Saturday, December 31, 2011

What I've Been Reading

The Folly of Fools: The Logic of Deceit and Self-Deception in Human Life by Robert Trivers.

The lesson number one -  we need to self reflect in order to peek into the ocean of our own self deception (although it's fun to look into self deception of others). Secondly, we shouldn't kid ourselves that by just reading this book or self reflection we can avoid self-deception... we can only hope to keep it on a very long leash.

"We see (consciously) incoming information, as well as our internal intention to act, well after the fact. It seems as if it is difficult to learn after the fact what to predict ahead of the fact; thus, our ability to see the future, even that of our own behavior, is often very limited. I believe I have learned a lot about my self-deceptions but not in ways that prevent me from repeating them—often exactly.

Seeing your self-deception in retrospect is one thing, decreasing its frequency in the future a much deeper matter.

John Horgan in NYT review reveals why Trivers is not very popular:
These concepts (reciprocal altruism et al.) were popularized by others, notably Edward O. Wilson in “Sociobiology,” Dawkins in “The Selfish Gene” and Pinker in “How the Mind Works.” All have credited Trivers, whom Pinker has called “an underappreciated genius, and one of history’s greatest thinkers in the analysis of behavior and emotion.” If Trivers is not better known, that may be because he has struggled with bipolar disorder since his youth.  

The central theme of the book:
Lying to ourselves has costs. We are basing conscious activity on falsehoods, and in many situations this can turn around and bite us, as we shall see many, many times in this book. Whether during airplane crashes, the planning of stupid offensive wars, personal romantic disasters, family disputes, whatever, we shall see time and again that self-deception brings with it the expected costs of being alienated from reality, although, alas, there is a tendency for other people to suffer disproportionately the costs of our self-deception, while the benefits, such as they are, go to ourselves. So how does self-deception pay for itself biologically? How does it actually improve survival and reproduction?

Applied more broadly, the general argument is that we deceive ourselves the better to deceive others. To fool others, we may be tempted to reorganize information internally in all sorts of improbable ways and to do so largely unconsciously. 
The central claim of this book is that self-deception evolves in the service of deception—the better to fool others. Sometimes it also benefits deception by saving on cognitive load during the act, and at times it also provides an easy defense against accusations of deception (namely, I was unconscious of my actions). In the first case, the self-deceived fails to give off the cues that go with consciously mediated deception, thus escaping detection. In the second, the actual process of deception is rendered cognitively less expensive by keeping part of the truth in the unconscious. That is, the brain can act more efficiently when it is unaware of the ongoing contradiction. And in the third case, the deception, when detected, is more easily defended against—that is, rationalized—to others as being unconsciously propagated. In some cases, self-deception may give a direct personal advantage by at least temporarily elevating the organism into a more productive state, but most of the time such elevation occurs without self-deception.

On Overconfidence:
A very disturbing feature of overconfidence is that it often appears to be poorly associated with knowledge—that is, the more ignorant the individual, the more confident he or she maybe. This is true of the public when asked questions of general knowledge. Sometimes this phenomenon varies with age and status, so that senior physicians, for example, are both more likely to be wrong and more confident they are right, a potentially lethal combination, especially among surgeons. 

On Economists:
Truth—or, at least, truth detection—has been pushed back steadily over time by the propagation of deception. It always amazes me to hear some economists say that the costs of deceptive excesses in our economy (including white-collar crime) will naturally be checked by market forces.
I know nothing about economics and—from evolutionary logic—could not have predicted a thing about the collapse of 2008, but I have disagreed for thirty years with an alleged science called economics that has resolutely failed to ground itself in underlying knowledge, at a cost to all of us.

On Induced Self-deception:
There is something called induced self-deception, in which the self-deceived person acts not for the benefit of self but for someone who is inducing the self-deception. This can be parent, partner, kin group, society or whatever, and its extremely important factor in human life. You are still practicing self-deception but not for your own benefit. 

Neural-representation of Self-deception:
Right brain is emotionally honest and left actively engaged in self-promotion.

Self-deception at genomic level:
The relevance of genomic imprinting to deceit and self-deception is several-fold, of which the most important is the internal fragmentation and conflict it generates. In important parts of our family lives, we are two separable people (not one) with partly divergent aims, theories of reality, and degree of deceit and self-deception - two people who are also tempted to deceive each other. We call these two people our maternal and our paternal selves. 

On Marriage:
Evidence suggests that martial satisfaction declines linearly over time, but people have a biased memory - they remember early declines in satisfaction but more recent increases that offset the early decreases. 

On False Historical Narrative:
It replaces a potentially negative personal self-image with a positive one-or; more accurately, a negative image of one's ancestors with a positive one. 

On War:
Faulty decisions are said to arise from four main causes: being overconfident, underestimating the other side, ignoring one’s own intelligence reports, and wasting manpower. All are connected to self-deception. Overconfidence and underestimation of others go hand in hand, and once self-deception is entrained, the conscious mind does not wish to hear contrary evidence—even when provided by its own agents, whose express purpose is to provide such information. Indeed, the old rule was to shoot the messenger.
Number one was just extreme hubris and self-confidence. If you truly believe in the power of free economics and free politics, and their attractiveness to all populations of the world, and their ability to sweep away all manner of ills, then you tend not to worry about these things so much. The other major reason is that, given the difficulty of mustering public support for something as extreme as an offensive war, any serious discussion inside the government about the messy consequences, the things that could go wrong, would complicate even further the selling of the war.

On Religion:
In my own view, there is often an internal struggle within religions between general truth and personal or group falsehood. That is, the essence of religion is neither self-deception nor deep truth, but a mixture of the two, with self-deception often overwhelming truth.
According to cognitive dissonance theory, greater cost needs to be rationalized, leading to greater self-deception, in this case in the direction of group identity and solidarity. Why do religions provide more fertile ground for this process than secular communes? Perhaps because religions provide a much more comprehensive logic for justifying beliefs and actions. 

On Economics: 
They often implicitly assume, as we noted in the first chapter, that market forces will naturally constrain the cost of deception in social and economic systems, but such a belief fails to correspond with what we know from daily life, much less biology more generally. Yet such is the detachment of this “science” from reality that these contradictions arouse notice only when the entire world is hurtling into an economic depression based on corporate greed wedded to false economic theory.
The mistake is partly related to the fact that “utility” has ambiguity built into it. It can refer to utility of your actions to you or to others, including the rest of your group. Economists easily imagine that the two kinds of utility are well aligned. They often argue that individuals acting for personal utility (undefined) will tend to benefit the group (provide general utility). Thus they tend to be blind to the possibility that unrestrained pursuit of personal utility can have disastrous effects on group benefit. This is a well-known fallacy in biology, with hundreds of examples. Nowhere do we assume in advance that the two kinds of utility are positively aligned. 

