Monday, October 31, 2011

Understanding Mindfulness Meditation

A new article published in the latest issue of Perspectives on Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, draws on the existing scientific literature to build a framework that can explain these positive effects.

The goal of this work, according to author Britta Hölzel, of Justus Liebig University and Harvard Medical School, is to “unveil the conceptual and mechanistic complexity of mindfulness, providing the ‘big picture’ by arranging many findings like the pieces of a mosaic.” By using a framework approach to understand the mechanisms of mindfulness, Hölzel and her co-authors point out that what we think of as mindfulness is not actually a single skill. Rather, it is a multi-faceted mental practice that encompasses several mechanisms.
The authors specifically identify four key components of mindfulness that may account for its effects: attention regulation, body awareness, emotion regulation, and sense of self. Together, these components help us attend to and deal with the mental and physiological effects of stress in ways that are non-judgmental.

Although these components are theoretically distinct, they are closely intertwined. Improvement in attention regulation, for example, may directly facilitate our awareness of our physiological state. Body awareness, in turn, helps us to recognize the emotions we are experiencing. Understanding the relationships between these components, and the brain mechanisms that underlie them, will allow clinicians to better tailor mindfulness interventions for their patients, says Hölzel.

On the most fundamental level, this framework underscores the point that mindfulness is not a vague cure-all. Effective mindfulness meditation requires training and practice and it has distinct measurable effects on our subjective experiences, our behavior, and our brain function. The authors hope that further research on this topic will “enable a much broader spectrum of individuals to utilize mindfulness meditation as a versatile tool to facilitate change – both in psychotherapy and in everyday life.”

- More Here

Quote of the Day

"I couldn’t write a big-idea book, because, as it turned out, I didn’t believe in big ideas. By my lights, they almost had to be wrong. Years of academic research taught me two things. First, reality is as complicated as it is, not as complicated as we want it to be. Some phenomena have an irreducible complexity that will defeat any big-idea effort at simplification. Detailed research has, not surprisingly, cast doubt on the reality of wise crowds, tipping points, and long tails. Second, most of the easy big questions about the way the world works have been answered. The questions that remain are really hard. Big ideas, then, can only reinvent the wheel or make magical claims."

- Marshall Poe

Sunday, October 30, 2011

You Are Not So Smart - Book Excerpt

"In blind taste tests, long-time smokers can't tell their brand from any of the competitors and wine connoisseurs have a hard time telling $200 bottles from $20 ones. When presented microwaved food from the frozen food section in the setting of a fine restaurant, most people never notice. Taste is subjective, which is another way of saying you are not so smart when it comes to choosing one product over another. All things equal, you refer back to the advertising or the packaging or conformity with your friends and family. Presentation is everything.

Restaurants depend on this. Actually, just about every retailer depends on this. Presentation, price, good marketing, great service -- it all leads to an expectation of quality. The actual experience at the end of all this is less important. As long as it isn't total crap, your experience will match up with your expectations. A series of bad reviews will make the movie worse, and a heap of positive buzz can sway you the other direction. You rarely watch films in a social vacuum with no input at all from critics and peers and advertisements. Your expectations are the horse, and your experience is the cart. You get this backwards all the time because you are not so smart."

- David McRaney's new book - You Are Not So Smart: Why You Have Too Many Friends on Facebook, Why Your Memory Is Mostly Fiction, and 46 Other Ways You're Deluding Yourself

Glasses Off - Software To Replace Reading Glasses

GlassessOff; mission statement -

How to achieve better vision naturally for far sightedness? There is a debate among many experts in vision on how to achieve better vision when it becomes difficult to see close objects in detail or to read. Many types of software companies claim that they know how to provide better vision with no external devices or clinical procedures. These companies suggest that their specific vision training protocols demonstrate how to improve vision. Each new vision training method is usually claimed to provide a highly effective way to acquire better vision. However, not all vision training protocols have been scientifically tested. Thus, many advertisements of vision training methods are often misleading in claiming to provide better vision.
By trying GlassesOff, you can learn how to achieve better vision in a clinically proven way. Near vision deficiency is one of the cases in which it is possible to improve vision naturally. Our product can help you to acquire better vision and thus get rid of your reading glasses with just 15 minutes of daily training.

GlassesOff is a non-invasive vision training solution that improves near vision by boosting the performance of your brain. More specifically, it is a vision training solution that affects the visual cortex. Our distinctive vision training method is based on perceptual learning.

Quote of the Day

"It's disturbing for anyone who plans to make a living as a writer to hear this, but an alarmingly large percentage of Bollywood power-brokers said this with absolute confidence. I still believe this is not true, but hey. The 'audience' is seen largely as an amorphous, slack-jawed blob with the collective intelligence of a not-very-intelligent 11-year-old."
Samit Basu: Decoding Ra.One

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Memory & Gratitude...

As usual - a classic via Andrew

Wisdom Of The Week

It’s impossible to overstate the influence of Kahneman and Tversky. Like Darwin, they helped to dismantle a longstanding myth of human exceptionalism. Although we’d always seen ourselves as rational creatures—this was our Promethean gift—it turns out that human reason is rather feeble, easily overwhelmed by ancient instincts and lazy biases. The mind is a deeply flawed machine.

Nevertheless, there is a subtle optimism lurking in all of Kahneman’s work: it is the hope that self-awareness is a form of salvation, that if we know about our mental mistakes, we can avoid them. One day, we will learn to equally weigh losses and gains; science can help us escape from the cycle of human error. As Kahneman and Tversky noted in the final sentence of their classic
1974 paper, “A better understanding of these heuristics and of the biases to which they lead could improve judgments and decisions in situations of uncertainty.” Unfortunately, such hopes appear to be unfounded. Self-knowledge isn’t a cure for irrationality; even when we know why we stumble, we still find a way to fall.

