Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Electricity In The Human Body - Frances Ashcroft

Frances Ashcroft talks about her new book The Spark Of Life: Electricity In The Human Body.

On discovering the protein that causes neonatal diabetes:
Diabetes happens when you have too high a blood sugar concentration, and that usually happens because you don't have enough of the hormone insulin, which is the only hormone which can lower your blood sugar concentration after a meal. So every time you eat a Mars bar or Hershey bar, what happens is your blood sugar level will go up, insulin will be released from the pancreas, and that will cause the blood sugar to be lowered.

This doesn't happen in diabetes. And what I was interested in understanding is how the rise in blood sugar causes insulin to be released in the pancreas. And it turns out — this is what I discovered late one night — that this is down to a whole complex series of events.

But one of the crucial events, the little bit in the jigsaw puzzle that I discovered, is a protein that acts like a tiny hole in the cell membrane. And when this little pore is open, ions can go through it, so they carry, in this case, an electric current. And when the pore is shut, the ions can't go through, and the movement of the ions triggers a series of events that influences whether insulin is secreted or not. So, very simply put, when the pore is open, insulin is not released. And when the pore is shut, insulin is released. And glucose, or the rise in blood sugar, stimulates insulin secretion by closing these tiny pores. And what we found, together with a wonderful colleague of mine, Professor Andrew Hattersley, is that mutations, genetic defects in the gene that makes this tiny pore, cause it to always be open, so of course no insulin is ever released.

On the difference between electricity in wires and electricity in bodies:

Bioelectricity is similar but not identical to the stuff that's in sockets. Both are electrical currents, and, in both cases, the electrical current is nothing more than a flow of charged particles. But the stuff in our houses is carried by electrons whereas the stuff in our bodies is carried by ions — salt such as sodium chloride, common salt, in other words, the stuff you put on your meat. The second thing is that the speed is very different. So electricity in wires is carried at the speed of light, which is around 186,000 miles a second, whereas that in our bodies is very, very much slower.

Quote of the Day

Electricity is often called wonderful, beautiful; but it is so only in common with the other forces of nature. The beauty of electricity or of any other force is not that the power is mysterious, and unexpected, touching every sense at unawares in turn, but that it is under law, and that the taught intellect can even govern it largely. The human mind is placed above, and not beneath it, and it is in such a point of view that the mental education afforded by science is rendered super-eminent in dignity, in practical application and utility; for by enabling the mind to apply the natural power through law, it conveys the gifts of God to man.

- Michael Faraday, Notes for a Friday Discourse at the Royal Institution (1858)


Tuesday, October 30, 2012

w/o Power 24 Hours Now...

Thanks Sandy :) ! Stay tuned


Quote of the Day

Electricity is actually made up of extremely tiny particles called electrons that you cannot see with the naked eye unless you have been drinking.

- Dave Barry

Monday, October 29, 2012

Seattle Police Consider Using Drones

- More Here

The Onion Book of Known Knowledge

The Onion Book of Known Knowledge: A Definitive Encyclopaedia Of Existing Information -  The process, according to head writer Seth Reiss, took two years; roughly 10,000 joke-filled entries were pitched, which were eventually whittled down to the funniest tenth - More Here.

Airplane, fixed-wing flying vehicle invented in 1903 that has made it impossible to avoid returning home for Christmas, Thanksgiving, weddings, funerals, or any other event, no matter how far away it is. Airplanes counter the force of gravity by using either static lift or the dynamic lift of an airfoil, which completely eliminates any excuse one might have not to travel 1,500 miles for Labor Day weekend even though they were just home for the Fourth of July and really would like to take an actual vacation for themselves one of these days. The ability of the airplane to safely and swiftly cover large distances has allowed millions to fly all the way in from San Diego for Mother’s Day, which isn’t even a major holiday, or attend their sister’s baby shower when everyone knows there’s no fucking way she’d do the same for them. No fucking way."

Quote of the Day

Happy are men who yet before they are killed Can let their veins run cold ... And some cease feeling Even themselves or for themselves. Dullness best solves The tease and doubt of shelling ... Happy are those who lose imagination: They have enough to carry ammunition. Their spirit drags no pack. Their old wounds, save with cold, can not more ache. Having seen all things red, Their eyes are rid Of the hurt of the colour of blood for ever.

- Wilfred Owen, Insensibility

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Safety Not Guaranteed

Safety Not Guaranteed - Different, funny, fresh and worth a watch just for the ending.

"WANTED: Wanted someone to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. You'll get paid after we back. Must bring your own weapons. Safety not guaranteed. I have done this only one before."

Quote of the Day

Banks should close at 4, books should be 200 pages long, CEOs should go to college, blogs should have comments, businessmen should be men, big deals should be done by lawyers, good food should be processed, surgeons should never advertise, hit musicians should be Americans, good employees should work at the same company for years...

Find your should and make it go away.

- Seth Godin

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Wisdom Of The Week

Do we really need a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau? Why can’t we rely on free markets? After all, there is a fierce competition in consumer markets, whether the products are mortgages, credit cards, or cell phones. In the presence of such competition, it is not so easy to identify a standard market failure that would justify regulation. If the goal really is to ensure that people know before they owe, we might think that the best solution is for government to recede and to allow the market to do its work.

Oren Bar-Gill has a straightforward answer to the critics. He believes that government regulation can be justified by “behavioral market failures,” in the form of biases and misperceptions that have been carefully studied in psychology and behavioral economics. Bar-Gill does not refer to the gorilla experiment, but he places a lot of emphasis on salience, and he contends that because consumers are imperfectly rational, they are likely to ignore important information and hence to make big mistakes. To be sure, he acknowledges that, in principle, competition could correct the problem. But he insists that, in practice, competitive forces are often the problem, not the solution. The reason is that sellers must do what the market rewards. If sellers offer people the objectively best cell phone contracts, they will end up losing out to their competitors, who are offering contracts that are less good but subjectively more appealing.

To be clear, Bar-Gill does not contend that there is literal fraud here, but urges instead that as a result of competitive pressures, sellers are forced “to exploit the biases and misperceptions of their customers.” In his view, the consequences for consumers can be extremely bad. Indeed, “seductive” contract design helped fuel the demand for subprime mortgages, thus contributing to the subprime meltdown of 2008. But how, exactly, do companies exploit these biases and misperceptions? Bar-Gill emphasizes two strategies. The first involves cost deferral. The second involves complexity.

- Cass Sunstein on Behavioral Economics and Consumer Protection

Quote of the Day

Hamermesh argues that there’s not much we can do to improve our pulchritude. There are even studies suggesting that for every dollar spent on cosmetic products, only 4 cents returns as salary—making lipstick a truly abysmal investment.