On Consciousness:
There are two great axes in human mental life: intelligence and consciousness. You can be very bright but unconscious, or slow but conscious, or any of the combinations in between. Of course, consciousness comes in many forms and degrees. We can deny reality and then deny the denial. We can be aware that someone in a group means us harm but not know who.
Try to avoid overconfidence and unconsciousness. Each is dangerous; together they can be deadly

Recent Mother of all Self-deceptions:
Bush himself joked about the August 2001 memo saying bin Laden was planning an attack within the United States. Indeed, he denigrated the CIA officer who had relentlessly pressed to give the president the briefing at his Texas home. "All right," Bush said when the man finished. "You've covered your ass now," as indeed he had, but Bush left his own exposed.
This is the deep feature of self deception: success entrains confidence but also overconfidence. How many of us have taken success one step too far? (Bill Clinton and his women?)

"It doesn’t matter how beautiful the guess is, or how smart the guesser is, or how famous the guesser is; if the experiment disagrees with the guess, the guess is wrong. That’s all there is to it."
 Richard Feynman

Wisdom Of The Week

One of his greatest speeches.. Hitchens, you will be missed.

Quote of the Day

"I try to deny myself any illusions or delusions, and I think that this perhaps entitles me to try and deny the same to others, at least as long as they refuse to keep their fantasies to themselves."

- Hitch-22, Christopher Hitchens

Friday, December 30, 2011

Best Articles of 2011

  • Richard Dawkings on Vivisection: But Can They Suffer? - a most important piece of this year since this torture goes on until this day - a shame of humanity:

    Isn’t it plausible that a clever species such as our own might need less pain, precisely because we are capable of intelligently working out what is good for us, and what damaging events we should avoid? Isn’t it plausible that an unintelligent species might need a massive wallop of pain, to drive home a lesson that we can learn with less powerful inducement?
    At very least, I conclude that we have no general reason to think that non-human animals feel pain less acutely than we do, and we should in any case give them the benefit of the doubt. Practices such as branding cattle, castration without anaesthetic, and bullfighting should be treated as morally equivalent to doing the same thing to human beings.
  • The Truth about violence - 3 principles of self defense by Sam Harris can  save many innocent lives:

    "You are under no obligation, for instance, to give a stranger who has rung your doorbell, or decided to stand unusually close to you on the street, the benefit of the doubt. If a man who makes you uncomfortable steps onto an elevator with you, step off. If a man approaches you while you are sitting in your car and something about him doesn’t seem right, you don’t need to roll down your window and have a conversation. Victims of crime often sense that something is wrong in the first moments of encountering their attackers but feel too socially inhibited to create the necessary distance and escape."
  • Eric Alterman's column, The Professors, The Press, The Think Tanks—And Their Problems - one of the most fascinating piece since he doesn't spare anybody including us - the delusional average citizens.

    To complicate matters, this pseudo-environment is corrupted by the manner in which it is received.Given both the economic and professional limitations of the practice of journalism, Lippmann argued, news “comes [to us] helter-skelter.” This is fine for a baseball box score, a transatlantic flight, or the death of a monarch. But where the picture is more complex, the result is largely “derangement, misunderstanding and . . . misinterpretation.” Lippmann compared the average citizen to a deaf spectator sitting in the back row of a sporting event: “He does not know what is happening, why it is happening, what ought to happen; he lives in a world which he cannot see, does not understand and is unable to direct.” John Dewey did not attempt to defend the public’s sophistication with regard to public affairs but insisted instead that Lippmann misunderstood the meaning of truth in a democratic society. While Lippmann argued for what the late journalism scholar James W. Carey termed a “spectator theory of knowledge,” Dewey viewed knowledge as a function of “communication and association.” Systematic inquiry, reified by Lippmann, was to Dewey only the beginning of knowledge. “Vision is a spectator,” he wrote. “Hearing is a participator.” The basis of democracy is not information but conversation.
  • Venkat's brilliant historic piece A Brief History of the Corporation: 1600 to 2100:

    On 8 June, a Scottish banker named Alexander Fordyce shorted the collapsing Company’s shares in the London markets. But a momentary bounce-back in the stock ruined his plans, and he skipped town leaving £550,000 in debt. Much of this was owed to the Ayr Bank, which imploded. In less than three weeks, another 30 banks collapsed across Europe, bringing trade to a standstill. On July 15, the directors of the Company applied to the Bank of England for a £400,000 loan. Two weeks later, they wanted another £300,000. By August, the directors wanted a £1 million bailout.  The news began leaking out and seemingly contrite executives, running from angry shareholders, faced furious Parliament members. By January, the terms of a comprehensive bailout were worked out, and the British government inserted its czars into the Company’s management to ensure compliance with its terms.
    If this sounds eerily familiar, it shouldn’t. The year was 1772, exactly 239 years ago today, the apogee of power for the corporation as a business construct. The company was the British East India company (EIC). The bubble that burst was the East India Bubble. Between the founding of the EIC in 1600 and the post-subprime world of 2011, the idea of the corporation was born, matured, over-extended, reined-in, refined, patched, updated, over-extended again, propped-up and finally widely declared to be obsolete. Between 2011 and 2100, it will decline — hopefully gracefully — into a well-behaved retiree on the economic scene.
  • Quintessential Michael Lewis piece on Daniel Kahneman - The King of Human Error:

    Kahneman said that he did this as often as he could: seek out people who had attacked or criticized him and persuade them to collaborate with him. He not only tortured himself, in other words, but invited his enemies to help him to do it. “Most people after they win the Nobel Prize just want to go play golf,” said Eldar Shafir, a professor of psychology at Princeton and a disciple of Amos Tversky’s. “Danny’s busy trying to disprove his own theories that led to the prize. It’s beautiful, really.”
  • Stoicism 101: A Practical Guide for Entrepreneurs  by Tim Ferris - a person I would have least expected...

