Wednesday, February 29, 2012

A God Omniscient

I've been thinking a lot lately about God and how much He knows. Throughout the scriptures, we are told He has all knowledge. From 2 Nephi 9:20, we read, "O how great the holiness of our God! For he knoweth all things, and there is not anything save he knows it."

I wonder, though, how can He know all things? With what specificity does He know? And given that we have agency, why does it matter that I know He knows all things?

This week, I found at least two of the answers in the least likely place. Or perhaps it was the most likely place, since my most poignant spiritual experiences in life have occurred when I was studying science.

It was Monday night, and I was reading an article for my cognition class called "Vision in the Natural World" (Hayhoe & Rothkopf, 2010). The authors essentially emphasize that eye movements are a manifestation of attention, and attention is linked with the observer’s task at hand. Intuitively, we might predict that eye movement follows salient objects or scenes, but the authors point out that “machinery for moving the eyes in a scene appears to be engaged in the service of the immediate cognitive goal” (160). That is, eye movement depends on the task at hand. Suppose you have just made a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and are about to cut it in half. Your gaze would be directed at the knife handle to guide the hand to pick it up. As your hand closes on the knife, your eye will move to the corner of the sandwich where the knife tip will be placed in order to begin cutting. Your gaze then moves along the bread with the knife following shortly afterwards. After you cut the sandwich, your eye will move to a location on the table, where you will place the knife. As the knife nears the table, your gaze will move on to the next object of interest, such as a glass.

We perform thousands of tasks such as this every day, and they are fairly complex. Finding the eye movement patterns that aid in these tasks, then, must be learned. The authors of the article explain that "observers must learn the dynamic properties of the world in order to distribute gaze and attention where they are needed." They continue:
When making tea or sandwiches, items remain in stable locations with stable properties, for the most part. In a familiar room, the observer need only update the locations of items that are moved, or monitor items that are changing state (e.g., water filling the kettle). In dynamic environments, such as driving, walking, or in sports, more complex properties must be learnt. In walking, humans need to know how pedestrians typically behave and how often to look at them.
Now, here's where things get good:
In walking, subjects looked at risky pedestrians before they veered onto a collision course. In cricket, batsmen anticipated the bounce point of the ball, and more skilled batsmen arrived at the bounce point about 100 milliseconds earlier than less skilled players. The ability to predict where the ball will bounce depends on previous experience of the cricket ball's trajectory. These [eye movements] were always preceded by a fixation on the ball as it left the bowler's hand, showing that batsmen use current sensory data in combination with prior experience of the ball's motion to predict the location of the bounce. This suggests that observers have learnt models of the dynamic properties of the world that can be used to position gaze in anticipation of a predicted event. (162)
If you believe, as I do, that God was once like us -- a man who had to grow and progress through learning -- then viewing His omniscience from this cognitive perspective makes sense. I'm not sure how old He is, but He must be significantly older than us, if He is our heavenly father. That means He has lots more experience in anticipating events. He doesn't just anticipate how objects will move through a trajectory, though, but how humans act based on various circumstances. And like the skilled batsmen who were more accurate at predicting the bounce point of a ball, God is more accurate than us at predicting what we do and what the outcomes of our actions will be.

I know from my own experience that it's quite easy to predict the actions of a toddler if I set a cookie in front of her, tell her to wait 10 minutes before she eats it, and then leave the room. I can also predict, for example, that every Saturday morning, my dad will get up early and noisily clean the house in order to wake my mom up. If I, at 30 years old, can predict thousands of similar patterns in people I know, God must be exquisitely better at predicting what the whole of the human race is capable of.

In Proverbs 5:21, we read, "For the ways of man are before the eyes of the Lord, and he pondereth all his goings." I interpret that verse in this way: God sees the ways of men, and based on His experience and expectation of what should happen, He can accurately anticipate the actions of men.

Why does it matter, you ask? Why is important for God to know all things? You'll have to wait for A God Omniscient, Part 2.

