Book 252: Exploring the Psychology of Interest by Paul J. Silvia

Exploring the Psychology of Interest by Paul J. Silvia

Finished reading on January 7th, 2018

I happened across this book when, at one moment, I started to ponder the questions “What is interesting?” and “Why is this interesting?”

This book present the various ideas and theories about interest and interests. One of the main ideas in the book is that interest is an emotion; and another that interests are somehow more ingrained lasting attitudes towards some subjects or fields etc.

The first part of the book is about the emotion of interest, which is thought to arise from five characteristics of an object or situation etc:  novelty, challenge, attention demand, exploration intention, and instant enjoyment. Silvia references some studies where for example pictures or shapes of different levels of complexity are shown and subjects get to move on to a next one in a series when they don’t find it interesting anymore. More complex things are perceived as more interesting. While less complex ones are perceived as more enjoyable.

A part of this book deals with what makes a text interesting and whether readers pay more attention to interesting text. There appear to be different levels of engagement with the text that are dependent on whether the reader finds it interesting. An interested reader is more likely to put forth new ideas connected to the text than someone who didn’t find the text interesting. The less interested person would pay more attention to the text and it’s form, while the person who finds the text interesting might miss the form and focus on the ideas and meanings. Both would be able to remember the main ideas in the text, but the more interested person would be more likely to remember the order of the ideas.

Can it then be said that if something is interesting, it will be thought-provoking? I would like to think so.

A part of the book also presents various ideas on vocational interests and ideas about how we might attain them – not much appears to be known about it, but it seems to be easy enough to measure specific kinds of interests to at least try and suggest what kind of work situation might be a good fit for a person or their interests at any rate.

Now coming back to those questions that I was wondering about that led me to this book. Did I find out what and why is interesting? In a way maybe, but I’m not quite sure. So it’s a situation that is enjoyable (or makes you happy I guess?), but there’s uncertainty about whether or not you have all the relevant information about it, and you feel like the information can be obtained and understood.

Although at first I was slightly baffled by even just the notion of interest as an emotion, it does explain why in the case of 9 books out of 10 I want to say and write that “it was interesting”.

So when I feel like a concept cannot be understood, then I won’t find it interesting.

An interesting (here I go…) point was about appraising something as interesting (or scary or anything else) and misattributing it to a cause that might not be the real factor causing the feeling. But you can still think that it was the real cause.

Knowing this, it is easy to understand how a text or object can become fascinating when you find out more about the context (and it explains why I always thought that when I don’t find something interesting, it’s only because I don’t know enough about it, with the obvious exceptions of law, politics and economics which couldn’t possibly be interesting ).

Also we perceive something as interesting when it’s in a conflict of some kind with our ideas for example.

If interest really is an emotion, then I’d choose to be more interested over being happier any day… it’s much more interesting! 🙂

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Book 251: Teaching and Learning STEM by R.M. Felder and R. Brent

Teaching and Learning STEM: A Practical Guide by Richard M. Felder and Rebecca Brent

Finished reading on January 6th, 2018

This book provides the tools and ideas about how to design and teach courses in higher education and how to teach so that students would gain professional skills in addition to knowledge about specific subjects. The authors have provided a lot of practical advice starting from how to come up with learning objectives that can actually be tested, to ways how to move beyond lecturing and to start implementing active learning methods in a variety of forms and what to do when students resist those methods.

Since I’m right at the receiving and giving end of STEM education, I found this book illuminating from both the teaching and learning aspects.

The first thing that caught my attention was learning objectives. They have to be clear and observable, so that the student would be able to tell what’s expected of them and so that the teacher could find a way to test or observe whether or not the student has fulfilled the objective.

Reading about Bloom’s taxonomy of educational objectives prompted me to read the objectives of the courses that I’m currently enrolled in or will be taking in the spring, to see how they fit in that scheme of things. Bloom’s taxonomy has six levels of objectives in case of cognitive skills. Starting from the lowest (but still necessary!) there are: Remembering, Understanding, Applying, Analyzing, Evaluating and Creating.

