Tag Archives: #apple

The Raven Paradox Is A Confusing Philosophical Conundrum (Philosophy)

If you’re trying to prove that all ravens are black, a black raven can obviously help your cause. The thing is, so can a green apple. Why?

In all your life, have you ever seen a raven that wasn’t black? That probably leads you to conclude that all ravens are black. Of course, it’s impossible to see every raven that ever existed and ever will exist, but from the evidence you have on hand, it’s pretty fair for you to make the statement, “All ravens are black.” Put into a logical form, the argument looks like this:

• Proposition 1: All ravens are black.
• Evidence 1: This raven is black.

In the same way, scientists will make identical observations about a phenomenon — for example, when you drop a pencil it falls to the ground — and, with enough observations, make the conclusion that the phenomenon follows a natural law.

But according to logic, the statement “All ravens are black” has the equivalent form “All non-black things are non-ravens” — or in regular English, “Everything that isn’t black isn’t a raven.” The same way that every black raven you see supports your first conclusion, every non-black non-raven you see (A green apple! A school bus! A Smurf!) supports it, too. This builds upon our argument like this:

• Proposition 1: All ravens are black.
• Proposition 2: All non-black things are non-ravens.
• Evidence 1: This raven is black.
• Evidence 2: This green apple is not a raven.

But doesn’t it seem silly that literally any non-black thing you see could support your statement that all ravens are black?

This is the raven paradox, first introduced by the logician Carl Gustav Hempel in the 1940s. It’s a seeming philosophical paradox that looks at how conclusions can be confirmed by positive instances. Why does a green apple support the statement “All ravens are black,” when it has so little to do with ravens?

If so, it’s a big deal. Though the raven example is almost absurdly simple, the paradox itself highlights a potential issue with the scientific method. Does every piece of evidence — even a piece of evidence unrelated to your topic (e.g. ravens) — really support your hypothesis, just because it doesn’t contradict it? Is the scientific method taking us into fallacious territory?

Ravens have little bearing on our daily life, and their color even less, but a glitch in the scientific method would, indeed, be a big deal. The scientific method is used to test much higher-stakes hypotheses, like, you know, “This drug cures cancer” and “global temperatures are rising.”

Ultimately, though, many (including Hempel himself) argue the raven paradox isn’t so paradoxical. Though it doesn’t jibe with our intuition that a green apple would have a bearing on raven’s hue, that’s a problem with our intuition. A green apple does provide an almost imperceptible grain of support for the “All ravens are black” hypothesis. A black raven just provides … a lot more.

Neuroscience Study Finds ‘Hidden’ Thoughts In Visual Part Of Brain (Neuroscience)

How much control do you have over your thoughts? What if you were specifically told not to think of something—like a pink elephant?

Participants used the left side of their brains to come up with the thought, and the right side to try and suppress it.

A recent study led by UNSW psychologists has mapped what happens in the brain when a person tries to suppress a thought. The neuroscientists managed to ‘decode’ the complex brain activity using functional brain imaging (called fMRI) and an imaging algorithm.

Their findings suggest that even when a person succeeds in ignoring a thought, like the pink elephant, it can still exist in another part of the brain—without them being aware of it.

In their study they tracked the brain activity in 15 participants as they completed several visualizations and thought suppression exercises. Participants were given a written prompt—either green broccoli or a red apple—and challenged not to think of it. To make this task even harder, they were asked to not replace the image with another thought.

After 12 seconds, participants confirmed whether they were able to successfully suppress the image or if the thought suppression failed. Eight people were confident they’d successfully suppressed the images—but their brain scans told a different story. They found that visual cortex—the part of the brain responsible for mental imagery—seemed to be producing thoughts without their awareness.

Brain neurons fired and then pulled oxygen into the blood each time a thought took place. This movement of oxygen, which was measured by the fMRI machine, created particular spatial patterns in the brain.

The researchers decoded these spatial patterns using an algorithm called multivoxel pattern analysis (MVPA). MVPA is a type of decoding algorithm based in machine learning that allows us to read thoughts. The algorithm could distinguish brain patterns caused by the vegetable/fruit prompts.

Eight study participants were confident they’d successfully suppressed the images of the red apple or green broccoli, but their brain scans suggested otherwise. Credit: Shutterstock

The scans showed that participants used the left side of their brains to come up with the thought, and the right side to try and suppress it. Prof. Pearson hopes this functional brain mapping will help future researchers know which areas of the brain to target for potential intrusive thought therapies. This study can help explain why forcefully trying not to think about something always fails. For example, for someone trying to quit smoking, trying not to think about having a cigarette is a very bad strategy.

These findings build on a behavioral study Prof. Pearson’s team at UNSW Science’s Future Minds Lab conducted last year, which tested how suppressed thoughts can influence perception.

They know that you can have conscious and unconscious perception in your visual cortex—for example, they can show someone an image of a spider, make the image invisible, but their brain will still process it. But until now, they didn’t know this also worked with thoughts.

Both studies point towards the elusive world of the “unconscious,” which Prof. Pearson plans to explore in his future work.

They’re interested in this idea that imagination can be unconscious—that these thoughts can appear and influence our behavior, without us even noticing. More evidence is starting to suggest unconscious thoughts do occur, and they can decode them.

References: Roger Koenig-Robert et al. Decoding Nonconscious Thought Representations during Successful Thought Suppression, Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience (2020). DOI: 10.1162/jocn_a_01617

Why Red Delicious Are The Most Popular, Most Terrible Apple? (Food)

Close your eyes and think of an apple. Is it shiny and red? Big and curvy at the top and narrow down at the bottom? Yes, you’re imagining a Red Delicious, the most ubiquitous apple in the country. Now picture yourself biting into it. Your teeth sink into the soft, mealy flesh, which is mildly sweet, slightly bitter, and uncomfortably dry … yeah, these apples are not great. So how’d they get so popular?

The Starks secured the rights to the apple and renamed it the Stark Delicious in 1914 in response to the popularity of the unrelated Golden Delicious. In 1923, the Stark Delicious experienced another mutation when a branch in New Jersey began producing apples that turned red before any of their companions. Paul Stark, son of Clarence, laid down $6,000 for the branch of striking fruit. The Red Delicious was finally born.

Since Red Delicious apples turn red before they’re ripe, they could be picked earlier and stored longer. Plus, the thick skin made them more resistant to bruises, and the dark red color masked the bruises that did appear. Apple growers began favoring these traits, resulting in a redder, curvier, more visually appealing Red Delicious. The thing is, they didn’t breed their apples for taste. But the Red Delicious was iconic and ad-friendly, so its failure to thrill the tastebuds was no obstacle to its national popularity. By the ’40s, it had eclipsed most of its competitors. By the ’80s, it was virtually the only apple available. And by the ’90s, in the words of “Apples of North America” author Tom Burford, the Red Delicious had become “the largest compost-maker in the country.”

Red Delicious apples are still one of the top five apples produced in the United States, but just barely. The top of the list is now the Gala, followed by the Honeycrisp, the Fuji, the Granny Smith, and finally the Red Delicious. So how did the most monopolizing fruit ever get dethroned? Simple: branding.

Unlike bananas, strawberries, and pretty much every other fruit, apples are marketed on their diversity. That really kicked off in the ’90s, when today’s best-known varieties made their debut. These new apples cost a bit more than the ones Americans had been accustomed to — exotic ones like Japan’s Fuji and New Zealand’s Gala had to cover the costs of importation, and new, thin-skinned apples like the Honeycrisp were more expensive to transport without bruising. Still, consumers were eager to pay that price. Each new apple had its own distinct look and flavor, so everybody could choose their favorite. And with so many choices, not many people ended up on Red Delicious. Still, the mushy, monochromatic fruit is an icon — we’re guessing it will be the “official” apple for decades to come.