Recently in Writing #1 Category

An Extraordinary Thing: Stars!

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Growing up in Africa we always sat outside watched the stars and listened to folktales. I would lie down on the bare ground and watch the stars and wonder what they were. Some of the neighbors would say they were our ancestors looking down on us and some would say they are the windows of heaven. I would giggle and act as if I could reach them. This was my favorite thing to do at night, I would lay there until I fell asleep and my parents would carry me inside. Even today I sit outside during the hot summer nights and lie on my back and watch the stars like I did so many years ago. I always wondered could there be another explanation other than; stars are big exploding balls of gas. When it comes to things such as Astronomy I think people need more proof about the actual origin of things, which is frankly quite difficult in this field.
Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence!

This website describes all of the flaws wrong with the current theories on the origin of stars. I think it's fascinating that people are using scientific principles to take on theories and there relevance. This kind of phenomena of having a theory over the universe and then not having extraordinary evidence to back it up makes a topic filled with flaws. Stars are a fascinating part of the universe that we are not able to explain completely, but hopefully this extraordinary subject will be able to be enlightened more thoroughly in the near future with new high technology.

Gender: Baby, Were We Born This Way?

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Storm (in red) with older brother, Jazz

It's long been debated to what extent gender is a social construct. Kathy Witterick and David Stocker of Toronto decided to take matters into their own hands by attempting to take nurture out of the equation. By not revealing their child (Storm)'s gender to anyone, they hope to eradicate the nurture side of gender and let Storm decide who Storm is and what Storm's interests are. They also hope to decrease the likelihood that people will treat Storm according to his/her gender.
To my mind, parents raising gender-free children raise questions as to how effective their efforts will be. While most agree that gender is, to a certain extent, a social construct, research has been done to prove that there are aspects of gender present even in early infancy. Research has shown that babies as young as three months prefer to look at gender consistent toys (Alexander et al., 2009). With information such as that, how can these parents expect their child not to conform, to a certain extent, to its gender stereotype?
While it's nice to think that eradicating gender would lead to people becoming more truly themselves, it seems unlikely that in cases like these, the experiments can tell us to what extent that's possible. For one thing, the parents know their own child's gender; the family experiment is not double-blind. They could unconsciously affect what their child's identify by giving unintentional signals that they should follow one gender stereotype or another. Also, people could guess the gender of the child based on cues other than dress and hairstyle. Studies have shown that as early as age three, children prefer to be with other children of the same gender (LaFreniere, Strayer, & Gauthier, 1984; Whiting & Edwards, 1988). The third potential problem seems to be that people will treat the child whatever gender they think it is. If Storm decided to wear girlish clothing one day and very boyish clothing the next, people would treat him/her according to what role he/she seems to fit that day. They won't take away people's ingrained reactions to boys or girls, they'll just ensure that he gets both at different times.
Would you keep your own child's gender secret to protect them from societal expectations? Or does it seem ineffective? Worse yet, do you think that it will only lead them to being a bullied outsider? Give me your thoughts because I am actually curious what people think of this. While I'd love if all societal assumptions of gender were stripped away, I don't know if I think raising genderless children is the way to go.

Storm (Canadian gender-free child)

Pop (Swedish gender-free child)

Lucid Dreaming

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Whilst searching for an interesting blog prompt, I first stumbled across the idea of 'lucid dreaming' on a website called (if you haven't heard of it, it's part of the Spartz Network, a site which contains a few interesting or mostly comical sub-sites). Anyways, upon further investigation, I learned that it's a pretty interesting concept, to me at least. The idea is that through training yourself mentally, you can be completely aware of your dream-self, and thus control your dreams to your heart's content. From a personal perspective, I am unable to master this concept. I wish I could though! Who wouldn't like to turn a night mare into a simply lovely dream instead? Sounds pretty good to me... The idea isn't new, by any means, however it has gained public interest in the last several decades due to increased experiments pertaining to the idea, and several books written on the subject by trusted scientists, including Cecelia Green who wrote the first book on the subject in 1969- Lucid Dreams. Basically, lucid dreaming can be split into two different categories: dream-initiated lucid dreams (DILD) and wake-initiated lucid dreams (WILD). DILD is defined as a person entering sleep normally, and eventually coming to the conclusion that he or she is dreaming, thus enabling them to extend some mental power and imagination and create their own dreams. WILD, however, I find more interesting. In this state, a person is perfectly awake and the next moment is in a full-on dream state, with no transition to be seen. This just seems so unnatural to me. I've heard stories of people sleeping with their eyes open, or suddenly awaking from a snooze they weren't aware they were in (guilty on that account) but this is something else entirely. Both forms of lucid dreams have the control factor in common though. One can be trained through mental exercises and of course, as with any skill, lots of practice. The main problem reported, after having mastered the whole realizing you're dreaming thing, is waking up too soon before being able to control anything in the dream. Not to say that once you realize it's all a dream that you have to control it, sometimes a person can choose to just enjoy the images and scenarios the brain invents for itself. Anyways, I think it's an interesting idea, even if it seems rather beyond my personal ability.

