Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Scrutator: Instead of Homework

I have homework to do, so I think I'll post to my blog instead.

My awesome news didn't work out - yet. So, I'm not going to say what it was, but if it should pan out in the future, you can bet I'll post on it so much that you'll be sick of it!

School is a blast this semester. I get to work in a research lab collecting data from participants. I don't really know how much I am allowed to say about it here - but just be assured that this particular research area could really change the way people with cognitive challenges are educated. Assuming psychology can cross the isle and be accepted by educators. It is really exciting, and I will be keeping my eye out for new training programs.

Urinetown - The Musical TicketI watched my first non-elementary school play Thursday. It is a play called Urinetown - The musical. It was dark humor, but I did think it was funny. The cast was amazing. They took a sub-par script and made it funny, interesting and thoughtful. Way to go folks!

Physiological psychology continues to be a blast. I got one of those pointy top letters on my test (barely - which is about average for me). We read the first part of Beak of the Finch by Jonathan Weiner. Then we read a chapter each out of two other books too.

The Beak of the Finch is about researchers who studied Finches in the Galapagos Islands. They were able to demonstrate that natural selection does occur frequently in one direction, then another. They assert that it is the balance of these changes over time that result in evolution. Beak of the Finch - Johnathan WeinerThey were among the first researchers to study natural (as opposed to artificial) selection in such a comprehensive way. I like to read about them - wouldn't want to be them. That had to be some of the most uncomfortable field work! I'm glad they did it though - the theory of evolution benefited from it.

The other books were about anthropomorphizing. Humans can't help but think that all animals (cars too?) are like us. Some take it to the extent that all animals should want to be like us. There are two camps on opposite sides in this matter (of course). One camp says that there is no reason to assume that animals do not think and feel much like we do. After all, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence of animals behaving in "human like" ways which indicates that animals do have a consciousness similar to humans. The other camp says that humans are absolutely unique, and that animals are simply stimulus-response machines without thinking and consciousness.

Well, that is really simplified (maybe too simplified), but it gets to the gist of it. We had a really GREAT debate in class about it, though. I just love to debate things we can't possibly know at this point in our development! It kind of boils down to monism/dualism, and knowing we can't know and shouldn't assume. I kind of think that since the nervous systems of many animals are so similar that the outcomes of the processing must be similar too. We sense things very differently from many animals (bats have echolocation, snakes sense heat, etc.), but that doesn't mean that our brains are processing that information in terribly different ways.

As for consciousness (a term with no agreed upon definition), I would like to say it probably is nothing more than the processing of incoming stimuli in a way that allows the organism to respond to the environment in a way that enables survival and reproduction. Computers process incoming stimuli, but not in a way that allows them to respond to and survive/reproduce in their environments. Yet. Mice do, though, just like flies, worms and slugs. Yes, even slugs! What would it be like to be a slug? (a good topic for a NANOWRIMO novel?) Does consciousness have something to do with the nervous system? Is it the neural responses that cause consciousness? The neurotransmitters, the pathways, the action potentials! It would be fun to know. Unfortunately, life is short, and I doubt I will exist when those questions get answers.

In appreciation of drama, we read everyman. It's a dreadfully dull play written in about 1500 by someone called anonymous (Anonymous was sure a prolific writer - but I've never seen a picture of him/her/it, nor do I know where or when he/she/it came from!) (What, you didn't think my joke was funny?). It's a play about a guy finding out he is about do die and will have to atone for his life before god. Since it was written it has been re-written a million gazillion times and is nothing more than cliche. It probably worked for it's time though.

The forum debates have been great, however. Greed, religion (and lack thereof), and casting and production, have all been discussed. The cool thing is that no one seems to really hate me, yet. It's all good.

The news these days has been kind of fun to keep up with in regard to the bailout and presidential election. So much turmoil and chaos and complete uncertainty of how this crisis will play out. - and then there's the bailout! (You had to think that was funny!) I'm just glad to be poor. I work in a field that doesn't go away just because the money dries up, and I own my house outright - no subprimes for me - and I just feel really lucky to be me. I haven't lost anything because of wallstreet.

Ah yes, the news.

Jeremy Hsu at MSNBC reports that "people love angry faced cars." The study was written to help car makers make cars that people would want to buy. I have a question, however. Do angry faced cars make people more aggressive?

The researchers point out that the human brain in wired to find facial patterns in non-human objects. It isn't always a conscious process, and it's unlikely that most people actually know they are doing it, and to what extent it actually affects them.

If all of the people you saw in a day wore mean and grumpy faces, even without interactions, wouldn't it alter your mood? Wouldn't you end the day feeling down or angry?

I assert that drivers are seeing these mean and aggressive faces everyday when they are driving. It is likely to affect their moods, and, I think, could actually be increasing the serious problem of aggressive driving!

I think it needs a scientific study. Have participants fill out a mood questionnaire when they arrive to determine baseline moods. Then, have half view cars with friendly faces, the other half view cars with mean and aggressive faces. Have the participants fill out the mood questionnaires again, and crunch the numbers to see if there is any significant difference. I hypothesize that there will be a difference, and that people who viewed the angry cars will be more angry and aggressive on the second questionnaire.

But, I'm not in a position to do this study. It would be fun to know though, wouldn't it?

The presidential debates are in full swing now. No one is talking straight with us, least of all the straight talking work across the isle mavericks. Why is this? I think it's because the media has to spin everything - and not in a responsible meaningful manner that contributes to real substance or real solutions.

The post debate shows are nothing more that the media telling us what to think about the debate. A responsible media might review the main points of the debate so we can think about who has the policies that we think are best. Instead what we get is a group of "undecideds" telling us what to believe - because they are going to decide the election of course - and media "spinners" gleaning the debate for zingers that could decide once and for all who will win the election.

Maybe I'll just catch the rest of the debates online and skip the spin. That's good for me, but what about all of the "undecideds" who are watching the spin? It's depressing.

I wasn't really planning to write this much. I actually do have some homework to do, and really should get to it. Really, I should!


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