Archive for the 'Minds and/or brains' category

SPSP 2013 Contributed Papers: Computation and Simulation

SPSP 2013 Contributed Papers: Computation and Simulation

Tweeted from the 4th biennial conference of the Society for Philosophy of Science in Practice in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, on June 29, 2013, during Concurrent Sessions VII

  1. First up, Catherine Stinson, "Computational models as experimental systems" #SPSP2013 #SPSP2013Toronto

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#scio13 aftermath: some thoughts about the impostor syndrome.

I didn't end up going to the Impostor Syndrome session at ScienceOnline 2013. I told myself this was because it would be more professionally useful to attend Life in the venn - What happens when you're forced to wear many hats? since I have recently added a hat of my own (Director of my university's Center for Ethics). But, if I'm honest with myself, it's because I felt like too much of an impostor to contribute much of anything -- even useful tweets -- to the impostor syndrome session.

I have felt like an impostor since at least high school, and maybe before that.

I have known, since at least my second year of college, that the impostor syndrome was a real phenomenon. It was even the topic of my term paper in Psych 101. But knowing that the syndrome was a real thing, and that it involved a mismatch between one's actual accomplishments and how accomplished one felt on the inside, didn't make me feel like less of a fraud.

It probably goes without saying that I had a flare-up of the impostor syndrome in my first Ph.D. program. I had another flare-up in my second Ph.D. program (although I was maybe a little better at hiding my self-doubt). Going on the academic job market in philosophy made me feel like perhaps the biggest fraud of all … until I went up for tenure.

The frustrating thing about the impostor syndrome is that it makes it utterly impossible to tell whether your successes reflect any merit, or whether they are pure luck.

Whether the potential others see in you is real, and could somehow be converted to something of value (if only you manage not to blow it), or whether your only actual skill is talking a good game.

Whether piping up to share what feel like insights is reasonable, or whether you are just wasting people's time.

I worry that what it might take to overcome my own impostor syndrome is an actual flight from reality. I know too many smart, accomplished people in my field who have not met with the recognition or success they deserve to believe we're working within a pure meritocracy -- which means it's unreasonable for me to take my own success as a clear indicator of merit. I also know that past performance is not a guarantee of future returns -- which means that even if I have done praiseworthy things in the past, I could blow it at any moment going forward.

And I also worry that maybe I don't really have impostor syndrome, in which case, the reasonable conclusion, given how I feel a lot of the time, is that I actually am a fraud.

So, yeah, it's one of those topics that feels very relevant, but is perhaps relevant enough that I'm not really in a good position to benefit from a discussion of it.

How's that for a paradox?

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Tweets from the Impostor Syndrome session have been Storified here.

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The perils of embodiment.

I have long maintained that bodies are suboptimal vehicles with which to schlep minds around.

Most recent data point in support of this position: On Tuesday, I managed to hurt my knee in the course of grading papers. Grading papers! Come on now!

I guess it's also a data point in support of the hypothesis that if there exists an improbable way to injure oneself, I will manage to injure myself that way. (Ask me about the time I sprained my ankle stepping onto a bed.) However, if I weren't embodied, that wouldn't be the case.

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Undoubtedly someone's going to want to know how grading papers resulted in a hurt knee, so here's what I think happened: I was sitting on a bed with a laptop and a clipboard on my lap, grading a bunch of online assignments. To create enough surface at the right height on which to balance both laptop and clipboard, I was sitting cross-legged. Apparently one of the knees was getting more than its share of the stress thusly distributed.

I anticipate I will be advised to sit at a table or desk like a sensible human being to get through long stretches of grading. The problem with doing that is that the available chairs in my Cave of Grading are hard enough that I can only count on about an hour and a half of grading before the pain in my butt from my "sits-bones" (as my Pilates instructor calls 'em) becomes unbearably distracting.

In short: bodies seem not to support grading as well as they might.

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Friday Sprog Blogging: you slay me.

Apr 15 2011 Published by under Kids and science, Minds and/or brains

As a fund-raiser for the youth soccer league to which we belong, the younger Free-Ride offspring's soccer team has been selling chocolate bars. Among other things, this means that each morning the younger Free-Ride offspring has packed up a selection of chocolate bars to bring into school, and each afternoon has returned with a stack of dollar bills. (Honestly, it makes me feel a little like Nancy Botwin. But I'll work through it.)

Anyway, in connection with this candy-peddling, the younger Free-Ride offspring mentioned a customer who bought an extra bar for an older sibling "so he wouldn't get killed." I suggested that this was exaggerating the danger of a sibling's displeasure, or that the younger Free-Ride was not using the standard definition of the verb "to kill".