Is it a "Big" Story? Or Just a Big Hoax

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Living in rural Minnesota, as a kid we always had campfires. And where you have campfires, you better expect to have roasted smores and scary stories. I can vividly remember all the the times that our parents would ramble on about monsters in the woods or creatures of the deep, and we never really thought anything of it. We were kids and would do anything to give each other an unsuspecting scare from the bushes later in the night.

But what if the stories were true?

It is common in rural areas to have an "old wive's tale" floating around as a part of the town's history, but sometimes you have to wonder how much of it is honestly true. It has become an almost regular occurrence to have someone make an extraordinary claim that has us questioning if things in our lives are real or false.

The link below is one example of an extraordinary claim:,0,4491132.story

The man claims to have seen "Big Foot," but does anyone actually have evidence to prove they have truly witnessed or found the creature? Let alone does anyone actually know (if it does exsist) what Big Foot looks like? There seem to be a lot of different encounters and they all vary to different degrees. Many have said they have photos (mostly of blurry objects in a wooded setting), molds of footprints, a few tuffs of hair, or other physical evidence besides their own words of the encounter. So we are all expected to believe it's true because we trust people, right?

That isn't the case. Psychologist use many different theories to evaluate different situations and for this example, the principle that "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence" comes to mind. It means exactly what it says. If you have something astonishing to tell the world, you better have some pretty strong evidence to back it up.

If nothing else, claims like this seem to catch interest for television stories. They may make us laugh (I know I laughed at the man carrying the stick in the video) because it more than likely isn't true... Or isn't it? I guess we will have to continue to rely on the facts and knowledge base that we already have for resources in order to handle crazy claims like this in the future.

Just Noticeable Difference

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The Just Noticeable Difference (JND) concept/theory is the smallest change in stimulus intensity or surge that humans can actually detect. This allows us to be able to tell the difference between two similar stimuluses. The Just Noticeable Difference is comparing to very similar intensities in stimuluses that are just a slight change. Whether the change be the slight movement of an object, the softness of music, or any other sense that a person is capable of in life. Since this concept involves senses it is limited to how accurate the humans senses are. I think this is very important because it shows us how accurate we can be when it comes to our senses of hearing, sight, taste, touch, and smell. This is important to when it comes to finding differences and sometimes making key decisions in life. It is also just interesting to know the capability of a human and knowing our limits when it comes to identifying differences amongst our senses. Examples of this are something like when I go to the store I try to distinguish between the weight of bananas that I am thinking about purchasing because I want to pay less. My touch sense is trying to determine the differences but it has to be a noticeable difference because I can only identify the difference in weight so much because the stimulus can't tell the difference in intensity. This is a very interesting concept to learn about and the only questions I have are what are the smallest amounts of intensity in stimulus that we can identify when it comes to all five of our main senses. That would be very interesting to me.

Trichromatic Theory

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The trichromatic theory is a theory that believes three special cones in your eyes that are sensitive to red, blue, or green light. It is believed that in some people, one or more of the "special" cones do not work or are less sensitive to the colored waves. It is believed that this is the reason from which colorblindness stems from. For a nice, visual explanation of the theory, this Youtube video sums it up quite nice.

I have seen evidence of this theory many times in my life. I have an uncle that is red-green colorblind and I have a close friend who is blue-yellow colorblind. It is odd sometimes when I am out with either one of them and I ask them to look at something and they ask me what is going on. But I wonder sometimes if it is a perception issue, because my friend told me that he used to be able to see blue and yellow (however, I have been susceptible to his lies before.)

