Friday, 5 April 2013

Sex and the Single Chick,Brain Voodoo, Rhetoric,

I browsed in David Eagleman’s book Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain and read about the strange training of chicken sexers in Japan. According to him the masters of this ‘do’ do not know how they do it, the visual clues are too subtle to be described. All they do is examine the vent of the chick and they know. The novice then guesses what sex the chick is and this guess is confirmed or denied by the master. After a good deal of training the novice becomes a master and can do 800 to 1000 chicks per hour. That is 12 plus a minute picked up, examined and placed in a bin as male or female which is dexterous one has to admit but is it true that there are no visual clues that can be discriminated in a slow scan of the vent. Here I learn that there are:
chicks wiki
So is the ‘do’ of chicken sexing a cognitive science myth and brain magic voodoo? My illative antennae tell me that it is a likely story. I don’t know how I do it, really.

What I was going to do before I did a little research, very little research, was draw a parallel with Rhetoric and Composition training and M.F.A. training in the writer’s craft. Can it be done? Maybe is the definite answer to that. Clearly you are better off having a teacher that is a practitioner with good taste. You also need to examine the vent of many good examples, negative and positive. And then you have to be prepared to murder your darlings or put them in the dog food bin.

There are sample and pattern books that emanate from the U.S. and end in Byrne’s bins for ein Euro bitte generally. I have a few here beside me. Using Prose: Readings for College Composition (Lee & Moynihan eds. pub.1961) Ableism forbids any remark on that title. Within there are section with such bolster banging heads as Reading, Writing, and Thinking, The Meaning of America. There’s a nice essay on Making Coeducation Co- by Lynn (he) White Jr. (born 1907) He tells me:

Most women’s colleges keep a considerable number of men on their faculties, on the ground that it is important for their students to know how men’s minds work.

That can only be a good thing, say I, and I trust they are exercised regularly. ‘Look at me Lynn, look at me, are you being ironic with me? Ok, ok, calm down I believe you’.

Lynn is a liberal sort of man:
One hesitates in the United States to cite Russian precedent; but even the most ardent red-baiters seldom accuse the Communists of stupidity.

Simpler times.

Next on the stool before me is Literature. Structure, Sound, and Sense ed.Laurence Perrine. pub.S.M.U. in 1956. reprinted several times up to 1970 and likely beyond. An excellent collection of short stories, poetry, and several plays running to 1425 pages. Naturally there are questions for the guidance of the academic helots who gave these courses. To torment the shade of Flannery O’Connor the first question after her story Greenleaf which comes in the section on symbol and irony is:

The characters and events of the story are seen as reflected through Mrs. May’s mind. How objective are her evaluations? How far are they reliable testimony and how far only an index of her own mind.


ktismatics said...

I'm guessing that chickens are even better than humans at chicken sexing while requiring fewer trials to achieve mastery, but that they're no better at explaining their intuitive, unconscious expertise.

ombhurbhuva said...

At about 4 to 6 weeks sex characteristics appear which is when those low volume farms begin their cull. Would this be the time when interest in doing the funky chicken starts?

This is of interest to epistemology also. I have come to learn, probably along the lines of a blindsight paradox. How do you know when you can’t know sort of thing. My intuition is that this is based on a false picture. There are cues but they are very slight and much practice is needed to spot them at high speed.

skholiast said...

Michael Polanyi tells an anecdote to the same effect at the beginning of the title essay in Knowing & Being:

A distinguished psychiatrist demonstrated to his students a patient who was having a mild fit of some kind. Later the class discussed the question whether this had been an epileptic or a hystero-epileptic seizure. The matter was finally decided by the psychiatrist: "Gentlemen," he said, "you have seen a true epileptic seizure. I cannot tell you how to recognize it; you will learn this by more extensive experience."

This sort of thing becomes the choice of exhibit for Polanyi's philosophy of Tacit Knowing.

Not too far from Pirsig on rhetoric in Zen: though quality is undefinable, you know what it is. I haven't tracked it down, but I understand a while ago someone did a close read of Strunk and White in The Elements of Style and discerned that they broke most of their own rules. (A quick wiki-idiot check confirms mention of this.) The efforts to define this sort of thing eventually die the death of a thousand sassy says-whos, but by then the good ones have accomplished the work they came to do.

ombhurbhuva said...

This is getting close to the idea of the Tao but it is within the bounds of what is teachable, just. The chicken sexers have visual cues to go on but they are very slight and at the speed required ‘Butterfly you must think with chicken mind’. I am aware that Gladwell has written about rapid cognition:

Tradition is important in the cultivation of a sense of Quality. You must surround yourself with good examples. In writing for instance I believe it is no harm to look closely at the diction of the masters and discover their characteristic effects and how they are achieved. In furniture making which I dabble in I like to make exact copies of Shaker pieces to get a feel of tactile and visual weight and negative space.

“I think that when this concept of peace of mind is introduced and made central to the act of technical work, a fusion of classic and romantic quality can take place at a basic level within a practical working context. I've said you can actually see this fusion in skilled mechanics and machinists of a certain sort, and you can see it in the work they do. To say they are not artists is to misunderstand the nature of art. They have patience, care and attentiveness to what they're doing, but more than this - there's a kind of inner peace of mind that isn't contrived but results from a kind of harmony with the work in which there's no leader and no follower. The material and the craftsman's thoughts change together in a progression of smooth, even changes until his mind is at rest at the exact instant the material is right. “
(From ZAAM)

The Tao that can be spoken is not the eternal Tao
The name that can be named is not the eternal name
The nameless is the origin of Heaven and Earth
The named is the mother of myriad things
Thus, constantly without desire, one observes its essence
Constantly with desire, one observes its manifestations
These two emerge together but differ in name
(Derek Lin trans.)