Saturday, April 30, 2011

Dogs Themselves (and Dog's World = Internet)

Fascinating three part CBC Ideas program about dogs:

"Dogs and people have lived together as friends for at least 12,000 years.  Remarkably, it's only been in about the last 20 or 30 years that fundamental questions about WHO dogs are, are being answered by detailed research.
Take dogs' sensory systems.  It used to be said that dogs are colour blind.  They aren't.
Dogs see colours less distinctly than we do and their vision, when they're looking at something really close, isn't as good as ours.  But they can see distant movement and they can see in dim light much better than we can.  Their hearing is better - about 40 times better.  And then there's smell. It's a dog's primary way of knowing the world.  Ours is vision, theirs is smell. Their noses include what's called a vomeronasal organ, that "holds" and recirculates airborne molecules for analysis like a chemistry lab.  Some types of dogs have an olefactory system that's thousands of times more sensitive than ours. Imagine what it would be like to be awash in smells and sounds like dogs are.
And then there's the question of what dogs DO with all this information."

Jeff Jarvis draws an interesting analogy between dogs and Internet (via Andrew):

"Dogs, they say, think in maps informed with their smell. They sniff and resniff a location to find out what has been there and they sniff the air to tell the future: to discover what will be here or where they will go next. Thus, they say, dogs have a different sense of “now.” Unlike our eyes, which take in what is visible and apparent at this moment, their noses can sense the past — who and what was here and what’s decaying underneath — and the future of a place — what’s coming, just upwind. Dogs are microprocessors, they say, and their noses feed their data bases.
It strikes me that the net — particularly the mobile net — is building a dog’s map of the world. Through Foursquare, Facebook, Google, Twitter, Maps, Layar, Goggles, and on and on, we can look at a place and see who and what was here before, what happened here, what people think of this place. Every place will tell a story it could not before, without a nose to find the data about it and a data base to store it and a mind to process it."

It's not possible to understand Max completely. But by the process of modestly anthropomorphizing him, I try to canine-morphize myself. In addition to being the power-house my emotional life; he opened up those intellectual doors in my life which I never knew existed.
In the quest to understand him, I was forced to embark on that futile journey to understand the world. It's immensely difficult comprehend what I saw in the way he sees the world. Other than those trite lessons of life and death; the lessons on how to adapt, be open-minded, find wonder in mundanity and most important lesson of perpetual learning. And thanks to that fallacious memory,  there would be more lessons to be learnt in hindsight. It's not about me but yet the only quantified way of understanding Max is to see the change in myself. I can never be a canine but through him I hope to become a better human. My righteousness melts in his umwelt.

Rise & Fall Of A Genius

Cave of Forgotten Dreams

Slate review endorses stating - "If you are a member of the human race, you should see this movie." 
Unfortunately, being human et al; I ought to see this one soon (the background music even in the trailer is awesome).

SETI Shutdown & Aliens - Jill Tarter Interview

"We’re doing everything we possibly can to bring it out of hibernation. But that, you know, that requires new funding.
We’re talking with the Air Force, and we’re hopeful for that. But we also need the public to step up and support SETI research, to keep that on an even keel. This unfortunate situation, coming at just the wrong time, when we were just beginning a two-year search of these Kepler worlds — we hope people understand the irony of that.
Before Kepler launched, we knew about a couple of hundred exoplanets. Most of those were big or right next to their stars. Not likely to be habitable. The Kepler worlds are different. There are 68 of them that are about the same size as Earth, of which it’s calculated that 54 may be in the “Goldilocks” habitable zone. And there’s 1,235 of them altogether, which [extrapolated] gives us the statistic that we can expect 50 billion planets in the galaxy, and 500 million of those are likely to be habitable.
The Kepler results have changed the way we can do our research. We can now point where we know there are likely to be good planet candidates. That’s a change. This is a fantastic new bounty of potential and information. "

- More Here

Quote of the Day

“A person who truly enjoys and appreciates their life will take pleasure in it and enjoy it regardless of whether any sort of afterlife exists. They might believe in an afterlife and even in some sort of wonderful heaven, but they won’t depend upon the existence of such a heaven in order for their lives to have meaning or purpose.”

- Austin Cline

Friday, April 29, 2011

Neural Representation of Embarrassment

The twist to the experiment was that most of the subjects had neurodegenerative diseases, which helped scientists identify a thumb-sized bit of tissue in the right hemisphere of the front part of the brain called the "pregenual anterior cingulate cortex" as integral to embarrassment. The degree to which the singers were embarrassed in hearing themselves sing "My Girl" – the 1964 hit by the Temptations – depended on the integrity of this particular region.

"In healthy people, watching themselves sing elicits a considerable embarrassment reaction," said Virginia Sturm, a postdoctoral fellow at UCSF. Their blood pressure goes up, their heart rate increases, and their breathing changes, she explained. People who had neurological damage in the medial frontal cortex, however, responded more indifferently.

The feeling of embarrassment is a restraint on behavior. Imagine that anyone who wants a job on Wall Street was required to have a pregenual anterior cingulate cortex with some minimum size to assure they can feel embarrassed. Would they be less likely to do corrupt things? Ditto elected officials. Require a bigger pregenual anterior cingulate cortex at each step up in elected level?

- More Here

Non-Human Animal Emotions

"The first step in developing such a test would require that a set of basic, standardized criteria be developed; if measures for emotionally or consciously motivated behavioral responses are standardized, then judging behavior against those criteria becomes possible. In other words, if a pig chews needlessly on cage bars and her bodily responses (cortisol levels and skin temperature, as well as other indicators of stress in the mammalian central nervous system) correspond, then that pig can be said to be experiencing anxiety.

