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Archive for the ‘biology’ Category

 John H. Bryant – Lone Star College, Conroe, TX

“Is it time yet?” “Are we there yet?”

No, these are not questions of children eagerly waiting to leave on vacation or arrive at a valued destination. These are the questions for those who are wondering if we’ve spent enough time, effort, and money with pre-scientific jargon, agency, myth, and cha-cha to refocus on worn pseudo-science approaches.

So, “Is it time yet?”

When it comes to the mixed bag of psychology approaches, our current practices evolved more from philosophy and theology rather than chemistry and physics. Academic psychology (re: the study of behavior and mental processes) is not in isolation when it comes problems raised here, similar arguments hold for most of the social science disciplines. Yet if psychology is to be better understood and useful, more has to be done to communicate what is scientific about psychology rather than folk lore.

Now, according to some, psychology as a discipline has a “replication crisis” (The New York Times and elsewhere) that must be dealt with for the salvation of us all.

Perhaps it is time to examine some factors that make for a “replication crisis”. It’s likely that what sounds alarming is part of a continual reassessment that takes place regularly in sciences. However, now outside sources are asking for an accounting of why replications are so difficult in psychology.

There once was a time when things were based on dogma rather than data. When data came to be preferred over opinion and dogma, some thought that psychology would go in that direction. But, as it turns out, that position was a bit optimistic.

Some of the required changes to psychology’s approaches including math, chemistry, and cross-platform information methods that mirror established scientific approaches haven’t found much traction. And, rather than get immersed in more scientific pursuits, psychology’s focus remained non-science oriented contexts and continued to depend on private narratives, mental models and ‘thought experiments’ from non-scientific pursuits that were the genesis of much of psychology.

George E. P. Box

“Since all models are wrong, the scientist cannot obtain a “correct” model by excessive elaboration. On the contrary, following William of Occam, he should seek an economical description of natural phenomena. Just as the ability to devise simple but evocative models is the signature of the great scientist, so over-elaboration and over-parameterization is often the mark of mediocrity.”

• Science and Statistics (1976) p. 792

Three major issues are relevant to the large historical comfort zone that promoted speculation, storytelling, and philosophizing not readily amenable to the disciplines of science.

Agency

Rather than measure behavior at all levels (social to biochemistry, for example) to discover what was going on in contextual sets, psychologists continued to continue to hypothesize an array of internal entities which cause behavior. Collectively, these are called “agency” and make up, self, personality, possession, mind, needs, drives, motives, and so on. Because each agent eventually fell short of the requirements to explain behavior, the notion of agency required additional theories and hypothesized more intervening variables, hypothetical constructs and new sets of agents. These processes came to create subfields within psychology which frequently submerged the original question that started the conversation of why organisms do what they do.

Reification

Reification generally refers to making something real, bringing something into being, or making something concrete when it is a concept or idea. Concepts and agency terms filled a void over the ignorance about behavior. Thus, if the populace repeatedly used a concept to explain or describe behavior, right or wrong, the concept frequently morphed into subsequent communication at the level of reification.

Psychologists came to lead the way in doing what scientific disciplines (mathematics, chemistry, physics, biology and genetics) discontinued doing a century ago; using inference to assign causes. The evolution of the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) has provided a mushrooming array of mentalism geography, and agile agent gymnastics in internal workings of Homo sapiens in an effort to assign, align, and categorize “casual” attributes of behavior. As the size and scope of the DMS has grown, one might conclude that everyone has a ‘mental’ disorder. While this helps maintain a level of path dependency within psychology to its past, lack of correspondence just as often conflates any utility those terms, metaphors, and simalies provide.

Measurement Scales

Doing science is hard, agnostic, and unapologetic. As disciplines, social sciences treat information from the different scales (below) as if they were all the same. They are not.  For some, technology has offered opportunity to empirically measure more and assess the results more accurately rather than assign labels arbitrarily. With methods based on science rather than received wisdom from anthologies and vignettes, it can be argued that psychology could move in a more scientific direction. Changes don’t come easy. Changes in the direction toward a scientific understanding for psychology won’t come easy as long as nominal labeling and ordinal counting grows faster than the experimental work required can yield reliable results. A “good story” with pseudo-scientific terms will win almost every time. Creating a larger lexicon of untestable hypothesis and jargon in the absence of solutions has had a good run.

Are we there yet?

There have been a few excursions to move toward empirical assessments and away from naming conventions in psychology, yet teleological and ontological explanations and “extrapolation beyond the data” remain as the currency of much of psychology and its proliferation of subfields.

