Battlepanda: my robot brain needs beer


Always trying to figure things out with the minimum of bullshit and the maximum of belligerence.

Monday, March 27, 2006

my robot brain needs beer

Crap, I'm behind. Thanks to Katie and ABD for taking up the slack...

There's no particular reason for any of you to know that Daniel Schacter, a professor of cognitive psychology at Harvard, is joining Scooter Libby's defense team. (This hit the web a few weeks ago, but now that it's in the New Republic, we know it's for real.) It matters to me, of course, in part because Schacter's in my field and it angers me to see one of our luminaries try to shoehorn our work into the courtroom in the hopes of becoming the Alan Dershowitz of cognitive science, but also because it shows such blatant disregard, not for the facts, but for what's actually at issue in the case. It is not a secret or a revelation that human memory is fallible. None of Schacter's seven sins of memory is anything you haven't noticed already. It's not a secret, for that matter, that human reflexes are fallible; and if you spill someone's coffee out of clumsiness, of course, you're likely to be forgiven and absolved of what little responsibility the incident imposes. That's what Schacter's angle seems to be: "He forgot. You've forgotten things. Lighten up!" But if you spill your coffee on the original manuscript of the Genji Monogatari Emaki, it suddenly ceases to matter that everyone spills things. If your job is to handle rare books, you don't drink coffee at work; if it's to handle classified information, you take notes, take dictation, retain an aide or two -- you do what you can to avoid forgetting. This is not rocket science. It's not cognitive science either.

It goes without saying, but I'll say it anyway, that the forgetting defense cuts no ice for people who can't pay to retain a big-dog memory expert on their legal team. If you don't remember where you were on the night of the 15th between 10:30 and 11:15 -- well, you can forget trying to sell the judge on "transience". I don't mean to suggest that the model of human memory embodied in the expectations of the legal system is perfect... but even if Libby gets off on the forgetting defense, I don't expect to see a groundswell of similar successes in his wake. Not that I know, well, anything about this stuff.

Hmm. I'm beginning to understand why ABD is anonymous. Too late for me, I guess.

Other things on the day's radar include:

Stanislaw Lem dies at age 84

Sexy Losers dies at age 6. Sexy what now? (Advisory: Staggering filthiness)

Mozilla bug report: "This privacy flaw has caused my fiancé and I to break-up after having dated for 5 years."

Why there aren't many women in science (Note: I do not endorse the conclusions of this article)

First occurrence of the phrase "Cthulhu Rl'yeh wgah'nagl fhtagn" in a political cartoon

"Sri Lankan self-poisoners are not more keen to die--they simply have easier access to pesticides than do the residents of the UK."

OK. Maybe I'll have something better later.