Friday, June 09, 2006

Moving to ScienceBlogs

So, the move to ScienceBlogs is now complete. That means there will be no more posts here on the Blogger site. Sure, I'll miss all of the downtime, the lost posts (all of my really good posts were lost by blogger; you'll just have to take my word for that), and the fact that Blogger took away the bullets in the template I've used since I started the blog. But after a brief mourning period, I will be able to move on.

Here is the new URL: If you don't want to type that out, you can just click here. I'm going to try to post more often there, for various reasons (if you reach a certain traffic level, you get paid!). But I'm not going to change the way I post, so hopefully those of you who find the blog interesting will continue to do so.

There are three different banners at the new site, one by Todd Hartman (on the Archives page), and two by Anton Oettl (Main page, About, and Contact -- I'll provide a link to his page when he gives me with one). I am very grateful to them for the time they put into making such great banners.

When you get over there, feel free to email me with your suggestions or advice about the look or anything else. Also, as I've always said, I'm always taking suggestions. I know, I know, I still owe you posts on two previous requests, theory-theory (vs. simulation) and memes. The first post on theory-theory should be the first substantive post at the new site, and the post (probably a series) is still coming, but I've actually been doing some new reading on memes, and I want to incorporate all of that into the post, so it will be a little while before it's finished. However, new requests are always welcome, and I may very well get to them before I get to memes, so send them my way either in contacts or in email.

Finally, let me just say thank you to everyone who's read this blog over the last year and a half. If ScienceBlogs brings me new readers, that's great, but there'll always be a special place in my blogging heart for the people who've read and contributed to Mixing Memory from day 1. In the introductory post at ScienceBlogs, I talk about viewing Mixing Memory as a collaborative effort with the readers, and I really feel that way. The suggestions, advice, and requests that you've all given me have shaped the blog, and I'm very grateful for them.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Mixing Memory Banner

So, the move to ScienceBlogs is almost complete. They set up the site and everything, though I don't think I'm supposed to give out the link yet. They haven't made the new blogs public, and until then, they're being all cloak and dagger. Anyway, I tried to come up with a title banner for the site, but failed miserably. Here's what my best effort produced:

It's a bit small, but those are brain images (actually the same image) on the right and the left. Sucks, huh? Trust me, you do not want to see the other one I came up with.

Anyway, I write this in the hopes that someone out there not only thinks that he or she could do better, but is willing to show me that he or she can by making a Mixing Memory banner that actually looks, you know, good. I'd offer to compensate you for your efforts, but blog expenses simply aren't in the budget. However, I will link you prominently on the front page of the website, so you'll get free advertising (for your blog, your business, or whatever).

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Linkable Links

Sorry for the lack of posting, but I've been really busy lately. I've got a few posts brewing, but for now, how 'bout some links?

To start, a couple from John Hawks. First, there's this post on a paper by Daniel Oppenheimer from Applied Cognitive Psychology titled "Consequences of erudite vernacular utilized irrespective of necessity: problems with using long words needlessly."

Then there's this post discussing a paper on the distinction between short-term and long-term memory, and the distinction between memory for features (objects and attributes, in my language) and memory for relations between features. Omni Brain also posted on the paper, here (with a link to a pdf of the paper, too). Here's a bit from the press release:
For over 40 years, the chief paradigm has been that the hippocampus was important for creating long-term memory but not short-term or working memory," said Ingrid Olson, a member of Penn's Department of Psychology and researcher at Penn's Center for Cognitive Neuroscience. "However, our data show that one type of working memory, working memory for the relationship between bits of information, is dependent on the hippocampus.
Which leads Olson to claim:
While 'long-term' memory and 'short-term' memory have been useful distinctions for us, they may not exist in the same way for the brain.
I'll have more to say about this article in a full post, but for now let me say this: the reason I think this finding is so interesting is not that it undermines the short-term/working memory vs. long-term memory distinction, because I don't think it does. Instead, I think it's interesting because it actually confirms some things that some people have been saying about working memory for a while, now, namely that relations are processed differently, that relations take up more processing capacity, etc.

Next up, a great post at Cognitive Daily on research purporting to show that sex and violence don't sell.

