Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Contributions of the US State Park System to Nature Recreation

Thanks to the deficit, government has already started cutting the budget for the state parks and it's only going to get worse. State parks are the only oasis of biophilia; a very important paper reinstating that -  abstract paper here:

"Nature recreation in the United States concentrates in publicly provided natural areas. They are costly to establish and maintain, but their societal contributions are difficult to measure. Here, a unique approach is developed to quantifying nature recreation services generated by the US state park system.
The results show that state parks have a robust positive effect on nature recreation. For example, the approximately 2 million acres of state parks established between 1975 and 2007 are estimated to contribute annually 600 million hours of nature recreation (2.7 h per capita, approximately 9% of all nature recreation). All state parks generate annually an estimated 2.2 billion hours of nature recreation (9.7 h per capita; approximately 33% of all nature recreation). Using conventional approaches to valuing time, the estimated time value of nature recreation services generated by the US state park system is approximately $14 billion annually."

Animal Minds - Animals Are Smarter Than You Think

Alex, Betsy and other non-human animals have taught us that they are very smart; excellent piece from national geographic. Now the question is - are we listening or rationalizing our minuscule morality or simply don't care?

Charles Darwin, who attempted to explain how human intelligence developed, extended his theory of evolution to the human brain: Like the rest of our physiology, intelligence must have evolved from simpler organisms, since all animals face the same general challenges of life. They need to find mates, food, and a path through the woods, sea, or sky—tasks that Darwin argued require problem-solving and categorizing abilities. Indeed, Darwin went so far as to suggest that earthworms are cognitive beings because, based on his close observations, they have to make judgments about the kinds of leafy matter they use to block their tunnels. He hadn't expected to find thinking invertebrates and remarked that the hint of earthworm intelligence "has surprised me more than anything else in regard to worms."

But if animals are simply machines, how can the appearance of human intelligence be explained? Without Darwin's evolutionary perspective, the greater cognitive skills of people did not make sense biologically. Slowly the pendulum has swung away from the animal-as-machine model and back toward Darwin. A whole range of animal studies now suggest that the roots of cognition are deep, widespread, and highly malleable.

Just how easily new mental skills can evolve is perhaps best illustrated by dogs. Most owners talk to their dogs and expect them to understand. But this canine talent wasn't fully appreciated until a border collie named Rico appeared on a German TV game show in 2001. Rico knew the names of some 200 toys and acquired the names of new ones with ease.

To find more examples, the scientists read all the letters from hundreds of people claiming that their dogs had Rico's talent. In fact, only two—both border collies—had comparable skills. One of them—the researchers call her Betsy—has a vocabulary of more than 300 words.
Scientists think that dogs were domesticated about 15,000 years ago, a relatively short time in which to evolve language skills. But how similar are these skills to those of humans? For abstract thinking, we employ symbols, letting one thing stand for another. Kaminski and Tempelmann were testing whether dogs can do this too.

Betsy's owner—whose pseudonym is Schaefer—summoned Betsy, who obediently stretched out at Schaefer's feet, eyes fixed on her face. Whenever Schaefer spoke, Betsy attentively cocked her head from side to side.

Kaminski handed Schaefer a stack of color photographs and asked her to choose one. Each image depicted a dog's toy against a white background—toys Betsy had never seen before. They weren't actual toys; they were only images of toys. Could Betsy connect a two-dimensional picture to a three-dimensional object?

Schaefer held up a picture of a fuzzy, rainbow-colored Frisbee and urged Betsy to find it. Betsy studied the photograph and Schaefer's face, then ran into the kitchen, where the Frisbee was placed among three other toys and photographs of each toy. Betsy brought either the Frisbee or the photograph of the Frisbee to Schaefer every time. "It wouldn't have been wrong if she'd just brought the photograph," Kaminski said. "But I think Betsy can use a picture, without a name, to find an object. Still, it will take many more tests to prove this."

Quote of the Day

"If a little is not enough for you, nothing is."

- Epicurus

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Dangerous Psychology of Factory Farming

"Before 1850, when most animal husbandry happened on a relatively small scale, farmers viewed their animals as animals. That is, they saw them as sentient beings with unique needs that, left unaddressed, would result in an inferior product. Agricultural manuals from the time routinely instructed farmers to speak to their animals in pleasant tones of voice, to make sure that their bedding was soft and spacious, and to shower them with affection every day. Farmers never referred to their animals as objects. They knew better.

The reason they knew better was because the system of mixed pastoralism they practiced was defined by close physical proximity. This intimacy ensured that farmers interacted daily with their animals, developing an emotional sense of their individual personalities and quirks. The personal scale of animal husbandry made the slaughter—which farmers also tended to do themselves—a solemn occasion at best. No normal person, even on the hardest settlement frontier, would have been indifferent about killing an animal he spent years nurturing. Nobody could have doubted that he was taking the life of a sentient being with wants and needs.

After 1850, things changed. American agriculture fell into the grip of scientific farming. Agricultural scientists, followed by farmers, began to conceptualize farming as a strictly quantifiable venture. Beginning with plants, and then moving to animals, they became less concerned with individual idiosyncrasies and more concerned with collective evaluations of productivity. The chain of production expanded, and, as it did, farmers came to speak in terms of nutrient input, breeding schedules, confinement space, and disease management. By the 1870s, farmers were regularly referring to their animals not as animals but, literally, as machines being built in factories. "The pig," explained one agricultural manual, "is one of the most valuable machines on the farm."

The psychological salve of this rhetoric offered relief to farmers burdened with the task of mass slaughter. As early 19th-century farmers intuitively understood, farm animals are sentient creatures who have interests, a sense of identity, and the capacity to anticipate and feel pain. It is in the context of these qualities—qualities that constant interaction with animals make impossible to ignore—that the psychological "benefit" of factory farming becomes clear. Its impersonal, highly rationalized structure is designed to protect those involved from the emotional consequences of killing.

