Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Speed of Dark?

[Johnathan Clayborn]
Here's a fun philosophical/physics quandary for you, a conversation I had with several of my coworkers a few years ago: what is the speed of dark? This question isn't intended as a joke, but as a serious thought for discussion. Logically, this question only has two possible answers: either the speed of dark is 0, or the speed of dark is the same as the speed of light. Scientifically this could be expressed as ds=0 or ds=ls.

To answer to this question it is going to require a little bit of discussion about the nature of dark. What exactly is dark anyway?

When this question first came up in the original discussion one of my coworkers immediately fired back with the comment that there was "no such thing as dark". I found this to be a perplexing statement. No such thing as Dark? Really? When I questioned him he said that Dark was really just the absence of light, and therefore not a real construct. But, if Dark is just the absence of light, and therefore not real, then what possible way would they have to measure that light against in order to assign it a lumens rating, or candlepower? It could be argued that "Dark" is simply 0 on the lumens scale, but being that it is an integral part of that scale and the basis of all luminosity measurements, then it certainly seems like it would be a real and valid construct.

Okay, so if we operate on the assumption that dark is a valid theoretical construct, how does that help us to understand how fast this thing moves? The answer to that question lies in understanding the nature of that thing. How does it work? What is it comprised of? In the case of light, this is easily understand. Light is an energy wave that is comprised of photons. These photon have energy, but no mass. So light is not a solid thing. What about darkness?

Darkness, on the other hand, does not intrinsically contain photons, although it does abosorb them. It then converts these photons into heat energy (which is why black cars are hotter than white cars). These heat-releated properties are explained by many of the principles of thermodynamics.

To recap, light is an energy wave that contains protons and moves with momentum. Darkness is a construct that absorbs photon energy and re-emits it as heat. But does it move? What happens when light spills into a void where darkness once was? Does the darkness vacate that space at the same speed at which the light enters? Or does the darkness linger and allow the light to permeate through it?

Although not immediately obvious, the answer, is that the speed of darkness is actually 0. Darkness doesn't flee before the light. Darkness absorbs the light until a specific threshold is reached and no more photons can be absorbed, and then it essentially becomes light.
How can we know that this is true? The answer has been in front of us the whole time: light and dark can occupy the same space at the same time. We know this because dimmer switches are possible. It is possible to adjust how much light floods a space by increasing the intensity of the light emissions. Once the light stops being emitted, the influx of photons ceases and the darkness bleeds off the photons it has absorbed and returns to being darkness once more.

Trusting Your Instincts

[Johnathan Clayborn]
Recently I've found myself in a situation that I would have never dreamed of finding myself in. It's a quandary with no real right answers one way or the other. It's not a situation that I would have asked for, and yet, despite that, it's one that I'm very glad that I'm in. And yes, I'm being deliberately vague, and no, I won't elaborate.

The point of this is that sometimes, you just have a feeling and know what you need to do. You may not want to do it, you might dread it or put it off, but you know what needs to happen. How do you know? Because you feel it in your gut. This undeniable inner voice from somewhere deep within your core speaks to you, telling you how it is.

It's kind of one of those situations that, had I explained the details you would most likely consider me completely crazy. And yet, I know more surely than I have ever known anything that this is the right path to take, even though it's not the easy path. How do I know? Because my inner voice tells me so. My psyche, or my subconscious, or my soul, or whatever you want to call it, it speaks, nay it shouts to be heard. To deny what my gut tells me is right causes me stress, anxiety and emotional and physical discomfort.

But what if you don't have such a strong feeling? What if you are faced with a choice and you aren't sure how to proceed? Are there other ways to tell? There are lots of tricks to help you. One piece of advice from LifeHacker is to pretend like you are giving advice to a friend who is going through the same situation. This is easier said than done in most cases. I'm very good at giving advice. Many of my friends seek me out because of my wisdom and insight. However, even knowing what I would tell them in that situation, sometimes it's difficult to take your own advice. So what other options are there?

Lifehacker also suggests limiting the amount of information that you take in. Sometimes taking in too much information can cloud the decision making process because you get hung up on the trivial details. Of course, in some cases this is not always possible, so what else is there?

Making a list of pros and cons can help some people who are very analytical or overly-organized see "the big picture". I've certainly done this a few times myself, but it doesn't work in every situation.

Some research suggests that there are many different factors that might affect your decision making including (but not limited to); time of day, how angry you are, your surroundings, the ambient music, etc. But if you are aware that these might be influencing your decision they are easy enough to counteract.