- Beauty Pays: Why Attractive People Are More Successful by Daniel S. Hamermesh

Friday, October 26, 2012

What I've Been Reading

Stoic Warriors: The Ancient Philosophy behind the Military Mind by Nancy Sherman.This year had been a year of stoic readings and this book is one most the contemporary and most pragmatic book of all. Stoicism for military seems oxymoronic but it will be self-evident once you read this book.

A word of caution:  
I urge that an appreciation of Stoic texts must always be critical and wary of the Stoic tendency to both over-idealize human strength and minimize human vulnerability. Stoic consolations can soothe the soul and, as the Stoics say, lead to an "even-flowing life." But as we approach Stoic and military themes, we should not be so zealous as to demand of ourselves or others either infallible control or perfect virtue. 

Stoicism Theme of Epictetus:
Some things are up to us and some are not up to us. Our opinions are up to us, and our impulses, desires, aversions-in short, whatever is our own doing. Our bodies are not up to us, nor are our possessions, our reputations, or our public offices, or that is, whatever is not our own doing.... So remember, if you think that things naturally enslaved are free or that things not your own are your own, you will be thwarted, miserable, and upset, and will blame both gods and men. ... And if it is about one of the things that is not up to us, be ready to say, "You are nothing in relation to me."The circumstances may be beyond our control, but ultimately what affects us for good or ill are only our own judgments about them. We undermine our own autonomy and dignity if we make material and external things responsible for our happiness. 

Misinterpreting Epictetus: 
It is tempting to read Epictetus as urging complacency in his listeners or at least a retreat to a narrow circle of safety. But this is not the message. We are to continue to meet challenges, take risks, and stretch the limits of our mastery. We are to continue to strive to the best of our efforts to achieve our ends. We are to push our agency to the limit. In this sense, the message is one of empowerment. But at the same time, we are to cultivate greater strength and equanimity in the face of what we truly can't change. We must learn where our mastery begins, but also where it ends. 

On Wisdom: 
Wisdom is stably beneficial to its possessor; it cannot be misused in the way that money without wisdom can be." We might say wisdom does not depend upon anything outside itself in order to be beneficial to its possessor. The Stoics strengthen the position, holding that only virtue (that is, wisdom) is a genuine good and only vice a genuine evil; everything else is an "indifferent."  

On Resilience:

Consider which of the things you proposed initially you have mastered, and which you have not, and how it gives you pleasure to remember some of them, and pain to remember others, and, if possible recover the things that you have let slip. Those competing in the greatest contest should not fade out, but take the blows too. For our competition is not to do with wrestling or the pancration-where success or failure can make all the difference to a man's standing-and indeed make him [in his and the world's eyes] supremely fortunate or unfortunate-but over real good fortune and happiness. What then? Even if we fail here and now, no one stops us from competing again; we don't have to wait another four years for the next Olympics, but as soon as a man has picked himself up and renewed his grip on himself and shown the same enthusiasm he is allowed to compete. And if you give in again, you can compete again, and if once you win, you are like someone who never gave in. Only, don't let sheer habit make you give in readily and end up like a bad athlete going around beaten in the whole circuit like quails that run away.

Moderate Stoicism:
The task for the individual, whether civilian or military, youth or adult, is to temper control with forgiveness, soldierly strength with tolerance for human frailty. A healthy Stoicism of this sort, if we can successfully reconstruct such a thing, would push us to self-mastery, but never at the cost of self-renunciation or excessive self-punishment. It would exhort us to be sturdy in the face of disappointment, but not fully invulnerable. It would teach us to value self-reliance and a can-do spirit, but at the same time it would encourage us to know the place of fellowship and mutual support. In the face of our defects and vulnerabilities, empathy and compassion toward self and others would be recognized as crucial tonics. 
Epictetus, whose counsels can be uncompromisingly severe, cautions his students against thinking that their actions can ever be error-free in the way requisite of a sage: "So is it possible to be altogether faultless? No, that is impracticable; but it is possible to strive continuously not to commit faults. For we shall have cause to be satisfied if, by never relaxing our attention, we shall escape at least a few faults.

Respect for Human Emotions: 
In the military, unforgiving views toward the expression of emotions have led in the past to disastrous treatment of shell-shock victims and to demands for military men and women to compartmentalize their emotional lives in ways that both tear military bonds and strain service members' reintegration into their families and the civilian community. Appraising Stoic views and appreciating that the Stoics themselves embrace options other than a stolid repudiation of emotional life provides a bold lesson for the military.

On Human Fragility and Adversity:
The more frequently and matter-of-factly we remind ourselves of our fragility, the more prepared we will be to face adversity. So someone might ask: "But what if my friends should die?" What else could that signify except that men who are mortal have died? Do you at once wish to live to be old, and yet not to see the death of any one you love? Do you not know that, in a long course of time, many and various events must necessarily happen? That a fever must get the better of one person, a highwayman of another, a tyrant of a third? For such is the world we live in; such are those who live in it with us. Heat and cold, improper diet, journeys by land, voyages by sea, winds, and all kinds of accidents destroy some, banish others, and send one on an embassy, another on campaign. Such are the facts of luck and circumstance. We are ultimately all vulnerable. 
Seneca begins his remarks (in Book II) by noting that wrongdoing in the world is legion. If the wise person habitually reacted to it, "his entire life would be spent in bad temper and grief." He would become a ranter and raver, not so different from those whose lives are filled with petty malice and spite, who, although "out of military dress," are "still at war with each other," bickering and fighting as if in a "school of gladiators." This is no life for a sage, or for even one who aspires toward virtue in more modest ways. Moral indignation robs one of a life of equanimity.

Epictetus on Happiness: 
The contest of life has as its prize our own individual happiness. We compete against ourselves, not others.

On Suicide: 
Epictetus's tone is optimistic. And yet, following traditional Stoic doctrine, he leaves the door open for a "well-reasoned exit" (eulogos exagoge) through suicide in extreme circumstances when one can no longer have the happiness that consists in practicing virtue.

Kant himself, famously dogmatic about truth-telling, surprisingly anticipates (indeed embraces) the role of pretense in social interaction: 
Men are, one and all, actors-the more so the more civilized they are. They put on a show of affection, respect for others, modesty and disinterest without deceiving anyone, since it is generally understood that they are not sincere about it. And it is a very good thing that this happens in the world. For if men keep on playing these roles, the real virtues whose semblance they have merely been affecting for a long time are gradually aroused and pass into their attitude of will. 

Cicero on not letting them fuck with you: 
Sometimes it happens that it is necessary to reprove someone. In that case we may perhaps need to use a more rhetorical tone of voice, or sharper and serious language, and even to behave so that we seem to be acting in anger. However, we should have recourse to this sort of rebuke in the way we do to surgery and cautery, rarely and unwillingly.... One ought for the most part only to resort to mild criticism, though combined with a certain seriousness so as to show severity while avoiding abusiveness." 

