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How Much Do Models Influence Our Thinking? 122

OCatenac writes: "Frank Schirrmacher, head of the arts and science department for the influential German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, considers the question of how much metaphor and model influence our view of the world."
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How Much Do Models Influence Our Thinking?

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  • by Trevor Goodchild ( 187368 ) on Saturday September 09, 2000 @05:33PM (#791327)
    If you rely too much on metaphors and models to base your decisions on then you are going to get burned. The real world is never as clean and perfect as a modeled environment. Models should only be used for an initial inspection of how something should be approached. Prior to implementation, a more direct, hands-on method needs to be used in order to work out any bugs. This applies to any sort of project where modeling is used; software, hardware, geological exploration, architecture, sociology, etc.
  • by chrisd ( 1457 ) <> on Saturday September 09, 2000 @05:34PM (#791328) Homepage
    I don't know, just looking at them makes me want to feed them.

    Chris DiBona
    Grant Chair, Linux Int.
    Pres, SVLUG

  • by karma_hax0r ( 216927 ) on Saturday September 09, 2000 @05:35PM (#791329)
    I think that our brains are "wired" to use models to describe thing. They are useful - no, essential - for communicating complicated ideas to other people.

    A mathematical equation such as a line, curve, or a plan can't really be imagined without a model using the Cartesian co-ordinate system. After hundreds of years, it's still the best thing that we have. Models are also important in science, which is replete with things that cannot be directly observed - and therefore require modeling. The atom. The quark. String theory.

    The model is a valuable human mental tool.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    <flameproof underwear>This is a little bit more lofty than most of the prose I've seen pointed to here, but it looks like the gist of it is that people define themselves and their lives in the lore of the day. This is not new--what's new is that soon, the media are going to be able to manipulate the presentation of this lore in ways never before possible.</flameproof underwear>

  • Sci-fi almost seem like scripts for self fulfilling prophecies: a few years ago I read about a company building a "tricorder" (where do you think they got the idea?)

    Perhaps recognizing that popular media and culture produce "group think" of sorts in intellectuals is a powerful tool for innovation in itself. Maybe if one wants to come up with radical thoughts, immerse in non-mainstream cultures is good medicine?

    Perhaps anything influenced by popular media is "in the box" thinking.
  • by toybuilder ( 161045 ) on Saturday September 09, 2000 @05:39PM (#791332)

    A model, in a way, is language to express ideas. Much of our knowledge today that we take for granted today is built on the knowledge from our ancestors.

    George Orwell said it well in 1984... If you control the language, you control thoughts:

    If you breed breed out the concept of "freedom" and take related words out of the lexicon, you can control your population so that they don't know that they're free. Even if someone has a thought in his head that he's not free, he can't communicate that idea to others.

    Similarly, if you create new language (or models), you allow new thoughts to form.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Models and metaphors ARE the world. In no way can it be argued that a "real world" exists apart from our models for it. This has been universally conceded in academic circles for decades.

    In the post-modern era, discussions like this are a bit pointless. To speak of how "metaphor and model" influence our view of the world is unnecessary when it is realized that we create our world by the metaphors we use to view it.

  • [sarcasm on] from Claudia Schiffer(sp?), to Iman (sp?) to Kate Moss(sp?) and everyone in between, models have exerted great influence on the mainstream culture, both in the USA and abroad. I would like to extend my hand in thanking these beautiful women, for being such a strong foundation in the minds of the world's youth. I also would like to thank them for many many years of great sports Illustrated Swimsuit editions. Thanks you, lovely ladies! [sarcasm off]

  • by Anonymous Coward
    When I was a young kid, I was totally overwhelmed by the complexity of our world: elementary particles and forces, quantum mechanics, equations of fluid flow, relativity... It's a good thing I learned metaphors like "chair" and "apple". Before that it was just too confusing.
  • I hereby proclaim that all jokes about fashion models have already been made. To ensure no more are permitted, I will assert that mentioning fashion models is equivalent to being a Nazi.
  • by Dr. Evil ( 3501 ) on Saturday September 09, 2000 @05:50PM (#791337)

    Some psychology guy proposed this decades ago... The Whorfian hypothesis. It is a neat idea, although I don't recall why, it was discounted.

    A google search [] reveals oodles of material.

    I think 1984 was written around the time this was a big idea.

  • by lari ( 96750 ) on Saturday September 09, 2000 @06:03PM (#791338)
    Language doesn't control our thoughts, but it does strongly affect how we express them (for obvious reasons.) To steal an example from Pinker, 1994: The fact that you can be unable to find the right words to express "what you meant to say" is, among other possible illustrations, a demonstration that lingustic determinism just doesn't totally make sense.

    Creating a new model doesn't necessarily allow new thoughts to form -- but it gives a different way of looking at a situation, and lets the creator of that model express his thoughts more clearly to himself and to others, which can lead to better-developed theories and better communication of thoughts.

    You can't not have a concept just because you don't have a word for it. It's just that you can't talk about it without the words.
  • Granted that I didn't read the article all the way through ( After 3 paragraphs who wanted to? ) but it seemed the article had little to do with Model & Metaphor and more to do with robots taking over the world and the author's fears as such.

    The question of model and metaphor do bring up interesting questions about the cognitive process of human thinking ... but the background given for who this person is I question to be writing anything about Model & Metaphor .... much less attributing anything like that to him.

    How many of you have read the article?

  • To further illustrate what this article is really about:
    A rejoinder which consigns Joy to the realms of science fiction - which of us would not applaud? Freitas' article is 30 pages long and contains a lot of complex sums. But the point of these computations is not to tell us whether or not atomic nanorobots are feasible. Instead, they tell us how to read the tell-tale signs of rampant robotic procreation and what can be done to stop it. Freitas tells us how we can use global warming to measure the spread of nanorobots. He also calculates the energy consumption of all the insects and all the birds on the Earth. His paper has already been presented to the U.S. authorities responsible for President Clinton's nanotechnology initiative. It is an advisory paper intended for politicians.
  • karma_hax0r wrote:
    A mathematical equation such as a line, curve, or a plan can't really be imagined without a model using the Cartesian co-ordinate system. After hundreds of years, it's still the best thing that we have. Models are also important in science, which is replete with things that cannot be directly observed - and therefore require modeling. The atom. The quark. String theory.

    I think that to some extent you are correct, but we also have to be careful about our models. We have fairly accurate equations for things like atoms and quarks - and then we have extremely simplified models. We have to be careful that if we draw conclusions from a model, those conclusions are still valid in the most sophisticated understanding we have of a subject, and we have to test our model against actual data. Younger students learn to think of electrons moving in perfect circles around a nucleus, in discrete shells, in one region of space. That isn't valid, and any ideas drawn from the "electron-shell" model must be checked against the full complexity of quantum theory and relativity. Even those models are only approximations of our world. String theory is probably the best model we have currently, but it is still a work in progress at best. Even when (if?) it is completed as a valid basis for physics, more "coarse" chemical and quantum equations will be vastly more useful for most purposes. So I would agree that models are important, but they are also dangerous. We must always check the results of our models against the real world, and work to refine our models and make them more accurate. Of course metaphors and models are the best tools we have for understanding our world. Everything we see is filtered through our thought processes. Information must be encoded in our brain in a certain way, and however it is encoded, it will never approach the full complexity of the vast array of information in the "real world." Language, mathematics, images - they are all approximations, ways of encoding information for efficient understanding and communication. But we must be careful that we do not distort information through our encoding of it.

