Monday, July 19, 2010

Lost Discoveries: The Ancient Roots of Modern Science--from the Babylonians to the Maya

Okay, this is the last of the books I picked up when checking out child development books. (So I'm easily distracted, what can I say.) It was an interesting read, but annoying too because I found the author's style of writing distracting and poorly planned. For instance, he jumped around so frequently without any explanation that I had a hard time following which culture he was talking about, despite the fact that I already knew most of the information he was presenting. Also, his own personal biases were hard to miss (as when talking about the big bang theory--he's actually very much a creationalist).

He starts out the book by explaining that most of Europe and US teach Greeks were the great scientists, Arabs acted as storehouse of Greek knowledge until it was rediscovered again during the Renaissance. That was what I was taught, by the way. He then cited how a more PC, multi-cultural approach is becoming popular and how he thought it was hogwash and so started to write a book on how it really was the Greeks--only to find that that's not correct and the multi-cultural approach is more accurate. All well and good, if only it had come across as sincere and not a gimmick. However, throughout the books there's little comments here and there ridiculing the societies and concepts he's vaulting as so advanced, which was more convincing that he truly had begun writing a book saying the Greeks were the only advanced society in the way of the sciences, yet at the same time it came across really crass. I think he meant them to be funny, only they weren't.

I did enjoy his explanation of why so much of non-Greek science is dismissed; mostly because it was used for religious and superstitious reasons, (yet religion still plays such a large role in our society and science to this day). Or because the sciences were only used for practical purposes, or how things which had no proof were dismissed, or because things were only theorized yet not experimented upon they were dismissed, or because things were only experimented upon and not theorized they were dismissed. (Yes, notice the double standards?) For instance, the Indians, Babylonians, and Egyptians all used the Pythagorian theorem centuries before Pythagoras, in fact Pythagoras is thought to have learned it in his travels East and only created a proof when his less numeral-literate countrymen wouldn't believe it. His proof is really his major contribution. And also how Copernicus when making his model of the universe used two theorems of math that he offered no proof or explanation for, yet were *new* to Europe, and are considered by some mathematicians as important as his solar system model. Copernicus didn't act like they were new, because they weren't new. He studied at Padua, where Arab texts were readily available, and the theorems, discovered by Arabs, were well known and well documented in Arab texts there. However in Europe at that time, attributing anything to Arabs would have been suicide. And those stories go on and on.

Another random note: Stigler's law of eponymy--formulated by statistician Stephen Stigler states that no scientific discovery is named after it's original discoverer, which is true even of Stigler's law. Hee. Hee.

My favorite chapter was on Cosmology. He points out how our cosmology (the Big Bang) is treated like a religion and quotes cosmologist Edward Harrison, "The universe in which we live, or think we live, is mostly a world of our own making. The real Universe is unknown; it is everything, and we will never know what it is in its own right, independent of our changing opinions. There are, however, universes, which are our models of the Universe, and cosmology is a study of these universes. A universe is a mask fitted on the face of the unknown Universe. Our universe is the only rational universe. Ones that came before us are mythologies. Contemporaries who disagree with our cosmology are crackpots. Cosmoslogy is a new-time religion." Those disagreeing contemporaries committ professional suicide. (As a side note, I found it interesting that instead of discussing ancient advances in cosmology, almost the whole chapter is ridiculing our current big bang theory. Again, not that I disagree, I just find it amusing. Although he mocked Stephen Hawking too--Ruff!) He does point out how similar our Big Bang theory is to Indian cosmology. Indians are very abstact thinkers, I have to say. I loved just thinking about this (from a 9th century Hindu text):

Some foolish men declare that Creator made the world....

If God created the world, where was he before creation?
If you say he was transcendent then, and needed no support, where is he now?
No single being had the skill to make this world--
For how can an immaterial god create that which is material?

How could God have made the world without any raw material?
If you say he made this first, and then the world, you are faced with endless regression.

If you declare that this raw material arose naturally you fall into another fallacy.
For the whole universe might thus have been its own creator, and arisen equally naturally.

Know that the world is uncreated, as time itself is, without beginning and end....
Uncreated and indestructible, it endures under the compulsion of its own nature.

The author suggests to read the above paragraph again and substitue "Big Bang" in for God and Creator. Fun stuff. Or here's a Maori chant that he compared to an alternative theory of a plasma universe.

