On the aim of every good writer

(by melody) Sep 25 2010

"I should not like my writing to spare other people the trouble of thinking.  But if possible, to stimulate someone to thoughts of his own." --Wittgenstein

2 responses so far

The question is : are you dumber than a rat?

(by melody) Sep 23 2010

Many developmental psychologists buy into an argument that suggests that children are dumber than rats.  Should you?


Human cognition is geared towards the central task of predicting the world around it.  As you may remember from an earlier post I did on the A-not-B task in infants, children aren't born understanding causal relationships right off the bat -- as a kid, you need to learn that when batter goes into the oven, it comes out as cake; when a dog jumps in water, it comes out wet; and when a shaggy-dog runs dripping through the house, mommy gets mad. As an adult, prediction operates in just about everything you do, from how much you drink at a party (who do you really want to be going home with?) to how hard you push down on the breaks (how fast do you need the car to stop?) to what you think I'm going to say next (yep, there's lots of evidence that you're predicting my words in a manner not wholly unlike Google auto-complete).

One thing that matters immensely in all of this is informativity.  There are many illusory correlations in the world that you might forge -- how do you establish the causal links that matter and are meaningful?

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33 responses so far

Nietzsche on the Public Intellectual

(by melody) Sep 22 2010

"Almost always the books of scholars are somehow oppressive, oppressed: the "specialist" emerges somewhere—his zeal, his seriousness, his fury, his overestimation of the nook in which he sits and spins, his hunched back; every specialist has his hunched back. Every scholarly book also mirrors a soul that has become crooked; every craft makes crooked.…Nothing can be done about that. Let nobody suppose that one could possibly avoid such crippling by some artifice of education. On this earth one pays dearly for every kind of mastery.…For having a specialty one pays by also being the victim of this specialty. But you would have it otherwise—cheaper and fairer and above all more comfortable—isn't that right, my dear contemporaries. Well then, but in that case you also immediately get something else: instead of the craftsman and master, the "man of letters," the dexterous, "polydexterous" man of letters who, to be sure, lacks the hunched back—not counting the posture he assumes before you, being the salesman of the spirit and the "carrier" of culture—the man of letters who really is nothing but "represents" almost everything, playing and "substituting" for the expert, and taking it upon himself in all modesty to get himself paid, honored, and celebrated in place of the expert.

No, my scholarly friends, I bless you even for your hunched back. And for despising, as I do, the "men of letters" and culture parasites. And for not knowing how to make a business of the spirit. And for having opinions that cannot be translated into financial values. And for not representing anything that you are not. And because your sole aim is to become masters of your craft, with reverence for every kind of mastery and competence, and with uncompromising opposition to everything that is semblance, half-genuine, dressed up, virtuosolike, demagogical, or histrionic in litteris et artibus—to everything that cannot prove to you its unconditional probity in discipline and prior training, [The Gay Science, sec. 366]"

[Stolen from Brian Leiter at the Philosophical Gourmet, who was writing on some of the limitations -- and virtues -- of analytic philosophy.  Haven't looked at The Gay Science since I was 19 or so, but am tempted now to reread it; Nietzsche is by far the best writer of any philosopher I've ever read, and the most wonderful sort of aesthetic thinker.]

9 responses so far

Your Humble Narrators on Bloggingheads

(by Jason G. Goldman) Sep 18 2010


Jason and Melody are the subjects of today's Bloggingheads.tv Science Saturday program. Watch us chat with eachother for about an hour on how we became scientists and science bloggers, our thoughts on the state of psychology as a field, peer review and the journal system, how the study of language learning and comparative cognition may not be so different, and a smattering of other thoughts.

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Why, Hello Again

(by melody) Sep 17 2010

To the four of you left reading -- Jason and I have been trying to get our bearings as Scientopia has been bouncing amidst servers, and will resume regular posts soon.  In the meantime, I would highly recommend checking out Fifty-Cent translated into the Queen's English.  Really raises some interesting questions about what 'translation' means, eh?  (Ha-ha, kidding!) (Sort of)

I could also use some help picking a hotel room for a conference this weekend... As a young traveler, I've been investigating the 'budget' options.  TripAdviser has informed me that I can choose among the following fine establishments.  Please advise --

I can't get over how dire the reviews are --!  "Don't do this"  "MY MISTAKE"  "Stay away!" --It's like they survived Hostel II and have clawed their way back to civilization just so they can write ominous testimonials on TripAdvisor.

Can't WAIT ;)

4 responses so far

Why are Zipfian distributions found in language?

(by melody) Sep 06 2010

This post is a scholarly addendum to today's main post, aimed to satisfy the curiosity of my academic readers.  I'm going to leave you with an excerpt from an excellent book chapter, "Repetition and Reuse in Child Language Learning," by Colin Bannard and Elena Lieven.  The two take up the question of why Zipfian distributions are found in language.  A short suggested reading list with annotations follows.  Please feel free to leave links to other suggested reading in the comments..

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4 responses so far

Mollies, PokeBalls, and Naked Ladies : A Topsy-Turvy Lesson in Learning Words from Context

(by melody) Sep 06 2010

This morning, I scrawled a letter to a friend that began with the following:

Spent the weekend at the FyeahFest with a starry-eyed lot of starving hipsters, in vintage hops and wingtips. Had not realized how obvious the effects of doing molly are on the pupils… the droves wandering past had eyes like shining saucers.

Unlike my trusted ami de plume, you may not know what on the lord's green earth I just said.  In particular,  if you’re not into psychedelics or don’t know anyone who is, you may be wondering just what ‘molly’ is, anyway.  The extraordinary thing is that -- odds are -- even if you’ve never heard the word used before, you can probably wager a pretty good guess as to what it means.

Take a moment.  What’s your bet?

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7 responses so far

But Science Doesn't Work That Way : Miller and Chomsky (1963)

(by melody) Sep 02 2010

In this post, our heroine -- spurred on by her godly pursuit of science and a bevy of caffeinated drinks -- compares the standard approach to language to intelligent design.  It might get noodly.


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31 responses so far

What Happened to Behaviorism?

(by melody) Sep 01 2010

“Didn't Noam Chomsky's review of Skinner's Verbal Behavior devastate behavioristic analysis and show that it was bankrupt as pertains to language? I have read the debate a couple of times and, although interesting, it always seemed to me that the protagonists were arguing at cross purposes, from fundamentally different paradigms. Chomsky was and is a rationalist; he had no uses for experimental analyses or data of any sort that pertained to language, and even experimental psycholinguistics was and is of little interest to him. My guess is that Chomsky's review deserves to be credited as a minor cause of the cognitive revolution. To most psychologists, empiricists at heart, it was the great new experiments that researchers were conducting on cognitive topics that created the cognitive revolution and not Chomsky's review of Skinner's book (rather effectively refuted in a commentary by Kenneth MacCorquodale, by the way).”

Roddy Roediger in his APS essay What Happened to Behaviorism?

11 responses so far

Some Scientopia Outages

(by Jason G. Goldman) Sep 01 2010

You may be noticing some intermittent and (hopefully) brief outages here at Scientopia. Apparently there are some issues with our webhost, and our resident tech guru Mark is working on addressing them.

In the meantime, he has asked that we disable comments in order to ease up on the server load until the issues get resolved. So, for now, I've disabled comments. I will post again when I've been given the green light to re-enable them.

Until I'm able to open comments back up, you can follow the conversation on twitter by following me (@jgold85) and Melody (@moximer)

Thanks for bearing with us!

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