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Posts Tagged ‘Psychology

“I see by hearing”*…

 

Echolocation_1

Daniel Kish navigates the world like a bat does—and he does so without ever leaving the ground.

After losing his vision as an infant, Kish taught himself to move around with the help of echolocation. Like bats, Kish uses his mouth to produce a series of short, crisp clicking sounds, and then listens to how those sounds bounce off the surrounding landscape. (Our winged neighbors tend to emit these clicks at frequencies humans can’t hear, but Kish’s clicks are perfectly audible to human ears.) From there, Kish makes a mental map of his environment, considering everything from broad contours—like walls and doors—down to textural details.

Kish now teaches echolocation, mostly to students who are blind. For these students, Kish believes that an echolocation practice can buoy confidence and independence. Kish’s own experience is persuasive—he famously bikes along hilly, car-lined streets—and a growing body of scholarly research has begun to unpack exactly how expert echolocaters do their thing. This research has also backed up the idea that this skill is highly learnable. When researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, asked novice echolocators to use tongue clicks to determine which of the two objects in front of them was larger, the newbies were soon able to do so in a way that the scientists couldn’t attribute to chance.

Whatever your sightedness, there’s something to be said for learning to listen more attentively to sonic scenery. Kish believes that vision has a way of blunting the other senses unless people work to really flex them. Deft echolocators, he says, are able to perceive fine differences—distinguishing, say, between an oleander bush (“a million sharp returns”) and an evergreen (“wisps closely packed together, which sound like a bit like a sponge or a curtain”). They’re discovering sonic wonder wherever they go…

A beginner’s guide to navigating with sound: “Teach Yourself to Echolocate.”

* Darrin Lunde, Hello, Bumblebee Bat

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As we take sound advice, we might send closely-heard birthday greetings to Sir Frederic Charles Bartlett, FRS; he was born on this date in 1886.  A psychologist (and the first professor of experimental psychology at the University of Cambridge), he was one of the pioneers of both cognitive psychology and cultural psychology.  His 1932 book Remembering was hugely influential in its demonstration (via the experiments it reports) that memory is not a consultative process that retrieves facts from an immutable record, as most then believed; rather, it is reconstruction, open it a variety of influences that can shape what is recalled.

But relevantly here, he also studied sound and its impact on humans.  His 1934 book The Problem of Noise is a study of “sound that is a nuisance,” and its impact, both physiological and psychological, on hearers.  It was, though probably unintended, Bartlett’s contribution to “clearing the air” for echolation.

Bartlett source

 

Written by LW

October 20, 2018 at 1:01 am

“Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it”*…

 

 

Keat urn

A tracing of an engraving of the Sosibios vase by John Keats

 

At least as far back as the ancient Greeks, poets and philosophers have struggled to define the nature of beauty. More recently—that is, for the past 150 years—psychologists have joined the effort to discover why we find certain sounds and images aesthetically appealing.

Answers remain elusive, and a new analysis in the journal Current Biology helps explain why. It finds some preferences—including our inclination to favor curves over angles—appear to be universal.

However, New York University psychologists Aenne Brielmann and Denis Pelli report that individual differences “outweigh general tendencies in most aesthetic judgments. Even for faces, which are popularly supposed to be consistently judged, individual taste accounts for about half the variance in attractiveness ratings.”

To a large extent, beauty really does seem to be in the eye—and brain—of the beholder…

A new analysis finds a few widely shared aesthetic preferences, and a whole lot of individual and cultural variation: “Beauty is, mostly, in the eye of the beholder.”

* Confucius

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As we examine the exquisite, we might send intricately beautiful birthday greetings to Jan Švankmajer; he was born on this date in 1934.  A self-proclaimed surrealist artist who has worked in many media, he is best known as a filmmaker, more specifically, as a stop-motion animator whose works have influenced Terry Gilliam, the Brothers Quay, and many others.

Here, an example of his work:

 

Written by LW

September 4, 2018 at 1:01 am

“I could deny it if I liked. I could deny anything if I liked.”*…

 

ostrich denial

We are all in denial, some of the time at least. Part of being human, and living in a society with other humans, is finding clever ways to express – and conceal – our feelings. From the most sophisticated diplomatic language to the baldest lie, humans find ways to deceive. Deceptions are not necessarily malign; at some level they are vital if humans are to live together with civility. As Richard Sennett has argued: “In practising social civility, you keep silent about things you know clearly but which you should not and do not say.”

Just as we can suppress some aspects of ourselves in our self-presentation to others, so we can do the same to ourselves in acknowledging or not acknowledging what we desire. Most of the time, we spare ourselves from the torture of recognising our baser yearnings. But when does this necessary private self-deception become harmful? When it becomes public dogma. In other words: when it becomes denialism.

Denialism is an expansion, an intensification, of denial. At root, denial and denialism are simply a subset of the many ways humans have developed to use language to deceive others and themselves. Denial can be as simple as refusing to accept that someone else is speaking truthfully. Denial can be as unfathomable as the multiple ways we avoid acknowledging our weaknesses and secret desires.

