In silico veritas.

A slice of the ‘net, vol. 1

Posted: December 13th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Education, Politics, Tech | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | No Comments »

Here are a few things that have piqued my interest of late.

How Perception of Time Relates to Decision-Making

This lecture by Professor Philip Zimbardo, he of the infamous Stanford prison experiment, is absolutely fascinating. The video is well worth the ten minutes of your time it’ll take. I couldn’t help but think of my own time-perception leanings — I’m past-positive and present-hedonistic, primarily — as well as nod in agreement/self-recognition in the segment about how education must change in the face of an increasingly digitalized generation. What’s your perception of time, and how has it affected the way you live your life?

Saudi Arabia’s Creeping Liberalization

Or so we can hope. It’s actually kind of exciting to see this move forward, as I wrote briefly about the unveiling three years ago of the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (mentioned in the article). The article does an excellent job of portraying Saudi Arabia as on a precipice of sorts — either this newest liberalization initiative will succeed and open the door for future efforts, or it could backfire horrifically and give broad political cover for the religious hardliners in the political establishment.

Want a Job? Give Yourself One

The New York Times examines a growing trend, and one I might very well be joining myself: recent college grads starting up their own businesses rather than shopping their résumés around hundreds of times to no avail.

Out of Our Brains

This blog post over at the New York Times’ Opinionator on the extended mind fits nicely with my recent post on learning and the above video. Key ‘graph:

Is it possible that, sometimes at least, some of the activity that enables us to be the thinking, knowing, agents that we are occurs outside the brain?

This kind of idea is currently being explored by a wave of scientists and philosophers working in the areas known as “embodied cognition” and “the extended mind.” Uniting these fields is the thought that evolution and learning don’t give a jot what resources are used to solve a problem. There is no more reason, from the perspective of evolution or learning, to favor the use of a brain-only cognitive strategy than there is to favor the use of canny (but messy, complex, hard-to-understand) combinations of brain, body and world. Brains play a major role, of course. They are the locus of great plasticity and processing power, and will be the key to almost any form of cognitive success. But spare a thought for the many resources whose task-related bursts of activity take place elsewhere, not just in the physical motions of our hands and arms while reasoning, or in the muscles of the dancer or the sports star, but even outside the biological body — in the iPhones, BlackBerrys, laptops and organizers which transform and extend the reach of bare biological processing in so many ways.

North Korea Embraces Social Media

Sort of. I had previously heard of the Hermit Kingdom’s embrace of YouTube and Facebook, so I ended up being far more interested in the article’s discussion of South Korean censorship of North Korean media.

I was unaware of the fact that South Korean authorities were actively preventing South Koreans from accessing propaganda from the North. Naturally, South Korea has made enormous strides towards political liberalization in the past thirty-some years, but censoring Northern propaganda seems counterproductive at best. Shouldn’t the inherently ridiculous nature of a self-proclaimed “self-sufficient” ideology in an authoritarian state that is isolated and starving to death speak for itself? What exactly does the South Korean government have to fear from these bizarre missives from an alternate universe? It seems to me that the worst that could happen would be a brief surge of morbid fascination, followed quickly by a return to utter indifference.

R.D. Laing on Madness

Andrew Sullivan recently linked to this 2009 blog post on the troubled personal life of counterculture psychiatrist R.D. Laing. If you find that post intriguing, The Sunday Times article linked to in it is also worth a read. For my part, the following snippet from the post led me to download a copy of Laing’s famous treatise, The Divided Self:

Inspired by existential philosophers, Laing produced a series of humane and revolutionary books during the sixties that argued that we undervalue both the experience of mental illness and those who are mentally ill.

Madness, he argued, was a transformative experience, rich with personal meaning, that functions like an existential rite of passage. Delusions and hallucinations were the expression of the unmentionable, illustrating the emotional double-booking keeping of the family with an unignorable tear in the fabric between the conscious and unconscious mind.

While modern neuroscience has most likely made this particular hypothesis untenable, it’s a fascinating interpretation nonetheless.

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