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So I was asked by my university to do a survey about my experience at UNSW and I decided to give them a little bitch slap. Any student should relate to this somewhat, though it was not put as eloquently as possible due to the word limit. I’ve long wanted to do a post on the failings of education and this in no way comes close to what I want to say, but as I’ve been increasingly lazy lately, this will have to do.
As a student I shared a relationship with many of the young minds that this university’s goal should be to nurture. Unfortunately, I feel as though that particular endeavour was a failure. This may not be a problem unique to UNSW but there was an overwhelming sense that the only indication of success was whether your answer was correct. There was limited discussion and what discussion that did occur was limited and slanted in approach. As opposed to a forum of intellectual thought, rote learning appears to be parading around in the guise of education. It got to the point where I literally did not know any student who had not cheated in exams at least once. In the words of Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson “When Students cheat on exams it’s because our School System values grades more than Students value learning.” This was largely the opinion of my university experience and it is a view shared by many.
I am not naive or unreasonable enough to neglect the fact that the university is a business and thus has restrictions, but it is quite sobering to witness. I do not feel as though marks reflected intellect, nor do I believe any student approaches university as an opportunity to learn.
I have read that new approaches to higher education around the world is taking on a new form – one that is increasingly discussion based where classes are a forum of intellectual exchange. I hope the university embraces this approach. There is no merit, for example, to memorising dozens of equations for one exam because that completely misses the purpose of the course. Some of the general education courses I took that were newer were more focused on discussion and I believe they imparted information far more effectively. I believe this reflects the way tradition obstructs progress, and realistically, I think the best I can hope for is that some of the older courses get a revamp to a more modern and effective teaching method, and that education once again becomes about learning not marks.
While I’m at it, let me introduce Tall Poppy Syndrome. I was reminded of this one by something I read in the paper about how Anne Hathaway has supposedly gathered quite a few haters that were dubbed by the media as “Hatha-haters”. The part that got me was that (direct quote):
“The intrigue is that people can’t put their finger on what it is about Anne Hathaway that has sparked this hatred. Somehow this woman that puts herself out there as sweet, good, humble and grateful is coming across as exactly the opposite, and Hathaway hatred has gone viral”.
Can’t put their finger on it? Let me give them a hand.
Introducing Tall Poppy Syndrome. This isn’t so much a field of study on its own as something that is genuinely integrated into human behaviour. The term describes the phenomenon where somebody who is successful in what they do is attacked and put down for no justifiable reason. Those of you who have not heard of this time might be thinking up myriad examples of where you’ve seen this happen.
I’m not exactly a Hathaway fan or anything but I don’t see the merit in anybody putting down another person when there is no specific, justifiable reason to do so. Even less so when you have absolutely no relation to the “Tall Poppy”. I mean, what’s the use in a bunch of obese keyboard warriors talking shit about an athlete. Are they going to get up and back up what they’re saying? No. They can’t. The fact is that most people aren’t qualified to judge Tall Poppies.
This doesn’t preclude objective analysis, of course. One can always objectively compare two Tall Poppies and conclude that one has better attributes than the other, but – well, you’ve all probably seen how serious it gets. Death threats, physical violence, outright abuse and filthy language are often thrown at people who are put in the spotlight.
Why does this happen? Like I mentioned earlier, I think it’s a part of human nature. If nothing else, it’s a personification of envy – and damn, humans are envious creatures. Sociologists like Max Weber have suggested it is due to a zero-sum game scenario, which is a game theory (economics) concept that basically means the sum of a certain thing in a system equals zero. In this case, that thing would be success. If some people are successful, that means there are people who are not successful. People who are not successful feel the need to “cut down” Tall Poppies, so to speak. By attacking the successful, subconsciously people think the effect will lower that person’s success and thereby increase their own chances of success.
A more psychological approach to it would be to consider that by focusing on the bad things about a successful person, and even propagating the spread of such, one can elevate their own sense of self-worth by comparison. “Hey, XYZ failed high school so at least I’m smarter than him”. Those with low self-esteem (most notable in those who are not successful) will thus feel even greater need to put down others – lowering successful people to their own level so that they can feel less disappointed in themselves. A relatively more successful person, however, will be confident in him/herself and feel far less need to engage in such activity.
Humankind has the need to assert its own superiority over everything. That includes all life on our planet, even ourselves. Tall Poppy Syndrome is pretty much just the ugly green face of human kind showing itself. For those of you who have noticed this phenomenon but didn’t have a term to describe it, here you go.
