Linked by Thom Holwerda on Mon 8th Oct 2012 21:54 UTC
In the News "Ask adults from the industrialized world what number is halfway between 1 and 9, and most will say 5. But pose the same question to small children, or people living in some traditional societies, and they're likely to answer 3. Cognitive scientists theorize that that's because it's actually more natural for humans to think logarithmically than linearly." Fascinating. The human brain is such a magical machine.
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Huh?
by weland on Mon 8th Oct 2012 23:12 UTC
weland
Member since:
2012-02-19

I honestly can't tell if this is serious and I'm missing something or they're actually trolling me. It's on web.mit.edu so it should be the former, but sweet mother of God does it look like the latter.

The example with "What's halfway between 1 and 9" looks like having confirmation bias written all over it. Incidentally, both 3 and 5 and reasonably close 4.5, although who would round it to 3 is still debatable. Extrapolating that humans prefer, or are somehow predisposed to think logarithmically, is a stretch; one could literally come with an infinity of cases where this doesn't hold. I think practical evidence shows this, too -- have you actually seen how much engineering freshmen fight with logarithmic plots? Who the hell thinks 10 is midway between 1 and 100? Oh wait -- it's base *two* logarithm? Based on the fact that, you know, f(x) = log2(x) is close enough to f(x) = x for small x that you can sort of pretend "some traditional societies" -- a formulation that would trigger raised eyebrows even on wikipedia -- don't mind a little rounding there? Really?

The description of the paper itself seems legit (although, since in the well-respected tradition of free flow of ideas, it's only available for a considerable fee, I have no thought of actually checking that out myself), but the way it's covered in the article totally sucks. The paper appears to imply that this kind of rounding doesn't apply to just any kind of numbers, and that it also doesn't apply to just any kind of *information*. Some of our peripheral processing is done logarithmically -- think about sound sensibility, for instance -- so it would make sense if this is how the whole chain would be wired up. How this is connected with the article's introduction, other than the word logarithm, is beyond me.

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