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Category: psychology

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Partial IBM-Watson Results for Tom's Garden Post

IBM has developed a program called the “The IBM Watson Personality Insights Service” that “uses linguistic analytics to extract a spectrum of cognitive and social characteristics from the text data that a person generates through blogs, tweets, forum posts, and more.”

I don’t know how this thing works, but let’s try it out on some samples of literature. It requires a minimum of 100 words of text. I chose the first page (or a substantial chunk therefrom) of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Ford Madox Ford’s The Good Soldier, Charles Dickens’s Oliver Twist, Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows, and James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake. I also included one of Emily Dickinson’s longer poems, “I cannot live with You.”

The illusion of competence


I’ve seen them in meetings (especially “NATO Initiatives”: meetings that are “no action, talk only”). They’re listing to the discussion, sometimes contributing comments, browsing documents, and responding to text messages on their cell phones. They think they’re pretty sharp.

But, according to Clifford I. Nass, a Stanford psychology professor, “Heavy multitaskers are often extremely confident in their abilities…. But there’s evidence that those people are actually worse at multitasking than most people.” The surprising result of a survey he conducted was that people who self-identified as multitaskers actually performed worse on multitasking exercises than people who said they preferred to concentrate on one thing at a time.

The reason for this seems to be that chronic multitaskers give themselves up to distractions and overload their memory or attention capacities. David Glenn, in an article about the research in the Chronicle of Higher Education (read more there), writes that “People with strong working-memory capacities don’t have a larger nightclub in their brains. They just have better bouncers working the velvet rope outside. Strong attentional abilities produce stronger fluid intelligence.”


Image via Scott Beale / Laughing Squid,


Left face / right face : Gary Busey

Gary Busey

This is the latest in my left face/right face series. I noticed Gary Busey has a very asymmetrical face. The original photo is in the middle. The image on the left is composed of the right side of his face repeated, and the image on the right is made up of two left sides.

I don’t claim it means much, but it’s like light through a spectrum. All those colors equal white, and these faces put together equal, well, Gary Busey, I guess.


On Taste

grand cru glassIn a previous post I mentioned that Norman Mailer was not a writer particularly to my taste. Just after writing that I came upon an account of a couple of interesting experiments that speak to the subjectivity of taste — in this case the taste of wine. The following passages are from an article by Jonah Lehrer on “The Subjectivity of Wine.”

In 2001, Frederic Brochet, of the University of Bordeaux, conducted two separate and very mischievous experiments. In the first test, Brochet invited 57 wine experts and asked them to give their impressions of what looked like two glasses of red and white wine. The wines were actually the same white wine, one of which had been tinted red with food coloring. But that didn’t stop the experts from describing the “red” wine in language typically used to describe red wines. One expert praised its “jamminess,” while another enjoyed its “crushed red fruit.” Not a single one noticed it was actually a white wine.

The second test Brochet conducted was even more damning. He took a middling Bordeaux and served it in two different bottles. One bottle was a fancy grand-cru. The other bottle was an ordinary vin du table. Despite the fact that they were actually being served the exact same wine, the experts gave the differently labeled bottles nearly opposite ratings. The grand cru was “agreeable, woody, complex, balanced and rounded,” while the vin du table was “weak, short, light, flat and faulty”. Forty experts said the wine with the fancy label was worth drinking, while only 12 said the cheap wine was.

It’s hard to judge these experiments without knowing more about how they were conducted. But it’s amusing to see, from the comments to the original post, the reactions they produced.

More Left Face – Right Face

sarah jessica parker, left - right

I’ve added a few more examples to my exercise in comparing the left and right sides of people’s faces. The new examples are:

  • Gwyneth Paltrow
  • Eleanor Roosevelt
  • Tim Gunn
  • Andre Breton
  • Johnny Depp
  • Miles Davis
  • Jane Fonda
  • Ron Artest
  • Moby
  • Pedro Almodovar

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