    The Stoics were writing honestly, often self-critically, about how they could become better people, be happier, and deal with the problems they faced. As an entrepreneur you can see how practicing misfortune makes you stronger in the face of adversity; how flipping an obstacle upside down turns problems into opportunities; and how remembering how small you are keeps your ego manageable and in perspective.Ultimately, that’s what Stoicism is about. It’s not some systematic discussion of why or how the world exists. It is a series of reminders, tips and aids for living a good life.
  • Finally the article I read this week - A Case for Human Enhancement by Ronald Bailey  (he won me over few years ago with his book Liberation Biology: The Scientific and Moral Case for the Biotech Revolution )

    In the future, people in the pursuit of non-zero-sum social and economic relations are likely to choose the sorts of intellectual and emotional enhancements that boost their ability to cooperate more effectively with others, such as increased empathy or greater practical reason. In fact, it is just these sorts of enhancements that will help people to behave more virtuously. Of course, people in the future will have to be on guard against any still-deluded folks who think that free-riding might work; but there may well be an app for that, so to speak: the increasingly transparent society. People will be able to check the reputations of others for honest dealing and fair cooperation with just a few clicks of a mouse (or by accessing directly whatever follows Google using a brain implant). Such social monitoring will be nearly as omnipresent as what would be found in a hunter-gatherer band. Everyone will want to have a good reputation. One might try to fake being virtuous, but the best and easiest way to have a good reputation will be the same as it is today — by actually being virtuous.

Adopting A Dog With PTSD

Buck is a chocolate lab too...heart breaking - here

Larry is a pastor, and he and Lynette often invite groups of people over to their home for conversation and prayer. But at the sound of the doorbell, Buck begins to bark wildly. He pants, he spins in circles, and he shivers behind the baby gates lining the kitchen. The only way Larry can calm Buck down is by putting his leash on him and allowing him to hide in his safe place: beneath the chair where Larry sits, just behind his legs.

And the couple has had to put a halt on travel plans, as Buck will not let anyone other than Lynette approach him unless he is on the leash and with Larry.

"It's almost kind of like having a toddler, cause you have to watch him and there's no one else who can take care of him at this point," Lynette said. "I'm glad we have him, but I wish we could get our lives back to normal."

Quote of the Day

Much worried attention is focused particularly on the possibility of achieving these and other enhancements through genetic engineering; that will indeed one day happen. But the fastest advances in enhancement will occur using pharmaceutical and biomedical interventions to modulate and direct the activity of existing genes in the bodies of people who are already alive. These will happen alongside the development of human-machine interfaces that will extend and boost human capacities.

Contrary to oft-expressed concerns, we will find, first, that enhancements will better enable people to flourish; second, that enhancements will not dissolve whatever existential worries people have; third, that enhancements will enable people to become more virtuous; fourth, that people who don’t want enhancement for themselves should allow those of us who do to go forward without hindrance; fifth, that concerns over an “enhancement divide” are largely illusory; and sixth, that we already have at hand the social “technology,” in the form of protective social and political institutions, that will enable the enhanced and the unenhanced to dwell together in peace.

- Ronald Bailey on Human Enhancement 

Thursday, December 29, 2011

What I've Been Reading

Seeking Wisdom: From Darwin to Munger by Peter Bevelin. WHAT A BOOK !! Stupid me for not reading this book all this time. This is one of the those rare books which we all should read in our life time (and re-read it every few years). This is one of the best books I have ever read in my life. Peter Bevelin's unorthodox writing style makes it even better. He covers everything under the sun - finance to neuroscience, philosophy to genetics, economics to psychology -  this is what wisdom is all about - consilience of knowledge.

Why do we behave like we do? American writer Mark Twain once wrote: "The character of the human race never changes, it is permanent." Why is it so?
What do we want out of life? To be healthy, happy with our families, in our work, etc? What interferes with this? Isn't it often emotions like fear, anger, worry, disappointment, stress, and sadness caused by problems, mistakes, losses, or unreal expectations? Maybe we misjudged people, situations, the time or some investment. We chose the wrong occupation, spouse, investment, or place to live. Why?
This book is about searching for wisdom. It is in the spirit of Charles Munger, Vice Chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, Inc. who says, ''All I want to know is where I'm going to die so I'll never go there." There are roads that lead to unhappiness. An understanding of how and why we can "die" should help us avoid them.

The best way to learn what, how and why things work is to learn from others. Charles Munger says, "1 believe in the discipline of mastering the best that other people have ever figured out. I don't believe in just sitting down and trying to dream it all up yourself Nobody's that smart. "

Why spend time studying wisdom? Charles Munger gives a compelling reason: "I think it's a huge mistake not to absorb elementary worldly wisdom if you're capable of doing it because it makes you better able to serve others, it makes you better able to serve yourself and it makes life more fun ...I'm passionate about wisdom. I'm passionate about accuracy and some kinds of curiosity."

American 20th Century writer Henry Louis Mencken said: "Conscience is the inner voice that tells us someone might be looking."

Richard Dawkins said in The Selfish Gene: "Be warned that if you wish, as I do, to build a society in which individuals cooperate generously and unselfishly towards a common good, you can expect little help from biological nature. Let us try to teach generosity and altruism, because we are born selfish."

There must certainly be a vastfond of stupidity in human nature, else men would not be caught as they are, a thousand times over, by the same snare, and while they yet remember their past misfortunes, go on to court and encourage the causes to which they are owing, and which will again produce them.
- Marcus Porcius Cato (Roman statesman and writer, 234-149 BC)

Don't over-learn from your own or others bad or good experience. The same action under other conditions may cause different consequences.

American novelist Upton Sinclair said: "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon him not understanding it." Since people do what works, be sure to make the incentives right. Tie incentives to performance and to the factors that determine the result you want to achieve. Make people share both the upside and downside. And make them understand the link between their performance, their reward and what you finally want to accomplish.
It is often better to avoid situations where we need to change people. Changing people is hard as Warren Buffett says, "I'd say that the history that Charlie and I have had of persuading decent, intelligent people who we thought were doing unintelligent things to change their course of action has been poor. .. When people want to do something, they want to do something."

Warren Buffett says on how to identify people that may cause problem: ''I'm not saying that you can take 100 people and take a look at 'em and analyze their personalities or anything of the sort. But I think when you see the extreme cases - the ones that are going to cause you nothing but trouble and the ones that are going to bring you nothing but joy - well, I think you can identify those pretty well." Charles Munger adds, ''Actually, I think it's pretty simple: There's integrity, intelligence, experience, and dedication. That's what human enterprises need to run well."

Recognize your limits. How well do you know what you don't know? Don't let your ego determine what you should do. Charles Munger says, "It is remarkable how much long-term advantage people like us have gotten by trying to be consistently not stupid, instead of trying to be very intelligent. There must be some wisdom in the folk saying: "It's the strong swimmers who drown."

