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Problem Solving

I was just reading about Edward Thorndike's puzzle boxes - an experiment where he put a cat or dog into a box that had some sort of release lever to let it out, and waited to see if the cat or dog would work out whether/how to press the lever.

I now desperately want to put, say, 100 human beings into puzzle boxes, and see how long it takes each of THEM to work out that pushing a lever in a darkened room opens the door. Perhaps my view of humanity is pessimistic, but based on many of the support phonecalls I get, not only are most human beings incapable of empirically working out the solution to a problem, but they are also a species absolutely beset with cargo cult beliefs about the things that appeared to work but in the real world cannot possibly have done so...

I'm fairly sure that the people on my LJ friendslist can indeed reason their way out of a paper bag, but to be honest, I'm not sure you lot are entirely representative.

Both Az and Brythen were expert puzzle-solvers of the canine variety. Az could open doors, turn keys,and undo tent-zips, and it's a delight to see Brythen realise that he's on the wrong side of a fence and work out at speed how to navigate through a series of gates and gaps to the right side of it (when he decides to do so, and OK, sometimes he decides not to :-D ) . He can open a dog-crate from the inside, too. But These are Not Typical Dogs.


( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
28th Feb, 2014 12:20 (UTC)
My own theory is that most computers run some sort of random number generator and, every so often, use it to pick an 'unlikely behaviour' from their hidden table of unlikely behaviours, do it for just long enough to make me contact support, and then switch back to normal (at the same time, erasing any logs that may have been generated).

My first hammy, Stanley, was the Einstein of hamsters. I would deliberately put his treat somewhere difficult and he'd always work out how to get it to his bed, though he seemed to have to solve the same problems from scratch every time. He had a in-built aversion to dropping things, which didn't help, but he always realised he could back up and drag them instead. I think it helped that he could see really well for a hamster, so if he did drop anything he'd just climb down and get it. (The first time I left him with my brother's family, he escaped and spent the night in a wastepaper basket. I came home from holiday to find that my brother had identified all the weak spots in the cage and sealed them with high security wire).

My second hammy, Arthur, was the exact opposite of Stanley. If he dropped anything, he would go into a frantic panic: "Where's it gone?! Where's it gone?!"
1st Mar, 2014 10:06 (UTC)
Intermittent faults are the worst faults! And they lead to the most bizarre cargo cult beliefs. But I think the thing with cargo cultish ideas is that *they make total sense with the information that is available*.

Somehow I'm imagining panicky hammy Arthur as wearing little round glasses and a tiny bowler hat. :-D
28th Feb, 2014 16:05 (UTC)
My daughter shared this with me...and I was so moved! Not quite on topic, but I thought you might like it. :)
One day in 1880 John Muir set out to explore a glacier in southeastern Alaska, accompanied by Stickeen, the dog belonging to his traveling companion. The day went well, but on their way back to camp they found their way blocked by an immense 50-foot crevasse crossed diagonally by a narrow fin of ice. After long deliberation Muir cut his way down to the fin, straddled it and worked his way perilously across, but Stickeen, who had shown dauntless courage throughout the day, could not be convinced to follow. He sought desperately for some other route, gazing fearfully into the gulf and “moaning and wailing as if in the bitterness of death.” Muir called to him, pretended to march off, and finally ordered him sternly to cross the bridge. Miserably the dog inched down to the farther end and, “lifting his feet with the regularity and slowness of the vibrations of a seconds pendulum,” crept across the abyss and scrambled up to Muir’s side.

"And now came a scene! ‘Well done, well done, little boy! Brave boy!’ I cried, trying to catch and caress him; but he would not be caught. Never before or since have I seen anything like so passionate a revulsion from the depths of despair to exultant, triumphant, uncontrollable joy. He flashed and darted hither and thither as if fairly demented, screaming and shouting, swirling round and round in giddy loops and circles like a leaf in a whirlwind, lying down, and rolling over and over, sidewise and heels over head, and pouring forth a tumultuous flood of hysterical cries and sobs and gasping mutterings. When I ran up to him to shake him, fearing he might die of joy, he flashed off two or three hundred yards, his feet in a mist of motion; then, turning suddenly, came back in a wild rush and launched himself at my face, almost knocking me down, all the while screeching and screaming and shouting as if saying, ‘Saved! saved! saved!’ Then away again, dropping suddenly at times with his feet in the air, trembling and fairly sobbing. Such passionate emotion was enough to kill him. Moses’ stately song of triumph after escaping the Egyptians and the Red Sea was nothing to it. Who could have guessed the capacity of the dull, enduring little fellow for all that most stirs this mortal frame? Nobody could have helped crying with him!"

Thereafter, Muir wrote, “Stickeen was a changed dog. During the rest of the trip, instead of holding aloof, he always lay by my side, tried to keep me constantly in sight, and would hardly accept a morsel of food, however tempting, from any hand but mine. At night, when all was quiet about the camp-fire, he would come to me and rest his head on my knee with a look of devotion as if I were his god. And often as he caught my eye he seemed to be trying to say, ‘Wasn’t that an awful time we had together on the glacier?’”
1st Mar, 2014 10:09 (UTC)
Brought together by the horror of the ice!

I am reminded of my lurcher Brythen who has been so much better behaved since we took him on holiday to the Scilly isles where we had to do a lot of ferries - maybe that's a similar thing - 'didn't we have an awful time on those boats?! '
1st Mar, 2014 07:32 (UTC)
Um *raises hand* What about those of us who can't reason our way out of a paper bag?
1st Mar, 2014 10:10 (UTC)
And those that consider being trapped inside a paper bag to be a welcome opportunity for a nice relaxing nap... or those whose natural reaction to the appearance of the bag is to call a little man to have it removed? :-D
1st Mar, 2014 14:24 (UTC)
I also tend to think that anyone trying to reason their way out of a paper bag is using a stupidly inappropriate tool for the job. Much more appropriate, and a lot quicker, to just tear your way out. Some situations call for reason, intelligence and stroking your chin while going "Hmmm." Some don't. Paper-bag escapology is of the latter kind.
4th Mar, 2014 13:41 (UTC)
Or turn round to the open end and walk out, perhaps? ;-)
4th Mar, 2014 13:54 (UTC)
It might be folded over. FOLDED OVER! And secured with a bit of tape!
4th Mar, 2014 16:07 (UTC)
Tape would be cheating :-) AND it would make it harder for LadyofAstolat to punch her way out anyway.

And, of course, it might not. It might be open so the experimenter can look in and watch the victim test subject making a fool of herself. After all, what's the point in putting your wife in a paper bag if you can't laugh (for Science!) at her attempts to get out?

( 10 comments — Leave a comment )

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