I have also wondered if the illusions, such as this picture, would work on people with colorblindness. Maybe if one could trick the cones/rods into seeing different colors that it would cause a reaction to the "dormant" ones and "reactivate" them. Its just something that I've been pondering for a while, and it is cool to see it pop up in my learnings. Plus, I used to make fun of my uncle for that when I was a kid. Little did I know that he was born with it. :/

The Loch Ness Monster. Is it real?

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As stated in the article from the link above, the Loch Ness Monster of England is supposedly a large, snake-like monster that has terrified tourists and natives alike. Though there have been sightings and even a few pictures, there is still the question of whether the monster really exists. For years, we have heard the tales of the Loch Ness Monster, how few have had the chance to see it, but when the time comes, many scramble to the shore, afraid of what might happen if Nessy would get close enough to actually make out it's features. However, as stated in one of the six principles of critical thinking, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Yes, there have been photos, such as the one in the article, but what is to say that it isn't a misshapen log? There is no way to be able to make out actual features, such as a mouth, eyes, or scales. And though the stories have been circulating for years, there has been no actually evidence that the Loch Ness Monster does, in fact, exist. There have been numerous studies done to find out if, in fact, there is a monster in the Loch Ness. However, these studies have done little to support the stories. The most recent study, done in 2003, proved to find no animal of any size within the lake. There have also been several "explanations" of what the photos and sightings could have possibly been, including eels, an elephant, or dead trees. These explanations seem slightly more accurate, though there are still recent sightings. Until some actual evidence is put in front of us, we will have to come up with our own explanations, or believe those that are given to us.

Binocular depth perception- artwork by M.C. Escher

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A topic that greatly interests me is a part of Chapter 4: Sensation and Perception of the Lilienfeld textbook. Due to my love of art, I have a lot of experience dealing with images that are meant to "fool the eye" into believing and/or seeing a setting that cannot exist by the very laws of nature. M.C. Escher is a very famous artist who experimented with techniques involving binocular cues and the effect that art can have with depth perception.

The key element in all of Escher's work was to include multiple vanishing points: points on a landscape that lead to the horizon and give the viewer a sense of depth and direction. Normally, images are created with one or two vanishing points that give a realistic sense to the viewer, yet Escher would use two or more points throughout his work and not keep these points consistent with all aspects of his art. I have included one of his most famous pieces, "Drawing Hands" was a lithograph created in 1948 ( This piece represents a different stylistic perception tool that Escher used to confuse the viewer. This image has details that look three dimensional and some that are two dimensional. The viewer is constantly following the details of the drawing with his/her eyes and trying to make sense of the picture.

Tools such as these have interested me for years with my experience in drawing and painting. The artist is able to assert some level of control over the viewer by simple details within a piece of art. This power can be used to fool, confuse, persuade, and create interest in otherwise ordinary images.

CERN practices good science by not jumping to conclusions

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I'm sure everyone has heard about the neutrinos that scientists at CERN discovered that traveled faster than the speed of light--something that Einstein's special theory of relativity says is impossible. While there is no shortage of people trying to come up with explanations, the scientists at CERN have been very cautious. According to the team, "Despite the large significance of the measurement reported here and the stability of the analysis, the potential great impact of the results motivates the continuation of our studies in order to investigate possible still unknown systematic effects that could explain the observed anomaly. We deliberately do not attempt any theoretical or phenomenological interpretation of the results." They are exercising very disciplined scientific skepticism by not saying that they PROVED Einstein's theory wrong.

Because extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, they will continue doing research before they make any interpretations of the data. They are also asking other researchers to verify their findings independently, which will help cover falsifiability and replicability, two principles of scientific thinking. Unfortunately, this may take years before we have a solid answer, but good science takes time.

common sense can be misleading

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More people die annually from donkeys than from plane crashes. That is a fact. It may come as a surprise to most of you because donkeys are not known as violent animals and plane crashes are such traumatic events that rarely leave survivors. Plane crashes create waves through the media when they occur and are also featured in fictional media much more than death do to donkeys. They may be more of a regular story in the media and therefore may be talked about more but that has to do with the fact that it is more news worthy and not because it is more common or likely to happen. Millions of people are some what scared when flying in a plane and i would say very few would be scared for their lives being around a donkey. The fact of the matter is both situations are extremely safe. Common sense has people thinking that a plane crashing is some what of a possibility, and no one would think of dying from a donkey as one. Both are beyond rare but it is clear that the media has a large influence in our judgment of what we consider possible threats. That is why this is an example of why common sense can be misleading.

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