Archive for February, 2009

Piaget, Reason, and the Fate of Democracy

Posted in Doom, Politics and Society, Things You Should Read on February, 2009 by melendwyr

See The Fourth R, or Why Johnny Can’t Reason.

Psychology, or at least the form of psychology that’s science, has a lot to tell us about the mental capabilities of the general populace. Combined with some reasonable guesses about what kinds of thought processes need to be carried out by at least a majority of people in a democracy, the result is depressingly predictable.

When you get right down to it, most people aren’t capable of dealing with abstract concepts on a quality basis. Even among those that can sometimes manage it, their reason is often totally unseated when dealing with topics that arouse their feelings and passions strongly.

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IQ isn’t Everything

Posted in Doom, Politics and Society on February, 2009 by melendwyr

See the story about a TV show that intended to demonstrate that top models are “brainless bimbos”.

After giving the model in question an IQ test that put her in the genius range, the program has been cancelled.

I don’t see why. Given that the woman’s stated ambition is to have sex with a man and three other women simultaneously, the show could not only have demonstrated that models often aren’t very bright, but that people with high IQs aren’t necessarily very bright either.

IQ measures, in a limited way, certain kinds of cognitive potential. It takes more than potential to be intelligent: the potential must be realized.

No one seems to be questioning the ‘bimbo’ part, I see.

Surprises

Posted in Doom on February, 2009 by melendwyr

I was physically attacked last night.

Waiting at a bus stop, I approached the only other person there – a young man speaking on a cellphone – after he’d terminated his call, asking what time it was.

Instead of answering, he held out his phone horizontally and at waist level, slowly walking towards me. “That’s odd,”, I thought, but by stooping I could read out the time. “11:17.”

“What time is it?” he asked?

“Um, 11:17,” I replied. I walked to the posted schedule and checked. Ah, the next bus would arrive in five minutes. “The next bus’ll arrive in five minutes,” I said.

He called someone on his cellphone and began loudly demanding to be picked up. “Hey man, pick me up. Get your car and pick me up. You need to come get me,” over and over, restated in various ways. I took out my book and stood back near the benches.

He hung up and walked towards me again. “What’s that you’re reading? A book?”

“Well, yeah.”

“I don’t want you to think I’m stupid I’ve read lots of books.” (The lack of punctuation is intentional.) “What’s it about?”

“Um, beans.”

“What kind of beans? Mr. Beans…?”

“No, y’know, beans.”

“What’s it’s called?”

Beans: A History.”

“What’s it about, man? Mr. Beans…? I donwana… I’ve read lots of books, okay?”

Oookay, I thought to myself, this guy’s probably in an illegal state of mind. Better just stay away from him.

“What’s the taxi number? What’s the taxi number?”

“I’m sorry, I don’t know.”

I walked to the far end of the stop pavillion. “You don hafta be an asshole!” he stated in no particular direction, then started talking on his phone again. I tried to ignore the conversation, but the volume slowly increased.

“You hafta come pick me up, I’m lost… get in your car and pick me up, come and get me, get in your car…” blah blah blah. A few minutes pass in silence, punctuated by occasional spasms of demands for a ride addressed to the phone.

So I’m standing there with my book in one hand, my umbrella in the other, and a backpack full of books on my right shoulder. Suddenly, he runs over and hits me in the face. My glasses go flying.

What is your problem!” he yells at me, pushing me up against the bench. He hits me on the other side of the face.

By this point I’ve dropped my book and the umbrella, more out of surprise than anything else. I start hitting back. I think I may have gotten in a few good blows, nothing that induced bleeding. My attempt to shatter his nose and drive the bone fragments into his brain certainly didn’t seem to accomplish much. At one point he tried to get me in a headlock, so I bit him. Don’t think I broke the skin, which is certainly a good thing. Who knows what might have been in his bloodstream?

I’m not a fighter, I’m a lover. Well, I’m not a lover either. More a reader. One way or another, I’m not much for pugilism. He didn’t seem to be any good either, which was lucky for me. I may even have given better than I got, though I wouldn’t swear to it. I guess being doped up on goofballs doesn’t do much for your combat skills.

After a short exchange of punches, he ran away. I picked up my glasses (not damaged, thankfully) and my other possessions, and waited until the bus came.

End result: no serious injuries, or even minor injuries, to speak of. Some minor swelling where he pushed my cheek against my teeth and a minor interior cut where the inner surface of my lip hit a tooth’s edge. No visible bruising. The cut should heal completely by tomorrow.

I was (and am) not so much angry, or frightened, as bemused. This was so totally random. Astonished, perhaps, is the word.

Why is it that, given my penchant for scorn and my ability to point out the worst flaws in arguments and people, that the one time I’ve been attacked has been when I did absolutely nothing to induce or provoke it? The complete lack of poetic irony is shocking.

Recognizing the Obvious

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on February, 2009 by melendwyr

Well, it’s not an issue of Firefox interacting poorly with a CATCHPA, as has happened to me before.

LessWrong refuses to register either of the handles Eliezer knows me by. Any handles he’s not familiar with are immediately registered.

I always thought the story of The Emperor’s New Clothes ended unrealistically. In reality, the child would be committed to an asylum and drugged until he wouldn’t know a hawk from a handsaw no matter what direction the wind came from.

We know what the Emperor had to fear – what’s Eliezer so frightened of?

It’s That Time Again

Posted in Gardening on February, 2009 by melendwyr

First thunderstorm of the year this morning! Woo!

Every other form of precipitation thus far has been frozen. The only moisture has come from the occasional thaw. But finally, crackling electrical discharges and a (relatively) balmy shower of rain appear outside.

Gardening season’ll be starting soon. The traditional time to plant peas is St. Patrick’s Day, March 17th, although like most spring-planted vegetables they’re supposed to go in as soon as the ground can be worked.

The local university’s trying to form a Sustainable Ag Club, and they’re offering gardening plots to go with membership. I submitted an application form, but by the time they get around to assigning spaces the early season’ll be completely gone. Hopefully I can use the space to grow some warm-weather varieties, freeing up my home plot for cold-weather stuff. No biennials or perennials, though, unless they can be easily removed — it would be rude to plant something that the next person to be given the plot would have to dig out.

Totally Didn’t See This Coming

Posted in Doom on February, 2009 by melendwyr

Registering at LessWrong is completely impossible.

I can’t tell whether it’s because the program’s been set to prevent me from registering… or whether the CATCHPA isn’t compatible with Firefox on a computer with lots of lag.

Why must people make catchpas that interact poorly when loaded?

Obnoxiously, you can’t point out problems unless you’re registered and logged in, so if there are any errors with those functions, there’s no way to mention it.

The Absence of Evidence

Posted in GIGO on February, 2009 by melendwyr

See Nonsense On Stilts.

The best way I can think of to describe the difference is the following:

If you wanted to determine whether someone was in a room, and someone poked their head through the doorway but kept their eyes closed, then reported that they didn’t see anybody, you wouldn’t take that as evidence that there was no one in there. That’s not evidence, that’s failing to check for evidence.

If someone poked in and looked around, and then said there was nobody there, that would be evidence that there wasn’t anyone there – in other words, evidence of absence. Or alternatively, evidence against presence.

The other way is the absence of evidence. It doesn’t mean anything at all.

If you haven’t made any observations, you have no positive evidence to support positions. That is not evidence against a particular position, just a reason not to assert one. To actively exclude a position, you need evidence against it.