Is Everyone Else A Robot? The Problem Of Consciousness

There is a philosophical theory about whether things truly exist or not, called solipsism.  The main thrust of this theory that we can only be sure of our own existence, not of the existence of anything or anyone outside of us.

A truly solipsistic person can never know whether the people that they meet are real or just figments of their imagination.  For all the solipsist knows, they are just a brain floating in a tank, experiencing whatever stimuli are zapped into their vestigial spinal cord.

Solipsists are rarely fun at parties, not least because they can’t be sure that anyone else has actually shown up.

Perhaps that’s a little unfair to solipsism, but this theory brings up an interesting question.

Can we ever be sure that anyone else experiences the world the way we do?

Continue reading “Is Everyone Else A Robot? The Problem Of Consciousness”

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How is an Experiment Created? A walkthrough with help from some birds

Previously this blog has covered why multiple experiments are often needed before we can feel confident in a finding.  But how exactly are experiments made in the first place?

This article is a walkthrough of the basic steps common to almost every scientific experiment.  There will be a lot of sidestepping of some issues to keep it simple, but feel free to look those sore spots up!

Not all scientific research involves experiments of course.  Plenty of scientists work with archival experimental data – data that have been collected by researchers in the past  (data is actually plural, the singular is datum!).  Many areas of science use techniques that don’t involve experiments at all, like zoology field work where scientists just watch how animals behave.

For now though, let’s just think about the parts of science that do use experiments.

What is an experiment anyway?

A traditional view of an experiment would require a few different parts to be present.  There needs to be an idea that is being investigated, this is the theory.  Then this needs to be made into a more specific question, the hypothesis.  From this, a particular method is chosen.  Once the method has been completed there will be results, which are largely just numbers.  These are interpreted into the conclusions, also called the discussion section.

Continue reading “How is an Experiment Created? A walkthrough with help from some birds”

Chimerical Colours – How to See the Impossible

Pick a colour, any you like.  Now picture it in your head.  Easy enough, right?  Now picture a colour that doesn’t exist.  Something brighter than white, or perhaps darker than black.  It seems impossible, but it can be done.

Chimerical colours are shades that cannot exist in the real-world, but can be perceived due to the way in which our eyes see colour.  They are part of a larger collection of hues called impossible colours.

To understand how chimerical colours work, we need to understand how we see colour in the first place.  (If you want to skip straight to the demo, scroll to the bottom!)

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Why Studies Need Multiple Experiments, An Illustration Using Manic Rats And Beef Jerky

When we start out with a question in science, we need to break it down to its most fundamental components.

Let’s say we want to know the answer to “Do non-human animals have language?”.  First we need to specify what is meant by language.  Do we just mean verbal language, or are we including gestural languages like sign language?  Do we want to know about all animals, or just the most intelligent ones like chimps or dolphins?  Does the communication need grammar?  And so on, and so forth.

For every question we answer, a thousand smaller questions crop up.

For this reason, scientific research tends to be very niche.  A single study might attempt to answer one facet of one section of a broader question.

By doing this, we can learn more about that question in order to ask better questions.  One day, when enough of the question has been answered, we find ourselves with a theory.

Continue reading “Why Studies Need Multiple Experiments, An Illustration Using Manic Rats And Beef Jerky”

Children’s Hearing May Be At Risk From Portable Music Players

Music plays a big role in most people’s childhoods.  Who can forget the song that was playing when they had their first kiss, or first breakup, or first sugar-fueled dance-off?  But, having a constant soundtrack can have an unintended effect on children’s hearing, according to a study from Rotterdam University.

The researchers examined the hearing of the children, who were aged 9 to 11, and also measured how often they used a portable music player (eg. an iPod).

1 in 7 children had some measurable hearing loss.

But, children who reported using portable music players on a regular basis (more than once a week) were nearly three times more likely to have hearing loss than children who didn’t use music players regularly.

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