Seneca on Anger:  
The first is the claim that we can more effectively change others through therapeutic reform than through retribution. We should take up the "kindly gaze of a doctor viewing the sick" and get on with the business of cure rather than moral protest. We are better off viewing wrongdoing more as pathology than as evil. Our souls are like leaky ships. Surely a man whose ship has timbers loose and leaking badly will not be angry with the sailors or with the ship itself? Sufficient help is what is needed. Seneca implies that even an impersonal protest that is not defiant-one that focuses on a moral mistake (and not the victim's injury) and defends the value that makes the action wrong-is misguided. 
If reason starts to mix with anger, then anger may prevail in a way that prevents reason from "rising again." How can it free itself from the chaos, if the admixture of baser ingredients has prevailed? 

Seneca on Bravery:
And what is bravery? It is the impregnable fortress for our mortal weakness; when a man has surrounded himself therewith, he can hold out free from anxiety during life's siege; for he is using his own strength and his own weapons." The critical point for us is that Seneca accepts the notion of some losses as tragic, even though he thinks that in such circumstances, control and "faking it" are still possible and prudent. 

A Supple Stoicism:
What I wish to underscore is that Seneca constantly struggles within his own writing to articulate a more supple form of Stoicism. In this spirit, we too need to see if there is a brand of Stoicism that prepares us for enduring the worst tragedies without compromising our fundamental humanity. That, it would seem, is a Stoic ideal worth supporting. The more human face of Stoicism also emerges when we adjust our focus, as Seneca often does, to include not only the sage but also the advanced moral learner, or "progressor," to use the Stoic term. This is the morally decent yet morally imperfect adult whom Seneca addresses in many of his essays and letters. The work of exhortation is not for the sage, who has already arrived, but for those who are still aspiring. Although in strict Stoic terms anyone who is not a sage is a fool, Seneca's letters show the abundant room for moral growth that can preoccupy even a fool. Similarly, the Stoic notion of "appropriate" acts performed by sage and non-sage alike (in the case of the non-sage, with "well-reasoned" [eulogos] but not perfectly right motives) is evidence that good conduct is not an exclusive moral category, open only to the most morally elite." Those in the military who insist on the perfectionism implicit in a zero-defect policy have something to learn from this important Stoic concession. Here we can do no better than to cite a now famous anecdote Colin Powell offers in his autobiography. At one point in his early years, he lost his sidearm, a fairly serious offense for a junior officer and one that under a zero-defect policy can be career-ending. But Powell's superior officer spared him. Powell (and others-I first read about it in an e-mail circulated at the Naval Academy) tells the story as a cautionary tale: too harsh a screening process can weed out some of the military's best. In addition to any moral implications, in sheer economic terms it can be too costly. 

Preserving our Humanity:
The fear of losing one's soul in war is real, felt over and over again by those who wear a uniform. Rabbi Arnold Resnicoff, a retired Navy captain and senior chaplain assigned to General Wesley Clark in the European Command during the war in Bosnia, told me of a colonel who sought him out while serving in Bosnia. "Chaplain," he said, "the Army trains me to kill people and break things. Your job, chaplain, is to keep me from ever getting to a point where I like doing it." The late philosopher Richard Wollheim told me of a similar piece of advice given to him by a commanding officer he deeply admired for his courage on the battlefield: "Never, but never, get to the point where you like war." 
"We don't want our people just to come home physically; we want them to come back close to the human beings they were before they went in." That, as the biblical texts suggest, "is not something that you can wait and just start afterwards. It's something that you do before." 

On Tears:
"I always say strong men do weep. It's part of their strength. But you don't cry in front of your subordinates; you don't walk around sobbing, `We've had a battle and I've lost eight of my men."' But service members do cry at funerals in the field, and privately in their tents at night, and in returning to the battlefields where they fought. "No one would think anything less of the guy.... He is simply a human being that cares." 

Let Us Cultivate Humanity:
The Stoics are surely wrong in thinking that we can become rock-ribbed and resilient if only we protect ourselves against the vulnerability love and friendship invite. They are right, however, to suggest that those attachments cannot be the limits of our moral regard. We need to conceive of a community whose bonds go beyond the partialities of love and affection and religious or tribal kinship. But we cannot build that community simply by reciting mantras of respect and dignity for fellow humans. As Hierocles insists, we need to do the hard work of positioning ourselves to make that respect available in the hardest cases. In short, it requires cultivating humanity through empathetic identification and respect. "Let us cultivate humanity," Seneca exhorts in his famous final injunction in On Anger. The words should be a part of any warrior's honor code.

Quote of the Day

“You’ve got the words to change a nation,
But you’re biting your tongue.
You’ve spent a lifetime stuck in silence
Afraid that you’ll say something wrong.
If no one ever hears it, how we gonna learn your song?
So come, on come on,
Come on, come on.
You’ve got a heart as loud as lions,
So why let your voice be tamed?
Baby we’re a little different,
There’s no need to be ashamed.
You’ve got the light to fight the shadows,
So stop hiding it away.
Come on, come on.”

Emeli Sandé

Thursday, October 25, 2012

India’s Feckless Elite

At independence, India’s ruling class was arguably the best educated in the developing world. The father of the nation, Mohandas Gandhi, was a lawyer educated at London’s Inner Temple. The first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, studied at Cambridge University, and the chief drafter of the constitution, B. R. Ambedkar, had a doctorate from Columbia University. Simply put, in both erudition and probity, India’s founders were on average several notches above their present-day successors. Today, nearly a third of state and national legislators have criminal charges pending against them, including serious ones such as murder, kidnapping, and extortion.

Neither dynastic politics nor corruption is uniquely Indian. The former hasn’t appreciably hindered Singapore’s progress, nor the latter South Korea’s. But India also bears the harmful legacy of past mistakes that have not been fully acknowledged, and therefore not fully repudiated. India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, was a Fabian socialist who was contemptuous of markets and enamored of state planning. His daughter, Indira Gandhi, raised rabble-rousing to an art form and turned the crude license-permit system she inherited from her father into a refined instrument of economic torture. In her time, the marginal tax rate rose to 97 percent, and thanks to the license system even the most routine economic decisions, such as where a business could build a factory or how much it could produce, were made by bureaucrats.

For India to join the developed world, it needs to drag its politicians into the 21st century. Or else, they may just drag India down with themselves instead.