Tufts University professor and eminent theorizer of consciousness Daniel Dennett has proposed something similar for use with humans, a practice he refers to as "heterophenomenology." This practice, he argues, is "the sound way to take the first-person account as seriously as it can be taken." In a nutshell, Dennett says that if the researcher both listens to a subject’s inner account of a situation, and then observes the environmental factors, an objective conclusion can be reached about the inner-workings of the subject’s conscious thought processes.
He writes in an article on the subject: "a more constructive approach recognizes the neutrality of heterophenomenology and accepts the challenge of demonstrating, empirically, in its terms, that there are marvels of consciousness that cannot be captured by conservative theories."[11] The conservative theories to which Dennett refers hold back the study of consciousness in general, in humans and nonhumans alike. And though his proposal is meant for human consciousness, the principals could easily be applied to nonhuman animal emotion (Dennett, who is also a cognitive scientist, sometimes turns to the discussion of nonhuman animal consciousness).

It's a bold proposal, one that many will emphatically argue requires too great a leap of faith. The prospect is arguably rife with anthropomorphism, the supposed bane of all nonhuman animal consciousness studies. But approaches based on sweeping subjective generalizations are common throughout many areas of human psychology. Consider a hypothetical (and oversimplified) therapy session between Jane Doe and Dr. M. A set of criteria for emotion (in disorder form) is already accepted in the psychiatric field—the DSM—and judging by these formerly laid out, generalized criteria, Dr. M can determine by Jane Doe's verbal explanation of her experience whether or not his patient is experiencing anxiety. Dr. M makes a leap to believe his patient, thereby prescribing a medication that will alleviate her suffering. This trust in Jane and how well she knows her own emotion is subjective, but is nevertheless generally accepted. Take the language out of the equation—Jane’s ability to tell Dr. Z about her anxiety—and all we’ve left to go on is inference.

Is it so extreme an idea to suggest that nonhuman animals experience some form of emotion? It’s ethically easier to assume, as did Rene Descartes, that nonhumans are simply mechanized automatons, more like Turing’s machines than like us. I know my visit to Farm Sanctuary would have been much easier if I believed none of the residents had suffered any pain or anxiety."

- More
Here (hope we stop rationalizing at-least by end of this century)

Quote of the Day

"Therefore, dear Sir, love your solitude and try to sing out with the pain it causes you. For those who are near you are far away... and this shows that the space around you is beginning to grow vast.... be happy about your growth, in which of course you can't take anyone with you, and be gentle with those who stay behind; be confident and calm in front of them and don't torment them with your doubts and don't frighten them with your faith or joy, which they wouldn't be able to comprehend. Seek out some simple and true feeling of what you have in common with them, which doesn't necessarily have to alter when you yourself change again and again; when you see them, love life in a form that is not your own and be indulgent toward those who are growing old, who are afraid of the aloneness that you trust.... and don't expect any understanding; but believe in a love that is being stored up for you like an inheritance, and have faith that in this love there is a strength and a blessing so large that you can travel as far as you wish without having to step outside it."

- Rainer Maria Rilke (Letters to a Young Poet)

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Self-Imposed Ignorance

"Why does more education lead to less accurate beliefs? The answer returns us to the difference between rational voters (what we think we are) and rationalizing voters (what we really are). It turns out that the human mind is a marvelous information filter, adept at blocking out those facts that contradict what we’d like to believe.
Just look at this experiment, which was done in the late 1960’s, by the cognitive psychologists Timothy Brock and Joe Balloun. They played a group of people a tape-recorded message attacking Christianity. Half of the subjects were regular churchgoers while the other half were committed atheists. To make the experiment more interesting, Brock and Balloun added an annoying amount of static – a crackle of white noise – to the recording. However, they allowed listeners to reduce the static by pressing a button, so that the message suddenly became easier to understand. Their results were utterly predicable and rather depressing: the non-believers always tried to remove the static, while the religious subjects actually preferred the message that was harder to hear. Later experiments by Brock and Balloun demonstrated a similar effect with smokers listening to a speech on the link between smoking and cancer. We silence the cognitive dissonance through self-imposed ignorance."

Johnan Lehrer

The Origins of That Deficit

- More Here

Quote of the Day

"For what prevents us from saying that the happy life is to have a mind that is free, lofty, fearless and steadfast - a mind that is placed beyond the reach of fear, beyond the reach of desire, that counts virtue the only good, baseness the only evil, and all else but a worthless mass of things, which come 
and go without increasing or diminishing the highest good, and neither subtract any part from the happy life nor add any part to it?

A man thus grounded must, whether he wills or not, necessarily be attended by constant cheerfulness and a joy that is deep and issues from deep within, since he finds delight in his own resources, and desires no joys greater than his inner joys."

- Seneca

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Female Dogs Aren't Easily Fooled

The battle of the sexes has just heated up—in dogs. A new study finds that when a ball appears to magically change size in front of their eyes, female dogs notice but males don't. The researchers aren't sure what's behind the disparity, but experts say the finding supports the idea that—in some situations—male dogs trust their noses, whereas females trust their eyes.

Müller and his colleagues think it's unlikely there'd be an evolutionary reason for female and male dogs to have different visual skills. But psychologist and dog expert Stanley Coren, a professor emeritus at the University of British Columbia in Canada, disagrees. "Whenever you find sex differences, you can usually find an evolutionary reason as to why these things occur," he says. He speculates that females might need to rely on sight more when keeping track of a litter of puppies, which pretty much all smell the same. Or maybe there's some kind of trade-off for males. Males are more scent-oriented—people prefer them over females for tasks that require trailing and tracking—so they may pay less attention to visual differences, he says.