    Some models are better than others. None are perfect.
  • When I see Schiffer it changes my train of thought completely.

    Buyt seriously, yes, of course models do vastly affect thinking. Is this even a question? As more and more of our daily interactions are with information-driven systems, the metaphor used to convey that information is the determiner of how we interpret it.

    The desktop metaphor and the command line metaphor (and it is a metaphor) define how we think of, and consequently, utilize computers. Even something seemly obvious and basic as the telephone, the pager, or the palmpilot are all used defined by their metaphors.

    Kevin Fox
  • Models, when flawed, can really hinder breakthroughs (the celestial sphere models come to mind). This was not only true then, but now, as even current elemtary and middle school science classrooms still present the atom as miniature solar systems. Models of electric current are also often wrong, as they try to show it as water flowing (the direction is wrong).
  • o/~ she's a model and she's looking good, I'd like to take her home, that is understood o/~ --Kraftwerk
  • The main question of the article is how the mental models we all keep in our heads influence our thinking and our actions. It's not talking about simple models that help us survive (i.e. things tend to fall, don't let fast things touch your head, etc); rather the article deals with the models that people use to think about more abstract things.

    I think that the models we think with are largely a product of the culture we as individuals are exposed to. Not to mention the culture we choose to expose ourselves to.

    I think it's important to question the models we think with (as damnably introspective, and as difficult, as that may be) because the models we think with become the origins of our behavior. You have to wonder: "Am I thinking independently, or am I only thinking within the model of a 'techie'? Is the 'techie' model the best model to think with? How did I come to think using the 'techie' model?"

    The most interesting (to me) idea that I got from the article was about examining the models that scientists/technologists appear to be using, or the models that they may be helping to create for others to adopt? Is it dangerous, or just interesting, or amusing that lots of scientists/technologists seem to be operating on models that are heavily influenced by science fiction?

    Personally, I'd like to be able to base my own thinking on the most fundamental logic and divorce myself from any particular culture, so that I don't have to worry whether my thoughts and behavior are purely mine or if they're tainted by my environment. Unfortunately, I don't know if it's possible to that; I'm sure some of my thinking must be constrained by some kind of culture at the moment; I also don't know how I'd ever be able to tell if my thoughts were free of cultural contamination.

  • by biomech ( 44405 ) on Saturday September 09, 2000 @06:22PM (#791346)
    Some years ago, frustrated by what I felt were deficiencies in the typical business models of the day, I found myself writing a paper on developing a more organic model for analysis/description of system processes for a class in organization theory.

    The article talks about HAL, "2001", and nanotechnology as well as the concept of the invention overtaking the inventor. My paper used certain ideas I found in the "Dune" series. Interesting that part of the Golden Path most clearly described in "God Emperor of Dune" involves a response to the foreseen possibility of the annihilation of humans by Ixian technology.

    I think the ongoing challenge is to develop technology that supports a more organic model of ourselves and our world. The old business models of the pyramid or concentric layers are deficient not only because they inadequately describes the organization, but becauses they shape thinking into seeing organizations in static terms.

    Life, it's possibilities and dangers, is less adequately described in terms of the linear dynamics of classic vectors then by elements of fractal modeling which is essentially based on clear boundaries, but my, the surprises within!!

  • trying to bring about the invocation of, what is it, Godwin's law? good luck :P
  • If you breed breed out the concept of "freedom" and take related words out of the lexicon, you can control your population so that they don't know that they're free.

    The only problem with that type of reasoning is that languages are not set in stone, and removing a concept from a populus isn't as simple as erasing some words in a dictionary. As long as the people feel the need to express "freedom", weather longing for it, celebrating it, or even removing it from others, there will be some term used to express it.

    Language and concepts are tied very closely, but words themselves are only one form of communication. Also, there is always the tool of the anecdote and the metaphore. Suppose all the words relating to freedom vanished. Now, suppose an author wrote a book about a slave escaping his masters to live without their rule. Because that book's plot and theme relate to freedom so strongly, people could then use the anecdote of that book to express the concept. There are a thousand other examples, but suffice it to say that as long as there are any artists, storytellers, or visionaries around, a concept that exists in the minds of the people will have no problem finding a term by which to be expressed.
  • I think the answer to your question could be connected to the other posts regarding language and culture. Could culture and language restrict thinking? (Author thinks deeply , then grabs another Molson Canadian from the beer fridge)
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Read The User Illusion by Norretranders. He makes a good case for the conclusion that all we ever perceive are models of reality. The "real world" is as much a model as anything else.
  • by Skapare ( 16644 ) on Saturday September 09, 2000 @06:38PM (#791351) Homepage
    We may well need to use models for lots of things, but one difficulty as that the best model for something isn't always the same for everyone. They serve somewhat more to describe things to ourselves than to describe things to others. It is good, but like fine tools, they don't work well (and may break) if not used properly.
  • Actually, a good argument against this (for us CSC folks) is as follows:

    Sure, you *could* write a C interpreter/compiler in LISP, but why would you want to?

    pb Reply or e-mail; don't vaguely moderate [].
  • Models and metaphors exist primarily for one reason. That is to supplement the understanding of those of us who have limited spatial intelligence. (thats everyone except Linus and Carmack)
    Inherently they influence our view of the world as no one (except for the aforementioned individuals) can possibly keep track of all the specifics of a problem/system.

  • I believe the main reason that it was discounted was the fact that when there is the lack of a term for an idea, a new word is created in its place. Just because there was no word for quark before doesn't mean that it can't be invented by someone. Matt Leese
  • No, Karma really is meaningless now.

    However, back when it was meaningful, he would have posted that without the bonus, so as to get moderated down less, and up more...

    So explain to me: what is the point of being a member of the "I Hate Signal 11" club? I mean, really? Sure, he says some stupid stuff sometimes; I do too. And lots of people are members of the "I Hate Anonymous Coward" club, because he posts even *stupider* stuff. But why the vindictiveness?

    I think you value Karma more than he does; that is to say, the answer here would be envy. Which is funny, since you're posting as an AC.
    pb Reply or e-mail; don't vaguely moderate [].
  • I think the article and author are a bit out there to say the least. Calculating the "energy consumption of all the insects and all the birds on the Earth" What is that - how do you come up with those numbers and using what scale?
  • Can you sketch it out for me?
  • OK. I define my model of the world as the world in which no perception of the world informs me of anything at all.

    What would be your reason for not believing me?
  • by craw ( 6958 ) on Saturday September 09, 2000 @07:06PM (#791359) Homepage
    There was an outstanding PBS series called the Accent of Man that featured the wisdom and insight of Jacob Bronowski. It was the most profound series that I ever saw. It was much better than Carl Sagan's Cosmo that appeared later. One show was on mankind's search for absolute knowledge, how we search the knowledge of the gods. However, human knowledge is imperfect and our search for absolute understanding is doom to failure.

