“My educational journey into Cognitive Science shattered beliefs and made me stumble into a crisis about what science even is. But ultimately, my Master’s degree in Cognitive Science was the most rewarding experience I could have wished for and fundamentally reconceptualized how I see the world.
I was already reading books on cognitive psychology during my psychology bachelor’s degree at the University of Vienna. So I started off in the MEi:CogSci program in Cognitive Science with the belief that I already knew most of it. And, boy, I couldn’t have been more wrong.
What even is cognitive science? Cognitive science is the interdisciplinary, scientific study of the mind and its processes and is located at the intersection of various disciplines like psychology, neuroscience, artificial intelligence (and computer science), philosophy, linguistics, economics, education, and anthropology. One example of cognitive science is the perceptron developed by Frank Rosenblatt in 1958, who implemented the information-processing properties of a neuron in a machine. Today’s deep learning and advances in AI are all based on this invention.
The MEi:CogSci program includes a disciplinary, a methodological, and an integrative part. We learned what interdisciplinary means, had a diverse lecture series and even visited various labs all across Austria, ranging from neuroimaging in children to behavioral studies of animal cognition. Did you know some birds can coordinate in a group to solve challenging tasks? I didn’t! But we saw that in vivo at the Kea Lab.
In my Erasmus exchange at the University of Bratislava, I noticed I still didn’t feel like I fully understood what cognitive science really was. So I decided to create a Historical Map of (the) cognitive science(s), which shows the different paradigms, subdisciplines, and publications. It got upvoted to the Frontpage of HackerNews and was hot on the Subreddit Cognitive Science, which allowed me to have a discussion with international researchers in the field. My take away was that part of the field’s strength is precisely its diverse viewpoints. If we already knew „the one right answer and approach,“ we could stop doing research. I am grateful for this journey and I am eager to find out what awaits me after graduation!” – Anna Riedl
Anna studies Cognitive Science at the University of Vienna.
Have you seen this self portrait by Ernst Mach from first person perspective from the left eye before? (I slightly edited it)
I love it as a reminder how eyes are doors into the same world. With multitudes of internal worlds behind them and unique perspectives onto the outside world.
I made a minimal version of it, keeping the structure but eliminating the content.
Anyone can use it to fill in
I'd love to make an art project of collectively collecting multiple attempts on catching this glimpse of subjective reality visually. Please send yours to me and I'll publish it here.
Here you see my attempt at filling in my perspective.
And of course you can download a blank version here.
One of the main advances of the Prospect Theory by Kahneman and Tversky was, that it proved the former ideas about utility wrong. Before Prospect Theory, utility (subjective value) was believed to be about objective states in the world (e.g. having two million being double as good as one million). Prospect Theory showed it is actually about changes from a reference point. One could say it is "the theory of relativity of psychology" (this is a joke). What it means is: Two million is terrible if you were a billionaire the day before. It is crazy positive if you had an average income before. It also showed that experiences of losses are more painful than subjective gains are positive. And both gains and losses follow the classical psychophysics effect of diminishing sensitivity. Meaning that double a stimulus doesn't have double the effect.
So how does stoicism fit into that picture?
What we learned from Framing effects is that people passively accept a given wording and therefore what's relevant about an situation and reason from that given framing. They also passively accept the status quo as their reference point.
Stoicism uses mental effort to create an alternative reference point instead of passively accepting one. It is about actively and effortfully computing alternative worlds to set a different reference point and be happy about what you have and surf the waves of uncertainty. This also helps to overcome hedonic treatmill and stay continuously awake and aware about all the blessings you have on a daily basis.
From this mental state the ups and downs of daily life are experienced from a constant gratitude and joy about what is. It achieves tranquility and lessens negative experiences.
We are adapting very quickly to what currently is and get blind towards it. Stoicism means to open you eyes again.
I recommend the book "The Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy" which explains how stoicism is not about banning emotions but experiencing joy and the techniques to get there.
Synonyms: Data Visualisation, Infographic, (Scientific) Diagrams, Information Mapping
BOOKS (About and containing Information Design)
more to be added
Many of you asked for the recipe of the vegan chocolate brownies that were apparently based on kidney beans, apple, banana, and oats. Here we go:
I followed the recipe by "cake INVASION!". But I replaced parts of the sugar(s) with sweetener and a banana, left the chocolate frosting off and added some peanuts. Also I replaced the apple pulp by simply blending in a fresh apple. Because the banana added additional liquid, I reduced the amount of plant milk.
