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“It suddenly struck me that that tiny pea, pretty and blue, was the Earth. I put up my thumb and shut one eye, and my thumb blotted out the planet Earth. I didn't feel like a giant. I felt very, very small.” – Neil Armstrong (1930-2012)

Fresh Reads from the Science 'o sphere!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Third Year

It's been three years down the road, and I would like to thank fellow Clearthought Singapore veterans and all my regular readers for staying on this channel.

I'll probably write a more substantial post a little later, because I went to the Darwin and Wallace talk in late June and took extensive notes, but right now my situation is not conducive to serious blogging.

So, to mark this third blogiversary I'll leave you with this little piece of Socratic dialogue, inspired by the post "don't need doctors anymore" at Angry Doc's site.

I hope you'll find it funny and interesting.


Geordie: "Did you know that Steve McCurry, the photographer who took the famous 'Afghan Girl' photo came to Singapore and gave a talk at SMU?

Freddie: "Dang, I missed that. I went to John van Wyhe's talk at NUS instead. So, anything interesting?"

Geordie: "Somebody asked him what brand of camera he used. Ha ha, can you believe it?"

Freddie: "Heh, don't tell me it's the Nikon vs Canon dickfight again. Or is it Leica vs Zeiss?"

Geordie: "It's the Nikon vs Canon. I think that marketing hype is making people stupid. Nobody would ask a famous painter what brand of paintbrushes he used, so why should people care about the brand of camera that a famous photographer used? As long as the picture is focused and well-exposed would it have mattered if he used a disposable camera?"

Freddie: "I think that tool worship is common to people who don't understand or are not interested in the process. Perhaps the professionals themselves are contributing to this misunderstanding by making the process look too easy. The tool IS the profession. I can totally see it from that point of view."

Geordie: "What are you talking about? Are you saying that a camera can walk by itself to Afghanistan, endure the hardships of a wartorn environment, seek out interesting people, interact with them and produce a well-composed and expertly-timed shot?

Freddie: "Look, a camera is what takes the photos, right? If Steve McCurry didn't have a camera with him when he saw the Afghan Girl, the photo could never happen. You can consider him merely as a vehicle to bring the camera to the Afghan Girl and then press the shutter button. All he did was to travel to a remote place, turn some dials and push some buttons - the camera did all of the 'real' work."

Geordie: "Ha ha, that's a pretty twisted way to see it. The facts are the same but the emphasis is backwards. From such a view you can dismiss the photographer as an incidental, or even an irrelevant aspect of the photographic process!"

Freddie: "You don't need photographers any more, you just need an expensive brand name camera. The photographer only pushed a button! Anyone can push a button."

Geordie: "From that perspective you can pretty much dismiss the work of any professional. Teachers? Anyone can talk and write something on the whiteboard. The textbook IS education. Scientists? Anyone can push buttons and transfer liquids from one tube to another. The PCR machine IS research. Oh man..."

Freddie: "There you go."

Geordie: "Who could see it that way? Apart from a few strange people? I mean, that can't be a prevalent view, right?"

Freddie: "I suspect that it is more common than you think. To a society that is obsessed with results and performance indicators, most people can't be bothered about the process behind anything. What they want are results, now now now! Don't care how you do it. Just tell me what I want to hear."

Geordie: "But without the process you cannot have results."

Freddie: "But even with the process, you may not have results. So why care about the process? As long it produces a result that you like, it must be a 'good' process, whatever it is."

Geordie: "Ha ha, this must be a personality-dependent thing, because I don't understand how anyone can think that way. I suppose it is some kind of superduper mental shortcut. Good photo = expensive branded camera. Expensive = good. Cheap = lousy. Quick and easy."

Freddie: "Easy on the brain, but difficult on the wallet!"

Geordie: "Yeah, which reminds me of that neverending treadmill of earning and spending. If the price is the primary gauge of what is 'good' then people must keep buying more and more expensive stuff in order to feel a sense of improvement in their lives."

Freddie: "That's good news for the marketing people."

Geordie: "For the Nikon marketing people, Canon marketing people, or the disposable camera marketing people?"

Freddie: "Ha ha... suffice to say that happiness is not free, but it is surprisingly inexpensive.

Geordie: "It is meaningless to talk about the 'expense' of happiness. It's a process. You can't just stuff happiness into a bottle and slap a brand label on it."

Freddie: "Actually I think you can. And someone will pay real money for it."

Geordie: "Someone?"

Freddie: "Everyone."


tagskie said...

hi.. just dropping by here... have a nice day!

LH said...

Hi LH, what do you think of the statement that our brain has it's "dominance" as in 'right brain thinkers' vs 'left brain thinkkers'? And that they can be *changed through cognitive reasoning & will?
Is this scientific?

Edgar said...

Happy Blogiversary!

Your Humble Loyal Reader

Lim Leng Hiong said...

To Tagskie:

Welcome to Fresh Brainz!

To LH:

Thanks for visiting!

The "right brain vs left brain" idea is a fun piece of pop psychology, but strictly speaking it isn't scientific.

Some brain functions are indeed lateralized, for example language functions are predominantly located in the left brain hemisphere.

But when people talk about "right brain vs left brain" they are usually refering to something like personality traits (eg. right brain = artistic, creative vs left brain = logical, mathematical).

There is evidence that many of functions underlying such traits are actually located in both hemispheres of the brain, thus it is incorrect to pin them down specifically to the left or right hemisphere.


To Edgar:

Thank you very much. Cheers!

angry doc said...

A camera is just a light-tight box.

It's all about the lens.

LH said...

Thanks for the info,LH.
Was wondering how come so many companies are using tools like HBDI, MBTIs to profile staff, and for training. If it's 'pop' psychology,what would be the usefulness? Looking at the pervasiveness of such tools, it doesn't look like such.

Lim Leng Hiong said...

To Angry Doc:

Ah, in that case which lens should we choose? Nikon or Canon? :p

To LH:

I think that MBTI doesn't have a major "left vs right brain" component in it. As for HBDI, frankly this is the first time I have ever heard of it.

"If it's 'pop' psychology,what would be the usefulness? Looking at the pervasiveness of such tools, it doesn't look like such."

I don't think that pervasiveness is a good gauge of whether something is scientific or not.

There are many ideas and tools in society that based on very little science and are very popular.

angry doc said...

Actually I was wrong. For digital cameras the body is more than just a light-tight box - the sensor (which replaced the film) and the processing has a lot to do with the resultant image produced.

But then the 'quality' of the image produced is more than the sum of the pixels...

S.A. said...

Looking forward to your post on the Darwin and Wallace talk.

Lim Leng Hiong said...

To Angry Doc:

By thinking like that you're examining the process behind photography. We should assess value only along a single dimension, such as price or brand name. Come on now!

Having said that, if they ever give out retirement presents for scientists, I'll pass on the gold watch. Gimme my Zeiss inverted microscope. ZEISS I say! ;)