Personal Reflections

Tom Harbin, Waking up Blind, Langdon Street Press, 2009.

Shortly before 6 pm on September 12, 1983, I found myself sitting in the surgery suite at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia. What I did not know at the time, but learned later, was that a horrible mistake was about to happen right after I left. The next patient in line, an elderly African American man named Sargus Houston was scheduled to have surgery performed on his right eye, but the surgery was done on the left. That accident set in motion a chain of events that was…

“The Game Show Host Problem” from the movie 21 (2008). Photo: © 2008 Relativity Media

A while back, I read with interest the following post by Graeme Keith:

Keith uses a causal framework to analyze the Monty Hall Problem and concludes that,

“Our final choice of door is clearly a function of both our first choice and whether we switch or stick. But it is also a function of which door Monty opens.”

He elaborates further that Monty chooses which door to open based on having knowledge about where the car is located,

“Here’s the key insight the causal framework provides: Which door Monty chooses also depends on the placement of the car. This is…

Underlying Conceptual Framework

In my previous post on this topic,

I described the historical background that gave rise to development of Signal Detection Theory (SDT). Here I will describe the conceptual framework underlying the theory.

SDT can be generalized to apply to any diagnostic system, a term that applies whenever a formal set of rules and procedures are used to make a judgment about whether some specific state of affairs is present in the environment. The theory will be easiest to explain by describing how it applies in a simple situation. Consider the case of a human observer participating in an experiment designed…

Chapter by Chapter précis

Photo courtesy of Frans de Waal

This book was written by my former colleague at Emory, Frans de Waal, and even though it was published over 10 years ago, the topic continues to have relevance in our times. Here are chapter by chapter highlights of some of the main themes in the book.

— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — -

Frans de Waal, The Age of Empathy, Nature’s Lessons for a Kinder Society, Three Rivers Press, 2009.

Preface: The message of this book is…

Historical Origins

Psychophysicists Confront False Positives

Scientists working in the field of psychophysics in the 1940s (probably earlier but I will start my historical review here) were aware that there was a problem with some of the data they were collecting regarding absolute thresholds. It was known that when a very dim flash of light was presented repeatedly to an observer, on some trials the subject would report that the light was seen and on other trials would report that it was not. That in itself was not necessarily problematic. As I described in a previous article

much of this variability can…

Your article brought back many fond memories of the time, so many many years ago now, that I spent the better part of a year slowly working my way through Hofstadter's book.

I recently told my grandson that if he wants to be considered an intellectual, a good start would be to read two books:

Godel, Escher, Bach by Douglas Hofstadter

The Emporeror's New Mind by Roger Penrose

Woman and Gorillas In The Mist

I never met Dian Fossey, but I did receive a postcard from her shortly after her death.

I had seen reports in the news sometime around New Year’s Eve in 1985 that Dian Fossey had been murdered. When I went to check my mailbox a few days later in early January of 1986 I found this postcard. It had to have been sent within days of her death (The postmark is too blurred to determine the exact date when it was mailed). …

Ratios instead of summations

In a previous post, I discussed Trichromatic Theories of Color Vision that were originally formulated by Young and Helmholtz in the 1800s.

These theories explain color matches based on linear summations of photon absorptions in three different kinds of cone photoreceptors. In this post, I am going to describe a different approach to understanding color perception, Opponent Process Color Theories. The origin of these theories is attributed to Ewald Hering in 1892. They employ ratios to explain certain aspects of color perception.

For several decades stretching into the 20th Century, the Trichromatic and Opponent Processes were considered to be…

Pursued by Furies

“And this is how I sometimes think of myself, as a great explorer who has discovered some extraordinary land from which he can never return to give his knowledge to the world: but the name of this land is hell.”

Malcolm Lowry, Under the Volcano, Reynal & Hitchcock, 1947

artwork by Rylie Lynn Reed

Why I Consider this Book to be a Masterpiece

I first read Under the Volcano over forty years ago. The book shows up on numerous top-ten lists of novels prepared by academic critics, and it was ranked #11 on a list by the Modern Library Board of the…

Ronald Boothe

Professor Emeritus, Emory University, Atlanta, GA, USA

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