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Posts Tagged ‘learning

“Talkin’ ’bout my generation”*…

 

Generations

 

“The competition between paradigms is not the sort of battle that can be resolved by proofs”  – Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions

As recently as the late 1980s, most Americans thought gay sex was not only immoral but also something that ought to be illegal. Yet by 2015, when the Supreme Court legalised same-sex marriage, there were only faint murmurs of protest. Today two-thirds of Americans support it, and even those who frown on it make no serious effort to criminalise it.

This surge in tolerance illustrates how fast public opinion can shift. The change occurred because two trends reinforced each other. First, many socially conservative old people have died, and their places in the polling samples have been taken by liberal millennials. In addition, people have changed their minds. Support for gay marriage has risen by some 30 percentage points within each generation since 2004, from 20% to 49% among those born in 1928-45 and from 45% to 78% among those born after 1980.

However, this shift in opinion makes gay marriage an exception among political issues. Since 1972 the University of Chicago has run a General Social Survey every year or two, which asks Americans their views on a wide range of topics. Over time, public opinion has grown more liberal. But this is mostly the result of generational replacement, not of changes of heart.

For example, in 1972, 42% of Americans said communist books should be banned from public libraries. Views varied widely by age: 55% of people born before 1928 (who were 45 or older at the time) supported a ban, compared with 37% of people aged 27-44 and just 25% of those 26 or younger. Today, only a quarter of Americans favour this policy. However, within each of these birth cohorts, views today are almost identical to those from 47 years ago. The change was caused entirely by the share of respondents born before 1928 falling from 49% to nil, and that of millennials—who were not born until at least 1981, and staunchly oppose such a ban—rising from zero to 36%.

Not every issue is as extreme as these two. But on six of the eight questions we examined—all save gay marriage and marijuana legalisation—demographic shifts accounted for a bigger share of overall movement in public opinion than changes in beliefs within cohorts. On average, their impact was about twice as large.

Social activists devote themselves to changing people’s views, and sometimes succeed. In general, however, battles for hearts and minds are won by grinding attrition more often than by rapid conquest.

The Economist illustrates the way in which generational change is the driver of changes in public opinion: “Societies change their minds faster than people do.”

Paul Graham has tips on how to anticipate and navigate, even to lead, this change: “What you can’t say.”

“The proliferation of competing articulations, the willingness to try anything, the expression of explicit discontent, the recourse to philosophy and to debate over fundamentals, all these are symptoms of a transition from normal to extraordinary research. It is upon their existence more than upon that of revolutions that the notion of normal science depends… though the world does not change with a change of paradigm, the scientist afterward works in a different world.”

Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions

* The Who

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As we go with the flow, we might send responsive birthday greetings to John Broadus Watson; he was born on this date in 1878.  A psychologist inspired by the (then recent) work of Ivan Pavlov, Watson established the psychological school of behaviorism, most dramatically through his address Psychology as the Behaviorist Views it, at Columbia University in 1913.  Watson studied the biology, physiology, and behavior of animals, viewing them as extremely complex machines that responded to situations according to their “wiring,” or nerve pathways, which were conditioned by experience.  When he continued with studies of the behavior of children, his conclusion was that humans, while more complicated than animals, operated on the same principles; he was particularly interested in the conditioning of emotions.  Watson’s behaviorism dominated psychology in the U.S. in the 1920s and ’30s (and got a second wind with the ascendence of B.F. Skinner).

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Ironically, it is also the birthday (1886) of one of Watson’s contemporaries and antagonists, Edwin Ray Guthrie.  Guthrie was also a behaviorist, but argued against of Watson’s theory of classical conditioning and Skinner’s related theory of operant conditioning.  Guthie’s focus was the psychology of learning and the role that association plays.  In his Law of Contiguity, he held that “a combination of stimuli which has accompanied a movement, will on its recurrence tend to be followed by that movement.” He held that all learning is based on a stimulus- response association; movements are small stimulus- response combinations.  These movements make up an act.  A learned behavior is a series of movements, and it takes time for the movements to develop into an act. Which is to say that he believed that learning is incremental, and that many acquired behaviors involve repetition of movements– because what is learned are movements, not behaviors.

200px-Edwin_Ray_Guthrie source

 

“I’m still learning”*…

 

learned

 

1)  Each year humanity produces 1,000 times more transistors than grains of rice and wheat combined. [Mark P Mills]…

24)  “Mushrooms and truffles are fungi, more closely related to humans than they are to plants.” [Lynne Peskoe-Yang]…

51)  Fast fashion is hitting the wiping rags businesses, because some clothing is just too badly made to be sold as rags. [Adam Minter]…

From Tom Whitwell (@TomWhitwell) of Fluxx, the sixth of his annual lists: “52 things I learned in 2019.”

[image above: source]

* “Ancora imparo,” Michelangelo

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As we continue our educations, we might recall that it was on this date in 1839 that John William Draper took a daguerreotype of the moon, the first celestial photograph (or astrophotograph) made in the U.S.  (He exposed the plate for 20 minutes using a 5-inch telescope and produced an image one inch in diameter.)   Draper’s picture of his sister, taken the following year, is the oldest surviving photographic portrait.

