Nomological Net

Stray thoughts from here and there. The occasional concern for construct validity. No more logic. Fish.


faults in the clouds of delusion

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Theory Development as the Sport of Football

Three years ago, I had a thought which I crystallized here. Yesterday during a conversation with a grad student, I came up with a nice new metaphor for much the same idea.

Research is like the game of football. The American kind. Those who know the game will recognize the very different connotations of the two basic strategies that a team on offense can take -- the passing game and the running game. A team that chooses to play the passing game is going for impact and beauty. Scything arcs of soaring balls cutting deep swathes through the defense as the team advances in long damaging steps down the field. Research works similarly at times -- insights that break radical new ground; experiments that shatter preconceived notions with their elegance, simplicity, and parsimony.

It doesn't happen that way always. Much of the time, a team chooses to play the running game. Put their heads down, and push, struggle, and compete for every inch of bloody churning mud. And that's what happens in research as well. You put your head down and push, struggle and fight to make the data confess.

When one sees a presentation or reads a paper, it almost inevitably appears to have been produced in one sharp swell of insight. Indeed, that is how almost all completed research is generally presented. What's important is to remember that it is the touchdown we're witnessing, not the process that led to it.

Happy quarterbacking.

Sunday, June 14, 2009


We don't often consciously realize how getting something new entails giving something up. And sometimes, the trade-offs we have made are subtle enough that we don't even notice that which has been lost, let alone miss it.

As a case in point, think about the title of this post. Most likely, the first connotations it brings up involve things to do with mouses and websites, hyperlinks and clicking. It is how we flit from page to page on the internet.

Yet the original connotations of this word had nothing to do with websites. They involved flipping, rather than flitting. We would browse at bookstores, picking up volumes, sometimes at random, and seeing where that led us. The succession from book to book was sequential only in the sense that it was chronological. More centrally, it is stochastic -- the maker of the book in hand owes nothing to that of the one held previously.

Such browsing can be pleasure as well; indeed, it is what we used to recognize as pleasure before the advent of the hypertext. And the convenience of the online store has put paid to the hours spent and wasted at bookstores and music stores, the lure of the impulse purchase is considerably less material online. Which is why yesterday, for a brief period, I had a great time when I rediscovered these pleasures. It was time well wasted, for I got to dip my nose into things I would have clicked past in blissful ignorance online.

And I got my just rewards too -- a reacquaintance with the teen-thrilling works of Mr. Ray Manzarek.

Oh, how I loved those keys :-)


My latest hero is Michael Pollan, the author of In Defense of Food (which everyone should read), The Omnivore's Dilemma (which all intelligent people should read), and the Botany of Desire (which I am currently reading). Imagine my pleasure when on p166 of this latter work, in the chapter called "Desire: Intoxication / Plant: Marijuana", I come across this transcendental passage:

You know how it goes, this italicization of experience, this seemingly virginal noticing of the sensate world. You've heard that song a thousand times before, but now you suddenly hear it in all its soul-piercing beauty, the sweet bottomless poignancy of the guitar line like a revelation, and for the first time you can understand, really understand, just what Jerry Garcia meant by every note, his unhurried cheerful-baleful improvisation piping something near the meaning of life directly into your mind.


(I think he's talking about Stella Blue.)

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Baby's day out

Sent out to pick up dinner from a good restaurant -- nice. (Funny when I just posted about chopsticks the same morning.)
Placing the order and nipping across to the Irish bar down the block for a Guiness (250th anniversary brew) and wings -- also nice.
Getting the check and seeing the escapade covered by Happy Hour -- also nice.

Oh, and the dinner -- also nice.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Shiver me twiggies

Are pirated chopsticks called wooden legs?

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Almost Like Tom Thumb's Blues

... when Nina sings it.

When you're lost in the rain in Juarez
And it's Eastertime too
And your gravity fails
And negativity don't pull you through
Don't put on any airs
When you're down on Rue Morgue Avenue
They got some hungry women there
And they really make a mess outa you

Now if you see Saint Annie
Please tell her thanks a lot
I cannot move
My fingers are all in a knot
I don't have the strength
To get up and take another shot
And my best friend, my doctor
Won't even say what it is I've got

Sweet Melinda
The peasants call her the goddess of gloom
She speaks good English
And she invites you up into her room
And you're so kind
And careful not to go to her too soon
And she takes your voice
And leaves you howling at the moon

Up on Housing Project Hill
It's either fortune or fame
You must pick up one or the other
Though neither of them are to be what they claim
If you're lookin' to get silly
You better go back to from where you came
Because the cops don't need you
And man they expect the same

Now all the authorities
They just stand around and boast
How they blackmailed the sergeant-at-arms
Into leaving his post
And picking up Angel who
Just arrived here from the coast
Who looked so fine at first
But left looking just like a ghost

I started out on burgundy
But soon hit the harder stuff
Everybody said they'd stand behind me
When the game got rough
But the joke was on me
There was nobody even there to call my bluff
I'm going back to New York City
I do believe I've had enough

Bonus track: Suzanne