I haven’t done a link dump in a few months, however before I get going I’d like to direct you to the latest episode of the GameBurst podcast, in which I discuss Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic with the crew as a part of their monthly replay segment.  The show is shorter than most podcasts – a brisk 30 minutes – and while recording it felt like time just rocketed by.

With that out of the way, here are some tasty morsels to snack on.

Reasoning is not for seeking the truth

With an election coming up in Canada on Monday, this study exploring the purpose of human reasoning seems more pertinent than ever.

Reasoning is generally seen as a means to improve knowledge and make better decisions. However, much evidence shows that reasoning often leads to epistemic distortions and poor decisions. This suggests that the function of reasoning should be rethought. Our hypothesis is that the function of reasoning is argumentative. It is to devise and evaluate arguments intended to persuade.

[...]

Skilled arguers, however, are not after the truth but after arguments supporting their views. This explains the notorious confirmation bias. This bias is apparent not only when people are actually arguing, but also when they are reasoning proactively from the perspective of having to defend their opinions. Reasoning so motivated can distort evaluations and attitudes and allow erroneous beliefs to persist.

If human reasoning was actually developed for truth seeking then far fewer smart people would routinely arrive at monstrously dumb conclusions on the important issues of the day.  The fact that reasoning is an evolutionary adaption designed to aid us in arguments makes a lot of sense:  survival rarely depends on knowing the big important truths…. far more often it is a case of figuring out how best to achieve your own ends, and for a social species like our own, that means that persuasive abilities are coveted.

Unreality

Writing about Crysis 2 at Insult Swordfighting, Mitch Krpata comes out with a brilliant gem:

An objective pops up onscreen. REJOIN THE MARINES.* A blue arrow on your HUD leaves no question about where they are. And your surroundings, which are nothing more than a long, narrow street with no doorways, leave no doubt about how to get there. You had no control over the explosion that stranded you here, and you have barely more control over how to return to the action. You need only to hold down the left stick in the right direction.

This is standard videogame stuff. You can bemoan the lack of player agency, especially in a game whose stated goal is to let you choose your tactics for every scenario. You can resist such heavy-handed design, and run around in circles, jump up and down, fire your weapon into the air. You know that you’ll hear the same faint sounds of combat for as long as you stand still, and that the battle isn’t really happening. The Marines will live or die based upon whether you show up, yes — but, like Schrodinger’s cat, they will be alive and dead, firing at their enemies in perpetuity, until you cross the invisible checkpoint that springs open the box.

Read the rest.

Moving around is a key to a longer life

If you, like me, work a desk job then you might want to heed the Brainy Gamer’s advice:

The study shows that men who were sedentary more than 23 hours per week had a 64% greater risk of dying from heart disease – even if they routinely exercised – than those who reported 11 or fewer hours a week of sedentary activity. These numbers suggest that regular uninterrupted sedentary behavior may be even riskier than smoking.

[...]

So what can you do? Easy. Take breaks. A recent study at the University of Queensland, Australia, showed the importance of “avoiding prolonged uninterrupted periods of sedentary (primarily sitting) time,” and recommended taking regular breaks to walk, stretch, or otherwise get up and move.

[...]

Even one-minute mini-breaks, once an hour throughout the day, can make a difference. The point is to use your big muscles to remind them not to shut down, which they’re prone to do when you sit in a chair for hours at a time.

What comes as news to me is that exercising after long spells of sitting is not necessarily going to protect you from the effects of a sedentary profession – you actually need to make sure that you move around while you’re on the job.

Does the universe grow dimensions over time?

As whacked out as some cosmological theories are (Hello, String Theory!), I still love reading about them.  Dejan Stojkovic has recently proposed that the universe started out with a single dimension, and has gradually progressed towards the three dimensional beast that we know and love today. Additionally, our universe may be on its way towards developing more dimensions.

The core idea is that the dimensionality of space depends on the size of the space we’re observing, with smaller spaces associated with fewer dimensions. That means that a fourth dimension will open up — if it hasn’t already — as the universe continues to expand.

The theory also suggests that space has fewer dimensions at very high energies of the kind associated with the early, post-big bang universe.

If Stojkovic and his colleagues are right, they will be helping to address fundamental problems with the standard model of particle physics, including the following:

The incompatibility between quantum mechanics and general relativity. Quantum mechanics and general relativity are mathematical frameworks that describe the physics of the universe. Quantum mechanics is good at describing the universe at very small scales, while relativity is good at describing the universe at large scales. Currently, the two theories are considered incompatible; but if the universe, at its smallest levels, had fewer dimensions, mathematical discrepancies between the two frameworks would disappear.

Stojkovic’s theory is actually rather elegant and understandable in layman’s terms, which lends it an undeniable appeal.

3DS slumps

Although Nintendo’s new handheld sold a bajillion units in its first two weeks, sales of the $250 device have rapidly cooled off.

“Nintendo 3DS has not been selling as expected since the second week [of availability in the United States and Europe], and this is not just in the Japanese market but also in the United States and Europe, where no direct impact from the great earthquake has occurred,” Nintendo President Satoru Iwata said during an investor briefing in Tokyo. “Therefore, we recognize that we are in a situation where we need to step up our efforts to further promote the spread of Nintendo 3DS.”

I don’t know about the rest of you, but the hefty price tag combined with an abysmal launch line-up have kept me away from a machine that I was absolutely drooling over as recently as last fall.  Right now it’s going to take a price drop or an amazing game to get me on board; I will eventually own one, but I’m not going to be an early adopter when the risk is currently so high.

