Author: stephen

  • Comp Sci students and the ChatGPT disaster

    Comp Sci students and the ChatGPT disaster

    It’s well known that given the chance, people will nearly always look for a shortcut in making a decision, in order to avoid the more laborious effort required to think things through from scratch. The psychology discipline has various terms for this: “cognitive miserliness,” “cognitive economy,” “satisficing,” “mental inertia,” reliance on “heuristics,” and others. It’s…

  • You and your utility function in the new year

    You and your utility function in the new year

    An end-of-the-year reflection: what percentage of your waking hours do you spend considering what to do with your life, versus actually doing it? Clearly we all spend more time doing than considering, and it could hardly be otherwise. We can’t let ourselves be paralyzed by thought, or we’d accomplish nothing. Still, the “considering” part shouldn’t…

  • In memoriam: Jerome C. Davies (1938-2011)

    In memoriam: Jerome C. Davies (1938-2011)

    The New Testament tells us that those who are in Christ will be “sanctified”; that is, progressively purged of their sin and made more like Jesus over time. You’d think this would mean that the believers you encounter in life would be more Christ-like, on average, than the non-believers are. I’m not sure I’ve actually…

  • Why thankfulness doesn’t come naturally

    Why thankfulness doesn’t come naturally

    Like all children, I was taught the two “magic words” (“please” and “thanks”) from a young age. One of them always came more naturally to me than the other, though. “Please” is used when you’re in a position of wanting or needing something, and you’re blocked because someone else holds the key to it. I…

  • Veteran’s Day and Star Wars

    Veteran’s Day and Star Wars

    If pressed, I would probably name Rogue One as my favorite of all the Star Wars movies. That’s quite an admission from someone who grew up with the original trilogy in the 70’s and 80’s. (Collectively, my brother and I owned every Mattel action figure.) The original movies are still very close to my heart.…

  • Election Day apathy

    Election Day apathy

    As class dismissed yesterday, I encouraged students to exercise their right to vote. One came up to me and said what probably many were thinking: “if I don’t know anything about the candidates, I think it’s pointless to vote.” I agree with this opinion as literally stated. But of course I don’t agree that the…

  • Children of the pandemic

    Children of the pandemic

    (I was going to title this post “Children of the Coronavirus,”but that seemed a little too…well, corny.) Most people I know have “moved on” from the Covid-19 pandemic, and who can blame them? Quarantine was one of the yuckiest times in recent memory, to say nothing of the many who lost their lives to the…

  • The tyranny of homophily (3 of 3)

    The tyranny of homophily (3 of 3)

    Okay, folks, time for the coup de grâce. We’ve been discussing the impact of homophily (huh-MOFF-uh-lee) the past two weeks, specifically its effects on human opinion formation. Now we’re going to come up out of the weeds and take stock of the implications of all this. I find the consequences not merely sobering, but terrifying.…

  • The tyranny of homophily (2 of 3)

    The tyranny of homophily (2 of 3)

    Last time we looked at the phenomenon of homophily (huh-MOFF-uh-lee), perhaps the single most powerful factor influencing human behavior. Simply put, homophily means we want the people we associate with to be similar to us. Say you’re a casual NFL fan living in the U.S., and you move to Europe for a job. You’ll discover…

  • The tyranny of homophily (1 of 3)

    The tyranny of homophily (1 of 3)

    For the next three weeks I’d like to share some observations from my academic research. I wish I could say I had good news, but to be honest I find the results quite sobering. I study characteristics of societies using a technique called “agent-based modeling” (ABM). An agent-based model is a computational simulation of an…

  • The trouble with what you already know

    The trouble with what you already know

    One of the continual challenges of teaching — and in fact, I’d argue the single most important thing for teachers to master — is the ability to remember what it was like to not yet understand the material you’re presenting. Believe it or not, there was a time when you yourself did not yet understand…

  • AI and the perils of empathy

    AI and the perils of empathy

    Empathy — a capacity with which most people are equipped — is the ability to understand and have compassion for another’s situation. We put ourselves in their shoes, and imagine life in their circumstances. Often this involves the assumption that the way they feel in a certain scenario is the same way we would feel…

  • The taboo of thinking too hard

    The taboo of thinking too hard

    If there’s one thing that drives me nuts about this culture, it’s that choosing to actually use one’s mind is often ridiculed. Don’t believe me? Try casually mentioning in conversation that you’ve been learning, just for fun, ancient Greek or economics. Or try taking a book on differential equations to the beach. Every face will…

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