Archive for June, 2013

June 14, 2013

Catching Fire

Richard Wrangham

Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human‘ (2009) is a book by British primatologist Richard Wrangham forwarding the hypothesis that cooking food was an essential element in the physiological evolution of human beings.

Humans are the only species that cook their food and Wrangham argues Homo erectus emerged about two million years years ago as a result of this unique trait. Cooking had profound evolutionary effect because it increased food efficiency by permitting human ancestors to spend less time foraging, chewing, and digesting. H. erectus developed via a smaller, more efficient digestive tract which freed up energy to enable larger brain growth.

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June 14, 2013

How to Solve It

how to solve it

How to Solve It (1945) is a small volume by mathematician George Pólya describing methods of problem solving.

He suggests four steps when solving a mathematical problem: 1) First, understand the problem; 2) After understanding, then make a plan; 3) Carry out the plan; and; 4) Look back on your work — how could it be better? If this technique fails, Pólya advises: ‘If you can’t solve a problem, then there is an easier problem you can solve: find it.’ Or: ‘If you cannot solve the proposed problem, try to solve first some related problem. Could you imagine a more accessible related problem?’

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June 14, 2013

Thinking, Fast and Slow

Two Brains Running by David Plunkert

Thinking, Fast and Slow is a 2011 book by Nobel Memorial Prize winner in Economics Daniel Kahneman which summarizes research that he conducted over decades, often in collaboration with cognitive scientist Amos Tversky. It covers all three phases of his career: his early days working on cognitive biases (unknowingly using poor judgement), prospect theory (the tendency to base decisions on the potential value of losses and gains rather than the final outcome), and his later work on happiness (e.g. positive psychology).

The book’s central thesis is a dichotomy between two modes of thought: System 1 is fast, instinctive and emotional; System 2 is slower, more deliberative, and more logical. The book delineates cognitive biases associated with each type of thinking, starting with Kahneman’s own research on loss aversion (the tendency to favor avoiding losses over acquiring gains). From framing choices (the tendency to avoid risk when a positive context is presented and seek risks when a negative one is) to attribute substitution (using an educated guess to fill in missing information), the book highlights several decades of academic research to suggest that people place too much confidence in human judgment.

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June 14, 2013

Attribute Substitution

Attribute substitution is a psychological process thought to underlie a number of cognitive biases and perceptual illusions. It occurs when an individual has to make a judgment (of a target attribute) that is computationally complex, and instead substitutes a more easily calculated heuristic (‘rule of thumb’) attribute. This substitution is thought of as taking place in the automatic intuitive judgment system, rather than the more self-aware reflective system.

Hence, when someone tries to answer a difficult question, they may actually answer a related but different question, without realizing that a substitution has taken place. This explains why individuals can be unaware of their own biases, and why biases persist even when the subject is made aware of them. It also explains why human judgments often fail to show regression toward the mean.

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June 14, 2013

Heuristic

heuristic [hyoo-ris-tik] (Greek: ‘find’ or ‘discover’) is a practical way to solve a problem. It is better than chance, but does not always work. A person develops a heuristic by using intelligence, experience, and common sense. Trial and error is the simplest heuristic, but one of the weakest. ‘Rule of thumb’ and ‘educated guesses’ are other names for simple heuristics. Since a heuristic is not certain to get a result, there are always exceptions.

Sometimes heuristics are rather vague: ‘look before you leap’ is a guide to behavior, but ‘think about the consequences’ is a bit clearer. Sometimes a heuristic is a whole set of stages. When doctors examines a patient, they go through a series of tests and observations. They may not find out what is wrong, but they give themselves the best chance of succeeding. This is called a diagnosis. In computer science, a ‘heuristic’ is a kind of algorithm (a step-by-step list of directions that need to be followed to solve a problem).

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June 13, 2013

Closure

gestalt closure

Closure or need for closure are psychological terms that describe the desire or need individuals have for information that will allow them to conclude an issue that had previously been clouded in ambiguity and uncertainty. Upon reaching this conclusion, they are now able to attain a state of ‘epistemic closure’.

