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Ellie Kesselman


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"A husband is like a fire, he goes out when unattended."

Evan Esar

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I have no words for this. Allen Parish Sheriff's Office deputies in Louisiana investigated allegation of terrorist threats and firearms at Oberlin High School, according to the department's Facebook page due to a square root in a math class.

As though that weren't bad enough, they violated the privacy of a minor without any justification: "Detectives also searched the student's home and found no evidence that he possessed or had immediate access to any type of firearm. Investigators say there was no evidence that the student had any intent to commit harm to students or faculty."

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This article is about using better terminology in psychology and psychiatry. It is very funny, including some nice statistical lols. In the section, Inaccurate or Misleading Terms, Number 22 p = 0.000
"Even though this statistical expression, used in over 97,000 manuscripts according to Google Scholar, makes regular cameo appearances in our computer printouts, we should assiduously avoid inserting it in our Results sections. This expression implies erroneously that there is a zero probability that the investigators have committed a Type I error, that is, a false rejection of a true null hypothesis. That conclusion is logically absurd, because unless one has examined essentially the entire population, there is always some chance of a Type I error, no matter how meager. Needless to say, the expression “p < 0.000” is even worse, as the probability of committing a Type I error cannot be less than zero."
In Oxymorons, see Number 39, Hierarchical stepwise regression
"Hierarchical and stepwise multiple regression are entirely separate – and incompatible - procedures. Still, they are readily confused, because in hierarchical regression, variables are entered in sequential steps... In stepwise multiple regression, the investigator allows the computer to select the order of entry of the choosing each successive predictor based on the highest incremental contribution to variability in the outcome variable."
Also good: Number 44, Principal components factor analysis
"According to Google Scholar, this phrase appears in thousands of articles, including one co-authored by the first author of this manuscript [lol!!!]. Nevertheless, this phrase is incoherent, because principal components analysis (which is commonly misspelled as “principle components analysis”) and factor analysis are incompatible approaches to data analysis. Principal components analysis is a data reduction technique that relies on the total variance of the variables in a dataset... Factor analysis relies only on the shared variance of the variables in a dataset, and it is designed to identify underlying dimensions that best explain the covariation among these variables."
This article is just great: "Fifty psychological and psychiatric terms to avoid: a list of inaccurate, misleading, misused, ambiguous, and logically confused words and phrases".

My favourite entry is from their list of oxymorons:

"Scientific Proof. The concepts of “proof” and “confirmation” are incompatible with science, which by its very nature is provisional and self-correcting. [...] no theory in science, including psychological science, should be regarded as strictly proven. Proofs should be confined to the pages of mathematics textbooks and journals." [internal citations elided]

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The 2018 AMS award for Best Textile, Sculpture or Other Medium went to the dodecahedron in the photo below. (It is topologically equivalent to an 11 hole torus). It is my favorite, for color, shape, and overall mathiness!

It is made from joined, folded strips of paper and is held together without any adhesive, only the folds, similar to origami.
The 2018 Mathematical Art Exhibition Awards were made at the Joint Mathematics Meetings. "A Gooseberry/Fibonacci Spiral,” by Frank A Farris was awarded Best photograph, painting, or print; "Dodecahedral 11-Hole Torus," by David Honda was awarded Best textile, sculpture, or other medium; and "Excentrica" by Ekaterina Lukasheva received Honorable Mention. Read more about these beautiful works at (Photo: "Dodecahedral 11-Hole Torus," by David Honda)

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In the style of Tom Lehrer!
"In short, in matters lexical, semantic, and homologous,
I am the very model of a biblical philologist!"
by @joshtyra

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Vorfreude is the delicious prospect of future satisfaction. It is a German word.

Anticipation can give delight that leads us to behave contrary to a basic assumption of economics, the rational agent. "A rational economic agent would seize the opportunity of gratification immediately. A pleasure that can be achieved only in the future becomes heavily discounted i.e. getting 105 dollars tomorrow is not as attractive as getting 100 dollars today."
Or maybe not...
The joy of things to come:

Anticipatory pleasure confers an euphoric bliss that can go far beyond the enjoyment of wish fulfillment

In the USA alone, a recent press release determined, 8 to 10 percent of all gift vouchers are not redeemed, which means that Americans every year let a value of $ 8,000,000,000 slip through their fingers. From the perspective of economics, it is pure unreason that consumers forego a deal that has already been paid for. But in psychology, a new understanding has emerged: Even the protracted postponement of wish fulfillment may obey an emotional logic. The magic word is “anticipation”, the ecstatic reveling in future pleasures. 

We all knows from everyday experience that even the prospect of a future satisfaction can give us "butterflies in the stomach" in the here and now. Who does not know the crackling delights one can experience by simply waiting for the tryst with the dream partner. Or the pleasurable shudder that makes window shopping without fixed purchase intentions so delightful. The obsessive poring over catalogs and websites when meticulously studying all the subtleties of a desired object. 

