Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Dangerous chemicals in our food and food containers: new findings

Finally: a study that highlights the dangers of low level exposure/ low doses of certain commonly used chemicals for use in food or food containers:


The implications are substantial and far reaching. Yet another example where the precautionary principle was not applied.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

University 3.0 or the end of the traditional education

This article http://www.spiegel.de/unispiegel/studium/0,1518,817889,00.html  is just the tip of the iceberg.  Ever since some elite universities started to upload lectures or even complete courses on the internet, access to ivy league education became part of the flat(ter) world.  Let's extrapolate a bit. In 10 years in time this is what graduate 3.0 can look like: not a degree from one university but a portfolio of courses taken mostly on line, combined  (optionally) with some face to face courses at a nearby university. The on-line courses would be those from top of the field lecturers and professors. With the arrival of wide spread holographic teleconferencing software/ hardware, the on line experience would emulate face to face teaching. The wealth of courses and experience would give rise to very interesting degrees. The combined total of courses taken might even exceed those of a regular three year degree.  It would be highly individual and, in some cases, probably too narrow. But market forces will take care of that.   International accreditation institutes or some forward thinking universities could then, on the basis of the portfolio, decide to award degrees.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Evolution, xenophobia and non-acceptance of all things 'foreign'

Fear of the unknown and adherence to a status quo must be the leading causes for the persistence of xenophobia and other forms of hatred against anything that is not in full compliance with our 'normal' state of affairs. The book that describes this behaviour in a very poignant and chilling form is 'The painted bird' by Jerzy Kosinski.

Fortunately this type of behaviour cannot be dominant as otherwise little progress would have been made of the aeons. Probably a form of balanced polymorphism.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

The intellectual and singularity.

We need to redefine what constitutes an 'intellectual'. Wikipedia defines it:" an intellectual is a person who uses intellect in either a professional or an individual capacity". In an abstract way this is still usable. But what does an intellectual need to know? What topics should she or he be able to discuss in an intelligent manner? Even to discuss a topic at a basic level one has to have a knowledge base. Intellectual 1.0 was/is, typically, a voracious and eclectic reader. Intellectual 2.0 would also have that kind of an appetite but combines it with solid search and computing skills. But what about Intellectual 3.0?  Kurzweil's Singularity would turn us all into a combination of Einsteins, Newtons, Hawkings, Curies etc.  But will that make us true intellectuals in the old style?  I doubt it.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Cloud digger

Cloud diggers

There should be a discussion about what I believe may become an interesting and potentially lucrative opportunity. With the increase in cloud computing, many users will store important data in the cloud.  What will happen to that potential gold mine of data once the owner dies, becomes incapacitated or otherwise incapable of retrieving, accessing these data.  There are many ethical, financial and legal issues here that need to be addressed. 

Peter Hoeben

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Education 3.0

The majority of teaching in this world is still very much based on the same principles as the beginning of last century: One teacher in the front of the classroom telling kids what they need to do/ learn (often by rote): mind numbing, repetitive and dull. This form of assembly line teaching is inefficient, and has not kept up with technology and theory. What is worse, it wastes the talents of so many promising kids. Sir Ken Robinson in this TED talk1, gives a great account what is wrong with ‘modern’ day teaching. Kids are not little machines with preconditioned responses. They are individuals and should be taught in a way tuned to their needs, their forms of intelligence, and their developing minds. Howard Gardner2,3 has implied as much in his books on the various forms of intelligence.
Fortunately some change can be seen in curricula such as the IPC4, and the PYP5, and also in the training of new teachers. And kids, parents and teachers are enthusiastic about the positive changes they see. But it is not enough. These positive developments are at the primary level. When these kids come to the secondary it is often back to the old grind. A lot of potential that was developed in their primary years, is lost.
What we need, is a revolution in education: Education 3.0. The bulk of teaching, or as I’d rather say, enabling learning to take place, should be done on an individual basis. One teacher with one student, or may be two. Of course there should be social interactions and working in groups but that can be organised during physical education, drama, and music lessons. What we also should leave behind is the rigid structure of physical age tied to school years. Kids undergo differential development but schools force them to be either behind, or far in front. That can lead to boredom, recalcitrance or other forms of socially unacceptable behaviour. Why not allow a kid to be in French1, Math3 and English2? Why not allow them to sit their exams for one subject and still have another year to go form another.
With the help of virtual learning environments, modern communication methods, and other forms of blended learning it should be possible to have more individual teaching combined with a limited number of group sessions. It need not be more expensive than traditional teaching.

Kind regards,

Peter Hoeben 

2 Howard Gardner, Five Minds for the Future
Howard Gardner, Intelligence Reframed: Multiple Intelligences for the 21st Century

Monday, 17 January 2011

‘Cocaine (all around my brain)’

Who doesn’t know this JJ Cale song? Eric Clapton and others have performed it as well, and it is often mooted as an anti-drug song. The link between music and pleasure seems an obvious notion to many people. A recent publication in Nature Neurogenetics1 by researchers at the McGill University in Montreal, Canada has given this notion some scientific backing. They detected elevated dopamine2 levels in the brains of people listening to their favourite music. In some cases their dopamine level was 21% above normal. So JJ Cale knew it all along: music is like cocaine, it can raise your dopamine levels.

Music and pleasure: how does this stack up from an evolutionary point of view? It has been shown that dopamine levels increase in male birds when they sing to attract female birds3. That makes sense if you want to get as many descendants as possible and to keep your genes ‘alive’. But what about the human situation? Did Romeo get a kick out of serenading Juliet? Do we get tickled by singing in a choir or a sing-along at a concert? What advantage does it give humans to sing (well)? Giving pleasure to others and yourself may have some cultural benefits but in a Darwinian sense? What does it do for the survival of the species? I am certain that it has a valid evolutionary explanation. So, if you know of any enlightening research in this field please mail me (or sing it time). Thanks.

1 http://www.nature.com/neuro/journal/vaop/ncurrent/abs/nn.2726.html

2 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dopamine

3 Singing To Females Makes Male Birds’ Brains Happy. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 6, 2008, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­/releases/2008/10/081003122545.htm

Peter Hoeben