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Monday, March 22, 2010

Rat Stoppers in All Sewer Systems

Vincent Hendricks' new television show "Gal eller Genial" is scheduled to air on Danish television's DR2 on Tuesday April 6 at 8PM. Vincent Hendricks, who is Professor of Philosophy and Logic at University of Copenhagen, will evaluate 20 innovative projects in this new inventor's contest. The projects range from mobile homes for homeless people and cancer treatment with modified UV rays to rat stoppers in all sewer systems.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Hitler gets a revise and resubmit

Someone put dialogue concerning peer review for a science paper to the same clip (HT: Jeff Roland)

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Book Review: The Hidden Brain: How Our Unconscious Minds Elect Presidents, Control Markets, Wage Wars, and Save Our Lives

In his recent book The Hidden Brain: How Our Unconscious Minds Elect Presidents, Control Markets, Wage Wars, and Save Our Lives science journalist Shankar Vedantam argues that our unconscious thoughts and emotions, for example our implicit sexism, racism and conformity to the behavior of others in a group, govern behavior we explicitly despise. Many Americans have a racial bias against Africans and African-Americans not because of biology but because of culture, says Vedantam. We grow up watching television and quickly learn who the most successful leaders in our country are. We are taught that the stereotype of a successful leader is a white male. We implicitly think that people of color and women are inferior to white males. In stressful situations our implicit biases quiet down our rational inner voices and take control of our decision making. Michael Richard’s racist rant during a 2006 stand-up appearance is an example of how our true temperament may suddenly rear its ugly head. Vedantam does not think that Michael Richard is significantly more racist in his beliefs than any one of us. The difference is a matter of degree, he says.

According to Vedantam, our unconscious mind fuels most of our decisions to act the way we do. Vedantam explains how the hidden impulses of a large crowd of onlookers fueled the horrible events that took place on the Belle Isle Bridge in Detroit on the morning of August 19, 1995, where Deletha Word, college student and mother of a 13-teen year old, was beaten up beyond belief by Martell Welch in front of crowd of onlookers who not only failed to intervene but also failed to notify the police. Some allegedly cheered him on as he beat up Deletha and tore off her clothes. Why didn’t the onlookers put an end to it? Because people unconsciously mirror the reactions of others in a crowd. Even though they understand at a rational level that they ought to notify the authorities or stop the incident, their hidden world of learned behavior prevents them from doing so.

One of the most fascinating sections of Vedantam's book is the discussion of how two transgendered biology professors at Stanford University underwent a complete change, not just sexually but also in how they were treated professionally, when they changed their appearance. One of the professors went from being a woman to being a man, and the other went from being a man to being a woman. The one who became a man suddenly was taken more seriously and was treated with a whole new kind of respect. The one who became a woman found that she was taken less seriously, and her pay fell significantly relative to her peers, all as a result of changing her sex.

As the book progresses Vedantam becomes increasingly more free in his interpretations of the scientific data. He moves from discussions of how our unconscious attitudes shape small-scale behavior to our unconscious resistance to famine relief and the hidden brain's seductive powers in suicide bombings and presidential elections. Despite the leap from solid evidence to more creative hypotheses about what drives our political and social decisions, the later sections of the book raise the important philosophical questions of whether we are responsible for behavior driven by our brain's hidden impulses and whether we can change our tendency to act on our predilections.

Though Vedantam remains optimistic about our capability of changing our inclinations by bringing our implicit biases to light and by using reason rather that gut feeling to guide our decisions, he doesn't really offer much by way of insight into how we should go about changing our ways. He also does not really answer the question of to what extent we should be held liable for behavior governed by our unconscious biases. But on a whole The Hidden Brain offers an insightful treatment of the delicate question of why we make the horrible decisions we do when they could have been avoided with a bit of confidence in the light of reason.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Koksuhking God

During our prospective student Abe Brummett’s travels in the pacific islands he came across a tiny island in Micronesia that is very religious. This is a short video of the moment when Abe’s Peace Corps class was first taught the word for "praise" in the Kosraen language.