Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Psychology Is Science

I remember taking the various statistical classes when working through my psych degree, and one of the few points that was echoed from professor to professor was the need to be almost anally exacting with research, measurements, and data. They all explained that this was because there was something of a negative perspective of psychology as something less than true science.

I assumed that this was something of the paranoid ramblings of professors who cut their teeth in the psych world of the 1970's, back when psychology was finally shaking off the last bits of spiritual, metaphysical junk  left behind by Freud and Jung. It was very much a problem. In my collection, I have some psychology books from the 1920's, and the work of Freud and Jung was taken as true! People actually believed this stuff!

It was comical to me, comical to every single one of my classmates, and comical to my professors. I appreciated that this baggage was once there, but could see plainly that it no longer was. Psychology was a science trying desperate to prove something everyone already believed.

In retrospect, perhaps I was naive. I only ever went to psychological conferences. I only ever worked with other psychologists and psychiatrists. And whenever I was involved with those from other fields, it was neurologists, with whom there was so much cross-pollination with psychology that it almost gelled into a single field.

As I have since learned, there is still a great deal of prejudice against psychology, being as it is a "soft" science. The major point against it is that "soft" sciences do not produce predictions.

I find this criticism absurd. Of course psychology produces predictions. Those predictions may be probabilistic, but they are predictions nonetheless. The limitation that we have is that our ability to measure humans is limited by our interaction with the machine that is a human: behavior. It is an imperfect measurement, but no less imperfect than measurements in the work of very early scientists. And as research continues, our ability to read behavior will get increasingly better — our ability to understand the workings of the machine will advance.

Stop bullying the 'soft' sciences (Via L.A. Times)

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Jolla And MeeGo Have Me Excited

I like Google. I really do. I think that there have been moments in their history where they could have done better —censorship issues in China being one of them— but overall, they are a vastly superior company to other tech heavyweights like Apple, Microsoft, and Intel. That said, I still yearn for an OS that isn't Android.

Android is something of a mess. Many geeks don't understand the actual problem of fragmentation in the OS because they've never experienced it. Many of them are usually at the cutting edge, sporting a cell phone that is either cutting edge or at least current-gen. For those who don't have the money, time on their contract, or like me, simply prefer to buy unlocked cell phones, fragmentation is a major problem.

For example, the Sony Ericsson Xperia X10/X10 Mini/X8, Pro, and other phones were pretty big successes for Sony. They are technically Android phones, but they barely run the OS. Getting them to run at all smoothly requires rooting and a custom ROM using the newest version of Android.

Making matters worse is the immense amount of noise being generated by the manufacturers and carriers. Carriers mandate locks on the phone and un-deletable software, while manufacturers muddy the waters with custom versions of Android that frequently are inferior to the stock Android interface. Google's answer to this problem is the Nexus line of "pure" Android devices, and I think that it's a pretty good answer.

But, what if I don't want the Nexus? What if I want the HTC One X. If I get it unlocked, it's either the super-expensive international version that doesn't run on AT&T's high-speed network, or it's simply an AT&T phone with all of the same junk that's on the locked AT&T phone... it just costs more. In this regard, both Windows Phone and iPhone are superior, since locked or unlocked, it doesn't matter. It's the same phone.

I yearn for an OS and phone that isn't victim to all of the noise, noise, noise, noise from the carriers and manufacturers. Similarly, I yearn for a well-made platform that isn't reliant on a major corporation. That's a difficult thing. Linux has been around for well over a decade and still isn't a significant replacement for Windows or MacOS. Open source can work, but it's always easier to have a major presence behind any initiative.

Jolla and MeeGo have all of the work done by Nokia, and MeeGo specifically still has support from large numbers of hardware companies who are keen to avoid an OS duopoly of iOS and Android. MeeGo also has the support of geeks who would like an OS over which they have more control. Because while Android is open and tweakable, it is still Google's baby, and they raise it as they see fit.

I hope that MeeGo catches on. I'll totally make an app or two for it.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Women Smarter Than Men? That's Unpossible!

A recent study by James Flynn, a researcher who focuses on intelligence, has shown that for the first time in, well, ever, woman are smarter than men according to IQ tests. This doesn't surprise me at all.

He says that women are being forced to stretch their brains more as they attempt to juggle all of the things that society expects of them: home, children, work, etc. He also speculates that women may simply be intellectually better than men on some biological level. Even though he admits that more research is obviously needed, I think that he's missing the most obvious answer: society asks very little of men.

While extreme societal demands on women undoubtedly have a part to play in all of this, I think that the primary reason for the failing of men is that they are not asked to work. Recently, colleges were caught letting in men who performed only slightly better than average, because if they let in those who truly excelled, they would be letting in almost nothing but women. They tried to explain this by saying that any smart university doesn't accept all qualified people since some set percentage of them will invariably choose to go to another school, but this was a nonsensical excuse for a number of reasons.