Denialism is more than just another manifestation of the humdrum intricacies of our deceptions and self-deceptions. It represents the transformation of the everyday practice of denial into a whole new way of seeing the world and – most important – a collective accomplishment. Denial is furtive and routine; denialism is combative and extraordinary. Denial hides from the truth, denialism builds a new and better truth…

Denialism is not a barrier to acknowledging a common moral foundation; it is a barrier to acknowledging moral differences. An end to denialism is therefore a disturbing prospect, as it would involve these moral differences revealing themselves directly. But we need to start preparing for that eventuality, because denialism is starting to break down – and not in a good way…

From vaccines to climate change to genocide, a new age of denialism is upon us. Why have we failed to understand it?  Keith Kahn-Harris on “Denialism: what drives people to reject the truth.”

* Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest

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As we fight to face up, we might send epistemologically-ambitious birthday greetings to William Isaac Thomas; he was born on this date in 1863.  A pioneering sociologist, he formulated a fundamental principle of sociology, now known as the Thomas theorem:  simply put, “If men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences.”

Portrait_of_William_Isaac_Thomas source

 

Written by LW

August 13, 2018 at 1:01 am

“All mystical experience is coincidence; and vice versa, of course.”*…

 

coincidence-clipart-Pi-Coincidence

 

Today, nearly all scientists say that coincidences are just that: coincidences – void of greater meaning. Yet, they’re something we all experience, and with a frequency that is uniform across age, sex, country, job, even education level. Those who believe that they’ve had a ‘meaningful coincidence’ in their lives experience a collision of events so remarkable and unlikely that they chose to ascribe a form of grander meaning to the occurrence, via fate or divinity or existential importance. One of the most commonly experienced ‘meaningful coincidences’ is to think of your friend for the first time in a long while only to have her telephone you that instant. Any self-respecting statistician would say that if you tracked the number of times you thought of any friend, and the number of times you had that friend immediately ring you, you’d find the link to be statistically insignificant. But it is not necessarily irrational to attribute grander significance to this occurrence…

Lightning can strike twice and people do call just when you’re thinking of them – but are such coincidences meaningful?  Find out at “On coincidence.”

[image above: source]

* Tom Stoppard

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As we muse on meaning, we might ponder the significance of the fact that on this date in 1817, the exquisite novelist of English manners Jane Austen passed away– six years to the day after the birth of William Makepeace Thackeray, who was in such works as Vanity Fair her successor as chronicler of English society (born on this date in 1811).  Coincidence?

Austen Thackeray

Jane Austen, as drawn by her sister Cassandra [source] and William Makepeace Thackeray [source]

 

Written by LW

July 18, 2018 at 1:01 am

“Optimism is highly valued, socially and in the market; people and firms reward the providers of dangerously misleading information more than they reward truth tellers”*…

 

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It’s been 10 years since the beginning of the Great Recession…

Some of the more pessimistic commentators at the time of the credit crunch, myself included, said that the aftermath of the crash would dominate our economic and political lives for at least ten years. What I wasn’t expecting – what I don’t think anyone was expecting – was that ten years would go by quite so fast. At the start of 2008, Gordon Brown was prime minister of the United Kingdom, George W. Bush was president of the United States, and only politics wonks had ever heard of the junior senator from Illinois; Nicolas Sarkozy was president of France, Hu Jintao was general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, Ken Livingstone was mayor of London, MySpace was the biggest social network, and the central bank interest rate in the UK was 5.5 per cent.

It is sometimes said that the odds you could get on Leicester winning the Premiership in 2016 was the single most mispriced bet in the history of bookmaking: 5000 to 1. To put that in perspective, the odds on the Loch Ness monster being found are a bizarrely low 500 to 1. (Another 5000 to 1 bet offered by William Hill is that Barack Obama will play cricket for England. I’d advise against that punt.) Nonetheless, 5000 to 1 pales in comparison with the odds you would have got in 2008 on a future world in which Donald Trump was president, Theresa May was prime minister, Britain had voted to leave the European Union, and Jeremy Corbyn was leader of the Labour Party – which to many close observers of Labour politics is actually the least likely thing on that list. The common factor explaining all these phenomena is, I would argue, the credit crunch and, especially, the Great Recession that followed…

The always-illuminating John Lanchester ponders what happened, why, and what we have– and haven’t– learned: “After the Fall.”

[image above: source]

* “However, optimism is highly valued, socially and in the market; people and firms reward the providers of dangerously misleading information more than they reward truth tellers. One of the lessons of the financial crisis that led to the Great Recession is that there are periods in which competition, among experts and among organizations, creates powerful forces that favor a collective blindness to risk and uncertainty.”   – Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow

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As we do our best to learn from our mistakes, we might wish a spectacularly happy birthday to Phineas Taylor (“P.T.”) Barnum; he was born on this date in 1810.

A sharp observer of the human condition, Barnum wrote and spoke frequently of characteristics that made “promotions” of the sort in which he specialized both possible and profitable:

Nobody ever lost a dollar by underestimating the taste of the American public.

There’s a sucker born every minute.

In what business is there not humbug?

