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On Handling the Data   By:

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Illustrated by Freas


Sometimes a story is best told by omission !

September 16, 1957

Dr. Robert Von Engen, Editor Journal of the National Academy of Sciences, Constitution Avenue, N. W., Washington, D. C.

Dear Sir:

I am taking the liberty of writing you this letter since I read your published volume, "Logical Control: The Computer vs. Brain" (Silliman Memorial Lecture Series, 1957), with the hope that you can perhaps offer me some advice and also publish this letter in the editorial section. Your mathematical viewpoint on the analysis between computing machines and the living human brain, especially the conclusion that the brain operates in part digitally and in part analogically, using its own statistical language involving selection, conditional transfer orders, branching, and control sequence points, et cetera, makes me feel that only you can offer me some information with logical arithmetic depth .

The questions raised in this letter are designed principally to reach the embryonic and juvenile scientists ... the scientists elect , so to speak. (I think the "mature scientists" are irretrievably lost.) For many reasons, some of which will be explained in the following paragraphs, I think that it is of the greatest importance that some stimulatable audience be reached. As yet, the beginners have no rigid scientific biases and thus may have sufficient curiosity and flexibility about the world in which they live to approach experimentation with a mind devoid of "the hierarchy of memory registers which have programmed in erroneous data."

What I have to say will not surprise nor shock you , or those who are at present engaged in scientific investigation. In fact, I have read many science fiction stories that deal with the same problem. Perhaps that is the only way that it can be approached, through the medium of a story? Yet why not present it for what it may be? Let me tell it my own way, and then, please, let me have your coldly logical opinion.

As to my background, I am a graduate student in the Zoology Department of a midwestern university working toward a Master's degree, or actually a doctorate we can bypass the M.S. if we choose in the field of Cellular Physiology. My sponsor is an internationally known man in the field. The area of research that I have selected is concerned with the effects of physical and chemical agents on the synthesis of nucleic acids of the cell. Obviously, this is a big field, and I hope to select from among the different agents, one or two that will give "positive results." I have been doing active research for about half a year testing the different agents. As for the fundamental questions raised, I am positive that it would make no difference in what field of science I were to work.

By now I have had enough course work to realize that when performing any assigned laboratory exercise they should not be called experiments even of a cook book type, little or even major discrepancies arise, and always on the initial trials , no matter how carefully one works! As you are probably aware, the teaching assistant in charge of the lab or the instructor, generally runs through the exercise before the class does in order to get the "bugs" out of it I am deliberately generalizing, since the above holds for all of the laboratory sciences so when the student gets confusing or rather contradictory results, the instructor can deftly point out the error in the setup or calculations, or what have you . He may even indicate what results may be expected. The last is critical. Similarly other students in the laboratory usually have friends who have had the course before and know what results are expected this technique is frowned upon . Or one may consult textbooks and published papers. (This, by the way, is known as library research , and is generally conceded to be indicative of the superior student, especially if he points out the fact that he is so interested that he just had to delve into the literature... Continue reading book >>

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