In the case of some of the courses that I’m taking, all the class objectives were about remembering, understanding and applying (which are the three lowest levels), and a few rare examples went beyond that to analyzing, but not to evaluating and creating (the two highest levels); and then there was one, where all types of objectives were represented. The last one baffled me at first, but thinking back on the course and what types of teaching methods were used, it is quite obvious that the lecturers have put a lot of effort into it. And I have an inkling of a doubt that one of the lecturers has possibly read this particular book as well. That makes me feel like a guinea pig, which I don’t particularly appreciate.

This leads me to the teaching methods – flipped classrooms, team-work etc. Now that I’ve read more about them, I see them from a much different point of view – as a student I’m likely to try and expend the least amount of effort to reach a point where I’ve either got an illusion of understanding or when I really understand something, without really distinguishing between the two. Until I won’t actually think about how I’m thinking about it, I might not even doubt that I haven’t really understood something until a test rolls around and it will become quite clear whether or not I have understood it… From the teaching aspect I see that more student centered methods require the student to engage with the subject matter in a more active way, that would lead to better results if it weren’t for the resistance from the students.

I think in the last weeks or maybe a month or so, I’ve been in a way stuck in a metacognition loop – I keep thinking about thinking, and biases etc. I didn’t use to do that, but seeing how important and how helpful it is, I wonder why it isn’t taught or whether it is taught, but I’ve somehow managed to escape it.

That leads to the last part of the book. It’s about teaching professional skills to students. Those might be about how to work in a team, deal with team-mates, how to think creatively or communicate effectively. It demonstrates why those skills have to be taught and how they can be taught intermittently or concurrently with subject matter.

Now it exasperates me to see the differences between various approaches to STEM, where in some courses all that is taught, is the subject matter, which might be a prerequisite for a different course, but doesn’t really teach the subject in a way that would enable anyone to succeed in the latter course because of a lack of THINKING on the students’ part when they/we try to get by with the least amount of effort. But a lot of the time we’re not really taught HOW to think, but just WHAT to think, which doesn’t give the same end result.

I liked the idea of seeing a lecturer who designs a course, teaches it and then tests the students as in a dual role – the gatekeeper – someone whose purpose it is to make sure that those, who have the skills and knowledge pass through the course; and the coach – whose purpose is to make sure that the students gain the necessary skills and knowledge. That person must at the same time do two different and somewhat opposite things – ask that the students know something, and make sure that they do, or at least try to.

The whole book, although at first look, is about teaching and learning STEM, is about teaching and learning anything, and most importantly teaching thinking. Sometimes thinking doesn’t need to be taught, but a lot of times it must be taught. The most tragic thing is, that in a lot of cases students pass courses without knowing how to think about what they’ve learnt. And so have I.

The book is very useful and gives an insight to how students learn when read from cover to cover, but it’s also a great source of ideas and methods to pick and choose and try out in a course.

Book 250: The Scientific Outlook by Bertrand Russell

The Scientific Outlook by Bertrand Russell

Finished reading on January 1st, 2018

The Scientific Outlook was first published in 1931. It presents some of Russell’s views on what would constitute a scientific society and where would applying scientific method in everyday life, government and elsewhere lead the world. To do that, he first introduces some bits about history of science, the nature of scientific method and also shares some ideas on philosophy of science.

I found the beginning quite amusing, as far as the scientific method and philosophy of science are concerned. The latter parts as to what would happen if and when scientific principles were enforced in government etc were interesting in showing the boundary conditions for what would become of the world if we’d try and apply actual logic everywhere.

It’s interesting how parts of Russell’s vision sound obviously dystopian and have been used in science fiction and elsewhere and others sound just slightly more appealing but veer off to horrible consequences anyway. It seems to me that the overall point is that applying scientific principles in every occasion might not be much better than never applying any, though they’re of course both kind of extreme.

I found it interesting how David Foster Wallace’s and Philip K. Dick’s and many others’ works have shown parts of Russell’s outlook.

Some of Russell’s thoughts that I found interesting:

“[…] any defects in the status quo become known only to those who are willing to spend their leisure time otherwise than in amusement; these are of course, a small minority, and from a political point of view they are at most times negligible.”

“The manipulative idealist differs from the man of merely personal ambition by the fact that he desires not only certain things for himself, but a certain kind of society.”

