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Author: Thomas Joseph | Views: 1772 | Comments: 8
Last by old timer on Aug 08, 2011, 11:15am
So maybe I'm not the best person to ponder this question, given that I already have several college degrees.

Or, perhaps, that makes me emminently qualified to answer this question.

Either way, the following article by John Stossel got me thinking (which is always a dangerous thing).

Now, we're not talking about refusing to teach children. Rather, the question revolves around the importance and worth of a college education. Stossel is right when he states that professors at universities, most universities at any rate, care more about research than teaching. After all, it is what their career is measured by, and they'd be foolish to ignore it. However, I believe that there are any number of colleges and universities where the teachers are more dedicated to the task of teaching the next generation, than performing research.

I just never attended one.

My education is the product of two state schools, which both have extremely well-funded federal research programs. Did I get a good education? I think I did, but I'd say that came more from my graduate coursework. My undergraduate education revolved around rote memorization an . . . More
Author: Psycasm | Views: 6282 | Comments: 7
Last by superkuh on Jul 16, 2011, 8:39am
What is this all about?

See Part 1

See Kate's response, Part 2

See Denise's response, Part 3


In addressing the question ‘Do we have Freewill?’ we all took a fairly softly-softly approach. I will certainly admit to this; being the first to post I just wanted to test the waters, see what would fly.

While my position of ‘I’m not really sure’ still holds I am going to take a more concrete position, if only to play the devil’s advocate, and if only for my own entertainment.

Here it is – We don’t have freewill. It’s an illusion, and not even a very good one.

Kate used Dennett’s example that xn domino fell because xn-1 domino fell, because xn-1-1 fell... This was due to some input that hinged on a prime number. Perhaps I’ve misunderstood, but it’s not the input that matters, it’s the consequences. The input should be almost be arbitrary, and necessarily variable.
. . . More
Author: Psycasm | Views: 45659 | Comments: 3
Last by Milley on Jan 11, 2012, 2:26pm
Part I here. Perhaps not necessarily homework, but it would help make sense of the following...


It seems appropriate to open Part II on Laughter by quoting myself (O, Narcisus). In part one I wrote the following:

"But why is this paper an excellent example of Evo Psych? Well, unlike things like vision or attraction or communication, laughter is a unique human quality (well, not quite; but the manner, extent and contexts in which we employ it is unique), and so provides an excellent topic to investigate with a human behaviour evolutionary framework. Second, this topic synthesises huge amounts of data on what we currently know about laughter from many different domains (social psych, positive psych, biological foundations, and neuroscience) and constructs an evolutionary framework that incorporates all of it. Third, it brings together many converging lines of evolutionary evidence (archaeology, comparative studies, etc) to inform their evolutionary hypothesis. And finally, the authors freely admit and highlight the weaknesses of their position, and (crucially) provide a number of predictions inherent in their framework."

I do quote this with reason. Commenter Yannisguerra, ma . . . More
Author: JaniceF | Views: 950 | Comments: 3
Last by Anthea on Jul 04, 2011, 12:41am
Happy Canada Day to me!

. . . More
Author: Psycasm | Views: 798 | Comments: 1
Last by Kate on Jun 28, 2011, 1:26am
If you're new to this series, or new to Psycasm generally, Click Here for an explanation.

Here is Entry 2 (Kate)

And now, the thinker's thinker's perspective... Denise and formal philosophy


And without further ado, I would like to continue discussing the issue of free will from the philosophical perspective. Thank you again to Psycasm and Kate for the opportunity to collaborate with those from the discipline of psychology; evolutionary and the more formal ognitive science. It is exactly these grand philosophical questions like ‘Free Will’ when we become aware of the very different and important ways we attempt to answer difficult questions on the nature of life. Without understanding the complexity and origins of our rational capacities from the study of the brain and observed human behavior, we would not be able to argue strongly one way or another in the philosophical debate of free will.

