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Who Wants To Be a Cognitive Neuroscientist Millionaire? 65

ThePolynomial writes "Last night Ogi Ogas, a cognitive neuroscientist and Homeland Security Fellow, became the first person to face the million-dollar question on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? in three years. He now has a first-person narrative on where he describes using techniques from cognitive science to think of answers on the show." From the article: "I used priming on my $16,000 question: 'This past spring, which country first published inflammatory cartoons of the prophet Mohammed?' I did not know the answer. But I did know I had a long conversation with my friend Gena about the cartoons. So I chatted with Meredith about Gena. I tried to remember where we discussed the cartoons and the way Gena flutters his hands. As I pictured how he rolls his eyes to express disdain, Gena's remark popped into my mind: 'What else would you expect from Denmark?'"
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Who Wants To Be a Cognitive Neuroscientist Millionaire?

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  • by Stanistani ( 808333 ) on Thursday November 09, 2006 @03:41PM (#16788193) Homepage Journal
    D. William

    Dammit, Dammit, Dammit!
  • Re: wow (Score:1, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    That show is still on the air, dam i though that show was cancled some 3 years ago

    They were just playing the home game at Regis' place.
  • Uh (Score:2, Interesting)

    by GigsVT ( 208848 )
    Isn't that show about tabloid rumors and hollywood trivia now, without any relation to the old show that actually asked questions that were about something other than pop culture?

    It seems strage to see that show name in relation to anything even near science, considering that science was chucked from the roster of questions asked on it years ago.
    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Isn't that show about tabloid rumors and hollywood trivia now, without any relation to the old show that actually asked questions that were about something other than pop culture?

      Judging from this question, "This past spring, which country first published inflammatory cartoons of the prophet Mohammed?", it seems they do ask questions other than pop culture, unless you count political current events as "pop culture".
  • I missed the 'in 3 years' part of the summary. ignore parent.
  • by TubeSteak ( 669689 ) on Thursday November 09, 2006 @03:47PM (#16788245) Journal
    On shows like "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" they give you all the time in the world. Some contestants can literally take 15+ minutes to answer a question, which is why this guy's techniques are usable. He had no time constraints.

    But, being TV, they can edit it down to make it entertaining. TFA mentions this, but not everyone is going to RTFA.
  • Y'know, those guys that can remember incredible sequences of numbers/playing cards etc, but have regular sized IQs... they create a story (The jack of hearts held on tightly to the queen of spades, stuff like that) and remember that in order to remember the sequence.

    Wonder how that could be applied to computer memory...
    • but have regular sized IQs...

      but do they get a discount if they also have a coke and fries? ;-)
    • by Avatar8 ( 748465 )
      You're thinking of mnemonics, so no, this is not how the memory wizards do it.

      I think (or would hope) that everyone uses these cognitive thinking methods whether they know it or not. I immediately recognize that I use all of the techniques he mentioned, but I didn't know there were formal names for it. I simply call it "putting it into context." If you can picture or associate something with something else, then you have a much higher chance that triggering any of those memories will fire off the entire c

    • by joto ( 134244 )

      Wonder how that could be applied to computer memory...

      I believe that if we create an AI that has a memory which is working in exactly the same way as ours, with exactly the same mechanism for remembering and/or forgetting things, that we could teach the AI these mnemotic tecniques, just like we can learn them ourselves. Apart from that, it's not applicable.

  • by ReidMaynard ( 161608 ) on Thursday November 09, 2006 @03:51PM (#16788261) Homepage
    My wife loves this show. He actually passed on the $1M and kept the $500,000 -- It was something thought to watch him. He thought he knew the answer to the $1M (the question was which ship was not [boarded/sunk?] during the Boston Tea Party). He thought he knew the answer, even gave it out loud, but said he wasn't sure enough. I think he yelled DAMN three times when Merideth told him the correct (his) answer.
  • It's a shame. What could have been a fascinating treatment of neuroscience for laypeople, and how it applies to a quizshow, has been written like "the time I went on telly by Ogi Ogas aged 7 and 3/4".
  • Is he happy having one half a million or stabbing himself in the face for walking away from a million, when he DID know the answer?

    either way, it is awsome to see a scientific aproach to problemsolving
    • The half million-dollar question was about the theraputic effect claimed for Bayer Heroin in the 1890's. This question was a switch from some lame pop culture question about which Beatle didn't help out with Jerry's Kids (George Harrison), and he 50/50'd the heroin question down to "treat stuffy head" and "suppress cough."

