Tuesday, July 31, 2012

What I've Been Reading

How to Win an Election: An Ancient Guide for Modern Politicians by Quintus Tullius Cicero. So little has changed in the past 2000 years when it comes to politics. Quintus brilliant advice to Marcus is unfortunately timeless; some basics in politics never change. A must read book before the November elections.
  • Make sure you have the backing of your family and friends. For almost every destructive rumor that makes its way to the public begins among family and friends.
  • Surround yourself with the right people.
  • Call in all favors. There are three things that will guarantee votes in an election: favors, hope, and personal attachment. You must work to give these incentives to the right people.
  • Build a wide base of support. Recognizing the difference between the useful and useless men in any organization will save you from investing your time and resources with people who will be of little help to you.
  • Promise everything to everybody. Except in the most extreme cases, candidates should say whatever the particular crowd of the day wants to hear. Quintus assures his brother that voters will be much angrier if he refuses to promise them their hearts’ desire than if he backs out later.
  • Communication skills are key. In spite of the new and varied forms of media today, a poor communicator is still unlikely to win an election. 
  • Don’t leave town. In Marcus Cicero’s day this meant sticking close to Rome.
  • Know the weaknesses of your opponents— and exploit them. Rumors of corruption are prime fodder. Sexual scandals are even better. 
  • Flatter voters shamelessly. First, nothing impresses an average voter more than having a candidate remember him, so work every day to recall names and faces. For a candidate must be a chameleon, adapting to each person he meets, changing his expression and speech as necessary.
  • Give people hope. Even the most cynical voters want to believe in someone. Give the people a sense that you can make their world better and they will become your most devoted followers— at least until after the election, when you will inevitably let them down. People would prefer you give them a gracious lie than an outright refusal. People will by nature be much angrier with a man who has turned them down outright than with someone who has backed out of his obligation claiming that he would love to help them if only he could. The most important part of your campaign is to bring hope to people and a feeling of goodwill toward you. On the other hand, you should not make specific pledges either to the Senate or the people. Stick to vague generalities.
Politics is full of deceit, treachery, and betrayal. I’m not going to begin a long-winded discussion of how to separate true friends from false, but I do want to give you some simple advice. Your good nature has in the past led some men to feign friendship while they were in fact jealous of you, so remember the wise words of Epicharmus: “Don’t trust people too easily.”

Once you have figured out who your true friends are, give some thought to your enemies as well. There are three kinds of people who will stand against you: 

  • those you have harmed.
  • those who dislike you for no good reason.
  • those who are close friends of your opponents. 
For those you have harmed by standing up for a friend against them, be gracious and apologetic, reminding them you were only defending someone you had strong ties to and that you would do the same for them if they were your friend. 
For those who don’t like you without good cause, try to win them over by being kind to them or doing them a favor or by showing concern for them.
As for the last group who are friends of your rivals, you can use the same techniques, proving your benevolence even to those who are your enemies.

    Quote of the Day

    "One of the important side benefits of higher math is that it makes you proficient at the other math that you had learned earlier, because those topics are embedded in the new stuff. (e.g., Bahrick & Hall, 1991)."

    Yes, algebra is necessary

    Monday, July 30, 2012

    Beyond Meat

    I’ve never tasted anything as realistic as Beyond Meat. The chicken strips look, feel, and taste closer to real meat than any other food I’ve ever eaten. They’re more tender and moist than Quorn and Gardein, they’re not packed with sodium (like many of Morningstar’s products), and unlike Field Roast, they don’t taste grainy or vegetal.

    “Our goal is to see that category redefined—instead of having it be called ‘meat,’ it would just be called ‘protein,’ whether it’s protein coming from a cow or chicken or from soy, pea, quinoa, or other plant-based sources,” says Ethan Brown, Beyond Meat’s founder. As the firm ramps up production, Brown expects to sell Beyond Meat for less than the price of real meat, too. 

    Brown’s long-term goal is to offer a product that can satisfy the world’s growing, and largely unsustainable, demand for meat, especially in ballooning markets like India and China. His investors believe that if Beyond Meat realizes that goal, it can become an enormous business. “When I met them I was absolutely stunned by the magnitude of their vision and the science behind it,” Stone says. “I was expecting to meet with a bunch of hippies who were like, ‘Yeah man, save the animals, we’re gonna make a meat thing out of carrot dust.’ They’re approaching it with real science. When they told me their plan to be a player in the multibillion dollar meat industry, I was like, Are you kidding me, this is incredible!

    - More Here

    The Problem of Bioethics

    While ethics typically focuses on conduct, it follows that bioethics, and scientific ethics more broadly, must especially be concerned with thoughts and ideas — in a word, philosophy. This is due not only to the meaning of actions conducted in the name of science, but also to the fact that science (unlike the law, business, and most other fields that invite specialized ethical scrutiny) is driven by the pursuit of knowledge — it is inherently inquisitive. Before we seek to determine and enforce the appropriate limits of scientific inquiry, we ought first to understand why men inquire scientifically.

    Yet bioethics tends not to explore the question of what motivates scientific inquiry. Many of the most serious commenters on bioethical questions, including those who write in the pages of this journal, seem content to take modern science at its word, accepting that its inquiries are aimed at “the relief of man’s estate.” Accordingly, while conservative bioethicists often argue that some advances in modern science and technology could undermine human dignity and end up doing more harm than good, these arguments generally do not consider the possibility that there may exist deeper motivations for scientific inquiry that might conflict with or even supersede the fear of death, the desire for good health, and the longing for material comfort. Curiosity, deadly not only for cats, would appear to be one example; a certain species of erotic love (eros) may be another.

    - More Here

    Quote of the Day

    "Being creative is connected to cheating: creative people can tell better stories about their morality."

