Re: MR Evidence

From: Dace (
Date: Wed Aug 08 2001 - 20:16:33 BST

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    Subject: Re: MR Evidence
    Date: Wed, 8 Aug 2001 12:16:33 -0700
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    Hi Bill,

    > Dear Ted,
    > > Let's begin with the rats.
    > >
    > > In 1920 William McDougall of Harvard began training rats to learn to
    > > from a water maze by choosing the correct exit. While the brightly lit
    > > would give them an electric shock, when they picked the dimly-lit exit,
    > > got out undisturbed. McDougall found that the first generation of rats
    > > to endure 165 shocks before getting the message. But by the 30th
    > > generation, only 20 transgressions were necessary to persuade the rats
    > > the error in their way. (McDougall, 1938. British Journal of Psychology
    > > 28:321-345.)
    > >
    > > McDougall assumed the rats were passing on acquired characteristics.
    > > Wishing to disprove this "Lamarckian" (and Darwinian) interpretation of
    > > data, F. A. E. Crew replicated the experiment in Edinburgh. Right from
    > > get-go, Crew's rats needed only 25 errors to learn their lesson, as if
    > > picking up where the Harvard rats had left off. (Crew, 1936. Journal of
    > > Genetics 33:61-101.)
    > >
    > > In Melbourne, W. E. Agar found the same effect. His trials went on for
    > > twenty years, and even when he tested control subjects that weren't
    > > descended from trained rats, they still showed improvement over the
    > > performance of previous generations. So it couldn't have been coming
    > > their parents. (Agar, 1954. Journal of Experimental Biology
    > >
    > I suspect that the difference has to do with human culture. By the time
    > I was in college, labs were brightly lit places, but I suspect that labs
    > of the early 20th century were not so brightly lit, given the difficulty
    > of installing wiring and lighting in old buildings that were not built
    > for them. What difference does that make? A common error in experiments
    > with rats running mazes has been not isolating the mazes from ambient
    > stimuli. The rats use cues outside the maze. Possibly better external
    > lighting, installed in McDougall's lab between 1920 and 1938, helped the
    > later rats, and the other labs were also better lit.

    Perhaps, but it does seem like you're grasping at straws here.

    > > Acquired traits have often been observed to pass
    > > throughout a species with no known means of direct transfer from
    > > to individual. For instance, in England in the 20s a small bird known
    > > the blue tit learned to open milk bottles at doorsteps. When one bird
    > > learned the trick, others in the area learned it by simple imitation.
    > > the blue tit doesn't fly more than a few miles, and this habit spread to
    > > several widely disparate areas in England by 1935 and continued popping
    > > in faraway places throughout the forties, including Scandinavia and
    > > The habit appeared independently at least 89 times in the British Isles,
    > > the spread of the habit accelerated as time went on.
    > Why should we think that these appearances were independent, especially
    > as relevant memes might have been passed from neighbor to neighbor?

    The appearances were determined to be independent on the basis of the wide
    spatial divergence involved, far greater than the distance traveled by
    individual birds. There's no way the birds of one area could have
    communicated with those of another.

    Within a given area, we can surmise that the habit spread through imitation.
    But even here I can't see how memes would be involved, since we're dealing
    with birds, after all, not people. It's mimesis, not memetics.

    > > (Fisher and Hinde,
    > > 1949. British Birds 42:347-357.) Milk bottles practically disappeared
    > > Holland during the war, and by the time they returned all the birds that
    > > been opening them before the war could not have survived to see their
    > > return. Yet the habit rapidly returned when the bottles were
    > > in 1947.
    > So what?

    The significance here is that the habit took many years to emerge prior to
    the war when very few birds practiced it. But the habit was
    well-established by 1947 when milk bottles were re-introduced to Holland.
    This could explain why Dutch birds picked up the habit so quickly at that

    > > According to Sheldrake's model, the more a new trait is practiced
    > > by the members of a given species, the more likely other individuals
    > > pick it up through resonance.
    > >
    > > Arden Mahlberg, a psychologist, carried out a test of the ability to
    > > Morse Code. He had one group of subjects learn actual Morse Code, while
    > > another had to learn a newly-invented code that closely resembled it.
    > > found that subjects were able to learn the actual code far more rapidly
    > > the alternative, and he interpreted this as evidence that the subjects
    > > resonating with the millions of people who had already learned Morse
    > But the Morse code should be easier to learn, even than a similar code.

    Why? You're replacing words with dots and dashes. Why would one set of
    dots and dashes be any easier to learn than another?

    > > Each time he replicated the experiment, he found that the difference in
    > > learning time between Morse code and the new one progressively
    > > This might mean that the initial results were false. But the fact that
    > > decrease was progressive suggests that the morphic resonance of the new
    > > was becoming progressively stronger as more and more students learned
    > > (Mahlberg, 1987. Journal of Analytical Psychology 32:23-34.)
    > >
    > It might also mean that there were experimenter effects that were not
    > controlled for.
    > > Countless people have learned to type on the QWERTY keyboard. If
    > > resonance is real, we should expect people to learn this layout more
    > > than random layouts. This is indeed the case. Even the alphabetical
    > > layout, which should be easier to learn, is often harder to learn,
    though in
    > > a few experiments it was equally easy to learn as the QWERTY layout.
    > > (Norman and Fisher, 1982. Human Factors 24:509-519.) (Hirsch, 1970.
    > > of Applied Psychology 54:484-490.)
    > Well, as I recall, the Dvorak keyboard is easier to learn than the
    > QWERTY keyboard. But the QWERTY keyboard should be easier to learn than
    > a random keyboard or an alphabetic keyboard. The QWERTY keyboard was not
    > chosen at random, although it is planned to be a bit difficult.

    It was chosen because, on the old manual typewriters, the keys tended to jam
    into each other during typing. So the commonly used letters were spread out
    in the QWERTY format. Alternative formats should be just as easy for new
    students to learn. Unless they're specifically designed with this in mind,
    such as the Dvorak model, they're not.

    > The problem with doing such experiments with Morse code and the QWERTY
    > keyboard is that they were designed to be easy to use, and thus it is no
    > surprise that they are relatively easy to learn. Better to take
    > something that many people have learned, such as the Japanese syllabary,
    > and compare learning it with learning other symbols that are as easy to
    > write. Have the teaching done by a computer program, so that no teacher
    > is learning how to teach them.

    There've been a few experiments roughly along the lines you suggest. For
    instance, Gary Schwartz, a psychology professor at Yale, selected 48 words
    from the Hebrew Old Testament. He then scrambled these words to produce 48
    more, none of which were real words in Hebrew. He asked test subjects to
    guess their meaning in English and then rate on a scale of 0 to 4 how
    confident they felt about whether they'd guessed the meaning correctly. The
    subjects reported feeling confident about their guesses 75% more often with
    the real Hebrew words than with the fakes.

    Alan Pickering of Hatfield Polytechnic in England came up with a list of
    authentic Persian words and then created another list of fake words also
    written in Persian script. He would show each word to the test subjects for
    ten seconds, after which they would try to duplicate the word on paper. He
    found that his students were able to duplicate real Persian words more
    accurately than fake ones 75% of the time. He noted that the odds of
    achieving this result were 10,000 to 1. Like Schwartz, Pickering concluded
    that his results confirmed morphic resonance.


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