These are substantial issues. Changes are processional. Some will take the challenge and entertain changes. Others will not. Each will have to show value if it is to reach the formal analysis that typically accompanies a ‘scientific’ endeavor. Each option includes steps that must be added to the discipline if embracing the standards of science is their objective. An equally daunting set of steps must be expunged from current practices if scientific research produced is to be reproducible, reliable, and relevant to the substantial number of issues that psychology is framed to address

For psychology and similar disciplines, every time the going gets tough requiring genetics, mathematics, neurochemistry, and the knowledge of the methods those disciplines use, psychology and the other social sciences crawl back to philosophical narratives and mental gymnastics.

It may appear to show understanding when someone posits that such and such are the ‘causes’ of such and such. However, when the “causes” are encased in made-up abstractions, non-observable internal body states, inside the neuron, inside the chemistry, etc., (you get the idea) the scaffolding of abstraction grow out of control rapidly. It all is really not ‘understanding’ or ‘explanation’. It is dogma.

Psychology has taken these strategies of the untestable to explain the unobservable as its very domain of expertise. Such talk, writings, lectures, that cannot be tested, monitored or independently verified come in as welcome guests but never leave. They have no anchors to anything and thusly the value of the information morphs when the data is interpreted with empirical tools. It’s easy, especially when whatever modulates the dependent variables is unknown to the lecturer, writer, observer or psychobiologist.

Only when the methods used in psychology begins to depend more on measurable content rather than pre-scientific or hypothetical concepts, agency, or reification, they will find greater amounts of correspondence with what is actually happening in nature. Of course, that isn’t the entire solution, but will have benefited their disciplines on the way to understanding current problems on the way to solutions as well as foundations for more complex behavioral properties like emergence, convergence.

There are no shortcuts. As a discipline, psychology can’t wear the science badge if it doesn’t self-correct when there is no link between what is hypothesized and what is actually going on in the world. Making conjectures without testable options is still philosophy.

“A new scientific ‘truth’ does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.”

Max Planck, a Nobel laureate physicist

Yes, it is time consuming and a very inefficient set of contingencies. Yet, as long as those who are doing “psychological” research mix hypothetical internal agencies with hypothetical attributes and then interpret mixtures of data from different scales as equal, there will be a systemic lack of replication, accuracy and relevance to what psychology has to offer.

So now the initial questions remain to be answered:         “Is it time yet?”           “Are we there yet?

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About 13 years ago d and I made the passive aggressive decision to open ourselves up to the chance of procreating.  I’m sure the reader can figure out the choice we made.  Well the chance turned into a probability of 1 rather quickly.  

 I was a 26 year old idiot who believed literally “I could move mountains of if I had to.” Yup I said that seriously in an argument back then.  So my decision making ability then was as optimistic as it is now only it was further enhanced with nativity and hubris.   Nonetheless the die was cast and I was to be a dad.  And the learning and appreciation needed to come fast.   Fast it came or so I thought.  
I distinctly remember the moment d’s water broke.   OH SHIT OH SHIT OH SHIT.  what do we do?!?!   We are generally intelligent beings who faithfully read the curriculum and attend all required classes. But in that moment it was gone. All of it.  So of course WE CALLED OUR PARENTS.  mine laughed and when they were done they repeated a simple instruction: go to the hospital. Do not pass go.  Do not collect $200.  
We got our literal and figurative shit together and did just that.  Generally things went as expected.  It’s sort of all a haze.  I remember that I was not to talk nor point out when a contraction was evident on the seismograph as she “was very well aware of the situation!”  It was July 4, 2003. Barry white passed away earlier in the day.  I listened to Barry white songs while d came in and out of sleep and pain.  
Then came go time.  The sun was setting (hey this is my blissful memory so don’t go fucking fact checking).  It was time to bring baby Bella into the light and air of Santa Monica.  D was so amazing and as the sun faded hell if I didn’t see a purple headed offspring come screaming into the world.  These moments are what I’ve called before HI FIDELITY. the streams of data are so intense and the change of state so intense it leaves you transformed and awed.  Awed I stood watching them clean that little thing and watch purple turn to pink.   And then fireworks shot off in the distance and they handed d the Beautiful Light and we were officially a family of three.  
That’s my dad origin story more or less. And I couldn’t have dreamed of one of my more Ill thought out just do it non decisions turning out any more beautiful.  
And so here we are today. In less than a month my first procreated turns twelve.  Over the years I’ve gone through waves of confusion and disbelief and low confidence that I had or could get things right.  I’ve openly questioned what any right any of us have bringing kids into a world so far from being worthy of their existence.  And yes the whole last few sentences are some weird cultural and philosophical backdrop that is sort of irrelevant. 
 Things happen.  We happen. I happen to be a dad.  And with what happens I must do what I can to make it happen as best I can.  My daughters are passed the point where I swaddle and bottle and make it ok with simple gestures.  I have not transitioned quickly into going from provider to confider.  Just as I started figuring out how to properly feed them they learned logic and peer pressure and emoji.  And so now I’m a dude that occasionally can mumble something about relationships or why pot isn’t legal or why reality shows aren’t really reality but what is anyway.  I’m still pretty clear on mathematical things so not all is lost on first providership.  
And this is why I paint and write and sculpt and generate programs.  My kids long ago escape a linear relation to me or the world and I don’t have enough solid dad talk tracks built up.  I guess my artistic endeavors and other attempts to express and give back some synthesis of the world are me trying to pass on a little of what I’ve learned.  It ain’t easy.  It ain’t obvious.  It ain’t entitled.  It ain’t certain.  
Put some same beautiful light on a canvas and get on with it.  
Peace and love dads of the world.  And moms and kids.  
– Russ