One resource suggests something called the "10-10-10 rule" for decision making. Ask how you will feel in 10 minutes, 10 months, and 10 years about your choice. If you would still be happy with it, it's a good idea. The fallacy of this logic is that you don't know how you will feel in 10 months or 10 years; all you have to go on is how you feel right now.

Surprisingly there is a lot of research that suggests that quick, snap decisions, can be the best method. There was an article in Psychology Today that talked about this next premise, although I can't seem to find it, so I'll post the link to what is essentially the same concept on Lifehacker below. Basically, the PT article said to think about the question, and then close your eyes, push everything out of your head and then after you were calm, count to three and say your answer. Whatever you decide under the pressure like that is generally better and will make you happier. The LifeHacker method was a bit more involved and included a piece of paper and a long distraction, but it included the same basic gut response. One poster who responded to the LH article had a brilliant idea: to flip a coin; heads or tail and then take note of which side you hoped that it landed on. That would be the right decision.

The point of all of this? Some decisions can seem impossibly hard on the surface, especially if you think about and analyze them with your cognitive brain. But sometimes it's just best to turn that off and trust your gut instincts.


The Necessary Art of Self-Deception

[Johnathan Clayborn]
I know that as a blogger I'm not doing a very good job of posting regular articles. But, to be perfectly honest this pursuit is at least of quatinary importance to me falling in line after school, family, and work obligations are met (not necessarily in that order). So, it should come as no surprise that I haven't posted in a while. These last few months have kept me very busy, but on the up side I have officially completed my 1st year of my PhD progam.

I had many interesting conversations and topics come up during the last couple of months, but didn't have the time to write about them. I'm going to use this opportunity to write about one of the more recent conversations that came up in school during my Culture and Ethics class.

As human beings we are amazingly good at the art of self-deception. We also have this amusingly frustrating ability to define things in the absolute. This is particularly true when it comes to questions and topics of a moral or ethical nature.

One thing that I've noticed of late is that humans are generally very quick to point the blame and criticize or ridicule those whom they feel have violated their preconceived notions of morality. We have our own set of moral codes and beliefs that we staunchly and stoutly cling to, safely believing that our moral code is infallible and that we would adhere to these rules unquestionably.

In truth, life is simply not that simple. Now, mind you, I'm not advocating the creative implementation of excuses to defy your moral code. I'm not even suggesting that you should actively seek opportunities to do so. But, I am saying that when it comes to how we evaluate our actions and behavior perhaps there is a little too much confirmation bias at play.

Often I have been in conversations with people who say things like "I would never steal anything". Really? Never? Never ever? That's an interesting lie that you're telling yourself. Now, for 1 person out of 1,000 this might be true, with emphasis on might. But for the vast majority of us we're engaging in self-deception. Does this mean that most people are thieves and crooks? No. But, what I am suggesting is that there might exist an extenuating circumstance so grievious that the most logical choice of action would be to break your moral code.

Take, for example, a natural disaster or a public crisis. Suppose that your city is in panic. Power is out. Your refridgerator is no longer working. Instead of having 2 weeks of food on hand (which is the national average according to FEMA, by the way), your cold goods are now bad and you have 5 days worth of dry goods to eat. In a survival situation people should keep in mind the rule of 3's: people can generally not survive more than 3 minutes without air, 3 days without water, and 3 weeks without food. Now, bearing this in mind, if you were in this siutation where you had no electricity and little food, if you were to fast-forward 2 weeks to the point where you have haven't eaten in days and you're starving. Maybe you have small children to think of as well. If you came across a store that had food inside, would break in and steal it? Most people would when faced with that situation, even those people who devoutly profess that they would never steal anything. What if there was someone who was hoarding food? Would you physically attack them to try to take food for your own family? If they think they could take them in a fight or they were desperate enough, most people would. Of course, it's easy to deny it now when everything is kosher and say that you're above all of that, but if you ever find yourself in such a situation see what you think then.

So why is it that we do this? Why do we have this inherent need to lie to ourselves? The answer, simply, is because we have to. We have to beleive that we are good people and are incapable of egregious acts like what I described above. To admit to ourselves that we would, in fact, break many or of our own moral codes if the situation mandated that we must presents us with a logical fallacy that our cognitive brains are not capable of
reconciling. Granted, the tipping point for most people to cross their ethical and moral boundaries is quite varied. For some people it doesn't take much, but for others the situation has to be extraordinary. A lot of this self-deception is the fault of our own egos and super-egos, which are the psychological process that our brains use to develop our self image. We tend to be happier and healthier when we can picture ourselves as good people, incapable of any wrongdoing at any time.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Albert Bandura: Social Modeling Theory - fact or fiction?

