Thursday 2 November 2006

Who thinks the Earth is flat?

Less people than you think. Most people have the representation of Columbus valiantly fighting against the authorities and finally convincing these obscurantist scholars coming right from the middle-ages (actually it was the middle-ages) that the Earth is round and not flat. It turns out that this is not true at all: medieval scholars have always known that the Earth is round.

Children then? Surely children fall for the flat Earth? Studies by Stella Vosniadou and her colleagues in the 90’s were conforting this idea: in some experiments, children tended to draw flat Earths. However, these results have also been disputed: using a simpler methodology, Gavin Nobes and his colleagues have shown that children prefer round Earths.

The Flammarion woodcut


Friday 20 October 2006

Naive theories of gender differences in maths

An interesting study published in the last issue of Science sheds some new light on the "gender and math" controversy, (in)famously reignited last year by Larry Summers.


Wednesday 11 October 2006

How to Corax your Theory of Mind

This blog is supposed to deal with "Humanities and Human Nature"; but as you might have noticed, there is much of the latter and little of the former in it. To remedy this lamentable state of things, I decided to take a course in Greek Rhetoric this semester. Those who are still reading this will be glad to learn that I really had fun! I came across a jewel of a mind-twister, an argument called the Corax. I think the Corax and its use might shed light on the structure of our folk psychology (a.k.a. Theory of Mind).


Sunday 1 October 2006

The naive theories of "Honey I shrunk the kids!"

Biomorphologist Michael C. LaBarbera has an amazing paper (actually a seven parts lesson) on the physics and biology of B-movie monsters (thanks to AL Daily for bringing me this one). It shows that cinema creatures consistently violates basic assumptions of biomorphology concerning scaling effects. This makes me wonder why our naive theories of physics and biology are so blissfully unaware of what it means for a living body to travel from Lilliput to Brobdingnag (and back).

The picture shows a giant radioactive ant from the movie Them!


Saturday 16 September 2006

Practical applications of understanding naive biology

Naive biology is set of concepts and cognitive processes that help us understand biological phenomena. A new article sums up the evidence showing that naive biology is a specific domain and, interestingly, suggests some practical applications.


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