-via 3QD

$$ Doesn't Obey Laws Of Physics!!

"Finance is based heavily on things called “present value maximization models”—which means, essentially, that you’re discounting the future by a presumed rate of growth. You run an exponential growth equation backward to get a present value. So via the discount rate, growth is fundamentally built into finance. Well, that’s a very big assumption because the biosphere of which we’re a part is not growing.
One of my intellectual heroes, the Nobel Prize– winning chemist Frederick Soddy, put it another way. He said the problem in our economy is the one thing that economists have in their system which does not obey the laws of physics. And that is money. Money is the symbol of wealth, and yet it operates on laws which contradict the laws that wealth operates on. It’s very strange to have a symbol system that operates in ways that are fundamentally different from the thing being symbolized."

- Herman Daly, Interview Here

Meditation & Telomeres

"Epel has been collaborating with UCSF's Elizabeth Blackburn, who shared the 2009 Nobel physiology or medicine prize for her work on telomeres, to investigate whether telomeres are affected by psychological factors. They found that at the end of the retreat, meditators had significantly higher telomerase activity than the control group, suggesting that their telomeres were better protected. The researchers are cautious, but say that in theory this might slow or even reverse cellular ageing. "If the increase in telomerase is sustained long enough," says Epel, "it's logical to infer that this group would develop more stable and possibly longer telomeres over time."

Pagnoni has previously used brain imaging to show that meditation may protect against the cognitive decline that occurs as we age. But the Shamatha project is the first to suggest that meditation plays a role in cellular ageing. If that link is confirmed, he says, "that would be groundbreaking".

So how could focusing on your thoughts have such impressive physical effects? The assumption that meditation simply induces a state of relaxation is "dead wrong", says Raison. Brain-imaging studies suggest that it triggers active processes within the brain, and can cause physical changes to the structure of regions involved in learning, memory, emotion regulation and cognitive processing.

The question of how the immaterial mind affects the material body remains a thorny philosophical problem, but on a practical level, "our understanding of the brain-body dialogue has made jaw-dropping advances in the last decade or two," says Raison. One of the most dramatic links between the mind and health is the physiological pathways that have evolved to respond to stress, and these can explain much about how meditation works."

- More Here

Quote of the Day

"Each man is a good education to himself, provided he has the capacity to spy on himself from the closeup."

- Pliny

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

David Brooks on Fareed's GPS

Improve Your Learning and Memory By Switching Font Styles

"New research studies support the idea that when learning difficult concepts, we'll learn more if forced to go through some mental hurdles, so to speak.

If a piece of information is very easy to process (e.g., in large Arial font), we may be over-confident in how well we've retained that information—and more likely to skim it—, while information that's presented in a more challenging fashion (e.g., small Comic Sans MS font) forces us to read more carefully and think more deeply about the material.
If you have editable documents presenting new material for you to learn, try switching the font style to one that's less familiar to see if this works for you."

-More Here

Quote of the Day

"A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus: 
1. What am I trying to say? 
2. What words will express it? 
3. What image or idiom will make it clearer? 
4. Is this image fresh enough to have an effect?"

- Politics and the English Language, George Orwell

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Perverse Allure Of A Damaged Woman - Ayn Rand

"Rand was broken by the Bolsheviks as a girl, and she never left their bootprint behind. She believed her philosophy was Bolshevism's opposite, when in reality it was its twin. Both she and the Soviets insisted a small revolutionary elite in possession of absolute rationality must seize power and impose its vision on a malleable, imbecilic mass. The only difference was that Lenin thought the parasites to be stomped on were the rich, while Rand thought they were the poor.
In a country where almost everyone believes—wrongly, on the whole—that they are self-made, perhaps it is easier to have contempt for people who didn't make much of themselves. And Rand taps into something deeper still. The founding myth of America is that the nation was built out of nothing, using only reason and willpower. Rand applies this myth to the individual American: You made yourself. You need nobody and nothing except your reason to rise and dominate. You can be America, in one body, in one mind.
She said the United States should be a "democracy of superiors only," with superiority defined by being rich. Well, we got it. As the health care crisis has shown, today, the rich have the real power: The vote that matters is expressed with a checkbook and a lobbyist. "

- More Here

Why Is It So Damn Hard to Change?

Dopamine teaches your brain what you want, then drives you to get it, regardless of what's good for you. It does this in two steps. First you experience something that gives you pleasure (say, McDonald's french fries), which causes a dopamine surge. Some of that dopamine travels to the area of your brain where memories are formed and creates a memory connecting those fries with getting a reward. At that point, in sciencespeak, the fries have become "salient." And when you're exposed to something that's salient, you may think, "That's bad for me, I shouldn't,"  but your brain registers, "Dopamine jackpot!"

Which is where step two comes in: On top of creating memories, dopamine controls the areas of the brain responsible for desire, decision-making, and motivation. So once fries become salient, the next time you see or smell them, your brain releases a surge of dopamine that drives you to get more fries. When you succeed, your brain produces more dopamine, which reinforces the memory that made fries salient in the first place, etching it further into your brain. It's a never-ending cycle: The more you do something that's rewarding, the more dopamine makes sure you do it again. This is precisely how habits form. Eventually, if the fries become salient enough, your brain will release dopamine and push you to get fries anytime you see the colors yellow and red, even if you're nowhere near McDonald's.