      So Ogi-dude does not know the answer, and he is trying to Zen this one while his wife, the medical doctor who must have known the answer, is squirming like crazy.

      Geez, isn't it "knowl

  • RE: not correct (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Atlantix ( 209245 ) on Thursday November 09, 2006 @03:54PM (#16788281)
    he may have been the first neuroscientist to win the million dollar prize, but there've been several million dollar winners over the years.

    Hmm, maybe that's why the summary says he was the first to face the million dollar question in three years?

  • Priming (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ciaohound ( 118419 ) on Thursday November 09, 2006 @03:55PM (#16788285)
    and other techniques from brain-based learning have really helped me think about my teaching methods. (I am a high school math teacher). The NSA sponsors workshops here in the state of Maryland that focus on how the brain retains knowledge and practical ways to use that in the classroom. IMHO, every teacher should be aware of developments in this field and really think critically about what they want students to retain long-term. Ultimately, a job description for a teacher is someone who creates meaningful memories.
  • The "Meredith Fake" (Score:5, Informative)

    by catfood ( 40112 ) on Thursday November 09, 2006 @03:56PM (#16788291) Homepage

    I got to visit New York several years ago for a chance to beat Regis, back when the show was still prime time.

    One thing the producers hammered into our head was "Regis does not know the answer. He might think he does." The point: ignore the Regis Fake. He probably wants you to win but you might know more than he does.

    They also told us that one contestant took about 45 minutes to answer a single question, got it right, and took another 45 minutes on the next one. As another poster said, they're fine with that. It all comes out in the editing.

  • by bstadil ( 7110 )
    The article forgets to mention that Gena is mildly retarded and has acquired little knowledge of the outside world
    • by WgT2 ( 591074 )

      Yeah, maybe, but then Gena would have an excuse for being... well, what he/she is.

  • by Astarica ( 986098 ) on Thursday November 09, 2006 @04:00PM (#16788313)
    Suppose he remembered NCAA wrong and thought it was National College Atheletic Advancement and then reasoned it out after 15 minutes, and was ultimately wrong, we would just never hear any of it because it'd just be some guy who thought he was right, but was wrong. I've no doubt that such techniques are useful but the justification here seems to be just because he won. I've seen plenty of times on Millionaire when the guys would go through all these anecdotes and thought he remembered correctly, but turned out to be wrong. Does this disprove such methods?
  • So what (Score:4, Insightful)

    by kentrel ( 526003 ) on Thursday November 09, 2006 @04:08PM (#16788355) Journal
    He won with a combination of knowing the answers and making educated and lucky guesses. The fact that he justifies it later with his field's terminology is meaningless. This is nothing special - we all think like this. The fact that he gives these names is all well and good for his research but it's nothing new.

    Frankly, the people who do those memory competitions are far more impressive than this guy, but at least they don't write 4 page essays on how clever they think they were.

  • But isn't this just the way the human brain works? Admittedly, I don't know much about cognitive neuroscience, but it doesn't seem to me that free-associating to recall the answers to simple trivia questions. I appreciate academia as much as the next guy, but to champion the use of mnemonic devices and mental cues on a game-show as some kind of scientific vindication seems somewhat rhetorically overblown. Maybe I'm projecting, but isn't this how everybody's memory functions? I can't count how many times
  • I remember watching Regis in the show's early days, when it had class. The third question was "what kind of trees shed their leaves in winter?" The contestant sweated for a while and then asked for a lifeline. At that point a five-year-old kid in the room said "Such a big man, and he doesn't know is deciduous?"

