December 2nd, 2011
This is an interview of Daniel Kahneman by Sam Harris. It’s about his latest book, Thinking, Fast and Slow - Kahneman’s first for the general public. The book synthesizes much of Kahneman’s work on heuristics and biases, decision making, and differences between the “experiencing self” and the “remembering self.” The interview probes Kahneman’s thoughts on what his research has to say for human well-being and how to improve it.
Thinking about Thinking
An Interview with Daniel Kahneman
Daniel Kahneman is an extraordinarily interesting thinker. As a psychologist, he received the 2002 Nobel Prize in Economics for his work with Amos Tversky on decision-making. Here is what Steven Pinker, my previous interview subject, recently wrote about him:
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December 1st, 2011
Researchers in the U.K. are claiming they can use functional MRIs and computer algorithms to predict whether patients will suffer from continuous psychosis (which is normally considered to require institutionalization) or episodic psychosis (which is not). They claim a prediction accuracy of around 70%, while the legal standard for involuntary commitment to a mental institution is merely preponderance of the evidence. Does this mean that courts should allow the use of this technique (or perhaps even compel it) when making involuntary commitment rulings?
November 29th, 2011
From the New Yorker, by Adam Gopnik. Available below, or at: http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/atlarge/2011/12/05/111205crat_atlarge_gopnik?currentPage=1
THE DRAGON’S EGG
High fantasy for young adults.
by Adam GopnikDECEMBER 5, 2011
At Oxford in the nineteen-forties, Professor John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was generally considered the most boring lecturer around, teaching the most boring subject known to man, Anglo-Saxon philology and literature, in the most boring way imaginable. “Incoherent and often inaudible” was Kingsley Amis’s verdict on his teacher. Tolkien, he reported, would write long lists of words on the blackboard, obscuring them with his body as he droned on, then would absent-mindedly erase them without turning around. “I can just about stand learning the filthy lingo it’s written in,” Philip Larkin, another Tolkien student, complained about the old man’s lectures on “Beowulf.” “What gets me down is being expected to admire the bloody stuff.”
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November 28th, 2011
These are excerpts from an article I enjoyed today. It describes some interesting new research with clear implications for eyewitness testimony, among other things. (For the full article, see: http://www.salon.com/2011/11/20/why_we_forget/singleton/)
A study conducted by Linda Henkel in the Department of Psychology at Fairfield University tested whether showing people photos of completed actions — such as a broken pencil or an opened envelope — could influence them to believe they’d done something they had not, particularly if they were shown the photos multiple times. Participants were presented with a series of objects on a table, and for each object were asked to either perform an action or imagine performing an action (e.g., “crack the walnut”). One week later, the same participants were brought back and randomly presented with a series of photos on a computer screen, each of a completed action (e.g., a cracked walnut), either one, two, or three times. Other participants were not shown any photos. One week later, they were brought back to complete a memory test in which they were presented with action phrases (e.g., “I cracked a walnut”) and asked to answer whether they had performed the action, imagined performing it, or neither, and rate their confidence level for each answer on a scale of one to four.
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November 26th, 2011
50, 100, 1000 words for snow: Does the language we speak affect how we think?
Kate Bush, a British singer-songwriter, released a new album this past Monday, titled 50 Words for Snow. The inspiration for this album title comes from the popular belief that the Eskimo language had many, many words for snow because the Eskimo people differentiated all the different types of snow they experienced. On this album, Kate Bush has a song with the same title, where she explores the question, “…if [the Eskimo language] had that many words for snow, did we?” (for the full interview, click here).
While it is now largely known in the academic community that the Eskimo language did not actually have that many words for snow–what they had a few words for snow that was modified in various ways (e.g., wet snow, icy snow, fluffysnow)–this new Kate Bush album has resurrected interest in popular questions about the relationship between language and thought: Does the language we speak affect how we think? Or do our thoughts affect our language?
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November 25th, 2011
NOVA: Quantum mechanics has taught us that nature is pretty weird. Is it possible to take advantage of that?
Seth Lloyd: Quantum mechanics is weird, that’s just the way it is. It’s a sad thing, but it’s true. In fact, there’s a funny phenomenon where people who get their Nobel Prizes in quantum mechanics don’t believe in quantum mechanics because it’s so weird—starting with Einstein. Einstein got his Nobel Prize for the photoelectric effect, all about quantum mechanics and photons, yet he never really believed in quantum mechanics.
Quantum mechanics is just completely strange and counterintuitive. We can’t believe that things can be here [in one place] and there [in another place] at the same time. And yet that’s a fundamental piece of quantum mechanics. So then the question is, life is dealing us weird lemons, can we make some weird lemonade from this?
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November 25th, 2011
New research confirms that social complexity enriches cognitive growth. Could having more Facebook friends actually make you smarter?
”The Social Network” by Nathaniel Gold
Let’s face it, as a species we’re obsessed with ourselves. The vast majority of us spend our days at work or school where a considerable amount of time is taken up not discussing the important issues of the day, but rather the juicy details of one another’s personal lives. Then we go home only to sign on to social network services like Facebook, Twitter, orGoogle+ and continue where we left off. In this respect we’re fairly typical primates. Most of our simian relatives, particularly our great ape cousins the chimpanzees and bonobos, like nothing better than keeping a watchful eye on what other members of their troop are up to. But our species has taken this preoccupation one step further.
Human beings are the most social of the primates and have the largest group sizes of any species in our order. For about 90% of our existence we lived in hunter-gatherer societies with populations that likely clustered around 150-200 individuals. By way of comparison, baboons come in a distant second with an average of about 50 group members. Now, thanks to modern industrial agriculture, our species has pushed that range well into the millions, a development that has resulted in considerable stress on our slightly above average primate brains. Of course, all organisms need to successfully predict and navigate their environments in order to relay their genes on to the next generation. It’s just that this becomes increasingly complicated when there are many individuals all interacting in the same environment simultaneously. Merely keeping track of these relationships requires a considerable amount of time and energy, not to mention brain power.
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