I found this NYT article, “Journal’s Paper on E.S.P. Expected to Prompt Outrage,” pretty hilarious. I had just finished a fascinating New Yorker article about unreplicable experiments, “the decline effect,” unconscious experimenter bias, and other problems leading to seemingly false or misleading conclusions in scientific research, and this E.S.P. research seems a perfect example.
This was the funniest part:
In another experiment, Dr. Bem had subjects choose which of two curtains on a computer screen hid a photograph; the other curtain hid nothing but a blank screen.
A software program randomly posted a picture behind one curtain or the other — but only after the participant made a choice. Still, the participants beat chance, by 53 percent to 50 percent, at least when the photos being posted were erotic ones. They did not do better than chance on negative or neutral photos.
“What I showed was that unselected subjects could sense the erotic photos,” Dr. Bem said, “but my guess is that if you use more talented people, who are better at this, they could find any of the photos.”
So everyone has E.S.P. for pictures of naked ladies??? Only the “more talented” can tell the future when the future does not involve nude photos??
Since the phrase “naked ladies” appears twice in this post I fully expect it to be my most-popular ever. Also, that people from the past, especially teenage boys, will employ E.S.P. to sense it and will then be bitterly disappointed when they click through. Sorry boys!– enjoy the image of flying guitars…
This photo cracks me up:
It’s from this NY Times book review:
In “A Great Idea at the Time,” Alex Beam presents Hutchins and Adler as a double act: Hutchins the tall, suave one with a gift for leadership; Adler “a troll next to the godlike Hutchins,” with a talent for putting students to sleep. Making the acquaintance of Hutchins through his works was, to Beam, “like falling in love.” By contrast, “to be reading Mortimer Adler’s two autobiographies and watching his endless, self-promotional television appearances was a nightmare from which I am still struggling to awake.” As an appendix to the Great Books, Adler insisted on compiling a two-volume index of essential ideas, the easily misspelled Syntopicon. A photograph in “A Great Idea at the Time” shows Adler surrounded by filing-cabinet drawers, each packed with index cards pertaining to a separate “idea”: Aristocracy, Chance, Cause, Form, Induction, Language, Life and so on. The cards registered the expression of those ideas — Adler arrived at the figure of 102 — in the Great Books of the Western World.
Ah, the Great Books and the Great Ideas. I like the Great Books myself, some of them anyway, and have a residual respect for freshmen core curricula (I did a program of that sort myself), but the photo could not be more perfect as a representation of self-satisfied mid-20th-century academic pomposity.
The review also cites Joseph Epstein as commenting that Adler “did not suffer subtlety gladly.”
I just saw an interesting presentation on Digital Humanities and text tagging, and Adler’s cards struck me as a early manifestation of a similar urge; you have to figure this guy would’ve killed to be able to create a searchable/mappable online database of the 102 Great Ideas.
Here’s a funny clip from a t.v. interview with Adler explaining how he can read 10 books in one day — if by “read,” you mean “inspect them” and “put them on [your] bookshelf for future reference”:
Season premiere of 30 Rock, which I like a lot though sometimes find just a bit too antic & pleased with itself, this week. A funny one overall; there was one line that somewhat mystified me, as Liz and Jack discuss the ethical dubiousness of their treatment of the inspector from the adoption agency:
Jack: “We may not be the best people.”
Liz: “But we’re not the worst.”
Both, in unison: “Graduate students are the worst.”
OK, I did find this kind of funny, but graduate students?? Why? I think I may be so sheltered within my academic/college-town bubble that it’s difficult for me even to figure out what this reference means to most of America. Is this, like, a Harvard B.A. writer’s joke about annoying T.As, and if so, isn’t that a little inside baseball? Anyone want to enlighten me?
Speaking of academia, The Office had an inconsistent but partly great episode all about Business Ethics that must represent the all-time apex of discussions of Ethics as a philosophical topic on a primetime sitcom. High points included Michael and Holly (Amy Ryan from the Wire!) introducing a mandatory office meeting wearing headbands and singing, “Let’s get ethical! Ethical!” a la Olivia Newton-John. Also the doofus Ed Helms character’s comment:
“I’ll drop an ethics bomb on you: Would you steal bread to feed your family? Boom! . . . Yeah, I took Intro to Philosophy — twice.”