You want to know why it's hard to change?" Wexler asked when I first walked into his office. "There are a hundred billion neurons in your brain. Each one is connected to thousands of others. Everything you're talking about—behaviors and learning and memory—involves the integrated actions of hundreds of thousands of cells in intricate systems throughout the brain." In adults those systems are essentially hardwired.

When you're a kid, it's a different story: Young brains are constantly forming new connections between neurons, changing the way children process information based on their experiences. That's plasticity, and it's why children soak up language and adapt to new cultures at rates that put adults to shame. "By the time we hit our 20s," Wexler says, "our brains have lost most of their plasticity." But fortunately, they haven't lost all of it.

Imagine you've got one strong eye and one weak eye, he tells me. If you cover the good eye with a patch, so it gets no stimulus, the weak eye will get stronger. But the second you remove the patch, the strong eye kicks in again and the weak one gets weaker. The same is true of all pathways in the brain. Once established, they stick around and remain strong as long as they're being used. So the first step toward change, Wexler says, is putting a "patch" over the pathway you want to lose (like, say, a chocolate obsession), which means eliminating anything that activates it (having chocolate in the house, going places where you usually buy chocolate). This is why, for many people who try to quit drinking or smoking, it's impossible to have just one glass of wine or cigarette. It's why heroin and coke addicts must avoid places and people connected to their drug days.  But disabling the old pathway isn't everything. Searching your brain for an existing healthy pathway—even a tiny weak one—and then strengthening it can make things much easier."

- via FS

Quote of the Day

"The world ain't all sunshine and rainbows. It's a very mean and nasty place and I don't care how tough you are it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain't about how hard ya hit. It's about how hard you can get it and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That's how winning is done! Now if you know what you're worth then go out and get what you're worth. But ya gotta be willing to take the hits, and not pointing fingers saying you ain't where you wanna be because of him, or her, or anybody! Cowards do that and that ain't you! You're better than that! "

- Rocky Balboa

Sunday, April 24, 2011

"Progress": Regulation for Genetic Testing?

Matt Ridley makes a rational call @ WSJ (thank goodness; I already did it @ 23andme):

Food and Drug Administration is in the process of demanding the power to regulate genetic tests marketed directly to consumers as if they were medical devices. This proposal has produced contrasting reactions. Physicians predictably are all in favor. They see the opportunity for a closed-shop power-grab of the kind professionals love: a gatekeeping role. The American Medical Association wants the law changed so that people can get their genes tested only on prescription from a doctor.

Many genetic commentators, on the other hand, are dead against. They see this as an unnecessary intrusion of cost and hassle between the customer and his or her own genes. Besides, physicians often complain that they know too little of genetics—even as they demand to be put in charge. In its letter to the FDA asking for a gatekeeping role, the AMA bizarrely confessed: "The number of genetic tests available directly to consumers has proliferated rapidly, and several studies have reported that physicians find it difficult to keep up with the pace of genetic technology."

If freedom does not appeal, the clinching argument for allowing consumers unfiltered access to their own genes is a scientific one. The only way slight genetic influences on health are going to emerge is if thousands of people submit their genomes for testing, and the only way that is going to happen is voluntarily. Academic research projects cannot promise to create the huge databases that an enthusiastic populace applying to an entrepreneurial testing industry can spawn. Genetic knowledge, whether the high priests like it or not, is going to be a crowd-sourced phenomenon.

The Open Mind - David Brooks

Old PBS interview with David Brooks soon after he joined NYT; excellent insights.

Watch the full episode. See more The Open Mind.

Watch the full episode. See more The Open Mind.

Water for Elephants

"In truth, my inexplicably serene goodwill toward this thoroughly silly movie stems mainly from the presence of Rosie, a pink-and-gray-mottled Indian elephant played by a 42-year-old pachyderm named Tai. In the age of CGI animals (and real animals' movements altered by digital effects), the scenes with the elephant and other big animals have a lovely simplicity and freshness: The creatures are simply there, doing (with some exceptions) what they appear to be doing and sharing the frame with actors. The ostensible romantic leads of Water for Elephants may make for a less than smoldering couple, but their chemistry with Rosie is sensational."

-More Here

Quote of the Day

"Man is always inclined to regard the small circle in which he lives as the center of the world and to make his particular, private life the standard of the universe and to make his particular, private life the standard of the universe. But he must give up this vain pretense, this petty provincial way of thinking and judging."

-Michel de Montaigne

Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Art of Nurturing New Samuel Huntington's - Francis Fukuyama

"Today, the single most popular form of development dissertation in both economics and political science is a randomized micro-experiment in which the graduate student goes out into the field and studies, at a local level, the impact of some intervention like the introduction of co-payments for malaria mosquito netting or changes in electoral rules on ethnic voting. These studies can be technically well designed, and they certainly have their place in evaluating projects at a micro level. But they do not aggregate upwards into anything that can tell us when a regime crosses the line into illegitimacy, or how economic growth is changing the class structure of a society. We are not, in other words, producing new Samuel Huntingtons, with the latter’s simultaneous breadth and depth of knowledge.

On a policy level, we need far more mutual understanding between those who promote socioeconomic development and those who work on democracy promotion and governance. Traditional development agencies like USAID already think politically to the extent that their aid projects are designed to support U.S. foreign policy. But they, like their counterparts in multilateral organizations like the World Bank, are not trained to do political economy analysis; they do not seek an understanding of the political context within which aid is used and abused, and what is not sought is very rarely found. We call for the liberalization of ports in Haiti, for example, without trying to understand which particular politicians are benefiting from existing arrangements that keep them closed. For their part, democracy promoters focus on democratic transitions, providing help to opposition parties and civil society organizations in authoritarian countries. But once a transition occurs, as it did after the Orange and Rose revolutions in Ukraine and Georgia, they have relatively little to offer new democratic governments in terms of policy agendas, anti-corruption strategies or help in improving the delivery of services that citizens want.