From the nothing the begetting
From the nothing the increase
...The power of increasing
The Living Breath;
It dwelt with the empty space,
And produced the atmosphere which is above us
...The great firmament above us dwelt with the early dawn
And the moon sprung forth;
The atmosphere above us dwelt with the heat,
And thence proceeded the sun
...Then the heavens became light.

In another chapter about physics, he talks about Zoroastrianism (the Babylonian religion), and how their physics interprets light and darkness not only as physical but also as God is light literally, and the Devil is darkness, literally. From that came another belief system where two opposing brothers suggest a theory of matter and energy. Where the one brother makes a world of pure light, and then later a second world that was material in nature. The material world was conquered by his evil brother, thus all physical existence became a mixture of good and evil, light and darkness. Anyway, that whole chapter was intereting too. Again, the Indians, have a complex way of looking at the universe, but so often it ties right into what scientists now believe (like the string theory, and quantum physics.) Fascinating.

Now I really need to go do the breakfast dishes as it is almost noon and time for lunch. Ouch.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Great Books and Great Quote

I am getting inspired about history right now by reading stuff by Will Durant.  One of the books I read has my new favorite quote ever!!  It's just beautiful. It's from "The Greatest Minds and Ideas of All Time."

The illustrious ancients, when they wished to make clear and to propogate the hightest virtures in the world, put their states in proper order. Before putting their states in proper order, they regulated their families. Before regulating their families , they cultivated their own selves. Before cultivating their own selves, they perfected their souls. Before perfecting their soulds, they tried to be sincere in their thoughts. Before trying to be sincere in their thoughts, they extended to the utmost their knowledge. Such investigation of knowledge lay in the investigation of things, and in seeing them as they really were. When things were thus investigated, knowledge became complete. When knowledge was complete, their thoughts were sincere. When their thoughts were sincere, their souls became perfect. When their souls were perfect, their own selves became cultivated. When their selves were cultivated, their families became regulated. When their families were regulated, their states came to be put into proper order. When their states were in proper order, then the whole world became peaceful and happy.

Nurture Shock

This was one of the books I picked up when looking for a childhood development book. It just caught my attention. (As a side note, I didn't like any of the books I picked up on childhood development--either too scientifically intense, not scientific enough, and/or outdated--I want one that my husband would be willing to browse through--in other words, to the point and short. Anyone have any suggestions? Please?) But back to the book. I really didn't like it overall. It was written by a couple who were surprised from some research that has come out recently on different topics and they combined them all in one book. Some of it was interesting. Some not so much. And some, well, I'll get to slamming it later. Here's an overview.

Ch. 1 (My favorite chapter) Praise: The point of the chapter was that too much praise is bad for kids. They stop trying to do hard things for fear they'll fail and when they've only got praise all their lives, they don't feel comfortable with that. Research shows that under the age of 7 kids will take all praise at face value, after that kids are as suspicious of it as adults. By 12, most kids have figured out that adults will praise a kid who's struggling even more, and so react negatively to praise. A study from Stanford Univ and Reed College discovered that students exposed to liberal amounts of praise have "shorter task persistence, more eye-checking, and inflected speech such that the answers have the intonation of questions." Heavily praised students drop out of college classes rather than suffer a mediocre grade, and have a hard time picking a major--afraid to commit lest they not succeed. Also highly praised children are more image conscience, competitive, more likely to cheat, and more likely to tear other students down. In a study with Chinese parents and American parents, kids were given a test with a break in the middle, where the parents were told their kids were below average (not true), Chinese mothers were more likely to discuss the test and American mothers more likely to carefully avoid negative comments. Chinese kids' scores went up 33%, American kids' scores half that. Most significantly people praised less in the long run are better able to go through long periods of delayed gratification and score high in persistence. (As a side note to that, my good friend from England mentioned how insanely we praise kids in America--they don't do that in France or England. She'd often mock the parents that would praise their kids for swinging at the ball without hitting anything, for example, or even just standing at home plate and holding the bat.)

