How to embarrass a scientist: a psychologist, an economist and a physicist about what questions they are afraid

© Daniel Arsham.

Every scientist, there are things that he hates to tell — sometimes it's the same white spot, which science had not yet arrived, and sometimes the question itself indicates a complete misunderstanding of the subject and requires a long explanation. A physicist, economist, mathematician, sociologist and psychologist have tried to formulate the questions they should not ask never.

Lillian Lee, Professor of computer science, Cornell University "Why computers don't understand what people say?" We take language for granted and we do it because immersed in his environment from the day of his birth. But in General, even everyday language is a very complex structure and requires an open access to a huge amount of resources. To see this, consider some examples.

Suppose it's Saturday and we're going to drive a query in search of tickets: "Show all flights on Tuesday". We, the people, know that this request means a request to give us all the flights that fly in this day of the week: "on Tuesday" in this case refers to the word "flights". And it is not so easy to notice that in this query there is an alternative interpretation: perhaps we want to wait until Tuesday, and then ask the computer to show us all 10,000 or more flights are in the system database of a search engine — here "Tuesday" is a defining word for the word "show".

Let's take another sentence: "Eat before dessert, a bowl of soup, please." The word "plate" here acts as a unit of measure — we do not interpret this suggestion as an order there is a plate that holds the soup. In order to properly understand even such basic suggestions and to hear what interpretations sound plausible and which are not, you need to know and understand what you can understand and feel only people of how the world works in certain situations.

By the way, is still not clear: do people want computers were able to show "true intelligence". When Watson, the computer that beat humans in quiz show Jeopardy made a mistake in answering one of the questions the category "US Cities", a sigh of relief. This reaction to "machine intelligence" was repeated, when the computer Deep Blue defeated the world chess champion Kasparov. Before the match, in journals published flashy headlines: "the Last battle of the brain", and after the match something like: "the fact that Deep Blue is just brute computing device... It is unconscious, does not realize anything and completely thoughtless machine. By itself, Deep Blue doesn't even know how to get out of the train".

Samuel Arbesman, mathematician, senior fellow, Kauffman Foundation "If a scientific knowledge refuted over time, does this mean that actually we know nothing at all?" Really bugs me this question — not because it has no answer, but rather because it often ask a scientist to think, "yeah, I got you now" — because it confirms the complete lack of understanding of scientific processes.

Yes, indeed, every science, in its essence, until the end is known and is always under development. It demonstrates one story I once told my Professor. He gave a lecture on a specific topic on Tuesday, and the next day found the newspaper information which completely refutes what he said in class the day before. So on Thursday he came to class and said, "Remember what I told you on Tuesday? So — it is not so. And if it bothers you that much, you should stop to do science."

Just because of the fact that science is always in draft status (scientists, by the way, very happy) does not mean that we do nothing to know. It is obvious that our scientific understanding of the world allows us to make predictions, to study meteorology, and create complex technology. No one will argue that our willingness to fly a plane based on something more than just hope that the laws of aerodynamics will not suddenly stop working while we were in the air.

But even when those things that we believed for truth, cease to be, we simply return to our previous state, we learn something new through this process, and closer to the comprehension of the world. Isaac Asimov wrote on this subject: "When people thought the Earth was flat, they were wrong. When people thought that the Earth was spherical, they were wrong. But when you think that think that the Earth is spherical is as much wrong as to think that the Earth is flat, then your view is much more wrong than both put together."

Science, in fact, constantly coming to a better understanding of the world. In many ways this knowledge can be refuted. But that's okay, it only develops the process.

Michael Norton, Professor of marketing, Harvard Business School "Isn't it obvious?" When I taught a course on the basics of social psychology, one of the classes I told my students that I am the oldest child in a family of five brothers and sisters. They answered me: "do You the eldest child!". When I asked them why they say so, they came up with an impressive list of supporting arguments (their reviews were mostly positive, because I wrote reviews for them): "You are smart", "you are hardworking", "funny", "successful", and so on.