Today, many critics of industrial agriculture insist that we need to return to the pre-1850 system of animal agriculture. I'm skeptical of this argument, not so much on economic grounds—yes, it's more profitable to raise animals on a larger scale—but on psychological grounds.
I wonder if, in a post-Darwinian age of animal ethology (the study of animal minds), we simply know too much about animal emotions and intelligence to look millions of pigs and cows in the eye—animals raised with sincere affection and concern—and kill them. I wonder, in other words, if we're ready as a culture of meat eaters, to do what Bill's system of industrial production absolves him of having to do: contemplate the moral weight of animal husbandry."

- via FS

What I've Been Reading

The Greek Way by Edith Hamilton. 
Following were my favorite lines from the new book The Social Animal: The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement by David Brooks:

Harold found Ms. Taylor absurd for the first few weeks and then unforgettable forever after that. The most important moment of their relationship came one afternoon as Harold was moving from gym class to lunch. Ms. Taylor had been lurking in the hallway, camouflaged in her earth tones against the locker. She spotted her prey approaching at normal speed. For few seconds, she stalked him with a professional calm and patience, and then during a second when the hallway crowds parted and Harold was vulnerable and alone, she pounced. She pressed a slim volume into Harold's hand. "This will lift you to greatness!" she emoted. And in a second she was gone. Harold looked down. It was a used copy of a book called The Greek Way by a woman named Edith Hamilton. Harold would remember that moment forever.

Now that I have read that book, I can relate why Harold remembered that moment forever. I can only wish someone gave it to me when I was his age. A simple, powerful and lucid book to ignite the intellectual fire in any young kid's heart via that Greek spark.

On the intellectual influence of the Greeks:
We are composite creatures, made up of the soul and body, mind and spirit. When men's attention is fixed upon one to the disregard of the others, human beings result who are only partially developed, their eyes blinded to half of what life offers and the great world holds. But in that antique world of Egypt and the early Asiatic civilizations, that world where the pendulum was swinging ever farther and farther away from all fact, something completely new happened. The Greek came into being and the world, as we know it, began.
All things are at odds when God lets a thinker loose on this planet. They were let loose in Greece. The Greeks were intellectualists; they had a passion for using their minds.

On straight talk sans white lies:
"Some of you are of an age at which they may hope to have other children, and they ought to bear their sorrow better. To those of you who have passed their prime, I say: Congratulate yourselves that you have been happy during the greater part of your days; remember that your life of sorrow will not last long, and take comfort in the glory of those who are gone." 
- Funeral oration delivered by Pericles over the those fallen in the war.

On compassion:
"Ten of of the ruling party in Corinth went to a house with the purpose of killing a little boy there who an oracle had declared would group up to destroy the city. The mother thinking it a friendly visit, bought he son when asked to see him, and put him in the arms of one of them. Now they had agreed on the way there that whoever first received the child should dash it to the ground. But it happened that the baby smiled at the man who took it and so he was unable to kill it and handed it over to another. Thus it passed through the hands of all the ten and no one of them would kill it. Then they gave it back to the mother and went away and began to blame each other, but especially him who had first held that child."
- Herodotus

On anti-slavery 2000 years ago:
"That thing of evil, by its nature evil, Forcing submission from a man to what No man should yield to." 
 -Euripides, he was the first to condemn slavery. 

There was never anywhere a dreamer so rash or so romantic as to imagine a life without slaves. The loftiest thinkers, idealists, and moralists never had an idea that slavery was evil. In the Old Testament it is accepted without comment exactly as in records of Egypt and Mesopotamia. Even the prophets of Israel did not utter a word against it, nor, for that matter, did St. Paul. What is strange is not that the Greeks took Slavery for granted through hundreds of years, but that finally they began to think about it and question it. 

On faith :
"Think this certain, that to a good man no evil can happen, either in life or in death." 
- Socrates

On shedding the dogma and embracing an open mind:
The Greek mind was free to think about the world as it pleased, to reject all traditional explanations, to disregard all the priests taught, to search unhampered by any outside authority for the truth. The Greeks had free scope for their scientific genius and they laid the foundation of our science today. Never, not in the brightest days of the Renaissance, has learning appeared in such a radiant light as it did to the gay young men of imperial Athens. 

On free speech: 
Aristophanes's stupendous satire is unparalleled before the modern world. 

On joy of living:
But never, not in their darkest moments, do they lose their taste for life. It is always a wonder and a delight, the world a place of beauty, and they themselves rejoicing to be alive in it. 

And finally why we need wisdom from Greeks:
When the world is storm driven and the bad that happens and the worse that threatens are so urgent as to shutout everything else from the view, then we need to know all the strong fortresses of the spirit which men have built through the ages. The eternal perspectives are being blotted out, and out judgment of immediate issues will go wrong unless we bring them back.

Quote of the Day

“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”

- Steve Jobs

Monday, August 29, 2011

People's Ignorance - Problem For Smart Meters

"IBM's survey of over 10,000 people in 15 countries revealed that 30% of people surveyed don't know what the term "dollar per kwh" means (or the equivalent in their country), over 60% of people don't know what a smart grid or smart meter is, and over half don't know if their utility has a clean energy program. If customers don't even know how they're paying for electricity, it's going to be difficult to use smart meters to save.
And here's the thing: IBM's survey found that 61% of people who are familiar with energy technology and pricing have a favorable view of smart metering, while only 43% of people with minimal knowledge view smart grid technologies in a positive light. Once people understand what the technology does, they think highly of it--and once that happens, it becomes more likely that they will pay attention to variable electricity pricing. Because who doesn't want to save a couple bucks by running the dishwasher at an off-peak hour?" 

- More Here

A Chocolate Lab, Hawkeye Refuses To Leave Fallen Navy SEAL’s Side

No matter how hard I try to explain or write about Max here, it can never do any justice. It's a bond, a feeling just can be felt; queen of all qualia's. NYT report on that chocolate labrador, Hawkeye's heartbreaking story.

