Feynman on the difference between names and what’s going on

December 13th, 2014

Richard Feynman told stories that got people thinking. This passage from a talk Feynman gave at a meeting of the National Science Teachers Association in 1966 in New York City, was later printed — as part of a transcript of the entire talk — in The Physics Teacher, vol. 7, issue 6, 1969, pp. 313-320.

The next day, Monday, we were playing in the fields and this boy said to me, “See that bird standing on the stump there? What’s the name of it?”

I said, “I haven’t got the slightest idea.”

He said, “It’s a brown-throated thrush. Your father doesn’t teach you much about science.”

I smiled to myself, because my father had already taught me that [the name] doesn’t tell me anything about the bird. He taught me “See that bird? It’s a brown-throated thrush, but in Germany it’s called a halsenflugel, and in Chinese they call it a chung ling and even if you know all those names for it, you still know nothing about the bird–you only know something about people; what they call that bird. Now that thrush sings, and teaches its young to fly, and flies so many miles away during the summer across the country, and nobody knows how it finds its way,” and so forth. There is a difference between the name of the thing and what goes on.

The result of this is that I cannot remember anybody’s name, and when people discuss physics with me they often are exasperated when they say “the Fitz-Cronin effect,” and I ask “What is the effect?” and I can’t remember the name.

I would like to say a word or two — may I interrupt my little tale — about words and definitions, because it is necessary to learn the words.

It is not science. That doesn’t mean, just because it is not science, that we don’t have to teach the words. We are not talking about what to teach; we are talking about what science is. It is not science to know how to change Centigrade to Fahrenheit. It’s necessary, but it is not exactly science. In the same sense, if you were discussing what art is, you wouldn’t say art is the knowledge of the fact that a 3-B pencil is softer than a 2-H pencil. It’s a distinct difference. That doesn’t mean an art teacher shouldn’t teach that, or that an artist gets along very well if he doesn’t know that. (Actually, you can find out in a minute by trying it; but that’s a scientific way that art teachers may not think of explaining.)

Behemoth – not hippo nor elephant?

December 12th, 2014

Blake_BehemothThose involved in studying biblical texts sometimes disagree about the exact nature of Behemoth, as described in the Bible, in Job 40:15-24. Could it have been, as some have suggested, a description of an elephant, or a(n) hippopotamus? Dr. Dave Miller Ph.D., M.A.R., M.Div., M.A., B.A., writing in the journal Reason & Revelation, Dec. 2011, Vol. 31, No. 12, thinks not, and offers an alternative interpretation :

“In His description of behemoth, God states emphatically that the creature ‘moves his tail like a cedar’ (Job 40:17). Yet many commentators have insisted that behemoth is to be identified as either the elephant, or more likely, the hippopotamus (cf. the NIV footnote at Job 40:15: “Possibly the hippopotamus or the elephant”). Since both of these animals have farcically tiny tails, the comparison of behemoth’s tail with a cedar must be explained in some way.”

The Dr.’s explanation is that Behemoth might have, instead, been a dinosaur – a(n) herbivorous one to comply with Job 40:15. He suggests, Apatosaurus or Argentinosaurus or even Diplodocus. For those who might be unclear about the timing – in the sense that Job would need to have been living at the same time as Behemoth (the dinosaur), Dr. Miller goes on to add :

“The imposing intimidation of modern pseudo-science, that dominates the intellectual landscape of the world, has succeeded in pressuring many to compromise the biblical text in hopes of retaining what they conceive to be academic legitimacy and sophistication. Nevertheless, abundant bona fide evidence exists to demonstrate that dinosaurs were created by God on the same day of Creation as humans (Genesis 1:24-31), that dinosaurs and humans once cohabitated (cf. Lyons and Butt, 2008), and that the incredible creature of Job 40 was, in fact, some kind of dinosaur.”

Further reading:

(as cited in the article) ‘The Dinosaur Delusion’ (Lyons and Butt, 2008)

(not cited in the article) ‘The God Delusion’ (Dawkins, 2008)


Study: Top (male) comedians die earlier?

December 12th, 2014

A new study from professors Simon Stewart and David Thompson of the Centre for the Heart and Mind and the Mary MacKillop Institute of Health Research (MMIHR) at the Australian Catholic University (ACU) has found that :

“Elite comedians are at increased risk of premature death compared to their less funny counterparts.”

The team examined a study cohort of 53 (exclusively male) comedians from the UK and Ireland – both living (23) and not (30) – and analysed the data using IBM SPPS Statistics version 22.0. The data were weighted according to the ‘funniness’ of the man in question, running from ‘relatively funny’ to ‘hilariously funny’.