This same theme applies to practically all of our thinking errors: self-knowledge is surprisingly useless. Teaching people about the hazards of multitasking doesn’t lead to less texting in the car; learning about the weakness of the will doesn’t increase the success of diets; knowing that most people are overconfident about the future doesn’t make us more realistic. The problem isn’t that we’re stupid—it’s that we’re so damn stubborn.

Kahneman, of course, knows all this. One of the most refreshing things about “Thinking, Fast and Slow” is his deep sense of modesty: he is that rare guru who doesn’t promise to change your life. In fact, Kahneman admits that his decades of groundbreaking research have failed to significantly improve his own mental performance. “My intuitive thinking is just as prone to overconfidence, extreme predictions, and the planning fallacy”—a tendency to underestimate how long it will take to complete a task—“as it was before I made a study of these issues,” he writes. As a result, his goals for his work are charmingly narrow: he merely hopes to “enrich the vocabulary that people use” when they talk about the mind.

- Johan Lehrer

Over the past few years, Kahneman and work of others has deep influenced how I look at myself and fellow human animals. I am not sure  if it has made me a better person but I think, I have become more conscientious on how I judge myself and others. It's a simple trick Max taught me - stop judging.

Quote of the Day

"We forget all too soon the things we thought we could never forget. We forget the loves and the betrayals alike, forget what we whispered and what we screamed, forget who we were."

-Joan Didion

Friday, October 28, 2011

A Good Economic News

This has actually been the best decade since the 1960s for productivity growth. Last year, labor productivity grew by over 4% and it has averaged over 2.5% in the preceding 10 years.

Why does this matter? Simply this: productivity, output per unit input, is by far the most important determinant of our living standards. As Bob Solow showed in his Nobel Prize winning work, the main thing that makes an economy richer is not working harder or even using more capital or other resources. Instead, the main driver is innovations in products, services and business processes that let us create more value without using more inputs. Productivity comes from new technologies and new techniques of production. The most important of these is what economists call
general-purpose technologies
like the steam engine or electricity. They contribute to productivity directly, but more importantly, they also spur countless complementary innovations that can keep driving productivity growth for decades.

- More

Quote of the Day

"It’s impossible to overstate the influence of Kahneman and Tversky. Like Darwin, they helped to dismantle a longstanding myth of human exceptionalism. Although we’d always seen ourselves as rational creatures—this was our Promethean gift—it turns out that human reason is rather feeble, easily overwhelmed by ancient instincts and lazy biases. The mind is a deeply flawed machine."

"Teaching people about the hazards of multitasking doesn’t lead to less texting in the car; learning about the weakness of the will doesn’t increase the success of diets; knowing that most people are overconfident about the future doesn’t make us more realistic. The problem isn’t that we’re stupid—it’s that we’re so damn stubborn."

- Jonah Lehrer via FS

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Strange Tale Of The Norden Bombsight - Malcolm Gladwell

On Mind-Wandering

"The last bit of mind wandering research worth highlighting also comes from the Schooler lab. He’s demonstrated that people who consistently engage in more mind wandering – Schooler gives subjects a slow section of War and Peace, and then times how long it takes before they start thinking about something else – also score significantly higher on various measures of creativity. However, not all daydreams are equally effective at inspiring new ideas. In his experiments, Schooler distinguishes between two types of daydreaming. The first type occurs when people notice they are daydreaming only when prodded by the researcher. Although they’ve been told to press a button as soon as they realize their mind has started to wander, these people fail to press the button. The second type of daydreaming occurs when people catch themselves during the experiment – they notice they’re mind wandering on their own. According to Schooler’s data, individuals who are unaware of their mind-wandering don’t exhibit increased creativity.

The point is that it’s not enough to simply daydream. Letting the mind drift off is the easy part. What’s much more difficult (and more important) is maintaining a touch of meta-awareness, so that if you happen to come up with a useful new idea while in the shower or sitting in traffic you’re able to take note; the breakthrough isn’t squandered.

Taken together, these studies suggest that mind wandering is ubiquitous – we spend nearly half our waking life in a daydream – but it’s also a talent we need to develop. (The worst case scenario, of course, is that a serious brain injury leaves us unable to escape from the daydreaming rabbit hole.) Instead of completely zoning out, we should work on staying a little more self-aware, ensuring there’s still some activity in the executive areas of the brain. Ennui is a cognitive gift, but it must be properly unlocked. We can get better at being bored."

- More from Jonah Lehrer

Quote of the Day

"My passion has been to build an enduring company where people were motivated to make great products. The products, not the profits, were the motivation. Sculley flipped these priorities to where the goal was to make money. It's a subtle difference, but it ends up meaning everything."

- Steve Jobs

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Limits of Neuroscience

But some say that, sure, the scientific method is fine for things like chemistry, but not for others. The human brain (or some aspect of it: consciousness, the mind, love, belief, or whatever) is the most popular exception. Science just won't work on it, we're told. It's too complex. Maybe, but I find this view rather blinkered. It relies on taking our current state of knowledge as an eternal truth.

Think of the billions of people who lived and died before say 1800 - they saw the sun every day and they had
no idea why it shone, and they knew no-one else did. You may not understand nuclear fusion, but you know that physicists do, you know it's no mystery. 300 years ago, it would have been very tempting to think that no-one would ever know, that the answers were known only by God.

So, to confidently claim that explaining the human mind will just be
too hard is presumptuous. It may or may not be, I don't know. Historically, though, the theory that things are inexplicable has a bad track record.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

"As soon as we look at the nature of inference at this many-moves-ahead level of perception, our attitude toward probability theory and the proper way to use it in science becomes almost diametrically opposite to that expounded in most current textbooks. We need have no fear of making shaky calculations on inadequate knowledge; for if our predictions are indeed wrong, then we shall have an opportunity to improve that knowledge, an opportunity that would have been lost had we been too timid to make the calculations.
Instead of fearing wrong predictions, we look eagerly for them; it is only when predictions based on our present knowledge fail that probability theory leads us to fundamental new knowledge."

