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Gareth Jones

Looking in the Wrong Places | Edge.org - 5 views

  • We should be very careful in thinking about whether we’re working on the right problems. If we don’t, that ties into the problem that we don’t have experimental evidence that could move us forward. We're trying to develop theories that we use to find out which are good experiments to make, and these are the experiments that we build.   We build particle detectors and try to find dark matter; we build larger colliders in the hope of producing new particles; we shoot satellites into orbit and try to look back into the early universe, and we do that because we hope there’s something new to find there. We think there is because we have some idea from the theories that we’ve been working on that this would be something good to probe. If we are working with the wrong theories, we are making the wrong extrapolations, we have the wrong expectations, we make the wrong experiments, and then we don’t get any new data. We have no guidance to develop these theories. So, it’s a chicken and egg problem. We have to break the cycle. I don’t have a miracle cure to these problems. These are hard problems. It’s not clear what a good theory is to develop. I’m not any wiser than all the other 20,000 people in the field.
  • I’m still asking myself the same question that I asked myself ten years ago: "What is going on in my community?" I work in the foundations of physics, and I see a lot of strange things happening there. When I look at the papers that are being published, many of them seem to be produced simply because papers have to be produced. They don’t move us forward in any significant way. I get the impression that people are working on them not so much because it’s what they’re interested in but because they have to produce outcomes in a short amount of time. They sit on short-term positions and have short-term contracts, and papers must be produced.
  • The field that I mostly work in is the foundations of physics, which is, roughly speaking, composed of cosmology, the foundations of quantum mechanics, high-energy particle physics, and quantum gravity. It’s a peculiar field because there hasn’t been new data for almost four decades, since we established the Standard Model of particle physics. There has been, of course, the Higgs particle that was discovered at the LHC in 2012, and there have been some additions to the Standard Model, but there has not been a great new paradigm change, as Kuhn would have put it. We’re still using the same techniques, and we’re still working with the same theories as we did in the 1970s.
  • ...10 more annotations...
  • That makes this field of science rather peculiar and probably explains why there hasn’t been much progress. But it’s not like we don’t have any questions that need to be answered. There are a lot of questions that have been around for decades. For example, what is dark energy? What is dark matter? What are the masses of the Standard Model particles? And what’s up with the foundation of quantum mechanics? Is a theory that's fundamentally not deterministic, where we cannot predict outcomes, the last word that we have, or is there something more to it? Is there maybe another underlying structure to reality?
  • but we haven't reached the fundamental level. Maybe we will never reach it. Certainly, the theories that we have right now are not all there is. The question is, of course, if we don’t have any guidance by experiment, how do we make progress? And are we doing the right thing?
  • We’ve reached this point where we have to carefully rethink if the criteria that we’re using to select our theories are promising at all. If one looks at the history of this field in the foundations of physics, progress has usually been made by looking at questions that, at least in hindsight, were well posed, where there was an actual mathematical contradiction. For example, special relativity is incompatible with Newtonian gravity. If you try to resolve this incompatibility, you get general relativity.
  • There are various similar examples where such breakthroughs have happened because there was a real problem. There was an inconsistency and people had to resolve it. It had nothing to do with beauty. Maybe beauty was, in some cases, the personal motivation of the people to work on it. There’s certainly some truth to this, but I don’t think it’s good to turn this story around and say that if we only pay attention to this motivation that comes from ideals of beauty it will lead to progress.
  • If we are working with the wrong theories, we are making the wrong extrapolations, we have the wrong expectations, we make the wrong experiments, and then we don’t get any new data. We have no guidance to develop these theories. So, it’s a chicken and egg problem. We have to break the cycle. I don’t have a miracle cure to these problems. These are hard problems. It’s not clear what a good theory is to develop. I’m not any wiser than all the other 20,000 people in the field.
  • The way that research is funded in foundations of physics and in many other fields just puts a lot of things at a disadvantage that are not pursued anymore. Typically, everything that takes longer than three years to complete, no one will start it because they can’t afford it. They can literally not afford it.
  • Who makes the decisions about the funding? Superficially, people say that it's a funding agency, so it’s the university who get to hire people. But that puts the blame on the wrong party. In the end it’s the community itself who makes the decisions. What do the funding agencies do if they get a proposal? They send it to reviewers. And who are the reviewers? They're people from the same community. If you look at how hiring decisions are being made, there’s some committee and they are people from the same community. They have some advisory boards or something, which contains people from the same community.
  • Even if that wasn’t so, what the people in these committees would be doing is looking at easy measures for scientific success. Presently, the most popular of these measures are the number of publications and the number of citations. And maybe also whether the person has published in high-impact journals. So, these are the typical measures that are presently being used. But what do they measure? They primarily measure popularity. They indicate whether somebody’s research is well received by a lot of people in the same community. And that’s why once a research area grows beyond a certain critical mass, you have sufficiently many people who tell each other that what they’re doing is the good thing to do. They review each other’s papers and say that that’s great and it's what we should continue to do. It’s a problem in all communities that grow beyond a certain size.
  • I later came to the United States and then Canada, and that gave me the opportunity to learn a lot about quantum gravity. I also figured out that much of what goes on in quantum gravity is very detached from reality. It’s pretty much only mathematics. Yes, the mathematics is there, but I still don’t know if it’s the mathematics that describes reality.
  • That’s the very reason why we don’t normally think of gravity as a weak force. It’s the only force that is left over on long distances, and the reason for this is that it adds up. It gets stronger the more mass you pile up. More precisely, we should say that the reason we find it so hard to measure quantum gravitational effects is that we either have a particle that has very pronounced quantum properties, like, say, a single electron or something like that, but then it’s so light that we cannot measure the gravitational field. Or we have some object that is so heavy that we can measure the gravitational field, but then it doesn’t have quantum properties. Okay, so that’s the actual problem.
Adrienne Michetti

