Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for April 14th, 2018


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Stephen M. Fleming, a Principal Research Associate at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging at University College London (where he leads the Metacognition Group, whose research focuses on the mechanisms supporting conscious awareness, metacognition and decision-making in the adult human brain), writes in Aeon:

In the autumn of 2007, the then prime minister of the UK, Gordon Brown, was riding on a wave of popularity. He had just taken the reins from Tony Blair, adroitly dealt with a series of national crises (terrorist plots, foot and mouth disease, floods) and was preparing to go to the country for a new mandate for his government. But then a decision to postpone the election tarred him with a reputation for dithering and his authority began to crumble. The lasting impression was not one of astute politicking — it was of a man plagued by indecision.

Whether lingering too long over the menu at a restaurant, or abrupt U-turns by politicians, flip-flopping does not have a good reputation. By contrast, quick, decisive responses are associated with competency: they command respect. Acting on gut feelings without agonising over alternative courses of action has been given scientific credibility by popular books such as Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink (2005), in which the author tries to convince us of ‘a simple fact: decisions made very quickly can be every bit as good as decisions made cautiously and deliberately’. But what if the allure of decisiveness were leading us astray? What if flip-flopping were adaptive and useful in certain scenarios, shepherding us away from decisions that the devotees of Blinkmight end up regretting? Might a little indecision actually be a useful thing?

Let’s begin by casting a critical eye over our need for decision-making speed. It has been known for many years that the subjective ease with which we process information — termed ‘fluency’ by psychologists — affects how much we like or value things. For example, people judge fluent statements as more truthful, and easy-to-see objects as more attractive. This effect has consequences that extend beyond the lab: the psychologists Adam Alter and Daniel Oppenheimer, of the Stern School of Business in New York and the Anderson School of Management in Los Angeles respectively, found that if it a company name is easy to pronounce, it tends to have a higher stock price, all else being equal. The interpretation is that fluent processing of information leads people implicitly to attach more value to the company.

Fluency not only affects our perceptions of value; it also changes how we feel about our decisions. For example, if stimuli are made brighter during a memory test people feel more confident in their answers despite them being no more likely to be correct. In a study I conducted in 2009 with the psychologists Dorit Wenke and Patrick Haggard at University College London, we asked whether making actions more fluent also altered people’s sense of control over their decisions. We didn’t want to obviously signal that we were manipulating fluency, so we inserted a very briefly flashed arrow before the target appeared. In a separate experiment we confirmed that participants were not able to detect this arrow consciously. However, it still biased their decisions, slowing them down if the arrow was opposite in direction to their eventual choice, and speeding them up if it was in the same direction. We found that people felt more control over these faster, fluent decisions, even though they were unaware of the inserted arrow.

Fluent decisions, therefore, are associated with feelings of confidence, control, being in the zone. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, professor of psychology and management at Claremont Graduate University in California, has termed this the feeling of ‘flow’. For highly practised tasks, fluency and accuracy go hand in hand: a pianist might report feelings of flow when performing a piece that has been internalised after years of practice. But in novel situations, might our fondness for fluency actually hurt us?

To answer this question we need to digress a little. At the end of the Second World War, engineers were working to improve the sensitivity of radar detectors. The team drafted a working paper combining some new maths and statistics about the scattering of the target, the power of the pulse, and so on. They had no way of knowing at the time, but the theory they were sketching — signal detection theory, or SDT — would have a huge impact on modern psychology. By the 1960s, psychologists had become interested in applying the engineers’ theory to understand human detection — in effect, treating each person like a mini radar detector, and applying exactly the same equations to understand their performance.

Despite the grand name, SDT is deceptively simple. When applied to psychology, it tells us that decisions are noisy. Take the task of choosing the brighter of two patches on a screen. If the task is made difficult enough, then sometimes you will say patch ‘A’ when in fact the correct answer is ‘B’. On each ‘trial’ of our experiment, the brightness of each patch leads to firing of neurons in your visual cortex, a region of the brain dedicated to seeing. Because the eye and the brain form a noisy system — the firing is not exactly the same for each repetition of the stimulus — different levels of activity are probabilistic. When a stimulus is brighter, the cortex tends to fire more than when it is dimmer. But on some trials a dim patch will give rise to a high firing rate, due to random noise in the system. The crucial point is this: you have access to the outside world only via the firing of your visual cortical neurons. If the signal in cortex is high, it will seem as though that stimulus has higher contrast, even if this decision turns out to be incorrect. Your brain has no way of knowing otherwise.

But it turns out the brain has a trick up its sleeve when dealing with noisy samples of information, a trick foreshadowed by the British mathematician Alan Turing while in charge of wartime code-breaking efforts at the secret Bletchley Park complex. Each morning, the code-breakers would try new settings of the German Enigma machine in attempts to decode intercepted messages. The problem was how long to keep trying a particular pair of ciphers before discarding it and trying another. Turing showed that by accumulating multiple samples of information over time, the code-breakers could increase their confidence in a particular setting being correct.

Remarkably, the brain appears to use a similar scheme of evidence accumulation to deal with difficult decisions. We now know that, instead of relying on a one-off signal from the visual cortex, other areas of the brain, such as the parietal cortex, integrate several samples of information over hundreds of milliseconds before reaching a decision. Furthermore, this family of evidence accumulation models does a very good job at predicting the complex relationships between people’s response times, error rates and confidence in simple tasks such as the A/B decision above.