According to the Chronicle of Higher Education,
Obese diners at all-you-can-eat Chinese restaurants were more likely than other customers to sit closer to the buffet, face the food bar, use forks rather than chopsticks, use larger plates, and serve themselves immediately rather than first browsing the food, according to a study reported in the August issue of the journal Obesity. Brian Wansink, a professor of marketing at Cornell University, and his co-author Collin R. Payne, compared the behaviors and body-mass indexes of 213 restaurant patrons for their paper, “Eating Behavior and Obesity at Chinese Buffets.” Leaner patrons were more likely to sit at booths than tables, leave food on their plates, and place their napkins on their laps, the researchers reported.
It’s kind of shooting (Chinese steamed, with ginger) fish in a barrel to poke fun at this, but it’s hilarious to consider the context in which this research project was developed. Since it was conducted by marketing professors, are they pointing out that obese patrons are bad for business? Yes I realize that obesity as a health problem is not funny, but behaviors at all-you-can-eat buffets are inherently amusing. There’s something transgressive about the whole concept, encapsulated in the paradoxical promise of the name. It makes me think of that classic Simpsons episode in which Homer is sued by The Frying Dutchman, an all-you-can-eat seafood buffet, for eating too much. The line I remember is the owner saying of Homer, “‘Tis no man, ’tis a remorseless eatin’ machine!”
OK I admit I just looked this up to get it right. Amazing that in 10 seconds I was able to access the entire script of this episode, which was written by Conan O’Brien as it happens.
I loved this, from Andrew Solomon’s The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression:
In an important study done in 1979, researchers demonstrated that any form of therapy could be effective if certain criteria were met: that both the therapist and the patient were acting in good faith; that the client believed that the therapist understood the technique; and that the client liked and respected the therapist; and that the therapist had an ability to form understanding relationships. The experiments chose English professors with this quality of human understanding and found that, on average, the English professors were able to help their patients as much as the professional therapists.
This leaves me with several questions. Why English professors? Is this choice intended to be some kind of extreme example that goes to show that any sensitive person, in any random profession, might be able to do as much good as a trained therapist? (As in, even an English professor.) Or were English professors presumed to be relatively intuitive and emotionally sensitive to begin with? I suppose probably the latter, although I wonder if that assumption would be as likely to be made today; in 1979, before the theory and culture wars, the profession may have seemed seemed more “sympathetic” in some respects that it does today. (See, for example, movies like Smart People.)
Were self-nominations accepted for English professors possessing these “qualities of human understanding”? Imagining therapy at the hands of certain English profs I’ve known over the years would be a somewhat scary thought. But much as we dislike it when students try to turn class discussion into group therapy, I kind of like the implication that there could be some hidden therapeutic benefit in our talking cure (not that this is the point of the experiment).
Anyway, Solomon’s book is excellent and quite moving and eye-opening in its descriptions of the devastating effects of chronic/major depression. It made me feel sad about David Foster Wallace, who apparently had suffered from very serious depression for years prior to his recent suicide. (Btw, I feel retrospective guilt about my reaction to his very bleak story “The Depressed Person,” which I took to be somewhat cruel in its depiction of a woman whose depression is overwhelming and tedious to her acquaintances; for some reason it did not occur to me that it might be based on his personal experience as a “depressed person.”)
A poignant tale about a comp lit professor denied tenure in 1976 and still fighting it:
|From the issue dated October 17, 2008
Joseph M. Hayse’s three-decade quest for tenure is littered with bodies. It has outlived the careers of most of the people involved — and several of the people themselves.
In 1979, Mr. Hayse filed a lawsuit against the University of Kentucky that has turned into a legal Ping-Pong match anecdotally described as the longest-running court battle in the Bluegrass State, and perhaps the lengthiest tenure dispute in the country.
On paper, at least, Mr. Hayse, 71, has won favorable court rulings from the state’s circuit, appeals, and supreme courts. But he has not won tenure, and his suit lingers on. So does his anger at the university.
“I just hate to let them off the hook,” says Mr. Hayse, who retired in 1999 after nearly 21 years in a state-government job….
Mr. Hayse, so far, is winning the war of attrition. The dean who was found to have improperly denied Mr. Hayse’s tenure applications died more than a dozen years ago, two of the university’s general counsels have succumbed during the long-running dispute, and the university’s president at the time of the original suit is now deceased. Two other presidents have also come and gone: Both are retired…
Can’t help but think of Dickens’s Miss Flite waiting to release her birds on the day of judgment.