PolySciFi Blog

Saturday, January 29, 2005


Carnival of the Carnies

I got busy during the week doing some consulting work and didn't have enough time to get enough sleep most nights much less blog. Whenever I don't post for a few days, I get blogstipated and normally have an insane number of posts lined up in my head.

To save myself a little time (I still have a couple deadlines hanging over my head), I'm going to kick off the first ever "Carnival of the Carnies" post as a roundup of good posts/ideas I've read from friends of mine to which I would like to draw added attention. If the polyscifi readers like the Carnival of the Carnies, I'll try to make it a weekly weekend thing.

How do people think?
Over on Criterion Contraption in a essay on Walkabout, Matt notes that Nicholas Roeg doesn't like doesn't like the term flashbacks because Roeg is "trying to literally show what's happening in the character's mind at the moment. As he puts it, 'We don't think in pages of the written word, we think in images.'"

Matt then notes that he doesn't "think in images, and neither does my writing partner; my thought process involves a pretty literal internal monologue; I think in words. But some people do think in images; I have to work at it." Matt then goes on wonder how other people think.
While Matt denigrates his own ponderance by calling it "junior-high," I think it's worthwhile to discuss as I believe different people think in different ways and that people's thought styles can change with time.

My own two bits on how I think:

The way I think is dependent on the activity that I'm performing. For instance when I'm writing a conversational or argumentative piece, I visualize myself (and someone else) having that conversation. When I write a technical piece, I think in words. When I'm doing mathematical things, I think in symbols and rules. When I'm doing mechanical engineering things, I manipulate shapes. When I'm playing a team sport, I have a X's and O's diagram (and some visualization) going on in my head as I play. When I play trivia, I utilize a tree data structure.

While this mental flexibility allows me to do many different things fairly well, it does have a drawback - reprogramming time. If you've ever spoken to me immediately after I've been doing some analysis, playing trivia, or sports, I'm a conversational retard (other than quick random associations which seem to always be there). Likewise if I've been engaged in verbal activities for an extended period (an hour or two), I actually become an excellent speaker; but if I suddenly have to do even some light math (even arithmetic), I'm lost for an hour or so.

As a more detailed example of this, my highschool SAT score was a 1530. However, that was actually over two tests (VT wanted highest verbal and math scores reported separately, so I've followed this convention since highschool). The breakdown for my two tests was actually Test 1: 780 Math, 670 Verbal (should've been a 800 on the Math, I filled in the wrong bubble on a question, something that I took a little ribbing for in HS). Test 2: 710 Math, 750 Verbal. Typically, I'm more mathematically oriented than verbally oriented so I did nothing special for the first test. For the second test, I spent a few days leading up to the test exclusively reading and practicing vocabulary recall. While that got my mind better conditioned for the verbal part of the test, I was a moron (relatively speaking) when it came to the math section.

Anyways, I'm also interested in reading how others think (I suspect that there's differences by profession), so leave a comment here or in Matt's post.

Intelligent Design
On nanothoughts, Rog notes current efforts to get Intelligent Design (ID) into the science classroom and notes that it doesn't sound like science to him. In short, ID is the proposition that there are some things in nature that are so complex that only an intelligent creator can be responsible for their existence. In the comments, JP indirectly gives a good explanation on why ID isn't science and directly states why teaching ID is dangerous.

JP notes that (macro) evolution "doesn't mean the strictest test of science (falsifiability)" In short, ID also isn't science because it can't be falsified so the scientific method (the foundation of all science) doesn't apply. Then JP says that "the real reason that ID isn't science is that it encourages people to just give up. If you can't explain something, just say it was designed and don't consider it further. That's just not an acceptable philosophy for scientific inquiry."
While I would quibble with JP's assertion that any theory that causes people to just give up as not being science [what else is the goal of a Grand Unified Theory or a Theory of Everything than to come up with an answer (of sorts) for everything?], I would note that this feature of ID is dangerous as it closes off avenues of inquiry and could serve to slow the progress of science/technology.

Some additional thoughts on ID:
1. While I believe in a creator, I don't see why ID is necessary for there to be a God nor why a belief in God must preclude a belief in evolution. As I explained to a more religious friend of mine in high school, the Bible repeatedly states that God's time scale is not man's time scale and if God created the universe, then he also created the mechanisms associated with the universe, so why can't evolution be a mechanism used to implement His (Her, Its) plan?

2. While I don't think ID should be taught in a science class, it seems to be appropriate for a philosophy or a religion class.

3. John Derbyshire has expressed similar sentiments in the Corner.

Women in Engineering
Writing from the perspective of a female EE, Robin, aka Spakadi, gives her take on the Summers kerfuffle. To her there are three factors that lead to the difference in representation of men and women in scientific academia: 1) men and women are different in aptitude, 2) men and women have different preferences for work, 3) men and women have different comfort levels for their work environment. In short, men and women are different.
The whole discussion is a good one and I would only add a little in support of Robin's assertion that men have a higher variance in IQ than women (though perhaps both have the same mean) by pointing out that men are proportionally overrepresented in prison and that male babies have a higher rate of very early miscarriage. Plus our brains are just different. Men tend to have more grey matter (raw information processing) and women tend to have more white matter (intrabrain communication). Even on our first day, men and women tend to respond differently to faces and alien looking mobiles.

Of course, none of this is so surprising when you consider that you share more genetic material in common with a chimpanzee of the same gender (99%) than a person of the opposite gender (~98%). In fact your toy preference is probably closer to that of a monkey than of the opposite gender.

Communications and Community
Again on Rantings of a Space Cadet, Robin discusses how communications have revolutionized community permitting greater connectivity and more physical isolation. Robin ends her essay with a discussion of how digital communications may be conditioning the species for space travel.
"As people are conditioned to accept electronic communication as replacement for some (though probably not all) human interaction, it may be easier for them to psychological survive the long trip to other worlds. It will even be possible for people distributed among colonies on several moons, planets, and asteroids to build a community in cyberspace, making real space nearly irrelevant. Chat rooms and IM will be limited to a single world, but everything else opens the universe to everyone."
That's it for the Carnival of the Carnies for this week...


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