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Notes Towards Day 14: Thinking some more about the interpretation of data

Anne Dalke's picture


Notes Towards Day 14: Thinking some more about the interpretation of data

I. We actually ran an experiment Tuesday, of what it was like
to have your work critiqued NON-anonymously....what did it feel like?

(ideas from conferences: that graphs are "less personal" than writing?
problems more the result of technical glitches, rather than personal competence?)

--should have discussed/didn't: the wisdom of choosing not to present all the data gathered
(because redundant, uninteresting, confusing....)

Photos of you interpreting one another's data....

Some we didn't get to (but let's:)
Julia reading Amy, Kathy reading Eva, Alicia and Julie reading one another
upcoming next week?: Anna reading Emily, Hoang reading Ellen....

Readings for Tuesday continue to explore our third topic,
the matter of interpretation, by focusing on the literary:
30 pps. from Lewis Hyde's 1998 Trickster Makes This World: Mischief, Myth, and Art
20 pps. Paula Gunn Allen's 1986 The Sacred Hoop: Recovering the Feminie in American Indian Traditions

Next Thursday we'll begin discussing Prodigal Summer: READ IT ALL BY THEN!
(it is impossible to discuss 1/2-a-novel....)

feedback also re: my "translating" your comments for re-use?

III. So: what sense are you making of these various readings?
What do the Pop-Art Quiz , Natalie Angier's account of change blindness,
Benedict Carey's story of how magic tricks work (on our brains), and
the song decoders have in common? How do they rub up against one another?

Is incoming information always ambiguous/subject to multiple interpretations?
In a world in constant flux, how do our brains locate and give meaning to randomness?
(by relying on the presumption that things don't change a lot over time?)

What ambiguous figures/optical illusions/magic tricks/blindspots do you (know you) have?
How might we test out and extend our reactions to these stories?

Putting these essays into relationship with one another:

Schwartz and Thaler argued for the need to consciously narrow
our choices/reduce our options, to make the best decision

Cf. Angier on Change Blindness=our inability to detect alteration
visual attentiveness is born of limited resources, a means to combat data overload
bottom-up attentiveness originates w/ stimulus, is impossible to ignore
vs. top-down attentiveness: volitional decision
brain master @ filing gaps in "grand illusion" that is our visual experience

Cf. Benedict Carey, NYTimes:
magic tricks take advantage of glitches in how brain constructs model of world/
neural approximating: focus on one thing @ a time, @ expense of others,
so magician frames relevant maneuvers as trivial
distraction via direct engagement!

[Nature Reviews Neuroscience: magic as a source of cognitive illusions
magicians use visual, optical & cognitive illusions, special effects, secret devices and mechanical artifacts
combine multiple principles: attention, awareness, trust, perception to misdirect audience
of interest to neuroscientists pursuing cognition, memory, sensation,
social attachment, causal inference, awareness

misdirection to generate cognitive illusions
(inattentional blindness, change blindness, memory illusions, illusory correlations)
crucial principles: every motion should seem to have a purpose;
magician should not perform same exact trick twice;
use apparent repetition to close doors on all possible explanations except magic

dissociate perceived contents of awareness from actual physical events:
segregate what you want observers to be aware of from what you don't...
magical techniques that manipulate attention can be
used to study behavioral/neural basis of consciousness

Cf. also Paul's essay (not assigned, but in packet fyi):
brain is an information processing system that continually/
unpredictably generates/updates probablistic descriptions
our uncertainty reflects imperfect information about actual states:
all we ever know is likelihood
several different interpretations are "equally good"
primary function of consciousness is to withhold judgment
long enough to come up w/ alternative guesses
replace "fixed reality" with sense of selves as active participants in
shaping our world: continuing capacity to create in new ways...

Okay, so now cf. all this to the recent essay on "The Song Decoders,"
who are doing something similar (?):
trying to quantify what we don't think about consciously
our song preferences--and trying to remove those preferences from
social influence of what others like (even from what we think we like!)

IV. So let's try this out (for 1/2-an-hour?):
get out your laptops, everyone!
Here's the survey Peter and I made up, on "Thinking about How You Think."
Let's each administer it to ourselves, so we can see
1) how long it takes/what time commitment we are asking others to make
2) how well it works
3) and then fiddle w/ it--both language and more general goals.
One recommendation already from Julie re: "nudging" language of question #7;
one question already from Amy re: whether we can choose "no" if we don't like a song...
Re-reading the article this morning: do we want another question poking @ the
gap between "cultural information" and "musical information"???

Find 5 subjects and ask each one of them to
1) Name a favorite musical artist.
2) List 5 attributes that you like about the artist's work.
3) Go to and select this artist
(in the unlikely case that this artist is not in the archive,
you'll have to repeat questions 1-2 w/ another one).
4) Listen to the first 5 songs that Pandora "thinks" you'll like.
5) How accurate were the predictions? Did you like the songs they chose?
Rank their selections from a scale of 1 (complete disagreement)
to 5 (complete agreement with your preferences).
6) Look @ the reasons Pandora gives for selecting these songs:
on the same 1-5 scale (from complete disagreement to complete agreement),
how well do the musical elements Pandora identifies correspond with those you listed in #2 above?
7) On the same 1-5 scale: how much does it bother you that this company might be able to write an algorithm that predicts your musical taste?
8) On the same 1-5 scale: based on your experience, how willing would you be to invest in this company?

V. Reporting back (20 minutes to discuss): what have we learned?

VI. Run this (revised?) survey and by Monday @ 5 pm.: 
publicly interpret your data w/ 1 graph and 1 paragraph