Thing I'm thankful for: a song, From Macaulay Station by The Lucksmiths

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Out of It

I have an incredible talent that not a lot of other people have: I don't fall asleep in class. Or church. Or during anything that requires me to sit and listen. Not once did I fall asleep in a college class, and on Sundays when I'm really tired and the speaker isn't as exciting as some, I still don't fall asleep. It's just something I don't do.

But guess what? Yesterday -- and for the first time in my life -- I fell asleep in class. It wasn't a full-on nap or anything so egregious as that. I don't even know if the professor knew I was asleep because I think I never actually closed my eyes for more than about two seconds. My mind, however, was most definitely unconscious. Here, let me show you; these are some of the notes I took during said unconsciousness:
  • Look up a prior.
  • Effect of the placment and timing of the kitchen
  • That system and midde and dolle

Oh, man -- that last one cracks me up! And my misspellings! Oh, the misspellings . . . Here are some fun ones:

  • Loops --> loaps
  • Implicit --> implisit
  • Placement --> placment

And it took me about three times to spell the word "dissociation."

I'm not even gonna get into the appearance of my handwriting. Yikes!

I was just so embarrassed yesterday. So embarrassed about my awful attempt at attention and note-taking. I decided I needed to blog about it and make it public, so I wouldn't ever, ever do it again. :/

Thing I'm thankful for: naps and sleep and warm beds and soft blankets

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Some Keats

A virtual friend pointed out today that Some Silverstein was not the most user-friendly post. The original title, in fact, was a bit confusing: "First It's Keats, then It's Silverstein." I was essentially letting you readers know that although I love Shel Silverstein, John Keats will always be my favorite poet. To be sure, his poems are tough to get through; some of them are pages and pages long. But he is the author of my favorite poem in all the world. I will not post the whole thing for you here, as it is 21 pages. Just know that it is my favorite.

It is called Lamia, and here are a few lines of verse that especially speak to my soul:
Let spear-grass and the spiteful thistle wage
War on his temples. Do not all charms fly
At the mere touch of cold philosophy?
There was an awful rainbow once in heaven:
We know her woof, her texture; she is given
In the dull catalogue of common things.
Philosophy will clip an Angel's wings,
Conquer all mysteries by rule and line,
Empty the haunted air, and gnomed mine
Unweave a rainbow, as it erewhile made
The tender-personed Lamia melt into a shade.

Can you guess what it is about? It is about "cold philosophy" and how it destroys the beauty of the natural world. To me, it is a poem about science and art, and how they are, in some ways, at odds with each other. That juxtaposition resonates with me because I often feel I am at odds with myself. As I mentioned to a friend the other day, I think my brain is pretty much split down the middle between science and structure and art and disarray. It's hard for me to negotiate the two . . . Or maybe I don't have to?

Agh. This post turned into something I didn't intend. I may write more about it later, though, so . . . Look forward to that.

Thing I'm thankful for: my cognition class. It's loads of intellectual fun. :)

Some Silverstein

Who doesn't love a good Shel Silverstein poem, eh? Here are a couple to start off your day! ;)

A funny one:
My beard grows down to my toes,
I never wears no clothes,
I wraps my hair
Around my bare,
And down the road I goes.

An inspiring one:
Listen to the MUSN'TS, child,
Listen to the DON'TS
Listen to the SHOULDN'TS
Listen to the NEVER HAVES
Then listen close to me
Anything can happen, child,
ANYTHING can be.

Thing I'm thankful for: good phone conversation

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Just Me.

Today I found myself wishing I was someone else. I saw a tall, thin brunette with a pretty smile and an oh-so-slight hipster style, and I wished I looked like her. Later I saw an artsy/hippie girl with cute white-and-tan saddle shoes, and I wished I had her style. By the end of the day, I probably will have seen another girl or two who is taller, thinner, smarter, or more interesting than me, and I'll think, "What would life be like, if I was her?"

