Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Friday, November 27, 2009
Sunday, July 26, 2009
- How reliable is the source?
- Does the source often make similar claims?
- Has the claim been confirmed elsewhere?
- Does the claim fit with the way the world works?
- Has anyone tried to falsify the claim?
- What does the majority of the evidence point to?
- Is the source basing their claim on science?
- Is there positive evidence in favour of the theory (or is it only negative evidence)?
- Does the new theory account for as many phenomenon as the old theory?
- Are personal beliefs or ideologies drive the claim?
Friday, July 24, 2009
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Imagine you are a college student who has agreed to participate in a psychology experiment. When you come to the lab you are asked to perform the most boring task you have ever tried, you are extremely bored but you still complete the experiment so that you do not have to come back another time to do another experiment.
After you are done the experimenter tells you that there is another participant waiting outside and that it would be terrific if you could try to convince him or her that the task is fun and interesting and thereby increase motivation a little bit. Since you are a nice person and don't want to block psychological research you agree to this.
Alternatively, after the experiment you are asked whether you would like to convince the next participant that the experiment is fun and interesting and (crucially), you are offered 20 dollars for agreeing to this...
Now how do you think the average person would think and act in the two situations described above? Would you put in more effort if you were paid than if you were not paid? Interestingly, most participants put in a lot more effort in convincing the next participant that the experiment was fun and interesting if they had been given no money! Why? The reason is "cognitive dissonance" (a term first coined be Leon Festinger forces the participants to actually believe that the experiment was fun and interesting. After all, why would I stand here and convince a stranger that an extremely boring task is actually fun and interesting...? Do I get paid...? No! Well, I guess it is because I did in fact enjoy the tasks a little bit... hmmm... yeah, it was indeed great fun... and very interesting as well... that must be it.
Cognitive dissonance refers to the unpleasant state in which your behavior is in dissonance (does not agree) with your beliefs or thoughts. "This experiment was extremely boring (belief)" and "convincing someone that it is fun and interesting (behavior)" does not go well together. Either you have to change your behavior (which is sometimes impossible if you have already done it), or you change your beliefs (which is what most people does). The third alternative is to live knowing that you acted in a way that contradicted your beliefs - hypocrisy.
Indeed when participants were later asked whether they enjoyed the experiment or not, the ones who did not get paid claimed that it was much more fun that the participants who received payment. After all, the paid participants only tried to convince the next participant because they were paid - no dissonance there...
What does this have to do with loyalty? Here is a lesson. If you are going to start an organization or a political party or whatever, and if you need some people who are loyal and energetic about the business, do not pay them... If you pay them, then in their head they can say to themselves that I am doing it because of the money. If they do not get any money, they can only say to themselves that I am doing this because I like it - and that is the best type of employee or member.
Another example: Say that you are a therapist or some sort of advisor. If you want people to value your service, take high fees! If you do this your patient or client will think to themselves "why am I paying so much money for this", well I guess that it is because it is so damn good, after all, who pays a lot of money for therapy that isn't really working or an advisor who does not give good advice? Some people do of course, but it will be very difficult to admit that to yourself, it is easier to think that the service you got was worth the money, that way you avoid cognitive dissonance.
Leon Festinger, the inventor of the term "cognitive dissonance" in his book "When prophecy fails" used the example of a doomsday cult who was expecting the end of the world. Festinger infiltrated this group lead by Mrs.Keech. The group believed that the earth would end in a great flood before 21st of December, 1954. Everyone on earth was going to die except this little cult of true believer who was going to be picked up by a flying saucer on the 20th of December 1954. Before midnight the group gathered outside, waiting for the flying saucer. When the clock turned 12AM, nothing happened... but wait, there was another clock which was only 11.55. So they wait another 5min, but still nothing happened... Mrs.Keech cries... The groups’ waits outside until 4AM when suddenly Keech receives a message saying that this little group of true believers managed to change God's mind - and that therefore he (or she) would not flood the earth after all... A nice solution to the dissonance that would otherwise make them feel very very stupid. Rather than admitting that they were simply wrong, the group decided to believe in an ad hoc story that would make sense of things
One last example (apparently this is true only for trained wine tasters and not for lay persons):Experiments show that expensive wines taste better than cheap wines, even if the different bottle contains exactly the same wine... Why? Because no one wants to be the person that goes out and buys an expensive bottle of wine that is no better than a cheap bottle, that would be stupid and no one wants to be stupid...
