Posted April 17, 2013 by Dr. Henri Montandon in Cool Runnings

Seeing statistics



Imagine you are invited on or even the likely duration of the expedition. You may or may not have companions, but you are advised that it is likely everything you bring you will have to carry yourself. What would you bring?

This little tale is analogous to researchers in consciousness science who wish to advise students what to study. Nor is the problem confined to newly hatched sciences. The physicist David Deutsch in THE BEGINNING OF INFINITY argues that knowledge of the physical universe is infinite, and each generation of explorers seems to  merely scratch the surface of what there is to know. The tools needed by the next generation of explorers may not have been invented when these gals and guys are students. Physicist Patricia Schwarz divides the mathematical tools that larval physics students need into three groups:


  1. Classical Physics and Elementary Quantum Mechanics: algebra, geometry, trigonometry, single variable calculus, multivariable calculus, analytic geometry, linear algebra, ordinary differential equations, partial differential equations, methods of approximation, probability and statistics
  2. Advanced Physics and Elementary String Theory: real analysis, complex analysis, group theory, differential geometry, Lie groups, differential forms, homology, cohomology, homotropy, fiber bundles, characteristic classes, index theorems, supersymmetry and supergravity
  3. Advanced String Theory: K-theory, noncommutative geometry


Given the burden of course work these students face, it is not surprising that Nobel Laureate Robert Laughlin advises his students NOT learn computer programming. It takes too long to become expert, and if they need a new program, they had best hire a programmer. This strategy works best, of course, when you have at least some basic knowledge of programming and what it can do.

I reckon that, in consciousness science, the same can be said of statistics. Students need to have a grasp on the basic concepts and methods, but if they really are gonna use statistics, best hire a professional. From this point of view, the best introduction to basic statistics I have found is in the site I am reviewing today, SEEING STATISTICS, the work of Gary McClelland

Study histograms

The publisher’s blurb provides a succinct description of what is to be found here: SEEING STATISTICS is an online product which addresses the differing learning styles of today’s students. It presents the dynamic, visual nature of statistical concepts using interactive and engaging methods based on years of cognitive research and experience. SEEING STATISTICS uses over 150 Java Applets to create an intuitive learning environment and is surrounded by relevant links to examples, exercises, definitions, and search/navigation capabilities.

Do an experiment.

I have worked my way through some of this book. I feel it does provide a solid introduction to basic statistics, allowing for advanced study or talking to a statistician. I don’t know how many beginning statistics books there are, but the odds of any of them being better than this one are quite small.






Dr. Henri Montandon