The footage was captured by a woman whose cousin Jon Tumilson, a member of a Navy Seal team, was killed in Afghanistan when his Chinook helicopter was hit by enemy fire on Aug. 6. A funeral service was held for Mr. Tumilson in Rockford, Iowa, last week and attended by 1,500 people. But also in attendance was Mr. Tumilson’s loyal Labrador retriever, Hawkeye. The dog wandered over to his owner’s flag-draped casket and lay beside it throughout the service. 

Stephanie LaFarge, a psychologist and senior director of counseling at the A.S.P.C.A., said that while no one can know for sure simply by looking at the image, she believed that the dog was aware that his owner was in the casket. Many dogs go through a grieving process similar to what humans experience after the death of a spouse or friend but with some differences, she said. Some dogs have been known, for example, to stay near or return to the places where they last saw their owners, in many cases their grave sites.
But also in attendance was Mr. Tumilson’s loyal Labrador retriever, Hawkeye. The dog wandered over to his owner’s flag-draped casket and lay beside it throughout the service.

“There are famous stories of dogs returning to a grave site every day for five years, and you can’t account for that by saying he can smell the body there,” she said. “In fact, dogs return to the grave sites of their companion dogs and animals that they grow up with.”

Quote of the Day

"All things are at odds when God lets a thinker loose on this planet."
- The Greek Way by Edith Hamilton

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Idiots Guide To GMO

One more noble attempt to enlighten the anti-GMO brigade, who neither understand science nor hunger - Here (Again, I cannot stress the importance of difference between patent battle against companies like Monsanto and irrationally obliterating GMO foods)

"On Safety:
There is broad scientific consensus that genetically engineered crops currently on the market are safe to eat. After 14 years of cultivation and a cumulative total of 2 billion acres planted, no adverse health or environmental effects have resulted from commercialization of genetically engineered crops (Board on Agriculture and Natural Resources, Committee on Environmental Impacts Associated with Commercialization of Transgenic Plants, National Research Council and Division on Earth and Life Studies 2002).
Still, to date, compounds with harmful effects on humans or animals have been documented only in foods developed through conventional breeding approaches. For example, conventional breeders selected a celery variety with relatively high amounts of psoralens to deter insect predators that damage the plant. Some farm workers who harvested such celery developed a severe skin rash—an unintended consequence of this breeding strategy (Committee on Identifying and Assessing Unintended Effects of Genetically Engineered Foods on Human Health and National Research Council 2004).

On Insect Resistance:
In the 1960s, the biologist Rachel Carson brought the harmful environmental and human health impacts resulting from overuse or misuse of some insecticides to the attention of the wider public. Even today, thousands of pesticide poisonings are reported each year (1200 illnesses related to pesticide poisoning in California, 300,000 pesticide-related deaths globally).

This is one reason some of the first genetically engineered crops were designed to reduce reliance on sprays of broad-spectrum insecticides for pest control. Corn and cotton have been genetically engineered to produce proteins from the soil bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) that kill some key caterpillar and beetle pests of these crops. Bt toxins cause little or no harm to most beneficial insects, wildlife, and people (Mendelsohn et al. 2003).

On Biodiversity & Genetic diversity:
Planting of Bt crops has also supported another important goal of sustainable agriculture: increased biological diversity. An analysis of 42 field experiments indicates that nontarget invertebrates (i.e., insects, spiders, mites, and related species that are not pests targeted by Bt crops) were more abundant in Bt cotton and Bt corn fields than in conventional fields managed with insecticides (Marvier et al. 2007). The conclusion that growing Bt crops promotes biodiversity assumes a baseline condition of insecticide treatments, which applies to 23% of corn acreage and 71% of cotton acreage in the United States in 2005 (Marvier et al. 2007).
These results underscore a well-known paradigm in agriculture: pest resistance will evolve is the selection pressure is high. Why then, have most Bt crops remained effective against most pests for more than a decade. The answer is genetic diversity. The inclusion in farmers fields of crop plants that do not make Bt toxins has helped to delay evolution of pest resistance to Bt crops."

Microbes & Junk DNA - "New" Secrets Of Cancer

Most DNA, for example, was long considered junk — a netherworld of detritus that had no important role in cancer or anything else. Only about 2 percent of the human genome carries the code for making enzymes and other proteins, the cogs and scaffolding of the machinery that a cancer cell turns to its own devices. 
These days “junk” DNA is referred to more respectfully as “noncoding” DNA, and researchers are finding clues that “pseudogenes” lurking within this dark region may play a role in cancer.

“We’ve been obsessively focusing our attention on 2 percent of the genome,” said Dr. Pier Paolo Pandolfi, a professor of medicine and pathology at Harvard Medical School. This spring, at the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research in Orlando, Fla., he described a new “biological dimension” in which signals coming from both regions of the genome participate in the delicate balance between normal cellular behavior and malignancy.

As they look beyond the genome, cancer researchers are also awakening to the fact that some 90 percent of the protein-encoding cells in our body are microbes. We evolved with them in a symbiotic relationship, which raises the question of just who is occupying whom.

These shifts in perspective, occurring throughout cellular biology, can seem as dizzying as what happened in cosmology with the discovery that dark matter and dark energy make up most of the universe: Background suddenly becomes foreground and issues once thought settled are up in the air. In cosmology the Big Bang theory emerged from the confusion in a stronger but more convoluted form. The same may be happening with the science of cancer.

As the various cells are colluding, they may also be trading information with cells in another realm — the micro-organisms in the mouth, skin, respiratory system, urogenital tract, stomach and digestive system. Each microbe has its own set of genes, which can interact with those in the human body by exchanging molecular signals. “The signaling these microbes do is dramatically complex,” Dr. Nicholson said in an interview at Imperial College. “They send metabolic signals to each other — and they are sending chemicals out constantly that are stimulating our biological processes.

“It’s astonishing, really. There they are, sitting around and doing stuff, and most of it we don’t really know or understand.”

