This is Your Brain On Awesome Thoughts on the world from a student of the mind

10Dec/10

Now this is how you show statistics

So this isn't technically about science, although it's about a field that is of extreme importance to science: statistics!  I feel like stats is one of those fields that is, upon first glance, incredibly boring...however, if you spend the time to delve in a bit deeper and figure out the many things that stats can tell you, it becomes fascinating.

And thank god that there are people like Hans Rosling around to do just that.  You may have seen a number of his TED talks in which he uses historical data to illustrate the history of the world with beautiful clarity.  Well, he's got another video out, and it's a doozy.  It comes from BBC Fours special program "The Joy of Stats" in which Professor Rosling takes us on a statistical tour that covers all kinds of different topics.

One of the coolest thing about stats (and number crunching in general) is that they allow you to reveal hidden patterns within seemingly random and jumbled data.  The more you look at the world, the more you realize that it tends to be both predictable and noisy at the same time.  Statistics are a way for us to make sense of this ambiguous universe, sketching out the underlying rules behind a seemingly uninterpretable world.

It is rare these days to find a person who is knowledgeable and engaging enough to get people excited about stats, but take a look at the above video and you may find yourself a convert!

via BBC Four

23Nov/10

Simplicity and Complexity are two sides of the same coin

I recently came across this fascinating TED talk by Eric Berlow, a scientist that specializes in complex systems ranging from ecological networks to the political spectrum.

As someone who's job is to understand the interconnected nature of complex systems, he's got an insight into our world that we'd all benefit from learning...luckily that insight has been packaged into a 3 minute presentation!

It's often easy to get mired in the multidudes of information that are presented to us each day, but it's important to remember that underneath that jumbled mess of data is often a beautifully simplistic trend that can explain most of the effects that we're trying to understand.  

Take a look at this short presentation, and think about how you might be able to pull the simple out of the complex in your own life.

via TED.com

21Oct/10

The Unintuitive Mind

Here's a really interesting TEDx talk given by Dan Simon at the University of Illinois.  Dr. Simon studies visual attention and perception, among other things, but the topic of this talk touches on a subject that is a bit more abstract.  He discusses the types of behavior we see when people do things, say things, or perceive things that logic tells us they shouldn't.  Put simply, he is interested in understanding the ways in humans act unintuitively.

He gives a number of examples that by now are very well known in psychological literature (the gorilla ball game is one of my favorites), but I think that his talk as something very important to say about our attempts to understand humans.

In attempting to investigate the ways in which our actions don't make sense from a rational or intuitive standpoint, we can say something very important about the underlying mechanisms (be they at the neural level or the psychological level) that cause people to do the things that they do.

I can't help but think of economics when I see a lecture like this one, since it seems that our most popular modern theories in this field have assumed that humans are rational and relatively all-knowing creatures that can act in an efficient and sensible manner.  Now, I don't think it should take a well-established career and tenure to be able to understand that humans are far from the rational creatures that many economists would like, but perhaps instead we should just should them some of the examples in this talk...

via TED.com