The term ‘cognitive closure’ has been defined as ‘a desire for definite knowledge on some issue and the eschewal of confusion and ambiguity.’ Need for closure is a phrase used by psychologists to describe an individual’s desire for a firm solution as opposed to enduring ambiguity.

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June 13, 2013

Apophasis

Apophasis [uh-pof-uh-sis] (Latin: ‘to say no’) refers, in general, to ‘mention by not mentioning.’ Apophasis covers a wide variety of figures of speech.

The term was originally and more broadly a method of logical reasoning or argument by denial—a way of describing what something is by explaining what it is not, or a process-of-elimination way of talking about something by talking about what it is not. An example of this is the Wikipedia article: ‘What Wikipedia is not.’

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June 13, 2013

Scare Quotes

Scare quotes are quotation marks placed around a word or phrase to imply that it may not signify its apparent meaning or that it is not necessarily the way the quoting person would express its concept.

Use of the term appears to have arisen at some point during the first half of the 20th century. In books it appears as early as 1946 in ‘Southern California: An Island on the Land’ by Carey McWilliams and in the 1950s in academic literature.

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June 12, 2013

False Balance

Today, false balance is used to describe a perceived or real media bias, where journalists present an issue as being more balanced between opposing viewpoints than the evidence actually supports.

Journalists may present evidence and arguments out of proportion to the actual evidence for each side, or may even actually suppress information which would establish one side’s claims as baseless. False balance is also often found in political reports, company press releases, and general information from organizations with special interest groups in promoting their respective agendas.

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June 12, 2013

Fairness Doctrine

fairness doctrine hannity

The Fairness Doctrine was a policy of the FCC, introduced in 1949, that required the holders of broadcast licenses to both present controversial issues of public importance and to do so in a manner that was, in the Commission’s view, honest, equitable and balanced (i.e. air contrasting views regarding those matters).

The FCC decided to eliminate the Doctrine in 1987, and in 2011, formally removed the language that implemented it. Stations were given wide latitude as to how to provide contrasting views: It could be done through news segments, public affairs shows, or editorials. The doctrine did not require equal time for opposing views but required that contrasting viewpoints be presented. (The Fairness Doctrine should not be confused with the ‘Equal Time’ rule, which deals only with political candidates.)

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June 11, 2013

Chiaroscuro

Zeiss

Lighting

Chiaroscuro [kee-ahr-uh-skyoor-oh] (Italian: ‘light-dark’) in art is the use of strong contrasts between light and dark, usually bold contrasts affecting a whole composition. Chiaroscuro is also a technical term used by artists and art historians for using contrasts of light to achieve a sense of volume in modelling three-dimensional objects such as the human body. Similar effects in the lighting of cinema and photography are also often called chiaroscuro.

Further related specialized uses of the term include chiaroscuro woodcut, for coloured woodcuts printed with different blocks, each using a different coloured ink; and chiaroscuro drawing for drawings on coloured paper with drawing in a dark medium and white highlighting.

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June 10, 2013

Oedipus Complex

freud by by Darrel Perkins

In psychoanalytic theory, the term Oedipus [ed-uh-puhscomplex denotes the emotions and ideas that the mind keeps in the unconscious, via dynamic repression, that concentrates upon a child’s desire to sexually possess the parent of the opposite sex. Sigmund Freud, who coined the term believed that the Oedipus complex is a desire for the parent in both males and females; Freud deprecated the term ‘Electra complex,’ which was introduced by Carl Gustav Jung in regards to the Oedipus complex manifested in young girls.

The Oedipus complex occurs in the third — phallic stage (ages 3–6) — of five psychosexual development stages: (i) the oral, (ii) the anal, (iii) the phallic, (iv) the latent, and (v) the genital — in which the source of libidinal pleasure is in a different erogenous zone of the infant’s body.

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