Beyond these relatively minor adjustments, a more robust theory of social change might tell us that, in certain circumstances, the best way to destabilize an authoritarian society would be not the funding of civil society groups seeking short-term regime change, but rather the promotion of rapid economic growth and the expansion of educational access. Conversely, there are many societies we know will simply waste development assistance dollars because they are ruled by unaccountable authoritarian regimes. In such circumstances, it might be a more efficient use of aid resources to cut development aid entirely and to work only for political change. This is, in effect, what has happened to Zimbabwe under Robert Mugabe, but the country had to sink very far before anyone considered pulling the aid plug."

More Here from Francis Fukuyma, author of The Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution

What I've Been Reading

Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation by Steven Johnson. Consilience, noise, cascading knowledge through centuries, hunches, openness are some of many flames which bring good idea to the world and unknowns are still plentiful. A wonderful book decimating that idea of sole genius in the basement - it's humbling.

On hunches:

"In the summer of 1951, a World War II Navy veteran named Wilson Greatbatch was working at an animal behavior farm affiliated with the psychology department at Cornell, where he was studying under the G.I. Bill. Greatbatch had long been a ham radio enthusiast; as a teenager, he had built his own shortwave radio by cobbling together the descendants of de Foresta Audion. His love of gadgets had drawn him to the Cornell farm because the psychology department needed someone to attach experimental instruments to the animals, measuring their brain waves, heartbeats, and blood pressure. One day, Greatbatch happened to sit at lunch with two visiting surgeons and got into a conversation about the dangers of irregular heartbeats. Something in their description of the ailment triggered an association in Greatbatch's mind. He imagined the heart as a radio that was failing to transmit or receive a signal properly. He knew the history of modern electronics had been all about regulating the electrical signals passed between devices with ever more miraculous precision. Could you take all that knowledge and apply it to the human heart? 
Greatbatch stored the idea in the back of his head for the next five years, where it lingered as a slow hunch. He moved to Buffalo, started teaching electrical engineering, and moonlighted at the Chronic Disease Institute. A physician at the institute recruited Greatbatch to help him engineer an oscillator that would record heartbeats using the new silicon transistors that were threatening to replace the vacuum tube. One day, while working on the device, Greatbatch happened to grab the wrong resistor. When he plugged it into the oscillator it began to pulse in a familiar rhythm. Thanks to Greatbatch's error, the device was simulating the beat of a human heart, not recording it. His mind flashed back to his conversation on the farm five years before. Here, at last, was the beginning of a device that could restore the faulty signal of an irregular heart, by shocking it back into sync at precise intervals. Within two years, Greatbatch and a Buffalo surgeon named William Chardack deployed the first implantable cardiac pacemaker on the heart of a dog. By 1960, the Greatbatch-Chardack pacemaker was pulsing steadily in the chests of ten human beings. Variations of Greatbatch's original design have now saved or prolonged millions of lives around the world."

On Noise:
"The trouble with error is that we have a natural tendency to dismiss it. When Kevin Dunbar analyzed the data from his in vivo studies of microbiology labs, one of his most remarkable findings was just how many experiments produced results that were genuinely unexpected. More than half of the data collected by the researchers deviated significantly from what they had predicted they would find. Dunbar found that the scientists tended to treat these surprising
outcomes as the result of flaws in their experimental method: some kind of contamination of the original tissue perhaps, or a mechanical malfunction, or an error at the data-processing phase. They assumed the result was noise, not signal.
Transforming error into insight turned out to be one of the key functions of the lab conference. In Dunbara's research, outsiders working on different problems were much less likely to dismiss the apparent error as useless noise. Coming at the problem from a different perspective, with few preconceived ideas about what the correct result was supposed to be, allowed them to conceptualize scenarios where the mistake might actually be meaningful. As the science writer Jonah Lehrer has observed, this pattern appears in one of the great scientific breakthroughs of twentieth-century physics, the discovery of cosmic background radiation, which was mistaken for meaningless static by the astronomers Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson for more than a year, until a chance conversation with a Princeton nuclear physicist planted the idea that the noise was not the result of faulty equipment, but rather the still lingering
reverberation of the Big Bang. Two brilliant scientists with great technological acumen stumble across evidence of the universe's original evidence that would ultimately lead to a Nobel Prize for both of them and yet their first reaction is: Our telescope must be broken."

And my favorite lines from Darwin; what we can learn from Coral Reefs...
Darwin described it best in the chapter on his Keeling Islands investigations from The Voyage of The Beagle: “We feel surprise when travelers tell us of the vast dimensions of the Pyramids and other great ruins, but how utterly insignificant are the greatest of these, when compared to these mountains of stone accumulated by the agency of various minute and tender animals. This is a wonder which does not at first strike the eye of the body, but, after reflection, the eye of reason.”

Quote of the Day

"The richness of the rain made me feel safe and protected; I have always considered the rain to be healing -- a blanket -- the comfort of a friend. Without at least some rain in any given day, or at least a cloud or two on the horizon, I feel overwhelmed by the information of sunlight and yearn for the vital, muffling gift of falling water."

