Our brain filters and interprets what we see to help make sense of the World around us. Simply measuring the light coming from a surface is not enough to understand the surface. A white surface in shadow, for example, may reflect less light than a black surface in full day light.
I first came across Edward H. Adelson’s maddening checker shadow optical illusion while reading Kathryn Schultz’s fascinating book “Being Wrong”. The squares labelled A and B in the following picture are the exact same shade.
You don’t have to take my word for it, you can watch it on YouTube – in all its maddening glory!
This process appears hardwired. It doesn’t matter how many times you see this illusion, your brain still gets it wrong!
I recommend the book. It’s rather humbling to realise how wrong you can be; from what you hear, what you see and what you think!
Thanks to Sam Owen telling about the YouTube video.
Does the language you speak impact the way you think?
This question has occupied academics for centuries. Some people perceive deep differences between languages, which affect the minds of the people who speak them. Others argue that the differences are superficial and, linguistically speaking, all humans are essentially equal.
I’ve often pondered on how programming languages affect the people who program them, so I found Guy Deutscher’s delightful book “Through the Language Glass” both fascinating and enlightening.
He explores two centuries of research from William Gladstone puzzling over the lack of colour in The Iliad and The Odyssey, to the latest brain imaging experiments.
Gladstone’s noticed the black-and-white nature of the Homer’s world; blues or greens are never mentioned. One popular explanation at the time was that the ancient Greeks were partially colourblind and full colour vision had yet to evolve. Scientists even pointed to the lack of colour words in many “primitive” languages around the world as evidence. Obviously, we now know that evolution doesn’t work so fast. Differences in colour vocabulary reflect cultural rather than biological development.
So where are we on this debate today? Noam Chomsky has argued for the past 50 years that the universal rules of human grammar are encoded in our genes and variation between languages has no cognitive consequence – all languages are equally complex.
In fact languages vary markedly in complexity. In general small, illiterate societies have languages with smaller vocabularies but more complex grammatical structures. Such differences can affect the way people think. The latest brain scanning experiments show that If a language distinguishes between two colours, as Russian does between dark and light blue, then its speakers experience more of a difference between them than people whose language uses the same word for both.
And, then after all this, I saw Mark Pagel’s TED talk postulating that language is a piece of social technology for enhancing the benefits of cooperation:
I loved Matt Ridley’s meme of “Idea’s Having Sex”. A fabulous talk exploring the importance of collaboration and exchanging ideas – the power of the collective brain.
Lewis Pugh’s incredible Mt. Everest swim to highlight melting glacier ice. An amazing story.
I’ve started sending this to people who ask me to help rolling out a standard agile software development process – showing the pitfalls of a standard process.
The most captivating speaker was Elif Shafak, talking about the politics of fiction. Such a wonderful story teller. I’ve ordered a couple of her books as a result!
Have you every wondered what the acronym UTC stood for? I came across this little gem in the Javadocs for Solr today:
In 1970 the Coordinated Universal Time system was devised by an international advisory group of technical experts within the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). The ITU felt it was best to designate a single abbreviation for use in all languages in order to minimize confusion. Since unanimous agreement could not be achieved on using either the English word order, CUT, or the French word order, TUC, the acronym UTC was chosen as a compromise.
Luke Hohmann is in London and has agreed to come along to XTC on the 17th November to describe and play some of his Innovation Games.
I became hooked on Innovation Games when I read an early draft of Luke’s book. Customers can’t always tell you what they want because sometimes they don’t know themselves, so asking them to rank requirements or write stories might not be the best place to start. I’ve found using Innovation Games really helps with situations like this. Luke has lots of practical ideas for Agile Teams.
Talk starts at 7:30 on the 17th Nov at Zuhlke Engineering‘s offices (43 Whitfield Street, London W1T 4HD).
Many thanks to Luke for doing this and Keith Braithwaite for kindly offerring the use of the Zulke offices to run this session (knowing Luke, there will be lots of noisy audience participation so our usual pub venue wouldn’t work too well).
We were so lucky to get Dave Snowden as an XPDay keynote back in 2004. One of the memorable moments was when he used the metaphor of organising a childrens party to explain the various approches to managing complexity. It certainly resonated with the audience (based on the conversation in pub afterwards – a wonderful XP day tradition!).
Dave’s now uploaded a version to YouTube… Fantastic stuff. I love the deadpan humour.
I have always been a fan of teams sharing experience and knowledge within a company. It’s a great way to learn new techniques, find our how people have solved similar problems and discover who’s doing cool things in your organisation.
Today I witnessed a session on agile software testing that made be rethink this.
The key problem was that the person had been told to do it – it was not something he volunteered to do. He had no passion about the subject.
He started berating the audience for producing “crap”. Not the best technique for wining people over to your point of view!
It also appeared that he didn’t have much experience in using test driven development techniques (as he had some rather strange viewpoints).
Perhaps this is an indication of the corporate culture?