A Jewish Paradox

I am far from a rabbi or Jewish scholar.  There is one question that I keep reciting in my head as a thought experiment.  If an orthodox Jew is stranded on a desert island, and the only source of food on the island was pig, what would this Jew do?

Some background:
-An orthodox Jew typically follows kashrut laws, meaning they keep kosher and do not eat pig or any derivation thereof.

-Suicide is literally killing yourself, and killing is not permitted by Jewish law.  (It's a commandment for those keeping score at home).

-There is only one day of fasting on the Jewish calendar, Yom Kippur.  An orthodox Jew would typically not ingest anything (including water) on this holiday.  (Some exceptions would be young children, the sick, elderly, or pregnant women).  

There would only be 2 possible choices for the Jew:
1.  Eat the pig and survive.  Break kosher law, but keep from killing yourself.
2.  Do not eat the pig and die.  Break killing yourself law, but keep kosher law.
3.  Hope that an edible food source sprouts up after 21 days.  (Humans can't survive without food after about 21 days).
4.  Pretend that the day after eating the pig is Yom Kippur and atone for the sin of eating pig and hope that all is right with God.

Long story short: the Jew would spend 20 days debating what to do and hope a kosher food source would arrive.  Then on the 21 day, pig meal.



Pipe Dream

As a thought experiment, I imagined what the world would be like without violence.  Once I reasoned through all the nuances, I realized this would be an amazing place to live.  So, why can't/won't it happen?

First off, no violence.  Stay with me through this messy progression:
no violence > lower mortality > reduced aggression > reduced competition > reduced anger > reduced threat of life > no need to inflict violence because of survival > no weapons > reduced military > reduced police > reduced emergency room staff > reduced insurance policies > reduced greed > reduced competition

From this point, society would be completely unrecognizable.  I'm not sure where religion fits in, but religion and violence have been so completely intertwined, most religious texts I've read contain some element of violence.  Whether it be 10 plagues brought upon the Egyptians, crucifixions, jihads, or stoning suspected criminals to death, violence induces fear.  Which translates into respect for the higher power of God?

Once violence is removed from society, wars wouldn't have existed.  Cultures wouldn't have spread around the world.  For example, if the Europeans were sailing across the Atlantic solely for curiosity sake and not material wealth, the Native American/European conflict wouldn't have wiped out a large portion of the population.  (Granted, unfamiliar diseases would have still made a serious dent).  

I'm still uncertain how I interpret whether humans would have even existed if violence (and my messy progression chart above) was not programmed into behavior.  Our ancestors would not have had weapons or tools to fight off predators (lions, saber-toothed tigers, and bears oh my) and would have thus been a snack.

Pipe dreams are crazy to think about.

More Reflections on User Research

Any psychologist can tell you, it's difficult to understand what people are really thinking.  Sure there are non-leading surveys, and GSR dongles, and eye-tracking, and study deception, but these are all still guided behaviors and can be translated in different ways.

Psych is still a relatively young discipline, compared to other soft and hard sciences.  Thus, there are bound to be some growing pains.  User research is an even younger field, and as I get more engrossed, I start to identify some of the behavioral measurement issues in UR that psych once (and might still kinda) faced.

So what's the point of bringing this up?

I am convinced there is more to UR than is currently available.  Web/game/app analytics are getting better everyday.  There is no longer a need to overtly ask a user/participant what they are doing because their behaviors can be tracked with minimal, if any, interference.  Biometrics and VR in gaming is starting to poke its head out to gather even more data on what players are doing and how they are physically responded to stimuli.  Consumer electronics that track physical activity and sleep patterns are getting cheaper and easier to use.  Mountains of data about my body please!

The data is out there.  The problem is making sense of it all.  The even bigger problem is making sure the sense that is made of the data is actually correct.  UR has the tools in place, it just a matter of genuinely understanding what a user is thinking and feeling when interpreting these data since users/participants don't always know what they're thinking or why.

Nibett and Wilson's 1977 article should be required reading for all User Researchers.  This paper helps drive the point home!  


Getting Things Done

I've been working on and off for the past couple months and have noticed a pattern.  Getting things done when you don't have all the skills to accomplish these goals is difficult.  I set out to develop a physical therapy application that would track and test hand motion.  By using the large touch interface available on the iPad, for example, I could build an app that would provide various stretches to strength range of motion.  However, I don't know any programming languages, nor have used Xcode.  

I made the decision to pursue psychology during my numerous years in school.  Three psych degrees later, I have limited my abilities to research methodology and technology user research.  If I had changed my mind a little earlier on, I could have had a stronger computer science background, thus providing me with the skills I now desire to get things done.

Moral of the story: it's never too late to learn.  It is, however, too late to be really really good at something you didn't set out to do from earlier on.  I will continue to push myself and grow my breadth of understanding, even if I'm not the best of the best at something I picked up recently. 


Difficulties quantifying human behavior

I recently listened to a This American Life podcast about helping others in need.  One segment told the story of a charity that gives money, with no strings attached, to some poor residents of Kenya.  Once the residents got over the initial skepticism, they found that some people tended to buy goods that raised their standard of living and simultaneously saved money.  For example, one family decided to replace their grass roof with a metal roof.  This not only helped their livelihood (no more wet puddles indoors during rainstorms), but also saved them the money they would have normally spent on multiple repairs to the grass roof in a given year.  Another family decided to buy a cow which not only gave their family milk, but also produced a surplus that they family was able to sell to others and for a profit.

Individuals from the charity talked with many organizations that exist to help those that struggle.  If they were able to see positive repercussions from merely giving people money, why don't more organizations follow this model?

A woman from Heifer International, one person they talked to from such an organization, said it most eloquently: "we're not about experiments. These are lives of real people. And we have to do what we believe is correct.  We can't make experiments with people's lives, they're just too important. It's just not that linear. It's not an equation. It's an eco system.  Data has its value but it cannot capture everything."

This is the biggest problem with psychological research and user research.  There will always be a divide between what is actually going on and what the researchers are 1) able to capture and record as data and 2) able to interpret from the results.

Questioning the validity of research on human behavior is nothing new for me; I have had this same thought since freshman year as a psych major.  There has to be a breaking point, and there has to be a choice as to whether decisions will be based on some semblance of human behavioral research or merely based on a gut instinct with no supporting evidence.  Human behavior is not linear.  Perhaps shifting more into user research with smaller sample sizes and slightly looser methodological restrictions is a better approach then trying to apply rigid scientific methods to us malleable and emotional human folk.