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a boy, alone, shadows, crafted by leaves, filtered sunlight, these empty days, with no obligations, wandering wonders, of the world, this moment, heart pounding, he runs, chasing the hunted, hunted by a hunter, swift, silent, silence, look right, look left, up, swerves, he whirls, the unknown still unknown, dusk, rods and cones, mesopic optics confused, blue, green, dark blood, drips slowly, drop, surrounded, he flees, raised among the markets, he retreats, returns to them, passing tree upon tree, dodge, duck, jump, hide, sprint, back back back, to the artificial, light, light of man, man’s lit streets, beasts cannot roam, the ones created by nature, disallowed, too afraid, unable to survive, this maze of brick, steel, dung, motive means, rigid paths, paved more, less, to drive, anonymous exchange, eye of God, attempts, a reminder, that indeed we do trust, that, which isn’t, what, a boy, should know.

darkforest

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Dr. Tim Maudin posits in his “BIGTHINK.COM” article, that there is not much procedural difference between how one arrives at philosophical axioms for life and scientific ones.

However, let’s not wax Pollyannaic to the gods of ‘blog’; there are major processes that are different.   The philosophical axioms of life that one distills along the way are private and not amiable to testing or any type of validation or falsification.  That’s good for the individual according to those that traffic in concepts, metaphors, mysticism and similes, but it is not so relatively good for the species and the universe.  Those philosophical interpretations, rules, axioms and beliefs die with the owner.

Scientific ones may have, but don’t necessarily have, a similar etiology.   But scientific content is converted from private to public by the bridging of communication that can be scanned for a value proposition by anyone exposed who is attending to it and, in so doing, gets to tests the content in their reality as well as the public reality that science serves.

Our belief frame out behavior and when those beliefs don’t have any course correction available they can lead to good and less good consequences for the owner and the community that owner inhabits.  We all are stuck with some very outdated concepts; mostly tied to the Judeo-Christian-Newtonian World view, as some have pointed out responding to philosopher Maudlin’s article. No attempt or clue is offered how we all have these albatross’ of folk science, folk psychology and folk folklore and that, for some, make this Dr. Maudin’s video an opinion piece rather than an information piece.

What is unbounded is the need for explanation of relationships in ways that are general or conditional.  Private or covert neural patterns that equal what we call “cognitive” is not been a productive place to look to find out what the heck is going on in the world.  It is unbounded because of the complexity.   Staring at our belly button is one relationship that, while interesting to many philosophically, medically or technically, is not particularly relevant scientifically other than how it fits into existing context of those who value understanding a broader set of relationships. A scientific “explanatory crisis” is critical only because there is so much to do and behavior is complex. The philosophical procedures that have been around for 2500 years have left us wondering and wanting.  Scientific approaches have provided the Gore-Tex to suit the astronauts on the moon, if you get the difference in meaning. The differences are literally mind boggling because we’ve spent so much time in the ‘mind’ idiom that is marginal if not, blatantly unfruitful.  Current philosophical journals and entries validate this one-liner’s contributions to “our ordinary life”.

in starts and sputters science handles the changes in content understanding.  Philosophical approaches hang on using the metaphors and mysticism that was oh, so trendy in 1200 BC (interesting way to reference, ah!?). Thus, we have a similar explanatory crisis in our individual daily lives right now.  It could be called a dichotomy between those that ‘Get it” and those that “Don’t Get it” concerning myth, gods, premonitions, intuitions, feelings, motivations and the private axioms we treat as real (reification).  These reified concepts keep us ginned up recycling tattered messages rather than focused on the infinite simple relationships that make up the complex relationships that contribute to figuring out what the heck is going on out there.  Many people just gave up, are giving up, to become atheists, agnostics or vaccumists musing the antics of the “–isms” which are the stock and trade of philosophy as well.  But the quest to make sense of things is valuable and will find a course it finds rather than one based on ‘should-ought,’ or truth, beauty, right, wrong, etc., ad nauseum.

