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Posts Tagged ‘cognitive science

“Talk sense to a fool and he calls you foolish”*…


… and sometimes, it turns out, the reverse is true:

About 20 per cent of the United States population (60 million out of 300 million people) are non-native speakers of English. Speaking multiple languages has advantages – for example, you get to talk to people from different cultures. But being a non-native or second-language (L2) speaker also has its challenges. In addition to often feeling self-conscious about their accents, L2 speakers can be viewed by native speakers as less intelligent, and less trustworthy.

Thus it might come as a surprise that, in 1980, Henry Kissinger (the former US secretary of state and a non-native English speaker, originally from Germany) told Arianna Huffington (the Greek immigrant and entrepreneur/writer who would eventually start The Huffington Post) not to worry about [her] accent, ‘because you can never, in American public life, underestimate the advantages of complete and total incomprehensibility’…

We can think of the errors in non-native English as a noisier language model than a native-speaker model. Listeners expect more errors and are therefore more likely to think that L2 speakers mean something sensible when they say something implausible. But if a native speaker says something nonsensical, listeners are more likely to take them literally, because they know their language model has less noise. Kissinger was advising Huffington that, given her accent, listeners would likely give her the benefit of the doubt…

An MIT cognitive scientist explains “The unexpected benefits of getting lost in translation.”

* Euripides, The Bacchae


As we filter signal from noise, we might recall that it was on this date in 1535 that The Bible, that is the Holy Scripture of the Old and New Testament, faithfully translated into English— better known as the Coverdale Bible— came off the press in Antwerp.  Prepared by Myles Coverdale, it was the first complete Modern English translation of the Bible (not just the Old Testament or New Testament), and the first complete printed translation into English (using William Tyndale‘s New Testament work together with Coverdale’s own translations from the Latin Vulgate or German text).



Written by LW

October 4, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Reality leaves a lot to the imagination”*…


Donald D. Hoffman, a professor of cognitive science at the University of California, Irvine. Hoffman has spent the past three decades studying perception, artificial intelligence, evolutionary game theory and the brain, and his conclusion is a dramatic one: The world presented to us by our perceptions is nothing like reality. What’s more, he says, we have evolution itself to thank for this magnificent illusion, as it maximizes evolutionary fitness by driving truth to extinction…

The fantastic tale in full at “The Evolutionary Argument Against Reality.”

[Image above source]

* John Lennon


As we question everything, we might recall that it was on this date in 1810 that Beethoven wrote Bagatelle No. 25 in A minor (WoO 59 and Bia 515) for solo piano– better known as “Für Elise” (click to hear).

Some scholars have suggested that “Elise” was Beethoven’s mistress; but others have suggested that the discoverer of the piece, Ludwig Nohl, may have have misunderstood the Master’s handwriting, and transcribed the title incorrectly, that the original work may have been named “Für Therese”–  Therese being Therese Malfatti von Rohrenbach zu Dezza, a friend and student of Beethoven’s to whom he proposed in 1810… though she turned him down to marry the Austrian nobleman and state official Wilhelm von Droßdik.  Today, Therese is forgotten; Elise, celebrated. In any case, it’s a beautiful piece…

The famous opening bars



Written by LW

April 27, 2016 at 1:01 am

I’m relatively sure that this is reassuring news…


image: Paul Wesley Griggs

The quantum world defies the rules of ordinary logic. Particles routinely occupy two or more places at the same time and don’t even have well-defined properties until they are measured. It’s all strange, yet true – quantum theory is the most accurate scientific theory ever tested and its mathematics is perfectly suited to the weirdness of the atomic world. (…)

Human thinking, as many of us know, often fails to respect the principles of classical logic. We make systematic errors when reasoning with probabilities, for example. Physicist Diederik Aerts of the Free University of Brussels, Belgium, has shown that these errors actually make sense within a wider logic based on quantum mathematics. The same logic also seems to fit naturally with how people link concepts together, often on the basis of loose associations and blurred boundaries. That means search algorithms based on quantum logic could uncover meanings in masses of text more efficiently than classical algorithms.

It may sound preposterous to imagine that the mathematics of quantum theory has something to say about the nature of human thinking. This is not to say there is anything quantum going on in the brain, only that “quantum” mathematics really isn’t owned by physics at all, and turns out to be better than classical mathematics in capturing the fuzzy and flexible ways that humans use ideas. “People often follow a different way of thinking than the one dictated by classical logic,” says Aerts. “The mathematics of quantum theory turns out to describe this quite well.” (…)

Why should quantum logic fit human behaviour? Peter Bruza at Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia, suggests the reason is to do with our finite brain being overwhelmed by the complexity of the environment yet having to take action long before it can calculate its way to the certainty demanded by classical logic. Quantum logic may be more suitable to making decisions that work well enough, even if they’re not logically faultless. “The constraints we face are often the natural enemy of getting completely accurate and justified answers,” says Bruza.

This idea fits with the views of some psychologists, who argue that strict classical logic only plays a small part in the human mind. Cognitive psychologist Peter Gardenfors of Lund University in Sweden, for example, argues that much of our thinking operates on a largely unconscious level, where thought follows a less restrictive logic and forms loose associations between concepts.

Aerts agrees. “It seems that we’re really on to something deep we don’t yet fully understand.” This is not to say that the human brain or consciousness have anything to do with quantum physics, only that the mathematical language of quantum theory happens to match the description of human decision-making.

Perhaps only humans, with our seemingly illogical minds, are uniquely capable of discovering and understanding quantum theory.

Read the article in its fascinating entirety at New Scientist (via Amira Skowmorowska’s Lapidarium Notes).


As we feel even more justified in agreeing with Emerson that “a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds,” we might recall that it was on this date in 1692 that Giles Corey, a prosperous farmer and full member of the church in early colonial America, died under judicial torture during the Salem witch trials.  Corey refused to enter a plea; he was crushed to death by stone weights in an attempt to force him to do so.

Under the law at the time, a person who refused to plead could not be tried. To avoid persons cheating justice, the legal remedy was “peine forte et dure“– a process in which the prisoner is stripped naked and placed prone under a heavy board. Rocks or boulders are then laid on the wood. Corey was the only person in New England to suffer this punishment, though Margaret Clitherow was similarly crushed in England in 1586 for refusing to plead to the charge of secretly practicing Catholicism.

Corey’s last words were “more weight.”




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