Apollo Syndrome was coined by Dr Meredith Belbin and describes the phenomenon in which teams of highly capable individuals perform poorly as a collective. Whilst counter-intuitive, I’m sure many of you can think of examples where you’ve seen this happen (the first that comes to my mind is NBA All-Star teams). I should clarify, by badly I mean with a lack of synergy (they perform worse than they should given their individual talents).
There are many reasons for this phenomenon and I’m sure the brighter of you all can come up with a few yourself just by thinking about it. Belbin specifically noted the following flaws in Apollo teams:
- Excessive time spent in abortive or destructive debate in which members try to persuade others to adopt their own point of view, and demonstrating a flair for spotting weaknesses in others’ arguments (the latter part is such a good description of me).
- Difficulties faced in decision making and decisions that were reached displayed incoherence and were somewhat inconsistent.
- Members tended to act individually without taking into account what other members were doing, making the team difficult to manage.
- Members recognised what was happening but overcompensated by avoiding confrontation, which equally added to problems.
These are somewhat axiomatic – now that I’ve listed them to you, you’re probably thinking it makes a lot of sense. Apollo teams do work though, and in understanding their failings you can help maximise their benefits.
In general, successful Apollo teams lacked highly dominant individuals and had a particular style of leadership. As with all relationships, some sort of compromise must be available so that everyone is kept in line.
The overarching theme of Belbin’s work relates to the concept of synergy. You’re all probably aware of what synergy is but in practice, most people will choose raw “stats” (of an individual) over how well they fit into the team. I guess the lesson to take from here is to consider each person’s ability to contribute, not how qualified each person is by themselves.
What’s interesting is this also displays the tendency for “Alpha males” to butt heads. This is an evolutionary remnant of our primal selves, so I find it quaint that it still exists in so many forms in contemporary society. However, I do have a conflicting theory that I may mention in a later post.
Apparently, Apollo Syndrome has evolved to be used as a term to describe the condition of a person having an overly important view of their own role within a team.
The negative synergy that is a result of Apollo teams is often characterised as a “Deadly Embrace”, a computing term in which two programs will prevent each other from making progress. The most common example is when two programs take exclusive control of a particular file, and then try to gain access to the other file. Each program will refuse to relinquish their own file and wait for the other to release their’s – therefore nothing ever happens. Applying this to human teams can be quite an apt analogy.
As interesting as this is as a little tip and a bit of extra knowledge, you might not see much relevance of this to your daily lives. In that case, I would encourage you to read between the lines and apply the core principle to appropriate scenarios. Apollo Syndrome is often taught in management courses (that’s where I learned it from – a management course at my university) and does in fact have relevance and impact. It’s not just another funny little theory that nobody pays attention to – it’s definitely something to keep in mind.
One of the things you’ll often hear when asking people why they are religious is that it is comforting. The idea of life after death, an eternity with your loved ones and belonging to something greater than yourself can be immensely reassuring to many people. By comparison, the scientific view may seem cruel; the universe doesn’t care about your existence and once you die, you simply cease to exist.
It’s been said many times that what’s comforting is completely irrelevant to the pursuit of truth. I completely agree. I posit that anyone who needs such comfort so desperately as to turn a blind eye to the truth is a sad and sorry person indeed. Anybody who uses this reason as a justification for their religious beliefs is, perhaps, so damaged or so afraid of responsibility that it may not be healthy to wean them off religion by encouraging the pursuit of truth.
So I offer an alternative view. I have never questioned the value of my existence because of this simple fact.
Something is only precious because it is rare.
Think about that for a moment. The rarer something is, the more precious it becomes. What’s the rarest thing of all? Life. You will only ever have one life and it is an opportunity for you. If you were born to die, the only thing that defines you is what you do while you are alive.
What theists consider to be comforting – the promise of eternal life – I think is just cheapening the value of life. It is no longer rare because it is no longer fleeting. It is not precious.
If you have an infinite amount of time to do something, there is no urgency to make every moment count. There’s no strong need to love, learn, spend time with your family or even live.
As for belonging to something greater than yourself, what bigger thing is there than the universe? The atoms in your left hand could have come from a different star than the atoms of your right hand, billions of years ago somewhere in the universe. Some people feel insignificant when they think about how vast the universe is, but just imagine – your entire existence was created by things infinitesimally greater than yourself.