“What would Western Europeans do if deprived of their nightly drug from Hollywood? The moral of this for Western European Governments is that they must keep on good terms with America.”

I think it’s interesting how amusement and entertainment are seen by Russell as a means of disengaging the majority of people from thinking about the world much in the same way as David Foster Wallace shows it in Infinite Jest, and the idea of entertainment as a drug and sports as a diversion from other more violent things become quite obvious.

Russell also mentions chemistry  and drugs as a possible way of to eventually generate emotions without any ill effects, which reminded me of Philip K. Dick’s “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”, where such technology exists, and also, the kind of intelligent upper class, and a distinct lower class are shown in pretty much the same way as imagined by Russell. Of course Aldous Huxley shows the kind of scientific dystopian world that Russell describes too.

Book 248: Finite and Infinite Games by James P. Carse

Finite and Infinite Games a Vision of Life as Play and Possibility by James P. Carse

Finished reading on December 19th, 2017

Rating: 9/10

In “Finite and Infinite Games” James Carse looks at modern life as games that have rules that the player has accepted to obey in hope of either winning the game in case of finite games, where the winner receives a title of some kind; or in attempt to get as many people to play an infinite game to make sure that the game doesn’t end.

In Carse’s vision there’s a big difference between finite and infinite games not just in how one type has to have an end and the other one can’t, but also how finite games are repeatable, infinite ones are not. In finite games the rules cannot change during the game, the player has to choose to play and can’t actually play when they must play. And to play a finite game you have to take up a specific role.

I found the concept disturbing in the sense that for the past couple of days I’ve seen all social engagements in an even more disturbing light, and although I’m not even normally a person who’d follow traditions etc, I find  it even more difficult to deal with them. Considering how Newton’s birthday is coming up, it’s interesting to analyse how some people seem to follow the rules of finite games, and some are not, but for different reasons.

Carse shows how his idea could be applied to see various areas in a different light, starting from finite ones such as earning a degree or winning a war or elections or such, but he also introduces what can be seen as part of an infinite game – culture, art etc that cannot be repeated.

In the case of finite games it is necessary that you’d know who wins. One of the interesting examples of what is won was in Carse’s presentation of (to stick to PG) finding a partner, where the other person becomes your opponent in the finite game, but should you win the game, the prize is the other person. That means that both are playing a game with possibly similar rules, but they’re not part of the same game, because you can’t win and lose at the same game, or can you? The rules of a finite game shouldn’t change, so…

There were some other interesting views that Carse presented such as touching and moving someone – you can’t touch someone without being touched by that person. But in case of moving you have to not move to be able to move someone (which made me think of different frames of reference, but that’s my personal point of origin to think about that). Another was Carse’s idea about the silence of nature and the idea of machines as something that ought to fulfill their purpose and be as little intrusive as possible.

There’s a lot more in the book and it’s quite entertaining.

Now to get to what the book made me think of first was about Rousseau and the idea of a social contract, which sounds the same as Carse’s idea, just in a different coating. I think in Rousseau’s case we seem to have bowed down to society to keep our material goods and hold some status, where we’re invariable tied up in only finite games, while the ideal would be the noble savage, who is only involved in infinite games.

The next connection that blinked in my mind was how one type of game appears superior to the other and it made me wonder whether Nietzsche would have seen infinite games as the only ones that some people should play.

It is truly fascinating to me, especially trying to imagine how would some system be different if it weren’t a finite game, in some cases it’s easy – any education system vs autodidacticism, in other I just couldn’t manage to. But at least trying made me think of if you’d apply Carse’s idea to some notable works of fiction etc and try to see which finite games the characters play and whether they’re involved in an infinite one as well.

The first that came to mind was Goethe’s “Faust”. Could Faust before his meeting with Mephistopheles seen as a person who sees acquiring any and every kind of knowledge as an infinite game as also pleasure in life – he can’t win the game, he has played many of the finite games, but he’s not satisfied with the ultimate infinite game. Now with his deal with Mefisto, his participation in the infinite game stops, and it’s turned into a finite one, where rules are meant to be followed, they cannot be changed, and although Faust might try to sneak past some, he can’t ,and we all know that in some versions eventually Mefisto will be the winner….