The general approach towards this debate in philosophy is a metaphysical one. Where I have observed the empirical approach of psychology in explaining how we humans have developed the cognitive cap . . . More
Author: Psycasm | Views: 5547 | Comments: 2
Last by Psycasm on Jun 24, 2011, 11:17pm

So there’s been a bit of hype surround a paper entitled “Humor ability reveals intelligence, predicts mating success, and is higher in males.” It seems a lot of people don’t like it, but I fear their dislike is something a knee-jerk reaction, and I feel like a little information could at least add nuance to the critics’ position.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t like the paper, either. It’s just that most of the criticisms I’ve read seem to trend along these lines:

a) Scientist waste grant money proving something we already know (i.e. Women find funny men attractive); or

b) You can’t measure how funny someone is, therefore their conclusions are wrong; or

c) More Evo Psychology crap; or

d) Any combination of the above

see here (this post repeated frequently, verbatim) and especially here

Here’s why I don’t like that paper:

a) Given the data and the methodology the evolutionary hypothesis is overstated, and I feel out of place.

b) I feel that the methodology coul . . . More
Author: Psycasm | Views: 1619 | Comments: 4
Last by Psycasm on Jun 22, 2011, 8:40pm

Laughter and humor have also been omitted from most general accounts of human evolution, taking a backseat to evolutionary divas like bipedalism, encephalization, language, and culture.

- Gervais & Wilson, 2005

Yup, it's going to be a post on Evo Psychology. 'Ohhh... pfft', some of you think. This post is on evo psych for two reasons; the first is that this topic is just fascinating - it's on the evolution of humour and laughter (and humour and laughter in general); and second, this is one of the best evo psych articles I've ever read, and an excellent example of what evo psychology is all about.

[Just FYI, I have written on the topic of Lolz before.]

[Additionally, this post will be broken down into more than one part to fit everything in. This first part is a summary of what we know, the second part will outline the evolutionary arguments.]

But why is this paper an excellent example of Evo Psych? Well, unlike things like vision or attraction or communication, laughter is a unique human quality (well, not quite; but the manner, extent and contexts in which we employ it . . . More
Author: Dangerous Experiments | Views: 5472 | Comments: 7
Last by Brian Scott Ph.D. on Aug 06, 2011, 8:00am
This week's guest blogger is @ArkhamAsylumDoc! She has a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology and is a project scientist at a very nerdy university science lab. You can follow her on twitter for more geekery!

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (known to clinicians as the DSM-IV) is essentially psychiatry and psychology’s “big book” of illnesses. We refer to the manual when assessing and determining the condition(s) our patients may be suffering from. Publication of the fifth edition of the manual (DSM-5) is scheduled for May 2013, and is, according to the American Psychiatric Association, considered one of the "most anticipated events in the mental health field."

Why is this book so important? The manual lists and defines all psychiatric conditions that are recognized as valid illnesses by the field. Clinical scientists, medical doctors, and experienced experts in mental health are in charge of determining the criteria, constructs, and even the name of each disorder. The next edition will have substantial changes. What’s certainly made things interesting for this iteration is that the preliminary draft of the manual is now available for public review. This means we can all peruse the provisional diagnoses and proposed changes.

There are a number of conditions that are still under consideration, and thus remain on the chopping block. These illnesses have never before been published in the reference manual and many are not currently recognized as actual medical or mental health conditions. Using some familiar characters, I briefly describe and illustrate each proposed illness currently under the category of “Psychiatric Conditions Under Review.”

. . . More
Author: Psycasm | Views: 3757 | Comments: 2
Last by Kate on Jun 13, 2011, 5:53pm
Psycasm: And so, in response to Psycasm's post on Freewill, Kate has entered the fray. Click here to find out what's going on.

Next week: Denise and a line of pure philosophy


Thanks to Psycasm for hosting this conversation, and giving me a chance to talk about my very favourite subject, the mind.

Psycasm hits the nail on the head when he says that free will must, at some point, have evolved. This unarguable fact (let’s assume we’re all materialists for now), tells us a great deal about what sort of thing free will is. It is not a mysterious spirit. It is not something one categorically has or doesn’t have. Like the capacity to feel pain, or be aware of your thoughts, it is something which exists in varying degrees, evolved over time, and develops anew in each new child.

The answer to “do we have free will?” is – yes! Of course! We all know this, and the fact that so many people to find it plausible that we don’t just shows how odd a philosophical tangle we have got ourselves into. Let me try to convince you.

The basic theme in the path from swamp mud to human beings is the development of self-replicat . . . More
Author: Psycasm | Views: 612 | Comments: 6
Last by Psycasm on Jun 08, 2011, 10:30pm
This post is being written primarily for UQPsycBlog, a blogging collective written by PhD students at UQ, which primarily focuses on a day-in-the-life... Given that I kinda rub shoulders with a number of the contributers to the blog, and I intend to pursue a Phd, I've been asked to contribute...

