flwyd: (darwin change over time)
The scientific community assumes the same rules of communication are always applicable and rational, that people are attentive, open minded, persuaded by facts and believe that those who are presenting information are people of goodwill, and not deliberately trying to manipulate them. But none of those things are true.

Yankelovich and Rosell have identified a process that they call the public learning curve that describes maturing public opinions, where people's views evolve from poorly informed reactions to more thoughtful conclusions. The three-stage process begins with building awareness and consciousness (where advocates and the media typically do a good job). The seecond stage involves working through wishful thinking and denial, resistance to change and mistrust, grasping at straws, deliberate obfuscation and lack of urgency (which is where dialogue comes in). The third part of the learning curve is when people come to resolution (which is handled by decision-makers and government institutions). "Much of our work focuses on improving the 'working through' stage, which our society does not handle well and where critical issues like climate change can get stuck for years or decades," said Rosel.
– James Hoggan, I'm Right and You're an Idiot: The toxic state of public discourse and how to clean it up, chapter 1 with Daniel Yankelovich and Steve Rosel

It is not a wise strategy to define a situation as inevitable or out of control. "This is a negation of politics–because you don't do politics with inevitability," explained Latour. If you send a message to people that there's no other possibility, that it's too late–the result is inaction. Latour suggested that the message must give them the will to find a way out of the dilemma.
– ibid., chapter 7 with Bruno Latour

Particle Meme

Monday, July 2nd, 2012 11:35 pm
flwyd: (darwin change over time)
Physicists announced that Fermilab almost found the Higgs boson and CERN will be holding a press conference on Wednesday which might have some Higgs boson news from the Large Hadron Collider. Of course, with bosons and hadrons, it's hard not to giggle at elementary particles.

Originally posted by [livejournal.com profile] rufushonkeriv at post
flwyd: (red succulent)
Via [livejournal.com profile] cheetahmaster, a New York Times article about folks who recently published an explanation of colony collapse disorder among honeybees, using homeland security biological weapon analysis systems among other things. The article is a little odd, working in a reference to the atom bomb, but seems to faithfully describe the research. We got a bag of bees and just started smashing them on the desk… It was very complicated. The article, on PLoS ONE: Iridovirus and Microsporidian Linked to Honey Bee Colony Decline

As I've said before, if we lose the bees, we're fucked.

Supersize Me

Wednesday, November 21st, 2007 06:12 pm
flwyd: (bug eyed earl)
I don't know if I've talked about my favorite phylum on this journal, but let me state for the record that arthropods are awesome.


Kids science shows were fond of pointing out that you couldn't have an invasion of giant spiders because they would collapse under the weight of their exoskeletons. But a 2.5 meter scorpion is an arachnid that could serve many sci-fi needs.

2D Gender Graph

Monday, May 14th, 2007 09:20 pm
flwyd: (Vigelandsparken heels over head)
In the shower last night, I came up with an interesting idea. Partly it's about using scientific techniques in humorous ways, but there may be something worthwhile. I don't claim it's anything resembling a perfect model of the world, but hopefully it's at least entertaining.

People often talk about a "sexual orientation continuum" where gay is at one end, bisexual is in the middle, and straight is at the other end:

Gay                                Bisexual                                Straight
One can then use fuzzy logic to talk about attraction: "I'm 90% gay," "I like guys about as much as girls," "I'm not as straight as I act." Not a perfect representation of reality, but hopefully more accurate than three words and the instructions "circle one."

We can apply a similar idea to gender and style:

Feminine                                Androgynous                                Masculine
and to physical features and hormones:
Female                                Intersexed                                Male

Suppose that we put the latter two continua in a two-dimensional coordinate system:

(I've put numbers to allow convenient reference and because I'm displaying this with HTML tables instead of gnuplot, but the axes are intended to be continuous, not discreet.)

