.... "If the brain was so simple that we could understand it, then we would be so simple that we couldn't." -- Emerson M. Pugh


Web mindshavings.blogspot.com

Friday, October 31, 2008

Unifying Physics

Continuing with a physics theme today, below a talk (21 mins.) by unconventional physicist Garrett Lisi on his E8 "theory of everything" or grand unified theory. I don't pretend to understand much of this, but that doesn't prevent me from finding it (particularly the geometry involved) fascinating and beautiful.

The Wikipedia entry for Lisi's theory here (and, no, I don't understand much of this explication either!). :-(

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Fine Man

Vintage (1981) video of physicist Richard Feynman (previously shown both on BBC and PBS' Nova). 50 minutes of science eloquence:

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

What's the Angle?

Another good offering (simple, but clever, math puzzle) from "futility closet" here.
And the answer given here.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Quote... Unquote

"I believe that scientific knowledge has fractal properties, that no matter how much we learn, whatever is left, however small it may seem, is just as infinitely complex, as the whole was to start with. That, I think, is the secret of the Universe."
-- Isaac Asimov

Monday, October 27, 2008

Huhhh, Can You...?

By any chance, can you think of a question that, for seemingly no apparent reason whatsoever, contains the word "aardvark" ?

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Mutant Spiders

From Clifford Pickover's "Wonders of Numbers":

"Three spiders named Mr. Eight, Mr. Nine, and Mr. Ten are crawling on a Peruvian jungle floor. One spider has 8 legs; one spider has 9 legs; one spider has 10 legs. All of them are usually quite happy and enjoy the diversity of animals with whom they share the jungle. Today, however, the hot weather is giving them bad tempers.

"I think it is interesting," says Mr. Ten, "that none of us have the same number of legs that our names would suggest."
"Who the heck cares?" replies the spider with 9 legs.
How many legs does Mr. Nine have? Amazingly, it is possible to determine the answer, despite the little information given."

...and the answer (and only correct answer) is:
Mr. Nine has 10 legs

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Are African Grey Parrots Telepathic?!

...Commence the 'Twilight Zone' music perhaps. . .

African Grey Parrots are well-known for their speaking ability and general intelligence (Dr. Irene Pepperberg's "Alex" being the most famous in this category). In this journal article (pdf) from controversial researcher Rupert Sheldrake, another African Grey, "N'kisi," is studied for his possible telepathic communication with his owner.

Further background info available here:


Friday, October 24, 2008

Shoppers Swayed By Numbers

Study indicates that people are unduly moved by large numbers in advertising (meaningful or not) when it comes to making their buying decisions. Oh what saps we are...

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Quote... Unquote

"The brain's dynamo runs millions of jobs, by mixing chemicals, oscillations, synchronized rhythms, and who knows what else... Study the whole and the parts disappear; study the parts and the whole disappears... I believe consciousness is brazenly physical, a raucous mirage the brain creates to help us survive. But I also sense the universe is magical, greater than the sum of its parts, which I don't attribute to a governing god, but simply to the surprising, ecstatic, frightening, everyday reality we all know. Ultimately, I find consciousness a fascinating predicament for matter to get into."
--- Diane Ackerman, from "An Alchemy of Mind"

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Smartypants Waitress

Another old paradox/riddle (that baffles some and others easily see through):

Six friends make reservations for dinner at their favorite restaurant, but on the way there they run into another old friend, who then joins them. When they arrive at the restaurant the waitress says she only has a table for six available, per the reservation, but then thinks for a moment, and says 'don't worry I'll work it all out.'
She then proceeds to seat person #1 in the first chair and asks the second person (person #1's girlfriend) to sit on the first person's lap for the time being. Then the waitress proceeds to seat person #3 in the second chair, person #4 in the third chair, person #5 in the fourth chair, and person #6 in the fifth chair. At that point, looking very self-satisfied, the waitress tells the lap-sitting girlfriend to go ahead and take the empty 6th chair, and WAA-LAAAH she has successfully seated the whole party! ...or, NOT!!??