But then I played a joke with the students, I told them that I'm actually the youngest of five (it was true). A pause of one second, and then they excitedly began to say: "do You youngest child!". Why? "You are smart", "hardworking", "happy", "successful" — all-new. The fact is that unlike some other branches of science social Sciences have a peculiar curse: no matter what social phenomena and regularities scientists find that people feel that "it's obvious" that "I knew that from the start."

Sociologists call this effect a sort of retrospective bias — if we know something, we cannot know that compels us to feel that we knew it all along. In fact, even now, when you learned that such a retrospective bias, you have a feeling that you knew it all along.

Some brilliant ideas and perceptive insights into sociology become brilliant and insightful precisely because in that moment, when we explain, we feel nabalco they are deeply true and real — even if a second ago truthful we thought the opposite.

John Kleinberg, Professor of computer science, Cornell University "How do we still not understand collective human behavior, with so much different data?" Take, for example, the process of creating articles in Wikipedia and download the full editing history of this article from the beginning. Whatever is going on in such a giant self-organizing companies as Wikipedia, no matter how hard was the process of creating this repository of knowledge, — all the minute details about editing each of the material free, and you can study them from the comfort of your sofa.

All such storage is completely open to the public (Facebook, Amazon, Google): every conversation, every dialogue between people of each purchase, each new request can be analyzed. And, of course, a reasonable question arises: how, with such a huge amount of data, we still cannot fully study collective human behavior? The fact is that when you collect raw electronic material, you enter a world where you can see much more than before, and at the same time much less. You see a lot of interrelated information, events that were previously not available to you, but you have much less idea about what each event means in itself: to you they have no a priori basis to allow you to interpret them.

In other words, the strategy of recording all the information on the one hand, conceptually simple, but based on the following initial condition: we must be prepared to take the results and use them to build data structures of higher level.

How to look for similar structures? Suppose you are fond of history, you, for example, are interested in the history of the battle of Gettsburg, and I can supply you with data about the trajectory of each bullet fired during the battle and every move, and every word uttered by the soldier on the battlefield. What will you do with this information?

In principle, there are three options: first, you can approve a previously unknown attack activity some of the pickets in the melee, secondly, you may find that the public description of the battle is too rough (but ultimately much more useful to organize what has happened in the last day at Gettysburg). Or a third option — you will not find in all this nothing interesting, and your analysis gets bogged down in this swamp of data.

Paul bloom, Professor of psychology, Yale University"exactly Where in the brain is this happening?" I often ask this question in all sorts of variations when I give public lectures on any aspect of psychology. My heart sinks when I hear it. I don't know the answer. And I actually, still.

Most of my work is aimed at solving problems in the field of moral psychology. Life is full of fascinating research that helps to explore the questions of influence on human emotions, like anger or disgust, or research about what made the man brings certain judgment. And I genuinely think that discussing dry facts about locations of convolutions in the brain at least boring.

Besides, most people asking these questions, I know nothing about the structure of the brain. I could answer: "it mostly happens in floorbase morbosa" — and my companion would be satisfied. The person asking this question, apparently, just wants to have confidence that the science on the activities and structure of the brain does exist, and therefore asks me to tell about the brain something specific. This reflects a fundamental and widespread misconception about the mind and about how you want to study it.

Nicholas Epley, Professor of the science of behavior, Chicago University, "You analyzing me now?" I'm willing to bet that every psychologist (and no matter what aspect in the study of the human mind he does) repeatedly faced with a similar situation: you meet a stranger, a casual mention in a conversation about what you are working on and then hear the question: "are You analyzing me now?"

I dread this question, because it reflects a categorical misunderstanding of what many psychologists and once again underlines the limitations of psychology as a science. A complete misunderstanding is a consequence of the long shadows, which to our knowledge has continued to ignore Sigmund Freud. Yes, many psychologists, medical doctors and therapists do therapy, trying to understand the problems of patients, many work as scientists figuring out how the mind functions, in the same way as chemists are trying clearly to understand chemical bonds, but doing this is not all.

This is based on our chronic sense of self-hurt uniqueness. Not only that, this question implies that I can really provide a unique analysis of your personality in seconds but also means that all your "uniqueness" can be subjected to analysis.