- More Here

Quote of the Day

"Twitter is over capacity, try again for after a moment."
- 7.30 am, August 28th 2011 (thanks to Irene) 

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Planned Obsolescence

"Our family recently camped for a week in a nearby state forest where our most trusted item was a cast-iron frying pan. Its thickness distributes heat evenly. Nothing can harm it. The wrong kind of spatula won’t scratch some special non-stick coating. With simple care, it will last for a thousand years. Which reminded me how rare that combination of high quality and durability is today.

Most everything else I own is junk and seems to be designed that way. Here are several anecdotal examples:
In the old days, most Americans rented phones from the phone company (“Ma Bell”). My parents still own one, now over 30 years old, that survived raising three boys. These phones lasted forever. Meanwhile, Ma Bell was broken up in the 1980s. One engineer who worked for the phone company before and after the breakup told me of how the engineers were gathered together and given new ground rules: “It was all well and good in the old days to make phones with gold-plated contacts. But now it’s different. Here’s how to make the newer phones…” I think back on this comment as I watch one phone after another die, often after a few months."

- More Here on how the culture of waste became the quasi-stilmus for economic growth, feeding that hedonic treadmill.

Wisdom Of The Week

"There may be good reasons to keep post offices open in rural or low population areas, but keeping them because they are "lifelines" is not one of them. Post offices that serve a small population, like anything else,  must be subsidized by the income generated from larger population areas.  I have no problem with this model - it has served our country well since its founding.  However, we are now told by many people that we can no longer afford to carry the people the who don't pull their own weight, and that surely applies to rural people.  If offices are closed throughout Alaska and the hinterlands, the people have a choice to either do without or move to a place where there is a post office.  Don't like those options?  Welcome to the real world, where the rest of us have to move to get a job, receive good health care, or enjoy abundant water supplies.

It's this cognitive dissonance that Americans believe that they should be able to live where ever they choose, and that everyone else has to subsidize their choice with new roads, infrastructure, post offices, cheap utilities, affordable housing, free quality schools, and everything else.  But they don't believe in "handouts" or raising taxes to pay for the things they refuse to pay for themselves.
 It isn't even a matter of socialism - it's a matter of doing the best for all concerned, and they are the beneficiaries.  But they can't understand the concept that if they benefit, so should others, and everyone needs to pay something towards it.   Are people really that ill-informed?"

- via Andrew

Quote of the Day

"Genetics and environment aren't separable elements, so any attempt to discern their independent contributions to an observed trait is foolish. The epigenome, the part of our genetic makeup that determines when genes are transcribed—that is, when they actually become relevant to our existence—is deeply affected by conditions in the womb and the unquantifiable complexity of the external environment."
- Brain Palmer

Friday, August 26, 2011

Banana - The Fate Of The Fruit That Changed The World

NPR interview with Dan Koeppel author of Banana: The Fate of the Fruit that Changed the World. Fascinating, not many people here in USA know India is the world's largest producer and are oblivious to hundreds of varieties of Banana.

"KOEPPEL: The banana is the cheapest fruit in the supermarket, and that's pretty weird because it's shipped from great distances, and it requires a lot of handling and refrigeration, much more than apples, for example. To do that, the banana industry has for 100 years had a business model that focuses on a single product. That's the McDonald's comparison. And I like to tell people, imagine a pipe from Ecuador to your supermarket that can only fit one variety of the world's 1,000 banana varieties, and that's basically the way it works.
That's why bananas are so cheap. In order to bring new bananas, you have to build entirely new infrastructure, ranging from plantation to shipping to packing methods and to ways to tell consumers about it. 
FLATOW: How many of these varieties have you actually tasted and how different are they?
KOEPPEL: I've tasted about, I'd say, 100 different banana varieties all over the world.
FLATOW: Wow. You got a favorite?
KOEPPEL: Absolutely, My favorite is called Ibota Ibota. It's a variety found - I discovered it or tasted it first in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Ibota Ibota - the word Ibota means fertile in Swahili. And this banana yields huge bunches, and so it's called fertile fertile. It's so fertile. And it is absolutely delicious. It has - you know, you can only describe it the way you describe a really interesting wine. It's got complex taste. It's got notes and colors to it. But, unfortunately, it doesn't have the properly characteristics for import and it's too bad because it's a revelation. Our Cavendish banana is a lousy banana. In India, the world's largest growing - banana-growing country, they call the Cavendish the hotel banana.

FLATOW: Could you genetically engineer a better banana so it's not susceptible to this fungus.
KOEPPEL: Yes. And there's been quite a bit of good work involved in that, mostly done in Australia through a Gates Foundation grant. And there has been some success but we don't know for sure how well these bananas will perform in the field in large scale.
In addition, Chiquita and Dole and the other banana companies have promised never to sell a GMO banana. And in Europe, for example, you can't even sell a product like that. So whether you're going to solve that problem through genetic modification, which I'm in favor of, you may never have a commercial variety that can actually hit store shelves"

How To Sequence Microbes In Your Refrigerator, Water Heater and More

If you want to find out the microbial diversity in your refrigerator and more, sign up for Wild Life Of Your Home Project (via here).

"As we have moved from mud and thatch huts into pre-fab houses and highrise apartments, the biggest change has been our web of ecological connections. We have gone from lives immersed in nature to lives in which nature appears to have disappeared… It has not. But what has changed is which species live with us. Here we propose to study that change and more specifically to ask, To what extent do the species around us, particularly those microscopic species of which we are scarcely aware, differ as a consequence of how we live? As of now, the answer, particularly as it relates to small species, is unresolved, though frequently speculated upon.
No one can tell you which species live with you in your house. Well, that is not totally true, we can, or at least we will be able to soon. We aim to understand, for the first time, how the ways in which we live influence who we live with. In doing so we will test the hygiene hypothesis, but also explore, more broadly, our modern relationship with other species in our homes."