In this graph, "type 1" people have very female physiology and very masculine behavior. "Type 4" people have moderately male physiology and very masculine behavior. "Type 15" people have very male physiology and androgynous behavior. "Type 18" people have intersexed physiology and moderately female behavior, and so on.

We can use this graph to determine a person's gender empirically. Have them consider a wide variety of people and assign an attraction level to each; let's suppose attraction ranges from -1 for completely repulsed to 0 for no strong feelings to 1 for total infatuation. By plotting each person on the above graph with attraction level in the third dimension we can infer a model of a person's attraction patterns.

Claims like "I'm only attracted to girls" can thus be finessed: does the speaker have a single peak centered in type 6? Does it slope from 0.25 somewhere in type 13 to values near 1 in types 16, 21, and 22? Are there local maxima scattered about the left half of the graph? The claim "I'm not in to guys" could show as a value around 0 on the right half of the graph ("naked men don't turn me on, but they don't weird me out"), the right side might have an average value very close to -1 ("gross! a penis! get it away from me!"), or it might turn out that it's just stereotypical men (e.g. type 5) that turn the speaker off.

Do I have something interesting here? Have I independently discovered a common technique in Gender Studies classes? Does your attraction graph look interesting? I'd like to hear about it. If it's a helpful way of thinking about gender I might be sufficiently motivated to make an interactive version. For now, here's a convenient copy/paste fill-in-the-boxes version for those whose table-fu is not strong:

+0.0 -0.0 +0.0 -0.0 +0.0
-0.0 +0.0 -0.0 +0.0 -0.0
+0.0 -0.0 +0.0 -0.0 +0.0
-0.0 +0.0 -0.0 +0.0 -0.0
+0.0 -0.0 +0.0 -0.0 +0.0

Feel free to suggest graph locations for famous people, fictional characters, or folks you know personally. You can express them as quantized types from the table above or as [-1, 1] valued <sex, gender, attraction> triplets like "I think Arnold Schwarzenegger is a 1, 1, -0.3" (a somewhat repulsive type 5) or "I saw a hot drag queen last night... I'd say Mary was 10%, -90%, 75%" (a rather attractive type 23).

Incidentally, I've oriented the continua and axes such that female and feminine are in the positions traditionally assigned to negative values. My intent is not to imply that female and feminine are "bad" and male and masculine are "good." Like electron and proton charges, the assignment is arbitrary and graphs with axes reversed are just as valid when compared with like-oriented axes. I put female and feminine on the negative side in part because that's the yin-yang association and partly because "F" comes lexically before "M" and English associates "before" with "left." The cultural-linguistic challenge is to disassociate "positive" with "good" and "negative" with "bad." People threatened by flood feel that negative change in the river level is good while people threatened by drought feel that positive change in the river level is good.

fortune on... sicence

Tuesday, May 30th, 2006 12:57 pm
flwyd: (mathnet - to cogitate and to solve)
In the space of one hundred and seventy-six years the Mississippi has shortened itself two hundred and forty-two miles. Therefore ... in the Old Silurian Period the Mississippi River was upward of one million three hundred thousand miles long ... seven hundred and forty-two years from now the Mississippi will be only a mile and three-quarters long. ... There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesome returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact.
-- Mark Twain
flwyd: (fun characters)
Smegging grrfurgenama. I just typed a long post and then, instead of hitting the Done button, remembered a note I was going to add to my previous post and selected it to edit, which replaced my text without asking me if I wanted to save. That is so not a feature. Let's see how much I can reproduce.