    The modern version is so dumbed down, that it resembles the equally silly descendant of another show where the hostess would skewer the unfortunate soul who failed to answer correctly. Those were the
  • Watching that show is really frustrating. Half of the people make no effort whatsoever to think through their answers before they go with them. If people would just take an extra 60 seconds to think about it, they could make so much more money. If I was that guy, I probably would have gone with William and taken the million. Does he lose ALL the money if he gets it wrong, or does he just go back to the last tier?
  • Ultimately, a job description for a teacher is someone who creates meaningful memories.

    Man, I bet you try to work that line in to as many conversations as you can (I certainly would).

  • techniques (Score:5, Interesting)

    by meta-monkey ( 321000 ) on Thursday November 09, 2006 @04:31PM (#16788513) Journal
    I've seen plenty of times on Millionaire when the guys would go through all these anecdotes and thought he remembered correctly, but turned out to be wrong. Does this disprove such methods?

    I read the article, and it was more of a discussion of how your brain works, remembering long-forgotten and "unimportant" facts. It's more of a "what happens" discussion rather than a how-to guide. However, by having a better understanding of his thought processes, he was able to guide it a little better. I found the article interesting, because some of the techniques he used are the same ones I've employed playing trivia games or taking tests, and I just didn't know they had names.

    For instance, I was unaware that "Theory of Mind" was a cognitive process with a name. Apparently, this is the process of understanding someone else's beliefs or thought processes and using this understanding to come to conclusions about their motives. The author used this process to eliminate some of the options given to him by asking himself "what would the question's authors have put here to confuse me" rather than just figuring out the correct answer to the question.

    It reminds me of when I was in high school, and we were engaged in a county-wide "math field day" event. Students from several schools were brought together, and we took exams and competed for awards. One of the exams was almost impossible to complete, because it had 60+ questions, and you only had 30 minutes. The questions were not particularly hard, just time-consuming. After only being able to get through 5 questions in 10 minutes, I knew I wouldn't finish, so I started ignoring the questions, and just looked at the multiple-choice answers, and I realized what the authors were doing. They were trying to make answers that seemed plausible, or that you might arrive at if you made a mistake, by breaking up parts of the real answer. For instance, the choices you were given might be a) 2, b) 2/3, c) 2/5, d) 4/3, e) 4/7. It can't be a) 2, because the rest of the choices are fractions. Since three of the choices have a 2 in them, though, it's likely one of the answers with a 2. Since no other number but 3 and 4 appear more than once, it's likely an answer that has a 2 in it, and also a 3 or 4. The only answer that fits is b) 2/3. So I'd mark that down. I just did that for all the questions, and won the competition, without actually doing any math.
  • After reading his article, it seems what was most valuable to him was not his memory or knowledge, but his meta-memory. The skill of evaluating the source and veracity of memories. Knowing why or how he knew something. His description of the final question worried me a bit, though. To quote:

    I immediately had an intuition that one of the ships at the Tea Party was Dartmouth. I reflected on Dartmouth, using it as a prime. I repeated the ship's name aloud and silently to myself. Gradually, the name of an

  • Slightly off topic, but do you remember this cool guy []?
  • by Carthag ( 643047 ) on Thursday November 09, 2006 @05:29PM (#16788869) Homepage
    :( Denmark isn't all that bad!
  • When I saw the Sears question my intuition says "Refrigerators". I don't even know if that's one of the choices, and it is clearly wrong. If I was there I'd have lost the $250,000 question if I go with my hunch and no one would be interested on my insight to human intuition except perhaps on how NOT to play Who Wants To Be a Millionaire.

    I'm sure the techniques have some basis to why they work, but it is easy to fit the model to the data when you turned out to be right. Why don't we ask every person who d

  • Surely someone employed in Homeland Security should be au fait with current affairs ? The Danish cartoons were big news for well over a week not that long ago, and are obviously related to questions of terrorism and, well, Homeland Security. Obviously the qualifications for winning a quiz show are more stringent than landing a job with Homeland Security.
  • Take it from a dane (and even in the words of a marginally Danish influenced band, whose name I fear to mention as their Danish member might sue the crap out of me)... It's "Sad But True"...