If you want to find out the microbial diversity in your water heater, sign up for Penn State Astrobiology Citizen Science Project for NASA (via here):

"Researchers at Penn State University need your help to study the distribution of microorganisms in household hot water heaters. Turns out your everyday hot water heater can double as a model hot spring, one of Earth’s extreme environments where important clues about microbial life in the Solar System might be found.

Participants take a water sample from their kitchen tap and answer 20 questions to help determine which-and how many–microorganisms are present. The whole process takes about 30 minutes. Researchers will then combine your answers (data) with contributions from households across the country. The goal is to generate a first image of the biogeographic distribution of microorganisms across the United States."

How To Choose A Therapist?

"Think about choosing a therapist who can help you build on your strengths - for instance, if you are good at understanding why you do the things you do, a therapist who can help you develop these reflective skills may be more use to you than a therapist who wants to focus mainly on your behaviour or emotions. Ask potential therapists what thoughts they might have on why you are facing the difficulties you are and what they think might help. If these are radically different from your own understandings, it may be more difficult to establish a good working relationship. Ask yourself whether you like your therapist and feel respected by them - the quality of your relationship, early on in therapy, will be one of the best indicators of eventual outcomes, so don't put up with a bad relationship. Remember that probably the best predictor of the outcomes of therapy will be the extent to which you actively involve yourself in the process."

- More Here

Quote of the Day

"The thing that fascinates me is that irrationality is something you're generally not equipped to recognize in yourself while it's happening. In a perfect world, we'd have an objective way to measure irrationality, the same way a breathalyzer measures drunkenness."
- Scott Adams

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Can Reading A Book Change Life?

“We’ve talked a lot about the importance of reading with respect to language – increasing vocabulary, verbal ability, that sort of thing,” he says. “I think it’s possible that reading could also have important consequences for other realms of our life, like the social realm, our ability to understand other people, our ability to think in abstract terms, imagination, these sorts of things.”

“It’s not the case that books can have such powerful, unilateral changes in attitude,” he says. “So, it’s not the case that if you have a certain belief and then you read a book against your will, your belief will change. That’s not the way that literature works; it’s not a direct injection of ideas or propaganda. Literature tends to open up your mind to potentials.”

Having an open mind is essential for personality change, Mar says. But even the most open of minds probably won’t be completely altered by just one experience with fiction. “The effects can be moderate even if they are real,” he says. Nonetheless, he adds, “What you’re reading definitely matters.”

- More Here

The Illusion Of Diversity & Respect Others’ Points Of View

One of the best studies of the year; The Illusion of Asymmetric Insight -  an "eye opener".

"When Pronin, Ross, Kruger and Savitsky moved from individuals to groups, they found an even more troubling version of the illusion of asymmetric insight. They had subjects identify themselves as either liberals or conservatives and in a separate run of the experiment as either pro-abortion and anti-abortion. The groups filled out questionnaires about their own beliefs and how they interpreted the beliefs of their opposition. They then rated how much insight their opponents possessed. The results showed liberals believed they knew more about conservatives than conservatives knew about liberals. The conservatives believed they knew more about liberals than liberals knew about conservatives. Both groups thought they knew more about their opponents than their opponents knew about themselves. The same was true of the pro-abortion rights and anti-abortion groups.
The illusion of asymmetric insight makes it seem as though you know everyone else far better than they know you, and not only that, but you know them better than they know themselves. You believe the same thing about groups of which you are a member. As a whole, your group understands outsiders better than outsiders understand your group, and you understand the group better than its members know the group to which they belong.

The researchers explained this is how one eventually arrives at the illusion of naive realism, or believing your thoughts and perceptions are true, accurate and correct, therefore if someone sees things differently than you or disagrees with you in some way it is the result of a bias or an influence or a shortcoming. You feel like the other person must have been tainted in some way, otherwise they would see the world the way you do – the right way. The illusion of asymmetrical insight clouds your ability to see the people you disagree with as nuanced and complex. You tend to see your self and the groups you belong to in shades of gray, but others and their groups as solid and defined primary colors lacking nuance or complexity.

In a political debate you feel like the other side just doesn’t get your point of view, and if they could only see things with your clarity, they would understand and fall naturally in line with what you believe. They must not understand, because if they did they wouldn’t think the things they think. By contrast, you believe you totally get their point of view and you reject it. You see it in all its detail and understand it for what it is – stupid. You don’t need to hear them elaborate. So, each side believes they understand the other side better than the other side understands both their opponents and themselves.

Quote of the Day

"On May 31, 1985 I walked by Steve and his team sitting under the tree outside Bandley 3. Today I saw him leave Apple again."

Tweets from Apple employees after Steve Jobs resignation

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Unfortunately, That Day Has Come For Steve Jobs

Great men have come and gone but yet life goes on as usual this planet. My hunch is Apple will conquer even greater heights in the shadow of Steve Job's legacy. Thank you sir for making technology more elegant and effortless. Let's learn from him, how to live before we die.

Reading List Of The 44th

- More Here

Quote of the Day

Many of the same Republicans who fought hammer-and-tong to keep the George W. Bush-era income tax cuts from expiring on schedule are now saying a different “temporary” tax cut should end as planned. By their own definition, that amounts to a tax increase.

The tax break extension they oppose is sought by President Barack Obama. Unlike proposed changes in the income tax, this policy helps the 46 percent of all Americans who owe no federal income taxes but who pay a “payroll tax” on practically every dime they earn.

It’s a bad idea to raise taxes on working Americans in a weak economy and with interest rates so low the gains from reducing the deficit from current spending are low. Our political system is so dysfunctional, however, that Republicans may fail to support effective tax cuts precisely because a Democratic President regards them as important for economic growth.

- Alex TabarrokMR

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Earth Quake In NJ

Dogs do sense earth quake (Haiti story). I was at work; so missed that once in a lifetime opportunity of watching Max's reaction. Sucks!!
US geological website was being updated live & seamlessly!! These are some of the many "luxuries" we take it for granted from the government. Hope, this sheds some light on those quixotic anti-anything-government denizens.

