Using Superhero Alter-Egos to Understand Basic Freudian Psychology

This lesson helps students understand basic Freudian psychology by having them apply his theories to popular superheroes. In every superhero story, we see two sides to the hero’s character, her/his human side and her/his superhuman side. The human side is often comprised of traits to which an audience can easily relate: loneliness, an inability to conform, unrequited love, etc. For example, Peter Parker of Spider-Man is a socially isolated nerd who can barely get the girl of his dreams to notice him. His superhuman side, on the other hand, is fearless, powerful, and exceedingly popular. Have your students use Freud’s theory of the id, ego, and superego to analyze how and why these humans transform into their respective superhero alter-egos.

How to Create a Real World Lightsaber

This lesson explores the physics behind a lightsaber (the weapon of the Jedi in the popular Star Wars movie franchise), how to bend lasers, and how it is possible to craft a lightsaber. This lesson would fit nicely into a physics unit on light and lenses.

Skating and Angular Momentum

A lesson on angular momentum using figure skating and skateboarding to help students visualize this scientific concept.

I Did WHAT?!? Alcohol, the Brain, and the Blackout

In this lesson, students will discuss the role of alcohol in popular youth culture and will learn about where alcohol comes from and how it affects the brain. Students will specifically examine why people sometimes blackout when they’ve had too much to drink.

The Science of Google Glass: An introduction to prisms and augmented reality

The unveiling of the Google Glass still seems more sci-fi than reality to many. Like any new technological advancement, we should understand the science behind these futuristic specs and their pending impact on our society.

Google Glass is simply a wearable CPU that includes a camera, mic, speakers and a visual lens called a prism. This prism makes use of the electromagnetic spectrum, focusing on visible light. All light travels as waves, and that wavelength defines the various regions of the electromagnetic spectrum. The prism uses a mini projector to transmit light or visuals to your eye’s retina, fovea and optic nerve. This visual layer is projected onto your eye, allowing you to see a digital image layered on top of your actual eye sight.

Some users have complained of eye soreness and a tendency to get headaches coming from their right temple. These symptoms are believed to be related to motion sickness. While there is no evidence of health hazards associated with the use of the Google Glass, some lawmakers are trying to outlaw the use of the glasses while driving, claiming that the additional images being sent to your brain will cause a distraction and can lead to disastrous results.

Naturally, this leads us to more questions than answers. Society will change drastically the more popular and widely used Glass will become. Soon we will need to ask ourselves where do we draw the line between socially acceptable and unacceptable behavior with new technology? What will be the new rules? And more importantly, what will be next?

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The Science of Why Elders React to (and Love) GTA V

 

 

Grand Theft Auto V is the fifth installment of a popular video game franchise, where players assume the roles of crooks and criminals, advancing their careers and performing illegal activities.  Some of the press surrounding the game has been quite critical, which is understandable given the subject matter, especially when you consider young impressionable minds playing it.  The React Channel filmmakers on YouTube saw an opportunity to explore the nature of play with GTA V, especially with a group of people who may have a strong aversion to this kind of entertainment.

When asked what their opinions were of this notoriously naughty video game, a selection of elderly individuals were quick to negatively judge it, saying they have heard of it and thought it was a bad influence and game overall.  When given the opportunity to play the game for a half an hour, some were curious and eager, while others didn’t have any interest at all.  While playing the game, there were observable, telltale signs that these elderly individuals were actually enjoying themselves! Whether they were actively aware of it or not, there was a noticeable motivation to play, to try out actions in the game (most very violent) and the end result was a recognition from most of them that this was essentially an amusing experience that they might want to try again.

Was this a case of people judging a book by its cover?  Is there a cognitive bias at play?  What were the psychological reasons these elderly individuals had a positive, fun experience playing GTA V?  The elderly generation didn’t grow up playing video games, so they don’t understand them as well as the younger generations.  This may result in negative or suspicious feelings about them.  The same thing happened with new technology that arrived in the 1940s – the television.  Some thought it would ruin kids’ brains if they just stared at a screen all day.  Also, the media loves to push huge generalizations about games and gamers, because it provides tangible reasons for unreasonable, violent behavior.  These superficial reasons to dislike video games in general can be considered a cognitive bias.

A cognitive bias is a pattern of deviation in judgment, whereby inferences about other people and situations may be drawn in an illogical fashion. Individuals create their own “subjective social reality” from their perception of the input.   An individual’s construction of social reality, not the objective input, may dictate their behaviour in the social world. Thus, cognitive biases may sometimes lead to perceptual distortion, inaccurate judgment, illogical interpretation, or what is broadly called irrationality.  That is why when asked what they think about these kinds of games, the responses are largely similarly negative without any firsthand experience.

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Here are some observations from the video.  The players clearly had the drive to figure out how to get their character to perform the required actions.  Beyond the morally reprehensible behavior, actually functioning in the game the right way was a priority for the players.  Some people were so closed minded that they openly criticized it the whole time. Some of them stopped at stop signs and waited for lights to change even though there are no “real” rules at play in this universe.  Some are completely open to exploring and are excited to be in the environment – and even discover some secret gems about the game that traditional players might overlook.  Nearly all of them got excited to find the ammunition.  It would seem that materialism and freedom are alluring qualities to just about anyone.  There were some real surprises here, mainly the desire across the board to shoot innocent civilians in the game.  The players understood its just a game, but really wanted to shoot em up!

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Many people view games as a safe form of release.  A safe way to experience stress, and to generally, just play.   Perhaps that comes from the stress hormones released during game play – cortisol and epinephrine (adrenaline).  Playing the game creates a heightened sense of stress and this can actually be an enjoyable experience, especially for those who have never had that kind of “safe stress” experience before.   Why is it fun to play games?  Recent research has found that gaming can be an ideal platform for people to try on different hats and take on a characteristic they would like to have. Giving players the chance to adopt a new identity during the game and acting through that new identity – be it a different gender, hero, villain – can make them feel better about themselves and less negative.

What Grand Theft Auto games provide can be thought of as the essence of play.  What is play if it isn’t breaking reality’s boundaries, taking on a role, experiencing the feelings, emotions, problem solving with a different set of circumstances from our own usual day to day life?  Play in its purest form creates a sense of release through experimentation.  GTA can provide that.  For the elderly people who may not actively take the time to participate in these kinds of activities, it can be a real thrill.

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The Theories Behind Time Travel

Great Scott! How many gigawatts does it take to write a story with time travel and parallel universes? It doesn’t take that much electricity, but it does take a lot of planning, researching and creativity.

H.G. Wells, Isaac Asminov, Ray Bradbury, Octavia Butler, Kurt Vonnegut — they’ve all written famous science fiction books that focus on time travel. Wells’ Time Machine dates back to 1895, before Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity and before the ideas behind black holes and wormholes existed.

Traveling in time to alter our destinies has been a pop culture fascination for a long time. Many superheroes have experienced time travel in different ways. Superman could go back in time by flying around the world quickly enough to reverse Earth’s rotation. Similarly, The Flash could travel fast enough to go back in time. Even the mutant, Wolverine, traveled back in time in X-Men: Days of Future Past to change the fate the world.

The plot lines involved in time travel and jumping through alternate realities are not easy to follow and are even more difficult to write. This lesson takes a look back in time at how some science-fiction stories have rules and a structure to the way time and alternate universes function within their fictional world and how you can create your own narrative structure to write your own tight story involving parallel universes and time travel.