Saturday, July 11, 2009
Sunday, June 28, 2009
Saturday, June 20, 2009
Monday, June 1, 2009
Would you like to be able to eat dishes such as the one above, and get thin at the same time? According to Robert Atkins, the man behind the infamous "Atkins diet", you can. I have quite a few acquaintances who have tried the Atkins diet and quite a few of those say that it has worked rather well for them. I also know of people on whom the diet did not have a huge effect, but perhaps they have not been very disciplined?
By nature I am skeptical of anything that sounds extraordinary, and when someone comes and claims that you can eat as much meat,fat sauce, cream, chicken etc etc as you like, AND lose weight, that, to me, is an extraordinary claim! Sometimes such radical claims turn out to be right, however most of the time they are wrong...
The bottom line of the Atkins diet is quite simple: avoid carbohydrates, especially fast carbohydrates, anything else is pretty much alright. To be a bit more precise you are supposed to avoid foods that have a high "glycemic index" or GI. Products that increase your blood sugar fast have high GI (examples would be sugar, white rice, pasta, beer, etc).
According to Atkins (see picture below), his diet works because the body requires carbojydrates to store fat, in other words, if there are no carbohydrates the fat will go right through the body. This is also why, according to Atkins and his followers, you can eat as much as you like, be it the ordinary 2000 calories or even 4000 calories in one day, and you will still loose weight.
So what is the truth here? I am of course no expert on these matters, but it seems to me that accumulating evidence clearly suggests that although the Atkins diet may work, it doesn`t do it the way Robert Atkins thought it did. Rather, the Atkins diet works because you eat less when you are on it. It turns out that when the brain decides whether we are hungry or not, and in extension whether we should crawl over to the fridge and get a slice of pizza, one factor that is taken into account is peptide YY. If there is a lot of peptide YY in the body then you are full, if there is little you should eat. What causes the release of peptide YY? You guessed it, proteins does, but not carbohydrates. This means that if you eat say 1500 calories of protein then you get a lot of peptide YY and therefore you feel full and stop eating. However, if on the other hand you eat 1500 calories worth of potatoes, little peptide YY is released and therefore will still feel hungry and unless you are one of those people with amazing self control, you will keep eating... Read more about this in this article from the economist.
The conclusion that the Atkins diet works because you eat less and not because you stop storing fat has been further confirmed by a recent large Harvard study. In this study they had their subjects eat the same amount of calories, but varied the source of those calories. Some subjects were given mostly carbohydrates, some were given mostly fats, and some were given mostly protein - but all got the same number of calories. Who lost most weight? According to Atkins theory, the fewer carbohydrates you eat, the more you should loose in weight, but this was not the case. The results showed that all the different groups lost equal amounts of weight.
So the bottom line of all this is that if you want to loose weight, eat less calories. One way to achieve this is to eat a lot of protein and little carbohydrates, because you will not be as hungry...
Sunday, May 31, 2009
Friday, May 22, 2009
Intuitively most people think that what we do is mediated by our consciousness. In other words, when I decide to raise my arm it is because I made some sort of conscious choice in my brain which then resulted in signals going down my corticospinal motor pathway and out to the muscles in my arm.
Friday, March 20, 2009
It is perhaps old news that the Catholic Church is not a fan of condoms; however, they are rarely as blunt about it as the other day. Pope Benedictines, a man who seems to be dreaming of past times (medieval times), has now publicly announced that condoms is not the way to go if you want to stop HIV. Indeed, the pope is even claiming that condoms make the problem worse because people have more sex.
What evidence does he have for this claim? None, of course, the Catholic Church does not seem to know what evidence means. Their method for finding the truth is asking the pope and whatever he says is the truth, never mind that there are numerous studies showing that the pope is simply wrong in his statement.
Rarely does the distinction between the scientific method and the catholic (or religious) way become so clear. Do you want to trust what the pope says just because he is the pope, or do you want to trust people who have actually gone out and looked at the effects of condom use? Know that choosing the latter will make you a heretic in the eyes of the Catholic Church. Religion or Science? Irrationality or Rationality? Your choice...
Monday, March 16, 2009
Below I have listed my favorites (some I have mentioned previously).
