Wednesday, 4 May 2016

But Is It Theft?

Taurus, geddit?
It is very likely you are familiar with this particular, most people would say classic, number. On the other hand, I bet not many have ever been acquainted with this one, as decent a tune as it is.

Either way, hopefully by now you managed to listen to both. If not, I'll give you another chance. Go back and click on the links. Either order is fine, although the latter precedes the former by a few years.

OK. Now that you listened to both Stairway To Heaven and Taurus you may be able to answer the following questions:

  1. Did you spot any similarities?
  2. If you did, would you say Led Zeppelin owe any money to Spirit?
  3. If yes, how much, exactly?

As you may or may not be aware, this is a aeries of questions that will soon be put to a group of twelve good men and women. Apparently, the estate of the late Spirit guitarist decided Led Zeppelin did rip off Spirit for a few seconds of a harmony (somewhere between 30 and 130 second mark of Taurus, repeated twice) and to the tune of some 10% of royalties Stairway To Heaven earned to date (and in the future, presumably).

Now, said harmony in Stairway To Heaven is most definitely present in Taurus, too. Also, Spirit most definitely toured with Led Zeppelin at the time Taurus was being created and a few years before Stairway To Heaven was composed. It is thus extremely likely that Led Zeppelin did hear the chords in question, probably somewhere backstage, before or after joint gigs. That much is indisputable.

Art inspires art, geddit?
What is also indisputable is that art inspires art. There would be no Schubert without Mozart. It would also be possible to find echoes of one in the other if one listened carefully enough, maybe even a few seconds of a shared musical phrase. Feel free to substitute Schubert and Mozrt with any two (or more!) musicians that ever lived, and especially if they happened to precede one another or were contemporaries known to each other (much more difficult in the era of Schubert and Mozart than these days).

But also listen carefully to the entirety of Stairway To Heaven and Taurus. Now, judged as a whole, do these two works have much in common? No, I didn't think so either. And here it is irrelevant which one is a masterpiece of late sixties and early seventies rock. To be fair to Taurus, it stands out in Spirit's catalogue. More so, the catalogues of the two bands are so much miles apart that a few chords repeated in one song most definitel ydo not constitute anything but - possibly subconscious - fair use, derivative work.

And yes, I have listened to pretty much entire catalogues of both Spirit and Led Zeppelin (the former much more recently trying to find out for myself the merits of this court case).

With all this, I am quite amazed that a US judge decided that the question should be put to the twelve good men and women. My fear is that, in this age of angry 99%, they will - correctly - hear that the chords are almost the same and be inclined to rule in favour of the "little guy".

Worse, the actual composer of those (and many other just as fine) chords will have precisely zero benefit and 0% of royalties or other compensation that may be awarded. Why? Because he is dead.

Who? I wonder. Geddit?
Who will benefit? The composers "estate".

Who will lose out? Led Zeppelin. A little. Others, especially aspiring musicians, much more. I would even dare say they'll lose out horribly, through the chilling effects of the sentence. It surely can't be easy (or even possible) to go around and ask your peers - and especially the "big guys" - for permission to use a musical phrase.

Who will lose out the most? Listeners, for possibly being denied some brilliant remixes, reworks, unexpected musical quotes, homage pieces - you name it.

Friday, 18 March 2016

Self Defeating Intelligence?

I have recently found an interesting article on what your own belief about the nature of intelligence (fixed trait or something that can be developed) seems to be able to do to your own performance on IQ tests. Article is based on some proper research and you may be able to have a look at the source yourself. I haven't I have learned to trust Ars Technica's science coverage enough to not bother just for fact checking (not so if I believe something more can be learned from the source that could not make it into an article aimed at general readership).

Anyway, you'd be well advised to read one, other, or both before continuing reading what will shortly become a critique of the findings.

