Things to Learn

Below is a list of topic areas and questions of interest to me and about which I’d like to learn more. Do you have thoughts or reading suggestions? Please send them my way.

New-Media Culture. I’m intrigued by new-media social interaction (blogs, chat rooms, e-mail, forums, Facebook, Twitter, wikis, etc.). How does cyber-culture develop? In what ways does it differ from traditional cultural? How is culture and communication shaped by the platforms on which they manifest themselves? (Related reading: The Tipping Point (Gladwell), Create Your Own Economy (Cowen).)

Inescapable You. Years ago I watched a little bit of reality TV (The Real World, The Apprentice). What interested me was the gradual revelation of participants’ true selves. At first, each would behave a particular way to win friends, gain an upper hand, appear cool, or whatever. But, in time, each gradually fell back into his or her natural pattern of behavior (or so it seemed to me). I took this as evidence that one can’t escape one’s true personality, even with cameras rolling and fame and fortune on the line. Where else but in reality shows is this demonstrated or dissected? How can we reconcile the notions of personal development and change with the idea of a “true” fundamental self? Is one or another of these concepts more or less valid in any sense?

Notation and Thought. Certain areas of science and mathematics seem especially aided by good mathematical notation. For example, linear algebra and scientific study upon which it is based is dramatically easier to understand and manipulate in matrix/vector notation than with summation notation. No doubt the ease of use and comprehension provided by good notation propels scientific inquiry. Maxwell’s equations are a particularly beautiful example of good notation. Is there research on the relationship between mathematical notation and language and the scientific insights it reveals and permits? This would be the analog to literature on the relation between language and thought.

Bias. Why is it so hard to argue something on its merits alone? Does everyone have a bias about everything? From my very limited knowledge of neurobiology and psychology I suspect the answer is “yes.” Yet it feels like it should be possible to be unbiased about something. Why? What does that even mean? Is it necessary, important, or revealing to contemplate the bias of the presenter? Or does that just get in the way of good, honest dialog and debate? (Related reading: my post Is Political Commentary Ever Unbiased?)

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