Cognitive Blindness

Inability to really know how others think and how their cognitive processes are different from our own.

Culture, education, language, and thinking

How we think about problems depends in part of how we are taught to do so. And that education is seeped in our culture and language. Metaphors, mnemonics, analogies, riddles, word choice for explanations are tightly interwoven into our language. Just like it was probably impossible for Romans to invent calculus given their numeral system, it is difficult to think clearly about some problems in some languages. I’ve learned advanced physics and mathematics in English and find it very difficult to express thoughts in those domains in Russian (my native language). But when I first came to New York, I marveled at how poor my cohorts’ geometry proofs were — their presentations took a lot of space and too many steps to achieve what I was taught to do in minimal configuration. I was taught to jump and bound from concept to concept (in geometry), while the students in America were taught to crawl through ideas. I found that maddening! But it was a different math language, and as such it allowed for a different set of affordances… It is difficult to easily show the differences in thought process that language makes in this short blog. But here’s a bit…

Cultural Differences or Child Abuse

Russian parents Aleksander and Anna prepare to bathe their 2-month-old Viktor in icy water in St. Petersburg, where the air temperature was 27 degrees. Viktor obviously prefers hot baths. Photo: Dmitry Lovetsky, Associated Press

We view the world through our own personal and cultural filter. We can’t help but do that. But put us in another cultural frame or time period, and we might be horrified at what we might witness. Consider this image: This baby is only two months old. And the people about to dip him into the freezing waters of St. Petersburg’s lake are his parents. I’ve been to this lake. I saw my own dad do the dip. He was a grown man at the time, and I still thought it was crazy. In Russia, the folksy wisdom is that such dips are good for you. But here, in U.S., the parents would be arrested, their son taken away by child protective services… It’s all relative! And here’s a few examples: /blog/2011/01/cultural-differences-or-child-abuse/

Task Analysis and Product Design

Kids from India and Vegetable Choices

Imagine your were given an assignment to develop a product that could help people eat healthy. How would you go about creating such a thing? What would you need to learn/understand? What is the right medium or technology vehicle for such a product? How would you even start? Below is a very brief outline of how to get started and the key tools necessary for the job. Project Goals The first order of business is figuring out the business needs and goals: What is the product really supposed to do? You have to ask this even if you are the one who is the client on this project. But, most probably, you are working for someone else — the client — and you have to start by understanding what your client really wants to do. You can do that in several ways: Analyzing the Request for Proposals: On many such projects, there will be an initial document, something like an RFP, that outlines the business goals and desires of the client. While some RFPs are very detailed and fully fleshed out, most are not. There are many reasons for this. Some clients are worried someone will “steal” their ideas and…

Define your terms: What is sex?

The article, “Sex Makes You Smarter — Can ‘Virtual Sex’ Do The Same?” was a great example of either knowing your audience too well or over-using jargon. The most prevalent problem in it was the lack of defined terms. The author assumed that the reader knew terms like: neurogenesis, glucocorticoid levels, and dendritic architecture (a case of cognitive blindness). But the biggest failure was the author’s negligence to define the most basic term about which the article was written: sex. What is sex? Who is having it? How are they having it? These questions were unanswered. The research on which the article was based indicated that male rats were the subject of the study and were “exposed” to sexually-receptive female rats. That was it. That was the only definition of sex in the entire article, and it was a very vague definition, especially if one extrapolated it to the realm of human sex, which is known to be complicated and varied. Is the author talking about the sexual gratification of males only? If sex was a form of exercise, as the author explained it was, how much caloric effort should the male engage in to achieve it or what heart rate should…

Cultural Barriers to Success

Tim Buton Exhibition at La Cinémathèque in Paris

Man-made Disasters in a Wake of Tsunami This month, The Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission issued its final report on the disaster: It was man-made! Here’s a quote from the report: What must be admitted — very painfully — is that this was a disaster “Made in Japan.” Its fundamental causes are to be found in the ingrained conventions of Japanese culture: our reflexive obedience; our reluctance to question authority; our devotion to ‘sticking with the program”; our groupism; and our insularity. Had other Japanese been in the shoes of those who bear responsibility for this accident, the result may well have been the same. The last sentence is particular insightful — the blame was not rested on the shoulders of a particular individual, as tempting as that might be, or even on the shoulders of some manager. The fault was places on the cultural context in which the incident played out. Museums in Paris We just got back from seeing a Tim Burton exhibit at the La Cinémathèque, in Paris. The content of the exhibit, as one could imagine, is quite wonderful. But there were many, many human failures in making the visit an enjoyable experience. And yes,…

Information in the Age of ICT: the Guardian Newspaper 3 Little Pigs Ad

The 2012 Guardian newspaper ad really captures the flow of information in the age of ICT (Information Communication Technologies). The ad retells the story of the 3 little pigs, their houses, and the big bad wolf. It shows how stories change with spin and through propagation through social media: twitter, Facebook, email, etc. Well done!

Cultural Differences through Time

Bottle of Heroin (1890-1910) by Bayer, sold as a non-addictive substitute for morphine

There’s been a shift in our culture (at least in US) towards seeing medication as a sign of weakness from one of alleviation of suffering that predominated out society some 100 years ago. Some people I know are even proud of the fact that they’ve never taken a painkiller or were treated for cough. Stoicism became a virtue all in itself — “I’m a good person because I don’t take medicine, preferring to suffer the illness and/or the symptoms of the disease.” And it’s not just the patients that feel this way. Medical professionals routinely prescribe to the “complain 3 times” rule: their patients have to mention being in pain on multiple visits prior to getting a prescription that would deal with it. A friend told a story of a doctor visit during which he was told that “he didn’t want to appear to be complainer.” Several weeks later, he was having back surgery and remains in a wheelchair to this day, a decade later! How did we get here? This is a very complicated question, but it might help to examine how things use to be. Below are medications as they were packaged and sold all over America in the…