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It's so hard to find good help

Saturday 21 November 2020, 08:51

Your friend Andy tells you that he's planning to move to a new apartment next Saturday, and asks you to help. How do you help Andy? Maybe you'll show up at the old place on Saturday, help him load boxes onto the truck, and unload them at the new place. Helping Andy means participating in the achievement of his goal - actually doing some of the work yourself so that he doesn't have to.

The bridge across Avon Gorge

Thursday 12 November 2020, 10:45

The question has come up of building a bridge across the Avon Gorge. Davies, who manages the funds, says the project must be abandoned because it is technically impossible. Isambard, the engineer, says it can be done.

Clifton Suspension Bridge

The imagination gap, part 3

Monday 17 December 2018, 03:00

This is the final part of a three-part series on the cognitive deficit in hypothetical thinking: some people seem unable to handle thinking about a difference between what is real and what is imagined.

The imagination gap, part 2

Wednesday 12 December 2018, 21:01

This is the second part of a three-part series on the cognitive deficit in hypothetical thinking: some people seem unable to handle thinking about a difference between what is real and what is imagined. In the first part, I discussed this deficit as an abstraction. In this second part, I'll look at some legal and political examples.

The imagination gap, part 1

Monday 10 December 2018, 03:00

A deficit in hypothetical cognition

In The World As If, Sarah Perry gives "an account of how magical thinking made us modern." She discusses how to define "magical thinking" and suggests that the diverse things to which people apply that label form "a collection of stigmatized examples of a more general, and generally useful, cognitive capacity." Namely, the capacity to entertain false, "not expected to be proven," or otherwise not exactly true propositions as if they were true.

Although magical thinking may often be called a behaviour of children or of those in primitive cultures, what Perry calls the "as if" mode of thought (I want to also include "what if") is in no way primitive. The view that magical thinking is for children and the uneducated can and should be inverted: mastery of hypothetical "as if" cognition is necessary for functioning as an adult in a literate technological society, and characteristic of the most sophisticated thinking human beings ever do.

Ad stramineum hominem

Sunday 25 March 2018, 16:11

Sometimes I find myself on the receiving end of false accusations of "straw man" argumentation, and it feels like this happens abnormally often to me in particular. It's baffling because when it happens, it doesn't make any sense.

How Wikipedia could save itself

Saturday 19 February 2011, 00:15

I don't think Wikipedia wants to save itself. But if they really wanted to, I know how they could do it.

On language and the use thereof

Saturday 2 October 2010, 12:01

Hatred is not the same thing as fear, not even if they often occur at the same time to the same people. When you pretend that those two things are identical to each other, and attempt to build that pretense into the language instead of admitting that it is an activist position - for instance, when you use words like "homophobia" - you make the world a less good place and you harm those of your goals that are worth promoting.

This is important.

On the marshmallow test

Wednesday 30 June 2010, 09:46

Show a four-year-old child some marshmallows and a bell. Tell them that you're going to leave the room for a while (fifteen or twenty minutes). Say that if they ring the bell, you'll come back and give them a marshmallow. However, say that if they don't ring the bell, but wait until you come back without ringing it, then you will give them two marshmallows. Record what happens.

Ten years later, assess the child's personality and general success in life by means of a questionnaire sent to their parents. What you discover is that the ones who rang the bell, or who rang it earlier, score relatively poorly on questions that measure social adjustment, "emotional intelligence," and so on. The ones who didn't ring the bell, or rang it later, score much better on those measures, and also score better on the SAT. Shoda, Y., Mischel, W., Peake, P. K. (1990). Predicting adolescent cognitive and self-regulatory competencies from preschool delay of gratification: Identifying diagnostic conditions. Developmental Psychology, 26(6) [PDF]

The part I think is really interesting is what the authors of that paper don't say about the experimental protocol.