From Beta labs (free programs from Nokia)
1. Sports Tracker (application can be found at beta labs). This program I have written about before here. Basically it lets you record all of your training activity and it works very nicely with the GPS - allowing you to see exactly where you are. The most neat features you will detect when you run the same track more than once. When you do this you can compete with yourself, see how far ahead (or behind) you are compared to last time (or another time if you prefer). For me this is a great motivator...
2. Audiobook player. I have briefly mentioned this application before as well. It allows you to reduce the size of an audiobook to about one fifth, and the audiobook player that you install on the phone can keep track of where you are in many different books simultaneously. I use this application to listen to all my teaching company courses in the car or in the kitchen. Well done beta labs!
3. Wellness Diary. Yet another application from beta labs. This little program will keep track of and plot graphs on any health related variable including but not limited to, hours of sleep, steps per day, calori intake, waist circumference, weight, hours of exercise, stress etc etc. This app also works great with both sports tracker (see above) and step counter (see below). When you start wellness diary it will automatically import data from step counter and sports tracker.
4. Step counter. This is a very simple app which consumes very little energy. It simply counts every step you take and keep track of the records. This will alow you to see when you are getting lazy which, I have to admit, I have been the last couple of weeks.
1. Gmaps mobile (can be found a m.google.com). This application is absolutely amazing. It works like google maps and you can easily search for a company on the selected region and then get the number and adress. It also provides a navigation function (without speech), however, you have to pay for traffic fees. The program also is fast and convenient in every way imaginable.
2. Gmail mobile (also at m.google.com). Good applicaiton which will make it easy to check your email if you are using gmail.
From other sites (see for instance getjar or freeware symbian)
1. Fring. This program is a bit slow and seem to have a few bugs however, it has allowed me to do skype calls directly from my mobile phone (an internet connection is required). This makes it affordable to call to my family in Denmark. Also integrated is msn messenger but I cannot write very fast on my mobile phone.
2. Energy profiler. This program lets you see, in real time, how much energy the phone is consuming. It also shows the total capacity of the battery and an estimation of how long the battery will last if the average energy consumption remain the same.
Stop watch. Good to have since it is not on the phone when it comes from the store.
Smarshopper. This is another very simple but very useful piece of software for people like me who like to use their memory resources on philosophical speculation rather than remembering to buy toilet paper. When you have entered something you want to buy it will remember that item. You can then make a mark next to all the items that you want to buy which then results in a list. Click on the items in the list and they will dissapear again.
Skyfire. This is my favorite mobile internet explorer. It is superior in that the experience is much more similar to surfing the net on a PC, and you are able to watch pretty much any video on the net.
Getjar apps. Good application for finding other applications.
Saturday, February 7, 2009
There are other less non-sensical arguments against the idea that the universe is determined and that there hence is no such thing as "free will" (depending on how you define that of course). One argument that I would not be able to meet completely is that at the quatum level there is the uncertainty principle according to which we cannot know the speed and the position of an electron simultaneously. All I can say is that I don't think this uncertainty translates into free will for human beings...
Another argument against free will is based on chaos theory. Chaos theory states that there are systems in the world which are unpredictable. At least that is what many people think chaos theory states, but this is not entirely true, rather chaos theory states that in some systems, more information about different variables will only make your predictions a tiny winy bit better... Let me explain.
The last couple of decades computers have become alot better and a lot faster. In spite of this fantastic development we have not seen a marked increase in weather predictions even though weather predictions are made by some quite powerful computers. This is because weather is a chaotic system. Very subtle differences in certain variables (humidity, winds and what not), can have huge effects in how the weather turns out. The old way of predicting the weather, "the weather tomorrow will be like the weather today", still comes close to the predictions of the best supercomputers.
Nevertheless, if Laplace's demon did exist i.e. if we knew the exact position of all particles in the universe and their velocity, if we did know that we would be able to predict the weather for as long as we wanted to and thus there is really no contradiction with a deterministic world view. All that chaos thery really means is that some systems are very sensitive to initial conditions and we are not well enough equipped to see these differences...
I have as some of you may have noticed not written for quite some time, the reason is that I have become a father. My daughter Lola was born on january 13th and me and my wife have been very busy taking care of her. We will see how much I write the coming months but my blog is not dead...