Questioning Assumptions or... proof that math teachers are evil

Magic teaches us to be constantly be looking at the world around us with a critical eye and to always be giving a second thought to things which appear, on the surface, to be completely obvious. Rushing through a problem trying to get to the solution as quickly as possible carries the risk of missing something important; something you believed to be true without realizing it. (And because you weren't consciously aware of believing it, you never gave yourself the opportunity to question it!)

For some, this exercise will be a delightful exercise in testing and challenging assumptions. For others, it will simply be the long-awaited proof that all math and science teachers are inherently pure evil. 

My new favourite phrase

My favourite word of 2015 was the verb to poof, which essentially means to magic something into existence. For 2016, I think it definitely has to be brain boners.

I've posted a review of Sean Carroll's fantastic book, The Big Picture previously. This compilation of some of his more powerful and profound comments is well-deserving of the term:

The Science of Gambling

When you're a magician, the question comes up often, "Can I take you with me to the casino?" Never mind that there are no casinos in Toronto, my background in math means I'm fascinated by gambling but know enough about the odds to not want to do it in casinos. The Royal Institute in London offers up its public talks for free online and I thought I'd share this really interesting talk about the intersection between science and gambling including using computers to cheat at the roulette and blackjack tables, the mathematics of shuffling applied to card tricks and strange ways to win at the lottery.

And the Q&A to follow up:

Goodbye CSI

Last night I watched the 2-hour series finale of the original CSI which called it quits after 15 years. The episode, titled Immortal, was clearly written to give long-time fans of the show a warm fuzzy nostalgic feeling. They brought back long-absent stars William Peterson and Marg Helgenberger as well as Melinda Clarke (the oh so intriguing Lady Heather). They completely side-stepped the plot developments of later seasons and offered up a more or less self-contained finale. Rather than meditate on the decline in quality of later seasons (two years of Lawrence Fishburn and Ted Danson... why exactly?) I thought I'd meditate on what the series stood for. Fifteen years ago when the series began, they were a bastion of science and rationality in popular culture. This is before the Auber-rational Gregory House or Temperance "Bones" Brennan or the nerdgasm of The Big Bang Theory. It took popular crime drama and gave it an infusion of empiricism. It created the mould which would produce three direct spin-off series and inspired several forensic-crime drama series. When I began at UofT, they were offering a new expanded Criminology major, which probably would not have existed without programs like this poking the zeitgeist.

Now of course there are scientific liberties. I'm not claiming that anyone would want to watch prime-time crime drama as a substitute for a science textbook. But the show has a strong moral undermining that was relatively new at the time and very influential for me in my teens.

The number one rule of investigators is follow the evidence. Trusting your instincts and jumping to conclusions are big no-nos. Knowing something in your heart of hearts doesn't count unless you can back it up with evidence. Over and over again the intuitively obvious solution (the wife did it) turns out to be the wrong one. The series created a world where people solve problems by investigation and thought; something which is far less common than it ought to be.

The character of Gil Grissom is like a Dumbledore for the scientific age. Calm, reflective, rational and basically a creature of pure wisdom. He made rationality and empiricism cool for a huge number of people who would otherwise just be watching people get shot and things go boom.

So with fond childhood memories, I'm happy to say goodbye to the original CSI.

Jerry Coyne wuz here

Last night at the OISE auditorium downtown, Jerry Coyne, the distinguished professor of evolutionary biology from the University of Chicago, gave a talk on his latest book, Faith Vs. Fact: Why Religion and Science are Incompatible. And there are purdy pictures:

I finished the book the night before the talk and must say I enjoyed it very much. While parts of it (at least to my liberal Canadian eyes) have a distinct "well duh" aspect to them, it was still wonderful to read such a complete across-the-board support of reason and science when many thinkers seem to feel the need to hedge, waffle and pay lip service to "other ways of finding truth".

My only regret is that I didn't get my copy of the book signed. But that's probably for the best since I've been trying to cut down on the number of physical books I buy and if I got Professor Coyne to sign the screen of my iPad, it would make checking email that much more difficult.