SSH News: Fables and moral lessons, rap and racism in Québec, and the Ivy League debate reaches Canada

Thursday, August 7, 2014


This week in SSH News, children’s stories and fables are the subject of research. At the University of Toronto, psychologist Kang Lee put three well-known tales that involve a main character lying to the test when he asked, do they actually teach children not to lie? The moral of his research, perhaps most useful to parents, teachers, and anyone trying to teach children a lesson about honesty, is that it actually depends on how the consequences of lying are presented.

Meanwhile, researchers in Australia have developed a computer program that can generate its own stories with a strong moral lesson. Computer scientist Margaret Sarlej, who is behind this new system, hopes this innovation could aid learning by creating custom stories to match the interests of different children. The most complex part of the story-generation process, according to Sarlej, is accounting for common sense in artificial intelligence. In other words, small facts about the world that we take for granted must be spelled out to a computer (Heidegger comes to mind here). 

In Québec, there is renewed buzz around the perennial question of language. An article in La Presse has highlighted the research of Mela Sarkar, professor and sociolinguist at McGill University. Sarkar dismisses fears that the Anglicization of French in the dialects of young, québécois rappers is the result of laziness, incompetence, or a failed education system. Rather, it is an artistic choice, perhaps intended to reflect a protest movement to mainstream culture. The fact that this should generate controversy in the first place raises, in turn, questions about racism in the province. 

U of T philosophy professor Mark Kingwell weighs in on the Ivy League debate raging south of the border. His solution? Send your kids to Canadian universities. In his Globe and Mail opinion piece, Kingwell highlights Canadian universities like the U of T and McGill to Americans looking for an alternative to the high-pressure admission requirements and legacy system of the Ivies. In addition to providing a high quality liberal arts education, these schools’ affordability means that “many more people can aspire to college education.”

And finally, who owns the copyrights to a macaque selfie? We'll leave this one for the law philsophers out there.


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