But right at that moment we behave contrary to textbook knowledge, says psychologist George Loewenstein of Carnegie Mellon University. According to the basic assumptions of economics, a rational economic agent would  seize the opportunity of a gratification immediately. A pleasure that can achieved only in the future becomes, economically speaking, heavily "discounted". This is why getting 105 dollars tomorrow is not as attractive as getting 100 dollars today. In fact, various experiments show that subjects depreciate the monetary value of everyday products like kitchen appliances for every extra day they have to wait for these. 

That is why Loewenstein astonished the experts with a now already classical pilot study in, in which he asked 30 subjects how many dollars they would be ready to pay for the fulfillment of certain desires, either immediately or after a delay of a few days. He also wanted to know how much the participants would pay for the postponement of some inconveniences. The most explosive bonus was "A kiss of your favorite movie stars"; at the other end was "The postponement of a painful electric shock". (Reading about that beautiful experiment, I was obsessively thinking about Scarlett Johansson. And imagining some inciting variations of the proposal.) Against all economic rationality, the participants wanted to shell out twice as much for a kiss in 3 days than for an  immediate smacker. Conversely, they wanted to fork out twice as much for getting over and done with the shock at once and not having to wait days for it. 

 In early 2012, a group led by David J. Hardisty from the Stanford University School of Business, repeated the study with more subjects (271) and questions. Conclusion: The more pleasurable the participants anticipated the offers in their minds, the more they were ready to pay for a delay. Even stronger, however, was the tendency to go through unpleasant things as soon as possible for an extra charge - with the exception of a leg amputation. Probably because they knew that they would still need this leg up to the inevitable separation. 

We usually tend to sumptuously delay bonuses that give us an intense but fleeting bliss, says Loewenstein. Postponement then not only serves to increase the anticipation, but also allows us to take measures that increase the enjoyment of the wish fulfillment. When anticipating a fine meal in the mind, one can drive this desire by fasting on the top, and even the kiss of favorite movie star can win by gargling before the action. Gift certificates are convenient for this goal, because we tend use them to purchase "luxury" items we would shy away from buying in everyday life. This is also apparent from a study by psychologist Suzanne Shu of the University of Los Angeles, who  gave away  vouchers to 65 volunteers which allowed them to attend a luxury cafe – these had to be either redeemed within 3 weeks or 2 months. Participants with the long-term option were convinced they would be able to enjoy the consumption experience intensely - but in the end they forfeited the deadline for the free action much more often. 

The pleasure of reveling in dreams also explains why millions of people put their crosses in the lottery, although this gambling yields relatively little profit. For example, while at roulette the losses per game are on average about 2.7 percent of the investment, with Lotto they amount to 50 percent. When a team led by economist Martin Kocher of the University of Munich appropriated 65 people two lottery tickets that could be used either on the same day or on two consecutive days, 70 percent voted for the two-day option. According to them, they wanted to use the waiting time to savor "hope" and "excitement". 

The things that give us a lot of anticipation often ensure a particularly sustainable satisfaction  too and may even be healthy, a team led by Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert points out. When we select things for immediate consumption, we quickly succumb to the temptation to indulge in fast food or superficial entertainment. When planning for the future, these vile temptations often take a back seat, and we gain the freedom to focus on more virtuous forms of enjoyment. In one study, the researchers presented their subjects a choice of snacks, which consisted of candy bars and fresh fruit. When the menu had to be consumed immediately, sweets went like hotcakes; when the tasting was to take place a week in the future, a majority changed sides in favor of the healthier selection. 

 In addition, the prospect of future joys is always  marked by a higher degree of uncertainty. When we savor in the mind a forthcoming eating out, we do not know yet what delicious dishes await us on the menu; and when simmering with excitement about an upcoming tryst, one does not yet fully know the actual love play  (or even the love partner) that will materialize. However, the uncertainty is a "preservative" that protects our joys against the deadening effect of habit. 

Not all purchases have the same potential to deliver anticipatory pleasure. Several studies have shown  that so-called “experiential purchases” (when you spend money to experience something, like a Broadway show or a vacation) make people happier than material purchases (like a couch or car). (Dear psychologists: Does visiting a brothel or a casino count as "experiential"?) Anyhow, now a team of psychologist led by Amit Kumar from Cornell University wondered whether the anticipation of the different types of purchases would also differ.

They conducted several studies to find out. In one, more than 2000 subjects who were signaled at random times during their waking hours by an iPhone notification and were asked a variety of questions. The researchers wanted to know if the subjects were about to purchase an experiential or material good and how they felt about the undertaking. They anticipatory pleasure was significantly greater in the group that intended to buy something experiential. "Consumers derive value from anticipation, and that value tends to be greater for experiential than for material purchases."

People who say they spend a lot of time wallowing in future pleasures, according to Gilbert are distinguished by a higher life satisfaction. The loss of the ability to anticipate feelings of happiness is however decimated in patients with a depressive disorder, schizophrenia or a drug addiction. But the rich and powerful of this world are lightweights in terms of anticipation. This was discovered by psychologist Elizabeth Dunn of the University of British Columbia, who asked 374 subjects how often they reveled in the current, past and future joys of everyday life. The higher their economic status, the less the subjects were able to feast on past or anticipated pleasures. The power to treat yourself to all the satisfactions in the here and now, and the predictability of all future wish-fulfillment apparently can suffocate the ability to savor everyday pleasures. 