Ch. 2 (Also liked this chapter.) Sleep: Sleep matters in academic performance, emotional stability, ADHD, and obesity. Many hallmarks of the teenage years, moodiness, depression, binge eating, are now believed to be actually sleep deprivation more than anything else. On sixth graders a study showed that a loss of one hour of sleep a night is equivalent to the loss of two years cognitive maturation and development in their behavior and schoolwork the next day. Sleep disorders can impair a children's IQ as much as lead exposure. This is because what is learned the day is stored and connected while sleeping--different levels of sleep connect to different locations of the brain--since the brain is still growing and maturing in a child this is especially important for them. In fact their slow-wave sleep stage in which this occurs is 10x's the length of adults. Positive and neutral memories are processed in the hippocampus, negative ones in the amygdala. The hippocampus is hit harder by sleep deprivation, hence people tend to be depressed when sleep deprived because they remember more negative things. Students with A's averaged 15 mins more sleep than B students, and B students averaged 15 more mins than C students, etc. Also talked about starting high schools later because of teenage circadian shift. Also, a study done by the Univ. of Texas showed that obese children watch the same amount of TV as skinny kids, only they get way less sleep. In fact when kids had less than 10 hrs of sleep, their chance of obesity when up 80% with each hour missed. Sleep loss increases the hormone ghrelin which signals hunger and decreases leptin which suppresses appetite. Also it disrupts the release of human growth hormone which helps breakdown fat, and it elevates your cortisol levels which signals the body to store fat.

Ch. 3 Race: Basically kids can tell when someone is black, or white, or green, or purple, and not talking about it is not going to raise them color blind, and in fact it may have the opposite effect because they don't know your feelings on the subject. Talking to your kids about race in a meaningful way is the best way to improve their racial attitudes. And under six is the age to do it. On the flip side, minorities that talk about race and parents give preparation-for-bias warnings often vs. occasionally (which is good), the kids tend not to link effort to success and to write off failures as prejudice. Studies show kids are developmentally prone to in-group favoritism. Young kids never think groups are random. Also exposing your child to a diverse environment is not enough. In diverse high schools there's actually more in-grouping than at not very diverse schools. Basically they have increased opportunities to interact but also far more opportunities to reject each other. Also, kids at these schools who were darker skin toned tended to be more successful than minority kids with lighter skin tones, because their already have visible acceptance in their group, and are less likely to be accused of "acting white," while kids with lighter skin tones actually acted more in keeping with their image of the minority identity to solidify their status within the group.

Ch. 4 Lying: 3 yr olds rarely lie. 80% of 4 yr. olds lie (about once every 2 hours). 6 yr old lie about once every hour (but often grow out of it). If they're still lying frequently by age seven, then they're likely to continue. Parents rarely punish lying when kids are trying to cover up, they just punish the initial transgression. Young kids think any deception is wrong--mistakes are no excuses. As they get older they realize that some types are okay. Lying is related to intelligence, the smarter the kid the better the liar. Most lie to get out of trouble when little, at elementary level, it's more complex (telling secrets, attention, coping, etc.) Parents telling kids not to tattle is to stop power struggles among the kids. However, 9 out of 10 times a child tattles, they're telling the truth. Parents are ten times more likely to chastise a child who tattles vs a child who lies. For every one time a child seeks a parents help, fourteen instances occur where the child was wronged and didn't ask for help.

Ch. 5. Testing for Giftedness: People are pathetic--basically the whole chapter is about testing three year olds' IQ to get them into gifted preschools and kindergarten. Third grade is the earliest researchers recommend for any testing and really nothing is very final about a child's brain till 12. Once in a gifted program they rarely take kids out, so remedial classes have started in some schools for "gifted" kids, instead of just putting them back into a normal classroom. Lamesauce. Also emotional IQ is really overrated in kids. This is where the book started to go downhill for me, because personally, I wouldn't be pursuing a gifted preschool anyway--the authors were quite obviously the type of parents who would be.

Ch. 6 Siblings: Siblings mostly fight over things, not their parents attention. Siblings don't have to be polite to each other, and they have no incentive to be kind compared to friends. Sibling relationships are "remarkably stable," except when major life changing events occur. Net positive interactions vs. net negative interactions are what matter. Teaching a child proactive skills on how to initiate play that they both can enjoy is more successful than teaching conflict resolution. Age spacing is not a good predictor of future relationships, nor is gender--the best predictor is how well the older child gets along with his best friend before the younger child is born--because with friends they have to learn good mutual play--especially fantasy play.