    - Dan Ariely

    Sunday, July 29, 2012

    Quote of the Day

    • The mind can be a wonderful tool for self-delusion—it was not designed to deal with complexity and nonlinear uncertainties.
    • If you know, in the morning, what your day looks like with any precision, you are a little bit dead—the more precision, the more dead you are.
    • The most painful moments are not those we spend with uninteresting people; rather, they are those spent with uninteresting people trying hard to be interesting.
    • Decline starts with the replacement of dreams with memories and ends with the replacement of memories with other memories.
    • You will be civilized on the day you can spend a long period doing nothing, learning nothing, and improving nothing, without feeling the slightest amount of guilt.
    • The best way to spot a charlatan: someone (like a consultant or a stockbroker) who tells you what to do instead of what not to do.
    The Bed of Procrustes: Philosophical and Practical Aphorisms by Nassim Taleb

    Saturday, July 28, 2012

    How To Write

    1. Show and Tell. Most people say, “Show, don’t tell,” but I stand by Show and Tell, because when writers put their work out into the world, they’re like kids bringing their broken unicorns and chewed-up teddy bears into class in the sad hope that someone else will love them as much as they do.
    2. Don’t go searching for a subject, let your subject find you. You can’t rush inspiration.
    3. Write what you know. Bellow once said, “Fiction is the higher autobiography.” Listen to your heart. Ask your heart, Is it true? And if it is, let it be. Once the lawyers sign off, you’re good to go.
    4. Never use three words when one will do. Be concise. Don’t fall in love with the gentle trilling of your mellifluous sentences. Learn how to “kill your darlings,” as they say.
    5. Keep a dream diary.
    6. What isn’t said is as important as what is said. In many classic short stories, the real action occurs in the silences. Try to keep all the good stuff off the page.
    7. Writer’s block is a tool — use it. When asked why you haven’t produced anything lately, just say, “I’m blocked.” Since most people think that writing is some mystical process where characters “talk to you” and you can hear their voices in your head, being blocked is the perfect cover for when you just don’t feel like working.
    8. Is secret.
    9. Have adventures. Get out and see the world. It’s not going to kill you to butch it up a tad. Book passage on a tramp steamer. Rustle up some dysentery; it’s worth it for the fever dreams alone. Lose a kidney in a knife fight. You’ll be glad you did.
    10. Revise, revise, revise. I cannot stress this enough. Revision is when you do what you should have done the first time, but didn’t.
    11. There are no rules. If everyone jumped off a bridge, would you do it, too? No. There are no rules except the ones you learned during your Show and Tell days. Have fun. If they don’t want to be friends with you, they’re not worth being friends with. Most of all, just be yourself.

      - More Here

    Wisdom Of The Week

    The advocates of guns who claim patriotism and the rights of the 2nd Amendment - are they in well-regulated militias? For the vast majority - the answer is no.

    Then I get messages from seemingly decent and intelligent people who offer things like: @BrooklynAvi: Guns should only be banned if violent crimes committed with tomatoes means we should ban tomatoes. OR @nysportsguys1: Drunk drivers kill, should we ban fast cars?

    I'm hoping that right after they hit send, they take a deep breath and realize that those arguments are completely specious. I believe tomatoes and cars have purposes other than killing. What purpose does an AR-15 serve to a sportsman that a more standard hunting rifle does not serve? Let's see - does it fire more rounds without reload? Yes. Does it fire farther and more accurately? Yes. Does it accommodate a more lethal payload? Yes. So basically, the purpose of an assault style weapon is to kill more stuff, more fully, faster and from further away. To achieve maximum lethality. Hardly the primary purpose of tomatoes and sports cars.

    I have been reading on and off as advocates for these weapons make their excuses all day long. Guns don't kill - people do. Well if that's correct, I go with @BrooklynAvi, let them kill with tomatoes. Let them bring baseball bats, knives, even machetes --- a mob can deal with that.

    There is no excuse for the propagation of these weapons. They are not guaranteed or protected by our constitution. If they were, then we could all run out and purchase a tank, a grenade launcher, a bazooka, a SCUD missile and a nuclear warhead. We could stockpile napalm and chemical weapons and bomb-making materials in our cellars under our guise of being a militia.

    These weapons are military weapons. They belong in accountable hands, controlled hands and trained hands. They should not be in the hands of private citizens to be used against police, neighborhood intruders or people who don't agree with you. These are the weapons that maniacs acquire to wreak murder and mayhem on innocents. They are not the same as handguns to help homeowners protect themselves from intruders. They are not the same as hunting rifles or sporting rifles. These weapons are designed for harm and death on big scales.


    - Jason Alexendar

    Quote of the Day

    "Today’s prohibitionists and abolitionists are already working on some issue that will look completely different to most of us two decades from now. What is it? Appiah has four nominees:
    • Prisons. We incarcerate more of our population than any country in the world. Jokes about prison rape are staples of American comedy. In 20 years, we may look back in amazement that people would think this was funny.
    • Industrial farming. The longstanding discussion of the conditions under which animals are grown for food is turning into a discussion of the morality of using other animals for food at all.
    • The elderly. Baby boomers already feel guilty about how their parents spend their last years. Just wait until it’s the boomers’ turn.
    • Greenery. Environmental degradation is a debt to our children that parallels the debt to our parents.
    My own favorite nominee will win me no friends: high school football. In 20 years I think it may seem incredible that loving parents used to send their kids out to bang their heads against one another in the certain knowledge that this was damaging their still-growing brains. “Certain knowledge” may overstate the case now. But this smells just like smoking, about which the evidence dribbled in until it was undeniable."

    You Will Be Embarrassed About This in 20 Years

    Friday, July 27, 2012

    An Arundel Tomb - Philip Larkin

    "Side by side, their faces blurred,   
    The earl and countess lie in stone,   
    Their proper habits vaguely shown   
    As jointed armour, stiffened pleat,   
    And that faint hint of the absurd—   
    The little dogs under their feet.

    Such plainness of the pre-baroque    

    Hardly involves the eye, until
    It meets his left-hand gauntlet, still   
    Clasped empty in the other; and   
    One sees, with a sharp tender shock,   
    His hand withdrawn, holding her hand.

    They would not think to lie so long.   

    Such faithfulness in effigy
    Was just a detail friends would see:
    A sculptor’s sweet commissioned grace   
    Thrown off in helping to prolong   
    The Latin names around the base.