Where Everybody Knows Your (Screen) Name: Online Games as "Third Places" - 50 views

    • Adrienne Michetti
       
      This is, I think, why I'm more keen on today's social networks than I am on games -- games do not provide deep emotional support.
  • "bowling alone" hypothesis (Putnam, 2000), which suggests that media are displacing crucial civic and social institutions
    • Adrienne Michetti
       
      Putnam - need to check this article. Interesting; not sure I agree.
  • ...80 more annotations...
  • According to Putnam, time spent with relatively passive and disengaging media has come at the expense of time spent on vital community-building activities.
  • The evidence to date is mixed
  • A core problem on both sides of the debate is an underlying assumption that all Internet use is more or less equivalent
    • Adrienne Michetti
       
      SO True
  • It would be more plausible and empirically rigorous, then, to consider how specific forms of Internet activity impact civic and social engagement as a result of their particular underlying social architectures
  • combining conclusions from two different lines of MMO research conducted from two different perspectives—one from a media effects approach, the other from a sociocultural perspective on cognition and learning.
  • By providing spaces for social interaction and relationships beyond the workplace and home, MMOs have the capacity to function as one form of a new "third place" for informal sociability much like the pubs, coffee shops, and other hangouts of old.
  • loosely structured by open-ended narratives
  • They are known for their peculiar combination of designed "escapist fantasy" and emergent "social realism"
  • from two research projects: one an examination of the media effects of MMOs, the other an ethnographic study of cognition and culture in such contexts.
  • the conclusions of both studies were remarkably aligned.
  • the assumption that the most fruitful advances are sometimes made when congruent findings are discovered through disparate means
    • Adrienne Michetti
       
      Love this quote.
  • demonstrate the "effects" of game play vs. no game play.
  • first project was a traditional effects study
  • second project, a qualitative study of cognition and learning in MMOs (
  • ethnography
  • sociocultural perspective
  • as a way to tease out what happens in the virtual setting of the game and how the people involved consider their own activities, the activities of others, and the contexts in which those activities takes place
  • a reasonable level of generalizability (random assignment to condition in the first study) and contextualization (ethnographic description of existing in-game social networks and practices in the second)
    • Adrienne Michetti
       
      but I wonder why he chose these games -- this is not specified. Only their success in US and abroad?
  • brick-and-mortar "third places" in America where individuals can gather to socialize informally beyond the workplace and home
  • the exaggerated self-consciousness of individuals.
  • In what ways might MMOs function as new third places for informal sociability?
  • virtual environments have the potential to function as new (albeit digitally mediated) third places similar to pubs, coffee shops, and other hangouts.
  • in this section we analyze the structural form of MMOs that warrants this "third place" assertion.
  • eight defining characteristics of third places
  • there is no default obligation
  • To oblige any one person to play requires that explicit agreements be entered into by parties
  • the default assumption is that no one person is compelled to participate legally, financially, or otherwise.
  • Unless one transforms the virtual world of the game into a workplace (e.g., by taking on gainful employment as a virtual currency "farmer" for example, Dibbell, 2006; Steinkuehler, 2006a) or enters into such agreement, no one person is obligated to log in
    • Adrienne Michetti
       