It does not happen, so relax: if you happen to sit next to me on the train or plane and I will gladly start a conversation with you and tell you that I'm a psychologist, rest assured that I will not analyze.

Susan Blackmore, parapsychologist, author of Consciousness: An Introduction "My grandmother saw a real Ghost — how can you explain this?" For more than 20 years I have been parapsychology. Started out as a naive College student, confident that telepathy, clairvoyance, spirits, ghosts and other mystical things really do exist. Several years of thorough study of the question has convinced me otherwise, and I began to investigate some really mysterious situations. It brought me satisfaction. For example, "alien abductions" may be sleep paralysis and mystical feeling of "deja vu" could be just a misplaced feeling that appear because of some processes in the brain.

If someone says, "I had the experience of getting out of your body — how can you explain that?", I can help them. Can you tell us about the structure of the body and that small disturbances of the nervous processes in the temporal-parietal region of the body to cause the sensation of flight and leaving the body. If someone says, "I keep waking up in fright, unable to move and absolutely sure that someone or something is in the room next to me. Am I okay?", I can tell them about sleep paralysis, which may continue in the waking state, which is why people may hear a buzzing, humming, noise and the body can run down my spine. If someone says: "When I was a kid, I would Wake up inside the dream and manage. Why I can't?", I can tell about lucid dreams and physiological conditions in which they can feel. I can even suggest ways of how to induce such dreams.

But all these stupid Ghost stories drive me crazy. The problem is that they can't be explained, especially when given too many absolutely pointless and stupid information, like my grandmother's house was built 100 years ago, once upon a time there lived an old man dying in the full moon... This is not the information that I need. I have to answer: "Sorry, I can't explain what happened with your grandmother", and watch as I smile in response and say, "well, Well, I thought so. You scientists will never be able to accept the fact that many things are inaccessible to your understanding." At this point I want to scream in response.

Richard Thaler, a specialist in the field of behavioral Economics, Director of the Center for the study of decision-making, University of Chicago "When you see a single behavioral theory of economic activity?" Never. If you want to create a unified theory of economic behavior, you should know that there is already a good — selfish, rational model of expected utility theory. Von Neumann still was not a fool!

And in General, just as psychology has no unified theory, and behavioral Economics has many theories, and variations of these theories. In physics and engineering there is still no General theory for the design of buildings and various buildings. But the majority of the constructed bridges, as I know, still are. The economy, like engineering, will never have a unified theory.


George Dyson, historian of science, author of Turing''s Cathedral: The Origins of the Digital Universe "Who will be the next Alan Turing?" As a historian of science and technology, I am often asked: "Who will be the next Alan Turing?" or "Who's next John von Neumann?". It is impossible to answer that! No one thought that Alan Turing will be the next Alan Turing or John von Neumann following John von Neumann. Turing was only 24, and von Neumann 26, when they arrived in the United States. I don't know what to say in response to this question, except that we gave them visas in the 1930-ies, when the market is working as bad as today.

=Adam alter, a psychologist, Professor of marketing, Stern School of Business, NYU "How can I know that other people see the world exactly the same as I am?" When people find out I'm colorblind, and this often leads them to think about, and do they see the world the same way as other people. This is an old question that is difficult to answer, is complicated by the fact that we are not ready to recognize our own view of the world is unreliable.

Progress made a big step forward in many areas of science, but scientists still can't say whether your version of blue sky to match the version that is seen by billions of other people.

Lawrence Krauss, physicist and cosmologist, ASU Cosmology Initiative, "What was before the Big Bang?" This issue is pretty puzzling, because it assumes that just because we know that the Big Bang was, we understand all that was just to mark time = 0. It's like that to suggest that evolutionary biology can explain the origin of life itself, which is impossible because we need to know certain chemical characteristics of the Earth at that time.

Science often shows us that naive questions — questions are often bad, as are based on unfounded assumptions. Space and time relate to matter and energy in the General theory of relativity, and if there is a possibility that space spontaneously come into existence, and over time could happen as well. So the question is: "What was before the Big Bang" is a bad question, because no "to" never happened and time did not exist.

The answer, of course, no one is happy, but as I often say, this does not concern the Universe to make you happy.



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