The other is the new Star Wars movie. Don’t worry, there won’t be any spoilers. There’s the obvious Rebel Alliance v the Galactic Empire finite war game. I feel though that the game wouldn’t ever be over should the Empire win, is it just me or is the Empire really fighting an idea, that can’t be killed unless there’s literally no-one in the Empire left alive? In that case the Empire is playing an infinite game, whilst the rebellion is playing a finite game – there’s a chance for them to win and be declared victors… or not?

I think the takeaway from Carse’s book is that there’s a lot to think about in an infinite game, to even just start out with – are some games more infinite than others? Are infinite games superior to finite ones? What if our evolutionary background were somehow different so that no finite games exist, how would the world look like and society function? When did the idea of games and rules come about in the history of our species? Can some political systems be seen as favoring one type of game over another?

And how can Carse’s idea be applied to the history and development of science and our views of it. Can we see it so that when some people oppose a scientific idea because it’s called a “theory”, then it’s because they see science as a finite game, where there have to be obvious winners and a “theory” is just a contestant while in reality science, like culture is an infinite game, where rules (definitions, models and paradigms etc) are constantly changing, and no-one wins.

If you’ve reached the end of this post, you’ve obviously just won a finite game of reading this. I applaud you!

Book 240: Chandra’s Cosmos by Wallace H.Tucker

PIMG_2291Chandra’s Cosmos: Dark Matter, Black Holes, and Other Wonders Revealed by NASA’s Premier X-Ray Observatory by Wallace H. Tucker

Finished reading on November 14th, 2017

Rating: 10/10

NASA’s Chandra X-Ray Observatory was launched in 1999. Since that time it has been used to study the Universe at wavelengths 0.12nm to 12nm that don’t get through the Earth’s atmosphere.

“Chandra’s Cosmos” introduces the types of objects and cosmic events that can be seen in X-rays such as supernova remnants, pulsar wind nebulae, very hot gas in galaxy clusters, quasars etc.

It is a beautiful and informative book and certainly talks about dark matter and black holes as is mentioned in the book’s subtitle. It is full of beautiful color images that combine data from Chandra and occasionally also data from Hubble Space Telescope or some other telescope.

I think Tucker really achieved what he was out to do with this book – show the coolest objects that have been observed with Chandra, but in a well-integrated way so that you don’t have a list of objects and images, that aren’t connected. Instead you have very detailed information on who was doing the research, why it’s interesting, what we still don’t know and it even mixes in a little bit of history of astronomy etc.

Although at first look it might seem as just a picture book or more of a coffee-table-book, it’s not, but it would function as a slightly more informative kind 🙂

The book is awesome.

You can go and find out more about Chandra here.


There’re also several details that I really liked about my edition of the book (Smithsonian Books, 2017) is first the little silver Chandra telescope on the hardcover and secondly the fact that the paper isn’t glossy. I feel it’s important to have well illustrated books about science that could be given to children without having fingerprints all over the photos after just a short while.

Book 228: Welcome To The Universe

pc360_2016-12-21-09-13-52-871Welcome To The Universe: An Astrophysical Tour by Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Michael A. Strauss and J. Richard Gott

Rating: 8/10

Finished reading on December 18th, 2016

“Welcome To The Universe” is an introductory text to astrophysics and cosmology for the undergraduate student who isn’t learning a science major, or for the well educated adult whose interest in astronomy has gotten further from the usual popular science books that steer clear of formulas and equations.

This book is about some of the ideas in astrophysics and cosmology that are necessary for getting a further understanding of the fields without taking a full mathematical astrophysics or cosmology course.

As such I think it really is perfect book for the intended reader – it doesn’t offend the reader by assuming that equations would go just over their heads, but it also doesn’t get too deeply into them to be of much use for an astronomy major.

The book is quite enjoyable, well illustrated and covers some fascinating topics for an introductory astronomy course. I wish everyone would read this book – you don’t get too much technical details, but just the bare essentials. If you want to find out more – find another book,but this will certainly whet your appetite.

The book has been written so, that you can tell who wrote which chapter, but despite having three authors in makes a complete, an fluid book – you might not even notice that there are three authors, except for when their achievements or work is mentioned specifically.