It is ironical that those that want to disagree with this piece are right now looking for a scientific-looking way to frame their Judeo-Christian-Newtonian folklore arguments to make them so strong that it will launch their careers… as philosophers.   Lol.

  1. Thursday, June 23, 2011; http://bigthink.com/ideas/24170

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“Tripping over Buddha” is an expression about not recognizing the obvious…or important stuff.

“If you were looking for Buddha [or insert subject of VALUE here], you could trip over him and be unaware of whom you had encountered.”

Such a statement can be pejorative or it can be about nothing more than the difficulty in not being able to see the forest for the trees.

Likewise, if we’re looking for a way to understand what the hell is going on in the world and we need some place to start, the recommendation is for you to start with “The Man in the Mirror” (thank you, Michael Jackson).  Us.  Homo sapiens.

By starting with ‘us’ then there’s a chance that you’ll learn how frustratingly complex organisms we are. For starters, perhaps you’ll be amused that we all

  1. sense things that aren’t there (do we really need examples?) and
  2. don’t sense things that are there (do we really need examples?)
  3. but continually muster outrage, violence, and retribution when we aren’t taken serious about our interpretations of life – from art to asinine and politics to potentates

So, as a starting place for getting to know what makes us tick, what makes us frail and what is the best hope we have of recognizing Buddha [or subject of VALUE here] if we should trip over him (or her), START HERE.

www.g2conline.org/#

This is by far the best site I have ever come across with regards to what’s going on about ‘us’. Yes, great for sorting out the complexity from the hyperbole. No, it can’t be watched and absorbed in a week, or on YouTube.   So go look, mess around, add it to your computer’s links, find what you are interested in or just gape at the wonders of it all but do it.

And, if you do, I hope you enjoy it.

But, like the Earl Nightingale once recounted, if you do take the time and effort to examine only a spat of the rules that govern you, in the end you’ll find you’re alone because the effort to grasp even the simple rules was too great a challenge for pretenders.  You know, those who claim to be looking for Buddha [or what the hell is going on] but don’t recognize what is there in front of them when it’s encountered.

If you do process what is there and you come away convinced there is something more or better or of greater value, then fine.  Now you know some serious empirical stuff you are rejecting and Buddha [or subject of VALUE here] may be right around the corner.

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Higher order conditioning (you know, the stuff we’re really good at) involves the paradigm where previously successfully conditioned stimulus (CS) operates as the unconditioned stimulus (US) for further conditioning.  And, like classical conditioning in general, high-order classical conditioning is often linked to known biological predisposition of the organism trained.

But the implication of traditional classical conditioning are less obvious; a real hit in the head to those that insist that life should be about using ‘common sense’.

Take the instance of McDonald’s being sued (2010) to stop giving out toys with happy meals (used to entice kids and adults when paired with bad food) at least, one would claim in such a court fight.   Toys which are also reinforcers that keep the people coming back, (operant conditioning) not necessarily for the food but for the ‘free’ giveaways.   Is that really any different than places providing good service, clean restrooms, good food, social amenities, or cigarettes  being the delivery mechanism for nicotine, etc.?

Well, some obviously think so.

The food, an Unconditioned Stimulus (US), is paired with a toy, a Conditioned Stimulus (CS) and a potential reinforcer for the children (yea, a new toy to have and hold) and the children (yea, a new toy for them to have and hold and keep them satisfied or quiet, whichever is the case).  The parents buy the food (US) and get the toy (CS) at the same time and they become linked. There is also the gambler’s bet operating in this type of example.  The conditioning that takes place is rarely some part of the awareness of anyone other than the people in the delivery business, thus, proving once again, that you do not have to have awareness to be conditioned or to avoid conditioning.  The awareness is a irrelevant.