So what’s more comforting? That’s up to you to decide. But for me, life has never been more fleeting, and thus precious, more tiny, and thus grand, than when I discovered science and truth.
With the Mayan doomsday myth over, I’m sure there are at least a few people around the world blankly wondering what happened. The fact that anyone believed in this at all points to a deeper problem, so let’s take a quick look into the sociological reason that this became a thing at all.
After trawling the internet (unfortunately none of my peers were believers so I had to pull examples from online), I consider there to be two categories.
Category 1: People who genuinely believed it was going to happen.
This ranges from those who were so sure they blew their family funds and strained their relationships to “prepare” to those who were outwardly sceptical but inwardly nervous when the day came. Let me assure you, I literally felt nothing at all. I almost forgot it was the 21st/22nd because it was so obvious that nothing was going to happen. This particular category points to a lack of education and information transmission.
Depending on the severity of this “condition”, people in this category were either absolutely scientifically illiterate or never even bothered to double check. Although I campaign for the elimination of the former (scientific illiteracy), I would say the latter is the worse option. It just means you’re flat out dumb. If you’re scientifically illiterate, you could have done badly in science and never developed an interest in it. If you start making life decisions based on rumours without even double checking the validity of these rumours you’re just dumb.
The other factor influencing people of this category relates to information transmission. It’s not just a problem of correct information not reaching peoples’ ears, it’s a problem of incorrect information being transmitted more frequently than correct information. People might wonder why I prattle on about things like this in a “preachy” manner, but think about it. If the majority of society talks about incorrect things, then being wrong becomes a standard. People like Dawkins, Tyson and Sagan spend (and spent) their lives talking about truth. Without them, there would be at least millions less people interested in science and truth. I’m just here adding to the noise, contributing however limitedly I can. Take Christmas for example. People are so used to thinking Jesus was born on Christmas that it has become a standard. I see it even in media that specialises in mocking beliefs (South Park, Family Guy, etc.), but it’s wrong. Jesus has nothing to do with Christmas. So what’s the problem here? At some point, even the more rational (those that outwardly didn’t believe in the apocalypse but inwardly felt nervous) can question their thought processes and logic when enough people start transmitting incorrect information.
To fix scientific illiteracy and education is a big problem that includes an increase in funding. It’s not something that can be quickly done, nor something that many people will willingly embrace. I consider these people too far to reach, at least for the moment. But those of you on the border, who were pretty sure it wouldn’t happen but couldn’t help questioning your reasons when the day approached, I think I can reach you. I encourage you to keep reading academic analyses of everything. It can be my blog or anything else – though if you read a news article make sure you find the original source and read that instead; the news tends to sensationalise stuff, which can lead to wrong impressions. The deeper you get into science and logic, the more certain of yourself you’ll become. You’ll discover the universe around you is both more mystifying and less confusing at the same time. You will have become an intellectual.
Category 2: People who believed in it because they wanted it to be true.
This is the sadder category, though not something I usually talk about. Unfortunately, it’s undeniable that a noticeable portion of the internet falls into this category. There’s not much to say – if you want an apocalyptic event to happen it means your life is very unfulfilling. However, you are also vain enough not to want to die alone, so the best solution is if everyone is destroyed together. To these people I can only say: get your shit together. Find a hobby, get a job, do something that will make you see life as an opportunity not a burden. If we are all born to die then what is life? It is a period of time given to you where you can do things to make yourself happy. Some people choose to capitalise on their happiness early on, and live harder lives in the future. Others invest their early years well and reap the benefits later on. Gamers should understand this concept easily – you macro first, get your economy going, and then you do the fun stuff. Regardless, the fact that people like this exist means that you really need to find something that interests you – and you’re not going to do that by sitting in front of an internet hoping for an apocalypse. Try getting into science. I kid you not, it’s interesting stuff. Learning about science on your own is much different from learning it in class. Otherwise, find something else.
Yes, the whole political thing is over. Maybe I’m too late to bag on Romney but I read an interesting article in Scientific American talking about the emergence of “antiscience”. In the interest of being objective, the article criticises both sides of scientific illiteracy and publicly spreading stupidity through their misinformed opinions on scientific discourse. There’s an interesting treat for you all at the end of this article. SA posed science related questions to both Obama and Romney, then graded their answers based on how well they answered.
