Intrinsic, extrinsic, and the magic of association

By Gordon Rugg

As regular readers of this blog will know, I have an awed respect for the ability of Ancient Greek philosophers to spot a really important point, and to then produce an extremely plausible but only partially correct explanation, sending everyone else off in the wrong direction for the next couple of thousand years.

Today’s article is about one of those points, where the Ancient Greeks didn’t actually get anything wrong, but where they laid out a concept that’s only part of the story. It involves a concept that can be very useful for making sense of consumer preferences and life choices, namely the difference between intrinsic properties in the broad sense, and extrinsic properties in the broad sense.

Here’s an example. The image below shows a pair of Zippo lighters. One of them is worth a few dollars; the other is worth tens of thousands of dollars, even though it’s physically indistinguishable from the first one. Why the difference? The answer is below…

zippo banner

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Problem solving skills: What are they?

By Gordon Rugg

There is a general consensus that problem solving skills are a Good Thing. There’s general consensus that the education system needs to encourage them.

So far, so good. The consensus doesn’t go much further, though. It rapidly bogs down in long-running arguments about what problem solving skills actually are, and about how to measure them, and how to teach them. Those arguments follow a familiar pattern, with disputes about the True Definition, and invocations of Great Thinkers such as Socrates and Plato and Wittgenstein. The fact that those arguments have been rumbling on inconclusively for decades is a strong hint that maybe they’ve been framed in the wrong way from the outset, and that framing them differently might be a good idea.

That’s what this article is about. It describes more productive ways of handling these concepts, with particular reference to definitions, education theory and educational practice. It’s based on what happened the field of Artificial Intelligence tried to produce software that would find creative solutions to real world problems. It’s a story of how re-framing the issue with subtly but profoundly different concepts gave a powerful, efficient set of solutions that changed the world. It’s a story that most people have never heard of. It’s also a story that should transform the way that we tackle this aspect of education.

It’s really quite simple…”bannerv1“Viejos mineros asturianos” by Jomafemag – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons (link at end of this article)

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Logic, evidence, and evidence-based approaches

By Gordon Rugg

So what is “evidence-based” anyway, and why do so many people make such a fuss about it?

In this article, I’ll look at the context of “evidence-based” and at some common misconceptions and mistakes about it.

It’s a journey through the limitations of logic, through the legacy of theology on modern debate, and through the nature of evidence.

It starts with a paradox that took over two thousand years to solve, involving pointy sticks and tortoises.

The arrow of logic and the chain of evidence, plus a tortoise and a charm bracelet0header2Images adapted from Wikipedia and Wikimedia; details at end of article

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Cherry picking and dodgy reasoning for beginners

By Gordon Rugg

Why do professional researchers take such a dim view of cherry picking and dodgy reasoning (and what is cherry picking anyway?)

Time for some cartoons…

Confirmation bias and cherry picking Slide1

There are more below.

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Schema theory, scripts, and mental templates: An introduction

By Gordon Rugg

Why should anyone care about schema theory? Well, among other things, it’s at the heart of how society functions, and if you make good use of it, you can become rich, famous and socially successful. That’s a persuasive pair of reasons. This article describes the core concepts in schema theory, discusses some examples of how it gives powerful insights, and relates it to various concepts that complement it.

First, some background. Schema theory was introduced in the 1930s by Sir Fred Bartlett. It’s pronounced like “schemer” which is a frequent cause of confusion if people first encounter the term by hearing it rather than reading it. The core idea is that a schema is a sort of mental template that describes the key features of something. For instance, the schema for a typical car includes having four wheels, a chassis, a body, doors, seats and a steering wheel.

There’s a closely related approach known as script theory. Scripts in this context are a sub-type of schema that describe the key features of an activity – a verb as opposed to a noun. For instance, the script for a pre-arranged dinner at a French-style restaurant includes the actions of booking a table, arriving at the agreed time, being greeted by a member of staff, being shown to your table, etc. We’ll be covering script theory in a later article.

So far, this may sound tidy but not particularly powerful or interesting. When you dig deeper, though, schema theory and script theory turn out to have a lot of uses and implications that aren’t as widely known as they should be. These take us into fields as varied as designing game-changing new products, the law, and measuring novelty in film scripts, as well as the eternal question of why the general public appears collectively unable to have consistent, clear ideas about what it wants. First, we’ll work through the basic concepts.

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Why heavy things are heavy: Brought to you by classical logic

By Gordon Rugg

Here’s Vitruvius again, trying to explain something using the four elements theory again, and ending up with a distinctly dodgy chain of reasoning again. You get the feeling that his heart isn’t really in it, and that he knows he’s working with tools that just aren’t up to the job.

6. To begin with fir: it contains a great deal of air and fire with very little moisture and the earthy, so that, as its natural properties are of the lighter class, it is not heavy.

I know how he must have felt. When I started to add tags to this post, the software helpfully suggested adding the tags Brookside characters and mattress. Is there a Brookside character named Vitruvius Mattress? I really don’t want to know.

Why birds can fly: Brought to you by classical logic

By Gordon Rugg

You might already be familiar with the Monty Python scene where one of King Arthur’s knights uses logical reasoning to show why witches and ducks float. As with much of Monty Python, it’s fairly close to something that actually happened.

Here’s Vitruvius, the famous Roman engineer and architect, using the four elements theory (that all things are made of various mixtures of air, fire, water and earth) to explain why birds are able to fly.

Winged creatures have less of the earthy, less moisture, heat in moderation, air in large amount. Being made up, therefore, of the lighter elements, they can more readily soar away into the air.

(From his Ten Books on Architecture)

Disclaimer: If you try using this quote as justification for throwing an alleged witch into a pond, then you’re on your own – this post is tagged under “error”…