And yet. While I listened to the lecture today in my human-computer interaction class, I noticed a guy looking at me several times. He is French and tan and has icy blue eyes. Initially, I couldn't believe it. I thought there was no way he was looking at me because it's me. Just me. Who would stare at me, especially during a lecture on persuasive technologies and ubiquitous computing? But he was staring at me, and I caught him twice. As he left class, he politely said good-bye.

I like myself well enough. I am friendly and smart and thoughtful and kind. I make people laugh and feel good about themselves. I notice the details no one else does. (That's why I can impersonate people so well.) I try to communicate with international students who don't speak English clearly, and I pay attention to people who are overlooked. I say what I think, and I mean what I say. I have opinions, which I readily share, but I am willing to be persuaded by good arguments. I am curious about everything, especially people and what they know and what they think. I bake incredible cookies and give them to people, just to make them happy. I draw and paint and write analytical prose. I read. I'm a good mix of science and art. (Or is science art and vice versa? I feel another blog post coming on . . .) I know how to pay attention to children and make them feel important. Most of the time, I'm a follower, but I also know when to lead. I am a good friend, a good daughter, and the best aunt.

Why, then, do I envy others so often? Why do I think of myself as "just me?" I have a feeling it has to do with being single. That's why marriage is so good for people -- because all it takes is one person. Just one person to know you and love you and make you feel special about all the wonderful things you have to contribute to the world.

Heavenly Father knows I've been struggling with this lately. Maybe that's why the French guy was so attentive today. We're going on our fifth week of classes this semester, and he never looked my way before. Who knows? Maybe it's a tender mercy. A providential silver lining to an otherwise frustrating week.

Thing I'm thankful for: sunshine and warm breezes

Monday, February 20, 2012

Get Candy?

I bought a candy bar tonight on a whim. I wanted something sweet, and the thing that really appealed to me at that particular moment was a Snickers. I was excited to eat it, since it would be the first candy bar I would have eaten since Christmas, and even then, I only ate a few miniature Kit-Kats. Before then, I don't know when the last time was that I had a candy bar. I didn't even have one on or near Halloween.

I will admit, I have had my fair share of candy in the last few months. I ate lots of M&Ms, lots of Junior Mints, and lots of York Peppermint Patties. But candy bars? The big chunks of chocolate around 250+ calories a pop? I hadn't had one in so long!

What happened when I bit into the Snickers? Not much. It was a huge let-down, in fact. I was surprised it wasn't as good as I was expecting. That's when I decided I'm not eating candy bars again. I will only let myself have the "Fun Size" bars, and I will only eat them very occasionally. See, I learned something about myself after all these years: The expectation of candy is more appealing than the actual candy itself.* Unless mint or peanuts are involved in the candy experience, I really don't need to waste the calories.

*This does not include baked goodies, such as homemade cookies. Those are almost always worth the calories. Especially when they come from my kitchen, if I do say so myself.

Thing I'm thankful for: my seester. Lexi, I love you.

Friday, February 17, 2012

On Homeschooling

Amen, Dana Goldstein!
Liberals, Don't Homeschool Your Kids

She said what I've felt for a while, but she said it better:
If progressives want to improve schools, we shouldn’t empty them out. We ought to flood them with our kids, and then debate vociferously what they ought to be doing.
Thing I'm thankful for: Brooke Russell. (She's a person I know in real life; I hope someday you know her, too.)

Words to Live By

I don't know much about Cicero, but today I found something he said that made me want to learn more about him.
Six mistakes mankind keeps making century after century:
Believing that personal gain is made by crushing others;
Worrying about things that cannot be changed or corrected;
Insisting that a thing is impossible because we cannot accomplish it;
Refusing to set aside trivial preferences;
Neglecting development and refinement of the mind;
Attempting to compel others to believe and live as we do.
Brilliant, isn't it? I mostly struggle with only two of those, so I think, by Cicero's account, I am doing alright. Still, he's given me some things to work on . . . (It never ends, does it?)

