Sunday, March 30, 2008

Two Quick Videos

A few quick videos. Just got back to Chicago, classes start tomorrow, but I'm taking cognitive neuroscience, so I'm ridiculously excited. Totally geeking out. I'll have a full post later, probably tomorrow.

But, for now:

This is the funniest thing I've heard in a long time. And the chorus will get stuck in your head. I pulled this off of Pharyngula, from the noble/gangsta PZ, and some of his minions have been kind enough to figure out the lyrics.

Secondly, totally stolen from Tiny Frog:

This is actually really great. I know a few people who would claim this is simply evidence of operant conditioning, but I would not be swayed by that, or at least would not let the intonation turn towards "mere" operant conditioning. If that's the case, then human behavior collapses into operant conditioning as well, with no "mere" about it. It's fascinating to speculate about the inner life of elephants, as well as dolphins, chimps, etc. I wonder if the elephant really enjoys this type of behavior, and how would we know? Anyway, if anyone has some feedback on this, please feel free to go with it.


Saturday, March 29, 2008



Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Some cool research.

Alright, so I've been hellaciously busy these past few weeks, what with finals and all. I also presented at the SRA (Society for Research of Adolescents) conference here in Chicago a week ago. It was quite nice. I got a lot of good response to my presentation (personality correlates of video game players), and am planning on expanding the database when I can get to work with my adviser. I want to focus mostly on MMORPGs and the kind of social persona that people create while in these environments. I'll probably detail this more later.

There was a helluva lot of good psychology-related science going on at this conference! It was so refreshing to get out of the classroom and talk with actual researchers who are doing really, really interesting stuff. I'm getting in touch with some of them, and I'll update you on some of the findings, especially in regards to a few poster-session presentations that I saw while there. A lot of people are doing some really great stuff right now, especially in the cognitive neuroscience field. There's an ongoing argument about how much genetics/biology affects human behavior, and depending on exactly what you mean by "genetics or biology," I can understand either side of the argument. I'm one who would favor a deeper and better understanding of the biological aspects of behavior, and I'll explain why in a future post. I feel like I've been falling down on my general "spread the science!" mission, so, some related science articles below the fold...

Virtual Gaming is no replacement for real exercise. This one actually answers a question I was thinking about while I was at the SRA conference. I was wondering if anyone had done work on the physicality of some new Wii games, and apparently these people have. What's striking is the suggestion that only 60 to 70 calories are burned during some of these games. I know I usually burn around 600 in about a 45 minute period on a cross-trainer, or, at least, however accurately those things calculate such things. The question I have is what kind of games or level of activity are these kids engaged in, and does it depend on social situation? That is to say, I know I've watched friends playing Wii games, and if they're playing single player, most of the time they just sit there and hardly make any movements at all. As soon as you load up Wii boxing or something, though, everyone gets up and starts really throwing punches. Something to think about.

Reasoning abilities in bots in Second Life
. Okay, I'm going to admit. This sounds pretty cool. And I use that heavily. Sounds. I'm not sure how much I buy it. Maybe I'm just an old fohgey and stodgy on AI in general, but I'm not entirely sure that I buy the argument that this is actual reasoning ability. If you want some (rather uninformative) videos, you can check them out here. I wonder how much of this is independent thinking and how much is programed, i.e. "you know where the gun is, but say the other one." Of course, I'm sure some AI proponent will say "well, what's the difference between that and the way the brain works? Programming versus neurons? Etc..." Let me say, I love the idea of AI, and I hope there's real progress in strong AI in the near future. It's just, I remain unimpressed by what I've seen.

Neural networks linked to contemplation are stronger in adults than children. I suppose this shouldn't be terribly surprising, but I do find it interesting, and, of course, I have a soft spot in my heart (brain) for cognitive neuroscience. The abstract is a little soft on actual findings and interpretations, heavy on method and discussion of future areas of research. That's okay, but, I really want to dig into the meat of this article. Now that I'm done with classes, I'll look it up. If there's anything good there, I'll post on it later.

Two very interesting articles on the social brain and the development of language. Looks like some promising areas of continuing research. A lot of articles are being published now about songbirds and language, it seems. Dig around on Science Daily. And, to go along with this, an interesting article on the level of meaning conveyed by primate signaling.