-Douglas Coupland 

Friday, April 22, 2011

Socratic Citizenship

Watch it on Academic Earth

Chinese Animal Activists Save Hundreds of Dogs From Being Eaten

"Last Friday afternoon, hundreds of dogs were on their way to Chinese restaurants when a suspicious driver swerved his car in front of the truck to stop it. He then alerted activists on his microblog, who gathered 200 strong around the truck. They rendered the vehicle immobile, jamming traffic on the highway.
After a long standoff right outside Beijing, an animal activist group managed to free the dogs by purchasing them for 115,000 yuan ($17,600). Conflicting reports differ on the number of dogs involved, but the Global Times has placed the number as high as 520.
Sadly, many of the dogs were found with collars and nametags, indicating that they may have been stolen from their beloved owners. The healthy dogs will be put up for adoption while the sick ones were sent to pet hospitals in the nation's capital."

-More Here

Quote of the Day

"All his life he tried to be a good person. Many times, however, he failed. For after all, he was only human. He wasn't a dog."

-Charles M. Schulz

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Brain Time With The Possibilian - David Eagleman

"Before Francis Crick died, in 2004, he gave Eagleman some advice. “Look,” he said. “The dangerous man is the one who has only one idea, because then he’ll fight and die for it. The way real science goes is that you come up with lots of ideas, and most of them will be wrong.”  Eagleman may have taken the words a little too much to heart. When I was in Houston, he had more than a dozen studies running simultaneously, and spent his time racing from laboratory to lecture hall to MRI machine to brain-surgery ward and back. “We’re using the full armamentarium of modern neuroscience,” he told me. One of his nine lab members was studying the neurological roots of empathy; another was looking at free will. Two were studying timing disorders in schizophrenics; one had helped create the world’s foremost database of synesthetes.

Eagleman had projects on epilepsy, counterfeiting, decision-making in courts, and timing deficits among brain-damaged veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as four books at various stages of completion. In early April, Eagleman was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship for his work on synesthesia. In May, Pantheon will publish “Incognito,” his popular account of the unconscious.
“Did I mention my paper on the asp caterpillar?” he asked me one day. He pulled up a picture on his computer of what looked like a grub in a fancy fur coat. It was a highly venomous insect, he assured me. He knew this because one of them had crawled up his leg seven years earlier. “It felt like someone had just poured a glass of acid on my shin,” he said. In the hospital that night, an emergency-room doctor called him a wimp. “Haven’t you been bitten by a bug before?” he said. So Eagleman, by way of reply, spent the next few years rounding up every known case report of asp-caterpillar envenomation. He created the first map of the caterpillar’s distribution in North America, as well as graphs of a hundred and eighty-eight attacks, broken down by month and symptom. Then he published his report, extensively footnoted, in the journal Clinical Toxicology. “It turns out that I’m the world’s expert on this thing,” he told me, grinning."

- More Here

Dogs - Iran's Latest Enemy

This is outrageous... people do anything for power and geo-politics. Dogs don't have to suffer for human dissonance - here:

Lawmakers in Tehran have recently proposed a bill in parliament that would criminalize dog ownership, formally enshrining its punishment within the country's Islamic penal code. The bill warns that that in addition to posing public health hazards, the popularity of dog ownership "also poses a cultural problem, a blind imitation of the vulgar culture of the West." The proposed legislation for the first time outlines specific punishments for "the walking and keeping" of "impure and dangerous animals," a definition that could feasibly include cats but for the time being seems targeted at dogs. The law would see the offending animal confiscated, the leveling of a $100-to-$500 fine on the owner, but leaves the fate of confiscated dogs uncertain. "Considering the several thousand dogs [that are kept] in Tehran alone, the problem arises as to what is going to happen to these animals," Hooman Malekpour, a veterinarian in Tehran, said to the BBC's Persian service. If passed, the law would ultimately energize police and volunteer militias to enforce the ban systematically.
For many young people, these measures are a firm reminder that the government will brook no disobedience, whether it be chanting antigovernment slogans in the streets or sporting excessively long sideburns. Dog owners in Iran, like much of the population, are mostly preoccupied these days with inflation, joblessness and the parlous state of the country's economy. But they will soon need to consider whether keeping their shih tzu or poodle is worth the added worry. Their dogs may face the same fate as the hundreds of street dogs that the government regularly sweeps from the streets of Tehran. "Many in Tehran and other big cities find the killing of street dogs offensive and cruel," says Memarian. "It's like the Iranian people and officials live in two different worlds."

Quote of the Day

"The most important kind of freedom is to be what you really are. You trade in your reality for a role. You trade in your sense for an act. You give up your ability to feel, and in exchange, put on a mask. There can't be any large-scale revolution until there's a personal revolution, on an individual level. It's got to happen inside first."

- Jim Morrison

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


What The Best Book I Have Ever Read?

The books I have read has already become a part of who I am and the books I couldn't finish... well obviously they weren't the best books. So the best I have every read is and always will be the book I am currently reading. 

Quote of the Day

"I thought about all of the things that everyone ever says to each other, and how everyone is going to die, whether it's in a millisecond, or days, or months, or 76.5 years, if you were just born. Everything that's born has to die, which means our lives are like skyscrapers. The smoke rises at different speeds, but they're all on fire, and we're all trapped."

-Jonathan Safran Foer

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Pausing The Emotions

How to emote from 8000 miles away for the demise of my grandmother whom I think I met only once as a 4 year old and have no idea how she looks? Emotions has paused... only thing that comes to mind is "what a life".