Other lists about the question:
As a teenager thinking deeply (as I considered it back then) about philosophical topics, this question struck me as significant: "If love is caused by hormones...is love real then?" My intellectual answer back then was no, but over the years I got an intuitive understanding that something being "caused by hormones" doesn't make it less of a thing. Maybe you never thought about this question, or never considered it relevant, or knew a better answer all along. However, I found it troubling back then!
And it took me many more years (without actively searching for an answer) and to accidentally stumble upon ideas from philosophy of science to finally make coherent sense of the question and give a satisfying answer.
In (psychological) scientific analysis you can look at a phenomenon (anything from addiction over memory or happiness to love) on various levels of analysis. You could start at atomic or even subatomic level to understand the matter things are made of (but usually that's not relevant for psychological phenomena). You can look at molecules and macromolecules (proteins, hormones...) or at cells and neurons, you can ask how different neurons or cells interact in a certain phenomenon (systemic level) or you go directly on the behavioral level of the individual or the inter-individual or social level. It of course goes further "up" (community, culture, anthropological...).
So, something can correlate with a certain release of hormones on the molecular/cellular/systemic level AND also have behaviour by a person on the whole organism/individual level. One thing is not one thing or the other, the scientific question determines whether the answer is "the release of oxytocin increases" or "Alice spends more time around Bob". It's not "either...or", it can be both.
Which level "causes" the effect on another level is a whole different question and the causality between different levels is not always from "lower to higher" or always from "higher to lower", depending on the phenomenon it can be the one or the other or it can be both. For example if you are constantly thinking negative thoughts your hormones might also change, while injecting hormones can also change your thinking.
So "one level is not more true than another level" and "causality is not straight-forward either".
Then there is this "easy" topic of your subjective experience. This thing, also called consciousness, phenomenology, Dasein or many other words is basically inaccessible to anyone else but you. The problem how to go from observable things to subjectivity is the "qualia problem" or "the hard problem of consciousness". While some philosophers argue this phenomenon doesn't really exist, well, just look at the screen while reading this article, focus on your body, feel it. Do you feel something? Do you feel yourself existing? Well, that's how my argument goes.
Is love real then? The phenomena changes your behaviour as a person, can be measured in your hormones and changes your experience in the world. It is real on multiple levels, so yeah, don't worry, it's pretty damn real.
Some philosophers argue, however, that "lower" levels are "more real" than other levels, this is called reductionism. (The term can also mean something else, as always in philosophy)
...but you can support the process of creating it.
Money isn't the most crucial thing in life.
And more money will not make us happier. There is robust evidence that increasing the money in one's possession only has a positive effect up to a point. Then it diminishing marginal utility. Easier understood, from having no money at all to making 10k a year makes an enormous difference, additional 10k are not felt anymore at all when the person already owns multiple millions. This is called the "Easterlin Paradox." And the point of saturation is already at a very average income.
However, if spending money doesn't make you happy or even unhappy, then you are spending it wrong.
Some things positive psychology also has found out about money, roughly summarized, are:
I massively reduce consumerism. Actually, quite to the contrary, my anti-consumerist attitude was so strong it has kept me from buying many things that would have been valuable to my life on a multitude of dimensions, and I had to work with my beliefs to get open to purchasing options and their value in daily life. I actually had to get free to the idea of spending money at all.
I think it is essential to find a healthy balance in what one buys and why. To fill emotional emptiness, boredom, and an existential void is a simple strategy (it does not work). Many products hurt the environment, human rights and maybe even on your mental health.
But I also have to admit that there were and are indeed some purchases, that vastly made my life better and contributed value to me.
The rules to differentiate whether something belongs to the perverted consumerism category or to the value-adding group are complex and not binary. Some of the items that added value for me, might not be useful for you, as you have different things you want to do, experience and create in the world.
As some people, like Rob Wiblin, did before me, I will share my list with you, because some ideas might add value to your life as well. Maybe you can also translate the principles behind them for your situation.
