Neuroscience grad student. Long-time lurker, trying to learn to be poster.

Wiki Contributions


I don't know for sure about Pasteur (not my specialty) but from reading some primary sources from around the end of the spontaneous generation debate (Tyndall I think, can't quite remember!) I was struck by how much effort it took. I think it was just a lot harder to get from "first idea" to "compelling empirical results" than might immediately be clear! 

You said there might be more in the series, is that still happening? Is there an update planned? Thanks for all your good work!

This is a great attempt. But I think that the social service model, which is one of the best things about public schools, is also one of the worst things. It creates a fake environment that students find stifling, especially as they get older. See especially Paul Graham on this (link, link, link), excerpt: 

If I could go back and give my thirteen year old self some advice, the main thing I'd tell him would be to stick his head up and look around. I didn't really grasp it at the time, but the whole world we lived in was as fake as a Twinkie. Not just school, but the entire town. Why do people move to suburbia? To have kids! So no wonder it seemed boring and sterile. The whole place was a giant nursery, an artificial town created explicitly for the purpose of breeding children.

Where I grew up, it felt as if there was nowhere to go, and nothing to do. This was no accident. Suburbs are deliberately designed to exclude the outside world, because it contains things that could endanger children.

And as for the schools, they were just holding pens within this fake world. Officially the purpose of schools is to teach kids. In fact their primary purpose is to keep kids locked up in one place for a big chunk of the day so adults can get things done. And I have no problem with this: in a specialized industrial society, it would be a disaster to have kids running around loose.

What bothers me is not that the kids are kept in prisons, but that (a) they aren't told about it, and (b) the prisons are run mostly by the inmates. Kids are sent off to spend six years memorizing meaningless facts in a world ruled by a caste of giants who run after an oblong brown ball, as if this were the most natural thing in the world. And if they balk at this surreal cocktail, they're called misfits.

I also think instead of designing from the inside out, you should design from the outside in. It's hard to design something as complicated and entrenched as a school from first principles. Instead it would be great to find examples of schools from other times or cultures that seem to work better and figure out what we want to import from them! :) 

Yes, I often thought of this as a potential explanation before, but in this experience the students definitely wanted to learn. It was basically an elective and they're all seniors already on track to graduate, so they were under no pressure. They just wanted to learn! So in this case it wasn't soul crushing because the students weren't properly motivated, they were absolutely motivated, and so was I. In fact, I think it wasn't soul-crushing for the students. But it was still a little soul-crushing for me! 

You absolutely should try tutoring! I'm sure you could find some students who are a good match and who would really appreciate it! :) 

Absolutely, and all good points! But what kind of reforms would help fix these problems? You suggest that we could change the job descriptions of new and more senior teachers to give a better distribution of duties. But what could we do to fix the management problems you mention? 

This kind of study is really great because so much of what we know about short-term vs. long-term memory is based on just a few (admittedly, very convincing) lesion studies. I was always a little skeptical about the supposed clear distinction between short-term memory, long-term memory, and cognitive function, but this story really made me update in favor of this model! The fact that you could still perform pretty well on the spelling bee even without seeing the letters in front of you is impressive! I hope we see more LessWrong self-experiments along these lines (hopefully safely and under clinical supervision). :)  

Kahneman and his books were a big reason I got into science, this is such a loss. I remember reading that story for the first time in college. And it's not just a loss for psychology and neuroscience; he was also a pioneer of adversarial collaboration. 

I definitely agree! Historically, lots of scientists have made their best contributions in letters or in commentary. I'm trying to comment and reach out more too. :)