Charles Munger tells us about the danger of ideology:
Heavy ideology is one ofthe most extreme distorters ofhuman cognition. Look at these Islamic Fundamentalists who just gunned down a bunch ofGreek tourists shouting, "God's work!"
Ideology does some strange things and distorts cognition terribly. If you get a lot of heavy ideology young - and, then, you start expressing it - you are really locking your brain into a very unfortunate pattern. And you are going to distort your general cognition.

Buffett: One of the important things in stocks is that the stock does not know that you own it. You have all these feelings about it: You remember what you paid. You remember who told you about it - all these little things. And it doesn't give a damn. It just sits there. If a stock's at $50, somebody's paid $100 and feels terrible; somebody else has paid $10 and feels wonderful- all these feelings. And it has no impact whatsoever...

Set the correct example. In Confucius words: "Example is better than law. For where the laws govern, the people are shameless in evading punishment. But where example governs, the people have a sense of shame and improve."

If 40 million people say a foolish thing, it does not become a wise one. - Somerset Maugham (British novelist, 1874-1965)

In the late economist Peter F. Drucker's The Effective Executive, the former chairman of General Motors, Alfred P. Sloan, Jr., is reported to have said at the closing of a management meeting: "Gentlemen, I take it we are all in complete agreement on the decision here". Everyone around the table nodded assent. "Then," continued Mr. Sloan, "I propose we postpone further discussion of this matter to give ourselves time to develop disagreement and perhaps gain some understanding ofwhat the decision is all about."

The 19th Century American poet Ralph Waldo Emerson said: "It is easy in
the world to live after the world's opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst ofthe crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude." What is popular is not always right. If you don't like what other people are doing, don't do it. Warren Buffett says: "We derive no comfort because important people, vocal people, or great numbers of people agree with us. Nor do we derive comfort if they don't."

Disregard what others are doing and think for yourself. Ask: Does this make sense? Remember the advice from Benjamin Graham, the dean of financial analysis:
Have the courage of your knowledge and experience. If you have formed a conclusion from the facts and if you know your judgment is sound, act on it - even though others may hesitate or differ. (You are neither right nor wrong because the crowd disagrees with you. You are right because your data and reasoning are right.)

In Jonathan Swift's words: "You cannot reason a person out of a position he did not reason himself into in the first place."

Michel de Montaigne said: "If falsehood, like truth, had only one face, we would be in better shape. For we would take as certain the opposite ofwhat the liar said. But the reverse of truth has a hundred thousand shapes and a limitless field."

Charles Munger gives us some introductory remarks on the value ofknowing the methods of physics:
One of the things that influenced me greatly was studying physics.. .If! were running the world, people who are qualified to do physics would not be allowed to elect out oftaking it. I think that even people who aren't [expecting to] go near physics and engineering [in their planned profession] learn a thinking system in physics that is not learned so well anywhere else. Physics was a total eye-opener.
The tradition ofalways looking for the answer in the most fundamental way available - that is a great tradition and it saves a lot of time in this world. And, of course, the problems are hardenough that you have to learn to have what some people call assiduity. Well, I've always liked that word - because to me it means that you sit down on your ass until you've done it.

When someone remarked to the French writer Voltaire, "Life is hard," he retorted, "Compared to what?" We tend to ignore alternatives, and therefore we fail to make appropriate comparisons. Often we only consider information or evidence that is presented or available and don't consider that information may be missing.

Berkeley Statistics Professors David Freedman and Philip Stark say in their report What is the chance ofan earthquake that a larger earthquake in the Bay Area is inevitable, and imminent in geologic time: "Probabilities are a distraction. Instead of making forecasts, the USGS [U.S. Geological Survey] could help to improve building codes and to plan the government's response to the next large earthquake. Bay Area residents should take reasonable precautions, including bracing and bolting their homes as well a securing water heaters, bookcases, and other heavy objects. They should keep first aid supplies, water, and food at hand. They should largely ignore the USGS probability forecast."

When Charles Munger was asked what would be the best question he should ask himself, he said:
Ifyou ask not about investment matters, but about your personal lives, I think the best question is,"Is there anything I can do to make my whole life and my whole mental process work better?" And I would say that developing the habit of mastering the multiple models which underlie reality is the best thing you can do .. .It's just so much fun - and it works so well.

When it comes to integrity, Warren Buffett says it best:
One friend of mine said that in hiring they look for three things: intelligence, energy, and character. If they don't have the last one, the first two will kill you because, it's true, ifyou are going to hire somebody that doesn't have character, you had really better hope they are dumb and lazy, because, ifthey are smart and energetic, they'll get you in all kinds of trouble.

We basically have the attitude that you can't make a good deal with a bad person. We don't try to protect ourselves by contracts or all kinds ofdue diligence - we just forget about it. We can do fine over time dealing with people we like and admire and trust.
And the bad actor will try to tantalize you in one way or another. But you won't win. It pays to just avoid him. We started out with that attitude. However, one or two experiences have convinced us even more so that that's the way to play the game.

They avoid business involving moral risk: No matter what the rate, trying to write good contracts with bad people doesn't work. While most policy holders and clients are honorable and ethical, doing business with theftw exceptions is usually expensive, sometimes extraordinarily so.
I have known the details ofalmost every policy that Ajit [Ajit Jain] has written...and never on even a single occasion have I seen him break any of our three underwriting rules. His extraordinary discipline, ofcourse, does not eliminate losses; it does, however, prevent foolish losses. And that's the key: Just as in the case ofinvesting, insurers produce outstanding long- term results primarily by avoiding dumb decisions, rather than by making brilliant ones.

Let's take an example where we combine rules and filters. Reality often shows that one cause of problems is getting involved with wrong people. A rule could therefore be: "Avoid low quality people." As a consequence a filter may be: "Good track record and character traits." Then we look for clues and ask questions designed to answer the question: "High or low grade individual?"

The key thing in economics, whenever someone makes an assertion to you, is to always ask, "And then what?" Actually, it's not such a bad idea to ask it about everything. But you should always ask, "And then what?" - Warren Buffett

The next tool forces us to be objective. Charles Munger says on backward thinking:
The mental habit of thinking backward forces objectivity - because one of the ways you think a thing through backward is you take your initial assumption and say, "Let's try and disprove it."
That is not what most people do with their initial assumption. They try and confirm it. It's an automatic tendency in psychology - often called "first-conclusion bias". But it's only a tendency. You can train yourselfaway from the tendency to a substantial degree. You just constantly take your own assumptions and try and disprove them.

