Monday, December 30, 2013

Changing your mind

To learn is to change your mind.

This is a paraphrase of a remark by Luhmann. It may seem paradoxical to those who think of learning as the accumulation of knowledge. On this line of thinking, each new piece of knowledge lines up more or less neatly next to the old pieces, as in a well-organized warehouse. Flashes of insight merely illuminate the goods from different angles. Learning in this sense requires no ability to take stock.

But learning can be looked at in another, additional way. By the definition of "new", when you run into something new it can't be an extension of what you already knew. To incorporate it into what you already know, you must change your mind about its being new, or change your mind about what you thought you knew. Learning in this sense requires an ability to take stock and reevaluate.

If these considerations are new to you, you may have learned something - depending on how you look at it.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Short story

Once upon a time they lived happily ever after.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

A folly of praise

In a section called "Advice on gifted education" at the website of the mathematician Terry Tao, there is a link to a well-written, convincingly documented 2007 article "How not to talk to your kids" in the New York magazine. It shows that praising children for their intelligence, instead of for the efforts they make, tends to make them lazy and supercilious - at best.
I am smart, the kids’ reasoning goes; I don’t need to put out effort. Expending effort becomes stigmatized—it’s public proof that you can’t cut it on your natural gifts
As it happens, I had left America around the time that force-feeding of self-esteem came into fashion in education there:
Since the 1969 publication of The Psychology of Self-Esteem, in which Nathaniel Branden opined that self-esteem was the single most important facet of a person, the belief that one must do whatever he can to achieve positive self-esteem has become a movement with broad societal effects. Anything potentially damaging to kids’ self-esteem was axed. Competitions were frowned upon. Soccer coaches stopped counting goals and handed out trophies to everyone. Teachers threw out their red pencils. Criticism was replaced with ubiquitous, even undeserved, praise.
 The psychologist Carol Dweck was one of the first to shake up this complacent fawning:
When parents praise their children’s intelligence, they believe they are providing the solution to this problem. According to a survey conducted by Columbia University, 85 percent of American parents think it’s important to tell their kids that they’re smart. In and around the New York area, according to my own (admittedly nonscientific) poll, the number is more like 100 percent. Everyone does it, habitually. The constant praise is meant to be an angel on the shoulder, ensuring that children do not sell their talents short. 
But a growing body of research—and a new study from the trenches of the New York public-school system—strongly suggests it might be the other way around. Giving kids the label of “smart” does not prevent them from underperforming. It might actually be causing it. 
For the past ten years, psychologist Carol Dweck and her team at Columbia (she’s now at Stanford) studied the effect of praise on students in a dozen New York schools. Her seminal work—a series of experiments on 400 fifth-graders—paints the picture most clearly. 
Dweck sent four female research assistants into New York fifth-grade classrooms. The researchers would take a single child out of the classroom for a nonverbal IQ test consisting of a series of puzzles—puzzles easy enough that all the children would do fairly well. Once the child finished the test, the researchers told each student his score, then gave him a single line of praise. Randomly divided into groups, some were praised for their intelligence. They were told, “You must be smart at this.” Other students were praised for their effort: “You must have worked really hard.” 
Why just a single line of praise? “We wanted to see how sensitive children were,” Dweck explained. “We had a hunch that one line might be enough to see an effect.”
Then the students were given a choice of test for the second round. One choice was a test that would be more difficult than the first, but the researchers told the kids that they’d learn a lot from attempting the puzzles. The other choice, Dweck’s team explained, was an easy test, just like the first. Of those praised for their effort, 90 percent chose the harder set of puzzles. Of those praised for their intelligence, a majority chose the easy test. The “smart” kids took the cop-out.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Party of one

For several years now tv commentators and bloggers have been using the expression "I celebrate" in an unusual way: "Tonight I celebrate the new book by Professor Suzy Q on the fight against FGM". All who use the word in this way, so far as I have heard it, are women who hold no ecclesiastic position. That may or may not be relevant to understanding the career of the locution.

The speakers are not having fun, at least not so's you notice. They are merely stating that they are doing something in the decorous, responsible way suggested by the simple present "I celebrate X", rather than the progressive form "I am celebrating X [, whoopee !]"

"Celebrate" has been a word for what you do at a party, or at high mass. Is "I celebrate" now like "I promise", a speech act in which the saying is already the doing ? Has someone celebrated who says "I celebrate", even though they are holding neither a drink nor a monstrance ?

It's a kind of stateliness scam, I think, more to do with priests than pretzels: "Tonight I will be treating an important topic with all due ritual". It is cheaper than the real thing, since you don't have to buy cases of vino, and you don't actually have to invite anyone nor even sweep out the pews. So whatever you've already got, you have it all for yourself.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Let's be fair

In Selbstversuch, Sloterdijk mentions the European religious wars of 400 years ago: "In the 16th and 17th centuries, all of Europe was a battlefield for confessional armies. In psychoanalytical terms: hysterics and obsessional neurotics, armed to the teeth, were beating each other over the head in an attempt to force their symptoms on their opponents." Somewhere Luhmann wonders why philosophers of ethics do not conclude that one cannot, in good conscience, allow all questions to be decided by a bad conscience - nor by a good conscience. He says that they never address these matters.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

I before me, except after p

Self-referentiality is often confused with egotism. But egotism is self-preferentiality.