Blog of Sara Jakša

The Role of Universities

I have recently been thinking about the role of Universities in the education of people. For now, being involved with a couple of different ones in different countries, I could see the differences in teaching style, goals, scope, depth and organization, including whole administration and what are the requirements. This is even more prominent now, as in Slovenia our student organization (ŠOU) had introduced into the parliament the law. While I am not sure what their goal is, I am assuming that what they are discussing in their proposal is what they think is important for students.

Sadly, trying to get what they want out of the education from that proposal is impossible. Not that because it would be hard to read, it is actually not, presuming one knows Slovenian, which most, though not all, people affect by it know it. It is because it reads more like a proposal for changes in the social transfers than having anything to do with the actually education.

There are other indications of the role of University that I have seen. I have recently had a conversation with one of my teachers about my master thesis. It was very interesting that I was encouraged to do a master thesis for a company, because it is a good opportunity for the possible employment later on. That most people actually pick either than or doing a project for the company they already work for.

This actually gives a picture of trade education. People go to the university in order to learn a trade. The structures in the university actually make it harder for a person to get a more well-rounded education. Why? Because it is hard to take subjects from different faculties in the same university. And I know that it can be quite hard, as I took neurology and programming as electives when I was enrolled at the Faculty of Economics. And one can imagine that there is no neurology course there, even though we apparently have researches that do fMRI studies together with cognitive neurology laboratory.

When this is put together than at least the the Faculty of Economics there are only 12% of credits that can be taken with the electives. The rest of the classes are already predefined based on which department at the Faculty of Economics did a person pick at their study. In the cognitive science, this is a bit different, but there is a reason for this. There they only predefine the first year of masters and they are a bit flexible on the subjects. They don't do any of this for the second year, but that might be because everybody needs to go abroad in the second year and write their masters, so there is not a lot to be able to redefine it.

So when I was visiting the WU or cognitive science program in the University of Vienna, I was a bit surprised at the organization. While WU is quite strict, they seems to at least have modules, so people can choose what they are interested in and not do everything the same as everybody else. At the University of Vienna cognitive science program they were even more flexible and taking with them, apparently the Bologna reform gave them the feeling that they are less flexible. Even though they only have to argue why the subject is relevant for the mayor in order to be counted toward their core subjects.

The more the system is flexible the more it comes closer to what I have always seen the role of the University. I have seen the role as the place where people could get knowledge in order to be better informed. I have this (probably unrealistic) vision of people through their life attending courses in the subjects they are interested in. This way the people could get the equivalent to a couple of university education in their lifetimes. And I can not see how the society would be worse of if more people knew comparative literature or the history of Madagascar or the physics needed for civil engendering.

This would require a couple of things, two of them would be a more flexible workdays and the wish for people to actually learn various things. The last one is the one that worries me, as some people seems very unmotivated for any kind of learning. But this is something that I will have to accept. Even if these people, who still want to be educated, are the ones that are shifting at least some of the education that the university provide to be more like the trade schools.

I Am Looking for a Text-Based Contact System

I am having a problem. I have noticed that I have way too many contact information form various people, that I have no way to actually organize. I could make an account to some of the cloud service and updated all the contact information of the people up there, and they would help me sort it. But I am not sure that this is a route that I want to use.

The main reason why I don't want to use it, is that if I am going to use a quick way of dealing with this data, this will make me want to store way to much contacts, even with the people that I have not seen in years and will most likely never to talk again. But if I actually go through them and decide what to do with each one, that could also serve as a sort of spring cleaning. I can then slowly allow my mind to clean these memories and allow other things to exist there.

Basically is like when people decide to clean their social media contact, but instead I am going through all my contacts.

In order to do this, I was trying to find a good text-based contact system. After all, a text-based calendar and text-based to-do lists exist. But so far I have not find anything, except to simply copy everything into a text file and then using the find function to find what I need. Which will most likely lead to many duplicates and having the data which I do not need.

So if you have an idea, I would like to hear from you on the sarajaksa@gmail.com. Because I might simply not be seeing the solution which is already there.

(I actually find it funny, that I can pretend that anybody is actually reading the blog. Which I doubt a bit.)

The Two Factors that Made Collecting Personal Data so Prevalent

I see the outcry for the privacy is some part of my social circle (or I could be living in a bubble, that just happens to include some radicalism, which could be on either side). But instead of seeing it as something that we need to fight, I more seeing as a symptom of something else. And just like with illnesses, if we don't like the symptoms, we can try and heal ourselves. In some cases, solving the symptoms is enough, as the body, or in the other case, the society, would clean the illness by itself. In some cases, there needs to be an active way to address the underlying causes as well.

I think there are at least two factors that made the collection of the personal data so prevalent. The first is discrimination and the second is trying to get everything for free.