In writer Janet Lowe's wonderful biography of Charles Munger, Damn Right!, we can learn some of Charles Munger's views on values and behavior from his stepson, Hal Borthwick:
Charlie drummed in the notion that a person should always "Do the best that you can do. Never tell a lie. If you say you're going to do it, get it done. Nobody gives a shit about an excuse. Leave for the meeting early. Don't be late, but if you are late, don't bother giving people excuses. Just apologize...Return your calls quickly. The other thing is the five- second no. You've got to make your mind up. You don't leave people hanging."

Follow the advice of Charles Darwin - avoid controversies:
I rejoice that I have avoided controversies, and this lowe to Lyell, who many years ago, in reference to my geological works, strongly advised me never to get entangled in a controversy, as it rarely did any good and caused a miserable loss of time and temper. ..
All that I think is that you [letter to E. Haeckel) will excite anger, and that anger so completely blinds everyone that your arguments would have no chance of influencing those who are already opposed to our views.

Expect adversity. We encounter adversity in whatever we choose to do in life. Charles Munger gives his iron prescription for life:
Whenever you think that some situation or some person is ruining your life, it is actually you who are ruining your life...Feeling like a victim is a perfectly disastrous way to go through life. Ifyou just take the attitude that however bad it is in any way, it's always your fault and you just fix it as best you can - the so-called "iron prescription" - I think that really works.

Thomas Henry Huxley said: "Sit down before facts like a child, and be prepared to give up every preconceived Notion, follow humbly wherever and to whatever abysses Nature leads, or you shall learn nothing." A child is curious and asks "why?" As grown-ups we seem to forget the "whys" and accept what others say. We should all be children again and see the world as if through the eyes of a curious child without preconceptions.

Quote of the Day

"Princes who have achieved great things have been those who have given their word lightly, who have known how to trick men with their cunning, and who, in the end, have overcome those abiding by honest principles."

- The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Best Book of 2011

How to Live: A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at An Answer by Sarah Backwell. Call it confirmation bias or self-deception but like every Montaigne reader, I found myself in his words. Montaigne's life gave that assertion that I wasn't deluding myself on how Max changed my whole word apart... period.

"Perhaps some of the credit for Montaigne's last answer should therefore go to his cat - a specific sixteenth century individual, who had a rather pleasant life on a country estate with a doting master and not to much competition for his attention. She was the one who, by wanting to play with Montaigne at an inconvenient moment, reminded him what what is was to be alive. They looked at each other, and just for moment, he leaped across the gap in order to see himself through her eyes. Out of that moment - and countless others like it - came his whole philosophy."

and how can I ever forget these words...

Let life be its own answer: Life should be an aim unto itself, a purpose unto itself

The Future of Robotics and Artificial Intelligence - Andrew Ng

I never thought I would write the following lines but thanks to technology, now it has become a fact - Andrew Ng was my Machine Learning professor!!

Steven Levy has a brilliant piece on Wired magazine - The AI revolution Is On:

The fruits of the AI revolution are now all around us. Once researchers were freed from the burden of building a whole mind, they could construct a rich bestiary of digital fauna, which few would dispute possess something approaching intelligence. “If you told somebody in 1978, ‘You’re going to have this machine, and you’ll be able to type a few words and instantly get all of the world’s knowledge on that topic,’ they would probably consider that to be AI,” Google cofounder Larry Page says. “That seems routine now, but it’s a really big deal.”

In short, we are engaged in a permanent dance with machines, locked in an increasingly dependent embrace. And yet, because the bots’ behavior isn’t based on human thought processes, we are often powerless to explain their actions. Wolfram Alpha, the website created by scientist Stephen Wolfram, can solve many mathematical problems. It also seems to display how those answers are derived. But the logical steps that humans see are completely different from the website’s actual calculations. “It doesn’t do any of that reasoning,” Wolfram says. “Those steps are pure fake. We thought, how can we explain this to one of those humans out there?”

AI is so crucial to some systems—like the financial infrastructure—that getting rid of it would be a lot harder than simply disconnecting HAL 9000’s modules. “In some sense, you can argue that the science fiction scenario is already starting to happen,” Thinking Machines’ Hillis says. “The computers are in control, and we just live in their world.” Wolfram says this conundrum will intensify as AI takes on new tasks, spinning further out of human comprehension. “Do you regulate an underlying algorithm?” he asks. “That’s crazy, because you can’t foresee in most cases what consequences that algorithm will have.”

Quote of the Day

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

- Richard Feynman

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The 15 Most Delightful Internet Films of 2011

Complete list here.

Best TED Talk Of 2011

Don't regret regret talk by Kathryn Schulz author of Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error.

"If we have goals and dreams and if we wanna do our best and if we love people and we don't want to hurt them or lose them, then we should feel pain when things go wrong. The point isn't to live without any regrets but point is that not to hate ourselves for having them.
We need to learn to love the flawed, imperfect things we create and to forgive  ourselves for creating them. Regret doesn't remind us that we did badly but it reminds us that we can do better."

My another favorite was Bruce Schneier's talk on security (his book Schneier on Security is a must read)

"If someone is living in fear--whether it's fear of the burglar on your block or the fanatical dictator half a planet away--it's because she doesn't understand how the game of security is played. She longs for a fortress, for a fairy-tale solution that will work forever after. It's a perfectly reasonable longing, and its because she thinks about security in terms of absolutes or magnifies her level of risk based on her experiences with the media, both news and fiction. There's a smart way to be scared. It involves moving beyond fear and thinking sensibly about trade-offs. It involves looking beyond the newspaper headlines and getting a feel for the numbers: a feel for the threats and risks, and the efficacy of the countermeasures. It involves making sensible security trade-offs. The smart way to be scared is to be streetwise."
- Bruce Schneier, Beyond Fear: Thinking Sensibly About Security in an Uncertain World

Quote of the Day

When I was twenty-seven, I did something really rather stupid … Actually, I almost certainly did many stupid things that year – I was, after all, twenty-seven – but this is the only one I remember because it went on to indelibly shape the future course of my life. When I first met Brenin, I was a young assistant professor of philosophy at the University of Alabama, and he was six-weeks old, a cuddly little teddy bear of a wolf cub. At least, he was sold to me as a wolf, but it is very likely that he was wolf-dog mix. Whatever he was, he grew up.

The Philosopher and the Wolf: Lessons from the Wild on Love, Death, and Happiness by Mark Rowlands

Monday, December 26, 2011

Elements of Math - Steven Strogatz

"There will come a time when mathematical ignorance, like public smoking, will become socially unacceptable."

