Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Is text-messaging the new word processor?

collision detection: Is text-messaging the new word processor?

I've had many discussions lately about how people from an older, less technologically adept generation (including some people from my generation) feel that the new technology is ruining the sociality of people today. I fundamentally disagree. It's not a shift in a bad way, it is merely a shift.

I saw an article a few weeks back describing why text messages were better than a phone conversation - and the author made several excellent points. For example, a text message can focus on a short relevant topic without seeming rude, you have a written record of the information (which is excellent when gathering information like phone numbers or addresses), the time spent in the usually required social niceties in the context of a call take about the same amount of time (or more) than it takes to type out a text message.

Now, the argument could be made that we've eliminated sociality - not true, we've just shortcut some of the essential processes out. My wife is an avid texter, but still finds time to actually call and socialize with her friends on a regular basis.

I actually have gathered more friends and increased my social circle through online forums and similar activities.

So, the shift toward new technologies that provide a new way of doing something is rarely, if ever, a bad thing. It is just different and will always be reacted to negatively by people who don't like it. For a prime example see earlier posts on video games.

Brain doping

Human Augmentation: New Drug Helps People Grow Super-Brains

Back to the old brain-doping debate. There are certainly drugs that can enhance certain cognitive functions (such as attention) - but, again, we're a LONG way off from "super genius" candy bars (which you know would be forthcoming).

Wille Coyote: Super Genius....

Brains: Scientists Identify Genes that Could Turn Ordinary People into Supergeniuses (or Mindless Drones)

Don't get all uppity yet though. Between "identify" and "apply" is a hell of a lot of work.

Will video games solve sex-discrimination in science?

Cognitive Daily: Will video games solve sex-discrimination in science?

Short answer: No.

There, you can all go back to whatever you were doing before.

Ten Tips for Improved Learning

» From SharpBrains™: Ten Tips for Improved Learning

Pay attention all you students out there!

Thinking about cultural differences II: Why bother?

Thinking about cultural differences II: Why bother? | Psychology Today Blogs

Why bother? Because despite gross similarities which the author is very fond of pushing out there, when you move to a specific individual level things become a bit more bundled.

Cultural differences DO matter - if they never showed any statistical significance for any study ever done I could probably concede the point, but it just isn't true.

Dartmouth research reveals passive learning imprints on the brain just like active learning

Dartmouth research reveals passive learning imprints on the brain just like active learning

So, those "learning tapes while you sleep" thing may not be such a bad idea!

Just kidding - those are worthless.

Family resources, parenting quality influence children's early cognitive development


This is a truly remarkable study as it is looking at a much narrower subset of the original data when it was gathered.

All I have to say is [heavy sarcasm] really? [/sarcasm]

Children Educate Themselves I

Children Educate Themselves I: Outline of Some of the Evidence | Psychology Today Blogs

Yes, yes they do. However, they need to be supplied with the proper tools for it to be effective.

On the brink of a social psychology revolution

Mind Hacks: On the brink of a social psychology revolution

I would argue further that we're on the brink of a social revolution in general. We are nearly there with the explosion of social-meda (blogs, forums and so forth) and the ubiquity of instant communication. It's not there yet, but I'm betting on a fundamental shift in social participation that social psychology will have to really work to understand.

Deliberate Practice

The Frontal Cortex : Deliberate Practice

This all relates to a very old debate: are abilities (and nebulous ideas like "genius") innate or are they learned? Some argue that it is just an advanced form of motivation, or cognitive motivation that causes the ability to focus and learn at a more rapid pace.

I'm not sure I've got my mind settled on the issue or not yet.

Related thoughts here.

How to draw information out of your brain

BPS RESEARCH DIGEST: How to draw information out of your brain

Ever had something "right on the tip" of your toungue? Find out how to get it out!

Are Boys Better Than Girls At Maths?

PsyBlog: Are Boys Better Than Girls At Maths?

There is a lot of research in this area going on right now. Apparently current studies are showing that math achievement is showing little to no difference between genders in primary or secondary. However they are still seeing vast disparities in certain curriculum areas (physics and chemistry in particular are mentioned).

While vast strides are being made to bring women up to the level of men, my prior argument stands - why? I'm all for equal opportunity, but you can have that very easily without all the excess baggage that Europeans tend to ignore anyway.

Here's a question, if women being underrepresented in science is such a disaster, what about the lack of men in education? Why aren't they working just as hard to eliminate the gender bias in the educational world.

More thoughts on recent data on math scores across genders here.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Global warming - revisiting the data

Nasa is out of line on global warming - Telegraph

Is all this accurate? If it is it does not paint a very flattering picture of James Hansen, nor does it reflect well on his rather public disregard and outright hostility towards anyone that has questioned his methods or asked to see the raw data.

This doesn't close the book on global warming by a long shot, but it does highlight one of the problems with the scientific community (or at least a problem with certain unscrupulous individuals within that community) - when you want to find data to support your position, you can find it, or in extreme cases manufacture or obfuscate data that support your position.