Lastly, for your science fix, the hand can't be fooled! It's too bad about the eyes though.

Lastly, two comics that really kind of sum up my feelings at the moment.

First, that moment of perspective we all have felt in class:

And secondly, would it really be so bad?


Friday, March 14, 2008

The Bastard Fairies are hilarious.

Two hilarious videos from The Bastard Fairies. First, a little religion; second, something I think pretty well applies to the college/grad-school life. "We can discuss Camus." HAH!

A much expanded post on science and other topics this weekend. Just getting finished with some of my assignments.


Thursday, March 6, 2008

The Four Horsemen

This is part 1 of a 12 part conversation between Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens on atheism and religion. Click on it to access YouTube and see parts 2-12.



Moses was on drugs when he invented the Ten Commandments.


Advice: Getting Good Grades in Grad School

How to get good grades in grad school (woot alliteration!)

Granted I am new to this whole "grad school thing" but if I have learned anything this year, I have learned these very simple rules

1. Write very very well. If you don't write well have someone teach you how to write well..

1a. Write very clearly. They love writing "why?" or "what?" or "how so?" in the margins.
1b. Write a lot. Unless there are strict guidelines they'll take it as going "above and beyond." Introducing debates in the secondary literature usually helps increase your length

2. Don't disagree with your professor in any substantive way... in the end, they will always think they are right and you are wrong

3. Pick really specific topics - if no one has done it, your prof will think you are original. If your topic is small, you'll have less secondary lit to cover.

4. Go to office hours, join the stupid clubs. Ok.. I don't really do this but I witness the kiss asses in my program who may have three papers due from last quarter but everyone still seems to love them. It seems to work.. but it will make you a total loser and i might have to punch you in the face

5. Only talk in class when you have something really really smart to say. For the most part, your prof has no idea who you are.

6. Show up and look engaged. There are methods of doodling that actually look like you are taking notes. My favorite methods are practicing my calligraphy, working on my budget and turning the professors comments into nonsensical poetry (thats a fun game, just write down certain phrases he/she says and adding your own words turn it into a poem on how lame the topic is)

7. Be nice to the TA. This quarter I found this exceptionally hard but they just have to think that you like them. Unfortunately, the lazier the professor (ok, or busier) the more powerful the TA. I can't believe we even have TAs in Grad School but I guess the profs are really lazy err busy

ok thats all I have for now.. any additions? disagreements?


Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Rest in Peace, Mr. Gygax

Very sad news, everyone. Gary Gygax, co-creator of Dungeons and Dragons and widely considered father of role-playing games the world-over, died the morning of March 4 at his home in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.

As an ardent player of D&D, this news shocked me quite honestly to the core. The man is something of a legend to those of us who have ever enjoyed rolling the multicolored polyhedrons, casting magic missiles, or debating whether or not halflings should have furry feet. His death is a loss to all of us in the gaming community, but his legacy continues to live on in natural twenties, random encounters, and good fun among friends.

Rest in peace, Mr. Gygax. May a chorus of planetars sing thee to thy rest.


This Love

This is a question to my fellow atheists. Would you date a religious person? I have tried, and I have found it to be almost insurmountably difficult. I dated a Southern Baptist for a little while, and to be honest, the only thing keeping me around was that she was...what's the genteel way to put this...really fucking hot, but the whole religion thing was what really killed it. I knew that she thought I was going to spend an eternity in hell, and she knew that I thought she was a delusional automaton. The last three people I have dated have all been atheists. Maybe I could date a Deist. But these days I steer clear of religious people if I am looking for anything a little more serious than random play.


Monday, March 3, 2008

The Frayed Ends of Sanity

I was once asked whom I would pick for President of the United States if I could pick anyone and I was able to abstract from considerations like whether he or she would play well with Congress. I rattled off a list of dead people: Dr. King, John Rawls, etc. Then my interlocutor restricted the available options to people who are alive. I half-jokingly replied, "George Carlin." Read this recent interview with him.

Choice Quote: "We squandered a lot of gifts. Human beings were given a lot of great gifts. We were given the ability to reason, this extra-large brain, walking erect, having binocular vision and the opposable thumb, and all of these things, and we had such promise, but we squandered it on goods and superstition. We gave ourselves over to the high priests and the traders, and they are the ones we allow to control us."