Let me start with the discrimination. I don't think that the discrimination by itself is bad. We do it all the time, sometimes at the level of the groups and sometimes at the level of the individual. As we have limited time and energy, this kind of discrimination is necessary. Even I don't treat my family the same way as I treat my classmates or people that I have never met. And I have yet to meet a person that would treat everybody the same.

And the discrimination criteria can be completely arbitrarily. It could be against religion, it could be against eating habits or it could be based on personal experience. I sadly have the good memory for unsolved disputes, so I am not a good person for people that just want to forget that it ever happened. I actually want to discuss it, until I am sure that I know the reason why it happened and that it will never happen again. And I am aware that some people find it annoying and they discriminate against me.

Which is good, as we are not a good fit for one another.

But this discrimination also happens on the market. I have seems small companies that discriminate against the whole group of customers. If it is in USA and they discriminate against LGBT, then it is usually in the media. But there is discrimination against countries, specific customers,... And it is not always because of the profit maximization. I know at least one CEO, who does not deal with customers from his own country because he does not want to waste energy with idiots.

And even in this level I find the discrimination still fine. Why? Because every person has the right to choose their own social cycle. Since people, especially adults that already finished their education, mostly hang around people they know through work, the decision with whom to do the work can have serious consequences on whom they spend time with.

Sure, some people, especially people that are in the marketing, have realized this and have used the data that they have collected about the customers to segregate them in the different groups. I remember, when I went to one of the business conferences (my mother did not have the time). The first lecture was about how to put the customers into three groups, ignore the lower group and spend an extraordinary time with the upper group. Since people attending there were mostly from small to middle sized companies, they mostly likely decided to go with a bit of a crude measure.

In quite a lot of book that I have read about business development when I was younger, they recommend that the people selling or the companies fire the unproductive leads and spend their time with the 20% of their best customers. So let me make this clear, this kind of discrimination existed even before there was a huge networked collection of data. In that time it was based on more limited data, but otherwise it was basically the same.

So now these people, that were used to segregating the people and not spending time with the worst customers and spending more energy on the best ones, got access to huge amount of data that the internet is producing. I remember that I did not find it surprising when I found out that companies have been buying the data from other businesses. Based on the practices that existed before that, this was a natural progression.

The second reason is the practice of making everything on the internet free. People, including me, have come to expect that everything we find on the internet is going to be free. The problem is that having a presence on the internet and hosting files on the internet is not free. I have a basic hosting, with no ability to use databases, so my hosting is pretty cheap, but I still pay 50EUR/year for this site. Even if a person has a additional computer and change it into a server in their home, they still need to pay for the electricity for this computer.

People spend a lot of time, energy and money to make the internet the way it is. And because the people don't want to pay for it, they need to find another way to do it. One way, that people used was advertising, but I remember reading an article around 2 years ago, that the trend of using add-blocker was rising. I am using one myself. So what is left? Well, there seems to be companies, which will give money for the users data - problem solved. There was a wish to be repaid for their work, and there was a need that could be filled with this work.

I don't claim that everybody does it for the money. I am just saying, that when given a choice, a lot of people will take that money.

And this brings it up the full cycle. The people that used data to segregate people now have the ability to collect even more data and they could get it from people hosting free services, as for them it was the easiest source of income.

Are we then still asking ourselves why we are in the current situation?

The Cognitive Price of Technology (Or Why Opting-Out is Not Only Possible in Theory)

As a person without a mobile phone number, I always find it interesting when people say that opting-out of technology is not possible. Usually the conversation is not in the mobile phone as a way of calling people, but for example the apps on the phone or the social media or something similar. The problem is, that when people say, for example, that they are not using Facebook, they are seen as somebody making their own choice. We still consider this a choice. But try telling people that you have no mobile phone, and they will not see this as in any way a valid choice.

I know that I have frustrated a lot of people with my explanation that I can't give them a phone number because I have no phone number. More than a couple of times the people have tried to convince me that they will not misuse my phone number and I can give it to them. And here I am not talking about the marketing people, but people like my dentist, my classmates and some friends.

This is one of the choices that have become even more invisible than the one about privacy. At least with the privacy we still talk about. Use of phone or internet? Not so much, though surprisingly, there are people that have no started to talk about the utility of the television, which had that kind of invisible status, at least as far as technology goes. Which gives me hope.

The reason why I don't have a phone? I don't like what it is doing to my mind. I could notice that using a phone would produce a sort of mental quality, that I experienced phenomenologically. It was sort of like a nudge, that push, to check if there is something on the phone. Or, if I left the phone at home, that worry that maybe somebody is going to call me.

Most of the time it is not noticeable. It is just something that I think people accept in their life. When I used the phone for a while, I did not notice this quality anymore, but I did notice the relaxation that came with my quitting the phone.