Anticipation gives beautiful experience even more gloss than reminiscing. This is the conclusion reached by psychologist Terence R. Mitchell of the University of Washington when he asked 21 subjects to keep an account of their emotions during a  trip to Europe. Results: Before traveling, the subjects expected more pleasure and less discomfort than they actually experienced. In retrospect, they gushed  over the satisfactory side of the experience - though not quite as strong. In the same moment in which a desirable state becomes reality, the “bookkeeping” our mind makes a kind of settlement, which can be unpleasant  Were our high expectations right or is there cause for regret, because a different decision would have been better? 

 Can animals feel anticipation? Does the Pavlovian dog, which after a while has water running in his mouth merely at the ringing of the bell, enjoy the anticipation of feeding? The question is whether the announcement of a gratuity already stimulates the reward center of the brain. Actually, the reward center is composed of two complementary components. One part that sparks pure desire and is based on the neurotransmitter "dopamine". And a "satisfaction" system that provides pure bliss at the moment of wish fulfillment. The neural activation that elicits this consummatory pleasure isn't mediated by dopamine but by endorphins AND endocannabinoids, an explosive mixture.

"When animals anticipate an imminent pleasure, in their brains the same hot spots are activated which churn to life in the moment satisfaction," writes psychologist Kent Berridge of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, the discoverer of the "dual system", in an e-mail correspondence. Berridge presented his experimental animals (rats) a coveted sugar solution, which was announced by a food bell. That, in turn, was preceded another bell. In this extended waiting period, the rats had not only the water running in in the mouth, but also the happiness cocktail in the hot spots of their brain. "However, the rash was not as strong as at the moment of satisfaction." No wonder, only we humans possess  the gift to envision future delights in the finest details and most saturated colors. 

 Even more exciting, however, is the question of whether animals have the human tendency to dispense with a momentary pleasure to savor future joys. It is known that animals quickly learn to turn down a saccharine solution, if this gift had been followed in the past by a nauseating chemical. The rats despised saccharine too when it had been given to them together with an even more sought-after sugar solution in a previous session. But only if they do not suffer from penetrating hunger. They rejected a minor joy, because they were looking forward to an even greater joy. This "anticipatory contrast" could be useful for animals looking for food in the wild: Why bother with a few grains when some sweet fruits are waiting around the corner? 

And it works in reverse, says Loewenstein: The rats which had the choice to expose themselves to a mild electric shock immediately or after a delay preferred the direct variant. If animals can master this type of lesson, this should also teach economists a lesson: Even the non redeeming gift certificates can be a fantastic trade.


Eckart von Hirschhausen, German comedian and author, has, with his stage programs and nonfiction bestsellers on happiness and love, made the ideas of "positive psychology" accessible to the general public. I talked to him about anticipatory pleasure.

Mr. Hirschhausen, new empirical studies show that science have been underestimating the importance of anticipatory pleasure thoroughly. Is there a system behind this?

"Psychologists have long done research according to the maxim: common people shut up when educated people talk. It escaped science for a long time that there are ordinary and fundamental phenomena left unexplored: laughter, happiness and anticipatory pleasure. And just as today it is clear that laughter is the best medicine, so it's obviously also: Anticipation is half the fun!"

 Is there according to your observations a domain of life in which anticipation can unfold especially sustainably?

"From the research on happiness you know the lasting effect of shared experiences. Therefore, it pays to give away tickets for a concert or cabaret. It feels nicely, during and after. And one can savor it, paradoxically, much more than something "durable". Is there already research on Nachfreude? (retroactive pleasure)?"

Anticipation is apparently particularly thrilling, though, when the precise details of wish-fulfillment are somewhat uncertain. What does this tell us about human nature?

"My ass, "consumers want transparency". Especially with anticipation and gifts we want maximum non-transparency! You better not suspect what is in it, despite the package. That's why it's so boring when you can already identify a CD or a bottle of wine. As children, we have always shaken gift packs in order to guess: Lego or Playmobil? Predictability and anticipation are difficult to combine, right?"

Do you know a trick to make anticipation particularly durable?

 "What about the eternal classic among adults: give away beautiful underwear? More anticipation can not be generated: Buy something special, then wrap it up so that someone special can unpack it, only to wrap themselves in it again - to be finally unpacked."


In the German language, there is a single dedicated word for “anticipatory pleasure”, called “Vorfreude”. Actually, this is a composite of the two German words for “before” and for “pleasure”.  This is the same construction as in the international famous German word “Schadenfreude”, which is composed of the words for “damage” (damage to others, in this case) and, again, “pleasure”. It is not known if the availability of this fluent verbalization gives Germans a greater ability to experience anticipatory pleasure. Anyway, this is first class enlightening and entertaining psychological science, and it has brought me closer to Scarlett.

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