What I've Been Reading

Learning from Life: Becoming a Psychoanalyst by Patrick Casement. Psychoanalyst is one of the most emotionally draining career one can chose; hurt locker version of dealing with humans. One has to muddle through mundane patients full of BS to others facing the most traumatic experience life can bring about. Thankfully, most of us don't have to go through or listen to most of that. This is a book, where tips to hone emotional intelligence for handling life's hardships can be learned sans any trauma. 

On not faking it:
It was partly because of those memorable three days that I would continue to seek chances to be with real people, for that is how I came to think of those who, unlike me, seemed to have escaped the pressures to conform to the expectations of others. 

On emotional self-reliance:
If you are going to make more of your life than you are doing at the moment, you will have to learn that you have to be responsible for your own actions. This time it is going to be you who gets you out of this problem, and maybe another time you will think twice before allowing yourself to get into a similar problem again.

On mourning:
Mourning has ultimately to do with letting go. What I have not discussed is the essential counterpart to letting go that is refinding of the of the internal relationship to the person who has died. Recovered memories can go a long way towards re-establishing a sense of support from within, which before had mostly come from the external relationship that has been lost. To a surprising extent, an internal relationship to dead parents or dead partner can change over time. Often, an angry relationship can gradually give way to a more forgiving one; a blaming relationship to a more understanding one.

On open-mindedness:
Most analysts and psychotherapists are familiar with the Bion's dictum that the analyst should start every session "without memory. desire or understanding."
The analyst's affective openness, or lack of it, is similar to the resonances in a piano. If we raise some of the dampers in a piano by silently depressing certain notes, let's say the notes of C major chord, this will leave just those notes free to resonate. If we then make a loud noise nearby, we will hear the key of C major resonating in the piano, but no other key will resonate. So, if we happen to be a C major kind of person we may tend to hear our patients in that key, or in a related major key. Likewise, if we are a C minor kind of person we may tend to hear patients in C minor, or in a similar minor key. I believe that an important function of our own analysis is to free us to the point where we can resonate to our patients across as wide an affective and experiential range as possible.

On accepting human diversity:
Any of us might be naturally round or naturally square, or any other shape. We should be able to celebrate the roundness of one person or the squareness of another. I do not think the we should treat either as "out of line". Of course, analytically, there must be a place also for being concerned about a solipsistic attachment to one's own ways of being. But I think it important to respect individuality when this does not in itself indicate pathology.

On fighting against confirmation bias:
During my psychoanalytic training I was questioning every bit of the theory, being devils advocate in my own mind, rather than accepting the theory as "given". This clinical approach certainly made it more difficult for me to find my way through the clinical maze, and yet I preferred to stay with this more problematic way of working rather than make things simpler for myself at the risk of imposing theory upon a clinical sequence.

On religion, dissonance et al.: 
It is, after all, the human dimension that divides each faith from the others, each claiming its own version of the truth to be the only one for the world. It is this human determination to grasp at a particular idea of the divine, and to claim ownership, that creates the definition that divides us. Just possibily there is something that lies entirely beyond us that will always defy definition, that cannot be grasped or owned. I have therefore come to believe that there is still a place for bowing before mystery.

On Certainity: 
It is very interesting to find that, in Sanskrit, the word for "certainity" is same as the word for "imprisonment". And the word for "non-certainity" is same as the word for "freedom". I see non-certainity, as very different from uncertainity. Non-certain is about indecision, nor is it about ignorance. Rather, we can make a positive choice to remain, for the time being, non-certain. This can help to keep us open to meaning that we have not yet arrived at. I also try to return to a position of non-certainity when I notice that I am begining to claim too much sureness in relation to others, because anyone who is too sure can quickly become someone who is sure that those who disagree must be in the wrong. 
We cannot discover what lies beyond the brittle security of certainty until we can recognize how this is failing us. Perhaps only then can we become free to explore what lies beyond the known and the familiar.

The Righteous Mind - Jonathan Haidt

Jonathan Haidt's much awaited new book, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion is coming out February 2012. Haidt will be constantly updating the overview of the book here:

"People who devote their lives to studying something often come to believe that the object of their fascination is the key to understanding history, life, and the universe. Books have been published in recent years on the transformative role in human history played by cooking, mothering, war… even salt. This book is one of those books. I study moral psychology, and I’m going to make the case that morality is the extraordinary human capacity that made civilization possible. I don't mean to imply that cooking, mothering, war, and salt were not also necessary, but in this book I'm going to take you on a tour of human nature and history from the perspective of moral psychology.

By the end of the tour, I hope to have given you a new way to think about two of the most important, vexing, and divisive topics in human life: politics and religion. Etiquette books tell us not to discuss these topics in polite company, but I say go ahead. Politics and religion are both expressions of our underlying moral psychology, and an understanding of that psychology can help to bring people together. My goal in this book is to drain some of the heat, anger, and divisiveness out of these topics, and replace them with awe, wonder, and curiosity. We are downright lucky that we evolved this complex moral psychology which allowed our species to burst out of the vegetation and into the delights, comforts, and relative peacefulness of modern societies in just a few thousand years. My hope is that this book will make conversations about morality, politics, and religion more common, more civil, and more fun, even in mixed company."

The Perfect Way is only difficult
            for those who pick and choose;
Do not like, do not dislike;
            all will then be clear.
Make a hairbreadth difference,
            and Heaven and Earth are set apart;
If you want the truth to stand clear before you,
            never be for or against.
The struggle between "for" and "against"
            is the mind's worst disease.

- 8th century Chinese Zen master Sen-ts’an

Quote of the Day

"Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable."

- Kahlil Gibran

Monday, August 22, 2011

What A Dog's Nose Knows

"To imagine the scent-based world of a dog, says Horowitz, look around and imagine that everything you see has its own individual scent. And not just each object - different parts of the same object may hold different types of information. Horowitz gives the example of a rose: each petal might have a different scent, telling the dog it has been visited by different insects that left telltale traces of pollen from other flowers. Besides picking up on the individual scent of humans that had touched the flower, it could even guess when they may have passed by.