These vicious walls we humans so convincingly create around us... are impossible to penetrate unless one introspectively or accidentally jumps out of it. And we have a great word for that in English - "Utopian Dream". It's a beautiful life.. spending few minutes with Max will make it self-evident. Life doesn't have to be so cruel, we work so hard to hone our phony niceness make it so. These hurtful words we think, feel and say... doesn't seem to end even after death. I hope there is no soul to spread more hatred ... let's be mere cells decaying slowly to nourish this planet. Thank goodness, we at-least know for sure that our cells eventually does spread goodness on this planet.

On Being Wrong - Kathryn Schulz

Kathryn gets emotional during these last line of her talk... beautiful and of-course, she is sooo right...

This is life, for good or evil we generate this incredible stories about the world around us and then world turns apart, then we tell another story. If you want to rediscover wonder; you need to step outside of that tiny terrified space of rightness and look around each other and lookout at the vastness and complexity and mystery of universe and able to say "wow", I don't know , may be I am WRONG."

"I err, therefore I am." -  St. Augustine 

Quote of the Day

"If someone is able to show me that what I think or do is not right, I will happily change, for I seek the truth, by which no one was ever truly harmed. It is the person who continues in his self-deception and ignorance who is harmed."

- Marcus Aurelius

Monday, April 18, 2011

Three Cups of Tea - A Fragment of Greg Mortenson's "Imagination"

Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely. This makes me think of Marcus Aurelius... is it possible that a man like him will ever be born? 

What Makes a Good Neighbor? - Peter Lovenheim

Peter Lovenheim talks about his new book In the Neighborhood: The Search for Community on an American Street, One Sleepover at a Time. It's a pity that we need a speech and a book like this to comprehend the importance of neighbors -  podcast here:

“We’re all mortal, we’re all subject to health emergencies,” Lovenheim said. “There are times when a friend even ten minutes away is too far away.”
Though Lovenheim said at the beginning of his talk that he didn’t have the academic background to know what a neighbor should be, he offered several suggestions for what people can do to be a good neighbor. They should start by getting to know people around them and taking advantage of what those people have to offer, he said.
One woman in Lovenheim’s neighborhood was a skilled pianist in her mid-80s. “If we had only known her, maybe she could have given piano lessons to the kids in the neighborhood … but at that point it was nearly too late,” he said. And even people who don’t have a particular skill to teach can lend a hand.
“All our resources are finite; if somebody is baking a cake at night and sends their spouse to the supermarket to buy a 6-ounce bottle of vanilla, that’s just wasteful,” Lovenheim said. “Better to borrow the vanilla or a cup of sugar or lawn equipment.”
The neighborhood, he said, is designed to be a building block of a healthy society, and research shows that people who feel connected to each other tend to be happier.

Quote of the Day

“Unlucky people miss chance opportunities because they are too focused on looking for something else. They go to parties intent on finding their perfect partner, and so miss opportunities to make good friends. They look through the newspaper determined to find certain job advertisements and, as a result, miss other types of jobs. Lucky people are more relaxed and open, and therefore see what is there, rather than just what they are looking for.”

Steve Jobs

Sunday, April 17, 2011

What I've Been Reading

Examined Lives: From Socrates to Nietzsche by James Miller. We cannot and shouldn't emulate these twelve philosophers in this book but we can gain immense wisdom from their works and lives. A'int we all lucky to have that "fast-food" wisdom on a platter from these men? It's hard not to get carried away by the elegance of one's favorite philosopher; but once we subdue that temptation, we can learn from the errors of these twelve men as well. 

Socrates: He was so orderly in his way of life that on several occasions when pestilence broke out in Athens, he was the only man to escape infection. He used to say that he mostly enjoyed food which was least in need of condiments, and the drink which made feel the least hankering for some other drink; and that he was nearest to gods when he had the fewer wants.

Plato: It's a law of nature that wisdom and great power go together; they exert a mutual attraction and are forever seeking to be united. I say all this to show you that when we are dead, men will still talk about us and we must have a care for their opinions.

Diogenes: Alexander once came to visit him while Diogenes was asleep and kicked him with the foot and then said, "Get up, I have just conquered your city." Diogenes replied, "Conquering cities is not to be held against kings, but kicking is how donkeys act."
On another occasion, a messenger from Alexander invited Diogenes to come see the king, but philosopher refused, instructing the messenger to tell the king, "That which prevents you from coming to us is that which prevents us from coming to you."

Aristotle: All men by nature desire to know, in everything natural there is something marvelous.

Seneca: I am not wise nor... shall I ever be. Require me not to be equal to the best, but better than the worst. I am satisfied everyday I reduce my vices and reprove my errors.
Listen to me as you would if I were talking to myself. I am admitting to you my inmost thoughts and with you as my guest, I'm taking myself to the task.

Augustine: Go back inside yourself and look; if you do not see yourself as beautiful, then do as the sculptor does with a statue he wants to make beautiful; he chisels away one part, levels off another... Like him, remove what is superfluous, straighten what is crooked, clean up what is dark and make it bright, and never stop sculpting your own statue, until the godlike splendor of virtue shines forth to you... If you see until the godlike splendor of virtue shines forth to you... if you see that this is what you have become, then you have become vision. Be confident in yourself, you have already ascended her and now , and no longer need someone to show you the way. Open your eyes and see. 

Montaigne: My actions, would tell more about the fortune about me... it is not my deeds that I write down; it is myself, it is my essence. 

Descartes: Lord has made three marvels, something out of nothing; free will; and God in man.
Obey the laws and customs of country one lives in; second, to act according to most the most probable opinion whenever there is lack of time to discern what is true; third, to try to subordinate one's wishes to the world, rather than other way around.
We should pay little attention to all the things outside of us that do not depend on our free will, in comparison with those things that do depend on it, which can always make good, when we know how to use our will properly; by this means, we can prevent the evils that come from elsewhere, however great they may be, form penetrating our soul any more deeply than the sadness that actors arouse when they perform various morbid acts; though to respond in this way, I agree, one must be very philosophical indeed. 