- E.T. Jaynes's Bayesian Methods: General Background

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

How To Understand People Better

Empathy checklist
Here’s a short checklist of the different techniques to use whenever you’re confronted with confusing behavior. Run through the list until you feel confident about your conclusion. 
  • Put yourself in their shoes
  • Think of times you’ve been in a similar situation and explain your reaction
  • Can the behavior be explained by a more “universal” model than a person-specific one?
  • How are they empathizing with you, given they are projecting?
  • How are they empathizing with you, given what you know about how they perceive others?
  • What successful model have you used to explain similar behavior for similar people?
  • Is your conclusion affected by your attitude towards the subject?
- Read the full post Here

Quote of the Day

"When everybody in a group is susceptible to similar biases, groups are inferior to individuals, because groups tend to be more extreme than individuals."

Daniel Kahneman (Remainder - Daniel Kahenman's new book Thinking Fast and Slow is coming out today.)

Monday, October 24, 2011

Happy Food Day 2011 !!


  • Reduce diet-related disease by promoting safe, healthy foods
  • Support sustainable farms & limit subsidies to big agribusiness
  • Expand access to food and alleviate hunger
  • Protect the environment & animals by reforming factory farms
  • Promote health by curbing junk-food marketing to kids
  • Support fair conditions for food and farm workers

- More Here

Quote of the Day

"For now I ask no more than the justice of eating."

- Pablo Neruda

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Walter Isaacson On 60 Minutes

Remainder - Walter Issacson's book Steve Jobs is coming out tomorrow.

Why I Like Science - Michelle Nijhuis

I was an English major—until, that is, the time came for me to actually major in English. In college, I discovered that studying literature was less about enjoying words on the page and much more about dissecting them. Worse, dissection led to more complications, not fewer. If I was going to pull something lovely apart, I thought, I wanted to find answers. So I fled to the biology building—where I found a few answers, a lot more questions and a new way of understanding the world.

I like science because it is a process, a journey, as we writers like to say. It’s not a list of facts but a method, honed over centuries, of asking questions, testing possible answers and asking yet more questions. Scientists are trained to doubt and criticize, habits that can make their company difficult, but never dull. So in study after study, they observe and analyze and report, picking away at their uncertainties. If they’re lucky, they satisfy themselves and their colleagues and some part of the world at large, and finally arrive at something close to an answer. If not, they pass their questions on to the next generation, and the one after that. It’s a tradition of discovery that, bit by bit, adds up to knowledge. Like anything else practiced by fallible humans, science isn’t a perfect process, but it is a very powerful one—our clearest view of nature’s true complexity. I like science, but I’m not a scientist

- More Here

Quote of the Day

"Altering memory in response to group influence may produce untoward effects. For example, social influence such as false propaganda can deleteriously affect individuals’ memory in political campaigns and commercial advertising and impede justice by influencing eyewitness testimony. However, memory conformity may also serve an adaptive purpose, because social learning is often more efficient and accurate than individual learning. For this reason, humans may be predisposed to trust the judgment of the group, even when it stands in opposition to their own original beliefs."

- More from Jonah Lehrer

Saturday, October 22, 2011

What Is Deja Vu?

Wisdom Of The Week

An analysis of the relationships between 43,000 transnational corporations has identified a relatively small group of companies, mainly banks, with disproportionate power over the global economy.

The study's assumptions have attracted some criticism, but complex systems analysts contacted by
New Scientist say it is a unique effort to untangle control in the global economy. Pushing the analysis further, they say, could help to identify ways of making global capitalism more stable.
The idea that a few bankers control a large chunk of the global economy might not seem like news to New York's Occupy Wall Street movement and protesters elsewhere (see photo). But the study, by a trio of complex systems theorists at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, is the first to go beyond ideology to empirically identify such a network of power. It combines the mathematics long used to model natural systems with comprehensive corporate data to map ownership among the world's transnational corporations (TNCs).

"Reality is so complex, we must move away from dogma, whether it's conspiracy theories or free-market," says
James Glattfelder
. "Our analysis is reality-based."

- The Capitalist network That Runs The World

The top 50 of the 147 superconnected companies

1. Barclays plc
2. Capital Group Companies Inc
3. FMR Corporation
4. AXA
5. State Street Corporation
6. JP Morgan Chase & Co
7. Legal & General Group plc
8. Vanguard Group Inc
10. Merrill Lynch & Co Inc
11. Wellington Management Co LLP
12. Deutsche Bank AG
13. Franklin Resources Inc
14. Credit Suisse Group
15. Walton Enterprises LLC
16. Bank of New York Mellon Corp
17. Natixis
18. Goldman Sachs Group Inc
19. T Rowe Price Group Inc
20. Legg Mason Inc
21. Morgan Stanley
22. Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group Inc
23. Northern Trust Corporation
24. Société Générale
25. Bank of America Corporation
26. Lloyds TSB Group plc
27. Invesco plc
28. Allianz SE 29. TIAA
30. Old Mutual Public Limited Company
31. Aviva plc
32. Schroders plc
33. Dodge & Cox
34. Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc*
35. Sun Life Financial Inc
36. Standard Life plc
37. CNCE
38. Nomura Holdings Inc
39. The Depository Trust Company
40. Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance
41. ING Groep NV
42. Brandes Investment Partners LP
43. Unicredito Italiano SPA
44. Deposit Insurance Corporation of Japan
45. Vereniging Aegon
46. BNP Paribas
47. Affiliated Managers Group Inc
48. Resona Holdings Inc
49. Capital Group International Inc
50. China Petrochemical Group Company

* Lehman still existed in the 2007 dataset used

Quote of the Day

We often interact with professionals who exercise their judgment with evident confidence, sometimes priding themselves on the power of their intuition. In a world rife with illusions of validity and skill, can we trust them? How do we distinguish the justified confidence of experts from the sincere overconfidence of professionals who do not know they are out of their depth? We can believe an expert who admits uncertainty but cannot take expressions of high confidence at face value. As I first learned on the obstacle field, people come up with coherent stories and confident predictions even when they know little or nothing. Overconfidence arises because people are often blind to their own blindness.

- Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

Friday, October 21, 2011

UK Court - Bayes’ Theorem Shouldn’t Again Be Used Unless The Underlying Statistics Are “Firm”

Historical plus mathematical ignorance leading to cognitive dissonance - via here:

It begins with a convicted killer, "T", who took his case to the court of appeal in 2010. Among the evidence against him was a shoeprint from a pair of Nike trainers, which seemed to match a pair found at his home. While appeals often unmask shaky evidence, this was different. This time, a mathematical formula was thrown out of court. The footwear expert made what the judge believed were poor calculations about the likelihood of the match, compounded by a bad explanation of how he reached his opinion. The conviction was quashed.

But more importantly, as far as mathematicians are concerned, the judge also ruled against using similar statistical analysis in the courts in future. It's not the first time that judges have shown hostility to using formulae. But the real worry, say forensic experts, is that the ruling could lead to miscarriages of justice.

"The impact will be quite shattering," says Professor Norman Fenton, a mathematician at Queen Mary, University of London. In the last four years he has been an expert witness in six cases, including the 2007 trial of Levi Bellfield for the murders of Marsha McDonnell and Amelie Delagrange. He claims that the decision in the shoeprint case threatens to damage trials now coming to court because experts like him can no longer use the maths they need.

Inequality & American Decline - George Packer

The Iraq war was a kind of stress test applied to the American body politic. And every major system and organ failed the test: the executive and legislative branches, the military, the intelligence world, the for-profits, the nonprofits, the media. It turned out that we were not in good shape at all -- without even realizing it. Americans just hadn't tried anything this hard in around half a century. It is easy, and completely justified, to blame certain individuals for the Iraq tragedy. But over the years, I've become more concerned with failures that went beyond individuals, and beyond Iraq -- concerned with the growing arteriosclerosis of American institutions. Iraq was not an exceptional case. It was a vivid symptom of a long-term trend, one that worsens year by year. The same ailments that led to the disastrous occupation were on full display in Washington this past summer, during the debt-ceiling debacle: ideological rigidity bordering on fanaticism, an indifference to facts, an inability to think beyond the short term, the dissolution of national interest into partisan advantage.

- More 

Quote of the Day

"A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds."

- Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance

Thursday, October 20, 2011

I, Microbes - Ed Yong

Ed Young's talk @ BBC Radio plus microbes slideshow on his blog:

"To our microbiome, the human body must seem like an entire planet, full of different ecosystems. This is especially true for those that live on our skin. At the microscopic scale, the hairy, moist surface of your armpits is as different from the smooth, dry skin of your forearms as a rainforest is to a desert.
In a thorough survey of our skin microbiome, Elizabeth Grice identified species from at least 205 different genera. Your forearm has the richest community with an average of 44 species, while your nostril, ears and inguinal crease (between leg and groin) are the most stable habitats. Grice also found at bacteria from a specific body part have more in common than those from a specific person. Your butt microbes have more in common with mine than they do with your elbow microbes."

Quote of the Day

News flash, dearies: there’s lots of areas of life that aren’t ‘science’ where people do tend to get a mite hung up on particulars of what is and is not, in fact, true. Like in bookkeeping. Like in criminal investigations. Like when they’re trying to establish where their spouse was last night.

Like, in fact, in most facets of life, hundreds of times a day, even if accounting isn’t your field and you’re not the accused at a criminal trial, and you’re not even married. Getting the facts right isn’t a concern of ‘science’, specifically. It’s a general concern of human beings. Getting reality right is, frequently, indeed, rather important if you wish to stay alive. It’s not a particularly academic question whether the car is or is not coming, when you cross the road. It’s the sort of thing one likes to get right. And we don’t generally call this ‘science’, either. We call it ‘looking’.
AJ Milne

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A Simple Introduction To Bayes Theory

"The essence of the Bayesian approach is to provide a mathematical rule explaining how you should change your existing beliefs in the light of new evidence. In other words, it allows scientists to combine new data with their existing knowledge or expertise. The canonical example is to imagine that a precocious newborn observes his first sunset, and wonders whether the sun will rise again or not. He assigns equal prior probabilities to both possible outcomes, and represents this by placing one white and one black marble into a bag. The following day, when the sun rises, the child places another white marble in the bag. The probability that a marble plucked randomly from the bag will be white (ie, the child's degree of belief in future sunrises) has thus gone from a half to two-thirds. After sunrise the next day, the child adds another white marble, and the probability (and thus the degree of belief) goes from two-thirds to three-quarters. And so on. Gradually, the initial belief that the sun is just as likely as not to rise each morning is modified to become a near-certainty that the sun will always rise"

- More Here

Quote of the Day

"The probability of any event is the ratio between the value at which an expectation depending on the happening of the event ought to be computed, and the chance of the thing expected upon it's happening."

- Thomas Bayes

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

It’s Official - To Protect Baby’s Brain, Turn Off TV

A decade ago, the American Academy of Pediatrics suggested that parents limit TV consumption by children under two years of age. The recommendations were based as much on common sense as science, because studies of media consumption and infant development were themselves in their infancy.

The research has finally grown up. And though it’s still ongoing, it’s mature enough for the AAP to release a new, science-heavy policy statement on babies watching television, videos or any other passive media form.

Their verdict: It’s not good, and probably bad.

As screens proliferated, so did research. “There have been about 50 studies that have come out on media use by children in this age group between 1999 and now,” said Ari Brown, a pediatrician and member of the AAP committee that wrote the new report.

Those studies have found that children don’t really understand what’s happening on a screen until they’re about 2 years old. Once they do, media can be good for them, but until then television is essentially a mesmerizing, glowing box.