Then this post at Neurocritic (a great blog, by the way!) on neurogenesis and depression is a must read. The connection between neurogenesis and depression has been all the rage for the last few years, and the Neurocritic does a nice job of summarizing what we actually know. He concludes:
SUMMARY FROM THE NEUROCRITIC: Although it's all very trendy to consider neurogenesis as "The Reinvention of the Self" (see article in SEED), at this stage of the game, it's all very hyberbolic.

Finally, this post by Adam Roberts at The Valve titled "Why are the greatest composers all German?" While Roberts claims:
I’ve also little time for the Dawkins school of ‘memes’, ideas, concepts and beliefs that ‘infect’ human minds, such that ‘religion’ is thought of existing in a quasi-living manner like a virus, and subject to Darwinian constraints. I don’t think I’m talking about memes.
Anytime someone writes something like this:
Think instead of texts as animals, he says, living in an environment of readers, viewers and listeners. These texts compete with one another not for food and sexual partners, but for our attention. In this environment, the most successful pieces of music (for example) will win many listeners, and those listeners will ‘keep the music alive’ by playing it, buying copies of it, re-recording and replicating it. It is as simple as that. Mozart’s music has prospered because it is best ‘fitted’ to its particular environment (us, or more specifically our taste in music). Salieri’s music failed because it was less well fitted. It is not that Salieri’s music is in any sense intrinsically ‘worse’ than Mozart’s, any more than a dodo was intrinsically worse than a seagull. It is simply that one was adapted to its environment better than the other.
I can't help but feel they're talking like a memeticist. In fact, because he doesn't really mention an analogy to genes, it sounds an awful lot like the "meme as virus" metaphor that he explicitly rejects. And it suffers from many of the problems that plague memetics. As such, it's a nice lead up to my post on memes (which, to those of you who requested it, is coming... I promise).

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Children's Acceptance of Testimony About the Spiritual and the Scientific

Via Coturnix, I learned about this post and this article about this paper by Harris and Koenig (this is not the final version) in this month's issue of Cognitive Development. I don't know about people in other sciences, but I think this is the first time I've ever seen press coverage of a literature review. It's a very interesting literature review, though, so I'm glad it's getting attention. Only, I wish the whole review was getting attention, instead of one small part of it.

The review focuses on children's acceptance of testimony from adults about things that the children either haven't or cannot observe. They describe several examples of acceptance, and integration into coherent beliefs, of scientific knowledge, including knowledge of the importance of the brain for thought, personality, etc., the roundness of the earth, and the inevitability and permanence of death. They also describe similar examples for spiritual phenomena including God's ability to have knowledge that humans cannot have (e.g., God doesn't have false beliefs, and God can see objects that are occluded), beliefs about the afterlife, beliefs about the origins of humans and other animals (including a discussion of the work of Margaret Evans mentioned in this post). In the grand scheme of things, children's willingness and ability to accept testimony from adults about spiritual matters is very similar to their willingness and ability to accept testimony from adults about scientific matters.

Still, there are differences between the two, and this is the focus of the press report. I'll give you an example of the way children's beliefs about scientific and spiritual entities differ, from the article. In a study by Harris et al.1, children between the ages of 4 and 8 were presented with five different types of entities:
  • Real entities: Things that they can see (e.g., tigers)
  • Scientific entities: Things that they can't see, but have been told exist, such as germs and oxygen.
  • Endorsed entities: Things they can't see, but that are endorsed by parents and other adults, like God, Santa Claus, and the Tooth Fairy.
  • Equivocal entities: Things they've heard about, but that aren't often endorsed by adults, like monsters or ghosts.
  • Impossible entities: Red elephants and barking cats... enough said.
For examples of each type of entity, children were asked whether they or other people would say they exist (whether there are any in the world), and then asked to say how sure they were. Children were most likely to say that real entities exist, and were the most confident about this belief, though scientific entities followed close behind in each experiment (and the difference between the two was not statistically significant), and they were the least likely to say that impossible entities exist, and were very confident in this belief as well. Endorsed and equivocal entities fell in between, with children being less likely to say that endorsed entities existed, and to be less confident in their belief in them, than they were for real and scientific entities, but were more likely and more confident for endorsed than for equivocal entities. In other words, children had slightly more doubt about the existence of endorsed entities like God and Santa Claus than they did about scientific entities, despite the fact that both types of entities are unseen, and their knowledge of the existence of such entities is entirely dependent on adult testimony.

