Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Sorry I'm Venting

During this year, I've been pushed to do way more research into minute things than ever before. This is because I've had to do a lot of writing, and I have to have good information to back-up everything I write down. More often than not, this is very hard, because I can't get to the right information.

I want to write this blog about a dilemma that I've found within myself: how internal thoughts not only translate to physical actions, but also the relationship or disconnect between how a person thinks others think of him and how people actually think of him, and how that uninformed internal voice blocks a person from opportunities. A good example is when I was a freshman and new to the school, I automatically told myself that everyone already had their friends, and that I wasn't who anyone would want as a friend. And now, as a junior, I can see that I was not only mistaken, but that I've been ridiculously rude to people around me because my internal mindset convinced me that I wasn't enough to be friends with them. With a little more courage or confindence, I could have had plenty of friends, but I didn't, and I don't.

My internal voice was subduing my external possibilities. So I tried to research this concept, and came up in a field of philosophy and psychology I couldn't hope to understand. There is one guy, Franz Brentano, who somewhat mapped this relationship between the internal and external forces in his concept of intentionality. He basically says, in much more eloquent words, that our thoughts have objects that they are directed toward. Our thoughts have content, as he said: "Every mental phenomenon includes something as object within itself, although they do not all do so in the same way. In presentation something is presented, in judgement something is affirmed or denied, in love loved, in hate hated, in desire desired and so on." My thoughts that I was sub-par to all the other 14 year olds around me led me to create content that influenced my external world poorly. This idea of intentionality connects to my mind-body problem, in that the content I create in my head is sometimes completely unfounded in the external world.

But I'm not trying to write a blog about how sad I am that I don't have thousands of friends, and I can't find much more scientific words to label this dilemma smartly. In Kafka on the Shore, by Haruki Murakami, Nakata and the truck driver are  searching for the "entrance stone" in Takamatsu, but they (like me) can't find the information they need. I'm only half-way through the book, so maybe they find in the coming chapters, but in chapter 26, the scene where Hoshino scours the library for information of the entrance stone, "But what he really wanted -- a decription of this entrance stone -- was nowhere to be found" (Murakami 259). I need to hone my researching skills, because I have so much to say and I can't find the smart labels to explain what I'm thinking. And that problem is exactly what creates pointlessly frazzled blogs like this one.

Perhaps I am in a good place though, because even if questions aren't answered, asking them is a better alternative than not seeing that there are questions to be asked.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Responsible Statistics?

"The possession of knowledge carries an ethical responsibility."

It has become increasingly common for emotional appeals to contain statistical reasoning. When arguing that there is an issue between the police community and the black community, people vaguely reach for statistics like "black unarmed men are killed at three times the rate of whites and other minorities." When arguing that there is still unjust sexism towards women today, statistics are used like how 1 in 3 woman are sexually assaulted by a partner during adulthood, or how women are ten times more likely to be victimized than men. This statistical name-dropping is binding individuals up in numbers in an effort to make an impact on the ethical conscious of the audience.

This act of processing victims in the form of numbers, shuffling them like all they are is data, seems to lead to an ethical dilemma: to represent individual tragedies by a number feels like it's dehumanizing the injustice. But that isn't what is meant by the speaker who crutches on statistical appeals; statistical reasoning is used to prove the validity of an issue.

It's an odd quark in the system because mathematics isn't usually associated with empathy or ethics.

The interesting thing about any statistical evidence is that there is undoubtedly large amounts of statistical bias floating around in this field. Statistical claims are more or less simply probabilities. Data is collected and processed, but unlike the theories Laplace's scientific determinism, there is no way to access all the data relating, especially when it's data relating to human relations. These weaknesses in statistics aren't common knowledge. The field of mathematics is viewed entirely objectively, and seen as something without loopholes or shortcomings: more or less, it is seen as an undeniable fountain of knowledge.

Statistical reasoning, when used to appeal to emotional reasoning, can easily become dangerous. Faulty statistics, or even justified statistics, can be twisted and bent to serve specific purposes in an argument. This deceitfulness can be said for most anything though. Evidence can always be cut and pasted to be interpreted any multitude of ways.

