Convocation 2006
Convocation 2006

Faculty Response
Return to Program and Remarks

Mark H. Davis
Professor or Psychology
September 6, 2006

Welcome Back, My fellow Students, My friends

Last year the chair of FCC was Anne Cox, a physics professor. As some of you may know, Anne has a unique technique for public speaking - she often carries out a physics demonstration during her talk to illustrate the point she is making. Thus, she used last year's convocation to carry out a demonstration that involved swinging open containers of water over her head - much to the discomfort of those sitting behind her! Of course, physicists aren't the only ones who can use cheap theatrical stunts to impress an audience. Psychologists can do it too! However, my demonstration today won't involve containers of water, or electricity, or pendulums. Today, I plan to simply... read your minds. I am going to give you a series of directions, you will make some choices, and at the end I will know what you are all thinking.

Now, I have to warn you first that the directions will involve a little bit of math - but very easy math. Also, in case any members of the administration would like to keep your thoughts hidden during this demonstration, I have prepared some protective headgear you can wear in order to repel my mental powers.

Okay.

Pick a number from 1 to 8.

Multiply that number by 9.

Now, add together all the digits in this number.

Now, subtract 4.

Multiply by 2.

Subtract 6.

Now, assign a letter to this number using the following system: A=1, B=2, C =3, D =4, and so on.

Pick a country that begins with your letter.

Now, pick an animal that begins with the second letter from your country.

Finally, think of the color of that animal.

Wow, most of you are all thinking of the same thing. I've never seen so many grey elephants in Denmark!

So what's the point of the demonstration? Is it just to prove the superiority of psychological stunts over physics demonstrations? Well, mainly, yes... But there is something else as well. This little trick works for two reasons. First, all the mathematical operations at the beginning make it seem like everyone could end up with a different number, but in reality they force you to end up with number "4", which means that you end up with the letter "D". At least, they force you there if your math skills are up to the challenge...

Second, once you pick a country starting with "D", most people in the West pick Denmark, although other choices are possible (like the Dominican Republic). The second letter (E) also leads most people to think of an elephant, although other choices are possible (like eels, or elk).

Thus, the whole demonstration relies on the fact that even though we believe that we have complete freedom, our minds instead turn toward the same, familiar, predictable choices. Without our conscious knowledge, then, we drift toward automatic and stereotypical ways of thinking. As humans, we do that a lot, and one of the fundamental goals of a liberal arts education - your education - is to prevent that from happening. The curriculum here at Eckerd, from Autumn Term in your first year through senior seminar and Quest For Meaning in your final year, is designed to help you stretch your thinking - to help you move beyond just the comfortable and familiar, and to look for answers wherever they may be.

Therefore, as the new year begins, on behalf of the faculty let me offer you a warm welcome, best wishes for the year, and a friendly piece of advice: when the opportunity presents itself to rely on familiar, stereotypical ways of doing things... don't. Instead, take your time, think outside the box, and stay the heck out of Denmark!

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