More Here

The Book of Barely Imagined Beings - Caspar Henderson

Species by species, Henderson examines what makes animate life on earth so extraordinary. Avoiding the contextual vacuum of a TV nature documentary, he describes the panoply of the world over which Homo sapiens has exerted its dominion. He moves from the flickering eye of man, constantly moving in minute oscillations or saccades, so that we are never actually looking at anything for more than a microsecond, to the vast eye of a colossal squid, the largest of any animal, equipped to capture the smallest vestiges of light that might penetrate the benthic depths of the ocean. The sea is a fertile locus for such philosophical-zoological explorations: it seems to embody the great unknowns in our own landlocked existence. Henderson quotes the anthropologist Loren Eiseley who, writing in the 1950s, thought that 'the profound shock of the leap from animal to human status is echoing still in the depths of our subconscious minds'.

Perhaps the single most affecting scene in this book comes as the author discusses a photograph of Joseph Merrick, the 'Elephant Man', pointing out the single 'normal' area of his face, his temple and his cheek, from which his eye looks back at us: 'He is calm and aware: a dignified human masked by stupendous deformity.' Henderson's own eye is unerring, while his writing is often witty and always revealing. Marshalling an extraordinary body of knowledge, from scientific papers to archaic manuscripts, through 'deep time' to the origins of life itself, he presents a synoptic, nuanced view of nature.

I picked up the hedgehog out of empathy, and sympathy. Is that what makes me different from all the other species with which I share this planet? I don't know, and nor does Caspar Henderson, but his engrossing, fact-filled yet poetic book is an excellent attempt to understand the nature of the gulf between us.

- Review of the new book The Book of Barely Imagined Beings by Caspar Henderson

Quote of the Day

“Talent hits a target no one else can hit; genius hits a target no one else can see.”

- Arthur Schopenhauer

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

It's Time to Rethink US Education System

  • A disconnect between the way school works and how they function outside school.
  • Boredom with the teacher-centered learning process.
  • Shifting sources of authority. 
  • Growing interest in pragmatic, job-oriented skills. 
  • Unease regarding global standing.
- More Here

Who Says Meditation Is A Waste Of Time?

Research shows that an ability to resist urges will improve your relationships, increase your dependability, and raise your performance. If you can resist your urges, you can make better, more thoughtful decisions. You can be more intentional about what you say and how you say it. You can think about the outcome of your actions before following through on them.

Our ability to resist an impulse determines our success in learning a new behavior or changing an old habit. It's probably the single most important skill for our growth and development.

As it turns out, that's one of the things meditation teaches us.

Meditating daily will strengthen your willpower muscle. Your urges won't disappear, but you will be better equipped to manage them. And you will have experience that proves to you that the urge is only a suggestion. You are in control.

Does that mean you never follow an urge? Of course not. Urges hold useful information. If you're hungry, it may be a good indication that you need to eat. But it also may be an indication that you're bored or struggling with a difficult piece of work. Meditation gives you practice having power over your urges so you can make intentional choices about which to follow and which to let pass.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

"There is no evidence that God ever intended the United States of America to have a higher per capita income than the rest of the world for eternity."

- Robert Solow

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Why It's Hard To Make Friends When Older?

As external conditions change, it becomes tougher to meet the three conditions that sociologists since the 1950s have considered crucial to making close friends: proximity; repeated, unplanned interactions; and a setting that encourages people to let their guard down and confide in each other, said Rebecca G. Adams, a professor of sociology and gerontology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. This is why so many people meet their lifelong friends in college.

External factors are not the only hurdle. After 30, people often experience internal shifts in how they approach friendship. Self-discovery gives way to self-knowledge, so you become pickier about whom you surround yourself with, said Marla Paul, the author of the 2004 book The Friendship Crisis: Finding, Making, and Keeping Friends When You’re Not a Kid Anymore. “The bar is higher than when we were younger and were willing to meet almost anyone for a margarita,” she said. 

Manipulators, drama queens, egomaniacs: a lot of them just no longer make the cut.

- More Here (via Ben)


Argo is fascinating thriller reminiscent of good old Hollywood movies sans those quintessential Marvel comics superhero's. 

Official: "Aliens and robots?"
Tony Mendez: "Yes, sir"
Official: "You're telling me that there is a movie company in Hollywood right now that is funded by the CIA?"
Tony Mendez: "Yes, sir"
Second official: "What's wrong with the bikes again?"
Jack O'Donnell: "We tried to get the message upstairs..."
Official: "You think... You think this more plausible than teachers?"
Jack O'Donnell: "Yes, we do. One, there are no more foreign teachers in Iran."
Tony Mendez: "And we think everyone knows Hollywood people. And everybody knows they'd shoot in Stalingrad with Pol Pot directing if it would sell tickets. There are only bad options. It's about finding the best one."
Official: "You don't have a better bad idea than this?"
Jack O'Donnell: "This is the best bad idea we have, sir, by far."
Official: "The United States Government has just sanctioned your science-fiction movie." 
Tony Mendez: "Thank you, sir"

Also, check out the book Argo: How the CIA and Hollywood Pulled Off the Most Audacious Rescue in History

Interview with the "real" Tony Mendez: 

Quote of the Day

The first lesson of economics is scarcity: There is never enough of anything to satisfy all those who want it. The first lesson of politics is to disregard the first lesson of economics.

- Thomas Sowell

Monday, October 22, 2012

How We Smell - Nicola Twilley

Quote of the Day

"Dr. Petersen and Dr Sznycer found that, regardless of country of origin or apparent ideology, strong men argued for their self interest: the poor for redistribution, the rich against it. No surprises there. Weaklings, however, were far less inclined to make the case that self-interest suggested they would. Among women, by contrast, strength had no correlation with opinion. Rich women wanted to stay rich; poor women to become so."

Does physical strength influence male political views?

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Science Behind Human Compassion - David DeSteno

"And, sir, it is no little thing to make
Mine eyes to sweat compassion."

- The Tragedy of Corliolanus by William Shakespeare

Quote of the Day

"It cannot be repeated too often that no one, absolutely no one, is self-made in any plausible sense of that expression.  For the past million years or more, pre-hominids, hominids, and humans have been coming into a world they did not make and relying for life itself on the accumulated knowledge and material culture produced by their predecessors.  No one, not a cobbler, not a farmer, not a hunter-gatherer, and certainly not a business tycoon, makes himself or herself [although this does seem to be a peculiarly male fantasy.]"

- The myth of the self-made man

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Sometimes An Education Isn't By The Book...

Action is character if we never didn't did anything, we wouldn't be anybody.

You sound very old and wise.. 

I feel old but not very wise.

