Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for July, 2014

In The Elephant Whisperer, Lawrence Anthony describes his ability to sense the elephant herd:

Suddenly, I got it again. A strong sense of anticipation that the herd was close by. And with that, Nana [the matriarch of the elephant herd] emerged out of a nearby thicket, followed by the others. I was gobsmacked. I had somehow picked up that they were there, well before seeing them. In time I found that this experience also manifested itself in reverse. Sometimes while searching for them I would eventually realize that they were not in the area at all, but they were somewhere else. Not because I couldn’t find them, but because the bush felt completely empty of their presence.

Okay, so if Anthony consistently senses them when they are nearby, this would be reasonably strong evidence that he is picking up something. However, I’m a little skeptical of these kinds of claims. People seem to love explanations like this. If, for example, you think about a friend that you haven’t spoken to in a long time, and minutes later they text you, you might think that the two of you must have somehow been communicating telepathically. Of course, you forget about all of the times that you have thought of someone who didn’t text you shortly afterwards (disconfirming evidence is so much less memorable). You also forget about the fact that if you haven’t spoken to this friend in a long time (longer than usual for the two of you), that that might be why they thought of you at that moment. But in this case, it might be plausible that he could pick up on something. Maybe nearby elephants have a scent that he isn’t quite consciously aware of. Maybe, even if they aren’t making sounds that he notices, their presence affects other nearby animals, and overall there are different sounds in the area.

Anthony continues:

After a couple of weeks of practice I started getting the hang of it. And eventually, under the right circumstances, it became easier and easier to find them. Somehow I had become aware that elephants project their presence into an area around them. And that they have control over this, because when they didn’t want to be found, I could be almost on top of them and pick up nothing at all.

That last sentence is fantastic. What he is confessing is that when elephants are nearby, sometimes he feels their presence and sometimes he doesn’t. Based on this, he could have concluded that he really doesn’t have the ability to sense the elephants. Instead, he concluded that the elephants decide if they want to project their presence into an area.

I have a similar ability when it comes to guessing what number you are thinking of. Sometimes I get it right. Sometimes I get it wrong. When I get it wrong it’s because you didn’t want me to read your mind.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

There seems to be an endless supply of articles advocating for ‘unplugging.’ These articles suggest that smartphones make people dumber, more disconnected, give them a shorter attention span, etc.  There is even a National Day of Unplugging. The website has pictures of people holding signs with statements like “I unplug to catch up with friends” and “I unplug to read” (which are particularly odd reasons to unplug, given that smartphones make it easier to do both).

I use my smartphone to retrieve facts, whether it’s things like social contacts, grocery lists, research or blog ideas, or things like historical and scientific facts. This silicon extension of my anatomy frees my meat brain up to focus its energy on thinking. If I turned off this technology, I would be shutting down the part of my brain with the largest memory capacity. Why would I chose to turn off such a powerful part of my brain?

If we are going to reject brain technology, why not go back further? The frontal cortex in hominids is much larger than that of our ancestors. It might be time to `unplug’ much of that part of our brains.

 

Read Full Post »

The Antibiotics Test: if your arguments against some medical intervention would also apply to the use of antibiotics for treating bacterial infections, then your arguments need revising

Consider the following arguments against vaccines:

1. I fear the risk of complications from vaccines more than I fear the risk of complications from infection.

2. I can vaccinate my daughter, but she can contract the infection anyway.

3. I don’t trust drug companies.

4. I cannot sue the doctor, the nurse, or the drug company if there are serious side effects.

5. We don’t know enough about the human microbiome to understand how it could be affected by vaccines.

6. The mechanism of herd immunity is not fully understood, and some believe it’s over-hyped.

7. I have researched the ingredients in vaccines. They are toxic, I do not want them injected into my daughter.

8. I’m a new dad. I’ve seen scientists get it wrong before, and I don’t want my daughter to be a statistic.

Versus:

1. I fear the risk of complications from antibiotics more than I fear the risk of complications from infection.

2. I can give antibiotics to my daughter, but she can remain infected anyway.

3. I don’t trust drug companies.

4. I cannot sue the doctor, the nurse, or the drug company if there are serious side effects.

5. We don’t know enough about the human microbiome to understand how it could be affected by antibiotics.

6. Not all of the effects of antibiotics are fully understood, and some believe the benefits of antibiotics are over hyped.

7. I have researched the ingredients in antibiotics. They are toxic, I do not want them injected into my daughter.

8. I’m a new dad. I’ve seen scientists get it wrong before, and I don’t want my daughter to be a statistic.

Read Full Post »