible, I keep the house lights turned off.”
Well that’s peculiar. Are my students really “jumping and gesturing wildly”? Really? And do I actually turn the house lights off to prevent my having to view said wild gesturing?
Perhaps. Levitin doesn’t know me from Adam, so, uh, maybe that really happens in my lectures.
But here’s the fuller excerpt from that section…
It can be difficult for students to attract my attention when I am lecturing. My occasional glances in their direction aren’t likely to notice a static arm raised in the standing-room-only lecture hall, and so they are reduced to jumping and gesturing wildly in the hope of catching my eye. And that’s why, whenever possible, I keep the house lights turned off. There are, then, three reasons why my students have trouble visually signaling me: (i) they tend to be behind my head as I write on the chalkboard, (ii) many are occluded by other people, are listening from behind pillars, or are craning their necks out in the hallway, and (iii) they’re literally in the dark.
These three reasons are also the first ones that come to mind for why languages everywhere employ audition (with the secondary exceptions of writing and signed languages for the deaf) rather than vision. We cannot see behind us, through occlusions, or in the dark; but we can hear behind us, through occlusions, and in the dark. In situations where one or more of these — (i), (ii), and (iii) above — apply, vision fails, but audition is ideal. Between me and the students in my course lectures, all three of these conditions apply, and so vision is all but useless as a route to my attention. In such a scenario a student could develop a firsthand appreciation of the value of speech for orienting a listener. And if it weren’t for the fact that I wear headphones blasting Beethoven when I lecture, my students might actually learn this lesson.
And did you hear that last part? I jam to classical music during my lecturing so that I cannot possibly hear any questions from students. That’s just…impractical!
If it still wasn’t obvious that I was joking, several paragraphs further down I indicate — just for the barely-reading, I-already-think-Changizi-is-a-prick reader — that my earlier-mentioned gesticulating students are fictional.
Mark Changizi is God of Human Cognition at 2AI, and the author of most excellent books such as The Vision rEvolution and Harnessed: How Language and Music Mimicked Nature and Transformed Ape to Man.