Thing I'm thankful for: remote screen sharing. It's pretty impressive.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Thinking about Research . . .

I'm enrolled in a psychology course this semester called Fundamentals of Cognition. We meet twice a week, and every week, it's a new lecturer. The faculty who specializes in attention, for example, gives us the basics of attention for a week.

This week, it was memory. The professor was a short and wrinkled guy who couldn't get the projector to work. He wore tan slacks, a brown belt, and a blue short-sleeved oxford shirt. He looked like an old New Yorker who had relocated to south Florida to sit in the sun for too long. From his graying hair, I guessed he was in his 60s and close to retirement. I also guessed he was going to be difficult to listen to. He said he was a mathematician. I don't know when or why he ended up in cognitive psychology, but it was clear that he was more at ease with numbers than with people. He was fidgety and hesitant in his speech. I was expecting it to be a long hour and a half.

He began his lecture by telling us about Ebbinghaus, the German who pioneered the study of memory at the turn of the century. He measured memory in terms of how long it took him to memorize a set of nonsensical items. After a while, people started measuring memory in terms of the percent of nonsensical items that were remembered correctly. This allowed psychologists to quantify their field of study -- to present it as a science. By the 1970s, the study of memory was a fully-fledged field, and it was generally understood from the perspective of a computational metaphor. In other words, the central executive area of the brain was the CPU, and it controlled the "slave" systems, such as language and visuospatial processors. (Stay with me.) Memory was thought of as a set of containers of information. Terms such as coding, storage, and retrieval were used to describe the processes involved.

This is where things got interesting. The professor expressed his frustrations about the limitations of the field. Here are just two:
  1. The brain is not a homunculus in which the pre-frontal cortex is the controller of all other systems. Similarly, memory is not like a computer; it involves all cognition.
  2. Memory is contextual. We remember information because it is meaningful to us; therefore, measuring memory based on how many nonsensical items a person can remember in an experiment is highly problematic because the data is essentially measuring something meaningless.

So how do we measure what is not measurable? If we did it Ebbinghaus's way or 1970s researchers' ways, we would explicitly measure things, whether they were meaningful or not. We would measure the amount of three-letter words a person could remember and how long it took for them to commit the words to memory or to forget them. Basically, we would just want data -- data that is quantifiable.

If we did it another way, though, it might not matter whether we have quantifiable data. We might realize that something so obviously undefinable, such as memory, should be studied another way.

I don't know what that way is, exactly. Hopefully, the professor will cover implicit ways of measuring next week. What I do know is that somehow, scientists (in a broad sense) became obsessed with collecting data and quantifying it. They want to count everything and put it in graphical or chart form. To be sure, quantitative data can be a good thing, but sometimes it's a problem. It's a problem, for instance, when researchers measure the wrong thing and suggest false causation or correlation. It's a problem when researchers falsify data in order to have something to publish. And it's a problem when I wish I was a mathematician or a physicist so the world would think I am smart.

I guess what I'm saying is twofold:
  1. I was embarrassingly judgmental today. I didn't expect such an unassuming old man to give such a thought-provoking lecture, and I didn't expect time to pass so quickly.
  2. I wonder why people have a fascination with quantifying -- instead of qualifying -- everything and that somehow, it is the ideal. (In the same way that extraversion, instead of introversion, is now elevated in American culture.)

Even after so many words, I know I haven't written half of what I wanted to, but I'm not quite sure how to write it. Just know that today was a good day. It was one of those life-changing days -- the kind that make me feel like I'm one step closer to knowing God, if that makes sense. I was quiet for most of the day, but my mind was racing.

Thing I'm thankful for: The Book of Mormon

Monday, February 13, 2012

Happy Valentine's Day!