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Impossible Lamp

Thomson's Lamp" is an example of a "supertask," a category of paradox that involves an infinitely-divisible task. One form of the paradox runs as follows: You have a lamp that can be turned on and off using a toggle switch. At the start the lamp is turned on for exactly one minute, at which point it is turned off for .5 mins., and then turned on for .25 mins., and then off for .125 mins.... and so on. The question is, at the two-minute mark is the lamp off or on? Also, does the answer change if the lamp begins in the off position for the first minute rather than on? Common-sensically and practically it would seem there should be a simple, or at least a mathematically-calculable solution, to these questions --- afterall, at the two minute mark the lamp MUST be either on or off! But in fact, we are dealing with an infinite sequence (1 + 1/2 + 1/4 +1/8 +1/16 +....), and as such there is no one single right answer --- different arguments/solutions can be logically made, and even semantically the problem is unsettled. In part the answer depends on how fast one assumes the (undetailed) turning on and turning off action itself takes --- is it 'instantaneous' (eating up no amount of time), or does it take some finite amount of time (say perhaps, with the speed of light as a limiting factor)? In short, Thomson's Lamp is a fun thought exercise that oddly evades a proven solution.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Text Analysis

University of Texas Psychologist James Pennybaker studies the specific word content, especially the "junk words," of various communications to adjudge the mental states of those employing the words -- here (from NY Times). Part of his personal webpage here describing his work. He's even been analyzing the word patterns of the candidates in this year's Presidential election, here.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

"Extraordinary Knowing"

Below, a presentation from the late Elizabeth Mayer, author of "Extraordinary Knowing: Science, Skepticism, and the Inexplicable Powers of the Human Mind," a book I haven't read but hope to get around to from reviews I've seen (and with a preface written by Freeman Dyson):

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Number Magic

Taken verbatim from an old post at "futilitycloset":

Choose four distinct digits and arrange them into the largest and smallest numbers possible (e.g., 9751 and 1579). Subtract the smaller from the larger to produce a new number (9751 - 1579 = 8172) and repeat the operation.

Within seven iterations you'll always arrive at 6174. With three-digit numbers you'll always arrive at 495.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Benford's Law

A mathematical excursion, here.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Awwww Right, Good News

Web-surfing NOT a waste of time: A UCLA study (reported by BBC) finds that surfing the Web stimulates certain brain centers, helping to counteract potential effects of aging. (hat tip to 'Blog Around the Clock' for this one)

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Syntactics and Semantics

Recent article here relating two kinds of memory to two components of language, by looking at memory for grammatically similar vs. semantically similar sentences in amnesiacs and control subjects.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Euler's Formula

Leonhard Euler is regarded as one of the very greatest and most productive mathematicians of all time, despite dying over 2 centuries ago. Many believe his so-called “Euler’s Identity” to be the “most beautiful” or simply “greatest” mathematical formula of all time:

e^πi + 1 = 0

It combines 5 of the most basic, yet diverse (...and seemingly unrelated) elements within the field of math: the numbers 0 and 1, the value pi (3.141....), the value e (2.718....), and the basic imaginary number i (square root of -1), into a single simple true equation (the proof of which is beyond this blog, but easily findable on the Web).

Paul Nahin has written a recent book devoted to explication of this wonderful formula:

"Dr. Euler's Fabulous Formula: Cures Many Mathematical Ills"

Monday, October 13, 2008

Modeling The Human Brain

Talk (15 mins.) below from Henry Markram on "Designing the Human Mind." Very good. (hat tip to 'Mind Hacks' for this):

Seedmagazine.com MIND08

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Looking Squarely Ahead...

