Archive for December, 2008

narrow framing

Monday, December 29th, 2008

My cat kept eating a plant in my apartment that made her vomit. I realized what was going on and moved the plant where she can’t get at it. Apparently some of its leaves were left under a chair and she found them this morning, ate them, and about twenty minutes later let out a series of pre-puke cries and threw-up twice. Poor cat. Why can’t she learn not to eat that plant? Something about it stimulates her highly developed mammalian brain to consume it, and regardless of the inevitable aftermath she can’t override that impulse. If only she had a more developed pre-frontal cortex, like us?

As a fellow mammal with equally puzzling behaviors in response to environmental stimuli – but with the benefit of additional cognitive apparatus, I am reminded of this part of a lecture by Daniel Kahneman called a short course on thinking about thinking sponsored by edge – the excerpt below is from session one, there is video/transcription for all the sessions here. I’ve been voraciously consuming Kahneman’s work lately…. The excerpts in bold/italics are my doing.

Well over 30 years ago I was in Israel, already working on judgment and decision making, and the idea came up to write a curriculum to teach judgment and decision making in high schools without mathematics. I put together a group of people that included some experienced teachers and some assistants, as well as the Dean of the School of Education at the time, who was a curriculum expert. We worked on writing the textbook as a group for about a year, and it was going pretty well—we had written a couple of chapters, we had given a couple of sample lessons. There was a great sense that we were making progress. We used to meet every Friday afternoon, and one day we had been talking about how to elicit information from groups and how to think about the future, and so I said, Let’s see how we think about the future.

I asked everybody to write down on a slip of paper his or her estimate of the date on which we would hand the draft of the book over to the Ministry of Education. That by itself by the way was something that we had learned: you don’t want to start by discussing something, you want to start by eliciting as many different opinions as possible, which you then you pool. So everybody did that, and we were really quite narrowly centered around two years; the range of estimates that people had—including myself and the Dean of the School of Education—was between 18 months and two and a half years.

But then something else occurred to me, and I asked the Dean of Education of the school whether he could think of other groups similar to our group that had been involved in developing a curriculum where no curriculum had existed before. At that period—I think it was the early 70s—there was a lot of activity in the biology curriculum, and in mathematics, and so he said, yes, he could think of quite a few. I asked him whether he knew specifically about these groups and he said there were quite a few of them about which he knew a lot. So I asked him to imagine them, thinking back to when they were at about the same state of progress we had reached, after which I asked the obvious question—how long did it take them to finish?

It’s a story I’ve told many times, so I don’t know whether I remember the story or the event, but I think he blushed, because what he said then was really kind of embarrassing, which was, You know I’ve never thought of it, but actually not all of them wrote a book. I asked how many, and he said roughly 40 percent of the groups he knew about never finished. By that time, there was a pall of gloom falling over the room, and I asked, of those who finished, how long did it take them? He thought for awhile and said, I cannot think of any group that finished in less than seven years and I can’t think of any that went on for more than ten.

I asked one final question before doing something totally irrational, which was, in terms of resources, how good were we are at what we were doing, and where he would place us in the spectrum. His response I do remember, which was, below average, but not by much. [much laughter]

I’m deeply ashamed of the rest of the story, but there was something really instructive happening here, because there are two ways of looking at a problem; the inside view and the outside view. The inside view is looking at your problem and trying to estimate what will happen in your problem. The outside view involves making that an instance of something else—of a class. When you then look at the statistics of the class, it is a very different way of thinking about problems. And what’s interesting is that it is a very unnatural way to think about problems, because you have to forget things that you know—and you know everything about what you’re trying to do, your plan and so on—and to look at yourself as a point in the distribution is a very un-natural exercise; people actually hate doing this and resist it.

There are also many difficulties in determining the reference class. In this case, the reference class is pretty straightforward; it’s other people developing curricula. But what’s psychologically interesting about the incident is all of that information was in the head of the Dean of the School of Education, and still he said two years. There was no contact between something he knew and something he said. What psychologically to me was the truly insightful thing, was that he had all the information necessary to conclude that the prediction he was writing down was ridiculous.

COMMENT: Perhaps he was being tactful.

KAHNEMAN: No, he wasn’t being tactful; he really didn’t know. This is really something that I think happens a lot—the outside view comes up in something that I call ‘narrow framing,’ which is, you focus on the problem at hand and don’t see the class to which it belongs. That’s part of the psychology of it. There is no question as to which is more accurate—clearly the outside view, by and large, is the better way to go.

ilia ovechkin’s ‘a thousand knights; no respawn’

Sunday, December 21st, 2008

a thousand knights; no respawn

Ilia Ovechkin told me about a work of his from ’07 entitled: A Thousand Knights; No Respawn. that he created using the Sauerbraten game engine.

The piece features a sparse landscape brimming with, seemingly, a thousand knights colliding into each other as they stomp and slash. “Respawn” is a gaming term referring to the resuscitation of a character after its death.

As i understand the game, players entering the field of play are instantly killed by the myriad marauding knights and spend most of the game in the afterlife (‘no respawn’).