Putting these findings together, we learn that there is a benefit from being slow. When faced with a novel scenario, one that hasn’t been encountered before, Turing’s equations tell us that slower decisions are more accurate and less susceptible to noise. In psychology, this is known as the ‘speed-accuracy trade-off’ and is one of the most robust findings in the past 100 years or so of decision research. Recent research has begun to uncover a specific neural basis for setting this trade-off. Connections between the cortex and a region of the brain known as the subthalamic nucleus control the extent to which an individual will slow down his or her decisions when faced with a difficult choice. The implication is that this circuit acts like a temporary brake, extending decision time to allow more evidence to accumulate, and better decisions to be made.

We don’t yet know whether these insights apply to the weighing of more abstract information, such as . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 April 2018 at 6:31 pm

Posted in Daily life, Science

Great site:

leave a comment » is a terrific site for foodies—or perhaps I should say cookies (not the dessert kind). Well worth browsing. I just stumbled across it in looking up what pot barley is.

Take a look.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 April 2018 at 5:13 pm

Posted in Food, Recipes

Chicken and barley GOPM

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Tonight’s Glorious One-Pot Meal has these layers in order of placing them (i.e., bottom layer listed first):

Rub inside of pot and lid with olive oil (just a coating). I used my 2.25-qt Staub round cocotte. Everything is zero points except as indicated.

6 scallions, chopped
8 cloves garlic, chopped
1/3 cup “pot barley” (aka “Scotch barley”: it looks like steel-cut barley, not pearled barley) – 6 WW points
1/2 cup celery chopped small—maybe a little more
1 large carrot, diced
1 1/2 tablespoon red wine vinegar poured over that
Half a large chicken breast, marinated* and cut into chunks
3/4 Japanese eggplant, cut into chunks
1 Meyer lemon, ends cut off and discarded, diced
2 bunches broccolini, chopped
12 yellow cherry tomatoes, sliced

1 1/2 tablespoons Enzo Clementine-infused olive oil – 6 WW points
1 tablespoon Enzo apple balsamic vinegar – 1 WW point
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce – 1 WW point
good pinch of Maldon salt
1 tablespoon freshly ground pepper

Shake that well in a little jar, then pour over the contents of the pot.

*Marinade for chicken breast
2 quarts water
2 tablespoons salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 cup soy sauce
5 smashed cloves garlic

I put an entire chicken breast in that (two halves) after pounding them flat and let them sit for an hour or two, then removed them to a dish and refrigerated. I used one of the halves in Lentils Monastery WW Style last night and the other half here.

Because eggplant, lemon, and tomatoes contain a lot of liquid, I’m thinking that the barley might not absorb it all. We’ll see.

This amount is 4 servings for us, though only 2 for Elizabeth Yarnell, who is a triathlete. So for us this is 3 WW points per serving and 1 serving is a meal.

UPDATE: The Younger Daughter suggested adding 2-3 tablespoons grated ginger. Great idea, IMO. The question is where to put it. Choices I see are:

  1. With the other aromatics in the bottom layer.

  2. Over the chicken layer.

  3. In the pour-over.

This will require experimentation.

UPDATE AGAIN: No excess liquid. Worked out very well. I’m already planning the next: pot/Scotch barley again (or perhaps black/Forbidden rice), and two boneless pork chops (total weight 1 lb) cut into chunks, cabbage (savoy, or red, or plain—or Napa), along with onions, garlic, celery. Maybe a carrot. And the layer between pork and cabbage some chopped apple…


Written by LeisureGuy

14 April 2018 at 4:48 pm

Posted in Food, GOPM, Recipes

Reading and the mispronunciation of words

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If you learn a word through encountering it in print, you generally can guess at how it’s pronounced, but sometimes the pronunciation is not obvious and you end up mispronouncing when you use it in conversation even though you use it correctly with respect to its meaning. This has bit me several times, and the woman who taught my replicated one of my own errors: how to pronounced “short-lived” (or “long-lived”). She used a short “i” for the “lived” part, thus pronouncing the word as the past tense of “live” (which is also spelled “lived”: no one has ever claimed English is easy).

However, the “lived” in “short-lived” refers to the life of the thing being discussed, and in “life” the “i” is long. The word originally was “short-lifed” (long “i”), but the “f” followed by the “d” sound is difficult, so the “f” became a “v”: unvoiced rather than voiced. But the “i” retained its pronunciation as a long “i”, so the word “short-lived” rhymes with “high-fived.”

Another word I’ve encountered with this sort of problem is “misled,” which I’ve heard pronounced as though it were the past tense of “misle.”

Written by LeisureGuy

14 April 2018 at 11:47 am

Posted in Daily life, Education

Tcheon Fung Sing shaving cream and RazoRock Old Type

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A commenter mentioned recently that Figaro is now a brand of Tcheon Fung Sing, which was news to me. I do have this TFS shaving cream, though, so I thought I’d bring it out. The Figaro I once had came with the bitter almond fragrance popular in Italy, but this TFS shaving cream has a very light and (to me) unidentifiable fragrance, though not unpleasant. This is quite old, and it is now quite firm, so the fragrance may have waned. (TFS does make a shaving cream today, but it seems distinct from the cream shown.)

The last time I used this, the lather was not that good, but this time I exercised more care and was careful to shake the brush well to remove all excess water, and the lather was really quite good: very satisfactory and earning a more frequent appearance in the rotation.

The RazoRock Old Type is one of my favorite razors: totally comfortable, never nicks, and delivers easily a very smooth result. Today was no different.

A good splash of Bulgari EDT as an aftershave, and the weekend begins.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 April 2018 at 10:30 am

Posted in Shaving

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