Here is Rob's post: "Things I recommend you buy and use, Rob edition"
Which is inspired by "a blog post by Sam Bowman about 35 things he recommends his friends consider buying and using".
My list is not a direct suggestion for things to buy, but maybe it is useful nevertheless. Here it comes:
1) I love my Vitamix. It is a 600€ blender. What do I like about it? It is incredibly reliable, and I use it multiple times a day, on average, probably once a day. I make green smoothies with it, and it gets very creamy without much effort on my end. I do ice cream out of frozen fruit with it to eat as a lunch in summer (which means less sugary ice cream). I do nut milk that doesn't even have to get filtered because the parts left of the nuts are unnoticeable. It can even produce nut butter in minutes (I have tried it with a kitchen machine before, and it took forever and was very frustrating). I also blend my protein shakes with it. It has a long warranty of 7 years. Using cheap blenders in that time would likely even be more expensive, as they break down quickly. The Vitamin is a very high re-sale value because of the significant demand for second-hand pieces of that brand. This convinced me to get it, as I could have resold it well. I haven't regretted it and will not sell it any time soon. It has had a very positive influence on my healthy eating (more green smoothies, fruit ice creams…) and on everyday convenience.
2) My Ipad (Version 6 from the year 2018) with the Apple Pencil has made a big difference for me. I use it with the PaperLike sticker on it that makes it feel like paper instead of glass, you feel more texture while writing and drawing. For university, I have all my textbooks on it, can directly mark the books without feeling guilty and them being way lighter weight (good for my back!) and always available in that format. The split-screen allows reading a book or presentation on one side and making notes in an app (I use GoodNotes) on the other one. When I don't have to write something specific (which I would need a keyboard for), then I often go to university or to a studying session solemnly with my Ipad. I also draw on it creatively, use the GoodNotes App for making a daily schedule that I draw in the morning and many other things. A friend of mine once made the joke, that he always was suspicious about advertisements for apple products and technical products in general, where people get very empowered to create and be better by this new tool they are using. But since he has seen my relationship with my Ipad he changed his mind and sees that this can actually be true, I am basically like straight out of an advertisement when I look at all the functions this tool serves me. After two years of using this iPad and reaching its processing limits I now finally upgraded to an IPad Pro, that I purchased second-hand on refurbed.
3) Before I had my breast augmentation, I had negative stereotypes about people who would get one. I also assumed nobody I knew would ever have one and finally having someone in close proximity making the decision, a befriended girl from the gym, was a massive influence on my change of mind. I had struggled with my body for years and I would always have preferred to be that slim elf kind of type. But now that I had to live with wider hip bone structure, easily built muscles and a small upper frame, adapting the proportions seems like a good idea. I also lost basically all body fat in the breast area due to strength training, I definitely "maxed out" my natural potential. But I wanted to continue feeling feminine while also building more muscles and getting even stronger.
The reading of papers of my then-boyfriend did about the happiness of people who decided for a surgery turned out that people usually regretted not going bigger (if they chose less than 400ml), which also made me opt from my initial size wish to double the volume. It initially seemed insane but turned out to be the right decision indeed. The stereotypes people around me and I had ("only strippers and sex workers do this" were also disproven by statistics, the primary client for these and similar augmentations are average middle-aged women, often after having had their children!).
I didn't regret it ever since. I feel more at ease with my body; even when I gain some kilos, I no longer have to worry about getting out of proportion (wide hips and still relatively smaller upper frame).
I feel feminine and motivated to gain more biceps because it will not overpower the rest of my appearance.
In general, I think beauty is not a comparative good and, therefore, not a zero-sum game. We do not have to accept things if they simply are not beautiful to us and can be easily changed. There are so many things we will have to come to terms with (like mortality and aging). My breast implants and the surgery was the most expensive thing I ever bought.
4) Similarily micro-blading was a good investment for me. Because of growing up in the effects of the 90s taste of tiny eyebrows, I had plucked them out long enough to have not many left. I got my eyebrows microbladed, and it simply made my face look more put together without having to put any effort into it when getting out of bed. It was expensive and the effect only lasted a year, but I will continue to do it every now and then. The slight effect left of it after some time is also a useful help in drawing them.