Unfortunately there's no way for a mere human to get inside this highly detailed world. Even if we get down on the ground and sniff, we cannot do it like a dog. When we sniff we are sporadically blind to scent as we breathe in and out through the same holes. A 2009 study of the fluid dynamics of the dog's sniff showed that their system is far more complex. Each nostril is smaller than the distance between the two, which means that they inhale air from two distinct regions of space, allowing the dog to decipher the direction of a scent. The sniff also funnels stale air out through the sides of the nostrils, an action which pulls new air into the nose. Once inside the nose the air swirls around up to 300 million olfactory receptors, compared with our measly 6 million (Journal of the Royal Society Interface, vol 7, p 933

Even if humans could gather this information, our brains wouldn't know what to do with it: the dog olfactory cortex, which processes scent information, takes up 12.5 per cent of their total brain mass, while ours accounts for less than 1 per cent.
- Alexander Horowtiz, author of Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know

Stimulus Is The Raw Ingredient Of Innovation

"Fresh information and innovative ideas are difficult to come by for people who are stuck in their offices. Creativity needs stimulus, and stimulus doesn’t often come from the familiar.

We recently worked with a global financial institution on increasing customer loyalty, co-opting several marriage counsellors to the project. Their insight into how people stick together over the long-term was invaluable and directly applicable to the project team’s objectives.

Even in your own sphere of influence, there’s no substitute for spending time with customers – learning where they live, shop and how they use your products. We all know this, but also know there’s always a pressing reason to stay in the office. Leaders need to model spending time out in the market if they want this behaviour to take root in the company.

The benefits of exposing yourself and your teams to outside stimulus are emotional as well as intellectual. People who return to the office fired up with a new idea or insight come back with more strategic clarity – and with a desire to share their hunger and excitement about the next innovation."

- More Here

New Microchip Based On The Human Brain - IBM

"Each of IBM's brain-mimicking silicon chips is a few square millimetres in size and holds a grid of 256 parallel wires that represent dendrites of computational "neurons" crossed at right angles by other wires standing in for axons. The "synapses" are 45-nanometre transistors connecting the criss-crossing wires and act as the chips' memory; one chip has 262,144 of them and the other 65,536. Each electrical signal crossing a synapse consumes just 45 picajoules – a thousandth of what typical computer chips use.
Because the neurons and synapses are so close together, the pieces of hardware responsible for computation and memory are also much closer than in ordinary computer chips. Conventionally, the memory sits to the side of the processor, but in the new chips the memory – the synapses – and the processors – the neurons – are on top of each other, so they don't need to use as much energy sending electrons back and forth. That means the chips can perform parallel processing far more efficiently than conventional computers.
In preliminary tests, the chips were able to play a game of Pong, control a virtual car on a racecourse and identify an image or digit drawn on a screen. These are all tasks computers have accomplished before, but the new chips managed to complete them without needing a specialised program for each task. The chips can also "learn" how to complete each task if trained."
- More Here

Quote of the Day

"Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, the two richest men in the United States, each have around $50 billion. Let’s put this number in perspective: They each have a thousand times the amount of money you would have if you were a movie star who had managed to save $50 million over the course of a very successful career. Think of every actor you can name or even dimly recognize, including the rare few who have banked hundreds of millions of dollars in recent years, and run this highlight reel back half a century. Gates and Buffet each have more personal wealth than all of these glamorous men and women—from Bogart and Bacall to Pitt and Jolie—combined."

- Sam Harris

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Rescued Stray Becomes A Therapist

Quote of the Day

"…the great example of Charles Darwin is he avoided confirmation bias. Darwin probably changed my life because I’m a biography nut, and when I found out the way he always paid extra attention to the disconfirming evidence and all these little psychological tricks. I also found out that he wasn’t very smart by the ordinary standards of human acuity, yet there he is buried in Westminster Abbey. That’s not where I’m going, I’ll tell you. And I said, “My God, here’s a guy that, by all objective evidence, is not nearly as smart as I am and he’s in Westminster Abbey? He must have tricks I should learn.” And I started wearing little hair shirts like Darwin to try and train myself out of these subconscious psychological tendencies that cause so many errors. It didn’t work perfectly, as you can tell from listening to this talk, but it would’ve been even worse if I hadn’t done what I did. And you can know these psychological tendencies and avoid being the patsy of all the people that are trying to manipulate you to your disadvantage, like Sam Walton. Sam Walton won’t let a purchasing agent take a handkerchief from a salesman. He knows how powerful the subconscious reciprocation tendency is. That is a profoundly correct way for Sam Walton to behave."

- via FS

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Decision Fatigue = Cognitive Miser

