Archive for 'Arts and science'

Is sarcasm the highest form of intelligence?

Monday, July 27th, 2015

Well, is sarcasm the highest form of intelligence? According to a new study in the journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, it may be.

The study, called “The highest form of intelligence: Sarcasm increases creativity for both expressers and recipients“, was published by Li Huang, Francesca Gino, and Adam Galinsky.

[CAUTION: A different, also recent, study indicates that walking increases creativity. Be careful about expressing sarcasm while walking — the combination could, perhaps, induce unpredictable levels of creativity.]

The contents of Appendix A of the article.

The contents of Appendix A of the article.


As with all other recent papers in journals by world-renowned publisher Elsevier, the study has five self-reported highlights:

(1) Sarcasm is an instigator of conflict but also a catalyst for creativity.

(2) General forms of sarcasm promote creativity through abstract thinking for both expressers and recipients.

(3) Expressing sarcasm to or receiving sarcasm from trusted others increases creativity without elevating conflict.

(4) We manipulated sarcasm via a simulated conversation task and a recall task.

(5) We employed three different creativity measures and a well-established measure of abstract thinking.

I feel like this study has justified the last 39 years of my existence. (Thanks to investigator Taha Yasseri for pointing us to this study.)

Note: Absolutely no sarcasm was employed in the writing of this blog entry.

‘Malaforms’ – pronunciation through the mangle

Monday, July 27th, 2015

kaiser-about“You won’t find the word ‘malaforms’ in the dictionary, but it most certainly ought to be there.” – explains Scott Kaiser, the Director of Company Development at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland.

“What do I mean by a malaform? A malaform is the unintended creation of a new word by a speaker who has mangled the pronunciation of a perfectly good existing word.”

He not only coined the word, but also provides an explanation of how they are distinguished from malaprops (or malapropisms).

“[…] where a malaprop is the imperfect use of perfectly good words, a malaform is the mangling of perfectly good words into imperfect ones.”

A quasi-contemporary example is provided:

George W. Bush: ‘They misunderestimated the compassion of our country. I think they misunderestimated the will and determination of the commander-in-chief, too.’
(He means underestimated)

See Mr. Kaiser’s essay on the subject of malafroms in: Voice and Speech Review, Volume 5, Issue 1, 2007, Rebusing the Fartuous Word: Malaforms and Malaprops in Shakespeare



Continuing need for the ‘medical effects of sword-swallowing’ study

Saturday, July 25th, 2015

Jennifer Weiss, writing in the Wall Street Journal, explores the continuing need for the prize-winning study “Sword-Swallowing and Its Side Effects“. The study’s authors, Brian Witcombe and Dan Meyer, were awarded the 2007 Ig Nobel Prize for medicine. Witcombe and Meyer’s Ig Nobel acceptance speech is documented in this brief video:

The Wall Street Journal article says, in part:

Students Take a Stab at Sword Swallowing
Sword swallowers are on edge as TV and the Internet spur neophytes to guide sharp objects down their throats

Don’t try this at home, the master of ceremonies of the Coney Island Circus Sideshow cautioned, and with good reason.

One performer was reclining on a bed of spikes. Another danced on a pile of broken glass. And his own “human blockhead” act involved hammering a nail into his nasal cavity.

Then there was Betty Bloomerz, who wore a black skirt and fishnet stockings as she moved playfully in time to Louis Prima’s swing classic “Sing, Sing, Sing.”

As about 30 spectators looked on in a small Brooklyn theater, Ms. Bloomerz tilted her head back, placed a foot-long blade into her mouth and, using her tongue, began to move it in time to the music. She let the sword drop downward until its metallic gold hilt came to rest near her bright red lips. Then she pulled it out with a flourish.

Point taken….

A study [Dan] Meyer co-wrote with Brian Witcombe, a British radiologist, found that “sword swallowers run a higher risk of injury when they are distracted or adding embellishments to their performance.”

The authors got information for their research from 46 practitioners. The study was published in the British Medical Journal in 2006 under the title “Sword swallowing and its side effects.”

Musical taste and cognitive style, together at last

Friday, July 24th, 2015

Here’s a theory that’s complicated, so it must be true, maybe:

SimonBaronCohenMusical Preferences are Linked to Cognitive Styles,” David M. Greenberg, Simon Baron-Cohen [pictured here],  David J. Stillwell, Michal Kosinski, Peter J. Rentfrow, PLoS ONE 10(7): e0131151. (Thanks to Neil Martin for bringing this to our attention.) The authors explain:

“Why do we like the music we do? Research has shown that musical preferences and personality are linked, yet little is known about other influences on preferences such as cognitive styles. To address this gap, we investigated how individual differences in musical preferences are explained by the empathizing-systemizing (E-S) theory. ”

BONUS: Some researchers suggest there is no clearly definable thing that ought to be called a “cognitive style”.

BONUS: Awkward moments run in the family

How many universes are necessary for an ice cream to melt?

Friday, July 24th, 2015

Ice-Cream-MultiverseHow many universes are necessary for an ice cream to melt? Asks Professor Milan M. Ćirković [pictured] of the Astronomical Observatory Belgrade, Serbia, in the Serbian Astronomical Journal, Vol. 166, page 55-59. His paper considers the possibilities of other universes where a soft ice cream, left to its own devices, might be generally more likely to freeze rather than to melt. In other words one (or more) where the arrow-of-time might point in a different direction than it does here. But although the author goes into substantial cosmological and mathematical detail, those readers hoping to find a purely numerical answer to his question (viz. expressed as an integer, e.g. 42) will probably, in this universe at least, be disappointed. Rather:

“Only on the truly global scale – i.e. in the multiverse – there is no thermodynamical asymmetry, no arrow of time. Only through an anthropic selection effect do we perceive one in our own cosmological domain. In a sense, the ice cream melts because such [a] state-of-affairs is necessary for life and intelligence (no to mention ice-cream makers!) to occur.” [author’s emphasis]

Also see (many-worlds related): ‘Would this paper exist if I hadn’t written it?’

Question: Can the word ‘universe’ legitimately have a plural  – given that the ‘uni’ prefix asserts that there’s just one?