Fortunately this doesn't happen very often, but the problem of interpretation of data is still very much a partisan and perception-based activity.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Why Gender Does Matter

Why Gender Doesn't Matter | Psychology Today Blogs

The arguments made by Dr. Grewal (based on the study by Dr. Hyde) are typical of the "gender doesn't matter" crowd. The arguments put forth in the book she also references "Why Gender Matters" are based on a very different approach than statistical measurement.

The statistics of gender differences will always be trending toward the nihilistic. That's what statistics generally do, they move towards the mean the larger the population you pull from (and even more true when looked at longitudinally). Gender differences from a physiological standpoint are blindingly apparent. Genetically the differences are also simple to detect (if not blindingly apparent).

If (as with nearly any aspect of science) you have a philosophical ax to grind to prove your position, you will be able to find evidence that will support it. In the case of this study they find that statistically speaking the differences in very specific measures are small, so that in turn must support their world-view. However, what is more interesting to me is that the differences exist! Statistics can have the effect of making true impact seem smaller when done in particular ways - the fact that the difference in fact do exist makes it apparent that gender does matter. No matter how small (statistically) the differences are, they are there.

Personally I don't understand why anyone would want gender to be equalized - from either aspect. Why not celebrate the differences and use those differences to the advantage of either? The concept of being "fair" or making things more "equitable" seems to have a homogenizing effect that to me seems very boring. As with education, homogenization tends to look good on paper and it may even be appealing to specific individuals, but applied across a broad spectrum ultimately leaves more people unsatisfied than not (how's that for a double negative - look at me go!).

It is my opinion that gender not only does but should matter. Admittedly it is a conservative viewpoint - which is hardly surprising coming from me - but one that I nevertheless support.

More thoughts here.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Learning Requires Freedom

Learning Requires Freedom: Introduction to a New Blog about Play, Curiosity, and Education | Psychology Today Blogs

I love it - someone after my own heart. His comments on government restrictions on education are particularly nice to see and, in my opinion, accurate.

Children are consistently subjected to the "miniature adult" perception that many adults have. Adults cannot remember what it is like to think and act as a child, so it is assumed that what is good for an adult must be good for children, provided we're not expecting too much of them in certain domains of knowledge or experience.

It is a load of crap.

Children (as Piaget demonstrated and a viewpoint that has been amply supported by experimentation) are simply NOT adults. They don't even come close. They look like miniature adults, and they try to act like the adult models they're exposed to, but their cognitive processes simply are not the same.

I too wish that governing bodies of education would recognize that simple fact and back away from all the regulations.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Science and Music

scienceandmusic.pdf (application/pdf Object)

A series of essays published in nature about the science of music has been made available as a PDF.

As a musician, I have trouble resisting publishing something so cool.

Brain Foods...

Deric Bownds' MindBlog: Brain Foods...

Feed your brain. A handy-dandy chart is included.

More thoughts here and here.

The history of Neuroscience in Autobiographies

Society for Neuroscience | Autobiographies

Now this would be some interesting reading - assuming you had the time to get through all 76 autobiographies available.

Where's my Amazon Kindle!

Friday, July 04, 2008

10 Brain Training Tips To Teach and Learn

» 10 Brain Training Tips To Teach and Learn « Brain Fitness Revolution at SharpBrains

Lots of these types of posts going around, but still - anytime I can link to something that has practical application, you know I can't resist that.

Gender differences in the brain

Mind Hacks: Selling the 'battle of the sexes'

An excellent post pointing to another excellent series of articles. Well worth the read.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Awesome presentation

Brain Rules for Presenters

I'm going to take this presentation directly and give it to my colleagues at work. This is something everyone in a business environment could use.



Hi-res brain topology map reveals network hub

Neurophilosophy : Hi-res brain topology map reveals network hub

So, as opposed to hard-core brain images (sexy!) we have these network representations of how the brain functions. Very, very cool images, but the utility still escapes me for the time being.

More on the subject here.

Why Our Ideal Self Seems Further Away For Us Than Others

PsyBlog: Why Our Ideal Self Seems Further Away For Us Than Others

Future predictive ability involving ourselves is tricky at best. The more research you do into the subject, the more you find that humans are just plain lousy at projecting future states for ourselves in almost any domain.

Cabbies’ brains

Cabbies’ brains « Neuroanthropology

I've seen a number of really good videos on this research as well. Most notably from National Geographic back in the late 90's. Fascinating research.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Do Atheists Pose a Threat to Morality?

Do Atheists Pose a Threat to Morality? Psychology Today Blogs

I post this merely because it is interesting to read. I find a number of flaws with it and specifically with some of the studies mentioned.

However, the thoughts presented are rather commonplace in academic circles, so it is worth noting.

Learning, Arts and the Brain

Learning, Arts and the Brain « Neuroanthropology

Bottom line: removing the arts from education is a bad idea because the arts teach more than just "art" - they teach cognitive functions in ways that are unexpected.

Social Psychology

The Frontal Cortex : Social Psychology

What's old will be new again! Horay!