The younger Free-Ride offspring's full reply to this is transcribed below.

Well, my sibling kills me all the time -- [the elder Free-Ride offspring] actually does.

See, [the elder Free-Ride offspring] eats all my body except my soul, which is saved.

Then [the elder Free-Ride offspring] gets this ghost-like material that can be shaped like any human, and shapes it like me.

And then [the elder Free-Ride offspring] got this, like, plaster that can move, so I don't feel like a ghost. And then [the elder Free-Ride offspring] got this paint called "[The Younger Free-Ride Offspring] In a Can" and just sprayed over the plaster, sprayed all over me.

And [the elder Free-Ride offspring] saved the soul so you wouldn't get suspicious and [the elder Free-Ride offspring] wouldn't get busted. Because the soul is what makes this plastered painted ghost sound and behave like [the younger Free-Ride offspring].

This all raises some interesting questions, of course, among them:

1. What kind of thing is this "soul"? The younger Free-Ride offspring, upon further question, identified it as being material stuff, and also as essential to reproducing consciousness and personality, yet it seems, in this telling, not to be exactly equivalent to the brain. (Is it possible that the "soul" in question is some manner of artificial intelligence, an uploaded consciousness? Is my elder offspring making Cylons?!)

2. More disturbingly, how is it that the elder Free-Ride offspring, who has been raised vegetarian, has now apparently turned to cannibalism?

3. Where can I get me some flexible plaster? What kinds of materials have such properties?

4. Finally, if I were selling "The Younger Free-Ride Offspring In a Can," you'd totally line up to buy it, right?

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Autism Awareness Month: some links.

Since April is Autism Awareness Month, here are some links to relevant posts worth reading:

At Shakesville, a guest post from LydiaEncyclopedia: Autism Acceptance For Autism Awareness Month:

Autism Awareness Month has been a thorn in my side for as long as I've been an adult. I am at heart an attention-seeker, so you would think having an entire month devoted to people like me would be a joy to behold. But that's the problem behind Autism Awareness Month. It isn't about me. It's not about me—the autistic person. The entire conception of Autism Awareness Month doesn't even revolve around autism, not the kind I have or the kind that anyone I know lives with. The ‘autism' of Autism Awareness Month is a mysterious, esoteric, silent force, which magically swoops into the homes of unsuspecting families, and replaces regular, darling children with empty husks, ala the Changelings of ancient myths.

It's not even entirely about the children who are these so-called "empty shells." The entire focus of Autism Awareness Month seems to be divided between what sad, pathetic existences they must lead, and the potential for a real, neurotypical, normal child that lies just around the corner in the next type of chelation, cure, or therapy. Rather than shedding light on what autism is, Autism Awareness Month has served to cloud autism further in lies, half-truths, pity, and the tyranny of low expectations.

Also, a couple of the links dropped by the excellent Shakesville commenters on that post:

At Square 8, The ever-expanding list of neurotypical privilege.
(H/T codeman38)

At ballastexistenz, Hey, watch it, that’s attached!:

I am going to take cure to refer to removal of all things that have been defined by the medical profession, about my body, as disabilities, in the individual, medical sense that medical people make it. Some of the things I am about to describe may not sound like they are out of the ordinary. They aren’t. But at some point along the line, they have, in my life, become medicalized. For instance, certain particular genes generate things considered (in the medical/individual model of disability) disabling, but also a number of other things that taken alone would be ordinary. Since all those traits stem from the same genes, I have to conclude that they’d have to go as well, even the harmless or relatively ordinary bits. Cure, after all, does not pick and choose, it’s about removing all traces of the thing regarded as “a disability” medically. ...

Cure means rearranging me on everything from the obvious physical level to the genetic level. Rearranging at the genetic level always entails surprises. Pull on one thing and you find it’s attached to ten other things you didn’t even notice and would never have predicted, because you didn’t know that gene dealt with all of those things at once instead of one tidy little thing at a time. Similarly, rearranging the brain and other parts of the body will always have effects you didn’t count on. This is what happens when you mess with systems that are complex and interconnected.

(H/T: KA101)

Finally, some interesting discussions of research:

At Cracking the enigma, How do siblings influence theory of mind development in children with autism?:

Research conducted in the past 15 years or so has consistently shown that children with siblings of a similar age tend to pass tests of "theory of mind" at a younger age than those without siblings. The implication is that the experience of interacting with siblings helps children to develop the concept that other people have minds and that their thoughts and beliefs are sometimes different from their own.