First off, let me make clear I do not necessarily disagree with the result of the study. The methodology seems sound enough and the conclusions drawn from the results seem reasonable enough, too. Still, let me say that I would very much like to see more studies, using different (but also some with same) experimental setups confirming - or refuting, as the case may be - this particular one. My objection, which I am going to describe here is fairly subjective, based on the particular experiment run and may not even be a refutation of the validity of the result, but a comment on artificiality of IQ tests as applied to our, essentially, stone age software.

Let me first quickly recap the study and its findings (but do make sure you also read Ars Technica article or the study itself). Subjects were given an IQ (or IQ-like) test after their views on nature of intelligence were assesed. The result show that people who believe intelligence to be a fixed, inborn, trait tended to tackle the easy questions first, while those who believed intelligence to be something that can be influenced by training, learning, etc, tended to tackle the more difficult questions first. This also held true if the subjects were primed with one or the other belief. Priming was also able to reverse subjects behaviour on the test (for subjects primed to the nature of intelligence contrary to their own original beliefs).

The researchers interpreted this to say that people who believed intelligence to be malleable employed test solving strategy that benefited their own intelligence by exercising it more and thus potentially increasing it in the process. On the other hand the fixed trait intelligence group tackled the easy questions first thus setting themselves up on a path of keeping their intelligence as it was (by not challenging it) and thus proving their own point of view. Whether clearly stated or not (and I am not sure on this point) the feeling I got was that the former group was somehow becoming better off by challenging their intelligence and thus improving it for the future tasks.

Now, while this last assertion may very well be true - I for one subscribe to the view that intelligence can be improved, or degraded, by training, or lack thereof (although I do also believe that the maximum intelligence one can attain is an inborn trait) - I also tend to think that this strategy may well be a self-defeating one when it comes to the outcome of the task at hand. What I am trying to say here is that, while improving your intelligence further by tackling the hardest questions first, this also means that almost certainly more time is being spent on them. In the setting of an IQ test where most often the time available is limited (as in real life, where pretty much any task at hand becomes irrelevant - and you may become dead, too - if you take too long to solve it) this may mean scoring lower overall due to lack of time to the easy questions.

The article (I haven't checked the original study - partly because the link in the Ars Technica article seems to be broken), unfortunately, doesn't say which group scored better overall, in absolute terms or, much more interestingly, when controlled for natural variation. Were this piece of information available my critique - not of the study, but of the test solving strategy employed - would be easily proven wrong, or otherwise. Namely, if the group of "intelligence is malleable" believers were to score consistently higher than their matched and statistically controlled "intelligence is fixed" peers then their implied better strategy (because it trains their intelligence even further during the test) would be vindicated (and quite possibly their view on intelligence, too). This would also be case were the group of "intelligence is malleable" to be proven statistically more intelligent (possibly due to past winning behaviour) than the "intelligence is fixed" one as indicated by school record, prior IW testing, life success, or any other proxies for higher intelligence available.

As it is, my gut feeling - supported by anecdotal evidence - is that, while there may be long term benefits from training one's intelligence by tackling, and spending more time on hard tasks, it would likely be offset - if not entirely rubbed out - by failure to complete the test to the extent required to score highly on it (and in real life actually failing at the overall task when it is irrelevant if the "hard" parts of it have been completed - think of a mechanic managing to do a stellar job of fixing and improving a part while failing to get the actual car usable because they ran out of time to put the wheels back on before the race finished, or loosing so much time it made rejoining the race irrelevant or futile).

As for anecdotal evidence: my own schooling and professional career (although much more the former than the latter - as the failure at the former seems to successfully prevent people from properly joining the latter) is full of examples of brilliantly intelligent people who spent (wasted?) their time figuring out the hardest part of various subjects and related training problems only to find themselves scoring poorly on official tests, or maybe even worse, actually failing to pass official tests until they attempted them several times. On the other hand, colleagues who concentrated on the more easily doable exercises tended to do much better both on tests and in their subsequent careers.