    They would not guess how early in

    Their supine stationary voyage
    The air would change to soundless damage,   
    Turn the old tenantry away;
    How soon succeeding eyes begin
    To look, not read. Rigidly they

    Persisted, linked, through lengths and breadths   
    Of time. Snow fell, undated. Light
    Each summer thronged the glass. A bright   
    Litter of birdcalls strewed the same
    Bone-riddled ground. And up the paths   
    The endless altered people came,

    Washing at their identity.   
    Now, helpless in the hollow of   
    An unarmorial age, a trough
    Of smoke in slow suspended skeins   
    Above their scrap of history,   
    Only an attitude remains:

    Time has transfigured them into   
    Untruth. The stone fidelity
    They hardly meant has come to be   
    Their final blazon, and to prove   
    Our almost-instinct almost true:   
    What will survive of us is love."

    - Philip Larkin

    Try The First Commercial Biotech Apple

    There are some unique apples that could be coming to the market in the near future.  They will taste exactly like some familiar varieties, but their distinguishing feature will be that they won’t turn brown after they are sliced. Scientists employed by a grower-owned fruit cooperative in British Columbia used genetic engineering techniques to turn off the genes for the enzymes that cause cut apples to turn brown (polyphenol oxidases).  These non-browning apples will be offered under the “Arctic Apple” brand. Unfortunately, there are some groups who are actively trying to block this effort.  Let’s consider why consumers should get the chance to try these new apples.
    • Big Companies: This apple was developed without any involvement from “big companies.”  A grower group very frugally and patiently funded this research for many years.
    • “Foreign Genes:” There are no “foreign genes” in Arctic Apples.  All that is different about them is that certain apple genes are “turned off.”  Most genes in cells of an apple or any other organism are turned off most of the time.  The genes to grow roots or leaves are turned off in apple fruits just as our genes to develop the features of an eye are turned off in all the other parts of our body.  The scientists that developed the Arctic Apple simply used a natural mechanism to turn off the genes that make the enzymes that turn apples brown when they are cut.
    • Labeling: Some people are concerned about unlabeled GMOs.  It is actually quite easy to know and even to avoid GMO foods if someone is so inclined, but in this case, the apples will be explicitly branded as GMO. In an industry like apples, “identity preservation” is a completely feasible and normal practice (there is a PLU sticker on every fruit or at least on every clamshell).  Those who want to try the Arctic apples can easily do so, and those who don’t can easily make other choices.
    • What About Organic Growers? Could these apples “contaminate” organic apples and threaten their certification?  Not unless someone works really hard to do that.
    - More Here

    Quote of the Day

    “The effort to understand the universe is one of the very few things that lifts human life above the level of farce and gives it some of the grace of tragedy.”

    - Steven Weinberg

    Thursday, July 26, 2012

    AI Predicts When You're About To Get Sick

    Confucianism and Democratization In East Asia

    Review of Doh Chull Shin's new book Confucianism and Democratization In East Asia:

    "The so-called Asian values debate was launched in the 1990s by the leaders of Malaysia and Singapore, who feared that the end of the Cold War and American pressure on China over human rights and democracy in the wake of the Tiananmen Square incident would destabilize the region. In a 1994 Foreign Affairs interview with Fareed Zakaria ("Culture Is Destiny," March/April 1994), Singapore's then ruler, Lee Kuan Yew, warned Western countries "not to foist their system indiscriminately on societies in which it will not work." Lee claimed that Western-style democracy, with its emphasis on individual rights, was not suited to the more family-oriented cultures of East Asia. In a speech given a few years earlier, Lee had argued that Asian societies would thrive not by adopting Western economic models, social norms, and governing strategies but by preserving what he described as the five relationships that are most important to Confucianism: "Love between father and son, one; two, duty between ruler and subject; three, distinction between husband and wife; four, precedence of the old over the young; and five, faith between friends."

    Quote of the Day

    "Gail, first let me say that I generally support gun control legislation, because I think the downsides are so minimal. But I have to say I’ve really been put off by the over-the-top self-righteousness of gun control supporters over the past several days. They act like the case for gun control is open and shut, and that anybody who is skeptical has blood on their hands. What strikes me about these people is their colossal incuriosity about the evidence.

    I’m not exactly enmeshed in the gun culture. I’d support a ban on assault weapons. I’d support all the background checks you can imagine. I’d support a national registry so that if a young man suddenly starts buying a bunch of guns and 6,000 rounds of ammunition in one week, then a bunch of red flags get raised in police headquarters across America. I’m anti-N.R.A.

    But I’m also anti the people who are anti-N.R.A. The gun lobby is terrible. The self-righteousness lobby is offensive. The ambiguity of the evidence suggests that a little modesty might be in order."

    - David Brooks

    Wednesday, July 25, 2012

    Meditation, Exercise Could Protect You From The Flu

    A small new study finds that mindfulness meditation and moderate exercise seem to have protective effects against cold and flu, with people who engage in the practices having less severe, shorter and fewer symptoms of acute respiratory infection -- and fewer days missed from work due to the sickness -- than people who don't engage in either practice.

    Specifically, undergoing mindfulness training was linked with a 40 to 50 percent decrease in symptoms, while exercise was linked with a 30 to 40 percent decrease in symptoms, researchers reported, compared with people who did neither activity.

    "The apparent 40 to 50 percent benefit of mindfulness training is a very important finding, as is the apparent 30 to 40 percent benefit of exercise training," study researcher Dr. Bruce Barrett, an associate professor at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, said in a statement. "If this pans out in future research, the impact could be substantive indeed.

