Monthly Archives: May 2010

FRINGE

Why I’m willing to suspend my disbelief when watching the TV show Fringe.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with this hit US drama let me summise for you the general idea, but you really should just watch it.

Fringe focuses on three main characters, Olivia Dunham, Dr Walter Bishop and his son Peter (who is played by that dude who played Pacey back in the good ol’ Dawson’s Creek days; he’s now much older, more refined and definitely a lot better looking.) They as part of a new division of the FBI deal with ‘Fringe events’, these are defined loosely as an unexplainable, mysterious and generally weird shit that happens to people in a criminal or suspicious fashion.  To give an example, one of the first cases to be investigated involved a plane full of people who died because of some chemical that made their skin melt off their bodies in a matter of seconds. There is an underlying story which explains the links between many of the fringe events, which ultimately binds the series together. The characters are also crucial in this underlying subplot, Walter especially being portrayed as a a man with a brilliant but tortured and tormented mind, having spent the past 17 years in a mental institution. Olivia turns out to have been involved in Walters early work when she was a child and a subject in one of his more daring experiments. And Peter his son, well he’s a whole kettle of confusion really amongst the whole thing. Needless to say it’s quite complex. You might be asking yourself why am I writing about this show if it’s just a big jumble of fiction. Well, the title credits consist of a list of words that flash up on the screen to some haunting music, check it out here, note that the first word to appear is… Neuroscience. Pretty cool huh?  Also to feature are words such as Hypnosis, Cryogenics, Mutation, Protoscience and the list continues. Gives you a glimpse into what to expect. The truth being that this extensive list practically covers all possible aspects of science, this possibly is what gives the show such freedom to go in any direction. It’s really far more scifi than drama, but when people say science fiction one always assumes aliens and spaceships, and you won’t see any of that in Fringe. The point seems to be that every scenario they present no matter how bizarre and surreal needs to have at least some supportive evidence in existence today, some sort of theoretical possibility, but residing just on the fringe of what we know to be true. It is this which gives Fringe its edge of believability above other sci-fi series. Even the episode where bank robbers use high frequency waves to shake the atomic structures within a wall, so that solid objects like a body could pass through, seems somewhat likely.

Neuroscience in all its related and applied fields seems to crop up in varying degrees all over the place on the show, from episodes about removing pieces of brain that contain specific memories (highly unlikely but still a neat and scary idea) to questions about the conscious mind and it’s remnants after life has left a body, i.e. being able to interrogate a corpse (again quite a scary thought, but perhaps plausible).

In a great post by Emilie Lorditch, for Live Science, a look at the science fact behind Fringe is taken. ‘Sometimes science fact is actually stranger than science fiction’ and nowhere is this more true than in Fringe. But how much of it really is fact? The show has two main ‘science guys’ who are responsible for researching the science in the show, Rob Chiappetta and Glen Whitman. Their approach is to create the fringe events by taking the proposals of actual studies and just pushing them that step further. A bit like taking fMRI studies claiming to be a step towards reading minds, to creating an episode in which this is possible. These guys aren’t scientists they are just eager researchers of the field, “one week we are pouring over journals and focusing on the latest neuroscience research and the next week we are learning all about hormones,” said Chiappetta.’  As such they accumulate a whole host of recent developments and then apply these to the show, albeit with a slight twist and tug in the direction of the extraordinary.

The great thing about this is that all the plots, no matter how extreme have their basis on actual published research, and allow the viewers to suspend their disbelief just that little bit more than you can with shows such as Star Trek. The scary thing about this show however is that it may be giving us a glimpse into our future more than we might really appreciate right now.

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New look

You may have noticed the new look header making the site appear much more snazzy and swish! It was made by my wonderful friend Jon Sharman, who isn’t just a pretty face, his blog is most superb and can be found here . I highly recommend reading it and following it, it’s not science based like this blog but deals with real world current affairs etc, all very good informative and thought provoking stuff, go read it now! It also has nice header designs.. hehe.

p.s I’ll be posting soon all just a bit mad with project starting and portfolio deadlines approaching AH!

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The Election Worm Told Me To Do It!

So prior to the election I took part in a study at my University being led by Dr. Colin Davis and Professor Amina Memon (from the Department of Psychology at Royal Holloway, University of London) and Professor Jeff Bowers (from the Department of Experimental Psychology at the University of Bristol). Which we were told was looking into memories for real world events such as the political debates. Clearly a very clever ploy by those sneaky scientists.. also known as a ‘deception’.

What happened is we were delegated to one of two lecture rooms, to watch the final live debate as it was streamed from the BBC website, we were watching it with a ‘worm’ on the screen which reflected the views of undecided voters. This worm moved either up towards agree or down towards disagree as the speeches went on. At hilarious moments, like when Gordon Brown smiled and the worm made a short sharp drop to ‘dislike’.. we all lol’ed. After the debate had finished we had to answer questions about the ‘worm’ and were informed it was in fact fake, that it wasn’t a ‘real worm’ showing undecided voters but was a manipulation of the experiment. We had to say how much we agreed with the worm, how much it might have influenced us, and who we now intended to vote for etc.

