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A Chinese appreciation of Professor Trinkaus’s password-guessing research

Sunday, December 11th, 2016

John Trinkaus, who was awarded the 2003 Ig Nobel Literature Prize for publishing more than 80 detailed academic reports about things that annoyed him, got some recent attention for his how-well-do-people-guess-at-passwords research. The Chinese Apple site produced this video about that:


Here’s a machine translation into English of part of what it says:

John Trinkaus, a professor at the City University of New York, found that 75 percent of respondents bought their suitcases and the passwords would remain intact. There are many reasons, but the main are lazy, that one thousand to remember, and some also said that when the customs clearance to facilitate easy to open inspection and so on. Therefore, the human head is not difficult to guess, may not be able to get out of Holmes can get. In addition, Professor Trinkaus had an experiment years ago, with hundreds of students between 50 to 100 to pick a double number. If it is you, you will guess which they pick the original most people will eventually choose 68.”

The report cites two of Professor Trinkaus’s studies:

The report combines Trinkaus’s insights with those of Richard Feynman, who as a young physicist working on a top secret project discovered the secret of opening safes in top secret places. Here’s a video about the Feynman story:

Why Isn’t Why Simpler?

Sunday, March 20th, 2016

Richard Feynman, asked a question that begins “Why…”, explains why that kind of question is tough:

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

Saturday, 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.)

The Mirror Reversal Effect – a new angle

Wednesday, February 12th, 2014

Mirror_ReversalIf you’re one of those people who looks into a mirror and wonders – ‘Why is left-right reversed, but not up-down?’ – then you’re not alone.

“No agreed-upon account of mirror reversal is currently available although it has been discussed for more than two thousand years since Plato.”

– explains mirror researcher Yohtaro Takanoa, Professor of Psychology at the Graduate School of Humanities and Sociology, The University of Tokyo, who has been trying to find a consistent explanation for the enigmatic ‘Mirror Reversal’ effect for more than fifteen years. He’s written more than half a dozen scholarly papers on the subject, the latest of which (the source of the quote above), is awaiting publication in the journal Philosophical Psychology : ‘Mirror reversal of slanted objects: A psycho-optic explanation’

“The proposed theory assumes different causes of mirror reversal depending on whether an object’s left-right axis is parallel or perpendicular to a mirror’s surface. This theory was later criticized in that it provided no explanation when the left-right axis is neither parallel nor perpendicular but at an intermediate angle between zero and 90 degrees with a mirror. This article completes the theory by presenting psycho-optic analyses to show that mirror reversal at an intermediate angle can be explained within the same basic framework of the theory.“

Note: The photo above, provided by the professor, shows a mirror view in which the letter ‘C’ (which is stuck to the wall) is reversed, whilst the letter ‘F’ (a hand-held cutout) is not.

Here is a video of the late Professor Feynman sharing his views on the enigma.

BONUS: (new PLOS ONE paper) ‘Itch Relief by Mirror Scratching. A Psychophysical Study’

Psychological Truth(s)

Saturday, July 7th, 2012

This is how professor Richard Feynman, BSc., Ph.D. described the process of validating a scientific proposition  – which he liked to call “A guess”.

“It doesn’t make any difference how beautiful your guess is, it doesn’t make any difference how smart you are, who made the guess, or what his name is – if it disagrees with experiment, it’s wrong. That’s all there is to it.” [source]

Others have referred to this idea as The Correspondence Theory of Truthi.e. when the ‘guess’ ‘corresponds’ to real-world observations. In other words :

“… a proposition is true if and only if the world is as the proposition says it is.”

Some may view the theory’s proposal as self-evident in the realm of say, particle physics –  but how might it be applied to less concrete scientific fields such as, for example, psychology? A new paper on this subject is published in the journal Theory & Psychology, June 2012, vol. 22, no. 3, pp. 272-289.
‘Truth, science, and psychology’ is authored by professor Brian D. Haig, DipTchg, M.A. ,Ph.D. F.N.Z.Ps.S., F.A.P.S. (University of Canterbury) and professor Denny Borsboom M.A., Ph.D. (University of Amsterdam) who adopt the Correspondence Theory as a plausible theory of truth, and relate it to science. After outlining the theory, they go on to describe its implications in simple terms, thus :

“We [then] present the correspondence theory in a form that enables us to show that the theory uniquely fulfills a crucial function in psychological research, because the interpretation of truth claims as suppositions that concern states of affairs in the world clearly explicates what it means for a theory to be true, and what it means for a theory to be false.”

[tip:  read ‘claims’ as a noun rather than a verb.]

And, to sum up, even more simply :

“It is concluded that correspondence truth plays an important part in our understanding of science, including psychology.”

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