    - More Here

    Robbie - A Somber Wall-E

    "Robbie is a sentient robot condemned to a lonely life orbiting the planet he loves dearly. Created in 2011, Robbie performed manual tasks for NASA, became self-aware in 2035, and departed Earth two years later, leaving him by his lonesome for the next 6,000 years (and counting). This haunting, and oddly human, story was created by Australian director Neil Harvey and is composed entirely of footage from NASA’s video archives. Robbie is played by NASA’s Robonaut, whose human interaction so far has advanced to the point of shaking hands with astronauts. In the video’s description, Harvey says he believes the story is “more uplifting, perhaps even celebratory,” than many viewers have suggested. “I'm not sure about anyone else, but I definitely find value in my life by occasionally thinking about how lucky I am that I was actually born at all.” I suspect we’ll be in good shape if all sentient robots can experience such existential awe."-

    - More Here

    Quote of the Day

    "The normal, cautious thing is to say that there’s no way to attribute any particular event, like a heat wave in the Ukraine, to global warming — and news media have basically been bullied by this argument into rarely mentioning climate change even when reporting on extreme weather. But Hansen et al make an important point: this argument is much weaker when we’re talking about really extreme events, like temperatures more than 3 standard deviations above historical norms. Such events would almost never happen if there weren’t a rising trend in global temperatures; so when they become quite common, as they have, it’s fair to call them evidence of warming."

    - via Andrew

    Tuesday, July 24, 2012

    What I've Been Reading

    The Ambiguities of Experience by James G. March. Brilliant book exposing the limits of experience, a must read. But let me be clear - this book is not a confirmation bias for people who refuse to learn from their own experiences, leave alone learning from wisdom of others. Thanks to FarnamStreet for recommending this book and for these brilliant notes.

    Folk wisdom both trumpets the significance of experience and warns of its inadequacies. On the one hand, experience is described as the best teacher. On the other hand, experience is described as the teacher of fools, of those unable or unwilling to learn from accumulated knowledge or the teaching of experts. The disagreement between the folk aphorisms reflects profound questions about the human pursuit of intelligence through learning from experience that have long confronted philosophers and social scientists.

    The ambiguity of experience has many causes and takes many forms, but a significant fraction of them can be summarized in terms of five attributes of experience:
    • First, the causal structure of experience is complex. Many uncontrolled variables are involved, and their relations include multiple interactions and multiple colinearities. The relations among the variables may include numerous instances of feedback loops, a variety of time delays, and unknown functional forms. As a result, it is difficult to uncover the causal structure and to identify the effects of actions.
    • Second, experience is noisy. The events of history are drawn from a distribution of possibilities, either because of errors in observation or interpretation or because the causal structure is truly stochastic. A particular realized history is likely to be a quite poor representation of the possibilities. As a result, learning from experience involves trying to learn not only from the actual events observed but also from the events that did not occur but might quite easily have occurred. The generation of such hypothetical histories replaces evidence with imagination, with all the invitations to error that such a substitution involves.
    • Third, history includes numerous examples of endogeneity, cases in which the properties of the world are affected by actions adapting to it.History is a series of samples, but the sampling rates, and therefore the sampling errors, of the various alternatives are affected by the unfolding of experience. 
    • Fourth, history as it is known is constructed by participants and observers. Individuals learn not from history but from historical stories, including the stories they tell themselves, that are concocted for a purpose. The proposition that the mean of lies converges to truth as the sample size increases is not easily demonstrated, either empirically or deductively. 
    • Fifth, history is miserly in providing experience. It offers only small samples and thus large sampling error in the inferences formed.

    “History will justify anything. It teaches precisely nothing, for it contains everything and furnishes examples of everything”
    - French poet-philosopher-historian Paul Valéry

    Quote of the Day

    The probabilities assigned to events refer to someone’s state of knowledge: before I know the outcome of Jane’s exam I can only say that she has a 70% chance of passing; whereas after I know I must say either 0 or 100%. 
    Thus, the traditional view is that the probabilities in quantum mechanics --- and hence the “wavefunction” that encodes them --- refer to the state of knowledge of some “observer”.  (In the words of the famous physicist Sir James Jeans, wavefunctions are “knowledge waves.”)  An observer’s knowledge --- and hence the wavefunction that encodes it --- makes a discontinuous jump when he/she comes to know the outcome of a measurement (the famous “quantum jump”, traditionally called the “collapse of the wave function”). But the Schrödinger equations that describe any physical process do not give such jumps!

    - More Here

    Sunday, July 22, 2012

    Daniel Kahneman Discusses Well-Being

    "For stable relationships one thing we do know is that it's not sufficient to love someone, you have to like them."


    StudybuddyJ.com takes the load off parents by providing middle and high school age kids with a fun, engaging, and inexpensive means of becoming excellent math students. StudybuddyJ.com can serve as a refresher course in basic math for you.

    Summer sessions at studybuddyJ.com start in late July for Algebra 1, Geometry, and Algebra 2. Each course consists of online videos of tutorial sessions conducted using the study buddy format.

    The Study Buddy, “J,” is a Stanford MS/PhD alum who started formal tutoring at Stanford 21 years ago. At that time, as part of the School of Engineering’s tutorial assistant training program, he was trained in what is still considered a revolutionary teaching method developed at Stanford. Since then, he has moved on to create the next generation teaching method as he has attempted to adapt to the needs of students beyond the Stanford campus and below the college level.
    • Most of his live session students have experienced a 2 letter grade improvement in performance after only 4 sessions. 
    • Last summer, all but one student received and A or an A+ in math upon returning to school (all but one student was failing at the start of his study sessions). 
    You are strongly encouraged to go to www.studybuddyJ.com periodically and check for updates before the beginning of the summer sessions.

    Quote of the Day

    "We find it difficult and disturbing to hold in our minds arguments of the form ‘On the one hand, on the other.’ If we are for capital punishment we want it to be good in all respects, with no serious drawbacks; if we are against it, we want it to be bad in all respects, with no serious advantages. We want the world of facts to dictate to us, virtually, how to act; but this it will never do. We always have to make a choice."

