Archive for August, 2011

August 16, 2011

The causal Markov confusion

by James Thorniley

Out in the pacific there are two islands named Foo and Bar. Two ferries, the good ship Fizz and the good ship Buzz pass between them once per day each (that is, if Fizz starts the day on Foo it will end the day on Bar). For each ship then, we can write out the list of islands it ends the day on using the initials: F for Foo and B for Bar:

Fizz:    F B F B F B F B F B F B F B F B
Buzz:    B F B F B F B F B F B F B F B F

However, on Foo island, Fry is currently searching for his friend Bender. But Bender is on Bar. Fry learns of this and resolves to hop aboard the good ship Buzz and be reunited with Bender in the evening. But alas! Bender has similarly reasoned that Fry is on Foo and therefore set sail with the Fizz. Having passed each other during the day, Fry is stranded on Bar and Bender on Foo, they will have to wait until tomorrow before they can do anything about it.

August 1, 2011

The transmutation of wine by Camembert

by Lucas Wilkins

Today, like many days, I bought some Camembert, but today I bought some wine too. Cheese and red wine. Excellent.

Having already had a little bit of cheese and wine and returned the cheese to the fridge, my house mate – also a fan of cheese – returned. “Look what I got” producing the partially eaten round from the fridge.

Opening and inspecting it I noticed what appeared to be blue mold: This pissed me off. But after fuming about my local shop for a bit I remembered that earlier, in my eagerness for booze, I had splashed wine all over the table and partially over the cheese. There was no sign of the red wine, perhaps the blue-grey, moldy looking stain was what became of it.

Adding a drip of wine to the cheese confirmed it. The red blob turned blue, almost fast enough to see with the naked eye. This was pretty surprising (though it doesn’t seem so now I know why).

Recently, a friend of mine has been encouraging me to take the attitude of experimenting whenever possible, I expect he might say something like: “Even if you know the answer, or exactly where to look up the answer, this doesn’t matter. What matters is actually doing things and testing ideas for yourself.” Lead by example…

Time for some kitchen science!!!

First Experiment

August 1, 2011

The difference between reification and a scientific hypothesis

by James Thorniley

In fact, what Gould has mistaken for “reification” is neither more nor less than the common practice in every science of hypothesizing explanatory models or theories to account for the observed relationships within a given domain. Well-known examples include the heliocentric theory of planetary motion, the Bohr atom, the electromagnetic field, the kinetic theory of gases, gravitation, quarks, Mendelian genes, mass, velocity, and so forth. None of these constructs exists as a palpable entity occupying physical space.

Arthur Jensen

I’ve been thinking more about this idea of reification, that I brought up in my last post. I was originally going to respond to the slightly confusing discussion that got going about it, but I didn’t want to hijack a thread by going on about Spearman’s g again.

So as I understand it one argument against this reification idea, is that everything in science is “reified”. In a way, if you are willing to go to slightly absurd sounding extremes, your concept of there being a coffee cup in front of you may be a reification, because you can’t prove a coffee cup is physically there just from the photons hitting your eyes. Arthur Jensen’s reply to Gould, which I’ve quoted above, sort of makes this point. Spearman said that g may be the result of a “mental energy”, but according to Jensen this is just a scientific hypothesis, and therefore valid. The heliocentric model of the solar system that most of us accept as pretty basic science could also be said to be a reification. Even if the planets are physically there, the model of the planets is no more a physical thing than Spearman’s g.

When I try to think about this problem I have to admit that the whole reification notion is a bit confusing if you try and get philosophical about it. I think essentially it comes down to the fact that actual scientific hypotheses make testable predictions, which after some time (in human history) get investigated and a consistent theory gets worked out. The hypothesis that “Spearman’s g is a result of some kind of energy in your brain” doesn’t, which is what makes it so silly.


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