- An Education

Wisdom Of the Week

"Another thing that is never discussed any more is my idea of one of the great philosophers of America who was Charlie Frankel. He was mugged to death in due course because, after all, he lived in Manhattan in a different time. Before he was mugged to death, he created this philosophy of responsibility. He said the system is responsible in proportion to the degree that the people who make the decisions bear the consequences. So to Charlie Frankel, you don’t create a loan system where all the people who make the loans promptly dump them on somebody else through lies and twaddle, and they don’t bear the responsibility when the loans are good or bad. To Frankel, that is amoral, that is an irresponsible system. That is like selling an automobile with bad brakes and you know the brakes are bad. You shouldn’t do it. Well, we’ve just been through a period where nobody gave a damn about an irresponsible system. If you can engage in business in some lawful way and dump trouble on  somebody else through God knows what techniques, the more the merrier. It finally got to be like musical chairs, except in musical chairs, you are only one chair short when the music stops. In the new form of musical chairs, everybody has a hell of a time and is sitting on his ass on the floor. Of course, that is what we created and it  was perfectly obvious that something like this was bound to happen although we didn’t know when. So this is very, very significant cognitive failure and it has just shot through pretty much through the whole civilization. It isn’t everybody. If it were, the civilization would perish and it would deserve to.

There are people who have behaved well through this and a lot of them I can see sitting in this room. But what would you suspect with a bunch of people that are supporting a really great school? I mean, these are not the scumbags of the world. And so, all I can say is that this is very serious stuff and what we have all done together at Harvard-Westlake School is to try to create the kind of education that reduces the future nonsense. It is not easy, because very powerful forces of self-interest and subconscious powers of delusion are working against us -- and, of course, we live in a nation with different ethnic groups, different religious groups and so forth. Our civilization is a lot harder [to] manage than say, Denmark or Norway or something -- and always will be. Therefore, we should be doing it better, not worse, and of course, it is just the opposite. We have a worse problem and therefore we are governing it worse. In California, we have carefully created two types of people in the legislature: right-wing nuts and left-wing nuts who hate each other. Every 10 years they get together and each side has two or three decent halfway moderate people and they join together in throwing them out. They identify those six or eight people - ‘We don’t want any normal people in our legislature’ - and they gerrymander them out. This is the largest state in the most important country in the world, and that is the way our legislature works. How many of us are really doing anything about it? It is something."

Charlie Munger at Harvard-Westlake School - It's brilliant and a must read.

Also, checkout  Munger's enlightening 1995 Harvard speech - Psychology of Human Misjudgement

nd Seeking Wisdom: From Darwin to Munger by Peter Bevelin is now one my all time favorite books.

Quote of the Day

“Being loved, however, people enjoy for its own sake, and for this reason it would seem it is something better than being honoured and that friendship is choiceworthy for its own sake."

Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle

Friday, October 19, 2012

Neil deGrasse Tyson on Stephen Colbert

"Science is sometimes distrusted because it is more complex than the average  person can understand. I think that is the core of it the distrust is not because of what it can do but because of what it can do. And that .. absence of understanding or misunderstanding of the power of science is what makes people afraid of it and so i remember back when they first split the atom you know "shouldn't split the atom" or shouldn't .. you hear this at every discovery that happens in science, there's is a mystery to it."

- Neil deGrasse Tyson

Watch the whole thing - Tyson is much better than any of the contemporary standup comedians !!

Quote of the Day

"People will adjust better if the perceived difference in outcomes in society are perceived as just."

- Aristotle

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Bad Pharma - Ben Goldacre

Ben Goldacre now fights a bigger and powerful adversary in his new book Bad Pharma: How drug companies mislead doctors and harm patients ; interview here:

What exactly is the problem?
Drugs are tested in poorly designed studies, which are then selectively reported, with unflattering data hidden. This biased evidence is then communicated to doctors in a chaotic and distorted system by marketing departments and Chinese whispers. I have an almost grudging respect for the clever ways in which data can be distorted, but as a result of this distortion patients suffer and die unnecessarily.
It's worth being clear that those in the industry aren't the only people at fault. Many senior academics, doctors, regulators and patients' associations have failed to protect patients' interests. I think this could be like the scandals of the expense claims of British members of parliament, or phone-hacking by journalists: things that feel normal within these communities may suddenly land some people in jail.

Are you hoping that the book will get people up in arms about this issue?
I think this is a cause for national scandal, but it's a sophisticated national scandal. It's not "oh my god, these people are deliberately killing babies". I don't imagine that any one of the people I describe in the book - who have made decisions that resulted in avoidable suffering or death - could willingly drown a kitten or suffocate an old lady. But when doctors give a treatment that they have been misled into believing is the most effective, they are inflicting avoidable suffering and harm on their patients.

Books Change How a Child’s Brain Grows

Books and educational toys can make a child smarter, but they also influence how the brain grows, according to new research presented here on Sunday at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience. The findings point to a “sensitive period” early in life during which the developing brain is strongly influenced by environmental factors.

To investigate, neuroscientist Martha Farah of the University of Pennsylvania and her colleagues recruited 64 children from a low income background and followed them from birth through to late adolescence. They visited the children’s homes at 4 and 8 years of age to evaluate their environment, noting factors such as the number of books and educational toys in their houses, and how much warmth and support they received from their parents.

More than 10 years after the second home visit, the researchers used MRI to obtain detailed images of the participants’ brains. They found that the level of mental stimulation a child receives in the home at age 4 predicted the thickness of two regions of the cortex in late adolescence, such that more stimulation was associated with a thinner cortex. One region, the lateral inferior temporal gyrus, is involved in complex visual skills such as word recognition.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

To succeed in a domain that violates your intuitions, you need to be able to turn them off the way a pilot does when flying through clouds. You need to do what you know intellectually to be right, even though it feels wrong.

- Paul Graham

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

A Complete Guide to 1,368 Vine Varieties, Including Their Origins and Flavours - Jancis Robinson

Even wine professionals are likely to know much less about individual grape varieties than they think. Only those paying close attention to a new branch of wine science will have noted the extraordinary discovery in 1996 that the famous Cabernet Sauvignon vine, responsible for the grandest red wines in the world such as Châteaux Lafite, Latour and Margaux, is in fact the natural progeny of the distinctly less revered Cabernet Franc, and the grape variety responsible for the white wines of Sancerre and Marlborough in New Zealand, the pale-skinned Sauvignon Blanc.

In the past, grape varieties were identified visually. A handful of international experts knew enough about the exact shape of leaves, shoots and bunches to be able to spot, for example, a Lesser Spotted Vermentino in the vineyard. But now we can establish far more detail about the precise relationships between different varieties by analysing and comparing their DNA. It was while generating a database for the DNA profiles of the most important grape varieties in the Davis vine collection that John Bowers noticed that the DNA profile of Cabernet Sauvignon was perfectly consistent with its being an offspring of Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc. This was the first time anyone had identified the parents of a famous wine grape variety and it astounded us all. Before then, no one thought that a dark-skinned variety could possibly have a pale-skinned parent."

- Review of the new book Wine Grapes: A Complete Guide to 1,368 Vine Varieties, Including Their Origins and Flavours by Jancis Robinson

Quote of the Day

"I am always doing that which I can not do, in order that I may learn how to do it."