    - Theodore Dalrymple, Library of Law and Liberty

    Saturday, July 21, 2012

    Hiding from Humanity: Disgust, Shame, and the Law

    Martha C. Nussbaum in her 2006 book Hiding from Humanity: Disgust, Shame, and the Law, made strong case to eliminate the influence of disgust (& shame) from our political sphere. Her book although on surface looks like a critic of Leon K 's brilliant essay the wisdom of repugnance, its not. It's an important book since her argument is against something quintessentially human and it would quixotic to even imagine politics sans disgust... may be someday. Excerpts from first chapter here:

    "Disgust, I shall argue, is very different from anger, in that its thought-content is typically unreasonable, embodying magical ideas of contamination, and impossible aspirations to purity, immortality, and nonanimality, that are just not in line with human life as we know it. That does not mean that disgust did not play a valuable role in our evolution; very likely it did. Nor does it mean that it does not play a useful function in our current daily lives; very likely it does. Perhaps even the function of hiding from us problematic aspects of our humanity is useful; perhaps we cannot easily live with too much vivid awareness of the fact that we are made of sticky and oozy substances that will all too soon decay. 

    I shall argue, however, that a clear understanding of disgust's thought-content should make us skeptical about relying on it as a basis for law. That skepticism should grow greatly as we see how disgust has been used throughout history to exclude and marginalize groups or people who come to embody the dominant group's fear and loathing of its own animality and mortality. 
    I shall ultimately take a very strong line against disgust, arguing that it should never be the primary basis for rendering an act criminal, and should not play either an aggravating or a mitigating role in the criminal law where it currently does so. The valuable role for disgust in the law, it seems to me, is confined to areas such as nuisance law and zoning where it seems legitimate to allow offense, not just harm, to play a guiding role.

    Shame is more complicated than disgust in another way as well: there is much more to be said about its positive role in development and social life, in connection with valuable ideals and aspirations. Thus my story about shame will ultimately be quite complex, and will involve distinguishing different varieties of shame, some more and some less reliable. I shall argue that what I shall call "primitive shame"--a shame closely connected to an infantile demand for omnipotence and the unwillingness to accept neediness--is, like disgust, a way of hiding from our humanity that is both irrational in the normative sense, embodying a wish to be a type of creature one is not, and unreliable in the practical sense, frequently bound up with narcissism and an unwillingness to recognize the rights and needs of others.

    Even though this sort of shame can be in many ways transcended, such favorable outcomes do not always take place. Moreover, all human beings very likely carry a good deal of primitive shame around with them, even after they in some ways transcend it. For this reason, and other reasons I shall offer, shame is likely to be normatively unreliable in public life, despite its potential for good. I shall then argue that a liberal society has particular reasons to inhibit shame and to protect its citizens from shaming."

    Wisdom Of The Week

    In Swift’s poem “The Beasts’ Confession” (1738), written several years after Gulliver’s Travels was published, he makes clear that lying, as a human condition, is neither accidental nor escapable. The beasts, speaking as the voice of this poem, do confess their faults, but they defend themselves also, on the basis that what they do is simply who they are. If that weren’t true — if the beasts could be mistaken about who they are, or could deceive themselves — then they would “degenerate into men.” Swift’s essentialist understanding of human nature — what distinguishes it from all other natures — is that we are the creatures who lie to ourselves about who we are.

    This is why in Gulliver’s Travels, Swift presents his ostensibly ideal race, the Houyhnhnms, as an entirely different species — a kind of horse that speaks, but is incapable of saying or comprehending “the thing which is not.” But if the distinction between humans and animals is the capacity to lie — which is entailed in the capacity or perhaps necessity of being other than we are — then the Houyhnhnms are the perfection or the fulfilled telos of animal nature, not of human nature. The Houyhnhnms are passionless and perhaps compassionless. They are a projection of the mistaken British empiricist view of what we truly are. The Yahoos, meanwhile, are humanlike in appearance, and a grotesque cartoon of the existentialist understanding of what we truly are — creatures that are a random tumble of irrational drives. The Yahoos and Houyhnhnms are mirror depictions of humanity shorn of its capacity to deceive; yet neither the self-less Houyhnhnm nor the selfish Yahoo is a picture of our true nature — not its source, nor its perfected or authentic state. It is far from clear, then, that getting beyond the capacity to commit falsehood perfects human nature.

    - Lee Perlman, The Truth About Human Nature

    Quote of the Day

    "In terms of energy, raw materials, demographics, and skills and education, there is no reason why the United States should not continue to flourish, with more and more of its people prospering over the coming century. Its difficulties are likely to come from a system of governance that is becoming dysfunctional and that shows few signs of being able to tackle the challenges of financing the pensions and health care of retiring baby boomers and repairing the roads, bridges, water and public transport networks, and other infrastructure whose disrepair is already a scandal. The country has a ramshackle mechanism of taxation, a battered and discredited financial structure, and an education system that does little to help a dismayingly large proportion of its young people. Failure to fix these problems would undermine all the advantages the United States can otherwise expect to enjoy in the future."

    America’s Edge

    Friday, July 20, 2012

    Building A Better RoboCop

    Brilliant post by Voytek on the 25th anniversary of Robocop. Check it out - Voytek summarizes most of neuro-scientific and AI leaps since the first Robocop.

    This past weekend was also my 15th (or so) year attending Comic-Con. In a row. Because I didn't get to hear about the new RoboCop remake starring Gary Oldman, Samuel L. Jackson, and Hugh Laurie, I decided to celebrate this nerdistry my own way: by talking way to much and overthinking a plate of beans.

    This is me priming myself to thinking about wild ways of designing brain-computer interfaces (BCI) for my new research projects.

    Thus, I've decided to take a modern neuroscientific look at RoboCop. Given the huge technological advances in the 25 years since Peter Weller, Miguel Ferrer, and Red Kurtwood Smith, I believe that RoboCop would be much cooler now.

    So let's play with some probably very unethical human and cognitive enhancement possibilites, shall we?"

    Quote of the Day

    "Listen very carefully to the first criticisms of your work. Note just what it is about your work that the reviewers don’t like; it may be the only thing in your work that is original and worthwhile"

    - Jean Cocteau, On Critics

    Thursday, July 19, 2012

    Science of Spider-Man

    Great Books About Books

    Phantoms On the Bookshelves by Jacques Bonnet:

    Bonnet owns 40,000 books. It’s not the Library of Congress, but for a private collection, it’s pretty solid. In this slim ode to books, the author muses on the life of a serious reader—with Bonnet himself being the ultimate example. In only nine chapters, he talks about many aspects of book collecting: how to organize them, where to acquire them, and the idea of owning a working library rather than just collecting books. Bonnet brings an infectious enthusiasm to the genre. The written word is as important to his identity as his own memories: “To lose one’s books is to lose one’s past,” he says. His love of books is infectious: “I sometimes have the impression that I have really only existed through reading, and I would hope to die…with a book in my hand.” 