Their reasons were, almost humorously, more practical than that. Basically, schools don't want a student body that is overrun with women, because that may drive students away. Top-performing female students don't want to go a school that's filled with other women. They want a mixed crowd. If they don't want a mixed crowd, that's what the Seven Sisters are for.

Think about that. Men are performing so far below women of the same age that men who even slightly stand out are being given acceptance. It's not that society's expectations on women are too high, it's that their expectations on men are too low.

Think about all of the nearly pre-verbal people that you have met in your life. How many of them are men? I'd wager over 90%. That's my number, certainly. There is no reason why 90% of pre-verbal human chimps should be men. But it makes perfect sense when you think about the system of entitlement and absolution provided to men. Boys will be boys is heard when boys do almost anything undesirable. This is ridiculous and is a massive disservice to every male that we raise in this society.

If males fail in school, it's funny. If males act up, it's just what they do. If males reject the system, they're seen as rebels. When we give boys a pass for this sort of behavior, we fail them. In decades past, this worked fine. In decades past, the system was geared toward men, so even if a boy was an idiot, the system would simply grab him and place him somewhere. It was the very root of the factory job. Drop out of high school? No worries! Get a job at the local plants. None of these opportunities existed for women, and were, in fact, actively taken away from women after World War II to be given back to men.

Unfortunately, those systems are starting to fail under the immense weight of increasingly equal women — women who were forced to work so hard to overcome systemic sexism that they now wildly exceed the men that are being raised. My alma mater, Rhode Island College, is nearly 70% female. That is an untenable system. It cannot be maintained. It also completely explains why women exceed men on IQ tests. Because we're raising them to.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Viacom Blocks All Online Streams

In a case study of how to be clueless and alienate customers, Viacom has blocked online streams of The Daily Show, Jersey Shore, Colbert Report, and a number of other properties where full episodes were available for free. Why would Viacom so wildly shoot themselves in the foot? Duh! Because they're in a pissing match with another giant company, of course!

DirecTV has refused to pay a significant rate hike to carry Viacom channels, resulting in the loss of twenty-six channels including Comedy Central, Nickelodeon, and MTV. DirecTV responded to hardball tactics by posting on their home page places where users could get Viacom shows directly from Viacom!

Yes. All that DTV did was tell people what Viacom was already producing. So to really drive home that the entire company is a gigantic child, Viacom screamed "no!" and took those streams away from everyone, regardless of whether they are involved with this issue or not. Viacom hurt 100% of its customers. That's a bang-up way to generate business, no?

The Death Of A Conservative

As I stated in an earlier post, I've experienced a wholesale shift in my perspective from a single realization: I cannot know another person's world. I mentioned how it has affected all areas of my thought, with one area affected most practically of all: politics.

Politics, at its root, exists on a spectrum between no government and absolute government. No government has only a single formulation, anarchy, and absolute government has as many different formulations as totalitarian states throughout history have managed to conjure.

Underlying those two extremes are two metaphysical extremes vis-a-vis the person. The first extreme is found in absolute government, where the Grand Machine is seen as the defining element of life. The second is found in anarchy, where the soul of the individual is seen as the defining element of life. I now consider the latter viewpoint to be entirely untenable. I once considered myself a libertarian. I no longer do.

It requires me to believe that my internal world, my soul, is identical to someone else's soul. It rejects the importance of outside variables and thus ascribes power and responsibility to the soul contained within a human. It's no surprise that "personal responsibility" is practically a mantra of the conservative right.

My viewpoint also rejects extreme government because any rigid formulation of government makes the exact same assumption as rigid conservativism. There can be no "one size fits all" approach. It is in this way that my view is fundamentally behavioristic. We cannot know someone else's world, and as such, our governmental formulation cannot take into account any assumptions about their world. It must work only with quantifiable variables of behavior and society and stated goals.

If we have high crime, we cannot simply say "Criminals are bad! we must punish them!" because we have a great deal of evidence to show that this viewpoint doesn't do anything. We must draw upon history, psychology, neurology, economics, and sociology to figure out what the best answer to a finely stated problem is. Whatever that solution turns out to be, we should enact it. The argument should take place during the goal-defining phase.

I think that this viewpoint has inherent limits. It could never result in anarchy or despotism since both extremes are historically and philosophically untenable. There is no argument that can be made in their favor.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Obama Delivers A Body Blow

I'm not a fan of Obama. I think that he's failed in most respects as President. I'm even less of a fan of Romney, though, and would hate to see him become president. This is a truly punishing attack ad against Romney. Granted, Romney's a pretty easy guy to attack. It makes you wonder why he thought it was a good idea to run for President in the first place.