Soon the family or the child attends McDonald’s and is not hungry for the nuggets, burger or shake, etc. and wants just the toy!   Not going to happen so the spending entity — grandma, parent, older person… buys the kid’s meal to appease the kid (enablement) and someone ends up eating the extra food or the food that the kid didn’t want but was purchased to get the new (surprise) toy.   Great!  The kid isn’t going to get more rotund but the adults are because they are now stuck eating the kids meal and their meal… after all there are poor people starving somewhere in the world.   (huh?)

Anyhow, some parents and food focused groups are saying that they want McDonald’s to stop the practice which “hooks” the parents and the kids on going to McDonalds.  McDonalds’ is protesting the suit.

Basically, we are all conditioned and that example is no different than other types of conditioning.  Making is less or more obvious is not the substantive question other than for the media.  The real issue is better food with less fat for children from a distribution place that many are conditioned to eat at.  But that is not the prima fascia case being made. Any changes in delivery mechanisms will require changes in fast food services content [food] which, in some cases, neither the children or the parents (and certainly not the fast food distributors) want to consider.

The result is conditioned helplessness of the parents..  Something to consider when selecting a restaurant next Friday night… or a business where repeat customers are part of the planned strategy…

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Historically, the search for a way to describe the mechanics of what is going on out there in the world and how it impacts what is going on with organisms [sometimes referenced as “the mind”, personality, cognition, consciousness, intuition, etc.] is that the fields of psychology have always used metaphors, similes, and analogies, in part, because most of the areas morphed out of philosophy, religion and literature.

Clearly for Descartes, mechanisms [particularly clocks and hydraulics] were big at the time and from there it wasn’t a stretch to embrace the naturalistic model, then the disease model, then the computer analogies, all the while not letting go of the metaphors, analogies, and similes that preceded it.

Yes, don’t forget the impact of the 70’s drug culture on 40+ years of speculation on consciousness, the inner self, higher self, etc.

The outcome of much of the theory and speculation was increased awareness at the cost of precision.  All three influences are with us today as embedded vernacular, imagery, and rationales’ applied to the understanding of organisms.  We still embrace the vernacular and the idioms of Freud as if they were true, valid or valuable.  At another level, these approaches are embraced and morph as needed because there is little to replace them that the populace could cling to considering Western Judo-Christian history, laws, and sometimes even a bully Western philosophical interpretation of all matters. The terms, concepts, etc., work because they explain behavior to many that are clueless and communication-less without such pop-snarkness, having otherwise to depend on greater superstition, folklore and ‘commonsense’ explanations than they currently do.  Said more succinctly, while the theory of mind may keep us from looking at the causes of behavior, it has some value, more than other Freudian alternatives or those endless literature dumps proposed by philosophy, theology and sociology.

As metaphors are wont to do, they work to make intangibly complex relationships more tangible, understandable, usable and communicable.  Science has not had a history of doing that well either so the result is there is little pragmatic value change in understanding what the heck is going on out there and ‘in’ there if science doesn’t make cases well enough.

The lay vocabulary we end up using is residue that provides consistent, sometimes vivid equivalents for concepts until the understanding of relationships and patterns can get sorted out.   A MAJOR problem comes from the reification of those terms like mind, need, motivation, personality, evil, addiction, intuition, etc., such that they are never scientifically challenged or shown to be what they are; a trail of metaphysical left-overs from philosophy, theoretical speculations and dependence on analogies, similes, and metaphors.

Unfortunately, the metaphor has become reified to the extreme by the world’s citizens and, through the conditioning we all used to get an education, became the reality of what it was a ‘place holder’ for. We’ve all seen it over and over: what had been an incomplete story-like example became the “thing” studied, described, interacted with before suddenly becoming raison d’être.

There is no bridge between pragmatism and articulated science.  If one can’t use what science provides people – even academia – will embellish what they have and use it it as they have for centuries.   Traditions allow us to avoid the constant assessment tasks that are needed.You know the old saw,

insanity is doing the same things over and over and expected the results to be different’ (-Einstein or W. Deming; take your pick) 

By embracing those states that come to keep us comfortable and un-questioning, only those events we subjectively or theatrically sense as catastrophic will generate uncomfortable questions that when answered will make a difference.

Thus, for you to entertain changing your sense of how anything works, business, families, social networks, corporations, football teams, etc. (you get the idea) you’ll need to get fired, get shunned, get de-friended, get passed over, lose the Super Bowl, and many other things equivalent to a kick in the ass.  When that happens, most of us change our perspective a wee bit after we get up… others just continue to blame or claim the world is evil, unkind, gone mad, filled with greed before setting out to get restitution, get even or get a lawyer.

How’s that last option working?

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