    As a scientist I know all about models and the limitations inherent in them. Challenge the basic assumption and question the models based on them. Never be blinded by absolutism. Lord Kelvin was convinced that the Earth was much younger than that proposed by geologists. Kelvin based his model on the thermal cooling of a molten body. Unfortunately, he did not factor in an additional factor that was just discovered, radioactive heating.

    I can't remember what T.C. Chamberlain's exact published quote was in response to Lord Kelvin, but it went something like this: The facinating impressionism of mathematical models with all their precision and elegance should not blind us to the deficits that premise the whole process.

    This was published 100 yrs ago. If you need a translation, then here it is: If your fancy pants model is wrong, it is wrong. This also applies for those that choose to predict the future.

  • Behold! human beings living in an underground den . . . Like ourselves . . . they see only their own shadows, or the shadows of one another, which the fire throws on the opposite wall of the cave.

    Nah, I don't buy it. If you don't accept that an absolute objective reality exists, then the next logical step is Nihilism; to which I say, "I'll pass, thanks."

    Sure, a somewhat-decent philosphical case can be made for it, but I reject it. Besides, even if it is true that reality is subjective, then my belief of "absolute truth" is logically valid anyway ;)

  • Media is pervasive and we can't really help but absorb it. It affects everyone's thinking. The fact that ideas from media is pervasive helps to propagate those ideas. People are more willing to bring it up during conversation, etc. Why do we have to distinquish between models and ideas that stems from our imagination everyday. OK, pure scientific research is pure scientific research. However, science fiction helps to dream up of applications scientific discoveries, etc. It's very easy to get sucked in into all the nitty gritty details. Sometimes you just need people to step back and take meta looks at what is there and what all the possibilities are. As a people, we are all contributing to the development of science. Most people are either dreamers or scientists...maybe that's why the "Models and Metaphors" issue has been raised.
  • Actualy, If some stupid moron had gotten the charges "right" on the electron a proton, then the direction of positive current flow and the direction of the movement of charge would match.

  • she plays hard to get from time to time
    it only takes a camera to change her mind....
  • Electric current direction is a convention. It does not simplify anything about the true direction of current; it is basically just a reversal of signs. We know very well the direction electrons are flowing. It has simply become a *convention*. There are few places where the actual flow of positive/negative charge needs to be considered for understanding the electrical behavior (such as in semiconductor physics or electromagnetics).

    And I disagree that flawed models hinder breakthroughs... flawed models BY DEFINITION encourage breakthroughs. A model is only accepted as long as it fits all known observations. If it is flawed, an observation inconsistent with the model will force the flawed model to be rejected and replaced with better models. Yes an even more complex and still flawed model (i.e. Ptolomy's epicycles) can be created but there is every opportunity for someone (Kepler) to create a newer, better model.
  • If we didn't use models to at least partially influence our thinking, we might not know how DNA is shaped (the familiar double helix) -Ridge Racer
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I don't remember anymore how exactly it was said in the play "Die Physiker" by the Swiss author Durrenmatt, but it went something like this:

    All that is thinkable can't be taken back.

    Brains, well fed, unchallanged by real world exposure, nurtured to allow the phantasy to run wild into new scientific territories, have always been at risk to formulate a world changing model/theory.

    The persona's ego, character and rethorical talent makes the model a "religion" and the inventor a "missionary" and the masses the "disciples".

    The danger arises, when those phantasies are exploited by the media and repetitively broadcasted worldwide, fed by politicians for profiling purposes or something worse, without having the mental discipline to demand the model to be tested in the physical world by an experiment first.

    Without the restraining effort to consider ALL outcomes of a new scientific idea, a scientist with a "mission" can become a dangerous (and expensive) man to follow.

    But I am not scared even about the most outlandish scientific ideas and futuristic prophecies. With any so called "progress" comes a "drawback". The more it changes, the more it stays the same. We won't outsmart that what created us.

    Real social changes occured mostly through scientific or technical inventions made accidentally by very few men. Seldom those scientists invented that what they supposedly
    were up to.

    What do you think, will CERN be more rememberd as the origin of the hyperlinked www or as the European Research Lab for Particle Physics ?

    Which invention caused more social changes, the quark or the hyperlink ?

    Was that an expected result, according to a model or theory ?

    Are we influenced by models ? A couple of people in academia may be, the rest is brain washed into it, if at all. Or they are forcefully polluted by subversive broadcasting techniques and don't even realize that they are followers of "something".
  • These are actually valid comparisons.

  • Bojay: this is not funny. It is also redundant, as the same idea has been done and done again by many other posters. Please refrain from posting this trash.

    Unlike your other dislikers, I'm not afraid to use my account name.

  • by ffujita ( 229489 ) on Saturday September 09, 2000 @07:53PM (#791369) Homepage
    ... is that we can't think about or perceive things that we don't have words for.

    We know this to be false, because of studies of other cultures where there are very few color words (White, Black, and Red, for instance). These people can discriminate between pink and purple just fine, even though their vocabulary doesn't allow them to verbally make distinctions between these colors. So people can perceive what their hardware is set up to perceive, even if they don't have any words to describe what they are perceiveing.

    On the other hand, people also have a short-term memory limit of 5 to 9 (7 +/- 2) chunks of information. A good model can turn 15 to 20 unrelated pieces of informaion into three or four chunks -- which can all be held in short-term memory at one time and mentally manipulated. So having a good model will make some thoughts possible that would be impossible (because of the limitations of short-term memory) without the model.

  • by orabidoo ( 9806 ) on Saturday September 09, 2000 @07:54PM (#791370) Homepage
    hmmm.. yes and no. I completely agree that models and metaphors ARE what our *thoughts* are made of (that is, our discursive thoughts, and quite a good part of the rest -- 'intuition' and the like).

    however, I think you are largely overstating the supposed doubtlessness of your stronger proposition, that models and metaphors are the world itself. it makes sense in a po-mo context, but if you think academia's opinion-of-the-week on the nature of reality is 1) universally accepted across schools of thought and cultures, and 2) not going to change in a decade or two, then well... i'll have to respectfully disagree with you.

    more generally, I'd say it's always good to weigh good old common sense in front of the latest theory. postmodernism has revealed some rather large gaps in so-called objectivity, and I'm the first to rejoice of it -- but I do'nt necessarily buy its stronger claims, and I do think that the word "truth" still *sometimes* makes sense.

  • yep. the whole success of the Whorfian hypothesis may however be indirect proof of its own validity, *considerably weakened*. consider the fact that the Whorfian idea survives very much in popular culture, even though it has pretty much been proved (as you say) to be false. couldn't that be related, at least in part, to the fact that it has a name?
  • She's posing for consumer products now and then
    For every camera she gives the best she can

    I saw her on the cover of a magazine
    Now she's a big success, I want to meet her again
  • I realize that you are joking, but what you say is not all that far from how newborns start making sense of their senses. it is generally believed that they don't see "objects" from the start, but blobs of light and color (and this is also what adults see when they've been blind for all their life and somehow have their vision restored -- reference: one of Oliver Sachs' books). if you think of it, the whole idea that the world is made of "things" is a mental construct -- the actual, underlying physical world (assuming materialism here) only has particles and fields and the like, there is nothing in an electron that makes it part of "this table". of course, our senses don't deal with the world at the particle level, but the same problem applies: your brain has to *learn* that the table is one "thing" and the book on it is another "thing" even though they're physically contiguous.
  • I grant what your saying, but there is a strong case to be made that the world we percieve is strongly subjective. This is not to say that an objective reality of some sort does not exist. It's just that what we see is strongly filtered and interpreted through our minds less than ideal filters.