- Jerry King, The Art of Mathematics

On that note, an excellent NYT blog on Math - Here

Viewed in this light, numbers start to seem a bit mysterious. They apparently exist in some sort of Platonic realm, a level above reality. In that respect they are more like other lofty concepts (e.g., truth and justice), and less like the ordinary objects of daily life. Upon further reflection, their philosophical status becomes even murkier. Where exactly do numbers come from? Did humanity invent them? Or discover them?

A further subtlety is that numbers (and all mathematical ideas, for that matter) have lives of their own. We can’t control them. Even though they exist in our minds, once we decide what we mean by them we have no say in how they behave. They obey certain laws and have certain properties, personalities, and ways of combining with one another, and there’s nothing we can do about it except watch and try to understand. In that sense they are eerily reminiscent of atoms and stars, the things of this world, which are likewise subject to laws beyond our control … except that those things exist outside our heads.

This dual aspect of numbers — as part- heaven, and part- earth — is perhaps the most paradoxical thing about them, and the feature that makes them so useful. It is what the physicist Eugene Wigner had in mind when he wrote of “the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics in the natural sciences.”

Number One With Bullet - Welcome to the Future of Conservation

What does India’s lush Kaziranga National Park have that the rest of the country’s decimated reserves do not? Plenty of tigers, for starters. (The world’s highest ­density.) Fleets of endangered one-horned rhinos. (More than two-thirds of the remaining population.) And, since last year, a take-no-prisoners antipoaching policy that allows rangers to shoot on sight. Welcome to the future of conservation.

- More Here

Best Quote Of 2011

"They will envy you for your success, for your wealth, for your intelligence, for your looks, for your status -- but rarely for your wisdom."

The Bed of Procrustes: Philosophical and Practical Aphorisms by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

What I've Been Reading

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. There are zillion things we can learn from Kahneman, one of the most wisest human alive. It's impossible to distill quotes from this book since every word oozes with wisdom.

“This is a landmark book in social thought, in the same league as The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith and The Interpretation of Dreams by Sigmund Freud.”
- Nassim Taleb

The most important lesson I learned (lessons of humility for the citizens of Lake Wobegon) from his life was that whatever knowledge and wisdom he gave us over his life time was feasible only because of his special friendship with Amos Tversky. They both were lucky to have found each other. This friendship will be remembered forever in the annals of history.

"The pleasure we found in working together made us exceptionally patient; it is much easier to strive for perfection when you are never bored. Perhaps most important, we checked our critical weapons at the door. Both Amos and I were critical and argumentative, he even more than I, but during the years of our collaboration neither of us ever rejected out of hand anything the other said. Indeed, one of the great joys I found in the collaboration was that Amos frequently saw the point of my vague ideas much more clearly than I did. Amos was the more logical thinker, with an orientation to theory and an unfailing sense of direction. I was more intuitive and rooted in the psychology of perception, from which we borrowed many ideas. We were sufficiently similar to understand each other easily, and sufficiently different to surprise each other. We developed a routine in which we spent much of our working days together, often on long walks. For the next fourteen years our collaboration was the focus of our lives, and the work we did together during those years was the best either of us ever did.

We quickly adopted a practice that we maintained for many years. Our research was a conversation, in which we invented questions and jointly examined our intuitive answers. Each question was a small experiment, and we carried out many experiments in a single day. We were not seriously looking for the correct answer to the statistical questions we posed. Our aim was to identify and analyze the intuitive answer, the first one that came to mind, the one we were tempted to make even when we knew it to be wrong. We believed—correctly, as it happened—that any intuition that the two of us shared would be shared by many other people as well, and that it would be easy to demonstrate its effects on judgments.

Amos and I enjoyed the extraordinary good fortune of a shared mind that was superior to our individual minds and of a relationship that made our work fun as well as productive. Our collaboration on judgment and decision making was the reason for the Nobel Prize that I received in 2002, which Amos would have shared had he not died, aged fifty-nine, in 1996."

Kahneman is 77 years old and we can only hope he writes more books.

Quote of the Day

“You can’t be afraid of words that speak the truth.  I don’t like words that hide the truth. I don’t like words that conceal reality. I don’t like euphemisms or euphemistic language.”

- George Carlin

Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Wild Life Of Our Bodies - Rob Dunn

Review of Rob Dunn's new book The Wild Life of Our Bodies: Predators, Parasites, and Partners That Shape Who We Are Today:

For most of human history, we lived in proximity to countless other species. We evolved in concert with these life forms; everything from the tiniest microbes to the most fearsome predators shaped the bodies and brains we’re walking around with today. “What happens,” Dunn asks, “when humans leave behind the species their bodies evolved to interact with, whether they be cheetahs, diseases, honeybees, or giant sucking worms?”

The answers Dunn provides aren’t pretty. Without these other life forms, he argues, many features of our own bodies have “become anachronistic or worse.” The unlikely Exhibit A: Crohn’s disease, a chronic inflammation of the bowel that is on the rise in developed nations. Crohn’s and other autoimmune disorders are most common in exactly those places where public health seems to be most advanced—where, for instance, the intestinal parasites that plagued humans for much of history, such as hookworms and tapeworms, have become staggeringly rare. What if, scientists wondered, the absence of these parasites was somehow leaving us more vulnerable to various maladies of the immune system?

Soon, other researchers were linking most or all autoimmune diseases to our missing parasites—as well as many allergy and asthma cases. Reintroducing intestinal worms has been shown to alleviate the symptoms of inflammatory bowel syndrome, diabetes, heart disease, and multiple sclerosis. Whatever the exact mechanism—scientists are still working it out—intestinal parasites appear to help train the immune system to work properly. (Perhaps, without parasites, the immune system looks for something else to attack—such as the body itself.) But prescribing parasites is still a counterintuitive and controversial idea that doctors and patients find hard to swallow.

The disappearance of our intestinal parasites is but one stop on Dunn’s breathtakingly broad look at the other species that have shaped human evolution. He moves seamlessly from the physiology of the digestive system to the circuitry of the brain. He explains, for instance, how the disappearance of most of the animals that preyed on humans has left us with outdated fear circuitry.

Max Holiday Card 2011

Happy Holidays!!

Quote of the Day

"How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature which interest him in the fortune of others and render their happiness necessary to him though he derives nothing from it except the pleasure of seeing it."

The Theory of Moral Sentiments by Adam Smith

Saturday, December 24, 2011

On Risk

"More people are killed every year by pigs than by sharks, which shows you how good people are at evaluating risk."