The Democrats were guilty of the false belief that vaccines cause autism and mental retardation. The Republicans, as usual, tried to attack the validity of science itself, preaching creationism and falsely denying climate change. I love how they still say “it’s unclear” or “there is no consensus” or “the evidence is still divided”. I’ve been looking for an opportunity to use this picture:
If the Republicans had any scientific credibility in the first place, I hope that picture buries it. I did an article on climate change but it was a little bit of an appeal to emotion on my part because I feel bad for polar bears (and other animals). The thing to take away here is: First, there is no “debate” over climate change. Refer to the picture above. It’s pretty damn conclusive. Second, it does not matter if climate change is man-made or not. It seems politicians have some sort of screw loose in their head where they think that as long as they can shirk responsibility and say that humans didn’t cause climate change that we’ll somehow be safe from it. Sea level rising? Fish population dwindling? Starvation of the human race imminent? Oh, don’t worry, we didn’t cause it so we’ll be safe. Nope, we don’t have to do anything about it because it wasn’t us. Yeah … you know what? I’m pretty sure Earth doesn’t give a damn if we caused it or not, if we don’t do anything we’ll suffer anyway. Here’s Romney’s take on it (one of his takes, he actually switched back and forth between believing and not believing it).
My view is that we don’t know what’s causing climate change on this planet, and the idea of spending trillions and trillions of dollars to try and reduce CO2 emissions is not the right course for us.
Whoa, hold on there! Trillions and trillions? Besides making bombs and guns I don’t remember the Republicans being willing to spend trillions and trillions on anything. The entire NASA budget is only what the US military spends on airconditioning in temporary bases in Iraq, if you guys remember my article about NASA’s contributions.
The article goes on to identify a trend of “antiscience” whereby politicians outright attacked science and gained popularity from it. Huntsman, the only candidate to actively embrace science, finished last in the polls. I don’t know if I should blame politicians or people for this one. Maybe they realise they’re just spouting lies to gain popularity. Surely they can’t be dumb enough to believe what they’re saying (unless you’re Todd Akin). But in the end, they do it because the public responds. So damn, what does that say about the public? Get your shit together. I don’t think anyone who reads my blog is antiscience (or they’d be completely in the wrong place) but seriously, how do you end up with the mentality that science is bad and evil? Here’s a quick summary of what the article says about science’s contribution to America:
For some two centuries science was a preeminent force in American politics, and scientific innovation has been the leading driver of US economic growth since World War II. Kids in the 1960s gathered in school cafeterias to watch moon launches and landings on televisions wheeled in on carts. Breakthroughs in the 1970s and 1980s sparked the computer revolution and new information economy. Advances in biology, based on evolutionary theory, created the biotech industry. New research in genetics is poised to transform the understanding of disease and the practice of medicine, agriculture and other fields.
Add this to what I’ve already said in my article about NASA’s contributions and it makes you wonder why you would stop pursuing science at all, let alone become antiscience. The articles continues to point out that America is no longer the scientific leader of the world, and how sad this is when science has been part of America’s success and history. The antiscience epidemic is so bad that it’s gotten to the point where people are being ostracised from the Republican party and communities for having different beliefs. People always ask what’s so bad about religion, or having beliefs. Well, I’m not attacking religion specifically here but any academic can see that the militant spread of false ideology sets back the human race as a whole. Idiots should not be in a position where they can influence the minds of the future.
Anyway, let me just leave you with a tidbit. This one is very interesting; Scientific American proposed a science debate between Obama and Romney which was rejected (despite having the support of tens of thousands of intellectual minds). However, they prepared written responses to the top 14 questions and their answers were graded by SA’s editors. Yes, graded. Like they were high school kids answering a test. Very interesting read: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=obama-romney-grades-science-in-an-election-year
I’m a bit late with this since I haven’t had time due to exams, but let’s do this anyway. So, in the interest of maintaining some sort of intellectual, scientific awareness, I’m here to provide you with some “cheat notes” about this year’s Nobel Prize Winners (laureates). Feel free to use these notes to sound intelligent in conversation. I tried to keep the explanation simple; apologies if it’s a little hard to follow.
2012 Nobel Laureates:
Serge Haroche and David J. Wineland for “ground-breaking experimental methods that enable measuring and manipulation of individual quantum systems”. Basically, their research used electric fields to trap individual ions, and used laser beams to analyse their behaviour, allowing precise measurement of ions and photons. This relates to the field of quantum mechanics (dealing with the smallest of particles).