    I know it's wildly off-topic, so feel free to mod me so, but there's still a lot of this going on here - it didn't stop with the cartoons last year. Within the past few months a radical right-wing party realeased a drawing of Mohammad as a drooling pedophile in their members' magazine and the same party's youth fraction

  • What else would you expect from Denmark, indeed!

  • That's brilliant. I've done the same myself thinking back, but I don't think I was as systematics as that. I like the thinking. :)
  • I saw that live.
    That dude was ICE COLD.

    I loved the fact that he needed NO lifelines, and he use the phone a friend to call his dad and tell him he was going to win.

    Not to mention he worked for the IRS, and probly kept a better share of the $1M than most people.
  • by caluml ( 551744 ) <slashdot@spamgoe ... minus poet> on Thursday November 09, 2006 @06:57PM (#16789497) Homepage
    Just pre-guess random answers.
    a,b,a,a,d,c,b,a,c,b,d,b,d,c,b - did I win? It's only a 1 in 4^15 chance (is my maths working?). Hmm. That's a billion. Might take a while to do it. But brute-forcing it will work.
  • In response to #16788379 []:

    People who take an ungodly amount of time to answer simple questions are among the most annoying people on the planet.

    No kidding. These are the same people who make me spend all three hours proctoring a final exam, even though they do nothing but flip through the pages, nibble their pencil, sigh, look around the room, and don't actually answer any questions for the last 45 minutes of it.
  • 'This past spring, which country first published inflammatory cartoons of the prophet Mohammed?' I did not know the answer.

    You still don't know the answer, chump! It so happens Denmark wasn't the first to publish such cartoons, and they didn't publish cartoons in the plural, but only one cartoon - ergo, not a very well-informed cognitive scientist - do not look to this clown for future scientific advances in the field of cognitive neuroscience. What America - and a number of other countries need - is m

  • Re: not correct (Score:3, Insightful)

    by belg4mit ( 152620 ) on Thursday November 09, 2006 @11:32PM (#16790872) Homepage
    IMHO it's somewhat excuable that people are missing the "in 3 years" bit because
    that is a horribly phrased sentence. The editors should have corrected it to read:

    Last night Ogi Ogas, a cognitive neuroscientist and Homeland Security Fellow, became
    the first person in three years to face the million-dollar question on 'Who Wants to
    Be a Millionaire?'

    fsck, this is like using digg. Make with the 24 bit ints and threaded comments!
  • by dzfoo ( 772245 ) on Friday November 10, 2006 @06:15AM (#16791962)
    Last night Ogi Ogas, a cognitive neuroscientist and Homeland Security Fellow, became the first person to face the million-dollar question on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? in three years by using a special technique known in cognitive science as REMEMBERING.

  • There are some videos on google vid, regarding the ancient Egyptians and talismans.

    You want to know how they built the pyramids? Consider this: They had the best education system (as in method of learning) the world has ever known.

    Crudely it can be analogised thusly. If you have a ring on your finger, or a necklace, broach, locket, special pen someone gave you etc... Then to anyone else, if they look at that ring, it will be a meaningless piece of metal to them. Zero value sentimentally. However,
  • 1: I'm danish
    2: I don't know why anybody would expect this more or less from Denmark
    3: The cartoons were published in November 2005, but didn't gain any momentum internationally until a group of extremist imams (muslim priests) went to Egypt with a portfolio of the drawings, as well as a lot of other nasty stuff that may or may not have been presented to these guys, but never, never, never was printed in any significant publication.

    It was obvious what they meant, and since he got it right, he probably doesn
    • Here's something really bizarre. I was in Egypt when all of this mess got big back in February, and my english speaking guide couldn't figure out what the big deal was, since the english-Egyptian newspaper had published THE EXACT SAME CARTOONS 6 months before. Publish them in Cairo...nobody cares. Publish them in Denmark...riots. Weird.

Sigmund Freud is alleged to have said that in the last analysis the entire field of psychology may reduce to biological electrochemistry.