Thinking Your Way Out of a Paper Bag

I’m a bit surprised that no one has commented on Zenpundit’s recent post about creativity. This is one of the most important issues facing our society, because it calls into question our will to innovate, which has propelled the West along our current trajectory. As a society we don’t appreciate creative people or the wellsprings of creativity enough.

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Some Neurocognitive Implications For Nation-Building

Perhaps my favorite entirely apolitical blog is The Eide Neurolearning Blog run by the Drs. Brock and Fernette Eide, two physicians who specialize in brain research and its implications for educating children. With great regularity I find information there that either is of use to me professionally or has wider societal importance.

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Dirty Jobs

I’ve heard that smell is the sense that most easily evokes memory. Derek Lowe has an interesting post about smells in the lab. In my less charitable moments I am wont to say that Organikers become Organikers because they smelled too much Toluene in Sophomore Organic. But I, too was surrounded by smells in graduate school that I now miss once in a while. The smell of vacuum pump oil. The acrid smell of concentrated acids, especially the aqua regia we used for cleaning Ostwald Viscometers. The smell of burnt target paper as the laser fried it. The smell of burnt skin as the laser fried you. The smell of phosgene coming up the drains from the fume hoods on the roof . (Just kidding – when you smell cut grass in a chemlab, it’s time to grab your ankles and kiss your butt goodbye. But the drains did often carry unusual odors). One commenter reminded me of TEMED. I really do not miss coming home smelling like a fish market during the year I was using that stuff.

So, for all you non-techies out there, what are the smells of work and school that take you back?


[Update: not being an Organiker I managed to avoid thiols (mercaptans to you old fogies) after sophomore year. However, it was my misfortune to work in a lab two floors down from a lab that did use thiols. Derek’s commenter’s description that some of them smell like “burnt ass” is right on.]

X-posted at TPwithpagenumbers.

Mysteries of the Orient Revealed

Culture shock is a good thing because it makes you wonder what kind of stupid things you do out of habit while wondering why all these furriners do the things that they do. The best method to deal with culture shock is laughter. Which is why I’m glad to see the “Kind of Crap” archives back up. Galvin Chow is a bit juvenile, and a bit of a potty mouth, so be warned. But he has some of the funniest Japan stuff I’ve seen on the web. Perhaps it’s his unique perspective as a Chinese-American. Some of his stuff explains a lot of the odder adult behavior I saw around me in Japan. If I were his older brother, I’d slap 7 kinds of sense into him so that he’d make a career out of writing, instead of the inevitable slacking path through a big company or government organization that he seems destined for.

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On Bias and Thinking

I’d like to juxtapose a couple of interesting posts that I have read this week that have bearing on how we select information that subsequently shapes our thoughts.

At Complexity and Social Networks Blog, Maria Binz-Scharf asks “How does the way we process information relate to how we search for it?“. A key excerpt:

“Some days ago I attended a talk on human information processing by Thomas Mussweiler from the University of Cologne who spoke at the Columbia Business School. Mussweiler and colleagues conducted an impressive number of experiments on the mechanisms and influences of individual information processing. A simple example would be to ask you to determine your best athletic performance. You have two basic options: 1) You think of every single athletic moment in your life, i.e. you engage in absolute information processing, or 2) you compare what you recollect as some of your best performances to a given standard, e.g. a famous athlete’s performance (or a famous couch potato’s performance). Not surprisingly it turns out that comparison allows to process information in a more efficient manner.

Mussweiler went on to talk about various factors that influence the comparisons we make, most importantly the standards we employ for comparing information. His experiments used a technique calledpriming to activate certain standards – for example, subjects were asked to judge a trait in a person. The result shows that priming a trait concept (such as aggressiveness) will induce the subject to judge the target person according to that trait. In other words, once activated, standards are spontaneously compared to the target person.”

This is very interesting. “Priming” would be an efficiency mechanism for rapid mental screening of a large number of things. It is also a “bias mechanism” that would strongly predispose you to see some evidence of what pattern you are looking for, even if it does not exist. It would be very much like the ” Framing” of George Lakoff in its effect.

How to deal with that effect, our own unintentional biases or being targeted by zealous Lakoffian framers ? Metacognition might be a helpful technique, as suggested in the post “Strategic Learning: Metacognition and Metamemory” at The Eide Neurolearning Blog . The Drs. Eide write:

“High level strategic learning often requires constant self-regulation and error monitoring strategies, metacognition (thinking about the thought processes), sometimes specific memory techniques (metamemory or conscious thinking about memory).”

Such self-regulative monitoring provides a mental check against racing ahead with a dubious but attractive premise. It would also tend to derail the the likelihood of the amygdala becoming overly engaged in the heat of the argument and turning us into red-faced, sputtering, arm-waving, buffoons with a surge of emotionality.

Cross posted at Zenpundit