Monthly Archives: May 2010

TNQ | Today’s Noontide Query

2012…the subject of scads of conspiracy theories and apocalyptic predictions, allegedly originating from the Maya, though their modern descendants would and do dispute that, chiding us silly Westerners as just attaching our European religious myths onto their ancient Long Count calendar for no good reason other than the fact that it makes a compelling, scary story.

Come on people, I like good scary fiction too, but the fact that it resonates with our Judeo-Christian eschatological fears or New Age hopes gives us no cause to believe it’s real.

Frankly, I’ll be watching the London Olympics on the telly then, with nary a care about ancient calendars of extinct civilizations or undetectable rogue planets named Niburu, or Nimbiru, or whatever, when the Long Count cycle resets to zero and resumes another cycle, ad infinitum.

I’m quite sure that as long as Sarah Palin doesn’t win the presidential election then, there’s no justification to believe anything really horrible and nasty will happen to the world.

So, today’s question is:

What do you think you will do in 2012?

TNQ is a daily question that I pose to you, my readers, and please, do feel free to comment — I’m not an ogre. As per the title, TNQ is published each weekday at 12:00 PM

My Favorite Deadly Sin Given Life…Sloths!

Baloney Detection 101– the Clever Hans Effect

clever-hansThis is a form of ideomotor reaction, a sort of involuntary cuing done without conscious awareness of which the one doing it may be completely oblivious, even when actively trying to avoid it.

This effect was named for a horse owned and trained by one Wilhelm von Osten, dubbed der Kluge Hans, or in English, Clever Hans, who was indeed clever, in a much different way than was initially thought.

Hans had convinced even scientists, who at first had validated him, that he was every bit as intelligent as a human being, or at least near-human in intellect, apparently able to demonstrate understanding of peoples’ names, perform simple arithmetical computations by tapping the answer with his hoof, tell time, and otherwise know the answers to questions posed to him by attendees of his performances, which began in the early 1890s until 1904 when his secret was discovered by investigator Oskar Pfungst.

The Clever Hans effect involves subtle cuing by posture and facial expression by way of the aforementioned ideomotor action, as well as a remarkable talent often mistaken for psychic ability in humans — hypersensory perception or HSP.

When a control measure was implemented, in this case the exclusion of those persons who knew the answers to questions asked, Hans was incapable of providing a convincing response and would not know when to start or stop tapping his hoof.

His seeming human-like intelligence simply went away until those absent from the test were once again present.

Hans’ trainer, completely sincere in his initial belief, was taken aback by the animal’s failure to perform when controls were introduced. He didn’t even notice the changes in his posture and facial expression that were signaling Hans, so subtle were they.

In the late 1920s Duke University parapsychologist J.B. Rhine looked into the matter of another, similar case, that of a mare in Richmond Virginia dubbed Lady Wonder by her owner.

Rhine was absolutely convince that Lady Wonder was telepathic, and her performance, signaled by her owner by cracking his whip, involved making predictions and otherwise answer questions by pushing over toy childrens’ blocks with her hoof to spell out the answer.

The case was solved by magician Milbourne Christopher, who had identified her seeming paranormal ability as being the the result of the Clever Hans effect, not psychic powers, since she was unable to perform, often turning over the blocks at random, when her owner was not there to signal her, or when the trainer was unaware of the answer to a question.

This case illustrates perfectly why it is necessary to have a trained magician in attendance of a paranormal experiment, as James Randi has so often, and sometimes in vain, noted.

Something similar happened in a series of animal communication studies done during the 1970s, with the Nim Chimpsky incident (sort of an inside joke by the researchers referring to language theorist Noam Chomsky):

In this case, a male chimp subject named Nim, had at first convinced his handlers and researchers that he possessed sign-language abilities of extremely unusual nature, and had seemingly demonstrated the capacity to use complex sentences and create his own jokes.

He was, however, merely, if one will excuse the pun, “aping” the signs made by his handlers in exchange for a reward. In those instances when the signs were intelligible, he was talking, and if not, that he was making a joke.

There is of course, often a lot of shoehorning, selective thinking and confirmation bias going on during the studies of this sort, when those persons involved will frequently dismiss and ignore the wrong gestures and take note of and remember the correct ones.

It happened in this series of studies that the test-subjects would perform a series of random gestures until their handlers gave them a reward.

I suspect that this may have been the case in studies of a female gorilla named Koko, who in a similar situation seemed to invent her own signs and reportedly show an IQ of about the human equivalent of 60.

This is something that has time and again beset early animal communication research.

Note that, as mentioned above, even being aware of the Clever Hans effect and trying to prevent it brings no certainty of actually doing so.

TNQ | Today’s Noontide Query

Early on as an atheist, I was well, kind of anti-religion in my views, sort of the Village Atheist. I softened up over time and finally, through the writings of Carl Sagan, Martin Gardner and my own personal evolution, decided that religion wasn’t all bad, despite the excesses that some of its self-professed, and self-righteous, representatives take it to.

I do get concerned when religion intrudes where it has no right to, like in the realm of scientific facts, or in American politics, well, the latter any much more than it already is. Sorry, but I’d rather not live in a theocracy, thank you much. If I did I’d live in Iran, and I’d much rather this country not become the United States of Jesus, or whatever.

But religion does have a few positive contributions to make, provided it remains in its proper place and not in the American military, government or science.

Personally I view religion as a mixed package with both useful and detrimental effects on society.

So anyhoo, here’s todays question:

Do you think that religion has a good, bad, or mixed effect on society?

TNQ is a daily question that I pose to you, my readers, and please, do feel free to comment — I’m not an ogre. As per the title, TNQ is published each weekday at 12:00 PM

Teh Kittehs R in Teh Awtotoon


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