Tag Archives: science for lay people

Aversão a Ambiguidade

Slave Market with the Disappearing Bust of Voltaire (1940) Salvador Dali

Slave Market with the Disappearing Bust of Voltaire (1940) Salvador Dali


As pessoas em geral detestam ambiguidade e preferem qualquer tipo de risco que não seja obscuro, indeterminado, ambivalente. Em outras palavras, as possibilidades bem especificadas são preferidas em detrimento das possibilidades incertas – mesmo que os ganhos bem especificados sejam de valores mais baixos que os incertos. Esse viés é irracional e tem nome: Paradoxo de Ellsberg. Essa aversão a ambiguidade não é uma exclusividade dos homens e o macaco prego, por exemplo, também prefere as opções com informações completas em detrimento das opções indeterminadas. Esse traço comum entre o homem e o macaco prego nos mostra que muito provavelmente esse processo de tomada de decisão que evita a ambiguidade a todo custo não é uma exclusividade humana e tem raízes evolutivas. No contexto político brasileiro, a mensagem que fica é a seguinte: a opinião extremada pode ser mera aversão a ambiguidade, um traço bem primitivo dos primatas! 


Play It by Trust (2009) Dealer Francis Naumann playing Yoko Ono on her all–white chess board, during the exhibition Marcel Duchamp The Art of Chess

Play It by Trust (2009) Francis Naumann and Yoko Ono 

Early to Rise? Ordinary and Happy. Late-to-Bed-Late-to-Rise? Intelligent and Depressed.


According to the University of Madrid and the London School of Economics, those who wake up early have more time just to mediocrity. Those who sleep later and wake up later are generally smarter.


Those who sleep late and wake up late have better analytical thinking, conceptual and critical. Despite some exceptions, such as Thomas Edison and Ernest Hemingway, the morning people are generally good servants while night people are better at more intellectual, creative, scientific, and artistic work. Famous night owls: Charles Darwin, Winston Churchill, James Joyce, Marcel Proust, Keith Richards, Elvis Presley.

In the study of Madrid, 32% are night owls and 25% are morning larks, the rest do not fit into any category. Some scientists say that night people have superior intelligence due to the recent evolution of human behavior with activities after the sunset since the introduction of artificial lighting that attracts people with mind more curious, restless and inquisitive.

The University of Toronto, however, shows that morning types are happier – which is consistent with minds less curious and inquisitive. Another interesting fact is that the morning types feel healthier than night owls – plus more adjusted, since the expectations of the society are more organized around the time of a typically morning person. Another explanation for the greatest happiness of the morning type may be that the nocturnal type body clock comes with a kind of social jet-lag.

Another study, this one from the University of Rio Grande do Sul, shows that people with higher intelligence and nocturnal habits are three times more likely to develop depression.
Finally, these studies are in line with the popular quotes “what the eye doesn’t see, the heart doesn’t grieve over”, “do you want to be right or do you want to be happy?” among other quotes much more polemical and aggressive.

Everything that is really great and inspiring is created by the individual who can work in freedom” – Albert Einstein

Liberty is obedience to the law which one has laid down for oneself” – Jean Jacques Rosseau

Ignorance is the necessary condition of human happiness, and it has to be admitted that on the whole mankind observes that condition well. We are almost entirely ignorant of ourselves; absolutely of others. In ignorance, we find our bliss; in illusions, our happiness” – Anatole France


Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago: Review

Chicago Museum of Science presents a Wrong Color Definition

Chicago Museum of Science Color Mistake

According to the Museum of Science and Industry (Chicago, IL) “the color of an object is determined by the specific wavelengths of lights that it absorbs and reflects” but THIS IS NOT TRUE. This wrong definition is presented in the Color Booth and situated in the Science Storm Exhibition. Here are some explanations about why color is NOT determined by the specific wavelengths of lights that it absorbs and reflects:

“Many people believe that color is a defining and essential property of objects, one depending entirely on the specific wavelengths of light reflected from them. But this belief is mistaken. Color is a sensation created in the brain. If the colors we perceived depended only on the wavelength of reflected light, an object’s color would appear to change dramatically with variations in illumination through- out the day and in shadows. Instead patterns of activity in the brain render an object’s color relatively stable despite changes in its environment.” – by John Werner, Ph.D.: UC Davis, Center for Neuroscience.

“While color of an isolated light is closely related to the light’s physical properties — its energy and wavelengths — this is a misleading fact for understanding normal viewing. Color is not in light. What we see depends directly on a pattern of neural responses, not on the wavelength or energy of light that enters the eye. The simple relation between a physical stimulus and how we perceive it breaks down when the light is part of a complex scene. In natural viewing, the whole visual stimulus is a patchwork of different lights from many objects. The neural response to a particular light, and therefore our perception of it, is affected by the context of the other lights also in view.” – by Steve Shevell, Ph.D.: University of Chicago, Institute for Mind and Biology.

