Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Core Issue

Recently I was reminded of a course I took while pursuing my undergraduate degree. Experimental psychology, which involves the use of human subjects for purposes of further understanding human behavior, thoughts, and emotions, is a required course for those of us who felt led into the field.

Long before we ever conducted any experiments, however, we learned a great deal about scientific methodology. That sounds pretty high falutin', but it comes down to a few basic concepts and phrases applicable to learning just enough to be thankful you never have to conduct any more experiments.

That is, unless you're like me.

What had reminded me of the experimental psychology course, of all things, was a recollection of an old Tootsie-Pop commercial. Some kid (who has more free time than I do, apparently) decides to get to the bottom of a compelling question: how many licks does it take to reach the core of the lollipop? Mr. Turtle had no answer, never having been in a hurry to discover the timeless question. Now an elderly guy, he spends his time lamenting having misspent his youth eating too many leafy greens instead of throwing caution to the wind and carpe diem-ing his way to the center of the candy. Turtle, full of regret for not having pursued the opportunity while he was still young, only comes out of his shell to answer such questions. Clearly the poor testudines member suffers depression from putting off exploration of what was likely the biting social issue of the time, so to speak.

The boy, still seeking an answer to the riddle, then seeks out Mr. Owl. Owl is supposedly a highly educated fellow. One would think that "how many licks does it take" would be answered with the question "what defines a lick?" An operational definition would then be constructed. In this case, "lick" wouldn't necessarily be limited to an owl's tongue. Did anyone consider the potentially confounding variable of tongue size? Certainly, a bear's lick of that same type of lollipop would prove more erosive. Owl, of course, decides that the answer varies depending on the individual. For him, three is the answer.

Then there's the issue of the Tootsie-Pops themselves. A random numbers generator would have to be used to select the candies so that each had the same approximate chance of being selected for the experiment as the others. Tests would have to be performed to look into synergistic effects, if any, between saliva and food dye used to color the lollipops.

This is all entirely feasible if the forest creatures can form a research group and gain approval for a research grant from the National Science Foundation. Barring that, several species-specific experiments would have to be conducted, meaning that one experiment would be limited to bears, another, to squirrels, etc. The reason for that is because tongue size, coarseness, etc, vary so much that the most accurate way to answer the question is to compare apples with apples. Then again, one might map out an average lick rate based on the sum total erosion rate caused by the tongues of the differing species, but that would get into some pretty heady statistical analyses.

One wonders what kind of infighting goes on in such woodland experimentation. That might explain why, apparently, Mr. Owl and Mr. Turtle apparently haven't spoken with each other since 1971.

I prefer the former approach. For me, comparing apples with apples makes sense.

I've discovered the answer. For me, one continuous lick will eventually lead to the center of the Tootsie-Pop.

That, for me, is the core issue.


No comments:

Post a Comment