    Contemplate the scientist and the nut-loon creationist. They both live in the same world, but the creationist percieves his world as flat and only 6000 years old.

    The fact that evolution has equiped us humans with speech is an indicator that our percieved-realitys are not quite in synch with each other, and thus we need to communicate to synch it up (Among the other roles of language).

    One does not have to be a nihilist to accept that scientific reality is hard to achieve.

    Great point about the absolute truth being true in subjective reality tho.

  • I invite you to read about an "experiment" [] that a physicist did to show the problems with postmodern thought, including the issue that you brought up.
  • Yet HAL has inspired countless scientists to make fantasy a reality.

    It's 2000. No moon base. No quarter mile wide rotating office complex in orbit. No regular operating commercial space shuttle with velcro-wearing stewardesses.

    No HAL.

    This nonsense about science fiction being the essence of prophesy has gotten out of hand when we start redefining "myth" as "model" in some pseudoscientific sense.

    Models yield precise, quantifiable and accountable predictions -- not a bunch of mumbo-jumbo for parasitically castrated engineers to opiate the pain of their existence with falsely inspired visions of "tomorrow".

    Yeah, Arthur C. Clark had a hit on geostationary satellites. OK, so let's rename geostationary orbit "Clark orbit" but, please, can't you just face the fact that you've been screwed out of the future you could have built if you'd merely been given the chance by the scum who provided you with false inspirations while they centralized control?

  • ironically enough, wanting our thoughts to be free of any culture's influence is very much a western-modern thing :)

    me, I'd rather shoot for another way of opening my mind: trying to *really* understand at least two radically different cultures, from the inside (yeah, i'm working on it, and it's quite confusing at times). of course, that is not culture-free either in itself; it's another western-modern trend to value multi-culturalism, just a somewhat less mainstream one :=)

  • It's interesting you mention this actually, the concepts of 'models' of historical progress is becoming increasingly dispopular in the arts/social sciences dimension. It's an Idea associated strongly with the 'post-modernist' movement, although I must admit the term post-modernism shirks me , being associated with a lot of fairly outlandish claims. None the less this is one claim I agree with.

    Take Karl Marx. He proposed a model of historical progress modeled loosely on the Dialectics of the philosopher Hegel, but refocused it on the economic conditions of diffreent social stratum in society. He then proceeded to create a mindblowingly insightfull description of the physical processes inherent in the economics *of the day*. From this he extrapolated a course that he predicted the world will progress. Assuming that no new developments were to occur, chances are he would of been right too, but he missed a few points. A) Parlimentary democracy emerged propper in europe, bringing with it new configurations of outlet for 'class' frusturation. B) The rise of facism and the complete destabilising effect on his 'material progress'... ergo WWII , and C) The information age and the strange effect that owning a computer can actually give the working class 'the means of production'.

    The point I'm making, is what was possibly the most accurate prediction of the day ended up *way* off track. The same fate has hit almost all other models of progress.

    The model may even be accurate at the time, but it don't say squat about a different future.

  • I define my model of the world as the world in which no perception of the world informs me of anything at all.

    That's a perfectly logical and coherent position. IIRC, a school of thought called solipsism based their philosophy on the idea that nothing we perceive has any relevance to reality whatsoever.

    That doesn't mean I don't think it's a silly and unreasonable position to take. If that is true, it means all actions we take are completely futile, since there is no information which we can use to make a good decision. Such a philosophy is therefore useless.

    I prefer to choose a philosophy that gives me an idea of what I should do. There's no proof that my perceptions have anything to do with reality, but I don't have anything better to go on, so I might as well treat them as if they did represent reality.

  • I'd have to agree with you on the Bronowski series (and it really was better than watching Sagan staring in wide-eyed wonder out of his spaceship in Cosmos). I was taking some physics courses at the time AoM was being shown and for some reason the show was popular with just about everyone in the class. Some memorable discussions invariably followed each week's segment.

    At one time you could purchase VHS tapes of the series. Well, that was a long time ago. Since PBS cannot see fit to re-air great programs like AoM (they might upset someone who really needs to see another Antique Roadshow) I decided to re-read the book that was written along with the series. Still a recommended read.



  • Everything Liguistic (at the very least, probably everything conceptual at all) is a metaphor if we take de Saussure seriously, along with all european Semiotics. If everything we say or concieve points at and is "reperesentative" of something else...then shazaam...all metaphor. remember coherance doesn't just mean truth it comes from a model of truth whereby items don't interfere with each other and refer to each huge train of reference.... (mind you this is a horrible paraphrase) "everything is metaphor, metonomy, or anthropomophism" , Nietzsche for those of you who hate systems. the trick is making sure our models, scientific or not, reinforce a world that we'd like to live in.
  • Nope. I haven't heard this name before. But I have heard of the concept.
  • I am aware of this, as are many in the cultural studies world. It was an arse of a thing to do, but it raised a few questions.

    Sokal hhowever missed a larger point here. When critisizing the arts, keep in mind that it *is* the arts. Sokal's prank indeed exposed an occasional lack of rigour in *some* aspects of the Humanities, but ultimately you get the situation of;-

    Sokal:Hey why isn't your art's scientific enuf

    artsguy:Because it isn't. deal with it. Yout science isn't creative enought

    Sokal:deal with it

    (end of dialogue). It's understandable sometimes. The arts spend a lot of time talking about perception. And while a few extremists in the French-radical pomo division may make the claim against any sort of objective reality. For the most part the Arts accept it's existance, but question our ability to *truly* percieve reality as it is.

    Think about it. It's fairly intuitive really.

  • Hey, we still have almost 3 months to do all that stuff. Have a little faith :)
  • Correct. I don't believe in this statement either, but I asked it to point out that we all very much practice a belief in objective reality everyday. Otherwise, we'd all be rampant solpsists!
  • Models and metaphors ARE the world. In no way can it be argued that a "real world" exists apart from our models for it. This has been universally conceded in academic circles for decades.

