Friday, April 29, 2005


For the next two weeks, I am still an undergraduate, which means that I am taking courses intended to broaden my mind. One of them, which really isn't too bad, is Cognitive Psychology. We discuss a lot of experiments and critique the conclusions drawn out of them.

Today, we talked about language. Noam Chomsky enters into this, and became famous, for critiquing B. F. Skinner's book, "Verbal Behavior." Without getting into this too much, Chomsky mischaracterized Skinner's argument (It is generally felt that he either didn't understand it or never read the book), and then attacked this straw man.

This episode is seen as epochal in cognitive psychology (it's mentioned in the 1st chapter of our textbook), because it was part of the decline of behaviorism.

Anyway, one of Chomsky's arguments for why language must be inborn is that if you take the meaningful, grammatical sentence "John drove the car into the garage," you can shorten it to "John drove the car," to make another meaningful, grammatical sentence. However, if you take the sentence, "John put the car into the garage," and shorten it to "John put the car," the resulting sentence is not meaningful.

Chomsky points out that children don't make the second sentence - they seem to know better. At this point, I got confused, becasue I'm sure I've heard children making homologous mistakes. So I asked the prof, "Are there any experiments that back this up?" And he said, "Of course not!" And I said, "I wish you would have told me there was no evidence for this before I put so much effort into trying to believe this."

That's the problem with psychology, and the attached pseudo-disciplines (like linguistics) - it's not all science, but it's not all non-science either. You just have to be clear on which is which. As an English major, I'm used to being in circumstances where we have to argue a bunch of vague, untested, untestable statements, and as a biochemist, I'm used to being in the exact opposite circumstance. I would just rather know which set of rules we're playing by.

Monday, April 18, 2005

A man walks into a bar

He drinks 6 Newcastles, 4 shots of Jack Daniels, hits on the waitress unsuccessfully, takes his wedding ring off, tried again and fails, drinks 3 more shots, drives home, beats his daughter for coming home late, and cries himself to sleep realizing that he hates his life.

This and other realistic endings to jokes at: ::Something Awful::

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Terrible jokes

Apparently, in the 1950's there was a fad where people would tell jokes with formulations like, "In America, you X the Y. in Soviet Russia, the Y X's you."

e.g. In America, you stand in line. In Soviet Russia, the line stands in you.

In America, you disapprove of the government. In Soviet Russia, the government disapproves of you.

In America, you go people watching. In Soviet Russia, the people watch you."

Those were mine. Some I stole from elsewhere are:
# In Russia is freedom of speech. In America is also freedom after speech. -- Yakov Smirnoff
# In America, you watch television. In Soviet Union, television watches you.
# In America, you check books out of library. In Soviet Union, library checks you out.
# In California, you can always find a party. In Russia, The Party can always find you. -- Yakov Smirnoff

There's a link, of course.

New (re)sources

FYI, I also like (and recommend you listen to) -

The McLaughlin Group
Yelling and screaming, but a very different perspective from any other source I have. Definitely gives you something to talk about at the dinner party. You can even watch the video if you're willing to let RealPlayer eat your soul.
::The McLaughlin Group::

John Derbyshire .mp3s.
My roommate: I like listening to him. I don't know why.
Me: Because he's an unreconstructed paleocon with an English Accent.
::Derb Radio on National Review Online::

Latest Outrage

From the Chicago Sun Times:

Alice and Ken Heckman each start their morning by cracking open a plastic tray
with scores of pills in a rainbow of pastel colors.

Between the two of them, they gulp 29 pills every day: a regimen of 14 drugs, with
a chaser of dietary supplements.
Here's the curious part:
They feel pretty hale for people in their early 70s, working around the house and
volunteering with several community groups.

The rest of the story is here.

Let me see if I've got this straight - people feel well, and they take meds. They take meds, and they feel well. Is it possible that the medication is... A contributing factor in their continued health?

The rest of the story is less ridiculous, yes. But it would be nice to know what they're taking, other than the fact that they have 14 drug perscriptions between the two of them. According to the story:

She has well-controlled diabetes. He has worked his way through heartburn,
arthritis, an enlarged prostate and occasional mild depression.

O.K. At one drug per disease, that's 5/14. I would assume that at least one of those diseases requires multiple drugs (I'm guessing diabetes). Add in drugs for heart disease and you're almost there. The most effective heart regimens contain multiple drugs - diuretics, aspirin, drugs to slow the heart etc. etc.

From my limited knowledge, I guess that Americans might be overmedicated, in that, for some, taking fewer drugs would increase their quality of life. But that's just a guess. I would also guess that there are quite a few undermedicated Americans, who lack access to medical care.

I bash drugs companies relentlessly for their marketing, for their creating of me-too drugs, for their patent extending games, etc. I also bash physicians for not being better informed, not standing up to their patients, etc. But... if those drugs are what the Heckman's need to feel hale, why not leave them be?


And then...

Worst time ever to create a blog. Swell.