“On an adjusted basis, there was no correlation between the decade of birth (HR 0.94, 95% 0.65 to 1.38 per incremental decade; p =0.763) and comedy team status (HR 1.13, 95% 0.51 to 2.48 versus independent comedian; p = 0.761) with longevity. However, an increasingly funny comedy score was associated with increased mortality (HR 1.24, 95% CI 1.06 to 1.44 per unit funny score; p = 0.006). Of the 23 comedians adjudged to be very funny (score 8–10), 18 (78%) had died versus 12 (40%) of the rest; mean age at death 63.3 ± 12.2 versus 72.3 ± 14.7 (p = 0.079). Within comedy teams, those identified as the funnier member(s) of the partnership were, on an adjusted basis, more than three times more likely to die prematurely when compared to their more serious comedy partners (HR 3.52, 95% CI 1.22, 10.1; p = 0.020).”

The hypothesis was further bolstered with the finding that in the case of double-acts, the ‘stooges’ (or straight men) were more than 3 times less likely to die on an adjusted basis before those designated as the funny man.

See: ‘Does comedy kill? A retrospective, longitudinal cohort, nested case–control study of humour and longevity in 53 British comedians’ in: The International Journal of Cardiology, 180 (2015), pp. 258–261.

Notes [1] : The paper cites this study from the British Journal of Psychiatry, 204 (2014), pp. 341–345, by Victoria Ando, Gordon Claridge and Ken Clark Psychotic traits in comedians. The researchers asked more than 500 comedians to complete an online form based on the Oxford-Liverpool Inventory of Feelings and Experiences (O-LIFE), with scales measuring four dimensions of psychotic traits, finding that : “Comedians scored significantly above O-LIFE norms on all four scales.”

[2]: Sadly, both the comedians in the clip above – Peter Cook (comedy rating 9 in the ACU study) and Dudley Moore (comedy rating 5 in the ACU study) are no longer metabolically extant. They are deceased. They are ex-comedians. They do, however, in a sense, live on, in YouTubeLand

Rod constraints for simplified ragdolls

December 11th, 2014

Programmers sometimes love rag dolls. This study is the fruit of one such love:

Rod constraints for simplified ragdolls,” Chris Lewin, Matt Thorman, Tom Waterson, Chris Williams, and Phil Willis, Proceedings of the 12th ACM SIGGRAPH/Eurographics Symposium on Computer Animation, pp. 79-84. ACM, 2013. The authors, at the University of Bath, UK, and Electronic Arts, explain:

“Physics-based animation has become a standard feature in modern games. Typically, the bones in a character’s animation rig are each associated with a simulated rigid body, leading to a jointed assembly commonly called a ragdoll. The high density of animation bones in the spine area can cause instability and performance issues, so we are motivated to find a simplified physical representation for this region. We approximate the spine region of a ragdoll as an inextensible elastic curve, building a circular arc constraint based on the Kirchhoff rod model. Our simplified spine shows improved performance and stability over the standard group of socket joints, and proves to be more controllable.”

Here’s more detail from the study:


Frequency of Suboptimal Effort of Some Students

December 11th, 2014

Some students sometimes don’t “give it their all“, suggests this paper:

jorgensen-randallI Just Want My Research Credit: Frequency of Suboptimal Effort in a Non-Clinical Healthy Undergraduate Sample,” Jonathan DeRight and Randall S. Jorgensen [pictured here], The Clinical Neuropsychologist, epub December 10, 2014. (Thanks to Vaughan Bell for bringing this to our attention.) The authors, at Syracuse University, explain:

“The current study utilized an embedded measure of effort… to determine the frequency of poor effort in non-clinical healthy undergraduate students participating in a research study for course credit. Results indicate that more than 1 in 10 college students participating in a cognitive test battery for research showed test scores consistent with inadequate effort, which was associated with poor performance on testing across many domains. This conclusion was supported by poor performance on many other subtests. Healthy college students with suboptimal effort (n = 11) had an overall score in the 15th percentile on average compared to the 48th percentile in the rest of the students (n = 66). Those who failed validity indicators on the baseline administration were more likely to fail validity indicators on the repeat administration. Those who were tested in the morning were also more likely to fail validity indicators.”

Some students sometimes do, suggests this October 26, 2014 news report, also from Syracuse, New York:

5,000 students give it their all in Carrier Dome to find out who are the best marching bands in New York

More than 5,000 high school students, along with an estimated 10,000 fans, packed the Carrier Dome for the New York State Field Band Conference championships Sunday.

Fifty marching bands came to town to compete and determine who is the best. For each band, months of practice all came down to a 7- to 10-minute performance. A panel of 10 judges evaluated each band on its musical and visual presentation.