- Pablo Picasso

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

What I've Been Reading

The Opposable Mind:How Successful Leader Win Through Integrative Thinking by Roger L. Martin. One of the best business books I have ever read. The book is designed to help us ask a much better question - “What should I think?” and not  “What should I do?”.

The leaders I have studied share at least one trait, aside from their talent for innovation and long-term business success. They have the predisposition and the capacity to hold two diametrically opposing ideas in their heads. And then, without panicking or simply settling for one alternative or the other, they’re able to produce a synthesis that is superior to either opposing idea.

e were born with an opposable mind we can use to hold two conflicting ideas in constructive tension. We can use that tension to think our way through to a new and superior idea. Were we able to hold only one thought or idea in our heads at a time, we wouldn’t have access to the insights that the opposable mind can produce. And just as we can develop and refine the skill with which we employ our opposable thumbs to perform tasks that once seemed impossible. I’m convinced we can also, with patient practice, develop the ability to use our opposable minds to unlock solutions to problems that seem to resist every effort to solve them.

Four differences between integrative and conventional thinkers:
  1. Integrative thinkers don’t mind the mess. In fact, they welcome it, because the mess assures them that they haven’t edited out features necessary to the contemplation of the problem as a whole. They welcome complexity because they know the best answers arise from complexity. 
  2. Integrative thinkers don’t flinch from considering multidirectional and nonlinear causal relationships. Simple, unidirectional relationships are easier to hold in the mind, but they don’t generate more satisfactory resolutions.
  3. Integrative thinkers don’t break a problem into independent pieces and work on each piece separately. They keep the entire problem firmly in mind while working on its individual parts.
  4. Integrative thinker will always search for creative resolution of tensions, rather than accept unpleasant tradeoffs. The behaviors associated with such a search—delays, sending teams back to examine things more deeply, generating new options at the eleventh hour—can appear irresolute from the outside, but the results are choices that could only have been generated by an integrative thinker who won’t settle for trade-offs and conventional options.
Fundamentally, the conventional thinker prefers to accept the world as it is. The integrative thinker welcomes the challenge of shaping the world for the better.

Integrative thinkers are a varied lot but their stances have in common six key features. Three concern the world around them; three concern their role in it:
  1. They believe that whatever models exist at the present moment do not represent reality; they are simply the best or only constructions yet made.
  2. They believe that conflicting models, styles, and approaches to problems are to be leveraged, not feared.
  3. They believe that better models exist that are not yet seen.
  4. They believe that not only does a better model exist, but that they are capable of bringing that better model from abstract hypothesis to concrete reality.
  5. They are comfortable wading into complexity to ferret out a new and better model, confident they will emerge on the other side with the resolution they seek.
  6. They give themselves the time to create a better model.
This is an inherently optimistic stance. Integrative thinkers understand that the world imposes constraints on them, but they share the belief that with hard thinking and patience, they can find a better outcome than the unsatisfying ones they’re presented with.

“There’s an infinite wealth of information in this room, yet when you come in and you process it, you only see those things that directly serve your purposes. The things you don’t know, and the territories you don’t know how to maneuver in, are everywhere.”
    - Cognitive psychology professor Jordan Peterson

And finally some words of wisdom from the master himself:

Quote of the Day

"If your theory is found to be against the second law of thermodynamics I can give you no hope; there is nothing for it but to collapse in deepest humiliation."

- British Astrophysicist Arthur Eddington

Monday, October 15, 2012

Being Human

New website Being Human (via Carl Zimmer)

In Thriving, you are invited to discuss the latest ideas in neuroscience, psychology, philosophy, and evolutionary biology—and how they apply to our everyday lives. Thriving has three subsections: Life, Trends, and Being Human A-Z.

Life asks, “What do these ideas mean for me?” by examining how cutting-edge science and philosophy relate to the individual human experience.

Trends asks, “What do these ideas mean for our world?” by exploring how current scientific understanding relates to the broader societal and cultural human experience.

Being Human A-Z is a series of reflections on what it means to be human by Peter Baumann, Founder of

In Discovering, experts focus on the science behind Here, scientists discuss their research, answer questions about the human experience, and explore how our ideas have changed over the years.

Quote of the Day

The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless yet be determined to make them otherwise.

- Scott Fitzgerald

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Wisdom of Psychopaths - Kevin Dutton

Excerpts from The Wisdom of Psychopaths by Kevin Dutton:

Psychopaths are fearless, confident, charismatic, ruthless and focused. Yet, contrary to popular belief, they are not necessarily violent. Far from its being an open-and-shut case—you're either a psychopath or you're not—there are, instead, inner and outer zones of the disorder: a bit like the fare zones on a subway map. There is a spectrum of psychopathy along which each of us has our place, with only a small minority of A-listers resident in the “inner city.”

Think of psychopathic traits as the dials on a studio mixing deck. If you turn all of them to max, you'll have a soundtrack that's no use to anyone. But if the soundtrack is graded, and some are up higher than others—such as fearlessness, focus, lack of empathy and mental toughness, for example—you may well have a surgeon who's a cut above the rest.

Of course, surgery is just one instance where psychopathic “talent” may prove advantageous. There are others. In 2009, for instance, I decided to perform my own research to determine whether, if psychopaths were really better at decoding vulnerability (as had been found in some studies), there could be applications. There had to be ways in which, rather than being a drain on society, this ability actually conferred some benefit. And there had to be ways to study it.

Quote of the Day

Despite the difficulty of exact Bayesian inference in complex mathematical models, the essence of Bayesian reasoning is frequently used in everyday life. One example has been immortalized in the words of Sherlock Holmes to his friend Dr. Watson: “How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?” (Arthur Conan Doyle, The Sign of Four, 1890, Ch. 6). This reasoning is actually a consequence of Bayesian belief updating, as expressed in Equation 4.4. Let me re-state it this way: “How often have I said to you that when p(D|θ_i ) = 0 for all i!=j, then, no matter how small the prior p(θ_j ) > 0 is, the posterior p(θ_j |D) must equal one.” Somehow it sounds better the way Holmes said it.

- Kruschke 2010, Doing Bayesian Data Analysis (page 56-57)

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Combating "Social Intelligence" of Cancer Cells

One of the authors, physicist Eshel Ben-Jacob of Tel Aviv University in Israel, has argued for some time that many single-celled organisms, whether they are tumour cells or gut bacteria, show a rudimentary form of social intelligence – an ability to act collectively in ways that adapt to the prevailing conditions, learn from experience and solve problems, all with the “aim” of improving their chances of survival. He even believes there is evidence that they can modify their own genomes in beneficial ways.

Many bacteria can engage in similar feats of communication and coordination, which can produce complex colony shapes such as vortex-like circulating blobs or exotic branching patterns. These displays of “social intelligence” help the colonies survive adversity, sometimes to our cost. Biofilms, for example – robust, slimy surface coatings that harbour bacteria and can spread infection in hospitals – are manufactured through the co-operation of several different species.