Ch. 7 Teenage Rebellion: Traumatic teenage years is the exception not the norm. The type of parents who were lied to the least by teenagers had rules and consistently enforced them but were willing to be flexible. Parents sulk more after a fight than teenagers--teenagers find arguing productive. (In truth, I found this chapter sparse and the claims poorly backed-up--not that I disagree with his general argument of rebellion not being the norm, it was just didn't have the substance that the first two chapters had.)

Ch. 8 Self-Control: Self-discipline is a better predictor of kids' school performances than IQ. Children with above average IQ and executive functioning (self control) were 300% more likely to do well in math than kids with above average IQ alone. Also, it can be taught. (Again, this chapter was really sparsely detailed.)

Ch. 9 Aggression: There's a difference between relational aggression (bossy, controlling, manipulative) and physical aggression. And while physical aggression goes up with kids watching violent television shows, relational aggression also goes up with viewing basically any show (Arthur for instance) that shows name calling, siblings disliking each other, etc; and the correlation is 2.5 times higher for the relational aggression than the physical aggression. 96% of all children's programming includes verbal insults and put-downs, averaging 7.7 put-downs per half an hour. 67% of programs specifically considered prosocial still had insults. (This annoys me, he quotes that statistic than quotes Spongebob as an example--who ever thought Spongebob was prosocial??!? Bad example.) 84% of the time after an insult the response was a laugh or nothing--out of 2,628 instances in one study, only in 50 was the insulter reprimanded or corrected. (This is why I like Charlie and Lola, no insults, siblings playing happily. Love it.) Also mentioned that children seeing their parents fight (if not overly combative) is not bad for the kids as long as the kids see the resolution. Another point, 90% of American parents use physical punishment, and while spanking had been linked to aggression--in all of those studies only Caucasian families participated. When they finally studied minorities, they found this doesn't hold true at all. In fact, in one study of black families, the more a child was spanked the less aggressive they were (and the black families spanked a little more than white families but not much). Researchers concluded this was due to the fact that black families take spanking as an ordinary consequence, white families saved it for the worst offenses and usually when the parent had lost their temper--marking the child as deviant and deserving of a special punishment, hence affecting them more. The results of the black families was replicated in another study of Conservative Protestants that on average spanked their kids 3 or more times a week. No increase aggression there. Zero-tolerance for bullying is not really that helpful--it's been shown to increase the anxiety of kids--not of other kids, but of the rules themselves and authority figures. Also, most bullies are actually the kids who are the most popular, well-liked, and admired. Nonaggressive kids just generally lack the savvy and confidence to assert themselves more often. Relationally aggressive kids are extremely sensitive and and socially intelligent, hence being able to master his social network, be subtle and strategic. Aggressive behavior is coveted because it shows a willingness to defy grown-ups (especially true for tweens and teens) and they often use bi-strategic control--being kind and cruel. Generally the same kids are responsible for both prosocial and antisocial acts--they are just in the middle of everything, socially busy. And those kids are well-like by teachers too, and generally end-up very successful. Also because we segregate kids so much by age, and they're with their peers constantly (play dates, teams, texting) that social ranking has become increasingly important. Ave. teen spends 60 hours with peers a week and 16 with adults. And finally, "progressive" dads had poorer marital quality and rated their family functioning lower than dads who took traditional roles. Basically progressive dads were more inconsistent and permissive in their discipline than traditional fathers, with the result that children of progressive dads acted out as much as children with disengaged dads--traditional dads had the best behaved children.

Ch. 10 Speech Development: Here's where it really bugged me. First, a whole chapter earlier on how IQ is developing and indeterminable till age 11 at least, and then a whole chapter on how to get your kids to talk faster??? Umm. Ridiculous. But for those of you curious, Baby Einstein is about the worst thing you can show your infants. Kids watching regular tv develop speech faster than Baby Einstein viewers. Also, just talking a lot to your baby won't help either. Actually responding to your child cooing and gooing does help. Duh. Baby talk and using motion helps as well.

Sorry that was long. I am tired. Time to sleep--since now I know all the consequences of sleep deprivation.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Read this

Kayli sent me this essay to read. I thought it was . . . a good evaluation of reality. Don't be turned off that it is called "The Captivity of Marriage." Poor and misleading title choice. Read it. Do it. Just want to know if any of it resonates with any of ya'll.