Changing Perspectives

I have undergone a massive shift in my world perspective. I won't go into details. The point that I want to cover is the stunning effect that a single shift in one's outlook can have on every other element of a world view. The real success of an internal dialectic is the emotional acceptance of the conclusion. It's very easy to have an intellectual awareness, but humans are not purely intellectual. For example, everyone knows that they should not be eating unhealthy food, and yet most of us do. We are an increasingly fat country, even though we know how to not be.

I, for one, was well aware of what made a good diet. Still, I was nearly 260 pounds at my peak. If you had asked me ten years ago whether my diet was good or not, I likely would have answered correctly. It was not. But I was still eating crap! I was a cheese fry connoisseur. I had not been emotionally aware of the reality and because of that continued to, almost mindlessly, eat garbage. Only now, after a deeply emotional epiphany that I didn't enjoy eating crap did I stop and start eating better.

I had a similar emotional revelation when I became deeply aware that I do not know what the world of another person is like. I am fundamentally and metaphysically disconnected from everyone else. There is no way that I can ever know another person's world. Everything from the way that they look, their physical abilities, their upbringing: all of it has a substantive effect on the very nature of their reality. It is a reality that is as different from mine as it is similar.

How can I judge? How can I talk about other people? How can I even talk to other people?! Realizing that someone else's world is different from one's own threatens a nearly fatal blow to the very foundation of my social reality. I am me. What are others? They are something about which I care. I want friends and lovers. I want to be a good person. I want to be a good in society. But when society is comprised of millions of people, all of whom are ignorant of everyone else, how can we ever hope to make progress? How can we be shocked by racism, violence, and war, when the very ignorance of which I speak all but guarantees this sort of behavior?

It is, in many ways, a startling form of skepticism. It's not so easily rejected as true skepticism precisely because it is not so extreme in its rejection of knowledge. We know what the world is. It is what it is. And if we assume that other people are in fact thinking, feeling entities, we are left with a sense that what they think and feel is important, with no way to quantify it or make sense of it. We are socially incapable of any knowledge. That is a crippling realization, and one that has left me with a profound reassessment of my world.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Clovis Is Dead

I meant to post about this a few days ago, but here it is. Clovis is dead! And by Clovis, I mean the "Clovis First" theory. In a nutshell, the theory states that the prehistoric American culture seenin an find in Clovis, New Mexico represents the first humans to come to the New World over the Bering Straight land bridge before it was closed up with ice during the last Ice Age.

I was studying this seven years ago, and even then, the general opinion in the academic world was that Clovis first was almost undoubtedly wrong. Only later did I find out that there were many who were not only arguing as Devil's Advocate, but actually believed that "Clovis First" was true.

This blew my mind. One of the tenets of archaeology is that whatever is found, chances are, it was around long before the date of the artifacts. That makes perfect sense. Think about it. The chances that a find is the very first example of some given thing is essentially zero. It must always be assumed that what is found is older than the find. I'm disappointed because this study only shows Clovis to be pre-dated by one thousand years. Only a thousand? That's a "duh" statement! I wanted five thousand. Ten thousand.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Detroit And America's Intransigence

I'm watching Dan Rather Reports special two-hour investigation of Detroit's public schools. Long story short: they're screwed and they are emblematic of our nation's educational system on the whole.

Rather early on, they showed some videos from Detroit's past in the 1950's and 60's, when the city was rumbling with vibrant industry and manufacturing, and the ridiculously effusive language being used to describe the city and, indeed, all of America just stuck in my craw.

My craw got all stuck full of it because it reminded me of the same garbage in that innane "Halftime in America" ad for Chrysler that aired during the Super Bowl. It's the same shit, different generation, and it is absolutely infuriating.

We have problems. Detroit is hosed. Wanna' fix Detroit? Spend lots of money, build a lot of stuff, and let the child run. We are not doing that, though. We are not doing any of that. Instead, we dumped trillions of dollars into the banks — thus saving the all-important rich people — and the public debate is between those who want to fix things, and borderline-crazy nincompoops like Ron Paul who think that the world will magically fix itself.

No, what videos like the Chrysler ad show is that we don't need to actually fix problems, we just need to feel great about being American! Fix problems? Pah! We're American! Poor people can't afford food? Pah! We're American! Middle class collapsing? Pah! We're American! Unemployment at double-digits? Pah! WE ARE FUCKING AMERICAN!

This feel-good garbage, so strongly rooted in American exceptionalism, makes me want to puke. We are not "Americans". We are a group of people, nothing more, and our system is broken. We need to fix it. Not doing anything and feeling proud about that hasn't worked up to this point, so why should we expect it to magically start?