Forum Posts

William Foulkes
Harvard GenEd 2021
Harvard GenEd 2021
Apr 27, 2021
In The Future of the Future
I enjoyed Professor Firestein’s discussion of how cultural factors affect our understanding of time, especially the sense of progress that many people now believe is innate but is likely a condition of our current moment. This point arose from a conversation about the emotional memory and its connection to smell. From my own experience, his point about the fact that smells can cause memories, especially those connected to specific emotions, to arise rings true. I also think this works in terms of vague points in life, such as “childhood” or “summer vacations”. Professor Firestein’s comments about the connection between emotions and smells made me think about how large chunks of time in my life become associated with emotions. Many emotions definitely came and went during childhood summer vacations, but certain emotions dominate the memory and become associated with those periods of time. https://www.labxchange.org/library/pathway/lx-pathway:53ffe9d1-bc3b-4730-abb3-d95f5ab5f954/items/lx-pb:53ffe9d1-bc3b-4730-abb3-d95f5ab5f954:lx_simulation:9041b2ca?source=%2Flibrary%2Fclusters%2Flx-cluster%3AModernPrediction
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William Foulkes
Harvard GenEd 2021
Harvard GenEd 2021
Apr 27, 2021
In The Future of the Future
The first half of Professor Goodman’s conversation with Stuart Firestein centers on the idea of how to teach science in a way that honors how little scientists know about how the world works. I found this conversation exciting, especially because acknowledging and talking about scientific ignorance opens up a sense of wonder about the world that I always found lacking in my own scientific education. However, this conversation takes place between two extremely knowledgeable and successful scientists in their respective fields. The majority of people arguing against the legitimacy of science, from my perspective, act in a number of self-interested ways that usually coalesce around some sort of political ideology. Today, these anti-science arguments are surfacing around the debate about vaccines. How do the arguments that Professor Firestein poses about the vast amount of ignorance in the scientific community work with or against some of these “anti-science” agendas? Do these types of outsiders who want to delegitimize science scare him or do they possibly help people rethink what it means for scientists to have authority over any particular field? https://www.labxchange.org/library/pathway/lx-pathway:53ffe9d1-bc3b-4730-abb3-d95f5ab5f954/items/lx-pb:53ffe9d1-bc3b-4730-abb3-d95f5ab5f954:lx_simulation:9041b2ca?source=%2Flibrary%2Fclusters%2Flx-cluster%3AModernPrediction
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William Foulkes
Harvard GenEd 2021
Harvard GenEd 2021
Apr 17, 2021
In Health
In the conversation with Susan Murphy about her work on tracking stress levels in research subjects, I became interested in the real world implications of the potential findings. At this point in her research, she seems focused on finding ways to predict what kinds of things increase stress levels. The factors she looks at are wide ranging and she seems willing to admit that many of them are difficult to understand. For example, why would someone walking down a particular street have increased stress levels associated with that act? I think this is an interesting question to ask just to learn more about human stress levels. However, I also want to know if the conclusions of her studies might actually help alleviate stress in patients. Does knowing more about the things that stress you out actually help you live a happier and healthier life? Is there any evidence that knowing more about your own stress can allow you to decrease it? https://www.labxchange.org/library/pathway/lx-pathway:825945a0-367c-45dc-82b7-3d160c6e6f7a/items/lx-pb:825945a0-367c-45dc-82b7-3d160c6e6f7a:lx_simulation:5ad35586?source=%2Flibrary%2Fclusters%2Flx-cluster%3AModernPrediction
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William Foulkes
Harvard GenEd 2021
Harvard GenEd 2021
Apr 17, 2021
In Thoughts from Learners
I found the end of this conversation, in which Professor Goodman and Brendan Meade talk about not understanding the math behind some scientific research, really interesting. I appreciated when Professor Goodman said, “If you can predict but can’t tell me why, I don’t care,” because it seems like it goes against some sort of scientific principles that I assume exist. When scientists really challenge the status quo and move into uncharted territory, some of the guidelines that we have come to take for granted could disappear. This idea is both scary and exciting in ways that everyone in the conversation seemed to appreciate. I imagine Ben Shneiderman would strongly disagree with some of the conclusions about the need, or lack thereof, to understand what’s going on underneath the hood in the algorithms some scientists use in their research. This debate about the need to understand what the computers are actually doing will probably only become more extreme as computers become more and more advanced. https://www.labxchange.org/library/pathway/lx-pathway:825945a0-367c-45dc-82b7-3d160c6e6f7a/items/lx-pb:825945a0-367c-45dc-82b7-3d160c6e6f7a:lx_simulation:5ad35586?source=%2Flibrary%2Fclusters%2Flx-cluster%3AModernPrediction
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William Foulkes
Harvard GenEd 2021
Harvard GenEd 2021
Apr 12, 2021
In Space