9 Responses to “Of reason, sloth, and unfulfilled expectations”

  1. PeterD says:

    On reasoning: yes its a great point, I tend to agree. We’re also motivated by our emotions at a deeper and more primitive level. Our reasoning is often driven and colored by our emotion, and we dont notice or recognize, because the emotion filters through into our thoughts, and it all *sounds* like thought, but its actually emotion. Since our emotions are more primitive (our own personal survival, even though in the 21st century, our physical survival is not an issue on a day to day basis for many of us), it’s no surprise we dont find truth through reason.

    However, if we can face and recognize all this, then reason is still the best tool we’ve evolved so far — I think! Part of our humanity is to seek for truth, in a philosophical or absolute sense. It’s just that older parts of our humanity – legacy systems from the evolutionary process, have different goals. Its up to us to make sense of it all, and choose which parts of ourselves will create our future.

    On the dimension theory: hahaha, yes string theory etc reminds me of “perfect mathematical solid” theory from the 16th or 17th century. The reason they thought the solar system was arranged according to perfect platonic solids, is mostly because that’s the kind of mathematics people were into at the time. Theoretical physics often progresses like that. I myself continue to wonder what relevance the theory side has, without any practical applications. Anyway, I guess creating dimensions is a cool idea, thanks for sharing it.

    • Andrew says:

      It’s pretty amazing how many aspects of our lives can be traced through history as evolutionary strategies to deal with our environment and each other: family structure, community building, religion, art, science, etc etc etc. There are very few core components of the human state that are frivolous in terms of historic species development.

      Part of our humanity is to seek for truth, in a philosophical or absolute sense.

      Hmmm…. I’m not sure that I agree. Certainly some of us do pursue this to varying degrees, but a great many more prefer to be handed the “truth” from authority figures and never question what they are told.

      So is the search for truth innate? I don’t think so. A desire for meaning certainly seems to be, but that’s not quite the same thing.

      My favorite example of foolish “scientific” models is the epicycles that early astronomers used to describe the motion of planets. Such complexity simply to keep the observations in line with an unproven notion that all orbits must be perfect circles.

  2. Derrick says:

    To address the other two bitties:

    Crysis 2 can be an incredible FPS – comparable to Bioshock – *if* you let go, and approach the game with (as Mitch says so well) a sense of urgency. Don’t think of it critically, don’t try to game the game. Just keep pushing forward, and get into the story. It has this fantastic atmosphere. Normally, in these sorts of games you’re a super-human killing machine. In this one? Despite the suit, you don’t ever feel like that. You feel inadequate, struggling against a hopeless inevitability. Yet, despite that, you keep pressing ever forward… even through death. Being overrun, defeated, lying on the pavement using a defibrillator on yourself while your vision blurs and aliens surround you, killing the marines you were supposed to be protecting… It was pretty moving.

    Yes, the game is a lot more linear than it’s predecessors, but it encourages players to push, instead of penalizing players for doing so (which virtually every other FPS does) by hiding powerups in oddball places and encouraging players to “drop out” of the story to search for hidden widgets.

    But, you absolutely need to put yourself into the game, to flow with it. If you play it like someone looking to review the game, it’s a great FPS, but you miss out on a lot.

    3DS: I’m still very curious about it – I haven’t seen one yet – but there’s so little of interest in terms of games for me, it makes the 250$ price tag very offputting. It’s too bad, as I’ve heard the 3D element works extremely well overall. Also, as my phone plays everything up to Gameboy Advance, N64, and PSX titles(With real gaming controls! I love you, iControlPad!), it’s pretty hard to justify purchasing a second handheld for just a tiny little set of games. Still, I’d love to see one in action, and I could be enticed into picking one up if it works as well as I’ve heard and they release some great games.

    • Andrew says:

      Crysis 2

      I have a hankering to play this game precisely because it is more streamlined than its predecessor. I much prefer a tight plot-driven experience to an open-world game. I find that the stories and action are usually better.

      —-

      3DS

      I messed around with a demo unit at Best Buy, and really liked both the design/feel of the hardware as well as the 3D effect. Pilotwings is a great little tech demo, and easily convinced me that the console was viable long term.

      Now it’s just a matter of price and games….. hopefully both situations improve ASAP.

  3. Stabs says:

    Regarding reasoning it seems to me that the more intelligent someone is, the more likely they are to see both sides of the picture and the easier it is to get them to change their mind. To reason (sic) with them.

    Formulation of arguments solely to advance one’s own position seems a factor of personality type and median intelligence, not high intelligence. Smarter people generally want to know the truth and are not threatened by it. People who are a little less smart are worried that conceding a discussion might make them seem stupid to others.

    • Andrew says:

      I don’t know – some of the smartest people out there can be monumentally stupid for the longest time when it comes to trying to convince them of the incorrectness of their beliefs.

      That’s not to say that they cannot be convinced – they can – but that convincing process requires strong reasoning skills by people on the other side of the argument. Smart people will rarely just spontaneously decide that they’re wrong; they require convincing just as much as less intelligent folks.

      Also, intellect (beyond a certain baseline) isn’t necessarily a strong selector for evolutionary success… reasoning, it seems, is.

  4. Void says:

    I feel exactly the same way about the 3DS. If Ocarina of Time and Starfox had launched with the system I would own one by now. There are absolutely no games that I want to play for it, so why would I invest in $250 system?

    Nintendo has been running into this problem a lot lately. I probably haven’t booted up the Nintendo Wii in almost a year. Whenever the last Mario platforming game came out. The system really has no 3rd party support, which is making it obsolete for core gamers.

    • Andrew says:

      The DS had massive 3rd party support, and so I’m hopefully that the 3DS will as well. I haven’t heard what the 3DS’ third party line-up is…. but it can’t be much worse than the tepid selection that Nintendo plans to put out.

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