Any decision, whether it’s what pants to buy or whether to start a war, can be broken down into what psychologists call the Rubicon model of action phases, in honor of the river that separated Italy from the Roman province of Gaul. When Caesar reached it in 49 B.C., on his way home after conquering the Gauls, he knew that a general returning to Rome was forbidden to take his legions across the river with him, lest it be considered an invasion of Rome. Waiting on the Gaul side of the river, he was in the “predecisional phase” as he contemplated the risks and benefits of starting a civil war. Then he stopped calculating and crossed the Rubicon, reaching the “postdecisional phase,” which Caesar defined much more felicitously: “The die is cast.”
The whole process could deplete anyone’s willpower, but which phase of the decision-making process was most fatiguing? To find out, Kathleen Vohs, a former colleague of Baumeister’s now at the University of Minnesota, performed an experiment using the self-service Web site of Dell Computers. One group in the experiment carefully studied the advantages and disadvantages of various features available for a computer — the type of screen, the size of the hard drive, etc. — without actually making a final decision on which ones to choose. A second group was given a list of predetermined specifications and told to configure a computer by going through the laborious, step-by-step process of locating the specified features among the arrays of options and then clicking on the right ones. The purpose of this was to duplicate everything that happens in the postdecisional phase, when the choice is implemented. The third group had to figure out for themselves which features they wanted on their computers and go through the process of choosing them; they didn’t simply ponder options (like the first group) or implement others’ choices (like the second group). They had to cast the die, and that turned out to be the most fatiguing task of all. When self-control was measured, they were the one who were most depleted, by far.
The experiment showed that crossing the Rubicon is more tiring than anything that happens on either bank — more mentally fatiguing than sitting on the Gaul side contemplating your options or marching on Rome once you’ve crossed. As a result, someone without Caesar’s willpower is liable to stay put. To a fatigued judge, denying parole seems like the easier call not only because it preserves the status quo and eliminates the risk of a parolee going on a crime spree but also because it leaves more options open: the judge retains the option of paroling the prisoner at a future date without sacrificing the option of keeping him securely in prison right now. Part of the resistance against making decisions comes from our fear of giving up options. The word “decide” shares an etymological root with “homicide,” the Latin word “caedere,” meaning “to cut down” or “to kill,” and that loss looms especially large when decision fatigue sets in.
Once you’re mentally depleted, you become reluctant to make trade-offs, which involve a particularly advanced and taxing form of decision making. In the rest of the animal kingdom, there aren’t a lot of protracted negotiations between predators and prey. To compromise is a complex human ability and therefore one of the first to decline when willpower is depleted. You become what researchers call a cognitive miser, hoarding your energy. If you’re shopping, you’re liable to look at only one dimension, like price: just give me the cheapest. Or you indulge yourself by looking at quality: I want the very best (an especially easy strategy if someone else is paying). Decision fatigue leaves you vulnerable to marketers who know how to time their sales, as Jonathan Levav, the Stanford professor, demonstrated in experiments involving tailored suits and new cars."

- More Here

Wisdom Of The Week

"And this returns us to marijuana: putting people in a positive mood roughly doubled their accuracy at the task. All of a sudden, they were twice as good at identifying problems with possible solutions. This suggests that anything that makes us happier, reducing vigilance and anxiety, might also make us more creative. We can detect more remote associations, of course, but we also know which associations are worth pursuing, which is probably even more important. It doesn’t matter if it’s pot, chocolate or a stand-up comic – those substances or experiences that put a smile on our face can also increase the powers of the imagination, at least when solving particular creative problems."

- Jonah  Lehrer

Quote of the Day

"India has more black money than rest of the world combined. India topping the list with almost $1500 Billion black money in swiss banks, followed by Russia $470 Billion, UK $390 Billion, Ukraine $100 Billion and China with $96 Billion."

- More Here

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Five Habits Of Great Innovators

  • Mental Time Travel - Interview someone who has had a major impact on their industry or the world and bring them back to the early days when they built belief in their cause. Ask them what was going through their mind, and they are likely to take you along a mental time machine that starts at the beginning and then fast-forwards to a desired future. These "outthinkers" are able to hold their minds at that hypothetical moment, exploring everything that would need to be true for their vision to be realized.
  • Seeing the Interconnected System - Regardless of how far you are willing to take this--from building a simple map to embracing the Taoist view that everything is connected--it is worth taking a pause before you begin problem-solving to look at the system, looking at what depends on what, building out the web until you see clearly the fronts of your battle, the levers you must turn, to realize your vision.
  • Frame-Shifting - Innovative thinkers shift their perspectives more often, drawing from a more diverse set of experiences, than the rest of us. They are able to handle more complexity and ambiguity because they recognize more patterns. Grandmaster chess players, for example, recognize ten times as many situations as expert chess players. By bringing more perspectives to their game they are more likely to see that winning move when their opponent freezes in confusion. I've found that if you can shift a group's perspectives seven times on a single problem, they can produce between four and ten times as many possible solutions to that problem.
  • Disruptive Mindset - "Outthinkers" think not just about what customers will want but also about what competitors will not pursue. Understanding both allows them to see the white space, the uncontested territory.
  • Influence - I believe great innovators do at least four things differently here--but if there is one thing that stands out more starkly for me it is that "outthinkers" step into the minds they are seeking to change. They speak in the same language, use the same metaphors, appeal to the same values of the people they are seeking to win the support of.  The rest of us do the opposite. Rather than stepping across the line into "enemy" territory, we stand on our side of the line, use our language, metaphors, and values to lure people over to our side.

- More Here

Science Of Smile

Interview with Marianne LaFrance, author of the new book Lip Service: Smiles in Life, Death, Trust, Lies, Work, Memory, Sex, and Politics: Are many muscles involved in smiling?
LaFrance: Two, the obicularis occuli and zygomaticus major, are the primary muscles involved in the so-called genuine smile. But the so-called mouth smile can co-occur with a number of other muscles on the face at the same time. So the mouth may be smiling but the brows could be showing anger, the eyes could be showing surprise or fear, the upper lip could be showing contempt, the nose could be showing some disgust. So the smile is interesting to those of us who study it because it’s not just one thing. It’s multiple and complicated. Even the temporal pattern is important. Genuine smiles tend to come on the face relatively languidly and go off the face in the same kind of way. Fake smiles often seem to snap on the face and snap off. Humans have always been captivated by smiles. When did smile science get its real start?
LaFrance: In the late 1800s Charles Darwin published his famous book The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals. He devoted some time to smiling, but was more interested in other facial expressions. His colleague across the channel, Guillaume-Benjamin Duchenne, was doing experiments where he would zap single muscles on the face with electricity and then look at the changes. His primary distinction was between smiles that came from the soul, non-deliberate smiles, and the ones put there consciously. That’s why people who study smiles call the spontaneous smile the Duchenne smile. Did you come across anything surprising while researching this book?
LaFrance: I found that in obituaries people often, more than any other attribute, mentioned their loved one’s smile. Why is it that, after a person is dead, they are described as someone with a smile? It is one more indicator that smiling is a way we connect with other people, in a way that can be easy to underestimate, but in fact I don’t think its importance can be underestimated.