      and this is why, in my opinion, you will never see games in school. The game cannot be the Third Place because school is a Second Place.
  • Yee's (2006) interviews also reveal that individuals who game with romantic partners or family find that such joint engagement in the "other world" of MMOs allows them to redefine the nature and boundaries of their offline relationships, often in more equitable terms than what may be possible in day-to-day offline life
  • the relationships that play-partners have with one another offline are often "leveled" within the online world
  • an individual's rank and status in the home, workplace, or society are of no importance
  • appeal to people in part because they represent meritocracies otherwise unavailable in a world often filled with unfairness
  • conversation plays an analogous role
  • "In all such systems, linguistic interactions have been primary: users exchange messages that cement the social bonds between them, messages that reflect shared history and understandings (or misunderstandings) about the always evolving local norms for these interactions" (p. 22).
  • third places must also be easy to access
  • such that "one may go alone at almost any time of the day or evening with assurance that acquaintances will be there"
  • accessible directly from one's home, making them even more accommodating to individual schedules and preferences
  • barriers to initial access.
  • "What attracts a regular visitor to a third place is supplied not by management but by the fellow customer,"
  • "It is the regulars who give the place its character and who assure that on any given visit some of the gang will be there"
  • affective sense
  • As one informant satirically commented in an interview, "You go for the experience [points], you stay for the enlightening conversation.
  • engendering a sense of reliable mentorship and community stability.
  • Oldenburg argues that third places are characteristically homely, their d�cor defying tidiness and pretension whenever possible. MMOs do not fit this criterion in any literal sense
  • In neither of our investigations did the degree of formality exhibited by players within the game bear any relation to the degree of visual ornamentation of the players' immediate vicinity.
  • Thus, while the visual form of MMO environments does not fit Oldenburg's (1999) criterion of "low profile," the social function of those environments does.
  • Oldenburg (1999) argues that seriousness is anathema to a vibrant third place; instead, frivolity, verbal word play, and wit are essential.
  • The playful nature of MMOs is perhaps most apparent in what happens when individuals do bring gravity to the game.
  • the home-like quality of third places in rooting people
  • Participation becomes a regular part of daily life for players and, among regular gamemates such as guild members, exceptional absences (i.e., prolonged or unforeseen ones) are queried within the game or outside i
  • create an atmosphere of mutual caring that, while avoiding entangling obligations per se, creates a sense of rootedness to the extent that regularities exist, irregularities are duly noted, and, when concerning the welfare of any one regular, checked into
  • Are virtual communities really communities, or is physical proximity necessary?
  • Anderson (1991), who suggests that geographic proximity itself is neither a necessary nor sufficient condition for the emergence and preservation of "community."
  • Social capital (Coleman, 1988) works analogously to financial capital; it can be acquired and spent, but for social and personal gains rather than financial
  • operates cyclically within social networks because of their associated norms of reciprocity
  • bridging social capital is inclusive.
  • This form of social capital is marked by tentative relationships, yet what they lack in depth, they make up for in breadth.
  • On the one hand, bridging social capital provides little in the way of emotional support; on the other hand, such relationships can broaden social horizons or worldviews, providing access to information and new resources.
  • bonding social capital is exclusive.
  • social superglue.
  • it can also result in insularity.
  • shows that bridging and bonding social capital are tied to different social contexts, given the network of relationships they enable.
  • Virtual worlds appear to function best as bridging mechanisms rather than as bonding ones, although they do not entirely preclude social ties of the latter type.
  • One could argue that, if the benchmark for bonding social capital is the ability to acquire emotional, practical, or substantive support, then MMOs are not well set up for the task:
  • While deep affective relationships among players are possible, they are less likely to generate the same range of bonding benefits as real-world relationships because of players' geographic dispersion and the nature of third places themselves.
  • Despite differences in theoretical grounding and methodologies, our conclusions were remarkably similar across complementary macro- and micro-levels.
  • It is worth noting, however, that as gamers become more involved in long-term social networks such as guilds and their activities become more "hardcore" (e.g., marked by participation in large-scale collaborative problem-solving endeavors such as "raids" into difficult territories or castle sieges), the function of MMOs as "third places" begins to wane.
  • It may be, then, that the structure and function of MMOs as third places is one part of the "life cycle" for some gamers in a given title.
  • In such cases, MMOs appear to enable a different kind of sociability, one ostensibly recognizable as a "community" nonetheless.
  • However, our research findings indicate that this conclusion is uninformed. To argue that MMO game play is isolated and passive media consumption in place of informal social engagement is to ignore the nature of what participants actually do behind the computer screen
  • Perhaps it is not that contemporary media use has led to a decline in civic and social engagement, but rather that a decline in civic and social engagement has led to retribalization through contemporary media (McLuhan, 1964).
  • Such a view, however, ignores important nuances of what "community" means by pronouncing a given social group/place as either wholly "good" or "bad" without first specifying which functions the online community ought to fulfill.
  • Moreover, despite the semantics of the term, "weak" ties have been shown to be vital in communities, relationships, and opportunities.
  • is to what extent such environments shift the existing balance between bridging and bonding
  • In light of Putnam's evidence of the decline of crucial civic and social institutions, it may well be that the classification "lacking bridging social capital" best characterizes the everyday American citizen. T
  • Without bridging relationships, individuals remain sheltered from alternative viewpoints and cultures and largely ignorant of opportunities and information beyond their own closely bound social network.
  • it seems ironic that, now of all times, we would ignore one possible solution to our increasingly vexed relationship with diversity.
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