I got this book right at the beginning of a vacation and I hoped to finish reading it in two weeks, one of which I spent travelling. My book is quite a massive hardcover edition, but I was motivated enough to carry it with me for about three weeks. It was worth it – it was great travel reading in the sense that the beginning chapters are quite simple. However a few chapters in I did start to wonder whether there would even be any new for me information in the book. For a while there wasn’t any. Then there were tiny examples of what was to come – by the end of the book there were fascinating chapters that presented information that I hadn’t read before.

It’s a great book. My rating of 8/10 comes from me not being really one of the intended audience and that I got mildly bored at the beginning of the book (boredom went away by about the middle). It really deserves 10/10.

Book 219: We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

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We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

Finished on July 6th, 2016

Rating: 6/10

I picked this book up on a whim after seeing that a friend had recommended it to me on Goodreads. The description of it seemed fine and rating on Goodreads was great, so I gave it a chance.

It was good for two days’ entertainment, although I didn’t expect to read a book like that. I’m not going to give any spoilers here, since that’s a major part of the book why anyone would have to read it.

The book is about a few summers in the lives of Cadence Sinclair Eastman and her extended family – you get very few details about the family and Cadence – just enough to know that they’re rich and they spend summers on a private island.

Then something unexpected happens – and for the longest time we get the impression that something only happened to Cadence – she has amnesia and migraines and has bits of memories that she can’t really put together.

And you start finding out more as Cadence gets back on the island for another summer just hanging out with her three friends – Gat, Mirren and Johnny.

It all starts out fine, but then it gets darker and darker until it all concludes in a flash of lightning and everything becomes clear.

I liked the style of writing – the glib descriptions of characters and the bits of fairy tales around the theme of three sisters. What I didn’t like were the actual characters, and how they don’t seem to ever do anything (besides eating, drinking and sleeping with the occasional swimming here and there), and I really didn’t like Cadence’s and Gat’s relationship – she’s obsessed with him in a way that to me seems unnatural.

We Were Liars was an interesting book, it does keep your attention, and it sucks you in until it’s too late to get out before you find out what has happened.

It was a good book to read, but I didn’t really like it…if it makes any sense.

 

Book 217: Le Morte D’Arthur, Volume II by Sir Thomas Malory

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Le Morte D’Arthur, Volume II by Sir Thomas Malory

Finished reading on June 17th, 2016

Rating: 8/10

It took me almost exactly two months to finish reading the second volume after finishing first one. I didn’t start reading it right after, and had time to finish six other books in-between.

So I’m almost certain that anyone who’d read this review would already know quite a bit about Malory’s “Le Morte D’Arthur”, so I wouldn’t really need to write what it is about.

Still – it’s about King Arthur and his “Knights of the Table Round” – of Sir Launcelot and Sir Gawain and others, their jousts and quarrels and saving damosels in distress, their search for the Holy Grail and other adventures perilous. (You’ll end up using strange words by the end of it.)

I found that in this volume the most interesting part was the one about the Holy Grail – it felt like the pace of it was a lot faster than in other parts. Also it was quite eyeopening, as I didn’t know much of Sangrail and of it’s details, so that was fun – how and when and to whom it would appear etc.

So what actually happens?

First off there are some characters with quite difficult family relations – Sir Mordred for example – King Arthur is his father and his uncle, and their relationship is not passing good at all. And then there’s Galahad and Sir Launcelot, the latter names Galahad a knight, whilst neither yet knows that Galahad is Launcelot’s son.

Then we have the women – not many in all of it, but they’re not really sensible people at all (although maybe a knight in shining armor riding on a white horse is simply irresistible?) and always end up in some kind of trouble – take for example Queen Guenever who hosts a dinner for 24 knights after she’s told Sir Launcelot to leave Camelot. A knight is poisoned and although her reason for holding the dinner was to show that she’s just as friendly with other knights, it backfires, no-one likes her and Sir Launcelot has to rush in to save her (or otherwise King Arthur had asked Sir Bors to fight for her honor, so that might have worked too).

The things I found surprising – how much religion, fainting and weeping is in Le Morte D’Arthur. Also that you can find a hermit pretty much wherever you go…

I like the idea of the Arthurian Legends, but the characters all have some kind of mortal flaw.