Used at night, TV might help kids fall asleep, but that appears to come at a delayed cost of subsequent sleep disturbances and irregularities. While the result of TV-induced sleep problems hasn’t been directly studied, poor sleep in infants is generally linked to problems with mood, behavior and learning.

At other times, media consumption comes with opportunity costs, foremost among them
the silence of parents
. “While television is on, there’s less talking, and talk time is very important in language development,” said Brown.

- More Here ( just baby's brain?)

How To Spot A Liar - Pamela Meyer

Quote of the Day

We like to see ourselves as a Promethean species, uniquely endowed with the gift of reason. But Mr. Kahneman's simple experiments reveal a very different mind, stuffed full of habits that, in most situations, lead us astray. Though overconfidence may encourage us to take necessary risks—Mr. Kahneman calls it the "engine of capitalism"—it's generally a dangerous (and expensive) illusion.

- Johan Lehrer reviews Daniel Kahneman's new book Thinking, Fast and Slow

Monday, October 17, 2011

Why Do We Close Your Eyes to Remember?

"When your eyes are open, those areas of the brain that are involved in vision are getting input from the eyes, and this input keeps those areas busy.  Consequently, when you have to answer a difficult question or think about some visual memory from the past you either close your eyes or look upward to help you disengage from the world.  (Looking up helps, because the ceiling of the room or the sky are often much less visually interesting than what is happening at eye level and below.)"

- More Here

iGenius - How Steve Jobs Changed the World

Discovery chose Savage and Hyneman as hosts because they share Jobs's spirit of critical thinking, innovation, and curiosity. After his passing on Oct. 5 from pancreatic cancer and respiratory arrest, Discovery ramped up plans for the program. Savage and Hyneman joined the project last week and only saw the script a few days before the show airs. They filmed their bits over six hours yesterday morning at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, CA.

"He was uncompromising by every account and could be taciturn and difficult," says Savage. "His ability to stick to his vision, and not rely on outside product testing--it can be done, but it takes passion and obsession. What stood out for me was his  [2005] Stanford commencement speech, when he referred to the fear of death changing what he found important, and the Buddhist ideal of keeping a child’s mind."

Adds Hyneman: "Corporations should take note, to follow their vision and not have it watered down and flattened by committees."

- More Here

Boomerang - Michael Lewis

Michael Lewis talks about his new book, Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World on Charlie Rose.

Quote of the Day

"The first principle is that you must not fool yourself–and you are the easiest person to fool."

- Richard Feynman

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Is High Ability Necessary for Greatness?

Then we started discussing individual cases of people who surmounted seemingly insurmountable physical and cognitive limitations, only to become great in their field. Edward described these people as “existence proofs”; they were proof that greatness is possible, despite their apparent weaknesses. I never forgot that term, which is why I used it to describe my blue-face outlier (whose real identity I will never know). For these existence proofs, their lower ability does not constrain their ultimate levels of performance; they are able to overcome their limitations. Perhaps they even attained greatness because of their limitations!

At one level of analysis—the group level—Hambrick and his colleagues are surely scientifically correct: ability matters all across the performance spectrum. Differences in working memory performance are slightly to moderately but significantly (at least statistically), related to performance on measures of complex cognition under laboratory conditions, and these effects don’t weaken at the high ends of domain-specific knowledge. Research also shows that early ability matters. In a recent review, Kimberley Robertson and her colleagues showed that among a group of adolescence, both domain-general and domain-specific abilities even at the very top 1% were statistically predictive of the likelihood of educational, occupational, and creative outcomes decades later in life (although independent of that, measures of educational-vocational interest and lifestyle preferences also had a significant effect). These are certainly interesting findings, and popular writers such as  Malcolm Gladwell or  David Brooks are technically (or scientifically) incorrect if they claim that ability does not matter. Perhaps a more nuanced view is that the importance of different abilities and traits depends on the domain in question. For the arts, the type of ability measured on IQ tests appears to be less important than for scientific discovery. At least when looking at group averages.

But at another level of analysis, this debate breaks down. While it’s fun for scientists to find order among apparent chaos, let’s remember that we’re talking about chaos among human beings, not fractals. Each participant comes to the experiment with their own unique constellation of traits, abilities, inspirations, motivations, passions, desires, life circumstances, and life experiences. There are so many different paths to greatness. The name of the game is strengthening what you’re good at, and compensating for your weaknesses. This is actually part of the definition of intelligence, at least as defined by my former advisor  Robert J. Sternberg.

- More Here

Why Inspiration Matters

Thrash and Elliot define inspiration as involving three main related qualities. First, inspiration is evoked spontaneously and without intention by something-- whether it's an idea that comes from within, an inspiring person such as a role model, or a divine revelation. Another key quality of inspiration is that it is transcendent of our more animalistic and self-serving concerns and limitations. Such transcendence often involves a moment of clarity and and awareness of new possibilities. As the researchers note, "the heights of human motivation spring from the beauty and goodness that precede us and awaken us to better possibilities." This moment of clarity is often vivid, and can take the form of a grand vision, or a "seeing" of something one has not seen before (but was probably always there). Finally, inspiration involves approach motivation, in which the individual strives to transmit, express, or actualize a new idea or vision.

As a first pass to capture inspiration in the laboratory and see how it relates to other psychological constructs, Thrash and Elliot developed the "Inspiration Scale", which measures the frequency of experiencing inspiration. The scale measures inspiration as a trait, assuming that people differ from one another in the frequency with which they experience inspiration in their daily lives. In their initial set of studies, they found that trait inspiration (as measured by their Inspiration Scale) predicted people's ongoing daily experiences of inspiration and those who scored high on the Inspiration Scale also tended to score high on a range of other traits characteristic of inspiration: evocation, transcendence, and approach motivation.

In terms of evocation, trait inspiration was related to Openness to Experience and absorption (i.e., flow), but not Conscientiousness. This supports the view that inspiration is something that happens to you and is not willed.