I’m not sure what that afterlife consists of, or if it exists within the game proper, or elsewhere as the perspective of the person playing the game watching the inevitable, instant killing machine that is the field of play (i think it’s the latter), but, in any case, i find the project clever and inspiring, and find myself wandering into ARG land, wondering how to script some poetic interactions with a player that occur within a game’s afterlife – and how the creation and definition of that afterlife environment could be the intention of that phase of the game, and developed collaboratively between the player and the game and, perhaps, how the resulting and varied afterlives could echo lightly back into the initial field of play as some subtle change… but that’s just my own current fascination with transfigured respawn.

captain beefheart’s compositional methods

Thursday, December 18th, 2008
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nice description of beefheart’s compositional methods in his later work: drum parts derived from throwing metal ashtrays against the wall and swinging shopping bags containing various things, to his exploding note theory, and in-studio compositional/recording techniques.

you can find cardboard cut out sundown on rhapsody.com – it’s the 6th track on ice cream for crow. the part gary refers to begins (i think) around 1:50 and culminates around 2:05.

you can also find an interesting BBC documentary on captain beefheart by searching captain beefheart documentary on youtube.

euh? + wikiweb

Wednesday, December 17th, 2008

my student anthony mattox – check out his project wikiweb (wikipedia visualization in processing he did for my scripting class this semester) showed me euh? last week. nice.

in speaking with sam about euh? we agreed that neither of us have seen such an interesting use of pop-up windows as in this version of pong.

chopsticks, card sorting, nomic, and hand games

Wednesday, December 17th, 2008

on a crowded train tonight i saw a teenager pointing and wagging her fingers at someone – i couldn’t figure out what she was up to, and eventually realized she was playing some sort of hand game.

as i’ve been thinking a lot about hand-made, hobby, hacked ‘games’ and off-beat transactional schemes lately i was intrigued.

walking back to my apartment and trying to figure out what the game was i recalled trying to develop a hand game a few years ago as an out-of-gallery component to a project i was working on for art interactive in cambridge, ma. i wanted to create some off-site action that would reflect some of the underlying logic and intentions of the installation in a portable form. the hand game component never happened.

when i got home i started searching and found out about chopsticks – and also located an online version – i’m pretty sure that was what the teens were playing – i’d never heard of it before. i like it.

here are two girls playing chopsticks:
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this reminds me of a favorite video of the wisconsin card sort, a test of frontal lobe function where subjects try to figure out the rules for placing picture cards in front of other picture cards by placing cards on the table and receiving and ‘yes’, or ‘no’ from the person administering the test. the challenge behind the wisconsin card sort is that the rules change during the test…

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would be interesting to develop a hand game where one of the moves is to change the rules silently.

hand nomic? – sort of…

let me know.

movie posters with brand integration

Thursday, December 11th, 2008

this data viz appeals to my skeptical empiricist POV

movie posters with brand integration

sexy people

Thursday, December 11th, 2008

take a look, you’ll be glad you did.

two games from Jason Nelson

Thursday, December 11th, 2008

apparently my school is moving forward with a gaming concentration, along with an initiative to more formally introduce flash into our curriculum. when i heard this yesterday i wasn’t initially sure how i could contribute, then i found these flash based games entitled: i made this. you play it. we are enemies., and game, game, game, and again, game. now i’m interested.

i made this. you play it. we are enemies.

game, game, game, and again, game.

we’re built to adapt, and adapt to what we build

Tuesday, December 9th, 2008

my friend eric (who sometimes reads this stuff) had a party a few weeks ago, during which we had a brief talk about what was on our minds – i mentioned something about ‘motivating environmental stimuli’ and the built environment (eric is an architect). anyway, eric sent me an email afterwards and i thought i’d share some of what i wrote to him with you – whoever you are…

i am caught up in thinking about environmental psychology lately – how the built environment triggers specific responses, and how those responses seem to amplify frontal lobe behaviors (planning, simulating, calculating, managing) – and how below the frontal lobe is our limbic system – which is a finely tuned mammalian brain wired to help us adapt to whatever environment we’re in ‘intuitively’ – or, at least, ecologically (like all other mammals do). perhaps biological psychiatry is a better phrase.

we’re built to adapt and adapt to what we build, and while we, unlike other animals, can simulate/imagine potential outcomes and choose to do one thing rather than another based on what we imagine, regardless of the strength of the impulse (frontal lobe over limbic) i think the proliferation of frontal lobe behavioral stimulation we’ve embedded in our environment (things that cause us to retrospect, prospect, mentally simulate, etc.) is making us less ecologically (and self), aware, and that is retarding our development of knowledge (increased awareness).

i don’t have a specific solution but i’ve begun spending more time observing what motivates me in an environment, and how i feel (emotionally, physically) – and what types of intellectual activity (planning, retrospecting, prospecting, calculating, ?) seem to accompany various stimuli – and how there is an engaging ebb and flow of intellective and impulsive states of mind and responses. i think of it as a personal practice of skeptical empiricism intended to perhaps balance out my executive-simulating, and intuitive-ecologically adaptive mind(s).

i’ve mentioned nicholas taleb before, and i heard (and read – excellent tools over on fora.tv) him state his intentions like this:

how to turn a lack of knowledge, and a lack of understanding into action

my simple practice creates a state of mind similar to this idea.

here’s another quote of his that i’ve been thinking about today, from an interview with knackeredhack:

The biggest problem we have is effectively the incentive system. You should be able to pay $10 for a newspaper some days, and nothing another day. People pay the same price every day, regardless of the amount of news. That is counter to the way randomness is. In Extremistan [Taleb’s term for a world fashioned by rare and extreme events as ours has become] some days you have a lot of news, some days you have no news.

my take is that the pricing system (and even the layout/design of the document) creates a patina of orderliness that is strangely disconnected from the inherent turbulence of its content. And we train to (adapt to) that patina of orderliness, that appeals to/stimulates our frontal lobe, which manages our limbic system, that connects us to our environment ecologically, and so on.

interesting times.