Archive for ‘Science’

February 3, 2017

Prisoner’s Dilemma

reciprocal altruism

The prisoner’s dilemma (PD) is a paradox about co-operation. It shows why two ‘rational’ individuals might not co-operate, even if it seems in their best interests. It is studied in game theory.

In the classic example two people are arrested for a crime, and the police are uncertain which person committed the crime, and which person abetted the crime. If each remains silent, they are both soon released. If one betrays the other, the betrayer goes free, and the other is imprisoned for a long time. If each betrays the other, they both are held for a short time. No matter what happens, they will never see each other again.

January 8, 2017

James Webb Space Telescope

jwst

James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is a space observatory under construction and scheduled to launch in 2018. It is a replacement for the Hubble Space Telescope which was launched in 1990. The telescope is named after James E. Webb, who was a director at NASA and created the Apollo moon program. It will have a main mirror that is 6.5 meters (21.3 feet) wide, seven times larger than Hubble. The main mirror is composed of 18 sections that fold together.

Once operational the observatory will be looking mostly in the infrared spectrum, but also in the red part of visible light. Images will be color coded for public viewing. Because heat is visible to infrared sensors, the JWST must be kept as cool as possible. It is protected by a large sunshield, the size of a tennis court, and will be placed in a special orbit around the sun, beyond the moon, at the second Lagrange point (L2), a place of stable gravity. This keeps it in the Earth’s shadow most of the time.

November 22, 2016

Naïve Realism

lee ross

bias blind spot

In social psychology, naïve realism is the human tendency to believe that we see the world around us objectively, and that people who disagree with us must be uninformed, irrational, or biased. It provides a theoretical basis for several other cognitive biases, which are systematic errors in thinking and decision-making.

Naïve realism causes people to exaggerate differences between themselves and others. Psychologists believe that it can spark and exacerbate conflict, as well as create barriers to negotiation through several different mechanisms. 

October 25, 2016

Einstellung Effect

two-string

nine dots problem

Einstellung [ahyn-stel-luhng] (German: ‘attitude’) is the development of a mechanized state of mind. Often called a ‘problem solving set,’ Einstellung refers to a person’s predisposition to solve a given problem in a specific manner even though better or more appropriate methods of solving the problem exist. The Einstellung effect is the negative effect of previous experience when solving new problems. It has been tested experimentally in many different contexts.

The Einstellung effect occurs when a person is presented with a problem or situation that is similar to problems they have worked through in the past. If the solution (or appropriate behavior) to the problem/situation has been the same in each past experience, the person will likely provide that same response without giving the problem too much thought. This behavior is heuristical (related to mental shortcuts), it is one of the human brain’s ways of finding solutions as efficiently as possible.

October 19, 2016

Epiphany

newton

An epiphany [ih-pif-uh-nee] (from the ancient Greek ‘epiphaneia,’ ‘manifestation,’ ‘striking appearance’) is an experience of sudden and striking realization. Generally the term is used to describe scientific, religious, or philosophical discoveries, but it can apply in any situation in which an enlightening realization allows a problem or situation to be understood from a new and deeper perspective. Epiphanies are studied by psychologists and other scholars, particularly those attempting to study the process of innovation.

Epiphanies are relatively rare occurrences and generally follow a process of significant thought about a problem. Often they are triggered by a new and key piece of information, but importantly, a depth of prior knowledge is required to allow the leap of understanding. Famous epiphanies include Archimedes’s discovery of a method to determine the density of an object (‘Eureka!’) and Isaac Newton’s realization that a falling apple and the orbiting moon are both pulled by the same force. The word epiphany originally referred to insight through the divine. Today, this concept is more often used without such connotations, but a popular implication remains that the epiphany is supernatural, as the discovery seems to come suddenly from the outside.

July 3, 2016

Elizabeth Coleman White

whitesbog

Elizabeth Coleman White (1871 – 1954) was a New Jersey agricultural specialist who collaborated with botanist Frederick Vernon Coville to develop and commercialize cultivated blueberries. White was Quaker, graduating from the Friends’ Central School in Philadelphia in 1887. Afterwards she worked at her father’s farm, Whitesbog in the New Jersey Pine Barrens, supervising cranberry pickers in the bogs. Pine barrens are plant communities that occur on dry, acidic, infertile soils dominated by grasses, low shrubs, and small to medium-sized pines.

In the early part of the 20th century, White offered pineland residents cash for wild blueberry plants with unusually large fruit. Her collaboration with Coville began in 1910. Their project revealed the importance of soil acidity (blueberries need highly acidic soil), that blueberries do not self-pollinate, and the effects of cold on blueberries and other plants. Their work doubled the size of some strains’ fruit, and by 1916, Coville had succeeded in cultivating blueberries, making them a valuable crop in the Northeastern United States.

