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Thomas Kuhn’s Ashtray

14 Jun

Ludwig Wittgenstein once threatened Karl Popper with a poker. Years later, philosopher Thomas Kuhn threw an ashtray at his student Errol Morris. Morris would go on to quit philosophy and become an Oscar winning documentary filmmaker.

A recent episode of the podcast Hi-Phi-Nation tells the story and I highly recommend it. For many years I have thought that Kuhn’s explanation of scientific change  is deeply flawed and cringe anytime someone utters the phrase “paradigm shift.” You can also read Morris’s own account here.

One minor geeky criticism, philosopher Lydia Patton misidentifies a Leyden jar as a battery containing liquid acid. Actually a Leyden jar has no liquid, but holds static electricity. I think she either means a either voltaic pile or a Daniell cell.

Here is the trailer for one Morris’s documentary:

How to Stop Hiccups

1 Mar

An astounding tour of the medical literature on hiccups:

Why is the full moon myth so powerful?

22 Aug

I was reading this paper in the journal Teaching Psychology about how evidence can help dispel common myths about human behavior, when I came across this sentence:

“In the second case, the superstition that a full moon increases erratic behavior remained impervious to change. Unfortunately, students maintained a strong belief in lunar lunacy at the beginning of the course, and the belief did not change at the end of the course.”

It conforms to my experience, many students at all levels, including doctoral students, are absolutely convinced of the influence of the full moon on human behavior. Students have actually gotten angry when I point out the contrary evidence.

In their paper, McCarthy and Frantz offer a possible explanation:

“We believe this particular misperception is especially difficult to change because people continually employ confirmation bias as a way to retain their belief.”

I suspect that cultural factors might also be involved. I remember in one class two Asian students were astonished by the debate. They had never heard anyone suggest the full moon as a harbinger of bad tidings. In their respective cultures the full moon is seen as an auspicious omen.


World’s longest running battery

3 Feb

I first read about the Clarendon Dry Pile, also called the Oxford electric bell,  decades ago. It was turned on in 1840 and is still ringing today!


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