Astute Observations

Jonah Lehrer, parsing the literature on how we perceive time:

It turns out that our sense of time is deeply entangled with memory, and that when we remember more – when we are sensitive to every madeleine and sip of limeflower tea – we can stretch time out, like a blanket. This suggests that the simplest way to extend our life, squeezing more experience out of this mortal coil, is to be more attentive, more sensitive to the everyday details of the world.


Backwards Education

Via Ben Casnocha, a piece of wisdom from Sal Kahn.

It makes more sense to have students watch lectures at home and do homework at school as opposed to vice versa.

Kahn is right. In fact, this is basically how it works in many college classes.  Watching a lecture in a giant lecture hall is the same as watching one on a computer screen and recitation sessions or TA office hours provide opportunities to effectively “do homework at school.”

What is Love?

Hank Davis has an insightful take:

We don’t fall in love with a person because of their qualities, per se. Rather, we fall in love with ourselves in their presence. In other words, we fall in love with the version of ourselves that we become when we are around them.

In general, the concept of having an emotion about somebody based on their behavior is a misnomer.  These emotions are actually all about ourselves. We like people who make us feel happy. We don’t like people who make us feel unhappy. In this sense, “love” is simply an emotion we feel towards people who consistently make us very happy.

Davis focuses on the specific instance where a person makes you feel happy by making you like yourself, and his leads him to bemoan how unromantic and pathetic this view makes us appear. But that same view makes us seem more noble in the opposite scenario. If we explain our hatred of somebody as a response to them making us view ourselves in a negative light, it makes being overly judgmental or prejudiced seem a less “evil.”

Learning as an Investment

According to a new study by two University of Michigan researchers children are more likely to do their homework if they see it as an investment and not a chore.

The researchers presented information to the students about either the education-dependent earnings of college degree recipients, or about the earnings of actors, musicians, and sports figures. After the researchers left the classroom, teachers assigned students an extra-credit assignment relevant to current class material. Children who saw how adult earnings were related to education were eight times more likely to do the extra credit homework as those who saw the presentation showing adult earnings independent of amount of education.

“We find that very subtle cues can influence academic performance. Failing to see connections between adult identities and current actions puts children at risk of low effort in school.”

The study focuses on homework motivation, but it’s really an indictment of an American education system that’s fact-obsessed and clueless about how to build skills.  It’s clear that a 12-year-old is not going to understand how knowing the Battle of Hastings was in 1066 will benefit him in life (it’s even hard for a 25-year-old to understand.) Even things that are ostensibly more useful (for example, the parts of a cell) bore students and sap their motivation.

Instead of flooding kids with potentially trivial, one-dimensional pieces of information, our schools need to challenge them with problems that require actual thought.   When a student works through various situations to find a solution he gets an immediate reward and a preview of how the skill he just developed might benefit him later in life.

Our current debate over testing, standards, and teacher performance is completely misguided.  Before we can even think about those issues we need to figure out what skills we want to impart on our youth. I’m fine with ensuring students reach a set of benchmarks, but we need to re-evaluate what those benchmarks should be.

CogSci Links

1) New ADHD research shows it’s dangerous for kids to act like kids.

2) When doctors are able to talk about costly hospital mistakes good things happen.

3) Another bad reason for defending the status quo.

4) Another reason good reason to drink.

5) How to tell if your boss is lying.

6) Graeme Wood’s Atlantic piece on convicts under electric surveillance.

Seperation of Church and Football

Brigham Young University will leave the Mountain West Conference, go independent in football and rejoin the Western Athletic Conference in all non-football sports beginning in the fall of 2011, The Salt Lake Tribune confirmed Wednesday morning.

According to a source in the WAC office, BYU will seek final approval for the moves from its owner, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, either today or Thursday.

Nothing like being reminded the Mormon Church has a horse in the BCS race.

Party Trumps Policy

Net neutrality deserve more attention, and not just because because it will someday affect 99% of Americans.  Net neutrality is also a rare issue that doesn’t break down along the standard Democrat-Republican fault lines. Either side could hypothetically take either position.

Republicans are currently “against” net neutrality, a position that’s consistent with their free-market, pro-business philosophy. They view net neutrality as unnecessary government regulation.  Google and Verizon developed the capability to sell products/services involving the wireless spectrum and therefore they have the right to do that however they want, even if it includes charging different prices to different customers. Their successful business models have effectively given them ownership of the wireless spectrum and the government has no right to tell them how to use it.

Democrats are “pro” net neutrality, a position consistent with their philosophy of protecting the little guy from corporate America. They see the wireless spectrum as a public good. In their minds the it will always belong to the people. A single citizen has just as much right to the spectrum as the CEO of Verizon, and therefore it’s the government’s responsibility to step in and make sure corporations don’t infringe on those rights by charging different amounts to different customers.

Both positions make sense, but in a bizzarro world things could have played out differently. Republicans could have decided to back net neutrality in order to be consistent with their belief in protecting individual freedoms (in fact, liberals are already delighting in mocking the tea party’s anti-net neutrality stance). Similarly, Democrats could have opposed net neutrality under the rationale that somebody needs to stop bandwith-hogging consumers from running amok of the free market.

Because neither major political philosophy is 100% clear on net neutrality, political positions on it were driven by party affiliation.  The battle lines have now been drawn, sides have been chosen, and for the next 70 years Republicans and Democrats will duke it out to defend their chosen positions.