Since the existence of things like germs and oxygen are likely no less counterintuitive (or counter to experience) for children who don't have sophisticated scientific knowledge than are things like God and Santa Claus, it's likely that the reasons for the difference in certainty about the existence of the two kinds of entities are pretty subtle, and may have to do with how people talk about them. Harris and Koenig offer the following explanation:
[C]hildren hear people talk in a matter-of-fact fashion about the causal properties of germs or oxygen. Such remarks do not explicitly attest either to the existence of those entities or to the speaker’s faith in their existence. Thus, children rarely hear utterances such as, “There really are germs” or “I believe in oxygen.” Instead they hear claims and warnings that take the existence of the entities for granted, for example, “Throw that away – it has germs” or “He needs oxygen to breathe.” In the case of God or Santa Claus, on the other hand, children may well hear avowals such as “There really is a Santa Claus” or “I believe in God.” Such avowals may lead children to conclude that the existence of these special beings is not altogether beyond doubt. (p. 35)
They also suggest that children may occasionally hear people express doubt about God or Santa Claus, while they would rarely hear people express doubt about the existence of germs or oxygen, and thus children are less confident in the existence of spiritual entities.

So, there is a small difference between children's beliefs about scientific and spiritual entities, and the explanation for this difference may reveal a lot about children's ability to detect subtle cues when assessing testimony from adults. Still, the bulk of the article is actually about the similarity between children's acceptance of testimony on scientific and spiritual entities. It's a really interesting literature review, so if you're into cognitive development, check it out.

1Harris, P.L., Pasquini, E.S., Duke, S., Asscher, J.J., & Pons, F. (2006). Germs and angels: The role of testimony in young children's ontology. Developmental Science, 9(1), 76–96.

Monday, May 22, 2006

A Blog I Found and a Question

First, the question. Does anyone know if the DSM-I and/or DSM-II can be found online somewhere? I can't find either of them, and I'm too lazy to go to the library right now. I'm looking for some good psychodynamic definitions of mental disorders for an upcoming post, and I know the first two volumes of the DSM were full of them.

Now the blog. I was scowering the internet for places to eat in Austin, and I came across this blog. It's OK, but it had this interview with another blog, Apartment Food Hobos, that is hilarious. Here's a portion of the interview that expresses how I often feel:
OUTSIDER: What made you decide to start a blog? Aren’t blogs for dorks?

Blogs aren’t for dorks, blogs just re-affirm your sincere commitment to becoming a generational cliché. We deal with the self-loathing every time we post.
And to give you a taste (bad pun) of the blog itself, here's a quote:
The Knight's Vale cheese stank up my life and won my heart. God almighty. A finer cheese I have rarely tasted. Soft and creamy but as pungent as the old dirty foot of a Hungarian gypsy trapped in the South of Spain during WWII. Speaking of pungent, lets talk about smoked salmon. You take a stinky, stinky fish like salmon (--good stinky, I aint hatin') and you increase the stink with the addition of smokeifying. Then you sell it to me for 10 bucks? AHA HA HA HA!! GENIUS!!!
If you love good food, but you're dirt poor, or if you just enjoy good food humor, check out the blog.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

There Is No Green Dot!

I love visual illusions, and this one is really cool (via The Neurophile). I'd never seen it before.

As usual, looking at one visual illusion led to looking at more, and now I've got a headache. Once, I ran an experiment using after effects, and spent hours and hours looking at the stimulus as I was trying to perfect the Matlab code for the experiment. I had a headache for like three weeks.

Oh, and thank you Chicago and Vancouver folks for the restaurant recommendations. Does anyone in either of those cities drink, though? And Austin people, where are you? I know there are good restaurants and bars in that city, and I'm sure that someone reading this knows of at least one of them.