My favorite quote comes from King Arthur:

“Wit you well my heart was never so heavy as it is now, and much more I am sorrier for my good knights’ loss than for the loss of my fair queen; for queens I might have enow, but such a fellowship of good knights shall never be together in no company.

… because he just likes to hang out and watch sports with his buddies…

I am slightly worried that having read this and not having had enough of chivalry and knights I might get too much into medieval literature and Arthurian legends… I did enjoy reading it although the characters lacked something.

Whilst reading the second volume of Malory’s book I found myself thinking back on the time when I was learning about medieval literature at school (was it 8th and 10th grade maybe?) and I remember thinking that that time period in literature was the most boring of all – I just liked literature from the beginning of 19th century up to 20th century and stopping just before the Second World War – later and earlier writing was not to my taste.

I think maybe even when I did read some excerpts from some medieval literature in class, maybe I just couldn’t have appreciated it anyway? Or maybe had I had enough motivation I would have found it fascinating as I do now?

I’m starting to see all literature as something that I want to get better acquainted with and not just stick to my comfort zone.

Another thing I realized while reading this, second volume (hadn’t thought of it while reading first volume at all), was that I want to find out more about the history and any other related literature (which I certainly will do at some point), that’s quite different from having watched BBC’s Merlin on Netflix and thinking “oh it would be cool to read something that the characters are based on or inspired from”.

I would recommend reading all of it, if you feel like it would be something interesting for you, otherwise some chapters would be sufficient.

Not much of a review, but I’m just glad I wasn’t forced to read it, I can see how that would have made reading it awful.

Book 161: The Copernicus Complex by Caleb Scharf

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The Copernicus Complex by Caleb Scharf

Finished reading on January 6th, 2015

Rating: 9/10

Nicolaus Copernicus, a 16th century astronomer showed that the Sun is in the centre of the Solar System, and the Earth only goes around it, hence joining the other planets and in some ways losing its importance as a special place.

Discoveries in later centuries have shown that there’s barely anything special about the Earth’s location in the Universe – we circle around a rather average star (although more massive than 75% of other stars, but still a dwarf star) in a rather average spiral arm of a giant galaxy, the like of which are numerous in the Universe.

But if you leave all that aside, there seems to be something that might make Earth a tiny bit special – it’s the only place thus far that we know of that has life.

In “The Copernicus Complex”, Scharf takes a look at exoplanets and the search for life and the mathematics that might possibly give us an estimate as to whether or not we are alone – as soon as we get some more data points.

The book goes through several topics – biology, statistics and astronomy and manages to show how the Copernican Principle – the idea that we don’t occupy a special time or place in the Universe is at the same time wrong and right.

I found the book dipping into some interesting themes – such as celestial mechanics and how although we can predict the motions of planets around the sun in the near future and past, we can’t do so for millions of years hence. Another was the look at how maybe we exist in a special time, when it is (or so it seems) possible to correctly characterize the Universe – it’s age and size – whilst billions of years hence when the Universe keeps expanding, life on a planet in some far distant future planet, might look at the sky, and not see anything else besides their own galaxy.

In general it was a very enjoyable read, especially because of the wide array of themes covered.

If you’ve read Scharf’s previous popular science book, “Gravity’s Engines“, the style is quite different, but in a good way, as the topics aren’t really similar anyway, but I’m sure you’d enjoy reading “The Copernicus Complex”.

Comic Book 2: Batman, Vol. 2: The City of Owls

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Batman, Vol. 2: The City of Owls, writer Scott Snyder, penciller Greg Capullo

Rating: 6/10

Finished reading on May 4th, 2014

In The City of Owls we find out what happens from where the previous volume left off – Batman having to deal with… spoilers (continue below if you don’t mind spoilers) . As the story progresses and finds a surprising solution and the solution ends with a twist, we go a bit further away from Batman and get to know a little bit more about the family of Alfred – the Waynes’ butler.

The illustrations are cool and since Batman has  a stubble for the whole volume, you wouldn’t even notice his non-existent cheeks 🙂

In general not quite as interesting as the first volume.

Spoilers start here…

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