Tag Archives: Psychology

National Geographic Examines Its Own Racism and Adds to Discussion

National Geographic Examines Its Own Racism in April 2018 Issue

You could spend a lifetime finding ways to improve yourself and the lives of your fellow humans. You can do it all by yourself, without the help of workshops or committees. But, when it comes to institutions (government, media, assorted nonprofits and such) it can end up being all the more challenging, and rather clumsy. So, now we have the venerable publication which has presided over countless households and subsequently found in countless yard sales, National Geographic, founded way back in 1888. No surprise here that something going that far back would have some skeletons in its closet–the number one of which is rampant racism.

Today, in some of the what would seem to be the most progressive of neighborhoods, the racism has been dialed down to the most discrete of passive-aggressive levels. Oh, it’s there alright but it’s not talked about unless in some very pretentious public forum where everyone rolls up their sleeves to seriously tackle a subject they would rather not discuss. That said, the latest issue of National Geographic, with its biracial fraternal twins on the cover “daring” you to revisit the issue of race, is the perfect conversation starter for one of these particularly dowdy gatherings which all too often consists of white people who are at a loss as to how to engage with people outside their own race. These sort of gatherings take place all over the country. I’ve end up seeing for myself what they’re like in Seattle. They are well-intentioned, I guess. I came away with an overall feeling that people want to be heard and they want to come across as positive, intelligent, and “progressive.” But they are also prone to rationalizing their behavior as beyond their control, or even blaming The Other, that other group of races that seem beyond reach.

Race and Racism in Seattle

Just consider the above remarks from one of these community outreach gatherings. Feedback, like these typical remarks, was documented onto Post-It notes: “When I see black people walking towards me on the street, I’m not afraid but I also don’t think they like me.” And this one: “I know it’s not right, but every time I see a black person in my neighborhood (Fremont) I ask myself why they’re here.” Everyone earnestly discusses these sort of comments while also discussing an appropriate prop for the evening, in this case, “What Does It Mean to Be White? Developing White Racial Literacy” by Robin DiAngelo, an expert on, get this, Whiteness Studies. You can’t make this stuff up.

National Geographic is world-famous for presenting The Other: decade upon decade of presenting people from other places, from other races, as exotic creatures. The cover of the April 2018 issue of National Geographic attempts to do good but, in fact, is right back to playing with The Other dynamic. Maybe this time any perceived bad is outweighed by any perceived good. In fact, there is a whole issue here devoted to confronting the issue of race and how the magazine has dealt with it over its long history. That is worth a lot of credit. Maybe I’ll check it out at my public library. Yeah, the library is another place I remember National Geographic from. I don’t know that this publication is truly resonating with Millennials or if it even matters. The magazine will know, I presume, when it’s time to just wrap it all up. For now, it is wrestling with its legacy–and that’s nice to see. National Geographic has a few irons in the fire. It’s on cable, right? I guess it’s one step forward and one step back–but they seem to be making an effort.

Visit National Geographic right here.

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Filed under Magazines, National Geographic, Race, Race Relations, Racism

Book Review: ALGORITHMS TO LIVE BY: The Computer Science of Human Decisions

Pondering the Explore/Exploit Algorithm. Illustration by Henry Chamberlain

Pondering the Explore/Exploit Algorithm.
Illustration by Henry Chamberlain

If you can think it, there’s most likely an algorithm for it. With a wry humor running throughout, Brian Christian and Tom Griffiths navigate the interconnections between computer science and human activity in the newly released, “ALGORITHMS TO LIVE BY: The Computer Science of Human Decisions,” published by Henry Holt and Company. You come to find that many of life’s golden rules actually have proven methodology. So, in a sense, this book is a self-help book, just a particularly resourceful one using algorithms.

Algorithms. The steps involved in solving a problem. We remember them from high school algebra. We accept them as part of our reality with computers. And, as Brian Christian and Tom Griffiths explain, they relate to everyday life in more ways than you may have expected. In fact, many of life’s decisions could benefit from considering an applicable algorithm. Perhaps the most compelling is the question of finding a life’s partner. While computer scientists may not be specifically finding better ways to manage your love life, you’d be surprised at how math can play a role as matchmaker.

Optimal Stopping: Knowing When to Stop Looking and Start Choosing

Optimal Stopping: Knowing When to Stop Looking and Start Choosing

It’s called the 37 Percent Rule. And, while only correct 37 percent of the time, this algorithm can prove helpful when making a variety of significant decisions. This is also known as, “optimal stopping,” or knowing when to stop looking and start choosing. Computer scientists offered a quaint scenario, “The Secretary Problem.” Christian and Griffiths explain, if you are interviewing a bunch of applicants for a job as a secretary, proceed about a third of the way through; afterwards, be ready to decide moving forward based on what you know. You can see how that would apply to looking for a new apartment and even looking for a new mate!

Christian and Griffiths offer you 11 of these algorithms applicable to real life. Okay, let’s consider another example. Let’s keep in mind that, during a search, you reach a point when you’ve gathered enough data and a continued search can be seen as both redundant as well as confirming what you know. Computer science offered another quaint scenario, “The Multi-armed Bandit Problem.” The idea here is also something of a wait and see game. You can also call it “explore/exploit.” For example, in youth, you explore what life has to offer; in your mature years, you exploit what you have learned. Take that advice to your local casino and, who knows, you might win a payout: try a bunch of slot machines for a while; later, focus on the ones that seem to suggest to you, based upon your exploration, that they’re worth further gambling.

"ALGORITHMS TO LIVE BY: The Computer Science of Human Decisions"

“ALGORITHMS TO LIVE BY: The Computer Science of Human Decisions”

Sure, some of the correlations can seem rather tongue-in-cheek. Should you depend upon an algorithm to help you find a mate? Well, how about when finding a parking space? Keep looking, perhaps you need help with sorting, scheduling, or breaking a bad habit. We seek order out of chaos and this unique book offers some refreshing ways to create some order.

“ALGORITHMS TO LIVE BY: The Computer Science of Human Decisions” is a 368-page book available in hardcover, paperback, and as an e-book. For more details, visit Henry Holt and Company.

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Filed under Algorithms, Book Reviews, Books, Brian Christian, Computer Science, Computers, Henry Holt and Company, Psychology, Self-Help, Tom Griffiths