A perceptual puzzle
here from author/thinker/mathematician/puzzlemeister Clifford Pickover.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Spinning Lady

This fascinating illusion has been traversing the Web lately, so I may as well pass it along as well --- deals with a spinning silhouette that can be perceived spinning either clockwise or counter-clockwise (reminiscent of a Necker Cube, but far more interesting). Took me a loooong time to see the counter-clockwise motion, though once seen, it was easier to repeat; still, the clockwise motion is more apparent for most people. Haven't yet seen a really good or thorough elucidation of the illusion yet, though it may well be out there somewhere. "Cognitive Daily" has also written it up recently.
Gotta go now; gettin' a little dizzy...

Thursday, October 9, 2008

'nuther Riddle

Which of these statements are TRUE? (...hat tip to "futilitycloset" for this)

1. Exactly one of these statements is false.
2. Exactly two of these statements are false.
3. Exactly three of these statements are false.
4. Exactly four of these statements are false.
5. Exactly five of these statements are false.
6. Exactly six of these statements are false.
7. Exactly seven of these statements are false.
8. Exactly eight of these statements are false.
9. Exactly nine of these statements are false.
10. Exactly ten of these statements are false.

answer below:
The only TRUE statement is #9:
"Exactly nine of these statements are false."

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

"Viral' Gliomas?

Post from 'Mind Hacks' reports an interesting study of gliomas (malignant brain tumors that seem to be coming more common, or at least more in the news) may be caused by viral infections, specifically cytomegalovirus --- one of those medical ideas that was initially pooh-poohed, and is now getting more attention.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Quote... Unquote

Cogito cogito ergo cogito sum...

"I think I think, therefore I think I am." -- Ambrose Bierce

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Recommended Reading

Today's post goes a bit further afield from the usual focus of this blog to recommend Dr. Nortin Hadler's latest book, "Worried Sick: A Prescription for Health In An Overtreated America," which continues his theme (from his prior book, "The Last Well Person: How to Stay Well Despite the Health-Care System") of Americans generally being 'over-medicalized,' with greater reliance on technology and the medical system than is warranted by a careful review of actual outcomes. Worth a read for the health-conscious.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Sentence 1 and 2

1) "This" is the first and ninth word of this sentence, and the twenty-second word of the following sentence.

2) The third word of the previous sentence is the same as the first, fifth, ninth, twelfth, and the eighteenth word of this sentence.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Loss Aversion

One of the most common mantras to long-term investors from stock market gurus is to let your winners ride (i.e. hold on to rising stocks for the long term, letting their gains build over time), but cut your losses quickly (sell stocks as soon as you have a 3%-8% loss in them). History shows that this simple system usually succeeds, even when it means selling 5-10 stocks at a loss for every one stock held onto for a long-term gain... and yet VERY few average investors are disciplined enough, or have the right temperament, to execute this approach.
This post from another blog (with reference to a more thorough study), points to individuals' illogical "loss aversion" as the culprit in their unsuccessful behavior. The fear of realized financial loss or failure (which is only 'on paper' or potential, until a stock is actually sold) is so great as to override their willingness to sell losing stocks that just might yet 'come back.' And contrarily, rising stocks are often sold too early, to 'lock in' profits, rather than letting them run to the greater heights they may be headed.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Gotta Dance!

Article here addressing the question of 'why we like to dance. Movement of all kinds seems to be a very healthy component of most living things, possibly even moreso when it is rhythmic movement. Music is known to stimulate certain pleasure and reward areas of the brain, as well as areas having to do with coordination and timing of movement. That combination then, of both music and movement, may be especially satisfying or rewarding, and intensified even more when shared with another person. Other forms of movement, not necessarily directly related to dance, like exercise, martial arts, and sports, likewise have very positive effects on the nervous system and body in general. The article also makes the point that even just watching rhythmic movement (especially by a skilled practitioner), without participating, is itself pleasurable as well.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Banana Magic

Another piece of perceptual magic today (1 min.), indicating how easily the mind is fooled :