Scientific concepts can help us understanding the world

Predictive coding. Rational unconsciousness. Uncalculated risk. Constraint satisfaction

Scientific concepts: what good are they outside of science?

The endeavour of science is not an abstract exercise to increase absolute knowledge in a vacuum, but it seeks to understand the world. The complex thing is that in doing so, scientific concepts have to employed to help give observers a means to describe or explain phenomena, however imperfect they may be. These concepts however, are not constrained esoteric terms that only scientists or students of science can utilize, but they provide any interested observer with the tools to explain the world around them, to explain human behaviour and condition.

Here are 35 quick examples you can start to think about today. They might even give you a means to explain your observations or arguments in an essay. For example, determining whether the world is necessarily a  ‘better place’ because of technology would often lie with people’s perception of a supposedly better life entails, and predictive coding would help us be aware of how expectations often determine what we perceive as good or bad quality. Uncalculated risk may sensitize us to irrational moral panics and fears that arise from events like vandalism or air plane crashes when in fact larger issues are overlooked. Constraint satisfaction alerts us to the fact that more choice is not necessarily a good thing, and sometimes even an imperfect but deliberate narrowing down of options is more productive to solution finding. Policy makers for instance, cannot simply consider options and ideas from ALL sectors of society with equal weight, lest they become crippled and inefficient as a result.

Geo Marketing: Convenience or Concern?

Imagine walking into your favourite mall one day and you’re greeted by billboards and store fronts start calling out your name, telling you about your shopping history and suggesting new products for you.

Seems like that reality may not be too far off. Like the scene above from Minority Report, retailers and malls here are in talks with digital technology firms to install tracking systems to detect shopper movement, face and even gender to ‘better cater’ to our needs.

Is this convenience? Or does it warrant concern about privacy?

Why Do We Hate Math?

Hate math? Well according to Professor Edward Frenkel, from the University of California, Berkeley, what you are actually hate is the frustration with merely painting the ‘fences’ without knowing about the bigger picture or the greater works of arts out there i..e your frustration with complex numbers and vectors is blinding you to the bigger, beautiful uses of math out there that actually play an increasingly important and intimate role in your everyday life.

In a sense he makes an almost moral argument – that we owe it to ourselves to know and understand math so that we are not so easily fooled or misled by those who wield math for their own unscrupulous gains.

What do you think? Do these arguments make your reconsider your hatred for the subject? 

Apple: Screens Over Socializing

Media doesn’t just reflect reality, they also reproduce it. Just saw this advertisement from Apple that unintentionally paints the gloomy picture of people being distracted by their screens instead of living the moment.

Mark Wilson from Fast Company observes how Apple has misunderstood what great design really is judging from the images in this ad:

So the experience of a product will never be what matters to a great designer. It’s always been about the experience of a person using that product.

What The Internet Does to Our Brains

What’s important to note here is that when we talk about the impact of certain phenomena or things on society, it is not enough to say that they’re inherently bad or good. But rather the question is: why is it likely to make a negative impact given the way our brains are seemingly wired (e.g. the need to stay focused on pay attention in order to store more information in our long term memory), or given how the internet today is filled with  distractions (e.g. hyperlinks, browser tabs, adverts, messages, updates on social media, email alerts).

In other words, we need to closely examine both the nature of the impacted group (i.e. the biological makeup of your average human in a developed society) and the nature of the impacting agent (i.e. the internet as it has developed till today).

And also, is it really enough to just stay the internet is bad – full stop? Hardly. Notice how the video ends with a qualification to concede that the internet does have its benefits but it is just that we need to moderate our use of it and factor in more down time in our daily lives.

GOSH. Even while typing that post I got distracted by 3 news articles, 2 videos and 1 Facebook alert.

Hackers: Heroes or Headache?

This PBS documentary tries to highlight the positive social change effected by hacker communities in high profile issues like the Middle East uprisings, military trials and even disasters like Hurricane Sandy.

Do you agree? Is ‘hactivism’ really a force for good in the digital age? Can we trust these anonymous faceless groups to mete out justice in a manner we’re willing to accept?