Two relevant problems in quantum mechanics are superpositioning, in which particles can exist in several states at the same time (like being in two or more places at once), and entanglement, in which separate particles share a link (this was explained in the post about Teleportation). As you can see, quantum mechanics runs into a lot of problems with precise measurement due to these problems (and more, including Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle). The methodology used by Haroche and Wineland takes us closer towards building quantum computers, amongst other things.
Some of you might be wondering why the Higg’s Boson discovery wasn’t awarded the Nobel Prize. There’s a bit of a story behind this which I’ll post later, but the gist of it is that it’s too early to determine the implications, application and veracity of the Higg’s Boson, but it’s quite likely that it will win the Nobel Prize for physics some time in the near future.
Robert J. Lefkowitz and Brian K. Kobilka for “studies of G-protein-coupled receptors” which are dubbed “smart receptors on cell surfaces”. Using radioactivity (starting from 1968), Lefkowitz traced cell receptors and identified a family of receptors known as “G-protein-coupled receptors”. These enable cells to react to their environment, and are one of the most common receptors coded for by our genes.
The identification and understanding of the G-protein-coupled receptor has many applications when considering about half of all medications achieve their effect through these receptors.
Sir John B. Gurdon, Shinya Yamanaka for “the discovery that mature cells can be reprogrammed to become pluripotent”. This one is a lot easier to explain. Basically, they discovered that mature, specialised cells can be reprogrammed to become immature “blank” cells that can develop into any tissue of the body. This not only broadens our understanding of cell and organism development, but perhaps one day will allow us to regrow vital organs, etc. (it’s possible but that’s not the focus of this Prize).
Now I realise that this isn’t science related, but I felt like I should include this because the winner, Mo Yan, is actually a relative of mine (on my mother’s side). Seems like there is some sort of artistic talent in my family besides myself (since my parents are PhD scientists, sometimes I feel like there’s no art).
Mo Yan, “who with hallucinatory realism merges folk tales, history and the contemporary”, is the first ever Chinese literature Nobel Laureate.
Surprisingly enough, I do not completely reject the notion of dream interpretation, though to paraphrase Sheldon Cooper, astrology is complete hokum.
The reason why I consider dream interpretation slightly more realistic is because rather than narcissistically claiming self-importance or self-worth based on arbitrarily defined constellations, dreams are a product of one’s self. Don’t get me wrong, the entire “industry” for dream interpretation is basically a scam to lure in the weak minded, but at its core, a dream is a series of information that your brain is processing during REM sleep. Often, it can manifest in mundane ways, but sometimes the dream is abstract (my favourite) and is thus more confusing. The crux of the matter here is that a dream is simply an obscure collection of information that you already know – thus dreams cannot predict the future (in any useful way) or any of that other nonsense, but they can be a manifestation of your current concerns.
I wrote this article with a post I had in mind where I interpreted someone’s dream for them, but unfortunately I think that person removed his post so I can’t use it as an example. Suffice to say it was an abstract desert setting in which he came under attack by mysterious riders, one of whom (the only one whose face he could see) was a beautiful woman. I interpreted the barren, primitive setting as an allusion to abandonment and isolation, the attack as a feeling of alienation and victimisation, and the woman as a latent sexual frustration. Combined, I saw the dream as a manifestation of the poster’s feeling of loneliness, caused by a constant lack of success with women, to the point where his automatic reaction to them was one of defence (they being the source of some pain), and the specific woman’s face to be indicative of one particular girl at the current time that he’s been thinking of. Naturally, I made this interpretation without any contextual knowledge of the person, which may have increased the accuracy, but surprisingly he responded a few days later that it was indeed very accurate and that he had been struggling with the exact issues I mentioned.
Anyway, the point here is he already knew he had these issues – so the dream in itself is only telling yourself something you already know. In that regard, it’s an exercise in futility to try and discover something profoundly important in your own dreams because the dream itself will only contain information you already know.
It’s interesting that the majority of dream interpretation involves some sort of latent sexuality. The majority of Sigmund Freud’s dream interpretation works involve sexual symbols (the snake, the number three, the playing of an instrument, etc.) as well as egotism. These are all really just indicators that behind all the pretense, sex and narcissism are hugely important factors to humans.