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June 8, 2016

Pharmacy

Materia medica

rx

Pharmacy is the science and technique of preparing and dispensing drugs. It is a health profession that links health sciences with chemical sciences and aims to ensure the safe and effective use of pharmaceuticals. Since pharmacists know about the mode of action of a particular drug, and its metabolism and physiological effects on the human body in great detail, they play an important role in optimization of a drug treatment for an individual.

The scope of pharmacy practice includes more traditional roles such as compounding (reformulating) and dispensing medications, and it also includes more modern services related to health care, including clinical services, reviewing medications for safety and efficacy, and providing drug information. Pharmacists, therefore, are the experts on drug therapy and are the primary health professionals who optimize use of medication for the benefit of the patients.

June 5, 2016

I Cut, You Choose

Envy-free cake-cutting

Divide and choose (or ‘I cut, you choose‘) is a procedure for envy-free cake-cutting between two partners. It involves a heterogeneous good or resource (‘the cake’) and two partners which have different preferences over parts of the cake. The protocol proceeds as follows: one person cuts the cake into two pieces, and the other person chooses his piece first.

Divide-and-choose is mentioned in the Bible. In Genesis, when Abraham and Lot come to the land of Canaan, Abraham suggests that they divide it among them. Then Abraham, coming from the south, divides the land to a ‘left’ (western) part and a ‘right’ (eastern) part, and lets Lot choose. Lot chooses the eastern part which contains Sodom and Gomorrah.

May 28, 2016

Pygmalion Effect

Clever Hans

The Pygmalion effect, or ‘Rosenthal effect,’ is the phenomenon whereby higher expectations lead to an increase in performance. The effect is named after the Greek myth of Pygmalion, a sculptor who fell in love with a statue he had carved. By the Pygmalion effect, people internalize their positive labels, and those with positive labels succeed accordingly. A corollary of the Pygmalion effect is the ‘golem effect,’ in which low expectations lead to a decrease in performance.

Psychologists Robert Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobson’s first showed that, if teachers were led to expect enhanced performance from children, then the children’s performance was enhanced. This study supported the hypothesis that reality can be positively or negatively influenced by the expectations of others, the ‘observer-expectancy effect.’ Rosenthal theorized that biased expectancies could affect reality and create self-fulfilling prophecies (predictions that directly or indirectly cause themselves to become true)

April 20, 2016

Cheerleader Effect

Cheerleader effect

The cheerleader effect, also known as the group attractiveness effect, is the cognitive bias which causes people to think individuals are more attractive when they are in a group. The concept has been backed up by clinical research by psychologists Drew Walker and Edward Vul. The effect occurs because of the brain’s tendency to calculate the average properties of an object when viewing a group.

Walker and Vul proposed that this effect arises due to the interplay of three cognitive phenomena: the human visual system takes ‘ensemble representations’ of faces in a group; perception of individuals is biased towards this average; average faces are more attractive, perhaps due to ‘averaging out of unattractive idiosyncrasies.’

January 12, 2016

Hedgehog’s Dilemma

porcupines by Slug Signorino

The hedgehog’s dilemma is a metaphor about the challenges of human intimacy. It describes a situation in which a group of hedgehogs all seek to become close to one another in order to share heat during cold weather. They must remain apart, however, as they cannot avoid hurting one another with their sharp spines. Though they all share the intention of a close reciprocal relationship, this may not occur, for reasons they cannot avoid.

German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer and psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud have used this situation to describe what they feel is the state of the individual in relation to others in society. The hedgehog’s dilemma suggests that despite goodwill, human intimacy cannot occur without substantial mutual harm, and what results is cautious behavior and weak relationships. The hedgehog’s dilemma demands moderation in affairs with others both because of self-interest, as well as out of consideration for others, leading to introversion and isolationism.

January 6, 2016

Anomalistics

Cryptozoology

charles fort

Anomalistics [uh-nom-uh-list-iks] is the use of scientific methods to evaluate anomalies (phenomena that fall outside of current understanding), with the aim of finding a rational explanation. The term itself was coined in 1973 by Drew University anthropologist Roger W. Wescott, who defined it as being the ‘serious and systematic study of all phenomena that fail to fit the picture of reality provided for us by common sense or by the established sciences.’

Wescott credited journalist and researcher Charles Fort as being the creator of anomalistics as a field of research, and he named biologist Ivan T. Sanderson and ‘Sourcebook Project’ compiler William R. Corliss as being instrumental in expanding anomalistics to introduce a more conventional perspective into the field. Anomalistics covers several sub-disciplines, including ufology (the study of unidentified flying objects), cryptozoology (the study of hidden animals), and parapsychology (the study of psychic events).