In terms of transcendence, trait inspiration was related to the drive to master work but was negatively related to competitiveness, which reflects a non-transcendent desire to outperform competitors. Inspiration was also positively related to intrinsic motivation and negatively related to extrinsic motivation. Therefore, what makes an object inspiring is its perceived subjective intrinsic value and not how much it's objectively worth or how attainable it is.

In terms of approach orientation, trait inspiration was related to Extraversion and Openness to Experience, traits which are tightly linked to each other and have both been tied in prior research to the dopamingeric neurotransmitter system. Dopamine has mostly activating effects on behavior and cognition and contributes to approach behavior, positive affect, sensitivity to rewards, broad thinking, and mental flexibility. Inspiration was also related to important psychological resources, including self-efficacy, self-esteem, and optimism. Importantly, many of the associations found with trait inspiration were also found when looking as inspiration as a state. While people may differ from one another in the frequency of their daily inspiration, anyone who experiences inspiration at any time can reap similar benefits.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

"Our errors are surely not such awfully solemn things. In a world where we are so certain to incur them in spite of all our caution, a certain lightness of heart seems healthier than this excessive nervousness on their behalf."

- William James, The Will to Believe

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Wisdom Of The Week

"It’s still an enormous project (new world trade center), but Ward distinguishes between “myopic monumentalism” and monumental projects done right. Myopic projects are designed in a rush. They are simple and brutal and single-purposed. They lack the cross tensions and quiet paradoxes that accrete on a project when it evolves patiently and over time. Robert Moses’s dream of building an expressway through the heart of Manhattan was myopic monumentalism. Frederick Law Olmsted’s Central Park, with its complex blend of neighborhoods, was not"

- David Brooks

Quote of the Day

"When your Daemon is in charge, do not try to think consciously. Drift, wait, and obey.".

- Rudyard Kipling

Thursday, October 13, 2011

What I've Been Reading

42 Fallacies by Michael LaBossiere. A simple and extremely condensed guide, defining all the major fallacies. You can buy the kindle edition for 0.99 cents or read it for free online. Btw., cognitive biases are different than fallacies.

Circumstantial Ad Hominem Description:
A Circumstantial ad Hominem is a fallacy in which one attempts to attack a claim by asserting that the person making the claim is making it simply out of self interest. In some cases, this fallacy involves substituting an attack on a person’s circumstances (such as the person’s religion, political affiliation, ethnic background, etc.). The fallacy has the following forms:
1. Person A makes claim X. 
2. Person B asserts that A makes claim X because it is in A’s interest to claim X. 3. Therefore claim X is false.

1. Person A makes claim X. 
2. Person B makes an attack on A’s circumstances. 
3. Therefore X is false.

Quote of the Day

"As for the next question -- how Rahul would actually govern -- the answer will depend on whom he chooses to listen to. Well-informed observers in New Delhi note that, so far, he has relied mostly on advisers close to his mother. If he continues to do the same, the result will be incremental and mostly unimaginative policy choices. Steps toward economic liberalization would be halting, populist programs would continue apace, and internal reform of the party would remain in abeyance.

To seriously address the most difficult of India's endemic ills, Rahul would need to demonstrate a new level of imagination, verve, and decisiveness. That would mean not just good political optics but undertaking actual policy initiatives that solve the dilemma of land acquisition, the stubborn issue of judicial reform, and the country's seemingly intractable security problems. Flashy moves for the cameras may draw the praise of family and party power brokers, but they will leave much to be desired for a bold new national leader on the Indian stage."

- Sumit Ganguly

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Greatest Threat To Our Economy Is...

"The greatest threat to our economy is neither corporations nor the government. The greatest threat to our economy is both of them working together. There are currently two sizable coalitions of angry citizens that are almost on the same page about that, and they're too busy insulting each other to notice."

- via Andrew

Does Spaying Cause Depression in Pets?

Few researchers have tested this systematically in dogs and cats. In 2006, a small study of German shepherds on a Korean Air Force base did show that female dogs without ovaries were more “reactive” than sexually intact ones, meaning they were more likely to bark and growl when a test dog was walked past their kennels. Other studies report an increase in separation anxiety and noise phobias (e.g., fear of thunder or fireworks) in some dogs and shyness in cats after spaying or neutering, particularly if done at an early age.

Of course, disregarding animal psychics, there is no way to decipher the subjective emotional experience of a cat or dog (or even a laboratory mouse). It may offer a dog some relief to see a bitch stroll by and not feel impelled to jump the fence to chase after her, or put less strain on a cat whose spine isn’t forced into arched-back lordosis posture at the whim of estrogen. While they may be groggy from the anesthesia post-op, spayed or neutered pets won’t know they’ve lost the ability to reproduce. They simply won’t feel the desire, or have the capacity, to do so. There’s no reason to think they experience any angst over not passing on their genes, or pine for puppies, or long to hear the clitter-clatter of little claws.

- More Here 

Max was neutered when he was 9 months old rather than the recommended 6 months and he is one of the happiest non-human animal on earth. I guess, one has to wait till a dog is sexually matured.

Quote of the Day

"One of the surprising lessons of this research is that trying to force an insight can actually prevent the insight. While it’s commonly assumed that the best way to solve a difficult problem is to focus, minimize distractions, and pay attention only to the relevant details, this clenched state of mind may inhibit the sort of creative connections that lead to sudden breakthroughs. We suppress the very type of brain activity that we should be encouraging."

- Jonah Lehrer

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Philosophical Baby - Alison Gopnik

Brain Dead In One Country But Not Another

Brain death is generally defined as irreversible coma with absent brainstem reflexes. Ten years ago, Eelco Wijdicks of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, compared criteria for brain death in 80 countries and found widespread variability in the methods used. Of the 70 countries that had published guidelines, 59 per cent required a test to see if the person could breathe unassisted, while half required more than one doctor to examine the patient. Extra tests, like an EEG, were required in 40 per cent of countries.