    In the post-modern era, discussions like this are a bit pointless. To speak of how "metaphor and model" influence our view of the world is unnecessary when it is realized that we create our world by the metaphors we use to view it.
    Boing! Lose a point. Having been in the 'academia' for a while now, I can tell you that your slightly misinterpreting the point here. It is incredibly hard to argue No-real-reality. You exist don't you? ergo Something is real-in the universe.
    The point often, but *not* universilly, made is that real-reality is a pig to get at. The world we construct as the term is often used in the left-side of campus, refers to the fact that we create our own internal.. and cultural (lingua).. representations of the world. Some have argued that these often have no baring on reality at all anymore.. witness Baudillare(sp?).
    With out an objective medium (which we incidently do not have to understand to use) how do communication channels exist to build the language-culture nexus that shapes our relation to each other and whatever-world.
    Verrrry few accademics accept the no-world hypothisis actually.
  • First of all, let's agree on some terminology. I would define a model as a "conceptual representation of reality". This usually consists of a combination of data (commonly accepted coordinate system) and computation (transformation from one dataspace to another). Thus two lawyers or two economists can communicate because they have the same language (information basis) to discuss complex concepts within a systematic framework. Even our very economic foundations are based on a simple accounting equation (Assets = Liability + Equity).

    However, there may be many different "models" depending on your worldview. Consider something as simple as a brick. A geologist would say its a silicate/fused clay in rectilinear form, an egineering would say it has structural/compression/torsion strength of xyz, a builder will say its costs k available in quantities of l deliverable in m days, and I say great, but how do you build a wall? I suppose from a more philosophical world we can talk about perceptions of reality and common reference frames but then that's a more AI type problem.

    The problem comes down to resolving conflicts among different world perceptions ... in the extreme this can lead to holy crusades. Even a brick can be viewed as anything from a unit of building art to a handy weapon for Seattle protesters. Metaphors are merely one tool in the repeitoire of techniques of people attempting to "persuade" us that their viewpoint is "superior". That is why democracies tend to be slightly less self-destructive than other forms of society in that there is enough rotation of thoughts in the power structures (no old geriatics sticking to out-moded social theories). For those trained in critical thinking/analysis, they have the rare skill of being able to perceive reality and act accordingly (probably one reason why engineers dislike marketeers but I digress).

    So, to survive, you need to build up a really good/accurate mental model of how the world works, whether a bushman in desert survival or a cynical politician scrounging for votes, and thus how you can interact within this perceived structure without wasting too much energy. And if you're really really good (philosopher, social entrepreneur or genius inventor), you get to form completely new models.

    ObJoke and commentary on human nature

    • 1900 - my gun is bigger than your gun
    • 2000 - my nuke is nastier than your nuke
    • 2100 - my AI can run circles around your AI


  • Come on now, i'm drunk and i can still hit you up with shit thats eleet. All I can say is that mothafuckas is gay as shit, and you gotta hav balls., most of you act high and mighty, but when it comes down to the real shit, you are chiken shits... lets try to act like fucking neandrathals, survial of he fittest, nothing wrong with that, don't be a fuxoring pussy.. Ok, enuff saicd, keep it real.. Haxoring the double 0 later, and done fucking confront , you bitch asses.. ^_^ -= Griffis =-
  • I have to disagree with this. All of our consciousness is based on metaphor. Are you going to propose an exact copy of the world exists in your mind? To (attempt to) coin a phrase: "All Consciousness Is Metaphor".

    Starting with simple metaphors for the world (mom, dad, food, wet, warm, Barney) we construct ever more complex metaphors for the world as we increase the complexities of our thoughts and actions.

    Credit for these ideas goes entirely to Julian Jaynes and his ideas of metaphor (metaphiers and metaphrands). His book, "The Origin of Consciousness and the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind" [] describes this idea very elegantly.

    There is no trap so deadly as the trap you set for yourself

  • I think the fact that we must acknowledge is that the way humans perceive the world and process information is really a type of real-time modeling of the data we gather through perception. If you consider both the vast amount of information gained through perception and the truly continuous nature of nature, the use of some model is really the best the human brain can do. It is a necessary tool for making discrete and comprehensible what is in reality continuous and loaded with irrational and stochastic processes.

    Now, supermodels... that's an entirely different topic...
  • Although a drunken sot. most sotten. I must say this. that is, our current understanding of the world via the "language" of mathematics and physics(arguablly really just mathematics) would be nill without models. Think of freshman physics and what not where commonplace things like friction are neglected to examine the more fundamental behaviors of matter such as velocity. Indeed the modern concept of modelling can be traced back to galilleo and his early experiments. Point, well, I guess the point is is that we humans have used modelling as a useful contruct, albeit a non-perfect human construct, to gain greater understanding. It is a tool of our invention rather than an impedance.
  • this is an old, old branch of psychology that has the following premise, if I remember correctly: all human behavior at a moment in time is determined by the person's perception of the situation at that given time. By understanding or manipulating that perception, you can predict and/or control the behavior.

    Basically, the idea is that we carry models of our world around with us, and we act in accordance of that given model at all times. We also try and perserve those models, which leads to various things like defensive behavior, acting out, etc.

    I'm not sure if this branch of psychology is active, but a search on amazon for 'perceptual psychology' turned up 100 books.

    This kind of stuff is amazingly useful to interface designers, because it gives a good framework for understanding the user(s).
  • oh, checked again. Look for stuff by Arthur W. Combs et al. The book I mentioned was "Perceptual Psychology: a humanistic approach to the study of persons." Looks like Combs has been doing lots of stuff (that one was published in the 50's?). Just ordered a bunch of stuff myself, just to see how the field has been doing.
  • ...mentioning fashion models is equivalent to being a Nazi.
    Well then:

    Hail Schiffer! Kate moss über alles!

  • The magazine Scientific American went so far as to suggest that our anthropomorphic view of machines can be attributed almost exclusively to Kubrick's movie.

    I dunno about this. I think people have been naming machines for the last few centuries. After all, sailors name their ships (they dont just call them "the boat"), train drivers name their machines, and you have to admit, everyone has now and then spoken to your car whenever something's wrong.

    What's interesting, tho, is that they're female names, most of the time. goes to show you that geeks with no social life have been around even before there were computers...

  • If we think in more than one model, how do we choose? The instant we use more than one model, or are affected by more than one model, a meta-choice is called for: which model influences our choice of the appropriate model? Secondly, do we go through a sequence of models over time? Are there are higher order model that control which lower-order models will replace earlier ones? Ah, postgradute courses in the history of ideas - how it all comes back to me now ... and I left it all behind to play with Linux. Or so I thought.
  • Plato wasn't saying there was no absolute objective reality. Far from it, he was saying that there is one, but we don't correctly perceive it.
  • I couldn't finish reading it. Looks interesting but all this futuristic stuff makes me very, very jumpy. I think it's the nanobots in my blood sensing their arrival home.
  • you don't sniff the glue as you put them together.
  • Um, yeah, that was my point. The "I don't buy it" was in reference to the previous post, not the Plato quote. Sorry.
  • Please, don't anyone get trapped into thinking that metaphores are the realm of the concious mind. The unconcious mind is where all the interesting shit happens, and this is why everyone can have a metaphore for life but not realise it. The best way to tell is by the language that someone uses, or by the actions that they make. For example, my dads metaphore for women is fishing. Ie wait for them to catch the bait, reel em in and then throw em back! Once you start looking for this shit then it is apparent that is all around you. And maybe even inside. Warning: You delve to deep, and slashdot will become news for hippies stuff that matters!
  • If you rely too much on metaphors and models to base your decisions on then you are going to get burned.