I am perfectly willing to get a phone, should the need arrive. But so far I don't think that 5 times per year that I would find having the phone number helpful, is worth having this additional mental qualia.

The result on my life? I need to plan things with people in advance. I need to take into account that some people will get into trouble, like scheduling conflicts and so on, and I am not going to be informed and will need to wait for them. In either case, even going to the meetings when the other party does not show is productive, as I usually use the bike and bring the book to read. Is it less convenient? Probably, but nothing that I am not ready to handle for this piece of mind.

I think this should be done with every technology in our life. Are the positive effect worth the changes in ourselves as well as negative effects? Because technology will always bring changes in ourselves. An interesting book about the effect of print and television on cognition is Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman. So it is possible that our cognition and our society change because of the technology.

I Want to See my Profiles that Companies Collected

I am currently reading the book Networks of Control. I am not finished yet, but now I can say, that if you have worries about how your personal data is used, then I suggest to read this book.

I would really like to see, if their vision can come true. The problem that I see is, that the data mugging have become a billion dollars worth industry that have high lobby powers, which was more or less the natural progression of what existed before that. And they are not going to give up their power to analyze their data.

Thought it would be interesting, if the sites at least revealed what they think about us, even if we get no chance to control our data. Google used to have this, but I am unable to find it again and the links pointing to it all now point to just a general adds page. I remember that the first time that I looked, it had me a 10 older than I am, and of a different gender. But I was surprised that it had picked up on all of the languages that I was learning. The second time that I looked it, it had me now as a correct gender and I was only a couple years older than I really was.

Though the reason why nothing is shown is most likely because I have probably at some point in the past set some privacy settings. I have downloaded my google data, and I was surprised at how sparse it was. For example, in my YouTube, there is nothing in the search or viewing history. Also, in the map history, there was only one place (address of the main building of University of Vienna, if anybody is interested).

But there could be potentially problem with including profiles like this. Some people could take the scores that are calculated about us hard. I would find it more interesting, as it tells me that my behavior on the internet corresponds to specific group, which tells me something about myself. But let us take that our IQ, future illnesses and financial possibility would be included in this. Some people could end up depressed, and I believe that we are using enough opioids as it is, we don't need more.

Still, I think in this case, giving the possibility would be enough. All the privacy conscious people would find it, so it would serve the purpose. And the rest of them can exist in their cat-filled existence, happy that they don't have to worry about things like that, so they will also not have any negative effect.

Gender Roles and Self-Perception

Do the gender roles exist in today's world or not? If the goal is for the two genders to be on the completely the same level, then I have to admit that we are still far away. There are still differences seen. For one, so far I have not seen a man getting pregnant, for one thing.

I am not sure that having a completely equal genders is actually a worthwhile goal. I would much prefer the world where people have equal opportunity, but not equal standing. After all, more than gender, is it not better for people to make decisions regardless of gender.

But this will most likely lead to the world, where the genders will on average probably make different choices. Women tend to be more agreeable than man, and only this point can make women choose different choices. Though, now I got interested in how culture is shaping our personality...

There are actually tests that test the gender personality. I have done two, one based on the original BSRI test and one other one that is called OSRI. In both of them, my score for masculinity was higher than for femininity. With the OSRI, I could see that my femininity score was not high enough to be androgynous, which would mean that I have both of them on the high enough level.

test gender result methodology
BSRI male 62.5 out of 100
BSRI female 34.167 out of 100
BSRI neutral 50.833 out of 100
OSRI male 106 mean=100, sd=15
OSRI female 83 mean=100, sd=15

What do these results mean? It means that I see myself more in the light of personal characteristics, that are more male-like in our society. Though, I would not consider the independent, self-reliant and own belief defending to be a particularly male characteristics. But this may be again because, I see myself as a female, but I also see myself with these characteristics.

It does makes me wonder... do male that score high no femininity then want to stay home and take care of children? Or or is this simply the differences in the personality distribution of both genders and these differences simply got exaggerated and imprinted on the cultural noosphere? Or did the differences in personalities emerged, because there were different standards, and people that adhered to this standards were the one that could pass on the genes? I guess the third one could be answered, depending on how much the personality is gender specific?

On the end, I do hope that we live in a world, where if a male wants to be home with his children, he can be. And if a woman wants to be CEO or a civil engineer, she can be. But let us not hope for the world, where half of women will be 'forced' into STEM and half of the man to stay at home.

The Concept of Nothing through Japanese Kanji

Recently, when I was at the conference, a classmate of mine asked my about the meaning of nothing and we had the discussion about this. Since I know a kit of Japanese, we ended up discussing what kind of kanji is used for nothing. I imagined that the one used is most likely 無, but I was not sure and I had no idea what kind of concepts and ideas were incorporated in it, so I decided to research it a bit.