    A History Of Reading by Alberto Manguel:

    Manguel used to read aloud to Jorge Luis Borges, and it was through this amazing opportunity that he learned about some of the books he now loves. Manguel is a master of the “books about books” genre, having written several nonfiction volumes about his obsession. This particular work focuses on not just the author’s personal reading history, but a general history of one of the best pastimes there is. And one of the sentences in this book is my own personal mantra: “Reading, almost as much as breathing, is our essential function.”

    - Check out rest of the books on the list here

    Quote of the Day

    "The presence of dissonance gives rise to pressures to reduce or eliminate the dissonance. The strength of the pressures to reduce the dissonance is a function of the magnitude of the dissonance. In other words, dissonance acts in the same way as a state of drive or need or tension. The presence of dissonance leads to action to reduce it... the greater the dissonance, the greater will be the intensity of the action to reduce the dissonance and the greater the avoidance of situations that would increase the dissonance."

    - Leon Festinger, A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance

    Wednesday, July 18, 2012

    YouTube Introduces Face-Blurring Tool

    "Citizen reporters in war zones and unfree societies around the world, from Syria to Zimbabwe, have embraced YouTube. YouTube has now launched a new tool for users in dangerous environments--a facial obscurer that digitizes faces in videos uploaded to YouTube. The algorithm-driven feature allows authors to automatically blur the faces in any video, public or private, on YouTube. A post on YouTube's official blog also indicates the feature is aimed towards parents who do not want their children identified in publicly available video clips."

    - More Here

    Quote of the Day

    "Science is moving on so fast. The first bit of Neanderthal mitochondrial DNA was recovered in 1997. No one then could have believed that 10 years later we might have most of the genome. And a few years after that, we’d have whole Denisovan and Neanderthal genomes available. So no one would have thought cloning was a possibility. Now, at least theoretically, if someone had enough money, and I’d say stupidity, to do it, you could cut and paste those Denisovan mutations into a modern human genome, and then implant that into an egg and then grow a Denisovan.

    I think it would be completely unethical to do anything like that, but unfortunately someone with enough money, and vanity and arrogance, might attempt it one day. These creatures lived in the past in their own environments, in their own social groups. Bringing isolated individuals back, for our own curiosity or arrogant purposes, would be completely wrong."

    - Chris Stringer

    Tuesday, July 17, 2012

    The Illusion Of Knowledge

    "Take a look at those bicycles at the top of this post. Which one would you say is the most accurate portrayal of a real bike? Psychologist Rebecca Lawson once put together a study that revealed even though most people are very familiar with bicycles and know how to ride them, they can’t draw one to save their lives, and they can’t even pick a proper one out of a lineup. Despite this, most people rate their knowledge of how a bicycle works as being very good. Remember that when someone claims to understand something a bit more complicated, like a sub-prime mortgage. (This is a picture of a real bicycle.)

    The illusion of knowledge is believing familiarity is the same as wisdom. You’ve probably felt it when trying to do something like fix a sink or explain to a child how taco shells are made. Just because you’ve become familiar with the operation and function of a thing doesn’t mean you truly understand how it works. For most of life, your understanding is only of the surface, the visible aspects that allow for a reasonable level of prediction. If you were teleported back to medieval times and placed outside a castle, what understanding could you offer those people from your own time?"

    - Listen to the podcast here

    12 World-Class Universities Join Coursera!

    Quote of the Day

    "The one that’s absolute, the one that wants control over the inside of your head, not just your actions and your taxes. And the origins of that are theocratic, obviously. The beginning of that is the idea that there is a supreme leader, or infallible pope, or a chief rabbi, or whatever, who can ventriloquize the divine and tell us what to do."

    - Christopher Hitchens on Totalitarism

    Monday, July 16, 2012

    The Moral Limits of Markets - Michael J. Sandel

    Great review of Michael Sandel's new book What Money Can’t Buy: the Moral Limits of Markets

    Sandel makes clear that he is by no means opposed to the market economy, which he recognizes as the most successful wealth-generating system yet devised. What troubles him is that we have “drifted from having a market economy to being a market society.” The distinction is crucial: a market economy is simply a mechanism for the efficient allocation of resources, but a market society is nothing less than a way of life organized upon the basis of market reasoning and morality.

    In its free-market incarnation, economic science has expanded far beyond its traditional preoccupations with issues such as inflation, unemployment, savings ratios, investment levels, and trade balances in order to claim explanatory power across the full range of human activity. As a result of its increasing intellectual and political influence, we are witnessing “the remaking of social relations in the image of market relations.” But Sandel argues that market reasoning and its inherent market morality are not equally appropriate to all domains. In some cases, it may be objectionable or even unacceptable. So Sandel challenges us to morally reevaluate market society, and the central question he poses in this book is “Where should money’s writ not run?”

    Sandel advances two fundamental objections to free-market theory: inequality and corruption. From Sandel’s perspective, the inequality of income and wealth is substantially unimportant when the scope of the market is restricted to consumer goods such as luxury cars, foreign vacations, or yachts. But in a market society characterized by expansive and intrusive commercialization, inequality takes on an altogether more pernicious significance; when it is the ability to pay that determines access to medical care, non-failing schools, safe neighborhoods, or political influence, then the social fabric is torn.

    Quote of the Day

    "The man had more wit, style and substance than few civilizations I could name."

    - Sam Harris on Hitchens

    Sunday, July 15, 2012

    The Moral Case For Drones

    Any analysis of actual results from the Central Intelligence Agency’s strikes in Pakistan, which has become the world’s unwilling test ground for the new weapon, is hampered by secrecy and wildly varying casualty reports. But one rough comparison has found that even if the highest estimates of collateral deaths are accurate, the drones kill fewer civilians than other modes of warfare.