But as cyberwarfare experts know, disrupting communications can be deadly, and the same social intelligence that helps bacteria thrive can be manipulated to attack pathogenic varieties. Some strategies for tackling dangerous bacteria now target their cell-to-cell communications, for example by introducing false signals that might induce cells to eat one another or to dissolve biofilms. So it pays to know what they’re saying to one another.

Ben-Jacob, along with Donald Coffey of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore and “biological physicist” Herbert Levine of Rice University in Houston, Texas, think that we should be approaching cancer therapy this way too: not by aiming to kill off tumour cells with lethal doses of poisons or radiation, but by interrupting their conversations.

- More Here

Wisdom Of The Week

One modest achievement of modern India is that gross inequalities are no longer legitimised. We still put up with them as a reality; often as a deplorable necessity, but a necessity nonetheless. As a result, our conceptual innovations, ideological entanglements, or appeals to tradition—our ideas about equality, in short—seem to mean very little when they come face to face with an unyielding social reality.

As the renowned Dalit writer Om Prakash Valmiki once asked: What possible meaning could anyone give to an oft-quoted phrase like “Vasudeiva Kutmbakam”—The World is My Family—in the face of an oppressively suffocating experience of subordination? How can we explain the persistence of countless sites that inflict needless indignity—forms of domestic servitude, manual scavenging, inhuman labour conditions? Instead of occasioning a discourse of justice, these very realities seem to silence its demands.

To be sure, all societies experience versions of this silencing; this is not India’s monopoly. But one must admit that the scale of this silencing is unusual in a society that has so many other things going for it: pluralism, a reflective and argumentative culture, and democratic politics. Some would point to the circular character of inequality: we don’t care because we are unequal, and because we don’t care inequality will persist. In fact, many of India’s poor outcomes in areas ranging from health to education are explained away through this logic, which is similar to what contemporary social science calls the equality paradox: you need to already have some equality and reciprocity to make progress towards more.

In a society riven by deep inequality there is not even the minimal basis for mutual concern. Where social distance makes human beings almost a different species in each other’s eyes, why would you expect anything else? Why would a contractor care if one of his construction workers used his hands rather than a brush to apply a dangerous chemical? The more inequality there is, the harder it is to imagine what it is like to be in someone else’s shoes. It has to be admitted that even the most well-meaning and sensitive find it hard to imagine what the suffocation, darkness and sheer physical suffering of being at the bottom of a social hierarchy might be really like. The very thing you would expect to instigate questions of justice makes it hard to raise them.

The idea that the worst aspects of tradition could be transcended without making the whole tradition despicable proved to be a very fragile concept. And finally, the critique of material inequality turned out to be more a critique of materialism than of inequality

- Breaking the Silence

Anyone born outside India can empathize but never can completely comprehend this hell on earth. 

Quote of the Day

In 1966, Andy Dufresne escaped from Shawshank prison. All they found of him was a muddy set of prison clothes, a bar of soap, and an old rock hammer, damn near worn down to the nub. I used to think it would take six-hundred years to tunnel under the wall with it. Old Andy did it in less than twenty. Oh, Andy loved Geology, I guess it appealed to his meticulous nature. An ice age here, million years of mountain building there. Geology is the study of pressure and time. That's all it takes really, pressure, and time. That, and a big god-damned poster. Like I said, in prison a man will do anything to keep his mind occupied. It turns out Andy's favourite hobby was totin' his wall through the exercise yard, a handful at a time. I guess after Tommy was killed, he decided he had been here just about long enough. Andy did like he was told, buffed those shoes to a high mirror shine. The guard simply didn't notice, neither did I... I mean, seriously, how often do you really look at a mans shoes? Andy crawled to freedom through five-hundred yards of shit smelling foulness I can't even imagine, or maybe I just don't want too. Five-Hundred yards... that's the length of five football fields, just shy of half a mile.

- Price of Freedom from the movie Shawshank Redemption

Friday, October 12, 2012

Why Some Food Go Together?

"Lots of things come together to make flavor, whether it's hot, cold, lubricating, how it smells, what we taste. Flavor is an incredibly multisensory sensation," says Paul Breslin, an experimental psychologist at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia. Color and sound even impact how we perceive food. But, in a recent experiment, Breslin zeroed in on how food feels in our mouths.

Breslin and his colleagues published a study this week in Current Biology that delves into why fatty foods and astringent drinks pair well. Even though the drinks are only weakly astringent, such beverages (wine, tea, beer, etc.) build in astringency with every sip, creating a strong feeling of dryness in your mouth. Conversely, fatty foods lubricate your mouth and make it feel slimy.

"Our mouth really wants to be in a position of balance," says Breslin. And the more you sip and chew, the better your mouth feels.

- More

Quote of the Day

Who is the happy Warrior? Who is he That every man in arms should wish to be ... Who, with a natural instinct to discern What knowledge can perform, is diligent to learn .. . More skillful in self-knowledge, even more pure, As tempted more: more able to endure, As more exposed to suffering and distress.

- William Wordsworth, "Character of the Happy Warrior"

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Professors - The Secret Weapon in the Fight Against Bad Student Debt

College debt is not spread out equally among all students. It is concentrated in certain colleges, such as the for-profit schools. It is also concentrated in certain populations. Kids without top SAT scores, which open doors to well funded colleges, those without financial resources from home, or those who families lack higher education experience are particularly vulnerable. These students are in dire need of advice.

Jordan Weissmann recently showed how the biggest student loan default rate came from the for-profit sector. He said that we need alternatives for the type of student who attends the University of Phoenix, including low-tuition community colleges or true vocational training programs in high schools.

I also believe that untraditional students need more guidance about making higher education decisions. Faculty advisors and administrators do provide some guidance to kids like Lisa about finances -- sometimes directly, sometimes indirectly. A few schools have genuinely innovative reforms that should be replicated. However, students need more help than individual faculty can provide.

Students need administrators, high school counselors, or outside groups to provide them with a cocktail of career, education, and finance advice. They need to understand the penalties that are involved with transferring schools and changing majors. They should meet with the financial aid office, understand the totality of their loans, and know whether or not interest is accruing. Decisions about majors, careers, and universities should be undertaken with care.

- More Here

When Johnny Comes Home - Nancy Sherman

It is easy to see Stoicism's appeal within the military. To be in the military is by definition to give up a certain amount of agency. To reclaim it back by narrowing the perimeter of what is within one's own dominion is, in a way, liberating. Hence the Army's tendency to focus on the individual in its recruitment campaigns from ''Be All that You Can Be" to today's ''An Army of One." These slogans soften the notion of a modern military as a monolithic corps and emphasize instead individual courage and heroism. They neglect to mention, however, their corollaries -- personal sacrifice and psychological trauma.