- Bruce Schneier

That's from Daniel Kahneman's new book Thinking, Fast and Slow.

Dr.Paul Slovic on risk:

Prediction Is Hard, Especially Of Medicine

One of the very very very important (I cannot emphasize enough) and brilliant essays of this year - here:

I thus believe that any predictions about the future of medicine have to include what I call the “space program factor” (SPF). By this I mean simply that progress in the space program would have proceeded far, far faster (and thus approximated more closely what was theoretically possible) if it were not a high-visibility project with lots of political and social overtones which make it fault-intolerant — if you could burn up as many astronauts as you do test pilots every month, it would cost a lot less to get where you’re going. First-shot fail-safe engineering is costly. Medicine suffers from the same kinds of problems — witness the FDA as both the solution and the problem.

Similarly, psychiatric drugs (which are typically chronically used) are no longer economical to develop and market because of the litigation costs associated with them. Widespread chronic use of any drug means that the likelihood of adverse conditions that were impossible to detect in the testing phase of the drug development process are almost certain to emerge. Statistics rule in drug development, and a Phase III study that lasts a year and enrolls 5,000 patients is simply not adequately powered to predict what will happen when 5 million patients take a drug for 20 years! The only way to get that data is to do that study. And therein lies a powerful caution about antiaging drugs. These drugs will likely need to be taken starting in young adulthood, or in middle age, at latest, and they will need to be taken for a lifetime. Indeed, if they are effective, for a longer lifetime than any but a few super-centenarians  has previously lived.

Finally, while Geoff cites this putative advance in antiviral drug therapy, the fact is that my prediction about a plethora of new and highly effective targeted molecular antimicrobials by 2008 was WRONG. In fact, antibiotic research is all but dead, and there are virtually no fundamentally new antibiotics in the drug pipeline. This should scare the crap out of all us, because we are rapidly approaching complete antibiotic resistance with a number of common and highly lethal bugs, including staph (MRSA), streptococcus,  E. coli, pseudomonas and candida. It is only a matter of months to a few years, at most,  before completely antibiotic resistance staph and streptococcus emerge. Pharmaceutical companies have a large negative incentive for developing new antimicrobials. At the cost of over a billion dollars a new drug (regulatory) and the high risk of withdrawal of the drug within 5 years (2 out of 3), as well as the near certainty of punishing litigation for adverse effects, antibiotics are not merely uneconomical to develop, they are fiscal suicide. Only drugs that will be chronically used by very large numbers of patients are now worth developing.

Keep believing in the "power" of invisible hand and have a good day.

Wisdom Of The Week

Brooks: The problem with the road to serfdom formulation is that it makes compromise impossible, it makes politics impossible.

Ryan: Compromise is a good word, as long as you're compromising in the right direction, in line with fulfilling your principles. . .I do believe it's a choice: a prosperous, free, opportunity society with a safety net, as opposed to the cradle-to-grave society where we turn the safety net into a hammock.

Brooks: I think it's a time for flexibility and some sort of compromise: compromise built on the principle that what matters is character. What matters is the character of the country, using government in ways that instill good character and not using the government to instill bad character.

- More

Quote of the Day

"In my experience, the most staunchly held views are based on ignorance or accepted dogma, not carefully considered accumulations of facts. The more you expose the intricacies and realities of the situation, the less clear-cut things become."

- Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife by Mary  Roach

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Sidney Awards 2011 - David Brooks (Part II)

Many of the best public-policy essays of the year tackled the interconnected subjects of inequality, wage stagnation and the loss of economic dynamism. If anybody wants a deeper understanding of these issues, I’d recommend a diverse mélange of articles: “The Broken Contract” by George Packer in Foreign Affairs; “The Inequality That Matters” by Tyler Cowen in The American Interest; “The Rise of the New Global Elite” by Chrystia Freeland in The Atlantic; and “Beyond the Welfare State” in National Affairs by Yuval Levin.

- Savor the rest here

The Truth About Mother Teresa - Hemley Gonzalez

When did you first start to become disillusioned with her organization? What were some specific things you saw that changed your mind about them?
It happened almost instantly, literally on my first day volunteering. I was shocked to discover the horrifically negligent manner in which this charity operates and the direct contradiction of the public's general understanding of their work. Workers wash needles under tap water and then reuse them. Medicine and other vital items are stored for months on end, expiring and still applied sporadically to patients. Volunteers with little or no training carry out dangerous work on patients with highly contagious cases of tuberculosis and other life threatening illnesses. The individuals who operate the charity refuse to accept and implement medical equipment and machinery that would safely automate processes and save lives.

What, if anything, did you learn subsequently that cemented your opinion?

After further investigation and research, I realized that all of the events I had witnessed amounted to nothing more than a systematic human rights violation and a financial scam of monumental proportions. Not once in its sixty-year history have the Missionaries of Charity reported the total amount of funds they've collected in donations, what percentage they use for administration and where the rest has been applied and how. Since its inception, defectors of the organization and other journalists have placed the figure upwards of one billion dollars (and counting). The mission currently operates over 700 homes and maintains an average of 4,000 workers while consistently failing to provide statistics on the efficacy of their work.

- More Here

Hitchens emphasized on this dissonance a long time ago.:

This returns us to the medieval corruption of the church, which sold indulgences to the rich while preaching hellfire and continence to the poor. MT was not a friend of the poor. She was a friend of poverty. She said that suffering was a gift from God. She spent her life opposing the only known cure for poverty, which is the empowerment of women and the emancipation of them from a livestock version of compulsory reproduction. And she was a friend to the worst of the rich, taking misappropriated money from the atrocious Duvalier family in Haiti (whose rule she praised in return) and from Charles Keating of the Lincoln Savings and Loan. Where did that money, and all the other donations, go? The primitive hospice in Calcutta was as run down when she died as it always had been—she preferred California clinics when she got sick herself—and her order always refused to publish any audit. But we have her own claim that she opened 500 convents in more than a hundred countries, all bearing the name of her own order. Excuse me, but this is modesty and humility?

Quote of the Day

As others have before him, Isaacson writes about what those who worked with Steve Jobs called his “reality distortion field”—Jobs’s belief that rules did not apply to him, and that the truth was his to create. “In his presence, reality is malleable. He can convince anyone of practically anything,” an Apple colleague told Isaacson. What this meant in practice was that when Jobs told Apple employees that they could do things that had never before been done, like shrinking circuit boards or writing a particular piece of code or extending battery life, they rose to the occasion, often at great personal cost. “It didn’t matter if he was serving purple Kool-Aid,” another employee said. “You drank it.”