[Johnathan Clayborn]
Question: Can classroom bullying be attributed to social modeling and/or vicarious learning?

To answer the question of whether or not classroom bullying can be attributed to Social Modeling Theory, we have to first examine if social modeling theory is viable and logical outside of the classroom.

Albert Bandura postulated that people learn behavior through modeling (Bandura, 1977). According to this theory, people learn how to behave by watching those around them. There are certainly some examples where this would seem to be the case, but as a general principle, I disagree with Bandura, at least with regards to violence. I do not believe that violence is a trait that is learned through social modeling at all. Violence, whether we like it or not, is an intrinsic part of being human.

Any day that you watch the news you will see evidence of violence; shootings, muggings, rape, murder. It happens every day all over the world. Most of the media is quick to blame violent video games, saying that the shooters were influenced and learned how to do it from these video games, which would support Bandura's theory (ABC News, 2013). However, others, myself included, are quick to argue the fallacy of this logic in what has become a hotly debated topic (Atlantic wire, 2013).

Regardless of what side of this debate you find yourself on you cannot logically deny the fact that violence has existed long before video games. There are many famous mass shootings that happened prior to the advent of violent video games: George Hennard - 1991, Patrick Henry Sherrill - 1986, James Huberty - 1984, George Banks - 1982, Joseph Whitman - 1966, etc (CNN, 2013). So, if social modeling through video games is to blame for today's modern killers, then what social modeling is to blame for these killers? Television? What about mass murders that happened prior to television? Did Jack the Ripper learn how to kill through social modeling in victorian literature?

In parts of the world that are completely devoid of media, children still violent games with each other (Diamond, 1999). One could make the argument that these children learned to be violent through social modeling through their parents and other adults in their communities. However, violence has been used as a family event and a form of entertainment for hundreds of years. During the "wild west" and the colonial era of American history public executions were common practice that included the whole family. This practice originated from Medieval europe where it was precedated by the Roman practice of the gladitorial games.

Probably the most damning concept to Banduras theory is Otzi the Iceman. Otzi is the oldest, intact complete human remains ever recovered from anywhere in the world with his mummified corpse dating back 5,000 years ago (PBS, 2011). He is damning to bandura's theory because in addition to being the oldest intact human ever found, he's also the world's oldest cold-case murder victim; he was shot in the back with an arrow and cudgeled over the head (PBS, 2011). If Bandura's theory of social modeling is correct, and we learn our behaviors from those around us and our parents, then where did the people who came before learn how to be violent? One might argue that violence was learned and perpetuated from the earliest humans, but where did they learn it? Additionally, there are many examples of people who do the opposite of the behaviors that were socially modeled for them; pastor's chidlren becoming involved in gangs or drugs, people who grew up in a gang family becoming police officers, etc. If social modeling is correct, then why do these people deviate from, and do the exact opposite of the behaviors that were modeled for them?

To get back to the original question; can classroom bullying be attributed to social modeling and/or vicarious learning? No, I don't think so. There is a lot of evidence that suggests that this is not the reason why children bully each other. I would argue that there is something within our residual evoluationary psychology that makes children bully each other, rather than social modeling. I would argue that peer pressure and the need for acceptance plays a much bigger role than social modeling.

Personally I think that peer pressure and evolutionary psychology play a more important role than social modeling. Humans are an intrinsically social group. In our days as a hunter-gatherer society society ostracization from the group meant almost certain death (Diamond, 1999). This is one reason we still like to form groups and perpetuate an "us vs. them" mentality in everything we do from religion to politics to sports. In a throwback from our hunter-gatherer days we still view strength as a desirable trait and people are incined to try to "prove" their strength by picking on those weaker than they are.


ABC News (2013) How Violent Video Games fit in with Violent Behavior. http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/navy-yard-shooter-played-military-style-videogames-relevant/story?id=20285169

Atlantic Wire (2013) Don't Blame Video Games for Monday's Mass shooting. http://www.theatlanticwire.com/entertainment/2013/09/dont-blame-violent-video-games-mondays-mass-shooting/69499/

Bandura, A. (1977). Self-efficacy: Toward a unifying theory of behavioral change. Psychological Review,
CNN (2013) 25 Deadliest Shootings in US History http://www.cnn.com/2013/09/16/us/20-deadliest-mass-shootings-in-u-s-history-fast-facts/

Diamond, Jared. (1999) Guns, Germs, and steel: The fate of human civilizations.
PBS (2011) Iceman Murder Mystery http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/ancient/iceman-murder-mystery.html