    In conventional military conflicts over the last two decades, he found that estimates of civilian deaths ranged from about 33 percent to more than 80 percent of all deaths.

    Mr. Avery Plaw, a political scientist at the University of Massachusetts, acknowledged the limitations of such comparisons, which mix different kinds of warfare. But he concluded, “A fair-minded evaluation of the best data we have available suggests that the drone program compares favorably with similar operations and contemporary armed conflict more generally.”

    - More Here

    On Projection Bias & Weather

    "Projection bias is the tendency to overpredict the degree to which one’s future tastes will resemble one’s current tastes. We test for evidence of projection bias in two of the largest and most important consumer markets – the car and housing markets. Using data for more than forty million vehicle transactions and four million housing purchases, we explore the impact of the weather on purchasing decisions. We find that the choice to purchase a convertible, a 4-wheel drive, or a vehicle that is black in color is highly dependent on the weather at the time of purchase in a way that is inconsistent with classical utility theory. Similarly, we find that the hedonic value that a swimming pool and that central air add to a house is higher when the house goes under contract in the summertime compared to the wintertime.

    Our findings are significant for several reasons. First, the car and housing markets in and of themselves are large and important. Identifying, and potentially correcting, systematic errors in these markets can have valuable welfare implications. Perhaps more importantly, our results suggest that projection bias may be prevalent in other important decisions (getting married, choosing a job, etc.) that are similarly distinguished by having large stakes, state-dependent utility, and low-frequency decision-making."

    - More Here

    Quote of the Day

    “Success is not built on success. It’s built on failure. It’s built on frustration. Sometimes it’s built on catastrophe.”

    – Sumner Redstone Chairman

    Saturday, July 14, 2012

    Taleb On Education

    "Ivy League Universities are becoming in the eyes of the new Asian upper class the status luxury good. Harvard is like a Vuitton bag and a Cartier Watch. It is a huge drag on the middle class who have been plowing an increased share of their savings into educational institutions, transferring their money to bureaucrats, real estate developers, professors, and other parasites. In the United States, we have a buildup of student loans that automatically transfer to these rent extractors. In a way it is no different from racketeering: One needs a decent university “name” to get ahead in life. But we have evidence that collectively society doesn’t advance with organized education, rather the reverse: the level of (formal) education in a country is the result of wealth."

    Nassim Nicholas Taleb

    Wisdom Of The Week

    "If the decisions you make about where you invest your blood, sweat, and tears are not consistent with the person you aspire to be, you’ll never become that person. As you continue on your life’s journey, allocate your resources wisely—at work and home."

    - How Will You Measure Your Life? by Clayton M. Christensen (via

    Quote of the Day

    Intellectuals may like to think of themselves as people who "speak truth to power" but too often they are people who speak lies to gain power.

    - Thomas Sowell

    Friday, July 13, 2012

    Test, Learn, Adapt - Developing Public Policy with Randomised Controlled Trials Laura Haynes

    Brilliant behavioral economics paper Test, Learn, Adapt released by Behavioral Insights Team, a tiny branch of government established by David Cameron (Britain's conservative prime minister).

    Randomised controlled trials (RCTs) are the best way of determining whether a policy is working. They are now used extensively in international development, medicine, and business to identify which policy, drug or sales method is most effective. They are also at the heart of the Behavioural Insights Teamʼs methodology. However, RCTs are not routinely used to test the effectiveness of public policy interventions in the UK. We think that they should be.

    The ʻtest, learn, adaptʼ philosophy set out in this paper is at the heart of the way that the Behavioural Insights Team works. We believe that a ʻtest,learn, adaptʼ approach has the potential to be used in almost all aspects of public policy:
    • Testing an intervention means ensuring that you have put in place robust measures that enable you to evaluate the effectiveness or otherwise of the intervention.
    • Learning is about analysing the outcome of the intervention, so that you can identify ʻwhat worksʼ and whether or not the effect size is great enough to offer good value for money.
    • Adapting means using this learning to modify the intervention (if necessary), so that we are continually refining the way in which the policy is designed and implemented.
    We have identified nine separate steps that are required to set up any RCT. Many of these steps will be familiar to anyone putting in place a well-designed policy evaluation – for example, the need to be clear, from the outset, about what the policy is seeking to achieve. Some – in particular the need to randomly allocate individuals or institutions to different groups which receive different treatment – are what lend RCTs their power. The nine steps are at the heart of the Behavioural Insights Teamʼs ʻtest, learn, adaptʼ methodology, which focuses on understanding better what works and continually improving policy interventions to reflect what we have learnt. They are described in the box adjacent.

    1. Identify two or more policy interventions to compare (e.g. old vs new policy; different variations of a
    2. Determine the outcome that the policy is intended to influence and how it will be measured in the trial.
    3. Decide on the randomisation unit: whether to randomise to intervention and control groups at the level of individuals, institutions (e.g. schools), or geographical areas (e.g. local authorities).
    4. Determine how many units (people, institutions, or areas) are required for robust results.
    5. Assign each unit to one of the policy interventions, using a robust randomisation method.
    6. Introduce the policy interventions to the assigned groups.
    7. Measure the results and determine the impact of the policy interventions.
    8. Adapt your policy intervention to reflect your findings.
    9. Return to Step 1 to continually improve your understanding of what works.

    Also, check out this brilliant TED talk by Tim Harford on importance of Trail and Error.

    Meritocracy vs. Morality

    Today’s elite is more talented and open but lacks a self-conscious leadership code. The language of meritocracy (how to succeed) has eclipsed the language of morality (how to be virtuous). Wall Street firms, for example, now hire on the basis of youth and brains, not experience and character. Most of their problems can be traced to this.

    - David Brooks reviews Christopher Hayes's much talked about new book Twilight of the Elites: America after Meritocracy

    Quote of the Day

    "I never felt I was studying the stupidity of mankind in the third person. I always felt I was studying my own mistakes."