“Color is often thought to be a quality of light but this is not so. For example, the expression the ocean is blue uses a perceptual experience of blueness to describe the physical light. Color itself is not in the light. Color is a perceptual phenomenon determined by neural processes in the brain. The region of the electromagnetic spectrum that is visible to humans is from about 400 nm to 700 nm, but no wavelength is endowed with a color. Instead, a particular wavelength, say a wavelength near 470 nm or 580 nm, is perceived as blue or yellow, respectively, only because these wavelengths stimulate the photoreceptors in the human eye that are responsible for the transduction of physical light into neural responses. Those neural responses go through a series of processing stages in the brain. The experience of blue or yellow, as well as all other colors, is a mental construction. The experience of a color is like the understanding of language. There is no meaning in the physical sound (the brain must interpret it) just as there is no blue or yellow in the wavelengths of light. Color is a percept that humans are able to experience through sensory neural processes.” – by Claudia Feitosa-Santana, Ph.D.: Roosevelt University, Psychology Department.

This is very old news:

Isaac Newton (1642, 1727) brilliantly wrote about in his book “Opticks“, first published in 1704: “And if at any time I speak of light and rays as coloured or endowed with colours, I would be understood to speak not philosophically and properly, but grossly, and accordingly to such conceptions as vulgar people in seeing all these experiments would be apt to frame. For the rays to speak properly are not coloured. In them there is nothing else then a certain power and disposition to stir up a sensation of this or that colour.”

Later, W. D. Wright was inspired by Newton’s words and published a book named “The Rays are not Coloured” in 1967, stating that “our perception of colour are within us and colours cannot exist unless there is an observer to perceive them. Colour does not exist even in the chain of events between the retinal receptors and the visual cortex, but only when information is finally interpreted in the consciousness of the observer.” – by W. D. Wright, Imperial College of Science and Technology, London

First published by Adam Hilger LTD, London - 1967

First published by Adam Hilger LTD, London – 1967

Therefore, if you go to this museum eager for your kids to learn science, it is better to readjust your expectations. It can be fun but not educational. Most of time you will not find an employee or a volunteer to answer your question, and if you find them it does not mean that they will give you the right answer.

Their uniforms are very misleading. They have two types: employees that are not scientists 99% of the time wear an uniform that says “Scientist”, and volunteers wear an uniform that says “Volunteer” that, although are often retiree from many different areas not related to science, you will have better chances to find a science student among them.

More alarming and very scary is the fact that they offer a “Teacher Workshop” and “Center for the Advancement of Science Education”. According to their own words, the “Teacher Workshop is designed to increase your knowledge of science, improve teaching skills and demonstrate how to use Museum programs and exhibits to enhance science curriculum.” The “Center for the Advancement of Science Education” offers an enormous list of activities like Field Trips, Science Minors, Learning Lab, etc. It would be fantastic if the museum was taking science seriously and updated but this is definitely not the case.

OBS: Before writing this review, I have contacted the museum requesting that the panel with the color definition should be fixed. The answer was NO and the explanation was once more a proof that the MSI Chicago does not have scientists enough and/or no respect for Science.

Color is in the Brain

How to Read a Scientific Paper

How to Read a Scientific Paper

When reading a Science Paper, we have to focus on identifying some basic informations. Therefore, we have to first understand how to identify each of them:

Background: Every paper presents the scenario in the previous literature that left a door open, leading to the present study. Usually, the authors start talking about it in order to address their own question.

Question: What is the question that authors designed the study to answer? Usually, it is presented right after presenting the previous literature.

Logic: What is the rationale of the experiment? In other words, why does it make sense to do the experiment in the way it was done?

Method: First thing to do is to identify the name of the Method. If you don’t know anything about the Method, you should google it before reading more about the Method… and identify:

  • Stimulus: what was presented to the subject
  • Task: what was the subject asked to do
  • Independent variable (IV): the variable that affects the DV (*)
  • Dependent variable (DV): the variable being measured; what is varying in the experiment that is affected by IV or correlated to the IV(*).

It is worth noting that most of the time the IV and DV are included in the paper title.

Results: What are the results of the experiment? Usually, they present many results but always emphasizing the result that is the most important. The results are very specific, and most of the times expressed in numbers, percentages, and statistical results. If you don’t know how to interpret them, skip to the conclusion… but keep in mind that is necessary to understand statistics in order to evaluate the liability of the paper.

Conclusion: How do the authors interpret the results?  What conclusion do they make from them?

(*) More about IV and DV: http://nces.ed.gov/nceskids/help/user_guide/graph/variables.asp

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind


Would you erase me from your life and memory?

The movie “Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind” underlies the scientific discussion about whether our mind is governed by localized or distributed activity in the brain. Is the neural orchestra of our mental functions localized or distributed throughout the brain? The movie starts with the localized theory that is represented by the Lacuna Inc., the company that offers the service of erasing all memories related to one’s person… A non-traditional and impulsive girl (Clementine, Kate Winslet) erases her boyfriend (Joel, Jim Carrey) from her mind with all the memories related to him. Then, Joel figures out what Clementine had just done, and hires Lacuna Inc. to do the same procedure with his memories of Clementine… but during his procedure, he changes his mind, trying to stop it but it was too late, and the company succeeds on erasing Clementine and all memories related to her. The movie then approaches the distributed theory of brain activity when Joel changes his regular routine in an unconsciousness act driven by the familiarity of the name Montauk, a special place for their erased relationship… and they meet each other for the first time (if we consider that they can’t recall the fact that they were in love before). This brilliant fiction written by Charlie Kaufman present us the both models of the relation between mind activity and brain activity that have been conciliated in the study of cognition with the help of Neuroimaging techniques, suggesting that the integrity of our mental functions is at the same time specified and distributed throughout the brain.

Note Clementine’s hair-color and her emotional state.