    Sometimes you get burned when you rely too little on models. The young obstetrician Semmelweis, around 1840 as I recall, developed a conceptual model to explain why so many women got sick and died after giving birth. The medical establishment ridiculed his crackpot notion and he was ostracized from the most prestigious hospitals.

    Semmelweis conjectured that the women were healthy when they entered the hospital, then something made them sick. In particular, something in the hospital made them sick. Conventional wisdom blamed it on bad air or other vaguely defined culprits. Semmelweis came to think that something outside the body came and inhabited it and made it sick; and that disease-causing agent could be transported to another healthy body and would then cause sickness there also. What a lunatic!

    Armed with an explicit model, he could put it to experimental test, which he did: one ward of his hospital carried on as usual, while on another ward Semmelweis rocked the boat. He insisted that doctors and students wash their hands after dissecting in the morgue, before they delivered babies in the ward. This outraged the respectable doctors and they avoided the experimental ward and its wacko ritual.

    It took twenty years for the handwashing practice to catch on against the opposition of the experts. Women, of course, caught on immediately. Semmelweis' much-reduced mortality rate made his obstetrical service the busiest as well as the safest in town. That pissed off the old guard even more.

    The mental baggage that we are unaware of, because it is too common to notice, is what holds us back the most.

    When one's conceptual furniture is made explicit, models can be tested, and progress is possible.

  • I am not sure Hal has the mythological stature - except possibly in geek circles - that this question addresses. More to the point, Freud divided the human psyche into sexually driven component of id, ego, and superego. This has become pretty much accepted (even when abstracted as unconcious mind, etc...) The question is, did these things exist before he defined them, or did his definition create them? This is different than did some guy see a science fiction movie and get inspired to invent a moon ray.
  • Offtopic begin:


    You begin by finding the amount of energy consumed during their normal eating process. You then multiply it by the estimated number on earth at any given time. Add all those sums for the differant animals.



    Nope. Nada. Nothing comes to mind.


  • Think about it: if you saw Tyra Banks or Christy Turlington walking toward you with that new "Out on Sunset Strip" dress with the clear plastic bodice, your thinking process would be more than influenced. As a matter of comparison, consider monitoring the brain this way:

    target acquired: Christy Turlington

    investigating outfit...
    ALERT: outfit transparency over 50%
    Initializing arousal subroutine...
    locating twin peaks...
    WARNING: approaching climax!
    fluid containment tragedy averted, continuing perusal...
  • A mathematical equation such as a line, curve, or a plan can't really be imagined without a model using the Cartesian co-ordinate system.

    Eh, the Ancient Greeks didn't know about Cartesian co-ordinates but I seem to remember that Euclid and a couple of others did a pretty good job of imagining lines, curves, plans and much more besides. Actually, his Elements makes a pretty interesting read. My favoutites are the definitions at the start:

    1. A point is that which has no part.
    2. A line is a breadthless lenght.
    3. The extemities of a line are points.

    ...and so on.

    Your fallacy is that because you can't imagine these concepts without a co-ordinate system then you assume nobody can imagine them. We all do it from time to time, but it is always interesting to try different models. As an excercise, try proving Euclid's Proposition 47 without using a co-ordinate system. Euclid could, surely you can too?

    In right-angled triangles the square of the side subtending the right angle is equal to the squares on the sides containing the right angle.

    (That is c*c = a*a + b*b in your notation and with the limited markup allowed by /.)

  • Bruce Sterling's comments [] are spot on:

    If you don't like a future publicly defined by wacky cranks, do something constructive about it. Let's see you creep out from behind that Hollywood water barrel and stand up in the hot light of day.

    Speaking of Newt Gingrich as a "science fiction novelist" he argues that there are nobody left to assess technology and its impact on society. "Nobody but hobbyists, day-traders and cranks."

    Science, models, thinking about the future and thereby shaping the future is too important to leave to Hollywood. We need informed debate, constructive arguments and a vision that can once again make Americans (and the rest of the world) passionate about science and the future. There are no great dreams anymore because, perhaps, there are no great dreamers.

    All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dream with open eyes, to make it possible. This I did.

    -- T.E.Lawerence (of Arabia): Seven Pillars of Wisdom [].

    Dream, then, but know that dreaming in itself is not enough.

  • Our emobodied perception and experience of the world, coupled with our sensory and brain architecture, create our lowest level mental models - the stuff of our thoughts. The chunking provided by higher level language based concepts adds to our set of models. Models do not so much control our thoughts as being the basis of our thoughts. Lanuage per-se (as opposed to the concepts/models we aquire via language) is just the means of expression of our thoughts.
  • I just wanted to point oput that I think most people did NOT fully read the article and jumped to the conclusion that either the author didn't know what he was talking about or timothy didn't know what the author was talking about. Actually, the whole article *while it does take a few to get to the point* is talking about the presence of role-models and their affect on the scientifc community.

  • Blockquoth the poster:
    This has been universally conceded in academic circles for decades. A few points:
    1. This is far from "universally conceded", even in philosophical academe, much less the broad scope of scholarship.
    2. Even where this has taken root, it has done so only in certain realms of academe. In areas that actually deal with the external world -- physics, chemistry, engineering -- this viewpoint is very nearly universally rejected.
    3. Even if every PhD on the planet argued that this was so, it wouldn't make it so.
    Here's my experiment for those who really believe that reality exists only in perception: Take a newborn; assume male for ease of language. Raise him in a specially constructed room, wherein a glass floor covers a thirty-foot drop. Allow the baby to explore the room but allow no vertical drops in his space ... no shelves, no tables, etc. Thus his experience is that the world is flat and consists of one height only.

    Now take away the glass floor. If the baby crawls over to edge, will he just continue to crawl across, floating on air? His whole world has said that he can do that. Of course, the baby would fall, because gravity really exists and doesn't care if you believe in it or not.

  • Models influence my thinking quite a bit.

    Models like:
    Cindy Crawford

    Naomi Campbell

    Tyra Banks

    Linda Evangelista

    Patricia Ford

    Just to name a few....
  • Models are necessary to deal with concepts that go beyond our normal capacity to deal with or phenomena that are unobservable. They can also be useful in observing trends, and creating projections of possible events. The danger of models is fact that the layman takes the model to be real. This danger is amplified, when the creator of the model takes it to be real. In this way models do effect our thought processes. Our belief in models make it much harder to deal with events that don't conform to those models.
  • Whatsamatta, you can't stand laughing at articles? Is that curmudgeonly old fart of a boss staring too hard at your cube? If that was the case, I'd understand, but otherwise, LIGHTEN UP!

    Some stories are so vague, they desperately need humor.

  • That is c*c = a*a + b*b in your notation

    Isn't that Pythagoras' Theorem? I'd think Pythagoras proved it first. And yeah, you really don't need a coordinate system for geometry proofs (IIRC the proof for this involved drawing squares on each side and then comparing the areas).
  • From the article>>>Yet HAL has inspired countless scientist to make fantasy a reality.

    The article trying to fine line a debate between Bill Joy and Robert Freitas, but in the end shows it really doesn't matter.