Rousseau: Suspicions, offenses, fears, coldness, reserve, hate and betrayal will hide constantly under the uniform and false veil of politeness.
Deep in the forest, I sought and found the image of the first times, the history of which I proudly traced. I made a clean sweep of the petty lies of mankind; I dared to strip naked their nature, to follow the progress of time, and trace the things which distorted it; and by comparing man as he has made himself with natural man I showed him in his pretended perfection the true source of his misery. Exalted by these sublime meditations, my soul raised itself close to divinity, and seeing my fellow men pursuing the blind path of their prejudices, of their errors, of their misfortunes and their crimes, I cried to them in a feeble voice that they could not hear, "Madman who ceaselessly complain of nature, learn that all your evils arise from yourselves!"

Kant: I feel in its entirety a thirst for knowledge, and yearning restlessness to increase it, but also satisfaction in every forward step. There was a time when I thought that this alone could constitute the honor of mankind, and I despised people, who know nothing. Rousseau set me right.
For what the highest degree may be at which mankind may have come to stand, and however great a gulf may remain between the idea of a free society and its execution (in practice), no one can or should try to determine this, just because it is freedom that can go beyond every proposed boundary.

Emerson: A man contains all that is needful to his government within himself. He is made a law unto himself. All real good or evil that can befall him must be from himself. He only can do himself any good or any harm. Nothing can be given to him or taken from him but always there is a compensation. There is a correspondence between the human soul & everything that exists in the world, more properly, everything that is known to man... The purpose of life seems to be to acquaint a man with himself. He is not to live to the future as described to him but to live to the real future by living to the real present. The highest revelation is that God is in every man. I

Nietzsche: Beware, when great God lets loose a thinker on this planet. Then all things are at risk. It is as when a conflagration has broken out in a great city, and no man know what is safe, or where it will end. There is not a piece of science but its flank may be turned tomorrow; there is not any literary reputation, not the so-called eternal names of fame, that may be not be reviewed and condemned; the things which are dear to men at this hour are so account of the idea which have emerged on their mental horizon, and which cause the present order of things, as a tree bears it apples. A new degree of culture would instantly revolutionize the entire system of human pursuits. 

In the end, Miller "philosophizes" that may be an examined life is not too prudent... I think, to a certain extent there is a truth to it. But yet, an unexamined life is not worth living at all. The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle; we can all dwell on that self imposed immaturity and become parrots of other men's thoughts or we can find the right balance between self-relfection and living a pragmatic good life. The choice is ours. Philosophy is one of the necessary ingredients for that life on the margin - abhor it at our own peril.

And of-course philosophy can be used for self-imposed misinterpretation; seamlessly transforming Emerson's self-reliance to a mythical city of Lake Wobohen:

It was an irony, perhaps unavoidable, that by exemplifying in this manner "Man Thinking", Emerson risked turning his idea of self-reliance into a kind of common coin, inspiring the cultivation en masse of superficially self-reliant souls, made complacent by pseudotranscendentalist slogans ("Be all that you can be") - a characteristic feature of America's popular culture to this day. His lectures, he acknowledged, risked turning into a "puppet show of Eleusinian Mysteries."

Allow Non-Native Americans To Run For President - Jon Meacham

Watch the full episode. See more Need To Know.

via Andrew

Lyrics & Us (denizens of Lake Wobegon)

This result isn’t surprising or controversial, but it’s nice to have somebody rigorously confirm an impression many of us have formed. In an upcoming essay for the journal, Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity and the Arts, Nathan DeWall and others studied pop music lyrics between 1980 and 2007. They found that over these years lyrics that refer to self-focus and antisocial behavior have increased whereas words related to other-focus, social interactions and positive emotions have decreased. We’ve gone from “Love, Love, Love” to “F.U.”

-via David Brooks

Quote of the Day

"The change in the US-Brazil relationship is not as dramatic or consequential as the change in US-Indian relations since the Cold War.  The US and India share two paramount strategic concerns — the possibility that China might seek hegemony in Asia and the possibility that Islamic extremism will destabilize the Middle East and beyond — that make that bilateral relationship one of the keys to the global situation.  US and Indian relations may never produce a formal alliance, but the community of interest is so deep and has such obvious military and geopolitical implications that even casual newspaper readers will be increasingly aware of its importance.

The new US-Brazilian relationship does not quite live up to that, but the ramifications of the changing relations between the two dominant powers in the western hemisphere will nevertheless make waves.  It is likely in the 21st century that Brazil will join the group of countries Americans listen to and rely on the most, and the countries whose interests Americans take the greatest care to address."

- More Here

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Living With Black Swans - Nassim Taleb


- via FS

Psycho-Analyzing Robert Mugabe

"Writing on all this some years ago, Peter Godwin opted for the view that Mugabe wasn't explicable by any change in circumstances or personality. He had had the heart and soul of a tyrant all along, and simply waited until he could give the tendency an unfettered expression. Even though I have a quasi-psychological theory of my own—that Mugabe became corroded by jealousy of the adulation heaped on Nelson Mandela —I now think that this is almost certainly right."

-Christopher Hitchens

Marcus Aurelius - Virtual University

If you haven't read Meditations by Marcus Aurelius yet, this lecture might nudge you to do so soon. This is one book we don't want to miss reading in our life time.

rest of the lecture videos - Part 1, Part 4 and Part 5