A quick search at the Japanese-English dictionary gave me three possible candidates: 無, 空, and 虚.

The character 無 is used in the words like 無い, which is used as negation of the sentence, 無くす, in the meaning of losing, 無限 as the infinite, 無理, as in impossible, 無効 as invalid, and 無駄 as useless. The radical that is used to search for is actually 火, which are the four dots at the bottom.

Looking at the history of the character, it seems that at first it was used to indicate the dancing. Which does not make a lot of sense conceptually, but looking at the character, it is a little more clear. Comparing 無 and 舞, they have the same upper part with something at the bottom. Just that instead of the fire (火) it has the opposite (舛) as the bottom part.

Beside the fire (火), the part that is also used in this character is 40 (卌), but it can also be multitude. There are also characters, that use it as part of them. Some of them are creasing (撫でる), type of vegetables (蕪) and being certain (嘸かし).

The second character 空 can mean both the sky and empty. It first meaning was the sky, and it only latter expanded to include empty. But it seems that one of the older meanings of the character was also hole. It is used in words like 空 sky, 空港 airport, 空気 air, 空き space, 空っぽ empty, and so on.

The radical for this is 穴, meaning cave. Looking from the history of the character, it is created from the character of hole (穴) and phonetic part with the meaning of construction or skill (工). But in this particular kanji, the 工 also have the meaning of the curve, indicating the effect of seeing the horizon as the curve, because the Earth is round.

Some other characters that include this character as their part are harp (箜篌), cavity (腔), waiting/restraining (控える) and urgent (倥偬).

There is also 虚, but the only pace I have seen it so Bleach manga, so I am not going to analyze it. It is part of the kanji for lying (嘘), or at least it looks very similar.

This helped my to get some sort of sense or intuition of what these characters mean. But this still does not help me figure out which one would be be better suited. Thankfully, this question on the Japanese StackExchenge is providing some pointers to it.

Based on this answer, it seems like 無 means a complete absence of anything, while 空 refers to emptiness, like the emptiness of the air (back when they still believed that air was empty) or emptiness of the cup.

Another answer indicates that there is a difference in Buddhism and Daoism that is responsible for this. The Daoism uses is as nothing, like not existing, not being able to define it or pragmatical emptiness as in empty room to non-intentionality. It refers to non-descriptivity of things.

On the other hand, in Buddhism the term is a translation of 'sunyata' or emptiness. I refers to the belief that there is noting constant or permanent. So they are somehow similar in their conceptualization. But in order to distinguish them, the Buddhism used the 空, while the Daoism used 無.

So, now if I need to understand which one is more relevant (so far I am leaning towards 無), I need to study both concepts in Buddhism and Daoism? I think I am going to stop here, as I am not the one that is interesting in this concept.

Reading Notes: Two Roads to Empathy: Insights to Cognitive Neuroscience

This chapter from the book Empathy: Philosophical and Psychological Perspectives talks about the two different ways of empathy: one based on the automatic and the other on reconstruction process.

The chapter starts with trying to define empathy. The shortest definition that they used was that 'empathy is an affective reaction more appropriate for other's situation than ones own'. They defined empathy as having the four point write below:

  • affective state
  • dependent on other person
  • elicited by observing or imagining other person's situation
  • and being aware that the source is that other person

though the author did try to disprove some of them. They also asked what could be the reason for lacking empathy and they came up with the following three causes:

  • inability to use simulation to understand other people
  • lack of curiosity about other people's mental states
  • lack of concern for other people's feelings

Now to talk about the two paths. The first one is part of the automatic process. It is limited to make people feel empathy for just specific feelings, like pain, touch and discuss. While there does not seem to involve any conscious processing, they can be influenced with people's beliefs, like for example if the person beliefs the other deserves it for being unfair or if they know that pain is the way to get healed.

The second path refers to mentalizing. It requires a person to be able to imagine the situation from the other person's perspective, so in a way it is similar to the theory of mind or simulation. Because it is dependent on the episodic memory and reconstruction of memory can depend on the current factors, this kind of empathy can be egocentric. But unlike the automatic path, this one is able to produce empathy for wider variety of feelings.

Reading Notes: Does the autistic child have a "theory of mind"?

This article from 1985 is an experimental article that compares normal children, children with autism and children with Down's syndrome on the theory of mind task. The task that was used was the false-belief task.

This task is a story which has Anne and Sally. Sally places a marble in place A. She leaves and Anne comes. Anne takes the marble from place A and puts it to place B. After that Anne leaves and Sally comes back. The question is where would Sally look for the marble. If they point to place A, then they have a 'theory of mind' or the ability to attribute the mental states to other people.

The results show that most of normal children and children with Dawn's syndrome (both around 85%) pass this task. But most children with autism do not (only 20% passed).

This article gives one of the possible explanation, when children with autism have problem with social skills.