Blog Archive » Home Schooling is the ONLY Way to Go

Productivity in Context » Blog Archive » Home Schooling is the ONLY Way to Go

Wow. An absolutely scathing rebuke of the public educational system. I don't agree with it 100% - home schooling simply wouldn't work for everyone - take single mothers who have to work to support their families as an example. Finding appropriate resources to help them out would prove difficult at best. So, public school definitely has a place, but certainly some of the criticisms are accurate - or at least they feel accurate.

Why Educational Reforms Fail?

Affective Teaching » Blog Archive » Why Educational Reforms Fail?

This article goes directly back to the issues I just blogged about and policy issues in general. Policy is implemented on a general level with a general application, approach and understanding. On an individual level that kind of approach can make very little sense - and indeed can occasionally make absolutely no sense and, in fact, do more harm than good on an individual level despite the larger philosophical or supposed practical implications on a larger scale.

Multi-tasking, task-switching, and humans

Cognitive Daily: Multi-tasking, task-switching, and humans -- or why I didn't finish writing this post three hours ago

Yet one more article that every student (and, really, everyone who "multi-tasks) should read.

Motivations for Science

Cognition and Language Lab: Motivations for Science

Or, How do you get participants for your scientific study?

On innate talent

On innate talent Psychology Today Blogs

An interesting take on a familiar puzzle to motivational researchers. Is there such a thing as "natural" or "innate" ability, or is it all about motivation? Some research suggests that it is all about motivation, where other research suggests that "natural" ability plays a larger role.

There is a wonderful article on the two sides of the argument in Scientific American - from the August 2006 issue called "The Expert Mind" - terrific reading for a primer on the subject.

If, however, you're on the motivation side, here are two wonderful articles on how to:

Become an expert at anything


How to achieve any goal

Great stuff.

Torn Between Left and Right

Torn Between Left and Right Psychology Today Blogs

I could have sworn I blogged about this earlier (from another source), but I can't find it so here it is again.

Basically, if thinking in abstract, people that think left (politically left, or liberal) but when presented with concrete examples (moving to an individual level) those same individuals tend to think right (politically right).

Therein lies the problem with public policy. While leftist (or liberal) ideals sound great when applied to very general scenarios, they tend to break down on closer examination at an individual level. And that is irrespective of which political leanings you may have - left or right. Policy in general is extremely difficult to manage because of the very group/individual conundrum mentioned here.

And it's not just a problem at the political/policy level. Most, if not all, research in the psychological fields are great at describing larger trends, but break down rather substantially when applied at an individual level.

6 iconoclastic discoveries about the brain

Neurophilosophy : 6 iconoclastic discoveries about the brain

Recent years have yielded interesting discoveries about the brain, but none of that has really translated into much in the way of practical application, yet.

Similar thoughts here: Is the brain irrelevant to psychology?

Sleeping Your Way to a Better Memory

Sleeping Your Way to a Better Memory Psychology Today Blogs

Another post that all students should read.

The Study Hacks Guide to Note-Taking

Study Hacks » Blog Archive » Monday Master Class: The Study Hacks Guide to Note-Taking

Every student should peruse this article and the attending links.

Battering Bobo

Mind Hacks: Battering Bobo

The article provides a fantastic link to some original video that has Albert Bandura providing commentary on the famous study.

As the author alludes to, this is the experiment that still resides at the heart of the whole "video games make kids act violently" brouhaha that has become rather a hot topic (again) recently, so it is worth re-visiting.

I wonder if anyone has done a "virtual" bobo doll experiment? For example, have a video game that pounds bobo and then leave them alone with an actual bobo and see what happens.

I also wonder if anyone has done research on non-toy violence? Bobo is a toy, therefore it is possible that the violence perpetrated on it would be considered just fine, but otherwise inconceivable towards a real individual. Obviously violence towards real people couldn't be ethically modeled and observed, but the distinction between toy and reality would be something worth considering.

Wired for Belief?

Wired for Belief? « Neuroanthropology

Another article that tries to explain why we have "irrational" beliefs by tying those tendencies into an evolutionary framework. In other words (according to the article) belief in a supreme being (or any other type of non-scientific belief structure) has nothing to do with whether or not there is a supreme being - it's all because, evolutionarily speaking, it makes sense that our brains would interpret things we don't understand as having a supernatural origin.

No, really.

And......we'll just leave it at that.

Fantastic introduction to MRI brain scanning physics

Mind Hacks: Fantastic introduction to MRI brain scanning physics

I agree - this is an absolutely terrific primer for understanding how MRI works. Great stuff.

A computer that can 'read' your mind

A computer that can 'read' your mind

An extremely misleading title - basically all they're saying is that we're becoming better at knowing which kind of cognitive processes activate different areas of the brain. Duh - anyone that's been paying attention to the flood of fMRI (and similar) studies when applied to cognitive functions could have told you that.

And that, my friends, is far, FAR from being able to "read" a mind. Heck, we can't even use this technology to reliably detect truth/falsehood in memory (contrary to popular opinion).

Real-life examples may not be best for teaching maths

BPS RESEARCH DIGEST: Real-life examples may not be best for teaching maths

Where in the heck was this research when I was in Jr. High and High School? I HATE word problems.

Truly, the depth of my passion in this area would be shocking.