- Sue Halpren

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Dark Side Of Dubai

Dubai's skyscrapers (and the entire city in itself) are the modern Pyramids, built on slavery - more here:

Once the manic burst of building has stopped and the whirlwind has slowed, the secrets of Dubai are slowly seeping out. This is a city built from nothing in just a few wild decades on credit and ecocide, suppression and slavery. Dubai is a living metal metaphor for the neo-liberal globalised world that may be crashing – at last – into history.

and the truth as always is confronted with relativism... 

And then he (Sultan) smiles, coming up with what he sees as his killer argument. "When I see Western journalists criticize us – don't you realise you're shooting yourself in the foot? The Middle East will be far more dangerous if Dubai fails. Our export isn't oil, it's hope. Poor Egyptians or Libyans or Iranians grow up saying – I want to go to Dubai. We're very important to the region. We are showing how to be a modern Muslim country. We don't have any fundamentalists here. Europeans shouldn't gloat at our demise. You should be very worried.... Do you know what will happen if this model fails? Dubai will go down the Iranian path, the Islamist path."

What I've Been Reading

Launching The Innovation Renaissance: A New Path to Bring Smart Ideas to Market Fast by Alex Tabarrok. Early this year Tyler diagnosed the cancer that crept into our economy and now his co-blogger Alex gives a brilliant remedy. These $2.99 a pop e-books are too small to be called books and too big for an essay. Until someone coins a better term, I am gonna call them Kindlets. Download this Kindlet now to get en-lighted in less than 45 minutes. 

On Patent's:
If Edison were to patent the light bulb today, he would not need to go to such lengths. Instead, Edison could patent the use of an "electrical resistor for production of electro-magnetic radiation," a patent that would have covered oven elements as well as light bulbs.
In fact, something like this almost happened. William Edward Sawyer and Albon Man patented a light bulb prior to Edison and claimed the rights to any light bulb using a filament of "fibrous or textile material," which certainly covered bamboo. The Supreme court however, rejected these claims because Sawyer and Man had not invested the sunk costs necessary to discover that bamboo would in fact work as a filament.
In addition to often being unnecessary, patents can reduce innovation. In many industries, innovation is a cumulative process with new innovations building on older innovations. The problem is that under a strong patent regime, old innovators can block new competitors. Instead of promoting innovation, patents have become a way to veto innovations.
Today it is not necessary to implement an idea to patent it, and many patentable ideas are so broadly phrased that they could not be implemented in a model.

On Prizes vs Grants:
The big advantage of prizes over grants is that prizes are open. To give a grant, the grant givers must figure our who is most likely to solve the problem. But how can grant givers predict the most likely solver if they don't already know quite a bit about the solution? When the space of possible solution is large it makes sense to broadcast the problem and have the solvers come to you.

On Education:
In 2009 the U.S. graduated 37,994 students with bachelor's degree in computer and information science. Not bad, but here is the surprise: We graduated more students with computer science degree 25 years ago! In comparison, the U.S. graduated 89,140 students in the visual and performing arts in 2009 - more than double the number of 25 year ago!
Bear in mind that over the past 25 years the total number of students in college has increased by about 50% so the number of graduates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics has stagnated even as the total number of students has increased. 

On Immigration:
We also should create a straightforward route to permanent residency for foreign-born students who graduate with advance degree from American universities, particularly in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. We educate some of the best and the brightest students in the world in our universities and then on graduation day we tell them, "Thanks for visiting. Now go home!" It's hard to imagine a more shortsighted policy to reduce America's capacity for innovation.
I focus on high-skill immigration by the way, because this policy ought to receive widespread agreement, not because low-skill immigration does not also have advantages. Low-skill immigration can even increase innovation because it helps highly skilled workers to better use their time and skills. A low-skilled worker who mows a physicist's lawn is indirectly helping to unlock the mysteries of the universe. In fact, over the last several decades, the states with greatest low-skilled immigration have seen greater increases in innovation (total factor productivity) than the states with less immigration. 

On Deficit:
Together the warfare and welfare states, counting only the big four of defense, Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security, eat up $2.2 trillion, or nearly two-thirds of U.S. federal budget. In contrast the National Institutes of Health, which funds medical research, spends $31 billion annually, and the National Science Foundation spends about $7 billion. 
Indeed the top seven busiest airports are all in the United States, not so much because we are big, but because without new construction we are forced to overcrowd our existing infrastructure. The result is delays and inefficiency. Meanwhile, China is building 50 to 100 new airports over the next 10 years. 

On Developing Countries:
The past failures of China, India and other developing economies to contribute to world innovation has been a tragedy. If we think of the world population as a giant parallel processor for producing innovation, then billions of pf processors have been offline for the past several hundred years. But those processors are now coming online. The number of idea creators around the world is increasing rapidly, and in 2007, nearly one-quarter of the world research and development expenditures came from the developing world.
I see two views of humanity. In the first view, people are stomachs. More people mean more eaters and less for everyone else. In the second view, people are brains. More brains mean more ideas and more for everyone else. The two different perspectives are not just matter of ideology or mood. We can look for evidence for or against these views. At the broadest level the evidence for the second perspective is quite strong.   

"If nature has made any one thing less susceptible than all others of exclusive property, it is the action of the thinking power called an idea, which an individual may exclusively possess as long as he keeps it to himself; but the moment it is divulged, it forces itself into the possession of every one, and the receiver cannot dispossess himself of it. Its peculiar character, too, is that no one possesses the less, because every other possesses the whole of it. He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me. That ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition, seems to have been peculiarly and benevolently designed by nature, when she made them, like fire, expansible over all space, without lessening their density in any point, and like the air in which we breathe, move, and have our physical being, incapable of confinement or exclusive appropriation. Inventions then cannot, in nature, be a subject of property. Society may give an exclusive right to the profits arising from them, as an encouragement to men to pursue ideas which may produce utility, but this may or may not be done, according to the will and convenience of the society, without claim or complaint from any body. Accordingly, it is a fact, as far as I am informed, that England was, until we copied her, the only country on earth which ever, by a general law, gave a legal right to the exclusive use of an idea. In some other countries it is sometimes done, in a great case, and by a special and personal act, but, generally speaking, other nations have thought that these monopolies produce more embarrassment than advantage to society; and it may be observed that the nations which refuse monopolies of invention, are as fruitful as England in new and useful devices."

-Thomas Jefferson, Letter to Isaac McPherson, August 13, 1813