What a great fun experiment you may think, a nice simple clean design of two groups (I assume on was a control group) and two questionnaires pre and post debate, combined with a clever use of technology to manipulate a fake worm to play across the screen LIVE in time with the debate. And then we got this email a little while after (but before election Thursday)…

“Thought you might be interested to know that the experiment that you participated in last week was successful — that is, we were able to exert a strong influence on who you thought won the debate, and even on your choice of preferred prime minister. The majority of participants were unaware of our manipulation. We’re currently writing up the results, so  don’t want to say too much more, but you can check my website in the future to find out more:
http://www.pc.rhul.ac.uk/staff/c.davis/.
I also want to make absolutely sure that everyone who participated is aware that the “worm” you saw was  manipulated by us and had no relationship to any undecided voters. Our results suggest that the “worm” is potentially quite dangerous for democracy!”
From Dr. Colin Davies.

So…. let me get this right…. what they are saying is that in their experiment they successfully falsely manipulated the political views of many of those who participated with the use of the ‘worm’?

Whilst this is good for them (pat yourselves on your scholarly jumper clad backs) as it supported their hypotheses, I have been left a little mildly concerned.

I want to know if that worm was in fact biased towards any particular leader (not that it apparently matters given the election result!) but if it was say biased positively towards Nick Clegg for instance (which I think it was, seemed to go towards agree more often with his points) AND they then were able to find results that apparently suggest this bias was influential over peoples beliefs about who they might vote for compared with their prior assumptions (I think..) doesn’t that mean that this experiement potentially changed peoples views… towards someone they weren’t planning on voting for, BEFORE election day!?

I suppose to make this fair, if we had watched the debate at home this would have happened arguably if we’d been seeing a ‘real’ worm, but the fact that the ‘worm’ we saw was manipulated by the experimenters and was potentially biased makes me a little suspicious all in all. At least a real worm reflects a group view right? WRONG. Some of those undecided voters being shown amounted to a grand total of only 8 people in some cases. I’m still not sure if the experiment was more or less influential than a real worm might have been. The experimenters just assumed after that the manipulation would be forgotten after we found out it was false, but what if it wasn’t forgotten?

There were some obvious draw backs to this experiement which I hope the experimenters will include in their report when they submit it for publication, such as..

1. When the internet feed for iPlayer went down, the worm continued to track across the screen (indicating it wasn’t part of the actual live feed from the BBC).

2. The worm often reacted before a leader had begun talking, indicating some sort of delay in our feed and the worms reaction. Not very believable. Most of the televised worms were multiple, in that there are 3 on a screen each a different colour reflecting the individual parties, the worm in the experiment was singular and white.

3. A large amount of equpiment used to create the worm on screen was visiable under the table, and the man they had working the laptop is a quite well known lecturer in the Media Arts department of the university… suspicious much?

4. Also there seemed to be a number of students present in the experiment who weren’t even registered to vote, either through not being british citizens or for other reasons, this surely would affect the overall impact of the opinions/views collected?

5. No one when deciding who to vote for will base that purely on a ‘worm’ on a screen, in this modern age there are ever increasing areas available to promote political influence over us, not just TV.

6. When asked after if anyone suspected the worm was a fake many people raised their hands, these bloody idiots then said ‘yes’ when they were asked, ‘even though you thought it was fake did it have an influence over your opinion when watching the debate?’. WTF. Morons.

So discounting the idiots from the sample, those who figured out the false worm, those who weren’t even going to vote/can’t vote and other’s who probably didn’t give a fuck and were only there cause they paid subjects £20 each to participate I think you’re left with a very small sample able to give a true representation of the influence of ‘the worm’. Surely a worm is no more influential to an undecided voter than the opinion of their Dad, or best friend, or the man in the shop who comes to buy a coffee and says he won’t vote lib dem cause they’re all a bit ‘hello, sailor’.. (a true fucking story, of another dickhead who didn’t deserve a vote!).

But my point being worms, friends, newspapers, families, twitter feeds and facing fuckbook, they are all just as bad in term of their potentially biased influence over your opinion. But these are all sources of information and if you didn’t know who to vote for then why not turn to the opinions of others through what ever medium you have available? Ultimatly though these sources should only be guidelines for YOUR own choice, which should have been based on what is most important to YOU as an individual living in this country. What choice was best for YOUR future, not your mates, or your mums. YOURS.

This is all the worms fault.

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Done and dusted

Just a quick note to say I have survived all four of the dreaded exams.

Will be posting more frequently hence forth, about all sorts of wondrous things!

🙂

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Facebook Feed re my status about a misinformed idiot

I blanked out the names/pics of my friends in case they didn’t want to be made public but I just like how this shows how some people are brilliant in the world and will stand up for facts. 🙂

I will be writing a post about the known dangers of fMRI and MRI. I’m sure CANCER will not be one of them.

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