Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Weekly book update

Wow! I'm behind on this!

A few weeks ago, I read Wicked Appetite by Janet Evanovich. If you like Janet Evanovich, you'll probably like this book. It's pretty silly, but all of her books are fairly formulaic, and the characters aren't particularly complex. This is unfortunate because many of her characters are unique enough that if there was just a little more depth to them, it would boost her writing up a level. As it stands, her writing is of the poolside/airplane reading variety.

I've also done a bunch more reading in The Science of Harry Potter by Roger Highfield. I am not a total science type, so parts of the book are much more interesting to me than others, which is how I always found science class to be. The following are some parts of the book that I found particularly interesting.

On page 121, in the "Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans" chapter, I have learned why people tend to "sympathy vomit." As an aside, while I definitely do NOT like the odor of vomit, it does not cause me to wretch with sympathy, so let me know if you need me to hold your hair. Anyway, here's what the book says:

Vomiting is designed to make us expel toxic substances that have been eaten. Because people lived in small communities for most of human history, it is likely that if a toxin affected one person in a group,others would be struck down, too. If someone started being sick nearby, it was a good thing that his tribemates also emptied their stomachs,for they had probably shared the same meal.

While this is not a particularly appealing notion, it does make sense. Mystery: solved!

The foreword of Part II discusses the many short comings of the Muggle mind, and this line made me crack up: Alas, dear reader, when it comes to mental ability, Muggles are quite a few twigs short of a broomstick.

In the chapter titled "Stars, Mystic Chickens and Superstitious Pigeons," there is a two page section on what is labeled The Magic of Chance and Stone Age Sorcery. Basically it talks about how humans tend to find patterns where there really aren't any and that we're easily swayed by what is, in fact, simply statistical probability. The example in the book is that if 10 million people are watching a psychic on TV, and the psychic predicts that viewers' watches will stop at a certain time, statistically, some of those watches will stop, but because the owners of those watches will be surprised that it happened to them it will be considered "proof" of the psychic's ability.

But, the section goes on to explain, the reason we're so prone to think something is a coincidence when it really isn't is that our brains are basically hardwired the same way they were when we still lived in caves. That is to say, haven't we all answered the phone at some point and said, I was just thinking of you? Of course we have, because we all know a lot of people. Statistics indicated that at some point when our phone rings it's going to be a person we were thinking about who is calling us. But our selective memories edit out all the times when we were thinking of someone and no one called.

But, when we were far less cool, and didn't own phones, and only knew the 15 other people in our tribe, it would be much more of a coincidence if we happened to be thinking of someone and they came over to our cafe for morning coffee and danish. So, "our brains became calibrated to detect patterns, and gasp with astonishment at a level of coincidence which would actually be quite modest if our catchment area of friends and acquaintances had been large." Apparently, this calibration hasn't been adjusted for modern life.

Additionally, as far as I've read, there's no explanation as to why this calibration exists, just simply that it does, and because of it people think they experience coincidences that are simply statistically probable situations.

And, honestly, that's all I've got. I'm trying to do more reading, and I'm currently back with The Happiness Project, but I seem to have a lot of other things going on in my life at the moment, and it's sure to get busier what with the holidays coming up and everything. Although I'm scheduled to have the whole week off at Christmas! Woohoo!

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