Why basic research matters I: Mark Green
Mark Green, Faculty of Science, UOIT | December 10, 2013
This summer, I gave a keynote presentation that covered more than 30 years of my own research. This gave me the opportunity to reflect on the research results that have made an impact, particularly in industrial practice.
The field of computer science moves so quickly that you can observe the long-term impact of your research within your own lifetime. I found that the my most significant long-term impacts came from my pure or curiosity-driven research. I have done a lot of applied research, but its impact has been short-term and quickly forgotten. In addition, it’s the results of the pure research that I now teach to undergraduate students, including in our introductory computer science course. History demonstrates how pure and applied research are intertwined.
In the 1970s, I started working on the problem of automating the design of graphical user interfaces. This may seem like an applied problem now, but long before the introduction of the Mac OS and Microsoft Windows, it was viewed as relatively useless research of no practical value. I can still vividly remember industry leaders calling me another of those crazy university researchers and insisting that “no one would ever want to use a mouse with a computer.”
In 1986, I wrote a paper on the foundations of user-interface software. At the time, it was viewed as a very theoretical paper. The journal editor thought the paper was so theoretical that I had to move some of the material, theorems and proofs to a technical report before he would accept it. He told me that no one would read the paper.
In 2005, I returned to Canada to start a new computer science program at a new university. I prepared by reviewing the standard undergraduate computer science curriculum produced by the two leading professional societies in the area. Much to my surprise, this paper was listed as one of the topics that all undergraduate computer science students should be familiar with. In 20 years, it had gone from too theoretical for an academic journal to part of the undergraduate curriculum.
In the 1980s, I was part of a small group of researchers investigating a “curiosity” that was an offshoot of our main line of research. We didn’t think it would amount to much, but we wrote a few papers on it. Over time the main line of research died out, but this offshoot started to gain traction. It has now become a standard part of software development, which I teach in our first computer science course.
Why is this important? After presenting the topic, I then state that I was one of the people who developed it. For first year students this demystifies the whole research process. Research isn’t done by people who are long dead, but by people just like them. We need to teach our students early that they are the innovators of the future. They can’t just follow along – they can and must lead. I believe it helps to have this message delivered by someone who has been there, who can make the story real.
If we do not expose our undergraduate students to pure research, we are doing them a great disservice. In fast-paced fields like computer science the “applied” topics that we teach them now are often out of date shortly after they graduate. To prepare them for the future we need to whet their appetite for curiosity-driven research that will empower them to continue to explore new and different ideas long after they graduate.
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Lucid dreaming depends on ...
Trent University Staff | October 21, 2014New research by Trent University Oshawa Anthropology professor Roger Lohmann and graduate student Shayne Dahl indicates that cultural learning shapes the kind of awareness and control people can experience while dreaming. “Scouring the ethnographic record on dreaming for hints of lucidity under Professor Lohmann’s guidance, I found something surprising: that lucid dreaming is widely thought to have serious consequences,” said Dahl, who completed his M.A. thesis, “Knowing Means Connecting with the Source of Life: Knowledge and Ethics among Blackfoot Traditionalists” at Trent in 2012. (He is now a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Toronto.) “As one of my Blackfoot informants put it, ‘You could die in your dream.’” Lohmann and Dahl’s findings were published in the 2014 collection, Lucid Dreaming: New Perspectives on Consciousness in Sleep. Lucid dreaming – waking consciousness arising during a dream – has been a hot topic of scientific research in recent years. According to Lohmann and Dahl, the common assumption that dreams are products of isolated imaginations has distorted our understanding of lucidity’s variation in form, function, and real-world outcomes. Pop culture portrayals in films such as Avatar and Inception present fantasies where lucid dreaming enables marvelous real-world powers. Many traditional and religious cultural worldviews take the relationship between waking and dream worlds as reality rather than fantasy. Lohmann’s fieldwork in Papua New Guinea among the Asabano people explored how they used dreaming as evidence for and contact with supernatural beings. “Asabano converts often told me that seeing dreams of Jesus or Heaven convinced them that what the missionary told them was true,” said Lohmann. “It struck me that they had to believe their dreams were more than figments of their own imaginations to reach that conclusion, and that I, for example, would not be convinced by the same experience because of my different cultural background.” Similarly, Dahl’s fieldwork in Alberta included encounters with Aboriginal medicine men who practiced lucid dreaming. “Shayne’s field experiences and his search of ethnographic literature brought home to us that lucid dreaming has profound potential for people who think it’s more than just a fantasy. We found that descriptions of lucid dreams are radically different in form, function, and outcome depending on the cultural assumptions of the dreamer,” said Lohmann. Their research revealed evidence that in some cultures, lucid dreaming is unknown, while in others it is a commonly taught skill. In some, lucidity is tacit rather than acknowledged, but people nevertheless believe that they actively undertake goals in their dreams. Lohmann and Dahl found that this implicitly lucid “volitional dreaming” commonly appears in ethnographic accounts of dreaming. In cultures where “generative” theory holds sway, dreaming of something is understood to cause it to happen in the waking world. This leads people to experience lucid dreams as opportunities to create or do magic. By contrast, people who believe dreams are what one sees during “soul travel” use lucid dreams as an opportunity to spiritually visit real places. “Even when we consciously disbelieve our dreams,” Dahl said, “They still affect us at a deeper, emotional level that we can’t easily control with reason.” “All of this shows that cultural dream theories are multiple, that people invoke them in complex ways, and that they are at the very core of what lucid dreaming is and what it makes possible,” said Lohmann. This story was originally published by Trent University on, July 15, 2014. Is has been edited for style, brevity and clarity and appears here with permission.
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