5) Other than that the major transformation I did to my body composition, was not silicone or some slight color cut into my skin. It was getting serious about lifting weights. A good investment here was to take some personal training lessons to learn the technique of compound exercises properly from the start. Squat, Bench Press, Deadlift, military press and so forth. As well as meta level knowledge about planning ones training. Investing in learning fitness skills and advancing ones fitness journey seems like one of the absolute most essential investments I can think of. I sometimes hear that "for me it is easy because I like working out", but "learning to like it" took me multiple years and I worked very hard on it with support of experts. I wasn't born "sporty", quite the opposite, I mostly sat at home and still find it challenging to see sport as part of my identity. But I do indeed love it now and yes, it made sense to pay people on the way to teach me how to do so.
6) And then, of course, I got a gym membership at a gym I like. Pardon, love. Upgrading from a regular fitness chain to IntelligentStrength (DAS Gym) was an excellent decision for me. Next to the need for a healthy body and feeling good in my skin it also fulfills social needs and inspires me by being surrounded by driven and insanely awesome people regularly. Money well spent.
7) One invention I regularly consume is dry shampoo. With long hair and other meaningful things to do than to wash them every day, dry shampoo truly is a game-changer in comfort to me. I usually use the brand Batiste (I have tried and disliked other ones). It is good to know that I don't have time pressure in the morning because of my hair looking slightly greasy.
8) One item I got from my flatmate is a pregnancy pillow. No, I did not get pregnant from my flat mate, hear me out! It is basically a long pillow that you can cuddle between your arms and one leg on it, as if you would cuddle with another person. It makes it more delightful to sleep with my new breasts (can't sleep on my stomach anymore) and in general, it's just such a comfortable sleeping position. I tried the one of my flat mate first and then couldn't resist to get one on my own. I have posted this on Instagram before and someone bought it as well and was very happy about it as well. It's hard to put in words how nice it feels to sleep with it.
9) I lived rather frugally for a while and thought drinking out was an obvious thing to safe on, as the same coffee is just so much cheaper when you drink it at home. Only after allowing myself to also take qualitative judgements into account, did I notice, that I do not really buy the coffee. I bought the "right" to sit in a beautiful place, that I can soak up into myself and that makes me happy and enjoy life. I am more mindful about what I am truly buying here now, when I do so. It is not the cup of coffee. I choose my cafes accordingly. But I do buy them regularly now, usually to work somewhere for some hours with my laptop or to read a book. Or to observe other humans. Aesthetic places make me happy. I buy an experience, not a drink.
10) My mother once gave me a style and color coaching as a present and it was so useful, I would get it for myself now, if I had to. The rules of thumb for colors, cuts and style made my choices in stores so much more informed, that I bet I saved more money on stuff I didn't buy, that would not have suited me, than the cost the coaching. It also saves me time and rumination about what style to get.
11) Opting for a relatively classic wardrobe with some "extra" or "trendy" pieces. Classics last you for a long time while trends make you continuously crave for something new. Planning my wardrobe and being strategically about some core pieces that I invested more money into, was a good decision.
12) Other things worth paying money for are travel, especially when it is about visiting family and friends.
13) If you ever wondered whether you are entirely sane, finding a good psychiatrist and psychotherapist is worth the money, too. And with that I mean: If you are continuously unhappy, experiencing suffering, think or get told you behave strongly (negatively) outside the norm in some life areas…
14) Helping others. I donate money I own to effective GiveWell charities and I gave up a lot of earning potential by working for an NGO (which is counterfactually like spending money?). This is one of the most meaningful things I can think of. And in the end I alway want to live eudaemonia, not hedonism.
15) Education, books, workshops, conferences.
16) Man, there are so many small things that now come to mind. Like those very reliable knives from IKEA. Love them. Might add more little things like those over time!
In summary, this are some areas I think are worth it for me:
In the startup ecosphere I often hear "ideas are cheap". Most of the ideas for projects of all thoughts I will never realise into a project, text, poem, blog, video, theatre play, product. But maybe someone else is so excited by one of them, that they actually want to work on it. I might do this myself in the future but currently have said no to working on all of the following ideas. Read them, have them, use them. Get inspired, get disappointed, laugh, work on it, motivate me to work on it if you think it's a good idea.