    As a young child enthralled with the neato stuff of Star Trek. I wanted to travel to space or be able to zap Klingons with Phasers. A later version of Cowboys and Indians. However I didn't that doesn't mean others didn't make jumps to bring fantasy into reality.
    Deforest Kelly was always amazed by the fact that some of the fans of the show became real doctors.

    The models have influence but if you limit yourself to just the vision of the model it won't work. In SciFi Models you lie on a chair and everything is diagnoist. MRI and CAT scans aren't quite that exact but their model was that chair.

    But lets also give the model makers credit Arthur C. Clarke may not have invented AI but the communcation satalitte is his baby. Waterbeds invented by a sci-fi writer and there is even more of the same. How much of that became inspiration for their books? How much did those books influence others?
    Sci-fi has also gone on to try and show the dangers of technology gone amuck as a warning for us to be prepared that a good idea may not be enough Issac Ashimov and the Laws of Robotics. When Michael Crichton wrote Jurrasic Park, He cited the fact that Genetic Reasearch was completly unregulated and that if something didn't change that fear would be the first reaction, the US government now holds a moritorium and genetic cloning. MC wrote that almost 10 years before the Clinton administration went into panic mode. How much good reasearch is now on hold because of fear? Then again how much of a fantasy was Dolly 10-15 years ago?

    A lot of the true sceintfic community are sci-fi fans they just don't bring the whole idea to work with them they bring the dream that is inspired by it.
  • So a coupla scientists at MIT think we won't ever have computers with HAL's capabilities. Hmm. Didn't the great physicist Rutherford say that physics was a finished science? (We had, after all, discovered the electron... what else was left to do?) And using Jeremy Rifkin as evidence to claim that modern scientists have not been taught sufficiently strict skepticism? That Luddite is only evidence of Humanity's self-aggrandizing capabilities.

    What is this guy's point? That scientists have too much imagination?

    Metaphors: Wow, that's heavy. Whoops, over my head. Hard to grasp. Big idea. Stop, too fast! We can't even talk about metaphors without using them.

  • The difference is that postmodern thought just doesn't see itself as entertainment like the other arts (although reading Bruno LaTour fumble every scientific idea he mentions is rather unintentionally amusing), rather it sees itself as way of explaining the world itself, and ever since Copernicus, it has been obvious that science is the only way of explaining the world that actually works.
  • Models are necessary to think; Without a Model, you cannot think. Thinking involves manipulation. Unless your thoughts physically manipulate the world in real time, (in which case the world is in your mind, and could be considered to be... "only a model"), your thoughts manipulate a model in your head.

    Consider that you wake up in the morning and you'd like to sneak off to eat a sandwitch. But, you're disoriented; your model in your head of how your house is layed out and where you are with respect to it is incorrect. But then you check yourself with the world, and align yourself correctly; you make your model and the world align correctly. Ah, now we can go on to get that sandwitch.

    Similarly, if you are manipulating a program, you have a certain model in your head about how the program works. Sometimes we keep it in a hash in our heads (A->B, B->C, C->E, E->D, A->E as well), and sometimes we keep it as a planar graph. This is analygous to playing quake in two ways: One, you run ahead until you get to an intersection. At the intersection, you've memorized the response that you should turn right. This is good for quick response, but bad for cognizing a strategy. The other way, you keep an overhead map in your mind, and then consider your location on the map. This is better for formulating a strategy, but not good for running around in the maze quickly.

    But both the hash and the map (cartography, not mathematics) are models in our mind; just different forms.

    There really is no way to think without a model.

    Now, as for the nature of these models, what do we need from these models?

    They are like any tools; Speed of execution, accuracy, reliability, and cost of formation are all consderations.

    Visual models are generally the best model for cognitive processing; Aural models are generally the best model for direction processing.

    Visual models have two primary advantages over aural models:

    1. Visual models are 2 dimensional. Aural models, if they can be called models, are one dimensional streams of syllables. For example, mathematical computation (1.00794*2 + 15.9994) on paper is significantly easier than mathematical computation through a tape recorder. This is because the visual image. Visual models can tunnel through an Audio stream, but this is generally not as efficient as resorting to the visual models in their pure form, and using the aural form only for the elements that it excels at, such as conveying experience, which is fundamentally tied to temporality. For example, consider music, a song, or even the song, "5 'n' 8's 13." (It *is* a song.)
    2. Visual models persist. Aural models disappear as soon as the syllables pass through the mind, and are thus terrible for cognitive analysis. Again, consider a piece of paper vs. a sample on a tape player. It is trivial to to remove the 2D element and make the argument orthogonal. Now, the visual model can be shaped, manipulated, moved about. You can take your scissors, either physical or mental, and can move things about with ease. Now, let's consider the audio model. To manipulate it, we need to replay over and over, either on a tape player or in our mind, and reposition information slowly, tediously. While we are replaying, we have no queue's to our location other than the song stream that is going through us. This is what I mean when I say that sound does not persist, but images do.
    Sound is good at conveying linear instructions, because they require step by step temporal guidance. Light is a little worse, because you have to consider your "current temporal location" on the instruction guide, and navigate your map. This is a small price, but it is a price. Do remember that it's easy to correct for missed steps by indexing back on a visual track, rather than with an aural track.

    Excellent examples of visual description are comic books (in which authors have finer control over their communication patterns), manuals for repairing cars with diagrams of the pieces of the car (also a comic), airplane guides for what to do in the event of an emergency (also a comic), and the Illustrated TCP/IP volumes I-III (Stephens; almost a comic).

    I'd like to add that there is no such thing as 3 dimensional vision; the illusion of 3 dimensions derives completely from...

    • the passage of time
    • blurring of distant objects
    • overlapping semi-transparent representation of objects
    This lends to the primary reason that I believe that 3-D OS's are generally a bad idea: The essence of 3d is that something must be hidden in order for something else to be revealed (through turning, or whatever). There are many cases where this is actually a good thing (task bars), but generally, there is an equally good, or better, mechanism on recognized two dimensional surfaces.

    Yes, this is still entirely on-topic; desktops are one of the models that we use extensively. Note that icons and cartoons are the best depictions of our folders and files (rather than, say, physical pictures), since it better reflects the icons in our mind (and by extention, our model). For a better understanding of this principle and a better depiction of the argument, read Scott McClouds []'s "Understanding Comics". Stated briefly: If you see a cartoon picture of a knife and fork, you wouldn't be surprised if they started talking and dancing around; but if it was drawn realistically or photographically, the effect is quite different. One is an icon, and thus a symbol living in the mind, the other is a picture, and thus a depiction of something dropped in the world.

    Some day, I plan to write a more elegant, cohesive, and comprehensive description of these ideas, but I am not there yet; this is just some Sunday morning Slashdot. Don't bother checking out [] just yet; I just moved, and DSL won't be up for another month.

    Let me finish with a general association of mine: Light is for knowledge, understanding, and the mind. Sound is for experience, awareness, and life.