And so here it is, a follow up to 'My Experimental Virginity' and 'Willful Self-Deception is Bliss' - both of which were about the ongoing process of running this study.


Many moons ago, eager to impress and to rise above the clatter of all the other undergrads, I started looking for RA work. I kept my expectations low. I expected that as an untrained, unqualified undergrad I'd be doing menial grunt work. I was not disappointed. I spent three weeks coding videos for specific behaviours of couples arguing in the lab. It was depressing. I walked away feeling like a bad boyfriend, but relieved that everyone fights about the same thing - money, sex and alcohol.

Despite my inauspicious introd . . . More
Author: Thomas Joseph | Views: 431 | Comments: 2
Last by Thomas Joseph on Jun 06, 2011, 8:04am
Came across the following blog entry at the Big League Stew. It is about a PSA from the SF Giants, combatting homophobia. It's targetted to LGBT teens to let them know that life does get better beyond the bullying and to not turn to suicide. It is done in conjunction with the It Gets Better Project.

I'm sure there is a small portion of society that has not been bullied, or bullied. However, I think the majority have either experienced the shame of being bullied, or witnessed that shame when in the act of bullying. If you've gone through bullying, you'll know that no one else should have to experience such pain (emotional and physical), and if you have bullied, hopefully you've matured to the point that you are ashamed of your actions and would also like to prevent others from having to go through the torment of being bullied.

So, no matter what direction you are coming from on this issue, here is your chance to make a differ . . . More
Author: Psycasm | Views: 329 | Comments: 0
In honour of the arbitrary nature of our 10th podcast I'd like to provide a stream for anyone interested.

This episode covers the nature of Self-Deception and Self-Enhancement. Normally there would be four commentators on the show, but for various reasons only 3 were available.

Let me know what you think!

This is our official website, with some (as yet unpopulated) forums, shownotes and other features.

You can also subscribe to us on iTunes, by clicking here.

. . . More
Author: Psycasm | Views: 2835 | Comments: 8
Last by Shelli on Jul 07, 2011, 1:23am
If you're new to this series, or new to Psycasm generally, Click Here for an explanation.


Do we have free will?

I know I chose to pose that question and write those words, but I’m equally comfortable attributing that sensation of certainty to illusion.

Though I’m not widely read in philosophy that which I have exposed myself to lead me to the conclusion that free will is probably an illusion. I don’t remember who I read, what arguments they used or why it seemed a reasonable conclusion to me, but it is the assumption I have been operating under for a fair period of time.

However, in considering this topic in light of a few more years of experience, and in light of a few years of scientific training… I’m no longer sure what I think.

I know enough to say that I don’t know enough about physics to take that into consideration; not in any meaningful way, at any rate. I could drop a ‘quantum’ here, or list the flavours of subatomic particles (my favourite being ‘Strange’), but it wouldn’t help me understand the problem at hand.

I can, however, parse the problem in terms I am familiar with. If freewill exists – illu . . . More
Author: Psycasm | Views: 500 | Comments: 0
Some time ago I published 'An Open Letter' in which I wrote the following:

"I tend to find myself spending a few hours researching, reading and writing every blog post I make. As a result I've found myself only being able to produce one a week and riding the comments for as long as possible thereafter. Thus, I feel my midweek could be spruced up with something interesting. Something a little less formal. Something a little more interactive. Maybe there could even be jokes...

I tend to write about behaviour, or cognition, or belief. I don't think I've ever really tackled any bigger questions like 'What is Cognition' or 'What is Behaviour'. But I feel this is fertile ground for investigation. And so I'd like to propose an open dialogue with someone on such issues - 'What is Mind?', 'Is there free-will?', 'What is the nature of thought?'."

I was essentially soliciting interesting from other differently minded folk to engage in a bit of discussion, both within blog-posts and in the comments thread.

Well, the long and short of it is that two people have responded. Two people that I feel cov . . . More
Author: JaySeeDub | Views: 3112 | Comments: 10
Last by Gynecomastia on Oct 19, 2011, 4:38am
I was 3 years old. I didn't know what it meant, but I was 3. The next year, I'd be 4, and I would want an Atari 2600 for my birthday. But at that point in time, I was 3 and the world was going to change. I would later hear about how everything changed and the ensuing hard, uphill struggle to inform. To survive. But instead I was 3. Being filmed in the garage at my grandmother's house on my Uncle's old Betamax camcorder. Running around the small backyard in the Outer Sunset District.

