Tuesday, March 3, 2009

So where do we go from here. Well lets start with the big question: how has it changed us? Having access to the most intamate aspects and mundane utterances of 1,574,313,184 people has changed us in big ways some good some bad (source: Internet World Stats).
  • For starters its changing the way we think and I say for the better. As one who has consistently struggled with facts and figures having instant access to every single iota inforamtion known to man including 404,000 different results for "how a flux capacitor works" found in .21 seconds. So instead of getting bogged down in mucky facts we can spend more time creating meaningful connections. Interesting article from the The Atlantic.
  • It's slowly gnawing away at the social fabric of the human race. So while we are increasing our ability to form new and creative connections in our brain our ability to form new and creative relationships with people is slowly degrading. All those neat ideas and nobody at a cocktail party to share them with. In fact several researchers at the University of Michigan conducted a study on this very subject and found a strong correlation between facebook friends on and perceived popularity. People with 300 facebook friends tended to be the most popular.
  • It's the best and worst thing to happen to the practice of science, since like forever. The scientific community like any other group whose practitioners must adhere to a strict set of principals and practices lest they be cast out forever (religious leaders anybody?), develop a manner of elitism. And In a practice where radical ideas and theories thrust the discipline forward this environment is most detrimental to it's advancement. Like the written word before it (yes I am comparing the internet to the invention of written language) the web provides a place where all ideas maybe given equal credence; judged by the merit of the theory and the quality of its evidence alone. Herein lies the problem like 90% of people will never look at the quality of supporting evidence, much less it's existence. Ideas spread like wildfire in an Australian outback (too soon?) and evidence is pushed to the wayside. On the plus side people pushing revolutionary ideas now have more of a voice than ever before, but the almost virus like dissemination of ideas is without an adequate dam to hold back the deluge of information pouring forth from your computer.

Sources Cited
-Billout, Guy. Is Google Making Us Stupid?. The Atlantic.
-World Internet Usage Statistics. Available from Internet http://www.internetworldstats.com/stats.htm

Monday, March 2, 2009

That class is not the only place that I have heard about this. In Richard Linklater's Waking Life Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke talk about this very experiment and all the implications it has. I admit I want to believe this.

So inevitably at a party Jung comes up and people wax philosophical and I can barely contain myself. Ooo, ooo, ooo I chime in, check out this study. People listen and are excited to hear that science confirms beliefs they take comfort instead of cutting them down with mechanical efficiency.

The closest thing to any confirming evidence was a study by Marc Mishkind in 1993 on "inducing Morphic Resonance fields." While sifting through pscyh articles Morphic Resonance appears the "scientific" term for what we dub the collective unconscious or the ability in some fashion access or be influenced by the past experience after others.

Though stumbling upon this particular study hardly bolstered my confidence in this phenomenon. For starters the plethora of results on the Psychological database that popped up upon typing "Morphic Resonance" (man that is fun to write) dwindled to about eight when I told it only to display peer reviewed studies. Then that eight was narrowed down to one when the rest were lengthy articles with researchers talking about possible mechanisms for the existence of "Morphic Resonance." So I'm left with one study with questionable methodology and vague results.

All this boils down to the fact that teh internets isn't an expression of the "collective unconscious" because that doesn't exist, at least not until now. The Internet is the closest thing to a unified collection of human thought and experience.

Yes humans seem to behave in eerily similar ways but that’s because we are all wired the same way. My skepticism stems from a deeply routed obsession with having something demonstrated. Yes all this nebulous information floating on the Internet would suggest a pattern, but where is it. Without strict scientific analysis it would seem that the majority of the unconscious is preoccupied with dick jokes and porn.

Sources cited
-Marc Mishkind. A Test for Morphic Resonance in Behavioral Response to Multiple Response Stimuli [online article] (Journal of Analytical Psychology, 1993. Available from the ASU PsychInfo Database
-Waking Life, DVD. Directed by Richard Linklater. 2002

So my senior year of High school is when I decided that psychology would be the pursuit I would dedicate my self to in college (and with any luck and a Ph.D) possibly beyond. I learned about all of the seminal experiments in psychology Milgrams study in obedience, Zimbardo's Prison study, the boring but interesting Ashe's conformity study, but the most fascinating was this study.

Two budding psychologists wanted to see if past experience one group would effect the decisions of another isolated group in the future. So using data crossword puzzles from the New York Times they saw how long it took people to finish the cross word when it first came out. Then with another group isolated they had them complete the same crossword puzzle and compared how long it took both groups to finish. Lo and behold the isolated group finished like 20% faster.

This fascinated me to no end. Solid empirically derived evidence of some greater force that binds us all (and allows those who don't keep up with the news to finish their crosswords faster). I always cursed myself for never remembering the names of the psychologists who conducted the study. I realize now that my teacher never mentioned them because the study was never conducted.

Let's get started shall we

Before I begin a few caveats:
-I am a practicing cynic
-I have yet to see any convincing evidence for the collective unconscious
-For however much of a pompous ass Richard Dawkins might be, I think he's right ideas are like viruses. Quality and virulence are independent. That is to say an Ideas ability spread is separate from its quality