Friday, 29 January 2010

Soap Opera Much?

I'm reading a psychology article at the moment about thought and language and intelligence, and its talking about the computer metaphor for the human mind.

Before computers existed, terms like "believe", "know", "think", "talk" and so on were not considered to be scientific terms, but mentalistic. People who wanted psychology to be a serious science tried to stop using these terms when describing how people work - this is how the behaviourist model came about. When this went out of vogue, it was the ghost-in-the-machine idea which was popular again, but there were still difficulties with this.

However, when computers came about, everything changed. According the article, computers are "fairy-free, fully exorcised hunks of metal that could not be explained with out the full lexicon of mentalistic taboo words."

For example:

"Why isn't my computer printing?"

"Because the program doesn't know you replaced your dot-matrix printer with a laser printer. It still thinks it is talking to the dot-matrix and is trying to print the document by asking the printer to acknowledge its message. But the printer doesn't understand the message: it's ignoring it because it expects its input to begin with '%'!"

Pinker says "the more complex the system and the more expert the users, the more their tecnhical conversation sounds like the plot of a soap opera."

For example:

"Why did Mary stop talking to me?"

"Because Mary doesn't know that you changed your phone number. She thinks she's talking to you and is trying to do this by asking you to apologise. But she doesn't understand why you aren't apologising now: she's ignoring you because she expects you to say your sorry!"

Well, it made me smile!

Friday, 22 January 2010

I know I can't prove God exists but...

I know I can't prove God exists, but I was thinking about that today.
I had a tutorial this morning for my group project this term, and we're looking at executive functions. These are the processes in your brain which exert control over the other processes. We were talking about some research which investigated a number of putative executive processes and it brought up the question of the use of strategy when performing tasks, and how this decision was made. How is it decided which control process should be used? Psychologists are long past the stimulus-response ideas of the Behaviourists, which suggested that everything we do is an automatic trained response to present stimuli, so we concluded that strategy wasn't simply dictated by the task at hand. Aside from anything else, there are often numerous strategies which can be used so the choice is not always an automatic one.
I suggested maybe the choice was made by the conscious self. Like "you" decide which strategy to use, and another girl in my class (whose name completely escapes me) asked in return what process regulated consciousness? Not as in whether you're awake or asleep, but what is going on in your mind consciously, what you think and so on.

Now that is a very good question. If we continue to hypothesise and research and develop new methodological and statistical techniques, will we eventually be able to reduce the whole of cognition down to a series of processes? Or do we believe that human consciousness is something special, which can't just be measured with a big scanner or factor analysed out of a questionnaire. It's the whole mind-body question all over again.
This was something I studied in philosophy in high school (something which I gave up as soon as I was able, for the most part), and at the time, I guess I didn't really get to the nub of it. I mean I never really though that I or anyone else was just a series of biological functions. Then we might as well all be slugs, and where's the fun in that. What I never realised was the importance of the question, and at least in my eyes, that there is really only one possible answer.
The human mind is so creative. Every second we think thing we've never though before, we say things we've never said before, we organise things we've never done before, we draw things we've never drawn before. If everything was a biological process, then because of evolution (let's not get into that right now, it's a whole other question) it would theoretically all have been done before already. But it hasn't. Human beings are creative because they were created. They're not just biology because they didn't just happen thanks to a big old science accident.

Sometimes I wonder if there really is a God, and other times I could possibly doubt it.

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Another Driving Lesson - Finally!

So I had my second driving lesson on Wednesday morning, and it was definitely better than the first one.
At the end of the first lesson, all I had done was set off, change gears and pull in again a few times, and I was worried I wouldn't progress onto anything else until I had mastered doing those things. Now you may think, well that's OK, those things are easy, but they aren't when they're brand new! You guys have just been doing it long enough that it has become automatic. Not so for me. So I was thinking, yeah I want to learn to drive, so I'll keep getting lessons, but I'm going to be terrible and it's going to take me such a long time.
Well after lesson number two, I'm feeling a lot more confident in my own ability. I drove all the way along the road in one go, then we practised turning in a wide street-end bit, doing circles and figures of eight. Then I did a three-point turn to get round. The first bit was OK, the reverse part, I mean, because there was loads of space, but then when I was setting off forward again, I forgot that it would have to be really slowly because I had to turn, and instead set off like normal from the side of the road. That gave the instructor a bit of a fright, but fortunately it's a dual control car so nothing bad happened!
Then we drove a long the road and up and down some hills and turned between roads, doing indicating and all that. I was doing pretty OK until I had to make a sharp turn left onto an uphill road. I think I would have done it OK, except that I put it into third gear instead of first! Then after stalling, right in someone's way, I was a bit flustered, so at the top of the road forgot how to do what he was telling me and stalled again. Fortunately I didn't have to do anything to complicated after that because it was near the end of the lesson.
Oh and we practised hill starts as well. Aparently I was quite good at finding the balance point with the clutch and accelerator to stop the car rolling either way. It didn't seem that hard though so maybe he just says that to everyone.