An 1840 shot of the moon by Draper– the oldest surviving “astrophotograph,” as his first is lost

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Written by LW

December 18, 2019 at 1:01 am

“Different languages, the same thoughts; servant to thoughts and their masters”*…

 

Every year, the US Census Bureau releases data on the languages spoken in American homes. Usually it groups the languages in 39 major categories. Now it has released much more detailed figures, which show that Americans speak not 39, but more than 320 distinct languages.

The bureau collected the data from 2009 to 2013 as part of the American Community Survey, which asks Americans all kinds of questions to create highly granular estimates on various demographic indicators. The new data estimate that more than 60 million Americans speak a language other than English at home…

Learn more– and see the breakdown– at “All 300-plus languages spoken in American homes, and the number of people who speak them.”

* Dejan Stojanovic, The Sun Watches the Sun

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As we choose our words, we might recall that it was on this date in 1969 that Sesame Street premiered on public television in the U.S.  In 2008, it was estimated that 77 million Americans had watched the series as children.  By its 40th anniversary in 2009, Sesame Street was broadcast in over 120 countries, and 20 international versions had been produced. And as of 2014, Sesame Street has won 159 Emmy Awards and 8 Grammy Awards—more than any other children’s show.  The show, which was itself based on mountainous research,  has been the subject of, literally, thousands of studies on its effectiveness as a learning vehicle for children; it has been a keystone of English (and native) language learning in the U.S. and around the world.

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Written by LW

November 10, 2015 at 1:01 am

“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so”*…

 

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The wonders of modern millinery…

Caffeine-fueled cram sessions are routine occurrences on any college campus. But what if there was a better, safer way to learn new or difficult material more quickly? What if “thinking caps” were real?

In a new study published in the Journal of Neuroscience, Vanderbilt psychologists Robert Reinhart, a Ph.D. candidate, and Geoffrey Woodman, assistant professor of psychology, show that it is possible to selectively manipulate our ability to learn through the application of a mild electrical current to the brain, and that this effect can be enhanced or depressed depending on the direction of the current…

The success rate is far better than that observed in studies of pharmaceuticals or other types of psychological therapy,” said Woodman. The researchers found that the effects of a 20-minute stimulation did transfer to other tasks and lasted about five hours.

The implications of the findings extend beyond the potential to improve learning. It may also have clinical benefits in the treatment of conditions like schizophrenia and ADHD, which are associated with performance-monitoring deficits.

Read more at “Electric ‘thinking cap’ controls learning speed” in ScienceBlog.

* Shakespeare, Hamlet Act II, Scene 2

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As we crank up our crania, we might recall that it was on this date in 1747 that Benjamin Franklin sent a thank you note to British scientist Peter Collinson:

 Your kind present of an electric tube, with directions for using it, has put several of us on making electrical experiments, in which we have observed some particular phenomena that we look upon to be new. I was never before engaged in any study that so totally engrossed my attention and time.

As the Franklin Tercentenary notes:

The study of electricity was the most spectacular and fashionable branch of Enlightenment natural philosophy. Franklin was immediately hooked when the Library Company’s British agent, Peter Collinson, sent him a glass tube used to generate static electricity. Franklin taught himself to perform basic electrical “tricks” with it and was soon immersed in trying to understand how this surprising phenomenon worked.

Through his electrical investigations, Franklin developed important new theories, complete with new terms and instruments to describe and demonstrate them. As usual, his concern centered on developing useful applications for his discoveries: the result was a lightning protection system that is still in use today, notably on St. Paul’s Cathedral in London.

Franklin’s experiments were known all over Europe, initially through his personal correspondence and then through publications initiated by colleagues abroad. Later, Franklin’s international fame as a scientist would give him the status and political access to succeed as America’s premier diplomat.

Franklin at work on his most famous experiment

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“I have never let my schooling interfere with my education”…

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Mark Twain’s quip has found an altogether modern kind of expression on the web, where entrepreneurs and enthusiasts have expanded from the how-to space (c.f. Instructables, …for Dummies, et al.) to arenas that were until recently the undisputed province of the traditional educational establishment. Two of your correspondent’s favorites:

Khan Academy is–literally– the brainchild of Salmon Khan, a 33 year-old who has no PhD and has never taught.  Khan quit his job as a financial analyst and began to produce short simple videos on the sorts of topics covered in advanced high school and college classes.  As The Chronicle of Higher Education reports, Khan has posted over 1400 videos on YouTube, covering everything from basic arithmetic and algebra to differential equations, physics, chemistry, biology and finance.

Squashed Philosophy is the work of Glyn Hughes:  “The books which defined the way we think now.
Their own ideas, in their own words, neatly honed into little half-hour or so reads”…  and so they marvelously are.

(TotH to reader PR for the CHE reference.)

As we resolve to improve ourselves, we might recall that today is the birthday of scholar and critic Adrien Baillet; he was born on this date in 1649.  While Baillet was on the faculty at the college of Beauvais, served as librarian to François-Chrétien de Lamoignon,  and was advocate-general to the Parlement de Paris, he is best remembered as the biographer of René Descartes.

Adrien Baillet

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