Children with autism typically struggle on tests of theory of mind. An interesting question, then, is what effect siblings have on theory of mind development in autism. Based on the literature on typically developing kids, we might expect siblings of autistic children to have a beneficial effect. We could even make a case that, because autistic kids may have fewer interactions with non-family members, siblings may be even more important than normal. Counterintuitively, however, a new study published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry suggests that having older siblings can have a detrimental effect on autistic children's theory of mind development. ...

The authors speculate that well-meaning older siblings may over-compensate for the autistic child's difficulties. By treating them with kid gloves, they may somehow limit their development. Younger siblings might be less likely to do this and so have a more benign influence. However, it's not clear why having older siblings would be worse than having none at all.

At The Autism Crisis, Are autistic people lost in space?:

In one short paper, Elizabeth Pellicano and colleagues claim to demolish Simon Baron Cohen's systemizing account of autism. They also conclude that autistics' strong visual search and probabilistic learning abilities fail in large-scale space, ergo in the real world. ...

Well first, it's an interesting task, even if it's not a visual search task.

But even if autistics totally failed (they didn't, and search all you want again, but you will find no rationale in this paper for the drop-off-a-cliff thresholds pushed by the authors), this task doesn't map easily onto the authors' sensational claims. These include that autistics can't find "shoes in the bedroom, apples in a supermarket, or a favourite animal at the zoo" ergo can't achieve independence.

Of course I want a whole lot more data, or an excellent rationale (none is provided) for not reporting most of it. And numerous possibilities were overlooked. ...

No one knows how autistics would have performed if given accurate task instructions (to take the shortest path, as measured by the authors, to the target). Maybe someone else can bring up motor differences, which plausibly are relevant to this "true-to-life" task. And I wonder how clear, for autistics, the task instructions were with respect to revisits.

Autistics should be notorious by now for noticing aspects of tasks that nonautistics don't (fantastic example at IMFAR last year), and for exploring more possibilities than nonautistics (examples here and here). Writing this off as a bad thing, as autistics being lost in space or some dire equivalent, is shortsighted to say the least.

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Friday Sprog Blogging: waking up.

Jul 30 2010 Published by under Kids and science, Minds and/or brains

Younger offspring: Mom? I have a question.

Dr. Free-Ride: OK.

Younger offspring: If I got up really early --

Dr. Free-Ride: I hope you won't.
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Workplace safety: use your BRAAAINNS!!

I've just gotten back from a conference, and I was blaming the travel and time zones for the fact that I feel like this:


However, from the looks of things, it seems there is some kind of zombie epidemic on ScienceBlogs today. (I suppose this means I need to talk to the IT guys about internet security issues, if I got zombified through my browsing. Assuming they're still taking help tickets from zombies. I wonder if being a zombie with tenure makes a difference ...)
Anyway, in the meantime I thought it might be useful to break out the workplace safety talk for new students. While I can't find the original filmstrip* to link to it, mine skews heavily towards what chemistry students need to know. However, you should feel free to shamble into the comments with that tasty brain of yours and add additional tips for safe conduct in your own field of study.

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Is multitasking unethical?

Sep 17 2009 Published by under Ethics 101, Minds and/or brains

In a recent column at Business Week, Bruce Weinstein (aka "The Ethics Guy") argues that multitasking is unethical. He writes of his own technologically assisted slide into doing too many tasks at once:

I noticed that the more things I could do with ease on my computer, the harder it was to focus on any one activity. My natural inclination to jump from one thing to another prematurely was now aided and abetted by technology--the very thing that was supposed to be helping me. Then, after the PDA and cell phone became a part of my daily life, I found myself, like millions of others, faced with even more interruptions, and it became increasingly difficult to concentrate. The technological advances that once seemed so liberating had become oppressive.
I came to realize that multitasking isn't something to be proud of. In fact, it's unethical, and good managers won't do it themselves and will not require it of those they manage.
Here's why multitasking is unethical.
When you multitask, you're doing a lot of work, but you're not doing most (or any) of it well. A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences revealed that people who fired off e-mails while talking on the phone and watching YouTube videos did each activity less well than those who focused on one thing at a time. Psychiatrist Edward M. Hallowell, author of CrazyBusy: Overstretched, Overbooked, and About to Snap! (Ballantine, 2006), puts it this way: "Multitasking is shifting focus from one task to another in rapid succession. It gives the illusion that we're simultaneously tasking, but we're really not. It's like playing tennis with three balls."

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The moral thermostat and the problem of cultivating ethical scientists.

Earlier this week, Ed Yong posted an interesting discussion about psychological research that suggests people have a moral thermostat, keeping them from behaving too badly -- or too well:

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Can you go home for the holidays?

Having filed grades and extricated myself from the demands of my job, at least temporarily, I have come with my better half and offspring to the stomping grounds of my better half's youth.
Well, kind of.

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