I found the discussion about funding for Professor Tarter’s work especially interesting in her interview with Professor Goodman. The issue of finding funding for research has not come up very often in these discussions, probably because most of the subjects’ research require less money and are well supported by the government or universities. The search for extraterrestrial life requires large amounts of capital because of the need for advanced technologies and possibly even rockets and spacecrafts. While it would be great if NASA supported her research, I am interested in the idea that private sources might be able to fill in the gaps when public funding dries up. As space exploration becomes increasingly privatized, I imagine researchers like Professor Tarter will need to find ways to get private support for their work. I think science fiction and the public fascination with finding extraterrestrial life provides an opportunity to do so. As someone who already has a role in the universe of science fiction, I think Professor Tarter should lean into that position in society in order to secure more support and enthusiasm for her work, as she already seems to do somewhat. https://www.labxchange.org/library/pathway/lx-pathway:34dd3b2c-3aec-460a-817f-da4af2ed1577/items/lx-pb:34dd3b2c-3aec-460a-817f-da4af2ed1577:lx_simulation:e9099212?source=%2Flibrary%2Fclusters%2Flx-cluster%3AModernPrediction
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William Foulkes
Harvard GenEd 2021
Harvard GenEd 2021
Apr 12, 2021
In Space
I appreciated Professor Loeb’s belief in transparency in scientific research because, as he argues, transparency increases credibility. The public is capable of understanding how something may or may not be true whenever someone says something, as we know because of the vast amount of information, both true and false, we see on our phones every day. Allowing people into the process of debate allows people to see how consensus is formed which ends up strengthening scientific arguments. However, especially since the landing of the rover on Mars, I have been thinking about the general public’s relative lack of interest in space exploration compared to the days of the moon landing. I believe that one of the driving forces behind this decreased interest in the science of space is the lack of connection that it has to the many problems we face as a society. My question for Professor Loeb is how can we balance a very big picture, “humans are irrelevant because we are less than a grain of sand on all of the beaches in the world” view of space exploration with a view of the cosmos that remains relevant to the world around us? Do you think we have a need to balance these views in studying the space outside of our planet? https://www.labxchange.org/library/pathway/lx-pathway:34dd3b2c-3aec-460a-817f-da4af2ed1577/items/lx-pb:34dd3b2c-3aec-460a-817f-da4af2ed1577:lx_simulation:1a066234?source=%2Flibrary%2Fclusters%2Flx-cluster%3AModernPrediction
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William Foulkes
Harvard GenEd 2021
Harvard GenEd 2021
Apr 05, 2021
In Thoughts from Learners
Dan Gilbert gives the example of lottery winners often finding themselves extremely unhappy within years of winning as evidence of the idea that we often don’t know what will make us happy in the future. Even knowing that people often find themselves unhappy, I think most people would love to win the lottery and millions of people continue to buy lottery tickets just to have a slim chance of winning. I wished that he had spoken more about the idea of whether or not we will like the future when we get there. One question I would like to ask on this topic is: what are some of the circumstances that typically do bring people happiness in the future if they manage to achieve them? In other words, if winning the lottery provides a negative example of expectations of the future not matching reality, what would a positive example be? Interview: https://www.labxchange.org/library/pathway/lx-pathway:53ffe9d1-bc3b-4730-abb3-d95f5ab5f954/items/lx-pb:53ffe9d1-bc3b-4730-abb3-d95f5ab5f954:lx_simulation:5e3f229f?source=%2Flibrary%2Fclusters%2Flx-cluster%3AModernPrediction
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William Foulkes
Harvard GenEd 2021
Harvard GenEd 2021
Apr 05, 2021
In Wealth
At the end of the interview, Professor Laibson concludes, with Professor Goodman’s guidance, that Aristotle would have been in favor of the rational choice theory in economics. As a behavioral economist, Laibson has spent his career working to correct the mistakes of rational choice theory, involving the complicated nature of human decisions in their economic choices in order to make more accurate economic predictions. What I find interesting about this conversation about simple rules that encompass many things and create perfect predictive systems (as Aristotle and the rational choice theorists hoped the world worked) is that it seems to apply to all scientific fields. In physics, as Professor Goodman explains, the complexities surrounding Newton’s theory of gravity are relatively small but they still exist and need to be accounted for. Laibson seems to believe that in economics these complexities will never fully be accounted for and economists will continue to work for a long time at getting more and more accurate predictions that are still fairly uncertain. I find this conclusion somewhat comforting because he does not seem to feel the need to have a perfectly predictive system in economics. His goals are not as lofty as Aristotle’s but they are more concerned with finding the truth in an honest way. Interview: https://www.labxchange.org/library/pathway/lx-pathway:b5121779-9f49-49db-93d9-80d5d67dadb3/items/lx-pb:b5121779-9f49-49db-93d9-80d5d67dadb3:lx_simulation:f10b9110?source=%2Flibrary%2Fclusters%2Flx-cluster%3AModernPrediction