Finally, whatever the case may be in the end, I am looking forward to some more in-depth research on the subject, hopefully addressing concerns listed above.

Thursday, 7 January 2016

Of Atheism And Child Abuse

I have recently ran into a bit of a discussion with certain people on Twitter. As you can see if you follow the link it was essentially about freedom of one's children to choose their own religious affiliation - or not as the case may be.

To recap what I understood was being said to me: the fact my parents chose not to take me to church on religious holidays has been taken as their imposing their own religious affiliation, or lack thereof, on me, thus apparently depriving me of some sort of freedom of choice. It is also probably good to mention that the whole discussion started with someone saying they're going to send their child to church for Christmas service so she could recite atheistic and provocative poems of a pop artist.

This has subsequently been hailed with a follow-up by someone regretting said pop artist wasn't around when they were taken to church by their own parents so they can, presumably, disrupt the service and annoy the congregation in the same or similar manner. My comment to both these was that, luckily for me, I wasn't subjected to church visits by my parents and thus had no need for subversive and/or offensive poems or pop artists to quote there.

So far, so good, one might think. Yet, the person too young to be disruptive in the way advocated found it necessary to tell me off as described earlier. Apparently, if I, as an atheist, decide not to take y underage children to church, I am committing an offense against their freedom of choice. I must say I was dumbfounded and didn't seek to continue the discussion further, concluding, probably correctly that the person(s) involved have a somewhat hazy and shaky notion of freedom, atheism, religion, child upbringing and education and so on and so forth.

And yet, I couldn't stop thinking in exactly what ways they were wrong - and harmful to their own children and teir proclaimed atheism. Let's try and deconstruct this a little, for clarity, and see what we end up with...

First thing that strikes me is this: these people have been dragged along to religious services themselves as children and apparently do not see their parents as imposing their views on them. Rather, they, post festum, express joy at the (unconsumated!) opportunity that might have given them to be obnoxious. Worse, the current parent, most likely himself an atheist, happily pack his own daughter to Mass with the express intent and encouragement to disrup it. At best, he fails to stop her from doing so, even if the idea was hers alone. Being an atheist does not - should not - mean one has to behave like an ass, or incite other to it. In case of encouraging and inciting underage children to such acts it borders on child abuse - and probably sits on the wrong side of that border, too.

Second, and with all of the above in mind, said mind boggles at the criticism that an atheist parent is doing something wrong by not sending their children to church. For one, such a parent is not qualified to give advice on such matters - unless it is advice an atheist would give to anyone seeking to learn about religion, namely that it's all fairy tales, smoke, mirrors, and all sorts of other silly - and damaging things. If I, as an atheist, refrained from informing and educating my child in the best way I can muster then - and only then - I would be failing at my duty to them.

While I may very well not forbid them church visits should they express an interest, in what deranged system of thought I am supposed to actively encourage practices which, in my own considered opinion are stupid at best,, and harmful at worst? And finally, what sort of a deranged person I would be to urge my children to go and taunt people who are believers themselves? For one, this is bad manners - to say the least. And then, sending your own child to do your dirty work is not even borderline criminal: it is criminal.

So, in final analysis: @gjesic, you are abusing your own child and @serbianhitman, you should apply your own standards to your own parents who made you go to church against your own free will and better judgement; oh, and you are, if not complicit, then guilty of inciting @gjesic to child abuse.


And me, what about me?

Well, I shall continue to educate my own child to know all available facts about any religion she cares to ask about, but I will also point out that no religion exists that makes the tiniest bit of sense in any way whatsoever. And, I shall redouble my efforts to instill in her the values of good manners, common decency and respect for other peoples opinions, however misguided or silly they may be. If I manage to do these things half as well as my parents managed with me, she will grow up to make up her own mind regardless of whether she was taken to religious services or not.

As a matter of fact, my child has been exposed to much more churches, religions, religious rites and information - including attending Christmas Mass, than one would expect from a Minister of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Because that is the only way we win...