Philosophical Multicore

Sometimes controversial, sometimes fallacious, sometimes thought-provoking, and always fun.

Archive for March, 2012

Why We Can See Stars

Posted by Michael Dickens on March 20, 2012

When I took physics, I learned that stars radiate light all throughout the electromagnetic spectrum, and radiate the most at some point in the visible spectrum. Our sun radiates more yellow than any other frequency; blue stars radiate more blue; and red stars radiate more red. Given that visible light falls in such a narrow range (with wavelengths ranging from 400 to 700 nanometers), why do all stars’ peak frequencies occur in this range? It seems like a remarkable coincidence.

I wondered about this question for some time, until yesterday I finally realized the answer.

The sun radiates light mostly in the visible spectrum; when this light hits objects on earth, some of it is absorbed, and some is reflected. Most of the light that gets reflected is in the 400 to 700 nanometer range, so any device that picks up light will be most efficient if it can pick up this range. Our eyes evolved to use light to perceive objects, so they evolved to see light in this range. In other words, the reason we see light in the 400 to 700 nanometer range is because that is the range where the sun emits the most radiation. And we can see other stars because stars’ peak radiations do not vary all that much, so they all fall within the visible spectrum.

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Posted in Science | 2 Comments »

Article of the Day: Why the World Needs Introverts

Posted by Michael Dickens on March 18, 2012

http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2012/mar/13/why-the-world-needs-introverts

This article argues that society places excessive value on extroversion while assuming that expression of introverted traits is necessarily a bad thing. In response, it explains “why the world needs introverts.”

We live with a value system that I call the Extrovert Ideal – the omnipresent belief that the ideal self is gregarious, alpha and comfortable in the spotlight. The archetypal extrovert prefers action to contemplation, risk-taking to heed-taking, certainty to doubt. He or she favours quick decisions, even at the risk of being wrong; works well in teams and socialises in groups. We like to think that we value individuality, but all too often we admire one type of individual – the kind who is comfortable “putting himself out there”.

Of course, sometimes contemplation has value over action, heed-taking over risk-taking, and doubt over certainty (just ask Richard Feynman about that last one). But is it not always better to be comfortable rather than uncomfortable? I think even introverts would agree that being “uncomfortable in the spotlight” or “uncomfortable putting himself out there” is not such a good thing.

The greatest strength of this article is in its understanding that introversion is not worse than extroversion, nor should we assume—as people usually do—that everyone is an extrovert, or that introverts merely need to be “converted.” People can become more or less sociable, and of course behave differently in different circumstances, but most people cannot make such a dramatic shift as society often expects.

We often place unreasonable expectations on introverts:

[Y]ou might still feel a pang of guilt when you decline a dinner invitation in favour of a good book. Or maybe you like to eat alone in restaurants and could do without the pitying looks from fellow diners. Or you’re told that you’re “in your head too much,” a phrase that’s often deployed against the quiet and cerebral.

Many people simply fail to understand that such behaviors are not weird or a sign that something is wrong. Not only is it perfectly normal to prefer a book to dinner with friends; in many cases, the former choice adds more value to one’s life. Where would we be if Einstein, instead of staying home to teach himself calculus, had gone partying every night?

Of course, one makes many choices throughout life, and some of these choices will always tend toward extroversion. But it is a mistake to think that they all should.

Posted in Psychology, Society | 3 Comments »

Article of the Day: Jonah Lehrer on How to Be Creative

Posted by Michael Dickens on March 15, 2012

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203370604577265632205015846.html?mod=googlenews_wsj

In this article, Jonah Lehrer explains that creativity is not some seemingly-magical ability that people either have or don’t, but a skill that can be trained. He explains how the creative process works and offers practical suggestions for how to improve one’s creative thinking skills.

This article got me thinking about meditation. I am by no means an expert on meditation—I do it only occasionally—but from what I understand, it greatly improves one’s ability to concentrate. Much recent research has demonstrated that meditation improves focus and discipline.

Common sense tells me that meditation should help unlock one’s creative capacities. But according to Lehrer, the key to creativity is often a lack of focus, and the act of concentration actually impedes divergent thinking. This makes me wonder, Does meditation increase or decrease one’s creative thinking ability?

Posted in Article of the Day, Psychology | Leave a Comment »

 
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