But yeah, it was pretty exciting. I'm looking forward to it now, I quite enjoy it really. Got another lesson booked for next week so we'll see what I get up to then!

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Does snow get old?

Technically, I suppose snow can get old. I mean, if it's been lying around for a few days. Like at the moment, there's a layer of ice on the pavement underneath the fresh snow, which got trod on, and it melted a little when it warmed up and then it froze again when it got colder again.
But I meant like as a fun thing. I LOVE snow. It first snowed on the 17th December, which was the day of my last exam, and I was so excited when I came out the door, because I totally wasn't expecting it! It's been snowy every day since then, even if any hasn't fallen it's been cold that it hasn't really melted. And it's forecast to carry on like this for the rest of the month.

Now, I love snow. I've always loved snow and I probably always will. But people keep saying we haven't had snow like this for 20 years, or 30, or 50 - they keep changing their minds!
But ACTUALLY, I think it might be a good thing that we don't get it too often. There are so many things that are annoying about snow.
*It's always really cold, so much so that this morning I woke up and there was ice on the inside of my window! Freeeeeeeezing!
*It's really hard to walk anywhere! And it makes your shoes all wet and your jeans and it's annoying, and they take ages to dry because it's cold as well.
*I had my first driving lesson on the 18th when it hadn't got too bad, but I haven't been able to have another one because of slippy roads and the weather. I've got another one booked but who knows if it's going to be good enough, I might have to postpone again again. RRRrrrubbish.
*The worst thing, however, was the closure of Gatwick airport. Chris was supposed to get to Gatwick on Tuesday night but the plane couldn't land because, as they were on the approach of all things, the runways closed. So instead they landed in Paris!! Eugh. Not Edinburgh. Apparently Paris is closer to London. Whose idea was that!
*Today, when Chris's train was due into Edinburgh around 12 o'clock and it was so late I got so cold I could die! I got my hugs and stuff but it was still pretty cold!

So yeah, a list of reasons why extended snow is rubbish.
But I suppose it's not so bad. Snow it pretty. And it is fun. And I love watching it fall. I think it will always make me happy. Even when I'm 80 and crabbit and cold all the time, I really hope I will still love snow. Or even if I end up somewhere where it snows all the time I wouldn't want to not like it, that would be rubbish! I hope however inconvenient it is, that snow will always make me smile, just like a bright summers day, or a rainbow, or running in warm rain.

Monday, 4 January 2010

New Year, New Start!

Happy New Year everyone! I hope you're all well. I can't believe it was really October when I last wrote! Madness. Anyway, one of my New Year's resolutions was to blog every week! Very exciting. When term starts next week I'll pick a day and hopefully do it the same day each time, so you'll know when to expect me - it's unlikely to be Monday, that's just when I've got round to it this week.

Anyway, I thought for my New Year's post I would pay tribute to David Tennant, who used to be the Doctor, up until New Year's Day anyway.
The last episode was spectacular with a couple of surprising plot twists and a good bye to all of the Tenth Doctor's companions, lots of bangs and flames, some pretty cool CG stuff, and some brilliant acting!
I only got into Doctor Who when I watched the Christmas special, Voyage of the Damned, because Kylie Minogue was in it. It was then I discovered that the script is well written, the acting was great and the actor was gorgeous! Catherine Tate took over as the new companion in 2008, which was the only full series of Doctor Who that I've seen, and then in 2009 there were a series of hour-long specials which came out at Easter, in Comic Relief Week, in November, on Christmas Day and on New Year's Day, which had us saying goodbye to the Tenth Doctor in floods of tears.

Matt Smith has been cast as the Eleventh Doctor and was introduced at the end of Tennant's final episode, when he regenerated. Although he may struggle to fill his predecessor's shoes, I supposed we'd better give him a chance before we write him off completely.

The end of the David Tennant era is also the end of the Russel T Davies era. Davis has been a script writer since 2004, when the series restarted after a 15 year holiday, and has done an excellent job. Davies says the new guy, Steven Moffat, is brimming with ideas, and in fact he has already written a couple of episodes since the series revived. Hopefully he too will not be lost in his predecessor's shadow.

With two major changes at once in the Doctor Who team, with the shows amazing popularity continue or will the new kids find themselves unable to live up to the old masters?