It's my second favorite day of the year! (My first favorite is Halloween!) I love it because my mom loved it. I love it because I threw one of the best parties ever on Valentine's Day. And finally, I love it because it's about love! Romantic love, family love, friendly love. Just love. It reminds me of my favorite scene in "Elf."

Happy Valentine's Day, world. I hope it's a good one for you. :)

Thing I'm thankful for: cool weather in Texas!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Wake Up and Play with Me!!!

I was awakened this morning by my dad. He tapped me on the arm, and I think he said something about how cold it was. He loves cold weather and cold air conditioning and cold anything. He was chirping away about something else I can't remember, and I angrily thought, "I can't believe he woke me up! My alarm hasn't even gone off yet! Now I can't get back to sleep, and it's one of my only sleep-in days!"

This was a common occurrence in the Snow home. Every Saturday morning, my dad would make as much noise as possible to wake everyone up. He'd play oldies loudly in the kitchen, clean rooms adjacent to sleeping people, and vacuum in the hallway. I don't recall anyone ever liking it. We hated dad's Saturday morning routine, especially when we were teenagers and needed extra sleep.

I laughed to myself this morning, though, as I was getting ready for church. My dad is a "morning person," and when he gets up, he wants to play. He's like a three-year-old who wakes his parents up at 6:00 on a Saturday morning by opening their eyelids with his tiny fingers. Without words, he is saying, "Hey! Wake up! Come play with me!!!"

Ohhh, dad. I finally get it. :)

Thing I'm thankful for: blankets!


I'm feeling a lot of emotions right now, but I can't seem to articulate them. Instead, here is a painting that expresses what I cannot. If my mood was painted onto canvas, this is what it would look like:

Whistler, Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket

Thing I'm thankful for: a home away from home

Friday, February 10, 2012

Meet the Prophets and Apostles!

I just love my church. I love it. Whoever is in charge of the website over there in Salt Lake City is doing a phenomenal job. Just look: You can now meet the prophets and apostles! You can read short biographies about all of them! I think it's fantastic.

Though all of the prophets and apostles are great, Latter-day Saints tend to have their favorites. During each session of General Conference, we all talk about which leader and talks we like the best. It's perhaps unfortunate, as they all speak truth and are special witnesses of Christ, but I guess it's natural to gravitate to some people over others. Here are my "favorites:"

It'll be interesting to see if they are still my very favorites after I read all the biographies. To know someone is to love them, after all, so I may have to add the other 11 to my list of favorites. :)

Thing I'm thankful for: prophets and apostles, of course!

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Valentine's Day!

So . . . It's February 1st, which means Valentine's Day is just around the corner. I found myself in Target yesterday after school (and really, I do just "find" myself in Target sometimes; it's so easy to walk around and kill a couple of hours in there . . .), and I was bombarded with red and pink everything. I loved it! I love Valentine's Day!

It's one of "those" holidays, though. You know the ones I'm talking about: New Year's Eve and Valentine's Day. The two holidays where single people are supposed to have so much fun! Where they're supposed to look incredible and have a fantastic party to attend or hot date planned. And somehow, it's seen as lame if you don't have those things. (I, for one, have only ever had a valentine once, and the day wasn't all it was cracked up to be. It was actually fairly lame because every couple in Atlanta seemed to be waiting on a table that night. And my date didn't even buy me a box of chocolates!*)

And yet, despite the odd phenomenon that is "those" holidays, I still really love them. I especially love Valentine's Day with it's bright colors and hearts and chocolate. I love love! And I love celebrating it!

I'm curious to see what other people think about Valentine's Day . . . Do you love it or hate it, readers? Why or why not?

*I have actually never gotten a box of chocolates from a date. I bet guys think it's a generic (and therefore unwelcome) gift for V-Day, but I have always, always wanted my very own large heart-shaped box of chocolates. I mean, really -- is there anything more glorious than a box of chocolates? I should say not.

Thing I'm thankful for: chats with friends I don't see very often