Those who come back from war bear personal scars. Inside the corridors of hospitals like Walter Reed are men and women who have lost limbs in mortar attacks; others have lost their eyes to shrapnel from car bombs in Baghdad. But for every soldier who comes back physically injured there is one who has returned emotionally shattered. Some walk the perimeter of the hospital grounds, as if still on watch; others relive their injuries in recurring nightmares. Each has learned that a warrior's mind and body are not bulletproof.

As an enlightened public, we need to work hard to remove the stigma that many in the military still harbor about seeking psychological help for war trauma. And we need to ensure not only that the Veterans Administration, but the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, and Reserves have adequate resources to treat those who suffer from war trauma. Current studies from Walter Reed Army Institute of Research indicate that 17 percent of those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan show signs of post-traumatic stress disorder. Experts predict that the numbers will swell three and four years after deployments end. It is likely to be worse for those engaged in fighting up close with insurgents. With base and hospital closures, will the Department of Defense have the resources for treatment?


On the battlefield itself, military leaders must find collective time to grieve and teach their men and women that proper grieving can strengthen, not weaken moral fiber and troop solidarity. Shakespeare's archetypal Stoic warrior, Coriolanus, got it right, when he described the challenge, ''It is no little thing to make mine eyes to sweat compassion." This is a lesson doctors and therapists at military hospitals know well. It is a lesson all military leaders need to take to heart.

- Nancy Sherman is the author of Stoic Warriors: The Ancient Philosophy behind the Military Mind

Quote of the Day

In other words, we shouldn’t jump at a new technology simply because it has advantages; only time and study will reveal its disadvantages and show the value of what we’ve left behind.

Which brings us back to paper. With strength and durability that could last thousands of years, paper can preserve information without the troubles we find when our most cherished knowledge is stuck on an unreadable floppy disk or lost deep in the “cloud.”

Long Live Paper

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Do Animals Ever Forget?

A pigeon might learn to associate your face with food, but it probably can't remember your last meeting in the way you might be able to recall details of your last trip to the park. It is an important distinction, because episodic memory is thought to allow us to imagine and plan for the future. This skill, known as mental time travel, was long thought to be unique to humans, but there are now some signs that a handful of other species might also be able to escape the present.

Some of the most convincing evidence comes from Nicola Clayton and Sergio Correia at the University of Cambridge, who have shown that western scrub jays can learn from their experiences to anticipate the actions of other birds. If one bird knows that another is watching it bury its food, for instance, it will later move the stash, presumably to prevent it from being stolen. But they will only do this if they have previously stolen food themselves - suggesting that they were drawing on their memories while forming the plan. Similar studies have suggested that bonobos and orang-utans are also capable of mental time travel..

Initially, the work attracted a lot of scepticism from researchers like Michael Corballis at the University of Auckland, New Zealand, who believed that the results could be explained by a complex kind of classical conditioning, for instance. But some recent work has begun to change his mind. He points to a study of activity in the hippocampuses of rats, which suggests that they replay their movements through a maze, and may even imagine future paths that they could take. He is also impressed by Santino, a chimp at Furuvik Zoo in Sweden that collects and hides rocks to throw at visitors, using premeditation that would rely on episodic memory..


- More Here

Quote of the Day

"Sometimes magic is just someone spending more time on something than anyone else might reasonably expect."


Tuesday, October 9, 2012

What I've Been Reading

Information Whats to Be Shared by Joshua Gans. Book makes a sound case for embracing a sharing model to break the logjam the old publishing model has stuck in for more than a decade now. Of-course, Joshua makes no qualms in stating that sharing is just one of many alternatives.
Much creation is collaborative and usually takes place between people who know each other well. The Internet adds a new dimension to creation: collaboration can take place on a larger scale between people who do not and may never know one another. Such shared creation adds a new dimension to the notion that information wants to be shared. When information is used to create new information, knowledge, or content, the dividing line between creation and use becomes blurred. Moreover, impediments to information sharing become more critical.

Bottom line:
Can you envisage a business model for your information based on sharing that provides adequate returns for the cost of creating that information?

No, You’re Not Entitled To Your Opinion

Every year, I try to do at least two things with my students at least once. First, I make a point of addressing them as “philosophers” – a bit cheesy, but hopefully it encourages active learning.

Secondly, I say something like this: “I’m sure you’ve heard the expression ‘everyone is entitled to their opinion.’ Perhaps you’ve even said it yourself, maybe to head off an argument or bring one to a close. Well, as soon as you walk into this room, it’s no longer true. You are not entitled to your opinion. You are only entitled to what you can argue for.”

A bit harsh? Perhaps, but philosophy teachers owe it to our students to teach them how to construct and defend an argument – and to recognize when a belief has become indefensible.

The problem with “I’m entitled to my opinion” is that, all too often, it’s used to shelter beliefs that should have been abandoned. It becomes shorthand for “I can say or think whatever I like” – and by extension, continuing to argue is somehow disrespectful. And this attitude feeds, I suggest, into the false equivalence between experts and non-experts that is an increasingly pernicious feature of our public discourse.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

"How can you excuse the man who buys bookcases of expensive wood, and piling into them the works of unknown, worthless authors, goes yawning amongst his thousands of volumes? He knows their titles, their bindings, but nothing else. It is in the homes of the idlest men that you find the biggest libraries—range upon range of books, ceiling high. For nowadays a library is one of the essential fittings of a home, like a bathroom. You could forgive this if it were all due to a zeal for learning. But these libraries of the works of piety and genius are collected for mere show, to ornament the walls of the house."

- Seneca

Monday, October 8, 2012

Whatever Happened to Movies for Grownups?

The big picture (allowing for some exceptions) is this: The six major studios want to make three kinds of movies. They want to make blockbusters costing a hundred and fifty million dollars and up (with another fifty to a hundred million dollars spent on promotion)—that is, films that are based on comic books, video games, and young-adult novels. These movies mostly feature angry pixels contending in the dead air—action sequences of total physical abandonment and virtually total meaninglessness, in which nothing imprints itself on your memory except the experience of being excited. They want to make animated features for families, some of which—especially the ones from Pixar—are very good. And they want to make genre movies—thrillers, chick flicks, romantic comedies, weekend-debauch movies (female as well as male), horror movies. Movies that have a mostly assured audience.

The range of films made by the studios has shrunk—serious drama is virtually out of the question. A good, solid movie like Tony Gilroy’s “Michael Clayton” (2007), with George Clooney, wouldn’t have a shot at being made now. I suspect “The Social Network” got made only because Aaron Sorkin wrote the script. “Lawrence of Arabia,” from 1962, which is playing all over the county October 4th for one day on big screens, wouldn’t even be considered now.

- More Here