  • Models are just that...convenient ways to explain the universe around us. Unfortunately, the scientific community seems very establishment, and resistant to change. Nobody likes to see models they got Nobel prizes for torn down. I'm sure a lot of people didn't like Einstein's proposition that time and space are not absolutely flat as in Euclidean geometry. And until recently most of the medical world laughed at things like acupuncture and herbal remedies. But lo and behold, after doing scientific analysis, they find that all those "primitive" people who have been using "natural" methods of healing for millenia, actually got something right. Who woulda thunk?
  • Some psychology guy proposed this decades ago... The Whorfian hypothesis. It is a neat idea, although I don't recall why, it was discounted.

    It's called the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, and Brown and Lenneburg showed in their paper "Hanunoo color categories" (undoubtedly misspelled) that linguistic terms for colors did in fact affect color discrimination.

    Now as to the strong form of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, that you can't think about things you can't say -- something neither Whorf nor Sapir ever said anything close to, but if they read about the work in deconstructionism that they're being called the originators of, they'd just shit -- of course that's nonsense. But there's enough evidence and has been for years that linguistic constructs affect such fundamental cognitive mechanisms as color discrimination, and we ignore the effects of language on thought at our peril.

    Whorf and Sapir were linguists, not psychologists, though the field of psycholinguistics arose (in part) from their work.

    Many, many years ago psycholinguistics was one of the things I took more courses in than many others.

  • I admit I didn't read any article(s) in question, but rather only the Slashdot replies. It seems that readers took the notion of models and metaphors to mean pretty much anything, so I'll chime in as well.

    We use models pretty much every waking moment. There are of course the obvious scientific models, where we try to model the physical "reality" around us and try to explain new unknown observations with these models, or try to predict as yet unobserved behaviours. This is what brought us from the dark ages of religiously-oppressed pseudo-science to where we are today.

    Then there are the models that we use in everyday life. Typically we have different names for them: rules of thumb, old wisdoms, experience etc. All of these help us build a model of life around us in general that is supposed to make decisions easier. Once we've learned that fire burns, we don't have to find that out again and again, it's a safe assumption that it does. This carries over to interactions with other people, and we build models of certain types of people, the kinds of behaviours of adopt or avoid to be liked or not disliked etc. These accumulated models then make up a large part of one's personality. We all know how this or that friend will react if we do or say a certain thing.

    While these model certainly make everyday life much easier and less stressful, I think models can become very limiting or even desctructive if relied upon to the exclusion of new learning. Take the old saying that you can't teach an old dog new tricks; while it seems that most people tend to follow this course with advancing age, many people adopt this rigid attitude much earlier.

    The boss at my previous job was a classic example. He was a very conservative person, his entire life dictated by rules of thumb, generalizations, and only his own personal experiences. Unfortunately this carried over into his professional life of managing a software and hardware development team. While managers in general are served very well by their experience and a certain dose of cautious conservativism to prevent them from gallopping into every new direction they hear about, the almost complete exclusion of new approaches and the unknown can eventually transform them into dead wood. This is more true in the IT industry than almost anywhere else.

    My boss would always try to make each new problem conform to his set of experiences, and if that didn't work, he would either dead-lock, or try to over-simplify it to where he felt it became a familiar problem. When he pulled out his bag of platitudes and wisdoms, and we tried to convince him that this problem was sufficiently different to warrant some new thinking, he would always ridicule us by saying that we always thought each new problem was unique. Eventually the standoff between the manager and the team became so debilitating that the team members started leaving the company one by one.

    I guess the moral of stories like this is that while models and metaphors are vital in helping us deal with an ever more complex world, we have to follow the scientific world and discard models when they are proven wrong or inadequate by new observations. We can only make our models conform to reality, and not vice versa.

    Uwe Wolfgang Radu
  • Well, I think most of the people at Slashdot are the ones charged with making science fiction reality, but come back to reality for a while.

    Deal with the following:

    1. We kept up with Moore's law, and we haven't reached talking intellegent computers yet. Oh well.

    2. Steady and impressive advances have left rocketry still very hard and expensive. Oh well.

    3. People just haven't been motivated to put stewardesses in velcro. In fact, velcro is out of style. Oh well.

    Humankind is doing okay. The only reason it's called 2001 is because people can't see that far into the future. And aren't we happy another deadline year-named novel didn't come about?

  • Well, I think most of the people at Slashdot are the ones charged with making science fiction reality, but come back to reality for a while.

    Wrong. The people at Slashdot are charged with doing whatever the people with money tell them they ought to be doing. The people at Slashdot get to decide how to do it, not what is to be done.

    Deal with the following:

    1. We kept up with Moore's law, and we haven't reached talking intellegent computers yet. Oh well.

    Thanks to 20+ years down the tubes of symbolist AI at the expense of connectionist AI because the government listens to guys like Minskey.

    2. Steady and impressive advances have left rocketry still very hard and expensive. Oh well.

    The advances in rocketry have been neither steady nor, in those few instances of advance, impressive. I know. I worked in the field and saw how the technologies that could have made a difference were squashed by a combination of NASA and hucksters who grabbed what little capital was available.

    3. People just haven't been motivated to put stewardesses in velcro. In fact, velcro is out of style. Oh well.

    Clever boy. And you know what my point was. Don't play stupid to con the less clever than yourself.

    Humankind is doing okay. The only reason it's called 2001 is because people can't see that far into the future. And aren't we happy another deadline year-named novel didn't come about?

    It's doing ok at wiping out species and human cultures at an astounding rate -- at going nowhere fast in figuring out what to do with itself. At mixmastering the entire ecosystem with trade and transport -- "playing god" -- while decrying as "playing god" attempts to understand and deal with the risks of such experimentation as reactionary if not the epitome of evil itself.

  • How do you distinguish between "the world itself" and our thoughts (specifically, our perceived impression of the world.) Our only knowledge of the world is that shown to us by our model of the world.

    That's a question that ultimately can't be answered, because any answer is going to be made of sentences which relate to thoughts and models, not to the "world itself". The whole idea of "the world itself", as it occurs in our heads is a shared, largely unconscious model which describes such basic stuff as "it hurts if I walk into you". You can't ask me to think outside of my head, but that doesn't mean I'm going to stop believing in the physical world anytime soon. And I assumed this belief in writing my comment.

    Anyway, here's an example of something that is (in my understanding) not a model or thought, nor mediated by the senses: a headache. When I have a headache, I don't need a model of any kind to feel it. Of course, I *do* have a mental model of what a headache is like, and how paracetamol helps alleviate one, but if I didn't have the model, I'd still feel the headache, I'd just be confused about it. The lowly headache is an example of pure direct perception. Someone stop me before I start a cult to the almighty headache ;)

  • It's doing ok at wiping out species and human cultures at an astounding rate -- at going nowhere fast in figuring out what to do with itself. At mixmastering the entire ecosystem with trade and transport -- "playing god" -- while decrying as "playing god" attempts to understand and deal with the risks of such experimentation as reactionary if not the epitome of evil itself.

    Well, then the solution is obvious. It's obvious that humans are responsible for all this pain and suffering and we should be smashed by god. And all those real rocketry advances could have saved us if we'd just listened.

    So we should be replaced by conectionist AI. Yes, go do that. Go build a connectionist AI to replace humanity. Forget the corporate money-hungry bastards who tell you what you ought to do.


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