    - Daniel Kahneman

    Thursday, July 12, 2012

    Bill Gates On The Future of Online Courses in Higher Education

    There are four key trends in online learning:
    • The first is creating more engaging and interactive ways of learning than the traditional textbook. 
    • Using the Internet to post and find great teacher lectures and effective course materials. 
    • The use of social networks is also a growing influence, with the potential to increase collaboration among and between teachers and students and extend class discussions beyond the classroom. 
    • We’re also seeing new kinds of personalizing learning—using gameplay and other tools –that give students and teachers important real-time feedback.

    - More Here

    Society & The Personal Genome

    At the Sanger Institute we’ve recently launched (along with our friends at EBI) a project to look more deeply at a question which is less often on the lips of genomics boffins: “How does genomics affect as us people, both individually and in communities?” Because of the obvious resonance with Genomes Unzipped it should come as no surprise that many of us (including myself, Daniel and Luke) have been intimately involved in this initiative.

    The actual line-up of events has been diverse, and a lot of fun. We’ve had two excellent debates, including one between Ewan Birney and Paul Flicek (pictured) on the value, or lack thereof, of celebrity genomes (covered in more detail
    here). A poet, Fiona Sampson
    , spent some time on campus and we’ve commissioned a book of poetry from her. This one raised some eyebrows, but I have to say that talking to her has given me some brand new ways of thinking about my own work. We’re also working on a more interactive project in the hope of making personal genomics a bit more personal.

    - More

    Quote of the Day

    “There is reason to believe that this is a very good way for people to learn, and if I do not use these ideas, I’m not teaching my students effectively and that would be wrong.”

    What Michael Littman learned while teaching at Udacity

    Wednesday, July 11, 2012

    Save Lennox Now - Sign The Petition

    "Hi I’m now a 7 year old American Bull dog Labrador cross and Belfast City Council want to put me to death because of how I look, I have never done any wrong. Please can you help me? I want to go home!

    On the 19th May 2010, Lennox, a five year old American Bull dog Labrador cross was wrongfully seized by Belfast City Council Dog Wardens from his loving family home where he lives with his owners and his kennel mates. Lennox committed no crime nor did any member of the public complain about him. Three Belfast City Council Dog Wardens came with the PSNI to his home unannounced. The Dog Wardens then told the Police to leave as there was no need for them at the location. 

    The Belfast City Council Dog Wardens then had tea with his owners, smoked cigarettes, chatted, played with the other family dogs after which the Dog Wardens then measured Lennox’s muzzle and rear legs with a dress maker’s tape measure and decided on those measurements without seeking any professional advice that he was possible “Pit Bull Type Breed” and so he was led from his home to be put to death by the Council. Northern Ireland has yet to fully implement the same dog legislation as mainland UK; if Northern Ireland were to complete the dog legislation here then Lennox could now be at home with his family and they would not now be facing legal prosecution. The USPCA said the law in Northern Ireland could be changed simply and rather quickly by an order in Council."

    - Read the heart breaking story of Lennox Here and don't forget to sign the petition here

    How Did Buddhism Come Close To Getting The Brain Right?

    Despite my doubts, neurology and neuroscience do not appear to profoundly contradict Buddhist thought. Neuroscience tells us the thing we take as our unified mind is an illusion, that our mind is not unified and can barely be said to “exist” at all. Our feeling of unity and control is a post-hoc confabulation and is easily fractured into separate parts. As revealed by scientific inquiry, what we call a mind (or a self, or a soul) is actually something that changes so much and is so uncertain that our pre-scientific language struggles to find meaning.

    Buddhists say pretty much the same thing. They believe in an impermanent and illusory self made of shifting parts. They’ve even come up with language to address the problem between perception and belief. Their word for self is anatta, which is usually translated as ‘non self.’  One might try to refer to the self, but the word cleverly reminds one’s self that there is no such thing.

    How did Buddhism get so much right? I speak here as an outsider, but it seems to me that Buddhism started with a bit of empiricism. Perhaps the founders of Buddhism were pre-scientific, but they did use empirical data. They noted the natural world: the sun sets, the wind blows into a field, one insect eats another. There is constant change, shifting parts, and impermanence. They called this impermanence anicca, and it forms a central dogma of Buddhism.

    This seems appropriate as far as the natural world is concerned. Buddhists don’t apply this notion to mathematical truths or moral certainties, but sometimes, cleverly, apply it to their own dogmas. Buddhism has had millennia to work out seeming contradictions, and it is only someone who was not indoctrinated who finds any of it strange. (Or at least any stranger than, say, believing God literally breathed a soul into the first human.)

    Early on, Buddhism grasped the nature of worldly change and divided parts, and then applied it to the human mind. The key step was overcoming egocentrism and recognizing the connection between the world and humans. We are part of the natural world; its processes apply themselves equally to rocks, trees, insects, and humans. Perhaps building on its heritage, early Buddhism simply did not allow room for human exceptionalism."

    - More

    Quote of the Day

    " I think, is that newer technology is less well understood, less well-established, and less robust than older equipment. So while it's well and good to experiment with new solutions, we shouldn't rush to rely on them. And we certainly shouldn't rush to replace what is lumpy, old and slow with what is shiny, new and speedy. Shiny, new and speedy is what breaks down first."

    - David Berreby

    Tuesday, July 10, 2012

    David & Goliath - Malcolm Gladwell's New Book

    Malcolm Gladwell's new Book's is titled David and Goliath: The Art and Science Of The Underdog is scheduled to come out in 2013 !!

    "In 2009, Malcolm Gladwell wrote a piece for the magazine about a team of skinny, ill-trained girl basketball players who nonetheless advanced to the California state championship, partly by upending notions of how defense should be played. Underdogs, Gladwell wrote, win far more often than you might think; and they do so particularly when they replace ability with effort and figure out new ways to play the game.

    Gladwell has spent the last three years further investigating, and expanding on, these ideas: moving from basketball to warfare, to crime-fighting, to invention. What should the strategy of the weak be when facing the strong? Does being an underdog—whether as a team a country or an individual—help foster creativity? Why should people at the top of their fields quit their jobs and try to reinvent themselves?"