A few days ago I finished reading The Alphabet Versus The Goddess: The Conflict Between Word and Image, by Leonard Shlain. The book's thesis is that literacy, and especially alphabetic literacy, hypertrophies the left brain's masculine hunter-killer traits and values of abstract serial linear thought at the expense of the right brain's gatherer-nurturer traits and values of concrete holistic gestalt thought. As alphabetic literacy enters a culture, the society is rocked with violence, religious intolerance, destruction of images, suppression of women, and the overthrow of concrete polytheist goddesses with abstract monotheistic gods. This is seen in the Hebrews, Greeks at the time of Aristotle, Orthodox vs. Gnostic Christianity, the Reformation, the Marxist revolutions of Russia, China, and Southeast Asia, Sunni vs. Shi'ite Islam, and modern Islamic fundamentalism like the Taliban. On the flip side, in the agrarian period before the appearance of writing, most cultures' central deity was a powerful Earth mother, represented by copious images, whose lesser consort/child died and was reborn every year. Men and women both worshiped goddesses, and society was fairly egalitarian (this remains the case in many hunter/gatherer cultures today). Major thinkers who spoke rather than wrote (Laozi, Buddha, Socrates, Jesus, Mohamed) tended to have fairly tolerant and pro-female attitudes. And these values as well as images tended to appear in cultures where alphabetic literacy was not widespread (including those cultures who passed from literacy to illiteracy, those near to violent literate cultures, and those who have yet to attain literacy). Furthermore, as photography and electromagnetism (with all its feminine metaphors) appeared in the forms of photography, movies, television, and computers, the West's laws, attitudes, and culture has shifted from excessive yang to a fairly balanced state. In a nutshell, a culture's communication media, perhaps more so than its content, determines the values, actions, and trends of society. For some more data, see my CWA post (about two thirds of the way down).

The book is written for the general public, so it lacks the flurry of citations found in scholarly works. It is far from New Age pseudo science, though; Shlain's bibliography spans 9 pages and ranges from Augustine and Virgil to Will Durant and Bertrand Russell. His data is the "generally accepted" story; exploration of various views of, say, ancient archaeological data is not in his scope. The events Shlain describes are large-scale and very complex, and doubtless arise from many factors and can be explained in many ways (which he acknowledges); his goal is to provide a unifying theory linking the counterpunctual rise and fall of the written word, masculine values, images, and feminine values. As a brain surgeon, Shlain's division of traits, values, and modes of thought rests on sound neurological data (and he acknowledges that the hemispheric split is more metaphorically accurate than physically accurate).

The book is excellently written, using both left hemispheric literalism and right hemispheric metaphor. Shlain doesn't claim to have proved anything, but rather to have demonstrated a correlation, from which the reader is to draw conclusions. His argument is cogent and well-documented, unlike many writers on male/female cultural interplay. He only once "falls" into "rhetorical" "damning" "quotation" marks. His language flows well and is graced by many words he has selected in the hopes that they don't fall out of the lexicon. The paradigmatic and specific ideas expressed in the book lead me to recommend it to almost everyone, from literalistic Protestants to open-minded Pagans to feminists who rail against cultural images. I can't think of many of my friends who wouldn't enjoy the book, and even fewer who would not benefit from reading it. I have found its modern perspective on yin/yang quite helpful in examining my own tendencies, beliefs, and development. (In the past, I've been big on literal interpretation, against photography and GUIs, and down on lots of right-hemispheric modes of perception. In recent years, I haven't read as much, I've watched more movies, and have adopted a more benign view of many Christians.)

I think I'll be able to use a bunch of what I've learned from this book in my review of Origins of the Modern Mind. I'm impressed by my memory abilities in rewriting this entry after writing it once and not reading it.

Edit 2/15/2009: In the intervening years, I've become less enamored with Leonard Shlain's work. He tries a little too hard to cram the entirety of human history into some simple ideas of the brain. His books and presentations are very enjoyable and informative, but they need a heavy dose of salt. He points out a lot of connections between elements of the zeitgeist that are worth chewing on, but I think the story he tells about their unification is a little simplistic. I still think The Albphabet vs. the Goddess is a book worth reading, but readers interested in the subject should read widely; there are a lot of cognitive scientists with interesting theories who also write well "at the Scientific American level" as Prof. Paulson would say.
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