Sunday, March 2, 2008

Creationists, the only proof of devolution around...

We're screwed.

Absolutely screwed.

They have fire!

Well, okay, not really. But they can use lighters and apparently don't have much fear of fire. Sweet. Combine this with chimps living in caves and making spears, and I'm about ready to welcome our new, hairy masters.

My real problem with that video is that she is so insistent on "this is cultural, it has nothing to do with biology." My question would then be: "Okay. Well, what if we attempted to do this with zebrafish? How about lemurs?" I think a better statement would have been: "There are very few biological differences between humans and bonobos, and thus a stimulating cultural and educational environment can make up a lot of ground between the two." Biology is still essential (in that some brain structures are necessary for linguistic abilities), but cultural/education is likewise essential.

Also, I'm concerned she has gotten a little too close to her subject and is willing to interpret some of the "symbol" drawings as more exact than they are. The first symbol, okay. Second, maybe. Third, not sure at all.

But I could be wrong.

More below the fold.

In relation to this, chimps are apparently "language-ready."

Sounds cool to me, and goes to show that language, while perhaps still unique to humans, has homologues throughout the primates. The last paragraph is quite good as well. Either way, it's a win. 1) Chimps are naturally language ready and only need the proper environment to begin engaging in it (and perhaps beginning to face selective pressures for it); or, 2) Chimps have extremely plastic brains and can develop linguistic processing areas through environmental processes. Also good news.

In other evolutionary news, a pliosaur has been discovered in Norway. As a fossil, of course!

This reminds me of something...what could it be...oh yes! A liopleurodon! It's a magic liopleurodon, Charlie!

In sadder news, there is this video from the 70's (maybe the early 90's. It does end with a Nirvana video). The really sad part is that creationist claims have not changed at all. We still have to deal with this shit today. It's completely rife with non-sequitors, logical fallacies, and out-right lies. I'd say we should make a drinking game out of this, but we'd all be dead by the end. You can't get even a quarter of the way through without alcohol poisoning.

And this is still going on. (Coincidentally, this is also where the title of the post comes in. "Devolution" is such a bullshit term. When cave fish lose functional eyes, this is an adaptation, because eyes are pretty expensive organs resource wise, and it's much more adaptive to let that organ go into non-functionality if it's useless. However, if there is anything which is evidence for "devolved" humans, it has to be creationists.)

I might devote an entire post to tearing this thing apart sometime soon, but for now, I'm just going to give a one-off:

"A true bird, not a reptile-bird intermediate." Your statement is utterly meaningless. The bird/dinosaur distinction is really pretty arbitrary and gets us a good way into understanding the whole problem of labeling species. It's a functional definition: two organisms that cannot reproduce a viable offspring. But here's the problem: if you trace your ancestry back far enough, eventually your ancestors are not going to be labeled homo sapiens. Where exactly is that line drawn? Well, sometimes it's sort of hard to tell. There's an unbroken line of reproduction stretching from you back to the first self-replicating molecules billions of years ago, and clearly at every step along that line organisms of a particular "species" could reproduce with one another, even though they are all, technically, transitional forms. Birds are still dinosaurs, we just choose to group them separately. Humans are still primates, just like we're still mammals, which are another branch off from the reptile line. Good job guys, seriously.

Now for something entirely sad and disturbing. I really want to know how you can watch this and not call it some form of child abuse.

It's a five part series. Here, I'll link them up.

Part II

Part III

Part IV

Part V

And now back to school work. Ugh.


Saturday, March 1, 2008

Wow, okay

A bit drunk at the moment, but I find that inebriation is often one of the more tranquil, thoughtful states of being. So, in regards to those who may happen to read this, my apologies.

Pertaining to the primary discussions on this blog, I was wondering what the other posters' reactions would be if in fact there was a god. Not necessarily the Christian Jehovah or the Muslim Allah or anything, but a god (or gods! not opposed to a pantheon!) in general. And not even an omipotent, omniscient deity, but just a being of greater power than yourself. How would you react?





Mostly a curiosity here, but something I nonetheless genuinely consider. What are your opinions if there really is a god? (And don't answer with "there is no god"...we know that option already)