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William Foulkes
Harvard GenEd 2021
Harvard GenEd 2021
Mar 31, 2021
In Thoughts from Learners
My favorite question that Professor Goodman asked is “what are you actually doing?” in terms of using CRISPR to edit someone’s genes. I found the answer pretty satisfying, even if I don’t quite understand what it would look like physically to insert or remove genes from a person. You also discussed the level of knowledge you feel people need to have before receiving information about their predispositions for certain diseases that they might receive if they take part in mapping their genomes. For example, they need to know what it means to have a 90% chance of developing breast cancer. While undergoing gene therapy in a clinical trial, what kinds of things do people absolutely need to know before they take part in the trial? I assume they don’t need to know what the doctors physically do, but I imagine there are a number of uncertainties that doctors would need to express to their patients in clear terms.
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William Foulkes
Harvard GenEd 2021
Harvard GenEd 2021
Mar 31, 2021
In Thoughts from Learners
I found the conversation between Professor Goodman and Ben Shneiderman very interesting, especially because I know very little about machine learning and artificial intelligence beyond the ways they are discussed in the public. Shneiderman seems concerned with the ways the public discusses these ideas because he seems to believe that there are broad misconceptions about what the technology does. Since I have very limited knowledge about these topics, all machine learning and artificial intelligence seems like a bit of magic to me. I appreciate that he demands that the people creating these technologies have a concrete understanding of what they actually do so that they can be used as tools for humans. In particular, I liked his discussion of FAT-ML (fair, accountable, transparent machine learning). He thinks these three factors in developing these new technologies will allow humans to overcome the excesses of the early work which overemphasizes the abilities of computers and equates them with humans to a certain extent. His fear about using words like “know”, “partner”, and “think” when applied to computers is rooted in his belief that we should use new technologies for the betterment of humanity. This simple idea seems extremely important in fields that are growing as rapidly as machine learning and artificial intelligence.
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William Foulkes
Harvard GenEd 2021
Harvard GenEd 2021
Mar 30, 2021
In Thoughts from Learners
I found this conversation really interesting because you have clear objectives in talking to members of the scientific community about climate change: you want to take the research and turn it into action in the world of politics. This desire to stop discussing different models or forecasts and to demand action from the government or businesses resonates with me, as I imagine it does with a lot of other students in the class. I want to ask you about the point you raise in the interview about figuring out “who needs to deliver a message” and how that message can be meaningful for regular people. I found you extremely trustworthy as a speaker, and I determined that your Boston accent played a significant role in allowing me to feel like you are just a regular person that I can trust. How much do you think simple things like regional accents play into the disconnect between the scientific community and the general public? Is this disconnect indicative of a larger issue with the scientific community itself or is there an inevitable gap between that community and the general public?
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William Foulkes
Harvard GenEd 2021
Harvard GenEd 2021
Mar 30, 2021
In Thoughts from Learners
Rebecca Henderson and Professor Goodman discuss the role of the Free Rider Problem in large corporations’ responses to climate change. In the context of climate change, the Free Rider Problem explains why individual businesses are less willing to make decisions that benefit the climate: it would come at a cost to them but their competitors may not make the same decision. What is needed, then, is collective action on the part of many businesses. Henderson finds it strange that there hasn’t been a movement from the heads of large companies to demand climate regulation. I found this especially interesting because she seems to believe this regulation would work in their best interest, allowing them to move collectively towards a solution to climate change that would ultimately benefit them all economically. On this topic, Henderson and Professor Goodman set up a dichotomy between people who believe in climate action from an economic and a moral standpoint. What Henderson seems to conclude is that from either point of view, government regulation to benefit the environment seems entirely logical. The other part of this conversation I found interesting was the discussion of real estate in Miami. The fact that people are buying expensive condos on land that will soon be underwater feels like one of the best examples of human shortsightedness that I can think of.
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William Foulkes

William Foulkes

Harvard GenEd 2021
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