Ethics can get muddled, but if ethical responsibility means maintaining honesty and transparency, statistics easily fails. It is agreeable that it is the responsibility of citizens to view their fellow compatriots as real, valid, and not bound up in a number, sure. But furthermore, into the mathematical realm of these numbers, it is the responsibility, whether ethically beneficial or not, of people to question mathematical reasoning. Because having an ethical conscious extends beyond emotions and moral compasses, especially when the field of mathematics overlaps the field of ethics.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

How do predictions affect results?

Upon my first Google search, this question cracked open an immediate and oppressive flood of statistics.
Which was not something I was attempting to look into when I asked how predictions affect results. My mind was thinking in the humanities realm: how self-fulfilling prophecy seems to jeopardize the future or create an excuse for future actions.

I got my knowledge question from a situation I couldn't grasp: Trump claims that the election will be rigged in Hillary's favor. When I heard this, I thought how incredibly unfair of him to cry wolf before voting even begins. Just saying that he'll be defeated gives him lee-way to be able to walk away from the election no matter the results with his pride still intact. And that to me seems completely unjust. He is predicting that he'll lose, so when the results come out his victory will be glorified or his loss will already have it's blame on Hillary.

But when this question was discussed in TOK, most people leaned towards a mathematical interpretation of it, just like Google did. While sifting through articles on Google I came across the term predictive
Linear regression, showing a predictive model. 
, which is basically the statistical process of predicting outcomes. The goal of predictive modelling is to determine the probability of an outcome when given certain data inputs. One interesting application of this methodology is uplift modelling, also known as incremental modelling. This technique looks at how different input variables would change the model and change the outcome. So we can see how different actions taken can cause certain results, and we can set up actual models to run through different predictions over and over.

Statisticians use these things to analyze a whole slew of different things, but that's all still looking at
predictions and results in a linear, objective way. My question remains unanswered, because it calls for
something more than mathematical probability.

On a second Google search, I found something that hints a little nearer to an answer in an article about the psychology of self-prediction. The article discusses the psychological tracking of self-predictions and the actual results of them, based on a theoretical framework presented by Koehler and Poon in 2006. They said that people have a natural tendency to predict their future actions with an optimism-bias, to where the higher their intent the moment they predict, the higher the probability they will actually complete the task. But with that optimism-bias comes the risk of under-weighting possible obstructions, such has a loss of intent or situational barriers.

The deeper I read, the more and more I saw the same thread of statistical reasoning within the brain. It seems as though you could almost take a skeleton predictive model, and plug in our brains to one end, and out the other end you could see the psychology of self-prediction. Incredibly interesting, but still not exactly talking about how this thing happens and what it affects.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Reflection on WOK Presentation

In our lesson for the WOK project, Bryce and I presented on Sense Perception as a way of knowing.

At the beginning of the class period we introduced a cute activity that was intended to draw light to the interconnectedness of our senses. Volunteers were asked to close their eyes and hold their noses, and were given either a slice of pear or a slice of apple. The theory was that it would be impossible for them to decipher what it was without being able to employ their sight and smell sense preceptors. However, it was a flop. Everyone was able to easily determine which fruit they were fed.

Maybe what gave it away was the difference in texture between an apple and a pear. Perhaps if it had been two equally crisp fruits the mind would’ve had more trouble with it. Maybe the tongue was able to pick up on texture and the mind used memory to fill in the rest the blanks.

Or it could’ve been that my fault was in telling them the options before they partook in the activity. Their brains might've pre-developed a taste and so when they ate a slice, their brains filled in what they “tasted” from memory. But this is a stretch, I think the first scenario is more plausible. Whatever happened, the activity was quite disappointing.

On a lighter note, the second half of our teaching experience seemed to go much better. We watched a Ted Talk by David Eagleman, a neuroscientist, who presented his invention. He went into a greatly complex history of sorts on our perception of reality and how partial our senses actually are. We only pick up a select few things that are all around us and we call those few things our reality, our “umwelt.” He explained how impartial our brain is, in that it is able to adapt to new stimuli and eventually make sense out of it and provide communicable information. Then he presented the vest he had created that helped the deaf be able to “hear” by turning sound into vibrations felt in the vest.

The video was interesting, but the discussion that took place after the video was even more intriguing to me. I had planned a few major points to cover and talk about, but everyone chipped in and cultivated a discussion I hadn’t even dared to hope for. They took the video and ran with it to places that hadn’t even crossed my mind, coming as a great relief to me.