Even within the US, guidelines can vary. "Each state and each individual hospital can develop their own guidelines," says David Greer of Yale University. He compared guidelines between 50 top US hospitals and found differences in the attention paid to confounding factors and how they assessed patients' ability to breathe unaided (
Neurology, DOI: 10.1212/01.wnl.0000296278.59487.c2). Even if international consensus can't be reached, a national standard on brain death is needed, says Greer. "You have people using outdated guidelines and there can be misdiagnosis, our worst nightmare."

- More Here

What I've Been Reading

Be Different: Adventures of a Free-Range Aspergian with Practical Advice for Aspergians, Misfits, Families & Teachers by John Elder Robinson. One doesn't have to be an Aspergian to connect with this book; everyone of us can find a little piece of us here. Ironically, few words of wisdom here are contradictory to Sam Harris's latest book Lying (John urges autistic people to embrace white lies to fit into the society). 

  • Find life and work that minimize your weaknesses, and you discover your strengths and play with them. 
  • Learn to be wary of your ritualized behaviors and your rituals are okay as along as they don't interfere with your responsibilities. 
  •  All my friends agree about this: if they had to be marooned somewhere in the woods or on a mountain, I'd be a top choice to accompany them. Because I am always prepared, and I think of all the risks.
  • If you make a happy face, you'll feel good. If you make a frown, you'll be sad.
  • Emotions - The worst thing is when I completely miss something because I', preoccupied and my senses such as they are - are turned off. I never fail to care when I know, but all too often, I don't know when I need to care. I know there is nothing at all wrong with my ability to feel joy or sadness or love or anger or anything else. All that's missing is the trigger. 
  • I worried about my own compatibility a lot when I was young, because I didn't meet many people and I thought I might never make friends.Today, I know there are compatible friends and mates for anyone. if only we can find them.
  • When I was younger, I used to think words like "empathy" were easily defined and their meaning was clear-cut. Today I understand that the ideas are not so simple. 
  • I often thought that Asperger people may be well suited as emergency responders since their nature allowed them to be calm and unemotional. 
  • My grandmother used to say that if you don't have anything nice to say, just keep your thoughts to yourself. You'll never get into trouble if you follow that rule. I made a mental note of things I should not say to people even when they were true. 
  • My ability to read faces may have been poor, but my ability to sense movement and danger was extraordinarily good.
  • Instead of fixing my clothes. I fixed myself. I learned to focus my mind so that my sense of touch no longer controlled me. 
  • Autistic people people start out with more plasticity than nypicals (non-austic), meaning our brains change more easily, and more profoundly, in response to life's experience. There are times when this gives us an advantage in life, but touch sensitivity is an area where our plasticity can really work against us. 
  • I've pondered why it is that I have succeeded at learning to read the natural world, while I am still largely oblivious to the social cues of people. I think it comes down to simplicity, predictability, and logic. The natural world has all those things; people don't.
  • We've developed the written mathematics to describe the movement of sun and stars only in the last few hundred years, but the Mayans and Egyptians, somehow figured our many of those same things a thousand or more years ago. Perhaps they were Aspergians, too.  When I think of earlier inventors, I realize that many of them must have had a similar intuitive understanding of higher mathematics. I now know that it's possible to add waves in your head, even if you can't write the formulas to do it on paper. 
  • When you're a kid, people make fun of your special interest. When you're a grown-up, though, your special interests makes you the expert.
An Asperger on team work and living those famous opening lines from Emerson's Self Reliance:

Millions of people see an unmet need and say "Someone should invent xyz..." I am someone who's said that and then, actually followed through many times in my life. I don't know what you call that but it's not genius. May be it's imagination plus determination, or stubbornness, or something else. Whatever you call it, I know that many people today could go much further if they just took the next step, when they had an idea, instead of it die as idle conversation.
Then there's teamwork. We live in a complex world, one where it's nearly impossible for any one person to "do it all," no matter how smart he or she may be. The capacity, the ability to know what you don't know, and know what you need - is vital to success.
Finally, there's self confidence, and that's a funny thing.  

Quote of the Day

"It is in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough—it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the results that make our heart sing."

- Steve Jobs

Monday, October 10, 2011

Consilience, Even at the Expense of Convenience - Steve Jobs

In November, 2000, Jobs purchased an abandoned Del Monte canning factory on sixteen acres in Emeryille, just north of Oakland. The original architectural plan called for three buildings, with separate offices for the computer scientists, the animators, and the Pixar executives. Jobs immediately scrapped it. (“We used to joke that the building was Steve’s movie,” Ed Catmull, the president of Pixar, told me last year.) Instead of three buildings, there was going to be a single vast space, with an airy atrium at its center. “The philosophy behind this design is that it’s good to put the most important function at the heart of the building,” Catmull said. “Well, what’s our most important function? It’s the interaction of our employees. That’s why Steve put a big empty space there. He wanted to create an open area for people to always be talking to each other.”

Jobs realized, however, that it wasn’t enough to simply create a space: he needed to make people go there. As he saw it, the main challenge for Pixar was getting its different cultures to work together, forcing the computer geeks and cartoonists to collaborate. (John Lasseter, the chief creative officer at Pixar, describes the equation this way: “Technology inspires art, and art challenges the technology.”) In typical fashion, Jobs saw this as a design problem. He began with the mailboxes, which he shifted to the atrium. Then he moved the meeting rooms to the center of the building, followed by the cafeteria and the coffee bar and the gift shop. But that still wasn’t enough; Jobs insisted that the architects locate the only set of bathrooms in the atrium. (He was later forced to compromise on this detail.) In a 2008 conversation, Brad Bird, the director of “The Incredibles” and “Ratatouille,” said, “The atrium initially might seem like a waste of space…. But Steve realized that when people run into each other, when they make eye contact, things happen.”