Barnum came by his wisdom the round-about way: he founded and ran a small business, then a weekly newspaper in his native Connecticut before leaving for New York City and the entertainment business.  He parlayed a variety troop and a “curiosities” museum (featuring the ‘”Feejee” mermaid’ and “General Tom Thumb”) into a fortune…  which he lost in a series of legal setbacks.  He replenished his stores by touring as a temperance speaker, then served as a Connecticut State legislator and as Mayor of Bridgeport (a role in which he introduced gas lighting and founded the Bridgeport hospital)… It wasn’t until after his 60th birthday that he turned to endeavor for which he’s best remembered– the circus.

“I am a showman by profession…and all the gilding shall make nothing else of me.”

source: Library of Congress

 

Written by LW

July 5, 2018 at 1:01 am

“All profound distraction opens certain doors”*…

 

We are used to hearing that attention is good for us, and that bad things happen when we are inattentive. On the day of Donald Trump’s inauguration, Rebecca Solnit wrote of a hypercapitalist culture 
that had helped to create a “pandemic attention deficit disorder.” But the culture’s vocabularies for attentiveness are not exactly uncapitalist (we pay or invest attention, spend time, take stock). In The Attention Economy, Thomas Davenport and John Beck sought to counteract “organizational ADD” in corporations, and it seems reasonable to assume that the $100,000 advertising campaign that drew attention to their book was, as it were, “good for business.” This particular economy shows no signs of shrinking; last year MIT Press published The Distracted Mind, in which the coauthors (a psychologist and cognitive neuroscientist) offered strategies for changing our behavior so that we might function more successfully “in our personal lives, on the road, in classrooms, and” — last but not least — “in the workplace.” The book concluded with the hope that “a neuro cross-fit training” program might soon be developed to minimize distractions.

People have been in training for attention for some time. “Attend upon the Lord without distraction,” Paul advised in Corinthians. Darwin would later stress the importance of attendances less spiritual and altogether more adaptive. “Hardly any faculty is more important for the intellectual progress of man than the power of Attention,” he observed in The Descent of Man, “animals clearly manifest this power, as when a cat watches by a hole and prepares to spring on its prey.” This watchfulness is certainly useful, but it may need to be watched; Darwin adds that “wild animals sometimes become so absorbed when thus engaged, that they may be easily approached.” So perhaps it’s hazardous for me to pay too much attention; as an easily-approached attender, I may myself become prey. And there still appears to be some confusion about what kind of attention is the right kind; computer games have often been seen as lamentable distractions, and as contributing factors to poor attention levels, but that was before researchers began lauding the superior attentional capacity of those who played them.

These complications notwithstanding, distraction has tended to
 get bad press…

Matthew Bevis on the rewards of the tangential, the digressive, and the dreamy: “In Search of Distraction.”

* Julio Cortázar, Around the Day in Eighty Worlds

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As we let our minds wander, we might recall that it was on this date in 1855 that Ivan Tugenev and Leo Tolstoy first met.  Earlier that year, Turgenev had written to Tolstoy, who had already published Childhood and Boyhood, but was at the time fighting at the front in the Crimean War: “Enough! There’s a limit to everything!  You have proved that you are no coward, but your instrument is the pen and not the sabre!”

Tolstoy, who admired Turgenev immensely, took those words to heart.  On this day 162 years ago, he appeared on Turgenev’s doorstep in Saint Petersburg.  The writers embraced each other in Russian style and Tolstoy stayed for a month… the beginning of a tempestuous but loyal friendship that lasted until Turgenev’s death in 1883. [source]

left to right (seated), Goncharov, Turgenev, Druzhinin, Ostrovsky; standing, Tolstoy, Grigorovich (1856)

source

 

Written by LW

November 21, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Right now I’m having amnesia and déjà vu at the same time. I think I’ve forgotten this before.”*…

 

Encyclopedia Grid (Acropolis), 2014, by Sara Cwynar. Courtesy Foxy Production, New York.

… Digital memory objects and digital reminiscence systems have left us in a catch–22: They are poor but convenient substitutes for the physical objects and mementos we have previously relied on as containers of memory. If we destroy the evocative electronic madeleine, we are left more and more floating in a self-replenishing sea of presentness and recency.

But if we don’t, if we leave the madeleine in safe stasis in memory storage, we may be accepting a different type of tyranny, of memories that refuse to be altered, of constant confrontation with all of you at once, everything algorithmically legible you’ve ever done, existing simultaneously, clamoring for influence and attention.

The redoubtable Molly Sauter on how we remember when apps never forget: “Instant Recall.”

Vaguely related (and in any case, fun): James Gleick’s “The physics of time travel isn’t just the stuff of science fiction.”

* Steven Wright

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As we say thanks for the memories, we might recall that one hundred years ago today, on this date in 1917, after a long, complicated battle, women won the right to vote in New York State.  While a major victory, this fight amplified rifts among equal rights constituents and advocates, primarily between African American women and white women.  Three years later the 19th Amendment was ratified, granting U.S. women suffrage nationwide.

 source

 

Written by LW

November 6, 2017 at 1:01 am

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