. . . More
Author: Psycasm | Views: 1368 | Comments: 4
Last by Psycasm on Jun 01, 2011, 8:42pm

At the time of writing this post it is 12pm. I caught the bus to Uni at 8:30 where I spoke to a bus-buddy. I arrived and did about half an hour of online arsing-around, and half an hour of reading for this post. During that period I spoke to a friend who I also saw yesterday. Then I went to a two hour lecture and engaged in the usually amount of greetings, whispered comments and occasional jokes, half time commentaries and, finally, a brief conversation with the lecture at the lectures close.

I was going to open this post with a question posed: "How often, and how frequently, do you lie?". I decided instead to work out how often I lie...

The research tells us we do lie. A lot. Lies fall into a bunch of different categories. They can vary both in the manner of lie and the content to which it relates. According to Tyler and Feldman (2004) (who was reference DePaulo, a giant in the field of not-telling-the-truth) the manner of lies can be categorized thusly:

Outright Lies Exaggerations, and 'Subtle' Lies (including white lies, evasions, and ommisions or relevant information). My gut feeling is that those subtle lies should be separated out...

The things we lie about als . . . More
Author: Psycasm | Views: 355 | Comments: 1
Last by yannisguerra on May 23, 2011, 9:37pm
Oh, the delicious irony that today is Draw Mohammed Day AND the end of the world. If you don't see the irony, try harder...

. . . More
Author: Psycasm | Views: 3318 | Comments: 6
Last by yannisguerra on May 22, 2011, 10:38pm

How many times have you been presented with a decision and you've opted to sleep on it, sit on it, think it through, mull it over or any other [verb + preposition] combination?

I know I have. But the funny thing is I don't actually think about it. I don't know about other people but I find it really hard to sit down and weigh up the pros and cons in a situation like that. Often when I've chosen to wait it's because I need to go talk to someone about it, or to line up alternatives and contingencies. Here it makes perfec sense to wait - waiting, and the actions you subsequently engage in, allow you to make a more informed decision.

There are times, however, when we choose to wait knowing that waiting won't necessarily afford us new information. Experience tells us that its times like this we choose the fuzzy option of 'sleeping on it' in the hopes that it makes the decision making process easier.

I recently came across a paper entitled 'Reasonable Reasons for Waiting' by Tykocinski and Ruffle. Published in 2003 it's hardly new, but I found it fascinating all the same.

Their first study was a replication of work done by Bastardi and Shafi . . . More
Author: Psycasm | Views: 347 | Comments: 0
So I’ve taken the mind-map in the first ‘sceptical checklist’ and questionized it. For the most part its on a likert-type scale, where 1 = low and 7 = high. Now that it’s questionized it’s time to check how water-tight it is. In turning ideas into questions it has become apparent that it is very difficult to distinguish fact from fiction through introspection alone. At best one might be able to identify the processes we engage in that allow us to reach a conclusion, but even then our judgements will be coloured by the conclusions we’ve reached and a myriad other factors.

It seems that a scale of this nature, if it works, can only work on positive beliefs. That is, this scale may work for ‘Critical Thinking [on the validity of Homeopathy]’, but cannot work on ‘Critical Thinking [on the invalidity of Homeopathy]’. I can’t see how it would be possible to assess a negative belief (i.e. that something doesn’t exist / work).

As of writing this introduction I have not attempted to answer the questions, but only intuited how it works based on my process in constructing it. Here are my thoughts:

Some questions will be much better than others in sepa . . . More
Author: Psycasm | Views: 3841 | Comments: 0
[Scroll directly to the bottom for the check-list]

[See also the Skeptical Checklist v1.1]

I’ve had a couple of conversations over the last few days which have reminded how hard it is to be a skeptic. Perhaps this is misleading, it is not necessarily hard to be a skeptic, but rather it’s hard to become a skeptic.

Scientists, by training, are skeptics. In my mind they have a few clear advantages:

1. They clearly understand, both intuitively and explicitly, what evidence is;

2. They have a process for determining the quality of evidence / information;

3. They have practise in generating alternate explanations;

4. They understand parsimony;

5. Scientists are comfortable with not knowing, and accept that not knowing is normal and healthy;

6. They’re opinions / beliefs are frequently subjected to scrutiny; and

7. They are often surrounded by people who also share these characteristics.

Though it would be narcissistic of me to call myself a ‘scientist’, I do believe that I conform to these characteristics even though I am still earning my education. Additionally, I try to actively engage . . . More