Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Under the ruler, faster than the ruler?

One of the highlights of the recent workshop on Models and Fiction hosted by the Institute of Philosophy in London was Deena Skolnick Weisberg's presentation on her recent psychological study of how the imagination is deployed in fiction. One fairly robust finding for adults is that we tend to 'import' claims that we believe into the fiction even when they are not mentioned in a story. For example, when asked "is 2+2=4 true in the story you just heard?" most adults said "yes". Skolnick also observed a slightly reduced tendency to import beliefs that we recognize as contingent such as "is Obama President in the story you just heard?".

For me an equally interesting phenomenon is one that Skolnick just had time to mention: known ways in which our imaginative powers fail to track what will happen in the world. A dramatic example of this is found in this YouTube video. It is worthwhile just trying to predict what will happen! Apparently it is not clear what the systematic error that we tend to make is, but I take this example to complicate some attempts to identify scientific modelling with fiction.