Overall, the presentation was a daunting task for me, seeing as how I will always hate standing in front of people and having to talk to them in any situation. But it ended up being a very pleasant community discussion. I definitely have a newfound love in my heart for those people who talk and talk, and bring in new ideas that give the discussion some amusement. This WOK was a good challenge for me.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

This I Believe - The Love of a Mother

I believe in the love of a mother. 

Specifically, I believe in the love my mother has for me. 

Just today I came out onto our porch to read, and Mom came out to go outside. I asked her about a plant she brought home today that hasn’t been planted yet and she told me “Don’t put it in the green pot because I put some lemon seeds in there a couple days ago to see if I can grow a lemon tree.” I told her that about a week ago, I had stuck a peach seed down in the very same pot to see if I could grow a peach tree. She laughed, saying, “Now we won’t know what it is when it comes up!”  

Mom and I are tangents of the same personality: we share social awkwardness, hypersensitivity to criticism, hermit-like behavior, stage-fright, and many other introvert-type things. But there are nicer things we share, like dry humor, incredible intuition and insightfulness, idealistic world views, and determination in the face of hardships. This makes it easy for me to say Mom and I are pals. We’re pals because she’s loved me since the day I arrived on the planet. Yes, I know she’s instinctively forced to love me because I am her child, but my mom loves above and beyond that pre-required love. 

When I was a little kid, boys at church would always make me cry. They’d follow me around and tease me over anything they could imagine. Once, my mom found me crying at the top of the slide out on the shabby church playground. I explained to her, through intervals of sobbing, how one of the boys wouldn’t stop making fun of the way I talked. At the time I had a speech impediment and I was over-the-top self conscious about it. But my mom brushed my hair away from my face and told me that the reason people were mean to me was because they saw something in me that they didn’t see in themselves, and they were just angry with me for having something they didn’t. She told me that they didn’t know any better than to be mean to me when they felt like that, and that I couldn’t let it upset me. 

Time and time again, I have thought back to that moment when I’m on the brink of letting something someone said ruin my day. And it helps. It helps to think that maybe someone isn’t mean to you because of you, but rather because of something they are struggling with internally. 

My mom is incredible. I could go on and on with cliches about how self-sacrificing, kind and caring she is. But suffice it to say that she is the reason I believe in the immeasurable love of a mother. The cradling of the baby, the hip-toting of the toddler, the chasing after of the little monsters, and the stern rebuking of the pre-teens, all the way through the rocky moments of teenagers and into adulthood: the love of a mother proudly marches through it all, never wavering. 

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

What does it mean to say we know something?

To say we know something is similar to how scientists rely on scientific theories: they know the earth is round and things evolve because that's what they've observed and verified and nothing has come along to dismantle their theories. I think all knowledge, to some extent, is just a theory: it's something we've found to hold true in all the circumstances we've faced and so we hold it close because it's comforting to have such knowledge.

A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking
Stephen Hawking states in A Brief History of Time that a scientific theory is respected only if it can "accurately describe a large class of observations" and can make "definite predictions about the results of future observations." I think we know things in much the same way: I know my eyes are blue because every time I and anyone around me looks at them, they appear blue. One check for describing a large class of observations. And I am sure that in the future when I look in a mirror my eyes will still appear blue. One check for future predictions! I have a solid theory, I have knowledge.

I'm not saying that all knowledge is scientific or that science is by any means as simple as observing facial features in a mirror, but I do think that to be able to say we know something we have to go through a certain process of observing, verifying, and testing different ideas and beliefs before we can claim knowledge.

The only flaw with this idea is that not all knowledge is gained first-hand. Not all knowledge can be achieved through observing and experimenting. I can still say that I know that murder is wrong without having to actually murder someone. However, if I said it was okay to murder another human I would feel sick in my stomach and I would know that I was wrong. How? My conscience would tell me so, and so would the culture I've been surrounded by. So maybe to say we know something is essentially to say that we have this thought or idea that our conscience says is okay and is in agreement with the culture we surround ourselves with.

There's something more to knowledge that I can't put my finger on. Maybe it's something about our amazing consciences. Maybe there's something in our brains we haven't found yet that is home to the mysterious way we have truth and knowledge. Whatever it is, I know I don't know it.