That emphasis on consilience, even if it came at the expense of convenience, has always been a defining trait of Steve Jobs. In an age of intellectual fragmentation, Jobs insisted that the best creations occurred when people from disparate fields were connected together, when our distinct ways of seeing the world were brought to bear on a singular problem. It’s what happens when a calligrapher designs a computer font and when an animator strikes up a conversation with a programmer at the bathroom sink
. The Latin crest of Pixar University says it all:
Alienus Non Diutius. Alone no longer."

Jonah Lehrer

Check out E.O Wilson's famous book (and one of my favorite), Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge.

Richard Feynman on Beauty

Spare five minutes to watch this talk by Richard Feynman, it might change your life.

Good Bye Jagit Singh

Quote of the Day

"After all, the really social people did not invent the first stone spear. It was probably invented by an Aspie who chipped away at rocks while the other people socialized around the campfire. Without autism traits we might still be living in caves"

- Temple Grandin 

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Not Tested on Animals - 7

We all need variety; without which it's easy to console our conscience. Every Man Jack bar soap is one the best ever (available at Target). Of the all not tested on animals products I have used so far, this one is the best.

The End of Insight - Steven Strogatz

In my own field of complex systems theory, Stephen Wolfram has emphasized that there are simple computer programs, known as cellular automata, whose dynamics can be so inscrutable that there's no way to predict how they'll behave; the best you can do is simulate them on the computer, sit back, and watch how they unfold. Observation replaces insight. Mathematics becomes a spectator sport.

If this is happening in mathematics, the supposed pinnacle of human reasoning, it seems likely to afflict us in science too, first in physics and later in biology and the social sciences (where we're not even sure what's true, let alone why).
When the End of Insight comes, the nature of explanation in science will change forever. We'll be stuck in an age of authoritarianism, except it'll no longer be coming from politics or religious dogma, but from science itself.

- More
"Insight" @ Edge

Quote of the Day

"A world that can be explained even with bad reasons is a familiar world. But, on the other hand, in a universe suddenly divested of illusions and lights, man feels an alien, a stranger. His exile is without remedy since he is deprived of the memory of a lost home or the hope of a promised land. This divorce between man and his life, the actor and his setting, is properly the feeling of absurdity."

- Albert Camus

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Wildlife Trusts to Save Wolves

Several wolf researchers recently published a policy article in Science proposing a new view of state responsibilities toward wolves (with one author discussing it on his blog.) They argue that there is a very long common law history for wildlife falling under the umbrella of the public trust doctrine—in short, wildlife belong collectively to the citizens of the state. The state, then, is obligated to preserve wildlife for the benefit of the public. This duty has been cited by the US Supreme Court on several occasions, including cases involving wildlife as well as navigable waterways.

One reason that many conservation groups have opposed the delisting of the wolf is that there appears to be no way to force states to preserve wolf populations. The researchers consider the public trust doctrine to be a duty that compels states to ensure a sustainable population of wolves or, indeed, any species.

That would be a big step, because as the authors put it, “formal recognition of a duty to preserve species under the wildlife trust would, at minimum, require states to maintain a viable population of wolves. Such an acknowledgement from states could help assuage fears that state-led wolf management will lead to a second wave of wolf eradications and could move debate about population baselines and distributions back into the scientific—as opposed to political—arena.”

- More Here

Wisdom of the Week

"We have called for at least $4 trillion in savings because it is the minimum amount of deficit reduction necessary to stabilize the U.S. debt and put it on a downward path as a percentage of gross domestic product. A package that achieved $1.5 trillion in savings would generate a great deal of opposition from affected constituencies but would still leave in place a large and growing debt burden.

When we presented our co-chairmen’s proposal to the rest of the fiscal commission in November, Washington insiders were shocked that we so aggressively exceeded our mandate. They were sure that the proposal would need to be scaled back to get a majority vote. It turned out that the opposite was true. The more comprehensive we made it, the easier our job became. The tougher our proposal, the more people came aboard.

Commission members were willing to take on their sacred cows and fight special interests — but only if they saw others doing the same and if what they were voting for solved the country’s problems. This spirit of shared sacrifice gained us broad bipartisan support, spanning from Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin to Republican Sen. Tom Coburn. We would not have garnered that type of support had we not taken on defense, domestic programs, the solvency of Social Security, health care, and spending in the tax code all at once.

The supercommittee’s work is not simply arithmetic. Its members must be smart in how they achieve savings. They should avoid making immediate deep cuts that would jeopardize our fragile economic recovery. They need to set priorities, such as reducing lower-priority spending while preserving funding for key investments necessary to compete in a knowledge-based global economy. And they should not make cuts that would harm the disadvantaged.

We are encouraged that President Obama has embraced the goal of stabilizing the debt and the target of achieving at least $4 trillion in deficit reduction. Unfortunately, his proposal falls short of this goal by counting war savings that were already planned; and while it does (barely) stabilize the debt, it does so at a dangerously high level and with no margin for error. We are disappointed, too, that the president did not address the long-term solvency of Social Security. Nonetheless, it represents a step forward.

The president has said that he won’t support major cuts to entitlements unless the package includes additional revenue, but the opposite must be true as well. The president must be willing to support real savings in entitlements that deal with long-term costs. We can’t simply cut or tax our way out of this problem. Bringing our debt under control will require tackling the growth of entitlements and reforming the tax code to promote economic growth and generate enough revenue to meet our commitments.

The work done by our commission and others has shown that it is possible to reform entitlement programs in a way that preserves and even strengthens the safety net for the most vulnerable while achieving significant savings. Similarly, by pursuing comprehensive tax reform that eliminates or reduces many of the $1.1 trillion in tax expenditures, we can raise revenue in a way that improves progressivity in the tax code — because these tax expenditures disproportionately benefit upper-income taxpayers — while promoting economic growth by removing economic distortions from tax expenditures and reducing marginal tax rates.

If the supercommittee is bold, it can put forward a smart, well-formulated deficit reduction plan that not only reduces our deficit but also maintains our economic health and restores public confidence in America’s ability to govern wisely and prudently. Failure to do so will incur a great price."

- Go Big, Be Bold, Be Smart  by Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles