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Monday, April 20, 2009

Two on Physics: Stephen Hawking Very Ill & Your Quantum Mind

I. Professor Hawking Very Ill

Stephen Hawking is very ill according to CNN, BBC News and other news services. He is in a hospital in Cambridge, England, suffering from motor nueron disease. He is a professor in the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics at nearby Cambridge University.

Professor Hawking managed to appeal to a wide audience with his accessible trade books on physics, such as A Brief History of Time, while advancing the edge of theoretical physics.

II. Your Quantum Mind

It is not clear to me how abstract the author is being in the PhysOrg article when she says that quantum theory is perhaps a good model of human decision making. Using games, the researchers showed that humans often made less-than optimum decisions, even when a more likely option was clearly perceived.

In one example, people played a simple even-chance game. Afterwards, they were asked if they would play again to win $200 or lose $100. Their answer depended on the outcome of the previous game:

One-third of the participants were told that they had won the first game, one-third were told they had lost the first game, and the remaining one-third did not know the outcome of their first game. Most of the participants in the first two scenarios chose to play again (69% and 59%, respectively), while most of the participants in the third scenario chose not to (only 36% played again).

The article gave another example of a "defecting" game, where participants could guarantee a win through cooperation but either partner could defect. The outcome seemed to have more with giving the partner the benefit of the doubt than probability. Quantum theory is now gaining attention from cognition researchers where probability theory was only considered.

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